Movies about education are seldom convincing; their depiction of what goes on in the classroom hardly ever tallies with our own experiences. So the sweet and poignant Quebecois film Monsieur Lazhar is a rare pleasure.
Lee Hirsch’s documentary Bully rings false from beginning to end. The film wants to sound alarm bells about the prevalence of bullying in public schools, which is certainly a very real problem. But like the recently completed trilogy of TV documentaries about the child murders at Robin Hood Hills and the young men who were evidently scapegoated for the crime, the movie has a tawdry, voyeuristic quality that keeps distracting you from its alleged agenda.
The Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, are known for their low-key, plot-light, character-heavy tales of survival, usually played out in a small Belgian town that serves as their spiritual microcosm and often focused on the struggles of children to make it to adulthood in one piece. The Kid with a Bike, which won a top prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, continues down this path, though Dardenne purists may find fault with the film’s upbeat conclusion, a contrast to the harsher endings of their earlier efforts.
Readers of a certain age may remember “women’s pictures,” those four-hankie weepies from the 1940s and ’50s. Celebrated British director Terence Davies has lovingly embraced the once-popular genre via an adaptation of the 1952 play The Deep Blue Sea.
There’s no faster way for a movie to earn the disdain of critics than to rack up exorbitant costs and then fall on its face. And yes, John Carter, based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs fantasy A Princess of Mars, would be a better picture if it hadn’t cost $250 million, most of which is clearly visible in the overextended, dull Martian battle sequences.
Here in the basement of the Espresso Royale on Sixth Street in this land grant university town, amid English Fog lattes and keypad-clatter, in the afternoon before the all-hallows-eve in which Katie, a great-great-et-cetera granddaughter of the townswoman they hanged for the crime of witchcraft, will play a game—homo ludens— of volleyball against the maize-and-blue Michigan Wolverines I draft a missive to the good citizenry of Dorchester as though they might yet happen upon these words, as though their revivified selves were a short gallop from this latitude and longitude, as though their sins of omission and commission might still be forgiven— not just forgotten—by an act of penance that includes a pilgrimage to tonight’s venue and a maniacal cheering for this descendent as she executes (I didn’t invent the language) a perfect play that culminates in (really, I didn’t) a kill. Full stop because I don’t know how to end this letter. So I do what I always do: continue breaking lines and staggering down the page until it’s time to witness more volleyball and cheer like nothing else ever happens or matters.