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The Emperor's Club and Holes (2003-05-26 - 8:55 a.m.)

We have seen two really good movies this on DVD and the other at the theater (that's actually kind of rare, and the whole family saw this one).

Saturday morning, Christi and I watched "The Emperor's Club," with Kevin Kline on DVD. You have to pay real close attention to not get confused about what's happening when, because you get a lot of flashback in this story, and then re-join the present day in about the middle of the movie, then the rest is in "real" time. Kline plays an ancient history teacher at an exclusive boy's school (kind of a prep school). He specializes in Roman and Greek history and the central event in the school's year is the "Mr. Julius Caesar" contest. Perhaps the tradition is outmoded, but it is, nevertheless, the highlight of many of the boys' school career. One student's father had won the honor of "Mr. Julius Caesar," so he studied hard to try to win. Basically, the contest is a glorified Trivial Pursuit Ancient Roman and Greek History Edition, but it still provides good movie material. It moves quickly enough so that it doesn't become boring. At least it wasn't boring to me. Anyway, Kline gets a new student in the middle of the semester, and it quickly becomes obvious that this student is nothing but trouble. Sedgewick Bell (Sedgewick??? Puhleeez!!) has a serious attitude problem, and Mr. Hundert (Kline) eventually visits the boy's U.S. Senator father, who really doesn't give a flip about ancient history. Well, Hundert decides that he believes in Bell, and lets him know so. Bell becomes an academic monster for a few weeks and, by Hundert's compromise (which provides a valuable lesson later in the movie) becomes one of the top three in the contest. He does not win, because Hundert discovers that he is cheating, so throws in a rogue question. The Indian boy wins the contest, and life goes on, but Bell goes back to being a mediocre, troublemaking student. Headmast retires, Hundert is shrugged off as successor, Hundert quits to be a writer...then out of the blue, a "grown-up" Bell contacts Hundert, wishing to regain his academic integrity by re-staging the finale of the Mr. Julius Caesar contest at his country club. All of the students show up, and once again Mr. Hundert is asking ancient history questions to three students, only they're the grown up versions (one of them grew up to be Patrick Dempsey). Again (??!!), Bell is caught cheating...again, Hundert throws in a rogue question (this time about the plaque that hung over the door in the classroom), and the Indian student wins again. Bell has learned nothing. His attitudes about life in general are that you have to do whatever is necessary to win. Unfortunately, as he is not-so-graciously expressing this sentiment to Hundert in the Men's room, one of his young sons is in a stall overhearing him. At this point, Hundert admist to Martin Blythe that he had tweaked grades and given his spot away to Bell. That moment was a little awkward and could have been done better, I think...however, the next morning, there was a surprise gathering of the all of his students (less Bell, who was lying to a press conference about how he thought morals were important in education) in Mr. Hundert's room. The devotion of his former students convinces him that he needs to return to teaching. The movie ends with a student coming into his class a little late (class now includes girls) and introducing himself as Martin Blythe. Hundert looks out the window and sees the former student Blythe out in the courtyard, they wave, and the young Martin is asked to read the ubiquitous plaque over the door. In spite of what reviewers said, I loved this movie and would recommend this movie to is also a great family movie with virtually no objectionable material (not sure why it was rated PG-13...Bell looks at some old "Oui" and "Genesis" magazines, but we don't actually see any nudity, and there were maybe two curse words).

At the theater on Sunday night, the whole famile saw "Holes." What can I say about "Holes?" If you haven't read the book by Louis Sachar, you should. It is listed as "juvenile," but I enjoyed it, as well. Maybe that says something about me? Dunno. I also love Sachar's Westside School stories. It is extremely wacky humor. "Holes" has an all-star cast, beginning with a young Shia Lebeouf (Shia?? What kind of name is that for a boy??) from Disney's Even Stevens show. He plays Stanley Yelnats (notice the pallindrome?), a young boy in a family of Stanleys...all men in the family are named Stanley because it's their last name backwards. The Yelnats men are under an old curse put on the their great-great-great grandfather by a fortune teller. Because of this (or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, young Stanley is accused and convicted of stealing a pair of shoes that some famous athlete donated for a children's auction. BTW, his father is played by Henry Winkler. Stanley gets sent to Camp Greenlake where he is sentenced to dig a hole every day, 5 feet deep by 5 feet wide. The premise is that this activity will build character. The REAL reason is that the warden of this camp (Sigourney Weaver) is the granddaughter of the man who used to own the town where the camp is, and she is really looking for some buried treasure that was stolen by Kissing Kate Barlow (Patricia Arquette) in the past. The camp guard is called "Mr. Sir," and is played quite well by Jon Voight. The camp psychiatrist is a fake doctor called "Mom" by all the kids, and was played by Tim Blake Nelson (pretty sure he was one of the goofy trio in O Brother Where Art Thou?). The movie stays pretty true to the book, best I can remember (ghosti said it did), and was truly entertaining. I'm not going into as much length as I did about Emperor (that was way too long), but I give the movie 5 stars out of 5. It was very different from anything you've seen before, I can assure you.

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