Category Archives: In Progress

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.

Acclaimed Albums – ( ) by Sigur Rós

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 327/1000
Title: ( )
Artist: Sigur Rós
Year: 2002

There was a while when I was in university where I would listen to a fair bit of Sigur Rós for the purposes of napping. If I am unable to sleep on an airplane, I will still reach for some of their albums with a preference for Agætis byrjun over ( ). Where Agætis byrjun is definitely a perfect listen if you want to drift off to some beautiful post-rock, ( ) doesn’t work as well as given the greater use of percussion and distortion – the percussion really kicking in during the more downbeat second half.

( ) does something that very few albums do though – have the entire thing sung in a fake language. Well, I say language – it’s not like Hopelandic has any meaning, instead this is very much an ethereal version of scat singing whose syllables are used to fit the melody. It makes for a brilliant contrast to have something so otherworldly being sung to something that, at times, gets closer to being a type of rock than being ambient.

One difficulty about talking about this album is… what do you call it. I guess you can refer to it at The Brackets Album in the great tradition of The White Album and most of Weezer’s output. But given the style of music, that name feels just too bog-standard. Then you have the tracks which are officially untitled, although we do have their nicknames. 

Do I prefer the more uplifting first half? Yes I do, they feel like a magical human whale song – especially ‘Untitled #3 – Samskeyti’. Do I prefer Agætis byrjun as an album? Also yes, but I do think ( )  is better than their follow-up despite how amazing ‘Hoppípolla’ is. This is one of those bands I just circle back to every few years and I think it means I really should be giving the Jónsi solo works more of a go. Like, if I like Sigur Rós I should enjoy those works… right?

World Cooking – Indonesia

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Indonesia
Progress: 109/193

I had never tried Indonesian food until I met my husband. Even now, you don’t really get too many Indonesian restaurants in the UK. Chinese and Japanese? Definitely. Thai and Vietnamese? Sure. Korean? Increasingly, yes. Indonesian food, however, has gotten left behind, which is a shame for my Dutch husband who grew up with Indonesian in the same way I kinda grew up with Cantonese Chinese takeaways.

It’s the way that the colonial pasts of our countries differ though and it’s the reason why I probably have had more Indonesian food than the average Brit and look forward to being able to travel to a Dutch city so I can have a Rijsttafel again. Until then, I try to make Indonesian food every now and then – which is why it has taken so long for me to make something for this list. I like to space out the cuisines I know a bit about.

Like with the Philippines, to talk about Indonesia as having one cuisine is pretty much glossing over things. There are thousands of islands here with different ethnic groups and traditions. So when looking at what I was going to make, I wanted to not too bogged down into the minutiae and look at what are the national dishes. Luckily for me the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism went and made a list of six dishes that are considered the national dishes – so I thought why not make two of these instead of wrestling with a dessert that requires 20 egg yolks.

Main: Gado-Gado

On the list of six Indonesian national dishes, gado-gado was the only one I had not heard of or seen before somewhere – which meant I automatically gravitated towards it. The name itself means ‘mix-mix’ as it is such a combination of vegetables with egg, tempeh or tofu and then a gorgeous peanut sauce. I love the peanut sauces of Indonesia, so I knew that I had to make something with a peanut sauce – even if just to have a reason to order a jar of sambal from an online specialty store.

Following the recipe from Recipe Tin Eats, the vegetables in my bowl were cucumber, beansprouts, potato and spinach. I know this recipe can be a mix of most vegetables, but I followed this mostly to ensure that I got the portion size correct. This is the first time in years that I have cooked with tempeh and that’s only because my local Tesco have started selling it. So glad I could go authentic here as this second shot at tempeh has really helped me to appreciate it more. I can definitely see me using it in more dishes, like maybe as a vegetarian burger.

Obviously the star of the show was the peanut sauce. It would be rude to say otherwise and this recipe actually made a sauce that reminded me of some I have had in restaurants. As long as I have access to sambal oelak and red curry paste, this is going to be a keeper.

Main: Nasi Goreng

As part of a way to introduce something he knew into the family Christmas traditions, I started to make nasi goreng on Boxing Day with the leftovers. I would normally make this with a premade seasoning and just focus most of the time in chopping the left over meat, potatoes and dumpling into small enough chunks. That, however, resembles nothing of the nasi I have had in Singapore or that amazing plate in Hong Kong Disney.

What I made this time, again thanks to Recipe Tin Eats, it tasted just like the nasi gorengs I have had abroad rather than the Christmas Fried Rice I have been making. The fact that I can get there with just one specialty ingredient – the shrimp paste which makes all the difference – is a real game changer.

Next Christmas I can see myself reaching for this version instead of the sauce base from Tesco. I mean, I am already planning on making this as a weeknight meal soon – so I may have to find a better source of shrimp paste and start thinking of some things to have in the rice to have it be a properly balance meal rather than just a carbo-bomb.

Sure has been nice to cook something from a cuisine that I broadly know. It’s back to the unknowns of African cuisine next week as I find yet another excuse to make something from neither Ethiopia nor Morocco and instead focus on a country that needs some research.