Thursday, December 28

Oman, Day Eight: Coming Home

An afternoon flight didn't really leave much room for today so we pretty much went straight to the airport after breakfast for myself and another of the party to catch our flight home.

This gave me a chance to think about the trip and how great it was - I wouldn't say Oman has much to offer tourists per se, but as a place to hang out it hits the spot as much as Turkey does and makes a great alternative to Dubai - keeping all the good things that the Middle East has to offer while keeping modest and being diverse at the same time.

It's quite the feat when I consider it in detail and under this analysis it's no surprise that it conducive to such chill and good times. We (or perhaps it was just I) joked about making it an annual event, so I guess my assessment might just be put to the test sooner than we think.

Wednesday, December 27

Oman, Day Seven: Winding Down

Our final day in Oman was set aside to chill and so we remained local - this actually turned out to be one of the more indulgent days as we barbecued at home (including making smores) before heading to the leisure centre to play Padel (because what other sport do people play in the Middle East?).

Annoyingly I had yet to buy any souvenirs and so some good time was spent hunting for fridge magnets to no avail (top tip - they're available at Carrefour if you're desperate).

Dinner was from various food trucks nearby, which was a great way to spend our final meal together - and of course we had to end that with yet more milkshakes.

Tuesday, December 26

Oman, Day Six: Climbing the Mountain

Today's activity was to hike a trail 2km up the mountain Jebel Shams. Although we drove to the start, the elevation of the hike itself was about 200m so this wasn't going to be a piece of cake.

All in all the 9km round trip took us around three hours which was well within our time budget, particularly as we were taking a more leisurely pace. It was a nice hike but, again, spoiled only by us having had such a wonderful time at Wadi Sham yesterday.

We didn't really hang around much after returning - we made a beeline back home to grab dinner and play what would probably be our final night of games.

Monday, December 25

Oman, Day Five: Swimming the Wadi

In what promised to be the most exciting excursion of the trip, today had been set for a visit to Wadi Shab. As only two of us were interested in the place, we invited some new friends I had met on the flight over to join us in our rental car down to the start of the valley.

On the way we stopped at a dubiously marked spot called "Muscat View" via what seemed to be an abandoned dirt track. Any misgivings were quickly dispelled once we caught the view.

Wadi Shab itself lived up to its promise. After a brief boat ride, the 45 minute hike wasn't particularly challenging and was a decent timepass on its own, but the real fun began once we hit the water at the end of the path.

Basically there is no other way to proceed without swimming, and so in we went. We swam and walked for around 30 mins before reaching a submerged cave entrance which we had to then pass through in order to make it to the final destination of the Wadi - a cavern with a waterfall, including a cliff jump into water I couldn't touch the bottom of. As adventure goes it was right up my alley - not too difficult but one that paid dividends.

On the way home we stopped off at the sinkhole to see what literally was a hole in the ground. It was okay and on another day not involving a wadi swim might have been impressive.

As it was late, we grabbed some cheap food and made our way home where we joined the rest of the party in watching Home Alone... since apparently it was Christmas Day. Given the excellent day I had I didn't even realise that.

Sunday, December 24

Oman, Day Four: Rest Day

Unlike yesterday, we made an early start to get back to Muscat in order to receive the final member of our party who had decided to make the journey even though there was only a few days left remaining on the trip.

Today was a dead day by design - between our stint in the desert and flights for our friend there was no real appetite to do anything too ambitious. And so we found ourselves lunching in malls, gorging on opulent milkshakes and playing board games till late.

Given the previous days (and the next planned) it was a good excuse to slow down a bit.

Saturday, December 23

Oman, Day Three: Camping in The Desert

After a start more relaxed than I would have liked, we made our way to the desert to enjoy an overnight stay on the sand and under the stars. Now given I had already done the desert safari (Dubai) and camping (Jordan) before this trip wasn't on the top of my list but since it was another chance to hang and play games it wasn't exactly something that was going to get a veto from me. Which was actually pretty lucky given how good this trip was.

The staples were all there: so dune bashing and various opportunities to play in the sand and take hero shots.

But it was the detail that mattered. Chilling with friends while watching the sun go down, eating barbecued camel meat while gup-shupping, playing a round of cards as we trash talked, and ending the night around a camp fire looking at the moon through a telescope.

As cringe as it sounds, it was never about the desert or sand activities, but more about spending time with friends in a different context - and ironically realising how much that context didn't actually matter, even though it may have emphasised the bonding.

Oh and of course it didn't hurt that our private cabins (versus tents) all had en suite washing facilities (versus a dry toilet and water out of a drum). At this age they're all luxuries I definitely appreciated.

Friday, December 22

Oman, Day Two: Muscat in a Pinch

This trip to Muscat was never meant to provide for tourism per se - and in many ways this is kind of my general approach to travel these days. Culture can be cringe but having a local take you around to the local spots trumps the tourist trail for me and given today was Jummah we used it as an excuse to stay local and tick off a few things we did want to see in the capital.

After a decent brunch (read: lunch for me), we headed to offer Jummah in the local Sunni mosque - the qualification is deliberate as I had already experienced first hand the Imadi Islam that prevails in Oman. The mosques here are lavish by the way.

We then headed to Shati Al Qurum, a quiet beach, for a walk and coffee - yet more chilling. The beach was clean, easy and just a nice place to hang out in.

As the sun was setting we headed to The Grand Mosque to offer Maghrib. It was lavish yet modest and in many ways representative of Omani culture, and definitely worth a visit.

After treating ourselves to Omani cuisine at a fancy restaurant we called it a day in anticipation of a weekend excursion that began the next day.

Thursday, December 21

Oman, Day One: Getting The Party Started

There's a few things that make travel special: if they're booked last minute, the level of planning or depth of itinerary, the manner in which the travellers arrive and the "unattached" quotient of the group. This list just happened to be fully ticked off for this trip to Oman, and as a result I was very excited to be on my flight to Muscat.

Even though I arrived at 6am (night flights increasingly becoming my preferred way to travel) I wasn't the first to arrive - apart from the host another traveller had pipped me to the post by two hours and so the chatter and banter had already since begun and continued in person as I stepped into my local friend's villa where we were going to spend the next week or so.

After a good rest and some orientation the three of us headed to Al Mouj (previously known as The Wave) for a walk around the marina and a burger dinner and dessert. It was an evening of chill and calm (and card games) while we waited for the rest of the party to arrive and just the ticked for our first day in Oman.

Tuesday, December 19

Film: Godzilla Minus One Click for more info

It took me a while to figure out why they picked what they did for the title of this movie. It's not as simple as it being a prequel or origin story. No, it's actually a throwback to the Japanese Kaiju films of the 50s and 60s and in many ways a gentle protest at the hollywoodification of the genre.

It's hard to list exactly what gives this such a classic feel. Godzilla himself is a pretty passive force in the movie, just doing his thing with not much of an agenda, and so the plot also simply goes from A to B.

This put the focus on the characters and it's the way they're all hammed up that makes me feel that this is a film from simpler times.

As someone who doesn't hate the more modern takes of Godzilla and friends, I appreciated the contrast I felt while watching Minus One as it made me realise the direction that Hollywood has chosen for our favourite monster. Recommended.

Sunday, December 3

Karachi 2023

Given the relief at having been able to visit Karachi post COVID, it's shocking that it has been a whopping 48 months since that last visit. The delay has been for a number of reasons, not least that we only visit in the winter so as to avoid the unrelenting sun, and the 2022/23 winter window was missed for a few windows. Needless to say that this trip was overdue and I was very much looking forward to it.

Not much had changed despite the gap, and yet it felt as different as any of the trips I've taken. Kids are now adults, cousins are now grandparents, aunties and uncles even more full of the love that only people that age can offer. Conversations were of a different quality as all involved become older, or perhaps just more patient and mature.

It also felt very busy socially - not a day went without an invitation to a very welcomed home cooked meal somewhere, and surprisingly we only went out a few times to eat, what with quite effective political boycotts ruling out the usual fast food treats. On that note I don't think I've ever drunk as much Pakola as I did this trip.

I was happy to return after the two weeks I was there - that particular limit seemingly hardwired into my brain. But I did definitely feel a loss on my return too and have never looked so forward to our return trip, hopefully in a more appropriate time frame this time.

Thursday, November 30

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

If there's one thing I can say about The Expanse as a series so far, it's how varied the novels I've read have been. Here we have book five, with the focus moving to the newly discovered worlds, their inevitable colonisation by humans, and the conflict that arises by competing interests in that pursuit.

The same variety brings with it a sense of pace; the protomolecule seems like a lifetime away... and I'm left excited about where the series will go next.

That said, the books themselves aren't exactly exceptional. As poised as the set up - the plot, the pacing, the tension - is, it all fails with the b-grade characterisation and such basicity of everyone who has anything to say in the story. This is a shame and disappointing, but perhaps depth isn't the actual point here - each book plays as a moreish episode of a TV serial and I'm enjoying binging it so far.

Saturday, November 18

The Ig Nobel Awards Tour Show and BAHfest London 2023 Click for more info

The saddest part of today was realising that it had been FIVE YEARS since I last attended The Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, and I never knew I missed it as much as I did until I sat down for both it and its double heading Ig Nobel Awards Tour.

Thankfully not much had changed, firstly with the Ig Nobels talking about weird and wonderful "real" science (including that to do with repeating words, anchovies having sex, the science of boredom, the behaviour of short referees and why we should all lick rocks).

BAHfest on the other hand was a masterclass in blag and sounding clever, which anyone who uses the internet should be able to relate to. Today we heard how to use live (as in flying) kestrels as a building material, how beauty of a population was directly correlated to naval power, how partying (hard) can be an effective treatment for infection control in a world of antibiotic resistance, how to choose (or perhaps predict?) who gets to use a lifeboat based on a genetic score, the reversing the Earth's spin as a solution to climate change and finally how hardened unwashed cereal could be used as a replacement for steel.

Five years is a long time and as such I didn't recognise any of the speakers, although Matt Parker was still in full swing as the MC. The whole thing was so easy, so quick and so hilarious I cannot imagine not attending in the future.

Wednesday, November 15

Film: The Marvels Click for more info

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 20

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

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

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

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

Cinque Terre, Day Seven: Genoa

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 19

Cinque Terre, Day Six: Chiavari

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

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

Wednesday, October 18

Cinque Terre, Day Five: Camogli

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 17

Cinque Terre, Day Four: Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino

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

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


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

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

Monday, October 16

Cinque Terre, Day Three: Vernazza and Monterosso

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

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

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


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

Sunday, October 15

Cinque Terre, Day Two: Corniglia and Riomaggiore

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

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


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


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

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

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

Saturday, October 14

Cinque Terre, Day One: Manarola

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

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


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

Saturday, October 7

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 3

Film: The Creator Click for more info

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

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

I'd avoid this one.

Wednesday, September 27

Food: Burnt Click for more info

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 26

Film: The Expendables 4 Click for more info

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 5

Film: The Equalizer 3 Click for more info

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

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

Recommended for that rainy day.

Saturday, September 2

Food: Afghan Grill Click for more info

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 30

Film: Oppenhiemer Click for more info

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 24

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 23

Film: Blue Beetle Click for more info

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

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

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


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

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

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

Saturday, August 19

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 10

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 8

Film: Meg 2: The Trench Click for more info

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

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

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

Saturday, August 5

Food: Zerozero Click for more info

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 1

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 31

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 25

Film: Barbie Click for more info

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 19

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 11

Edmonton 2023

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 8

The BBQ at Long Lake

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 3


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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 2

Book: The Butcher of Anderson Station, James S. A. Corey Click for more info

I quite like the whole novella idea. I first came across it in serious use during my reading of The Cosmere, although The Wheel Of Time also had a single novella to include in any OCD binging of the series. These short stories serve as a great pit-stop between heavier novels, a bit like palette cleansers, but also serve a great purpose in filling in some of the details washed over in mainline stories.

The downside is collecting them all. But in the case of The Expanse that's been solved with the publication of Memory's Legion, a complete set of short stories from the series. Rather than read this volume as a book, I'll use it as a reference to plug away at its stories in publication order.

First up then is the story of Colonel Fred Johnson, covering two major events in his life. The first you might be able to guess, the second is more about his attempt at redemption. It's a decent story to tell and I found the flavour helpful... but it was also a useful exercise as I found it an easier read than Leviathan Wakes, somewhat subduing the fears I had of Corey as a writer.

Other than that there's not much to say about this particular short story. If you're going for a complete Expanse reading then it's just as essential (and easy to read) as the rest.

Friday, June 30

A Day of Fun and Games

Due to the narrow window in which people were visiting, today was marked down for a bunch of activities and promised to be a loft of fun.

First on the agenda was attending an escape room. Now I've done my fair share of rooms now so tend to skip them these days but it turned out that there was space for one more and so I found myself with 8 others solving pretty straightforward puzzles - we got out later than we should have due to what we considered to be an artificial obstacle (basically a code input that made us wait 60 seconds between tries), otherwise it was decent enough. We followed this up with some bougie coffee and dessert, in a region of Edmonton I hadn't seen before.

In the evening a much larger group took over the Activate facility to play various tech assisted room games, including Mega Grid - something you may have seen on various social media. Now this was a lot of fun - although perhaps some rooms were better than others, and due to the way it worked (6 to a room) we tended not to see much of the wider group we were with.

We then went for dessert which was a great way to detune (and get some vital calories back) after which we went for a drive downtown - something I rarely see at night. But the day didn't even end there as a bunch of us regrouped to play Telestrations (of all things) till way too late.

Wednesday, June 28

Eid in Edmonton

The main reason for timing of this trip was to celebrate Eid.

Eids in London tend to be quiet affairs for us, so we were looking forward to spending it with such a big local community, both throughout the day and during organised gatherings like the Eid salaat (which was wonderfully efficient and took around 30 mins) and the community party at a banquet hall (arranged for 100 heads).

It all paid off, and we finally got to see what a busy and varying "all-day" Eid could be like. The party had the double benefit of allowing us to greet our extended family in one place. A bonus was that others from outside Edmonton had also chosen this period to visit, giving the whole time more of a party vibe.

Given many of us would be together, we also set today for our game of "Don't Get Got" which kept us on our toes throughout, and even managed a couple of games of Clocktower late into the night.

It was a good time and very dossy... although at times overwhelming as it stretched my social battery.

Monday, June 26

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

Yes, if you think you've read this review before then you're not wrong. But rather than this being a cheap way to generate content, I have actually restarted The Expanse, almost six years after dipping my toes the first time. The plan was to interleave the series with The Cosmere, but I found that way too confusing, and now that I'm fully caught up with that I'm left to binge The Expanse at my leisure. That the series is now complete is a bonus - and I'll be reading the novellas in publication order too via the generous Memory's Legion compendium of Expanse shorts. More on that to come.

On starting the book it became clear to me that I really didn't remember much of it. This was good (as I get a newish experience) but also bad (how forgettable was this?). Either way it'll be interesting to see how my opinion has changed, if at all.

Leviathan Wakes is not a great book. I put this down mainly to the quality of writing, and there was a few passages I had to reread to parse correctly, if not giving up altogether and moving on. The author's use of voice and tone jars with expectation, which hopefully means I'll get used to it eventually.

The story itself is fine. Solid. Okay. It manages to present a classic sci-fi trope in an accessible manner, while supporting it with decent characters and subplots. It's not amazing but lays the foundation of what's to come. Most importantly, I'm invested and looking forward to seeing how it plays out. That alone is a reason to recommend it I guess, although it really does depend on how the whole thing hangs together.

Toronto Day Five: Waiting for Departure

When we were planning this trip we thought that five days would be too tight and we'd have to sacrifice compromise on certain needs and requirements to get it all to fit. Well in what is a classic example of over-planning, today turned out to be a pretty dead day in which we pretty much we left waiting for our flight back to Edmonton. Sure, we managed to visit the mall (again) and had a decent lunch with another uncle, but aside from that it was clock watching and administrative, and a bit of a shame as an alternative plan would have gotten us into Edmonton at a far more decent hour than we actually did.

But I guess having more time that required was better than having our trip cut short, and as a cheap quick stint, our time in Toronto was actually quite the success. We managed to see all of the touristy stuff we wanted to, while spending some quality time with the family and friends we have here. That we had to spend a few hours twiddling our thumbs was a small price to pay really - especially given that we don't know when we'll return to this city.

Saturday, June 24

Toronto Day Four: Going Downtown

After Niagara, heading to downtown was the second "must do" we set ourselves for this trip - although what we wanted to actually do there was pretty much up in the air till this morning. The default obvious choice of heading up the CN Tower was not taken due to a variety of reasons including partial closure, the weather and a general disinterest, and so we decided to stick to culture. And of course, food.

We began our wondering at Graffiti Alley, spending the ten minutes or so required to take in the art. For brunch we headed to Kensington Market for some dirty chicken and waffles - we were planning to come back here for lunch so we exited the area and after a quick exploration of Spadina Avenue (including a visit to the delightfully nerdy A&C Games) headed along College Street to Queen's Park, taking in the university vibe along the way.

It was there that we were picked up by my cousin and her husband, now native to downtown. Now with a car we were wheeled back to Kensington Market where we gorged ourselves on churros, tacos and burgers. It was a good time.

With our insiders' help we were taken to the port area (via Yonge-Dundas Square) for some excellent (and free) views of the city. It was there that we parted ways with the family, returning to moving around on foot - which in turn allowed us to meander through the Distillery District and St Lawrence Market on the way to Union Station for our train home.

Getting home was a piece of cake, and I'll always be amazed at how the locals underappreciate the availability of a well designed and integrated transport system. We bought a single ticket from Union that allowed us to take the three stops on the double decker train to Port Credit where a waiting bus took us the three further stops to our apartment. It was a pleasant and efficient experience and makes me wonder why we're repeatedly told to take lifts and taxis.

The evening was spent celebrating the 50th anniversary of an uncle here, where we chilled with more great food, family and fun.

Friday, June 23

Toronto Day Three: Chilling in 'Sauga

Since we have a reasonable amount of family here in Toronto, time and space had to be reserved to spend with them. Jummah was the ideal day for this, and so today was always going to be less touristy and more familial. So the morning was spent using the apartment's pool facilities, including the hot tub and sauna, while a later Jummah start even allowed us to visit the nearby Square One mall for an hour or so.

With prayers done, we had lunch with an uncle, after which I met a friend for dessert. That took us to dinner with another aunt at which point I pretty much accepted that I was going to put on more than a few kilos before my return to the UK. Sad times.

Thursday, June 22

Toronto Day Two: Niagara Falls

Of course no (tourist) trip to Toronto would be complete without a visit to the world famous falls here in Niagara. On the other hand, I've visited both Iguazu and Victoria falls since my last visit here and I think it's reasonable to say that Niagara didn't impress as much as those one.

But what Niagara lacks in scale, it makes up in accessibility. Being able to walk along a paved road to a well situated view made today a piece of cake, and that's before we even talk about the boat ride to the base of the falls - which was both far better than I remembered and expected.

With the main things ticked off, we grabbed a doner lunch at the excellent RG Kitchen on the way to the flower clock after which we made our way to Mississauga where we were staying for the remainder of our trip here.

Wednesday, June 21

Toronto Day One: Twenty Four Years Later

The oddest thing about this Toronto trip is knowing it's been 24 years or so since I was last here. I was a different person, Toronto was different, the world was different. As a marker of the passage of time it's pretty crazy to think about it, but otherwise I considered this a new place to explore - I can't imagine returning to any place I've visited after such a gap (although perhaps Islamabad ranked up there).

Today was just logistics. Canadian budget flights tend to be on the inconvenient side, but we managed to find a decent arrival to Hamilton which allowed us to pick up our rental and drive to Niagara in good time - enough to see the falls at night and then have a chicken wings and pizza dinner. The sleazy motel in which we're spending the night was just the icing on the cake.

Tuesday, June 20

A Record Return

When I promised my family here in Edmonton that I'd be "back soon", I didn't expect it to be a year later. Last year's trip had definitely been a paradigm shift in my relationship with Edmonton (for various reasons) so coming more often was always the plan, but I consider it fortuitous to have had the opportunity so soon.

It's nice to be both familiar with and by Edmonton. I think Canada has now cemented it's place as the third most country I've visited, bested only by Pakistan and Saudi, so it's probably something worth getting used to.

That said, as quickly as we have arrived, we are due to leave - as our little stint in Toronto starts as soon as tomorrow.

Sunday, June 18

Film: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Click for more info

Has it really been five years since we first met Miles Morales and travelled the animated Spider-verse? That alone is frightening.

The second fear was that the sequel would not live up to the promises made in the first film. Well, I can confirm that Across is not a bum film. In fact it's even more fun, polished and coherent than the first, and manages to address almost all of the issues I had with it... albeit in non-straightforward ways.

The sometimes labouring animation style is still there, but refined and less of a headache. Character development is here in spades, but mainly in the form of annoying children being annoying children and making Bad Choices. The plot is great - an achievement in itself given the complexity that comes with multiverse shenanigans.

So top marks so far, and yet I can't help but see this as a Spider-Verse v1.5, the same film but done over. That it leaves room for a further sequel underlines this feeling, but on the bright side the eventual trilogy has the potential to be one of the best. And for that reason alone this instalment becomes pretty essential to watch.

Wednesday, May 24

Film: Fast X Click for more info

Oh F&F, how ridiculous you are. Not only does your name shrink as time goes on (I expect the next film to just be referred to by a grunting sound), but you really did yourself a disservice by going into space the last time around. How can any subsequent film top that? Well the answer is of course with time travel - but don't worry, there's no Deloreans in this film.

The truth is though that it doesn't need to top anything. Even if you did consider 9 the peak of incredulity, knowing that doesn't harm FX - in fact it allows it actually allows it to focus on being its own film. And it was actually pretty good.

Yes, you have to suspend your disbelief a little and yes, a lot of it is just convienient excuses to run the next set peice... But that's F&F's raison d'etre so if you're going to complain about that then it's your fault for being here in the first place.

Ultimately FX is the beginning of the end of the F&F franchise and seems to know it enough to go out willingly. If that means having to pull the dial back slightly then I'm here for it. Recommended.

Wednesday, May 10

Film: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Click for more info

I wouldn't call GotG3 a turning point in the recent decline in MCU form, but it was a decent flick. That said, it did feel more like an extended TV show episode than movie - that was more to do with the Hallmark vibes than the quality of the film though.

Because yes, GotG3 wasn't about the big bad or gods or end of the worlds, but more about the Guardians themselves - Rocket in the main, but also the wider group, including the reanimated Gamora which by the way didn't feel laboured at all. Much.

So yeah - there's nothing here that marks the return of the MCU as a force, but given the mediocrity of the recent entries anything this entertaining should be taken as a win. Recommended.

Wednesday, May 3

Film: Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves

D&D achieves exactly what it sets out to do - it literally has both dungeons and dragons, and is full of adventure and callbacks to the source material. It plays things safe, gets from A to B and is largely unoffensive.

If it sounds like I'm being passive aggressive about the film, that's not my intention - I genuinely enjoyed the film and have little about it to complain. It was well built, paced perfectly and had some very charming characters. The action was cool and the special effects more than adequate. The plot wasn't complicated but was enough.

The thing is I think it would have been just as enjoyable at home as it was on the big screen - which I suppose is both a boon and a curse. Was it an epic tale? Not really. Could it be part of an epic series? Quite possibly. Either way I recommend D&D, even if you do manage to catch it on the small screen.

Saturday, April 29

Book: Tress of the Emerald Sea, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

Tress is proof that we don't need big. A wonderful story that is as dense as it is breezy, this, for me, was the perfect antidote to the sheer exhaustion from binging everything published in the Cosmere to date.

It's as dense as it was whimsical, as pacey as it was deep, and as funny as it was significant. As a Cosmere story it moved the world on tremendously, it didn't hold back and was generous in all that it gave.

Technically it was a wonderful book too, albeit with a bit of laboured characterisation. Everything was so smooth, so fluid, that it was a distinct pleasure to read.

Definitely recommended and a hope for the Cosmere going forward. Speaking of which, seeing as I've finally caught up with the lore it'll be a while before I return to this particular universe.

Sunday, April 23

Film: John Wick: Chapter 4 Click for more info

More of the same doesn't have to be a bad thing, especially with the tuned and concise film-making presented to us by John Wick. Some might say that Chapters 2 and 3 started getting bloated, but I thought they were okay at the time.

It's only coming to Chapter 4 that you can begin to see the trajectory of the franchise over the decade or so that it's been with us. It's now middle ages, a bit pudgy around the middle and get confused sometimes. It's still good, somewhat mature... but also not as quick as it used to be.

What is good is great, but it's way too long with obvious cuts that could have been made. Some characters and arcs seem wholly superfluous in fact. One can hope that this is the peak of escalation that results in such fat, but I'd be happy to take the termination of the series as an alternative. Some things just get ruined in the chase for bigger and better, and JW is way too good to go down that road.

Tuesday, March 21

Film: Shazam! Fury of the Gods Click for more info

Maybe I'm just getting old, but these days all I'm really looking for in a movie is a solid production, a decent plot and zero overreach. And I'm glad to say that Shazam 2 (because who likes subtitles anyway) does exactly what it was supposed to do.

I can't say it's an original film, but in a world of Marvel-saturation, going back to the basics turned out to be quite the novel move. The acting was fine, the film was fun, and the superhero antics more than adequate. If this is what the new DCEU is going to be like going forward, then I'm all for it.

Tuesday, March 14

Film: Creed III Click for more info

It goes to show how many legs the Rocky films had, given how Creed (the franchise) seems tired and running out of steam by the third. The film was equally convenient and implausible, both made all the worse by its rushed pacing. It laboured emotional themes, which also isn't necessarily a problem except when the emotions feel so cartoony.

There was some interesting bits - the fights were novel enough to be enjoyable, and the experimentation with their visuals paid off. There were only three though, with the final one not even being the better of them.

It was a decent jaunt I suppose... just not the knockout I wanted it to be. Disappointing.

Sunday, March 12

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

Maybe it's overexposure (whether that's for me to the books or the books to everyone I'm not sure) but The Lost Metal just didn't feel like a great book. It was very perfunctory, with a plot that had few twists or excitement as a result. What it did give instead is a shed load of Cosmere.

So fanservice then? I prefer "bridging", in that - finally - we have some explicit references to the Cosmere, World Hopping, Investiture and it's various forms and manifestations and how all the various geography of the Cosmere may fit together. Plenty has been left for the future, but as a start this makes TLM a pretty essential part of the wider series as a whole.

It also marks the last in Era 2 of Mistborn, and as a conclusion it was okay. It could certainly have been much worse. Either way the book was short (well at least compared to the more recent Stormlight novels) so however flat the substance of the book was it wasn't much to suffer from.

Otherwise everything else is as you'd expect by now - TLM was well written, never fatally boring and gave enough to keep me going to the end.

Tuesday, February 21

Film: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania Click for more info

I suppose the curse of having such a great formula (as the MCU does), is that eventually we become desensitised to it. Quantumania isn's a bad film. It's not great either. It just exists... which might be topical given the subject matter (but probably isn't).

If that opening is confusing and nonsense, then I'm glad because it sets the tone for the film I'm trying to write about. Why is the quantum realm so... populated? And that with generic alien type beings? Why is the leaping into such a pivotal part of the next arc of the MCU so... bland? Why does this film even exist?

My immediate thought after watching the movie was: "this really is a MCU movie", such was the identikit feel of it all. Haven't we been here before? But again, maybe that was all part of the satire.

I didn't hate it, but I didn't like it either, which is actually more irritating than it sounds. I won't recommend it then, but I guess you already know if you're going to watch it anyway.

Saturday, February 18

Food: Thai and Pie Click for more info

Holy fusion Batman! Okay technically this wasn't really a fusion place, although perhaps still novel. The pitch is that while the grown ups attend for an adult Thai meal, there is enough on the menu to placate the fussy kids - burgers, chicken and of course, pie. Pretty clever, I guess? Except four out of the five of us last night ordered pies. So consider this review incomplete, I suppose.

The pies were alright. Maybe it's difficult to get pies wrong? That said my chicken and beans with spicy curry and melted cheese was as eclectic as it could get, with my colleagues' more traditional chicken and mushroom pies being solid picks too. In hindsight I should have gone for the lamb, so perhaps a return visit is in order (spoilers).

The bite I had of the remaining green curry and egg fried rice were equally solid, with all accompaniments also doing their part. The place was empty when we ate (late) but I can imagine the family friendly atmosphere and patient service. The bill came to just under £15 per head, which felt a little on the pricey side but not enough to irritate.

I rather liked Thai and Pie. It was a no frills, but not disappointing, experience which sits at an interesting location in Chadwell Heath. I do see myself visiting again during a future occasion where we don't want to travel or spend too much time thinking about what to eat.

Monday, February 13

Food: Jacuzzi Click for more info

I'm known to have some pretty strong opinions on... well everything really. I prefer "robust and rigorous" myself, and make no apology for caring enough about the world to really decide how I feel about something. And one of the things I don't really care for is food. More specifically: expensive, opulent and aesthetic food, of the type seemingly created especially for the 'gram.

So I was pretty ambivalent about our booking at Jacuzzi tonight. Apparently it was the latest from someone or thing called "Big Momma" which was supposed to mean something to me. All I knew was that it was Italian and hip.

But as strong as my opinions get, I'm equally able to identify the exceptions and cases where my opinions fall short - and I'm happy to say that Jacuzzi is such an exception. The food in this place was good. Like, really good.

I could tell you about the Endive or the focaccia to start, but my limited understanding of food means I'd just say they were a bloody good salad and bread. Similarly the pastas and pizza we shared for the mains were just great, yet very classy, comfort food. We were well stuffed and satisfied by the end, and that was even before we received the apple torta for dessert.

The place itself was fancy and pompous, but the quality and enjoyment of the food more than made up for that. It did have a fair few couples there tonight but I wouldn't necessarily clock is as a necessarily romantic place. What was lacking was the service which was surprising in a place like this. Everyone seemed polite but there just wasn't the care such a place promises to offer. However what was equally surprising was the bill at the end - £35 per head seemed like a crazy bargain, and I had to check the bill a couple of times to make sure nothing had bee left off. I can only imagine the food is subsidised by drink the other tables were ordering.

So yeah, colour me pleasantly surprised - Jacuzzi is a place I recommend and would even try again, and I really don't mind admitting that.

Wednesday, February 8

Film: Knock at the Cabin Click for more info

If anything encapsulates the phrase "glutton for punishment" it's watching a Shyamalan film expecting something, well, good. Is that unfair? I think it is. I have liked some of his films. I think I have have disliked more though.

But I'm here to tell you about Cabin, not Shyamalan. I think the main problem I had with the film was how it was built like a tv show - this would have made a pretty interesting four-parter actually. The acting was good, with Bautista playing a great friendly giant and some amazing child acting from Kristen Cui. The pacing was pretty decent too, with the 100 mins or so of runtime breezing by.

I suppose that leaves the plot and it's probably here that the film failed. Largely predictable from the opening conceit, there were no real surprises here, and no real reason to keep watching.

My feelings about the film have gotten worse after having digested it, so sadly no, there'll be no recommendation here.

Tuesday, January 31

Book: Rhythm of War, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

The first, and possibly only, striking thing about Rhythm of War is just how big it is. The Stormlight Chronicles have always been the more grown up books of The Cosmere, but this was quite the slog.

And I feel that the book suffered for it, if only because it had the effect of diluting the significant plot developments and set pieces which would have otherwise stood out in a slimmer tome.

I'd like to say that the quality of the writing hadn't suffered either... but I noticed a significant change in flow here, a sense that a lot of the prose was just churned out. This made the book not as special as the others, and just normal.

Of course we don't read these books in isolation: finally it seems that the Cosmere has fully spilled over and even my amateur eyes spotted numerous crossing overs. This alone made the book exciting and compelling enough to bear with it's glacial pacing.

It's hard not to recommend RoW, essential as it is. I just hope it's the peak of Cosmere book word counts, and we return to the more pure and to the point approach enjoyed previously.