Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Claws Out

So, yesterday roundabout mid-day I got an unexpected invite from the Cool Shite team to attend a pre-screening of the clunkily titled X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie. Sounded like a good deal to me, since I was planning to catch the flick anyhow, so I went into overdrive. Arranged a sitter to arrive 1700 to be there for 1730 to 1815 period in which Natalie wouldn't quite be home, but I'd be on my way to Launceston.

The morning of English study with Elder Son was pretty cool. He read forty pages of a Doc Savage novel, then worked on his typing for an hour -- up to about 13 words per minute, all fingers being used. He was pleased because the current test/level on the typing tutor game called for a 12 wpm output, and he did better with full accuracy.

Next, we sat down and finished our examination of Tennyson's "Blow, Bugle Blow". I admit that Tennyson can be ponderous and pompous, but that particular poem is short, and evocative, and most importantly, it has elements that reach a bright eight-year old. The rhyme and rhythm are strong, sufficiently complex, and effective, and most of all the message is there to be found.

I'm particularly happy with his response to the poem overall. When we started, he was surly: didn't like that emotional poetry stuff, he said. So I pointed out that only stupid people decide they don't like something before they know enough about it to understand what they're not liking, and he grudgingly agreed that we'd look at it. By the end of the process -- looking up in the dictionary all the words he didn't know; trying to figure out why certain words were used and not others; discussing possible meanings associated with the ideas in the words; talking about personal responses and feelings -- he was pretty pleased. "Poetry is kind of like a code," he announced. "You have to read it carefully to figure it out."

Yep. That's exactly what I was after: the process of reading and thinking. Me = happy teacher.

Anyway, as an exercise he's going to memorise the poem. Then we'll get a decent recording of him reciting it, and use it as the soundtrack for a simple video movie combining images and scenes of his choice, with a little guidance. We'll see what comes of it.

After that, he wrote two paragraphs of action in which Doc Savage fought a bad guy -- but he was limited to using simple, one-verb sentences only. We've been talking about sentence structure, and next week we'll take these paragraphs and start combining the simple sentences into more complex structures. That'll let us investigate clauses, and consider the effect of changing sentence length and complexity on the reader.

A good morning, I figured.

Meanwhile, the Mau-Mau caught a few morning 'toons on ABC, then mooched around reading and playing with the dog. But after the morning of English, I hooked the boy to a math tutor programme (we're working on giving him a base of number facts -- times tables, etc -- to allow for quick mental calculation, and to set him up for more complex mathematical ideas) and the Mau-Mau and I went outside into the bright winter sunshine. We took a lot of photos.

Y'see, she's got this little red cloak and hood that she won't be able to wear much longer, as she's growing. And I figured we could make a version of "Little Red Riding Hood" with the Mau-Mau in the lead role; a personal book that she could enjoy, and practise her reading upon. We've got Sizzle the Dog in the role of the Wolf, and with a little photoshoppery, we'll fit one of her own grannies into the role of Granny. Smaller Son will probably wind up being The Woodsman.

It's yet another bloody project for me, of course, but it will be fun. She enjoyed the photography -- happily took direction, put on different facial expressions, posed as required. Is this a girl thing? Does the whole "pose for the camera" set of genes live on the X chromosome?

By then it was time to load the kids in the car, zip down the hill, and collect Younger Son from school. Shopping, yes. Post office, yes. Grab the violin instructor, zoom home again. Mau-Mau and Younger Son had their violin lessons while I chopped vegies and chicken and set up the rice for the nasi goreng. As soon as the lessons were done, we all got back in the car and took the violin instructor back to Scottsdale. (Her car is on the fritz at the moment.... sigh)

Zoom back home again. Start the bath, get the firewood in, lay the fire. Begin cooking nasi goreng. Sitter arrives. Finish cooking, feed kids and sitter... check bath... and at last, I got away.

I met the Shitesters at the cinema. It was crowded, and the local radio station was torturing four kids on stage when we arrived, making them do Wolverine impressions in order to receive CDs, or something like that. I thought there were laws against that sort of thing. I felt particularly bad for the sixteen year old girl up there, unable to stop giggling hysterically as she waved her arms around and tried to growl... and for the somewhat portly young boy at the end. They made him jump up and turn around to pose with his arms out, growling. Poor little buggers.

Then there was the movie.

Mmm. Yeah.

I stopped reading X-men sometime around 1989, when I ran out of comic-buying flatmates. (I didn't have the money for it. Probably would have spent it on dodgy stuff if I had.) I never got exposed to the whole "origins of Wolverine" thing, but I'd already seen the original X-men title spin off in about forty different directions, none of which were particularly novel or interesting.

Oddly, I once actually owned the comic in which Wolverine first appeared -- a "Hulk" comic from the mid-seventies. My dad bought it for me. I can remember thinking that "Weapon X" looked like an idiot in his yellow suit with the black and blue stripes, and the claws and all. Wish I still had that comic!

Anyway. I wasn't fussed on the film. The fx are fine, the action sequences are nice, and I really do like Hugh Jackman's take on the title character, sure. But... well, we all know from the first X-Men flick that by the end of the film, Logan has to be amnesiac, but in one piece. And we know that the recurring villain Sabretooth has to be alive and well too. So... really, this is a 'filler'. It starts in 1845, for fuck's sake. Happily, there's a rather groovy montage-of-wars sequence in which young Wolverine and his larger, nastier brother (who we know is going to be Sabretooth) fight their way through the US Civil War, WWI, WWII, and Viet Nam. It was a good way of getting close to the present, and delivering a cut-and-paste background for the two.

It still didn't work, though. By the time we were more than halfway into the film, we were still zipping through time, and it felt like a prolonged set-up. There was no sense of central conflict, no feeling of something at stake. Act One of the trad 3-act structure is the bit where you set up the main problem... and the big issue for this film is that there IS no main problem. There's nothing at stake, nobody to save, nothing to barrack for. And by the time we're finally given a villain - well, let's just say that plot twists and complexities keep pointing us in the wrong direction.

It was a potpourri of action scenes and muddled ideas that didn't really gel into a film. I'm glad I didn't have to buy my way in. I'm sure my young boys will be delighted (it's PG; no blood... which is weird) but I'm going to try to con Natalie into taking them to the cinema.

If you haven't got kids to take, or you're not a dedicated fan, this is probably not your film.


  1. I will not admit that Tennyson can be ponderous and pompous. Perhaps you have him confused with Milton? I've seen that happen a lot.

  2. Sigh - how cool would it be if every child were educated that way - one on one, tailored to the child's interest and always headed towards a larger concept by an intelligent grown up- preferably their parent.

    I'm so stealing the poetry recital idea - except young nephew's abiding interest is music, so I figure I'll let him loose on garage band to compose the backing music for it.

  3. Hughesy: it's a time sink. I've gotta do it because there's nobody else. And I do enjoy it. But it's time I don't have for working, or resting, or whatever... but as an ideal, one-on-one is good. Not so sure about the parents, though. We just perpetuate our own madnesses!

    Mr Boylan... who in their right mind confuses Milton and Tennyson? Mind you, I'll definitely concede pompous and ponderous for Mr Milton!

    I'm pretty nasty about poetry and poets in general. My absolute favourite poets are those who have managed to write as many as half-a-dozen pieces which provoke that "wow" sense inside me. Dylan Thomas manages it with perhaps that many. Same with Yeats. Emily Dickinson scores a few. So does Stephen Crane. And Sara Teasdale.

    The best of the rest put maybe two or three runs on the board at best. By and large, most of 'em leave me unmoved.

    Half the art of poetry, I think, lies in making the effort invisible. Mostly what I see when I look at poetry is the effort of 'art' and technique. Tennyson is one of those in whom I more frequently see effort than effect.

    Not sayin' I can do better, mind you. Just that poetry strikes me as one hell of a difficult venture to carry off well.

  4. "Is this a girl thing?"
    Yes, with two of them I can assure you, it most definitely is. And it gets worse.
    Although, they both really want to see Wolverine so I suppose I'll have to endure it as well...

  5. Flint - I was, of course, joking about confusing the two. Milton had a better sense whimsy than did Tennyson.

    But seriously: I more than understand your perspective, but my sense of history urges me to disagree. For me, part of appreciating poets and their poetry is to try to understand that they reflect the best and worst of the times in which the lived. Tennyson reflects the best of his time in so many ways. His Ulysses is one of the finest poems ever written in English. He lived in a time that valued complexity and allusion.

    I suspect you know more about poets and poetry than I do - what I know is more or less self-taught, and poorly at that. I don't know much about poetry, but I do know the poems I like: Blake's Songs of Innocence juxaposed with his Songs of Experience; Dante's Inferno; Goethe's Faust (both parts); Hardy's The Darkling Thrush and Drummer Hodge; Keats' Upon Reading Chapman's Homer and Ode Upon a Grecian Urn; Yeats' Second Coming and Leda and the Swan; Browning's Fra Lippo Lippi, Last Dutchess and Andre De Sarto; Colridge's Khubla Khan; Sandburg's Windy City - and my all time favorite, Fenton's God, a Poem.

    Like Annette, I envy and admire your opportunity to teach your child poetry. Me, time and fate left me fewer options: I paid my kid $20 bucks to read Animal Farm, 1984 and memorize Poe's The Raven.

    We all do the best we can with the tools we have on hand.

  6. Hughesy does herself a disservice. She did a fine post about the basics of reading poetry.
    To me its ironic that as a teenage schoolkid I thought poetry was pretty boring and preferred looking at the legs of the girls, yet to try and woo such girls I wrote bad poetry. I also had the unfounded hubris to read it out in front of the class.

    Gave up that little lark when it didn't get me laid.
    My thing about poetry is the same as literature. When I launch into reading something 'difficult' I do so with the hope of great reward. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. I believe it boils down to how an individual mind analysises things. Some pieces of writing immediately strike home for me, whilst others remain difficult pancakes. Its different for everyone. To me the best literature is simple in its composition yet unfurls its unheralded depths as you follow the words. It doesn't purposefully torture you (I can do that to myself), nor pretend to be something higher. It guides without reproach.
    No-one mentions John Donne. I really loved The Flea.

  7. "So... really, this is a 'filler'

    no its worse

    its a prequel, god I am beginning to detest prequels. Charlie Jane Anders had a good list of arguements against them athttp://io9.com/362816/prequels-arent-just-dumb-theyre-evil

    in short Prequels are anti-creativity, Prequels are anti-futurist, Prequels are anti-heroic, Prequels are all about trivia and Prequels are small and personal.

    and regarding 'Wolveriene'
    I hated what they did with Emma Frost less White Queen and more dairy queen.

    I almost hate to ask where you stand on one of my fav poets -W H Auden, and no I don't mean Funeral Blues, more 'Epitaph on a Tyrant', or 'September 1, 1939'.

  8. Dirk, yes it's a time sink but the end results will be worth it.

    Will probably end up seeing Wolverine as the wifes a big Hugh Jackman fan

  9. The "Little Red Riding Hood" is a great idea perhaps with a bit of tweaking, ala 'Hoodwinked' or the 1999 anime Jin-Roh.

  10. Auden - yep, I don't mind Auden at all.

    And Paul: I figued the Milton/Tennyson thing was a joke, but I didn't quite see the punchline so I played it with a straight bat. It was just the silliness of confusing them?

    I agree about Ulysses, by the way. Looove that poem.

    You're quite right about recognising the times in which various pieces are written, and Tennyson is a product of his times. Ultimately, though... I get a little bit post-modern about this kind of thing. For example, when I look at the famous cave paintings of Lascaux, I admire their vigorous line, the energy of them, the clever stylisation -- but I know very little of the culture that created them. Those cave paintings could be the contemporanous equivalent of obscene graffiti.

    It's true: Tennyson's culture valued complexity and allusion in their poesy. To a degree, I value that as well - but it's not that which produces a truly visceral response to a poem. Tennyson at his best, in Ulysses, uses those things to sharpen and refine the emotional effect of the human themes. On the other hand, at times he utilises his techniques in ways that attempt to elevate the banal, and simply descend into turgidity. ('The Charge Of The Light Brigade')

    As for me knowing more of poetry and poets... you've got a lovely breadth of reading there. I haven't read Faust at all, as yet, and I've not found a verse version of Dante which really kept my interest in the poetry itself as opposed to the narrative and the politics. I'm not sure there's a way to "teach" poetry in any real sense. I know a lot of people who were 'taught' poetry at a high school and university level who learned to hate poetry and analysis, though.

    I think self-taught is probably the best, because it implies the person learning really, really wanted to learn.

    Therbs: Donne has his moments. I like "Go and catch a falling star; get with child a mandrake root. Tell me where all past years are, or who cleft the devil's foot..." But the religiosity of his work turns me away. Again: product of his times. I can deal with the material in small doses, but as a body of work it rather overwhelms.

  11. Whoa, wait, was Emma Frost even *in* Wolverine? When?

    I liked the little nods to the Alpha Flight cast, mainly Diamond Lil in the base breakout, but did you notice that female tech with the glasses was Heather McNeil, ie to be Heather Hudson?


    Whoo. >pats chest< That's better. Sorry 'bout the mess, Dirk.

  12. The character you thought was Diamond Lil... you didn't notice them calling her "Emma"?

  13. Have him read Poe's "The Bells." It's a great one for reading aloud.

    And yes, it is a girl thing. Most definitely.

  14. Donne is fantastic.
    My brat wouldn't let me help him with his homework - ever. Something to do with his pride in being able to do it himself. Twat. But there was one moment where he'd gotten a dud mark for a Donne essay, and it was going to be in the HSC, so I sat down and wrote a crit of both his essay AND the teacher's marking of it. It came down to 50/50 at fault.
    To my surprise, the crit weighed in at 6000 words, in which I went through each of the major poems and explained the whole process of my reading of them. I'd never really thought that hard about Donne prior to that, and I have to say - he is a marvel.

    It's metaphysics and the nature of being that he's into - not religion. Religion is merely the vehicle that his audience was travelling in at the time. It is really just a metaphor.

    Must see if I can find it - I'll post it if I can.

    Oh, and Milton? The fall in Paradise Lost is the best - the first full on domestic brawl in litracha.