Film Review – STARGATE (1994)

Stargate (1994; France/USA; DeLuxe; 121m) ∗∗∗  d. Roland Emmerich; w. Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich; ph. Karl Walter Lindenlaub; m. David Arnold.  Cast: James Spader, Kurt Russell, Jaye Davidson, Viveca Lindfors, Alexis Cruz, Mili Aveital, Leon Rippy, John Diehl, Carlos Lauchu, Djimon Hounsou, Erick Avari, French Stewart, Gianin Loffler, Christopher John Fields, Derek Webster. An interstellar teleportation device, found in Egypt, leads to a planet with humans resembling ancient Egyptians who worship the god Ra. It makes up in scope and heart what it lacks in originality. This may not challenge the brain, but is a rousing and action-packed sci-fi/fantasy adventure. Spader scores as a linguist forced into the centre of the action and Russell emits cool as the leader of the military reconnaissance team. Special Edition runs 128m and Director’s Cut 130m. Followed by a TV franchise commencing with Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007). [PG]

Book Review – THE DRY (2016) by Jane Harper

THE DRY by JANE HARPER (2016, Abacus, 404pp) ∗∗∗∗

The Dry (Paperback)Blurb: Who really killed the Hadler family? In the small town of Kiewarra, it hasn’t rained for two years. Swept up in the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, the town crackles with seething malice and unvoiced grudges. Tensions in the community are at breaking point when three members of the Hadler family are suddenly brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty, but is he just an easy scapegoat? Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.

Jane Harper’s debut novel is a confident mystery thriller with an evocative closed community setting. The book links together two mysteries – one in the present, the other from twenty years earlier. Harper’s detective hero, Aaron Falk, is linked to the mystery from the past via his friend, Luke Hadler, who along with his family are the victims of the mystery of the present. Both are seeming suicides and may be linked. The book unravels these mysteries through clever use of flashback passages, frequently interspersed with the present day case. Chapters and scenes are edited so as to keep the reader turning the pages. The characters are vividly drawn and the reader is left guessing right up until the reveal. A strong debut for a proposed series.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: THE EATERS OF LIGHT (2017)

Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light (TV) (2017: UK: Colour: 42m) ∗∗∗½  pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Charles Palmer; w. Rona Munro; ph. Mark Waters; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Pearl Mackie , Michelle Gomez, Rebecca Benson, Daniel Kerr, Brian Vernel, Rohan Nedd, Ben Hunter, Sam Adewunmi, Billy Matthews, Aaron Phagura, Jocelyn Brassington, Lewis McGowan. A long time ago, the ninth legion of the Roman army vanished into the mists of Scotland. Bill has a theory about what happened, and the Doctor has a time machine. But when they arrive in ancient Aberdeenshire, what they find is a far greater threat than any army. In a cairn, on a hillside, is a doorway leading to the end of the world. Another variant on the ‘monster of the week’ theme, working slightly better than EMPRESS OF MARS thanks to a more polished script from Munro (the only writer from the original series to pen a story since the 2005 relaunch – 1989’s SURVIVAL, the last broadcast story of the original run. What lets the episode down is the variable performances given by the young guest cast, contrasting with the confident ones from the regulars, some dodgy CGI and an overly neat ending. Its familiarity actually makes a welcome break from Moffat’s high concept episodes and is a diverting enough tale. [12]

Film Review – THE IPCRESS FILE (1965)

Image result for the ipcress file 1965 blu-rayIpcress File, The (1965; UK; Technicolor; 109m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Sidney J. Furie; w. W.H. Canaway, James Doran; ph. Otto Heller; m. John Barry.  Cast: Michael Caine, Nigel Green, Guy Doleman, Sue Lloyd, Gordon Jackson, Aubrey Richards, Frank Gatliff, Thomas Baptiste, Oliver MacGreevy, Freda Bamford, Pauline Winter, Anthony Blackshaw, Barry Raymond, David Glover, Stanley Meadows. In London, a counter espionage agent deals with his own bureaucracy while investigating the kidnapping and brainwashing of British scientists. First-rate and gritty spy thriller with a typically complex plot. Caine’s hero is the antithesis of James Bond, with his ordinary lifestyle and lack of glamour. Brainwashing sequence in the final act is effectively shot and acted. John Barry’s moody score adds significantly to the cold atmosphere of espionage and deceit. Based on the book by Len Deighton. Followed by two sequels – FUNERAL IN BERLIN (1966) and BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN (1967) – and later two direct to video releases – BULLET TO BEIJING (1995) and MIDNIGHT IN SAINT PETERSBURG (1996). [PG]

Film Review – DEATH WISH (1974)

Image result for death wish 1974Death Wish (1974; USA; Technicolor; 93m) ∗∗½  d. Michael Winner; w. Wendell Mayes; ph. Arthur J. Ornitz; m. Herbert Hancock.  Cast: Charles Bronson, Vincent Gardenia, William Redfield, Hope Lange, Stuart Margolin, Stephen Keats, William Redfield, Jack Wallace, Jeff Goldblum. A New York City architect becomes a one-man vigilante squad after his wife is murdered by street punks in which he randomly goes out and kills would-be muggers on the mean streets after dark. Sensationalist crime thriller became influential because of its subject matter and its connection with the public due to the time at which it was filmed, rather than for the quality of the product. Gardenia’s performance adds a level of class to this crowd-pleaser, but Winner’s direction is inconsistent and lacks subtlety. Film debut of Goldblum. Based on the novel by Brian Garfield. Four sequels followed. Remade in 2017. [18]

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO – EMPRESS OF MARS (2017)

Image result for empress of marsDoctor Who: Empres of Mars (TV) (2017: UK: Colour: 44m) ∗∗∗  pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Wayne Che Yip; w. Mark Gatiss; ph. Stuart Biddlecombe; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Pearl Mackie , Michelle Gomez, Anthony Calf, Ferdinand Kingsley, Richard Ashton, Adele Lynch, Glenn Speers, Ian Beattie, Bayo Gbadamosi, Ian Hughes, Lesley Ewen.  The Doctor, Bill and Nardole arrive on Mars, and find themselves in an impossible conflict between Ice Warriors… and Victorian soldiers. As the Martian hive awakens around them, the Doctor faces a unique dilemma – this time the humans, not the Ice Warriors are the invaders. When Earth is invading Mars, whose side is he on? A return to the “monster of the week” format and a hark back to the stories of the 1960s with a post-modern twist. It’s all entertaining enough without really generating any suspense. The underground setting proves restrictive and the Ice Warriors lack the menace of old, being portrayed as hulking monsters with thudding footsteps. [12]

Book Review – THE REDEEMERS (2015) by Ace Atkins

THE REDEEMERS by ACE ATKINS (2015, Corsair, 370pp) ∗∗∗∗

Blurb: He is only in his early thirties, but now Quinn Colson is jobless – voted out of office as sheriff of Tibbehah County, Mississippi, thanks to the machinations of county kingpin Johnny Stagg. He has offers, in bigger and better places, but before he goes, he’s got one more job to do – bring down Stagg’s criminal operations for good. At least that’s the plan. But in the middle of the long, hot summer, a trio of criminals stage a bold, wall-smashing break-in at the home of a local lumber mill owner, making off with a million dollars in cash from his safe, which is curious, because the mill owner is wealthy – but not that wealthy. None of this has anything to do with Colson, but during the investigation, two men are killed, one of them the new sheriff. His friend, acting sheriff Lillie Virgil, and a dangerous former flame, Anna Lee Stevens, both ask him to step in, and reluctantly he does, only to discover that that safe contained more than just money – it held secrets. Secrets that could either save Colson – or destroy him once and for all.

The fifth novel in Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson series is the closest the author has come to emulating one of his writing heroes – Elmore Leonard. The story is populated with the type of characters Leonard employed in many of his crime novels set in the modern west. The plot itself is slight, being centred around a robbery, but the character interaction, double-crossing and the bigger picture of Colson’s mission to put Johnny Stagg behind bars keep the pages turning. Atkins has a great handle on his characters and embellishes them through their salty dialogue. Whilst the plot itself reaches a conclusion, some of the domestic threads that have ran through the series are left loose. there is also a signal in the series taking a change of direction in its final pages. Another strong addition to an excellent series.

Film Review – SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956)

Image result for seven men from nowSeven Men from Now (1956; USA; Colour; 78m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Budd Boetticher; w. Burt Kennedy; ph. William H. Clothier; m. Henry Vars.  Cast: Randolph Scott, Gail Russell, Lee Marvin, Walter Reed, John Larch, Don ‘Red’ Barry, Fred Graham, John Beradino, John Phillips, Chuck Roberson, Stuart Whitman, Pamela Duncan. Ex-sheriff Ben Stride tracks the seven men who held up a Wells Fargo office and killed his wife. Tightly directed Western with Scott in fine form as the brooding ex-sheriff and Marvin also excellent as a chancer looking to profit. Scenic photography and the smitten Russell add to the ingredients, making this one of the finest of the star and directors’ collaborations. [PG]

Film Review – THE HOLLOW POINT (2016)

Image result for the hollow point 2016Hollow Point, The (2016; USA; Colour; 97m) ∗∗  d. Gonzalo López-Gallego; w. Nils Lyew; ph. José David Montero; m. Juan Navazo.  Cast: Patrick Wilson, Ian McShane, James Belushi, Lynn Collins, John Leguizamo, Nathan Stevens, Michael Flynn, Karli Hall, Heather Beers. A new sheriff of a small town along the U.S. & Mexico border investigates a drug cartel deal that went horribly wrong. Dark, violent modern Western. Efficiently made but the sensationalist script leaves us with no-one to root for and there is little in terms of scope outside of its formulaic chase thriller premise. McShane fails to convince as a Texas sheriff and Wilson struggles to hit the right note as his deputy. [15]

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO – EXTREMIS/THE PYRAMID AT THE END OF THE WORLD/THE LIE OF THE LAND (2017)

Image result for DOCTOR WHO EXTREMISDoctor Who: (1) Extremis/(2) The Pyramid at the End of the World/(3) The Lie of the Land (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 140m) ∗∗∗½   pr. Peter Bennett (1 & 2), Nikki Wilson (3); d. Daniel Nettheim (1 & 2), Wayne Che Yip (3); w. Steven Moffat (1 & 2),  Peter Harness (2), Toby Whithouse (3); ph. Ashley Rowe; m. Murray Gold.  Cast: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas , Michelle Gomez, Jennifer Hennessy, Corrado Invernizzi, Joseph Long, Jamie Hill, Togo Igawa, Nigel Hastings, Eben Young, Rachel Denning, Tony Gardner, Andrew Byron, Daphne Cheung, Rosie Jane. (1) In the Haereticum – the Vatican’s secret library of blasphemy – there is an ancient book known only as The Veritas. Throughout history, anyone who has ever read it has immediately taken their own life. Now a new translation is online, and the danger is spreading. The Vatican appeals to the Doctor. Will he read The Veritas? But can even the Image result for DOCTOR WHO THE LIE OF THE LANDDoctor survive the ultimate truth? (2) A 5,000 year-old Pyramid stands at the centre of a war zone, where the Chinese, Russian and American armies are about to clash. There are many problems with that, but the one that intrigues the Doctor is this: there wasn’t a pyramid there yesterday. The Doctor, Bill and Nardole face an alien invasion unlike any other, and before conquest can begin, these aliens need the consent of the human race… (3) The world is gripped by a mass delusion and only Bill Potts can see the truth. When even the Doctor is fighting on the wrong side, it’s up to Bill to convince the Time Lord that humanity is in deadly danger. And if she can’t do that, she may just have to kill her best friend. Frustratingly close to being a superb example of the series at its best, but let down by a weak resolution. The second segment is the strongest with the tension building to a superb cliffhanger only to be undone by a confused and rushed finale. [12]