Monthly Archives: March 2020

World Cooking – Bolivia

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Bolivia
Progress: 64/193

Whilst it hasn’t been too long since I cooked something from the Americas, it has been 5-6 months since I last cooked something from a South American country (specifically, I cooked two dishes from Guyana). As Bolivia is one of three countries in South America that are near the top of my to-visit list, I thought it might be nice to make something from here.

Bolivia, or more officially The Plurinational State of Bolivia, is pretty much dead in the centre of South America and contains the most amazing salt flats that you ever will see. In terms of cuisine, the food of Bolivia is what happens when you mix that of the Spanish interlopers and the native peoples – pretty much like most cuisines of South America, with the variation between nations coming from the differences between indigenous peoples and the nationalities of the traders that followed.

Since I have not been able to find either yuca or chuño in the UK, my choice of dishes to cook for Bolivia were sadly limited. Otherwise, the ingredients that you see in many of the recipes represent both sides of the Columbian exchange. There were also some dishes which had variations in other neighbouring countries (for example, Bolivia have their own form of empanadas), so I ended up picking something that, by all accounts, is very much from Bolivia.

Main: Silpancho

So, the dish that I ended up making was silpancho (using this recipe from The Hungry Buddha). The version that I made had fried potatoes, a very thin rolled out spiced hamburger steak, a fried egg and a homemade pico de gallo. Usually I dislike things containing raw onion, but I made sure to use a sweet onion and gave it plenty of time to macerate in the vinegar, tomatoes and lime juice.

The dish itself plays like a spicy version of steak and eggs. The beef steak itself was absolutely delicious and a lot warmer than I had expected (then again it did contain a lot of chilli powder, so I should have gotten the message). All the elements worked incredibly well together, although the potatoes did cause me a lot more worry than they really should have.

I can see why, in some instances, silpancho can be combined with a roll to make a massive sandwich called a trancapecho. Now that I know how easy it is to make the beef and pico de gallo elements, I really want to give the trancapecho sandwich a go. I’m guessing that a ciabatta roll (like the sandwich from Uruguay) or a Portuguese-style roll might be the best for this, but am very open to suggestions.

So this is the last country that I will be doing for a very long time. It gives me time to do some research on dishes to make to cover the next African, Asian and European nations and I hopefully will come back with something that’ll be delicious and for one of the larger remaining nations on the list. I look forward to seeing what I end up making.

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XL Popcorn – The Exterminating Angel

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 778/1007Title: El ángel exterminador (The Exterminating Angel)
Director: Luis Buñuel
Year: 1962
Country: Mexico

Well, I needed a film to break the recent string of ‘blah’ 1001 films that I’ve been through, and I’m so glad to say that not only did The Exterminating Angel end that streak but it managed to provide so much food for thought during the next few days. I knew that Luis Buñuel would be more than up to the task of breaking the streak, but I thought the same of John Ford and we all know how little I thought of Rio Grande.

I don’t even know where to begin with talking about The Exterminating Angel. It’s such a small story that primarily takes place in one room (which made it a prime candidate for a stage adaptation as the 2016 opera version demonstrates) and yet it begs so many questions as to how to interpret the actions.

To give a brief synopsis, the film is essentially about a group of Mexican members of the bourgeoisie who are trapped in the room of a mansion after the conclusion of a party. However, there’s no real reason for them to be trapped – they all have the same psychological affliction that prevents them from setting foot across the threshold and so are unable to get food or water (there’s also no bathroom… but Buñuel never delves into that difficulty).

It’s such a weird idea for a film, but it makes for something incredibly interesting to watch and then discuss. You see, it’s never explained why they end up trapped in this room or why the eventual solution works, but there are many ways that people have come to interpret it’s meaning. No matter the interpretation, it’s still incredibly interesting (in a blackly comedic way) to watch as the veneer of manners melt away and people are left as their true and more animalistic selves. In a way, you can think of it as The Lord of the Flies, but with rich people.

Luckily for me, there are still two Luis Buñuel films left on the list for me to see. So far his works have been a bit of a mixed bag for me, but they’ve always been interesting to watch. I guess I’ll need to wait and see what Viridiana and Tristana have to offer.

📽️ Disney Time – Winnie the Pooh

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 51/58Title: Winnie the Pooh
Year: 2011

Before the 2010s, the only Disney animated sequels released in the cinema were The Rescuers Down Under and Fantasia 2000. Beginning with the 2011 release of Winnie the Pooh, Disney would end up releasing a further three sequels – two of which to films I have yet to cover for this blog. It marks a bit of a change in tactic for their releases, but something tells me I’ll be more cynical on this point after seeing Frozen 2.

With the first Winnie the Pooh film they adapted some stories from A.A. Milne’s original book and gave it a bit of a meta-twist by having the characters be aware of the narrator and being able to use the letters in the book as platforms to walk on or (in the case of Tigger in the final story) a slide after he became stuck in a tree. In this 2011 release, they instead used his works as inspiration for three stories told within 63 minutes (which also makes this the shortest of all the Disney animated theatrical features).

Instead of just making a sequel to the 1977 filmWinnie the Pooh finds a way to recapture the feeling of the older feel whilst updating some of the humour and the interactions to make it more modern. In terms of characters and the interactions, nothing much has changed in the 34 years with two interesting exceptions:

  • Rabbit has become a bit less fussy and is now able to more freely take part in the silliness
  • Eeyore is far more integrated with the central group, with them making more effort to keep him included when showing his more depressive symptoms.

These changes never feel like a true deviation from the character, but a slight tweak to make them more relatable and, in the case of Eeyore, continue to promote the positive message of still including your friends even if they have depressive episodes.

As I mentioned in previous posts, Winnie the Pooh has the sad distinction of being the final entry in the Disney Animated Canon to have been animated using traditional hand-drawn methods. I, for one, am so glad they was never an option for this as a digital Pooh and Piglet would have taken away from the magic of this film and would have made it feel (more so) like a cash in of one of Disney’s most popular franchises.

In the end though, Winnie the Pooh is a darling film and of those that you can turn to when you need a pick-me-up but only have an hour. It’s like that warm hug with a twee soundtrack and friends from childhood that you never really knew you needed but are happy to have. Kinda makes it a complete contrast to the lights and blinking sounds of the next film on the list: Wreck-It Ralph.

What’s On TV – Maison Close

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 230/501
Title: Maison Close
Episodes Aired: 16
Year(s): 2010-13
Country: France

You know that thing where you read up on a TV series and think that this could be perfect for you, only to be proven wrong within ten minutes? That pretty much sums up my experience with Maison Close. This series, set in an upmarket Parisian brothel just after the Revolution, pretty much has the synopsis of something that should have kept me interested for both seasons and yet it ended up being such a. Chore to watch. So, what went wrong?

Well, the fact that something with such an interesting premise ended up being cancelled just after two seasons should have been a bit of a red light. Then again, you get shows like Firefly and Pushing Daisies which buck the trend on that so you cannot just go on that. If anything, it would appear that it got the second season because so many international channels started showing it based on the synopsis alone, so as long as it was paying its way Masison Close wasn’t going to go homeless.

The thing is, this show fell into the trap that a lot of TV shows and films end up stumbling into – focussing so much of the efforts into shock factor and not into creating characters you can cheer for. Hell, I read that this is meant to be a dark comedy, but it’s hard to have a subversive chuckle when a woman is sold against her will, brutally raped and then has to find solace in a newfound addiction to heroin. All while the police enable this enslavement by threatening to have her fiancé shot unless she goes along with it.

There’s just so much bleakness and little hope that it just becomes such an ordeal to watch that, if I didn’t have to watch this for the blog, I probably would have ended up switching off part-way through the second episode and not given it a moment’s thought otherwise. Where something like Heartbreak High was at least teen-focused I could forgive a number of sins, but this was aimed at someone like me and it was a complete miss. At least it’s one of the foreign shows crossed off, makes me feel less guilty for picking a game show for the next entry.

XL Popcorn – Rio Grande

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 777/1007Title: Rio Grande
Director: John Ford
Year: 1950
Country: USA

Maybe I shouldn’t have put all of my John Ford hopes in Rio Grande’s basket like I did after leaving Loulou dissatisfied. It’s been five years since I saw my last John Ford film (My Darling Clementine) and I might have ended up watching the worst one of his filmography that I have ever seen.

First things first, let’s keep in mind that this was produced in 1950 when cinema was still very much vilifying Native Americans and their fight to reclaim the land that had been wrongly taken from them as part of the post-Civil War expansion. Even with that cultural awareness, Rio Grande still never worked for me as a film and I am making the assumption that it was included on the list as one of Ford’s trilogy that focused on US cavalry in the expansionist West.

Considering that this is the final film in this trilogy which means there are relationships between characters where you have to take things on faith rather than knowing the history. That’s fine and all, but this list also chose to include the least acclaimed of the trilogy (the others being Fort Apache and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon) so I am really at a loss here, but at least I know which John Ford films I need to be watching to feel better.

So what was it that didn’t work for me? Well most of it to be honest. Aside from the being on the back foot when it came to certain characters, the fairly frequent song breaks by the cavalry’s vocal group was pretty bizarre and really did not help the tone inconsistencies. You also have Maureen O’Hara effectively being wasted on the character of the Captain’s wife which is pretty much inexcusable.

In the end though, this film just didn’t seem to communicate what type of western it wanted to be. I had the same issue with Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but at least with that I actually cared about the end result for those characters. Here, I had no real allegiance to a character outside of Maureen O’Hara, which didn’t help with the bulk of the film’s second half.

It’s been nice to have some time cross off a bunch more 1001 films during my two days off sick – the only real upside from these awful stomach cramps that have dogged me the last few days. Not the best run of films, but at least it’s moved me just that bit closer to finishing this list off once and for all.

XL Popcorn – Loulou

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 776/1007Title: Loulou
Director: Maurice Pialat
Year: 1980
Country: France

I know this is starting out on a bit of a shallow note, but how did Gérard Depardieu ever get to a position close to a sex symbol? I know taste is taste, but for Loulou to work as a premise this question needs to be a fairly easy to answer. Then again, he would later win many awards for his role as Cyrano de Bergerac – so maybe it’s just something about his character of Loulou that turns me off.

As a film, Loulou feels a bit like a ‘nice guys’ idea of a wet dream. A woman abandons her marriage to well off man (who repeatedly see physically mistreating her) to end up with a guy fresh from prison who would rather take his pregnant girlfriend with him on a burglary than get a regular job. The reason that she gives her ex-husband is mainly around sex, which could either be to hurt him or an actual reason. Either way, it appeals to the ‘nice guy’ aesthetic.

This, as well as my own lack of understanding of the sexual appeal of bad boy Depardieu, really limits my understanding of Nelly’s motivations to throw away everything for Loulou other than just plot. So this whole film ends up feeling some sort of parable against a woman’s bad choices and that doesn’t quite sit well with me.

Maybe this is the director making some sort of criticism of French culture at the time because there’s nothing wrong with the core performances or even the dialogue. It’s just that no matter where Nelly turns she is in a situation where she may never find true happiness. You could argue the same for Loulou who ended up being tethered to a woman who he wouldn’t be able to fulfill outside of the bedroom.

So yes, this wasn’t the best film to see this morning but I have higher hopes for one of the three remaining John Ford films. He hasn’t let me down yet and I am looking forward to seeing what comes next.

📽️ Disney Time – Tangled

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 50/58Title: Tangled
Year: 2010

You know that moment when you are part way through a film you’ve seen before and you have a startling realisation that you are loving it a lot more than you remember? Well, that happened pretty early on to me in Tangled and it just never let up.

This is the first time since the mid-to-late Disney Renaissance where they produced an animated feature that felt like it had little-to-no filler. Also one where all the songs served a purpose other than to kill time – something that really began to bug me in The Princess and the Frog and I try and pick up on when I get around to Frozen.

I think one of the key factors in Tangled‘s success is that there is really only three main characters you need to keep track of: Rapunzel, Flynn and Mother Gothel. This means that not only do they get the time to properly explore the characters and give them some interesting nuances, but it also means that it doesn’t feel like you are having to stay up to date with an ever-increasing roster of eccentrics.

There is plenty that could be said about these characters, but to keep it brief here are the things I find most striking. Firstly, Flynn is gorgeous. Like, if I saw this as someone just entering puberty I can imagine him being one of the defining crushing of my adolescence. I’ll end it there before it sounds like I have a fetish.

Then there is Mother Gothel, who I loved as the villain because she’s just so complex. She plays like any parent that you could read about on the Raised By Narcissists subreddit. Her use of love and psychology as a weapon with no help from money, magic or status is astounding and the fact that she genuinely doesn’t see herself as the bad guy make her a different kind of scary. Her reliance on Rapunzel as a source of youth formed this toxic co-dependant relationship where, whilst malevolent in nature, is weirdly understandable. In the end, if Mother Gothel is unable to secure Rapunzel (or at least stop her hair from being irreparable damaged), then she will die – and she knows it. People have done worse for less.

On a different note, the improvement in the quality of animation between Tangled and Bolt is startling. This is the point in the Disney CGI feature animation where it feels like they have finally hit on the style and the technology that is going to keep working for them for the next decade. We’ll see them go more cartoony again in future films (like for Wreck-It-Ralph), but you cannot deny just how beautiful the worlds Disney’s computer animation can generate and that has blossomed here in Tangled.

Then there is the whole ‘I See The Light’ sequence. The song itself is a lovely duet about two people realizing, at the same time, that they have fallen for one another. That alone is sweet, but this pales in comparison to the stunning visuals of the moonlight lantern festival that accompany it. It really ties together a lot of the films emotional threads (including the king and queens lingering sense of loss) and makes for one of Disneys greatest sequences. Not going to lie, I was in tears.

Truly, when I end up finishing this Disney list off and I do a final ranking (because, of course, I’m going to end up making one) I would not be surprised if this broke the top ten. Only Zootopia still to come might be better, but I still have a month or so until I see which I prefer. Before then, I will be watching the shortest entry in the canon: the 2011 version of Winnie the Pooh.

XL Popcorn – Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 775/1007Title: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Director: John Sturges
Year: 1957
Country: USA

And I thought that two months between Rocha films was a bit brief, now here I am two weeks after seeing The Great Escape and this is the third (and final) John Sturges movie from the 1001 list. This may also prove to be the final film on the list that deals with the infamous shoot-up at the O.K. Corral – the other that comes immediately to mind being My Darling Clementine

I wonder if this particular historical event has some sort of record for the most minutes of produced media as a ratio for how long the actual event was. I mean, it’s reported that the actual shoot-out only lasted about half a minute and yet it is so infamous and repeatedly depicted in films and TV shows. I guess it helps that at the centre of it you have figures like Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp who have been so mythologised for having survived something so bloody.

Now, given that that depict the same event and they both add the same plot beats (i.e. the rather sexist idea that the event was spurred on by a jealous love interest) it’s difficult to not compare Gunfight at the O.K. Corral with My Darling Clementine. Doing that, it’s a hands down victory for My Darling Clementine because it tells the story just that much better – although Gunfight would win on the soundtrack stakes as they change it up at least.

The issue that I had with Gunfight (which is still a good film, let’s not get that twisted) is that it tries to be everything as a Western and so it never finds the focus it really needs. The chemistry between Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster doesn’t take off enough to allow it to be a good buddy film, the romantic interests fill just shoe-horned in for dramatic tension so that doesn’t work and we spend too little time at Dodge during the second act, so it doesn’t work as a film that gives you a wider idea of the West at the time.

Like I said though, this is a good western to stick on in the afternoon. It’s just that this exact story has already been told and directed better by John Ford 11 years earlier. One thing this does have over the other is an early role for Dennis Hopper. I would now be interested in a good film depicting the follow-up events of the Vendetta Ride – so any suggestions on films depicting that would be very welcome.

XL Popcorn – Entranced Earth

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 774/1007Title: Terra em Transe (Entranced Earth)
Director: Glauber Rocha
Year: 1967
Country: Brazil

It’s been about two months since I saw the other Glauber Rocha film on the 1001 list (Black God, White Devil) where I wasn’t exactly wowed by the repetitive story telling and the production values, or lack thereof. For me, the uneducated in film person I am, Entranced Earth feels like a step forward for him. I mean, it won multiple awards at different festivals and, for the most part, kept my interest.

As with the other film of his that I have seen, pretty much all of Entranced Earth is imbued with a really frenetic energy that only takes a moment every now and then to breath. Considering that this film is telling the story of a fictional Latin American country (representing the recent history of Brazil) and the political tumult and backstabbings within said country – the energy can make things feel more complex because of all the confusion that Rocha has added. I’m sure that’s on purpose and is, therefore, well done, but it got a bit much at times.

Because of the generated confusion, Entranced Earth isn’t always the easiest film to follow and so at times I did begin to lose interest. However, whilst this film did not always grab me, there is no denying the power of the film’s message or in some of the scenes themselves. The penultimate scene is especially poignant as the eventual victor of all the political upheaval claims victory and is essentially crowned with a insane look on his face as the main character ends up being shot to death.

Given the history of Brazilian politics at the time, Entranced Earth was a very brave film to make and try to release. Hell, watching it now you can see a lot of parallels in the politics of various nations around the world at this moment. I just wish that I got on better with Rocha’s style and was better able to enjoy this.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Ouran High School Host Club

List Item:  Watch the 100 Anime to See Before You Die
Progress: 46/100Title: Ouran High School Host Club
Episodes Aired: 26
Year(s): 2006

So, I was going to be starting one of the really old animes – but a week and a half ago I had such a stressful day at work that I opted to start something that would be more of a fluffy throwaway. Little did I know that I would end up falling for this silly little reverse harem series.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Ouran High School Host Club is a show set in a high school for the children of the rich and powerful where some of the male students have set up a ‘host club’ – i.e. a place where girls pay to come and have some personal attention (like tea or a conversation) with a gorgeous boy. It’s not something I have ever heard of outside of Japanese media, so I think it’s a pretty localised phenomenon.

On the surface, this feels like a bit of a stupid and shallow show. The thing that it does brilliantly, however, is act as a clever satire of the entire genre. They openly play with the tropes of shows that are typically aimed at teen and young adult women whilst also playing with otaku culture and reversing a number of things you would typically see in regular harem shows.

It gives these, admittedly rich and pampered, students a whole lot of depth outside of the initial stereotypes that they fulfil. The young ‘lolita’ type boy who has rebelled against a family who demand machismo, the twins who are incest-bait where we find out slowly that one of them is trying to push the other towards independence and then the head of the harem who is probably the saddest of them all.

With these strong male harem members, you need a similarly strong female centre character to play off of them all – and with Haruhi (a girl who ultimately has no issues with playing with androgyny) they have one. As the poorer kid there on a scholarship, she’s a really great viewer surrogate who has plenty depth of her own and is far from being a Mary Sue.

I really want to track down the manga for this as I know there’s a few years of story that never got told in the anime. They left the show on a bit of a cliff-hanger with her having the possibility of being paired up with two members of the host club – and it never got resolved. For my own sense of closure, I’m going to have to track these down.

As for where this leaves me for my next anime I have no idea. I am still plowing through Dragonball with the husband, but we still have over 100 episodes to go before finishing that. I guess it might be time to start on Detective Conan so I am able to finish it off on my plane ride home from Korea. After all, we leave in 2-3 weeks and that show is massive.