For a Few Dollars More (1965; Italy/Spain/West Germany; Technicolor; 132m) **** d. Sergio Leone; w. Sergio Leone, Fulvio Morsella, Luciano Vincenzoni; ph. Massimo Dallamano; m. Ennio Morricone. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonte, Joseph Egger, Benito Stefanelli, Mara Krup, Klaus Kinski, Mario Brega, Aldo Sambrell, Luigi Pistilli, Panos Papadopulos, Roberto Camardiel, Luis Rodriguez, Tomas Blanco, Lorenzo Robledo. Two bounty hunters with completely different intentions team up to track down a Western outlaw. Follow-up to FISTFUL OF DOLLARS is more expansive and adds a subtle layer of black humour. Eastwood and Van Cleef make for a formidable pairing and their verbal jousting is enjoyable. Memorable scenes include Van Cleef’s humiliation of Kinski and the protracted shootout finale. Morricone contributes another top-class score. Not released in the U.S. until 1967. Followed by THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966). 
Doctor Who: The Witchfinders (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 50m) *** pr. Alex Mercer; d. Sallie Aprahamian; w. Joy Wilkinson; ph. Tim Palmer; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Alan Cumming, Siobhan Finneran, Tilly Steele, Tricia Kelly, Arthur Kay, Stavros Demetraki. The Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz arrive in 17th century Lancashire and become embroiled in a witch trial, run by the local landowner. As fear stalks the land, the arrival of King James I only serves to intensify the witch hunt. But is there something even more dangerous at work? Can the Doctor and friends keep the people of Bilehurst Cragg safe from all the forces that are massing in the land? A promising storyline with one or two effective scenes is undermined by a cluttered TARDIS crew trying to find enough to warrant their inclusion. Finneran delivers a strong performance, notably when she becomes possessed, but the script is not as strong as it should have been, failing to drive sufficient tension from the narrative. So, what could have been the strongest episode of this new set becomes yet another triumph of style over content. The visuals are what give the story its atmosphere and the make-up work is excellent too, but the story lacks depth due to the rush to cram a lot of material into the running time. The introduction of the alien threat late in the day leaves no room for further exploration of backstory or motivation. Ultimately, this is a story that would have benefited from room to breathe.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018; UK/USA; Colour; 134m) **** d. Bryan Singer; w. Anthony McCarten, Peter Morgan; ph. Newton Thomas Sigel; m. Becky Bentham (music supervisor). Cast: Rami Malek, Joseph Mazzello, Ben Hardy, Gwilym Lee, Lucy Boynton, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers, Allen Leech, Aaron McCusker, Jess Radomska, Max Bennett, Michelle Duncan, Ace Bhatti, Charlotte Sharland, Ian Jareth Williamson, Dickie Beau, Jesús Gallo, Jessie Vinning. Biopic drama following the life and music career of rock band Queen’s charismatic singer Freddie Mercury. Biopic is propelled by Malik’s extraordinary performance as one of the greatest rock showmen of all time. The actor accurately captures Mercury’s strengths as a performer and his weaknesses away from the limelight. This is not a portrait of the band but a study on the effect that fame has on talent. That the talent won through, albeit briefly, is brilliantly demonstrated in the finale of the band’s performance at Live Aid in 1985. 
IN A HOUSE OF LIES (2018) ***½
by Ian Rankin
Published by Orion, 2018, 372pp
Blurb: Everyone has something to hide… A missing private investigator is found, locked in a car hidden deep in the woods. Worse still – both for his family and the police – is that his body was in an area that had already been searched. Everyone has secrets… Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is part of a new inquiry, combing through the mistakes of the original case. There were always suspicions over how the investigation was handled and now – after a decade without answers – it’s time for the truth. Nobody is innocent… Every officer involved must be questioned, and it seems everyone on the case has something to hide, and everything to lose. But there is one man who knows where the trail may lead – and that it could be the end of him: John Rebus.
The 22nd book in Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series sees the retired detective feeling his age as his deteriorating health leads him to quit smoking and limit his drinking. Bored, he grasps at the opportunity to help his former partner, DI Siobhan Clarke, by re-investigating an old case. Meanwhile, Clarke herself is deeply embroiled in a murder investigation whilst fighting off an internal enquiry into her conduct.
Rankin steers away from any major political and social issues and concentrates on the mechanics of the two cases. The murder mystery involves a high-ranking businessman and a film producer as well as two corrupt cops, giving the novel a few narrative strands to weave together. Of course, there is a link between these threads and Rebus again locks horns with his nemesis Big “Ger” Cafferty who is tied to both.
Nothing too surprising here, just another well-written crime mystery by a writer who knows his craft. It’s difficult to see where Rankin will take his lead character as he ages in retirement and struggles with ill-health.
The Rebus Series:
Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
Hide and Seek (1991) ***
Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
Strip Jack (1992)
The Black Book (1993) ***
Mortal Causes (1994) ***
Let it Bleed (1996)
Black and Blue (1997) ****½
The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
Dead Souls (1999)
Set in Darkness (2000) ****
The Falls (2001)
Resurrection Men (2002) ****
A Question of Blood (2003) ****
Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
The Naming of the Dead (2006) ****½
Exit Music (2007) ****
Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ***½
Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½
In a House of Lies (2018) ***½
ComicBook.com reports New Line has released the official synopsis for their Shaft sequel to be released next summer. The synopsis reads as follows:
“Shaft is the next chapter in the film franchise featuring the coolest private eye on any New York City block. JJ, aka John Shaft Jr. (Usher), may be a cyber security expert with a degree from MIT, but to uncover the truth behind his best friend’s untimely death, he needs an education only his dad can provide. Absent throughout JJ’s youth, the legendary locked-and-loaded John Shaft (Jackson) agrees to help his progeny navigate Harlem’s heroin-infested underbelly. And while JJ’s own FBI analyst’s badge may clash with his dad’s trademark leather coat, there’s no denying family. Besides, Shaft’s got an agenda of his own, and a score to settle that’s professional and personal.”
The film is a follow-up to 2000’s Shaft and again stars Samuel L Jackson as John Shaft, nephew of Richard Roundtree’s original John Shaft. Roundtree reprises his role and they are joined by Jessie T. Usher playing Jackson’s son. Tim Story directs the screenplay by Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow.
Escape from New York (1981; UK/USA; Metrocolor; 99m) ***½ d. John Carpenter; w. John Carpenter, Nick Castle; ph. Dean Cundey, George D. Dodge; m. John Carpenter, Alan Howarth. Cast: Kurt Russell, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasence, Harry Dean Stanton, Isaac Hayes, Season Hubley, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Frank Doubleday, John Stobel, Bob Minor, John Diehl, George “Buck” Flower. In 1997, when the US President crashes into Manhattan, now a giant max. security prison, a convicted bank robber is sent in for a rescue. Cult classic may have dated, notably in the visual effects, but still has much to enjoy. Russell deftly essays Clint Eastwood in his portrayal of Snake Plissken. Good support cast of oddball characters and some nice tongue-in-cheek touches from director/co-writer Carpenter. Grimy and decadent representation of Manhattan as a prison city is well realised. Followed by ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996). 
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018; USA/Spain; Colour; 128m) **½ d. Juan Antonio Bayona; w. Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly; ph. Óscar Faura; m. Michael Giacchino. Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, James Cromwell, Rafe Spall, Toby Jones, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Ted Levine, Geraldine Chaplin, Jeff Goldblum, BD Wong, David Olawale Ayinde, Bobbi Jo Hart, Daniel Stisen, Robert Emms, Kamil Lemieszewski, Michael Papajohn, Peter Jason, Sean Gislingham, Max Baker, Faith Fay, Kevin Layne, Daniel Eghan, Ronan Summers, Deborah Rock, Charlie Rawes, Manoj Anand, Cory Peterson, Fran Targ, John Heartstone. Sequel in which the remaining dinosaurs at the former Jurassic World resort are threatened by an erupting volcano. Dumb and preposterous follow-up to JURASSIC WORLD (2015) with a lazy and mechanical script and populated with cardboard characters and actors delivering one-dimensional performances. Strong on technical merits and dinosaur design. The action is also enlivened by some neat set-pieces, but there is a distinct feeling that the franchise has run its course. 
Doctor Who: Kerblam! (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 50m) ***½ pr. Alex Mercer; d. Jennifer Perrott; w. Pete McTighe; ph. Simon Chapman; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Lee Mack, Callum Dixon, Claudia Jessie, Leo Flanagan. A mysterious message arrives in a package addressed to the Doctor, leading her, Graham, Yaz and Ryan to investigate the warehouse moon orbiting Kandoka, and the home of the galaxy’s largest retailer: Kerblam! Obvious links to the massive growth of companies like Amazon, this does not play to the expected corporate greed sub-plot in the traditional way – instead linking the threat to anti-corporate terrorism. As such this is a refreshingly straight-forward tale, which adds to the mix elements of robo-phobia (mirroring stories such as THE ROBOTS OF DEATH). The result is one of the better entries in this otherwise disappointing series to date and there is genuine tension generated by McTighe’s script and Perrott’s direction. The performances, however, remain variable – Cole seems to be becoming more wooden by the week – but at least the companions get to be split up and given equal roles to play. [PG]
Fistful of Dollars (1964; Italy/Spain/West Germany; Technicolor; 99m) **** d. Sergio Leone; w. Víctor Andrés Catena, Jaime Comas Gil, Sergio Leone; ph. Massimo Dallamano, Federico G. Larraya; m. Ennio Morricone. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Mario Brega, Gian Maria Volonte, Marianne Koch, Jose Calvo, Wolfgang Lukschy, Joseph Egger, Sieghardt Rupp, Antonio Prieto, Margarita Lozano, Daniel Martin, Benito Stefanelli, Bruno Carotenuto, Aldo Sambrell. A wandering gunfighter plays two rival families against each other in a town torn apart by greed, pride, and revenge. First of Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy is relatively low-key compared to its successors, but highly influential on the genre and demonstrates his trademark style. Eastwood’s presence is immediately apparent and the story is told with economy and style. Created inertia in the production of European Westerns – branded “Spaghetti Westerns” – with their anti-heroes and stylised violence. A remake of YOJIMBO (1961), which itself was based on the as yet unadapted 1929 novel “Red Harvest” by Dashiell Hammett. Not released in the US until 1967. Original title: PER UN PUGNO DI DOLLARI. Followed by FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966). 
Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 51m) ***½ pr. Alex Mercer; d. Jamie Childs; w. Vinay Patel; ph. Denis Crossan; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Shane Zaza, Amita Suman, Hamza Jeetooa, Leena Dhingra, Shaheen Khan, Shobna Gulati. India, 1947. The Doctor and her friends arrive in the Punjab, as the country is being torn apart. While Yaz attempts to discover her grandmother’s hidden history, the Doctor discovers demons haunting the land. Who are they and what do they want? Bold attempt to add emotional depth and historical significance to the series partly pays off – notably in its heart-wrenching finale. The plot is reminiscent of the Christopher Eccleston story FATHER’S DAY, in its theme of returning to a companion’s past and a tragic outcome that cannot be avoided. However, the narrative still feels cluttered due to too many companions and a need to cover broad topics in a short running time. Some of the dialogue feels anachronistic too, belying the 1947 setting. Still, an improvement on recent episodes and Whittaker continues to grow into the title role. [PG]