Sunday, November 21, 2010


Written by Francois Begaudeau, Robin Campillo and Laurent Cantet.
Directed by Laurent Cantet.
Based on the book by Francois Begaudeau.


From the title of the movie and the description on the back you go into the movie thinking you know what will happen, thinking this is another 'teacher wins over the students' kind of film. But that kind of plot is used when a film strives for entertainment leaving behind what actually happens in a classroom or a school. This is very realistic; you could be sitting at a desk at the side of the room and watching the schoolroom banter, and even at times trying to learn.

Set in a school that takes in children from the poorer areas of Paris that includes many immigrants this class is made up of a colorful and diverse array of students: a cocktail of many types that I had come across when at school. This is how we can relate to the movie; we have been in or seen many of the scenarios, the types of characters, and the methods used by certain teachers. Not necessarily in the same class but at some point in our education.

Mr. Marin, the teacher, never seems to get a hold on the class. Someone will always disagree, or not understand or they won't listen and will become preoccupied with something or someone else. And we may become irritated, just like the teacher or another student trying to learn, but we also understand not everyone in a class is equal. Not everyone can learn or wants to learn and certainly not everyone will learn, especially in such a mixed class as this. One teacher cannot suit everyone's learning capabilities or preferences. And this movie doesn't pretend that they can.

There are some questionable decisions as to the roles of some of the students which may have been used to nudge the story on, and the dialogue between the teachers is fairly stale after the lively classroom discussions, but for any student 'teacher-to-teacher' talk would most likely be boring too. What this movie ultimately represents is my six years of high school in one class, dealing specifically with the theme of identity and the battle between teacher and student respect. Some people will say they've had classes exactly like this, some like me will see it as a microcosm of their school-life, and others may not find it familiar at all; but there's no doubting its realistic simulation of the classroom.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


 'Self Titled'
Koch Records, 2001.


Immediately after its release this album hit the nostalgia shelves. Its soft rock, dreamy quality and the break-up of the band made sure of this. Even when introducing this album I can say that if you haven't heard it before that there may not be any reason for listening to it. It is rock; not the crazy-lifestyle rock but the sappy, mellowish, wish-I-had-you-again rock. Of course, this is not always a bad thing - a lot of the time we're in those mellow moods and want something to complement them. Anything too loud is grating and anything too slow can bring an unwanted sense of melancholy. This is where Stabbing Westward come in. There is something uplifting about their sound that is perfect for the lying-on-your-bed method of listening to music. There are no ballads and no heavy tracks, everything here remains fairly constant which is often a bad thing (I like some experimentation and it can become tedious) but they play to their strength and it doesn't weary as the album is only a tad over 40 minutes long.

What does bring the album down is its generalness - there is nothing outstanding here, and this is where the nostalgic emotions charge the music with that 'something' it was missing. The song 'Television' is a throwaway but all others are worth the listen, namely 'Perfect', 'I Remember', 'Happy' and 'Angel'. In fact I could have just written all the tracks from the album and you could imagine how it sounds. For me, 'Happy' now has that added bonus of getting stuck in my head every time someone emphasises the word 'happy' in a sentence. It can be listening to these little things that bring the album up, but it is its lack of excitement and sappiness that also brings it down. If you can't 'feel' this album then you will likely cringe at it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by David Fincher
Based on the book "The Accidental Billionaires"
by Ben Mezrich


Looking at the three reviews so far you would think I'm very generous with the scores, but this is not true, I have just been fortunate to have just seen a very good movie and recently read a very good book. This movie, 'The Social Network', has been receiving unprecedented praise and this naturally leads one to ask 'is it worth it?'. Well, a reserved yes. Reserved because I can't say that it will become an influential film, it certainly may become a classic film, but besides from a sharper (read quick intelligence) dialogue it doesn't offer anything new or open up new directions for cinema - aspects I would consider for overwhelming praise. What the film does do, however, is bring together its cinematography, screenplay, music, acting and all other cinematic elements in such an intelligent and entertaining way that is rarely seen in Hollywood movies.

To watch this movie you don't need to have facebook, in fact, you don't even have to care about it (of course these things will help as in-jokes and nods to teenage society are found throughout). This is not a movie for people with facebook, nor is it necessarily about it (at least in its effect on society), but rather it is about the creator/s. Basing it around the people involved means it becomes a film about 'real' relationships and not screen-to-screen ones. If Fincher decided to focus the film on the influence of facebook then it would have become a quasi-documentary. Instead it is a drama, with the screenplay echoing the rapid-fire dialogue seen in many plays (which isn't a surprise considering Sorkin is also a playwright). It certainly isn't natural speech but it didn't need to be. This isn't supposed to be a mirror of reality, it is too polished for that; instead it is a (loosely) true story represented as entertainment, and the witty dialogue is used to create the intellectual atmosphere of Harvard and its characters.

Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg (the founder) does a great job as a person who has an idea and wants to create it himself. But for this he will have to rely on others. This is where Eduardo (played by Andrew Garfield) comes in with the money to finance it all. What Eduardo brings to the movie is what lifts it into the higher echelons of film: the delicacy and balance of human relationships. Without this it would be a nice movie, with a nice storyline that is nicely filmed. We get that from a lot of Hollywood productions (see Inception), but Sorkin and Fincher are able to add a depth and complication to the characters that ultimately drives the already interesting story. More than any other character, Eduardo is similar to us; he is down-to-earth, wants to make money and does not possess a freakish talent, and thus we can empathize with him. Zuckerberg is different from us, and this is what makes him a fascinating subject. We do not know what to make of him, and are left with the question posed throughout the movie: is he really an asshole? 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


First published by 
Random House, 1968.


Haunting. Vivid. I could pretty much stop writing here and you would know what you're getting with this book. Kosinski writes in terse, emotionless prose that leaves the reader feeling the isolation of the narrator. If you like your novels well-grounded, conventional and nicely packaged then you may not find too much enjoyment here. This is a novel that explores themes of serious literature: identity, politics, immigration, sexuality, violence, and quite possibly the meaning of life.

The novel is separated into vignettes, only sometimes relating to each other. Interspersed is a dialogue with a woman. Most of these stories centre around sexual acts and sometimes about violence, and sometimes about not much. They're all readable, they're all engaging, and all have some striking image that like a quote on the rear of the book says, will pop into your mind every now and again. There are stories and scenarios here that I have never heard or even thought of before. Sometimes I wonder how autobiographical this is, or where the inspiration came from. At times they border on the absurd and I think this is where the critics run for their Kafka books. I won't disclose what these stories can be about because discovering them is what makes the book so intriguing. Just know that they will not bring a smile to your face or enlighten your day, they will, however, shock.

Steps went on to win the National Book Award for fiction, which is and isn't a surprise. Surprising because of the content, but the precision of the prose and the general themes make it a suitable award winner. Do not expect this to be a neat story; it is very open-ended and very enigmatic - just like its author.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Century Media, 2004


There is no better place to start than with the album that I believe is the greatest musical creation. Its variations, inspirations and cohesiveness make it unique in the music world. No where will you find combinations this daring - in short, a mixing of oriental music with metal. But in saying that I would be neglecting so many other influences from progressive metal to classical music, acoustic, spoken word and choirs. I could keep going. And it's not that Orphaned Land are the first to do this sort of thing - mixing genres is quite popular in metal these days - it's that they do so flawlessly so that when listening to it every segment appears to be a natural continuation of the previous one.

When listening to an album you may ask what the purpose of releasing it is. Does the band just want to get their music off their chest? Is it something that's been done before but this is supposedly 'fresh' and more exciting? Is it political? Or maybe they just write damn good songs? For Orphaned Land it seems they release music in a hope of uniting people, by area, race, culture, music and religion. Based in Israel they are at the centre of religious conflict, this is shown in their albums. They tread the dangerous line between Christianity, Islam and Judaism, aiming for a peace between them all... and in a sense they succeed. Their concerts in the Middle East are notable for their assembly of fans from different religions - a potent mix in this area. But all the fans appear to get along, a common love of the band peacefully uniting everyone. This music has the power of unification like no other band. This is deeply religious - it is a concept album loosely about building the ark - but it is worldly. Metal is tainted by its connection to satanism and atheism, but the metal community is made up of people from all religions. With Mabool, Orphaned Land manages to secure the attention and praise from all places. This is its charm.

Some people may find the array of elements in this album overwhelming, and this may certainly be true, especially on the first few listens. But once you've taken in the album and discovered its structure you will hopefully understand my view on the perfect balance of the album. Only in Mabool does 'death' metal flow into rhythmic "na-na-na-nas" and from that into the hauntingly beautiful voice of Shlomit Levi. Only here do choirs sung in Latin and English fit so nicely between riffing and soloing. In most of the songs there is a solo, generally from a guitar or keyboard/piano. The four minute guitar solo in The Storm Still Rages is a highlight that matches the best of progressive metal, and moving into the painful lines of "Hear your orphaned child" at the end of the song - and virtually the album - make for one of the most moving moments in music history.

This is a story. This is religion. This is history. This is unity. Most importantly it is music, and from that it is art - in the most perfect sense. There are no faults here. It is not too long, not too indulgent, not too biased, and not too pretentious. People may name bands like U2 or The Beatles or the Rolling Stones as the greatest ever, and they certainly were some of the most influential, but none of them could create music like this, and that's because no one can. Francois Chateaubriand said that 'the original writer is not he that does not imitate others, but he who can be imitated by none'. And that is why Orphaned Land stands alone.

Intents and Purposes.

More of an outlet for my thoughts and reviews than anything else. Dealing mainly with books, movies and music. Sounds pretty generic, but it will be quite varied as I have an eclectic taste.