I read three novels in seven weeks like some kind of genius

THE THREE MUSKETEERS – ALEXANDRE DUMAS

Like St. Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’, this was funnier than I expected it to be. And I learned that some women are really evil, even if they look nice. But some of them are just nice all over. And those ones get poisoned by the other ones. Women, eh?

that'll do

DRACULA – BRAM STOKER

Not funny at all, except for Van Helsing’s accent. And I learned that women can only truly attain purity and virtue when they’re also nice looking, and if they do have this combination of qualities you should go on about it for fucking ages. But some nice looking women also want to eat children. Are women worth the risk, I wonder?

vampire lads

FOUNDATION – ISAAC ASIMOV

Notably lacking in jokes of any kind. And I learned that in the future, women basically aren’t a thing, unless they’re a silent secretary or a nagging wife who loves techno-space jewelry. I’m glad that issue basically resolved itself.

base superstructure

Oh yeah, and it wasn’t until just then I worked out the reason they’re called musketeers is because they’ve got muskets. It seems so obvious now.

SpaceCamp [1986]

Lea Thompson is competitive and finds it hard to let others take control. She learns some important space lessons in space about being competitive and letting others take control in space. She has no time to almost fuck her own son or a talking duck, making ‘SpaceCamp’ one of her lesser works.

howard the duck is actually quite good

Kelly Preston does more extravagant things with her hair and makeup, meaning she’s less competitive and has no control issues. On top of that, she also wants to be a space DJ, which means she’s proper stupid, but she also remembers literally everything she reads, which means she isn’t. None of this matters, as she ends up spending her time tapping out Morse code messages that nobody pays attention to. No lessons are learned, or even offered.

i've got even less to do here than i did in twins

Kate Capshaw is sad she doesn’t get to go into space this year, because some fucking guy got the job she wanted, and is also sad she has to spend the summer with these annoying kids in space camp. But as it goes, she does get to space this year, and she becomes thankful for her time spent with the young ones, probably learning an important lesson just as she’s slammed into a wall by an exploding oxygen canister. The best bit of the film was when you think she might be able to fit through the bars in the space station, but she can’t. This is tension.

this is like a spaceship... of doom

Joaquin Phoenix (in earlier variation of Leaf Phoenix) is a child allowed to play with the seniors. His best friend forever is a robot called Jinx, who’s like Johnny Five off of ‘Short Circuit 2’, but smaller in size and bigger in assholery. If I were NASA, and I’m currently not, I’d be least likely to enroll someone who actually thinks he’s Luke Skywalker, The Force is a real thing, and there’s laser guns on space shuttles. I wish he could have gone the way of Newt’s brother Timmy. But he doesn’t. Nor does he learn anything, as the way the bigger kids motivate him to rise in their hour of need is by pandering to his repetitive ‘Star Wars’ fantasies, instead of doing the right thing and sticking his head down the nozzle in the space toilet.

i liked the village a lot better

Tom Skerritt finds himself at that midway point of his career between getting eaten in an airduct by a monster, and telling Campbell Scott there will absolutely be no big train going across Seattle. He learns that also being in ‘Top Gun’ the same year was probably more of an event in his life.

oh god no not the nostromo argh whyThere’s some talk among reviewers of ‘SpaceCamp’ that its lack of financial success can be attributed to an uncomfortable closeness in time and content to the ’86 Challenger shuttle disaster. That may have something to do with it, but it being shit must take some of the credit too.

The Tribe [2014]

Was this made as a gift for me? Seeking ever more obscure and difficult films is getting harder and harder. Internet resources may have increased the accessibility of cinema for all, but if there’s one drawback to democratization, it’s that it benefits the masses. There was a time when people thought you were trying too hard and showing off just by watching something contemporary and French, but that passport to film snobbery has long expired. Fucking hell, in an environment where Japanese animation is considered normal, how am I supposed to sneer at anyone’s choices?

tribe1

So here’s a Ukrainian film, which is odd because the other day when me and Edward Said were having a McDonalds, he casually mentioned how he’d never even heard of the place, and even if he had heard of it, he doubted very much they’d have something like a film industry. I started to say how it’s not cool for him to say stuff like that, but he just gave me that smile he does, and said that actually one of his friends was Ukrainian, so he can say whatever he wants and, anyway, it’s not like there’s anyone Ukrainian in here, why can’t people take a joke these days?

tribe2

Possibly even better for me is that ‘The Tribe’ isn’t even in Ukrainian, it’s in sign language. Although that might make it more English, because we have that over here. But good for them, though, because they’ve left out any translation. This might be down to them being on a tight budget, because they didn’t hire anyone to do any music, either. That made it difficult to know what to feel about what was happening, so I simply decided to feel great about everything. This went so well, I haven’t stopped doing it. The power of the mind!

Luckily, these little slip-ups from the filmmakers allow you to pull a properly hilarious move on your uncultured friends, because when you’re planning what film to put on and they grunt “I’m not watching anything with subtitles”, you can honestly suggest this, and they’ll have to sit through the whole thing before they can agree you weren’t lying and that you’re better than they are for being so edgy and challenging.

tribe3

More like this, please. Just leave out plot and characters next time. Not everything has to be pitched to kids, you know.

Vegan potato provencale

Ok, right. I’ve left the recipe book at home, but I’m almost sure I remember part of how this goes. Let’s get started.

1. wow no wayHere’s some potatoes. They’ve been cut into bite-sized pieces, which isn’t the same as if they’ve been diced. Dicing makes them smaller. Never fuck up the difference in a recipe. Ever.

We’re going to be boiling these, but not for a while, as there’s all this other stuff to do first. So I’ve no idea why I did that before the other things which haven’t happened yet. This meal’s already ruined.

As a side note, in answer to the puzzle, “How long does it take two people unused to metric weights in cooking, neither of whom has a set of scales on them, to accurately work out how much 3kg of potatoes is?” the answer is, “Absolutely fucking ages”.

2. incredible scenesOoh shit, that’s a bit of a jump. What’s all this? We’ve got some red peppers, zucchini, onions, probably garlic, cooking in oil, all sliced up. Sliced. Not bite-sized. Seriously, don’t make them bite-sized, and don’t even talk to me about dicing them. Can you even imagine what that would lead to?

It was around this time in the production that M asked the question, “Why don’t you turn the flash off on your camera?”, like I’m one of these assholes who I don’t even know right here:

2.1 who the fucking hell are youI’ve had to live through some serious trauma with this camera, so I wasn’t prepared to go back into that touchscreen menu again. Deferring any and all responsibility, I passed it over, and was soon introduced to the ‘food’ setting, which I’ve kept it on ever since. Obviously it’s nothing short of ideal for pictures of food, but it also adds a deeper level of hot sensuality to any portrait shots I take of people, especially if I hungrily lick my lips while doing it. They know what I’m getting at.

3. unbelievableWine. There’s an amount of red wine in this recipe. What’s going on in this pot is sauce, thickened up a little by tomato paste, and it’s going to end up all over those boiled potatoes soon enough. There’s a shit-ton of herbs in there as well, I don’t know which ones STOP HASSLING ME

4. omg seriouslyThere, now you can work it out for yourself.

5. what the hellBut wine is a tricky matter. There are so many, so many years, so many grapes, so many regions, so many flavours. Whichever wine should you choose? I, along with all the people I’ve ever known that have meant anything to me, have but one answer: the cheapest wine.

The above bottle is surely a fine example of thunderously basic wine, but a greater highlight of vin ne frills pas was discovered up a fucking mountain in Switzerland. Here, I dip into my personal photography files, adding only a minor anonymizing edit for D (left) and S (right):

5.1 you will never know the truth

if they put a year on it, they’re just showing off

Don’t be thinking I’m some kind of seasoned international traveler, what with me going to Switzerland once. At the time, the Olympics were on back in London, so Switzerland looked like a good option. Even if it did mean camping, which I will never, ever do again, and will run into a corner with a book of calculations and measures to have a thorough relationship assessment any time a friend mentions ‘camping’ without preceding it with the phrase “You know what’s fucking stupid that I fucking hate more than anything, and only the worst kind of cannibalistic murderer could ever possibly enjoy?”

6. are you fucking kidding meAnd there, it’s done. Serve with a side dish of Greek beans, which you make by following a recipe for Greek beans.

I’ll teach you about food

It’s February 3rd, it’s time to tidy up my photos. One subfolder’s called 2014-05-28. From the medium-sized icons presentation, it looks like I was planning to do a great food tutorial, like this one on vegan brownies, or this one on vegan Christmas dinner. Join me as we look through them together, and try to work out what I was cooking.

006It starts with this, though. I’m pretty sure it’s the internally broken remains of the Surrey Campus of Brunel University. It’s not my house.

007Here’s some aubergines, although I’ve shifted culture since this was taken, and now I call them eggplants. Except at night when I’m alone. Then I stand on the roof and whisper ‘aubergine’ to the Vancouver skyline. It looks like I’ve cut the ends off, which I’d always recommend doing, without really knowing why. And there’s two of them, so I was probably cooking for more than one person. Take notes, everyone.

008Oh, right. Yeah, I remember this. The recipe said to cook onions in water. In fucking water. I went in to ask K if he’d ever heard of such a thing. He hadn’t, and nor have you. Are those eggplants getting blanched, or is a full-on boil? You should try both and see which works best.

009This can only be a fucking load of cashews. And I know what’s going on now. This is a recipe for stuffed eggplants, and those cashews have an important task ahead of them. This is a totally inappropriate thing to suggest for a Vancouver-based audience, possibly even the entirety of Canada, as nuts round here cost more than all the money there is in the world. Soon after I moved here, I went to get all the stuff needed for a nut roast, which is a common meal-on-a-budget for unimaginative vegans in England. But I had to sell three of my kidneys out the back of the supermarket to afford it. It nearly even drove me to look for a job. But luckily, that didn’t happen. Phew.

Any natural born Vancouveran looking at this photo will be having some dribbly fantasy about rolling round in those nuts like Scrooge McDuck. This is because people in Vancouver are fucking creepy. But assuming you want to do this recipe, you should get a clean dishcloth, lay them over the nuts like it’s a magic trick, and then crush them under a rolling pin. You need great skills not to have them shoot out the sides and onto the work surface. Be aware there is no ‘three second rule’. Once it’s off the cutting board, it’s not food any more, and you will die.

010Look, those poor, drowned onions are back, and they look really sad. But they’re making friends with the nuts now. There must be some oil in there too. You should probably do this until they go a different type of brown, because that’s what all recipes say.

011Oh my god, what is this surgery? Those eggplants must have been proper boiled, as there’s no way that would happen with a mere blanching. So scoop out all their guts with a teaspoon, and put it in with the frying onions and cashews. Soon all that mixture’s going to be pushed back into them again. This is getting pretty graphic, so send the kids to bed.

012So it looks like these are going in the oven. Turn up the heat to whatever it should be, and cook them until they’re done. Thank fuck I’m here, right?

013Wait, what? What’s all this? Is this the same meal? If it isn’t, it should be, because who’s going to be happy with you serving up some beans and potatoes and nothing else? Boil these until they’re soft enough to eat. 15-20 minutes, probably. Those stringy green bean things take longer than you might think, and when they’re not cooked they make nasty squeaking noises when you try to eat them, so watch out for that.

I probably timed these to finish cooking whenever it was those eggplants are going to be done. My god, I’m brilliant.

014Yeahyeahyeah, here we go. They’re back, and they’re all cooked. I’m glad of it. I’m going to totally guess and say it’s 25 minutes at 200 degrees, but don’t blame me if you end up with a stomach tumour that looks like a manatee’s face.

015Hey, look! All friends together. And this is where a combination of boiled vegetables and non-professional lighting makes your showcase dinner completely unfit for purpose if you want to parade it around a cookery blog post. Those nuts look pretty tasty, but I’m only saying that because I’m currently reduced to giving strangers down alleyways crumpled up $50s just to put the end of my tongue on an almond.

016Ok. Um. Here’s some garlic. But didn’t we eat already? I know garlic’s pretty fucking amazing, but I can’t have tried to pass this off as a special dessert.

017Here it is again, though. Look at my fucking garlic. Just fucking look at it. Let your eyes eat it up.

018Either I picked out all those onions from the stuffed eggplants so they could be reconstituted into another meal, or this is a totally different day, and we’re making something else. I’m excited. At this point, it could be pretty much anything. Is that some stock in there? Maybe.

019Holy shit! More fucking eggplants! This is out of control! And is that some courgette going on as well? I mean zucchini. Jesus Christ, Canada. Are you another country or another planet?

020 Similar to how there’s several months gap between my two earliest memories – (1) wearing a nappy (diaper, or is that just America?) and walking out of my bedroom over to the top of the stairs, and instead of shouting out “I’m going to be sick” to the adults below, actually being sick right down the stairs to the delight and joy of all, and (2) hiding behind the sofa when some man came round the house to take my picture for… actually, what was that about? Let’s get back to this – some things do retain their clarity amid all the fog of life. Here, I’m making an educational point about the proper way to cut a tomato. You might think the nubbly bit should be facing upright, but that’s where you’re seriously being ridiculous, as cutting it like that means the gloop will fall out oh so much easily. Cut it like this, as shown. The tomato will retain its composure, and you’ll have real slices or chunks rather than slooshy tomato gack.

021Yep, that’s a load of stuff cooking again. I think this is ratatouille. In fact, I’m sure of it. When making this, however much salt and garlic you think is way too much to put in, triple it, put that much in, then add some more. This meal is nothing more than a housing container for garlic and salt, like all the best food in the world.

This also means that wasn’t stock in the earlier photo. It was a dangerously horrific amount of oil. I love this recipe.

There’s some kidney beans in there too. And I can’t see it, but cayenne pepper must be playing its modest yet unsubtle role in making this meal a memory.

022Frozen mixed veg is doing its thing in the background, and it must have been a busy week for those beans, because they’re back with us again. This is food for five or four people.

023Eat it. Eat the oily food. And don’t leave the salt off those vegetables, they’re getting lonely.

Ginger Snaps Unleashed [2004]

e eyeSo before they put the film on, there was this talk – with clips – on Canadian horror. And it was very nice, I had a great time. Obvs Cronenberg got a mention, and quite right, but it was also good to see a wider range of references, including things I’d never heard of. Now, what I’m about to criticize may have been addressed in the opening couple of minutes which I missed, so if it was, forget everything I haven’t said yet. But I was there the whole hour waiting for the professor to mention that this film – ‘Ginger Snaps Unleashed’ – which he was granting as the major turning point in contemporary horror in Canada… Not ‘Ginger Snaps’, mind, but ‘Ginger Snaps Unleashed’, its first sequel. There was a second sequel, ‘Ginger Snaps Back’, but you knew that already, and also how it’s not a sequel, it’s a prequel. But it wasn’t them he was focusing on, it was ‘Ginger Snaps Unleashed’. And you also know that ‘Ginger Snaps Unleashed’ is the only one of the three which has Emily Perkins as the lead. She’s in the other two – ‘Ginger Snaps’ and ‘Ginger Snaps Back’ – but she’s supporting Katharine Isabelle in them. But we all know this. So what I was waiting for was for him to say “I reckon ‘Ginger Snaps Unleashed’ is the best one. It’s the most important. It is.” And then someone in the audience, which I realize now should have been me, should have said, “Oh, really? That’s an interesting hypothesis, that. Tell me, is that the only one of the three your wife was the lead in?” And he could have said, “Yes, it is, mate. Do you want to make something of it?” And they, possibly me, then says, “Nah, you’re alright. Are you going to follow this up by saying the best bit in ‘Juno’ was when Juno goes to get the abortion and the receptionist is a bit rude to her?” And he says, “Why wouldn’t I say that? That can be deductively shown.” And I could say, “But would you think it important to mention who played that role?” To this, he just starts scrolling through his PowerPoint files. “Oh, right,” I continue, emboldened and powerful. “And the best TV ever is probably…” And he’d pretend to think about it, maybe whipping out an abacus to work on for a minute, and then he says, “So many to choose from, but we can round it down to the underrated ‘Hiccups’ and ‘Da Vinci’s Inquest’…”

“Oh for fuck’s sake”, I say, kicking over someone else’s popcorn as I stomp over to the exit door. I hadn’t bought any for myself, so sorry to the person I didn’t do this to, but I needed to make a tetchy gesture of upset. At the door, I turn back to shout, “You ought to read a bit more late second wave feminist epistemology, sunshine! Learn a bit about the perils of an ostensible ‘view from nowhere’ position!”

“Yes, thank you. Please leave,” he says, shuffling the notes Emily might have written for him.

patriarchy“Always make explicit reference to your subjectivities in research and analysis!” I yell, as the glasses-wearing arthouse cinema security politely suggest I step outside. Enraged, I turn my ire on them. “No! No! You fucking fuck off! He’s perpetuating masculinist false impartiality! It’s fucking textbook, this is! He’s no better than fucking Bacon!”

The reedy attendant compresses their brow in puzzlement, but I scream in their face before their inevitable confused question worms its way from their troubled mouth.

“No, not the fucking food! The fucking essayist, scientist and statesman! You fucking prick!”

And with that, I’m gone, the only sign I was ever there the headbutt indentation on the Claude Chabrol cardboard standee in the atrium.

Glad that didn’t happen, though. I would have missed the film. It’s really good. One could even say pivotal in the development of Canadian horror cinema.

untrustworthy

Boyhood [2014]

This is a lot like ‘Star Wars’, in that I don’t get why everyone thinks it’s so amazing. And I went in feeling positive. Richard Linklater has made some less than great stuff – in particular, ‘Waking Life’ and ‘School of Rock’ – but he’s still got the ‘Before’ trilogy, ‘Dazed and Confused’, ‘Slacker’ and ‘A Scanner Darkly’, and that’s a lot more than I’ve got.

boyhood poster

There’s some good things, though. (So maybe it’s not too much like ‘Star Wars’, then, eh? Yeah, fuck off, ‘Star Wars’.) Ethan Hawke gives what must be the most Ethan Hawke performance of all his Ethan Hawke performances. Like when his kid asked him if there’s any real magic in the world, before he could reply I mentally paused the film to quickly think through what the nature and delivery of his response would be, and I was 100% in tune with all that stuff he said about whales or whatever it was. And I did exactly the same thing between him stopping driving and him giving that aggrieved lecture because the children weren’t responding to his dad-questions. This isn’t because I’m massively perceptive, although I am, it’s just such a comfortably familiar persona he puts on screen, that once you attune yourself to it, you could live the rest of your life reacting to stuff as Ethan Hawke™ does.

Also good was how Patricia Arquette’s recurrent bad relationship choices were shown, something enhanced by the filming method of coming back in every few years to see how people have got on. Why does she make bad decisions? ‘Boyhood’ was very good in showing why such a thing happens.

arc non tangent

thanks for talking to me, i know my sister’s a more interesting character. also, looks like i’m getting a new girlfriend. thanks, script!

I was talking to M about the film, and he liked it a lot more than I did. I said my main problem was the banality of the conversations and revelations from the teenage characters, which meant that for me the film got worse as it went along, being better when they were still younger children. M countered how this had been one of the things he’d liked most about ‘Boyhood’, as it made it more realistic and unlike other films. It shows people lacking the ability to express themselves well, experiencing what for them are genuine moments, which can be seen as trivial and clichéd to older, more irritable eyes, but in the context are honestly felt for the first time. I was still teaching 16-19-year-olds at the time, and I realized I continually lived the ‘Boyhood’ experience, overhearing tedious and annoying conversations in the corridors every day. (Not in my own classes, though. You guys are great.) Ultimately, then, what stopped me from liking this film was it felt like I was at work. And who wants that?

Perhaps this is the doom of all art about younger people. I acknowledged before how, despite how much I love it, I couldn’t unreservedly recommend ‘Before Sunrise’, as this early-twenties couple sometimes talk a load of shit. And I recently revisited a screening of ‘Stand by Me’, and was saddened how I felt the kids to be way more unlikeable this time around, the film only really coming together during the one-on-one scenes with River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton. As I turn into a more miserable older fucker, what else am I going to be saying goodbye to? I can cope with stuff like a global nuclear winter and all my friends dying, but having to rethink my feelings on ‘Say Anything…’ and ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ is going to be really traumatic. Happy new year!