A few weeks ago, I finally got around to signing up for MUBI after to meaning to for the last… five years or so. When I first read about it, it was basically a streaming video-on-demand service that focused on foreign/indie/arthouse films, some quite rare, and has since become a highly curated platform where only 30 films are available at one time. In a way, of course, I would love to have more selection but at the same time, this limited selection makes me watch things I might not otherwise choose for myself and eliminates the often oppressive and crippling feeling of having too much choice. In some ways I like that it is not just a repository the way Netflix is; when a film disappears from the site, who knows when or if it will become available again? MUBI has also negotiated a few exclusivity arrangements with partners and distributors so is likely to be the only, or one of the only, platforms where you will be able to see some of these films.
So far I’ve watched about five films (I have to be in the right mood and have real focus since most films are in languages I don’t know; therefore, I must read subtitles). I love it so far, although if I were still engaging in my normal “binge” habits, I would have raced through all 30 available films in a few days and been left without content, other than the new film put up on the site each day.
I know it’s not going to be the right choice for everyone – most of my friends and family are not really into the kinds of films that typify the MUBI stream. If you’re hungry for the independent and unusual, though, it’s a great place to start and find unusual films from the world over – effortlessly.
For the first time in forever – in the entire history of my Netflix subscription (which dates back to the DVD-by-mail-only subscription of the pre-streaming days) – my queue is under 50 objects. It’s astounding to have whittled down the list by so much (two-thirds).
The problem now is that the only remaining items are mostly films in languages I don’t understand at all (Romanian, for example, such as the one I’m watching now – Tuesday, After Christmas) or languages I understand to varying degrees but still need to glance at subtitles now and again (the Spanish language, French language, etc.). Either way, almost none of what remains in the queue is mindless enough that I can just multitask the way I normally do with half-brain-dead English-language fare, such as the seven mind-numbing seasons of Gilmore Girls or the next hurdle, The West Wing, of which I had previously seen quite a lot but not all. Upon second viewing, I’m finding it annoying. It’s great that there are loads of interesting things to see, but they will require my near-full attention, and I am just not sure I am ready to commit (as is the case in so many aspects of my life).
We can’t be highbrow all the time, can we? My personal tastes – those that really speak to me and mean something to me – seem to align with the PBS and arthouse/foreign film crowd. But, as a multitasker, I like mindless entertainment to play in the background while I focus on other things. This realization dawned on me after quite some time, when I finally succumbed to the fairly harmless and unrealistic lure of TV action shows.
At some point I fell under the charming and sometimes hilarious spell of Burn Notice. Stretching believability in every episode, I could set aside all concerns about reality, what could actually happen and suspend all highbrow notions and get lost in the Miami world of burned CIA covert officer, Michael Westen, and his merry band of vigilante co-conspirators. The show had a number of one-time and running jokes (notably, when Tyne Daly guest starred to play opposite series regular Sharon Gless, reuniting the TV cop duo Cagney & Lacey; the character Sam Axe – played by the inimitable Bruce Campbell – always gave his cover identities the name “Chuck Finley”, which is not funny and means nothing to non-baseball fans). Burn Notice went on for a number of seasons, and though it ended in a satisfactory way, and I thought I was ready for it to end – I miss my mindless action show!
I have shifted my allegiances and started watching the remake of Hawaii Five-0, which is actually full of fun and interesting characters. Not deep characters, not deep stories, not great acting. But it’s enough to fill the need for mindless laughs and action. Scott Caan uses humor to escape the shadow of his actor father, James Caan and plays well off his counterpart and Five-0 partner, Steve McGarrett, played by Alex O’Loughlin (I’d only seen him in the late, great The Shield before this). I am thrilled to see Grace Park in this after her killer role in one of my all-time favorites, Battlestar Galactica. With all the cast chemistry, casual fun, Hawaiian views (me being an island-born Honolulu girl), the updated version of the original theme song (who doesn’t love that?) and Magnum PI references, this should satisfy my need.
But it does not quite fill the hole left by Burn Notice – and none of the other mindless shows out there (action or no) quite fill the void.
In the overwhelming tidal wave of television chefs who show up everywhere, there are very few who interest me. I like to look back to the old days of TV cookery to the seemingly awkward Julia Child or the stark raving drunk Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr, filled the screen. Cooking on TV has always been a thing, often relegated to the domain of public television alongside quite tame “educational programming” (which was, fair enough, not always tame – most foreign films shown on American TV in the old days appeared on PBS – and those films are very rarely what anyone would call “tame”. After all, it was on PBS that I first saw the original version – not the inane Guy Ritchie/Madonnaremake – of Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away).
But things change, and everything is fair game as entertainment – even cooking. Enter the era of the celebrity chef, which arguably has made people a lot more interested in cooking stuff for themselves but has unfortunately launched some, let’s say, unqualified characters into stardom. Undeserved? Who knows? If someone wants to watch Rachael Ray, for example, who is a businessperson and entertainer – not a chef – and supremely annoying to boot – that’s up to them. These celebrity “food handlers” (since they are not chefs in many cases) entertain, bring in viewers and that’s the bottom line now that there are entire TV channels devoted to all manner of food, cooking, taking shortcuts in cooking and so on.
Most of these people – I can take them or leave them. Jamie Oliver is one that I could – or thought I could – easily leave. His accent alone bugs me (just for Esteban: “the shit just got reaw” – not even sure how to linguistically render in writing the dropped-off “L” at the end of words so characteristic of Oliver’s speaking), but then the messiness of his approach to food – always getting his hands deeply dug into all kinds of greasy, slimy foods – even to the point that he advocates wearing gloves to do it sometimes – makes me a bit queasy. I can’t pinpoint what exactly it is that annoys me. Even going to the grocery store and seeing his line of pastas and spices and whatnot – that is just too much. The overcommercialization does very little for me. Why would I buy a Jamie Oliver skillet when I can get a much cheaper and superior cast iron skillet and be happier with it? Personally when I buy kitchen goods, I don’t want any pseudo-celeb’s face on it. I will stick with the basics (even if there are times when tools that go beyond the basics and are extremely useful, even if singular in their use – like garlic presses or a “cupcake holer”. I am usually a firm believer in the “for every task, there is a proper tool” school of thought).
For those frequent cupcake-filling emergencies
But I will be damned if I don’t get pulled in every time I accidentally end up on a Jamie Oliver program on TV. I don’t even own a TV at home, so these accidents rarely occur. But because I spend most weekday evenings in hotels, I’ve got a wide range of channels – and twice in the last year, I’ve landed on Jamie Oliver shows and found myself glued to the TV. After he finished each recipe, I prompted myself, “Change the channel, damn you!”
But I was paralyzed. And why? Truth is – he was making stuff that sounded really amazing. Believe me, I don’t use the word “amazing” lightly because I believe it is one of the most overused and misused words in the English language. When someone tells me it would be “amazing” if I could make a tight deadline or deliver a box of cookies for their party, I think “amazing” is definitely overstating the case. But when you can create something that really wows the taste buds without overexerting yourself or spending all day doing it – that IS amazing. I am positively gobsmacked every time I can manage to cook actual food that really amazes someone.
The first Jamie Oliver program I saw (Jamie’s Great Britain, which was a fascinating look at food in Great Britain, in case anyone imagined that food there completely sucks!) featured roasted chicken and potatoes – I have now made both several times to great success, albeit with my own little alterations.
Yesterday, I turned on the telly and it was a program (Jamie at Home) dedicated to pumpkin and squash – be still my heart. He really highlighted the versatility of these kinds of vegetables – making an absolutely fantastic butternut squash soup, a duck and pumpkin salad and some butternut squash spice walnut cupcakes. Naturally I am going to try this stuff out next time I have a guest to feed. I don’t get around to cooking for myself but for others, I will go all out.
Considered, reconsidered – the important thing here is maybe that I can find Jamie Oliver annoying until the end of time, but what he does turns on my culinary curiosities and experimental bent – so he is definitely doing something right. The fact that the recipes are easy to follow and he makes them look easy if you follow a few steps does not hurt – and the results have always exceeded expectations.