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Archive for the category “films, cinema and entertainment”

“UP IN THE AIR” 2009 FILM

I became interested in this film when reading the conclusion of Melissa Gregg’s “Work’s Intimacy” P.172-174. This American comedy-drama stars George Clooney, Vera Farmigo and Anna Kendrick and is directed by Jason Reirman (“Juno” and “Thank you for Smoking” Has anyone seen the latter film? Would you recommend it?)

This film will be ideal for my last week of teaching with Year 13 before they go on study leave. It will further allow me to emphasise HESP (Historical, Economic, Social and Political factors) a this text is firmly set in the context of the current financial crisis. Gregg comments: “The film had an eerie synergy in its content and release date in the midst of the global financial crisis”. Some film critics comments allude to the specific socio-historic context in the film:

Claudia Puig “It’s tough to capture an era while it’s still happening, yet Up in the Air does so brilliantly, with wit and humanity … capturing the nation’s anxieties and culture of resilience.”  (USA Today December 4, 2009)

Jonathan Romney “Its cynical wit almost places it in the Billy Wilder bracket: Up In The Air is as eloquent about today’s executive culture as The Apartment was about that of 1960. It is a brutal, desolate film – but also a superb existential rom-com, and the most entertaining lesson in contemporary socio-economics that you could hope for.”(The Independent, January 17, 2010)

Stephen Saito “It touches on larger themes of mass unemployment, cultural alienation and technology as a crutch. But ultimately, it’s really an expertly done character study that’s a dramatic change of pace from director Jason Reitman’s previous two films.”  (IFC September 12, 2009)

The critic Saito highlights how effectively the film captures the encroachment of technological developments and how they can diminish the need for human workers.. This is summarised by Gregg on P.173: “…the dramatic arc of Up in the Air is based on the looming introduction of a technological innovation that will transform Bingham’s life forever. A young hotshot business graduate finds favour upon joining the firm when she suggests that webcams would make job terminations easier and more cost-efficient in future. The imminent roll out of this convenient online technology threatens to put an end to Bingham’s pleasantly rootless existence as a citizen of the air.”

On further researching this film, I was very interested to find that “real” people were interviewed and used in the film to capture the “reality” of the delivery of this devastating news to the fired employee. While in St. Louis and Detroit filming, JasonReitman advertised in the newspaper: he asked if people who had recently lost a job would want to take part in filming a “documentary”. He sais the topic was job loss and specifically stated  “documentary” so that real people who had had this experience rather than actors would respond to the advert. In response, people of different ages, races, and genders showed themselves willing to speak honestly about what happened to them personally.(San Jose Mercury News, December 3 , 2009)  Reitman was amazed to receive a startling amount of responses: twenty-two made it into the film. (see Paramount end credits)

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“GREED IS GOOD”???

Whilst teaching my Year 13 Media girls yesterday, I realised that they were finding it hard to grasp the importance of the contemporary context of a media product. This understanding is vital when writing a response on the Mest 3 paper on Friday 15th June. We came up with a mnemonic to help the girls remember the contemporary factors to draw out: HESP. This stands for Historical, Economic, Social and Political factors. To demonstrate this point we looked at the two “Wall Street” films.

The 1987 film was directed by Oliver Stone and starred Michael Douglas and Michael Sheen. Gordon Gekko (Douglas) is represented as a wealthy, unscrupulous ‘hero’ who manipulates and persuades Bud Fox (Sheen). The young stockbroker, Fox,  is desperate to succeed and get to the top. He admires the ruthless and legendary Wall Street player, Gekko. The focus of the young man’s corruption within the narrative is on Insider Trading/Information to affect the value of stocks and shares. Ultimately Fox has to make a difficult choice. He has to choose between the future of the company “Bluestar”, a clear conscience and loyalty to his father or admiration and loyalty to the corrupt ‘anti-hero’ Gekko. This binary opposition between the two father figures as choices captures the premise of the plot. Will Fox emulate his father’s honest approach or follow Gekko’s mantra “greed, for lack of a better word, is good”?

The text captures the contemporary context of 1985  and was released in 1987. Therefore the issues and debates prevalent at the time clearly resonate and are reflected throughout this American drama. Similarly with the sequel: again directed by Stone and starring Douglas as Gekko. The plot this time is intertwined with a personal story on Gekko’s side: his estranged relationship with his daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan). The setting is firmly placed in the 2008 financial crisis and reflects the contemporary financial environment superbly. The text connotes a preoccupation with technological developments right from the opening when Gekko leaves prison and is returned his “brick” mobile phone in 2001 after a seven year sentence for Insider Trading. Winnie is involved with the internet in her career and her fiance proposes financial involvement in solar panels and fusion research.

David Buckingham mentions that “Wall Street” film in his book “The Material Child” on P68: “Don Slater (1997) reminds us, consumer culture has a long history. Slater neatly tracks the idea of consumerism backwards through history, starting from the bullish assertions of the Gordon Gekko character in the 1990s movie Wall Street, whose famous motto “greed is good” appeared to sum up the materialistic yuppie ethos of the time.”

A strong sense of HESP is effectively conveyed through both texts. Lets hope the girls remember HESP in their forthcoming examination….

 

SALT

I have been searching for stimulus for teaching AQA Mest 3 to my A Level Media students. The first part of this paper: Section A will be an unseen moving image text followed by three questions.  Section B will be on their prepared case study: the topic the girls have chosen is the representation of disability in the media.

We watched “Salt”  which I thought was fantastic! It reminded me of a female version of the Bourne films and I had the feeling at the end that it may have a sequel…..So I researched this 2010 action film directed by Phillip Noyce. It stars Angelina Jolie as the female version of Jason Bourne – even the way she runs reminds me of the Bourne trilogy (I used to teach these texts previously – can you tell???) Jolie plays the character of Evelyn Salt who is accused of being an undercover Russian agent: she goes on the run to try to clear her name with a huge number of plot turns and twists.

Originally this film was written with a male protagonist in mind: I must say that I could see that as I watched. Apparently Tom Cruise was initially secured for the lead part but then the script was rewritten  for Jolie. I find it surprising that the film has received mixed reviews. There has been praise for the immense action scenes and Jolie’s performance which I must say that I agree with:  found her performance compelling (I did not think I would be saying that). 

However, the film has been criticised for the way it has been written with reviewers finding the plot implausible and too convoluted. However, I must say that personally although it was complicated, I loved the enigmas and the twists in the plot (we had to go back and stop it once for a re watch near the beginning and my husband totally missed the spider bit….) The DVD and Blu-ray apparently features two alternate cuts providing different endings for the movie: now I am intrigued as to what they are….This would be brilliant to teach for narrative theories and character roles. I do hope they make a sequel…..anyway must not stay blogging I have to get off to the summer fayre at school. Hopefully the wet weather won’t damped people’s spirits or affect the turnout of our annual big event.

MRS BROWN’S BOYS AND ALL ABOUT A BOY

Ironic really considering that I work at a predominantly girls school….

We had a really successful forum meeting last night for parents of Year 10-13: it was a great opportunity for the new Headmaster to meet some parents in a relaxed, informal atmosphere. Three sixth forms girls presented and shared their distinctive experiences.

Last night we went to see “Mrs Brown’s Boys” at the Civic in Wolverhampton. It was fantastic! I love the character of Agnes Brown aka Mammy and there were so many moments where you could see that “she” was off script and winding the other characters up to try ad make them laugh. The heated argument between Mammy and Cathy about the badges in particular was hilarious. Most of the content of the show had been seen during the episodes aired on the television previously but it was even funnier second time around in a live context. There were some moments which were obviously not planned when Rory laughed uncontrollably “What’s the story Rory?” and Buster dropped his ping pong ball! Overall this was an excellent night out which I would thoroughly recommend – although tickets for the performance at the NIA in Birmingham have already sold out!

Tonight we have watched “About a Boy” on DVD which is the second time I have seen this film. This is actually another film adapted from a book which I should add to my list of film adaptations on the open air blog last week. I find it hard to believe that I first watched this film when it came out in 2002 – ten years ago when  had just started teaching! However, looking at Nicholas Hoult playing the character of young Marcus it is obvious that so much time has elapsed. I particularly like the dual voiceover from the perspectives of Will and Marcus which allows great insight into their thoughts.

Talking of voiceovers, one of my Year 12s has used their Dad to do a voiceover in their Media Practical production piece at AS level – it reminds me of a previous dad voiceover four years ago which really tickled me! That candidate will be amongst the first cohort from our newly established sixth form to graduate from university this year! Unbelievable how time passes! Another girl from the same cohort is just finishing her English degree at Birmingham University and wants to come into our school for work experience in the summer. I am hoping that she will be able to help me set up some sort of alumni……

“Blogging is a form of graffiti with punctuation”

I saw this quotation on the Facebook status of a friend of mine from my first degree in English at Hull University….. I haven’t seen him for 13 years and I reflected how like him it was to be subversive….

Imagine how intrigued I was today when watching “Contagion” to realise that the quotation actually came from there and was not his! I have mentioned this film in my blog before as I had listened to the interview with Steven Soderbergh with Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo. My thoughtful hubbie had remembered my comment that I would like to see this film and bought it.

The film is pertinent to the issue of blogging and how it is represented in the media. The microphone image reflects the quotation by the blogger Alan, the character played by Jude Law:

“They trust me. All 12 million unique visitors. I’m a trusted man stepping up to the microphone in front of a very large crowd. That’s who I am. That’s the brand.”

This raises all sorts of issues in terms of his identity and perception of himself, trust (he knows he is fraudulent), audience size, brand identity of a blog…… Alan gets the sufficent response to his arrest and “plight” to be released from prison by his audience therefore demonstrating the power of the blog! (I tried to do a screen grab of a shot of Jude Law in character with the snag tooth from the trailer but could not just get the shot to save – the link was to the whole of the trailer – any input on how I am going wrong would be greatly appreciated….)

It was interesting to think about the depiction of Law as a freelance “writer” trying to “sell” a story to the newspaper in the film called “The Chronicle” and the issues this raised relating to the contentious relationship between blogging and the mass media. Rettberg P 31:

“Blogs tend to be understood in terms of their differences in comparison to the mass media tha dominated the 20th Century. This is especially true in the media’s representation of blogs, which repeatedly attempts to understand blogs as a (possibly flawed) form of journalism….”

This reminded me of a DVD I used to teach at school entitled “Blogging” which I will dig out to share with you at a later date…………It also made me think of “State of Play” both versions but in particular the film version. The approach of Russell Crowe to the “big” print news story and his rejection of online news sprang to mind. This reminds me that I have presentations from Year 12 Media first thing tomorrow morning….lets hope the girls have done a good job in preparing them!!!!

Has anyone else been to an open air cinema like this?

Our trip to the local Odeon to see “The Hunger Games” tonight has highlighted the severe contrast between cinematic viewing experience in England and Egypt! Last Thursday we went to see “Man on a Ledge” and the Thursday before “The Descendants” at a FREE open air cinema in El Gouna in Egypt! See the pictures of the screen and the projectionist’s room.

The use of an amphitheatre setting from a disused night club combined with the warm climate and the fact that this was free of charge made it an amazing experience! Contrast that with tonight’s showing at the local Odeon and the honeymoon seems a million miles away!!!

I had an interesting conversation with my Year 8 class today linked to our moving image scheme of work. We were discussing the book reviews the girls are going to undertake over Whitsun break and hand in immediately after the vacation. Every book selected also had a film version  and the girls suggested that they would also do a film review alongside the compulsory book review this half term. Titles included:

  • The Lovely Bones
  • The Diary of a Wimpy Kid
  • War Horse
  • The Woman in Black
  • Twilight
  • The Hunger Games
  • Harry Potter
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Does anyone have any other suggestions suitable for Key Stage 3? I would love to hear from you……

Exploring films that use the blogging phenomenon……….

Watching “Julie & Julia” before Christmas was my first experience of a film that is based on a blog. Amy Adams uses a blog as a memoir to document online her daily experiences cooking recipes from a cookbook. She sets herself a challenge to cook 524 recipes in 365 days and describes her progress on her blog. This blog becomes popular and makes her a published author. The film is set in 2002 and Adams is a young writer called Julie Powell who uses the blog to motivate herself and document her progress. Eventually her blog is featured in a story published in the New York Times. Consequently her blog project receives attention of journalists, publishers and literary agents.

This led me to reflect on other films that use blogging and a podcast for Radio 5 Live with Mayo and Kermode had done an interview with Steven Soderbergh on the film “Contagion”. It referred to the role of Jude Law as conspiratorially minded freelance internet journalist. His character name is Alan Krumwiede and he posts video blogs(also called vlogs according to my reading!!) about the disease. In one of his video blogs he ” appears” sick and later claims that he recovered using a specific cure. As people panic and overwhelm the chemists in order to get this “cure” they accelerate the Contagion as the infection passes on. In a similar vein to Julie above, Krumwiede gains national attention. However this is where the similarity ends as it is later realised that Krumwiede was not sick but was attempting to boost demand for the treatment. Despite being arrested for conspiracy and fraud, he is released after 12 million blog readers collect and pay his bail! This is a summary of Law’s role in the film but it looks good:

The interview was revealing as Soderbergh discussed the snaggle tooth Law introduced in order to change his characters face to look untrustworthy and shifty. The role of the blogger in this film is to be semi conspiratorial: Law’s character articulates many things that are actually true. The director specifically referred to a moment in the narrative where he has a rant on a bench…….Im looking forward to watching this!

Politics or Personal??

Watching “The Iron Lady” this week and listening to Mark Kermode’s podcast afterwards led me to some interesting reflections on the nature of leadership and the division between personal life and public facade. This is an issue currently prevalent in my mind from currently teaching “Lord of the Flies” to Year 11 and considering Golding’s views on the nature of leadership and the characters he depicts to explore this universal issue. Arguably the character who shows the requisite qualities for effective leadership is Piggy yet he is perhaps the least favourite boy and most isolated boy on the island…..

An interesting discussion on Kermode’s broadcast related to the genre of the film: is this a biopic? This relates to the issue of how much truth about politics should have been included. Is this a personal film or a political film? Kermode objected to one section of the film not accurately representing a historical moment as it “truly” happened. Kermode argues that politics cannot be used as window dressing or props but interestingly the director has argued that the film is not about politics but actually more personal and about old age. Perhaps MT in her dotage is reflecting on leadership with clarity despite her dementia.

For me the plot was preoccupied with issues of leadership, feminism and class: the rise of a grocer’s daughter in a male dominated society and political sphere. I found myself reflecting on whether this role was represented as sitting alongside personal duties and responsibilities as a wife and mother or whether MT missed some personal duties in order to fulfil some public ones. A key scene that stood out in my mind was when her twins were begging her not to leave them and she had to drive off to fulfil her commitments regardless of their pleas. MT’s mantra was that she wanted to make a difference: how far did she succeed on a personal and private level I felt myself reflecting???? An interesting and thought provoking film. I looked at the blog following the podcasts which had some pertinent comments on Kermode’s points: one of them asked why Kermode was so vehement against Thatcher when actually he had launched his career and done very well out of her time in power???? Perhaps it is Kermode himself that is struggling to separate the personal from the public? Perhaps it is MK that “doth protest too much”!!!!!!!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/markkermode/2012/01/review_the_iron_lady.html

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