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.