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.

Film Review – THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977)

Image result for THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT 1977THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (UK/USA, 1977) **½
      Distributor: Brent Walker PLC (UK), American International Pictures (AIP) (USA); Production Company: American International Pictures (AIP) / Amicus Productions; Release Date: 22 June 1977 (USA), 27 August 1977 (UK); Filming Dates: began 24 Jan 1977; Running Time: 91m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: U.
      Director: Kevin Connor; Writer: Patrick Tilley (based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs); Executive Producer: Samuel Z. Arkoff; Producer: John Dark; Director of Photography: Alan Hume; Music Composer: John Scott; Film Editor: John Ireland, Barry Peters; Production Designer: Maurice Carter; Art Director: Bert Davey, Fernando González; Set Decorator: Simon Wakefield; Costumes: ; Make-up: Robin Grantham; Sound: George Stephenson; Special Effects: Ian Wingrove, John Richardson; Visual Effects: Charles Staffell.
      Cast: Patrick Wayne (Ben McBride), Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), Sarah Douglas (Charly), Dana Gillespie (Ajor), Thorley Walters (Norfolk), Shane Rimmer (Hogan), Tony Britton (Captain Lawton), John Hallam (Chung-Sha), David Prowse (Executioner), Milton Reid (Sabbala), Kiran Shah (Bolum), Richard LeParmentier (Lt. Whitby), Jimmy Ray (Lt. Graham), Tony McHale (Telegraphist).
      Synopsis: Major Ben McBride organises a mission to the Antarctic wastes to search for his friend (McClure) who has been missing in the region for several years.
      Comment: Okay sequel to THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1974) lacks the creative energy of the original but remains a mildly entertaining diversion. Wayne is rather wooden in the lead role, but Douglas and Walters compensate. McClure reprises his role from the first film in a guest slot. Effects are limited due to the lack of budget, but Connor gets as much excitement as he can from a rather flat script and stages some good action sequences and monster set-pieces.

Film Review – THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1974)

Image result for the land that time forgot 1975THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (UK/USA, 1975) ***
      Distributor: British Lion Film Corporation (UK), American International Pictures (AIP) (USA); Production Company: Amicus Productions / Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. / Land Associates / Lion International; Release Date: 29 November 1974 (UK), 13 August 1975 (USA); Filming Dates: February 1974 – 18 April 1974; Running Time: 91m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: U.
      Director: Kevin Connor; Writer: James Cawthorn, Michael Moorcock (based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs); Executive Producer: Robert H. Greenberg; Producer: John Dark, Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky; Associate Producer: John Peverall; Director of Photography: Alan Hume; Music Composer: Douglas Gamley; Film Editor: John Ireland; Casting Director: ; Production Designer: Maurice Carter; Art Director: Bert Davey; Costumes: Julie Harris; Make-up: Tom Smith; Sound: Don Sharpe, George Stephenson; Special Effects: Derek Meddings; Visual Effects: Charles Staffell.
      Cast: Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), John McEnery (Captain Von Schoenvorts), Susan Penhaligon (Lisa Clayton), Keith Barron (Bradley), Anthony Ainley (Dietz), Godfrey James (Borg), Bobby Parr (Ahm), Declan Mulholland (Olson), Colin Farrell (Whiteley), Ben Howard (Benson), Roy Holder (Plesser), Andrew McCulloch (Sinclair), Ron Pember (Jones), Grahame Mallard (Deusett), Andrew Lodge (Reuther), Brian Hall (Schwartz), Stanley McGeagh (Hiller), Peter Sproule (Hindle), Steve James (First Sto-Lu).
      Synopsis: During World War I, a German U-boat sinks a British ship and takes the survivors on board. After it takes a wrong turn, the submarine takes them to the unknown land of Caprona, where they find dinosaurs and neanderthals.
      Comment: This low-budget fantasy-adventure is great fun and its charm and energy help you forget the variable special effects. McClure enjoys himself as the square-jawed hero and has good support from a game British cast, including Penhaligon as a biologist and McClure’s love interest. Action scenes are well directed and the monster work as good as it could be for the budget. Themes around evolution add a layer of intelligence, but this is still primary juvenile entertainment.
      Notes: McEnery was dubbed by Anton Diffring. Followed by THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977) and remade in 2009.

TV Review – CRACKER: TO BE A SOMEBODY (1994)

Image result for cracker to be a somebody castCRACKER: TO BE A SOMEBODY (TV) (UK, 1994) *****
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 10, 17 & 24 October 1994; Running Time: 148m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Tim Fywell; Writer: Jimmy McGovern; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Paul Abbott; Director of Photography: Ivan Strasburg; Music Composer: David Ferguson; Film Editor: Edward Mansell; Casting Director: Gail Stevens; Production Designer: Stephen Fineren; Art Director: David Butterworth.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Christopher Eccleston (D.C.I. Bilborough), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Lorcan Cranitch (D.S. Beck), Robert Carlyle (Albie), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), Beth Goddard (Clare Moody), Colin Tierney (Harriman), Edward Peel (Chief Superintendent), Tracy Gillman (Jill), Isobel Middleton (Catriona Bilborough), Wil Johnson (Skelton), Badi Uzzaman (Shahid Ali), Kim Vithana (Razia Ali), Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Glyn Grain (Professor Nolan), John Henshaw (Quarry Foreman), Tess Thomson (Katie), Paul Copley (Pathologist).
      Synopsis: A working class man, distraught at the recent death of his father, impulsively becomes a skinhead and murders a Pakistani shopkeeper over a perceived insult.
      Comment: First story of the second series of Cracker is perhaps the best example of the show. It’s an absorbing study of one man’s disintegration through anger and hatred and Carlyle delivers a superb performance in the central role. The link to the Hillsborough disaster is a theme close to writer McGovern’s heart and he uses both direct references and the symbolism of Albie’s paranoia to make a strong point around the injustices of its portrayal in the media. Coltrane is again superb as Fitz, a character that is tailor-made for his world-weary cynicism. The resonant script is also laced with dark humour and all the regular cast have gotten to grips with their characters. The result is a top-class psychological crime thriller.

Book Review – BLUE LIGHTNING (2010) by Ann Cleeves

BLUE LIGHTNING (2010) ***
by Ann Cleeves
First published by Macmillan, 2010
This edition published by Pan Books, 2015, 374pp (357pp)
ISBN: 978-1-4472-7446-9
includes 11-page preview of DEAD WATER.

Blurb: With the autumn storms raging, Fair Isle feels cut off from the rest of the world. Trapped, tension is high and tempers become frayed. Enough to drive someone to murder . . . A woman’s body is discovered at the renowned Fair Isles bird observatory, with feathers threaded through her hair. The islanders react with fear and anger. Detective Jimmy Perez has no support from the mainland and must investigate the old-fashioned way. He soon realizes that this is no crime of passion – but a murder of cold and calculated intention. There’s no way off the island until the storms abate – and so the killer is also trapped, just waiting for the opportunity to strike again.

The fourth book in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series featuring detective Jimmy Perez is another intriguing and meticulously plotted murder mystery. The setting is ideal for an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit with a small cast of characters isolated at a bird observatory on the remote Fair Isle. Cleeves spends a lot of time rounding out her characters and their motives, which slows down the pace to a crawl at certain points. The writing is, however, well crafted giving a real sense of place. The final scenes produce a nightmare personal twist for Perez. and the denouement is a brave one for Cleeves as she leaves her lead character at a crossroads. Whilst the story would have benefited from some tighter editing, it remains a highly competent mystery thriller.

TV Review: CRACKER: ONE DAY A LEMMING WILL FLY (1993)

Image result for CRACKER: ONE DAY A LEMMING WILL FLYCRACKER: ONE DAY A LEMMING WILL FLY (TV) (UK, 1993) ****
      Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 1 & 8 November 1993; Running Time: 97m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Simon Cellan Jones; Writer: Jimmy McGovern; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Gub Neal; Director of Photography: Ivan Strasburg; Music Composer: Roger Jackson; Film Editor: Chris Gill; Casting Director: Gail Stevens; Production Designer: Chris Wilkinson; Art Director: Deborah Morley.
      Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Christopher Eccleston (D.C.I. Bilborough), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Lorcan Cranitch (D.S. Beck), Christopher Fulford (Cassidy), Lee Hartney (Andy Lang), Frances Tomelty (Mrs. Lang), Tim Healy (Mr Lang), Amelia Bullmore (Catriona Bilborough), Kieran O’Brien (Mark Fitzgerald), Tess Thomson (Kate Fitzgerald), Geoffrey Hutchings (Pathologist), John Vine (Lindsay), Trevyn McDowell (Leslie), Edward Peel (Chief Super), Wesley Cook (Tim Lang), Linda Henry (Mrs Perry), John Graham-Davies (Francis Bates).
      Synopsis: A young boy, Timothy Lang, is found hanged in a nearby wood, drawing the ire of the city, and the main suspect appears to be Tim’s school teacher, Mr. Cassidy.
      Comment: Third and final story from the first season amounts to a psychological battle of will between accused, the law and Coltrane’s psychologist. This is another dark tale and the ambiguity surrounding the accused man’s guilt or innocence presents a conundrum for Fitz. McGovern deftly sets about the psychological conflict keeping the viewer guessing right to the story’s conclusion and likely beyond. Again, the performances are top-draw with a rich cast headed by Coltrane. Fitz’s flawed character gives Coltrane plenty to work with and his performance has depth and is laced with humour and cynicism.