Film review The Mummy (2017)

The Mummy (2017)Directed by Alex Kurtzman

Starring Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella. 

Certificate 15

The latest take on Universal’s enduring horror property would go by a more accurate title: An American Tomb Raider of the Lost Ark in London. 

Throw a bit of Lifeforce in there too and you have this Frankenstein’s monster of a movie; ideas stitched together from other flicks to form an underwhelming action adventure with some hit-and- miss horror moments. 

Tom Cruise is Nick Morton, the Indiana Jones-style hero who plunders antiquities in Iraq with his irritating mate Chris Vail (New Girl’s Jake Johnson); happens upon the eponymous antagonist Ahmanet, (the ever excellent Sofia Boutella), and escapes with glam Lara Croft-type accomplice Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). 

Due to some psychic link with the evil, ancient force, our hero survives an attempt on his life by his possessed mate, then wakes up unscathed after an impressively staged plane crash. 

Thrown into the mix is Russell Crowe’s shady boffin, Henry, and the quest for a dagger with a precious gem in the hilt. 

Sadly, once the plane goes down, so does my interest. There’s so much exposition, I grow sleepy, and not even Cruise running, snappy editing and the score-what-you-see soundtrack can inject the necessary lifeforce to make this work. 

Seen after Transformers: The Last knight, I seem to be watching elements of the same movie. Tombs; ancient England; chases in modern London; supernatural threat. You get the idea. 

Oh and more skulking around in digital darkness. The visual equivalent of nails down a blackboard. 

When I start wondering about the nocturnal habits of cows more than the plot due to one scene, a sure sign I’m not immersed in the plot. 

It’s not a complete disaster. The cast acquit themselves well even if a so-called twist with a certain character falls flat. Annabelle Wallis is a fine love interest who can carry a scene with assured skill and Boutella has become rather skilled at propping up films, such as the disappointing Star Trek Beyond and this offering. 

The Mummy (2017) is the first part of Dark Universe, Universal’s attempt to create an interlinked Marvel-style world of overlapping horror characters. Alas it feels more like Hugh Jackman action-horror flop Van Helsing than Brendan Fraser’e feelgood take on The Mummy (1999). Even the much maligned League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a better mash-up than Tom’s money-spinner. 

The last five minutes is also a mess as the finale goes down one path, then the epilogue seems to ignore all of that and ends as it began. 

A shame as I have a lot of time for the Cruiser. Let’s hope the pending Mission Impossible 6 gets things back on track. 



Restaurant review – Carluccio’s, St Helen’s Square, York

I’ve been looking forward to visiting Antonio Carluccio’s new restaurant in York for some time, and at first sight it does not disappoint. A multi-level feast for the eyes, it’s a light and spacious eatery which is bustling on father’s day.  
My waitress, Tamira, wastes little time in taking my order, and top priority is to grab a fresh lemonade on the hottest day of the year. 

Not just any generic lemonade; it tastes so good I may as well be retracing my steps round Positano in the spring of 2016. 

Picking a starter proves tricky as there’s no shortage of tempting choices. 

A three-course set lunch menu (12-6pm) costs a mere £13.99 while two courses are £10.99. 

I go for the pricier main menu, and as I’m a sucker for prawns, opt for Prawn Marinara sautéed in white wine with baby plum tomatoes, chilli and fennel seeds with tomato and basil sauce served with toasted ciabatta. Yes, quite a mouthful but the portion size is spot on. Not so big that you fill up before the main. 

The ciabatta is a little burnt. It hardly matters. Delicious prawns and tomatoes (coming from someone who’s very picky about said fruit) balanced with terrific tomato sauce tickle my palate. It’s not too overwhelming on the garlic front, and the coriander gives it a welcome herby edge. 

That’s followed by Festoni Pasta tossed in vodka and cream sauce topped off with salmon and basil (£12.50). Though my main arrives at the same time by accident, I put that on hold and order another lemonade. 

I’m happy to have the dish put under a heat lamp for five minutes, but I get a fresh plate. It’s that sort of place; no half measures. 

The main is equally terrific. It could be just another version of the supper I make many a Sunday night – pasta, tomato sauce with salmon, but as you might imagine it’s perfectly cooked with quality ingredients. I savour every mouthful along with the decor. As you’d expect with a Carluccio’s, the whole thing is beautifully decorated. 

Dessert is chocolate and salted caramel sundae with crushed Amaretti biscuits and a monogrammed Carluccio wafer. Again beautifully done at £5.95. 

It’s easy to run out of superlatives in a place like this. The highest praise from me is that it tastes like Italy, not some poor facsimile. A few mouthfuls of my dinner and I’m transported to the Amalfi coast, my personal happy place, soaking up the atmosphere. 

I’m not surprised the eatery is heaving, even if it is just to honour patriarchs from the local area and beyond. 

It’s one of my new favourite restaurants, which is good news for my partner as she’s unable to make it. 

It’s not a case of ’if’ I return as a paying customer but when. The prices and quality are excellent, and there’s plenty of choices for any Italian-loving foodie to happily get lost in, like the Villa Pisani Labirinto, or any other Italian labyrinth you care to mention. 

A maze it does. 

Grazie Antonio. 

Hotel Review – The Talbot Hotel, Malton, York, UK

Hotel ReviewThe Talbot Hotel, Malton

Roger Crow

Malton is one of many places I’ve passed through but have never explored it. 

So when offered the chance to stay at one of its finest residences, The Talbot Hotel, my partner Rachel and I jump at the chance. 

History lovers will have a great time reflecting on its place in Malton’s timeline. I’m initially just glad it has free on-site parking and we don’t have to spend a fortune for 24 hours. 

Although we’re too early to access our room at noon, after pottering around town, and loving the great little shops and cinema (all shut), we build up an appetite for Sunday lunch. 

The Wentworth Restaurant is rather pleasant. A pianist spends the duration expertly tinkling through old classics and my favourite, the La La Land soundtrack.

We order soup and salmon fish cakes for starters, swapping halfway through. 

Both are beautifully prepared. The salmon fish cake with tartar sauce and crushed minted peas is a delight, while the cream of celeriac soup with truffles and sautéed mushrooms also goes down a treat with crusty bread. 

Rachel enjoys a glass of ice-cold Rose, while my Pinot Noir is excellent. 

Alas, my roast dry aged beef main is far too pink and chewy. A fellow diner also has issues with his, though praises the same dish he’d had on a previous visit. 

Thankfully the perfectly cooked veg and Yorkshire pudding makes up for it, and Rachel’s asparagus ravioli proves a big hit. 

My trio of ice creams for dessert rounds things off nicely, while Rachel’s lemon tart with raspberry parfait and basil ice cream is a bold mix. The basil isn’t overpowering in small doses, but more than a couple of mouthfuls and it tastes bizarre. Let’s just say I wouldn’t want it in a cornet. 

Strangely the dining area serves 1-3pm, which doesn’t seem long for Sunday lunch. Not that we feel rushed, but one of the most lucrative times of the week could be a money-spinner for the owners. 

For those just popping in, it’s £17.95 for two courses or £24.95 for three. 

After lunch we’re shown to our room, which has everything you’d expect. A huge bed; TV; wardrobe (with robes and slippers) and spotless bathroom. The power shower is blissfully simple to use, and though some might need a step ladder to get out of the bath, it ticks all the boxes, including a heated towel rail. 

Everything about the room is what you’d expect. Great tea and coffee-making facilities; fantastic wi-fi (also througout the hotel); beautiful view, and though the TV could be bigger and the huge bed a bit comfier, it’s perfectly fine. 

Strangely there’s no radio or USB ports, so it feels more 1917 than present day, but it’s not a deal breaker. In fact many might embrace the vintage charm. 
I’d have preferred a more vibrant colour scheme and bolder art, but I can understand why the owners err on the side of caution. 
Given the fact Charles Dickens has a history with Malton, I’m surprised to see he has so little presence in its most famous hostelry. Instead, there are plenty of paintings of horses scattered through. It’s a town built on horse racing, so little wonder. But after a while it’s nice to see something else. 

In the evening we dine at The Malton Brasserie, an elegant light and airy space that feels more like a tea shop. There’s a mix of Yorkshire charm at odds with the huge paintings of Italy. Is it French, Italian, English or all three. Who knows?

I opt for beer battered fish and chips with mushy peas, while Rachel goes for fish goujons. 

As a selective vegetarian, the fact the veggie choice is the same as lunchtime means her options are limited. Mains are around £15 while desserts are around £7. 

They’re both great dishes, and the salted chocolate brownie for dessert is also terrific, though too rich for me to finish. 

Strangely there’s no live entertainment in the evening. Like the pianist at lunchtime, a band or would make a great hotel even better. 

We enjoy a walk down to the river before twilight and marvel at the excellent grounds, and the sight of the gleaming Talbot against leaden skies. It’s a beautiful scene, as are swallows flitting over the fields. 

Following a hit-and-miss night (the bed being lumpy in places), we enjoy an excellent breakfast in the dining room. After muesli and fruit juice, my ‘full Talbot’ (fried egg, black pudding, bacon, sausage beans and toast) is flawless, and the veggie version also proves a big hit. 

We’ve enjoyed a great short stay in a beautiful hotel. Any flaws are mostly cosmetic, but given its rich history, I’d love to see The Talbot continue to thrive long into the future. 

It’s been doing a pretty good job since 1740, so obviously something’s going right. 

Pirates of the Caribbean – Salazar’s Revenge review

Pirates of the Caribbean – Salazar’s RevengeDirected by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg 

Starring Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush

We didn’t need another Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The first one in 2003 was a breath of fresh air and a lot of fun, but the sequels were overblown, epic messes with incoherent plots. Some scenes looked like cinematic jazz in which Johnny Depp was allowed to just muck about. Which is fine if it works, but that really didn’t. 
Not that cinemagoers cared a jot. The movies made billions at the box office and the power of Depp’s drunken pirate Jack Sparrow was a license to print money. 

Now we have Salazar’s Revenge, or Dead Men Tell No Tales depending on which part of the world you’re watching in. Not sure why the UK needed a different title, but the fact one character actually says the title just before it appears might be one reason. 

Essentially a remake of the first movie, we have all the old ingredients: enemy British forces; beautiful heroine on a mission; hunky poster boy hero; Depp hamming it up for all he’s worth; possessed villain; Geoffrey Rush’s lovable salty sea dog; ship-to-ship battles; cursed crew; seemingly endless scenes in digital darkness; stupid comic relief lackeys, and a pop star cameo. Heat and serve. 

An early scene alone, in which a whole bank is robbed probably, cost $20million. It doesn’t make it a funnier gag, but it certainly kicks things off a treat, and a scene in which Captain Jack and the beautiful heroine escape death by the skin of their teeth is beautifully executed; a gag with a guillotine is outstanding. 

Through some necessary exposition we discover that the heroine, Carina Smith, is a brilliant astronomer and horologist. She seeks a map of some description, but because she is smart in an age when women are supposed to be stupid, every other person tries to kill her for being a witch. 

There is some semblance of a story here, and for the most part it’s as much fun as the original. 

Brenton Thwaites is good looking but as wooden as Sparrow’s ship, and shares no chemistry with the excellent Kaya Scodelario, who proves the best newcomer to the series. 

Javier Bardem’s cursed Captain Salazar is terrific, despite the annoying effects, and some of his crew are so badly realised, they look like the effects artists created a single Photoshop layer of semi-transparent villain and thought “That’ll do”. 

They look awful, and not in a good way. 

So for a couple of hours we have exposition, set piece and repeat until the epic finale on the ocean bed where our heroes attempt to escape a watery grave. 

It’s great to see Bruce Spence from the Mad Max movies in a glorified cameo, while David Wenham, Stephen Graham and Kevin McNally add solid support and keep the thing grounded where necessary. 

It’s the first POTC film I’ve seen on the big screen since the original and it makes me a Jolly Roger for at least 90 minutes of the two hour running time. But we don’t need any more thanks Johnny, unless you want to hand the franchise over to Kaya, in which case count me in. 


Wonder Woman Film Review

Wonder WomanDirected by Patty Jenkins

Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston 

Hollywood’s track record with super heroine movies is pretty lame. 1984’s Supergirl flopped, as did Daredevil spin-off Elektra. Black Widow has propped up Iron Man, Captain America and Avengers movies, but Marvel is still yet to make her standalone movie.  

Now comes Wonder Woman, the big screen debut of DC Comics’ beloved Amazonian heroine. 

After the horrendous Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice, Gal Gadot’s mysterious heroine helped save the day with no back story. Here she has nothing but. It’s an origins movie after all, so we open in present day then enjoy flashbacks within flashbacks. 

Through some clunky dialogue, with little Diana learning how to be a kickass heroine on her mystical island full of women, I savour the Mamma Mia movie-style backdrop, and try and separate Robin Wright from Diane Kruger as the concerned mum and trainer. 

It’s a place of intermittent slow-mo action scenes. One can almost imagine the soldiers of producer Zack Snyder’s 300 movies off camera doing their testosterone-laced thing. The yin to WW’s yang if you like. 

Then Steve Trevor flies into this paradise from World War One; grown-up Diana saves him, and realises she can do something to help the war effort after many of her people are slaughtered by enemy forces. 

Chris Pine is terrific as Trevor, a mix of Captain Kirk and Indiana Jones. Inevitably Diana becomes the fish out of water as she rocks up in London, befriends Trevor’s secretary (comic relief Lucy Davis), and after adjusting to the era of buttoned up posh frocks and British customs, she heads off to defeat the villainous Ares. If he dies, it will bring an end to the war. 

The villains, including Danny Huston, look like they’ve stepped from Snyder’s steampunk/live action anime/feature length pop promo Sucker Punch, and yet when Diana and Trevor enter the horror of No Man’s Land, it proves remarkably moving. 

For about five minutes the film finds its heart and soul as Wonder Woman carves a path through the gunfire and bombs. 

The second act is easily the strongest, but as our heroes, including the ever reliable Ewen Bremner as a Scottish sharp shooter, echo scenes from TV series Agent Carter – feisty heroine and sidekicks clashing with enemy forces during wartime. 

Then comes the third act as Wonder Woman clashes with assorted villains, one of who singlehandedly derails all the good that came before. 

If you recall that stupid ’heroes versus villain’ smackdown of BVSDOJ, there’s more of the same here, only twice as irritating. 

The twist when it comes is clever, and a little inevitable, but what follows, as the boss monster reveals himself and then spends ages smashing things up amid pyrotechnics and rock guitar power chords, is pure video game nonsense. It’s as if Snyder learned nothing from the pitfalls of BVS. 

However, director Patty Jenkins does a fine job up to this point, and there is an emotional sucker punch (pun intended) that left one fellow viewer in tears. 

Gal Gadot does a fine job juggling the physical scenes with comedic and emotional stuff. Given her background as a dancer and model, she seems like a perfect fit for any super heroine.  

She also has a million dollar smile, which is crucial for winning over the masses, along with that necessary, slightly alien feel. 

Light years away from Lynda Carter’s cult 1970s TV series, DC Comics’ enduring heroine makes a mostly impressive feature debut. A shame about that stupid villain at the end, but it looks great and nice to see that homage to the original Superman movie in an alley scene. And like Clark Kent, it seems Diana Prince also has an issue with revolving doors. 

It’s a great watch for the most part, and despite too many scenes shot in digital darkness (a personal bugbear), it ticks so many of the right boxes, it almost makes up for the shortfalls of previous DC messes. 

Let’s hope the pending Justice League is even better.