Reel Critics: Documentary gives school system an 'F'


Every American child deserves a decent public school education. A good education is the foundation and future of this country.

In the thoughtful, compassionate documentary "Waiting for 'Superman,'" we learn that the U.S. spends twice as much money per student as it did 40 years ago — yet there is an alarming increase in kids with less-than-basic reading and math skills. In Los Angeles alone, only 40% of kids are graduating from high school.

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") introduces us to our public school system mainly through the eyes of five vulnerable kids from different cities, ethnic groups and families. These children dream about growing up to be a doctor or a vet, or providing a better life for their own kids some day.

When they are placed in lotteries for a chance at admission to a charter school instead of their current "failure factories," the outcomes are a nail-biter guaranteed to break your heart.

As the film points out, the good news is that we know what works: great teachers who motivate, lead and inspire. And we know a lot of what doesn't work. Guggenheim spurs us to outrage, shame and hopefully to action to advocate meaningful change.

Without a real Superman, we have to be the ones to save the day.


'Secretariat' done well, but done before


Randall Wallace made his reputation writing screenplays for major Hollywood productions like "Braveheart" and "Pearl Harbor." He moved up to direct Mel Gibson in "We Were Soldiers" and a host of stars in the classic tale of "The Man in the Iron Mask." He has now directed "Secretariat," Disney's latest entry in the mainstream family film derby.

Of course, the production values are first rate and the acting is competent and professional. But the audience knows in advance that this magnificent horse won all three legs of the Triple Crown. That leaves us with a very obvious outcome in search of some dramatic tension elsewhere in the plot.

Diane Lane is well cast as the feisty owner of the champion racehorse. She struggles to achieve respect and success in the male-dominated world of horse racing in 1973. Her personal battles become the real focus of the story. John Malkovich adds a touch of offbeat humor with his portrayal of the colorful trainer at her side. But in the end this is a formulaic film. It's all been done many times before and no doubt, will be done again.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a financial services company.

JOHN DEPKO is a Costa Mesa resident and a senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office.

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