Shadows and Fog (1992; USA; B&W; 85m) ∗∗∗ d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Carlo Di Palma. Cast: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, John Malkovich, Madonna, Kathy Bates, Jodie Foster, Kate Nelligan, Donald Pleasence, Lily Tomlin, John Cusack, Michael Kirby, Camille Saviola, David Ogden Stiers, Dennis Vestunis, Katy Dierlam. With a serial strangler on the loose, a bookkeeper wanders around town searching for the vigilante group intent on catching the killer. Allen mimics German Expressionism whilst channelling Bob Hope in this dark comedy. The cinematography and production design (by Santo Loquasto) is outstanding. There are star cameos throughout, which sometimes distracts from the story. Ultimately, the main plot goes nowhere and is a mere cypher for character interactions, which lack depth. An interesting, but flawed, experiment. Based on a one-act comedy play called “Death”, published in Allen’s “Without Feathers” (1972), the play and movie are themselves a pastiche of Franz Kafka’s work in general, and of his novel “The Trial” in particular. 
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969; USA; DeLuxe; 110m) ∗∗∗∗∗ d. George Roy Hill; w. William Goldman; ph. Conrad L. Hall; m. Burt Bacharach. Cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, Strother Martin, Henry Jones, Cloris Leachman, Jeff Corey, George Furth, Kenneth Mars, Ted Cassidy, Donnelly Rhodes, Jody Gilbert, Timothy Scott, Don Keefer. Two Western bank/train robbers flee to Bolivia when the law gets too close. Newman and Redford establish a charismatic chemistry and make the most of Goldman’s witty screenplay. Hill’s direction is spot-on capturing the end of an era in the American West through his use of visual dynamics emphasised by Hall’s evocative cinematography. One of the great Westerns that bears repeated viewings. Sam Elliott’s feature film debut. Won Oscars for Screenplay, Cinematography, Music and Song for “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”. Followed by a prequel BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS (1979). [PG]
Devil’s Double, The (2011; Belgium/Netherlands; Colour; 109m) ∗∗∗½ d. Lee Tamahori; w. Michael Thomas; ph. Sam McCurdy; m. Christian Henson. Cast: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi, Philip Quast, Mimoun Oaïssa, Khalid Laith, Dar Salim, Mem Ferda, Nasser Memarzia, Oona Chaplin. A chilling vision of the House of Saddam Hussein comes to life through the eyes of the man who was forced to become the double of Hussein’s sadistic son, Uday. Relentlessly grim study of the Iraqi regime contains a powerful performance from Cooper. He is so good you forget he is playing both parts. The script may lack depth, but it succeeds in shocking the viewer through its graphic depiction of a crazed monster. Based on the book by Latif Yahia. 
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989; USA; DuArt; 104m) ∗∗∗∗∗ d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Sven Nykvist; m. Joe Malin (co-ordinator). Cast: Alan Alda, Woody Allen, Martin Landau, Claire Bloom, Jerry Orbach, Mia Farrow, Anjelica Huston, Dolores Sutton, Sam Waterston, Joanna Gleason, Stephanie Roth Haberle, Gregg Edelman, Daryl Hannah, Kenny Vance, Joel Fogel. An opthamologist’s mistress threatens to reveal their affair to his wife, while a married documentary filmmaker is infatuated by another woman. Allen’s examination of the moral dilemma is played out over two intertwining stories – one deadly and darkly serious, the other satirically comic with Allen delivering incisive one-liners. That the cocktail works beautifully is a credit to Allen’s skills as writer and director. Landau and Huston deliver scintillatingly real performances. Alda is also superb as a pompous TV producer. 
SHALL WE TELL THE PRESIDENT by JEFFREY ARCHER (1986, Pan, 331pp) ∗∗∗
Blurb: At the end of The Prodigal Daughter, Florentyna Kane is elected President – the first woman President of the United States. At 7.30 one evening the FBI learn of a plot to kill her – the 1572nd such threat of the year. At 8.30 five people know all the details. By 9.30 four of them are dead. FBI agent Mark Andrews alone knows when. He also knows that a senator is involved. He has six days to learn where – and how. Six days to prevent certain death of the President.
This is the revised version of Archer’s original novel, which was published in 1977, with characters altered to form part of his Kane and Abel trilogy. The story is a traditional race against the clock thriller with it’s hero, FBI Mark Andrews, making a poor detective who walks past vital clues whilst attempting to foil a plot to kill America’s first female President. Archer’s writing style is a little too British for the subject matter and inconsistent – sometimes tight and at other times meandering – but he somehow manages to maintain the reader’s interest throughout. Throw in a romance with a female doctor, who happens to be the daughter of one of the mains suspects, and you also have a level of plot contrivance too. The pace quickens as the clock ticks down to an exciting , if brief, finale.
It was announced today that Shaft: Imitation of Life has been nominated for the 2017 Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity. Written by David F. Walker with art work by Dietrich Smith and featuring the eponymous black hero, the comic also tackled issues of the exploitation of homosexual males in early 1970s New York. The comic followed Walker’s Shaft: A Complicated Man, which was nominated for the same award in 2015.
Ice Station Zebra (1968; USA; Metrocolor; 148m) ∗∗∗½ d. John Sturges; w. Douglas Heyes, Harry Julian Fink; ph. Daniel L. Fapp; m. Michel Legrand. Cast: Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine, Patrick McGoohan, Jim Brown, Tony Bill, Lloyd Nolan, Alf Kjellin, Gerald S. O’Loughlin, Ted Hartley, Murray Rose, Ron Masak, Sherwood Price, Lee Stanley, Joseph Bernard. A nuclear submarine commander is dispatched to the polar ice region on a rescue mission when an emergency signal is received from a research station. It soon becomes apparent that the mission is more than just a simple rescue operation. Well cast spy drama may be overlong, but retains its interest throughout thanks to a solid script and strong performances from Hudson and McGoohan. Excellent production values and imaginative use of studio sets. Originally shown in theatres with an opening overture, which was restored for the 2005 DVD release. Based on the novel by Alistair MacLean. [U]
Friday Foster (1975; USA; Colour; 90m) ∗∗½ d. Arthur Marks; w. Orville H. Hampton, Arthur Marks; ph. Harry J. May; m. Luchi De Jesus. Cast: Pam Grier, Yaphet Kotto, Godfrey Cambridge, Thalmus Rasulala, Eartha Kitt, Ted Lange, Tierre Turner, Jim Backus, Scatman Crothers, Paul Benjamin, Jason Bernard, Ed Cambridge, Julius Harris, Rosalind Miles, Carl Weathers. Friday Foster (Grier), an ex-model magazine photographer, goes to Los Angeles International airport to photograph the arrival of Blake Tarr (Rasulala), the richest black man in America. Three men attempt to assassinate Tarr. Foster photographs the melee and is plunged into a web of conspiracy involving the murder of her childhood friend, a US senator, and a shadowy plan called “Black Widow”. Tonally inconsistent and lightweight late entry into the Blaxploitation genre benefits from a strong cast including Grier and Kotto, but suffers from weak script and lacklustre direction. Based on the comic strip by Jim Lawrence. 
Deepwater Horizon (2016; USA; Colour; 108m) ∗∗∗½ d. Peter Berg; w. Matthew Sand, Matthew Carnahan; ph. Enrique Chediak; m. Steve Jablonsky. Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, John Malkovich, Dylan O’Brien, Gina Rodriguez, Ethan Suplee, Brad Leland, J.D. Evermore, Joe Chrest, Chris Ashworth, Jeremy Sande, Stella Allen, Michael D. Anglin, Ilan Srulovicz, Graham McGinnis, James DuMont, Douglas M. Griffin, David Maldonado. A dramatization of the April 2010 disaster when the offshore drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon, exploded and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Efficiently made disaster thriller. Despite occasional Hollywood-isation of events, it produces a thrilling second half. Wahlberg and Russell are excellent as are the effects and authentic production design. 
SIRENS by JOSEPH KNOX (2017, Doubleday, 374pp) ∗∗∗∗∗
Blurb: Isabelle Rossiter has run away again. When Aidan Waits, a troubled junior detective, is summoned to her father’s penthouse home – he finds a manipulative man, with powerful friends. But retracing Isabelle’s steps through a dark, nocturnal world, Waits finds something else. An intelligent seventeen-year-old girl who’s scared to death of something. As he investigates her story, and the unsolved disappearance of a young woman just like her, he realizes Isabelle was right to run away. Soon Waits is cut loose by his superiors, stalked by an unseen killer and dangerously attracted to the wrong woman. He’s out of his depth and out of time. How can he save the girl, when he can’t even save himself?
This is a remarkably assured debut from Joseph Knox that explores the seedy criminal underworld of Manchester. The book is a dark, modern take, on the noir-mystery genre. There are echoes of Chandler, MacDonald, et al, in Knox’s first-person narration, but more so this has an instinctive feel for time and place. It is also a depressing tale populated by characters with few, if any, redeeming qualities. Even Knox’s hero, Aidan Waits, has more than his fair share of troubles, including his own drug dependency. Despite this, Knox’s writing style keeps the reader gripped from start to finish as the mystery unravels. His use of short, one-scene chapters, and his sectioning of the book into effectively six acts, all carrying a single word title, gives the novel the structure of a TV mini-series, which this could well become. The book took Knox eight years to complete and his sense of perfection has resulted in one of the best debut crime novels in recent years. Where he will take his lead character in the promised series will be interesting, as there is a sense that Knox has put everything into this. Like his hero, I am hooked.