Month: December 2019

Gremlins

06/12/19

If ever I were given the task of choosing the grimmest Christmas-themed movie in existence, Gremlins would have to be a strong contender for the title. This weird yet strangely entertaining fantasy, with its back story of a dead dad stuck up a chimney and dressed as Santa Claus, is (unbelievably) thirty-five years old – and here’s the anniversary re-release to prove it. Produced by Steven Speilberg shortly after the success of ET had powered him to prominence, it’s directed by his protégée Joe Dante.

Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Ashton) is an inventor of (mostly useless) kitchen gadgets. It’s coming on Christmas and he finds himself in an unfamiliar town, desperate to purchase a last minute gift for his ‘kid,’ Billy (Zachary Gilligan). The fact that Billy is in his twenties, with a dull but responsible job in a bank, feels decidedly odd. Why not make him a teenage boy? Surely that would be more convincing?

Anyway, in a bizarre little shop on a quiet back street, Randall buys Gizmo – a cute little animal called a ‘Mogwai’ – and he comes away with just three care instructions. He must never expose Gizmo to bright light, never get him wet and, most importantly of all, he must never NEVER feed him after midnight. (This third instruction is annoyingly vague. At what time after midnight is it OK to start feeding him again? Go figure.)

Of course, Billy blithely disregards all the instructions, whereupon the little ‘Wonderful Life’-style town he lives in finds itself overrun with voracious, scaly beasties who seem determined to over-indulge in all the vices associated with the festive season, half destroying the town in the process.

I haven’t seen this film since its cinematic release in 1984 and my memories of it were that it was ‘quite scary,’ but, in 2019, it plays more like the the Muppets on acid. It’s great fun provided you can overlook the sheer unlikelihood of the plot and the inescapable fact that the majority of characters here act like no real person ever would in such a situation. Also, there’s fun to be had spotting things you might not have been quite so aware of first time around. Isn’t that Steven Spielberg making a silent cameo as an inventor at a convention? Look how young Corey Feldman is! (I’d like to kid myself this is his screen debut but according to IMDB, it’s actually his 28th.) And wait… that hopelessly inept local cop with the oddly shaped nose. Isn’t that Jonathan Banks, AKA Mike Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad? With hair! It is, you know! (And just for the record, this is his 48th screen appearance.)

Like many films from the 80s, there are elements that don’t pass muster now. Making the proprietor of the shop where Gizmo is found, an ‘exotic,’ half-blind, pipe-smoking, Chinese man, for instance, is not something that any responsible filmmakers would attempt in this day and age. But there’s also plenty to enjoy, not least the extended sequence where Billy’s Mom, Lynn (Frances Lee McCain), takes on five Gremlins that have invaded her house and uses a range of electrical kitchen implements to despatch them. I love the fact that the evil invaders personify everything that’s wrong with seasonal over-indulgence. And Chris Walas’s scaly creations – while representing what was state-of-the art animatronics thirty five years ago, and now looking a littly bit shonky – are still never less than a delight.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Dishoom: Breakfast

05/12/19

St Andrew Square, Edinburgh

We’re having breakfast out today and unusually (at least for us) we’re having it in an Indian restaurant. I’m sure I’m not the only person, who  – when the word ‘breakfast’ comes up – fails to automatically think of Bombay food, but Dishoom may be just the venue to change my mind.

Of course, we already know about this fabulous eaterie on St Andrew Square. Indeed, it’s one of our favourite places to eat dinner in Edinburgh, but lately it’s been annoyingly popular, and the last time we ‘dropped by’ for food, we were faced with the prospect of a  long wait for a table. And the problem is, Dishoom don’t take bookings (except for large groups) after 5.30pm. Then, the other day, a friend casually asked if we’d ever tried their breakfast menu. What the…? There’s a breakfast menu? How the chumping rollick did we miss that?

As you’ll no doubt have gathered, we didn’t need much persuasion.

So here we are, and actually, it’s gone 11am, so this is going to be more like brunch. There’s a convivial buzz about the place and the staff are, as ever, warm and welcoming. We take our seats, order coffees and peruse what’s on offer. Oh boy. We quickly realise that the main problem is going to be making a choice because everything sounds super-tempting but, eventually, final decisions are arrived at, and the food comes promptly on reassuringly large plates.

I’m having the wrestler’s naan roll, which is essentially a big, oven baked naan, all flakey and crispy and scrumptious, liberally stuffed with rashers of smoky bacon,  pork sausages and runny-yolked eggs. The meal comes with a little bowl of sweet chilli sauce on the side, which is particularly good on those peppery Ayrshire sausages and there’s also a scattering of fresh coriander. Umm. While this might not be the most photogenic meal I’ve had, boy is it good! I don’t so much eat it as fall upon it like a ravening wolf.

Susan’s vegan Bombay is certainly better looking than my dish and, happily, it’s equally mouth-watering. It comprises Beyond Meat sausages, vegan black pudding, tofu akuri, grilled field mushrooms, masala baked beans, grilled tomatoes and (whew!) a couple of home cooked vegan buns. The sausages and black pudding taste convincingly like meat, but the real revelation here is the tofu. I’ve eaten no end of flaccid, tasteless lumps of the stuff over the years, but this is a game-changer. It looks and tastes like spicy scrambled eggs. This may not be the point, but it certainly wins me over. (Confirmed carnivores should note that a non-vegan version of this meal is also available.)

The portions are definitely on the generous side, but I’m soon mopping my plate with the last scrap of naan, and already planning what I’m going to try next time. Finally, it would seem, Loudons has some serious competition in the breakfast/brunch arena.

If you’re bored with your morning toast and cereal options, this is a great tasting alternative and it comes at prices that won’t break the bank.

Go on. You know you want to…

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Goldilocks & the Three Bears

04/12/19

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s that time again. (Oh no it isn’t!) Well, yes it is actually and, as ever, when you’re talking about pantomime, the King’s Theatre does it better than just about anybody else in the business. This year feels particularly important, as it sees the return to the fold of  panto stalwart Andy Gray, prevented from appearing at last year’s show by serious illness. The extended applause he receives when he walks onstage at the King’s for Goldilocks & the Three Bears is heartwarming, to say the very least.

It feels as though the whole enterprise has had a bit of a reinvention this year. For starters there’s no mention of Christmas, and not a glimpse of the white-bearded man in the red suit. Instead, the theme here is the circus – the greatest show on earth – which gives the producers the perfect opportunity to throw a couple of high class circus acts into the mix. There’s a superb juggler, Alfio, who does things with hats you won’t quite believe, and The Berserk Riders, a motorcycle stunt troupe, who whirl dangerously around inside a metal globe. At one point, they literally have me holding my breath and crossing my fingers.

The plot: Dame May McReekie (Allan Stewart) and her husband, Andy (the aforementioned Mr Gray), run a circus where all the animals are allowed to run free. Meanwhile, their daughter, Goldilocks (Gillian Parkhouse), sings up a storm, and is all too aware that Joey the Clown (Jordan Young) is carrying a torch for her.

But not all circuses are quite so charming. Baron Von Vinklebottom (Grant Stott, channeling Boy George) runs a rival enterprise, where he keeps his animals in cages and enjoys brutalising them at every opportunity. Boooo! When he claps eyes on the three talking bears who are to be the McReekie’s new headliners, he obviously wants them for his own show. Much hilarity ensues – and I really mean that. There are times here where I’m laughing so hard I have tears in my eyes and it’s mostly the result of the skilful interplay between the three lead players. Stewart in particular is a consumate comedy powerhouse.

As ever, the razzamatazz is cranked up to number eleven – and the lush production values on display challenge anything you’ll find in London’s West End. It’s also heartening to witness how subversive this uniquely British art form can be. Where else will you find silly humour aimed squarely at the youngsters, punctuated by risqué remarks about Prince Andrew and other topical subjects, directed at their parents? Whatever happens to hit the zeitgeist is picked up and added to the brew.

And of course, this being set in the world of the circus, there are animals galore – elephants, giraffes, monkeys and (naturally) bears, all lovingly rendered amidst a joyful  onslaught of sound, colour and general exuberance.

If a top quality pantomime is what you’re looking for, your search is over.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Strange Tales

03/12/19

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Strange Tales is clearly a passion project. Pauline Lockhart – who co-directs, co-wrote and co-stars in the production – was looking for a venture that could combine three perennial bedfellows (folk tales, the supernatural and, naturally, martial arts), when she came across Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. In collaboration with Ben Harrison, and supported by a whole raft of partners, including the Confucius Institute for Scotland and the RSC, she has created a quirky, dreamlike piece of theatre that lingers in the mind long after the applause.

Lockhart resolves any notion of cultural appropriation, both by being upfront in asking, “Is it okay for me to tell these tales?” and – more importantly – by casting Chinese and Malaysian Chinese actors Luna Dai and Robin Khor Yong Kuan to work alongside her. This three-hander, set on a stage that breaches the first few rows, breaks the fourth wall in a casual, almost familial way, as the performers tell us what the tales mean to them. For Lockhart, they are a recent discovery, but Dai remembers her grandmother telling them to her, while Kuan not only read the book, but watched a TV adaptation too. ‘Everyone knows Pu Songling, right?’ he asks us, the tumbleweed response making us confront a simple truth – that borders limit our knowledge.

There’s a delightful playfulness to this production, with humour taking precedence over terror. The tales are, indeed, quite strange, with ghosts and demons and fox-spirits moving between the living and the dead with apparent ease. The three actors perform a whole host of roles with consummate skill, and the action is cleverly enhanced by puppetry, video and choreographed movement. The sound effects are spectacular, and there’s a little bit of magic or illusion too, with a couple of vanishing acts that genuinely bewilder me. How did they…? Huh?

These are morality tales without obvious morals, highly entertaining and most unusual (to me, and this Scottish audience, at least). I’ve never seen anything quite like them.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Southside Scran: Festive Set Menu

01/12/19

Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh

‘Tis the season for festive dining, and here at B&B, we’re always on the lookout for good deals, so the announcement of a new festive set menu at the Southside Scran is something that needs to be investigated at our earliest opportunity. So here we are at lunchtime on December 1st (can’t get any earlier than that!). all ready to eat, despite the fact that the two friends due to accompany us have bailed at the last moment because of a not-so-festive lurgy.

We love the Scran; part of the Tom Kitchin group, not only is it a short walk from where we live, but – more importantly – we’ve never come away from this place disappointed. We take our seats and enjoy the fresh ciabatta, butter and goose liver paté that’s always served here. Then the starters arrive. I’ve been missing paté, due to the fact that it seems impossible to buy in this country, unless it’s encased in layers of plastic. So I’m happy to opt for the rabbit rillette, which proves to be light and creamy and full of flavour. It’s accompanied by salad and toast. Susan has the goats cheese vol-au-vent, a delightfully flakey pie, which comes with tangy red onion marmalade and drops of basalmic vinegar.

We both want the turkey ballotine for the main course (though we’re torn between that and the roasted pumpkin risotto, which we’ve had before and loved.) But turkey wins the day and it looks and tastes amazing, with chunks of brussel sprout, potato, crispy salty lardons and a pretty heritage carrot on the top. There’s a jug of rich, red wine gravy to finish things off. Those who feel a roast dinner should occupy half an acre of plate may look down on this, but it encompasses all the flavours of a Christmas dinner and is suprisingly filling.

Room for pudding? Well, go on then. It’s almost Christmas!

I choose the chocolate mousse & citrus sablé, which is satisfyingly rich, while Susan opts for the mincemeat and frangipane tart, served with brandy crème Anglaise. This too is an utter delight and I say that as somebody who has only been able to eat mincemeat for a relatively short while, due to a long childhood aversion to the stuff, now conquered.

The three course set menu (£30 per head) comes with tea or coffee, and those hearty types who still have some room to spare can add a cheese course for a little extra. Of course, you can also mix and match. We add a couple of sides from the bistro menu at £4.50 each – some warm, crunchy French beans with hazelnuts and shallots and, as ever,  a bowl of macaroni cheese, because… well, because we’re hopelessly addicted to the stuff. And don’t tell me it doesn’t go with turkey. Macaroni cheese goes with everything. Fact.

All in all, this is a superbly satisfying way to get the festive season off to a perfect start. And it’s also excellent value for money.

5 stars

Philip Caveney