Passorn

13/12/17

Brougham Street, Edinburgh

It’s always exciting when you discover a great place to eat – and an extra bonus when it turns out to be within walking distance of where you live. Brougham Street, the unassuming thoroughfare that leads up from Tollcross to Edinburgh’s Meadows, has already yielded us two superb eateries. First of all, we sampled the quirky delights of Ong Gie, a fabulous Korean restaurant that specialises in barbecuing food at your table. https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2016/12/18/ong-gie/

Next up, we decided to try Taxidi Greek Bistro, a brand new diner that now occupies the premises where My Big Fat Greek Restaurant used to reside. That too, proved to be an absolute corker. https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2017/11/13/taxidi/

It has long been on our minds to try the restaurant right next door to Ong Gie so finally, on this chilly winter night, fuelled by a couple of drinks at the Cameo Cinema Bar, we decide that we really shouldn’t leave it any longer.

Passorn boasts that it offers ‘angelic Thai dining’ and it must be said there’s a lovely relaxed feel about this scrupulously clean restaurant. We haven’t booked, but it’s early in the week and they soon find a place for us. When we arrive, the restaurant is nearly empty but it quickly begins to fill up, so clearly it already has an established fan base. We order drinks and settle ourselves down to peruse the menu. What’s interesting here is that – with the curry dishes – the customer can choose the level of heat they prefer – I know of many people who have been permanently scared off Thai food simply because they’ve been on the receiving end of something way too fiery for them.

For my starter I select Bangkok Cakestwo perfectly formed Thai-style cakes, one of prawn and one of cod, served with kaffir lime leaves and red chilli paste. They are both exquisite, expertly spiced and yummy to the last mouthful. Susan opts for Nam Tok Moo, a dish from the North East of Thailand, featuring char-grilled pork with coriander, fresh mint, lemongrass, red onion, roasted rice and Passorn’s own chilli dressing, the whole thing attractively served in  a hollowed-out red cabbage. Again, it’s a knockout, absolutely scrumptious.

For the main course, I choose Pia Samun Prie, crispy monkfish pieces in a turmeric and coconut sauce, topped with crispy onion. The chunks of fish almost melt in the mouth and the dish makes a perfect contrast with Susan’s choice of main course, Angel Curry. This comprises a marinated 8oz sirloin steak in a spicy red curry sauce, served on a bed of crispy potatoes. (My mouth is watering just describing it!) The meat is so tender it can be cut with a standard knife and the tangy, palette-tingling sauce is just perfection on a plate. Furthermore, the combination of the two dishes is inspired, though I’ll admit that’s more down to luck than expertise on our part.

We also order side dishes of Pad Mee (stir fried noodles with beansprouts) and Sticky Rice. Regarding the latter, I’ve had various permutations of this dish all over the UK, but this can only be described as super-sticky, a satisfying gelatinous lump that actually has to be divided up with a knife – and possibly the main reason I end up too full to consider investigating the puddings. That’s not a criticism, by the way. But if you like to finish your meals with something sweet then maybe pace yourselves a bit more than we do.

No doubt about it, this is superb quality Thai food, as good as anything you’ll find in the New Town and, it has to be said, excellent value for money. Which prompts me to ask the question – is Brougham Street the city’s new ‘must-visit’ culinary location?

On the basis of the three restaurants we’ve sampled thus far, that would have to be a resounding ‘yes!’

5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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Brigsby Bear

12/12/17

Once in a while, a movie comes along that is fresh and original enough to make it stand out from the herd. Brigsby Bear is one such movie – a charming allegory about the importance of childhood and the awful wrench we inevitably feel when we must finally leave it behind. It’s also funny and quirky and its delicious sense of invention keeps me hooked to the final frame.

James (Kyle Mooney, who also co-wrote the screenplay) is a twenty six year old, living in an underground bunker with his parents, Ted (Mark Hamil) and April (Jane Adams). Outside, he’s been told, there’s a nuclear wasteland where he dare not venture without wearing a respirator, so he passes his time watching episodes of a shonky children’s serial, recorded on VHS tapes, featuring a character called Brigsby Bear. The episodes arrive at regular intervals and the walls of James’ room are lined with hundreds of copies. But one day, police cars arrive at the bunker, sirens wailing. James is taken away and Ted and April are arrested. It’s down to Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear) to break the alarming truth to James. Ted and April are not his real parents. He was abducted many years ago and the whole bunker/nuclear holocaust thing is an elaborate construct to keep him safely out of the public eye. Whats more, his real parents, Greg (Matt Walsh) and Louise (Michaela Watkins) are just dying to be reunited with him. Oh, yes, and one other thing – he also has a younger sister, Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins).

James does his level best to integrate with his new family, but something very important is missing from his life. Of course, he’s keen to see the latest episode of Brigsby, but it turns out, this too is just another part of Ted and April’s scheme to keep their abducted ‘son’ occupied. Ted has been filming the series himself, episode-by-episode, inventing a whole universe of characters to keep it going. The problem is, James cannot abandon something that means to much to him, even though psychologist, Emily (Claire Danes) urges him to move on with his life and put away childish things. But James is determined that the series must be completed at all costs and in the absence of anyone else to undertake the job, he decides he will do it himself…

It may sound a little outlandish when set out so matter-of-factly, but it’s done with absolute conviction. James’ awkward interactions with Aubrey’s friends are astutely realised, funny but also endearing – ‘Would you like a beer?’ ‘Yes, I’ll have one of that.’ Also, the way James charms other characters through his naive interplay with them is another lovely element. (The bit where Detective Vogel admits he used to do a bit of acting is a particular delight.) I enjoy the hokey (not so) special effects and the fact that James’ abductors are not portrayed as weird and evil characters, but as people who are mostly motivated by love. Uniquely, here is a film that has no real villain – unless you count Sun Snatcher, the chief baddie from the Brigsby Bear adventures.

This film may not be to everyone’s taste, but in my honest opinion, it’s one of the most original slices of cinema I’ve seen in quite a while and well worth seeking out.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Stronger

11/12/17

This film makes an interesting companion piece to Patriots Day, in that both movies cover the same event – the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon. But where Peter Berg’s offering concentrates on the hunt for the perpetrators of the crime, Stonger opts to focus on one of the bombing’s victims: twenty six year old Jeff Bauman, who had the misfortune to be standing too close to the rucksack that held one of the homemade explosive devices.

When we first encounter him, just days before the bombing, Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal) has recently split from his girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany) and is doing everything he can to encourage her to come back to him. When he hears that she is planning to run the Boston Marathon, he dutifully turns up on the day carrying a homemade placard to show his support… and moments later, loses both his legs in the bomb blast. When Erin spots his blood-spattered face on a TV report, she hurries to the hospital, where Jeff’s dysfunctional family, headed by his mother, Patty (an almost unrecognisable Miranda Richardson) are already gathered, waiting for him to come back to consciousness. Erin finds herself inexorably drawn into being his carer/companion, even moving into the little apartment that he shares with his mother – but as his long, slow recovery begins, it’s apparent that Jeff still has a lot of issues to come to terms with; and it doesn’t help that the people of Boston constantly  want to celebrate him as a homegrown hero…

David Gordon Green’s film expertly walks a perilous tightrope. This powerfully affecting story could so easily have descended into pure corn, but the fact that it doesn’t is only one of its many strengths. The script (by John Pollono, based on Jeff Bauman’s book), refuses to turn its lead character into the hero figure that the people of Boston so evidently want him to be. There’s no rose-tinted glasses here. Jeff is presented as a feckless, often selfish individual, with a self-destructive personality – and a similar ‘warts-and-all’ approach is taken with the various family members who weigh in to lend  their support with all the finesse of a herd of stampeding elephants.

Gyllenhall’s performance is superbly affecting (here’s yet another movie which I viewed mostly through a fog of cascading tears), while anyone who has watched her assay multiple roles in Orphan Black will know what to expect from the very talented Maslany. Miranda Richardson’s turn as the boozy, hapless Patty is also beautifully judged. Suffice to say that the various mutterings about the film’s Oscar potential may not be entirely misplaced. But who knows? Oscar can be a notoriously fickle beast.

Stronger is ultimately a film about the process of healing. I loved its honesty and passion and though it keeps its most shocking images for later on in the proceedings, when they do arrive, in a series of brilliantly edited flashbacks, it doesn’t hold back.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

 

The Tin Soldier

 

The Studio, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

09/12/17

Bird of Paradise Theatre’s production of The Tin Soldier is an object lesson in the art of storytelling. It’s thoughtful and vibrant and beautifully done.

Jack (Robert Softley Gale) and his friends live in The Place. Based on the Internats, where non-ambulant disabled children were ‘dumped’ in Soviet Russia, The Place is cold, inhospitable and under-staffed. Left to their own devices, the children forge strong ties, creating their own family units. And, central to this bonding process, is the sharing and telling of stories.

The appeal of The Tin Soldier is obvious: the loyal, steadfast toy is one of very few positive depictions of a disabled character in children’s fiction. He might not have a happy ending, but he’s undoubtedly the hero of the tale: dogged, determined, loving and loveable.

But the real beauty of this piece is all in the telling. The multi-media, multi-format approach is beguiling: the story is told simultaneously through spoken word, sign language, subtitles, music and animation. If that sounds chaotic, it’s not. It’s all perfectly choreographed, each form complementing the next, adding subtle layers of meaning and complexity. Caroline Parker, as the aptly-named Dancer, is especially mesmerising, signing the songs centre-stage; it’s visually stunning, even though I don’t know sign language.

Bird of Paradise’s artistic vision is of “a culture where disabled artists are recognised for the excellence of their work” – and Softley Gale, Parker and Joseph Brown (Kipper) certainly merit accolades for these performances.

The music is provided by Novasound, aka Audrey Tait and Lauren Gilmour. It’s lovely: Gilmour’s voice has a plaintive quality that really suits the tale.

The Tin Soldier is playing until the 23rd December, so if you’re looking for a festive family show that goes beyond the obvious, then why not take a look at this? You won’t be disappointed.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield

The Disaster Artist

08/12/17

Let me begin with a question: is it ever possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? In this analogy, the sow’s ear is Tommy Wiseau’s movie, The Room (https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2017/12/04/the-room/), a film of such toe-curling ineptitude that it actually hurts to watch it – and a film, moreover, that – since its initial release in 2003 – has somehow recruited a sizable coterie of avid fans, who gather at regular midnight screenings around the world to celebrate its general naffness. The potential silk purse is The Disaster Artist, the film about the making of The Room, in which James Franco plays Wiseau and, in a hubristic gesture that Wiseau would undoubtedly approve of, also directs.

Franco’s film opens in San Francisco in the 90s, where we meet young wannabe actor, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), who is struggling to make some kind of impact on the local theatre scene. At a workshop, he encounters Wiseau, a mysterious long-haired individual who, when invited to improvise in front of the other students, unleashes a ‘performance’ of such unabashed fury, that the more inhibited Sestero immediately wants to know more about him. The two men become buddies and, when Wiseau casually suggests that they should go to Los Angeles and ‘get into the movies,’ Sestero happily goes along – Wiseau already has an apartment there and he’s perfectly happy to share it. It soon becomes apparent, however, that there are a lot of unanswered questions concerning Mr Wiseau. Where does his seemingly bottomless pit of money come from? Why does a man who claims to be a native of New Orleans have what sounds like a middle European accent? And why is he so willing to go to any lengths to impress Sestero? Will there be a price to pay?

When, after months of fruitless auditions have resulted in exactly zero film or TV roles, Wiseau announces that there is only one option left: he will write a movie script for the two of them to star in – and then he will direct it. Which is pretty much what happens. Wiseau’s complete ignorance of the film-making process means that he ends up spending over six million dollars on his little vanity project and, since he seems reluctant to heed any advice from professionals, the result of all his labours is an incoherent mess but, undeterred, he sets about arranging a premiere…

It would be very easy to make a cruel comedy out of this but, though the film is often laugh-out-loud funny, Franco’s evident affection for Wiseau shines through in every frame. As the director has said in interviews, it takes as much commitment and ingenuity to make a bad film as it does to make a good one and it will be a hard-hearted individual indeed who won’t feel for Wiseau when his beloved project is greeted by hoots of derision from all who see it. Franco’s impersonation of Wiseau is uncannily accurate, as are most of the other performances here. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot some big names in cameo roles: Sharon Stone, Bob Odenkirk, Seth Rogan, Josh Hutcherson, J.J. Abrams. Oh yes, and there’s Bryan Cranston actually playing himself. Most telling of all is the extended sequence at the end of the film, where scenes from The Room are played alongside their equivalent from The Disaster Artist. They are virtually identical.

So, the million dollar question. Do you need to have seen the original movie in order to enjoy this homage? Well, it may not be an essential requirement, but it certainly helps me to fully appreciate the care and attention that has gone into this project. Mind you, with the new interest in The Room that the film seems certain to generate, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a general re-release is waiting in the wings, which I’ve no doubt will be a bonus for Mr Wiseau.

So, returning to my original question, in this case yes. The sow’s ear has become a silk purse – and this is definitely one of the most intriguing films of the year.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

The Arabian Nights

07/12/17

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

The Arabian Nights is unusual: a children’s Christmas show that never mentions Christmas. Of course it doesn’t – this is a collection of mainly Middle Eastern and Indian stories – but they’re wonderfully apt for the festive season, as marvellous and magical as can be. Suhayla El-Bushra’s script is sprightly and engaging, and nicely complemented by Joe Douglas’s lively direction. This is a delightful production.

At its centre is Scheherazade  (Rehanna MacDonald), a young girl who has fallen foul of the tyrannical Sultan (Nicholas Karimi). Desperate to stay her impending execution, she regales the taciturn leader with tales she has learned from her storyteller mother (Neshla Caplan). Despite professing to hate stories, the Sultan is beguiled, demanding more and more. And, as time goes by, the two develop an unlikely friendship.

The staging is lovely: simple but evocative, brightly coloured and celebratory. And the stories are beautifully told: there’s puppetry and music, shadow-play and song. It’s zesty and energetic, the stories tumbling across the stage as quickly and impressively as the acrobats. It could be chaotic, but it’s not, even when we are faced with a sequence of four (or is it five?) tales within tales, each left open as the next begins, a masterful piece of writing if ever there was one. The actors are fantastic too: a true ensemble, most performing many roles with humour and precision.

Accessible yet profound; moving yet funny; sophisticated yet full of fart jokes: this is perfectly pitched for a family audience.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Cinderella

06/12/17

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s hard to believe but the pantomime season is already upon us! In Edinburgh, of course, that can mean only one thing: the annual Christmas panto at the King’s Theatre, presented once again (in fact, for the thirteenth year in succession!) by the ‘gleesome threesome’ of Allan Stewart, Andy Grey and Grant Stott. If you were worried that their enduring domination of this seasonal slot might have led to a certain sloppiness, don’t be misled. Cinderella is just as assured a production as ever, and the ease of the three performers with each other is evident from the off-set. The highest compliment I can give them is that they make this look so easy, when in fact pantomime is one of the hardest theatrical disciplines to get right.

Mind you, they don’t mind subverting some of the established rules of panto either. Why not have four dames, for instance? A nice one (Stewart as Fairy May), a mean one (Stott as Baroness Hibernia Hardup), and two that are … well, women (Clare Grey and Maureen Carr as the Ugly Sisters)? And who ever said that Cinderella (Gillian Parkhouse) and Prince Charming (James Darch) can’t be involved in some of the funniest scenes? Meanwhile, it’s left to Grey to deliver his usual dim-witted, prat-falling persona as Buttons. Okay, so some of his material may have sailed into Edinburgh with Noah, but my goodness, he makes me laugh!

So, what we get is a fine festive banquet, replete with colourful costumes, energetic dance routines, double entendres, local banter and lashings of general silliness. Any mistakes that occur are gleefully pounced upon and incorporated into the hilarity and there’s plenty of skilful audience interplay – anyone would think these guys know what they’re doing.  Just when I’m thinking ‘this is great but there’s nothing here to rival last year’s stunning ‘helicopter’ sequence’, the special visual effects team unleash a creation that has large sections of the audience – me included – gasping out loud in a ‘how did they do that?’ kind of way. 

If you and your family are looking to get into the festive spirit, this would be a really good place to start. Cinderella runs until January 21st and there are still some tickets available at time of writing, but please don’t hang about… they’re selling like the proverbial hot mince pies!

5 stars

Philip Caveney