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New in Theaters
  New to DVD

Hail, Caesar!
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and smoking
Release Date:
February 5, 2016

 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
1937

The Choice
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some thematic issues
Release Date:
February 5, 2016

 

Freeheld
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements, language and sexuality
Release Date:
October 9, 2015

The Finest Hours
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril
Release Date:
January 29, 2016

 

Bridge of Spies
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language
Release Date:
October 16, 2015

New in Theaters

grade:
B+

Hail, Caesar!

Lowest Recommended Age:
High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and smoking
Release Date:
February 5, 2016
grade:
B

The Choice

Lowest Recommended Age:
Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some thematic issues
Release Date:
February 5, 2016
grade:
B

The Finest Hours

Lowest Recommended Age:
Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril
Release Date:
January 29, 2016

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New to DVD

pick of the week
grade:
A-

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Lowest Recommended Age:
All Ages
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
1937
grade:
B

Freeheld

Lowest Recommended Age:
High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements, language and sexuality
Release Date:
October 9, 2015
grade:
A-

Bridge of Spies

Lowest Recommended Age:
High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language
Release Date:
October 16, 2015

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The People and Movies That Inspired “Hail, Caesar!”

posted by Nell Minow

The Coen brothers love old movies, and we see evidence of that in many of their films, including “Barton Fink,” about a hapless playwright who come to Hollywood to write movies in the 1940’s, and with their remakes of the heist films “The Ladykiller” and “Gambit.” With “Hail, Caesar!” they pay loving tribute to the last days of the Hollywood studio era in the 1950’s, where studio executives controlled — or tried to control — every element of their stars’ lives and especially the way those stars were covered by the press. The characters in the film are fictional and the stories are exaggerated, but many of the details and all of the films we see in production are based on real life examples.

There really was a well-known studio executive named Eddie Mannix, the name of the character played by Josh Brolin in the film. His story is told in Karina Longworth‘s terrific Hollywood history podcast, “You Must Remember This.” And, like the character in the film, he did make deals with cops, scandal magazines, and gossip columnists on behalf of the studio.

Tilda Swinton plays twin gossip columnists based on Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper (played by Helen Mirren in last year’s “Trumbo”), who wielded enormous power through their columns. Scarlett Johansson plays a musical swimming performer inspired by Esther Williams, one of the biggest stars of the era, with films like “Million Dollar Mermaid” and “Duchess of Idaho.” She introduced the Oscar-winning classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

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She was so popular that she inspired an affectionate parody sung by Janis Paige in the Cole Porter musical remake of “Ninotchka,” “Silk Stockings.”

Alden Ehrenreich plays singing cowboy star Hobie Doyle, inspired by Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, and especially Roy Rogers.

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George Clooney plays a leading man currently filming one of the Biblical epics that were very popular in this era, along the lines of “The Robe,” “Ben-Hur,” and “The Silver Chalice” (and a lot like the upcoming “Risen” with Joseph Fiennes, the brother of Ralph Fiennes, who plays a director in “Hail, Caesar!”).

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Channing Tatum plays a Gene Kelly-like musical star currently filming a sailor story.

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Veronica Orsoio is terrific in a small part inspired by singing and dancing star Carmen Miranda, “the lady in the tutti fruiti hat.”

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And the entire movie is reminiscent of behind-the-scenes dramas of the era like “The Bad and the Beautiful.”

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Interview: Francis Gary Powers, Jr. on his Father, the Cold War, and “Bridge of Spies”

posted by Nell Minow
Copyright Touchstone 2015

Copyright Touchstone 2015

Bridge of Spies, out on DVD/Blu-Ray this week, tells the story of the tense negotiations for the exchange of a Soviet spy for an American U2 pilot and a graduate student. The pilot was Francis Gary Powers, who was flying a camera-equipped plane on a top secret reconnaissance mission for the CIA when he was shot down over the Soviet Union.

His son, Francis Gary Powers, Jr., talked to me about the film and about his work in educating people about his father’s legacy and about the Cold War era.

What led you to create the Cold War Museum?

I founded the Museum in 1996 to honor Cold War veterans, preserve Cold War history and educate future generations about this time period. I found that in the early 90s right after the end of the Cold War. I’d be giving lectures to high school students in the Washington DC Fairfax County area, and nine times out of ten I would walk into a classroom to give a talk on the U-2 incident and I would get blank stares from the kids. The students thought I was there to talk about the U-2 rock band. And so that was the catalyst, that was a light bulb that goes on, that said, “Oh we need to create a Cold War Museum to preserve this history and educate the students.” That’s how it all transpired.

Copyright Francis Gary Powers, Jr. 2015

Copyright Francis Gary Powers, Jr. 2015

It was opened in November 2011, 2000 square feet of Museum space, an addition 2000 square feet of storage space adjacent to the Museum. It is in Vint Hill, Virginia, 40 miles from Washington DC, in an authentic Cold War historic site that was used throughout the Cold War by NSA, CIA, ASA – Army Security Agency – to electronically monitor and intercept communications primarily from the DC embassies. And so it was functional up through the mid-90s at which time it was closed down by BRACT – the Base Realignment and Closure Act. The government of Virginia had appointed a Vint Hill task force to oversee some developments of homes and businesses and make it a residential area and a business complex. So that’s what they’re doing now. It’s opened on weekends, midweek by appointment for school groups and the vision that we have is to grow on site, to become a state of the art museum.

I think even adults will learn something from the movie. Does it tell the story accurately?

I am hearing very good reviews from friends and peers, and people I have interacted with over the last few months like the movie. My personal take is that the movie is very well done. In the big scheme of things, the overall movie hits the historical accuracy spot on, the feelings of the 1950s and 60s, the fear of the Soviet Union, the civil defense drills and duck and cover drills that people would do are all accurately portrayed, including the feelings towards my father, towards [Soviet spy] Rudolf Abel, and towards James Donovan [played by Tom Hanks], the attorney representing the Soviet spy but also brokering the exchange between my father and Rudolf Abel. So the feelings felt towards these individuals sometimes throughout the movie were not so flattering. I mean it was the time period and these were the feelings that were felt, so overall in the big picture it’s historically accurate.

Now you get to the details of each scene. It’s Hollywood, a little embellishing, a little dramatic effect, a little artistic liberty in all the scenes. At the very end of the movie, they do honor my father, though. They helped to set the record straight, acknowledge him as a hero to our country through the medals he received posthumously.

In the film’s climax, as your father is being released, the Americans bring someone there who knew him and could identify him. Is that how it happened?

In reality there is a gentleman name Joe Murphy and he was responsible for ID-ing my father at the bridge. So that is historically accurate. The movie takes some liberties with the role that Joe Murphy plays. In the movie Joe Murphy is a second lieutenant U-2 pilot along with my father, one of his colleagues. In reality Joe Murphy worked for the CIA in their security division and he was tasked to bring the pilot home. So in the movie it seems like dad and Joe knew each other very well, they were pilots together, in reality they did not know each other very well until after he came home.

But you had also have to remember this time period. Abel was caught in 1957-ish. There was a sting operation set up by the FBI for about two years in order to capture him. So between 55 and 57 they’re looking for Rudolf Abel. My father got shot down on May 1st of 1960. His his trial was August 60 then he got exchanged in February 62. So there’s about a 5 to 7 year time period that the movie has to condense into a two hour block so as a result some things are left out, some things are left unanswered. It’s not Gary Powers-centric, the movie is Donovan-centric. He is the hero of this movie, James Donovan. So there are a couple of things that I would have done or added in to clarify which there wasn’t time for.

Where should people go if they want to learn more?

There are three books out there that talk about this part of American history, or world history. My father’s book, Operation Overflight, that he wrote and had published in 1970. There is that of one James Donovan’s book called Strangers On A Bridge published in 1965. And there is a third book with the same title of the movie called Bridge of Spies that was written by Giles Whittell out of the UK. The movie is not based on any one book. It is based on, as they say in the movie, inspired by historical events. So between the historical records, the declassification conferences and files, the news reports at the time, the books that were written about it, the Coen brothers put together this movie script.

What did you know about all of this when you were growing up?

I was actually born in 1965, two and a half years later. So my father got shot down on May 1st of 60, spends 21 months in the Soviet prison, three months solitary confinement going through the interrogations, 3 days trials in August of 60 and then another 18 months Vladimir prison. The first prison he stayed in for the three months of interrogation was Llubyanka, the infamous KGB prison and then after the trial he was transported to three hours outside of Moscow to Vladimir prison where he serves out another 18 months as a sentence, a total of 21 months in captivity. His exchange on February 10th at the Glienicke Bridge, Potsdam Germany. It’s a cold dark foggy morning right out of a le Carré novel, these two spies were on each side of the bridge with their entourage, they are positively ID-ed and they walk home with their respective freedoms. So as a kid I was very well aware of this. I knew my father had been shot down and I knew he had been imprisoned.  We talked about this, when I was reading his book. He would come in at nights and answer questions I would have. But for me as a kid 10 years old or so reading this book I thought this was normal, I thought everybody’s dad did something like this. That perception changed on August 1st of 77, I’m 12 years old my father dies in a helicopter crash while working for NBC television out of Los Angeles and that’s when the last light bulb goes on. That’s when I realized ‘Oh, not everybody’s dad gets struck down, imprisoned exchanged, buried at Arlington, news reports about him,’ that’s when it really hit home. But by that time had passed away and I couldn’t ask any other questions.

What is it that you think the Cold War era has to teach us about the geopolitics issues of our day?

The Cold War needs to be studied and analyzed so that people, including students and scholars understand the world we live in today. The War on terror has its origins in the Cold War. For example, the Afghan war in 1979 – 1980, when the Soviet Union is fighting Afghanistan in a guerilla type of war in that country. The CIA is helping to supply the rebels with the weapons and instructions to fight the Soviets. Well the head of the rebel organization that the CIA was backing to fight off the Soviets was none other than Osama bin Laden and so from his training, from the CIA, in the 1970s, late 70’s and early 80’s, the Afghan war evolves into over the next 10+ years into him using that technology, that training it against us. And so in this war on terror it’s very important to realize what the roots are, where it comes from. To understand what’s happening in the world today you have to understand how the Cold War contributed to it. And so one of the very important things that I like to reach out to my students about is that it’s not just two separate conflicts, it’s overlapped.

Joseph Gordon Levitt Wants to Know Your Thoughts on Technology and Democracy

posted by Nell Minow

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s HitRECord project has a new initiative. He’s asking everyone to answer these questions:

1. Is today’s technology good or bad for Democracy?
2. How might the technology of the future be BAD for Democracy?
3. How might the technology of the future be GOOD for Democracy?

You can give your own answer or film an interview or discussion or just provide an example. Join the conversation!

Interview: Nicholas Sparks on “The Choice”

posted by Nell Minow

Copyright Warner Brothers Entertainment 2015

Copyright Warner Brothers Entertainment 2015

Nicholas Sparks is one of the must successful and best-loved authors in the world. All of his books have been New York Times bestsellers, with over 100 million copies sold worldwide, in more than 50 languages, including over 65 million copies in the United States alone, and all of them have been made into movies, with stars like Paul Newman, Kevin Costner, Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, Rachel McAdams, and Robin Wright. Sparks is the man behind some of the most memorable love stories of the past 20 years, including “The Notebook” and “Dear John.”

The newest film based on his books is “The Choice,” with Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer as a couple who meet as neighbors on Sparks’ beloved North Carolina coast. I was delighted to get a chance to talk to him about what he loves so much about that setting and why letters are always a key feature of his stories.

Why are old-school letters on paper so important to your characters?

When I went off to college, back then they use to charge per minute on just regular phones. So I had to correspond with letters. My mom would write three letters a week and one of the high points of my day was to reach into the mailbox and to get letters. I was from that generation. I’m a person who is used to handwriting thank you notes and things like that. That has just evolved over the years into letters of appreciation for those people with whom I worked and of course letters to those whom I love. And so for me it’s natural and almost expected even in the age of email and texts and things like that, and it is sad to me that there will be some people who never get a personal letter ever in their whole lives.

In “The Choice,” Travis and Gabby learn that sometimes the people who bother us are the people who are best for us. Why is that?

I think that is hard to be bothered by someone unless you have some sort of relationship with them in general. I don’t mean really bad people, but the people who just get to you — you really can’t hate someone so much deep down inside unless you love them. And I think that by bothering what these people are doing is essentially challenging them to be the best versions of themselves. That’s a wonderful thing that we should always aspire to be, to be the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be. But the conflicts of the choice we see when Travis (played by Ben Walker) is saying “You’re bothering me,” he is saying “You are making me a better person, you’re making me the best version of myself and that’s hard for me at this time in my life.” And I think there’s something wonderful in that because that is a lifelong journey with ups and downs.

The beach and the ocean always play a very important role in your stories and it’s never been photographed more beautifully, more lovingly that it is in this film. What do you think we learn from going out on the water and experiencing that atmosphere?

There’s a few reasons why those elements seem to recur in both my novels and my films. I like stories that are set in coastal North Carolina. North Carolina is a little unique in that it’s a state in which the closer you get to the coast the smaller the towns become. And small towns on the beach means a slower pace, a slower rhythm of life and I think a slower rhythm of life allows people more time to think, more time to simply be alone and simply just be like Travis does in his chair, his single chair on the back lawn until he brings a second one and I think that’s when people are able to connect at the most human level, when the world slows down enough for each of them to really be able to talk and listen and be heard.

In the film, Travis tells a lie about a lizard, and lets a little girl think that her lizard has not died. Do you think that was the right thing to do?

I think in this particular context yes because it was a lizard. I certainly would not have done the same thing with a kitten, or a dog but as a father you do want to shelter your kids from the harsh realities of life when it’s possible while at the same time preparing them for a life that will be include some harsh reality and I know that often there are moments in which it’s very hard to have certain kinds of conversations with your children and certainly those conversations would be different depending on the child’s age.

Travis and Gabby both learn that they jumped to the wrong conclusions about each other; is that something that is true to an extent of all people who fall in love?

Their first impressions were made during a moment of emotion, so to speak, or at least hers were, and when people are in an emotional state they are not always the people that they are the rest of the time. Their emotions were faulty so that led to I guess a faulty persona that wasn’t necessary reflective of who they are most of the time. At the same time I think that first impressions can be very accurate, not always but I think a lot of people can form opinions about another person within a few minutes of talking to them if they given the chance to really have the kinds of conversations that lend themselves to it.

Do you ever learn something new about your story by seeing it in the film?

Without question I learn something new every time. I learn different ways in the future for example to condense two characters into one for the sake of efficiency. I learn to think in terms of even when writing to think in terms of making the scene visual to the reader.

What is the biggest challenge do you think of taking a novel and making it into a movie? Doesn’t it lose some of the descriptive language that you have worked so hard on?

Primarily I think what’s lost is the ability to have characters be introspective so you know what’s going on in their heads. At the same time, a novel is a story told with worlds and in film it’s a story told with pictures. So some things are better in one, like introspection, and other things are better in another like arguments or car chases or fires. Anything exciting always works better in film or even in this particular case the scenery works better in film that I can ever hope to portray in the novel. So the challenge is to take a story told with words and put it into a story told with pictures, well knowing some things work better in one than the other whilst still maintaining the spirit and intent of the story, the spirit and intent of the characters. I think that certainly “The Choice” was able to do that. And I have been very fortunate in that all my films were able to do that.

Previous Posts

The People and Movies That Inspired "Hail, Caesar!"
The Coen brothers love old movies, and we see evidence of that in many of their films, including "Barton Fink," about a hapless playwright who come to Hollywood to write movies in the 1940's, and with their remakes of the heist films "The ...

posted 3:57:20pm Feb. 07, 2016 | read full post »

Interview: Francis Gary Powers, Jr. on his Father, the Cold War, and "Bridge of Spies"
Bridge of Spies, out on DVD/Blu-Ray this week, tells the story of the tense negotiations for the exchange of a Soviet spy for an American U2 ...

posted 8:00:23am Feb. 07, 2016 | read full post »

Joseph Gordon Levitt Wants to Know Your Thoughts on Technology and Democracy
[iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vZcaQ2Aeff8" frameborder="0"] Joseph Gordon-Levitt's HitRECord project has a new initiative. He's asking everyone to answer these questions: 1. Is today’s technology ...

posted 2:53:43pm Feb. 06, 2016 | read full post »

Interview: Nicholas Sparks on "The Choice"
Nicholas Sparks is one of the must successful and best-loved authors in the world. All of his books have been New York Times ...

posted 8:00:53am Feb. 06, 2016 | read full post »

Black History Month 2016
Be sure to take time during Black History month to watch movies the Civil Rights movement, ("Eyes on the Prize," "Selma," "Boycott"), and movies that are themselves a part of black history and film history (add to that list: "Killer of Sheep," ...

posted 3:55:11pm Feb. 05, 2016 | read full post »

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