Category Archives: Completed

Acclaimed Albums – Let It Be by The Replacements

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 250/250Title: Let it Be
Artist: The Replacements
Year: 1984
Position: #205

Was it intentional that the last album I listened to on this list (before it was replaced with a longer list) was by a band called The Replacements? Absolutely. Was it a plan that I hatched years ago? Hell no, but it has been something that has been about six months in the making and I really wish I had the foresight to have set up even earlier. To be fair though, when I started this blog I didn’t have the foggiest that I would still be doing it 7 years later.

The album itself, Let It Be by The Replacements, has been a bit overshadowed in my brain more of what it now represents than for the music itself. This is one on the list of the indie rock albums that came out of the post-punk movement and propelled a new genre. When I listen to this, I can hear a lot of what I would go on to enjoy in Jeff Rosenstock.

It’s not as if this was the birth of this type of music, this is just the refinement of what post-punk and other rock music from the 1970s was and puts it into a cool new package. I’m still not entirely loving two of the song titles (just look at the track listing, you’ll know the ones I mean), but as an album it is pretty solid. Wish it could have had the wow factor that Yeezus and Third had as the final albums in their respective decades, but this was still a good one to end on.

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: COMPLETE

Right, so now that I have finished the 250, where from here? Well, this will be explained in the post going up tomorrow and I will be doing some moving about of lists in the bar at the top of the blog. Feels so weirdly great to have gotten to this point – and now to start on the stretch goal.

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Oscar Bait – One Night In Miami / Nomadland

Title: One Night in Miami
Director: Regina King
Year: 2020
Country: USA

Going into this I had one thought going through my mind – something that multiple people online said about this, like Ma Rainey, obviously having started out as a play. When that burrows into your head you can’t help but go into a film with a bit of apprehension… I mean look at how much I disliked Fences and how stilted that felt. Well, if no one had told me that this was a play brought to the screen, the only way I might have worked it out is because most of the film takes place in one room – Regina King directed the hell out of this.

With the exception of Mank, this really has been a good year for the Oscar frontrunners. A film like One Night in Miami, whilst not my favourite of the bunch, sure ticks a lot of the good boxes for what could be an Oscar success. Good direction, well adapted script and some really excellent performances. Leslie Odom Jr, as Sam Cooke, almost steals the show as the ball of energy with exceptional talent that was this amazing soul singer. His rendition of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ over the ending montage is something special, as is the (not entirely true, but not apocryphal) scene where he sings ‘Chain Gang’ to an audience in Boston.

I also found myself really enjoying Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown who, as a non US-native, I had never heard of but now have a massive respect. That scene in the beginning with Beau Bridges… well that just gave me chills and anyone who has seen this film knows why. A film like this still holds so much power given everything that went on and continues to go on. It also reminded me that I need to see X one day.

Title: Nomadland
Director: Chloe Zhao
Year: 2020
Country: USA

And the third Oscar goes to… well obviously. As of writing this I am yet to see Promising Young Woman, but I really cannot see Carey Mulligan giving a better performance than Frances McDormand does as Fern the nomad. It is a beautifully naturalistic film that is a character study of a woman who roams the US in her van and the people she meets along the way – all played by real life nomads.

Watching this has also shamed me somewhat that I am yet to see Zhao’s The Rider. Granted, I didn’t see it being shown in cinemas near me – but this was enough of an outsider contender back in 2018 that it is no accident that here she is with this film. Granted as of writing this the bloom is off and it is no longer the frontrunner, but my God what does a woman have to do to get the award if she ends up with nothing for Nomadland. The direction, the editing, the writing – all are spot on.

My fear with this film is that it won’t sell well with the preferential voting system – which is how we ended up with Green Book winning. There is also the spectre over the Best Director award having only gone to one American in the last 10 years (Damien Chazelle for La La Land) and they will oust Zhao’s chance for not only being a woman of colour, but also for being a non US-native. I just hope my fears are unfounded and we see some awards headed towards Nomadland.

Oscar Bait – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom / Da 5 Bloods

Title: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Director: George C. Wolfe
Year: 2020
Country: USA

I’m going to be honest – going into this film I didn’t have the highest hopes. I didn’t rate Chadwick Boseman’s acting in Black Panther (the only film of his I’ve seen) and I really did not like FencesIn the first twenty minutes, which was mostly made up of the posturing of the band members and proving their masc, I had real fears about this movie – then it began to sing.

By the end, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom managed to completely turn my opinions. Boseman was mesmerizing and deserves all the nominations he is getting. Sure, the film is pretty much shot like a carbon copy of a play in places – to the point where I am not entirely sure how much ‘adapting’ there has been to the screenplay – but in many places it really does work.

This was never going to be a film to win it on direction and screenplay, but as a production piece with great music, costuming and stunning performances by Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis (then again, when has she turned out anything other than star quality) keep you going right until the end. As much as I love Davis, this film belongs to Boseman – whose monologues and mercurial words are nothing short than masterful.

Title: Da 5 Bloods
Director: Spike Lee
Year: 2020
Country: USA

It only made sense to put the two films together that have been pushing for posthumous nominations for Chadwick Boseman. Where I am totally on board with his powerhouse performance in Ma Rainey, I really do not see why he is in contention in Da 5 Bloods other than it being a posthumous nomination. True, his character hangs over the whole film as this is the story of four Vietnam veterans returning to find their lost friend’s remains and the gold they buried long ago, but unlike Amanda Seyfried in Mank or Mahershala Ali in Moonlight – it’s not like you are itching to see them back on screen.

That aside, big props have to be made to Delroy Lindo who is the best leading performance I have seen in a 2020 film so far. Sure, he is unlikable and does awful things like desert his son who has just been shot in the leg – but my word this is how you do a portrayal of a man still dealing with PTSD and who has gone for years without getting help and has ended up as a Trump supporter.

In some ways I see some degree of kinship between Da 5 Bloods and the classic film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in terms of the treasure hunt and the inherent futility of such a venture. Of course, with this being a Spike Lee film, there is a more current political message – specifically about black empowerment and ending on Black Lives Matters. I only hope that this message becomes tired and out of date as soon as possible.

Oscar Bait – The Trial of the Chicago 7 / Minari

Title: The Trial of the Chicago 7
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Year: 2020
Country: USA

A film’s power to enrage can be staggering. I remember when I watched O.J.: Made in America it took a lot of my energy to not just yell at the television. After all, these are all awful things that happened and we are now looking back at just how rotten things were, are and continue to be. 

Throughout the courtroom scenes of The Trial of the Chicago 7 my blood was on a low simmer for most of the time, and then the lid would fly off whenever the judge spoke. It was pretty much ready to explode under its own force when we see how the single black defendant was bound and gagged by the racist judge, who kept refusing him his right to representation.

This film tells the true story of how a group of activists were brought to trial on a conspiracy charge after a riot broke out in Chicago during the Democratic Party Convention. From the get-go we are under no illusions that the whole thing is a massive cover up by the newly elected Nixon and his office to try and put a lid on the anti-Vietnam movement and to cover up the role the police had in this fracas.

Being written by Aaron Sorkin, you are guaranteed a brilliant script. His direction skills remain a bit to be desired, but the events are compelling enough. Plus, this shines most when it is a courtroom drama and those scenes are brilliant. Speaking of brilliant, Sacha Baron Cohen is fantastic (if, like Mank, a little too old) as Abbie Hoffman and forms a great double act with Jeremy Strong. Truly, having them in this film really helps to elevate The Trial of the Chicago 7 to something really good.

Title: Minari
Director:Lee Isaac Chung
Year: 2020
Country: USA

Minari has the potential to win a lot of awards. I previously talked about the great appearance by Amanda Seyfried in Mank and the potential Oscar translation… and now I want Youn Yuh-jung to get it. The soundtrack is a stunner, the direction is dreamy and the whole story is a beautiful story about the American dream through the eyes of Korean immigrants with an interesting focus on how it feeds on gender roles.

Thinking about it though, it feels unlikely to win too much because I am not sure how much of a stomach there is for the Oscars to bestow a Korean-language film with a bushel of awards for a second year in a row. Maybe I am underestimating the academy here and that they will think about the optics about having non-English films winning big – but I just don’t see them being so daring.

Now, granted, I have yet to see Nomadland. Looking at everything in the lead in to award season, that is the film to beat and maybe that will completely wow me and overtake Minari. I cannot see how it would right now, but I am more than ready to let Frances McDormand and Chloe Zhao to prove me wrong. There may be a number of films I watch in between though – it really is one hell of an Oscar season.

Oscar Bait – Soul / Mank

Seeing new films that would end up being proper contenders for the 2020/21 awards season has been a bit of a forest fire. Thankfully a lot of the main contenders have been found on many of the online streaming services – even Rakuten had to be employed in the end. This extra long lead in has meant that a number of films had buzz in November and, by the time we reached the regular time for nominations, they’ve already died a death.

For this week’s worth of posts, therefore, I will be doing my blurbs about the films I have seen that gained any nomination – not necessarily in the Best Picture race. Honestly, this rule is only in place so I can talk about Soul, but who doesn’t like Soul.

Title: Soul
Director: Pete Docter
Year: 2020
Country: USA

For a while it looked like Soul would end up grabbing one of the rare Best Picture nods for an animated film. Somehow, it would do what Inside Out had been unable to – but that would be fine because it would just be great to have an animated film be recognised. So that obviously didn’t happen, but Soul is still there among the other nominations so let’s talk about that.

In a year where Pixar released two films, Soul more than outshines Onward and shows how Pixar are currently needing to operate as both an arm of Disney (so make films where there can be potential merchandising) and then as an artistic entity that rivals the heights of Studio Ghibli. It is an adult look at life and inspiration in a way that is still accessible to kids, but does not apologize for tackling some of the more important questions. 

The music is fantastic and, in the scenes where we watch the jazz band, it looks like their animation has been able to reach new heights of realism whilst still maintaining their style of drawing humans. The clothes, lighting and hand movements in particular are outstanding.

This really is the sort of life-affirming film that we needed in 2020 and it’s a bit sad that, by merit of being an animated film, it is going to be broadly ignored in most races. At least it’s still got a well deserved place in the Pixar pantheon though. Unlike Onward, which was just fine.

Title: Mank
Director: David Fincher
Year: 2020
Country: USA

So, Mank was the first of the major award chances that I ended up seeing. The idea of a film looking into the writer of a classic Hollywood film like Citizen Kane and giving an explanation as to why he felt the need to skewer William Randolph Hearst? I mean, sign me up. This ticks all sorts of boxes for me. And then it didn’t.

Mank is one of those films that is technically very well done. It has great art design, cinematography and direction. The idea to shoot it all in black & white is inspired because it really helps to make something sharp and timeless looking. You also have a career best performance by Amanda Seyfried who gives a supporting performance so radiant that you miss her when she is not around.

On the other hand, the film has some key issues for me. For one, it relies a lot on people having some prior knowledge of Citizen Kane and Hollywood of that period. Since I have a general interest in films of this era, I knew a lot of the figures – but I don’t know how many people will have, for example, heard of Irving Thalberg. 

You also have Gary Oldman who is way too old to play Mank – and it really shows. He’s brilliant as always, but having him play someone 20 years older and having Tuppence Middleton play his wife at 10 years older leaves an age discrepancy that wasn’t needed. I also had some issues with the sound mixing as, at times, I wanted to stick subtitles on. So yes, a bit of a disappointment.

Oh Yea, I Forgot I’m A Coder

When I was writing my post for The BlueprintI realised that there was something that I put on my bucket list back when I left teaching and could have been crossed off 2-3 years ago.

List Item: Code something
Progress: Completed

It’s so weird to have this as a crossing off now because this is my job now. I code using SPSS, VBA in Excel and, occasionally R. I dabble in some Python every now and then, but it nearly always goes wrong so I really need to have time to actually improve on that.

So not only have I written lines of code, I have written it in multiple languages. I wonder what the me from back at the beginning of the blog would think of this. Hell, I wonder what my Computing teacher from 15 years ago would think of this. We did some Visual Basic coding back then, but because young, dumb me was so fixated on doing Psychology at university that I dropped coding when I entered the final years of school.

Part of me does wonder how different my life would be if I continued with coding at school. I was one of the best in my year too. It’s a regret for sure, but at least I am doing it now and I am continuing to grow.

World Cooking – Japan

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Japan
Progress: 78/193

Although the post for my last world cooking country went up two months ago, it has actually been six months since I last made anything for this challenge. It started out because of the panic buying in March followed by the quarantine meaning ingredients were hard to come by – then other things happened.

Usually I keep a tight watch on the continents in this challenge to make sure I do a different thing week on week. However, as this was my first one back, I wanted to go with something that ranks as one of my absolute favourites – which is how I ended up making Japanese food and, because of taking too much on too quickly, ended up needlessly panicking about everything I made despite the fact that everything ended up tasting amazing.

Since I cook a fair bit of Japanese food anyway – mainly tonkatsu, yakisoba and curries – I wanted to make something that was a bit more out of my regular cooking routine. I was originally going to make three things, but given the complexities of the two I did end up making, I ditched the idea of trying to make tempura for the first time. However, I did find out that there is a Bengali version of this using squash blossoms – so all is not lost.

Main: Futomaki

When it came to deciding on what to make for a country, sometimes you have to go with the obvious choice because you know it’s going to be perfect. I mean, there are few foods out there that are as quintessentially Japanese as sushi. Also, and I completely forgot about this before I started writing, it allows me to cross something off.

List Item: Make your own sushi
Progress: Completed

As Bob Ross would say, this was a happy accident.

Now, back in the mists of time I have made sushi before. However, it has been many many years – and the last time I sliced my finger so bad that the blood loss made me want to throw up. So, despite loving sushi, I haven’t been the most eager to return to it. Plus, given the rules and variety, there is something quite daunting about making sushi.

For this challenge, therefore, I decided to keep it ‘simple’. Rather than make multiple types, I opted to just make sushi rolls. I don’t have specialist equipment other than a rice cooker – so these are all hand rolled (without a bamboo mat) and the rice was cooled with a handfan. Also, because of expense reasons and availability, I used risotto rice instead of proper sushi rice. In the end, they’re both short-grain rice of the same species and behave pretty much the same.

Thanks to Just One Cookbook, I was able to perfectly season the rice. I didn’t follow her ideas for the futomaki filling though, instead I went with what I enjoy: salmon, cucumber and avocado. There was also some surimi in there for my husband.

This sushi was a lot easier to make than I thought it would be. I haven’t had sushi since lockdown began, so to have it seven months or so later made for a delicious homecoming. Given how expensive it can be, especially if you get it as a delivery, I think I might actually start making my own as a part of the larger cooking rotation.

Dessert: Strawberry Shortcake

For my birthday last year, a friend of mine got me a really pretty Japanese cookery book called Tokyo Cult Recipes. Since then, I’ve really wanted to make something from it for when I did Japan for this particular challenge. So rather than make the spaghetti recipe, I went for this really lovely cake.

If you watch enough anime, you will have seen this cake somewhere. Recently I have seen it reference in Nichijou and in one of my favourite scenes in K-Onand it also has the honour of having it’s own emoji character. Like, outside of making mochi (which was never going to happen because I am not a rabbit and I don’t have the proper equipment) or something using matcha, this is the obvious choice for a Japanese dessert.

I may have gone a bit crazy with the piping (but hey, this is only my second time using a piping bag), but I couldn’t help but want to make this cake pretty. The sponge is extremely light with a cherry syrup soaked in and a thick layer of cream and sliced strawberries in between the cake layers.

Aside from the false start where I was convinced I ruined the cakes by not folding the ingredients properly (which turned out to be untrue), this cake showed me how much fun baking can be. I have already had a request to make this as a birthday cake and that been told this may be one of the best cakes I ever made – so this is a real winner of a recipe and this whole post has reminded me just why I did this global food challenge.

2020 – The Summer That Wasn’t

Back in January, which feels like a year ago by now, myself and the husband booked ourselves on a two week dream trip to the cities of Eastern Canada (Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto). Like with Japan and South Korea, the idea was to take a bit of a post break. However, this trip didn’t happen. I mean, they aren’t even really allowing people in at the moment.

Putting in for the cancellation of the plane tickets and hotels for what was going to be an amazing trip with whale watching and Niagara Falls provided a bookend for what has undoubtedly been the worst months of my life.

Thanks to COVID-19, my industry went beyond bananas and I have been part of a team doing horrendous amounts of overtime to the point where the legality has been questionable. The amount of work, the lost weekend days and the incredible pressure drove me to some of the darkest mental places I have ever been to. Darker than many of those that caused my total breakdown when I was teaching.

List Item: Shout as loud as you can
Status: Completed

This wasn’t quite how I envisaged ticking this one of, but it happened as a wider part of this summer. Screaming until I was hoarse. Screaming because I just couldn’t take it. Then having the guilt and conscientiousness that made me log back into work some 40 minutes later.

List Item: Accept a personal flaw
Status: Completed

Given what this summer was, I learned a lot about myself. I also accepted that I should have probably sought proper help after my post-teaching breakdown and that a lot of those patterns are still there. Patterns that became heightened this summer and ended in me having a day off sick where literally all I did was sleep. I am now getting help and we’ll see where that goes. If I am able to just get my panic reflexes back under control, then I don’t really care what I have to do.

List Item: Forgive someone
Status: Completed

On a professional level, this had to happen a lot this summer. I can’t really go too much into things, but there has been a lot of forgiveness that has had to happen else I would not have been able to move on. This has been a bit of a development for me as I can be one for grudges. So despite all the horrible stuff, there has been some real personal growth.

List Item: Keep a secret
Status: Completed

Given the confidential nature of work I’ve had to undertake this summer – this goes without saying really.

—-

So, where does this all fit in with the blog aside from some crossings off of some longstanding items? Posts have still been going up, but I haven’t actually written a proper post in three months and before then it had been an additional three months since I was writing at least one post a week. When lockdown started I had a lead of six months and now it’s closer to six weeks.

I still want to do this blog and one day maybe I’ll get back to more than three things in a week. Being actually able to write this post and contemplate starting things up again make me think that I can start to get back to some degree of normality, so let’s see how the first posts look as they go up next week.

📽️ Disney Time – In Summary

In less than a year I went reform buying the Disney box set to having watched all the entries in the Animated Canon. Guess that goes to show how, with proper structure, I am able to finish off one of the longer challenges in good time. Probably helps that we had a regular Disney night and that I knew and liked a lot of these films already.

Going into this, I had seen the vast majority of the films on the list – which means I had the motivation to carry on through the bad period as I knew there were films like Beauty and the Beast and Zootopia ready to welcome me on the other side. One thing I had not expected is just how many of these films that I know I had seen before and either had no recollection of or had clearly switched them off previously and counted that as a win.

Let’s not mince words though, for every good film here on the canon there is another either dull or downright bad film to be found. This the same of any major studio and few out there had the high hit-to-miss ratio that the likes of Studio Ghibli or a single director director may have. However, going through even the really bad films, it’s been so interesting to see the Disney company develop, experiment, ditch things that didn’t work and become the filmmakers that they are today. I think if I had included some of the non-canon releases (like Mary Poppins or some Pixar) I might have gained a fuller picture, but just knowing how close the animation wing of the company has been to closing on multiple occasions has been a real eye-opener.

Now, time for superlatives. I thought it would be a good idea, now that I am done, to do some rankings of the best and worst films on the list. So let’s go.

Best surprise (of a film that I hadn’t seen before):Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Bottom 101) Fun and Fancy Free
2) Melody Time
3) The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
4) The Black Cauldron
5) Home on the Range
6) Chicken Little
7) Dinosaur
8) Treasure Planet
9) Brother Bear
10) The Sword in the Stone
Top 101) Beauty and the Beast
2) The Lion King
3) The Little Mermaid
4) Zootopia
5) Sleeping Beauty
6) One Hundred and One Dalmatians
7) Dumbo
8) The Great Mouse Detective
9) Moana
10) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

📽️ Disney Time – Frozen II

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 58/58Title: Frozen II
Year: 2019

When I started the Disney challenge last year with Snow White I hoped that I would be able to make my way through the DVDs at a reasonable enough pace that meant I could finish my challenge off in the cinema. Turns out I had a few weeks to spare, so here I am now with Frozen II – currently the final Film in the Disney Animated Canon.

It was always going to be a bit strange to finish off this challenge on a sequel rather than an original movie, but I figured that since this is an ongoing challenge I’ll be back to the original Disney movies soon enough. Going into the cinema for Frozen II I must admit that my expectations were pretty low. This is one of the worst reviewed Disney films for a while and a sequel that we never really needed. Other than to generate more money for the Disney corporation that is.

Still though, I don’t know if it was the lowered expectations or the chilly weather outside, but I had a whole lot of fun with Frozen II. This is nowhere near Disney’s best not is it up to the standard set by the original, but if you wanted more time with tour favourite Frozen characters then this really is the film for you. Similarly, if you want time to stare in awe at some of Disney’s most beautiful CGI work, then you also need to see this.

One thing that I want to applaud this film for, however, is for being the first major children’s animated movies to properly deal with the idea of colonialism and the beginnings of some form of reparations. When I think of how tone deaf Pocahontas in places, then you get Frozen II where there is no victim blaming – instead the white man taking advantage and being 100% in the wrong. It’s an interesting topic to take a glancing shot at in a Disney movie, but I’m here for it.

Also worth noting is that, whilst the songs aren’t as good on the whole as the original film, there is one solid earworm in this film. ‘Into The Unknown’ will probably never reach the heights of memedom that ‘Let It Go’ did, but it sure sticks I your head. Especially the haunting call as provided by Norwegian musician (and my album of the year 2019 creator) Aurora. That call has been in my head for the last week and it’s showing no signs of leaving.

Tomorrow, I’m going to publish a post about some of my general feelings and rankings now that I’ve come to the end of this particular challenge. For now though, it’s worth saying just how much fun this mini-challenge has been. I probably won’t be doing another studio-based challenge for my bucket list, but maybe some more film ones will come up. Probably worth getting closer to the end of my other two film challenges before starting in those though…

Status: Completed