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Posts Tagged ‘school’

A film about the spelling bee contest does not sound like it should be exciting or compelling, but Akeelah and the Bee manages to be both.

Akeelah (Keke Palmer) is a young girl living in an LA ghetto, attending an underfunded school where education is not a priority for most of the students. But Akeelah is intelligent and has a talent – she can spell. She can spell tough, complicated words that many of us haven’t even heard before. Her teacher wants her to enter the school spelling bee and see if she can’t make it all the way to the national bee.

A former spelling bee winner, Dr Larabee (Laurence Fishburne) agrees to coach Akeelah, and together they embark on a journey that metaphorically takes them much further than either could have imagined. Akeelah herself becomes a symbol of hope for the people in her neighbourhood, who rarely have much to celebrate.

I was surprised by how much this film drew me in. I do love words and spelling, but I wasn’t sure how it would work in a film. Keke Palmer, who was just 13 when this film was made (Akeelah is 11) showed a real talent and I loved her. Fishburne was his usual reliable self in a layered portrait of a man trying to help someone achieve something which seemed out of reach. Angela Bassett is always, always brilliant, and certainly was here as Akeelah’s mother, initially resistant to her daughter taking part in the bee.

The ending genuinely did have me shouting at the TV! I won’t spoilt it, but I thought it did finish on a perfect note. If you are thinking that a film about a spelling bee does not sound like your kind of thing, give this a try…you might be pleasantly surprised.

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I listened to this audiobook while out running (not in one go, that would have been a LONG run!) and I realised something about the difference in enjoyment for me between physical books and audiobooks. When I’m reading a physical book, I want to be absorbed and completely drawn into it – for me, chicklit does not really do this, because it’s so easy to predict what’s going to happen. But when I’m out running, I just want something to distract me, something to occupy my mind. It doesn’t need to be *too* absorbing – it’s doing the same job as listening to music or podcasts does for others. So I enjoyed this book a lot, while acknowledging that if I was reading a physical copy I would not have liked it half as much.

Sophie Mayhew is married to John, a conservative government minister who is widely expected to be the next prime minister. Known in the papers as ‘Sophie the trophy’, her role is to basically look good on her husband’s arms and support him in all he does. It’s a job she does very well – until a story breaks about an affair her husband has had, and she  *doesn’t* toe the line. Instead she tells the papers precisely what she thinks about her husband’s behaviour and decides she needs time to herself. She ends up in the small Yorkshire village of Little Lost, near where she went to school. There, she finds friendship, acceptance and peace. She befriends Tracey, the local publican, who helps her out with somewhere to stay – and Tracey’s brother Elliot, the handsome local vicar, who sets all the local womens’ hearts racing. As Sophie grows closer to Tracey, Elliot and his little boy Luke, she starts to wish she didn’t have to go back to her old life. But reality is calling – will she answer?

Okay. So it’s chicklit, and that means you can probably guess what happens at the end from the scenario above. But getting there is great fun and there are plenty of other parts to this story, which as Tracey’s love life and Elliot’s estranged wife. I liked hearing about Little Lost and enjoyed the way that life in a small village was portrayed, with everyone pulling together and looking out for each other.

John and his family, as well as Sophie’s own family, were with one exception, all horrible. Selfish, critical and arrogant – I can’t believe that she didn’t walk out years earlier!

If you like chicklit, I would recommend this book. For me, the audiobook was extremely well narrated by Coleen Prendergast, who had a voice that perfectly fitted the story (I’m not surprised to learn that she has narrated the audio versions of Johnson’s other books too).

Overall, it’s not really my genre, but it’s one of the best in it’s own genre, and gets a good rating from me.

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Not having ever read the play by Alan Bennett, or seen the film adaptation of The History Boys, I went into the production knowing very little about it. Set in the 1980s, the story revolves around six bright, high-spirited students and their very different teachers – Hector (Ian Redford) and Irwin (Lee Comley). The teaching staff is rounded out by Jeffrey Holland as the results-obsessed headmaster Felix, and Victoria Carling as Mrs Lintott (in fact, the only female in the whole play).

Hector is a man confused about his own sexuality, which causes issues for him and others, and who wants to, if not incite the boys to rebellion, at least make them think for themselves about what they want to do with their lives, rather than merely follow the path to Oxbridge which Felix is determined they must do. Young supply teacher Irwin is brought in to temper Hector’s anarchic style of teaching. Mr Lintott is the foil to all three of the male teachers, seeing things more clearly and stating things more succinctly. The boys not only have to cope with the pressure of dealing with their futures, but also with everything that comes with being a teenager – they can be loud, raucous, in some cases, discovering their own sexuality, and for at least one, turning to religion to the bemusement of his unseen parents (they were prepared for dealing with drugs, but not for God!)

The beauty of this production was in the script, which was fast paced, humorous and poignant, but also in the casting; whoever was in charge of picking the cast did an outstanding job, as there was not one single weak link in the whole cast.

The boys were played by Thomas Grant as Posner – in love with a fellow student, coming to terms with his homosexuality, but with a sweet sense of humour and a lovely singing voice which he was able to demonstrate on a number of occasions; Jordan Scowen as Dakin, cocksure for the most part but displaying vulnerability too, witty and clever; Frazer Hadfield as Scripps (I adored him), probably the most level headed of the group, sometime narrator to the audience, and an excellent piano player; Joe Wiltshire Smith as the non-academic Rudge with a dry sense of humour; James Schofield as Lockwood; Arun Bassi as Akthar; Dominic Treacy in a very humorous turn as Timms; and Adonis Jenieco as Crowther.

The musical interludes – featuring well known songs from the eighties with video clips of the cast, showing what is going on with the characters outside of what is going on on stage – were ingenious and allowed seamless set changes on stage.

Overall, a truly wonderful production – highly highly recommended.

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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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