Monthly Archives: July 2016

XL Popcorn – Tokyo Olympiad

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 466/1007Title: Tokyo Olympiad
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Year: 1965
Country: Japan

It’s been slightly under a year since I watched the Olympia films. Two German-made propaganda films depicting the 1936 Berlin Olympics where the spectre of Nazism loomed large. By stark contrast we have a post-World War II Japan.  A country so scarred by the dropping of the atomic bombs that they have become staunch peace-mongers. I can imagine there being some semblance of outcry at their hosting of the Olympics, but it really was a stroke of genius.

Taking Olympia and Tokyo Olympiad you have two very different ways of looking at the Olympics and, as an extension, humanity. In Olympia you have Leni Riefenstahl’s vision of the athletes as modern day demigods. The picture I chose for my write-up really sums up the vision of that film.

Tokyo Olympiad is the complete opposite. Whilst it is still artistic (albeit not as artistic as Olympia) it is rooted in the idea of celebration and peace. A rather sweet example of this is how much Ichikawa focuses on the team from Chad. This was their first games and, in true Chad style, they did not come close to winning a medal. However, Ichikawa sees past that and uses them as a way to demonstrate the Olympic spirit.

Not that Ichikawa doesn’t build tension. I was transfixed during the footage that he included of the women’s volleyball final between Japan and the USSR. I actually started cheering for the Japanese team, such is the power of sports and the reason why I choose not to follow anyone. Apart from Novak Djokovic. I’ve been following him for nearly 10 years now.

As with Olympia, the athletics make up a substantial part of the footage. However, it felt like the balance of sports was better in Tokyo Olympiad with attention also being paid to fencing, gymnastics, field hockey, 50km walk, sailing and others.

Also, like I said, Ichikawa doesn’t just include footage of victors. In the clips of the women’s shot put there is almost equal attention being paid to the guys out in the field placing flags and sending shot puts back to the athletes. To use a London 2012 phrase, he showed the ‘games makers’ in action. In footage of the marathon you see the people on the lines filling up bottles and soaking sponges. A role just as important as whoever won that particular marathon.

Another thing that puts Tokyo Olympiad ahead of Olympia for me is the setting of Tokyo. There is a bit in the beginning where the flame is going through Hiroshima Peace Park. It just evoked strong feelings being reminded of that incredible honeymoon.

Also great? Tokyo Olympiad is up on YouTube completely legally. So if you wish to watch it… just click below:

Advertisements

Around The World In 100 Films – Portugal

100WorldFilms - PortugalList Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 40/100

Title: A Canção de Lisboa
Director: José Cottinelli Telmo
Year: 1933
Country: Portugal

It has been almost  a year since I added another country to my list. I have been so focussed on finishing off the Best Picture list and on progressing with the 1001 list that I have been forgetting to look at this one.

I guess that Portuguese stall at Startisans (and the £30 I ended up spending) helped inspire me. I mean, why not go whole hog and eat Portuguese food whilst watching a Portuguese movie.

My pick for Portugal, A Canção de Lisboa, is the second talkie that was made in Portugal. A musical comedy (where the music happens more organically than your regular musical) that remains popular to this day in its native country. A phrase from the film, which literally translated means “there are many hats, you fool”, has even entered the Portuguese lexicon.

As a comedy from the 1930s there are a lot of  elements that I can recognise. The deadbeat womanizing man who lies and sponges off his aunts whilst he fails his exams to become a doctor. He loses everything and then makes good in the end. The woman with the Louise Brooks style bobbed cut who dumps him only to take him back in the end. Disapproving rich relatives. Yes, it’s a pretty standard formula, but it’s the touches of rather odd one-liners and fado music that make this film what it is.

I don’t quite get how someone like Vasco (the lead) can be a great womanizer as he looks like a cross between Fatty Arbuckle and Steve Pemberton in Tubbs make-up. I guess that’s Portugal for you? I mean, he even knows what the mastoid is so…. swoon?

My favourite musical number of the film is that depicted in the picture. It’s a small festival involving balloons (or possibly lanterns) being set alight. In the musical number the fighting couple have essentially made effigies of each other and sing about their problems. It’s quite a fun number in a strange way.

Not as fun or as strange as one that Alice, the girlfriend, later sings after winning a sewing competition. That number about the needle and the handsome thimble just gets weirder and weirder. Then again, that’s Portugal for you.

Good Eatin’: I’m A Wannabe Lusophile

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

IMG_3213

I think I have mentioned Startisans before. It’s a fantastic food place near the office with a rotating roster of vendors. Well, for the first time there was deSilva’s, a stall specialising in Portuguese imports. I’ve been toying with buying some things from their website for a while so this felt like serendipity.

I was excited. There were two things on offer that I have been actively looking for. I was so excited at the prospect that I fear I came off a little bit creepy. I can not say for sure, but I was proper gushing at how happy I was to be able to find food from the 1001 Foods book. £30 later and I walked away with three things for the food list. I figured, I may never see this stall again so why not. This is why I claim money for my Saturday overtime after all… to pay for my decadent lifestyle of cheese and plums.

IMG_3214Food item: São Jorge

Starting off with this cows milk cheese from the island of São Jorge in the Azores archipelago. At the stall I tried the 7 month old version, but I bought the 4 month old version because it was cheaper. Having tried them both… I think I prefer the 7 month old one.

I am glad that I picked the 4 month old to take home, however, because of the milder flavour and springier texture. There is a sourness to this taste (looking up the term on Google I guess that would be described as lactic) that reminds me a bit of the provolone piccante that I tried a few months back in both taste and texture.

I bought some green olive bread to pair with the Portuguese food and it was a match made in heaven with the cheese.

IMG_3216Food item: Linguiça

If I were to describe this simply it would be ‘Portuguese chorizo‘, but that’s not the whole picture. The smokiness is not as strong as chorizo and the bite is more similar to kabanos. Actually, I think that’s it. Linguiça is what you would get if you had chorizo mixed with kabanos.

I can only imagine just how gorgeous this would be fried and served hot. Instead, I ate it sliced with the São Jorge cheese and the green olive bread. Like with most sausages of this type it is rather oily and it rich in red fat. Profoundly meaty too.

IMG_3215Food item: Ameixas D’Elvas

And now, the star of the show. I have been waiting two years to find some of these preserved Portuguese plums, and then they turn up right on my doorstep. The plums were available either jarred or in a box. I opted for the jarred version for the sake of the syrup. This jar cost about £15, which makes it one of the most expensive items for this list so far.

There is an audible puckering as you fish the plums out of the rich, thick syrup. On its own the syrup has a mellow sweetness with the strong taste of plum. The plums themselves… feel like pure decadence.

IMG_3218

I had to put the jar away after the third plum. At about £1 a plum I was very aware that these are things to be sampled and enjoyed instead of being stuffed in my gob. Also, the whole thing is just so rich that I could tell that if I went beyond five of these I would either start to feel sick… or have a horrendous sugar rush followed by a crash.

At some point I need to find some cake to have the rest of these plums with. Or maybe just bake a cake. Like angel food cake. I bet that would work REALLY well.

Progress: 852/933

Level One – Sid Meier’s Civilization

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 55/100Title: Sid Meier’s Civilization
Developer: Microprose
Platform: PC (and a whole lotta others)
Year: 1991
Position: #46

Hub always says to me that the benefit of PC over console is the huge back catalogue going back all over the years. So I felt a little bit smug when, having installed this onto my laptop, I got a message saying that it would not work. I tried a lot of tricks, but it still would not work. So a bit thank you to the people at MyAbandonware for providing a means for me to play this properly.

Playing the original Civilization game puts me in mind of an issue that I have had before with Assassin’s Creed. It is difficult to start late in a series and then go backwards to the earlier iterations. Prior to this the only Civ games that I had played before were the fourth and fifth ones. As such there were a lot of things that I had to unlearn in order to play this.

A big thing I missed, which is weird to say, is the distinct worker/engineer unit. By having a settler unit that not only creates new cities but also makes the roads and farms makes for a lot of annoying missed key strokes. This happened to me after building a farm and road only to accidentally found a city on top of it.

Also of note is that this is actually more challenging than the fourth or fifth iteration. Part of that will be due to the less user-friendly slant to the original game, but also because there are not as many avenues to go down in order to win. I am a weird one in that I enjoy employing the cultural or diplomatic victories rather than out-science or destroy them.

It’s a great thing to see where one of my favourite strategy games (Civilization IV) came from, and I will see the development with the second game in the series. However, I don’t see myself reaching back in time in order to make my dreams of world domination come true.

XL Popcorn – Dawn Of The Dead

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 465/1007Title: Dawn of the Dead
Director: George A. Romero
Year: 1978
Country: USA

As I have probably mentioned on this blog before – I have a phobia of zombies. It’s up there with my fear of drag queens. If someone if in zombie make-up and comes towards me I get a huge fight or flight response. I am also someone who finds it extremely nerve-racking to play video games where I am having to face off against zombies (so not looking forward to Resident Evil 2 and 4). I am fine, however, with zombie movies.

Dawn of the Dead is truly one of the great zombie movies. It’s the second in the line of six Living Dead movies and the sequel to Night of the Living Dead, which is also on the 1001 Movies list. The difference between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead is staggering. For one thing, the zombies are far more front and centre in Dawn of the Dead. Also, the scope of effect is widened from people inside a house to, effectively, the whole United States.

The film also answers every teenagers dream of “what if the world ended and I could live at the mall”. This idea of holding up in a mall during a zombie apocalypse started here in Dawn of the Dead and has stayed in our pop culture sensibility. Hell, Dead Rising (the fun Capcom video game that I can barely play out of paralysing zombie fear) is basically Dawn of the Dead – The Video Game.

Also to note is the use of make up and special effects. This film is well known for the headshot at the beginning of the film – a bit of almost comic book violence that really sets the tone for what is to follow. The same goes for the bright orange-red blood. I mean, the biting and ripping of sinew and organs is gross enough, at least with the slightly odd blood Romero is still able to root this in fantasy rather than real life.

Speaking of real life, there are some legitimately funny parts in this movie. Not that I am saying a real zombie attack would be a laugh riot, but there would be opportunities to make light considering the circumstances. Most of the humour comes from absurdity – namely the pairing of mall muzak with zombie shuffling. Hehe.

What makes Dawn of the Dead an outstanding horror film is how it is able to bring across the gruesome elements of horror and still force us to examine human psychology in a way that feels neither trite nor overdone. True, the performances from the central cast are not award winning but in the end they don’t need to be. The concept and the set pieces alone make this an essential horror viewing.

Acclaimed Albums – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 109/250Title: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Artist: David Bowie
Year: 1972
Position: #16

I think I need to make a rule – never listen to an album for this list on the same day as Azaelia Banks. This has happened a few times by chance, and her earworms are able to drive out appreciation for other albums. It’s annoying and counter-productive. I also need to make a second rule – listen to these albums whilst I am cleaning as it works better that way.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is the second David Bowie album that I have listened to for the bucket list (the first being Hunky Dory almost two years ago). It is also the first album I have listened to since he died.

I mention my two new rules because on the first listen to this album I thought it was just okay. On the second listen, whilst I was cleaning the kitchen in preparation for a new hob and oven, it grew on me by a sizeable percentage.

The progression between Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust is seismic. There is a move away from the more folk elements (whilst still keeping the Bob Dylan style delivery in certain places) and a fuller embrace of glam rock. Part of me wishes that I had gone through the 1001 Albums book in order and then reached Ziggy Stardust. It would have better helped me piece together the jigsaw of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Love, King Crimson and Jimi Hendrix that combined to produce this album.

I think it is safe to say that most people will know two of the key songs on here: ‘Starman’ and ‘Ziggy Stardust’. It was actually weird to hear ‘Starman’ during The Martian. I know that it wasn’t set up this way, but it felt like a nice tribute. Similar to how we now have a David Bowie constellation. The album is more than those two songs, with the opener ‘Five Years’ and the closer ‘Rock N Roll Suicide’ providing great bookends.

The Cliff Notes of it is: that where I just did not get Never Mind The Bollocks I do understand Ziggy Stardust. I still have two David Bowie albums to go for the top 250, maybe I won’t take two years to get to the next one.

1001 Songs – 1957

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

What a short year! One more like this and then it’s all going to have to be split posts.

Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On – Jerry Lee Lewis

The first of two Jerry Lee Lewis tracks in a rather short year. We are still in the throes of rockabilly, but that is undoubtedly a boogie woogie piano line going on in the background. As 1950s go this is a bit more on the risqué side. Compared to Elvis he does not have the distinctive vocals, but they’re a lot cleaner and have a lot more energy.

That’ll Be the Day – Buddy Holly & The Crickets

This is the only song that I know by Buddy Holly. Since we are less than two years from the famous ‘The Day That Music Died’ plane crash the title feels oddly ominous. There’s not much to say about this song. Compared to the previous song it actually feels dated.

Little Darlin’ – The Diamonds

First thing to say, goddamn this song puts a smile on your face. These first three songs are all examples of the branches that rock and roll had taken by 1957. This song, a cover from an original by The Gladiolas, is far more on the doo wop side. Doo wop, yet painfully white. Interesting thing to note is the lack of drums (because it was 4am and the drummer had gone home), instead there are castanets and, I think, a cow bell.

Weird thing of note, the spoken word bridge inspired ‘Monster Mash’.

Great Balls of Fire – Jerry Lee Lewis

Not even two minutes long. That’s incredibly strange to note. In fact a lot of the songs that we have coming up are in the 2-3 minute mark. This song feels like a distillation of ‘Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On’ to the point that it just oozes sex. It makes you wonder what music would have been like if we had gone down the more piano driven rock of Jerry Lee Lewis rather than the guitar-driven rock of Elvis.

When I Fall in Love – Nat King Cole

Hands up time. I knew the Celine Dion version of this first, by about 20 years. What can I say – my music taste was very gay back then. It’s not totally straight now, but it’s more bi-curious.

Anyway, don’t listen to the Celine Dion and Clive Griffin version. This works so much better as a solo song (even if the strings are a bit much). Also, you don’t have Cliff Griffin going over the top in his delivery towards the end… despite having a rather weak voice.

Nat King Cole, for me, is Christmas. So hearing other songs from his repertoire is an eye opener. I half-expected ‘The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot’ to be following on from this to be honest.

You Send Me – Sam Cooke

Doing this list, I have begun to notice sea changes. Tracks like ‘Rum and Coca Cola’ stand out because they are different to anything else on the list. ‘You Send Me’ feels like a progression towards something different rather than a development of an established genre.

I like Sam Cooke. I even did a review of Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963 for a university newsource as a part of ‘Have You Heard…’ section. This is the start of soul. By the time we finish this song list we will have reached the neo soul stylings of Erykah Badu and we’re going to be picking up funk and disco along the way. What a journey it’s going to be.

Progress: 89/1021

XL Popcorn – The Unknown

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 464/1007Title: The Unknown
Director: Tod Browning
Year: 1927
Country: USA

The Unknown is one of ~50 silent films on the list, and it feels like one of the most modern-feeling silent films that I have seen so far. Maybe that is because this is a very short film, clocking in at less than an hour. Therefore The Unknown feels more like an episode of one of those old-style Twilight Zone anthology horror anthologies.

The Unknown is one of Tod Browning’s three films on the 1001 Movies list. It is also the last one that I needed to see (having already seen Dracula and Freaks) as well as my fourth Tod Browning (despite being incredibly weird, The Devil Doll is not on the list).

Now, of the four Browning movies this is probably my favourite of them. It has a lot of the good parts of Freaks (love, murder, circus freaks etc) but it has a greater sense of focus and the great Lon Chaney as the lead. Also of note is the appearance of Joan Crawford in one of her first silent leading roles. It’s weird looking at her in this and knowing that in 35 years time she will be playing opposite Bette Davis in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?

It’s a great story about what a man would do for love/lust and anonymity. I mean, imagine a criminal pretending to be an armless man in a circus so he is able to burgle houses and not be under suspicion (due to having a weird double thumb on his left hand). Now imagine being so in lust with the man-fearing daughter of the circus owner that you get your arms amputated only to have her get over her fears. Sounds very Twilight Zone right? Now add in a strange death and you’ve got The Unknown.

It’s an interesting watch – go here to see for yourself.

Good Eatin’: Two Nights At The Cardiff Holiday Inn

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

As part of my job there is quite a bit of Cardiff travel involved. Last time I was down there I managed to cross off a book on the way down. My book at the moment is War and Peace, so no chance of devouring that on a return journey. I did manage to get 10% further in which puts me at 32%, so baby steps.

I brought a bunch of movies with me, but due to having meetings until 10-11pm on both nights I did not have time to watch any. Still, I managed to make use of the paid for dinners to cross off some desserts.

IMG_3205 IMG_3206
Food item: N/A Food item: Lemon Posset

Why do so many restaurants eschew plates and bowls in favour of slate and mason jars? I may be incredibly uncool by being annoyed with this. Then again, this is a Holiday Inn and not a Michelin starred eatery.

A lemon posset is a fairly traditional British pudding. It even featured in MacbethThere is no doubt that what you are eating is flavoured and sweetened cream. In the version I had there was also crumbled biscuit on top. It’s one of those things you can only eat very little of before feeling sick.

IMG_3208 IMG_3209
Food item: N/A Food item: Tiramisu

The second night was time for me to try the ‘chicken stack’, which was again served on a roof tile, and a sample of their garlic bread. I’m never one to say no to a free meal, but I actually quite liked some of the food at the Holiday Inn.

For pudding, it was the tiramisu. I’ve had this quite a few times since I starting using the second food book, but I always forgot that this was on the list. It’s not one of my favourite desserts, seeing how it is coffee based, but with the right amount of chocolate sauce it is something I can appreciate.

Progress: 849/933

Oscar Bait – Ordinary People

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: COMPLETE

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 463/1007Title: Ordinary People
Director: Robert Redford
Year: 1980
Country: USA

Well won’t you look at that. The final Best Picture winner in the bunch. I probably could have finished this off properly a long time ago… then again this is never really over. It will become a perpetual game of catch-up for the rest of my life. I don’t mind that though as, to paraphrase Anton Ego from Ratatouille, I don’t just like films I LOVE them.

Now, saving Ordinary People for last was not a conscious decision. However, the fact that all I really knew about this film’s reputation was that this is ‘the film that beat Raging Bull’ did not make me want to watch it. The fact of the matter is that I really do not understand the buzz of Raging Bull outside the performance of Robert DeNiro.

Going straight for the Cliff Notes for Ordinary People: this is a film about how a family of three cope after the death of their eldest son and the failed suicide attempt of the younger son. How do they cope in the aftermath of both of these incredibly tragic moments? This description undersells the movie, but that’s the basics of it.

The heart of the film is Conrad, the younger son played by Timothy Hutton in his movie debut. Now, I have to say that Hutton’s performance is easily one of the best I have seen in an Oscar movie. It’s little wonder that he went on to win the Oscar… for supporting actor… which is bullshit as he has more lines than Mary Tyler Moore (who was nominated for leading actress). Then again, he would have probably had NO chance against DeNiro, so that was clever of the studios.

Now, I have never been through something so traumatic as losing a family member in an accident that I survived (thankfully), but I have been to dark places. It might be because of this that I found Ordinary People particularly affecting. Similarly, it was probably the reason that I found myself getting incredibly angry at his cold mother.

Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland are both exceptional as the parents. It’s criminal that Sutherland did not get the Oscar nomination. It’s interesting to have a film where it is the father who is desperate to connect and the mother who has completely shut out any grief.

Moore gives a more nuanced performance, because that’s what the character requires. Here is a woman who is all artifice and selfishness. She loved her eldest son more as he was the proper all American boy, not the cautious and sensitive son that she decided to turn her back on. The only times where you see her begin to lose herself is when something happens that would affect how she would be perceived by other people e.g. telling a friend that their son is in therapy and what shirt to wear to a funeral.

The interactions between Conrad and his mother are heartbreaking. There are two scenes in particular that got to me:

  1. When taking a family photograph she insists that she takes a photo of Conrad and his father in order to get out of having a photo taken of her with her son.
  2. When Conrad hugs her after her return from a long trip. She is unable to even touch him.

It is the second scene that probably leads to one of the saddest moments in the entire film – a simple and powerful moment where the father realises that the woman he married is not the woman he thought he married. When he asks if she still loves him she says something along the lines of “I feel the same way now as I always have” rather than bringing herself to say “of course I love you” or similar.

In many ways this was a film that was able to do family distress better than Kramer vs. Kramer as it never drifts into sentimentality. Then again, such a court case is what is bound to happen after the conclusion. I would just hope that the father would win.

In the end I think Ordinary People was a film that needed to win after One Flew Over Cuckoo’s Nest tarnished the world of psychiatric medicine. Okay, it isn’t the fix all that it needs to be, but it isn’t all electric shock therapy. Thank you Judd Hirsch for what your empathetic performance has done for removing some stigma of seeking help.