Film Review – THE DEEP (1977)

Image result for the deep 1977 movie posterDeep, The (1977; USA; Metrocolor; 123m) ***  d. Peter Yates; w. Peter Benchley, Tracy Keenan Wynn; ph. Christopher Challis; m. John Barry.  Cast: Robert Shaw, Jacqueline Bisset, Nick Nolte, Louis Gossett Jr., Eli Wallach, Dick Anthony Williams, Bob Minor, Robert Tessier, Earl Maynard, Teddy Tucker, Lee McClain, Peter Benchley, Peter Wallach, Colin Shaw. A pair of young vacationers are involved in a dangerous conflict with treasure hunters when they discover a way into a deadly wreck in Bermuda waters. Riding on the coat-tails of JAWS, this underwater adventure lacks the thrills and tight editing of its inspiration. The positives are the sumptuous photography, shot on location in Bermuda, and Barry’s lush score. Shaw is also at his abrasive best, whilst Nolte and Bisset look good for the camera. The version aired in the original ABC network telecast contained 53m of extra footage. Based on the novel by Peter Benchley. [PG]

Film Review – THE BIG STEAL (1949)

The Big Steal 1949 U.S. Half Sheet PosterBig Steal, The (1949; USA; B&W; 71m) ***  d. Don Siegel; w. Daniel Mainwaring (as Geoffrey Homes), Gerald Drayson Adams; ph. Harry J. Wild; m. Leigh Harline.  Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, William Bendix, Patric Knowles, Ramon Novarro, Don Alvarado, John Qualen, Pascual García Peña. An army lieutenant accused of robbery pursues the real thief on a frantic chase through Mexico aided by the thief’s fiancee. Simple plot is essentially an elongated chase punctuated by fight scenes and gun battles. It is tightly directed in his to be trademark efficient manner by Siegel. Mitchum and Greer are the main sell here and they display strong chemistry trading witty dialogue. There is a lightness of touch to proceedings that tells its audience not to take things too seriously. The movie was filmed in Los Angeles and on location in Tehuacán, Puebla, Mexico. Based on the story “The Road to Carmichael’s” by Richard Wormser. [PG]

Film Review – CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (1948)

Image result for call northside 777Call Northside 777 (1948; USA; B&W; 112m) ***½  d. Henry Hathaway; w. Jerome Cady, Jay Dratler, Leonard Hoffman, Quentin Reynolds; ph. Joseph MacDonald; m. Alfred Newman.  Cast: James Stewart, Richard Conte, Lee J. Cobb, Helen Walker, E.G. Marshall, Kasia Orzazewski, Betty Garde, Moroni Olsen, John McIntire, Paul Harvey, Joanne De Bergh, Howard Smith, Michael Chapin, Samuel S. Hinds, George Pembroke. Chicago reporter P.J. McNeal re-opens a ten-year-old murder case. Documentary-style telling is a little stiff at times and the story is certainly slow to start but it gains significant momentum in its final act. Stewart is as dependable as ever as the hard-nosed reporter and Garde stands out in an interesting supporting cast. The photography is evocative in the film noir style of the day, with contrasting light and shadow making this a technically effective, if dramatically uneven, piece of film-making. First credited film role of McIntire. Based on articles by James P. McGuire. [U]

Film Review – UNFORGIVEN (1992)

Unforgiven (1992; USA; Technicolor; 131m) ****½  d. Clint Eastwood; w. David Webb Peoples; ph. Jack N. Green; m. Lennie Niehaus.  Cast: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, Saul Rubinek, Frances Fisher, Rob Campbell, Anthony James, Shane Meier, Jaimz Woolvett, Anna Levine, David Mucci, Tara Frederick, Liisa Repo-Martell, Beverley Elliott. A retired Old West gunslinger reluctantly takes on one last job, with the help of his old partner and a young man. Eastwood’s revisionist Western strips away the old mythology surrounding the gunfighters and the lawmen, delivering the vulnerable and violent reality of killing. The film is perfectly paced to capture the nuances in the script and the performances of a wonderful cast, with Hackman, Harris, Freeman and Eastwood all turning in note perfect interpretations. Gentle acoustic score by Niehaus adds melancholy to the mix.  Winner of four Oscars: Best Picture; Actor in a Supporting Role (Hackman); Director and Film Editing. Only the third Western to ever win the Best Picture Oscar. The other two being DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990) and CIMARRON (1931). The final screen credit reads, “Dedicated to Sergio and Don”, referring to Eastwood’s mentors, Sergio Leone and Don Siegel. [15]

Book Review – AN OBVIOUS FACT (2016) by Craig Johnson

AN OBVIOUS FACT by CRAIG JOHNSON (2016; Penguin; 318pp) ***
An Obvious Fact by Craig JohnsonBlurbIn the midst of the largest motorcycle rally in the world, a young biker is run off the road and ends up in critical condition. When Sheriff Walt Longmire and his good friend Henry Standing Bear are called to Hulett, Wyoming—the nearest town to America’s first national monument, Devils Tower—to investigate, things start getting complicated. As competing biker gangs; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; a military-grade vehicle donated to the tiny local police force by a wealthy entrepreneur; and Lola, the real-life femme fatale and namesake for Henry’s ’59 Thunderbird (and, by extension, Walt’s granddaughter) come into play, it rapidly becomes clear that there is more to get to the bottom of at this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally than a bike accident. After all, in the words of Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Adventures of Sherlock Holmes the Bear won’t stop quoting, ”There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”
The twelfth novel in Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series is an entertaining read, but shows signs of complacency setting in. Johnson writes engaging characters and witty dialogue, but there is something a little blase about the way they go about their business in this story. The humour is turned up and the thrills turned down and everything feels a little comfortable. The mystery itself isn’t as engaging as the plots in earlier books either. and the whole thing is wrapped up rather conveniently in the epilogue. That said I was never bored and this is probably the fastest and easiest read in the series – the novellas and short stories excepted – just not very challenging. Hopefully, this is not the beginning of a downward turn and The thirteenth novel, The Western Star, will be a return to form.

The Walt Longmire Series:

The Cold Dish (2004) ****
Death Without Company (2006) ****
Kindness Goes Unpunished (2007) ****
Another Man’s Moccasins (2009) ****
The Dark Horse (2010) ****
Junkyard Dogs (2010) *****
Hell is Empty (2011) ****
As the Crow Flies (2012) ****
A Serpent’s Tooth (2013) ****
Spirit of Steamboat (2013 – novella) ****
Any Other Name (2014) ****½
Wait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories (2014 – short story collection) ****
Dry Bones (2015) ****
The Highwayman (2016 – novella) ***½
An Obvious Fact (2016) ***
The Western Star (2017)

TV Review – COME HOME (2018)

Image result for come home tv series 2018Come Home (2018; UK; Colour; 3 x 60m) ***  pr. Madonna Baptiste; d. Andrea Harkin; w. Danny Brocklehurst; ph. Joel Devlin; m. Murray Gold.  Cast. Christopher Eccleston,  Paula Malcomson, Kerri Quinn, Anthony Boyle, Lola Petticrew, Darcey McNeeley, Brandon Brownlee, Patrick O’Kane, Brid Brennan, Derbhle Crotty, Rory Keenan.  When mother Marie (Malcolmson) mysteriously leaves the family home, the repercussions are enormous, but when secrets are revealed from the past, both Marie and her husband Greg (Eccleston) realise they can’t just walk away from their lives. At times this often intense drama captures the depths of despair from both sides of the story with its structuring geared around a balanced perspective and a final episode designed to weight the arguments equally, leading to an almost inevitable conclusion. The story is therefore both authentic and ultimately disappointing. Authentic in that it does not go for the big dramatic climax and disappointing in that the climax itself is anticlimactic. Technical values are good, if at times the camerawork is overly self-indulgent. The performances from Eccleston and Malcolmson feel real and honest. In the end, though, you are left with more of a feeling of voyeurism than engagement – as if you’ve been watching real-life without the protagonists permission. This may well have been the intention, but the result is a good drama that somehow misses out on being something with more to say.

Film Review – THE ENEMY BELOW (1957)

Related imageEnemy Below, The (1957; USA; DeLuxe; 98m) ****  d. Dick Powell; w. Wendell Mayes; ph. Harold Rosson; m. Leigh Harline.  Cast: Robert Mitchum, Curt Jurgens, Russell Collins, Theodore Bikel, Doug McClure, David Hedison, Kurt Kreuger, Frank Albertson, Biff Elliot, Alan Dexter. During World War II, an American destroyer meets a German U-Boat. Both captains are good ones, and the engagement lasts for a considerable time. Suspenseful battle-of-wits war drama benefits from a tight script and strong direction from Powell. Mitchum and Jurgens excel as the duelling captains, who gain a mutual respect whilst trying to destroy each other in order to survive. Finds time to comment on the inhumanity and science of war. Won an Oscar for Special Effects (Walter Rossi). Based on the novel by D.A. Rayner. [PG]

Samuel L Jackson: “I told them that you can’t make John Shaft a comedic character.”

Related imageIn a recent interview reported on People.com Samuel L Jackson talked briefly about the latest Shaft movie. It was originally reported that the film would be an Action/Comedy. This caused much disappointment and anger amongst fans of the original books and films, myself included.

In the interview about the dynamics in black films Jackson says: “When we started the film, the producers wanted to make an action comedy, and I told them that you can’t make John Shaft a comedic character. He can be funny, but he has to be strong, dynamic, and charismatic in all the ways that he was because he is part of our mythology. Shaft is part of our black film anthology. He was a hero and one of the first people we saw to be that kind of a character.”

Whilst this statement on its own is unlikely to convince sceptics, it may offer some faint hope that the filmmakers will take the character seriously. However, with the focus being on the original characters’ nephew and nephew’s son it is unlikely the film will resemble Ernest Tidyman’s vision. Why New Line did not consider re-introducing Tidyman’s original character, whether it be in an update or a retro crime thriller, remains a mystery. Trying to extend the Shaft family (despite it being clear in the novels that Shaft had no siblings) takes us further away from the original character concept. As I have said before, my preference would have been for an adaptation of David F Walker’s comic book “origins story”. But I guess this is more about trying to make money than being authentic and respectful of the Shaft legacy.

Film Review – A TASTE OF HONEY (1961)

Image result for a taste of honey 1961Taste of Honey, A (1961; UK; B&W; 100m) ****  d. Tony Richardson; w. Shelagh Delaney, Tony Richardson; ph. Walter Lassally; m. John Addison.  Cast: Dora Bryan, Rita Tushingham, Robert Stephens, Murray Melvin, Paul Danquah, David Boliver. The moving story of a plain young girl who becomes pregnant by a black sailor, befriends a homosexual, and gradually becomes a woman. A good example of the “kitchen sink” drama with, for the time, daring themes of inter-racial relationships, homosexuality and promiscuity. It’s all splendidly photographed on location in Salford and Blackpool. Bryan scores as the self-centred, but ultimately soft-hearted mother of Tushingham’s rebellious teenager. Richardson directs with a sense of realism and an eye for evocative images. Based on Delaney’s play. [15]

Film Review – FARGO (1996)

Image result for fargo 1996 blurayFargo (1996; USA/UK; DuArt; 98m) ****½  d. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; w. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; ph. Roger Deakins; m. Carter Burwell.  Cast: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, Peter Stormare, Steve Reevis, Kristin Rudrud, John Carroll Lynch, Tony Denman, Gary Houston, Warren Keith, Larry Brandenburg, Bruce Bohne. Jerry Lundegaard’s inept crime falls apart due to his and his henchmen’s bungling and the persistent police work of the quite pregnant Marge Gunderson. A darkly comic and violent thriller set against a cold and snowy backdrop with winning performances from a strong cast. McDormand and Buscemi are standouts who make the most of the Coen Bothers’ Oscar winning screenplay. Followed by a 60m pilot for a TV series, which didn’t sell, but a series was eventually taken up in 2014. [18]