The Last Witch Hunter

Director: Breck Eisner (2015)

Chrome domed action hero Vin Diesel defies the dark arts in this deathlessly dull supernatural action adventure.

As a one man Papal super-weapon called Kaulder he uses his rubble voiced presence to brazen his way through a series of beautifully looking but dramatically inert action set-pieces.

As his handler, confessor and friend Father Dolan, Michael Caine provides lengthy exposition before retiring and being incapacitated by a spell.

Thus he spends much of the film comatose. Insert your own joke here.

This allows for the introduction of younger actors and to trundle in a laboured ticking clock plot device.

Meanwhile the star of the Fast Furious franchise is given a cool car to pose with.

Cursed with eternal life and so being generally indestructible is a bit of a tension killer, so he’s also provided with a couple of imperilled passengers.

Elijah Wood is a wide-eyed replacement for Caine who attempts to drag Kaulder into the digital age. Rose Leslie plays a breathy voiced barkeep with hidden powers.

When an 800 year old truce between the church and the witches is broken, a plot to destroy the world is uncovered.

The silliness is CGI heavy but logic light and soon I was longing for the camp majesty of Russell Mulcahy‘s Highlander (1986).

Diesel’s last role which wasn’t a talking plant or a Fast Furious franchise flick was Riddick (2013), a dimly misogynist sci-fi sequel to the brilliant Pitch Black (2000) and the third film in that series.

Similarly this film has a woeful attitude towards women. Witch Hunter begins with a preamble through the medieval period and Kaulder’s mindset remains rooted there.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the script paid more the most meagre lip service to the intervening years of emancipation.

Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless seem to have divvied up the writing into separate parts without ever consulting each other.

Kaulder’s employers the Axe and the Cross, a male religious order dedicated to protecting the world from evil witches.

This wouldn’t be a problem if some sort of balance or modern spin was put on the story, such a s portraying Kaulder as man comically out of step with the times.

Schwarzenegger could still make a very decent fist of that film, but Diesel lacks Arnie’s confidence to send himself up. After all, a man in his position can’t afford to be to look ridiculous.

Instead we’re invited to admire Kaulder’s macho effectiveness at slaughtering his way through waves of women and their compliant male underlings.

With exception of Leslie’s character Chloe and a sexually willing flight attendant, women are portrayed as youth obsessed sexpots or foul midnight hags intent on ruining the lives of man.

Poor Chloe is caught somewhere between being an unsuitably aged romantic interest and a surrogate daughter figure.

In Gladiator (2000) Russell Crowe‘s Maximus sought to rejoin his murdered family in Elysium, a state of peace and grace.

When Kaulder’s real daughter and her mother appear in his dreams they represent weakness, capitulation and subjugation.

Everything the unrepentant, unreconstructed and fiercely heterosexual Kaulder lives to combat.

As the big bad villain, the queen witch is an anonymous shrieking harpy with vaguely explained plans of evil.

She’s less an evil protagonist than just another obstacle to be overcome, her existence serves only to underscore how heroic and manly Kaulder is.

However as her future vision of New York is to transform it into a pastoral idyll, the script may be rooting for the wrong team.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Director: Matthew Vaughn (2015)

This glossy smug spy spoof lacks much spark or charm, it’s as flat and laboured as the later Roger Moore Bond movies it offers homage to.

The Kingsmen are an aristocratic, super-rich secret spy agency who operate without any pesky political oversight or accountability.

They’re an exclusive and aspirational club for the Bullingdon boys only with nattier outfits. Putting great stock by personal grooming, they’re based in a Tailor’s shop in Savile Row.

Head of the outfitters is Michael Caine who played spy Harry Palmer. All the agents sport Palmer’s famous wide brimmed specs because the film can’t resist its little jokes. It also references The Man From UNCLE and The Men In Black.

Brolly carrying agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) sees the opportunity to atone for the death of a colleague by putting forward his son Eggsy (Taron Egerton) for recruitment.

Only he’s turned out to be a bit of baseball cap wearing chav and so must be properly attired, trained in espionage and taught to use violence to subjugate the working classes.

Although the script plays lip-service to meritocracy, Eggsy is chosen due to being of good stock and all the other potential recruits are public school types. The only female recruit of note is Roxy (Sophie Cookson) and she of course is a gorgeous lesbian.

Meanwhile billionaire Richmond Valentino (a lisping Samuel L. Jackson) is plotting to create a new world order involving the murder of millions using micro-chips.

Politicians can’t be trusted to hang on to their integrity in the face of Valentino’s money, though a supple-buttocked Scandinavian Princess holds firm. Because she’s royal you see.

Valentino is assisted by a decorative blade-footed assassin called Gazelle (Sofia Boutella). Having demonstrated her ability early doors, she’s mostly there to look pretty.

Poison pens, explosive cigarette lighters, jet packs and underground bases add to the retro atmosphere of the 1970’s sexual politics.

In the absence of decent jokes, obscenities are used as punchlines to scenes, the action set pieces are all too familiar and aside from a colourful moment of pomp and circumstance, there’s little that will raise an eyebrow.

Based on comic book by Mark Millar who also wrote the Vaughn directed Kick Ass, it’s the fifth script collaboration between Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Stardust, Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class, The Debt).

It’s most similar in tone but lacks the fresh energy and originality of the uproariously violent and funny Kick Ass.

Roger Moore single-handedly mocked his own image with far more grace, talent, charm and wit than is mustered here. Check out North Sea Hijack for a rather better service.

★★☆☆☆

Interstellar

Director: Christopher Nolan (2014)

This plodding, muddled and bombastic sci-fi flick doesn’t fly – despite having talented Matthew McConaughey at the controls.

Even the star’s rocket-fuelled charisma can’t stop the space-travel, dimension-hopping, time-twisting tale from drifting aimlessly.

Cooper is working as a farmer, the sort who is cheerily content to cruise a truck through his own crops.

His daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) is left coded messages by a ghost.

Solving this riddle leads them to a super secret Nasa base run by Professor Brand (Michael Caine).

He’s fond of quoting Dylan Thomas while scribbling equations on a blackboard in a sciency manner. Normally in Nolan films it’s Morgan Freeman‘s job to do that.

Despite having hugely limited resources – what with the break down of civilisation due to the crops not growing – Brand decides Cooper is the man they’ve been waiting for to pilot a spacecraft into a plothole, sorry, wormhole, near Saturn.

It’s tunnel to another galaxy where three astronauts are lost. Cooper is to rescue them if possible while scouting for worlds that could support human life.

He returns home to say a guilt-ridden goodbye to Murph but she’s not best pleased.

In Cooper’s crew are Brand’s scientist daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and a robot called TARS; a cross between a giant iPod and a Swiss army knife.

It’s unusual and impractical design seems only for the purpose of demonstrating director Nolan is familiar with the work of Stanley Kubrick. TARS jokes are misplaced among the grim solemnity.

Hibernating en route they awake to hear a signal from one of the lost men and investigating they encounter the effect gravity has on time.

There is courage, sacrifice and stupidity. When the crew land on a watery world they are surprised by an enormous laws of physics-defying wave. Twice.

A betrayal results in a shortage of fuel means Cooper has to choose between returning home to his daughter or saving the world.

In space no-one can hear you scream because of the ear-piercing soundtrack. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema conjures up spectacular images but Nolan offers but no depth or mystery to accompany them.

While the dialogue is functional at best and occasionally laughable in it’s portentousness, the weak script signposts the twist which is possible to see from light-years away.

Later the galaxy’s most intelligent man repeatedly yells “override” to a password-protected computer. Which is showy but not very clever – like this film.

★★☆☆☆