Won’t Back Down

Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a single mom in urban Pittsburgh, struggling to support her 7-year-old daughter, Malia (Emily Alyn Lind). At Malia’s new school, Jamie learns that while some teachers are very effective, not every teacher or administrator has the best interests of students at heart.

There is no extra help for Malia, whose teacher is the highest paid but with the lowest job performance for the past several years. Overall, the school is failing. Jamie tries to enroll Malia in private school, but she cannot afford it.

Nona (Viola Davis) is a mom and a teacher at the school whose marriage is failing. While she is concerned about the level of teaching, she is reluctant to take action. Jamie and Nona evoke the “parent trigger law” to take over the school’s administration and form a charter school.

The two women and the other teachers they engage in their cause run up against every administrative hurdle possible. The head of the teachers’ union, Oscar-winner Holly Hunter, tries to bribe Jamie to send Malia to private school. The school board puts up every block possible and has a history of denying petitions on the smallest pretext.

Won’t Back Down is a movie with a message and a mission. Walden Media co-produced the very important Waiting for Superman (2010), an unflinching documentary that examined failing public education in the United States as well as successful innovations. Now the education-centered company wants to bring the debate about public education to mainstream America by putting the good of children firmly at the center of this story.

Won’t Back Down has a brilliant cast. While the script employs everything we’ve heard about the reasons for our failing schools, it deftly pushes away every excuse for change in order to motivate audiences— and citizens—to pay attention and act for the sake of children.

Not yet rated, PG–Thematic elements.

The Bourne Legacy

Jason Bourne has gone underground and exposed two possibly illegal Department of Defense “black” operations. At the same time, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), part of the secret project “Operation Outcome,” makes his way across the state of Alaska. He is almost a superman because he takes special chemicals that enhance his physical and mental abilities through genetic manipulation.

Aaron pretends he has lost his medication in view of obtaining extra when he reaches the operational outpost. When a government drone destroys it, Aaron heads to Washington, DC, to obtain more little blue pills from the source.

But the Department of Defense has set in motion a self-destruction protocol for those involved in these black ops, including the lab workers who developed them. Aaron tracks down a research doctor, Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), and convinces her to go to Manila to survive and to obtain the pills from the manufacturer.

The film asks—in typical heart-pounding Bourne technique—if the ends justify the means in today’s ethical quagmire of world events created by the powerful. Considering this makes the film worth seeing.

A-3, PG-13–Action violence, peril, mature themes.

Sparkle

Three sisters, Sparkle (American Idol-winner Jordin Sparks), Sister (Carmen Ejogo), and Dee (Tika Sumpter), live on the fringe of the waning music scene in 1968 Detroit. Sister is now 30 and just returned home after disappointment in New York. Dee wants to be a doctor, and Sparkle writes lyrics.

The group performs one of Sparkle’s songs and impresses a music executive, Stix (Derek Luke), who is attracted to Sparkle. A ladies’ man and sometime comedian, Satin Struthers (Mike Epps), and Sister are attracted to each other and later marry with devastating results.

Emma (the late Whitney Houston) is mother to the sisters and disapproves of their being anywhere near the music industry. She was a singer and is a recovering alcoholic, now dedicated to the church and Bible study, certain that this is the only way for her daughters to succeed.

Sparkle is a message movie that promises music but doesn’t really deliver until the very end.

This film seems more like a cautionary tale about the life of Whitney Houston herself, who died earlier this year, and whose one song in the film appears to confirm this.

A-3, PG-13–Mature themes, drug use, domestic violence.