The cultured teenager

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

Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Illusionist (2006)

I can’t exactly call this the best film I’ve ever watched, but it wasn’t as bad I thought it would be. The acting was better average and by the end I even quite liked a couple of the characters, being Rufus Sewell’s moustached Prince and Paul Giamatti as a rather unconvincing Viennese inspector.

This film is based on a short story; “Eisenheim the Illusionist” by Stephen Millhauser, with Edward Norton here playing the mysterious illusionist. Although his illusions are somewhat dazzling, unpredictable and unexplainable, this is a complete contrast to the rather predictable throw-away plot, not that this makes the film bad. Although what happens is quite predictable, neither, many of the events, nor Eisenheim’s mastery of illusion are explainable, keeping enough mystery to keep the audience watching, as Neil Burger successful reveals just enough details to keep things interesting.

The film starts with two overwhelming cliches, starting with Eisenheim as a child where he stumbles across a traveling magician and from then on is enthralled by magic, and cliche #2, he falls in love with a wealthy aristocrat’s daughter, Sophie (Jessica Biel), but he is forbidden from seeing her again (as I said, its pretty predictable and easy to follow). Guess what happens? Shock horror, 15 years later during a performance he comes across her again and their emotions are rekindled, however she is married to heir to the throne. Running along side this forbidden love story is the side story of Inspector Uhl’s attempts to explain not only the secrets to Eisenheim’s illusions but also to search, on behalf of the Crown Prince (a very well cast Rufus Sewell) into Eisenheim and Sophie’s connection.

Norton and Giamatti were the two star turns from the good cast, with all other key characters being acted out solidly by Biel, Sewell and Eddie Marsan. This was a lot better than I expected, it wasn’t an Oscar-winning masterpiece but it was far better than most popcorn accompaniments.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

This is going to be a relatively short post, because, well, I don’t want to start ranting about my dislike of this book. Its feminist, and no, of course I support sexual equality, but feminists often, particularly in this case, feel that explicit images and references are appropriate, even when they are obviously there for shock effect. This is clever in parts and repulsive in others making it a difficult book to read, I liked some of the stories and truly hated others which thought it apt describe necrophilia. If a man wrote about that it would be wrong, but this is fine because its feminist. Seriously, it doesn’t add up. Anyway, its rather thought provoking, so its worth a read, even if you, similarly to me, decide that you would rather read something slightly less vulgar. Regards ๐Ÿ™‚

Must-See Film #3: American Beauty

Kevin Spacey is one of my favourite actors, mainly for playing one of the greatest characters who has ever existed, Verbal Kimp in The Usual Suspects, though in Lester Burnham he has formed another brilliant character; a middle-aged bland man with a twisted, punk mentality, highlighting how your teenage years are some of the best and most rebellious you will ever have. I am not however active in this teenage, getting high and spending evenings in jail cells, lifestyle; as i write this I have on my desk, Imperial Germany 1890-1918 and Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (brilliant novel by the way), and am wearing slippers. This however made me all the more sympathetic towards Burnham, through the irrepressible need to expel himself from his literal mid-life crisis, and his reaction to this is what everyone surrounding him, except possibly Ricky Fitts, sees as his actual mid-life crisis.

Lester Burnham is a depressed father with a mundane life, turned on its head by his infatuation with his teenage daughter’s friend, not only for her beauty, which is displayed as the main reason initially, but because of her hedonistic lifestyle which wanted to capture and be involved with. This infatuation though, as the title suggests, is not only what encompasses Lester Burnham, but is derogatory for the emotion of a nation and its dream, obviously being the ‘American Dream’ itself. Sam Mendes shows this breakdown, or realization depending on your interpretation, through an atypical melodrama in a completely stereotypical, American suburban family. Both Spacey and Annette Bening here prove their undeniable acting skill during Lester’s terrible nuances, showcasing it as a superb black comedy. As a family unit it is pretty twisted; the only common ground to which Lester can converse with his daughter Jane (Thora Birch) is their depression and anger. Birch has an emotive and natural performance as Jane, who hides her contempt and withering relationship with parents through her attachment to the creepy neighbour, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley). Jane, to Ricky, is the ‘Beauty’ of the title, constantly filming her, and he is himself compelled by her crumbling family relationship, even stating how he would willingly kill her father. Bentley is another star turn in this stunning ensemble cast, him and Chris Cooper (Colonel Fitts) making incredibly dark and intense scenes harrowingly natural, yet Ricky Fitts does not act with contempt, although with every reason to, contrasting to Jane who has little reason for her bitterness.

The films ominous beginning states that Burnham will be dead in a year. A relatively dark scenario, but the year that prevails through the film is one of enlightenment and beauty. The beauty of the title is the focus of the entire film, its ambiguity highlighting how not only does everyone see beauty differently, shown through Burnham’s contrasting views to his wife and daughter, but also shows how beauty is skin deep. I think one scene seems to some this up perfectly, Ricky’s rather peculiar film of a white carrier bag floating in the wind. It is thrown about and tossed around, which is a striking metaphor for Ricky, but also for Lester, as only at the end does he ‘go wherever the wind takes him’, but has spent all his life previously being thrown about and taken this with increasing experience. This is a definite must-see, encapsulating American culture with a dark, melodramatic, bittersweet coating, and thoroughly deserved the Oscars it received. Thank you and congrats to all who made the film. Please watch this if you have not yet done so. Regards ๐Ÿ™‚

The Folk Revolution

Folk music has always confused me, most of the bad stuff is overrated, whilst the good stuff is underrated. In my eyes there isn’t usually much in the way of good stuff, yet recently I have been bombarded with folk songs that are outstanding. Popularity for the genre has monumentally increased over recent years by a youthful wave of stylish, attractive and clever songwriters writing music for young people with sensitive ears and for middle-class thirty-something’s. Mumford & Sons, Bon Iver and Laura Marling are three of the most successful folk artists to gain folk stardom, and now are being preceded by the next wave of this revolution.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich: A York singer-songwriter with dreamy tunes that make your heart skip a beat (Oh god, I sound so pathetic). He wistfully coos some of the best folk songs I’ve ever heard; lyrics of twisted love combated by soft, whispering vocals and flutters of guitar. Sehr gut.ย 

Dry The River: Definitely my favourite of the folk renegade, is an atypical folk band, not elder country folk in the attire of gypsies, but folk with a harsh, almost punk mentality. Folk with tattoos. As you will hear, from this utterly brilliant song, their lead singer, Peter Liddle has a harrowingly gorgeous voice, contrasting with the bands rock-influenced guitars. This song is a slow-burner, but amazing never-the-less.ย 

Ben Howard: Ben conforms more to the stereotypical folk singer, Devonian heritage etc, but why should it matter when he has such good songs. It may be stereotypical, but is there is nothing fey about his folk, it has backing harmonies and guitar pluckage (a very technical term), but is pacey and bounces along with beef.

Boy and Bear: Quite a lot of Mumfordness about their style but it’s good, so here you go.

I hope some of this was of interests, if not tell me what genres you want me to scrutinize next. Regards ๐Ÿ™‚

Must-see film #2- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I’m going to start with a warning; If you are not a film buff don’t expect to like this film. It isn’t that you won’t like it, but most people not used to watching arduous films will find this, well, arduous.

Well, warning done, so now I can move on to my verdict. Best film I’ve watched this year. Pretty high praise, but, it deserves every letter of it. I was gripped from beginning to end, even though I knew the story line as I had watched some of the original TV series. I was initially worried about how it could possibly compare to the astounding series, and particularly the unenviable task of living up to Sir Alec Guiness’s brilliant portrayal. Similarly to the book and TV show, it is unbelievably slow and minimalistic compared to modern spy films, such as the Bourne franchise, but a much darker, more sinister look within the secret service. Thomas Alfredson (best known for the Swedish horror โ€œLet The Right One Inโ€) paces the story such that the audience flinches at the movement of an eye or a bead of sweat. This film is so intense I doubt anyone could eat popcorn whilst watching it, without chewing a hole in the inside of their cheek. Gary Oldman acts for 15 minutes before you hear a proper word from him, playing the returning spymaster George Smiley, brought back, to ‘unmask’ the Soviet mole who is giving leaks from the top of MI6, by Control (the excellently cast John Hurt).

The plot is multi-textural, flashing back and forth, revealing the depth of the characters and the depth of the problem in hand. Although the narrative is based around Smiley and his search for the mole, the numerous layers of the film consist of the rest of the excellent cast acting suspiciously, followed by Smileys attempts to find who is guilty. It’s one of the best support casts I’ve seen in a film, not just great actors but they are cast perfectly for their characters; the cast consisting of Colin Firth, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy and many more. The two most eye-catching and chilling strands of the story come from Prideaux’s (Mark Strong) shooting at the beginning and his back-story, and Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) who is the only major character outside of ‘the circus’; he also has no degree of subtlety and suspicion, conflicting with the other suspects. He is more similar to the spy stereotype created by Ian Fleming, a culmination of sex and violence, making the film seem more contemporary, yet equally dark.ย 

I somehow how found this slow, nostalgic film to be an unexpected thrill, not an action, Jason Bourne thrill, but it is so harrowing and intense it is austere and atmospheric. I won’t give anything away, this is brilliant from beginning to end, and particularly at the end, where I must applaud the actors involved. Excellent film. Regards ๐Ÿ™‚

5 BEST MUSIC VIDEOS EVER!

How I have narrowed it down to five I have no idea. These are just some of my favourites, so if have missed any of your preferences please moan, they don’t include some you may expect, such as ‘Thriller’ but they are all brilliant none-the-less. Although it is obvious in this case that the video itself is more important than the song, I would not be willing to put forward songs I dislike, a reason behind ignoring ‘Thriller’. So the countdown begins…

5.): Crystal Fighters – Follow

I don’t really need to say particularly much because, well, you just saw it, but I think its brilliance is how the video is just as erratic and vibrant as the music itself.

4.): The White Stripes – Fell In Love With A Girl

Wow, it’s lego!

3.): OK GO – Here It Goes Again

I don’t have any idea how someone could have possibly thought this video up, but my immediate reaction is that I really want to have a go. Its not a bad song either, but it is merely a soundtrack for the video.

2.): Radiohead – Just

In this instance the song is of more importance, though probably just because I really like it. This is more like a film than a short visual spectacle as the others are, but is utterly harrowing and confusing at the same time.

1.): Fatboy Slim – Weapon Of Choiceย 

This is much more appreciated if you are into movies, as not only is it a cool man dancing, but it’s CHRISTOPHER WALKEN! One of coolest men ever to exist has some really raunchy moves, and, unsurprisingly, can fly.

If I have missed out your favourite please give me the appropriate hate-mail, otherwise I hope some of these amused you. Regards ๐Ÿ™‚