Monthly Archives: August 2017

XL Popcorn – Scarface (1983)

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 591/1007
Title: Scarface
Director: Brian De Palma
Year: 1983
Country: USA

I must be one of the few people of my generation to have seen the original 1932 version of Scarface before seeing the remake. Not a boast or anything, just one of those weird things that happen when you bust your wrist and watch your way through your mum’s DVD collection.

What I didn’t realise when watching the original Scarface is just how similar the main beats of the story would be between the two films. Especially the origins and the sequence of events that lead to the main character’s downfall. Obviously there had to be an update to make this a 1980s film. Bootleg booze becomes cocaine and a recent immigrant from Italy turns into a Cuban (although given Al Pacino’s background he probably would have been more suited to the original character).

Now, I know that Brian De Palma’s Scarface is highly regarded now (much more than when it was first released) and has become one of those oft-quoted and pastiched films. It’s pulpy take on gangsters and the gratuitous amounts of swearing and violence has left an impact on pop culture. I mean one of my favourite video games (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City) derives a lot from this.

And yet, I really didn’t think this film was all it was cracked up to be. For one thing it’s about 30-40 minutes too long. I get that this was an attempt to make a pulpy gangland epic, but this is no Once Upon A Time In America

I also (and this is going to be controversial) question Al Pacino in this film. I am trying to find the point where his acting changed from the excellent work of Dog Day Afternoon and The Godfather to whatever type of acting we saw in Scent of a Woman. In Scarface… he just has one emotion, various shades of furious. Also, at 43 he isn’t quite the right age for Tony Montana unless they has instituted a 7-10 year time jump.

Then there is the fact that this film is painfully eighties. I swear it’s one of the few decades to have films where the music cues badly age the movies. There is a bit in a South Park episode where they skew the typical eighties montage, what I did not know is that the song (‘Push It To The Limit’) was from Scarface. That was a weird moment.

Overall it’s isn’t like I didn’t enjoy this film. I gave it a 6 out of 10 on IMDB (yes, I rate every film I see) which, to me, means it was good enough, but with some fundamental flaws. I think that’s fair.

Acclaimed Albums – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not by Arctic Monkeys

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 129/250Title: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
Artist: Arctic Monkeys
Year: 2006
Position: #156

For a while I have been solely focused on whittling down the artists with more than one entry on the list. Makes sense until you get a hankering for something a bit more modern, which lead me to giving this Arctic Monkeys album a spin.

I swear I must be one of the few Brits my age to have not listened to this album. 11 years ago this album was absolutely everywhere. I mean, it was the fastest selling debut album in UK chart history and won a whole heap of awards. It wasn’t even a transient acclaim either (like you usually get with flavours of the month), this album and its tracks still feature highly on many ‘best of’ lists.

Yet this is the first time I have heard any of these other than the two singles (‘When the Sun Goes Down’ and ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’). And what do you know, this album is pretty damned good. I probably wouldn’t have liked this when the album first came out (I was coming out of a big stretch of Sugababes fandom and still deep into my Girls Aloud time) so it’s nice to have my first listen at a time where I could fully appreciate it.

Good Eatin’ – Fennel Pollen and Tiger Nuts

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

As I have mentioned a number of times before: I love that this food list has resulted in people giving me food-based gifts. In today’s post I finally got around to trying two gifts that I received from my husband for Christmas. Both very different items and both very much appreciated.

img_4767Food item: Fennel Pollen

If I had made a Top 10 most wanted list, I would have had fennel pollen on that list for the better part of a year. The idea of using flower pollen as a spice really piqued my interest.

When I first slid open the metal case to the fennel pollen the smell just hit me. The smell of licorice. For pollen of the fennel plant the smell and taste of the raw pollen was far more on the side of anise than of fennel (although the distinctive fennel flavour is still there). I guess it’s the sweetness of the pollen that gives the anise the leg-up in terms of flavour.

Now obviously you use this in cooking, so I figured that I would go for a pasta recipe that I found online.


The recipe I went for was for Spaghetti With Fennel Pollen, Orange, Garlic, and Mint. The orange zest was a tad overpowering in the recipe, but I could still get that fresh hint of anise amongst the citrus.

Seeing that I own an ice cream machine I might have a go at making some fennel pollen ice cream. I can only imagine how much my husband would appreciate that.

img_4768Food item: Tiger Nuts

First things first, these are not nuts. They are more closely related to the papyrus plant than they are to almonds or hazelnuts. Still, they can be used as you would almonds as they taste fairly similar. In fact these are better than almonds since they are also rather milky as you bite into them.

The weird thing I had to get used to is that tiger nuts are chewy. Worked this out the hard way when I bit into them hard with my canines and that little bit of give REALLY hurt. I almost didn’t forgive them for that pain, but they’re so nice to chew on.

Another use of tiger nuts, rather than eating them out of hand, is to make them into a drink called horchata. The only reason I’ve heard of this is because of Vampire Weekend, but having sampled the nut I want to try this beverage for myself should I find myself in Spain.

Thanks husband for the good food presents!

Progress: 625/751

Level One – System Shock 2

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 66/100Title: System Shock 2
Developer: Irrational Games & Looking Glass Studios
Original Platform: PC
Year: 1999

And so today we have the latest in the series of games that managed to freak me out and had to watch someone else to get a grip of what made this an essential play. Honestly, for someone who has loved computer games all their life this is getting embarrassing.

System Shock 2 is one of the few games in this Top 100 that were critically appreciated at the time, but was a near flop commercially. So much so that System Shock 3 has been in limbo for the better part of 20 years. Still, so influential was this game that it is a regular feature on a number of best of lists.

In essence this is an action/survival horror game set in space. After some character generation choices (interestingly done in a way to give your character some history) you find yourself waking up on a spaceship as it is being ripped apart by the AI, human-alien hybrids, robots and cryokinetic monkeys.

The world is firmly planted in the cyberpunk tradition with, and it is not too much of a spoiler to say this since she is on the box, an AI called SHODAN acting as antagonist. She is lethal and truly one of the great bosses in a time where evil computer as villain has become a bit old hat.

The atmosphere is greatly helped by the music and the audio cues. Having the first hybrids apologising for hurting you and basically asking you to end their misery is an extreme mindbender. Killer7 did a similar thing, but the effect is much more pronounced here. This is made better by music that just ups the tension at all times. It goes to show the importance of having a good soundtrack on a game that is meant to mess with your head.

One thing that helped remove some of the scares (and this might just be because of playing it on easy) is that death is cheap. As long as you can find the respawn point then you can be up and running straight after death and with no real negative consequence. It really does take the sting out of being overwhelmed by apologetic mutants.

The way this is balanced is by having constantly respawning enemies. This, after a while, just became annoying rather than challenging. Something that really was improved on in the successor Bioshock where once an area is clear you are safe for a good while.

Actually, now that I have seen both System Shock 2 and Bioshock in action the similarities between the two are uncanny. Swap cyberpunk for steampunk and introduce a more philosophical brand of storytelling and there you have it.

Take, for example, the upgrade system. During the game you get a limited number of point called ‘modules’. With it you are able to upgrade your stats or buy new ‘psi powers’. It’s basically the precursor to Bioshock‘s plasmid system, just that you use the modules to buy upgrades for all features.

Honestly, this is a game that I would really recommend. I know I didn’t play it too long because I am a jumpy wuss, but having seen it in action via the husband it feels like my own nerves prevented me from taking part in a unique experience.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – One Piece

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 21/100Title: One Piece
Episodes Aired: 790+
Episodes Watched:
Year(s): 1999-present

When I added the anime list to this bucket list I never stipulated a point that I would have to reach before being able to give up a show. For a show like Erased this would never be a problem since 11 episodes is almost nothing to just get through, however I don’t fancy the idea of making my way through nearly 800 of these.

I saw some people online discussing the mammoth task of starting One Piece from the beginning and questioning whether it was actually worth it. The standard advice was to get to episode 42 and make your decision from there. I overshot this a bit because I figured it was worth an extra pop, but I still had my issues.

For those who don’t know: One Piece is a show about a boy called Luffy who sets sail to become ‘King of the Pirates’. He also has stretchy superpowers that pretty much make him a rubber man.

Most of the episodes I saw revolved around Luffy getting members of his crew together and the beginnings of some of the mythology. Mythology that is actually quite interesting. However, this is a shonen series and that means that most of the episodes revolve around fighting sequences. Where the fights in Hunter x Hunter felt unique and had an interesting bent, the fights in One Piece got old pretty fast.

The other big problem was the repetition. In a 25 minute episode of the episode about 5 is taken up by the credits, another 5 by a recap of the previous episode and then 1-2 minutes previewing the next episode. It doesn’t make for a satisfying binge watch when you keep reaching for the fastforward.

With this crossed off there are few long series left on the list. I think I’ll be reaching for Assassination Classroom next. I mean, who doesn’t like an anime about a yellow space octopus?

Good Eatin’ – Wattleseed Bread

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

Once again I am trying to lose weight. I say once again because I usually end up a third of the way there, get frustrated and then start all over 9 months later. It’s one of those vicious cycles that I really want to break this time around.

I mention this because it nicely ties into today’s food.

Food item: Wattleseed

I got this tub of wattleseed from my favourite spice shop at Borough and have been wracking my brain trying to find a decent use for it. The label says that it can be used in ice cream or baked goods, so I decided to take the lid on its word and make a loaf of bread.

On it’s own the wattleseed has a taste in the region of cocoa-coffee-nut, but you would never just have it like this. Therefore I used a recipe I found online for a quick wattleseed soda bread to give this ingredient a real test.

Progress: 623/751

List item: Bake a loaf of bread
Status: Completed

I’ve made bread a few times before, but usually quick breads instead a fully yeasted affair. This was, however my first attempt at making a soda bread. It was also the first time I tried to take a bread recipe and reduce the fat content by using 0% yogurt.

The dough was wet and hard to knead which probably didn’t help with the rise. Still, the taste of the bread made up for it being a little bit close-textured. The wattleseed really added a taste in the region of hazelnut-coffee as well as some crunch.

As you can see from the recipe – this was dead easy to make and I probably will make more of this while I still have some wattleseed knocking about the cupboards.

1001 Songs – 1967: Part Three

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

And so we finish out another year with this third and final look at the songs from 1967 that feature in the 1001 book.

Montague Terrace (In Blue) – Scott Walker

Right, so a minute in and this song just explodes. This song is a bit heavy on the tingly chimes (in a weird way) and thick on the strings (in a good way), which just builds up to the big overblown chorus.

He doesn’t quite have the voice that would work for this. Now Jacques Brel, an influence of both this song and Scott Walker in general, probably would have.

So essentially we have a song that is seeing the chanson tradition through the lens of blues and pop. Interesting.

A Day in the Life – The Beatles

Okay so this is my mum’s favourite Beatles song. It’s yet another one of those songs that shows just how far ahead of their time The Beatles actually were.

There is a reason that I listen to these songs again even if I have done the album before – listening to a song in isolation is a different experience than as part of an album. I mean, I completely missed ‘Eleanor Rigby’ as it just got swallowed up by the rest of the album. Same goes for ‘A Day In The Life’.

It’s the closer for Sgt Pepper and so is the closing track on what is widely seen as one of the best albums of all time.

Is it a good song? In isolation it is and it means I am going to have to listen to the album properly again. It’s a prime example of Lennon-McCartney working well together and actually just how they were beginning to properly diverge.

Alone Again Or – Love

I still maintain that I know this song from somewhere else and I can not put my finger on it.

Listening to this properly outside of the rest of the album that follows it I really do appreciate that weird mariachi sound that they incorperated into this song.

It’s one of those songs that is the coming together of the 1960s musical trends of folk rock and baroque pop. My husband thinks it pales in comparison to the previous song… but I prefer this.

Tin Solder – The Small Faces

Interesting vocals on this song. Not only are they overpowered by the rock, but the mix of the voices sound like they had been poorly filtered.

I guess it makes sense in the way since this is a song that is experimenting with, what would become, heavy rock. Still though, sounded like there was somg gurling going on.

It’s a sweet song from the idea that it was written to impress a girl (who the writer would later marry), but on the whole it was a bit off.

See Emily Play – Pink Floyd

Beatles? Is that you? Seriously though, this sounds a lot like a song that the Beatles would have made.

This was released in the UK as a single, but in the US they got this on a re-issue of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

It’s an okay song, but right now it doesn’t feel like anything we haven’t heard before. It’s a well done example of a Beatle’s influenced song, but I think this is on here to signal the beginnings of, what would become, one of the big UK acts.

A Whiter Shade of Pale – Procol Harum

Yet another one of the extremely famous songs from 1967. Maybe, not anymore, as widely known as ‘Respect’, but still a most famous song from this year.

I mean how many songs can have a title that has entered common parlence than this one? It’s one of those nice phrases (like Watergate) that journalists cannot resist taking for a subheader.

When this is not the best and most recognised song in a year, you know it’s a good one.

The Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

Okay so the opening of this song is one that should be recognised by anyone who has listened to Heart FM. It’s like circus music and I think that’s the point.

It’s a great example of where pop and soul could meet in the world of Motown, even if it did take too long for me to cotton on that, yes, this was a man singing.

Sunshine of Your Love – Cream

There are many times where my album and song lists cross paths. This is, however, one of the first times that I have listened to the song without first crossing off the album. The other being Jefferson Airplane’s album Surrealistic Pillow.

When compared to ‘Tin Soldier’ this is a better executed example of an early hard rock song.

That guitar riff is so recognisable and very much like the sort you would have heard from Jimi Hendrix at the time.

Makes me wonder what the rest of the album is like.

Cold Sweat – James Brown & The Famous Flames

Thanks to many years of watching Saturday Night Live I cannot start listening to a funk song without Kenan Thompson strolling into my brain and doing his ‘What’s Up With That’ sketch.

This is one of the first example of funk songs and it’s profoundly dull. Just listening to it whilst sat on a sofa there isn’t that much to it. There is only one change and we just have James Brown grunting as he signals each member of his band to do a solo.

Seriously, Kenan and the rest of Saturday Night Live got this spot on.

The First Cut Is the Deepest – P.P. Arnold

There are many cover versions of this song. The first version I heard of this was by Sheryl Crow. I have also heard versions by both Cat Stevens and Rod Stewart.

This is my least favourite version. With the harp and the higher register occupied by P.P. Arnold it just feels a little bit twee.

I get that she had been through things with her husband that would make this song resonate with her, but at 21 (in 1967) she feels a bit young to be singing a song like this. Or maybe that’s just me?

Progress: 248/1021

What’s On TV – Gunsmoke

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 188/501
Title: Gunsmoke
Episodes Aired: 635
Episodes Watched: 20
Year(s): 1955-1975
Country: USA

 Considering the last TV show ticked off of the 1001 list was Keeping Up With The Kardashians… well you would be hard-pressed to find a better contrast on the list. A reality show about a family who are famous for being famous vs. a western series about a sheriff delivering the law to a frontier town.

In a nutshell, Gunsmoke is a TV show about  a sheriff (played by James Arness) who enforces the law in a town called Dodge. Whilst the tone is mostly serious and deals with a crime-of-the-week, it does allow itself to do a more comedic episode every now and then.

Since Gunsmoke ran for 20 years it is hard to get a substantial cross-section of what this show was, but I think I managed to see enough in 20 episodes to get to grips with it. I ended up watching a mix of episodes from both the half-hour and the full hour series (after several seasons the episode run time doubled, which allowed for some more in depth storytelling).

There was also an attempt to watch episodes dealing with topics that make it very much of it’s time… such as the way they talk about Native Americans. One episode that I watched was about the homecoming of a boy to his white mother having been kidnapped by Native Americans. With the twist that the Gunsmoke writers employ they were probably fairly forward thinking, but they still use words like ‘savages’ and that just feels wrong to watch.

Then again, it could be argued that the show was trying, in its own way, to be historically accurate in their depiction live in a town like Dodge. The extreme poverty, acts of spousal abuse and superstitions about medical men would have been commonplace at the time. Also, this is a show that started before the Civil Rights Movement and the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. So some consideration needs to be paid to that.

In the 20 episodes there is one that really stuck out to me; a 12th season episode titled ‘The Whispering Tree’. It’s fairly light on appearances from the sheriff and instead focuses on a man (who has just been released from jail) and his family. The man robbed a substantial amount of money and buried it on a plot of land.

The problem? Firstly, his family lives on this land and they have drastically altered its appearance in his absence. Also, there had been a large flood that removed many of the terrain markers that pointed out where he hid the money was. It’s probably the episode that most held my attention.

Honestly, this is not a show I will be continuing to watch. I am, however, glad that I got to see such a big piece of American television history. It’ll be interesting how I feel about Gunsmoke once I start watching Bonanza.

Acclaimed Albums – Swordfishtrombones by Tom Waits

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 128/250Title: Swordfishtrombones
Artist: Tom Waits
Year: 1983
Position: #121

With a title as odd as Swordfishtrombones I am not sure why it took me so long to pick up this album and say: yes, this seems like the right time to listen to this. Having listened to it a few times (since this is definitely an album that needs that in order to sink in).

The term experimental is one that is banded about a lot when the word you really want to use is ‘odd’ or ‘weird’. All truth being told I think the last time I had an internal debate on the correct word to use was either Trout Mask Replica or Too Early/Too LateSo yes, this was a weird and experimental rock album.

However, this still begs the question of whether this album is one that I could actually enjoy. As much as I tried with the work of Captain Beefheart I was never able to make that leap from ‘what is this’ to ‘what IS this’. I got a bit further with Swordfishtrombones, but not yet far enough to make this album one of those albums I end up going back to (like Loveless or Psychocandy).

The thing is, there is enough here to give a listen once I have written this up. There is something in the strange arrangements, the use of horns and his rather dark brand of storytelling to make me come back. Sort of how I would imagine Nick Cave’s take on the first Goldfrapp album, which is then filtered through Captain Beefheart.

The cover made me expect something cabaret in style and what I am left with is wondering what he did to get his follow-up album, Rain Dogs, to a higher position on this list. Guess I’ll just have to find out for myself.

Graphic Content – The Perishers

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
29/501Title: The Perishers
Creator: Maurice Dodd
Year: 1959-2006
Country: UK

The Perishers was the UK’s answer to the Peanuts strip. I have never read a Peanuts strip, although I have seen some of the animated shorts. Honestly, I think it might have been a bit of a mistake doing The Perishers first. Hey ho, it’s easily available online and sometimes you need an easy win.

For those who have never heard of The Perishers – this was a daily comic strip that was featured in the UK’s Daily Mirror newspaper. It centres on 3 children, a dog and a baby living in a bit of a blah suburban area of London.  They would get up to ‘humorous’ adventures the way that kids seem to have in the world of comic strips.

I never read these strips expecting something ‘laugh out loud’ funny. How many people can say they have had a good belly laugh from a newspaper comic? I mean I’ve chuckled a bit at a Dilbert or two. but that’s about it.

Needless to say, this was fine. As comics go it is very much of it times when it comes to the gender roles occupied by the two boys and the girl. She’s bossy, one boy’s lazy and the other is messy. I am sure if I read more of it there might be more to it but I think I got the basics down there.

The best strips that I read had Boot (the dog) or the baby as the central character. Why? Because the point of the strip is that you are hearing their thoughts as they comment on the voiced characters. Those comments on life and being a dog or baby still felt accurate some 60 years after being written. Some of the other antics… not so much.

For many Brits The Perishers was a real part of their routine. I mean this ended 11 years ago and it did not take long for re-runs to start up again because of readers writing in. For me, it was an interesting snapshot of some parts of life back in the early 1960s.

Reading dailies for this list will always run the risk of repetition and being very much of their time. Honestly, I do prefer it when I look at proper comic books or graphic novels. Still, it’s an education.