Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time (TV) (2017: UK: Colour: 60m) *** pr. Peter Bennett; d. Rachel Talalay; w. Steven Moffat; ph. Richard Stoddard; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, David Bradley, Mark Gatiss, Pearl Mackie, Lily Travers, Jared Garfield, Jodie Whittaker, Jenna Coleman, Matt Lucas. Two Doctors stranded in a forbidding snowscape, refusing to face regeneration. And a British army captain seemingly destined to die in the First World War, but taken from the trenches to play his part in the Doctor’s story. This is the magical last chapter in the Twelfth Doctor’s epic adventure. He must face his past to decide his future. And the Doctor will realise the resilience of humanity, discovering hope in his darkest frozen moment. It’s the end of an era. But the Doctor’s journey is only just beginning. Self-indulgent bow-out for Capaldi’s Doctor with a confusing plot device designed to wring-out every emotion from fans of the series. It will likely have left non-fans cold with its frozen-in-time plot line as both 1st and 12th Doctors hold back their re-generations. There were nice touches in this episode – notably the resolution of the WWI army captain’s story and the meeting up with an old friend/foe. Bradley doesn’t always get the 1st Doctor right, but this is not helped by him being given some weak lines, knowingly poking fun at the changes in cultural environment since the days of those early serials. Capaldi is excellent, as ever, and it is sad to see his Doctor finally go. Whittaker’s brief appearance looked promising and left us on another cliffhanger. The production values were good and the photography excellent, but hopefully new producer Chibnall will move away from Moffat’s penchant for complex concepts and get back to good old-fashioned story-telling to win back a broader audience base. 
Muppet Christmas Carol, The (1992; USA/UK; Technicolor; 86m) **** d. Brian Henson; w. Jerry Juhl; ph. John Fenner; m. Miles Goodman. Cast: The Muppets, Michael Caine, Steven Mackintosh, Meredith Braun, Robin Weaver, Donald Austen. The Muppet characters tell their version of the classic tale of an old and bitter miser’s redemption on Christmas Eve. Delightful adaptation with Caine excelling in role which requires him to act largely with puppet characters. Lovely script with gentle humour makes this a warm and heart-lifting seasonal movie. Based on the novel “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. [U]
THE TEACHER by KATERINA DIAMOND (2016, Avon, 396pp) ***
Blurb: You think you know who to trust? You think you know the difference between good and evil? You’re wrong … The body of the head teacher of an exclusive Devon school is found hanging from the rafters in the assembly hall. Hours earlier he’d received a package, and only he could understand the silent message it conveyed. It meant the end. As Exeter suffers a rising count of gruesome deaths, troubled DS Imogen Grey and DS Adrian Miles must solve the case and make their city safe again. But as they’re drawn into a network of corruption, lies and exploitation, every step brings them closer to grim secrets hidden at the heart of their community. And once they learn what’s motivating this killer, will they truly want to stop him?
Enjoyment of this book depends on how much you buy into Diamond’s dark and macabre world, where every character is tarnished by their past. The plot is highly implausible and at times stretches the reader’s commitment. The themes of abused childhood, torture, rape and the grisly deaths that result are designed to heighten the reader’s emotional commitment to these characters. On this level, it largely succeeds. I found myself continuing to turn the pages in fascination at the horrific nature of the story.
There are no real surprises… this book is not targeted as a mystery, instead it is described as a psychological crime thriller. It’s main theme of revenge applies to more than one of the characters. The heroes are a new detective duo – Adrian Miles and Imogen Grey – both of whom have their own hidden traumas to deal with and have to tangle with secrets within their own force.
It all sounds very bleak and by and large it is. But there are moments where the strong characters cut through and there is promise the duo of Grey and Miles could become an interesting combination for future books. The second in Diamond’s series is The Secret and I will be interested to see how she progresses these characters.
Hellfighters (1968; USA; Technicolor; 121m) *** d. Andrew V. McLaglen; w. Clair Huffaker; ph. William H. Clothier; m. Leonard Rosenman. Cast: John Wayne, Katharine Ross, Vera Miles, Jim Hutton, Bruce Cabot, Jay C. Flippen, Edward Faulkner, Barbara Stuart, Edmund Hashim. The story of macho oil well firefighters and their wives. Whilst it plays almost every cliché in the book – and set a few – this is still an entertaining, well-staged action-packed story. Simplistic plot and episodic nature keeps us interested. Rosenman’s theme and score is memorable. Wayne’s character of Chance Buckman is based on real-life oil well firefighter ‘Red’ Adair. Adair, “Boots” Hansen, and “Coots” Matthews, served as technical advisers on the film. [PG]
Well, here we are again. Another year on and it seems to have gone so quickly. At this time last year I gave a summary of activity in the world of John Shaft. It came at the end of an exciting two years, which saw the publication of two original comic books as well as a new novel, all written by David F Walker, relaunching Ernest Tidyman’s detective in literary form.
Walker had done a superb job at introducing the character to a new audience. His work proved to be a real treat for fans of the original books and films. Despite critical acclaim, these books did not sell in sufficient quantities to satisfy publishers Dynamite Entertainment and a planned reprint of Tidyman’s original novels stalled after the first release. The Italian reprints through SUR, however, did at least continue with the publication of the second book, Shaft Among the Jews, in January (retitled Shaft Tragli Ebrei).
Also in January, further news on the proposed new Shaft movie emerged when Tim Story was announced as director. The fact that Story has a string of comedic action tales to his credit added further fuel to the fire that the producers were moving away from the original concept.
In February, Walker’s Shaft: Imitation of Life comic book was nominated for the 2017 Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity. Whilst the book failed to win the award, it was further acknowledgement of Walker’s achievements. The writer would go on to produce high profile work away from Dynamite with a new Luke Cage series for Marvel along with Power Man and Iron Fist and Occupy Avengers and a comic series book series of Planet of the Apes for Boom.
All went quiet in the Shaft world until August, when in an interview Story confirmed, “My Shaft movie is going to be definitely not straight action. We’re going action-comedy or comedy-action, I’m not exactly sure which one comes first. We’re going to definitely make sure the stakes in the world are real, and then you’ve got these characters who are dealing with kind of a father/son situation, we’re going to see them put a family back together.”
Pre-production was mobilised and casting commenced with Jessie T Usher confirmed as the son of Samuel L Jackson’s John Shaft, who in turn is the nephew of Richard Roundtree’s original. The film, provisionally titled Son of Shaft, is therefore a sequel to John Singleton’s 2000 Shaft, which starred Jackson and was a belated sequel to the original Shaft trilogy from the early 1970s. What modern audiences will make of these nods to the character’s cinematic legacy remains to be seen, but it feels like this is Shaft in name only. Usher’s character is described as being at odds with the old-school methods of detection employed by his father – being a more tech-savvy sleuth working for the FBI. With the tone set for an action-comedy, the result is likely to be far-removed from Tidyman’s gritty novels and Gordon Parks’ iconic 1971 interpretation.
Alexandra Shipp and Regina Hall, the latter as Shaft Jr’s mother, were also added to the cast and shooting commenced in Atlanta in December with a scheduled move to New York planned in early 2018. A June 2019 release date has also been slated and a distribution deal has been agreed by New Line with internet movie provider, Netflix.
So, with 18 months to wait before we get to see any new Shaft on screen, what else is happening? Well the answer is not much. Whilst the original Shaft was finally released on Blu-ray in the UK in October, we still await BD releases of Shaft’s Big Score! and Shaft in Africa anywhere in the world. My guess is these will be released in 2019 to coincide with the new movie. Whether, Dynamite will follow suit by reprinting the remainder of Tidyman’s novels remains to be seen.
I remain hopeful hype around the movie will bring the Shaft legacy into the public eye once more – despite my reservations about its tone and subject matter. Dynamite still owns the literary rights, so maybe interest will be rekindled in commissioning more original literary work whether in comic book form or prose, hopefully with Walker on board.
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017; USA; Colour; 152m) **** d. Rian Johnson; w. Rian Johnson; ph. Steve Yedlin; m. John Williams. Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Domhnall Gleeson, Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Lupita Nyong’o, Anthony Daniels, Andy Serkis, Warwick Davis. Having taken her first steps into the Jedi world, Rey joins Luke Skywalker on an adventure with Leia, Finn and Poe that unlocks mysteries of the Force and secrets of the past. Highly entertaining action-packed addition to the saga, which revisits many of the themes explored earlier in the series and as such may seem overly familiar. The basic chase plot is stretched a little with some lazy progressions, but despite its length the film doesn’t stand still for long nor does it outstay its welcome. Hamill and Fisher feature more heavily and there are one or two twists along the way, but its mid-trilogy position inevitably leaves certain issues unresolved. The visual effects and location work are exemplary. Also shot in 3-D. 
A Word – Series 2, The (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) **** pr. Jenny Frayn; d. Susan Tully, Luke Snellin; w. Peter Bowker; ph. Ruairí O’Brien, Ollie Downey; m. Rob Lane. Cast: Lee Ingleby, Morven Christie, Max Vento, Molly Wright, Christopher Eccleston, Vinette Robinson, Greg McHugh, Pooky Quesnel, Leon Harrop, Lucy Gaskell. Second series of the BBC drama following the Hughes family living in the Lake District and their young son Joe (the excellent Vento) who is diagnosed as autistic. In this second series Bowker opens up the story to broaden the scope of the story – bringing in the personal lives of the family and their impact on each other and on how they deal with Joe. Whilst the first series struggled initially to get the tone right before eventually striking a successful balance between drama and humour, this second series hits the ground running and produces a set of funny and touching scenes throughout an engaging and real story. The perfomances are excellent – notably the remarkable Vento as Joe and Eccleston as Joe’s tactless grandfather. Ingleby and Christie are also very good as Joe’s parents, who begin to drift apart as they struggle to come to terms with their son’s condition. Bowker’s writing manages to steer clear of descending into soap opera as he juggles numerous relationship storylines across six episodes. Making great use of its Lake District location this is a warm drama that treats its subject matter seriously whilst still finding a lovely humour that feels natural and respectful. 
Bancroft (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 4 x 47m) ** pr. Phil Collinson; d. John Hayes; w. Kate Brooke; ph. Richard Stoddard; m. Edmund Butt. Cast: Sarah Parish, Faye Marsay, Amara Karan, Adrian Edmondson, Linus Roache, Adam Long, Ryan McKen, Steve Evets, Charles Babalola, Anjli Mohindra, Lee Boardman, Art Malik, Lily Sacofsky. Detective Superintendent Elizabeth Bancroft (Parrish) is running an operation to against a vicious gang and adopts dubious methods to bring down the brothers who run it. Meanwhile, DS Katherine Stevens (Marsay) is assigned to a cold murder case and finds that there’s more to it than it seems – and that Bancroft has some secrets in her past that may prove difficult to hide. Over-the-top and lacking credibility, this crime drama is the latest in a long line of increasingly dark and contrived series to populate our TV screens. There is something compulsive about the performances of Parrish and Marsay that keeps the viewer going despite the implausibilities, but ultimately this is a cold experience with one twist too many and a finale that satisfies no-one with its calculated approach to demand a sequel. 
Variety has reported that actress Regina Hall has joined the cast of the latest Shaft sequel – provisionally titled Son of Shaft – currently filming in Atlanta and New York. It is reported she will play the former love interest of Samuel L Jackson’s John Shaft (nephew of Richard Roundtree’s original Shaft) and mother to Jessie T. Usher’s John Shaft Jr. Hall has worked with producer/writer Kenya Barris on Barbershop: The Next Cut (2016), Girls Trip (2017) as well as the TV series Black-ish.
Filming commenced this month in Atlanta and will later move to New York. The film is slated for release on 14 June 2019.
House of Frankenstein (1944; USA; B&W; 71m) **½ d. Erle C. Kenton; w. Edward T. Lowe Jr.; ph. George Robinson; m. Hans J. Salter. Cast: Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., J. Carrol Naish, John Carradine, Anne Gwynne, Peter Coe, Lionel Atwill, George Zucco, Elena Verdugo, Sig Ruman. An evil scientist and a hunchback escape from prison and encounter Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster. Suffers from having to cater for too many monsters and therefore each story feels rushed and is ultimately disappointing. Karloff and Naish, as the mad scientist and his hunchback assistant, do their best with the material, but this is only mediocre entertainment. Based on a story by Curt Siodmak. Followed by HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945). [PG]