Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Classic Korean

When: October 2012

Sometimes a simple, classic lunch is what you need.  So one lunchtime on a quiet side street in the West End we went to Arirang for a quick bite to eat.  Apparently Arirang is the oldest Korean restaurant in London, but would this mean a decent dining experience?

With one of us on lunch break it was important that service was prompt and that the food did not take too long to arrive.  We were shown to our table straight away and given menus.  Shortly after we put our menus down our server came to take our food and drink orders.  We both went with a set meal, Dol Bibim Bap that included miso soup, pickled vegetables, bibim bap and fresh fruit to finish.  I washed mine down with a bottle of hite Korean beer my partner went with some tea.

Drinks arrived quickly and the soup and pickles not long after.  The soup was refreshing but nothing to write home about but the pickles were fantastic even though they did not include the expected kimchi.  Just as we were finishing up our pickles the main course turned up.  The bibim bap was hot and fresh, the yolk of the fried egg was just right and ran right through the rice when cut in two.  The only negative was the small amount of minced beef under the egg and vegetable topping.  Once we had devoured our mains we were left a few minutes to let our stomachs rest.  Once the tables had been cleared we were given our orange segments to eat which had been imaginatively presented in their own skins.

With our meal over it was time for the bill and time to reflect.  This was a nice, quick and simple lunch and was certainly good enough for me to want to try something more interesting from the full menu for dinner.

Arirang 31-32 Poland Street, London, W1F 8QT

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

An Evening With Thomas

The Hunt (2012, Thomas Vinterberg)
When: 14th October 2012

Where: Vue West End

Wow, what a start to this years LFF for us!  We had the good fortune to see Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt introduced by the man himself with and a short Q & A afterwards.  Anyway, on to the film.  The Hunt is set in a rural community in Denmark kitted out with fashionable beards and woolly jumpers, armed with hunting rifles and are a close knit bunch.  Our protagonist, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is a little down on his luck, he has divorced from his wife Kirsten and hardly sees his son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm), living alone in his big house with just his dog Fanny for company.  He also recently had to change jobs, now minding children at the local nursery instead of teaching at the secondary school which recently closed.  However, Lucas has good friends that help keep him looking to a more positive future.  He takes pleasure in looking out for Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), his best friend Theo's (Thomas Bo Larsen) often neglected daughter who regularly wonders off unseen and is continually scared of stepping on the cracks in the pavement.  He even has a new love interest, Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), one of the workers at the nursery, who is an immigrant and speaks an interesting blend of English and Danish.  Lucas finds his son, Marcus will be living with him once school breaks for Christmas, his luck his changing.  Then, with one sentence spoken by one person his whole world comes crashing down.

We are shown the set up for the incident, one evening Klara is sat at home and her older brother comes back with his friend showing off the pornography he has captured on his iPad and is intent on showing it to and crudely describing it to his sister.  The next day at nursery Klara makes a small heart and a note and leaves it for Lucas.  She also comes up to him and kisses him on the lips.  Lucas is quick to tell her she should only kiss Mummy and Daddy on the lips and that she should give the heart she has made to one of the boys her own age.  Klara denies having made the heart, despite us seeing her making it and signing the card with it "Klara".  

Yet again, Klara is the last one to be collected from nursery that evening and whilst Lucas and Nadja are flirting in the kitchen (well she is doing most of the flirting), the head mistress starts talking to Klara and she says that Lucas showed her "his willie" and it was pointing out (much like the pornography her brother showed her the night before).  The Head teacher is in a state of shock and over the course of the following day she begins to unravel, offering us the perfect guide in how not to handle a sensitive situation.  We also see a "professional" person interview Klara which is tragically shocking to watch and was apparently a slightly amended transcript from a real police investigation.

After the head teacher tells everyone that Lucas is guilty of molesting Klara and possibly other children at the nursery the town turns against him.  Her simple reasoning is that children don't lie, why would they?  Lucas is shacked up with Nadja in his house, she asks him if he really did it and she jokes about how ridiculous the whole situation is.  However, the situation takes a turn for the worse as Lucas begins to realise what it's like to be presumed guilty of paedophilia, one of the crimes with about has high a social stigma you can get.  The head teacher called his ex-wife to tell her what "happened", his son finds out and comes to visit him. The emotional situation between Lucas and his ex-wife causes him to get upset and kick Nadja out of the house.  His son Marcus goes out to buy him some food but gets kicked out of the super market much to the annoyance of the checkout girl who is more interested in asking him out.  As Marcus arrives back at his Dad's house he sees him being arrested by the police but cannot get back in to the house as the spare key under the mat is with someone else (we think Nadja).  Left with no option he takes the long walk to his Godfather Brunn's (Lars Ranthe)house.  Brunn is somewhat the unifying force of the town.  He has the large house and organises the hunts and drinking events for the men. Brunn promises to fulfil his duty as godfather and see what he can do to make sure Lucas is treated fairly (he is the only one who falls down the middle, actually keen to wait to see if there is sustainable evidence against Lucas before making his mind up).

Lucas is released by the police due to lack of evidence in the case (the children described him taking them to his basement, Lucas does not have a basement in his house).  Whilst Lucas has been cleared in the eyes of the law, he has not been cleared in the eyes of the townsfolk.  Whilst staying with Brunn, the kitchen window is smashed with a rock and his dog Fanny is killed and left out for him to find in a refuse sack.  Trying to do something as simple as buying groceries from the supermarket, or attending church on Christmas Eve become like running the gauntlet, especially as Lucas is keen to confront those who stop him going about his business.  The situation comes to a head when Lucas confronts Theo at church on Christmas Eve and again later that night at Theo's home.  Theo is torn, as he cannot believe both his daughter and his best friend.  That Christmas night he goes up to check on Klara and finds her talking in her sleep.  She thinks he is Lucas and she apologies for saying what she did and not realising what would happen for making up what she said.  Theo's opinion of the situation changes because of what his daughter said without being prompted by anyone and he decides to pay Lucas a visit with food and drink.  The two men talk about happier times in their past.

A year passes and there is a large event at Brunn's house.  It is time for Marcus to become a man as he is now legally allowed to hunt.  Lucas has been accepted back into the community again along with his son.  He is back with Nadja as well.  Marcus is presented with the family hunting rifle by Brunn to rapturous applause.  Lucas is still getting what looks like an odd look from Theo's older son.  The next day they are out hunting and Lucas is about to shoot a deer only to find there is someone else there.  A shot is fired narrowly missing Lucas who is in line with the deer.  Lucas looks back, a real look of dread on his face to see a figure looking back at him.  A figure that is masked by the sunlight streaming through the trees.  Is he ever truly forgiven?

For me when a film comes out that could have been set any time in the last 50 years I ask one simple question, why now?  For me there are a number of easy answers.  The central premise of the film is a false accusation made by a trusted person.  That accusation is quickly repeated and becomes the truth.  Not once are the real facts checked before it's too late.  The result is a witch hunt against the falsely accused that almost leads to his demise.  For me the film seems to parallel with the way in which social networks are used today, cyber bullying, mischief making and media manipulation. We've seen everything from fake airport bombers on Twitter to fake screws for the iPhone 5 on web forums to the trashed houses of kids who thought they'd invite the entire world to their birthday party via Facebook.  You take something small, a comment that is copied and copied and then spirals out of the control of the person who made it.  People still trust things seen on the internet, it can often be hard to tell the truth from fiction, just like with children and the consequences for getting this wrong can be tragic.   For me this makes The Hunt interesting as the more recent trend in cinema is to deal with the criminals that got away with it, rather than the falsely accused. The best example of this is to compare Vinterberg's earlier film Festen, with The Hunt to see how the director and the world have moved on.

For me the best thing about the drama is how the film manipulates your feelings for Lucas.  The film sets us up to feel sorry for him due to his work and family situation.  As you watch his reaction to the accusation against him your feelings for him change from sympathy.  You wonder if Vinterbeg will flash back to a scene confirming the accusations against him to show you up for rooting for Lucas.  You wonder if he will pack up and leave, or perhaps just put a bullet in his head.  Instead he fights as best he can and slowly you root for him but always worry that he wont make it to the end of the film. 

Just a little end note on the Q & A after the film.  Despite the best efforts of the presenter at miss-interpreting the audience's questions and managing to ask some pretty uninteresting ones of her own, Thomas Vinterberg  held is own and delivered his answers masterfully.  It was shame the Q & A didn't go on for longer as he gave good answers to good questions and I would have been happy to pay extra for my ticket if I knew he was turning up for a proper Q & A.

The Hunt goes on general release in the UK on 30th November 2012


French Touch

 Crêpes and Cinema
When: 21st September 2012
Where: The Kensington Crêperie
           Ciné lumière at the Institut français
Once upon a time I was going to start a blog called "Dinner and a Movie" to celebrate two of my favourite things.  Although it never came into being it is the inspiration for a number of my posts as when done just right there is no better thing than a great meal out followed by an even better film.  After an unintended break it was time to return to one of our favourite spots,  Ciné lumière at the Institut français , but before then it was time for some French food to go with a French film and what could be more appropriate than a  crêperie.

Like the film this evening crêpes are a simple premise that can be deliciously filled with endless possibilities from savoury to sweet.  However, in the wrong hands they can also easily burn, the filling could be uncooked, or they  can be too sweet or too salty.  Thankfully like the film we saw, this place had it nailed!  Service was quick and efficient, our crêpes were cooked perfectly and the cider was nicely chilled.  My dessert wasn't bad either, waffles and chocolate sauce washed down with a nice double espresso.  A great  follow up visit to the  Kensington Crêperie.  With our main course over it was now time for the real dessert, the film.

Untouchable (Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano, 2011)       There are a number of reasons why I really enjoyed Untouchable, the first was going in to the film with no expectations of what it would be about, a rare luxury these days.  This helped me really enjoy the film thanks to the way it introduces our two lead characters.  The film's opening scene takes place around 3/4 of the way into the plot of the film.  We hear the upbeat and happy melodies of Earth, Wind and Fire, a blue Maserati is speeding along at night.  Bright blue police lights and blazing sirens are not far behind.  We hear our characters discuss placing a bet on the likelyhood of a police escort.  The driver is young and black, dressed in a tracksuit.  His passenger is a scruffy old man with a beard.  You wonder what kind of crime they have committed and how they intend to escape from the police.  They certainly don't look like they belong in that car.  

The police officer asks them both to get out of the car, the black man says his passenger can't and to "check in the boot".  We are expecting something bad, in fact it is just a wheelchair.  Do they have the perfect scam going on?  The old man starts frothing at the mouth and coughing, he needs to go to the hospital.  

We still don't know the truth, after all if you've watched your fair share of Coen brothers films you'll know to be particularly wary when the words "Based on a true story" flash up at the beginning of a film.  Either way, forcing us to judge the characters upfront to expose our prejudices is a great move in my book.

We soon find out about who these two characters really are and the heart warming story of a rich, upper middle class man with a life changing disability who meets someone from outside of his social circle to take care of him and give him a life again.  

Coming out of this film, that opening scene stuck in my head and it made me think just for fun of a probably already green lit Hollywood remake of Untouchable.  I mean Hollywood aren't afraid to ruin the odd French classic here and there!  Why not something like Meet the Parents meets Dumb and Dumber.  The possibilities are endless.  My favourite would be Robert De Niro as the man in the wheelchair and perhaps Chris Rock as the man from the ghetto pushing him around, it could be a laugh a minute gross out joke fest with just the  Earth Wind and Fire track left in to stay true to the original.  I'm sure this re-making of the film would more than make back its money but something would be missing, my crêpe would have been overcooked on the outside but left the cold in the middle.

The thing that makes Untouchable the perfectly cooked crêpe is the balance that is found in the film.  Both the characters judge each other horribly, much like we judge them in the opening sequence.  Phillipe (Francois Cluzet) thinks poor old Driss (Omar Sy) should be taught the lesson that an honest days work means an honest days pay.  Driss thinks I might as well just turn up to the interview, get them to sign my papers so I can keep claiming unemployment benefit, it's not as if he's going to hire me.  These initial assumptions of both characters backgrounds are regularly and evenly played off against each other without too much judgement as to which is better.  They both laugh at each others hang ups in equal measure and both help each other get their lives back on track.   In all such balance makes for a great bit of entertainment that anyone can enjoy and identify with, whatever side of the tracks you come from you see yourself somewhere in Untouchable, you can really identify and bond with the situation however far from day to day reality it seems and apart from the Earth Wind and Fire you don't need a classic Hollywood score to tell you how you feel.  Please go and see this film as perhaps then they would make more like this rather than the kind of remake that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

The Kensington Crêperie 2-6 Exhibition Road, London SW7 2HF
Cine Lumiere 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT

Friday, 12 October 2012

Escape From the Carnival Part 2: Undersea Chaos at SEA LIFE London

The BP Portrait Award 2012

For day two of the Carnival we had planned an alternative escape route.  Rather than hiding out at Stonehenge, we would take part in some urban camouflage in the heart of the Southbank.  Before the main action we made a small detour to the National Portrait Gallery to check out the BP Portrait Award 2012.  This was a great warm up for the day ahead, below were a few of my favourites from the exhibition in no particular order:

Mr Kitazawa's Noodle Bar, Tokyo - Carl Randall
Still Waiting - Antonio Barahona
Rasputin always wins - Paul Moyse
Wes's Dream - Erin Wozniak

You can view the above pictures and info from the exhibition here: BP Portrait Award 2012

Las Iguanas
After a little taste of art it was time to fill our stomachs.  We settled on Las Iguanas, a Central and South American themed restaurant on the Southbank.  Las Iguanas appealed due to the cheapish looking lunch menu, the lack of a wait for a table and a feeling that if it were half as good as Wahaca we'd have a decent lunch.  We were quickly shown to a nice corner table in the downstairs part of the restaurant.  Sadly a common trick was in use today, advertise a cheap deal outside on the menu board, but once you get the customer sat down the deal is nowhere to be seen.  Instead we were offered a two for one on cocktails which we gladly accepted.  The cocktails weren't amazing but they did make for a very pretty picture.  The food was decent and came quickly, nicely presented and full of flavour.  Service was fine.  It was time for the bill and the chance to join the crowds for the privilege of queuing for the London Aquarium, or Sealife London as it calls itself these days.

SEA LIFE London Aquarium

Thankfully we had booked our tickets for the aquarium online that morning.  We took advantage of an after 3 PM special offer with reduced price entry and access to the priority queue.  If we hadn't have booked this offer we would have certainly walked away as the main queue was chaotic and slow moving and the admission charge is high.  Thankfully we waited barely ten minutes in the priority queue.  We hadn't been to the aquarium in some time and I remember it was busy in places on that occasion too.  Today however, it was crazy with people pushing each other in the dark on the way down to see the fishes.  The aquarium was worth about three hours plus of our time and we enjoyed watching the small children point out the "Happy Feet" and the "Finding Nemos"!  After a while of getting accustomed to the crowds and staying clear of the pushers it became an increasingly enjoyable visit thanks to the huge range of sea creatures on show and the chance to get up really close to them.  We also got to take some great pictures as well.

I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock, 1953)
I was looking forward to the next part of the day as we approached early evening on the Southbank, Alfred Hitchcock's, I Confess at the BFI.  I am a big Hitchcock fan with Vertigo and North by Northwest being two of my favourites but I was looking forward to I Confess as it looked like a simple tale of guilt and suspense.  The film is about a priest (Montgomery Clift) who is framed for killing a man thanks to a less than plausible alibi.  He is unable to clear his name, as the perpetrator of the crime Otto Keller, (O.E. Hasse) is someone close to him who has admitted to the crime whilst in confession knowing that the priest cannot say a word to anyone as it is against his faith to do so.  As the film progresses, the priest becomes more and more involved in the murder case.  However, he stays true to his beliefs by not giving up the suspect.  Eventually cracks appear, but it is not the priest that caves in.  After being found not guilty in a court of law to the disgust of all in the court room our priest walks free to cries of abuse from the crowd who all expected him to be found guilty.  Our murderer still can’t help himself and as his wife tries to give him up he shoots at her and the priest, fatally wounding his wife and giving the game away.   As the police and the priest chase him down he is still unaware and has deluded himself into thinking the priest finally talked as he is shot down by the police.   I Confess is a really well put together film in that all the characters have something to hide, have all trusted the wrong people or have betrayed the ones they love.  There is also an interesting political element/allegory with the criminal being German.  I was now looking forward to a tasty dinner to discuss the film over.

The Riverside
After years and years of walking past and saying no, we decided to try the Riverside at the BFI for dinner and it was a great choice, albeit the menu is a touch limited for regular visits.  The food is decent value for money and best of all there was no need to queue to get a table which on the Southbank is a big bonus when you are often quoted an hours wait for restaurants you'd not normally give the time of day to.  I went with the pulled pork burger with chips washed down with a pint of Heineken and finished up with a cup of coffee that smelt better than it tasted.  We then enjoyed the scenic walk back across the bridge to Embankment tube and off home, hoping we'd dodged the carnival for another year.

National Portrait Gallery - 2 St.Martin's Place London WC2H 0HE
SEALIFE London - County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7PB
BFI - Belvedere Road, South Bank SE1 8XT

Monday, 8 October 2012

Simple Pleasures Part 2

Mixed Doner, Thanks...
When: 5th October 2012
Where: Fez Mangal Ladbroke Grove

Fez Mangal 104 Ladbroke Grove London, Greater London W11 1PY

Festival Fun 2012 Preview

London Film Festival 2012
When: October 10th - 2012
Where: London!

This year I will be attending two films at the festival.  The first is Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt which I am very much looking forward to.  The combination of creepy James Bond villain and the director of Festen, one of my favourite films from the times of Dogme 95 should be well worth watching.  I will try and write up a review of sorts before the film goes on general release here in the UK.

The second film is Michel Gondry's latest The We And The I covering that magic moment of the last day of school.  As with some of the other Gondry films this may not get much in the way of a cinema release in the UK much like the excellent The Thorn in the Heart that we saw at a previous LFF.

These two should keep me going until Skyfall.  James Bond + IMAX = a great night out!