Monthly Archives: September 2020

XL Popcorn – JFK

So the big hope was that, with the Covid-19 lockdown, I would be able to get a bunch of things crossed off at hyper speed. Unfortunately the opposite has happened and psychologically I’ve just been going down and quickly. I’ve tried maintaining this blog, but when I have no energy to read, listen to new albums or to write… things have become very difficult. So these next posts are going to be briefer than usual.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 827/1007Title: JFK
Director: Oliver Stone
Year: 1991
Country: USA

It was the husband’s pick today, so today we watched a three hour Oliver Stone film about the investigation into the conspiracy behind JFK’s death. Going into this, I knew that this was going to very much be watching a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream and that Stone would be presenting this as fact. Given some of the more damaging theories going around at the moment (i.e. anti-vaxx and the 5G-Covig-19 link) I had to make a conscious effort to try and enjoy the film for what it is.

I tried. Problem is that this film has a major problem around its screenplay. So much of it could be solved with the old maxim of ‘show, don’t tell’. Of the three hours, about two of them were exposition based and some of the accompanying dialogue was clunky as all hell. There are times where it worked, like most scenes with Kevin Bacon, Laurie Metcalf and Tommy Lee Jones, but so much of the remaining would have worked as effectively as a podcast.

Watching this, it was also a bit difficult to get beyond the blatant homophobia. Stone makes sure that we hear the idea that the character’s gayness has nothing to do with the accusations – before pivoting towards the opposite. In the end, the conclusion of the jury matches pretty my own feeling about the assassination – that there was some sort of conspiracy around the death.

However, JFK leaves me unconvinced of Stone’s own narrative of the events. A number of things make sense – yet at the back of my mind I have the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. This showed us not only that these insane lone terrorists exist, but how they can achieve something that feels impossible.

Advertisement

XL Popcorn – Summer with Monika

So the big hope was that, with the Covid-19 lockdown, I would be able to get a bunch of things crossed off at hyper speed. Unfortunately the opposite has happened and psychologically I’ve just been going down and quickly. I’ve tried maintaining this blog, but when I have no energy to read, listen to new albums or to write… things have become very difficult. So these next posts are likely to be briefer than usual.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 826/1007Title: Sommaren med Monika (Summer with Monika)
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Year: 1953
Country: Sweden

Summer with Monika is the earliest Ingmar Bergman film that I have seen, which probably explains why I found it difficult to see many similarities between this and other entries in his filmography. It still showcases his keen ability to observe, but it lacks any trace of other-wordliness that I really enjoy about his work. Instead, Summer with Monika is a story of rebellion, consequence and the difficulties of breaking with societal norms.

To many non-Swedes of this era, Summer with Monika was primarily known for the nude scenes… which are incredibly tame by the standards of even a decade later. Times were changing though, and characters like Monika and Harry fighting their losing fight against what is expected of them as Swedes of the early 1950s.

As with many of these types of rebellion films, the fight is a losing one. These two were never going to be a good fit. Monika has been abused by her father and she wants a freedom that wasn’t afforded to working class women of this era, especially one with a baby. Harry was pretty much a follower anyway, so when things so bad he is more able to fit back in.

It’s an interesting film to see, but for me it lacks a lot of what I love about Bergman. Having re-watched The Seventh Seal after this – it was good to recapture that magic again.

What’s On TV – Black Mirror

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 235/501
Title: Black Mirror
Episodes Aired: 23+
Year(s): 2011-now
Country: UK

It has taken nearly a year to watch my way through all of Black Mirror – including the choose your own adventure-movie Bandersnatch – and now I realise how difficult it is going to be to actually write this up. The closest thing to this on the 1001 list, that I have seen so far, is Beckett On Film and that doesn’t quite feel like an adequate comparison. Aside from some vague in world continuity, each episode of Black Mirror is a standalone miniature movie with some of the variation in quality that comes with that.

On the whole there is a sort of link of theme between all episodes – which is a vaguely dystopian look at the intersection between the world and technology, and how we may grow to interact with it. Some episodes are more hopeful in tone whereas other are so incredibly draining. Given that each episode was a tonal grab bag, and how I hate spoilers, every time I started an episode I had to mentally prepare – which is why it took so long to complete.

As a capsule of our times, and as it has found a way to preempt a number of technologies and start some really interesting wider discussions, Black Mirror is almost the ultimate in zeitgeist. It is also great to see if you are someone who enjoyed watching Dead Set many years ago, which now almost feels like an extended pilot – albeit a horror based one.

Since I am anti-spoiler, I don’t particularly want to go into specific episodes, but instead think I’ll end this with a ranking of the 23 that I have seen.

  1. San Junipero
  2. USS Callister
  3. Be Right Back
  4. White Christmas
  5. Hated in the Nation
  6. Nosedive
  7. Bandersnatch
  8. Hang the DJ
  9. The Entire History of You
  10. The National Anthem
  11. 15 Million Merits
  12. White Bear
  13. Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too
  14. Playtest
  15. Arkangel
  16. Shut Up and Dance
  17. Smithereens
  18. Metal Head
  19. Black Museum
  20. The Waldo Moment
  21. Crocodile
  22. Striking Vipers
  23. Men Against Fire

As of the moment I have no 1001 shows on the go as I have convinced the hub to watch Nichijou – so it may be a while before another TV post. Guess it’ll all depend on what the random grab reveals once we’re up to date with more shows.

What’s On TV – Monty Python’s Flying Circus

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 234/501
Title: Monty Python’s Flying Circus
Episodes Aired: 45
Year(s): 1969-1974
Country: UK

This is the second time that my husband tried to introduce me to Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The first time was 7-8 years ago where, after one episode, I was so unimpressed that it took this long to pick up his DVD box set again. If it wasn’t for the 1001 list, this would be a show that I may have never given a second chance to – which would have been a real shame.

I don’t know what has happened in the intervening years, but upon this attempt of viewing Monty Python I was more than happy to carry on after the first episode – even if the ‘The Funniest Joke in the World’ sketch left me completely cold. Like with all sketch comedy, Monty Python’s Flying Circus is hit and miss – but in the episodes I’ve seen so far the sketches have been leaning more towards the hit side… other than Terry Gilliam’s animations. I appreciate the artistry, but very few of the jokes really landed for me.

Still not entirely sure why this show hit me better this time around. Is it possible that 7-8 years changed my sense of comedy to the point where I enjoyed this more? I guess in the intervening years I got really into comedy podcasts and that might have helped. Also, I’ve been able to look past my general distaste for John Cleese and focus more on how great all the other Pythons are.

Hot on the heels of this will be my eventual write-up of Black Mirror it’s been nearly a year since I started it and I am so thrilled to finally be within spitting distance of finishing it off. Maybe this will help hasten the pace of more 1001 TV Shows write-ups? Guess I’ll just have to see what comes out of the hat.

XL Popcorn – Pickpocket

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 825/1007Title: Pickpocket
Director: Robert Bresson
Year: 1959
Country: France

Pickpocket is my third film by acclaimed French film-maker Robert Bresson the others being L’Argent and Journal of a Country PriestWhen reading up about Bresson, Pickpocket is far and away his biggest film in terms of how critics view it and how it helped shape French cinema. It was released the same year as Breathless and had a similar role in giving rise to French New Wave. Regular readers of my blog will likely know where I am heading for the next few paragraphs.

For a film that isn’t even 80 minutes long – I cannot begin to describe how frustrating it was. This is me, again, banging my head against the wall of French cinema of this era where emotions are to be tempered and everything is cloaked with the same nauseating veil of narcissism. The lead character (and I’m not going into how bleeding obvious it was that the leading man wasn’t a proper actor) is so devoid of emotion and so sure of his own greatness that I wasn’t able to derive any real tension from his acts of pickpocketing.

Sure, the scenes depicting the pickpocketing (which reminded me of scenes in Hustle without the slow-motion and the show-boating) are really interesting – but as I was unable to connect to him, I was unable to get any of the tension that I was meant to be feeling about the possibility of him being caught. I’m in the minority here, believe me I know. If anything, the moment towards the end he finally got caught gave me a bit of schadenfreude – something especially heightened by his monologue at the end.

I wish I could have liked this as I hate being among the small group who dislike acclaimed films like this. In the end though, this is all a taste thing and I just don’t have a taste for these sorts of films. Thankfully there cannot be too many of these left, so I am taking some solace in that.

XL Popcorn – The Wicker Man

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 824/1007Title: The Wicker Man
Director: Robin Hardy
Year: 1973
Country: UK

It’s a pity that the concluding scene The Wicker Man is so famous that I went in knowing the ending – the music video to Radiohead’s ‘Burn the Witch’ being the most blatant example. However, this is not your average horror film. Oh no, there are far too many musical numbers for that. Plus you have Christopher Lee in drag, which is something I never knew I wanted to see but am sure glad that I did.

The other thing that makes this debatable as a horror film was the lack of scares (although the idea of animals burning alive really made me uneasy). I guess that this would make this more of a mystery/thriller film, but who cares when The Wicker Man was one hell of an entertaining watch. One with a lot more complexity than I first expected or the gratuitous nudity would betray.

If you can watch this with the knowledge that this is not a captial H horror film (and without the knowledge of some of the twisty bits), then I think this is one of those definite must watches for the sheet fact that I haven’t seen a film quite like this one. Especially one where, and this might be due to time passing, the protagonist isn’t all too lovable either. Sure, he is there to solve a disappearance of a child – but he is so sanctimonious and really should have been a missionary rather than a policeman.

Let’s Get Literal – The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 66/100Title: The Wind in the Willows
Author: Kenneth Grahame
Year: 1908
Country: UK

The Wind in the Willows is the first book that I have read completely at home in ten years. Ever since then there’s been a commute or a plane journey – instead of what this strange new normal of forever being in the flat and commuting across the living room to the dining table. As someone who has seen numerous adaptations (including the pretty pants Disney one) this is a story I know well, so chose the book to lift the spirits.

What I find the most interesting about The Wind in the Willows, being a children’s book, is how there two very different speeds and types of genre at play. On the one hand you have the quick-paced story around Toad and his shenanigans around stealing card and escaping prison dressed as a washer-woman. On the other, a slower paced tale of life on the riverbank where we see how Rat and Mole live together and interact with their environs and their good friend badger. This latter slower section deals more in mysticism and features a relationship that feels so much like queer romance disguised as two animals… well you can see which half I have always been drawn to.

Honestly, even as a child watching adaptations – the animated one with Michael Palin and Rik Mayall – I was always more of a fan of the Mole/Rat sections. Toad, on the other hand, just irritated me and this is even more apparent when reading the book. At least in the different adaptations you don’t read Toad’s innermost thoughts, in the book you do and he is absolutely awful! I guess this shows the power of a “lovable” rogue for most people, but I just wanted him to suffer a bit more. I know he kinda comes good in the end – but his sections were so far and away from the thoughtful chapters with Rat and Mole that I adored.

It’s at times like this where I wish there were more of these sorts of books on the horizon for me in the books list. Everything else on the horizon feels so heavy and that’s not exactly the right kind of material for me right now…

1001 Songs – 1979: Part Two

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

Gloria – Umberto Tozzi

Okay, so like a lot of people I know the Laura Branigan version and had no idea that it was a over of this Italian disco track. When we’ve been doing tracks for the 1001 list and are thrown a French or Italian song, it’s usually to give a sample of something a bit different that was alongside the English-language songs that dominate the list.

In this instance, however, this is very much a related movement. After all this is the country that bore Morodor aka the father of disco – which would not have happened in isolation. It’s actually really cool to hear this take on disco, one without the prolonged dance breaks… but we’ve already heard a better version of this in ABBA’s ‘Voulez Vous’. Still though, I love hearing these originals.

Black Eyed Dog – Nick Drake

This is a real cheat. Nick Drake was already dead for five years by the time this demo came out on a compilation box. Granted, this was the compilation box that caused a massive re-evaluation in his music and resulted in his subsequent elevation in the musical canon – but this hauntingly beautiful song is so out of time.

‘Black Eyed Dog’ was one of the final songs that Nick Drake recorded before his suicide which gives this song about depression an even more haunting sense of relevance. It’s a real whiplash to have this in between a disco song and one of the great early electric pop songs though. I’m going to need a minute.

Are “Friends” Electric? – Gary Numan & Tubeway Army

Where ‘Black Eyed Dog’ was out of time because of the posthumous release, ‘Are “Friends” Electric?’ is out of time for being so out there for 1979. At this point Kraftwerk and other electronic acts from Germany are where you can hang this, but this song by Gary Numan and Tube is already a few more stages removed from that.

It’s this weird mix of new wave, post-punk, electronica, synth-pop and ambient. I mean I would want to call it prog-synth if I wasn’t sure that existed as a sub-genre that I would probably dislike. This song is extraordinary given the time, which is all the more extraordinary given how it topped the charts in the UK. I guess people really were looking for the next thing after disco.

Boys Don’t Cry – The Cure

A bit of a nice and inoffensive pop-rock here that further serves to remind me that The Cure are actually from the UK and not, as I keep thinking, American. It’s an interesting step for the post-punk movement and a very weird to actually hear The Cure making this sort of music before that began to have more of a goth and alternative rock look rather than this piece of new wave.

The Cure is one of those bands I keep saying that I need to give more a go to. Just give me the time I guess.

Good Times – Chic

At 90 seconds in, it felt like this song had already blown it’s load. By minute three when the dance break began on this 8 minute song I had had enough. Look, it’s a product of it’s time and I am not opposed to long songs (hell, ‘Only Skin’ by Joanna Newsom is 17 minutes long and I adore that). Thing is, this dance break lacks punch and it isn’t worth the 4-5 minutes you spend on it.

What is really interesting is how the idea of ‘Good Times’ in the lyrics is tinged with irony. I wish I could have felt that more in the song, but boy do I appreciate that sentiment.

Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough – Michael Jackson

This is how you do a disco song. I have heard this song a lot in my life and it still is able to maintain that huge joie de vivre that you are meant to get from a disco song. Hell, this is still as repetitive in places as other disco songs but it has enough variation in the instrumentation and in the arrangements to keep you engaged.

There is no denying that the duo of Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones led to moments of genius – but with this is just feels like they learned from the disco out at the time and found a way to right all the things that could have held it back. Such a great song.

Lost in Music – Sister Sledge

Another song in our disco stretch, the second of the three that was produced by Nile Rodgers from Chic. After hearing disco being done brilliantly by Michael Jackson it is near impossible to compare these two songs – which is a resounding loss for Sister Sledge. I was there with them for the first three minutes and then it was just this… variation-free repetition.

Disco is over soon, right?

Brass in Pocket – Pretenders

New wave. Check. Female vocalist. Check. Upbeat with a killer chorus. Check.

My husband cottoned on immediately that this was one of those songs I adore. My big smile the moment it started will have helped too because I know it very well. Plus, I crossed the parent album from this not too long ago and have been enjoying that ever since.

 

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Hellsing

List Item:  Watch the 100 Anime to See Before You Die
Progress: 52/100Title: Hellsing
Episodes Aired: 13
Year(s): 2001-2002

So, according to the list, I could have chosen to watch either Hellsing or the later 50-minute per episode Hellsing Ultimate. After reading a number of articles online, which gave the conclusion that it was worth seeing both, I went for the earlier incarnation. Just figured that if I liked this well enough, I could always watch Ultimate at some point in the future to get the remaining story.

I probably should have gone with my gut and jumped straight to Ultimate. In the end, this is what I did with Full Metal Alchemist and Hunter x Hunter as the later anime were not only more acclaimed but also had more source material to use without resorting to some anime-only arcs.

The idea of a dark series featuring a super-strong vampire hunting other vampires under the watch of a shadowy vampire-killing organisation is what drew me to watching this and why I’ve been looking forward to seeing Hellsing for ages. However, after promising opening episodes it just seemed to veer off the rails and then it ends on a frustrating note.

So frustrating in fact that I considered going straight to Ultimate in order to get the proper experience. However, I am not finding time for anime at the moment, let alone 50 minute episodes, so am going to be switching to a non-list anime from my childhood in order to bring some brightness into my life: Flint the Time Detective. Sure, it’s not one of the best ever released but this is a time where something light and fun is very much appreciated.

XL Popcorn – Faces

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 823/1007Title: Faces
Director: John Cassavetes
Year: 1968
Country: USA

Usually when two 1001 movie posts come one after the other that means I have had a double bill thanks to the hub going on a work night out (or some other reason that leaves me home alone). Alas, this is a post from mid-April and actually a whole week has gone by since my last post. I cannot begin to describe just how busy work is and the general mindfuckery of the growing association of laptop at home with being work… so the blog is going to probably take a bit of a hit.

I was hoping, therefore, at least my next pick for the 1001 film list would be one that could get me psyched about writing it up immediately. Instead Faces reminds me of all the reasons why I never go to work drinks. As someone who doesn’t drink I find it exceptionally hard to be around people who are utterly out of their tree; much like everyone in this film.

Two hours of drunken laughter and screaming matches. There’s some great acting in here, that can’t be denied when you watch the crushing performance of Lynn Carlin, but so much of what aggravates me about being around drunk people is here on display. For example, did we need all the reprises of ‘Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair’? No, not at all.

There’s also a lot I could say about the uneven way that roles and experiences are distributed to the men and women in the film. It feels so blatant that I would believe that Cassavetes made a conscious choice to show men in all their toxic glory and show up the double standards faced by women (like how the now separated wife nearly dies on her first night out whereas the husband has a rollicking good time and proceeds to call his meant-to-be-soon-to-be ex-wife a ‘whore’ for adultery when he had done the same that night.

I think that, again, Faces suffers from my same distaste of a lot of American films from this era. There is such a self-indulgence in one’s own genius (even if it is just your own drunken ramblings) that ultimately made this film off-putting a lot of the time.