Category Archives: In Progress

Acclaimed Albums – Paul’s Boutique by Beastie Boys

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 230/250Title: Paul’s Boutique
Artist: Beastie Boys
Year: 1989
Position: #90

Over five years have gone by since I listened to Licensed to Ill and, finally, I am covering the second of the two Beastie Boys albums on this list. Since then, as of writing this, my prediction of The Streets dropping out of the Top 250 has yet to come to pass – meaning that I still have albums by both him and Eminem coming up before finishing off this particular challenge.

Unlike the previous album, there were no songs that I recognised on the first listen. I guess that this goes on to support how while Paul’s Boutique is the critical darling of their first two albums, it was still less commercially successful than the debut and as such there are fewer songs that average person like me will have heard.

Compared to the their first album, Paul’s Boutique is definitely more focused on beat crafting and filling it chock-a-block with samples. They also remain one of the few rap artists from this area that I can listen to without feeling a bit dirty afterwards because they don’t feel the need to make homophobic or overly misogynistic lyrics.

I know that this may still be a bit prudish on my side and that maybe I should just accept this in the music… on the other hand no. Hip-hop albums like this are proof positive that you can do this genre justice and not have to go into those territories over and over again. Probably means I should be okay with The Streets when I eventually get around to them, but not too sure about Eminem…

XL Popcorn – Atlantic City

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 864/1009Title: Atlantic City
Director: Louis Malle
Year: 1980
Country: Canada/France

After whatever Flaming Creatures was, and because it ended up being a bit of a grey afternoon, I fancied something that was close to a crime drama and wasn’t incredibly long. Atlantic City fit the bill perfectly at around 100 minutes long and in having bit players in the local New Jersey crime world as minor characters.

It’s a bit odd to have seen this so soon after Sweet Smell of Successthe passage of time being very clear on Burt Lancaster. 23 years later and rather than playing a ruthless and socially successful columnist, here he is as a pretty much retired petty gangster clinging to any semblance of reputation he has… whilst perving on his next door neighbour as she bathes herself in lemon juice to deal with the smell of working in an oyster bar.

Having Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon play opposite each other as, essentially, love interests (although it’s more a fondness rather than lust on her side) is a bit weird considering the age gap and that she is pretty much okay with him having watched her be naked – but you kinda so with it because the city isn’t exactly portrayed as unseedy and she is basically taking advantage of the situation of having this older man help her out. Also, he is a real step up from her deadbeat husband that ran off with her sister.

It’s weird seeing Atlantic City knowing that Malle was vaguely related to the French New Wave movement, and having seen him tackle very different stories in Murmur of the Heart and Au Revoir Les Enfants. In the end though, this is very unlike the more neo-noir style crime films of the time. This isn’t moody like Chinatown or overblown like The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, this is a profoundly human story that has some crime elements alongside talk of reflexology, reincarnation and how to become a croupier.

XL Popcorn – Flaming Creatures

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 863/1009Title: Flaming Creatures
Director: Jack Smith
Year: 1963
Country: USA

There really are not many shorts left on this list. I guess that, in the earlier times of watching my way through, I gobbled a lot of them up as easy wins. Hey ho, after Flaming Creatures there are a handful left and I don’t think any of them are going to be able live up to how deeply strange this was. Like, this may be one of the weirdest things I have seen for a very long time.

No bones about this, I didn’t particularly like or enjoy my time with Flaming Creatures. Having a film shot on aged army film stock, on a rooftop with just a backdrop and possibly the biggest part of the budget being spent on lipstick and orgy supplies… well that was never going to quite be my cup of tea. However, despite needing some sort of bribe in order to watch this ever again, I will happily defend its place in the 1001 list.

We’re in 1963, 6 years before the Stonewall riots and 40 years (yes, even I was shocked when I read this) before the US Supreme Court officially decriminalized homosexuality throughout the entire USA – mopping up the remaining 14 states that had yet to take the initiative to do so. To make a film like this (however poor quality) is an incredible act of subversion when you are challenging gender and sexual freedom to the point that it was found in violation of decency laws and banned.

Like this worth watching(ish) just for being the weird and subversive piece of experimental cinema that it is. If any of that doesn’t really appeal, just watch something else.

🎻♫♪ – The Bells by Sergei Rachmaninov

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
96/501Title: The Bells
Composer: Sergei Rachmaninov
Nationality: Russian

Three and a half years, that’s how long it’s been since I listened to the last Rachmaninov piece for the classical list (The Isle of the Dead). It feels like I start a lot of these classical music posts with a similar sort of sentiment, but wow this list is taking a while. Probably should listen to more than one a week if I want to make proper headway.

So let’s get to The Bells a choral symphony – based on a Russian adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe poem of the same name – in four movements. Each movement is based on a verse of the poem, which get darker and darker as the piece progresses and feature different sets of vocalists.

We start with sleigh bells (which was my favourite because it was remotely Christmassy) and then get to a darker more melancholy piece which, on first listen, had a repeated section that reminded me of ‘Moon River’. Most interesting of the bunch are the penultimate set of bells. This movement, where the male voices take over, it titled ‘The Loud Alarm Bells’ and that’s a pretty accurate summation of how it sounds. Actually makes for a more effective contrast when the pieces ends on the downbeat of the ‘The Mournful Iron Bells’.

XL Popcorn – Sweet Smell of Success

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 862/1009Title: Sweet Smell of Success
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Year: 1957
Country: USA

One of the first classic black and white Hollywood films that I ever saw was Some Like It Hot. Hell, that might have even been the first I saw because I had a real liking for Marilyn Monroe as a very young boy.  As such, I am really unable to see Tony Curtis without thinking of his Cary Grant impression or dressing up as a female saxophonist. I know that in The Defiant Ones I will continue to see his dramatic side – but I don’t think I was quite prepared for what an awful human being his character was in Sweet Smell of Success.

Then again, considering that the other Alexander Mackendrick film that I have blogged about is the Scottish alcohol farce Whisky Galorethis is one of those films that surprised me all around. I mean, this is a noir film about the cut-throat men working in the New York press stepping on who they need to in order to achieve the sweetest perfume of all: success.

With Tony Curtis as the D-list press agent trying to get his own star to rise and Burt Lancaster as the ruthless columnist who uses his influence to get what he wants – this is a fantastic noir. Like, it is one of those noir films with a complex scheme (in this instance, to split up an engagement that Lancaster’s character finds unworthy of his sister) that has the twists and turns and yet it isn’t too convoluted (like some others within the genre).

At just over 90 minutes, this is one of those films packed with such great dialogue and plot points that it  just went by in a flash. An hour in we were interrupted by a food delivery and…wow that hour flew by quickly. Knowing the ending, this is something that I know I’ll have to watch again in a few years in order to get that different experience.

Graphic Content – Akira

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
86/501Title: Akira
Katsuhiro Otomo
Year: 1982-1990
Country: Japan

Akira is one of the great animated movies. If it had not been for Covid-19, I would have been there at my local Cineworld theatre to watch the brand new 4K  version. Instead I watched it again on Blu-Ray and decided that now was finally the time to read the manga. Hell, given that the film successfully predicted Tokyo winning the right to host the 2020 Olympics and that 2020 would be pretty bad, I wanted to see what else there was.

As with most anime adaptations, especially for the big screen, there is a lot more in the manga. What’s especially interesting about the manga versus the anime is that the beginning and ending are broadly the same, it’s just that it’s missing pretty much the entire second half before we get to the cool body horror and existential big bang parts.

It’s especially interesting that in 1982 you saw the first publishing of Akira in Japan and then, in the West, the release of Blade Runner. Like something was in the collective air that allowed the co-evolution of the cyberpunk genre – of which Akira is so incredibly influential. Like, without Akira it’s highly unlikely we would have gotten things like Ghost in the Shell or even The Matrix.

The imagination on display here is incredible and even if the ending doesn’t quite stick the landing of 38 volumes of build up. Some threads are left dangling, yada yada yada, but boy it is one hell of a ride. Reading this really makes me yearn for an Akira anime series where they do the complete manga like they did with MonsterMaybe written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo so it can bring his creation to full life. I say this as someone who absolutely adores the 1988 film – a greedy person who wants more.

Who can say no to a full cyberpunk series dealing with psionic powers, cyberpunk themes, motorbikes and eventual body horror? Seriously though, screw the Hollywood live action version and let’s have it done properly!

World Cooking – Brunei

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Brunei
Progress: 90/193

I have made no secret that I want to try and cross off the smaller or less known food countries first so that, later in this challenge, it is plain sailing towards the end. Sure I sprinkle in some big ones along the way (like Japan and Cuba), but there’s something nice about getting some of the more research heavy ones out of the way first.

So here we are with Brunei, one of the smallest nations in Asia (although I have covered smaller Asian nations before like Singapore and the Maldives) and one that I am likely never to visit as they have the death penalty for gay men. It’s made up of two small parcels of land on the island of Borneo – an island it shares with the much larger nations of Malaysia and Indonesia.

With two large food nation as neighbours, the food of Brunei is influenced by those around them – as well as some influences from nearby Singapore and the cultural juggernaut that is China. They also have a very specific national dish called Ambuyat, which is essentially a bland sticky food made from starch of the sago palm which you dip into sauces using a specially designed fork. Now there was no chance of me spending all that time on something that is meant to be bland, so I went for something else that is specifically from Brunei.

Main: Honey Barbecue Chicken Pizza

Okay so hear me out. I am going to be cooking something from Malaysia and Indonesia in the future anyway, so I wanted to make a dish that would not tread on their toes. So, when I came across an article on food in Brunei that mentioned that they had a nationally unique Pizza Hut menu item. As in, at the time of writing this, it is only in Bruneian Pizza Huts that you will be able to find Honey Barbecue Chicken Pizza.

Since I didn’t make pizza for Italy, and I have no plans to do it for the USA, I honestly thought why not. Also, this is a chance for me to roast garlic for the first time and to make my own proper garlic butter. Using the recipe from Foreign Fork, I brought this pizza creation to life – and it was delicious. A bit… soupier than expected because I didn’t reduce the barbecue sauce down enough – but the taste was there.

As I know what went wrong, this is something that we are definitely going to be having again – even though my husband insists that he dislikes chicken (and if you’ve kept track of all the chicken things I have made for this food list, you know how much of a saint this man is). Then again he ate his share of the pizza before I got halfway, so it’s not like I’m forcing him to eat asbestos.

It has been way too long since I last made something European, so that’s where my culinary journey will be taking me. Since I am not going to be doing the UK until the final nation, this is likely the closest I am going to to get to my home nation until then. Should make for something good to eat.

World Cooking – Panama

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Panama
Progress: 89/193

It’s unusual for me to cook for the same continent twice unless there has been a massive gap in cooking (and I forgot that it was a duplication) or I am massively behind. In this instance, it’s because I had another recipe for another country that shares a protein and the Panamanian recipe was a lot more complicated to make.

Probably a good thing that, for the purposes of my own tracking, I decided to just go with ‘Americas’ as the positioning of Panama would make things a bit awkward. Like with Turkey and Russia, Panama is a country that spans two continents: North America and South America. Depending on where you look, this separation happens either within Panama (at different places) or where Panama meets Colombia. As someone who has loved maps since he was very young, it’s a really interesting country.

Same can be said of the cuisine, which is heavily influenced by its native history, it’s Spanish colonial past and it’s present state of having one of the heaviest trade routes in the world thanks to the Panama canal. There are a lot of interesting dishes that I could make… if I actually knew where I could get my hands on some yucca and culantro in the current state of pandemic. Sadly that ruled out making the national soup of sancocho, but there were more than enough options for me to pick from.

Main: Tamal de Olla

Tamales are one of those dishes that you see on lists of foods for all countries in Central America. I’ve had them only once before, and that was nearly six years ago. It was only with my first cooking of Venezuela (and my wonderful neighbour) that I knew what to look for when it came to the right sort of cornmeal to make Central American dishes – and even them I have been mostly been making my own bastardised version of arepas.

Traditional tamales are steamed inside a corn husk or a banana/plantain leaf which has always stopped me from trying to make my own. Then I found out that there is a Panamanian version whose name translates to ‘tamale of the oven’. Thanks to this recipe by The World Cook I have been able to make what is basically a tamale pie – which is pretty damned delicious.

In between a thin cornmeal bottom and a thicker cornmeal top, you have a filling containing bell peppers, onion, olives, capers and chicken that has been pre-soaked in red wine. There is also a delicious sauce which included a hastily improvised version of recaito, a flavour base that ended up being mostly coriander leaf. Of course we couldn’t eat the whole thing in one go, so that’s a quick lunch ready for tomorrow. Just wish I didn’t have to get the cornmeal in via a special order.

Like I said at the beginning, I got a big pack of chicken meaning I am able to make two food country foods in a row. The food I am making for the next country won’t make a lot of sense on the face of it, but it’s a fun recipe and I have a hankering for some homemade pizza.

XL Popcorn – Underground

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 861/1009Title: Underground
Director: Emir Kusturica
Year: 1995
Country: Yugoslavia

When a movie on the 1001 list finds itself featured on the 366 Weird Movies site – you know that, no matter what you think of the movie, it’s going to at least be an interesting watch. Almost immediately, the weirdness slaps you in the face and you are away on a nearly three hour absurd black dramady with two Yugoslav arms dealers as main characters that are never away from a brass band and death.

It’s one of those movies that is hard to describe because there is a lot of surreal and absurd things happening, whilst the backdrop is incredibly tragic. We start out as the Nazis bomb Belgrade in World War Two, we continue in the Cold War as the bulk of the cast are tricked into living underground manufacturing weapons thinking that the war against fascism still rages on and finally we end up in a surreal version of the Balkans War – which was filmed during the same war was then released two months before the genocide at Srebrenica.

There is so much recent history wrapped up in this film, whose final act has been condemned by many depending on your interpretation on whether it’s meant to be real (if weird) or a surrealistic series of thoughts by on of the characters as to how he sees their lives having played out in the then-current political climate. Either way you interpret it, this final divisive act isn’t really needed and – for me – was the barrier that stopped me from giving it a perfect score.

The first two parts (which admittedly make up two and a half hours of the nearly three hour runtime) are absolutely incredible. Some critics online say this is what would happen if Fellini had made a war film… and they aren’t wrong. This is a film where of the opening scenes is the bombing of a zoo which results in a war-torn Belgrade having an elephant steal shoes from a windowsill. It is also a film with a lengthy wedding scene in an underground bunker which ends after a chimpanzee fires a mortar shell from a tank.

Like, you cannot describe this film without it sounding like a fever dream and that is what I loved about this film – and what makes the final thirty minutes such a problem. Having the central conflict of the characters coming from the imprisonment and cheerful slavery of everyone who knows and loves them is such a dark premise – yet you end up laughing out loud multiple times because of just how bizarre things get and how brilliantly played the lead characters are.

Do I want to see more films by Emir Kusturica? Absolutely, because for the fault of the final act and some of his politics – Underground was extraordinary. Am I going to view them with The Death of the Author in mind so I can enjoy them without thinking too hard about his intent? Yes, because I think that if I see this spark in other films of his I know I am going to enjoy them immensely.

XL Popcorn – My Left Foot

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 860/1009Title: My Left Foot
Director: Jim Sheridan
Year: 1989
Country: Ireland

Now I have seen all three of Daniel Day-Lewis’ Oscar winning roles – and wow there is definitely no way he could have lost this one. In his role as Christy Brown, the writer-painter who grew up in Dublin with 10+ siblings and cerebral palsy, he is absolutely extraordinary. So was Hugh O’Conor as young Christy – who is able to stand up to the level Day-Lewis sets later in the film.

Reading just the synopsis, it would be easy to just dismiss My Left Foot as just another piece of Oscar bait. Now, whilst there is clearly a lot in this film that is a bit ‘worthy’ (especially the ending), it is able to keep it’s feet pretty much rooted in reality. It doesn’t quite go into the deep darkness of Distant Voices, Still Lives but there is still a lot of darkness here.

There is a lot of love in Brown’s upbringing, but there is no escaping of what happens to the money when you have more siblings than a football team. Also, whilst there is acceptance within his own family, that isn’t always the case outside the family home. As much as he grows to be able to express himself through painting, and later writing, he struggles to form friendships and romantic relationships.

In a depiction of someone who overcomes pretty much everything live can throw at you, there is a tendency for a character like this to be written as a Mary Sue. The reason that this film works so well is that Christy Brown is far from perfect. There is an extreme amount of resentment and frustration here that we see him express, supress and overcome throughout his life. However, through all this there is so much love that he shows – especially towards his mother (Brenda Fricker is fantastic) and that he wants to show to the woman who is able to give him a chance – as indicated at the end of the film.

Now, having read a bit more about Brown’s life after the end of the film, I can definitely say that it put a bit of a dampener on what was meant to be an uplifting ending about him finally finding a woman who would marry him. Look it up for yourself, his eventual marriage (and early death by choking) is horrifying – really wish the real Christy Brown could have had the Hollywood ending that Jim Sheridan directed for him.