Friday, September 4

Book: The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

And so my journey into the works of Sanderson continues with the first part of The Stormlight Archives, a series that is considered by many to be the grand spine of the Cosmere. In fact I'd say as a story The Way of Kings is a bit of a drag, with the sheer size of the volume destroying any sense of VFM you might be looking to get out out it.

As a foundation of world-building, however ... well, I don't think I've read anything in modern times that has come close. The sense of scale here is wholly palpable, and it honestly feels like a book I should have been taking notes on while reading.

In fact if there's one complaint I do have, it's the sheer weight of encyclopedic knowledge spread throughout the book. References are made, allusions, uh, alluded to and callbacks abound, and I can't help but feel that I've missed loads of connections already - Harry Potter this is not.

And yet once you accept that the world in which the book is written is far larger than the pages that contain the ride becomes much more enjoyable for it.

Sunday, August 23

Sweet Sixteen

I signed off last year wondering what I'll have to write about today, and so here I am jumping on the bandwagon that's taking up most of the mindshare even now. Yes it's true: this blog has also been a victim of COVID-19.

However lacking in content my blog has been in the later years, the crutch that is review posts kept this place ticking over - not least as an objective reason to put fingers to keyboard. The bulk of those reviews were movies and my regular weekly visit corelated with at least a single post on a regular basis. The cinema long becoming a no-go zone put paid to that excuse, and regardless of openings I don't see myself going back anytime soon. But hey: at least I have Brandon Sanderson to write about. Sigh.
It's a sad state of affairs, not least since at 16 this blog can now legally partake in all sorts of activities.

Monday, June 15

Book: Warbreaker, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

As I increasingly become familiar with the author, Warbreaker certainly feels like Sanderson book. It has the same, almost academic, level of magic (although I did feel the whole BioChroma thing had more gaps than Allomancy), some decent characters and even the same feeling of rush toward the end.

What Warbreaker does differently is focus more on character themes - in this case insecurity and betrayal. I counted at least three examples of grand betrayal in the book, and the last felt just as fresh and surprising as the first. In terms of thrill, the book certainly delivers.
That said I can't help but feel that Warbreaker is a weaker offering from Sanderson - it's certainly so compared to Mistborn and Elantris. Apparently it was written with the involvement of fans, and so I'm not sure how much of an effect that had. As I continue my journey through the Cosmere, however, it did feel just as in place and vital to read.

Tuesday, May 5

Book: The Hero of Ages, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

If there's one positive thing that lockdown has brought me it's a routine that allows a relatively fast consumption of books - at least I don't think I've ever posted two reviews in a row.

But that I managed to complete the Mistborn trilogy is a boon - it was a fun ride while it lasted and book three didn't disappoint. One thing I like about Sanderson that I noticed when he took over from Jordan in WoT was how clear of direction he is - he doesn't leave many threads hanging and when he does he's always quite explicit in tying them up. As such, The Hero of Ages was a breeze to read, and if I have any complaints its that it ramps up a bit too quickly - the crescendo happens over the last three or four chapters out of 45+ so I wasn't quite expecting it all to end like it did.

But that's a minor complaint really. Although I still think the first book was the strongest I did enjoy the trilogy as a whole, and am glad of the promise of more to come from the world of allomancy and the rest.

Sunday, March 22

Book: The Well of Ascension, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

The Well of Ascension is book two in the Mistborn series - and it definitely shows. It is a story of growth and adaptation, as all characters learn to deal with the new world that has been delivered by the event of book one.

As such it is less eventful and progressive than The Final Empire, and very much "a year in the life of". That's not to say there are no exciting things happening here - things do happen, but it appears most of the pay off has been reserved for the final book in the trilogy.

So even though I didn't enjoy it as much, it is just as essential a part of the trilogy so far, and one which I suspect I'll appreciate more as I move forward to consume the final book in the series: The Hero of Ages.

Wednesday, March 11

Film: The Invisible Man Click for more info

The Invisible Man is one of those films that stays with you after you watch it. Unfortunately it's also one of those films where the more you think about it, the more you realise just how ordinary, and possibly flawed, it is.

I think the trouble I have with the film is that although it clearly states it will rely on the tormented woman trope, it doesn't actually lean on it too hard. As a result the film lacks any kind of depth. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - a laboured take on domestic psychological violence would have equally been ill fitting - but does result in a film that feels quite short of its potential.

Aside from the confused target the film has a few other plot issues, probably borne from a desire to keep giving one last twist. So although I enjoyed The Invisible Man it turns out that this was mildly so, and as such it just about gets a recommendation.

Sunday, March 8

Cornwall, Day Three: Port Issac and Padstow

After the packed day that was yesterday, we decided to keep it a local, lazy Sunday. We headed to Padstow across the River Camel for the morning, taking in another quiet port town during our stay in Cornwall.


It was so quiet that we headed back to Port Issac for lunch, realising that we hadn't actually spent many daylight hours in the place we were calling home for this weekend.


It was the perfect end to a chilled weekend, walking around the streets and further up a coastal path for panoramic sights of the town.


Tomorrow we rewind our trip and drop off the same friend to the same airport we picked him up from tomorrow, so there won't be a chance to do much. And so we made it back to our apartment early, where we enjoyed a final home cooked meal together to mark the end of our brief stint in Cornwall.

Saturday, March 7

Cornwall, Day Two: Land's End and St Ives

The plan today was to head out of Port Issac and drive around Cornwall to try and mop up as much of it as possible, leaving the rest of the trip to relax. In other words, we left early.


Our first stop was Penzance, which was not as exotic as I thought it would be. Of course, it was off-peak, and I could just about imagine the bustle during the summer, but it was clear that a more quiet Cornwall had its own charm, and the lack of crowds suited us just fine.


Next on the list was Land's End, which I suppose was pretty much just to say we had geographically been there - it's a bit like our visit to Cabo de Roca back in Lisbon a few months ago.


After a brief hang out at Sennen Cove for a coffee break, we went on to St Ives where we budgeted time for lunch. This was the busiest place we had visited so far, and although that didn't spoil anything, we really began to appreciate the quiet we found so far today.


But after a pretty packed day we headed back to Port Issac, stopping off at Gwithian for a few photos. It had been a long, but chilled, day, and just what we were after when we set out this morning.

Friday, March 6

Cornwall, Day One: Getting There

Ad-hoc plans are always the best; I was only given around a week's notice about this trip, but I jumped at the chance of visiting a part of the UK that had eluded me before. And so we left early this morning to pick up a friend from the airport on the way to Port Issac (which, importantly, was the home of the fictional Doc Martin).


It being Jummah we had to find a mosque en route to offer Friday Prayer at. We headed for Woking, planning to also check out the Shah Jahan. This kind of worked out, as although we got to see the historical landmark, we actually offered Jummah at another nearby mosque. The politics of the situation were clear if not a little curious.


After a supermarket sandwich lunch we continued on our way, surprising ourselves as we drove past Stonehenge unexpectedly (another sight I hadn't seen until then).


We reached Port Issac late enough to have us give up on any further plan for the day. And so we walked around the small town, getting our bearings and killing time, finally arriving at Outlaw's Fish Kitchen for a lovely fish dinner.

Thursday, March 5

Food: Watan Click for more info

Sometimes the best food places aren't necessarily those that look good on paper. Call it cuisine arbitrage, or food hacking, but often you can find something on a menu that is such a good deal it's worth visiting the place just for that single item. As you may have guessed, Watan has such an item.

The basics are good enough too - the place is clean, service friendly. Prices are okay - if you want to explore other things. But what makes this place special is their Chapli Kebab platter - £15 for three kebabs and an afghani naan, and enough for three people to be fully satisfied. We also ordered the Kabuli Pilau, although that was more for variety and craving more than anything else.

I can't comment on the rest of the menu since that's all we had. But as long as such a great deal is on the menu, I'll be recommending this place.

Tuesday, February 25

Film: The Gentlemen Click for more info

It's safe to say that there's been a lack of gangster movies over the last decade (and perhaps even two decades). Maybe it was a reaction to a rising culture of political correctness, or perhaps people just got bored of the genre. I for one didn't expect those good times to return.

And yet here we are with The Gentlemen. In short, it's a very successful throwback to the Guy Ritchie of the late 90s, with seemingly very little compromise or chopped off (resulting in a well deserved 18 rating). It's almost a statement saying that as a society we've managed to evolve and can be offensive without causing offence. Whatever the case, its a welcome return.

The film itself is otherwise well produced, with the acting, plot and camera work all gelling together smoothly. I would say that at times I thought it was just acting out for the sake of it, but that's a bit of a reach and doesn't affect the enjoyment of the film overall.

Recommended.

Thursday, February 20

Film: 1917 Click for more info

So let's deal with the gimmick straight away. The "single shot" (well, actually, two) was laudable and a great demonstration of technical skill. Yes, there were glaring flaws, with CGI and green screen abound. The depth of field was all over the place too. And yet having such a film like this in obvious real time DID add to it and changed what would have been an okay film to something much, much more.

Because, yes, the film is good. The story is straightforward, and so relies on both the micro drama and characterisation, the winner of which was clearly the former. I felt like there were some audio issues, with most of the film feeling like it was badly dubbed (this may have just been my screening), but then again the musical score was magnificently noticeable. The acting was good enough, and it's a credit to the main roles that they managed to do their part in the whole single shot presentation.

I'm generally ambivalent about war films, but this was one that pulled me right in. Whether it needs to be experienced on the big screen or not, I'm not sure, but a must watch it is.

Sunday, February 16

Karachi 2020

Uncannily it's exactly a year ago that I wrote about my last trip to Karachi, cementing the fact that we have now visited so regularly that our flying dates have been optimised. A case in point - despite having been quite chilly during our stay, it was due to be 34c the day we left. Phew!

Other observations: I have now visited Pakistan three times in a rolling year, which is almost certainly some kind of personal best. Despite that, I still don't see a downside to visiting so frequently. A case in point - two deaths in our close family during and around our stay.

Each year we see changes in both Karachi and the people who live in the city, and every year the rhetorical question arises of whether we could actually live here or not... the question becoming a little less rhetorical with each visit, a little like how our flippant jokes about being chucked out of the UK are becoming less and flippant.

Otherwise it was business as usual in the Karachi sun.

Saturday, February 8

Book: Mistborn: The Final Empire, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

Above all else it appears that Brandon Sanderson is just plain reliable. Mistborn brings in a world quite different to Elantris, while sharing the accessibility, class subthemes and world-building that made that first title so great. Needless to say I enjoyed the book throughout, enough to convince me that, yes, fantasy is indeed my new sci-fi.

Apart from the magic and lore, the book is well put together too. Sanderson introduces the right things at the right time, while making sure any implied or hanging threads are dealt with in time. In that sense the book is a pleasure to read since you don't have the burden of keeping mental notes or overwork to get to the real juice such world building brings. In short, its rewarding without any of the effort.

I've jumped straight into the next part of the trilogy, The Well of Ascension, so look out for my thoughts on that next.

Tuesday, January 21

Film: Bad Boys for Life Click for more info

The first two Bad Boys movies were not good. You'll have to have had some laser etched rose tinted contact lenses if you still remember them to be. The often cited defence of "it was 25 years ago" also doesn't wash, as there are many examples of films released then which have held up (not to say Bad Boys was even good back then).

Needless to say, I went into BBFL with low expectations.

There's been a bit of a backlash against reboots and nostalgia recently as people finally realise that more often than not how our memories are being exploited as bait. Films which take that approach have no incentive to do better, and so tend to end up pretty poor. That's not to say that fan service isn't important - perhaps see the MCU to see how it can be done.

So believe me that when I say I enjoyed BBFL, it wasn't because it took me back to my school days. It was actually a pretty decent film - and that in its own right. In fact apart from a single cameo you could have gone into the movie with no knowledge of the first two with no danger of missing any inside joke. It had some decent action, decent comedy and even - check this - a half decent plot. It was all very decent.

I can't imagine there being a better pick to watch in this cold final week of January, so in that vacuum I suppose it comes recommended. That might sound like a low bar, but believe me when I say its legacy was even lower.

Wednesday, January 8

Film: Jojo Rabbit

Jojo is very good, but not great. This is a big shame, because it appears to have all the ingredients required for a modern classic - a good story, some great acting and bags of superfluous charm and smarts. But where a real classic would always be greater than the sum of its parts, Jojo doesn't quite manage to go farther than its own great production.

I guess that all a fancy way of saying that it lacks depth, and fails in fulfilling the promises that it makes. Take Adolf, the imaginary friend, for instance. Such a vehicle should have either been made a core part of the story or character - but here its actually just a bit of timepass comic relief. It's an example that's representative of the film as a whole.

But this isn't to say that the film is a failure. No, as I opened with Jojo is very good, and I'd recommend it to anyone. It's just hard not to consider the wasted potential it represents.

Tuesday, December 24

Film: Jumanji: The Next Level Click for more info

The (second?) sequel in the Jumanji franchise plays it safe. It is essentially a remix of the first (second?) film, with essentially the same plot, progression and hammy acting. Even some of the jokes are recycled directly from the previous installment.

But you know what? It didn't matter. If you're going to see this, then you'll know exactly what to expect; and that the film delivers on it all is no bad thing.

And that's pretty much why there's not much more to say about Jumanji 2 (3?). It's recommended to those who loved the fir... previous one.

Saturday, December 21

Food: Neat Burger Click for more info

I've been eager to try these new breed of meat like vegan burgers for a while, and although Beyond has been available in certain supermarkets for a while, it was only until I had heard of Neat Burger that I really believed I could give it a go. The marketing is a bit strange on this one though - when it was launched the restaurant was quite explicit in where the meat was from, with the Beyond brand plastered all over the menu. This has since changed to "Neat Meat", so even though I visited today I'm not actually certain that I've tried Beyond meat.

But perhaps that's not really the point. Regardless of where they source their patties, it's the end result that matters the most, as well as how Neat Burger is as a place to eat overall. The place is certainly clean, modern and, yes, neat, and although there's not actually any table service what is provided is with a smile. It being a hipster joint is most certainly reflected in the price, with my double burger with trimmings (I had opted for cheese and to make it spicy), but no sides, hitting the £10 mark. And yes, you need the double.

Which brings us to the food. Although it wasn't the best burger I had, and clearly wasn't meat, it certainly wasn't shabby. It had a overcooked texture, but I wasn't sure if that was due to the nature of the substitute or excess time on the grill. Otherwise it was tasty enough and I would be more than happy to go back if not for the price.

Thursday, December 19

Film: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Click for more info

You know, I'd be the first to say I'm more forgiving than otherwise with regards to this current trend of milking nostalgia. I enjoyed both TFA and TLJ enough for me to consider them decent films (although I also enjoyed the prequel trilogy too so...) Heck, I'm even happy to be described as a Star Wars apologist.

But try as I might, I just can't bring myself to defend TROS. I find it equally difficult to explain why it was so bad. Is it a hack job? A cash grab? Does JJ just not care? I sadly smile while I revisited my review of TFA which warned about Abrams' potential to ruin all our lives, and here we are.

It was just all so flat, so hum drum, so... convenient. I found myself thinking about the MCU, and how easily they managed to serve us such a rewarding experience - was it really not possible to do the same? I guess not, and it turns out that fanservice isn't easy after all. One highlight was Babu Frik, but it wasn't enough to save the film.

I'm even struggling to recommend this for a cinema watch, where the event vibe of such a release would compensate for any shortcomings in its quality. So no, my official recommendation is to not watch this, even if you are a die hard fan - it's perfect for a home viewing though, something to watch with that new Disney+ subscription you'll all be getting.

Tuesday, December 17

Book: Star Wars: Resistance Reborn, Rebecca Roanhorse Click for more info

It turns out that it takes an event to force me to read these days. Enter Resistance Reborn, a Star Wars novel set soon after the events of The Last Jedi and the Battle of Crait.

First up a spoiler: no, you don't need to read this book to get any insight into either TLJ or The Rise of Skywalker. Reading in that hope will, like it did for me, only result in disappointment.

The good news is that otherwise the novel isn't that bad. It's accessible, well written and manages well in the characterisation it offers to the reader. It's very much a "day in the life of a resistance fighter" kind of tale, and as such could be seen as quite flat, mundane even. But it's such a low effort and quick read that's not the problem it could have been.

Overall I'd recommend the book for those who want something to tide them over till the release of the next film, or just as a quick timepass for those who miss the SW universe. For everyone else there may be little to see here.

Wednesday, December 11

Film: Charlie's Angels Click for more info

I mean, for sure, Charlie's Angels is a badly made film. The editing is poor, the acting uninspiring and the plot passable. And yet... I really enjoyed the film.

Maybe it's the charm, or how easy going it is, or that it never takes itself too seriously, sometimes even going as far as to mock itself. It was very laugh out loud at times, and held a constant level of FGF.

It's one of those films that is much better than it has any right to be, and for me just about comes recommended. Just don't go in expecting Little Women, I guess.

Wednesday, December 4

Film: Frozen II Click for more info

It was in looking at Frozen II that I realised I had also watched the first in the cinema way back in 2013. I do feel that my opinion of Frozen has changed - it's a better film after repeat views I guess - and in an over-saturation of animated films it does sit quite high up.

It's ironic then that I could write exactly the same review for its sequel.

I still don't know what was missing: the lack of a decent villain maybe, or just the jarring pacing issues throughout. At the end of the day it just felt like an excuse for another Frozen movie, which if we're honest, it probably was. Still, Toy Story 4 managed to pull it off so there was no reason why Elsa and Anna couldn't have either.

There were some highs. The technology has improved and the film looks great - particularly the water (as boring as that sounds). Oh and that Chicago-esque 80's power ballad was definitely the best part and was possibly even what saved the film for me.

So yes. Frozen II is just another animated film, rather than a Disney classic. But hey, who knows? Maybe when the second sequel is released I'll appreciate the film before more.

Tuesday, November 26

Food: Mak Grillz Click for more info

Halaloodie burger reviews are more or less completely commoditised now, so I won't spend too much time subjectively talking about yet another gourmet burger place open in East London. So yeah - the service was great and more importantly the food didn't disappoint either. I went for the safe choice of a burger with turkey rashers and was sufficiently satisfied with the whole experience.

The price was middling which I supposed is a polite way of saying it was a little overpriced. A quid or so lower and Mak's could have become a go to place, but as it stands it ends up just another option in an already saturated and optimised market.

Film: Knives Out Click for more info

Although mainly billed and received as a throwback to the classic whodunnit genre, I would say that most assessments of that sort really aren't doing the film justice. In fact I'd go as far to say that Knives Out was a poor murder mystery - it was just contrived and convenient enough to always stay ahead of, so if you're looking for a chewy brain busting story to make yourself feel smart when solving... this isn't it. Similarly don't expect too many surprise twists or big reveals here.

But here's the thing: I really didn't mind because the whole thing was so much fun and a joy to watch. It was smoothly made (if you forgive some of the stretches it makes for the sake of the mystery), with some great shot work and as a commentary it managed a lot so concisely without being overbearing. Expect political satire, the contemporary mixed with old fashion and lovely characters just going at it. This is a film with a mansion, a murder mystery author, social justice warriors, alt-right trolls and even Instagram influencers.

I did have some issues with the film, but I can't quite say much about them without spoiling the film. But in any case they don't matter - as long as you're not dead set on a Poirot, you really can't get much better. Recommended.

Wednesday, November 20

Film: Le Mans '66 Click for more info

It pains me to start any review with a comparative, but Le Mans '66 (elsewhere known as what I see as the lesser title of Ford vs Ferrari) is just not as good as Rush - and that on multiple levels.

The film itself had its set pieces, even if they were alongside some wonky pacing. It was otherwise made well enough but overall misses the spice and energy that a racing film is supposed to have.

But more than that, its the rivalry that comes short in this film. There is not much of a "vs" in this film, with our heroes actually only ever battling their own managers and bosses. We don't even hear the opposing drivers talking.

I'm being unfair of course. Not every racing film can be a Rush or Fast and Furious, and if you don't look too closely Le Mans '66 is a decent enough time pass. It's just not a film that'll win any races.

Wednesday, November 6

Film: Doctor Sleep Click for more info

The best way I can describe Doctor Sleep is to call it an appropriate sequel to The Shining. Those looking for more Kubrick levels of cinematography and mindscrewery might find themselves disappointed - this is first and foremost a horror film from the modern era. The story and direction are all more explicit, and therefore I suppose far easily digestible.

And yet the film doesn't suffer at all for it. On the contrary I suspect if it had chosen to ape The Shining it would have been a bit of a failure. That's not to say it totally disposes of its heritage: there's more than enough fan service here to satiate all but the purest fans of The Shining.

So yes, all in all Doctor Sleep is a well built and enjoyable flick that gets my recommendation.

Wednesday, October 30

Film: Zombieland: Double Tap Click for more info

Quite shockingly, it's been a decade since the first Zombieland came out, and since I appeared to have enjoyed that back then (I can't claim to have remembered it, so thank heavens for this blog) I was mildly excited about its reprisal.

And Double Tap does a pretty decent job - the ten year gap has clearly stopped the producers from making this just a cash in, and instead we get a film that takes what makes the first so great and turns it up a notch or two. The cast are great, the story more than ample and the action firmly of the slapstick genre. At this rate in 2029 I might even be making a claim for best trilogy.

Fun, tight and well built Double Tap gets a recommendation from me.

Wednesday, October 23

Film: Terminator: Dark Fate Click for more info

Despite many flaws, Dark Fate does what the (first two) Terminator movies do best. They each portray a menacing chase against an insurmountable and never-tiring enemy only to come out tops at the end. In many ways then, Dark Fate is just a remake of Terminator 2. That isn't necessarily a criticism though.

Most of the flaws come from the story and perhaps the pacing of the film. The time travelling and other holes are simply magicked away (not least by completely deleting T3, Salvation and Genisys from existence), while some of the special effects fall short of what is otherwise a great spectacle.

It's easiest to consider the film a series of highly enjoyable and high adrenaline set pieces, and forgive the rest. And as someone who also doesn't mind a bit of fan service, the homages all act as the icing on the cake.

A recommendation from me.

Tuesday, October 15

Film: Ready or Not Click for more info

Apart from looking like a fun romp, I was particularly looking forward to Ready or Not due to it's lead actress, Samara Weaving. I felt that a lot of 2017's The Babysitter's decent comedy horror came from Weaving and hoped the same for this film. And it seems that it was a good bet to have made.

Ready or Not is a lot of fun. It's not the smoothest of films, but does have some genius within. It also doesn't pull any punches - I was surprised at its 18 rating but on balance it was well earned. It also manages to balance its simplistic set up with a rewarding enough payoff, although this is a film that seems to solidly follow the playbook so don't expect too much novelty here.

Ultimately the film, and Weaving, both do enough to earn Ready or Not a recommendation from me.

Tuesday, October 8

Film: Joker Click for more info

Joker is a good film. It's actually a great film. It's been wonderfully produced and the acting treads that fine line between class and comic that very few comic adaptations manage to do. It tackles some pretty high level topics like mental illness and civil revolution, and yet provides enough basic entertainment (be that comedy, drama or even violence) to remain accessible. It's multidimensional too, and gives the viewer plenty to talk about post credits.

The problem is that all these things make Joker merely a very okay Joker film. I'd even argue that it would have been far better, perhaps even reaching classic status, if the film was set outside of Gotham. As it stands the superhero (or rather supervillain) context is superfluous at best - and distracting at worst.

That said, with a bit of effort it's easy enough to ignore the comic book ingredients and enjoy the film for its good parts - a dark, sad tale about how an already disadvantaged soul is transformed by the harsh environment he lives in. And with that qualification the film gets a recommendation from me.