The cultured teenager

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

Monthly Archives: August 2011

10 years later

Unfortunately for you lot, tonight I will be embarking on the arduous journey to France for my summer hols, so therefore I’m going to cram quite a lot of different stuff into this post. As the name suggests, this will be a cultural leap back 10 years, giving an example of may favourite forms of culture which were born in the year of 2001.

Film- Monsters Inc. : This choice brings me back to my child at heart; in 2001 I was seven and of what I remember of the time, I remember fondly, particularly my love of Pixar films. When I was smaller my favourite, unsurprisingly, was Toy Story, however as an elder of the children, my film favourites have undergone numerous transformations, with ‘Monsters Inc.’ now most-loved animated film. You will have watched it and know what it’s about so rather than telling the narrative I will focus on why I still love to watch it, being the cool teenager I am. If films are designed to entertain then there can be no better animated film; it’s fast-paced, witty and has numerous loveable and slightly bizarre characters, which is expected considering the strange scenario in which the film is set. Not only do I find it quite witty how the writers satirize modern working life, particularly through Mike and Sulley, but also find the industrial nature of scaring children an unusual setting for a children’s film, causing humanity to ooze from the adventure which ensues through Sulley’s attachment to Boo. My favourite character though is Randall, as one weird recurring theme in Pixar films is that they have excellent and evil villains, who many would assume quite scary for small children, examples being, Hopper in ‘A Bug’s Life’, Sid in ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Syndrome’ in ‘The Incredibles’ to name a few. This film is adorable, witty and modest, but one of my favourite parts is the excellent casting, particularly Billy Crystal’s Mike who I would argue as being one of best animated characters ever.

Training Day: This film is intense. It is what earlier police drama/action films such as ‘The French Connection’ ought to have been. Not an incredibly clever film at first look but it must be somewhat clever in order to give a film this level of panache and verve, keeping it fresh and effortlessly stylish. It is this therefore which makes it surprisingly watchable and timeless, not that it is a film that will be ever-remembered but keeps to the traditional good cop/bad cop format and could be therefore be watched in many years to come. This format is only as tense and lucid as it is though because of star turns from Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington in the lead roles, Hawke perfectly cast to effortlessly show the transformation from rabbit-in-the-headlights to a hardened individual, making it compelling and realistic. Washington compliments this with his gritty, morally confused performance, asking both the audience and Hawke whether his techniques are ones of selfish gain or in order to get results. Yes, the ending is cliched and the bizarre coincidence that could only happen in a film, but this takes nothing from the tense script, the terrific performances and what overall is an intelligent and intense film.

Literature- The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre: As I mentioned I am leaving for holiday later today, and am therefore packing, but in my eyes clothes packing isn’t the most important thing, rather the ‘summer read’ I’ll take for when I’m sat in a deck chair somewhere in central France. One the books I will be taking this year will be ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ if I can find it, Le Carre giving his take on the cold war; however for this novel he moves his focus to Northern Kenya and Sudan, bringing up the dangers of humanitarian aid. Many in damaged countries deserve it but the savages who caused the initial problems have a way of disruption to humanitarian efforts, not surprising really considering how little humanity these people have. I am saying this because the novel is from the view of First Secretary at the High Commission, Justin who in the opening pages has to identify the severed head of his wife, who had been butchered in Northern Kenya. This a harsh and slow novel, dragging along the story of Justin’s journey for answers taking him back to Britain but also, Le Carre paints an image of Africa and the bleeding of society that walks parallel to it. Realistic, sharp, but also beautifully harrowing literature.

Music- White Blood Cells by The White Stripes: Ten years old yet hasn’t aged. It sounds like it should be a debut album, fresh vibrant and with the a buzzing naivety that culminates in their own, slightly cheery version of garage rock. It was this album that started to establish the White Stripes name, proving themselves to be an excellent proto-rocker duo, a superb mix of Meg White’s simple and thudding drumming, and the intense blues style guitar from Jack White. However, blues guitar is far more simple than the superb riffs that help to sculpt the album. On some levels, there is a superb economy to the music, giving no more than is needed giving it a simplicity and striking sound, that is the musical meat-and-two-veg meal. One of the best examples of this is the punchy ‘Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground’, and although at times it is no more than a riff, it still gives thrills, as does my favourite track, ‘Fell in love with a girl’, which reminds me of early Beatles, keeping up the momentum and infectious riff. You will like this album; well, you ought to like this album. This is ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’, enjoy the also brilliant video. 

I could write more but I will just leave it that. I will spend my holiday working at what to write about next and hopefully will write something enjoyable for you. I hope you check out what you’ve read about, assuming you read it, because if you do, you will definitely enjoy it. Please comment about anything, regards 🙂     

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5 damn good songs :)

These songs have been buzzing around my head recently so I’m going to throw them your way and hopefully they’ll be your cup of tea. They’re varying styles and genres but are all damn good and worth a listen.

1.) Crystal Fighters- Plage: I remember seeing this band supporting Foals; I had no knowledge of them prior to the gig but was more than satisfied by their terrific live display. This song seeps gorgeous summer vibes with Basque instruments that leave you wanting more and also a time-share on the coast of Eastern Spain. Enjoy

2.) Cage the Elephant- Right before my eyes: Although unfortunately there is no video for this song, it does not take anything away from the bands ruffian splendour, reminiscent of The Pixies at their best. This is my personal favourite from their new album, which I was fortunate enough to hear when they played Glastonbury; their gig was easily one of the most memorable performances due to the ecstatic atmosphere and crowd surfing that caused the lead singer to, no word of a lie, kick me in the head on two separate occasions being that I was at the very front, giving me good video footage of the kicking. Enjoy

3.) Dry The River- No Rest: Acoustic folk can make me feel repulsed but when you get the good stuff, you can’t help but enjoy, this band are one of the few folk bands not trying to be Mumford & Sons but getting equally good results from simple yet intense music. Although this song has a slow start, this is them simmering until the eruption which comes at about 1:45, with the scrawny lead singer’s powerful howls showing you how gorgeous and intense good music can be. Enjoy

4.) Gnarls Barkley- Reckoner (Radiohead cover):Again referring to Glastonbury, I was fortunate to see the wondrous Radiohead performing an almost-secret gig, seeing them play most of their last two albums which disappointed many of the call-themselves-fans there, whilst I on the other hand was entirely consumed by song after song, particularly ‘Reckoner’. This heart-rending version by Gnarls Barkley is less gritty and sardonic than the original but Cee-Lo Green’s voice perfectly bellows “Because we separate like ripples on a blank shore”. Enjoy

5.) Howler- I Told You Once: Kooky independent music is easy to find but usually of pretty poor quality, yet this young band from Minneapolis muster up much more than many established bands with a lot less effort. This song will make the most miserable sod smile, they seem like The Strokes for the lighthearted and that can only mean one thing; they’re bloody damn good. Enjoy

I hope you found at least one song there that you could listen to over and over until all other music becomes shoddy in comparison. Regards 🙂

1984: The year of cult films

“We came. We saw. We kicked its ass!” Just that quotation creates an image in my head so clear I can almost smell Bill Murray (I expect he has a distinctive scent/aftershave). That is the reaction you ought to get from cult films, it isn’t whether or not you see it as the best film ever, but ‘cult’ films are those that are easily recognizable from just a few words or images and are instantly memorable.

1.) Ghostbusters: Easily the best and my favourite of this collection; it spins the sci-fi genre upside-down, turning it from utter escapism and fantasy to witty, kooky, almost realistic and hilariously tongue-in-cheek. It was the most expensive comedy ever at the time of release but although the effects now seem quite dated, that only makes the film a more mocking view of the science-fiction genre. The most tongue-in-cheek moment is ultimately the climax that takes the Micheal out of Japanese monster flicks but also questions why all sci-fi films have evil looking villains, it isn’t a Babylonian demon or the spawn of Beelzebub, but is 98% sugar, chubby, cheery and equally malevolent. If you have not yet watched it, do it now, walk straight out of the room you’re in, walk to the nearest DVD store and buy it (or if you’re lazy, Amazon will do fine).

2.) The Karate Kid: No-one will ever remember who the Karate Kid was (Daniel something) or who he was played by (Ralph Macchio) but anyone who has seen it will instantly recognize Mr Miyagi in any other films or programmes he turns up in. He is a short, grey haired janitor, and definitely not Jackie Chan, who shows Daniel (?) how to harness his abilities in Karate for good rather than brutality, which leads to an extraordinarily cliched bout between The Kid and his thuggish, sworn enemy Johnny. It’s not very high brow or clever but when I last watched I enjoyed it; although I was 13ish, and therefore would enjoy most films that included Martial Arts, but I would definitely recommend it to the youngsters out there.

3.) Police Academy: The issue with cult movies is that they do not necessarily make good films or at least films that I like. I don’t like this film and therefore am going to move swiftly on.

4.) Gremlins: This is another film easily recognizable by a quotation (or instruction);”Don’t expose him to bright light. Don’t ever get him wet. And don’t ever, ever feed him after midnight.” There is some moral there about listening to instructions but I don’t watch films for that “Aesop’s Fables” tripe, I watch to be entertained and consumed by a visual masterpiece, not that this film is the latter, but certainly matches my first criterion. The numerous amusing strands of plot are tied  together by the utterly delectable, Gizmo, after he inevitably gets wet and is exposed to bright light. It is incredibly naff, with pretty poor visual effects although this adds to the integrity and likeability of the film, which keeps you smiling all the way through whether its at moments of intrigue such as Steven Spielberg’s cameo or just mockery of Gizmo.

5.) Beverly Hills Cop: Back when Eddie Murphy was hilarious, rather than in cheap kids films, he starred as the loveable rogue Axel Foley in this witty, yet surprisingly political buddy film. The cop, buddy film genre is littered with cult films such as Lethal Weapon and Every Which Way But Loose (I gave it a mention Ross), but this has to be the headline act. Just a line as simple as Murphy murmuring about a police car, “This thing’s nicer than my apartment” both gets a giggle (most of the laughs are just in Murphy’s speech rather than the script) and has an underlying message of political and racial tensions in America, and the aggressive poverty that went with it. Witty, clever and wild makes an unusual combination but also an enjoyable watch

Please watch these, well, maybe not 3, but try to watch these, as all they may not be the cream of films out there they give cheap thrills, and if you consider another year to have a greater concentration of ‘cult’ films, please comment and have a moan. Regards 🙂

Man and boy

One of my favourite films of all time is ‘No Country For Old Men’, but not only is it is great watch but also a terrific book. This led to me explore other books by the author, Cormac McCarthy, which caused me to read ‘The Road’; I had already known of its pedigree, as a book constantly mentioned on all literary websites, given multiple awards and therefore made it seem obvious that it would be a good book. However now I have read it, it would seem almost offensive to call it ‘good’. It is a beautifully harrowing story, showing the transformation of civilization and emotions when plunged into this frighteningly realistic, post-apocalyptic future. McCarthy paints a stunning image of the barren landscape and America’s future; however, drained of all colour and vibrancy, leaving only vivid memories of any natural life and humanity. The few humans that do exist are still drained of all life and vitality, an “ashen effigy” of their former selves walking through the dense of soot and snow in search of warmth.

Almost everyone is dead, ironically giving a certain humanity to the novel, and particularly to the man and his attempts to shelter his son. The whole way through the book, The Man and The Boy are unnamed, highlighting how nothing is important, not even names, in this hopeless, uncivilized world except for survival. Survival is therefore paramount to the emotions and actions by The Man, particularly where he shoots a barbaric figure trying to murder his son; it is harrowing and disturbing how such vulgar and grotesque actions become commonplace, especially cannibalism. McCarthy plods through the tense yet slow narrative, constantly increasing the fear and desperation running through the Man’s veins, not just his fear of starvation, rape and cannibalism, but he is also terrified for his son, which was further increased by being left by his wife, due to her immense fear of being attacked and preyed upon. The child is used by McCarthy to draw parallels with the reader, as the unaware and naive boy asks constant questions, the reader is intrigued by the same questions as we have the same level of ambiguity towards the apocalypse.

This makes me appreciate the humility and humanity built into modern society, rather than the barbaric nature of the characters here; parallels can be drawn with the recent London riots, as this novel highlights the break-down of society and the actions that come with it. Destructive actions come from anger and frustration, but also from fear, where the rioting is making a statement it shows the barbaric nature within people, however McCarthy shows the opposite being that the Man has every reason to be monstrous  and destructive yet the humanity of his relationship with his son stops him from doing that. Please read this brutally astonishing masterpiece. Regards 🙂

The Thin Red Line

It might surprise you that I have a friend. Yes, one, whole, solitary, similarly nerdy friend who goes by the name of Will (Will Hunter to be precise). As he is similarly nerdy and skilled at writing he also writes the odd review for me here and there, usually being films, and this is the first of his reviews. He’s slightly sadistic, pretty clever and a tad pompous, and watches quite alot of films, and is particularly a fan of war films, one of which being The Thin Red Line by Terrence Malick; please enjoy his review.

Comparisons between Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line are as inevitable as they are fascinating. Both were big budget war epics released in 1998. Both centred on US soldiers during the Second World War. However, here the resemblance ends. Saving Private Ryan focuses on the D Day landings; The Thin Red Line is set during the Battle of Guadalcanal in the Pacific. Saving Private Ryan was the highest grossing American motion picture of 1998; The Thin Red Line a box office flop. Spielberg’s picture left audiences shaken to the core; Malick’s film left audiences confused and bewildered.

Yet for me, The Thin Red Line is unquestionably the better film. With an impressive ensemble cast which includes a mix of experienced players (Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson), then up-and-coming actors (Jim Caviezel, Adrien Brody, Ben Chaplin) and a couple of star cameos ( George Clooney and John Travolta), Malick has created something more than your average blood-and-guts war movie: an other-worldly epic of pure visual poetry. The battle scenes are thrillingly staged- the scene in which Welsh (Penn) administers morphine to a dying young soldier is astonishingly powerful- but Malick’s concern is with the man-versus-nature theme which drives the film. Malick’s cameras focus on the burning tropical jungle; a baby bird which is blown from its nest by an explosion. In contrasting between the gorgeous natural landscape and the horrors of the battlefield, Malick seems to be saying: why does humanity insist on destroying this creation it has been given? Why it is that evil seeps even into this tropical paradise? Through his characters lyrical voiceovers and against the backdrop of Hans Zimmer’s exquisitely fitting score, Malick paints a picture of a heaven and a hell on earth, a world in which all a man can do is shut himself down and find his own meaning to the carnage. It is uplifting and nihilistic, beautiful and ugly in turns. The final scene captures the spirit of the film perfectly: a final haunting image of Guadalcanal accompanied by the following voiceover: “Oh my soul. Let me be in you now. Look out through my eyes. Look out at the things you made. All things shining”.

The Thin Red Line is not the best war movie ever made and the film’s length and plodding nature will mean that it is not to everyone’s taste but if art and poetry can ever be put on screen, this film surely achieves it.

Will Hunter

I hope you find that as interesting and thought-provoking as I did when first reading it, and go out and watch it. Regards 🙂

Modern Classic; The XX by The XX

We often hear people with a good taste in music having a good old moan (I am often in this category myself) about how rubbish modern music is; however, once you sieve out all the undeservedly popular music (Chipmunk, N-Dubs, Jason Derulo and basically anyone-else who plays T4 on the Beach), it’s not that hard to find a gem. My personal marker for good music is when they are highly rated by NME, one of the few places where actually good music is recognised, and this is therefore the first place I notice many of my favourite bands, an example of which being The XX. But, this isn’t about The XX, rather their self-titled debut album, which of such elegant beauty you could find yourself crying and smiling simultaneously, making morose stories of heartbreak with heavy, gloomy beats seem somehow adorable and beautiful. I shouldn’t really like it; if it was in the hands of EMI or some other record company colossus, this could have been given a pop-music production and its beautiful melodies could have devolved to melodies that would appear as Children’s TV background music, it’s choruses and bass-lines far too addictive for the style of music it is. I shouldn’t even like music in it’s category, a sort-of younger brother to dubstep; the much smarter, better looking and adorable younger brother.

A gentle, innocent collection of great song after great song, but still with enough stand-out tracks that allow you to be the irritating person who hums the same tune for 2 hours on the train. The best example of this is the delicious ‘Crystalised’ that sounds so clever and so simple at the same time, with a gentle, echoing duet giving an intimacy and warmth that’s rare within modern music. Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim trading gorgeous coos like tropical birds, cultivate a delightful dubstep love song with husky vocals that can be barely heard over the infectious guitar and bass-line. It is also this echoing, moody guitar which pulls on your heartstrings, particularly on ‘Intro’ which has no vocals but still coos and calls like the song is mating. There are numerous other songs strong enough to hammer there way into your memory, but delicate enough to be elemental, dark and therefore infectious, such as the naturally intimate ‘VCR’, and ‘Islands’, an achingly beautiful song perfect for aimless strolls in misty cities.

I would say that words couldn’t describe the longing elegance of this music, however their lyrics portray exactly that, so I will leave you with a quotation from ‘Heart Skipped a Beat’; “Its been a while and you’ve found someone better, but I’ve been waiting too long to give this up. The more I see I understand, but sometimes I still need you”. Regards 🙂 Please listen VCR by The XX

Love David Fincher even more; Hate Justin Timberlake even more

Not long ago, I watched The Social Network and thought it was excellent; I am therefore writing about it because I enjoyed it rather than trying to make some pretentious teen-blogger statement that I have seen it and therefore am an intellectual into clever witty indie films and therefore deserve recognition. That’s one of my main reasons for writing this almost-review, as I read a review for it before watching it, which was exactly the up-itself pretentious message that everyone should appreciate the views of the American half-wit who wrote the review. It seems quite a pretentious film, however this view of it is focused on the main characters which are the snobby, arrogant elite minds of Harvard, however Sorkin and Fincher tell the narrative in a relatively simple manner about something incredibly difficult, making it surprisingly watchable and easy to eat popcorn to.

It is Aaron Sorkin’s dark, smart and snappy script which makes the film and increases the realism of the skillful character portrayals, particularly around the sub-plot of corporate espionage, causing me to hate Justin Timberlake even more than I had thought possible of anyone. Unfortunately on this occasion though it was his decent performance which makes you want to hug Eduardo Savarin whilst simultaneously mugging Sean Parker and Lord Zuckerberg of Facebook. As a patriotic Brit I feel that Andrew Garfield is one of the star turns causing a constant stream of sympathy from the audience whilst performing with wit and providing an emotive integrity to his character. Although this, it isn’t the performances or iconic moments that make this so watchable but the intricacy and genius craftsmanship of Fincher and Sorkin, cleverly, so the importance and relevance of this communicative revolution is highlighted, this is channeled through one of the best communicators whom has lived, being one of the best script-writers in Hollywood. But a good script doesn’t make a good film, and it is Sorkin’s partner-in-crime, David Fincher, who weaves the riveting narrative and characters into the audience’s minds. The clever intertwining of court-room battles of those against you and those who you never realised were against you, bring forward the question of “What are they actually like behind what they show me?” Quite an appropriate sub-topic considering this a tangent from discussing Facebook, which has the whole purpose of telling your ‘friends’ about yourself. However, some overly self-conscious people treat Facebook rather as there own advertising space and show off there best bits, both unsurprising and pathetic, but again this comes back to this excellent film and script as the words Sorkin wrote meant so many different things in the hands of Savarin, Parker and Zuckerberg, most importantly being success and it’s importance over friendship and integrity, or whether money is far more important.

I expect you’ve watched it, but if not it’s a must see as are most spawned from the great mind of David Fincher, particularly se7en and Fight Club, which I expect I may do a write-up of at some point. Regards 🙂