Tuesday, December 11

Film: Creed II Click for more info

After the decent romp that was Creed, I was expecting a sold entry in the latest of the new-slash-continuing series of boxing movies. I mean hey: they even brought out Drago again which was either the work of a genius or a really lazy storyteller.

Alas Creed II fails in basic role as a boxing movie. There's a few reasons why this was the case, but for me there just wasn't enough agency offered. If you're going to make the protagonist such a weak and shallow character you need to at least make sure the boxing action is great. Creed II just wasn't good enough.

Friday, December 7

Film: Die Hard Click for more info

Hopefully it goes without saying that Die Hard (and Die Hard 2) are timeless classics. This could be taken somewhat literally too - I was mildly amused by how much airplanes and airports haven't changed since the late 80s for instance. But aesthetics aside, Die Hard is one of those movies that managed to capture a certain purity of entertainment that really doesn't age over time.

I'm glad that I go to see it on the big screen (which of course is why I get to write about it now), but I did wonder at the end whether it actually benefited from the cinema experience or not. I'm certain I had the same joy in watching as I do when I watch it in the comfort of my own home - maybe a bit more due to the Christmas nostalgia factor.

In some ways that makes this easy then - Die Hard is still an excellent romp that you should watch (or rewatch) - and better still you can get to do that in the comfort of your own home. Recommended.

Tuesday, December 4

Film: Ralph Breaks the Internet Click for more info

There's a scene in Ralph 2 which satirises exactly how volatile the Internet can be. For me this was mindblowingly meta - it's only now that CGI feature animations can be made and amended so quickly that makes such a film like Ralph possible. Take the depiction of the simple Google logo for instance: it's material and fresh and more current than the length of the film's production; there was also an updating of one of the princesses in that scene after commentary of whitewashing was made. But aside from aesthetics it's the cleverness and keeping with the trends that is the real genius here. Ralph 2 is as relevant as it could have been. Well, for now anyway.

So it's clever, it's witty and it's cute. However it's not without its flaws either. A weak and rushed third act undermines the rest of the film, while a potentially dodgy moral message teeters swamps out any other lessons that might have been learned from the film.

Ralph 2 is a great, if not forgettable, ride and a worthy entrant in the list of Disney animations. And of course those unmissable moments of genius are enough to justify the entry price alone.

Friday, November 16

Food: Tipu Sultan Click for more info

Despite its poncy stature Tipu Sultan really is as down to earth as any other balti can be. The food is solid, the pricing accessible and all this with decent decor, service and the quality you'd expect paying twice the price.

They really have managed to achieve the impossible, and the exercise of exactly how they did this is left to the reader. In the meantime it's become my to-go place when I fancy a curry in Birmingham.

Tuesday, November 13

Film: Thugs of Hindostan Click for more info

There was a few years when having Aamir Khan on a ticket would mean a film was a must-see. By releasing only a selection of films (and most of the time just the one) a year gave a sense of quality and discretion that you wouldn't normally find elsewhere in Bollywood. But I guess there's always going to be exceptions and unfortunately in this case Thugs is it.

It's not that it's a bad film. Aamir Khan himself does a pretty decent job as a Johnny Depp knock off, and the plot wasn't all that bad. It was overly long though, but the main problem was the scope and ambition of the movie - it wanted to be an epic but just didn't have the quality to hold it up.

If it was an hour shorter it'd probably get a recommendation but as it stands Thugs is probably one to skip for now.

Friday, November 9

Book: The Dark Forest, Cixin Liu, Joel Martinsen Click for more info

Book two in what is often described as The Three Body Series accelerates the story of the Trisolarians apparent invasion of Earth, covering the response of the latter over a range of centuries after the crisis first began. The real novelty here is the use of time - the distances being so great allows the author to play with time. This also allowed a bit more liberty taking than I liked, but the book's story was strong enough to see it through. Criticisms are easy to spot in the characters, but then it seems that Three Body was never about individuals but more about societies - and those spanning galaxies.

The ending was also problematic in its terseness and rushing, which really cheapened and undermined the rest of the book for me. On the positive side the volume did manage to stand on its own two feet - this is a genuine trilogy and not a single book split into three parts.

There was just enough to keep me going here, and so on we go to book three.

Tuesday, November 6

Film: Widows Click for more info

Widows is most probably the best put together movie I have seen in the last two or three years. It's such a tightly told story, and the production so clean, that it's even more of a shame that it falls so short of being a classic.

The performances are great, some of the camera shots magnificent and all this while not being bogged down in its own art. As a demonstration of what can be achieved if you stick to tried and tested film-making techniques Widows is a masterclass.

But it's the lack of depth that made the film so easy to build, and also what ultimately breaks it. Nothing really happens, and the characters aren't strong enough to carry what should have been a plot heavy film. As such Widows ends up being pretty forgettable and one of the biggest lost opportunities of this year.

Tuesday, October 30

Film: Bohemian Rhapsody Click for more info

If there's any film that could tell an interesting story it would be the biopic for Freddie Mercury. But unfortunately Bohemian Rhapsody falls a little flat, playing it a bit too safe and keeping things entirely black and white. It's a little disappointing and perhaps even a little too... American.

But the music is present and accounted for, including a full 20 minute recreation of Queen's Live Aid set. So then: for fans of their music, Bohemian Rhapsody is great. But for fans of Freddie Mercury, not so much.

Sunday, October 21

Food: Meathouse Click for more info

With Meathouse, I'm a little torn. I'll start with the easy stuff: service was alright and the cost per head of 13 quid or so (with drinks) was acceptable. No, the thing which is confusing me is the food.

It doesn't help that I didn't get the same burger as everyone else; I went for the chilli burger, waving off any warnings the server was giving me about it being really chilli™. In my head this would be the same as my friend's cheeseburger, just with some kind of hot sauce added, maybe some jalapenos. What I got was both disappointing and enthralling at the same time.

You see, the actual burger was markedly different to that which was in the cheesburger. It was clearly more processed, smaller and a bit of a throwback to the pre-gourmet era. This was the source of disappointment - it's pretty unacceptable, and even embarrassing, for a burger place to have served anything like this really.

The thing is though, that this chilli burger really was chilly. The difference in patty had a real reason behind it, and that was that the meat itself was super hot. I'm talking "one of the hottest burgers I've had" hot. That alone also made it one of the most enjoyable. Based on my own experience it really was a USP.

So yes. Torn. I think on balance I probably wouldn't seek out a reason to visit Meathouse again, but I wouldn't say no.

Saturday, September 29

Turkey-Iran, Day Five: On The Mediterranean Sea

Although I've been lucky enough to sail more than a few times, I'm still not bored of the whole thing. From on boarding, to getting used to a cramped toilet to the obligatory jumping off into the sea... the whole experience never gets old.

That said our boat, The Blue Pearl, never really left the coast and although staying overnight will be novel I can't help but feel we would have been better served with a full day's trip instead. A few of us crossed to land to chill at a beach resort, but other than that the time was spent just enjoying each other's company, shooting breeze and playing board games.

Friday, September 28

Turkey-Iran, Day Four: And Then There Were Ten

For Friday prayers we headed to Ortakoy. This was a little village-type area long subsumed into Istanbul proper, but which served as a lovely little distraction while waiting for our evening flight out of Istanbul.

Mosque #14: Ortakoy Mosque

Again, the mosque here was familiar but distinct enough to have its own vibe and character. It was very pink and even had a late British Georgian style going on. I didn't understand much of the khutba, but it was a nice place to congregate all the same.

After a rushed lunch we high tailed it to the airport to catch our flight to Dalaman, and then taxi onward to Fethiye. This was the start of the more social leg of the journey as various parties from across country and even the world came to join us in this small corner of Turkey.

Dinner was at a fish market followed by coffees on the sea front, and it was a grand start to the festivities to come.

Thursday, September 27

Turkey-Iran, Day Three: Mopping Up

Since yesterday was so successful, we (since I had company today) decided to have a bit of a lazy start as we headed to Eyup for the alleged tomb of a Companion of the Prophet. We took the scenic route, that is by taking the bus and boat - I'm still surprised by just how cheap public transport is here in Istanbul.

Mosque #8: Eyup Sultan

Although some (if not all) of the mosques yesterday had accompanying tombs and shrines, that of Eyup was by far the most significant so far, and more of a taste of the gnostic flavour of Islam enjoyed in these parts. It was actually the start of yet another theme of the trip.

Taking the cable car up to Pierre Loti was worth it, if only for the stroll back down through the graveyard. Since we were on such a roll with public transport, we then took a bus in the direction of our next stop, the Chora Museum.

Mosque #9: Mihrimah Sultan

On the way we stumbled across the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque. By this point I was familiar enough with Turkish mosques to begin noticing the subtle differences between them all, otherwise lost in the deceptive ubiquity of the typical "block and dome" design they all seem to have. The Mihrimah for instance seems very square and butch - neat and concise even - with the inside being fresh and sterile. Apparently built for a princess, I dare say that it did have a feminine vibe.

If you're a fan of mosaics, the Chora Museum is the one place to go. I'm pretty sure someone who actively researched the pictographs and murals would have been able to spend a few hours in there, but for me it was a matter of seeing the pretty pictures and moving on.

After lunch we walked along the Theodosian Walls, sucking up the significance of what used to be the impenetrable border of Constantinople. We then headed East to explore Fatih.

Mosque #10: Yavuz Sultan

Although usually left out on most Mosque Crawls, the Yavuz Sultan is well worth a quick visit. It's one of the larger places of worship in the city, and in fact features quite heavily in the Istanbul skyline. Its higher than average station allows for some great northerly views too, but the main draw for me was the serenity of the place. It had a peace that the more prominent mosques seem to have lost in their popularity.

We passed through the Jewish Quarter on the way to the riverbank as we headed to the Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars. Again, this was more a place of curiosity than popular interest but I'm glad I got to see the gothic Iron made church. The inside was also well worth the quick visit.

Mosque #11: Fatih Mosque

Fatih was easily one of my most favourite mosques I had seen so far. Perhaps it was its relative isolation from the tourist trail, or maybe its "medium large" size gave it more stature than it had. A friend commented that the locality was relatively practising which meant that Fatih was well frequented and served (more so than even the Blue Mosque). Whatever it was, I was glad we got to offer the afternoon prayer there in congregation to get a real feel of what the place was about - particularly as we were also honored to offer two funeral prayers afterwards.

Mosque #12: Prince Mosque

We ducked into the Prince Mosque on the way to the Grand Bazaar. Another medium mosque this seemed a little less frequented than its central location suggested, and it felt well kept and even neat as a result.

Passing through Beyazit Square, we tried (unsuccessfully) to sneak into Istanbul University. Apparently long gone are the days where places of education had open doors, and our lack of ID meant resulted in denied entry. So instead we visited the Grand Bazaar, which was a bit of a disappointment in comparison to the Spice Bazaar from yesterday.

Mosque #13: Suleymaniye Mosque

Sunset brought us to The Suleymaniye, the second, if not the most, recognisable mosque in Istanbul. In fact it felt like more of a complex than a mosque and I can imagine much more than congregational prayer happening there. It was a great way to end my final day of touring.

And that was it - I has seen all the points of interest that I wanted to visit as a tourist. My feelings of being underwhelmed after my first day weren't totally shaken off, but I did come to realise that Istanbul really is more than a bunch of sights. The company I had today as well as a more "domestic" list of sights and longer city walks made today a lot more enjoyable. That said, I do feel a little liberated now that I can enjoy Istanbul socially rather than just as a tourist.

My dinner for instance was a fabulous steak and burger with a mixture of old and new, local and global friends. In many ways the trip had actually just begun.

Wednesday, September 26

Turkey-Iran, Day Two: Blitzing Istanbul

Coming from Etiler my early start was foiled by traffic on my way to catch the T1 into Sultanahmet, the place with the highest density of sights. This proved to be a blessing in disguise as it led to a change in plan which brought me instead to the Galata Tower. Not only did this mean not having to return to Galata, but the view from the top of the tower enabled me to get a real sense of the physical geography of the area. I now had a mental map (along with that provided by Google) of how the Bosphoros carved its way through the city as well as the relative directions and distances to the next stops on my list.

Since I was already in the area, my next stop was the Mevlevi House to the north of the tower. I'll be honest with you - this was only of interest since it was included in the Istanbul Museum Card I was planning on getting, except I was disappointed to discover that they weren't actually issued at that site (meaning I would have to pay an extra entrance fee). That said, it was a pretty decent visit and a useful introduction to the the more Sufi aspects of Islamic practise in the region. The hall (where the dervishes would whirl) was especially mystical.

Taking the novel Tunel to Kadakoy, I then begun the real walking of the day. Crossing the Galata Bridge the main destination was The Topkapi Palace but I took the opportunity to visit a few smaller sights on the way. The Spice Bazaar was novel enough - between the smells and the aesthetics you could easily have been taken back a few centuries if so desired. The remaining couple of sights were the start of what would pretty much become the theme of not only my time in Istanbul but that of my whole holiday.

Mosque #1: New Mosque
Mosque #2: Rustem Pasha

The New Mosque was under heavy refurbishment (unfortunately another theme for the trip) so I was only able to view it from outside. The Rustem Pasha was novel in that it was situated on top of a series of markets and catacombs - trying to find my way up was a mini magical adventure all on its own as I passed through secret passages and doorways to the stairs that took me up to the prayer hall proper.

After a quick passing by the Sirkeci or Orient Express Station, I had finally reached Topkapi Palace. This proved to be quite the time sink, with a total of 2.5 hours having been spent there. It wasn't the perfect experience either with the Harem (charged separately) being grossly overrated and long lines to see the collection of Prophetic relics acquired during the Ottoman era.

Now armed with my Museum Pass, I headed to the complex of Archaeological Museums. I spent an hour taking in all three of the sub-museums there - the collection of sarcophagi in the main Archaeology Museum was the clear attraction but the Ancient Oriental Artifact and Tiled Kiosk museums were also worth the look, particularly for the Egyptian Hittite peace treaty in the former.

On the way out of the museums I happened across an art exhibition called "Land of Dreams - Troy". This was a quick and unanticipated win and had some genuinely interesting pieces of modern art themed around Troy.

I then backtracked a bit back to the History of Science Museum, a half hour visit of what could have been bordering on Islamic propaganda if it wasn't so nerdy. Although most of the installations were replicas the museum was genuinely educational and provided a decent amount of insight into the advancement of science caused during the various Islamic empires.

Mosque #3: Aya Irene

Cutting back to Topkapi I visited the Aya Irene, situated on the palace grounds. This was until recently closed to visitors, but any excitement I held was quickly put to rest after discovering how derelict the place was. Although it was clearly a place of Christian worship I'm not sure if it was ever a mosque, but I've listed it anyway just in case.

Aside from the Topkapi, the real headlining tourist attraction is of course the Aya Sofia. Since it was closing a bit later on, I decided to hit the Basilica Cistern first, something I had heard about a lot before coming here. Somewhat interesting, if a bit dark, I don't think anyone would really need to spend more than the 20 minutes I did there unless they really had an imagination to feed.

Mosque #4: Aya Sofia

And so I finally arrived at the Aya Sofia, the single place that everyone would rave about after their return from Istanbul. And I have to admit, of all the places I have seen today the Aya Sofia disappointed the least. Magnificent, intimidating and cavernous its presence was clearly due to more than its size.

It was now late in the day, so I quickly blitzed the nearby Mosaic and Turkish and Islamic Arts Museums before they each closed. I wouldn't describe either as unmissable but the latter at least had some interesting things to see. The next item on my list wasn't far - in fact it was just across the Hippodrome.

Mosque #5: The Blue Mosque

Having arrived a fair amount of time before sunset, I took the opportunity to offer my day prayers and then chill out waiting for Maghrib. It was pretty much the only real down time I had today and was much appreciated. Praying in congregation was also an experience in itself, a feeling that was borne out of the history of the place as well as the people and even my own unfamiliarity with the land.

Mosque #6: Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque
Mosque #7: Little Hagia Mosque

After dark I visited two more mosques, both of which were a little off the beaten path. The Little Hagia Sophia in particular was a charming little place of worship, especially on the inside. Near to both of these was the last on my list for today: The Bukoleon Palace, a ruin of sorts which yet demonstrated its previous stature.

As I headed to Taksim for dinner, I managed to make a friend who accompanied me to dinner around the busy and neon district of Istiklal. The square itself was also a quick win, as I recalled all the times it would have been mentioned in the news for the protests it hosted.

As a measure of today's success (or failure perhaps) I came away with around 500 photos during my time out and about. I've been a tourist long enough to know how to optimise and be efficient when doing the sights of a city, and all those lessons paid off in my bid to consume all that Istanbul had to offer in the two days that I had. Of course being alone also helped, in terms of maintaining both focus and walking speed.

Overall it was a great day in terms of achievement but I can't quite shake the feeling of being underwhelmed with Istanbul so far. It could of course have been by approach - it's certainly a town that rewards a more casual approach - but I also sense the feeling that it can easily be oversold by those who might have a bias for Islamic tourism. It's probably a mixture of both, but I'll probably have a better idea of how I feel when I conclude my tour of the city tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 25

Turkey-Iran, Day One: The Trip Eleven Years In The Making

This trip was always going to be slightly more special than others I have taken: less so for the actual destinations themselves but more due the context in which it lives... a context that started 11 years ago.

A friend and I wanted to go away on a bit of an epic adventure. Since we were both relatively well travelled (him more than me), we picked a selection of countries neither of us had had much experience with. The rough outline was to start in Istanbul, drive in a south-westerly direction (possibly cutting into Syria which was peaceful at the time), cross over into Iran and then journey South from there, possibly sailing over the Persian Gulf into Dubai from where we would catch a flight home. The whole thing would have taken 3-4 weeks, and as I said before, would have been epic.

To cut a long story short around 30 days before we were due to leave, my friend announced that he was getting married. In six weeks time. "We can still go on this trip," he explained, "but it would really be helpful if we could postpone it". Of course by "postpone" he meant "cancel", but I was happy for him and took my consolation prize of three weeks in Australia (where he was getting married) instead - a trip that still remains one of my favorites. But still in the intervening 11 years a trip to just Istanbul or even the wider Turkey just didn't feel like it would be worth it - not without the same epic context this previously planned trip had. I found myself avoiding the whole place.

So it is with an equal feeling of destiny and closure that I'm now starting a journey that will take me through Istanbul and wider Turkey and then to Iran with the special bonus of passing through Baku in Azerbaijan. The transits are mainly by plane, and I'll also be travelling with different people during different legs so it's not quite the same, but I'll take it given my age and decreasing interest in travelling altogether.

The Turkey leg is an excuse for a 10+ group of international friends based in the UK and South Africa to hang out, but since I was the only member of the group to have never been Istanbul I decided to fly in a few days earlier than the rest, in order to blitz the city that seems to have so much to offer a tourist. My flight in was via Sabiha Gokcen, the budget of the two airports serving Istanbul. It's further and more difficult to use, as I experiences first had as I exited the terminal to investigate buses, only to realise that there was no ATMs out there and no cards taken for bus fare. Oops. I was canny enough to already have a transit card (given to me by a cousin), but the lone 5tl note I loaded on it still had me 0.50tl short and the bus driver was not in a charitable mood at all.

Luckily a fellow Brit from my flight was generous enough to pay the bus fare for me, something which I took as a sign of things to come. Istanbul already seems to be the kind of place where things just seem to work out.

Wednesday, September 19

Film: Searching Click for more info

I actually really enjoyed 2014's Unfriended. During a time of too much teen-slashing-for-the-sake-of-it it effectively used self placed restrictions collectively called "screenlife" - the telling of a story from the 2.5th (?) person view of a videocap of a computer - to bring a new sense of dread, lack of control and scary times.

So it made sense that I'd be interested in Searching, the latest take on the technique. This time we have a thriller, something that I thought would make its job a bit more difficult. Just how novel can someone's browsing habits be if you no longer have access to a creative use of screen corruption and ghost keypresses?

Well it turns out it can actually be quite novel indeed. Searching was really good and a success, both as a thriller and in terms of storytelling. This is something I'm struggling with because if the same plot was typically presented it wouldn't have been that great (some of it was actually quite cheap). Similarly the screenlife cheated a bit at times too - when you have access to breaking news live streams and every passer by's candid footage you're pretty much able to frame anything you want.

The genius is mainly in the breadth and depth of the world building - something presented as naturally and organic to anyone who has their own computer desktop. For example a shot with an email we're supposed to read will also have plenty of material in the background telling us about the world in which a character is living. This tool is taken to great heights in the movie; I expect future viewings to reveal plenty more moments of head slapping realisation and easter eggs.

Everything put together left such a compelling whole that the problems seen when dissecting it all but disappear. Totally recommended.

Wednesday, September 12

Film: The Predator Click for more info

In many ways The Predator is a complete success. It's violent enough, vulgar enough and even manages to trace its humour back to the '87 classic. For many of us who hold the original in such high esteem the job has been done.

This fanservice seems to have come at a cost though - there are also enough plot holes, continuity errors and leaps of faith requested of the audience to make this, standing alone, a bad film. It's almost as if the budget had run out somewhere in the last third of the movie. It's a shame because it didn't have to be this way, but on the other hand promising in that it shows the magic of the 80's can be recreated 30 years later, and it's not no longer given that the franchises of the past are doomed to fail in this millennial world.

Overall though I enjoyed The Predator and recommend it.

Thursday, August 23

The Glory Days

It's an indictment on Internet society that of the 118 blogs I follow via RSS, only three of them provide regular updates. It's a sign of just how far we've come (fallen?) from the days when content was king, and things like SEO and reach and even readership were afterthoughts to the actual writing process. I'm hardly the model net citizen, but from the start all those 14 years ago I knew I'd never allow ads on this site, nor track who does (or doesn't) read these pages. Instead we now create quicker bites (usually images) and these primarily to be seen, which sounds innocent enough but can also be seen as the root of most of the uglier sides of social media today.

This cynicism and grumpiness comes with age, of course. 14 years is a big chunk of both my life and that of the Internet, and I like to think some kind of prestige comes with that. Of course the real irony is that with this transformation of how the Internet is used, the content that was so easy to create has now become difficult to even start... so any denial that feedback doesn't matter is probably a bit cheeky.

On the other hand, a fair few of those dynamics and relationships have transformed into bigger and better things - so much so that I almost forget where they all started. And so we end with what is probably the most vacuous of life's lessons: things change, sometimes for the worse but often for the better, and so the real value in the world is in the essence of these things and not what they look like.

And if that means it's the blogosphere that gets put on the altar... well maybe that's not that big a price to pay after all.

Film: The Meg Click for more info

A film about a giant shark? How bad could it be? In what is a great example of "you really should have known better": very bad.

But one might be forgiven considering this was also the year of the more enjoyable Rampage and Skyscraper (and I'm pretty sure I'm missing another Dwayne film). But it clearly takes a certain talent to present the preposterous, and The Meg just happens to lack it. Basics like the acting, or the dialogue (oh man, the dialogue) and some really poor direction get in the way of what was a pretty decent plot (in the context of plots about big fish)... so really it's not the giant shark that should be blamed here but, as usual in matters of nature, the men behind it.

One to avoid.

Wednesday, August 15

Film: Ant-Man and the Wasp Click for more info

Ant-Man fulfilled its expectation of being amongst the weakest of the MCU films; apart from an excellent cameo in Civil War there really wasn't ever much potential for the plucky hero to contribute much to the greater mythos (well perhaps not yet anyway). That puts Ant-Man and the Wasp in a strange place, especially as the final film in Phase 3, right after the brilliance that was Infinity War. So it's not actually all that fair really.

Like the first installment, Ant-Man and the Wasp was a decent enough entry in the series, doing its own thing and almost championing the right to stand alone. The problem is that the MCU relies on the cross pollination, the sum being more than its parts - most MCU films would have failed if not for it. But even if we wash past that, the final third act of Wasp was pretty weak in its own right.

So not a terrible film, just one that is perhaps a little... unnecessary. And that's the biggest disappointment really, that it's now become impossible to make a standalone Marvel film that's actually wonderful.

Saturday, August 4

Book: The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu Click for more info

Despite having heard loads about The Three-Body Problem, this book was not what I was expecting. Firstly, it was a more raw brand of science fiction that relies more on human interaction than technology (even though it does have lots of that, particularly toward the end). Secondly, as a translated book it brought with it a vibe from the original Chinese language, a more to the point and staccato way of presenting plot and story development. In fact my immediate thought was how the book paralleled the Chinese movies I've seen.

That said, after getting past the disorientation caused by the mismatching of expectations I did find The Three-Body Problem to be quite the engaging read. The premise was gripping, the science just about plausible and by the end the plot was poised to pay off handsomely during the next two books. And since both have been translated, they are exactly what I'll be reading next.

Thursday, August 2

Film: Mission: Impossible - Fallout Click for more info

In the run up to the release of the sixth installment in the Mission Impossible film series a few of us spent the last few weeks catching up on the five previous films. This was useful for three reasons: firstly, it got us all on board the hype train; secondly, it allowed me to appreciate the development of the series over the 20+ years (yikes!) it's been around (as well as recounting just how bad the second film was); and thirdly, seeing as how Fallout is a direct continuation to Rogue Nation, it helped us to figure out exactly what was going on here.

Fallout itself was great. All two and a half hours were packed with action, a decent enough plot and brilliant set pieces which flowed into each other so well that that it was difficult to tell when each began. The supporting cast was second only to good ol' Tom doing his thing, and although its easy to criticise the film as being obvious it did it all so well that it didn't matter.

So yes, definitely one to watch... just make sure you have a look at Rogue Nation (heck you could even pick up 1, 3 and 4 too) before you go.

Saturday, July 28

Spun Click for more info

Almost fifteen years after the London bombing, the questions surrounding London Muslim identity and loyalty and accountability have become almost as cliched as the answers given in response to them. On paper then, Spun seems to be stuck in the past, discussing things that most people would have been over by now. Surely it wouldn't be able to generate more than an eye roll or two? And yet, it has not been since Shades that have I enjoyed such a tight and expressive brown Muslim play.

For sure, there wasn't much new ground covered and little novelty here. The characters were plucked from the standard identikit starting selection, with their respective development following the tried and tested exclusively dual paths of spiritual identity and secular integration. As I mentioned above, a lot of this had been seen before and so those coming to Spun for novelty or a final twist would have left sorely disappointed.

But where Spun really shone was the performances themselves. Aasiya Shah's Aisha in particular was able to hold me firmly in her grasp throughout (which, considering she was probably five when the bombing happened is impressive in itself), with Humaira Iqbal portraying a solid Safa next to her. Good actors always shine in plays with a sparse number of props and sets, and the two here were bright throughout.

The third talent, in the form of the writer of the play Rabiah Hussain, was also something worth talking about. Some things jarred a little, others fell flat and in its conclusion the discussion wasn't as deep as I would have hoped fifteen years of contemplation would bring... but ultimately all those were minor flaws in a solid and clean script that didn't confuse its delivery with a need to be too clever. It was funny when it needed to be and touching when it mattered. It didn't need bells and whistles to make its point, and was better for that.

Overall then Spun was 80 minutes of straightforward, if not challenging, joy and if anything serves as a poignant recounting of what many London Muslims went through over a decade ago (and perhaps still face today). Although it doesn't really ask new questions or give new answers, it didn't need to. As a historical account of something a lot of us went through, sometimes its just as effective to tell good stories well.

Saturday, July 21

Food: Mahdi Click for more info

These days travelling any further than a 4 mile radius for food feels like a massive risk to take. That's saying less about the quality of the options and more about the number of them - we certainly are spoilt here in London, particularly in the east. So it was with trepidation that we set out to grab dinner at Mahdi, all the way in exotic Hammersmith... especially as the website almost deliberately painted it as just another Persian.

Well in this case the distance was worth it. Mahdi topped the marks both in quality of the food but also novelty - there was plenty I hadn't seen before. The staple Kubide and Juju were generous and as good as they get, while the more adventurous pilau dishes (one served with neck) was more than enough to keep us interested.

On the downside the place was busy and service suffered as a result. But at £15 per head (plus petrol costs) Mahdis easily surpassed expectations and has cemented itself as the place to go if I ever fancy eating in Hammersmith in the future.

Wednesday, July 18

Film: Skyscraper Click for more info

There comes a point when things really do become silly. This film far passes that point, taking us to a place that's so silly and laugh out loud fun you can't bring yourself to admit that it's actually quite a bad film. How can it be? I'm still chuckling to myself just thinking about it.

Of course we came to see Johnson do his thing and on that level there was just about enough to fulfill. But the junk that came with it... hoo boy. What little integrity I have forbids me to recommend this film, but please do feel free to make it your secret shame once it's released for home viewing.

Thursday, July 12

Food: Icco Click for more info

Ah, Icco. If you ever went to university in London you'll know this place well - I can't actually ever remember it not being there in some shape or form.

The premise is simple: cheap pizza of an expected quality. And while it's easy to admit that an Icco pizza isn't the best, having a bill of under £8 per head for a pizza each is a win in itself.

Things may have changed decades after Icco first started, and options are even more numerous now. But you know what you get with Icco, and more importantly what you'll have to give to get it, and that kind of reliable relationship has value in itself. Oh and that it has a mosque next door just adds to the proposition.

Thursday, June 28

Food: Red Camel

Although I didn't have much to eat tonight what I did (and in what is possibly the biggest crime in restaurant reviewing, I can't actually remember what it was called) was wonderful enough for me to write about it. From what my companions ordered Red Camel seems to promise good solid home food in a comfortable, albeit small, seating area. It's the kind of place to while away a lazy summer's evening... which is exactly what we did.

There's no website or marketing here, so a web search might be lacking in results. Red Camel is situated at 552 High Road Leytonstone, and is well worth a visit under the right requirements.

If I do get to go back I'll be sure to update this review.

Thursday, June 21

Film: Hereditary Click for more info

I went into Hereditary blind, pretty much the best way to watch any creepy scary movie. That might have been why I enjoyed it as much as I did - not knowing the premise allowed the unfolding mystery to accentuate the horror. That said, the film did seem to suffer from a bit of confusion as it struggled to make up its mind as to what it wanted it to be: was this a psychological thriller? A straight up monster flick? OR something perhaps a little more supernatural and spooky? Hereditary manages to be all three, but not always to its benefit.

There's no double that the movie was more effective on the big screen, and yet I can't quite bring myself to recommend it past a DVD release. Perhaps its one to watch if you want a good scare and have nothing else to see.

Monday, June 18

Film: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Click for more info

I think the biggest flaw in what would otherwise have been a great film was the setting. Although the trailers show a large part of the film as being situated on an island, the main meat happens on American Soil in a mansion.

It may sound like a minor thing but it was enough to dramatically change the game - the plot, set pieces and threats all have to pivot on being inside rather than outside, and in my view the whole premise suffered for it.

That said Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is still the place to go for dinosaurs, so there is that.

Wednesday, May 16

Film: Deadpool 2 Click for more info

The first Deadpool was clearly genius in all it wanted to do: it was satirical, audacious, fun and showed exactly what could be achieved when filmmakers trust their audiences. It was also novel for all these reasons (and a few more).

Deadpool 2 is more of the same... except for the novelty. And it appears, for me at least, that novelty was part of the reason I liked the first film so much. That's not to say I didn't enjoy Deadpool 2; I just didn't find it as sublime as the first installment. On the other hand, for those who are exactly looking for more of the same, Deadpool 2 delivers in spades.

Oh and I'll also throw a nod to Zazie Beetz, whose portrayal of Domino was my highlight of the film. Recommended.

Friday, May 11

The Adriatic Coast, Day Six: Split

As it was Friday, the plan was always to base today's activities around Jummah. Due to the locality of our accommodation we went even further than this; we were in and out of the apartment for most of the day, mopping up the remainder of our souvenir shopping, sightseeing and prayers.

Split's Old Town was of course old, although uniquely a large part of it was made up of the remainder of Diocletian's Palace... something you don't really appreciate till you've walked around the complex.

There was definitely more of an eclectic mix of architecture and age in and around Split's Old Town. It seems that a lot of the area, in particular the docks, have been well maintained and even modernised, although the effort made to keep the vibe unspoilt was clear and appreciated.

After a brief interlude at home we headed to the western part of central Split to walk up Park Marjan where we were treated with some lovely night views of the town.

The day ended perfectly with us chilling at home over card games and banana milkshakes. The whole day was the perfect ending to what seemed like a month's worth of trip rolled into 6 days. In fact I was actually surprised that we were able to relax as much as we did - it's another sign of how sometimes paradoxically leaving things unplanned provides the space to expand in the way you want to at the time, instead of against a previously thought well laid schedule. Its arguable whether we would have seen as much as we had this trip if we had planned more than the single night that we did.