Dracula (1931; USA; B&W; 75m) **** d. Tod Browning; w. Louis Bromfield, Tod Browning, Max Cohen, Dudley Murphy, Louis Stevens; ph. Karl Freund; m. Philip Glass (1999 release). Cast: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, David Manners, Herbert Bunston, Michael Visaroff, Frances Dade, Joan Standing, Charles K. Gerrard, Dorothy Tree, Tod Browning. The ancient vampire Count Dracula arrives in England and begins to prey upon the virtuous young Mina. The original Universal horror shows many signs of its age – from its static stage play background, lack of musical score to build the tension and hammy acting – particularly from Lugosi in the lead. However, these faults have to be taken in the context of the history it helped create. Despite his sometimes overwrought delivery, Lugosi does create a hypnotic spell over his victims and the audience. Frye gives the film’s best performance as Dracula’s fly-eating servant, his descent into which is set up in the opening sequence. The production design is truly gothic and helps create an atmosphere of unease. Much better was to follow, but this is still a historic moment in cinema history. Universal released a newly restored version of the film in 1999 that included a musical score by Glass. The original “Swan Lake” music during the opening credits was removed. Based on the play by Hamilton Deane, John L. Balderston and Garrett Fort adapted from the novel by Bram Stoker. Followed by DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936). [PG]
Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The (1966; Italy/Spain/West Germany; Technicolor; 161m) ***** d. Sergio Leone; w. Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone; ph. Tonino Delli Colli; m. Ennio Morricone. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, Aldo Giuffre, Chelo Alonso, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli, Aldo Sambrell, Rada Rassimov, Enzo Petito, Claudio Scarchilli, John Bartha, Livio Lorenzon, Antonio Casale, Sandro Scarchilli. A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery. The third film in Sergio Leone’s “Dollar” trilogy is a masterpiece of filmmaking. Its simple plot of three gunmen on the trail of gold during the American Civil War has so much more depth. Yes, one can say it stretches its running time, but there is always something that keeps the viewer involved. Comments on the futility of war are set to some truly stunning images and against a score, by Ennio Morricone, that set a new level for the medium. Eastwood, Van Cleef and especially Wallach are memorable as the three protagonists, but it’s the small moments in this truly epic Western that set it apart. The full Italian version runs about 175m. Original title: IL BUONO, IL BRUTTO, IL CATTIVO. 
Luther: Series 5 (TV) (2019; UK; Colour; 4 x 60m) **½ pr. Derek Ritchie; d. Jamie Payne; w. Neil Cross; ph. John Pardue; ed. Jamie Trevill. Cast: Idris Elba, Ruth Wilson, Dermot Crowley, Enzo Cilenti, Hermione Norris, Patrick Malahide, Michael Smiley, Wunmi Mosaku, Lewis Young, Sonita Henry, Luke Westlake, Lex Daniel, Michael Obiora, Katie Brayben, Paul McGann, Roberta Taylor, Anthony Howell, Nicholas Asbury. When a series of seemingly indiscriminate killings become ever more audacious Luther and new recruit DS Catherine Halliday are confounded by a tangle of leads and misdirection that appears designed to protect an untouchable corruption. Relentlessly grim and often strangely compelling, but ultimately too implausible to be fulfilling. When almost every major character, including the detective hunting them, seems to have psychological issues resulting in disturbingly violent actions there is little empathy to be invested in the characters and we are left with a feeling of being a voyeur to the sick and gruesome acts of murder. The detective work is also clumsily written with us having to accept Luther’s brilliant deductions as inexplicable foresight, rather than clever analysis. This is no police procedural. In all the key chase and heavy drama scenes, the rest of the populace of London also seem to strangely disappear, giving the whole thing a feeling of being acted out on some different plane as if we are observing an alternative reality. This may have been deliberate to intensify the drama, but adds to the false sense of environment. That’s perhaps as well as any police force that operated in the way this one does would be dragged across the coals. There are moments to enjoy amidst the horror – notably some moments of black humour and the performances of Cilente and Malahide in contrasting roles; the former as a psychotic killer and the latter an old-school gangster. The re-appearance of Wilson’s character (another psychotic killer), whilst resolving issues that hung over from previous stories, is actually a distraction from the more interesting elements of this story. Elba’s Luther is at the centre of everything and, for the most part, keeps you just about on his side, despite his increasingly bizarre behaviour, until the two plot strands come to a head. Ultimately though this is sensationalism TV that draws the viewer to it like a seedy newspaper headline. As such its widespread appeal, which perhaps it does not deserve, is guaranteed.
Doctor Who: Resolution (TV) (2019; UK; Colour; 60m) **** pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Wayne Che Yip; w. Chris Chibnall; ph. Sam Heasman; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Charlotte Ritchie, Nikesh Patel, Daniel Adegboyega, Darryl Clark, Nicholas Briggs (voice). As the New Year begins, a terrifying evil is stirring, from across the centuries of Earth’s history. As the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz return home, will they be able to overcome the threat to planet Earth? Finally, a story that offers a real alien threat and feels like proper “Doctor Who”. That’s not to say the episode was perfect. There are still too many companions and the sub-plot with Ryan’s father felt like it had been bolted on. The Dalek threat though offered a new twist and was well realised. Imagery has been borrowed from earlier adventures but used in a creative and frightening way here. There were moments when the dialogue felt forced and the moments of humour over-worked, but overall this is far more impressive than anything seen during the season’s full run. This was also Whittaker’s best performance to date. Whether the production team will build from this we’ll have to wait a year or more to find out.
LETHAL WHITE (2018) ***
by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Published by Sphere, 2018, 650pp
Blurb: When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic. Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott – once his assistant, now a partner in the agency – set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside. And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been – Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much more tricky than that…
The fourth Cormoran Strike novel is a long, twisting mystery with a sophisticated plot and a colourful cast of eccentric characters. Rowling has a tendency to increase the page count in her series novels as they progress. There is certainly enough complexity in this mystery to warrant a longer novel, but at 650 pages you have to ask whether this could have been pruned back. The domestic stuff, whilst helping flesh out the central characters, does often get in the way of the developing mystery. Rowling is seemingly running story arcs through these novels as a hook for the reader to return for the next instalment.
The book initially progresses slowly through a blackmail plot against a government minister during the run-up to the 2012 Olympics. Robin goes undercover to tease out information against the perpetrators. At the half-way point, the story takes a sharp turn and the plot thickens into a murder mystery. The pace quickens from here as the detective duo gradually unravel the mystery and the finale is a tense play-off. Whilst the plot here is probably the most labyrinthine of Rowling’s novels at the same time it is perhaps the least involving. Most of the characters come across as either spoilt, rich brats or anarchists with a chip on their shoulder. The reader, therefore, would be happy to see any of them unmasked as the chief villain. The only sympathetic major character outside of the two detectives is the mentally disturbed Billy. The resolution of his story of sinister childhood memory is much more satisfactory. There is also a tendency to gloss over of the police involvement in the case. Their seeming happiness for Strike to do their job for them does not ring true and there is an absence of the conflict evident in the earlier books.
Rowling has created a likeable detective team with this series and I look forward to their next outing but hope Rowling’s editors have more of a say in its pacing.
Entertainment Weekly has published what they say is the first official image from the upcoming Shaft movie due to be released in June of 2019. The image shows the three generations of Shaft – Jessie T Usher, Samuel L Jackson and Richard Roundtree – with Alexandra Shipp.
Jackson had this to say of his return to the role he first played in 2000: “He’s mellowed a bit. He’s not quite as crazy and cynical. Maybe a bit more devil-may-care the last time we saw him. But still an extremely dangerous and funny character.”
Out of the Past (1947; USA; B&W; 97m) ***** d. Jacques Tourneur; w. Daniel Mainwaring; ph. Nicholas Musuraca; m. Roy Webb. Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, Steve Brodie, Richard Webb, Virginia Huston, Dickie Moore, Frank Wilcox, Mary Field, Paul Valentine, Ken Niles, Oliver Blake, James Bush, John Kellogg. A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double-crosses and duplicitous dames. Classic film noir is brilliantly structured and immaculately directed by Tourneur with crackling dialogue. Mitchum and Greer give standout performances as opportunistic lovers thrown together by fate. Douglas is the sleazy gambler making up the triangle. Cross follows double-cross and it hangs together until its ironic final twist. A masterclass in film-making. Mainwaring adapted his own novel “Build My Gallows High”, which was also the UK title of the film on its original release. Remade as AGAINST ALL ODDS (1984). [PG]
Last Picture Show, The (1971; USA; B&W; 118m) ****½ d. Peter Bogdanovich; w. Peter Bogdanovich, Larry McMurtry; ph. Robert Surtees; m. Phil Harris, Johnny Standley, Hank Thompson. Cast: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Eileen Brennan, Clu Gulager, Sam Bottoms, Randy Quaid, Joe Heathcock, Bill Thurman, Jessie Lee Fulton, John Hillerman, Noble Willingham, Grover Lewis, Kimberly Hyde, Gary Brockette, Sharon Taggart. In 1951, a group of high schoolers come of age in a bleak, isolated, atrophied West Texas town that is slowly dying, both culturally and economically. Superbly acted drama populated by imperfect characters trying to make a sense of their lives in a dying Texas town. Bogdanovich gives the characters room to breathe and adds a directorial flourish to create an overarching sense of sadness. The 1950s setting is realistically realised through Polly Platt’s production design and Surtees’ black-and-white cinematography. Won Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Johnson) and Supporting Actress (Leachman) as well as receiving six other nominations. Based on the novel by Larry McMurtry. Director’s cut runs 126m. Followed by TEXASVILLE (1990). 
Curse of the Jade Scorpion, The (2001; USA; Technicolor; 103m) ***½ d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Fei Zhao; m. Jill Meyers (clearances). Cast: Woody Allen, Dan Aykroyd, Helen Hunt, Charlize Theron, Elizabeth Berkley, Wallace Shawn, David Ogden Stiers, Brian Markinson, John Schuck, Peter Linari. An insurance investigator and an efficiency expert who hate each other are both hypnotized by a crooked hypnotist with a jade scorpion into stealing jewels. Lightweight Allen film has some nice touches of parody on 1940s film noir and Raymond Chandler. The verbal sparring between Allen and Hunt is also reminiscent of screwball comedies from the era. High production values and a good supporting cast add much to the mix. Notable amongst them is Theron as a spoilt rich floozy. This was Allen’s most expensive film to date. 
Doctor Who: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 49m) *** pr. Alex Mercer; d. Jamie Childs; w. Chris Chibnall; ph. Sam Heasman; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Mark Addy, Phyllis Logan, Percelle Ascott, Jan Lee, Samuel Oatley. On the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos, lies the remains of a brutal battlefield. But as the Doctor, Graham, Yaz and Ryan answer nine separate distress calls, they discover the planet holds far more secrets. Who is the mysterious commander with no memory? What lies beyond the mists? Who or what are the Ux? The answers will lead the Doctor and her friends towards a deadly reckoning. Season finale lacks the sense of occasion of previous seasons. The story is okay, but again the alien threat is too easily nullified and there is no real sense of jeopardy as everything feels so rushed – it was a mistake (one of many) not to sprinkle some two-parters into this series. The performances are uneven, with Gill and Cole too wooden in their parts. The best performances come from Addy and Walsh. Jodie Whittaker appears to have settled into a one-tone approach to her performance as the Doctor and many of the jokey lines feel more than a little bit wearisome. It’s all nicely shot and the visuals are very impressive. The theme of “cause and effect” by tying into THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH feels tokenistic. It provides a bookend feel to the season, but there is no real sense of wonder or surprise. An average end to what has been a disappointingly average series.