Tower Block (dir. James Nunn, Ronnie Thompson) 2012

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This is a no nonsense, horror/thriller movie. It is set on the top floor of a tower block that is about to be demolished. It is a British film and has an excellent British cast. It moves along exactly as you would expect, but the action is taut and interaction between characters manage to keep good tension going throughout he film.
Sheridan Smith, Russell Tovey, Ralph Brown and Jack O’Connell are all very good as the resourceful tower block inhabitants attempting to escape their situation, while quarrelling amongst themselves.  The set is excellent, the block is scuzzy, the area urban, the setting is as bleak as the position the tenants find themselves in.
The characters are flawed, but real, and there is not much pretense of politeness between them. The script is good and we grow to know, even if we don’t necessarily like, the protagonists. We want them succeed and applaud their increasingly desperate ingenuity.
This type of film generally follows a set narrative arc and the denouement is much as you would expect. There aren’t many surprises here, but it is a likeable film and very good at what it does.
Recommended.
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The Nice Guys (dir. Shane Black) 2016

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This is a curate’s egg of a film – good in parts. It’s sets out to be a pastiche of a corny 1970s Blaxploitation movie, and it succeeds almost too well for its own good. The plot is very ’70s, a light, far fetched, political conspiracy theory.
The characters are caricatures. Ryan Gosling as Holland March is quite knowing about it and carries it off very well, we get to like him and he is actually very funny.  Russell Crowe seems to be just walking through the film saying his lines, so his character is two dimensional. Angourie Rice is great as Holland’s daughter and also has some of the best lines of the show.
This movie contains violence, sex references, nudity, bad language and drug use; all gratuitous, all characteristic of the time. Not so funny in itself but funny because in the 70s they were only recently able to put these into films, so they did, even if it was unnecessary.  The humour is broad, bordering on slapstick, but it works, mostly
The sets are perfect and costumes are right on.  I particularly enjoyed the soundtrack, apparently some of the songs were too late for the time in which it was set, but they felt right to me.
On balance, Shane Black has done an excellent job directing “The Nice Guys” in that, from slight material, he has made a little go a long way.
 

Shake Shack, Victoria Nova, Victoria, London

 
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This is a shiny, brand new, glass fronted burger and hot dog restaurant on the corner in Victoria Nova. The building is beautiful and given the location, there will be a lot of passing trade. It is licensed, so it sells beer and wine, although I did not order any with my burger, and to be honest I did not see any alcohol on any of the tables that were occupied.
The burgers are marketed at the top of the price range, advertised as being 100% Aberdeen Angus beef, source verified and traceable. I don’t doubt that this is true. I had a single smoke shack, which comes with bacon, cheese and cherry peppers.
It was good without being exceptional, the cherry peppers were a nice addition, but the meat  was a little bit greasy for my taste. The chips were an extra £3 and were poor value. There wasn’t enough of them, and they were crinkle cut, semi-crispy and hollow. They were also cold when they arrived, although when I complained they changed them without query. The shake was nice and thick, but very sweet, perhaps they are more aimed at children than adults.
Given all the new high-end burger joints opening in London, the competition must be fierce and this did not strike me as one of the best. Sorry to say, I think “5 Guys” does it better.

The Wild Party, The Other Palace, Victoria, London.

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Andrew Lloyd Webber has bought the theatre that used to be known as The St. James Theatre and changed its name to The Other Palace. He wishes it to become the place where writers and producers can try out and refine new work.
The first show here is “The Wild Party”. This musical has a lot of good things going for it. The ensemble are fantastic, the songs are good, the comedy songs are very funny. The dancing and choreography are fast and good, the characters are interesting and flawed.
For me, the music is too loud for the size of the theatre, it took me about three songs for my hearing to adjust enough to understand the lyrics. This is a shame because the lyrics that I did hear were acerbic and funny. The ending is a bit of an anti-climax, if ever a show needs an encore routine, this is one. This is such a disappointment because so much of the rest of the show is wonderful.
The songs are a nice mixture of vibrant, funny and bitter. The dialogue is sharp. The choreography is dynamic and energetic. The atmosphere is decadent and sexy. The closing series of songs in the first act is amazing and if they were to somehow make this the finale of the whole show, it would run forever.
It is hard to pick out individual performances, not only because everyone is very good, but also because everyone in the show has their own part to play. There is no chorus here.
Frances Ruffelle and John Owen-Jones have beautiful emotive voices. Donna McKechnie and Bronte Barbe are both funny and have a great song each, showing off their range. Steven Serlin and Sebastien Torkia are a clever comedy double act. Gloria Obianyo and Genesis Lynea are excellent at joining the show together. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt arrives late and threatens to steal the show. The dancing is uniformly outstanding.
This show truly is a wild party, bringing with it all that this entails. It is an exhilarating rollercoaster ride, and like all the best parties – although I may have some regrets the next day, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

The Rookery Café, Streatham Common, London.

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The Rookery is an ornamental garden on Streatham Common. It is on the site of an old guest house, now gone,  where Queen Victoria used to visit, to take the water, from the three springs, on Streatham Spa. It is still a very pretty, well maintained garden with long views over South London and the South Downs.
The Rookery Café is a nice, old style, park café, with indoor and outdoor seating. There are  pleasant views from the outdoor tables. It is child and dog friendly. It has bowls for water and dog treats in a jar on the counter.
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It has a good selection of hot and cold food. It has vegan, vegetarian and gluten free choices. It has a well maintained community noticeboard offering everything from local plays to invitations to join a brass band.
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It is on the Capital Ring, near the end of Section 5, a very pleasant place to stop for refreshment, if you are doing that walk.

Penelope (dir. Mark Palansky) 2006

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Penelope has a high quality cast. It is a film studded with famous names. Christina Ricci and James McAvoy play the leads, but it also has Richard E. Grant, Ronni Ancona, Peter Dinklage, Nick Frost, Reese Witherspoon, Catherine O’Hara and many other recognisable people. In fact, I have to say we did enjoy playing spot the celebrity throughout this film.
The acting was actually good, but I cannot say that I enjoyed this movie. I didn’t like the premise. It is about a young girl who has a curse set upon her, causing her to be born with a pig’s nose. It set out to say that beauty is only skin deep and that the person is more important than how they look. However, the writer and director obviously did not believe this to be true, you could tell by the over-reaction of everyone to Penelope’s nose. Her parents believed that it was okay to keep her hidden from the world because of her looks. They felt that they would have to trick someone into marrying her. I was also not keen on a 21st century film suggesting that the only good outcome for a young girl is marriage.
I did not like the outcome of the film. I hated that the “happy ending” was not that somebody was able to love her for herself, but that her nose got fixed!
I understand that this film is marketed at children or young adults and that it is not aimed at my age group, but that makes it almost worse in a way. The film implies, as a joke admittedly, that it is normal behavior for people to run away and jump out of windows to get away from people who don’t conform to a look that we see as normal.
I realise that people have conflicting views and others may see this film differently, but if I had children of that age, this is not a movie that I would be taking them to see.

Springfield Park Café, Capital Ring, Section 13, London.

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Springfield Park is a pretty park with lovely views over Hackney Marshes. The Café is just inside the main entrance to the park on Springfield Road. It is in North London, not far from Stamford Hill.  Its a lovely old fashioned park café with plenty of seats inside and out. The view from the outside seats is very pretty; over the Lea River and the canal boat marina.
The café has a great choice of both hot and cold food, with the menu hand written in chalk on blackboards behind the counter. I loved the, industrial sized, vintage orange press that freshly squeezes your juice while you wait. It looks like it comes from the early 1970s. There is a big community notice board in the hallway, crammed with flyers for events in the area. It has everything from flats to rent, through mindfulness meetings to trombone tuition!
 

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View from the tables outside.

 
The park itself is on the Capital Ring, a long distance walk around London. Although the café is  a bit nearer the start of section 13 than the end, it is definitely the nicest place to stop for a break, if you need one.
A lovely café in a very pretty park.

An Afternoon on the Bentota River, Bentota, Sri Lanka

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Seneka, our driver, said “I have a cousin who has a boat, for US$10 he will take you out on the river. For another US$10 his brother will show you everything and act as a guide. His English is very good. There is lots to see.” So, we agreed to go.
 

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Our boat arriving to pick us up

 
We had hardly left the shore when we saw a water monitor, at least two metres long, sunning herself in the garden of a riverside house. I was impressed. Our guide was less so “Water monitors, there are many, look in the trees” I looked up, indeed in the branches almost directly above our heads, there they were – just as big. I was less impressed and more nervous now. “Don’t worry” he said “They have no interest in people. Oh look! A chameleon.”
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And there it was, showing off, changing colour as we watched, becoming less green and more stick coloured as it moved away from the leaves. Dotted along the banks of the river were jetties, some with boats some without. One had a man sitting on it, with a baby crocodile beside him. “Is that a crocodile?” Michael asked. “Oh yes, it’s his pet”. We pulled up. “Would you like to hold him? It’s quite safe” The baby crocodile was thrust into Michael’s hands before he could refuse. I was secretly very pleased my hands were full with the camera at that point.
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“Will they keep him as a pet?” I asked. “Oh no, he will go away before he gets big, we will see very big ones soon” The river is wide but we stayed close to the edge because crocodiles like to be submerged in the shallow water and the shade, away from the afternoon sun. Michael had the camera again and was on the water side of the boat watching out for the crocodiles. I was on the side near the bank. I noticed the boat driver gesticulating at me. “Duck your head down low, now!” Michael said, in an ominously calm, yet urgent, tone of voice. I complied immediately. I looked back as I did so and I was confronted with a Green Vine Snake less than a foot away from my face.
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I paled, but I did not scream or jump out of the boat. I’m proud of that. Michael leant in  to take a photo. Our guide announced “It’s a Green Vine Snake; very pretty, but it is poisonous.” Michael leant away again. “It’s not interested in us, it mostly eats frogs and lizards.”  I obviously appeared horrified. “Oh look, Bee Catcher Birds” he said pointing upward.
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There were a pair in the tree above our head. They do actually eat bees, they pull out the sting and then eat the rest whole. These larger Blue Tailed Bee Catchers also eat wasps. The wasps in Sri Lanka can be very large and dangerous. His distraction worked. The snake was forgotten.
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The next strange thing was the shop, on stilts, in the middle of the river. Nothing near it, and no customers, but it was definitely a shop. It appeared to sell coconuts, fruit, soft drinks and boxed groceries. It seemed rude to question why it was there, so I didn’t ask. Soon after this we began to see the crocodiles. We saw four or five, but they were hard to photograph, partly because we didn’t want to go too near and partly because they stayed mostly submerged in the cool water – out of the warm sun.
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On the way back we saw Giant Fruit Bats. They really do look like the batman motif when they fly and they are surprisingly big.
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We took a shortcut through the mangrove forest on the way back, which was pretty but eerie. It made us very happy that we had remembered to use our mosquito repellent before we set off.
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We saw egrets, ducks and herons. We also saw a mongoose that was too quick for us to photograph. In total we spent about two hours on the water, we had a fantastic time. It was a great introduction to Sri Lanka, after all this was still our first day there.
Photos courtesy of Michael Jolly.
 
 
 
 

Brasserie Zedel, Piccadilly Circus, London.

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Here is a restaurant and bar complex with the Wow! factor. This really is a hidden gem. Its address is Piccadilly Circus because it is underneath it, but to find Brasserie Zedel, you need to stand on the corner between Regent Street and Shaftsbury Avenue and look up the narrower street between them. Its entrance is actually in Glasshouse street, you will see a few tables and chairs outside, under a red awning.  Enter the unassuming looking café with and descend the circular staircase and you will arrive at a subterranean vestibule that looks like the set of a 1950s French film.
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This alone is surprising, it has a number of  doors and passages off it. One for coats, one for toilettes, one with a dinner suited man inviting you to the Bar Americaine, a post WWII, French/American style cocktail bar. One of the doors leads to Brasserie Zedel, a huge opulent ornate dining room, replicating a high end Parisian restaurant from some more glamourous era.
The room is very big and it is decorated in pink marble, polished chrome and mirrors, which makes it seems even larger when you first enter. It is busy and noisy and you feel like you have stepped into some hidden world. It is hard to believe that you are beneath Piccadilly Circus.
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The menu is French, and in French but our waiter offered to translate, if we needed. The food is good, without being as spectacular as the surroundings. The prices are reasonable for central London and there appears to be some good value fixe price offers available. Despite its size, it is worth booking or there is a good chance that you will eat sitting at the bar, this is perfectly comfortable place to eat, but if you come here, you will want to get the full experience.
It has a nice wine and cocktail list, many good wines by the glass and wine by the bottle seemed good value for the quality. The service is good, although there are so many staff that you will be served by many different people on the one visit.
Our experience here has been good, and it is very handily situated if you are looking for somewhere to eat, either before or after the theatre.
The real reason to go here, however, is for the amazement of your party when you bring them into such an astonishing venue, so centrally located, in the heart of London.
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The Young Offenders, (dir. Peter Foott) 2016

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This is an Irish road movie, set in Cork. It is written and directed by Peter Foott and, if this film is representative of his work, he has a great talent for both dialogue and character development. Conor and Jock are two feckless 15 year olds, Conor works in a fishmongers, because his Mam is the only one who would hire him and Jock seems to support himself by nicking bikes. The film is the story of them taking off to the coast, to find some bags of cocaine that have supposedly been washed ashore from a shipwreck.
Imagine “Bill and Ted” doing “Smokey and the Bandit” in County Cork on stolen bicycles…. well it’s weirder and funnier than that.
One of the many great lines form this film states “There are two things you need for an adventure, a treasure map and someone dumb enough to go with you” Neither of these boys have a clue about anything, but by the end of the film, you are really invested in them and wish them success.
This film has a hard exterior but a soft center. Jock is covered in bruises from his hard drinking Dad, but it is hardly mentioned.  Conor and his Mam are verbally abusive to each other but have an almost tender scene in the second half of the film. The acting is naturalistic and there are great performances from Alex Murphy and Chris Wally as Conor and Jock.  Hilary Rose is excellent too as the harsh Mam and P.J. Gallagher as “the drug dealer”
I liked the cinematography, Cork looks lovely in the sun and there are some great songs on the soundtrack, including “Where’s me Jumper” by the Sultans of Ping.  The incidental parts are clever too, Cork and its environs seem populated with eccentric characters and quirky misfits. What makes this film stand out though, is the amazing script, it is littered with funny lines and mad ideas.
Peter Foott has made an excellent film here and I am already looking forward to his next one.
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