Monthly Archives: October 2016

What’s On TV – A Warning To The Curious

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 173/501
Title: A Warning To The Curious
Episodes Aired: 1
Episodes Watched: 1
Year(s): 1972
Country: UK

Happy Halloween everybody! What better way to get into the spirit than a ghost story, eh? True A Warning To The Curious is one of the BBC’s old A Ghost Story For Christmas, but a ghost story is a ghost story!

Following the pattern of the A Ghost Story For Christmas series A Warning To The Curious is an adaptation of one of the many ghost stories written by English author M. R. James. We will be returning to this series of ghost stories in the future as there are numerous entries from this series on the 1001 list.

In a nutshell, A Warning To The Curious is about an amateur archaeologist who goes to a remote town in Norfolk in search of a legendary crown. The crown itself has been guarded by members of a family (we see a member of this family hacking to death a would-be discoverer of the crown) until the death of the last of their line. Ghostliness ensues.

Having watched this I can think of two stage directions that would be prevalent:

  1. ‘exit, persued by ghost’ – because of how often we see the main character being chased by a ghost
  2. ‘enter, suddenly’ – because the villagers just randomly appear as if from nowhere. Especially the hotel clerk. He’s the absolute worst.

The 1001 book refers to this story as being spine-chilling, however I was not that convinced. Over the first 20-odd minutes it was hard not to see parts of it as a horror comedy. The strange hotel clerk and the weird skeleton in an antique were so in need of mockery.

It does ramp up once he digs up the crown. There is a scene in a dark hotel room where things feel tense, but apart from that it was very tame. Sure it’s 50 minutes on the BBC and it airs around Christmas, but there was a lack of menace here (even though Peter Vaughan was brought in for menace… apparently). I know that some of the other, and more recent, ghost stories are able to pull this off a bit better so I look forward to sampling them at some point down the line.

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What’s On TV – Knight Rider

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 172/501
Title: Knight Rider
Episodes Aired: 90
Episodes Watched: 15
Year(s): 1982-1986
Country: USA

Just for starters – I know when first adding the 1001 TV Shows list to this blog there was a grid where I said that for TV shows less than an hour in length it would be a sample of 20 episodes. Truth is, we just wanted to move on.

That isn’t to say that we didn’t derive some level of enjoyment from the world of Knight Rider as that would not be true. Thanks to perusing a number of blogs we were able to make a list of what would be considered the best episodes. The other option would have been to watch a season or just go scattershot – so I think this was the best option.

So what is Knight Rider other than the vehicle that gave the world David Hasslehoff? Well, it’s an action/adventure show where a man fights crime with the help of a talking car. Usually there’s a  good looking girl in distress for good measure (but not always).

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In one of the better episodes the role of the good looking woman in distress was actually played by Geena Davis. As I watched it I kept thinking “in four years you will have an Oscar”. It was just one of those weird moments where you have to take a step back and realize you are watching one of those ‘Before They Were Famous’ moments.

Just looking at Geena Davis and David Hasslehoff in that picture makes me think of how eighties this show is. I mean, look at their hair!? Everything from the fashion to the music to the opening sequence with narration by Richard Basehart…

gypsyRichard Basehart!

… just screams 1980s. In some ways Knight Rider probably couldn’t exist as a series nowadays, it just feels a bit too camp (and sexist if I’m being honest) in places.

The bright light of this show was KITT and how this artificial intelligence interacted with everyone around him. Having watched episodes from all four seasons it’s rather heart-warming to see how the relationship between Michael Knight (Hasselhoff) and KITT developed. This developing relationship is the focus of my favourite episode of the 15 we saw: ‘Knightmares’.

The reason ‘Knightmares’ works so well is that it focuses solely on the relationship between KITT and Michael. Sure there are villains in a dam (or at least the shell of one), but this is very much a secondary point. It’s a bit of a pity that the writers had to resort to a soap opera style plot of Michael getting amnesia in order to focus on this… but I guess that is the only way they could canonically allow Michael to be SO vulnerable.

A lot of praise has to go to William Daniels for his voice-work as KITT. He has the right level of flat emotion and snark in order to give us the perfect KITT. In a scene full of car chases and jumps (that have become a bit boring after a few episodes) he is able to bring us right back with a cutting remark about Michael’s gambling, womanising or a sudden desire to become a cat burglar. KITT is a genius creation in his own right and the true star of Knight Rider.

So yes Knight Rider was fun, but there are so many shows that I am itching to see like The Twilight Zone, The Singing Detective and Buffy The Vampire Slayer that made it feel as if it was time to move on.

Let’s Get Literal – Lord of the Flies by William Golding

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 31/100Title: Lord of the Flies
Author: William Golding
Year: 1954
Country: UK

Lord of the Flies is another one of those books/comics that I’ve managed finish due to waiting in doctors’ offices. Since this is one of the shortest books that I have on the list I guess I can let that slide.

When I was 12 (Jesus Christ that was 14 years ago) I tried and failed to read this book. It wasn’t anything against the book, I just hadn’t found the joy of reading at that time. I mean most kids of my age got into Harry Potter around that time, but after book three I just wasn’t interested in that either. It was actually thanks to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that I properly got into reading.

In a way, I am quite glad that I did not finish this book. You see, in many ways, I was Piggy. Even the reading this now I can see that if I was dumped onto an island with members of my Year 6 class I would have been Piggy. I think it also helps that I have teaching experience because it helps me appreciate how terrifying of a look at humanity this is. I mean, given all the circumstances this probably could happen the way that he played out.

Now I appreciated this book as an allegorical tale and in terms of character building, but I actually found the style of writing to be fairly laboured at times. I just wanted him to get on with it towards the end because it was very clear how of this book would finish. It isn’t too much of a spoiler to say that the kids are rescued in the end. It’s fairly obvious if you know anything about pop culture. What I loved about the exchange between Ralph and the naval officer is how perplexed the grown up and is. I mean and how could British children resort to such savagery? I may have snorted at that line.

At times it is preachy, but man some of those tragedies sure pack a punch. I thought I knew pretty much everything in this book thanks to cultural osmosis. I’m so glad to say I was wrong. Even if the talking pig took me a bit off guard what it represents is chilling. I also loved how Golding was able to link the conch shell to the goings on in camp. Definitely food for thought this book is.

Acclaimed Albums – Daft Punk

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 112/250

Title: Homework
Artist: Daft Punk
Year: 1997
Position:
#158
Title: Discovery
Artist: Daft Punk
Year: 2001
Position: #203

Gee whiz how long has it been since I last listened to an album for the list? Well, nearly three months and it was an album that captured my heart almost immediately (Oh ‘Loveless’ you are still an amazing album).

I am not sure where the albums list will be by the time this is published, but I can bank on Homework still being on the list. I hope that Discovery doesn’t get knocked off, but if doing this blog has taught me anything it is that any album in the 200s isn’t safe. To be fair I could have just listened to Patti Smith’s Horses and got a good safe album, but I know and like Daft Punk so this is easy to cross off.

Personally I am actually surprised that Homework is higher than Discovery. Having re-listened to them back-to-back I swear that Homework sounds a little bit repetitive (in a bad way) in places when compared to Discovery. Sure it has ‘Around The World’ on it, which is one of the great pieces of electronic music, and some other good tracks like ‘Revolution 909’. My problem is that it feels like a lot of the same thing, which means it begins to drag towards the end.

The thing is, how can you argue with Discovery being the best Daft Punk album? You just need to watch Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem to see how well this album works together. Or you can just listen to ‘Digital Love’, ‘One More Time’ or ‘Veridis Quo’ to get the picture.

Random_Access_Memories

This album is not in the list as of writing this post. However, there was a time that it looked like a dead cert on entering it so I might as well hedge my bets now.

Everyone and my mother really thought a lot of Random Access Memories, but it never found a way to eclipse ‘Discovery’ for me. Also, I think I am weird in not having “Instant Crush” as my favourite song from this album and not ‘Get Lucky’. Still, it’s fun though.

XL Popcorn – Easy Rider / The Wheel

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Easy Rider
Director: Dennis Hopper
Year: 1969
Country: USA

Strange to think that the first film that I watch for the 1001 list since heading back to work. Weird since this is one of those films where I don’t think any of the lead characters have ever done a lick of work in their lives.

As well as being on the 1001 list Easy Rider is one of the final three films I have to watch on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best American movies (after this it is just The Wild Bunch and Sophie’s Choice).

So this film has an awful lot of good words behind it from critics, which makes me all the more self conscious for finding it really quite dull. Except for Jack Nicholson whose moments on the screen inject Easy Rider with a needed amount of energy.

In essence this film is about two bikers who are travelling to New Orleans in order to sell drugs (in an Otto from The Simpsons way rather than Breaking Bad). The thing is, other than Jack Nicholson, the films major moments of interest only happen in the final 20 or so minutes. Not only do we have an LSD trip, but also a gunfight and exploding bikes.

That LSD trip in Easy Rider is very similar to the earlier Roger Corman film The Trip, which was penned by Jack Nicholson. Now THAT was weird. It felt a bit more toned down and made for the mainstream here… which is a pity.

I don’t know, but for a landmark in counter-culture and New Hollywood cinema I was profoundly unmoved. Maybe The Wild Bunch will do a better job.

Title: The Wheel (La Roue)
Director: Abel Gance
Year: 1923
Country: France

The next film in my attempt to remove the longest 1001 films from my watchlist is a silent 4 1/2 offering from French director Abel Gance. Previously I had already watched another 4 hour film by Abel Gance – his 1927 film Napoleon. His rather astonishing 4 hour long silent Napoleon biopic.

I don’t know why it is that you find so many more of these extremely long silent films compared to what we see nowadays. The initial thought is cost, but when you see some of the sets created for the likes of Intolerance and Metropolis… anyway I don’t right know the answer. All I know is that you need a lot of free time to watch La Roue.

For a four hour film the story isn’t really that complex, but it is very interesting. The centre of the drama is Norma, a girl orphaned by a train crash who is adopted by main character Sisif. I say that she is in the centre of the drama because she is the centre of a love… web? Not only does Sisif grow to have feelings for her (which he deems unnatural… and it’s hard to disagree), but she also manages to capture the attention of her adopted violin-making brother and Hersan (who is basically the villain).

Now, despite the ick factor I would agree with anyone who says that Norma should have ended up with her brother Elie. He is kind, smart, attractive and makes gorgeous-looking violins. Then again it would be a bit unorthodox for her to marry her adopted brother. Love is love though.

That aside, what is astonishing about La Roue is the amount of innovation that occurred. There are a number of shots and lighting effects that were used for the first time in this film. A lot of the train sequences stood out, but the thing that made me rewind was near the end. You have Norma standing in the door of a cabin in the Alps with a killer snowstorm going on. There is this close-up on her face where the film has been tinted blue and it is breathtaking – so I had to use it as the picture for this film in my blog.

The problem with movies of extreme length is that I know it will be unlikely that I’ll ever watch it again. Still, with over 400 films to go, who has the time?

(Right so this number is going to be jumping up one extra since we have had an update to the 1001 list . It’s rare for me to actually go up rather than down… so I’m just going to enjoy that)

Progress: 569/1007

What’s On TV – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 171/501
Title: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Episodes Aired: 26
Episodes Watched: 26
Year(s): 2015 onwards
Country: USA

When 30 Rock ended there was a very large Tina Fey shaped hole in my heart. To this day 30 Rock remains one of my favourite TV shows of all time (something bolstered by the recent binge watching I’ve been doing of seasons 4 to 6) because it is one of those rare comedies that is smart and yet can be really stupid. It is little wonder that it is considered one of the best written shows of all time. When Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt came along last year I was very excited.

So far there have been two seasons of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and each time this season came out I managed to binge the entire thing on the Saturday after it was released. We did not mean to do that with the first season, is just how things worked out. When the second season came round the idea of binging it was very much a conscious decision.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt comes from the brains of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock (go 30 Rock!) and is centred on the titular Kimmy Schmidt who tries to get her life back together having just been released from a bunker where she lived for 15 years after being kidnapped by a mad preacher (John Hamm). Also on board in this strange Netflix sitcom is her gay roommate Titus, her unhinged landlady Lillian and her employer Jacqueline.

Tituss-Burgess--Kimmy-Schmidt--Titus-Andromedon-

On the surface it sounds like just another take on the comedy of misfits (and in many ways it is), but there is just so much more to it. It’s just this strange mixture of clever and weird that completely works for binge watching. How many shows would cast the ancient grandmother of an Italian family as a puppet? Or actually find a way to infuse an entire episode with fake (and yet authentic sounding) Broadway showtunes?

Of course this show would not work without Ellie Kemper. Seriously, the character of Kimmy is so relentlessly optimistic and naive about pretty much everything that she should be annoying. But there is something about the way she wears her wheelies and carries her lunchbox that makes Kimmy endearing. Also, Kimmy is strong as nails. Sure, she gets knocked down and at one time succumbs to a spin class cult (headed by the always funny Nick Kroll), but she is one of the toughest women on TV at the moment.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt also found a way to become a mix of bingewatch and viral. In a bingewatch you do forget some of the jokes, but the likes of Peeno Noir, Bunny & Kitty and “Hashbrown, No Filter” manage to permeate through 6 and a half hours of continuous watching.

As of writing this (in April) Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is one of my favourite comedies on TV (alongside Archer and Bob’s Burgers) and I am eagerly looking forward to what Tina Fey and co are going to come up with for the next season.

1001 Songs – 1958

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

3 months of real time since last doing this. Man, these wrist injuries have really done a number on me. Anyway here goes:

It’s Only Make Believe – Conway Twitty

Conway Twitty means two things to me: a brilliantly done running joke in a Family Guy episode and a game of Trivial Pursuit being played by the stranded cast of One Foot In The Grave.

These thoughts clouded my first listen of the song. So I listened to a Fiona Apple cover of it to clear my head. By this time it is amazing to think how many people came out of the woodword with similar voices to Elvis Presley. I prefer the Fiona version (and she needs to release it), but maybe that’s just me.

Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry

Marty McFly ❤ How can anyone hear this without thinking of Back to the Future? This song symbolises to me that moment that rock and roll really got its wings and began to fly. A lot of the elements come together here so much more effectively than in the songs that lead up to it.

That guitar riff is just immortal nowadays and the whole thing just makes you want to get up and dance… oh God I’ve seen what’s next.

Move It! – Cliff Richard & The Drifters

It’s better than any of his Christmas songs I’ll have to give him that.

Cliff Richard was always meant to be Britain’s answer to Elvis Presley (a terrifying idea). When you hear this song directly after ‘Johnny B. Goode’ he is just outclassed. It is interesting, however, to see what music was doing on this side of the pond though. Next!

La Bamba – Ritchie Valens

First thing to note is how much slower this song is compared to some of the covers that came later. What this and Cliff have gone to show is how that sweet rock and roll song was just starting to permeate between borders and find live everywhere.

‘La Bamba’ straddles that line between rock and roll and tejano with a really interesting result. Ritchie Valens released this just 5 months before the famous plane crash where he died alongside Buddy Holly. Only 17. Jesus.

Yakety Yak – The Coasters

Oh my god, I just one of those moments where I completely forgot I knew this song. Now that I listen to it ‘Yakety Yak’ is a funny song of a teenager getting annoyed at having to do all the household chores.

I have no idea where I’ll know this song from, probably an advert of some sort. This is just another example of how rock and roll was branching out – this time with a bit more doo-wop thrown in.

At the Hop – Danny & The Juniors

I want something other than rock and roll! Jesus other than the Conway Twitty song this is just a unbroken run of rock and roll songs.

We are still in doo-wop territory with that piano in the background, but this time this is a song about a place where teenagers would go to dance. That’s it. I mean sure sometimes kids would take their shoes off for a ‘sock hop’, but that’s it. Imagine going to a club and being okay enough with the state of the floors to be dancing around in your socks. Simpler times.

Stagger Lee – Lloyd Price

Here we have a song with a bit more substance. Based on a folk song about a man murdering his friend. The lyrics are dark with a man begging to have his life spared for the sake of his sick wife. The description of the bullet breaking his bones as if they were glass… just wow I was expecting it to be a bit more sanitized.

I’m enjoying the repeated refrain of ‘Oh Stagger Lee’ in the background. This song might go down as the happiest suprise of this year.

Summertime Blues – Eddie Cochran

Still rocky, but this feels a bit more country. Like old style rockabilly Elvis. Where ‘Yakkity Yak’ is about a teenager pouting at chores and ‘At The Hop’ is about teenagers dancing with their socks off (still weird), ‘Summertime Blues’ is very much in that ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ vein.

He’s seen as protopunk and, considering the times, I can see how ‘Summertime Blues’ can be seen that way. He died only two years later in a car crash at the age of 21. His last action? Shielding his girlfriend from the crash. Who knows what more Eddie Cochran could have achieved.

What’s with all these young dead singers!?

Dans mon île – Henry Salvador

‘Dans mon île’ is dreamy. It’s like the ultimate antidote to all the rock and roll songs. It feels like a song you would have in a dream sequence of a stuffy office worker imagining themselves on their own private island.

This song is not quite chanson, it’s close though. It’s actually proto-bossa nova. You can hear shades of ‘Girl of Ipanema’ and the future work of the Gilberto family in ‘Dans mon île’.

Lonesome Town – Ricky Nelson

You might know this song from Pulp Fiction, it’s not one of the more explicit cuts from that film’s soundtrack but it is there.

He’s a good looking man and I just want to take him away from the Lonesome Town if you know what I mean. If you look at the album cover you’ll see what I mean.

This is rockish, but it’s more Chet Baker style vocals in tone.

Fever – Peggy Lee

Edna Krabappel bursting a balloon suit with a lit cigarette. Enough said.

Okay maybe not. ‘Fever’ was not a new song, but Peggy Lee made it what it was. It’s an incredibly sexy lounge song with new lyrics and arrangement by Peggy Lee herself (and with no credit given… damn patriarchy) that have since become the standard.

She is this song. That sultry voice, those finger clicks, that sexual charisma. Weird to think that three years earlier she wrote and sung most of the songs in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. What a woman!

One for My Baby (and One More for the Road) – Frank Sinatra

This is one where myself and hub disagree on (then again it’s more his sort of music). I wasn’t exactly moved by this song. It was okay and it’s interesting at how this song meanders around in a torch song fashion.

Maybe I’ve missed the point?

Le poinconneur des Lilas – Serge Gainsbourg

A nice bit of chanson here combined with jazz. So different to anything we have heard so far in this batch of 1958 songs. It’s a song about a ticket punch at Lilas station (the percussion giving us the illusion of the trains).

I really enjoyed this song and the chorus where the phrase ‘des petit trous’ or ‘little holes’ is repeated. It’s a fun song and one of two songs he has on the 1001 song list (you can guess the other). This is a lot of fun!

Nel blu dipinto di blu- Domenico Modugno

This song is better known as ‘Volare’ and was actually the Italian entry at the Eurovision Song Contest back in 1958 where it came third.

Where we have had songs that are almost chanson ‘Volare’ is absolutely a chanson song, it’s just delivered in Italian instead of the more typical French.

This song is massive. Not only did it sell 20+ million copies worldwide, but it was the first winner of Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the inaugaural Grammy awards. Not bad for third place at Eurovision.

All I Have to Do Is Dream – The Everly Brothers

Another one of those “oh my God” moments where I finally have a title of a song. I know it’s uncool, but I really do feel happy whenever a song by The Everly Brothers is featured in a TV show or film.

Finally we have a song where I can start to see the elements of pop start to take shape. Sure it’s a long way before we go from ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ to some of the trash on the radio… but it will take us via The Beach Boys and The Mamas and the Papas. That’s a journey worth taking.

To Know Him Is to Love Him – The Teddy Bears

Wall of Sound? Is that you I can hear in this Phil Spector produced song? I know he’s turned out to be modern day Phil Spector, but you have to just listen to some of that swelling production in the background and know that he is coming. It’s subtler than what you have later in his career, but it’s exciting to know this is where it starts.

Progress: 105/1021

XL Popcorn – The Leopard / The Eagle

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: Il Gattopardo (The Leopard)
Director: Luchino Visconti
Year: 1963
Country: Italy

I’ve been remiss by having too many English language films in a row when so many of the films left for me to see are in a foreign language. I guess that when you are watching films all day it is easier to binge on those in your native tongue compared to reading subtitles. I know that their is a dub out there, but The Leopard was meant to be enjoyed in Italian and that is what I did.

One thing that I feel shortchanged about in my school history lessons is that with the exception of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia for GCSE every lesson was about England. It’s a real weakness in our educational system that this is how is. There are still monumental gaps in my knowledge which are only filled by my own reading and video games.

The history of Sicily is one of those things that I’ve picked up piecemeal over the years. The fact that it was, for a short time, the Muslim caliphate and has changed hands numerous times was where my knowledge pretty much ended. The Leopard gave me the final piece of the puzzle. It does so were some of the most sumptuous set design and costuming that I have ever seen. Actors Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale only add to the beauty.

The beauty of two of the lead actors and the setting is in strange conflict with the overarching theme of death and decay. Burt Lancaster (who appears onscreen nearly all the time) plays that noble Prince of Salina – the head of the long established noble house that received patronage from the Spanish house of Aragon.

Over the course of the 3 hours we see this man hold himself in such dignity as he watches the world he knows fall apart around him. With the unification of the Italian provinces there is not much use for a minor prince anymore. He knows this and the bulk of his actions in the second third of this film is him ensuring that his family’s name can still live on in some way. And yet when he is offered the position of power in the new unified Italian government he declines because he knows his shortcomings. It does a lot to show that he is a good man, but having been born into a life of privilege he will find it hard to adjust to New Italy.

I see many people calling The Leopard a masterpiece and whilst I don’t agree on it being a perfect film and I see a lot of merit in it. There are very few films that are made like this anymore. There are so many reasons that this makes a good watch just make sure you give yourself an interval. I made the mistake of not doing that which probably negatively affected my view.

Title: The Eagle
Director: Clarence Brown
Year: 1925
Country: USA

Okay so the pairing of The Eagle with The Leopard is extremely tenuous, but what can I say: there is nothing like a silent movie when the sound of rain banging on your window is able to drown out the television.

I can think of two reasons why The Eagle appears on the 1001 list. Firstly, it allows us to see an example of the work of legendary cinematic sex symbol Rudolph Valentino. Then again if that was the case surely they would have included The Sheikh is there really was one of this most beloved characters. Another possibility is because of a rather interesting shot nearly halfway into the film. Nowadays it wouldn’t look as interesting but the shot where we gradually pour out over the banquet table is something rather interesting.

The Eagle was the film that saved Rudolph Valentino’s career. He plays the role of the Black Eagle – a former lieutenant who is being hunted by the czarina after he rejected her romantic advances. He becomes an outlaw not unlike Robin Hood and seeks revenge on the nobleman who has taken his lands.

Being a Rudolph Valentino flick this film descends into a romance which becomes a bit less interesting than the initial premise. The thing is this was what Rudolph Valentino was and so you come in expecting something a bit more sappy. He isn’t Errol Flynn after all.

Now, the main reason I wanted to see this was to try and understand how Rudolph Valentino was this legendary heartthrob. I understand it with Errol Flynn (Captain Blood), Alain Delon (Le Samouraï) and Cary Grant (His Girl Friday), but I don’t get it with Valentino. He’s good looking… just not to the standard that his level of fandom lets on.

The Eagle clocks in at just over 70 minutes and it’s simple to follow story makes for a good silent film for beginners (do not do what I did and watch Intolerance as one of your first silents…). However, compared to the grand scope of The Leopard and other films I have looked at in the last few weeks this is fluff. Entertaining fluff, but fluff nonetheless.

Progress: 566/1007

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.

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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.

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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