NFLX2019 December 24th: Como Caído del Cielo

Como Caído del Cielo. José Pepe Bojórquez. 2019. ☆☆★★★★

A Mexican movie? I think this is the first one I’ve seen in this blog series?

So the plot is that a dead guy’s er spirit gets to take over a dying guy’s body. Hilarity should ensue, but doesn’t really. Instead they go right to the new guy trying to fuck the dead guy’s wife (without her knowing, of course), and it all starts seeming kinda rapey and creepy.

But then… it kinda swerves around that point and becomes kinda sweet. It’s wildly uneven, though.

The performances are fine, and it’s well-made, but it just kinda… just keeps rolling along without finding purchase.

OK, it’s pretty bad.

This post is part of the NFLX2019 blog series.

NFLX2019 December 20th: The Two Popes

The Two Popes. Fernando Meirelles. 2019. ☆☆☆★★★

Oh, fuck. This is that Catholic propaganda movie?

Gah.

OK, perhaps it’s watcheable anyway? I mean, the Riefenstahl movie was pretty good. This is also one of the few Netflix movies that has gotten some attention in the media, so it’s a movie Netflix has pushed hard, I guess.

While typing this, I’m five minutes in, and it seems like it’s made in a typical mockumentary fashion…

I’m shocked that the movie isn’t in English. Perhaps that’ll change once they get past the preliminaries?

OK, this is pretty funny. I was totally prejudiced to loathe this movie somehow, but the first fifteen minutes, at least, is pretty fresh.

Oh right, this isn’t The New Pope:

Ooops.

Like I guessed, when we get past the fun opening, and we get to the scenes where the two popes talk to each other, they switch to English… and things become tedious as fuck.

I think you’d have to be religious to enjoy this dreck.

I’ve seen reviews gush about how marvellous the actors are. Hopkins is sleepwalking through it all, while Pryce is doing a Fantasy Wonderful Pope thing (very well). It’s Catholic fan fiction.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, but *shock* it turns out that Ratzinger was kinda a dweeb, but the new pope, Bergoglio, is totally cool.

No! Really! You don’t say!

But he’s a good director. He even manages to make Bergoglio’s behaviour during the Junta seem like personal travails and not cowardice. It’s a magnificent feat, and I guess that for many people that’s what makes this movie something other than two boring people talking to each other about boring stuff.

But that’s what it is. It’s ten minutes of extremely talented emotional audience manipulation, and nine hours of boredom.

Pryce is great, though.

This post is part of the NFLX2019 blog series.

NFLX2019 December 13th: 6 Underground

6 Underground. Michael Bay. 2019. ☆☆☆☆☆☆

Huh! It’s that guy from Deadpool! In a plane! And now he faked crashing the plane! And now they’re in a car chase! Is this the best movie ever? And the car chase is in Italy! And now there’s guns! There’s somebody in the back seat doing surgery to remove some bullets! Now there’s more car chase! Now they crashed into a food cart! EXPLOSIONS! Witty repartee from the Deadpool guy! Now there’s a helicopter joining the car chase! Dick jokes! More explosions! EVERYTHING”S EXPLODING ALL THE TIME!

THIS IS THE BEST MOVIE EVER

This is Michael Bay at his most unhinged. It’s methtacularific. It’s his auteur movie. There’s shots from inside the bullet wounds! When two watermelons strike each other, there’s an explosion! There’s never been a movie like this before. Who knew that Bay was held back by the studios and we’d never seen just how crazy he is before? I feel like a new school of film criticism has to be established to properly evaluate this movie, but that’s probably because I’ve just read that book translating articles from Cahiers de Cinema from the 50s.

Bay is so detail oriented. There’s all these itsy-bitsy perfect little things in every one of these over-the-top scenes (like the assholes wearing Stone Island sweaters). It’s hard to even contemplate how much coke was snorted during the editing and compositing of this movie. I can just picture Bay shouting at the editor for weeks FUCK YEAH! FUCK! MORE! FUCK! YEAH!!!

It’s hilarious.

If I have anything negative to say about this movie, it’s that the soundtrack is lame. It’s mostly bits from Now That’s What I Call Standard Generic Tense Movie Music vol XVIII, and then there’s the occasional generic, boring rock track. It should have used Chicago Footwork or something. Something more… brutal.

Even the small Portishead snipped felt all wrong. The scenes where they used dubstep worked fine.

And weirdly (or perhaps not), my other quibble is also sound-related: It’s frequently difficult to hear what the actors are saying. And they’re often saying funny, surprising, over-the-top stuff (well, everything about this movie is excessive), so it’s really annoying not being able to hear them half of the time. (So I switched the subtitles on halfway through, which is why there aren’t as many shots from the last half of this movie, but it continues looking as awesome as the first half does.)

Seeing this while drunk or high (or both) is probably a good idea, but this really is something else. It’s sui generis. This is where the future starts:

A migraine headache in cinematic form.

This post is part of the NFLX2019 blog series.

BC&B: Poulet au Vinaigre Le Petit Truc w/ Estouffade Provençale

The next poultry disk in the Bistro Cooking book is a chicken-in-vinegar thing, and I’m not all that fond of vinegar, so I’m slightly sceptical. But let’s see.

The ingredients are simple enough: A chicken, tarragon, wine and vinegar (and some veggies).

And Stargate: SG1.

So to get the show started, the chicken has to be butcherized. I’ve done this only a couple times before, and, boy, is it easier with a really sharp knife. And I’ve gotten a bit less squeamish, which also helps.

Doesn’t that look tasty? Huh? DOESN”T IT!?

A bucket of parts. (Whenever I’m doing stuff like this, I’m always singing Meat Is Murder to myself.)

So basically, the chicken is just cooked in a pan, and given a good sear. I don’t have a pan big enough to do all the chicken parts at once, so this takes a while…

So I started doing the sauteed potatoes while waiting.

Which sounds fancy, but is basically that you first cook the potatoes until they’re almost done, and then you fry them up some in a pan.

Then back to the chicken: Debone the tomatoes.

And I added a little salad, too.

And then it’s done, and I forgot to take more pictures.

The recipe called for half a cup of tarragon vinegar, but I thought that sounded way, way, way too much, so I scaled that back to a fraction of that. (A small fraction, nerds.) And the result was plenty vinegary, and the tarragon flavours came through well.

It was pretty good! Almost everything got eaten, which left just one breast left over for lunch the next, and it was very nice indeed.

I quite like nouvelle vague movies, but I’ve never read the magazine all the directors (Goddard, Truffout, Rivette, Rohmer etc) were writing for before they started their careers in film: Cahiers du Cinéma. I was sure that surely somebody had published translated editions of these magazines by now, but nope. A couple of books doing a “best of” thing exists, though, so I got this one from the mid-80s, published by the British Film Institute, god bless them. Especially since the only thing these people have to say about British film is that is sucks.

So we get an introduction fist, giving an overview of Cahiers and the historical background.

And we also get a precis of what came out of Cahiers in the 50s: The mise en scene/auteur theory of filmmaking, which is very much a reaction against “French quality cinema”, which was dominated by literary sources and politics. Instead they wanted to herald film where the interesting thing is what’s on the screen: The way people talk, the framing, the pace, the lighting; in other words, what American filmmakers like Howard Hawks had been doing. That is, any Hawks movie has a plot that’s mostly piffle, but his movies are still fascinating because what’s on the screen is fascinating.

OK, that’s just my moronic summation of the thing.

The introduction uses the reception of a Howards Hawks movie in the UK as an example of their rapid influence: When Rio Bravo was first shown in the UK in 1959, it was dismissed as pure tripe. There was a revival of the movie four years later, and then a critic in the same newspaper gushes over it.

But, you know, I think perhaps the influence didn’t really have a very long reach. To this day, whenever you read a movie review, nine tenths of it is the reviewer recapping the plot, and then there’s a paragraph about whether the actors are any good, and then it’s “I like it/I hate it”.

It’s still all about the plot. For most people. I mean, I don’t mind plot, but I don’t care that much.

And after the introduction, most of the rest of the book consists of translations of articles from Cahiers. The most surprising thing to me is how short each article is – three to five pages. These mostly aren’t in-depth explorations of whatever, but are pretty normal, magazine-length reviews, mostly.

Oh! But we need more food. Foood. Beefy food.

(OK, I’ll give away a secret about how this blog article series is made: I’m not always making both the dishes I’m talking about on the same day. Hah! You never guessed, right?)


So this is a beef stew, and what’s fun about the recipe is that it takes that “oh, the stew is better the next day” thing and does the logical thing: This is to be eaten the day after it’s been cooked. I’m excited.

So the recipe called for “stewing beef”, and suggested having the butcher cut the meat into (large) pieces, but I’ve got a new knife and I wanna use it.

I used two different cuts of beef, just because. But both are supposed to be stew compatible.

There. Chopped.

And then you chop a lot of veggies (onions, garlic, carrots, celery (well, that’s supposed to be minced, and I’m a specialist)) and dump it into the pot. The recipe specified an enameled pot, but I don’t have one, so I just used a stainless steel one. Hopefully that’s OK…

The recipe also called for a Provençal wine, but I just had a Burgundy. Are those places anywhere near each other?

Let’s say… yes?

Oops.

Anyway, it’s in the pot now, along with a “bunch of thyme”. I consulted the interwebs to determine how much a “bunch” is, and I didn’t chop it, because the recipe didn’t say anything about chopping. So I guess I’ll just have to take it out of the pot before serving… It’ll probably dissolve some, anyway?

And then into the fridge to marinate until the next day.

So I can read some more Cahiers… one of the pieces is a conversation between a few of the Cahiers people, and for some reason or other the translation has been abbreviated? So it’s unfortunately somewhat incoherent, but they still say some pretty eyebrow-raising things. Like Rohmer claiming that nothing has changed in France since 1930. Which is pretty weird, considering WWII and everything in the middle of that time period.

Rivette, of course, thinks the claim is absurd, and rightly so.

And then, the next day, I forgot to put the stew on until three in the morning. So I guess I’ll just have to stay awake until morning.

So the next day I pull the pot out of the fridge, and it looks delicious! I mean, horrible! But I guess that’s to be expected, what with the fat floating to the top and coagulating.

As directed by the recipe, and got rid of the layer of fat…

… and heated the stuff with some orange peel.

I naughtily added a simple salad and some taters.

It’s… quite good? But kinda… I wished it tasted more. The sauce is really thin and watery, which makes it look rather disgusting since the scum of the meat hadn’t been skimmed off. (Because the recipe didn’t say to do so.) A thicker sauce hides many naughtinesses, but there’s no thickening in the sauce, either.

So it looks unpleasant, and the flavour is weak. Perhaps I used the wrong type of wine in the sauce? Should it have reduced more? I don’t know.

But it was OK. The meat was very tender indeed.

The reviews in Cahiers do a lot more plot recapping than I had imagined from the introduction, but there’s also interesting sections where they talk about actual movie stuff.

This is a British book, and I think the assumption here is that everybody has a basic familiarity with French. The book consistently talks about the “scenario” for a movie, and they’re not talking about the scenario, but the script. I THINK. That’s a particularly odd thing not to translate (since it’s ambiguous), but more common is to just leave titles untranslated. Even titles of articles, and I had to dig deep into my brainses to recollect (I mean, at least one whole second) to remember that “notre” is “our”.

But more than that, reading these reviews, I totally understand why there hasn’t been a complete translated collection of them published: It’d be pointless. Godard makes so many reference to movies and people that are completely unknown these days that it’s hard to know just what point he’s trying to make. There’s translators notes for some of the stuff, but even that doesn’t help much.

But back to the food: The day after the day after, there’s a ton of estouffade left, of course, so I heated some more up, but this time I added some sambal oelek and more herbs, and let it cook some more. Then I thickened up the sauce with some Maizena, and by golly: It’s delicious. It’s got a deep and complex flavour and a pleasant texture.

I gotta start using more common sense while doing the recipes in this book. The recipes are perhaps meant as basic scaffolding, and you’re supposed to add any goodies you need to make them into actual courses?

“Don’t come bothering us with it.” Most of the Cahiers writers are staunchly anti-political, and, I guess, somewhat right wing? I think that mostly changed in the 60s, when several of the people involved (like Godard) became very left-wing indeed.

I love this total dismissal of Kurosawa’s Living (Ikiru).

Especially since it’s the 113th most highly-rated movie on imdb.

But many of these reviews and articles are super vague. “Morality is a question of tracking shots” may be a witty saying, but what does it mean, really? Page after page of this sort of stuff makes me feel very smart indeed for reading it, but I’m not sure how much there there is.

The book is having one specific effect on me, though: I’m definitely going to be buying all the movies by Nicholas Ray (of Johnny Guitar fame). He’s the Cahiersienne cause celebre (sort of): He’s a youngish director dismissed by most reviewers, but these people are totally convinced that he’s the bees’ knees, and is going to be The Director people will remember from the 50s.

That bit didn’t quite come true: While three of his movies have been restored by Criterion, and a couple more have apparently survived well (like Rebels Without Causality), most seem to be available unrestored on DVD.

Anyway, I’m buying them all. A dozen French people can’t be wrong.

This blog post is part of the Bistro
Cooking & Books
series.

The Best Albums of the Decade

As a data scientist, applying machine learning to my listening patterns has led to this quantitative analysis of the albums of the decade. I can therefore reveal that these are officially the best albums released during the previous ten year period:

Dani Siciliano

Dani Siciliano

Black Cab

Games of the XXI Olympiad

Anohni

Hopelessness

Grumbling Fur

Preternaturals

Cat Power

Sun

Kate Bush

50 Words For Snow

Pet Shop Boys

Electric

Véronique Vincent & Aksak Maboul

Ex-Futur Album

Telebossa

Garagen Aurora

Men

Talk About Body

Deerhoof

Breakup Song

Krim U

1981-83

Laura Jean

Laura Jean

Janka Nabay & The Bubu Gang

En yah say

Joanna Newsom

Divers

New Order

Music Complete

Or rather, I had Emacs tally up which albums I’d listened to most over the previous decade. However, that just led to the oldest albums winning, of course, since they’ve had most time to be listened to.

So I experimented with various way to apply decays. The question is: If I listened to an album ten times per year since 2010, is that an album that should have the same rating as an album that I’ve listened to ten times this year? Probably… not? My default mode of listening is to direct Emacs to play me the newest music I’ve bought, so I listen to almost all things I buy 5-8 times, whether I like them or not.

Like any data scientist, the solution is obvious: Fiddle with the hyperparameters until I get a list I kinda agree with.

Right?

Right.

The result is above. The album I listened most to was 50 Words For Snow by Kate Bush at a whopping 50 times (which ended up as number 6, but was bought in 2011), and the winner here, Dani Siciliano, I’ve only listened to 28 times (but bought in 2016).

Science is hard!

For giggles, while we’re gazing into the abyss of my navel, here’s the list of albums I listened the most to, in total, no matter how old they are:

Talking Heads

Remain In Light

Kate Bush

The Dreaming

Kate Bush

Never For Ever

Kate Bush

The Kick Inside

Talking Heads

Fear Of Music

Kate Bush

Hounds of Love

Kate Bush

Lionheart

David Bowie

“Heroes”

David Bowie

Low

Laura Jean

Eden Land

David Bowie

Diamond Dogs

Geez! You’d almost think I like Talking Heads and Kate Bush or something. (The winner, Remain in Light I listened to 100 times this decade, and Diamond Dogs, at number 12, I listened to 51 times.)

So are there any further ways to torture this data set? Uhm… OK, let’s look at albums I bought this decade, but were made earlier. (But this time I removed the weights, just because.)

Circlesquare

Songs About Dancing And Drugs

Prince

Controversy

Zazou, Bikaye & Cy1

Noir et Blanc

Various

Crammed Global Soundclash 1980-89, Part One: World Fusion

Joe Jackson

Look Sharp!

Various

Crammed Global Soundcrash 1980-89, Part 2: Electrowave

Tracey Thorn

King’s Cross

Siouxsie and the Banshees

Kaleidoscope

Commando M. Pigg

Commando M. Pigg

Joe Jackson

I’m The Man

Ruth

Polaroïd-Roman-Photo

Hype Williams

Untitled

Ultra Naté

Situation: Critical

Lal & Mike Waterson

Bright Phoebus

There.

NFLX2019 December 6th: Marriage Story

Marriage Story. Noah Baumbach. 2019. ☆☆☆☆★★

Oh, I’ve seen reviews of this movie in all the newspapers. And it’s always that way: A Netflix movie either has no presence whatsoever in mass media or it’s absolutely everywhere. So I guess that there’s certain Netflix movies that Netflix pushes really hard, and the rest they just drop into the void without any trace?

Scarlett Johansson is a great actor, of course, and Adam Driver is… er… a big name at the moment?

It starts off well with a double monologue thing that’s intriguing, but it’s over a bed of schmaltzy classicalish music that absolutely drives me nuts. How can anybody stand that stuff?

So I’m conflicted right from the start.

Emacs tells me that I’ve seen one of Baumbach’s movies before: Frances Ha at 20150411T211713. But that was before I was blogging about any random movie, so I have no idea what I thought of it.

See? All The Reviewers. Hm… OK, it had a very limited theatrical release — sixteen cinemas? But that’s enough to get all these newspapers to write about it?

Fortunately the musical bed disappears. I would have gone totally nuts.

Hey, this is pretty funny! One good line after another.

Adam Driver is surprisingly good. The constant stream of really famous actors doing supporting roles gets a bit “wha but wha” after a while… perhaps it’s too much? But I don’t mind. It’s fun.

Laura Dern is pure awesomeness.

Except the cringe comedy passages. I just can’t deal with that.

I think this movie worked perfectly for the first hour, and then it takes a nose dive. In between the interesting scenes, there’s scenes of pure tedium. I kinda started hating this movie at certain points.

This post is part of the NFLX2019 blog series.