Film Review – SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

Image result for solo a star wars storySolo: A Star Wars Story (2018; USA; Colour; 135m) ***½  d. Ron Howard; w. Lawrence Kasdan, Jonathan Kasdan; ph. Bradford Young; m. John Powell.  Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Warwick Davis, Clint Howard, Richard Dixon, Joonas Suotamo, Sarah-Stephanie, Deepak Anand, Slim Khezri, Ian Kenny, Douglas Robson, Omar Alboukharey, Sean Gislingham, Nathaniel Lonsdale. During an adventure into the criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion. Whilst this STAR WARS spin-off offers nothing particularly new or surprising, considering its troubled production history it remains a surprisingly consistently entertaining adventure. Ehrenreich displays the same roguish charisma as essayed by Harrison Ford and Glover also scores as Lando Calrissian. The action set pieces are effective and avoid the stilted choreography of recent efforts. Whilst the story itself may lack the gravitas and mysticism of its parent, it makes for more simple-minded fun. Although originally brought on board to complete the film after Phil Lord and Christopher Miller had been dismissed due to creative differences, it was widely reported that Howard re-shot more than 80% of the movie. Also shot in 3-D. [12]

Film Review – THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974)

Image result for the sugarland express posterSugarland Express, The (1974; USA; Technicolor; 110m) ****  d. Steven Spielberg; w. Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins, Steven Spielberg; ph. Vilmos Zsigmond; m. John Williams.  Cast: Goldie Hawn, Ben Johnson, Michael Sacks, William Atherton, Gregory Walcott, Steve Kanaly, Louise Latham, Harrison Zanuck, A. L. Camp, Jessie Lee Fulton, Dean Smith, Ted Grossman. A woman attempts to reunite her family by helping her husband escape prison and together kidnapping their son. But things don’t go as planned when they are forced to take a police hostage on the road. Spielberg’s first theatrical feature is a winning combination of drama and humour. Balancing the tone is the director’s biggest challenge as he takes on this adaptation of real life events. Hawn and Atherton score strongly as the misguided couple, whilst Johnson gives a quietly effective performance as a sympathetic lawman. The tone shifts sharply in its final act, but this remains an engaging tale. [PG]

Film Review – KEY LARGO (1948)

Key Largo (1948; USA; B&W; 100m) ****  d. John Huston; w. Richard Brooks, John Huston; ph. Karl Freund; m. Max Steiner.  Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, Thomas Gomez, Harry Lewis, John Rodney, Marc Lawrence, Dan Seymour, Monte Blue, William Haade. A man visits his old friend’s hotel and finds a gangster running things. As a hurricane approaches, the two end up confronting each other. Tense thriller extracts maximum impact from its strong cast who are well directed by Huston. Bogart and Robinson’s antagonistic interplay is electric, whilst Trevor also excels as Robinson’s alcoholic mistress. Bacall and Barrymore offer good support. Rousing Steiner score and effective photography from Freund give added atmosphere to the production, which at times betrays its static stage roots until its exciting climax on the fog bound ocean. Won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (Trevor). Based on the play by Maxwell Anderson. [PG]

Film Review – THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017)

Image result for three billboardsThree Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri (2017; UK/USA; Colour; 115m) ***** d. Martin McDonagh; w. Martin McDonagh; ph. Ben Davis; m. Carter Burwell.  Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Abbie Cornish, Brendan Sexton III, Samara Weaving, Kerry Condon, Nick Searcy, Lawrence Turner, Amanda Warren, Michael Aaron Milligan, William J. Harrison, Sandy Martin, Christopher Berry, Zeljko Ivanek, Alejandro Barrios, Jason Redford, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Selah Atwood. A darkly comic crime drama in which a woman pressures the police into continuing the investigation into her daughter’s murder. Multi-layered tale with themes of retribution, prejudice, guilt and redemption is brilliantly scripted and superbly acted. McDormand, Rockwell and Harrelson turn in top-notch performances. It is darkly comic, but the drama burns deep. At times it is a tough watch, but it remains engrossing throughout. A modern-day parable of rare complexity. Won Oscars for Best Actress (McDormand) and Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell). [15]

Film Review – DARK PASSAGE (1947)

Image result for dark passage 1947Dark Passage (1947; USA; B&W; 106m) ***½  d. Delmer Daves; w. Delmer Daves; ph. Sid Hickox; m. Franz Waxman.  Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bruce Bennett, Agnes Moorehead, Tom D’Andrea, Clifton Young, Douglas Kennedy, Rory Mallinson, Houseley Stevenson. A man convicted of murdering his wife escapes from prison and works with a woman to try and prove his innocence. An overly contrived, if admittedly engrossing and entertaining, plot relying on too much coincidence is all but overcome by the strong cast and technical accomplishments. Using the camera as the protagonist’s point-of-view for over half its running time, the gimmick seems a little forced. Bogart doesn’t physically appear until over an hour into the story, but Bacall holds the screen well and their star chemistry is still apparent. Hickox’s photography using the San Francisco locations and dark streets is moodily effective. Daves directs his own screenplay adaptation with a sure hand and uses hand-held cameras to good effect. Moorehead stands out in the supporting cast as a schemer. Based on the novel by David Goodis. [PG]

Film Review – ABBA: THE MOVIE (1977)

Image result for abba the movie QUAD POSTERABBA: The Movie (1977; Australia/Sweden; Eastmancolor; 95m) ***½  d. Lasse Hallström; w. Lasse Hallström, Robert Caswell; ph. Jack Churchill, Paul Onorato; m. Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Stig Anderson.  Cast: Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Fältskog, Robert Hughes, Tom Oliver, Bruce Barry, Stig Anderson. An incompetent radio DJ tries to get an interview with the Swedish pop group ABBA during their famous week-long 1977 tour of Australia. This semi-documentary is both charming and entertaining making the most of both the impressive concert footage of a band at their peak and the side-story of hapless journalist following them. Hughes manages to keep this diversion both funny and diverting. The songs (including “Dancing Queen”, “The Name of the Game”, “Eagle”, “Fernando”, “Waterloo” and many more) are performed with the band’s distinctive polish but retain an energy that gives their adoring audience exactly what they want. Anyone looking for more depth should look elsewhere. [U]

Film Review – THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948)

Image result for the treasure of the sierra madreTreasure of the Sierra Madre, The (1948; USA; B&W; 126m) ****½  d. John Huston; w. John Huston; ph. Ted D. McCord; m. Max Steiner.  Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett, Barton MacLane, Alfonso Bedoya, Arturo Soto Rangel, Manuel Dondé, José Torvay, Margarito Luna. Two Americans searching for work in Mexico, convince an old prospector to help them mine for gold in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Basically, a parable about the human avarice – greed. Biblical overtones in the final act may seem a little heavy-handed but serve to emphasise the moral tone. John Huston directs with great confidence, with his father turning in a spirited performance as the experienced prospector. Bogart is also excellent in an unsympathetic role. Rousing score by Steiner and expressive photography from McCord.  Winner of three Oscars for Best Director, Supporting Actor (Walter Huston), Screenplay. Entered 1990 into the National Film Registry. Catch the uncredited appearance by Robert Blake as a boy selling lottery tickets. [PG]

Film Review – KILLER JOE (2011)

Image result for killer joe 2011Killer Joe (2011; USA; Colour; 102m) ***½  d. William Friedkin; w. Tracy Letts; ph. Caleb Deschanel; m. Tyler Bates.  Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, Juno Temple, Charley Vance, Gregory Bachaud, Marc Macaulay. When a debt puts a young man’s life in danger, he turns to putting a hit out on his evil mother in order to collect the insurance. Brilliantly acted and darkly comic crime thriller suffers from the occasional misstep – notably in its overly sensational climax. The plot is simple, but cleverly executed and the dialogue is naturalistic. McConaughey is the standout as the detective/hitman with psychotic tendencies beneath a cool and charming facade. Church is also very good as the dim-witted husband of opportunistic Gershon. A tough watch for some, again notably in the final act, this demonstrates Friedkin hasn’t lost his appetite to challenge his audience. Letts adapted her own play. [18]

Film Review – MILLER’S CROSSING (1990)

Image result for miller's crossing 1990 posterMiller’s Crossing (1990; USA; DuArt; 115m) ***  d. Joel Coen; w. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; ph. Barry Sonnenfeld; m. Carter Burwell.  Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, Albert Finney, Jon Polito, J.E. Freeman, John Turturro, Steve Buscemi, Mike Starr, Richard Woods, Al Mancini, Sam Raimi, Frances McDormand. In the 1920s, an Irish gangster and his trusted lieutenant and counsellor find their domination of the town threatened by an ambitious Italian underboss. The Coen Brothers mix traditional gangster movie tropes with very black comedy to produce a lively but ultimately frustrating tale of false loyalties. It starts out well, establishing the key character of Byrne as he plays off Finney against Polito, but the story descends into an increasingly implausible sequence of double-crosses. Good period detail and handsome photography, along with frequently sharp dialogue, are the highlights. Based on the novels “Red Harvest” and “Glass Key” by Dashiell Hammett, which previously were filmed as or inspired ROADHOUSE NIGHTS (1930), YOJIMBO (1961) and FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964). [15]

Film Review – ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998)

Image result for enemy of the state 1998Enemy of the State (1998; USA; Technicolor; 132m) ***½  d. Tony Scott; w. David Marconi; ph. Daniel Mindel; m. Harry Gregson-Williams, Trevor Rabin.  Cast: Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Lisa Bonet, Regina King, Stuart Wilson, Loren Dean, Jake Busey, Barry Pepper, Jason Robards, Laura Cayouette, Ian Hart, Scott Caan, Jason Lee, Jack Black. A lawyer becomes a target by a corrupt politician and his NSA goons when he accidentally receives key evidence to a serious politically motivated crime. Exciting and frenetically edited, if slightly overlong, action thriller plays on public paranoia with privacy and mistrust of government. Smith is good as cynical everyman caught up in a conspiracy. Hackman is reliable as ever as surveillance expert who comes to his rescue. Extended version runs to 140m. [15]