Film Review – ARABIAN ADVENTURE (1979)

Image result for arabian adventure 1979ARABIAN ADVENTURE (UK, 1979) **½
      Distributor: British Lion Film Corporation (UK), Associated Film Distribution (AFD) (USA); Production Company: EMI Films / British Lion Film Corporation / Major Studio Partners; Release Date: 19 July 1979 (UK), 21 November 1979 (USA); Filming Dates: 24 July 1978 – October 1978; Running Time: 98m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: U.
      Director: Kevin Connor; Writer: Brian Hayles; Executive Producer: Kevin Connor; Producer: John Dark; Director of Photography: Alan Hume; Music Composer: Ken Thorne; Film Editor: Barry Peters; Casting Director: Allan Foenander; Production Designer: Elliot Scott; Art Director: Jack Maxsted; Set Decorator: Terry Ackland-Snow; Costumes: Rosemary Burrows; Make-up: Yvonne Coppard, Robin Grantham; Sound: Jim Atkinson; Special Effects: George Gibbs; Visual Effects: Cliff Culley, Charles Staffell.
      Cast: Christopher Lee (Alquazar), Milo O’Shea (Khasim), Oliver Tobias (Prince Hasan), Emma Samms (Princess Zuleira), Puneet Sira (Majeed), Peter Cushing (Wazir Al Wuzara), Capucine (Vahishta), Mickey Rooney (Daad El Shur), John Wyman (Bahloul), John Ratzenberger (Achmed), Shane Rimmer (Abu), Hal Galili (Asaf), Elisabeth Welch (Beggarwoman), Suzanne Danielle (Eastern Dancer), Art Malik (Mamhoud), Jacob Witkin (Omar, the Goldsmith), Milton Reid (Jinnee), Roy Stewart (The Nubian).
      Synopsis: An evil magician seeks to gain power by obtaining a magic rose. A peasant boy and a Prince join forces to stop him.
      Comment: The last of five fantasy adventures made by director Connor with producer Dark. This hokey Arabian Nights tale owes much to the strong cast headed by Lee at his villainous best. However, Tobias lacks charisma and acting chops as the hero prince. Samms makes for an appealing princess whilst Rooney adds some comic relief and Cushing some gravitas in cameo roles. The action scenes are plentiful, but often sub-par with obvious choreography. The visual effects are average at best, as is evident in the climactic magic carpet battle. A fun adventure nonetheless for the undemanding.
      Notes: Feature film debut of Emma Samms.

TV Review – CRACKER (2006)

Image result for cracker a new terrorCRACKER (TV) (UK, 2006) ***½
      Distributor: Granada Television; Production Company: Granada Television / ITV Productions; Release Date: 1 October 2006; Running Time: 109m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: Super 16; Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Antonia Bird; Writer: Jimmy McGovern; Executive Producer: Andy Harries; Producer: John Chapman; Director of Photography: Florian Hoffmeister; Music Composer: Gillian Gilbert, Stephen Morris, Conboy Corker; Film Editor: Chris Barwell; Casting Director: Andy Pryor; Production Designer: Tom Bowyer; Art Director: Anna Pritchard; Costume Designer: Rhona Russell; Make-up: Jessica Taylor; Sound: Dennis Cartwright.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Anthony Flanagan (Kenny Archer), Nisha Nayar (DS Saffron Saleh), Richard Coyle (DI Walters), Rafe Spall (DS McAllister), Kieran O’Brien (Mark Fitzgerald), Andrea Lowe (Elaine Archer), Stefanie Wilmore (Katy Fitzgerald), Lisa Eichhorn (Jean Molloy), Demetri Goritsas (Harry Peters), Sara Roache (Chief Super), Matt Rippy (Molloy – American Comedian), Leo Gregory (Wallet Thief), Rosina Carbone (Maria Fitzgerald).
      Synopsis: Fitz returns to Manchester for his daughter’s wedding, but is soon involved in another murder investigation when an American comedian is killed, apparently without motive.
      Comment: Ten years after the last special (CRACKER: WHITE GHOST) was broadcast, Cracker returned along with its creator and chief writer, Jimmy McGovern. The result is an absorbing and heavily political portrait of a former soldier struggling to come to terms with PTSD. Faced with self-loathing and a hatred for Americans due to their perceived support of the IRA and their response to Nine-Eleven. There are echoes of McGovern’s masterpiece TO BE A SOMEBODY in this story’s portrayal of the soldier’s descent into murder in order to extract his own form of justice. Coltrane slips easily back into his role of psychologist Fitz, called in by the police to help track down the murderer. Flanagan is also excellent as the damaged soldier. Where this story falls short in comparison to the series is in its portrait of the detectives – who here are two-dimensional in characterisation and lacking in the dark humour of their earlier counterparts. On the whole, though, this is a satisfying conclusion to the series and significantly better than the last couple of stories – although the finale, which again resorts to genre convention, lacks the finesse seen across the rest of the story.

Film Review – WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (1978)

Related imageWARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (UK, 1978) **½
      Distributor: EMI Films (UK), Columbia Pictures (USA); Production Company: EMI Films / British Lion; Release Date: 5 May 1978; Filming Dates: 5 September 1977 – 13 January 1978; Running Time: 96m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Kevin Connor; Writer: Brian Hayles; Executive Producer: Jim Brown (uncredited); Producer: John Dark, Kevin Connor; Director of Photography: Alan Hume; Music Composer: Michael Vickers; Film Editor: Bill Blunden; Casting Director: Allan Foenander; Production Designer: Elliot Scott; Art Director: Jack Maxsted; Costumes: Lorna Hillyard, Monica Howe; Make-up: Robin Grantham; Sound: Jim Atkinson; Special Effects: John Richardson; Visual Effects: Charles Staffell.
      Cast: Doug McClure (Greg Collinson), Peter Gilmore (Charles Aitken), Shane Rimmer (Captain Daniels), Lea Brodie (Delphine), Michael Gothard (Atmir), Hal Galili (Grogan), John Ratzenberger (Fenn), Derry Power (Jacko), Donald Bisset (Professor Aitken), Ashley Knight (Sandy), Robert Brown (Briggs), Cyd Charisse (Atsil), Daniel Massey (Atraxon).
      Synopsis: Searching for the lost world of Atlantis, a professor and his associates are betrayed by the crew of their expedition’s ship, attracted by the fabulous treasures of Atlantis.
      Comment: The last and weakest of McClure’s four fantasy adventure movies with director Connor. The story and plot are derivative, but at least Connor keeps the action coming thick and fast and the set-pieces are well shot and edited. Monster effects are variable, with the best being the giant octopus. The inhabitants of Atlantis are stoic and bland with Gothard and Charisse giving one-note performances. However, McClure and Gilmore work well together as the heroes of the piece, echoing the former’s work with Peter Cushing on AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976). Aka: WARLORDS OF THE DEEP.

TV Review – CRACKER : WHITE GHOST (1996)

Image result for cracker white ghostCRACKER: WHITE GHOST (TV) (UK, 1996) **
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 28 October 1996; Running Time: 100m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Richard Standeven; Writer: Paul Abbott; Executive Producer: Sally Head, Delia Fine; Producer: Hilary Bevan Jones; Director of Photography: Dick Dodd; Music Composer: Rick Wentworth; Film Editor: Tony Cranstoun; Casting Director: Andrew Hall, Marilyn Johnson; Production Designer: Chris Wilkinson; Art Director: David Butterworth; Costume Designer: Tudor George; Make-up: Sue Milton, Anastasia Shirley; Sound: Nick Steer.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), Barnaby Kay (Dennis Philby), Freda Foh Shen (D.C.I. Janet Lee Cheung), Michael Pennington (Commander Gordon Ellison), Rene Liu (Su Lin Tang), Benedict Wong (Peter Yang), Glen Goei (Dr. Frank Sunny), David Bradley (Frank Carter), Pik Sen Lim (Wei Wei).
      Synopsis: A British businessman operating in Hong Kong has feelings of inferiority and turns to murder when he faces bankruptcy.
      Comment: The first post-series Cracker special suffers from its location transfer to Hong Kong. Whilst this adds a sense of international scale, the production lacks the gritty northern interplay between the cast and is based around a storyline that is pure genre formula. Fitz again too easily comes up with the right deductive answers and this is a problem for maintaining any level of authenticity or dramatic tension. Tomlinson’s appearance is a token gesture and largely played for comedic effect – devaluing the character. This would be the last appearance of Coltrane as Fitz for ten years, until 2006’s CRACKER, which saw the return of creator and scriptwriter Jimmy McGovern.

TV Review – CRACKER: TRUE ROMANCE (1995)

Image result for CRACKER TRUE ROMANCECRACKER: TRUE ROMANCE (TV) (UK, 1995) **½
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 20 & 27 November 1995; Running Time: 100m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Tim Fywell; Writer: Paul Abbott; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Hilary Bevan Jones; Director of Photography: Dick Dodd; Music Composer: Rick Wentworth; Film Editor: Anthony Ham; Casting Director: Marilyn Johnson; Production Designer: Stephen Fineren; Art Director: Mark Stonehouse; Costume Designer: Tudor George; Make-up: Sue Milton; Sound: Phil Smith.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), Emily Joyce (Janice), Rosemary Martin (Irene Jackson), Robert Cavanah (D.C. Temple), Wil Johnson (D.C. Skelton), Clive Russell (Danny Fitzgerald), Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Fleur Bennett (Nena), Tess Thomson (Katie), Will Knightley (Pathologist).
      Synopsis: A lab technician, working at the same university as Fitz, begins to electrocute male students in order to gain the attention of the psychologist.
      Comment: The final story of the regular series run for Cracker is an overly-contrived thriller with strong echoes of FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) and BASIC INSTINCT (1992). As such it comes across more as derivative than innovative, separating this production from the best stories of the series by some distance. Joyce as the besotted and twisted killer lacks subtlety and depth in both the characterisation and performance. Coltrane’s Fitz acts out of character at numerous points in the story, betraying Abbott’s detached nature from Jimmy McGovern’s creation. Two specials followed – CRACKER: WHITE GHOST (1996) and CRACKER (2006).

TV Review – CRACKER: BEST BOYS (1995)

Image result for cracker best boysCRACKER: BEST BOYS (TV) (UK, 1995) ***½
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 6 & 13 November 1995; Running Time: 99m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Charles McDougall; Writer: Paul Abbott; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Hilary Bevan Jones; Director of Photography: Dick Dodd; Music Composer: Rick Wentworth; Film Editor: Tony Cranstoun; Casting Director: Marilyn Johnson; Production Designer: Stephen Fineren; Art Director: Bill Crutcher; Wardrobe Supervisor: Michael Richards; Make-up: Anastasia Shirley; Sound: Phil Smith.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), Liam Cunningham (Grady), John Simm (Bill), Robert Cavanah (D.C. Temple), Wil Johnson (D.C. Skelton), Clive Russell (Danny Fitzgerald), Annette Ekblom (Diane Nash), John Langford (Brian Nash), Edward Peel (Chief Superintendent), Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Tess Thomson (Katie), Paul Barber (Ian McVerry), Will Knightley (Pathologist).
      Synopsis: Stuart Grady, a lonely factory foreman, befriends a young male employee and the disturbed runaway involves them both in murder.
      Comment: The second story of the final full season of Cracker is written by Paul Abbott (later famous for creating the TV series Shameless). Whilst Abbott fashions another solid psychological crime drama, he dumbs down some of the detective work with most of Fitz’s deductions requiring a substantial leap of faith. The strength of the show lies in its excellent performances and this story is well served by a very strong cast – with Cunningham and Simm particularly notable in early roles. The finale drops back into genre convention and the scene’s climax is predictably shocking. Technical credits are strong with Wentworth’s moody score adding to the atmosphere.

Film Review – AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976)

Peter Cushing, Doug McClure, and Caroline Munro in At the Earth's Core (1976)AT THE EARTH’S CORE (UK/USA, 1976) ***
      Distributor: British Lion Film Corporation (UK) / American International Pictures (A.I.P.) (USA); Production Company: Amicus Productions; Release Date: July 1976 (USA), 22 August 1976 (UK); Filming Dates: 26 January 1976 – mid April 1976; Running Time: 90m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Kevin Connor; Writer: Milton Subotsky (based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs); Executive Producer: Harry N. Blum; Producer: John Dark, Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky; Director of Photography: Alan Hume; Music Composer: Michael Vickers; Film Editor: John Ireland, Barry Peters; Production Designer: Maurice Carter; Art Director: Bert Davey; Costumes: Rosemary Burrows; Make-up: Robin Grantham, Neville Smallwood; Sound: Jim Atkinson, George Stephenson; Special Effects: Ian Wingrove; Visual Effects: Charles Staffell.
      Cast: Doug McClure (David Innes), Peter Cushing (Dr. Abner Perry), Caroline Munro (Dia), Cy Grant (Ra), Godfrey James (Ghak), Sean Lynch (Hoojah), Keith Barron (Dowsett), Helen Gill (Maisie), Anthony Verner (Gadsby), Robert Gillespie (Photographer), Michael Crane (Jubal), Bobby Parr (Sagoth Chief), Andee Cromarty (Girl Slave).
      Synopsis: A Victorian era scientist and his assistant take a test run in their Iron Mole drilling machine and end up in a strange underground labyrinth ruled by a species of giant telepathic bird and full of prehistoric monsters and cavemen.
      Comment: Scatty, juvenile and low-budget fantasy adventure gets by on its camp approach to the material with Cushing excelling in one of his lightly comic and eccentric scientist roles. McClure makes for an effective and likeable hero and Munro is stunning as one of the scantily clad natives. The monsters betray the lack of funds, but the action is well-edited to disguise some of the limitations this presents the production. The script is tight but lacks any depth or set-up. Vickers provides an eerie electronic score and Connor directs with a great sense of fun which he balances with the eerie atmosphere created by the imaginative production design and Hume’s photography.
      Notes: Last film produced by Amicus, Hammer’s chief rival during the 1960s and ’70s.

TV Review – CRACKER: BROTHERLY LOVE (1995)

Image result for cracker brotherly loveCRACKER: BROTHERLY LOVE (TV) (UK, 1995) ****½
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 22 & 29 October 1995; Running Time: 150m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Roy Battersby; Writer: Jimmy McGovern; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Hilary Bevan Jones; Director of Photography: Dick Dodd; Music Composer: Rick Wentworth; Film Editor: Edward Mansell; Casting Director: Marilyn Johnson; Production Designer: Stephen Fineren; Art Director: Bill Crutcher; Costume Designer: Tudor George; Make-up: Sue Milton; Sound: Phil Smith.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Lorcan Cranitch (D.S. Beck), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), David Calder (Michael Harvey), Clive Russell (Danny Fitzgerald), Mark Lambert (David Harvey), Brid Brennan (Maggie Harvey), Robert Cavanah (D.C. Temple), Polly Hemingway (Denise Fletcher), Ruth Sheen (Jean McIlvanney), Ron Donachie (Barney), Edward Peel (Chief Superintendent), Paul Copley (Pathologist), Isobel Middleton (Catriona Bilborough), Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Tess Thomson (Katie).
      Synopsis: A prostitute is found raped and murdered, opening old wounds at the station. Beck returns to work after a breakdown, and tensions rise between him and Penhaligon. With the main suspect under lock and key, the police are stunned to uncover two more brutal murders in the space of a few days, and whilst suffering the distraction of becoming a father again, Fitz has to cope with a complex case, the tormented Penhaligon, and a far from recovered Jimmy Beck.
      Comment: The first story of the third series of Cracker sees McGovern bring to a head a number of threads carried forward from earlier stories against the backdrop of the hunt for a serial rapist. The script is top-notch and expertly builds tension through its exploration of themes of Catholicism, prostitution, guilt, retribution and redemption. In fact, so much is packed into the story that McGovern does well to keep all the plates spinning right to the shocking conclusion. The cast is first-rate – notably Brennan as the wronged wife and Cranitch as the guilt-ridden detective who is gradually becoming psychologically unravelled. Coltrane continues to live and breathe his flawed psychologist hero whose professional expertise is at odds with the mess of his family life, now with a new addition. This would be McGovern’s last contribution to the series until its one-off revival eleven years later and the series never got this good again.

TV Review – CRACKER: MEN SHOULD WEEP (1994)

Image result for cracker men should weepCRACKER: MEN SHOULD WEEP (TV) (UK, 1994) ****
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 21, 28 November & 5 December 1994; Running Time: 149m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Jean Stewart; Writer: Jimmy McGovern; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Paul Abbott; Director of Photography: Ivan Strasburg; Music Composer: David Ferguson; Film Editor: Tony Cranstoun; Casting Director: Gail Stevens; Production Designer: Stephen Fineren; Art Director: Nick Wilkinson; Sound: Phil Smith.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Lorcan Cranitch (D.S. Beck), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), Graham Aggrey (Floyd Malcolm), Colin Tierney (Harriman), Alexander Newland (Marvin Malcolm), Julie Saunders (Bev Malcolm), Rachel Davies (Mrs Malcolm), Ludmilla Vuli (Trish), John McArdle (Tom Carter), Marian McLoughlin (Catherine Carter), Wil Johnson (Skelton), Isobel Middleton (Catriona Bilborough),Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Tess Thomson (Katie).
      Synopsis: Floyd Malcolm, a black taxi driver, lashes out at white men who disrespect him by raping their wives and destroying the evidence, and strikes at the heart of Fitz’s personal life when Penhaligon is raped.
      Comment: Jimmy McGovern returns to script the final story of the second series of Cracker and it is an absorbing drama. The central story of a serial rapist fuelled by racial insecurity is well-written. The drama also has a twist which brings matters closer to home as Penhaligon (Somerville) becomes a victim – only to realise her attacker is not the man the police are hunting down. Performances are top-notch as usual and the drama only loses its shape in its final act, when genre conventions threaten to de-rail it. Fortunately, the direction and acting are so strong it just about makes it through as we are left on a cliff-hanger ending.

TV Review – CRACKER: THE BIG CRUNCH (1994)

Cracker (UK) - 02x04 The Big Crunch (1)CRACKER: THE BIG CRUNCH (TV) (UK, 1994) ***½
Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 31 October, 7 & 14 November 1994; Running Time: 147m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Julian Jarrold; Writer: Ted Whitehead; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Paul Abbott; Director of Photography: Ivan Strasburg; Music Composer: David Ferguson; Film Editor: Oral Norrie Ottey; Casting Director: Gail Stevens; Production Designer: Claire Kenny; Art Director: Chris Coldwell; Sound: Chris Coldwell.
Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Lorcan Cranitch (D.S. Beck), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), Jim Carter (Kenneth Trant), Cherith Mellor (Norma Trant), Maureen O’Brien (Virginia Trant), Samantha Morton (Joanna Barnes), James Fleet (Michael Trant), Darren Tighe (Dean Saunders), Roger Sloman (Mr Barnes), Ellie Haddington (Mrs Barnes), Colin Tierney (Harriman), Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Emma Cunniffe (Sarah Jennings), Nicholas Blane (Father O’Ryan), Tess Thomson (Katie).
Synopsis: A young girl missing for several days is discovered naked, covered in strange symbols and quoting the Bible. The trail leads to a fringe Christian sect and its charismatic leader, Kenneth Trant.
Comment: Fifth story in the Cracker series is the first not to be written by Jimmy McGovern. The setting switches from the inner-city working-class to middle-class suburbia. The story’s focus on religious hypocrisy is a little heavy-handed with its denouement seeming contrived and unconvincing. The strengths of the production lie in the performances of its strong cast, notably Morton as the young girl besotted with Carter’s sect leader. Coltrane is as captivating as ever as Fitz, whose verbal sparring with Tomlinson’s chief of detectives is one of the highlights.