Monday, October 18, 2010


Hi 2A1!!! Hope this finds everyone getting top grades, preparing diligently for exams and enjoying your Sec 2 year. Kevin asked me for my thoughts, via email, on "Inception" about a month ago; alas I hadn't seen it. Just got back from IMAX and finally had the full, five-storey experience. Here's my take on it...for what it's worth.
I could have chosen a number of different pictures to accompany the discussion/review but this one captured the essence of the movie for me. The opening scene has DiCaprio washed up on a beach encased in "the sands of time." I loved the implied metaphor in the picture of the sand castles and their tranistory existence; the movie continually plays with that concept of time and reality. His wife is central to his being: he attempted inception on her, she invades his dreams even now and he longs to re-unite with her on some existential level. He only takes the inception job because it will allow him to return to his children. Another recurrent theme of reuniting with loved ones.
How many levels does DiCaprio enter to accomplish his faux/architecturally designed reality is open to interpretation. I read a couple of reviews and even they disagreed with one another...just as the reader of this blog will probably disagree with my take on the movie. But isn't that invitation to personal interpetation what makes it such a great flick?
Loved the cast except for maybe one person. DiCaprio has matured into the "Clark Gable/Humphrey Bogart" of the 21st Century. He's consistently great, although I really hated "Shutter Island." Probably not his fault, maybe Scorsese's. Loved shape-shifter Tom Hardy. Had never seen him before but watched him in this outrageous movie called "Bronson." I think it's restricted so I know none of my former students will have seen it, but he plays England's most incarcerated prisoner in solitary confinement. He spends over three decades in solitary and never murdered anyone! I didn't even recognize him in "Inception." To me that's the sign of a great actor. It reminded me of Jeremy Renner from "The Hurt Locker." I'd never seen him before but was really taken by this pudgy, guy-next-door character who is such an adrenaline junkie. Then I took in Ben Affleck's "The Town" and Renner played an over-the-top, small-time hood. I completely bought his character again and look forward to seeing him in future flicks. Now when it comes to the "architect," Ellen Page, I'm not buying it. Page was such a hit in "Juno" as the wise-cracking pregnant teen that I just could't take her in this role. Marion Cotillard as the wife is perfect. There were so many in-jokes that I won't even try to cover them but one of the best was the music that brought them out of their dreams. It was Cotillard's tune from her academy-award winning role of Edith Piaf.
I realize that "Inception" is not really about character: typically sci/fi has always been about concepts, technology, plot, etc. But that's what elevates this film above the rest. By film's end you rejoice with DiCaprio "seeing" his children and there's real chemistry between him and Cotillard. Many dramas fail at this level so for a sci/fi's characters to actually engage the audience as they do in "Inception" is a triumph. The ten years it took Nolan to write and film his opus was definitely worth the wait.

Jo-Ann and I were looking for a place to eat after the show. We ended up driving to our city zoo where they have a beautiful pavillion, and great food. It was just turning dusk and we were seated on the periphery of the restaurant. In the inner circle was a group of about thirty people celebrating a 60th birthday. The restaurant is all windows and as we waited for our orders, we watched the light dissipating, a group of teens with one adult running through the trees, and the change of seasons as winter slowly invaded the park. My wife commented on what a great day it had been. I responded that our surroundings reminded me a little too much of the movie: I couldn't get into the movie with any degree of certainty and now I remained on the periphery of the restaurant; I was experiencing too many personal changes with the night, season and weather in flux. Even the group of young teens, running for their life with one adult in the mix, was somehow unsettling. She laughed and said forget about the movie, we're now in the real world. My only response was...are we?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Who Am I?
Major Blog Assignment
Value: 10 marks!

One of the themes the Sec 1’s were to study this year is identity. Do you know who you are? Have the literature and the assignments you were given contributed to a better understanding of self? This assignment will attempt to answer that question.

Just as the example I gave in class of Capote peeling back the layers of the onion to reveal the characters of the two murderers “In Cold Blood,” I want you to discuss who you are—your character and what you believe in. The study of philosophy will contribute to an understanding of self as well, but until we have delved deeper into “The Little Prince,” students will have to use their analytical skills learned in poetry. How well can you transfer these skills to a study of self?

Your task is to find a song that represents who you are. You then must do an analysis of the lyrics showing how they reveal your character or an important aspect of who you are and what you believe in. For this part of the assignment, you will have to use all your poetry skills. And while the task is the same for each student, everyone’s response will be different because it will come from “self.”

After you have analyzed the song, you must respond to it. Please go back to your learning style and incorporate this into your response. By individualizing your responses according to your learning style, this is in fact another display of self or who you are.

You should use your imagination for this part of the MBA. If you are visual it could be a collage response, if you are musical it could be added verses to the lyrics, or a written response in poem form. Just be sure that your response reflects who you are!

Who is the best person to judge if you have been accurate in your assessment of self—your parents. Please have either your mother or father respond in a line or two (they are welcome to write more) judging if they think their son has captured who he is.

There will be another response, this time from a peer. The person listed numerically after each student will judge their peer’s work. Number 34 will read number 1’s MBA and respond. The criteria for judging will consist of:
1) Effort. Did the student make a concentrated effort to find a song that represented him?
2) Analysis. Was the analysis strong, accurate, insightful and did it reflect the writer’s personality?
3) Response. Was there a thoughtful response to the song that incorporated the student’s learning style and again reflected his personality?
4) Overall. Now combine all these factors and holistically give your peer a mark out of 10. Please write a minimum of a 100 word critique on your classmate’s MBA.

These are the criteria I will use to judge each assignment. I will take into account the written critique, the mark they gave to the classmate and how thoughtful and accurate their remarks were. I will also look at parental responses. This will form a major portion of your final blog mark. A final grade out of 10 will be assigned.

Timeframe: All students must have their assignment finished by Friday. Critiques should be done by Friday evening or Saturday at the latest. I will be reading blogs this weekend and assigning final grades.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

E-Learning--A Teacher's Perspective

Everybody keeps asking for student feedback and reflections on E-Learning. Hey, how about teacher feedback? Even though nobody asked, it's never stopped me from expressing an opinion.
I'll be right up front--I'm not a big E-Learning fan. Concepts that I could teach in minutes took entire lessons. My feedback was restricted to brief written responses that in many instances seemed inadequate. I wanted to discuss student writing, seek clarification, have them defend their answers, see peer responses, initiate real-time group discussions. That's why I entered the profession, to engage in real learning, not virtual learning. Oh yes, did I mention eye strain from staring at a video screen for up to eight hours? Many students did!
Okay, now that I've had my whine, I will admit this: I was impressed with student responses to online lessons. And I understand how important E-Learning is especially when pandemics surface, it's just that if I had my choice, I'd rather be part of the real classroom with live students!
In the meantime, get ready for more of the same. H1N1 is proliferating and all teachers are to start preparing for round 2 of E-Learning. Let the fun continue....

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Originally published as Q&A, Danny Boyle directed Slumdog Millionaire, and won the Best Picture oscar.
How did an Indian boy from the slums of Mumbai win one billion rupees on a gameshow? Thought to have cheated, the police decide to "interrogate" him. In the novel a female attorney rescues him before he can be tortured. In the movie he isn't as lucky.
The movie follows the novel structurally. The biggest difference is that Ram Mohammad Thomas' love interest is almost non-existent in the book but omnipresent in the movie. His flashbacks revealing how he serendipitously came to learn every answer growing up in India, differ radically from novel to screen: but both entertain equally!
Swarup even manages some thought-provoking questions. When Ram is treated to a night out by four affluent American college students, he debates the relationship between poverty and desire.
And I wonder what it feels like to have no desires left because you ... smothered them with money even before they are born. Is an existence without desire very desirable? And is the poverty of desire better than rank poverty itself?
After reading Slumdog Millionaire, you might be surprised how you answer that question.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Mercurial Tom

Serial novel #2.
This one is easy, but with a twist. We have our title. Students have to compose one 55 word Micro Fiction and incorporate the main character’s name “tom.” This can come in any guise! For example he could be named Tom, or incorporated in a word such as tomcat, tomfoolery, tomboy, found buried inside a word such as atom or atomic, or perhaps used as an acronym…”He belonged to the secret society Terrorists On Missions”or maybe it’s the first word from each line..

The boy didn’t know his name. Couldn’t remember a thing.
On the offchance, he approached a stranger.
Mystery shrouded the whole situation.
Perhaps he was worrying for nothing..
Probably a simple explanation.
“Of course I know you, Son. Your name’s Amnesia.
Or then again, is it Alzheimer? Come to think of it, I’m not sure myself.”

Friday, May 22, 2009

Micro Fiction

Where does she go? The streets?
Out till all hours. Me pacing the floor. Midnight.
My beautiful baby, where are you? So young.
Finally a sound.
I open the back door. No restraint, my voice betrays me: “Where have you been?”
She looks down. Remains standing on the back carpet. Ashamed.
Her only response.

The yearbook picture didn't do her justice.
She had infinite beauty: golden-blond hair; flawless skin; perfect teeth; statuesque.
Descended from royalty?
He sat with her in the IT lab.
The instructor said, "Right click on the screen."
He removed her scrawled handwriting with a Kleenex.
Infinite beauty, yes. Infinite intellect, no.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Review: Village By the Sea

The dawn of a new repertoire company has emerged at Hwa Chong. This daring, and may I say eclectic group of Sec 1P4 boys transformed a simple classroom into a breathtaking landscape that made Slumdog Millionaire look like a child's production. The adaptation of Village By the Sea was at times daring yet sublime, extravagant yet subdued: this multi-faceted production captured the essence of the novel and brought it to the stage in ways that left this reviewer searching for words.
How a group of Sec 1 boys, or perhaps classically trained stage actors would be the more apt description, transformed a simple classroom into the slums of India and eventually the mean streets of Bombay still boggles the mind. The props were magical and this reviewer could taste the sea salt when the ocean storms struck and was transported to Bombay inhaling the heady mixture of cardoman, cinnamon and joss sticks.
Just as realistic was watching the lead not assume the role of Hari, but inhabit the role where at times it seemed the young man was actually speaking Tamil! Forget Pacino, Brando and DiCaprio, there's a new talent on the horizon and he deserves to be watched. Intently!
Vangelis, one of the most respected artists who scored such hits as BladeRunner, would have been moved by the musical score that pervaded the entire production and carried it at times from whimsical, to threatening, to hypnotic but never intrusively. Word on the street is that Andrew Lloyd Weber is interested in this brash, young talent.
Narration has often been the bane of stage and screen productions. Not this time. The narrator moved the story along effortlessly until he literally disappeared and audience members were engrossed in the cutting and incisive dialogue.
The three-camera filming that took place during the production can mean only one thing: there will be a screen adaptation. And with three cameras, it could be slated for Imax. Let me just say that after witnessing this production, I don't think a five-story screen will provide a large enough backdrop to encompass what these young men have accomplished.
Hats off, bravo, encore and just one word of warning--look out Slumdog Millionaire, there's a new academy award production worthy of Best Picture in 2010.