Film Review – UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY (1995)

UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY (1995, Dark Territory Productions, USA, 100 mins, Colour, 1.85:1, SDDS/Dolby Digital, Cert: 15, Action/Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Steven Seagal (Casey Ryback), Eric Bogosian (Travis Dane), Everett McGill (Marcus Penn), Katherine Heigl (Sarah Ryback), Morris Chestnut (Bobby Zachs), Peter Greene (Mercenary #1), Patrick Kilpatrick (Mercenary #2), Scott Sowers (Mercenary #3), Afifi Alaouie (Female Mercenary), Andy Romano (Admiral Bates), Brenda Bakke (Captain Linda Gilder), Sandra Taylor (Kelly, Barmaid), Jonathan Banks (Scotty, Mercenary), David Gianopoulos (Captain David Trilling), Royce D. Applegate (Ryback’s Cook), Nick Mancuso (Tom Breaker).
      Producer: Arnon Milchan, Steven Seagal, Steve Perry; Director: Geoff Murphy; Writer: Richard Hatem, Matt Reeves (based on characters created by J. F. Lawton); Director of Photography: Robbie Greenberg (Technicolor); Music: Basil Poledouris; Film Editor: Michael Tronick; Production Designer: Albert Brenner; Art Director: Carol Winstead Wood; Set Decorator: Kathe Klopp; Costume Designer: Richard Bruno.

under-siege-2-dark-territory-blu-ray-cover-46In this sequel to Seagal’s UNDER SIEGE Casey Ryback gets on board a train travelling from Colorado to LA to start a vacation with his niece. However, in an extraordinary case of deja-vu a group of terrorists take over the train in order to use it as a base from which to hijack a top secret US satellite carrying deadly weapons.

It’s basically more of the same and for anyone who enjoyed the first they will likely enjoy this. However whereas the first had elements of class amongst the cheese – notably Tommy Lee Jones and the tight direction of Andrew Davis – here the villains are even more one-dimensional and the direction is merely competent and lacking in flair. Seagal, if anything, is more wooden when delivering his lines than in the first film, but his physical presence makes up for his shortcomings as an actor. There are good supporting roles for Chestnut as a porter who becomes Seagal’s unwitting sidekick and Heigl as his stroppy niece. McGill, as a heavy, makes a good serious contrast to Bogosian’s wildly overblown chief villain.

The confines of the setting limits the film’s opportunities for action set pieces, which begin to become repetitive as it progresses. The end result is a functional, but overly-derivative action thriller that whilst watchable offers nothing new.

Dynamite announce first Shaft comic slated for December release

Shaft01-Cov-A-Cowan-cfb1c (1)A Comic Book Resources interview with David Walker reveals he will write and Bilquis Evely will illustrate the first Shaft comic book due to be published in December by Dynamite, who recently purchased the rights to Ernest Tidyman’s character.

Walker will be using Tidyman’s novels, rather than the films, as his basis for the character and bringing into focus Shaft’s Vietnam service and the impact this had on his life. This is good news for fans of the books, such as myself. Effectively Walker’s series will be an origins story set a year before Tidyman’s first novel.

Walker says, “With Shaft, the biggest difference between the films and the books is that the character in the books is simply more badass. He’s also more complex. It is that complexity that drew me in, and it is what is driving my interpretation of the character. In the books, there are these very brief passages about his youth and his time in the Vietnam War. If you took all of this stuff, from all seven of the books, you’d have only a few pages of material, but it is all gold. Tidyman created this character, and gave him just enough backstory that it really sparks the imagination.”

The site shows a number of variant covers for the first issue of which Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz’s (above) is my favourite.

David Walker has his own site on which he will be posting updates.

Film Review – UNDER SIEGE (1992)

UNDER SIEGE (1992, Northwest Productions, USA, 102 mins, Colour, 1.85:1, Dolby Digital, Cert: 15, Action/Thriller) ∗∗∗
      Starring: Steven Seagal (Casey Ryback), Tommy Lee Jones (William Stranix), Gary Busey (Cmdr. Krill), Erika Eleniak (Jordan Tate), Colm Meaney (Doumer), Patrick O’Neal (Capt. Adams), Andy Romano (Adm. Bates), Nick Mancuso (Tom Breaker), Damian Chapa (Tackman), Troy Evans (Granger), David McKnight (Flicker), Lee Hinton (Cue Ball), Glenn Morshower (Ens. Taylor), Leo Alexander (Lt. Smart), John Rottger (Cmdr. Green).
      Producer: Arnon Milchan, Steven Seagal, Steven Reuther; Director: Andrew Davis; Writer: J. F. Lawton; Director of Photography: Frank Tidy; Music: Gary Chang; Film Editor: Robert A. Ferretti, Dennis Virkler, Don Brochu, Dov Hoenig; Production Designer: Bill Kenney; Art Director: William Hiney; Set Decorator: Rick Gentz; Costume Designer: Richard Bruno.

under-siege-blu-ray-cover-20Action hero Steven Seagal plays a former Navy S.E.A.L., who is now a cook and is the only person who can stop a gang of terrorists after they seize control of a U.S. battleship containing nuclear warheads.

Basically DIE HARD on a battleship, this is a serviceable action thriller typical of the star and of its time. Whilst Seagal has a physical presence on screen, he lacks charisma. Tommy Lee Jones, on the other hand, more than compensates with an enjoyably unhinged performance as the chief terrorist. Busey, however, adopts an overly broad approach that cheapens the thrills and is at odds with O’Neal’s more naturalistic style as the ship’s captain. Eleniak is along as eye-candy and to deliver dumb lines. Director Andrew Davis wrestles between macho action thrills and a tongue-in-cheek humour and mostly succeeds in keeping our interest and stops us from dwelling too long on the improbability of the plot with his well-paced edit.

A sequel, UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY followed in 1975 – this time set aboard a train.

Book Review – EXIT MUSIC (2007) by Ian Rankin

EXIT MUSIC by IAN RANKIN (2007, Orion Books Ltd., Paperback, 460pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: It’s late autumn in Edinburgh and late autumn in the career of DI Rebus. As he tries to tie up some loose ends before retirement, a murder case intrudes. A dissident Russian poet has been found dead in what looks like a mugging gone wrong. By apparent coincidence, a high-level delegation of Russian businessmen is in town – and everyone is determined that the case should be closed quickly and clinically.
      Meanwhile, a brutal and premeditated assault on a local gangster sees Rebus in the frame. Has the inspector taken a step too far in tying up those loose ends? Only a few days shy of the end of his long, inglorious career, will Rebus even make it that far?

cover_exit_musicWhen first published many thought Exit Music would be DI John Rebus’ swansong. Following the lead of his excellent Naming of the Dead, set with a background of the G8 summit, Rankin uses another newsworthy issue as background for this story. The poisoning of Russian dissident Alexander Litvienko in London is referenced on a number of occasions throughout – the timeline of the news story coinciding with events in Rankin’s Edinburgh. Unlike in Naming, the reference is not used to drive the plot. It is used more to pique the curiosity of the protagonists (and the readers) as Rebus looks for a conspiratory answer to the murder of a Russian dissident. This gives Rankin the opportunity to take us on a journey with Rebus’ disdain for authority and politics. There is plenty of opportunity for Rebus to lock horns with Russian diplomats and his own Chief Constable – the latter of which results in a suspension pending his retirement.

The less overt theme, however, is one of coincidence. Not only the coincidence of the murder of two Russian dissidents in separate British cities, but the relationships between the major protagonists, all of whom seem to be interlinked despite their very differing backgrounds. Rankin weaves his plot strands expertly from these threads as they slowly begin to tie together. The conclusion, whilst seeming a little too conveniently tied up on Rebus’ last day with the force, is therefore both logical and satisfying.

Rankin is so comfortable with his characters that the dialogue flows effortlessly and Rebus’ cynicism and dry wit shine through in a naturalistic way, as does his fond mentoring relationship with his successor in waiting, DS Siobhan Clarke. Rankin even manages to mischievously leave us with a cliffhanger suggesting he was not finished with the character, despite the announcement this was to be Rebus’ last case.

Whilst this isn’t the best of the series, it makes for a strong exit and leaves the reader hoping Rebus will return soon – which, of course, he did – albeit five years later.

Book Review – LEONARD MALTIN’S MOVIE GUIDE 2015 (The Last Edition!)

LEONARD MALTIN’S 2015 MOVIE GUIDE edited by LEONARD MALTIN (2014, Signet, Paperback, 1612pp) ∗∗∗∗∗

9780698183612.225x225-75Every September I look forward to receiving the latest edition of Leonard Maltin’s annual Movie Guide. Sure enough the 2015 edition thumped to the floor through my postbox this morning – actually it was hand delivered because it wouldn’t go through, which is a symptom of how its coverage has grown over the years.

The first page I always turn to is Maltin’s Introduction as it normally contains some interesting thoughts on developments in the movie and home entertainment world. But this year’s introduction started with the following sentence:

“This is the final edition of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide.

I must own around twenty film guides – most of which were on an annual release for a good period of time and each of which has their pros and cons. The internet has dealt a slow death to these guides with in recent years with Halliwell’s, Time Out, Virgin (TV Guide), Martin/Porter’s Video & DVD Guide all being discontinued. That left Radio Times, Maltin and Videohound as the three main sources with the breadth of coverage I look for. Maltin’s Guide was the longest standing of these, having debuted in 1969 as a competitor to Stephen H Scheuer’s Movies on TV, which disappeared in 1993. Maltin’s approach of using brief, user-friendly, capsule reviews meant the book could retain its handy size and also gave the reader a concise appraisals without the need for the lengthy analysis of works such as TV Guide’s, which covered about a sixth of the volume of titles. As such Maltin’s guide was the one I turned to most for a quick answer to question “Is it worth watching?” when considering that old 1942 western being shown on TCM.

I don’t always agree with Maltin and his team’s appraisals – he has stubbornly refused to re-assess Blade Runner for instance, which in my view is a landmark movie but Maltin finds it to have a “muddled script and main characters with no appeal whatsoever.” and awards the film one-and-a-half stars out of four. He did recently revisit Alien, however. But the vast majority of the time I agree with his assessments.

I will sadly miss this Guide, which I have been buying annually since the 1970s. It has a personality and a consistency that you can only get from a publication which is put together with such loving care as this.

Thanks Leonard Maltin for fuelling my enthusiasm for the movies in the 70s and for being a constant companion at them ever since.

Film Review – EDGE OF ETERNITY (1959)

EDGE OF ETERNITY (1959, Thunderbird Productions, Inc., USA, 81 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Mono, Cert: U, Crime/Drama) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Cornel Wilde (Les Martin), Victoria Shaw (Janice Kendon), Mickey Shaughnessy (Scotty O’Brien), Edgar Buchanan (Sheriff Edwards), Rian Garrick (Bob Kendon), Jack Elam (Bill Ward), Alexander Lockwood (Jim Kendon), Dabbs Greer (Gas Station Attendant), Tom Fadden (Eli Jones), Wendell Holmes (Sam Houghton).
      Producer: Kendrick Sweet; Director: Don Siegel; Writer: Knut Swenson, Richard Collins (based on a story by Ben Markson and Knut Swenson); Director of Photography: Burnett Guffey; Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof; Film Editor: Jerome Thoms; Art Director: Robert Peterson; Set Decorator: Frank A. Tuttle; Costume Designer: Izzy Berne, Edna Taylor.

edge-of-eternity-x28-1959-x29-cornel-wilde-victoria-shaw-1212-p[ekm]221x336[ekm]The stunning photography in and around the Grand Canyon is the real star of this taut crime drama directed by Don Siegel. Guffey’s aerial swoops (courtesy of Skymasters International) and widescreen vistas add an extra dimension to the familiar greed-driven murder plot.

Wilde is a deputy sheriff looking to atone for his past mistakes in the hunt for a killer driven by a desire to unearth un-mined gold deposits in a ghost mining town. As the murder count rises and Wilde gets close to the wealthy miner’s daughter (Shaw) we are taken on a twisting journey toward an excellent fight finale on a transport bucket hanging from a cable stretched across the Canyon.

The acting is solid at best with Buchanan the most impressive as the aging sheriff. Siegel keeps the plot moving and the editing is tight. But those stunning image of “Filmed at one of the Wonders of the World: The Grand Canyon”, as the titles proudly announce, are what lift this neat thriller above the routine.

TV Review: DOCTOR WHO: Deep Breath (2014)

DOCTOR WHO: DEEP BREATH (2014, BBC, UK, 76 mins, Colour, 1.78:1, Dolby Digital, Cert: PG, Sci-Fi/Adventure) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Neve McIntosh (Madame Vastra), Catrin Stewart (Jenny Flint), Dan Starkey (Strax), Peter Ferdinando (Half-Face Man), Paul Hickey (Inspector Gregson), Tony Way (Alf), Maggie Service (Elsie), Brian Miller (Barney), Ellis George (Courtney).
      Executive Producer: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin; Producer: Nikki Wilson; Director: Ben Wheatley; Writer: Steven Moffat; Script Editor: Derek Ritchie; Director of Photography: Magni Agustsson; Music: Murray Gold; Film Editor: William Oswald; Production Designer: Michael Pickwoad; Costume Designer: Howard Burden; Special Effects: MILK, BBC Wales Visual Effects, Real SFX, Millennium FX.

DW8_Landscape_Aug24_sPeter Capaldi’s debut as the ever-popular Time Lord has been hotly anticipated since it was announced he would be taking over the role a year ago. Casting an older actor (Capaldi is 56) after the extremely popular Matt Smith, who was half Capaldi’s age was a bold move by Moffat, who has signalled a desire to introduce more gravity into the part and into the plots.

Deep Breath only hints at these changes, being a lively adventure with large doses of Moffat’s trademark humorous dialogue and manic energy interspersed with occasional moments of atmosphere and tension. There are nods to the classic series in a dinosaur roaming London (Invasion of the Dinosaurs) and residents of Victorian London being exploited for their flesh (The Talons of Weng-Chiang). Moffat also looks to his own earlier work – the clockwork men are taken from The Girl in the Fireplace and the Doctor’s instruction “don’t breathe” top avoid detection by the clockwork men is reminiscent of “don’t blink” from Blink.

The Vastra-Jenny-Strax trio is starting to wear a bit thin, however, recycling much of the banter from earlier appearances. It may have been felt that there was a need to surround the new Doctor with familiar elements in order to gain acceptance. This is nothing new – even Tom Baker had to go through a debut story obviously styled around his predecessor before very quickly finding his own feet one story later. It is to be hoped Moffat has remained true to his word in creating a more challenging and thoughtful Doctor. There is certainly a hint here that once Capaldi settles into the role we will have a strong Doctor and a more serious tone. The series needs to restore a sense of tension and jeopardy, so it was refreshing to see the seemingly infinitely adaptable sonic screwdriver used less frequently.

A good, but not great, start to a new era. Next week it’s Into the Dalek.

Music News – Genesis to release new 3-CD compilation

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Genesis: Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins, Tony Banks. Photo (c) BBC.

To tie in with the reunion of the 1971-5 five-man line-up of Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford for a BBC documentary “Genesis: Together and Apart” due to be broadcast in October, the band have also announced the release of a new 3-CD compilation. The compilation will include tracks from across the band’s career including solo efforts from the five members.

The tracks will be:

Disc: 1
1. The Knife
2. The Musical Box
3. Supper’s Ready
4. The Cinema Show
5. I Know What I Like
6. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
7. Back In N.Y.C.
8. The Carpet Crawlers
9. Ace Of Wands – Steve Hackett

Disc: 2
1. Ripples
2. Afterglow
3. Solsbury Hill – Peter Gabriel
4. Follow You Follow Me
5. For A While – Tony Banks
6. Every Day – Steve Hackett
7. Biko – Peter Gabriel
8. Turn It On Again
9. In The Air Tonight – Phil Collins
10. Abacab
11. Mama
12. That’s All
13. Easy Lover – Phil Collins
14. Silent Running – Mike Rutherford

Disc: 3
1. Invisible Touch
2. Land Of Confusion
3. Tonight Tonight Tonight
4. The Living Years – Mike Rutherford
5. Red Day On Blue Street – Tony Banks
6. I Can’t Dance
7. No Son Of Mine
8. Hold On My Heart
9. Over My Shoulder – Mike Rutherford
10. Calling All Stations
11. Signal To Noise – Peter Gabriel
12. Wake Up Call – Phil Collins
13. Nomads – Steve Hackett
14. Siren – Tony Banks

818bjr+dEzL._SL1500_Whilst the new logo doesn’t exactly compete with the classics, it sort of makes sense in the context of this release, by breaking the band’s name into its component parts.

I am now hoping this encourages the five-piece to reunite one more time on stage. Having seen the reunion of the Banks-Collins-Rutherford line-up at Old Trafford, Manchester in 2007, it suggested the band still had what it takes. With Collins since being hit by spinal problems restricting his drumming and Gabriel offering no hint that he is willing to commit this may be unlikely, but my fingers are crossed.

Film Review – POINT BLANK (1967)

POINT BLANK (1967, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., USA, 92 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Mono, Cert: 15, Crime Action Thriller) ∗∗∗∗
     Starring: Lee Marvin (Walker), Angie Dickinson (Chris), Keenan Wynn (Yost/Fairfax), Carroll O’Connor (Brewster), Lloyd Bochner (Frederick Carter), Michael Strong (Stegman), John Vernon (Mal Reese), Sharon Acker (Lynne). James Sikking (Hired gun), Sandra Warner (Waitress), Roberta Haynes (Mrs. Carter), Kathleen Freeman (First citizen), Victor Creatore (Carter’s man), Lawrence Hauben (Car salesman).
     Producer: Judd Bernard, Robert Chartoff, Irvin Winkler; Director: John Boorman; Writer: Alexander Jacobs, David Newhouse, Rafe Newhouse (based on the novel “The Hunter” by Richard Stark); Director of Photography: Philip H. Lathrop (Metrocolor); Music: Johnny Mandel; Film Editor: Henry Berman; Art Director: George W. Davis, Albert Brenner; Set Decorator: Henry Grace, Keogh Gleason; Costume Designer: Lambert Marks, Margo Weintz.

point-blank-coverAdapted from Richard Starks’ 1963 novel this is the tale of a gangster (Marvin) seeking revenge on his partner (Vernon) who double-crossed him, stole his wife (Acker) and left him for dead at a money drop at Alcatraz. In his search Marvin finds his wife dead from an overdose and subsequently blows holes in the middle of organised crime with the help of his wife’s sister (Dickinson), who has also hooked up with Vernon.

Shot on location in San Francisco and Los Angeles – being the first to make use of the then recently closed Alcatraz prison – the story is a simple take on an oft-told story. But what elevates the film is Boorman’s vision – dialling up the psychological impacts on Marvin’s character working with editor Berman in introducing strobe-like flashback techniques to show the scars on Marvin’s psyche. A little disorienting and distracting at first, the cutting style increases in effectiveness as the film progresses and it is used more sparsely. Marvin is cold and clinical in his portrayal of a man driven by nothing more than the need for retribution, showing what a good actor he was when not being asked to ham up his own image. He is given strong support by Vernon, Dickinson and O’Connor. An excellent example of the experimental film making in the sixties it has grown in reputation over the years along with Boorman’s cult status as a director.

A further adaptation of Stark’s novel was produced in 1999 as PAYBACK starring Mel Gibson.

Film Review – BIG BAD MAMA (1974)

BIG BAD MAMA (1974, Santa Cruz Productions, Inc., USA, 87 mins, Colour, 1.85:1, Mono, Cert: 18, Crime Action Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Angie Dickinson (Wilma McClatchie), William Shatner (William J. Baxter), Tom Skerritt (Fred Diller), Susan Sennett (Billy Jean), Robbie Lee (Polly), Noble Willingham (Uncle Barney), Dick Miller (Bonney), Tom Signorelli (Dodds), Joan Prather (Jane Kingston), Royal Dandy (Reverend Johnson), William O’Connell (Crusade preacher), John Wheeler (Lawyer), Ralph James (Sheriff), Sally Kirkland (Barney’s woman), Wally Berns (Legionnaire).
      Producer: Roger Corman; Director: Steve Carver; Writer: William Norton, Frances Doel; Director of Photography: Bruce Logan (Metrocolor); Music: David Grisman; Film Editor: Tina Hirsch; Art Director: Peter Jamison; Set Decorator: Coke Willis; Costume Designer: Jac McAnelly.

big_bad_mama_uk_dvdRoger Corman produced this low-rent BONNIE AND CLYDE clone in which the attempts at comedy seem ham-fisted and ill-conceived when played alongside some often violent and bloody action.

Angie Dickinson stars as Wilma McClatchie who along with her teenage daughters targets 1932 small town Texas with her criminal schemes and daring robberies. Along the way she is aided by a couple of misfits in Skerritt and Shatner and remains one step ahead of the law until the film’s conclusion.

Carver doers conjure a nice sense of period and Dickinson, as ever, is capable in the lead role. The film was shot quickly (in 20 days) and the rushed nature of the production is evident on screen. But where the film mainly falls down is in its shifting tone between comedy and drama. These troubles stem from Norton and Doel’s script, which lacks focus and is episodic, merely shuffling from one set-piece to the next mixing violence and slapstick without enriching the characters or giving us anyone to root for. Alongside the problems of plot and characterisation, Dickinson’s exploitation of her seemingly young daughters (Sennett and Lee) feels a little ill-judged by today’s standards. Corman also exploits the virtues of Dickinson, Sennett and Lee as they seduce their various male accomplices in order to manipulate their involvement in their criminal activities.

Whilst the film has attracted a somewhat dubious cult status, this is primarily due to the exploitative content rather than artistic merit. A sequel, BIG BAD MAMA II, followed in 1987.