Film Review – THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974)

THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974, Morningside Productions, Inc., UK/Spain/USA, 105 mins, Colour, 1.66:1, Mono, Cert: U, Fantasy Adventure) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: John Phillip Law (Sinbad), Caroline Munro (Margiana), Tom Baker (Koura), Douglas Wilmer (Vizier), Martin Shaw (Rachid), Grégoire Aslan (Hakim), Kurt Christian (Haroun), Takis Emmanuel (Achmed), David Garfield (Abdul), Aldo Sambrell (Omar).
      Producer: Charles H. Schneer, Ray Harryhausen; Director: Gordon Hessler; Writer: Brian Clemens (from a story by Clemens and Harryhausen); Director of Photography: Ted Moore; Music: Miklos Rozsa; Film Editor: Roy Watts; Product ion Designer: John Stoll; Art Director: Fernando Gonzalez; Set Decorator: Julian Mateos; Special Visual Effects: Ray Harryhausen.

golden_voyage_of_sinbadA throwback to the adventures of the late fifties and early sixties that at the time of its release was a welcome departure from the urban thrillers dominating early 1970s cinema. Here, Sinbad (Law) and his crew intercept a homunculus carrying a golden tablet. Koura (a pre-Doctor Who Baker), the homunculus’ creator and practitioner of evil magic, wants the tablet back and pursues Sinbad. Meanwhile Sinbad meets the Vizier (Wilmer) who has another part of the interlocking golden map, and they mount a quest across the seas to solve the riddle of the map, accompanied by a slave girl (Munro) with a mysterious tattoo of an eye on her palm. They encounter strange beasts, tempests, and the dark interference of Koura along the way.

Whilst the effects may seem quaint compared to the modern-day CGI approach, they also give this tale its charm and the creatures carry more personality as a result of Harryhausen’s legendary stop-motion approach to animation. The pace improves as the story progresses with good action scenes centred around battles with mythological creatures pumped along by a strong score from Rozsa. The quest plot is a familiar hook for fans of the genre and whilst the film does not match the heights of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS or even THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. This is still pleasingly entertaining escapism for kids of all ages.

Robert Shaw had pitched for the role of Sinbad but settled for an uncredited role as the Oracle, for which his face was heavily swathed in make-up and his voice electronically altered by a sound engineer. Followed by SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER in 1977.

Film Review – THE WRONG MAN (1956)

THE WRONG MAN (1956, Warner Bros., USA, 105 mins, B&W, 1.66:1, Mono, Cert: PG, Crime Drama) ∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Henry Fonda (Manny Balestrero), Vera Miles (Rose Balestrero), Anthony Quayle (Frank D. O’Connor), Harold J. Stone (Det. Lt. Bowers), Charles Cooper (Det. Matthews), John Heldabrand (Tomasini), Esther Minciotti (Mama Balestrero), Doreen Lang (Ann James), Laurinda Barrett (Constance Willis), Norma Connolly (Betty Todd), Nehemiah Persoff (Gene Conforti), Lola D’Annunzio (Olga Conforti), Kippy Campbell (Robert Balestrero), Robert Essen (Gregory Balestrero), Richard Robbins (Daniel), Dayton Lummis (Judge Groat), Peggy Webber (Miss Dennerly).
      Producer: Alfred Hitchcock; Director: Alfred Hitchcock; Writer: Maxwell Anderson, Angus MacPhail (from a story by Anderson); Director of Photography: Robert Burks; Music: Bernard Herrmann; Film Editor: George Tomasini; Art Director: Paul Sylbert; Set Decorator: William L. Kuehl.

2mpakhfHitchcock himself introduces this intriguing adaptation of a true story of Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda), who makes little money as a musician. When his wife (Vera Miles) needs some dental work, Manny attempts to cash in on her insurance policy. Unfortunately, he resembles an armed robber who held up the office twice before, so the police are called and Manny is placed under arrest.

Where the film scores is in the unfolding psychological drama. As Manny retains a certain calmness as he attempts to prove his innocence, his wife Rose becomes increasingly strained mentally leading her to an eventual breakdown. Fonda and Miles capture the essence of their characters very well as the story unfolds in a matter-of-fact fashion. Herrmann also contributes another evocative score that conveys the increasing desperation of the couples’ situation. Hitchcock also uses the New York locations (including the city’s Stork Club) effectively, which are captured moodily through Burks’ camera work. The director deliberately steers away from any visual tricks and lets the story speak for itself. As such it is one of his most straightforward films.

Balestrero’s story had previously been dramatised on Robert Montgomery Presents in an episode entitled “A Case of Identity,” which aired on 11 Jan 1954 on the NBC network based on the Life magazine article bearing the same title.

Film Review – SHADOW DANCER (2012)

SHADOW DANCER (2012, BBC Films/Irish Film Board/ Element Pictures, UK/Ireland, 101 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Dolby Digital, Cert: 15, Drama) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Clive Owen (Mac), Andrea Riseborough (Colette McVeigh), Gillian Anderson (Kate Fletcher), Aidan Gillen (Gerry), Domhnall Gleeson (Connor), Brid Brennan (Ma), David Wilmot (Kevin Mulville), Stuart Graham (Ian Gilmour), Martin McCann (Brendan).
      Producer: Chris Coen, Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe; Director: James Marsh; Writer: Tom Bradby (based on his own novel); Director of Photography: Rob Hardy (DeLuxe); Music: Dickon Hinchliffe; Film Editor: Jinx Godfrey; Production Designer: Jon Henson, Art Director: Aeveen Fleming; Costume Designer: Lorna Marie Mugan.

10644038-1355145852-938663The opening set-up of this adaptation of Tom Bradby’s novel in 1973 Belfast produces the most haunting scenes of the film and establishes Riseborough’s burden of guilt over the death of her little brother, who was shot after she sent him to the shops on an errand. When twenty years later she is finally convinced it was the IRA who were responsible, she uses that guilt to spy on her own brothers – Gillen and Gleeson – with Owen as her MI5 guardian.

There are a few twists and turns in the plot as the tale unfolds to its logical conclusion. Performances are good – notably Brennan as the family matriarch and Wilmot as the IRA’s fixer. Riseborough’s relationship with her own son is meant to symbolise her redemption for the loss for her brother, yet Marsh directs this with a cold realism. The film’s focus on Riseborough and her family also leads to a sense of detachment from the community and the ongoing tensions – excepting for one scene with a flag-waving funeral. As such there is a lost opportunity to further explore the family’s continued fight being at odds with the changing political climate.

Marsh keeps the tension and drama bubbling under the surface whilst building deliberately to the climax. His use of Owen and Anderson as MI5 agents is interesting after early set-ups they stay on the periphery of the story, although their characters’ differing methods do provoke the final twist that ignites Riseborough’s anger and action.

Although this is a credible adaptation I am still left with the feeling it could have been even better had it been adapted for TV as a mini-series and the characters and scenarios had even more room to breathe.

Music Review – GENESIS: R-KIVE (2014)

GENESIS – R-KIVE (2014, Virgin, 3CDs) ∗∗∗∗
Songs: Disc 1: The Knife; The Musical Box; Supper’s Ready; The Cinema Show; I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe); The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway; Back In N.Y.C.; The Carpet Crawlers; Ace of Wands (Steve Hackett); Disc 2: Ripples; Afterglow; Solsbury Hill (Peter Gabriel); Follow You Follow Me; For A While (Tony Banks); Every Day (Steve Hackett); Biko (Peter Gabriel); Turn It On Again; In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins); Abacab; Mama; That’s All; Easy Lover (Phil Collins); Silent Running (Mike + The Mechanics); Disc 3: Invisible Touch; Land Of Confusion; Tonight Tonight Tonight; The Living Years (Mike + The Mechanics); Red Day on Blue Street (Tony Banks); I Can’t Dance; No Son of Mine; Hold On My Heart; Over My Shoulder (Mike + The Mechanics); Calling All Stations; Signal to Noise (Peter Gabriel); Wake Up Call (Phil Collins); Nomads (Steve Hackett); Siren (Tony Banks)

818bjr+dEzL._SL1500_Whilst there is a certain logic in a compilation of the music of Genesis alongside solo songs from the 1971-5 line-up (of which each member chooses three each – not always the obvious ones). The end result is unlikely to satisfy hardcore fans of the band or any of the artists individually. For that you would need to look to each member’s solo compilation packages and Genesis’ Platinum Collection.

But this package is not aimed at the band’s collective or individual core fan base. It is designed to re-introduce and familiarise the music buying public with the extraordinary breadth of talent that came from this group of five writers and musicians. Arguably the only such instance outside The Beatles themselves.

The package is also an obvious tie-in to the BBC documentary Together and Apart (due for broadcast on 4 October 2014) and the Blu-Ray/DVD release to follow, The Sum of The Parts. As such it is an adequate reminder of the varied music produced by the members individually as well as the transition of the band from experimental prog-rock to a more mainstream approach. There are Genesis fans who like one and dislike the other and those who like it all. I fall into the latter camp having come on board with Duke in 1980, then having rapidly collected the back catalogue – in reverse order. Each new album from Abacab (1981) onward would also bring something new to the band’s history. That album in particular seems to be the dividing point for the fans who like prog Genesis only and those who like mainstream Genesis only.

What the solo material shows is how diverse these musician are individually. Gabriel explores world music and rhythms; Collins perfects a version of white soul; Rutherford produces finely crafted and tuneful songs; Hackett stays closest to his prog roots but explores different guitar styles such as flamenco; Banks loves challenging harmonies and an orchestral approach.

The music they produced together as Genesis has elements of all these things, but the hybrid makes for an even more exciting listen. The band evolved through musical epics such as Supper’s Ready via the surreal imagery of I Know What I Like and Carpet Crawlers with Gabriel fronting the band to the beautiful melodies of Ripples and Afterglow more suited to Collins’ vocal style. After Hackett’s departure, some of the adventure, but none of the craft disappeared. Mama is a bitingly hot tale of obsession that demonstrated the band could still produce challenging music alongside the hits.

As a collector of the band’s music I have purchased this and it will sit with the rest of their output. As a fan, it is unlikely it will be the prime source of my future listening – I will return to individual albums to enjoy all phases of the band’s career. But for casual listeners this will open up the band’s broader catalogue and serve as a strong representation of the talent within the Genesis family.

Book Review – THE LITTLE SISTER (1949) by Raymond Chandler

THE LITTLE SISTER by RAYMOND CHANDLER (1949, Hamish Hamilton /Penguin Books Ltd., Paperback, 2010 edition, 298pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: Her name is Orfamay Quest and she’s come all the way from Manhattan, Kansas, to find her missing brother Orrin. Or leastways that’s what she tells PI Philip Marlowe, offering him a measly twenty bucks for the privilege. But Marlowe’s feeling charitable – though it’s not long before he wishes he wasn’t so sweet. You see, Orrin’s trail leads Marlowe to luscious movie starlets, uppity gangsters, suspicious cops and corpses with ice picks jammed in their necks. When trouble comes calling, sometimes it’s best to pretend to be out . . .

9780241954324The Little Sister is Chandler’s fifth Philip Marlowe novel and alongside his next book, The Long Goodbye, shows Marlowe at his most lonely, world-weary and vulnerable. The plot is a complex tangle but concentrates on a core group of characters – all of them fuelled by selfish greed. Chandler takes a number of opportunities for social commentary and displays an obvious dislike for the Hollywood industry which makes gods out of fakes.

The dialogue has a biting wit to it that shows Chandler increasingly digging beneath the surface and replacing what was once seen as mere cynicism with a darker melancholy. Marlowe in particular seems to be fighting his own self-doubts and solitude. The mystery itself weaves in twists and turns as one would expect but almost becomes secondary to Marlowe’s increasing hostility to all around him.

As such the novel will satisfy hard-boiled mystery buffs. For connoisseurs this novel represents a further step in Chandler’s desire to add more substance to his stories. He would go on to take this approach to its extreme with his classic The Long Goodbye.

Film Review – JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014)

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014, Paramount Pictures/Skydance Productions, USA/Russia, 105 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, SDDS/Datasat/Dolby Digital/Dolby Surround 7.1, Cert: 12, Action/Thriller) ∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Chris Pine (Jack Ryan), Keira Knightley (Cathy Muller), Kevin Costner (Thomas Harper), Kenneth Branagh (Viktor Cherevin), Lenn Kudrjawizki (Constantin), Alec Utgoff (Aleksandr Borovsky), Peter Andersson (Dimitri Lemkov), Elena Velikanova (Katya), Nonso Anozie (Embee Deng), Seth Ayott (Teddy Hefferman), Colm Feore (Rob Behringer), Gemma Chan (Amy Chang).
      Producer: David Barron, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mace Neufeld, Mark Vahradian; Director: Kenneth Branagh; Writer: Adam Cozad, David Koepp (based on characters created by Tom Clancy); Director of Photography: Haris Zambarloukos (DeLuxe); Music: Patrick Doyle; Film Editor: Martin Walsh; Production Designer: Andrew Laws; Art Director: Stuart Kearns; Set Decorator: Judy Farr; Costume Designer: Jill Taylor.jack-ryan-shadow-recruit-blu-ray-cover-69

Chris Pine becomes the fourth actor in five films to play Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. This is the first film, however, not to be based on one of Clancy’s books and is in essence an origins story. Here, Jack Ryan is in his early career as a young covert CIA analyst when he uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.

By making Ryan younger and with heavy nods to his heroic military career this is an attempt to turn Ryan into more of an intelligent action hero than deskbound analyst. Pine has the right amount of energy and exuberance for the role and acquits himself admirably. Knightley becomes the fourth actress to portray his fiancée, Catrhy Muller (later his wife), but they lack the chemistry of the Harrison Ford/Anne Archer partnership of PATRIOT CAMES and CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER. Director Branagh also portrays the chief Russian heavy and there is a distinct cold war feel to the modern setting, which mirrors the increasingly cold relations between the US and Russia. The plot seems convoluted and demanding of attention, but in reality is rather simplistic and lacking in scale. Branagh’s direction prefers dialogue and exposition to be punctuated by bursts of adrenalin fuelled action. His camerawork however adopts the shaky style of the BOURNE trilogy and is a little off-putting with fast edits often adding confusion to the scenes. Also on board is Costner as Ryan’s first mentor, but he is largely on the periphery of the action.

Despite the uneven pace, this remains an enjoyable resurrection, but like its predecessor THE SUM OF ALL FEARS, which tried to re-launch the series with Ben Affleck as a younger Ryan, its movement into Bond and Bourne territory may leave it too indistinguishable to progress the series any further.

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.