Follow:
Browsing Tag:

Review

    Birmingham, Lifestyle

    Where have I been?

    I haven’t been posting on here as often as I’d like, as I’ve been concentrating on my food and drinks blog.

    fulltothebrum_wFull to the Brum is a Birmingham-based blog which celebrates the exciting food and drinks scene in the city.  Since I restarted it in June I’ve been focusing much more on the personal experience side of it – restaurant, cafe and bar reviews as well as product reviews, news and info about events and even the occasional recipe.  I wanted to celebrate the great food and drink adventures I found in and around Birmingham.

    This means that this blog has taken a bit of a back seat, but I’m hoping to update more often on all the other adventures I’ve been on – and maybe even occasionally mentioning some of the stuff from Full to the Brum too.

    http://fulltothebrum.co.uk/

    Music and Movies

    50 Film Challenge #5-8

    January is always a busy month at the cinema as it seems to be when all the Oscar films are out in the UK.  It’s also why I ended up at the cinema eight time this month.  Here are the other bunch of reviews…

    5. Gangster Squad

    With a mob king virtually ruling the streets of LA in the 1940’s, a group of street-hardened cops are tasked with a clandestine operation to clean up the streets, but there’s one rule: no badges.

    This film could’ve been so much more than it was and yet some how that didn’t matter so much.  It was certainly watchable and nice to see Gosling and Stone reunite, but the plot was a bit gangster-lite.  The gloss of the film makes it difficult to take it seriously as the portrayal of the mob, but will hopefully encourage people to see out some grittier films. 3/5

    6. Les Miserables

    Set during the French revolution this epic based-on-a-play-based-on-a-book tells the tale of Jean Valjean, a man searching for redemption whilst being pursued by a ruthless policeman.  A rags-to-riches tale, when Valjean agrees to take care of a young girl his life changes forever.

    Presumably another example of translating from the stage straight to the screen this film attempts to employ the tricks of the theatre and in so misses some interesting plot details (particularly Valjean’s journey from outcast to respected and wealthy factory-owner).  Overly long and lacking in any real narrative plot this certainly has some emotional issues but they feel exploitative.  But Hugh Jackman’s performance is superb however. 3/5

    7.  Wreck It Ralph

    Video-game baddie Ralph is fed up of being the outcast in the game he has played for decades.  Taking matters into his own hands he escapes and goes game-hoping across the arcade in search of a way of being accepted.

    An entertaining film with cameos from retro computer game characters that are sure to keep the adults as interested as children, this is an adorable blend of humour and heart.  Ralph is a great character, labeled as the baddie he just wants to be accepted.  An utterly charming film (as is the short film shown before). 4/5 

    8. Zero Dark Thirty

    Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow turns her attention to the CIA’s decade long hunt for Osama Bin Laden.  CIA agent Maya arrives as the tides are changing, torture as a method of gaining information is on the way out as the agency is forced to resort to conventional tactics which are at times hampered by man power and vast amounts of data.

    Despite being a film where the ending is know, the film works much like a slow-burning thriller that builds to a cool but edging will-they-won’t-they.  At 2hrs 37mins this is another ‘bladder-buster’ of a film but each minute feels worthwhile.  Chastain is a great lead, although the hints of her background (recruited straight out of high-school and almost single-minded in her determination) could’ve been explored a little more.  Despite criticism the film gives a considered look at the use of torture in evidence gathering and a lack of jingoism makes this one film well worth seeing. 4.5/5

    Music and Movies

    50 films in 2013 challenge and first reviews

    I’m a big fan of the cinema, which is probably why I ended up there 38 times last year.  This sounds a lot, but with one of those Unlimited cards and a slight Batman obsession it didn’t feel like it.  In fact it felt like I should’ve gone more.  So in 2013 I’m aiming to…in fact I’m aiming to go 50 times this year.

    I’ve bought a notebook to record each of the visits, but I’m also going to blog very short reviews here, because if the internet knows I’ve challenged myself to go 50 times then I kinda have to do it.  Why 50?  Well it’s a nice round number for starters, but that’s one a week with a two week holiday (or a two week break for when the only thing showing is Furious Paranormal Extreme Sawing VII or whatever crap is on).  Oh and it totally counts if I see more than one film in one visit because cinema days are awesome, but I’m not sure whether seeing the same film does yet.  I guess there are still a few things to figure out.

    I’ve made some good progress…

    1. Rise of the Guardians

    The Immortal Guardians, including the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Sandman and the Tooth Fairy, require the help of Jack Frost to defeat the evil spirit Pitch Black / Bogeyman who aims to infect the world’s children with fear.

    Despite being a film squarely aimed at kids this film was surprisingly enjoyable.  Hugh Jackman’s Easter Bunny with anger management issues and the yoda-like Sandman are particularly favourites as the team battle to save hope, belief, imagination and joy of children worldwide.  Leaving cynicism at the door this is fun-filled and sure there are some plot holes, but ultimately enjoyable. 4/5

    2. Playing for Keeps

    Gerrard Butler plays an ex-football superstar who has never really learnt to deal with life off the pitch.  As he arrives back in the hometown of his ex-wife and son he tries to bond with his son through coaching the local football team, where he also catches the eye of the local Soccer Moms.  But can he convince his ex-wife he still loves her before she marries someone else?

    Squared fairly in the romantic comedy genre this film was trying to be so much but ultimately failing.  Well known actors like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman and Dennis Quaid are criminally under-utilised in a film which just never really hits its mark.  Someone needed to go through this script with a red pen because it could’ve been a lot better.  Falls into the nothing-better-to-do afternoon on the telly viewing if you’re going to watch.  Shame really. 1.5/5

    3. Life of Pi

    Adapted from the best-selling novel by Yann Martel this is the story of a young man whose family set sail for the West in search of a better life, only for him to survive a shipwreck which sees him stranded on a lifeboat with a bengal tiger.

    Largely believed to be an unfilmable book, Ang Lee does a decent job of making this a watchable film, but ultimately I still think it’s one best left to the page.  The fantastical, magical realism of a man and a tiger adrift was beautiful but lacked much real sense of fear.  An enjoyable twist to the tale is lost in what is a juddering ending which doesn’t give the audience time to consider the alternatives.  Ultimately a visual display which is worth seeing if only for the tiger, but probably best to read the book. 3/5

    4. The Impossible

    Based on a true-life tale of one family’s fight to be reunited after the Boxing Day Tusnami in 2006.  Maria, Henry and their three sons are holidaying in Thailand when a wall of water destroys almost everything in its wake, splitting the family and leaving behind an incredible devastation.

    A brave story of a terrible natural disaster is let down by a terrible music placement.  The scene-setting calming waters are interrupted by a farcical Jaws-like theme and deeply emotional scenes are ruined with imposing, ill placed tunes.  Aside from that the film has great casting, particularly that of Tom Holland who plays Lucas, a character who steals the show.  The gratuitous shots of Naomi Watts is disappointing, as is the film’s treatment of the indigenous people who seem to exist only as help for the westerners, even in the aftermath when thousands lost their life.    An attempt at giving a more identifiable view to an overwhelming natural disaster which just fell short. 2.5/5

    Birmingham

    Things to do in Birmingham: Whisky Club

    Whisky Club begins

    Birmingham Whisky Club begins

    A bar manager once told me that every bottle on his back-bar had a story to tell.  This to me seemed to be a rather Romantic way of summing up the rich history behind the libations that lubricate most weekend evenings.  After all, even the cheapest of whiskies and rums require the kind of faith that most people would consider foolhardy – a product, which after being made, requires a certain amount of time to age/rest, it hardly seems like the wisest of business moves.  But that’s the beauty of alcohol and this was no better summed up than at my trip to The Birmingham Whisky Club.

    Set up by Amy Seaton, who wanted to learn (and drink) more whisky, and Craig Mills from the Whisky Shop, the informal monthly tasting sessions attract a wide range of people looking to learn more about whisky.  This month Pernod-Ricard’s Phil Huckle talked through six of the company’s Scotch whiskies, both single malt and blended.  Actually talked through the whiskies is an unfair description; Phil romped through the Scottish highlands and history, regaling the group with stories of British kings, illicit whisky production worldwide and photographs of stunning Scottish scenery.  I’ve been to a few rep talks about their products now and this was certainly one of the more entertaining.

    The evening was split in two, with the first three whiskies (Strathisla 12 year old, Longmorn 16 year old and Chivas Regal 18 year old) being sampled first.  Water is offered, both to sip throughout the evening but also to add to the whisky to open up the flavours.  Each whisky is sampled, then water added and a discussion ensues.  For anyone not used to tasting whisky (or not on a table with knowledgeable bartenders, as I was lucky to be sat with), Phil offered a few suggestions.  Having been given a bottle of Chivas Regal 12 year old (which I used to make whisky cake), it was nice to be able to try another in the range, with the 18 year old having more spice and richness to it.

    After the break it was back to the tasting and more tales.  The Glenlivet 18 year old seemed to have a wealth of them with name disputes amongst its history. Darker than the previous whiskies it had hints of fruitiness, particularly pear.  This was followed by the rich, sherry influenced Glenlivet 21 year old, which at £160 felt like a treat to be able to try.  But I’m a sucker for a good story so hearing about the origin of Aberlour distillery’s A’Bunadh cask strength Batch 39 whisky was a good way to end the night.  Released in limited-run batches this is the attempted recreation of a Victorian whisky found in the walls of the distillery, and at 59.8% ABV was the strongest whisky of the night, but had a nice sweetness to it.

    So what did I think?  For £20 the Whisky Club is a great value way to try a range of whisky and learn more about the product, particularly given the price of some of the bottles on offer.  For anyone not used to whisky tasting it could possibly be difficult picking out the different notes in the spirit, but advice from the speaker and fellow table members is sure to help. It would’ve been nice to see a little more interaction between the group as a whole and for a room of around 40 people there were disappointedly few women, but this is sadly a wider issue within the industry rather than the fault of the organisers.  Perhaps the idea of tasting six whiskies is a little too much for some and a spittoon might’ve been a welcomed addition to the table for those not wishing to drink so much, but it’s a nice position to be in where the only issue is too much of a good thing.  Overall an enjoyable experience and one to repeat.

    The Birmingham Whisky Club is taking a break over the summer, but will be back in September with a roster of events, including the monthly tasting events.  Check out their website for more details: http://www.thebirminghamwhiskyclub.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I received a free ticket to the evening’s event but was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.
    Books

    UrbanCoffeeCo book club: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

    The final book club book of the year was Delirium by Lauren Oliver.  Set in a world where love is considered a disease that the population can be cured of when they come of age, Lena is counting down the days to her operation.  But when Lena meets Alex things take a turn.

    Overall most of the group seemed to enjoy the novel, pronouncing it interesting but at times a little superficial.  Certain aspects of the books didn’t seem to quite add up, particularly the timeline with Lena’s mother and the concept of passion amongst the regulators finding pleasure in their job.  But with reminders of 1984 and cold war communism this book seemed to tread the balance of science-fiction dystopia and a love story well.  The group really liked the way a teenage relationship was depicted from Lena acting silly and irrational, but being self-aware enough to know this.  In fact the group felt the whole depiction of being a teenager, even trapped in a dystopia, was accurate and the theme of growing up was well played.  Certain questions like why the regime exists and how big the compound they all live in were left unanswered, but being the first in a series of books it was thought they might be answered in later novels.  Overall an absorbing read.

    Questions/aspects we discussed:

    • How well did you find the portrayal of a love-cure?
    • Did the book do a good job of explaining first love and did it feel relevant to modern day as well as the novel’s setting?
    • Did the book explain how people could feel pleasure in their job like the regulators?
    • What about the idea of unnaturalism, the idea that homosexuality can be cured in this regime – how did that make you feel, did you notice it (p.47/8 in our copies)?
    • What about why the family unit still existed – do you think this was realistic in the world the book was set?
    • Did it remind you of any other books/regimes?
    • And the usual: did you like it, would you recommend it and if so to who?
    I read Delirium earlier in the year – here’s my review of it.
    Books

    Review: Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray

    From GoodReads:

    It’s not really kidnapping, is it? He’d have to be alive for it to be proper kidnapping.’ Kenny, Sim and Blake are about to embark on a remarkable journey of friendship. Stealing the urn containing the ashes of their best friend Ross, they set out from Cleethorpes on the east coast to travel the 261 miles to the tiny hamlet of Ross in Dumfries and Galloway. After a depressing and dispiriting funeral they feel taking Ross to Ross will be a fitting memorial for a 15 year-old boy who changed all their lives through his friendship. Little do they realise just how much Ross can still affect life for them even though he’s now dead. Drawing on personal experience Keith Gray has written an extraordinary novel about friendship, loss and suicide, and about the good things that may be waiting just out of sight around the corner …

    Review:

    I’ve been meaning to read something by Keith Gray for a while now, so when earlier in the year I noticed the Rep in Birmingham was putting on a performance of Ostrich Boys I had to go – especially as the ticket was only £5.  This in turn made me want to read the novel it was based on before I went and I’m glad I did (the play was fab though).

    The story centres around three boys dealing with the death of their friend Ross and decide to honour his wish to visit a town which shared his name so Ross would be in Ross.  Along the way they come to terms with the news Ross’s death might not have been an accident and their guilt towards how they each individually treated him in his last few days – from girlfriends, to bullies and lost things.

    This really was a wonderful book.  It sounds so cliched but it dealt superbly with some really heavy subjects which sadly aren’t all that uncommon amongst teenagers.  The reaction to the news that Ross might have committed suicide, both anger and quiet understanding, is so well played out that at no point does it feel patronising which it could so easily have been.  The understanding and portrayal of how the nature of friendship groups change after a big event and the loss of one friend rings painfully true and the depiction of teenage boys feels entirely realistic – like hearing the story of a friend’s little brother.  This novel is wonderful –  I read it in less than a day and relished every minute of it.

    My copy suggests this might not be suitable for younger readers, but I disagree.  I think this book does a fine job of showing how unaware and well hidden other peoples emotional states can be and explaining the confusion and anger of those left behind.  The main characters might all be boys, but I fail to believe that anyone wouldn’t be touched by this book.  Beautifully bittersweet.

    Books

    Review: Velvet by Mary Hooper

    VelvetVelvet is a laundress in a Victorian steam laundry. With both her mother and father dead, she is an orphan and has to rely upon her own wits to make a living. The laundry’s work is back-breaking and Velvet is desperate to create a better life for herself. Then Velvet is noticed by Madame Savoya, a famed medium, who asks Velvet to come to work for her. Velvet is dazzled at first by the young yet beautifully dressed and bejewelled Madame. But soon Velvet realises that Madame Savoya is not all that she says she is, and Velvet’s very life is in danger. (From Amazon.co.uk)

    I’ve always thought I disliked historical fiction, but Velvet really changed my mind. Having won a set of Mary Hooper’s historical young adult novels from Wondrous Reads (sadly seems to be defunct) I figured I should at least give them a go and I’m glad I did.

    The interweaving of historical fact with a fascinating fictional tale was superb. I hate unnecessary description and thankfully this book doesn’t suffer from it.  The author doesn’t dilute the story with boring unnecessary history, rather keeping everything relevant whilst still being descriptive enough to evoke a great tale of Victorian/Edwardian Britain.  There’s some informative notes at the back for readers wanting to know more about the history, with more details about one of the characters, Amelia Dyer, who was a real-life baby farmer during the time the novel was set.  Velvet’s level of scepticism about the ways of mediumship was also a real pleasure to read in a genre which seems to be a bit obsessed with the paranormal at the moment.  Not that I don’t like a bit of paranormal in my novels, but it was really refreshing to have a character that questioned what was going on.

    The book is well paced and all of the characters are relatable, from the main characters to the peripheral ones visiting the Madame for spiritual guidance.  I really liked Velvet herself, whose growth from humdrum laundress to personal maid of a famous medium is handled well. Velvet’s childhood friend Charlie is also another fascinating character and Lizzie, a fellow worker from the laundry, provides a good level for the difference in Velvet’s situation.

    All in all a thoroughly enjoyable book and one I might be recommending to the Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub!  I was pleasantly surprised by this novel and looking forward to reading more of Mary Hooper’s novels.