Bay Weekly’s Annual Groundhog’s Guide to the Movies
Punxsutawney Phil has prognosticated an early spring, but it doesn’t feel like spring in Chesapeake Country. Like many a cold-hating human, Bay Weekly’s movie-loving groundhog Chesapeake Chuck remains hiding in his burrow.
To get our rueful rodent — not to mention the rest of us — in a better mood, Bay Weekly movie-lovers suggest waiting out winter with inspirational movies. Some inspire us to believe in a better world, others to join a movement and some simply to get up in the morning to go to the gym.
–Diana Beechener, Groundhog Guide editor
The Power of One
Movies about inspirational historic figures
A Man for All Seasons
1966 • G • 120 mins.
“I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”
Robert Bolt’s brilliant story of resolute morality in politics follows Sir Thomas More, who cannot support Henry VIII’s desire to subvert the church and dissolve his marriage so he can remarry. Paul Scofield portrays this 16th century hero as a man who seeks a path out of his dilemma but cannot yield on his basic values, even if it means his life. When facing the most powerful man in the country, More stays resolute in his beliefs.
When More’s voice breaks in his final visit with his wife, his internal battle is revealed. This quiet dark scene has electricity 46 years after it was made. It is a powerful story of bravery and morality worth watching again and again, especially when you think you’ve lost your way in life.
–Davina Grace Hill
1989 • PG-13 • 122 mins.
Based on the gut-wrenching letters of Colonel Robert Shaw, commander of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the Civil War Union’s first all-African American fighting unit, Glory chronicles the formation, training and battlefield heroics of an odd assortment of characters fighting for freedom, respect and salvation.
We view this a story about human dignity through the eyes of rebellious runaway slave Trip (Denzel Washington); grizzled old gravedigger Sgt. Major John Rawlings (Morgan Freeman); timid backwoods sharpshooter Jupiter Sharts (Jihmi Kennedy); scholarly Boston freedman Thomas Searles (Andre Braugher); and Shaw (Matthew Broderick). They battle their inner demons, racism and fear of failure and death.
The movie culminates with the meat-grinder charge of South Carolina’s heavily fortified Fort Wagner. The night before the battle, the doomed soldiers testify before a campfire, bearing their souls and dreams in a scene so powerful it leaves you in tears. Glory is not about war but redemption, and its message is universal: All men are created equal.
1998 • G • 88 mins.
Disney’s damsels have been cast in the leading role of children’s movies since Snow White, but beautiful badass Fa Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) does not need saving. She does the saving.
Taking her ailing father’s place in the upcoming war, she cross-dresses to fight in China’s all-male army. As Mulan tries to succeed in a man’s world, she’s helped by former family guardian, diminutive dragon Mushu (Eddie Murphy).
She saves herself, her fellow soldiers, her captain and love interest Li Shang, the emperor and all of China from the impending Hun army invasion in less than 90 minutes. Not bad for a girl.
After watching on the big screen for the first time, I left with a fighting spirit to show the world that I could do anything, not despite being a girl, but because I was a girl. That’s a lesson worth fighting for.
2005 • PG-13 • 107 mins.
When life gives you lemons, make thigh-high boots. That’s the message of Kinky Boots, the true story of a British men’s shoe factory that fights economic depression with red pleather.
Charlie (Joel Edgerton) inherits the family company and debt after his father’s death. Faced with selling the factory and laying off his workers, Charlie desperately seeks a solution.
Inspiration strikes when he comes to the rescue of a lady who broke her heel. That lady is Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a nightclub singer and drag queen. Convinced he can make a shoe that can support a man’s weight and look fabulous, Charlie reinvents his company.
Kinky Boots is a story about accepting who you are and the differences in others. It’s also a great true story about a business that breaks out of the box to stay alive. It inspired me to embrace change and never turn down a pair of heels.
Movies about people who changed their lives — or the world — for the better
1941 • NR • Not Rated
During the Great Depression, wealthy movie director Sullivan bores of making frivolous comedies. Inspired by a book depicting a hobo as the modern Ulysses, he sets out from Hollywood disguised as a penniless wanderer to learn about vagabond life. He ends up a chain-gang convict, far from Tinseltown and believed dead by his friends.
When a black church welcomes the ragged, dirty prison crew to its Saturday picture show, Sullivan realizes the value of shared laughter. The preacher and congregation are portrayed as fair and generous. Their hospitality restores Sullivan’s faith.
Sullivan’s Travels inspired many movie-goers to see African Americans in a new light. NAACP Secretary Walter White heralded the film for broadening black roles beyond the comedic and the menial, thanking director Preston Sturges for representing people of color in a dignified and decent manner.
Fifty-eight years later, Sullivan’s Travels continues to inspire. The Coen brothers imagined the film Sullivan might have directed, resulting in their 2000 hit O Brother, Where Art Thou?
1994 • PG-13 • 129 mins.
Director Penny Marshall’s serio-comedy stars Danny DeVito as a divorced, middle-aged business failure, forced to take a job teaching remedial thought to underachieving Army recruits. A misfit in the military milieu, the rebellious instructor trains them in literacy, problem-solving and team-building via Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Henry V, discovering in the process his own passion for teaching and compassion for the folks behind the failures.
Avoiding the saccharine pitfalls of so many motivational films, this one confronts realism and failure while using DeVito’s condescending wit and physical genius to season the pathos with laughs.
Especially entertaining is DeVito’s desperate descent down a rappelling tower as he scrambles to reclaim his students’ respect. This film is motivational from both sides, as the class and the disenchanted teacher inspire each other to be all they can be.
Queen to Play
2009 • Not Rated • 101 mins.
A film about chess? Grumpy Russians and freaks like Bobby Fischer snatching pawns and smacking clocks?
Not this 2009 movie, my biggest surprise lately from the Netflix grab bag of foreign offerings.
Sandrine Bonnaire is a chambermaid in Corsica, where you will immediately decide you want to retire. Kevin Kline is a reclusive physician who doesn’t have a lot to say but says it all in French.
If you’ve ever gotten seriously into chess, you can relate to the obsession that overtakes the captivating maid, who emerges not just as a prodigy but also a singularly determined feminist.
Kline, a St. Louis-bred screen and stage star, plays an understated role vastly different from his wacky, Academy Award-winning performance in A Fish Called Wanda, a favorite here.
The film has a peculiarity or two, including a bit of telepathy that doesn’t quite fit. And it is not exactly a romantic comedy, as it is billed. But it is a fine movie about the potential locked up in all of us and a feel-good film worth ordering today.
Robot and Frank
2012 • PG-13 • 89 mins.
When a retired cat burglar begins to lose his memory, his children give him a robot companion to keep him alert and safe. Frank (Frank Langella) recruits the robot to assist him in a final robbery.
A side plot involves Frank’s interactions with a town librarian (Susan Sarandon) at a time when the obsolete library is being converted into something more modern.
The two plots create a wonderful situation for questioning what makes memories real and relationships valuable.
The cast gives brilliant performances, and a totally unexpected plot twist makes you wonder about everything you’ve just seen, playing with your own newly minted memories of this film. We must all start over, even at the end of our lives, even in ways unexpected, even in ways unknown.
–Davina Grace Hill
2012 • PG-13 • 94 mins.
Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy and girl run away into the woods to live happily ever after. The problem? They’re 12 years old, and they’re being hunted by an armed, pre-teen scout troop, a bunch of depressed, disgruntled adults, including Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and Social Services (Tilda Swinton).
Writers Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola bring us an untraditional love story between two dysfunctional kids (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) who decide to change their entire world because of love. Tragedy and loneliness have molded the young lovers, but they learn to live, love and think for themselves. Their quirky love affair promotes cascading life changes for their parents, the scout troop, Scoutmaster Ward (Ed Norton) and police captain Sharp (Bruce Willis).
Moonrise Kingdom is a hilarious, bittersweet story of taking a humdrum existence and turning it into an epic story of second chances.
Make the Change
These films inspired our writers to make a change in their lives
1983 • PG • 111 mins.
Big American oil barons attempt to buy, at the cheapest possible cost, a small Scottish town to turn it into a refinery.
The catch? The locals want to sell and put off the Americans to raise the price they covet.
The twist? The Americans fall in love with the locale.
The ending? Too magical to give away.
With powerfully evocative music by Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and unexpected mermaids, African pastors, and roaring motorcyclists blending with Scottish musicians, fishermen and pub-owners, this is a whimsical delight from beginning to end.
After seeing the movie, I decided to join my family to return my uncle’s ashes to his homeland in Scotland. I insisted we visit Arisaig and Morar, where this film was made, so we could walk the beach seen in the film. I watch this movie every year or so.
–Davina Grace Hill
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone
2001 • PG • 152 mins.
It’s way past my 11th birthday, and I’m still trying to convince myself the owl got lost.
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), however, did receive his acceptance letter to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Harry is whisked to the wizarding world to perfect his craft. Here he finds future best friends Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) amid all the typical trials of tests, ornery teachers, bullies and evil dark lords trying to take over the world.
The real magic of Harry Potter, however, is the true rags-to-riches story of Harry’s creator J.K. Rowling, who wrote the children’s books that inspired a generation.
This movie kicks off multiple careers and a blockbuster film series. The boy living under the stairs became The Boy Who Lived and the woman writing about him became a household name.
Time to stop waiting for my letter and write my own story.
Midnight in Paris
2011 • PG-13 • 94 mins.
Midnight in Paris is magical and works magic, as does Paris itself. With Woody Allen as writer and director, you expect and get a film that’s original, whacky, beautifully filmed.
A young writer of mediocre film scripts (Owen Wilson) goes to Paris with his sexy self-centered fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her up-tight parents. Right off, we suspect this will not be a perfect marriage but that the characters will nonetheless keep on racing to the cliff edge.
The writer wanders off each night exploring the city alone. At the stroke of 12, he catapults into the dazzling, Bohemian society of the 1920s’ French and expatriate American writers, artists and musicians.
The film inspires delight, a desire to reread certain writers, look again at Impressionist paintings, hear out the music of another time and watch old Woody Allen classics. The movie inspired us to buy tickets to Paris in May.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
2012 • PG-13 • 93 mins.
Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives with her father Wink in a poor Louisiana delta community called The Bathtub. A philosophical child, she sees her small shanty town as the center of the universe and wonders about the delicate balance that holds it together.
When her father gets sick and a storm threatens to envelop the community in floodwaters, Hushpuppy feels it’s her duty to restore the balance of the universe. She sets out on a quest that shows her the power of nature, the universe and her own community.
A fairytale about the tenacity of the human spirit and the joy of nature, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a stirring film. It preaches about the power of close-knit communities and how they overcome adversity as a group. The Bathtub may not be a ritzy Delta community, but their love and compassion for each other can overcome any flood.
The movie inspired me to embrace my community and get to know my neighbors, since you never know when the floodwaters will rise.