Way Out West (1937; USA; B&W; 64m) ∗∗∗∗∗ d. James W. Horne; w. Jack Jevne, Charley Rogers, Felix Adler, James Parrott; ph. Art Lloyd, Walter Lundin; m. Marvin Hatley (musical director). Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson, Sharon Lynn, Jim Mason, James C. Morton, Mary Gordon, Stanley Fields, Chill Wills, Sam Lufkin. Stan and Ollie are charged with delivering the deed to a valuable gold mine to the daughter of a dead prospector. Just over an hour of pure joy, this is one of the greatest pleasures in screen history. L&H are in top form here as they perform a charming soft-shoe shuffle and sing “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine”. Packed with stand-out comedy moments and many of their very best routines. [U]
Living Daylights, The (1987; UK; Technicolor; 130m) ∗∗∗ d. John Glen; w. Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson; ph. Alec Mills; m. John Barry. Cast: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Jeroen Krabbé, Joe Don Baker, John Rhys-Davies, Art Malik, Andreas Wisniewski, Thomas Wheatley, Desmond Llewelyn, Robert Brown, Geoffrey Keen, Walter Gotell, Caroline Bliss, John Terry, Virginia Hey. James Bond is living on the edge to stop an evil arms dealer from starting another world war. Bond crosses all seven continents in order to stop the evil Whitaker and General Koskov. Dalton makes an effective and more serious 007 in an entertaining addition to the series. There are still moments of outlandish humour, but these are kept mainly in check. The plot lacks depth and a charismatic villain, but whilst overlong the film delivers some strong action sequences and gives a failing franchise the kiss of life. Based on a short story by Ian Fleming. [PG]
THE HUSBANDS OF RIVER SONG
1 episode / 56m / 25 December 2015
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Douglas Mackinnon
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Alex Kingston (River Song), Matt Lucas (Nardole), Greg Davies (King Hydroflax), Rowan Polonski (Flemming), Robert Curtis (Scratch), Chris Lew Kum Hoi (Alphonse), Phillip Rhys (Ramone), Anthony Cozens (Concierge), Nicolle Smartt (Receptionist), Liam Cook (King Hydroflax’s body), Nonso Anozie (Voice of Hydroflax).
Plot: It’s Christmas Day on a remote human colony and the Doctor is hiding from Christmas Carols and Comedy Antlers. But when a crashed spaceship calls upon the Doctor for help, he finds himself recruited into River Song’s squad and hurled into a fast and frantic chase across the galaxy. King Hydroflax (Greg Davies) is furious, and his giant Robot bodyguard is out of control and coming for them all! Will Nardole (Matt Lucas) survive? And when will River Song work out who the Doctor is? All will be revealed on a starliner full of galactic super-villains and a destination the Doctor has been avoiding for a very long time.
Comment: Christmas specials have been a hit-and-miss affairs over the years and this particular episode demonstrates the inconsistency perfectly. Obviously written as a fun romp with a seasonal theme it is often amusing, but seldom challenging. That is probably the point. Who wants heavy drama on Christmas Day other than fans of Eastenders? This episode, therefore, is not meant to be a serious addition to the series, merely an entertaining diversion. As such it provides contrast when compared with the majority of series 9 through the lightness of its approach. Capaldi demonstrates his true range by being as adept at comedy as he is at drama. The plot really isn’t worth scrutinising and the whole episode is merely contrived to re-introduce Alex Kingston’s River Song. Her return is welcome, but her seeming inability to recognise the new Doctor even when presented with his TARDIS seems inappropriately dim. Their scenes together, however, demonstrate a strong chemistry given the high level of association the character has with the Matt Smith era. In all this is an enjoyable, if light, addition to the annual Christmas Day outings.
ONLY TO DIE AGAIN by PATRICK LEE (2015, Penguin, 375pp) ∗∗∗
Blurb: A DESPERATE PLEA FOR HELP The middle of the night. Sam Dryden takes a call from an old friend from his days in the military. She needs his help. Urgently. There’s no further explanation. A RACE AGAINST TIME Two hours later, Dryden and his former teammate smash their way in to a remote desert shack. Inside they discover four young girls, caged and threatened with death by their abductor. Dryden acts. AN IMPOSSIBLE SECRET But how had Dryden’s friend known what about to unfold? Why was it so important that they flee the scene before the police arrive? Only one thing is certain: Dryden is now facing a ruthless enemy that always seems to be one step ahead . . .
Time paradox stories are generally hard to pull off due to the huge potential for plot holes, contrivances and loose ends. This book, whilst being expertly written and generating a good deal of suspense, is no exception to the rule. Lee is a very accomplished writer of action scenes and paces his novel expertly, but I can’t shake the feeling of it all being a little pointless with an abundance of future scenarios played out creating confusion, despite the relatively simple core plot.
The opening of the book is the best section and creates much intrigue, but once the core McGuffin of the plot is revealed, the book quickly starts to resemble a race-against-time sci-fi action thriller movie. Sam Dryden is the functional action hero, a war vet who manages to dodge every bullet imaginable. The reveal of the true villain of the piece comes as little surprise given the few options presented. That said, the book’s welcome brevity and fast pace meant it managed to hold my interest through to its rather predictable finale.
In the US the book was released under the title of SIGNAL and is the second book in the Sam Dryden series, following 2014’s RUNNER.
Having released A 4-CD retrospective with A Chord Too Far through Esoteric, Tony Banks follows up with the planned phased release of his back catalogue. A Curious Feeling (1979) had already been released in 2009 and will be re-released on 26 February 2016 alongside 1983’s The Fugitive. Both albums will be released as a CD (stereo remixes) + DVD (including 5.1 remixes) deluxe edition, complete with hardback book and notes from Banks, alongside standard CD edition and 180 gram vinyl LP.
The remix/remasters have been prepared by long-time collaborating producer/engineer Nick Davis, who worked on the Genesis back catalogue. The cuts for the vinyl LPs were prepared at Abbey Road studios.
Mike Bunge has contributed a well-written article for KIMT.com comparing Shaft (1971) with Shaft (2000). The article explores the respective attitudes of the studios and film makers for each production and makes a convincing case for the original over the “reboot”.
In his summary Mike states, “Shaft (1971) is bold and provocative but with real intelligence and depth to back it up. It’s also a lot of fun. Shaft (2000) is timid and stupid and boring. The former tried to represent African-Americans as they are and wish to be seen. The latter wanted to trade on the original’s reputation to squeeze the price of a ticket out of as many people as possible.”
The Bleeding Cool website has published details of the Part 2 of Shaft: Imitation of Life, David F. Walker’s new Shaft comic book series. The cover A for Part 2 is again courtesy of Matthew Clark and the blurb reads as follows:
Having grown tired of dangerous cases that lead to violence, private detective John Shaft decides it’s time to earn some easy money. His first job? Working as a consultant on a film about a black private dick. Award-winning author David F. Walker (Cyborg, Power Man & Iron Fist) proudly delivers the second chapter, entitled “Easy Money”, of the hard-hittin’, tough-talkin’ John Shaft’s latest case!
Part 2 is due out on 9 March, with Part 1 set for release on 3 February.
Small Time Crooks (2000; USA; Technicolor; 94m) ∗∗∗½ d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Fei Zhao. Cast: Woody Allen, Tracey Ullman, Michael Rapaport, Tony Darrow, Jon Lovitz, Elaine May, Elaine Stritch, Hugh Grant, George Grizzard, Brian McConnachie, Sam Josepher, Carolyn Saxon, Lawrence Howard Levy, Julie Lund, Maurice Sonnenberg. A loser of a crook and his wife strike it rich when a botched bank job’s cover business becomes a spectacular success. The first half of this movie sees Allen in top form with his bumbling team of bank robbers and sparring amusingly with the excellent Ullman as his cookie baking wife. Then there is a shift in gear and tone as Allen’s tale becomes more concerned in its message that class cannot be bought or stolen. Ultimately uneven, but with moments of great comedy. [PG]
In the interview Walker says: “Shaft is still in a bad place mentally following the case he worked in the original Tidyman novel—which is detailed in the first issue. He needs to get back to work, and he takes a missing persons case that he knows probably can’t be solved, but is easy money.”
For this series Walker is working with a different artist for this particular series, with Dietrich Smith replacing Bilquis Evely, of whom he says: “Dietrich has a much grittier style, and it serves the story and the character, because John Shaft is in a much grittier place.”
Walker also recently posted some samples of the original ink work and his own lettering (see above) to his Twitter site.
Holiday, The (2006; USA; DeLuxe; 138m) ∗∗∗½ d. Nancy Meyers; w. Nancy Meyers; ph. Dean Cundey; m. Hans Zimmer. Cast: Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach, Edward Burns, Rufus Sewell, Miffy Englefield, Emma Pritchard, Sarah Parish, Shannyn Sossamon, Bill Macy, Shelley Berman, Kathryn Hahn, John Krasinski. Two women troubled with guy-problems swap homes in each other’s countries, where they each meet a local guy and fall in love. Engaging, if predictable, rom-com with Diaz and Law having a winning chemistry that is somewhat lacking between Winslet and Black. Wallach gives a wonderful turn as an old Hollywood writer who Winslet takes under her wing.