I've moved house! Click here to go to my new blog, The Pop Culture Cynic.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Breaking Radio Silence


Is there anybody out there?

Just nod if you can here me.

And so on and so forth.

Buy 'The Dyke', the abridged edition of 'The Wall', now!
The month is over, the war is won, the elves have set sail for Valinor and the B&Q customer assistant finally came back out from behind the flippy-flappy plastic curtain. I'm back! Woo! Today is...Tuesday. My first post getting back into the two-a-week regime should be expected on this very Thursday, incidentally also the day I officially move into my new flat. There is much to do and consequentially much to say; university begins as of Monday, so expect to see a little more variation to posts rather than just the usual film/game reviews.

That's about it for now though, I'm afraid, but I look forward to seeing you, my currently steady stream of 0-3 visitors a day (I'm an internet sensation!), very soon.


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Walking on the Beaches Looking at the Nectarines (Doesn't Quite Have the Same Ring to It)

My good friend/arch nemesis Fiona (no hyperlink for you this time, matey; I've plugged you twice already) came to visit recently and as all best laid plans seem to do, the recent spate of good weather decided to break into full on rain-to-ground water-rape, and said plans to go for walks and little picnics and such were devoured suddenly and remorselessly by a swarm of mouse-men. That is how the phrase goes, yeah?

I didn't really understand the film either...
So its raining. You're stuck in an empty house with your girlfriend and you've got the whole afternoon to fill. What on earth could you do to pass the time?

Of course! Bake! Duh, you guys...

Sweet, sticky, baking.
Our first thought was a crumble of sorts. Quick and easy and very yummy. Maybe rhubarb or apple. A classic choice. But sadly, no luck; the only fruit the closest shop had were grapes, nectarines and tomatoes. One of those has very little baking potential and another is a tomato. So nectarines were the last resort. They'd do. They're pretty much peaches anyway, just with the toe-curlingly furry skin sanded down a bit.

A bit like how American Football is like sport with the sport taken out.
Peach pies are a thing apparently, so we decided to just alter this recipe a little and make our own nectarine pie, hopefully inadvertently developing a new culinary sensation in the process.

Here's what you need for the crust:

"2 1/2 cups all-purpose Gold Medal flour
1 tablesp-" Woah, hold on there. Stop the pastry parade for a second.

The main parade float this year featuring Jabba the Hutt flogging Santa in his not-at-christmas clothes.
I don't know what a cup is. Is that a real measurement, like a cubit? If you want to cheat people out of pie do you have to hire the street urchin with the shortest arms (or in this case the smallest begging cup) to make your units smaller? The god of all baking gives us a conversion chart for changing into real units so let's give it another, annotated, go:

"375g all-purpose Gold Medal flour (you can use Silver Medal flour, but you'll only come second in the bake-off)
1(2/3/I like my pie crust really sweet so lots) tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon salt
225g unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
120ml buttermilk, cold (if you're having trouble getting milk out of the butter, do what we did and use the regular stuff)
1-2 tablespoons water, cold
1 large egg, beaten, for the egg wash"

If you've ever baked, or read a baking recipe, you'll know what's coming next; mix all the dry stuff, then add the chunks of butter and make it all breadcrumby with your hands or, alternatively, use a rolling pin to mush it all together. If you are literally baked, now is the time to put all of the ingredients in a large bowl and eat it with a wooden spoon whilst giggling at episodes of Takeshi's Castle.

He ate the photographer shortly after this. That stuff is a slippery slope...
Once the mix is all mushed together nicely into a flaky mess, bung it in the freezer for fifteen minutes and pop the kettle on. Once the quarter hour is up, take it back out and add the milk, mixing it together until everything comes together in a ball. Chop the ball in to two, flatten those two half-balls into discs, wrap them in cling film and put them in the fridge for upwards of an hour.

Please do not try this on any other type of ball.
Now for the fun stuff. As I said, we tweaked the filling slightly:

8/10 sliced and peeled nectarines
175g sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon (preferably, as in definitely, not in stick form)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

A healthy glug of orange juice (smooth or with bits, we don't judge)
3-4 tablespoons-ish cornstarch

This bit is easy. Chop the nectarines and put them in a bowl.

Like so.
Just a little warning when doing this bit, the pits of the nectarines can be as sharp as your disapproving grandparents after they've had a couple sherries, so be careful if you end up pulling the fruit apart by hand if it happens to be a little under-ripe.

For more information, please see my article on improvised prison weapons that also count towards your five a day.
After you've cut all of the nectarines up and paid a quick trip to the hospital to remove any sharp objects from your person, throw in all of the other above ingredients and stir nicely. 

Then take a weirdly angled shot of your handiwork.
Hopefully by now the hour will be up and you can grab your pastry. If not, get drunk or something.

Works for her.
Roll out one of your discs of pastry to about yay-thick. A yay is commonly considered to be approximately between a little and some, so just about 1/4 of an inch. Chuck it into a pie dish (those are the ones for pies) and make sure it's pressed into the edges. Add your mix. Roll out the other slab of pastryey goodness and make a choice. Lattice or full crust. If you're not sure, flip a coin and let fate decide.

Works for him.
Choose and place your appropriate pastry lid, slice off the excess pastry round the edge of the dish, eat it guiltily, beat that egg from earlier on, take his money, wash him over the top of the pie and throw it into an oven at 190-ish degrees C. Once it goes evenly brown on the top take it out and you're done.

Now we throw it at someone, right?
Boom. Baking. Dawdle. Finishing this article at 2am with work tomorrow. No funny ending. Piss off, at least I posted something.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Bar Work

Dear Reader(s),

I have good news and bad news.

The bad news is that I've got meself a new job doing bar work at a festival venue in Edinburgh; the hours are painfully unsociable and I doubt I'll make it to the end of the month alive. The good news is that I'll be posting less on the blog for the next month as a result, so you get a bit of respite from my forever entertaining and informative musings.

"Did I tell you about the time I hunted my fellow man for sport?"
I shall, however, endeavour to post at least once a week. Ish. If I'm lucky. But just so's we're on the same level, the whole Tuesday and Friday at 10am thing will be gone for a few weeks.

That is all.



Friday, 2 August 2013

Water, Water, Everywhere, But Where's the Feckin' Whisky?

Reviews: now with an introductory poster.
You get a lot of people nowadays who seem to be a little spoiled by colour. Talking to someone about movies, I often hear the same phrase when the conversation moves to older fare: "Oh, I don't like black and white films." The fuck? Are you film racist or something? That's like going for a weekly shop and insisting that you only buy food that is small, round and purple. You're drastically restricting your choice in diet with a sweeping statement that will just make any poor sod who has to spend time with you hate your ignorant, purple-tinted guts.

That said, a diet of nothing but Parma Violets is a diet worth trying.
If you happen to be one of said people who "don't like" black and white, go drown in a bucket of eel hearts, because God made a whoopsie while dragging you into existence. Once you've done that, sit down, preferably on a towel so as not to ruin your sofa with eel juice, and watch any of Psycho, Casablanca, Brief Encounter, Nosferatu, Metropolis, the entirety of George Méliè's back catalogue, Citizen Kane and more. 

If you also refuse to believe that an old film can be good, only watching movies that have come out since Macaulay Culkin's been alive, go shove one of the eels up your own arse and watch one of the modern examples of black and white cinema like Clerks, Eraserhead, Schindler's List, The Artist, La Antena, Young Frankenstein and I think I've made my point.

You may now remove the eel from your anus by doing whatever this guy is doing out of the shot.
Seeing as we've cleared that up we can get onto the film for this week, Whisky Galore! Made in 1949 (that's, like, really old) it tells the true story (with the usual tweaks for artistic licence) of a ship that sank in 1941 near a small island in the Outer Hebrides, carrying thousands of crates of whisky. The locals of the island, on hearing about the cargo, took the opportunity for some free booze and set about nicking it from the ship before it sank.

That's about the gist of the film as well, and although it's funny and has bucket-loads of charm, there is nothing more special to be found here than an hour and a half of plain old fun. If there's nothing special about it, why bother reviewing it? Because of the aforementioned charm, that's why, my good friend. And for the unmissable opportunity to ruin all of the jokes for you.

There's not a bit of this movie, from the utterly fabulous reaction of the islanders to the sudden whisky shortage (dramatic close ups and doom music abound) to the frantic moment when the drink must all be hidden before the army arrives for a surprise inspection, with bottles slipped into violin cases, grandfather clocks and stacked in the guttering, that you won't be able to watch without a massive grin on yer ugly mug. There's something universally appealing about watching a load of islanders leading a merry chase all for a bottle of whisky.

A bit like watching celebrities die, but without the betting pool.
Whisky Galore! also does a fine job of getting you to know the locals; every character is adorably northern with that little tinge of inbred quirkiness you only find in the harder to reach parts of Scotland. For those of you unaware, island mentality essentially boils down to a small loss in IQ due to alcohol abuse and inadequate schooling being made up for with Casper levels of cheerful friendliness and the uncanny ability to smell tomorrow's weather. That's not really a good description to be honest, the best thing to do would probably be to go visit these places for yourself; the ways of the islanders cannot be done justice with mere words.

Actions really do speak a lot louder.
I don't think there's a person on this island that you can't help but like, even the crotchety old barman who rats on where the whisky is being stored just so he doesn't lose business is still endearing in his own way. But the sweetest soul by far must be the poor bed-ridden old man who wants nothing more than one last dram before he "joins the old woman". This guy is the embodiment of the entire population of the island: simple, honest folk ("honest here meaning wily as old nick himself" - Fiona) with simple needs and simple lives, and this single five minute scene pretty much ensures that we are firmly on the side of the islanders when it comes to the dilemma of whether or not stealing the whisky is a good idea.

If he waits to get one more drink then kicks it with the empty glass in his hand
I'll cry myself to sleep for the rest of my life.
While we're on this guy, actually, you might be wondering who the other bloke in the picture is. It would be the island's only doctor, and he must be the single most irresponsible doctor to ever be portrayed on film, and Hannibal Lecter has had three movies (we don't count Hannibal Rising, because...well, it's Hannibal Rising). The only two points in the film where he asserts his medical authority are in the above scene and one other. In this scene, he insists that our kindly old gentleman take his pipe and some tobacco in order to puff away, only saying that he was sorry he "couldn't bring a wee dram too". This man is encouraging, nay, actively insisting that this poorly gentleman partake in both smoking and alcohol consumption, the two biggest causes of death in the modern world. That said, maybe this is actually the island's only hospital bed and he's just trying to free up room for someone else with acute liver failure or lung cancer.

In the other scene, he is in the company of a young man, hammered on a few glasses of the water o' life, who is about to confront his own mother (think the one from Carrie, but Scottish. So about 300% more terrifying). The doctor's only advice to him is that he should have just one more, so that he'll be "in the ring in the peak of condition", before pouring a large glass and assuring him it's the "right dose". This would all be ok if everyone laughed about it, but they take his word as gospel, being the resident doctor and all, so he essentially spends the entire film finding new ways to horrifically abuse his medical licence

"I mixed up all the prescription bottles again. Take this and let me know what it does to you."
It's all in good humour though, and they didn't know much better then anyway, what with drilling holes in skulls to let out the demons and such...that was back in the 40's right? Speaking of old ways that have long since been lost to the ages, the very devout religious views of the islanders lead to one of the best moments in the film. The boat is wrecked, the crew having abandoned it and been taken to the mainland, the men have gathered together on the shore to go grab the loot when suddenly the clock strikes midnight. One man turns round with despair to look at the others. It's the Sabbath. 

They have no choice but to go home and wait for the day to end while the head of the Home Guard on the island, and resident Scrooge, Captain Waggett, tries to get a band of soldiers together to protect the cargo, a task also made all the more difficult by the holy day, as his second in command isn't allowed to use the telephone by his mother. 

It's the culmination of all of these moments and more that makes Whisky Galore! a joy to watch; wonderfully staged situational comedy mixed with ridiculous small-town traditions and a rag-tag bunch of memorable characters. There's romance. There's comedy. There's car chases. There's booze. There's suspense. And every last minute of it is utterly wonderful to watch.

He even gets his dram and lives beyond the credits.

Overall Ben Equivalence Rating

Listening to Stories About Your Grandad - 
Ridiculous, over the top, alcohol-fuelled tales of illegal romps through wartime Britain that you could listen to a hundred times over. And every last bit of them is true.