Posts Tagged ‘Review’

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

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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)

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]

Misato

November 22, 2009


When it comes to food, I always like it when I find a good bargain. In the past, I thought that I had found the perfect value restaurant for sushi (see the Taro review), but this month’s sushi restaurant is a revelation. If you have dined at Wong Kei’s Chinese restaurant at Chinatown, you probably did not chose it for the lushness of the surroundings or the politeness of the waiters, but for the fact that it serves uncomplicated, delicious and – above all – cheap Authentic Chinese food. Misato restaurant, a little bit further down the road from Wong Kei, is the Japanese equivalent but without the rude waiters.

If you go to Misato and not find a queue of eager diners waiting to be seated, you should consider yourself lucky. The first thing you will also notice is the windows would definitely benefit from some cleaning. Meanwhile, little Japanese waitresses run ferociously like little ants to take orders, deliver food and make the tables ready for the next people in line. But the true revelation starts when you are seated and handed the menu. Don’t get me wrong, the food is not equivalent to Nobu (if you still think that Nobu is the top sushi joint), but the food is plenty, tasty and above all cheap. Before you order, take a look at the tables nearby and glance at the portions the waitresses are carrying. Then delve in the menu and try to make a decision among the variety of bento boxes, rice dishes and noodle soups.


I ordered the Bento Sushi, the california rolls and the prawn tempura. While the tempura mixture could have been better and tastier, the other choices were more rewarding. In fact, I found it considerable difficult to negotiate all the food in the sushi bento, as it contained 7 sushi pieces, 6 maki pieces, 2 california pieces, crispy seaweed and a small salad with chicken, all for £8.80.

Only after finishing your food at Misato, you realize that even though it is nice to eat at a posh place, it can be even nicer to dine at a budget, yet delicious, eatery. And please consider leaving soon, as other people are waiting to be served.

Lambda.

P.S.: Misato restaurant is located at 11 Wardour St, London, W1D 6PG (Google Map, Streetview).

UPDATE 2011: Unfortunately, after visiting Misato many times the previous year, I have now come to the conclusion that the quality of their food has deteriorated below acceptable levels. I am unfortunately driven to change my recommendation and suggest that you do not chose this establishment for food. You will, however, find other restaurants I recommend for an outing.

Up

October 24, 2009

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(warning: movie spoiler ahead)

When Pixar first released Toy Story in 1995, few people would have guessed that computer-generated animation would dominate the future of cartoons. This is probably because what made the film loveable was not the masterful graphics but the inspirational storyline. Their latest movie, Up, is another fine example of Pixar telling a simple, yet moving, story.

78-year old retired balloon salesman, Carl Friedricksen and his wife Ellie dreamt their entire lifetime of embarking on a grand adventure. Inspired by their childhood hero Charles F Muntz, they longed to journey to “Paradise Falls” in South Africa. Now, following the death of his wife, Carl refuses to surrender his memory-laden home to construction workers.

Only when he receives a court order to move to the Shady Oaks Retirement Home does Carl begins to realise that his lifetime dream of going to Paradise falls is long gone…

Or perhaps not.

When people from the retirement home come to take him away, Carl lifts his house free of its foundations with thousands of helium balloons, and sets off for Paradise Falls.

However, there is one small problem: Russel, an 8-year old Wilderness Explorer, who, in an attempt to win his final badge “Assisting the elderly” and become a Senior Wilderness Explorer, finds himself trapped aboard Carl’s floating home.

The unexpected duo head toward Paradise Falls, where Carl will be taught an important lesson: the best adventure of his life was made not by the exotic location but is the sharing the journey.

If you thought that your grandparents would never care to watch an animated kid’s film, then this is definitely one family outing they should be included on.

Lambda.

P.S.: Image copyright by Pixar/Disney

Taro

September 2, 2009

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Taro restaurant is the perfect choice for a sushi snack when you visit the centre with friends after work or returning from a shopping spree. Situated just some minutes away from Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, the restaurant avoids the pretentiousness and expensive nature of posh sushi establishments and the pre-packaged choices of high-street sushi chains. Indeed, it is not for the decoration or the famous chef that you have come to this place, but for the offering of simple and uncompromising quality of Japanese food.

taro_facade

The dinning are is small and simple, furnished with tables and chairs that look as if they have come out of Muji catalogues. If you are visiting the restaurant alone, we recommend that you sit at the bar, which has views of the open plan kitchen and its inner workings. It is fascinating to watch the chefs perform their rituals of preparing Japanese delicacies effortlessly and methodically, and can’t help to wonder that we would probably end up in an unnerving disaster when attempting to repeat the same actions at home. During our visit, we witnessed the preparation of bento sushi, delicious salads, sashimi and various teriyaki and noodle dishes.

The food is good value for money. It costs £8.80 to order a selection of the common choices of nigiri and maki sushi. Our bill topped £17.50 Pounds with the addition of a delicious miso soup as a starter, an avocado hand-rolled temaki and a glass of Japanese green tea.

Overall, although dinning at Taro is not recommended for a first date or to celebrate an anniversary, it is ideal when in need for a simple, yet tasteful solution for lunch at the city centre.

Lambda.

P.S.: Taro is located at 61 Brewer Street, London, W1 (Google Map, Streetview)

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

July 29, 2009

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In the past, philosophers were concerned about many facets of human activity and drew inspiration from subjects relating to existence, laws, emotions, love, truth and science. It should, therefore, come as a surprise that many of them ignored work as a subject for thought and criticism. For Alain de Botton, our job is forming a large part of our identity in our modern world. His latest book, “The pleasures and sorrows of work”, published by Penguin, is a testament to the joys and perils of the modern workplace, with an emphasis on jobs that are either taken for granted and are definitely not in the minds of university graduates. Thus, while anyone knows about the typical day in the work of a doctor, positions like a logistic workers have largely been neglected.

In the 10 chapters of the book, the author embarks upon a journey to describe a snapshot in the life of an accountant, a career counsellor, a painter and an aviation expert and the equally peculiar life of a cargo ship spotter, a rocket scientist, a biscuit manufacturer and a budding entrepreneur. Through logistics, we follow the trip of tuna from the Maldives coast, where it is captured and killed, to the dinner plate of a family in the UK, and through tracing a power line, we witness the journey of the transmission of electricity from a power plant in Kent to a substation in East London. The food in our plate or the power to use our appliances results from those activities, the orchestrated work of ten or thousands of people, that know little of each other, but nevertheless commit their time to a common cause.

The book is written with the unmistakable and imaginative style of de Botton, mixing the necessary with the superfluous and using every small detail as a vehicle for explanations of people’s ulterior motives and behaviours. While we have some reservations that the book is more of a voyeuristic description to weird and unusual professions that a philosophical manifesto of how we perceive our working environment, the book is very pleasant and easy to read.

Lambda.

P.S.: “The pleasures and sorrows of Work” costs £11.39 at Amazon or £60 for Monocle’s limited, signed edition. You may also see an interview of the author at one of Monocle’s Video Podcasts.

(book cover © Penguin books)

Peggle

July 26, 2009

first_screen
You realise there is something seriously different with Peggle from the start of the game. Instead of the realistic graphics you would normally find in shoot-em-up games, you encounter carefully designed comic-like characters. And instead of ear-piercing noise, you are welcomed to the soothing sound of Edvard Grieg’sPeer Gynt Morning”, while the sun is rising.

Peggle was inspired by a very famous Japanese slot machine game called Pachinko. Like Patchinko, where you try to control the flow of balls that continuously fall from the top of the machine, in Peggle you are armed with a cannon at the top middle of your screen and you control the firing of a ball. The ball bounces obstacles and pegs at each level until it gets to the bottom, where is it either saved by the ball catcher, which moves back and forth in typical arcanoid fashion, or is lost. The pegs touched by the ball are lit, and when the shot is completed, or when the ball gets stuck, those pegs disappear. The object of the game is to eliminate the 25 orange pegs, which are randomly dispersed in the blue pegs at the start of each level. As you progress though the levels you will need to use strategy to remove blue pegs to target the orange ones, while paying attention to your remaining balls. There are some special pegs to help you: a purple peg awards you bonus points and a green peg activates the “magic power”.

One of the Peggle levels. In this snapshot, the ball has just been lost and all the lit pegs disappear from the level

One of the Peggle levels. In this snapshot, the ball has just been lost and all the lit pegs disappear from the level

Each of those special magic powers is named after an animal or plant character and gives special characteristics to your ball for a limited number of ball attempts. Bjorn, an avidly named unicorn, shows which way your ball will bounce after your initial firing. Kat Tut attaches a pyramid at the ball catcher at the bottom of the level, making it more difficult to lose a ball and helping you target bottom placed pegs. The imaginative french named Claude, a crab, attaches crab like flippers at the lower sides of the level and transform Peggle into a pinball experience. Tula, a smiling anthropomorphic daisy, will automatically light up the 20% remaining orange pegs for you, whereas Splork, an alien-like creature will similarly light up all nearby pegs with super advanced alien technology. Jimmy Lightning, a playful beaver, will clone your ball, whereas Warren will give you a choice of magic powers. Lord Cinderbottom, a phantasy inspired dragon, will transform your cannon into a destructive fireball, that will vaporize all pegs encountered in its path. Renfield, a Halloween pumpkin, will make your ball spookingly appear once at the top of the level exactly where it dropped to the bottom. Finally, the master of all the magic powers, Master Hu, a wise owl, will attempt to give the maximum zen to your ball and guide it to light up most orange pegs or to collect a high score.

Compared to other computer games, what Peggle lacks in complexity, it makes up with its creative, playful character. When you have completed a set of levels, you get awarded the certificate of the Peggle Master and unlock an exciting collection of new, and – sometimes almost impossible – levels. To successfully complete those you may for example need to eliminate all the pegs in the level, achieve a special high score, beat the computer as an opponent in dual gaming or complete several challenges one after the other. But the most exhilarating experience of playing the game is when you are about to hit the final orange peg to finish the level. When the ball approaches the peg, the area is magnified and tension builds up. If you are successful and hit your final peg, sparkles erupt from your ball and “Ode for Joy” accompanies you to the celebrations of finishing the level till your special bonus is counted.

Lambda.

P.S.: Peggle is made by Pop Cap games and is available for PC, Mac, iPhone, Nintendo DS and X-Box.

(all pictures are screenshots of the game © Pop Cap)

Fire and Stone

July 19, 2009

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Fire and Stone deluxe Pizza restaurant in Covent Garden balances successfully between the classic Italian recipe for pizza and the stuffy, cheesy American counterpart, but with one small detail. Every ingredient used in the pizzas is not the ordinary ingredient typically found at the selves of a supermarket but a reworked, refined edition: slow cooked chutneys are used instead of sweet sauces, a recipe of cumin-ground spiced lamb instead of a plain one and rosemary-infused mascarpone instead of any ordinary cheese. In the end, Fire and Stone is not just an ordinary pizza joint like Pizza express, but brings whole new meaning to this humble food.

The experience starts from the moment you enter the restaurant. At your right hand, you will see the extractor pipe of the wood-fire oven situated at the basement of the restaurant. You climb up some steps and through a long wooden corridor you enter the main dining area, characterised by a long red couch in the middle and brightly lit bar at the right hand side. There is a smaller dinning area at the basement of the place, right next to the oven, overlooking the open plan kitchen where the deluxe pizzas are made.

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The menu features some delicious Mediterranean antipasti and is dominated by different pizza choices. Indeed, if you have arrived at Fire and Stone expecting something more than pizza, you will probably be disappointed, as there is nothing else on the menu. The pizzas are named after cities and are grouped according to continents. But not all choices for pizzas are fantastic. Some of them sport weird combinations of ingredients that you might be best without. For example, steer clear of Bavaria or London pizza, unless you delight in German pork sausages with mustard or sour cream and sliced black pudding. Instead, if you are a fan of Peking duck, you will start wondering why hadn’t anyone though of making a pizza with those simple ingredients before. We also recommend focusing on the vegetarian varieties found in Europe, like Athena, with wilted spinach and barreled-aged feta and our personal favourite, Lombardia, with mascarpone, courgettes, artichokes and tomato chutney. Finally, there are two truly deluxe and quite expensive pizzas, Paris with roasted fillet of beef and Brittany with scallops and kings prawns.

The atmosphere of the restaurant is vibrant and very loud. Indeed, this is a place best visited with a lot of friends and not particularly suited for cosy,romantic dinners. And while the service is friendly, it might use a bit of an adjustment. On several occasions we have experienced delays in our food order and once they had even messed up with our reservation. Putting the problems with the service aside, however, a visit to Fire and Stone restaurant makes the experience of eating pizza out of the ordinary.

Lambda.

P.S.: Fire and Stone is located at 31/32 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 7JS (Google Map, Street view).

As Greek as it gets

June 30, 2009

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Obelix used to say that food is like the Romans; the foreign is always the best. All others may agree that when it comes to food, there is no place like home.

But when you live or travel abroad and desire to taste authentic food from your country, things are starting to get dangerous. I admire the Mexican, who endure any cheap tex-mex variety on the high street, and the Italians, who have to make their way through all the self-proclaimed Italian restaurants to discover the appropriate Italian joint. When it comes to Greek food, trying to find an authentic restaurant abroad is no easy feat either.

In Germany, you would except to taste authentic Greek food because of the high numbers of immigrants from Greece, especially in Stuttgart and Munich. But it is not as easy as you think, as the restaurants have adopted their cuisine to the german dining experience. Sauces in dishes appear where they should not be and the main course is always accompanied by a small side salad. Those of you who have been to Greece already know it is inconceivable you keep the food to yourself especially when you are ordering mezedes (small dishes to whet you appetite like Spanish tapas). The salad is typically for more than one person and is majestically put at the centre of the table to shoare. But in Germany, even Greek food needs to obey the unwritten rules of the German: you need to keep the food to yourself so that you can pay for it separately at the end.

Fortunately, Greek food in London does not seem to suffer from the same drawbacks. Your chances to find authentic Greek food are better. This is not to say you don’t occasionally find an odd restaurant that prides itself for being Greek but its offerings are far from being authentic. In fact, there is a chain of joints and does exactly this: it names itself as the Real Greek but should be avoided by all costs. (It is, indeed, rather costly for what it offers). If you want to play safe you may chose any restaurant in the Greek area of Bayswater. I ‘d rather avoid this area, as any conglomeration of Greeks ends up reminding you of living a Greek life in a foreign country and never really getting to appreciate what London experience has to offer.

So, when it comes to tasting simple, authentic Greek food, there is no better place than “As Greek as it gets” at Earl’s Court. (Ok, I admit that I have not tried an exhaustive list of Greek restaurants in London, but this one is very close to the real food that you eat in Greece).

The traditional Greek souvlaki, called "First class" at the restaurant

The traditional Greek souvlaki, called "First class" at the restaurant

The moment you enter the restaurant, you realise that it does not live up to any of the clichés and the stereotypes of the Greek dining experience you typically encounter outside Greece. There are no posters of the “National Tourist Organisation” that advertise pristine beaches and beautiful places to visit, any ancient Greek statues or any form of kitschy ancient greek decoration reminiscent of the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”.  The area is rather modern and simple, mostly in shades of green. There is just  chandelier, the walls of the stairs are decorated with numerous wooden laddles (not be best of decorations), and the place is full of black and white pictures reminscent of the pictures you typically encounter in a rural old Greek house.

You will be shown to your table by polite table attendants (not necessarily Greeks, but the restauarant is Greek owned) and you will be handed the menu. There you will find many Greek traditional dishes, such as moussaka, pastichio –pasta with minced meat and béchamel sause -, spinach pie and mezedes. But is it for the souvlaki – the pinnacle of characteristic Greek food – that you are here for. Apart from the traditional souvlaki, a piece of meat, typically pork, wrapped around a pitta bread with some tomatoes, onions and tzatziki, you have several variations: one with chicken, one vegetarian and one with low calories. While Greeks might say that £3 or £4 per piece might be excessive for souvlaki, compared to  the prices of other restaurants in London, I believe that it is a reasonable price to ask.

There are, however, some things I am missing. It would be good to refresh the menu every now and then and offer special dishes depending on what is fresh on the season. While you can also order the food for takeaway, there is not delivery service and worse, there is not website where you can take a look on the menu and the restaurant. However, a visit to “As Greek as it gets” will convince you that it is worth the hassle to come all the way down to Earl’s Court.

Lambda.

P.S.: As Greek as it gets is located at 233 Earl’s Court Road, London , SW5 9AH (Google Maps , Google Street View) and the nearest tube station is Earls Court.

[all images © LambdaPhage, special thanks to my friend, Lila K for giving me her camera]