A closer look at… The Good Dinosaur

© Disney, 2015.
© Disney, 2015.

This is a child-friendly guide; some of the discussion questions are for younger viewers.  children The Good Dinosaur is rated PG for mild threat, violence.

Warning: Contains plot spoilers

The Scoop – An endearing but ultimately somewhat forgettable Pixar offering

What if the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs had missed? The Good Dinosaur imagines an alternative pre-history in which dinosaurs have evolved to become the dominant species on earth. Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), a timid young Apatosaurus, helps out his parents and siblings on their farm. But his fears stop him from truly taking his place in the family.

Then tragedy strikes, and Arlo finds himself lost a long way from home. He’ll need all of his courage – and the help of his unexpected friend Spot (Jack Bright) – to find his way back.

Continue reading A closer look at… The Good Dinosaur

A closer look at… Carol

© StudioCanal, 2015.
© StudioCanal, 2015.

Carol is rated 15 for infrequent strong sex.

Warning: Contains plot spoilers

The Scoop – A sweeping and beautifully designed 1950s love story

Therese Belevit (Rooney Mara), a wide-eyed New York shopgirl, is captivated by her first glimpse of a glamorous older customer in a fur coat. When Carol (Cate Blanchett) leaves her gloves behind in the store, Therese returns them, and the two women begin spending time together. Though neither of them quite has the words to convey it, they are drawn together by a powerful attraction.

Carol is divorcing her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), but he is still possessive of her. When he finds out about Therese, he threatens Carol with legal action that would block her from seeing their young daughter.

Continue reading A closer look at… Carol

A closer look at… Steve Jobs

 

© Universal, 2015.
© Universal, 2015.

This is a level 2 guide, suitable for moderately experienced groups. Steve Jobs is rated 15 for strong language.

Warning: Contains plot spoilers

The Scoop – A snappy, pacy drama that’s got far more to offer than just surface gloss

Three different years: 1984, 1988, 1998. Three different product launches. Behind the scenes, self-described tech genius Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) gets ready to wow the world.

He argues – with everyone. With his right-hand woman Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), the only person who isn’t intimidated by him. With Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who wants Jobs to publicly recognise the contributions of others. With his old boss and father figure John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). With Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), who is struggling to convince him that her daughter Lisa (Makenzie Moss/Ripley Sobo/Perla Haney-Jardine) is his. And eventually, with Lisa herself, as she takes him to task for all of his personal failings.

Continue reading A closer look at… Steve Jobs

A closer look at… The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

© Lionsgate, 2015.
© Lionsgate, 2015.

This is a level 2 guide, suitable for moderately experienced groups. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is rated 12A for moderate violence, threat.

Warning: Contains plot spoilers

The Scoop – A sometimes meandering but ultimately satisfying send-off for Katniss Everdeen and a game-changing blockbuster series.

After the events of Mockingjay – Part 1, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is sick of being a pawn in somebody else’s plan. Both her mortal enemy President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and her supposed ally President Coin (Julianne Moore) are looking to use her for their own ends. But Katniss has other ideas.

As an alliance of rebels gets ready to storm the Capitol and overthrow Snow’s oppressive government, she hatches a plan to face him on her own terms. But with her old friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) growing increasingly warlike and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) struggling to get his sanity back, Katniss can trust nobody but herself.

Continue reading A closer look at… The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

A closer look at… The Lady in the Van

© Sony, 2015.
© Sony, 2015.

This is a level 2 guide, suitable for moderately experienced groups.
The Lady in the Van is rated 12A for infrequent strong language.

Warning: Contains plot spoilers

The Scoop – A film with a big heart but not without bite,  The Lady in the Van is a funny and touching showcase for its leads.

In a Camden suburb, one person disrupts the comings and goings of the comfortable, middle-class residents. She is Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith), a chaotic force of nature whose personality is as overpowering as the smell inside the van where she lives. When playwright and actor Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) moves into the neighbourhood, he makes the mistake of offering her a little sympathy – and so begins a peculiar relationship which will span the next fifteen years.

To the bewilderment of everyone around him, Alan allows Miss Shepherd to park her van on his driveway, becoming a permanent part of his life. Is this a cynical attempt at getting material for his writing, a symptom of his guilt around his relationship with his mother (Gwen Taylor), or a genuine act of kindness? Alan isn’t sure. And whatever the truth, Miss Shepherd isn’t going anywhere.

I was looking after myself, Miss Shepherd only incidentally; kindness didn’t really come into it. – Alan Bennett

Continue reading A closer look at… The Lady in the Van

The Hunger Games and Generation K

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Ever heard of ‘Generation K’? No, I hadn’t either, until the upcoming release of the final Hunger Games film resulted in a spate of articles about the teenagers who have grown up with heroine Katniss Everdeen.

The term has been coined by economist and academic Noreena Hertz, who did a study of more than a thousand British and American teenage girls to find out about their hopes and fears for the future. The results were fairly alarming.

I discovered that unlike those currently aged between 20 and 30, the “Yes we can” generation, who grew up believing the world was their oyster, for Generation K the world is less oyster, more Hobbesian nightmare. This is the generation who’ve had Al Qaeda piped into their living rooms and smartphones and seen their parents and other loved ones lose their jobs. A generation for whom there are disturbing echoes of the dystopian landscape Katniss encounters in The Hunger Games’ District 12. Unequal, violent, hard.

Continue reading The Hunger Games and Generation K

Why I care about diverse films

What does it mean to have a diverse media, and why does it matter? These questions are explored by Anna Holmes in a recent New York Times piece, which looks at the issue more generally but touches on the film and TV industries. The term ‘diversity’, says Holmes, has to many people become at worst an irritant and at best a box to thoughtlessly tick.

She suggests that we tend to trumpet the exceptions to the rule whilst conveniently downplaying the enormous – and very provable – amount of bias that still remains.

Small victories are often overenthusiastically celebrated as evidence of larger change. In September, for example, when Viola Davis became the first African-American woman to win the Best Actress in a Drama Series Emmy, the moment was cheered in the press as a triumph of racial equity in Hollywood. But just a month before, Stacy L. Smith, a professor of communication at U.S.C. who, with other researchers, had just released a damning report that studied gender bias in 700 films made between 2007 and 2014, lamented ‘‘the dismal record of diversity, not just for one group, but for females, people of color and the L.G.B.T. community.’’

Actress Viola Davies
Actress Viola Davies – a historic Emmy win

Continue reading Why I care about diverse films

Rogue laughter and shared happiness at the cinema

 

King Lear? Not, on the whole, a barrel of laughs.
King Lear? Not, on the whole, a barrel of laughs.

I recently came across this piece by Don Aucoin in the Boston Globe about the perils of ‘rogue laughter’ for theatre actors. You’ve probably experienced the phenomenon – at a particularly intense, tragic or dramatic moment of a play, an inappropriate reaction from someone in the audience breaks the mood.

It was opening night of “A Number,’’ Caryl Churchill’s dark, chilling drama about cloning gone awry, and Nael Nacer was giving it his all in a performance of nonstop intensity at Watertown’s New Repertory Theatre.

Suddenly a young woman near the back of the theater shrieked with laughter. As the play went on, she punctuated the performance earlier this month with loud bursts of merriment, often joined by more than a dozen other chortling spectators — apparently convinced, against all evidence, that they were watching a comedy.

Continue reading Rogue laughter and shared happiness at the cinema

A closer look at… Brooklyn

 

© Lionsgate, 2015.
© Lionsgate, 2015.

This is a level 2 guide, suitable for moderately experienced groups. Brooklyn is rated 12A for infrequent strong language, moderate sex.

Warning: Contains plot spoilers

The Scoop a sweet-natured, old-fashioned love story that’s bound to charm.

A big change is coming for small-town Irish girl Eilis (Saoirse Ronan). Concerned about the lack of opportunities for her at home, her older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) has arranged for her to emigrate to Brooklyn, New York. One rather rough voyage later and Eilis is walking through the famed checkpoint at Ellis Island, into her new life.

At first all she can think about is how much she misses home. But with the encouragement of kindly priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), and of the community of women in the boarding house where she stays, Eilis gains confidence. When she meets a kind, funny Italian boy named Tony (Emory Cohen) she begins to fall in love both with him and with Brooklyn.

Just when she’s beginning to think of America as her home, Eilis gets some shattering news from Ireland. She will need to decide, once and for all, where she really belongs.

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The wimp’s guide to scary cinema

I scare easily. I’m not ashamed. (OK, maybe a little bit.) I don’t watch ‘proper’ horror films because my poor overactive imagination can’t handle it. But I do enjoy a bit of menace and weirdness and darkness in my fiction, so it’s a constant toss-up between watching what I want to watch and getting a good night’s sleep afterwards.

In honour of this spooky time of year, here are a few of the scariest films I have ever subjected myself to.

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Continue reading The wimp’s guide to scary cinema