Monthly Archives: September 2017

XL Popcorn – Philadelphia

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 597/1007
Title: Philadelphia
Director: Jonathan Demme
Year: 1993
Country: USA

As a gay man who loves films: how have I reached the age of 27 and not seen Philadelphia? I mean it’s not like it is a niche film or something that is overtly ‘gay interest’ (a phrase that automatically turns me off a film if I am completely honest). It’s one of those films that, whilst it may not be the most critically regarded, was an important landmark in how mainstream media depicted homosexuality.

However, it is important to remember that this is 1993. I mention this because despite there being many gay man depicted on screen at no point did I see two men kiss each other on the mouth. Also, any mention of male homosexual sex is done for the sake of a joke or with an undercurrent of disgust.

I do understand the point of showing all this prejudice. After all, this is a film about a man who was wrongfully terminated because he had AIDS. The ‘gay panic’ that this caused resulted, and still results, in discrimination. Again, it’s 1993 so things have gotten better now – better, but not perfect.

Anyway, about the movie. Isn’t Tom Hanks just great in this film? Well, he’s pretty much great in everything that he does, but taking on the role of a gay lawyer dying of AIDS must have been particularly risky. Still – you just cannot fault his acting here when presented with the limitations of a 1993 mainstream film dealing with gay issues.

Looking at this film objectively I know there are flaws. The whole thing is played to tug on the heartstrings (if you are a liberal), the video montage at the end goes way too long and I don’t think the evidence against the law firm is strong enough for the large majority decision reached by the jury.

On the whole though, this is a good watch. Slightly manipulative in places, but it still ticked a lot of the boxes for me.

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XL Popcorn – Serpico

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 596/1007
Title: Serpico
Director: Sidney Lumet
Year: 1973
Country: USA

After watching Scarface I really needed to be reminded of the great actor that Al Pacino once was. So when I spied Serpico on Netflix I figured that I would see whether my earlier thoughts about the watershed in his style of acting was true. It is.

If you follow the brief synopsis of Serpico you would be forgiven for expecting this film to be just another cop drama about a good cop trying to root out corruption. However, that doesn’t take into account that this is a true story and is not a feel good battle for justice kind of film.

No, his battle to expose the sheer level of corruption within the NYPD is frustrating. Sure, he gets a win at the end, but it is a pyrrhic one. He’s shot in the face, which leaves him in chronic pain and without hearing in one ear. He’s forced to resign from the police as no one on the force really wants to work with him… in fact most want him dead.

Over the course of the film you see Serpico either sacrifice or just lose everything that means anything to him. The women he loves leave him, the career he always dreamed of is over and he ultimately leaves the country in order to recover from his injuries.

In the hands of a lesser director than 12 Angry Men‘s Sidney Lumet Serpico really could have gone overboard in making the lead character holier than thou. The fact is, Frank Serpico is a very good cop and has a well calibrated moral compass, but he has his flaws. I know he is based on a real person, but that doesn’t necessary have a bearing on how realistic a portrayal feels.

This brings me back to Al Pacino. He is fantastic in this film and it makes me want to see his remaining films on the 1001 list (Heat and Glengarry Glen Ross). As for Sidney Lumet, this is the final one of his four entries on the 1001 list. As much as I liked Serpico I would probably have to rank it below the other three (Network, 12 Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon). Still a great film though!

Acclaimed Albums – Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 133/250Title: Surrealistic Pillow
Artist: Jefferson Airplane
Year: 1967
Position: #173

Sticking very much in 1967 after my last album. I was planning on knocking out one of the Oasis albums instead, but figured that since I was going on a long walk it would be better to listen to something with a little more life in it.

I always had a certain image of what Jefferson Airplane; mostly from what the spin-off groups became. When you think of songs like  ‘We Built This City On Rock and Roll’ and ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ you would be excused of expecting Surrealistic Pillow to be a bit twee. Also, while I am at it – it’s actually impressive that this group were still finding relevance and getting hits and award nominations some 20 years later.

Surrealistic Pillow is not twee. It’s inconsistent, yes, but not twee. In places it is some of the best music that I have heard coming out of the 1960s – well in two actually. There is a reason that ‘Somebody to Love’ and ‘White Rabbit’ are the tracks that are best remembered – they are exceptional.

I think most people my age will know ‘Somebody to Love’ from the cover by Boogie Pimps with that weird video of parachuting babies. For me, the thing that immediately came to mind was one of my favourite movies: A Serious Man. Needless to say, this song and the vocals from Grace Slick are both exemplary.

I’ve talked about ‘White Rabbit’ before – but I think it’s worth mentioning this song’s appearance in Futurama where it is sung by Richard Nixon’s head. Still cannot believe this song got away with all the drug references just because it hid them under the thin veil of Alice in Wonderland. Bravo Grace Slick, bravo.

The rest of the album is fine, but you come for the two Grace Slick solo songs. I think the inconsistency problem lies in that the writing credits are very spread out among the group. It makes it feel like the album, and therefore the group, doesn’t have a clear and consistent voice.

Graphic Content – Monster

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
30/501Title: Monster
Creator: Naoki Urasawa
Year: 1994-2001
Country: Japan

And this is why I read manga. It has been a while since I have been so drawn into a work of fiction. I’m not sure what book or manga/comic I found to be as ‘unputdownable’ as Monster, might be The Sandman and that was over a year ago.

So, let’s start at the beginning. The central character is gifted brain surgeon Dr Kenzō Tenma who finds himself on the run when he is under suspicion of murdering a number of his hospital superiors. The culprit? Well, it just happens to be the young boy whose life he saved.

Oh and that’s just the beginning of how deep this rabbit hole goes. We are talking about a massive international conspiracy where children are psychologically experimented on and the end result is the one of titular monsters: the charismatic and creepy Johan Liebert.

The whole story takes place over the course of 18 volumes (162 chapters) and it is amazing how none of the pages feel like they have been wasted. The story is tight and is able to do it in a number of varied ways. My favourite diversion was when 1-2 chapters was spent telling a rather twisted children’s story (with the appropriate creepy art style).

Whilst the conspiracy theories and the mind control are the bread and butter of what makes this an exceptional manga series, it is the characters that truly make it. By the time you reach the end the cast is massive. A cast of characters that spans two countries and features people from every walk of life.

Other than the main three characters of Tenma and the Liebert twins (Johan and Anna), the best character have to be Grimmer (pictured) and Inspector Lunge. Both of them find themselves entangled in the incredibly complex web and for very different reasons.

I don’t think there is a single person in Monster who isn’t messed up in some way. Grimmer and the Liebert’s are both victims of psychological manipulation, Tenma loses everything that he had after being falsely accused, Lunge is an obsessive… the list goes on.

On another tact here – I loved how the manga treated Germany and Czechia. Sure there are moments where the Japanese manners creeps into the character interactions, but most of the time it feels remarkably authentic. Hell, you have someone whose favourite food is weisswurst – now that is writing I can get behind.

The reason I read this so soon was because of the anime series being so renowned. I figured it would be better to read it first, and now the animated series sure has a lot to live up to. I mean, I know it’ll be better than Hajime no Ippo, but I do wonder how well they’ll bring Tenma and Johan to life.

What’s On TV – City of Men

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 190/501
Title: Cidade dos Homens (City of Men)
Episodes Aired: 19
Episodes Watched: 19
Year(s): 2002-2005
Country: Brazil

Sometimes we just don’t know we’re born. I’ve thought this a lot when watching film and TV portrayals of Brazil and City of Men really crystallises a lot of the issues. Crippling poverty, paternal abandonment, gang violence, teen pregnancy… and yet they still find ways to have fun.

As the title probably gives away, City of Men is a pseudo-spin off of the 2002 film City of God. It even features some of the same cast, albeit in different roles. Both tell the stories of live in the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro, but the storytelling in City of Men is, at times, on the lighter side.

That is not to say that the same big issues aren’t covered in City of Men – in fact I would argue they do it even better in the TV show than in the movie. However, they are able to take an episode off every now and then to do something a bit more flippant. It’s a nice antidote to an episode dealing with a possible fostering away of a baby.

My favourite episode? Possibly the penultimate episode of the final season (called ‘As Aparências Enganam’) which is one of the lighter episodes centred around the two boys trying to retrieve the dog of a wealthy woman after it had been commandeered by the male dog belonging to the local mob boss. Weird ‘white person’ stereotype humour occurs alongside acts of drag and gay dogs.

The episode before this? Well that dealt with divorce, parental rights, struggling with money, drugs and a whole mess of other things. That’s what City of Men does –  extreme shifts in tone. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

That’s the main issue with this show, inconsistency. As the two leads (who are excellent by the way, especially Douglas Silva as Acerola) grew up and the storylines matured with them, the quality of the show increased markedly.

The fourth season was, by far, the best and most consistent. It helps to have watched it from the beginning as you really watch these boys grow up over the four years. Possibly the best part of the show to be completely honest.

That, and getting an insight into just how some people live. 50 million + Brazilians live in this form of poverty. If that isn’t something to make you feel thankful then… I don’t really know what will.

Level One – Half-Life

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 68/100Title: Half-Life
Developer: Valve
Original Platform: PC
Year: 1998

I think the phrase ‘about damned time’ comes to mind.  Whilst all these video games on the list are essential to the canon, Half-Life really is one of those games. Games that have been so influential and so important that they act as a watershed moment. I think it is fair to say that what Half-Life is for the first-person shooter is what Super Mario 64 is for the 3D Platformer, Grand Theft Auto III for open-world action-adventures and Braid is for indie-games.

As a console gamer there was one overwhelming obstacle for me: the controls. I bring this up now because this is my only criticism of the game and it is one that probably didn’t catch many people. Specifically it was the controls for the crouch-jump and the long jump that really made my playthrough frustrating at times. Thankfully Half-Life is not a game that restricts your saving ability, so I would just make sure to save before making many failed jumping attempts.

Other than the jumping controls, it is amazing just how well this game holds up nearly 20 years later. I mean, sure, the graphics date this game, but honestly the only time you really notice this is in the endgame and whenever you encounter one of the many Albert Einstein lookalikes.

The big thing that set this game apart was how it told the story. Most video games that attempt some modicum of a narrative rely on cut-scenes. Some games, like a number of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, rely too heavily on these to the point that you can become incredibly bored. In Half-Life all the storytelling is done as you progress through the world solving puzzles, finding survivors and neutralising enemies.

This lack of cutscene is something that never really occurred to me as I played through Portal 2but it occurs to me that Valve managed to do the same thing again. Both games also use a mute first-person character to help immerse you further into the action.

A lot has been written about the storyline, but I just want to focus a little bit on the bestiary. As good as the story is, the game would have sunk if it wasn’t for the impressive variety of enemies. The final boss alone is… freaky in a mutant baby with a light mote for a brain kind of way.

I also really loved the houndeyes. They aren’t one of the major enemies, and were originally meant to be allies/neutral, but I always smiled when they appeared. They’re the kind of enemy that are… well cute isn’t the right word for it, but there is something appealing about them. As long as they stay fictional. If they become real then I will be hiding in the wardrobe.

So yes, after the way I couldn’t get into Ocarina of Time it was great to finally experience to get better acquainted with the world of Half-Life. At the moment, however, I don’t count myself as one of the rabid fans who are desperate for Half-Life 3, but let’s see if my eventual playthrough of Half-Life 2 brings that out of me.

Acclaimed Albums – Songs of Leonard Cohen by Leonard Cohen

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 132/250Title: Songs of Leonard Cohen
Artist: Leonard Cohen
Year: 1967
Position: #149

With Songs of Leonard Cohen I have broken my recent streak of only doing albums where the artist still has multiple entries on the list. It’s getting to the point where my playing through the 1001 songs list has started to catch up to the point that I am hearing songs before I have heard the whole album.

As it turns out I have a bit of catching up to do; especially since I have now reached 1968 on the songs list. At some point I will get to Jefferson Airplane, Cream and another album by The Who.

Honestly, I only chose this album because Leonard Cohen was amongst the many lives claimed by the spectre of 2016 and I’ve already done albums by David Bowie and Prince. Now that I have listened to Songs of Leonard Cohen I don’t think I quite get why it appears in the list.

As far as I am concerned there are two really good songs on this album and the others just feel a bit… generic. Yes, I know that what would feel generic now after years of development in folk music would have been huge back then. I also feel that a lot of the songs here are just another person doing Dylan and (with the exception of ‘Suzanne’ and ‘So Lone, Marianne’) not as well.

Maybe I am underestimating him here because he, primarily, is known for the lyrics of his songs and I didn’t really give them the opportunity to be fully digested. Then again, if it isn’t enough to entice the wanting of a further listen then I have no real reason to go back.

Good Eatin’ – Jujubes at a Leaving Lunch

It’s always so hard to say goodbye to a work friend. Especially when they’ve sat next to you and provided a lot of entertainment in the last 5-6 months. It’s hard to be sad though as she’s going to a far better place.

No, she isn’t dead. Don’t know why I phrased it like that.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Honeyed Jujube

As a leaving lunch the team went to Suda Thai where I took the opportunity to find some food item to cross off the list.

In the menu these are listed as Chinese dates, but that’s just one of the many names for the honeyed jujube. In the dish they, rather annoyingly, resemble fat dried chillies… so you can guess how my first bite went. Note to self: honeyed jujubes do not rattle when you shake them; if they do, they’re a dried chilli.

If they are NOT a dried chilli then you’ll understand immediately why these are known as honeyed jujubes. They’re juicier than you would expect from their wrinkled look. They also taste a lot like honey.

The dish that they came with, which was a chicken and cashew nuts with rice, was utterly gorgeous. I know that should I leave the team at some point soon I would like to come back here and have the same dish again.

Or the tamarind duck, as that sounds too delicious to pass up.

Progress: 637/751

1001 Songs – 1968: Part One

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

I Say a Little Prayer – Aretha Franklin

I had never understood that this song is about a woman living her life whilst her boyfriend/husband is off fighting in Vietnam. When viewed through this lens ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ becomes a lot less of a throwaway song.

It’s hard to deny the great vocalist and a force of musical nature that Aretha Franklin was. In the late 1960s it feels like she was almost untouchable… and a work horse considering she was releasing 2-3 albums a year by this point.

The Snake – Al Wilson

Staying with the theme of soul music we have ‘The Snake’, which is basically a musical fable.

I only heard of this song because of Donald Trump using it to back his views on immigration. Because, well, the kind-hearted woman takes in and saves a snake that was near death for it to turn around and kill her because, after all, he’s a snake.

It’s a brilliantly entertaining song that’s now been coloured by modern usage.

Oh Happy Day – The Edwin Hawkins Singers

From soul we segue into one of the most famous pieces of gospel music. Whilst I haven’t heard this particular version of ‘Oh Happy Day’, I have heard this in a large number of American versions whenever they go into a gospel church.

At over 5 minutes long this song is just LONG. I mean I get that this would be in a church and there would be other things going on… but this doesn’t translate to a set of earphones as you are making a stir-fry.

Israelites – Desmond Dekker & The Aces

Oh god. It looks like reggae is starting to come into this list. I have mentioned this many a time before, but not only do I not get reggae – I find it annoying.

Especially ‘Israelites’. It’s a big piece of musical history since it was the first reggae song to get to #1 in the UK and one of the first to get a high placement in American charts.

It’s a piece of musical history, but can we move on now.

Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell

A bit of a different song here as we head into the world of country music. It tells the story of a man’s loneliness as he works on the telephone lines and misses his lover.

It’s actually a rather sweet song that feels like an early attempt at country-pop. The production makes the whole song feel ethereal and otherworldly. I am not sure how they managed to get some of the effects in (to make it sound like Morse code), but it really made for a great song.

I Heard it Through the Grapevine – Marvin Gaye

We’re back with soul and in the presence of one of the biggest soul songs of all time by one of the biggest soul singers of all time.

In the Marvin Gaye timeline we are still before he went political with What’s Going On and before he went full sex with Let’s Get It On.

Speaks to the longevity of his career that he had where this song is comparatively early and has become such a classic. His voice, the slow tempo and the charisma sells it utterly.

America – Simon & Garfunkel

‘America’ is not the first Simon and Garfunkel song I would think of for this list (that would be ‘The Boxer’, ‘The Sound of Silence’ or ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’… none of which are on this list).

It’s a beautiful song, don’t get me wrong, about a road-trip undertaken by a man and his girlfriend. The storytelling in the song is on the extreme when you consider the short runtime. Then again, that was always Paul Simon’s strong-suits.

I guess I can see how this song signifies what the Bridge Over Troubled Water album was going to become. And it did give that lovely seen in Almost Famous.

Still, would have loved to have had ‘The Boxer’

Ain’t Got No/I Got Life – Nina Simone

I forgot there was another Nina Simone song on here after ‘Sinnerman’. I have been listening to Nina Simone for years, she was a huge part of the soundtrack of my summer of 2009.
And yet, I had no idea that this was neither a song of her creation nor that is was a medley of songs from the musical ‘Hair’. I just figured that this was a song dedicated to the civil rights movement.

Guess that’s the beauty of a good song (and the true genius of Nina Simone). Multiple ways to listen to it and to enjoy it.

Piece of My Heart – Big Brother & The Holding Company

It took me ridiculously long to get that this was Janis Joplin. That’s an amazing set of very distinctive pipes on her.

As covers go it is nearly indistinguishable from the soul original. Instead it is a loud psychedelic rock song with shredding vocals by Joplin. It’s not a sweet song about longing anymore the “take a piece of my heart” is a defiant dare to those who would hurt her. That, unlike in real life, she would bounce back and remain invincible and undeterred.

I really need to listen to Pearl at some point…

Progress: 257/1021

Good Eatin’ – Cheeses from Barcelona

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


Food item: Torta Del Casar

Other than the Serra Da Estrela I don’t know if I have ever spent so much on a single piece of cheese (this is likely to change with some of the remaining cheeses). On face value you would be excused into thinking that this would be one of those really strong cheeses. On first smell of the cheese through the rind you would think it was one of those really strong cheeses. However, the taste is milder than you would first think.

Don’t get me wrong, it is still a stronger cheese than most. It’s got a fairly high acidity that gives you that prickly feeling over the roof of your mouth. The taste veers between slightly buttery and slightly bitter depending on how far away from the rind you are and how long it has been sat outside of the fridge.

Speaking of which, this is one of those cheeses that tastes better at room temperature. I have seen that some people like to have this left out for two days before consuming it… but I can’t do that to cheese.


Food item: Afuega’l Pitu

So this is a very different cheese to the Torta del Casar. If, off the top of my head, I had to come up with a cheese that this reminds me the most of it would be crowdie. This is a lot firmer and fresher than the crowdie and, like the name ‘pitu’ suggests in Spanish, slightly more cloying.  It’s one of those cheeses where, despite the density of the curds, you can find yourself eating a whole lot of it.

Now, I am not sure how different my experience of this cheese would have been if I had picked up the round or the red version. The red version contains paprika, so obviously that would have had a bit of a punch to it. The rounder version is less dense and can, apparently, be a bit grainy. So… I think I got the best of both words by buying the white atroncao variation.


Food item: Cuajada

I know. This isn’t technically a cheese. It’s on the dairy section of the list, but since ‘dairy products of Barcelona’ doesn’t sound too punchy I’ll just call it a cheese.

So what is cuajada? It’s like a glistening and jiggly mass of milk. It’s pretty much like a milk jelly and tastes how you would expect milk jelly to taste. Milky.

The packet I made the cuajada with seemed to suggest that this is served with something sweet so I spooned on some syrup from the green walnut gliko jar I had in the cupboard. The transformation in flavour after adding a little bit of syrup was huge.

Oh did I mention that I had to make this using instructions I Google Translated from Spanish? Then from Portuguese as the Spanish instructions didn’t mention why I wold need a whisk? The things I do for these food items.

Progress: 636/751