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Movie Nights Online

from Last of the Mohicans

Russell Means and Daniel Day-Lewis in Michael Mann's Last of the Mohicans (1993).

Late Fall 2021: Great movies, great discussions

Our final series for 2021 combines classics & hidden gems.

In November & December we're getting together online to view and discuss movies of unusual quality: films that most of our students have never seen — and, left to their own devices, might never see.

All our films are currently available on Netflix and Amazon Prime, so having subscriptions to both services is a prerequisite for joining us for this series.

The good news about these services: Right now, we can view many extraordinary films. — The bad news: On both services the comings & goings of individual movies can be arbitrary and difficult to predict. Our lineup of films, accordingly, is subject to change, even in the middle of a series.

from The Way Back (2011)The host for this series is Roy Speed; you can learn about him here.

How movie nights work

This online series comprises five Saturday evenings — see our schedule above right — and the series is designed to bring together teens and movies they might otherwise never see. — Each evening includes:

  • Background on the movie. Each evening begins with an introduction to the night's film. Depending on the film, that introduction may emphasize historical or geographical background on the period & place depicted; information on the filmmakers—including writers, directors, cinematographers, composers, etc.; plus any other information the host feels will deepen students' understanding of what they're about to see.
  • Lively discussion. The two principal discussions of the evening take place at the mid-point and conclusion of each film. All discussion is conducted in a relaxed yet civilized atmosphere.

The films

Among the films we're currently considering for this series—and which are (at this writing) available on either Netflix or Amazon Prime:

from Paper Moon

Tatum O'Neill & Ryan O'Neill in Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon (1973).

  • Paper Moon (1973)
    This film takes place around 1936 — the middle of the Great Depression — and it tells the story of a con man and a little girl who are making their way around Kansas and Missouri selling Bibles. The stars are actor Ryan O'Neill and his daughter, Tatum, who steals the show. She was just 8 years old when she auditioned for this part and still only 10 years old when she was awarded the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role — the youngest person ever to be so honored. Many people, including director Peter Bogdanovich still say she won in the wrong category, that she should have been awarded Best Actress in a Leading Role, for the film's success is largely due to her performance. The gorgeous black-&-white cinematography is by the great László Kovács, and the resulting film is both a powerful portrait of the Depression and a moving story.
from The Way Back (2011)

In Peter Weir's The Way Back (2010), escapees from a Siberian labor camp attempt to
walk to freedom on a four-thousand-mile trek through China & across the Himalayas into India.

  • The Way Back (2010)
    This film was directed by Australian director Peter Weir, whose films we have enjoyed in previous Movie Nights — including films like Dead Poets' Society, The Truman Show, and Master and Commander. This unusual film tells the story of a handful of prisoners in a Soviet gulag who in 1941 decide to escape. The problem: Their prison "walls" consist of hundreds of miles of Siberian forest in every direction. They resolve to walk due south to freedom: out of Siberia, into China and across the Gobi Desert, then across the Himalayas, and into India — a trek of more than four thousand miles. The script draws on the real experiences of real gulag survivors (including Varlam Shalamov). The remarkable cinematography is by Russell Boyd (Master and Commander), and the wonderful cast includes Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan, and Colin Farrell.
from Breach

Billy Ray's Breach (2007) tells the true story of the investigation & arrest of Robert Hanssen
(Chris Cooper, left), a senior agent in FBI counterintelligence who sold U.S. secrets to Soviet spies.

  • Breach (2007)
    It's February 2001, and real-life FBI agent-in-training Eric O'Neill (played by Ryan Philippe) receives a new assignment: he's been posted to the office of a 25-year veteran of the FBI named Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper). Initially, O'Neill is told that his boss is under investigation; O'Neill is supposed to monitor Hanssen's sexual proclivities. But then O'Neill's handler (Laura Linney) reveals the truth: Hanssen has been selling secrets to the Soviets, and young O'Neill is about to play a key role in a key arrest. Hanssen's betrayals would soon be described by the Department of Justice as "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history." — The stunning script is by Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Richard Jewell, Secret in Their Eyes, The Hunger Games), who also directs. The cinematography is by Tak Fujimoto (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, The Sixth Sense, Signs).
  • from The Last of the Mohicans (1993)Last of the Mohicans (1993)
    This film was directed by Michael Mann and is based loosely on the novel by James Fennimore Cooper. It takes place more than a decade before American independence, during what has become known as the "French and Indian War" — really a theater of the war between England and France, in which native Americans were fighting on both sides. What Michael Mann's version of this tale gets right is the look of the thing: you can really imagine that we have a window into the American continent of 1757, with its endless miles of rolling hills and virgin forest, its modest homesteads on the edge of the wilderness. Under Mann's direction, even the bursts of warfare and violence can be lovely to look at, e.g., coming out of the woods into a valley across which you can see the nightime shelling of Fort Ticonderoga, with shellbursts illuminating the valley like flashes of lightning. Much of the film's beauty must be credited to Italian cinematographer Dante Spinotti. Trevor Jones's music is moving and memorable. And as Hawkeye, Daniel Day-Lewis is perfect.
  • from Minority Report
  • Uncle Frank (2020)
    This film was written and directed by Alan Ball, creator of the HBO series Six Feet Under and a prolific producer for television. The film's story centers on a road trip in 1973: Beth is an 18-year-old living in New York City, where her middle-aged Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany) is a professor. The pair must drive from NYC to their hometown of Creekville, South Carolina. The reason: they're to attend the funeral of "Daddy Mac," the patriarch (Stephen Root) who dominated their family for decades. — To tell this story of the South, Alan Ball has assembled a wonderful crew of great character actors, including Margo Martindale, Lois Smith, Steve Zahn, Peter Macdissi, and more. The young actress playing 18-year-old Beth is Sophia Lillis (Sharp Objects, It), and she's terrific. But the guy who really carries this movie is the wonderful Paul Bettany; Alan Ball couldn't have asked for a more appealing Uncle Frank.

We're also considering the following films:

  • The FarewellThe Farewell (2019) — a comedy with the Chinese title Don't Tell Her. Directed by Lulu Wang, this film tells the story of a Chinese-American woman whose grandmother back in China has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. The family hides the diagnosis from the old lady, but at the same time, they all want to convene in China to say their farewells, so they need a pretext. What they come up with is a wedding: they will pretend that two of the young people are getting married...
  • Dodsworth (1936) — a remarkable film by director William Wyler, who directed not only Roman Holiday, already on our list for this series, but also The Best Years of Our Lives, Wuthering Heights, Mrs. Miniver, and many other fine films. Dodsworth is based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis and stars Walter Huston and Mary Astor.
  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) — a charming film by director Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) about a rebellious orphan who goes missing in the New Zealand bushland.

The challenge of selecting films for Movie Nights

To select just six films for a movie nights series, we view many times that number of films. Among our criteria:

  • Challenging the students. We try to avoid showing movies the kids might see on their own (e.g., Harry Potter). Rather, we deliberately select films that stretch the students in some way — that challenge their attention spans, that make them reach intellectually, and especially that carry them to unfamiliar worlds.
  • Pleasure. Each film must be enjoyable, even entertaining. Yet sometimes the content of a film exists on a plane so unfamiliar to the students that it's a difficult reach. In such cases, Roy uses his introduction to the movie to bridge the gap: He briefs students on the relevant history. He distributes maps the students can print out and refer to during the film. He explains to them quirks in a foreign culture or other subtext they might not discern or understand. He alerts them to notable features like the film's musical score or cinematography. — So each film must be inherently enjoyable, yet the introduction is often instrumental to the students' experience of pleasure.
  • Adult issues. In contrast to the usual teen fare featuring superheroes and fantasy, Roy gravitates toward films on real events, real relationships, or he'll favor science fiction that raises real moral or societal issues that not only teens but adults should be aware of. — Here's just one example of what we mean by adult issues: William Wyler's Best Years of Our Lives (1946) one of the finest films ever made, and it's about the immediate aftermath of World War II. It gives an unflinching portrait of the difficulties of return to normal life for three soldiers: one army sergeant, one Army Air Force pilot, and one Navy seaman; the seaman has lost both hands when his ship burned and sank in the Pacific (the part is played by a real veteran, no special effects). For these three soldiers, re-integration into normal life means confronting issues with marriage, fidelity, unemployment, alcoholism, and more.
         Students who watched this film at Movie Nights still remember it as one of the finest things they've ever experienced — and yet it's a thoroughly adult experience.

Our research on the movies is painstaking, and in some cases, we must look beyond our own elimination criteria.

One of the films we considered for an earlier series, for example, was the Spanish movie Lighthouse of the Orcas (2016): it bears an "MA" rating — mature audiences only, a rating usually reserved for only the most extreme content. On a hunch we watched the entire film and concluded that someone, somewhere, had simply goofed: the film contains no sex, no nudity; the only violence occurs when orcas attack a group of seals on a beach — the kind of scene you might find in a nature documentary on PBS. Even that violence is viewed from a great distance (no visible blood or gore) and is shown to underscore one of the movie's themes: that Nature's gonna be nature, whether we like it or not, and while our hearts may go out to animal "victims," our sympathy alters nothing in the natural world. So the film warrants at worst a PG-13 rating; there's no telling how many concerned families are frightened away by the MA rating.

How to sign up for Movie Nights

See above right: "How to enroll a student."


Film series: Late Fall 2021

Five Saturday evenings online
6:30 – 10 pm EST
(ending time is approximate)
November 6, 13, 20
December 4, 11
One student: $ 54.
Two siblings: $ 68.

How to enroll a student

Signing up a student for this series is easy — just two steps:

1)  Pay for 1 student here:

— OR for 2 siblings here:

2)  Email the host, Roy Speed,
by clicking here, and send him
the name and email address
of each student you paid for.

Please note: Space is limited.

from Breach

Laura Linney & Ryan Philippe in a true story of treason, Billy Ray's Breach (2011).

Want to learn more
about our movie nights?

— Contact the host
by clicking here.



Shakespeare Intensives

Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet


Ten online classes

Instructor: Roy Speed

For students, Hamlet can seem daunting — it's Shakespeare's longest play, with dark themes, complex ideas, and difficult verse. This course makes the play accessible and, in ten online sessions, reveals the play's deepest secrets. This course in close reading provides an in-depth study of the play some consider Shakespeare's greatest.

Prerequisites:  Students should already have some familiarity with Shakespeare. Our own College-Bound Intensive on Romeo & Juliet is ideal preparation for this course.


Want to be contacted when we post new courses or course dates? — Join our mailing list:

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