Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bar review: McQUEEN (Old Street)

Named after an actor who is generally perceived to be one of the coolest screen presences of all time, McQueen the bar is somewhat of a misnomer. It strives to be stylish, alright, but isn’t swagger something you just effortlessly have? It’s not really je ne sais quoi if you’re trying desperately to procure the quoi in question.

I went to McQueen last night on an "Asians in London" meet-up, and the entire ground floor was rented out to us, which was a nice gesture of hospitality. I thought such a busy event was a little under-staffed, considering Asians and non-Asians came pouring in in their droves, and at one point, I asked if I could have a drink to a boy at the til and he told me ‘I don’t serve’. Why do you stand behind the bar then mate?

I wasn’t completely sold on the décor, which consisted of lots of weird and wacky statues and ornaments, but the individual pieces didn’t fit with each other to give a cohesive image of the bar, and certainly not very Steve McQueenish. This wall hanging below is a bit creepy, truth be told:

I also wasn’t too impressed with the close positioning of the sofas at the centre of the room, which meant that it was practically impossible not to bump into someone if you wanted to head towards the bar.

My Litmus test for whether or not I consider a London bar overpriced or not is the price of that first round (assuming the round is for two people). If it falls below £10, then I’m a fan. Hence why I adore so many Wetherspoons so. 

If that first round exceeds £10, that’s not the end of the world, but the bar has to have a certain élan to atone for their above-median prices of drinks. And that isn’t an excessively taxing imposition; I’ve had excellent impressions of several bars in London that charge a pretty penny for their drinks, ranging from The Escapologist to Reverend JW Simpson, because their cocktails were just on point.

After all, I don’t mind paying over the odds if the ambience and quality of service matches the price. McQueen sadly didn’t have that; the atmosphere was fairly stale and consisted purely of the  noise from conversations of the people at the event. Would it have killed the managers to play some pop music?

In terms of riding on the laurels of its Shoreditch location and not delivering on the rest, it’s definitely not the most guilty (that would be, hands down, Worship Street Whistling Shop, one of the worst bars in London). But McQueen was nothing earth-shattering, and certainly nothing the man it was named after would hurry to write home about.

Grade: C


The rest of my bar reviews are all listed here. If you would like me to review your's, e-mail me at lemon_and_lime7@hotmail.com.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Film review: LA VOIE LACTÉE [THE MILKY WAY] (Luis Buñuel, 1969)

Luis Buñuel'a irreverent send-up of Christianity sees Pierre (Paul Frankeur) and Jean (Laurent Terzieff) embarking on a religious pilgrimage from France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Along the way, they come a series of unexpected events, from walking in on a ritual from a secret sect, being asked to moderate a duel, and a chance meeting with the Grim Reaper.

La Voie lactée's surrealist elements and indictment of Catholicism render it classic Luis Buñuel, but  neither of these two components were employed terribly effectively. As in Tristana, I found the dream sequences distractingly low-quality, and because the whole file had a trippy vibe, it was difficult to delineate the fantasy sequences from the actual storytelling. The cutaways didn't add anything to the narrative, and, perhaps because I'm treated due to shows like Family GuyI usually expect my cut-aways to be, you know, funny. Here, they were met with a *tumbleweed*-style reaction.

The Catholic Church offers ample material for mockery, and having their teachings torn apart, something that Pedro Almodóvar does effectively in several of his films. He achieves it by writing characters such as a shady priests into various stories (e.g. La mala educación), and then allowing the plot to unravel as the hypocrisy and corruption of said characters are exposed. That way, the audience sees these people for the monsters they are, whilst recognising their religious background played a formative role in this. We have been shown, rather than told.

But in La Voie lactée, the speeches delivered by characters in this film by preachers and brainwashed kids, written in such an brazen way so as to make the deliverers look stupid, felt like the audience was being spoon-fed to laugh at these characters and ridicule their beliefs. The contradictory things they were spouting were too out there and nonsensical for it to be plausible that the character believed in what they were saying.

The closing titles of the film, which laid out all the problems with religious dogmas, epitomises Buñuel's heavy-handed approach:  if the film had done its job properly, the audience should already know this. They wouldn't need it rammed down their throat. This complete lack of nuance meant I was, lamentably, not able to enjoy this film as much as I would have liked to. (I like ridiculing religion as much as the next person!)

However, as with previous Buñuel titles, I was still amused by the film, and scenes which were darkly comic and the audience unsure whether or not to laugh meant we were kept on their toes. One vignette, where a woman lies on the cross and has her hands pinned to it like Jesus Christ, was visually discreet but made an arresting impression. And the benefit of having so many short scenes, pieced together in a sketch-like way, meant that the viewer was at least, never bored.

I wouldn't classify La Voie lactée as Buñuel's best work. But it's a curious entry into his filmography that his aficionados might derive more enjoyment from than I did. 



If you enjoyed this review, the rest of my reviews are here!

Cooking Stuff that Looks Bad But Tastes Delicious #2: The Veggie Supreme.

Since this dish doesn't feature any meat or fish, I will call it 'The Veggie Supreme'.

As pictured, the ingredients were:
- cheddar cheese
- chips
- red onions
- peppers
- oil (drizzled a little too liberally over the chips and peppers)

I cut pieces of cheddar cheese and onions and bunged them into the yellow peppers, then topped it up with oil. I probably put too much oil in, because as you can see on the oven dish, there's a fair bit of spillage. I also poured salt in the peppers pre-putting it in the oven, but that's up to you.

And, as with The Nemo, I had tomato ketchup to enjoy the chips with! Nomnomnom.


Here's a photo of my dad's incredible authentic Chinese cooking!


The Wowcher website claims that these three earrings collectively retail at £119.97, which I'm cynical about. They were selling at £12 on the Wowcher website, so £4 per pair of earrings, which I thought was reasonable enough.

I really like these dainty little earrings. The option of gold, silver or rose-gold means I can always find a pair that will go with the colour scheme of my outfit, and the ergonomic design means that the earring fits elegantly on one's ear, without the fit being too snug or too loose. I would perhaps have liked the jewels to look a bit 'sparklier', but, for the price I paid, can't complain too much!

Grade: A-/B+

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Film review: TRISTANA (Luis Buñuel, 1970)

Tristana (Catherine Deneuve), a recently orphaned God-fearing beauty, is given sanctuary by her new legal guardian Don Lope (Fernando Rey), a crusty old womaniser who hates religion, sympathises with the underbelly of society, and likes to backpat himself for being so anti-establishment. Much like the character Rey played in That Obscure Object of Desire, he develops an infatuation with the female lead, and it’s not long before he’s thrown caution to his wind regarding taking Tristana under his wing, choosing to take her under him instead.

From some of the other Buñuel titles I’ve reviewed, it’s evident that the man has got sex on the mind, but his depiction of Don Lope’s carnal instincts and Tristana’s grudging acquiescence to them in this film are surprisingly PG-rated (although, given the mature themes and disturbing imagery in this film, I thought the MPAA awarding this film a PG-13, made more sense) and visually restrained. The unsettling, Woody Allen-esque relationship is portrayed with a few fleeting shots of Tristana impassively getting undressed, before the scene ends. Surprisingly subtle for Buñuel, but it suits the atonal style of the film, and its messages about the double-standards of religious Spanish society.

Deneuve and Rey, two of Brunel’s favourite collaborators, prosper under his direction. As the eponymous lead, Deneuve alchemizes Tristana’s spirit effortlessly. At the beginning, she is a carefree, wide-eyed young girl who just wishes to honour her mother's love of pray. By the end, and not altogether surprisingly given what she has been through,  as her character develops, she is a resolute and cold-hearted, and absolutely God-less.

It’s evident that she’s repulsed by her legal guardian’s grabby hands (not the first time a Guardian's been handsy, amirite?), but she grins and bears it in a disquietingly silent manner. As in Belle de Jour, Deneuve portrays her character taking everything just accepting what comes to her under a façade of equanimity, which only leaves the audience more tantalised about what she’s really thinking.

Fernando Rey portrays a monster with more than a small touch of Humbert Humbert. Tristana is an unusual story because it’s not so much a case of Stockholm Syndrome, as the woman coming back to take revenge – revenge by mistreatment – on the man who so impulsively, selfishly, debased her. And her interpretation of the best kind of justice is to simultaneously be with him (in legal union) and not be with him (in emotion and physically).

The central dynamic between Tristana and Don Lope is fascinating. Despite the fact that he defiled her and she rightly resents him for taking her innocence, this is juxtaposed hatred is with her inherent Christian grace towards him, which consists of gratitude for taking her in when she was destitute, as well as a giddy sense of triumph later when he gets older and more pathetic, and she, more beautiful. These emotions come together to create a cocktail of power that she lauds over him.

Buñuel is known for his surrealist elements, but that was the component I liked least about Tristana - Don Lope’s decapitated head swinging from a bell was off-beat but now looks dated. Tristana also lacks the moments of playful levity that The Diary of a Chambermaid and That Obscure Object of Desire had, rendering it a more straightforward piece of storytelling, although in doing so, it doesn't quite reach the peaks of those two titles. Finally, the fact that the film was shot and set in Toledo, Spain, yet the characters speak French, is a tad jarring.

It’s not the best spin on Lolita in a film I’ve seen - that would be Sam Mendes’ incredible American Beauty, but, like That Obscure Object of Desire, survives the test of time well in its astute dissection of gender politics and the blurred, and often confusing, line between love and hate. 

Buñuel  for all his seedy voyeursim, understands that sex is just as much about emotional control as it is about physical lust, and his detached, capable direction, Deneuve’s suitably frosty performance (quite literally, given the film's aloof coda) and the compelling story make for a bizarre, but thoroughly watchable experience.



If you enjoyed this, all my film reviews are collated here.

Cooking Stuff that Looks Bad But Tastes Delicious #1: The Nemo.

I've been making the most of my mum being in China and having the kitchen to myself recently (I don't like cooking when surrounded by people, haha). 

My concoctions don't look too appetising, but as I bung in ingredients I like and ingredients I like only, I'm usually very pleased with the end product!

So in this haphazard invention, which I will call 'The Nemo' (because there's fish fingers in it), I put:
- 4 baby potatoes
- one red onion
- one tomato
- cheddar cheese
- oil
- 4 fish fingers

And after it was all cooked, I dipped the fish fingers in tomato ketchup.

Next time I cook it, I would increase the number of baby potatoes to about 6 or 7, as they reduce in size when fried due to it being on the pan for the longest period of time. But apart from that, I really liked The Nemo!


In other, completely unrelated-to-cooking news, I saw that Damien Chazelle's upcoming La La Land, hotly tipped to rack up multiple Oscar nominations, got a PG in Ireland despite getting a 12A over here.

I find this very interesting because I think it illustrates the Irish are a bit more flexible about single uses of the f-word depending on context, whereas for the BBFC (and the MPAA), it leads to an automatic 12A/PG-13.

A subtle point, but illustrates the nuances in different countries' attitudes towards swearing!

I wonder who hollers the solitary f-bomb in the movie, Emma or Ryan? (Or maybe, given his character's colourful language in Whiplash, J.K. Simmons gets that honour...)