Monthly Archives: June 2018

Around The World In 100 Films – Singapore

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 45/100

Title: Tatsumi
Director: Eric Khoo
Year: 2011
Country: Singapore

I’m going to Singapore in a few months! I haven’t been this excited about a holiday destination since booking my honeymoon to Japan. We got a great deal on flights and a hotel, so we figured why not just go for it. As part of my preparations for this (and to keep some of this excitement in check because the trip isn’t for another 3 months) I thought it would be a good idea to become better acquainted with Singaporean culture.

Tatsumi came up as a film to watch because it’s one of Singapore’s submissions to the Foreign Language film section of the Academy Awards. I’ve only just come to realise that these submission lists are a fantastic resource to help me find films for this challenge… so watch out Tajikistan because you’ve made the list.

However, with Tatsumi I managed to find a Singaporean film that is in Japanese, set in Japan and about a Japanese man. It’s also another animated film. Still, the remit of this it to see films from 100 different countries so Tatsumi is a very welcome addition to the list.

So, who is the titular Tatsumi? Well (and I would have been able to answer this myself if I had gotten further with the comics list) he is major name in the manga scene and is credited with starting the more adult gekiga genre of manga (of which Lady Snowblood would be an example). The film itself takes on two roles, a brief autobiography of Tatsumi and a cinematic interpretation of five stories written by Tatsumi.

It is these stories that make up the bulk of the film and, ultimately contain the bulk of the emotional impact (other the sadness that Tatsumi died 4 years after making this film and he was still so full of ideas for the future). All the adapted stories are pretty much disturbing with endings that would make writers for The Twilight Zone proud. I’m not entirely sure what was worse – the ending of ‘Beloved Monkey’ or the ending of ‘Good-bye’. It’s a close run thing and I don’t want to dwell on it too much.

Tatsumi is an excellent exploration of an alternative creative mind. It’s not got the weirdness factor of Crumb. No, this film has heart and it cannot help but help you to appreciate people who are so driven by their creativity that they are able to make something different out of it that has made a lasting legacy.

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XL Popcorn – Man of Iron

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 661/1007
Title: Man of Iron (Człowiek z zelaza)
Directors: Andrzej Wajda
Year: 1981
Country: Poland

When flicking through the 1001 list it becomes fairly obvious that there is a distinct lack of sequels outside of the so-called trilogies. It’s a similar rule when it comes to major awards for cinema, which makes it all the more remarkable that not only does Man of Iron (the sequel to the excellent Man of Marble) find a place on the 1001 list but also stands as the only sequel to win the coveted Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Back when I watched Man of Marble I remarked on how incredible it was that such a film could be made behind the Iron Curtain that so openly criticised the government. With Man of Iron not only did Wajda manage to do this feat of daring once again, but managed to do it in an incredibly brief window (about 18 months) where such a film could escape from incredibly censorship because of a change in government.

Of course, by the time this film was released the government was back in full force and banned its broadcast within Poland. Thing is, by then the cat was out of the bag and Man of Iron was gathering critical notice for it’s open criticism of the Polish government and for the depiction of the worker’s strikes.

As with Man of Marble this film tells a lot of the story through the use of flashback and mock film footage of the strikes (although a number of the protesters were real). The focus of this film is Maciej Tomczyk, the son of the revolutionary from Man of Marble, who is a key figure in the Solidarity Movement.

However, the framing narrative is rather different. Where Man of Marble told the story of a young student trying to make her diploma film, Man of Iron follows a government journalist who is send to dig up information so that they can smear Maciej and the Solidarity Movement (as the best they have so far it telling the story of all the bananas left to rot on the ships as the workers are on strike).

The pressure that this journalist is under is incredibly real (compared to the student in the previous film, who returns in the final act of this film) and it tells with the amount he feels the need to smoke and drink in order to keep his nerves under control. I mean, he could be beaten, imprisoned, killed or any combination of the three. All this and yet he is so moved by the plight of the workers that, in one of the final scenes, he renounces his undercover status.

Man of Iron is an incredibly poignant film that is only able to exist because of a brief moment where censorship was relaxed. It’s a film that feels somewhat forgotten despite being a winner at Cannes and an Oscar nominee. Due to the rush to make it there is some of the polish missing that could be seen in Man of Marble, but wow the urgency can be truly felt in every scene.

 

XL Popcorn – Shadow of a Doubt

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 660/1007
Title: Shadow of a Doubt
Directors: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1943
Country: USA

I’m going to make this a yearly tradition to watch a new Hitchcock for the 1001 list in the winter months. I have four left to do, which makes sense seeing my current watching pace. Last year I watched Marnie, which lacked a certain spark that allowed it to go from good to great. When it comes to Shadow of a Doubt it was a completely different story.

As with most of the great Hitchcock films Shadow of a Doubt is a two-handed affair with Teresa Wright (who won an Oscar in 1942 in Mrs. Miniver) and Joseph Cotten playing the roles of a niece and uncle called Charlie. The younger Charlie wishes for something interesting to come into her life and gets more than she bargained for as favourite her uncle travels in from the East. The thing is… her uncle may not be who he appears to be.

Being a Hitchcock film, it is always the safest option to trust your gut if it thinks a character is going to turn out to be the villain of the piece. Also, Cotten and his increasingly creepy performance are a massive clue that no matter what’s happening he is guilty as sin. Then again, that’s the whole point of this film; the joy comes from watching as his niece goes from adoration to suspicion to fear to resolve.

As much as Cotten gives an excellent performance as uncle Charlie, it is really Teresa Wright as the younger Charlie that helps this film to take flight. Having now seen here in this, Mrs Miniver and The Best Years of Our Lives it is hard to deny that this woman was an extreme talent… but her filmography just peters out. Makes me really want to read the biography should it ever come out in paperback.

It’s interesting to note that, repeatedly throughout his career, Hitchcock would refer to Shadow of a Doubt as one of his favourite films.  Having watched this, I might have to agree with him. It tells a far simpler and subtler story than the likes of Psycho or Rebecca, but there is something more thrilling about the idea of evil invading a small town home.

Let’s Get Literal – Middlemarch by George Eliot

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 43/100Title: Middlemarch
Author: George Eliot
Year: 1871-72
Country: UK

There are books that you start reading because it reminds you of books you’ve read in the past that you’ve enjoyed. For Middlemarch, I thought that I would enjoy it because of books like Pride and Prejudice and Little Women, i.e. an older book written about women which have since been adapted into a “bonnet drama”.

However, there was one thing that I didn’t quite think abut. Where I enjoyed the other books for being a female-centric dramas, Middlemarch touches the entire community… with a majority of the time being spent on the men in the town of Middlemarch. So yes, this wasn’t quite what I expected.

Whilst there are a lot of story threads involving most members of the village, there are 4 main threads… one of which just bored me. It was this storyline (about the downfall of the local town banker) that made me fall asleep on the train home. Now, I know I am someone who has trouble staying awake when I’m being transported – but I nearly dropped my Kindle. There is also the rather sad storyline of Doctor Lydgate and Rosamond… which failed to interest me.

The best of the stories is the one surrounding Dorothy (known as Dodo) and her two marriages. From the first few chapters this is not what I expected to be reading… although the moment she meets Will on her honeymoon it suddenly all became clear what might end up happening (although when I think of Anna Karenina you can never be sure of what will happen to your heroines).

As much as I like a  big world in my books (I mean just think how big War and Peace and Lord of the Rings are) I do wonder if I would have enjoyed Middlemarch more if it had focused more on the Dorothy/Will and Fred/Mary storylines. It would have been a shorter book, but we could just excise a lot of the business talk that failed to engage me.

This is yet another of the really long books taken care of. An interesting one and slightly frustrating in that there was a lot here that should have made me love it, but too many flaws. Well at least for me, some people think this is the best British book every written.

I might be taking some time to catch up on a bit of the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure manga so I can finish off the final anime season. I can’t wait.

XL Popcorn – Performance

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 659/1007
Title: Performance
Directors: Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg
Year: 1970
Country: UK

I love watching these films to see how the uncrossable line that we set ourselves for violence and nudity has shifted over the years. Back in 1968, when this film was first made, the test screening was so disastrous because of the crossing of this line that the decision was made to shelve the release of Performance. This film was only released after a massive editing job was undertaken (where Mick Jagger’s presence was greatly increased), which does make me wonder what the original print would have looked like.

Now this may be an unpopular thing to say about Sir Mick, but I really did not rate his performance at all. I know that, recently, his turn as Turner was voted as the best acting role by a musician – it’s just that I greatly disagree with that. In fact, I found most of the sequences left me wanting more of James Fox.

I really liked James Fox as the gangster thug on the run. There was something very charismatic in his performance as Chas that really helped me see this film through. In the first half the film is all his as he roughs up people and businesses in a style not too dissimilar to A Clockwork Orange. I really liked this first half, it’s just the second half that I didn’t quite enjoy.

Performance, but it doesn’t work for me here. I still find it utterly ridiculous that they ended up devoting 5 minutes of the film to a music video for Mick Jagger’s character to sing in. I know it’s meant to form part of the drug inducement, but it came off as incredibly self-indulgent.

So yes, I wasn’t too impressed by this film. Then again, there are few British films from this era that I end up enjoying… or from the 1960s. Maybe this decade is just a bit of a pit for me.

1001 Songs – 1971: Part One

Time to start on a new year. Hopefully I’ll be able to complete this one in less than six months. I don’t know why, but these 1001 songs posts are getting harder and harder to find time for to set up.

Life on Mars? – David Bowie

I don’t know how the order of songs within a year are decided, because it is not chronological, but it makes sense to start off 1971 with one of the regular contenders for best song of the 1970s.

For an artist as ever-changing as David Bowie it makes sense for one of his signature songs to sound like nothing else that came out at the same time. Part Rachmaninoff, part cabaret and all crescendo, ‘Life on Mars?’ goes well beyond in a parody of the Frank Sinatra version of ‘My Way’.

It’s a song that is able to stir up emotions that aren’t quite easy to pin down. You just feel… moved.

Get It On – T.Rex

Well that’s it, I guess that between the first two songs from 1971 we have the signal that glam rock has arrived. We had rumblings of this with The Velvet Underground in previous years, it’s just that the message has reached the UK.

Where ‘Life on Mars?’ feels very much a European-influenced creation, ‘Get It On’ takes on the Hammond organ and some funk elements from across the pond to create a glam rock sound that is almost American.

Blackwater Side – Anne Briggs

A bit of a folk break now (with one of my favourite 1970s folk songs coming up soon) as we stay in the UK for something rather traditional. Compared to the previous two songs ‘Blackwater Side’ is incredibly stripped back with just Anne Briggs and her guitar and does make you wonder if a song really does need all the window dressing we give it.

If you look at Anne Briggs’ discography it would be fair to assue that she’d died or went through some sort of accident. Quite the contrary, she is still very much alive and just decided to stop singing because of nerves. It’s a pity.

I Don’t Want to Talk About It – Crazy Horse

Something a bit more country here, but in a depressing dirge-like way. This song is like that annoying friend who clearly wants to talk to you about their ex-boyfriend, but won’t unless you’ve asked them 3 or 4 times. By the end of it you feel like you’ve watched someone flagellate themselves repeatedly and is ready to go off for a good wallow.

A Case of You – Joni Mitchell

Where Anne Briggs was singing a traditional song that told a story of someone that died a long time ago, here we have Joni Mitchell singing something a lot more personal.

Compared to ‘Blackwater Side’, ‘A Case Of You’ has so many layers of emotional nuance because of Joni Mitchell’s proximity to her own feelings. It’s a song about being so drunk in love with someone, but written after that particular relationship has ended (much like the rest of Blue). The song itself is in the past, but the delivery is in the present and so there is a mix of sadness and joyousness in her voice. It’s like what Butters once said in South Park about break-ups, it’s a beautiful sadness.

Crayon Angels – Judee Sill

This is the first year where we’re starting to see a swell in the number of female singer-songwriters, although they are almost exclusively in the folk genre. I guess that would make sense as folk was part of the counter-culture and a female singer-songwriter is somewhat against the norm.

‘Crayon Angels’ is the first track on Judee Sill’s eponymous album, the first of two that she released before she died from a drug overdose. Short career and yet her legacy persists with Laura Viers, one of my favourite singer-songwriters, writing ‘Song for Judee’ for the excellent case/lang/veirs album.

Famous Blue Raincoat – Leonard Cohen

The final from the folk world in this batch of songs. It’s a song about a man distancing himself from a love-triangle, but for me the most interesting thing about this song was a reference to Scientology. It’s subtle, but it’s there.

I don’t have much to say on this song, it didn’t work for me.

Chalte Chalte – Lata Mangeshkar

And now for something completely different. I love it when songs like this appear on the list as it’s this whole horizon broadening that I’m hoping will happen as a result of finishing this list. I also quite liked the song, with her voice being a real treat.

Lata Mangeshkar is listed as one of the most recorded singers of all time, with her sister currently holding the record. Lata did hold the record before it was called into a dispute… as no one really knows how many songs she’s actually sung.

From such a large back catalogue the book chose ‘Chalte Chalte’ because it’s one of the singer’s favourites of the songs she sang. It’s also one of her more known ones because of the film it forms part of the soundtrack for is critically acclaimed in her native India and amongst some Western critics.

Maggie May – Rod Stewart

From the smooth the lovely voice of Lata Mangeshkar to the rasp of Rod Stewart. ‘Maggie May’ is one of those songs that I have always heard of, but had never actually heard. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ve really heard a Rod Stewart song before the 1001 songs list, but that’s another matter.

I went into this song expecting something completely different (maybe because of the many young models Rod Stewart has found himself married to). Instead I found a rather interesting song about first love between a boy and an older woman – which is a bit of a reversal of his later relationships.

Whilst this is a rockier song the use of the mandolin at the end does tie this song to the abundance of folk that has been seen in this batch of songs. And hey, a song that ends with a mandolin is good by me.

Progress: 328/1021

XL Popcorn – Breaking the Waves

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 658/1007
Title: Breaking the Waves
Director: Lars Von Trier
Year: 1996
Country: Denmark

Where I was unable to connect to Lucía because of a lack of honesty, Breaking the Waves is a somewhat harrowing and yet compulsive watch because of it. If there is one thing that you can not accuse Lars Von Trier of, it’s that his films lack a rich emotional core which is open to any viewer that wants to peer in. As such, many of his films have the blunt honesty of an open emotional wound; never a bad thing if you are able to do this with exceptional performances and a signature look.

The key to Breaking the Waves lies in the first of those two: the performances or, to be honest, the lead performance by Emily Watson asBess. It’s hard to believe that this was only her second role in a feature film. It has to be up there as one of the best performances that has been put onto celluloid and is, for me, the tied-best performance I have seen in a Von Trier film (the other being Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia).

The central premise of Breaking the Waves sounds absurd when written down. A woman living in a strict Calvinist community marries an oil rig worker. She has some mental and attachment issues (to the extent that she holds conversations with God where she plays both roles) which get worse after her new husband suffers an accident and ends up paralysed. You see, in his attempt to try and help her move on he suggests she takes a lover, but she gets it into her head that every time she sleeps with another man God will help cure her husband.

Things then escalate and spiral in a way that Von Trier does very well, something drowned in irony. You see in Breaking the Waves there is no one who does not act in a way that they would consider good (the only exception being a group of unnamed kids and some sailors). The drama and the heartbreak comes from the way that this goodness collides with one another and, subsequently, ends in tragedy where no one is truly guilty.

I am a fan of Von Trier’s work and have been putting watching this for a while because I knew that I had to be in the completely right emotional mindset to take on a new film of his. It saddens me, therefore, that there are no other films of his on the 1001 list for me to watch. Still, I have a lot of his back catalogue (including The Idiots and Antichrist) still to see, so it’s not as if I am left bereft.

XL Popcorn – Lucía

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 657/1007
Title: Lucía
Director: Humberto Solás
Year: 1968
Country: Cuba

I know that watching two Cuban films isn’t enough to form a truly valid opinion of a countries cinematic output, but between this and Memorias del Subdesarrollo I think that I might be done with this.  Or at least I am done with Cuban films of the 1960s. Which is fine for me as this is the last Cuban film on the 1001 list, as far as I am aware.

On the surface of it Lucía should have been a film that hit a lot of the right buttons. It’s a film split in three parts, each telling the story of a different woman (all names Lucía) at different times in the, then, 70 years of Cuban history.

When you consider what Cuba was going through at the time this film was made, with the increasing poverty and the well-established communist regime, there is a lot to take from this. It’s no mistake that the closer we get to modern day, the worse the condition that the country and the era’s Lucía is in. The concerns of the women become more important, although they are still very much personal and not at all related to the turmoil of the country that surrounds them.

It’s just that, for me, this film was too melodramatic at times (and coming from a Douglas Sirk fan that is saying a lot) and the editing at points was too jumpy. You can tell that, in this film, the director was trying to find his own style in the same vein as European arthouse – the music cues alone betray that. It’s just that this felt too affected rather than honest and, in a film like Lucía, that’s something which is sorely missing.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 32/100Title: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 2nd Season
Episodes Aired: 24
Year(s): 2015

When it originally aired, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders was broadcast in two halves. In-keeping with the weirdness of the MyAnimeList ranking system, only the second half of the Stardust Crusaders season actually features in their Top 100. Obviously I watched all 48 episodes, as this would otherwise have not made any sense, so that’s something to keep in mind.

As I mentioned when I watched the first season of JoJo’s Bizarre AdventureI had high expectations for the Stardust Crusaders arc because of how much I enjoyed it in the original manga. I was not disappointed.

Two of my big issues with the first anime season (the over-narration and the over-masculinity) were nowhere to be seen here and, thanks in part to the increased number of episodes, due care and attention could be paid to each of the enemies that they fight.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. What is this series even about? Well, think of it as a show where the then-current male members of the Joestar family (in this case a grandfather and his grandson) fight against an incredible evil using supernatural powers. In the first season, these powers took the form of life energy known as ‘Hamon’. For Stardust Crusaders these are called ‘Stands’, which is like some sort of manifestation of a person’s psychic energy whose individual powers range from stopping time to super strength.

In many ways, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders is a traditional monster-of-the-week kind of anime. It’s just that, in the case of this show, the monsters are actually incredibly varied and are each based either on a tarot card or a major Egyptian God. The links between the monster and card/god they represent is usually tenuous, but it’s fine because the powers are usually cool, weird or both.

So here I am with one more season of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure to go with to complete the anime list. I guess I’ll need to get back to reading the manga… which means I actually need to finish Middlemarch… that book is taking me a while.

Christmas in Munich – Day 4: Egyptian Stuff and the Residenz

So here we are, departure day. Thanks to a combination of a later flight time and Munich’s excellent mass transit system, we managed to fit in a few sights before flying back to the UK.

One thing that really needs to be said is just how fantastic Munich is for art museums. It really is of the calibre and quality that you would expect of a capital city, which Munich was a century ago as the capital of Bavaria. So I guess that makes sense.

There is also Ludwig I, the first king of Bavaria, to thank for all these exhibits because his patronage. The size of the complex and the grand architectural design of the buildings are something to behold. Truly I could spend the best part of a week here and still not be done with the exhibits.

So, the first of the two places we visited was the Egyptian Museum (it has a more complex name, but this will do). It’s one of the newer museums, having been moved to this location a few years ago, and this really does show. For one thing, the entire layout of the museum feels remarkably modern with recent sculptures depicting how ancient Egyptians might have looked being mixed in with the ancient artefacts.

The most modern thing about this museum, however, is the audio guide. You see, this audio guide is a tablet containing pictures and audio snippets to give you more information about selected exhibits. This is done thanks to a metal strip on the floor that highlights the suggested walking path, which is not a perfect to do this but it really helps bring this museum to life.

I know from some reviews on TripAdvisor that a common complaint is that there isn’t a ‘big attraction’ in this museum. Whilst this may be true, there are still a large number of interesting things to be seen, including a silver sculpture of Horus and a golden face that was part of a sarcophagus.

Also of note is how this museum went into the encroachment of Christianity onto Egyptian art. It makes sense that this would happen as Christianity reached Egypt in the first century AD, but the idea of Bible stories being sculpted in an Egyptian style had never occurred to me.

The museum ends with a bit of an extra – some artwork from the ancient Middle East. The panels themselves were huge and, thanks to their proximity to a lot of Egyptian art, you could see how these figures might have been influenced. Especially the positioning  of the feet.

We left Munich’s museum district after this with thoughts of returning to see what on Earth a Glyptotek is. Our final destination being one that we should keep definitely have visited when we had more time to spend: the Munich Residence.

If I have my history correct, where Nymphenburg Palace was the summer residence of the electors of Bavaria the Residence was where they actually held court and would go about most of their business. The museum itself consists of a tour around the residence itself and an exhibition of the treasury – regrettably we only had time for the former.

Honestly, I think that there is more to the Munich Residence than Nymphenburg Palace. The only thing missing is the extensive gardens, which would tip the balance in favour of Nymphenburg should I visit again in spring or summer.

The first two rooms of the Residence alone are worth the price of entry (and the apparently obligatory free audio guide). The first room you come to contains a grotto, as was the fashion of the times. What gets me about this grotto is not only is it beautiful sight, but the outside of it is covered in painted shells. The patience required to complete such a work of art is beyond my scope.

The next room was the Antiquarium. It’s the one of the largest rooms in the building and boasts a square footage that could contain my apartment many times over. It was built to house the sculpture collection of the then Elector, but was later modified to become a banqueting hall of sorts. There’s no real way to truly capture this room, it’s one of those things that you just need to see in the flesh.

The rest of the rooms on the short version of the tour vary between your standard palace fare to some extremely lavish and beautiful galleries. It’s worth noting that a lot of this was destroyed in the bombings of World War II, including a court church that would have been spectacular back in the day.

It’s not only rooms on display in this part of the museum, but also the large collection of porcelain that was acquired by the residents of the residence. Originally these were all Japanese or Chinese imitating the Japanese style, but it was interesting to find out how the demand for these decreased thanks to the creation of Meissen porcelain in Germany. After seeing a lot of this on display in Linderhof it was good to learn some of the historical context.

Quick as a flash it was time for us to be headed back to the hotel to pick up the bags and make our way to the airport. Nothing new to add to any of my longer lists, but today was such a day of discovery that I felt keen to write about it.

So here we are at the end of this short break to Munich. I’m glad to have tomorrow off work as all this walking has pretty much destroyed my boots and I need to invest in a new pair. Also, I just like to have days off. Until the next trip away!