Amazing Spider-Man 2 @ The Giant Screen

With the relentless onslaught of superhero movies that have flown through our cinemas in the last few years it is easy to forget that a mere decade ago there was only a handful of household names in the spandex wearing community. One of the biggest of these was Spider-Man - a character who achieved much of his popularity because many of the audience found it easy to identify with a geeky teenager who just happened to have superhuman strength, agility and disturbingly sticky hands. After all, Clark Kent is a god like alien and Bruce Wayne is a tortured millionaire but Peter Parker is one of us.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 swings its way into Birmingham's Giant Screen this week like it's eponymous hero. The special effects that convinced us that web slinging was a feasible commuting method have been taken to a whole new level that, when combined with the massive 70 feet plus Giant Screen and state of the art 3D effects, left me feeling as if I was hanging on for dear life as our hero swooped, swung and sprang through the city.

There are a number of villains led by a sparkly Jamie Fox as Electro (a man who laughs in the face of rising electricity bills) although the acting honours are taken by Dane DeHaan who gives a searing performance as Peter's friend/enemy Harry Osborn. This film is an attempt by Sony to emulate the success of Marvel Studios in creating their Marvel Cinematic Universe and if the film has a problem it is in its attempts to spread itself too thin while setting up both future Spidey sequels and the proposed Venom and Sinister Six spin offs. Poor Paul Giamatti barely gets a look in as the Rhino despite what some of the marketing implies but no doubt we shall see more of him later.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone make appealing leads as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey but I think it fair to assume that cinema goers won't be flocking to see this movie for what it has to say about relationships for teenagers in the 21st Century. It’s all about bangs, flashes, chases and fights liberally sprinkled with humour (some of which works well and some less so) and some darker moments that communicate a sense of real peril that may have been lacking from the first movie in the series.

By “Numbers” Mike Ward who can be contacted on Twitter

Brum Faves: Brewsmiths

"Numbers" Mike pays tribute to a Birmingham favourite. The Jewellery Quarter is fittingly known as a treasure trove of hidden gems. Possibly foremost among these is a little coffee shop named Brewsmiths which is much loved by its customers for its quirky charm and attention to quality.

Brewsmiths Mike Collage

Located on Livery Street, a few yards from the rear entrance to Snowhill Station, Brewsmiths’ chilled atmosphere attracts a variety of customers. Many of them are return customers and it quickly becomes apparent that many of them know Dave and his team as the orders for tasty beverages and food are taken. The customers in the shop are among the friendliest and polite I have come across anywhere and only add to Brewsmiths attractions. I am somewhat of a caffeine fiend and stresshead but still find myself relaxing in Brewsmiths in a manner that I sometimes find difficult elsewhere.

I know people like the espresso there but I’m an old fashioned “white coffee please” type of guy. For people like me Dave has a serve yourself system with a superior Brazilian coffee (£2 each or £3 bottomless) and an honesty box. How nice to be treated like an adult! The advantage of this is that it allows Dave’s team to prepare the food more efficiently and customers to get their caffeine fix quicker. Very nice coffee it is too. The menu is varied and of uniformly excellent quality but I would be remiss if I did not mention that it includes THE BEST BACON SANDWICH SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME!!!!

Brewsmiths also has an interesting range of loose leaf teas. I’ve often been told that loose leaf tea is of higher quality than bags and tastes much better but never believed this held much relevance for me until I started experimenting at Brewsmiths. Just one example is the Dragon Eye tea which is a visual feast as it is placed on your table but has a subtle and refreshing flavour which belies its floral appearance. Dave and his team will always endeavour to guide you to a tea which suits your own palate, especially a certain Sarnie Sorceress who shall remain nameless.

Brewsmiths offer take-out for local offices as well as providing a venue for relaxed and effective meetings. Language learning groups, business meetings, writers’ meet ups and more find it useful but it’s also not unusual to see two old friends having a chat or someone beavering away on a laptop. In fact, I have written several of my articles there but I wouldn’t hold that against them. A quick glance at the noticeboard (or its Twitter feed) confirms that Brewsmiths has become a hub of activity in the local community and I am sure it will continue to fulfil this role admirably.

There are many excellent places of interest in the Jewellery Quarter (including several great pubs – you know what I’m like). But, since I moved away from the Jewellery Quarter, Brewsmiths is the place I miss most.

So I make a special trip. And so should you.

You can contact “Numbers” Mike Ward on Twitter and follow Brewsmiths here.

214 Livery St, Birmingham, West Midlands B3 1EU

Photos courtesy of Mike & BF archives

Welcome to the Birmingham Beer Bash

Beer Bash collage People have funny ideas about beery get togethers in this country. Sure, Oktoberfest in Munich has an aura of frothy fun and kitsch camaraderie that doesn’t require an obsessive interest in beer but here an entirely different image has lodged itself in the general public’s perception.  Mention beer festivals to the man on the Clapham omnibus and images of men with Darwinesque facial hair quaffing jugs of murky fluid present themselves.

This is somewhat unfair as for many years Birmingham has held an increasingly successful beer festival organised by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) which many, including me, have found to be great fun. But, in my not so humble opinion, there was room for a different approach which would complement rather than replace this event.  Apparently I wasn’t  the only person to think this but 10 guys and gals who met largely on social media shockingly decided to do something rather than just moan.

Hence the Birmingham Beer Bash. What’s so different about this you ask? Well the world of beer has changed beyond all recognition recently with new processes and talented enthusiasts producing beers that can’t be recognised by CAMRA because they are “keg” rather than “cask” but are light years from the flavourless beers that CAMRA have fought so long against. The Birmingham Beer Bash on 26th/27th July in Digbeth was designed to introduce people to interesting keg and bottled beers (sometimes known as craft beers) as well as interesting real ales that do not often make their way to Birmingham.

A range of food is also available from funky street food to fine dining. If you are interested in the techniques used to create the beers that are tickling your taste buds there are a number of talks and tasting sessions. If you just want to try new beers you can (possibly for the first time on this scale locally) enjoy a beer with a friend without worrying whether they like cask, keg, bottled, bitter, lager etc. Just enjoy yourself.

I haven’t listed individual attractions here because they are in the program.  Just know that bars, pubs and people in Brum are fully participating in the spirit of the event with some putting on their own events to add to the fun. From "A Moveable Feast" to "Zombie Walk" there seems little doubt that Birmingham is the place to be this weekend.

Why am I writing this? I am not an organiser of the Beer Bash. I am one of those guys who loves to drink traditional real ale in traditional pubs. Why did I volunteer to help the Beer Bash?

I did so because I like both cask ale and keg beer.  I did so because I like interesting food. I did so because I think this will give Birmingham a boost. I did so because I think it will encourage even more people to the Birmingham Beer Festival later in the year.

But mainly……..

I did it because it’s going to be fun.

Birmingham Beer Bash runs from Friday 26th to Saturday 27th July 2013. Click here for more info.

Contact “Numbers” Mike Ward on Twitter or see him at Birmingham Beer Bash!

Jazz Brings Pleasure To The New Inn

By “Numbers” Mike Ward Having visited the New Inn at Harborne on a number of occasions I realised that I had yet to take advantage of its garden which has recently been included in a list of the best beer gardens in Birmingham. This was partially due to a  problem with hay fever which has led me to believe that all plant life has formed a conspiracy against me and wants to keep me cooped up inside.

NEw Inn Jazz collage

A perfect opportunity presented itself with the announcement of the finale of the 29th Birmingham Jazz & Blues Festival where no-one less than Big Joe Pleasure would be bringing his unique style of fun to the venue. Big Joe is somewhat of a jazz legend and a chance to enjoy his music, together with a chance to sample some of the New Inn’s excellent range of real ales  (my personal tipple of choice),  served to entice me down to Harborne (an oasis of greenery close to the city centre).

Arriving at 4pm I was greeted by the welcoming tones of sax by Big John (Joe’s fellow band member) and I knew I was in for a good time. Within minutes he was joined by Big Joe himself and the guys in the band proceeded to dazzle an appreciative audience with a series of jazz swing standards punctuated with smiles, jokes and nods to the audience. Big Joe Pleasure has one of the most expressive faces on the surface of the planet and it was impossible not to be drawn into the atmosphere of fun, as well as warmth which had little to do with the blazing sun.

The New Inn is part of the successful Bitters ‘n’ Twisted group that includes The Victoria, Jekyll and Hyde, Rose Villa Tavern, Island Bar plus Bodega on Bennetts Hill. They are one of the big supporters of the Birmingham Beer Bash on 26th/27thJuly too. Each establishment I have visited has its own sense of individuality, and in some cases quirkiness. Add to that the high levels of polite and friendly professionalism by the staff and management. I’m somewhat of a curmudgeon at the best of times but I found I couldn’t keep the smile off my face as I supped a spectacularly tasty pint of Thornbridge Brother Rabbit, shuffled my feet and ignored my hay fever which occasionally provided a form of percussive accompaniment to the music when I sneezed. I am afraid I didn’t get any applause for this contribution.

I still can’t decide whether my favourite moment was ­­­­-- when a guest vocalist joined the guys for a brilliant rendition of Call It Stormy Monday or when Big Joe of the huge personality was waving at people as they walked along the road outside the pub. And yes, they did wave back.

One more thing; I can’t tell you what the food tastes like yet but I can assure you it smells divine.

Perfect music in a perfect venue? I agree, a most perfect Sunday afternoon.

Contact “Numbers” Mike Ward on Twitter