Whether you're a parent, a teacher, an administrator or simply a taxpayer, you should go see this movie, which opens Friday, Oct. 8, at Hillcrest Cinemas. You don't have to agree with it, and you may think that at times it's an oversimplification of the issues. But if we're lucky, it will spark the same sort of debate initiated by one of Guggenheim's previous films, An Inconvenient Truth.
We all know there are huge problems with education in this country. But the issues feel so vast that it often seems like there are no possible solutions. In the movie, Guggenheim looks at several charter schools that are having great success and points at some of the reasons many district schools and the neighborhoods they're in continue to fail. His point is essentially this: Because charter schools— publicly funded institutions that aren't subject to the regulations of the districts they exist in—make their own rules, they have the freedom to improve upon the mandate of No Child Left Behind, bureaucracy and entrenched teachers unions.
“It's about having the freedom to make your school outside of the district rules and the union contracts,” Guggenheim tells CityBeat. “It's about really picking your teachers, developing your teachers and assessing your teachers in a thoughtful way—or just thinking outside the box. Those things won't happen as long as there's a centralized bureaucracy and these union contracts, which tie everything down.”
Teachers unions come under fire in the movie, portrayed as immovable objects that, along with government bureaucracy, often stand in the way of real reform. But Guggenheim is very much pro-teacher, and as a member of the Director's Guild of America, he wants to be clear that he isn't anti-labor. “If someone said abolish all the unions tomorrow, I would say, ‘That's dangerous,'” he says. “Teachers would be taken advantage of. But things have to change. That's common sense, something every parent would understand.”
Additionally, Guggenheim isn't saying that every charter school is a success and that every district school is a failure. What he's doing is explaining how the system is broken and offering some possible solutions for the future.
There are facts and figures and talking heads, but it's the children—Anthony in Washington, D.C.; Daisy in L.A.; Francisco in the Bronx; and others—who make the movie personal. By the time they attend the live charter-school lotteries at the end of the film, we know them, and we know their schools. These events are life-altering to these children and their families, and they're just as important to the audience, because by the time we get to this part of the film, we're invested in these children.
“Now that we know it's possible to give every kid a great education, what is our responsibility to other people's children?” asks Guggenheim. “That's the leap that I think we have to take. We have to say that it affects us. What happens to Anthony and Daisy is what happens to us.”
ONE TIME ONLY
California Surf Festival: This epic fest hangs more than 10 feature films from Wednesday, Oct. 6, through Sunday, Oct. 10, in Oceanside. See california surffestival.com for details.
North by Northwest: Cary Grant is a New York City ad man mistaken for a secret agent by a bunch of foreign spies in Hitchcock's classic. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, at Reading Cinemas Town Square in Clairemont.
The Big Lebowski: The Dude abides at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, through Saturday, Oct. 9, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
May I Be Frank: Documentary about 54-year-old Frank, an obese addict who turns his life around after visiting an organic vegan restaurant in San Francisco. Screens at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9, at the Center in Hillcrest.
Marcello Marcello: The San Diego Italian Film Festival presents this flick about the village of Amatrello, where every boy is invited to bring a gift to the father of a girl when she turns 18. Protagonist Marcello has never participated, until he notices one particular girl has a birthday coming up. Screens at 6:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9, at FESTA! in Little Italy.
Shanghai Kiss: An Asian-American actor has to decide if he should stay in L.A. or move to China after he inherits his grandmother's home in Shanghai. Stars Ken Leung, who played surly psychic Miles on Lost. Screens at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 11, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Psycho: Showering is such a waste of water. Screens at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11, at the Birch North Park Theatre.
Viewers Choice Screening: alt.pictureshows: Couldn't catch everything at this year's event? Here are the films the audience thought were the best, all nicely packaged together at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12, at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's La Jolla location.
Strangers on a Train: Hitchcock classic about a crazy rich guy who approaches a tennis pro in the hopes of getting him to help commit a murder. On a train. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12, at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox: Wes Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel, starring George Clooney and Meryl Streep as the voices of stop-action foxes, is pretty fantastic. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
House: Nobuhiko Obayashi's 1977 Japanese freak show is not to be missed. It screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, at Price Center Theater on the UCSD campus.
Cuestion de Principios (A Matter of Principles): An aging port employee refuses to sell a back issue of a magazine to his younger, materialistic boss. The San Diego Latino Film Festival presents this Argentinean comedy at Ultra- Star Hazard Center.
El Estudiante: An old-timer takes inspiration from Don Quixote to relate to the young'uns in his literature class. Presented by the San Diego Latino Film Festival, Oct. 8 through 14 at UltraStar Hazard Center.
It's Kind of a Funny Story: Zach Galifianakis is pretty good, but this coming-of-age story set in a mental hospital feels exploitative once you've been discharged.
Last Train Home: Riveting and depressing documentary about Chinese peasant workers traveling to celebrate the New Year.
Life as We Know It: Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel are polar opposites forced to move in together and take care of an orphaned baby girl. We're guessing it all works out.
Lovely, Still: Martin Landau is an aging bachelor who finally finds romance with Ellen Burstyn.
My Soul to Take: Wes Craven's latest hacks apart a bunch of teenagers in 3-D!
Never Let Me Go: Mark Romanek and Alex Garland's adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's beloved novel is a sci-fi tragedy starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley as clones bred for organ donations. It's intense stuff, but perhaps more to be admired than enjoyed. See our review here.
Secretariat: Thoroughly family-friendly PG version of how one of history's most famous racehorses got his start.
Let Me In: Solid if unnecessary remake of the terrific 2008 Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In.
Buried: Ryan Reynolds plays a contractor in Iraq who wakes up in a coffin. Armed with a lighter and a cell phone, he needs to sort out who put him there—and why.
Case 39: Idealistic social worker Renee Zellweger tries to do the right thing by taking a little girl away from her abusive parents. That would be great. Unless she finds out the girl is actually the devil.
Like Dandelion Dust: Barry Pepper is an ex-con who learns he has a child who was given up for adoption.
Freakonomics: Half a dozen directors, including Oscar winner Alex Gibney, Morgan Spurlock and King of Kong helmer Seth Gordon, take on segments based on the pop logic of the book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dunbar. Ends Oct. 7 at La Jolla Village and Hillcrest cinemas.
The Social Network: David Fincher's new film about the early days of Facebook is more entertaining than 99.9 percent of status updates.
White Wedding: South African road-trip comedy about a groom desperately trying to make it to the church on time. Ends Oct. 7 at the Ken Cinema.
You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger: The latest one from Woody Allen is a cynical look at marriage. Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Freida Pinto, Antonio Banderas and a host of others are linked together in some way, and none of them is very happy about it.
A Film Unfinished: Yael Hersonski's documentary about our understanding of footage shot by the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto is fascinating and challenging. Ends Oct. 7 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Heartbreaker: French film about a man paid to break up other people's failing relationships. It's a great gig, until he meets the right (or, perhaps, wrong) girl.
Jack Goes Boating: Phillip Seymour Hoffman steps behind and in front of the camera, starring in his own directorial debut about two working class couples in New York City. The stage version also happens to be currently in production in Hillcrest.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole: Animated, PG-rated owl film directed by Zack Snyder, the guy behind Watchmen and 300.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps: It's been 23 years since Oliver Stone told us that greed was good. Yes, Gordon Gecko is back, but he's almost extraneous, as green energy Wall Streeter Shia LaBeouf dukes it out with sleazy megatrader Josh Brolin. It's simplistic and sporadically entertaining.
You Again: Kristen Bell is mortified when she learns that her brother is marrying Joanna, her high-school nemesis. Her mom (Jamie Bell Curtis) tries to get her to chill, until she discovers that Joanna's aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver) is her own version of Joanna.
Alpha and Omega: Because there just aren't enough 3-D animated movies about animals. Justin Long and Hayden Panettiere are a pair of wolves who have to learn whether love can overcome the pack's social order. We're guessing it can.
Easy A: Emma Stone finally gets a starring role in this about-face turn on The Scarlet Letter. She's Olive, a non-promiscuous high-schooler who gets a reputation for being easy—and proceeds to use it to get ahead.
Devil: Five people enter an elevator, and one of them's the devil. Hey, it was M. Night Shyamalan's idea.
Soul Kitchen: Charming German foodie-movie about a restaurant owner who unwisely sets his lowlife brother up to manage his spot while he goes to China to save his relationship. It's funny and sweet, like a good meal should be. Ends Oct. 7 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
The Town: Ben Affleck directs himself (not a euphemism). He's a Boston thug torn between bad-guy buddy Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively, a bank manager he once stuck up (also not a euphemism). Oh, and FBI man Jon Hamm is hot on his trail (still no euphemism).
Resident Evil: Afterlife: In 3-D. Yep.
The American: George Clooney is a sensitive hit man who has to pull One Last Job.
Machete: Danny Trejo finally gets his own movie. Robert Rodriguez turns him into a Mexican killing machine by adapting the faux trailer the duo made for Grindhouse.
Lewis & Clark: Follow the famed adventurers adventures. In IMAX! Screens Fridays at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Mao's Last Dancer: Bruce Beresford directs this biopic of Li Cunxin, who was chosen by the Chinese government to become a world-class ballet dancer.
The Expendables: Stallone, Willis, Schwarzenegger, Lundgren and some wrestlers kill people.
The Other Guys: Mark Ferrell and Will Wahlberg team up as cops. Or is it the other way around?
Inception: Christopher Nolan's follow-up to The Dark Knight is epic, complex and beautiful. In short, it's the stuff that dreams are made of.
The Kids Are All Right: Decent family drama about a lesbian couple played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore whose family is altered when their children seek out the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) who made it all possible. Ends Oct. 7 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Despicable Me: Steve Carrell voices Gru, an animated master criminal trying to steal the moon—until he meets three little girls who think he might make a better dad than a crook.
The Girl Who Played with Fire: The second film in the massively successful Millennium trilogy gives us more of Lisbeth Salander, the ass-kicking female hacker heroine, and less originality. Ends Oct. 7 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
The Living Sea: The latest IMAX film at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center looks at all the creepy crawlies that live down in the deep blue.
The Ultimate Wave Tahiti: The latest IMAX entry at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park follows super surfer Kelly Slater as he does his thing on some massive waves.
Toy Story 3: Any idea where the toys you loved as a kid ended up? When Andy goes off to college, Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang end up at a day-care center.
Hubble: Leonardo DiCaprio lends his pipes to this IMAX film, which uses CGI and real footage to take a close look at saturn's rings. Just stay away from Uranus. At the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.