31 July 2010

rocky relations


one of the side effects of living with a film freak is that you occasionally end up getting sucked into things and then wondering what the heck you're doing. earlier today, i was suddenly shocked to find that i'd been sitting and watching a rocky weekend marathon while drinking my morning coffee and enjoying my bagel with cream cheese. a rocky marathon. what's worse, i was watching the end of rocky 3 (with mr. t channeling george foreman, years before they both ended up flogging cookware on the channels that don't have rocky marathons on the weekend). if they were going to follow the series, there was only one thing that could follow. i got up and showered.

however, when i returned from cleansing myself, there it was, waiting for me. rocky iv, in all its abominable glory.

i really shouldn't have to say that rocky iv is a bad movie. in fact, i shouldn't say that, because bad doesn't really do it justice. it's a terrible movie, whether taken as a whole or as the sum of its parts. that's kind of miraculous, really. not only is the end product wretched, but nearly every single element that goes into making it- acting, cinematography, script, soundtrack- is equally disagreeable. i saw this film when i was in my early teens (back when it came out in 1985) and even then, i realised that this was a special sort of bad, catering to a special sort of very limited mentality. the fact that it's funny doesn't redeem it. no one meant for the film to be funny, which is really the most inadvertently hilarious thing about it.

but what's truly incredible is that watching it, or as much of it as i could stand, may have improved my waning faith in humanity. let me explain, starting with what passes for a plot.

a bunch of soviets, including a kruschev-like trainer and bitchy amazon brigitte nielsen back when she was hot, parade something called "ivan drago" (with that kind of name, you know he's bad to the bone) across the ocean for a show match against former champion apollo creed. creed enlists the help of his friend rocky balboa, the mumble-mouthed italian stallion who's already fought his way through three increasingly weak films. despite the fact that drago is the olympic champion (which would have been an accomplishment, considering that the soviet block boycotted the 1984 olympics), the americans know nothing about him or his fighting style. balboa, like any good coach or friend, tells creed that he's going to lose.

on fight night, creed arrives in a show so over-the-top, even las vegas would blush. all flash and american bravado, it feels like getting punched repeatedly by a prizefighter with the word "hubris" tattooed on his hands. drago, who arrives looking kind of like a prisoner coming out of solitary confinement, obliges this clumsy bit of foreshadowing by beating creed to death in the ring as rocky waffles on whether or not to throw in the towel.

to show that he is not just an overzealous young fighter who got carried away, bringing his a-game to what was supposed to be an exhibition, drago shrugs and tells reporters on the scene "if he dies, he dies". understand that meat-slab dolph lundgren, who had the misfortune of being cast as drago, says about a dozen words in the entire film (normally, kruschev and the amazon do his talking), so this line is exceptionally important in the audience's perception of his inner motivation.

off goes rocky to russia, to fight the murderous drago there, on christmas day, but first to train. i guess we're supposed to understand that the united states has such woefully inadequate training facilities that rocky is better off moving to a shed in what looks like siberia, jogging through snowbanks and chopping wood through several montages, before magically emerging with a beard.

of course, the film is always about the fight in the rocky series, which is why plot and character development apparently got left on the drawing board. instead of the cold war match being about adversaries who learn to take pride in themselves and have respect for their opponent regardless of the outcome (as it was with rocky and the late all-american apollo creed), we see that the soviet fighter is an unrepentant, unfeeling killing machine. we are reminded, in case we missed the subtleties of the message, that drago has an unbeatable technique, whereas rocky has only heart, being older and less technically adept at this point in the saga. the soviet is a fighting machine, the american is all too human.

in the end, of course, the soviet crowd turns on drago and is won over by rocky's resilience and individualism. even drago gives his trainer a smack-down and affirms his own belief that he fights only for himself. and in the end, having won the hearts of the people and the fight, rocky speaks to the crowd, who are apparently all fluent in english, and tells them that they can all change. and that's ultimately what we all want, right? for the soviets to change?

it is hard to explain to anyone who has not seen this film, or other similar ones from the era, exactly how insanely polarised things are in the world of rocky iv. this was the desperate black hour of the cold war, just before mikhail gorbachev opened the door a crack and revealed the dawn. those who were invested in the rhetoric of right versus left, of us versus them, really did explain the world in these terms. "we" were good. "they" were bad. "they" were heartless monsters, made less than human through years of abuse and repression and the only hope was to have their latent humanity beaten to wakefulness by determined american fists.

and people took this crap seriously. rocky iv earned more money at the box office than any other film in the franchise. it is still the highest-grossing sports film of all time. how i wish i were making that up. whereas other films show rocky as a fighter who must deal with his own demons and face an opponent, this film is purely rocky as hyper-obvious metaphor, winning the cold war rather than ending it. and the film worked on the public because that was how a lot of people at the time actually thought.

now imagine, if you will, a new sort of sports movie, where the hero is an american battler and his opponent is a remorseless killing machine from iran. picture the reaction of critics and audiences as they watched the hero pummel the villain into submission (and then, to follow through on our parallel, convert him to christianity). i think that such a film would get a similar reaction to "birth of a nation" and be consigned to the trash heap of history as an embarrassing monument to xenophobia and racism. and that's where the hope comes in.

seen 25 years on, rocky iv seems more naive than anything else, because we've all forgotten that when it first came out, being informed was a serious challenge. after all, if you couldn't get unbiased information from the major media, you pretty much had to scrounge in fringe magazines (assuming they were even available in your area) and community radio to find out stories that were often years old. it's not that those people didn't exist, but it was pretty easy to shout over them.

with huge and increasing portions of the world connected to the avalanche of information that is the internet, the challenge is being able to filter and determined what sounds the most credible. when george w. bush announced "you're either with us, or you're with the terrorists", he had a large group of supporters who cheered, but he also had an even larger group worldwide who rolled their eyes and continued to share data detailing why they believed he was an idiot and a liar. the delays in accessing information are gone. the barriers to accessing information are depleting. and while that may mean that the tide of misinformation grows ever worse, it means that gradually, every year, the sophistication of the audience is growing.

it may seem ridiculous to assert the sophistication of an audience that regularly tunes in to dancing with the stars (or whatever vapid hit you might want to mention), but the fact is that more people are more suspicious, more critical of what they hear, than ever before (note, i say more people, not all people or even a majority of people). that means when someone says something, you are going to have a lot more people scrambling to their computers to verify either the information itself or the trustworthiness of its source than you did in 1985.

that's it. i didn't say that it was enough to turn me into an optimist, but it's something. at the very least, it should be enough to protect me from the political simplifications of rocky for a little while.

17 July 2010

every woman my age is doing it

that's right, i gave myself a face lift. if you're reading this on blogger (and if you're not, you're probably bloody confused), you'll notice that i've started a process of making things a little spiffier and more organised, that i've started to sort my links into something resembling a cohesive whole and that i've generally applied a newer, sleeker (albeit built from a template because i don't have a lot of patience) design.

i've been doing this for five years (as of next month) and this is really the first time that i've paused to clean house. i'll be updating and changing a few more things, but this is basically what you're looking at for the next little while.

for those of you who have read regularly, thank you. if your blog/ site is not listed among my links to the right, it is only a matter of time. for those of you who are wondering who the heck does this kind of thing, please see the "getting to know kate" section on the right. for those of you reading this post on facebook, please understand that i just have it automatically sent to my fb profile from blogger.

16 July 2010

eat the cup 2010, part 10


well here it is... it's all over but the crying. actually, since i'm writing this almost a week on, i should hope that the crying is over with too.

this represents the grand finale of eat the cup for another four years. some of you may recall that i might have expressed what some would call righteous indignation (and what others would call petulance --ed. at the last world cup final. it's true, i wasn't happy. it wasn't just because i was cheering for france (more because i was damn sick of hearing that people in their thirties were too old to win than because of any abiding love for the team), but because of how it was settled. to come that far and then to settle things by seeing how many career professionals can kick the ball into what is essentially an empty net is not proper. it's not even interesting.

i was getting awfully, awfully nervous (as anyone who follows my twitter feed could testify) as this cup final wound down that we were going to end up in the exact same situation. when that single goal was scored, it lifted my spirits not because of the team that scored, but because that goal meant it would count as a real game. (on a side note, i accept shoot outs in hockey, because at least the goalie has a fair shot. in soccer, if you're going to have one, i think that the defending team should be allowed 4-5 people in the net.) sure, there are arguments about whether or not the goal was scored from an offside position, but i'm happy enough about the lack of a shootout to look the other way on that one.

ok. i'm being a little deceptive here. i had picked spain to win this year, so the result gives that exultation, even in the absence of any bets, of being right. but it's more than that. i wanted spain to win so that i could cook paella.

what better way to finish off the tournament than with a dish whose mystique comes close to matching that of the sport itself. the hold that paella has on people transcends food. it is mythical. in the 90s, seinfeld made the dish the centre of an episode, where kramer waxes poetic (well, waxes articulate at least) about the sensuous properties of risotto's sexier cousin.

i think a lot of that appeal has to with saffron. spain was the european country that had the greatest contact with the mysterious moors (and is everywhere marked by their influence) and certainly it was from them that the early spanish learned the secret properties of those wonderful orchid stamens that make up the most expensive spice still commonly consumed. without saffron, paella IS risotto. thirsty rice that one prepares with any variety of vegetables and meat. in my case, i opted for seafood, because what makes things better than loading an already good base with fish and seafood? nothing, i say. the really shocking thing is how bloody easy it is to prepare a good paella. seriously. it's easiest with the proper pan, but even without, it's a snap.

and so, in a way, eat the cup comes to a fairytale ending. a team that was always seen as perpetually underperforming, who had never made it to a world cup final before, takes home the great prize. and i get to cook something (enjoyed with a cheap and delicious garnacha from valencia province, i might add) that finishes things in a rich, flavourful and unique way. Eat up and in four years, who knows what'll happen?

11 July 2010

eat the cup 2010, part 9

my sports predictions are like weather forecasts. i don't really know what i'm talking about and if they're right, it has more to do with dumb luck than anything else. for instance, last world cup, i thought spain was going to go all the way. instead, they got bounced early on by eventual runners' up (and should have been champions) france. so what did i do this time? i figured i'd just been too early in my prediction and went with them again. and you know what? it looks like i might have been onto something. ok, this is not a risky bet, because they were co-favourites to win the tournament after winning the euro 2008 (against germany, who they eliminated from the semi-finals this year). however, the spanish team has been known to implode under world scrutiny and just look at what happened to that other favourite, brazil. (in fact, their elimination at the quarter final stage mirrors their performance last time, where france shocked the world by taking them out, much as holand has done this year, and france ended up in the final against italy, the team who had defeated germany in the semis. if you believe that history does repeat itself, bet on spain to win the final.)

i don't know which team is going to come out on top, but i'm happy to have the opportunity to cook a spanish meal because, as one who loves cooking, spanish food is really fun to work with.

take, for instance, gazpacho. to most north americans, it's known (if it's known at all) as the alternate dish lisa proposes to barbequed meat in a classic episode of the simpsons. her description "tomato soup served ice cold" hardly does the dish justice. after all, true gazpacho bears little resemblance to the ketchupy stuff that comes out of a campbell's soup can. it's basically like eating a garden, bursting with flavour, with a delightful aroma of olive oil throughout.

of course, that's only traditional gazpacho and since traditionally, spain has fared poorly at the world cup, it makes sense to try one of the many other varieties of gazpacho that the country has to offer.

so in honour of their semi-final victory and in acknowledgment of the fact that a heat wave bringing temperatures of over 40C/ 100F makes cooking into something forbidden by the geneva convention, i prepared a big batch of white gazpacho. rather than using vegetables, this version uses almonds to make a creamy, delicious and incredibly rich meal. you're not missing much because of the lack of a photo. It looks like a bowl of milk. but it tastes like a bowl of manna, as long as you assume manna is spiked with enough garlic to kill at twenty paces. it's quick, it's delicious, it's even vegan, for those following such a diet. what's not to love?

so, while i wouldn't put much faith in my predictive ability, it does look like i'm going to stick with my original thought this time around, for the entire tournament. soup to nuts (or nuts to soup).

08 July 2010

whither the great american...

i came across this story during one of my regular perusals of boing boing and it got me to thinking. actually, i'd been thinking about this for a while, but i just never got around to doing the blog post about it. whatever happened to that american institution (not to say that they don't exist elsewhere, but the most (in)famous examples are american), the serial killer.

this actually occurred to me several months ago, while re-watching david fincher's criminally underrated "zodiac". when the heck was the last time you heard about a serial killer? (assuming you don't count the link just mentioned. -ed.)

it used to seem like there were serial killers lurking on every corner. john wayne gacy, ted bundy, henry lee lucas... these monsters were waiting to prey on the unsuspecting, waiting to subject them to unspeakable horrors, before disposing of them in some callous way, leaving families to grieve and a morbid public to wonder who could do such a thing. throughout the 70s, 80s and even part of the 90s, we all lived in fear of the sadistic stranger who wanted to take our lives for no reason other than the fact that he (overwhelmingly, they were male) desired to inflict pain and reel in the power over another.

i had a tangential experience with this when i was living in halifax. when i was in my late teens/ early 20s, there were a series of disappearances of young women who looked a little uncomfortably like me, as a friend once pointed out. some said that those of us claiming a serial killer was on the loose were being paranoid. of course, there are those now who suspect we might have been onto something.

then, all of a sudden,post-jeffrey dahmer, the serial killer faded from view. no longer did we fear the silent predator in the night. oh no. the new fear was the mass murderer, the terrorist, the person who is not content to pick off strangers one by one, but who makes a frightening statement by killing and injuring hundreds, even thousands, at once.

when and why did this shift happen? was it because our fear of seeming like prey as individuals has been replaced by a fear of seeming like a faceless cog in a larger machine? now the monsters who keep us awake at night are the timothy mcveighs, the seemingly endless parade of schoolground killers, the foreign terrorists, who, rather than observing and choosing the individual victim, seeks to kill en masse as many of his kind (they are still overwhelmingly male) as he can.

the serial killer is terrifying to us because he strips away the veneer of humanity we embrace and shows that we can still be the predator, eyes facing forward to allow us to triangulate the distance from our prey all the better, that we are still an animal barely evolved from the jungles that spawned us.

the mass murderer, however, is uniquely human. the capacity to want to destroy not only our prey, but huge groups of people at once is something that only the human being can understand. and perhaps that is what allows them to eclipse the terror of the serial killer.

lonnie david franklin is not merely a slave to baser instincts, likely to spend the remainder of his life rotting in a cell and having people think that because he has access to cable television, he is living a privileged existence. he is an anachronism. and the fact that his case has received so little attention outside of los angeles is evident that we no longer fear the animal that lurks in us. we fear the human that we have become.

07 July 2010

eat the cup 2010, part 8


ah holland, it seems that i've underestimated the power of orange. after all, ,i cooked dutch food early on, expecting that i was merely giving you the chance to play a role in the cup festivities and yet somehow, here i am, still reverting back to your cuisine, having now forgotten more about dutch food than most north americans will ever know. here you are, fit and tough as ever, about to move on to the final of the world cup for only the second time in my lifespan (and let's face it, i really wasn't paying attention the first time). no, you won't get to take on your former nemesis germany. but you'll be staring down the iberian eyes of the spanish inquisition as you make a quest for your first-ever world cup title. if you win, i'll make a batch of brownies in your honour.

of course, in honour of you hanging tough and fighting your way through the semi-final, i figured i'd cook up a dish that, strangely, was buried somewhere in my memory of searching for dutch recipes either this year or four years ago (i don't look that often). i had to make sure i was right about the origin of it and, lo and behold, i was. (the memory loss hasn't started yet.) so for dinner i made a lovely dish of cod with mustard cream sauce. normally, i'm not a fan of putting sauces on fish. call it part of my maritime heritage, but i'm a little suspicious (you might say i turn a fishy eye towards it) of any dish that buries the lovely, delicate taste of fish in something heavy, because to me, it means someone's trying to hide the taste of not quite so fresh fish. but hell, i live in montreal now. i no longer know what fresh fish means. so i decided to compromise just this once, because the sauce sounded tasty and because i love mustard. yes, mustard. as in "cut the mustard", which is certainly what you've been doing, holland. it's been lovely getting to know you and your ways with seafood.

(fyi- the rice you see with the dish is not strictly speaking dutch, but indonesian. rice with corn is often served as part of a tasty table of appetizer-portion dishes called a "rijstaffel", or rice table, once it's translated from dutch, the people who adapted the traditional festive meal and then gave it their own name, still used internationally to this day.

05 July 2010

dj kali @ spooky boogie night 2010.07.04

a new twist to the djkali experience this time : video projections courtesy of mr. dna (& the "extra weird sampler"- some of the strangest movie trailers ever made). that proved enough of a hit that we'll be repeating the experience in the future. and speaking of the future, for the next couple of months, that's going to mean the first sunday of the month at katacombes, as part of the black cauldron/ spooky boogie nights love-in.

anyway, here's a listing of what was heard last night and, once again, a big thanks to all who showed up, listened, watched, quaffed and laughed. it was definitely one of my favourite dj experiences.

coil :: restless day (alternate)
implog :: she creatures
ioil :: solar lodge
numb :: Eugene
naus arafna :: mirror me
the klinik :: moving hands
clock dva :: the act
sleep chamber :: dominatrix
mika vainio :: vandals
hypnoskull :: sick sekrets
klangstabil :: anti - communication
spk :: metal field
die gesunden :: die gesunden kommen
tuxedomoon :: no tears
oto :: blue arrow
devo :: signal ready
mia :: born free
stiff little fingers :: roots, radicals, rockers & reggae
the 5 blobs :: the blob
wall of voodoo :: call of the west
the cramps :: garbageman
death in June :: nothing changes
joy division :: no love lost
siouxsie & the banshees :: Israel
the cure :: a strange day
nick cave :: straight to you
screaming jay Hawkins :: I put a spell on you
xeno & oaklander :: preuss
devo :: SIB
martial canterel :: windscreen
[i'm nearly certain that there was another track in here that i forgot to write down, so if anyone remembers what it was, feel free to speak up]
plecid :: leaves
novy svet :: en possession de te

04 July 2010

eat the cup 2010, part 7


thus far in the competition, i've honoured germany, the hosts of the last world cup (where they made it to the semi-finals before being ousted by eventual champions italy) only with wine. but really, after their performance in the quarter final round this weekend, it seemed like something else was in order. others may tell you that the biggest surprise of the quarter-finals was that the netherlands defeated brazil. not to take away from the oranje's considerable achievement, but everyone seems to forget that, as the top-ranked team, brazil losing to anyone would be an upset and the dutch are ranked fourth overall, making them as good a bet as any to defeat the perennial favourites.

germany playing argentina, however, had all the hallmarks of a potentially fantastic, memorable match- two teams almost evenly matched (6th and 7th ranked respectively), both known for their prodigious offense (the two top scoring teams thus far in the tournament), who finished at the top of their respective groups.

but by a perversity of fate, the game was a one-sided blowout. close from the early first goal until midway through the second period, it suddenly seemed like the wheels came off for argentina. all the wheels, all at once. they ended up on the receiving end of a 4-0 loss (which is kind of like a 10-0 loss in most other sports) courtesy of the germans, who made it look like they were using a supposed equal for a harlem globetrotters-style display game.

i'm always a little dicey about preparing german food, because, unlike many other cultures, their menus tend to read like a vegetarian nightmare. it's very hard to come up with a way to concentrate on fish or vegetable matter when you're dealing with a culture that likes to improve their meat by stuffing it with more meat. so i chose to prepare a dinner of bavarian tofu sausages braised in beer (the fine people at yves really have the spices nailed on this particular variation) with sweet and sour fried cabbage. (along with a tasty german sesame bread to sop up all the yummy juices.)

Some of you might consider what i did cheating. that's fine, you can go do your own world cup challenge and eat all the "real" sausages you want and it won't bother me. but it's worth considering that one of the things germany is known for, along with beer and industrial music (ok, there's maybe something else they're known for but this really shouldn't turn into an unnecessarily long piece), is having a strong, vociferous and active animal rights movement. one of the earliest passionate supporters of animal rights was the dour german philosopher arthur schopenhauer. (come to think of it, the plight of an animal rights supporter in 19th century germany, looking for supper, might help explain his characteristic pessimism.)

eat the cup 2010, part 6


the danger in falling a couple of days behind on this project, especially at this juncture, is that the winner that you laud one day can make a hasty exit. such is the case today, where i'm writing a recap of a meal cooked to honour paraguay, a meal prepared on the day that they advanced to the quarter finals but written up on the day after they lost that quarter final to spain.

still, there's certainly no shame in their accomplishment. i don't know that anyone thought they could pull off a victory against the reigning european champions. (i didn't. -ed.) what remains remarkable, however, is the fact that they had such a good run, vaulting past the 2006 cup winners italy and fighting their way through the first elimination round, only to come up against a challenge that proved insurmountable. and in the end, it's not like they were blown away.

the supper consisted of tilapia cooked in citrus juices- predominantly orange juice, with a little lemon and lime added. note- the fish is actually cooked, roasted in an oven, folded up in parchment paper. the central and south american ceviche, where white fish is "cooked" by allowing citrus juices to act on the raw fish, is not typical in paraguay.

as a side dish, i found a recipe that called to my british heritage. it was described as a sort of south american yorkshire pudding, where a cornmeal "dough" is baked in the oven mixed with tomatoes, onions, cheese, hot peppers and cilantro (or other flavourings to taste). this is absolutely delicious, reheats well and is certainly going to be making future appearances on my table.

although i still imagine that most people would have trouble locating the country on a map, the cup chase has at least reminded people of their existence and possibly made people aware of how fascinating the country really is. the country is home to one of the world's least known unesco heritage sites, a mark of its jersuit past. it also has a significant mennonite population, something normally associated with the north, rather than south, america. (which in turn might account for the fact that german is the third most commonly spoken language in the country.)

03 July 2010

eat the cup 2010, part 5



oh, it's getting down to it now... fewer teams every day and now, just about every favourite has bowed to the pressure (hey argentina, is that a nervous sweat i see?) and soon the great football feast shall be done.

i've already tipped my hat towards holland this year, but i'd like once more to rise and applaud their accomplishment. at the time this dinner was prepared, the oranje had yet to allow a goal (they let one through earlier today, but look at the results nonetheless). that, to me, deserves a second look. (perhaps that's the irish sliver of me feeling a certain bond of ancient kinship.)

and so a second look it has been given. what you see above is another fish dish from holland, one that grabbed my attention as I lolled through various sorts of recipes on line. River trout with pine nut sauce (Forel met pijnboompittensaus for the brave of tongue). it's a basic, straightforward thing with no big "secret", but that packs a real bang. yeah, that's a metaphor.

in this case, i just served it up on a plate of arugula. there's no soccer significance to that, i just really love arugula. although now that i see it, it kind of looks like it's resting on a giant green playing field.

this feast was accompanied by an argentinian wine. i'm such an adorer of the region's malbec wines, which just have so many winning qualities, it's hard to see why they wouldn't be a favourite with everyone. (yeah, another metaphor.)
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