Thursday, July 11

Film: Kill Click for more info

Well wasn't this a surprise? Yes, you could just call it "an Indian John Wick" but that would actually be a bit unfair - Kill really does manage to stand on its own two feet and if anything the action and violence comes second to the simple-but-broad plot - the turn in this film ranks up there.

But an action film it is first and foremost and it doesn't fall short of that either. The acting otherwise is what you would expect from Bollywood (melodrama and all), but gone are the item numbers or filler. As a result the 1.45 hour runtime is a boon.


Monday, July 8

Empire - Live Click for more info

The only non-boardgame podcast I listen to is Empire, hosted by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand. I don't really have anything to compare this podcast to, but the conversational style seems to be unique (and dividing) amongst history podcast enthusiasts, and is exactly why I enjoy it so much. That and the robustness and depth with which the hosts explore a topic.

Seeing them live was rather like listening to the podcast and so there weren't really many surprises here. This being an event, the topic had to be standalone ("Booze and Brews") which although not personally relevant was fun and interesting nonetheless. And in typical Asian fashion the event started and ended late (although it did run at a generous length) and we even had a costume change.

There really isn't much more to add to this review - if you are interested in more the first place to check out would be the podcast itself. Both that and watching them live come thoroughly recommended.

Thursday, July 4

Film: A Quiet Place: Day One Click for more info

I guess it was bound to happen. After such strong episodes in The Quiet Place(s?) Parts One and Two, trying something "new" was always going to disappoint.

What's really upsetting is that there's nothing actually wrong with the film itself. It's well made, acted and even the dialogue plays its part. What little action there is is also effective. But where the previous instalments were more than that - strong stories of overcoming a particular obstacle, Day One is very much a character piece. Unfortunately this episode in the franchise suffers for that.

As a prequel I suppose there wasn't much new that they could have brought to the universe, but that doesn't make this any less of a shame. One to leave until that boring rainy day.

Wednesday, June 26

Food: Smoke & Pepper Click for more info

After a couple of weeks of fancy meat places, we decided to turn things modest and try a medium fancy gourmet burger place. The stakes were low (there were no steaks on the menu at all), so there wasn't much that we expected to go wrong here.

And we were right. Smoke & Pepper is nothing amazing, but neither was it a disappointment. In line with our general vibe we kept things safe and went for the well understood burgers and they panned out and the inoffensive price was in line.

I don't have a strong enough opinion to recommand this place, but neither would I mind going back. That in itself has its place.

Thursday, June 20

Book: Persepolis Rising, James S. A. Corey Click for more info

I'll say it again: if there is one thing that The Expanse nails it's its pacing. Book 7 out of 9 is firmly third arc stuff, very Empire Strikes Back, and ultimately one of the better books in the series.

The book was a breeze to read too, not exactly gripping but with a high enough content density that you didn't feel the slog. It was a rebel, no wait, rescue, no actually a heist movie of a story, and it was this linear plot that actually benefited it the most.

Unfortunately this came at the cost of any real science fiction: this was politics and war, and as such The Expanse cements its place in whatever the genre has become over the last decade or so. But to be honest I didn't mind too much as I was having such a good time anyway.

Wednesday, June 19

Food: Janna Cafe Click for more info

Woo, this was a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Not that I often judge a book by its cover, the idea of trying Somalian food in what seemed to be a very under hygienic par joint filled me with dread, and even almost pushed me to something I've never had to do - veto a place. I even avoided using the local restrooms they were that bad.

But before I knew it, it was too late to back out and so we stuck with it. And I have to admit that I'm glad we did as it all just got better from that point onwards.

The menu had four items on it: lamb, beef, salmon and chicken. It also had a bunch of platters, which confused me as they seemed to all be more expensive than their component parts. But eh, this is why I don't run a restaurant.

I went for the diced stir fried beef with spaghetti. And, quite frankly, it was great. Cooked and seasoned to, well I wouldn't say perfection, but maybe to an inoffensive standard, it really did hit the spot. The portion was generous (although I finished the meat, some pasta was left) and at £9 a bit of a bargain too.

I wouldn't say Janna was a hidden gem but it's definitely become my go to now for a quick post ELM meal. And given my initial (and quite frankly current) impression of the rest of the place, I've surprised myself with such a recommendation.

Thursday, June 13

Food: Just Meat Smoke & BBQ Click for more info

Ah, now this is more like it. There's times when I think that I'm just not a meat person, a kinda foodie imposter syndrome if you will. It takes a place like Just Meat to make me realise that actually I might have an idea of what decent grub is supposed to be like.

The pitch is exactly that - this is a place that specialises in smoked meats of varying types. That's it. Vegetarians or those who like fish have no business here. And as is always with places that have a focus, they know what they're doing.

Now all this said, I did stick with the Loaded Burger, having been burnt already with a poor steak once this week. I can say that the burger at least was great - sizeable and substantial in all the right ways, without overdoing it with poor filler. Others on the table went for the brisket, and although I got to try some towards the end, it was still melt in the mouth done well.

Service was as great as you would expect, with us enjoying the novelty of the external kitchen. If we had come at another time we could have even bought our own picked meat from the adjoining butchers. For now though, baby steps.

Given the what's left on the menu to try, I definitely need to come back for more. Recommended.

Monday, June 10

Food: T-Bone Steakhouse Click for more info

I would never bet on a steak being any good. I've been around the block way too many times to live in that much hope, and it's why I'm so impressed the rare time a halal steak is actually good. Either we just don't know how to cook them, or we cheap out and get substandard ingredients.

Unfortunately the steak at T-Bone was not great. I took the easy low-risk option and went for the £20 steak and chips, rare, with my rump steak having already been sliced. This paid off a little as I didn't have to deal with cutting the tough meat myself, although of course that didn't mean my jaw avoided its workout.

That said, a more than a few of the strips I ate tonight were sublime, which leads me to believe the trouble lay on the meat side and not the preparation side. Ultimately it doesn't matter since both need to be on point for the food to be worth it, and unfortunately T-Bone just doesn't reach that standard.

Tuesday, May 28

Film: Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga Click for more info

Mad Max films have never sat well with me. I'm not sure if it's the imagery, the rawness or just how Australian they are, but it always felt a bit too jarring for my tastes. Or at least that's what I thought.

In anticipation of Furiosa, we sat and rewatched Fury Road... and it actually felt better than I remembered. It wasn't as incoherent as I thought it was, and it was far more fun and less creepy too. The start to end action was great and not too much, while the wild pacing actually made a lot of sense.

Of course it's not the film that's changed over time. And I think on balance Furiosa was even better. It was smoother, better acted and just overall better made. Taylor-Joy was just that, while Hemsworth and the rest of the cast supported her well. It was also a lot of fun and is one of those rare films that at 2.5 hours did not overstay its welcome.


Tuesday, May 14

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

As movie franchises go, the "post-Walberg" attempt are pretty good. The first trilogy was solid, with each of them being different enough to stand alone in a strong set. This, the start of a second trilogy, also starts off on the right foot, getting the basics right while introducing enough nuance and depth to make it a more than just another Ape movie.

It's hard to comment too much on the acting of course, but it was well produced otherwise, with the effects better than ever, and the voice acting just as you would think a talking ape to sound. My only criticism was that it was slightly too long - I reckon a good 20 minutes could have been lopped off to great positive effect.


Saturday, May 11

Aziz Ansari at Bush Hall

Aziz Ansari has always eluded me. To be more specific, I always seemed to hear about his shows after they happen, and by people who really should have invited me when they were booking. So when a friend told me about a show on Friday (ie yesterday), I jumped at the chance and bought in blind. I found out later that the tickets were £60 - Aziz is doing quite well it seems.

The show was just about worth it. After a 30 minute wait (which I'm sure is not normal nor acceptable) we had the warm up acts come on, and both were more than decent. Aziz then came on, and had us laughing for just over an hour over topics covering relationships, religion (which I was surprised about) and international matters. Nothing on Gaza though which was a bit disappointing but otherwise it felt very personal and intimate (although the TMI from some audience members was a bit too much).

Things have changed since the first decade of this century when brown stand-up wasn't funny and Aziz Ansari was always my counter example to that trend. More recently we have more options to choose from but for me Ansari will always be the guy who started genuine brown comedy and I'm glad I finally got the chance to cross seeing him live off of my bucket list.

Food: Tigers Diner Click for more info

Pre-event meals are always hard to judge well. Are we just excited about the show or is the food really that good? I guess at the very least we know a place is bad if even with that euphoria it manages to upset, but I did think that Tigers was decent even aside from that context.

I went for the Godzilla burger and it was a bit of a monster. The food was good, the vibe great, and none of it ruined our evening. I think times dictate we acknowledge their paltry drinks options (mainly Coke variants) and spade-heads-as-plates was more annoying than cute, but otherwise there was really not much to complain about and a lot to love. Recommended if you happen to be in the Shepherd's Bush area.

Tuesday, May 7

Film: The Fall Guy Click for more info

This was a strange movie. On the surface it appeared to be a solid film and reflected the fun and breezy vibe of the TV show it's based on. Gosling and Blunt did their jobs well, the plot was engaging, and things just progressed at a decent enough pace.

Which is why it was surprising that I fell asleep half way through. I guess there was something very bland about the whole thing, proof that a film is more than the sum of its parts and some kind of jeuje was definitely missing here. In its place was some self awareness, meta and schizophrenia in this movie about a movie, and a lot of it distracted more than enhanced.

Fun enough but hardly a classic.

Wednesday, May 1

Film: Boy Kills World Click for more info

Urgh. The only thing more disappointing about a bad film is one that could have been so much better. BKW had all the right ingredients - a badass protagonist, a twisty plot, some great characters and associated gimmicks and some potentially explosive action. Unfortunately once you scratch the surface it falls short on most counts and so ends up being quite the failure.

Maybe it could have been split into two movies? Or maybe it just needed a bit of love and care? It was too bad to even think about how it could be better, and so unfortunately for me this is one to miss.

Wednesday, April 24

Film: Abigail Click for more info

Abigail is a great film, and gets the basics right in the way a lot of great films do. It's fun, jumpy, pacey and keeps its audience in gripping suspense throughout most of it. The characters are almost caricatures of the usual, but the film is self aware enough to own that and all the other tropes and plot devices it uses to great effect.

The scares are enough - you probably won't have too much trouble sleeping after watching this - but it's really the simple things that keeps the film going. The plot, script and production are all to high enough standard to not get in the way of all the fun.

The ending may falter a little but in the context of the film you really can't expect it to get to the end without taking a little breather. Overall though, Abigail was great and gets a strong recommendation from me.

Monday, April 22

Book: Strange Dogs, James S. A. Corey Click for more info

In what can only be described as "what it says on the time", Strange Dogs was definitely strange. The Expanse, as a series, tends to oscillate between the vanilla (space, war, politics) to the fantastical (ancient aliens, warping of physics, "magic") in way that suits its brand of modern sci-fi, and Strange Dogs firmly falls into the latter end of that spectrum.

Characterisation is better than the other novellas, and so this is also one of the better novellas. It may have been slightly on the longer, labouring, side but that didn't stop me from turning its pages.

If this is how the remaining novellas will turn out to be then I look forward to not having to write them off like I was planning to.

Wednesday, April 17

Film: Monkey Man Click for more info

It could have been something much better, but instead Monkey Man saves its best moves for a single set piece, with a second pulling up the rear. In total it's about 30 minutes worth of high octane entertainment costing 90 minutes of some pretty dire dross. It's almost as if the film was designed around those few scenes.

It's a shame because in another life this could have been the other John Wick. Instead I couldn't help but feel a little cheated by the whole thing. Perhaps one to leave for a home viewing then.

Monday, April 15

Book: Babylon's Ashes, James S. A. Corey Click for more info

Is it really only book 6? I guess that's a testament to the pacing of this series, as it really does feel like a lot more has happened. And yet ironically this volume was quite flat in terms of any major wider plot development. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, given the events of the previous book. So maybe a reset then, before the final act?

I suppose just like it is for the characters in the book, Babylon's Ashes is a comfort. We spend time with characters old, seeing them interact in new situations but in the equally old ways. It was all very familiar and safe and low effort, and although I didn't mind it here (with its 700+ pages) I do hope the next novel will bring something else to the table.

Thursday, April 11

Film: Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Click for more info

Is it possible for a monster movie to jump the shark? Well I do admit that while I was preparing myself for something ridiculous, what I found was actually not... and somewhat quite fitting in the trajectory that has been the previous films in the series.

I will say that this is largely a Kong movie, with Godzilla pretty much playing second fiddle to the story (of what little there is). But you would come here for the fights and set pieces, and of these things The New Empire does not disappoint.

So not a complete waste of time but hardly a classic. You'll probably already know if you want to watch this.

Sunday, March 3

Film: Dune: Part Two Click for more info

I have two opinions, possibly related, about Dune: Part Two. Firstly on the superficial level it was an okay film. I enjoyed what I saw, thought it was faithful enough to the book (despite accusations of Islam-erasing - but more on that later), but hardly a classic that I felt the need to ever watch again.

The acting was fine, the writing fine, and the direction... fine. Some of the action was good, if a bit fleeting. So, so far so medium and as it stood it would have gotten a recommendation.

However dig a little deeper and a more insidious and problematic layer can be found. Ultimately this movie is about white-saviourism, religious fundamentalism and its exploitation, and any attempt at not making it about contemporary issues falls pretty flat on its face.

Perhaps still a recommendation then, but with the caveat that you should go with your critical eyes open and not fall for the romanticism and reduction of the subject matter.

Saturday, February 17

Aamer Rahman: Culture War Click for more info

It's been a whopping ten years since I last saw Aamer live on stage, and the various more casual interactions in the meantime have firmly made him more of a "human I happen to have met" than a minor celebrity that lives in a completely different world.

So I'm kind of lucky that a spare ticket turned up for a show he was performing that I had otherwise decided to skip as tonight's set was quite excellent, and I suspect I enjoyed it even more than The Truth Hurts a decade ago.

Not much has changed. Aamer is still precisely (and wonderfully) mocking the obvious topics of racism and privilege, but now he's doing it with the more powerful contexts of wars in the Middle East and more personally, becoming a father.

As before the insight isn't necessarily novel - you may have cracked the same jokes and made the same observations yourself in whichever generic brown social media group with a level of intelligence you happen to be in. But with the platform and the ease and confidence and charm in which Aamer delivers, the message is compounded to a sublime level.

There was lots of laughter, pride, hope and assurances tonight, in an hour that flew by way too quickly.

Food: Buna Click for more info

Faced with the ever static choice of eating Turkish vs Peri Chicken, a friend and I decided to roll the dice on something different and grab dinner at an Ethiopian place in Islington. Now although I've had Ethiopian food before it had been so long that it might have well been my first time... and Buna was a pretty decent way to revisit the cuisine.

Of course the first thing is the novelty. Based on Injera, our platter came on a metal tray lined with the flat bread with the various vegetable and meat dishes that came as a part of the special dish we ordered. Next is the communal eating as we both tucked into the food, getting in each other's way in the process.

Getting past that though the meal was a good one, with the food itself resembling that you would find in a home cooked South Asian meal. The special itself cost us £34 and was too much for the two of us (but probably not enough for three). Unless you have a specific distaste for Injera, Buna comes recommended not just for Ethiopian food but for a hearty meal out overall.

Saturday, February 3

Book: The Vital Abyss, James S. A. Corey Click for more info

I think I've concluded that the short stories from The Expanse (all handily contained in Memory's Legion) aren't that great. It's not that I mind filler - especially at these lengths - but it really does seem like most of this stuff is what would have been found on the cutting room floor.

Take The Vital Abyss for instance. It's written well but oh so boring, and in some ways very experimental. I just hope that I'm gathering some depth to the universe by osmosis that will allow me to enjoy the main lore more than I would have otherwise.

Friday, January 26

A Poem To Me

Well isn't this something:

In lines of code, Shakil once wove,
A tale of software, passion drove.
Retired now, a seasoned sage,
Board games beckon, a new stage.

Binary realms left behind,
Dice and tokens now entwined.
From algorithms to game strategy,
Shakil finds joy in a playful sea.

Cards shuffled, boards unfurled,
In retirement, a gaming world.
Pixelated screens replaced by laughter,
A new adventure, happily after.

Tokens moved with thoughtful glee,
A master strategist, Shakil be.
Retirement's haven, where games unfold,
In the language of dice, his stories are told.

I'd be flattered except this was generated by ChatGPT and so yeah. But a big thank you to my friend who generated it and the world whose creativity was ripped off in producing it.

Tuesday, January 23

Film: The Beekeeper Click for more info

In what can only be described as a BTEC John Wick, we once again see that most versatile of actors in Jason Statham do his thing and punch some bad guys while making the world that much of a better place.

There are no surprises here, and neither should there be - any messing about with the formula would have been doomed to fail. We like our fisticuffs clean please.

So yeah, I liked The Beekeeper and appreciated it for giving me what I wanted to see. Others may not like it as much, but that's their mistake (and so fault) for trying to bend reality to their will. Recommended for those who know they'll like it.

Thursday, January 18

Dubai 2024

I've always had a love-hate relationship with Dubai. This essentially boils down to not liking the country and what it stands for and represents, but loving the friends and family that I know and continue to meet there. This has been the case since my first trip, visiting primarily to attend a wedding of someone I hadn't even met in person yet. Pretty wild for 2005 I know.

Such was my indifference-cum-denial, that I wasn't even going to take this trip, especially mere weeks after returning from the Middle East. A severe bout of FOMO finally convinced me to book my flight around a week before arriving, and even the consolation of only staying for six days was quickly snatched from me as I realised it was still one of my longest stays here.

Things have changed over the five years since my last visit. Deira has become seedy as hell, people now live miles away from the city centre (although the cheap metro is still great) and I even found the place rather cheap (which is probably because London is so expensive now).

But the biggest change might actually be in me. Between my visits to Oman and the UAE, I've started to understand why (more recent) folk have been migrating to the region and have become even more determined to remain. It's no longer about nil income taxes and halal McDonalds, but the quality of living, the weather and the relative peace. Under more scrutiny however, just like costs, it seems that this is saying more about the changing face of the UK than that of the Middle East, and what used to be beneficial in living in the west just doesn't seem much so any more.

This trip was mainly social, although I did also visit the Quranic Park and its Glass House for a wonderful lecture on foods mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah. As always the doss was top class, with plenty of hours spent shooting breeze and eating good food. And so as always I returned from Dubai on a high and what felt like way too early.

Book: Nemesis Games, James S. A. Corey Click for more info

Book five and I'm now over half way through the mainline series as a whole. Keeping with the varying theme this series does so well, we now revert back to star system politicking rather than any of the science fiction of this particular world (universe?).

The Expanse is firmly what I describe as "modern" sci-fi and it says a lot that I don't totally hate it for that. Nemesis Games was still a bit weak, a bit trashy, but it's the world that's keeping me here and not the plot or characters or melodrama.

And so on we go.

Tuesday, January 2

Film: Aquaman and the Lost Kingdon Click for more info

Maybe it was my mood on the day but I try not to overreact to the sheer badness of a film but it's a rare movie that actually makes me consider leaving part-way. Yes, Aquaman 2 was that bad. Bad in the way that made you think it was actually some kind of tax or funding scam and something had to be made to avoid harsher penalties.

The thing is that all the pieces were there - the acting was fine, the plot had potential and the effects, although janky at times, did the job. This Aquaman film just proved that without the magic nothing else matters in a movie.

Please avoid.

Thursday, December 28

Oman, Day Eight: Coming Home

An afternoon flight didn't really leave much room for today so we pretty much went straight to the airport after breakfast for myself and another of the party to catch our flight home.

This gave me a chance to think about the trip and how great it was - I wouldn't say Oman has much to offer tourists per se, but as a place to hang out it hits the spot as much as Turkey does and makes a great alternative to Dubai - keeping all the good things that the Middle East has to offer while keeping modest and being diverse at the same time.

It's quite the feat when I consider it in detail and under this analysis it's no surprise that it conducive to such chill and good times. We (or perhaps it was just I) joked about making it an annual event, so I guess my assessment might just be put to the test sooner than we think.

Wednesday, December 27

Oman, Day Seven: Winding Down

Our final day in Oman was set aside to chill and so we remained local - this actually turned out to be one of the more indulgent days as we barbecued at home (including making smores) before heading to the leisure centre to play Padel (because what other sport do people play in the Middle East?).

Annoyingly I had yet to buy any souvenirs and so some good time was spent hunting for fridge magnets to no avail (top tip - they're available at Carrefour if you're desperate).

Dinner was from various food trucks nearby, which was a great way to spend our final meal together - and of course we had to end that with yet more milkshakes.