Tag Archives: entertainment

40 Before 40: Challenge #8

25 Apr

I am now starting to get a bit panicked about completing this challenge, which is to watch the Top 250 Films on iMDB. And I have another four and a half years to complete it. The problem is that I need to watch another 160 films, which works out at about one film per week on average. That sounds manageable, right? In actual fact, there are quite a lot of films on the list that I know are going to be emotionally painful for me to sit through because I have no interest in watching them; for example, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which someone once lent me on DVD but I actually fell asleep during them so I can’t honestly say that I have watched them from start to finish.

Also I know that if I don’t religiously watch one film a week, I will end up having to watch films around the clock in order to be able to achieve it.

There is no point in complaining. I set these challenge myself. Here is what I have recently ticked off the list!

24. It’s a Wonderful Life

This was a beautiful and romantic film. I can’t believe I haven’t seen it before. I think this film is on TV every year at Christmas but I never had any interest to watch it. It’s an old film from the 1920s and it reminded me a bit of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Although it was made years and years ago, the themes of the film (corruption, betrayal and economic difficulties) are still relevant today. It was a bit odd to watch this in March when there is so much snow and Christmas trees in the snow but I am now wishing it was Christmas so that I can watch it again.

70. Citizen Kane

This is one of the most critically acclaimed films of all times. It’s the mystery story of a newspaper mogul whose dying word is “rosebud”. The story flips back and forth between different periods of time as a reporter sets about to investigate the meaning of his dying word. He uncovers the truth about the humble beginnings of the wealthy newspaper publisher and his earlier life. The meaning of the word “rosebud” remains elusive but is revealed to the audience at the end of the film.

I feel like I should have enjoyed this film a lot more than I thought I should have. I’m glad that I watched it because of how highly it is regarded and because it was Orson Welles’ first film (who I only thought was an author) but I am not sure that I would make a beeline to watch it again.

99. 3 Idiots

This was a hard film to find with English subtitles. The film is a Bollywood film and most of the speech is in Hindi but it does occasionally switch to English mid-sentence. I thought that all Bollywood films were just about dancing and having fun but there is a suicide in this one, which I wasn’t expecting. The story is about 3 friends who meet in engineering college. The inevitable boy meets girl, boy rebels against the norms of the college and a twist about the identity of one of the friends feature heavily through the film. Some parts of the film had me laughing out loud. Very clever and funny.

214. The Princess Bride

This is a film from the 80s that I have never heard of before but I recognised most of the cast from other 80s films and TV series. My main issue with this film was that I wasn’t sure what the films audience was. It was like a cross between a kids film, a romance and a slapstick. The story itself wasn’t bad per se but some parts of it, especially the animation of animals was really dated. I’m not sure why this film managed to get to this high a position in the list. I personally think that it is taking the place of a much more deserving film.

242. The Help

This was a great film and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was about the story of a small town in Mississippi and the ambitions of a young writer, who exposed the racism experienced by ‘the help’ at the hands of affluent white families. Some of the film was tragic and other bits had me laughing out loud. It was based on a true stories and I always find films based on true stories more interesting.

I have now watched 94 out of the 250 films. Slowly but surely I will get there…

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40 Before 40: Challenge #8

24 Feb

Here is an update about my #40Before40: Challenge #8, in which I am attempting to watch all of the Top 250 Films as rated by iMDB.

These are the films I have managed to watch recently:

5. 12 Angry Men

I had never heard of this film before, but what a film it was! It’s a really interesting look at a jury deliberating on the fate of a man on trial. I was captivated because, although the film begins with the judge saying his final words before dismissing the jury to agree on the verdict, the audience never once hears from the defendant or any of the lawyers. We only hear the discussions of the jury and what they remember from hearing at the trial. The case looks clear cut until one of the jury has doubts that the defendant is guilty and this leads to intense discussions about the notions of proof and doubt. I would highly recommend this film, if you haven’t already seen it.

49. Memento

I realised as soon as I sat down to watch this that I had seen this before: As I have so many left on my list to watch and I can remember clearly what happened in the film, I decided not to watch it. If I have time at the end, I will probably watch it again. It is a great film though about a man who had a condition where he can’t remember anything. Which is ironic because I couldn’t remember seeing it.

52. The Great Dictator

I have never seen any Charlie Chaplin films before and I was surprised by how much I liked it and by how funny it was. We are often shocked by things that comedians say or do today but this film shows that this has been the case for decades. The film essentially parodies Hitler, who saw himself as a great dictator. It was filmed during the time of the Second World War, which I find quite shocking with some of the impressions and suggestions that Chaplin makes. Chaplin plays both the role of the Great Dictator (a dictator of the fictional Tomainian) and a Jewish barber, who experiences trouble with his memory after saving the life of a pilot. I read later that Chaplin cast himself as a Jew because Hitler had mistakenly thought that he was Jewish. It was very satirical on many levels. I think that there is another Chaplin film on the list to watch and I am very much looking forward to watching that as well.

143. Casino

This film had a sort of an Ocean’s Eleven feel about it and at the start I had the feeling that it was going to run on similar lines. It was a typical gangster-type film with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci, whom I can never watch without thinking of the Home Alone movies. I think that I liked the film overall but for me the film was a touch too long (two minutes short of three hours). I’m not sure if a shorter film would have taken away from the feel of the film or not but I guess that is a question that the director and the producers have to make. It also stars Sharon Stone as a former prostitute/coke head, who is married to Robert DeNiro’s character and you know that she is going to be trouble right from the off, even though he clearly loves and trusts her implicitly. In my opinion, this is the best role I have seen Stone play, though I am not sure that I would be able to name any other films that she was in off the top of my head.

153. La La Land

I love musicals but I am not so sure that I loved this film. If I am being honest, I don’t get why this film was such a big deal at the Oscars. The plot at the beginning was a bit too predictable: struggling actress who works in a coffee shop means musician who is having his creativity stifled by the industry hate each other but then end up dating. I can’t decide if I thought the ending was genius or a bit pathetic. It definitely wasn’t a traditional Hollywood ending and I’m still deciding how the ending made me feel and how I should interpret it. I did, however, love Ryan Gosling’s tap dancing.

So, that is another 5 movies off the list. I have now watched 90 and I have 160 left to watch. To me, it seems like I am making very little process with this list. I’m hoping in the next months, I can get quite a few more ticked off the list. I might have to have a big of a binge watch to start making a dent in the list!

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Vegan dinner

7 Feb

I seem to be obsessed at the moment about doing research into finding vegan-friendly alternatives for when I start my #40Before40: Challenge #14, when I will attempt to eat vegan for three months. This challenge is enough to make even the most determined person weak at the knees – hopefully not literally though. However, the more research I do, the more confident I am that this is more achievable than I thought it was and the more inclined I am to think that I could actually remain eating a vegan diet long after my little experiment is done and dusted.

There are plenty of websites and information about there about eating a vegan diet. Obviously some of the claims that are made are probably coming from a biased angle, so it is not always easy to sort fact from fiction. But, if even half of the claims are true, the health benefits alone are a reason to cut dairy and meat  products from your diet. I was also surprised that lots of athletes are switching to vegan eating and are actually performing much better than previously, which goes against the stereotype that all vegans are puny things that lack nutrients.

As part of my planning and research before I jump head first into the world of veganism, I decided to cook a three course meal for three of my friends at the weekend. My definition of friendship is that if I am suffering then you should feel my pain too. After assuring them that the beer and wine I had was also vegan and, therefore, we would not be drinking tap water for the whole evening, they accepted my invitation.

Here is what I made for them.

First course was a roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup with a hint of chilli, which I was assured was the “right amount of spice”. I served this with bread and some homemade houmous.

The main course was a vegan moussaka. I love moussaka and, although I don’t eat it all that often, I was keen to try it out to see if it was any good or not. It took a while to make it and I managed to make enough for about 8 people. I was worried that we wouldn’t be full from a dish made from aubergine, tomatoes, mushrooms and walnuts. It was so tasty that I was more than happy to finish off the leftovers for dinner the following night.

The dessert was a bit of a disaster. I decided to make a macadamia nut cream from a vegan cookbook and an egg free meringue recipe that I found online. The macadamia nut cream went down well but I wasn’t so convinced about the texture as I thought it would have been better if it was smoother. But everyone ate it. The meringues just didn’t work and I’m not sure why. I make a lot of meringues and pavlovas and the mixture itself was identifical to the mixture that I have made with eggs. I think that the temperature for the oven in the recipe was wrong because the meringues came out flat and it came out a bit more like honeycombe than anything else. As I had vegan sorbet in the freezer, I served the sorbet with some of the meringues/honeycombe stuff sprinkled on the top. I will try the egg free meringue mixture once again though and see if the oven temperature was the problem.

All in all, I think we all enjoyed the meal. So a BIG thank you to Stefan, Mark and Araz, who suffered in the name of friendship and who, I am sure, will have to endure some more vegan meals in the near future!

One question that still remains about the diet is about the use of ingredients that technically are vegan (i.e. contain no direct animal products) but come with the warning may contain milk, because they were produced in a factory where milk products are made. On the one hand, you could argue that because the products will possibly only contain traces of animal products that I should be able to eat them. But, if you had a nut allergy, there is no way you would eat something which said it may contain nuts. I have also found a product which has an official vegan label on it but the small print for the ingredients says it may contain milk. So how can that be vegan?

Do you see my dilemma? I have asked several people what they think and I still haven’t found a general consensus. Do any of you have the answer? Please let me know your thoughts?

Weekend Wanderings

31 Jan

It already seems like the weekend was an age ago. I had a visitor staying with me over the weekend so things were a bit full on. My friend, Jenny, who I have been friends with for longer than I can remember, arrived on Friday lunchtime. I always enjoy having people to come and stay with me because it means that I get to take some time off work and show people the sights and do things I wouldn’t normally do.

After she arrived and we had had lunch, we caught the train to Zürich’s very own mountain, Uetliberg (all 800 meters of it!). From the top, you can get a great view of the whole city – from the airport to the city centre to the lake. I have been many times with many people and, obviously, the view is heavily dependent on the weather. Although it wasn’t the best weather I have seen while I was up there – that honour goes to my brother, who visited in August 2016 when the weather was just phenomenal – it was still impressive.

After a short walk and a quick beer while we waited for the train, we went to the FIFA Football Museum. I haven’t been there before and I have heard mixed reviews about it. I had also heard that they were thinking about closing it down because they don’t have enough visitors. I was pleasantly surprised. There is a lot of memorabila from past World Cups, the actual World Cup that will be presented to the winning team later this year and some great interactive games as well.

At the end of the tour, you can test out your football skills in five different games. Apart from a mum or two, we were the only women there. One man even said to me, after I had completely one of the skills tests with 100% score, “Wow, fair play to you, that was excellent.” Comments like that make me wonder if some men are even aware that women are now entitled to vote! Patronising comments or not, I would recommend the Museum, if ever you are in the area.

We headed home for a Raclette dinner, a few beers and an early-ish night because on Saturday we were up and out to go to visit Mount Rigi in Central Switzerland. Jenny really wanted to see snow but there hasn’t been any in the city for weeks so we had to head high up into the mountains.

The weather on the way up was making me nervous. It was so foggy and it was virtually impossible to see anything out of the train window as we made our way up. At the top it was even worse. I have been to the mountain before but the visibility was so terrible that I couldn’t even find my barrings to navigate our way to the top.

Finally, the fog and the cloud lifted slightly and we (very carefully) made our way to the top over treacherous black ice. The top was incredible. You had to be careful because the snow was so deep that the fences that prevent you from falling over the side of the mountain were completely buried. The top reminded me a little bit of how I imagine the surface of the moon to be. The snow was so compact that it looked like there were craters in places. Plenty of people were also falling over because they only had trainers on but luckily we had sturdy footwear.

I was losing hope that the fog would lift and we would be able to see the Alps. All of a sudden, the sky was crystal clear and the white tops of the mountain were radiant against the backdrop of the blue sky. We spent a while appreciating the view and taking pictures. Seeing Jenny’s utter delight at the mountains reminded me of how lucky I am to live here and for these sights to be right on my doorstep.

After a very gingerly descent down the mountain (but at least it was clear now), we had a bite to eat and headed back down the mountain to go to Lucerne, a place that Jenny has not been before but where I have been several times.

We had a wander around the city, which I always think is completely arresting and so quiet. We arrived at 4pm and noticed that a lot of the shops had already shut. People often complain that shops close early in Zürich but they are definitely open later than that. I do think that it is good that shop staff aren’t expected to work for the whole weekend but it just seems a little too early to me. I did wonder if the companies ever wonder about how much money they have lost through shutting early. They probably don’t give it a second thought; this is Switzerland. Everyone has enough money.

We decided to have one beer in a British pub and see if the football was on. Two football matches and a few-more-than-one beers later, we headed home.

Sunday was more relaxed. We watched the Australian Open final and then had a short walk around where I live. We managed to see some Red Kites, Buzzards and even a little Woodpecker. Jenny got some cracking photos of these too!

It was then time to go to the airport and the weekend was, once again, over far too soon.

World Snow Festival 2018

19 Jan

Today I had a day off and, rather than spending the day at home not doing very much, I decided to get out of the house and explore some of Switzerland. If I am brutally honest, I haven’t explored Switzerland half as much as I would like to. It was the perfect opportunity to start to rectify this.

Completely by chance, I saw what this week the World Snow Festival was being held in Grindelwald. So, I decided to head out to see it. It took quite a few train changes to get there but, as I had the whole day to myself, it didn’t really matter. The information on the website was that there were 14 international teams who would be entering. Their task was to make sculptures from snow. The public and a panel of judges could vote for their favourite.

I was quite surprised by how much snow there was as I was heading away from Zurich. Even though it was colder, it was still possible to see a small bit of blue sky poking through the clouds and by the early afternoon the skies were beginning to brighten slightly.

After finally arriving at my final destination, I was more than a bit disappointed. When you hear the word Festival, certain images come to mind, like activities to do and see as well as sights, smells and sounds. The Festival itself was located at the main bus stop next to the train station in Grindelwald. The sculptures were just dotted out where people were waiting for their bus.

And that was it. No more information apart from the information that the teams had written about what they had built and the obligatory plea to beg you to vote for them. It wasn’t clear to me where you could actually vote. No one from the tourist board or the team was there to give more information about the competition. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. So I didn’t vote.

The Slovakian team would have got my vote. Here is their entry.

Yes, it is Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel, from IceAge who spends his life chasing after an elusive acorn; completely inspired choice of entry! I have no idea how they made it or how long it took but hats off to them.

It struck me that this was a real shame that something that is published on the official Swiss Tourism website isn’t a bit better organised and there aren’t any engaging activities for visitors.

Tonight is the prize giving for the winners so I would imagine that the atmosphere then is a lot different. It could just be that I went at the wrong time. Also it isn’t like Grindelwald is scrapping the barrel for visitors. People flock there every day because it really is stunning. See this photo that I took at the train station before I left to see what I mean.

#40 Before 40: Challenge #8

4 Dec

As part of my #40Before40 Challenge #8, I am attempting to watch all of the Top 250 Films of all time as listed on iMDB.

Below are the films that I have watched in the past two months.

25. Life is Beautiful

I don’t know what I was expecting with this film but I wasn’t expecting it to be set in a concentration camp. A feckless but charming Jewish waiter woos a well-to-do lady, who is very much out of his league, and settles down to have a son with her. His bookshop is targeted by the Nazis and eventually he and his son are taken to the concentration camp. The wife also demands to go with them but they are separated when they arrive. Although the subject matter of the film is tragic, there are lighter sizes to the story that provide comic relief and also highlights the importance of love and hope. When arriving at the camp, the husband offers to translate from German to tell the new arrivals what the rules are. So that his son isn’t scared, he sets out the rules of a game so that his son will behave himself and life will be easier for him in the camp. It’s an interesting story with a happy ending which is tinged with sadness. The film is originally in Italian. As my Italian is not great, I watch the dubbed English version.

46. Gladiator

I am being honest here. I have started to watch this film a number of time but I have always fallen asleep in the middle of it. My general rule is that if you can’t tell me a story in two and a half hours maximum, I am not interested. This is almost 3 hours long. Essentially, the film starts with the lead character just wanting to go home after he has done his days work. This is most people’s lives from Monday to Friday. After the new Emperor kills his wife and son to punish him for his defiance, he ends up being found and becomes a gladiator. In the end, the length of the film didn’t bother me too much. It did get be wondering why Russell Crowe has managed to be in so many of the Top 250. I’ve never really rated him so highly but he must be doing something right.

65. Alien

I don’t think I had ever seen this film because I thought it would be too scary. It was made in 1979. I can imagine at the time that this film was scary to the audience but in 2017, the special effects look dated and a bit laughable. Perhaps the funniest part was when one of the crew members was being attacked by the alien and the camera cut to a shot of the ship’s cat’s shocked face. Also I was a bit disappointed that Sigorny Weaver’s character, at a pivotal moment in the story, feels the need to abandon her crew members to go and find her cat. I wonder if this is where the phrase “crazy cat lady” comes from? Being Hollywood, of course, her and cat manage to get away safely or so it would appear…

85. Taxi Driver

Oh, so this is the film where Robert De Niro says “You talking to me? Of course, you’re talking to me. Nobody else is here” or words to that effect. Basically, De Niro is an ex-marine who served in Vietnam, who arrives back in America and, presumably because of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, isn’t able to sleep so he gets a job driving a taxi. While watching the film I wasn’t 100% what parts of his life he was delusional about. At one point, he is telling women that he works for the secret service. He then starts training with guns and at one point he is ready to assassinate a candidate for the Presidential Primary. In the end, he uses his shooting skills for good and rescues a very young Jodie Foster from a life of prostitution. It also features a foul-mouthed Harvey Keitel as a pimp who gets his comeuppance. As the film is move 40 years old, I found some of the scene were unintentionally funny. Overall, a really good film.

103. L.A Confidental

A brutal murder is investigated by the highly-corrupt LAPD. A new detective with high morals is put in charge but none of his colleagues think that he has the stomach to solve the case. The film is very old school, Hollywood glamour. I’m actually not so sure that I enjoyed this film. Also I did get a bit confused because there was a character called Pierce but the actor playing the rookie detective was Guy Pearce and I got confused about who people were referring to.

 

120. Downfall

A film about the last few days of Hitler’s life and the downfall of the Third Reich. The film was actually in German with English subtitles. The story was based on one of Hitler’s private secretaries diary. It was an interesting story and well acted and it was no surprise to me that it was in the Top 250 films.

I have now watched 85 of the films on the list. Just 165 more to go!

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#40Before 40, Challenge #21: Part 2

27 Nov

So, I left you on a cliffhanger yesterday. I was half way through my 21st challenge of my #40Before40. If you missed it, you can read it here.

We are now half way through the challenge and about to watch the 13th episode. I am feeling quite awake and, even though we are not as chatty as we were in the beginning, I think the challenge is going well.

Hour 13:

Show: The bad guys are after Teri and Kim but in true idiotic, women-fleeing-from-the-baddies fashion, they are lost and things are getting tense. Jack manages to save them just in time. Meanwhile it is becoming clear that David Palmer might have some anger management issues.

Us: I’m feeling awake and, although I have seen the series before, I can’t remember what is going to happen next. We have sort of agreed that perhaps the series could be a lot shorter but then it wouldn’t be called 24, would it? I am looking forward to the vegan spicy chili that I have made after the next episode.

Hour 14:

Show: Jack is under house arrest, David Palmer is being blackmailed and the FBI has been infiltrated at hospital security… all in the space of an hour! The Serbian connection once again is mentioned. Everyone seems to have Jack’s intentions completely wrong, apart from Tony.

Us: Stefan’s eyes are heavily than my shopping bags when I say that I am just nipping to the shops for a “few things”. The boys want to sleep but I have a feeling if I sleep that I won’t wake up. They decide to take a power nap so I clear up some plates and dishes from dinner but I am scared about waking them up.

Hour 15:

Show: Palmer confront Jack’s and they realise that they have a connection from an operation in Kosovo that Jack served in and Palmer instructed. During a debriefing, Teri guesses that Nina has had an affair with Jack and she also finds out that she is pregnant.

Us: Stefan seems to be struggling. Mark is on the other end of the sofa and is usually quiet. I am wide awake.

Hour 16:

Show: A terrorist suspect has become the boyfriend of one of the Senator’s staff members, in order to get information about the Senator’s schedule. The bad guys have made it into the safe house where Teri and Kim are staying. They manage to get away just in time but then have a bad car accident, where Teri has lost her memory and it looks like Kim is dead.

Us: We go for a quick walk (it’s now 1am). We are now two thirds of the way through!

Hour 17:

Show: There is an operation to plant a tracker on the terror suspect but the emotionally fragile “girlfriend” messes it up and stabs the suspect instead because she knows that he has only been seeing her to get information. Jack has found out that Teri knows that he had an affair with Nina.

Us: The walk really woke me up. But I need some sugar. And caffine. We take desparate steps. We open the Red Bull.

Hour 18:

Show: It turns out that Teri has also possibly having an affair. The Senator’s wife has destoryed some crucial evidence that will prove her son’s innocent but Palmer has tricked her and he still has the original tape. Kim is now being held hostage at a drug dealers house. I have no idea how she manages to get herself into these situations.

Us: Man down! Stefan is bolt upright but fast asleep. They say never leave a good man behind but both Mark and myself leave him to sleep. I am starting to feel tired now.

Hour 19:

Show: Some files about the Kosovo operation have been found and they reveal an address. Jack goes to investigate. The drug deal that Kim is a witness to is actually a raid and she gets arrested. No one knows where she is.

Us: I decided to join the boys in a power nap. And I am feeling a lot brighter. I think it probably is true that power naps are good for concentration and focus. I might start power napping every hour at work.

Hour 20:

Show: Palmer has decided to come clean about the accusations brought against his son beause he thinks that the voters will understand. Jack is now at the address from the previous episode. It is a prison facility and they expecting the transfer of a highly secret prisoner. The prisoner is the Serbian terrorist who he thought he killed 2 years earlier.

Us: We seem to be doing ok, and only have 4 hours left to go. Stefan is annoyed about the way his countrymen are portrayed on TV. I get annoyed when all British people in television programmes have terrible teeth and sound like they have plums in their mouth, so I guess he has the right to be.

Hour 21:

Show: There is an explosion at the prison as the terrorists are attempting to free the prisoner. Jack releases the prisoner when he is backed into a corner and is taken as a hostage himself. He is in deep shit now. Kim gets herself into more trouble; she is honestly a liability.

Us: We have a group power nap of 17 minutes before the next episode needs to be started.

Hour 22:

Show: Kim is kidnapped again. If she wasn’t it in, I am sure that the programme would be called 6. She just can’t lay low for 5 minutes. Palmer has won the vote. Jack is being traded for the main bad guy’s son, who was the terrorist, who got stabbed a number of hours ago. There is some very inappropriate back massages being given by Palmer’s speech writer, Pattie.

Us: We are feeling a lot happier as the end is in sight. I wonder when the sun will come up because it is still pitched black outside.

Hour 23:

Show: In a twist, the terrorists want to shoot Palmer because the son of the terrorist has now died. Palmer dismisses Pattie because he knows that she has been told by his wife to be a honey trap. There is an explosion at the hotel and Palmer is presumed to be dead. Kim manages to escape (how many times is this now??) and Nina is a rat. She has been talking (not very good) Serbian to the terrorists. She was the mole all along.

Us: I am begin to nod off but I stand up and walk around to keep myself awake. We are powering to the finish.

Hour 24:

Show: Palmer’s wife is bad news and a huge snake in the grass and I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her. Jack kills the main terrorist after Nina lied about him killing Kim. Teri is kidnapped by Nina after she began to get suspicious. Jack and Nina have a face off but Teri has already been left for dead by Nina.

Us: We have done it! I’m not quite as jubulant than I thought I would be but that is mainly because I want to try to go to sleep.

And there you have it. The first challenge completed! Just 39 to go!

A huge thank you to Stefan and Mark, who also stuck with me and helped the night to be more enjoyable than I thought it would be. I am still not convinced that they thought that the series was as good as I think it is but I could listen to Kiefer Sutherland’s voice all day long, so perhaps I am biased.

I am sure that you will read about them helping me with some of my other challenges as well but hopefully those challenges won’t mean that we have to lose too much sleep.