THE DROWNING POOL (USA, 1975) ***½ Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Production Company: First Artists / Coleytown / Turman-Foster Company / David Foster Productions; Release Date: 25 June 1975 (USA), 14 September 1975 (UK); Filming Dates: began 16 October 1974; Running Time: 108m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 12. Director: Stuart Rosenberg; Writer: Tracy Keenan Wynn, Lorenzo Semple Jr., Walter Hill (based on the novel by Ross Macdonald); Producer: David Foster, Lawrence Turman; Associate Producer: Hawk Koch; Director of Photography: Gordon Willis; Music Composer: Michael Small; Film Editor: John C. Howard; Casting Director: Alan Shayne; Production Designer: Paul Sylbert; Art Director: Edwin O’Donovan; Costumes: Richard Bruno, Donald Brooks; Make-up: Monty Westmore; Sound: Larry Jost; Special Effects: Chuck Gaspar, Henry Millar. Cast: Paul Newman (Lew Harper), Joanne Woodward (Iris Devereaux), Anthony Franciosa (Broussard), Murray Hamilton (J.J. Kilbourne), Gail Strickland (Mavis Kilbourne), Melanie Griffith (Schuyler Devreaux), Linda Haynes (Gretchen), Richard Jaeckel (Franks), Paul Koslo (Candy), Joe Canutt (Glo), Andrew Robinson (Pat Reavis), Coral Browne (Olivia Devereaux), Richard Derr (James Devereaux), Helena Kallianiotes (Elaine Reavis), Leigh French (Red Head), Peter Dassinger (Peter), James Fontenot (Bartender), Tommy McLain (Nightclub Band), Martin Ahrens (Cajun Heavy #1), Philippe Blenet (Cajun Heavy #2), Jerome Greene (Butler), Cecil Elliott (Motel Switchboard Operator). Synopsis: Sequel to HARPER (1966), in which the big-city private detective travels to the Deep South to help out an old girlfriend who is being blackmailed. Comment: Newman returns to the role that fit him like a glove nine years earlier. This new case has more depth to the plot and also benefits from a strong supporting cast – with Hamilton’s sleazy oil magnate the most notable. A young Griffith takes on the role of rich couple’s spoilt daughter. The overall set-up may be familiar to noir fans and certainly to fans of Macdonald’s novel – despite the switch of setting – so it packs few surprises. Rosenberg’s direction is a little flat at times, but overall this is an enjoyable mystery. Notes: During post-production, director Stuart Rosenberg hired Composer Charles Fox to do additional scoring, integrating the composer’s melody “Killing Me Softly With His Song”, into the movie.
HARPER (USA, 1966) *** Distributor: Warner Bros. (USA), Warner-Pathé Distributors (UK); Production Company: Gershwin-Kastner Productions; Release Date: 23 February 1966 (USA), 1 July 1966 (UK); Filming Dates: 7 June 1965 – 20 August 1965; Running Time: 121m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 12. Director: Jack Smight; Writer: William Goldman (based on the novel “The Moving Target” by Ross Macdonald); Producer: Jerry Gershwin, Elliott Kastner; Director of Photography: Conrad L. Hall; Music Composer: Johnny Mandel; Film Editor: Stefan Arnsten; Art Director: Alfred Sweeney; Set Decorator: Claude E. Carpenter; Costumes: William Smith; Make-up: Gordon Bau; Sound: Stanley Jones. Cast: Paul Newman (Lew Harper), Lauren Bacall (Mrs. Sampson), Julie Harris (Betty Fraley), Arthur Hill (Albert Graves), Janet Leigh (Susan Harper), Pamela Tiffin (Miranda Sampson), Robert Wagner (Allan Taggert), Robert Webber (Dwight Troy), Shelley Winters (Fay Estabrook), Harold Gould (Sheriff), Roy Jenson (Puddler), Strother Martin (Claude), Martin West (Deputy), Jacqueline deWit (Mrs. Kronberg), Eugene Iglesias (Felix), Richard Carlyle (Fred Platt). Synopsis: Lew Harper, a cool private investigator, is hired by a wealthy California matron to locate her kidnapped husband. Comment: Smight’s adaptation of Ross Macdonald’s classic mystery is a product of the period in which it was made as the free spirit of the 1960s threatens to drown the plot. Newman layers his charm onto Macdonald’s detective and it is his performance that is the main draw. The kidnapping plot involves a strong cast of eccentric characters but fails to invest any with significant depth. The dialogue, however, is smarter as Goldman captures the spirit of the wisecracking down on his luck PI genre, if not the mood. Notes: The title of Ross Macdonald’s source novel “The Moving Target” was this picture’s title in Great Britain. The lead character was changed from Lew Archer to Harper because the producers had only bought the rights to the first book in the series. Followed by THE DROWNING POOL (1975), again with Newman.
LET IT BLEED (1995) ****
by Ian Rankin
First published by Orion 1995
This edition published by Orion, 2011, 402pp (360pp)
includes an introduction by Ian Rankin and Reading Group Notes.
Blurb: Struggling through another Edinburgh winter Rebus finds himself sucked into a web of intrigue that throws up more questions than answers. Was the Lord Provost’s daughter kidnapped or just another runaway? Why is a city councillor shredding documents that should have been waste paper years ago? And why on earth is Rebus invited to a clay pigeon shoot at the home of the Scottish Office’s Permanent Secretary? Sucked into the machine that is modern Scotland, Rebus confronts the fact that some of his enemies may be beyond justice…
Ian Rankin’s seventh Rebus novel see the writer in maximum cynicism mode as he hits his stride taking on politics, the establishment, corporate industry and corruption. It is a complex plot the cleverly weaves its many strands into a cohesive whole. Rebus is the voice of conscience throughout, but he himself is no saint – failing in his relationships with his partner and his daughter and descending into greater dependency on alcohol. His wits remain as sharp as ever and this is his most expansive investigation to date. That Rebus is a flawed and human character makes him all the more believable and easier to forgive those failings. Whilst BLACK AND BLUE may be seen as the point where all the elements come together in the series, beginning a golden run, LET IT BLEED acts as an excellent prelude. I now only have the thirteenth book, RESURRECTION MEN, to read to have completed the whole series.
The Rebus Series:
Knots and Crosses (1987) *** Hide and Seek (1991) *** Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) *** Strip Jack (1992) ***½ The Black Book (1993) *** Mortal Causes (1994) *** Let it Bleed (1996) **** Black and Blue (1997) ****½ The Hanging Garden (1998) **** Dead Souls (1999) **** Set in Darkness (2000) **** The Falls (2001) ****
Resurrection Men (2002) A Question of Blood (2003) **** Fleshmarket Close (2004) **** The Naming of the Dead (2006) ****½ Exit Music (2007) **** Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ***½ Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) *** Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) **** Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½ In a House of Lies (2018) ***½
EVEREST (USA/UK/Iceland, 2015) ***½ Distributor: Universal Pictures (USA), Universal Pictures International (UPI) (UK); Production Company: Working Title Films / RVK Studios / Walden Media / Universal Pictures / Cross Creek Pictures; Release Date: 18 September 2015 (USA and UK); Filming Dates: Began 13 January 2014; Running Time: 121m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital | 12-Track Digital Sound (IMAX 12 track) | Dolby Atmos | Auro 11.1 | IMAX 6-Track | Dolby Surround 7.1 | Sonics-DDP; Film Format: D-Cinema (also 3-D version); Film Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 12. Director: Baltasar Kormákur; Writer: Lem Dobbs, Justin Isbell, William Nicholson; Executive Producer: Brandt Andersen, Liza Chasin, Randall Emmett, Evan Hayes, Mark Mallouk, Peter Mallouk, Angela Morrison, Lauren Selig; Producer: Nicky Kentish Barnes, Tim Bevan, Liza Chasin, Eric Fellner, Evan Hayes, Brian Oliver, Tyler Thompson; Director of Photography: Salvatore Totino; Music Composer: Dario Marianelli; Music Supervisor: Maggie Rodford; Film Editor: Mick Audsley; Casting Director: Fiona Weir; Production Designer: Gary Freeman; Art Director: Tom Still; Set Decorator: Raffaella Giovannetti; Costumes: Guy Speranza; Make-up: Carmel Jackson; Sound: Glenn Freemantle; Special Effects: Richard Van Den Bergh; Visual Effects: Måns Björklund, Tim Caplan, Chaya Feiner, Hjortur Gretarsson, Roma O’Connor, Dominic Parker, Melody Woodford. Cast: Jason Clarke (Rob Hall), Jake Gyllenhaal (Scott Fischer), Josh Brolin (Beck Weathers), Robin Wright (Peach Weathers), John Hawkes (Doug Hansen), Sam Worthington (Guy Cotter), Michael Kelly (Jon Krakauer), Keira Knightley (Jan Arnold), Emily Watson (Helen Wilton), Thomas Wright (Michael Groom), Martin Henderson (Andy “Harold” Harris), Elizabeth Debicki (Dr. Caroline Mackenzie), Naoko Mori (Yasuko Namba), Clive Standen (Ed Viesturs), Vanessa Kirby (Sandy Hill), Tom Goodman-Hill (Neal Beidleman), Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson (Anatoli Boukreev), Charlotte Bøving (Lene Gammelgaard), Micah Hauptman (David Breashears), Chris Reilly (Klev Schoening), Chike Chan (Makalu Gau), Vijaya Lama (Lt. Col. Madan Khatri Chhetri), Mark Derwin (Lou Kasischke), Mia Goth (Meg Weathers). Synopsis: The story of New Zealand’s Robert “Rob” Edwin Hall, who on May 10, 1996, together with Scott Fischer, teamed up on a joint expedition to ascend Mount Everest. Comment: Based on a true story this is a Hollywood-ised treatment that nevertheless is an engaging experience due to some breathtaking location photography and strong performances by the ensemble cast. The set-pieces are immaculately staged and often thrilling, but the main theme is one of endurance and will. Clarke and Brolin are particularly excellent, whilst Gyllenhaal is also memorable in a hippy-style turn. Whilst the movie lacks the emotional impact it tries to create, by not letting us get close enough to the characters, it more than makes up for with its technically spectacular sequences Notes: Also shot in 3-D.
TARZAN’S GREATEST ADVENTURE (UK, 1959) **** Distributor: Paramount Pictures (USA), Paramount British Pictures (UK); Production Company: Solar Film Productions; Release Date: 8 July 1959 (USA); Filming Dates: mid Feb–late Mar 1959; Running Time: 88m; Colour: Eastmancolor; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG. Director: John Guillermin; Writer: Berne Giler, John Guillermin (based on a story by Les Crutchfield and characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs); Executive Producer: Harvey Hayutin, Sy Weintraub; Producer: Sy Weintraub; Director of Photography: Edward Scaife; Music Composer: Douglas Gamley; Film Editor: Bert Rule; Casting Director: Nora Roberts; Art Director: Michael Stringer; Make-up: Tony Sforzini; Sound: John Cox. Cast: Gordon Scott (Tarzan), Anthony Quayle (Slade), Sara Shane (Angie), Niall MacGinnis (Kruger), Sean Connery (O’Bannion), Al Mulock (Dino), Scilla Gabel (Toni). Synopsis: Tarzan is out to capture a quintet of British diamond hunters in Africa, who killed a pair of natives while robbing supplies. Comment: Excellent jungle adventure is perhaps the best of the Tarzan pictures. Scott’s pursuit of Quayle is superbly edited and directed with a grittiness missing from the series since the early Johnny Weissmuller entries. Quayle gives a nuanced performance whilst Connery is notable in an early role. Scott’s Tarzan is an intelligent and fully verbal version closer to Burroughs’ vision. Notes: Connery was paid five thousand six hundred dollars for his role in this movie. When asked to play in the next Tarzan movie, he said he couldn’t because “two fellows took an option on me for some spy picture and are exercising it. But I’ll be in your next.” The “spy picture” was DR. NO (1962), the first of his numerous appearances as James Bond 007. Followed by TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT (1960).
Four years ago it was announced that New Line had secured the rights from Warner Brothers to make a new Shaft movie. For fans of Ernest Tidyman’s hero and the original 1970s movies this was a welcome surprise. The key question was how would New Line treat the property? Gradually news filtered out that the movie would be a sequel to the Samuel L Jackson 2000 version, itself a sequel to Richard Roundtree’s three 1970s originals. The movie would feature a third generation John Shaft and would concentrate on the relationship between him and his father. It would also have a comedic tone. That’s when my heart, and no doubt those of many other fans of the original, sank. What we got when the film was finally released in June 2019, nearly a full year after completion, was exactly what had been promised. I sat watching the film with an increasingly sinking feeling that the producers had totally messed things up. Jackson’s character has been turned into a caricature of his 2000 version, whilst Roundtree is trotted out for the finale and is given too little screen time, given he gives easily the most considered performance. My wife lasted half-an-hour, my son an hour, I had to see it through of course.
It seems odd that we are to accept in the post-millennial, ultra PC world we currently live in that it is impossible to make a serious crime thriller with a black hero. Why? 1971s Shaft was a hard-hitting crime thriller with a solid plot and a charismatic lead, which also had aspects of social commentary. It resonated with a generation of black Americans and a wider worldwide audience. It was groundbreaking in opening up Hollywood to black filmmakers and actors and as such has massive cultural significance. Yes, the glut of Blaxploitation movies that followed in its wake quickly veered into the territory of the absurd, but there were the occasional gems and, more importantly, it helped give black artists a stronger voice in popular culture.
Ernest Tidyman, Shaft’s creator, was ironically a white man. His goal, on commission from Macmillan’s mystery editor Alan Rinzler, was to create a black hero to give readers of crime fiction something different to the glut of white detectives and Agatha Christie-styled comfy mysteries. Tidyman duly obliged with a private eye in the mould of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe brought up to date and thrown into a decaying New York City with all its financial and social problems and its escalating crime rate. The result was the novel Shaft (1970), a hard-hitting fast read of a thriller that integrates the social issues of life in Harlem into a straight-forward detective story of threatened gang warfare between the Mafia and the Harlem crime lord. Tidyman was a former journalist with the New York Times who had an in-depth knowledge of both the city and its issues.
As written by Tidyman, the character of John Shaft was a product of poverty in the black community. Orphaned at two-years-old, passed around from foster home to foster home, he ran with the street gangs before being enlisted to fight in Vietnam rather than go to jail. A wounded war hero, hardened by his experience he made his own way in the white man’s world. Setting up his own detective agency and operating from Times Square – not the glitzy location of today, but the sleazy run-down place it had become in the 1970s. He lived in a Greenwich Village Apartment, amongst arty types. He had no time for the black militants, led by his former friend Ben Buford, and admonished Knocks Persons, the Godfather of Harlem for soaking the streets with drugs, prostitutes and for preying on the poverty of the population via the numbers racket. Shaft was a loner, out for himself. A man of few close friends. He had been shaped by his upbringing and his experiences into looking after number 1.
Tidyman cleverly weaved all these strands through that first novel and the result was a sensation that was quickly picked up by the big studios. MGM finally acquired the rights and hired Gordon Parks, a photographer and filmmaker with an affinity and feel for Harlem. Parks put his own stamp on the character in the film adaptation taking Tidyman’s template and fashioning a charismatic performance from newcomer Richard Roundtree. Isaac Hayes’ funky score captured both the character of Shaft and the feel of the streets and provided the icing on the cake. The opening sequence is one of the best in motion picture history at establishing a character in three or four minutes.
Like Tidyman’s novels, the film series became gradually more formulaic as bigger budgets put more emphasis on action and less on character, but they remained thoroughly enjoyable. The failure of Shaft in Africa at the box office signalled a move of the franchise to TV for a short-lived series of 7 TV movies. In 1975, Tidyman killed off the character in his seventh novel The Last Shaft (“He was tired and so was I”) and the world moved on.
Twenty-five years later, Paramount and John Singleton attempted to relaunch the franchise. They cast Samuel L Jackson as Shaft’s nephew (later to be determined as his son) – also named John Shaft – and put him in a serviceable crime thriller, which lost the hipness and resonance of those 1970s movies, whilst providing an opportunity for Jackson to showcase his considerable charisma. The movie did well at the box office, but no-one was really happy with it.
Nearly a generation later the world is a different place – even from that seen at the turn of the century, but there are worrying elements of an increasing backlash against attitudes of social tolerance: the election of Trump; Brexit in the UK; the increasing narrow-mindedness toward the migrant situation whether it be between the Middle East and Europe or on the US/Mexican border. Issues that could be addressed rather than ignored.
The laudable focus on diversity and sexual equality has rendered some of the wider attitudes seen in 1970s society as objectionable. Questions are being asked about the popular cultural icons of the time. The sexism perceived in characters such as James Bond and John Shaft is now no longer acceptable. Today’s heroes are driven to be whiter than white or they cannot be held up as role models for society.
This thinking is embodied in the character of JJ (John Shaft III) in Tim Story’s new version of Shaft. The scriptwriters (Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow) decided they would pitch post-Millennial attitudes against those of the pre-Millennial through JJs relationship with his father. But instead of taking a serious approach and making a forceful statement, they go for a comedy of manners. In so doing they both undermine their message and end up creating caricatures for comic effect rather than characters of depth.
And none of this has anything to do with Ernest Tidyman’s original creation.
Tidyman was not going all out to make social and political points in his writing. The issues of the day were presented as a backdrop to the story. Tidyman was creating escapist entertainment and thrills from a plausible detective hero – a character single-mindedly establishing a life for himself despite the things that have conspired against him. That is the essence of the character of John Shaft. Yes, he has his flaws – his disposable attitude to women, a sense of homophobia – but his heroic qualities of loyalty and resilience and his determination to do things his own way sent a message which resonated with the black population. Ernest Tidyman was recognised for his work on Shaft by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 2000, the original 1971 movie was preserved in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
The question posed by the failure of the new movie is: Does John Shaft carry any relevance in today’s world? The box office numbers for Tim Story’s movie would suggest not. But, is that because the movie is a total misfire that adds nothing to the Shaft legacy and indeed mocks its perceived outdated attitudes? Could a viable Shaft production still be made today? I believe the answer to this question is a definitive YES. As long as the subject is taken seriously and abandons the dilution through generational baton-handing.
In my mind there are two potential ways to go with the franchise:
1. Go back to the beginning and set it in the period. In 2014 David F Walker persuaded Dynamite Entertainment to obtain the literary rights to the character for a series of comic books and new prose novels. The result was Shaft: A Complicated Man. Set in 1969 this comic book is an “origins” story that explores how Shaft became a private detective having returned from Vietnam. It is effectively a prequel to Tidyman’s novel. It is a character study that deftly uses the 1969 New York setting and explores Shaft’s inner turmoil against the backdrop of him seeking revenge for the death of his girlfriend at the hands of organised crime. As a character study, a crime thriller and a representation of a period in history it works on multiple levels and has an emotional impact.
2. A reboot for the modern day. Bring the character up to date and set him against a backdrop of the social issues of today, whilst retaining his key core characteristics set down in Tidyman’s template. Craft a story that is exciting and challenging and allows these characteristics to be drawn out. Shaft should remain uncompromising, tough, resilient, single-minded. Some of the excesses of his character could be softened, but not removed altogether. Shaft is a flawed character – as are we all as individuals. These flaws are what make him feel human. The essence of that character should be retained.
I fear after the poor returns for Tim Story’s movie that the franchise is now dead on the big screen. However, there may still be opportunities to explore either of the two options I have outlined above on the small screen. If so, TV will likely be the best medium as it allows space for exposition of plot and exploration of social issues whilst giving the characters room to breathe and grow. A Shaft TV series today would be very different to the watered-down version of 1973/4. Warner Brothers need to stay true to a property in which I believe there is still mileage and not farm it out to hacks who have no feel for it. I am hoping there are sympathetic filmmakers out there who can put John Shaft back on the map and make him as relevant today as he was back in 1971.
SHAFT (USA, 2019) *½ Distributor: New Line Cinema / Warner Bros. (USA), Netflix (UK); Production Company: Davis Entertainment / Khalabo Ink Society / Netflix / New Line Cinema / Warner Bros.; Release Date: 14 June 2019 (USA), 28 June 2019 (UK); Filming Dates: December 2017 – February 2018; Running Time: 111m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: D-Cinema; Film Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Hawk Scope (anamorphic) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 15. Director: Tim Story; Writer: Kenya Barris, Alex Barnow (based on the character created by Ernest Tidyman); Executive Producer: Kenya Barris, Richard Brener, Marc S. Fischer, Josh Mack, Ira Napoliello, Tim Story; Producer: John Davis; Director of Photography: Larry Blanford; Music Composer: Christopher Lennertz; Music Supervisor: Trygge Toven; Film Editor: Peter S. Elliot; Casting Director: Tara Feldstein; Art Director: Jeremy Woolsey, Brittany Hites; Set Decorator: Missy Parker; Costumes: Olivia Miles; Make-up: Kimberly Jones; Sound: Sean McCormack; Special Effects: Russell Tyrrell; Visual Effects: Nicole Rowley. Cast: Samuel L. Jackson (John Shaft), Jessie T. Usher (JJ Shaft), Richard Roundtree (John Shaft, Sr), Regina Hall (Maya Babanikos), Alexandra Shipp (Sasha Arias), Matt Lauria (Major Gary Cutworth), Titus Welliver (Special Agent Vietti), Method Man (Freddy P), Isaach De Bankolé (Pierro ‘Gordito’ Carrera), Avan Jogia (Karim Hassan), Luna Lauren Velez (Bennie Rodriguez), Robbie Jones (Sergeant Keith Williams), Aaron Dominguez (Staff Sergeant Eddie Dominguez), Ian Casselberry (Manuel Orozco), Almeera Jiwa (Anam), Amato D’Apolito (Farik Bahar), Leland L. Jones (Ron), Jalyn Hall (Harlem Kid), Sylvia Jefferies (Once Beautiful Woman), Whit Coleman (Butch Lesbian Girl), Chivonne Michelle (Baby), Tashiana Washington (Sugar), Philip Fornah (Jacked Dude), Laticia Rolle (Cocktail Waitress), Ryan King Scales (Male Secretary), Tywayne Wheatt (Portly Doorman), Kenny Barr (Cop), Mike Dunston (News Anchor), Jordan Preston Carter (5-8 Year Old JJ), Nyah Marie Johnson (5-8 Year Old Sasha), Joey Mekyten (5-8 Year Old Karim), Sawyer Schultz (Mike Mitchell), Esmeree Sterling (Cute Bartender), Jose Miguel Vasquez (FBI Employee), Gabriel ‘G-Rod’ Rodriguez (Goon), Keith Brooks (Drunk Disorderly Man), DominiQue MrsGiJane Williams (Beautiful Woman), Michael Shikany (Older Man in Mosque), Lucia Scarano (Lady in Line), Greta Quispe (Employee), Heather Seiffert (Hostess), Charles Green (Hallway Man), Dorothi Fox (Old Lady Neighbor), Shakur Sozahdah (Worshiper). Synopsis: John Shaft Jr., a cybersecurity expert with a degree from MIT, enlists his family’s help to uncover the truth behind his best friend’s untimely death. Comment: Misguided continuation of the Shaft legacy is one misstep after another. Firstly Story re-tools the franchise as an action comedy that attempts to wring laughs from the generation gap separating Jackson’s John Shaft II from his son JJ, played far too broadly by Usher. Jackson’s Shaft also suffers by being made into a caricature of the character he portrayed in the 2000 series continuation. Jackson does what he tends to do best but even he gives a one-note performance that lacks nuance. The plot thread that brings the two Shafts together is given scant focus by an incredibly lazy script by Barris and Barnow. The plot is frequently abandoned to demonstrate time after time the un-PC Jackson vs the PC Usher through a series of increasingly tiresome jokes and one-liners. Roundtree, as the original John Shaft, appears late in the proceedings and delivers the best performance with a dry understated delivery that has more class than is seen in his character namesakes. Lennertz’s score is insipid, lacking the grooves of Isaac Hayes’ 1971 music, and fails to add anything to the franchise whilst it is constantly interspersed with rap numbers that only serve to give you a headache. Even the use of Hayes’ theme is mishandled removing all elements of cool. To say I was disappointed in this destruction of Ernest Tidyman’s legacy is an understatement. My advice to Shaft fans is to stick to the originals, or better still the books. If there is any future for the franchise on screen it would be better served making reference to David F Walker’s recent comic books series prequel and rebooting the series set in period as a serious crime thriller. Notes: Most of the movie was shot in Atlanta, doubling for New York.
THE MULE (USA, 2018) ***½ Distributor: Warner Bros.; Production Company: Imperative Entertainment / Warner Bros. / Bron Studios / Malpaso Productions; Release Date: 10 December 2018 (USA), 25 January 2019 (UK); Filming Dates: Began 2 June 2018; Running Time: 116m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital (7.1 surround); Film Format: D-Cinema; Film Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 15. Director: Clint Eastwood; Writer: Nick Schenk (inspired by the New York Times Magazine Article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year Old Drug Mule” by Sam Dolnick); Executive Producer: David Bernad, Jason Cloth, Ruben Fleischer, Aaron L. Gilbert, Todd Hoffman; Producer: Clint Eastwood, Dan Friedkin, Jessica Meier, Tim Moore, Kristina Rivera, Bradley Thomas; Associate Producer: Holly Hagy; Director of Photography: Yves Bélanger; Music Composer: Arturo Sandoval; Music Supervisor: ; Film Editor: Joel Cox; Casting Director: Tara Feldstein, Geoffrey Miclat, Chase Paris; Production Designer: Kevin Ishioka; Art Director: Rory Bruen, Julien Pougnier; Set Decorator: Ronald R. Reiss; Costumes: Deborah Hopper; Make-up: Luisa Abel; Sound: Alan Robert Murray; Special Effects: J.D. Schwalm; Visual Effects: Adam Ohl, Suraj Kaur Khalsa, Rick Sander. Cast: Clint Eastwood (Earl Stone), Bradley Cooper (Colin Bates), Laurence Fishburne (Carl), Michael Peña (Trevino), Dianne Wiest (Mary), Ignacio Serricchio (Julio), Andy García (Latón), Taissa Farmiga (Ginny), Alison Eastwood (Iris), Richard Herd (Tim Kennedy), Lobo Sebastian (Bug), Manny Montana (Axl), Noel G. (Bald Rob), Loren Dean (DEA Agent Brown), Victor Rasuk (Rico), Clifton Collins Jr. (Gustavo), Robert LaSardo (Emilio), Eugene Cordero (Luis Rocha). Synopsis: A 90-year-old horticulturist and Korean War veteran is caught transporting $3 million worth of cocaine through Illinois for a Mexican drug cartel. Comment: Entertaining, if slight, story that fully capitalises on Eastwood’s charisma – which still burns bright into his 88th year. Evenly paced and directed with a sure hand, it benefits by concentrating on bringing character development to the forefront and using the plot as the device to do so. Cooper also gives a nicely judged performance as the drug enforcement officer closing in on the drug cartel’s operation. The scenes between Eastwood and Cooper are sublimely understated adding to the bittersweet nature of the story’s resolution. Notes: The movie was inspired by the story of Leo Sharp, a World War II veteran in his 80s who became the world’s oldest and most prolific drug mule for the Sinaloa Cartel.
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (USA, 2012) *** Distributor: Warner Bros.; Production Company: Warner Bros / Malpaso Productions; Release Date: 19 September 2012 (USA), 30 November 2012 (UK); Filming Dates: Began March 2012; Running Time: 111m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital | Datasat | SDDS; Film Format: 35mm (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema; Film Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 12. Director: Robert Lorenz; Writer: Randy Brown; Executive Producer: Tim Moore; Producer: Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Michele Weisler; Director of Photography: Tom Stern; Music Composer: Marco Beltrami; Film Editor: Joel Cox, Gary Roach; Casting Director: Geoffrey Miclat; Production Designer: James J. Murakami; Art Director: Patrick M. Sullivan Jr.; Set Decorator: Gary Fettis; Costumes: Deborah Hopper; Make-up: Luisa Abel; Sound: Bub Asman, Alan Robert Murray; Special Effects: Steve Riley; Visual Effects: Darin McCormick-Millett. Cast: Clint Eastwood (Gus Lobel), Amy Adams (Mickey Lobel), Justin Timberlake (Johnny Flanagan), Matthew Lillard (Phillip Sanderson), Jack Gilpin (Schwartz), John Goodman (Pete Klein), Robert Patrick (Vince), Scott Eastwood (Billy Clark), Ed Lauter (Max), Chelcie Ross (Smitty), Raymond Anthony Thomas (Lucious), Matt Bush (Danny), George Wyner (Rosenbloom), Bob Gunton (Watson), Tom Dreesen (Rock), James Patrick Freetly (Todd), Joe Massingill (Bo Gentry), Jay Galloway (Rigoberto (Rigo) Sanchez), Sammy Blue (the blues guitar musician). Synopsis: An ailing baseball scout in his twilight years takes his daughter along for one last recruiting trip. Comment: Whilst the movie may be both predictable and a little contrived it is more than compensated for by the central performance of Eastwood and his strong chemistry with Adams (as his estranged daughter) and Timberlake (a former protegee). Goodman is also good in a supporting role as Eastwood’s boss. Traditional crowd-pleasing elements combine with the grizzled cynicism of Eastwood’s character to make for an enjoyable, if slight, entertainment.
GRAN TORINO (USA/Germany, 2008) **** Distributor: Warner Bros.; Production Company: Matten Productions / Double Nickel Entertainment / Gerber Pictures / Malpaso Productions / Media Magik Entertainment / Village Roadshow Pictures / WV Films IV / Warner Bros; Release Date: 9 December 2008 (USA), 17 February 2009 (UK); Filming Dates: 14 July 2008 – 16 August 2008; Running Time: 116m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS; Film Format: 35mm (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema; Film Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 15. Director: Clint Eastwood; Writer: Nick Schenk, Dave Johannson; Executive Producer: Bruce Berman, Jenette Kahn, Tim Moore, Adam Richman; Producer: Clint Eastwood, Bill Gerber, Robert Lorenz; Director of Photography: Tom Stern; Music Composer: Kyle Eastwood, Michael Stevens; Film Editor: Joel Cox, Gary Roach; Casting Director: Ellen Chenoweth; Production Designer: Phill Zagajewski, James J. Murakami; Art Director: John Warnke, Shelagh Conley; Set Decorator: Gary Fettis; Costumes: Deborah Hopper; Make-up: Tania McComas; Sound: Alan Robert Murray; Special Effects: Steve Riley; Visual Effects: Mark Freund, Julian Levi, Darin McCormick-Millett, Kelly Port. Cast: Clint Eastwood (Walt Kowalski), Christopher Carley (Father Janovich), Bee Vang (Thao), Ahney Her (Sue), Brian Haley (Mitch Kowalski), Geraldine Hughes (Karen Kowalski), Dreama Walker (Ashley Kowalski), Brian Howe (Steve Kowalski), John Carroll Lynch (Barber Martin), William Hill (Tim Kennedy), Brooke Chia Thao (Vu), Chee Thao (Grandma), Choua Kue (Youa), Scott Eastwood (Trey), Xia Soua Chang (Kor Khue), Sonny Vue (Smokie), Doua Moua (Spider), Greg Trzaskoma (Bartender), John Johns (Al), Davis Gloff (Darrell), Thomas D. Mahard (Mel), Cory Hardrict (Duke), Nana Gbewonyo (Monk), Arthur Cartwright (Prez), Austin Douglas Smith (Daniel Kowalski), Conor Liam Callaghan (David Kowalski), Michael E. Kurowski (Josh Kowalski), Julia Ho (Dr. Chu), Maykao K. Lytongpao (Gee), Carlos Guadarrama (Head Latino), Andrew Tamez-Hull (Latino Gangbanger), Ramon Camacho (Latino Gangbanger), Antonio Mireles (Latino Gangbanger), Ia Vue Yang (Hmong Flower Woman), Zoua Kue (Hmong Flower Woman), Elvis Thao (Hmong Gangbanger), Jerry Lee (Hmong Gangbanger), Lee Mong Vang (Hmong Gangbanger), Tru Hang (Hmong Grandfather), Alice Lor (Hmong Granddaughter), Tong Pao Kue (Hmong Husband), Douacha Ly (Hmong Man), Parng D. Yarng (Hmong Neighbor), Nelly Yang Sao Yia (Hmong Wife), Marty Bufalini (Lawyer), My-Ishia Cason-Brown (Muslim Receptionist), Clint Ward (Officer), Stephen Kue (Officer Chang), Rochelle Winter (Waitress), Claudia Rodgers (White Woman Neighbor), Vincent Bonasso (Tailor). Synopsis: A disgruntled Korean War vet sets out to reform his neighbour, a young Hmong teenager, who tried to steal Kowalski’s prized possession: his 1972 Gran Torino. Comment: Modern morality tale effectively uses Eastwood’s embittered and recently widowed war veteran as the story’s conscience. Initially antagonistic to his Hmong neighbours he gradually grows to accept and like them, whilst taking on a mentor role for the young teenager. The script may heavily hammer home the point, but it is directed with taste, humour, and a strong sense of character progression. Eastwood is also on top of his game in the acting department and delivers his lines like the true veteran he had become. The final scenes wonderfully portray closure on the theme of salvation which resonates throughout this quality movie.