Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018; USA; Colour; 135m) ***½ d. Ron Howard; w. Lawrence Kasdan, Jonathan Kasdan; ph. Bradford Young; m. John Powell. Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Warwick Davis, Clint Howard, Richard Dixon, Joonas Suotamo, Sarah-Stephanie, Deepak Anand, Slim Khezri, Ian Kenny, Douglas Robson, Omar Alboukharey, Sean Gislingham, Nathaniel Lonsdale. During an adventure into the criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion. Whilst this STAR WARS spin-off offers nothing particularly new or surprising, considering its troubled production history it remains a surprisingly consistently entertaining adventure. Ehrenreich displays the same roguish charisma as essayed by Harrison Ford and Glover also scores as Lando Calrissian. The action set pieces are effective and avoid the stilted choreography of recent efforts. Whilst the story itself may lack the gravitas and mysticism of its parent, it makes for more simple-minded fun. Although originally brought on board to complete the film after Phil Lord and Christopher Miller had been dismissed due to creative differences, it was widely reported that Howard re-shot more than 80% of the movie. Also shot in 3-D. 
BLACK AND BLUE by IAN RANKIN (1997, Orion, 498pp) ****½
Blurb: In the 1960s, the infamous Bible John terrorised Scotland when he murdered three women, taking three souvenirs. Thirty years later, a copycat is at work, dubbed Johnny Bible. DI John Rebus’s unconventional methods have got him in trouble before – now he’s taken away from the inquiry and sent to investigate the killing of an off-duty oilman. But when his case clashes head-on with the Johnny Bible killings, he finds himself in the glare of a fearful media, whilst under the scrutiny of an internal enquiry. Just one mistake is likely to mean losing his job – and quite possibly his life.
Ian Rankin had written seven Rebus novels before Black and Blue and had become an established name in the crime-writing field, but was seen as more of a B-list writer. This book exploded him into the A-list, where he has stayed ever since. In his introduction to this 2016 edition, Rankin recalls the personal turmoil he was going through at the time of writing. Living in France with a son diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome, the writer and his wife struggled with the bureaucracy of the French medical system. The family would eventually return to Scotland. The impression this left on Rankin fired his need to voice his concerns on a broader template. Also, around the time of writing the book, press interest in the historic Bible John killings had been heightened by new DNA evidence. Rankin had undertaken extensive research into the case and decided to incorporate a real life killer into his fictional story of a copy cat. Other elements incorporated into the story are police and corporate corruption, environmentalists protesting about pollution caused by the oil companies and a drug smuggling involving gangsters from Glasgow and Aberdeen. It was to become Rankin’s most complex and multi-layered book.
Rankin explores his protagonist in deep detail – his loyalty, his alcohol dependency, his inner-angst. What emerges is a very three-dimensional portrayal of a flawed man whose sole motivation in life is to see justice done. Saddled with a former colleague, whilst he is being investigated for malpractice in an old case, Rebus is as acerbic and dogged as ever. A loner tethered to a leash, which brings his anxieties to the surface. The book has a broad scope taking Rebus from Edinburgh to Glasgow, Aberdeen, the Shetlands and a North Sea oil rig. The separate plot strands are nicely interwoven revealing some surprising links along the way. Rankin’s research helps bring the locales and the police investigation to life in an enthralling way.
Black and Blue is a novel that shows a writer fully maturing and it would set the bar for the remainder of the series.
The Rebus Series:
- Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
- Hide and Seek (1991) ***
- Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
- Strip Jack (1992)
- The Black Book (1993) ***
- Mortal Causes (1994) ***
- Let it Bleed (1996)
- Black and Blue (1997) ****½
- The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
- Dead Souls (1999)
- Set in Darkness (2000) ****
- The Falls (2001)
- Resurrection Men (2002) ****
- A Question of Blood (2003) ****
- Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
- The Naming of the Dead (2006) ****½
- Exit Music (2007) ****
- Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ∗∗∗½
- Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
- Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
- Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½
- In a House of Lies (2018)
Sugarland Express, The (1974; USA; Technicolor; 110m) **** d. Steven Spielberg; w. Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins, Steven Spielberg; ph. Vilmos Zsigmond; m. John Williams. Cast: Goldie Hawn, Ben Johnson, Michael Sacks, William Atherton, Gregory Walcott, Steve Kanaly, Louise Latham, Harrison Zanuck, A. L. Camp, Jessie Lee Fulton, Dean Smith, Ted Grossman. A woman attempts to reunite her family by helping her husband escape prison and together kidnapping their son. But things don’t go as planned when they are forced to take a police hostage on the road. Spielberg’s first theatrical feature is a winning combination of drama and humour. Balancing the tone is the director’s biggest challenge as he takes on this adaptation of real life events. Hawn and Atherton score strongly as the misguided couple, whilst Johnson gives a quietly effective performance as a sympathetic lawman. The tone shifts sharply in its final act, but this remains an engaging tale. [PG]
Key Largo (1948; USA; B&W; 100m) **** d. John Huston; w. Richard Brooks, John Huston; ph. Karl Freund; m. Max Steiner. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, Thomas Gomez, Harry Lewis, John Rodney, Marc Lawrence, Dan Seymour, Monte Blue, William Haade. A man visits his old friend’s hotel and finds a gangster running things. As a hurricane approaches, the two end up confronting each other. Tense thriller extracts maximum impact from its strong cast who are well directed by Huston. Bogart and Robinson’s antagonistic interplay is electric, whilst Trevor also excels as Robinson’s alcoholic mistress. Bacall and Barrymore offer good support. Rousing Steiner score and effective photography from Freund give added atmosphere to the production, which at times betrays its static stage roots until its exciting climax on the fog bound ocean. Won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (Trevor). Based on the play by Maxwell Anderson. [PG]
Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri (2017; UK/USA; Colour; 115m) ***** d. Martin McDonagh; w. Martin McDonagh; ph. Ben Davis; m. Carter Burwell. Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Abbie Cornish, Brendan Sexton III, Samara Weaving, Kerry Condon, Nick Searcy, Lawrence Turner, Amanda Warren, Michael Aaron Milligan, William J. Harrison, Sandy Martin, Christopher Berry, Zeljko Ivanek, Alejandro Barrios, Jason Redford, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Selah Atwood. A darkly comic crime drama in which a woman pressures the police into continuing the investigation into her daughter’s murder. Multi-layered tale with themes of retribution, prejudice, guilt and redemption is brilliantly scripted and superbly acted. McDormand, Rockwell and Harrelson turn in top-notch performances. It is darkly comic, but the drama burns deep. At times it is a tough watch, but it remains engrossing throughout. A modern-day parable of rare complexity. Won Oscars for Best Actress (McDormand) and Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell). 
Christopher Lennertz is named by IMdB and Film Music Reporter as the man tasked with writing the score to the latest Shaft movie, due out in the summer of 2019. Lennertz has worked on a host of films and TV series since 1994, including the recent Lost in Space TV reboot. He previously worked with director Tim Story on 2014’s action comedy, Ride Along and its 2016 sequel. He also scored Pitch Perfect 3 and the recent remake of Baywatch. He won an Emmy in 2006 for his score for Supernatural. He has also scored several video games including the James Bond release From Russia With Love, for which he received good reviews for the way he recalled John Barry’s style. An adaptable composer, it will be interesting to see if he can add a distinctive feel to his score for Shaft.
Dark Passage (1947; USA; B&W; 106m) ***½ d. Delmer Daves; w. Delmer Daves; ph. Sid Hickox; m. Franz Waxman. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bruce Bennett, Agnes Moorehead, Tom D’Andrea, Clifton Young, Douglas Kennedy, Rory Mallinson, Houseley Stevenson. A man convicted of murdering his wife escapes from prison and works with a woman to try and prove his innocence. An overly contrived, if admittedly engrossing and entertaining, plot relying on too much coincidence is all but overcome by the strong cast and technical accomplishments. Using the camera as the protagonist’s point-of-view for over half its running time, the gimmick seems a little forced. Bogart doesn’t physically appear until over an hour into the story, but Bacall holds the screen well and their star chemistry is still apparent. Hickox’s photography using the San Francisco locations and dark streets is moodily effective. Daves directs his own screenplay adaptation with a sure hand and uses hand-held cameras to good effect. Moorehead stands out in the supporting cast as a schemer. Based on the novel by David Goodis. [PG]
ABBA: The Movie (1977; Australia/Sweden; Eastmancolor; 95m) ***½ d. Lasse Hallström; w. Lasse Hallström, Robert Caswell; ph. Jack Churchill, Paul Onorato; m. Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Stig Anderson. Cast: Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Fältskog, Robert Hughes, Tom Oliver, Bruce Barry, Stig Anderson. An incompetent radio DJ tries to get an interview with the Swedish pop group ABBA during their famous week-long 1977 tour of Australia. This semi-documentary is both charming and entertaining making the most of both the impressive concert footage of a band at their peak and the side-story of hapless journalist following them. Hughes manages to keep this diversion both funny and diverting. The songs (including “Dancing Queen”, “The Name of the Game”, “Eagle”, “Fernando”, “Waterloo” and many more) are performed with the band’s distinctive polish but retain an energy that gives their adoring audience exactly what they want. Anyone looking for more depth should look elsewhere. [U]
THE FALLEN by ACE ATKINS (2017, Corsair, 358pp) ****
Blurb: Mississippi sheriff Quinn Colson had to admit he admired the bank robbers. A new bank was hit almost every week, and the robbers rushed in and out with such skill and precision it reminded him of raids he’d led back in Afghanistan and Iraq when he was an army ranger. In fact, it reminded him so much of the techniques in the Ranger Handbook that he couldn’t help wondering if the outlaws were former Rangers themselves. And that was definitely going to be a problem. If he stood any chance of catching them, he was going to need the help of old allies, new enemies, and a lot of luck. The enemies he had plenty of. It was the allies and the luck that were going to be in woefully short supply.
The seventh book in Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson series is a strong character driven entry. Its interesting to note that many TV series these days take on season long stories with arcs across their seasons. This was to give the TV series the feel of a novel and explore in depth character as well as plot and sub-plot. Well, we seem to have come full circle as Atkins’ series deftly transfers the concept of cross-season story arcs into his novel series, so with this book we are left on something of a cliffhanger, which leads us to look forward to the next instalment.
Atkins has grown in confidence with the series and this book, whilst it may be light on central plot, is driven by the many sub-plots that lie beneath. This allows him to invest time into his characters, with greater exploration of Colson’s reformed sister Caddy and the new owner of the lap-dancing bar, Fannie Hathcock, in particular. There is also a new love interest for Quinn in the form of Maggie Wilcox, who happens to have a direct link into the central plot as well. The book is also a turning point in the career of Quinn’s deputy, Liilie Virgil.
Atkins writes with great assurance and the dialogue is sparky and humorous; reminiscent of one of his heroes – Elmore Leonard. This then, is another excellent entry in a series that just gets better and better.
The Quinn Colson series:
The Ranger (2011) ***
The Lost Ones (2012) ***
The Broken Place (2013) ***
The Forsaken (2014) ***½
The Redeemers (2015) ****
The Innocents (2016) ***½
The Fallen (2017) ****
The Sinners (2018)
Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The (1948; USA; B&W; 126m) ****½ d. John Huston; w. John Huston; ph. Ted D. McCord; m. Max Steiner. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett, Barton MacLane, Alfonso Bedoya, Arturo Soto Rangel, Manuel Dondé, José Torvay, Margarito Luna. Two Americans searching for work in Mexico, convince an old prospector to help them mine for gold in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Basically, a parable about the human avarice – greed. Biblical overtones in the final act may seem a little heavy-handed but serve to emphasise the moral tone. John Huston directs with great confidence, with his father turning in a spirited performance as the experienced prospector. Bogart is also excellent in an unsympathetic role. Rousing score by Steiner and expressive photography from McCord. Winner of three Oscars for Best Director, Supporting Actor (Walter Huston), Screenplay. Entered 1990 into the National Film Registry. Catch the uncredited appearance by Robert Blake as a boy selling lottery tickets. [PG]