Category Archives: In Progress

XL Popcorn – Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 681/1007Title: Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (Mr Hulot’s Holiday)
Director: Jacques Tati
Year: 1953
Country: France

Usually I don’t revisit directors so quickly, but I was left so intrigued by Playtime that I just had to try out another one of Jacques Tati’s films. Whilst not Tati’s first film Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot is the film that helped to give him a wide and international audience, which included an Oscar nomination for best screenplay.

One thing to note about this film is that there are a number of versions out there. When watching this I went for the director’s cut, which is shorter than the theatrical release and features different music. Interestingly, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot is a film where Tati kept working on it for a long time after it came out. In a previous post I marvelled at how he was able direct so many people doing so many different things, I guess that this cutting and re-cutting is another example of his perfectionism.

Much like Playtime there is a loose story in Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot in that we spend a week with him as he goes on holiday. The whole film is centred around Mr. Hulot being a fish out of water during his seaside getaway. It takes a look at the many different types of French people who, thanks to the post-war capitalism boom, are now able to go on holidays. Of course the star of the show is Hulot himself, but many laughs are had with the hotel staff, self-important political philosophers and other recognisable archetypes.

As can be expected from Tati, this is a film where written dialogue is given the same importance as ambient noise and diegetic music. As such, the humour of Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot plays out through physical comedy and visual vignettes. Some of these, like the paint pot going in and out with the tide, are extraordinarily well-cordinated that you will laugh and marvel at how Tati was able to stage it so perfectly. Other pieces of comedy, like Hulot’s bullet like tennis serve, get their humour out of sheer absurdity.

What I really loved about this film was that it is a slice of life. There is no ‘getting the girl’ or ‘learning a lesson’, this is just about a man going on holiday and getting up to clumsy antics. Tati is excellent in his directorial and lead actor role and I am definitely becoming a bit of a fan (to the point that his complete works are now on my Amazon wish list).

With Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot , more than Playtime, this is a film that (after some updating) could work for a modern audience. I know that a lot of this comes from a very Charlie Chaplin place in term of comedy, but I have laughed out loud more in this film than all the Chaplin and Keaton films I have seen combined. It probably won’t be too long before I watch his third and final entry on the list…

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Good Eatin’ – Maroilles from Champagne + Fromage

One of the many benefits of a new job (aside from enjoying the new job and my new colleagues immensely) is new surroundings. Being London, this means a new batch of shops and restaurants that I now have easy access to.

Thanks to Champagne + Fromage, a cheese shop near Covent Garden, I have been able to procure the penultimate French cheese from the food list…. now I just need to find some Brocciu to complete the set.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 731/751Food item: Maroilles

Here’s the thing with Maroilles, it has a strong smell. This isn’t exactly news, but it did make things interesting in the office. Since Champagne + Fromage also do amazing filled baguettes I thought it would be a good idea to buy the Maroilles at the same time as my lunch. Little did I realise that, as the afternoon progressed, the smell would begin to spread around the pod… and so quickly too.

The smell persisted on the train home and stunk out the fridge before I had a chance to eat it. And yet despite the lingering smell it wasn’t that strong a cheese. Sure it had a strong taste, but this also came with a springy and creamy texture… which isn’t what you tend to find with stronger cheeses. Also, this didn’t have the bitter aftertaste that you tend to get from aged cheeses.

If I had to liken it to a past cheese from the list it would be either taleggio or reblochon. Considering the taste and the decent price, maroilles is a cheese that I could see myself buying for future use. I’ll just need to bring some sort of tuppaware in order to counteract the far reaching odour.

Acclaimed Albums – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 157/250Title: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Artist: Lauryn Hill
Year: 1998
Position: #124

I have been meaning to listen to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill for a few weeks now, but it never seemed like a suitable album to listen to whilst coding. Also, with the exception of Erykah Badu, I am not exactly au fait with neo soul as a genre – so I wanted to make sure that I was able to pay adequate attention to this album.

The thing is… I found it a bit too long.  Now I know it’s a bit rich to have an issue with this album because of length, especially when I have really enjoyed albums that are around the same length, but 16 songs over 70 minutes is a bit long. Maybe it would have helped if I had just stuck with the 14 tracks and not bothered with the hidden tracks. It would have spared me from hearing the rather uninspiring cover of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’.. but then again these hidden tracks from the main album, so it has to be done.

I feel like I am being really harsh on this album. I mean sure, around the 12-13 song mark I kept checking my iPod to see how close I was to the end because I wanted to start listening to something different (in this case, another listen of Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae), but it isn’t all bad.

Truly there are flashes of brilliance on this album. For the first 6-7 tracks (which includes the excellent ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ and ‘Ex-Factor’) I really thought that this would be an album that I would end up gushing about. However, it just started to run out of steam – at least for me.

I’m clearly in the minority here considering it’s high position on this list and it’s Album of the Year win at the Grammys.  The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill has a well-deserved place in history because of it’s landmark status for the neo soul and hip hop genres. It’s just that I wish it was more of the former and less of the latter.

Graphic Content – Attack on Titan

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
44/501Title: Attack on Titan
Creator: Hajime Isayama
Years: 2009-onwards
Country: Japan

Here we are with one of the final entries from the 1001 Comics list that doubles up as an adaptation on the anime list. Since the this show is now into its third season and has been able to maintain it’s huge popularity for years. So, I figured it was time for me to give this bestselling manga a go.

In a nutshell, Attack on Titan takes place in an alternate future where humans have been nearly wiped out by the ‘titans’ – mindless human-like giants whole sole goal is to eat humans. As the title would suggest, the main narrative is around the fight back of the humans against the titans, having been penned into their walled city for over a century.

Honestly, I am not sure if I have ever read a comic with so much graphic violence. The titans themselves are so incredibly creepy because their design is near the bottom of the uncanny valley… and they literally eat humans alive. I don’t think I have ever seen so much just relentless slaughter and dismemberment in a comic. Sure, Parasyte had a lot of body horror, but the terror on the faces of the characters as they’re being eaten just makes it that much more freaky.

As much as I was enjoying reading Attack on Titan, I made the choice to quit reading it around Chapter 50. You see I realised just how much better (and in some places disturbing) this would be on the screen. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the Attack on Titan was excellent and I’ll probably start reading this once I’ve watched all the adaptations… but I don’t want everything spoiled before I start watching. How soon will that be… honestly I have no idea at this point.

XL Popcorn – The Player

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 680/1007Title: The Player
Director: Robert Altman
Year: 1992
Country: USA

Well, it’s been an awfully long time since I watched a film as meta as The Player, or a Robert Altman film where I can understand the surrounding buzz. There are many places where The Player could have come undone, but thanks to the writing and direction it manages to be a biting meta-commentary on the Hollywood system that doesn’t succumb to self-flagellation or congratulation.

Whilst this is a good film on merit, it becomes an excellent film if you love films. I’m not just talking about the ridiculous number of cameos from the big stars of the early nineties, although those are cool. This is a film that is able to make smart use of Old Hollywood posters within the set decoration in order to provide an extra punch to the narrative. One that uses references to films like Sunset Boulevard and tracking shots to further enhance its meta nature.

Sure this film has some second act problems, but the beginning and its excellent ending more than make up for it. It’s also a fantastic central performance from Tim Robbins as the slimy film producer who has to deal with death threats from a writer whose calls he never returned.

I really wish I could go more into the ending and how it ties up with both the first minute of the film and the resolution of film that is being produced within the film, but I do abhor writing about spoilers – even if the film is 26 years old. Just trust me on this – even if, like me, you could see this cynical twist coming, they do it perfectly. Also, it’s worth watching this whole film just to see the awful ending of the film within a film which starts Julia Roberts (who is name checked at least ten times) and Bruce Willis.

This is meant to be a comedy, but it’s very much in a dark one. You won’t laugh out loud (apart from at Whoopi Goldberg’s scene at her detective desk, because that’s really funny) but you should be able to revel in this cynical self-referential world.

 

 

World Cooking – New Zealand

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: New Zealand
Progress: 4/193

Despite boasting the smallest number of countries, the continent that I think will give me the most trouble is Oceania. Where Africa has the most countries with a lot of unique ingredients, the continent’s diaspora means that I am able to make a number of their dishes by using specialist shops and websites. For the island nations of Oceania… this isn’t always the case.

As I wanted to cross off one Oceanian nation within the first five, I thought I would go for one of the larger nations – which is how I ended up opting for New Zealand. It’s interesting to see how a nation’s menu changes over the centuries. I mean, for New Zealand they have got a traditional Polynesian cuisine that has been fused and/or usurped with the food brought by Europeans. In the years since it has come difficult to differentiate what makes for New Zealand or Australian cuisine, which is a long way of saying that I hedged my bets this week and made three things.

Main: Kiwiburger

Ah yes the Kiwiburger. When I first came across one of these it was as a menu item in Gourmet Burger Kitchen where some of the profits of selling the burger went towards kiwi bird conservation efforts. Little did I know that this was the invention of a McDonalds franchise owner from who wanted to create a proper New Zealand burger that would both sell and be representative of what was being eaten before fast food chains really took hold.

Since then this burger, topped with beetroot and a fried egg, seems to have been properly embraced with many different recipes and variations now being available online. Of all the versions out there, I went for Chelsea Winter’s Ultimate Kiwiburger as the one I chose to make.

As you can see from the picture, this kiwiburger is absolutely massive. The patty itself was a delicious mix of flavours and was one of the moistest burgers I have ever made. I wasn’t  a big fan of having beetroot on the burger (since I don’t particularly like pickled beetroot), but it was worth using it for the sake of accuracy. Eating this burger filled me to the point that I had to defer dessert until the next meal, which is a pity as this is the best dessert so far.

Dessert: Anzac Biscuits and Hokey Pokey Ice Cream

Anzac biscuits are, rightfully, claimed by both Australia and New Zealand as they are mainly associated with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during World War One. The biscuit, whose recipe contains minimal perishable items, are mainly flavoured by oats, coconut and golden syrup. It’s a particularly dry mix (which always catches me out) but these are one of those biscuits that have always come out well for me. I really could not resist the urge to revisit this recipe, especially as (when I get around to Australia) I am thinking of making something similarly shared between the two countries.

For the second dessert I made something that appears to be quintessentially New Zealand: hokey pokey ice cream. As a concept this is very simple, a vanilla ice cream that contains folded in pieces of honeycomb. However, I am not one to do things by half… also I am not entirely sure where I would be able to buy a slab of honeycomb,

No. In making hokey pokey ice cream I actually learned how to make my own honeycomb – which was so quick and easy that it honestly felt like I was doing a magic trick in the kitchen. For the vanilla ice cream I got out my ice cream machine (which I hadn’t used for well over a year and so had forgotten about the need to freeze the bowl in advance) and followed this recipe from The Kiwi Cook.

Honestly, this tasted better than a lot of ice creams I have bought from the supermarket – and it was really fun to make to (and cheaper!). It’s a shame that for my next country, which is going to be either The Gambia or São Tomé and Príncipe, there will just be a main. Still, it is high time that I did an African country and I look forward to seeing which of these ends up being crossed off first.

XL Popcorn – Playtime

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 679/1007Title: Playtime
Director: Jacques Tati
Year: 1967
Country: France

With three of his films on the 1001 list, it really was about time that I watched a Jacques Tati comedy. Considering that he only made six feature films in his career, having half of your filmography on a list like this is an incredible achieved. So, since Playtime is regarded by critics to be Tati’s masterpiece, I figured that this film would be a good place to start.

To say that Playtime is a film without plot, whilst accurate, is a bit reductive. The whole film, which takes place over the course of 24 hours, is a meditation on the modernity of Paris through the experiences of a young American tourist and an older French gentlemen (a character called Mr Hulot, that Tati played in a number of his films). We watch as they negotiate the six main set pieces and experience what Tati’s take on a modern France has to offer.

We know we’re in Paris as between the huge sets made of glass and metal (whose production helped to make Playtime the most expensive French film produced up to that point) we see glimpses of classical France as the windows are opened and closed.

All this makes this film sound like an Alphaville style film looking at a modern dystopia. Quite the opposite really as while there is a yearning for the past, Tati is able to mine a lot of comedy from what he perceives as the future direction. Machines are loud and complex, brooms now come with handy lights and no one seems to know the point at which to stop seasoning a cooked fish.

Being a director that hated close-ups, Playtime becomes a film with a cast of hundreds who are directed with clockwork precision. The final two set pieces in particular are examples of how well he is able to direct a huge crowd of people that are all doing different things. I cannot even begin to imagine how Tati orchestrated some of the scenes in the restaurant…

Despite having no real plot, I found myself engrossed in the world that Tati created and laughing out loud at many moments. I knew from the opening shot of the nuns and their flapping hats that this would be a film I could enjoy, but I didn’t expect this. Now, having seen Playtime, not only do I have high expectations of Mon Oncle and Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, but I also have no idea what sort of films they will end up being. Depending on how those films go, I can see Jacques Tati being one of those directors whose filmography I end up watching in their entirety. Once I finish the 1001 list. Obviously.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – March Comes In Like A Lion

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 40/100Title: March Comes In Like A Lion
Episodes Aired: 44
Year(s): 2016-18

March Comes In Like A Lion is one of the most acclaimed anime series to come out in recent years – at least if you follow the ratings on MyAnimeList. For a while both seasons of this show appeared within the Top 100, but it would appear that – at least for now – the first season is its way out. However, for the purpose of this blog, I will be talking about both together as this it would be impossible to dive into the second season without seeing the character growth that went into the first one.

In brief, March Comes In Like A Lion is a slice-of-life following a young and introverted shogi prodigy called Rei Kiriyama as he navigates living my himself in the Tokyo suburbs whilst still attending high school. As the series progresses we watch as he comes out of himself, deals with his troubled past and reaches a point where he feels like he belongs and can find happiness in his choices.

With this description it feels like a lot of other slice-of-life shows, just in the world of professional shogi players. What March Comes In Like A Lion has to recommend it is a metric shit-ton of heart and some genuinely funny moments (some of which includes us being able to read the minds of some very hungry and attention-seeking cats). It also does a good job at explaining the rules of shogi (something that’s far more complicated than chess) and making these games interesting to watch.

As well as the Rei’s involvement in the shogi world, we are also watching him as he becomes accepted as a (pretty much adopted) member of a neighbour family consisting of three sisters and their grandfather. Through them we watch a lot of Rei’s growth as he gets more and more involved in their family, whereby one of the main threads of the second season is about the escalation and resolution of the middle sister being bullied at school.

Where a lot of animes give you some insight into the mind of the main protagonist, this anime gives you insights into every main character and a number of secondary/tertiary ones. It provides interesting psychological looks into relatable situations (like bullying and financial problems) and helps to frame more novel situations (like the anxieties during a shogi game) in a recognisable way.

I hope that, by the time this has been posted, there is news about a third season of March Comes In Like A Lion. Whilst the ending was very sweet and wrapped up a lot of the threads, there is still plenty of story to tell and a lot of manga chapters left unexplored. Maybe they’ll do an Attack on Titan and wait a few years so that they can bank enough chapters to warrant a 2-cour season, as a slow-burn show like this would be greatly disserviced by a 13 episode order.

Since I am currently reading Attack on Titan, I don’t think I’ll be going there for my next anime. After a slice-of-life like March Comes In Like A Lion I’m thinking of going for something more action or supernatural. Maybe another season of Natsume or it might be worth making my way through more Monogatari so I can reach the second season of Owarimonogatari.

Good Eatin’ – Lamb’s Brain at Barrafina

I love my new job. I am two weeks in and I am loving the challenge, the people and the fact that (due to London real estate weirdness) I am now in the same building as the hub. Due to this, and the shift in his working hours, we’re now able to do the London thing and take better advantage of the many restaurants the city has to offer.

Today we are finally visiting Barrafina on Adelaide Street, the only place in London where I’ve been able to find lamb’s brains on the menu.

Of course this is no flying visit to try lamb’s brain. It feels weird enough to order and eat lamb’s brain in public. After all, Barrafina is one of those restaurants that always has a massive line – it’s just that we can go there mere minutes after it opens and have our choice of seats. So we picked one in front of someone that we deduced to be the head chef and just enjoyed watching food being made as we waited for our order – which included a huge stuffed courgette flower and pan con tomate.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 730/751Food item: Lamb’s Brain

The lamb’s brain arrived after we’d finished everything else, not that you could tell that was brains… until you cut it open. It sounds a bit pathetic to be both excited and squeamish at the same time – but eating brains feels like crossing some sort of gastronomic line, similar to the first time you cook live shellfish or cooking a bird that still has its feathered head attached.

In terms of taste there really is not that much to brains. It has a very vague protein taste, much like the white albumin you get after cooking a fish fillet, that is incredibly mild. As such it makes sense that Barrafina decided to serve it topped with tapenade on top. Together the brains, tapenade and the tomato-celery sauce made for a good plate of tapas.

One thing that did live up to expectations was the texture. As a science student I remember stroking an embalmed sheep’s brain like a Bond villain, but then being told how a brain’s texture is more like porridge. This lamb’s brain fritter really did have the texture of cold porridge, but with the creaminess of quark.

Let’s Get Literal – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 46/100Title: Jane Eyre
Author: Charlotte Brontë
Year: 1847
Country: UK

Thanks to increasingly busy trains it took me about a month to finish this book, which sucked because I was joyfully devouring this whenever a had a chance in the morning (not on the return commute… because I usually end up taking an ill-advised nap). This is one of only four books that managed to have me tear up whilst reading; the first to do so because of joy rather than sadness.

Jane Eyre is one of those books where, thanks to watching the excellent BBC adaptation, I thought I knew all that I needed to know. Of course this is not true as there is so much more to the book than there is to the adaptation (although it was impossible to not picture Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens as Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester respectively), especially the earlier chapters about her childhood that were barely covered.

What strikes me most about Jane Eyre is the point-of-view of Jane herself. When I think of the contemporary books I’ve read (including Wuthering Heights) this is unusual in being a first-person narrative that is more than just a person recollecting the events of their life. In reading this book we get to know Jane’s own moral beliefs, thought processes and her emotional state. When I think of the last book I read and all the different minds that Faulkner let us be privy to – there is a lot to be said of the influence of Jane Eyre.

Like Little WomenJane Eyre is described by many as being an example of an early feminist novel. With Little Women I was inclined to disagree because of where all the characters end up at the end of the journey. In contrast, I can actually see how Jane Eyre is feminist (especially in the context of Victorian England). Sure she ends up on the marriage train by the close of the story, but everything she achieves is because (as Kacey Musgraves would say) follows her arrow.

Call me romantic, but even if I did not know the ending – I would be shipping Jane and Mr Rochester and would have been devastated if they had not ended up together. Given the times of the book, I can see why Jane walks way – but I’m so glad she comes back. Some have said that this ending shows her compromising her morals, but I think this ending is a way for us to have the romantic ending whilst she keeps her morals untainted. Maybe that’s just me, but it was this ending that just made me get a bit misty on the train.

It’s time for me to get back to comics for a little while – a perfect time to do so as I’m not sure what novel could top my experience with Jane Eyre.