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Ah, Liberal Hollywood


I can just imagine the pitch meeting for this.  “It will be The Replacements meets Waiting for Superman!  For the screenplay, we’ll hire someone who worships Aaron Sorkin but finds him insufficiently didactic.”

But “Won’t Back Down” ultimately has no use for nuance, and its third act is a mighty cataract of speechifying and breathless plot turns that strip the narrative down to its Manichaean core. Once teachers give up job security and guaranteed benefits, learning disabilities will be cured, pencils will stop breaking and the gray skies of Pittsburgh will glow with sunshine. Who could be against that?

In a “death is not an option” game, I think I’d rather sit though the Dinesh D’Souza thing.

Also: “Someone needs to launch an investigation into what combination of crimes, dares, alcoholic binges and lapses in judgment got Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal into this movie.”

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  • I’ve kind of thought about going to see it just to write about it, but then I decided I didn’t have that level of self-hatred.

    • I think the trailer says it all, really.

    • sparks

      The thought of Michelle Rhee orgasming during a screening is enough to keep me out of a theater.

      • LeeEsq

        I command you to do penance for spreading such an evil image.

        • sparks

          Proper penance as punishment…let’s see. How about I read one of SEK’s visual rhetoric columns on a show I’ve never watched.

          • Njorl

            Careful. My wife started watching Dr. Who after reading one of those over my shoulder.

            • sparks

              No worries. I still have no desire to watch Game Of Thrones even after reading one of his posts.

            • Warren Terra

              This is a bad thing?

              Fair warning, though: Torchwood deteriorates rapidly, and Classic Doctor Who is very much an acquired taste.

              • Malaclypse

                Classic Doctor Who is very much an acquired taste.


                • Hogan

                  Probably thinks fezes aren’t cool.

    • Hee. According to Box Office Mojo, its opening was one of the worst wide-openings ever. So your attendance might have jacked up the opening weekend take by a half.

  • Bah! I’ve been hating this thing for months, ever since ads for a benefit concert thrown by Walden Media and Walmart (no joke) started going on heavy rotation on Spotify.

    As one of my friends put it, SGA needs to start thinking about putting “meta-scabbing” into its list of behaviors that contribute to loss of membership.

    • Vance Maverick

      I spent a moment contemplating the possibilities of SGA but then decided you meant the SAG.

  • James E. Powell

    The basic message of all these movies is that Norma Rae was out to destroy this country.

    • One of the commenters at Salon calls the movie “Norma Rand.” *titter*

      • LeeEsq

        Thats kind of funny.

  • Icarus Wright

    Obvious, really.

    If “The Simpsons” has taught us anything, it is that pious expressions of concern for “the children” are usually evidence of a political agenda in overdrive.

    Yeah, ok, whatever. Y mas.

  • Fighting Words

    There seem to be a lot of conservative movies out recently.

    There will be a remake of “Red Dawn.”

    There is “Last Ounce of Courage,” a conservative movie about a small town Colorado mayor who “courageously” stands up to the ACLU (represented by Fred “The Hammer” Williamson) and fights to put up Christmas decorations on public land. You know, because white Christians are the most persecuted people in the U.S.

    I don’t know if part 2 of “Atlas Shrugged” has been released yet, but I would love to see a review of that movie on this site.

    • Icarus Wright

      Sociopathy 2: Her Randiness is scheduled to be unleashed Oct 12. Starring nobody from the first part and at half the budget of part 1.

    • bgn

      Probably the result of several years of Breitbart & Co. playing the refs in Hollywood just like their colleagues played the refs in Washington for decades.

    • Jaime

      The remake of RED DAWN has been sitting on a shelf with its thumb up its butt for 12 mos plus. Not sure what the studio/bank/completion guarantor that now owns the picture’s ass is sniffing in the wind to think that now is a good time to recoup theatrically.

  • calling all toasters

    Once teachers give up job security and guaranteed benefits, learning disabilities will be cured, pencils will stop breaking and the gray skies of Pittsburgh will glow with sunshine.

    Personally, I find this a welcome change from “middle-class boring man is driven to extremes and consequently can out shoot trained assassins and outrun explosions.” And I predict it will have a similar power to affect policy.

    • firefall

      I fear you might be right, given how much those male fantasy films drive the size of the Defense Dept budget

    • Davis X. Machina
  • djw

    NPR;s man-on-the-street interview after a screening included some guy who basically said “we hate public schools and don’t really like unions and put our kids in a charter school, but this movie seemed pretty over the top”.

    • mark f

      Casting Lee J. Cobb as the union president may have been a tad heavy-handed.

      • sparks

        And Donald Pleasance as the sadistic, uncaring principal!

  • jeer9

    Rent A Separation instead. It’s well worth your time.

    Films about public education rarely capture anything like the experience (with the exception of Election).

    Just recently saw Tony Kaye’s Detachment and, while Brody’s substitute teacher had some resonance, a good measure of the plot was overwrought nonsense, implausibly constructed with poorly cast actors (James Caan as a 70 something year old dean?).

    It did, however, have a few redeeming qualities, exploring the seldom-depicted but ridiculous pressures of standardized testing upon administrators, and the more obvious fact that many a teacher’s home life intrudes upon the classroom and often interferes with the learning/ counseling process (facing a group of apathetic/belligerent teenagers while one’s personal affairs are spinning out of control is not a proposition that can be won on a daily basis).

    • It’s not about American public education, but I thought The Class did a very good take.

      • James E. Powell

        Agreed. I tried to get all my friends to watch it to counteract the effects of films like Freedom Riders.

        • Davis X. Machina

          It’s always Être et Avoir (To BE and to Have) for this teacher….

          • James E. Powell

            Thanks for the tip. In my netflix queue.

    • arguingwithsignposts

      Films about public education rarely capture anything like the experience (with the exception of Election).

      Much like pretty much any film about pretty much any career.

      • jeer9

        I thought Erin Brockovich was a pretty good depiction of the legal profession and Margin Call seemed like an accurate portrayal of the inner workings of an investment bank. YMMV.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Margin Call was really good.

          • ajay

            Margin Call was really good.

            But, unforgivably, it didn’t feature a margin call at any point.

            See also “Reservoir Dogs”, “Waiting for Godot”, etc.

  • Joe

    I’m still waiting for Replacements II: The Refs. Gene Hackman can come out of retirement.

  • Sherri

    When I lived in Pittsburgh, I might have broken a union myself for a little sunshine…

  • Cullen

    White trash magic is awesome. I hope the Jamie character goes on the road. Jamie helps Latino cooks rediscover the joys of simple food while scabbing at a hotel restaurant in Vegas. In Seattle, Jamie connects with some Asian Americans working at a distribution center and pushes them to reconnect with their families while thwarting the lazy workers attempt to organize. The possibilities are endless but Jamie should avoid golf courses, purgatory, prison and post apocalyptic earth.

    • firefall

      Are you kidding? Jamie is a sign of post-apocalyptic earth

  • DrDick

    Hollywood is not liberal, it is libertarian. All they care about is money.

    • Left_Wing_Fox

      Yeah, but a weird sort of libertarianism which seems to take strong unions for granted.

    • This and…I really think Hollywood responds to culture more than it shapes it. More here.

      • DrDick

        I would say yes and no to that. Certainly they respond to specific perceived cultural trends, but they can also amplify and shape those trends as well. For the most part, there are notable exceptions, Hollywood only makes movies which they believe have a substantial existing audience or which can create one.

      • KCMO

        Was at a speech from a filmmaker here in the Midwest who teaches at a university, but spent a decade in LA writing screenplays. A good comment he had about Hollywood was this:

        “Hollywood knows nothing. It likes something the second someone else tells them to like something.”

        Not 100% accurate, but in that range.

  • KadeKo

    Speaking of Viola Davis, I remember Coca-Cola’s product placement in The Help. Hell, it was even visible on the still selected for back of the soundtrack CD.

    So, did the Pop-Tarts people ante up for this flick?

  • Joe

    The NYT time review is pretty negative:

    “When did Norma Rae become a bad guy?” one of the union heavies asks, and it is a question that might well be directed at the filmmakers, who have turned the rousing rhetoric and simple us-against-them storytelling of the classic strike film upside down. As drama, the movie is not entirely ineffective, thanks mainly to the cast. Ms. Davis’s gravity and Ms. Gyllenhaal’s exuberance harmonize nicely, though it may be worth noting that both of them — along with just about everyone else named in the credits — are dues-paying union members.

    More usefully, the movie claims to be “based on true events.” It might be useful if someone blogged about the (to quote the review) “state law [which] allows parents and teachers to assume control of a failing school if they navigate a cumbersome bureaucratic procedure, gathering petition signatures and putting together a detailed proposal.”

    Truth from collision with error, I say.

    • sparks

      Everyone knows “based on a true story” is short for “has fuckall to do with what really happened”. I can’t even guess how much worse “based on true events” is, but it sounds like “we pick and choose from a disparate group of conflicting facts/events and assemble them to make this tasty jambalaya”. Or so they think.

      • Joe

        That’s a given and doesn’t really depend on how good the film is. So, let’s actually look at what is portrayed here. Should be informative.

        • sparks

          Go right ahead, I’ll be waiting for your report.

        • The movie is “loosely” based on a 2010 attempt to exercise the “parent trigger” to take over Mount Gleason Middle School in L.A. An effort that failed, as have all parent trigger efforts.

          Interestingly, the filmmakers chose not to use cases in which parent trigger campaigns were started by charter school groups using paid signature gatherers, after having chosen themselves as the designated charter operator to take over.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Interestingly, the filmmakers chose not to use cases in which parent trigger campaigns were started by charter school groups using paid signature gatherers, after having chosen themselves as the designated charter operator to take over.

            Clearly, this didn’t happen and is just union propaganda. In the real world, the world’s greatest teachers are just dying to go to schools in decaying neighborhoods and work for no job security or benefits, if only the damned union thugs would get out of the way.

            • sparks

              Most of the vandalism at those schools comes from frustrated teachers who wanted to get in but couldn’t.

          • Hogan

            I guess they moved it to Pennsylvania, where they have a teacher trigger as well as a parent trigger, because that makes it easy to involve the teacher union as the heavy.

    • Hogan

      I gather the real-world translation would be “teachers and parents can take over a failing school if they can show they have the ability, support and resources (with public money) to run a non-failing school.” See, if we just ran our schools like businesses, none of that would be necessary. Of course, in that case two-thirds of schools would fail completely in the first two year, but eggs somethins something omelets.

      • Joe

        I don’t want to “gather” to be honest. I want to know a bit more about the actual law in place and “we just ran our schools like businesses” doesn’t sound like the point, since businesses don’t tend to allow workers and consumers to assume control. At least, that isn’t generally how “business” works in this country as a whole though in other nations, workers do have more of a say.

        • James E. Powell

          But corporations use the “parents take control” laws to pry the school loose from the district (democratic government) and put it into the hands of a corporate charter (profit making enterprise).

        • Hogan

          Go here.

          Charter schools are run by their own boards, not by the teachers and parents. The boards operate under an agreement with the local school district.

          My point was that you don’t have to show that you can run a business before you’re allowed to open a business. Won’t Back Down appears to be applying that model to charter schools.

        • James E. Powell

          Some information on the parent trigger in Compton, California.

          Some information on the “Won’t Back Down” film.

          • Hogan

            The law in Pennsylvania requires a petition signed by at least 50 percent of the parents and 50 percent of the teachers.

          • sparks

            I like how the Compton leader got involved over ticky-tack issues the school may not have much control over (street parking requires the city’s okay for any changes, and canopies for benches with a budget shortfall?), then realizes he’s been had. Catspaw much?

  • Ed

    Someone needs to launch an investigation into what combination of crimes, dares, alcoholic binges and lapses in judgment got Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal into this movie.”

    I’m going to hazard a wild guess and say that Davis, Gyllenhall (and Hunter) saw chances to make something of three good roles in a feature film — for three actresses who haven’t gotten many such chances or roles.

    • sparks

      I suppose you meant to append “lately” in re: Hunter.

      • Ed

        Yes, thanks, I should have done.

  • Here’s the part that makes me want to throw things:

    Viola Davis is the “sober middle-class schoolteacher”, like pretty much ALL of the black women I knew growing up in Chicago in the 70’s and 80’s. I actually thought for a long time that I was going to be a teacher when I grew up, because that’s what educated black women did, right? My mother had to explain to me that if I wanted to be a teacher, great, but that the great thing about my generation was that we had other options.

    No one wants to talk about how race and gender issues inform discussions of education in this country, and how teacher salaries are directly connected to the perception of elementary and high school teaching as “women’s work”. Matt Yglesias certainly isn’t going to notice way Karen Lewis was portrayed as a loud, “unladylike” black woman who didn’t have the courtesy to shut up and have the white male mayor tell her what to do.

    The “sober, middle-class” black women teachers I knew growing up were all members of the CTU. They were usually the only ones who gave a shit about the students–certainly not the Board of Ed, or the mayor’s office, or the state legislature. And they knew that the union gave them a voice. This movie is trying to turn that history on its head.

  • Jerry Vinokurov

    I am late to this, but I resent the characterization of Pittsburgh’s skies as “gray.” Pittsburgh is actually reasonably sunny for a city of its latitude (well, half the year, anyway), and the air quality has improved considerably over the last few decades.

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