TV – Pretty Little Liars Review

November 28, 2016

Today’s the day I finally get my life back.

Why? Because since September 9th, I’ve been on an epic viewing marathon of Pretty Little Liars on Netflix and I’ve finally finished it.pll-poster

That’s 150 episodes in under 12 weeks, and in that time almost every other TV show I watch has had to take a back seat.

Of course, that I’ve watched this show has raised a few eyebrows from friends, including comments like “Is there some kind of sexual reason for this?” and “I didn’t know you were a teenage girl”, but I’ve always enjoyed the sort of over-the-top teen dramas like The OC, One Tree Hill and Revenge and I thought this would be no different.

So now that I’m finished – or I should say up to date with the series as there are still ten final episodes left to air in the spring of 2017 – was it worth watching?

I’d say yes.

Pretty Little Liars – a teen mystery show about cyber-bullying – is often frustrating and usually ludicrous but it is enjoyable. The characters are typically over the top, they make incredibly daft decisions – basically we could have saved ourselves 150 episodes if they just went to the police or confided in their parents – and they are almost all played by actors much older than the age they are supposed to be. Oh, and they are of course hugely talented whilst at school and amazingly successful after it, but that’s par for the course in shows like these.

As for the story? It’s six and a half seasons of bait and switch over who the mysterious ‘A’ is. You’d have thought that it should have been revealed sooner, but I guess if a show is successful then they have to keep the mystery going. That meant that almost the entire show takes place over the course of a few months in the girls’ final year of high school, and led to a situation where one fellow pupil looked like he was played by a forty year old man by season six.

Once the identity of ‘A’ was finally revealed – and inevitably disappointed me because it made no sense – I think it ran out of steam completely. The subsequent twenty episodes set in the future with a new enemy for the girls to face were just a slog to get through. Up until that point though, I was hooked. That’s from binge watching though; had I been a viewer week by week and five years in was no closer to finding out who ‘A’ was, I’d probably have stopped watching.

Should you watch it? Well if you enjoy mystery shows or the likes of One Tree Hill, then you’ll enjoy this too.

Just prepare for your very existence to be questioned for doing so.


Movies: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review (or ‘Oh, I Can’t Be Bothered…’)

November 28, 2016

Part of me can’t be bothered writing a review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

It’s not that it’s a bad film – bad films are easy to write about – it’s just that it’s yet another movie from the cookie cutter mould of modern Hollywood blockbusters.fantastic-beasts-sequel-03aug16

With a by-the-numbers plot, an over-abundance of CGI in lieu of good direction and cinematic flair, New York city getting destroyed again and acting that is simply ok (or in the case of Eddie Redmayne, copied directly from Matt Smith’s interpretation of The Doctor), I just found it utterly unremarkable.

The only unique selling point is that it’s set in 1920s New York rather than modern day.

People will love it – I know someone who’s going for the second time to see it today – but I just found it as bland as bland can be, and therefore I can’t muster up anything worthwhile to say about it.

It’ll be nice to walk through the set when it inevitably comes to Universal Studios though…


Doctor Who – The Power of the Daleks Animation Review

November 10, 2016

It was over five years ago that I sat down to review The Power of the Daleks.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but a lot of water has passed under the bridge in that time, with thirteen missing episodes finding their way back to the BBC and the never-ending saga of the Omnirumour rumbling on.

Now, in 2016, Patrick Troughton’s first story has made its way back to our screens in animated form.

You’d think this would be universally hailed as good news throughout the world of Doctor Who fandom, but then you’d be surprised.

I’ve read people say that they are ‘too old for cartoons’, others declare that ‘Doctor Who should never be animated because it was never intended to be’ and that they’d rather watch the telesnaps and most deluded

Though the BBC Store App wouldn't allow me to take the exact screen shot I wanted, this shows how animation can improve upon the limitations of the original

Though the BBC Store App wouldn’t allow me to take the exact screen shot I wanted, this shows how animation can improve upon the limitations of the original

of all, some suggest that they’d ‘rather wait for the episodes to be found’.

Jesus Christ…

I guess positivity – rather than the blind optimism/delusion shown by those who believe that the BBC would spend money on animating Power when they know or suspect that the original episodes are sitting somewhere ready to be discovered any day now – is a state of mind that some people refuse to embrace.

Animation is the best way to bring these episodes back to life. If they are rediscovered then great, but at this stage, the sensible planner will operate on the assumption that they are lost forever. I can’t get my head around people who would rather watch grainy telesnaps with the audio from the episode over animation that turns it into a proper viewing experience. Sure, people are entitled to their own opinions, but not watching them because you’ve decided you’re too old for a cartoon is just nuts. It’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.

And telesnap reconstructions are simply not commercially viable. Animations on the other hand have legs and with any luck, Power of the Daleks will sell well enough to justify more.

But does the quality of the animation justify the purchase from the BBC Store?

For me, it’s a yes.

While it’s not exactly a perfect recreation of the story – the animation of human movement isn’t the easiest thing to get right when you don’t have a Pixar-esque budget – it’s most certainly good enough to lose yourself in.

And though certain characters don’t look great – Ben doesn’t look much like Michael Craze here – others like Bragan, Hensell and of course the Doctor are pretty much bang on.

Meanwhile, in spite of the limitations, the animators do manage to achieve expressiveness in the faces of the characters, which helps the tone of the scenes.

As you would expect, the animation of the Daleks is the strongest part of it, as they glide effortlessly around the screen. The animators even manage to work in the issues with the real life props,

The Daleks are definitely the strongest part of the animation process

The Daleks are definitely the strongest part of the animation process

which I think is a very nice touch. For example, when the Daleks come out of the capsule, they thump up onto the ramp and then roll down it with all the control you’d expect from a prop on wheels. That wouldn’t happen in a story made today, and you might think that the animators would look to hide that limitation in this presentation, but they don’t. Good for them.

There’s no doubt that the animation will fail to capture little gestures and directorial set pieces that were in the original – lest we forget how the rediscovery of Enemy of the World brought back to life that wonderful forgotten moment where Salamander is smoking a cigar like a boss – but then it also improves on the limits of the era in which it was made. In particular, the scenes in the Dalek production line won’t have looked anywhere near as good on TV in 1966 as they did here, while one of the very few scenes that does exist – the cliffhanger to Episode Five – doesn’t have to have a fake backdrop with photos of Daleks on them.

So I would say it’s worth buying for the quality of animation, but the main thing – and what should be the foremost consideration for anyone thinking of buying this – is that Power of the Daleks is a really good story; in fact I rated it as 22nd best Doctor Who story of all time in Stuart Reviews Doctor Who: Book Two.

If you haven’t seen it then you need to.

And until such times as it might be returned – and like I say, we have to assume that it won’t be – then this is the only way to go.

So get buying, then maybe this time next year we’ll have an animated Dalek’s Master Plan to go with it.

You can read my original review of Power of the Daleks – part of my Doctor Who review project spanning every story ever broadcast – here.

 


Stuart Reviews Restaurants: The West Port Bar & Kitchen (St. Andrews)

November 9, 2016

The warning sign was there…

When I asked someone who works in St. Andrews whether or not The West Port Bar & Kitchen in the town was any good, the reply was ‘Meh, it’s ok I suppose’.

That pretty much sums it up.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants: The West Port Bar & Kitchen – The Venue.

To be fair to The West Port Bar & Kitchen, it’s a nice, clean building, designed in a style befitting the town of St. Andrews – i.e. quite posh.

The apparent 'Reuben'

The apparent ‘Reuben’

I could have no complaints about where we were sat, the noise levels or the comfort of the chairs. That was all fine.

But the service wasn’t great.

Though we were seated, had our orders taken and were served pretty quickly, the real letdown was that our waitress never bothered to clear our plates away when we were finished or ask us if we wanted dessert. Even when we put our plates to the end of the table in a mild display of passive aggression in an attempt to grab her attention, she just kept ignoring us.

What that did was turn us off our plan of getting desserts, so when a different waitress finally came to clear the table and ask if we wanted anything else, we’d decided not to bother.

So that cost them money in the short-term, and also put us off coming back.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants: The West Port Bar & Kitchen – The Food

Another aspect to mark it down on was the food.

Mhairi went for a Brie and Cranberry Sauce baguette, which you’d think would be simple enough to make work, but alas it was not to be. Essentially what she got was a baguette with salad and a bit of cranberry in

A lot of effort went into this Brie and Cranberry Sauce baguette

A lot of effort went into this Brie and Cranberry Sauce baguette

it, and then some slices of brie places on top. Surely when you order a baguette with a filling of your choice, you want your filling to ‘fill’ the baguette? She also felt that it could also have done with being served warm.

I meanwhile went for the Reuben Sandwich. You don’t get this American delicacy on the menu in too many restaurants in this neck of the woods, so it was the main reason I was happy to give the West Port a try.

And though the description didn’t follow the traditional style of the dish – in that replaced some of the core ingredients with pulled bbq beef, mustard and wholemeal bread – it still looked good on paper.

Alas it wasn’t well cooked. The beef was dry, the bread was just two pieces of toast without butter, the cheese was minimal and the mustard was non-existent. I had to smother it in mayonnaise to give it a bit of moisture.

The fries were also devoid of taste as well.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants: The West Port Bar & Kitchen – The Drinks

Again, it’s two lemonades, and they were fine.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants: The West Port Bar & Kitchen – The Vegetarians Viewpoint

The West Port Bar & Kitchen offers a wide range of vegetarian options, including a nice range of choice in their Healthy Eats range.

If you’re not a fan of the sausage, there’s plenty here to choose from.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants: The West Port Bar & Kitchen – The Price

All in all it came to £17, which is on the cheaper end of the scale. But then again we did just order sandwiches.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants: The West Port Bar & Kitchen – Final Thoughts

As we walked past plenty of other restaurants that looked great, we came to regret going to the West Port Bar & Kitchen.

It just wasn’t very good.

On the plus side, I was inspired to make my own Reuben Sandwich for lunch yesterday, and that was amazing.

So I’ll at least take some comfort from that…


Stuart Reviews Restaurants: Empire State Coffee (Nethergate, Dundee)

November 8, 2016

I love pizza, but I’m very picky about them.

My brother makes tremendous ones, with dough made from scratch and high quality ingredients for toppings. What that means is that most pizza restaurants just don’t cut the mustard for me.

Why would I pay to get something that’s not as good as what I get for free at least once a week?

But that’s not to say I won’t give a pizza restaurant a try, which is why I was happy to go along to Empire State Coffee in the Nethergate.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants: Empire State Coffee – The Venue

It’s a nice, informal cafe/restaurant set over a couple of floors.

This Pizza is a work of art

This Pizza is a work of art

The tables were spaced out enough, the seats were comfortable and the pictures of New York scenery all over the walls was suited what the name.

What I loved about the place though was the relaxed atmosphere. Of the two other occupied tables, one had a bloke doing work on his laptop while the other played host to a table full of people enjoying a game of Dungeons & Dragons or something similar. There’s just something about that vibe that I like.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants: Empire State Coffee – The Food

Empire State Coffee offer a wide range of Paninis, Focaccias, Tostatis and Pizzas. In fact there are 31 set pizzas to choose from – including the option of turning any of them into a Calzone – and of course the ability to add toppings or build your own.

And even for a picky person like me, I’ve got to hold my hand up and say I thought they were really nice.

No sauce on this 4 cheese pizza. That's a good thing though

No sauce on this 4 cheese pizza. That’s a good thing though

I went for the Popeye – Olives, Anchovies and Spinach – with Buffallo Mozzarella and Tuna as extra toppings, while Mhairi went for the Brie,Mozzarella, Gorgonzola and Parmigiano one. What was interesting about her’s was that it wasn’t served with a tomato sauce. That allowed the cheese to melt directly into the base, allowing for a better taste, although a drier one.

For me, the pictures tell the story. You can see that those are good pizzas.

On the way out, we also got a Peanut Butter Brownie to share, and that too was top-notch.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants: Empire State Coffee – The Drink

Unusually, there was no ‘proper’ lemonade, so we had to go for some kind of Artisan raspberry lemonade stuff.

It was decent, but I’m even more picky about my drinks than I am my pizzas.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants: Empire State Coffee – The Vegetarians Viewpoint

It’s a pizza/sandwich shop. What are you expecting me to write?

Stuart Reviews Restaurants: Empire State Coffee – The Price

All in it came to about £20. Not bad.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants: Empire State Coffee – Final Thoughts

We both thought it was great.

For those of you who don’t make your own pizzas, Empire State Coffee comfortably makes the best ones I’ve had in Dundee.

And yes, that might be controversial considering everyone seems so enamoured by the admittedly decent Pizza NY, but for me, this was better.

Give it a try.


Movies – A Street Cat Named Bob Review (or ‘If You Find Yourself Homeless, Get A Cute Animal Immediately’)

November 8, 2016

If you’re going to take one thing away from A Street Cat Named Bob, it’s that if ever you find yourself unfortunate enough to be a homeless drug addict, then get a cat, because it’ll turn your life around.

And yes, you could argue that’s an overly simplistic point of view to take having watched this movie – based on a best-selling book – about the real life struggles of homeless drug addict James Bowen, but it is true tobob a large extent.

Before he took in Bob the Cat, James was just like any other homeless drug-addict busker; it was the cat that got his singing noticed and gave him the lift up to get himself out of the hole he was in. It also allowed him to thrive as a Big Issue seller to the detriment of his rivals because people wanted to buy it from the guy with the cat sat on his shoulder.  If he didn’t have the cat, would he have been as successful a busker and Big Issue seller as he was? No. Sure, he might have managed to get back on his feet without Bob, but not to the point of having a best-selling book, a movie and an appearance on The One Show.

So get a cat, preferably a cute one who will happily sit on your shoulders and not move. And if not a cat, any crowd pleasing animal will do. A monkey with a fez and a set of cymbols might go down a treat, or a parrot who sings the songs with you. But don’t get a snake; those guys get a bad press even though they are simply trying to get by.

Oh, did you want to know if the movie was any good?

Well yes, it was. It’s basically a heart-warming and at times funny British drama that doesn’t get boring. If I had one criticism of it, it was that apart from a couple of minor setbacks that were immediately resolved, James faces no real adversity in the movie, and while that might have been true to his life from the point we pick his story up at, it made the whole thing seem a bit one-note.

But having said that, I enjoyed it.


Stuart Reviews Restaurants – The Bach Review (Exchange Court, Dundee)

October 31, 2016

I’m a little bit behind on my restaurant reviews, so I must apologise. I can only imagine those of you holding your breath have died of oxygen starvation…

But next on my travels round the eateries of Dundee is New Zealand restaurant, The Bach (pronounced Batch, which you should know to avoid any embarrassing social faux-pas in the company of Kiwis) in Exchange Court, Dundee.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants – The Bach: The Venue

The first thing to note about The Bach is the venue itself, situated as it is on the top floor of an old flour mill.

A Pretty Daunting Set Of Stairs.

A Pretty Daunting Set Of Stairs.

As far as I can see, there’s no obvious disabled access and a quick google search comes up with a line on their Facebook page confirming that.

Unless they’ve installed a lift since they wrote that, it means that the only way in is to climb the steep flight of stairs to the entrance shown in the picture. That not only precludes those who require disabled access, but also anyone with trouble climbing stairs.

Put simply, unless you’re fit, you’re not getting into The Bach.

Once you get in, it’s a nice enough looking venue with a purposefully minimalist style. The seating was comfortable but the lighting at the table we were sat at left a lot to be desired.

At one side I sat under a bright spotlight, while at the other, Mhairi was almost in complete darkness. I felt as though I was being interrogated.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants – The Bach: The Food

We came for brunch on a Sunday, so the menu was different to what you would expect during the week or if you’re coming for lunch or tea.

Having said that, there was still a decent amount of choice, and though they didn’t have what I had specifically come for – The Mexican Breakfast Burrito – I was pleasantly surprised by their off-menu alternative of mince on toast covered in a poached egg and Hollandaise sauce.

I say pleasantly surprised because it’s nice to have the choice of eating something a little bit different.

The dish itself was reasonable enough, but I think they added extra pepper and a hint of chilli to the point where the intended flavours were overpowered.

Mhairi meanwhile went for Gingerbread Waffles with Strawberries and Maple Syrup. She thought they were great, and having convinced her to let me try a bit I can confirm that was the case.

Mince on toast covered in eggs benedict. It was...interesting.

Mince on toast covered in eggs benedict. It was…interesting. Notice the wonderful lighting from the intense spotlight I was sat under.

I think I’d rather have had that than what I ordered.

As a takeaway treat, we each bought a brownie to go.

Now I’m a fair man and believe in only giving honest feedback, otherwise the reviews lose their merit, so I apologise to the chef in case he reads this when I say…

We both agreed that what we got was possibly the worst brownie we’d ever tasted.

Honestly folks, it was just grim. A dry, crumbly husk with dark chocolate chunks that made it bitter.

A brownie should be soft and chewy, perhaps even gooey. This was the opposite.

Thumbs down.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants – The Bach: The Drink

Fresh Orange juices for us both, and thankfully it wasn’t from concentrate.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants – The Bach: The Vegetarian’s Viewpoint

Almost everything on the menu with only a few exceptions was suitable for vegetarians and there were also plenty of items for vegans too.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants – The Bach: The Price

All in, it cost £25.50. That’s almost double the price of brunch at the superior Tonic and is more expensive than the vast majority of the places I’ve reviewed.

Let’s be honest, this wasn’t great value.

Stuart Reviews Restaurants – The Bach: Final Thoughts

The only major success story from The Bach was the gingerbread waffles. My food was interesting in theory but not particularly tasty, and brownies were awful. When you add that to potential issues with access, the relative lack of value for money and the discomfort of sitting under a bright light as if I was being interrogated, I just can’t recommend The Bach.