Book Review – WILD FIRE (2018) by Ann Cleeves

WILD FIRE (2018) ***½
by Ann Cleeves
Originally published by Macmillan, 2018.
This edition published by Pan Books, 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-4472-7826-9

Blurb: Drawn in by the reputation of the islands, an English family move to the area, eager to give their autistic son a better life. But when a young nanny’s body is found hanging in the barn of their home, rumours of her affair with the husband begin to spread like wild fire. With suspicion raining down on the family, DI Jimmy Perez is called in to investigate, knowing that it will mean the return to the islands of his on-off lover and boss Willow Reeves, who will run the case. Perez is facing the most disturbing investigation of his career. Is he ready for what is to come?

As  I was watching the latest series of BBC’s excellent Shetland series, I was also reading what is to be the last of the novels the series was based on. From Series 3 the BBC moved away from adapting Ann Cleeves’ novels and into writing original series length stories. That lifted the TV series to the next level by expanding the universe and making the TV version feel less about an isolated community. Cleeves, meanwhile, has finished her series with a novel that is deeply rooted in that community. Themes of a close-knit and suspicious community dealing with an invasion of new residents are explored here. The case is a murder, which in method replicates an earlier suicide by a local man down on his luck, having had to sell his ideal home to a couple of immigrants from England and their family, including their autistic son. Wild Fire is both familiar and entertaining. We know the characters and we know the island very well by now. Cleeves explores her characters by slowing the pace and allowing room for development. Her writing style is descriptive and also looks to explore each of the major protagonist’s viewpoint, making for a fully rounded story that otherwise has the familiar elements of the English crime mystery.

TV Review – SHETLAND – SERIES 5 (2019)

Image result for shetland series 5SHETLAND – SERIES 5 (TV) (UK, 2019) ***½
     Distributor: Silverprint Pictures / British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Scotland; Release Date: 12 February – 19 March 2019; Running Time: 341m (6 episodes); Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
     Director: Gordon Anderson, Isabelle Sieb; Writer: David Kane, Paul Logue (based on characters created by Ann Cleeves); Executive Producer: Kate Bartlett, Gaynor Holmes, David Kane; Producer: Eric Coulter; Director of Photography: Cinders Forshaw; Music Composer: John Lunn; Film Editor: Colin Monie, Chris Buckland; Production Designer: Emer O’Sullivan; Art Director: Ghillie Smith; Visual Effects: Fraser Murdoch.
     Cast: Douglas Henshall (DI Jimmy Perez), Alison O’Donnell (Alison McIntosh), Steven Robertson (DC Sandy Wilson), Mark Bonnar (Duncan Hunter), Erin Armstrong (Cassie Perez), Julie Graham (Rhona Kelly), Rakie Ayola (Olivia Lennox), Catherine Walker (Alice Brooks), Derek Riddell (Chris Brooks), Robert Cavanah (Graeme Benson), Therese Bradley (Andrea Doyle), Anne Kidd (Cora McLean), Kate Dickie (DI Sam Boyd), Lorn Macdonald (Jamie Hayes), Owen Whitelaw (Prentice Hayes), Tracy Wiles (Carla Hayes), Isabelle Joss (Catrina), Robin Laing (Gavin Laird), Gail Watson (Mary Hunter), Ryan Fletcher (Calum Dunwoody), Meghan Tyler (Mags), John Kazek (Aaron McGuire), Frances Mayli McCann (Niki), Angus Miller (Donnie), Emma Mullen (Rosie), Olivia Barrowclough (Trish), Titana Muthui (Zezi Ugara), Ayanda Bhebe (Daniel Ugara), Lewis Howden (Billy McCabe).
     Synopsis: Perez finds that the murder of the young Nigerian man is more than just the drugs trade but could be sex trafficking with the Shetlands a cog in a much larger wheel.
     Comment: The fifth series of the brooding crime drama set in the bleak remote community of Shetland is another absorbing mystery. The plot unfolds at a slow pace with occasional bursts of energy and activity. This allows for investment in the characters and gives them room to breathe. As the mystery unfolds the pace quickens. The climax feels a little conventional, but the story overall is nevertheless satisfying. Henshall is excellent as the detective with a conscience and a strong supporting cast help to lift the material above the standard genre tropes.

Film Review – MAGNUM FORCE (1973)

Image result for magnum force 1973MAGNUM FORCE (USA, 1973) ***
      Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); Production Company: The Malpaso Company; Release Date: 25 December 1973 (USA), 26 December 1973 (UK); Filming Dates: 24 April–late June 1973; Running Time: 124m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision; Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Ted Post; Writer: John Milius, Michael Cimino (based on a story by John Milius and original material by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink); Producer: Robert Daley; Director of Photography: Frank Stanley; Music Composer: Lalo Schifrin; Film Editor: Ferris Webster; Casting Director: Nessa Hyams (uncredited); Art Director: Jack T. Collis; Set Decorator: John Lamphear; Costumes: Glenn Wright; Make-up: Joe McKinney; Sound: James R. Alexander; Special Effects: Sass Bedig.
      Cast: Clint Eastwood (Harry Callahan), Hal Holbrook (Lt. Briggs), Mitchell Ryan (McCoy), David Soul (Davis), Tim Matheson (Sweet), Kip Niven (Astrachan), Robert Urich (Grimes), Felton Perry (Early Smith), Maurice Argent (Nat Weinstein), Margaret Avery (Prostitute), Richard Devon (Ricca), Tony Giorgio (Palancio), Jack Kosslyn (Walter), Bob March (Estabrook), Bob McClurg (Cab Driver), John Mitchum (DiGiorgio), Russ Moro (Ricca’s Driver), Clifford A. Pellow (Guzman), Albert Popwell (Pimp), Christine White (Carol McCoy), Adele Yoshioka (Sunny).
      Synopsis: Eastwood’s Inspector Harry Callahan is on the trail of vigilante cops who are not above going beyond the law to kill the city’s undesirables.
      Comment: Sequel to DIRTY HARRY lacks the style and efficiency of the original, suffering from a sluggish pace at times. However, the set pieces are well-handled and Eastwood commands the screen in his signature role with much to enjoy in his verbal jousts with immediate superior Holbrook. Soul also makes an impression in an early career appearance as one of a group of four rookie cops, which also include Urich, Niven and Matheson. The story would have benefited from tighter editing – alterations and additions had been made to Milius’ original script adding some filler and unnecessary scenes. Schifrin’s memorable propulsive score riffs on his similar work on the first film.
      Notes: Suzanne Somers makes an uncredited appearance as one of the victims in the pool scene early in the film. Film debut of Urich. Second of five films in the series and followed by THE ENFORCER (1976), SUDDEN IMPACT (1983) and THE DEAD POOL (1988).

Film Review – HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973)

Image result for high plains drifter 1973HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (USA, 1973) ***½
      Distributor: Universal Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); Production Company: The Malpaso Company; Release Date: 6 April 1973 (USA), 31 August 1973 (UK); Filming Dates: July-August 1972; Running Time: 105m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision; Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Clint Eastwood; Writer: Ernest Tidyman; Executive Producer: Jennings Lang; Producer: Robert Daley; Director of Photography: Bruce Surtees; Music Composer: Dee Barton; Film Editor: Ferris Webster; Casting Director: William Batliner, Robert J. LaSanka (both uncredited); Art Director: Henry Bumstead; Set Decorator: George Milo; Costumes: James Gilmore, Joanne Haas, Glenn Wright (all uncredited); Make-up: Joe McKinney, Gary Morris (both uncredited); Sound: James R. Alexander.
      Cast: Clint Eastwood (The Stranger), Verna Bloom (Sarah Belding), Marianna Hill (Callie Travers), Mitchell Ryan (Dave Drake), Jack Ging (Morgan Allen), Stefan Gierasch (Mayor Jason Hobart), Ted Hartley (Lewis Belding), Billy Curtis (Mordecai), Geoffrey Lewis (Stacey Bridges), Scott Walker (Bill Borders), Walter Barnes (Sheriff Sam Shaw), Paul Brinegar (Lutie Naylor), Richard Bull (Asa Goodwin), Robert Donner (Preacher), John Hillerman (Bootmaker), Anthony James (Cole Carlin), William O’Connell (Barber), John Quade (Jake Ross), Jane Aull (Townswoman), Dan Vadis (Dan Carlin), Reid Cruickshanks (Gunsmith), Jim Gosa (Tommy Morris), Jack Kosslyn (Saddlemaker), Russ McCubbin (Fred Short), Belle Mitchell (Mrs. Lake), John Mitchum (Warden), Carl Pitti (Teamster), Chuck Waters (Stableman), Buddy Van Horn (Marshall Jim Duncan).
      Synopsis: A gunfighting stranger comes to the small settlement of Lago and is hired to bring the townsfolk together in an attempt to hold off three outlaws who are on their way.
      Comment: Eastwood’s second directorial effort is an interesting supernatural Western that trades on the persona he built with Sergio Leone and is filmed with the efficiency he learned from Don Siegel. The black humour was a late addition as Eastwood looked to move the story away from writer Tidyman’s initial revenge theme to something more mysterious. Eastwood assembled a good cast and technical crew. The Mono Lake location presents a remote community and adds to the mystery as does the eerie score by Dee Barton. Eastwood would rework the theme in 1985s PALE RIDER.
      Notes: Universal Pictures wanted the film to be shot on the studio lot. Instead, Eastwood had a whole town built in the desert near Mono Lake in the California Sierras. Many of the buildings were complete, so that interiors could be shot on location. One of the headstones in the graveyard bears the name Sergio Leone as a tribute. Other headstones bear the names of Don Siegel and Brian G. Hutton. Patrick McGilligan’s 2002 Eastwood biography quotes the star as saying, “I buried my directors.”

Film Review – JOE KIDD (1972)

Image result for joe kidd 1972JOE KIDD (USA, 1972) ***
      Distributor: Universal Pictures; Production Company: Universal Pictures / The Malpaso Company; Release Date: 19 July 1972 (USA), 24 September 1972 (UK); Filming Dates: November 1971; Running Time: 88m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision; Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: John Sturges; Writer: Elmore Leonard; Executive Producer: Robert Daley; Producer: Sidney Beckerman; Director of Photography: Bruce Surtees; Music Composer: Lalo Schifrin; Film Editor: Ferris Webster; Art Director: Henry Bumstead, Alexander Golitzen; Set Decorator: Charles S. Thompson; Sound: James R. Alexander, Waldon O. Watson.
      Cast: Clint Eastwood (Joe Kidd), Robert Duvall (Frank Harlan), John Saxon (Luis Chama), Don Stroud (Lamarr), Stella Garcia (Helen Sanchez), James Wainwright (Mingo), Paul Koslo (Roy), Gregory Walcott (Mitchell), Dick Van Patten (Hotel Manager), Lynne Marta (Elma), John Carter (Judge), Pepe Hern (Priest), Joaquín Martínez (Manolo (as Joaquin Martinez)), Ron Soble (Ramon), Pepe Callahan (Naco), Clint Ritchie (Calvin), Gil Barreto (Emilio), Ed Deemer (Bartender), Maria Val (Vita), Chuck Hayward (Eljay), Michael R. Horst (Deputy).
      Synopsis: An ex-bounty hunter reluctantly helps a wealthy landowner and his henchmen track down a Mexican revolutionary leader.
      Comment: Eastwood and Duvall add a level of class to this otherwise familiar Western. Leonard’s script is slight with little in terms of character development but is enlivened by moments of humour – including a deliciously over-the-top finale (unscripted and jokingly suggested by producer Daley) involving a train and a saloon. Outdoor sequences are beautifully shot by Surtees near June Lake, east of the Yosemite National Park. Old Tuscon was used for the town scenes.
      Notes: Elmore Leonard’s script, originally called “The Sinola Courthouse Raid”, was inspired by Reies Tijerina, an ardent supporter of Robert F. Kennedy, who stormed a courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico in June 1967, taking hostages and demanding that the Hispanic people have their ancestral lands returned to them.

Film Review – THEY LIVE (1988)

Image result for they live 1988THEY LIVE (USA, 1988) ***
     Distributor: Universal Pictures (USA), Guild Film Distribution (UK); Production Company: Alive Films / Larry Franco Productions; Release Date: 4 November 1988 (USA), 23 June 1989 (UK); Filming Dates: March – April 1988; Running Time: 94m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo (4 channels); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision; Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 18 – strong violence, language.
     Director: John Carpenter; Writer: John Carpenter (as Frank Armitage) (based on the short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson); Executive Producer: Andre Blay, Shep Gordon; Producer: Larry Franco; Associate Producer: Sandy King; Director of Photography: Gary B. Kibbe; Music Composer: Alan Howarth, John Carpenter; Film Editor: Gib Jaffe, Frank E. Jimenez; Art Director: William J. Durrell Jr., Daniel A. Lomino; Set Decorator: Marvin March; Costumes: Robin Michel Bush; Make-up: Francisco X. Pérez; Sound: Jeffrey L. Sandler; Special Effects: Roy Arbogast.
     Cast: Roddy Piper (Nada), Keith David (Frank), Meg Foster (Holly), George ‘Buck’ Flower (Drifter), Peter Jason (Gilbert), Raymond St. Jacques (Street Preacher), Jason Robards III (Family Man), John Lawrence (Bearded Man), Susan Barnes (Brown Haired Woman), Sy Richardson (Black Revolutionary), Wendy Brainard (Family Man’s Daughter), Lucille Meredith (Female Interviewer), Susan Blanchard (Ingenue), Norman Alden (Foreman), Dana Bratton (Black Junkie), John F. Goff (Well Dressed Customer), Norm Wilson (Vendor), Thelma Lee (Rich Lady), Stratton Leopold (Depressed Human), Rezza Shan (Arab Clerk), Norman Howell (Blonde Haired Cop), Larry Franco (Neighbor), Tom Searle (Biker), Robert Grasmere (Scruffy Blonde Man), Vince Inneo (Passageway Guard), Bob Hudson (Passageway Guard #2), Jon Paul Jones (Manager), Dennis Cosmo Michael (Male News Anchor), Nancy Gee (Female News Anchor), Claudia Stanlee (Young Female Executive), Christine Anne Baur (Woman on Phone), Eileen Wesson (Pregnant Secretary), Gregory J. Barnett (Security Guard #1), Jimmy Nickerson (Security Guard #2), Kerry Rossall (2nd Unit Guard), Cibby Danyla (Naked Lady), Jeff Imada (Male Ghoul), Michelle Costello (Female Ghoul).
     Synopsis: A drifter discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to wake up to the fact that aliens have taken over the Earth.
     Comment: John Carpenter’s take on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS taps into the cold war paranoia of the day of a US government led by Ronald Reagan. References to mass manipulation are woven into its action-packed narrative. Ex-wrestler Piper is cast in the lead role and whilst his acting is adequate at best, his physical attributes help the film’s many fight sequences. David, impressive in THE THING, co-stars as his sidekick. After a promising start, the film descends into a familiar violent shoot-em-up scenario. Moments of tongue-in-cheek humour help us to not take it too seriously.
     Notes: Because the screenplay was the product of so many sources—a short story, a comic book, and input from cast and crew—Carpenter decided to use the pseudonym “Frank Armitage”, an allusion to one of the filmmaker’s favorite writers, H. P. Lovecraft (Henry Armitage is a character in Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror)

Book Review – HUNTER’S GAMES (2014) by James P. Sumner

HUNTER’S GAMES (2014) ***½
by James P. Sumner
Published by OnlineBookServices.com, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-497-38699-0

BlurbAdrian Hell travels to San Francisco, commissioned to take out a government official who’s found himself on the wrong side of the wrong people. The job goes as planned, but before Adrian can leave the scene, he’s taken into custody by the FBI. Grace Chambers, a straight-talking special agent, asks him to help bring down a terrorist known as The Shark, who’s responsible for several recent attacks on the city. But things aren’t what they seem, and when the truth behind Adrian’s involvement is revealed, so too is the full extent of The Shark’s horrifying plans. Forced into a deadly game of cat and mouse, our unlikely hero goes bullet for bullet with an unseen enemy, as the fate of thousands of innocent people hangs in the balance. With time running out, and the body count rising, Adrian must do whatever it takes to stop his adversary before it’s too late.

James P. Sumner is a local author. When I say “local author” I mean local to me. He lives in Tottington, Bury. Hunter’s Games is the second novel in Sumner’s Adrian Hell series. Adrian is an ex-military black ops operative who now works as a hitman. He only takes out the really bad guys – those who deserve to be taken out. So, there’s an element here of moral questioning of Hell’s motives. Is he cleansing the world of the most vicious of criminals or is he in it for the money. There is actually backstory that signals his motivation and has left him with emotional scars. He covers these scars with a sticking plaster that presents itself in his personality as arrogant, self-confident, flippant, cynical and more than a little flamboyant. As a result, what could have been an annoying character, whose sarcastic wit and smart-alec remarks could have worn thin, actually grows on the reader as the novel progresses. Yes, the plot is derivative – Die Hard with a Vengeance meets James Bond meets Dirty Harry’s The Enforcer – but it zips along at a hell of a rate and is always entertaining. This could easily be seen as one of those Hollywood action thrillers starring a Liam Neeson-type macho male actor. Whilst I may have predicted some of the plot twists and rolled my eyes at the occasionally overly macho dialogue, I also smiled at the witty interplay between the characters. Sumner’s writing style, written in the present tense in order to heighten the tension, is engaging. He  is a self-published author who has demonstrated how you can be successful without the support of the traditional publishing industry and his enthusiasm for his material is mightily evident in the pages of this novel.

Film Review – THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)

Image result for the thing from another worldTHE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (USA, 1951) ****½
      Distributor: RKO Radio Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures / Winchester Pictures Corporation; Release Date: 6 April 1951 (USA), 1 August 1952 (UK); Filming Dates: 25 October 1950 – 3 March 1951; Running Time: 87m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (RCA Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG – contains mild threat.
      Director: Christian Nyby; Writer: Charles Lederer (based on the story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr. (as Don A. Stuart)); Producer: Howard Hawks; Associate Producer: Edward Lasker; Director of Photography: Russell Harlan; Music Composer: Dimitri Tiomkin; Film Editor: Roland Gross; Art Director: Albert S. D’Agostino, John Hughes; Set Decorator: Darrell Silvera, William Stevens; Costumes: Michael Woulfe; Make-up: Lee Greenway; Sound: Phil Brigandi, Clem Portman; Special Effects: Donald Steward; Visual Effects: Linwood G. Dunn.
      Cast: Margaret Sheridan (Nikki Nicholson), Kenneth Tobey (Capt. Patrick Hendry), Robert Cornthwaite (Dr. Arthur Carrington), Douglas Spencer (Ned Scott), James Young (Lt. Eddie Dykes), Dewey Martin (Crew Chief Bob), Robert Nichols (Lt. Ken Erickson), William Self (Cpl. Barnes), Eduard Franz (Dr. Stern), Sally Creighton (Mrs. Chapman), James Arness (‘The Thing’). Uncredited: Edmund Breon (Dr. Ambrose), Nicholas Byron (Tex Richards), John Dierkes (Dr. Chapman), George Fenneman (Dr. Redding), Lee Tung Foo (Lee – a Cook), Paul Frees (Dr. Vorhees), Everett Glass (Dr. Wilson), ‘King Kong’ Kashey (Eskimo), David McMahon (Brig. Gen. Fogarty), Bill Neff (Bill Stone), Walter Ng (Second Cook), Charles Opunui (Eskimo), Norbert Schiller (Dr. Laurence), Robert Stevenson (Capt. Smith – Fogarty’s Aide), Riley Sunrise (Eskimo).
      Synopsis: Scientists and American Air Force officials fend off a blood-thirsty alien organism while at a remote arctic outpost.
      Comment: Although it plays loose with the source material this is a tense, tightly scripted and well-acted sci-fi that bears all the hallmarks of producer Hawks despite being credited as directed by his long-time editor Nyby. Hawks’ trademarks of overlapping dialogue and a strong female character (Sheridan) always ahead of her male suitor (Tobey) are immediately evident. The movie was to become a major influence on the sci-fi horror genre. Arness, in heavy make-up, is “The Thing” and Spencer’s warning to the world “Watch the skies” captures the political paranoia of the period.
      Notes: Re-issue version runs 81m. A remake, following the source material more closely, was released in 1982, which itself generated a prequel in 2011. The complete title of the viewed print was The Thing from Another World . In the opening credits, the words “The Thing” appear first in exaggerated, flaming type, followed by the words “from another world” in smaller, plain type. The picture was copyrighted in early Apr 1951 under the title The Thing . According to publicity materials contained in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library, producer Howard Hawks added the words “from another world” to avoid confusion with a novelty song entitled “The Thing,” which was a hit single at the time of the picture’s release. Margaret Sheridan, a former fashion model, made her screen debut in the picture.