Film Review – THE BELARUS FILE (TV) (1985)

Image result for the belarus fileBelarus File, The (TV) (1985; USA; Colour; 95m) **½  d. Robert Markowitz; w. Albert Ruben; ph. Alan Metzger; m. Joseph Conlan, Barry De Vorzon.  Cast: Telly Savalas, Suzanne Pleshette, Max von Sydow, Herbert Berghof, Dan Frazer, Betsy Aidem, Alan Rosenberg, Charles Brown, George Savalas, David Leary, Harry Davis, Rita Karin, Mark Russell, Vince Conti. The murders of several elderly Russian men lead Kojak to a group of Nazi war criminals who are living in America with the full knowledge and approval of the U.S. Government. Savalas’ Kojak character is shoe-horned into an adaptation of John Loftus’ novel with middling results. There is no real mystery to sustain the story and the heavy-handed handling of the material flattens the intended emotional impact. On the plus side, Savalas remains charismatic, Von Sydow essays a dignified performance and there are occasional and welcome nods to the glory days of the TV series. [PG]

Film Review – KOJAK: THE SUMMER OF ’69 (TV) (1977)

Kojak: The Summer of ’69 (TV) (1977; USA; Technicolor; 96m) ***  d. Gene R. Kearney; w. Gene R. Kearney; ph. John McPherson; m. John Cacavas.  Cast: Telly Savalas, Stephen McHattie, Alex Dreier, Harrison Page, Pepe Serna, Phillip R. Allen, Dan Frazer, Kevin Dobson, George Savalas, Woodrow Parfrey, Thalmus Rasulala, Catlin Adams, Diane Baker. A man is released from prison, and a woman who rides with him to New York is found murdered in his abandoned car (with the MO of a dead serial killer). Interesting premise helped by strong portrayal of psychotic killer by McHattie. Flashback elements are distracting and the sub-plot involving a mob fixer is never fully realised. Good use of NYC locations add authenticity. Compiled from two-part episode from fifth season of Kojak TV series. [15]

Film Review: KOJAK: KOJAK’S DAYS (TV) (1977)

Kojak: Kojak’s Days (TV) (1977; USA; Technicolor; 96m) *** d. Charles S. Dubin; w. Chester Krumholz, Matthew Rapf; ph. Sol Negrin; m. John Cacavas; ed. Eric Albertson, Jim Benson.  Cast: Telly Savalas, Maud Adams, William Hurt, Ken Kercheval, Louise Sorel, Michael Tolan, Dan Frazer, Kevin Dobson, George Savalas. An unidentified corpse in a stolen Rolls-Royce is found the same morning a wife kills her husband and abandons her child, leaving a trail that could lead to her suicide. Dramatic impetus is undermined by having four separate cases for the detectives to solve. Whilst this adds authenticity it makes the viewing hard-going at times. Extensive use of NYC locations, good performances by a strong cast and Savalas’ presence are main strengths. Adams is wasted in a what amounts to little more than a cameo. Compiled from two-part episode from fourth season of Kojak TV series. [PG]

TV Review – PORRIDGE: SERIES ONE (2017)

Porridge Series 1 [2017] [DVD] [2016]Porridge: Series One (2017; UK; Colour; 6 x 30m) ***½ pr. Richard Webb; d.  Dominic Brigstocke; w. Dick Clement, Ian Le Frenais.  Cast: Kevin Bishop, Dave Hill, Mark Bonnar, Dominic Coleman, Jason Barnett, Colin Hoult, Harman Singh, Colin McFarlane, Daniel Fearn, Rory Gallagher, Ricky Grover, Harry Peacock, Pippa Haywood, Zahra Ahmadi.  Bishop stars as Nigel Norman Fletcher, the grandson of Ronnie Barker’s Norman Stanley Fletcher from the original series, who is in prison for cyber crimes. Highly enjoyable and old-fashioned comedy that benefits from original scriptwriters Clement and Le Frenais, even if they have recycled some plot lines and jokes from their original scripts. Characters have been re-tooled and the show retains the feel of the the classic series. Bishop is excellent as the wisecracking Fletcher whilst Bonar and Coleman provide affectionate tributes to Fulton MacKay and Brian Wilde. [12]

Film Review – KOJAK: A SHIELD FOR MURDER (TV) (1976)

Image result for kojak a shield for murderKojak: A Shield for Murder (TV) (1976; USA; Technicolor; 96m) ***½  d. Jeannot Szwarc; w. William P. McGivern, Robert Malcolm Young; ph. Sol Negrin; m. John Cacavas.  Cast: Telly Savalas, Geraldine Page, Charles Kimbrough, Michael Lombard, Dan Frazer, Kevin Dobson, George Savalas, Kenneth McMillan, Thom Christopher, Janet Ward, Frederick Coffin, Mary Beth Hurt, Lester Rawlins. A young man is killed by police after he attempts to kill an assistant district attorney at a courthouse. Kojak learns that the young man was a boyfriend of an ice skater who is in prison for the murder of her mother two years before. But when he tries to look further into the case, he gets pressured to drop it, with the orders ultimately coming from a powerful political operative. Highly effective feature-length episode in the Kojak series plays of themes of political greed, corruption and psychological torment. The performances are first-rate – notably Hurt as the tortured victim of the cover-up and Page as the orchestrator. Savalas is a commanding presence in his signature role. From the fourth season of the series. [PG]

Film Review – HALLOWEEN II (1981)

Image result for halloween iiHalloween II (1981; USA; Metrocolor; 92m) ***  d. Rick Rosenthal; w. John Carpenter, Debra Hill; ph. Dean Cundey; m. John Carpenter, Alan Howarth.  Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Pamela Susan Shoop, Tony Moran, Lance Guest, Dick Warlock, Hunter von Leer, Leo Rossi, Gloria Gifford, Tawny Moyer, Ana Alicia, Ford Rainey, Cliff Emmich, Jeffrey Kramer. Following the events of HALLOWEEN, Michael Myers finds Laurie (Curtis) at the Haddonfield Hospital. More formulaic and bloody continuation, but makes effective use of the hospital setting. Curtis gives a physical performance requiring little dialogue, whilst Pleasence manically tries to convince others that Myers lives. Most effective moments are those that mirror set-pieces from the classy original. Followed by HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982). [18]

Film Review – KOJAK: A QUESTION OF ANSWERS (TV) (1975)

Image result for kojak season threeKojak: A Question of Answers (TV) (1975; USA; Technicolor; 97m) ***½  d. Jerry London; w. Albert Ruben; ph. Sol Negrin; m. John Cacavas.  Cast: Telly Savalas, Eli Wallach, Michael V. Gazzo, Jennifer Warren, Jerry Orbach, Dan Frazer, Kevin Dobson, George Savalas, Allan Rich, F. Murray Abraham. A man tries to clear his name by helping Kojak trap a loan shark. Strong feature-length entry in the series makes extensive use of New York locations adding authenticity and bite to this deft and downbeat story. Savalas and Wallach excel and are strongly supported by Warren and Orbach. Third season opener for Kojak TV series. [PG]

Shaft unpublished comic strip art sold at auction

In my book The World of Shaft, I included a chapter on the proposed Shaft comic strip Ernest Tidyman had been developing with respected comic book artist Don Rico. The strip was taken as far as 28 test panels between June and December 1972. Tidyman was unable to sell the strip to the major newspapers and the idea was eventually abandoned. I featured some samples of the strip artwork in my book along with earlier tests by artist David Russell, now a storyboard artist working on major Hollywood movies.

Well, whilst browsing the internet I came across a completed auction on 9 June 2017 through Profiles in History (based in Calabasas, California). In their Animation and Disneyana Auction was Lot 398: Don Rico and Ernest Tidyman signed original art for an unpublished comic strip entitled, Shaft. The guide price for the 11 finished and 6 unfinished strip panels was between $1,000 and $1,500. The lot was sold.

As it was preceded by a similar lot for a strip featuring The Six Million Dollar Man – also drawn by Don Rico – so, it is a possibility these signed panels have been listed for auction by the artist’s estate or a collector.

 

This is interesting because as far as I am aware the panels have not been widely available to view previously. I obtained copies of the full proposed strip from Ernest Tidyman’s papers as part of my research work along with earlier tests by other artists. David Russell also very kindly restored his initial test artwork, which was by far the most impressive, for inclusion in my book.

The Shaft comic strip idea was an interesting one, but the Newspaper Enterprise Association’s response at the time was: “The continuity-type strip has fallen on lean days, and the episodic panel or strip is the “in” thing, comics-page wise.” In fairness the story quality of the proposed Tidyman/Rico strip was relatively weak and did not come close to matching that of stronger episodic strips of the day.

It would be 2015 before John Shaft finally appeared in published comic form, via David F. Walker’s excellent series of comic books. Trade paperbacks of Shaft: A Complication Man and Shaft: Imitation of Life have been published by Dynamite Entertainment and are highly recommended.

TV Review – GUNPOWDER (2017)

Gunpowder (TV) (2017, UK, Colour, 3 x 60m) ***½  pr. Laurie Borg; d. J Blakeson; w. Ronan Bennett; ph. Philipp Blaubach; m. Volker Bertelmann; ed. Mark Eckersley.  Cast: Kit Harington, Liv Tyler, Peter Mullan, Mark Gatiss, Tom Cullen, Edward Holcroft, David Bamber, Shaun Dooley, Derek Riddell, Kevin Eldon, Robert Emms, Luke Neal, Richard Douglas, Pedro Casablanc, Jason Redshaw, Sian Webber. British activist Guy Fawkes and a group of provincial English Catholics plan to blow up the House of Lords and kill King James I in the early 17th century. Compelling BBC mini-series drama paints a black-and-white picture of the historical events. In driving for sensationalism the drama can lack emotional depth, but it remains compulsive viewing until the conventional shoot-out finale. Strong production values (and design by Grant Montgomery) with meticulous attention to period detail – including graphic scenes of torture and execution.  [15]

Shaft re-appraised following UK Blu-Ray release

Shaft (hmv Exclusive) - The Premium Collection (Image 1)Gordon Parks’ 1971 adaptation of Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft was released on Blu-Ray in the UK on 2 October via HMV’s “premium Collection”. The release has led to modern viewers and critics re-appraising a film that these days is seemingly better remembered for its theme song.

Casimir Harlow at AVForums had this to say on 19 October: “…a surprisingly low budget, straightforward affair that doesn’t appear anywhere near as flashy and funky as it’s theme song would have you believe, instead riding high not only on Hayes’ lyrics but also on the swagger and sheer screen presence of Richard Roundtree, an underrated star.”

Chris Hick at FilmWerk : “Despite his lack of real acting ability, Roundtree dominates every scene with his sculpted afro, big moustache and cool clothes including raincoat length leather jackets. The action is violent and in your face and shot in a seedy New York virtually unrecognisable today which has an obvious parallel with the superior The French Connection, that was coincidentally made the same year; the pair of films having many similarities with the snowy dirty and cold mean streets of the Big Apple.”

Rob Simpson, writing for TheGeekShow says, “More so than any film, this can be credited for the popularisation of 1970s black cinema with its mix of street culture, social commentary, phenomenal music, action, and crime jam-packed into a massively entertaining and punchy bundle.”

I am hoping Shaft’s Big Score! and Shaft in Africa will follow onto Blu-Ray soon. But the likelihood is if at all the trilogy will be re-released to coincide with New Line’s cinema release of the latest Shaft sequel next year.