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.

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 RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS (1989)

THE RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS (UK/France/Spain, 1989) ***
      Distributor: Entertainment Film Distributors; Production Company: Fildebroc / Ciné 5 / Sofica / Timothy Burrill Productions / Iberoamericana Films Producción; Release Date: 25 August 1989 (UK), 3 April 1991 (USA) (TV); Filming Dates: 22 August 1988 – October 1988; Running Time: 102m; Colour: Rankcolor; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 35mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Richard Lester; Writer: George MacDonald Fraser (based on the novel “Twenty Years After” by Alexandre Dumas); Executive Producer: Wayne Drizin, Mario Sotela; Producer: Pierre Spengler; Director of Photography: Bernard Lutic; Music Composer: Jean-Claude Petit; Film Editor: John Victor-Smith; Casting Director: Debbie McWilliams, Concha Campins; Production Designer: Gil Parrondo; Art Director: Raul Paton; Set Decorator: Michael Seirton; Costumes: Yvonne Blake; Make-up: José Antonio Sánchez, Cynthia Cruz; Sound: Les Wiggins; Special Effects: Reyes Abades.
      Cast: Michael York (D’Artagnan), Oliver Reed (Athos), Frank Finlay (Porthos), C. Thomas Howell (Raoul), Kim Cattrall (Justine de Winter), Geraldine Chaplin (Queen Anne), Roy Kinnear (Planchet), Christopher Lee (Rochefort), Philippe Noiret (Cardinal Mazarin), Richard Chamberlain (Aramis), Eusebio Lázaro (Duke of Beaufort), Alan Howard (Oliver Cromwell), David Birkin (Louis XIV), Bill Paterson (Charles I), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Cyrano de Bergerac), Billy Connolly (Caddie), Servane Ducorps (Olympe), William J. Fletcher (De Guiche), Laure Sabardin (Chevreuse), Marcelline Collard (Lamballe), Pat Roach (French Executioner), Jesús Ruyman (Headsman), Fernando De Juan (Ireton), Barry Burgues (Young Clerk), Leon Greene (Captain Groslow), Ágata Lys (Duchesse de Longueville), Bob Todd (High Bailiff), Lucy Hardwick (Lady-in-Waiting), Aldo Sambrell (Burly Demonstrator), Jack Taylor (Gentleman on Horseback), Ricardo Palacios (Big Lackey), Luciano Federico (Tall Lackey), Carmen Fernández (Commedia player), Rafael de la Cruz (Commedia player), German Estebas (Commedia player), Jesús García (Commedia player), Fernando Simón (Commedia player).
      Synopsis: It’s 1649: Mazarin hires the impoverished D’Artagnan to find the other musketeers: Cromwell has overthrown the English king, so Mazarin fears revolt, particularly from the popular Beaufort.
      Comment: Lacks the heart of the director’s 1973/4 adaptation of THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS, partly due to the tragic death of Kinnear from a riding accident during filming. Other problems are in the rushed nature of the story which is crammed from a thick novel into less than two hours of screen time. York provides linking narration in case the viewer gets lost through the rapidly changing setting and plot developments. The story feels incohesive as a result. On the plus side are the energetic sword fights and a returning cast trying their best to keep the adventure spirited. Cattrall makes for a game villain and York, Reed, Finlay and Chamberlain are engaging as the musketeers. Great location work and natural photography add to technical merits.