Film Review – FARGO (1996)

Image result for fargo 1996 blurayFargo (1996; USA/UK; DuArt; 98m) ****½  d. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; w. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; ph. Roger Deakins; m. Carter Burwell.  Cast: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, Peter Stormare, Steve Reevis, Kristin Rudrud, John Carroll Lynch, Tony Denman, Gary Houston, Warren Keith, Larry Brandenburg, Bruce Bohne. Jerry Lundegaard’s inept crime falls apart due to his and his henchmen’s bungling and the persistent police work of the quite pregnant Marge Gunderson. A darkly comic and violent thriller set against a cold and snowy backdrop with winning performances from a strong cast. McDormand and Buscemi are standouts who make the most of the Coen Bothers’ Oscar winning screenplay. Followed by a 60m pilot for a TV series, which didn’t sell, but a series was eventually taken up in 2014. [18]

TV Review – HAPPY VALLEY – SERIES 2 (2016)

Image result for happy valley series 2Happy Valley – Series 2 (TV) (2016; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) *****  pr. Juliet Charlesworth; d. Sally Wainwright, Neasa Hardiman; w. Sally Wainwright; ph. Ivan Strasburg; m. Ben Foster.  Cast: Sarah Lancashire, Siobhan Finneran, Charlie Murphy, James Norton, Con O’Neill, Katherine Kelly, George Costigan, Shirley Henderson, Kevin Doyle, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Matthew Lewis, Amelia Bullmore, Angela Pleasence.  Sarah Lancashire returns in the acclaimed BBC thriller written by Sally Wainwright. No-nonsense police sergeant Catherine Cawood is back heading up her team of dedicated police officers in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. While on duty, she makes a gruesome discovery – a body. The victim’s injuries bear a striking similarity to a string of other murders over the previous few months, suggesting a serial killer is on the loose. But the case becomes even more shocking when it emerges that Catherine knows the victim – something that could have serious repercussions for both herself and her family. Wainwright manages to match the extraordinary success of the first series with an equally absorbing follow-up that puts Lancashire’s police sergeant through the emotional wringer. This exceptional piece of TV works as a psychological thriller, a mystery and a gritty drama, but feels natural because of the humour that is deftly mixed with the darkness. Wainwright’s characters are well drawn and real – enhanced by superb performances from a very strong cast. The location work adds to the authenticity and the visuals are underpinned by a resonant score from Foster. [15]

TV Review – HAPPY VALLEY (2014)

Image result for happy valley blu-rayHappy Valley (TV) (2014; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) *****  pr. Karen Lewis; d. Euros Lyn, Sally Wainwright, Tim Fywell; w. Sally Wainwright; ph. Ivan Strasburg; m. Ben Foster.  Cast:  Sarah Lancashire, Steve Pemberton, Siobhan Finneran, George Costigan, Joe Armstrong, James Norton, Adam Long, Charlie Murphy, Karl Davies, Jill Baker, Rhys Connah. Catherine Cawood (Lancashire) is a strong-willed police sergeant in West Yorkshire, still coming to terms with the suicide of her teenage daughter, Becky, eight years earlier. Cawood is now divorced from her husband and living with her sister, Clare (Finneran), a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict, who is helping her bring up Becky’s young son, Ryan (Connah), the product of rape. Neither Catherine’s ex-husband nor their adult son, Daniel, want anything to do with Ryan. Catherine hears that Tommy Lee Royce (Norton), the man responsible for the brutal rape that impregnated Becky and drove her to suicide shortly after Ryan was born, is out of prison after serving eight years for drug charges. Catherine soon becomes obsessed with finding Royce, unaware that he is involved in the kidnapping of Ann Gallagher (Murphy), a plot instigated by Kevin Weatherill (Pemberton) and orchestrated by Ashley Cowgill (Armstrong). Things quickly take a dark turn as the abductors scramble to keep the kidnapping secret, although Catherine is onto them. This is crime TV writing of the highest order, enhanced by a dynamite cast – including Lancashire as the world-on-her shoulders police officer and Norton as the dangerously psychotic ex-con. Well-paced and stylishly directed throughout – despite the use of three directors. Wainwright sealed her reputation as one of the best writers on TV with this series, which deftly mixes in elements of domestic drama along with a dry wit to complement a riveting crime thriller plot. A must see TV experience. [15]

Book Review – THE LATE SHOW (2017) by Michael Connelly

THE LATE SHOW by MICHAEL CONNELLY (2017; Orion; 424pp) ***½

Blurb: Detective Renée Ballard works ‘The Late Show’, the notorious graveyard shift at the LAPD. It’s thankless work for a once-promising detective, keeping strange hours in a twilight world of crime. Some nights are worse than others. And tonight is the worst yet. Two shocking cases, hours apart: a brutal assault, and a multiple murder with no suspects. Ballard knows it is always darkest before dawn. But what she doesn’t know – yet – is how deep her investigation will take her into the dark heart of her city, the police department and her own past…

Michael Connelly has established a reputation as one of the great modern crime thriller writers – notably for his series featuring LAPD detective Harry Bosch. Here he introduces us to a new female detective hero in Renée Ballard. Ballard is a well-sketched character and a dedicated detective with emotional baggage – a seeming requisite for the modern detective. Her debut novel, The Late Show, is also set in LA and follows a similar police procedural pattern, mixing meticulous exposition of investigative techniques with the more conventional excitements of the modern-day thriller. The result is a solid mystery. The story is slow to get going, but picks up around the half-way mark as Connelly unravels the plot utilising techniques such as increasingly shortening chapters, to quicken the pace. Connelly’s experience as a former police reporter means he is very knowledgeable of police procedure and he displays that knowledge throughout the novel. But Connelly is also a craftsman, who deftly works in sufficient clues for the reader without giving the game away too early. The Late Show is therefore a satisfying, if familiar, read which serves to demonstrate Connelly’s skills without really stretching them.

TV Review – SHETLAND – SERIES 4 (2018)

Shetland Series 4 [DVD] [2018]Shetland – Series 4 (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) ****  pr. Eric Coulter; d. Lee Haven Jones, Rebecca Gatward; w. David Kane, Louise Ironside, Paul Logue; ph. Ed Moore, Michael Coulter; m. John Lunn.  Cast: Douglas Henshall, Alison O’Donnell, Steven Robertson, Mark Bonnar, Julie Graham, Erin Armstrong, Lewis Howden, Stephen Walters, Neve McIntosh, Sean McGinley, Fiona Bell, Allison McKenzie, Amy Lennox, Sophie Stone, Gerard Miller, Eleanor Matsuura, Carolin Stoltz, Arnmundur Bjornsson.  Perez (Henshall) and the team are forced to re-open a twenty-three year old cold case when convicted murder, Thomas Malone (Walters), is released from prison. The case concerns teenager Lizzie Kilmuir, who was found strangled to death on a kiln. Upon returning to Shetland, Thomas tries to make amends with Lizzie’s elder sister, Kate (McIntosh). Meanwhile, local journalist Sally McColl (Lennox) attends the Shetland Folk Festival with a group of her friends, but doesn’t return home later that evening. The next day, she is found strangled to death on a kiln, in what looks like a copycat of Lizzie’s murder. Top-class mystery with a bleak, isolated setting adding to the atmosphere. A strong cast – notably Henshall as the dedicated detective and Walters as the psychologically damaged, but misunderstood, convict – deliver earnest performances. Despite the length of the drama there is little flab in the plotting, which winds its way to a satisfying and tense conclusion. Based on the characters created by Ann Cleeves. [12]

Film Review – DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)

Image result for double indemnityDouble Indemnity (1944; USA; B&W; 107m) *****  d. Billy Wilder; w. Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler; ph. John F. Seitz; m. Miklós Rózsa.  Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Tom Powers, Gig Young, Richard Gaines, Fortunio Bonanova, Edmund Cobb, Byron Barr, John Philliber, Clarence Muse, Bess Flowers, Sam McDaniel. An insurance rep lets himself be talked into a murder/insurance fraud scheme that arouses an insurance investigator’s suspicions. Classic and highly influential film noir with a tight script, hardboiled and witty dialogue and first-rate performances. Stanwyck is the deceptive, but alluring, femme fatale and MacMurray the smitten salesman. Robinson is superb as the eccentric investigator. Based on the novel by James M. Cain. Remade as a TV Movie in 1973. [PG]

Film Review – SUCH DUST AS DREAMS ARE MADE ON (TV) (1973)

Image result for such dust as dreams are made onSuch Dust as Dreams Are Made On (TV) (1973; USA; Colour; 76m) ***  d. Jerry Thorpe; w. Howard Rodman; ph. Jack Woolf; m. Billy Goldenberg.  Cast: David Janssen, Martin Sheen, Margot Kidder, Will Geer, Marianna Hill, Sal Mineo, Mel Stewart, Kathleen Lloyd, Lawrence Cook, Karen Lamm, Les Lannom, S. John Launer, Bill McLean, Cheryl Ladd, Joe Hoover. A private detective is hired by a slightly wacky female to find her brother, who is AWOL from the navy. Janssen is excellent as the dour PI Harry Orwell, Whilst the character and script lacked the wry narration that would make the subsequent series so enjoyable, this is still a professionally packaged tale. Sheen and Mineo head a strong supporting cast in this made-for-TV movie was the first pilot for Harry O (1974-6). For some reason this pilot didn’t sell the show, but someone at ABC saw enough in it that a second pilot was made seven months later: SMILE JENNY, YOU’RE DEAD (1974). [15]

Film Review – WHIRLPOOL (1949)

Image result for whirlpool 1949Whirlpool (1949; USA; B&W; 97m) ***  d. Otto Preminger; w. Ben Hecht, Andrew Solt; ph. Arthur Miller; m. David Raksin.  Cast: Gene Tierney, Richard Conte, José Ferrer, Charles Bickford, Richard Conte, Barbara O’Neil, Constance Collier, Fortunio Bonanova, Eduard Franz. A woman secretly suffering from kleptomania is hypnotized in an effort to cure her condition. Soon afterwards, she is found at the scene of a murder with no memory of how she got there and seemingly no way to prove her innocence. Film noir is interesting for its premise and Ferrer’s sinister performance as the hypnotist. But after a promising start the plot descends into melodrama and loses its sense of logic in a weak finale that too neatly wraps up the story. Evocative score by Raskin. Based on the novel “Methinks the Lady” by Guy Endore. [PG]

TV Review – LONGMIRE – SEASON 6 FINALE (TV) (2017)

Longmire – Season 6 Finale (TV) (2017; USA; Colour; 72m) ****  pr. Brad Davis, Bryan J. Raber; d. Christopher Chulack; w. Hunt Baldwin; ph. Todd Dos Reis; m. David Shephard.  Cast: Robert Taylor, Katee Sackhoff, Lou Diamond Phillips, Cassidy Freeman, Adam Bartley, A Martinez, Zahn McClarnon, Louanne Stephens, Barry Sloane, Graham Greene.  Nighthorse’s problems at the casino escalate. Walt gets an unexpected visitor that helps him with is search for Malachi. Nighthorse is betrayed. An inevitable confrontation leads to lives changed. Ferg tries to mend his relationship with Meg. A long awaited relationship blooms. Satisfying and crowd-pleasing finale to what has been a great modern western series that survived being axed by the network (A&E) after three seasons to see three more with Netflix thanks to a fan campaign. This last season, and this episode in particular, seems to have been written to provide a fan-friendly climax and some of the elements felt a little rushed in the wrap-up. But it is rare these days that a series gets the opportunity to do right by its characters and its audience. No plot strand is left loose and there are many poignant moments. In truth these days, with so many channels and programmers, it is very difficult to keep a series fresh, but this one never outstayed its welcome. Based on the excellent Walt Longmire mysteries written by Craig Johnson. [15]

Film Review – SMILE JENNY, YOU’RE DEAD (TV) (1974)

Image result for smile jenny you're deadSmile Jenny, You’re Dead (TV) (1974; USA; Colour; 96m) ***½  d. Jerry Thorpe; w. Howard Rodman; ph. Jack Woolf; m. Billy Goldenberg.  Cast: David Janssen, Andrea Marcovicci, John Anderson, Jodie Foster, Howard Da Silva, Tim McIntire, Zalman King, Clu Gulager, Martin Gabel, Barbara Leigh, Victor Argo, Ellen Weston, Harvey Jason, Chet Winfield, Bill McLean. An ex-cop protects his ex-partner’s supermodel daughter when she becomes the target of an psychopath who kills the men intimately involved with her. Second pilot for Janssen’s Harry O TV series is a classy detective thriller built around themes of obsession, with King giving a truly creepy performance. A strong script, tight direction and a moody score add to the atmosphere. Look out for a young Jodie Foster as a pre-teen runaway. [PG]