Monthly Archives: May 2021

XL Popcorn – Diva

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 871/1009Title: Diva
Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix
Year: 1981
Country: France

Diva is credited as being the influential film of the French Cinéma du look movement – where style and spectacle were to be prioritised over a sense of realism. Essentially, Diva is to thank for the sudden uptick in my feelings towards French cinema. I had always wondered how we got from the New Wave (which I have a hard time with) with later French cinema which were some of the first foreign language films I adored.

Guess I have my answer now – it was Diva, which would be enough to forgive this film of any sins that it committed. Good thing that it didn’t commit any other than providing one of the most interesting chase sequences that I have ever seen and taking some cool film noir elements and making them blue – a film bleu if you will.

In classic noir tropes, you have an innocent man being involved in a criminal plot as he accidentally comes into possession of an incriminating cassette tape that could destroy a crime syndicate. He also has, in his possession, a rare pirated recording of an opera singer – the titular Diva – who refuses to allow a recording of her singing be made of her.

It’s a story of chase, blackmail, double crosses and tension – whilst still being unmistakably French in how it creates mood and scenes. This collision and birth of genre has an interesting side effect – it makes this film feel pretty ageless. Take the technological constraints out and you don’t necessarily realize that this is an eighties film – unlike A Question of Silence whose own eightiesness both aged it and ruined it.

Given how much of a departure it was from realism (and with two more Godard films left on the list, I know I have a long way to go before my own departure), I can see how this would have been better received abroad than in its native France. Thankfully it has gained in standing since and stands in the French pantheon as a great example of a French-language thriller.

Acclaimed Albums – Live Through This by Hole

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 233/250Title: Live Through This
Artist: Hole
Year: 1994
Position: #236

I realize now that most of the posts where I am worried about the big refresh to the list were posted after the actual refresh happened at the end of November. Well, it is currently December 1st and this is my first post since the up and as such wanted to cover one of the albums that just entered. In fact, this is one of two albums from 1994 that entered the list and I am not entirely sure how… maybe there was a 25th anniversary evaluation at some point.

Anyway, Live Through This is one of two albums that entered the list that I have heard before and have yet to write anything about for the blog (unlike Melodrama and A Seat At The Table which had entries as part of my end of year posts). The other is Blonde by Frank Ocean which I listened to in its year of release but did not make my end of year Top 20 – so maybe a reevaluation will occur at some point.

Live Through This is one of those albums that I have listened to on and off for the last 10-15 years. I have distinct memories of listening to both this and Hole’s other big acclaimed album Celebrity Skin when I was on my way home from school. I always preferred Celebrity Skin over Live Through This because it was more on the power pop side, whereas the album I am covering for the list is very much grunge infused.

This lean towards power pop has lasted ever since, so whilst I still enjoy listening to Live Through This – I am thinking about how I would like to later listen to ‘Celebrity Skin’, ‘Hit So Hard’ and ‘Heaven Tonight’ from their follow up.

Then again, I think opening song ‘Violet’ might be the best that Hole ever sounded and where Hole sounds the most Hole – second to ‘Celebrity Skin’ which is just one of the great punk-influenced songs. On the other side of Live Through This you get the softer side of grunge in ‘Doll Parts’ and the mislabelled ‘Olympia’ closing the album out with a sneer.

Yes, there was no way that I wasn’t going to cover this as the first album since the list changed. Brings back memories and it reassures me that even 16 year old me had some punky vibes to him.

XL Popcorn – Gertrud

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 870/1009Title: Gertrud
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Year: 1964
Country: Denmark

This is the third of four Dreyer films that I need to see for the 1001 list – and it’s been nearly five years since the last one. Since I enjoyed both The Passion of Jeanne D’Arc and OrdetI assumed that the remaining two Dreyer films on the list would also be wins. Especially as Gertrud features highly on many best of film lists – not as high as the other two I’ve seen, but still pretty damned high.

No. This is not what happened. I think that the word that I ended up settling on in order to describe this film is ‘tedious’. My husband described it as a romcom without the com. Either way, this was not the best two hours I have spent watching a movie and is one of the lesser 1001 films that I have seen for a long time – and it really should have worked.

Gertrud is one of those films that should have worked so well for me on paper. However, thee was a gigantic barrier for me and that was just how stilted the acting felt with the combination of a ridiculous abundance of long-shots – which were all centred on either some sort of two-person seat or a piano.

Then there was the extremely weird choice of having none of the characters actually looking at each other. At the beginning I thought it was a choice about Gertrud and her husband literally not seeing eye-to-eye and so as a way demarking their lack of communication. But no, this was something that just permeated the whole film much like a poor Saturday Night Live sketch where everyone is searching for a cue card.

Coupled with this, there is an emotionally stuntedness that every character seems to show. I am not sure whether Gertrud herself is meant to be depressed, detached or have some sort of personality disorder. There is so little affect in her as she leaves her husband, her toy boy and the man who continues to pine for her years after their break-up. Like other than the trophy of having a famous opera singer for a wife, I am not exactly sure what she has been bringing to the relationship… then again I could probably say the same of all the men in this film.

So yes, this was a massive disappointment because of whatever the big disconnect was between myself and the film. I hope that this is a blip and that the final Dreyer film on the list hits the mark for me.

🎻♫♪ – Keyboard Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
98/501Title: Keyboard Sonatas
Composer: Domenico Scarlatti
Nationality: Italian

When I think of the word ‘keyboard’ my mind immediately went to something new and electronic – so I got a bit lost when scouring the book for this particular piece. It makes more sense that ‘keyboard’ is just a generic name for instruments like the piano, harpsichord and synthesizer that operate using pressed keys. Feels so obvious now, but also built up some hopes of something that was like a classical David Bowie.

Over the course of his life, Domenico Scarlatti wrote over 550 keyboard sonatas – so listening to all of them would take me days. Luckily the 1001 book lists a specific collection, which is also available on Spotify, so that meant I could hear whatever it was the list makers decided were the best representation.

Like with last week’s Mystery Sonatasthis is another batch of ridiculously complex sonatas – although this time it’s for the piano rather than the violin. They were a baroque treat for an hour of classical music, but I don’t think that I would have been able to listen to his entire keyboard sonata oeuvre. That would be a bit much.

XL Popcorn – A Man Escaped

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 869/1009Title: A Man Escaped
Director: Robert Bresson
Year: 1956
Country: France

Having seen Le Trouand knowing how that goes, I was a bit relieved to see that A Man Escaped is based on a true story from the memoirs of the man that escaped. Means that no matter how high the tension got – like seeing our protagonist being sentenced to death at Hotel Terminus – you knew that it was unlikely to end with a firing squad.

I have had a bit of a tumultuous relationship with Bresson in the 1001 films list. Out of the previous three films of his, I have only liked one of them – my issue with the other two being a main character who I not only disliked, but also failed to understand their motivations. Sure, I’m a bit of a goodie two shoes – sue me.

With A Man Escaped, it is difficult to find a situation where you can route for someone more – a member of the French resistance plans and executes their escape from prison in order to not be executed by the invading Nazi troops. This is the plot of the film where we spend most of the time seeing how he prepares his tools and comes up with the best way to escape – again, all based on the memoirs of the man who escaped.

There’s a bit at the beginning where Bresson states that all we are about to see is true – thankfully he omitted the torture elements of the true story, but everything else hasn’t been altered too much for cinematic effect. Knowing that, it is difficult to not be in awe as we watch this man fashion tools, map his surroundings and come up with the easiest way to actually get out of his cell (a few months with a sharpened spoon and, oddly enough, a wooden prison door).

Like with Journal of a Country Priest, this film is a bit of a slow burn – but that just helps when it comes to building up the tension. Even though you know it’s going to be okay – this is still a prison where 7 out of 10 inmates were killed and there’s plenty of obstacles between this man and freedom. It’s a real triumph of a man’s ingenuity and what the price of freedom can be – and then there is me who would have probably fallen to their death in the first few minutes having weaved a bad rope.

World Cooking – Zambia

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Zambia
Progress: 92/193

Okay, so the research for today’s post started with me seeing that I am getting close to triple digits and wanting to have covered one of the two ‘Z’ countries before I get there. I know that I won’t have completed the country alphabet until after the 100th country is crossed off, but at least I can say that I’ve done Z.

I am very privileged in that I am nowhere near the first person to have the thought to do this particular challenge. Probably not even in the top 1000. Means that whilst I do still like to do my own research, I am able to see how bloggers around the world have adapted dishes from far flung areas in order to meet local ingredients (even if I had to order some more white cornmeal in order to replace the fufu powder that’s long past use by).

So much of Zambian cuisine is centred around fufu (or nshima as it is called in Zambia) so the game became finding something to make alongside it. After all, I have made nshima a few times for this particular challenge and wanted to make sure I made something that is both Zambian and not too close to something that I have cooked before. I think I got there, even if I got a bit bored with making the nshima that it wasn’t as firm as I’d hoped.

Main: Nshima with Tomato Gravy & Okra

When making this dish (recipe from Raffi’s World) the seasoning really is everything – as is remembering that the tomatoes in the local market really do not taste as good as a proper tomato should. It’s one of those things that I do as I go along anyway, but this really is one of those things where seasoning as you go along with regular taste tests is needed to prevent it being bland – especially as the nshima itself doesn’t contribute a lot of flavour.

Then again, that’s the kind of dish this is. It’s something that gives you your protein and your vegetables whilst also filling you up – in these ways this really did fit the bill. Other than that, this was just okay and not exactly something I can see myself ever making again because there are plenty of better things from this world challenge that I have made. Hell, I made another batch of soda bread a few days ago.

Next week will be an return to the Balkans as I try to get over my issues with whole milk and make one of the national dishes of this area. I’ll also have to learn how to use the immersion blender I got over a year ago and have still been too afraid to use. All this next time as I hit the grand ‘100 to go’ landmark for this particular challenge.

Acclaimed Albums – The Marshall Mathers LP by Enimem

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 232/250Title: The Marshall Mathers LP
Artist: Enimem
Year: 2000
Position: #192

I remember being at the end of primary school and then the beginning of secondary school when Eminem really hit his heights. So many of the boys in my year group liked his music and I, as a 12 year old, had a copy of The Eminem Show because I liked ‘Without Me’. I even kinda liked ‘The Real Slim Shady’, although clearly not enough to ask for the album for Christmas.

Good thing I didn’t.

Thinking of myself as a 11 year old, and people in my year group, listening to this album at that young an age is absolutely terrifying. How can you, at that age, successfully parse what is happening in tracks like ‘Kim’ where he raps about killing his wife because he thinks she has been unfaithful? The idea of satire is not even in the teaching syllabus until you are 15-16 years old and it is one of the toughest things on there for English language – so how on Earth does that work. I think, for the first time in my 31 years, I actually agree with some albums having an easily-ignored parental advisory sticker.

Hip-hop is not my genre, but the horrorcore style that Eminem employs on here is very much not my genre. Listening to the gateway tracks like ‘Stan’ and ‘The Real Slim Shady’ in the context of this album just made the latter stand out all the more. ‘Stan’ does fit in more, but it’s still a brilliantly well-written song that is helped by it being sung from the obvious point of view of a character and by being a warning about obsessive fandom. A track like ‘Kim’ is just torture porn as a song and, sadly, I know that there are other tracks by other artists that are worse than this.

Also, as a gay man, this is some of the most homophobic music I have ever heard. It boggles my mind that this, although controversial at the time, still got a free pass to major award nominations and end of year lists because there is this weird acceptance that because it is hip-hop they are allowed to have songs that justify things that are abhorrant. I know things have changed in 20 years for the better, but wow doesn’t the content of an album like this remind you of the reason to keep pushing forward.

XL Popcorn – Lone Star

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 868/1009Title: Lone Star
Director: John Sayles
Year: 1996
Country: USA

I am going to hold my hands up and say that this is not a film I really expected too much of. Mainly because this is a nearly two and a half hour long film where the DVD case is mostly taken up by Matthew McConaughey in a very early role. Nothing against him as an actor… now, but back then I am not a big fan. The fact that he has an important, yet very minor, role in the form of flashbacks is knowledge I wish I had a bit earlier.

Lone Star is a bit of a slow burn, but is one of those films that could have been an overblown melodrama in the wrong hands. Instead, you have an incredibly well written ensemble piece set in a Texan border county with a number of exceptionally well acted characters. At the centre is a murder mystery around a skeleton found in the desert and the sheriff who returns home to uncover the truth behind the murder and the truth behind his father, who is idolized by the county at large.

This murder mystery is just one of a number of separate plot threads telling the stories of the many residents of Rio county. It’s a film about representation and the ramifications of Texas’ complex history has to the modern day residents. White people claiming that because they won the wars, that the Mexican residents should not learn the complete truth in school. The many different stories of the Latinx residents, be they born there or having crossed the border in different capacities. There is also a good history lesson in the African-American residents and how their own history, and that of Native Americans have in some instances become intertwined by Texas’ unique position in relation to the rest of the USA.

In a number of ways, Lone Star is a Texian take on the many multi-stranded ensemble movies (like Happiness and Magnolia) you got in the 1990s and, much like those two examples, I really loved this movie. All the revelations and lessons that pile up in the final 15 minutes are perfect pay-offs for the first two hours and, honestly, it’s been a while since I last saw a film that used flashbacks as expertly in order to drive the narrative.

XL Popcorn – A Throw of Dice

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 867/1009Title: Prapancha Pash (A Throw of Dice)
Director: Franz Osten
Year: 1929
Country: Germany/India

When the 1001 list was first made back in 2003, A Throw of Dice was still languishing in semi-obscurity and so was not featured. Between then and the last major overhaul in 2013, this film was digitally restored and a new soundtrack penned for a festival in order to mark Indian Independence. These acts, and the subsequent pulling out of the archives, pushed it back into the timeline of cinema history and it became the earliest new entry ever made on a revised version of the 1001 list.

This is very early Indian cinema and, due to the German director, it straddles the worlds of Hollywood and what would later be found in Bollywood. The cinematography and the art direction are sheer decadence set in real life locales that D.W. Griffith could only make a facsimile of in his gigantic sets for Intolerance. Great crowd scenes and costumes that would later become a Bollywood staple, but with a story that is sadly paper thin.

A Throw of Dice is not a film you watch for plot – in fact you could argue that the bulk of the plot happens in the first and final 10 minutes of the film, the intermediate hour being mostly eye candy with plot beats thrown in here and there. The biggest attractions are it being a visual and, thanks to the amazing soundtrack Nitin Sawhney wrote for the 2006 re-release, audio beauty. It’s an interesting film to see some of the roots of what would later become Indian cinema, but that’s really about it.

XL Popcorn – Romper Stomper

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 866/1009Title: Romper Stomper
Director: Geoffrey Wright
Year: 1992
Country: Australia

I am going to preface this by saying that I have never seen American History X. I know from reading various comments online that there are comparisons to be made between both films – so maybe one day soon I’ll be able to do the same. Until then, I think one film about neo-Nazis and all their hate words is enough for me. Seriously, there were so many epithets in this film that I’d never heard before and I do not care to know what they mean.

Romper Stomper is one of those films where I wish the sentiments were long since dead, even if they were dead as of the time this film was made. Sadly, this is not the case and although it feels that it isn’t as bad – it’s hard to ignore evidence to the contrary on the internet.

My own politics aside, Romper Stomper is a violent film that tells an interesting story of the downfall of a group of white nationalists – a downfall down more because of internal politics and reporting on their own kind out of revenge rather than anything being properly done by wider society. Russell Crowe is very scary as the psychopathic leader and you can see how he is able to hold such sway over this group… and be able to bring in other damaged people in on his cause.

In the end though it’s hard to ignore that this film, when viewed by someone who holds the beliefs of the white nationalist gang, will be watching the downfall of a hero – unlike me who was glad to see all that he created be destroyed. How you view the main characters and their actions if a mirror to your own sentiments which, given that this film ended up possibly inspiring a murder and other actions, make you question how much actions like this be filmed with a sense of neutrality.