Category Archives: In Progress

Level One – God of War

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 67/100Title: God of War
Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studio
Original Platform: Playstation 2
Year: 2005

Of the three main God of War games it is only the first one that ended up in the Top 100 list, and it is a long way ahead of the other instalments. Fair to say that this must, therefore, be the best game of the three.

Now, if you are into gaming you will know the basic idea behind God of War. You play as Kratos, a former Spartan general who has become the go-to dogsbody for the Greek Gods. Why? As penance for killing his own wife and child (after being driven made by the god of war himself) and to try and rid himself of his haunting nightmares.

Kratos is an interesting character as, in many ways, he is your quintessential meathead. Then again he is also slightly schizoid, ultra-violent and has a Gorgon’s head that he uses to turn enemies to stone. Sure he has slightly emotional moments (nightmares about your dead wife and daughter tends to do that to you) but, on the whole he is a badass.

As someone who LOVES Greek mythology this is a game I have been looking forward to playing for a while. I knew that this game would end up taking liberties with the mythologies – I don’t see a reason why since there is such a wealth of characters and monsters that would be interesting if left as they were – but I admit to doing a few heavy eye rolls.

The biggest of all the eyerolls happened in the desert section where you are tracking down sirens. Sirens life on the coast and, in many cases, are synonymous with mermaids. So if you want to put a siren in the place that would kill them the quickest then the desert is probably your best bet. Now, I did enjoy how they were used… but did it have to be a desert?

Still. As a game that is essentially Bayonetta meets Hercules I had a really great time playing this. Thanks to Zero Punctuation I know a fair bit about the storyline for the next two games and, honestly, I am looking forward to giving those a whirl once I expand this out from the Top 100 (should I complete this!).

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Acclaimed Albums – The Stooges by The Stooges

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 131/250Title: The Stooges
Artist: The Stooges
Year: 1969
Position: #159

In my playthrough of the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, I have gotten to the point where punk music is in it’s developmental stage – otherwise known as protopunk. In my most recent post (where I just finished 1967) I am at the point where garage rock is just about over the threshold into protopunk – which makes listening to The Stooges all the more interesting.

Here we are 1-2 years later and The Stooges is an album that sounds entirely different to what has come before. It’s too polished and well-engineered to feel like a garage rock album and there are times that this album feels a bit too subdued to be a full-blown (proto)punk album. In fact, you have rock songs from the dramedy musical Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that are more hardcore in their own way: see ‘What A Rush To Be A Bride’.

This isn’t me disparaging the music. It’s just interesting to see how far punk rock and hard rock have come as genres. There is some great work on here with ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ and ‘No Fun’, but we are still from Ramones territory.

It is my understanding that when I end up listening to their second album (Funhouse) it will be  far more visceral and, well, punk experience. So it’s going to be interesting to get to that point. For now, it’s actually been an eye-opener to hear Iggy Pop when he was younger. I mean, nowadays he is doing TV and billboard adverts with his shirt off and… it’s just difficult to take him seriously. Now? It’s a bit easier.

Good Eatin’ – Ajowan Parathas

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Ajowan

A major obstacle for this list (other than the  seasonality and locality of ingredients) is the abundance of names and spellings that they can have. It makes things like recipes quite difficult to locate when you are looking for ajowan, bishop’s weed, carom seeds and ajwain.

For whatever reason I settled on trying to make ajowan parathas using this recipe from WeRecipes. I know that they are meant to be more layered, softer and fluffier than what I ended up making, but I still enjoyed making them. Also, you just learn how to make these things. By the fourth and final one I was really starting to get there in making something that resembled a paratha.

It might not have helped that the only flour that I had in the house was spelt flour from when I made that wattleseed soda bread. Still, hey ho they were still jolly nice.

So what did the ajowan add? Firstly, the knowledge of what that identified spice is in Bombay Mix. I’d never been able to figure what those seeds actually were – and now I do. Always learning right?

Apart from knowledge the ajowan added touch of floral heat to the parathas. The word that immediately comes to mind is resinous, but that feels like such a negative word for something that really made these ‘parathas’ taste that little bit special.

Also, I now have a quick recipe to whip out if I want to make mini flatbread pizza bases from scratch. I know this is not what the take home of this recipe is necessarily meant to be, but it works for me.

Progress: 629/751

XL Popcorn – Andrei Rublev

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 595/1007
Title: Andrei Rublev
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Year: 1966
Country: Soviet Union

At the moment films are a bit like busses – after going a while barely seeing any list films I am suddenly making a few posts in rather quick succession. Not that I am complaining, in fact anything that will help me towards completing this list is always welcome (just maybe not another wrist injury).

Andrei Rublev was watched today because, according to iCheckMovies, it was the biggest film that I had yet to see. It’s one of those I have been avoiding because of the 200+ minute runtime and it being about a medieval Russian monk. It’s not that I haven’t seen good films with a religious bent (Ordet is the one that immediately comes to mind), but 3+ hours is a long time to spend with a monk in bleak surroundings (like in Red Psalm… I think… can’t remember too much about that film).

I think I gave Andrei Rublev a bit of an injustice there. I mean, sure, it is a long film with a monk as a central character surrounded by the bleakness of medieval Russia – but it is also an interesting look at Russian history. A completely rearranged Russian history in order to satisfy Tarkovsky’s vision, but still interesting nonetheless.

The whole film is split into 8 story chapters and a final epilogue showing off the paintings of the titular monk. To be honest the first few of them drag a bit and can feel a little bit preachy with the politics of it all, but this does change in the second third of the film. For one thing there’s a massacre executed by a Tartaric army, which is slightly marred by a small sequence of a horse falling down stairs… I didn’t like that so much.

This then leads into the final and longest act of the movie – surrounding the casting of a new bronze bell. Doesn’t sound too interesting, but it acts as a incredibly well done culmination of the previous two hours. Especially the tension that builds when they have to test the bell out.

To many critics Andrei Rublev is one of the best films ever made. Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to agree with this sentiment, it is one of those films that I feel will stand me in good stead when talking with other film lovers.

Let’s Get Literal – Ulysses by James Joyce

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 38/100Title: Ulysses
Author: James Joyce
Year: 1922
Country: Ireland

Remember what it was like being in a literature class and talking about books in a way that you never would as an adult. Symbolism, interpretations, allusions – all things that the average person doesn’t think about when reading a book, all things that have put thousands of people off of reading fiction when they leave school.

However, there are a good number of books where discussing things like that would help. There are fewer books that have been deliberately written in a such a way as to encourage critics and literary experts to paw over them for years to follow. Then there is Ulysses – which I think defies description.

I could say that it is meant to be the definitive modernist novel, but that doesn’t mean much and I honestly enjoyed In Search of Lost Time a whole lot more. At least that had more of a story than just the day in the life of a pretty normal man.

This isn’t to say that Ulysses wasn’t an interesting read. I do wonder, however, if I should have had my Kindle in one hand and a Lett’s Guide in the other. Would have been awkward on the train, but at least I would have understood more than 3% of the references Joyce and his characters make.

However, the genre hopping and the extreme amount of the streams of consciousness in this book really did turn me off. Call me an old-fashioned troglodyte, but I kinda like to know what is happening in the book I am reading. Instead of, you know, one that veers off into a play for 10% of the book and then packs that time with hallucinations so you don’t know which way is up. Oh and then we finish with a long section of block text that has no punctuation.

So yea, the phrase ‘what was that’ comes to mind. Might have to go to some manga for a while for a bit of a reset.

XL Popcorn – Vidas Secas

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 594/1007
Title: Vidas Secas (Barren Lives)
Director: Nelson Pereira dos Santos
Year: 1963
Country: Brazil

Well, that was bleak. I have to say that after the series of unfortunate events that was Greed I probably should have gone for something a bit more uplifting. probably shows how important it is to do just that tiniest bit of research before settling into a film.

To say that pretty much everything about this film was ‘bleak’ would probably be an extreme understatement. This isn’t the sort of bleak as you would have in a film like Raise the Red Lantern or Russian film The Return. No this is actual genuine bleakness in terms of both the crushing of the spirit and the bleached cinematography of the world around them.

The Cliff Notes of this film is that you have a family of 5 (yes I am including the dog) who are running from a famine and try to find a place where they can earn some money and scratch out a living. Of course, being a film that tries to show the negative part of the live, everything just goes to the shit.

The farmer that employs them pays them less because of ‘interest’, the taxman becomes aware of them because the father wants to sell the leg of their slaughtered pig and, of course, one of them ends up being physically beaten by police.

At the moment, for the TV show list, I am watching City of Men – another example of a Brazilian-made piece that doesn’t exactly show the country in a positive light. I could also say the same of Limite and O Pagador de PromessasI know these are the sorts of films that will end up on lists such as the 1001 lists, but it must speak to something deeper if the films and TV shows that make waves outside your own country speak about your poverty and general injustices.

Vidas Secas is not the easiest of watches. I honestly question how much it was worth the time seeing how it just made me feel a bit crap about the world. Since the hub is away tonight I might start on my next anime to cheer me up… at least I hope Hajime no Ippo is able to do that.

🎻♫♪ – The Isle of the Dead by Sergei Rachmaninov

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 20/501Title: The Isle of the Dead
Composer: Sergei Rachmaninov
Nationality: Russian
Year:
 1909

Now, here we have a piece that is so far and away from The Western Wynde Mass that it’s hard to think of them being in the same category together. I guess that speaks to the breath of classical music as a genre.

Where most of what I have written about so far is based on some aspect of religion, The Isle of the Dead is actually inspired by a black and white photograph of the painting of the same name. Apparently Rachmaninov was disappointed when he later saw a colour version of the painting as it didn’t quite fit the music he’d created.

For the first time in this list I have come across a tone poem – a classical piece that musically tells a short story. In the case of The Isle of the Dead it tells the story of the journey to the titular island.

The entire piece feels mysterious and almost macabre. Seeing how the destination of the piece is the Isle of the Dead it makes total sense that there is a grand and almost maudlin feel to it. Most of the time Rachmaninov uses the music to feel of rowing and breathing through an almost regular rhythm. It remains because most of the piece is spent actually getting to the island.

Nearer the end of the piece it swells and grows into something more euphoric, which is a bit odd considering what the piece is called. Then again the picture is partially based on a good looking Greek island, and who wouldn’t be euphoric at reaching a gorgeous destination after a long time rowing. I have seen some interpretations that paint this as an escape, but I like the idea of it being a sense of relief after a period of toil and/or dread.

It was nice to listen to something different again. I guess next time it’s back to some motets.

Good Eatin’ – Stuffed Squash with Herbes de Provence

They say necessity is the mother of invention. For me, the 1001 food list and my current push to lose weight (and hopefully never have to do this weight loss schtick ever again) means that I am feeling a bit more restricted. Sure, I did have half a slice of Dobos torte last week… but this isn’t about that.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Dieimg_4795Food item: Herbes de Provence

Herbes de Provence is very much in the same company as Shichimi Togarashi and Ras-el-Hanout since it is a blend rather than a single herb/spice. The name comes from the French region of Provence where this blend of herbs (which can include savory, rosemary thyme and marjoram) is an integral part of their cooking.

I have nothing traditionally Provencal on the dinner menu (although I once did manage to make a pissaladière from scratch with decent results) I figured that I would be able to substitute this into another recipe that requires some dried herbs – enter a recipe for stuffed butternut squash.

img_4796

Right, so I actually did start for a recipe for this one, but a lot of substitutions later I ended up with this monster squash which (upon only eating half of what you see here) left me feeling so full that I skipped dinner later in the evening.

Ingredients (originally served 2… I think more like 3-4 if I am being honest):

  • 1 large butternut squash, halved lengthways and deseeded
  • low-calorie spray oil
  • 500g lean turkey mince
  • 1 tbsp onion granules
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 x 400 g tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsps tomato puree
  • 2 tbsps herbes de Provence
  • 2 handfuls grated low-fat cheddar cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C
  2. Scoop out as much of the butternut squash insides as possible (this hurts after a while). Finely chop the insides and set aside.
  3. Spray the empty halves with some oil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes so that it is tender.
  4. As the squash bakes spray a large saucepan (I used a wok) with oil and cook the turkey mince through. Add the onion granules and garlic powder and stir in for 2 minutes.
  5. Add in the tins of tomatoes, herbs de Provence, tomato puree and the set aside squash insides. This needs to simmer for 20-30 minutes so the squash insides are no longer hard.
  6. Spoon the meat mixture into the roasted squash halves. Scatter cheese on top and bake for a further 15 minutes so that the squash skin has blistered nicely.

Progress: 628/751

What’s On TV – Heartbreak High

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 189/501
Title: Heartbreak High
Episodes Aired: 210
Episodes Watched: 13 (it’s all I could be bothered with…)
Year(s): 1994-1999
Country: Australia

I am going to start this off with the acknowledgement that I am, no longer, among the target demographic for a show like Heartbreak High. Not that I ever really watched teen soaps/dramas, but still I was a teen once and many teens in Australia (and apparently the Netherlands) would tune in on a regular basis.

However, as an adult and a former teacher, I could not bring myself to enjoy this show. In the vast majority of the situations I found myself on the side of parents and teachers since a lot of the conflict I saw was, unsurprisingly, childish. No – you should not be getting that motorbike when you are in high school. No – you should not give up school because that girl caught your eye. No – stop complaining about how this subject is irrelevant to your life, it matters because without good exams you are going to be scuppered.

Now, there were storylines that did peak my interest every now and then. Like how there was one student having to look after her siblings since her mother went back to Latin America to find the father. When the show managed to tackle issues and NOT make it feel like an after school special, it was okay. Otherwise it just felt immature, preachy and a bit too convenient at times.

Still, this isn’t meant to be the 1001 best shows, but those shows which have done something different or original.  I guess that this is the Australian version of Hollyoaks… and I have to say that I am not looking forward to that one when it’s name come out of the Disney bucket.

XL Popcorn – Greed

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 593/1007
Title: Greed
Director: Erich Von Stroheim
Year: 1924
Country: USA

Greed is a hard movie to write about. I mean, how many films are there which have so many different cuts and yet have the original director’s cut be such an impossible dream for cinephiles. I went for the free out of copyright version of Greed, which is among the shorter versions available… so that doesn’t mean the 4 hour version that has been pieced together.

As someone who ranks Sunset Boulevard as their most favourite film of all time it is always interesting to see one of Erich Von Stroheim’s directorial efforts. I have to say that Greed is a bit better than Queen Kelly. However, I can also see how much better it would have been if it hadn’t been butchered by the studios.

The central thread of Greed  – a story of how greed destroys people – remains mostly intact. I say ‘mostly’ because there are still noticeably massive jumps and some plot holes. I can only imagine how much richer this film would have been if Von Stroheim’s original vision had been left intact. I have to say it could have done with some of the humorous bits that had been excised.

As it stands Greed is an interesting reminder of some of the madness of early Hollywood films. It’s been so long since I last saw one of these bit 1920s films where caution was thrown to the wind and if 14 people had to be hospitalised in the process of getting a scene finished then so be it.

It doesn’t rank as highly on the insanity stakes as Intolerance, but when you read some of the stories about how this was made… you get pulled into a Wikipedia hole. Like how the director wanted to have real knives thrown at his main actor. Madness. Then again, this whole film is about a sort of madness so it’s rather fitting.