TV Review – MURDER ON THE BLACKPOOL EXPRESS (2017)

Murder On The Blackpool Express. David Van Der Clane (Griff Rhys Jones).Murder on the Blackpool Express (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 91m)   pr. Jim Poyser; d. Simon Delaney; w. Jason Cook; ph. Ian Adrian; m. Samuel Karl Bohn.  Cast: Johnny Vegas, Sian Gibson, Griff Rhys Jones, Mark Heap, Nina Wadia, Kimberley Nixon, Nigel Havers, Kevin Eldon, Una Stubbs, Sheila Reid.  Feature-length comedy about a crime writer (Jones) who takes a group of his fans on a coach tour of locations from his books. The bus is soon leaving a string of bodies in its wake, and the passengers are faced with the possibility of a murderer in their midst. Woeful attempt to parody the Agatha Christie classic constantly misfires and long outstays its welcome. A good cast of comedy veterans is wasted with lame material and is poorly directed – even the few good jokes are badly delivered and executed.

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]

TV Review – STRIKE: THE SILKWORM (2017)

Strike: The Silkworm (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 2x60m) ***½  pr. Jackie Larkin; d. Kieron Hawkes; w. Tom Edge; ph. Gary Shaw; m. Adrian Johnston.  Cast: Tom Burke, Holliday Grainger, Kerr Logan, Monica Dolan, Sarah Gordy, Dominic Mafham, Peter Sullivan, Tim McInnerny, Lia Williams, Sargon Yelda, Caitlin Innes Edwards, Ian Attard, Joey Batey, Natasha O’Keeffe, Jeremy Swift.  Strike is approached by Leonora Quine with a plea to locate her husband, the notorious writer Owen Quine, who has disappeared without a trace. The plot, dealing with literature used as a sadistic weapon for revenge was never going to be easy to adapt for TV and whilst the first book stretched to a 3-hour adaptation, here Robert Galbraith’s (J.K. Rowling) second Cormoran Strike novel is condensed into 2 hours. Whilst this creates some necessary tightening of the plot, it does make for demanding viewing in trying to keep up with its intricacies. Those who do so will be rewarded with a strong variation on the traditional whodunit. Burke and Grainger again excel in their lead roles and the support acting all round is strong. The series will return in 2018 with an adaptation of the third novel in the series, “Career of Evil”. [15]

Film Review – THE PARK AVENUE RUSTLERS (TV) (1972)

Image result for mccloud the park avenue rustlersPark Avenue Rustlers, The (TV) (1972; USA; Technicolor; 74m) ***  d. Jack Arnold; w. Sy Salkowitz; ph. William Cronjager; m. Lee Holdridge.  Cast: Dennis Weaver, J. D. Cannon, Eddie Albert, Roddy McDowall, Diana Muldaur, Brenda Vaccaro, Lloyd Bochner, Norman Fell, Terry Carter. A partner poses as McCloud’s lover to help him infiltrate a car-theft ring. Strong entry in NBC’s McCloud series, which formed part of the Mystery Movie wheel. Veteran Arnold directs with added vigour – notably during the climax involving a hair-raising helicopter stunt. Weaver is excellent, as ever, with his laconic charm and Cannon is a great foil as his world-weary superior. Weaver was actually dangling from the helicopter skid as it left the top of the 20-storey building, having missed the cue to be replaced by a stuntman. [PG]

TV Review – STRIKE: THE CUCKOO’S CALLING (2017)

Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 3x60m) ***½  pr. Jackie Larkin; d. Michael Keillor; w. Ben Richards; ph. Hubert Taczanowski; m. Adrian Johnston.  Cast: Tom Burke, Holliday Grainger, Martin Shaw, Kerr Logan, Killian Scott, Kadiff Kirwan, Elarica Johnson, Bronson Webb, Leo Bill, Tezlym Senior-Sakutu, Tara Fitzgerald, Natasha O’Keeffe.  Private investigator Cormoran Strike is hired to find out if a supermodel’s suicide in London may have been a murder. Faithful adaptation of the novel by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym for J. K. Rowling, who also exec produced). Stylishly shot on location in the city of London. The mystery elements are traditional, but the lead characters of the one-legged war hero turned PI and his new female assistant are interesting and they are compellingly portrayed by Burke and Grainger. Followed by STRIKE: THE SILKWORM (2017). [15]

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME / THE DOCTOR FALLS (2017)

Image result for doctor who world enough and time the doctor fallsDoctor Who: World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls (TV) (2017: UK: Colour: 106m) ∗∗∗∗½  pr. Peter Bennett; d. Rachel Talalay; w. Steven Moffat; ph. Ashley Rowe; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Pearl Mackie , Michelle Gomez, John Simm , Oliver Lansley, Paul Brightwell, Alison Lintott, Briana Shann, Rosie Boore, Samantha Spiro, Simon Coombs, Nicholas Briggs, David Bradley.   Friendship drives the Doctor into the rashest decision of his life. Trapped on a giant spaceship, caught in the event horizon of a black hole, he witnesses the death of someone he is pledged to protect. Is there any way he can redeem his mistake? Are events already out of control? For once, time is the Time Lord’s enemy. Moffat’s season finales have generally been a case of excellent set-up and disappointing pay-off. This story comes close to meeting that trend, but ultimately wins out because of the superb performances, a witty script and its no-win situation. Capaldi excels here in fighting his moral dilemna. Gomez and Simm spark well with Capaldi and each other and there is a sense of irony about the resolution of their story.  The first episode set up the premise brilliantly in one of the best ever episodes of the series. The resolution felt a little contrived in places and overly sentimental in the resolution of Bill’s story, but this is otherwise an excellent finale with a superb twist right at the end leaving us looking forward to the Xmas special to come. [12]

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: THE EATERS OF LIGHT (2017)

Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light (TV) (2017: UK: Colour: 42m) ∗∗∗½  pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Charles Palmer; w. Rona Munro; ph. Mark Waters; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Pearl Mackie , Michelle Gomez, Rebecca Benson, Daniel Kerr, Brian Vernel, Rohan Nedd, Ben Hunter, Sam Adewunmi, Billy Matthews, Aaron Phagura, Jocelyn Brassington, Lewis McGowan. A long time ago, the ninth legion of the Roman army vanished into the mists of Scotland. Bill has a theory about what happened, and the Doctor has a time machine. But when they arrive in ancient Aberdeenshire, what they find is a far greater threat than any army. In a cairn, on a hillside, is a doorway leading to the end of the world. Another variant on the ‘monster of the week’ theme, working slightly better than EMPRESS OF MARS thanks to a more polished script from Munro (the only writer from the original series to pen a story since the 2005 relaunch – 1989’s SURVIVAL, the last broadcast story of the original run. What lets the episode down is the variable performances given by the young guest cast, contrasting with the confident ones from the regulars, some dodgy CGI and an overly neat ending. Its familiarity actually makes a welcome break from Moffat’s high concept episodes and is a diverting enough tale. [12]

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO – EMPRESS OF MARS (2017)

Image result for empress of marsDoctor Who: Empres of Mars (TV) (2017: UK: Colour: 44m) ∗∗∗  pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Wayne Che Yip; w. Mark Gatiss; ph. Stuart Biddlecombe; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Pearl Mackie , Michelle Gomez, Anthony Calf, Ferdinand Kingsley, Richard Ashton, Adele Lynch, Glenn Speers, Ian Beattie, Bayo Gbadamosi, Ian Hughes, Lesley Ewen.  The Doctor, Bill and Nardole arrive on Mars, and find themselves in an impossible conflict between Ice Warriors… and Victorian soldiers. As the Martian hive awakens around them, the Doctor faces a unique dilemma – this time the humans, not the Ice Warriors are the invaders. When Earth is invading Mars, whose side is he on? A return to the “monster of the week” format and a hark back to the stories of the 1960s with a post-modern twist. It’s all entertaining enough without really generating any suspense. The underground setting proves restrictive and the Ice Warriors lack the menace of old, being portrayed as hulking monsters with thudding footsteps. [12]

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO – EXTREMIS/THE PYRAMID AT THE END OF THE WORLD/THE LIE OF THE LAND (2017)

Image result for DOCTOR WHO EXTREMISDoctor Who: (1) Extremis/(2) The Pyramid at the End of the World/(3) The Lie of the Land (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 140m) ∗∗∗½   pr. Peter Bennett (1 & 2), Nikki Wilson (3); d. Daniel Nettheim (1 & 2), Wayne Che Yip (3); w. Steven Moffat (1 & 2),  Peter Harness (2), Toby Whithouse (3); ph. Ashley Rowe; m. Murray Gold.  Cast: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas , Michelle Gomez, Jennifer Hennessy, Corrado Invernizzi, Joseph Long, Jamie Hill, Togo Igawa, Nigel Hastings, Eben Young, Rachel Denning, Tony Gardner, Andrew Byron, Daphne Cheung, Rosie Jane. (1) In the Haereticum – the Vatican’s secret library of blasphemy – there is an ancient book known only as The Veritas. Throughout history, anyone who has ever read it has immediately taken their own life. Now a new translation is online, and the danger is spreading. The Vatican appeals to the Doctor. Will he read The Veritas? But can even the Image result for DOCTOR WHO THE LIE OF THE LANDDoctor survive the ultimate truth? (2) A 5,000 year-old Pyramid stands at the centre of a war zone, where the Chinese, Russian and American armies are about to clash. There are many problems with that, but the one that intrigues the Doctor is this: there wasn’t a pyramid there yesterday. The Doctor, Bill and Nardole face an alien invasion unlike any other, and before conquest can begin, these aliens need the consent of the human race… (3) The world is gripped by a mass delusion and only Bill Potts can see the truth. When even the Doctor is fighting on the wrong side, it’s up to Bill to convince the Time Lord that humanity is in deadly danger. And if she can’t do that, she may just have to kill her best friend. Frustratingly close to being a superb example of the series at its best, but let down by a weak resolution. The second segment is the strongest with the tension building to a superb cliffhanger only to be undone by a confused and rushed finale. [12]

TV Review – KOJAK: THE CHINATOWN MURDERS (1974)

Image result for kojak season twoKojak: The Chinatown Murders (TV) (1974; USA; Technicolor; 95m) ∗∗∗  d. Jeannot Szwarc; w. Jack Laird; ph. Vilis Lapenieks, Sol Negrin; m. John Cacavas.  Cast: Telly Savalas, Michael Constantine, Sheree North, Tige Andrews, Roger Robinson, Dan Frazer, Kevin Dobson, George Savalas, Leonardo Cimino, Milton Selzer, Robert Ito, Victor Argo, Vincent Baggetta, Patrick Adiarte, Val Bisoglio. A series of gang-member murders in Chinatown starts a war. Kojak finds out that those murders were blamed on rival gangs in order to take over the territory from old families by a new gang. This feature-length episode opened Kojak’s second season. Despite attempts to inject some scope through its plot, the story is really nothing more than standard TV fare, albeit heightened by Savalas’ charismatic performance and a lean script. [PG]