Monthly Archives: February 2021

XL Popcorn – Wall Street

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 854/1009Title: Wall Street
Director: Oliver Stone
Year: 1987
Country: USA

I guess that with nearly 150 films left to go it was likely that I was going to be closing off some interesting years and directors at a faster rate. Didn’t quite expect that, with this and The Reckless MomentI would be doing both twice in a row. Then again, it feels like I have been speeding through the Oliver Stone films quite recently so it shouldn’t be too surprising that I am already at this point.

Going into this film, I had two things that I was looking out for. Firstly, the infamous line that has since been truncated down to just “greed is good”. I expected that it wasn’t strictly the line as uttered in the film, but boy isn’t it pretty much how you would summarize the goings on. I also knew that the ‘Future Stock’ episode of Futurama borrowed heavily from this – but didn’t quite realize just how much they had in common.

Wall Street is one of those films that you need to show people when trying to sum up the greed spree that was the 1980s… but also to show just we as a culture never learn. Change out the technology and the references – then you have something that could have been made about modern investment practices, like The Big Short. Goes a long way to explain how a equal could be made some 20 years later.

Michael Douglas as the villain in this film is extraordinary. Especially as he is essentially the human embodiment of capitalism allowed to reach one of it’s many end points and managed to actually inspire people to become stockbrokers. The idea that such a well played villain could inspire people to try and become like them is pretty chilling and shows just how strong the lure of penthouse suites with questionable art (seriously some of those art pieces are worth serious laughs) can be.

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XL Popcorn – The Reckless Moment

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 853/1009Title: The Reckless Moment
Director: Max Ophüls
Year: 1949
Country: USA

One thing that can ruin a film’s illusion for me is when someone acts grossly outside of what you would expect. This is what got The Reckless Moment off to a pretty rocky start for me and, as the film went on, kept happening. Like I know that with a run time of 82 minutes you aren’t going to be able to a huge amount of background work on characters – but the whole thing is sparked because of one thing: a mother thinks that her daughter is capable of murdering her sleazeball boyfriend.

Now, there is being protective and there is being ‘protective’. The mother gives her daughter one chance to own up to the crime she didn’t commit. At no point does she really press her as to why the deceased boyfriend has been found impaled on an anchor – instead she just assumes her daughter is a murderess and proceeds to hide to body in order to protect her family. It’s just a bit… off.

Then you have the blackmail plot where, in the blink of an eye, you have a blackmailer go from ‘give me all the money’ to a doe-eyed lovesick man who is going to protect her from his partner. It was such a quick shift in their dynamic that I am still not entirely sure what happened, unless it was her lecture about being a mother that made him fall for her. It was all just a bit strange.

This is not me saying that Joan Bennett and James Mason didn’t do good jobs with what they were presented as the mother and blackmailer respectively. It’s just that, for me, so much of this film lacked sense as was too easily sown up at the end. Once I was able to switch my brain off for a bit, I was able to better enjoy this interesting take on a noir film. But I am still left with a weird taste in my mouth afterwards that there was a better story here that was not explored.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Kuroko’s Basketball

List Item:  Watch the 100 Anime to See Before You Die
Progress: 54/100Title: Kuroko’s Basketball
Episodes Aired: 75
Year(s): 2012-2015

Like I said when I wrote up Slam Dunk, I wanted to see how basketball anime had evolved in the 20-odd years since it was first aired. Kuroko’s Basketball is the logical place to go for that, given how it is the only other basketball anime to feature on the list. Unlike Slam Dunk, this is split into three seasons – thus giving me a proper place to have an out should I not want to watch all 75 episodes.

I took the out. After the end of the first season, I didn’t really want to continue on – which leaves Haikyuu as the only sports anime that I made the choice to stick with. Whilst Kuroko’s Basketball did improve on a lot of the things that made me want to give up on Slam Dunk – it wasn’t enough to keep me engaged.

There are more interesting characters in here, like the titular Kuroko and the team’s coach, but in the end the show failed me on two places. Firstly, thanks to the initial premise of there being a Miracle Generation of players, there are basketball players who are effectively supernatural. Whilst it is good to have big obstacles in a sports anime for the main team to triumph over or lose against – it’s not exactly a fair fight to lose against someone with godlike abilities.

Then there is the fact that multiple episodes cover the same match. Now I know they did this with Haikyuu, but I think that it worked for me there because you actually get to care about each individual member of the volleyball team – with Kuroko’s Basketball, the focus is mostly on two key players with some attention to the rest. When, like me, you aren’t as invested in one of the key players then you aren’t as invested in the game.

It is clearly just me on this as Kuroko’s Basketball is one of the holy grail’s of sports anime. I think that I have two issues at play. Firstly, I am not a big fan of watching sports in real life so I am not going to be as keen to watch it in anime form. Secondly, of the sports I kinda enjoy watching – basketball is not one of them. Now if there was a decent ice hockey anime out there, then someone please point it my way. Else, this is just another miss for me.

With this, I have nearly crossed out all of the sports anime from the list. Thankfully. I know that Ping Pong is still left, but I am actually looking forward to that one because of the very different animation style. Before that though, I think it’s time to get away from sports anime and maybe got for something from the list that’s completely different. Whatever that ends up being.

World Cooking – Federated States of Micronesia

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Federated States of Micronesia
Progress: 86/193

Tine for the now twice yearly visit to the cuisines of Oceania. With this I am now halfway through the countries in this region and I still have no idea what I am going to cook for Australia. Still though, that can wait as today I am cooking for one of the longest country names in the world. It also has one of the largest areas in the world, although most of that is made up of their claims in the Pacific Ocean.

The four stars in the flag represent the four states that make up the nation, each state having jurisdiction a section of the 607 islands. Each state has their own sets of cultural traditions, the state of Yap being especially famous for their massive stone currency. However, if you want to find recipes for each of these states… it’s pretty hard. The fact that two other nations also come under the Micronesian umbrella also complicates things somewhat. Still though, I managed to find something that ended up being truly scrumptious.

Main: Chicken Micronesia

With a name like Chicken Micronesia, it gave me immediate hope that this might be the perfect recipe for this country. The fact that multiple places talked about a chicken recipe for the Federated States of Micronesia with coconut and pineapple as main ingredients really helped to give me that confidence to make it.

Following this recipe on Food.com, may have made for one of the easiest things that I have ever made for the food country challenge. It will probably end up being the easiest thing when I am at the end of the 193 country journey. However, just because this was easy doesn’t mean that it wasn’t delicious.

Of all the recipes I have made so far, this is the one that will easily enter a weeknight rotation. Sure, for the best result you need to marinade it overnight – but once you have done that its super moist and super flavourful. Especially those pineapple chunks soaking up all the juice from the chicken and the flavour of the soy sauce.

As this week’s recipe was a nice and simple one, I am going to push the boat out a bit next week when I am ticking off my next Asian nation. This will be the first time in a long time that I will be making dumplings from scratch – which should be a lot easier now that I have a pasta maker to roll out the dough super thin.

Acclaimed Albums – Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young & Crazy Horse

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 226/250Title: Rust Never Sleeps
Artist: Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Year: 1979
Position: #158

As of the time of writing this, I know that the update to the acclaimed music list is imminent. By the time this post goes up, that update will have likely happened 2-3 months ago and I will probably be further away from my target. Thanks again summer from hell for putting a stop gap on my ability to do much with my challenges.

I’ve been so scared of albums falling out of the list that now I really have very few that are not significant dropping risks. So here I am with Rust Never Sleeps… because I started mt first play of this at gone midnight and that really is not the time for Beastie Boys or the Pixies.

As an album that was mostly recorded live (as can be heard by the crowds at the beginning) with corrections and overdubs made later in the studio, Rust Never Sleeps is an interesting hybrid within this list. The setlist features a mix of acoustic, rock and then some distorted guitar music that some have extrapolated to be a precursor of what would be the grunge movement some 10-12 years later.

This music is quite a bit of a shift from Tonight’s The Night and After the Gold Rush where it was far more focussed on blues and alternative country. I guess that this is where you can really hear Crazy Horse exerting their own influence over Neil Young. Sure, his voice is still there but this is now a very different tone from what I’ve heard him do before. It feels like I’ve missed a stage of development in between the albums I’ve listened to – maybe that’ll be found when I eventually expand this list outwards.

XL Popcorn – Anatomy of a Murder

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 852/1009Title: Anatomy of a Murder
Director: Otto Preminger
Year: 1959
Country: USA

So often when you watch a film centred around a court case, you have a sense of the facts about the case. This can be done via the act occurring onscreen at the beginning or by having flashbacks punctuate the film as a way to confirm that what you are hearing is correct. Anatomy of a Murder does neither of these things. In fact, in a number of ways the truth of what happened doesn’t really matter.

This is a courtroom drama, a pure courtroom drama with Jimmy Stewart facing off against George C. Scott in the case of ‘was it temporary insanity that lead to this murder’. The only fact in the case that we have absolute clarity of is that a man was killed and the wife of the murderer was seen earlier having a good time with the victim. As the audience, we are left to chew over the course of events and to be swayed either by the charismatic Jimmy Stewart as defender or by Scott as the big city prosecutor.

With Stewart’s jazz-loving lawyer as our lead character, we are party to all he knows – as well as his suspicions that his client and his wife may not be telling the whole truth. Nothing is confirmed or denied, which makes for a brilliant film to talk about afterwards… if you aren’t talking about the brilliant pieces of acting by Stewart and Scott. These are two actors that shine no matter the film they are in – so to see them going toe-to-toe is something special. Especially as you watch them getting frustrated by the other’s courtroom antics.

At nearly three hours long you would think that a mostly courtroom based film would get a bit samey. Not so with Anatomy of a Murder. It’s hard to know who the ‘winner’ is going to be before the end and, ultimately, what decision you want the jury to reach by the end. It also speaks a lot for the quality of the screenplay and performances that Anatomy of a Murder is shown in some law schools as an example of how a trial can go down.

XL Popcorn – 1001 Movies 2020 Update

Usually when the 1001 movies list has an update, I quietly amend the page and change some numbers here and there. However, in the 2020 update (which happened yesterday as I write this) there have been some changes. Rather than just the usual swapping in and out, the list has also increased the films on the list by pairing The Avengers: Endgame with Infinity War and by making the Toy Story trilogy a quartet.

So now that the list is out of 1009, and as I really do not want to have to change a lot of numbers on blog posts, this post is for the films I have not written about that are now on the list.

Title: Toy Story 4
Director: Josh Cooley
Year: 2019
Country: USA

I honestly do not understand why the list opted to make Toy Story 4 an entry on the list as part of a quartet. As much as I liked the film, this is not one of Pixar’s best. Also, I don’t think you can make any argument that this is a properly realised film quartet – hell it was a stretch to have the first three as a trilogy.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Toy Story 4 when I saw it in the cinema. I liked how they finally put the series to bed properly so they cannot be strong-armed into making more. However, when I think of other Pixar films that have come out since – like Inside Out, Wall-E and Ratatouille – that are denied places on the list because of the mass of Toy Storys, it makes me a bit sad.

Title: The Farewell
Director: Lulu Wang
Year: 2019
Country: USA

The Farewell was my second favourite film of 2019 (behind Parasite) so I am thrilled to see this as an entry. This was one of those films that really was a delayed emotional gut punch; one that hit me as I was crossing the road outside the cinema and suddenly I started to really cry.

The fact that this was completely shut out of the Oscars is a complete mystery to me, especially looking back on some of the Best Picture nominees. This story about a Chinese-American women returning to China in order to say goodbye to her grandma who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer is a beautiful, funny, thought-provoking and emotional journey without too many obvious grabs at the heartstrings. I hope this gets to stay on the list for a while.

Title: Booksmart
Director: Olivia Wilde
Year: 2019
Country: USA

Booksmart is one of those films that I saw on the plane en route to Hong Kong. It was something I put on after I had slept on the plane, thinking that this would be one of those films where it wouldn’t matter too much if I was a bit groggy. After all, this is just another teen comedy that had got half decent reviews.

Firstly, the reviews were raves – not half decent. Secondly, I absolutely loved this film. Yes it is a teen comedy, but it is one of those rare teen comedies that is smart, well-written and yet also completely ridiculous. Cannot wait to see what Olivia Wilde does next as a director.

Title: Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire)
Director: Céline Sciamma
Year: 2019
Country: France

Ending with the film that was a good friend of mine’s favourite and one where I managed to successfully torture my friend because I didn’t give it a perfect 10/10 rating on Letterboxd. I mean I thought it was really good, but it takes a lot for me to give a film a perfect rating on the first watch – so I ended up giving this a 9. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a French film about the making of a painting.

This is the second of the three new foreign language entries on the 1001 list that I have seen. It’s one of those films that I was pleasantly surprised to see featured amongst the new entries, especially as France decided to not submit this for the Oscars (which did work out as their choice did make the final five), but this definitely has a place as a female-directed film about a developing love between two women which has no interest in the male gaze.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 851/1009

🎻♫♪ – Nocturnes by Frédéric Chopin

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
92/501Title: Nocturnes
Composer: Frédéric Chopin
Nationality: Polish
Year:
1829-1847

It’s been two and a half years since I saw a Chopin recital in Krakow, which was also the last time that I listened to Chopin for the classical list. Since then I have almost tripled the number of classical pieces that I’ve heard and still the Chopin pieces rank as some of the best that I have come across so far. Guess this makes him one of my favourite composers – although I probably need to get further into the list before I can say that with any conviction.

This piece, well a collection of pieces as it’s made up of 21 individual that was composed over nearly 20 years, made for a perfect background as I played a game of Heaven’s Vault and did some glyph translation. These are all written as solo piano pieces and, as the name Nocturne would suggest, are inspired by the night.

Listening to all 21 in succession, you start to notice how they are thematically in groups of 2-3  and that there is a development in how they’re composed. By the end, some of the individual Nocturnes begin to sound like something that you would hear played in classic Hollywood movies. So, in the end, it was a good two hours of a listen and helped me solve a lot of glyph puzzles.

XL Popcorn – The Last Seduction

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 850/1007Title: The Last Seduction
Director: John Dahl
Year: 1994
Country: USA

HBO really screwed things up with this film. Granted the Oscars have always been a bit previous about their eligibility rules, but The Last Seduction is one of those movies that makes you question the rigidity of policy. The sticking point was that, before release in cinemas, The Last Seduction first played on HBO – so was considered ineligible. It’s a rule built around snobbery, but left this film in a strange award season limbo.

If the release of this had been handled differently, Linda Fiorentino would have got an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Hell, there would be a chance of her winning the award if that wasn’t the year they decided to give the award to Jessica Lange as a consolation prize for a film that has faded into obscurity. Fiorentino’s performance as this dry-witted, erotically-charged sociopath is a thing of beauty. I only really knew her from Men in Black before this and I am devastated that her acting career just flopped because of her being ‘difficult’. Utterly atrocious.

The Last Seduction is one of those films that shows you just how a neo-noir should be done. It didn’t rely on being close to a remake (like Body Heat with Double Indemnity) and it doesn’t shy too much away from being more modern where it needs. It plays with the noir tropes whilst giving careful nods to the films of the genre that game before.

The main character being the ‘femme fatale’, rather than the man who has succumb to her, is a very different take and means that you are party to her plots rather than uncovering them at the same time as the man. This makes for a different sort of tension as you watch her turn the screw and drop her act the moment her ‘mark’ is out of the room. It’s such a different perspective that helps the film to stand out.

Acclaimed Albums – Kid A by Radiohead

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 225/250Title: Kid A
Artist: Radiohead
Year: 2000
Position: #35

When this album first came out, I don’t think anyone would have expected it to become as acclaimed as it is now. Few publications championed it other than Pitchfork – who gave it a rare 10/10 – with many opting to completely trash it. Now, it is in the Top 50 of albums of all time. I know that time allows for re-evaluation, but this must be one of the most extreme pivots that I have seen on an album in my lifetime.

Me listening to it some 20 years later, now it has cemented itself as a classic and has been able to exert influence on music I know, is a profoundly different experience than what it would have been when the musical landscape at the turn of the millennium. Also helps that I know and love In Rainbows and A Moon Shaped Pool

Back in 2000, Kid A was inaccessible to a lot of listeners which was why it was trashed. Nowadays it is actually extremely accessible to newcomers and might actually be the first album of theirs to truly hit me hard on a first listen. I have not been able to stop listening to it, or at least some of the tracks, this last week.

This is the sort of album that scratches that same itch that Silent Shout by The Knife or Visions by Grimes does. This sort of dark distorted indie rock with veins of dance and electronica permeating – with the occasional lighter spot. Not traditional rock songs, but something more experimental, rewards multiple listens and would not be out of place at a silent disco.

Already ‘Idioteque’ and the title track have ended up as my most played tracks of the week and now I can already see other tracks are going to end up as favourites. This may end up being my favourite Radiohead album after a few more listens. Can’t wait to see what I think of the rest of their catalogue that I am yet to explore.