Tag Archives: films

660. Using TV Series & Films to Improve Your English

Lots of practical advice and comments about how you can use films and TV series to work on your English. This episode is a recap of some advice in episode 523 with Cara Leopold. Transcript available below.

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Transcript starts here (95% complete)

Have you heard the last episode of this podcast (#659)? I spoke to Cara Leopold about being stuck indoors during the lockdown. Cara is an English teacher who likes to help her students to improve their English with TV series and films and we know that because of the lockdown, loads of people at the moment are watching more TV and films on platforms like Netflix and are probably thinking about how to use those things to learn English. 

Cara and I talked about that a bit near the end of the last episode, and we also did a whole episode about it a couple of years ago. That was episode 523, called Tips for Learning English with Films & TV Shows.

I mentioned before that I would sum up the main bits of advice that Cara and I gave in that episode. 

So here we are, that’s what I’m going to do now – I’m going to consolidate some advice for learning English with TV series and films. 

Then, when I’ve done that I’ll give you some personal recommendations for British TV shows and films that you can watch on Netflix. 

Learning English with Films & TV – Summary of Advice Given in Ep.523 + more comments

Time and time again we have heard this advice – “Want to improve your English? Just watch TV series and films in English with English subtitles!” 

It seems that people assume that you should just watch TV series in English with English subtitles and you’ll learn English magically as a consequence. People say it all the time, and I do think there is some truth in this. Watching lots of content in English is definitely a good idea, although of course that might not be enough on its own. There are plenty of other things you need to do, including regular speaking practice, writing, plenty of reading, using a systematic approach to learning vocabulary, taking time to understand how grammar works.

I suppose the thing is, there are two approaches that seem to be important in learning a language. One approach involves absorbing loads of English just through reading and listening. This is exposure, or immersion or comprehensible input – whatever you want to call it. You have to see and hear the language a lot if you want to be able to use it properly. 

This is input. It is really important to get loads of English into your everyday life. You must regularly connect with English, get exposure to English and immerse yourself in English and binging on TV series is probably a pretty good and usually fun way to do that. 

Personally I would say that podcasts are the best way, but whatever floats your boat. Ultimately it’s about finding the thing you really want to do. Obviously if you are a regular listener to my podcast then you might agree with me. But if TV shows and films are your thing then go for it. 

The point there is you can get loads of English input from TV series and films in English and there are so many amazing shows and films available to us now. It’s amazing. We are spoiled for choice. Anyway – input is important.

Added to that is the importance of using the language regularly in order to communicate. This is output. So this means doing loads of speaking practice and writing practice in order to develop your ability to express yourself, find your voice, develop genuine fluency without just translating everything in your head. So, plenty of input and output. 

I’m being quite general here but anyway, the point is → you’ve got to spend lots of time with the language in both receptive and productive ways.

Then the other approach is to be more systematic and disciplined – examining the language in some way, understanding how the English language is structured both in terms of grammar but also in terms of pronunciation so that you know how English is not only written but also produced orally, how it sounds when people actually speak it which helps you understand native speakers and also how to speak fluently yourself. It also involves using monolingual dictionaries to expand your vocab and investigate words, doing controlled practice for grammar and pronunciation and finding ways to remember vocabulary.

And throughout all of that you need to maintain your motivation, because enjoying the whole process is vital. If you’re motivated, you’re likely to do more, spend more time on the language, remember more things and generally get into a more positive and confident frame of mind about your relationship with English.

Using TV and films seems to fulfil the first category to some extent (input) because it allows you to immerse yourself in English, spend lots of time absorbing the language and it should be motivating because watching TV and films should be enjoyable. 

It’s also worth stating that learning English doesn’t have to be a chore. It doesn’t have to be a boring thing that you’re forced to do by other people, like teachers or parents. I suppose people often say “Just watch Netflix in English with English subtitles” and this feels like good news because it means “this doesn’t have to be boring homework! It can be enjoyable if you give it a chance”. So, getting addicted to a TV show in English is a good thing for your English. 

But is it just a case of just sitting back and watching all the episodes of Peaky Blinders or any other show that you’re into? What about the other things I just mentioned like speaking practice, writing, pronunciation, studying grammar and vocabulary? Well, it is possible to use TV and films in a more active way in order to achieve some of those things too if you’re willing to do more than just sit back and watch.

So here are some bits of advice which did come up in my conversation with Cara in episode 529 but given again and with a few other comments from me. 

  • Watching to learn English and watching just for pleasure are two different things. Watching in order to learn English might involve thinking outside the box and doing things a bit differently.
  • Using TV and films for learning English is not just a simple or easy way to learn, despite what people say “Just watch stuff in English and bingo you’ll be a native speaker!” It’s not that simple. 
  • In your first language you might just switch on a film or show and then kind of veg out while watching it – without really concentrating. This probably won’t work in English. Be prepared to focus and perhaps be more active while watching, often that mainly involves using the English subtitles, which are a real advantage.
  • I do recommend choosing content that gives you the option to have English subtitles. Watching with subtitles in your language can be useful because you can see how things are being translated and you can compare your language with the English you’re hearing, but generally speaking it’s best to operate only in English so I’d recommend that you forget about subtitles in your language, or watching something in your language with English subtitles. Do everything in English. So, put the audio in English and the subtitles in English too.
  • “So, should I always watch with the English subtitles on?” There are no hard and fast rules about using subtitles. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options.
  • Using English subtitles can help you understand what you’re hearing, especially when you realise that spoken English and written English can be very different. Subtitles can help bridge the gap between how words and sentences sound, and how they are written. You might hear something and then read the subtitles and kind of go “Ooooh that’s what she said! Ahhhh! That’s it then!” which is a great moment in language learning → that kind of “Oh it’s THAT?” moment when you realise something. But watch out because sometimes the subtitles are slightly different to the speech you’re hearing, because they might have to use fewer words than were spoken in order to actually fit them on the screen. But that only happens occasionally. So, an advantage of subtitles is that they help you bridge the gap between what language sounds like and what it looks like. When you listen without subtitles, you will no-doubt miss a lot of what is being said, without realising you’re missing it. 
  • But be aware that if you only ever watch with subtitles you might not develop real listening skills, because you’re basically just reading while you watch and as we know, in the real world, you don’t get subtitles appearing in the air when people speak, unfortunately (well, yet. I expect eventually you’ll be able to get augmented reality glasses or perhaps some kind of biotech which lets you see simultaneous automatic subtitles when people talk, but not yet… that does sound like something out of an episode of Black Mirror…) Anyway, the point is, there are pros and cons of subtitles and no subtitles so you should have both. Experiment with switching the subtitles on and off while you are watching in order to try to get the best of both worlds.
  • Watch stuff more than once. You can watch a film or show several times, especially if you enjoy it or already know it. Some films improve with multiple viewings. So, try watching certain films several times, perhaps first with subtitles in your language, then subtitles in English and then in English with no subtitles at all. You will be surprised at how much more you notice, understand and remember after watching things numerous times. You will probably appreciate the show or film on a new level too, if you do this. There’s nothing wrong or weird about watching more than once. Like I said – think outside the box a bit. 
  • If you’re watching a TV show you can alternate between watching episodes with and without subtitles. Perhaps do one episode with subtitles, then the next one without. If you just can’t understand episodes without subtitles, try watching the episode with subtitles first then watch again without subtitles. Again, don’t worry, that’s not a weird thing to do, it’s fine – because I say so. And anyway, like I said before if it is a genuinely good show, you might appreciate it even more the second time you watch it and this can actually raise the quality of your listening practice. There are no rules here. Watching episodes several times is normal and useful.
  • So, we’ve talked about watching films several times, watching episodes several times, but you don’t have to watch the entire thing again from the start. You could just do it with certain scenes. Watch certain scenes several times, with and without the subtitles.
  • Test yourself on what you heard and check with the subtitles. You could try watching a scene, then trying to explain what just happened, and what people said. Then watch again with the subtitles in order to check. When you explain what you saw, you can do it out loud, with a friend, or just in writing. 
  • You could keep a sort of viewing diary for films or series. Write down little summaries of scenes, episodes or perhaps whole films (although it’s probably best to do it in smaller chunks) then review the scene you’ve written about by checking with subtitles, and re-write your summary if necessary. This is a good way to flip listening practise into productive practise. Remember, it is worth writing in English even if nobody else reads it. It’s just a good idea to practise producing English regularly. Of course it would be better if you had a language partner, coach or teacher who could check your writing and correct errors. Consider finding one on italki – www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk – but doing it on your own is still a good idea.
  • Search for certain new bits of vocabulary when they come up – using monolingual dictionaries. I recommend using online dictionaries like collinsdictionary.com macmillandicionary.com dictionary.cambridge.org Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online www.ldoceonline.com/ or www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/ They’re all decent dictionaries and you can check words and phrases, see examples and crucially hear how the words are pronounced. It’s worth taking a bit of time to get familiar with how these online dictionaries present information to you. It can pay off massively in your learning. Please resist the temptation to just use google translate to get quick translations into your language. It might be a super-fast solution, but it’s not a healthy thing to do for your English long term. Monolingual dictionaries are amazing and can really help you. So use them.
  • Don’t worry too much about certain specific cultural details. Sometimes characters will talk about stuff that you just don’t know about. For example when I watch some American shows they refer to places, people, sports or events which I don’t know about and it does mean I get a bit lost sometimes. It’s normal. You could google those things of course if you really need to and learn as you go, or just don’t worry about them too much. It’s worth remembering that it might not be your listening skills that prevent you from understanding. It could be your general knowledge too. 
  • Try transcribing certain scenes – especially if you thought it contained really cool dialogue. Then watch again with the subtitles to check your transcription. (I made that suggestion earlier, but there it is again)
  • It’s not just a case of what you’re doing while you’re watching. Think about doing things both before and after you watch too. In fact, doing some preparation before you start watching can really help you.
  • Before you watch a film or TV show, check online reviews or summaries to help prepare yourself. Being prepared can help. If you know the general storyline or tone of the thing you’re watching, it can help to prevent you getting lost. Watch out for spoilers though. Maybe you can search for a spoiler-free review of the thing you’re going to see, this can really help put you in the right place before you actually click PLAY. 
  • Similarly, after you’ve watched you can read online reviews of what you’ve watched. That way you can add some extra reading practice to your listening, and you will be a lot more engaged and invested in what you’re reading. Personally I like to read reviews or re-caps of episodes of shows I’ve watched. It helps me understand what I’ve seen and also I like to read other people’s opinions on episodes. Websites like Den of Geek, Vulture, The Independent or The Guardian often do episode recaps of the big TV shows. Read them! It can also help you to appreciate subtle details that you’ve missed and you’ll pick up bits of English from the articles you’ll read. Go the extra mile. It will pay off for your English later. If you find those online newspaper reviews to be a bit “wordy” and opinionated then consider reading IMDB or Wikipedia plot summaries instead as they are often written in slightly more plain English.
  • I’d also recommend finding YouTube reviews of the films or series you’ve watched. Just go to YouTube and search for the title of the episode or film you’ve seen plus the word review and see what you get. You’ll find this is a great way to get more effective listening input because you’ll be fully engaged in what you’re listening to. You’ll be on the same page as the person speaking because you will understand all their reference points and you’ll be interacting with their opinions and thoughts a lot more. This is an important part of turning listening input into intake → language that is more likely to stick with you.
  • Be a little selective in your viewing choices – pick stuff that you’d normally enjoy, and remember that films and TV shows can contain very “mumbly” dialogue, and even just “grunting” during long fight scenes. Try to pick films that are pretty simple and perhaps comedies that focus on the dialogue. Also, as Cara mentioned before, some content is in a certain kind of register that might not be applicable to the English you need to use. Documentaries, for example, feature a different style of English than conversational English that you might hear in content with natural dialogue between people.
  • Pronunciation & Speaking → There’s the concept of shadowing, which works for a lot of people. This involves basically repeating what you hear. It can be a good way to essentially transcribe orally. I mean, you’re attempting to identify word for word what is being said and to replicate speech patterns. You should also check those useful subtitles to help you identify what you’re getting right and wrong. When you come across words and phrases you don’t know, those are opportunities to expand your vocabulary.
  • It’s hard to practise your speaking on your own. You can essentially do what you’re doing with writing (like keep a diary, summarise things you’ve seen, give your opinions about what you’ve seen and so on) but just do it with your mouth rather than with your fingers, but speaking works best when you’re speaking to another person. So, you could talk to the person you’re living with if they’re up for it. Otherwise, consider italki again.
  • I want to mention motivation again, and the importance of enjoying what you’re watching or listening to. If you’re not enjoying something you’re watching you definitely have permission to stop and choose something else instead. It might take a little while to find the right show for you. But don’t force yourself to watch something you don’t like.
  • Also, I’ve mentioned various things in this episode, like watching scenes or episodes several times, writing things down and then comparing with subtitles, shadowing, writing reviews,  and all that stuff. I do think it will help, but I know from experience that most people out there probably won’t bother to do it. That’s up to you. If you don’t take initiative and do some of those things, or at least try them a bit, I suppose you’ll never know how they can help you. If you don’t do anything more than just watch, then fine. Don’t feel bad about it.
  • Understanding films and TV can be really hard! Don’t worry too much if you don’t understand 100%. Even in our first languages we don’t always understand what’s going on in films. So, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not able to understand it all.
  • Of course you can always listen to LEP or whatever other listening resource you have that you can mostly understand, but it’s worth pushing yourself sometimes. Hopefully you get that from my episodes because they feature a mix of me speaking on my own which is probably easier to understand, with me speaking to guests which is harder. But hopefully you’ll find that you understand my content enough for language acquisition to happen. What’s my point here? I suppose it’s that you’ve always got episodes of my podcast to listen to, but you should also explore films and TV shows too, and try to do more than just sit back on the sofa in comfort while doing it. Try to be a bit more active if you can.

There is probably a lot of other advice that could be given. If you have other things to add, why not share them in the comment section.

Some Netflix Recommendations for British English

There are loads of great shows in American English of course, but I’m trying to narrow my focus to British English stuff here.

Here are some shows and films in British English which are on Netflix, which I have seen and can recommend.

I’ll mention the title, then talk about the show/film a little bit.

These things are all available on Netflix where I am (France) at the time of recording this (April 2020). You can probably find a lot of them elsewhere too, including on DVD.

Some of these shows you will have seen before, others will be new to you.

I’ll try to mention what kind of English you can hear in these shows, including accents.

TV Series

  • Black Mirror
  • Sherlock
  • The Crown
  • After Life
  • Bodyguard

Films

  • Shaun of the Dead
  • Hot Fuzz
  • Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels
  • Snatch
  • Remains of the Day
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” 
  • Wallace & Gromit – The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Stand up Comedy

  • James Acaster – Repertoire
  • Greg Davies – You Magnificent Beast
  • Jimmy Carr – The Best of Ultimate Gold Greatest Hits

Plus plenty of others – just use the search bar.

OpenCulture.com –> Lots of free TV, films and documentaries

Also, check out www.OpenCulture.com and spend some time looking through the long list of free documentaries, TV shows and films there. For example, I found a documentary about Pink Floyd which was really fascinating.

Song

Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Suede – Lyrics and chords here tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/blue-swede/hooked-on-a-feeling-chords-753575

489. A Rambling Conversation with Mum (Part 2) + Vocabulary






Here’s part 2 of this conversation with my Mum in which you can hear us wittering on about the bookshop where Mum works, some of the books she’s read recently, and some of her podcast and film recommendations. Vocabulary is explained at the end, and there’s a vocabulary list with definitions available below.

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Vocabulary List

  • we’re proud of our shop, we take a great pride in it (or ‘take pride in it‘)
    • to be proud of something / to take pride in something. ‘To take a pride in something’ is less common.
  • Alan Bennett and Geoff Boycott impressions (quite bad ones)
  • Talking about Beyond The Fringe – a comedy group from Cambridge and Oxford Universities
  • second-hand books / used book
  • We get a lot of cook books books with recipes in them
  • A lot of celebrity biographies and autobiographies
    • a biography = the story of someone’s life, written by someone else
    • an autobiography = the story of someone’s life, written by that person
  • A lot of the books I’ve been reading are quite obscure
    • obscure = known only by a few people
  • The Citadel by A J Cronin
  • A lot of problems were caused by infrastructure, like the sewers
    • infrastructure = the basic facilities such as transportcommunications, power supplies, and buildings, which enable a town, city or country to function. (Collins Dictionary)
    • sewers = the underground tunnels that carry all the toilet waste (i.e. the piss and shit) away
  • Lots of enteric diseases
    • enteric diseases = diseases caused by unclean water
  • Entirely preventable diseases, but not easily treated
    • to prevent a disease = to ensure that a disease never infects people
    • to treat someone / to treat a disease = to give treatment to people who are suffering from a disease
    • to cure someone = to make a disease disappear completely, through treatment
  • They find the sewer and they blow it up so the authorities have to replace it
    • to blow something up = make something explode
  • How did they blow it up? With a bomb? With some sticks of dynamite.
    • a bomb = an explosive device
    • sticks of dynamite =  things that look a bit like candles but they explode because they’re made of nitroglycerine (not wax) and have a fuse (not a wick)
  • It starts out with this man who starts out being incredibly idealistic and wanting to improve things and he gradually gets worn down by the system and ends up becoming one of these quacks who gets himself popular with people who have lots of money and treats them for things they haven’t really got, before he’s finally brought up short

    • to start out = to start from the very beginning
    • to be idealistic = to base your behaviour on certain ‘ideals’ or ‘principles’ even if it’s impractical or unrealistic. It’s a bit similar to ‘naive’.
    • to get worn down by something = to become weaker because of difficult experiences over time
    • a quack = a fake doctor
    • to bring someone up short = to suddenly stop someone doing something, often with a surprise
    • to be brought up short (passive version) = to suddenly be stopped (by something) in what you are doing, often with a surprise
  • It’s quite moving = makes you feel a strong emotion
  • There’s this character arc of this guy who starts out innocent and gets seduced by the money
    • a character arc = a narrative or storyline for a particular character which changes from the start to the finish
  • There’s lots of parallels (with today)
    • parallels = similarities
    • there’s a lot of parallels / there’re a lot of parallels
  • It espouses socialist ideas
    • to espouse something = to support it (usually a way of life)
  • Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
  • This one is very short. It’s a novella.
    • a novella = a short novel
  • It’s a tiny book but it contains a heck of a lot
    • a heck of a lot (of something) = a lot (but emphasised with ‘a heck of’ – also ‘a hell of a lot’)
  • It’s about class, it’s about post-traumatic stress after the First World War, it’s about families losing sons
    • PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder = emotional distress or shock which continues in your life after experiencing extreme danger or stress. It’s common in soldiers who have experienced the shock of combat in war.
  • If English is your second language it can be a bit of a slog sometimes to keep going (reading)
    • a slog = a long, difficult and tiring experience
  • The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemmingway is a short book
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (film) – it’s not really about spying (says Mark Kermode)
  • The Adam Buxton Podcast (especially episodes with Louis Theroux)
  • People say he (Louis Theroux) is faux naive. He comes across as innocent so he has to ask questions to find out what’s going on.
    • to be faux naive = ‘fake’ naive – pretending to be naive
    • to come across as something = to give an impression of something – e.g. he comes across as a really nice guy (he gives the impression of being a nice guy). Tom Cruise comes across as being a really friendly, fun and hardworking person. I wonder if he is like that in real life. I expect he is hardworking, but I wonder if he really is that friendly and fun all the time.
  • He looks a bit dorky, goofy, geeky.
    • All these are words to describe someone who is not cool. They’re very similar yet slightly different in meaning.
    • dorky = unfashionable, awkward, not socially relaxed and laid back, a bit uptight and uncool.
    • goofy = just a bit ridiculous, but also in appearance – perhaps with teeth that are sticking out or big glasses, big ears – ridiculous looking features. Think of Goofy from the Disney animations.
    • geeky = interested (maybe obsessed) by things like computers, comics, science fiction rather than people. (Louis Theroux definitely isn’t a geek, but he comes across as geeky)
  • He’s quite tall. He’s a bit gangly. His arms and legs are very long.
    • gangly = a description of physical appearance – tall and thin with an awkward appearance and a clumsy manner
  • He’s got this awkward Britishness.
    • Awkward is a word that comes up a lot in my conversations. I often say that British people seem awkward, that I felt awkward in a situation, or that a particular situation was awkward. Louis Theroux can be described as having awkward Britishness.
    • Awkward = uncomfortable, not completely relaxed and loose, a bit embarrassing, a bit shy
  • Do you fancy him?
    • to fancy someone = to find someone physically attractive, in a sexual way (but this is the sort of word that teenagers use)
  • He’d spend time with all sorts of weird fringe groups
    • fringe = edge
    • fringe groups = groups that exist on the edge of society, e.g. cults, religious sects, conspiracy theorists, extremists etc
  • His naive awkward English friendliness is very disarming and as a result people open up to him
    • to be disarming (adj) = to make people less hostile or aggressive, perhaps by being charming.
    • to open up (to someone) = to become more open and revealing with people, e.g. to start talking about personal things
  • The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andrew Miller
  • He’d lost the knack of being able to read for pleasure
    • the knack of doing something = a particular and skillful way of doing something. E.g. There is a certain knack to closing the bedroom door silently in my flat. You have to pull the handle down, pull the door in slowly, let the handle go back and then pull the end of the handle until you hear a little ‘click’. There’s a knack to doing it. In this case, my dad has lost the knack of being able to read for pleasure. ‘to lose the knack of doing something’ is a common way to say that you have lost the specific ability to do a certain thing.
  • Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive (book)
  • (It’s about) a doctor in the 1960s who was a junkie
    • a junkie = a drug addict (especially heroin)
  • It was a redemptive tale, a story of redemption
    • to redeem yourself = to change from a life of sin/evil/immorality to a life of good
    • redemption = the process of being redeemed
    • a redemptive tale = a tale of redemption
  • Trainspotting 2 (actually called T2: Trainspotting)
  • They’re all addicted to heroin, and it’s really grim.
    • grim (adj) = unpleasant and depressing
  • It’s directed by… whatsisname, whatdoyoucallim, whojumaflip… Danny Boyle!
    • these are all words for when you can’t remember someone’s name
  • His style – it’s very in-your-face, intense, visceral
    • in-your-face = bold, direct, aggressive, assertive, intense
    • visceral = relating to strong feelings, emotions
  • I was streaming with tears by the end of it
    • streaming with tears = tears were running (streaming) down her face
  • Book: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (written in a dialect)
  • When there’s no more time:
  • The time is getting on and we really ought to draw it to a close
  • We’ve run out of time

Those author, comedy, book, film and podcast recommendations again

371. In Conversation with Rob Ager from Liverpool (PART 2: Film Analysis / Hidden Meanings / Stanley Kubrick / Conspiracy Theory)

This is part 2 of my conversation with Rob Ager from Liverpool, who makes documentaries about films and publishes them himself on his website Collative Learning. If you haven’t heard part 1 yet, you should check that out before listening to part 2. In this conversation we talk about Rob’s approach to film analysis, hidden meanings in films, the work of Stanley Kubrick and the conspiracy theory about the moon landing. More details below.

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Click here to visit Rob Ager’s website collativelearning.com

In part 1 we talked about Liverpool and what it’s really like to live there. Then we talked about how he developed his approach to film analysis. In part 2 we talk about films in more detail, including some of the films which struck a chord with him when he was younger, and films which have inspired him to make his analysis videos. We focus on the work of Stanley Kubrick, a filmmaker whose work has really fascinated Rob over the years. We also discuss the idea that directors add hidden messages into their work, and how this is sometimes interpreted wrongly by viewers and critics. We also discuss the so-called conspiracy theory about Stanley Kubrick and the moon landing, and whether there are hidden messages about this in the film The Shining.

Links & Videos

Rob’s website www.collativelearning.com

Some interesting videos from Rob’s YouTube channel


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347. Film Club: Marvel / Captain America Civil War (Part 1)

Hello everyone, welcome back to the podcast. I hope you’re doing alright today. Do you remember that in the last episode I had just come back from seeing the latest Marvel movie – Captain America: Civil War, and that I said I would talk to you about it? Remember that? Well here it is. You are now listening to a new episode of Luke’s Film Club, and this time I’m talking about the Marvel movies with a particular focus on the latest Captain America film. By the way, I’m going to talk about a lot of Marvel movies in this episode and I will do my best to avoid spoilers. I am only going to mention information which is basically common knowledge. I don’t think listening to this will really spoil your enjoyment of any of the films in the marvel universe. So, you shouldn’t worry about spoilers.

[DOWNLOAD] Groovy background music c/o www.bensound.com

Why am I talking about Marvel films and superheroes?

We like movie-related episodes, don’t we? I certainly like to record them and it seems that you like to listen to them. Enough said – but I’ll continue. I call these episodes “Luke’s Film Club” and in the past I’ve covered films like Taken, Kingsman, Star Wars, Back to the Future and others. Also, people like movies don’t they? People like movies. I like movies, you like movies, we like movies – everyone likes movies. Therefore, talking about movies seems to be a natural thing to do. And to bring this back to learning English, perhaps you will end up talking about movies in your English conversations, so you should know how to talk about this subject. It’s probably helpful to listen to me talking about films then isn’t it? We all know that listening is connected to your awareness of how speech is produced, which is connected to pronunciation, which is connected to your own production of speech. So – improving your listening will have a knock-on effect on your speaking. Also, if you’re wondering what to talk about with people you meet, or your language partner or teacher on italki for example – this could be a good idea.
In fact, you could start your conversations with typical questions about movies.
“Have you seen the latest Marvel movie?” or “Do you like superhero movies?”
“What have you been up to?” – “Well, I saw the new Captain America film” – “Oh really, how was it?” etc.
Those might be some good starting points for conversations about super heroes.

So, have you seen the new Captain America film? In fact, have you seen any Marvel films or recent superhero movies?

I’d be surprised if you hadn’t, because they’re really popular these days and there are so many of them that they’re kind of unavoidable. But if you haven’t seen Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America or The Avengers then that’s ok. Perhaps this episode can be a sort of introduction to a film series that you’re not familiar with. And if you have seen some Marvel films and you just can’t stand them – well, perhaps listening to my take on this subject might help to change your mind. And, if you have seen most of these superhero films and you pretty much liked them, then great! In any case, I hope you just enjoy listening to me going on about some popular culture in this episode (or episodes).

There are plenty of good reasons to talk about Marvel films, but I was prompted to do this episode by a request from a listener called Mayumi. Hello Mayumi, yes I am mentioning you again. It seems Mayumi is a bit of a film nut like me – you might remember her Star Wars themed photo in the photo competition recently. Here’s her comment from my website just the other day.

Mayumi’s comment

“Hi Luke, I hope you’re well. Recently, I’ve been missing your movie episodes like the one you did about “Taken”. The new Marvel one just came out and have you already seen that? If so, how was it?? If my memory serves, you haven’t talked much about Marvel things yet, have you? I’d love to listen to your thoughts if you like them! I personally enjoy watching Marvel films often because I don’t have to be too emotional or worried and it’s fun to watch great VFX. Cheers, bye!”

So – talk about Marvel movies, superhero stuff and Captain America? OK!

I’m not a megageek, I’m just a bit of a geek. I enjoy Marvel films but I’m not a complete fanboy. (Define: nerd, geek, fanboy) I am a fan of comic book films but I don’t profess to be an expert on all the history of every comic book character. I’m not that emotionally invested in superheroes and their stories in the same way that some of these fanboys are. I mean, I’m not going to get angry if the movies don’t follow the plot of the comics perfectly. I don’t mind about that. I just want to watch some entertaining films.

So, I’m not a fanboy but I am a fan. Also, I do have friends who are fanboys – like my mate Paul Langton who knows loads about comic book characters, including all their original backstories, the origins of their superpowers, who would be the champion if they all had a big fight and everything like that. In fact I spoke to Paul about superheroes on the podcast just yesterday, and you’ll be able to hear that conversation on the podcast soon.

So I’m no expert but I’ve seen most of the films and I’ve read some of the comics.
Loved comics as a kid, but my parents frowned on them. I couldn’t really justify spending all my pocket money on comics, and anyway I had nowhere to buy them because I grew up in the middle of nowhere.
I had a few comics, which I bought when on holiday in the USA.
The Marvel characters were the best.
I was always a bit of a Spiderman fan.
I thought Iron Man looked wickedly cool but I never read any of his comics.
I also used to have an Incredible Hulk t-shirt, which pretty much made me a fan by default. I used to chase my brother and his friend around the house wearing the hulk t-shirt and they’d run away from me like I was the hulk. Good times.
Marvel TV shows and cartoons – Any time a comic book related TV show came on the TV it was always brilliant. The Incredible Hulk TV show was a classic – that one featured classic moments when Bruce Banner turned into the Hulk and you see his clothes tearing and his skin turning green – and the hulk was played by a body builder called Lou Ferrino and the hulk scenes were mostly shot in slow motion to make him seem heavier. It was funny that all his clothes ripped off except his pants. They somehow stretched. The Incredible Hulk TV show was also incredibly sad – because at the end of every episode he had to leave town. He was very lonely, and there was that lonely music. I think that communicated loneliness pretty effectively, even as a kid.
There was a live-action spiderman show too, which was awesome because, well, it was spiderman – and he was full of wisecracks and the usual fun Spiderman stuff. Also there were animated TV series, particularly the X-Men series and another Spiderman series. There were probably other Marvel-related TV shows and some movies as well that I saw as a kid.
By today’s standards they would look terribly crap, but in those days they were just amazing.

Marvel Movies vs DC Movies
DC has the two most famous characters, but Marvel seem to be winning the movie wars. Other than Batman, Superman and perhaps Wonder Woman – the other DC characters are not that great – but I’m sure there are people listening to this who would disagree with me. We will be seeing more from DC in the future, with films like Suicide Squad this year, Aquaman, Wonder Woman and more.
Yes – just when you thought we couldn’t have any more superhero films, the next few years are going to see even more of them, so get ready. Marvel are in full swing and DC have only just got started. I wonder if we’ll all be fed up with superheroes within a couple of years. “Superhero fatigue” – it’s a genuine concept that movie critics and industry people use to refer to the idea that we might all just get fed up with superhero films and then stop watching them. The phrase was used over the last couple of years, after a couple of superhero movies didn’t do as well as expected. For example, last year there was a Fantastic Four movie, produced by Fox – and it was a huge flop. Also, the Avengers sequel “The Age of Ultron” didn’t take as much money as people predicted. Personally I think superhero fatigue is a myth. There is clearly still a big interest in superhero films, especially if they are done right. Fantastic Four was a failure because of casting decisions and because it was, by all accounts, a really bad film. And anyway – perhaps those particular characters are not that interesting. They certainly weren’t presented as very interesting. That film is an exception. Avengers: Age of Ultron might have taken less money than the previous one, but perhaps the bar has been set very high! Anyway, regardless of last year, this year has been a hit for superhero movies and Captain America Civil War has apparently been smashing box office records for Marvel yet again.

In my opinion – Hollywood has been producing superhero movies for quite a long time now, but it’s only recently that they’ve been any good. I feel like Marvel studios have cracked the code for superhero movies now – and finally the fun, action and character development that we enjoyed in the comic books is now translating onto the big screen. Not that we haven’t had good superhero movies before (Some Batman movies have been good – I’ll come on to that in a moment) it’s just that in my opinion they’re now getting better and better.

Superhero movies in the past – A kind of history of superhero films

Superman movies from the 80s, with Christopher Reeve (and Gene Hackman).
Batman movie from the 60s, then the 90s films – Tim Burton & Michael Keaton – two good films, then the franchise went steadily downhill as the films were directed by Joel Schumacher – culminating in the god-awful “Batman & Robin” in 1997.
Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze? “Everybody freeze!” and “Ice to see you!” etc. Terrible.

Also in 1990 there was a great superhero film called Darkman which stars Liam Neeson. It’s directed by Sam Raimi, who later did the Spiderman films. It’s brilliant and I suggest you find it. Liam Neeson, Darkman. Apparently it’s on Netflix – find it, hunt it down, and watch it.

There was another couple of Fantastic Four movies in the early 2000s. Unremarkable and original, except that Chris Evans played the human torch, and now he’s Captain America. He’s probably the only actor to have played two different Marvel characters.

Ang Lee directed a Hulk movie (most people dislike it), Sam Raimi directed a trilogy of Spiderman films (most people like them). More on those films later.

Also, there have been loads of X-Men films which have done relatively well in the box office.
One thing to note here is that Marvel studios don’t own the rights to all their characters in movies. In fact, before Marvel became a film studio, they were still a comic book publisher and in the 90s and 2000s they were seriously running out of money, so they sold the movie rights for a few characters to different film studios. Spiderman was sold to Sony, X-Men was sold to Fox. The result was that these studios made superhero films in their own way.

I expect Marvel watched those films and thought – we could do better than this. Later they managed to set up Marvel studios and start producing their own movies, with characters they still had the movie rights for – The Avengers, basically. That caught everyone by surprise, because… they were good films. More on that in a bit.

Now, back to the pre-MCU movies

Christopher Nolan revived the Batman franchise in the 2000s with Batman Begins and then The Dark Knight, also The Dark Knight Rises. They were ‘game changers’ for the superhero genre. They were very serious, had adult-themes, dealt with complex morality and gave the genre a sense of weight and quality, rather than being just colourful kids films.

There was a new Superman film called “Superman Returns”, which was basically another origins story.

The main success seems to have been Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

DC have brought back Superman, letting Christopher Nolan produce the film “Man of Steel” a couple of years ago, and more recently the film “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice”. Although they have their fans, those new Superman films are considered to be flops I think. Man of Steel divided opinion, and Batman vs Superman seems generally to be considered as a flop.
DC are going to make other films based on their other characters, and eventually create a Justice League film which is a sort of showcase of all the main DC characters in one movie together.

It seems like a very similar strategy to the one Marvel are using, except that most of the films they’ve done so far have been crap except for a couple of Batman movies. That’s debatable of course – some thought that Man of Steel was alright. I thought it was half good. I liked the character development – like the scenes with Kevin Costner. But the action scenes took me out of the movie. I felt emotionally unengaged with a lot of it, I thought the Louis Lane character was underused and again it felt far too serious than it should be. I haven’t seen Batman vs Superman, but it seems that critical reaction to that film is also mixed.

What do you think? Have you seen the new Superman films? Superman vs Batman? Give me your quick movie review to any of the films I’m talking about here.

So, DC are still struggling to get a grip on the movie universe in the same way as Marvel, although I expect both of those Superman films have taken a lot of money, even if they’re not that good – because people want to see Batman fight Superman, right? Perhaps DC’s next film release, Suicide Squad will be really popular with fans. We’ll see. Let’s say that DC are still finding their feet at this moment.

Marvel on the other hand are doing really well today. They’re now into Phase 3 of their movie series (yes, we’ve already had phase 1 and 2) and so far they’ve managed to not only avoid any genuine flops, but they have also made a few really successful films and they seem to be getting better. Captain America Civil War is a big hit with audiences, critics and the box office.

So what’s the story of the Marvel cinematic universe?

Around 10-15 years ago Marvel decided to make movies themselves. Previously they were comic book publishers who licensed their characters to other studios, with fairly mixed results – some good films, some bad – on the whole it’s been inconsistent. E.g. Sony have made a bunch of Spiderman films. First there were the ones with Tobey Maguire, directed by Sam Raimi. They rebooted the franchise, starting from the beginning – telling the origin story of Spiderman and then having him grow up and deal with all the usual problems that Spiderman faces as a young superhero in the big city. Then Sony decided to re-reboot the franchise with Andrew Garflield in the role of Spiderman. I guess that was simply because audiences love Spiderman, and the studio felt like it could make a bunch of new money by essentially telling the same story all over again. It feels like Spiderman has been rebooted so many times that every Spiderman film is basically telling us the same story every time, but audiences love Spiderman so much that we don’t really mind. In fact, Spiderman has now been rebooted AGAIN in this latest Captain America film. I think Marvel managed to negotiate with Sony in order to get Spiderman in the Avengers universe. Well done Marvel, because the addition of Spiderman is a very popular move and it’s bound to please audiences and accountants at Marvel headquarters. And yes, we’re going to have a new solo Spiderman film at some point soon which is some sort of collaboration between Marvel and Sony, and that looks pretty promising because I think they have finally got Spiderman right in this latest film.

How are you doing everyone? Are you confused yet with all these different superheroes and their movie franchises? I hope you’re not suffering from superhero fatigue.

END OF PART 1 – CLICK HERE FOR PART 2

 

271. Catching Up with Amber & Paul

Today I’m joined by my mates Paul Taylor and Amber Minogue, both of whom have been on the podcast before. Let’s catch up with them and see what they’ve been doing. Listen to the episode to hear a completely unscripted and authentic chat between 3 native speakers from England, as we talk about having babies, pedestrian crossings, having ginger hair, the difficulties of being English in the sunshine, and some of our favourite TV shows and films.

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Amber
Click here to listen to Amber’s previous interview on LEP, in which she talked about having a baby.
How was the birth?
You said you would go with a natural birth before. Did you?
What’s it like being a mum?
Best things? Worst things?
Sleep? Nappies?

Paul
Click here for Paul’s previous episodes on LEP. Part 1 and Part 2.
What have you been doing?
Click here to visit Paul’s YouTube channel for Taylor’s Top Tips

Topics in this Episode
We talk about various things including:
– Amber’s baby, the birth and what it’s like to be a Mum
– Paul’s news, including his short YouTube videos called Taylor’s Top Tips (started on Instagram, then moved it to YouTube).
– The sound effects from my terrace (the sounds of the street, the sounds of people stepping in dog poo in the street)
– Pedestrian crossings in Paris vs Dog poo
– The dangers of crossing the road in Paris
– The difficulties of being English in the sunshine
– Struggling with a folding chair while avoiding a spider
– Ginger people / having a ginger beard / being a ‘ginger ninja’
– Are Italian people obsessed with ginger people?
– Game of Thrones and other TV shows like Breaking Bad, Suits, Dexter, The Walking Dead, Lost, House of Cards etc.
– TV series vs Films
– J.J. Abrams the director of the new Star Wars film, and his love of lens flare.
– Amber doesn’t like ‘wiggly camera’ – shaky, handheld camera effects – like in the Jason Bourne films and the Taken films.
– The film Cloverfield (directed by J.J. Abrams)
– The Blair Witch Project (1999)
– Recommended TV series (plural – series, singular – series). Amber: Game of Thrones and The Wrong Man’s, Paul: Fawlty Towers, Luke: Louie.
– Vocabulary: A TV series (e.g. Game of Thrones) – not a serie, a season (e.g. season 1, season 2 etc – in the UK we used to say ‘series’ not ‘season’ but now most people say ‘season’)
– Serial? It’s an adjective to describe a series of things – e.g. a serial publication. In my opinion we don’t say a ‘TV serial’, we say a ‘TV series’. Amber and Paul don’t agree.
– Criticisms of French television (a bit of French bashing here? or genuinely valid criticisms of French TV?)
– Summarising the conversation: Jumping into gingers (“Don’t jump into anyone too quickly, you have to give them fair warning in advance”), we detoured into TV, the escapade/debacle with the chair, spending time in the sun
– Orphan Black (TV show)

Taylor’s Top Tips

For the Geeks: What is lens flare?

The trailer for Cloverfield
Directed by J.J. Abrams. Lots of shaky, handheld camera (or ‘wiggly camera’ as Amber described it)

Orphan Black trailer

AmberPaulPIC

255. Taken 3 / Expressions with ‘Take’

My response to the film Taken 3, plus 12 expressions with the word ‘take’. [Download]

The Film
*Spoiler alert* – I might give away some details of the story line, although I think you probably have a good idea what kind of thing you can expect. Someone did something to his family, and Liam Neeson will use his very particular set of skills to find them, he will hunt them down and he will kill them. There will be loads of high-octane action, some very questionable moral actions, and the usual offensive stereotypes of foreign people.

You should know that I’ve talked, at length, about Taken 1 already on this podcast.

Yesterday I went to the cinema and tweeted “I’m on my way to see Taken 3…” Naturally, some people wanted me to talk about it on the podcast, so here it is.

In a nutshell, this film is bad – it’s total pants, it’s piss poor, it’s lame, it’s cheesy, and frankly, it’s dull. It’s like a b-movie, but with Liam Neeson. It retains few of the redeeming qualities of the original, brings nothing new to the table and just looks like everyone involved is just doing it for the money. That’s not to say it was without enjoyment – I did enjoy it a bit, perhaps because I’d lowered my expectations before going into the cinema.

Expressions with Take
There are loads. Here are 12. Listen to the episode to hear full explanations and examples.

1. Take someone for a ride = to rip someone off
2. Take someone to the cleaners = to rip someone off, or to beat someone
3. Take something for granted = to undervalue something which is actually very valuable to you
4. Take it on the chin = to be strong and resilient in the face of criticism or adversity
5. Take it out on someone = to express your anger/frustration by being nasty or aggressive towards someone else
6. Take advantage of something = to make the most of it, to exploit it
7. Take it easy = relax
8. Overtake = to move in front of someone (e.g. in a car)
9. Take over = to take control of something (to acquire)
10. Takes one to know one = In order to know something you have to be that thing too
11. To have what it takes = to have the necessary qualities to do something
12. Give or take = approximately

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Taken3PIC

163. Skype Chat with My Brother

The return of James Thompson + some British film recommendations.

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Sometimes my listeners ask me “Where’s your brother, James?” It seems, for some mad reason, that you like listening to him. Well, in this episode he’s back! And he has some British films to recommend to you.

This is what happens in this episode:
– I call James on Skype, and commence a ‘trans-channel broadcast’, improving ‘Anglo-French discourse’.
– We discuss a pointless plan to go back in time in order to assassinate Hitler.
– We talk about James’s new year’s eve and his new year’s resolutions.
– James recommends some of his favourite British movies of all time!
– His mate Will arrives with a nice bottle of French wine, and immediately becomes famous in Colombia.

Click here to help write a transcript for this episode on a Google document.

(Some of) James’ Favourite British Movies of All Time
Here are some links and trailers for the films James mentioned.
1. Withnail & I
The IMDB page.
Trailer:
[youtube www.youtube.com/watch?v=xT5qhPoRS9g&w=500&h=375%5D
Full movie on YouTube:
[youtube www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yhq-8TrRlsM&w=500&h=281%5D
2. Dead Man’s Shoes
The IMDB page.
Trailer:
[youtube www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFi6FrAV9SE&w=500&h=281%5D
3. Shaun of the Dead
The IMDB page.
Trailer:
[youtube www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfBewQPFdKE&w=500&h=281%5D
Full movie on YouTube:
[youtube www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_IK4438vNA&w=500&h=375%5D
4. Hot Fuzz
The IMDB page.
Trailer:
[youtube www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NiQfvx_qrE&w=500&h=281%5D
5. The World’s End
The IMDB page.
Trailer:
[youtube www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQA7HcRcLNg&w=500&h=281%5D
6. The Ipcress File
The IMDB page.
Trailer:
[youtube www.youtube.com/watch?v=QesO-BRvUAM&w=500&h=375%5D
7. Performance
The IMDB page.