The Last Witchhunter – The Review

You know you’re watching a bad movie when the girl sat in front of you checks her phone five times during its runtime and you don’t mind a bit. I hadn’t expected much going into The Last Witch Hunter. After all, Vin Diesel as the immortal hero was never going to be Oscar worthy material. But what I didn’t expect was how turgid and generic it would be. 

I had a big grin when Michael Caine turned up as a priest and provided some worthwhile exposition before dropping out of the movie for most of the duration. He’d possibly read the rest of the script and realised how dull it was. 

As you’ll have gathered, Vin is the eponymous warrior made immortal when a witch curses him to live for eternity. 

So yes, it’s a bit like Highlander. However, when he crosses paths with a good witch (Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie), our hero embarks on a mission to rescue his priestly sidekick from his comatose state. The fact Vin calls Michael ’Kid’ (because he’s immortal and Caine has been working for him for 50 years) is just one of the many problems. The presence of Elijah Wood as Caine’s replacement is initially hilarious if you seen the opening movie trailers in Tropic Thunder. 

  
So as Vin, Rose and Elijah set off on their mission, there are generic shape shifting bad guys (including This Is England‘s Joseph Gilgun), flashbacks and fights with monsters. Only in a dream state, a bit like Inception

Vin drives an Aston Martin, which could have done with more screen time, especially during the yawnsome second act which nearly put me in a Caine-like coma. 

The effects are all a bit meh. CGI abounds as tree vines coil around victims, and in the finale swarms of flies fill the New York skyline like a scene from Ghostbusters

Had I seen it on DVD I’d have turned it off half way through, and seriously considered walking out 30 minutes before the end. 

I did wonder what was going through Diesel’s mind. He may have been on autopilot for much of the movie or thinking about how much the last Fast and Furious film made, and realised he could just phone it in for this movie and still make a packet. 

  
Rose is terrific thankfully, though she’s sold short by the material, and that’s about it. 

There’s a gag involving Caine preferring books to an IPad. When he flattens a fly with his book, he remarks ‘Try doing that with an IPad’. Well it’s easy enough, especially when in a case like most are. 

Okay, it’s not as dreadful as Babylon AD, but this vehicle seems to be powered by olive oil rather than Diesel. 

Wait for its appearance on Netflix or some other movie provider in a few weeks, then ensure you have plenty of booze into help you through the mind numbing proceedings. 

** Out of *****

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Crimson Peak: Review

I’m 30 minutes in to Crimson Peak and my eyes are closing. I’ve already spent 20 minutes talking to actual people to get two cinema tickets because it’s sometimes nicer than just booking online. The assistant misheard me, gave me two tickets for Hotel Transylvania 2 and it took two more people and another 18 minutes to rectify the situation. I’ve already given a Paddington hard stare to the Chatty Cathy behind me and now I’m nodding off. 

Not because it’s a bad film. It’s not, but I’m still on Florida time after a couple of days back in Blighty, and dark cinemas are not conducive to that wide awake feeling. 

The first hour of Guillermo del Toro’s latest is a sumptuous affair. Mia Wasikowska on fine form as Edith Cushing, the aspiring novelist with a rich father seduced by the Byronic Brit Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) who seeks funding for his clay mining enterprise. A genuine dragon’s den this it seems as assorted other potential investors are already “out” and Thomas is desperate. 

  
Then there’s his rarely blinking, ivory tinkling enigmatic sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Hard to believe this is the same actress who proved so compelling in The Martian and assorted other films released recently. 

Her scenery chewing performance is a joy to behold. Alas, the weak link in the chain is Charlie Hunnam as Ms Cushing’s concerned doctor and old friend Alan McMichael.

As with GDT’s Pacific Rim, I just don’t buy him in either movie. 

Crimson Peak looks terrific and like Tom’s mining machine, really gets going after building up a head of steam in the third act. 

Any jet lag was buried as revelations were revealed and the plot became as clear as Ms Wasikowska’s doll-like skin. 

There are a few wince-inducing moments here and there, but this is less a horror film and more a gothic romance. 

Guillermo is a master of the genre, and after the comedic Hellboy movies and occasionally clunky Pac Rim (as the fans call it), good to see him get his teeth into something a little more adult and full blooded. 

Of course Hammer used to do this on a fraction of the budget 50 years ago, but despite the elaborate set, it doesn’t overshadow the drama too much. Yes, the house is a key character, like the Nostromo in Alien, but there is much to admire here as well as the fancy costumes and Haunted Mansion-style proscenium. 

It’s not as good as I’d hoped it would be, and could have done with a serious shot of adrenaline in the first act; it’s as inert as a still pendulum at times, but eventually the machinery kicks in and makes you glad you stuck around. 

Yes, eventually it does peak. 

Event Horizon – A Re-view

When it was released in 1997, Paul WS Anderson’s creepy Gothic horror sci-fi yarn looked like a poor cousin to Ridley Scott’s superior Alien.
How times have changed. Seen in 2015, when the opening titles suggest that the first lunar that base is established, Event Horizon stands up as a far better film than Ridley Scott’s own Alien prequel, Prometheus.

  
The story of a missing spaceship (that suddenly reappears near Neptune), and the obligatory investigative team that goes to check out the mystery within, is nothing new, but the visuals are unnervingly splendid.

With a solid cast including Lawrence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee and Kathleen Quinlan, the film continues at a fair old pace as the crew and the viewer discover what went on inside the eponymous spaceship.

Yes, we have seen this all before in films such as The Black Hole and 2010, but what makes EH stand out from the crowd is that growing sense of dread as the mystery is revealed. 

Okay, some of the computer generated visual effects have dated badly, and many, such as a ticking watch floating past the camera, were pointless at the time*, but it still holds together. 

(*Why generate a watch on a computer when you can pass a real watch past the camera and just take out the stick holding it up instead?)

  

Kathleen Quinlan holds a tablet in Event Horizon, around 13 years before the IPad was released

In 2014, Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Interstellar seemed to draw inspiration from Sam Neill’s “punch a hole in a piece of paper and put a writing device through it” example of space travel explanation. 

It may not be a perfect film by any means, but Event Horizon is well worth another look, or a first viewing if you are still feeling let down by Prometheus.

Back in Orlando – Part four: The food

So that was it. Two full days in Miami and seven full days in Orlando. 
The holiday of a lifetime, or it would have been if we didn’t plan on doing it again in the next year or so. 

We weren’t in Miami long enough to form a widespread enough opinion, so here’s the lowdown on food in Orlando, including service, value for money (VFM) and quality. 

10. Planet Hollywood, Disney Springs. 

Brusque hostess who seated us at a tiny table for two at the back of the restaurant and showed little interest in placing us somewhere better. Thankfully the waiter was better, but the veggie fajitas were average. The tortillas were like cardboard; the rice tasted like microwaved packet stuff; not much cheese and average veg. The meat burger was ok. The place also looks shabby and tired. 

9. Hooters, International Drive. 

Service: attentive hostess seemingly oblivious to the fact her costume was several sizes too small. 

Food: gristly, fatty pulled pork sandwich. Fish sandwich was greasy but nice. Oil could have done with draining. 

8. Pizza Predator at Universal. 

Great cheese pizza and terrific meatball sub. Fast, good quality (no gristle). Stroppy server let the side down. 

7. Uno. Lake Buena Vista.

Good vfm; great waitress; superb pizza, even a day later after being reheated. Table top ordering via gizmo a bonus. 

6. IHOP, Lake Buena Vista. 

Amazing pancakes and pretty good breakfast. 

  
5. Olive Garden. Lake Buena Vista. 
Good vfm; tasty and hot with speedy service. Good waiter. The garlic bread sticks and salad are always worth the visit alone. 

4. Prime Time 50s Cafe, Hollywood Studios. Great food, good vfm, quirky ambience and best of all, George our waiter. Had an almost psychic link, pre-empting refills, being attentive without hovering and having a great sense of humour. Best server of the holiday. 

3. Food and Wine festival at Epcot. 
Terrific selection, great ambience, good vfm, and terrific music by the Pointer Sisters. 

  
2. Hamburger Mary’s. Downtown Orlando 

 Terrific service, awesome Philly Cheese Steak with sweet potato fries, and a great tuna mayo on toasted wheat bread sandwich (Tuna Turner) and great fries with excellent seasoning. The choice of 17 sides was impressive and the multi coloured chips and dips were great. Fun, quirky and the check/bill arrives in a pink shoe. An instant favourite. 
  
1. Morimoto. Disney Springs. 
It had been open 16 days when we dropped in on the last night; well worth the trip. 

Stunning ambience, attentive staff and great food. 

Terrific vegetarian Pad Thai and Singapore Laska Noodle (coconut and spicy curry, rice noodle, chicken meatballs and soy marinated egg). Each was $17 (£11). 

  

If you’re on a budget: Taco Bell. Lake Buena Vista and Vineland Premium Outlet. Great vfm; good food; fine service at both. 

Back in Orlando- part three

It takes a lot to impress me. I’m of an age where I’ve seen a lot, especially when it comes to theme parks. But I always live in hope that one day I will be impressed by new attractions.   Universal, Orlando; photo: Roger Crow

The last time I was at Universal Orlando was around three years ago. I’d grown tired of the same old rides and thought the Harry Potter attraction and ride was good, but after a couple of visits my interest had started to wane. 

  
The same old Universal, Orlando? Video: Roger Crow

So that was Christmas 2012, and what a busy lot the Universal team have been in the interim. 

Aside from an expanded Springfield, the second phase of their Potter expansion is astonishing. A staggering feat of design, engineering and construction on an immense scale. 

  
Diagon Alley, King’s Cross Station, the Hogwarts Express, Escape from Gringotts ride and countless shops are worthy of a park on their own. 

The attention to detail is remarkable, no rush job this. Unlike some park attractions where fake wood has been painted over construction material like MDF, and you can see the gaps, this was pretty flawless. No mean feat over such a huge physical canvas. 

  
Diagon Alley, Universal, Orlando; photo: Roger Crow

The Hogwarts Express links you from one Universal park to another, and the onboard entertainment does a great job of keeping you in that universe for the duration. The Gringotts ride is breathtaking without inducing nausea (unlike some rides) and added touches like a fire-breathing dragon on top of Gringotts bank is incredible. Yes, you soon run out of superlatives at an attraction like this. 

 

Diagon Alley, Universal, Orlando; photo: Roger Crow

Enough gushing. I’ll just say that for years Universal seemed like a poor cousin to the Disney parks, but this added attraction, together with the Transformers ride, has made it a serious player once more.  

 

Transformers 3D ride Universal, Orlando; photo: Roger Crow

And with the Skull Island King Kong attraction set to open in summer 2016, I’m guessing the team at Mouse HQ are really going to have to pull something out of the bag to compete.   

Skull Island under construction at Universal, Orlando; photo: Roger Crow

Back in Orlando- part two

It’s around 10am on Columbus Day and most of America has turned out for the attractions at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The main high street leading up to that iconic castle is jam packed with families in branded tee shirts so none of them get lost.  
Mums are shouting at their little darlings and the Seven Dwarves Mine Car ride queue is snaking back and forth past trees and fans.   
As ever there are plenty of lobster coloured Brits. Easily recognisable as they have brand new trainers and bad tattoos. But this is fun, right? The build up. The calm before the storm of excitement? Well sometimes, yes. Obviously as a late forty something I’m not the target demographic, but some of these family friendly rides can be a lot of fun for all ages. You only have to witness the wait times for Toy Story Midway Mania at Hollywood Studios to realise that. 

  
We’ve been in Orlando since Wednesday (six days) and have so far crammed in the wonders of Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Downtown Disney, Downtown Orlando and a fantastic Pixar concert at the Dr Phillips Theater. 

 
For the most part it’s sublime stuff, soaking up the sun, eating too much and spending a small fortune on mall bargains. 

In a country and state full of excess, it’s never dull, whether navigating theme parks or stores. 

  
The hard part is juggling the savings once I get home. 

But it’s all worthwhile. 

At least I think so. Not sure the 90 minute wait at Epcot for Soarin’ was worth it, but the annual Food and Wine Festival was, so swings and roundabouts. 

  
And Test Track is now better than ever, even though at times it looks like a big advert for a major car manufacturer. 

  
Not everything is going to appeal to everyone.  

Oh well. Half an hour to go. Hopefully it will be worth the wait. 

Fast forward to that evening

I am never doing Columbus Day in the parks again. 

I did three rides and waited in line for around 3.5 hours. The Seven Dwarves Mine ride was ok. A roller coaster with Snow White touches. Fun, charming, but not worth a 90 minute wait. 

The new Pirates of the Caribbean ride wait lasted almost as long as the movies. We got soaked. It was fun. (Probably less fun if my iPad had been soaked). 

Also not worth the 90 minute preamble. 

The problem is all the Fast Passes were snapped up in 1972, so any chance of getting near the front early was impossible. And the Disney guides suggesting we fill all the available space in the queue means the 40 people behind you who fill the space wind up passing you and getting on 30 minutes early. 

In short, I was not a Jolly Roger, but the brief bursts of fun almost made it worthwhile. 

Sicario – A Review

Sicario is one of the best films of 2015, a taut, compelling, beautifully lensed thriller about the hunt for a crimelord.
That’s it. Though for the first half it seems to be so much more. It’s also a Trojan horse of a movie, making you believe that Emily Blunt’s FBI officer heroine Kate Mercer is the main character when in fact it’s Benicio Del Toro’s duplicitous protagonist or antagonist that knits the movie together. 

Josh Brolin is terrific as the government agent who acts as a bridge between Blunt and DelToro, while Harry Enfield’s old colleague Daniel Kaluuya is on fine form as Blunt’s colleague. 

  

The ominous score by Johann Johansson is filled with slow building menace, while Roger Deakins’ photography is stunning. 

See it on a big screen and then wait for the obligatory Golden Globe nods. 

One of the best things about it is the fact it’s a real drama, not some advert for a video game, or a franchise launching adventure. Nor is it a vanity project. It has meat on its bones and sustains the interest from start to end. 

On the strength of this, director Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2 cannot come soon enough. Given the fact his work on Prisoners was outstanding, it’s good to see him go from strength to strength. 

Back in Orlando – Part one

There are some love stories that never die. Bogie and Bergman in Casablanca. Han and Leia in the Star Wars saga. And Orlando and I. No, not Orlando Bloom, as handsome as he is. Bit wooden though.   
The quest to find a decent cuppa in Orlando  photo: Roger Crow

The one in Florida that acts like some cartoon magnet pulling thousands of Brits across the pond every year. 
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been here since 2002. Around 14, either for work or fun. 

There’s such a fine line between the two. I’ve made friends here, met up with old friends, and piled on the pounds.   The Sunshine State  photo: Roger Crow

Okay, I’ve done that in the UK too, but given the amount of walking I do in Florida I wouldn’t be surprised if I burnt off as much as I consumed. 

I’ve also destressed with ease, thanks to a mix of sunshine, attractions and good times. 
It never gets old. 

Yes, the theme park attractions come and go, but that can do attitude, making dreams come true cliche never stops working wonders, especially on seasoned journos who really should have grown out of this kid’s paradise by now. 

  
Epcot  photo: Roger Crow

Of course it’s not really just for kids. The inner child in everyone usually takes over. Well it does in me. 
I probably could have paid off my mortgage by now instead of spending a decade coming back year after year, but that few days in paradise makes the horrendous shifts almost worthwhile. 

 
Animal Kingdom photo: Roger Crow

Back in Miami – Part 3

   
Touring Miami, there are certain things that need to be seen. Top of the list is Wynwood, the industrial district filled with more stunning murals than you could shake a spray can at. 

 Edit   
Graffiti is too reductive a word for some of the art on display here. It’s a mish mash of basic tags and the more glorious ‘pieces, as in masterpieces, which of course is too long a title for any self respecting street collective. 

 
As part of a day long tour of Wynwood, Little Havana and assorted other Miami locales, sadly too little time was spent in this urban art gallery. To get the full experience it needs an hour or two rather than 15 minutes.

 Edit   
Little Havana is also a treat, especially with stops for Cuban sandwiches, ice cream and local coffee. Like a super sweet espresso. 

 Edit   
By the end of the day we were back at Bayside mall, one of the first stops we made on a day trip years ago. It had changed enormously, though Hard Rock Cafe was still selling overpriced burgers and generic tee shirts. Somethings never change it seems. 

There was a time when Miami filled me with dread, but after three visits, two in 2015 alone, it’s now a very different story. Thomas Cook’s superb Manchester – Miami service has meant I’ll be back sooner rather than later. 

Back in Miami – Part 2

So, Mrs C and I caught the bus in Miami. Around $4.50 to go four or five miles. No Stallone alas. And no fights. Just bored commuters and us. A great experience catching public transport in any city.  
Even if we got off way too early and walked 10 blocks to where we needed to be. Gave us the chance for sightseeing and nachos at the News Cafe, one of my favourite eateries in the area.   
Our waitress looked a little bored and glad to talk about vegetarianism. In 45 minutes we got her reasons and life story, which was nice, but seemed stuck on transmit rather than receive so little of what we said went in. So many of those people in the States, and once I realise they’re not listening to a word I say I treat them like TV shows pumping information at me, but unable to receive feedback. Which is fine. 
  
The Miami Culinary Food tour was terrific, not least because we were in a party of five, us and a great Fort Lauderdale couple and his mum. 

They did listen and reminded me of why I love chatting to random strangers in the States. Some can be closed off, but others are wonderful company and enhance a night’s pottering and food sampling no end. It helped that our guide was smart, funny and knew her stuff. 

  
Having finally found a Walgreens, we set off to find a return bus, glad of a walk. 

Four miles later we were still looking and wound up back at the hotel. Miles of empty streets with house numbers like 3009. 

Crazy amounts of space and nobody on the streets at 8.30pm like a scene from The Purge movies. 

Glad to have burnt off a few calories at least. 
Hopefully a Miami tour today will be as much fun. Unless Sly storms the bus and beats up random assailants. 

  
Which I doubt. 
To be continued…