Tuesday, November 15

Book: The Story Of Your Life, Ted Chiang Click for more info

Yes: another book to be read before the film, but perhaps this time it's a little different. The Story is a short one, having taken only a few hours to read. But those few words presented such joy that I'd have recommended the book regardless of the context.

I personally enjoy exploring the themes of free will and predestination, and ideas like having a whole conversation before uttering a word resonate with me. The story here doesn't give any answers... But like all good books it does present new ideas and a new perspective. The subject matter also implies deep characterisation, again impressive for such a short story.

Recommended.

Tuesday, November 8

Book: Ready Player One, Ernest Cline Click for more info

Ready Player One isn't a great book. It has a skinny plot, one dimensional and flimsy characters and takes almost no risk in telling its story. It's put together pretty flimsily too - it ranks above some of the more recent young adult readings for sure, but doesn't really push the reader too much (which might be a good thing). The flow is trashy, as page turning as you can get.

In fact, the young adulty vibe of the story is a bit confusing considering who the book is aimed at. The thing is that Ready Player One is almost purely fanservice - a compendium of references to all the hip songs, movies and games from the 80s and 90s which only those of us now in our middle ages will appreciate to any real extent. It reminisces, remixes, remasters and mashes up these nods... and once you appreciate that is all it really is the book does become enjoyable of sorts.

It's also why I'm really looking forward to the film (the actual reason why I thought I'd read it now). If the film manages to pull it off, it'll certainly be great, and ironically it's the aforementioned attributes that make it a bad book that will probably make it an awesome flick.

In short, the book isn't a total waste of time and is cheap enough to read and enjoy.

Friday, November 4

Food: Boondocks Click for more info

Once there was Stax, a burger place sat in Soho, reaching legendary probably because of the lack of covers it presented. I think the max capacity of the place was 20 or 25, which although paltry I suspect helped boost the exclusiveness of the place. That's not to say that the place wasn't good - it was - but things change and options present themselves as time goes on (I won't mention which I mean). Social media reputation isn't enough in these cases and so it's not surprising that the same team which brought us Stax looked to present the same food in a more accessible venue.

Boondocks is that place. Situated around Old Street, the location makes a refreshing change, as does the large venue - there was no problem getting a reservation for 8 tonight, although they did insist on a £15 deposit which I found quite unacceptable in this day and age. The food was good, with the menu 90% that of what we had seen before while the service was even better, enhanced by the fact the servers could actually move around without stepping on people. Otherwise this was Stax through and through - I found it to possibly be a little more pricey than Stax, but that could have been due to our decadence: we even tried the Smores which were both novel and delicious (although not all enjoyed).

So quite positive so far then? Well yes, except I felt awful afterwards and will expect that feeling to continue tomorrow morning. This is less the fault of Boondocks and more due to my recent change in lifestyle and diet which seems to have affected both my taste and ability to consume this kind of stuff. That may or may not be a consideration for most reading this, but still perhaps something worth bearing in mind.

Wednesday, November 2

Film: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Click for more info

I think I quite liked the first Jack Reacher film - not that I can remember much. And that's pretty much how things stand with the second in the series: a paint by numbers crime thriller with Jack and co trying to get to the bottom of some quite villainous frame ups and betrayals, all while kicking bum on the way.

The story, acting and production all pass to an extent. As long as you don't go into this with too high hopes you'll more than enjoy it. Recommended.

Friday, October 28

Food: Burgista Bros Click for more info

Yes, I've already established Proper as my go-to gourmet burger place... so my drive to find alternatives has since diminished. That said, food standards do go up and down and geography (not many people like to come to East London for some reason) means it's always worth looking for other options too, and Burgista Bros happens to be a fine choice for food in the West End area.

The counter service was quick, the place clean and not too busy for a Friday night, although I can see the limited number of covers becoming a problem at popular times. Price wise it was pretty expensive overall - my burger meal cost over a tenner (with free soft drink refills), although the portion of four chicken wings were a definite bargain. If I have a complaint about the menu it's that it was pretty small - there were only a couple of precanned burgers over the plain one (we ordered the spicy one and a BBQ sauced one, the latter of which was great) and although I do sometimes appreciate a simple menu I did feel that a few more creative options would have been great.

Which brings us to the food itself. The meat was of a decent quality, cooked well and juicy to a tee. It was almost like a well done Sloppy Joe, which sounds odd on paper but worked wonders on the plate. The fries were okay - but it's a shame that they couldn't be switched out for something non-carby (which essentially meant I had to break the nutrition rules I've recently introduced to my diet).

But overall Burgista was a fine place and one I heartily recommend.

Tuesday, October 25

Film: Doctor Strange Click for more info

I went in to watching this film expecting to hate it. I've never really had any level of affinity with Doctor Strange as a comic book character - it all seemed a little hocus pocus in a world filled more with aliens and mutants. Still, it is part of the MCU so had to be watched regardless. Which turns out is a great rule to follow since Doctor Strange was actually really good.

Leaving aside the normal ingredients of fun, action and plot progression, what really surprised me is firstly how awesome a character Doctor Strange is and secondly (and perhaps even more surprisingly) that I can actually enjoy the acting of Benedict Cumberbatch, someone whom I previously considered to be pretty overrated.

But otherwise the film is a solid one, with some great visuals, good humour and a decent story to it. If you're an MCU nut then you'll watch this anyway, but even if not I thoroughly recommend it.

Thursday, October 20

Book: Knife Of Dreams, Robert Jordan Click for more info

Book eleven (2005) and things are finally getting back on track - by this I mean the actual real progress I found was desperately missing in the last volume is now back in spades, which is probably not surprising considering I only have three volumes left to read. It actually feels like a race to the finish now, or perhaps more accurately the beginning of the end, as plots are finally appearing to lead to their conclusions. Battles are raged, heroes are born and twists uncovered, leaving a pretty pacy book with not many slow bits within.

Having said that I found myself searching online for help while reading this part in order to figure out the nuance of what was going on - something which I alluded to in previous WOT reviews. Since I probably won't ever read the epic again I felt that using guides was acceptable - and valuable as what I did read did clear up a fair few plot lines and developments I didn't even realise existed. In hindsight I should have read explainers at the end of each part in order to compensate for the sheer size of the story as well as Jordan's habit of leaving a lot left unsaid. On a similar note, I can't stress how important it is to read books like these with a map handy - probably due to its popularity ASOIAF had a few searchable mobile apps available which made that series a joy to read but unfortunately WOT doesn't appear to have anything similar.

All in all I enjoyed the return to form seen in Knife Of Dreams and it has left me both hungry for more as well as a little aware that it's all coming to an end soon.

Wednesday, October 12

Film: The Girl on the Train Click for more info

It would be so easy to call this travesty of a film bad only for those who had read the book before watching it. But no, it was bad for reasons all of it's own, and those reasons were both internal and external to the film.

Although possibly superficial, the creative licence taken in the change of location pretty much destroyed the soul of the film for me. Although the main themes of the book could have played out anywhere, there were certain subtleties lost in its resetting in New York.

But geography aside, the film quite sucked for a host of other reasons, most of them which can be filed under "badly made". The production was bad, the acting dire, the presenting of the plot rushed and clumsy. There really wasn't much to enjoy about this film.

So yes, one to avoid - but I will take this opportunity to recommend the book again.

Tuesday, October 4

Film: Deepwater Horizon Click for more info

The film about the 2010 disaster is pretty much what you would expect from a dramatisation of a real life event. It's actually largely "middle" with not much of a beginning and certainly no end - but that is forgiven since what is presented turns out to be a pretty tight retelling of what went on during that day.

Everything else comes second - the production, the acting, the script. But the topic is gripping enough for the film to carry itself well and what we end with is something that keeps you gripped till the end. Oh and yes, they even manage to make the non British bad guy British.

Recommended.

Wednesday, September 28

Film: The Girl with All the Gifts Click for more info

It's fair to say that the zombie genre is pretty saturated now. It's becoming more and more difficult to come up with anything original, and so filmmakers are starting to look at storyline and plot instead to differentiate - so we now have moral dilemmas, the breaking of taboos and philosophical arguments as well as the usual scares and thrills that come with films about the undead.

The Girl with All the Gifts is about the relationship between a half-zombie-in-the-making girl and her teacher, and asks questions about the greater good and even zombie rights. That in itself was enough to make the film a pretty decent watch, but some good acting by the child star of the film and some genuinely scary moments also helped.

For those of you who have played The Last of Us, you'll find plenty of parallels here. And in the same way as the game was, it's also recommended to check out.

Thursday, September 15

Food: Mint Leaf Click for more info

Sometimes it's tough being of subcontinent origin. Amongst the many challenges we face, trying to remain objective and impartial when visiting an Indian restaurant ranks up there with all the worst.

Take Mint Leaf for instance. It would be easy for me to poo poo the place as a typical posh-but-not-really Indian place designed to extract as much money from an expensed City dinner as possible, resulting in a low quality high price experience which is very easy to forget... but instead I'll spend some time explaining exactly why this place sucks so bad.

First of all it was too hot. As in the place. Maybe the air conditioning wasn't working or maybe we were all just having so much fun (not really) but the place was quite uncomfortable at times. The drinks were expensive and boring, mainly consisting of heavily sugared water that didn't really hit any spots. The food was okay I suppose, with the tandoori broccoli something I'd never had before. The daal and paneer were above average, the lamb and prawns not as much. The amount of food was pretty stingy - we had to do the unforgivable and ask for more which tested the service (which was also passable).

But the real nail in the coffin was the price. At £55 per head (excluding drinks) I'm hard pressed to think of any other meal I've ever had that was of such poor value. It was enough to put me off ever going back, even if the bill was being covered. There really is no need for a place like this in London anymore.

Wednesday, September 14

Film: Don't Breathe Click for more info

Quite probably the scary movie of the year, Don't Breathe is as refreshing in premise as it is in execution. For a start, we have three delinquent teenagers (boo) who decide to rob a blind (aw) man's house. The set up is upside down from the start, and it takes a lot for the film to flip the roles by the end of the movie. But that's all part of the thrill really, seeing exactly how far we're willing to go to allow ourselves to root for a bunch of annoying teens.

Film studies aside, Don't Breathe does all the right things - the scares are both shocking and tense, taboos are offered and broken, and the plot isn't thin by necessity. My heart was in my mouth a fair few times, and it was great for each. The acting sufficed for the genre, with The Blind Man doing an awesome job of being pretty darned scary.

For those who enjoy a decent scary romp, don't look any further than Don't Breathe. For anyone else I'd still recommend the film unless you know you're of a nervous disposition (again, boo)

Wednesday, September 7

Film: Sausage Party Click for more info

You would have thought that there would be a fair amount of cognitive dissonance watching a film like this. You have the visual of an (albeit low quality) children's animated cartoon, but with the language and references which belongs to something for a much older audience, but the truth be told it didn't really jar as much as I thought it would. Which is a good thing really as you get to enjoy the film for its fundamental comedic value, and not just because of the contrast of expectations we have from cartoons these days.

That's not to say the language and content in the film didn't have issues. It was pretty gratuitous most of the time - much more than something that would have usually come from Seth Rogen and the like. I wouldn't say that it spoiled the film altogether, but there were times when even I had to cover my eyes.

But if you manage to look past (or even enjoy) the vulgarity, you are actually left with something that manages to tackle quite a few of the more important social issues of our time - more so than many other grown up films. In the 90 minutes or so that Sausage Party runs for, we debate religion and science, ethnic prejudice and racism, friendship and love - and all without the compromise you would otherwise expect from film. It's almost as if abstracting away from real life and people allows us to magnify the issues with more clarity.

Overall though the film was both fun and funny, so gets a recommendation from me - but perhaps it's one to watch at home with trusted company (and no, that definitely doesn't mean your parents).

Monday, August 29

Food: Maha

Sometimes there's a type of restaurant that I will always hate. But sometimes there are exceptions to that rule. In this case, the type is buffet... and the exception is Maha.

The place is quite new so there isn't much detail out there but essentially £13 gets you all you can eat access to food AND soft drink (although strangely enough water is extra), as well as desserts. Maha is located on the tail end of pedestrianised part of High Road, Ilford.

The food is slightly better than what I've had in other similar places, but where Maha shines is in its service. Granted, we did visit on an empty bank holiday but we were allowed to pray (they even offered to turn the music off while we did), were able to request freshly baked naans and even got a plate of cooked to order chops (albeit after dessert).

The icing on the cake was the price. £13 is just about right for what we had, but after a discount we paid £11 which frankly was a bargain.

Maha doesn't have the most amazing food, but it did provide a decent enough experience. One which at the very least nets it a recommendation from this blog.

Wednesday, August 24

Book: The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins Click for more info

Perhaps it's because I was reading this after the debacle that was the last book, but I really quite enjoyed The Girl on the Train.

Yes, the "diary of dates" format was a headache - this was definitely not an ebook book - and yes, the plot did labour quite a bit (the book should have been 100 odd pages shorter, right about where it became obvious what was going on.). But the characters were fab and real, the storytelling gripping, and read suitably easy while remaining of a high standard.

So in short, no, it's not the best book in the world, and neither should anyone say it is. But it was enjoyable enough without costing a lot, and so I do recommend giving it a go.

Tuesday, August 23

Film: Lights Out Click for more info

Maybe I'm getting old (okay fine, there's no "maybe" about that), but I do seem to be getting scared more easily as time goes on. I don't think it's because of any development in film making or story telling - I mean the premise of Lights Out is pretty wonky to tell the truth, and the scares quite silly. In aggregate however the film does the trick and does it well, with a fair number of stifled screams throughout.

In all other aspects - production, acting - Lights Out was adequate enough. I'd suggest skipping the cinema for this one, but perhaps watching it in the safety of your own home instead.

It's Back! Maybe

You know, I do actually think that I've hit a bit of a turning point recently. I'm not sure why - perhaps I'm enjoying writing again or perhaps I have more time on my hands or perhaps my current outputs just aren't cutting it anymore? But I do think that if this blog is going to once again host content similar to how it did many years ago it might actually happen now that year twelve is over.

Maybe the trick is to start small and, I dunno, commit to one post a month? However it turns out, I am optimistic. Of course chances are that I'll be here in a years time wondering what I was thinking... but hey, positive thoughts please.

Saturday, August 20

Food: Riverside Lounge Click for more info

Oh dear. It's not often I feel bad for a place, but Riversound Lounge was a bit of a sorry sort. Apart from us being the only ones there (on a Saturday!), it had a bit of an unfinished vibe to it. It's a bit of a shame really, since it clear that the people working there (I assume it was a family run business) did have their hearts in the right place. With a bit of work the place could be great.

Still, at a fiver a head (for two steaks and two grilled chicken burgers) we really couldn't complain.

Food: HS And Co Click for more info

As much as one can resist prejudging a place, a steakhouse in Stratford was never going to really impress. Alas clientele is key, and the audience just wouldn't be found in our beloved East London Olympic Host Town.

That said, the place wasn't terrible either - large and roomy it easily accommodated our birthday party of 20+, and the service was decent enough to not get in the way of a good time. The food, however, was lacking... and that even though we got to eat duck on toast (how posh). The steak was a let down; it remains to be seen (tasted?) whether the burgers are any better. A qualification though: we were limited to the set menu. The £20 per head was as expected.

Still, I can't but help feel that I won't be coming back by choice.

Thursday, August 11

Food: Antepliler Doner Click for more info

There's only so much you can do with a doner, so the only real way it can ever be good is if the meat is. Antepliler Doner (across the road to Antepliler proper) gets the basics right, with its beef and lamb doner meat hitting just the right balance between processed and textured.

But Antepliler gets points for presenting the doner well too; I went for the Iskender, where the sauce and yoghurt were very welcome additions. Otherwise Antepliler was fairly standard stuff, with the decor and service all lending themselves to an upper end take away vibe - the only real issue here was with the price: paying more than a tenner for any kebab is a little bit insane. It's on that basis alone that Antepliler missing out on a recommendation, but it's definitely worth celebrating, I dunno, a lottery win at.

Tuesday, August 9

Film: Star Trek Beyond Click for more info

After my disappointment with the last instalment of Trek, I'm pleased to say that with Beyond the franchise is back on form.

Beyond is essentially a long episode of Star Trek, and brings in all the various parts that made the show so great. It had a good plot, some decent enough action and a walloping of humanity in the way the characters were made to demonstrate comradeship.

There are complaints however; some of the effects were very rough around the edges and characters didn't quite develop as much as they should have done. Beyond is no epic for sure, but it does deliver on what Star Trek has always promised and for that reason it gets a hearty recommendation from me.

Book: The Girl Who Wouldn't Die, Marnie Richies Click for more info

First of all, some disclosure: reading this book was a mistake. By this I don't mean that I regret it. I mean that I thought it was another book, one that had been recommended and become a bit of a talking point in some circles recently. The fact that they both sharing two words says more about me than the books themselves, and I put my hands up to the mistake.

That said, The Girl Who Wouldn't Die really was a dire read. So much so that I do regret having read it. In fact I dislike the book so much that it makes me angry just writing about it.

It managed the unholy trio of being badly written, having some magnificently unlikable and shallow characters and of having a plot that makes you wonder what the agent who commissioned the book was on to have passed it. Honestly I don't think I've read anything this bad since Twilight - I'd even say that Twilight was better.

Anyway, I write this review purely for completion - please do not read this book. Read The Girl On The Train instead... that's what I'm going to do.

Friday, August 5

So Much Werewolf

Two and a half weeks is a long time and amongst the many things I brought with me to entertain myself and others were a couple of table top games. The two I chose were picked due to both their compact size and compact play times, but both were social games - which is effectively a polite way of saying they involve a lot of interaction, talking and, perhaps by implication, lying and bluffing.

I wasn't sure if either would be taken up by the locals but both turned out to be pretty solid hits. I don't have an exact play count, but each game of Werewolf would take around 8 minutes, while each game of Avalon around 20... and we must have played for over 20 hours in total over the two weeks we played. The worst (best?) session was the one where we went to sleep just as dawn was breaking (and yes, embarrassingly we cut Fajr pretty close).

It was a great way to bond and end each day and wreck our sleeping patterns, and a lot of fun was had - the kind you can only really find while on a family holiday. So no, it doesn't happen enough... but it has convinced me to make more of an effort in organising specific games nights.

Tuesday, August 2

Film: Finding Dory Click for more info

It was always difficult to imagine what, if anything, Dory could add to the adventure that Nemo had oh so long ago (2003 if you were wondering). After all, there's only so many ways that a fish can get lost really.

But originality isn't necessarily the first thing one goes to watch a Disney-Pixar for, and in that sense Dory is a solid enough of watch. It's funny, touching and entertaining and worth anyone's hard earned.

It's just not as good as Nemo was. But that's okay, it gets a recommendation anyway.

Saturday, July 30

Thunderbolts and Lightning

It's rained almost every day since we returned from Jasper.

But it hasn't just been normal rain. The day would usually begin with sunshine and temperatures that would hit 25C and sometimes more. But then for 30-60 minutes each afternoon the heavens would open up, presenting some of the most heavy stormy weather I've seen over an extended period of time. We're talking multiple booms of thunder, sheet lightning, running water and constant flooding. It was pretty biblical at times, yet wonderful to witness.

Friday, July 29

Nouman Ali Khan

When we were asked to pray in the parking lot this Jummah, my cousin's first attempt at explanation was that it was the holidays and that we had arrived late. Still, even he suggested that the rush was unprecedented given those circumstances, so we were a little bemused at the crowd at the Markaz Ul Islam today.

It was not until the video feed begun on the projector screen that I realised the real reason for the rush: Nouman Ali Khan was the guest khateeb for today. Obviously the increase in volume in the women's section was the reason the men were pushed out. These rockstar imams eh?

Seriously though, I saw it as a good spot of luck that we had inadvertently found ourselves listening to Ali Khan today. I've never had the opportunity to listen to him[1], but I have heard many good things from those (again, mainly women) who subscribe to his works (both figuratively and literally) so I was interested in checking him out.

But to be honest I was pleasantly surprised at what I heard. Yes, there were platitudes and yes there was a bit of overt feminism, but both were in good measure. The message - which was on self control mainly in the context of interacting with others - was less prescribed than advisory, and was open enough for those listening to build their own paths forward. It was deep and nuanced yet presented well, with humour and clarity, and not the simplistic unilateral messages I've come to expect from the more populist khateebs.

Of course I won't be following him on Twitter quite yet, but as khutbas go this was a good one.

[1] if your reply to that is "check YouTube" then you're misinterpreting my diplomacy.

Monday, July 25

Jasper and Banff

Ah, Jasper. And equally: ah, Banff. I'd like to say that there'll be a time where we won't have to offer pilgrimage to either of the two national parks closest to Edmonton, but I seriously doubt that will happen. And of course I'd certainly miss them if they were omitted. This time we were taken to see both parks, so the whole affair was quite packed.

As implied above most of the places we visited had been seen before, memories (both vague and otherwise) flooding back as early as the parking lot. It's hard to pick the highlights - everything (including the fifth waterfall) is pretty awesome - but the Colombia Ice Field will always be on the list of the most striking of memories. It's busier now, and more expensive.

Another fixed point in our Jasper tours are the Athabasca Falls, if only for the series of walkways that allow you access to explore the views. Lake Louise is the final of the three biggest memories that I hold, and the place was exactly how I remember it. What I don't remember are the bears - we saw both Black and Grizzly, some getting rather close to the car we were spotting them from.

The biggest change was definitely in volume of people. Everywhere was pretty busy and it was a rare occasion where we got to park without waiting. Most striking was the increase of visible Muslims around - where by "visible" I mean "hijabis". The last time we visited I would only see a maximum of two across the whole tour - and I'd be related to both of them. There's also a lot of tourists from further afield, particularly China.

I guess a lot does change over seven years.

Wednesday, July 20

Edmonton Good Times

It's been a whopping seven years since our last visit to Alberta, Canada, a time frame I'm still trying to come to grips with. I'm not sure why it seems like much less - the family I have here are still familiar, the town still the same. And yet there are differences: more babies mostly. Oh and we flew via Reykjavik which was something.

So it's unsurprising how at comfortable and at ease I find myself, and we immediately get on with the whole reason we travel here: to enjoy the company of the family we know and love. I imagine the novelty will be thin on the ground for this trip, but as someone who has long grown bored of exotic travel having something domestic and familial is exactly what makes me so excited about being here.

Friday, July 15

Food: Five Lads Click for more info

Sometimes its the basics that matter. Five Lads has a limited menu both in selection and pricing and so isn't really outstanding in this current sea of gourmet burger joints, but manages to present their food with such excellence and quality that it doesn't really matter. There's a striking feeling of homeliness in the place, a care and attention that only comes from these kind of indie run joints.

If there was one complaint it's on the number of covers; Five Lads may not be the place to go for a quick sit down meal. It's a classic case of being a victim of success really, which is unfortunate as part of the enjoyment of the meal was eating it fresh - take away might not have quite been the same.

Still Five Lads was a decent place and a definite pick for the area. Recommended.

Tuesday, July 12

Film: Ghostbusters Click for more info

Aaaaaaaaaaaah. It was always going to be a risky proposition going to see a remake of Ghostbusters. The fact that it would shatter any cherished childhood memories was a given really, all that remained to be seen was whether we would hate ourselves for even trying.

As it turned out the remake wasn't that bad really. The gender change worked well, as did the modern setting. It was still fun and zany, and the ghosts were able to walk that fine line between scary and amusing.

No, the main issue with the film wasn't the concept or the attempt, but with the film making itself. Ghostbusters was badly edited, the plot underdeveloped and half baked, with the characters not progressing much at all throughout. It's a shame because if these basic fundamentals (which had nothing to do with the concept itself) had had a bit more attention paid to them Ghostbusters could have been really great; even as much as the originals. As it stands it's a little forgettable and unfortunate.