Tuesday, April 16

Film: Hellboy Click for more info

Hellboy is a mess. In fact it's more than that. It's an example of how, given an idea with lots of potential, that the making of the film cannot be taken for granted. We're firmly in the age of superheroes now, there really shouldn't be any excuse for doing it badly. Yet here we are. If anything it goes to show just how well placed the appreciation for a good MCU flick is.

To the point though: Hellboy is a confused, badly produced, and flat film. It's not even "so bad its good" - I fully expect the film to be forgotten within the next few months. As much as emotion shouldn't be present in a review, it is more sad than anything else.

Please avoid.

Tuesday, April 9

Film: Shazam! Click for more info

It's not that I dislike "silly" superhero movies - Aquaman was silly in the right way and there's plenty of further examples in the MCU - but there was something very childlike about Shazam! It wasn't the plot or the story (this is essentially a coming of age flick), but more about how the whole thing was put together.

I've recently started recognising the three act structure in films, and I think in those terms the biggest mishap in the film was the sloppy second and third act merging into one. This in turn threw off the pace of the film somewhat, and even took away from it's pretty good ending.

In conclusion then Shazam! was a decent watch if a bit forgettable - and although it's unclear if it resides in the DCEU it remains to be seen if this is a temporary misfire or a taste of what's to come.

Saturday, April 6

Book: The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman Click for more info

Self help books are always going to be controversial. Some people will swear by them, others will see them as a con, or the monetisation of common sense. Add to this that the book might be about love and relationships and it's inevitable to be the centre of an explosive discussion.

The truth is that, as with a lot of non fiction books of this nature, they're not for everyone. If you're good at relationships or are clearly emotionally intelligent, then a lot that you'll see in a book like this will be obvious or even vacuous. Similarly I can imagine someone who is naturally and innately into fitness rolling their eyes at dieting advice.

As in previous books of this type, the main thing I took away from The Five Love Languages was a framework with which to think about the subject of relationships and marriage. From that perspective, I found the book to be great in its analysis, but perhaps a little lacking in the solutions it offers. This could be because the book is a couple of decades old now. I found the classification of the five languages pretty striking and perhaps even obvious, and was even able to go as far as to recognise which ones I would most associate with myself.

So in many ways the naysayers might be right - the stuff in here is pretty obvious. But so is most things that people don't know, and as a piece of informal academia (rather than a practical guide to saving one's marriage), I think the book was a useful one.

Tuesday, April 2

Film: Eaten By Lions Click for more info

I was always hoping for too much.

Looking at the trailer, I think it's fair to have expected something different - we have Omar and his half brother Pete, on a journey to find Omar's estranged Asian father. The set up is a strong one, but it was probably my own naivety and hope for a brown/Muslim British comedy that would actually hit the mark that convinced me to give it the benefit of the doubt.

But no, once again brown- and Muslim-ness was at times just used as a prop for other comedy but mainly not even used at all. The same film could probably have been made using any other context. That said, there was the Indian Wedding outro so at least we had that.

A film not worth watching I'm afraid.

Tuesday, March 26

Film: Us Click for more info

Although it just falls short of Peele's last film Get Out, Us is still an interesting enough movie to watch. More thrilling and in your face than the previous, it might be seen as a bit of a blunt instrument, but the great production and acting all prop up a film that shouldn't be this good.

I do have to note that the third act is a bit wonky, although I do appreciate Peele's habit of elucidating so I can forgive that much. And the rest of the movie is so well done that it doesn't matter anyway.

A great follow up and I look forward to what else Peele has in store for the future.

Wednesday, March 20

Film: Escape Room Click for more info

Firstly a public service announcement: there are at least thirty different movies named Escape Room, one of which was released less than a couple of years ago and is currently on Netflix. This review is for the 2019 version. That said, you should probably save some time and money and watch the Netflix version (or maybe even anything else on Netflix).

It's not to say the film was poor. It just wasn't very good. A promising start just degenerated into a rushed Saw-lite, and we all know how those turned out. The biggest shame is that it could have been so much more - all the ingredients were present.

A blatant laying up of a sequel might bring some hope to a wider franchise that might be good... but for now I can't quite bring myself to recommend this.

Saturday, March 16

BAHfest London 2019 Click for more info

So here we are, at the fourth (but my third) annual celebration of all things bad science-y. Tonight was so much fun that it's more than easy for me to say it was better than last year's. It was bigger, longer and just all round funnier.

Three out of the seven were repeat presenters, which is again a shame (are the rest of us really that boring?) but despite the repeat appearances their stuff was fresh enough. Which brings us to the line up:

  • How cheetahs were a necessary factor in Savannah tree control
  • The use of sewer systems as a mass transit system
  • How childbirth pains and issues were a direct consequence of a belief in a vengeful God
  • How dark matter was largely made up of vampires
  • The use of Dad Jokes to eject offspring from the nest
  • How to make global overview a viable mass cause of social change
  • How bipedalism was a direct consequence of social anxiety

Oh and there was an excellent keynote about the how the power of economists was rooted in their understanding of incentives.

Honestly, the BAHfest really has become one of the few things I genuinely look forward to and I can't wait till 2020.

The Ig Nobel Awards Tour Show Click for more info

In a brilliant example of genius and as a special one off treat, the clever people at Improbable Research and the SMBC webcomic brought both of their respective tours and live events to the same day and venue resulting in almost a FULL DAY of nerdy science fun. First up was the Ig Nobel Awards Tour Show, which was basically just a bunch of funny science lectures. In contrast to the following BAHfest, the Ig Nobels are actually rooted in real, albeit funny, science... and as a result generated a different kind of joy and laughter in the audience.

I wasn't too familiar with the Ig Nobels before today, so from an educational perspective it was well worth it too - at the very least it made me feel envious that I probably won't get to see the actual awards show live. And as its an event based in real science I also got more of an appreciation of its value (vs the BAHfest which, lets face it, is just for laughs).

Of course it's unlikely that today's double billing will be a regular occurrence (I don't think the tour is intended to be a regular thing) so I'm glad I caught it when I did.

Wednesday, March 13

Film: Captain Marvel Click for more info

As an origin story Captain Marvel does adequately enough. Amnesia was the tool used here, although I was looking at my watch during the first half as the movie laboured along. Fortunately the second half more than compensated for the build up and after summing all the bits the net result is an above average MCU film. Brie Larson was excellent in her sassy way, while her supporting cast all played their parts well. The action was on par, and overall the movie felt very feel good.

If any commentary on the feminism is required, well, it was a bit bemusing. The MCU decided to go the obvious route, with our super powered super hero being constantly repressed by her father/boss/AI Supremo and finally breaking free by embracing her ability to self determine. I did think it was a bit of a shame to have gone the common denominator way (the baselines being the usual twin goals of "doing what men can do" and "saving the world") but this is Disney so hey.

Social gripes aside, Captain Marvel was enjoyable enough and as a character I at least can't wait to see her in further MCU films (like the next one). Recommended.

Saturday, March 9

Food: Hamgipak Click for more info

As my general eating outings decrease over time it becomes all the more rare that I actually visit somewhere new. Enter Hamgipak, chosen not because it was good, or we were hankering for Korean food... but only because it was a stones throw from the the actual venue we were heading to after dinner.

That said, as a pick of convenience it wasn't too bad. The place was clean and friendly, and intimate containing no more than 30 covers or so. The five of us were able to enjoy a rowdy enough meal with some decent food, although marks were lost due to how late my own order took to arrive. Price-wise there weren't too many surprises with the bill hitting around £19 a head for a main each and shared starters.

It's unlikely that I'll visit Hamgipak again, mainly because I tend not to visit Fulham that often, but if you're ever in the area and in need of a meal you probably can't do much worse.

Wednesday, March 6

Food: Bim's Click for more info

I have a informal minimum requirement when it comes to food reviews. Fast food doesn't usually make the cut, mainly because there's not really much to say about a generic dirty chicken burger or grill-defrosted quarter pounder. On the other hand seeing as fast food makes up 70% of my eating out, and then even that proportion further split only between two or three places it probably makes those places the most important ones to tell others about about[1].

Crises of existence aside Bim's is interesting enough to share some thoughts about. Billed as the closest Muslims will ever get to a halal MacDonald's, the headliner here is the £1 cheeseburger which, to be completely honest, is exactly what you would expect a £1 cheeseburger to be like. It certainly wasn't enough for us and so we decided to explore the remainder of the menu, eventually settling on a Double Fumey (which, for those counting at home, resulted in three patties each). In short, as inoffensive as the food was here don't kid yourself - the £1 cheeseburger is a false economy and not a reason to visit Bim's.

The food is decent but between the location and waiting times I can't think of why I would ever recommend Bim's over other options - an established Peri Peri is far superior for that quick bite, while Bim's isn't exactly the place to go for a sit down meal (not least because it has no seating). I suppose there is a novelty factor somewhere - after all we did make our way there to try it - but by that measure almost by definition there's no need to go back now that we have.

[1] GG's and Ed's, both in Redbridge, are frequented by us almost weekly.

Wednesday, February 27

Film: Happy Death Day 2U Click for more info

Happy Death Day was a sleeper hit back in 2017 and managed to bridge the gap between a nerdy premise, horror and lots of fun. A sequel would have had its work to do - making something even just as good without just doing the same thing again isn't a trivial task.

And yet here we are. As in the first film, the real joy comes with not knowing what lies ahead so I can't speak too much about the plot except to say it's just as accessible as before, if a little wonky as it tries to add more stuff. Ultimately though the film manages to be just as fun as the first, possibly at the cost of the horror aspect - don't expect many screams here.

If you were a fan of the first then you'll enjoy this. And so as I was a fan of the first I have no qualms in recommending its sequel.

Wednesday, February 20

Film: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Click for more info

In my view the real genius in The Lego Movie was the many layers of meta it managed to lay on itself and the audience. Not only was the film full of superfluous in-jokes, the plot itself was intrinsically based on the fact that The Lego Movie was a story being told. And so the hardest part about The Lego Movie 2 is how to top that - since really once you do meta meta, it's always going to be turtles all the way down.

And yet The Second Part does manage to solve the problem... by not trying. The first two acts of the movie are thus just regular animation antics and storytelling, which although fun, was definitely no Lego Movie. In fact I would go as far as saying that I wasn't too impressed by what I seen by that point - that is until the third act came along and saved not only the movie as a whole but also my own rash judgement in thinking the makers didn't know what they were doing.

Of course any muddled reviewing is a result of my trying to keep the spoilers to a minimum, so I'll just cut to the chase: The Lego Movie 2 is a worthy sequel to The Lego Movie and if you enjoyed and appreciated the first then you'll almost certainly do both for the second - just make sure you reserve judgement till the end.

Tuesday, February 19

Film: Alita: Battle Angel Click for more info

In many ways Alita doesn't really surprise. It's a coming of age movie, a sports film, a thriller and a revenge flick. It has great action but also a decent plot and progression. In fact I take it back - the real surprise is how Alita manages to be so many normal things in one single movie.

I guess "solid" is the word I'd use to most describe Alita. It rarely does anything wrong, and although it could be accused of being boring for playing it so safe... it's anything but boring. If there was one criticism I could make it's that it all felt a little too compressed - I wouldn't go as far as calling it too generous but it does feel strange to not only not have to complain about how much filler there is in a movie but how it might not have enough.

Overall though Alita was a great ride and a definite poster child for the movies coming in 2019. Recommended.

Sunday, February 10

Book: Death's End, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu Click for more info

If The Dark Forest was The Three-Body Problem squared, then Death's End continues on that exponential curve. The stage is much grander, the ideas of a much grander scale, and the science the best I've experienced in fiction for a long, long time. This was more like a tachyon Star Trek TNG episode than a BSG soap opera, and the unabashed (if a little out there) science-first approach was a welcome change from the more gizmo futures we've been offered in contemporary sci-fi.

Cheng Xin, the new protagonist for this volume, is, quite frankly, an idiot and quite possibly the most frustrating anti-hero I've had the pleasure of reading. Expect that her character and her decisions are essential to the unfolding plot and even the lessons being taught. By the end of the book I realised the real idiocy lay on the opposite side of the fourth wall.

But the real genius of the book (and thinking about it now the series as a whole) is how it almost manages to undo itself, and the author is nothing less than brave for the approach. The slight downside is that, similar to The Dark Forest, in this vacuum of world building the ending feels almost rushed. I've decided to accept this as the book's character though.

Overall the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy (to use its formal name) is like a breath of fresh air. No, actually, it's like a reset on the genre of science fiction, throwing back to the likes of Arthur C. Clarke and Asimov in scale and approach. This approach isn't popular or even one that necessarily prioritises accessibility, but by avoiding the dumbing down of concepts we end with something much purer and better for it.

Tuesday, January 22

Film: Glass Click for more info

Split was an interesting film not least because of its divergence from Shyamalan's usual style. As I'm not the biggest Shyamalan fan this wasn't necessarily for the worse - in fact I quite enjoyed the increased accessibility of the film even if it came at a slight cost to its conciseness. Ironically though despite being more in the classic style Unbreakable remains one of my favourite Shyamalan films, which actually worked out quite well when it turned out to be part of the larger trilogy.

If you were to plot Unbreakable and Split on a graph, Glass would lie on the same gradient. In many ways its the total opposite of Unbreakable, with lots of plot, lots of foreshadowing and lots of comic-style turmoil. In that sense it was actually quite meta, as comic book lore and style play a major part of the workings of the film.

Major props go to McAvoy who amazingly manages to improve in his presenting of multiple personalities, but he's also not alone in some decent performances by Willis and Jackson, with Sarah Paulson doing more than enough to fulfill her particular role as the sceptic.

On its own then, Glass isn't really that exciting, but as a bookend to a trilogy spanning almost twenty years it's actually quite perfect. Recommended.

Saturday, January 12

Food: Hankies Click for more info

My Hankies story begins a couple of years ago, when I visited the Hankies Cafe on Shaftesbury Avenue and immediately walked out after checking the menu. If I was going to pay for overpriced hipster Indian street food then I wasn't about to make it a quickie in a cafe.

Fast forward to 2019 and here I was, but in the restaurant situated in the Montcalm in Marble Arch. I'll make this one quick: the food was good and the bill not too terrible (£20 per head, no drinks or dessert) but the service was terrible - almost to the point where I thought it was part of the whole experience.

Honestly, it's astonishing that restaurants like these still think they can get away with it in a city where an alternative lies just two minutes walk away. I was asked on leaving which of the hipster Indian places I liked the best and I surprised myself by answering Dishoom... which pretty much says all you need to know about this particular genre of food.

Friday, January 11

Food: Issho-Ni Click for more info

Apart from the discussion generated regarding exactly where Shoreditch starts and whether or not Bethnal Green Road will resist the ever encroaching gentrification, Issho-Ni was as solid a choice as you can get when it comes to Japanese food. The concept revolves around a sharing menu (which I, albeit cynically, still read as "we want you to order more than you actually want to") of various sliced meats, skewers and (of course) sushi, nigiri and sashimi (those on a halal diet should enquire about what meats are available to them). We ordered enough variety to keep everyone's tastes and bellies filled and generally came away happy enough.

Despite being a small place (I counted around 30 covers maximum), it was spacious enough for our party of seven to enjoy ourselves comfortably. Our bill came to around £30 per head, although with a bit more discretion during ordering I think you could expect a fiver less and still come away feeling well fed.

Issho-Ni makes for a nice place to go to infrequently, perhaps on a special occasion, and in that context gets a recommendation here.

Wednesday, January 2

Film: Aquaman Click for more info

The good news is that Aquaman isn't terrible. The DCEU finally appears to be turning a corner somewhat, finally shedding its reputation of being dark and serious for something a little more fun and accessible... and being a whole lot better off for it. Hooray!

That's not to say Aquaman isn't without its flaws. It actually plays more like a Indiana Jones with powers than a superhero film, and there are some bizarre scenes that could have come straight from a Bollywood movie. These aren't bad things per se, but the filmakers are clearly trying to experiment and establish what works and what doesn't.

There's a few continuity errors scattered about and the acting is adequate at best. But overall Aquaman proves to be a fun enough journey to forgive its minor issues. Recommended.

Tuesday, December 18

Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Click for more info

The most striking thing about Into the Spider-Verse are its visuals. They're great, striking and hit the tone of the film so precisely you'd be forgiven for normalising them by the end of the show. That said, there were a few scenes that jarred for me - mainly ones where deliberate phasing and blurred lines were introduced as style, but I suspect that this was more of a personal irritation than a universal flaw.

In fact the film looked and played so well that it was almost carried by it. The plot was weak, with a fair bit of licence used throughout to keep it going, and character development was pretty cheap too. That said the film never saw the need to apologise for it, instead offering tons of fanservice and fun instead.

So here we have a film that is clearly style over substance, and so a film easily hyped (but equally enjoyed) - but however much this makes it fine for a single viewing, it unfortunately falls quite short of being a definitive Spider-Man film.

Friday, December 14

Food: RockIt Click for more info

I first got to try RockIt a few weeks ago as part of a social event. The hosts had booked the whole place and although there were serious flaws in the experience (not least how they had to serve food till 10pm to handle the numbers), the actual steaks we received were actually really good. Since I was there under a special context (and paid a discounted rate for the food) I decided not to review the place until I attended as a private diner.

Unfortunately the first observation was with the price. At over £25 for a steak we soon realised that the place was out of our budget (although it now made sense to me why the food was so good during my last visit). We each then opted for the Wagyu Burger, which at £10 sounded like a bit of a bargain. For starters we got a mixture of chicken wings.

The food was disappointing, with the wings coming cold - not just "not warm" but actually cold to the touch which was disturbing. The burger was also not the best, with the patty tasting like something from a supermarket frozen section rather than anything that could be considered gourmet.

The price came to around £20 per head which was just about what I was willing to pay, but really the main takeaway here was to not consider the place for a future visit. On the plus note, the restrooms were quite novel so there was that.

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.

Monday, December 3

Umrah 2019, Day Fourteen: Signs

In what seemed like an apt sign telling me to go home, I got asked for ID by who appeared to be immigration control on the way back from my farewell tawaf. Another first for me, and I don't know whether to be flattered or insulted by the approach.

And just like that another Umrah trip comes to an end.

Sunday, December 2

Umrah 2019, Day Thirteen: A Ziyarat After All

We spent our last night in Makkah (and Saudi) doing a ziyarat of sorts - to the local shops. Still, this did mean getting to see the less developed areas of Makkah and it served as poignant reminder of what the Haram zone used to look like before the rapid and fancy development took place. Just imagine: we used to rent rooms of private residences that used to be across the road from the holiest site in Islam. It's hard to imagine that now.

Saturday, December 1

Umrah 2019, Day Twelve: Timekeeping

Because this is me, I was keeping a fairly accurate record of how long certain rituals were taking me to complete. So in the interests of accurate record keeping, here are my highs and lows for completing a tawaf.

The fastest took 15 minutes, performed at around 915am.

The slowest took 49 minutes, and was a stroll between Maghrib and Esha on the first floor.

Just for comparison in the "good old days" a tawaf took a matter of minutes to complete. We're talking 4-5 minutes. Therefore multiple consecutive tawafs were not unheard of.

Friday, November 30

Umrah 2019, Day Eleven: Tolerance

We've reached the point of the trip where my ability to tolerate is running thin. If you smell like you've not has a shower for a few days, then I'm going to move away. If your cough sounds infectious, then I'm going to move away. If your beautiful but loud and distracting Quran recitation is obnoxiously stopping me from reading my own, then I'm going to move away.

Of course the problem here is that you'll find these annoyances in every corner of the mosque. In short... it's time for me to go home. After all, there's only so much space in the Haram to hide from the great unwashed.

On the other hand my photobomb game is strong. Selfies and videocalls be damned.

Thursday, November 29

Umrah 2019, Day Ten: A Lack of Ziyarat

I just realised that we skipped any ziyarat in Madinah and will probably skip it here in Makkah too.

Missing out on Masjid Quba is unfortunate but I don't feel that we missed out on any of the others.

Wednesday, November 28

Umrah 2019, Day Nine: More Maldivians

Looking at demographics, there does seem to be many more Maldivians visiting than I've noticed before. Many complain about the development/numbers management going on in the two holy cities but if it makes it more accessible for those who wouldn't even consider the idea of visiting then I'm all for it. And hey, if you really want to come multiple times a year you can always pay the penalty anyway.