Friday, January 27

Film: Raees Click for more info

Raees lacks quite a lot when compared to the last few Bollywood films I got to see in the cinema. The acting is lacklustre, the plot without substance, the music unexciting... the whole film just seemed to plod along for the sake of it (where "it" should probably be read as "Shah Rukh Khan fans"). It did try to garner a bit of depth and emotion, by randomly bringing in and resolving a spurious religious tension plot, but on the whole there was very little I cared about in the film. I will note Nawazuddin Siddiqui's ACP Majmudar as being quite fun, but again all the good bits felt a bit wasted in the mess that was the film's landscape.

One to skip then.

Tuesday, January 24

Film: xXx: Return of Xander Cage Click for more info

It wasn't just because of the leading lady that I went to see this film; no, I also had relatively high hopes for the 2017 version of a film that originally came out 15 years ago. A bigger budget, more sophisticated effects and yes, Deepika Padukone all had me excited.

The film was pretty poor though. The shallow plot and quite bad acting all a took its toll on a film of little substance. I won't say that I completely regretted watching it; it was way too funny to be a complete waste of time. From Deepika's thick accent to the absurdity of some of the scenes all the way to Nina Dobrev's hilarious cuteness it was hard to figure out if the film was deliberately laughing at itself. Whatever the case, it did the trick and I didn't feel that it was a complete waste of time and money.

Regardless, there's no way I can recommend this film.

Book: Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari Click for more info

(Or: how to smuggle in a marriage post in through the back door)

Modern Romance is a frustrating book, and that for many reasons but mainly because of how far it missed the mark. Firstly, I had high expectations of the book's author, Ansari being the only brown stand up worth his salt in my view. Secondly, the book had come recommended by friends with similar backgrounds who had at some point in their lives experienced the journey that is the marriage search. And finally, well, it was a book about marriage and relationships which as anyone who knows me will tell you is (perhaps sadly) one of my favourite topics to discuss (which may explain why I took the rare action of taking notes while reading it).

I didn't find the book particularly funny or insightful. It pretty much said what everyone already knows - essentially that needs and wants have changed over the past few decades, resulting in a much more volatile and fragile landscape - possibly one win which marriage might not actually be relevant.

The book suffers from the same flaws any discourse on modern (or perhaps that from any time) romance: it slips into a tirade against douche guys and seeks to defend victimised women, and we hear the same old male bashing anecdotes about their ineptness. This is all true, for sure, just probably not helpful in the context of the book - it doesn't present balance, say, by talking about what goes wrong when things are going right.

Some time is also spent talking about those in Muslim countries (yay), but mainly to tell us how repressed they are (boo). Ansari also visits Japan, where he struggles to explain his findings despite finding the place titillating. I feel that he is either too naive or just not brave enough to admit that those on BOTH sides of the gender divide just aren't fulfilling the reasonable expectations of their opposites.

This lack of bravery usually results in a bit of a judgemental "holier than thou be like us in the west" attitude, which sometimes limits the debate. For example, although Ansari talks a lot about cheating and why it may or may not be acceptable, he doesn't mention polygamy as a valid way of building relationships.

That said, I am glad that I read the book if only because of the vocab and language that it introduced me to. "Companionate" is a much more apt term than "traditional", for instance. It was also instructive, if not depressing on a personal level, to be told in academic terms just how much things have moved on from those companionate times. This was actually valuable enough to inspire me to write a post using the new vocab, so watch this space.

In the end however, it all becomes a bit self helpy, but less so: even though the book concludes that companionate love is more beneficial than passionate love in the long term, it refuses to be explicit about this and still suggests that short term benefits and intensity are valuable.

So perhaps a good enough source of debate, I can't help but feel that the book missed a bit of a trick by not being nuanced or deep enough. Then again, that's probably a reflection of the times we live in, or rather the audience the book is aimed at, where accessibility and disposability is more important than anything of lasting substance.

Saturday, January 14

Book: The Gathering Storm, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

Book twelve (2009) is a special book, primarily for two, possibly related reasons. Firstly, that the author of the bulk of the series, Robert Jordan, had passed away before the publication of this part. Secondly, the last three books were actually written as one volume by Jordan, with the decision to split them being made past his death. Both of these events manifest in a book that is far more pacey, declarative and perhaps even more accessible than those that came before it. It really did feel like we're now in a race to the finish.

A lot happens in The Gathering Storm, with most of it based around two of the main characters of the saga. That leads me to suspect what the next part will manage - another clue as to the newfound accessibility perhaps - but I'll have to wait and see if that theory pans out.

It literally feels like there's no going back now.

Friday, January 13

Food: Grand Trunk Road Click for more info

I have to admit that when I was first told that "the guy behind Tamarind is coming to Woodford" I did dismiss the whole idea as one for those of us with more money than sense. Since I'm not really in the business of posting restaurant visits on social media or the like I wasn't particularly fazed by its heritage either (I've not visited Tamarind). That said, I was curious that such a place could exist within walking distance to my house; if anything its nice to have choice at a time where I visit central London less and less to eat.

So here's the thing: I was wrong. GTR was pretty fabulous - in fact I'm struggling to fault it and don't quite know where to begin with my gushing. The food was great - not heavy or overbearing in terms of oil or spice, yet full of flavour and texture it was actually refreshing to discover that Indian food doesn't have to be that way. If I did note something it's that it may have been a little bit salty, but that might have just been my taste. Even the desserts hit the mark with them not being overly sweet.

The service was another aspect that shone throughout our evening. It really was outstanding from the ordering, to the cleaning up all the way to Rajesh himself going out of his way to talk to and host our group.

Of course, all this comes at a price... but even at £25 per head I felt it was all such a bargain - we probably ordered just about enough food, but a few quid might be saved if you dropped the dessert and extra sides. And let's not forget about the location - we were home within 15 minutes of paying the bill and that was by walking. Truly amazing.

If it's not clear by now I really enjoyed my time at GTR, and despite being an Indian it has immediately become my favourite place to eat in my locale. Of course the price prohibits visiting too often, but sometimes the whole point of your crown jewels is to only take them out rarely. Totally recommended.

Wednesday, January 11

Food: The Banc Click for more info

That's pronounced bonk by the way.

Perhaps the only burger place left on my list to try in London, The Banc slightly disappointed from the start. Although striking at first, there was a slight "mutton dressed as lamb" feel to the place, with its quite posh facade not quite doing enough to cover the fact that it was just another steak and burger place.

That said it wasn't bad once the food came. I went with the straight cheese burger (a recommendation from a friend who suggested the less that got between me and the beef the better), and it was definitely on the better end of that I've tried... perhaps even on par with Proper. Everything else was also above average, with the steak I sampled not a chore to eat as I've found others before it. Service was adequate, but again not quite what was implied.

The Banc also offered a shisha lounge, which will never be my thing, but good to know for those who need to waste time, money and health post dinner.

Overall though it was the price which really let The Banc down. The menu was pretty premium, which could have barely been justified by the food - the burger was £9 and steaks £20 which are above par. But at that price one needs more than just good food and thus it was quite a disappointment that the rest didn't quite live up to the promise.

Sunday, January 8

Film: Dangal Click for more info

If there's one thing that you can always rely on, it's that the Annual Holiday Amir Khan Bollywood release is going to be great. Dangal didn't just hit that mark; for me it exceeded it.

Which is odd really, considering it's a film about the most boring of tournament sports: wrestling. But the story is a good one, with it being about the struggle to achieve the impossible - although the context does highlight the fact that the contenders were female, that wasn't really the point and I think the film would have been great regardless. Although I did feel the underlining of the misogyny with thick red marker pens was a bit laboured and unnecessary, that would be the only complaint I had. That, and perhaps how it kept making me well up.

Amir was great as expected, but he was surrounded by a cast which really made the film shine, whether the characters were being depicted as young or adult. The rest of the film oozed with the production quality that we have come to expect.

All in all then, a wonderful film and undoubtedly recommended.

Wednesday, January 4

The Crystal Maze Click for more info

I'm usually the first to poo poo "experiences" aimed at us children of the 80s. I'm all for nostalgia, but I refuse to to pay for what essentially amounts to an emotional bullet to the head. But when some friends suggested we participate in The Crystal Maze I was curious - this would actually be quite interactive, and finally I'd have the chance to prove I wasn't as stupid as those contestants I saw on the TV. Don't lie - we all thought it. On the other hand £50 was quite the price to pay, but peer pressure and my own temporal flippancy prevailed and we booked our slot, almost 7 months in advance.

The experience itself was quite good. Now obviously I'm not to go into too much detail (can't have anyone cheating) but I think it's reasonable to discuss things like the quality of what was on offer. As expected it wasn't really a full fat Crystal Maze experience - it was always clear that we were in an office block, and some zones (I'm looking at you Futuristic) were actually quite laughable. Of course there was no Richard O'Brian, but our maze master was adequately fun, encouraging and helpful.

The games themselves were actually rather good, and I felt tested us in the same way contestants on the show were. As it was a team activity we didn't actually get to directly participate often, but as a group it was easy to remain involved. Oh and the whole thing was only 75 minutes which, understandably, flew by.

Oh and yes, we were validated both on personal (I won both my rooms) and group (by our performance in the dome) levels, although really the best advice we were given and can pass on is to really not worry about winning or losing.

So was it worth it? Well I have to say it really was a lot of fun - partly for the nostalgia, but mainly for the group hi-jinks and messing around. After the euphoria faded however I did conclude that at £50 it wasn't actually that great value for money: that much could get you a couple of escape rooms or real-world game that would last much longer than this did. So yes, I guess what I'm saying is that my initial hunch was correct, with this Crystal Maze experience being more about the nostalgia than the team-building or challenge; but that's not necessarily always a bad thing either, even though I can personally think of more enjoyable ways to spend my time and money on.

Monday, January 2

Food: Patchi Click for more info

There's an idea that food is only worth paying for if there is a redistributable experience that goes along with it - the kind of stuff as indicated by the whole obsession with social media for example. And while I would never deny that eating out can (and perhaps even should sometimes) be considered an event, for me the need to eat will always trump the trophyism (to borrow the term).

Case in point: Patchi. Situated in what seems like an abandoned street off to the side of ghetto Park Royal, Patchi is a down to earth establishment, focusing on getting the job of feeding you done rather than pander to whatever social requirements you might have. This is probably because the place isn't primarily a restaurant; apparently they are Europe's leading manufacturer of baklava too.

That said, the food wasn't bad. In fact it was way above average, with my kafta and chips hitting the spot adequately. Perhaps mistakenly we didn't touch the baklava for dessert, instead picking a selection of desserts and cakes that they also manufacture. All were pretty decent.

The cost was a bit of a surprise, with the average bill (including desserts) hitting the £15 mark. This, I guess, is something that is required when there are no fancy mocktails to prop up the income, although I can't help but feel that there are cheaper options available - perhaps with more judicious ordering the magical £10 limit wouldn't have been breached.

Nevertheless, the place was a joy and I do recommend it.