Sunrise at Campobello

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

“Plot: This is the story of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Ralph Bellamy), from the time he became disabled by polio to his comeback into mainstream politics, as he introduced candidate Al Smith to the Democratic convention of 1928.

Discussion: Franklin, a man of unquenchable vigor, was forced to reconsider his future when his legs became paralyzed. His close friend and political advisor, Louis Howe (Hume Cronyn) tells him he has two choices, to become a “”country squire”” and write books, or to get up and get back into politics. His mother urges him not to overdo: “”I don’t want to see you hurt.””

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Based on a true story Biography

The Great Escape

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Very tense moments, characters in peril and many killed
Diversity Issues: People from a variety of backgrounds and countries work together toward a common goal
Date Released to Theaters: 1963
Date Released to DVD: May 7, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00BN3DUVE

great escape

In honor of the Blu-Ray release of this classic film, it is the Pick of the Week – and I am delighted that I have one Blu-Ray to give away.  Send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with Escape in the subject line.  I will pick a winner at random on May 15.  Don’t forget your address!  (US addresses only.)

Towards the end of WWII, the Germans built a special high-security prison camp for Allied prisoners with a record of escape attempts. This is the true story of the extraordinary courage and ingenuity of the men imprisoned there, and of their plans for the greatest escape ever. As the British ranking officer explains, when the camp commandant urges him to relax and “sit out the war as comfortably as possible,” his duty is to escape, or, if escape is impossible, to force the enemy to use as many resources as possible to contain them.

Each man contributes his expertise. There are “tunnel kings” to dig the three tunnels, a “forger king” (Donald Pleasence) to forge the papers the soldiers will need when they escape, a “scrounger” (James Garner) to beg, borrow, steal, or obtain through blackmail the materials they need, and others who work as tailors and manufacturers. An American who is something of a loner, Hilts (Steve McQueen) becomes the “cooler king” for his long stints in solitary confinement, as a result of his independent escape attempts. When “Big X” (Richard Attenborough), the British officer who supervises the escape, asks Hilts to go through the tunnel to get information about the area surrounding the camp, and then allow himself to be recaptured, so he can let them know what he has found, he refuses. But when his friend is killed trying to escape, his spirit broken by the camp, Hilts changes his mind.

Seventy-five of the prisoners are able to escape before the tunnel is discovered. The Germans track almost all of them down, and fifty are killed, including Big X. It is to “the fifty” that the film is dedicated.

As in “Stalag 17” and many other films about prison camp, the prisoners in this story must adapt to the direst of circumstances, and they choose differing approaches. Hilts adapts by working on his own, or with one partner, while others work on a massive group escape. Ives and Danny begin to unravel under the stress, not so much a “choice” as an involuntary response.

Unlike other prison camp movies, this one does not dwell on disputes between prisoners or on the deprivations of the prison camp, which seems almost comfortable. It is about the professionalism, courage, resourcefulness, teamwork, and loyalty of every one of the prisoners.

As in a traditional “heist” film, the story focuses on defining a problem and then solving it. They examine the restrictions imposed by their conditions, change the ones they can, and adapt to the ones they cannot. They must also adapt quickly and calmly when the plan does not go as they expected.

The story gives us an exceptional example of teamwork and loyalty. Note the way that the prisoners protect each other. When Danny (Charles Bronson) cannot take it any more and wants to escape on his own, his friend talks him out of it. When the Forger goes blind, Big X wants to leave him behind, for his own protection. But the Scrounger promises to take care of him.

Point out to kids what factors do — and do not — go into the prisoners’ calculations and strategy. Big X is cautioned not to allow his personal wish for revenge determine their strategy. But pride (in the sense of morale) is permitted to be considered. When asked “Have you thought of what it might cost?” he answers, “I’ve thought of the humiliation if we just tamely submit — knuckle under and crawl.” They also consider the risk of failure, to the extent they can. At the end, when the Scrounger asks whether the escape was worth the price, the best the British Commander can do is answer truthfully, “It depends on your point of view.”

Note: The  screenplay was co-written by blockbuster novelist James Clavell (Tai-Pei, Shogun). His own experiences as a prisoner of war in a Japanese prison camp are the subject of “King Rat.” The outstanding musical score is by Elmer Bernstein (“The Magnificent Seven” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”). Richard Attenborough, who played Big X, became a director in the late 1960s of films such as “Gandhi” and “Shadowlands.” He continues to appear as a performer, and played Dr. Hammond in “Jurassic Park” and Kris Kringle in the 1994 version of “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Family discussion: Why are the experts called “kings”?  What makes Hilts change his mind about getting the information they want? Who was right about taking the Forger out through the tunnel, Big X or the Scrounger? Given the results of their action in this story, should officers who have been taken prisoner feel duty-bound to try to escape?

If you like this, try: “Stalag 17” and “King Rat”

 

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Based on a true story Classic Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week War

The Scarlet and the Black

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Plot: Gregory Peck plays Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty in this true story of WWII Rome. The Vatican had diplomatic neutrality, so that no one within its borders could be arrested. O’Flaherty used the Vatican as a base of operations to save thousands of Allied POWs, in a long, elaborate, and deadly game of cat and mouse with German Colonel Herbert Kappler (Christopher Plummer).

As Italy is falling to the Allies, Kappler knows the war is over. He seeks out O’Flaherty, his bitterest enemy, to ask a favor: to draw on the same resources he used to help the POWs escape to get Kappler’s family to Switzerland. Kappler does not find out until he is being interrogated by the Allies that his family is safe, and he protects O’Flaherty from charges of collaboration by refusing to give any information about his operation, even though it would have shortened his sentence.

Discussion: This movie presents us with an assortment of characters who each try to do what they believe is best to protect the values they care about. O’Flaherty and his colleagues decide that all they can do is rescue and protect; they cannot undertake or even aid anti-German activities like espionage or sabotage. A fellow priest who does become involved in these activities is captured and executed. Kappler genuinely loves his family, and loves Rome. His sense of honor is clear in the sacrifice he makes to protect O’Flaherty. He is brutal only in capitulation to the orders of his superiors. The Pope preserves what politicians call “deniability” by not permitting himself to know much about what O’Flaherty is doing. Though he warns that he will not be able to protect him when the Germans come, the Pope refuses to turn him over to them. The British emissary says that he cannot help, even though the men are his own soldiers, explaining that “My strictest duty is to do nothing which might compromise the neutrality of the Vatican State or His Holiness the Pope.” His aide, however, is one of the most important participants in O’Flaherty’s efforts. This is an outstanding story of true personal moral courage and redemption, with a conclusion that is deeply moving.

Questions for Kids:

· Were O’Flaherty and Kappler alike in any ways? How?

· Why wouldn’t O’Flaherty do more to fight the Germans?

· Why did O’Flaherty help Kappler’s family?

· Were you surprised by the ending?

Connections: Plummer appeared as a man who fled from the Nazis in “The Sound of Music,” another true story, and Peck appeared as a Nazi in the fantasy “The Boys From Brazil.” O’Flaherty’s decision to help the prisoners but not to enter into the fight is similar to that made by Jess in “Friendly Persuasion.”

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Based on a true story Drama Epic/Historical War

All the King’s Men

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Huey Long was man of gigantic proportions, an epic, almost operatic figure who rose to power as the greatest of populists, succumbed to corruption, and was murdered at age 42. His story inspired a Pulitzer Prize-winning book and an Oscar-winning film. That has now been remade with Sean Penn as Willie Stark, the man who tells the poor people of Depression-era Louisiana that they should trust him because he’s a “hick” like them.

As in the original movie, what we most want from this story is what is left out. We want to see that moment when Stark stands on the brink between idealism and expediency. But we don’t. The movie, instead, focuses more on what Stark’s corruption does to those around him, and after decades of political scandals that story is just not as gripping as it once was.

Penn is convincing as a man of complicated fury whose sense of thwarted entitlement on behalf of his community metastasizes through his administration. Sadie (Patricia Clarkson) and Jack (Jude Law) are a political aide and a reporter who begin as cynical but are moved by Willie’s sincerity and his role as David against the political machine’s Goliath but are soon swept into his tumble into personal and professional corruption. Anthony Hopkins plays a judge who stands in Willie’s way and must be persuaded — or destroyed.

But the focus of the story is Adam Stanton (Mark Ruffalo), an idealistic doctor and Jack’s closest friend, and his sister Anne (Kate Winslet), whose faded, crumbling mansion symbolizes the failing grandeur of their ideals. When Anne makes compromises in order to help her brother, it shatters Adam and Jack and leads to Willie’s downfall.

The top quality cast and screenwriter/director Steven Zaillian (Searching for Bobby Fischer) give it their all, if never quite convincingly Louisianan. Patrizia von Brandenstein’s production design and Pawel Edelman’s cinematography have all the appropriate slanted, golden light and hanging Spanish moss. But the story never connects; it seems to be somehow off-register. We need to believe that Willie is on our side and we need to see him leave us; instead we get the same old Southern decay.

Parents should know that the movie has some graphic violence, including an assassination. Characters drink and smoke and use some strong language, including racial epithets of the era. There are sexual references and non-explicit situations, including adultery. The theme of the movie is corruption and there are many examples and variations.

Families who see this movie should talk about the moments in which each character made the choice from which there was no turning back. How can you tell the difference between a compromise and a sell-out? Can you stop on the way from idealism to expediency without becoming corrupt? What figures in today’s world are most like those in the movie?

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Based on a book Based on a true story Biography Drama Remake

All the President’s Men

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: PG
Profanity: Some very strong language for a PG including the f-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Some tense moments
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 1976
Date Released to DVD: June 11, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B000CEXEWA

This week is the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in and a good time to look at the Oscar-winning movie about the two reporters who would not give up on the story of the Watergate break-in, this is as gripping as any detective novel. Bob Woodward (Robert Redford), a junior reporter for the Washington Post, is sent to cover a small-time break-in to the office of the Democratic National Committee (located in the Watergate office building). He works with Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), another reporter, to find, after tediously painstaking research, that it is just part of a complex pattern of corruption in President Nixon’s re-election campaign.

Producer/star Redford was so intent on authenticity he even flew actual garbage from the Washington Post wastepaper baskets out to the set. The movie does a good job of showing how much of the work of the reporters was dull persistence, and it also does a good job of showing us what went in to the decisions of editor Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards in an Oscar – winning performance) and (off-screen) publisher Katharine Graham about what they needed in terms of proof in order to be able to publish the story.

There is an interesting range of moral choices and calibrations. The famous “Deep Throat” (Hal Holbrook), unidentified until 2006, is someone from the inside who will not allow himself to be identified or even quoted, but is willing to confirm what the reporters are able to find elsewhere.

Others involved in the scandal, both in the corruption itself and in its cover-up, must decide what to do and how much to disclose. “Deep Throat” will not tell them anything new, but will confirm what they find out and give them some overall direction, most memorably, “follow the money.” One key development is the decision made by someone identified only as “the bookkeeper” (Jane Alexander) to talk to Bernstein. The participants must also deal with the consequences of their choices. Donald Segretti (Robert Walden) manages to evoke sympathy when what began as juvenile pranks leave him in disgrace. Woodward and Bernstein also make mistakes and must deal with the consequences.

As the movie ends, in 1972, Nixon is re-elected, and it seems to the reporters that their work has had no impact at all. Kids who view this film may need some context in order to understand it, and will want to know what else happened before Nixon resigned in August of 1974.

Families who see this movie should discuss these questions: Why were Woodward and Bernstein the only reporters interested in the story? Why did they insist on two sources before they would publish anything? What were Donald Segretti’s “dirty tricks?” How was he different from Sloan? From the bookkeeper? From Deep Throat? One of the people portrayed in the movie later testified before the Watergate Committee that he had “lost his moral compass.” What does that mean? How does something like that happen? How has technology changed the way that reporters do research and prepare their stories?

Families who enjoy this movie might like to see “The Final Days,” a made- for-television sequel, based on Woodward and Bernstein’s follow-up book. For more on this era, see Nixon with Anthony Hopkins, and Nixon’s famous “Checkers” speech and resignation statement. An odd little movie called Nasty Habits is an allegory of Watergate, set in a convent, with Glenda Jackson as a Nixonian nun. And a very funny satire, Dick (for older audiences) sees these events through the premise that it was all uncovered by a couple of high school girls.

If audiences want to know more, they should know that the book this movie was based on is not much fun to read and has more reporting than analysis. Older kids who want to know more can read Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon by Theodore White, To Set the Record Straight: The Break-In, the Tapes, the Conspirators, the Pardon, by Judge Sirica, or the books by John Dean and H. R. Haldeman. In 2006, the identity of “Deep Throat” was revealed and Woodward told the story in The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat.  President Nixon’s series of television interviews with David Frost inspired the Oscar-nominated film Frost/Nixon,  and the interviews are also available on DVD.

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Based on a book Based on a true story Classic Crime Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week
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