“Where does he get those wonderful toys?” Tim Burton’s Batman turns 30 today!

1989

It seems like yesterday that I was sitting in front of my parents 4:3 Sony tube television, salivating over the image of 5’ Batman toys from the yet to be June release of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). It wouldn’t be until Santa visited at Christmas that I would be able to create stories with my very own Batman, Joker, Batmobile and Batcave. The feverish excitement for the Dark Knight’s premiere was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Born in 1980, Batman was my Star Wars (1977). From Topps trading cards to cereal boxes, socks and more, Batman was everywhere and was the pinnacle of the summer movie season of 1989. Hell, even in IT (2017), Batman is playing in the town’s downtown theatre (along with Lethal Weapon 2 ). I often say that I wish I had my autonomous purchasing power of today in the 80s. Simply, the 80s were definitive.

The movies of the 80s are entrenched in my long term memory. Perhaps, more so than any other decade I’ve experienced directly, the 80s seems to be unmeasurable. Yes, in the 90s we had cinematic game-changers such Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) but that is a product of 1984’s The Terminator.  Even Jurassic Park (1993) would not be possible without the advances made in CGI with The Abyss (1989) and all other ILM productions before it. In terms of the 80s, everything seemed so new and in may ways it was.  This was the era in which industry innovators such as ILM grew and flourished and filmmakers like Steven Spielberg left their mark on a shared cultural consciousness. Perhaps, more than any other era, the 80s still feels new today. With a boom of 80s nostalgia, the decade of pop seems to be a shared response to our current time that often feels cynical and divisive. This is not to say that the political space of the 80s was ideal (far from it), but the sense of pop culture was so unique that we seem to be yearning for that experience again. To escape.

Specifically, looking back on movies and the summer of 1989, I was an 8 year old boy who would have been thrilled to visit my city’s three-screen theatre any day of the week. This was a standalone theatre – not a mall. This was well before the multiplex boom and still a time when the average screen size was good enough. Well before Netflix or smartphones, to be a cinephile was to be at the theatre with popcorn in hand. It was to beg, borrow and trade in Coca Cola bottles at the convenience store for .15 cents each to get a movie ticket. I mean, you were invested.

So, as the Twitterverse often reflects on the best movie summers, I’m making my stand for the the summer of 1989. As a kid, it was definitive and as a dad to movie loving kids, it’s a year worth visiting over and over again.

Here are my top 5 films from the Summer of 1989.

  1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

A return to form for Indy after Spielberg’s violent and heartless Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), the Last Crusade  is the 2nd best film of the series after Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Like Raiders, the spirit of adventure and discovery is reimagined with a storyline that provides fans with both a sequel and prequel. As the film begins with a masterful short film of its own with a young Indy (perfectly played by River Phoenix), finding his sense of adventure, Spielberg quickly reminds us of why Indiana become so iconic. From inspired set pieces (the catacombs of Venice still plays so well today) to the stellar father-son banter between Connery and Ford, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a a master class of a sequel done well!

  1. Lethal Weapon 2

A rare sequel that truly improves upon it’s predecessor, Lethal Weapon 2 is a reminder of what action movies could be and were. Well before the promise of shared universes and superhero team ups, director Richard Donner brings to life a smart action film about family, friendship and dominant culture itself. With the South-African apartheid as background plot point, Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) begins to live his experience of race in America.  In this moves his character evolves beyond his “white man” suburban existence and reminds audience that he is a character burdened by difference and inequality. Equally, we learn more about the human side of “lethal weapon” Martin Riggs and are introduced to the comedic antics of Joe Pesci as Leo Getts.

  1. Ghostbusters 2

I still remember the playground banter with school friends when this sequel was released. Like then, I still don’t get the poor audience or critical response. Perhaps, by the time 1989 came around, we were all looking for some  more edge. Regardless, this sequel is quite unique as it places the Ghostbusters (unsung heroes in the first blockbuster move) within the fallout of the first movie. Marginalized by city governance and held responsible for the infrastructure damage of the first film, the Ghostbusters must find their way through tainted celebrity and bureaucracy to save New York City from Satan himself. With inspired set pieces and comedy to spare, I’m happy to watch this movie any day of the week.

  1. Honey I Shrunk the Kids

Simply a classic, Honey I Shrunk the Kids is quintessential 80s cinema and a true highlight of the summer of 1989. With groundbreaking special effects and a sense of awe that is missing from Disney’s recent preoccupation with live-action adaptations, Honey I Shrunk the Kids was old school Disney family fare. Fun and full of heart, this is the perfect summer movie for any day and a reminder of why Rick Moranis was so adored.

  1. Batman

Undoubtedly, the summer movie of 1989 was Batman. Dark, brooding, violent, innovative and ultimately brave, Tim Burton successfully reimagined Batman for an era yearning for a grounded and relevant re-telling. A far cry from the 1960s TV show and the pulp sensibilities of Richard Donner’s Superman (1978), Burton’s Gotham City was a character all of its own, while being inhabited by unforgettable characters led by Jack Nicholson as The Joker. Well before it’s release and after, this film was like nothing seen in the 80s as a whole. It changed the face of comic book adaptations and introduced mainstream audiences to the wonderful talent of Tim Burton.

To get an appreciation of the film’s popularity, watch this news broadcast from 1989, in celebration of the films November VHS release.

So, as Batman turns 30 today, take the time to revisit your favourite 80s classics and the gems from the summer of 89.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Movies and Television | Tagged , , , ,

Genre: A Doorway to Cultural Studies

GENRE

As a Communications Technology teacher, its of pressing importance to ensure that students are not only tech savvy but culturally literate. This is at the essence of a program that encourages students to be effective communicators who can decode media all while producing artifacts for and with meaning. All of this presents a unique opportunity for students to explore themselves and the world in which they live and at the same time, experience the deep satisfaction of creative output.

As a Communications Technology teacher for nearly 15 years, I would argue that there seems to be less focus on the Communications.  As a product of the program way back when I was in high school, the traditional classroom landscape tends to focus on the technology and less the “critical literacy” aspect of learning. Personally, I’m a firm believer that a students technical know-how in today’s digital accessible age is less impressive or pressing than their ability to be cultural astute. This is not to say that technology is not important. With many students readily exploring with creative ways to exploit technology, its important to recognize the need enriched opportunities to explore context and meaning.

Take for example, an encounter I had a few days ago with a supply teacher. Stopping by my classroom at the sight of Ghost-face from Scream 2 ( I love to teach /screen with the door open),the teacher asked what course I was teaching. When I said Comm-Tech, the teacher stood puzzled (literally in silence) for a moment. I then went on to explain that at the core of my program is a critical understanding of media artifacts through the lens of genre. He asked me why genre was so important in a Comm-Tech course. I went on to explain that genre, whether it be film, television or comic books, is a mirror to ourselves at any cultural time.

Genre is our shared experience. Genre is a cultural time capsule. To listen to the West Coast Rap of the 1980s is to be acutely aware of the black experience in ghettoized communities in California. To watch Hollywood action films of the 1980s is to be sold a strictly pro-American, hyper masculine narrative, in which colonial figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger were supreme. With this, I’m of the mindset that genre studies as cultural studies is a social science that serves the critical needs of students as global citizens. If anything, recent films such as Black Panther and Get Out prove this. 

So, as he remained curious about our exam screenings of Scream, Scream 2 and Scream 3, I was reminded of the perception that Comm-Tech has in many schools. Frankly, it can and should be more than logo design and video production for the sake of production. It needs to be all that and more – logo design as it speaks to semiotics and video production as it speaks to genre and meaning. Such a framework will challenge students to produce with meaning and thus find themselves in their critical and practical studies.

Speaking about all of this, recently on May 29, I hosted the 5th Annual Ignite Digital Media Showcase. A celebration of all student work from Chaminade’s Communications Technology program, the highlight of Ignite is the screening of student short films on the big screen. From an understanding of Andrew Sarris’ Auteur Theory to exploring genre, the films are a testament to both student creative digital skills and deep critical thinking.

The screening can be found below – enjoy!

Posted in Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Movies and Television | Tagged , , ,

Endgame Avenges the Theatrical Experience

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Over the course of the past eleven years and twenty-two films in total as of this date, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has evolved into what seems to be an irreplaceable framework for global storytelling of mythical proportions. From the first MCU film Iron Man (2008) to the newly released Avengers: Endgame the impact of the MCU cannot be understated. From rival studios including Warner Bros with with their DCEU (DC Extended Universe) to Universal’s poorly realized and promptly canceled Dark Universe, the idea of a shared narrative seemed incomprehensible over a short decade ago. Within an industry culture of sequels and trilogies, the MCU was completely transformative in not only creating contained trilogies (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor) but also interwoven stories where on-screen characters share in each others film narratives and we the audience grow continuously invested in the in the focused and broader “universe” narrative. In recognizing the cultural depth of the MCU and in reflecting on audience response to Avengers: Endgame, who said the movie going experience is dead? As the film is projected to gross approximately $350 million domestically in three days, its safe to say that the theatrical experience was and is being avenged.

A deep look:

Within the span of the last ten years, the MCU has been heavily implicated within the debate pertaining to the decline of the theatrical experience or rather the changing landscape of the traditional movie going milieu. Whereas the box-office of the late 90s and early 2000s represented a diverse palette of movie genres of varying budgets, the post Iron Man landscape seemed to indicate a shift in the studio output.  With the increasing success of superhero infused movies and importantly Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (2012), the economic model of production and distribution leaned towards “event films with universe potential.” All of this, coupled with the increased access of streaming services, created a perfect storm for the theatrical debate.

Basically, are people still going to the movies?

Yes they are.

With Avengers: Infinity War last spring and Crazy Rich Asians last summer, the movie theatre can still be a viable shared and diverse cultural space. With the right movie, made-well, people will leave the comfort of their streaming service and head to their multiplex.

Specifically, when looking at the gargantuan box-office numbers of this weekend (with a potential $1 billion world wide) of Avengers:Endgame, the film is a reminder that the theatrical experience is fully alive and well. However, it’s vitality depends on the stories being told and the the way in which audiences are invested in in those stories. As evident with Endgame and the multiple screenings I experienced (three screenings at three separate theatres), the film speaks to the magic of experiencing movies like this on the big screen with a collective.  Unlike the Netflix experience that is confined to one’s phone, tablet, computer or home television, the big screen and sharing time with strangers in a sold out theatre is truly magical. Sharing in laughter, bewilderment and tears is the magic of movies. It’s a stark reminder that the medium of film if truly universal and that the theatrical experience can never truly be replaced by at-home streaming.

With the right movie, characters and cultural circumstance, the coming together at a local multiplex is not the thing of the past or a reality faded into dust. Far from it. We just need movies, epic in scale or small, that matter.

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The Us in Jordan Peele’s “US”

US

This weekend I once again indulged in the horror sensibilities of Jordan Peele. Like with Get Out two years ago, I needed to see US twice opening weekend with the promise of further viewings. Now with his second directorial effort, it seems that being provoked and enticed by Peele’s nuanced understanding of genre is now part of his cinematic tradition. This is to say that US is not merely the follow up to Get Out but importantly the new Jordan Peele film. He is now in the ranks of auteur filmmakers including Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino. He’s top billing along with his stars.

Recognizing that Us is a Jordan Peele film is the first step to a sound critical appreciation of the film.

Let me explain.

As I walked out of a showing on Friday night, I overheard an audience member asking his companion, “ How are we suppose to understand what just happened?” I wanted to interject and share that to understand the film, is to understand Peele and to understand Peele is to understand genre itself.

The notion of genre is at the heart of Peele’s rise as a filmmaker worth talking about. Peele understands the cultural vibrations of genre filmmaking. This is what made Get Out so very socially astute and equally Us. Genre for Peele is a mechanism in which his “social horror” tales exist both in terms of access and personal criticism. As demonstrated with Us, which is more akin to the aesthetic of horror than Get Out, Peele knows how to work within the genre with a mastery of context and assured style. From use of lighting to camera composition and sound effects, he gives us an audience the horror aesthetic that we understand and know. Its with this that both Get Out and Us are accessible; not high brow art fair but films that easily entertain regardless of demographic. As author, filmmaker and academic Tananarive Due recently noted on Twitter, “US boasted a $70 million opening weekend, a new record for an original film. It’s further evidence that white audiences can see their humanity reflecting in black protagonists too.”

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Along with the horror aesthetic, its Peele’s personal voice that resonants through both Get Out and Us. As writer and director, Peele has become an auteur that leverages the history and cultural resonance of the horror genre to enable his personal voice. As such, these are personal films that also allow for rich dialogue and discourse post-screening. To understand Us is to understand Peele.

With all of this, to “understand what just happened,” is to recognize that genre rises from real world context. Specifically, horror’s tradition is very much about us; our individual and / or shared anxieties and overt reflections on culture and experience. This is what made Get Out so rich as a film that rose out of the Black Lives Matters moment, the Trump/Clinton campaign and was equally impacted by the past, present and future as it pertains to race and representation. With this, to understand Us is to reflect on us – our shared selves and more.

Who are we?
What masks do we where?
Is our “real self” real?
Who is terror?

To risk spoiling the film, I won’t go into the scene by scene analysis of the movie that’s truly needed to appreciate Peele’s Us. However, I will say that Peele goes beyond Get Out with this film. It’s not just a film about blackness and representation but all of us – who we are, who we try to be and our shared cultural experiences.

For a fantastic read on the film, please visit Tananarive Due’s essay titled Jordan Peele’s Us: Black Horror Comes Out of the Shadows

Posted in Film Theory, Movies and Television, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

#SelfReg: An Inquiry Reflection

inquiryOver the course of my learning as a student in the Master’s of Education course “Self-Regulated Inquiry,” at Queen’s University, the realization that goal setting is an enabler of self-regulation was most pressing. It was with this critical new knowledge that I’ve worked over the course of the term to establish a Distal Goal (an ultimate level of performance) and Proximal Goals (preliminary level of achievement) that speaks deeply to my vocation as a Catholic educator. As such, my work in establishing a self-regulated inquiry was very much connected to my students and their own relationship with goal setting, self-regulation and importantly a sense of self within the landscape of education. 

For my inquiry, my Distal Goal was to evolve my instructional practice to include a focus on student goal setting and self-regulation as a mode to enhance academic achievement along with enabling culturally responsive teaching and learning. With a primary focus in working with Gr. 11 College/University Communications Technology students, my goal was to foster a learning space that is student centric both in pedagogy and curriculum.

To achieve this goal, I worked to establish Proximal Goals that mapped a potential journey to success. Within this context and within the framework of my own self-regulation, I had to be cognizant of my Distal Goal throughout the experience and remap my journey where needed in order to meet the needs of students. As my goal of building and sustaining a culturally responsive teaching and learning space was the ultimate outcome, my Proximal Goals had to be moldable as a result of shifting practice as aligned to where students were in their goal setting and self-regulation journey. An overview of my Distal and Proximal Goals can be found below.

Monitoring Tool  - DISTAL GOAL.jpg

As students developed individualized goals and self-regulated, the plan to be responsive became realized. In working to reimagine both pedagogical and curriculum outcomes, a learning space that spoke to the realness of students was cultivated. This was determined through my continuous dialogue with students that served the promise and intention of Assessment For and As learning. 

Assessment For and As learning speaks to being responsive to students and their relationship both with a particular learning task and learning as a practice that transcends a particular course.  As noted in Growing Success, “assessment plays a critical role in teaching and learning and should have as its goal the development of students as independent and autonomous learners. As an integral part of teaching and learning, assessment should be planned concurrently with instruction and integrated seamlessly into the learning cycle to inform instruction, guide next steps, and help teachers and students monitor students’ progress towards achieving learning goals.

In integrating individualized Goal Setting and Self Regulation with intention, the development of “students as independent and autonomous learners,” most definitely became a reality.  The video below highlights the the benefits of intentionally embedding goal setting and self-regulation as a meaningful classroom practice  that shapes viable achievement outcomes. Specifically, in regards to the goals that students share in the video, my responsiveness is directly linked to their relationship with learning. Moving forward, the individual learning goals established by students will be integrated as part of a formal assessment that comes to life during the final exam.

There will be a section on the exam where students activate their respective goal. As a result, with twenty-eight students in the course, there will be twenty-eight individualized goal centric sections on the final examination. This promises to speak directly to students key learning and is an example of how my practice works to enable cultural responsive teaching and learning. 

As the students share their critical learning reflections which speak to cultural responsive teaching and learning it is important to note and make reference to the critical mentorship I received. Primarily, Dr. Marlyn Morris who I have had the pleasure to collaborate with, has deeply shaped my sense of cultural responsive teaching and learning as a significant practice that not only speaks to individual students but also allows students to learn from the cultural experiences of their peers. This is not to say that culture is defined within a traditional context of race and ethnicity but rather culture as shaped by family narrative, sense of self and a students’ relationship with learning. This is echoed in the Ministry of Education’s Building Capacity Series that highlights that “culture goes much deeper than typical understandings of ethnicity, race and/or faith. It encompasses broad notions of similarity and difference and it is reflected in our students’ multiple social identities and their ways of knowing and of being in the world. In order to ensure that all students feel safe, welcomed and accepted, and inspired to succeed in a culture of high expectations for learning, schools and classrooms must be responsive to culture.”

Here is video I produced for the Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association featuring Dr. Morris. In this video she speaks to cultural responsive teaching and learning. The key ideas of this video was at the heart of my Distal Goal and her support throughout the inquiry helped to shape new thinking pertaining to what constitutes deep learning within a classroom space.  

As the inquiry comes to a close with the conclusion of the course, my practice will continue to evolve. Speaking directly to my own sense of self-regulation, I now have a critical understanding that Distal Goals are of paramount importance and that monitoring one’s journey (through establishing and modifying Proximal Goals), is very much self-regulation in and of itself.

For other key inquiry reflections, please visit the links below.

With Self-Regulation Intention Matters.

Finding the Success in Failure

What my son taught me about Self-Regulation

Posted in 21st Century Learning, Education, Educational Leadership, Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,

With Self-Regulation Intention Matters.

self

In my current Master’s of Education course amply titled “Self Regulation Inquiry,” there has been a number of pressing moments of realization that speaks to both my teaching and student learning.

  1. What I thought I knew about Self-Regulation as a classroom teacher with 13 years of experience was quite limited. Although I valued the importance of Self-Regulation as a learning skill, the understanding of goal setting as an urgent factor of Self-Regulation was something I was missing. I was challenged to explore what goal setting looks like through the context of Distal Goals and Proximal Goals. In doing this, it became pressingly aware that although classroom learning goals based on curriculum expectations are established the personal goals of students were not truly activated.
  2. For there to be effective Self-Regulation there must a plan for integration as a mechanism to reach goals. Based on my course learning, you truly can’t have Self-Regulation without the establishment of a goal; an end game if you will. As such, as a teacher responsible to assess Self-Regulation as a learning skill as indicated on the Ontario Report Card then its upon me to ensure that I have something meaningful to assess; not just a letter grade for the sake of a letter. As such, to intentionally integrate Self-Regulation as a teaching practice is to provide students with intentional opportunities to establish goals that are managed as a result of Self-Regulation skills.

So, why does this matter?

Whether you’re currently a classroom teacher or a school administer, the fostering of Self-Regulation is by extension the enabling of a global competency that is truly transferable beyond the educational milieu.

If our goal as educators is to nurture students to have the “entrepreneurial spirit” as shared in Achieving Excellence A Renewed Vision for Education in Ontario, then students must have tool kit that allows them to not merely find doors of opportunity but importantly create their own. In a global world composed of great civil and economic diversity, students must evolve as thinkers who are acutely aware of how they think and do. Self-Regulation is being cognizant of one’s end destination and importantly the mapping (or re-mapping) of the journey.

This practice of establishing an end destination is a principle that can be easily embedded in classrooms or as professional learning. Whether it is a grade 11 Comm-Tech student establishing a learning goal that is specific to who they are or a teacher establishing an Annual Learning Plan, the goal is essential to foster Self-Regulation and thus effective Self-Regulation is urgent to meet the goal. Presenting these two examples is to reinforce that Self-Regulation is part of the everyday and is a learning skill that must be taught with purpose, time and patience.

In regards to my own Self-Regulation inquiry, my goal for my current course inquiry has been to intentionally integrate goal setting and Self-Regulation assessment in my Gr. 11 Comm-Tech class as a mode to enable my practice of cultural responsive teaching and learning. This recognizes that cultural transcends race and ethnicity but also speaks to the culture of student learning, student interests, how students learn and their sense of self. As such, culture is also a student’s respective relationship with learning and school itself. By establishing a climate of goal setting and Self-Regulation at the onset of my course (the start of semester 2), I can work to meet students needs through their practice of self-regulation.

So, what do student think?

My students seem to have bought into the practice. Mainly, this is because the goal they have set will play a key role in their learning. For example, a student who has shared that they want to grow in their critical and cultural understanding of media in order to provide such thinking to their own creations, will have learning tasks geared specifically to them. As such, in having twenty-eight students, I will be shaping twenty-eight personalized and extending learning opportunities that speak to said goals and support the journey of learning the students have established for themselves.

As highlighted in the video below, there are a number of successes but one big challenge. For most of my students the practice of goal setting and thus Self-Regulation has not been established in other courses of study. I don’t share this a a punitive comment as I’m on my own inquiry which is new and speaks to my own important next steps as a teacher. However, their sharing speaks to the need for more and shared understanding and activation of goal setting and Self-Regulation across all formal learning areas.

Thinking forward, this could very well be a PLC that speaks to the next school year; exploring Self-Regulation as a skill that is truly transformational.

 

 

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