Wednesday, November 24

Film: Ghostbusters: Afterlife Click for more info

Ok, I'll admit, I was cynical. Would this be another nostalgia-laden cash in, something we'd pay to watch only to shrug off after realising it was as shallow as we were expecting anyway?

Well no actually. Afterlife was actually rather excellent. It both managed to provide the necessary fan service it needed to, while managing to remain fresh in its own right.

It did this with three main pillars - firstly it stuck to the script, resisting the temptation to complicate things for an 21st century audience and their limited attention spans.

Secondly it jazzed things up with some very decent special effects.

Thirdly, and most importantly, were the cast. It was actually the youngest who were the real stars - with both Phoebe and Podcast pretty much making the film single handedly.

So yes, a great throwback to a time when films were simpler and fun, Afterlife comes thoroughly recommended.

Wednesday, November 10

Film: Eternals Click for more info

Although I like to think I have a unique taste in movies, under scrutiny I generally agree with consensus, ratings and reviews (fanatical outliers aside - I'm looking at you Twilight). But still exceptions do occur and Eternals is a clear example.

Slated by reviews and friends alike, it's safe to say that I wasn't expecting much from the two and a half hours plus runtime. But being the slave to the MCU that I am, both the good and the bad need to be taken, but in this case the commitment paid off as I rather quite enjoyed this film.

There wasn't much standing out - the acting was alright, the plot simple, the action and effects very average. And yet it was in it's inoffensiveness that it actually worked - proving that merely doing the minimum in an MCU film is probably enough.

Wednesday, October 27

Film: Dune Click for more info

In theory Dune should have been a failure. Filmed in quite an abrupt manner, it's a mess of ideas, plot and imagery that requires background reading to make sense of. But of course that's not necessarily asking for much, and since I have read the initial trilogy I rather liked the movie.

I didn't like the book. It was muddled, badly constructed and failed in its promise to deliver. I also thought back then that a well reasoned movie could easily fix all the issues I had with the book, and it turns out that that's what happened. The movie introduces a purpose and pacing that clears up some of the flaws with the storytelling of the novel, and the story and universe are all the better for it.

That said, it wasn't a perfect film. Continuing the ironic relationship between it and the source material, I don't think I would have understood much of the film without having already had the story told to me. And as previously mentioned editing seemed a little rushed, with the acting merely doing the job. Special effects were of a decent quality.

Perhaps then it seems that this movie reinforces what we may already have known - that the Dune universe is bigger than just a book and movie, and that you really need to consume it in multiple forms to really get the most from it. And when you do, it's all pretty good.

Wednesday, October 20

Film: Venom: Let There Be Carnage Click for more info

Given that the first Venom movie was actually pretty good, it's both surprising and disappointing that the second in the series could be so bad.

My hot take is that Venom vs Carnage is only half a movie. I can only speculate where the rest of the movie is, but what remains are a couple of acts at best - and I don't even mind spoiling the fact that the two symbiotes meet just the once during the mercifully short 80 minutes that the film runs for.

Anyway, skip this one.

Wednesday, October 6

Gamesmaster

It what must be the most cringe thing I've done this side of the pandemic, tonight I spent a few hours in the live audience of a Gamesmaster filming. Yes, after 25 years (or something) it's back. I would spend some words talking about the memories - it really was a special show in many ways - but you either know it or you don't.

Of course I didn't know who the presenters or celebrities were. And of course I was probably amongst the oldest there. Interestingly I wasn't expecting it to be so white and male, but then I guess some things are yet to change. The location was in line, apparently a power station (but really a water treatment plant).

We saw Splatoon 2 and Tekken being played, with Mortal Kombat being queued up as we left (there was only so much faux enthusiasm we were able to take). I may have been part of some direct audience participation - I will confirm or deny such a thing once the show airs.

Oh and no, we didn't get to see who the new Gamesmaster is - presumably that will be done elsewhere and put together in post.

Tuesday, October 5

Film: No Time To Die Click for more info

And so we have it. After a whopping 15 years, the Daniel Craig era of James Bond is over. The good news is that unlike other movie saga "endings", No Time To Die doesn't disappoint. In fact it may even sit toward the top of the list.

Whether this lack of disappointment is due to the lack of hype (COVID delays notwithstanding, this was no Endgame level event) or just a well built film is a question I don't have the interest to ask. Some may find the age old formula of dependable Bond tiresome, but I guess I'm a bit of a fanboy when it comes to this spy. Six years is a long time to wait though.

Interestingly there is a maturity here that we may not have seen in other Bond eras - gone are the ridiculous gadgets for instance, while the female representation seems to have moved on (although really James, no does mean no). On the other hand we do still have the disfigured villain - albeit one whose drive and ambition is left unexplained.

A special nod goes to Ana de Armas, not just for being, well her, but also to contribute to an overall strange yet brilliant set piece which played more as an Easter egg for Knives Out fans than anything else - kind of like 007's take on an item number. They even seem to acknowledge that.

Otherwise the film was well acted and produced, and even built in way that seemed much more solid and secure than its four prequels. The 160 minute runtime didn't labour much at all. So yes, after five films No Time To Die was pretty much the perfect ending to a brilliant series. Recommended.

And for completion here's my thoughts on the previous films:

Wednesday, September 8

Book: Edgedancer, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

The funniest thing is how Sanderson describes this book as a "novella". At almost 200 pages it's in the same ball park as a Mistborn novel. But compared to the next book on the list - Oathbringer - it's an almost a distraction[1].

That's not to take away anything at all from Edgedancer, and is in fact one of the reasons I'm so bemused by it. It's as full a story as I would like, while remaining as accessible and lean as Sanderson does. In fact, I'd suggest that a few of the Stormlight books could do with a bit of splitting up.

Unlike some of the other entries in Arcanum Unbounded it's also pretty essential reading. Otherwise the usual Cosmere feedback applies here too - Edgedancer is a well written, technically apt block in the world constantly being built up, and both gave as much as left me looking for more.

[1]Spoilers: Oathbringer weighs in at 1500 pages. Expect the review to hit in 2023.

Tuesday, September 7

Film: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Click for more info

Although technically Black Widow marks the real return of the MCU post COVID, it's Shang-Chi that really starts the engines of Phase 4. That said, it's a great film in its own right that manages to get things mostly correct.

Its little surprise that Shang-Chi has the best martial arts of the MCU, if not the best fights overall. What is a surprise is that the plot matches the action (with some marvellous use of non-linear storytelling), and even the characters do a fabulous job of keeping us engaged (and I'm delighted to confirm that Awkwafina isn't the annoying side character I was expecting her to be).

In many ways this was the film I personally wanted Black Panther to be, and fixes many of the shortcomings I felt that it had. This is even more impressive given the paltry attention and marketing budget it was apparently given during its release. Very much recommended.

Thursday, August 26

Film: Old Click for more info

Even though I'm not his biggest fan, I always feel compelled to check out the latest from Shyamalan. In fact it's often that rolling of the dice - that the film will either be great or a stinker - that ends up being more exciting than the film itself.

Alas in this case I'm the loser as Old wasn't that amazing. On the other hand it wasn't a total stinker either. It was just very ordinary, tepid and predictable in all the worst ways.

I think the main issue was the length. Each scene played out like a vignette, labouring the point harder and harder. Cutting away some of these would have made the film much better.

It's a shame because the premise did have promise, only to be let down by a shoddy plot and passable acting. If you consider yourself a Shyamalan fan then I think you will probably eat this up. For the rest of you a home watch might make it a bit more passable.

Monday, August 23

Seventeen

If anything is a metric of the dire state of this place it's that last year's birthday post can still be seen here on the front page of this blog.

Of course homepage-news-length is an arbitrary number against which to benchmark a blog, but it does reflect how genuinely the last year and a bit has affected, well, everything. And in that sense this blog is actually a success, at least as a indicator of lifestyle.

Like everything and everyone else though, I suspect "normal" will never quite return. I have no desire to go visit new places to eat any more, and even my appetite to visit the cinema to watch anything appears to have sated.

So the real question isn't whether the volume of content will every return, but what that content may actually look like. I don't think posts will disappear completely of course... but perhaps 10-20 posts a year is where it'll end up.

Wednesday, August 18

Film: Free Guy Click for more info

Given that Free Guy wasn't our first pick of film to watch tonight, it wasn't half bad. In fact, it was better than I thought it would be, with a story that was actually quite developed and involved - and not just another anthropomorphism of an alien world.

Ryan Reynolds does enough to keep things moving at an entertaining pace, while Jodie Comer does her bit as the hapless yet femme fatale.

I'd probably say it was overly long, but most of it wasn't boring so that's okay. I don't think i could go as far as to recommend the movie for an outing - but for a lazy night in it could very well hit the spot.

Friday, August 13

Food: Kurdistan Restaurant Click for more info

I honestly can't remember the last time I went for a meal on Edgware Road, and so I was a little surprised at how cleaned up it is now. For sure, it's still not my favourite place to go (I had always found it a little sleazy), but it does seem that COVID has been somewhat good for the place.

Location aside, the originally named Kurdistan Restaurant is a solid enough number which at first look offers the usual wares but with enough of a twist to make this different from the usual Persian/Lebanese kebab shops. Of course I stuck with what I knew and went with the two skewers of kebab. Here they're served with freshly made naan bread which was a highlight in itself.

I'm either out of practise eating out or Kurdistan errs on the heavier side of cooking but I was pretty much done after the two sticks. I could almost feel the grease congealing inside me, and if anything I was  feeling a little queasy by the end of the meal. That's a shame because the kebabs themselves were pretty good, managing to be both crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside. Maybe the trick was to order one between two or something? I didn't have any but the more "meat and rice" dishes of my fellow guests seemed to fare better overall.

Service was what you'd expect from a place like this (so nothing to scream about), while pricing was also on par at around £12 for a meal and shared starters (but no drinks). So it seems that just like Edgware Road itself, Kurdistan isn't a favourite but has nothing really to complain about either.

Wednesday, August 11

Book: White Sand Volume 1, Brandon Sanderson, Rik Hoskin, Julius Gopez

In what is pretty much a vindication of the breadth of the Cosmere, here we have the first part in a trilogy of graphic novels chronicling the events and magic of the Taldian system.

I can't say I fully welcomed the change in format, although a large part of that was due to the way I was consuming the comic - as convinced I've been by ebooks, I'm not sure the electronic medium sits well with comics.

But practicalities aside White Sand does seem to be the story that benefits most from pictures, with the world and magic all benefiting from visualisation - if anything highlighting the fact that the world and magic aren't as deep as the rest of the Cosmere. Still, we're in full crossover mode now, and as such this is essential reading.

There is also a prose version of the story to be found in certain corners - I've decided that it would be pretty redundant to read both that and the graphic novels, but it may be an option if you prefer creating your own imagery. Officially only the graphic novel is canon, so your mileage may vary.

Thursday, August 5

Food: Tukdin Click for more info

Until today, I thought that the only real game in town for Malaysian food was Satay House. I'm still in two minds as to whether that still holds, but (spoilers) I actually rather enjoyed Tukdin regardless of its Malaysian food chops.

Of course I'm no expert, but from the start there was something slightly off about the food we ate tonight. The satay, for example, came clean (without sticks) and appeared to be fried. Definitely not the picture postcard you'd expect. But here's the thing: it was amongst the best satay I've ever had.

And so it went on. The never quite Malaysian food would probably have failed any real critical test I would have applied if I was a real foodie, and yet I came away very content and very full. Even the lamb dish was decent enough.

Add to that some amazing service from the family run business, a comfortable level of intimacy with its no more than 30 covers and even a cute little prayer facility in the basement and you end with a package that really did shine.

Our varied menu selection fed six and came to a clean £20 per head which was just about the most I would pay for such a meal. A more discerning selection might have been just as effective but I had such a nice time I didn't complain too much.

Book: Mistborn: Secret History, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

Despite the Cosmere being pretty accessible, it's clear that the universe is far larger than what's possible to portray on (however many) written pages. It's a testament to Sanderson that he acknowledges this: many of his novels come with fancy (perhaps just in name) appendices called Ars Arcanums, supposedly written by a researcher from the Cosmere itself.

So far these have essentially been glorified glossaries, but as the Cosmere develops (both in terms of my exposure and what seems to be the deepening via the released novels themselves), they are actually looking more like essential cosmic glue, providing both narrative and plot points to digest as you fall ever deep in to the lore.

The natural progression of this idea are the various novella and short stories littered around the Cosmere. I've already read a fair chunk of them, but with Secret History we finally see a tale that is more than just a stand-alone curiosity - no, I personally consider it to be pretty essential Cosmere reading.

Set during the original Mistborn Trilogy, my only real regret is that I'm reading it so long after the events of Era 1. That said this book also appears to be massively explicit in talking about the shared world that is the Cosmere, so it's unclear how it could be read at any point before. I take it back - my second real regret is that I wasn't able to read this story as it was released in real time as I can imagine the sense of shared discovery would have been pretty rewarding.

Wednesday, August 4

Film: Fast & Furious 9 Click for more info

So it turns out that there are two types of ridiculous. The first type is the fun, jaw dropping, hi-fiving type that the Fast & Furious franchise is well known for. The second type is Fast & Furious 9.

There's a running gag-slash-social-understanding that each F&F has to out do the previous one, and after 9 generations (or ten if you count Hobbs & Shaw) it's kind of expected that the series would eventually disappear up its own exhaust pipe. And don't get me started on how unceremoniously they took a poo on their own timeline.

But ultimately this is another F&F film and has the same cars, action and self-deprecation that we've kind of come to love (or hate). As one of nine (or ten if you count Hobbs & Shaw) it fits right in. It's just a shame that it wasn't worth the 15 month wait to watch.

Wednesday, July 28

Book: The Bands of Mourning, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

If I ever had reservations about Era 2 of the Mistborn series, they all came to a head with the third book. Less "middling" than the last, a lot happens in a very short amount of time - it felt like a screenplay or that I was watching a movie a lot of the time.

But my biggest issue (and to be clear, I don't quite mean "issue" in a problematic way) was with the plot and how it developed. It's clear by now that Mistborn will not maintain its independence in the Cosmere, and so rapid opening up of the universe is probably to be expected... but nevertheless it was a little jarring just how quickly things got crazy.

That said after reading the shorter novels in the Cosmere I'm ready to return to the deeper volumes of Stormlight - although I think I have a few short stories to mop up first.

Tuesday, June 29

Book: Shadows of Self, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

It's almost uncanny how "middle" the middle of trilogies can be. There's probably a science, or least an understanding, of this, but as a consumer of media I can't help but notice it.

And so it is here. Shadows of Self is a well padded story (that is to say not the most efficient), but does do its job of expanding not just the second Era of Scadrial, but also the previous trilogy - there's even what I suspect are breadcrumbs that lead to an insight to the Cosmere as a whole grand plan.

So exciting enough stuff, but the book still manages to underwhelm with its timepassing approach. Yes, there are twists and retcons, and yes, the story is decent enough. But overall the empty calories become just too much to bear. That being said, I suspect reading the next part in the series back to back with this one will serve to enhance both. We'll see.

Wednesday, June 23

Film: A Quiet Place Part II Click for more info

Sometimes sequels overstep their mark and so trash the vision of the films they are following. Conversely a good sequel manages to give more while retaining the spirit and elegance of the first as a stand-alone film. Good examples of this are BTTF2 and more recently John Wick 2. A Quiet Place Part II is the latest entry to that list.

There are so many echoes of the first film here, and yet it holds it's own as a great film. It is more ambitious and flavourful than the first, and yet complements it as an introduction rather than superseding it. The films come as a set, and not set against each other. Krasinski really is a genius.

It does share some issues with the first - pacing being the main one. But that's even more incredible given how AQP2 weighs in at 97 minutes, and it would be churlish to claim that it wastes too much time.

So yes, this film does exactly what is asked of it and makes a perfect reintroduction to cinema 15 months after the last time I visited. It's made me realise how much I've missed the cinema, even though my ability to focus for even 97 minutes seems to have diminished since then.

Sunday, June 6

Food: Patri Click for more info

The first warning was in the tag-line. I almost knew what to expect with food described as "artisan". Although I kind of blame Dishoom for creating the idea of a humblebrag indian at least it's able to back it up with some decent chops (perhaps even literally).

Patri however was very normal. I suppose if you're a chaat lover or gol guppa gulper then you might see something special, but if not there really isn't much to justify the entry price here (although thinking about it now, the Shahi Lal Maas may have actually been the most tender lamb curry I've eaten).

The place was empty, which was both nice and foreboding at the same time, while we were well looked after by our server. I was a little surprised by the bill considering what we had ordered, but that may have just been an incorrect perception given how narrow our order was (essentially a biryani and two curries).

It might have been the perfect place to lounge in on a warm Sunday afternoon - it was just missing that specialness in food that would have made this more than just another place to write about.

Monday, May 24

Book: Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

The second and final interlude before the next book in the series and we are once again sent back to Scadrial to have fun with allomancy. This book is probably the most different of the ones I read so far, being presented as a text having been written in the universe itself. I will admit that the meta pushed my ability to suspend my disbelief but it was all over before I knew it so it's hardly a big complaint. What is a complaint was the overused footnotes by the "editor" used as a kind of crutch or foil to make some prety cheap gags, kind of like inapproriate hashtags.

But it was different, and that's one of the nice things about the Cosmere.

Saturday, May 22

Book: Sixth of the Dusk, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

Now this was more like it. As I head back into the shorter stories in the Cosmere, I find myself with the material that I most enjoy: a speedy and efficient - yet most certainly not shallow - romp in a new world (and like Shadows for Silence, set on a brand new planet). And that with some brilliant characterisation to boot.

It just goes to show how each approach really does seem to have a different intent - its a dissonance that I should probably embrace when it comes to the larger volumes. Until then I'll enjoy the stuff I know I like.

Food: Hala Click for more info

Is there such a thing as a bad Turkish? The cuisine has been so heavily optimised and commoditised that I probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference between two restaurants in a blind test - heck, I'd probably struggle with my eyes open too. The point is that these days it's pretty difficult to find bad Turkish food.

So it's left to the paraphernalia to distinguish between them all. I've already alluded above that they all seem to look the same, so really what we're actually talking about here are service and price.

Hala had pretty decent service, particularly after factoring in The Times In Which We Live. Food was taken with a smile and served quickly, and the needs of all eating were met.

Price-wise it gets a little complicated. Hala isn't the cheapest place to go for a meal, but with such generous portions it's very easy to be a little strategic about ordering, resulting in a pretty decent cost per head. Of course such shenanigans won't suit everyone (but I would wager they also wouldn't care too much about the bottom line anyway).

Ultimately though there wasn't really much to raise Hala above a the usual - which is doubly significant being located on a road with so many similar options. A safe and solid bet then.

Wednesday, May 19

Book: Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

If the various Cosmere worlds are representative of different aspects of storytelling, then The Stormlight Archive would definitely cover that of "worldbuilding", of which Words of Radiance is very much a middle book.

It's not been a favourable read. It meanders a lot, spending too many words to say very little. This is actually quite disappointing as it was the tightness of Elantris, Mistborn and Warbreaker that attracted me so much to the Cosmere in the first place.

But it wasn't all bad. The set pieces, when they finally came, were awesome, as were the not so subtle easter eggs. On balance, I would say that the pay offs were just about worth it - I'm certainly not giving up on the Cosmere any time soon - but the book could have been so much better if it had picked a more concise path.

It's just as well that the Cosmere is made up of various aspects of storytelling.

Thursday, February 4

Book: Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

The last in this literary intermission is another standalone story, this time set on a planet all of its own. Like The Emperor's Soul, that also makes it more ambitious than the other short stories I've read in the Cosmere. That said it felt less magical than the others, leaning more on traditional fantasy notes.

Even though it shouldn't have been, that lack of technical depth was a little jarring, although the book was otherwise a decent read. If that sounds like a criticism it's not - it's more an failing of mine to place it in what I understand as the being the larger Cosmere. I suspect that's something I'll figure out eventually though.

Monday, February 1

Book: The Emperor's Soul, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

The second of the trio of short stories is a standalone story, albeit one that shares a planet with Elantris. What's peculiar about that is how we're introduced to a new form of magic - although how it relates to what we saw in Elantris remains to be seen.

A bit longer than a short story, Soul takes its time. It uses that pace to spin a greater yarn, fleshing out characters and a world that we might not even have a chance to revisit. That both makes me sad and excites me.

As a stand alone book it more than holds its own, although at this point in my journey its hard to see things without trying to fit them into the larger Cosmere. Whatever the case, I found it to be more than enough to carry itself through from beginning to end.

Wednesday, January 27

Book: The Eleventh Metal, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

As my quest to consume everything Cosmere takes a more COD turn, I reached a point in the publishing order which presented me not one but three short stories in a row. The first of which heads back to Scadrial, allomancy and... Kelsier.

After moving to (and of course, enjoying) Era 2 of Mistborn, going back to the familiar was comforting more than anything else. And yet, the hunt for the titular eleventh metal firmly anchors the past with the current by normalising the existence (and knowledge) of set of metals wider than the 12 or so introduced to us in Era 1.

Other than that, expect more concise and clear Sanderson goodness from Scadrial.

Monday, January 25

Book: The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

I have to admit that after the brain melting slog that was the Dune Trilogy, coming back to The Cosmere was a delightful joy. It once again affirmed that a good book isn't just a function of its world or characters, but also of its accessibility.

And of course accessibility doesn't mean "easy" or "less". There is a science to telling a story, and it's a skill that Sanderson has in spades. And so we're easily able to digest a complicated system of magic, complex character development and follow a story with all of its twists and turns.

The Alloy of Law brings us back to a much later Scadrial, where the events of the original Mistborn trilogy are but a distant memory. Things are familiar, but also different, another way in to the comfort in reading this book.

The story itself is great enough to keep you going, while also being wholly self aware than this is but the start of a new era - that there will be more and bigger things to come. But unlike other recent trilogies I may have read, I don't continue with trepidation and a sigh, but in excitement, eager to know just how it'll all play out, certain that, at the very least, finding out won't be a chore.

And so, on we go.

Monday, January 11

Book: Children of Dune, Frank Herbert Click for more info

And so we come at last to the third (and for me, final) book of the "essential" Dune trilogy. By now I've been well conditioned into knowing what to expect, and as a result managed to get through this volume relatively unscathed.

In many ways Children is an amalgamation of the previous two books, combining the scope and ambition (and bat-poo craziness) of Dune with the speed and conciseness of Messiah. That in itself doesn't make it a better book than either however, as the same issues with pacing and plot still manage to outweigh what brilliance is trying to get out of the author's mind.

But reading the third book is just as essential as it does manage to provide closure to the Dune saga, bookending the most important developments in it's universe while keeping the door open for those who wish to explore further. However, while I can't say I regret reading this trilogy, I do know that I didn't enjoy it enough to proceed further with it - in fact I don't see myself revisiting these books at all.

On the plus side I do think that the universe is ripe for adapting to other media, and so am very much looking forward to the movie when it finally releases. As another aside, I also expect to enjoy the recently re-released boardgame much more than I would have having not read the books. Just another example of how brilliant the Dune universe is, if not the books that flagship that universe are.