War for the Planet of the Apes (2017; USA; Colour; 140m) *** d. Matt Reeves; w. Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves; ph. Michael Seresin; m. Michael Giacchino. Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Amiah Miller, Gabriel Chavarria, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Ty Olsson, Judy Greer, Sara Canning, Devyn Dalton, Michael Adamthwaite, Aleks Paunovic, Toby Kebbell. After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. Bloated third entry in the rebooted APES series has stunning visuals and special effects, but is weighed down by two-dimensional characterisations. Reeves too often slows the action down to a crawl in order to manufacture emotional wallop and some of the plot progression lacks logic. Also shot in 3-D. 
Alien: Covenant (2017; UK/Australia/New Zealand/USA; Colour; 122m) *** d. Ridley Scott; w. John Logan, Dante Harper, Jack Paglen, Michael Green; ph. Dariusz Wolski; m. Jed Kurzel. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Demián Bichir, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Amy Seimetz, Callie Hernandez, Benjamin Rigby, Alexander England, Uli Latukefu, Tess Haubrich, Guy Pearce, Noomi Rapace, James Franco. The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination, and must attempt a harrowing escape. It extends the dense religious mysticism of PROMETHEUS and mixes it with bug-movie action and horror. The script has many obvious triggers and offers nothing new to the series. What is left is an ultimately unsatisfying blend that has been expertly assembled, but plays it safe and would have benefited from tighter editing. 
Starsky and Hutch (TV) (1975; USA; Colour; 73m) *** d. Barry Shear; w. William Blinn; ph. Archie R. Dalzell; m. Lalo Schifrin. Cast: David Soul, Paul Michael Glaser, Michael Lerner, Morgan Sterne, Michael Conrad, Antonio Fargas, Richard Ward, Gilbert Green, Carole Ita White, Don Billett, Gordon Jump, Karen Lamm. The two detectives investigating a double homicide, discover that the man and women who died were mistakenly murdered – it was the detectives themselves who were the intended targets. Pilot movie is a success due to the on-screen chemistry between Glaser’s demonstrative Starsky and Soul’s laid-back Hutch. Plot is okay and there is a well-shot finale pumped along by Schifrin’s score. Grittier than the eventual series and showing its influences to the extent that a barroom interrogation scene is almost a direct lift from THE FRENCH CONNECTION. Followed by a TV series (1975-9) and a big screen adaptation in 2004. 
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989; USA; DeLuxe; 127m) *** d. Steven Spielberg; w. Jeffrey Boam, George Lucas, Menno Meyjes; ph. Douglas Slocombe; m. John Williams. Cast: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliott, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover, River Phoenix, Michael Byrne, Vernon Dobtcheff, Paul Maxwell, Kevork Malikyan, Alex Hyde-White, Richard Young, Alexei Sayle. When Dr. Henry Jones Sr. suddenly goes missing while pursuing the Holy Grail, eminent archaeologist Indiana Jones must follow in his father’s footsteps and stop the Nazis. Highlight is the chemistry and interplay between Ford and Connery. This third instalment is played more for laughs – and there are a fair few. Unfortunately, the change in tone diminishes from the adventure with overly-choreographed action set-pieces and a lazy screenplay overloaded with plot conveniences. Won Oscar for Sound Effects Editing (Ben Burtt and Richard Hymns). Followed by INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008). [PG]
Guns of Navarone, The (1961; USA; Eastmancolor; 158m) **** d. J. Lee Thompson; w. Carl Foreman; ph. Oswald Morris; m. Dimitri Tiomkin. Cast: Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, Irene Papas, Gia Scala, James Darren, James Robertson Justice, Richard Harris, Bryan Forbes, Allan Cuthbertson, Michael Trubshawe, Percy Herbert, George Mikell. A British team is sent to cross occupied Greek territory and destroy the massive German gun emplacement that commands a key sea channel. Top-notch WWII action-adventure yarn with well-staged set-pieces, a strong cast and a acript that is more thoughtful than usual for the genre. Peck, Quinn and Niven deliver memorable performances. Oscar winner for Special Effects (Bill Warrington, Chris Greenham). Based on the novel by Alistair MacLean. Followed by FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE (1978). [PG]
NOTHING SHORT OF DYING by ERIK STOREY (2016, Simon & Schuster, 314pp) ***
Blurb: Sixteen years. That’s how long Clyde Barr has been away from Colorado’s thick forests, alpine deserts, and craggy peaks, running from a past filled with haunting memories. But now he’s back, having roamed across three continents as a hunter, adventurer, soldier of fortune, and most recently, unjustly imprisoned convict. And once again, his past is reaching out to claim him. By the light of a flickering campfire, Clyde receives a frantic phone call from his sister Jen. No sooner has she pleaded with him to come rescue her than the line goes dead. Clyde doesn’t know how much time he has, or where Jen is located, or even who has her. All he knows is that nothing short of dying will stop him from saving her. Joining Clyde in his against-all-odds quest is a young woman named Allie whose motivations for running this gauntlet are fascinatingly complex. As the duo races against the clock, it is Allie who gets Clyde to see what he has become and what he can still be.
Erik Storey’s debut novel is an assured riff on the loner action hero popularised by Lee Child and Vince Flynn. Where Clyde Barr is different is that he has a family of sisters, one of whom experienced with him abuse as a child by a succession of their mother’s men, giving him a personal stake in the story. The plot here is a basic kidnap plot serving to introduce a character to an audience Storey hopes will invest in through a series (a taster for the follow-up, A Promise to Kill, is included in this paperback edition). Here Storey succeeds admirably making Barr a seemingly more human hero than say Child’s Jack Reacher, if no less indestructable. The violent action scenes are also well-written and there is a good establishing relationship between Barr and saloon girl, Allie, who he falls for. Whilst Allie’s willingness to accompany Barr plays a little conveniently as a device to give Barr someone to worry about, it does allow for some good character interplay. The psychotic Zeke, who Barr enlists for help, is a little too caricatured and the villains are your typical violent and charmless drug dealing thugs. We even get the Feds in the black SUVs. The resolution is straight-forward and there are no twists or stings in the tail. As an action thriller it works well and is a cinfident debut. It will be interesting to see whether Storey can add depth and variation to the formula going forward.
Air Force One (1997; USA/Germany; Technicolor; 125m) *** d. Wolfgang Petersen; w. Andrew W. Marlowe; ph. Michael Ballhaus; m. Jerry Goldsmith. Cast: Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Wendy Crewson, Liesel Matthews, Paul Guilfoyle, Glenn Close, Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy, Dean Stockwell, Tom Everett, Jürgen Prochnow, Donna Bullock, Michael Ray Miller. Hijackers seize the plane carrying the President of the United States and his family, but he (an ex-soldier) works from hiding to defeat them. Those who buy into the premise of this outlandish thriller in the DIE HARD mould will find much to enjoy in Ford’s heroics. Oldman relishes his bad guy terrorist role and Petersen’s classy direction helps keep this just the right side of comic book territory. 
Kong: Skull Island (2017; USA; Colour; 118m) ***½ d. Jordan Vogt-Roberts; w. Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly, John Gatins; ph. Larry Fong; m. Henry Jackman. Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Tian Jing, Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Thomas Mann, Shea Whigham, Eugene Cordero, Marc Evan Jackson, Will Brittain, Miyavi, Richard Jenkins, Allyn Rachel, Robert Taylor, James M. Connor, Thomas Middleditch. Re-working of KING KONG (1933). In the 1970s, a diverse team of explorers is brought together to venture deep into an uncharted but beautiful isolated island that goes by the name of Skull Island, in the Indian Ocean. They soon discover that the island is home to a wonder of colossal proportions — the gigantic and prehistoric ape known as King Kong, who possesses great strength and semi-human intelligence. Fast-paced and CGI heavy monster-fest is great fun with a witty script. What it lacks in depth, it makes up for in spectacular breath-taking action set-pieces. Hiddleston is wooden in the lead, but Reilly excels as a discovered veteran who had been trapped on the island 28 years earlier. Jackson adds brio and Larson is appealing. Kong may be an impressive computer-generated creation but lacks the personality of the 1933 original. Also shot in 3-D. 
North Sea Hijack (1980; USA; Technicolor; 100m) ***½ d. Andrew V. McLaglen; w. Jack Davies; ph. Tony Imi; m. Michael J. Lewis. Cast: Roger Moore, James Mason, Anthony Perkins, Michael Parks, Faith Brook, Lea Brodie, David Hedison, Jack Watson, George Baker, Jeremy Clyde, David Wood, Philip O’Brien, Anthony Pullen Shaw, John Westbrook, Jennifer Hilary. When terrorists take over two oil rigs and threaten to explode them if their demands are not met, a unique commando unit is sent in to stop them. Entertaining boys-own nonsense with Moore revelling in an atypical role of woman-hating/cat-loving head of elite anti-terrorist unit. It is a taut, efficient thriller with elements of humour. Perkins relishes his role as chief villain. Davies adapted his own novel “Esther, Ruth and Jennifer”. Aka: FFOLKES and ASSAULT FORCE. 
Patriots Day (2016; USA; Colour; 133m) ∗∗∗½ d. Peter Berg; w. Peter Berg, Matt Cook, Joshua Zetumer, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson; ph. Tobias A. Schliessler; m. Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross. Cast: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Wolff, Melissa Benoist, Michael Beach, Khandi Alexander, Erica McDermott, Lana Condor, Dean Neistat, Vincent Curatola, John Enos III. The story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists responsible. Stirring and heartfelt recounting of the events, authentically recreated and only occasionally does the script lapse into genre conventions. Performances are strong and the inclusion of real footage into the mix brings home the horror of the bombings and their aftermath. Touching scenes at the end of the film capture interviews with real victims and police officers.