Resources for Parents of College-Bound Students Challenges for the college-bound student



Movie Nights Online

Steven Spielberg's Minority Report (2002): John Anderton (Tom Cruise) visits a prison
where all the inmates have been convicted of "pre-crimes."

Great discussion of great movies

A sci-fi classic & a sci-fi farce; PLUS fantasy "found footage" from Norway

This summer 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: On these services, right now, we can view many extraordinary films. The bad news: The comings and goings of individual movies from these services can be arbitrary and difficult to predict; our lineup of films, accordingly, is subject to change, even in the middle of a series.

from Trollhunter (2010)The host for this series is Roy Speed; you can learn about him here.

How movie nights work

This online series comprises six Saturday evenings — see our schedule above right — and the series is designed to bring together teens and movies of unusual quality. We try to choose films that most teens, on their own, might never encounter. — Each evening includes:

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

The films

Among the films we're considering for this series:

from Master and Commander

Gene Hackman as Detective Popeye Doyle in William Friedkin's The French Connection

  • The French Connection (1971)
    When this film came out in 1971, it seemed a revelation. It was based on the exploits of two real-life New York City detectives determined to crack a ring of smugglers bringing in heroin from France. In the hands of Director William Friedkin — director of The Boys in the Band, The Exorcist, and many more — this movie gave audiences the opposite of a "Hollywood" experience: it felt authentic, rough around the edges, like real life. It helped launch a new era in American filmmaking, and it features what was at the time the single greatest car chase ever put on film — it involves a car chasing a train through the boroughs of New York at more than seventy miles per hour. With a total of eight nominations, this film won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Film Editing, and Gene Hackman took Best Actor.
from Within the Whirlwind

Literature professor Evgenia Ginzburg escapes from a Siberian labor camp in Within the Whirlwind

  • Within the Whirlwind (2009)
    This film was directed by Dutch filmmaker Marleen Gorris. (In 1995 Gorris became the first woman ever to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.) Here she tells the true story of a 31-year-old literature professor living in the time of Stalin's purges. Emily Watson plays Evgenia Ginzburg, who was arrested in 1937 by the secret police, the NKVD, and sentenced to ten years in a Siberian prison camp. This film is based on Ginzburg's memoir of the same title, and it's a tale of endurance and courage and, ultimately, love.
from Minority Report

Fleeing the police unit he used to head, John Anderton (Tom Cruise) seeks the help of
Dr. Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report.

  • Minority Report (2002)
    This film by Steven Spielberg is a sort of futuristic film noir. It's based on a short story by the famous science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, whose stories lie behind countless sci-fi movies and TV shows — Blade Runner, Total Recall, The Man in the High Castle, and more. In Minority Report, the year is 2054 A.D., and crime has been virtually eliminated due to the special abilities of an elite "pre-crime" unit: they rely on gifted individuals who can predict future crimes (pre-crimes). Tom Cruise plays the head of the unit who finds himself accused of a pre-crime. Across a futuristic cityscape the hunter becomes the hunted: Cruise flees his own unit and, ironically, must somehow remain at large long enough to prove his innocence of a crime he has not yet committed. — The brilliant cinematography is by Janusz Kaminski, and despite an astonishing array of special effects, Spielberg somehow manages to keep the focus on his characters and his story.
from Master and Commander

Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver in Dean Parisot's Galaxy Quest

  • from Galaxy Quest (1999)Galaxy Quest (1999)
    We must all be eternally grateful to Dean Parisot, who directed this pitch-perfect sci-fi farce. The brilliant cast includes Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, and a very young-looking Justin Long, and I don't think any of them have ever been funnier. (Watch closely and you'll also spot Rainn Wilson in his very first movie role.) Galaxy Quest satirizes Star Trek, male actors with William-Shatner-size egos, and the whole world of Star Trek fandom. The most surprising thing about this nerd-rich environment: It produces a worthy tale of starships, distant planets, and alien creatures that is entertaining in its own right. One subplot might be thought of as Triumph of the Nerds.
from Minority Report

On a bridge in a remote forest, a moonlit encounter with a troll  — from André Øvredal's Trollhunter

  • Trollhunter (2010)
    This film by Norwegian director André Øvredal is of the "found footage" variety: it comprises what seems to be documentary footage by a team of young filmmakers who stumble on and then seek to interview a gruff rural employee of the Norwegian government. The job of that employee: To help manage the population of trolls that still haunt Norway's most remote regions, which he tours in his LandRover. Trollhunter is a visual treat, with the camera crew getting a field education on troll lore, troll health issues, tactics for stopping a troll that's developed a taste for local livestock, and more. The troll hunter himself turns out to be a middle-aged loner living out his days in a modest caravan. In Norwegian with English subtitles. — BTW: Thanks to this 2010 film, André Øvredal became sought-after by Hollywood producers to make mainstream American films (The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016), Mortal (2020), and more).

We're also considering the following films:

  • from "Within the Whirlwind" (2009)The Founder (2016)
    Michael Keaton stars as Ray Kroc, founder of the McDonald's fast-food empire. The movie tells an amazing story and simultaneously delivers a tutorial on a plethora of business challenges — not to mention the difficulty of integrating ambition and marriage. The terrific cast includes Nick Offerman, Linda Cardellini, B. J. Novak, Laura Dern, and more.
  • from The Professor and the MadmanThe Professor & the Madman (2019)
    This compelling film takes place during the Victorian era and tells the story of an unusual partnership: Professor James Murray has begun compiling words for the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary — but it's not going well. Then he receives in the mail the first of over ten thousand entries, all from a patient at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Starring Mel Gibson, Sean Penn, Eddie Marsan, Natalie Dormer, a remarkably restrained Steve Coogan, and more. Directed by the Iranian writer-director-producer Farhad Safinia.

Also still in the running are the following films, currently available on either Netflix or Amazon Prime:

  • 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.
  • Stranger Than Fiction (2006) — a terrific film by director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) about an IRS agent who hears inside his head the voice of an author narrating his life: the voice is unfailingly accurate — and then reveals that he is soon to die. Starring Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Dustin Hoffman.
  • 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.
from Les Gardiennes

The 1937 secret trial of literature professor Evgenia Ginzburg (Emily Watson) in Within the Whirlwind

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: Summer 2021

Six Saturday evenings online
6:30 – 10 pm EST
(ending time is approximate)
June 19, 26
July 10, 17, 31
August 7
One student: $ 58.
Two siblings: $ 68.

How to enroll a student

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

1) Pay for your student(s)
through our online store.

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.


Fernando Rey as heroin kingpin
Alain Charnier in The French Connection

Want to learn more
about our movie nights?

— Contact the host
by clicking here.



Shakespeare Intensives

Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet

Romeo & Juliet

Ten online classes

Instructor: Roy Speed

These online sessions provide an in-depth study of this play as well as the historical, cultural, and literary background needed to bring the play to life. This course is designed to take students to an advanced level of reading comprehension and analysis, enabling them to tackle sophisticated material across the spectrum of the college curriculum and dissect difficult passages included in standardized tests. Space is limited.


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

* required








  Copyright © 2015 - 2021 Diane and Roy Speed. All rights reserved.

Email us at