Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

X-Men:First Class

June 6, 2011

Unlike sequels, prequels are very difficult to make because the director faces an extra challenge: the audience knows what happens next. Therefore, to make a successful prequel, one needs to construct a story that leads to what the audience already knows. On way to achieve this would be to focus within the psyche of the movie characters; to present all those events and experiences that have influenced the characters and made them to behave exactly as they did in the movies the audience has already seen. In short, to explain why the protagonists are like that.

It is exactly this recipe that the X-Men: First Class movie follows, and, quite successfully, I might add. Unless you are a fan of the X-Men and have a stack of old comics in the back of your cupboard, you probably don’t know their history. You are probably not aware how Professor Xavier started his X-Men academy in a secret location. How Magneto found a helmet that blocks Professor Xavier’s mind-reading ability. How Mystique ended up with Magneto. Why Xavier is called Professor. And above all, how Professor Xavier and Magneto became rivals.

The movie fills exactly this gap in our knowledge. It begins with two parallel stories: this of Magneto as a young Erik, who becomes aware of this power during periods of intense anger, experienced when he was held hostage in a Nazi concentration camp, and the other of Professor Xavier, or Charles, who has a quiet upbringing in his wealthy American home. Here Charles meets Mystique, who becomes his step-sister and follows him to his studies at the University of Oxford in England. The paths of Erik and Charles will first converge when Charles, now an accomplished Professor of Genetics at the University of Oxford specialising in mutations, will help the CIA in finding other mutants. Erik and Charles will join forces to find and recruit many more mutants in their efforts to prevent Sebastian Shaw – another powerful mutant – from staring World War III by mingling in the affairs of the Americans and the Russians in midst of the cold war era and being responsible for the Cuban missile crisis. Only for Erik, killing Sebastian Shaw is his ulterior motive. Sebastian’s true identity is Dr Schmidt; a doctor working for the Nazis, who first unearthed Erik’s mutant powers, but also killed Erik’s mother.

Although Magneto’s quest for revenge dominates the movie compared to the transformation of Professor Xavier into a guardian and trainer of the young X-Men, the story progressively gains momentum and culminates into the final making of the arch rivals. The visual effects, especially for Mystique’s numerous transformations have been masterfully executed. The script even included some humorous elements: i) a joke from Professor Xavier that he might go bald, ii) a cameo appearance from Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and iii) a cameo appearance from Rebecca Romijin, the actor who played Mystique in the later movies, in an effort of the current Mystique to woo Magneto.

Even though the movie has been fun and interesting to watch, it did not have anything special that made it stand out. However, it is a pleasant movie to watch on a night out with friends.

Lambda.

P.S.: All images © respective owners

Brit Insurance Design Awards 2011

May 22, 2011

The Plumen lightbulbs

Whenever I visit a museum, I find myself staring at artefacts from civilisations thousands of years before my time or paintings from artists that I could not possibly afford to buy. But whenever I visit the Design Museum in London, I find myself staring at objects that may as well sit in my living room. In fact, most of the times I am pleasantly surprised that I own some of them. This is what happened when I visited the Brit Insurance Design Awards exhibition.

The Brit Insurance Design Awards exhibition, organised annually at the Design Museum, is the culmination of the awards, established in 2003 to celebrate examples of innovative design. A judging panel made up of renowned design experts decides the best entries from nominations in seven categories: Architecture, Transport, Graphics, Interactive, Product, Furniture and Fashion. The nominations also come from renowned design experts, who are asked to provide up to 5 nominations representing the most innovative designs launched in the last year.

Compared to the previous year, the exhibition was sparse, with many nominations being represented by photographs and videos rather than copies of the actual object: a sensible solution for entries in the architectural or services but not for the others categories. The display tables were also wobbly, strengthening my perception that the exhibition was carelessly thought and set up. Rather than scattering objects, a more sensible approach would have been to group them according to their nomination categories and to use innovative display forms and multimedia to encourage the visitor to interact with the exhibits.

LED-light installation by Phillips

Besides products showcased in electronic tablets (iPads and others), which the visitor was encouraged to explore, all others could not be touched, even though they were within reach, apart on the front of the exhibition, where some select real-life items were available for interaction. These included Herman Miller’s Sayl Task chair, a bench made from recycled cardboard, several books and the playful Spun chair http://www.heatherwick.com/magis-spun-chair/ by Thomas Heatherwick.

The diversity of the products and the variety of design methods employed made it difficult for me to pick my favourites (and I am sure it is equally difficult for the judges to pick the winners among many nominations). However, there have been several objects that caught my attention, sometimes for the novelty of the design and sometimes for the innovative choice of materials.

Wall Piercings by Flos

Flos took part in the exhibition with Wall Piercings, an interesting display of LED rings of changing colours (which for an unknown reason was very difficult to photograph), whereas Phillips included a LED-light bench that responded to human movement and made the LED panels move. The Fashion Design Award was given to Jil Sander for her 2011 +J collection for Uniqlo (for which you can read more here, here and here) whereas the Transport award was awarded to the Barclays Cycle hire project in London, the infamous Boris bikes. Finally, the overall Brit Insurance Design of the Year award went to Plumen lightbulb, an innovative, aesthetically pleasing redesign of a low-energy light bulb that looks differently depending on the angle you watch it.

Plumen lightbulb close-up

Overall, even though the previous exhibition included more design objects than the current one, it is definitely worth visiting to celebrate last year’s good designs and to witness that some of these do not only end up in museum stands but may find refuge in the comfort of your home.

Lambda.

P.S.: The exhibition is still open and will last until 7th August 2011.

Le Café Anglais

April 24, 2011

Being an avid reader of Rowley Leigh’s cooking column at the Financial Times Weekend magazine, when I was presented with the opportunity to visit his restaurant with one of my clients, I accepted without hesitation. I was anticipating to find an environment where everything – the food, the atmosphere, the service – would be tightly and meticulously crafted as the column he is contributing at the Financial Times.

I was a bit disappointed. Not because the food was not excellently cooked, but because the menu consisted of dishes you can easily find in many restaurants and did include many fresh ideas and experimentation. But Le Café Anglais seems to be catering for its audience, mostly the shopping crowd at the Whitely’s shopping centre and nearby businesses, and therefore needs to be unpretentious and serve uncomplicated food at reasonable prices.

Immediately after you enter the restaurant, there is a space resembling a cafe, with lots of tables and chairs, that come handy if you are just visiting the restaurant but you are not interested in lunch or dinner. On your right hand side, there is a bar serving cocktails and oysters. By proceeding past the bar, on your left hand side you will find yourself in the main dining area, decorated in art deco style, and on your left hand side you will see the kitchen-rotisserie where your food is being prepared and served. The combination of high-ceiling and large windows on the right hand side of the restaurant makes the whole atmosphere airy, amply lit and relaxed.

Le Café Anglais caters for every cuisine and every palate, by combining elements of French cuisine, English traditional ingredients and more oriental tastes. In this way, Imam Bayildi aubergines stand alongside fois gras terrine, parmesan custard and anchovies and smoked eel and bacon salad. For the main meal, there is a choice among fish, meat and items from the rotisserie. On the day we visited the restaurant, there was a lunch menu specifically designed for Lent, with low calorie choices and plenty of oyster varieties to choose from its bar.

The food that we ordered did not disappoint. The English asparagus with butter sauce melted to the mouth and released a bouquet of aromas and flavours. The main dish was also nicely cooked and meticulously presented. I finished my lunch with a very tasteful selection of sorbet flavours. Overall, Le Café Anglais food is comparable to other fine dining establishments, and represents a good value for money. The dining experience will set you back £30-50 (without wine and the optional 12,5% service charge).

Definitely a restaurant worth visiting if you are in the neighbourhood and interested in good quality food without extortionate prices.

Lambda.

P.S. Le Café Anglais is located at 8 Porchester Garden, London W2 4DB (Google map, Street View).

[image © http://www.lecafeanglais.co.uk website)

High Society

February 6, 2011

The use of drugs that plagues our society is not just a recent phenomenon. It can be traced back to early human history. Societies have used drugs for either medicinal purposes or for experimental, recreational, religious or mind-altering activities. Whether a drug is accepted or rejected by a certain society, whether it is a blessing or an anathema, whether it cures or alleviates pain or numbs and distorts the mind simply depends on the drug’s uses but also of the society’s values. Cocaine and cannabis were originally used for medicinal purposes – and in certain circumstances they still are today – but have been classified as illegal and banned in most developed-world countries nowadays.

The exhibition “High Society” at the Wellcome Collection attempts to give us a glimpse into the history of drug use. Ranging from simple drugs such as coffee and chocolate to more illegal substances, such as cocaine, opium and morphine, the exhibition bears a collection of drug-related artefacts and drug-inspired art pieces. It is organised into 5 thematic areas: “From apothecary to laboratory”, “The drugs trade”,”Self experimentation”, “Collective intoxication” and “A sin, a crime, a vice or a disease” and brings together many items, such as historical documents on drugs trade, medicinal objects, books on the effects of drug usage, photographs and prints on tribal and societal rituals, art objects inspired on the effects of drugs on human behaviour, marketing and educational materials and videos, installation art and statistics.

While the exhibition is meticulously organised, I failed to see a coherent message running through it; a fact that seems to prove that the whole is not just a sum of its parts. And while the historical items were numerous, they were just displayed as mere objects that the visitor just glimpses for some seconds, without much fanfare and without much of a story. Admittedly, one of the most interesting exhibits manifests itself at the end of the exhibition. David McCandless’s “Pure as the driven snow” is an informative graphic that provides information on the reduction of purity, the increase in price, the number of people involved and gross profits during the journey of cocaine from the production field to the end user.

Although not as informative as the “War and Medicine” exhibition, it is certainly worth visiting.

Lambda.

P.S.: The exhibition is on until the 27th February.

+J is back

October 26, 2010

Loyal readers of the blog may have read one of my previous posts on one of my clothing obsessions. The post was about one of the best collaborations between a fashion designer and a high-street store: the collaboration between Jil Sander and Uniqlo, culminating in the creation of the +J line. Two separate collections were created during the past year: the inaugural Fall/Winter 2009 collection and the most recent Spring/Summer 2010 collection.

I was more than happy to know that another +J line just hit the Uniqlo stores in London. According to the designer, this season is characterised by “a well fitted, sculptured cut, quality materials, careful detailing, and an overall subdued sophistication. Once you establish such a key wardrobe, you will find that the rest is easily combined. A beautiful coat or a white shirt works with almost anything, but actually needs almost nothing else. I called the ideal I have in mind, uniforms for the future”.

This season’s clothes are characterised by thick materials based on wool that lack the sophistication of last year’s high-tech, synthetic materials, but earn extra points for the cuts. This year, double breasted options were added alongside single-breasted cuts and longer coats have been added to shorter ones.

Admittedly, I have set my eyes on some items, but I am waiting for the entire line to be unveiled before I make any puchase.

Lambda.

[image © copyright Uniqlo]

Inception

August 15, 2010

Many films have toyed with the idea of dreams vs reality and the acceptance of reality, but no film has done it better than Inception. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Leonardo diCaprio in the role of Dominic Cobb, the film is a deep, masterful look into the subconscious. (warning – plot spoiler ahead.)

Cobb and his team specialises in a method called extraction; a method with which he can get sensitive information through the people’s subconscious while they are sleeping. To achieve this, all need to be connected to a special machine, resembling a dialysis, that administers a sedative and allows the connected people to share a dream world, built according to their mental projections. Cobb is a master of this world and uses it to make a living by stealing information from his victims for his client. However, Cobb is challenged by a Japanese business man, not wanting to steal information but to do the inverse: to plant an idea into another person’s mind.

Cobb is initially not persuaded to take the job. He is later convinced to try the feat in exchange for the businessman’s help to allow Cobb to enter the US again. Cobb had been extradited from the United States, as he is a suspect for the murder of his wife. As we delve deeper into Inception, not only do we find projections of the world of his victim, but projections of Cobb’ mind, and the secret about his wife he has hidden for so long in his subconscious.

The film is a brilliantly directed movie with noteworthy performances from the cast. There are many action scenes and a superbly executed gravitation-less fighting choreography in the hallway of a hotel. If you have seen Nolan’s previous movies – Memento, Batman Begins, The Dark Night-, you will unmistakably recognise his familiar style of building up mystery and suspense. It is the idea of Nolan playing with the hero’s subconscious and of what is real and what is not, that will leave you wanting for more. 2,5 hours passed and not a single time time did we question the movie; instead we watched with eager anticipation to untangle the complexity of the plot and our hero’s mind.

A phenomenal movie that allows for many interpretations, bearing testament to the exceptional work from Nolan on direction and scripting and the mesmerising performances of the actors.

Lambda.

[image © respective owner]

Toy Story 3

August 5, 2010

They say that a sequel is an opportunity for a movie studio to make additional money. Since the film and its characters is already know to people, the studio does need not pay much money for the marketing and the promotion of the sequel. However, with only few exceptions, sequels never live up to the name of the original movie. “Oh, please! By definition alone, sequels are inferior movies“, says Randy Meeks in Wes Craven’s “Scream 2“.

But for Pixar’s Toy Story franchise seems to be different. According to Rotten Tomatoes, Toy Story 2 was as successful as the first installment; both movies have achieved 100% score in the Tomatometer. It was, therefore, interesting to see if Toy Story 3 would live up to the challenge set by its predecessors.

And it appears that Pixar’s latest movie is nothing short of a masterpiece. Not only for an interesting and engaging story, but for evoking sentiments on children and grown-ups. Several newspapers, among them the “Evening Standard”, reported that while children were coming out the cinemas laughing, adults – especially men- came out crying (probably with a pinch of journalistic exaggeration).

The movie’s story starts with a familiar place, Andy’s room, where seemingly nothing has changed. In actual fact, something has changed. Andy is turning 17 and is leaving for college this week. Before doing so, Andy is reminded by his mother that he needs to tidy up his room for the last time and decide on the things he wants to keep and to throw away. Disappointed that Andy does not play with them any more, or even notice them, the toys devise a plot to make Andy put them in a box in the attic, where they will spend the rest of their lives together. Only, due to a mistaken belief that Andy intended to throw them away, the toys end up donated to the local children daycare centre. Lotso, a seemingly friendly teddy bear welcomes the toys to their new environment and explains that here all the toys get the attention they deserve from the children, who play with them all the time; just what Andy’s toys are really missing. It is not long before they realise, however, that the paradise they have been offered is actually a living hell, where the children are too young to play with toys properly. And they decide to break out from the dictatorship of Lotso and his company at the daycare centre.

The movie contains most of the characters that were introduced in the previous installments and were loved. Mr and Mrs Potato Head are still making jokes about their relationship and their moving parts, Buzz Lightyear has a Spanish alter-ego, which is discovered by Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl, Barbie experiences love at first sight when she meets her significant other, metrosexual Ken, and even Woody stills keeps his cool when his pullstring is pulled and says “There is a snake in my boots”.

But Toy Story 3 is not just jokes and custard pies. It is about evoking emotions. Not necessarily about children parting from their toys; after all this was the theme for Toy Story 2. It is about something most adults have experienced in the past: the dreadful day when they will realise their children have grown-up and are ready to live the house for other adventures. It is about parting of people.

Probably one of the best movies of this year.

Lambda.

[image © LambdaPhage]

Glastonbury – Another Stage

July 31, 2010

Most people expect the summer with eager anticipation. The weather gets progressively better; the days grow bigger and the summer holidays are fast approaching. But the advent of summer brings something more than hot weather. It brings music festivals, those summer happenings where people cram together under the hot sun (or under rain if you end up in North countries), free from stress, preoccupations – and sometimes clothes – to hear their favourite music. Among the festivals around Europe, one has captured the interest for 40 years now for its “love, sun and mud” atmosphere: Glastonbury festival.

Incidentally, the motto “Love, sun and mud” was also chosen by Mulberry to celebrate their love for the event and to promote Venetia Dearden’s photobook “Glastonbury – Another Stage”. Her book attempts to give us a better picture of the festival goers, who flock the Worthy farm in South West England every year to listen to music. Interestingly, Venetia did not choose to focus on mud-filled pages on festival lifetime, but instead, strips her subjects from the natural surroundings and presents them in plain white background. In fact, the only hint about Glastonbury is the wellies that most subjects are wearing and traces of mud on the white floor. But it is to their personalities that Venetia wanted to focus, not their silly behaviour when camping in a mud-filled farm.

In the 322 pages of the book, we spot the familiar faces of Glasto celebrities – Lilly Allen, Amy Winehouse and Dame Shirley Bassey in Swarowski-decorated green wellies – along with common people: a couple expecting a child, a couple dressed as cows, lots of young children, a businessman with a tuxedo and a briefcase, two men dressed in Spiderman-like tights, a 30-year old man with tribal tattoos, three middle-aged housewives sporting floral dresses and leather purses, two Elvis impersonators and a complete family – to name but a few.

In her 6-year project, Venetia wishes to remind us that the biggest open-air music and performing arts festival does not appeal to a specific type of people. You can come as you are or as you wish to be perceived. As long as you have a love for music and open-air events, as long as you can spare some time from work, strip off from your businesslike attitude and relax, you can join the crowd. The book only begs the question: do all those people look and behave like that in their daily lives or are they just dress for the occasion?

Lambda.

P.S. Venetia Dearden’s book “Glastonbury – Another stage” is published by Kehrer. The publication was sponsored by Mulberry and Mulberry included some of Venetia’s pictures in their Bond Street store during the summer. Mulberry was selling the book in a custom made “Love, sun and mud” tote bag.

[all images © LambdaPhage]

Franco Manca

May 6, 2010

If Wagamama is the best choice for fast, cheap and delicious Japanese food, Busaba for Thai food, Wahaca for Mexican, then Franco Manca should complete the list as the restaurant for inexpensive and simple Italian pizza.

We visited the Chiswick branch of this restaurant in Spring. The white wood-burning oven was the dominating element of the basic, white-tiled rectangular dining area. The only thing that interrupted this immaculately clean image was the brown basic benches scattered in the dinning area and pictures of raw ingredients, animal produce or pizza-making at the walls.

We noticed the relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere from the moment we were greeted by the polite and young waiters. At the dinning area, where we were shown to our table, we noticed the metal bucket at the middle of the table containing the cutlery, carefully wrapped in individual napkins and paper placemats which, as is typical for most restaurants of this type, double as menus. We visited on a rainy, Saturday early afternoon, so there was plenty of space.

The menu is pretty basic; there are only 6 different pizzas to chose from and some starters and a salad. Almost all the starters are based on dough and are oven-baked, which makes sense, as Franco Manca doesn’t seem to have an elaborate kitchen, other than the wood-fire oven. But what it lacks for variety οf dishes, it makes up for taste.

Despite the simplicity of the menu, all the dishes we sampled in the restaurant were delicious. The garlic bread had a welcoming but not overpowering flavour, and the baked aubergines were divine. But the real revelation was the pizza: prepared with slow-rising sordough that takes 20 hours prepare, and mostly organic ingredients, the pizza was baked to perfection and the flavours of the individual ingredients evident.

An even more daring step is to strip the menu off any artificial fizzy drinks. You can not order a coke in this restaurant, as it is not included in the menu. Instead, you could quench you thirst with fresh, home-made lemonade, beer or wine from a carefully selected – albeit limited- list.

Most importantly, a visit at Franco Manca will not cost you much. A lunch for two people excluding wine only cost us approximately 22 GBP (11 GBP per person). But it is the relaxed atmosphere and the delicious food that will bring us back; hungry for more.

Lambda.

P.S. Franco Manca is located at 144 Chiswick High Road, W4 1PU (Google Map) and at Unit 4, Market Row, Sw9 8LD (Google Map, Streetview) at Brixton.

all images © Franco Manca

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2009

May 3, 2010

Clash of the Yellowhammers

Every year, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition at the Natural History Museum manages to impress me for the freshness, quality and originality of the winning images. Though, it is not wonder, as it is the most famous wildlife competition and attracts submissions from professional photographers and amateur enthusiasts. This year, with 43,000 submissions from 94 countries, a new exhibition room with black panels and low lighting, I spotted many recurring themes from the previous year but several new interesting photos, as well.

One of the most interesting categories was this of the young photographers, consisting of three different subcategories: those of ten years and under, 11-14 years and 15-18 years. Indeed, if you were not told that these images were captured by young children, you would have probably imagined that they were taken by professional adult photographers. Among those, the prize for the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year went to Fergus Gill from the UK, who won the title for the second time after turning his photography hobby into a passion, with his captivating image of the “Clash of the Yellowhammers”.

Footprints

Footprints

But the most astonishing category for the exhibition was the “One Earth Award” category, which depicts conservation issues or actions and the interaction between humans and the natural world. Among the images, the “Footprints” was my personal favourite: an image of a penguin who pauses and inquisitively examines human footprints at a sea shore in the United States.

Unfortunately, this year’s competition was surrounded by controversy, regarding its top prize, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year. When I visited the exhibition, the judges had given the top prize to “Storybook Wolf” by José Luis Rodriguez; an image of a wolf jumping a fence to search for his pray. The judges not only commended the technique of the photographer, who seems to have invented it especially for these types of shots, but the excellent composition of the image, which elegantly captures thousands of years of wolf predation in a single moment. But others who saw the image recognised the wolf as not being a wild animal but a tamed one that the photographer allegedly hired to get his shot. After some discussion with wolf experts, who questioned why the wolf would jump the gate when a wild animal was more likely to squeeze between the bars. and the photographer himself, the judges were not convinced that the wolf was wild and decided to strip the photographer of his award because of violation of the competition rules. The photographer strongly denied that the wolf was tame.

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition has now ended in London, but you will still be able to see the wining images in the exhibition roadshow touring around the globe. You can also find them at the website of the Natural History Museum.

Lambda.

P.S.: All images © of the respective owners and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year owners.