Sunday, December 18

Umrah 2022

Every time I visit the holy cities I convince myself it'll be my last.

Each time the reasons vary, but it almost always has to do with the change. In that sense having been blessed to have visited as frequently as I have can be a bit of a curse. That said, I do think part of the problem is how precious some can get about visiting.

It's becoming a bit of a Disneyland. Pilgrims on Facebook or Instagram live while on their tawafs, expert dua poses for the hero selfies. Dawdling and gossiping to whittle away the time. It's not as much sad as frustrating.

The four-plus-four days were just about enough for me, although one of the days in Makkah was spent visiting Taif - a first for us with our shiny new tourist visas (spoiler: it wasn't worth the wait, but at least it let us do another Umrah). We are still yet to use the inter city train - the maths just don't work for us once you consider the numbers and convenience of door to door service.

The post COVID crowd management is a mixed blessing. Makkah seems artificially busy, with only pilgrims (or technically those dressed as pilgrims) were allowed into the mataaf. Madinah did it right though - finally introducing a queue for salutations to the Prophet and a quite nifty and well organised booking system for a slot in the Riaz ul Jannah.

We managed to do everything we wanted to this trip, although for us that doesn't mean much. As a bonus we had a World Cup to watch during the evenings which was fun - particularly as a well supported Morocco over-performed. Flying Qatar Airways back ensured we watched the final in the air which was a sweet bonus.

So yeah, a pretty standard trip and optimised to the hilt. I can of course imagine going back as the frustration is forgotten, but I suspect the key is to go for even shorter periods of time and get out before it all becomes too much.

Wednesday, November 30

Food: Cristina's Steak Click for more info

As halal places proliferate and up their game for a fussy audience, I've actually started to enjoy well cooked meat. Having recently come back from having eaten a rather good steak (by my reckoning anyway), I went for a burger tonight at Cristina's in Barking. Specifically, "the mess" which was as delightfully challenging as it sounds.

It was basically a cheeseburger on drugs, with added mac n cheese and smoked brisket. Of course, it fell apart just by looking at it but that was partly the point I suppose.

As a novelty then my food got full marks. However I can't say I was fully satiated by the end of the meal - perhaps it was the amount of food that was lacking, or the quality, but I was left wanting slightly more.

At over £15 per head it wasnt the cheapest of meals but the place was really nice, and the service more than enough to compensate. Awkward parking didn't help with the overall experience however, which is a shame because in total Cristina's just had too much going against it to warrant a return visit.

Sunday, November 27

Food: Toro's Steakhouse Click for more info

I've never really considered myself a steak person. This is after even having had prime Argentinean steak in Buenos Aires which was... okay I guess? Nevertheless I wasn't too upset as we entered our random place to eat today - how bad could it be?

Well it turns out that it can actually be rather good. We went large and for one of the most expensive steaks on the menu (which actually wasn't too spendy) and quite frankly I wasn't disappointed. Soft, succulent and marinated in a way that didn't get in the way of the natural flavour, it hit all the right spots.

And at around £23 per head including sides and a drink, it didn't really hurt the wallet either. We'll definitely be coming back to this place.

Tuesday, November 22

Film: The Menu Click for more info

Going in blind, The Menu served up a really good, surprising treat[1]. I had an inkling about what it was all about, but the primary reason I wanted to watch this film was because of the anti-foodie position it promised me. It didn't disappoint on that level, and even went quite a bit further.

The threesome of Fiennes, Tayloy-Joy and Hoult were a joy to watch, and although the overarching plot was thin, there was enough progression and development to keep things interesting.

Otherwise it was well filmed, well scripted and well produced movie that deserves attention either at the cinema or at home. Recommended.

[1] Pun intended.

Tuesday, November 15

Film: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Click for more info

Wakanda Forever was okay. It had the right ingredients - decent action, an okay plot, some above par character development for a film of this genre. The main theme was that of death - with the cynical side of me feeling it was a bit too laboured - but ultimately this was a film with the good guys and the villains.

It could easily have passed as a non MCU film - indeed there were not many stingers or foreshadowing of a larger scope here. As such it shed some of the burden other MCU films find themselves carrying and was better for it.

So perhaps not quite a full recommendation and yet not a condemnation either. It was simply... okay.

Tuesday, October 25

Film: Black Adam Click for more info

Ooof. As much of a Dwayne Johnson fanboi I am, even he couldn't save this mess of a film. Weak plots and bad acting in a comic book film can be forgiven and even expected, but this was bad for its own reasons.

If anything there was just too much. Too much action, too many fights (some repeated), too much talking, too many twists. It felt like it was made for the sake of it, as if The Rock himself was in the cutting room glaring at anyone who hoped to make this a better movie by cutting out the fat.

There's some redeeming features I guess, but in this day and age that's just not enough. If you have to watch this, then wait for it to come at home, fast forward button at your fingertips.

Saturday, October 22

Return To The Hellmouth: The Big Buffy Meetup Click for more info

I'm not a Buffy fan. Despite ranking it as one of my favourite shows, skipping countless parties and social events during university to get home in time on a Thursday night, and being able to reel off quotes and plotlines on tap... I'm not a Buffy fan.

In many ways this could be seen as deflating. But no, I still had fun this balmy Saturday night at the Mockingbird cinema in Birmingham where a bunch of real Buffy fans congregated to celebrate 25 years of the TV show. Jeez, we're old. Still given the week I've had, I think my nerd credentials are still pretty good.

These real fans dressed up (although I was quite proud of my Sunnydale High t-shirt), knew all the words to the songs - and choreography - from "Once More With Feeling" and got more than a single question right during the Buffy trivia quiz. No, I'm no fan.

It was wonderful being with real fans though - real fandom being entertaining to watch, especially when you can partly relate to the source of that fanatical love. It was fun to see the karaoke, the drunken dancing, the pre-empting of script during the three episodes screened on the big screen. Tonight I realised how much Spike was loved and Dawn hated, and exactly how queer Buffy fans can be.

It was a great night, full of nostalgia and another reminder of how quickly time has passed. For me Buffy still holds up, and I left tempted to rewatch the show again - and who knows maybe this time I can actually become a real Buffy fan.

The episodes screened tonight were:

S3E16 - Doppelgängland
S6E07 - Once More, With Feeling 
S6E8 - Tabula Rasa

Wednesday, October 19

Back to the Future The Musical Click for more info

A stage production for what I've accepted to be my favourite film of all time was never going to disappoint. I can say that, even after concluding that it wasn't the best show I've seen. That is the power of nostalgia and genuine 80s quality.

To be honest I didn't even know that this was going to be a musical - I expected songs from the movie OST of course, but nothing original. In many ways it was the songs that dragged the show - a result of my bias, I'm sure - and a lot of them seemed to have just been superfluous filler. Otherwise everything was spot on - the acting, singing and dancing made me want to join in (as all good musicals should) although while the production values were top notch, I did feel the show relied on video a tad too much - but that was more due to the nature of the story than lazy design. It almost felt like I was watching the original cast at times.

Being a stage production, some things had to go and other things were added. Some hit, and some missed and it made me genuinely sad that one of my favourite scenes was binned. By the end of the show I couldn't decide if my love for the movie enhanced or detracted from my appreciation of the show, but considering I'm still smiling I suspect it's the latter.

So definitely one for the fans, and perhaps for those new to the franchise given how the kid sitting in front of me reacted to the twists and turns. Recommended.

Wednesday, September 7

Book: Dawnshard, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

Dawnshard seems far more significant to the Cosmere than it should be, considering it's actually a "novella". At 150 odd pages its a quick, yet dense, read, and in many ways raises more questions than it answers. That's not to say that anything in the Cosmere is irrelevant, it's more a warning that one shouldn't underestimate this book.

Everything else remains standard Cosmere fare: the novella is well written, the action dramatic, the progress generous and the plot tantalising (which isn't necessarily great for those of us who need answers). It's vital in both the Stormlight Archive and wider Cosmere, which I suspect will be par for the course going forward.

Film: Bullet Train Click for more info

There's something valuable about a film with a focused remit. That's not to say that Bullet Train was focused - if anything it was a bit of a mess and I loved it.

The star of the show was easily Brad Pitt. I'd even suggest the film wouldn't have been half as good without him. Otherwise it was simple, not overly ambitious (in a good way) and funny with a decently layered whodunit plot. Oh and the action was on par too.

Easily one of the best films I've seen this year and I can't wait to watch it again once it's available for home viewing. Recommended

Tuesday, August 23


To be fair I have managed to generate a bit of content on these pages since last year's anniversary, which vindicates the theory that it was the pandemic to blame for the drought over the last couple of years.

Of course on the other hand barring a few exceptions I have reverted to the age old movies-books-and-travel tradition. This is a shame since I actually do have a lot to say - I'm just saying it to friends and in person. I suspect it's because these exchanges bring more value rather than laziness - if anything having the same conversation multiple times can be exhausting too.

But here we are, creeping ever closer to the two decade mark. Who knew this thing had legs (even though it is a bit of a limp)?

Tuesday, August 16

Film: Nope Click for more info

Although Nope is the weakest of his first three films, there's no doubt that Jordan Peele knows how to make a movie. Like Get Out and Us, Nope has three perfectly weighted and approachable acts, and a tempo that both entertains and pays off at the end. It's a testament to both how easy and difficult it is to make a good film. It's Shyamalan done right.

That's not to say this was my favourite film ever. The acting was adequate, and although other parts of the production were fine, I had problems picking out parts of the dialogue (my own biases notwithstanding).

But overall Nope was a decent romp, and example of how to literally stick to the script. Recommended.

Sunday, July 24

Food: Every Fish Bar Click for more info

I've been wanting to try this place since reading about it here, and it just so happened that a close friend lives around the corner, giving me the excuse to both visit him and, hopefully, enjoy a decent fish and chips.

Quite frankly... it was just fish and chips. It wasn't the most memorable of meals, but it most certainly wasn't the worst and given how often I've visited below par chippys that alone brings value to the place.

Reasonably priced, clean and with great service there's no reason to avoid Every Fish when you fancy a solid fish and chips - just don't go out of your way to visit.

Wednesday, July 13

Film: Thor: Love and Thunder Click for more info

As the MCU becomes ever more diluted and prolific, as does the specialness of each movie that's released. So while Love and Thunder isn't a bad film per se... neither does it bring anything new to the series as a whole.

It's a very light-hearted affair, despite the stakes. Shallow even. But ultimately it does the job as the fourth in a long lasting sub series, providing a few cute moments and jokes along the way.

Thursday, June 30

Nandita Das in Conversation Click for more info

An impromptu invitation brought some friends and me to the Cine Lumiere in Kensington for an evening with the illustrious Nandita Das.

Das spoke about her life as an actor, director and producer, as well as as a mother and Indian. It was a pleasure just hearing her speak, with her calm and concise demeanour making it easy to scratch well beneath the surface.

What was less impressive, as always, was the Q&A afterwards, with the majority of contributors choosing to hear their own voice rather than that of the guest. Some things never change.

I was pleasantly surprised by the wisdom and wit offered by the "Bollywood star", and it was a throwback to the the talks we used to attend back in my 20s - honest, clever and extremely valuable.

Wednesday, June 22

Film: Jurassic World Dominion Click for more info

How exactly does one screw up a Jurassic Park movie? Well my friends, ponder no more as the answer has now been given to us. JWD was pretty trash.

The reasons are various. No scale, no dinosaurs, no bad guy (well, none that were threatening anyway). The stakes were low, the dinosaurs (and their action) scarce, and well... it just lacked any kind of the magic you'd have expected. It's almost like it was handed to an intern to produce.

Anyway, I'm not going to spend any more time on this review. Skip.

Wednesday, June 15

Film: Top Gun: Maverick

Although I enjoyed Top Gun: Maverick, it didn't manage to reach the dizzy heights that it promised it would. In many ways it was Top Gun: The Movie, the film the original would have been given the technology (and budget) of a 2022 blockbuster.

Top Cruise was Tom Cruise, although matching him with Jennifer Connelly did produce a level of cheesy chemistry not see since... well the 80s. Where it failed me was with the excess of dead air, and predictable hero placement. The final act more than made up for the flaws though.

So no the best film, but certainly good enough.

Thursday, June 9

Edmonton 2022

Aaaaaah. I'll offer you a peek behind the curtain now, just to make the point: I write this predated post a week after returning from our trip to Canada and am still thinking and smiling about this trip. For sure, our trips to Edmonton have always been fun and memorable... but this trip was something else.

Was it that there was family there? Or that we went to attend a wedding? Well of course both those things and I've always said that my best travel memories have involved local family or nuptials. But we were here for a wedding back in 2009 too. What else was different?

Well I'm older for one, as is my family, and in particular my cousins. With age comes maturity, character and a general sense of ease - many a honest conversation and edgier laughs were had this trip. Further, this was the first time just the three of us (comprising of my parents and me) had travelled here, and although that alone makes logistics simpler, it would be churlish of me to deny that I didn't enjoy the special attention I received.

Winnipeg was also new, and as a destination wedding within a destination wedding the usual welcoming party and being looked after vibes were found everywhere. We partied, we sightsee'd (sightsaw?), we chilled and had one on ones. Those four days alone were pretty special.

Back in Edmonton I enjoyed BBQs, boardgame cafes, card games over dessert, arcades and even escape rooms. But fun times were also had domestically too, from watching the Champion's League Final with an expat friend from London to bonding with a cousin via the magic of the latest Harry Potter movie (it sucked). But what was possibly the highlight of my trip was a lazy Sunday "brunch" that lasted 14 hours or so. The gupshupping had there was something else. Thankfully there were no trips to Jasper or Banff.

When we first booked this trip I was certain three weeks would be too much, and in total cliched fashion in many ways it wasn't enough. I'm definitely going to make that effort to visit more often (this was a COVID postponed trip from 2020, which would have been four years since the last instead of six), particularly as I feel I now have new familial connections to lean on. Heck I'd even say that after this trip Edmonton may have gone up a few places on my list of places to go once they kick us out of the UK... although I am yet to experience the winters there so maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.

Saturday, May 21

Aisha and Suhabe

The following is the transcript of a speech I gave at the wedding.

Alhamdulillahi rabbil aalameen, wassalaatu wassalaam alaa rasoolillahi wa alaa aalehee wa sahbihee ajmaeen.

I've been given the distinguished honour of saying a few words, although I fully realise Aisha only asked me for my accent. That doesn't come free so I'll keep this short.

My name is Shakil, or Shak for short, and I'm Aisha's hot single cousin from across the pond. All enquiries to my mum please.

Of course I'll start by thanking Mohammad Chacha for having us and once again keeping us here in this wonderful town of Edmonton. A big thank you to all who have travelled here to attend - it's looking to be a great event.

Aisha and our fathers are brothers, and for a long time visiting Pakistan meant visiting Chacha, who quickly became, and still is, the closest of the 5 chachus I had the pleasure of meeting while growing up.

As such I've known Aisha pretty much since she was born. Of course I only saw her a few times every decade, but that hasn't stopped us becoming close despite the distances involved. I don't think it's unfair to say if we hadn't been divided by continents and oceans both Aisha and her sister Rabiya would have quickly become the sisters I've never had. Whether or not that's mutual, I can't say - I'm sure they already had their hands full with their siblings.

And as the slightly darker sheep of the Atal clan, the marriage search has been a bit of a shared journey for Aisha and me. We've swapped notes, given and received advice, and even been on speed dating together (I think the embargo on that has been lifted by now). Aisha and her family have dragged us across Europe and we once even shared a terribly unromantic family trip to Paris. The great city of love, wasted on losers like us.

Which I guess is a decent segue to the reason why we're all here today. Love. Now I know this is a terribly awkward topic, but I'm British and foreign so should be able to get away with it. If it makes things less awkward just remember - love comes in many forms from familial to friendship as well as the more romantic in nature.

So during my "research" there have been two important things I've learned about love. I'll cover them in reverse.

The second most important thing I've learned is that love is hard. It's challenging, complicated, awkward and hurts. And for many of us, it's like learning how to walk over and over again - and that's even when the people involved don't change. It's an ongoing, transient thing that will, and frankly should, always surprise us.

But the most important thing that I've learned is that love is easy. It's a choice. It's a choice to trust, to care, to be open and to communicate. When it's there, it's chilled and comfortable and healing. The challenges are still there for sure - but so are the solutions and answers. Success often comes to those who realise just how accessible those solutions are.

And Aisha is someone who finds it easy to make that choice, to love. She gives it freely to her family and friends, and I have no doubt it will be the same during this next chapter in her life. But just as its hard, and easy for her to give, its also hard, and easy to receive, and I pray that God makes it easy here.

Now I've been handed the gauntlet to make at least one person cry today, but to be honest it's not going to be much of a challenge. As her new life begins, so does Aisha leave her city of almost 25 years and her family of even longer. As someone who - proudly - has always lived with family I can somewhat relate to what that means for her, as well as those she's leaving behind. I won't name and shame - I'm not that cruel *cough* Rabiya. These are the hard, and easy choices we make to love and although there's no doubt that we all support Aisha, there's also no doubt that she will be missed by those she leaves behind.

I've only briefly met Suhabe today but it's clear that all of the good things Aisha told me about him are true. He won't need much advice from a guy like me. But to him the message is simple. Act first. Reconcile first, be first to speak during silence, first to take action when you're both bored, the first to appreciate when you both forget. Take that role and own it. It'll only come to pay dividends.

So I'm done and all that's left is to wish the happy couple all the love and peace in the world, and nothing but good times during their journey ahead.

Thank you.

Wednesday, May 18

Book: Mind MGMT, Matt Kindt Click for more info

My second try at the comic book thing was off the back of the Mind MGMT board game, said to have lots of in-jokes and references to the source material. The promise was to have a clever, fourth wall breaking self referential story and as excited as I was to begin the series... I couldn't help but feel disappointed by the end of it.

Mind MGMT is just another superhero story. It has good guys and bad buys, magic and powers, ups and downs. Sometimes it manages to be more, but not often enough.

I suspect my reading of the story has suffered slightly from having access to it all on demand - I can imagine enjoying the story month on month would have added its own sense of pacing that would help with the storytelling.

The art was nice in its rough and watercolour style that suited the subject matter, and the dialogue and characters were decent, if a bit confusing at times. My suspicion is that the story fell foul of what is clearly my distaste for the comic book medium, but ultimately I didn't consider this of the genius promised.

Friday, May 6

Film: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Click for more info

After the slight disappointment that was the last MCU multiverse film, I approached the latest Strange movie with a little trepidation. Would it just be another canon breaking gimmick movie? Well I'm glad to say that it wasn't, and might even be my favourite MCU film this side of Infinity War.

It still has that strange Phase 4 irreverence (irrelevance?) which can be forgiven given the first decade of the MCU, but nevertheless manages to tell a story larger than its own runtime. Doctor Strange is great and plays the senior well, while the main antagonist does the job well.

Otherwise it has all the action, fireworks, and feel good vibes you would want from an MCU film. Recommended.

Monday, March 14

Book: White Sand Trilogy, Brandon Sanderson, Rik Hoskin, Julius Gopez, Fritz Casas Click for more info

Even though I was somewhat satisfied by the rough draft prose version of this story, I made it a point to revisit/continue the graphic novel both for completionist and canonical reasons. The barrier for entry wasn't too bad[1] - it turns out that a graphic novel reads much faster than prose.

The good news is that, yes, having read the prose made these three volumes far easier to digest. The bad news is that White Sand still wasn't that enjoyable for me - but since it's the first comic I've been reading electronically I don't know if that's due to the device, the medium or the novel itself. I do plan to read another graphic novel in the same way so I hope to have an answer eventually, but as it stands White Sand remains one of the weakest links in the Cosmere.

[1] Although this statement doesn't consider the time spent in setting up a suitable reading device. But hey, at least I now have a Linux tablet in my toolbox.

Tuesday, March 8

Film: The Batman Click for more info

Another year, another Batman. But what's this? One that actually looks to improve on the many iterations (some of which were already top notch)? Well. Let's see.

First of all: Patterson is awful. He tries his best (bless) but really isn't able to pull off much more than a mediocre Bruce Wayne. What he can do, however, is Batman, and thankfully he keeps his mask on in this film.

The movie itself is very well put together. It flows and weaves, and everything is clear and accessible, which is quite the achievement for what needed to be a dark film. That said, there did seem to be a recurring feeling of laboured and abstract drama, as if they were about to sell the audience some designer perfume. It was jarring at first but I got used to it.

Which brings us to the plot. It wasn't great. In fact, most of the movie was just window dressing. Although it wasn't bad enough to wreck the film, it did knock off a fair few points. It could have been a classic with a bit more finesse.

So no, for me Dark Knight remains unsurpassed, but the ingredients are there for a true classic to be borne out of the Patterson era. And hopefully they'll pull it off.

Tuesday, March 1

Twenty Years of Jummah

I can't exactly remember when, but there came a point in sixth form (so aged around 16-17) where I fell into an almost obsessive pattern to attend Jummah, the weekly Friday congregational prayer that Muslims are strongly encouraged to attend. Now, I'd be the first to say that however strong the recommendation is, it's not a matter of life or death, and no one will go to hell for missing a week. It was just one of those streaks which, as it got longer, became harder to break.

I managed to keep it up all through my academic studies, and past my graduation in the autumn of 2001. That five year (or so) streak was already pretty decent, so it was upsetting when it finally broke - ironically because my flight to Saudi for Hajj was leaving just after noon on a Friday. If there was ever a reason, that was probably it, although in hindsight I think it would have been more than possible to arrange an ad-hoc congregation at the gate or whatever. The following week's Jummah was also missed, as we were in transit to Arafat. That wasn't too bad as my streak was technically zero anyway.

Despite having to start again, my zeal to attend Jummah hadn't diminished - if anything it had gotten stronger. And so it started again, the first Friday after Arafat, which by my calculations fell on the 1st of March. Praise be to God and with his help, I have been able to attend Jummah every week since.

That's not to say it hasn't been precarious. Multi-night hospitalisations came and went, mercifully falling between Fridays. Most recently, COVID lockdowns had been a massive scare, mitigated only by kind neighbours humouring me with socially distanced prayers and blessedly dry weather. Its probably the closest I've come to having this streak broken.

The most consistent inconsistency however has been during travel. Two which spring to mind are during a skiing trip to Courchevel and a week away in Santorini. The former was simply done DIY, as there were enough on the trip to make a congregation. The latter was a little more tricky as there were only two interested parties on the trip - however after making friends with a dodgy DVD street selling Afghani, we managed to whip up a posse, proving once again how doors will be opened for you if you search them out.

It's not just academic stubbornness that drives me to seek out Jummah. Meeting fellow Muslims itself is a culturally valuable exercise - particularly abroad. Seoul, Ambodifototra (on the island of Nosy Boraha, off the coast of Madagascar main), Bali, Phnom Penh and Arequipa are all congregations that I have very fond and exciting memories of - some have been practical too when I had been lucky enough to have been fed on multiple occasions, usually in the places where Muslims made a tiny minority. Isfahan gave me the opportunity to join a state congregation in majority Shia Iran. The mosque in Rio was found at the end of a massive mystery. Warsaw and Split were both tiny self-conscious affairs, Las Vegas hilarious just for the contrast.

There's plenty more, from China, to the obvious picks in the Middle East and even those more vanilla ones in Pakistan (both Karachi and further afield) and here in the UK. An awareness of Jummah and it's facilitation is now an embedded part of any planning process I have, regardless of the scope - amusingly I will only visit the Galapogas and other far flung islands in a troupe of other Muslims, only to ensure I have a congregation on tap. If anyone is interested, let me know.

So yes, twenty years and over 400 Jummahs later I'm left wondering what the future holds. A part of me was aiming to relax a bit and stop counting after hitting such an arbitrary landmark, but I already know that's not going to happen.

Of course ultimately every opportunity to offer Jummah is a blessing, and those are for which I give thanks rather than take credit. I can only pray that those blessings continue till the end.

Thursday, February 24

Book: White Sand (Prose), Brandon Sanderson

In what turned out to be a bit of a back track, I realised that I was sufficiently dissatisfied by my reading of White Sand, the graphic novel, to give the original draft prose a go. Although largely redundant (I plan to finish off the comic), I felt that I wasn't able to quite follow and engage with the story set in Taldain, and hoped that reading the prose would allow me to continue reading the adaptation with a bit more comfort. Of course, it remains to be seen whether reading a non-canon version of a story will help or hinder.

Otherwise the book was clearly a draft, and very rough around the edges, particularly as it went on. As such, it wasn't quite as rigorous as the other books in the Cosmere, in the magic system, plot or character development. Still it was fun, and as I wanted, more accessible than its comic counterpart. I appreciated the insight and context that the written word was able to provide.

There are a few "non-canon" artefacts in the Cosmere, but I don't envisage approaching those. White Sand was therefore less optional for me than its draft status implies. I don't think I can recommend its reading to even a completionist though, unless like me you found the graphic novel to be a bit labouring.

Wednesday, February 23

Film: Uncharted Click for more info

A movie based on not just any videogame, but one of the best franchises in the past decade or so? Using actors who look waaaay too young in comparison to their original counterparts? Was this ever going to be anything but an abject failure?

Well... apparently it can. Now, no, Uncharted is no classic homage to a classic videogame, but despite it really shouldn't working, it actually wasn't bad. In fact it was rather good.

What it managed to nail was the fun factor I suppose. It plays from a very solid playbook, doesn't try anything too brave and makes few mistakes. The action is just as inspired as the source material (in some cases lifting them wholesale). And of course the music was spot on.

So not terrible then and I guess... recommended.

Wednesday, February 16

Film: Moonfall Click for more info

I mean, I don't know what I was expecting while waiting for this film to start. No wait - that's a lie, I did. I was ready to hate it, merely doing my bit as a responsible adult humouring the whims of a friend's kid who was joining us on this visit. Just taking one for the next generation etc.

And so sure enough, I wasn't disappointed. In fact, it's a kind of secret shame to admit that I actually enjoyed it at times, proof positive that these things are not objective and that anything can be great if you put your (positive) mind to it.

Please note: this is not to say that Moonfall was a good film. It wasn't. It wasn't even "so bad it was good". This was a ridiculous film that shouldn't have been made, and shouldn't be seen by anyone. Unless you're being forced to by a young child.

Wednesday, February 9

Food: Kate's Cafe

Discovery can be a funny thing. We initially found Kate's Cafe on Tiktok - a Ghanian restaurant recommended by someone we didn't know, brought to our attention by an algorithm. It looked so good, so alluring, so essential. And so off we went.

Of course reality is never as shiny as social media, and so we left disappointed, even though the place wasn't that bad. We went for the kebabs, Jollof Rice with chicken and the novelty Kontomire with the dough like Fufu. Everything was... adequate.

Otherwise Kate's Cafe was clean, the service was great, and the place quiet and a decent place to try something new. I did find the bill of £15 per head a bit on the pricey side, but I suspect I will need to recalibrate my price expectations as a separate exercise anyway.

So overall, even thought I have no regrets visiting Kate's Cafe this time, I don't envisage going back in the near future.

Thursday, January 27

The Book Of Mormon Click for more info

Firstly, I honestly can't remember the last time I went to see a production in the theatre. I'd blame covid, but according to these very pages the drought began at least a year before the virus did.

Secondly, and perhaps following from the above, I wish I had seen The Book Of Mormon sooner. This isn't because its amazing, but more because it doesn't seem to have dated well. Humour is always a transient thing, but when a show relies on edgy comedy it's subject to that edge moving... and for me the shock value just wasn't there any more. It may have been ten years ago.

And unfortunately once the laughs have gone, what's left is pretty normal. The production was alright, the acting okay, the music and singing decent. Altogether though it was all very middling.

So a victim of the passage of time, and perhaps my own high expectations, The Book Of Mormon wasn't as essential as I hoped it would be. And so Avenue Q remains top of the pile when it comes to belly aching comedy theatre - although now I'm wondering if I need to revisit that to see how well, if at all, that has aged.

Thursday, January 13

Book: Oathbringer, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

I only found out now that the latest publication of Oathbringer splits the novel into two, and yet I'm not surprised. It's probably the longest book I've read past War & Peace, and most certainly felt it.

It's actually quite difficult to write about this book, given I started it almost five months ago. I think there were some battles, some romance, some comedy... but it's all a bit of a blur to be honest.

That said, there was a distinct feeling of disclosure in this book - more threads were closed than opened and as a result it felt more rewarding than frustrating to read. Of particular note was the openings to the wider Cosmere, and I'm glad I'm catching up with the wider saga as things start turning there.

I did have some issue with the pacing of the book: the main set pieces were relatively brisk and therefore fell short of the payoffs that the volume implicitly promised the reader by virtue of its size.

As such, The Stormlight Archive remain my least favourite part of the Cosmere, albeit a still essential one.