Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Horse, Schools and Clones

“Secretariat” a Winner for All Time

“Secretariat” is a good, old-fashioned, rah-rah sports movie, but it is more; an emotional underdog story about a determined woman and her equally determined horse.
The woman is Penny Chenery, portrayed by Diane Lane.
I have admired Diane Lane ever since I saw her in “The Outsiders” when she was only 17-years-old. Lane has paradoxical qualities: she is beautiful and feminine but a little rough and tough, worldly, and above all, sexy.
These are the perfect qualities to play Penny Chenery, who is described as an “ordinary housewife,” but really is a most extraordinary person.
Chenery was the owner of Secretariat, one of the most extraordinary racehorses of all time, and the last one to win the Triple Crown of the Kentucky Derby, Belmont and the Preakness in 1973. Secretariat set records in the first two races that stand to this day.
As magnificent as Big Red (Secretariat’s nickname) was, the movie is as much about Penny Chenery’s personal struggle to train, compete and triumph in a lame-dominated sport.
The story begins back in 1969 in Virginia with an agreement struck by Penny’s father (Scott Glenn) and his wealthy, friendly rival, Ogden Phipps (James Cromwell). A coin toss was proposed to determine the pick of the next two foals of two championship horses. Phipps chose a weanling filly he thought was a sure thing. Chenery “lost” with the colt that would change the fact of American horse racing.
Adapting from journalist William Nack’s non-fiction book, Mike Rich has devised a gripping double underdog story that builds under Randall Wallace’s direction through trials, tribulations, setbacks and finally edge-of –the-seat racing triumphs. John Malkovich lends humor, pride and determination to his French-Canadian trainer, Lucien Laurin
Particularly rewarding is the final display of photos of the real characters, including the fabled horse.
“Secretariat” is inspirational in an old-fashioned, can-do American way. It seems a miracle that Penny Chenery’s marriage survived all the challenges of her husband’s skepticism, the expenses of thoroughbred racing and her own defiant self-determination. But as the movie poster declares, this is “The Impossible True Story.” You will laugh, thrill and probably weep. This is Walt Disney entertainment at its best.

“Waiting for Superman” a Disconcerting Documentary

“Waiting for Superman” is the most important film documentary since “An Inconvenient Truth.”
It is no coincidence that both films were directed by Davis Guggenheim, a man who really knows how to make a point forcefully.
“Superman” should do for American public education what “Inconvenient Truth” did for global warming.
Guggenheim accomplished his goal by finding five appealing, typical kids facing challenges in obtaining a quality education and following the children through a school year in home towns of The Bronx, New York, Harlem, Washington, D.C., Detroit and Los Angeles.
Guggenheim barrages us with grim facts and figures between scenes showing the children at home and in schools labeled as “drop-out factories.”
Contrasting the stories of failure is that of Bronx inner city native Geoffrey Canada, who rose above his circumstances and started a miraculously successful charter school in the worst part of Harlem.
Why a charter school, you might ask?
The simple answer is teachers’ unions and tenure rules. Defending the teachers’ point of view is teachers’ union president Randi Weingarten.
There is no simple answer to the fact of why America has slipped behind so much of the civilized world in education over the past 50 years, just as there is no simple answer regarding global warming.
“Superman” promises to be as controversial and volatile as “Inconvenient Truth,” but for those of us who have children in the public school system, or simply care about the kids struggling now, “Superman” is a ray of light shed on a very dark issue. Let the debates begin.

“Never Let Me Go” a Mournful Horror Film

“Never Let Me Go” is a mournful, melancholy melodrama based on the 2005 novel by Japanese-born British author, Kazuo Ishiguro.
Carey Mulligan stars as Kathy H, a girl raised in a sequestered boarding school in Hailsham, England.
Kathy’s best friends are Tom (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightly). What the kids don’t realize until too late is that they are clones being cultivated expressly as donors of organs for ailing human beings.
As horrifying as that thought is, screenwriter Alex Garland and director Mark Romanek pour on the melodrama with the specter of a doomed romantic triangle with all its regrets.
What “Never Let Me Go” does prove is that Mulligan, Knightly and Garfield are three of the best and brightest young actors of their generation,

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