Back-to-School Special

Elementary School

School of Rock (2003)

An out-of-work musician (Jack Black) takes over his roommate’s job as an elementary school music teacher and makes a real connection with his pupils when he turns them into a prepubescent rock band. Richard Linklater (Boyhood) directs this light-hearted comedy with a high-voltage bass line, which proves a perfect vehicle for Black’s manic comic stylings.

Monsieur Lazhar (2001)

After a traumatic teacher suicide at a French elementary school, the mysterious Monsieur Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) materializes out of nowhere to offer his services as a substitute. An Algerian by birth, Lazhar tries to educate his students while also helping them through their grieving process, all the while harboring painful secrets of his own. The resonant film, which poses more questions than it answers, was an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.

High School

School Ties (1992)

A star Jewish athlete must hide his religious identity to avoid discrimination and hostility from his elite prep-school classmates. This portentous 1950s-set melodrama is most notable for the cast of young actors who have since become major stars: Brendan Fraser, Chris O’Donnell, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. The screenplay is by Dick Wolf of TV’s Law and Order fame.

Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)

Richard Dreyfus owns this appealing drama about an aspiring but frustrated classical composer who finds himself stuck earning a living as a high school music instructor. Despite his distractions, Holland is an inspiring teacher who unlocks the creativity of his students. Told over the teacher’s entire career, the plotting of Patrick Sheane Duncan’s screenplay can be heavy-handed, especially in the subplot about Holland’s deaf son, but the pay-off of the film is, well, lyrical.

College

Pitch Perfect (2012)

This surprise hit banks heavily on the trendy appeal of a cappella singing and the charming, offbeat performances of Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson. The Barden Bellas, a fiercely competitive if ragtag all-girl singing group, seek affirmation in a campus sing-off against their male rivals. The music, including the hit “Cups,” keeps the cliché-ridden story from dragging, and it’s hard not to get caught up in the competition finale.

Wonder Boys (2000)

Michael Douglas plays a charismatic college professor/novelist who attracts a clique of restless students as acolytes. Ironically, though the professor suffers from writer’s block, his convoluted personal exploits —involving a dead dog, Marilyn Monroe’s jacket, a pregnant, married mistress, and lots of pot—would make for great material (foreshadowing!). Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) directs this quirky, literate drama with a screenplay by Steve Kloves (Harry Potter’s go-to scribe) based on a novel by Michael Chabon.

Mark Fields
Mark Fields has reviewed films for Out & About since October 2008. In addition, he has written O&A profiles of documentarian Harry Shearer and actress Aubrey Plaza. Mark also has written on the movies for several publications in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and his home state of Indiana, where he also served as on-air movie critic for Indianapolis’s public radio station. Mark has been an adjunct instructor of film history at Rowan University since 1998. A career arts administrator, he is the executive director of Wilmington’s Grand Opera House and now lives on Market Street. Mark spent the fastest 22 minutes of his life as an unsuccessful contestant on Jeopardy…sadly, there were no movie questions.