Good Eatin’: Food From Donald Russell

I’m free! Well mostly. I’m back at work and my wrists are nowhere near as bad as they were; more like a bruise than many shots of pain. Good grief it took long enough.

Thanks to a Swiss ex-pats forum topic on finding Swiss sausages in the UK (man I love the internet) I was turned onto the online food seller Donald Russell. Just a quick plug for them – I ordered the food and managed to have it delivered within two days.

Since it was my first order I even got a nifty 20% off voucher that’s good for the rest of the year. Looks like I have a decent chance to cross off roe deer in the next few months (or I might just buy more sausages).

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksIMG_3286Food item: St Gallen Bratwurst

Okay, so these are not names St Gallen Bratwurst on the website, but the Swiss forums assured me that these are the real deal. Plus, the ingredients label shows that they were made in Switzerland so I’m just going to go for it.

Compared to the other bratwurst on this list it definitely had a lighter taste (as in less spices). It was also a lighter colour when cooked, which made it look more like a weisswurst than a bratwurst.

It was definitely a delicious sausage to eat hot from the frying pan. I was so eager to eat them that I ended up permanently damaging the work surface with the bottom of my hot frying pan… oh well.

Food item: Arbroath Smokie

The other thing to come from Donald Russell, which was basically a kipper made using haddock rather than herring.

Off the bat I am going to say that I was not so keen on this one or the way that my kitchen smelt of smoked fish for the following few days.

It was fine, but the sheer number of small bones meant that whilst I could admire the smokey flavour and the flakey texture it was a lot of effort for not a lot of gain.

Food item: Pho

I love pho soup. True, I have never been to Vietnam so I am not sure how far I can go towards saying that I have had authentic pho soup. However, all pho soups that I have tried have three things in common:

1) They are delicious
2) They make me sick afterwards
3) I never learn

As if is wasn’t bad enough that I have had whatever crap has been going on in my wrists… I get hives the evening after eating this pho soup and the sides of spring and summer rolls. Usually it’s just an afternoon of ‘spring cleaning’ and I’m done. This time? It is almost a week later and my fingers and lips are still swelling periodically. Also I have not had a decent night’s sleep since that night.

Curse you and your deliciousness pho soup!!!

Progress: 877/933

XL Popcorn – Dracula (1958) / Scarface (1932)

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: Dracula
Director: Terence Fisher
Year: 1958
Country: UK

The 1001 list starts to get a bit confusing when they include two films using the same source material and the same title. I figured that with this pair of films I would get rid of two of these. Firstly, we have the Hammer Horror version of Dracula.

I have already seen the two versions of Dracula produced in 1931. Only the English language version with Bela Lugosi is on the 1001 list, I could not help but watch the slightly superior Spanish version that was produced in tandem. Compared to both 1931 versions I very much prefer this 1958 version with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. In fact, there is no contest.

I think many people tend to big up to 1931 version as the Bela Lugosi portrayal has become such an integral part of our culture. The thing is when you watch the 1931 version now all of the effects feel rather cheesy. Especially the plastic bat. At no point in this 1958 version do you feel they have had to resort to terrible special effects. In fact the entire production feels rather sumptuous.

What’s also interesting is how much more of a sexual being the Christopher Lee Dracula is. The idea of Dracula has always been sexual but this ramps it up compared to 1931. This is, regrettably, at the expense of keeping it creepy. So far I have yet to see a Dracula interpretation creepier than  Nosferatu from back in 1922.

What this film does have is tension. Christopher Lee actually feels dangerous as Count Dracula and Peter Cushing feels like a force to be reckoned with as Van Helsing. It feels more like a battle with a satisfying conclusion when compared to 1931 where it just feels like the studio ran out of money and needed a quick offscreen ending.

And so I have watched my first Hammer Horror film and I really enjoyed it. This is meant to be the best by far but I might have to track down their version of The Mummy as that is always good for a scare.

Title: Scarface
Director: Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson
Year: 1932
Country: USA

Quick preface: I have not seen the Brian De Palma Scarface film up, but I obviously know enough about it through pop culture as it is one of “those” films. Is interesting to note that whilst the 1932 version of Scarface provided a of the inspiration for the 1980s film of the same name they both turned out rather differently.

Scarface is a film with a very strong anti organized crime message. The moment that the film starts you are presented with screens talking about how the government has failed to stop the gangs. This message is later repeated partly through the film in what feels rather too didactic for my taste. I mean the film even has the subtitle “the shame of a nation”.

The thing is if this really was the message behind the film then it failed spectacularly. If Al Capone, upon his life this film is basically based on, liked it so much that he had his own print then you’ve clearly failed with an anti organized crime message. Similarly this film went on to be one of the key gangster films.

Then again the central idea of this film is that, in the end, gangsters will not win against the strong arm of the law. Where Tony Montana goes down in a blaze of glory, Tony Camonte dies a broken man. He loses everything because of his own hubris. I wonder if Al Capone ever got the irony of that when he was hauled up for tax evasion.

The most interesting thing about this film, however, was the timing. At the time producer Howard Hughes was already having trouble with censors over what they perceived as extreme violence (imagine their faces if they saw Al Pacino with that mountain of cocaine) and this was released before the Hays code came into effect. So much of what made this film interesting would have been lost. I mean how can you recreate the Saint Valentine’s day massacre under those conditions?

Interestingly this is the fourth Howard Hawks film that I have seen since my hand decided to be a little bitch. I now only have one of his films left in the 1001 list (he has 10 in total!) which is a world war one biographical film Sergeant York. I might have to wait on that for a while.

Progress: 564/1007

XL Popcorn – Le Samouraï / The Awful Truth

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: Le Samouraï
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Year: 1967
Country: France

The 1001 film book lists The Godson as the English title of this film. Now I don’t claim to understand why this was called The Samurai (other than the fake quote in the beginning), but as titles go it is so much more evocative of the spirit of the film so let’s just call it The Samurai.

If you wanted to find a French film about an assassin that is incredibly stylised then look no further. If you want a nice piece of French male eye candy then this film is definitely for you (it also has some really good looking French women, but I don’t care as much about that).

Alain Delon smolders as professional hitman and pet bird haver Jef Costello whose life starts to become complicated after a professional hit results in his arrest. We never know why he was hired to kill who he killed, but as the owner of a nightclub it is likely that this man had enemies. Then again that doesn’t matter.

What does matter is just how stylish this film is. Usually when I look at a film it is the performances of the actors that I tend to focus on, but not in this one. The most interesting thing about this film is the use of silence. It takes nearly 10 minutes for us to hear the first line of dialogue and by that point we have already got a good idea of what sort of man he is. Delon is far more powerful in his performance when he is saying nothing.

Also of note is how little colour there is in the film. Now, this is a very 1960s thing as a lot of the good looking fashion was black and white. However, the absence of colour in certain shots is very deliberate. For example, the bird that Jef has is grey and this matches the rest of his apartment. Similarly, the nightclub is all decked out in very 1960s looking black and white decor. The only colourful things you really see in this film is blood and the blue of the cars that he hijacks. The lack of colour is even found in the fashion with Jef, the piano player, the nightclub bar staff and his girlfriend(?) all donning the same palette.

The whole film feels like a 1960s attempt of bringing a 1930s gangster comic book to life. The atmosphere does have a passing resemblance to the world of Road to Perdition just without the son. This film is not that heavy in the kills as we would come to expect as it needs to maintain style throughout. Seeing how many directors list this film as a major influence this is a film to be bearing in mind when I watch future films centred around an assassin.

Title: The Awful Truth
Director: Leo McCarey
Year: 1937
Country: USA

I woke up this morning thinking that my wrist might actually be okay today… and then I make myself a bowl of cereal only to have it flare up again. My fault, obviously, as I fell up the stairs yesterday and landed awkwardly. Now is that for an awful truth!

The Awful Truth fills in that strange niche caused by the Hays code known as the remarriage comedy. There were so many of these in the 30s and 40s only to have them disappear almost entirely once content restrictions were relaxed. By their nature the remarriage comedy tend to be farcical and this film was no exception.

The reason that The Awful Truth is on the 1001 list is because it is one of the few remarriage comedies to win major Oscars (a best director win no less). Also, this was the first film to see Cary Grant in an his now famous comedy persona. This is the persona he would go on to wear in hits such as His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby and Arsenic and Old Lace. So this film is a little slice of film history.

You’re never going to have a marriage comedy with a sad ending. The whole point is that the divorced couple have to rediscover their love for each other and reconcile. As with most of these the reason that they split is fairly tenuous. If they would have just talked to each other normally… but that’s hardly the point now is it.

Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are fantastic and in their role as the feuding couple. They also have an amazing dog. Seriously, that dog has more talent than most soap actors. There is a scene where they play a hiding game with the dog and he actually gets into a position where he is leaning on a chair and covering his eyes with his paws. I did not know you could train a dog to do that!

Another set piece of note is when Cary Grant’s character is dating a showgirl. He comes across his ex wife with her new fiancé and very revel in each other’s embarrassment. He gets embarrassed by the awful number sung by his showgirl girlfriend and is justifiably mocked. He, however, has the last laugh, in a rather well choreographed bad dancing number as performed by his ex wife.

The Awful Truth stands as a first for many things, not in the least being a screwball comedy that won a best Director Oscar. How often does it happen that the Director Oscar goes to a comedy, but the best picture is a biographical drama? This is the only time.

Progress: 562/1007

XL Popcorn – Ride Lonesome / Dead Man

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: Ride Lonesome
Director: Budd Boetticher
Year: 1959
Country: USA

There sure are an innordinate number of westerns on the 1001 list. Should the number of westerns not change in the next update of the list, which it could, then I am right on track. I guess that this genre is far more important than I realised.

Clocking in at around 1 hour 10 minutes Ride Lonesome is one of the shortest feature films on the 1001 film list. What’s interesting is that despite how short this film is the outcome is surprisingly fully formed. The story is fairly simple, but there is more lying underneath.

In the end, it’s a story of redemption and revenge which could have ended up feeling a bit dull if it were not for the short running length. Compared to other westerns I have seen this certainly feels a lot more subdued.

I guess that the reason this film is on the list is to give an example of a Budd Boetticher western. It has made for an interesting change of pace compared to some of the overly machismo westerns that I have seen recently and at least it had a decent ending (unlike Red River... the more I think about that the more annoyed I become).

Talking about endings, the one in Ride Lonesome is extremely satisfying. That ending shot of a ‘hanging tree’ burning with vivid red flames is the perfect way to tie together the motives of all characters once they are all finally resolved or at least revealed to one another.

Title: Dead Man
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Year: 1995
Country: USA

What has happened to Johnny Depp’s career? I had forgotten just how good he could be in a movie and now it saddens me to think that now he makes films like Mortdecai and The Lone Ranger. Still, it is good to know there are films out there like Dead Man which prove the acting chops of Johnny Depp.

Watching Dead Man directly after Ride Lonesome has given me a great deal of perspective regarding the western genre. As I’ve mentioned before (I think when I was watching Little Big Man) I tend to prefer the revisionist style western over the more traditional. One reason being that the depictions of native Americans and women tends to make me feel more uncomfortable. I think that this film goes so beyond revisionist western that it comes out in a sub-genre of its own.

I have seen Dead Man described as one of many different sub-genres of western. Is it an “acid western”, “weird western” or is it a “psychedelic western” as suggested by the director? It’s hard to say really as all three seem to cross over into each other’s territories. Needless to say this is unlike any western film but I have ever seen.

One thing I do know is how well this film depicts native Americans when compared to the “wife trading savages” of Ride Lonesome. The worst people that we see are the white man with particular notice being paid to hired gun Cole Wilson who we see committing acts of cannibalism and stepping on a dead man’s head so hard that the skull cracks and the brains ooze out (yuck).

Also the people you see show up in this film is astonishing. Not only does it boast Robert Mitchum in his final movie role but also John Hurt, Alfred Molina, Iggy Pop and Gabriel Byrne. The real stars of this film, however, are Lance Hendrickson and Gary Farmer. The former as the bloodthirsty Cole Wilson and the latter as Nobody, the native American who helps Johnny Depp’s character out.

Another star of the show is the score written by rock legend Neil Young. His shredding electric guitar is as much of the character in this film as anyone else. It is what sets this western apart from any other that I have ever seen.

The biggest difference between Dead Man and most (traditional) westerns that I have seen is the choice of destination. Films like a Ride Lonesome, Red River and High Plains Drifter end with the idea of redemption, a debt paid or at least some sort of salvation. Here the destination is death. It’s highlighted really early on by the creepy train firemen that William Blake’s journey west will end in death. The bullet that he receives next was heart on his first night pretty much secures that prophecy and the rest of the film is his journey to “that place where the sea meets the sky”.

Despite this Dead Man doesn’t take itself that seriously. There were times when I found myself laughing out loud; usually at something said by William Blake or Nobody. It made for a good breaks in the tension.

It just goes to prove how far you can stretch the definition of western. Films like this keep the almost extinct genre alive, which can only be a good thing.

Progress: 560/1007

XL Popcorn – Les Maîtres Fous / The Thin Blue Line

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: Les Maîtres Fous
Director: Jean Rouch
Year: 1955
Country: France

If there was a film that should never be shown to racists I think it is this short. I’ve actually been left a bit speechless by what I’ve seen and am reminded (somehow) of the ending 15 minutes of the 2003 film Dogville. I guess that’s because of the idea of barbarity which depicted onscreen; albeit different forms of barbarity in both films.

The premise of the film is to follow the rituals that have developed in countries such as Nigeria following colonialism. It presents itself as a documentary, but I can’t help but wonder if the presence of a camera has affected the behaviour of those onscreen. I would hope that this is simply a complete fiction or at least an exaggeration of what goes on.

I live in a highly sanitised world in comparison to the majority of the world’s population. I very much aware of that and am thankful for the privilege. However, I would hope that such acts as the ritualistic killing of a dog and the following ripping apart of its corpse are things that don’t go on. But who am I kidding, eh?

The whole thing is only about a half hour long and it’s pretty much invented its own genre so I would reluctantly recommend Les Maîtres Fous for anyone interested in the history of cinema. Since I’ve been off I have seen some disturbing acts for the sake of the 1001 list and some of the scenes in this, due to this being presented as a documentary, rank rather highly. And I’ve seen Salo.

Title: The Thin Blue Line
Director: Errol Morris
Year: 1988
Country: USA

When I started watching The Thin Blue Line I had the distinct feeling that I had seen this film before. Then I remembered how last year I watched the Fred Armisen/Bill Hader show Documentary Now and they had parodied The Thin Blue Line as ‘The Eye Doesn’t Lie’. Now that I have seen The Thin Blue Line I cannot help but marvel at how well this parody has been executed.

It also got me to thinking of the 2015 sensation Making A Murderer. The difference being that Morris does provide you with the identity with the likely murderer – a man who got immunity for pointing the blame at Adams and some years later ended up on death row himself.

It is so clear from watching The Thin Blue Line that Randall Adams did not murder the police officer. Director Errol Morris seemed to have felt this almost immediately after coming across this case. Adams was not even meant to be the focus of this documentary; instead the focus was meant to be on the psychologist whose testimony had resulted in a large number of death penalties being handed out and the nickname of “Doctor Death”.

The case itself feels so flimsy that it is ridiculous. The fact that it took 12 years and a movie in order for the verdict to be overturned is atrocious. What is even worse is that due to the way Adams was released he received no compensation whatsoever. If it was an official pardon he would have gotten something… but not for this. The whole thing is awful.

So much about The Thin Blue Line feels important. As someone who enjoys watching documentaries it is interesting how many have since mimicked the interview style that we seen in this film. Morris goes on to use this face-on interviewee image in his later films, such as the acclaimed 2003 documentary Fog Of War which I would encourage anyone interested in politics and documentaries to see. In many ways The Thin Blue Line has left its mark on the documentary genre.

I cannot help but wonder what the impact of this documentary must have had on Dallas County, Texas. In order to demonstrate how Adams could be innocent it has to take on the local police, the courts and a number of residents. Sure, some people end up looking good – such as his defence attorneys Edith James and Dennis White – but so many people come off as something short of monsters. Is monsters too harsh a word? Maybe, but some of these perjurious actions could have resulted in the death/murder of an innocent man. That must be one hell of a conscience that these people possess.

Progress: 558/1007

Good Eatin’: Since I’ve Been Off

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

Being off with an arm that, at times, will not even allow me to open my front door has not allowed me many opportunities to cook or get food list items in. This post is effectively a round up of 4 foods that I had by sheer coincidence and the final one as a test to see if I could start cooking again.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

IMG_3263Food item: Crudites

These acted as snacks when I watched the Oscars with my mum. There is not too much to said about sticks of raw vegetables and dipping them into sauces other than it gives the illusion of being healthy when it really isn’t. I applaud any snack that can do this.

IMG_3265Food item: French Toast

Fast forward to Mother’s Day and it’s French toast for brunch at the Walnuts tea room. I remember having the best French toast ever in New York where the place called it Freedom toast after France refused to back America’s invasion of Iraq. It’s a shame how such a delicious breakfast item can get dragged through the political mud when it should be allowed to be what it is.

IMG_3271Food item: Apple Pie

Now we are at the Easter weekend and there is apple pie as dessert. I know that this should have been homemade, but I find it hard to argue with Waitrose quality. There must be so many different variations on the apple pie that it would be a big list in itself to try them all. For now, I am happy to cross this off.

IMG_3285Food Item: Pecan Pie

One thing that I have learnt is to always scan the ‘reduced to clear’ section for cheap list meals. I lucked out with these mini pecan pies. They were a bit too sweet for my taste (which I am guessing may not be indicative of the dessert), but I just love the taste of pecans and pastry so much that it was easy to plough through it. So easy, in fact, that I almost didn’t get a photo in time.

IMG_3282Food Item: Trout With Fennel

We are now in mid-April and this is the first time in a while that I have tried to cook. Using this recipe I figured that it would make for a nice re-introduction. Man, I missed cooking. I’ve missed video games even more, but I know that’s out of the question until I no longer have pain in my wrists. This trout with fennel recipe was so easy to make that I was able to finish making this with minimal pain in my wrists.

If it were not for the food lists I might have never bought a bulb of fennel, let alone paired it with fish. The reason that fish and fennel are paired on this list twice is because it works so well together. I also found that fennel and trout also works very well with bacon. Then again, what doesn’t work well with bacon? The eternal question.

Progress: 874/933

XL Popcorn – The Lady Vanishes / All That Heaven Allows

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: The Lady Vanishes
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1938
Country: UK

I cannot believe that it has been over two years since I last watched a new film (well, new to me) by Alfred Hitchcock. The Lady Vanishes takes me up to lucky 13 and there are still a large number of his classics left for me to see. He is an extraordinary director and out of the 13 I’ve seen only 1 film (Topaz) but I did not like. Now that is impressive.

The Lady Vanishes will easily rank amongst my favourite Hitchcock films alongside Rebecca, Psycho and Rope. In fact it has been a bit of a revelation as I had no idea that he directed a comedy. Okay each services more of a mystery/thriller, but I laughed quite often. Mostly because of those two cricket enthusiasts who served as supporting characters (although at the beginning you think they are going to be the leads) who were so successful that they managed to have their own series of spin off films.

What starts out as a lighthearted comedy in the hotel of a fake Eastern European States ends up being a thriller via a mystery. It worked so well in never amping up the suspense all the way towards the end that it was very annoying when I had to pause the action for a bathroom break. And much like the mystery in at the second act: nothing new is as it seems.

I saw a comment which said that in order to enjoy this film as much as possible you should know as little as possible. I would be inclined to agree with that, otherwise the suspense would not be as interesting.

What can be said is just how fantastic the script was. It was so quickfire and clever and yet when I look at the writers’ later credits and I can’t see anything that noteworthy. Sure, they worked on a lot of films but nothing on the same scale as a The Lady Vanishes. As always you have to praise Hitchcock for pulling the entire thing together and for getting amazing performances out of Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood. Dame May Whitty is, as always, a treasure in her role of Miss Froy.

This was the penultimate film the Hitchcock made in Britain before his move to Hollywood. I can’t exactly say it’s a pity because look at everything he made from 1940 to the end of his career. I am sure that if he had stayed in Britain he would still have been one of THOSE directors but I doubt he would have reached the heights that he did without Hollywood money. If anything The Lady Vanishes provided the perfect goodbye present to his native country.

allthatheavenallowsTitle: All That Heaven Allows
Director: Douglas Sirk
Year: 1955
Country: USA

Before watching Written on the Wind I had never heard of the director Douglas Sirk. It appears that with All That Heaven Allows I have seen his two biggest films. I absolutely adored them both and will be seeking out Imitation of Life once I have finished off the 1001 list.

Both All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind more expertly crafted melodramas with a top performance by golden age star Rock Hudson (who I’m starting to develop a crush on). Also they both feature amazingly vivid colours and beautiful cinematography which helps to make it a feast for the eyes as well as the heart.

However, whilst both films are clearly of a similar style there are some stark differences which makes them unique. When Written on the Wind was able to chew the scenery to give it a more knowingly soapy feel this melodrama is played straight. In fact you get so much more emotionally involved in the lives of Cary and Ron than you did with any characters in Written on the Wind.

What strikes me about the romance in All That Heaven Allows is how a lot of these prejudices still live on today. Sure there are ways that we have become more accepting of a relationship forming between a well to do widow and a working man 8-10 years her junior, but eyebrows would still be raised.

As I watched this I could not help but cast my mind back to when I recently watched Ali: Fear Eats The Soul. The relationship in that film between the German widow and her younger African husband and felt remarkably similar. It is just that you take all the baggage associated with the relationship in All That Heaven Allows and you add a racial element. With both movies I just felt myself perplexed at how their children reacted so cruelly towards their mother finding new happiness.

Actually let’s talk about Ned, her son, as he is a prick. Whilst the daughter also disapproves of this new relationship you can see that she at least it makes the effort during the first meeting. The son, however, doesn’t even give Ron a chance. One of his major arguments being the that she would have to sell the family house in order to move in with Ron. However, after he has successfully split Cary and Ron he brings up the idea of selling the house since neither he nor his sister will be able to visit in the next year due to his scholarship and her engagement. It really boiled my blood when he said that to her. What an ungrateful tosser!

I think you can tell this film got underneath my skin. I think a big part of that was Jane Wyman who was breathtaking in her sadness as the lonely Cary Scott. It was also a treat to see Agnes Moorehead in her role of Cary’s best friend. I wonder how many of these melodramas I have left to go on this list.

Progress: 556/1007

XL Popcorn – Jules and Jim / Red River

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: Jules and Jim (Jules et Jim)
Director: François Truffaut
Year: 1962
Country: France

Jules and Jim is one of those big French classics that I have been waiting to watch for a long time. I know that this is a phrase I mention quite often, this waiting to see a film rather than just see it when I can, but I have a fear that should I just watch the films I want to see then the final stretch of the 1001 list will become intolerable.

Previously I have seen it two other films by Francois Truffaut (“day for night” and Shoot the Piano Player) and those were a mixed bag for me. I know that Jules and Jim is up there as one of the best films of all time. Maybe it was the build up to this but I found this film disappointing.

One thing that I was able to appreciate is just how many films have taken elements from this. Most notably the narration which made me feel like I should watch Amelie again because it really has been a long time. I’ve also seen this film described as being an encyclopaedia of cinematic shots by combining tracking, dolly, freeze frame, archive and many other types of filming. It is true that this makes this film interesting watch, but I just could not get on board with the characters.

Being released in 1962 Jules and Jim was part of a creative explosion that was trying to get away from previous ways of shooting a film. Cleo from 5 to 7 was another example of this and I adored that film, mainly because of the very interesting central character. Catherine, on the other hand, is a character that really bothered me.

We are all agreed that the modern trope of the “manic pixie dream girl” needs to stop because she is not a realistic character. I would lump in Catherine is a rather cruel representation of a woman. Or maybe she is just meant to have some sort of mental troubles. It is hard to deny that possibility by the time the film reaches its conclusion.

I just felt rather sorry for Jules in all of this. He himself knows that no matter how badly Catherine treats him he will never leave her. I mean, he was happy to get divorced from Catherine and let her marry his best friend just so that she could still be in his life. I want to say it’s pathetic, but she lets him live in hope. It’s cruel.

I guess I just expected a whole lot more from this film. Especially how it ended as that did not feel like a logical course of action for the characters to take.

redriverTitle: Red River
Director: Howard Hawks
Year: 1948
Country: USA

When you take spaghetti westerns out of the equation Red River is one of those names that you see amongst the best westerns. Now, thanks to the 1001 list I have changed my mind about the western genre. Films like The Ox Bow Incident and Rio Bravo rank amongst some of my top films. However, western is a genre like any other meaning that you can’t like them all (hell, I would rate animation is my favourite type of film but I have sure seen some awful animated movies).

Red River has a lot to live up to seeing that it is directed by Howard Hawks (Rio Bravo, Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings and His Girl Friday”) and stars John Wayne, Walter Brennan (always adorable) and a stunning Montgomery Clift. I know that there’s a lot about this film that I should like, but it actually found it rather dull.

It’s one those films that I would expect Hank Hill from King of the Hill to rank highly on his list of favourites. It is a true man’s film with cowboys, guns, native Americans, aggression and the stupid posturing that can take place between a father and his adopted son. Considering all the crap everyone has to go through to finish the cattle drive that ending just felt a little bit weak. Scratch that, incredibly weak.

Like with Jules and Jim I think that I have missed the point somewhere along the line of watching this film. Or it was very possible that my own issues have clouded my view (like how I have no sympathy for Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler). Then again cinema allows for this subjectivity and that is what I love about it. I know that there’ll be people who think the idea of Red River being boring is akin to blasphemy, but I feel the same way about anyone who downplays the majesty of Sunset Boulevard.

Oh well at least it wasn’t harrowing in any way… that poor chicken in Pink Flamingos still haunts me.

Progress: 554/1007

XL Popcorn – To Have and Have Not / The Last Laugh

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: To Have and Have Not
Director: Howard Hawks
Year: 1944
Country: USA

Chemistry. It is often one of those intangible things that critics will praise a film for should it exist between cast members. No matter how accomplished the actors are it is hard to fake chemistry. For a masterclass in what this intangible looks like I would suggest you put on To Have and Have Not.

In many ways this film plays a lot like Casablanca, hell it even shares a few cast members and is primarily set in a bar of a French territory (at the time Vichy France). The main crux of the plot? The movement of revolutionaries without the authorities not getting wind of it. Therefore it is actually quite difficult to see this film as being entirely separate from the superior Casablanca.

Now, this is where the chemistry comes in. For a debut film Lauren Bacall is able to generate an amazing presence on screen. Then again looking like that and delivering the famous double entendre line, “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow…”. Not only is her character Slim sex on legs, but she also has a steely determination, deep voice and intelligence. Add to that the sizzling chemistry between her and future husband (then married), just how was Bacall not going to be a star after this?

The thing is, unless you are interested in film history you might as well just watch Casablanca. Don’t get me wrong To Have and Have Not is a good watch, it is just that Casablanca is better.

the last laughTitle: The Last Laugh (Der letzte Mann)
Director: F. W. Murnau
Year: 1924
Country: Germany

In the weekend just gone we had a good friend stay with us and I showed him my favourite film of all time: Sunset Boulevard. It got me to thinking that it was time again for me to watch a silent movie. After all, there is still a good number of these left for me to see and I don’t want to leave them all to the end. I mean, that would just be annoying.

The silent film that I chose was the 1924 release  The Last Laugh (The Last Man in German). The director, F. W. Murnau, has the honor of having a film of his be one of the first winners of the Oscar for Best Picture in 1929. I thought a great deal of Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans and it has been an awfully long time since I last saw one of his pictures.

The Last Laugh is a very odd silent film as it features nearly no intertitles. In fact, aside from a letter being read by the main character there are only two intertitles in the entire film. If you’ve seen enough silent movies you will know just how unusual this is. This, however, was probably one of the great strengths of this film. It was only those three points where exposition was required. It shows a lot of trust in the audience to understand what’s going on and relies heavily on the actors being able to fully convey the required emotions and plot points.

The storyline of The Last Laugh appears to be as old as time itself. A man has spent his life working in a prestigious job for a prestigious company and, because of his increasing age, he is no longer able to fully do his job. It’s sad but the hotel has their hands tied behind their back when their tall man is no longer able to lift the luggage of their guests. Rather than forcing him to retire they created position as a bathroom attendant to make sure that he is still able to earn a wage.

It breaks your heart when you see him being told about his reassignment. It is also completely understandable that his pride is so wounded that he is able to tell anyone about his demotion. You can guess what happens next. That is why the English title makes more sense than the German title. In the end, when everyone has seemingly deserted and mocked him he is able to get the last laugh.

It is in this last laugh where the second of the two intertitles comes into play. The writer and/or director intervened to make sure that this old man does not lose all hope and seemingly rot away in this job he hates. They tell the audience that, unlike society, they will not abandon him and so give him a happy ending. It makes for a sweet, if unlikely, ending.

Like with all good silent movies The Last Laugh just shows how much can be conveyed without dialogue. I still unquestionably prefer talkies over silents, but it just reminds me to not doubt the power that they can still hold nearly 100 years later.

Progress: 552/1007

XL Popcorn – High Plains Drifter / The Marriage of Maria Braun

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: High Plains Drifter
Director: Clint Eastwood
Year: 1973
Country: USA

Welcome to the world of the ‘weird west’. I think that I have been getting a real education when it comes to the world of the western movie and High Plains Drifter has only added to it. What makes for a ‘weird west’ film? Well, just add supernatural elements to a western movie and that’s about it.

The score alone makes this feel like a weird western movie. Dee Roberts managed to create a western score like I have never heard before. It’s eerie and unsettling, which only heightens the uncertainty of Clint Eastwood’s nameless character.

Speaking of his character – he is an awful man. One of the first things he does is to rape a woman just because she was a bit rude to him. He plays it off like she wanted it and despite her cries for justice the rest of the town refuse to hear her out as they don’t see it as being worth her while. As she says, he did it in broad daylight.

The thing is… that’s the point of it all. Here is a stranger rolling into town and the townsfolk are so beyond saving that they won’t save one of their own from being raped. We later find out in the past that they stood idly by and watched as their marshall was bullwhipped to death. The woman in question being one of the people that stood and watched.

Over the course of the film we see Clint Eastwood’s stranger pretty much dismantle this entire town financially, psychologically and (eventually) physically. Who he is… depends on the version you watch. If you watch it in English it is clear that he is the spirit of the marshall who has come back to take vengeance. In foreign versions he’s the brother. I like the idea that he is a troubled spirit because it makes his ridiculously amazing gunslinging make a lick of sense.

The whole film started out being inspired by the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese where a woman was stabbed to death in plain daylight and no onlookers did anything to help her. As allegories go it’s a pretty powerful reference. The thing that I really disliked in this film, however, is how the women were treated. If the whole thing was inspired by the murder of this woman then why are all the women in this town treated worse than cattle?

Still, as a different kind of western this was an entertaining watch.

Title: The Marriage of Maria Braun (Die Ehe der Maria Braun)
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Year: 1979
Country: Germany

The tagline for the 1946 film Gilda is “There NEVER was a woman like Gilda!” and I never quite thought that it fit that film. I would, however, say it was a line that could be applied to Maria Braun.

This is one of those films that I have been waiting to see for a very long time based on the description in the 1001 book. The thing is, there is a bit of a major mistake in their description. It says in the book that she accidentally kills an American soldier who tries to rape her… but she was in a relationship with him and it was full consent. It just happens that the husband she thought was dead catches them about to have sex and she wants to defend her husband from her lover. It’s an important plot point and it’s weird way to frame that moment in the book.

Despite that mistake I thought this was a great film and it’s all because of Maria Braun. We start off in 1943 on her wedding day as the building she gets married in is bombed by Allied planes. After a day and a night her husband goes off to way, presumed dead. Through various situations that occur she never gets a chance to truly be live a married life with her husband for the next decade. I would go into it, but spoilers.

The role of Maria Braun has to be one of the great cinematic roles created for a woman. It’s also an incredible tightrope for actress to have to walk. At all times Braun has to remain sympathetic, but over the course of the film we see the previously idealistic woman have to harden against life in post-WWII Germany. As she says in the film, “it’s not a good time for feelings”. She does all this whilst remaining truly faithful to her husband of two days. It’s an astonishing show of love.

By the end of the film she is but a cynical shade of the woman that we previously got to know and it is heartbreaking. It is a true joy to watch Hanna Schygulla inhabit the role with charm, wit and astonishing self-confidence.

Other than a tour de force performance from Schygulla, the thing that keeps this film going is a rollercoaster of emotional twists and turns in the script. A lot of hands touched the script, but the film feels very much the work of one vision. It’s not the first film to depict a woman taking the reins in a post-war country in order to survive and ‘create [her] own miracles’ but it is certainly one of the finer examples of this story.

Just to think that before Ali: Fear Eats the Soul I had never seen a film by Rainer Fassbinder and now I have seen two that I would rank as 9/10s. I still have two of them left to cover from the book. I do wonder if they will be able to come close to the two I have already seen.

Progress: 550/1007