Category Archives: In Progress

XL Popcorn – Rocco and His Brothers

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 939/1009Title: Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers)
Director: Luchino Visconti
Year: 1960
Country: Italy

Well it is the late May bank holiday as I write this, so figured it would be a good opportunity to cross off one of the very long films that are left. Rocco and His Brothers has been staring at me for a long time due to it being almost three hours and technically being an Italian neo-realist sports movie. The sports nature of the film, it would turn out, is important for plot but not exactly what would be considered a defining characteristic.

As Italy was continuing to modernize following the Second World War, there was a movement of families from the poorer south to the richer north. We meet such a family whose matriarch and four sons move up to Milan to join the elder son who has already started to put down roots. The film deals primarily with how the middle and second oldest brothers (played by Alain Delon and Renato Salvatori) deal with the change and how both are frankly incompatible.

Let’s just get this out of the way, Simone (played by Renato Salvatori) is up there with one of the worst film characters I have seen. By worst, I am not talking poorly written, acted or conceived – but as in I cannot remember the last single character I saw onscreen where I was wishing them dead so consistently.

He steals, rapes, blackmails and murders and just expects his brothers to just take care of everything for him – knowing they won’t want to burden their mother with his many sins and even when she does find it out, she will back him rather than criminal justice. Simone and his relationship with Rocco is the main thread of this melodrama, with the other three brothers taking on supporting roles. Also important is Nadia, a prostitute who gets caught in a terrible triangle where one side offers love and the other offers misery.

As a film, it is long but it is also incredibly well made. I would have loved to have seen these relationships play out for longer as part of a mini-series as I feel there is more to know about two of the three brothers who don’t get as much screen time. Since it is nearly, three hours long, it is definitely a good idea to put in some sort of intermission – even if it is just to take stock of what you are going through watching this family unit.


World Cooking – Nicaragua

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Nicaragua
Progress: 119/193

When making food for the Americas, it becomes a bit too easy to forget that there is a large amount of countries in Central America waiting to be crossed off – their position being usurped by the large number of Caribbean nations and the physically large nations of South America. It’s been 6-7 months since I was last making food in this area (where I made something delicious for Panama), so a return is long overdue.

Like with other nations in this area, the food of Nicaragua is influenced by a mixture of the native cuisines and that of the Spanish colonizers. Also like other nations on this particular isthmus, there is some variation depending on whether you are Caribbean or Pacific facing, however that did not end up being the main focus of my cooking.

Instead, I wanted to focus on a national dish as there was something specifically Nicaraguan that was within my power to make. It is based on corn, like so many of the dishes I make from this region end up being, and has some really interesting flavours in there which made the kitchen smell like I was making a salsa mojito. Not a bad thing, although the idea of that as a drink sounds rank.

Main: Indio Viejo

So, for Nicaragua I ended up making Indio Viejo (meaning ‘Old Indian’ in Spanish). There is a story behind the name that says it originates from a native Mesoamerican who did not want to share their food and instead said that they were eating the remains of a dead member of his community. It’s a fun story which gets across the general feeling towards the interloping Spanish, like ‘you’ve taken everything else, so just let me eat my dinner in peace’.

This dish (made using a recipe from Curious Cuisiniere) uses old corn tortillas mixed with beef broth to make a thick porridge-like stew. In there was beef, bell pepper, onion, garlic, mint, tomato and lemon juice. You are meant to put coriander leaf in too, but as usual I leave this out otherwise my husband would have a rotten time eating it.

For a dish from an equatorial country that doesn’t exactly know bitter cold, Indio Viejo really feels like a hearty dish that would work well in winter. However, I can see this being great on a summer’s evening due to the cool flavours provided by the mint and lemon. So this may just be a dish suitable for all seasons – just need to find a way to streamline the early prep if I want to make it again.

Back to Europe next time with what may be a long overdue return to Northern or Western Europe. I’ve been a little bit over-focused on getting a variety of Eastern European dishes in that I think I have been neglecting the countries closer to home. Also means I have a better shot at finding a dessert recipe, which could be really fun.

XL Popcorn – The Elephant Man

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 938/1009Title: The Elephant Man
Director: David Lynch
Year: 1980
Country: USA

Yesterday it was goodbye to Fritz Lang, today it’s the last of three David Lynch films on the 1001 list. I do question why Mulholland Drive was tossed off the list as part of the purges of 2000s films, but that’s a discussion for another time. In the three Lynch films that are actually part of the list, you see some very different styles. Blue Velvet as a sexual thriller is worlds away from this tragedy and whatever Eraserhead is.

However, despite The Elephant Man being one of Lynch’s straighter offerings – there were some things in here that were unmistakably him. The final narrative as we ascend into the stars, the fixation with the Victorian steam pipes and gas works and the fact that this was shot in black and white (as I learned when reading on Deep Endhe doesn’t always see the point in colour photography) are all things you see in a number of his projects. Shows that if he wanted to make something commercially minded and with artistic merit, he is more than capable – but sometimes it is more fun for him to put his art and vision first.

The Elephant Man is not a wholly historically accurate portrayal of the life of Joseph Merrick. For one thing, they refer to him by the incorrect name of John Merrick as is apparently incredibly common. The ending is also a truncation to maximize the tragic, but it is also done so poignantly and beautifully that it is excusable. After all, this is a man who suffered great injustice in terms of his physical destiny and in the way people treat him – not a historical figure whose shadow looms large in politics to this day.

I had been forewarned (and spoiled heavily) about the emotional impact this film had, including the ending. Not entirely sure it did any good other than have me left a minor mess rather than a puddle on the floor like when I first watched Coco and The Curse of the Golden Flower.

The Elephant Man is a brilliant film that, despite getting some major nominations at the Oscars, still feels under-loved. Maybe it is the difficult subject matter and the horrific make-up that John Hurt went though 9 hours daily to have applied and removed? If not, I am not sure why such a different take on a historical biography, that has John Hurt proving him to be one of the most flexible actors of his generation, is not more loved. Hell, I question it losing so may awards to Raging Bull. But that’s just me and I am so glad that I have finally seen this.


XL Popcorn – Secret Beyond The Door…

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 937/1009Title: Secret Beyond The Door…
Director: Fritz Lang
Year: 1948
Country: USA

When I was picking out my final films based on prolific directors, I pretty much forgot about Fritz Lang. The moment his name flashed on screen I got a bit annoyed at myself for having not noticed this film. Oh well, it doesn’t really matter now I am getting so close to the end and there is something nice about crossing off another major director.

Secret Beyond The Door… is the final of five Lang films on the list and the third one that I have watched since starting the blog. Sadly, this is also the weakest of the five – but when the other titles include M, Metropolis and The Big Heat it becomes a bit ridiculous to even start comparing. Thing is though, where the other four films on this list felt like originals, Secret Beyond The Door… actually felt like he was trying to emulate – specifically emulate the work of Alfred Hitchcock.

Of the Hitchcock filmography, I would rank Rebecca and Suspicion among my favourites. However, because both of these films live somewhat rent-free in my head, I immediately saw how Secret Beyond The Door… was taking elements from both and not doing them quite as well. Sure there are original touches that are brilliant, such as the wholesale collecting of rooms where murder took place, but it lacked what having Joan Fontaine in a lead role could bring.

What also did not help was how this film ended. The ending, again, has shades of Suspicion about it. However, where Suspicion decides to keep you in the dark as to whether the suspicions of his intent are completely founded, Secret Beyond The Door… stops short of the murder and yet she still remains with him. At least in Suspicion you remain slightly unsure and can leave things to interpretation.

It’s not the best way to end a selection of movies of one of the best directors of the era. However, that is not to say that this was a bad film. I did enjoy this, it was just that I like other films of his better. It made for perfect evening viewing as I was icing my back after pulling it yet again. At some point, I really need to get myself some sort of box set.

Acclaimed Albums – Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 342/1000
Title: Tubular Bells
Artist: Mike Oldfield
Year: 1973

When I listened to the beginning of Tubular Bells I, of course, thought about it’s links to horror classic The Exorcist. My husband, well, he was reminded of its use in a children’s programme as a way to mark tension. Talks to the wealth of different experiences we all have I guess… or that maybe he watched suspect things as a kid.

Anyway, Tubular Bells is one of those albums I have been keen to hear for ages both for its connection to a brilliant film but also because of Mike Oldfield’s cover of ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ that is such a Christmastime staple. Now that I have actually listened to it, I cannot believe that this was the debut album of a 19 year old who played pretty much all of the instruments.

19. He was 19 when he made this. It took the better part of a year for him to record all the overdubs and managed to have the vision to pull of this unique landmark album that was unlike anything else in prog rock at the time. Just two tracks, each a whole side long, and yet I didn’t actually feel the length of the album. Sure, it made it harder to weave the tracks between a day of meetings but I made it work somehow.

And that’s the thing about this album. Usually a long concept album like this, which is two tracks more because of the constraints of working with vinyl rather than anything else, is something that would end up boring me a bit. However Tubular Bells is a real journey that just evolves across the two halves. Sure, the Exorcist bit sticks around afterwards but that’s more because of how familiar it is and that it’s the opening bars. It’s a vision that worked and it’s a something that is so hard to think of a 19 year old pulling off near solo.

Graphic Content – Delirius

List Item: Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
106/501Title: Delirius
Philippe Druillet and Jacques Lob
Year: 1972
Country: France

I did not need to see the year and country of origin to know that Delirius was a French comic from France. The art style is somewhere between Fantastic Planet and The Incal with a pitstop in underground comics and Escher. This makes for a comic that is really interesting to look at with a setting that is pretty insane – however the story does not live up to the incredible setting.

Let’s walk it back a bit. Delirius is story in a longer running series featuring the character Lone Sloane. I didn’t know this until I tried way too long to find a suitable picture for the top of this blog post. He is meant to be some sort of powerful space mercenary, but you wouldn’t exactly know it from this story. Instead he is just a red-eyed man who has been charged to rob the Governor of Space Vegas on crystal meth.

As I said, the story of Delirius is a pretty paint-by-numbers affair, the interesting part of this coming from the visuals and the world building done for this planet of ultimate sin. It throws in so many ideas that are, in some cases, so twisted that it would never be adaptable into a moving format. Like, can you imagine an animation featuring people being blinded by technology and fighting to the death? Let alone doing it live action.

Thing is, as the story was a bit generic even the weird world and visuals just life it enough to make it good-to-okay. I think there is another Lone Sloane comic on the list, so I guess I’ll see if the other story is any different and actually goes into the backstory which, at least according to Wikipedia, looks pretty interesting.

Around The World In 100 Films – Colombia

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 53/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 936/1009Title: Monos
Director: Alejandro Landes
Year: 2019
Country: Colombia

I am unsure if this is more due to the greater number of films being made around the world, but the recent updates of the 1001 list have definitely aired on the side of including more films from different countries. This is such a great boon for this challenge in particular as well as giving some much needed visibility to films outside of traditional film nations.

So, today I watched my first Colombian film, a take on Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness with a main cast of child actors in the role of jungle commandos. They are part of a wider organisation, although the only clue we get to them being part of a larger whole comes from grueling training sessions with their handler and a nocturnal fight sequence. Oh, also that they have an American woman hostage and we are dropped into her situation in media res.

There is a lot of good things in Monos from Mica Levi’s sparse and tense score, the stunning location shots (including areas never before on film) and the majority of the young cast. When this film gets past the initial set-up which (although essential to laying out how serious consequences for failure are) takes a little too long, there is a brutally intense jungle thriller to be savoured.

I do wish that the director had trusted his audience more to get his references instead of having us see a literal pig’s head on a spike. Like, these children were semi-feral to begin with given their strange ritualistic celebrations we see them engaging before being trapped in the jungle – back when there was some modicum of order up on the mountain. We go full mud make-up and guttural roars by the end of it so, again, no need to be so literal with the pig head.

Still though, this is a different point of view of a film and really is going to be one to stick with me. It will be especially weird when I get to the final season of Ally McBeal and see a younger Julianne Nicholson as a ditzy lawyer instead of this more hardened hostage who you are begging to be able to escape when ever she is on screen.

World Cooking – Equatorial Guinea

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Equatorial Guinea
Progress: 118/193

Well, not only have I managed to save some of the bigger African food nations for another day – but also found a different sought of recipe for a country that I thought would be rather difficult to find. Again, it helps that I far from the first person to try a cooking challenge like this – so suddenly finding a recipe for Equatorial Guinea is easier than it wold have been when I first started the blog.

Previously for this challenge, I made food for neighbouring Gabon – which was a delicious mustard chicken recipe that I have still yet to try with pork. The food for Equatorial Guinea has some similarities because of the varied colonial history, but has a key difference around being a more coastal area with plenty of jungle. This means that coconut and plantain/banana can play more of a role in their food.

Given that there are a number of countries in Africa with Guinea in the name, it can be a bit of a challenge to make sure a recipe you have is for the right one. Thanks to this particular search, I now have an intriguing recipe for regular Guinea. For today, I have been able to find a really different kind of dish compared to those I have so far made for Africa – even if is more traditionally a breakfast.

Main: Akwadu

So Akwadu (recipe from 196 Flavors) is more normally made as a breakfast. You can make it with plantains or bananas, but after the trouble I had with plantains for Burundi, I decided to stick with the more humble banana. This means I didn’t get the cool photo of it being served roasted in its skin, but my sanity has to come first.

The bananas are roasted in orange and lemon juices and topped with brown sugar, coconut and honey. On their own, the akwadu definitely makes for a nice brunch – but I can just imagine how much better this would be as the topping of a waffle, crepe or a pancake. That would be absurdly delicious and the more alcohol minded people could use Cointreau as a replace for some of the orange juice to make it a mix between a crepe suzette and… something with bananas.

Even more joyful is how simple this is to make. It’s something that would could have helped a lot of people in lockdown who were getting sick and tired of making banana bread. Again I am thinking about how nice this would be on pancakes with some cream on top and really feel like I have to make this attempt at fusion cuisine at some point in the future.

Looking at the numbers on my spreadsheet, I guess the next area for me to look for recipes would be the Americas. However, I have company next time and need a sure-fire recipe – so I guess will need to be a bit more flexible. Not that the Americas haven’t given me brilliant food, but sometimes you just want some confidence in the kitchen.

Acclaimed Albums – Reasonable Doubt by Jay-Z

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 341/1000
Title: Reasonable Doubt
Artist: Jay-Z
Year: 1996

Things are starting to get closer to crunch time at work, so I am not sure how much longer I am going to be able to keep up this pace on the albums list. Music is such a big mood stabilizer for me that I end up leaning more on genres and artists that are sure things or are going to calm me down – which is one of the many reasons I have been trying to more or less fast-track the hip-hop albums. I know albums by the likes of Vampire Weekend and Massive Attack will be easy wins down the line. Then again, I am nearly seven months ahead so does it really matter if I am writing less.

Anyway, in that spirit, I went for Jay-Z’s debut album next. Firstly, because I quite liked The Blueprint and thought this would be an easy win (which it was), but also because after 2Pac I felt like I needed to dive back into rap sooner rather than later or it would become a bit of a roadblock again.

Compared to The Blueprint, Reasonable Doubt is one of those rap albums that doesn’t feel like he was looking to make radio play. Instead this debut was to make his mark, which it undoubtedly did. To think that he made his own independent record label as he couldn’t get a deal and this was one of the many things that made his ridiculous amounts of money.

In the context of the other rap albums I have been listening to from this time, Reasonable Doubt sounds effortlessly cool, does not rely on the misogyny and feels like one of the first albums to perpetuate the kind of high-rolling lifestyle that is now a staple. That isn’t to say earlier albums didn’t boast about money, but this moves the focus to opulence than just making it rain.

What’s On TV – The Water Margin

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 253/501
Title: The Water Margin
Episodes Aired: 26
Year(s): 1973-1974
Country: Japan

I was really looking forward to this. A Japanese historical drama based on one of the great Chinese historical novels, what could go wrong? How about the English language dub where they didn’t have the Japanese scripts to adapt, just a synopsis? How about white actors dubbing over with exaggerated ‘Asian’ accents? How about a huge cast where it becomes difficult very early on to get the list of names straight in your head?

With the last one, I had this issue with Game of Thrones, but the show was good enough for me to persevere and end up learning them through osmosis. With the other two on the list…  well that made The Water Margin pretty hard to watch to the point where some of it was more than a bit cringe. I guess this was done with good intentions, but now it just feels racist and incredibly misjudged. Shame how it seems to show that this wasn’t written using actual scripts, it just compounds some of the issues that I had.

Maybe the fact that, even with these problems removed, there is still a chance that The Water Margin would still not grab me. Like with movies, I am so used to modern television doing these big ensemble television shows well (even if Game of Thrones ended incredibly poorly) that this show just feels inferior. It is interesting to see a drama like this from another country, I just wish that 1970s Britain did more justice to it.

I know there is one more English dub I have from this list – Saiyuki which is based on Journey to the West. I am hoping that a decade of social progress and a smaller more concentrated cast list will make it more palatable than The Water Margin. This also hasn’t put me off, one day, reading the books or from playing the Suikoden computer games based on the same story. At least those won’t have the affected accents.