Saturday, August 23

The Decade

Although most people don't realise it, ten is a pretty arbitrary number - a consequence of biology and cosmic design, it's simply because we have five digits on each hand that we picked ten for the first double digit value. But regardless of the reasons why, it's generally accepted to be an important number, and so here I am writing a post on what is the tenth birthday of this blog. Ten years since that first post. Crikey, I honestly didn't expect it to last this long and reaching this far invokes that paradoxical feeling where although the start seems like such a long time ago, it also feels so familiarly close.

Radio Shak has already been the longest project I've ever been involved in for a while now - longer than all my jobs put together, longer than any hobby I've participated in; heck it's outlasted many of the friendships I've had; which is sad if only because it's also appears to be pretty normal.

As has been the theme in the previous few anniversary posts, I've all but accepted that this is what my blog will be now: mostly restaurant and film reviews (the hatred of which makes up the totality of any explicit feedback I've received) with perhaps the odd opinion piece every now and then.

Yes there will always be those fifty odd drafts I have saved which I might one day get back to completing, but they mostly seem oh-so-outdated now; as much as I like to deny it I suppose I am a different person from who I was a decade ago. On the other hand I'm reading the first few posts and maybe I'm not that different after all. Whatever the reality, I did (reasonably) think that my life would be different to how it has turned out, and that in all the obvious ways - in fact I think it was when I realised that change wasn't necessarily going to be the case that the steam might have run out here; perhaps that's also when I felt that I no longer needed to express myself in this particular way either (much to the joy of the friends I leveraged for my ranting instead).

So here it is, a decade of my ramblings. It might even be the milestone at which to stop, but I don't think there's any need for an action as dramatic as that - judging by the way the Internet is going I suspect it's more likely that Google will make that particular decision for me. On the other hand who knows, maybe I'll decide to focus more on my writing this year? I wouldn't bet on it though; after all, ten is nothing but an arbitrary number really.



Wednesday, August 20

Film: Guardians of the Galaxy Click for more info

Although GOTG was first pitched as "the other" Marvel comic book film, there is a lot that made it fit in quite well with its phase 1 and 2 movie siblings. We had the familar humour, action and plotlines that made the others so enjoyable to watch, although yes it has to be said that this film did deliver heavy on the funny - okay most of it was of the deadpan "but seriously" kind but it was refreshing in a self aware way.

The cast was good too - well, what you could see of them. Pratt had the charming rouge down to a T, Saldana was hot even in green, and the rest of the support, although heavily laden in makeup and CGI were hilarious and interesting and actually rather deep.

If I have one complaint it's that the film went a bit too fast for me - both the action and plot had me scratching my head at times, but overall it wasn't enough to spoil it and I think it was paced fairly well.

Of course you're going to watch this regardless of what I say, but hey, I'll recommend it anyway. You know, for completion.

Sunday, August 17

Food: Nawaab Click for more info

Ah Nawaab. The crutch on which all visiting Mancunians rest. I mean sure, I was lucky enough to have visited Manchester in the 90's when Wilmslow Road was actually something to boast about, and I still have a soft spot for the kobdeh at Rusholme Chippy. But 15 odd years is a long time and a lot can and does change in that time. Food is now London's forte, unless you're from Manchester and have enough pride to delude yourself.

Take Nawaab as an experiment. This is a wildly acclaimed joint in Manchester, the place that needs to be on the list of anyone who wanted to check the culinary credentials of the place. And yes, it's not half bad. In Manchester.

But take the place out of it's comfort zone and place it in the different context that is London and you see exactly how it ranks. And that is: not very well. The food was oily, the atmosphere cheap, the choice (Nawaab is a buffet) limited, the price unimpressive (£20 per head), the service poor... there really wasn't anything that made Nawab anything more than adequate really. I can think of at least five places across London that beat it.

And so there you have it: conclusive enough proof that Manchester doesn't really have the nicest Indian food in the UK, at least not any more. Not that that has anything to do with Nawab itself - no for that, I simply leave you with a recommendation to skip.

Tuesday, August 12

Film: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Click for more info

Apes! With guns!

That pretty much sums up Dawn, although yes, I guess there was a political plot of sorts somewhere too. The simplicity of the film worked in its favour though - there wasn't much to dislike and overall it had a lot of balance and good pace. The visuals were pretty outstanding - I often forgot I was looking at computer generated imagery and believed that there were talking apes in the world.

It wasn't as good as the first one, but that's okay. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 6

Roast @ E7 Click for more info

Apparently the spin off of a very popular and successful take away in East Ham, Roast does well in the now too common "Muslim bros do meat" category. A bit too well I suppose; as such there aren't many surprises here. We have the same BBQ chicken wings everyone else does, the same burgers and chips, and of course the same milkshakes. The quality of food was well above average, and my half pounder (comprising of two quarter pounder patties) was deceptively simple - it actually was one of the best burgers I had in the recent spate of attempts I've had over the past year or so. Even my friend's doner was pretty awesome.

However due to its typical menu and layout Roast did struggle to differentiate. I guess the nasheeds playing in the background was an original touch (if you're into that sort of thing) and it was great to have a quite corner in which to pray when we needed to. Location is pretty good too, with it providing convenience to the meat eaters of Wanstead, although there is a BBQ Express next door.

Pricing was very confusing, and that to the detriment of the place. Most mains were listed at under a fiver - a price that didn't include a side. This puts Roast firmly in the "amusingly expensive, who do they think they are" section - but it was the half pounder at a quite insulting £8 that really made this a place I probably won't return to. The total price for the evening was £15 each, which is at least a fiver more that what I would have otherwise wanted to pay. The pricing confused me as far as to prompt me to actually ask the owner what it was based on. He all but indicated that it was arbitrary - which isn't as crazy as it sounds in a world where people are paying up to a tenner for "gourmet" burgers.

It's a real shame, because with some tweaks this place could be a great hit. As it stands I fear it will just attract those with more money than sense.

Sunday, June 22

The ICSS BBQ, 2014

I'm not sure why I stopped writing about the ICSS BBQs - the last post was made way back in 2009. I've been to all of them except for one, and it's been interesting to see how each year had evolved from the last - the last few have been quiet, intimate affairs, and for some of us for the better.

We decided to throw open the doors again this year to celebrate the tenth year of ICSS - a pretty amazing feat in itself - and it was good to see the old faces and new all coming together to, well, stuff their faces. We were obviously out of practise hosting such a large event as the flow of meat dried up at times. But it was all worth it as always, and I like to think the guests were forgiving of us. I do think that we broke some kind of record with the sheer amount of cake we had though.

But otherwise we had the usual face painting, henna, cake decorating and bouncy castle slide as well as the not so typical in the form of Silkroad playing some live music. The sister school CWSS was also on duty providing some much needed help.

I guess all that was left to do is start the countdown for the next decade's anniversary. Good times until then.

Food: Bounce Click for more info

Okay this might be a bit of a cheat here - although I had a pizza dinner here Bounce isn't primarily a restaurant, but what I can only call a "ping pong" bar. I didn't count the exact number but you're basically in a room full of table tennis, uh, tables and loud music, the idea being to have a bat around while chilling with friends. They even had ultraviolet lights at one point.

It certainly was novel and if I'm honest... not that pricey if the group is big enough. Unfortunately the music was way too loud which kinda defeated the purpose of having too many people there. The food (which pretty much consisted of pizza) was decent if a touch overpriced, so all in all Bounce is probably a place to try rather than frequent.

Aamir Rahman: The Truth Hurts Click for more info

I'm happy to accept my reputation as a cynical hater when it comes to fun stuff, and my ability to analyse anything to death comes secondary to genuinely not accepting the usual Facebook/Twitter fodder as anything of quality. But brown comedians get a special mention here - I just don't think they're funny. I've already attempted to explain why elsewhere - the built in censorship, the fear of offending an unsophisticated and immature audience, the lack of originality - but in all honesty I don't care enough to have to explain it: brown comedy just isn't funny. Well, except for Aziz Ansari (I hope).

But it's not fair for me to introduce Aamir Rahman with a diatribe of my own issues. He describes himself as a political comedian, something I haven't yet had a chance to see live, so there is that. And there were some genuine belly laughs throughout: there's no doubt about it, Aamir is a charming guy. On the other hand, it did feel like he was holding back a lot of the time (I think he dropped the f-bomb once) and yes, not only had a lot of the jokes already been made in groups of friends, but most of the political points too. There's something about a guy on stage complaining about how we all have to apologise for terrorism that feels so patronising. Where's the depth? The irony is that in the few moments Aamir had to improvise or react he was actually funny. Maybe that's the trick here.

So yes, a decent night out but not really one that lasts in my mind. Still, at least it gave the audience something to tweet about - amusingly at least five people in the audience claimed to "know" Aamir. You gotta love social media, eh?

Thursday, June 12

Film: 22 Jump Street Click for more info

If a film could be deemed schizophrenic, 22 Jump Street most certainly would. Just like the first one, I couldn't quite place my finger on whether this was a spoof, a situation comedy or improv - it was probably all three, a fact alone that makes this a unique film (well, again, apart from the first one).

But my confusion regarding the film doesn't end in trying to classify it: I honestly don't know if I enjoyed it or not. The good bits were really good, the bad pretty poor, and at time it laboured the point (some of which were comic genius - like the self deprecating references that they were in a sequel cash in) oh so much.

Hmm. So I guess I'll recommend this, but perhaps only for DVD.

Tuesday, June 10

Book: 2 States: The Story of My Marriage, Chetan Bhagat Click for more info

Oh man. I generally have the belief that books which make it out of their native lands do so on merit. Not so with 2 States, a book about two kids' struggle with their love marriage.

I guess such a concept isn't really novel here in the UK: we've been exploiting the theme for the past thirty years (even overdoing it in the past decade as Muslim women decided to use their newly found literary freedom to write about love and how the guys they were matched with always seemed to suck).

If I sound crabby it's because I'm just so bored of the genre. But the book is just too clich├ęd and predictable to be labeled a sell out. I tried enjoying it as a trash novel but even that didn't work, because not only is it badly written (Twilight was a masterpiece in comparison) but the characters were one dimensional and, well, boring. They did make me feel like punching them each in the face, so I guess some emotions were evoked.

Those who don't read much (read: Brown people) will love this, just as they lapped up GGM and got excited with the Ferreiras. For those who actually care about what they read this is definitely one to skip. On the other hand, the film adaptation has Alia Bhatt in it so I'm looking forward to watching that. Silver linings, eh?

Thursday, June 5

Food: Olives and Figs Click for more info

Just when I thought there could not possibly be any more room in London for yet another generic Turkish, here I go. There really wasn't much I liked about Olives and Figs; the service was poor, the place cramped, the food unsubstantial - even the price made no effort to redeem coming to a princely 20 quid per head for starters and mains.

Yes, I had a fun night but that was more due to the company than the place, although I do suppose there aren't many restaurants who would be willing to host a rowdy bunch of fifteen so I guess that's one silver lining. Otherwise move on - there's nothing to see here.

Tuesday, June 3

Film: Edge of Tomorrow Click for more info

Yes, it is exactly as you think: EoT is just Groundhog Day with futuristic guns. And despite the exoticness of time travel there's not quite that much originality here. If you're expecting Star Trek then prepare to be disappointed.

On the other hand, as a film EoT is pretty solid. It's well paced, looks great and has some charm courtesy of Cruise and the lovely Emily Blunt. The plot develops well - it would have been very easy to waste the context here - and the payoff is decent. There may have been a bit of an issue with the ending, but it's forgivable enough given the rest of the film.

Thoroughly enjoyable, EoT gets a reccomendation from me.

Friday, May 30

M.F. Husain: Master of Modern Indian Painting Click for more info

Tonight's random cultural visit was to the Victoria and Albert to see an exhibition of works by M.F. Husain. The first adjective I thought of when I saw the preview on the web was "fun", and seeing the pieces live proved that - with vivid colours and an almost cubist yet accessible style. Yes, I suppose it was modern art, but I understood what was going on anyway.

I learned that Husain started his career painting Bollywood cinema movie posters, which I suspect explains why they appealed; you can see the influence once you know it's there.

The only downside of the exhibition was the length - it was pretty much over within ten minutes. If you're in the area then it's definitely worth a look, but unfortunately it's just not enough to warrant a trip to see.

Film: X-Men: Days of Future Past Click for more info

The premise itself was sound: a tie up of all the various X-Men movies done right would have been quite the coup. Add time travel (otherwise known as "how to get away with rebooting") and we have all the ingredients of a classic comic book flick of Avenger proportions.

Alas Days falls slightly short of its potential. I wouldn't call it a bad film, but it is certainly a wasted opportunity. The old guard is underused, as is the context, and I was just kept wanting for more for most of it. The last 45 minutes or so do redeem the movie somewhat, but it all ends up being passable rather than great.

It's more disappointing than bad though, and if you are a comic book junkie then you'll definitely enjoy this anyway.

Thursday, May 29

Book: The Shadow Rising, Robert Jordan Click for more info

And suddenly it clicks - and the sheer scale The Wheel of Time will present became apparent for me in this, the fourth book in the series. We're given a peak behind the curtain in this volume - enough for me to be very excited at the prospect of reading the ten or so more books to come. It actually threw me back to the the handful of JRPGs I played when younger - with headspinning layers upon layers of plot, character and development, all presented in a way that all but forces you to invest in the long game. I actually wouldn't be surprised if some JRPGs borrowed from WoT's storytelling techniques.

As a book The Shadow Rising does drag a little (it's the longest so far in the series), but it's all essential I suppose and does more than enough to whet the appetite. And as far as epics go I'm still pretty early in the whole thing; I can't even guess what's to come.

Wednesday, May 21

Film: Godzilla Click for more info

Let's face it: the version that was released way back in 1998 (which, for those of you in denial was 16 years ago) wasn't that great. It was more a showcase of special effects, the type of shallow film that was gaining traction back then and one we haven't really managed to shake off since. Any newer version was always going to be better, but even so I was expecting some bad things today.

Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed the film. Yes, it was still pretty shallow and a good showcase of special effects, but it managed to handle that inevitability by fully embracing the b-movie heritage from which it draws. There wasn't much emotional baggage here, no forced depth of characters, and although there wasn't quite enough Monster fighting for my liking, I didn't seem to mind as that gap wasn't filled by the film makers trying too hard to overcompensate (Pacific Rim, I'm looking at you).

So yes, a jolly good romp and one that I recommend at least for a home viewing.

Tuesday, May 20

Food: StickyWings Click for more info

Most times it's the simple things that work the best. Take StickyWings: not only is it exactly what it says on the tin but also does it so well, and any misgivings I had over a place that only did chicken wings were immediately dismissed when our order arrived.

The simple nature of place didn't limit it though - I can see this as a place for the guys, for mixed groups and for dates. The food was solid and fulfilling, and 20 quid worth of chicken and sides was more than enough for the three of us guys who were eating tonight.

Alas the pessimistic in me can see exactly where StickyWings is heading though - either it'll go under because people will dismiss it or it will become super popular and start cutting corners. It hasn't happened yet, so I'll be sure to be checking it out as much as possible before it does. Totally recommended while it lasts and for me a brilliant alternative to the current spate of "American burger diner bars" cropping up every five minutes.

Thursday, May 15

Food: Notting Hill Kitchen Click for more info

I've not had the chance to try tapas for a good while now - not since 2007 according to these pages, so I was especially looking forward to tonight. I was fortunate enough to be invited once more to a foodie meet-up (and yes, I feel dirty just saying that) at the Notting Hill Kitchen, an almost boutique like joint hidden in plain site in, well, Notting Hill.

Being in such a suave and quiet central London location, the experience started before you even enter the restaurant - you just know this would be a place where the classy and sophisticated go to eat, and in fact I found it a little awkward spoiling the vibe with our oversized and pretty rowdy party. On the other hand I would imagine it being perfect for smaller, more intimate groups, with the maze like layout of the place providing plenty of nooks and crannies in which to embed.

The food was good - well, what I could eat of it as a good 30% of it was meat based (usually pork). That was the fault of the set menu of course - I'm pretty confident that the restaurant has fish and veggie options too. What I did eat was pretty fun - the mini fish burgers and doughnuts placing high in my picks of the evening.

So a pretty interesting place albeit not for large groups - I'm also not able to comment on the price since I didn't pay - but it's definitely somewhere worth checking out if you happen to be in the area on a lazy Sunday lunchtime.

Wednesday, May 14

Food: Meat And Shake Click for more info

Oh Tinseltown, what have you done? Okay, perhaps it's a little unfair to blame what I see as the veteran place for the "fancy burger" epidemic we're currently facing, but I don't remember ever seeing this pseudo-genre of food much before the late nineties. And it would be fair to say that these later ones are an evolution on Tinseltown - they certainly are when it comes to price - but I have to say so far I've been disappointed with most of them. And alas despite the hype coming out of South London about the place, Meat and Shake is no exception.

It all comes down to style over substance - the place does pretty well if all you want to do is take pictures of food and post them on Facebook, or check into whatever app the kids are checking into nowadays. But when it comes to the real point of a restaurant - the food - M&S falls short of the mark. And not before robbing you of a decent amount of wonga too. The whole experience was just so shallow... But I will give it some kudos for the few touches of originality it had on the menu (check out the rack of ribs for example).

But otherwise no, no recommendation here I'm afraid.

Sunday, May 11

Food: Molana Click for more info

"Persian food" has long since lost its effect in making my mouth water - the conclusion being that it would always ever just be bland Indian food. But after finding myself in Ealing and being taken to Molana, I think I've found a place that is not only a decent Iranian but also rather special.

It comes down to basics really - Molana scores top marks in the usual categories: generous portions, good service, a presentable environment. But where it really does amazingly well is in the sheer quality of the food. It was so good, I began to wonder where exactly they must have sourced their ingredients from.

And all this without a premium price - a decent meal won't cost more than 15 quid per head which, for what you get, is pretty good value.

The only downside is the location, but who knows? Maybe I can suggest the place on the way to the airport or something. Recommended.

Saturday, May 10

Food: Vapiano Click for more info

You know, I don't think I eat enough Italian food. Chinese, Indian and (for heaven's sake) Turkish always seem to be the default choices, which is a shame because I think I prefer Italian over most of those.

Whatever the case, it was refreshing to visit Vapiano tonight - the food was good and prepared in pretty novel style, right in front of where you queue to place your order. We went to the Bankside location which was clean and spacious, with some very polite if overworked staff. As as a bonus desserts were good too - and served in both small and large sizes which I considered a masterstroke. The bill was easy to swallow too, with my main and dessert coming to around 12 quid.

Vapiano isn't the most amazing places I've been to, but it's most certainly a solid choice and one I'll definitely go to again if passing.

Thursday, May 8

Film: Bad Neighbours Click for more info

Acting seems like fun. But of all the actors I'm jealous of because of that fun, those who make films like Bad Neighbours top the list. That scatter-shot approach of "here's a context: now go nuts and don't worry about the camera" makes me realise that these guys aren't actually here to film anything; no, they're just having a party and a doss, and as a bonus are selling us the footage.

Because let's face it: we don't watch these films for the plot or the acting. We watch them to see Zac Efron's abs, hear jokes about pee pees and boobies and to witness the sublime Rose Byrne say mofo multiple times. This is pure slapstick, nothing more.

It's also a risky strategy, as slapstick can be very hit and miss. And although there were more than a few laugh out loud moments here, I don't think there were quite enough to carry the film the distance. That's a shame really, as all the ingredients were present and accounted for - they just weren't put together as well as they could have been.

One for a home viewing then.

Wednesday, May 7

Film: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Click for more info

It says a lot about the state of comic book cinema when you go into an adaptation expecting to hate it. Of course the plus side is that with the low expectations comes a better chance of enjoyment, and such was the case with The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Yes it was sappy (just like the first was, it seems), yes it was confusing and yes there was something quite smelly about the pacing.

But Emma Stone was great, the chemistry between Gwen and Peter electric, and there were some seriously thrilling moments. Whether there was enough to justify the film I'm still trying to figure out, but I do know that I enjoyed the film while it lasted.

So a tentative recommendation then? If you liked the first one, and can get through a couple of hours of wanting to punch Andrew Garfield in the face, then you should definitely check it out. The rest of you should wait for the DVD.

Monday, May 5

Superhanallah Click for more info

Speaking of class creativity that really hits the spot, I'm really loving the stuff that comes out of Superhanallah. Not only does he hate on the Internet and hate on Muslims, he also hates on Muslims on the Internet:


Of course the reason why he's so brilliant and astute has nothing at all to do with him not being brown. No way.

Friday, April 25

Because We're Crappy

Even if it does mean blowing my own trumpet I do see myself as the (if not, one of the) original proponent of seeing women in a hijab as human. But just to reiterate the more subtle point of that post, I wasn't excusing egregious behaviour but more arguing that the standards to which any person is measured should depend on more the specific attribute of whether a woman happens to have her hair covered or not.

I mean hey, it's not like I'm particularly modest or well behaved myself. A case in point: I love music way more than I should and I still have N.E.R.D.'s Lapdance on my track list and loved Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines (and not just because of that video). Both tracks happen to feature Pharrell Williams, someone who won't need any further introduction if you happen to be in that most wonderful and cherished of demographics - a Muslim on the Internet - right now.

But seriously, I'm really not sure what's the worst thing about this whole Hashtag Happy Muslims topic (and no, you won't find any links to the video here) that's keeping everyone so busy on Twitter and Facebook right now. The video itself was bad enough but at least that just made the makers of it look like fools, however the following halal vs haraam debate, although inevitable, made common folk like us really look dim and shallow. That debate was such a pointless distraction that I wonder if it was actually deliberate and strategic - perhaps it came for free with whatever paint-by-numbers media consultant was hired to advise on the video?

I can't write such strong words without actually explaining why the video really was such an awful thing, not just for Muslims, but for the universe as a whole:

  1. The insecurity and irony of it all. Just like their rich and religious counterparts, truly happy people really don't need to shout it out.
  2. And even if you did want to tell people how happy you were, creating videos backed by chart hits just smacks of tacky overcompensation. Happy people generally do not suck up either.
  3. It's inconsistent. If any of these guys and gals danced at a non-segregated (I'm pushing things, I know, but baby steps eh?) Muslim wedding, then maybe I'd give them a round of applause. If they instead made an exception for some media exercise, then no, sorry, you're fired.
  4. It should have at least tried to plausibly deny its political agenda loading. Even worse, the people behind the video seemed ready to fall on their swords and defend themselves before they had even published it. But hey, martyrdom is our thing I suppose.
  5. The only thing worse than the professional management of an idea is when that professional management tries to dress things up as a grass roots enterprise. At least be subtle about the spin - although admittedly this is harder to do when your KPIs are measured in "number of retweets and likes". But hey look - rock star imams, yay!
  6. The Internet sucks, and anything that relies solely on in will remain virtual and always lack credibility.
  7. For heavens sake stop making Islam a brand. I have no intention of buying your blummin' t-shirt.
  8. And finally, it's a bit outdated. There's a reason why we don't see happy happy joy joy United Colours of Benetton and Gap ads any more: they're lame.

There's more here on Fug's blog. And hey: all of the above is invalid and void if, as I'm still hoping it will be, the video turns out to be a massive joke and example of some genius satire.

You see, here's the thing. This isn't about religion or Being a Muslim™, but about our shocking level of creativity, depth and critical thought, the lack of which we so desperately seem to want to hang on to. The dumbing down and common denominating of such a rich way of life is disappointing at best, and it seems the only way we can think of making it accessible is by creating some kind of Islam-by-numbers, easy listening variant that also happens be easy on the eye.

The consequences of this are both internal and external. Bandwagon jumping is obvious to all but those doing the jumping and as we continue to dumb ourselves down and volunteer for these self inflicted lobotomies, we push others away. On the other hand, the self harm comes in the form of us normalising our ever increasing shallowness. It's just so immature and not only unhealthy for us, but unattractive for those we may want to collaborate and work with.

The real shame is that we were doing pretty well for a bit. Outlandish are an excellent example of a truly creative and spiritual venture (although it doesn't count if you only liked Aicha because: OMG hijab). Real grass root initiatives like those from Imran JK (<3) and the much loved Rebel Muzik did more for us than this video ever will. But things seemed to have stagnated over the past decade as things like the GPU become the main event of the calendar with which we're all associated. Because, well, Islam innit.

The real measure of maturity, confidence and security of us as Muslims will come when we don't see these kind of stunts any more - when we'll be provoking instead of responding, actively pushing forward with society instead of actively defending ourselves against it. Will it come soon? Who knows, but I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, April 15

Film: The Raid 2 Click for more info

By what I assumed was design, the first Raid was a clinically pure and focussed beat em up action flick - that actually what made it great. As such, I had a feeling that the 2.5 hour runtime of its sequel would be a pivotal factor in it repeating that success: either the makers had managed to create 150 minutes of unadulterated bone crunching violence, or they had succumbed to the criticisms of the previous movie and decided to add irrelevances like "plot" and "characterisation".

And it turns out it was the latter, and unfortunately the film does indeed suffer for it. Granted a lot of that disappointment stems from wanting more of the amazing same that was delivered before, but even if we rebase our expectations and consider this a film in its own right, it does somewhat fall short of being the balanced film of action and depth that it strives to be. The plot is longwinded and, well, boring, with characters being manufactured out of nowhere just to progress it. It all makes for a film that doesn't seem to recognise it's own worth.

On the bright side the fluff is superfluous to, and not instead of, the real goods so with patience you do eventually get rewarded. The film is much more violent than the first, sometimes in a worse, more cringworthy way, but all that is excused for some amazing set pieces, some of which exceed that we saw before.

But alas the dilution is enough for me to recommend saving this one for a home viewing - who knows, perhaps by then there'll be the 90 minute edit this film really needs to be awesome?

Sunday, April 13

I Once Ran a Marathon

There are pivotal moments in every person's life which are so life changing they end up remembering them every year in the form of anniversaries. The obvious and generic ones are birthdays (which if you think about it might be more special for a parent than for a child) weddings and deaths, but there are many more which although more personal and intimate can be just as potent. The start of a new job maybe, or a season in which a Muslim performed a Hajj - perhaps even a house move. Some dates you just remember.

Today marks ten years[1] since I ran the London Marathon (back in the days when it was a Flora and not Virgin), and I've never understated exactly how much that day (as well as the six or so months leading up to it) had an effect on me. I could say that the lesson was that anything is possible with hard work or something, but I think what I actually learned was that everything in life has a cost, and the more major it is, the higher the cost. In those terms it's a pretty obvious statement to make, but then I guess most life lessons are.

Blogs (well this one for me anyway) are quite handy in that they catch the moment at its most raw; before one has time to process or even misremember it. I regret not having Radio Shak for many pivotal life events, but the two I do the most are the marathon that I ran and the Hajj that I performed. Still, I did manage to get a "one year later" post down, which captured part of what I was feeling at the time. On the other hand a part of me is disappointed with how hard I'm clinging on to the achievement, if only because this essentially implies that the last thing I managed to do of any great value was a decade ago - and that compounded by the fact that I don't really run any more at all.

But lament aside, I am proud of being in that club of people who have managed to run 26 odd miles in one go, and although I'm not quite sure where my medal is the whole day ten years ago does stay with me. Perhaps that's another reason why anniversaries are useful - to both remind us that not only is time always moving, but that it makes space for further achievements too.

[1] Well not exactly - we ran on the 18th of April in 2004.

Sunday, April 6

Sri Lanka, Day Fifteen: The Return

And there we have it, the end of my time in Sri Lanka. Just like the other wedding-cum-holidays I've been on (Australia, South Africa and Mauritius/Madagascar come to mind), this was a pretty complete and epic trip, consisting of friends, family, good times and some amazing travel. The people, food, natural scenery and overall vibe were all top notch and I honestly can't think of any downsides to the place. It would even make for a great honeymoon - it makes a great cultural compliment to a few days of relaxing in The Maldives for instance.


In all honesty Sri Lanka was never on any travel list of mine, and I'm very thankful for not only having a wedding to draw me to the country but also the opportunity of enjoying the place under such a wonderful context. My sadness at leaving is only consoled by a genuine desire to return (although perhaps without a wedding), and I've already begun to strongly recommend the place to everyone I talk to, and if you're reading this I really hope you consider checking it out in the near future.

Saturday, April 5

Sri Lanka, Day Fourteen: The Gap

And so it finally came - the last day of our tour. We decided to take it easy this morning and left the hotel at a relatively leisurely 10am, heading to the last major point on our itinerary, The Ella Gap. On the way we got to see the scenery we missed last night due to the rain and lack of light, but even those amazing views didn't prepare us for Ella - by this point I had given up trying to not be impressed by the things we saw. A small drive into the gap brought us to Ravana falls, which was nice too, but nothing beat sitting at the top of the gap in one of the hotels taking in the view with a milkshake.


Although we were running out of time (Colombo being over four hours drive away) we found it quite difficult to leave the area and managed to fit in both the Diyaluma and Bambarakanda Falls, each which had their own price to pay. Diyaluma was reached via a hour long drive on an under-developed road, which wasn't too fun but did present us with some more amazing views as well as the opportunity to visit some of the more smaller villages in the area.


Bambarakanda Falls required the use of rickshaws to get to a viewing point. In hindsight the whole plan turned out to be a bit of a disaster - further torrential rain, our rickshaw breaking down half way on the 20 minute trip and even leeches all made it a trip to remember - and considering how dry Sri Lanka had been over the recent weeks most of the waterfalls weren't as spectacular as they should have been (although sure, the aforementioned torrential rain did help a little with Bambarakanda).


But we eventually made the decision to make our way back to Colombo, tired, hungry, wet, but totally fulfilled with today and the whole tour. We got back to our hotel pretty late, hunted for dinner and got ready for bed, myself preparing for the flight I had back to London the next day.

All photos from today can be found here.

Friday, April 4

Sri Lanka, Day Thirteen: The World's End

Another unholy start meant we were out of our hotel and on the way to Horton Plains by 5:30 am. The main reason was to catch the trek at its best - visibility decreases as the day goes on - but for us we also wanted to be back in town for Jummah prayers. Early starts aside, the trek itself was worth it, if only to see the impossibly incredible sights from The World's End. I don't think my breath gets taken away too often but the sheer immensity of the gap was pretty gobsmacking. Also on show were waterfalls and other examples of natural beauty, and I strongly recommend anyone who visits Sri Lanka to make time on their schedule to check out the plains. Photos can be found here.


Although the trek is described as easy you do need to be of a decent level of fitness and surefootedness to get through it unscathed - oh and some sun protection as although the sun isn't particularly bright, it is searing. But complete it we did, although it turned out we should have left a little earlier as the normally 3-4 hour trek turned out to take a little more for our group. Still, a mad rush back to Nuwara Eliya ensured that we made it for Jummah on time, so it all turned out okay.


To treat ourselves we spent the afternoon checking out the Heritance Tea Factory (photos), a boutique hotel situated in the middle of yet more heavenly views. Although we had a lovely time having tea (which means milkshake for me) and cake, it was all too brief and another reminder of just how many shortcuts we were taking timewise during this tour. If only we had another couple of more days or so to plant ourselves in a hotel and relax - it would have been pretty great.


But alas it was time to say farewell to Nuwara Eliya and head to our final destination of Haputale - due to the lateness of travel we were cheated of the views, but what was even worse was the torrential rain that had decided to break during our drive - at time pretty scary. But we eventually made it to our hotel safe, if not a little damp.