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I’ve had this film on my planner for ages, and somehow never fancied watching it. But today, with a lazy day to myself, I finally took the plunge – and I have to say, it exceeded all of my expectations, made me feel every emotion, and was well….generally brilliant.

Greg (Thomas Mann) is a high schooler who is determined to avoid all the typical cliques and instead stays on the periphery of all high school groups (such as the jocks, the geeks, the stoners, etc). He doesn’t like to get close to people and his only friend – although Greg doesn’t like the word ‘friend’ so instead uses the term ‘co-worker’ – is the titular Earl (R J Cyler). The two of them spend their time making so-bad-they’re-good spoof movies such as Brew Velvet, A Sockwork Orange, Yellow Submarine Sandwich, and (my particular favourite title) 2.48pm Cowboy.

When Greg’s mother tells him he must be friends with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a schoolmate who he hardly knows and who has been diagnosed with leukaemia, he is initially reluctant, but what starts out as an awkward situation soon becomes a real connection. Earl is also drawn into the friendship.

Given that the film is narrated by Greg, and Rachel is the centre of his and Earl’s attention, it’s actually the character of Earl who I found most interesting. On the surface he seems like a bit of a slacker, but he reveals surprising depth and perception.

It’s a beautifully told story – it did make me laugh and also made me cry. Most importantly, it made me feel for all of the characters – the three main characters, Rachel’s mom Denise (played by the always brilliant Molly Shannon), even the relative small character of their teacher Mr McCarthy (Jon Bernthal). They are all believable, fully fleshed out characters. The three youngsters – all of which actors were unknown to me – were brilliant, and the supporting cast did a great job too.

I really enjoyed this film and have no hesitation in recommending it.

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Best friends Julie, Kayla and Sam make a deal to all lose their virginity on their prom night, but don’t count on their parents finding out about it…and the parents make it their mission to block their girls from finally doing the dirty!

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Year of release: 2018

Director: Kay Cannon

Writers: Brian Kehoe, Jim Kehoe

Main cast: Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon

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Genre: Comedy

Highlights: So many laughs!! Special mentions to John Cena (unexpectedly hilarious) and Ike Barinholtz

Lowlights: Honestly, none

Overall: Crude, sweet and incredibly funny

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A disparate group of five students are given detention and only four of them walk out alive. Somebody killed Simon Kelleher while he was in the room and as the investigation gets underway, it turns out that each of the other students had something to hide…and Simon not only knew all of their secrets, but was planning to reveal them on his on his gossip app.

Although this book is marketed as Young Adult, I am certainly WAY past that category and I really enjoyed it. People like me who remember classic 80s movies may well remember The Breakfast Club, and it is difficult not to draw comparisons between the premise of that movie and the initial backdrop to this book. However, the story here is a lot darker – as all four students are investigated for the murder, it turns out that each of them had reason to want Simon dead.

I really enjoyed the story, and while I have no intention of revealing the ending, I will say that it came as a complete surprise and I certainly wouldn’t have guessed it.

If you like mysteries and dramas (this is more of a drama than a thriller), then I would recommend this book, no matter what your age.

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Think of Jane Austen’s Emma, transported to a 1990s Beverly Hills High School, and you get Clueless.  Alicia Silverstone is Cher, a spoiled teenager, whose life revolves around clothes, shopping and being one of the most popular girls in school.  She and her friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) take new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy) under their wing and give her a makeover, in the hope of pairing her up with good looking Elton (Jeremy Sisto).  However, nothing goes to plan, and Cher starts wondering if she’s really as good at this matchmaking business as she thinks she is – or is she really just clueless?

As a big fan of Emma, I was intrigued to see how this modern day version worked, and – although I suspect I’m a bit older than the audience at which this film was aimed – I did enjoy it a lot.  Alicia Silverstone was just the right combination of loveable and infuriating, and Brittany Murphy was lovely as Tai.  Paul Rudd was adorable as Josh, and Breckin Meyer and Jeremy Sisto both provided good support.

You don’t need to have any knowledge of Emma to enjoy Clueless – it can either be viewed as a retelling of the story, or as a sweet film in its own right.  A likeable cast and some funny moments make it well worth seeing.

Year of release: 1995

Director: Amy Heckerling

Producers: Twink Caplan, Barry M. Berg, Robert Lawrence, Scott Rudin, Adam Schroeder

Writers: Jane Austen (based on novel ‘Emma’), Amy Heckerling

Main cast: Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Donald Faison, Breckin Meyer, Jeremy Sisto, Dan Hedaya

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Click here for my review of the novel ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen.

Click here for my review of the 1972 mini series adaptation of Emma, starring Doran Godwin.

Click here for my review of the 1996 film Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Click here for my review of the 1996 television film Emma, starring Kate Beckinsale.

Click here for my review of the 2009 mini series adaptation of Emma, starring Romola Garai.

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This movie is based on the real life story of Erin Gruwell, a teacher at a tough school in Los Angeles.   Her English class is filled with students who have slipped through the cracks, who have become caught up in gang culture and who are often lucky to make it through the day alive.  When she discovers that only one member of the class has heard of the holocaust, she sets out to teach them about other people who have suffered from intolerance.  She also encourages the class to keep a journal and write about their lives, and in doing so the students learn acceptance of each other.

In this telling of Erin Gruell’s story, Hilary Swank plays the idealistic young teacher, fighting against a system which has already given up on the students (Imelda Staunton is  fantastic in an unsympathetic role as Erin’s Head of Department.)

I actually enjoyed the film a lot, and at times even had tears in my eyes at some of the horrors that the students had to face on a daily basis.  Hilary Swank was perfect as Erin; Scott Glenn was also great as her father, who was torn between his pride at his daughter’s dedication and his fears for her safety.  Patrick Dempsey played Erin’s husband Scott, who found increasingly sidelined by Erin’s job.  In real life Erin Gruell has not been married, and this character was invented for the film.  Perhaps that’s why Dempsey unfortunately seems unnecessary here – he comes across as little more than an unsupportive spouse.

There are definitely some cliches here – lots of them in fact.  There’s also – from the point of a Hollywood movie – nothing new here.  It’s been done before, most famously in Dangerous Minds (1995).  Blackboard Jungle (1955) was one of the first films to cover this subject.  However, the events of Freedom Writers are based on one specific instance, which does add an extra power to the movie.

All in all, more enjoyable than I expected, with some great support from the young actors who played the students.

Year of release: 2007

Director: Richard LaGravenese

Writers: Richard LaGravenese, Erin Gruell (book), Freedom Writers (book)

Main cast: Hilary Swank, Imelda Staunton, Scott Glenn, April L. Hernandez

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Stephen King’s first novel shows that he had the power to grip and enthrall viewers from the very start of his career. The story probably needs no introduction, but in essence, it concerns Carrie White, a teenage high school outcast, the subject of cruel taunts and jokes, with a religious zealot for a mother.  But Carrie has the power of telekinesis – a shocking and vengeful trait.

After Carrie is mercilessly subjected to a locker room ‘hazing’ one girl feels remorseful enough to get the most popular boy in school to take Carrie to the Prom.  But darker forces are at work, and events result in mass death and lots of bloodshed.

I enjoyed this more than I had hoped to.  Stephen King may not win many literary awards, but he is certainly able to crank up the tension and keep the pages turning. He himself describes his early work (and this was his debut novel) as “raw” and while I would agree with that, the story in this novel was exciting, and I didn’t want to put the book down.

While the story is mainly told in the third person, excerpts from books, newspapers and interviews told retrospectively attempt to understand the events that took place and make sense of them.  These parts of the story give clues as to how the tale unfold, but rather than spoil anything, they simply tease the reader and make them want to read on.

The characterisation however, is fairly poor.  Carrie is obviously the most developed character, but most of the remaining characters are stereotypical, especially the perpetrators of Carrie’s distress.  This doesn’t detract from the story though – this novel is more plot than character driven.

Stephen King is probably the most famous horror writer of his time, and this book shows exactly why.  Very enjoyable.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This film is apparently based on the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 (which sadly has not been an isolated incident, with other similar shootings also having taken place).

The film is very unsentimental, and does not invite the viewer to engage with  any of the characters.  It simply shows a number of students going about their normal everyday routines…except of course, that this day is not going to be like any other day. While many scenes are shot in real time, they also ‘loop back’ on each other, so that we see one situation from several points of view.

The first hour of this movie is tense, as you know that at some point, this terrible massacre is going to start.  And therein lies one of the problems with this movie for me – it felt almost voyeuristic, watching these people go about their normal lives, having normal conversations, totally oblivious to the fact that their lives are about to be changed forever.

I do feel that the fact that all of the actors were unknown added to the tension, and made the characters seem more real – which served to remind me that (although technically the film is a work of fiction), the events upon which the movie is based are all too real.

Year of release: 2003

Director: Gus Van Sant

Writer: Gus Van Sant

Main cast: Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, Elias McConnell, Jordan Taylor, Carrie Finklea, Nicole George

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