TV Review – DOCTOR WHO – ASCENSION OF THE CYBERMEN/THE TIMELESS CHILDREN (2020)

Image result for doctor who the timeless childrenDOCTOR WHO: ASCENSION OF THE CYBERMEN/THE TIMELESS CHILDREN (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 23 February & 1 March 2020; Running Time: 115m (1 x 50m & 1 x 65m); Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Jamie Magnus Stone; Writer: Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Sam Heasman; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Rebecca Trotman; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Harry Barnes; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
      Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Sacha Dhawan (The Master), Jo Martin (The Doctor), Patrick O’Kane (Ashad), Ian McElhinney (Ko Sharmus), Julie Graham (Ravio), Alex Austin (Yedlarmi), Matt Carver (Ethan), Rhiannon Clements (Bescot), Seylan Baxter (Tecteun), Kirsty Besterman (Solpado), Steve Toussaint (Feekat), Rhiannon Clements (Bescot), Jack Osborn (Fuskle), Evan McCabe (Brendan), Branwell Donaghey (Patrick), Orla O’Rourke (Meg), Andrew Macklin (Michael), Paul Kasey (Judoon Captain Pol-Kon-Don), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of Cybermen & Judoon Captain), Matthew Rohman (Cyberman), Simon Carew (Cyberman), Jon Davey (Cyberman), Richard Highgate (Cyberman), Richard Price (Cyberman), Mickey Lewis (Cyberman), Matthew Doman (Cyberman), Paul Bailey (Cyberman).
      Synopsis: In the far future, the Doctor and her friends face a brutal battle across the farthest reaches of space to protect the last of the human race against the deadly Cybermen uncovering the secret of the Time Lords in the process.
     Comment: Enjoyment of this two-part finale will very much depend on the viewer’s willingness (notably die-hard fans) to buy into writer Chibnall’s re-invention of Time Lord history. The opening episode is an excellent scene-setter full of energy and drama, featuring the Cybermen on a mission to reassert their domination, with an injection of mystery surrounding the so-called “Timeless Child”. Then at the cliffhanger, the Master resurfaces along with a gateway through to a destroyed Gallifrey and we move into a second episode that will divide fandom right down the middle. Firstly, Dhawan’s take on the Master as some form of unhinged psychotic has taken the character away from the charm and subtlety established by Roger Delgado back in the 1970s, with more than a nod toward John Simm’s similarly unhinged portrayal. Dhawan’s performance is way OTT and ill-serves the character, robbing him of any real menace. Secondly, the Master’s appearance relegates the Cybermen to a mere side-show as his battle of wills with Whittaker’s Doctor in the Matrix takes centre stage. The Master’s motives are muddled and his seeming alliance with the Cybermen (mirroring that in The Five Doctors) lacks any core logic beyond the madness displayed in the character. The frenetic nature with which Chibnall tries to cram so many revelations and explanations ultimately weighs down the second episode. The story’s whole is very much less than the sum of its parts – the excitement of the first episode giving way to bafflement in the second. That said, the second episode still has its moments. Whittaker is able to stretch her range more, for the most-part dialling down the motormouth patter. The visuals are very good and each of the companions gets room to breathe. However, I can’t help feeling Chibnall has created a rod for his own back here, by trying to create his own vision and tying it with what has gone before. The result feels overly forced in its attempt to re-boot Time Lord history, leaving the viewer pondering how this will change things going forward. The likely answer is it won’t as the general premise of a time traveller fighting evil throughout the universe remains.

Film Review – GOLD (1974)

GOLD (UK, 1974) ***½
      Distributor: Hemdale Film Distribution (UK), Allied Artists Pictures (USA); Production Company: Killarney Film Studios; Release Date: 5 September 1974 (UK), 16 October 1974 (USA); Filming Dates: October 1973; Running Time: 120m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
      Director: Peter R. Hunt; Writer: Wilbur Smith, Stanley Price (based on the novel “Gold Mine” by Wilbur Smith); Producer: Michael Klinger; Director of Photography: Ousama Rawi; Music Composer: Elmer Bernstein; Film Editor: John Glen; Casting Director: Irene Lamb; Production Designer: Syd Cain, Alex Vetchinsky; Art Director: Robert W. Laing; Costumes: Marjory Cornelius; Make-up: Paul Engelen; Sound: John W. Mitchell; Special Effects: Cliff Richardson, Bill Warrington.
      Cast: Roger Moore (Rod Slater), Susannah York (Terry Steyner), Ray Milland (Hurry H. ‘Pops’ Hirschfeld), Bradford Dillman (Manfred Steyner), John Gielgud (Farrell), Tony Beckley (Stephen Marais), Simon Sabela (Big King), Marc Smith (Tex Kiernan), John Hussey (Plummer), Bernard Horsfall (Dave Kowalski), Bill Brewer (Aristide), Norman Coombes (Frank Lemmer), George Jackson (Gus, Mine Doctor), Ken Hare (Jackson), Ralph Loubser (Mine Captain), Denis Smith (Radio Commentator), Paddy Norval (Daniele, Girl in Bar), Garth Tuckett (Miner), Albert Raphael (Miner), Lloyd Lilford (Miner), Alan S. Craig (Miner), John Kingley (Miner), Carl Duering (Syndicate Member), Paul Hansard (Syndicate Member), André Maranne (Syndicate Member), Nadim Sawalha (Syndicate Member), Gideon Kolb (Syndicate Member), John Bay (Syndicate Member).
      Synopsis: Rod Slater is the newly appointed General Manager of the Sonderditch gold mine, but he stumbles across an ingenious plot to flood the mine, by drilling into an underground lake, so the unscrupulous owners to make a killing in the international gold market.
      Comment: Whilst the basic plot may be a little far-fetched, the grippingly authentic and well-filmed mining action scenes are tremendous. Hunt directs these set-pieces with a visceral intensity, which is helped by superb stunt work and whole-hearted performances, from Moore and Sabela in particular. Glen’s slick editing helps to heighten the suspense during these scenes. Dillman makes for a suitably eccentric and cold-hearted villain and Milland enjoys himself as the grumpy rich mine owner. York plays Dillman’s bored and unfaithful wife who falls for Moore’s charms and Gielgud leads the remote investors whose plot to make a killing on the stock market is the catalyst. A rousing final act makes up for some slow spots when the action moves above ground, where tighter editing could have made for a more efficient end-product. Overall, despite the reservations concerning pacing and plot, this is an entertaining thriller that deserves a re-appraisal.
      Notes: Many members of the production crew had connections to the James Bond film franchise.

Film Review – THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)

Related imageTHE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (UK, 1974) ***
      Distributor: United Artists Corporation; Production Company: Eon Productions; Release Date: 19 December 1974; Filming Dates: 18 April 1974 – 23 August 1974; Running Time: 125m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono | 3 Channel Stereo (London premiere print); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: PG – Contains moderate violence.
      Director: Guy Hamilton; Writer: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz (based on the novel by Ian Fleming); Producer: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman; Associate Producer: Charles Orme; Director of Photography: Ted Moore, Oswald Morris; Music Composer: John Barry; Film Editor: Raymond Poulton, John Shirley; Casting Director: Weston Drury Jr., Maude Spector; Production Designer: Peter Murton; Art Director: John Graysmark, Peter Lamont; Costumes: Elsa Fennell; Make-up: Paul Engelen; Sound: Gordon Everett; Special Effects: John Stears; Visual Effects: Roy Field (uncredited).
      Cast: Roger Moore (James Bond), Christopher Lee (Scaramanga), Britt Ekland (Goodnight), Maud Adams (Andrea Anders), Hervé Villechaize (Nick Nack), Clifton James (J.W. Pepper), Richard Loo (Hai Fat), Soon-Tek Oh (Hip), Marc Lawrence (Rodney), Bernard Lee (‘M’), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Marne Maitland (Lazar), Desmond Llewelyn (‘Q’), James Cossins (Colthorpe), Yao Lin Chen (Chula), Carmen Du Sautoy (Saida), Gerald James (Frazier), Michael Osborne (Naval Lieutenant), Michael Fleming (Communications Officer).
      Synopsis: Bond is led to believe that he is targeted by the world’s most expensive assassin and must hunt him down to stop him.
      Comment: Moore’s second outing as 007 starts well, with little reliance on gadgets, but later descends into increasingly outlandish set-pieces – Lee’s flying car being a particular low point. Lee actually makes for a strong villain and Villechaize a memorable henchman, but the plot is lacking in any wider threat than that to Bond himself – the climate crisis theme of the subplot maybe even more topical today but is treated here in a tokenistic way. Again, cashing in on cinematic trends of the day the film shifts locale from that in  Fleming’s novel (Jamaica) to the Far East – introducing elements of martial arts to cash in on the then-recent glut of movies inspired by Bruce Lee. The fun-house scenes that bookend the film are well shot and tense and it’s nice to see Barry return to score the films – even if the theme song is one of the series’ poorest. There are elements of the vintage Bond classics here but too often they are undermined by an increasing desire to be cute – witness the impressive car jump stunt which is totally weakened by a supposedly humorous sound effect – worse was to follow in later entries. Followed by THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977).

Film Review – LIVE AND LET DIE (1973)

Image result for live and let die 1973LIVE AND LET DIE (UK, 1973) ***
      Distributor: United Artists Corporation; Production Company: Eon Productions; Release Date: 27 June 1973 (USA), 5 July 1973 (UK); Filming Dates: 13 October 1972 – 15 March 1973; Running Time: 121m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Guy Hamilton; Writer: Tom Mankiewicz (based on the novel by Ian Fleming); Producer: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman; Director of Photography: Ted Moore; Music Composer: George Martin; Film Editor: Bert Bates, Raymond Poulton, John Shirley; Casting Director: Weston Drury Jr.; Art Director: Syd Cain; Set Decorator: Simon Wakefield, Frederic C. Weiler (both uncredited); Costumes: Julie Harris; Make-up: Paul Rabiger; Sound: Ken Barker, John W. Mitchell; Special Effects: Derek Meddings; Visual Effects: Charles Staffell.
      Cast: Roger Moore (James Bond), Yaphet Kotto (Kananga / Mr. Big), Jane Seymour (Solitaire), Clifton James (Sheriff Pepper), Julius Harris (Tee Hee), Geoffrey Holder (Baron Samedi), David Hedison (Leiter), Gloria Hendry (Rosie), Bernard Lee (‘M’), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Tommy Lane (Adam), Earl Jolly Brown (Whisper), Roy Stewart (Quarrel), Lon Satton (Strutter), Arnold Williams (Cab Driver 1), Ruth Kempf (Mrs. Bell), Joie Chitwood (Charlie), Madeline Smith (Beautiful Girl), Michael Ebbin (Dambala), Kubi Chaza (Sales Girl), Brenda Arnau (Singer).
      Synopsis: 007 is sent to stop a diabolically brilliant heroin magnate armed with a complex organization and a reliable psychic tarot card reader.
      Comment: Moore’s debut appearance as 007 continues the series’ shift toward a tongue-in-cheek style initiated in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER with its glib, sometimes dismissive, approach. Comedic overtones begin to emerge at the expense of suspense, notably in the flying school action sequence. James’ Sheriff JW Pepper proved popular with cinemagoers, if not serious Bond fans, and would return in the next film in the series. This is also the point at which the Bond films started to follow trends rather than set them. The Blaxploitation genre had exploded by this time and the themes, locations and characters presented here capitalise on this. Kotto makes for a more down to earth and formidable villain than had been the case in those 60s Bonds, but as a result, the threat seems more subdued. The film does at least boast one of the series’ strongest theme songs (courtesy of Paul & Linda McCartney) and a well-staged, if slightly overlong, boat chase. Followed by THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1975).

Film Review – STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019)

Image result for Star Wars: The Rise of SkywalkerSTAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (USA, 2019) ***½
      Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Production Company: Lucasfilm / Bad Robot / Walt Disney Pictures; Release Date: 16 December 2019 (USA), 19 December 2019 (UK); Filming Dates: 1 August 2018 – 15 February 2019; Running Time: 142m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: DTS (DTS: X) | Dolby Atmos | Auro 11.1 | Dolby Digital | IMAX 6-Track | Dolby Surround 7.1 | Sonics-DDP | 12-Track Digital Sound; Film Format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision3 50D 5203, Vision3 250D 5207, Vision3 500T 5219); Film Process: Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), Dolby Vision, Panavision (anamorphic) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 12 – moderate violence, threat.
      Director: J. J. Abrams; Writer: Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams (based on a story by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow and Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams and characters created by George Lucas); Executive Producer: Tommy Gormley, Callum Greene, Jason D. McGatlin; Producer: J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Michelle Rejwan; Associate Producer: Nour Dardari; Director of Photography: Dan Mindel; Music Composer: John Williams; Film Editor: Maryann Brandon, Stefan Grube; Casting Director: Nina Gold, April Webster, Alyssa Weisberg; Production Designer: Rick Carter, Kevin Jenkins; Art Director: Paul Inglis; Set Decorator: Rosemary Brandenburg; Costumes: Michael Kaplan; Make-up: Digital Makeup Group; Sound: David Acord; Special Effects: Dominic Tuohy; Visual Effects: Industrial Light & Magic and others.
      Cast: Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Naomi Ackie (Jannah), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Richard E. Grant (General Pryde), Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), Keri Russell (Zorii Bliss), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico), Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Greg Grunberg (Snap Wexley), Shirley Henderson (Babu Frik), Billie Lourd (Lieutenant Connix), Dominic Monaghan (Beaumont), Harrison Ford (Han Solo (uncredited)).
      Synopsis: The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more as Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron’s journey continues. With the power and knowledge of generations behind them, the final battle commences.
      Comment: A technical triumph of visual effects and energetic action set-pieces this is an engrossing experience for two-thirds of its run time. Unfortunately, it becomes bloated during its final act with a need to tick too many boxes as it plays out its crowd-pleasing finale. It’s a shame as there is so much that is right with this conclusion to a saga that has spanned 42 years. The story propels us from one strange or exotic location to another and from set-piece to set-piece as it guides us through the simple quest that will ultimately lead to final closure on the Sith/Jedi war. As a spectacle, it is hard to resist, yet it somehow fails to connect on an emotional level as character revelations seek to top each other and some of the plot contrivances are overly convenient and obvious. Also, during the many action scenes, you begin to wonder whether any Stormtrooper can shoot straight. That said, the CGI and design work is simply amazing and Williams provides yet another majestic score. The result is an entertaining and largely satisfying final chapter that at the same time leaves you thinking it could still have been better.
      Notes: Also shot in 3-D.

Film Review – THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (THE REVENGE OF MILADY) (1974)

Image result for the four musketeers swordfightTHE FOUR MUSKETEERS (THE REVENGE OF MILADY) (Spain/Panama/USA/UK, 1974) ****½
     Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox (USA), Fox-Rank (UK); Production Company: Alexander, Michael and Ilya Salkind Productions / Film Trust S.A. / Este Films; Release Date: 26 February 1975 (USA), 25 March 1975 (UK); Filming Dates: May-September 1973; Running Time: 108m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35 mm (Eastman 100T 5254); Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
     Director: Richard Lester; Writer: George MacDonald Fraser (based on the novel “The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas); Executive Producer: Ilya Salkind, Alexander Salkind (uncredited); Producer:  Ilya Salkind, Michael Salkind (both uncredited); Associate Producer: Wolfdieter von Stein; Director of Photography: David Watkin; Music Composer: Lalo Schifrin; Film Editor: John Victor-Smith; Production Designer: Brian Eatwell; Art Director: Leslie Dilley, Fernando González; Costumes: Yvonne Blake; Make-up: José Antonio Sánchez, Cristóbal Criado, Charlene Roberson; Sound: Don Challis, Don Sharpe; Special Effects: Pablo Pérez; Visual Effects: Doug Ferris (uncredited).
     Cast: Oliver Reed (Athos), Raquel Welch (Constance de Bonancieux), Richard Chamberlain (Aramis), Michael York (D’Artagnan), Frank Finlay (Porthos), Christopher Lee (Rochefort), Geraldine Chaplin (Queen Anne of Austria), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Louis XIII), Roy Kinnear (Planchet), Michael Gothard (Felton), Nicole Calfan (Maid Kitty), Ángel del Pozo (Jussac), Eduardo Fajardo (Captain), Simon Ward (Duke of Buckingham), Faye Dunaway (Milady), Charlton Heston (Cardinal Richelieu), Sybil Danning (Eugenie), Gitty Djamal (Beatrice), Jack Watson (Busigny), Bob Todd (Firing Squad Officer), Tom Buchanan (Firing Squad Sergeant), Leon Greene (Swiss Officer), Lucy Tiller (Mother Superior), Norman Chappell (Submarine Inventor), Richard Adams (Tortured Thug), Tyrone Cassidy (English Officer).
     Synopsis: D’Artagnan has become a Musketeer. Protestants hold La Rochelle, and the Queen loves Buckingham, who’ll soon send ships to support the rebels. Richelieu enlists Rochefort to kidnap Constance, the Queen’s go-between and D’Artagnan’s love. The Cardinal uses the wily, amoral Milady de Winter to distract D’Artagnan. But soon, she is D’Artagnan’s sworn enemy, and she has an unfortunate history with Athos as well.
     Comment: Shot at the same time as THE THREE MUSKETEERS (THE QUEEN’S DIAMONDS) – originally it was intended to be one long film with an intermission – this segment covers the second half of Dumas’ novel. As such the tone is slightly darker although the spirit of the first half still permeates via some swashbuckling set pieces, battle scenes and nifty pieces of comedy. The stakes have been raised as Dunaway’s Milady seeks revenge on York’s D’Artagnan and Welch’s Constance after they foiled her attempts to discredit Chaplin’s Queen Anne. Once again the sumptuous production and costume design are wonderfully captured by Watkin’s radiant cinematography and enhanced by Schifrin’s boisterous score. Reed and Dunaway come to the fore and their scenes together add significant depth to the drama. The finale as the Musketeers fight Lee’s Rochefort and the Cardinal’s guards contains some of the best sword fighting in screen history.
     Notes: Followed by THE RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS (1989).

Film Review – THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973)

Related imageTHE THREE MUSKETEERS (THE QUEEN’S DIAMONDS) (Spain/USA/Panama/UK, 1973) ****½
     Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Production Company: Alexander, Michael and Ilya Salkind Productions  / Film Trust S.A. / Este Films; Release Date: 25 March 1974 (UK), 28 March 1974 (USA); Filming Dates: May-September 1973; Running Time: 105m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm (Eastman 100T 5254); Film Process: Panavision, Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: U – Contains mild violence and innuendo.
     Director: Richard Lester; Writer: George MacDonald Fraser (based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas); Executive Producer: Ilya Salkind, Alexander Salkind (uncredited), Michael Salkind (uncredited), Pierre Spengler; Producer: Ilya Salkind; Associate Producer: Wolfdieter von Stein; Director of Photography: David Watkin; Music Composer: Michel Legrand; Music Supervisor: ; Film Editor: John Victor-Smith; Casting Director: Miriam Brickman (uncredited); Production Designer: Brian Eatwell; Art Director: Leslie Dilley, Fernando González; Costumes: Yvonne Blake; Make-up: José Antonio Sánchez, Cristóbal Criado, Charlene Roberson; Sound: Don Challis, Don Sharpe; Special Effects: Pablo Pérez; Visual Effects: .
     Cast: Oliver Reed (Athos), Raquel Welch (Constance de Bonacieux), Richard Chamberlain (Aramis), Michael York (D’Artagnan), Frank Finlay (Porthos / O’Reilly), Christopher Lee (Rochefort), Geraldine Chaplin (Queen Anna), Jean-Pierre Cassel (King Louis XIII), Spike Milligan (M. Bonacieux), Roy Kinnear (Planchet), Georges Wilson (Treville), Simon Ward (Duke of Buckingham), Faye Dunaway (Milady), Charlton Heston (Cardinal Richelieu), Joss Ackland (D’Artagnan’s Father), Nicole Calfan (Kitty), Michael Gothard (Felton), Sybil Danning (Eugenie), Gitty Djamal (Beatrice), Ángel del Pozo (Jussac), Rodney Bewes (Spy), Ben Aris (1st Musketeer), William Hobbs (Assassin), Gretchen Franklin (D’Artagnan’s Mother), Francis De Wolff (Sea Captain).
     Synopsis: The young D’Artagnan (York) arrives in Paris with dreams of becoming a King’s Musketeer. He meets and quarrels with three men, Athos (Reed), Porthos (Finlay), and Aramis (Chamberlain), each of whom challenges him to a duel. D’Artagnan finds out they are Musketeers and is invited to join them in their efforts to oppose Cardinal Richelieu (Heston), who wishes to increase his already considerable power over King Louis XIII (Cassel). D’Artagnan must also juggle affairs with the charming Constance Bonacieux (Welch) and the passionate Lady De Winter (Dunaway), a secret agent for the Cardinal.
     Comment: A joie-de-vivre permeates every frame of Lester’s definitive adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ classic adventure novel. This represents the first half of the story with the second following a year later. The result is a supremely entertaining swashbuckler filled with great sword fights, delicious humour, authentic production design and costumes. The whole cast enter into the spirit of the production with note-perfect performances, whilst Lester’s spirited direction and Watkin’s sumptuous cinematography make for a visual delight. York, Reed, Chamberlain and Finally are well cast as the Musketeers whilst Welch demonstrates a gift for comedy as York’s love interest. Heston is obviously enjoying himself as the scheming Cardinal Richelieu and Dunaway shows promise of what she would go on to deliver in the follow-up.
     Notes: Lester shot the film in conjunction with its sequel, THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974). Originally intended as a single film, the split prompted a lawsuit from the cast demanding payment for both films.

Film Review – SHAFT (2019)

Image result for shaft 2019SHAFT (USA, 2019)
      Distributor: New Line Cinema / Warner Bros. (USA), Netflix (UK); Production Company: Davis Entertainment / Khalabo Ink Society / Netflix / New Line Cinema / Warner Bros.; Release Date: 14 June 2019 (USA), 28 June 2019 (UK); Filming Dates: December 2017 – February 2018; Running Time: 111m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: D-Cinema; Film Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Hawk Scope (anamorphic) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Tim Story; Writer: Kenya Barris, Alex Barnow (based on the character created by Ernest Tidyman); Executive Producer: Kenya Barris, Richard Brener, Marc S. Fischer, Josh Mack, Ira Napoliello, Tim Story; Producer: John Davis; Director of Photography: Larry Blanford; Music Composer: Christopher Lennertz; Music Supervisor: Trygge Toven; Film Editor: Peter S. Elliot; Casting Director: Tara Feldstein; Art Director: Jeremy Woolsey, Brittany Hites; Set Decorator: Missy Parker; Costumes: Olivia Miles; Make-up: Kimberly Jones; Sound: Sean McCormack; Special Effects: Russell Tyrrell; Visual Effects: Nicole Rowley.
      Cast: Samuel L. Jackson (John Shaft), Jessie T. Usher (JJ Shaft), Richard Roundtree (John Shaft, Sr), Regina Hall (Maya Babanikos), Alexandra Shipp (Sasha Arias), Matt Lauria (Major Gary Cutworth), Titus Welliver (Special Agent Vietti), Method Man (Freddy P), Isaach De Bankolé (Pierro ‘Gordito’ Carrera), Avan Jogia (Karim Hassan), Luna Lauren Velez (Bennie Rodriguez), Robbie Jones (Sergeant Keith Williams), Aaron Dominguez (Staff Sergeant Eddie Dominguez), Ian Casselberry (Manuel Orozco), Almeera Jiwa (Anam), Amato D’Apolito (Farik Bahar), Leland L. Jones (Ron), Jalyn Hall (Harlem Kid), Sylvia Jefferies (Once Beautiful Woman), Whit Coleman (Butch Lesbian Girl), Chivonne Michelle (Baby), Tashiana Washington (Sugar), Philip Fornah (Jacked Dude), Laticia Rolle (Cocktail Waitress), Ryan King Scales (Male Secretary), Tywayne Wheatt (Portly Doorman), Kenny Barr (Cop), Mike Dunston (News Anchor), Jordan Preston Carter (5-8 Year Old JJ), Nyah Marie Johnson (5-8 Year Old Sasha), Joey Mekyten (5-8 Year Old Karim), Sawyer Schultz (Mike Mitchell), Esmeree Sterling (Cute Bartender), Jose Miguel Vasquez (FBI Employee), Gabriel ‘G-Rod’ Rodriguez (Goon), Keith Brooks (Drunk Disorderly Man), DominiQue MrsGiJane Williams (Beautiful Woman), Michael Shikany (Older Man in Mosque), Lucia Scarano (Lady in Line), Greta Quispe (Employee), Heather Seiffert (Hostess), Charles Green (Hallway Man), Dorothi Fox (Old Lady Neighbor), Shakur Sozahdah (Worshiper).
      Synopsis: John Shaft Jr., a cybersecurity expert with a degree from MIT, enlists his family’s help to uncover the truth behind his best friend’s untimely death.
      Comment: Misguided continuation of the Shaft legacy is one misstep after another. Firstly Story re-tools the franchise as an action comedy that attempts to wring laughs from the generation gap separating Jackson’s John Shaft II from his son JJ, played far too broadly by Usher. Jackson’s Shaft also suffers by being made into a caricature of the character he portrayed in the 2000 series continuation. Jackson does what he tends to do best but even he gives a one-note performance that lacks nuance. The plot thread that brings the two Shafts together is given scant focus by an incredibly lazy script by Barris and Barnow.  The plot is frequently abandoned to demonstrate time after time the un-PC Jackson vs the PC Usher through a series of increasingly tiresome jokes and one-liners. Roundtree, as the original John Shaft, appears late in the proceedings and delivers the best performance with a dry understated delivery that has more class than is seen in his character namesakes. Lennertz’s score is insipid, lacking the grooves of Isaac Hayes’ 1971 music, and fails to add anything to the franchise whilst it is constantly interspersed with rap numbers that only serve to give you a headache. Even the use of Hayes’ theme is mishandled removing all elements of cool. To say I was disappointed in this destruction of Ernest Tidyman’s legacy is an understatement. My advice to Shaft fans is to stick to the originals, or better still the books. If there is any future for the franchise on screen it would be better served making reference to David F Walker’s recent comic books series prequel and rebooting the series set in period as a serious crime thriller.
      Notes: Most of the movie was shot in Atlanta, doubling for New York.

Film Review – CLIFFHANGER (1993)

Image result for cliffhanger 1993CLIFFHANGER (Italy/France/USA, 1993) ***½
      Distributor: Guild Film Distribution; Production Company: Carolco Pictures / Canal+ / Pioneer / RCS Video / Cliffhanger Productions; Release Date: 26 May 1993 (USA), 25 June 1993 (UK); Filming Dates: 11 April 1992 – 19 August 1992; Running Time: 113m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: 70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints) | Dolby Digital (35 mm prints) (Europe) | Dolby SR (35 mm prints) (USA); Film Format: 35 mm, 70 mm (blow-up); Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Renny Harlin; Writer: Michael France, Sylvester Stallone (based on a story by Michael France from a premise by John Long); Executive Producer: Mario Kassar; Producer: Renny Harlin, Alan Marshall; Associate Producer: Jim Davidson, Tony Munafo; Director of Photography: Alex Thomson; Music Composer: Trevor Jones; Film Editor: Frank J. Urioste; Casting Director: Mindy Marin; Production Designer: John Vallone; Art Director: Maria-Teresa Barbasso, Aurelio Crugnola, Christiaan Wagener; Set Decorator: Robert Gould, Cynthia Sleiter; Costumes: Ellen Mirojnick; Make-up: Jeff Dawn; Sound: Scott Martin Gershin, Wylie Stateman, Gregg Baxter; Special Effects: R. Bruce Steinheimer; Visual Effects: John Bruno, Neil Krepela, Jay Riddle.
      Cast: Sylvester Stallone (Gabe Walker), John Lithgow (Qualen), Michael Rooker (Hal Tucker), Janine Turner (Jessie Deighan), Rex Linn (Richard Travers), Caroline Goodall (Kristel), Leon (Kynette), Craig Fairbrass (Delmar), Gregory Scott Cummins (Ryan), Denis Forest (Heldon), Michelle Joyner (Sarah), Max Perlich (Evan), Paul Winfield (Walter Wright), Ralph Waite (Frank), Trey Brownell (Brett), Zach Grenier (Davis), Vyto Ruginis (Matheson), Don S. Davis (Stuart), Scott Hoxby (Agent Hayes), John Finn (Agent Michaels), Bruce McGill (Treasury Agent), Rosemary Dunsmore (Treasury Secretary), Kim Robillard (Treasury Jet Pilot), Jeff McCarthy (Pilot), Mike Weis (Mike – Co-Pilot), Duncan Prentice (Treasury Helicopter Pilot), Kevin Donald (Ray), Jeff Blynn (Marvin), Thor (Thor).
      Synopsis: A botched mid-air heist results in suitcases full of cash being searched for by various groups throughout the Rocky Mountains.
      Comment: Highly enjoyable and exciting, if wildly overblown and often preposterous. Stallone is at his macho best as the lead mountain rescue climber with a chip on his shoulder and the group dynamics give you heroic characters to root for. Lithgow is deliciously over-the-top as the chief villain. Harlin directs with a great feel for action scenes and with flair and pace. Wonderful scenic photography and incredible stunt work. The memorable opening sequence is a real humdinger and superbly edited.
      Notes: Set in Colorado, but filmed in the Cortina d’Ampezzo-Dolomites mountains, because of their spectacular similarities to the Colorado Rockies. Dedicated to Wolfgang Gullich, Sylvester Stallone’s double in the film, who was killed in a car accident shortly after filming had finished.

Film Review – THE ROOKIE (1990)

Related imageTHE ROOKIE (USA, 1990) **
      Distributor: Warner Bros.; Production Company: Warner Bros. / Malpaso Productions / Kazanjian-Siebert Productions / Lighthouse Entertainment; Release Date: 6 December 1990 (USA), 18 January 1991 (UK); Filming Dates: 16 April 1990 – 13 July 1990; Running Time: 120m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: 70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints) | Dolby Stereo (35 mm prints) (4 channels); Film Format: 35 mm (Eastman 5384), 70 mm (blow-up) (Eastman 5384); Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Clint Eastwood; Writer: Boaz Yakin, Scott Spiegel; Producer: Howard G. Kazanjian, Steven Siebert, David Valdes; Director of Photography: Jack N. Green; Music Composer: Lennie Niehaus; Film Editor: Joel Cox; Casting Director: Phyllis Huffman; Production Designer: Judy Cammer, Ken Kaufman; Art Director: Ed Verreaux; Set Decorator: Daniel Loren May; Costumes: Glenn Wright, Deborah Hopper; Make-up: Ralph Gulko, Michael Hancock; Sound: Robert G. Henderson, Alan Robert Murray; Special Effects: John Frazier; Visual Effects: Ken Kaufman.
      Cast: Clint Eastwood (Nick Pulovski), Charlie Sheen (David Ackerman), Raul Julia (Strom), Sônia Braga (Liesl), Tom Skerritt (Eugene Ackerman), Lara Flynn Boyle (Sarah), Pepe Serna (Lt. Raymond Garcia), Marco Rodríguez (Loco Martinez), Pete Randall (Cruz), Donna Mitchell (Laura Ackerman), Xander Berkeley (Ken Blackwell), Tony Plana (Morales), David Sherrill (Max), Hal Williams (Powell), Lloyd Nelson (Freeway Motorist), Pat DuVal (Interrogator #1), Mara Corday (Interrogator #2), Jerry Schumacher (Interrogator #3), Matt McKenzie (Wang), Joel Polis (Lance), Rodger LaRue (Maitre’D), Robert Dubac (Waiter), Anthony Charnota (Romano), Jordan Lund (Bartender), Paul Ben-Victor (Little Felix), Jeanne Mori (Connie Ling), Anthony Alexander (Alphonse), Paul Butler (Captain Hargate), Seth Allen (David as a Child), Coleby Lombardo (David’s Brother), Roberta Vasquez (Heather Torres), Joe Farago (Anchorman), Robert Harvey (Whalen), Nick Ballo (Vito), Jay Boryea (Sal), Marylou Kenworthy (Receptionist), George Orrison (Detective Orrison).
      Synopsis: A veteran detective gets stuck with a rookie cop when in pursuit of a German crook.
      Comment: Loud, violent, bubble-gum action thriller vehicle for Eastwood and Sheen. It spends all its money on its elaborate and destructive set-pieces, which by their very outlandish nature are wasted on a script that starts out okay then gets progressively dumber. Eastwood and Sheen occasionally spark off each other well, but as a whole, the cast is a collection of cardboard characters and the action is too nasty to be considered fun.
      Notes: The film featured over twice as many stuntmen as it did actors. Held the world record for the biggest ratio of stuntmen/actors. Reportedly, over eighty stuntmen worked on the movie.