Category Archives: In Progress

Acclaimed Albums – The Band by The Band

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 139/250Title: The Band
Artist: The Band
Year: 1969
Position: #55

Am I the one who thinks there was an opportunity wasted with the title of this release? I mean, as a name for the group The Band was always a bit on the nose. So someone please tell me why they went for an eponymous release at this point rather than going for The Album or The LP.  Well, they didn’t so here we are with their second album: The Band.

It’s been nearly a year since I listened to Music From The Big Pink, which is about the same time that passed between the releases. Where their debut went between genres, The Band is far more fixated on being a roots rock/pre-Americana release. That isn’t by any means calling this album limited in genre; there’s enough variation to keep things interesting.

Let’s take ‘Rag Mama Rag’ for instance. It’s the song that made the most immediate impact on me on the first listen, which might be because it is the most upbeat. There is something about the relentlessly cheerful fiddle and mandolin that makes this song truly sing. Not entirely sure what the song is about, but it feels like it should be something borderline bawdy.

Compare this to ‘Whispering Pines’ and ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ – both slower songs with the latter being one of the more powerful on the album and both having hints of  Procal Harum every now and then.

What truly unites the songs on this album are the stories. It’s described as a loose concept album dealing with themes around the more traditional strand of Americana. It goes beyond a more surface treatment showcasing the different facets of a genre, but instead looks more at the people and tells stories of those who would normally be associated.

It’s a different sort of Americana/country rock take than Sweetheart of the RodeoWhere The Byrds were experimenting and trying to drive this genre forward (essentially giving it a wider audience), The Band were embracing the history and trying to bring to life a genre that was in the process of shifting identities.

What’s the better album? Well I prefer Sweetheart of the Rodeo, but The Band is still a good album. I like this more than Music From The Big Pink though, which would agree with concensus.

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(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Space Brothers

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 27/100Title: Space Brothers
Episodes Aired: 99
Year(s): 2012-2014

If you go into this expecting it to be all rocket ships and space flights, then you’ll be slightly disappointed. Whilst this is technically a science-fiction anime, it is not intergalactic space stations, laser battles and aliens. Instead what you have is a slice of life dramedy telling the story of the two Nanba brothers who dream to go off into space.

Whilst both brothers get their own stories and arcs it is the older brother, Mutta, who is the main protagonist. We begin the series with him at a crossroads in life having been fired from his job as an engineer (he headbutted his manager, Zidane-style). His younger brother, Hibito, is about to fulfil his dream of being the first Japanese man on the moon… and this gets Mutta thinking about his long-abandoned dream of becoming an astronaut.

What follows is 90+ episodes of us watching Mutta training and competing to becoming an astronaut in his own right as he plays catch-up to his younger brother. The anime paints this as being a lot down to luck with Mutta born on the day of a big Japanese football defeat, whilst younger brother Hibito was born on a big football victory.

The idea of luck becomes a running theme. Mutta and Hibito have to compete with many people of equal ability with their luck (and their ability to react to bad luck) being the deciding factors for a lot of their careers. One of the best arcs in the entire show is about how Hibito deals with being stranded in a lunar crater and overcoming the odds to survive on a hostile hunk of rock.

At no point, however, does it feel like they get a raw deal or get too far ahead. The same goes for the huge number of side characters that populate the world of NASA and the Japanese Space Agency. Some, like Serika, achieve their dreams, whilst others achieve dreams they didn’t know they ever had. There are also those who never quite get there… which is a bit like life really.

The main issue with Space Brothers is the same as with Hunter x Hunter – it’s a currently running manga. This means that we are left with a not-so-ending which, whilst it did tie a bunch of plots together, leaves us with Mutta never having reached space after 99 episodes and 2 time skips. On the one hand it feels like an anti-climax as we’ve spent so many hours with him to still have his feet very much on terra firma. On the other hand, Space Brothers tells a far more human storyline and a unique one at that.

 

As of writing this Space Brothers has yet to get a second season to continue on the storyline, but the manga is still going strong. It would be great to see this get another series once the manga has finished. This anime needs a proper conclusion.

XL Popcorn – Lolita

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 627/1007
Title: Lolita
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Year: 1962
Country: UK/USA

I recently had the delights of updating the 1001 Movie page because of the latest edition of the book. For the first time ever, my numbers have remained static as I had seen as many of the entries that came in as those who went out. I still live in hope that there will be a complete overhaul of the list since years like 2011 are chronically under-represented, but I may have watched everything before that happens.

Anyway. How do you make a movie out of Lolita? I know that’s a bastardised version of the tagline, but it’s a valid question. You’re talking about adapting a novel where a grown man has sexual relations with a 12-year-old.  They couldn’t even do that in the 1997 version let alone in the years of the Hays Code. Still, you have to credit Kubrick for trying… and making the compromise of her being played by a 14-15 year old Sue Lyon.

As someone who has read the book, it was interesting to watch Kubrick’s take on it. The biggest issue with this adaptation, at least for me, was the loss of the unreliable narrator. Humbert Humbert is a charmer and charlatan who spins a web of fiction around his real story that he tells through a series of monologues. That was the true beauty of reading Lolita and is incredibly hard to do in visual media. So, I can’t blame Kubrick for leaving it out.

In it’s place Kubrick is a lot more explicit in showing us the Humbert’s cruel and psychotic side. Rather than him narrating his plans to drown his wife (Shelley Winters did wonders with this role) he laughs at the note she leaves declaring her love for him. Similarly, we now have no history or context for Humbert’s hebephila… it just appears that there is something special about Lolita rather than this being a pattern of his. Again, something is lost.

What I cannot deny is the level of acting on display by the four leads. Of course Peter Sellers steals the entire thing because, you know, it’s Peter freakin’ Sellers. However, I have to give huge props to Sue Lyon who is able to stand her group despite the fact that she is surrounded by seasoned actors. Such a pity that her career stalled within a few years of this being released.

I’ve said things that would make it sounds otherwise, but I did enjoy this take on Lolita. It isn’t completely true to the book, but neither was The Shining. In all of these changes I only have one big gripe that I wish would be edited out since we no longer live in the Hays Code world. As a cheap epilogue it is announced that Humbert dies of heart complications as he is awaiting trial (since in Hays Code world a murderer must be seen to be punished or killed). It’s such a throwaway and I cannot help but wonder if it was the inspiration for this sight gag in The Simpsons:

It’s a small thing that marrs the ending of a good film. I didn’t think this was as great as I have been led to believe, but I guess that’s the issue with reading the book first. So much was lost in the translation from book to screen and Lolita suffers for it.

Acclaimed Albums – Sweetheart of the Rodeo by The Byrds

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 138/250Title: Sweetheart of the Rodeo
Artist: The Byrds
Year: 1968
Position: #194

It’s been an awfully long time since I last listened to a country album for this list… and I don’t think any of them have been so honky-tonk as Sweetheart of the Rodeo. This country sound is down to the inclusion of Gram Parsons which, to be honest, doesn’t surprise me now that I’ve read it on Wikipedia.

This marks the third Gram Parsons album (and probably the last) that I have heard for this list – the others being his solo album Grievous Angel and The Gilded Palace of Sin which he recorded as part of The Flying Burrito Brothers. Now that I have listened to Sweetheart of the Rodeo it feels like I have founded the starter Pokémon of the evolution line of alternative country music.

You have the close harmonies and blues piano that would be expected of a country album from this era, but the rock influences are starting to creep in with some of the choices. Closing track ‘Nothing Was Delivered’ works to show the subtleties of what was happening here. Other tracks feel more traditional, but there is a hint of rock here and in ‘One Hundred Years From Now’.

It feels like one of those albums where a well established singer “goes country”. Thing is, this was one of the first times that happened, and so this is a very early example of both that phenomena and of country rock on the whole as a genre. I can certainly see how this album was influential – plus it’s just fun to listen to.

 

XL Popcorn – Bob Le Flambeur

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 626/1007
Title: Bob le flambeur
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Year: 1956
Country: France

There are certain genres of films that require more interest and attention than others because of their tendency to make cuts and  leaps. Film noir is truly the epitome of this.

I remember trying to watch The Big Sleep after staying up late for the Oscars… well to say that Wikipedia was employed regularly to keep me abreast of the developments is an understatement. My lack of attention due to sleep deprivation stopped me from enjoying this film as much as I could have. Still, not the film’s fault. With Bob le flambeur it was quite the opposite.

For a noir film that inspired Ocean’s Eleven due to the casino heist storyline I cannot believe how little this film interested me.  I have a tendency to disproportionately love film noir and yet every scene and attempt at a witticism just left me cold. Maybe it’s the fact that this isn’t a straight noir, but contains some early elements of French New Wave that turned me off? I don’t know.

It’s a pity because I enjoyed the other Melville film that I’ve seen (Le Samourai) and, on the surface, Bob le flambeur is a film that should have ticked a lot of boxes for me. I mean, I started writing this about 2 hours after watching this… and I can’t remember much other than a casual attitude to domestic violence, the idea of a gambler finally getting a win and something to do with lifts stopping at 5 am. That’s the level of impact it made on me.

Oh well, can’t win ’em all.

Let’s Get Literal – David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 40/100Title: David Copperfield
Author: Charles Dickens
Year: 1849-50
Country: UK

Here we are again Mr. Dickens. Of the three books of his on the list David Copperfield is the only one where I haven’t seen any sort of adaptation. It made for a different read since, with Bleak HouseI could retreat into thinking of Gillian Anderson, Denis Lawson or Burn Gorman. It was a different experience to try and do my own internal world-building with a Dickens novel.

Now what do I want to say about David Copperfield? One thing that I read before I started on this book is that it is partially autobiographical. It becomes apparent very quickly that David is Dickens.

I know this is a classic and all that jazz, but David Copperfield really does fall into that autobiographical trap of making the character of David Copperfield whiter than white. I mean, Dickens can create some amazing characters but David is too honourable, too nice and just a bit of a wet blanket. Honestly, when I got to long passages of David’s train of thought I just skim read in order to get to something a bit more interesting.

And here’s the thing, David Copperfield is an incredibly interesting and varied book. It takes a look at the life of a man who overcame quite a lot (albeit not as much as the average Victorian) and ends up with true love, true friends and a good position in life.

It just bugs me that one of the main reasons for him finally making his way through is down to having a relative with money. Sure, some of the big leaps are down to Copperfield’s attention and social skills, but the only reason he doesn’t end up dying in a workhouse is thanks to his aunt. Don’t get me wrong I love his aunt; she’s spunky, outspoken and very defensive when donkeys attack her patch of green…  but it rang false that he was able to walk to her house in Kent despite never actually meeting her. Artistic license I guess.

Being a Dickens novel he really does deal with the societal darkness of his time. People going to prison to debt, domestic abuse, drownings, all types of death and major characters emigrating to Australia because that’s all they can hope for.  And yes despite the incredible darkness at the hands of Mr Murdstone and Uriah Heep, David Copperfield is ultimately an uplifting read. It’s hard not to smile when characters like Mr Dick and Miss Mowcher are around.

So yea, with David Copperfield crossed off I have now read the 10 longest books of this list. I am in two minds as to whether I should continue going down the line from longest to shortest or to give myself license to jump around a bit more. I guess the question is: do I read Middlemarch, To Kill A Mockingbird or The Handmaid’s Tale next?

Good Eatin’ – Bomba Paella

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Calasparra Bomba Rice

Why is this rice out of the bag and in a Tupperware container? Well, the hub might have dropped this cloth bag in a pool of water so I had to quickly save the rice not touched by Fairy liquid. The bag itself was kept for purely photographic reasons.

Obviously I had to make some form of paella with this rice. It’s what they would have done in Spain after all. It’s highly possible that I had some of this when I was in Barcelona and didn’t even know it. Probably not though. I guess that’s something that would have been highlighted on the menus.

I am going to get this out there right now – I know this isn’t proper paella. For one thing it’s made in a wok so the heat distribution is off, I stirred this way too much (otherwise the hub would complain about the washing up) and I made this with a paprika chicken sausage. I guess with things like this it’s more appropriate to call this a Spanish risotto? I would say Spanish fried rice, but there wasn’t a lot of frying of rice going on here.

Now the killer question: did I notice any difference in the taste or texture with this special rice? No. Sadly I did not. It’s fine though because unlike some of the food items I’ve gotten this didn’t cost too much more than the more common brands. It’s just that I didn’t notice too much of a difference between this and Arborio or Carnaroli.

Progress: 672/751

Level One – Ico

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 70/100Title: Ico
Developer: Team Ico
Original Platform: PlayStation 2
Year: 2001

Every now and again an article gets published asking the age old question: Are video games art? It’s something I have talked about before when I played Journey and  I find myself coming to this question yet again with Ico. 

For the record, I am very much on the side ‘video games being art’ in the same way as music and cinema. Games like Ico just make the argument a lot easier to make than something like Naughty Bear or anything Barbie.

There is so much good in this game that makes this an exemplar of games as art. The way that Team Ico used a ‘subtractive design’ method to make this game just helps it to stand out. The villains are just shadows, the dialogue is at a minimum and the lighting is between soft and darkness (it’s a bitch to play if your television has even a slight glare on it). This method was done to help with the immersion and it really works.

At its core Ico is a game about ‘boy-meets-girl’. The way that they call out to each other, rescue each other and run through this old castle holding hands helps to build this relationship between you as a gamer and them as your avatars. Sure, there are times you want to scream at the girl (the pathfinding in Ico is far from perfect), but ultimately you need her and you want to protect her. So mission accomplished.   

However, being an ‘art game’ doesn’t allow you to escape from some criticism. Ico ends up playing as an incredibly long escort mission… and I don’t think there is anybody that enjoys those too much. Also there’s the combat.

On some level I appreciate that the focus is on the puzzles and how to navigate this beautiful castle in a one-person co-op game, but the combat (and the lack of variety in the combat) just added unneeded pieces of frustration in an otherwise atmospheric and mysterious world. The worst part of this were the times the enemies would spawn to kidnap your companion whilst you are separated – it just felt cheap to get a game over because you didn’t memorise the route.

Still, there is no denying the importance of Ico. There’s a reviewer that said (and I am paraphrasing here) that whilst Ico is by no means a perfect game, it is a game of perfect moments. It’s hard to disagree with that as you find your characters running hand in hand in the grass towards the iconic windmill.

Acclaimed Albums – The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 137/250Title: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
Artist: The Kinks
Year: 1968
Position: #174

Can we take a moment to moment to appreciate, what might be, the most English album title ever. It’s one of those references that I don’t think many would necessarily understand outside of the UK. Then again we are listening to an album from a time where music still received separate UK and US releases. Also, I doubt the Kinks would have given too much of a damn if this reference was lost on people.

For whatever reason I have always somewhat discounted the Kinks. Maybe I thought of them being just another old band. Maybe young me just confused them with the Kooks. Who knows at this point. What I do know is that having listened to the Kinks as part of the 1001 songs list I should walk into this album with an open mind.

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society may be one of the best albums that I have heard for the Acclaimed Albums list in a long time. I think that the last time that I had such an immediate positive reaction would have been to another album with a similarly long name: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m NotInterestingly, these albums have a fair bit in common.

Both albums contain a fairly lengthy track-list made up of short songs and both are written fairly tongue in cheek. There is a wit in Ray Davies’ songwriting that make these short, pithy songs a lot of fun to listen to. Sure this is an album dripping in Beatles influence, but when that’s done well that isn’t a bad thing. I mean that didn’t hurt Oasis, now did it?

At the time The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society barely made a dent. It had some critical appeal, but with the public had moved on from this safer rock sound. 1968 was the time where harder and bluesier rock was starting to take control of the charts. The year of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and ‘Born to be Wild’ so it’s possible that a gentler sound like this was going out of fashion. Sure, the Beatles still got a number one album that year… but they’re the Beatles and, by that point, were exempt from things like fashion.

However, this is what is great about critics and with many of them having the last word on this. The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society has outlasted a lot of the other albums from the same year. For a reason – it’s just good music, if only 18 months too late.

 

XL Popcorn – Persona

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 625/1007
Title: Persona
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Year: 1966
Country: Sweden

With Persona I am now halfway through the ten Ingmar Bergan flicks. The only one I watched for this blog was The Hour of the Wolf… which I don’t think I really got. I still liked it, but it wasn’t the horror movie that I would have expected for a Halloween viewing.

Speaking of horror, Persona is another of Bergman’s films where I’ve seen horror listed as a sub-genre. This time I did not take that too seriously and I think it helped. What I didn’t quite expect was for this to be such an art film. I know that The Seventh Seal has the chess game with Death and that Fanny and Alexander has elements of magic… but this takes artiness to the next level. Not just because of that crucifixion clip, but in how Persona keeps breaking the fourth wall and playing with the idea of this being a film.

It’s really hard to describe Persona. It’s one of those films where I have seen a large number of interpretations that all have their own merits. On the surface of it you have a film about a nurse (Bebe Andersson) looking after an actress (Liv Ullman) who has had some sort of breakdown. For most of the film they are isolated in a remote cottage on the coast where the void left by actress’s silence leads to the nurse filling it with her own secrets.

As a description that is completely pants, mainly because such a surface description for a film like Persona is utterly pointless. The great fun with watching a film like this is to see where Bergman and his imagery takes you. He creates such an atmosphere of uncertainty in that everything you see feels like it is part of some grand deception and in the end that is what Persona is. Well, to me it is.

Having seen this I subscribe to the interpretation that Alma (the nurse) and Elisabet (the actress) are one and the same person. Bergman frames so many of the shots so that their faces overlap and when we are introduced to Elisabet’s husband he mistakes Alma to be his wife… despite the fact that they are standing with each other.

The question, therefore, becomes who is the real person and who is the persona? Or are there two people with one projecting on the other? For me, it being just Elisabet in that cabin with a nurse makes sense. The character of Alma comes from Elisabet’s subconscious and her regrets. If the beginning and ending is to be interpreted a certain way – I think that Elisabet hurt this son she never wanted and had some sort of breakdown.

Through Alma’s monologues Elisabet is coming to terms with the fact that, unlike the roles she plays on stage, being a mother is a role and a truth that she can’t excise from her life. It’s like she has been trying to reject the gender norms of female parenthood and this experience is the whiplash of it all coming crashing down on her.

Then again those are my thoughts. Persona doesn’t have a single interpretation and that’s what makes it a great film. It stays with you and makes for a great talking point.