Thursday, October 29, 2009

An Education Film Review

Review Of An Education:

“An Education” is a coming-of-age story set in 1960s London. The screenplay, written by Nick Hornby of “High Fidelity” and “About A Boy” fame, features his trademark clever dialogue and unconventional characters, aiming to inject levity into what could otherwise be the age-old school versus fun movie dilemma.
The main character, Jenny — played with a disarming charm by Carey Mulligan — is 16-years-old. She is intelligent, attractive and witty — think a ‘60s Rory from “Gilmore Girls.” She plays the cello, loves all things French and aspires to walk the hallowed halls of Oxford. Her parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) are not your typical overachieving parents — in fact, Molina’s performance especially shines in the film.
While the entire family is bent on doing everything to get Jenny into her dream school, they are not the career-obsessed tormentors a la “Dead Poets Society.” Their droll humor and cheeky exchanges with their daughter make for some of the most entertaining scenes in the movie.
In one particularly amusing scene, Jenny’s father explains to her that Oxford wants “joiner-inners” and gives a hilarious analysis of one of her after-school activities and what the purpose of a hobby is in terms of college applications.
The banter between Jenny and her parents shows them to be, well — cool, which is yet another novelty in the coming-of-age film genre. It is precisely this coolness that introduces the conflict of why her parents, just like Jenny, fall for the ruses of a charming older man, twice Jenny’s age, David, played by Peter Sarsgaard.
Sarsgaard does an incredible job, portraying his character as a mixture of a disturbing borderline sexual predator and charming but thoroughly confused rake.
“An Education” raises a lot of class issues; David is able to charm Jenny only because he is able to take her on whirlwind trips to Paris, fancy restaurants and chic jazz clubs. Middle class Jenny bemoans that she has never had any fun and writes off her pre-David life as boring.
Yet there are plenty of warning signs that David is a conman, albeit a very charming one. This begs the question of why Jenny chooses to ignore what is right in front of her; after all, she is too clever and wise for such things. It is precisely this plot element that seems to be a stretch, yet our belief in it is pivotal. To loosely dismiss it all as “young love” and the folly of youth is almost too easy. Maybe it is precisely the glamour and wealth that makes Jenny and her parents go along with David’s elaborate web of lies.
One of the more poignant moments in the movie comes when Jenny demands to know why her dad, who is the old, wise and ever protective father, did not foresee the fallout. As she says, “Silly schoolgirls are always getting seduced by glamorous old men,” but that should not have been the case with her parents.
Therein lies one of the greater strengths of this movie — portraying the few options open to women in the 1960s. It seems that Jenny’s life paths appear to be limited to old-maidish schoolmarm or wife of a well-to-do man. In one exchange with her parents, Jenny sarcastically points out that apparently, education is merely an “expensive alternative to a dinner dance” and an end only in its enabling of one to become an educated housewife.
Ultimately, “An Education” asks which is more valuable: the school of life or formal education. The two are not evenly matched, however — David and his coterie are clearly not of ingĂ©nue Jenny’s ilk. As he says, “We are not clever like you.” They are, however, able to create their ridiculously fun and adventurous life precisely because of their questionably attained means, thus making the fun versus school dilemma not all that even.
Jenny’s English teacher asks her, “You can do anything, Jenny, you’re clever and pretty. Is your boyfriend interested in the clever Jenny?” The resounding “no” makes the end of the movie fairly predictable. Nevertheless, the film has enough idiosyncratic and enjoyable elements to make it worth seeing if one can suspend disbelief in some of the more far-fetched plot developments.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Wax Tailor Concert Review

Wax Tailor Review + Picture

French turntablist Wax Tailor’s tour in support of his recently released third album, “In The Mood For Life,” made its stop at DC9 on Thursday, Oct. 8. Wax Tailor’s name is very apropos: his unique blend of trip-hop, hip-hop, downtempo, clever movie samples, jazz and soul has garnered him many accolades, with his 1995 album “Tales Of The Forgotten Melodies” becoming one of the best-selling electronic releases of the year.

Wax Tailor’s new album perfectly showcases how natural and symbiotic the blend between hip-hop and downtempo can be. Since the release of DJ Shadow’s seminal album “Endtroducing,” many musicians such as DJ Krush, RJD2 (whom Wax Tailor previously toured with), DJ Vadim and others have shown that turntablism by its very definition is a genre-defying art form.

Wax Tailor has always had a consummate ability to build sonic blends — an ability that comes from having feet firmly planted in both the DJ-centric hip-hop culture and the beat-and-atmospherics world of trip-hop.

Astronautalis opened the show with an interesting shoegazer, rock-talking, blues-punk, hip-hop-Beck-esque hodgepodge. The set-up of electric cello and flutes on the stage signaled Wax Tailor’s natural musical evolution on this tour.

“I would say this album is a lot more organic; I have been working with a lot of orchestral stuff lately,” Wax Tailor explained to the audience.

A constant element throughout the entire performance was Wax Tailor’s live turntablism — he could have very easily relied on laptop wizardry but he worked the wax with the seasoned knowledge of a pro. Yet, he did not take center stage or allow the scratching to overtake the performance. In a subtle way, he used the turntables and vocal samples to work with the other musicians. Songs flowed together seamlessly creating a sonic landscape, and the entire set felt thoroughly uncontrived and flowed together perfectly, incorporating both the free-style format of hip-hop and the improvisational component of live music.

The set list consisted of material mostly from his new album, and with 19 tracks on the new release, there was plenty to mine from. Chanteuse Charlotte Savary’s performance was especially spectacular — in the pantheon of female voices in downtempo music, from Beth Gibbons with Portishead to Martina Topley Bird with Tricky and Emiliana Torrini and Lulu with Thievery Corporation, she more than held her own. Her lilting, beautiful voice lent itself perfectly to the atmospheric instrumentals. Her first song “Dragon Chasers” is sure to be one of the hits from “In The Mood For Life” with its melancholy vocal loop chorus and languid flow.

Rapper Mattic followed with a crowd-stirring performance of “Until Heaven Stops The Rain” and free styled effortlessly with the band and the turntables. Cellist Matthieu Detton and flutist Ludivine Issambourg’s performance was absolutely phenomenal — very unlike a typical set-up where these instruments support and weave in and out; they were an integral component of all the songs.

The flutist improvised and took center stage on many of the tracks, with this call-and-response pattern lending itself perfectly to the improvisation style of both hip-hop and turntablism. On “Fireflies,” when both Charlotte and Mattic took the stage, the seamless way in which all five musicians worked with and off each other showcased the sheer musical breadth and genre blending that is a hallmark of Wax Tailor’s work.

Toward the end of the show, Mattic offered a raucous take on “B Boys On Wax,” a truly appropriate homage to the MCing and turntablism culture that Wax Tailor clearly knows and contributes to. The band then performed two songs off “Tales Of The Forgotten Melodies” — “Que Sera” and the DJ Krush-esque “Out Dance.” The final song was the up-tempo new single “Say Yes.”

Wax Tailor has always shown a consummate ability to craft sonic landscapes, but what makes him unique is that, while he is an excellent turntablist, he never makes his work solely about that. While this new album incorporates more live instrumentation, it also doesn’t do so jarringly or take his style in an entirely new direction. “In The Mood For Life,” as its title suggests, is very much about a natural and subtle integration of the turntables and the instruments, the songs and the atmospherics, the slow and the fast, the melancholy and the upbeat.