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