Baby Driver Review

Baby DriverDirector Edgar Wright

Certificate 15

Starring Anson Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James

In a summer dominated by sequels and comic book movies, Edgar Wright’s latest movie is a breath of fresh air. It’s also his best since Shaun of the Dead in 2004. 

To say I’m a Wright fan is an understatement. He’s up there with Danny Boyle as one of my favourite Brit directors, though some of Edgar’s movies do go off the boil toward the finale. 

I was there at the midnight screening of The World’s End and diverted miles out of my way during a 2012 road trip to ensure I could explore the key landmarks in Hot Fuzz. I also watched every episode of Spaced several times over. 

With ’Shaun’, he and co-writer Simon Pegg hit the comedy horror nail so squarely on the head, it proved to be up there with An American Werewolf in London and Young Frankenstein as a genre classic. 

And as much as I adore Hot Fuzz, that third act descended into an OTT shoot ’em up. 

Scott Pilgrim vs the World peaked half way through, as did The World’s End. 

Then it looked like Wright’s long cherished Ant-Man would finally see the light of day… but he dropped out. However, his directorial flourishes remained like echoes of what could have been. 

Which brings us to Baby Driver, the much acclaimed romantic comedy crime caper with a terrific soundtrack. 

Anson Elgort is the eponymous hero, a fresh faced kid with tinnitus who says little but his driving skills speak volumes. He’s ’Mozart with a go-kart’, as Kevin Spacey remarks at one point. 

That hybrid of Spaced and Spacey proves a terrific mix. He never gives a bad turn, but here the Old Vic legend gives one of his best performances, his rock solid delivery of a terrific script ensures every time he’s on screen, the movie comes alive. Not that it needs much help. The action scenes are often breathtaking. A street shootout cuts the excess flab from Michael Mann’s landmark Heat which no doubt inspired it. This is leaner, but thankfully not meaner than that 1995 bum-numbing classic, while the opening BD car chase left me with a huge grin for the duration. 

It feels like after years of shifting through gears, Wright has finally found the right one. While some movie vehicles can have a super car sheen but milk float-style story engines, puttering out long before the end, Baby Driver is a Bugatti Veyron powered by an F14 fighter plane engine. 

The stunts, pacing, editing and score are superb, while the chemistry between Elgort and Lily James is priceless. She has the screen presence of a genuine movie star, while solid support comes from Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Jon Bernthal. 

The sucker punch is Baby’s relationship with his deaf foster father Joseph (the superb CJ Jones). A hugely touching moment in the third act proved more effective than the outstanding action scenes and brilliantly scored iPod-driven other moments (Baby’s opening title coffee run is terrific). 

One of many genius moves is Wright choosing the original songs of many tunes which later found fame as sampled smashes. So instead of yet another airing of Jump Around by House of Pain (see also War Dogs, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and Bridget Jones’s Baby), we get the original. Great movies are about giving the audience what they think they’re getting, then pulling the rug. 

Baby Driver is up there with La La Land as one of my films of the year, and like that riot of colour, action and music, I can’t wait to see the whole thing again. 


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. 


Alien Covenant Review

Alien Covenant
Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride

Directed by Ridley Scott

Certificate 15

There was a time I would have been at the midnight premiere of a new Alien movie, I was so obsessed with the series. But in 2012 I sat through the inaugural IMAX 3-D screening of Prometheus, and still felt sick by the time I got to bed around 4am. 

During subsequent screenings, I realised what a weak film it was; an A-list cast and crew dealing with a Z-list script. Those hoping for answers to the xenomorphs’ origins were given more questions than answers. 

So by the time Alien Covenant, the second prequel in Ridley Scott’s franchise came along, I give it a week before watching. 

The reviews have not been good. Savaged by most critics, and berated by many fans of the saga, I go in with low expectations.

Surprisingly, the first half hour is not that bad. The crew of the eponymous spacecraft, a colonisation ship on its way to land on an Earth-type planet seven years away, are awoken after a near-fatal incident with some galactic anomaly, and while repairing the ship, an electronic ghost from a nearby planet is recorded onto one of the crew’s helmets.

So it’s essentially a remake of Alien up to this point, only the crew are awoken for a different reason, and they intercept a different sort of SOS.

Landing on the neighbouring world in the hope it might be a better alternative to their original destination, they soon live to regret it. 

Only Daniels (Katherine Waterston) seems to have a degree of intelligence. She wonders why they are endangering their mission by checking out a world that didn’t show up on any of their scans.

Their rubbish captain Oram (Billy Crudup) overrules her, launches an away team, and thanks to savage spores, soon ensures one of the crew is literally as spineless as him. 

The second act plays like an old episode of a Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Data met evil brother Lore. In this case, robot Walter, meets fellow synthetic David (survivor of Prometheus). 

There’s a recorder lesson between the “brothers” that goes on so long, I had flashbacks to junior school music lessons. 

Most of the time it looks great. This is a Ridley Scott film, so that’s a given, though some of the alien CG effects are a bit ropey. 

Sadly the saga has become so obsessed with analysing its own history both on and off screen, we have reached the point where there are two robots named after the producers (David Giler and Walter Hill), and a heroine called Daniels, probably named after the original writer (Dan O’Bannon). 

But the meta problem is not the biggest issue. It’s the intelligence, or the crew’s lack of it. 

This is a crew so stupid, there’s no question of quarantine at a crucial moment or immediately wondering why wheat is on an alien planet. 

There’s also a point where a couple are attacked in a shower. Not a spoiler, as that’s given away in the trailer.

And if you seen the trailer, chances are you’ve seen about as much as you need to regarding their back story, or lack of it.

The dipping toy bird, making a welcome return to the franchise for the first time since 1979’s original Alien, has more of a back story.

Thankfully the finale is as dark as Life, the year’s better alien-on-a-spaceship movie. Some clever editing and a Prestige-style plot device means there’s an ’is he or isn’t he?’ moment that keeps you guessing until the end. 

Alien Covenant is not the disaster I’d feared. It’s slightly better than Prometheus, but a very poor cousin to Alien and Aliens. Newcomers to the saga may enjoy it, and given the finale I’m intrigued to see how things connect between the prequels and Alien. Let’s just hope a smarter script is green-lit for (the chronological) episode three. 


Bat out of Hell – The Musical Review

Bat out of Hell – The Musical

Opera House, Manchester 

All stage fans have their dream musicals. Buffy’s ’Once More with Feeling’ is one of mine, while the other has been a rumour, a work in progress that always seemed to be in the planning stage: Bat out of Hell – The Musical. 

Then I heard it was finally a reality and when it premiered in Manchester, I promised myself I’d catch it one day. 

But at the back of my mind I feared it would be another We Will Rock You: a dystopian future; a corrupt, fascist government, and two lovers who kept bursting into a band’s back catalogue. In short, a contrived jukebox musical. 

But the difference here is the Bat albums were always the soundtracks to unmade musicals, so it’s more of a natural fit as the boy-meets-girl story unfolds. 
Fast forward to now, and after a 75-mile trek, the wife and I are sat in Manchester’s Opera House waiting for curtain up. The set looks like an industrial wreck torn from the pages of Heavy Metal comic; the couple on stage with an impressive motorcycle look like they’re just having a chat. Their indifference is deliberate. 

“I remember everything!” yells ripped hero Strat (Andrew Polec) as the lights die and the stage plunges into darkness. It’s so sudden, I’m shocked and thrilled. 

We’re off. The stage show I waited 30 years for has gone from zero to 100mph in a few seconds. 

I have a rictus grin for the first half as my dream show doesn’t just match my expectations but exceeds them. 

Ten minutes into this matinee and I’m wondering if if I can get tickets for the evening performance. 

I get goosebumps during some of the numbers and can’t believe the quality of the vocals during some favourite tracks. 

When I first moved to Yorkshire, I played those Meat Loaf albums on a loop. They were the soundtrack to many journeys back to the Midlands to see the folks. Everyone has their own BOOH stories, those personal interpretations of the lyrics. 

Seeing them enacted on that stunning stage is like a dozen Christmases rolled into one. 

There are many stars in this show, and that set is one of them. A masterfully designed multi-level feast for the eyes by John Bausor. 

We’re in the city of Obsidian, a futuristic Manhattan cut from the same cloth as John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. It’s brilliantly engineered, revealing new depths and concealed compartments for the duration. Just when I think I know everything the set can do, it morphs into something else, from gritty street to opulent dining room.  

Andrew Polec

The penthouse of controlling, brutal Falco (Rob Fowler) is gorgeous, and as his stunning daughter Raven (Christina Berrington) falls for the permanently young hero Strat, while taking dream suppressants care of her mum Sloane (Sharon Sexton), the story takes our star cross’d lovers on an odyssey connected by that astounding soundtrack. 

Most musicals have that one killer track, whether it’s Dreamgirls’ ’And I Am Telling You’ or Wicked’s ’Defying Gravity’. This has at least 18 of them. 

I resist checking the programme’s song listing for fear of my favourites being excluded. 

While Tonight Is What it Means to be Young (from 1984 cult offering Streets of Fire) would have worked perfectly, sadly it doesn’t feature. There’s such a wealth of other old Steinman classics, I can live with it. Tracks that provided the soundtrack to millions of peoples’ lives are performed with the sort of gusto usually reserved for show finales. 

Sharon Sexton

The first act closes with the eponymous tune and my partner Rachel and I think the same thing: has it done a Wicked and peaked with the standout song by half time?

Thankfully there are so many more highlights, we needn’t have worried. 
The cast are terrific. Andrew Polec matches Meat Loaf’s gobsmacking vocal range and looks like he’s stepped from the cover of the first album. Rob Fowler’s a perfect antagonist, with an equally astonishing voice. He pulls off a stunt so literally breathtaking near the finale, I’m astounded. And there are a few of those jaw-dropping moments, including a superb gag involving a Cadillac and raunchy foot-tapper Paradise by the Dashboard Light. 

Rob Fowler

So while I marvel at the set and revel in the songs and performances, I wonder if I’ll get a sucker punch moment that plucks the heart strings like a double bass. When a superb version of Objects in the Rear View Mirror arrives, it proves hugely touching. 

While five numbers leave me cold, in a show with 23 outstanding tracks that’s an incredible hit rate. 

Or to put it another way, 18 out of 23 ain’t bad. 

If great songs are gasoline, some musicals have the tank of a Mini Cooper: they burn through them and are spent in an hour. This show has the fuel capacity of the space shuttle’s external fuel tank. 
By the time the show finishes, everyone is on their feet for a well deserved ovation. The couple in front of us on are on their third viewing, while the pensioner to our right looks like she’s won the lottery. 

Christina Berrington 

I’m amazed Steinman chose to give his show its premiere in Manchester, but as it nears the end of its northern run before transferring to London, I’d urge anyone to go and see it. The ads aren’t big enough to do it justice. And as much as I hope it will tour closer to home, this needs to be on as big a stage as possible. 

It’s a sexy, funny, epic masterpiece that justified my 30-year wait. I can only hope it does well enough in London and on Broadway to justify an IMAX movie, and preferably without messing up the screenplay to accommodate its main star like Rock of Ages. 

For crying out loud, go and see it. 

An Interview with Ian Ogilvy  – Part one

Actor and author Ian Ogilvy became a household name in TV show Return of the Saint in 1978. Ahead of the release of his new film, We Still Steal the Old Way, we had a chat about his career, stage fright, ageism in Hollywood and the advice he’d offer to his younger self. 

Your new movie is a sequel. Was it like putting on a comfy pair of slippers playing Richie again in We Still Steal the Old Way?
Yes it was rather (laughs). 

What was it that attracted you to the first film, We Still Kill the Old Way? 
Well, it was something that I’ve never done before to be honest with you Roger. I was always playing the guy who beat up the character I played in the first film.

I’d never played a gangster before. And to play an ageing, elderly retired gangster was terribly appealing to me. I just thought ’I wonder if anyone will accept me in this?’ And I looked in the mirror and I thought ’Well you’re fat enough now and we can get away with it. 

I loved it. It’s my favourite character really, because it’s something I’ve never done in my life. 

You seem very comfortable in the role.

Yeah, once I sussed out how I was going to do it, being laid-back and trying to be humorous about it, I thought that’s the way to do it. 

You’ve lived in America for the past 27 years, so how was it working back in the UK?

It’s lovely. Well I don’t work much in America any more. I used to work here all the time but then I just got old, and ageism here is pretty severe. So when I got too old to do any acting in America I started writing. I became an author, a book writer, all of which paid the bills as well as if not better than my acting. So I was quite happy with that, but I’ve always taken jobs if anybody ever offered them to me. And to this day most of the offers still come from the UK. So I’m over there every (the UK) often doing something in the UK, but I don’t do much here (the US) any more.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) Movie Review

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, Takeshi Kitano

Directed by Rupert Sanders

In the mid-1990s, I was caught in the blast of the anime explosion caused by Akira. That stunning sci-fi saga opened the floodgates for a wealth of dazzling, weird, eye-popping animated films from Japan, and I bought a fair few of them. None were as good as Akira, but as an aspiring comic book artist, they provided no end of inspiration. 

However, many were missing a certain something. Then along came Ghost in the Shell, a film based on Masamune Shirow’s comic which was beautifully designed and featured a mix of international creative talent that helped bridge the gap between east and west. It was a hybrid anime that could appeal to a wider audience, was a feast for the eyes and that soundtrack was unforgettable. 

Like all fans of the genre, I waited as a live action version of Akira repeatedly went into production and then stalled, while a Ghost in the Shell movie was also mooted. 

And when Scarlett Johansson signed up for the lead role in the latter, I got a little dizzy. One of the biggest actresses in the world headlining one of my favourite anime adaptations? It was too good to be true. 

And the good news is, GITS (as nobody is calling it) is remarkably effective. It retains the weirdness of the original, the visually stunning designs, and Scarlett nails the Major’s robotic sex appeal. She dominates every frame she’s in, from the faithful opening shots of her creation, when her human brain (ghost) is lowered into her robot body (shell), to the excellent finale. 

Though not a carbon copy of the anime, it takes the best elements and enhances them. The iconic opening free fall skyscraper attack is terrific, as is the mystery at the heart of the drama. 

One of my favourite moments from the original was the heroine’s battle with a spider tank – a great surprise. Here there is none of that as a bad guy flags it up early. 

Purists could spend hours comparing the two movies, but I’m not going to be that nerdy. 

Unlike many Hollywood sci-fi sagas which are all style and no substance, this is a fine melange of classic themes, most importantly what it means to be human in a world increasingly obsessed with technology. 

It also manages to retain the heroine’s sense of humanity as bits are removed from her.  

In the RoboCop remake, the hero was stripped down to little more than a head and lungs at one point. It looked awful, so thankfully there’s enough of Scarlett here to ensure I buy that she’s not just copied and pasted onto the marvellous mechanical contraption. 

The smart thing about the story is it’s a police procedural thriller that just happens to involve robots and cyber-enhanced characters. So it has an appeal for those who normally steer clear of such sci-fi stories. 

In the original film the finale took the story in such a direction that the Major would have to be played by a young girl for the sequel. Obviously as this is intended to launch a franchise, that finale is tweaked, and though it feels like the end of Spider-Man with its rousing voice over speech, I’m just delighted that GITS works as well as it does. And it’s great to hear the original theme over the closing minutes. 

For this fan, GITS2 cannot come soon enough.