Pride the Movie

In 1971 Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard) makes his way to Philadelphia from North Carolina to apply for a job as a swimming coach at the prestigious Mainline Academy. Coach Bink (Tom Arnold) is rude and rejects him. Ellis applies for a job as a teacher in the public school system but is hired to close the decrepit Marcus Foster Recreation Center instead because young people no longer use it. As African-American kids shoot hoops in the yard, the director, grumpy Elston (Bernie Mac), whiles away the time sleeping in his chair.

       

          Ellis discovers the old swimming pool filled with junk. He clears it out and fills the pool with water. Elston growls about what will happen with the Philadelphia Department of Recreation (PDR) gets the bill. Ellis, who had been a high school swim champion until an unfortunate altercation with a policeman at a meet ended with his arrest, finished college but was on the brink of unemployment. When the city removes the hoops from the yard, the kids can no longer play so Ellis shows them the pool and offers to teach them to swim. Twenty five years later, Ellis is still teaching inner-city African-American kids how to swim at the PDR. Hundreds have gone to college on swimming scholarships due to his efforts.

 

 

        Pride, based on a true story, follows a very conventional story line, which is to be expected given that it took four writers to craft the script. Terrence Howard is very good as a man who continues to struggle with his demons even as he labors to show young people that swimming, like all sports, takes discipline and builds character. We expect Bernie Mac to play the comic, but here he plays a dramatic role just right. I especially liked him when he approached the neighborhood church to enlist the congregation to support the team. Tom Arnold, however, is a cardboard character, the token biased white-guy. Direction is by novice director Sunu Gonera.

 

        I love that the filmmakers decided a movie about swimming was worth their time. Having been on my high school swim team (a long time ago!) I really got into the film’s competitions and appreciated what it took for the young people to train and become a team. At one point Ellis/Howard walks into the rec center and takes a deep breath when he smells the pool. I know that “feeling”; it’s one of excitement and anticipation. Even with the expected emotional jag at the end and its low-budget feel, I enjoyed Pride very much. And I think Terrence Howard is terrific.

 

Lives of Others the Movie

I just got home from Johannesburg, South Africa from the 5th World Summit on Media and Children and I hope to be sharing some information with you soon about that. But I wanted to take a moment and tell you about one of the finest films I have seen in a very long time: The Lives of Others. It won the Oscar for best foreign language film this year; German with English subtitles.

Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mule) is a Stassi agent in East Germany in the 1980’s. He is asked to bug the apartment of a playright, who is loyal to the government, so that the minister of culture can have the writer’s girlfriend when he is arrested and exiled (or worse.)

The previews for this film give no hint of the depth and transcendence of this film: how art can transform a human being and inspire deeds of generosity that seem unimaginable in such a repressed and corrupt regime. The only reason I went to see it was because a colleague said that after seeing it he was glad it won the Oscar over “Water”, which I thought (and still think) deserved the award. But I am glad “The Lives of Others” did win; it is an intense, amazing film. Wiesler’s interior transformation is “seen” in his eyes, his gaze, for outwardly his life, that seemed to have had meaning, slowly empties as it is filled with his humanity. I am pleased that “the Academy” saw that “The Lives of Others” is so deeply meaningful. Ergo, bravo!

At one point, as Wiesler is listening, the playright, the artist, sits at his piano and plays “A Sonata for a Good Man.” The music is beautiful and he says to his girlfriend, “I don’t think it is possible for someone to hear this music and not be a good man.”

If you like to savor films, don’t miss this one.