Film Review – ‪Geostorm‬


Starring Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris

Directed by Dean Devlin

Certificate 12A

Geostorm might well be the stupidest film of 2017, but it’s also one of the most enjoyable. It stars Gerard Butler, so you know you’re not going to need many brain cells to understand the plot. And as it’s co-written and directed by Dean Devlin, you also know there’s going to be plenty of fireballs, scenes of chaos in international locations and cars trying to outrun carnage.

And the film does not disappoint. Every few years, either Roland Emmerich and Devlin, together or separately, seem to remake their 1996 classic Independence Day, using assorted plot devices to cash in on that movie’s success.

So after the not bad The Day After Tomorrow in 2004 and the wonderfully silly 2012 in 2009, we now have a scenario in which Butler is Jack Lawson, a genius mechanic who created Dutch Boy, an orbiting platform capable of preventing or creating bad weather for the sake of the world. Or something.

This is a world where revamped space shuttles now have the ability to fly like star taxis to the International Space Station, and self-driving cars are designed to make life easier. (Hmm, self-driving eh? Wonder if that’ll come in handy later).

However, when Dutch Boy apparently malfunctions and a village is wiped out by a frozen death ray, Butler, a sort of multi-tasking Desperate Dan in civilian clothes, is assigned to put things right. Trouble is, he’s been sacked from his own project and his brother Max has taken over, leading to much bad blood between the Lawson siblings.

So Butler sets up home in Florida in a shiny steel caravan (which looks like it was delivered to site and unwrapped the same day) and Max turns up in a car, which looks like it was driven straight from the showroom, to recruit him. Funny how I buy the outlandish effects more than everyday weathering on vehicles.

Max (Jim Sturgess) is dating a member of the American Secret Service, and she may or may not be a spy. In fact every other character may or may not be involved in a major cover up which causes things to malfunction and lots of people to die.

Is the American president (Andy Garcia) in on the conspiracy? Who knows?

Okay, I do, but this is one of those movies where half the fun is guessing who’s the bad guy or girl.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Butler, but he does a good job here, lumbering around, spouting B-movie dialogue while Sturgess is fine, but as one dimensional as a cardboard standee of himself that might advertise the film in some far-off cinema.

Good support comes from Alexandra Maria Lara, an actress who reminds me of Marion Cotillard. Could she also be a spy? Yes, everyone could. Well, almost everyone. (*Spoiler at the end).

Of course the real stars of the film are the effects, a series of explosions and set pieces either on the ISS (think Gravity meets Moonraker via 2017’s Life, turned up to 11) and you get the idea.

Providing some kick-ass glamour is Abbie Cornish, who looks like she’s escaped from the series of 24 set in Washington DC. She’s a fearless, sexy, smart, invincible force of nature who you definitely want on your side when people are trying to kill you, or the elements are.

Oh, and it’s nice to see other of the world’s major landmarks that weren’t wiped out in the Independence Day movies, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow under assault from huge waves and the like.

There’s a basic rule of thumb with these movies. Dry places get wet. Cold places get hot. And so on.

For all its faults, stupid dialogue and convoluted action scenes, on a dull November afternoon, it brightens my day a treat, not least because there’s only two of us in the cinema, and the other bloke sat several rows away is polite enough not to spend any of the movie surfing the ‘net like most screenings these days.

There’s at least 30 seconds when I actually feel something for the characters, which is remarkable considering how much like computer game avatars they all are. And full marks to Ed Harris and Andy Garcia for keeping straight faces throughout. But that’s why they get paid millions of dollars.

This will crop up on ITV2 or Channel 5 every few weeks in the future, but if you get the chance, see it while you can on a big screen with decent sound.

Oh, and if you want to rule one person out of the mystery, here’s a dreadful spoiler of a pun.

*It’s not much of a shock to discover (the) Butler didn’t do it.



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. 


Back in Orlando- part three

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

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

The same old Universal, Orlando? Video: Roger Crow

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

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

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

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

Diagon Alley, Universal, Orlando; photo: Roger Crow

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


Diagon Alley, Universal, Orlando; photo: Roger Crow

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


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

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

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

Back in Orlando – Part one

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epcot  photo: Roger Crow

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

Animal Kingdom photo: Roger Crow

Ducking and Thriving in Orlando

It’s 4.55pm in Orlando, and the Peabody Hotel’s lobby is full.
Not just with business types in town for a conference, but curious folks like myself and my wife who have dropped in for one reason: ducks.

Disneyland a few miles away may be synonymous with one irascible cartoon duck, but after almost a decade of hearing about a hotel’s feathered residents, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Peabody Hotels have been marching ducks to and from their fountains since 1939, six years after a bunch of duck hunters accidentally started one of the most unique traditions in any hotel’s history.

“They dropped them in the fountain as kind of a prank and the next morning when they came to get the ducks there was a crowd there and a tradition was born. They just kept ducks in there ever since,” explains the Peabody Orlando’s duck master, Donald. (Yes, that’s his real name).

Donald, with the aid of a young apprentice chosen that afternoon, has just rolled out the red carpet, placed steps at the side of the fountain and at 5pm he and his new sidekick guide the marching ducks back to the lift and return them to their penthouse.It’s a wonderfully surreal sight, and the best thing is it’s free.And in an age when we’re facing the worst economic downturns in decades, watching every cent in the Sunshine State is crucial if you want to get the most out of your Floridian holiday.

Pound for pound it’s still remarkably cheap to stay in Orlando, and for those who don’t fancy tackling the freeways and driving on the wrong side of the road, then rest assured there’s plenty of ways to get from A to B via public transport.

For newcomers, the main tourist artery running through the city is International Drive. Lining it are more hotels, motels, diners, thrift shops, and tourist attractions than you can shake a stick at.Staying at one of the many hotels on or just off this main road is a great starting point, and with the aforementioned Peabody as a landmark, you‘ll rarely get lost.

Most UK holidaymakers will naturally gravitate toward Disney (and its assorted parks) and Universal’s two parks – Islands of Adventure and the main site, Universal Studios.

If you’re staying on International Drive there’s a good chance your hotel will run a shuttle bus to Universal, but if not a Lynx bus can get you there in next to no time and you can pick one up at any number of stops along the I-Drive.You could pay with dollars every time your board the bus, but it’s often better to save yourself a few quid/dollars by getting a week’s pass (or naturally longer depending how long you’re in town).

If you’re staying near Don Pablo’s Mexican Restaurant (it offers great food without breaking the bank), then nip into the Tourist Information centre a few doors down. Get your Lynx bus tickets there and also get a week’s I-Trolley pass. For a combined price of around £17, you can visit all the major theme parks, at least three major malls, Seaworld, Aquatica and a lot more.

Bearing in mind that parking at a theme park can be around £10-£15 a day, you’ll be saving cash in no time.

So, what’s the best thing to see in Orlando at the moment?Well, in terms of theme parks at least three attractions stand out: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey set within Hogwarts at Universal, and Star Tours 3D and ToyMania at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

They are also three of the most popular, so here’s a few tips for getting the most for your money.For Universal if you get a two-day ticket for both parks, then on day one do Harry Potter. Get there first thing in the morning and follow the signs for this huge attraction; don’t be distracted by all the other candy coloured goodies on offer; you can do those later.

The queue, even first thing in a morning, can be as epic as any of the movies, so go prepared with cheap waterproofs in case of a sudden deluge, mp3 player, good book and a lot of patience. It’ll be worth it because the meticulous attention to detail as you queue for the ride – a mix of rollercoaster and animatronic show – is breathtaking.

Alas, many of the gift shops in Hogsmead, the accompanying village, are tiny and usually feature huge queues, so best avoid them and buy all your goodies at the other plentiful Universal shops. On day two at Universal, again go first thing in the morning and head for The Simpsons Ride and Men in Black. (Because most tourists will be at Islands of Adventure on Potter, there’s a good chance you’ll not have to bother queuing for long.

However, if you can get Express Pass tickets for your favourite rides then do so, but be warned: it can be costly for a family of four.
As for Disney, getting there from International Drive takes longer. You’ll need a Lynx bus which will take you to Disney’s Transportation Centre, then get a free connecting bus to Hollywood Studios.Once at the latter, having passed through security, head straight for Toymania and get a Fast Pass ticket – that will get you on the ride later that day, then head back to Star Tours 3D and start queuing.

As with Harry Potter, this Star Wars flight simulator will be heaving with geeks (like myself), but the state-of-the-art effects have brought George Lucas’s original 1985 ride bang up to date with an experience that is out of this world. (The beauty of it is that there are so many alternate versions you could experience it dozens of times and have a different experience every time).

That done head for Toymania when your time to ride is due and experience one of the best 3D games in town.

If you only do one water park then my money is on Aquatica. (Get a multiday ticket that also takes in Seaworld and other key parks to get the most for your money).

An I-Trolley ride will get you there in around half an hour, and again the early bird catches the worm, so aim to catch the bus around half an hour before it opens.Once through the gates, grab loungers with umbrellas near the wave pool, and then find a locker to store valuables.It’s also good to do as many rides as possible as early as you can, because by noon the place will be heaving with folks.

Naturally there are countless other attractions, diners and things to see and do, but a final word of advice. If you like a restaurant, don’t feel guilty about going back several times during your stay as there’s a chance it may not be there when you return next year.


BEST FOR: Sunshine and theme parks.

TIME TO GO: Tail end of February or October to make the most of the cheap flights and shorter queues.

DON’T MISS: The best rides: Toymania and Star Tours at Disney’s Hollywood Studios; Harry Potter’s World of Witchcraft and Wizardry at Universal Studios. And water park lovers should check out Aquatica, especially the Dolphin Plunge ride.

NEED TO KNOW: Tax is added at the till, so purchases cost more than you may think.It may be the Sunshine State, but it also rains a lot in Florida, especially during the summer, so take a cheap poncho (also handy for water rides), and watertight cases for mp3 players and other valuables.

Most parks offer youngsters the chance to meet their favourite characters and this can make for a lasting memory, but be warned the queues can be incredible so if you’re planning to do this and still take in the rides you’ll need to allow extra time in each park.

DON’T FORGET: Most of the parks and malls have water fountains so take a good quality water bottle and fill up at fountains.Take ID everywhere. Handy for bars, especially if you’re 40 and lucky enough to look 20.If on foot, a good pair of light, slip on walking shoes (also perfect for customs), suntan lotion and a hat to avoid sunburned scalps.

Luggage scales to ensure your cases aren’t over the baggage allowance. An internationally recognised debit card you can put money on before you leave the UK, then you won’t get any huge bills when you return.


My Round Trip from Manchester to Florida… for £268

The first time I went to Orlando, I thought a £200 flight from London was incredible.
It was.
That was 11 years ago, and inflation means prices get a lot more expensive.
But thankfully not by much it seems.
With my last week’s holiday of 2013 looming and a desire not to waste it, I managed to land a round trip to Sanford, Florida for £268.
Not only that it was on Thomson’s new Dreamliner, complete with tinted windows, ambient lighting and extra legroom.
£134 to go 4,000 miles in relative comfort? That’s what I call a bargain. (In case you’re wondering, said travel company didn’t pay a penny towards my trip).

There’s little wonder Orlando is one of the most popular travel destinations for Brits. The sunshine is a natural attraction, as is the endless array of restaurants and events. If you’re one of the thousands of repeat visitors that yo-yo between Blighty and the Sunshine State each year, then this is hardly a revelation.
However, if you have yet to take the plunge, here’s the lowdown on the top attractions at Walt Disney World at the moment.

Shopping, Dining and Movies
Downtown Disney is a great destination for shopping and dining. For me the heart was removed when Virgin closed their megastore a few years ago. However, with a new bowling alley and dining section, among many other fine shops and attractions, things are looking up.
The AMC cinema is also a great diversion, especially if you go early.
I saw new Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie Don Jon for seven dollars (about four quid), and Gravity (in 3D with state of the art ETX sound) for 12. Plush seats are a bonus, as is the fact you can dine and watch a film should you want to.

Breakfast at The Earl of Sandwich kept me going until a blowout at Planet Hollywood – glorious burger, fries and milk shake for 25 dollars.
(I spent much of my trip existing on one meal a day. Given notoriously large American portions, that’s all you need).

Getting around Disney World can be an ordeal if you don’t drive. So it’s a good job the fleet of courtesy buses can whip you from your resort hotel to Downtown Disney in next to no time.
Okay, you may be miffed if you’re staying at the Grand Floridian and every bus seems to be for Typhoon Lagoon, but that’s the same with any queue. The other line always moves faster.

The Best Hotel in Orlando?
’My’ hotel is easily the best hotel on Disney property in terms of elegance. It’s the Ritz of Mouseland, and even if the cost takes your breath away, it’s worth having a look round during a Monorail trip from neighbouring residences such as Contemporary or Polynesian Resorts.

The Parks
Magic Kingdom is still the jewel in the crown of Disney’s Floridian theme park empire. It’s not my favourite, probably because I’m not a five-year-old kid or their doting parent, but there’s enough other stuff to entertain, from gravity-bothering Splash Mountain, to the Monsters Inc interactive stand-up show, a state-of-the-art, fun attraction utilising the same ’magic’ as other interactive chats with CG turtle Crush, as featured elsewhere in Disney World, and on their newer cruise liners.
Nightly fireworks displays are always a treat, though there are times when it’s so loud it sounds like an attack on the Death Star. Hey, I’m of that age.

Pirates of the Caribbean might be one of Disney’s oldest attractions, but despite the addition of Johnny Depp’s rogue buccaneer Jack Sparrow over the past decade, it feels in need of a spruce-up, even if it’s just that mangy old dog holding the keys.
However, it’s still a superb way to spend a few minutes, and for me a lot more entertaining than the later Pirates movies.

Animal Kingdom shows little sign of losing its appeal. Crowd pleasers such as Expedition Everest continue to have a magnetic pull for punters, though having done the roller coaster a few times, I opted for Finding Nemo: The Musical instead.
For the most part it’s good fun, with some catchy numbers and likeable characters, though there is a disconnect between the sub-aquatic protagonists and the puppeteers/singers.
I spent too long looking at the performers and not enough at the characters. Maybe if the singers had worn black body stockings against black backgrounds the illusion would have worked.
Not that the auditorium full of kids, families and pensioners seemed to mind, though the very young were wailing at the loud noises and scenes of mild fish-based peril.

Animal Kingdom’s jungle trek safari is still good fun, though a sub-plot involved a disembodied radio voice seeking help was omitted from our version.
Maybe the poaching storyline had worn thin in this well meaning Africa-style tour.
After several trips over the years, it still proves compelling entertainment, not least because of the exotic wildlife. (No, not the pasty faced ones who had been flash-burned because they overdid it on day one).

One of my favourite elements of Disney is Epcot. Whether wandering around its World Showcase, or riding on the ever popular hang glider simulator Soarin’, this is the theme park for more mature fans. Yes, the kids will love it, but for those who prefer to take things a little easier, this is the place to be.
And if you come in the autumn/fall, the Food and Wine Festival is a must. Pottering around the World Showcase snacking on nibbles from assorted countries, or sampling their tipples, you’ll have a great time.
(I went three nights running and it felt like a different experience each time).

The fact some great bands play the Eat to the Beat area gives it that extra something. For half an hour with some good friends, a frozen Margarita and the stunningly good Air Supply, I was in heaven.

I’d sampled assorted Floridian water parks over the years, but Typhoon Lagoon was a first, and it soon became a ’new’ favourite.
Whether relaxing on loungers at the artificial beach, or catching my breath in the lazy river, it was a great way to spend a few hours.
I also enjoyed one of the best hot dogs of my life.
The fact our sun loungers didn’t adjust was a pain, but it scarcely mattered.
I was stunned by the quality of service at the Grand Floridian. Not just the hotel itself, with comfy beds (as standard with every Disney hotel and cruise I’ve stayed on), but the extra mile the staff went to ensure my holiday was as good as possible, even down to the fact that when my pre-booked coach would arrive too late to get me to Sanford Airport in time, the management ensured I would get there without too much nail biting drama).
My biggest problem, aside from ensuring my 2.5kg case came in at 5kg for the return journey, is a long hard winter counting the days until I can return.

Roger Crow was a (very happy) guest of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Thanks for their hospitality.