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.

 

Film Review – THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955)

THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955, Exclusive/Hammer Film Productions, UK, 82 mins, B&W, 1.66:1, Mono, Cert: PG, Sci-Fi Horror Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Brian Donlevy (Prof. Bernard Quatermass), Jack Warner (Insp. Lomax), Margia Dean (Mrs. Judith Carroon), Thora Hird (Rosemary ‘Rosie’ Elizabeth Wrigley), Gordon Jackson (BBC TV producer), David King-Wood (Dr. Gordon Briscoe), Harold Lang (Christie), Lionel Jeffries (Blake), Sam Kydd (Police Sergeant), Richard Wordsworth (Victor Carroon).
      Producer: Anthony Hinds; Director: Val Guest; Writer: Richard H. Landau, Val Guest (Based on the television play by Nigel Kneale); Director of Photography: Walter J. Harvey; Music: James Bernard; Film Editor: James Needs; Art Director: J. Elder Wills; Special Effects: Les Bowie.

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)_0The film that launched Hammer Films’ foray into the horror genre. At the dawn of the space age the British Rocket Group launches three astronauts on an experimental mission. Their ship loses contact with Earth and subsequently crash-lands in the English countryside. Professor Bernard Quatermass (Donlevy) is intrigued to discover that two of the crew are no longer aboard. It soon becomes clear that the mission’s sole survivor, Victor Carroon (Wordsworth), is desperately ill and is rapidly being consumed by the alien organism that killed his fellow astronauts.

The body horror theme of a parasite infecting humans was to become a staple device in much of the later sci-fi genre surfacing with films such as ALIEN, THE THING and numerous stories from TV’s Doctor Who utilising the theme very effectively. Here it is realised through a brilliant portrayal of a man possessed by Richard Wordsworth. His internal turmoil is effectively conveyed by the actor in a manner that recalls Karloff’s monster in FRANKENSTEIN. Val Guest keeps the tension high and the story lean, whilst James Bernard delivers a haunting score.

There has been much written about Brian Donlevy’s suitability for the role of Quatermass and there are times when his histrionics are a little over-bearing as he attempts to capture the professor’s driven personality. Margia Dean is equally unconvincing as Wordsworth’s wife. But Warner adds some fun to his portrayal of the everyman detective inspector, which brings a welcome lighter element to the story. There are also small roles for such favourites as Thora Hird, in a memorable cameo as a homeless lady who encounters the creature, and Gordon Jackson as a BBC producer keen to ensure the show goes on in the Westminster Abbey conclusion.

Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass stories would prove very popular on both small and big screen and a sequel, QUATERMASS 2 (again with Donlevy), followed in 1957. However, it was 1967’s QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (this time with Andrew Keir as Quatermass) that would become the most successful adaptation and impressive production.

Book Review – THE BROKEN PLACES (2013) by Ace Atkins

THE BROKEN PLACES by ACE ATKINS (2013, Corsair, Paperback, 432pp) ∗∗∗∗∗
Blurb: A year after becoming sheriff, Quinn Colson is faced with the release of an infamous murderer from prison. Jamey Dixon comes back to Jericho preaching redemption, and some believe him; but for the victim’s family, the only thought is revenge. Another group who doesn’t believe him – the men in prison from Dixon’s last job, an armoured car robbery. They’re sure he’s gone back to grab the hidden money, so they do the only thing they can: break out and head straight to Jericho themselves. Colson and his deputy, Lillie, know they’ve got their work cut out for them. But they don’t count on one more unwelcome visitor: a tornado that causes havoc just as events come to a head. Communications are down, the roads are impassable – and the rule of law is just about to snap.

9781472112149Ace Atkins’ third novel featuring Sheriff Quinn Colson maintains the solid standard of the first two books – The Ranger and The Lost Ones. The book weaves a tale of convicts on the run in search of their hidden loot, and the ex-convict who has turned to Christ and wants to marry Colson’s sister, with the natural disaster of a tornado hitting the town of Jericho.

Whilst the story holds no real surprises and unfolds in a similar fashion to the first two books in the series, the added dimension of the storm hitting the community makes for a large scale climax. The family conflict surrounding sister Caddy taking up with seemingly reformed and misunderstood Jamey Dixon, is also a familiar one, but essential to give the story some emotional clout. However, Atkins employs a tight writing style built around a group of strong characters, not least Colson’s support team including Deputy Lillie Virgil and the one-armed Boom.

The final showdown is suitably tense and whilst Atkins never scales the heights of Craig Johnson’s Longmire series, this is a perfectly entertaining read on its own terms.

Film Review – DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014, Chernin Entertainment/ TSG Entertainment, USA, 131 mins, Colour, 1.85:1, Dolby Atmos/SDDS/Datasat, Cert: 12, Sci-Fi Action Thriller) ∗∗∗
      Starring: Andy Serkis (Caesar), Jason Clarke (Malcolm), Gary Oldman (Dreyfus), Keri Russell (Ellie), Toby Kebbell (Koba), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Alexander), Kirk Acevedo (Carver), Nick Thurston (Blue Eyes), Terry Notary (Rocket), Karin Konoval (Maurice), Judy Greer (Cornelia), Jon Eyez (Foster), Enrique Murciano (Kemp), Larramie Doc Shaw (Ash), Lee Ross (Grey).
      Producer: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver; Director: Matt Reeves; Writer: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver  (Based on Characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver; Premise suggested by the novel “Planet of the Apes” by Pierre Boulle); Director of Photography: Michael Seresin; Music: Michael Giacchino; Film Editor: William Hoy, Stan Salfas; Production Designer: James Chinlund; Art Director: Naaman Marshall; Set Decorator: Amanda Moss Serino; Costume Designer: Melissa Bruning.

10978699-1414085339-78304The sequel to RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a rousing continuation of the franchise. Ten years after a pandemic disease seen in that film, the apes who have survived are drawn into battle with a group of human survivors who seek to restore power to the city of San Francisco.

The technical achievements of this film are huge, from the brilliantly conceived apes with CGI mapped over the physical performance of real human actors, to the excellent design work. Andy Serkis is again excellent at conveying Caesar’s internal conflict and a nod should also go to Toby Kebell who as Koba, the rebellious ape carried forward from the first movie where he was played by Christopher Gordon.

The human actors are headed up by Gary Oldman, as the leader of the survivors and Jason Clarke as Malcolm, who acts as the bridge between the ape and human colonies. The drama unfolds around the conflict Caesar feels with doing what’s right for his ape colony and keeping relations with the humans harmonious. Eventually Koba rebels and, believing he has killed Caesar, leads the apes in an attack on the human colony in a spectacular action sequence which sees the apes take control. However, Caesar has survived and Malcolm helps him restore contact with his son and together they try to put a stop to Koba’s rule.

There are nods to the films roots, notably in the character names Blue Eyes (the nickname given to Charlton Heston in the original) and Maurice (the first name of the actor Maurice Evans who played Dr. Zaius in the same 1968 film). The plot resembles that from the fifth film in the original series BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, but at least this time they have the budget.

Whilst there are moments of pure Hollywood in some of the plotting, by sheer achievement of its ambition in providing intelligent escapist entertainment this is a refreshingly successful addition to the effects driven blockbusters crowding cinemas. Credit goes to director Matt Reeves for giving the story room to breathe rather than just create a succession of action scenes. A third film is in development and should be well worth the wait.

Film Review – GODZILLA (2014)

GODZILLA (2014, Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures, USA/Japan, 123 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Dolby Atmos/SDDS/Datasat, Cert: 12, Sci-Fi Action Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Ishiro Serizawa), Bryan Cranston (Joe Brody), Elizabeth Olsen (Elle Brody), Carson Bolde (Sam Brody), Sally Hawkins (Vivienne Graham), Juliette Binoche (Sandra Brody), David Strathairn (Admiral William Stenz), Richard T. Jones (Captain Russell Hampton), Victor Rasuk (Sergeant Tre Morales), Patrick Sabongui (Lieutenant Commander Marcus Waltz), CJ Adams (Young Ford).
      Producer: Bob Ducsay, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull; Director: Gareth Edwards; Writer: Max Borenstein (Based on a story by Dave Callaham); Director of Photography: Seamus McGarvey; Music: Alexandre Desplat; Film Editor: Bob Ducsay; Production Designer: Owen Paterson; Art Director: Grant Van Der Slagt; Set Decorator: Elizabeth Wilcox; Costume Designer: Sharen Davis.

Godzilla_2014_Blu-ray_DVD_Digital_Download_Ultra_VioletUnlike Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version this is a straight remake of the 1954 Japanese monster movie classic. Here, the world’s most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity’s scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence.

The set-up is well paced and promises a much more serious take on the subject. Cranston makes an effective misunderstood professor carrying an earnestness in his performance reminiscent of Harrison Ford. It’s a shame he disappears from the action too early as his character is presented as the focal point of the plot early on. Instead it is Taylor-Johnson, as his soldier son trying to re-unite with his family, who takes centre stage and the film veers into more typical destruction and mayhem. Godzilla is kept off screen for much of the film but some action in Hawaii and then the extended finale in San Francisco, where the creature battles the parasites, provide a showcase for the visual effects team.

Action fans will lap up the second half of the movie, whilst those looking for more intelligent film-making will feel slightly disappointed the production team wastes its promising opening by giving over the second half of the movie to technicians.

Shaft #3 Variant Covers Released

Covers by Francesco Francavilla and Sanford Greene for the third issue of Dynamite’s Shaft comic book series written by David Walker and due out on 4 February 2015 have been released.

Blurb for the issue gives an exciting summary of the plot: Devastated by the murder of a friend, Shaft wants answers and revenge-though not necessarily in that order. With vengeance on his mind and cold steel in his hand, Shaft finds himself caught up in a brewing gang war that threatens to consume the city. Everyone from the Mafia to the police wants Shaft to do their dirty work, but no one realizes that’s all part of his plan.

Shaft03-Cov-B-FrancavillaShaft03-Cov-C-SubGreene