All posts by mulholland

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.

World Cooking – Kenya

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Kenya
Progress: 110/193

I am still not too sure how to pronounce Kenya. I usually hear it as Ken-ya, but sometimes I will watch something (for example As Time Goes By) and then it becomes Keen-ya. Now I should probably go with the pronunciation done at the Olympic Games, but you know how it comes to second-guessing yourself when you rarely say the name of a country out loud.

There are a lot of dishes going for Kenyan cuisine. There are some, like ugali, that I have already made for other nations. Then there’s foods like samosa and chapati which I am hoping to make for another nation that doesn’t have quite so many options. Chips mayai would have also been an option, but I don’t know how I could quite justify making a chip omelette… okay so maybe I should have made that. Hopefully another country has this within their cultural repertoire.

Main: Beef and Potato Pilau

Even though my tarte tatin didn’t go the way I’d hoped, I still haven’t counted Tasty out when it comes to recipes. Case in point, today I used their recipe for this Kenyan pilau dish where I ended up eating two servings to myself. With the right side dish, in this instance kachumbari, I can see the serving count working. However kachumbari is a raw onion and tomato salad – and raw onion is one of my two major food hates.

Good thing I didn’t mind too much by having double helpings of this. Similarly, I am super glad I ended up going with some of the more expensive steak so it could be tender and flavourful. As a one-pot dish, this beef and potato pilau hits a lot of the right spots, especially that pilau masala spice blend of cardamom, clove, cumin and paprika which I now have plenty pre-made in an old cinnamon jar. Could be one to make again.

Next time it is back to European cuisine and I will be trying to cross off another country in the Central-Eastern European group. Since I am on a diet, I cannot yet do Slovenia justice as I want to make myself one of those delicious cream slices. I can, however, make food from a country not too far away – even if I did just have to buy a new tool in order to do it justice.

Acclaimed Albums – Silent Shout by The Knife

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 328/1000
Title: Silent Shout
Artist: The Knife
Year: 2006

When I was doing the Top 250, Silent Shout was always bubbling away nearby. I was hoping it would one day make a leap up so I could have a nice easy album to cross off as it is one of my favourite albums of the 2000s. When I first started this blog, I made a list of my favourite albums of 2000-2014 – Silent Shout appearing at #12. It still feels like the right place for it.

This is an album that I listened to as I completed NaNoWriMo and even quoted once when I was very ill and in a delirium and declared myself a fancy man. ‘Neverland’ and ‘Marble House’ are both tracks that would likely rank incredibly highly if I ever loathed myself enough to even attempt a top songs of all time list. Both are exceptional pieces of synth-pop, much like the rest of this album.

Coming across Silent Shout late like I did, it showed me that my musical taste still had a lot of room to grow and was probably a gateway towards me eventually getting into darker pop like early Grimes and Jenny Hval – especially the latter. I don’t think Blood Bitch would rank among my favourite albums of all time if this album hadn’t opened some doors for me. Granted, I already enjoyed Fever Ray so this wouldn’t have been too big a leap for me.

Compared to a lot of music I listen to Silent Shout is still on the darker side of things. At first there were parts that were near inaccessible, but now I cannot imagine how I ever found listening to it difficult. It’s a consistently brilliant piece of techno and synthpop that, for me, remains the pinacle of their career.

I will later get to write about The Knife’s final album Shaking the Habitual as well as the Fever Ray eponymous solo album – but nothing will quite equal that lead into ‘Neverland’ from the title track, the bombast of ‘We Share Our Mother’s Health’ or the spookiness of the ‘Marble House’ duet. Stories of escaping into the woods from invaders rendered with electronic soundscapes in the same way they talk about reconnecting with an old friend. God I love this album.

What’s On TV – Happy Valley

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 248/501
Title: Happy Valley
Episodes Aired: 12 so far
Year(s): 2014-now
Country: UK

By the time this post goes up, it is likely that we’ll either know about the premiere date for the third season of Happy Valley – after more than a 5 year gap – or it could have even started. Knowing that a third season was being made and coming out soon, it felt like the right time to re-watch the first season and then make sure I am in a position to watch the new episodes as they air.

Not to mince words, but Sarah Lancashire is one of the greatest living actors to work in television. I am old enough to remember seeing her on Coronation Street, but have since seen her in other works like Clocking Off, Seeing Red and Lark Rise to Candleford. I even saw her in the short-lived stage production of Betty Blue Eyes alongside Reece Shearsmith.

So yes, big fan of her and I don’t know if I will see her topping this performance in Happy Valley. Then again, she has Sally Wainwright’s creative machine with her on this one – which does make me look forward to eventually getting around to Last Tango In Halifax.

The thing about Happy Valley that works so amazingly well is that it feels real. We have so many police dramas on television, that to see something that isn’t testosterone fuelled cliche. The characters and their problems are bleak, but normal. This is not a well to do area, the name Happy Valley being a nickname due to the areas huge drug problem.

So many of these characters are those that you root for and you can still feel incredibly angry at. Lancashire’s character makes so many bad choices, but is also a true hero does her job as a sergeant to the best of her abilities whilst still be incredibly affected by the things she sees and does. This show gets violent at times, yes, but it never feels gratuitous – instead shadows of things to come.

I am so looking forward to the third season now and, if anything, the prolonged break will be a great thing. A lot will have happened in the intervening years, but wow what stories Wainwright will be able to tell. Wish it was on right now.

XL Popcorn – The Night of the Shooting Stars

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 910/1009Title: La notte di San Lorenzo (The Night of the Shooting Stars)
Director: Paolo Taviani and Vittorio Taviani
Year: 1982
Country: Italy

After a long spate of 2010s films, it is time to open back up again to pretty much any decade that I want to watch. Nice that this would happen as this film marks my entry into the double digits. That’s right, just 99 films to go and I will have completed this list and be free of a challenge that I have had going for 18 years. Now it is time to mop up some movies before heading to the end game of the 18 films I have saved for the end.

La notte di San Lorenzo is a Second World War film unlike any I have seen before. It is set in rural Italy when the Americans were beginning to make their way north, liberating towns as they go. The principle cast are residents of a town that is due to be mostly destroyed by the Germans as a final punishment for daring to resist. These residents do not trust the Germans at their word of not killing them as long as they remain in the cathedral, so escape under the dead of night hoping to find Americans who will safe them.

This is one of those films where you can see how much an effect Fellini had on the world of Italian cinema. The focus is on the people as they try to survive, with a few fantasy sequences and other pieces of heightened emotions in for good measure. It’s all told from the memory of a 6-year-old girl and what she has been told since. From this vantage point, the scene where a fascist is impaled by the spears of a Roman army makes sense.

By remaining profoundly human, La notte di San Lorenzo steers away from a lot of the tropes of a typical war film – instead feeling like a story played out many times over the centuries whenever there is a village set to be razed by interlopers. Beautifully directed in some stunning Italian countryside, this film really was a pleasant surprise.

Graphic Content – Doraemon

List Item: Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
102/501Title: Doraemon
Creator(s):
Fujiko Fujio
Year: 1969-1996
Country: Japan

So I have been looking forward to reading some Doraemon for a good while. Back when I was in the office, I had my own pair of Doraemon chopsticks which I still have been unable to go in and retrieve (similar story for my Pugsheen plush and a bunch of other toys). I only had these chopsticks because I thought Doraemon himself was incredibly cute, but I had never read any of the manga or seen any of the many anime adaptations. When I go back to Japan I will probably end up getting myself a little plush of him – this is how cute I find him.

Imagine my joy, therefore, when I started reading Doraemon and I was actually enjoying it. A bit of a relief after Lupin III I must say. This isn’t the most complex of idea as it’s a kids comic, but there is still a lot of joy to be farmed out of it as long as you don’t binge it like I did – this is definitely one of those things that works better when read it spaced out like the original publishing.

The story is simple – Doraemon is a robot from the future whose inventor sent them back to change the fortune of a wimpy ancestor. This is the classic wimpy Japanese manga protagonist: bad at school, bad at sports, pushed around by the neighbourhood kids… you get the picture. What makes this a fun read, however, are all the stupid future gadgets that Doraemon brings along to solve a problem e.g. a lipstick that when applied makes you compliment people and a robot genie who gets things done in as unmagical way as possible.

I think that I will probably find the anime for this now as I can only imagine just how much fun this would be in moving colour. Hopefully I’ll also be getting those chopsticks back soon… once they have been heavily disinfected after over a year of not being used.

🎻♫♪ – Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen by Gustav Mahler

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
111/501Title: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Composer: Gustav Mahler
Nationality: Bohemian
Year:
1885

Time for the oldest of the Gustav Mahler pieces, a very brief song cycle whose title has been translated as either ‘Songs of a Wayfarer’ or ‘Songs of Journeyman’. These four songs, with lyrics also written by Mahler, tell four stories about a working man who has lost the love of his life to another man and how he gets over them.

We begin with a lovely flourish before hearing him mourn his loss, we go via some lightness under a tree and him wishing for a knife to end the pain before ending with things possibly being okay again. The whole piece goes by in what feels like an instant – so by the time I got part way through my writing set-up it was nearly over. Not that I cared, listening to this a few more times was a pleasure.

By the looks of it, this won’t be the last I hear of these particular pieces of music. At some point, when Mahler’s ‘Symphony no. 1’ comes out of the bucket, some of these themes will be making a return. I do look forward to seeing how it works for the second song in the cycle, it had such a lightness and a positivity to it that it would be nice to hear a longer classical work take more of a lead from such a good place.