Jack the giant slayer – the review

Despite a slow first act, Bryan Singer’s update of the legendary fairy tale gets going once the eponymous hero, and a small army of king’s warriors reach the top of the bean stalk in their mission to retrieve the stranded princess Isabelle.
Nicholas Hoult, looking like a young Tom Cruise in Legend, does a good job as the brave-hearted hero, and achieves the remarkable feat of enduring most of the movie without suffering a scratch.
Ewan Mcgregor plays his role with just the right amount of Flashheart style bravado, and Ian McShane is suitably noble as the ruler attempting to keep his kingdom in order and protect his daughter from the wrath of giant enemies.
An added bonus is the ever likeable Stanley Tucci as the duplicitous villain who steals every scene he’s in.
Despite some ropey cgi in the first few minutes which looks like it belongs to a 1990s video game, once we see the mo-capped giants, we realise how far cgi rendering has come in the past decade. There a depth and heightened realism to most of these characters, though at times you feel like you are watching cut scenes from a video game.
Bill Nighy does a great job voicing the head bad guy, and there’s a touch of How to get ahead in Advertising meets Gollum about his conjoined twin head.
The movie may not have shattered box office records around the world, but on a dull Tuesday in Leeds, it ticks many boxes in the entertainment department.
And in a movie with giants as the antagonists, it’s worth seeing it on the big screen if you can.


Captain America – the weak link in marvel’s movie chain

Captain America is back on the big screen, and as a lifelong fan I couldn’t be happier.

Well actually I could, but we’ll come to that in a minute.

Cap has always been one of the most troubled superheroes to adapt for live action movies, and one key reason is that semi-stupid costume.

Pirate boots, the stars and stripes threads and that winged mask work in comics, but when adapted for TV and film, the result is usually disappointing.

I should know. I sat through both of Reb Brown’s 1979 TV movies, and the horrible 1990 travesty in which Matt Salinger rarely donned the iconic suit.

Fans had a long wait until director Joe Johnston’s hit-and-miss Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011. It had a lot going for it, including terrific turns from Hugo Weaving as arch enemy Red Skull; the ever-reliable Stanley Tucci (as the obligatory doomed ally scientist), and Hayley Atwell as Steve Rogers’ feisty love interest Peggy Carter (now rumoured to be starring in her own spin-off TV series).

One key problem, aside from that awful headgear, was the fact the weaker Rogers (a masterpiece of CG magic) was more interesting than the generic beefed-up super soldier he became.

Great heroes are defined by how they deal with their weaknesses, whether it’s Iron Man’s heart shrapnel or Superman’s Kryptonite. Captain America doesn’t seem to have an Achilles heel, apart from the fact he’s a de-thawed popsicle coming to terms with 21st-century life.

Hardly life-or-death stuff is it?

“Had The Winter Soldier been made 40 years ago, I reckon co-star Robert Redford would have been the perfect choice to play Steve Rogers. And now I’ve mentioned it, doesn’t Evans seem a little lacklustre by comparison?”

Cap’s real movie test was of course Avengers Assemble, Joss Whedon’s superb 2012 blockbuster which beautifully juggled several iconic Marvel heroes and assorted villains.

Alas, as much as I like Chris Evans’ patriotic hero, it was stretching things to believe his beefy alter ego could command uber Alpha males Iron Man, Thor and Hawkeye, let alone verdant muscle mountain the Hulk.

Yes, I will believe a scientist can turn into a green giant in the Marvel universe, but not that they would follow a generic blond himbo into battle.

Had The Winter Soldier been made 40 years ago, I reckon co-star Robert Redford would have been the perfect choice to play Steve Rogers. And now I’ve mentioned it, doesn’t Evans seem a little lacklustre by comparison?

Sorry Chris, you were the best thing about the dire Fantastic Four films, but you just haven’t got the chops to carry movies of this size.

Which may be why Marvel bosses have filled The Winter Soldier with classier distractions, like Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Redford’s SHIELD VIP Alexander Pierce, and Cap’s long-time comics sidekick, The Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

Like the 1992-1997 Batman movies, there’s always the danger with comic book-inspired sequels of the hero being a supporting character in his own film, so a few alarm bells are already ringing (though perhaps not as loudly as the box office tills will be in the coming days).

Griping aside, in a year laden with superhero flicks, I am thrilled at the prospect of 2014’s first blockbuster. I also hope directors Joe and Anthony Russo have given comics fans the Captain America film we finally deserve and not just a thinly veiled preamble to next year’s crowd-pleaser Avengers: Age of Ultron.

And yes, I have started counting the days to that sequel.

Roger Crow is a film and TV journalist. His greatest birthday present of the 1970s was a Captain America action figure. It may also be the reason he now spends far too much money on Marvel merchandise.

Olympus Has Fallen – the review

If you had to use one word to sum up Olympus Has Fallen, the new movie with Gerard Butler, ‘generic’ would sum it up admirably.

As you may have heard this is Die Hard in the White House, one of two films we see this year on the same theme.

Butler is the best mate of US president Aaron Eckhart. We know this because they love boxing together at Camp David. Gerard is also best mates with the President’s son and the First Lady. In fact they seem to be one big happy family.

So when a film starts with everyone getting on like a house on fire, you know it’s only a matter of time before a house is actually on fire, in this case the White House.

The most famous building in America is compromised in a mere 13 minutes by Korean terrorists who stay one step ahead of the US defence forces, but don’t count on Butler, who works in a nearby building and hasn’t forgiven himself for the death of a key individual 18 months earlier.

So the generic bad guy is desperate to get his hands on the codes for Cerberus, a top secret mcguffin capable of wiping out most of America.

As the drama unfolds, every attempt by outside forces to stop the terrorists ends in bloodshed, but Butler and bullets get on about as well as oil and water. They just slide off him.

By the third act, Morgan Freeman, Robert Forster and Angela Bassett have spent most of the movie arguing with one another or Butler about how bad things are while hostages are shot on camera. The trio are like a rich bernaise poured over cheap meat loaf in the hope you think you are eating top steak.

The whole thing is excessively violent, the script excessively dull and a bit stupid while the special effects are just plain average.

There are also huge potholes, such as near the finale when Morgan and his colleagues are given a scant amount of information and yet assume the President is dead. At one point Morgan sits back in his chair looking utterly dejected. I know how he felt.

Kick Ass 2 – The Review

I enjoyed the original Kick Ass three years ago, and the prospect of a sequel was welcome at the time.
However, I wondered if writer/director Matthew Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman would be on board for the follow up.
The good news is they are in a producing capacity, while writer/director Jeff Wadlow is obviously channelling the manic intensity that made the original so refreshing.
In fact the lack of pretense and sombreness that dominated films such as The Wolverine and The Dark Knight Rises makes this a welcome breath of fresh air.

Aaron Taylor Johnson and Chloe Grace Moretz are once more fantastic as the eponymous hero (Dave Lizewski) and Hit Girl (Mindy Macready) respectively.

Alas, student by day, viral Internet vigilante in a scuba suit by night, Dave seems to have learned little from the original movie; he still gets hit a lot by generic villains.
Meanwhile, Hit Girl is still a whirling dervish of energy, and foul language. And like an arch criminal, steals the movie both as the lethal purple assassin and as the confused teen trying to adapt in a world of ’plastics’ at high school.

Christopher Mintz Plasse attempts to bring a view fresh licks to his role as a villain, but once more comes across as just annoying and spoiled. Okay, that is the point, but I wish he’d shown a little more depth.

Then there is Jim Carrey as the head of the vigilantes who slots into Nicolas Cage’s role from film one as the patriarch character – a God-fearing, gun-hating, dog-wielding anti hero, who also takes an early bath half way through the movie.

I can understand Carrey’s reluctance to promote the movie after the Sandy Hook massacre. At times Kick Ass 2 does seem to glorify violence, but this is comic book carnage, and the over-the-top tone is no different to the original film.

For the most part, Kick Ass 2 is a lot of fun; violent, foul-mouthed, hedonistic fun reminiscent of Ben Stiller’s effort Mystery Men… with a lot more blood.
Colourful, subversive and a little unhinged.

In a film market dominated by superhero flicks, it’s good to see Brit movies poking fun at the genre.
It also proves you don’t need to spend $100m to make a great superhero movie.
At $28m, this was far more enjoyable than snoozefest Green Lantern, or Chris Nolan’s impressive but overblown offerings The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel.

Star-spotters should look out for reliable British supporting actors Stephen Mackintosh and (Alan Partridge’s love interest) Monica Dolan as the costumed vigilantes ’Remembering Tommy’, a duo looking for their missing son, and Andy (Dead Set) Nyman as barely recognisable villain The Tumor.

It’s not perfect by any means. Some ropey special effects during a truck chase let the side down, but unlike some bigger budget comic book efforts which tend to follow the same formula of ’explain hero origins; villain executes deadly plan, face-off against boss monster’, this is mostly an engaging, adrenalised mix of Mean Girls and Watchmen.

The plot sees Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass join a team of fellow vigilantes called Justice Forever, while falling for sexy team member (with perfect abs) Night-Bitch (Lindy Booth).

Meanwhile, at the behest of her guardian, Mindy Macready retires her Hit-Girl alter ego, and spoiled gangster’s son Chris D’Amico becomes the world’s first super-villain (this time sporting an Oedipal moniker instead of his original Red Mist).

Seeking vengeance for the death of his dad, Chris recruits his own gang, including androgynous ’Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV mode’ antagonist Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina).

No super villain would be complete without an evil lair, in this case boasting a Damien Hirst-style shark in a tank, which forms the backdrop for the showdown.

The first two acts are pretty engaging, but things tend to drag on too long, so by the third chunk you are ready to go way before the closing credits roll.

Kick Ass 3 is inevitable, and bound to centre on an adult Mindy and Dave.
Not such a bad prospect. If those two don’t eventually get together, there is no justice in the movies, comic book or otherwise.

Elysium – The Review

I love good sci-fi movies that are credible and about something. Trouble is most are hampered by stupid scripts, sly winks to camera or bizarre logic twists that let the side down.
For me Elysium is about as good as none-sequel, none comic/game sci-fi epics get these days.
Edgy, epic, rarely dull and stunning to look at.
However, 20 minutes in I wished heroic Max (Matt Damon) would get a break – and not just his arm from a cop droid.
A blue collar worker in a sweaty, decrepit LA, he proved gripping and believable from the word go.

Aside from that injury (for expressing a sense of humour in front of the authorities), he got a lethal dose of radiation and had an exo skeleton bolted onto his body.
By the time Robo Matt appeared I breathed a slight sigh of relief, but knew his ordeal was far from over.

Desperate to reach the eponymous space station and complete a ’vital cerebral info download’ mission, the long suffering Max clashed with psycho South African Kruger (a scenery-chewing Sharlto Copley) and his army of goons, endorsed by one of Elysium’s big cheeses, Delacourt (Jodie Foster).

It’s a crying shame that design genius Syd Mead, Richard Taylor and the brilliant Weta crew created a stunning future world, yet Foster’s badly dubbed voice let the side down.
Spaghetti Westerns have had more verbal credibility.

In a pre-screening blog, I’d mentioned I wanted to see something special, and it was. I was even moved a couple of times, partly because the concept of a device that could cure cancer was so desirable, and the scene when medical shuttles are launched to help the sick on Earth left me a tad emotional.
Imagine a world where the ill got the attention they needed, and not just based on their bank balance. A glorious dream.

Elysium is not perfect by any means. Too many slow motion shots; Frey, Alice Braga’s nurse, was compelling, but whenever she repeated the name ’Max’ it grated, and the shaky cam shots were annoying.

But these are small niggles.
Elysium had a broad canvas to fill and did such an admirable job I was left craving another hour, or immediate sequel.
Even the score was great (aside from the Lisa Gerrard/Gladiator/The Insider-style wailing) and kept me in my seat for most of the closing credits.

Okay, the space ring idea is nothing new in sci-fi, having been explored countless times, from Larry Niven’s Ringworld series to the hit game saga Halo (which seems to have dominated my life for the past decade).
However, rarely has it looked so good on the big screen.

The fact writer/director Neill Blomkamp was going to make a movie version of Halo is apparent in several scenes, but in many ways I’m glad that never saw the light of day.
Game adaptations are nearly always disappointing; better to forge something relatively new and create a fresh universe worthy of revisiting than a pale imitation of a button-bashing saga.
Personally I wished the next chapter was already available, with or without Matt.
Elysium is one world well worth returning to.

The cinema events of 2014 (so far)

LockeTom Hardy, a car, a motorway, a series of phone calls. Seventy plus minutes of soul searching, family problems and an attempt to put things right like an troubled industrial engineer or cement specialist probably would. Hardy channels Richard Burton in a brave, bold slice of movie making. Experimental film at its best from dirty Pretty Things’ Steven Knight.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – An Oscar-worthy turn from Andy Serkis as smart ape Caesar, Matt Reeves’s sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a breathtaking drama despite another clumsy title. Slow moving admittedly, but there was a lot to enjoy here. And if Weta don’t receive an Oscar nomination for Best special effects, I’m a monkey’s uncle.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 – bigger, bolder and as moving as the original, with terrific animation and action. Stealing the show, as before, is Toothless, the most engaging creature to grace the big screen in years.

The Knife That Killed MeKes meets Sin City in this bold slice of imaginative storytelling featuring a great cast.

The Wolf of Wall Street Martin Scorsese’s best film in years. A superb performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, and fine comic relief from Jonah Hill helped my this three hour comedy-drama fly by.

Lucy. Luc Besson returns to form with this bonkers sci-fi thriller. ScarJo as mesmerising as ever.

Under the Skin – Dir Jonathan Glazer delivered one of the most haunting, memorable fantasy dramas since The Man Who Fell To Earth in 1976. Once more, Scarlett Johansson proved she is one of the smartest cookies in Hollywood.

Godzilla – director Gareth Edwards proved he could make the leap from low budget ’Monsters’ movie to A-list epic with ease. Reminiscent of classic era Steven Spielberg, this was one of the most rewarding blockbusters of the year. Little wonder Edwards was snapped up for a Star Wars standalone movie.

The Grand Budapest Hotel Wes Anderson’s best film in a decade. Offbeat, funny, a great turn from Ralph Fiennes and a glorious cast. Worth checking out.

Her – an achingly sweet love story of our times. Joaquin Phoenix delivers his best turn in years as the letter writer who falls for his sexy operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Visually glorious. Word perfect. Take a bow Spike Jonze.

Though not films, NT Live’s screenings of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Skylight were screened at cinemas and deserve a mention here. As does the Albert Hall screening of 2009’s Star Trek (with orchestra).

Guardians of the Galaxy – Director James Gunn created one of the most enjoyable space fantasy adventures since Star Wars in 1977. A glorious B-movie, with fantastic turns from Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, a killer retro soundtrack, and a superb team of special effects experts who breathed life into instant icons, Rocket Raccoon and Groot. Bizarre, surreal and hugely entertaining. The sequel cannot come soon enough.

Man of steel-the review

Rebooting one of the best loved film sagas of all time was no easy task, but Zack Snyder has done a good job.
Epic smack downs, cool suits, a fine score and dazzling special effects all ensure you get plenty of value for money.
However, it’s remarkable for a film that cost more than $200 million features dialogue so clunky it sounds like it was written by a first year film student.
Some of General Zod’s lines, especially during the inevitable smack down near the finale, are cringeworthy.
Thankfully, at least Michael Shannon does a great job as the Shakespearean-style bad guy.
Russell Crowe dominates the first 10 to 20 minutes of the movie as the noble Jor El; Inevitably, considering this is a Snyder movie, Kal El’s mother looks like she stepped out of 300.
Henry Cavill is rather good as the eponymous hero, while Amy Adams makes a sexy and likeable love interest.
It’s also good to see Law and Order veteran Christopher Meloni proving he can dominate the attention on the big screen.
Considering this has to compress so much information into a relatively short running time, Snyder and his colleagues have thankfully managed to keep assorted plates spinning.
Mixing flashbacks with present day action, the screenplay deftly juggles assorted plot points, including the destruction of Krypton, Kal’s arrival on Earth, his growth to maturity, and his romance with Lois.
It’s not a perfect film by any means, but at least I cared about the hero and heroine. Which was more than could be said for Superman Returns.
In 3-D and D box, this is a treat for the senses.
Hans Zimmer had an unenviable task of creating the score, considering how influential John Williams’ original theme had been since 1978.
It could have done with more laughs, and a decent script doctor, but on the whole this Man of Steel soars.

The Haunting Appeal of Katee Sackhoff

Thirty years ago, this aspiring writer, weaned on Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, spent three weeks in Lake Oswego, Oregon, while The Goonies was being shot a few miles away.

At the time, Trek-loving Katee Sackhoff was also growing up a few miles away. And yes, she also became fascinated by Mikey, Mouth, Chunk and co.

Fast forward 30 years, and Katee has become one of the most recognisable actresses of the escapist genre.

As feisty pilot Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace, she helped turn the revamped Battlestar Galactica into one of the most acclaimed dramas of the Noughties, as well as perking up The Bionic Woman (revamp), 24, cop show Longmire, The Big Bang Theory, and Riddick.

While driving through an LA downpour (Katee, not me), we chatted about her new movie sequel (originally titled A Haunting in Georgia); being immortalised in plastic, and working with Karen Gillan on their pending chiller Oculus.


For me to do ‘A Haunting in Georgia’ seemed to make complete sense. I was a big fan of the documentaries when they came out, so I watched the documentaries long before I watched The Haunting in Connecticut, and then subsequently Haunting in Georgia, which I guess has been named Haunting in Connecticut 2.

So I was always a fan and loved it, so that’s kind of what drew me to it.


No, not at all. I think the subject matter is scary enough, but he (Tom Elkins) did a lot of tricks with the child to get fear and things.

The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.

No, actually, and that’s the funny thing. When you’re doing these darker, heavier pieces, the tone on set is usually the complete opposite. People tend to want to keep the atmosphere a bit happier, especially when there’s children “in peril.”


Umm, I’d like to think that they exist. My fiance and I live in a house right now where every once in a while we both get freaked out and start running down stairs.

I’m like – “Were you just upstairs?” And he’ll be like, “Absolutely not. I’ve been sitting here the entire time.”

“I just saw you upstairs!”

And we also live in New Orleans half the time, which, you know, you have to believe in ghosts when you live in New Orleans.


No not at all. I started out in comedy, so it was kind of ironic to me that the big break I got was in a science fiction show. And actually quite fitting, just the way I was raised by my father who was a fan of science fiction. To me it just seemed so much grander than anything I’d done before. It was a really lucky break.

I never dreamed that a science fiction show would be the one that gave me my legs in the business.


Hahaha. I think I have them all. I have about 30 of them. The idea is they will go to charity once I start selling them.


It was. At first it wasn’t because they kept making my doll Dirk Benedict and putting boobs on it.
My doll was so masculine and I was like “Can you like give her some rouge? Can we give her anything?” Nothing! I was like “Come on guys!” So they put her hair in a ponytail. I fought for that though. I fought for her to look feminine.


I don’t wanna give too much away. It’s about a normal family that moves to the suburbs to get out of the city to get more space and quiet for their family. They bring a vintage mirror into the house and it starts changing things if you will.


I love Karen. I literally just bumped into Karen two days ago at a restaurant here in LA.

It’s funny to think she plays my daughter in the movie when there’s about eight years between us. She’s fantastic in the movie. She’s a really wonderful person and she deserves every bit of success that’s coming her way.


Growing up The Goonies really affected me. It was shot in Oregon and for me it was so attainable in the fantasy world because they were pretty much close to my age and shooting was like an hour away from my home. So that was amazing and kind of inspired me to get into the business.

As far as work is concerned there are so many movies inspire me on a daily basis, from comedies to drama to genre pieces.

I’m a huge, huge fan of Cate Blanchett. I think she is one of the most brilliant actresses of our time. I love to study her and to watch her.


People should write into Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady because I hope so.

Blow Up. The review

by Roger Crow

For a so-called film fan, it was incredible that I’ve never seen iconic film blow up.
This 1960s classic had been spoofed by movies such as Austin Powers, and riffed on by Brian Depalma in the 1981 psychological thriller Blow Out.
So, browsing through my on demand free film section one Saturday night, I came across this David Hemmings classic and was curious to see if it lived up to the hype.
The first hour of the film is really a comment on the 1960s fashion and lifestyle. It’s interesting that this is an Italian’s view of swinging 60s London, but by about one hour in the film starts to take on a more traditional thriller role.
While idly looking around the park one day, a photographer happens upon a couple either playing around or up to something more sinister. After being accosted by the female of the duo, Vanessa Redgrave, our hero promises to give her the film before retreating to his studio.
As the film unfolds, Hemmings’ character is delightfully accosted by a couple of groupie photography fans for a bit of afternoon delight.
Redgrave, in one of her earliest films, demands the film back before losing her shirt.
The not so happy snapper realises that something mysterious is going on in his photos from the park and discovers a dead body. Returning to the park that evening he happens upon the corpse, but is without a camera so can’t take any close ups. Later, the corpse vanishes, and he wonders if he ever saw it all.
It’s in the final few minutes that you wonder if this is going to be long windup, and the viewer is going to be left feeling disappointed. Thankfully, in one of the most bizarre games of tennis ever committed to celluloid, we realise that nothing is ever quite as it seems in this classic film.
Sexy, surreal and unforgettable, it also boasts one of David Hemmings’ finest performances. Whether it had a lasting effect on classic series The Prisoner is open to debate.
However, this is one of those films that once seen is never forgotten.

The Wolverine – The Review

It’s hard to relate to a superhero who doesn’t bleed, or if he does, not for long. Which is why the sixth outing for Hugh Jackman’s razor-clawed Canadian Logan, aka Wolverine, is partly a welcome breath of fresh air.

Robbed of his healing powers (yes, like Superman II), he becomes cause for concern as bullets suddenly hurt after all these years.
Setting it in Japan was also a wise move.

Since 2000, we’ve seen Wolverine tackle assorted villains in the States, so good to get a change of scene.

The first two thirds of James Mangold’s movie are a stylish, occasionally thoughtful affair, with our hirsute hero first clashing with generic bad bear hunters, and then sent East to be reunited with the Japanese officer he saved from nuclear death at Nagasaki.

Orbiting around these two men are assorted relatives, ninjas, yakuza, and the odd acid-spitting mutant (Svetlana Khodchenkova) who chews every scene she’s in, and refuses to look embarrassed by an absurd green costume in the third act.

Sadly, it’s that final chunk that becomes Marvel-by-numbers: boss monster, aka a giant robot samurai; massive smack down, heat and serve.
I love Marvel films and robots as much as any fan, but they really need to add a few different colours to their generic antagonist palette. Chrome has been used on their cinematic canvas for way too long.

While there are echoes of assorted other films, such as Eastern-themed Bond epic You Only Live Twice, the disappointing Prometheus also reared its ugly head thanks to a wince-inducing self surgery scene and an ageing protagonist’s machinations. (No spoilers but all will become clear).

Thankfully it’s far better than X-Men Origins, and The Last Stand, but X2 still stands as the saga’s high point.

Added to the mix are alluring, flame-haired aide Yukio (Rila Fukushima) and key heroine Mariko (Tao Okamoto).
They help tame the eponymous beast, and are a welcome distraction from the orgy of slashes and gunshots.

Good to see Famke Janssen back as ex-X-Man Jean Grey too, albeit as a ghostly presence and with a weird digital anti-ageing makeover reminiscent of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s CGI anti-wrinkle treatment from X3.

Just a shame it’s all so meh. There are no sucker punch moments that get under the skin, and some of the dialogue is yawnsome. However, an action scene atop a bullet train adds a few fresh licks to the sense of Mission: Impossible déjà vu.

Stay tuned for the now obligatory credits teaser for the next key Marvel outing, in this case next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Thankfully you won’t have to stay through the entire credits trawl for the privilege either.

Not as much fun as Iron Man 3, or as ponderous as Man of Steel, but good escapism for a dull Sunday afternoon.