Reconsidering Vanilla Sky

Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky

Some thoughts on rewatching Vanilla Sky twenty years after its release

Normally I disapprove of Hollywood remakes, especially when the original film was (a) not a direct adaptation of a novel, (b) released only a few years earlier, and (c) a well-regarded foreign language movie. However, having never seen Alejandro Amenábar’s 1997 Spanish film Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes), I feel entitled to review Cameron Crowe’s 2001 version starring Tom Cruise (who also produced) on its own terms. In fact I had seen it before, around the time of its release, but had only the vaguest recollections of the movie, and not wholly positive ones. Continue reading

Censorship and authoritarianism

Book censorship in Fahrenheit 451

Ideas for a class about censorship and authoritarianism based around clips from Fahrenheit 451 and Cinema Paradiso

I am on a bit of a Truffaut tip at the moment having also recently seen and enjoyed his historical dramas Jules et Jim (1962) and The Last Metro (1981). Fahrenheit 451 (1966) is altogether a different beast, and I have included my Letterboxd review here below. I have also sketched a few ideas about how the clip might inspire discussion about censorship and authoritarianism in the ELT classroom. Continue reading

“The mutations were subtle at first”

Entering “The Shimmer”

 

Some thoughts on Alex Garland’s horror sci-fi movie of 2018: Annihilation

I have got a backlog of Letterboxd reviews of varying depth and quality that I haven’t shared anywhere else. The last one I did, below, is of Alex Garland’s horror sci-fi movie of 2018: Annihilation. Continue reading

Smartphone addiction

Seeing the sights? Copyright: Marc Davenant

Some ideas for a video based ELT class on the subject of smartphone addiction

A popular theme for EFT classrooms, for adults and younger learners alike, is the role of smartphones in our lives. I myself only recently acquired one, having long resisted, and have now joined the massed ranks of perpetually distracted people. While I try to work out ways to be more responsible in my use of this new gadget, I have developed some ideas for class materials on this theme.

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Intercultural communication

Toni Collette and Gotaro Tsunashima in Japanese Story

Some ideas for a video-based ESL class on intercultural communication

It has been a long time since I blogged and I felt the need to get back in the saddle. Although the pressures of work and family life in the age of Covid have kept me away from Visual Language, I have been nonetheless been writing, but mostly film reviews of varying depth over on Letterboxd. I have also been using that site to archive some old Amazon reviews that have fallen into obscurity. At some point, I may polish up some of the more recent ones and post them here. Continue reading

The accidental tourist

Jack Nicholson in The Passenger

Some thoughts on Antionio’s 1975 arthouse thriller The Passenger, starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider

My late conversion to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up has had me checking out some of his other English-language films, including this slow-burning 1975 piece starring Jack Nicholson as a disaffected political reporter who has ostensibly reached the end of his personal road on a job in Saharan Africa. Returning to his hotel after a bitterly unsucessful day out in the desert, he siezes the chance to swap identities with a man named Robertson that he resembles and met only briefly the evening before, and whom he finds dead in his room unnoticed by the hotel staff. Continue reading

The Draughtsman’s Contract

A review of Peter Greenaway’s 1982 period film The Draughtsman’s Contract

Currently on holiday, I am using the blog not to sketch out lesson ideas but to jot down thoughts on films I have recently watched. One such movie is Peter Greenaway’s first feature, The Draughtsman’s Contract, a surreal 1982 costume drama. Having grown up in 1980s Britain, I am extremely grateful to have witnessed the arrival of Channel 4 and its groundbreaking support for British cinema via what was then Film on Four. Continue reading

Chocolat

Giulia Boschi as Aimée and Isaach de Bankolé as Protée

A review of Claire Denis’s 1988 directorial debut Chocolat

I’ve recently acquired an Artificial Eye Collection of Claire Denis movies. By no means an exhaustive anthology of her work – there are just four films (Chocolat, Nénette et Boni, Beau Travail and White Material) – it provides the introduction to her oeuvre I was hoping for. Having read a lot about Denis’s films, and long harbouring the suspicion that I have long overlooked her, I decided to have a binge. I should add that I have seen 2009’s White Material before and that, while I found it unsettling and beautifully photographed, I don’t think I quite gave it the attention it deserved. Continue reading

Dreamchild

Review of the 1985 fantasy film Dreamchild, written by Dennis Potter

This post heralds a change in tack for this blog. I initially wanted to channel all my critical energies through the prism of ESL/EFL lesson plans but have begun to feel I had imposed unsustainable limits on myself. Henceforth there will be no such constraints: English language-specific content will be filed under the category ‘Lesson Plans’, as well as any other pertinent categories (Cinema, Music etc.). But from this point on I also hope to use the blog to sketch out ideas I may decide to explore in more detail in my research or simply to post reflections on things of interest to me culturally, notably cinema. This will begin with the following post on Dennis Potter’s 1985 film drama Dreamchild.

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Offices, workplaces and working conditions

Film clips for communicative English lesson on the theme of workplace environments

I have to thank Kieran Donaghy at Film English once again for alerting me to this clever and biting animation The Employment by Santiago ‘Bou’ Grasso. In a darkly comic critique of our value system, people are seen fulfiling absurd everyday functions such as being a stand for a lamp, the legs of a table, or a place to keep keys for the central character, whom we see going about his daily routine and commuting to work. In an ultimately bleak vision of society, everyone is apparently someone else’s dogsbody, with the protagonist himself revealed not to be above this exploitation, ending his commute in an office building where he literally prepares to be someone’s doormat. Kieran structures his class around employment and jobs vocab, as well as the expression “to work as”. I would like to expand slightly on that by comparing the representation of working life in The Employment with other darkly comic interpretations from cinema. Continue reading