Monthly Archives: June 2019

Level One – Silent Hill 2

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 81/100Title: Silent Hill 2
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
Original Platform: Playstation 2
Year: 2001

It’s been established on this blog for quite some time now that I do not have the nerves to play a survival horror game. In the past I’ve tried games like Resident Evil 4 and the original Silent Hill – only to end up frozen in place because I couldn’t quite push myself enough to move forward. So, since I can’t play this myself, I had my husband act as a surrogate as well as watching a Let’s Play in order to understand why Silent Hill is so revered.

In what might be a first for me, I am so angry at my own nerves for not letting me play this game. Having seen this being played (and still jumping despite not being in control) I have to say that this is easily the best survival horror I have ever seen. Hell, I watched a four hour quick playthrough of it on YouTube and was gripped pretty much the entire time.

Let’s start with what Silent Hill 2 has in common with its predecessor. The setting is still the fictional U.S. lake resort town of Silent Hill which is semi-open world, albeit with linear game progression. In place of a mini-map you have maps to collect (that can only be originally read if you have enough light) and a radio that bleeds static if a monster is near. I really love the radio static radar as it helps to build the mood without making things too jump-scary or too easy.

Similarly Silent Hill 2 takes place both in our world and the hellish Otherworld – with both iterations of the fictional town being influenced by the psychology of the main character. Now, where in the original Silent Hill this was quite well done, in Silent Hill 2 this is amazingly done. It makes me wish that I didn’t necessarily know all the reveals and all the twists of the storyline before starting on this. Whilst knowing things does take the sting out the big reveal, it’s so well done and so well lamp-shaded that I could still appreciate it with all the spoilers.

Something else I really appreciated was the riddles system. For the most part they’re not too difficult, but for the most part puzzles like the music boxes and the clock hands help add to the ambience. Especially as to get the pieces together to solve the puzzles you have to explore and, at times, force your character to stick his hand into things that are revolting. You also get some solutions that are a bit twisted but make sense – like how you fish the key out of the shower drain.

It’s also impossible not to talk about this game with heaping praise onto the monsters. Monsters like Pyramid Head, the Mannequins and Abstract Daddy are, on their own, grotesque and (especially in the case of Pyramid Head) iconic. However, the psychology behind them – which only becomes clear when you either finish the game or do some prior reading – is so well done.

So yes, it’s a shame that this is a game that I wasn’t able to stomach but I’m glad that I was still able to appreciate it in my own way. This is not the last survival horror I’ll have to find a workaround for, but I hope that with this repeated exposure I might be able to play one at some point in the future.

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📽️ Disney Time – Bambi

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 5/57Title: Bambi
Year: 1942

Last time I may have said that Dumbo may be the darkest that Disney ever go. Saying this before Bambi was a bit of a bold claim to make. Not only is this the film where Disney killed Bambi’s mother. Oh no this is the film where:

  • Bambi has to battle another male deer to stop his girlfriend being raped
  • we witness a quail get into such a state of fear that she flies away screaming only to be shot to death
  • someone is almost mauled to death by hunter’s dogs
  • and (oh yeah) everyone loses their home in a human-made forest fire.

The kicker for me in all this is that the marketing department saw Bambi and it’s damning indictment of hunting and thought: let’s advertise this as one of the greatest love stories ever told. I mean, I thought marketing Slumdog Millionaire as a feel-good film was a reach, but this really takes the cake.

I swear that, as a child, I didn’t take in any of this horribleness in other than Bambi’s mother dying. Guess that speaks to how little a child really can get when watching a cartoon other than the happy feeling of sitting down and watching a cartoon.

The grim realities aside, Bambi really was a steep left turn from the Disney films that came before. This is their first film where there is nothing remotely fantastical involved and, instead, everything is deeply rooted in reality (talking animals aside). We are also back to the more naturalistic animation with beautiful lush backgrounds after the cartoony and slightly rushed animation in Dumbo. It’s not quite as high as the standards we saw in Pinocchio – but this was made on nearly a third of the budget and had to lose 12 minutes in order to keep costs down.

If I sound like I am being unnecessarily harsh on Bambi that’s because the standard of the first five Disney films is so ridiculously high that I’m feeling the need to nitpick. This is an animated classic with scenes that pretty much anyone growing in the West will have as part of their pop culture canon. In making this film Disney enraged the hunters of America (because the mirror can be unwelcome) and introduced generations of children to the idea of hunted animals having proper feelings as well as being a PSA about the deadly nature of forest fires. It’s one of those essential films to see before you are 12… and then when you are an adult so you can appreciate the darkness.

Right, so this bring me to the end of the initial run of narrative Disney films before the break for six package films that were released over the course of the next decade. I’ve seen half of these already and whilst they didn’t initially wow me I’m going to keep an open mind and whiteknuckle it on my way to Cinderella.

XL Popcorn – The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 726/1007Title: Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant (The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant)
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Year: 1972
Country: Germany

After devouring two Fassbinder films so close to one another back when my wrist was busted, it’s been nearly two years before I watched my next one. It’s all part of the whole pacing thing I have to do to ensure that there is always something left to watch that I’m looking forward to. Guess that means it’ll be another two years before I see Fox and his Friends, which is a shame as The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant was another 9/10 film for me.

Based on Fassbinder’s play of the same name – The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant is a four-act tale on sadomasochism and co-dependency masquerading as a lesbian love triangle between a fashion designer, her assistant and an aspiring model with the whole thing taking place in the bedroom of the titular Petra Von Kant.

The transition from a play to cinema can be difficult, but Fassbinder does it with ease. We get clues of it’s origins from the very dialogue-heavy scenes, the single set and the limited number of cast members – but that just adds to the claustrophobic nature of the relationships between the three women.

Carrying the film on her shoulders in the title role is Margit Carstensen who is absolutely outstanding. Being at the centre of the psychologically damaging triangle, she needs to be sadistic, co-dependent and abusive to her mother, daughter and best friend… yet you still have to like her and by the end of it your heart breaks for her. Now consider that she had to do this back in 1972, when homosexuality was nowhere near as accepted as it is now (it was decriminalized in West Germany just three years earlier in 1969).

Then you have Irm Hermann as the silent (and verbally abused) assistant Marlene (or is she another designer… it’s never made completely cleared, probably because it never really matters). Whilst the costumes and hair changes with every act to reflect the emotions, Marlene remains in the same black number with the same make up with the orders barked at her getting crueller and crueller. She is such an enigma in this film until the final scene where suddenly her place is revealed and it takes a while to let it sink in.

I’m not sure where this sits in my internal Fassbinder rankings next to Fear Eats the Soul and The Marriage of Maria Braun but what I do know is that his is a filmography that I will need to experience more fully once I am done with the 1001 list. At this rate, that likely to be in 5 years time… at which point I really will be cinematically rudderless.

Level One – Overwatch

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 80/100Title: Overwatch
Developer: Blizzard
Original Platforms: PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One
Year: 2016

Here we are with the second of the new entries to the Top 100, which happens to be a game that I was borderline addicted to for nearly two years. This game is the reason why I pay my Playstation Plus membership and one of the reasons why the video games list had some pretty substantial gaps in the last two years. So, let’s talk about Overwatch.

During my formative gaming years I invested some serious hours in all three entries of the Timesplitters franchise – especially Timesplitters 2. I wasn’t playing them for the story (I only played that in order to get more characters), but to play the multiplayer modes against bots. If I was younger (had a better PC growing up and wasn’t slightly hesitant about online multiplayer) I might have put similar hours into Team Fortress 2. 

Overwatch is a game that has been able to scratch all those itches that Timesplitters used to satisfy and as well as a number of others that League of Legends would have dealt with if not for the more abusive users that ended up putting me off. In the end, I’m not a player who is good enough (or wants to put in the obsessive hours to become good enough) for ranking matches, so I just spend hours playing the arcade modes and trying out a bunch of different characters.

It is these characters, in terms of their skill variation and personalities, that really sets it apart from other shooters like it. It shares a bit of this in common with Team Fortress 2, but on a much larger scale. As with most online multiplayer games like this, where there is a team element you end up finding an area you enjoy playing – for me that was support with my favourite characters being healers Zenyatta and Mercy.

It’s a bit weird writing this up after playing it for so long. You see, after two years of regular play I have found myself no longer feeling the need to play it, but we’re talking hundreds and hundreds of hours here where I would play it a few evenings each week. Since they’re still introducing new characters and modes I’ll probably get back to it eventually, but I have Red Dead Redemption 2 and Super Smash Bros Ultimate to play right now – both of which are worth a lot more attention before I put them down.

🎻♫♪ – Winterreise by Franz Schubert

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 55/501Title: Winterreise
Composer: Franz Schubert
Nationality: Austrian
Year:
1827

It’s that period between Christmas and New Year and, in-keeping with the cold and the festive spirit, I really wanted to find a piece that would go with the season.  This is where today’s piece, Winterreise (translated to Winter Journey in English), comes in. It’s a song cycle about a man who goes on a journey in the winter months, which sounds pretty much perfect.

While Schubert was responsible for the melodies of Winterreise the lyrics themselves are poems by German poet Wilhelm Müller. This is the second of two song cycles that Schubert wrote to the words of Müller’s poetry, the other one (Die schöne Müllerin) having been published four years earlier in 1823 and will be listened to at some point for the 1001 list.

Now, originally this part was written for a man’s tenor voice with a piano accompaniment. The vocals have been adapted for different ranges, Schubert having done this himself, but this tenor and piano arrangement is standard. I, however, did not know this and ended up listening to an interpretation featuring a female soprano being accompanied by the hurdy-gurdy.

This makes Winterreise the first entry on the list where I have listened to two very different versions. The second version I heard was more traditional and the specific one highlighted in the book – but I am still very glad that I heard both. Where the tenor-piano version keeps with the gloom and the existential crisis as in the original, the female version felt profoundly more mystical thanks to her higher register and the whirring of the hurdy-gurdy.

Both versions have their merits and have different ways of going about Winterreise. They also manage to get across that this song cycle is haunting, even if I don’t understand a word of what they’re saying.

World Cooking – Cambodia

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Cambodia
Progress: 30/193

Well it’s only been, like, a minute since I crossed off my first South East Asian country from the list and here we are with Cambodia. Truth be told, I picked this country because I am in the process of gathering a bunch of my favourite recipes together to make a personal cookbook and I have something from Cambodia that I wanted to include – which meant testing the recipe out to see if it still worked.

Like a lot of countries in this region, I am really spoilt for choice when it comes to Cambodian dishes – which makes it all the more easier to come in with one in mind. The cuisine of Cambodia shares a lot with common with Thailand and Vietnam due to them being neighbours, their sharing of the Mekong River and their common French colonial past.

This means a lot of dishes with freshwater fish, noodles and rice. It also means that a lot of dishes in Cambodian (or Khmer) cuisine have versions in neighbouring countries or are their own twist on other countries’ dishes. Sadly there aren’t many Cambodian restaurants in London so I have never actually tried any of these cooked by a professional, but I really should seek it out at some point as it all looks so delicious.

Main: Lok Lak

I first made lok lak over eight years ago as part of my previous blog where I made low calorie recipes. For the purposes of this I went back to the original member submitted recipe I found on Epicurious and made it with beef as this would appear to be the more traditional meat.

My memory of first making this back in summer 2010 was the heat provided by a liberal serving of black pepper. When tasting the marinade part way through I was disappointed by the lack of heat… only to be pleasantly surprised once the beef had been cooked. This is a delicious sauce that works well with beef, chicken and seafood – even if it is mighty peppery.

Tradition dictates that this is served with rice and with lettuce, both of which dampen the heat of the sauce and provide some interesting texture differences. I didn’t include tomato in this not because it wasn’t in the recipe, but because it’s December and there just aren’t any decent tomatoes available. A pity, but this was still delicious even without their presence.

For the next country it’s time to make something from Poland. Like I’ve said previously, it is exceedingly rare for me to plan countries so far in advance, but with it being New Year’s Day soon I wanted to make something special. So I will be recreating something that I had in Krakow, as well as making my first dessert in quite a while. I’m already salivating.

XL Popcorn – Ivan the Terrible, Part II: The Boyars’ Plot

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 725/1007Title: Ivan Groznyy. Skaz vtoroy: Boyarskiy zagovor (Ivan the Terrible, Part II: The Boyars’ Plot)
Director: Sergei M. Eisenstein
Year: 1958
Country: Soviet Union

Here it is, Part 2 of Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible films and I am really sad that he was unable to make the third and final planned film because of his death in 1948 and film censorship in the USSR.  It took 12 years before this second part was released as the Communist Party banned it from release in 1946 due to it being ‘anti-historical’… which I read as not being suitable for propaganda.

The film starts with a brief summary of the first part before launching into a sumptuous scene in the court of the Polish king where we are wowed by the art direction as they finish off the exposition. This is the only time we spend outside of Russia and one of the few scenes where Ivan himself isn’t present – and would have probably been all the more important if we had had the third and final film.

A lot of the pluses of the first film can be applied to this one, although we are seeing things like Ivan’s mean streak (or possible madness) and the hatred of his enemies being so much more magnified. However, one thing this can boast is some of the first colour scenes in Soviet film history – all of which take place during some incredibly frenzied dance sequences. The colour isn’t great, but I don’t think I was watching a properly re-mastered copy.

Music feels more important in this second part, in comparison to the first. Not only is there Prokofiev’s score, but also two scenes with musical performances at the heart. First there is the more sombre passion play which parallels with Ivan’s declaration to make good on his nickname ‘the Terrible’ – some of the lyrics being very much on the nose. The second song (part of the colour sequence) feels very much like a Bacchanalia celebration where the crazed performance feels somewhat threatening because of Ivan’s plotting.

So yes, whilst there wasn’t the third intended part and some liberties were taken with the history, the Ivan the Terrible films have been an excellent two-parter to get you interested in Russian history. Certainly worked on me, I’ve just subscribed to The Russian History Podcast.

📽️ Disney Time – Dumbo

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 4/57Title: Dumbo
Year: 1941

At just over an hour Dumbo is the shortest of the narratively driven Disney movies. Originally this tale about a cute, but shunned, circus elephant was meant to be one of the Disney Silly Symphonies – however they found that the story needed more time in order to be done proper justice. This, combined with the last two films flopping, meant a more rushed production and the short running time.

With all that in mind, it is a wonder that Dumbo is such a strong entry in the Disney animated canon. The shortcuts that they took in the animation means that this is the first distinctly ‘cartoony’ looking film in the canon – something that does end up becoming more of a standard. It also means that this is a really fast-paced story where nothing is wasted and, as a modern viewer, some obvious scenes are missing. For example, we don’t get a reunion scene where Dumbo sees his mum after she’s released from solitary confinement.

On that, the scene where Dumbo is cradled in his incarcerated mother’s trunk to the tune of ‘Baby Mine’ is the only part of a Disney movie that is guaranteed to make me cry every time. There are times where I only need to think of it and I get a bit misty eyed. Out of context the scene is bad enough, but watching it in context as the pinnacle of all the psychological torture that Dumbo goes through in the first weeks of his life just makes it incredibly hard to bear.

Re-watching this as someone turning thirty next year really made me wonder if this is the cruelest that Disney has ever been to one of their protagonists – a baby protagonist at that. Let’s not forget that if Dumbo couldn’t fly by the end of the film, everyone in the circus (except for Timothy the mouse, who might be the first true Disney hero) was content to watch him plummet to his death before an audience (which, as one of the clowns says, is fine because “elephants have no feelings”). This makes looking back at some of the contemporary reviews so weird – they refer to this as a incredibly heart-warming offering, when it’s actually one of the saddest (until the last few minutes).

You then also have the Pink Elephants sequence which, outside of the Fantasias, might rank as some of the trippiest and most psychedelic the Disney animated canon has ever been. It’s a brilliant sequence that is sadly cut out in some showings for being ‘too scary’ or because it shows the protagonist of a children’s movie hallucinating after a bit too much alcohol. I would love to know what they cut from this sequence for being too odd.

So that’s it for Dumbo and, seeing how the next film is Bambi, there really is not a lot of time for the tears to dry before they get a fresh coat. I need to cherish these early films as, very soon, it’s going to be the run of six Disney package films. I guess I’ll be going more into that when I watch them.

My First Christmas Turkey!!!

I love to cook. However, there is one big thing that I have yet to do successfully – cook a Christmas turkey. It feels like one of those adulting landmarks, even though I don’t have plans to have a ‘proper’ family of my own.

Thing is, I hadn’t planned on actually crossing off this item. Not this year anyway. However, there was something almost serendipitous this year:

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Bourbon Red Turkey
Progress: 772/1001

Bourbon Red is a heritage breed of turkey in the USA. This is one of those meats from the 1001 list that I thought might be out of reach, unless I went to America in order to cook my own Thanksgiving meal. Then came Peele’s – a Norfolk-based turkey breeder that sells an array of heritage turkey breeds – including the elusive Bourbon Red.

Since I’ve been bitten a number of times by the ‘I’ll buy it later’ bug, to only not be able to find it again, I was determined to buy it and cook it for Christmas. I mean hey, that’s one less thing for my mum to worry about for Christmas dinner, right?

List Item: Cook a Christmas TurkeyProgress: Completed

Doesn’t this look like a glorious roasted hunk of turkey crown. A beautiful golden brown skin and so much fat still underneath the skin, despite being in the oven for nearly two hours. To roast this I rubbed the turkey with olive oil before liberally covering with bacon and sprigs of rosemary. The whole time this was in the oven I was understandably worried about this turkey drying out, but that was all for nought.

When I first cut into the turkey was there was a nice amount of warm melted clear fat still trapped underneath the skin, which meant a nice moist turkey. This is clearly all down to the breed rather than anything I did.

As for taste…. now this is what I call a turkey. The best way I can describe it is how I would expect the turkey in a cartoon to taste. Being a heritage breed, as well as one of the breeds that regular domestic turkeys are descended from, this is what turkeys used to be like. This taste is almost like if you take a really good chicken and add a bit of a gamy and a bit of a nutty taste. When you eat it, this is undeniably turkey and the best tasting meat I found was on the wing (if this had not been a turkey crown, I can only imagine how good the drumsticks would have tasted).

Not content with this being the first Christmas turkey I’ve ever made, I also did some other firsts by making my own stuffing and gravy for Christmas. The whole thing was a massive success in no small part due to this recipe from Good Food. Maybe, at some point, I’ll end up making the whole Christmas dinner – but since I’m in charge of Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, I’m fine with only being partially responsible for the big meal of the year.

Good Eatin’ – A Croatian Cheese for Christmas Eve

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Paski Sir
Progress: 771/1001

As you guys know, I am a semi-regular visitor to Borough Market as a way to scratch the ‘try new food’ itch. This 1001 list really got me into visiting food markets and I will always be grateful for that. In all these visits I have been regularly checking the ‘Taste Croatia’ stand for this list cheese for as long as they have been there (which would be about 2 years at this point). Finally, they had it – a lot of it.

Unlike the rock samphire, that I ate nearly straight away, I waited for a few days before eating this cheese – which became part of a Christmas Eve cheeseboard. Well, it was meant to – we only had this cheese in the end because there was a lot of other foods on offer.

ANYWAY. Paski Sir is a hard sheep milk cheese from the Croatian island of Pag. This is one of two food items that is specifically native to the Balkans (the other being Plum Slatko, a type of preserve that can be found in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia) as well as being one that I’ve been trying to find for a long time.

This cheese, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, is a bit of an umami bomb. By that, I mean it is a burst of savoury flavour on your tongue. It’s a bit dry on the tongue with the flavour only being released once you actually bit into it and wet it with your saliva. This lead to a tangy, salty and slightly buttery taste which would have probably been nice in a toasted sandwich.