TV Review – DOCTOR WHO – THE HAUNTING OF VILLA DIODATI (2020)

Nadia Parkes, Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, and Lili Miller in Doctor Who (2005)DOCTOR WHO: THE HAUNTING OF VILLA DIODATI (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 16 February 2020; Running Time: 49m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Emma Sullivan; Writer: Maxine Alderton, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Ed Moore; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Agnieszka Liggett, Joe Skinner; 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), Lili Miller (Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin), Nadia Parkes (Claire Clairmont), Jacob Collins-Levy (Lord Byron), Maxim Baldry (Doctor John Pollidori), Patrick O’Kane (Ashad), Lewis Rayner (Percy Bysshe Shelley), Sarah Perles (Elise), Stefan Bednarczyk (Fletcher), Nicholas Briggs (Cyberman Voice).
      Synopsis: The Doctor and gang arrive at the Villa Dioscidati, Lake Geneva, in 1816 – on a night that inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The plan is to spend the evening soaking up the atmos in the presence of some literary greats – but the ghosts are all too real. And the Doctor is forced into a decision of earth-shattering proportions…
     Comment: Another episode that has a lot right with it but still manages to frustrate. The story has a great setting in an old house at Lake Geneva and the premise is obviously geared toward events inspiring Mary Wolstencrof to create the vision for her novel Frankenstein. The house is suitably spooky, populated with quirky characters and some chilling surprises. But yet again there is too little time to cover all the ideas on show and the narrative appears muddled as a result. There are still too many companions to fully justify themselves Cole’s acting has been wooden at best and here he gives possibly his worst performance delivering lines with little conviction or flair for humour. The shoe-horning in of the Cyberman threat – which we could all see coming following pre-empts earlier in the series – raises more questions than are answered here. The closing two-parter will hopefully square these off. Whittaker has the occasional strong moment, whenever she is given more to do than just dial-up the quirky scale beyond Tennant levels. She is very good in the scene close to the finale where she debates the actions she should take with her friends.  The series is running out of time to hit the heights we have come to expect but hopefully, the season finale will deliver.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: CAN YOU HEAR ME? (2020)

Image result for doctor who can you hear meDOCTOR WHO: CAN YOU HEAR ME? (UK, 2020) ***½
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 9 February 2020; Running Time: 49m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Emma Sullivan; Writer: Charlene James, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Ed Moore; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Agnieszka Liggett; 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), Ian Gelder (Zellin), Buom Tihngang (Tibo), Clare-Hope Ashitey (Rakaya), Sharon D Clarke (Grace O’Brien), Bhavnisha Parmar (Sonya Kahn), Aruhan Galiva (Tahira), Sirine Saba (Maryam), Nasreen Hussain (Anita Patel), Everal A Walsh (Gabriel), Michael Keane (Fred), Amanda Liberman (Mum), Willie Jonah (Old Tibo), Anthony Taylor (Andrew).
      Synopsis: From ancient Syria to present-day Sheffield, and out into the wilds of space, something is stalking the Doctor and infecting people’s nightmares.
     Comment: An episode with lots of ideas around the psychological impact of nightmares linked to a god-like race known as the Eternals who feed off the mental instability that the dreams cause. It’s an intriguing and creepy episode for two-thirds of its runtime powered by some wonderful visuals, an intelligent script and a deliciously evil villain in  Gelder’s Zellin. The companions all get their own sub-plots as each has an element of their psyche manipulated by Zellin.  Unfortunately, things unravel a bit in the final third and give us a finale which is resolved all too quickly – continuing the issues the production team have in trying to tell complex stories and deliver new concepts in a single-episode format. It’s a shame as there is so much promise here, but Chibnall either lacks sufficient editing skills to understand how to best land the ideas of his writers or he is trying to cram too many story threads together and as a result creating too much for the viewer to absorb.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: PRAXEUS (2020)

Image result for doctor who praxeusDOCTOR WHO: PRAXEUS (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 2 February 2020; Running Time: 50m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Jamie Magnus Stone; Writer: Pete McTighe, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Catherine Goldschmidt; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Rebecca Trotman; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Supervising Art Director: Rebecca Brown; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Deian Llyr Humphreys; 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), Warren Brown (Jake Willis), Matthew McNulty (Adam Lang), Joana Borja (Gabriela Camera), Molly Harris (Suki Cheng), Gabrielle Tolol (Jamilia Velez), Soo Drouet (Joyce), Tristan de Beer (Zach Olson), Thapelo Maropefela (Aramu).
      Synopsis: The Doctor and her friends split up to investigate multiple mysteries across planet Earth. What connects a missing astronaut in the Indian Ocean, birds behaving strangely in Peru and a US naval officer washed up on a Madagascan beach
     Comment: There’s much to like in this episode through individual scenes and lines of dialogue but, as a whole, the story suffers from gaps in logic and character actions. It’s a shame because this episode is very effectively and visually directed by Stone, who manages to create a few moments of tension as well a sense of menace in those early scenes. McTighe and Chibnall’s script has some strong ideas around a viral epidemic being created through plastic pollution. But once again the production team feels the need to preach to the audience about populist issues via its heavy-handed messaging at the expense of solid story construction. Structurally, the story initially creates its mystery by having the Doctor and her companions split across three continents to triangulate seemingly independent events into a solution the answers each individual mystery. This works well and allows each companion a sub-plot. But as the story progresses the writers seem more concerned with getting over their environmental message of doom and ensuring they tick all the boxes on diverse and inclusive specifics, that they lose the plot with the plot. Historically, the series provided a haven from sexual politics but now it has almost become a campaign board, so much so that the relationships feel forced to fit the political agenda rather than add anything to the story itself. McTighe had written possibly the best episode of last season’s run (Kerblam!) and here too shows signs he potentially has a strong story in him. Whether or not Chibnall’s contribution knocked this off course cannot be discerned, but the early promise gave way to a disappointing conclusion.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: FUGITIVE OF THE JUDOON (2020)

DOCTOR WHO: FUGITIVE OF THE JUDOON (UK, 2020) ****
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 26 January 2020; Running Time: 50m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Nida Manzoor; Writer: Vinay Patel, 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; Supervising Art Director: Rebecca Brown; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Deian Llyr Humphreys; 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), Jo Martin (Ruth Clayton), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Neil Stuke (Lee Clayton), Ritu Arya (Gat), Paul Kasey (Judoon Captain Pol-Kon-Don), Michael Begley (All Ears Allan), Judith Street (Marcia), Katie Luckins (Tourist), Nick Briggs (Voice of Judoon ), Simon Carew (Judoon), Richard Highgate (Judoon), Richard Price (Judoon), Matthew Rohman (Judoon)
      Synopsis: Ko Sho Blo! Trigger-happy space police the Judoon are targeting 21st-century Gloucester. The Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham race back to Earth in order to prevent them doing too much damage to the cathedral city. But who are they looking for, and what did they do to incur the wrath of the Judoon?
      Comment: Well, last week I said I felt a strong story may be just around the corner. It’s difficult to fully assess The Fugitive of the Judoon in isolation because it is really a set-up episode which should hopefully pay off over the remainder of the series. As such it achieves its objective splendidly by creating some genuinely surprising plot twists. The episode, co-written by Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall, started shakily with the Judoon arrival in modern-day Gloucester initially failing to grab interest. However, once the true reason for their arrival is revealed the episode shifts up a couple of gears and moves into one revelation after another to set up a hugely promising conundrum for the Doctor to solve. The return of Captain Jack Harkness was intriguing and his involvement in the story is still to be fully explained. Barrowman clicks back into character and Jack delivers a message of warning to the Doctor’s companions before vanishing again. The character of Ruth is the most intriguing and raises even bigger questions around the direction Chibnall is taking us with this series. The tension builds through the episode as the Doctor discovers the true nature of the fugitive. Whittaker delivers her strongest performance to date and finally gets some moments of dramatic conflict to work with. There are now many unanswered questions and it will be a real test of Chibnall’s skills as a writer to resolve them all satisfactorily. For now, we can be glad we finally have an episode worthy of the brand name and whilst I am hedging my bets on the outcome, I have much more optimism, albeit cautious, than at any time under Chibnall’s stewardship.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: NIKOLA TESLA’S NIGHT OF TERROR (2020)

DOCTOR WHO: NIKOLA TESLA’S NIGHT OF TERROR (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 19 January 2020; Running Time: 51m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Nida Manzoor; Writer: Nina Metivier; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Sam Heasman; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Tim Hodges, Rebecca Trotman; Supervising Art Director: Rebecca Brown; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Amy Riley, James Spinks; 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), Goran Višnjić (Nikola Tesla), Robert Glenister (Thomas Edison), Anjli Mohindra (Queen Skithra), Haley McGee (Dorothy Skerrit), Paul Kasey (Harold Green), Robin Gulver (Bill Tallow), Erick Hayden (Mr Sorenson), Russell Bentley (Mr Brady), Brian Caspe (Mr Martin), Shaun Mason (Foreman).
      Synopsis: 1903. On the edge of Niagara Falls, something is wrong at Nikola Tesla’s generator plant. Who or what is sabotaging the maverick inventor’s work? Has he really received a message from Mars? And where does his great rival Thomas Edison fit into these events? The Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham must join forces with one of history’s great minds to save both him and planet Earth.
      Comment: An improvement on Orphan 55, but problems still remain with Chris Chibnall’s vision for the series. The positives include a more coherent story, excellent visuals and convincing production design. The story itself is rather generic, despite the interesting setting in turn of the century (19th to 20th) New York City. Chibnall continues his fascination with lesser remembered historical figures, who are given a platform to raise awareness of their important contribution. This time its Tesla and his innovative use of electrical current. The invading monsters here resemble the Racnoss from The Runaway Bride – substituting scorpion-like beings for spiders – but repeating the Queen of the Hive theme – even down to similarities in make-up design and the way Mohindra’s interpretation closely matches that of Sarah Parish. The story again needs more room to breathe and develop its theme of the competition between Edison and Tesla. There is again too little room for the three companions to contribute to the story effectively and the production team need to see the errors of their way in over-crowding the TARDIS. Whitaker is also partially sidelined here in favour of building up the historical elements in the story and the script gives her little scope to add depth to her performance. The need to cram as many elements into a 50-minute story as possible leaves the thing too crowded to fully satisfy, but there are signs that a strong story may be just around the corner. For me, two-parters are the way forward. Spyfall, despite its flaws, demonstrated this. Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror is a standard Who story told at breakneck speed in a series that is finding it increasingly difficult to demonstrate the story-telling strengths that have kept it popular for nearly sixty years.

Film Review – THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE (1967)

THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE (UK, 1967) **
Distributor: Anglo Embassy (UK), Embassy Pictures (USA); Production Company: Amicus Productions; Release Date: May 1967; Filming Dates: began 12 September 1966; Running Time: 85m; Colour: Eastmancolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Freddie Francis; Writer: Milton Subotsky (based on the novel “The Gods Hate Kansas” by Joseph Millard); Producer: Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky; Director of Photography: Norman Warwick; Music Composer: James Stevens; Film Editor: Peter Musgrave; Production Designer: Bill Constable; Art Director: Don Mingaye, Scott Slimon; Costumes: Eileen Welch; Make-up: Bunty Phillips; Sound: Gerry Humphreys; Special Effects: Les Bowie, Terry Schubert (uncredited).
      Cast: Robert Hutton (Dr. Curtis Temple), Jennifer Jayne (Lee Mason), Zia Mohyeddin (Farge), Bernard Kay (Richard Arden), Michael Gough (Master of the Moon), Maurice Good (Stilwell), John Harvey (Bill Trethowan), Hedger Wallace (Alan Mullane), Luanshya Greer (Girl Attendant), Diana King (Mrs. Trethowan), Paul Bacon (Dr. Rogers), Christopher Banks (Doctor – Street), Dermot Cathie (Peterson), Norman Claridge (Dr. Frederick Andrews), James Donnelly (Guard), Frank Forsyth (Blake), Leonard Grahame (McCabe), Michael Hawkins (Williams), Jack Lambert (Doctor – Office), Robin Parkinson (Maitland).
Synopsis: Scientists investigating an unusual meteor shower in a rural field are possessed by an alien force bent on an ulterior purpose.
      Comment: Low-budget sci-fi struggles to be anything near convincing despite straight-laced performances of its cast and occasional visual flourishes from director Francis. The story is a sub-Quatermass plot of aliens infiltrating the English home counties and their intentions being misunderstood. Horton in the lead role lacks presence and the rest of the cast struggle to retain their dignity given third-rate props to work with. The script lacks intelligence and logic for the most part, but the experience somehow remains lightly entertaining for those in the right mood.
Notes: The production used many of the sets and props left over from Amicus’s DALEKS: INVASION EARTH: 2150 A.D. (1966) as a cost-cutting measure. Released on a double-bill with THE TERRONAUTS.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: ORPHAN 55 (2020)

Image result for DOCTOR WHO ORPHAN 55DOCTOR WHO: ORPHAN 55 (UK, 2020) **
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 12 January 2020; Running Time: 46m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Lee Haven Jones; Writer: Ed Hime; Producer: Alex Mercer, Nikki Wilson; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Ed Moore; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Tom Chapman; Supervising Art Director: Joseph Wynne; 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), Laura Fraser (Kane), Gia Ré (Bella), James Buckley (Nevi), Julia Foster (Vilma), Amy Booth-Steel (Hyph3n), Will Austin (Vorm), Col Farrell (Benni), Lewin Lloyd (Sylas), Spencer Wilding (Creature).
      Synopsis: Having decided that everyone could do with a holiday, the Doctor takes Graham, Yasmin and Ryan to a luxury resort for a spot of rest and relaxation. However, they discover the place where they are having a break is hiding a number of deadly secrets. What are the ferocious monsters that are attacking Tranquillity Spa?
      Comment: An overly frenetic episode that tries to hammer home its environmental message about the threats humans create to the future of their own existence. It does so in a very ham-fisted way and with little finesse or time for reflection. The single-episode format for the series is not working in the hands of the current production team. The episode runs at breakneck speed and the intended irony of its core revelation falls flat. Hime’s writing is poor with cliched dramatic moments coming across as derivative of much that has gone before, attempting to recall Aliens and Planet of the Apes without either the style or resonance of those vastly superior offerings. The music score, which the director seems to feel needs to be underscoring the action 100% of the time, becomes overbearing and regularly drowns out the dialogue. The intention is obviously to create mood and tension, but the result is merely annoying and cloying. Whittaker tries her best to inject the required tension whilst still delivering an overly busy performance, but she shows signs of a potentially more restrained and effective portrayal that hopefully will emerge as the series progresses. The Dregs are no more than monster-of-the-week snarling creatures that give an opportunity for the cast to run away from them up and down corridors in a cartoon-like manner. I hope this episode is just a blip after the more promising, if flawed, Spyfall. The series desperately needs to up its game very soon by slowing down and allowing stories to breathe, tension to build and characters to have depth. On a positive note, the production values and visual effects are strong.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: SPYFALL (2020)

Image result for doctor who spyfallDOCTOR WHO: SPYFALL (UK, 2020) ***½
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 1 & 5 January 2020; Running Time: 2 x 60m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Jamie Magnus Stone, Lee Haven Jones; Writer: Chris Chibnall; Producer: Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Catherine Goldschmidt, Ed Moore; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Rebecca Trotman, Tom Chapman; Supervising Art Director: Joseph Wynne; 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), Sascha Dhawan (‘O’ /The Master), Lenny Henry (Daniel Barton), Stephen Fry (‘C’), Sylvie Briggs (Ada Lovelace), Shobna Gulati (Najia Kahn), Ravin J. Ganatra (Hakim Kahn), Bhavnisha Parmar (Sonya Kahn), Melissa De Vries (Sniper), Sacharissa Claxton (Passenger), Willian Ely (Older Passenger), Brian Law (Operative [US]), Buom Tihngang (Tibo), Asif Khan (Sergeant Ramesh Sunder), Andrew Bone (Mr Collins), Ronan Summers (Rendition Man), Christopher McArthur (Ethan), Darron Meyer (Seesay), Dominique Maher (Browning), Struan Rodger (Voice of Kasaavin), Aurora Marion (Noor Inayat Kahn), Mark Dexter (Charles Babbage), Kenneth Jay (Perkins), Blanche Williams (Barton’s Mother), Andrew Piper (Inventor), Tom Ashbury (Airport Worker).
      Synopsis: Intelligence agents around the world are under attack from alien forces. MI6 turns to the only people who can help: The Doctor and friends. As they travel the globe for answers, attacks come from all sides. Earth’s security rests on the team’s shoulders, but where will this planet-threatening conspiracy lead them.
      Comment: There is much to like in this opening story of series 12 – the second series under Chris Chibnall’s helm and with Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor. It’s fair to say series 11 was a big disappointment in that it promised much and delivered little. It appears Chibnall has listened to some of the criticism and partly addressed the issues here, but as yet not wholly. Spyfall is an entertaining story and much the better for being stretched over two episodes. The story itself lacks a certain logic in the complex nature of its invasion plot and the re-introduction of The Master without an explanation of how this is linked with his/her demise two seasons ago. The story was also very fragmented and at first an obvious riff on the James Bond franchise. Part 2 moved into broader concepts with the re-introduction of the Doctor’s arch-enemy. Don’t go looking for logic into how this hangs together with the development of computers over a period of nearly two-hundred years (from Briggs’ Ada Lovelace to Henry’s modern-day guru) or an invasion from a still unseen alien menace from outside our universe who are somehow in league with the Master. The story fails to gell as a whole even though Cibnall is at pains to leave no holes in the plot. But there is a very intriguing reference to the fate of Gallifrey and the Master’s knowledge about its secrets, which promises much for the series ahead – as long as Chibnall can deliver on this. Whittaker is far more at home as the Doctor here, projecting a more dramatic side to her performance. Dhawan makes for a deliciously evil Master who, whilst veering a little too close to John Simm’s OTT performance, manages to just about stay this side of caricature. One of the problems Chibnall has failed to resolve is the issue of too many companions. Do we really need three of them stumbling over each other to solve the same problems? That said this is a promising opening with great production values and a huge sense of fun.

Book Review – CASINO ROYALE (1953) by Ian Fleming

CASINO ROYALE (1953) ****
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2018, 256pp (229pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1953
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1953
Introduction by Anthony Horowitz
ISBN: 978-0-099-57597-9
Casino Royale      Blurb: Le Chiffre is a businessman with expensive tastes – and SMERSH’s chief operative in France. As his dissolute lifestyle threatens to ruin him, his only hope of survival is to risk his paymasters’ money at the baccarat table. Across from him sits James Bond, the finest gambler in the British secret service. Bond’s mission: to outplay Le Chiffre and shatter his Soviet cell. midst the opulence of the Royale-les-Eaux casino, the two men face each other in a game with the highest stakes of all.
      Comment: The book that started a phenomenon. Ian Flemings’ Casino Royale introduces us to Britsh spy James Bond – 007. The story is a relatively low key beginning for Bond, bearing in mind what was to follow, but that is part of the books’ charm. By pitting Bond against an enemy agent in a card game we get to delve into Bond’s character and philosophy. His attitudes, particularly to women, may seem anachronistic today but were indicative of the time the book was written. Published only a few years after the end of World War II it demonstrated how many men found it difficult to share their emotions – their sensitivities hardened by their experience by their wartime experience. The plot is fanciful in its set-up of the card game being a vehicle by which Le Chiffre urgently seeks to recover lost funds in order to redeem his benefactors. Once we have accepted the notion then we are treated to a tense battle of wills. The second half of the book deals with the aftermath of the game and includes a torture scene that has become infamous over the years and is certainly extremely sadistic – even by today’s standards. Bond’s falling for his fellow agent, Vesper Lynd, plays out alongside this and leads to a shocking finale which goes a long way to explaining Bond’s approach with women in the books that followed. Fleming’s writing is also at its tightest here and he describes the card game with a depth of knowledge. The short chapters keep the reader turning the pages by either ending on a key plot progression or mid-scene. This debut work is Fleming at his most efficient and Casino Royale remains one of the best of the series.

The James Bond novels of Ian Fleming:
Casino Royale (1953) ****
Live and Let Die (1954) ***½
Moonraker (1955) ****½
Diamonds Are Forever (1956) ***
From Russia with Love (1957) ****
Doctor No (1958) ****
Goldfinger (1959) ***½
For Your Eyes Only (1960) (short stories) ***
Thunderball (1961) ****
The Spy Who Loved Me (1962) **
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963) *****
You Only Live Twice (1964) ****
The Man with the Golden Gun (1965) ***
Octopussy and the Living Daylights (1966) (short stories) ***

Film Review – PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

Image result for planet of the apes 1968PLANET OF THE APES (USA, 1968) ****½
      Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; Production Company: APJAC Productions / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Release Date: 8 February 1968 (USA), 21 March 1968 (UK); Filming Dates: 21 May 1967 – 10 August 1967; Running Time: 112m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: 4-Track Stereo (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35 mm (Eastman 50T 5251); Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Franklin J. Schaffner; Writer: Michael Wilson, Rod Serling (based on the novel by Pierre Boulle); Producer: Arthur P. Jacobs; Associate Producer: Mort Abrahams; Director of Photography: Leon Shamroy; Music Composer: Jerry Goldsmith; Music Supervisor: Lionel Newman (uncredited); Film Editor: Hugh S. Fowler; Art Director: William J. Creber, Jack Martin Smith; Set Decorator: Norman Rockett, Walter M. Scott; Costumes: Morton Haack; Make-up: John Chambers; Sound: David Dockendorf, Herman Lewis; Visual Effects: L.B. Abbott, Art Cruickshank, Emil Kosa Jr.
      Cast: Charlton Heston (George Taylor), Roddy McDowall (Cornelius), Kim Hunter (Zira), Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius), James Whitmore (President of the Assembly), James Daly (Honorious), Linda Harrison (Nova), Robert Gunner (Landon), Lou Wagner (Lucius), Woodrow Parfrey (Maximus), Jeff Burton (Dodge), Buck Kartalian (Julius), Norman Burton (Hunt Leader), Wright King (Dr. Galen), Paul Lambert (Minister).
      Synopsis: An astronaut crew crash lands on a planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species, and humans are the oppressed and enslaved.
      Comment: Classic multi-layered sci-fi which raises questions on the changing culture in society during the 1960s, as its premise turns evolution on its head. Heston’s cynical hero is at odds with his travelling companions as well as his eventual captors and it is a brave move for the character’s cynicism to make him not altogether likeable. Heston gives a strong performance mixing his character’s anger and helplessness with a keen determination to prove his point. Evans provides a neat contrast as the ape scientist and defender of the ape society’s faith. Schaffner directs with style with some great camera work during the opening act in the planet’s wasteland. McDowall (who would appear in all but one of the original sequels, adds charm as the archaeologist chimp. Hunter too gives a good account of herself as the only ape scientist to trust Heston. Alongside Chambers’ ground-breaking make-up there’s a top-notch score by Goldsmith and great use of desolate Utah and Arizona locations.
      Notes: Followed by four sequels – beginning with BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970) – a TV series (1974) and an animated TV series (1975-6). After a remake in 2001, the series was rebooted in 2011 with three more films commencing with RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.