Ite, missa est

Deo gratias.

Today sees the end of teaching our usual classes. We now have exams to look forward to, followed by a little time off for the college entrance exam, followed by IELTS classes for the Senior 3s (to which I’ve already predicted a dismal end) for the rest of June.

So, how did things go? Did the little dears show you some glimmer of the respect they’re been lacking for you all term?

Class 14 was a bit of a fiasco because I couldn’t find the tape I needed. It was meant to be a listening class and forgot that the tapes for Book 3 are in a brown box and those for Book 4 in a blue box. I couldn’t work out why the text I wanted was missing. In the end, I got them to give me some general details about some pictures and then write a paragraph about them. It worked well enough in the end, but wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

They also wanted me to change the time of the speaking exam because, it seems, school may be over at lunchtime on Tuesday because of the college entrance exam. I explained to them that it wasn’t within my power to change the time and that they’d have to go and speak to Tracy about it. They didn’t want to do that.  

And what of Class 13?

Pray mention that troupe of cretinous clowns not. It started badly, continued badly, and after that there was a general decline. First, a bunch of kids who were meant to be in Todd’s and Jane’s classes malingered; then a bunch of other idiots wandered into class obviously after they’d been shooed off the basketball courts. During the whole class only two pupils paid any attention whatsoever. We’re thinking about showing them Chicken Run tomorrow. They behave like six-year-olds (actually, they do; this isn’t an instance of my more usual hyperbole); they’ll get to watch a movie for six-year-olds. I’m wondering which would be worse. No subs, or subs in English. Actually, no subs and frequent interruptions to explain points of English usage.

Will you really do that?

Probably not. They’re just not worth the effort.

How do you think the exams will go?

Overall, I suspect that the results will remain much the same. Class 14 might show some small improvement, but Class 13 could well go backwards. It’ll be “Overall, no change” at best for them.

So, after another year of teaching ninnies and numbskulls, my humiliation is now in therapy.

Although the behaviour of Chinese school children is pretty uniform, I’m hoping that the academic quality of the pupils in Chengdu will be a significant improvement on what I’ve had here. My experience at the school in Jiangsu Province last year showed how important the regime at the school is. The kids hated the headmaster, who was, they thought, more like a prison governor, but they were better disciplined (and academically way better besides). Here, the school’s made it’s money out of the parents of the intellectually deficient and doesn’t much care beyond that.

I’m reminded of the time I watched the pupils doing the morning exercises early-ish in the first term. They flopped around like a bunch of boneless whales on a beach. In Jiangsu Province, some of the kids got out of sync, but they never flopped lazily. So watch the pupils do their morning exercises. It seems to be a good means of gauging the character of the school itself.

A couple more DVD reviews

Covert One: The Hades Factor.

This is a TVM starring Stephen Dorff and Mira Sorvino who are investigating the outbreak of the Hades Virus from opposite ends. Something’s rotten i’th’ State of America. Although it seems that the spread of the virus is part of a terrorist attack, it’s actually orchestrated from within by a medical technology company aiming to cash in on all the profits that can be made from producing the vaccine.

It’s got all the usual clichés you’d expect from airport novelist Robert Ludlum.

Whatever happened to Mira Sorvino? I haven’t seen her in anything for a very long time. Didn’t she win an Oscar once?


The Dark.

A horror film from the UK. The annoying Maria Bello takes her annoying adolescent daughter to see Sean Bean (playing the part of Nice, Concerned Father) in Wales to a house that was once the centre of some nutty cult. The revolting child falls into the clutches of the people from the Otherworld and is replaced by Creepy Undead Girl. The mother, annoying to the last, goes to the Otherworld to retrieve her daughter. Cue nightmarish sequences and much confusion. The daughter seems to have returned, but has brought something back with her… Meanwhile, mummy is trapped with the crazy pastor and what seems to be a flock of demon sheep. Yeah, demon sheep. (Probably why the film was classified as porn in Wales.)

This is another bunch of clichés. The Cult of Mass Suicides, trepanning in the abattoir, lots of scenes in the dark where you have no idea what the hell is going on (not that you care), and the Celtic Otherworld (cue Enya). From what I’ve read about Annwn, it’s not the hellish place portrayed in the film, but rather a paradise. But why let tradition get in the way of a good story?

Spiderman 3

Hit him with a newspaper.

When I grabbed a copy of Pirates of the Caribbean yesterday, I also grabbed a copy of Spiderman 3. It seems that everyone’s lining up to whack Spiderman with a rolled-up newspaper. Let’s go through the list.

  1. Peter’s former friend, Harry, comes after him, but in the ensuing fight loses his memory. This wipes the slate clean until the shadow of his father restores them. Harry destroys Peter’s shaky relationship with MJ, but he has to face Black Spiderman (I’ll explain anon) and gets himself blown up. Later, Red Spiderman comes to Harry for help saving MJ and fighting the two supervillains. He demurs, but then changes his mind and gets skewered on his anti-grav surf board saving Peter. His Dad went the same way, but there was less “saving” on that occasion.
  2. The first supervillain is the Sandman who starts out as the ordinary criminal who killed Peter’s uncle (the one who said “With great power comes a large electricity bill”). As he flees from the police, he falls into some hole which is being used for some sort of experiment on sand. It involves that philosopher’s stone of the comic book universe, radiation. One of the scientists note that there appears to be something in the area where the experiment is being conducted, but no one checks and there are no CCTV cameras. The experiment proceeds and our ordinary felon is turned into a creature of sand. Red Spiderman doesn’t know what to do with him, but Black Spiderman works out that Sandman’s nemesis is water. Well, sort of.
  3. Meanwhile, Peter has been being dogged by some annoying photographer who’s after his job. The editor of The Daily Bugle, who still thinks Spiderman, red or black, is a criminal says that the man who can get an incriminating picture of Spiderman will get the job. The new boy, Eddie, fakes a photo, but Peter, who’s still in his Black Spiderman phase, blows the lid on the scam. Bye bye, Eddie. Eddie, who needs to look up the words “irony” and “hypocrisy” in a dictionary, goes to church and prays to God for a means of destroying Spiderman. God must have a sense of humour of a sort, because he grants Eddie that means when it turns out that Black Spiderman who, by a huge coincidence happens to turn up in the same church, finds is vulnerable to bells. The slime creature transfers itself from Spiderman to Eddie, and seems to take much of Spiderman’s essence with it somehow. In addition, God, who always likes to squeeze out as many laughs from a gag as he can, turns Eddie into a real monster.
  4. Sandman and Eddieman kidnap MJ so that they can have another go hitting Spiderman with a rolled-up newspaper. With Harry’s help he manages to destroy Eddieman by dispelling the creature from Eddie’s body using some handy tubular bells. Unfortunately, just as Spiderman chucks a grenade at the slime creature, Eddie dives back in to the morass and is completely annihilated. The Sandman resumes his normal human form and explains himself to Spiderman who, having been a bit bad himself lately, forgives him. Sandman disappears off on the breeze.
  5. As for the slime creature, early on in the film Peter and MJ are having a snog in a cobweb hammock when a meteor comes plummeting to Earth. Our of the red-hot glowing rock emerges the slime creature which hitches a lift on Peter’s scooter and eventually bonds with him. But the questions are a.) How a creature that could survive being superheated in a rock could succumb to a mere grenade? and b.) Who would be so oblivious that they wouldn’t hear a meteor screaming through the Earth’s atmosphere and slamming into the ground? Besides, where were all the black helicoptors that usually turn up to such events?

As you can see, there’s a lot happening in S3. The plot isn’t as convoluted as the latest ep. of Pirates of the Caribbean, but it’s another film where there are at least two films in one. As my description reveals, there are more than a few gaping holes in the plot. Yeah, I know. Suspension of disbelief and all that. (Lazy writing, sez I.) Was it not also in Superman 3 that we had evil Superman? (Lex Luthor attempted to synthesise kryptonite and added cigarette ash as the unknown element, didn’t he?) I guess we had to have Black Spiderman sooner or later.[1]

Last film in the series? Who knows? But when we start getting to Part 3, that’s about the point at which the original stars say, “Enough” and you suddenly get a bunch of B-movies with C-movie-sized budgets, D-movie quality sets, and E-list stars.

Notes.
1. It’s a good thing the Greeks never went in for this good twin/hero ~ evil twin/hero theme that Americans seem to like so much. Otherwise, we’d have normal Heracles, the perpetually horny demigod, and the evil Black Heracles, who respects women, is faithful to his wife, and is polite to centaurs. He’d also care for rare forms of wildlife such as the Lernaean Hydra or the Nemean Lion, setting up sanctuaries for them. They’d just eat each other.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Thar she bloats!

I went into the DVD shop opposite the gates of the university last night to find that their stock is has recovered a little more, although it remains somewhat malnourished. They were playing the latest instalment of Pirates of the Caribbean which, as I could see, was of fairly reasonable quality for an early copy.

The film starts with a mass execution, followed by Barbossa and Elizabeth trying to rescue Will from a Chinese pirate who has some magic map or other that’ll allow them to find where Jack is in Davy Jones’ Locker so that the pirate council can be convened to release the goddess Calypso or go to war against the Company. In the interrim, they make Elizabeth the Pirate King. She tries rhetoric, but the naturally thin, yet properly nourished Keira Knightley is just too young to do rousing rhetoric. Gravitas, girl. Gravitas.

Apart from all that, there’s Davy Jones and the Company to deal with. To cut a long, rambling story short, Davy Jones gets his; Will becomes the new captain of the Ship of the Damned having married Elizabeth not long before; and the Company gets a good drubbing. Among the casualties are Elizabeth’s father and Admiral Norrington, who does the right thing and then gets killed by the fish people.

The film ends with a lot of loose ends. Jack, having pinched the useful part of the map that belonged to the Chinese pirate, is off to find the Fountain of Youth pursued by Barbossa. Will somehow needs to be rescued from his fate which is to ferry the souls of the dead to the other side. Calypso is still out there. Nonetheless, the story has been brought to a conclusion of sorts. Although there might be a fourth film in the series, there’ no overwhelming necessity for one.

It’s long. There’s more than a little flab which could be trimmed. This is an airport novel of movies, but attempts to do more than a film can reasonably accomplish. Is this now going to be a trend with films? Having increased in average length over the past fifteen years, are films now going to get longer still and be not so much one film as several in one?

Although it’s Barbossa, it’s persistently pronounced as if it’s Barbosa. Most anoying [sic!].

More DVD hell (mostly)

2:37

This is an Australian film about a bunch of school kids who are suffering from various major crises. The big question is which one killed herself. (Oops! What a giveaway.) The big answer is the one who had the fewest problems apart from being a little invisible. It’s not a bad film, but it’s a bit like a soap opera in which life is one long crisis that never destroys anyone, although it ought to if life was really like that.


Attack of the Gryphon.

Low budget fantasy flick about a sorcerer who conjures up a gryphon to defend the nation, and then decides to rule the world. Only Amber Benson and her boyfriend can stop him by using a horny unicorn. Or something like that. Benson shows that given the right script, she can act as badly as the next B-movie luvvie. The sorcerer’s sidekicks looked like (and probably were) fugitives from the world of softcore porn films. Slutty Witch #2 really needed to be told that implants that big look grotesque and unattractive.


The Black Hole.

If you were to be given a choice between The Black Hole and a Bulgarian comedy classic from the 1950s (with subtitles in Basque), you’d be well-advised to opt for the latter. The Black Hole is an example of what happens when you get bad actors together in a bad movie. The acting is appalling, with lines delivered like slices of pizza being thrust carelessly through a letterbox and usually just getting squashed against the door. The dialogue is appalling and has such non sequiturs as, “Will Dad be OK?” “There’s milk and cookies inside.” Seriously.

I must admit that my favourite character was the Black Hole itself which, sad to say, failed to destroy the cast as they so richly deserved. I think Kristy Swanson might want to do another pictorial for Playboy after this.


The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift.

I saw the original film on a plane. I can’t recall anything about it exactly. In this one, our hero gets sent to Japan where he instantly starts doing exactly what he did in the States, but with a bunch of Japanese wide boys and their porn star girlfriends. There’s the chief wide boy who’s also the Drift King, his slutty girlfriend who piques the interest of the gaijin, and you can guess what happens. Brrrmmm! Brrrmmm!


Final Days of Planet Earth.

This appears to be a two-part TV miniseries in which bug queen, Daryl Hannah, plots to conquer the world from the town hall and massacres her way through her top advisers. She’s opposed by a motley crew led by an archaeologist and a deranged astronaut.

Yeah, it’s utter crap.


The Good Shepherd.

This is the story of the establishment of the CIA, focusing on the robotic Edward Wilson who was a member of the Skull and Bones society and initially recruited by the FBI to spy on Nazi sympathisers at his university (although as it turns out, the chief sympathiser was working for MI 6). The film cuts back and forth between the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs Incident and the events which marked out Wilson’s career to that time.

Matt Damon makes an excellent mini robot whose marriage to Angelina Jolie after a night of passion is a Bad Idea and whose son, desperate for some parental approval, decides to marry an enemy agent. (She gets chucked out of a plane probably on Wilson’s orders.) It’s all grubby, murky, and laced with Cold War paranoia.


Kampfansage: Die Letzte Schüler.

It’s post-apocalyptic Germany. Some violent, skinny gay guy with this weedy beard is the evil boss. He hangs out with a lot of grubby, sweaty men without any shirts on. He fights Jonas who knows this super secret martial arts technique. And in the end, the bad guy falls off the roof of his HQ to a well-deserved demise. If only he’d fallen on the people making this film…


The King Maker.

Crap from Thailand in which everyone speaks English with the weirdest pronunciation, even John Rhys-Davies who seems to have fallen on hard times since Indiana Jones and Sliders if he’s appearing in something this dire. The evil queen, I hope, has gone back to pole dancing in the clubs in Bangkok, and the skinny babe is back doing ads for hair care products and bikinis.


Le Royaume des Voleurs.

In spite of the title, this isn’t actually a French film, but I can’t be bothered to track down the English. It’s another Robin Hood romp, but mainly about his daughter played by Keira Knightley. The story is that Richard I is dead from a surfeit of choirboys. In his place, his illegitimate son Philip is meant to be the new king, but Prince John is plotting against him aided by the Sherrif of Nottingham. (Gentlemen, start twirling those moustaches.) Keira, pissed off at her Dad for always buggering off after Richard (although I’m sure the king was the one who buggered around), decides to cut her hair short and get in on the action. Actually, she merely succeeds in looking like a naturally skinny girl with short-ish hair who can’t act. Yeah, Keira’s acting in this is terrible. She’s like a shrieky teenager who thinks that huffy = resolution.

The guy who played Prince John clearly had fun with his role and rants away like Herod.

History, on the other hand, got kicked in the nuts, when Philip somehow becomes King of England.


Tideland.

This film is some seriously dull, seriously f_cked up shit. How dull? I checked how long the film had been going at about the 50 minute mark and found that not only had less time dragged by but there was also still over an hour to go. Basically, this girl has junkies for parents. For example, she prepares her father’s fix. Her mother dies and after her father sets the bed on fire, he and his daughter disappear off into the countryside where he ODs and slowly rots in a rocking chair until the local crazy lady guts him and sews his skin back together. And that was about as far as I got. I know it’s supposed to be arty, gritty and edgy, but it’s dull, dull and dull.


Tristan + Isolde.

The film is an adaptation of original story, which means that some Hollywood hack shot it and then beat it to death with a club afterwards. Once again, history says, “Boot me in the bollocks a bit harder this time” as we’re expected to believe that the Kingdoms of Britain (Angles, Saxons, Welsh etc.) are all fighting against the evil Irish; there’s writing (in Dark Age Britain??); roll-up maps (also with writing on them); literate princes who can sign their names; and ready-made stadiums where they can fight for entertainment of the mob. There’s no mention of the love potion either (‘cos that’d be too unreal).

The acting is better in this than the other fantasy farces I happened to have watched on this occasion, although the setting shows little regard for history. There’s none of the usual attempts to make all the dialogue sound Shakespearian, although Isolde apparently recites some poetry by John Donne. Hmmm. Was there some hole in the space-time continuum? Perhaps they should’ve kept the love potion in the story after all.

And what’s the deal with the ‘+’ in the title?

You can read more about Tristan and Isolde here (Timeless Myths) and here (tristanandisolde.net).

Picking them at random

Another peculiar search.
 
There was a search at lunchtime today for "noah ark China guardian blog", which is an odd combination, but I’m guessing would’ve found my entry about the recent story on the discovery of the ship full of rare animals off the coast of China.
 
The reference to Noah’s Ark got me wondering what an ark actually is. Is it a ship or a box (as in the Ark of the Covenant)? And if it’s a box, why is it also used as a term for a boat? What, I wonder, is the original term in Hebrew and is it the same for both things? The word we use in English is derived from Latin arca "box". I suppose Noah’s Boat sounds proletarian; Noah’s Ship like a cruise liner; and Noah’s Nautical Menagerie like an Edwardian circus.

Death Note

And it really works.

How? Well, by banning the manga and the anime (story from ESWN), Nanny is going to kill off profits for retailers. I bought a copy of Death Note Vol. 1 on DVD from the shop on Jintai Lu a couple of weeks ago. No English, but I wasn’t expecting any. I haven’t seen any Death Note books, but I don’t exactly hang out in stationery shops. I should look out for one as a souvenir before you can no longer get them.

22.06.13. I did read the manga at some stage and found the whole thing to be numbingly dull. Too much of it involved the main character explaining in tedious detail how he was out-thinking the shinegami [sp?] or someone else. It was a bit like Dragonball, much of which seems to be nearly still shots of characters doing nothing for minutes at a time.

Perhaps the Mainland authorities should encourage Emily the Strange, a range of teen gothesque stationery (which, I see from the website, is just the tip of the merchandising iceberg). I first saw this particular method of vacuuming out the wallets of gullible parents in Page One in Harbour City. I see from the official website that there are two dedicated shops in Hong Kong. (In fact, I think I’ve actually seen one of these, but I can’t recall where.)

All right, I think that’s enough feigned awareness of yoof kultcha.

The Night of the Winged Insects

Fly, my pretties! Fly!

As I’m heading along the lane this evening, I notice that there are clouds of winged ants buzzing around the lights. I say “winged ants” for want of the correct name for these things. They don’t actually look very ant-like. Once they’ve flown about a bit, their wings fall off to reveal a long-bodied insect that bears no particular resemblance to an ant. When I got down to Yiyuan I found that there were no winged ants down there, although I did carry one with me after it landed in my hair. There goes the ecosystem.

By the time I got back from XXKX, the clouds had largely dispersed, but you could see a carpet of discarded wings on the stone walls and the former owners wriggling their way across it.

Some people pay money for them to be made. Suckers

Vlad.

Cheap indie film starring Billy Zane. Four research students trek across Transylvania, tracing the steps of Vlad the Impaler and lugging round an amulet that first conjures up some hot babe from medieval Oxford and then Vlad himself from the limbo in which he exists between life and death.

Obviously, the cheap indie film could only afford Zane for a certain number of scenes because he gets killed off along with various other supporting actors (including Guy Siner who played Lieutenant Grüber in ‘Allo ‘Allo). Our medieval maid obviously worked out, cleaned her teeth and flossed, and only used natural hair care products for that lustre and bounce that you could only get in the Middle Ages.

Unfortunately, this film is probably a sign of things to come because I bought it having seen it in the shop several times. For want of anything else worth getting at the moment, there are likely to be reviews of more of these B-movies in coming weeks.


Fay Grim.

From what I read on the IMDb, this is meant to be a somewhat belated sequel to a film made in about the mid 90s. Fay’s husband was a spy who has disappeared. She manages to track him down, but the film ends with him in a boat crossing the Straits of the Bosphorus. It’s a bit incoherent and rambling, but might make more sense if you’ve seen the first film.

I think it’s possibly meant to be a comedy. Well, all the spies, including Jeff Goldblum, get blown up. Hilarious. All right, I need to check the meaning of “hilarious”. I think the maker of the film should’ve done the same.

Tomorrow today

Mingtian jintian.

Another story from The Independent: Schools import China’s teachers for lessons in ‘language of tomorrow’.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, said it should be seen as the key language for future generations to learn – replacing European languages.

Although Chinese is becoming increasingly important, the argument seems to be “China – 1.3 billion people – surging economy – therefore language is important”. At the moment, the language has a practical importance, but because it’s principally limited to one country, it seems to lack that one thing which makes a language important beyond its native seat – an international dimension. I think I’ve said before that after English, the next most useful language on the planet is Spanish; after that, probably French or Portuguese.

Chinese is likely to remain a minority sport in the outside world in spite of what Sir Cyril would like to believe. It’ll gain adherents, but for practical reasons, when you’re in the UK, the European languages are a more immediate concern than one eight hours away across the Earth.


Sed…

And if not Chinese, how about Latin? (Id quod circumiret, circumveniat – Latin makes a comeback) It’s not the first time that Latin has been undergoing a revival in schools. Well, either that or classics in general.

Mr Mount is also adamant that learning to write in Latin is not simply ars gratia artis (6). He says there is a real quid pro quo (7) in having a Latin qualification on your curriculum vitae (8), because after all that time spent learning to distinguish a nominative from a genitive, “you’ll never get an apostrophe in the wrong place again”.

(Mr Mount is a Torygraph hack who has written some book on Latin. The numbers are for footnotes in the original article.) An interesting statement because unlike the relationship between Latin and English that once pertained, the grammar of the former being the basis for describing the grammar of the latter, things have got a little muddled. The apostrophe may be a marker of the genitive in written English, but such punctuation was never used in Latin. Therefore, quite how knowing mensa from mensae and mensarum or focus from foci and focorum is going to help with an apostrophe in English, I don’t really know.