Monthly Archives: May 2021

XL Popcorn – Down By Law

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 875/1009Title: Down By Law
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Year: 1986
Country: USA

And now I close out another director on the list. Before starting this blog, I had never seen a Jim Jarmusch film and now I am on my third. After Stranger Than Paradise I was a bit reluctant to cross of his final film – and when this started I had that reluctance justified as it felt that Down By Law was going in a similar direction. Then Roberto Benigni made his first appearance on screen and things improved from there.

Down By Law is an interesting film because it feels like Jarmusch took the characters from three quite different films and put them together in a jail break movie. You have Tom Wait’s Zack who feels like he would have belonged in Stranger Than Paradise, Jack feels more like a character from a John Cassavetes film and then there is Roberto… who is from some sort of fish out of water comedy where the lead accidentally kills someone in self-defense.

There are two things in this film which are undeniable. First is the chemistry between the three leading actors, which is so evident when they are trapped in prison together and making conversation about not a lot. Then there is the beautiful slow shots of New Orleans and the Louisiana swamps which, in the crisp black and white of the film, look absolutely stunning. It probably made a better case for how interesting this area is to film than the full blown animation of The Princess and the Frog.

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XL Popcorn – Slacker

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 874/1009Title: Slacker
Director: Richard Linklater
Year: 1991
Country: USA

I had a bit of an American independent cinema double-bill today, second film being posted tomorrow, where I started out with this early film by Richard Linklater. Since I watched Boyhood before I started doing my regular Oscar film posts (and because of the criminality of his Before… series not being on the list) this will be the first and only of his films that I am actually blogging about.

Slacker is one of those sorts of films that really isn’t about anything, instead being made of a loose series of shorts about different people in Austin, Texas (usually Gen X, but some older people appear from time to time). The thing that the people have in common is that they have removed themselves from the general line of society in someway – like how one is an anarchist, another is a conspiracy theorist and another is lost in his own thoughts of alternate universes and branching pathways that he ends up making an impromptu return trip in a taxi.

On the whole, the film is more like an interesting character study of a generation and is an attempt to make a reclamation of the term ‘slacker’ to not necessarily mean a person who is lazy, but rather an alternative lifestyle that doesn’t quite conform to what the previous generation tried to thrust on them. I guess the equivalent for my generation would be ‘hipster’, which would be a very different film with many an argument about Fair Trade coffee blends.

Since it doesn’t exactly have a through line, the strength needed to carry this through for me is variation in the stories and the quality of the characters. It’s a bit obvious at times that some people aren’t professional actors – but they are propped up by some ridiculous stories like trying to sell a stolen pap smear belonging to Madonna.

In the end though, Slacker is not quite the film for me – but I can appreciate that this was a film that was a real shot in the arm for the US Independent film movement and that, without this, we probably would not have had Clerks. I still wish Before Sunrise or Before Sunset were on the list, but I get why this is.

🎻♫♪ – Piano Quintet by Robert Schumann

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
99/501Title: Piano Quintet
Composer: Robert Schumann
Nationality: German
Year:
1842

Thanks to some prolific weeks, I am back in the position where – at least for now – I am going to be able to start posting every day. This may go back down when things get busier again, but seeing how I am hitting the accelerator on the albums list and that I am now making a quicker path through the films, it felt like time.

So the let’s get onto my second Schumann piece – a Piano Quintet that is one of his more famous and beloved pieces. Honestly the first two sections of this four movement piece made enough of an effect on me that I was actually jotting notes as I was waiting for code to run.

The first of the four movements of Schumann’s Piano Quintet is something that I wish more classical music could be: fun. There is something so wonderfully energetic about this first section that it reminds me of a romantic chase, like some of the mythological scenes from Fantasia.

This contrasts hugely with the second ‘funeral march’ section which, if the first piece is a bit like a romantic chase, is the obstacle in the way of the chase. Kind of like the Montagues and Capulets from Romeo and Juliet or just how hopeless Lady Dedlock is in Bleak House given her back story.  I know I probably have these imaged from my head as this second section has been used in films I’ve seen like Fanny and Alexander and The Favourite.

The final two movements of the piece go back up in terms of energy levels, but in terms of interest they don’t manage to reach the same level as the contrasting first two. This was a really great classical piece to listen to and would have made for a satisfactory 100th piece… but that’ll have to wait until next time.

Acclaimed Albums – Ready To Die by The Notorious B.I.G.

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 235/250Title: Ready To Die
Artist: The Notorious B.I.G.
Year: 1994
Position: #227

It is such a low bar, but to have a second rap album from this era that does not engage in homophobia is so refreshing. Similarly, this is light on the misogyny too outside of some general posturing – instead the focus is just on the storytelling and the sampling, which just made me so stupidly happy. Like I said, both the lack of overt misogyny and homophobia is such a low bar to clear and it’s nice to have another album that jumps over it so I can actually enjoy the music.

One thing to quickly get over is that title:  Ready To Die. Wow. Given how he would be dead before the release of his next album, with a name as weirdly prescient as Life After Death, it isn’t a leap to feel a little bit weird when playing it for the first time. I can only imagine how I will feel listening to their second, posthumously released album when I end up with the Top 1000 list.

Not only was the concept of the album engaging, weaving in his own life as a drug dealer with some bombast, but I think this might be some of the better sounding rapping that I have heard as part of this list. Like he is super clear and controlled and yet you can really appreciate the technique and his flow. At no point did I feel I was getting lost and he always had something interesting to say. Like, again, this isn’t really my genre but I can appreciate it wen it is being done well.

 

Graphic Content – Life In Hell

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
91/501Title: Life In Hell
Creator(s):
Matt Groening
Year: 1977-2012
Country: USA

I wonder how differently I would be viewing Life In Hell if it wasn’t for the fact that I grew up watching Golden Age The Simpsons and actually watched the first seasons of Futurama when it was on. Like I am so used to the Matt Groening style of animation that it is weird to see where he actually started out – and actually continued to write until fairly recently.

Where his television shows are spun from his original concepts – or at least he was involved in the original concept – Life in Hell is just Matt Groening himself. Having read a smattering of them from a wide range of years, thanks to a Tumblr that has been trying to archive a number of the strips, it’s oddly gratifying to realize someone whose work I have adored for years has similar political views to me. Reading Life in Hell you see how liberal his views, like two of the recurring characters are an arguing gay couple in fezzes that would appear to be doppelbangers.

One thing I have against Life In Hell is just how repetitive the art gets. Like, I understand having some recurring jokes and frames – but I saw a lot of variations on the same drawing with just different text. For some of them, like when Binky the bunny has done something bad, it’s funny – but with Akbar & Jeff it gets a bit samey. Still though, this has been fun.

World Cooking – Montenegro

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Montenegro
Progress: 93/193

It occurred to me that as I near the halfway point, there are some regions of the world where it would be neat if I was able to hit some more micro-level halfways. With there being six UN-seated nations to come out of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, it made sense therefore for me to try and get the third of these cooked and crossed off.

Once the world opens up again, Montenegro is one of those places in Europe that is near the top of my list – especially early on before the flocks of insane numbers of tourists make their way to the stunning Bay of Kotor. There is a second place of interest listed as part of the Lonely Planet list, but it’s that picturesque coastal feel I am most looking forward to.

Considering their place on the map, Montenegrin cuisine changes depending on where you are. On the coastline, there is more of an influence of the Mediterranean with seafood like squid being used in a number of dishes. The further inland sees the shift of influence shift back to the world of Central European and old Ottoman influences, similar to neighbouring Bosnia. The dish I ended up making, being more influenced by those living in the south of Montenegro, where the population of Montenegrin Albanians begin to go up.

Main: Brav u Mlijeku

I really dislike the smell of whole milk. When it comes to some recipes, I realize that it is a necessary evil because the higher fat content really can add flavour and help out with thickening. It is just that the initial smell I get when opening a bottle and taste of it make me feel sick – for the sake of context, I have skimmed milk on my cereal and never really liked drinking milk as a child.

So, when the idea of a recipe came up where whole milk was the main ingredient and that I would be boiling meat and vegetables in it, well I put it off for a while as it sounded gross… even if I wouldn’t have given it a second thought if it were cream. I like a cream sauce, which is why I ended up really liking this dish whose name basically means ‘lamb in milk’.

Following the recipe from International Cuisine, except that I had to infer that I would not be blending the carrots and potatoes into the cause, I ended up making that was unorthodox but very delicious. The main flavours coming through being a creamy sauce with fennel and garlic – which are two of my favourite flavours. The lamb, potato and carrot became ridiculously soft after the long simmer and the leftover sauce went so well with some nice crusty bread. It was delicious and I never should have doubted it.

Continuing my small regional halfway point trend, next week I will back in the culinary world of the Arabian peninsula, desperately searching for a dish in one of the smaller nations that doesn’t have their origins in any of the larger countries. Or at least something that carries the name of that particular country in most of the recipes. Wish me luck.

XL Popcorn – The Conformist

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 873/1009Title: Il conformista (The Conformist)
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Year: 1970
Country: Italy

Second film in a row where I am seeing the final film of a director with four entries on the 1001 list. In real time it wasn’t that long since I saw his previous entry – Last Tango In Parisbut in emotional time it was an age ago. That’s not even taking into consideration the mental suppression I had to do after that butter rape scene.

Of the four Bertolucci films that I have seen for the 1001 list, The Conformist isn’t just my favourite but also the most beautifully shot. As much as I enjoyed The Spider’s Stratagemthe direction and cinematography have nothing on this. The way that space is used in the shots from the stark open space of the mental hospital to the simple layout of the rooms in the fiancée’s family home is outstanding. Even the final shots in post-fascist Italy are stunning, especially the final act of ‘conforming’ in the ruins of the Teatro Marcello.

The title tells you pretty much what you need to know about the main character. This is a man who will conform to what he needs in order to get along. It’s not even as if you could think of this as him just surviving as that would imply some sort of aversion to the beliefs he holds in order to life. I imagine that if this was made in a country that was taken over by Nazi Germany, rather than being set in Mussolini’s Italy, the title may have been more along the lines of the The Collaborator.

This is a man who feels the need to clumsily ingratiate himself with the secret police and so ends up being given a job assassinating a former teach of his that now lives in exile. In a modern terms this is like a Republican who abandoned all scruples to become a Trump super fan and then, now Trump is no longer in office, is shoving other Trump supporters under the bus to divert attention from him. At least in this metaphor, he doesn’t end up helping assassinate two innocent people.

In watching The Conformist I finally managed to clock that Jean-Louis Trintignant as an actor I’ve seen in a bunch of other films, including Three Colours: Red, Amour, Z and My Night At Maud’sI know that two of those were him as a much older man, but wow how long it has taken me to realize this. At least I got there in the end with, what I think is, his final film on the 1001 list.

Acclaimed Albums – The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 234/250Title: The Low End Theory
Artist: A Tribe Called Quest
Year: 1991
Position: #194

With the list update game a number of new albums from the 1990s, which suddenly means I feel the need to cut them down to the same size as the other remaining decades. As this is an album that saw a further rise within the Top 250 (and has a really interesting album cover) I figured let’s do this next.

Due to my own musical biases I have a lot of hip-hop albums still to go (although nowhere near as much as before), which has been like a crash course into the different types of rap out there. With The Low End Theory I feel like I have seen a whole new side that I didn’t even know existed – jazz rap with lyrics that are not only socially conscious, but actually don’t feel the need to sweat. I’m not a prude when it comes to swearing, it’s just that it’s noticeably missing.

One track that leapt out to me was ‘The Infamous Date Rape’. This isn’t the best song or one with an interesting production particularly, but it’s the subject matter. Other than Beastie Boys, a lot of the rap albums I’ve recently listened to are misogynistic to the point of talking about murdering women. Then you get a track like this which, whilst trading jokes about sex, basically says that if a woman says no – then that’s that. I wish that this wasn’t such an outlandish thing to hear on a hip-hop track.

The rest of the album is a great trade off of raps all set to a fusion of hip-hop and jazz. It’s probably one of those albums that would be worth spending some more time with down the line. It’s helped me refuel a bit and I feel better able to tackle the remaining hip-hop albums within this cut of the list.

Graphic Content – Berlin: City Of Stones

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
90/501Title: Berlin: City Of Stones
Creator(s):
Jason Lutes
Year: 1996-2018
Country: USA

The Berlin series of comic books are a historic look at the city of Berlin in the Great Depression. In total there have been 22 issues across three books, the first of which is featured on the 1001 list. I plan to read the follow ups (City of Smoke and City of Light) now I have finished off the first book, but wanted to write this now before my view is too coloured by later issues.

In the first issues that make up Berlin: City Of Stones we are focused mainly on 1928-29 – with Blutmai – a bloody massacre executed by the police on members of the Communist Party of Germany as they went on a peaceful march through the streets – being the end point. Whilst there are a number of through-lines, there are no real main characters – although the death of one of the ensemble at the end of City of Stones was pretty shocking as she was shot through the heart.

The boiling pot of Germany in this era of history is one that I learned about in history class and of which much has been written about. I imagine that City of Light will go even further into the rise of the National Socialist party, something that does appear in these earlier volumes but only to give us a sense of what was brewing in terms of sentiment and not yet as a major threat.

Given what happened next, it is hard to forget that in this time period Berlin was still a massive cultural centre with their cabaret, art movements and even some more liberal attitudes towards homosexuality (at least compared to previous time periods and to other cities around the world).

To see this beginning to collapse due to the economic hardships and the poison of the different political movements fighting for the country’s soul is profoundly sad. In City Of Stones we see this reflected through the large ensemble cast who take different levels of ownership of the destinies of themselves and their country. It’s an interesting series and I am interested to see how far into the rise of the Nazi party it ends up going.

XL Popcorn – The Ice Storm

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 872/1009Title: The Ice Storm
Director: Ang Lee
Year: 1997
Country: USA

He may have made a few mis-steps, but there is no denying that Ang Lee has one of the most diverse portfolios of a still-working director. On the 1001 list, his four entries are The Wedding Banquet, Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and today’s film post. This doesn’t include him delving into the world of Austen, westerns or a solo voyage on a boat with a tiger.

With The Ice Storm, Ang Lee manages to scratch so many of my cinematic itches in a type of film that I have not seen from him before – and plays into a lot of the same areas that made me adore Lone StarThis is an ensemble piece which is part family drama, part melodrama and part slow motion car crash. The cast here is incredible with Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood and the heartbreakingly brilliant Joan Allen.

Watching this in the first week of December turned out to be perfect seeing how this set in the days surrounding Thanksgiving, the titular ice storm occurring towards the end of the film. Ang Lee being the director he is, coupled with Mychael Danna’s haunting score (which is one of the first times I have heard gamelans in an American film) uses the instance of an ice storm to give some truly beautiful and haunting shots of the trees as crystalize and lean over in the ice. Really helps to bring to the fore how stunning and yet dangerous phenomena like this can be.

The actual ice storm aside, this is a family drama in middle class America at the time Watergate was happening. Social change was still in the air as the parents start to flex their own limits – with key parties, shoplifting and substance abuse – just as their teenage children are doing the same (minus the key parties). Makes for an interesting contrast seeing similar behaviour in both generations in different ways and being done in a way that will elicit very different reactions.

I also like how The Ice Storm feels like an earlyish film that, whilst acknowledging that the early 1970s were the height of kitsch, choses to completely cut the heart of what have been a very confusing time to be alive in America. Who do you trust when your president is under investigation? What is your place when the cogs of social movement are still going? Who in their right mind brings their own (albeit attractive) son to a key party? Okay that last one may just be a film specific question, but an important one nonetheless.