Monthly Archives: October 2021

What’s On TV – Africa

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 251/501
Title: Africa
Episodes Aired: 6
Year(s): 2013
Country: UK

These TV shows are a bit like buses. After a long period of nothing, there’s a lot of them being written up within a few weeks. Now I am half way through my goal to see half of the whole list – and I am glad that it was marked with a show like Africa rather than The Ed Sullivan ShowWhilst Ed Sullivan was a more influential show in the world of television, Africa is far more my kind of show. Just wish there were more of them on the list.

Africa is one of a group of shows on the list narrated by David Attenborough and produced by the BBC Natural History Unit. As the name would suggest, this is six episodes about the wildlife living in Africa. The first five each focus on a different ecological region in Africa such as the Kalahari and the Congo, the final on the conservation areas being made to protect the remaining African species and the many consequences of human encroachment from poaching to climate change.

Like any of the series produced by the BBC Natural History Unit, Africa is a fantastic series. The insight that is given into the behaviour of different animals, their future and how a series like this is shot is just what you have come to expect from a series like this. There is a feeling of hope at the end, which is refreshing but may also be a sign that this is 8 years old. I have yet to see his more recent series on climate change… but may hold off on that to just keep with the feeling.

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World Cooking – Slovakia

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Slovakia
Progress: 111/193

Well, I’ve done Czechia a while back so it was probably high time that I got around to making food from the other partner from the divorce. The cuisines have a little bit in common, but there’s a good deal of separate dishes to make them both interesting enough to read into. It’s also made me think about how delicious a time I might have when I eventually make it to Bratislava once all the vaccinations have been dished out.

This is one of those cuisines where, now I am in the latter half of the countries, a lot of pieces are falling into place. There is no doubt that it’s influenced by its former partner nation – but there are also pieces of Hungary, Poland and the former Soviet bloc. Like there are pieces here I have seen when researching Ukraine and in meals I had in Lithuania. Definitely going to be a nice food visit when I get there and can gorge on a bunch of different dumplings and pancakes.

This is going to be one of the many countries that is going to suffer from my latest attempt at weight loss. I managed to put on a fair bit in the lockdowns and reversed a fair bit of what made me able to climb Hallasan. As such, I will probably not be making much in the way of desserts for a while. It’s a shame as Slovakia had a lot of nice looking desserts, but the challenge was to make one dish with the option of two… so I won’t beat myself up too much.

Main: Bryndzové Halušky

Okay, I know, I could have done a bit better with the plating of this for the photograph. Then again, I want to enjoy my food whilst it is still warm rather than waiting for the perfect photo for it only to be cold at the first bite. Then again, I am not sure how I could make this look stunning other than by showcasing that this is a dish with bacon, cheese and homemade little potato dumplings.

The name of the dish – bryndzové halušky – is a very descriptive name for this dish, meaning boiled potato dough covered in sheep cheese. To make this, as mentioned in the recipe from a Slovak food store called Halusky, I specially bought a spaetzle maker and that really made the difference here. Between that and the grater attachment on my food processor – I really managed to shave a lot of time when making this.

Since I couldn’t get my hands on proper bryndza in the local Eastern European mart (although I did get some stunning sausages), I followed the recommendation to replace it with feta and sour cream. Must say that the whole thing tasted gorgeous. These little dumplings really smelt like spaetzle and I can imagine them working really well in a clear soup. I might try and fry up the leftovers with some bacon and hope they don’t become one crispy mass. Or maybe I do. That can only taste good.

I found a recipe for a future country that requires a whole duck… but the only place to get it is a long walk away and it’s suddenly getting a bit cold and rainy again. Maybe that’ll have to wait for warmer times and I’ll look at many of the other countries still left to cross off of my list. Maybe make some green noodles assuming I can find enough dill.

XL Popcorn – Avengers: Endgame

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 916/1009Title: Avengers: Endgame
Director: Anthony Russo and Joseph Russo
Year: 2019
Country: USA

Okay, so Scarlet Witch was barely in this film – but her small appearance was notable enough (and she is one of my favourite comic book characters as a kid) that I just had to find some sort of image of her for this blog post.

Avengers: Endgame marks the end of the massive saga that has been in the works for the Marvel Cinematic Universe for well over a decade. It is also the direct sequel to Avengers: Infinity War, which I saw really recently for the list. When I saw that film, I just did not relish having to watch the second 3-hour film in the pairing. I mean, it was tonal whiplash with too large a cast of heroes that I didn’t exactly have much of a care for.

This has changed with Endgame. I went into watching this expecting to just idle away three hours organizing one of my external hard drives – just having this on for the sake of crossing it off. Thing is, Endgame was exactly what I wanted from a Marvel movie and it actually made the kid inside me who adored X-Men really happy. I kinda wish that I didn’t have to watch the very long prelude into what is a really well done comic book movie.

Watching this has led me to two things. Firstly, like with Infinity War, I now understand so many of the memes that have been floating around Reddit for years. Also, I actually want to see some of the Marvel films that led up to this – like the Thor films or the first Avengers movie. I am still not entirely sold on watching Guardians of the Galaxy – but I don’t think I am going to end up watching a whole bunch of these as the first post-1001 watch.

I am just so glad that Endgame managed to not repeat what I disliked about it predecessor. The smaller cast allowed for more focus and because they were coming back from a loss, suddenly they all just seemed that much more human rather than being a bit cocky. Even helped me to actually feel a connection to them at the end and feel some of their loss. Does everything suddenly get explained by it being ‘quantum’? Sure, but it was a lot of fun.

What’s On TV – The Ed Sullivan Show

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 250/501
Title: The Ed Sullivan Show
Episodes Aired: 1068
Year(s): 1948-1971
Country: USA

Variety shows are shows that don’t age too well. So much of the sensibilities are dated and for every performance from someone who is still incredibly famous, like Sam Cooke or Elvis Presley, you have a number that no longer hit or are just a bit off. On the positive side though, you do have some interesting variety acts that don’t really get television time anymore – but I am not sure how many people would tune in to see a bongo player.

Whole episodes are hard to find streaming online, most of what you can find are clips – some of them not even the full musical performance. Now we are 50 years since the show came to a close, this is probably the best way to give it a go. Whole hour long episodes drag and it’s incredibly hit and miss. It’s pretty much how I felt about The Judy Garland Show – although that had the interest of it being hosted by Judy Garland where, at least in what I saw, I didn’t quite see Ed Sullivan oozing charisma.

There is no denying the importance of The Ed Sullivan Show though – even if it doesn’t have the impact 50-70 years later. This is the earliest show on the TV list and it featured so many cultural landmarks of the day. It was the show to be on and an appearance was a sign that you had made it. It debuted rock n roll into the world of television, it was a key part of the Beatles’ “British Invasion” and was part of the meteoric rise of Elvis Presley (where he was famously shot from the waist up as he was seen as too sexual).

Again, this is a show to see just to see where television and popular music owe a lot of allegiance to. However, unlike What’s My Line which I am still watching multiple times a week, I am happy yo leave this in the past.

XL Popcorn – Forbidden Games

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 915/1009Title: Jeux Interdits (Forbidden Games)
Director: René Clément
Year: 1952
Country: France

A caravan of French refugees fleeing Paris because of the Nazi invasion. The deaths of the main character’s parents. A dead dog being merciless thrown into a river at the cries of his five year old owner. This is the first five minutes of Forbidden Games which serves as a weird and far darker companion to the more whimsical fleeing from The Night of the Shooting Stars.

How on earth does a five year old girl process losing everything she has ever known or loved in such a short space of time? Someone who has known much death, but is not quite old enough to process it. Well, this is how we end up with her making friends with a young farmer’s son and getting him to build an animal cemetery for her so that her newly buried dog wouldn’t be lonely underground. A cemetery that uses crosses that the boy stole from another cemetery… including the cross belonging to his own recently deceased brother.

For a film where the lead actors were young children, you get some truly incredible performances. Brigitte Fossey will have only been 5-6 when shooting this, but my word this little girl was absolutely sensational. She won’t have necessarily have understood everything she was doing and why, but that’s where director René Clément came in by directing her energy into an incredibly believable performance.

Seeing a film where two children steal crosses in order to make their own animal cemetery – well this was not quite what I was expecting to be the titular forbidden game. It does though make a really interesting point around what war can do to your sense of what life and death mean, especially when this is all happening to you as a young child.

There are some signs that the boy might be a bit damaged, as we see two animals die by his hand so it could be part of her cemetery. Then again, that could just be more my city boy squeamishness reading something into behaviour that wasn’t meant to be there. It’s also interesting to see how both of the children treat religion – the girl has no idea what the prayers are and he is more than happy to defile a grave whilst also knowing all the rituals.

I can see how this could have been controversial at the time. It’s not every day that you have a ten year old defile a grave for a five year old after all. However, Forbidden Games could be seen more for what it was when screened outside of its native France – ending up with a festival win, the BAFTA for Best Film and an Academy Award.

What’s On TV – Moonlighting

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 249/501
Title: Moonlighting
Episodes Aired: 66
Year(s): 1985-1989
Country: USA

Moonlighting. This is a show I have been wanting to watch for years because of how highly regarded it is. Well, how highly regarded some of it is. Going into this, I knew there was a general decline in the final seasons – not that I really made it that far to notice that. I also went into this knowing that for a substantial portion of the show, Cybil Shephard and Bruce Willis just did not get on. So yes, really mixed stuff when I started my first watch.

Here’s the thing though, Moonlighting is impressive for its time. This is a show that really helped to pioneer the dramedy as a marketable show with audiences and critics alike. The writing can be quick and whip-smart like a 1940s comedy, they weren’t afraid to play with format and they went meta a lot. Like, so many shows we watch now and take for granted have Moonlighting to thank. Hell, one of the shows I am lining up for the next to watch is Ally McBeal and that would definitely not be around if not for Moonlighting.

However, for every flash of genius there are so many episodes which are fairly silly procedural. Like there was a really bad one with a woman who was certain she was a leprechaun. Then you get the brilliant ones like the incredibly famous ‘The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice’ and their take on The Taming of the Shrew in ‘Atomic Shakespeare’. In the end though, these episodes work so well because they are unusual in the span of the show – otherwise this just becomes way too gimmicky.

It’s a double-edged sword really. I think it also didn’t help that I really did not buy into the will-they-won’t-they of Maddie and David. As bickering private detectives that are just friends, I think I would have preferred this series. Like have them be platonic like in Elementary and it would be fine. However, for me, they just don’t work as a couple. The moments before they end up sleeping together is so toxic that it really helped with the decision to just ditch this show all together.

Moments of brilliance just aren’t worth watching the whole thing. Watching a selection after a bunch from Seasons 1 and 2 makes some sense as you get to see what this show was and how important it was. For now though, it’s a goodbye to Moonlighting.

XL Popcorn – The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 914/1009Title: Zangiku Monogatari (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums)
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Year: 1939
Country: Japan

Two posts in a row where I have ended up seeing the final entry for a director with three films on the list. The difference between Zangiku Monogatari and The Palm Beach Story is worlds apart. At least with the two other entries by Kenji Mizoguchi, they are both films I watched since starting the blog back in March 2014. It helps to look back on Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff to see how today’s watch stacks up against the others. Sadly, it’s an easy trip to the bottom of the list.

For a story to be two and a half hours long, there needs to be something epic about the scope. Sometimes it’s because we are looking at an adaptation of an epic novel, the long and interesting life of an individual or even the painting of a work of art due to the scope of the creative process.

Zangiku Monogatari wants to paint the casting out of a kabuki actor by his adoptive family and his eventual return to their good graces as worthy of the long treatment. I think that it could be when done in a certain way. For me, however, this film took too long to hit beats that others would only need 100 minutes for.

So much of this was taken up in long takes made of panning or tracking shots, which is definitely a stylistic choice. However, this is a choice that rarely works for me. Sometimes a close-up is good. Variety when it comes to types of shots is especially good. Zangiku Monogatari has this air as if it was made for the stage and the film was shot for a dress rehearsal. In doing so it lost a lot of what would make a good melodrama for me.

What also would not have helped is the age of the film. I saw an high definition remaster on YouTube, but despite the best effort of the preservation so much of the detail in the sets is just not there. This is a film that is meant to have fantastic production design, however this can only really be see in the river parade at the end and in some of the actual theatre scenes. The rest is dark with not a lot of interesting detail that would have helped make these long takes worthwhile.

XL Popcorn – The Palm Beach Story

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 913/1009Title: The Palm Beach Story
Director: Preston Sturges
Year: 1942
Country: USA

Preston Sturges has three entries on the 1001 list, this is the final one for me to see. However, it turns out that it has been eight years since I last saw one of his films – so it is the first time I am writing about him. Previously I have seen Sullivan’s Travels and The Lady Eve both in 2013 – but I took long enough to get back to him as I just wanted to spare myself some good old-fashioned comedies until the final stretch.

Good comedy is a bit of an understatement though – I loved The Palm Beach Story. I know that Sullivan’s Travels is meant to be his pinnacle, but I think I preferred this one despite the multiple deus ex machinas and the sub-90 minute running time. This is a film that goes so into the ridiculousness of the situations that these moments that come out of nowhere, including a well-seeded twist at the end.

The comedy of re-marriage, or the comedy with a madcap marriage at the climax, is such a common trope in the Hays Code era – so The Palm Beach Story goes the other way by having the chaotic marriage happen at the beginning. It immediately sets the tone with Claudette Colbert showing straight away why she was one of the major comedic actors of her era and continuing to do so on her trip to Palm Beach in order to secure both a divorce and a second, richer husband.

Then, later on, Mary Astor and Rudy Vallée burst onto the screen as ‘Rockefeller’ style siblings and help to make the final half hour a freight train of laughs and ridiculousness. It’s been a while since a comedy film tickled me as much as this did, the final moments leading both myself and my husband to laugh gasp and then immediately re-watch the opening sequence. I know that some people will have hated how the film ends, but I loved it and loved that there was a clue set up for us. I’m glad I saved this film so that it could chase away the blah taste of Sleeping Dogs.

XL Popcorn – Sleeping Dogs

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 912/1009Title: Sleeping Dogs
Director: Roger Donaldson
Year: 1977
Country: New Zealand

The film that launched the career of Sam Neill. The first 35-mm feature film to be entirely produced in New Zealand. For the film industry of New Zealand, this is definitely a landmark that helped set the table for everything that followed. I would understand the inclusion of this film on the list, on those terms, if similar films for nations like Thailand and Nigeria appeared… but they don’t. I guess that’s the perils of an English-language list?

So yes, with those being the terms of inclusion – and nothing else – I am not sure why this film is on there. Like, at least for me, it isn’t even that good. A political ‘thriller’ involving a resistance movement in New Zealand against new martial law measures. For a country like New Zealand this feels like a stretch at best… but sure I am willing to suspend some disbelief – if everything else had made sense and it wasn’t so dull.

Sleeping Dogs is one of the times that makes me wish I allowed myself to switch a movie off in the middle. Like at least a Godard film which can bore me at least has something a bit unusual going on other than this fairly generic take on a reluctant resistance fighter. Oh well, can’t be too many more of these films left.

 

XL Popcorn – Blade Runner 2049

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 911/1009Title: Blade Runner 2049
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Year: 2017
Country: USA

Turns out there is a bright spot in the capitalising on nostalgia trend of the last few years. Some of these have proven to be awful from the outset, but then you have Blade Runner 2049 which doesn’t just buck the trend – it launches it into the stratosphere. Since it has been nearly 10 years since I last saw the original Blade Runner, I thought it a good idea to refresh myself before seeing whether Villeneuve’s direction would be worthy of the legacy.

Never should have doubted him. Blade Runner 2049 is stunning and really should help to make the template on how a film that relies on an old classic intellectual property should be done. For one, it is very much in the world of Blade Runner – but it never seeks to tell the same story as the original. This is something that The Force Awakens got with so hard because it was winking so hard the whole time, but so often a retread completely fails.

Visually Blade Runner 2049 is beyond stunning. Roger Deakins deservedly won an Oscar for his work as cinematographer and the visual effects team clinched their own win. It would have been great to have seen more nominations for this film, like maybe Best Picture in place of Darkest Hourbut already you can see which one has the best legacy.

In terms of the storytelling this is a long film at 15 minutes shy of three hours. However, this is a film that not only has to bring people who haven’t seen the original up to scratch, but also has to explain 30 years of additional lore and then go into this complex parable of caste systems that reflect so much of the world today. It takes gigantic swings and I am so glad that the studio had the faith in the creative team to allow such a long cut to be released, despite people like Ridley Scott saying that they would have cut out 30 minutes.

Cut out none of it. Release more of it and turn it into a Das Boot style miniseries. This is the closest that I am going to get to a Fallout: New Vegas movie and it just left me wanting more. It’s brutal, beautiful and has brilliant moments courtesy of Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks as a brilliant villain.