Friday, March 30, 2007

From Surly to Churlish: How the Mighty Have Fallen

Curiosity, high box office numbers, wisps of 6th grade history lessons, and a willing daughter were all of the reasons I needed to plunk down some cash to see the dark comic escapades of the 300. As a result, just as the word "surly" has tumbled down in respectability, so has the possibility that British-accented actors adorning themselves with the maximum of musculature and the minimum of toga, can prevent a Greek legend from slipping from a drama to a cartoon. No disrespect intended toward cartoons.

The words "chiseled" and "guns" were constantly heard as the movie advanced. Even the women and the old geysers in the Senate were "stoked". Wild dark eyes were de rigeur not to mention the posing style involving sucking in of one's gut and the turning of one's face toward the sun, the latter being particularly difficult as the sun made the rarest of appearances. Politicians were held in low regard with the exception of those with "guns", thus offering the viewer a clear and decisive picture of the Good and the Bad. And the Ugly? Well, it didn't take long to see (and to shudder) that an off-putting countenance equated one with the Bad side, i.e., the Persians. Wondering where any of the spectacularly ugly denizens of The Twin Towers or The Return of the King who survived ended up? This film will prove that they traversed from Middle Earth to Greece. Hope the health benefits/life insurance with this movie were as good as their previous gigs as, once again, if your character is hideously ugly, you were guaranteed a whomping with a strong possibility of a chopped head as well.

The story line is familiar. 300 Spartans and some 250 other miscellaneous Greek city-staters against 3 million Persians and their lackeys, rhinoes, and elephants. There is one rather off-putting looking Spartan and, once you get a load of his pitiful look, you quickly realize he'll be with the Persians, a lot who are all dreaming of their own TV land makeovers. There's much thrusting of spears and slashing of swords and shielding by, uhhmmm, shields. Then, there's the best part of the movie. The posing. Posing of Olympian stature. Solo Posing. Posing in groups. Posing in duos. The posing precedes the bloodletting and then it follows it. For an action movie there are a lot of still scenes. I won't give the ending away; the 300 all die. Not sure if that was due to the energy expended doing battle against the physically hideous or the over-the-top posathon required of the plucky Greek.

My daughter agreed saying the movie brought back memories/nightmares of Baldrick and his posing pouch. The only difference between Baldrick's movies and 300 was that the former was awash in humorous and the latter was awash in humerus.

Addendum :
Stephen over at American Fez, always ahead of the curve (which, if one is ahead of, is precisely what geometric form and do you need trig to address it so your message to him arrives?) postulates on the inevitability of the 300 sequel here. Hold your snorts to a minimum, please.


Childish Pet Tricks

All of a previous week, my Ever-Loving Spouse, as well as her students, had to bear the brunt of statewide standardized testing. I wish I could blame the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and his “No Child Left Behind” approach to education policy for this hellish experience, but these damn things were around even when I was in the clutches of Sister Mary Ignatius Riley and her Rowdy Nunnery Band back in the drained swamps of Jersey.

Aside from being (my prejudices wide-opened here) an excellent and caring teacher, the Ever-Loving Spouse is the most elocutive of story-tellers. I wish I could re-tell, as best possible as I’d be able to, some of her school-related stories but that would count as stealing tales so I’ll leave the gems un-told and hope that she finally folds and either starts her own blog or, at the very least, pens them down for posterity. She possesses a clever eye, a sly wit, and a most uproarious laugh; all the necessary components for drawing one in for a long sit-down of enjoyable observations of the human condition...the very young human condition, which to me is the best possible condition to observe and discuss as it’s less burdened with the ineffective and distorting shield of age and adulthood.

Suffice it to say, each year’s renderings of these annual tests brings back memories of the Days of Testing of Yore. Sister Mary Ignatius Riley was a taskmaster of diocesean fame. She had her own line of palm switches which made her a tidy profit by way of selling them to other teachers in the various parishes around us. We, as kids, were clueless that encouragement via application of these switches to our open palms or backs was illegal. Most of our parents stood firmly in line with the quick-wristed Sister, assenting, at least tacitly, to this policy. I’m assuming that since most of the kids and their parents (I’m including myself in this bunch) were off-the-boat types who were used to this type of “physical” relationship between Learning, The Child, & The Teacher from their own experiences in the proverbial Old Country, never considered protesting as a valid option. You shrugged your shoulders and persevered. Moving forward and upward were the principal directions and if a swat or two assured keeping on the righteous path...well, no skin off of their backs, so to speak. It's a peculiar state of sorts that the educative process of childhood, wrapped in the black robe of nuns and tied with palm switches, which evoked so much fear back then could provide so much humour now. It's a Three Stooges effect. While it seemed (and felt) as if pain was intricately laced with the acquisition of knowledge at that time, I can't recall the sting. Is it because I can't seperate the two? Does this explain that behaviour in college where I'd gently lash my back while cramming the square peg of Calculus into the round hole in my head? Or is it simply that some information collection truly is mentally painful and the unity of bodily pain and mental pain gets us through that acquisition process?

This brings me back around to the annual standardized testing, specifically those parts of the test where a student is required to read 3-4 paragraphs and then answer questions. Oh, the pain these portions caused until the student figured out to read the questions first and then sift through the morass of the verbiage seeking answers. Who wrote these passages? They could not have been writers. Why were the passages so deathly boring? Were these portions of the test aimed to blot out the last mote of the desire to read in the test-takers? Did any other portion of these standardized test, extending to SAT's and GRE's, elicit as much deep sighing that reverberated through the silent classrooms as the read-em-'n-weep sections?

Perhaps a thin rope or heavy scarf would help. Slogging through the verbal detritus of these paragraphs, a student could gently flog themselves through their completion, feeling a slight nervy pain as their minds clogged with the thick sentences sluggishly sliding before their eyes. Like a dog being tought to sit, a child could be tricked into the temporary condition of complete, though low-level, pain. Anything to get through this day of testing.

Sit, boy. Sit.


Rip van Winkle's got Nothing on Me

Ah, Spring! Newness abounds, including a return to (hopefully) regular posting here. I wish I could lie here and say that the last month of life at this end has been a hissing-tires-on-a-Mobius Strip-of-a-highway kind of experience and have that serve as justification for not posting. But, I’ve got one of those lie-detector keys set up on the keyboard that would immediately shock me with a surge of honesty, so I begged off driving down that road of mis-direction. It was just a really bad combo-case of tushery and agraphia that did me in. Bits of words strung together evoked large yawns. A blogging sin!

With Spring, comes thoughts of longer trips and imagined forays to places not explored before. Don’t think I’m the only one thumbing through travelogues and poking around Travelocity or Expedia in search of cheapness and destinations. Hillbilly, Please, a blogger who defines the phrase voracious reader, makes some comments about Bill Bryson, a well-favoured travel writer who gets my lather up after only a page or two of his navel-gazing. Her suggestion of this book is one I’ll gladly pass on to you. Thick with humour, history, and misery. Sits quite well alongside Shipping News,The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, and An Innocent in Newfoundland: Even More Curious Rambles and Singular Encounters. What could be better?

I tend more to Tony Horwitz, Tim Cahill, or Pico Iyer, or the ever-dependable and always indispensable Mark Twain.

This site, Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding, offers an excellent intro to travel writers. Embarrassingly, I recognized only a handful of these folks. Another book list to start!

Thanks to all my faithful who poked and prodded the blog-corpse until I was shamed into punching the keys again. If there were a cozy shack on the edge of a wave-crashing cliff serving ice-cold draughts, I’d be buying you all a round.


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