Night School – Film Review

Tiffany Haddish’s character is a high school teacher earning an extra buck running the night school classes for grown-ups trying to pass their leaving exams. Kevin Hart, one of her adult students, storms in on her at one point, when she is in the middle of giving additional help to a struggling young student.

It is not an uncommon situation to find the giving teacher providing additional support, homework or counsel to a young child. Sure, teachers can clock on and clock off when the bell tolls, but many don’t. They are thinking about their young proteges most of the time.

That’s not to say Haddish is playing a self-sacrificing  character like Hilary Swank in Freedom Boys. She’s not that type of teacher. In fact, despite the broader slapstick elements of Night School, Haddish embodies a more balanced approach with a matter-of-fact approach to education. She’s not overly invested. If she sees a problem, she fixes it. When Hart’s character thinks she’s emotionally invested, she cuts him down a few pegs and tells him to get over himself.

She sees teaching as a job, and she does a good job. She goes beyond the call of duty, where there is a need, but she doesn’t let it tangle up with her personal life.

If we could all take a piece of pedagogical style from this film, we’d have injected a well needed counter-weight to the molly-coddling sentiment of some of the currently fashionable teaching trends, without of course losing our humanity.

Jurassic World – Film Review

The two main child protagonists of Jurassic World feel as though they are torn straight from the screenplay of an early 90’s family film. Subjected to the whims of their work obsessed divorcing parents, they are suffering from emotional neglect. But as an audience, we are not here to see pre-pubescent angst surrounding divorce, otherwise we’d have rented a copy of Mrs Doubtfire or Miracle on 34th Street. Surely this is the new millennium and we’re here to watch blended families, accepting them for who they are.

Additionally, we came here for dinosaurs.

Certainly Jurassic World delivers an array of prehistoric bipedal creatures creating carnage across the island jungle. One only wishes that they would tear the heads of the whiney wannabees from their shoulders. The two boys have the chance of a lifetime to experience firsthand the wonders of the Jurassic Age, and all they do is moan the whole time that their CEO aunt (charged with running the Jurassic World theme park) isn’t spending enough time with them. And if they’re not letting off steam about their absent aunty, they’re flapping on about how herds of velociraptor are about to rip them limb from limb.

For goodness sake, the velociraptors have bigger things to worry about, such as being hunted down by the Indominus Rex. In regards to their aunt’s perpetual workload, I don’t know what they expected. She is charged with the world’s largest and most ambitious fictional theme park, and she hadn’t taken any annual leave to spend time with the boys. So, it is no wonder her plate’s too full to spend quality bonding time with her nephews. She barely has time to leave herself emotionally vulnerable enough to become Chris Pratt’s damsel in distress.

In a separate act of glaring plot flaws, the most ridiculous incident involving these youths occurs when the children stumble upon the abandoned atrium of the original Jurassic Park. Discovering an old rusty jeep, from the original park, they claim to know how to hotwire it because their grandfather had a 1992 model, and had shown them how the engine worked, before he sold it.

Now, if the car was from 1992, why couldn’t the car have belonged to their parents; instead of their grandparents? 1992 is only 23 years ago. Their parents could easily have purchased the car within the lifetime of the children. There is no need for the filmmakers to make anyone over the age of 27 feel like a fossil, just because we remember the release of the original Jurassic Park in 1993. Most people who were teenagers at the time of the first film, would barely have had time to have given birth to a child, let alone have two pre-teen bumbling fools such as the two in this movie.

Maybe it’s just that dinosaurs lived more than 60 million years ago, as to why 1994 feels relatively recent; or perhaps it has been a while since the first film was released and I’m older than I feel. Either way the state of the atrium where the jeep was found, was not reflective of the period for which it had been abandoned. And on a completely different point, I don’t think grandparents should be encouraging or educating their grandchildren on how to hotwire cars. It will only lead to theft.

Finally, in a world where lessons are rarely learnt (i.e. this is the fourth time some idiot has thought it would be safe to interact with genetically cloned/modified dinosaurs on an island), one lesson is made clear: if you spend too much time fighting with your ex-husband and working too hard to pay attention to your children, eventually everything will end in a blood soaked nightmare involving a Tyrannosaurus Rex and the deaths of numerous characters who are inconsequential to the plot.

The Tribe – Film Review

Clicking of a pen, drumming of fingers on the desk, sliding of a chair leg, whispering, zipping of a pencil case, clearing of a throat. These are all things that throw a teacher off their game, causing disruption to the flow of their lessons. Or so I thought. But watching The Tribe, a film where the dialogue is communicated completely through signing, my opinion of what amounts to disruption was challenged. Even in complete silence major disruption can be caused.

There is a scene early on in the film where new student Sergey (Grygoriy Fesenko) enters the classroom at his Ukrainian boarding school. Upon entering the room, one of the other students immediately begins to sign to the other students. The student strides his chair, legs spread wide, one elbow resting on the desk, and body leaning slouched upon the seat. And in an instant I realise that it’s never the sound itself that creates disruption; it’s the attitude.

The teacher turns her attention away from Sergey and stares daggers at the teen who is kicking back like a real ‘Mr Coolio’. She tells him to be quiet. He continues to slouch, while spinning his pen nonchalantly in his hand. Again, complete defiance is communicated without a single noise.

Sergey sits down and the teacher begins her geography lesson. Again she is interrupted by the class clown. She requests he stand up. She negotiates with him, comes to some sort of agreement and then he sits down again. The moment she turns to examine the map at the front of the room, he is signing again. The lights flash and it’s time for break.

This scene alone was a revelation for me in regards to my own teaching. Whenever I teach I am on a never ending quest to reach a state of near silence in my classrooms. As though silence will bring about an equilibrium for learning. The Tribe threw that in my face and proved to me that even in a situation where nothing is heard, there are plenty of other ways to rebel. Even if I could sign, I would not work at that boarding school. Not just because of the slouching pen-twirling teenagers, but more due to the violence, drugs and sex that infiltrates the corridors of the dormitories and spills onto the streets.

Director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy has created an insane community of characters and situations in The Tribe. Despite claims by some critics that this is a silent film, I feel it’s not. The characters are signing with their hands. So there is communication and dialogue occurring. It’s a film with-out subtitles, which presumably means there is another level of depth to the film that would be accessed by those who understand Ukrainian sign language. But for the rest of us, the slow reveal of the plot through gestures and action is what makes this film masterful.

The performance by Grygoriy Fesenko and his co-stars Yana Novikova and Roza Babiy is thrilling. The cast of this film were unknown non-actors who were trained up on set and developed a set of intriguingly broken characters, not limited by their hearing impairment. There are few scenes where their lack of hearing directly affects the action of the film.

The Tribe is no Hollywood teen movie. If an allusion were to be made, then perhaps it is Mean Girls on acid, with a Ukrainian Michael Cera as the lead. While the situations in the film are mostly extreme, it should be an eye-opener for teachers who may wonder why students turn up to class withdrawn or angry. It is a wake-up call for parents who think their children spend time riding horses and playing hockey at boarding school. It will give students some dark and perverted ideas for entrepreneurialism and revenge. For the rest of you it can remind you to read the world through what you see, not just what you hear.