Tag Archives: in progress

XL Popcorn – Detour

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 613/1007
Title: Detour
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Year: 1945
Country: USA

On the surface it Detour is a really odd movie to find a place on so many best of lists. It has a runtime of just over an hour, had a very rushed production and features two fairly one-note actors. However, it just works. It probably shouldn’t work, but it does.

However, this film probably would have ended up nearly forgotten if it wasn’t for the final third. The lead actor in this, Tom Neal, is not a lead actor. Honestly, I’m not entirely convinced that he could ever have had a career outside of B-movies. So that means most of this film just feels rather rickety. And then Ann Savage shows up.

As with Tom Neal, this is an actress that didn’t have a fruitful career. She spends the entire movie with a scowl on her face and a series of pissed-off snarky one-liners coming out of her mouth. Her presence onscreen is magnetic and resulted in me laughing out loud a number of times.

So, yes, Ann Savage turns this B-movie noir from being a curiosity to something generally interesting. Also, it provides an example of a non-major studio release that was able to garner some degree of notice. I can’t think of how many examples of this there would be from the 1940s outside of weird sci-fi.

I guess what also helped was how this film depicts a man being completely destroyed by the randomness. He’s not a bad person, but he ends up broke and being implicated in two murders. The world makes him his bitch and watching it unfurl for an hour was good fun. Probably not a classic, but a good example of its genre.

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Good Eatin’ – Titaura from Nepal

On the final day of a four day stint assisting a training event I got the following text: Got a package for you from Nepal.

This text was the best news I had received all week. I know it’s a bit pathetic, but I was so excited to come home and open it. I mean, how often does a package arrive from Nepal?

A few weeks earlier I had ordered myself some packs of titaura from Titaura.biz. This is a type of sweet that can only be found in Nepal and thanks to many a fruitless Google search for a British vendor I just buckled and imported some. I somehow cannot see me visiting Nepal (this could change) so if I am to complete this food list I had to import it.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die Food item: Titaura

To make the most out of the import price I made sure to buy three different types of titaura. Going clockwise from the top you have ‘Round’, ‘Lamo’ and ‘Lapsi Chatpat’ – there are flavour differences between them and I will get to those in a second.

In order to keep with the description in the book I made sure to go for titaura made from lapsi fruit. It’s a fruit that grows well in the cold mountainous areas and, if Wikipedia is anything to go by, look like green potatoes. Although that could just be the picture.

To make the titaura the lapsi fruit pulp is mixed with sugar, salt and spices before being dried and made into the candy pieces. As a European it is the addition of spices that made this a food item to be sought out and it is worth noting that the amount and types of spice depends on the candy.

Starting off with the flat ‘Lamo’ variety – this is the least flavoured of the three varieties I bought, therefore gives me the best taste of the lapsi fruit. There is a sourness and sweetness to the fruit that makes this piece of candy taste like dried apricot. There is a hint of salt and an afterburn of added chilli.

Next is the cubed ‘Lapsi Chatpat’. The heat of the chilli is kicked up a notch with there being an immediate burn that is complimented by spices that are both earthy and aniseedy. The sourness of the fruit is still there but it takes a bit of a backseat. Of the three this has the most satifying chew.

Finally is the ‘Round’ candy which looks like a narrow fruit rollup. This is the one with the most complex spice profile and I would not be surprised if panch phoron spice mix (especially nigella and cumin) had been added to this. It is the driest, least sour and least salty of the three. This probably has the same amount of heat as the lapsi chatpat.

Of the three I think the ‘Lamo’ was my favourite because it’s the fruitiest, but the others are still interesting. Now excuse me as I get a glass of milk because eating all this titaura has turned my mouth into a furnace. I never thought of candy as spicy… turns out I was wrong.

Progress: 663/751

XL Popcorn – The 400 Blows

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 612/1007
Title: The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups)
Director: François Truffaut
Year: 1959
Country: France

I swear, films are like busses. I watch them sparingly for a while and then suddenly I am devouring them. It’s been a long time since I have had both the appetite and the opportunity to watch so many movies. Long may this continue as, otherwise, I will be doing this list for another 10-15 years.

So here I am back in the world of French cinema with one of the most acclaimed French films of all time by one of France’s most acclaimed directors. Not necessarily a guarantee of my enjoyment, but it payed off in this instance.

The 400 Blows is the first in, what ended being, a series of films chronicling the life of Antoine Doinel. At this point he is about 14-15 years old and later films (which all feature the same actor in the role) see him well into adulthood. This still remains the most acclaimed, however, as it is a film that helped usher in the style of French New Wave cinema and helped to make a star out of child actor Jean-Pierre Léaud.

To say that the whole fill hangs on the performance of Léaud is an understatement. Everything around him functions well, but it is his performance as the delinquent adolescent that carries the whole thing. For me, the scene that epitomises his strength in this film is where he is talking to a child psychiatrist. Shoulders up, he projects some confidence but it’s his actions with his arms that demonstrate just how nervous the character is. This could just be happenstance, but it really reinforces his vulnerability.

In essence, The 400 Blows is about a neglected boy acting out. He was never wanted by his mother (and she lets him know this) or by his stepfather. Thanks to this and a bunch of other circumstances Antoine runs away from home, steals and ends up in a juvenile detention centre.

Rather than dumping all the details of Antoine’s neglect early in the film, we learn more and more as we watch. At the beginning it just seems like he is a naughty boy and even as Antoine’s behaviour deteriorates Léaud is still able to generate that much-needed sympathy of someone who has been failed on multiple counts.

Whilst I won’t be including it in my list of best films ever this was still an interesting watch and a good marker for when that French New Wave movement began. I know I am not entirely in the position to compare, but if I had to pick between a Godard or Truffaut film it would be Truffaut all the way.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Death Note

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 25/100Title: Death Note
Episodes Aired: 37
Year(s): 2006-2007

As part of my job I find myself helping out at training events. Some of them, like the one I just finished, take me away from home for 3-4 days. Every time I go away I make the unrealistic assumption that I will be able watch films, read books and generally make a dent in my lists.

So yes, that didn’t happen. Instead I used my limited free time to finish watching Death Note and, seeing how my room is next to the path where the golf karts are driven, I managed to watch a lot of it in the morning before the events began.

This has left me somewhat bereft since this is a series I have been looking forward to seeing for ages and I am done with it almost as soon as I started it. I went into it with the baggage that many view this as one of (if not the) greatest anime series ever produce, and left it agreeing with that sentiment.

The idea behind Death Note is simple, but incredibly effective. If you were given the power to kill anyone in the world just by writing their name in a book – what would you do. This is the question that Light Yagami (the central character) faces. This is a boy (later man) who is of genius level intellect and, as such, is incredibly bored. This book, the titular Death Note, provides him with a self-imposed project to rid the world of all bad people by using the book to kill them.

Thinking on it now, it’s a decision that I think a lot of people would take – especially if you are a believer in capital punishment. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do. Is like to think I’d just not do anything… but that leads into the big theme of power and megalomania.

The sense of entitlement that this Death Note affords its user is astounding. You become judge, jury and executioner all in one – whilst also being able to remain anonymous. That is… until someone notices that suddenly all these criminals are dying at once. Enter L – a genius detective and truly one of the greatest characters ever put into manga and anime.

As engaging as Light is, it is the relationship between Light and L that elevates this story to almost masterpiece. Story arcs become chess games and genius ones at that. Thanks to the many rules and abilities of the Death Note it is fantastic watching these two try to outdo each other and force the other one out of the game.

[Spoilers will now follow]

It is therefore the big weakness of this show that the final third of the series is without L. I think a lot of people have written on this, but for those few episodes after L’s departure the story just starts to struggle. It does pick up again and end up with a final two episodes that are basically perfect (especially when watched in quick succession), but the spectre of L just hangs over everything.

However, this show going off a cliff is still better than a lot of other shows trying their hardest. Also considering that this show ended up writing itself into a corner, the departure of L was the only option, plus it allows for some great symmetry as L’s protégé Near is (in the final episodes) able to do what L could not.

At this point I really should point out the quality of the voice acting. I watched the dub because, again, it was highly acclaimed and I could not fault it. The voice actors for Light, L and the shinigamis (oh yes, I forgot to mention there are death gods in this) are outstanding. I particularly have to single out the English language voice of L whose work was able to soften the many eccentricities of the character instead of having the be annoyances.

There is a lot more that’s praiseworthy in this anime including the music, use of colour and shadow in the animation, pacing and the many areas of psychology explored in the actions and reactions of everyone in the Death Note universe.

At just shy of 13 hours of content Death Note is an example of just how great anime can be. I know that, for many, this was the show that got them into anime in general. It’s one of the many shows that have that crossover potential – but is often just dismissed as another animated show. Their loss I guess.

XL Popcorn – Point Blank

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 611/1007
Title: Point Blank
Director: John Boorman
Year: 1967
Country: USA

Obsession. If there was one word to describe the film Point Blank it would be obsession, but before I get to this I really want to say a quick word about the first 5 minutes of this film.

This is not the first time that I have tried to watch Point Blank. I was so put off watching this film some time ago because the first five minutes made little to no sense. So I just figured that this would be a film that I need to be more awake for. I mean, I am all for dropping the audience into a film, there are many films that have done that successfully, but doing this with a bunch of quick time-leaping, stream of consciousness cuts then you lose me.

After I got through this initial sequence the film took off and it was 90 minutes of a slow burn. At the heart of the movie is Walker (Lee Marvin) whose singular focus on getting the money he is due after being back-stabbed during a… I want to say heist. This vendetta just snowballs to the extent that no one else in the film’s universe can quite believe that Walker is doing this all for $93,000. I’m inclined to agree.

Sure Walker was left for dead by a man who he thought was his friend, but he does away with this friend about halfway into the film. For the rest of it Walker has many a brush with death and becomes this figure of intimidation (much like Javier Bardem’s character in No Country For Old Men) and a dick to women.

When you don’t know where Point Blank is going there is a curious sense of wonder at just how far one man will go for his share of a heist. Now that I have seen this I’m not too sure how well it will stand-up to a re-watch. I mean it is a fantastically intense performance from Lee Marvin with someone being killed by falling off a roof with no clothes on… but on the other hand there is still that awful jazz club scene where all the singer does is scream ‘Yeah’ to generic and repetitive funk music.

So yes, it’s an interesting film. Just not sure how interesting it would be should I see it again.

XL Popcorn – Black Sunday

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 610/1007
Title: Black Sunday (La maschera del demonio)
Director: Mario Bava
Year: 1960
Country: Italy

Okay so doing three 1960 films in a row is a bit of a fluke, but how different have Peeping Tom, Le Trou and Black Sunday. This film, at least for me, is the lesser of the three.

I guess that after two pretty full on films (and an emotional stop-motion romp) this was a bit of a comedown. It was essentially the Italian version of Viy  – i.e. something made me laugh unintentionally. Especially the bat in the beginning which was SO on an elastic band that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

That was the problem that I kept having with Black Sunday. Thanks to the old special effects, cliched storyline and, at times, poor overdubbing –  it was difficult for me to properly get into this film. Really, the only part that made me feel like this was a good film was the prologue.

This prologue was brilliant and the rest of the film just couldn’t live up to it. Essentially imaging the spooky looking Barbara Steele about to be burned as a witch – only to have a spiky mask hammered into her face. It was over the top gore that I was hoping would continue into the rest of this film (I’m guessing this thirst for gore is because I am currently reading JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure… I don’t usually yearn for gore in my filmwatching) and was subsequently disappointed.

Hey ho, it was an interesting look into pre-Giallo Italian horror movies. It felt a lot like an Italian attempt at a Roger Corman film, which is around about the level I would pitch this.

XL Popcorn – Le Trou

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 609/1007
Title: Le Trou (The Hole)
Director: Jacques Becker
Year: 1960
Country: France

No, I am not trying to eliminate all French films from the 1001 list. I just want to make sure that for every Godard film that I don’t get there are many films by other French directors that I enjoy. With Le Trou all I can say is: mission accomplished.

As someone who has still not seen apparent Christmas classic The Great Escape I have started to rack up some pretty great prison escape movies. I mean, cards on the table, I still prefer La Grande Illusion to Le Trou but it is pretty damned close.

We start the film being told that what we are about to see is based on a true story… by one of the former inmates of La Santé who worked on this film as an actor and consultant to help keep the film accurate. I don’t usually like it when films do this, but for a film like Le Trou it actually helped me get into this film further.

You see, the entire film takes place over a few days as a group of five inmates start tunnelling their way out of the prison. You’d think that repeated shots of these men digging through floors and walls would be dull, but there is something almost hypnotic about their determination and their ingenuity.

Through all of this you start rooting for the inmates… but now that I write this I do wonder if we really should be. All of them are facing 10+ year sentences and the prison appears to be fairly decent by the standard of the time. Sure they chop up your care packages so your rice pudding ends up tasting of soap, but this is before X-ray machines. Also, how easy would it be to stick a flick-knife in a salami?

Still, the tension and the suspicion is very much present in this film as, at any point, these men could be caught. They’re being pretty brazen at points with their loud banging and sticking a mirrored toothbrush out as a periscope. So every little victory and every near miss is monumental.

I have been putting off seeing this film for a while and I REALLY do not know why. It’s a great film and helps make up for Masculin FemininI did not appreciate that one.

What’s On TV – Fringe

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 193/501
Title: Fringe
Episodes Aired: 100
Year(s): 2008-2013
Country: USA

Good news: I have found a new thing to binge watch. Bad news: it’s another show to add to the pile.

Fringe is one of those cult shows that I have been meaning to start for years. It’s just that, as they said in the most reason of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidtyou know it’s a ridiculously good time for television when you don’t have time for a show like The Americans. For me, this was always the case with Fringe.

Now that I have done my minimum watch to cross this off the list, I am glad that I didn’t start watching this show when it first came on. Whilst the pilot is interesting – this is not a show that gets off to the best start. Thanks to some cross-referencing with The AV Club and IGN  I made sure that the episodes I saw were either good, part of the overarching storyline or (in most cases) both.

By the time I reached the end of this watch-through I still feel like I haven’t gone in depth into the shows mythology. I still have no idea who the Observers are and I haven’t met any of the main characters’ parallel universe counterparts.

For the uninitiated think of this as being The X-Files with a parallel Earth instead of aliens and a bit more of a goofy personality.  This feels like an undersell because it has fantastic performances from the central three and there is a lot of nuance to the conspiracy theories that underpin the show. Then again, this is a lab with a cow as a recurring character… so there’s that.

Honestly I don’t feel that after 20 episodes I know enough about the show to write about it. Yes it is a sci-fi show mixed in with a procedural, but there is a lot more to it than that. I just know that once I have cleared away some of my ‘non-blog’ backlog Fringe will be a show that is consumed very quickly. I just have to finish off Iron Chef, House, Eureka and a bunch of other shows first…

Good Eatin’ – Oh Goose Eggs

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

Two things come to mind when I hear the phrase ‘goose egg’: the harpsichord line from Joanna Newsom’s song ‘Goose Eggs’ and whether Spongebob would say ‘goose eggs’ as a swear word if the TV show was based on a farm. Together they’re quite satisfying to say when something’s not quite gone your way.

Back on topic – goose eggs are one of three eggs on the 1001 food list that are seasonal. The window is a few months long around about the time spring turns into summer, which about the same time as pheasant eggs (also on the list) and a lot more forgiving than gull eggs (whose window is about 1-2 weeks long).

Luckily the eating of goose eggs has become mainstream enough that you can find them at some of the more upscale supermarkets – such as the one I got from Waitrose. However, it is worth noting that a goose only lays ~40 eggs a year so the supply is limited (ergo the price of about £7 per egg).

I had one shot at cooking this egg, so I went for the classic method of soft-boiling it with soldiers and celery salt.

Of course I hadn’t thought about an egg cup for this massive egg. The only suitable vessel that I had was a measuring cup (1/3 cup to be precise) in my Joseph Joseph nesting bowls. Did the trick beautifully, although that didn’t stop me from repeatedly burning myself as I cut the top off.

Thanks to a mix of nerves and a LOT of conflicting advice on how to soft-boil a goose egg this came out more solid than I had first hoped. I still had some yolk to dip the soldiers in, but I was probably only one minute away from having a hard-boiled goose egg.

The first thing I noticed when taking the top off was just how much smoother the shell had become, then I took a look in my pan. It appears that as the egg was boiled, the rougher outer part of the shell had come away and left a chalky residue in the pan. Not too hard to wash off, but just a bit weird.

Another thing of note is the ratio of yolk to white in the goose egg when compared to the chicken egg. People talk online about how much richer a sauce or a cake is when using goose eggs – something that can be understood when you see just how much yolk is inside, and just how yellow the yolk is!

Tastewise, the yolk doesn’t taste too different to a good hens egg like the Burford Brown. When you eat both the yolk and the white at the same time, however, you can taste the difference. The white has a stronger taste and the whole thing feels just that bit more luxurious.

If it wasn’t for the price I would be interested to see what a goose egg omelette would taste like. Might give this a go once I successfully buy a gull egg within that ridiculously tiny window (that I missed this year because I was in Tallinn). A goose egg omelette feels like an appropriate way to celebrate.

Progress: 662/751

XL Popcorn – Peeping Tom

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 608/1007
Title: Peeping Tom
Director: Michael Powell
Year: 1960
Country: UK

I love it when a banned film comes up on this list. To think that a film that was banned in certain countries (in Finland, for example, it was banned until 1981) now has a 15 rating for the DVD in the UK. It has a rating of 12 in the Netherlands… and I don’t know how to feel about that.

As a film lover it is really hard to go cold into Peeping Tom. The central concept and some of the scenes have featured in so many programmes and books that I went into this film pretty much knowing what to expect. What I did NOT know was that it was directed by Michael Powell.

Thanks to this list I have become a bit of a Michael Powell fan. Films like A Matter of Life and Death,  Black Narcissus and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp rank among my favourite films of all time. However, since these three all see Powell sharing credit with Emeric Pressburger I was interested in how much I would enjoy a solo effort.

The word ‘enjoy’ isn’t one that I feel applies to a film like Peeping Tom. ‘Intrigued’ and ‘disturbed’ would probably make more sense for the story of an emotionally-disturbed man making a documentary about the look of fear on a person’s face before they die. Oh and he’s killing them himself and filming their reaction, there’s that big bit.

The set up of the film in general is pretty unsettling, and the final sequence just tips it over into the end into extremely creepy. And yet, why was this banned? So many of the contemporary unleashed streams of vitriol of this film and… now it’s a 15 and viewed by many as one of the best British films ever made.

Were we so incredibly repressed back in 1960 that a film like this would be greeted as something you wouldn’t piss on if it was on fire? Then again it is this repression that Peeping Tom and the incredibly  off-kilter performance by Carl Boehm takes aim at. Sometimes we need to be that bit uncomfortable as that means the art we are ingesting has pressed on a nerve that we deny exists.

To be fair, the big sexual liberation of the 1960s had yet to happen. Many of the critics were likely unhappy to stick their necks out for something daring. Even if it meant practically ending the career of one of Britain’s best directors.