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Dances With Wolves (#110 of 2)

Summer of ‘89: Dead Poet’s Society...Do the Wrong Thing

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Summer of ‘89: <em>Dead Poet’s Society</em>...Do the Wrong Thing
Summer of ‘89: <em>Dead Poet’s Society</em>...Do the Wrong Thing

Dead Poets Society purports to be about the bravery of following one’s own path. This is a bright, shining lie, one the film is ballsy enough to tell to your face. It makes examples of those who march to the beat of a different drummer by crushing them with the drum kit. Those who stay in line get to cover their asses before making empty gestures of sympathy toward the people they helped destroy. A more conformist, less inspirational piece of cinema would be hard to find.

And yet, this was perceived as “inspirational” by the audiences that made it a hit in 1989; by the Academy, which nominated it for Best Picture; and by the AFI, which lists the film at #52 on its list of the 100 most inspiring movies of all time. That’s higher than A Raisin in the Sun, Sergeant York, Sounder, Shane, and two far better examples of its own inspirational-teacher genre, Fame and Stand and Deliver.

Dead Poets Society takes place in 1959 at Welton Academy, one of those enormous, stuffy prep schools beloved by old Hollywood, British people, and Academy voters. The students are as white as the snow that falls every winter, and just as cold and blasé. Into their standard, almost militaristic existence comes replacement English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams), an alumnus whose claim to fame was creating the titular institute. Keating, like all stereotypical move teachers, is a bit looser than his predecessor: He calls bullshit on the standard way of teaching poetry, takes the kids outside for lessons and, during his first day of class, utters the one of the AFI’s top-100 greatest movie quotes:

“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

And how do these boys carpe their diem? By resurrecting Keating’s Dead Poets Society. There’s no mention of why this is a radical idea, because none exists. Any high school kid will tell you poetry is evil. The Dead Poets Society is a group of kids who sneak out into the woods to quote Thoreau and read poetry that isn’t assigned by their teacher. In other words, they’re doing extra credit work! What school would be against this? Welton Academy, of course, and the school’s objections lead, in most convoluted fashion, to the ouster of our beloved teacher.

Body of Work Kevin Costner, The Grizzled Patriot with a Liam Neeson-Style Comeback

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Body of Work: Kevin Costner, The Grizzled Patriot with a Liam Neeson-Style Comeback

Relativity Media

Body of Work: Kevin Costner, The Grizzled Patriot with a Liam Neeson-Style Comeback

In case you haven’t noticed, Kevin Costner is in the midst of what could be a major career resurgence. Before appearing in this past summer’s Man of Steel, which cast him as Superman’s adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, Costner hadn’t starred in a theatrical feature since 2010’s The Company Men (though he did pop up on the small screen in 2012’s History Channel miniseries Hatfields & McCoys). And before this year’s sudden glut of Costner fare, the actor hadn’t been ubiquitous since the 1990s, a decade that often saw him star in up to three films per year, and one that kicked off with Dances with Wolves, a western that nabbed seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Costner.

It’s easy to forget that Costner’s industry high point, at least as far as trophies are concerned, remains a historical frontier adventure, since he largely built his popularity around thrillers and sports movies. And now, it’s only natural that the three films spearheading his comeback are two C.I.A. actioners, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and 3 Days to Kill, and Ivan Reitman’s NFL dramedy Draft Day. All to be released before the end of April, the movies reflect Costner’s enduring professional hallmarks, as well as his unceasing ’Merican interests.