Wednesday, November 15

Film: The Marvels Click for more info

The best thing about The Marvels is its runtime. I mean this not as an insult but as constructive feedback - it's clear from many how exhausted they are with the MCU and perhaps the superhero genre as a whole, so it's only good when such a film is kept to a minimum runtime. At the very least it'll keep you from holding a grudge.

In fact I think it's the conciseness of the film which forces it to keep a bit of focus. Yes it's all very novel and cute but these things compensate for what is a bit of a thin plot (as well as overpowered heroes). The stakes are low in this for sure.

The three Marvels have personality, the film is fun and everything is a bit of feel good. I particularly enjoyed the throwaway references to Pakistani and Islamic culture (even though Kamala isn't really your traditional Pakistani, not really).

Overall though I enjoyed the film and do somewhat recommend it.

Friday, October 20

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

It's becoming pretty clear that the novellas available in The Expanse universe are not essential reading. They almost seem incidental and experimental, serving to keep fans ticking along between mainline books, while giving some superfluous background detail to the solar system in which the saga is set.

That's not to say that's a bad thing; for me at least they make for nice breaks between the larger slogs. The Churn, for example, brings us back to Earth, telling us about conditions for those who chose not to leave their home planet.

It's okay, and like I said it made for a nice timepass. I don't feel like I have extra tools or context with which to enjoy the fuller story, but given the lengths of the novellas so far that not quite something to complain about yet.

Cinque Terre, Day Seven: Genoa

Our last day and stop was to Genoa - this time an early start to get there in good time for Jummah prayers (which was actually the reason we were flying back from here instead of Pisa).

Getting there for 11am or so, we had a good few hours for quick sightseeing, pesto snacks and our final meal in Italy of some (again) wonderful pasta.

Jummah was interesting enough, and a bit of a throwback to the minority congregations we had in London in the 80s - a sermon not in Italian or Arabic but in Bengali, to serve the bulk of the audience.

After prayers we were pretty much done. Grabbing a cheeky kebab for the ride to the airport (which I have to say was super cheap to get to), we arrived in good time to catch our flight home.

Our trip to Cinque Terre and the wider region proved to be as easy, accessible, relaxed and engaging as any of my previous trips to Italy, cementing the reasons why I really don't mind returning to this country. And yet it was different enough to make the trip feel novel - in terms of breadth, Italy appears to have it in spades.

Thursday, October 19

Cinque Terre, Day Six: Chiavari

We had another easy start into Chiavera, a pretty little town famous for its porticoes - which turned out to be handy given how the weather had finally turned. 

Despite this, the agenda had already been set before we had even arrived and invovled the now standard walking, lunching, and then back home by mid-afternoon for a movie, dinner and then more films.

Wednesday, October 18

Cinque Terre, Day Five: Camogli

An easy start took us into a neighbouring sea town called Camogli.

I have to say the place was pretty dead apart from a street market, and yet it wasn't a waste given how we were now in full relax and loiter mode.

In fact, once we had lunch and some excellent Camogliesi dessert from Revello, we headed home before the sun had set for an afternoon Predator movie screening - which we then followed up with another in the series after dinner.

Tuesday, October 17

Cinque Terre, Day Four: Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino

Our original plan was to spend the entire week in Cinque Terre, giving each village a full day with some spares for the hikes. Call it a hunch (or maybe experience) but we pivoted a week before travelling and committed to leaving Cinque Terre for Santa Margherita a short train ride north of Monterosso half way through our trip. This turned out to be a great decision, as we were pretty much done with Cinque Terre by this point

Santa Margherita is a cute seaside town, larger and so better served than any of the villages in Cinque Terre. It serves as a good base to explore some of the places to see in the area - obviously including the five villages. We were looking forward to having restaurants still open past 6pm.


Since we arrived early we decided to make use of the day and take the ferry to San Fruttuoso and Portofino. The first was an abbey located on a relatively remote and intimate bay. Planning a few hours there we actually spent the one exploring what little it had - perhaps with a good book it could have been somewhere to spend more time just chilling out, but as that wasn't the mood of the day we decided to head on to Portofino.

Like San Fruttuoso, Portofino was more about vibe and food than anything in particular to see or do, although it was far larger. After lunch we we did a few local hikes up to the church and lighthouse, and then walked the 6km or so back to our accommodation in Santa Margherita for a pizza dinner.

Monday, October 16

Cinque Terre, Day Three: Vernazza and Monterosso

Today promised to be more straightforward than yesterday, with the plan being to start our hiking at Corniglia and head north to Vernazza and then further to the fifth (and largest) village of Monterosso.

Although the hikes promised to be more developed (and charged for), they weren't as engaging as the previous ones on this trip. This might have just been second day blues or the weather - as a way to pass the time I can't think of anything we would rather have done.

After a somewhat excellent swordfish pasta lunch we headed on to Monterosso, which despite being the largest of the villages (much by virtue of being split into both old and new towns), we found we managed to cover as quickly as the others. Still as always food was available to keep us busy, including some wonderful Monterossina cake.


Still hungry, we made our way back to Vernazza to grab a second dinner from the place we had lunch... only to find that the place was dead by 6pm, confirming what we had already guessed: that Cinque Terre seems open for passing trade rather than staying guests.

Sunday, October 15

Cinque Terre, Day Two: Corniglia and Riomaggiore

The main highlight of this trip were to be the hikes. The five villages that make up Cinque Terre have at least two hikes, sometimes more, coming out of them, making a total of eight trails to explore. Although we had ambitions to check them all out, between closures and logistics our minimum aim was to at least walk between each village once. This morning we were walking the high route between Manarola and Corniglia to the North.

The hike itself was of medium difficulty and was a brisk walk with a little climbing. Compared to some of the previous hikes we've been on it was actually quite leisurely with views of the Mediterranean abound - although we didn't have the clear skies and sunshine we would have wanted, there was no rain and visibility was still decent.


Corniglia itself was a small village, and finally made us realise the scale of Cinque Terre and its five villages - these weren't going to take too long to cover and explore. That said, it was a nice place to visit and our first introduction this trip to the food we would come to enjoy over the next few days.


Our original plan was to take the train back south, past Manarola and to Riomaggiore, from where we would hike back home. Due to a mishap we actually disembarked at Manarola and so took the opportunity to rest a bit at home first. This was probably for the best, as the hike between Manarola and Riomaggiore did seem more interesting heading south.

We explored the town, which included the castle and marina, had a delightful fried fish dinner (where we were served by a brummie of all people) and then after catching sunset took the train home for some more chilling and boardgames.

Today pretty much set the tone for the trip - an early start with a lot of walking, while ending the day relatively early for some hanging out. I'm left wondering: is this how old people travel?

Saturday, October 14

Cinque Terre, Day One: Manarola

I can't claim that Cinque Terre was ever on my list of places to visit. In those terms this is nothing new; most of my travel has been initiated by someone else, and I'm happy to accept how lucky I am to have those around me to drag me to places. That said, Italy has long been my favourite place to visit in Europe, so I'm not entirely surprised to find myself back here.

Flying into Pisa early, we were able to take a noonish train to the first of the five villages we were to explore over the next few days. Manarola is the second village from the South, and as we would find out later, one of the larger places to stay - not that we could tell at the time as we managed to cover the breadth of it in a short time.


After a wander, dinner and orientation we headed back to our apartment to relax... and get a head start on the next day which promised to be quite active.

Saturday, October 7

Book: Abaddon's Gate, James S. A. Corey Click for more info

Book three and I'm starting to wonder James S. A. Corey actually exists[1]. Abaddon's Gate is so full of tropes, so Saturday night TV that if it had been written in 2023 I'd have seriously asked whether or not it had been output by generative AI.

Most jarring was the pivot from the previous book - I often wonder whether series of this type requires long term planning or not, and The Expanse shows what might happen if you're willing to bin the stuff that came before. It's not as clever and maybe a bit blunt.

I didn't hate this book, and in many ways I enjoy how much of a breeze it is to read. This book was not a memorable read, it was kind of like the YA of science fiction, but it made for a decent time pass and I'm not surprised that, just like a TV show, I find myself eager to carry on with it.

[1] Yes, I know that Corey is actually a pen name for not one, but a pair of authors behind The Expanse. That's not the point (or perhaps it is).

Tuesday, October 3

Film: The Creator Click for more info

I guess sometimes films (or anything) just fall victim to the promises that they make. The Creator had a great trailer, a potentially thrilling plot and some grandstanding action. But unfortunately the film fell so short of expectations that it wasn't just an average film but an awful one.

I could give a list of why this film was so bad, but the main cause for me was how... convenient the the plot was. People were stupid when they needed to be, developments relied on some extraordinary coincidences, and the whole thing just played out like a cheap videogame cutscene.

I'd avoid this one.

Wednesday, September 27

Food: Burnt Click for more info

Instahype fuelled hipster meat houses seem a dime a dozen these days, and where I would usually ignore them Burnt seemed to capture my attention by virtue of being only down the road from my old house (damn nostalgia). 

Given the queues it was quickly becoming famous for, we decided to arrive at 4:30pm for its 5pm opening. It turned out that we didn't need to - for the entirely of our visit there was covers available so it now seems perfectly possible to arrive at a reasonable time and still be fed.

I was immediately enamoured by the menu - or rather the size of it. Seven items (including the veggie option) was all it had for the headlining items, with a splattering of the usual sides.

The flagship offering appears to be the smoked brisket, which although novel didn't really seem that great value for money. Do it once I guess? A much better option as a snack were the links, being more substantial and tasty than the cut of meat before.

Sandwiches-wise, Burnt offers the now traditional smash burger, but what you should really go for is the Ribwich - a fulfilling amount of pulled meat sitting between two sliced of brioche bread. Make sure you thoroughly confirm its availability - we were incorrectly told it wasn't available and over-ordered as a result.

Prices were good. We did overspend today, but repeat visits should bring the bill to under 20 a head which is reasonable for what you get. Service was what you would expect from a place that relies on Instagram for marketing, so don't expect the world. Oh and make sure you wear some of your least favourite clothes - you'll be smelling of smoke for a few days after this.

Tuesday, September 26

Film: The Expendables 4 Click for more info

Or maybe Expend4bles? Either way after three previous films we should all know what to expect - and I'm pleased to say that the fourth iteration of the film carries on with the upward trajectory of improving films. It's just about hard to believe how bad the first one was.

We have the usual core actors, although this is clearly a Statham show now, with a scatter of b-list action heroes bringing up the rear. The action is better (although still with questionable CGI), the humour gun ho and the overall package delivering what it's supposed to.

I'm not sure if any of that is worth a recommendation though, but if you're a fan of mindless action films then you really can't go wrong here.

Tuesday, September 5

Film: The Equalizer 3 Click for more info

My first surprise is that neither of the previous two instalments of this series have been mentioned here before - the first I do remember watching at home (which disqualifies it for review) which the second I hadn't seen until catching up for this latest chapter. You could say I'm not quite the Equalizer fan then.

Like the first two films, the third holds no surprises. That's not to say it's not a good film - it was actually pretty good - it's just not one to watch expecting great things. You'll cheer the hero, you'll boo the baddies, and just like with the movie itself the stakes in the plot aren't too high. That just means it has to try hard to fail, and I'm pleased to say it didn't do that.

Recommended for that rainy day.

Saturday, September 2

Food: Afghan Grill Click for more info

When it comes to restaurants, generic names mean one of two things: either the place is so good, that its the defacto default option for such a generic term, or the food is so generic, any other name would miss the point. Afghan Grill falls firmly into the latter.

There just wasn't anything special about the place. It was adequate, if a little cramped, service was passable and the food nothing not seen elsewhere. We kept the menu simple with some chapli kebabs, lamb kharai and kabuli rice... and it was all okay.

Given the competition and options available closer to home, I see no reason going out of my way to revisit Afghan Grill - however it is now a known and solid option if I'm ever in the area.

Wednesday, August 30

Film: Oppenhiemer Click for more info

I don't think that films should be about who directed them. For sure, this is a personal take, but for me good direction is invisible and more about the actors, script and production than the direction. Of course this is a wholly personal opinion (and one with obvious exceptions), but it does mean I tend to be somewhat sensitive to films whose first billing is the person sitting in the directors chair.

As Oppenheimer was a Nolan flick, the film was always going to be more about him than anyone in it. And yet I was interested in how Nolan would deal with non-fiction - with no time travel or dream walking gimmicks to rely on, this could have been as great as The Dark Knight. Alas it was not.

My primary issues with the film were with its direction. I felt that the pacing was very off, Nolan's use of time confusing and distracting. He made what should have been a straightforward story into hard work, and I think I left the theatre understanding only 90% of the film (although that might have been due to the typically obnoxious sound staging Nolan insists on).

What resulted was something that felt like a 3 hour trailer, although I did enjoy the tail end of the movie as things finally became more linear and consolidated.

Ultimately though Oppenheimer was an okay film, but one that could have been great had Nolan not made it.

Thursday, August 24

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

Two novellas in a row is slightly irritating, but as I'm a slave of release order it's something I have committed to. Thankfully Drive really is a novella - blissfully short at 35 pages, this was a a quick joy to read.

Throwing back to the initial stages of the lore - namely post-Mars but pre-outer Solar System - we get a taste of where things actually started, the event which opened up the wider Expanse to the human race. It's the perfect basis for a novella and entirely optional to the main story, but gives some essential flavour and basis to some of the deeper rooted politics that have developed since.

A great stint, but I'm glad that there's a real book next.

Wednesday, August 23

Film: Blue Beetle Click for more info

Anyone would think that a superhero movie about a super powered boy dressed up as an insect is either a sign of oversaturation or satire. Blue Beetle is not the latter, but neither was the film as bad as its odd concept.

Overall though there was nothing special nor new in this paint-by-numbers origin story. We had the evil corporation, the overpowered villain, the naive heroes and the coming of age and redemption. Yawn etc.

The action was decent though and some of the super powers fun. The hero himself was whiny and annoying, but I suspect that was by design. The film itself was genuinely charming and funny at times. Overall it fell short of something truly great, but managed to be a decent timepass nonetheless.


Another year, and one would hope that the stats would confirm the theory that COVID had caused a bit of a drought. I haven't exactly sat down to count, but it certainly doesn't feel like I have had anything to write home about. Not much travel, not much eating out, films a little under the pre-pandemic par.

One thing I wish I did (and can still do I guess) is start writing about a larger passion that's developed over the last decade or so - that of boardgames. It's my number one activity right now, and 20-something Shak would definitely have started posting about that - and here I am without even a label.

It says a lot then that the content is there, just not being written about. But still on I go, this place having become way too much of a habit to kick now.

Saturday, August 19

Book: Gods of Risk: James S. A. Corey Click for more info

The second novella in the series and this time we have less of a directly relevant tale and more of one which looks to describe the world being built across the Solar System in the book's universe.

Set on Mars, we follow a period in the life of quite the dumbass teenage kid as he tackles what seems to be the same problems most dumbass kids face growing up - just on a planet other than Earth. I suppose the point is to show that humans are gonna human wherever they live in the universe, but the story was of value in setting the context of life on Mars and some of the technological and sociological issues they face in terraforming a planet.

Easily forgettable, you'll not be missing much if you skipped this. That it's quite a long short story makes that even more tempting. But for those who want to lap up as much of the space soap opera as possible this novella delivers.

Thursday, August 10

Book: Caliban's War, James S. A. Corey Click for more info

Book two and like before I immediately noticed a gear change in both pacing and storytelling. More stuff seems to happen in this book, although there remains a similar structure in comparison to the first. We once again have a missing person, a lot of back and forth, many parallel stories that eventually merge, and once again the unveiling of a shadowy conspiracy.

So maybe this is just Leviathan Wakes v2? To be honest I don't feel too cheated - it's still a romp, and perhaps a better one. However I might be annoyed if The Expanse is just the same story told 9 times or so.

Tuesday, August 8

Film: Meg 2: The Trench Click for more info

Meg 2 is a very different film to The Meg. Not that the first was particularly sensible, but this sequel appears to have gone full Fast & Furious, with more action based around the characters kicking and punching than actual large sharks.

This doesn't make it a worse film, just a different one. It definitely held its own, provided you could look past the ridiculousness of it all.

The acting sucked, the plot trundled along, the action preposterous. I don't think I can in good conscience recommend this film - but you'll already know if you'll enjoy it or not. I did!

Saturday, August 5

Food: Zerozero Click for more info

The hook of Zerozero is the zero alcohol policy - something that would have been suicide as less as a decade ago, but more than sustainable in a world where the Muslim pound is easily spent on just as expensive mocktails. Then again, with the lack of alcohol comes halal meat (although in this case they only offered chicken so again not really as big an achievement as the tagline suggests).

So ignoring the novelty, what we have left is a decent enough Italian restaurant offering pizza and pasta at a standard post inflationary cost. Picking what to eat was a little more difficult than I expected, mainly seeing how everything sounded so... bland, but what we did get was passable (if not a bit salty).

The restaurant itself was clean and open and the staff friendly. Costs were a bit higher than I would have liked, coming to £20 per head for a main and shared dessert (although that tiramisu was pretty good).

Overall though, there wasn't much here to warrant a return visit. Zerozero would have been a great place to eat ten years ago, but in the 2020s its just one of many options, many of which I'd much prefer to attend instead.

Tuesday, August 1

Film: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem Click for more info

Incredibly, it's been a whopping 16 years since the excellent TMNT came out. For me this was the standard of TMNT movies - pure and to the point, even though it was set in a post-Shredder world.

Mutant Mayhem brings the same purity to audiences in 2023, at a time where Spider-Man has shown what an action comic cartoon can be. Not much has changed - our teens now have mobile phones, and April is also a teenager. Some of the lore has changed but not enough to be problematic and the overall story and action are great.

But the real genius in this movie is in the acting and the script. These turtles really came across as a bunch of hormonal and emotionally immature teenagers - I'd even go as far as calling them annoying in all the ways teenagers are. Top marks to the creators of this film for capturing it all so well.

Otherwise the film is second only to that other superhero cartoon this year... which is no real criticism really.

Monday, July 31

Film: Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One Click for more info

My issues with this film are slightly more profound than whether it was good or bad. The truth is that I enjoyed it for what it was: a showcase of set pieces supporting some strange plot that I didn't really care much about. It did all that action stuff well, and threw in some decent charm and comedy too.

At times I did feel that I had seen some of it all before (haven't we done the BMW car chase in a European city already? And was that Tom Holland in the background of the train scene?), but that's not what spoiled the movie. It just felt like something was missing. It took me a while to figure out what that was - an ending.

Which I suppose shouldn't have come as a surprise considering the title of the film, but I guess I'm still reeling from how Infinity War managed to pull it off. So although the acting, production, stunts and action was as fine as any Mission: Impossible film has offered, Dead Reckoning doesn't quite make my top three or even four of the franchise. That doesn't make it a bad film, just a disappointing one, and it's still some of the best action you'll see on the screen this summer.

Tuesday, July 25

Film: Barbie Click for more info

If anything, the idea of a Barbie movie solicited a range of reactions, which broadly fall into the following categories:

  1. Those girls (and boys and men and women) who were hugely looking forward to a film about their favourite doll/merchandise;
  2. Those who hate everything about Barbie (and women, and men and the world) who felt it a duty to protest;
  3. Those who wanted to watch the film out of some kind of irony for the 'gram (we call these the barbenheimer crowd); and
  4. Those who had faith that this film was going to be genuinely great, self aware and knew exactly who its various audiences were.

And if a film is judged by how it fulfils the expectations of its audience, well then Barbie is one of the greatest films of all time, since all the, quite disparate, groups above seemed to have come away relatively satiated.

Of course it's not one of the greatest films of all time, but Barbie is a good movie - or as good as a movie about Barbie can be. Like any good family movie, it manages to entertain on various levels, and although the social commentary does labour at times the film knows it and even calls that out. Put another way, it takes the audience with it.

It's well produced, and everyone manages to pull off the kind of plastic acting you'd want from a Barbie movie. And of course everyone is so pretty. Yes, the plot is thin, but it does the job.

The point is that Barbie is a good movie and only offensive and problematic if you really spend the time and effort looking for that - and even then it does a good job. Recommended.

Wednesday, July 19

Film: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Click for more info

After the disappointment that was Crystal Skull, my expectations for the fifth Indy film was as low as you could get for someone who nevertheless felt obliged to go see it. So it was with a pleasant sense of surprise that I left the cinema actually having enjoyed this movie - and in many ways for the reasons that were lacking 15(!) years ago.

First things first - Harrison Ford was not too old to reprise this role. Of course de-aging tech was featured (and not too badly either), but not to lean on and the majority of the film was indeed about our favourite adventuring octogenarian, albeit supported by some youthful co-leads.

But it was mainly the return of fundamental Indy ingredients that made this film so fun. We had Nazis, we had magic, we had clues and graves. We had satire and fun and quips and banter. We had swooshing action. It just got all the basics right.

That said I do recognise that this is it, that there won't (and shouldn't) be any further Indiana Jones movies after this. And as sad as that is, I'm glad that the series goes out on a high note rather than what we were left with last time.

Tuesday, July 11

Edmonton 2023

Coming back to Edmonton after so soon was weird. It feels like yesterday that we were last here (and given that my Shredded Wheat was still in the larder, that's not too far from the truth), almost as if it was the stay in London in between that was the trip. In some ways this reduced the sheen, the holiday vibe, of the trip - similar to Karachi which I no longer look at as special either. But that's not a bad thing: it shows that my relationship with the town and the people in it has evolved into something deeper and intrinsic.

Still, this trip was special - mainly due to Eid pulling in so many people. This gave the trip its own party atmosphere, with lots of socialising and activities going on - and in many ways it balanced the normality of the trip otherwise.

Otherwise the usual things held true: I ate too much, I was even less impressed by West Ed Mall, we played lots of games, and we were well looked after by uncle and cousins. We even managed to visit Bianca Amor's Liquidation Store (although it said a lot about how long we've been away seeing the same stock on the shelves).

All that's left to see is when we'll be back to continue our with our time here. Given my diminishing enthusiasm for general touristic travel, I wouldn't bet on it being too long.

Saturday, July 8

The BBQ at Long Lake

The second mass family get together was held on the shores of Long Lake, a regular event on the Edmonton calendar, but this time generously scheduled to coincide with our visit.

Quite frankly I wouldn't know where to start in organising a self catered 100-person picnic BBQ like this (apparently there was a spreadsheet somewhere) but it all worked with the experience and "all hands" mentality of those attending - at one point there were three fires going.

The lake itself was nice, and I managed to get my feet wet for a good while. One of the attendees even brought an inflatable dinghy to take us out in which definitely was beyond the call of duty.

As with all good picnics, the day only ended once the sun set. Heading toward the end of our visit to Edmonton, it was definitely a great way to see the trip out.

Monday, July 3


I often make a silly, non-serious oath that I will never go back to Jasper or Banff again. They are places I've seen and done and have had some amazing memories of, but I also find them to be inefficient and, let's face it, it's not like the mountains change much over time.

But as there were a critical mass of out-of-towners, it did make sense to make a trip out - and for various reasons (not least of which was the cost of accommodation for 26 people) it was decided to make it a day trip. Which essentially meant an early start and a late end. Oof.

Otherwise as expected there wasn't any surprises here - we saw wildlife and mountains and ate some great BBQ'd food. We visited the Maligne and Pyramid Lakes and of course stopped by the Athabasca Falls (which in some ways are more significant to me than Niagara).

So yeah, despite my faux-protestations, our 24-plus-hours stint to Jasper was actually pretty great and another example of how sometimes things turn out much better than as promised on paper.