There’s Even More “Hope” For Won’t Back Down On BD And DVD

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox Home Entertainment/20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment/20th Century Fox

Hope is a dangerous thing.  Who knows that line?  While it may have been used in an entirely different setting in 1994′s The Shawshank Redemption that classic film line applies perfectly in 20th Century Fox’s new movie, Won’t Back Down.  The very first thing that audiences will notice in this movie is its seeming throwback to Stand and Deliver.  The story presented in this new work focuses on two single mothers–played by Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal–who are fed up with the way in which the public school system in their city is handling their kids…or rather not handling them.  Fittingly, the movie is set against the backdrop of one of America’s most famed cities, Pittsburgh.  As much as people may dislike Pittsburgh’s sports teams, Jamie’s (Maggie Gyllenhaal) allegiance to the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates is a statement in itself.  It all combines to make for a movie that while it may not be an Oscar contender, is a movie that will hopefully have other parents and teachers across the country taking notice and reacting.  And now that it’s available on DVD and Blu-ray, audiences will gain a whole new appreciation for the movie.

The primary story of Won’t Back Down is much more real than people might want to believe.  Despite what other critic may believe Won’t Back Down is not an attack on unions.  Rather, it’s an unbiased work that does take into account both the side of the teachers and parents, and that of the unions.  Even writer/director Daniel Barnz notes in the audio commentary included in the new home release that he did not set out to make an anti-union story.  He clearly states that he is in fact a supporter of unions.  But he also wanted to point out where unions have come up short.  What so many audiences fail to understand with this work is that it attempts not to attack unions but to show that unions and many teachers within unions have lost sight of what’s really important.  He does an excellent job of showing that through a number of scenes.  He is simply trying to show through this story that while teachers unions are doing great things, there is still work that must be done.  In understanding this, it really serves to bring about a whole new dialogue between parents and teachers.  In that same vein, Barnz notes that having a background in education in a manner of speaking, he wanted to craft a story that saw teachers and parents being forced to work together.   With any luck, after seeing this movie, parents and teachers will at least consider coming together if only to help the children.

The social message stated in Won’t Back Down is done so in a tastefully and artistic manner.  It successfully creates a basis for a much needed discussion, even now in the twenty-first century.  Understanding that Barnz had no intent on taking one side or the other in itself makes the movie a success.  It isn’t all that makes the movie a success.  The filmmaking itself plays a big role in the movie’s success, too.  Right from its earliest moments, audiences watching the new home release will gain more appreciation for the filmmaking in the commentary thanks to Barnz commenting on the transition of the less colorful background early on to the use of much brighter colors by the story’s end.  Barnz notes in the audio commentary that the transition of dimmer, less “alive” colors to much brighter and warmer colors by the story’s end was used to heighten the story’s emotional state.  This was something so subtle that had a person not listened to the audio commentary, never would have been caught.  Understanding this adds that much more enjoyment to the story.

It may come across as totally unnoticeable to some, but having the story set against the backdrop of Pittsburgh makes it that much harder hitting.  Barnz also comments on this through the additional commentary.  Pittsburgh was built on the backs of hard working Americans.  But then something changed, destroying businesses and jobs in the city.  When that happened, the trickle-down effect from that was pretty clear.  The state of that one school was a reflection of what had happened to the city.  What’s more, as much as people may want to deny it, Adams Elementary could be any school in the country.  So many cities have been decimated for economic reasons.  And the effect of that has trickled down to those cities’ schools thus making them a prime point for making this movie.

Something else that viewers should take into account in watching Won’t Back Down is that it is not just some Ron Clark style dream scenario.  Even in watching the new home release with commentary, many audiences might still feel that ambivalence and say well I’m just one person.  How can I make a difference?  One look around shows that one person can make a difference.  There seems to be a ride in charter schools, and a drastically changing attitude about what’s happening with public education across the country.  This movie serves as proof positive that change can and does happen.  All it takes is a positive attitude and a drive to give children one thing:  HOPE.

To keep up with the latest entertaiment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Won’t Back Down Shows The Power Of Hope

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

Hope is a dangerous thing.  Who knows that line?  While it may have been used in an entirely different setting in 1994′s The Shawshank Redemption, that classic film line applies perfectly in 20th Century Fox’s new movie that’s at least one part Stand and Deliver.  The story presented in this new work focuses on two single mothers–played by Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal–who are fed up with the way in which the public school system in their city is handling their kids…or rather not handling them.  Fittingly, the movie is set against the backdrop of one of America’s most famed cities, Pittsburgh.  As much as people may dislike Pittsburgh’s sports teams, Jamie’s (Maggie Gyllenhaal) allegiance to the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates is a statement in itself.  It all combines to make for a movie that while it may not be an Oscar contender, is a movie that will hopefully have other parents and teachers across the country taking notice and reacting.

The primary story of Won’t Back Down is much more real than people might want to believe.  Despite what other critic may believe, Won’t Back Down is not an attack on unions.  Rather, it’s an unbiased work that does take into account both the side of the teachers and parents, and that of the unions.  What so many audiences fail to understand with this work is that it attempts not to attack unions but to show that unions and many teachers within unions have lost sight of what’s really important.  That’s not to say that all teachers within unions are like this.  Do not take that wrongly.  But many teachers really have lost sight of what’s important.  So many have become just as jaded and focused more on seniority and tenure than on the kids because the system has crushed their hopes.  There’s that word again.  Hope.  Teachers have lost hope and given up, leading to the situation presented in this story.

It may come across as totally unnoticeable to some, but having the story set against the backdrop of Pittsburgh makes it that much more hard hitting.  Pittsburgh was built on the backs of hard working Americans.  But then something changed, destroying businesses and jobs in the city.  When that happened, the trickle down effect from that was pretty clear.  The state of that one school was a reflection of what had happened to the city.  What’s more, as much as people may want to deny it, Adams Elementary could be any school in the country.  So many cities have been decimated for economic reasons.  And the effect of that has trickled down to those cities’ schools.

Something else that viewers should take into account in watching Won’t Back Down is that it is not just some dream of Ron Clark.  However, it does show that what he created for his Ron Clark Academy can work in the public school system.  But to effect that change, parents and teachers have to take a stand for a change.  Otherwise they, along with their children and entire school systems will have no hope.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://phlispicks.wordpress.com.

New PBS DVD Shows The Importance Of Knowing One’s History

Courtesy: PBS/Inkwell Films/Kundhart McGee Productions/Ark Media/WNET Thirteen

America is a melting pot.  Its history is made up of the stories from the immigrants who settled here from its earliest days.  Sadly, many of those stories have been lost because we as a nation have forgotten our roots.  We have forgotten from where we came.  Now thanks to PBS, a new special has been released that will hopefully re-ignite the fire among Americans to learn their family roots. 

“Finding Your Roots”, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a ten part special spread across three discs.  Gates interviews many of this great nation’s most famous names, discussing their family roots with them.  The famous names come from the world of music, acting, politics, and more.  One of Gates’ most interesting interviews comes in the segment featuring musicians and friends Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis.  Another was his interview with actors Robert Downey, Jr. and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  And one of the most interesting cross sections shown in this ten-part special comes in his interviews with Doctor Sanjay Gupta, comedian Margaret Cho, and famed personality Martha Stewart.  They, along with the other unmentioned interviews, make this special one of PBS’ best to date.

“Finding Your Roots” starts with gates interviewing musicians Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis.  Starting the mini-series with this pair of interviews is more than just an interview with a pair of famous musicians.  What gates and those behind the camera intended to do with this segment was to try and bridge the racial gaps of our nation.  The connection between Connick and Marsalis shows that while people may have different color skin, that’s all that really separates us.  Connick admits in his interview that he wanted to be black.  He says that he dressed and acted the part.  What’s really interesting about this is the discovery that one of his ancestors, James Connick, fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.  On the good side, it should be noted that James Connick  did not fight for slavery.  He fought solely for economic reasons.  He wasn’t even a slave owner.  He was just trying to support his family.  Apparently, Harry didn’t know this.  But it raises what becomes a very interesting trend that viewers will see as the special moves to other notables.

Just as Harry Connick, Jr.’s roots proved to be rather interesting, so did those of Branford Marsalis.  Interviews with Branford’s famed father Ellis Marsalis, reveals that Branford may have actually gotten his musical abilities not so much from his father, but from his mother.  Or rather, he got his talent from her side of the family.  What’s more, it’s also revealed that one of his ancestors was actually the result of a relationship between a white man and black woman.  This brings this very first pair of interviews full circle.  Gates tells audiences that despite the popular belief, far fewer African American males were born of Native American blood than believed.  Many more will find that they have deeper African American and European roots than Native American.  What it seems that Gates is getting at in this first segment is that while the color of our skin is different, blacks and whites may be far more closely related than we think.  We need only take the time to look back and find our roots.

Gates’ interviews with Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis are both entertaining and very insightful.  They’re just one part of what makes “Finding Your Roots” so impressive.  Another interesting pair of figures interviewed for the special is Robert Downey, Jr. and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  It’s revealed that both are descended from Jewish ancestry.  What’s more, Gyllenhaal’s Jewish ancestry is one hundred percent pure Jewish.  She admits in her interview some interesting facts that reveal ancestry and genetics play directly hand in hand.  Again, viewers will see this pop up a lot throughout all ten parts of the mini-series.  What’s really interesting to learn about Maggie Gyllenhaal is that apparently she’s descended from nobility.  It’s revealed through investigations and Gates’ interview with her, that Maggie Gyllenhaal is actually descended from King Henry I.  And somewhere along the line, she’s also linked to both George H.W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush, as well as Shirley Temple, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  She showed that she had no clue about any of these links, and just how amazed she was by all of it.

Robert Downey, Jr., on the other hand, had much different roots.  He and Gyllenhaal both are children of film makers.  And like Gyllenhaal, he too has Jewish roots.  It’s also revealed that he has Swiss roots.  Unlike Gyllenhaal’s roots, though, he can’t claim connection to any real famous historical figures.  Ironically enough, he himself has become one of the biggest names in Hollywood throughout his career.

Musicians and actors were only a tiny portion of the whole that makes up “Finding Your Roots.”  Gates also interviewed Sanjay Gupta, Margaret Cho and Martha Stewart.  This feature offers perhaps some of the most interesting material in the series.  These segments reveal to both the celebrities in question and to viewers some rather unexpected and surprising information.  One of the most interesting pieces of information is that Martha Stewart has links back to the Mongols.  She laughs in discovering this as she admitted to Gates that her dog is actually named Genghis Khan.  What’s more, many of her ancestors also had professions that involved much of what she does today.  As noted in previous segments, it seems yet again that there is at least some link between one’s ancestry and one’s own personal genetic makeup.  Maggie Gyllenhaal admitted her pleasant surprise at her link to her Jewish ancestry due to her own recent personal choices before her interview.  Branford Marsalis’ parents told Gates that he got his musical abilities from his mother’s side of the family.  That link is explained in the connection to specific well known acts from the rich history of music. 

The roots discovered in conversations with Martha Stewart are the revelations of Margaret Cho’s family.  Her interview reveals that one of her distant ancestors was a very well respected member of his community.  What’s most interesting in her discussions is that members of her family are not actually Korean.  They came from other regions of Asia.  She shows her surprise, laughing about it.  She tells Gates that this was a surprising revelation, being that her parents always claimed such national pride for Korea.  This discovery is made through genetic testing.

Sanjay Gupta’s interview was one of the most moving of the entire mini-series.  Gupta shows just how amazed he is by all of the information discovered through the research done for his interviewed.  At one point, he even begins to tear up.  That single moment is perhaps the defining moment of this entire special.  The emotion that he shows is the entire point of the presentation.  So few Americans are aware of their families’ histories.  It doesn’t matter if someone is related down the line to this famous person or that, or if they are simply related to some random person.  It’s that discovery of one’s past is the most important.  It can make all the difference in a person’s life.  It adds that much more to the nation’s already rich history as a whole.

Gates’ interviews with members of the entertainment community reveal some very interesting notes about them.  It also reminds viewers that they might be just as interested if they take the time to do some research into their own family roots.  There’s no telling what viewers might find if they take that time.  “Finding Your Roots” is proof of that.  “Finding Your Roots” is available on DVD now.  It can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.