Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Genie of the Lamp.

When Frank Lampard scored the penalty for Chelsea against Manchester City by smashing the ball down the middle, he made a statement for the title race; it was not going to be a Manchester duopoly if Chelsea had anything to do with it. It was also a statement of another kind: that despite what the Media said, despite even what his gaffer might do, Frank Lampard was far from over.

Benched for Chelsea’s vital Champions League match against Valencia and then benched for this game, it marked a murky period. The previous ten years, Frank Lampard had been invincible for Chelsea. Under Andre Villas-Boas’ vision for the team, though, Frank Lampard’s role within the club has been far more peripheral. Discontent with his performance against Newcastle, which included a penalty miss, the manager had subbed Lampard off at the hour, and the Englishman’s fury was so transparent it could be felt through the TV screen. Ignoring the manager as he skulked off, he sat in the dugout, glowering menacingly with arms crossed.

As the only member of the Chelsea squad to have attended a private school and with a handful of GCSEs, some at decent grades, Frank Lampard is a lot smarter than the majority of his teammates. He knows better than to shit stir or say anything overtly pejorative of the manager, because he knows his words will simply come back to bite him in the team selection. On Monday night though, Lampard could not resist a few incisive but very carefully selected words. “I want to play, simple as that,” he said. “I’m as fit as I’ve ever been. I’ve been in a good run of form and now I’ve not been playing. I haven’t spoken him so I don’t know why, simple as that.” With his goal celebration on Monday which was cathartic, bordering on deranged with a touch of Balotelli, his emotions threatened to bubble over.

Lampard is right to feel aggrieved. He has given Chelsea football club the best part of his life and his seven goals this season and several assists – a record that is even more impressive given that some of his appearances have been in the limited time as a substitute – is excellent for a midfielder, indeed, it eclipses that of Luis Suarez’s at Liverpool, say. He never shirks his duties, and when Chelsea are chasing a result, he is precisely the type of player you need. Raul Meireles, essentially the one that has displaced him in the Chelsea starting XI, is settling in well (indeed, he also scored on Monday night) and five years Lampard’s junior, it is not unfair to say he is more mobile and probably more dynamic. But Lampard has one of the best footballing minds in the premier league, and so for AVB to not even consider a trade-off between playing time for these two players and to essentially pick one over the other, little wonder that Lampard feels so aggrieved.

Obviously, it would be blind to say that he is identical, nay, better than the player he was three or four years ago. With each year that he ages, he slows a little, and in that sense he is the most unfortunate of Chelsea’s “old guard”; Terry and Drogba are also getting on now, but Terry, as a centreback, can usually rely on his fullbacks to cover for his lack of pace. And Drogba is rare type of player who genuinely seems to get better with age, not least because he knows he needs to keep Torres out of the starting XI, and that galvanizes him more than anything. And, as mentioned, Lampard does seem to have lost that infallible penalty-taking touch he once so possessed. So when we consider these points, AVB’s occasional decisions to bench him don’t seem totally radical. Chelsea fans can accept that their prodigal son and by far the fan’s favourite will not be starting every single game these days, especially as the manager has a vision for the future that rests on the youth of Oriol Romeu, Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge. But at the same time, Lampard is far from being over and thus undeserving of the total freeze out he seems to have experienced of late.

Writing Frank Lampard off is a dodgy business. All the papers did it earlier this season when he didn’t start an England game. The result? Frank Lampard came back, not only as England captain for their friendly against Spain, but he just so happened to have scored the winner and only goal in that game. Similarly, “pundits” who were so gleefully relishing the end of his career for Chelsea were laughing on the other side of their faces when he returned with a Man of the Match performance against Bolton that just so happened to feature a hat-trick. He shines against all opposition, man or mouse, and his goals don’t just come when the game is sealed – Lampard has gotten four of Chelsea’s matchwinning goals this season – against Man City, Blackburn, Bolton, Norwich, so illustrating that this is a player who does not lose his head when the team’s backs are against the wall. There is nothing we enjoy more than proving our detractors wrong, and Lampard is no exception; football writers’ words of discouragement merely spur him on the train harder (not that he needs to train), to play better, and show the world and his son that they are wrong.

In order to take penalty on Monday Frank Lampard had wrestled the ball away from Juan Mata, whom AVB had assigned penalty taking duties to following Lampard’s previous two misses. It was a ferocious penalty, slammed right down the middle and reminiscent of the one he scored against Manchester United in the league last season – a game won in identical circumstances. Except this penalty had even more bite to it, and it is probably not inaccurate to suggest was a physical embodiment of some of the rage Frank has been internalizing of late. His penalty opponent and England teammate Joe Hart smiled a rueful smile as Lampard wheeled away to the fans in celebration; he knew there was no stopping that penalty. And there is no stopping Frank Lampard either, a man with plenty of life left in him and a lot more still to give.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)

Pretension. It’s a funny thing. I prescribe to the Monica Bing school of thought, that a little bit of pretension never hurt anyone. It is definitely a thing of which, however, too much of can kill. 

Cannes winners have, in the past, gone into one set column or the other for me. Pretty much half of them, I appreciated their artistry, but, even more than that, connected with them on an emotional level, and thus really adored them. The others, I have found frustrating and to be perfectly honest, far too clever for their own good. The Tree of Life is one which firmly falls in the latter camp.

Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain head a good ol’ Christian style family in Texas. Pitt's character is the epitome of graft as he trains his songs to fight, build things and generally toughen them up against the big bad world, which he believes will take advantage of you if give it the chance. Jessica 

Chastain's matriarch, on the other hand, believes in living life through the way of grace, rather than nature. She tries to put a dampener on her husband’s volatile and bullish behaviour, which often has a detrimental impact on their three songs, not altogether successfully. At a young age, one the sons commits suicides, posing questions of faith, morality and existence to all involved.

The Tree of Life is, essentially, Terrence Malick’s soliloquy with God. “Why should I be good if you aren’t?” a character asks, later characterized in Sean Penn, a Houston architect who feels stifled by the heady skyscrapers he surrounds himself with everyday. 

Malick’s brother also committed suicide, leading understandably doubt his belief. And, fair play to him, for getting arts grants from whomever he managed to con into allowing him to film this, because it is, without hyperbolizing, one of the dullest things I have ever had to sit through. 

I wasn’t a huge fan of Lars von Triers’ Melancholia, which touched upon similar themes to The Tree of Life, and some film critics have offered as a complement to this film. But at least that film, for all its flaws, had moments of humour and colour interspersed with the dryness. 

The Tree of Life has colour all right, in terms of vividly CGI-d creation scenes, but very little in terms of emotional core or interest. Brad Pitt annoys and it is easy to see why his sons despised him so, despite his best efforts. Sean Penn features very little (probably the best thing I can say about this snorefest), but when he does, he just channels Penn in 21 Grams with a constantly perplexed/angry/bemused look on his face. Oscar winning this most certainly ain’t. 

The young kids in the film, played by relative newcomers to the acting circuit, do their jobs admirably enough, but the fact that they are speaking Terrence Malick words makes it hard to warm to them. 

The film’s only saving grace is Jessica Chastain, who gives a beautiful performance, full to the brim of warmth and love. She never over or under acts, despite Malick having written her as a kind of “doting wife and mother” archtype. It’s a thankless role, but Chastain truly impresses in it.

And I am trying to find other redemptive features of the film, really I am, but that is about the only good thing I can say about The Tree of Life. My housemate said “I have absolute no interest in seeing THAT” and I have no idea why I didn’t listen to him, because it is two and a half of my life I shall never get back. 

Even Alexandre Desplat’s score, which I would normally appreciate (man is a genius), is tainted by the fact that it appears in this Bible Bash of a film, as does his good eye for cinematography (used to such good effect in films that he has made well, namely Days of Heaven and The New World). 

Want a little taster of Tree of Life? Go to the book of Job, pick a verse, any verse, blast some classical music from your iPod dock and flick through a photo album of images of nature. It will be much, much, much more fulfilling than watching this piece of trash film was. 

If Terrence Malick really loves his "God" so much, one would have thought God would have blessed him with a slightly better movie.

Grade: U

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My world has been rocked.

This is all that matas as far as I'm concerned!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Some sale shopping I've done in October.

You know me, I love a bargain, and thee month of October, with all its Autumn sales, bought plenty of those. Unfortunately, I couldn't buy absolutely everything that I liked, but here are a few of the ones that I did.

Gap dress. Original price: £45, Sale price: £9.99
It was only after buying this that I realised that I already own a grey dress, but that one's a sundress, whereas this one's slightly more formal with the collar. Nice with a belt!
Shoes. Miss Selfridge. Original price: £45, Sale price: £10
I'm insanely in love with the heels, they're called "Monet" and the purple-splat design on it is very Monetesque. The heels are highest of any shoes I've ever walked in, a good five or six inches, and I've fallen over them plenty of times. But it's worth it.

Jumpsuit. Miss Selfridge. Original price: £38, sale price: £7.

This is my favourite from the october sale-shopping lot, and an absolute steal at seven quid!!! Now that winter's looming, obviously a jumpsuit on its own is just asking for trouble, but I plan on pairing it with woolly tights and a thick cardigan and working that look! Ha.

Dress top. H&M. Original price: £7.99. Sale price: £3, H&M; Cardigan. Miss Selfridge. Original price: £35. Sale price: £15.
The cardigan is probably too thin to wear on its own during the winter, but for boozy nights out, it'll certainly suffice as a wear-it-in-the-cold-then-stuff-in-handbag kind of apparel. The dress top is pretty multifunctional, sadly, I don't have the legs to wear it in isolation, but with a pair of skinnies, the boldness of the colour works a trest.

Toga dress. Miss Selfridge. Original price: £37. Sale price: £12.
I absolutely adore togas; I have a dress in very similar style in navy blue, but I was just in love with this salmon colour. The collar is lovely and wearing it with a belt really gives the dress some shape.

Pyjama top. Topshop. Original price: £18. Sale price: £8.
This top should actually correctly been worn as PJs, but I love Mickey Mouse and am not afraid to show it, so I'll wear it out in daylight, thanks. ;)

Dress. Topshop. Original price: £35. Sale price: £17.
I had a similar yellow dress from Primark two and a half years ago, but that was when I was a thin size 10. I do not even fit into that dress any more, and hence I had to get a size up, in a slightly different cut and a different shade from that sunshine yellow; here be a mustard yellow dress!  I used a safety pin on the chest because otherwise my bra would have shown and  I just don't think it's a good look!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Two central London restaurant reviews.

My Old Place (E1 7EZ)
Smack bang in London’s financial centre where lots of the people who work there are too busy to sort out their own packed lunches, My Old Place is a favourite among busy commuters to sit down in and eat their lunch. The fact that it’s frequented by Chinese people is a testament to the quality of the food; we tend to be more critical of the food of our homelands. The food is made on order and thus fresh and delicious, unlike in several other diners in Chinatown, where items such as egg fried rice taste horribly stale. The quantities of salt, pepper, sauces and various other condiments are added just the right side of tasty without being over the top in the usage, and there are some exciting dishes to be experienced. However, what lets this place down is the quality of the waiters, which is haughty bordering on rude. I went with a group of English friends and they regarded all of us with a disdainful “what are you all doing here? This is a Chinese only place” glare and one of our orders were mixed up, for which they didn’t even apologise for, merely act as if it was our fault we couldn’t read the menu. So it’s a shame, really, because the food is great, the prices are very reasonable considering the location, but the staff could really do with a class or ten in bedside manner.
Grade: B-

L’Arco (SW1W 0QJ)
A highly likeable restaurant in Victoria with a genuinely homely vibe, Ristorante L’Arco boasts some genuinely Italian waiters who really take the time to get you whatever you want. The food was served promptly on ordering, and cooked to perfection, as well as fairly well priced considering the to-die-for-location. I had tomato omelette and chips, which came to around ten pounds, which I considered fair, particularly as the tomato sauce tasted divine. My only criticisms with this place were that, whilst the food was good value, the drinks were far too expensive, and also that the menu, whilst would most certainly suffice, didn’t offer anything massively imaginative. But, if you want to play it safe on a date, you can’t go wrong with L’Arco.
Grade: B+/A-

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Katy B (O2 Academy, Bristol)

22-year-old South London girl Katy B took to the 02 Academy in front of a very young, very trendy crowd for her On a Mission tour. And, from the moment she took to the stage in a pretty sparkly top, her firey red hair cascading down her back in electrifying style, we all knew we were in for a treat. Starting with a fan favourite “Broken Record”, Katy B was firmly in command of the audience throughout. The two female back-up vocalists and band accompanying her were all highly competent, without being so loud so that they stole the thunder from the main attraction.

Katy B was chatty and lively throughout, often engaging with the crowd to check that we were getting into it (rest assured, we were), and her accompanying MC was equally spirited. Her performance of “Louder” had everyone in the arena jumping up and down. Vocally, Katy B has a very powerful recording voice, as demonstrated on her effortlessly reaching the high notes on “Power On Me”. Her unusual style of half-rapping, half-singing some of her songs were exhibited at their best in “Disappear”, when the line “but how can I change direction / when you smile at me I’m infected”, which I’m sure is a line that plenty of young women with connect with.

Her renditions of her crowd-pleasers “Easy Please Me” and “Lights On”, the latter which was done as the encore, also didn’t disappoint, and the headline song, “Katy On a Mission”, was fantastic. Katy B has a great talent for writing about the mundane and the amusing and making poetry of it, as exhibited from the opening line of Easy Please Me – “standing at the bar with my mate Olivia, we were trying our best to catch up”. Choosing to tell us the rationale for writing some of her songs as an introduction into them also helped to keep the audience entertained. For me, however, the best Katy B’s performance of the night was of “Witches Brew”, wherein her back-up singers sang the sultry “oohs” perfectly to complement her on lead vocals, and the lighting crew also did a great job to help re-create the eerie Twighlightish vibe that was emulated in her music video.

All in all, it was a great 80 minutes spent with a young woman who quite clearly loved music, and loved performing. The audience loved it, she loved it – everyone had an ace time. Mission accomplished, Katy!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 (Jennifer Yuh, 2011)

Having established himself in the first Kung Fu Panda film as more than just a cuddly bear, Po and the Furious Five find themselves up against something which threatens the Valley of Peace – an evil peacock, Lord Shen, and his canons which destroy everything that stands in their way – even kung fu. At the same time, Po comes to realise that his dad, a goose, is not his biological father, asking questions about where he originated from. It probably won’t surprise you to know that the former and the latter are very closely cause-and-effect interlinked as Po struggles with inner demons as well as physical ones, but the journey, in which Po and his ensemble of wisecracking fighters – headed by the badass Tigress – makes for one of the most entertaining Summer films of this year, as well as a film so emotionally layered that I was moved to tears at more than one point.

For the most part, the voice actors do their voiceovers without entering the relms of excellence such as Eddie Murphy in Shrek, or Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo, which is a massive shame to say the least, considering there are talented auteurs like Dustin Huffman, Dennis Haysbert and Seth Rogen on the books here, the latter who’s comic timing could have been put to much better use. There are, however, four exceptions to this rule in Kung Fu Panda, only one of them bad. The bad is Angelina Jolie. As the hardcore Tigress with a taciturn demeanour and fists of steel (quite literally), she is drawn to exude an air of unapproachability, but deep down with a heart of gold. It’s quite a difficult kind of character to portray in animated film, but Jolie never veers out of the monotonous in her voicework, and it is safe to say she makes a tiger’s dinner out of her “performance.” The other three exceptions, however, are all good ones. Gary Oldman is absolutely fantastic as the evil peacock, springing menace in every line he delivers, and Chinese actor James Hong, so often typecast as a Chinese takeaway guy or waiter, voices Po’s adoptive father Mr Ping, who is, surprise surprise, a restaurant owner. But that unmistakable Asian voice of his, so hilarious in it’s over the topness, is also called on to deliver some things other than jokes in Kung Fu Panda 2, and one scene in particular, in which he tells Po about how he found him (in a vegetable crate, Po had eaten all the radishes) is an emotive tour-de-force in heartfelt voice acting.

But, as with the prequel, the film belongs to Jack Black, and whilst the film could have done just as well with any other actors voicing the Furious Five, it most certainly would not have been anywhere near as special without Black. Whilst I could name a smattering of his previous film roles which perhaps haven’t truly tested him as a serious actor- and indeed, there are those who would add Kung Fu Panda 2 to this growing list – he is a revelation here, funny in the comedic scenes, loveably goofy throughout but just as good at the melodrama.

Indeed, the theme of adoption might unsettle a few parents watching Kung Fu Panda with their kids, as they were expecting something a little lighter from a Summer blockbuster. And, to its credit, Kung Fu Panda is one of the few films I’d have paid to watch in the cinema – the fight scenes are breatakingly detailed and so well-choreographed that you forget that you’re watching cartoon animals fight. The score, with its Chinese instruments and motifs, sounds beautiful. But the over-arching quality that elevates Kung Fu Panda 2 above that of run-of-the-mill well-made but forgettable animated films is the story, and that of Po’s personal voyage of self-discovery. I particularly liked how Po’s flashback scenes were drawn with a different king of animated detail used in the rest of the film; something about that really struck emotional chords with me. And Po as a baby panda is absolutely adorable, sweeter than toffee. KFP2 is very very funny, but more importantly, it has a huge amount of heart. There is a lot of thematic material in Kung Fu Panda 2 and those who choose to judge it by its cover and give it a miss are really missing out; as Dolly Parton might say, “I’m a real good book”.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Film review: FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (Will Gluck, 2011)

Mila Kunis plays Jamie, a New York head-hunter who brings Justin Timberlake’s chilled California boy Dylan, an extremely talented art director to GQ. Both have just been dumped and both are extremely photogenic people, so it’s not long before they’re offering each other’s bodies to each other for pleasure. 

What they perceived to be a no strings, win-win relationship, however, is soon complicated when emotion and personal baggage gets involved. Jamie, a romantic at heart, wants the fairy-tale happy ending, and Dylan, the realist, knows that no such thing exists. As such, both seem to have a revulsion for romantic comedies, and indeed, half of Friends with Benefits is spent dissing other romantic comedies. So it goes without saying, then, that Friends with Benefits fits quite comfortably in the rom-com genre.

The film is a surprisingly slick affair given the genre, with pretty cinematography and a script that is shamelessly one-track. Kunis and Timberlake are more than just pretty faces, and Mila Kunis brings that cute neuroticness that has served her well as Family Guy’s long-suffering Meg (not to mention as my fifth fave girlcrush) to her character, whereas, without damning Timberlake with faint praise, his acting here comfortably eclipses that of his in The Social Network

There is an amusing cameo by Emma Stone at the start as the girlfriend dumping Dylan’s sorry ass and Patricia Clarkson emulates more of that bohemian, laid-back parent she played as (funnily enough) Emma Stone’s mother in Easy A as Jamie’s hippy mom here (although, given Will Gluck directed Easy A, that kinda makes sense...). 

Richard Jenkins’ mature turn as Dylan’s father suffering from Alzheimer’s gives the film some emotional grounding and Woody Harrelson clearly has the time of his life as Dylan’s gay co-worker who occasionally offers the odd gem of advice.
So the cast do their job capably, and the scenes in which the eponymous “benefits” are given don’t skimp on skin either, which is refreshingly open of the director (literally ;) ) given that the mass-audience of sexy romantic comedies are PG-13s and thus incredibly limited in the amount they can show. So far, so sexy, so smooth, so slick. But the main area where the film fails is that it spends so long ripping apart the whole concept of romantic comedy, just to end up as one itself, we as the audience can’t help feeling, as the two protagonists themselves might argue, “used and cheap”. 

I have absolutely nothing with romantic comedies, in fact, my #3 favourite film of 2011 so far, Bridesmaids, and my second favourite film of 2011, The Inbetweeners Movie is (arguably) another one. But where Bridesmaids gave us a fully-rounded, interesting lead female who genuinely does stand at risk of throwing away the cute guy, I felt all the obstacles in Friends with Benefits were incredibly superficial, and thus, there was never any risk that the ending would be anything other than Kunis and Timberlake sharing a smooch. 

The first half the film has so much promise with its witty banter and repartee that when the film decides to take the easy way out and tries to have its cakeand eat it, we feel seriously let down, regardless of the film being oh-so-on-the-nose about what it's doing.

Give me the more wholesome laughs of Easy A any day of the week.

Grade: C

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011)

Film stars rarely let us into their own private worlds. So it was a great surprise, then, when Kirsten Dunst recently admitted to suffering from depression. In her Cannes-winning performances in Melancholia, she plays Justine, a woman who also suffers from depression. The film, set a few nights before the apocalypse, centres around Justine’s wedding night and her trepidation regarding it, as well as her sister Claire, who is struggling to hold everything together.

The film is divided into two acts, one centring around each sister, but not before we are “treated” to a montage of the world ending, set, rather portentously, to Wagner’s Tristan And Isolde. Those who are bigger von Trier loyalists than myself would say the choice of music is appropriate for the weightiness of such scenes. I, on the other hand, found myself struggling not to laugh as the audience are forced to sit through a truly tedious 10-minute overture, which featured some footage of Charlotte Gainsbourg running in slow-motion on a golf course, and Kirsten Dunst floating in her wedding dress in a pond full of green lily pads, ala the portrait of Ophelia. The whole vignette just reeks Kubrick at his self-serving worst, it’s just so awfully self-important that only those who have pretentiousness for breakfast (and, truth be told, I am fairly pretentious as it is) could take it seriously, however gorgeously it is shot.

When the actual film begins, however, things pick up. In Part I: Justine, we are thrown into a sort of wedding-from-hell scenario; Dunst and her tycoon husband-to-be (Alexander Skarsgaard, cute as a button) arrive late to their own wedding reception. Her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is already fretting as it is, Claire’s husband, John, is resentful at having to pay for the whole thing. As that dog/fox in von Trier’s equally pretentious clit-film last year, AntiChrist might say, “chaos reigns.” Justine and Claire’s estranged mother (played by Charlotte Rampling, epitomizing bitch in a way that only she can) carelessly drops waspish comments throughout, whereas their fun-loving father, played by John Hurt, brings two mistresses and has the time of his life swiping spoons. There is a claustrophobic sense of foreboding throughout, not helped by Justine’s predilection for sneaking off to be alone with her own thoughts. As the night unravels, she becomes increasingly fraught and depressed, despite the best efforts of her husband to cheer her up. Only Claire comes close to understanding her sister’s plight, but even then, she can’t prevent it. It is a self-fulfilling, self-destructive cycle to which no happy ending can be found.

In the second half of the film, Part II: Claire news has spread about Melancholia, a planet several times the size of earth, on a collision course, which may or may not take it straight where the earth is. Now it is Claire who is slowly losing her mind, as Justine finds a strange sense of consolation in knowing that life will soon end. The dynamic between the sisters change, and both Dunst and Gainsbourg give terrifically nuanced performances throughout to demonstrate thus. It was Dunst who picked up the gong at Cannes but personally, I was more taken by Gainsbourg in the film. Unlike in mysogyndrama AntiChrist, where she cut her own clit off, she doesn’t subject herself to such humiliations in this film, and her balancing act between being the caring sister trying to stop everything from falling apart and the worried mother fearing for that it all might fall apart anyway, lends to a terrifically layered performance.

Indeed, I would say it was the only thing about Melancholia which had any true layers, for I found other parts of the film horrifically caricaturist, bordering on farcical. The absurd opening, the over-usage of Wagner bordered on nauseating (note to the director: Terrence Malick’s used Wagner in the past, and done it much, much better than you could ever hope to, just truthin’). Long passages of the film are empty and downright uninteresting, the 130 minutes running time is nothing if not generous, and von Trier’s treatment of mental illness is done with a careless flick of the hand when it deserves much more.

On balance, Melancholia is a beautifully shot and excellently acted drama, but, for me, impossible to view as anything other than a comedy. Either Lars von Trier is having a gigantic laugh at our expense, or arthouse fans try far too hard to read deeply into things; but this film was not anywhere near as deep as it liked to think it was. Played out half as a fairly amusing satire on social airs and graces, half disaster movie, I could have accepted Melancholia. But if it thinks it has anything to say about depression, or the bigger picture in life, than the film, and Lars von Trier, can make like Keifer Sutherland at the end of the film, and get stuffed.
Grade: C

Friday, October 07, 2011

Cinderella Eyes (Nicola Roberts)

It’s always going to be hard establishing yourself in a band that features four other band members who are all considered to be much more glamorous than you, what with Nadine Coyle and her bold, fearless voice, and Cheryl Cole’s undeserved status as the ~Nation’s Sweetheart~. 

And, indeed, after Girls Aloud went on a break – much to the heartbreak of their fans, yours truly included, the solo efforts from Madams Coyle and Cole haven’t exactly blown the world away, proving to be nothing more than catchy, if forgettable, pop ditties. 

So it was fair to say then, that Nicola Roberts, always maligned as “the ginger, unsmiling one”, didn’t exactly have a hard act to follow, and could almost be forgiven for allowing her album to plunge into the same depths of mediocrities that the other two did. If anything, many probably expected as much from Nicola, for, as mentioned, she was often outshone by other members of Girls Aloud, for whatever reason. In fact, her solo album, Cinderella Eyes is comfortably, comfortably better than anything released by Nadine or Cheryl – put together.

With the sound much more reliant on electronic synths rather than the everyday poppy sound that Nadine and Cheryl chose, Nicola also pens her own lyrics, and it is the combination of the fresh sound and her unflinchingly honest words that make for a winning combination. 

Whilst the first single from the album, Beat of My Drum, was a catchy dance track with just the hint of bite, there are tracks on the album that are loaded with even more spice and emotional layers. Gladiator is a cheeky, hyper dance track with an intro to rival even that of Girls Aloud’s Biology - check out her swagger as she hollers “We love you faking cos you make the effort to pretend,” a line that blows anything from Close to Love out of the park in terms of innuendo. 

Unlike Cheryl Cole, who has the vocal range of about one octave, Roberts is much more vocally diverse, and even then, is not afraid to push her vocal boundaries- on this album, she raps, sings, hollers, sometimes all in the space of one song. This is epitomized in Cinderella Eyes, which features her speaking lyrics, as well as a nifty falsetto on the “Cinderella, are you happy?” part.

The standout track on the album for me, though, is Sticks and Stones, which could not be more autobiographical. The gentle piano chords are a perfect complement to Roberts’ inner soliloquy “couldn't you tell lies to me? Couldn't you say I'm pretty?”. In a four-minute track, years of inner turmoil come out. The issues of feeling ugly, self-loathing, wanting to fit in will sit well with all of Roberts’ target audience, but the fact that she has genuinely experienced everything that she has written about gives the song a raw, authentic edge. It moved me to tears.

One of the things I loved most about Girls Aloud was that I could always connect to their song lyrics, particularly the ones about the tribulations of being in love, and Nicola Roberts stays true to this with her song Yo-Yo, “don’t want to be the last to know, will it be a yes or no?”, about women and the men who lead us on for their own wants. In every sense, this is an album from a woman who has a lot to sing about, whether it be about feeling insecure, being wrapped around the finger of someone who’s just using us, or simply growing up. 

What’s more, Nicola Roberts isn’t afraid to drop the odd expletitive. I loved it when Girls Aloud swore, rare as it was – “shut your mouth because your shit might show” on No Good Advice was one of my all-time guilty pleasure song lyrics, and hearing the sweet, angel-faced Liverpudlian lass open her potty mouth is as much of a joy, as exhibited on Take a Bite and I. The combination of her life experiences, surprising amount of spunk and the ingenious electro-beats behind all her sings makes for a totally winning combination.

Those of us who thoroughly know our Girls Aloud inside and out out, have always known what a joy Nicola voice is – check out her embodying sexy sassiness on Sexy! No No No… in her “from top to bottom I’m a woman, sunshine” part, and the sweet melancholia in her voice during The Loving Kind’s gorgeous “I’ll do anything, sing songs that lovers sing” refrain. So it isn’t the quality of her voice that is so much the big surprise of Cinderella’s Eyes. But, rather, that she has stepped out and produced a genuinely fantastic solo album, which, in isolation, could well grace my top 20 albums of all times list. It has an entire rollercoaster of emotions, from joy, heartbreak, despair and lyrics that exhibit a real wisdom beyond her years. 

Not a word of lie, I could, quite comfortably, compile a list of top 20 favourite lyrics from this album and they would all be poetry to rival that of Keats. 

These are not tentative, baby steps into the world of solo-dom. This is a bold, in-your-face, I’m-here-deal-with-it album from Miss Roberts, and all the better for it. It is the best thing I have heard all year, and could well be one of the best albums of the new millennium. 

Grade: A

Friday, August 19, 2011

Film review: THE INBETWEENERS MOVIE (Ben Palmer, 2011)

Anyone who watches the show knows the set up of the inbetweener boys: Will McKenzie, bespectacled, well-mannered but massively irritating, his best friend Simon, the most attractive of the clan but let down by his gelled-up hair and his relentless thirst for pricktease Carli D’Amato, who clearly doesn’t feel a fraction of the intensity he does to her, dim and slow-witted Neil, and Jay, chronically bullshitting about women he’s shagged, things he’s done, and er, women he’s shagged. 

The four boys’ ridiculously embarrassing travails through life made for three hugely entertaining series on Channel 4, albeit with the third series being discernibly less funny than the previous two, series three feeling a lot like a re-hash of the jokes they used before, but turned up to an eleven. Well, in the boys’ big-screen outing, they hit Greece on summer holiday, and now they have a brand new country to bring their individual brand of gross-out comedy to.

Perverse as it is, throughout the film, I was actually reminded a bit of the Sex and the City movies, except for four boys rather than women. Now, hear me out. Lots of people felt disappointed with Sex and the City the Movie, feeling it was just one drawn out episode, but that’s pretty much the same with the Inbetweeners Movie, and in both movies, I had a terrific time. 

Further more, as with Sex and the City, despite all the women being well into their forties (and Samantha considerably older), they all have their journeys to make, lessons to learn throughout the course of the film, whether that be about courage, sacrifice, fidelity, or love. The lessons in The Inbetweeners Movie, suffice to say, are a little less meaty, but there is a surprisingly uplifting feel to the way the four boys find redemption in their sweet/sick ways.

Leggy blonde Laura Haddock, who is no stranger to lads’ mags across the UK, leads the quartet of attractive girls who catch the four boys’ eyes. Each girl is pretty in her own way, particularly Laura Haddock (Will’s love interest Alison) with her astoundingly definded cheekbones and babydoll eyes and Tamla Kari, the pretty brunette who clearly likes Simon, despite the fact that he is still blindly going on about Carli, who, incidentally, is also at Malia. 

The way the four boys eff it up with their respective female counterparts is exactly like in an episode of the show, except, this being the big-screen, the writers Damon Beesley and Iain Morris were a little more generous to their four long-suffering leads. Nonetheless, all four boys make more than their share of horrendously cringe-inducing gaffes along the way.

This being The Inbetweeners, you can pretty much make a mental ticklist of things you’re going to hear jokes about: masturbation, anal sex, other weird sex practices, poo, the list is endless. The characters also get involved in embarrassing situations not involving bodily functions or fluids; witness Jay as he tries to drown a well-meaning-but-slightly-annoying-boy on holiday, or Will, King of putting his foot in it, when he argues with a handicapped girl’s dad over rights to a lounge chair. 

But the funniest scene in the entire film was, for me, the cringefest that was Neil, Will and Simon trying to get the girls’ attentions by dancing up to them. If you can call it dancing. I call it “sides splitting with laughter.”

Critics have hailed The Inbetweeners Movie prurient, juvenile, and relentlessly crude. They are right. Some of the jokes do fall flat, but the ones that are good are great, and coupled with a cheesy-cool soundtrack, some genuine drama (Simon and Jay fall out, like, omgz!!!!) and an arsenal of one-liners that will have you hiding behind your hands with embarrassment, The Inbetweeners Movie pretty much does what it says it would on the tin, with an added bonus of the unexpected but genuine satisfaction the viewer gets from seeing our four boys become men – sort of.

Grade: B+

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Four restaurant reviews.

I’ve been to a couple of eateries recently, so a few more reviews.

Häagen-Dazs, WC2H
Häagen-Dazs’ flagship restaurant sits in Leicester Square, where tourists passing by will surely see it, their kids will get excited and ask to go in, and money will be spent, leaving lots of space for profit margins. And, if ice cream’s your thing, then you are in for a treat here; the dishes are lovingly prepared and beautifully ornamented, so much so that it almost balances out the overpricedness (but then again, this being Central London, overcharging is somewhat of a requisite). For the adults, Häagen-Dazs also do a delightful range of cocktails, in which healthy portions of alcohol are balanced out by slushed-up ice cream. The doses are lethal; I got tipsy after one cocktail! Service is okay-ish, pretty much as can be expected for a busy dessert restaurant, without ever venturing into the regions of excellent, making Häagen-Dazs overall, a worthwhile experience, elevated, somewhat surprisingly, by the excellent quality of their drinks rather than their ice creams.
Grade: B+

New China, W1.
As you may or may not know, just of Leicester Square is Chinatown, where there are literally tens, maybe even a hundred Chinese restaurants. This hyper-competition is good for the consumer, because it drives prices down, and as such, the prices in New China restaurant were all very reasonable, en-par to prices that you would find at my local high street, but in Central London. And, on the whole, I would say that the quality of the food is hit-and-miss as a result. I ordered beef in chilli and thought it a very well-cooked dish, but the vegetation spring rolls I had for starter tasted like an utter microwave job. The squid was bland and the egg-fried rice was acceptable, but far from being the best egg-fried rice I’d ever tasted. Alcohol prices were acceptable. The dessert of a fruit tray, however, was absolutely disgusting, all the fruit was dry and tasted past its sell by date. All this would be forgivable if the service in New China were anything to write home about. But it really wasn’t. When I’m in a Chinese restaurant, I like to play up to my Chinese roots and try to order dishes in Chinese. Which I don’t think is asking for much? But the waiters refused to even humour me and rolled their eyes in my face as I mispronounced some of the dish names. De-lightful. Won’t be going back there again!

Grade: D

McDonald's, SE13

Absolutely ace. Everything in this photo came to just over a tenner, and both me and my brother were stuffed - and delighted by the end of it. I cannot get enough of McDonald's! The only downside was this uppity bitch in the queue who started on me for - what I can only surmise - not being a teenage mother like her. But you kind of have to be prepared for events like that when you go to McDonald's. The A+ quality of the food makes up for it.

Grade: A

Chowki, W1D

A passable curry eatery with some delicious meat dishes, but negated by waiters who stared at us the whole time creepily, and pocketed both a tip and a service charge. Because that's not sneaky at all. On the bright side, I ordered the chicken tikka masala, which I thought was thoroughly satisfying, if a little bit too small for the £10.50 price tag - I wolfed it down in a minute. Decent food, just awful, awful service from some of the most seedy-looking men I've seen in my life.

Obligatory list is bloody obligatory.

It’s a yearly thing that I do – list my top 100 songs, and then see how much the list has changed. So, here we go for the 2011 edition!

(side note – unlike my taste in films and rather more like my taste in footballers, my taste in music is atrocious. Shitty R&B and girlband choons lamenting love are pretty much my life’s calling. But I like what I like, and I ain’t gonna front about it! So learn to deal.jpg :p)

01. Homecoming (Kanye West ft. Chris Martin)
02. Son of a Preacher Man (Dusty Springfield)
03. Angie Baby (Helen Reddy)
04. Rocky Raccoon (The Beatles)
05. Hallelujah (Rufus Wainwright)
06. Alison (Elvis Costello)
07. Sinnerman (Nina Simone)
08. Sexy! No No No… (Girls Aloud)
09. Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie (Joanna Newsom)
10. Paper Planes (M.I.A.)
11. November Has Come (Gorillaz)
12. Samson (Regina Spektor)
13. Adia (Sarah McLachlan)
14. Run this Town (Rihanna, Jay-Z and Kanye West)
15. Power (Kanye West)
16. Untouchable (Girls Aloud)
17. Talk Show Host (Radiohead)
18. Lullaby (Dixie Chicks)
19. All These Things that I've Done (The Killers)
20. Love the Way You Lie Part II (Rihanna ft. Eminem)
21. Romeo and Juliet (Dire Straits)
22. Head over Heels (Tears for Fears)
23. Boys Don't Cry (The Cure)
24. Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy (Queen)
25. Defying Gravity (Idina Menzel)

26. Glory Box (Portishead)
27. Hey Stephen (Taylor Swift)
28. Empire State of Mind: Broken Down (Alicia Keys)
29. 2am (The Saturdays)
30. Fix Up Look Sharp (Dizzee Rascal)
31. Tiny Dancer (Elton John)
32. Baba O'Riley (The Who)
33. Wildwood Flower (June Carter Cash)
34. My Love (Sia)
35. The Loving Kind (Girls Aloud)
36. California Dreamin' (The Mamas and the Papas)
37. Chelsea Dagger (The Fratellis)
38. My Father's Gun (Elton John)
39. Seasons of Love (Idina Menzel)
40. What’s My Name? (Rihanna)
41. Hey Jude (The Beatles)
42. Brandy Alexander (Feist)
43. Don't Stop Believin' (Journey)
44. Love Affair (Regina Spektor)
45. I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea (Elvis Costello)
46. Dragon Queen (Yeah Yeah Yeahs)
47. Under Pressure (Queen ft David Bowie)
48. Brown Eyes (Lady Gaga)
49. It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference (Todd Rundgren)
50. Clothes Off! (Gym Class Heroes)

51. Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Tears for Fears)
52. Underneath Your Clothes (Shakira)
53. Breathe (Taylor Swift)
54. Travelin' Soldier (Dixie Chicks)
55. Jesus Walks (Kanye West)
56. Numb Encore (Jay Z ft. Linkin Park)
57. Lovely Head (Goldfrapp)
58. I Wish I Knew How it Feels to Be Free (Nina Simone)
59. Shout (Tears for Fears)
60. She (Elvis Costello)
61. Clint Eastwood (Gorillaz)
62. Vincent (Don McLean)
63. Love will Tear us Apart (Joy Division)
64. Lullaby (The Cure)
65. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles)
66. Sunshowers (M.I.A.)
67. Pennies in my Pocket (Emilio Estefan)
68. Jackson (Johnny and June Carter Cash)
69. Dream on (Aerosmith)
70. Wonderwall (Oasis)
71. Make You Feel My Love (Adele)
72. Airplanes part 2 (B.o.B, Hayley Williams & Eminem)
73. The Killing Moon (Echo and the Bunnymen)
74. Teenage Dream (Katy Perry)
75. Momentum (Aimee Mann)

76. The River (Joni Mitchell)
77. Golden Slumbers (K.D. Lang)
78. Hey Mama (Kanye West)
79. Braille (Regina Spektor)
80. Back to Black (Amy Winehouse)
81. O Saya (A.R. Rahman ft. M.I.A)
82. Bossy (Kelis)
83. Chillin' (WALE ft Lady Gaga)
84. Take a Bow (Rihanna)
85. Lean on Me (Bill Withers)
86. Ignition (Remix) (R. Kelly)
87. The Call (Regina Spektor)
88. Machine Gun (Portishead)
89. Twentyfourseven (Artful Dodger)
90. Strict Machine (Goldfrapp)
91. Motivation (Kelly Rowland ft. Lil’ Wayne)
92. Too Young (Phoenix)
93. The Next Messiah (Jenny Lewis)
94. You've got the Dirtee Love (Florence and the Machine ft Dizzee Rascal)
95. No More (3LW)
96. Feel Good inc (Gorillaz)
97. We Will Rock You (Queen)
98. Like I Love You (Justin Timberlake)
99. Call the Shots (Girls Aloud)
100. Forget You (Cee Lo Green)

By artist:
Kanye: 6
Girls Aloud: 4
Rihanna: 4
The Beatles: 3
Queen: 3
Gorillaz: 3
Elvis Costello: 3

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Teenage Dream.

After a wait of what feels like an eternity, the premier league is back this weekend. This year, the general consensus is that the premier league title is most likely to be a three-horse race between the old wealth of Manchester United, the nouvelle riche of Chelsea, and the even newer nouvelle riche of United’s “noisy neighbours” Manchester City. Hot on their tails will be the two North London teams Arsenal and Tottenham, and Liverpool, all of which have had their share of head-turning transfer activity in the summer, whether it be getting players into the club, or certain players voicing their desires to leave. With the influx of big-name, big-price acquisitions, it is often easy to overlook the younger players who make just as much of an impact. Here are ten British players all 21 or younger, who will be sure to make and impact for their respective teams in the upcoming season.

11. Martin Kelly, Liverpool (born: Whiston, Merseyside, age: 21)
10. Tom Cleverly, Manchester United (born: Basingstoke, age: 21)
09. Marc Albrighton, Aston Villa (born: Tamworth, Staffordshire, age: 21)
08. Dan Gosling, Newcastle (born: Brixham, Devon, age: 21)
07. Jack Rodwell, Everton (born: Southport, Merseyside, age: 20)

06. Jordan Henderson, Liverpool (born: Sunderland, age: 21)
This time last year, Jordan Henderson was a fairly low-key local lad at Sunderland, not doing anything wrong, and quietly going about his business. This Saturday, however, he faces his old – and lifelong team – as a Liverpool player, with the weight of the £16million price tag hanging over his young head. Having impressed for Sunderland, he tirelessly went on to play for England in their U21 tournaments, in which, like their senior counterparts, they failed miserably. But it’s this kind of boundless energy that won him their Young Player of the Year accolade for two years running, and has the red half of Liverpool smacking their lips at their bright young thing. The majority of football critics believe that fourth place this year is Liverpool's for the taking, and it will be interesting to see the part Henderson plays in their quest for it.

05. Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal (born: Caerphilly, Wales, age: 20)
When Ryan Shawcross made that horror tackle that put Ramsey’s promising career on halt 18 months ago, Arsenal fans were, quite rightly, furious. Because, up until then, Ramsey’s game epitomized all that is good about Arsene Wenger’s football mentality, and he slotted into their midfield perfectly. After a long – and what must have seemed like an eternity – of a recovery process for the lad, he made baby steps back into the football world, including a match-winning goal and Man-of-the-Match performance against Manchester United last season, as well as being named Wales captain. Fresh faced and clean shaven, Aaron Ramsey has a squeaky clean image that is only too rare in the footballing world these days, and has the skill to bring out the best in all of Arsenal’s attackers.

04. Danny Rose, Tottenham (born: Doncaster, age: 21)
The Woody Allen references came in thick and fast in the North London derby of April 2010, when Danny Rose, who’s appearance on the Spurs teamsheet for such a sizzling fixture caused everyone some puzzlement – until he hit a thunderbolt of a volley from 30metres out way past the reach of Manuel Almunia and into the goal. Since then, his appearances in the premier league have been limited, and he is unfortunate in that the position he occupies the same position as Gareth Bale, who, himself, is the latest wunderkind to emerge out of White Hart Lane. But, as his performances in the Euro U21s demonstrated, kid’s got tonnes of potential and has vowed to fight for his place at Spurs to demonstrate as such. Although, to be honest, no matter what ace things he does over the next twenty years, nothing will ever come close to *that* goal.

03. Josh McEachran, Chelsea (born: Oxford, age: 18)
News of Michael Essien’s long-term injury was met with groans and grimaces around West London. For, whilst the Ghanaian had a pretty need-to-train worthy season last year, just his general presence as an anchor in Chelsea’s midfield gives all the rest of the team a welcome sense of security. But, with every cloud comes a silver lining, and it is time for young Joshua to fill Essien’s boots. As with Wilshere, McEachran came up through Chelsea’s ranks, so he automatically gets points for that, but furthermore, he is a classy, measured footballer, who, unlike the senior players at the team, eschews the garish lights of nightclubs like Tiger Tiger. This little tiger burns bright on his own accord.

02. Danny Sturridge, Chelsea (born: Birmingham, age: 21)
When Chelsea shelled out £50 million of Roman Abramovich’s oil money for Fernando Torres in the transfer window this January, very little consideration was really given for Sturridge. He was loaned out to Bolton, but the English Meeja were far too busy rubbing their hands together at how miserably the Torres/Drogba strikeforce was misfiring to notice that Chelsea’s youngest forward was happily banging them in for Bolton, whilst Torres could not hit a cow’s arse with the proverbial banjo. Whilst Torres struggled to adapt to Chelsea’s style and formation, Daniel Sturridge adapted brilliantly to Bolton’s game. The boy continued to impress for England in the Euro U21s tournament, as well as for Chelsea in pre-season, wherein he bagged a brace against Rangers in their latest friendly. Much has been made of Chelsea’s acquisition of 18-year-old wonderkid Romelu Lukaku, but I was much more measured in processing the news, as we already have more than enough forwards, and I worry that the signing of Lukaku will mean that, once again, Sturridge is unfairly bumped down the Chelsea pecking order, when his form suggests that he deserves quite the opposite.

and, even as a Chelsea fan, first place has to be reserved for, the one, the only...

01. Jack Wilshere, Arsenal (born: Hitchin, Herts, age: 19)

With his garish Christian tattoo plastered across his forearm, penchant for drunkenly hollering in a “don’t you know who I am?” manner at cab drivers and tendency for putting his nose in where it’s not needed on twitter (witness all the Spurs fans jump on his back when he gave his two cents over the whole Luka Modric-to-Chelsea saga affair earlier this Summer) as well as status as a baby daddy at the ripe young age of 19, Jack Wilshere has all the DNA of an England has-been. But, for all his off-pitch travails, one thing cannot be denied: boy has talent. He was one of the few bright spots for Arsenal fans last season and impressed on the big Champions League platform as well in the domestic league. A firm fan favourite due to his emergence through the Arsenal ranks as well as the fact that he’s a Stevenage boy (which is the closest Gooners are gonna get to local, let’s be honest), and that he wears his heart on his sleeve, and most of all, that he’s a bloody good footballer. Fast, skilful, and with a passing range that would impress even Xavi, Jack Wilshere is exactly the kind of no-guts-no-glory midfielder that Arsenal, and England, need.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Restaurant review: Cacciari's, SW7.

In a cosy cafe-alike in Old Brompton road sits Cacciari's, a cosy and utterly likeable Italian restaurant. The waitress serving us was lovely; and such was their hospitality that we were gifted a free Bellini by the end of the night; always a welcome treat. I sampled almost half the cocktail menu, having the mojito, the Bloody Mary, the margherita and the Bellini, and each cocktail was loving prepared and tasted great, in particular the margherita, which was a lot more peppery than how I'm used to, but it was all the better for it.

Food-wise, I was almost knocked out of my seat with how reasonable the prices were, not least as we were in Kensington, one of the most wealthiest parts of London (and trust me, plenty of other restaurants in Chelsea & Ken are more than happy to ride on that SW-postcode and use it as an excuse to churn out crap food). For starters, much like at Theo Randall, I had mozerella and tomato, but unlike at Theo Randall (£12 for a tiny plate meant that it was essentially charging its customers £6 a bite), the £9 price tag at Cacciari's was justified, a generous-helping was given of the cheese and tomato, with cute little pans holding it all together. So far, so excellent.

For the main course, I had Lasagna alla Bolognese. Lasagne's always a tricky one in restaurants because it can turn out either too starchy, or not full enough. In Cacciari's, it was the perfect balance between the two, and the parmesan cheese given to us in a little pot was a more-than-perfect supplement to it. The fusion of meat, cheese and all the other flavours in my lasagne rendered it absolutely delicious, and, with a cold Peroni beer to drink with it, it was a near-on flawless meal. Having been on holiday in Italy last year, the meal I had in Cacciari's last Friday was genuinely the closest thing I've tasted to proper Italian cooking since then.

There was a little beer garden behind the restaurant as well as chairs in front of it, meaning that customers get their choice of places to sit to suit their mood. Whilst lacking the grandeur that many of the other South Kensington restaurants parade about, Cacciari's humble surroundings worked to its advantage; it was a thoroughly unpretentious, value-for-money place to eat in.

The greatest thing about Cacciari's is that it fully goes by the merit of its food & drink, rather than any frilly ornaments. If you remember Theo Randall, which went out of its way to show off how great it was even though the food was less-than-brilliant, Cacciari's is a delightful counterpart; the chairs and glasses in the restaurant are all from Ikea. The setting is cheap and cheerful, and as such, allows the restaurant to focus its attention on the thing that actually matters in a restaurant - the quality of the food. Cacciari's is the closest thing you're going to get to finding a bargain in Kensington; SW7 heaven.

Grade: A.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Restaurant Review: Theo Randall (W1).

In London’s glittering Mayfair sits Theo Randall, a much-lauded Italian restaurant with big-name dishes and even bigger price tags. I had the (dubious) honour of getting to eat there for my friend’s birthday, and, as it was her birthday, it meant someone else was picking up the tab for our meal. So, whilst the prices were extortionate, the best thing that can be said for that place is that at least not a single penny of their bank-breaking bill fell on my back. Ha.

The whole time I was at Theo Randall, I just thought of the Friends episode in which Monica and Phoebe fall out over Phoebe singing her (admittedly bad) songs outside Monica's pretentious, overpriced restaurant. Phoebe makes one jibe about the portions being so tiny that one would need a monocle just to be able to see them, and this fully applies to the food at Theo Randall. For the starter, I ordered mozerella and tomatos, expecting a healthy-sized dish to match the meaty £12 price tag. This was what the reality was:

I mean, I know it's the recession and that, but surely we can do a little bit better than that?! My friend had it worse; she ordered a £15 starter, for which she got a lemon, a smidgeon of mustard and some weird green stuff:
Not impressed at all.

As for the food itself, it tasted fine, some dishes had far too much flavour added to it, others were too dry and bitter. For my main, I had spaghetti with lobster. The lobster was cooked to perfection but the spaghetti was woeful: bland, tasteless and even more stale than a week old Pot Noodle. All that for £34 ladies and gentleman! What a bargain!

The best part of the meal was far and away the dessert, for which I had white peach sorbet ice cream. It was delicious, the perfect line between rich and sweet. Once again, however, the £9 price tag was ridiculous; you can get a much more delicious plate of icecream for cheaper in the actual Haagen Dasz restaurant in Leicester Square.

Thus, for the sake of you and the mortgage that you'll have to take out just to fund a meal here, I say to you: of all the over-priced, overrated restaurants in London's west end, NEVER walk into this one. It may be the last thing you do, financially.

Food: C/C-
Value for money: U
Overall: F

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

This makes my life.

Horrible Bosses (Seth Gordon, 2011)

Childhood friends Nick, Dale and Kurt, once known as the “three musketeers” are still friends into their adulthood, and meet up on a daily basis for a drink and meal at their local bar. Trouble is, whilst their friendship thrives, their work lives leave a lot to be desired. Nick (Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman) works in a corporate environment, with a psychotic boss Dave Harken (played by Kevin Spacey) whom gets arsey if he is so much at 2 minutes late – after 6am. In one scene, Harken entraps him into necking scotch – at 8 in the morning. Nick despises his boss, but puts up with his bullying, knowing – or thinking – that if he takes the shit for a while longer, he will receive the promotion to VP that he has so hardly worked for. That hope, we later find out, turns out to be completely misguided.


Elsewhere, Jason Sudeikis’s Kurt is an account manager at an environmental firm. He enjoys his job, the easy banter he has with cute delivery girls and his rapport with his kind-hearted boss, Jack Pellit (Donald Sutherland, in a role much like his in The Italian Job in more ways than one). The only downside to his job is his boss’ cokehead dipshit son (played by an almost unrecognizable Colin Farrell). Luck not being on his side, his boss has a heart attack near the start, leaving the firm in the less-than-capable drug-taking hands of Bobby Pellitt. And finally, and most hilariously, we have Charlie Day as Dale, a dental assistant who’s loving relationship with his sweet fiancée bordering on schmaltz, having to deal with his nympho dentist boss Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), who spends far more time trying to fill her own cavity than those of her patients.

The premise sounds funny but flaky, but the three beleaguered leads make it work. Jason Bateman is no stranger to awkward comedy, having led Arrested Development for many years, but he of the three is probably the one who “plays it straight” the most. Charlie Day has all the energy and hyperness of a hamster on acid and is by turns lamentable, annoying, and likeable. Jason Sudeikis is given some brilliant one-liners, which he delivers with glee. But just as important – if not more so, are the eponymous bosses. Kevin Spacey’s evil boss is an amalgam of his Keyser Soze as well his sadism in Se7en, but with a terrifically subtle darkly comic side. Colin Farrell’s transformation into his role – hair slicked back, constantly sniffing due to his drug addiction is what characterizes his performance more than any acting he really does. But Jennifer Aniston is superb. I quite liked her in Friends, although considered the other five of the cast all better than her, and have been less-than-impressed with her film CV so far, but in Horrible Bosses, her dedication to her role as the crazy bitch sex addict is second-to-none. In one scene, she traps poor Dale in her office, where she is wearing nothing more than panties, suspenders, and her dentist’s uniform. Dale tells her that her lack of clothing/nudity is crossing some kind of line. Julia argues otherwise. “Can you see my pussy?!” In another scene, she brags who she masturbated so furiously to gossip girl’s Penn Badgley that “[she] broke a nail.” It’s a fair cry from the clean-cut Rachel Green that we’re still used to thinking of Aniston as, but without a shadow of a doubt, it’s the best film performance she’s given to date.

There are laughs to be had elsewhere. As the three men get increasingly riled with their ridiculously horrible bosses, the idea is banded about of killing them off. At first, it’s in the name of banter, but as their working lives becoming escalatingly awful, they realize they are left with little option. So they go to a dodgy part of California, wherein they are introduced to Jamie Foxx’s “hitman”. Foxx himself is a revelation; we’ve seen him excel in the serious supporting role (Any Given Sunday, Collateral), and take the lead exceptionally too (Ray), but here, as surly criminal Motherfucker Jones, he is a joy.

Horrible Bosses has overtones of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, played for laughs, and with lots of dirty sex jokes along the way. Unlike the majority of films which attempt to amalgamate the comedy and crime genres, only to fail miserably, Horrible Bosses is a roaring success. Much of this owes to the glittering A-list cast and their not being embarrassed to look stupid on stage, but the writing is also excellent, and I received more than one surprise at the plot development of the film (one scene, so out of place, so sudden, and so shocking, surprised me so much in a way that I hadn’t been so taken aback since *that* scene in 2005’s Cache.) Clever nods to pop culture and a brilliant reverse-product placement gag at Toyota are littered around the film, leading me to feel it really is smarter than the majority of critics have written it of as The film takes dark issues such as murder, rape and blackmail and makes a gigantic joke out of it all. Some have not been impressed by this approach, but I found the film an unparallel treat; and was chuckling from start to finish. My favourite film of 2011 so far.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Restaurant review – Benihana, W1.

Just off Picadilly Circus Tube station is Benihana, a trendy Japanese restaurant. Currently undergoing renovations in certain parts of the venue, the drinks/waiting area was mainly cordoned off and in the interim, the waiting area consisted of two little round tables (of which I shared with another lady who was waiting). But the actual restaurant itself was a unusual delight. The way it was arranged was that everyone was sat with strangers around a metal grill, and the meal was cooked directly in front of you, but it wasn’t just basic turning the food over; there was a real visual firework to go with the preparation of the food – the chef sprayed some pepper over the vegetables and with a flourish, casually tossed the pepper shaker upwards and caught it in his big chef’s hat. Elsewhere, other chefs threw their vinegar or salt shakers into the air, span on the spot and caught it. For veterans of Japanese restaurants, food was thrown into their mouths for them eat. Fun was very much on the menu here.


I had the set menu, which was £23 and had 8 courses – all quite small, so that you got a taste of everything. Some of the courses were misses (a pot of rice with what seemed like half a bottle of soya sauce tipped on was far too salty to fully consume), but the meat (a choice of two from chicken, salmon, seabass, steak) was cooked to your preference, the sushi was fantastic, and the dessert, a tiny square of chocolate, was exactly what was needed to sweeten up the overall quite a savoury meal. Drinks were overpriced, even by London’s standards - £8.50 for a strawberry daiquiri that tasted suspiciously devoid of any alcohol whatsoever, but artfully designed in a way that the presentations of the cocktail was so lovely that you almost didn’t realise you were being conned. However, kudos has to go to the chefs for making mojitos, a drink I’m not usually too fond of – quite delicious with the aid of some lychees.

Overall, as far as overpriced restaurants in the city centre go, Benihana definitely sits up there, with more than enough charm to carry off its inflated menu prices. The amusing “show” put on by the waiters make it a good venue to pick when out with friends, or children, who will surely love it.

Grade: B+/A-

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Good Die Young.

From Janis Joplin to James Morrison to Kurt Cobain and James Morrison, 27 seems to not be a good age for musicians. Today, Amy Winehouse, found dead in her Camden, joins the list of musicians who left us far, far too early. Unlike with some of the previously mentioned though, Winehouse’s death, however tragic, will not surprise many. Addicted to alcohol and drugs, Amy Winehouse was never the most conventional of artists. Expelled from Drama School at 14 for not working hard enough and getting her nose pierced, her career as a singer was constantly spent as a myriad of being in and out of rehab, overdosing on pills and booze, tumultuous love affairs with men who weren’t good for her, and occasionally singing at a concert now and then. With her signature bigger-than-life hair, powerful voice and song lyrics that hit emotional peaks, when she was good, she was magnificent. Unfortunately for her, the quantity of her lows exceeded her highs and on 4pm July 23rd July, the world lost a truly talented performer.

These are the five Amy Winehouse songs that I like the most:

05. Valerie
Originally by The Zutons, Mark Ronson (who’s job title I’m still a little baffled about) and Amy Winehouse collaborated on their version of it, elevating an already enjoyable song into a wonderfully lively, feel-good number, with a cute music video to match. It’s Amy Winehouse out of her comfort zone, in cheerful mode (although she did as such on Tears Dry on their own, another success of her’s), but sound-wise, it has an unmistakable 50s and 60s vibe to it, an era that Winehouse is no stranger to musically – since a child, she loved to belt out Sinatra classics. And, indeed, her spin on Valerie is something that even Sinatra himself would have bopped along to.

04. Love is a Losing Game
At just three verses, this is one of Amy’s most lyrically sparse songs, but what it lacks in verbal content, it more than makes up for in impact. Her melancholy voices drifts between quiet and loud and she opines over the cold, hollow, heartbreak of love. “One I wished I never played, oh what a mess we made” , this song hits the sensitive peaks that the majority of pop songs these days couldn’t even dream of reaching.

03. Fuck Me Pumps
Amy Winehouse puts her satirical hat out in a biting look at the lives of girls who hit the club in the hope of bagging a rich/famous husband, only to find themselves being used and abused, “You’re more than a fan just looking for man, but you end up with one night stands.” Her contempt for this kind of lifestyle could not be clearer, and there’s real fun to be had in her scathing wit, “You can’t sit down right/Cuz you jeans are too tight/ And you’re lucky its ladies night.” The title itself – an allusion to the slutty heels that some girls wear in a desperate attempt to get noticed – is a work of art itself. A caustic treat, from top to bottom.

02. You Know I’m No Good
Possibly better known to some as “the song they play over the credits of Secret Life of a Call Girl”, this is my pick for the sexiest Amy Winehouse song. Although it’s about infidelity, two-timing and all the guilt that comes with it, her voice is so sultry an silky that it gives her seedy lyrics an inexplicably alluring quality, epitomized in the line “Thinking of you in my final throws – this is when my buzzer goes”. The jazz trumpet and bass guitar complement her singing perfectly, and it is impossible not to view this song (as with many of her songs) as a microcosm of the Winehouse; she has a loving boyfriend, but chooses to cheat on him, thus depriving herself of all that is good and pure. Quite.

01. Back to Black
What with her on/off relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, Amy Winehouse is no stranger to destructive relationships, and she uses these experiences to pen a beautiful and chilling depiction of such. “I died a hundred times” and “I love you so much/it’s not enough” are among many of the lines which she delivers perfectly. The emotion in her voice is unmistakable, and with the simple-but-effective piano chords and sparsely employed strings in the background, this is such a classy number that it has often been employed in TV and film sequences of funerals or other dark events. A song as unforgettable as it is disturbing and heartbreaking. Breathtaking.

Memories, my, my, my. For all her faults, Amy Winehouse was a majestic performer and singer/songwriter.The death of this North London girl gone bad will be sorely felt by the music industry. RIP, fallen star.