YOUNG@HEART (A-3, PG) is a
documentary about a chorus
made up of 24 people who
are aging gracefully and proud of it.
Their median age is 80. Baby-boomer
Bob Cilman is the music director. The
chorus members are funny, smart, sassy,
talented and living each day to the
fullest. And some of them are dying.
Their hip repertoire includes Sonic
Youth’s “Schizophrenia,” James
Brown’s “I Feel Good,” Coldplay’s
“Fix You” and Allen Toussaint’s
“Yes We Can Can.”
The film includes music videos
featuring these likable people. As
Cilman says, “They don’t hide
their age; they make you listen
to the words.”
This low-budget documentary
proves that everyone can make a
difference, no matter how old,
and that filmmakers can make art
despite—or maybe because of—
limitations. The film offers endless
themes to talk about because it is
a foot-stomping joyous testament
to life, music, art, community, fidelity,
perseverance, commitment, dying well,
faith, hope and love.
I’d give it an Oscar today if I could.
The film earned my BK rating (bring
Kleenex). Authentic, pure and moving;
some problem language and innuendo.
21 (A-3, PG-13): Ben Campbell (Jim
Sturgess, The Other Boleyn Girl) is a math
whiz on track to graduate at the head
of his class from M.I.T. He has already
been accepted into Harvard Medical
School, although he lacks the tuition.
His math professor, Micky Rosa
(Kevin Spacey, Superman Returns),
invites Ben to join an exclusive money-making
team of students who “count
cards” at casinos and win against the
house (casino). Rosa directs the team
and collects a large percentage of the
winnings. He no longer plays blackjack
(known as “21”), because Vegas
casino-security personnel know him
and will not let him play.
Reluctant at first because it feels wrong
to him, Ben learns blackjack and how to
count and hits Las Vegas with the team.
Winning and losing, he runs afoul of
casino security, led by Cole Williams
(Laurence Fishburne, Akeelah and the
Bee), and ultimately of Micky Rosa.
This film is based on Ben Mezrich’s
2002 best-selling book, Bringing Down
the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T.
Students Who Took Vegas for Millions.
Mezrich changed some details for his
book, and screenwriters Peter Steinfeld
(Analyze That) and Allan Loeb (Things
We Lost in the Fire) massage and complicate
the story even more.
Card counting (keeping track of six
decks of cards and calculating the odds
of when the dealer will draw the right
combination) is nothing new to the
Vegas gambling scene. It is not illegal
because it does not change the outcome
of the game.
Before his death in 2002, the Rev.
Joseph R. Fahey, S.J., won thousands of
dollars counting cards and donated the
money to his Jesuit community. An
M.I.T. graduate and economics
professor at Boston College, he
taught a class in card counting.
This entertaining drama elicits
audience sympathy for Ben
and the team. While it doesn’t
exactly glorify gambling, I would
bet that books on card counting
are selling briskly. The message
is clear that there are consequences
for the team’s choices
and, by extension, the world and
culture of gambling.
The film presents families with
an opportunity to talk about the
distinctions between legality and
morality. At first, Ben is a student
in need. But the casinos are favored to
win. Greed, legal or not, is still one of the
deadly sins; strip-club scenes, violence and
STOP-LOSS (L, R): After a harrowing and
heroic tour of duty in Iraq, Brandon
King (Ryan Phillippe, Breach) and his
buddies return to the United States to
a hometown parade and honors from
U.S. Senator Worrell (Josef Sommer, X-Men:
The Last Stand).
Brandon’s enlistment is up, but his
best friend, Steve (Channing Tatum,
She’s the Man), decides to reenlist and
become a sniper.
When Brandon turns in his gear, he
discovers that he has been stop-lossed
(involuntary extension of active-duty
service). He must return to Iraq because
there are not enough fresh, trained
recruits to take the place of veterans.
Senator Worrell had told Brandon
to contact him if he ever needed anything, so the young man goes AWOL
and heads for Washington, D.C. Steve’s
girlfriend, Michelle (Abbie Cornish,
Elizabeth: The Golden Age), drives the
getaway car. Along the way, they meet
other veterans on the run and a badly
wounded member of Brandon’s unit.
This film joins In the Valley of Elah,
Lions for Lambs and others that endeavor,
through cinema art, to raise
awareness about the Iraq war’s moral
ambiguities. It is a pro-soldier film that
elicits empathy for the heartbreaking
psychological and physical damage to
our military men and women during
combat and after.
Directed (and co-written) by Kimberly
Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry), this is a
buddy film in which the character
chooses between self-preservation and
self-sacrifice for his friends, leaving
political ideology behind. Ryan
Phillippe gives an exceptional performance
as we are led into a narrative
quagmire with a point instead of a plot.
Films that question the premise and
function of the Iraq war are not popular
with the American public, perhaps
because the ideological perspectives
and battle realism create uneasiness
and distress in the audience.
Stop-Loss and other movies of this
new subgenre of the war film expand
the discourse about war, and the Iraq
war in particular. Such films question
the tenuous comfort created by the status
quo just as they test our fundamental
concepts of right and wrong, justice
and injustice, integrity, morality, ethics
and, above all, the common good.
Mature themes, crass language; graphic,
intense battlefield violence.
ARMY WIVES (Lifetime Television,
highest-rated series ever is a
drama drenched in soap. It stars Kim
Delaney (NYPD Blue), Catherine Bell
(JAG), Sally Pressman and Wendy Davis
as women married to enlisted men and
officers, or, in the case of Davis, a married
woman in the Army.
The show’s blogosphere gives voice
to women who love this series as well
as real military wives who are disappointed
because it does not reflect their
reality. This dichotomy presents an
interesting debate about all fictional
television: Are the stories factual or do
they tell the truth, at least to some
extent? Most Army Wives bloggers seem
to understand the difference—that all
television is the writers’ and producers’
concept of reality—and that drama
only works when the tension among
temptation, sin, choices, consequences,
redemption and restitution is taut and
feels authentic on some level.
It’s unlike CBS’s The Unit, which
shares time between the military at war
and the wives and families at home, in
addition to modeling proper Army-wife
behavior. Instead, Army Wives focuses
on women and their children, for better,
for worse and in between.
INDEPENDENT LENS: WRIT WRITER (PBS,
June 3, check local listings): Fred Arispe
Cruz dropped out of school in the
eighth grade, became a drug addict and
killed his best friend in an accident. In
1960, he was arrested and convicted
for a robbery he denied committing.
Sentenced to 50 years at a prison
cotton farm in Texas, he became a jailhouse
lawyer to appeal his conviction
and those of other prisoners. This was
against Texas law at the time, and
prison officials used great cruelty to
punish “writ writers.” With the help of
a pro bono lawyer and the NAACP, he
challenged the law and changed it.
This fascinating and deeply human
documentary deserves to be considered
within the context of the civil-rights
movement. It’s introduced by
Terrence Howard (Crash) and narrated
by Jesse Borrego (24).