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Finding our Budding Mark Kermodes - UKS2 write film reviews.

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

I love the way film critics craft language; reading their reviews is like a masterclass in word manipulation and artistic sentencery. They often leave me bowled over by the power of words or laughing out loud at the scathing yet oh so clever roastings of the 'rotten tomatoes'.

Reviews offer a great purpose for writing to explore with your class, and I've found some great shared texts/ Wagolls here as a starting point for pulling out the key features, accessing tone and appreciating the play with language.

We'll start with the positive ones........

The Sea Beast (8+) (Common Sense Media)

Anyone who loves a good swashbuckling adventure will delight in this beautifully animated tale. The Sea Beast takes a familiar story about chasing down monsters and gives it a real punch with messages about heroes not always meeting expectations, the complicated nature of war and peace, the subjectivity of history, and other seemingly heavy themes. All are seamlessly woven into an inspiring, gripping adventure. It has a little something for everyone: Ship-lovers will appreciate the nautical entertainment (including teams hanging from the sides of ships with ropes and tons of cannons firing), but there's also some humour and a particularly cute character thrown in for those who need an alternative to the larger, sometimes scary beasts.

It's also refreshing to see a diverse cast throughout the film, both aboard the ship and in town, rather than just in the background. If you pay attention, you'll notice that crew members wear attire from various cultural backgrounds, and there are many degrees of skin tones and hair texture, which all comes through clearly thanks to the movie's outstanding animation. Though the plot does feel a bit trite at times, the setting gives it fresh life, along with the somewhat haunting message about the dangers of blindly trusting history told by those in charge. It gives audiences a lot to think about and a lot to discuss after it's over.

After some ho-hum years and too many sequels, Pixar is back and better than ever with Inside Out, a boldly unique animated film that renews our faith in what a giant studio can do with an original concept. Docter combines the strengths of his two Pixar masterworks here: the endless inventiveness of Monster's Inc. and the poignant strength of Up. A truly fantastic mixture of fantasy-adventure-comedy and small-family-drama, it's a genius work of conception, execution and emotion that will go down in the annals of Disney animation as an instant and enduring classic.

It follows Joy, the leading-emotion of an 11-year-old girl, as she tries to navigate a big change in her young life. Much like Toy Story 3, we're shown the inherent difficulties of growing up through a fresh viewpoint, learning what makes you "you". It's a convoluted idea that's nearly impossible to explain, and yet Pixar nails it, perfectly shifting between its parallel universes with ease. The humour throughout will undoubtedly have kids and adults in equal stitches, with fantastic turns from everyone, notably Poehler, Smith, Black, and Kind. However, this film's high-point may be the multiple emotional gut-punches that will reduce parents to tears. That fearlessness to be gloomy is basically the thesis of the film: true joy comes when every emotion is allowed to be recognised and dealt with healthfully. It's quite a psychologically complex stance to take for a film that manages to be so kid-friendly. This wonderful balancing act helps make Inside Out worthy of the "M" word (masterpiece) and gives it the distinction of being Pixar's best since the unparalleled Toy Story.

Finding Nemo (Cert U) by CHRISTOPHER TOOKEY, Daily Mail

Finding Nemo is that delightful rarity - a family film that genuinely appeals to all the family, and not only children. It will enchant the most fidgety four-year old, but most grown-ups will also fall for it, hook, line and sinker.

It's one of the best yet from Pixar, the animators who made the Toy Story movies, A Bug's Life and Monsters Inc. And it's a magnificent piece of story-telling.

Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) is a perennially anxious clownfish who can't tell jokes and doesn't have much to laugh about, especially when a barracuda destroys his home and eats his wife and 399 eggs.

The 400th survives and becomes Nemo (Alexander Gould).

On his first day at school, Nemo doesn't heed the advice of his understandably overprotective dad and swims out to inspect a boat - whereupon he's scooped up by a diver and taken off to a tropical fish tank in a Sydney dentist's surgery.

From then on, the story divides in two, as Nemo tries to escape the tank with the help of his fellow internees, led by a scarred oldtimer called Gill (Willem Dafoe).

Marlin attempts to find Nemo with the help of an eternally optimistic blue fish called Dory (Ellen DeGeneres).

Along the way, they encounter such characters as Bruce the shark (Barry Humphries) who's formed a self-help group with a couple of like-minded predators in order to turn themselves into nice guys, not mindless eating machines; Nigel, an accidentprone pelican (Geoffrey Rush); and Crush (played by the film's director and co-writer, Andrew Stanton), a 150-year-old turtle who believes like any surfer dude that, hey, you just go with the flow.

The clownfish's adventures are suspenseful, unpredictable and ceaselessly inventive. The visuals are gorgeous, and make marvellous use of reflection, refraction and the brilliant colours of aquatic life.

The gags are often very funny, and - wonder of wonders - the film espouses 'family' values without ever becoming earnest or preachy.

It's arguably the best film ever made about parental anxiety. Marlin learns not to become quite so over-protective.

But Nemo discovers the importance of caution and that his father's twitchiness is born out of love, not just a determination to be a spoilsport.

The film even tackles the potentially schmaltzy, politically correct subject of disability and does so in a positive, thoughtful way.

Nemo is born with one fin smaller than the other and is no great swimmer - but he largely overcomes his disability through courage.

Marlin's friend, Dory, has a mental defect - short-term memory loss - but conquers that, too, thanks to her friendliness and optimistic outlook. The script carries off the difficult task of making her disability funny, yet at the same time sad and sympathetic.

Ellen Degeneres, not the warmest of performers in the flesh, comes across in fish form as a terrific comedienne. The scene where she attempts to talk fluent whale is a classic.

Finding Nemo is charmingly acted, beautifully scripted, and pacily directed, with a wit - verbal, visual and even musical - that raises it to the highest level of film-making. Its success in America has already made it the most successful animated picture of all time.

Artistically, it's up there with the all-time animated greats.

Deserves a Standing Ovation! ( a few quotes to magpie from)

'This is a real movie, with all those elements that have proved sure-fire through history; Laughter, tears, involvement, thrills, wonderment. Steven Spielberg also adds a message: Human beings and spacelings should learn to co-exist.' (Bob Thomas)

'Just get yourself a ticket, for this is as nearly perfect a movie as Hollywood has ever crafted.' (Stanley Eichelbaum)

'There's beauty and care in every scene of this remarkable film.' (Kip Mooney)

'Hogwarts is back in session! And not a moment too soon. And although I've said it before, I've got to say it again, a technical and visual masterpiece.' (Debbie Lynn Elias)

'It's genuinely a delightful experience; full of memorable songs and fun moments & lots of dry humour. ' (Tony Black)

And Now For The Rotten Tomatoes.......

Pinnochio (Matt Brunson)

Aside from Disney’s 1940 masterpiece, Carlos Collodi’s Pinocchio has been the source of many dubious film versions. In the annals of bad cinema, though, no version will ever approach writer-director-star Roberto Benigni’s 2002 take on the tale.

This Italian effort is a monumental achievement in practically every facet of inept filmmaking: joyless, idiotic, annoying, heavy-handed, visually atrocious, and often downright creepy. The 50-year-old Benigni cast himself as the wooden puppet who longs to become a real boy, and his performance is both tiresome and terrifying. The same can be said for the Cricket, the Fox and the Cat, all whose mere presence have the power to disturb impressionable young minds straight into adulthood.

As the rancid cherry on top, the dubbing by English-speaking actors (among them Regis Philbin, Glenn Close, and Breckin Meyer as Pinocchio) is particularly poor, with the words matching the lip movements about as well as in those imported kung fu flicks from the ‘70s.

The Emoji Movie (Kambole Campbell)

The Emoji Movie struggles to know its audience from the very beginning. It wants to be an earnest film about the wonders of the inside of a smartphone, but also wants to mock teenagers for depending on them….This Inside Out knockoff completely lacks any of the joy, wonder and pathos of the film that it so blatantly copied from.

All you can say about the performances is that they are there, and the characters have nothing beyond the faces that they are assigned. Poop makes poop jokes, the smiley emoji jokes about smiling, and none of the jokes actually land. You’ll probably just feel sorry for Maya Rudolph, Anna Faris and Patrick Stewart, who all really deserve better.

The Emoji Movie is like if a film tried to cheat on a test but copied the answers wrong. Its attempt to appeal to children is totally misguided and it completely indulges in Hollywood’s worst commercial instincts as well as famously terrible ideas from children’s movies – for example, the pitiful dance that ends the film.

This film is so severely lacking in imagination that it’s hard to think any child would bother with it.

The most relentlessly soul-crushing and creatively bankrupt film of the year, one wishes that this movie could be erased from existence – but for now, let’s hope that the burning wreckage acts as a warning to never, ever do this again.

So, you didn’t like it then? (Some brilliant roastings!)

'This movie is about an endearing as unaesthetised gum surgery.'(Liam Lacey)

'There are ticklish moments but no real laughs.' (F X Feeney)

'You can feel your brain rotting as you watch this.' (David Noh)

'Quite possibly the longest film ever made - or at least it feels that way.' (Mike Massie)

'The more one sees the main characters, the less appealing they become. Luke Skywalker is a whiner, Han Solo a sarcastic clod, Princess Leia a nag, and C-3PO just a drone.' (People)

The Writing - top tips

1) Start small with asking the children to write a short snippet review or introduction about a movie they've seen both bad and good. Remind them of techniques and sentence starts such as power of 3 and starting with adjective/verb, rhetorical question etc, use of brackets, colons, semi colons. If you ask them to leave the title out, you could play a game where the others have to guess which film it is. Here's mine from Horrible Histories:

Anyone who thinks kids can’t appreciate dry humour and sarcasm clearly hasn’t seen Horrible Histories. Here is a team of writers who get it in every single way. Cleverly crafted scenes that marry historical accuracy with side-splitting laughs engage viewers young and old. Striding confidently into its 10th series and basking in the success of its first branch-out movie, Horrible Histories has earned global recognition as a children’s entertainment classic.

Mock up some imaginary (or use real) film posters and/or short storylines and put them around the classroom. Give a variety of genres e.g Poirot/Marple style, a horror, a comedy, a romance, an adventure, historical. Use these as stimulus to write extended snippet reviews a bit like Trip Advisor as shown in the one above. You want a good paragraph that would stand alone or serve as an intro to a longer review. Example below:

Film Title: Giggo


Certificate 12

Pitch- It's about a clown that appears in children's dreams and scares them so much they can't sleep.

There’s a reason that most directors shy away from Horror and it's because this genre is one of the most difficult to get right. Alas, Giggo serves as a shining example of how not to do it.

Horror? This film is about as scary as inviting Miss Honey to tea!

Clowns made a spine-chilling segue into horror in the brilliantly made Spielberg film ‘It’ and this embarrassment of a knock-off is trying to replicate its genius. It fails, monumentally and the only rating it merits is a giant custard pie!

Film Title: Bookdwellers

Genre: Adventure

Certificate: PG

Pitch: A set of librarian friends discover that they have the ability to enter the worlds of their favourite stories.

Bookdwellers is quite simply movie magic with all those elements that have proved sure-fire through history: Laughter, tears, involvement, thrills, wonderment. This is a film that mystifies and enchants from start to finish as it invites audiences into a world of storytelling adventures.

Bookdwellers just made school librarians across the world totally cool!

Extension: The children should try to write both a positive review and a negative review about the same film.

Or......Give This Film A

The only whodunnit being asked here is of the director whose clueless attempts at intrigue give away the murderer from the start.

A riotous, uproaring tale of calamity and farce - this film will leave audiences howling all the way home!

A Road Less Travelled? They'll be queuing to Timbuktu and back again!

Collect the short reviews on Post-Its and stick up in classroom or ask children to post best ones onto Jamboard/Padlet to use as collective vocab bank/magpie pot later on. Or they can become a start of a longer more developed review.

Use Drama with both the above activities and encourage oracy with children pretending to be a film reviewer either live or on FlipGrid.

IT - You could make an interactive display of the film posters that link to their reviews using QR codes.

2) A List of Jobs in Film

Take time to explore the career options within the film industry - do this by looking at credits on a film and see how long they are. Ask children what they think a Best Boy is or a Director of Photography or a Grip. Look at special effects perhaps. They need to be able to refer to some of these jobs in their write-ups to make their writing sound authentic and reliable. Talk to them about LSA in London which is a sixth form college especially for film studies and is the brainchild of Tim Bevan from Working Title films. Take a look at their website.

3) Nail down the structure of a review to include : Introduction (with title, certificate, release date)

Summary of the story (keep this brief)

Is the plot any good?

Creative bits (dialogues, characters, use of colour, camera techniques, mood, tone, symbols, costumes) - You will need to discuss all the different jobs in film prior to this, which would be interesting to look at - there's hundreds and hundreds!)

Overall Opinion (supported with examples and facts from the story)

Conclusion (announcing whether the filmmaker did a good job/was successful. Does the viewer gain anything from watching - eg a deeper understanding of the subject matter or a warm, fuzzy feeling, a call to arms, side-splitting laughs?)

4) Choose a film or television series they know or watch a new one together based on your topic and model the review writing process above, sharing your thoughts as you write. This does not have to be long - you could use children's shorts or a television series. Or, if you've had some teaching gold come out of the previous activities pick one of those mock ups. Go with the children.

When finished, repeat, this time as a shared write - take this slowly for the less able. I go, you go for each part or couple of parts of the structure - you will be writing one that is unlike any of theirs to avoid direct copying.

5) Pupils begin to write their own film review in first draft using scaffold as support.

6) Language, Grammar and Punctuation Check self and/or peer check (re-draft)

7) Peer review/group review/teacher conference. Tweak.

8) Publish and/or Perform

9) Extend. To finish - interactive display, post to social media, school newsletter/webpage, contact Mark Kermode on Twitter!

10) Enrich. Ask film reviewers to talk to your kids or anyone in the film industry you could reach out to either live, if you're lucky, or via Zoom. Who knows you might get Mark Kermode himself or a Hollywood actor? Mine the children's parents' contacts and your own! Contact Primary Futures for potential speakers. Visit a film studio near you and talk to people there. (these can also be done as an intro/immersion day before you start the unit)

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