The cultured teenager

the best of literature, film and music, shown through my rather short-sighted eyes

No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Modern crime fiction is often cast off as being, for one reason or another, dross, it is the scummy underbelly of literature, read by lonely men on the train to work. Predictable for the first half, some ‘twists’ which aren’t as clever as they’d like to think, a moderately acceptable style of writing and usually based around around a Scottish police officer with a drinking problem, so unsurprisingly are never highly praised or generously given awards, because, well, they don’t deserve them. However, in my opinion, modern crime fiction is great, because it’s either really crap or exceptionally good, and usually all the latter takes is an ingenious, creative novelist willing to be striking and emigrate from the crime fiction mould. Yep, that’s all it takes. That shopping list of qualities is basically based on Cormac McCarthy, because, as evident from No Country For Old Men, he is one of the greatest modern American crime authors. He is, according to my incredibly irrelevant opinions, one of the best American Novelists ever in any context anyway, No Country … is now one of a number of his novels which I truly consider to be brilliant literature.

Men in great crime novels are always poor decision makers, and Llewellyn Moss is a prime example of this. I doubt I am not the only person who would avoid taking a large case of money I found in the centre of what was clearly a large drug deal gone drastically wrong, day old clots resting between the bundles of notes, burly Mexicans with holes through their foreheads laying next to it and a hell of a lot of evidence to suggest that someone who isn’t exactly Elmo would go a long way to retain his $2,000,000. This plot perfectly leads the book into becoming gritty and noir, somehow making Texas seem like even more of a dingy hellhole (apologies to all in Texas). The understated and integrated nature of the narrative, speech and imagery also further builds this brilliantly dark portrait of American rage and destruction, showing the chilling weakness and stupidity of man, and immense evil that lurks in the backdrop. If there is a character who has redeemable qualities then don’t expect them to live very long, because McCarthy makes it vigorously clear that in the society of this narrative, and a lot of societies generally, in America and elsewhere, brutality and lack of fear is what is ultimately victorious. A serious, dramatic, bloody book which is an utterly enthralling read, if not exactly a quick, lay back in your deckchair sort of book. Read it at home with plenty of time on your hands, because, for once this isn’t throw-away crime or western fiction but effortlessly deep and consuming. Please read and enjoy, regards :)

Must-see film #10: Withnail and I

A first glance, a plot synopsis of Withnail and I makes for pretty disappointing viewing, since it can essentially be summarised in a single sentence: in 1969, two unemployed actors (played by Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann) escape the squalor of their Camden flat for a week in the country. Yet to dismiss Withnail’s wafer-thin plot is to miss the point of Bruce Robinson’s brilliant and very British 1987 black comedy. Intelligent, hilarious and surprisingly moving, Withnail and I achieves that rare comedic balance of offering belly laughs whilst remaining clever and biting at the same time.

Three key areas make the film so appealing for me. Simply put, better dialogue than Robinson’s is rarely heard in cinema. Profane, yet darkly witty, Robinson never goes for easy laughs, avoiding pratfalls and silly sight gags (the chicken scene is a notable, and well-executed exception) and simply relying on killer dialogue that encompasses a vast array of styles from the bonkers (” Hairs are your aerials. they pick up signals from the cosmos and transmit them directly to the brain. This is the reason bald-headed men are uptight) to the snappy (“We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here and we want them now!”) and ultimately the profound as Monty (Richard Griffiths) confronts his hopeless adoration fro Marwood (McGann) with “I must have you, even if it means burglary”. Even Robinson’s directors notes are suitably biting-”Dostoyevsky described hell as a room with a chair in it. This room contains several chairs.” However, brilliant though the dialogue is, Robinson has found the perfect actors to bring it to life and Grant’s alcoholic, cowardly and bitter Withnail is a truly unique comic creation. McGann, as the comparatively straight and anxious Marwood, makes an effective foil as just about the only sane person in the piece. Meanwhile, the ever-reliable Richard Griffiths avoids making the flamboyantly gay Monty a caricature and instead a genuinely sympathetic and even tragic character. Ralph Brown nearly steals the show as the drugged-out hippy Danny. 

And finally what makes Withnail and I so memorable is the unrelenting squalor of the locations. Robinson draws a lot of black humour from the fact that his Britain is an absolute shit-hole, at the beginning the characters are afraid to do the washing up because “There’s a tea bag growing!” But there is a peculiar kind of poetry to the country locations that create a sense of nostalgia for lost friendships and a bygone Britain at the end of a decade where the nation is uncertain of itself. Witnail and I  remains that rare thing-a comedy of class.

The Dark Knight Rises: Film Review

Since seeing it I have seen numerous reviews for this final chapter in Nolan’s Batman trilogy and I have been really surprised, astounded in fact at how poorly people have rated it, people giving it 6/10 or grading it a C. Are you kidding me?! Maybe it didn’t live up to your ridiculously high expectations, but as far as I am concerned it was awesome. The Dark Knight was a film where The Joker very much took the limelight, and rightly so, however in the final edition of the brilliant series, this is Batman’s film, and more particularly, one highlighting his relationships with each member of the support cast. Nolan has once again used a cracking support cast, many of which are stalwarts of the trilogy, Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, all of which are as brilliant as their reputations would allow you to expect. There are also many new faces as well, much of which seems to be an Inception reunion, Tom Hardy as Bane, Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate and Joseph Gordon Levitt as John Blake, all having been in Nolan’s previous blockbuster, joining other Inception cast members, Caine and Cillian Murphy, but those are not the only new, important cast members, as one of the most striking, and surprisingly good, characters was Selina Kyle, played by Anne Hathaway.

As the film starts, Nolan’s intentions to tie all three films together are clear, opening with Commissioner Gordon giving a speech about the impact of Harvey Dent on Gotham, reminding us of the reasoning behind Batman’s hibernation from law enforcement for 8 years. It soon, however moves from this to summer blockbuster ground, with a visually dazzling and spectacularly performed opening action sequence which really brings Bane to the forefront, and shows how powerful and ferocious he is, which as the film progresses shows him to be a quite astounding villain. He is imposing and more than frightening due to the mask and husky, yet booming voice, and Tom Hardy is clearly brilliant in the role, Christopher Nolan taking advantage of his physical presence in numerous scenes, particularly a showdown midway through the film. By this point the large supporting cast has already become established and Bane’s violent agenda becomes integral and consuming towards everything else in the film. The twists and turns are exactly as you would hope for, not overcomplicated but not too simple, the film does have too much action or is dialogue heavy, and it doesn’t just rely on good direction or good performances, but thrives on a perfect balance within all of these aspects so that the audience is encapsulated, making it hard for me to analyse it, because I enjoyed it too much to stop and think. The film was pacey and spectacular, making it easy to forget the vast duration of the film.

I thought, as is pretty obvious by now, that it was superb, each element was done as well as can be expected of a big blockbuster, but it was still as dark and gritty as we have come to expect from Nolan. Unfortunately people will always compare it to the film prior to it, but I think they are similar, yet still hard to compare; The Dark Knight was a film dedicated to the Joker whereas this was one far more based around Bruce Wayne, and also Alfred, but if I was forced to compare I would say they were just as good as one another. They are both stylistically the same, the performances of the entire cast are both brilliant, and the villains are, in my view, just as good as each other, The Joker is fantastic as a darkly comic, psychologically scary villain, whereas Bane is a fierce, violent brute and is equally frightening in that perspective. Verdict- 9/10

Also, many prayers go out to the families and victims of the horrific shooting which will forever be associated with the movie.

The best and worst: Superhero Films

Considering that the last film I reviewed was The Amazing Spiderman and one of the next is going to be, FINALLY, The Dark Knight Rises I thought now would be a good time to countdown the best and worst of the superhero genre. There can sometimes be nothing better than a superhero, summer blockbuster, but it can equally be awful, often farcical and more cartoonish than the comics it was derived from. These are my personal opinions so please comment to moan at me and argue for the films you disagree with me on, I may have missed some films out which ought to be there because I have not yet watched them, and if I had seen it Spawn would probably be in the worst pile. Enjoy

WORST:

5.) Hulk: Ang Lee is by all means a very gifted film maker, but making a Hulk film was the wrong option. I doubt he ever could have made it work, as I don’t think his style is bombastic enough to make a great superhero movie; the Hulk that should have been created should have been more like Mark Ruffalo’s in Avengers Assemble, but instead reminded me of the Boris Karloff Frankenstein, just dumb and brutish, but weak rather than frightening. There were just far too many glowing frogs and nonsensical science for it to work as well, and this wasn’t exactly helped by Bana’s performance which was unbelievably wooden, and constantly felt like a man acting rather than Bruce Banner. Next time, don’t cast people because they have same surname.

4.) Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Hardly anyone liked the first one so why didn’t they just stop, or at least give it another ten years and then reboot the franchise. What annoyed me most of all was that the Silver Surfer is easily one of the best ‘villains’ in superhero land yet here there wasn’t anything cool or edgy about him, and at some points in the film he seemed almost obsolete to the numerous other, far more boring story lines such as the heroes relationships yada yada yada…

3.) Elektra: Again, sequels of crap films are never, just never, any good themselves. Personally I thought Jessica Garner’s performance as Elektra was the worst part of the rather dreadful Daredevil anyway, so to make a film solely based around her was nonsensical. The fight scenes are ludicrous and really badly done, looking so staged that all it achieves in doing is breaking up what little narrative it had.

2.) Batman and Robin: I like to start with the positives, so… Urmm… Alfred’s not bad. Done. Negatives, now don’t even get me started. George Clooney was poor at best, you were left not caring about Batman because he seemed just like a rich jerk, and was a huge step down from every other person who has played Batman and doesn’t deserve a comparison between the Michael Keaton and Christian Bale versions. Secondly, the villains, of which there are not only too many, Poison Ivy, Bane, Mr Freeze, just stick with one or two, but they are so cartoony and unrealistic that they remind me of the villains in an episode of Scooby Doo. Thurman and Schwarzenegger are both hysterically bad, though this isn’t aided by the cringe-worthy script, and its incredible number of ice puns, such as “cool off”, “revenge is a dish best served cold”, and my personal favourite, “lets kick some ice”.

1.) Catwoman: How could a film be worse than Batman and Robin? Well, at least B & R, was entertaining, it was extremely funny, though not at the intentional points. This was just boring, because the only interesting thing to do was criticize it. None of the characters, even the one possessed by some magical cats in a sewer, were in any way interesting, and that is the thing about superhero films, it has to be interesting and bombastic, these people have superpowers for f***s sake. It was so rubbish I am even finding writing about it mind numbing, so I give in, now on to some decent films.

BEST:

5.) Kick-Ass: A complete mockery of the superhero genre, but done with sprite and panache, the characters are funny yet, for the most part, believable, and those that aren’t believable, i.e. the knife throwing, pistol shooting, blaspheming eleven year old girl, are purely in it as a mockery of the genre which it itself fits into. Moretz is brilliant as Hit Girl and Nicolas Cage is equally good in one of his best roles, but not only is it a good supporting cast but Aaron Johnson not only gets our sympathy but also gets our support, in doing what no-one else is brave enough, or indeed stupid enough to have done before.

4.) X-men First Class: After the rather disappointing Last Stand (I have forgotten about Origins: Wolverine for a reason), Matthew Vaughn, who had already made a name for himself in the genre with the film above, now rejuvenated the franchise with a clever and ballsy effort. The direction is great, the battle scenes are enthralling and the character arcs are always entertaining and consuming, however this really comes from the stellar performances from Fassbender as Magneto and MaCavoy as Professor Xavier. The script is brilliantly written and the re-working of history works surprisingly well in correspondence with the narrative, the only slight downer for me was the lack of a really epic and ferocious villain, with Kevin Bacon, as Sebastian Shaw, being more than passable but in a performance that will never be classic.

3.) Batman Begins: It takes guts to rebrand such a huge franchise as Batman, and Christopher Nolan made this more than apparent with his bold and fierce remodeling of the much-loved comics. Nolan’s success, I personally believe, lies greatly in the grounded nature of the film compared to those previous to it; this Batman was realistic and could be sympathised with, had emotional sincerity and took place in a world  which looks like a complete possibility rather than the comic-book settings of Batman and Robin. Gotham City is ridden with crime, but these are not criminals who have falling in vats of acid, but villains who are monstrously evil without being completely superheroesque. Dr Crane (the Scarecrow, played superbly by Cillian Murphy), a deranged and immoral psychologist who uses toxins to turn people insane, a mob boss, Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), and Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson), a hidden crime fighter, but still just as realistic as Batman. Bale’s Batman is also brilliant, as are the performances  of the amazing supporting cast who aid Bruce Wayne, Caine, Oldman and Freeman; the overall cast is great, however if I was nitpicking, Katie Holmes was the weak link, but that doesn’t stop this being brilliant.

2.) Avengers Assemble: This isn’t exactly a cool, dark movie as with Batman Begins, but this is the big, summer blockbuster which all future blockbusters will aim to reproduce. Its brilliance doesn’t lie in multiple sterling performances or the massive, exhilarating spectacle derived from the premise of combining multiple superheroes for one epic movie. It instead lies in, as many before me will have already stated, the great writing of Joss Whedon, and it is the comic turns in this film which cause it top all of its predecessors, keeping it vivid and imaginative, lively and entertaining throughout the film, leaving you always wanting more. Personally I favour Batman Begins as a film, but for pure entertainment, this can hardly be beaten.

1.) The Dark Knight: It was almost as though Nolan used the first film to set this film up knowing it would be immense, and superior to the original; he used the first film to do everything expected of a Batman film, he filled the key roles and introduced the key characters, gave Batman a difficult but not unbeatable foe, and not exactly one of the classic enemies and most importantly did Batman’s origin story, including the ever-cliched image of pearls hitting the floor. With all that out of the way he could wreak havoc, pull as many punches as he wished, using the classic villain, the Joker, and again making him less cartoon and more real and hence more frightening, creating him to be a deranged, violent terrorist. Heath Ledger is undeniably brilliant, and the rest of the cast support what is more the Joker’s film than Batman’s, but it does not rely on the joker alone and this film is far more edgy, has a far more daring script and plot, and how its was a 12A I have no idea. The score worked brilliantly and the overall tone intensified constantly until the colour in your face changed. Undoubtedly, in my eyes, the best superhero movie.

The Amazing Spiderman: Film review

It is clear at the moment that Hollywood has an obsession with bringing back and refreshing franchises; The Dark Knight Rises, the final chapter of Nolan’s Batman reboot, Prometheus brought back the xenomorphs once more, The Bourne Legacy is now trying to somehow maintain a Bourne franchise without Bourne and other remakes and reboots are set to be released in the near future, such as Total Recall, Dredd and Man of Steel. Hollywood could be starting to lose its imagination somewhat and merely resorting to reverting back to the franchises which are assured to bring in the audiences purely to keep money in the industry during this financial hardship. Has Hollywood lost its originality? Considering The Amazing Spiderman, I think it is a confident no. Mark Webb knew from the very moment he announced the new movie that there would be pressure-a-plenty on his shoulders as not only was Sam Raimi’s Spiderman series, well the first two anyway, very successful, but this film comes only 5 years after Peter Parker’s last, and rather disappointing, adventure in the red spandex suit.

Webb has clearly taken the previous Spiderman films on board, however there is clearly no evidence that this is rip-off of Raimi because Webb has intentionally steered away from what made the previous films so recognisable and enjoyable. This doesn’t however mean that this is unlikeable but Webb reaches this from a different angle to his predecessor. Maguire was a really likeable character, a slightly goofy protagonist who you wanted to be victorious as much through pity as anything else; Andrew Garfield is a much cooler, self assured version of Peter Parker whose character is most evident and likeable as half of the relationship between him and the sharp Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Stacy brings another dimension to the film, which had never been brought by a rather inept and passive Mary-Jane, heightened by her Father’s involvement in being the Police Captain on the hunt for Spiderman. Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) has one of the most difficult jobs ever put on the big screen, as not only does he desire to catch our hero, as he swings Tarzan-like through the urban jungle but also has the unenviable task of stopping The Lizard from turning everyone in a 5 mile radius into similar reptilia. Garfield starts this film with a somewhat different origin story to what we have previously seen, this time the focal point being his curiosity about his missing parents, causing the actual arachnid radiation to be a minor part; Personally I feel that the film benefits from this as everyone knows what is going to happen anyway, so it gets deeper into the actual narrative earlier. After finding out a connection between his Father and a certain Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), the Doc in question malfunctions after he splices his own genetics with that of a lizard causing him to rather predictably become The Lizard. Unlike some previous villains, such as Norman Osborn, the Lizard is possibly a step too ridiculous and unrealistic, looking cartoonish, but Rhys Ifans is very good in the role, and the emotional battle between him and Spiderman holds the middle section of the film together.

The Lizard however really comes into his own as a villain in the fight scenes in the latter third of the film, really stressing the value gained from 3D and great special effects. The film is more than just a bit ludicrous in some areas though and a picky man could easily scrutinise how unrealistic most of the film is, such as the incredibly ‘subtle’ plot device of the crane guy and his son, you’ll know what I mean when you watch it, but that really isn’t the point. It’s a superhero film! If it was realistic then the story wouldn’t be entertaining enough to withstand such epic finales as is evident here. The acting is, for the most part, pretty decent, but what is probably best achieved in The Amazing Spiderman is the plausible and intriguing inter-character relationships. One of these is the relationship between Peter and Uncle Ben which I prefer greatly to that of the Raimi version, with Webb cleverly avoiding the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech. However, the most plausible relationship, rather unsurprisingly is between Parker and Stacy, portrayed brilliantly through now real-life couple Garfield and Stone, which glues the entire narrative together.

Ok, there is definitely a special effects frenzy, with camera angle which are purely because they can be done now, rather than because they are better than the previous alternative, and the script is good rather than brilliant, but this is a great summer blockbuster. It is entertaining until the very end and I personally prefer it to Raimi’s version. I have given it a 7 because although it was very enjoyable it wasn’t groundbreaking or likely to be iconic or also technically perfect, but merely enjoyable, but isn’t that the point with a big-budget superhero movie. A good film, but try not to think too hard about it. Regards :) 7/10

Submarine by Joe Dunthorne

Set in 1997, in Swansea, Submarine tells the story of ordinary teenager Oliver Tate. Any teenage boy, myself included, will relate to his comical and over-sexual narration, brilliantly sculpted by Dunthorne who makes Oliver a likeable and realistically awkward character and a superb narrator. His over complicated and ultra-descriptive narrative is itself at many times hilarious, his dairy entries a particular highlight in the book. The story itself is is rather normal and mundane, yet is still effortlessly entertaining through Oliver’s narration and the ridiculous conclusions which he jumps to; such as his theories that his mother’s Capoeira teacher indulges in equine sexual fantasies and his judgement that the man living at number 16 is a pansexual. Dunthorne however sidesteps the possibility of this purely being a teenager and some comic sexual actions, and he instead moves through an often bleak and always witty narrative without being as crass and crude as many teenage comedy novels are. Oliver is intelligent and self-assured however at times he is still incredibly human and, well, idiotic and incredulous.

This is, when push comes to shove, a coming-of-age story, although Oliver’s underlying innocence is prevalent throughout his well-meaning narrative. He often mistakes his knowledgeable nature for being experienced, constantly using verbose language yet not thinking enough to realise that it is best to be there for your girlfriend when her mum is diagnosed with a brain tumour. The narrative is perfectly pitched by Dunthorne and Oliver Tate is likeable even if he is precocious, Dunthorne mocking the manners and mindset of 15 year old boys trying to fit in, yet trying to be better than everyone-else simultaneously. Dunthorne extracts great comedy from Oliver’s over-analytical views, such as this paragraph. Some euphemisms make you sound like Martin Clove, a boy who, for psychological reasons, doesn’t have to use the communal showers after rugby. When we ask Martin what is wrong with his wang, he gets defensive and refers to it as his little man. This implies a kind of distant seemingly friendly relationship between him and his penis.

Last year Dunthorne’s book was turned into a film by Richard Ayoade, which is a great interpretation, although, as is often the case I prefer the book. This an excellent, incredibly easy read and a great one for this summer. Regards :)

Must-see film #9: Saving Private Ryan

A 2008 Channel 4 voters poll placed Steven Spielberg’s WW2 drama Saving Private Ryan as the best war movie ever made. I have a problem with this. The film, which follows Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and his squad on a mission to rescue a soldier trapped behind enemy lines whose three brothers have been killed in action, is undoubtedly excellent and few films, before or since, can match it for the sheer carnage of its battle scenes, but that’s just it. War movies should not be about battle scenes but should be focused on how human beings endeavour to cope with the evil effects of war, and Saving Private Ryan’s human element is too much of an afterthought. It is therefore a film with A-grade production values and a couple of obvious flaws that can probably be regarded as a B+.

Nevertheless, nothing can match the film for the sheer visceral power of its battle scenes. Masterfully handled by Spielberg, the director and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski pioneered techniques that are now staples of combat pictures: adjustment of the shutter 90 degrees to increase realism, an image shaker used to approximate the impact of explosions and the shooting of the action from the infantryman’s view point. The results are astonishing and are best showed in two scenes. Firstly, as Miller crawls onto Omaha Beach, temporarily deafened by an explosion, he stares limply at the devastation around him : the sea literally runs red, a soldier searches for his own severed arm and burning men desperately try to escape the flames of their landing craft. No sound, no dialogue. Spielberg simply lets the sickening sights do the talking. Secondly, witness the sheer terror, as Private Mellish (Adam Goldberg)-machine-gun destroyed, rifle empty and his comrade bleeding to death on the floor-desperately engages an SS trooper in a savage fist fight to save his own life. Gone are any notions of the ennobling effect of war. It boils down to survival, pure and simple, and the fact that Mellish is stabbed to death with his own knife, gives the scene a real visceral kick. Away from the action, Hanks delivers a fine performance as Miller, a man desperately trying to complete his mission and maintain his sanity, whilst the strong supporting cast (including Edward Burns, Matt Damon and Tom Sizemore) flesh out the admittedly stereotypical characters presented to them and help make Saving Private Ryan a jolting, unforgettable experience.

However, I have two main gripes against this film. Firstly, the coda in the graveyard is regrettably a mawkish, overly-sentimental mess. The second is less to do with the workings of the film and more the overall message. The concluding battle at Ramelle, while just as the brutal as the Omaha Beach sequences, is regrettably relegated to a simple good-versus-evil confrontation, as the outnumbered Americans desperately try defend a bridge against overwhelming enemy forces. The film’s supposed anti-war message is weakened by the underlying jingoism and the idea that “War is hell, but at least WW2 was a good war”. Saving Private Ryan is an excellent war film. But the best war movie ever made? I don’t think so.

Prometheus: Film review

Going into this movie, I was rather uncertain of what to expect from Ridley Scott’s new, big-budget, sci-fi film. The reviews I have seen have been completely mixed, some of whom where astounded by its brilliance and some seemed almost devastated with disappointment. The mass marketing and clever virals, particularly one of Michael Fassbender’s David, only heightened my expectations of the movie, which I have anticipated more than any other in 2012.

I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a great film, but more than anything, was a totally encapsulating viewing experience, particularly when watching in 3D Imax, which I would thoroughly recommend. The film is set 3 decades prior to the adventures of Ellen Ripley, in 2093, and despite all the original questions of this film’s relation to Alien it is clear from the very beginning, and far clearer at the very end, that this is a prequel. The range of characters is somewhat similar to those who have previously battled the xenomorphs, particularly the use of another android, David, and Noomi Rapace’s turn as another strong-willed heroine, Scott reflecting some aspects of Weaver’s iconic Ripley. As this team of adventurers embark on a mission to find the origins of the human race they soon find themselves unprepared for what is waiting for them. The opening scene, before our space invaders even appear, is one that immediately shows that Scott is once again willing to take huge risks and obliterate boundaries. It is a visual masterclass, great open shots of harsh, visceral landscapes which are somehow undermined by Scott’s centrepiece, filling the viewer’s mind with question upon question, an alien creature for definite, but not exactly what we had been expecting. After the film finished, I found myself questioning the purpose of this scene, because this alien’s actions were continuously ambiguous, however the impact of this scene is nonetheless magnificent. The 17 man crew’s mission is to find the meaning behind numerous connected etchings from all periods of civilization, headed by Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green), but leads them to a situation compulsory within the Alien franchise, ambling nervously through the labyrinthine surroundings of this far-off planet. As the group becomes periodically smaller and smaller, the plot constantly intensifies, twisting and turning effortlessly until the very end.

The sensationalist nature of the movie is not merely in its breathtaking cinematography, but also through the bold performances. Charlize Theron and Noomi Rapace are perfectly cast, contrasting greatly between Rapace’s steely and determined Shaw and Theron’s sharp, glacial Meredith Vickers. The standout performance, however, is Fassbender’s understated presence as the android David, proving that it isn’t a coincidence that many of the best films of the last couple of years seem to contain his intense performances.

This a utterly spectacular film, yet with a prequel it is impossible to look at it without comparing it to Scott’s previous editions. It is from this perspective that it becomes clear that this movie is still slightly flawed. Rapace, although very good, does not quite reach the legendary status of Sigourney Weaver in the role of Ripley, who is clearly the core of the original films. Alien is more tense and chilling, whereas Aliens provides a rough-and-tumble approach, and although trying to recreate both chilling spectacles and gritty action, Scott has reached a halfway-house, making something more coherent to the expectations of a good, 21st century blockbuster. The use of 3D highlights the visual splendour of the film and the huge grandiose of the special effects, yet this in many ways overshadows parts of the film. This is too active, particularly when compared the stillness which made Alien so frightening. My final verdict is that this a film that can be enjoyed for its spectacular and bold visuals, its perfected performances and clever narrative, however it falls for the same trick as most prequels, in fulfilling the formula as its predecessors, rather than capturing what it was that made Alien original. A great film, but it is best judged as a separate modern film, rather than the prequel it obviously is.

Verdict- 8/10

Must-see film #8: The Shawshank Redemption

I am going to approach this review in a completely unbiased and unprejudiced way; The Shawshank Redemption is my favourite film and I will not hear a word said against it. Yet, what the hell is great about it? It does not equal the cult levels of Star Wars, nor the disturbing intensity of Apocalypse Now. For serious, fact-based drama, Schindler’s List comes out on top, while for sheer zest and playfulness Pulp Fiction reigns supreme. So what is so great about this film, a film that garnered a (relatively) puny $28 million at the US box office and failed to win in any of its seven Oscar nominated categories? Simply put, Frank Darabont’s film goes back to the basics of cinema in breath-taking fashion. If you give great actors a great script and great direction, then you get a great film. Simple.

In 1947, banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is wrongly accused of murdering his wife and sentenced to life imprisonment in Shawshank State Prison. Vulnerable to all of the horrors of prison life, his position initially seems unbearable; beatings, rape and above all hopelessness constitute the daily routine. “They send you here for life” comments Red (Morgan Freeman) “That’s exactly what they take“. But through his friendship with Red and his steady determination, Andy maintains his dignity and courage to rise above the degradation of his surroundings and find, ultimately, redemption. This is a conclusion the film does not easily reach, with cruelty piling on cruelty, and the film’s uplifting conclusion comes as a relief, serving as a testament to the indomitable human spirit, as well as being a real tear jerker. Andy is not superhuman but an ordinary man who found within himself unexpected depths and the spark of hope that could not be dimmed. Darabont executes his story in brilliant fashion. The dialogue is outstanding, raging from the brilliantly profane-”You fat barrel of monkey spunk!” to the simply iconic- “ I guess it boils down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying”. The Gothic setting of the prison augments the bleakness of Andy’s situation and serves as an effective metaphor for people who allow themselves to be trapped in their own minds and do not achieve their full potential. And don’t get me started on the performances. Robbins’ delivers a masterclass in quiet dignity, whilst Freeman’s turn as Red is surely the defining role of his career. And let’s not neglect the outstanding supporting cast. Clancy Brown excels as the brutish Captain Hadley, James Whitmore is heart-breaking as the tragic Brooks (the scene where he carves his name above the stair rail before hanging himself is one of the most poignant I have ever seen watching films), whilst Bob Gunton as the icy, hypocritical Warden Norton is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated villains in movie history. That’s the secret of Shawshank. No parlour tricks. No fancy pop soundtrack. Just a brilliant testimony to the human spirit that many films try to emulate but few can match. The Shawshank Redemption is the best movie ever. F*** off. Will Hunter

Ok, I completely get Will’s point and no sane person could possibly argue against the fact it is an outstanding film, but the best film ever? I say no, not that I would find it easy to pick out another movie as being the best movie ever. Part of my argument against The Shawshank Redemption is just that in labeling one film as being better than all other films, what is the criteria that one has created in order to prove what makes a film the best ever made? Is the best film ever a film where every aspect is done as high a standard as possible, i.e. Shawshank, or is it a film which is far more artistic or, as the purpose of films is this, is far more entertaining and consuming. I personally would argue, that although it is a great film, with a change in director and everything kept the same, or a change in an actor, the film could be just as good, and if not, better. It is hence far easier to argue that maybe it has the best script, but it isn’t quite a perfect film, or has some great performances, but it isn’t alone in containing these factors. If I had to pick an alternative best film ever, my choice would be Pulp Fiction; I feel the narrative itself is just as clever, the script I would argue is better, though clearly of two styles difficult to compare, and, similarly, the acting is second to none. I have to say though, what I feel edges it over Shawshank was the viewing experience. I was impressed and moved by Shawshank but Pulp Fiction was one of the few films where I go, WOAH! How the f*** did someone make that?! Shawshank is perfect execution whereas Pulp Fiction is an unrivaled example of creativity, making it a film that could never be made again, or anything half as good a standard as Tarantino’s masterpiece. The characters have a brilliant realism and humanity in the most unlikely setting, as Tarantino is mocking the genre of Pulp Fiction, a genre in which realism, humanity and good acting, a far harder to achieve, than in a drama of the ilk of Shawshank. However, before I write a Pulp Fiction review, I better get back to the original topic. The Shawshank Redemption is one of the best films ever made, and would easily make my top 10, it’s brilliance lies in the emotional turmoil and emotional sincerity of the characters, particularly Andy Dufresne and Brooks Hatlen, and the superb acting which contributes to this. It is slow and ponderous but this gives a significant realism to the narrative, making the characters, not only believable, but also far easier characters to relate to and sympathise with than the ruffians more conventional in prison dramas. The film has innumerate undertones, many of which are interwoven, both subtle and integral to the tone of the film, such as incredibly clever word choice, for example, where the Warden holds a Bible, stating that “Salvation lies within”. One which many can morally sympathise with, but is utterly integral to Dufresne’s story. A truly brilliant film. Not the greatest, but great nonetheless. Henry Saker-Clark

Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson

It is rare that I would read a travelogue. For an 18 year old they are, for the most part, not that interesting. They are list of observations and facts rather than some elaborate, intense story which has the sole purpose in gaining and then keeping your attention for the entirety of the novel. Equally, when I read non-fiction it is far more likely to be with a specific purpose in mind rather than merely for a few hours entertainment; I am interested in History and enjoy History books but those books are read as much through educational purposes as through interest. It would also be rare for me read about a topic which I know well. The topic in question is the United Kingdom, the nation in which I live. I know it as well as most, well, at least that is what I like to think, but although I know lots of generalised information about the country, a country is not an entity in itself, but is instead a collection of places and people within specific boundaries. This is clearly Bryson’s point; a travelogue shouldn’t be a list or a simple account of what you can see where and lists of nice restaurants, but should be an experienced account of an ordinary person who could be doing whatever they want and chooses to explore.

Bryson, an already very successful writer and journalist, decided to explore this glorious and cynical nation before leaving it to voyage back to his American homeland. This anecdotal narrative highlights what is brilliant and what is dreadful about Britain, constantly entertaining the reader, making the story less of a travelogue and more of a journey of discovery, the British reader constantly empathising with his descriptions of the nations failings, and laughing at his witty, descriptive narrative. He summarises British culture and the British mindset easier than any biased Brit could possibly do, mocking our enjoyment in the dull, our witty humour and love of ridiculously named places, such as Farleigh Wallop and Titsey. “Before long I came to regard all kinds of activities – asking for more toast in a hotel, buying wool-rich socks in Marks & Spencer, getting two pairs of trousers when I only really needed one – as something daring, very nearly illicit. My life became immensely richer.” It is clear throughout the book that he is often taking the piss out Britain, but simultaneously is taking the piss out of himself and us Brits, but I don’t care because all of his observations and mockeries are completely true and justified. It makes me glad I’m not French. I am British and we have character and a sense of humour. The book, however, is not just an analysis of British convention but just as much of Bryson and his life in Britain and his connection with the country. This is a great, easy read, particularly as non-fiction goes, and is a particularly useful read for any wannabe writers. Bryson’s writing style is second-to-none, and since reading the book is something I have only idolised. Its a great book, an easy summer read, and is particularly witty when you are looking at it from the same British viewpoint as myself. I hope you enjoy it, regards :)

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