Thursday, 31 October 2013
A bearded hero with a magical weapon on a planet of noble warriors clashes with an army of masked, laser-blasting invaders.
Thirty years ago Krull, a British mash-up of sub-Tolkien mythology and Star Wars-style effects was launched on an unsuspecting world.
Alas, the hero was rather bland, the cheap effects a bit rubbish (even for ’83), and the likes of pre-Eastenders Todd Carty, post-Carry On Bernard Bresslaw and a badly dubbed Lysette Anthony failed to make the project fly.
Fast forward to now, and in Thor: the Dark World, a bearded hero with a magical hammer on a planet of noble warriors clashes with an army of masked, laser-blasting invaders. Only this time Marvel (with a far greater budget admittedly) hit the blockbuster nail squarely on the head.
Chris Hemsworth is so perfectly cast as the eponymous Asgardian warrior it's hard to imagine anyone else filling those boots. The slightest smirk creates screen gold. (The god of thunder and charisma might be more on the money).
With a snazzy new Marvel logo, Thor 2 hits the ground running with an epic battle, and escalates from there.
Fans of the original should revel in the scale; director Alan Taylor exploits the skills learned on Game of Thrones to craft a 12A-friendly epic, hammering the various plot strands together to form a fun, frantic, dark, occasionally moving yarn.
Anthony Hopkins can be annoying when phoning in his performances, but here adds gravitas as Odin; ’One Broke Scientist’ Kat Dennings delivers comic relief as Natalie Portman's sexy assistant Darcy; Idris Elba is given more screen time as gate keeper Helmdal, and the Warriors Three also return from film one.
As ever, Tom Hiddleston chews chunks of scenery as Loki; aside from Robert Downey Jnr’s Tony Stark, few actors are as funny or mischievous in the Marvel universe.
(A Thor movie without Loki is as pointless as a Spider Man flick without Peter Parker).
Rounding out the regulars are Stellan Skargard as boffin Erik Selvig, still a bit bonkers after being possessed in Avengers.
Christopher Eccleston is on good form as the malevolent big bad Malekith, spouting Elvish dialogue, while his ship is gloriously ominous and aptly hammer-like.
Assembling the multi-film plot strands from Thor and Assemble, this is huge fun.
There's little doubt Marvel have mastered the modern blockbuster, melding great heroes, villains and effects with the brio of the original Star Wars and JJ’s Star Trek.
Okay, Thor 2.0 is not perfect. Portman looks gorgeous, but her character is too wholesome and sadly a bit dull. Maybe thunder-wielding Gods need partners that are safe and yawnsome.
I'd rather have seen Thor romance Darcy or Asgard squeeze Sif. (The latter’s sub-plot sadly goes nowhere fast, but may pay off in Thor 3).
However, seen at midnight in 3D D-Box, TTDW was a pre-Hallowe’en treat.
It also made me delighted that as a forty something, I lived long enough to see the comic heroes of my youth given the big screen epics they deserve.
Stay tuned for a couple of cracking credit cookies; the final one is rewarding and hilarious.
Roll on Captain America: Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, and let's hope we don't have to wait an age for the inevitable Dr Strange, Sub-Mariner and Silver Surfer movie.
Tuesday, 29 October 2013
I had no burning desire to see Escape Plan, the new action thriller starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
However, when it's your day off and it looks like the best thing on offer at your local multiplex, it may as well be worth a look.
The fact I read the timing wrong, and thought it was supposed to start half an hour before it did, made me think I'll watch something else instead.
However, the rather enthusiastic, animated Cineworld employee was so enthusiastic about the movie, I thought I'll hang around for half an hour and give it the benefit of the doubt.
I'm glad I did.
In the first 20 minutes, we are asked to believe that Sly is an expert on prison security.
He tests the integrity of prisons by becoming an inmate and then attempts to break out, thereby exposing any weakness in the security.
More often than not he succeeds, and gets a big fat pay cheque.
However, when he is asked to test out a new maximum security stockade, Sly can't resist, and soon regrets it.
The tracker planted inside him is soon removed, and Sly loses contact with his colleagues in the outside world.
(Let's face it, it wouldn't be much of a movie if he managed to break out in the next 10 minutes).
Sly soon incurs wrath of psycho prison warden (there is always one) Jim Caviezel and his right-hand man/henchman Vinnie Jones.
(I fear we'll have a long wait to see Vinnie play Hamlet, but when it comes to playing psycho thugs, Jones is in a league of his own).
While making assorted enemies on the inside, Sly befriends unhinged Austrian Arnie.
Schwarzenegger has a ball with this movie. Whether ranting in his native language, or coming out with some salty, over the top one-liners, he is clearly better as a supporting actor these days than carrying his own film. Maybe he should keep the goatee, as it's a fine facial addition to the Austrian Oak.
For the first two thirds, Escape Plan is great fun. The one thing that's missing is the generic shoot out we have come to expect from two of the biggest stars of 80s action cinema.
In fact, the lack of gunfire is rather welcome.
So by the time the third act kicks in, the director resorts to type by giving Sly and Arnie high powered weapons, and resorting to the usual cliches of shootouts, gunfire and witty epithets when villains are dispatched.
Escape Plan, previously named The Tomb, might not be the sort of film you're desperate to rush out and see on day one. However, when it’s released on Blu-ray chances are it will shift truckloads of units.
(The fact I have been quoting one of Arnie's one-liners all week, is testament to the fact it's great fun).
The leads won't win any Oscars for Best Actors, and the script won't win Best Screenplay, but who cares?
For those of us weaned on First Blood and The Terminator, this is a must see, whether on the biggest screen possible, or on your TV in a a few weeks’ time.
Let’s hope the pumped up pensioners return soon, maybe in a comedy remake of The Sunshine Boys or Grumpy Old Men.
Pension Plan wouldn't be too bad a title.
Saturday, 26 October 2013
Arguably the weakest link is Harrison Ford as gruff seasoned military man, Hyrum Graff. He sounds laboured as he reads the dialogue, like he has little faith in the material, or is wondering what time he can wrap up shooting so he can have his dinner. Yes, he probably had the same demeanour shooting Star Wars in the mid 1970s, but here he lacks the charisma of Han Solo.
Friday, 25 October 2013
"I wanted to do a series about the experience of the war; the home front during the war; the war economy of the five great combatant nations and so on and so forth. I wanted a little leeway (with the show) not to have to depend every week on bombs and guns and tanks and so on."
"The idea that I might have to tell Laurence Olivier that he was fired was a bit much for me to take on".
Wednesday, 9 October 2013
The first time I went to Orlando, I thought a £200 flight from London was incredible.
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).
Grand Floridian, Orlando; pic: Roger Crow
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.
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.
Friday, 4 October 2013
A few things will happen while watching Gravity.
Your palms will become sweaty, then they'll start seeking comfort at the sides of your face. That’s possibly because your breathing will become shallow. This is not the sort of film you can ignore.
Essentially a two-hander between Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, it charts the aftermath of a disastrous space walk from their shuttle, ravaged by debris.
The opening 13 minute, one take shot is among the best ever created.
Orson Welles would have clapped; Martin Scorsese and Brian DePalma either applauded or sulked because director Alfonso Cuaron has aptly raised the bar to orbital levels.
What Bullock and Clooney do next will not be revealed here. Safe to say what unfolds during the 90 minute running time is an assault course of wires, pipes, machinery and one character's desire to survive.
The sight of Bullock floating foetus-like in a window is one of the year’s most memorable.
Sandra has been a favourite actress for 20 years, but has never looked more beautiful, possibly because she is the softest looking protagonist against a sea of tech. Her desire to survive against any odds is also a magnetic attraction.
George is also hugely appealing. His cocky, charismatic veteran astronaut is wonderfully watchable, though i imagine the endless wire work must have been a pain during the movie’s four year production.
Some films squander 3D but this makes the most of it, exploiting the medium beautifully. The sound, if heard in the right theatre, is also superb. NASA chatter adds the right audio tone from the off, while Ed Harris’ voice is a great, comforting shorthand for anyone raised on classic NASA epics The Right Stuff and Apollo 13.
Some of you may wait for Blu Ray or DVD, but this is one of those films that demands the best full-on cinema experience you can find.
Gravity is little short of a masterpiece. If Sandra Bullock doesn’t get another Oscar, and Cuaron at least a nomination for Best Director, there is going to be some serious gnashing of teeth among the movie-loving community.
See it... but don’t forget to breathe.