The Expendables, The History Boys, and The True History of Chocolate

Will be working on Spanish and Voice from the second rung of my self improvement category in the “Living Deliberately” experiment (last week I took as a vacation).

The Expendables-According to Susan Sontag in her essay “Notes on Camp” one of the key ingredients for acheiving that ephemeral asethetic is that it must be made sincerely.  There is no doubt, having read  interiews with Stallone, Crews, and various other members of the cast that they were all very sincere in making it.

The film had all the elements of an 80’s action movie: unnecessary subplots, a preening archvillain, steroid muscles, and even a cameo from the king Commando himself, Governor Schwarzenegger.   Sylester Stallone running was an effort of his 60-something joints versus his 20-something muscles, his head straining against his own inertia as if there was a younger, faster Stallone trapped inside this hulking suit.  A stupid, silly movie with bad acting, terrible dialogue, dubious logic, and altogether enjoyable because of how pleased everyone making the movie clearly was.

The History Boys-film version of the play by Alan Bennett, it follows the story of a group of students working to take the incredibly tough Oxbridge entrance exams.  At first a witty, focused film, delighting in far reaching references and–smartly–making fun of itself for delighting in making far-reaching references, the film eventually begins to wander.

A subplot emerges when one eccentric and (of course) beloved teacher is caught fondling student on his moped.  The film then deals with not only the fallout of this teacher’s lonely pedophilia but the latent homosexuality of a younger teacher. This is the focus of the film at the end, and it hits a very wrong note, casting such fondling as the genteel past time of lonely old teachers.  It then becomes the story of the students and teachers rallying around the teacher, and what was once a focused, fun film about students dealing with one of the first big tests/questions of their mildly privileged life devolves into a strange, unfocused and boringly broad drama.  I found myself impatient for the end.

The True History of Chocolate-Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe.  Delivering on the title, the authors offer not only a breakdown of cacao itself, but its history and various roles in cultures from the pre-Mayan up through the modern Hershey empire (and the emergence of today’s haut-chocolatiers).  The book is often fascinating and uses chocolate as a jumping off point to talk about the colonisation of the Americas, problems with the mercantile system, and various cultures and their elites.

Unfortunately, much of this is written from the perspective of an overly earnest student taking her/his first anthropology class.  For anyone who already has an understanding of the colonization of South America, the history is a bit anemic.  The authors are fond of going off into opinionated rants about how the Europeans were bad, which while not at all wrong, is certainly not the tone of a history/anthropology paper.  A very entertaining outcome of this is an extensive defense of the Marquis de Sade (and not just his love of chocolate) but of how he really was a very nice guy.  Again, while his legend may have been trumped (or truffled up), this sort of pedantry takes away from the book as a whole.

While not as chock full of trivia as I’d hoped, it is still an interesting, relatively quick read, that could provide a good, if somewhat candied introduction into the fascinating and  important history of the colonization of South America.

If you don’t love chocolate or trivia, skip it, and read a real history book (I would heartily recommend Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, also, a recent gift from Chávez to Obama).

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About Big Adam

A NYC doorman, a community organizer, wannabe ape, sometimes blogger, sometimes writer, always crossword puzzle incompleter, I will ride bicycles with your papa, dance Bhangra with your mama, take you on dates that cost nada.
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4 Responses to The Expendables, The History Boys, and The True History of Chocolate

  1. In regards to the History Boys, that sort of pedophilia runs rampant in the UK, especially as most schools, if not stated funded, are separated by gender. It is generally boys who are the victims of such behavior. I wouldn’t say girls are exempt from such abuse, but are far less targeted. So although the plot is disguised to be that of the boys preparing for a uni entrance exam it is actually a voicing and and unveiling of the abuse that’s deeply rooted in the culture.

    Your readers might assume I’m passing judgment, but I am not. A lot of middle class and upper class males who attended a single-sex educational institution will openly tell you of what they experienced and/or witnessed. Heck, the more prestigious the institution, the more prevalent the abuse. Look at famed stars such as Rupert Everett or Stephen Fry who have outed Britain’s perverse ‘educational’ tendencies. Living in the UK for years has left me with a well of first account stories of sexual abuse – at school and at home – that I would never ever wish upon anyone, let alone my dear friends who suffered through it.

    I guess my point is that preparing for an entrance exam is just the writer’s excuse to air some of his culture’s dirty laundry and that maybe even Alan Bennett (the original writer of the play), witnessed or experienced such things.

    • big Adam says:

      hmm…a) Thank you for giving me that insight! I had no idea. I think I still stand by my original point that they didn’t really seem to be exposing pedophilia as much as just mentioning it as an interesting plot point. Then again, perhaps it was Bennett’s perogative to not take a side on it but maybe just show how ingrained (both on the part of the teachers and the students) it is and how it is treated as normal, that would be very much along your point.

      The other point I may stick by is that they overall plotting was a bit confusing, the film led in one very goal-oriented direction (Oxbridge entrance exams) and then sort of took a left turn.

      Nonetheless, I definitely see the film in a different light, and if you have any other recommended films/insight on this culture, I’d be very interested. I write these reviews in the hopes that people will respond to them and challenge my opinions, so I’m very happy you did that!

  2. You are probably right about all of the points you made regarding the screenplay/film in general. To be honest, I saw the play in London when it opened a few years ago, but watched the film half-heartedly as I did other things.

    Will see if I can find some titles of books – not sure about films – that relate to this. Strangely, there’s a whole a genre of literature revolving around prep school culture – most of it British. There’s one in particular – again will have to dig up the title as I read it nearly 10 years ago – that revolves around England’s most famous secondary academic institution: Eton.

    Love the blog. Keep on!

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