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Volume xviii, Issue 5 ~ February 4 - February 10, 2010

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Bay Weekly's 13th annual

Movie Guide

Sixteen flicks to burrow down with before winter’s end

screened by Diana Beechener

Every year, cinephile groundhog Chesapeake Chuck offers Bay Weekly readers his Groundhog’s Midwinter Movie Guide. Unlike Pennsylvania’s prognosticating varmint Punxsutawney, Chuck’s February 2 advice is invariable. With so many movies to watch before winter’s thaw, he isn’t leaving his warm burrow just to look for his shadow.

In these uncertain times, our furry fellow offers films that inspire. Inspiration need not be fueled by triumph — though you’ll find some that are among the 16 films. These flicks also inspire you to lighten your mood, celebrate your quirks or change the way you think.

Merry Melodies

Keep a song in your heart and your toes tapping during tough times.


1974 • PG • 132 mins.
Director: Gene Saks

Bea Arthur, recently deceased star of Maude and The Golden Girls, made few feature films, but she’s in high deadpan form in this musical comedy as the diva Vera Charles, best friend to Lucille Ball’s title character. Her trademark caustic wit shines in the duet “Bosom Buddies.”

“Life is a banquet, and most poor SOBs are starving to death,” proclaims Mame, the colorful aunt who transforms the sheltered world of her orphaned nephew. She’s a survivor and a schemer whose can-do spirit and mischievous wit can inspire even the most downtrodden.

The incomparable Robert Preston, costarring as Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, is the other best reason to revisit this campy and sweet reminiscence from the Jazz Age to the 1940s.

–Jane Elkin

The Wiz

1978 • G • 134 mins.
Director: Sidney Lumet

“Ease on Down the Road” with Michael Jackson — this year’s biggest star to supernova to the ever-after — as the Scarecrow in a Motown update of The Wizard of Oz.

This was cutting edge for its time, starring an all African American cast of superstars including Diana Ross (Dorothy), Nipsey Russell (the Tin Man), Ted Ross (the Lion), Lena Horne (Glynda), Mabel King (Evillene) and Richard Pryor as a Disco Era Wizard who demands, “What’s in it for me?”

Especially entertaining are the wicked witch’s warning, “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News,” the Tin Man’s spunky “Slide Some Oil to Me” and Jackson’s scarecrow showing his rare and soulful low range in “You Can’t Win.” Combining Oz’s familiar inspiring message of self-discovery with an energetic urban attitude and catchy songs, The Wiz leads a thrilling trip down the yellow brick road.

–Jane Elkin

The Commitments

1991 • R • 118 mins.
Director: Alan Parker

Need inspiration for a tough economy and dreary weather? Screen The Commitments. If you haven’t seen it yet you are in for a rare treat; if you have, see it again, it’s even better the second time.

Director Sir Alan Parker went to Ireland 20 years ago, recruited a bunch of young actors with virtually no experience and made an unlikely movie about the formation of a soul band in depressed Dublin. The music of Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and James Brown never had such a talented and devoted cover band.

In the midst of Ireland’s own long-running economic troubles and dreary weather, the kids struggle, rehearse, fight, perform and triumph in a very Irish way.

The film is a phenomenon. One billion people have watched it, and virtually every actor in it went on to a major career in film or music.

Once you’ve seen this movie, you’ll never hear “Mustang Sally” again without a smile.

–Dennis Doyle


2006 • R • 85 mins.
Director: John Carney

Once is a musical uplift, a subtle romance of harmonious soul mates that transfixes me every time.

Musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova — who’ve since formed The Swell Season — play the guy and girl. He is a broken-hearted Hoover fixer-upper guy; she is a flower-selling Czech immigrant. They meet over his busking on a Dublin street and quickly cultivate a close companionship through music. Chemistry opens a flow of creativity for the musicians, and they find themselves immersed in happy collaboration.

The music, created for the movie in the real-world collaboration of its stars, is intimate gold. There are no song-and-dance numbers; music is seamlessly sewn into story. Inspiration blooms from their quest to achieve the dream of an album; happy scenes of artistic creation and expression are a celebration of music, happy enough to make you want to move to Ireland and take up busking.

This movie is a warm, golden ode to music that’s sure to melt away the blahs.

–Mark Burns

Second Chances

These films remind us that it’s never too late to start again.

We Are Marshall

2006 • PG • 131 mins.
Director: McG

In November, 1970, a plane bringing the Marshall University football team, coaches, school administrators and fans home from a game crashed upon landing. Seventy-five people died.

A school and a city — Huntington, West Virginia — were devastated. Seventy children lost a parent; 18 children lost both parents.

A new coach, Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey), is hired for the 1971 football season. Lengyel finds that it is the people — not just the football program — in need of rebuilding.

Hope comes out of tragedy as one by one those left behind come to terms with their grief.

At the movie’s premier in Huntington, McConaughey said his connection with the people of the city made making this movie “the most gratifying work experience I have ever had.”

–Ben Miller


2009 • PG • 96 mins.
Director: Pete Docter & Bob Peterson

An elderly curmudgeon, Carl Fredericksen (Ed Asner), kept going by crankiness alone, finds friendship and opportunity when he least expects it.

Don’t be put off by the animation, you serious moviegoers. The Pixar animation is state-of-the-art fantastic, even if you don’t see the movie in 3-D. The characters, especially Carl and Russel (Jordan Nagai), the eight-year-old Wilderness Explorer who befriends him, are multidimensional and compelling.

The plot, which follows the two on their voyage in a balloon-propelled house, is fast moving and fun. Best of all, especially for all the baby boomer viewers, is the message that the possibility of finding adventure, love and meaning in life knows no age limit.

–Cathy Miller

To Thine Own Self Be True

Films that encourage you to dance to the beat of your own drum.

Breaking Away

1979 • PG • 101 mins.
Director: Peter Yates

When your candle is guttering, Breaking Away’s the movie to restore your che gioia vivere. Dennis Christopher’s Dave Stoller is a Bloomington, Indiana, high-schooler three rungs up the ladder to success.

1. He’s got a big dream. He wants to be a champion bicycle racer. An Italian champion bicycle racer.

2. He fuels his dream with boundless energy. His training routine is catching the slipstream of a 16-wheeler — and keeping up. As far as being Italian, he not only puts up posters on his walls but also creates an Italian — and Italian-speaking — identity.

3. His parents like him, even though he’s Italian to them, especially to his car-salesman father. So we get a charming middle-class lesson in nurturing dreams — even those that seem round the bend.

On the other hand, just as much is conspiring to pull him down. He’s not Italian. Bloomington isn’t a recruiting ground for fast-track cyclists. And he’s a cutter — a homegrown descendent of the stone masons Bloomington was once famous for — in a college town, who ought to be taking up his father’s offer to work on the car lot.

So he’s got to rise above his circumstances, including the creative hostilities of the college boys. And he’s got to keep his dream alive when the real Italian cyclists come to town and prove to be jerks. How he thrives is just part of the fun in this quirky homage to weird individuality, sweet disposition and perseverance, which earned Steve Tesich an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Billy Elliot

2000 • PG-13 • 110 mins.
Director: Stephen Daldry

Billy Elliot’s father and older brother are union rabble-rousers in County Durham, England, during the infamous coal miners’ strike of 1984. So they go ballistic when they find out that 11-year-old Billy has taken up ballet rather than attending boxing lessons. They call him a poof and forbid him from pursuing his love for dance.

With the help of a chain-smoking, washed-up dance instructor (Julie Walters), Billy practices in secret until he gets an audition at the Royal Ballet School in London.

His father eventually realizes that this may be the lad’s ticket to escape the mines, so he and his mates pool their meager resources, hocking everything they have to send Billy to London, where he performs a frenetic dance for the dumbstruck admission panel.

This movie always inspires me to follow my dreams, regardless of what anyone says. And the “Bang a Gong” and “London’s Calling” anthems from T Rex and The Clash make me want to get right up and dance.

–Steve Carr

Lars and the Real Girl

2007 • PG-13 • 106 mins.
Director: Craig Gillespie

How easy it would be to prejudge this film and dismiss it as ludicrous: Crazy guy falls in love with big plastic doll.

Do not be fooled.

With remarkable tenderness, screenwriter Nancy Oliver and director Craig Gillespie eschew mockery and instead ease us into the world of mental illness in this award-winning film.

Lars (Ryan Gosling) is a sweet but shy loner who resides in the garage of his brother and pregnant sister-in-law’s house. Though he goes to work and church, he keeps himself physically and emotionally distant from others until Bianca, a life-sized doll he orders on the Internet, arrives.

For Lars, she becomes his closest, albeit chaste, companion and his key for unlocking social doors. The universal kindness of the townspeople in their acceptance of Bianca feels honest and without treacle, and this, along with the gentle guidance of physician Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), helps Lars past his deepest fears and toward real love.

–Dotty Doherty

Formidable Females

Films featuring women flying in the face of convention.

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness

1958 • unrated • 158 mins.
Director: Mark Robson

When a stuffy board deems poorly educated Gladys Aylward (Ingrid Bergman) unfit to become a missionary, the determined British domestic saves to finance her own passage to northern China.

At the Inn of the Sixth Happiness, she joins fellow missionary Jeannie Lawson in providing meals and Bible stories to travelers. To keep up the inn after Lawson dies, Aylward earns money as the foot inspector, enforcing new laws against foot binding and winning the respect of the Mandarin (Robert Donat). She adopts abandoned children, and locals embrace her as Jen-ai — one who loves people.

In 1940, as the Japanese invade China, Aylward shepherds nearly 100 children through the mountains to safety, finding romance with Chinese Army Captain Lin Nan (Curd Jürgens) along the way.

Bergman and Director Mark Robson won Oscar nominations for their work in this riveting and touching movie based on a true story.

–Marilyn Recknor


1986 • R • 137 mins.
Director: James Cameron

Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) proved that she could save herself in Alien. She could also have saved half the characters in Aliens — the 1980s sequel to Ridley Scott’s horror classic — if only they had listened to her.

Director James Cameron uses Ripley’s self-sufficient attitude to turn what could have been a typical sci-fi action film into a stirring feminist battle cry. Like Cassandra, Ripley correctly predicts doom, only to be dismissed by the men running the mission. Unlike Cassandra, Ripley fights like hell to change her fate.

What makes Ripley an inspiration is her ability to adapt and overcome her impediments.

Space marines won’t listen to your warnings? Find a gun or a flamethrower and learn how to use it.

Surrogate daughter kidnapped by alien? Breach the lair with your new flamethrower, grab the kid and torch your way out.

Angry alien queen too big to fight? Don a giant metallic ecto-skeleton and let the battle begin.

Aliens reminds me that no problem is insurmountable. Also, never trust Paul Reiser, no matter how many Mad About You episodes you’ve seen.

–Diana Beechener

Ever After

1998 • PG • 121 mins.

Director: Andy Tennant

Call me a girl, but this movie can pull me out of the blahs every time.

Drew Barrymore as Danielle is Cinderella re-imagined: A self-actualized woman in renaissance France. When a servant on her late father’s estate is sold to cover her stepmother’s debts, Barrymore’s character impersonates a noble to buy his freedom.

While in guise at the palace, she argues egalitarianism to the spoiled prince and sets the stage for an unconventional courtship. (Leonardo da Vinci stands in for the fairy godmother.)

Even a guy can enjoy the underdog tale at the movie’s heart. This is a charismatic and smart adaptation that takes the wispy fatalism out of the source tale and paints Cinderella as the first modern woman.

Villainy would snuff her light, but she defies and fights for herself. By the strength of her spirit she challenges the prince, too, to realize his potential of enlightened leadership.

Who can’t help but be inspired by that?

–Mark Burns

Stay Serious

These films don’t lighten our mood. They inspire us to make positive changes.

Twelve Angry Men

1957 • Unrated • 96 mins.
Director: Sidney Lumet

A teenage murder suspect’s life is on the line. A jury must decide his guilt or innocence. Eleven of the jurors’ minds are made up as they enter into deliberations. Their verdict must be unanimous. Only Davis (Henry Fonda), believes there is reasonable doubt, and it is his calm, determined efforts to open the minds of his fellow jurors that is the plot of this powerful film.

This movie is fascinating as Davis systematically unravels the supposedly ironclad evidence presented by the prosecution; but it is the interplay among the jurors that is most riveting. The message, that prejudice and hate can be combated and perhaps overcome through reason and compassion, is both timely and inspiring.

–Cathy Miller

King Corn

2007 • Unrated • 88 mins.
Director: Aaron Wolf

Popped, on the cob, buttered with limas. The familiar yellow kernel is ubiquitous. But these days, more often than not, it is unrecognizable on our plate.

Two young filmmakers, stunned by the news that their generation — because of what they eat — risks a shorter lifespan than their parents, take a post-college journey to learn about America’s most powerful crop.

After convincing a skeptical Iowa farmer to lease them one acre of his land, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis become corn growers, and, as they tell it, “with the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds and powerful herbicides,” plant and grow a bumper crop.

That was the easy part. When they hit the road to follow their “pile of corn” into the food system, they get a lesson about how Americans eat and farm.

This is not a finger-wagging, Michael Moore-style expose. It is a simple film, simply made. With their often entertaining and self-effacing narrative, Ian and Curt had me at hello.

Inspirational? These 88 minutes changed the way I look at American food. I vowed to read food labels, to learn about the massive corn-fed meat industry, to appreciate the meaning of whole food.

Simply put, this little film changed my life.

–Margaret Tearman

Yukky Stuff

Laughter is the best antidote for the doldrums.

Steamboat Bill Jr.

1928 • Unrated • 71 mins.
Director: Charles Reisner

Buster Keaton is my Prozac. If I’m having a bad day, all I need to lighten my mood is a screening of Steamboat Bill Jr.

Willie Caufield Jr. (Buster Keaton) has a lot on his plate. The prissy son of a tough steamboat captain, Willie can’t seem to make a favorable impression on his father or his true love’s (Marion Byron) father. As a cyclone blows the town to smithereens, Willie must prove that he’s man enough to deserve respect by saving the girl and springing his father from jail. Can he do it?

Of course he can. But that’s not the point.

The Great Stone Face was a fan of the try-try-again principle. Every one of Keaton’s comedies features him failing — and falling — for most of the picture. But his characters don’t give up, and eventually that wins the day.

In the days before CGI, Keaton’s hair-raising stunts were real-life dangerous: That’s a real brick façade that narrowly misses Keaton during the cyclone sequence. If he had been even an inch off his mark, he would have been squashed.

Your workday doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?

–Diana Beechener

History of the World, Part I

1981 • R • 92 mins.
Director: Mel Brooks

Dom DeLuise, who died this year, was a masterful comedian, tastefully pushing all the boundaries of bad taste as Emperor Nero in Mel Brooks’ bawdy and irreverent spoof on mankind’s seminal moments from the Stone Age to the French Revolution.

Also starring Madeline Kahn as Empress Nympho, Gregory Hines as Josephus the tap dancing slave, Sid Caesar as Early Man, and a half-dozen other big stars — The History of the World is a slapstick, snort-your-drink-out-your nose comedy that is sure to offend the politically correct.

Case in point: the story of the Spanish Inquisition told in song and dance, à la Busby Berkeley, complete with water ballet. Incidentally, Bea Arthur (see Mame) also has a cameo.

This film is so clever it inspires by its sheer creativity.

–Jane Elkin

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