All posts by austinthebookworm

Hello there! I like cinema, reading and music

Les Miserables (Lay Miz-er-ahb)

Les Miserables, Tom Hooper’s big and brash adaptation of the famous musical, is very big. It is very big, and very loud, and very epic. Unfortunately it isn’t very good. I felt more miserable than the characters just watching the mess.

It is mainly Tom Hooper’s direction that bugged me. Almost every shot just felt that little bit “off”; at the wrong angle or wrong height or the wrong distance from the actor. I immediately realised it was designed to look gritty and realistic, but it quickly grew to be claustrophobic. Heck; even the main wide, establishing shot of Paris was a Dutch Tilt! I felt physically trapped in the film, and quickly grew restless.

I also found the editing very frustrating, with jumpy, constant back-and-forth cuts during big numbers. This is the movie musical equivalent to Pavarotti jogging in circles on stage while singing “Nessun Dorma”, distracting us from the performance. When Tom Hooper simply kept the camera still and let the actors perform, flashes of magic appeared. Alas, the editing, both in terms of sound and visuals, was distracting and flawed.

I was not a big fan of the performances, either. While Hugh Jackman does have the presence of a leading man, he falls back on a heavy vibrato every time the score requires passion and effort, with his numbers all starting to sound the same. Russell Crowe, on the other hand, is completely devoid of a musical sound. Every time he opens his mouth he appears to be straining, brushing over the powerful presence Javert usually has in the musical. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are almost inaudible as the film’s “comic relief”, while pretty Eddie Redmayne pretty much sounds like Kermit the Frog more gurgling than singing. It doesn’t help that the film is set up like an opera, with no spoken dialogue whatsoever. Have you ever been to an opera without professional singers? I haven’t… and I don’t plan to after watching this.

Much has been said of the “live-singing”, in which the actors actually sang on set, rather than singing in a studio. This seemed like a good idea in theory, potentially portraying powerful passions, but ask any singer and they’ll tell you it’s easier to sing on a stage or in a studio, than it is to sing on a set, surrounded by dozens of microphones and cameras and people handing out lattes, especially after twenty-or-so takes.

It’s like Communism; a good idea in theory that when put into practice doesn’t actually work, because we’re human beings and not robots who can turn on at anytime and deliver the same quality every time we work. I’m not sure about Anne Hathaway; her performance was so good I’m convinced she is a robot. The whole audience cried during her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream”.

I think all my criticisms can be summed up with this; Tom Hooper has directed a musical as if it’s not a musical. He wanted a grim, raw period piece while keeping the power ballads and rousing choruses, and the two styles simply clashed unsuccessfully. As such, it is a misguided failure.

Oh and what was with the French kid speaking in Cockney British?

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THE GREAT RUBY OF CONSTANTINOPLE

At the dawn of the Second Millennium, when Constantinople was ruled by the Empress Theodora, a ruby was procured from the deepest mine of the region; a ruby so ethereal that it was said even the blind were entranced by it.

It was declared too beautiful for anyone but the royalty to see, and so it was placed within The Great Palace of Constantinople, where only Theodora and her court could gaze upon it. 

Being the most valuable object in the world, it is understandable that an assortment of thieves should attempt to steal it. It is here that we come to a man named Bahadir, who on one Arabian night found himself dangling off the palace parapets.

It cannot be said how he managed to find himself in that situation. It was said that it was impossible for any thief to hope to scale the mighty palace walls. However, Bahadir was no ordinary thief.  It should come as a surprise that a man so popular and well-liked should even follow the path of ignominious crime in the first place.

Bahadir had five beautiful daughters who he loved and cherished dearly. Many men told him that to have no male heir was shameful beyond comparison, and that he should divorce his wife immediately, yet Bahadir would not listen. He loved his wife, and he loved his daughters, and with them he managed to bake the most popular bread in the bazaar.  

That’s right; this thief was a baker! He could always be seen roaming the crowded streets, selling his bread to passer-bys while keeping his own eyes open for rare and valuable items.  

One such item was a mysterious elixir procured from the local apothecary. It was said that the very instance one sniffed it, it would completely drown their senses and they would fall into a deep sleep. It was made for the insomniacs of Constantinople, yet Bahadir saw no problem with using it so subdue the various guards on patrol.

From there he traipsed over to the ceiling sealing the ruby within the palace. He was directly above the Great Hall, where, if his sources were correct, the ruby lied upon a marble pedestal upon a luminescent marble floor. The reason the floor was luminescent was because of a large hole in the ceiling, designed to let sunlight and moonlight in. One could not deny the beauty of this feature, but its security hindrance proved to be quite bothersome for the royalty.

The palace was simply too easy to break into, which may explain why, while he was slowly abseiling downwards, Bahadir found himself crashing into the ground, having fallen twenty feet to a broken right leg. As he stifled his screams, so as to not alert the outside guards, he looked up at the ceiling, where he saw a man untying his rope. Bahadir had already said his final prayers when he realised that this man was not a guard, but another thief; just as cunning, yet marginally slower, than Bahadir.

Bahadir chastised himself for the foolishness of the whole ordeal. At this moment he valued his livelihood far more than the ‘Iris of Allah’ resting a few feet from him. Nonetheless, he placed it in his pouch and set off to escape.

After quickly creating a makeshift cast out of tightly wound rope, Bahadir set off to escape. He proved to be a surprisingly fast hobbler, and much to his amazement, hobbled right out the front gates to safety.

When Bahadir returned to his family he showed his daughters the ruby. He told them that even though they were a humble family of bakers, they could experience the same beauty as the Empress of Constantinople. Listening to the newsreader in the plaza, Bahadir discovered the reason he so easily escaped.

The guards were busy interrogating the thief found prowling the palace ceiling. 

 

Austin Bond 

(Please provide constructive criticism via comments. Thank you!) 

Bolero

When asked about my favourite Classical Piece of the 20th Century (not that I ever am), I immediately think of Maurice Ravel’s one-movement piece ‘Bolero’. By combining European and Latin sounds into a full-scale orchestral composition, Ravel produced a piece that is not only triumphant and beautiful, but remarkably catchy.

Commissioned in 1928 by ballet dancer Ida Rubinstein as a “choreographed poem”, Maurice Ravel came up with the idea for the piece when, while on vacation in the French countryside, he found that a melody he was playing on the piano had a very insistent value to it. It is rumoured that the piece is modelled after the act of sex, which makes sense considering the playfulness, exuberance and… repetition… of the piece.

A constant ostinato rhythm serves as a foundation of the piece. This rhythm is derived from the slow-tempo Latin dance genre known as Bolero, hence the title of the piece. With only the snare drum repeating the rhythm at the beginning, two main melodies slowly flow into the piece.

The rhythm

This is where the genius of the song comes in, for over the duration of the piece these two melodies never change. The key (C Major) doesn’t change, nor does the tempo. It is the the timbre and instrumentation that change, with the piece being passed among the orchestra and growing thicker as the piece goes on. While it opens with a quiet and soft flute section, the full-blown orchestra ends it with extravagance. The piece is essentially one big gradual, grandiose and glorious crescendo.

The most fascinating part of Bolero’s context is how Maurice Ravel’s mental health affected the composition of the piece. Ravel had Frontotemporal Dementia; a clinical syndrome that affects the region of the brain associated with memory, attention and motivation. As such, one of the very early symptoms of FTD is perseveration; ‘the tendency for a memory or idea to persist or recur without any apparent stimulus for it’. While it is tragic that mental illness crippled such a great artist, it may have been this great illness that allowed him to create his masterpiece. Every cloud has a silver lining, eh?

I am truly obsessed with this piece. Maurice Ravel moulded a hypnotic rhythm, playful spirit, memorable theme and uniquely brilliant structure into orchestral brilliance. There is so much beauty to unravel in Bolero.

Thanks for reading!

Austin Bond, 10H

How to Train Your Dragon – Music from the Motion Picture

I love the movie How to Train Your Dragon. With endearing characters, spectacular action and a touching message, it is one of my favourite animated films of recent times. My favourite part of the movie, however, has to be the masterpiece that is John Powell’s score. Excuse the pun, but this spectacular soundtrack brought the film to new heights.

The opening piece of the film, This is Berk, is an absolute delight, leaping from a moody intro to a blood-pumping frenzy of string, brass and chamber voices before cresendoing into an absolutely breathtaking string melody. Dense with rich layers and full-bodied themes, this piece feels like a story unto itself, conveying strength, whimsy and emotional beauty in just over four minutes.

More stirring themes are introduced in Test Drive, creating a rousing sense of adventure and excitement, not to mention being the guiding force behind my favourite scene in the movie; when Hiccup first takes flight on Toothless. The rich melodies introduced in these two pieces echo throughout the score, played by strings, horn, piano and  percussion.

One of my favourite pieces on the album would be See You Tomorrow, with an infectious jig sure to get your toes tapping. The piece simply bubbles with playfulness and joy. Meanwhile, the tense build-up of strings in Dragon’s Den erupts into a bombastic barrage of excitement. Another gem is the soothing and beautiful Romantic Flight, which plays as the lead characters Astrid and Hiccup soar through the clouds.

Now that I think about it, all the songs on this album are gems. With How to Train Your Dragon, John Powell created a masterful score of incredible originality and wonder. This is music with exuberance and tremendous energy; the kind of music that just fills your soul with warmth. This is my favourite film soundtrack. Whether by YouTube, iTunes or The Pirate Bay, make sure you listen to this epic music.

1. “This Is Berk” – John Powell

2. “Dragon Battle” – John Powell

3. “The Downed Dragon” – John Powell

4. “Dragon Training” – John Powell

5. “Wounded” – John Powell

6. “The Dragon Book” – John Powell

7. “Focus, Hiccup!” – John Powell

8. “Forbidden Friendship” – John Powell

9. “New Tail” – John Powell

10. “See You Tomorrow” – John Powell

11. “Test Drive” – John Powell

12. “Not So Fireproof” – John Powell

13. “This Time for Sure” – John Powell

14. “Astrid Goes for a Spin” – John Powell

15. “Romantic Flight” – John Powell

16. “Dragon’s Den” – John Powell

17. “The Cove” – John Powell

18. “The Kill Ring” – John Powel

19. “Ready the Ships” – John Powell

20. “Battling the Green Death” – John Powell

21. “Counter Attack” – John Powell

22. “Where’s Hiccup?” – John Powell

23. “Coming Back Around” – John Powell

24. “Sticks & Stones” – Jónsi

25. “The Vikings Have Their Tea” – John Powell

Thanks for reading! 

 

The Smoke of Incense

Oda Nobunaga stared into the rising smoke of the incense with an unwavering concentration. In it, he saw bloodshed as his men poured into the enemy encampment. He saw strategy triumph over strength. And, like the incense which was filling the room with a fragrant odour, he saw his enemies burn.

‘Did you hear what I said?’ one of his generals asked, having lost his momentary patience. A roomful of generals and advisors were still waiting for a reply.

“I refuse to surrender,” he sternly declared with a voice devoid of emotion.  

“But it’s suicide! He has forty thou-

Nobunaga interrupted his advisor with a loud, mocking laugh.

“Imagawa Yoshimoto has forty thousand men marching here? I don’t believe that for a moment. He only has thirty-five.” Oblivious to the awkward glances his advisors were sharing, he continued his tirade, “What if we do surrender, as you suggest? We simply throw our banners down and let that pathetic pig of a creature walk all over us. Would you really be content with throwing away your honour like that?”

 “We are at the bottom of the pit! Of course our misery is great, and of course there will be suffering regardless of what we do, but this is the chance of a lifetime! Do you really want to spend your entire lives praying for long life? We’re born in order to die! ” He took a deep breath before making his final declaration, “Whoever is with me, come to the battlefield at dawn. Whoever is not, just stay where you are and watch me win!

The finality in his voice lingered in the room as he stormed out.

It was a quiet woodland, or at least it would have been had the massive army not been there. The surrounding forest, rich with vegetation, gave way to a large grassy clearing; the perfect size for a military encampment. It was here that Imagawa Yoshimoto kneeled before his twenty-five thousand men, revelling in his military success as they caroused with song and Sake.

Through the divine military strategy that was marriage, he had allied himself with two other feudal lords.  This made it possible to amass a formidable army of twenty-five thousand, or, if you were a gullible and foolish foe, forty-thousand men. With this army he had destroyed everything on his march to Kyoto, and with Oda Nobunaga’s measly army of three-thousand, the pattern was set to repeat. In his eyes he was truly the greatest military leader in Japan; a thought shared by quite literally a dozen other commanders of the time. It was the Sengoku Period after all, a time of feudal war after feudal war with never-ending military conflict. 

As he stood up to speak, the thousands of hopeful faces looking up at him did well to serve his ego. He gave them the usual stentorian speech, mentioning how they were as “unstoppable as the very wind itself” and using his wickedest imagination to describe how they wound slaughter Oda Nobunaga when his “inevitable day of defeat” came. In the end it was a generic speech, yet it still hit the mark, for the men erupted into drunken celebration. This was his cue to dematerialise from the scene and reappear within the Commander’s tent.

Inside, his senior officers had finished preparing the battle plan for the next day. They hardly needed one, he thought, considering how feeble Nobunaga’s force was in comparison to his, but they had one regardless. If Nobunaga was smart there would be no battle at all.

“The scouts have returned, my liege,” one of his most trusted officers began, “Nobunaga’s main force remains at the temple. Judging by the large number of banners, he has refused to surrender.” 

He couldn’t help but chuckle. “It seems he wants to die,” he replied with nonchalance, “how convenient.”

His senior officers nodded with approval, the same gleaming smile of power on their faces. Suddenly, as if a response to their contentment in victory, noise seeped into the tent. Something loud was happening outside. After glancing between his senior officers with cluelessness, he advanced towards the tent-fly with curious frustration.

“What is going on?!” his voice bellowed as he emerged from the tent. For a moment it seemed as if a drunken brawl had broken out amongst his men.

Unfortunately, Imagawa Yoshimoto did not have any further time to watch as Oda Nobunaga’s men poured into his encampment, having hidden in the forest. He did not have the time to watch his men abandon all discipline as they fled from their attackers, blood mingling with mud in the fevering chaos. He did not have the time to realise that all his hopes of conquering Kyoto had been crushed in a matter of seconds.

He only had the time to raise his sword in alertness, have a spear imbed itself within his neck, and die.  

As one of his generals dumped the decapitated head of Yoshimoto at his feet, Nobunaga smiled gleefully.  While a third of his men fooled the scouts with banners at the temple, the bulk of his force had moved through the entire forest undetected. As Yoshimoto’s army let its guard down, his men had arrived at the rear of the camp; right where Imagawa was least expecting an assault, and right where the Commander’s Tent was situated. With their leader and senior officers dead, Imagawa’s men were too dazed and confused to fight. They were also too drunk. 

“What should we do now, my lord?” a general asked – the same general who had insisted upon surrendering.

 He took a deep sniff of the air. It was rank with the stench of death.

“Raze the camp.” Nothing would please him more than to watch it all burn.

Austin Bond, 10H – Thanks for Reading! 

Three Problems Associated With Working at a Fast Food Restaurant

When the summer holidays began at the end of last year, I decided I wouldn’t sit on my ass for six weeks straight as I usually do, and got a job at a KFC restaurant. For almost five months, I was truly one with the chicken, but at some point a few weeks ago I realised I simply couldn’t be bothered working, sent in my two-week notice of resignation, and returned to my lazy ways.  I bade farewell to my co-workers and, with Golden Gaytime Krusher TM and Popcorn Chicken SnackboxTM in hand, I ambled my way out of the store for the last time. For those of you who are considering getting a job at such a place, here’s some cautionary advice, for not everything at KFC is delicious…

The Accents

Here’s an example of a conversation one will experience at least once while working at the front:

Me: Hi! Welcome to KFC. What can I get you?

Fellow of South-Western Asian descent: ultimootbugameelwitcolslowinsteadofpotatoogrovy

Me: Uh… what was that?

Fellow of South-Western Asian descent: ultimootbugameelwitcolslowinsteadofpotatoogrovy

Me: Uh… say again?

Fellow of South-Western Asian descent: Ultimootbugameelwitcolslowinsteadofpotatoogrovy!!

Me: OK… I’ll just get my manager…

Manager: Hi! Welcome to KFC. What can I get you?

Not being racist or anything (I’m totally being racist) but I have had customers that make Apu from The Simpsons seem as eloquent as The Queen of England. Be prepared for some tricky Asian and European accents, or you will be left dumbstruck with a frustrated customer.

The Dumpster

Changing bins isn’t so bad, right? You take out and tie up the plastic bag in use, replace it with a new one and chuck it in the dumpster at the back. However, the seconds spent in the general vicinity of this dumpster are the most putrid  and nose-torturing seconds of one’s life. At the bottom of this dumpster is a formless and hideous sludge, one that cannot be cleaned, for no one dares to try. If you wish to return to the restaurant with your senses intact, you must hold your breath and get rid of that plastic bag in as little time as humanely possible.

The Music

While the dumpster may scar ones sense of smell, nothing can compare to the curse that KFC will wreak upon your eardrums. To keep up a “pleasant” atmosphere, the songs that are ‘super hot on the charts’ are played, and after many repeat-listenings, it can lead one into a state of utter despair. All those hours spent building up a fine taste in music; a repertoire consisting of GOOD musicians such as (INSERT FAVOURITE BANDS HERE), can feel like they are for naught, for the dreadful blight that is mainstream pop pulverises all the Eudaimonia once possessed due to enjoyable music. This playlist of songs is comprised of mostly computerised, sexualised and poorly-grammaticised drivel, with very few exceptions. It is, in this not-very-humble writer’s opinion, the worst part of working at a fast-food restaurant. Of course if you listen to mainstream pop music, it wouldn’t bother you so much, but then again; why would you be reading this?

Continue reading Three Problems Associated With Working at a Fast Food Restaurant

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

To get the Mission Impossible franchise back on track, Paramount Pictures got esteemed animation director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) to direct this third sequel. The risk of hiring someone new to live-action film-making absolutely payed off, for this film has all the fun and creativity one would expect from a great Pixar film.

Brad Bird has delivered one of the best action films of recent years. The action sequences he has conjured are constantly inventive and exciting, and the pacing is absolutely perfect. I won’t reveal any of these brilliant sequences, so as to not spoil the surprise, but rest assured they are incredibly entertaining. Also, you simply must see this in the cinema*, if only to hear the gasps from the audience as Tom Cruise makes a daring leap of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa.

A benefit of having an animation filmmaker is that the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, with goofy gadgets, bright & colourful cinematography, and the sound of every punch given an emphasised crunch. With a plethora of gritty, dramatic reboots coming out in the last few years, it’s refreshing to watch a film that maintains audience entertainment as it’s number one priority.

The ensemble cast is great, with a strong, healthy message of teamwork prevailing through the film. Tom Cruise, even though he’s getting old, still has his mojo, and Simon Pegg & Jeremy Renner both provide some good laughs. Also, I think I can speak for most gentlemen when I say Paula Patton is incredibly hot. So hot she almost turned me straight. Seriously, I spent a large portion of the third act with my eyes fixated on those big… beautiful… bouncy… Ahem! Where was I? Oh yes; she’s a very good actress. Very respectable performance…

In a year with many bland, cash-grabbing sequels, it’s wonderful to watch a movie with this much energy. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is some of the most fun I have ever had in a cinema.

My recommendation: WATCH IT! 

Austin Bond, 10H 

*Yeah this is a copy+paste of a post on my own blog – lazy I know

PS: I’m aware that the humour in the post was a bit inappropriate for a school blog, but this is how I casually write. Sorry Ms Sheko.