Friday, 28 December 2012

Christmas/New year in Orlando

Flying on Boxing Day to the states might seem like an offbeat, off peak idea right?
wrong. it's the busiest time of the year, so if you plan on a winter break, don't expect a quiet trip.

the flight - Manchester to Orlando

Virgin have upgraded their in flight entertainment so touch screen TVs and easier to use handsets are now the norm... Along with haunted GU pot boxes. (Well mine kept me entertained)
If you are looking for a good doc on a Virgin flight, check out The Imposter, a gobsmacking true life tale of an abduction, a man who assumes the youngster's identity, and the family who take him in.
Also good to see Awake, Jason Isaacs' series which has a good premise, but works hard to keep viewers in the loop with an Inception style dream scenario.

Getting around

Mears are Orlando's biggest transport chain, so it was good to give someone else a go. Super Shuttle provide a great service, so if you're one of the thousands of Brits in the sunshine state soon, give them a try.
get Lynx 7 day bus passes and I trolley passes to save cash if you don't drive.

The hotel
What can I say about The Peabody that countless Florida loving Brits probably haven't heard already? Now bigger than ever, this stunning hotel is a dream to stay in. Check in was slow on Boxing Day due to huge queues, but the room is spacious, comfy bed, great TV, and fridge.
the sucker punch moment? A tv in the bathroom mirror!
$9 a day room charge covers Internet, 2 bottles of water, and 2 I trolley passes - a real bargain.

stuff to do
Discovery Cove.
book in advance for around $200 and swim with dolphins, manta rays and stunning fish our lounge on the man made beach.
Dining and drinks included

the Improv Comedy Club, The Pointe.
New Year's Eve show was a bit of a rip off in my opinion, and the MC and first act were dubious at best, but the main act, Jeremy Hotz, was superb. get chips and dips to save cash.

the Pub, The Pointe
cracking place to spend New Year's Eve/Day. great atmos, hard working staff, good decor and excellent food. dieters beware.

Orlando Science Centre
a bit of a trek on buses to Downtown Orlando, but for those tired of the parks, a welcome diversion. around $27, which includes film shows. Also in walking distance of a great art gallery with gobsmacking glass work, paintings and sculptures. $8 admission. Well worth it.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Keep

The Keep was one of those movies consigned to cult status; a moody rarely seen horror chiller about Nazis besieged by a demonic creature.
Directed by Michael Mann, before making hits such as Manhunter, the last of the Mohicans and Heat, it was shot in Wales, starred Ian mckellen, Gabriel Byrne and Jurgen Prochnow. Muddled as it may be, it does boast some intriguing touches. The Tangerine Dream score is eerie and atmospheric, the soft focus lighting reminiscent of a 1970s flick.
Bizarre, moody and bold. A remake wouldn't be a bad prospect.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Red Robots: short story

by Roger Crow


"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous roman yellow candles exploding like spiders across the stars."
Jack Kerouac, On the Road.

Deep space.
Darkness to the casual viewer but look more closely and you'll see a little brown planet and glimmer of gold which threads a path across the stars.
Murphy was a mercenary on The Cancun Star, a Japanese-designed ship, built with American money and decorated by Mexicans. The traveller's ship looked like a scarab beetle, designed by a team which worshipped the tenacious insect. The bald astronaut, alone in his hive of winking lights and breathing pipes, made his way across the heavens drawn toward the attractive sign of gold deposits on the planet's surface.
His Eldorado.
On the border of the city, five miles from the Iris, was an ocean of sand. Although there was human life, no race lived here. The entire population of this planet had been erased by the Circle of chaos.
Well, almost.
On a sandy bluff overlooking a dune sea, two women stood staring at the sky, sunlight glinting off their binocs.
Graces 16 and 68 watched the ship arrive through their instruments.
"It's an earth ship," Sixteen said. "Looks like a Japanese Koyazki class. Those babies really handle well in the wet."
"Is it friendly?" wondered Sixty Eight aloud.
"Can't see any guns. Looks like a mercenary ship."
"We'd better pray he heard the message."
To the casual observer, the two women looked like twins and the truth was they would be - if their 98 identical sisters suddenly ceased to be.
For thirty years, the circle had slowly absorbed all civilians to the point where the only woman left was a genetic scientist called Grace. She had known her surname once. Back in the days when it mattered. Now it was any number from 1 to 100.
She was a hundred women rolled into one. Luckily, Grace had managed to block any degredation in the cloning procedure so as much of her faculties were good from one copy to the next. She knew she couldn't hide out here forever. In her little lab deep beneath the desert floor, the 22nd clone - Grace22 - had also spotted the starship on her scanner and knew the time had come.

As he started to enter the planet's atmosphere, Murphy did what he always did at such moments and dug out a photo of her.
He looked at the 3-D image, the only one he had left. The rest had been torn up in a fit of rage.
She was smiling, despite the slate grey skies of a merciless February, her hair blowing in the breeze. She repeated the action 10 times as he turned the image this way and that until he could bear it no more.
He felt a surge of electricity in his chest and closed his eyes. She was long gone now and he knew he should have forgotten her. After all, it had been two years and he knew the time should have come to move on but it would have been easier getting squeezed toothpaste back into the tube.
The scanner winked a friendly green for 'safe' and he made arrangements to touch down on the orb's surface.
Readouts indicated a small population with cities and high levels of smog.
'A little like Los Angeles,' he thought.
The Cancun Star dropped through the clouds, retro rockets slowing its descent. There was a subtle hum emerging from his radio receiver and while organising the landing he decided to record the message and listen to it later.
He caught something about "This is Grace...." and "...anger." but Murphy had picked up such transmissions in the past. They had turned out to be soundwaves. Usually old episodes of I Love Lucy.
The traveller meant to check it out but like so much of the admin in his office back on earth, he mentally filed it and within seconds, forgot about the message completely.
The brave pilot had heard rumours of the circle of chaos, but never believed it. Until a large rose of energy appeared from nowhere and engulfed the insect- like ship.
The circle of screaming faces bloomed around him sending his readouts haywire and giving Murphy the most god-awful headache. It lasted barely three seconds and he wondered if anything had happened at all. Maybe the result of some odd gravitational force arrested his vision. A strange case of the galactic bends.
"The COC's got him," Sixteen was adjusting her binocs, trying to get a better view.
"I can't watch," her sister looked away. "What's happening?"
"Well, probably the same thing as has happened to everyone else on this dustball. The COC'll absorb the pilot into it's energy field and we'll be alone."
"If only someone could get through."
"That ship really is a beaut. Flew one like that three years ago. Remember that pilot who slipped through the COC during a lightning storm? Took me up in his the once. We got to thirty thousand feet and he let me take the stick. Handles just like an F-14."
"How do you know? You've never flown an F-14."
"No, but I've seen Top Gun a 100 times."
The Cancun Star was suddenly free of the energy field and burned through the atmosphere, skimming over the miles of desert that seemed to cover the planet. Murphy's head was still reeling from the anomaly, to the point where he wasn't sure what was real any more. And then, in the distance, he saw the edifice.

His ship eventually arrived in the city, traversing a mass of biscuit brown buildings and rusty smog that belched from huge cooling towers.
The craft seemed to fly itself and he felt the joystick allowing for obstacles long before he could move the stick.
He knew the ship was caught in some sort of tractor beam and after a few minutes decided to prepare for touchdown.
Murphy unbuckled from his chair and made his way down the corridors lined with Mexican frescoes.

He regarded the room where he never went. The room with the gleaming metal device which could wipe out North America. This was the last time he would ferry nuclear warheads for anyone.
Even the smiling face painting on the noseconse didn't ease his stress.
As he opened the hatch, the traveller gazed upon the Stone Iris. An edifice which on earth would have been impossible to construct. In this bizarre gravity it was okay to build extreme arches and gravity defying towers in an atmosphere which made one feel like one feel like the first stages of being in love.
Murphy caught sight of himself in the scarlet spacesuit and thought he looked pretty good. Felt his ego boosted as he fixed up his harnesses and scanned the building with his handy dandy device which blinked on and off like a Christmas tree decoration. He tested his weight on the harness and then descended into the temple of the Iris on the bungee cord.

The air was musty and filled with dust particles but the lust for buried treasure over-rode any fear that may have crept into his heart.
Even when he examined the strange markings on the wall, felt like he could take on the whole world in an arm-wrestling competition.
The astronaut felt better than he had in years and minutes after entering the temple, he was feeling so elated, he didn't notice the door to the room close behind him.
The chair which dominated the centre of the chamber looked so comfortable and the sudden weight of Murphy's suit became unbearable so he decided the only option was for him to take some weight off.
His scanner gave him a green light for 'breathable atmosphere' and he removed the bulky spacesuit.
There were many things in the room but he only saw one thing.
The chair.
He tried to resist but he started walking toward it.

The chair felt like it closed around his body as he sat there staring into the iris ahead of him.
He closed his eyes and time seemed to speed by, particles of light entered his ears and mouth, shining orbs dropping from the roof of the building. Murphy took a deep breath, died and was reborn in seconds.
However, the new man was not all good. His jaw grew slack. Eyes felt heavy in their sockets.

A ribbon of fire bloomed behind him, mutating into vine and maple leaves. Growing green and fading to an autumnal brown in a matter of seconds.
He tried to close his mouth but couldn't. He felt his body starting to contort. Muscles stretched and became like liquid. Bones buckled and turned to putty. His legs dwindled, chest cracked and changed.

Outside the stone iris, lightning flashed from the source of the chamber, crackling out and seeking purchase in the streets.
Deserted cars were torn apart, lamp posts buckled and the steelworks were stripped of their produce. A great raft of buckling metal was carried on a beam of white light to the structure.

As Murphy's body changed, he felt no pain. The astronaut watched the whole thing in an out-of-body experience and found it fascinating as his once humanoid form reshaped itself into something altogether different. The shape reminded him of something familiar. Elliptical, symmetrical and very close to home.
"Shanine," he said.
"So how do you fly an F-14?"
The two Graces sat in the underground bunker sipping coffee as their sisters milled around stripping down their weapons and oiling the mechanisms.
"Okay, you've got your artificial horizon and your joystick and you try and keep yourself on the level."
"You don't know do you?" Sixty eight laughed.
"I do too." Sixteen was getting irate.
"You keep yourself on the level? What about landing?"
Sixteen shot her a hard stare.
"You lower your landing gear and adjust your flaps, watch your altimeter and bring the stick forward. Any more questions?"
"Okay, that's enough. Watching Top Gun and tackling that thing is two different things. Tom Cruise will not turn up in a display of homo erotic bravado and whop the Circle of Chaos." Grace One adjusted her microphone so the rest of her creations could hear her.
"Now when the COC comes for us it will arrive in force and come in ways we won't expect."
"Such as?" 78 was one of the backward clones. She meant well and was inquisitive but her 'street' was dimly lit.
"We don't know. Recon says the Iris is absorbing huge levels of raw material. There's a lot of building going on in there so we have to assume the COC is building some sort of weapon."
"Like a gun?"
"Maybe. Details are still sketchy. We believe a transport vehicle and several droids are being constructed. Apart from that my guess is as good as yours." "Don't like the sound of that."
"Look. You ever hotwired a car?"
Grace 68 shook her head.
"Those things must be using some sort of familiar ignition. There's a lot of COC juice pumping in those babies but I bet you could hotwire any of those droids.î "I did see some movie about a car thief once."
"There you go."
"I fell asleep half way though."
Sixteen sighed.
"But did you see him hotwire a car?"
"Uh huh."
"There you go then."
Sixty Eight tried to remember what the car thief had done but all she could come up with was him smashing the steering column and joining two wires together. Maybe One was right. Her sister did watch too many movies.
The Murphy thing's eyes grew wide as he saw the sheets of red metal appear at the window, but realised when it started to fold itself around him that this was always meant to happen. He had always meant to be here, changing into this new life form.
He felt synapses grow in his brain and started to see new colours emerge in his minds' eye.
Murphy was gone and a new creature, sleek, armour-plated and vaguely medieval, emerged in his place.
Night fe ll on the city and should anyone have been wandering down the deserted streets, they would have heard the most alien noise. The sound of a factory, using no tools know to man.
Not that the noise would have dominated their thoughts as much as the floating car parts and sea of houshold tools.
Spanners, cheese grazers, soup cans and egg whisks floated silently over the shopping malls and fast food restaurants. A ribbon of implements carried forward by an energy field, threading its way toward the temple.
The metal warrior started to create his legion of followers. He sent out the same message to the city as the white lightning had.
And so even more raw materials were stripped from the city. Hub caps, generators, mother boards, computer casings, rocket thrusters and a huge sea of wiring floated across the skyline travelling silently to its rendezvous at the stone iris.
The red robots started to knit themselves together, slowly, methodically creating themselves from the mountain of household items and military parts. Machine guns mounted on steadicam structures were clicking together, bullets floated into vacant chambers and all the time, the astronaut formerly known as Murphy sat in the chair watching his legion of troops create themselves.

The Grace collective knew the entity in the Stone Iris would change the visitor, just as it had absorbed the planet's people and turned it into the circle of chaos. When the astronaut was transformed, he would send troops to kill her. Which was why their plan was simple.
They would make a stand no matter what the cost.
In all the universe, each planet had a feature which was mirrored by that on another world. Mars and Jupiter has sister planets just beyond this universe. Pluto had a twin in the neighbouring galaxy.
Murphy had visited many planets over the years and seen familiar sights that made him believe the universe only had so many variations on a theme. Grace had also seen other planets since she left earth and settled here years ago, but to her it was unique.
Okay, so this part of the desert was very similar to Zabriskie point, California, a place the original Grace had visited once as a child, but she ignored the comparisons.
When her friends had asked her long ago what it was like, she said: Imagine living in a world where you were assaulted by a hot air dryer, the moisture in your eyes evaporating with each passing second.
Grace 68 scratched her head, the metal plate in her skull, started itching in moments of crisis. She thought of the day she had been knocked unconscious by malfunctioning cleaning droid and shivered. Luckily Grace 3 had shown a flair for surgery and the huge crack in her skull had been bound by a titanium plate.
She wondered if all the Graces should have shown a flair for surgery but she found that the clones, desperate to be different from one another, despite looking identical would go to extreme lengths to get a sense of individuality. Some stayed up all night, some shaved their heads, many had tattoos and others spent hours in the sun, tanning themselves.
So Grace 68 stood on the hill looking down on the valley as she saw the huge ship arrive from the east.
She nodded to the army of soldiers, each the spitting image of herself, and yet each slightly different.
"It's about time," they said as one booming voice which echoed across the plains.
The Graces watched the ship approach and readied their weapons.
A bright orange melon-shaped thing with big rivets and blisters on its hull dropped through the clouds and slowly released its deadly cargo.

The red metal pods cracked open and a host of red robots floated over the land, vibrating with deadly intent.
Grace 34 stepped forward, said a prayer and then prepared to fight. She hoisted the huge bazooka over her shoulder and took aim. As sweat trickled down the small of her back and a stray hair threatened to blind her, she felt her finger tense on the trigger and then relax.
Before 34 could blow it out of the sky, it opened fire with a volley of sadness. Thirty Four dropped to her knees sobbing as waves of sorrow engulfed her. Graces 45 and 31 helped her back from the front line.
Graces 12 and 67 aimed at the floating Buddhas of death, centering their rifles on the first wave of attack droids. They tried to pull the trigger but found themselves being manipulated by some sort of odd force.
Both guns went off and the clones fell down dead.

More red robots came out of the sun. Floating metal death shapes, they looked like turkeys. Scarlet icons of doom.
One lunged at Grace 13 but she managed to squeeze a shot into its chest. The mirco-charge burrowed into the breast plate and found a home in the iron sternum before the core melted. It was ten feet from her when the thing blew. She covered her eyes and choked back the tears.
Emotion washed over her such was their way. The red robots had a sorrow program which emitted after their deaths. They instilled remorse in the souls of their destroyers.
She reloaded the old pistol as the other two came for her. Thirteen just saw two silhouettes through her tears. Arms shaking now as they swooped in for the kill, yellow eyes listening sickly, pink beaks tapping against their breast plates. She sobbed dropping a charge in the sand. Sorrow washing over her now. Grace13 dropped and scuffed her knees.
"Goodbye little girl." The leader said. She remembered it all now, like a bad dream.
It had no arms, just sockets and ball joints swivelling in the shoulder units.
The charge slid into the gun chamber, 13 wiped tears from her eyes and fired.
It sailed through the air and...
Blue sky received the deadly gift and it imploded, a firecracker in the air.
Robot stopped a mere three feet from 13 and she looked up through the strands of her golden hair. Grace13 couldn't cry now, the tears were locked deep within her but her heart felt like it would implode as she looked into the droid's photoreceptors and inside she saw herself. Saw her own face looking back, eyes moist with what could be and what should be. Unfairness she saw in her face. Her contorted face.
Shaking hands dropped the pistol in the sand and the storm which blew from the droid's VTOL engine buried it in a little pit. She felt around for it like a kid at school playing in the sand pit, alone wishing that friends would come for her and take her away from all this solitude. But they never did so she would walk around the playground alone, sulking. Standing out from the crowd and suffering for her loneliness.
She saw all this in the droid's eyes and still it hovered there waiting until she reached the point of despair. Then it would give her the option.
Grace 13 reached out and touched the smooth red skin of the metal beast. It held no heat for her. There were little pit marks in its chrome surface where biting winds had eroded the paint work.
She tried to block the hypnotic stare of the eyes which even now were changing to a sickly green hue. It reminded her of Kim Novak emerging from the bathroom in Vertigo and James Stewart's face as he finally accepted the ghost of his past. Just as she now was accepting the ghost that came for her soul.

The iron fist of regret closed around her heart and she felt it squeeze, tighter and tighter.
And then it hit her. Twenty lonely years of sorrow in a single minute. Rushing through her nerve endings, attacking her brain washing over her in a single terrifying blast. There weren't enough tears in the world to express how bad she felt. She could have tried to cry, to accept the fact that she was going to die in four minutes but her brain was too dazzled by the films unfolding in the viewfinder eyes of the droid.
They were rushing at her now. A thousand films, the memory of a thousand afternoons in the local fleapit, alone watching the most inane movies. And then there were a few that made her sit up and take notice. Naked, ID4, Groundhog Day, Life Is Sweet, The Fisher King. They all blurred together so that David Thewlis was talking to Jeff Bridges who was watching as huge UFOs circled over Punxatawney.
Thewlis was making ice sculptures in the snow of Alison Steadman weeping over her anorexic daughter who looked a little like Jeff Goldblum. None of it made any sense yet at the same time it made all the sense in the world. Jeff Bridges was sat at the foot of a statue, a model of Bill Murray in his hands.
And then there was nothing but white light and film spooling through a projector. All friends and lovers were just on loan she thought.
She felt her heart. Tried to see if there was anything that would convince her otherwise. Maybe they had come for her in the night and siphoned off her memories, like a wine-making kit.
Then she realised what was happening. This was how the robots would wipe her out. Not with brute force but with sheer psychic skill. They read minds and turned souls against one another. They were like the mirrors that made everyone see the darkness in the soul.
The droids showed everyone what they wanted the most and then they killed you by rushing all the emotion in the world at your central nervous system. Regret, remorse. Passion, hate, lost loves. They were more relentless than any human killer. They used yourself as the weapons. And it was a far more effective death because three seconds before they executed you you wanted to die. Wanted to be taken away from the pain and suffering until you lay there gibbering like an idiot.
Grace 13 tried to fight the hate she felt in her soul but it was difficult to say the least. She tried to look away from the pale green eyes that reflected her pretty features but her head was locked on place by an invisible vice.
She was crying now, hot salty tears running down her ridiculously well-defined cheekbones.
There was an electricity in the air and the feeling of expectation.
Then it started to rain and the robots were fleeting, a red blur in the sky. Thirteen dropped exhausted in the dune feeling the warm rain on her face and holding her chest.
She sobbed, rain mixing with her tears. The balmy air became chilly and she rubbed her arms as a shadow fell across the sand. Looking up she saw the king robot blot out the sun.
Grace felt she had stepped from the frying pan into the fire. She closed her eyes.
Grace 15 fired on the legions of droids, each one absorbing the bullet thanks to their shields. The projectitles fell useless to the floor in little piles of silver death.

Grace 68 looked across the sea of dead bodies and tried to find 16. She felt sorrow for all of her sisters but Sixteen had been her true soul mate.
68 eventually found her buried under a smoking droid, her blacked hands held its wiry guts. Smoke billowed from the beast and her face was covered in soot. "Sixteen."
"Here. I'm here."
Grace 68 turned and went back a few paces to where the woman lay. She managed a smile.
"You took your time," she gasped.
"Got held up."
Sixteen coughed and 68 tried to removed the metal from her chest but both women knew it was too late.
"This is my death scene babe. Sorry, there's no vital bit of information to pass on before I croak."
"Maybe you've already passed it on Grace."
She nodded and smiled.
The words were barely audible so 68 leaned over and put her ear next to 16's mouth.
"Fade... to black... "she whispered.
68 felt her body go limp and she closed her eyes.
To the casual observer, the two women looked like twins and the truth was they were - now their 98 identical sisters had suddenly ceased to be.
More red robots arrived at the army of clones and the carnage that ensued took a matter of seconds. Only Grace 68 was spared, the steel plate in her head blocking out the psychic attack. She looked upon the battlefield and was stunned at how fast her sisters had been decimated.
Rage welled deep within her and she ran after the droids which were floating back to the mothership.
Grace - the 68 surname seemed somehow irrelevant now - took aim at one of the stragglers and it crashed into a dune.
The rest of the droids were too far ahead to notice as she jumped on the metal beast, opened a panel in the back of its head and hot-wired it without thinking. "It worked," she laughed, tears in her eyes.
The metal beast sprang into life and after a few minutes fumbling with the navigational preferences, she guided it to follow the pack.

68 arrived at the stone iris at twilight, a few lights winked in the heart of the ring- like structure.
Grace and his metal friend touched down at the centre of the building and they followed a line of droids which were collecting at the huge chamber. The place had become a mass of organic matter and she gasped at the huge flesh-like window which pulsed horribly.

Her metal friend started reprogramming the other droids and slowly the tables started to turn.
She saw a sentry droid float toward her, a bulbous Christmas tree decoration of a thing. Her escort opened fire with a hand blaster and the thing imploded in a shower of sparks.

They cut their way through the mass of droids. Any robots that couldn't be reprogrammed were executed and soon the corridors of the Iris were littered with burning scarlet creations.
In the sky over the temple, the circle of chaos returned and white light poured from Murphy. His mutated body reformed into the man he was and he lay naked on the floor. He opened an eye.
"Shanine," he said.
"No honey. My name is Grace."
"The name is Grace. Oh never mind."
Grace covered him in a cloak and they made their way to his scarab ship which had been about the only thing not converted by the robots campaign.
Grace tried to remember what 16 had told her about F-14 fighters and wished she'd watched Top Gun more. She fiddled with the controls and to her shock, the ship soared into the sky as the Stone iris collapsed beneath them.
Murphy slumped down in the seat behind her.
"You okay mister?" she said looking down at the mass of her dead sisters.
"I'll live."
"Good. You've got to help me land this thing once we get past the COC."
Then it was there in the sky. A huge angry whirlpool of screaming souls, drawing her in.
"It looks pretty pissed."
"The COC is pure bitterness. It chose me because I'm so greedy."
"Then it feeds off greed."
Murphy nodded.
"Does this ship have a hologram generator?"
Murphy pointed to a red switch with the label HG1.
"I want you to film the COC for ten seconds then loop it."
Murphy nodded, catching on to her plan.
Outside the craft, the Cancun Star's belly released a small camera which started filming the energy ribbon. After ten seconds it repeated the image.
"Now project the image onto the planet's surface."
Murphy tapped in another set of instructions and a duplicate Circle of Chaos appeared on the earth.
"Is this ship armed?"
"There's a tactical nuke in the belly."
"Drop it when I say."
Grace watched the COC drop to the planet's surface, like some Narcissus desperate to gaze on its own reflection.
Murphy stood by the release for the nuclear warhead.
Grace pulled back on the stick and the Cancun Star broke orbit.
The rocket dropped through the atmosphere and as the dark night of space greeted the craft, she spared one last look at her dead sisters on the ground camera, then she turned it off.
The Circle of Chaos realised the deception and started to speed after the Cancun Star, propelled by a surge of hate at the betrayal. But it was too late. It saw the grinning nuke speeding toward it and a million faces gasped as the planet turned to a whirlpool of destruction.

The planet exploded sending out huge rock chunks in a display of staggering ferocity.
White light threatened to blind Grace and Murphy. Luckily, the Cancun Star's window filters dimmed the cockpit and all they had to remind them of the explosion was a deafening roar and the ship shaking as it made its way through the new asteroid belt and off into the inky black night.
Grace was going home to Zabriskie Point and bad Tom Cruise films which she would watch over and over until she grew old.
Deep space.
Darkness to the casual viewer but look more closely and you'll see a little blue planet and glimmer of gold which threads a path across the stars.

© 2002 Roger crow
TM and © 2002 salad in a bag produtions

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The X factor

Is it me or is the X factor just a bit rubbish never Ella Henderson left?
There was a time when you would put up with an hour half of padding just for the fact that Ella would belt out another original take on a classic tune. But these days, with Rylan Clark left in the game, it's just a bit of a joke.
Of course the alternative to this, is just turn the TV over or read a good book.
The good news is, there's not long to go until series 9 draws to a close.
With Ella out of the game, it's just left for that boy band union J to clean up and possibly Land this years Christmas number one.
Or with a little luck, someone else will come along and steal Simon Cowell's thunder.
After all, he's been hogging the chart limelight since 2004 with his talent show juggernaut.
The fact that viewers have been turning over or off suggests that folks have just about had enough of this cynical cash-making exercise.
It's not a bad format, but just having a year off would breathe new life into the franchise.

Blow Up. The review

Blow up
The film review
by Roger Crow

For a so-called film fan, it was incredible that I've never seen iconic film blow up.
This 1960s classic had been spoofed by movies such as Austin Powers, and riffed on by Brian Depalma in the 1981 psychological thriller Blow Out.
So, browsing through my on demand free film section one Saturday night, I came across this David Hemmings classic and was curious to see if it lived up to the hype.
The first hour of the film is really a comment on the 1960s fashion and lifestyle. It's interesting that this is an Italian's view of swinging 60s London, but by about one hour in the film starts to take on a more traditional thriller role.
While idly looking around the park one day, a photographer happens upon a couple either playing around or up to something more sinister. After being accosted by the female of the duo, Vanessa Redgrave, our hero promises to give her the film before retreating to his studio.
As the film unfolds, Hemmings' character is delightfully accosted by a couple of groupie photography fans for a bit of afternoon delight.
Redgrave, in one of her earliest films, demands the film back before losing her shirt.
The not so happy supper realises that something mysterious is going on in his photos from the park and discovers a dead body. Returning to the park that evening he happens upon the corpse, but is without a camera so cant take any close ups. Later, the corpse vanishes, and he wonder if he ever saw it all.
It's in the final few minutes that you wonder if this is going to be long windup, and the viewer is going to be left feeling disappointed. Thankfully, in one of the most bizarre games of tennis ever committed to celluloid, we realise that nothing is ever quite as it seems in this classic film.
Sexy, surreal and unforgettable, it also boasts one of David Hemmings' finest performances. Whether it had a lasting effect on classics series The Prisoner is open to debate.
However, this is one of those films that once seen is never forgotten.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Helen back: welcome to the jungle.

Helen Flanagan looks like the physical embodiment of the ADD generation. When Ant and Dec start explaining the rules of the latest bush tucker trial to her, she seems to hear the first few words and then her mind starts wondering, possibly about fluffy kittens, hand bags and her next over priced hair do.
'I'm going to give it 100 per cent', she promises before having a panic attack and not even attempting the trial. Clearly the patience of Ant, Dec and the campers has worn wafer-thin over the past week.
'I feel empowered', says Helen walking back to camp; seconds later she's in tears, amazed that the rest of the campers aren't overjoyed that she didn't even try the latest trial.
I wonder how long it would be before there's a murder on the set of I'm a celebrity, or a contestant goes native and sets up their own little kingdom in the Australian bush before a celeb assassin is sent to take them out. Apocalypse Now: the reality show.
Now that's an idea.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Watch (2012)

Oh dear. It seems not even Ben Stiller's trademark everyday Joe routine meshed with Vincent Vaughn's quick fire patter Schtick can save this domestic sci-fi comedy from going nowhere fast.

As for Jonah Hill, he really should know better having made far superior offerings such as Moneyball and 21 Jump Street.

The plot, if you can call it that, involves a DIY manager (Stiller) starting a neighbourhood watch after one of his employees is slaughtered. Roping in the services of Hill, Vaughn and Richard Ayoyade (the movie's only plus point), they attempt to find out who or what was responsible.

The gags are thin, the improv, especially from Vaughn and Hill downright embarrassing, and the tone is just wrong. R/18 rated humour is great when it works, but this just doesn't.
Hill threatening to kill everyone at a party except a couple of twins he was chatting up is far less funny than suggesting a witty ultimatum if they don't do what he wants, but it seems they couldn't be bothered with a pithy retort.

Oh and by the time we do see an alien it's a dire letdown. Bad animatronics and make up make this look like an indie flick rather than an A-list comedy.

Sadly there's also a subplot about Stiller's character firing blanks.
Apt for a film that is one huge misfire from the first frame to the last.

There are a couple of laughs here and there, but The Unwatchable may have been a better title.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Total Recall 2012

For a film based on a movie from 1990, you'd expect Total Recall 2012 to have echoes of the Arnie movie, but what's remarkable is how reminiscent it is of every other sci-fi movie of the past 20 years. Here's a bit of Blade Runner, there's a flying car chase from minority report, there's the droids from I, Robot.
In the end the whole thing is just a bit meh. And it's not enough to keep an okay cast running through the frame. They have to do or say something original when they stop. The problem is when they do pause for breath we find their dialogue flat and dull.
The effects are good, but tiresome. Too many lens flares and projections.
The original movie was smart and funny despite clunky acting. This is just a copy of a copy. Grey and yawn some.
Despite the promise of Original Film in the first few seconds, the movie is anything but.

New York.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

the x factor: We Love Lucy

So Lucy Spraggan has dropped out of TXF. A shame because she was one of the years's most original and engaging contestants, but talk about square peg in a round hole. As indie singer songwriters go, she belonged to an alternate talent contest, not some mainstream, primetime juggernaut designed to find the next One Direction or Adele. Chances are Simon Cowell's show has already found them in Union J and Ella Henderson.
There is a huge gap in the market for intelligent indie X Factor, but while it won't attract the same high viewing figures, it will at least have a degree more integrity.
In that show Lucy Spraggan would have won hands down.
Alas, now she's no longer in TXF, there's a chance her album and single which stood a strong chance of hitting number one will now be blocked from doing so by Cowell's legal team.
Sometimes it sucks being a winner.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Over used sayings in Tv and film

Thanks to a generation weaned on Transformers and Iron man, the three most over used sayings in American film/Tv. 'Suit up!' 'Bring it!' 'I know! Right?!'
Whether watching Green Lantern, Avengers or a Michael Bay movie, chances are even the most cliched nugget of dialogue will wind up being overused by your kids and the next generation for years to come.
English language purists may roll their eyes but truth is Ehren Krueger, Alex Kurtmann and Roberto Orci have already left an indelible mark on the Western world's dialogue by penning some of the most successful films of the 21st century.
These bite sized chunks of dialogue, bullet points for the action generation, have already filtered into everyday speak. Okay, so what you may think.
Well, like 'chaos/hilarity ensues', personally i think they should be used sparingly.
So suit up readers. If you have a comment, bring it! And if you've just wasted 2 mins of your life reading this... I know, right?!!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The X Factor

'I'm going to have to hurry you!' Dermot O'Leary says this every week having just padded 50 minutes of air time with ex X Factor winners and the latest US starlet over to plug their new album.
The blonde mum with hair by 'Hedge dragged through backwards' - because she's worth it, hopes she's won over the nation, but if she had a degree of sense she'd know one thing: the key demographic who asks a parent or guardian before casting their vote does not want their mum to win The X Factor. He/She'd rather show her parents her Facebook updates than do that, and so we're down to the usual blend of decent talent, boy bands, street acts, solo artists, lovable scousers, cute mums and cannon fodder for the ADD generation.

Even watching the show on fast forward is tiresome, so its a good job Dermot is so entertaining with his matey schtick and likeable cockiness.

Oh well. Only another two months to go until the grand finale when we see who might get a number one before getting dropped by their record label and the deluge of their CDs winding up in an Essex landfill site.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Dean Friedman

In one of those everyday Friday occurences i get an email saying a music artist from the past is up for interviews. This time it's Dean Friedman, moustachioed New Jersey singer songwriter of Lucky Stars fame, a fave guilty pleasure that's as old as my wife, 34.
I ponder it for a while, get curious and check his gigs. He's playing 10 miles away in Selby. It's fate.

Wife gets back from same place and half an hour later we're heading back there.

Selby Town Hall is a modest little venue full of pensioners and a few boozed up fans. Ironically one of his biggest forgets to turn off her annoying phone and almost ruins the end of the gig.

Truth is fate had a good go scuppering it with a faulty power lead to his Korg synth dying a few times.

He battles on regardless and his version if Lucky Stars on guitar, a first apparently, is superb, not least because of the audience helping out with the female half of the vocals.

It's a fun gig, Dean's unique vocals on a par with Barry Gibb for falsetto riffs and trills as music journos might call them.

Most surreal moment of the night is his response to Half Man Half Biscuit's 80s hit The Bastard Son of Dean Friedman. As witty retorts go it's inspired lunacy, a little like most of the show.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Prometheus: The blu ray review

Four months after the debut Imax screening of Ridley Scott's Alien prequel - because that's what it is regardless of all the fuss about how it fits into the xeno saga - viewers can finally judge the movie on its own terms.

Nothing cuts through the gloss and wrapping of a movie better than a home viewing, and the result is a fractured, occasionally brilliant film.

Like a shattered mirror, shards of the film are superb, but harsh cuts to get the movie down to two hours have left a Frankenstein's monster, stitched together.

The performances, effects, set design and score are all great, but there are too many loose ends.

Maybe a director's cut or sequel will improve things, but as a standalone movie, this is just an elegant but annoying misfire.

Well worth repeated viewings, but still off target.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The X Factor

'Louis, i need to know who you're sending home...'
The few million folks still left watching The X Factor were either perched on the edge of their seats as befuddled Irish X Factor judge Louis Walsh tried to reach a decision. I interviewed him once before series one started and he had enough trouble working out what a hypothetical Q and A about world leadership was, so the sublime Dermot O'Leary may as well have asked him to condense Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time into a 30 second precis.
When he opted for Ibiza loving Essex lad over a 2011 TXF reject, Gary Barlow was so disgusted he walked off. Either that or he remembered he'd left the gas on.
All of the above may have been a desperate attempt to generate viewers, but it remains to be seen whether it works.
As for Louis, i think Dermot should ask him to multiply 9 x 3 for the next show and then badger him for an answer after 58 minutes of filler.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The X Factor

So The X Factor is losing ratings apparently. Simon Cowell's talent search juggernaut has been telling us what Christmas number one to buy since 2004 and suddenly it seems people are less interested than they used to be.
Well, possibly. I think they're just more selective in how they choose to waste two hours of their life each week.
Personally i record it, zip through all the sob stories, the scenes in which pensioners are condescended to, the judges' back stage eating things and the shots of the wannabe stars as kids filmed at their Auntie Beryl's birthday murdering a Mariah Carey track.
That leaves a cosy 10 minutes of music, or eight if you count how mich was featured in one show.
As i have better things to do with my life, like getting rid of toilet limescale with weapons grade bleach, The X Factor cut down suits me just fine.
However, if Steve Brookstein returned, i'd watch that in its entirety.
Easily the most interesting winner because he bumbled his way through the finale and did a vanishing act worthy of a stealth fighter.
The X Factor: take a bow. You've made cleaning the loo a more rewarding Saturday night experience.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

the bourne legacy

'Hi, Tony Gilroy here. You know, that super smart screenwriter and director? Anyway, i've got an idea for a new Bourne movie, the twist being Jason's not even in it. Yep, we get Jeremy Renner, who looks great with a gun and his shirt off. He'll play a new guy who runs around a lot. We get Dan Bradley from the other movies to do the stunts and some heavyweight actors like Ed Norton and Stacy Keach to play the government bods who watch the hero on monitors a lot. Sounds good? I might even throw in phrases and words like 'run out of brain' and 'mestacisize'.
Okay, it might go on a bit, but as long as there's a big chase, some cool fights and lots of patriotic 'this man - who is obviously a hero but we'll think is a villain' scenes about him threatening national security, we should get away with it.'
All of the above is of course hypothesis and never actually happened, but the new Bourne movie is a good watch in places. It does go on too long and Rachel Weisz spends too long crying, but Renner is a knockout as Arron Cross and with a tighter running time, another Cross movie wouldn't be a terrible prospect.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Chronicle: review

An annoying mash up of The Tommyknockers, Heroes, Clocerfield and Akira, this found footage offering is a 10 minute finale stretched out to 115 minutes.
It centres on a misfit virginal teen called Andrew. We know this because his name is mentioned about 100 times before the closing credits roll.
After he and a couple of mates happen upon and underground alien artefact, all three are imbued with telekenesis and the power of flight.
All of which would be great if they didn't spend most of the time yelling 'Dude! I can fly!' and 'Dude! this is amazing!'
Dude! We don't care.
So after around 50 mins of exposition and yelling 'Dude!' things get interesting as director Josh Trank emulates scenes from Akira, hurling cops and people around like rag dolls.
Like Cloverfield the dialogue grates and the over reliance on the video camera is so 1999.
However, some of the effects are okay and there are flashes of what could have been.

Great Scott

It's 1987 and after years of waiting I finally watch The Hunger on VHS, an uber stylish vampire flick in which David Bowie ages before my eyes and Susan Sarandon has an unforgettable close encounter with Catherine Deneuve.
A few months later I'm in a Wolverhampton cinema watching Top Gun. A mate's girlfriend leaves before the film starts so he goes after her while I soak up the lush visuals if not the preposterous plot.
Though Beverly Hills Cop 2 is a massive letdown it proves watchable escapism for a couple of hours, but by 1995 I'm on the edge of my seat. Crimson Tide proves to be one of the best sub thrillers in years and marks the beginning of a successful relationship with Denzel Washington.
The Fan is less memorable, but True Romance, Man on Fire, Deja Vu and Unstoppable are brooding, epic, silly and great entertainment.
I've spent 25 years watching Tony Scott work his magic on the big screen so when I'm sat at Newark airport one Saturday night in August 2012 I stare at Entertainment Weekly in disbelief. The Geordie action maestro has been dead a week; I'd been hermetically sealed on a cruise with little news filtering through.
It takes me days to get over it and even now, a week later, it's hard to believe there will be no more hyper stylish, silly adventures from the king of action cinema. He never won an Oscar or bafta, but Tony Scott won many fans.
Hell be sorely missed.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

All at Sea

Packed onto a luxury cruise liner with around 2000 New Yorkers for my wife's birthday was a day I'll never forget.
Eight days travelling from new york to Nassau, Orlando and back to NYC, I crossed paths with all manner of folks. Families terrified of strangers or even saying hello; cruel, vain women hanging off their chiselled boyfriends like kelp on a rock, and a woman with a huge heart whose life story over the past decade would make grown men weep.
I encountered grumpy journos and bus drivers; outstanding PRs; self obsessed frat boy guides with perfect teeth but little sense of who they were guiding, and staff who worked themselves silly for the sake of appreciative guests.
I witnessed stunning variety acts and fine comedy turns; ate all manner of exotic and mundane foods; soared across the skies on a parachute, struggled for air as currents tried to drag me away, and cycled round a semi deserted paradise isle.
I saw sunlight glisten on the ocean and lightning lash its surface; I saw sunset and sunrise, and drank an absurd amount of wine and margaritas.
For eight days I saw the best in people and the worst, treading water between the two as my moral compass steered me on the right course as hedonistic allure threatened to distract me.
It was an extraordinary time, hermetically sealed in a bubble where little news filtered through and dreams were made.
I made new friends who reminded me of old and experienced brief glimpses of happiness that made me realise life can be good, with enough cash and planning.
Life is good, strange, light, dark and usually flows like an endless ocean.
Sink or swim, it's up to you. My advice. Get a good life vest and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Rock of Ages: The movie - The review

A disclaimer for Adam Shankman's new movie should say 'Very loosely based on the stage show.'
Fans (such as i) may be disappointed by how much has been left out and changed; Tom Cruise's seasoned rocker annoys at times (his part changed), the surprise relationship between two characters is alluded to in the first act, so no surprise; Russell Brand's Midlands accent is woeful, there's too much emphasis on an unfunny monkey, and no Fogmaster 5000 (which pre-empts a terrific musical number), No Oh Sherry or Heat of the moment either!
Bryan Cranston is wasted as a kinky VIP; Catherine Zeta Jones is tiresome as his wife, especially when singing to a poster!
The dynamics of the stage show are all gone and it plods when it should sprint.

On the plus side Julianne Hough and Malin Akerman are smoking and there are a few flashes of brilliance here and there.

Watch the stage show and see how it should have been done instead of this wasted opportunity.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Mr Crow Goes To Washington

After a 40 min train trip from Baltimore, arrived in Washington Dc.

Lunchtime was amazing. Food trucks on Twitter announce where they're going to be and for around 8 dollars you can have mouthwatering cuisine in styrofoam trays.
Following a quick Metro ride across town, a 3hr bike ride round the city.

Epic sights, great staff.

Evening: Charlie Palmer's Steakhouse: One of the best meals ever, and meeting the man himself was a major bonus. Incredible food, great ambience, brilliant staff. One to try.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Prometheus review

So, decades of waiting for Ridley Scott to create a sequel or prequel to Alien and he gives us something which owes more to 2001, with icky body horror thrown in for good measure.
Prometheus is an epic tease; a smart fantasy epic which hints at the origins of the space jockey or engineer seen in Alien.
Noomi Rapace is splendid as the God fearing protagonist Shaw; Charlize Theron is watchable as ever as corporate suit Vickers, and Idris Elba perfect as the eponymous ship's captain.
Scott has always been a master of visual spectacle, but his look is sold short by often tiresome characters who meet a sticky end.
Stealing the show is Michael Fassbender as David, the android whose charm and sinister game plan is ever compelling.
Alas, the finale is annoying; setting up a sequel and bridge between Prometheus and Alien.
In IMAX 3D it's an event, with amazing effects, a great score and superb sets.
The standout medical scene has to be er seen to be believed, but while this may not be as structurally perfect as Scott's 1979 original, it's still a very watchable slice of escapism. 8/10

snow white and the huntsman

A good looking take on the classic fairy tale, but despite a scenery chewing perf from Charlize Theron as the evil queen, Chris Hemsworth adding plenty of beefcake appeal, and the likes of Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins delivering comic relief as dwarves, this is highly derivative.

Part Lord of the rings, part Alice in Wonderland, it's not entirely pointless, but the end is a letdown.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Three Musketeers review

For anybody who wonders if we really need another film version of Alexandre Dumas’ much reworked tale of daring swordsmen and a brash young hero, Paul WS Anderson’s recent adaptation is proof that we really don't.

When you spend more time looking at the lavish sets and costumes than you do caring a jot about any of the characters you know there's a major problem.

Logan Lerman’s D’Artagnan is pretty annoying, not least because of his American-accent; Orlando Bloom gives one of the worst perfomances of any actor in recent years, and Milla Jovovich’s Milady may look gorgeous and scheming, but her gravity defying stunts are as thrilling as root canal surgery. Sorry Milla. I've seen this all before in your dreadful Resident Evil movies, and yes they may have made millions of dollars, but so have the makers of drain cleaner, and i wouldn't want to spend 100 minutes staring at a bottle of that either.

One of the few saving graces is James Corden, clearly channelling Roy Kinnear from Richard Lester's classic 70s Musketeer movies. (I know they made one at the end of the 80s, but that's pretty forgettable).

The finale is as deflated as one of the airship's torn canopies (why the enemy didn't shoot our heroes' own canopy straight away is anyone's guess).

Truth is the alluded to sequel is not a tempting prospect, unless Bloom either takes some serious acting lessons or his character dies 10 seconds in.

Disney Fantasy: The Christening

On a lavish stage, where a packed audience count the seconds until showtime, the curtains part and the gathered masses go wild as a familiar man, all smiles and smart suit, takes to the stage.
“I’m Neil.” he announces. “How amazing is this theatre?”
He’s not wrong. Everything around him, from the auditorium, to the curtains and seats still has that ‘new car’ smell and look.
I’m in New York for the launch of Disney’s latest enterprise, but it’s not a new stage show like their Broadway smashes The Lion King or Mary Poppins (which had wowed me the night before).
Our MC is Neil Patrick Harris, scene stealer of sitcom How I Met Your Mother, and occasional guest on American Idol and Glee. It’s clear he’s as impressed with his surroundings as the rest of us.
“Dudes, we’re on a ship!” he exclaims, reminding those that might have forgotten; It is possible below the top deck of this floating behemoth the size of several city blocks.
Following Neil’s hilarious send up of assorted Disney show tunes, I had to pinch myself as legendary comedian Jerry Seinfeld brought the house down with a few rib-tickling one-liners.
Then, having collected the world’s media and assorted guests in the lobby, the Mouse empire’s big cheese Bob Iger welcomed Mariah Carey, who christened the craft by activating a huge champagne bottle packed with glittering paper and streamers.
Welcome to the Disney Fantasy, the latest gamble for one of the world’s best loved entertainment industries which is packed with more opulence, lavish furnishings and attractions than you can shake a bedknob or broomstick at.
A year ago I was lucky enough to enjoy the christening and inaugural voyage of sister ship the Disney Fantasy as it sailed from Port Canaveral, Florida to Disney’s private Bahamas island, Castaway Cay.
It was my first voyage on any cruise liner, let alone a brand new one, and having become an instant convert to the world of luxury seafaring, I was like a kid on Christmas eve as I waited months to see how the Disney Fantasy would compare in 2012.
After a sublime first class flight on Virgin Airways from Heathrow to New York’s JFK, I enjoyed a six hour tour of the new craft.
Some tours can leave me yawning, so the fact this deck by deck assessment flew by is testament to the amount of goodies on board, many of which are genuinely jaw-dropping.
The grandiose Art Nouveau entrance hall, complete with bronze Minnie Mouse statue and 22 foot wide, 15 feet long chandelier, may be reminiscent of the Disney Dream‘s Art Deco entrance, but the effect is different enough to tell its own story.
Like the Dream, the Fantasy is also 1,115 long, has 1,250 staterooms and suites, and has a passenger capacity of 4,000.
And catering for so many people with different tastes and ages means whether you’re a toddler (with advanced reading capabilities) or are awaiting a letter of congratulations from the Queen, there’s something here for all tastes, whether its entertainment, food or just taking it easy.
Having kept a close eye on the Fantasy’s construction in Germany (via construction films on the Internet) there was one thing I was desperate to see repeated from the Dream: the Aquaduck.
This transparent water tube rockets riders around the ship, and like its success on the Dream since January 2011, should also prove to be one of the Fantasy’s most popular attractions.
Keeping the family entertained on any cruise is the secret to any successful holiday, so while youngsters are transformed into princesses and pirates in the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, teens and tweens can opt for the Chill Youth Spa, or Vibe teen and Edge tween club. Meanwhile, adults may want to try the Quiet Cove Pool, or assorted treatments at the Senses Spa and Salon.
Now I like a good burger and fast food like most folks, and the cabanas do a fine job of catering for those with a love of tasty treats, but man, woman (and mouse) cannot live by fast food alone, so it was good to see two of the Dream’s finest restaurants, Remy’s and Palo, were also present on the Fantasy.
Sandwiched between those two ends of the culinary spectrum is the Animator’s Palate, one of the most engaging restaurants I’ve ever seen.
The food is mouthwateringly good, and the desserts are to die for, but as all good dining needs an element of theatre to perk up the taste buds, one of the many jewels in the Fantasy’s crown has to be seen to be believed.
While waiting for your food, diners are invited to draw a character within the blue lines of a placemat.
Within 10 minutes of handing in our masterpieces, myself and several other seasoned journalists sat slack of jaw as their characters were brought to life on nearby screens.
The result, like the real time character interaction of cartoon alien Stitch at nearby kids’ party area Oceaneer Club, is pure genius.
And it’s sucker punch moments like that, where the impossible becomes a reality before your eyes, that keeps millions of Disney fans coming back for more, regardless of their age.
If you fancy following that with a night at the theatre, then two new Broadway-style spectaculars: Wishes, a 45 minute tale of three best friends, and Disney’s Aladdin, a Musical Spectacular should tick those boxes admirably.
The nightlife region Europa also offers some welcome variations on the successful Dream layout.
A series of clubs and lounges inspired by parts of Ireland, Italy, France and London, are a must see for grown ups, including the bar Skyline which offers views of European cityscapes (and some eye-popping cocktails).
The Scissor Sisters may not feel like dancing, but if you do, I’d recommend The Tube, a stunning nightclub you won’t need an Oyster card for. Just a lot of energy and a comfy pair of shoes.
Decked out to look like London’s iconic transport system, as well as a couple of old red phone boxes (perfect photo ops), the place is more fun than a party hosted by Peter Kay.
Though I didn’t get to stay in a Fantasy cabin on my flying visit, it was good to see the assorted staterooms were just as well finished as those on its sister ship, the Dream. (The beds are among the most comfortable you will ever sleep in).
Sadly you won’t get Neil Patrick Harris, Jerry Seinfeld or Mariah Carey on your cruise, but what you do get is something for the whole family, or just couples who prefer to get away from it all in style.
Personally I’m gutted that another Disney cruise liner isn’t planned for next year as I’ve become shamelessly addicted to the wealth of sea bound attractions and genuine magic on offer.
However, that does give my wife and I an excuse to sample earlier crafts, such as the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder, which are adding Uncle Walt’s unique sparkle to American, Caribbean and European routes in the months and years ahead.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

Joss Whedon films are like buses. You wait an age for one and then two arrive at once.
A week after seeing The Avengers (I refuse to call it that other title anymore), i decided to see again as a double bill with The Cabin in the Woods.
Hampered by a lower budget but (evident in some of the later FX shots), this is a welcome antidote to all those well-worn stalk and slash dramas from Friday 13th to the asinine Cabin Fever.
So after meeting a bunch of eclectic guys in a lab, we are introduced to five protagonists. The jock, the dopehead, the boffin, the demure type and her licentious friend.
As they head off for the eponymous retreat it soon becomes clear that we're in familiar territory. Well, almost.
As an eagle flies into what looks like an energy field, it's obvious this is no ordinary thriller.
What unfolds is a skewed version of those thrillers we know so well, and the cast, including Chris Hemsworth and Richard Jenkins do a fine job with the material.
I'm not going to give away the Marmite ending, but i will say if you want a by the numbers thriller, best watch one of those slasher flicks from the past 30 years. This is a different beast and a welcome addition to the genre.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Lunchtime with a TV legend

Barbara Knox rarely gives interviews, TV or otherwise, so it was a treat to be one of a few journalists invited to Manchester to chat to her today.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Avengers Assemble

After years of waiting and several films alluding to it, Avengers Assemble - Marvel's biggest gamble to date - finally hit UK cinemas this week, and judging by the fact Sheffield's Imax Cineworld was sold out on night one, a lot of people were keen to see the result.
The verdict? So much fun it was ridiculous. Thanks to Joss Whedon's direction and script, a great cast, effects, score and pacing.
It could have been a huge mess. Instead it's a beautifully handled comic book epic with Robert Downey Jnr and the rest of the cast firing on all cylinders.
The fact the movie has already grossed $178 million outside America in four days suggests Marvel's first $1billion success story is just a few weeks away.
Why is it bound to do so well? Largely because all the girlfriends and partners of Marvel geeks are possibly more excited by the movie themselves.
After all, beefcake hunks slugging it out is very easy on the eye for many a female viewer dreading the thought of being bored stupid.
The other is humour, an element sorely lacking in the previous Hulk movies. Whedon gets the tone just right here, with some splendid one liners.
Best seen in Imax and 3D, though to paraphrase Thor: Another screening in order methinks.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Lockout review

So many good films are the result of luck. Having the right cast, script, direction, editing and effects are important, but if all the ingredients don't gel, viewers will be disappointed.
Lockout, the new sci-fi action thriller from writer producer Luc Besson has a lot going for it. Guy Pearce is splendid as wise-cracking, world-weary Snow, while Maggie Grace is a sexy heroine.
The plot sees a framed Snow sent to rescue her from a maximum security jail in space. (She's the US President's daughter, so naturally a fine bargaining chip for the thawed out inmates).
Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun are well cast as the Scots villains and there are many well staged set pieces.
However, there are some scenes, such as a bike chase in the first act and a parachute landing in the third that are poorly executed.
There's also a lack of closure regarding one key villain and an annoying mcguffin that is either left open for a sequel or just exploiting the same idea of the Rabbit's Foot from Mission Impossible 3. Aka the writers think the contents of a memory card just aren't that important to explore in the closing minutes.
With a better editor Lockout could have been a classic, but while it fails on a few levels, Pearce and Grace ensure it's not a complete waste of time.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Fuzzy Logic: When Hollywood Lost The Plot

Aka The Trouble with Hollywood: or why AI: Artificial Intelligence should have been re-named NI :No Intelligence, and why Planet of the Apes (2001) made a monkey out of the audience

In the autumn of 2001 I sat through AI: Artificial Intelligence.
Steven Spielberg's take on Stanley Kubrick's long-cherished final project was a brave piece of work in which the world's most famous director had so much rope, he hung himself.
No other movie that year irritated me more.
I must confess that due to the poor state of Hollywood movies, I sat through a handful. Planet of the Apes, like AI, suffered from the same breakdown in logic.

I'm no scientist, or businessman but it seems to me that throwing millions of dollars at projects and then ignoring the basic principles of science is like shooting a movie without taking the lens cap off.
Your average film-goer may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even they know that when opening the door to a thousand-year-old spacecraft, there's a good chance it may have got sticky, or take more than a couple of seconds to open.
I leave my car door longer than a week in the winter and it needs a bit of persuasion before letting me in.
In Planet of the Apes such things were obviously seen as slowing the movie down and when Mark Wahlberg says "Open Sesame", it does so.

When Woody Allen had tried the same thing in his sublime 1973 comedy, Sleeper the result was hilarious.
While on the run from the authorities, our latterday Rip Van Winkle finds a hundred-year-old Volkswagen in a cave.
It starts first time.
POTA also suffers during the finale. There's a chance of SPOILERS here so you have been warned.
Mark Wahlberg escapes from the world of simians in his rocket ship (how something so small can achieve an escape velocity is clearly not a problem in this future world. For that we will suspend disbelief.) However, when he returns to earth and makes an emergency landing in a pool, within seconds he emerges from the craft and walks up some steps.
Hold on a minute. Forget that final revelation which I won't reveal here and actually is quite good.
Our hero has just re-entered the earth's atmosphere and splashed down. He walks from the spaceship like he's stepping off a bus.
There's no sense of disorientation, dizzyness or even a stiff neck.
If I drive for 118 miles back to see my folks, it takes me a minute to get my act together after getting out of the car.

Like any movie goer who pays their money to be entertained for a couple of hours, I will believe there's a planet where monkeys can talk, but I won't forgive such disregard for the necessary nuts and bolts which make you suspend belief in the first place.
It's just not good enough.
Clearly under pressure from 20th Century Fox to get his movie out for the summer box office, director Tim Burton clearly rushed the ending and as a result jettisoned what little credibility he had generated in the previous 100 odd minutes.
Even movie moguls like Steven Spielberg are responsible to studios like Warner Bros.
AI had been in the pipeline for years. Based on a short story by sci-fi author Brian Aldiss, Stanley Kubrick had planned to make it when special effects could realise his vision of a drowned world.
According to John Baxter in his Kubrick biography, Aldiss believes Kubrick was schizoid, like Rene Descartes, who said I think therefore I am. For Kubrick it was a case of "I film therefore I am."
Alas, by then effects wizards had caught up and he was ready to go, he had spent so long making his other pet project, Eyes Wide Shut, that time inevitably caught up with him
Before his death, Kubrick gave the project to Steven Spielberg, a friend of Stan's since they had been working in neighbouring studios in 1980. Kubrick was working on The Shining and Spielberg on one of his finest offerings, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Vivian Kubrick (the director's daughter who was filming a documentary about her father's movie) was shocked when Spielberg seemed to show little respect for the snakes features in the Well of the Souls sequence.
There were dead snakes on the set and the RSPCA were called. Production was shut down for a day at a cost of millions of dollars.
Her father was damning in his putdown.
"Steve's a jerk."
Despite such rocky beginnings, Kubrick spent several years picking the 'jerk's' brains.
The more he worked on AI, the more it became clear that this project was more up Spielberg's alley.
Once Kubrick died, Spielberg sat down and wrote his first screenplay since Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977.
While the bulk of Kubrick's vision made it to the big screen, there's an epilogue which runs for half an hour and completely ruins the movie.
Kubrick's glacial logic makes way for Spielberg's warm, fuzzy sentiment.
The pristine Kubrick world, like a snowflake, is dissolved by the hot air and audience-friendly conclusion more akin to one of Spielberg's Amazing Stories.

You can tell where his input starts and where Kubrick ends.
As the camera pulls away from our young protagonist (Haley Joel Osment) trapped in his ship under a ferris wheel, that's a really good time to either leave the cinema or turn the TV off.
Here all logic that had been built up before hand goes out of the window.
Many years pass and aliens, or man's final stage of evolution, (it scarcely matters which) arrive in their craft made of boxes.
These computer-generated beings are benevolent brothers to the Close Encounters aliens and rather wimpy to boot.
They proceed to reveal many years of exposition in a rather ridiculous voice which sounds like it was dubbed by the first person that turned up at the recording studio that day.
Kubrick once said that for a movie to work, you need six non-submersible units to keep the project afloat. In the case of Star Wars, the final attack on the Death Star is one, in James Cameron's Titanic, it's naturally the sinking of the eponymous vessel.
It's ironic that Kubrick had developed five non-submersible units and instead of devloping a sixth, Spielberg came along as the iceberg itself and sank the whole, expensive ship.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Logan's Run

When BBC1 screened Logan's Run for the first time in 1982 it touched a chord in me like millions of other teenagers.
Released in 1976, this sci-fi epic was the last major studio sci-fi film before Star Wars changed the genre forever.
Having missed it on the big screen and video so much in its infancy that a screening was impossible, I had to wait until the Beeb screened it before I could witness that bizarre world for myself.

I had seen every episode of the TV version which aired in the late 1970s, but this was a different beast. More exotic, risque and colourful, not the sanitised version seen in the TV show.

Michael York and Jenny Agutter lent the movie a degree of much needed gravitas.
So, when I got the chance to talk Logan's Run with Jenny in the spring of 2012, it was something of a dream come true.

"Logan’s Run was great," she recalls. "Michael Anderson was directing it and he had great fun doing it. I remember talking to him and he said it was like being a child in a toy shop, and this is the man who did The Dambusters and all sorts of things. Very English. And also Peter Ustinov was in it. He was a riot. Very funny. Full of anecdotes and stories. He just wouldn’t stop. He was a raconteur and just charming. And Michael York was also lovely to work with."

"I was terribly excited because it was MGM Studios. I think it really was the last of the big studio movies at that time because people went about film making in a different way. If you think it’s just before Star Wars and how different that is, and we were all blue screens and big lights and big lots, and people would be working on the set who had been working on there for years and would tell all these stories about old MGM stars."

She adds: "You drive yourself into work in America; It’s quite different to England actually. So I’d drive onto the lot in the morning and the guy at the gate would say: “I just don’t get it. You drive in here with no make up and in the old says the stars would be fully made up and looking glamorous”. 
He wasn’t having a go at me but I thought. 'Oooh. You’d get made up and then have to go into make up again'. But what he was referring to was a very glamorous time where part of your contract was to always look glam."

Kill List

If you took elements from some of the best British horror films and thrillers from the past few decades and mashed them up, but also made a film that stood on its own two feet, the result would be Kill List.
Ben Wheatley's low budget thriller centres on two hit men assigned to bump off a series of undesirables, each labelled with their own on screen title card.
Thanks to a solid opening chunk in which we get to know the characters, the drama which unfolds feels all the more believable.
Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley give top turns as the anti heroes while MyAnna Buring is a sexy and feisty female lead.
Yes, there are elements of Layer Cake, The Long Good Friday, The Descent, Dog Soldiers, The Wicker Man and more, but as mentioned this is a solid film that works well addressing similar themes instead of just ripping them off.
Be warned the violence is not for the faint of heart, so you may want to watch through latticed fingers at some point, but unlike torture porn films where the violence becomes the narrative, this is a different animal. Yes, it's violent and not pleasant, but more disturbing is the reaction of the victims.
Kill List may have more questions than answers, but that's no bad thing considering most Hollywood films with 100 times the budget answer what few questions are posed and don't demand repeated viewing. 4/5

Saturday, 14 April 2012

restaurant review. Little Chef. Tadcaster.

Labelling Little Chef as a restaurant seems a little generous considering its rep as a cosy family diner from the days before McD's got a stranglehold on the fast food market. However, thanks to Heston Blumenthal breathing new life into a handful of LCs a few years ago, suddenly they are worth checking out again.
I last visited a Little Chef years ago; they've always had a big place in my heart, and admit that it was worth the trip.
Beer battered fish and chips were great, while they do great pancakes (a must considering my fave treat at LC as a kid).
Prices are around the same as Frankie and Benny's so it won't break the bank and is a lot cheaper than Heston's own restaurant The Fat Duck.
And for those in the Yorkshire area, it's a lot closer. 4/5.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Prometheus: the preview footage screening

Waiting 33 years to meet Ridley Scott and then being invited to a sneak peak at footage from his new movie Prometheus is quite an experience.
For a start, the week before the event has a strange effect: it makes your brain start formulating questions, all the time. From the inspiration behind the movie to working with Noomi Rapace, there is no off button.
A through the night journey to London also didn't help matters. More questions, all the time.
Of course the event itself was so packed the chance of actually asking a question in a room of 400 other journos was more like winning the Lottery.
As for the footage itself? Well, here's the thing. On the one hand it's pretty stunning; the sort of epic visuals you'd expect from a master film-maker. And on the other? Well, it's a bit meh.
The 3D is fantastic, though rather distracting, but little touches like using a Rubik's cube as a hologram projector came across as a little too Blake's 7. There's also a long shot of the ship crossing a star field which looks like it's taken from a 1930s sci-fi serial (maybe that's the intention).
Thankfully we weren't given so many spoilers as to spoil the movie when it's finally released but personally I think the idea and anticipation of Prometheus is going to be more interesting than the finished project.
As for the cast? Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender were great, but Charlize Theron simply stunning as they fielded the few questions from journos lucky enough to ask a few queries.
With so many clues flying around regarding the plot there is a danger of fans suffering overkill; some are already tired of the hype.
As with Avatar a few weeks before release, fans are having to recalibrate their view of what Prometheus should be and what it actually is.
The bridge between the trailer and the Alien saga may be a very different thing to what some expect.
Personally i'm wondering if some little touches, such as Guy Pearce in old man make-up and a tacky Rubik's cube projector needed reassessing.

Update: after weeks of hating the Rubik's cube idea, i now like it.
The new trailer released during Homeland ads in the Uk offered some new clues but the sight of the weird snake that slips inside Rafe Spall is a little dubious.
Given the Twitter feedback it looks like fans are going nuts over the teaser. Let's hope it pays off on June 1.


Wednesday, 4 April 2012


Michael Fassbender's most gripping performance to date is not for the easily shocked. A New York based sex addict so wrapped up in his obsession he can't connect with his troubled sister (Carey Mulligan).
Director Steve McQueen does a masterful job, especially in the opening scenes where our lusty protagonist seduces a subway commuter with his eyes. It's a brilliant scene because it's not hampered by corny dialogue.
Alas, as the film progresses, the addict's obsessions have nowhere to go. He seduces an office worker and when he fails to perform in the bedroom, goes off the rails.
When an inevitable tragedy occurs, our hero's redemption seems impossible.
The final scenes pay off nicely, but by then it seems Fassbender's alter ego is too far gone to care about. 4/5