Independence Day Resurgence

After 20 years of waiting, Roland Emmerich recruited what looks like a bunch of soap stars and members of the original ID4, added a squillion dollars worth of broiling clouds, vast spaceships and other effects, and peppered the dialogue with a few gags. 

Will Smith was allegedly too expensive so the cheaper Liam Hemsworth stepped in as the cocky pilot. No idea of his name. Nice smile though. Oh and he spends a lot of the movie going arghhh! when his craft(s) narrowly outrun debris, alien ships and the like. 

Meanwhile, ex-Potus Bill Pullman is troubled. We know this because he’s stopped shaving. His daughter is not only dating Liam Hemsworth’s character but also happens to be an ace fighter pilot. 

Then there’s Liam’s mate who may as well wear a red shirt he’s so disposable and annoying. As China is integral to any blockbuster’s success these days, there are a couple of token characters for the Beijing market. 

It ticks over, suffers a weak second act and thrills in all the other right places. I was entertained. In the same way I’m entertained by eating popcorn. Though I prefer Emmerich’s 2012 and White House Down. 

Weird how alien tech is used to power helicopters and planes but old school boats and school buses haven’t changed in this alternate 2016. Not that it matters. Emmerichverse is a law unto itself, never letting logic get in the way of fun. 

No idea if we’ll have to wait another 20 years for the mooted part 3, but hopefully by then the secondary characters will have more depth and it’ll be bold enough to try something new instead of remaking a 1996 classic. 


Rod Stewart Plays Hull

Rod Stewart is stood a few feet away, that unmistakable shock of hair, a face that looks like it was carved out of granite, every line tells a story. A wrinkle here for those early gigs, a line there for selling out countless stadia around the world. 

Despite being in one of them with 2,400 other folks, there’s the feeling you’re the only one who matters. 

Like all great musicians, that bond with the audience is one of the secrets of his success. And as he makes his debut in Hull, it’s obvious he’s loving every second. The City of Culture has embraced him with open arms, and despite leaden skies, the rain stays away for the duration of the gig. 

There’s no surprise it’s called Hits. There’s 25 of them over two hours and 20 minutes. His support acts, a mariachi band and double act The Sisterhood (outstanding, not least thanks to Rod’s daughter Ruby Stewart) get fans in the mood for what is to follow. 

Rod belts out all the classics and has a twinkle in his eye like a naughty schoolboy caught round the back of the bike sheds with the prom queen. 

Whether it’s old school hits like You Wear It Well or recent smash Love Is, Stewart snr makes it look effortless. 

A dazzling display of video screens ensured those at the back got a good view, but as I was lucky enough to be on the second row, when Rod popped by to say hello, it was surreal seeing that face which looked like it belonged in some rock music version of Mount Rushmore.

He’s not an elegant mover – the king of dad dancing – but it scarcely matters. 

Surrounded by a bevy of gorgeous or seasoned musicians, Rod delivered hit after hit and a few surprises. 
Needless to say old classics like Maggie May, Baby Jane, and Sailing received worthy support from the fans. 

In the middle of assorted numbers he kicked a dozen or more signed footballs into the crowd. 

As for that much asked question Do ya think I’m sexy? Not really Rod, though the drunken 73 year old who gate crashed our row made her feelings known. 

While picking firework detritus out of my hair, one thought kept coming back to me: I have no idea what Rod Stewart is on, but I want some. 

It was an extraordinary evening, even for casual fans like my wife and I, so I doubt any hardcore punter left the stadium feeling short changed. 

Barry Manilow Plays Leeds – Gig Review

He’s never been seen as cool Barry Manilow. An artist to poke fun at perhaps, but he’s usually the first to do that. He may never have had movie star looks, but when it comes to creating crowd pleasing tunes, the man has skills, and then some. 

Photo: Roger Crow 

When he took to the First Direct Arena in Leeds in mid June 2016, his first gig in the city, 10,000 fans couldn’t have cared less whether he was cool or not. They were there to have a good time, and the seasoned New Yorker did not disappoint. 

Photo: Roger Crow 

All the old favourites, from Can’t Smile Without You to the inevitable Copacabana led to countless standing ovations. 

The highlights were many. Drawing from some hidden oxygen reserve possibly located inside his piano, Manilow dug deep for one of his greatest tunes, Weekend in New England, and mined a rich vein of emotion. Tears were shed in the audience and Manilow, humble as ever, seemed amazed at how well the track was received. 

Photo: Roger Crow 

Despite a technical snafu with a Judy Garland on-screen duet (plugging his new album of dream duets with showbiz legends), Barry took it all in his stride. We were soon back on track, and the man who writes the songs belted out the rest of his set with the gusto of a bloke half his age. 

Photo: Roger Crow 

There were no encores. None of those fake finales. Just hit after hit and a few lesser tracks from 40 plus years of beloved albums. 

I could have done without his support act, a slick saxophonist that outstayed his welcome, but it was worth enduring for a sublime gig. 

This may be One Last Time, according to the gig’s title, but there’s little sign of Barry Manilow settling for an easy life just yet. When you have 10,000 people dancing in the aisles, that’s a hard buzz to give up. 

A Chat With Corrie’s Lisa George

I’ve been a Corrie fan for as long as I can remember. Back in the days of two eps a week and three TV channels, it was the best thing on the box. Those classic scenes with Stan, Hilda, Betty, Rita, Bet and countless other characters have made for priceless TV. I even propped up the Rovers bar as an extra in 2003, and almost prevented Johnny Briggs (Mike Baldwin) from emerging from the pub loos. 

But in recent years it seems to have gone off the boil. Maybe it was losing some long term favourites or just that demand to create five episodes a week, 52 weeks a year that watered things down a bit. 
Or maybe it was me in need of a rest after 40 years of fandom. 
Thankfully in recent weeks, the discovery of Callum’s body under Gail’s granny flat has seen the show back on form. 
Fresh from the show’s recent success at the British Soap Awards, I had a chat with Lisa George, aka Beth Sutherland, about why the series is still going strong after 55 years.  

“The unrelenting commitment to the show by those involved. When you are part of something this big you realise how much work goes into it. 
“It’s quite overwhelming and also the support here is fantastic. At the end of the day everybody wants to do the very best they can and I think this success is down to that.”

“I have to say the eighties wedding. It was fun, it was romantic, comedic, loving, exciting, a multitude of emotions.” 

Photo: Sammy Power
“Andy Whyment, who plays my husband (Kirk), and I have filmed some really funny little scenes lately. 
“The scripts were definitely unexpected but worked really well as it gave us the opportunity to work with characters that we haven’t really touched base with much.” 

With scriptwriters like Jonathan Harvey, and cast like David Neilson, Simon Gregson and of course Lisa George helping to breathe new life into Tony Warren’s saga, this Rover has happily returned to the king of all soaps. 

:: With thanks to Lisa George for help with this blog post.

The Nice Guys – The Review

When your last movie makes more than $1b, two things are certain: getting a green light for the follow up is easy and few people will question whether it needs a bit of work. 

So when Shane Black co wrote and directed The Nice Guys, he must have been buoyant from the success of Iron Man 3 and thought Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling would be perfect as the 1970s detectives trying to crack the mystery of a dead porn star. 

Alas, they aren’t. 

While both are formidable talents, neither have great comic timing, and both are sold short by the calibre of the script. Yes, there are some great one liners and the whole thing ticks over, but they fail to gel. It’s like Black had some great ingredients for a loaf of bread but didn’t add enough yeast. 

The old adage ’If it bends it’s funny, if it breaks it’s not’ is shattered pretty early along with Gosling’s arm by Crowe’s chunky detective. 

One of the funniest scenes is Gosling trying to threaten Crowe in a toilet cubicle. Not so easy with RG’s trousers round his ankles and an arm in plaster. 

It’s moments such as this that hint at what a great movie TNG could have been. 

But Black milks the moment of Gosling discovering a dead body, gasping for comic effect but failing to raise a titter. 

The director works well with child actors as he proved with IM3; the dynamic between Robert Downey Jnr and Ty Simpkins, so little wonder he got the Jurassic World actor back for the opening scene. 

Gosling’s screen daughter, Angourie Rice, also works well here, 13 going on 33 like Natalie Portman in Leon. 

I suspect Black had penned the script years ago, popped it in a drawer and then dusted it down when given a green light to do whatever he liked. Though cut from the same cloth as his mid noughties cracker Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Crowe and Gosling combined fail to spark like Downey Jnr and Val Kilmer in that movie. 

By the third act I was pretty bored; there was too much going on and I didn’t really care about any of the characters. 

By the epilogue, the whole thing fizzled out like Black had just given up. It’s a long time since I’d felt that underwhelmed by a movie finale… until I saw Warcraft a couple of hours later. 

But that’s another story. 

Warcraft – The Beginning: The Review

(In the interests of transparency, I spent a month playing World of Warcraft in 2008. It was very addictive and have been looking forward to the film version since then). 
Given the amount of time, effort and money spent on Warcraft, I was hoping for good things. In the hands of Duncan Jones, I prayed he could bring emotional heft to the project. 

And while it looks terrific, for the most part, it also looks annoyingly designed at times, like a Warhammer… yes Warhammer calendar turned into a live action feature. 

The Orcs look pretty good, large Hulk like creatures with tribal markings, garments, banners, boots, gauntlets, headdresses. You get the picture. 

The human warriors look like all of their costumes have either been bought off the peg or crafted by cosplayers, while many of the castle interiors also have a fake quality. Compared to Game of Thrones, all of which works on its own terms and feels real, Warcraft’s props feel like they were produced on a 3D printer. 

The plot is okay with Arthurian touches, including a Merlin-style wizard who looks like a cross between a young Michael Douglas and a miffed Tim Minchin; the old staple of light versus darkness and a lot of exposition. Very necessary considering the huge geography and assorted characters. 

Perhaps the most annoying thing is the lack of closure. Yes, there’s no coincidence it’s called Warcraft The Beginning, though half way through I was desperate for The End, and didn’t really get it. 

I was impressed that there were a couple of unexpected demises, but unlike the first chapter of Lord of the Rings I wasn’t desperate for more. This was more like The Hobbit, except shorter. With a touch of Hawk the Slayer and Willow thrown in. 

There was the odd humorous touch but a bit too much chest beating to be truly effective. I won’t be counting the days for part two.