Restaurant review – Oxo’s on the Mount, The Mount Royale Hotel & Spa, York

Restaurant review – Oxo’s on the Mount, The Mount Royale Hotel & Spa, York

By Roger Crow

Joanne Froggatt towers over The Mount Royale Hotel & Spa, like another remake of Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. Sadly one of the best actresses of her generation has not been filming a York-based version of the classic B-movie (and its comedic remake), as much as I’d love to see it. Thanks to Photoshopping, she’s one of the key focuses of a glossy magazine review which makes her look gigantic.

Joanne is one of many celebs who have visited over the years, and given the fact it’s a short walk into the heart of town, I’m not surprised it’s a haven for the stars (of all sizes).

Everywhere I look, the reviews for said hotel and restaurant are great. Impressive write-ups win me over so much, I’m considering checking in for the night.

That will wait for another time, because on this winter Sunday, my partner and I are here for lunch.

Getting here by car is relatively easy, and in a city with some car parks charging a fortune, it’s a bonus that there’s on-site parking.

However, as the sat nav takes us round the houses, I have to execute a couple of 90-degree Tron-style turns in quick succession.

It’s quiet when we rock up at 1pm, which seems odd for a Sunday, but we’re clearly early.

Julian, the master of ceremonies, gives us a warm welcome and shows us to our table.

He’s a terrific host who soon puts us at our ease and ensures every element of our two-hour stay is catered for.

Imagine if Alan Titchmarsh had added waiter and Maitre’D to his ever expanding list of skills, and you get the idea.

(I don’t compare many to the mighty Titchmarsh, but Julian has that same mix of charm, warmth and wit which is hugely appealing).

The menu is full of traditional fayre, as you’d expect for an eatery in the heart of York.

We begin with the excellent home-baked bread with artisan butters.

With two courses at £19.95 or three at £23.95, you certainly get a lot for your money, as I discover when my crayfish cocktail arrives.

It’s a tasty alternative to the beloved prawn cocktail. Delicious chunks of fish in Marie Rose sauce with more excellent bread. As I’ve not had breakfast, I enjoy every mouthful.

Rachel wisely opts for Yorkshire Blue Cheese and Poached Pear Salad, with beetroot, candied walnuts and port reduction. I’m impressed, especially as pear with anything for a starter is my idea of a nightmare. The flavours complement one another beautifully.

We’re off to a good start.

While waiting for our main, the restaurant begins to fill up, and I take in the surroundings. It’s an eclectic mix of eighties neon and tiki bar raffia in places. At one point I feel like Sonny Crockett dining in a Hawaii-themed Miami restaurant. And as someone who loves something out of the ordinary, that’s right up my street.

There’s an eclectic mix of styles that prove engaging. In one section a video screen of a roaring fire, and in the next we get the real thing, which makes me wonder if it’s footage of the neighbouring snug’s fireplace.

The spacious grounds look terrific for weddings and the like. A shame the day is 50 shades of grey, but it’s a good excuse to pop back in the summer.

(The fact it’s just down the road from the new Everyman cinema means that’s a real possibility).

My main is a feast of roast rump of British beef, Yorkshire pudding and seasonal veg with red wine jus. The staple for many great Sunday lunches, though as I usually opt for a small portion, there’s far too much for me. The meat is a little rare for my palate, but I’ll opt for a medium version next time.

With one figurative eye on my waistline and the other on the dessert menu, I admit defeat early, though the huge Yorkie pudding and fine gravy is nicely prepared.

Rachel’s Garlic Roast Tomato Risotto with mozzarella and truffle also gets the thumbs up. It tastes as good as it looks.

Dessert is a triumph, though again very generous portions mean we’re struggling to finish.

The Lemon Posset is a great palate cleanser, with pistachio nut granola, charred oranges and honey ice cream a treat for the tastebuds. (I’d recommend sharing one).

The Dark Chocolate Tart ticks every box on my list of fave dessert items, from the obvious element, to the roasted peanut ice cream and salted caramel.

Over cappuccinos we reflect on a great meal in fascinating surroundings with fine company.

In a perfect world I’d happily spend the rest of the afternoon, sat by the roaring fire chatting to our host about life and food, but that can wait for another day.

A wise man once wrote: ’The tradition of the Sunday feast accomplishes more than just feeding us. It nurtures us’.

Which is partly true. Add some great company to the equation; staff who make you hungry for a return visit, and that’s a truly great Sunday feast.

Highly recommended.


Restaurant review – The Ivy, York

Restaurant review – The Ivy, York

Whenever I’m passing The Ivy in London, I get a photo outside to remind me of my first visit back in the day.

Not because of the food, but because of the brand. It’s become synonymous with showbusiness, power lunches and networking.

So when offered the chance to sample the new York branch (lower case n), I think for a nanosecond before saying yes.

If only all gut feelings were so accurate, because General Manager Jon Pinner has done a terrific job of taking that well known brand and turning it into THE place to eat in York.

My partner Rachel and I arrive early because I don’t want to miss a minute of this fine dining experience.

We’re shown to our table from the booking entrance that connects St Helen’s Square to the restaurant itself.

The furnishings and seating do not disappoint. I’m soon languishing on the opulent, comfortable seats; dazzled by the beautifully designed menu and feeling like a lottery winner.

The decor is stylish, fresh, modern and engaging. I’m also in love with the menu, which boasts a beautifully designed cover.

For me it’s a dining experience years in the making since a Press launch gave me a taste of Ivy excellence in the 1990s. It doesn’t hurt that Ryan, our waiter, has the charm of namesake actor Gosling with the Geordie patter of Ant and Dec.

Like all great restaurants, engaging banter is the key to a fine stay, and we’re instantly at our ease while tucking into delicious starters.

My oak smoked salmon with crab, dill cream, rye soda bread and a squirt of lemon is melt-in-the-mouth marvellous at £11.50.

There’s no shortage of tempting dishes for the main, and the good thing is the price isn’t so outrageous that you need a second mortgage.

I opt for The Ivy chargrilled hamburger (£14.25), which arrives with a potato bun, and a collection of the usual accoutrements: red onion, dill pickle, lettuce and tomato, so I can take my pick instead of deconstructing the burger.

Talking of which, the meat is beautifully cooked, and the thick cut fries are outstanding, especially with Bloody Mary tomato sauce.

To quote Sam Jackson in Pulp Fiction, “Mmm, that is a tasty burger.”

Like his screen partner, mine is also vegetarian (well, pescatarian), but she has no shortage of equally tasty options to choose from. Wild mushrooms on toasted brioche with grated truffle and Gran Moravia (£7.95) for starter, and for main, an HLT – grilled halloumi, black olive, avocado, baby gem lettuce and tomato with herb mayonnaise (£9.75), all of which is terrific.

After the restaurant’s own Champagne (which makes a change from the ubiquitous calorie-busting Prosecco, though they obviously have that too), we have a couple of Cosmopolitans; Rachel’s with alcohol, mine without.

I’d thought the reception area was over staffed with three folks ready to take coats and the like, but given the fact the place is soon heaving, it eventually becomes apparent how popular the place is. Ladies who lunch; tourists and locals are soon tucking into mouthwatering food in the beautifully decorated restaurant. The atmosphere is terrific, not least because, unlike one chain, there’s no screaming feral kids or Cliff’s version of “Congratulations” interrupting the mood at top volume.

This is the place to bring friends and relatives if they’re in town for a few days and you want to ensure they have a memorable dining experience.

And like all good eateries, the best is saved for last.

Due to tactical portion control (I leave half my burger bun), I ensure I have room for dessert.

The Chocolate Bombe (£8.50) is a glorious mix of theatre as the delicious dark choc sphere at the heart of a large black plate disintegrates on contact with salted caramel sauce, revealing a lake of honeycomb and ice cream.

Rachel opts for apple tart fine (£7.95), drizzled in Calvados, which is expertly ignited by Ryan.

Again, the table theatrics are key to a memorable meal, and the fact it tastes divine is the icing on the cake. (Or rather the hot fruit sauce on the tart).

We round things off with cappuccinos, which could be a generic epilogue to a terrific culinary story, but even they are exceptional.

It’s rare to find a restaurant that ticks so many boxes, but The Ivy is my new favourite York eatery, and that’s saying something in St Helen’s Square, a region which is bursting with them.

“It wasn’t just about the food, which I loved, it was the atmosphere,” enthuses my fellow gastronaut as we emerge back into the reality of a crisp winter’s day. It’s now Rachel’s favourite dining experience after 12 months of exploring some of the best restaurants the UK has to offer. It’s easily in my top three.

“There is a difference between dining and eating,” remarked 18th-century poet and gastronome Yuan Mei. “Dining is an art. When you eat to get most out of your meal, to please the palate, just as well as to satiate the appetite, that, my friend, is dining.”

That, my friend, is The Ivy, York.

Film preview – The Revenger: An Unromantic Comedy 

Film preview

The Revenger: An Unromantic Comedy

Starring Robert Kazinsky, Samantha Barks, Tony Way

Directed by Mark Murphy

Comedies are like soufflés. You might have the best butter, sugar and eggs, but there’s something in the cooking that leads to the confection either being light and fluffy or collapsed like a deflated balloon. Not enough sugar or sweetness and it obviously ends up bitter. Too much and it becomes hard to swallow. Too many eggs and half can end up on the cast’s face.

Thankfully writer/director Mark Murphy, who made Howden and Bubwith-shot chiller Awaiting, has scored a bull’s eye with his new movie The Revenger: An Unromantic Comedy.

It’s another feather in the cap of local film outfit Goldfinch Entertainment (formerly GSP Studios), Yorkshire-based film producer Alan Latham and Eric Woollard-White.

The Revenger is due for release later in 2018, but I was given a sneak peek at the tale of one man, his scheming bride-to-be and the characters who orbit around them.

Now I won’t give too much away, but the skill of the movie is pushing certain characters to breaking point, and just when you start to lose sympathy with a key protagonist, the plot changes course.

“If it bends it’s funny, if it breaks it’s not,” is a good comedic rule of thumb that always stands up, and The Revenger bends just enough to ensure the comedic snapback is perfect. (No, that’s not a funny baseball cap).

It helps that the casting is wonderful. Robert Kazinsky (Pacific Rim/Warcraft) is spot on as Mark, the lovelorn hero, while Tony Way (Edge of Tomorrow) is excellent as his best mate, Tim. Some actors have funny bones, and Way is one of them. His face has the comedic appeal of a clown car’s airbag. He’s in danger of stealing the show if it weren’t for Samantha Barks’s Connie, the axle on which part of the vehicle rests. Her mix of sex appeal and comic timing is irresistible, especially during a scene reminiscent of Carry On Camping. But despite her character being capable of horrible things, one tear-streaked scene in a car can also break your heart. If there was any doubt after Les Miserables that a major talent had arrived, this should prove the naysayers wrong.

The film also has a dash of Wedding Crashers, and while some will be reminded of Four Weddings and a Funeral, not least because of the presence of Anna ’Duckface’ Chancellor at her outrageous best, it also feels like a comedy from centuries ago. Amorous in-laws and a sidekick will leave many howling while others watch through latticed fingers.

Solid support comes from Ivan Kaye (Vikings), Rachel Hurd-Wood (Peter Pan) and Edward Speleers (Downton Abbey).

In short, The Revenger is a witty, snappy, stylish comedy which deserves to do well here and overseas.

There are now two major British weddings to watch in 2018, and as we wait for the royal one, here’s a four-word review of a fun, fictional diversion that’s crucial given the title.

I laughed. A lot.


Bright – Movie Review


Directed by David Ayer

Starring Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace

So, after months of plugging, Netflix unveil their highest profile streaming movie to date.

Bright has the production values of a major motion picture, the heavyweight star appeal of Will Smith, and a high concept premise: an alternate LA, filled with orcs, elves and fairies.

Will Smith is Ward, the foul-mouthed cop teamed with Joel Edgerton’s Jakoby, the long suffering Orc crime buster who spends most of the movie being sworn at, beaten up or worse.

Their chalk and cheese partnership forms the backbone of the story involving a magic wand, a dark lord and an endangered elf.

Which is all very Harry Potter meets Lord of the Rings with Ayer’s previous movie End of Watch thrown in and a heroine reminiscent of Leeloo from The Fifth Element.

It’s brutal, bloody stuff which for 90 per cent of its running time is hard to stomach. The seemingly endless macho posturing, face offs with gang members and swearing is so abrasive, i’m worn down by the sheer nastiness of the whole production.

Smith is usually good value for money, but even his charm can’t save this Christmas turkey.

Edgerton is okay as his sidekick and Noomi Rapace adds malevolence as the big bad.

So, 30 years after Alien Nation posited an LA filled with ETs, and mismatched cops tackling bad guys,this unofficial remake makes that bad film look a lot better.

It’s toxic stuff alleviated only by some great photography and flashes of excitement. The whole time I’m watching it I want it to get better, and be less brutal, but it feels like crawling through a two-hour long tunnel of offal.

The only bright bit comes at the end.

The music is yawnsome, the script mostly dreadful with the odd decent one liner from Max Landis, and on the whole a horrible experience.

No matter how much you may love the Fresh Prince, or the good ideas, avoid at all costs.


Theatre review – Jack and the Beanstalk

Theatre review

Jack and the Beanstalk

York Theatre Royal

Rather aptly for a panto set in York, Berwick Kaler’s latest production is a shambles.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a beautiful mess. The set is a glorious tribute to the brilliant Mark Walters, who designed both it and the dazzling costumes, and the opening number, Not Just For Kids Anymore (which made me laugh out loud) is tight, well choreographed and really gels. I just wish the rest of the show had as much coherence.

That’s the problem when a production is so front-loaded. Trying to top the intro is tricky.

Now to put this in context, Jack and the Beanstalk is far better than Kaler’s offering from 12 months ago. The whole thing clicks more effectively, and I’m guessing the key reason is Martin Barrass, Kaler’s long-term sidekick who generates so much love from generations who’ve been following these shows for years, it’s hard not to get swept along.

It’s been well documented that a 2016 accident left him in a right state, while Kaler’s own heart surgery understandably took the wind out of his own sails.

Now both of them are back on some sort of form, their panto has its mojo back.

And it’s great to see Suzy Cooper back on stage doing her ditzy blonde singing and dancing routine as Jill. Her comic timing is superb, and I get the feeling in the 1970s, when mainstream sketch shows on TV were a thing, she’d have been a regular.

But oh that script. Kaler’s a force of nature who conjures up these shows with waves of heart and spirit, but structurally it’s a mess.

Okay, I know it’s panto and the story doesn’t really stand up to much scrutiny, but at least it should have a start a middle and an end.

And the references are just so out of date. It feels like a show from 1983 with references to Return of the Jedi, or at a push, The Addams Family from a decade later, when the Christina Ricci films were popular. Okay, the stage version of TAF is doing the rounds, but it doesn’t feel mainstream enough to be worth a musical number. (’Oh yes it does!’ you may cry.)

There’s the obligatory Trump and Brexit comments for the parents, but none of it feels like a panto for today.

As a kid I used to watch Little and Large’s TV show. One of the reasons I liked it was Eddie making references to stuff happening at the time. It felt relevant and ahead of the dated other comics.

And don’t get me started at that half-way film, where our heroes flee from ’Super Troopers’, dropping in at various York spots for a series of woeful sponsor-inspired sketches. One recurring TV favourite’s performance as a giant may give little ones nightmares, and not for his Olivier-worthy acting either.

None of what I think will matter a jot of course to the countless families who have been enjoying this nonsense for years. And fair play to the team for keeping the art alive.

My first experience of any theatre was panto, and it’s something I’ve never forgotten. I didn’t care about the songs or the gags. Whether it had a start, middle or end, or the story structure. I just loved that feeling of seeing something special happening in front of my eyes with ’Dana off the telly’.

And for the kids who went nuts at Kaler’s latest smorgasbord of jokes, sketches, songs and slapstick, in 45 years they’ll still have a warm, fuzzy memory of those strange characters breathing life into a well worn, rather odd story.

Will I be back next year? Of course.

Christmas has now officially started because 12 months after the culture shock of seeing my first Berwick Kaler panto, Cinderella, I’m now becoming part of that annual tradition where, for a few hours, anything goes.

David Leonard brilliantly milks his villainous part as Dr McCarb like the cow at the heart of the story, and Suzy Cooper steals my heart once more with her expert comedy schtick. Her ’It’s behind you’ routine with Leonard is a sheer joy.

The fact she made an appearance as Princess Leia (sigh) may have helped alleviate my confusion. (That and the fact I got to meet Look North legend Clare Frisby at half time).

JATB, as no-one is calling it, might be all over the place, but it’s a glorious splash of warm-hearted colour on an icy December night, and I’ve no doubt it’ll be a massive success until it bows out on February 3, 2018.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for a lie down. My mind has been well and truly blown.

Oh yes it has.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Spoiler Free Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Directed by Rian Johnson

Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver

Certificate 12A

There was a time the average gap between Star Wars movies was three years. But when Disney took over the franchise in 2012, they planned on releasing at least one Star Wars-related movie a year. And with Kathleen Kennedy in charge, 2015’s The Force Awakens proved the franchise was in safe hands.

Now we have the eighth chapter in the saga (ninth if you count the sublime episode 3.5, Rogue One).

And with JJ Abrams passing the baton to Looper’s Rian Johnson, we’re off on another dazzling adventure.

The opening space battle is pure Star Wars. Dizzying, thrilling and glorious cinematic magic accompanied by John Williams’ bombastic score.

Seconds after the opening crawl, I have a big stupid grin as Rebels fight the bad guys; a familiar face pops up as an evil officer, and the whole thing slots together beautifully.

But that space battle is just the eye candy-laced doorway to one of the most complex, divisive and bold chapters in the saga.

Safe to say The Last Jedi will leave die-hard fans emerging from the theatre processing what they’ve just seen.

Johnson takes the saga to interesting places, and though the script could have done with some polish, one scene involving a key character’s actions against insurmountable odds definitely needed rejecting at the script stage. Some force-related feats push things too far.

The new cast we met in The Force Awakens feel a lot more at home here. Not that they did a bad job in TFA, but it’s good to see the likes of John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac given a chance to flex their acting muscles.

Obviously given the passing of Carrie Fisher, the whole movie feels like a tribute in all the right places, but if the film belongs to anyone it’s Mark Hamill. The hermetic Luke Skywalker is now as weathered as the craggy island he calls home.

Giving a terrific performance as the hero millions grew up with, to see him back in action for the first time since 1983 is a treat fans never thought they’d witness.

And while old beloved droids like C-3PO and R2D2 are also back, BB-8 steals the film once more.

There are inevitable nods to The Empire Strikes Back, but at times it also feels like the first episode of the revamped Battlestar Galactica, with a touch of The Two Towers’ Helm’s Deep thrown in for good measure.

There’s also a low tech clunkiness to the props. Maybe it’s hi-def cameras showing more than film ever used to, but some gadgets and sets feel a bit Blue Peter. Then there is Snoke’s lair, a blood red screen which looks striking but temporary, like a stage set.

And the Vegas-style Canto Bight features a few too many weird characters in the now obligatory cantina-style scene that adds colour to most SW movies.

As it’s the longest of the saga, my oft-repeated comment of it being 20 minutes too long is completely on the money.

The Last Jedi is still a compelling sci-fi adventure, but kids will be restless in the second act, and their parents nursing aching legs by the finale.

So, a flawed but fascinating chapter which fails to match the dizzy heights of Empire and Rogue One, but is still a must see on the big screen. The 3D is pretty effective, the sound design excellent, and that shot of fighters soaring over salt flats, leaving scarlet scars in the Earth is unforgettable.

Who knows what’s in store for Episode IX, but with JJ Abrams back at the helm, it should be much tighter than this ambitious curio.


Film review: Paddington 2

Paddington 2

Starring Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Grant, Sally Hawkins

Certificate PG

Directed by Paul King

Perfection, as we all know is an elusive quality. We may strive for it, but despite Fairground Attraction’s foot-tapping pleas, few things are rarely perfect.

Except occasionally a film comes along where everything clicks. The right producer hires the best director and the ideal cast and crew, together with spot-on effects technicians. And the story is strong enough to carry the weight of expectation from start to finish. Every second of celluloid is a well-crafted dream; finely tuned, expertly crafted and dovetails with the next scene.

It’s a film with a start, a middle and end. It makes sense. There’s a cross generational appeal, so those pushing 50 can enjoy what’s on screen as much as those in the spring of youth and the winter of their years.

Paddington 2 is one of those movies, a film so utterly wondrous, it feels like a dozen Christmases rolled into one.

Three years to the day after seeing the first Paddington movie on the big screen, I’d hoped the sequel would live up to that wonderful starter of a motion picture. A film which introduced us to the eponymous bear from darkest Peru who finds a new home in London with the Brown family and proceeds to steal the hearts of almost everyone around him.

Film one was a toe in the water, a brilliant mix of wry humour, sight gags, action scenes and delightful musical segues. It was everything I’d hoped for from the bear who stole my heart as a six-year-old kid reading Michael Bond’s books for the first time.

With the ideal casting of Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Julie Walters as key members of the family who take Paddington under their collective wing, the inevitable move for the sequel was to pluck the bear from his adoptive family.

While trying to save up enough cash to buy a pop-up book for his Aunt Lucy, so she can experience a flavour of London in Peru, Paddington embarks on a window cleaning round, which owes a spiritual debt to Wallace and Gromit and countless silent movie stars.

There are so many gags in Paddington 2, it’s hard to keep count of the amount of times I giggled, but it’s a lot.

When ham actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, in a career-best performance) pinches said book, for reasons which eventually become clear, there’s no prizes for guessing who’s framed for the crime and winds up doing a long spell inside.

So most of the movie is a prison caper, but the likes of which you’ve never seen. Brendan Gleeson gives another of his effortlessly brilliant performances, this time as a fearsome prison chef.

Paddington, seeing the best in everyone, proceeds to change the lives of those inside, while back in that moneyed region of London he had to leave behind, the locals are falling apart without him.

Writers Paul King and Simon Farnaby construct such a beautifully crafted screenplay, there’s no lull in the story from minute one to the breathtaking final few minutes. In terms of emotional sucker punches, the finale is up there with ET for the most tear-jerking final 15 minutes of any film I’ve seen. Yes, it was dusty in that cinema, and yes, I did get something in my eye. A lot.

And as with film one, Farnaby leaves me giggling like an idiot as the amorous security guard who takes a shine to Grant’s disguised nun. (In film one, Farnaby’s flirting with Hugh Bonneville in drag was one of the funniest scenes of 2014).

Director King proved he could tell a beautifully touching and original tale with The Bunny and the Bull many years ago, and armed with a bigger budget three years ago, he adapted that indie quality with great success. I’d wondered if Paddington was a fluke and he’d drop the ball with the sequel, but with the training wheels off, he’s now become the Chris Hoy of British comedy directors. A more assured but no less brilliant film maker whose lightness of touch is astounding. And that pop-up book scene with Paddington and his Aunt is among the best things you’ll see on screen in this or any other year.

There no doubt it’ll land technical awards for effects, and maybe production design, but if there’s any justice, this should also land a BAFTA nod for Best Film. It won’t of course. That will be reserved for a socially conscious, political drama deemed far more worthy, but for me Paddington 2 is easily the best British film of 2017.

Michael Bond, the little bear’s much missed creator, would be more than proud.


Film review – Justice League

Film review

Justice League

Certificate 12A

Directed by Zack Snyder

Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ciaran Hinds

Apparently Justice League, the long awaited conversion of the hit DC Comics series, is one of the most expensive films ever made at a reported $300m. At times you can see where the money went, though there are scenes where the visual effects look like they were knocked up with a £1.99 app.

Going in, my expectations were at rock bottom. After all, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice had lowered the bar to almost Superman IV/Batman and Robin levels of badness, so in the words of Yazz or a lift attendant in a basement, the only way is up.

Director Zack Snyder has long been one of the genre’s premier visual stylists, who came tantalisingly close to cracking sublime graphic novel Watchmen, and did a fine job with 300, while Man of Steel was hit and miss.

Rocked by a personal tragedy, Snyder left the movie early in 2017, so Joss Whedon stepped in to finish it, adding his own flourishes.

There’s a scene in a graveyard where I half expect Buffy to turn up singing Going Through the Motions from the peerless Once More With Feeling episode.

But that will have to wait for Whedon Buffy/Batman crossover episode, of which we can but dream.

Back in the real world, and here’s the plot.

Millennia ago, bad guy Steppenwolf (an unrecognisable Ciaran Hinds) and his legions of Parademons attempt to conquer the planet via the combined power of three ’Mother Boxes’.

However, thanks to the forces of Olympian Gods, Amazons, Atlanteans, humans and Green Lanterns, Steppenwolf’s army are repelled, the mcguffin boxes are separated and hidden in locations around Earth.

Fast forward to now, and Superman’s death at the end of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvSDoJ) has left the world in mourning.

The Mother Boxes reactivate; Steppenwolf returns to terra firma and starts collecting DC’s answer to the MCU’s Tesseract.

In one of the best action scenes, he attempts to retrieve one from Wonder Woman’s idyllic island of Themyscira.

Queen Hippolyta warns her daughter, Diana Prince, who joins Bruce Wayne, and they go off to recruit other metahumans (aka superheroes) for their mission.

Wayne seeks out ripped surfer dude Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) and Big Bang-worthy nerd Barry Allen (though Sheldon Hofstadter might be a better name), while Diana tries to find emo-cyborg Victor Stone, a man blinged up with shiny metal attachments perfectly fused to his skin.

Socially awkward, lightning-fast Allen jumps at the chance to team up, while the others are more reluctant. (Hmm, wonder if that will lead to some last minute saving the day posturing. Possibly).

As Steppenwolf continues to wreak havoc during his box-hunting, the scene is set for more action set pieces in which the Justice League slowly comes together.

To reveal much more would be spoilerific, but despite the overly complex plot and generic bad guy who looks like a hybrid of Thanos and a Thor villain from the Marvel movies, this is not the car crash I’d feared. One of the many problems is the exposition. While en route to tackling the bad guys, Bruce, Diana and company stand around talking. A lot.

Exposition is always best during action scenes, so even Wayne fixing bits on his Batship would be better than just character A talking to character B.

Bruce may be loaded, but who builds and maintains his armoury? Jeremy Irons’ Alfred, who spends most of his scenes dispensing quips and operating a keyboard? Unlikely. I’m guessing Wayne Industries has an army of interns working behind the scenes, but that’s worthy of another movie.

As the third act arrives, and our heroes face off against the big bad and his army of demonic soldiers, I find I’m enjoying the ride. It’s obviously not Whedon’s peerless superhero team-up Avengers Assemble or as empty as David Ayer’s cosplay-friendly “Hey, we’re the bad guys” Suicide Squad.

Yes, some of the effects are ropey; JK Simmons’ Jim Gordon is given a woeful lack of screen time; Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is utterly wasted, and as with BvSDoJ and Wonder Woman (2017), the generic finale involving mostly empty streets is hampered by too much CGI and green screen work. But I’ve no doubt Whedon’s involvement helped immensely.

A shame Ben Affleck looks like he’d rather be anywhere else, but hey, it’s still Batman, the comic book character I’ve loved for most of my life up there on the big screen, wrecking every vehicle he pilots or drives, and still looking uber cool as he crashes from scene to scene.

Some of his colleagues may be second-rate heroes, but like the age-old tradition of the pretty girl befriending a less attractive lass to make her look better, the Dark Knight is still magnificent, eclipsing his less alluring second rate allies.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (definitely not in the second rate category), continues to shine, even if this project lacks the emotional heft of her blockbusting solo movie.

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman looks great, and can carry a scene, so his pending standalone movie is not too horrific a prospect, though I doubt Cyborg or The Flash will land solo films. They’re just a bit too bland.

Without the chorus of seat-kicking kids talking all the way through it, I’ll happily watch this again when it arrives on TV in a few months. Some scenes and characters might even make more sense.

This has been a terrific year for superhero movies. And while Justice League may not match the dizzy heights of Thor: Ragnarok, Logan, Spider-Man Homecoming, and Wonder Woman, like all good fantasy cinema, it’ll help take your mind off real world problems for a couple of hours.

For that alone it’s worth the price of admission.


Restaurant review: Goldsborough Hall, Knaresborough

Restaurant review

Goldsborough Hall, Knaresborough

It’s a bleak November night; the busiest time of the year at work, and weeks of dental problems have left my sprits low.

I need a pick me up, though trekking 48 miles to Knaresborough at rush hour in the dark is far from fun. Blinding lights or limited visibility only adds to the woes. And I’m not even driving.

Arriving at Goldsborough Hall with a tooth that feels like it’s been tended to by dentist Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man, I’m suddenly transported to another world.

I’ve had many a fine Friday night dinner, but never in a 17th-century grade II listed Jacobean manor. It’s difficult for my brain not to default to Eyes Wide Shut, and Tom Cruise turning up at a mystery mansion.

It has the PG feel of Stanley Kubrick’s final movie (without the toe-curling awkwardness and stilted dialogue). To me, most stately piles do feel Kubrickian, even if Goldsborough is a couple of centuries older than Eyes Wide Shut’s Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire.

The fact a glorious Christmas tree mirrors the stunning chandelier in Goldsborough’s hallway makes me feel cosier than slippers in front of a roaring log fire. Naturally the opulent residence has one of those too, making my woes melt like the eponymous star of animated favourite The Snowman.

Great food in a fine setting with excellent service is medicine for the soul, and it’s not long before I’m feeling better. Though maybe that’s also the pear cider working its magic.

The more I eat at fine restaurants, the more I realise that great waiting staff are part comedian, part culinary experts. It’s all in the delivery, in more ways than one.

Sarah, one of our excellent waitresses, has that quick wit and like Will, Kate and the other staff we meet at Goldsborough Hall, ensures our few hours on site are a joy.

We begin with canapés by the fire, where an adorable cat keeps trying to warm his whiskers, having repeatedly wandered in with new arrivals (us included).

Back to the food, and my mini sausage roll served on a sliver of tree trunk is delicious. (The sausage roll not the wood in case there’s any doubt).

While soaking up that warmth, marvelling at the decor, and imagining Del and Rodney replacing a chandelier for cleaning, we choose from the impressive menu.

The dining room is hugely impressive with the sort of fireplace reminiscent of Game of Thrones.

It might be weeks until Christmas Eve, but we have that festive magic feeling already.

For the starter, I opt for Whitby crab, apple, celery and pecan, all of which is terrific and the sort of dish where I savour every mouthful. This is one meal I don’t want to rush.

The freshly baked bread is excellent, especially the squid ink and apricot and pecan varieties.

My main is fillet of Yorkshire pork with roasted red pepper, Yorkshire chorizo and glazed new potatoes with a side of seasonal vegetables.

The pork is beautifully tender and the cauliflower and other veg are cooked to perfection.

For each of the courses, a wine is recommended on the menu. Chardonnay with my main for example, and Muscat with dessert.

On the subject of which, my chocolate and walnut trifle almost leaps off the page. It’s the perfect balancing act. The chocolate is spot-on without being too sweet. The crumble is beautifully crunchy and as someone who hates fruit, the rum-soaked raisins balance things beautifully. Just a shame I only manage two thirds due to my constant problem of eye-size to belly-mass ratio.

My partner Rachel has nothing but praise over her choices with phrases like “lost for words,” and “never tasted anything like it” peppering our conversation. Her olive, mozzarella and sun-dried tomato canape goes down a treat, while her main, pumpkin tortellini (which isn’t on the menu) is “absolutely delicious”.

Rachel’s dessert is also a winner: almond cream, confit pear, pastry shards and pear sorbet.

“It’s like having a deconstructed pear tart”, she enthuses.

The brains behind our dishes is Hungarian-born and raised Adam Thur, the former Head Chef at York University.

Having cooked for Royal guests and other VIPs, there’s little wonder we feel like we’re eating movie stars’ dinners. Though there’s something unmistakably Yorkshire about it all, and not just the setting.

Goldsborough’s kitchen gardens ensure the produce couldn’t be fresher, so little wonder we’re happy diners.

As we reluctantly head off, gingerly navigating around a stunning Rolls Royce, we promise to return when it’s warmer and see what the place looks like in daylight.

Great food in a wonderful setting with fine company has a restorative power. I’d recommend Goldsborough to anyone, especially as they actually cater for vegetarians instead of just offering a lame alternative.

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients” as American culinary guru Julia Child once wrote.

I’m guessing she would have approved of Adam’s excellent menu, not to mention the outstanding setting.

Highly recommended.

Gig review – Koyaanisqatsi with Go Go Penguin

Gig review – Koyaanisqatsi with Go Go Penguin

Hull City Hall

I can’t remember the last time I saw Koyaanisqatsi, Godfrey Reggio’s stunning art house film from the early 1980s. I remember buying it for a friend’s birthday or Christmas present in 1994, so it was way before then. In fact it’s been so long, I feel like I’m watching a different film when it’s screened at Hull City Hall.

The major difference this time is the score. Philip Glass’s seminal soundtrack is absent, replaced by an original live performance by Go Go Penguin. And boy do they earn their money.

The three-piece tackles such a labour intensive work, I’m exhausted for them during some of the full on bits. Or maybe that’s the painkiller kicking in for my broken wisdom tooth. Either way it’s like watching a new film.

When the movie was released, time lapse footage of anything was a rarity. Cities and landscapes on fast forward were a stunning sight, with cars flowing to and from cities like red and white blood cells pumping through a heart. These days I shoot time lapse all the time on my iPad or phone. Back in the days before digital, I imagine the process cost a fortune. Little wonder the movie needed a big backer and few were bigger than Francis Ford Coppola in the days when he was a force to be reckoned with.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of the maestro, but when a sniffy wine salesman shot me down in a Californian vineyard back in 1995 for trying to buy a ’small’ bottle of Coppola’s wine, I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about the name.

(In retrospect the Scooby Doo tee-shirt and Hawaiian shorts probably didn’t help my case in such a buttoned up, conservative vineyard).

I digress.

Koyaanisqatsi without the Glass score feels like watching Jaws without John Williams’ masterful soundtrack. It’s good but it’s not right.

However, as an accompanying film for a fine chunk of jazz, it works a treat. A shame nobody has shot a homage in Hull to celebrate the City of Culture. (I did film some great time lapses outside the venue in the spring, which almost begs for a highbrow classical score. Great way to pass the time if you love people-watching and are waiting for a friend or relative to arrive).

Did it wow me? Yes and no. Love the film, great new score, but I’ll admit I was sidetracked by earache, and not because of the excellent musicians.

I’m glad I went, but I wouldn’t rush to see it again. Koyaanisqatsi is one of those movies worth a look every few years, or in my case decades, preferably with the original score. I’d like to see Go Go Penguin provide backing for other arthouse classics without much dialogue.

That said, maximum respect to Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (double bass) and Rob Turner (drums) for their bold interpretation of a 1983 classic.