Film Review Round-up – INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008); MY GUN IS QUICK (1957) and M*A*S*H: GOODBYE, FAREWELL AND AMEN (1983)

IJatKotCS_TPBIndiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008; USA; DeLuxe; 122m) ∗∗∗  d. Steven Spielberg; w. David Koepp, George Lucas, Jeff Nathanson; ph. Janusz Kaminski; m. John Williams; ed. Michael Kahn.  Cast: Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, Igor Jijikine, Andrew Divoff, Alan Dale, Dimitri Diatchenko, Ilia Volokh, Emmanuel Todorov, Venya Manzyuk, Pavel Lychnikoff. Famed archaeologist/adventurer Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones is called back into action when he becomes entangled in a Soviet plot to uncover the secret behind mysterious artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls. Good to see Ford back as Indy in this belated retread. Highly choreographed action sequences give the movie a manufactured feel, but at times it recalls the spirit of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. [12]

My_Gun_is_Quick_PosterMy Gun is Quick (1957; USA; B&W; 90m) ∗∗½  d. Phil Victor, George White; w. Richard Collins, Richard Powell; ph. Harry Neumann; m. Marlin Skiles; ed. Frank Sullivan.  Cast: Robert Bray, Whitney Blake, Patricia Donahue, Donald Randolph, Pamela Duncan, Booth Colman, Jan Chaney, Genie Coree, Richard Garland, Charles Boaz, Peter Mamakos, Claire Carleton, Phil Arnold, John Dennis, Terence de Marney. Private detective Mike Hammer helps a prostitute being assaulted, and notices that she is wearing a very unique ring. She is later found murdered and there is no trace of the ring, which turns out to be part of a cache of jewellery stolen by the Nazis during World War II and smuggled out of France after the wary by an American army colonel. Bray delivers a one-note performance in this flat and loose adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s novel. [PG]

51hG7Ro-+1LM*A*S*H: Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen (TV) (1983; USA; DeLuxe; 120m) ∗∗∗½  d. Alan Alda; w. Alan Alda, Burt Metcalfe, John Rappaport, Dan Wilcox, Thad Mumford, Elias Davis, David Pollock, Karen Hall; ph. Dominic Palmieri; m. Johnny Mandel (theme), Lionel Newman (supervisor); ed. Larry L. Mills, Stanford Tischler.  Cast: Alan Alda, Mike Farrell, Harry Morgan, Loretta Swit, David Ogden Stiers, Jamie Farr, William Christopher, Allan Arbus, G.W. Bailey, Rosalind Chao, John Shearin, Kellye Nakahara, Jeff Maxwell. In the closing days of the Korean War, the staff of the 4077 M*A*S*H Unit find themselves facing irrevocable changes in their lives. Mixes drama, comedy, pathos and sentiment in an expert way that echoed the strengths of the series. This became the most-watched television broadcast in American History. [PG]

Film Review Round-up – AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007); ARGO (2012); THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950); AT THE CIRCUS (1939)

8442765_detAmerican Gangster (2007; USA; Technicolor; 157m) ∗∗∗½  d. Ridley Scott; w. Steven Zaillian; ph. Harris Savides; m. Marc Streitenfeld; ed. Pietro Scalia.  Cast: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Lymari Nadal, Ted Levine, Roger Guenveur Smith, John Hawkes, RZA, Yul Vazquez, Malcolm Goodwin, Ruby Dee, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, John Ortiz, Cuba Gooding Jr., Armand Assante, Idris Elba. In 1970s America, a detective works to bring down the drug empire of Frank Lucas, a heroin kingpin from Manhattan, who is smuggling the drug into the country from the Far East. Straightforward biopic coasts on strong performances from Washington and Crowe and solid direction from Scott despite the stuttering nature of the narrative. Based on the article “The Return of Superfly” by Mark Jacobson. Unrated version runs to 176m. [18]

ArgoArgo (2012; USA; DeLuxe; 120m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Ben Affleck; w. Chris Terrio; ph. Rodrigo Prieto; m. Alexandre Desplat; ed. William Goldenberg.  Cast: Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Taylor Schilling, Chris Messina, Kyle Chandler, Clea DuVall, Alan Arkin, Zeljko Ivanek, Tate Donovan, Titus Welliver, Victor Garber, Adrienne Barbeau, Michael Cassidy, Rory Cochrane. A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran. Absorbing account of the rescue is brilliantly directed and acted. Occasional lapses into contrivances to create dramatic tension and an unnecassary subplot involving Affleck’s family stop this from being great – but impressive nevertheless.  Won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Writing: Adapted Screenplay (Terrio) and Best Film Editing (Goldenberg). Based on the book “The Master of Disguise” by Tony Mendez and the article “Escape from Tehran” by Joshuah Bearman. Extended cut runs to 130m. [15]

Asphalt JungleThe Asphalt Jungle (1950; USA; B&W; 112m) ∗∗∗∗  d. John Huston; w. Ben Maddow, John Huston; ph. Harold Rosson; m. Miklós Rózsa; ed. George Boemler.  Cast: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, John McIntire, Marc Lawrence, Marilyn Monroe, Barry Kelley, Anthony Caruso, Teresa Celli, William ‘Wee Willie’ Davis, Dorothy Tree, Brad Dexter, John Maxwell. A major heist goes off as planned, until bad luck and double crosses cause everything to unravel. Slick, efficient and highly effective with a strong cast giving excellent performances. Became a major influence on a generation of filmmakers. Debuts of Strother Martin and Jack Warden. Based on the novel by W.R. Burnett. [PG]

At the CircusAt the Circus (1939; USA; B&W; 87m) ∗∗∗½  d. Edward Buzzell; w. Irving Brecher; ph. Leonard Smith; m. Harold Arlen; ed. William H. Terhune.  Cast: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Kenny Baker, Florence Rice, Eve Arden, Margaret Dumont, Nat Pendleton, Fritz Feld, James Burke, Jerry Maren, Barnett Parker, Mariska Aldrich, Irving Bacon, Willie Best. The Marx Brothers try to help the owner of a circus recover some stolen funds before he finds himself out of a job. Entertaining mix of zany comedy and musical numbers with the Marxes in good form. More controlled than their earlier films but the laughs are still frequent. [U]

Shaft #2 Preview on Google Books

A preview of the second Shaft comic book, due to be published on 7 January 2015 is available on Google Books. The preview also highlights author David Walker’s playlist and a look at the cover art for Shaft #3 by Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz & Ivan Nunes (below right), which will be published on 4 February 2015.

Shaft#3 Cover Art CowanShaft#2 snippet

Book Review – DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? (1968) by Philip K. Dick

DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? by PHILIP K. DICK (1968, Gollancz/Orion Books Ltd., Paperback, 214pp) ∗∗∗∗
      Blurb: Through the mean streets of a grim 21st century megalopolis, bounty hunter Rick Deckard stalked, searching out the renegade andys who were his prey. But this assignment involved Nexus-6 targets and as a result Deckard quickly found himself involved in a nightmare kaleidoscope of violence and subterfuge – and the threat of death for the hunter rather than the hunted…

51JumXKRdEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I saw BLADE RUNNER on its first release, when it sank without a trace and I was one of those who was enthralled by the nightmare world it presented and championed the movie. The film has been re-edited and re-appraised since and is now regarded as an SF masterpiece. The book it is based on is a 1968 pulp novel by Philip K. Dick curiously entitled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Many of the elements of the book found their way into Ridley Scott’s film, but just as many were jettisoned. Dick’s novel is a mix of themes of spirituality and technophobia. Scott’s movie focused on the latter, ignoring the references to Mercerism (a kind og mystic religion) and keeping animals as pets to replace the fact no-one can have children. As a result the mix adopted in Dick’s novel gives the book a different feel to the movie. Here Deckard is in an unhappy marriage where mood machines are used to control people’s emotions. Deckard is a loner and a bounty hunter who starts to question his actions, as he seeks and “retires” six escaped Nexus-6 androids. He even has a dalliance with a female android, Rachael Rosen, whose creator is responsible for the Nexus-6 programme.

The emphasis of the book is on the contradictions of a post-nuclear life and the compromises made. It taps into an age of paranoia and is a thoughtful book that is thankfully not steeped in the cod-literacy that often dogs the genre. It is a quick read and recommended to anyone who wishes to explore Dick’s vision further.

Film Review – ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)

My second Christmas film choice was a James Bond classic…

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969, United Artists, USA, 142 mins, Technicolor, 2.35:1, Mono, Cert: PG, Spy Action Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: George Lazenby (James Bond), Diana Rigg (Tracy), Telly Savalas (Blofeld), Gabriele Ferzetti (Draco), Ilse Steppat (Irma Bunt), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), George Baker (Sir Hilary Bray), Bernard Lee (‘M’), Bernard Horsfall (Campbell), Desmond Llewelyn (‘Q’), Yuri Borienko (Grunther), Virginia North (Olympe), Geoffrey Cheshire (Toussaint), Irvin Allen (Che Che), Terence Mountain (Raphael).
      Producer: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman; Director: Peter R. Hunt; Writer: Richard Maibaum (Based on the novel by Ian Fleming); Director of Photography: Michael Reed; Music: John Barry; Film Editor: John Glen; Production Designer: Syd Cain; Art Director: Robert W. Laing; Set Decorator: Peter Lamont; Costume Designer: Marjory Cornelius

On Her Majesty's Secret Service 1969The first Bond film not to feature Sean Connery proved to be a return to basics, eschewing the smirking humour and excessive scope and gadgetry that had sneaked into the last entry in the series, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Here, James Bond (Lazenby) woos a mob boss’s daughter (Rigg) and goes undercover to uncover the true reason for Blofeld’s allergy research in the Swiss Alps that involves beautiful women from around the world.

This Bond film has an emotional centre and it stands out as the most authentic adaptation of Ian Fleming’s source material in the whole series. Much has been made of Lazenby’s debut by critics, but they overlook the fact that it is by using Lazenby the makers have managed to capture the true essence of Fleming’s story. The film simply would not have been as successful had Connery remained in the role. That is not to say Lazenby is a better actor or a better Bond, merely that Connery had become so closely identified with the part, he would not have been able to add the vulnerability and sensitivity required without audiences becoming suspicious.

Diana Rigg is excellent as Tracy, the girl who Bond wants to spend the rest of his life with. Savalas’ Blofeld has more charisma than Donald Pleasance displayed in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. The photography in the Swiss Alps is stunning and John Barry provides his best score of the series. The ski scenes are well shot and dramatically played. The heart-breaking finale is unforgettable.

The result is possibly the best Bond film of all and one that deserves re-appraisal. It is a shame Lazenby did not continue in the role as the producers shied away from authenticity and went for self-parody in Connery’s comeback, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER – an approach that would dog the Bond films for more than a decade.

Film Review – DIE HARD (1988)

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve got through a few films with a Christmas theme. Most of them were chosen by my wife, but I did manage to sneek a choice of my own…

DIE HARD (1988, 20th Century Fox, USA, 131 mins, DeLuxe, 2.35:1, Dolby, Cert: 18, Action Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Bruce Willis (Officer John McClane), Alan Rickman (Hans Gruber), Bonnie Bedelia (Holly Gennaro McClane), Reginald VelJohnson (Sgt. Al Powell), Paul Gleason (Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson), William Atherton (Richard Thornburg), Hart Bochner (Harry Ellis), James Shigeta (Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi), Alexander Godunov (Karl), Bruno Doyon (Franco), De’voreaux White (Argyle), Andreas Wisniewski (Tony), Clarence Gilyard Jr. (Theo), Joey Plewa (Alexander), Lorenzo Caccialanza (Marco).
      Producer: Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver; Director: John McTiernan; Writer: Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza (Based on the novel “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp); Director of Photography: Jan de Bont; Music: Michael Kamen; Film Editor: John F. Link, Frank J. Urioste; Production Designer: Jackson De Govia; Art Director: John R. Jensen; Set Decorator: Philip Leonard.

7050318561_d2444e2b2c_zTough New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) finds himself in a tight situation when an office building in Los Angeles is taken over by terrorists. Apart from himself, everyone else in the building – including his wife – is held at gunpoint while their captors spell out their demands. The F.B.I. are called in to survey the situation, but John McClane has other plans for the terrorists.

Highly influential action blockbuster was the kick-start to Willis’ big screen career. It’s a thrill ride that runs on adrenalin with stupendous actions sequences brilliantly directed by McTiernan and edited by Link and Urioste. A film like this is not about the performances, but Willis displays a laconic charm and dishes off one-liners with aplomb. Rickman is hugely entertaining as the villain of the piece. Bedelia injects some warmth into the role of Holly, McClane’s estranged wife.

The film rattles along at such a pace that the rather extended running time flashes by. A number of sequels followed with the law of diminishing returns coming into play, but there is no doubting the towering achievement of the original and the influence it had on the action thriller genre.

 

Comic Book Review – SHAFT #1 (2014)

SHAFT #1 (3 December 2014, Dynamite Entertainment) ∗∗∗∗
Shaft Created by Ernest Tidyman
Written and Lettered by David F. Walker
Illustrated by Bilquis Evely
Coloured by Daniela Miwa
Cover A by Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz and Ivan Nunes

Shaft01-Cov-A-Cowan-cfb1c (1)I’m not a regular reader of comic books – I own a handful of graphic novels and compilations of such newspaper comic strips as James Bond, Garth and Modesty Blaise – but being a huge fan of Shaft I was excited to hear about the launch of this series. It is not widely known that Tidyman himself did plan to launch a daily Shaft newspaper strip in 1972/3, but failed to secure interest from the syndicates. I will be covering this in a chapter of my book The Complete Guide to Shaft. David Walker’s new comic book series, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment, is therefore the first representation of John Shaft in comic form.

David Walker is also a Shaft fanatic and he has done Ernest Tidyman’s creation justice with this “origins” story set before Tidyman’s first novel. Walker calls on the snippets of Shaft’s history referenced in the books – his Harlem foster parent childhood, his service in Vietnam where he also boxed – and built them into a re-introduction to the character for a new readership. The plot is geared around a boxing match, which Shaft is expected to throw. When Shaft refuses he incurs the wrath of the fixer, Junius Tate who works for Harlem gangster Knocks Persons and Italian gangster, Mr. Sal. We are also introduced to Shaft’s former mentor, Bamma Brooks, who now works as Tate’s strong arm man.

Shaft's RevengeThis issue is primarily designed to set up the circumstances leading to Shaft becoming a private detective and does an admirable job of this. The art work by Bilquis Evely is beautifully detailed, notably the snowy street scenes. She has made Shaft’s likeness close to Tidyman’s description in the novels rather than base him on Richard Roundtree. Walker’s script and lettering is economical and wonderfully captures the essence of Tidyman’s John Shaft, whilst delving deeper into his psyche. All this makes for a first issue offering great promise for the series ahead.

As a bonus readers can download via a QR code the first few chapters of Walker’s prose novella, Shaft’s Revenge, which is set between Shaft’s Big Score! and Shaft Has a Ball. The remaining chapters will follow over the next five issues and the full book will be published in Spring 2015. Walker also suggests and eclectic playlist featuring artists as diverse as Curtis Mayfield and AC/DC.

Shaft Comic Book released today

Shaft #1 written by David Walker with art by Bilquis Evely is published today. The 32-page comic is available in a  variety of covers:-

STK658012Cover A Main: Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz (right)
Cover B Variant: Francesco Francavilla
Cover C Variant: Michael Avon Oeming
Cover D Variant: Ulises Farinas
Cover E Variant: Matt Haley

Dynamite’s publicity reads: Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine with all the chicks? Shaft! Created by author Ernest Tidyman, and made famous in a series of novels and films, iconic hero Shaft makes his comic book debut in an all-new adventure. He’s gone toe-to-toe with organized crime bosses, stood up to the cops, squared off against kidnappers, and foiled assassination attempts. But who was John Shaft before he became the hardboiled investigator with a reputation as big as New York City itself?

Shaft's RevengeCoverThe comic also includes a free download of part one (of six) on Walker’s novella Shaft’s Revenge. A link to a download can be obtained at the Bleeding Cool website.

The first reviews are in and ComicBookRoundUp collects these in the same way Metacritic does for films. As of today the comic has an average rating of 8.9/10 from 7 reviews being amongst the highest rated of the week’s releases so far.

Comicosity says: “I did not consider myself the target demographic for this story, but I found myself in love by the ending credits. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves characters with depth and a taste for realistic plots.” awarding a rating of 8/10.

RhymesWithGeek says: “First issues are often either heavy on action or build up a foundation of characters and situations on which to tell future chapters. Shaft #1 does both so well and with such assured art, that it should be used as a reference for creators planning out their debut comics.”

My copy will be winging its way across the Atlantic with the Christmas post, but as soon as I receive and read it I will post my review.