Archive for the ‘Wednesday Movies’ Category

Wednesday Movie: Gifted Hands

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Movie Ginger

Tonight we watched the movie, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, with our girls. What an inspirational story of faith, determination, and courage! Not to mention, it was just a good family friendly movie.

Our girls were a little dejected when we decided to watch this instead of something with more comedic value. The funny thing about it all though is that my youngest daughter was trying to work out the timeline taking place in the movie. It started out in 1987 but flashed back to his life story beginning when he was about ten (1961). Then towards the end it picked back up where it left off in the beginning. I was trying to explain that and I said, “Eureka!” It was just like you had discussed a few days prior in one of your daily emails. I had forwarded that particular email to her and her sister.

Start with the end in mind.

The most dramatic story-telling starts with the ending, or near the ending. The story recreates the events leading to the ending, illuminating it as they do. Try it!

She immediately understood and I believe more clearly understood the story line then. I would like to suggest this movie as a “must see.” I’m attaching a picture of us watching it. Thanks for all you do to educate, encourage, and inspire us homeschoolers. May God bless you and yours!


Image (cc)

Tell us about a film you and your kids watched together (along with a pic if you have one) and if we share it on the blog you’ll receive a free copy of our Movie Guide (once per family).

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Wednesday Movies: A Student Review!

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Watching a blank screenImage by Kenneth Lu

The following student piece was produced for our fall Break Into Print class taught by noted author Karen O’Connor. Students first learned the language of publishing then they picked a topic they were excited about that would interest others. Next, they selected an article style, prepared their piece for submission, and wrote a query letter.

Amelia’s project was a film review—perfect for Movie Wednesday. Enjoy! (Also, note: there are some spoilers.)

A Quick Review of Thor One and Two and The Avengers


Amelia Audette-Diaz (age 11)

Did you like the first Thor movie? If you did then you will love the new one called “Thor: The Dark World.” In the first one Loki becomes evil when he finds out he is adopted (wouldn’t we all?) and is actually the son of an evil ice giant. He wants revenge and chooses to do so by going on his real father’s side, leading him into his adopted father’s kingdom and then killing his real father when he is about to kill his adopted father. Yeah, I didn’t get it the first time either.

But Loki isn’t finished. After dying in “Thor”, he somehow comes back to life in the movie “The Avengers” and wants even more revenge. He controls the mind of a scientist and Hawk Eye, who by the way, nobody knows about because they didn’t make a movie about him. Then Loki makes them build a portal between two different worlds with the help of another evil guy he teamed up with. But the Avenger, which includes Black Widow (no previous movie about that character either), Captain America, Iron Man, Hawk Eye, and the really sensitive Hulk, who steals a motorcycle and arrives just when they need him, is ready to beat Loki. Of course they defeat Loki but completely destroy New York City in the process and send Loki back home with Thor.

In the second Thor movie (“The Dark World”), Thor’s girlfriend, who Thor’s father doesn’t like because she is human and doesn’t live five thousand years, gets infected with red slime and Thor tries to find a cure. He has a plan to give her to the evil villain, who just looks like a white elf that’s power hungry, and then destroy the slime as the evil elf is taking it out of her. His father disapproves and completely forgets to tell him the red slime is undefeatable. But in the end the villain dies and they somehow destroy the red slime even though it’s supposed to be indestructible.

Wow this movie made even less sense than the first one!

If you’d like to include movies in your homeschool, here are some resources:

The BW Lifestyle: Movies and Television. Shares good reasons to include visual media in home education.

A Family Movie List. A compilation of suggested titles from a group of friends who like to discuss movies and books.

Brave Writer Goes to the Movies. This digital eleven page guide helps you to comment meaningfully on plot, characterization, make-up and costumes, acting, setting and even film editing. $9.95

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A New Year’s Resolution: Wednesday Movies!

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

The Princess Bride

Surprisingly enough, watching TV or movies with your kids ought to be a primary part of any good language arts program. There is nothing like listening to language used in the right context by various people (especially actors) for vocabulary training as well as growing in familiarity with proper syntax.

Using films and TV shows wisely is a big part of the Brave Writer Lifestyle. In the past, we’ve highlighted and reviewed movies here on the blog, and we hope to do more of that in 2014!

Here’s how one Brave Writer family incorporated film into their homeschool:


I wanted to gently introduce my children to your philosophy of Language Arts by watching a movie after dinner. So, we plopped down after Chinese takeout and watched my favorite, “The Princess Bride.” I thought it might be a little much for my six year old, but she LOVED it. She has been asking me questions just so I will say, “As you wish” (which means I love you.) I promised her that I would also read her the book. My sweethearts are very excited about school because they didn’t realize that movies would be included!


If you’d like to do the same this year, here are some helpful resources:

The BW Lifestyle: Movies and Television. Shares good reasons to include visual media in home education.

A Family Movie List. A compilation of suggested titles from a group of friends who like to discuss movies and books.

Brave Writer Goes to the Movies. Our digital product helps you to comment meaningfully on plot, characterization, make-up and costumes, acting, setting and even film editing. This eleven page guide gives you the background and series of questions to help your kids discuss movies on a deeper level, rather than the usual “It was really good…” responses they offer. As your children learn to talk well about movies, these skills naturally help them to discuss literature. Was $14.95, but we’ve permanently lowered the price. Now $9.95!

Winter Movie Discussion Club. This four week online class starts January 6th. The theme: Super Heroes with a Difference! Instructor Nancy Graham (MA in Cinema Studies) will lead discussions about dual identities, the ability to morph, the defiance of gravity, the superhero as outcast/outlaw/outlier, how supersized egos can work together as a team…plus much more!

Image above is a scene from The Princess Bride

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Blog Classic: Wednesday Movie Conversations

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Movies are the twentieth century’s contribution to the field of literature. As important as a good education in reading is, film gives us another way to experience the elements of plot and story that make us more human. I’m passionate about bringing education into the 21st century. One way to do that is to value film.

I was asked years ago how our family talks about movies and wrote the following blog entry to answer that question. Hope it helps you too!

When we sit down as a family to watch a movie, a few comments immediately precede pushing the play button.

There’s the usual:

“Scoot over, I want the corner with the pillow,”

and the ever present

“Hey I was holding the ‘click’ first!” (click=remote control).

But once we’ve settled seating disputes and have conferred the privilege of the “click” on the most deserving, we hit the play button and watch the movie du jour.

Movies are great for unpacking plot, theme, characterization, and setting—all in a short two hours! The following tips drawn from our years of family-movie-time may help you expand the value of your movie-viewing experience. Hope so, anyway!

First and foremost: Enjoy watching the film! Pop some corn, cuddle some blankets, and enjoy a true break from the usual routine. The value of movie-viewing will occur naturally, over time, if you enjoy the experience (rather than turning it into some kind of “school-plan” or “lesson”).

Once you have resolved to enjoy the film experience, you can enhance the take-away value by asking good questions.

What do you think is going to happen next?

Wasn’t (actress’ name) in…..? I like her better in this. What about you? I like her here because…. I didn’t like her in that because….

Stop the movie.

Let’s guess how the story is going to end. (Everyone suggests possible endings including our favorite funny one: the helicopter comes and rescues, assaults, crashes or defends… whomever we want to save or vilify.)

Why does it make sense that the story could end that way? (Some kids will cite other movies with similar story lines, will identify the movie as comedy or tragedy, will guess based on “foreshadowed” events in the story.)

You can point out those foreshadowing moments (if you recognize them) to help your kids notice them on their own in other movies. Usually foreshadowing in a movie is conveyed by lines of dialog or the mood created by the style of filming or the inclusion of a specific event that anticipates a fulfillment later in the plot. Musical score can also foreshadow.

Identify the climax. See if you can recognize the moment on which the resolution of the story hinges. That’s the climax. In most movies, it comes towards the end and it’s the point of no return. After the climax, either the boy gets the girl or he doesn’t, Dorothy is either going home or will be stuck in Oz forever. One way to help your children recognize the climax is to ask the following question:

What do we hope will happen by the end of the story? Did it? When did it happen (or not)?

The climax is the moment where everything comes together and we are left with a verdict about whether or not all that effort has been worth it.

How does the setting help you know what kind of movie this is? The setting will establish a context: like fantasy or realism, comedy or tragedy, romance or epic battle. Talk about how the film maker uses the setting to heighten suspense or to create a feeling a safety. You’ll look at lighting, the close ups of the face or the big panoramic vision of the landscape and then ask yourself how these contribute to the overall mood of the plot.

And finally, the best question to end a movie viewing time is: What do you want to see next?

The doldrums, crisis and other reasons homeschool

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

is tedious right now…

Yes, I feel it too. The bleak gray skies, the perennial low temps (unless you live in southern California where I hear it’s 75 degrees and balmy – shame on you!), the slow burn that comes from having gotten past new books and ideas but not yet in the home sretch where you can coast into summer… It’s March and we’re mad as h-e-double-toothpicks and we wish we didn’t have to take it any more!

In my world, homeschool has had to persist in the middle of personal crisis. I’ve had emails this winter that report similar weariness: sick child, husband who lost a job, divorce, ailing parents. These common enough experiences impact homeschooling enormously. It’s not like you can keep up the imagination and energy for art, nature walks, creative writing assignments and math homework when your mind is racing through health insurance payment options or you’re sending out resumes for a new job!

For the rest of you who aren’t in the middle of crisis, you might be in the middle of the March muddle. Spring isn’t here yet and homeschool has lost it’s spark. When energy is low for whatever reason, try a crock pot approach to homeschooling. Here’s how to do it.

1) Strip your homeschool to bare essentials.
Now is not the time to beat yourself up about your lack of creativity. Rely on the routines that you can maintain with the least amount of preparation. In our house, that means we continue with math, reading and poetry teatimes. We also keep up with our writing. I tend to rely on interest-driven writing, I skip big projects that require revision and focus instead of personal writing (journaling, freewriting, silly writing prompts from one of my many word books laying around the house). We always keep teatimes going because they feel special, include yummy food and make the day seem nicer than it actually is.

2) Get help.
You can join a co-op, hire tutors, swap subjects with a friend (I did that one year – I taught English to the my friend’s daughter while she taught math to my son).

3) Be good to you.
This may not be your best season for home education. Accept that. Instead, take time each day to do something nice for yourself. You might enforce a quiet half hour (light a candle and tell your kids they can talk when you blow it out). Read a book during that half hour. Unplug computer and phone. Or give yourself permission to bone up on a subject to be taught later. Perhaps you have always wanted to do crafts with your kids, but it’s too much to prepare, plan and execute right now. Use this down time to read a little, clip a few ideas and file them. Don’t tackle the whole thing. Just tuck away a little bit of input for the future. It will help you remember that a more energetic time is on its way.

4) Television and movies aren’t the enemy.
You have my permission (in case you need it) to use the TV to help you cope. I swear, your children will turn out just fine. Choose some programs that make you feel like a better mother. Watch Discovery channel, the cooking channel, the Project Runways for fashion production. Watch people realize their dreams and ambitions or learn about history or science or run through as many Broadway musicals as you can. Watch Shakespeare movies or all the Disney films in chronological order. Turn the TV into a secret ally. Pop corn. Trust that immersion into the world of film or television for this season will yield great rewards. (I’ll write a post on that soon to help alleviate your anxiety, because television and film can be valuable to your kids.)

5) Take the long view.
You’re a good mom. How do I know? You homeschool. Only devoted parents (usually moms) take on this awesome task. Trust that what you’ve poured in will sustain your kids through this period of chaos, the depression, the pressure, or the distraction. Remember that anything missed now can be easily caught up in a more alive, less blues-y time.

I’m currently in a season just like this. It takes a lot of nurturing self-talk to not beat myself up for being less than on top of my game. One way I’ve coped is I stopped folding clothes. I just throw them in a pile and sort through them as needed. Sometimes giving up even one routine creates a little breathing room and for some reason, clothes folding is just too much right now.

I’ve also realized that this is a season to be close to my kids (in that more “along side them” way). So I sit on the couch and wach their sit-coms, I lay on their beds talking into the night, I page through clothing catalogs hearing about the spring fashion line, I make vegan food recipes with the new vegans in my family, or I joke around through Facebook chat with them (even while we’re sitting in the same room!). I have less energy for the prepared kind of learning, so I’m giving my time and heart and availability instead. I still do math each day with them. And I supervise writing. But I’m allowing their interests to dictate right now. They check out good stuff from the library, they have stuff they want to learn. So we’re going where they lead. I’m following along with money, time and heart (just not as much intention).

I hope you all are finding ways to get through this exceptionally snowy, bleak, gray winter. Peace.

Conversation over dinner

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

We sat outside because it’s summer and we like to eat dinner outside in the summer. Nevermind the racket-making cicadas or the hot breezes that do not refresh. All too soon we ex-Californians will be shut up indoors for a very very long time. So we ate our grilled burgers and bratwursts with cold lemonade and enjoyed the sunshine and shade anyway.

A discussion of favorite movies erupted as they often do in this family. “Nacho Libre” took center stage. (Yes, we fans of “School of Rock” couldn’t resist watching Jack Black in stretchy pants.) Like a brush fire, a good-natured argument developed over whether or not Sister Encarnacion actually falls for “Nacho” (the monastery cook turned incognito wrestler) by the end of the movie. Jon pointed out that the movie finishes with the good sister donning her habit, per her habit; ergo, she remains a nun and not available for dating.

Caitrin, however, cited the fact that Nacho and Encarnacion are holding hands in the final scene, clearly an oft-utilized symbol of romantic inclinations in most comedies where love’s labors succeed. Jon rejoined that a nun does not make such attachments; Caitrin countered that while unexpected, a nun falling in love with a monastery-cook-turned-wrestler makes perfect sense in a romantic comedy. What more evidence did one need than the fact that Encarnacion (a nun, a religious) entered the arena of one of Nacho’s most unholy fights with all the children in their care eschewing convention because she had “feelings” for him?

Then, to drive home the emphatic final point, both Liam and Caitrin took turns reading the back of the DVD box aloud where the plot summary indicated that Nacho’s primary intention was to win the affections of Sister Encarnacion. A comedy always resolves the central aim and conflict of the protagonist. Jon had little left to say.

Already the younger two cite texts to support their arguments with their Dad.

Characterization in books and movies

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

In addition to plot conventions, movies and books share similarities in how they portray characterization. Naturally movies rely on visual cues such as costume, make-up, and hair style to define the period, personality and attention to personal hygiene of a character. In a novel, the author must describe enough of these details for the reader to create a corresponding image in the imagination. In addition to these obvious categories of characterization, however, are the more subtle aspects of personality which are usually manifest in the following ways: physical idiosyncrasies like a limp or a lisp, twitches, wheezing, playing with hair strands, adjusting glasses, slumped shoulders, saucy gait, pursed lips, raised eyebrows, military posture, poor speech and so on.

When looking at a actor’s choices in a movie, then, it is important to consider what you see the character doing as much as what the character looks like or says. Movies require us to notice acting choices. Does the character mumble or speak clearly? Does the character turn away from someone intimidating or does the character face that person squarely? How does the character relate to the other characters? You can often detect differences in relationships through observing the changes in conversational style and posture between a single character and each unique relationship within the story.

In books, characterization is developed along similar lines, however, you also often have the benefit of internal processing (what the character thinks in addition to what the character does). This is most often the case for the protagonist (the primary character in the story). You may not have access to the minds of the other characters. The benefit of knowing what is in the mind of the character is that you will have layers of motivation to evaluate rather than merely drawing conclusions from behavior. Shakespeare’s sililoquies serve a similar purpose in his plays. They are meant to reveal to the audience what the character is thinking that can’t be observed from the outside.
Another source of commentary on the character is often supplied by the author. Authors will give you clues about characterization based on how they title or describe the character. In The Red Badge of Courage which we are reading for the Boomerang this month, the main character, Henry, is referred to as “the youth” in every paragraph except dialog. It’s important to ask why because the author clearly intends to communicate something about Henry through that label.

In classic plots seen in movies and found in books, there are two primary characters to look for: the protagonist (usually the one we root for) and the antagonist (the one that makes us “boo”). The protagonist faces an obstacle that is the key to the plot. The antagonist wants to thwart the protagonist’s progress in achieving that goal. Sometimes the protagonist is supported by other characters in achieving the quest (as Frodo was in The Lord of the Rings trilogy). Sometimes the antagonist is not human but instead is a force in nature or a war or the gods (not all antagonists are human, either). And sometimes the primary antagonist is the self – a conflict occuring within the primary character.

Don’t feel you need to over-analyze characterization. What is helpful to do is to ask questions of your kids as they read or view that helps them to notice what they might miss otherwise.

  • Why do you think the protagonist has a limp? How does that hurt his chances of success?
  • Who is the antagonist? Why does he or she oppose the protagonist?
  • What does the costume say about that character?
  • What can we learn about the character from the way he iinteracts with his parents, his friends and authorities?

And so on. Enjoy movies and books above all.

Email: Books and Movies

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Julie, it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a schooling situation where books and movies are discussed in terms of plot, settings, and I can’t even remember what else to mention in that list – is there any way you may be able to do a blog entry about it, for people who may need a little reminder of how to do so? It’s easy for my kids to describe what they’re reading, and to discuss the storyline, but what sorts of things should I be pointing out, or bringing to their attention, etc? Thanks so much for your consideration!–
Hi Susan.
Great topic for multiple blog entries. Books and movies (because they are built on plots) can be discussed in similar ways with your kids. They also have some differences which can lead to fruitful discussions. Let’s talk first about what they share: plot. I’ll continue this series over the course of the week so stay tuned.

Plot: The narrative arc of most stories can be easily detected by using a little rubric I took from Anne Lamott’s writing classic Bird by Bird. She suggests the rubric: ABDCE (action, background, development, climax, ending). Most movies in particular start with action (often with credits popping through the opening scenes). The action is usually a set up for the storyline but not the key event. In books, the writer is not as often compelled to start with action, but in a similar way, must grab the reader’s attention and will do so with an opening hook.

Following that opening action, the plot will expand to share the background of the primary characters and story so that you understand the purpose of the opening action. The Pirates of the Caribbean is a good example of this kind of opening which transitions into background. During the background, you will often be given insights that act as foreshadowing events. These are events that tell you of the impending doom/danger that lies ahead, or of the potentially successful resolution of the problem presented. Usually following the background (which can be a few paragraphs or scenes, or much longer if the plot is complex) the plot moves into development of the story. Development is characterized by a series of set-ups and frustrations. You are offered possible solutions to the key problem the story sets out to resolve, but the characters are repeatedly frustrated because the obvious solution is thwarted time and again.

The climax is the moment the story has been waiting for all along. You often know what the climax will or should be after the opening scenes. When you come to the climax, it feels like the do or die moment (the boy will or won’t get the girl, the criminal will or won’t get caught, Dorothy will or won’t go home). Following the climax, a very short ending (usually) follows to wrap up any dangling details. In some books, the ending lasts longer than in movies because the author takes the time to give a few fleshed out scenes that might develop as a result of the resolved climax. A great illustration of this contrast is the way the movie Pride and Prejudice ends (with the nuptial kill between Darcy and Miss Bennett) and the way the book ends (with the recounting of who lived happily ever after and who did not).

When watching movies that are based on books, you ought to pay attention to the ways in which movies alter the book’s narrative in order to make it more action based, to heighten the frustration the viewer feels (usually movies create more crises than books), and to get to the climax more quickly (they have less time to develop the story and subplots). You can ask yourself if the movie successfully modifies the book, note whether or not the changes work for the movie and if you agree with those choices. You can also discuss what choices you might make if you were to modify a book into a movie format.

We’ll look at characterization next.

Wednesday at the movies: Newsies

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007


Disney produced a musical in movie format starring Christian Bale and Bill Pullman called “Newsies” that is one of our family favorites. It tells the story of the only child-led strike in American history. The photo above is of the real Newsies (the kids who held out for more pay against the likes of Hearst and Pulitzer).

Here’s a photo of the Disney gang:

Newsies Musical

Wikipedia describes it this way:

Newsies is based on the true story of the Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City. Thousands of homeless kids are living in Newsboys Lodging Houses, including Manhattan newsboy Jack Kelly (Christian Bale), who is a regular newsboy selling newspapers for Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duvall) and his paper, the New York World. David Jacobs (David Moscow) leaves school temporarily and joins the newsies along with his little brother Les (Luke Edwards) to help his family while his father is out of work in the factory because of a broken arm. Shortly afterwards the price of newspapers to the newsboys is raised by 10 cents per 100 papers by joint decision of Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.

Feeling they will be unable to bear the added cost, Jack Kelly organizes a strike with the aid of David Jacobs. As the protagonist, Jack Kelly struggles with his past as he forms an important friendship with David and his family. Between his dream of one day going to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and wanting to help his friends, he faces lots of tough decisions involving money and a good place to sleep. Along the way the boys are aided by newspaper reporter Bryan Denton (Bill Pullman) and vaudeville performer Medda (Ann-Margret), as well as being hindered by Snyder, warden of “The Refuge” juvenile detention facility (Kevin Tighe), and Pulitzer. They get every newsie from all of New York to team up and strike against the big-shot newspapermen.

We love the music, dancing, history and acting. My kids are big fans. Hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday at the movies: Winged Migration

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

For bird lovers, this film is near perfection. For kids who need action, talking and humans in their movies, “Winged Migration” may prove to be the equivalent of elevator music – something to ignore in the background.

However, if you have children who are nature lovers, or if you’ve taken to observing birds at your backyard feeders, I can’t say enough good things about this movie. First, the wordless narrative draws you in, slowing the viewer down to appreciate the wonder of birds in flight. That part seems obvious though. The filming is equally impressive. This team of French film makers and ornithologists, natural history experts and aviators (400 in all) spent four years and 15,000 hours of filming to create 90 minutes of exquisite, close-ups of all sorts of migratory birds. Not only that, the team literally bred and raised every bird in the movie from egg to adulthood, creating “imprinted relationships” with the birds so that each species would follow and fly with the film makers without fear because they saw the team as their parents and guardians. The “making of” documentary in the extra features is every bit as riveting as the movie itself.

A good fire, some tea and snack cake, as well as a quiet afternoon make the perfect combination for appreciating six continents worth of birds’s migratory habits. Enjoy~