Film Review – THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974)

Image result for the sugarland express posterSugarland Express, The (1974; USA; Technicolor; 110m) ****  d. Steven Spielberg; w. Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins, Steven Spielberg; ph. Vilmos Zsigmond; m. John Williams.  Cast: Goldie Hawn, Ben Johnson, Michael Sacks, William Atherton, Gregory Walcott, Steve Kanaly, Louise Latham, Harrison Zanuck, A. L. Camp, Jessie Lee Fulton, Dean Smith, Ted Grossman. A woman attempts to reunite her family by helping her husband escape prison and together kidnapping their son. But things don’t go as planned when they are forced to take a police hostage on the road. Spielberg’s first theatrical feature is a winning combination of drama and humour. Balancing the tone is the director’s biggest challenge as he takes on this adaptation of real life events. Hawn and Atherton score strongly as the misguided couple, whilst Johnson gives a quietly effective performance as a sympathetic lawman. The tone shifts sharply in its final act, but this remains an engaging tale. [PG]

Film Review – THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017)

Image result for three billboardsThree Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri (2017; UK/USA; Colour; 115m) ***** d. Martin McDonagh; w. Martin McDonagh; ph. Ben Davis; m. Carter Burwell.  Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Abbie Cornish, Brendan Sexton III, Samara Weaving, Kerry Condon, Nick Searcy, Lawrence Turner, Amanda Warren, Michael Aaron Milligan, William J. Harrison, Sandy Martin, Christopher Berry, Zeljko Ivanek, Alejandro Barrios, Jason Redford, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Selah Atwood. A darkly comic crime drama in which a woman pressures the police into continuing the investigation into her daughter’s murder. Multi-layered tale with themes of retribution, prejudice, guilt and redemption is brilliantly scripted and superbly acted. McDormand, Rockwell and Harrelson turn in top-notch performances. It is darkly comic, but the drama burns deep. At times it is a tough watch, but it remains engrossing throughout. A modern-day parable of rare complexity. Won Oscars for Best Actress (McDormand) and Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell). [15]

Film Review – DARK PASSAGE (1947)

Image result for dark passage 1947Dark Passage (1947; USA; B&W; 106m) ***½  d. Delmer Daves; w. Delmer Daves; ph. Sid Hickox; m. Franz Waxman.  Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bruce Bennett, Agnes Moorehead, Tom D’Andrea, Clifton Young, Douglas Kennedy, Rory Mallinson, Houseley Stevenson. A man convicted of murdering his wife escapes from prison and works with a woman to try and prove his innocence. An overly contrived, if admittedly engrossing and entertaining, plot relying on too much coincidence is all but overcome by the strong cast and technical accomplishments. Using the camera as the protagonist’s point-of-view for over half its running time, the gimmick seems a little forced. Bogart doesn’t physically appear until over an hour into the story, but Bacall holds the screen well and their star chemistry is still apparent. Hickox’s photography using the San Francisco locations and dark streets is moodily effective. Daves directs his own screenplay adaptation with a sure hand and uses hand-held cameras to good effect. Moorehead stands out in the supporting cast as a schemer. Based on the novel by David Goodis. [PG]

Film Review – THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948)

Image result for the treasure of the sierra madreTreasure of the Sierra Madre, The (1948; USA; B&W; 126m) ****½  d. John Huston; w. John Huston; ph. Ted D. McCord; m. Max Steiner.  Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett, Barton MacLane, Alfonso Bedoya, Arturo Soto Rangel, Manuel Dondé, José Torvay, Margarito Luna. Two Americans searching for work in Mexico, convince an old prospector to help them mine for gold in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Basically, a parable about the human avarice – greed. Biblical overtones in the final act may seem a little heavy-handed but serve to emphasise the moral tone. John Huston directs with great confidence, with his father turning in a spirited performance as the experienced prospector. Bogart is also excellent in an unsympathetic role. Rousing score by Steiner and expressive photography from McCord.  Winner of three Oscars for Best Director, Supporting Actor (Walter Huston), Screenplay. Entered 1990 into the National Film Registry. Catch the uncredited appearance by Robert Blake as a boy selling lottery tickets. [PG]

Film Review – KILLER JOE (2011)

Image result for killer joe 2011Killer Joe (2011; USA; Colour; 102m) ***½  d. William Friedkin; w. Tracy Letts; ph. Caleb Deschanel; m. Tyler Bates.  Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, Juno Temple, Charley Vance, Gregory Bachaud, Marc Macaulay. When a debt puts a young man’s life in danger, he turns to putting a hit out on his evil mother in order to collect the insurance. Brilliantly acted and darkly comic crime thriller suffers from the occasional misstep – notably in its overly sensational climax. The plot is simple, but cleverly executed and the dialogue is naturalistic. McConaughey is the standout as the detective/hitman with psychotic tendencies beneath a cool and charming facade. Church is also very good as the dim-witted husband of opportunistic Gershon. A tough watch for some, again notably in the final act, this demonstrates Friedkin hasn’t lost his appetite to challenge his audience. Letts adapted her own play. [18]

Film Review – CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (1948)

Image result for call northside 777Call Northside 777 (1948; USA; B&W; 112m) ***½  d. Henry Hathaway; w. Jerome Cady, Jay Dratler, Leonard Hoffman, Quentin Reynolds; ph. Joseph MacDonald; m. Alfred Newman.  Cast: James Stewart, Richard Conte, Lee J. Cobb, Helen Walker, E.G. Marshall, Kasia Orzazewski, Betty Garde, Moroni Olsen, John McIntire, Paul Harvey, Joanne De Bergh, Howard Smith, Michael Chapin, Samuel S. Hinds, George Pembroke. Chicago reporter P.J. McNeal re-opens a ten-year-old murder case. Documentary-style telling is a little stiff at times and the story is certainly slow to start but it gains significant momentum in its final act. Stewart is as dependable as ever as the hard-nosed reporter and Garde stands out in an interesting supporting cast. The photography is evocative in the film noir style of the day, with contrasting light and shadow making this a technically effective, if dramatically uneven, piece of film-making. First credited film role of McIntire. Based on articles by James P. McGuire. [U]

TV Review – COME HOME (2018)

Image result for come home tv series 2018Come Home (2018; UK; Colour; 3 x 60m) ***  pr. Madonna Baptiste; d. Andrea Harkin; w. Danny Brocklehurst; ph. Joel Devlin; m. Murray Gold.  Cast. Christopher Eccleston,  Paula Malcomson, Kerri Quinn, Anthony Boyle, Lola Petticrew, Darcey McNeeley, Brandon Brownlee, Patrick O’Kane, Brid Brennan, Derbhle Crotty, Rory Keenan.  When mother Marie (Malcolmson) mysteriously leaves the family home, the repercussions are enormous, but when secrets are revealed from the past, both Marie and her husband Greg (Eccleston) realise they can’t just walk away from their lives. At times this often intense drama captures the depths of despair from both sides of the story with its structuring geared around a balanced perspective and a final episode designed to weight the arguments equally, leading to an almost inevitable conclusion. The story is therefore both authentic and ultimately disappointing. Authentic in that it does not go for the big dramatic climax and disappointing in that the climax itself is anticlimactic. Technical values are good, if at times the camerawork is overly self-indulgent. The performances from Eccleston and Malcolmson feel real and honest. In the end, though, you are left with more of a feeling of voyeurism than engagement – as if you’ve been watching real-life without the protagonists permission. This may well have been the intention, but the result is a good drama that somehow misses out on being something with more to say.

Film Review – A TASTE OF HONEY (1961)

Image result for a taste of honey 1961Taste of Honey, A (1961; UK; B&W; 100m) ****  d. Tony Richardson; w. Shelagh Delaney, Tony Richardson; ph. Walter Lassally; m. John Addison.  Cast: Dora Bryan, Rita Tushingham, Robert Stephens, Murray Melvin, Paul Danquah, David Boliver. The moving story of a plain young girl who becomes pregnant by a black sailor, befriends a homosexual, and gradually becomes a woman. A good example of the “kitchen sink” drama with, for the time, daring themes of inter-racial relationships, homosexuality and promiscuity. It’s all splendidly photographed on location in Salford and Blackpool. Bryan scores as the self-centred, but ultimately soft-hearted mother of Tushingham’s rebellious teenager. Richardson directs with a sense of realism and an eye for evocative images. Based on Delaney’s play. [15]

TV Review – HAPPY VALLEY – SERIES 2 (2016)

Image result for happy valley series 2Happy Valley – Series 2 (TV) (2016; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) *****  pr. Juliet Charlesworth; d. Sally Wainwright, Neasa Hardiman; w. Sally Wainwright; ph. Ivan Strasburg; m. Ben Foster.  Cast: Sarah Lancashire, Siobhan Finneran, Charlie Murphy, James Norton, Con O’Neill, Katherine Kelly, George Costigan, Shirley Henderson, Kevin Doyle, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Matthew Lewis, Amelia Bullmore, Angela Pleasence.  Sarah Lancashire returns in the acclaimed BBC thriller written by Sally Wainwright. No-nonsense police sergeant Catherine Cawood is back heading up her team of dedicated police officers in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. While on duty, she makes a gruesome discovery – a body. The victim’s injuries bear a striking similarity to a string of other murders over the previous few months, suggesting a serial killer is on the loose. But the case becomes even more shocking when it emerges that Catherine knows the victim – something that could have serious repercussions for both herself and her family. Wainwright manages to match the extraordinary success of the first series with an equally absorbing follow-up that puts Lancashire’s police sergeant through the emotional wringer. This exceptional piece of TV works as a psychological thriller, a mystery and a gritty drama, but feels natural because of the humour that is deftly mixed with the darkness. Wainwright’s characters are well drawn and real – enhanced by superb performances from a very strong cast. The location work adds to the authenticity and the visuals are underpinned by a resonant score from Foster. [15]

TV Review – HAPPY VALLEY (2014)

Image result for happy valley blu-rayHappy Valley (TV) (2014; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) *****  pr. Karen Lewis; d. Euros Lyn, Sally Wainwright, Tim Fywell; w. Sally Wainwright; ph. Ivan Strasburg; m. Ben Foster.  Cast:  Sarah Lancashire, Steve Pemberton, Siobhan Finneran, George Costigan, Joe Armstrong, James Norton, Adam Long, Charlie Murphy, Karl Davies, Jill Baker, Rhys Connah. Catherine Cawood (Lancashire) is a strong-willed police sergeant in West Yorkshire, still coming to terms with the suicide of her teenage daughter, Becky, eight years earlier. Cawood is now divorced from her husband and living with her sister, Clare (Finneran), a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict, who is helping her bring up Becky’s young son, Ryan (Connah), the product of rape. Neither Catherine’s ex-husband nor their adult son, Daniel, want anything to do with Ryan. Catherine hears that Tommy Lee Royce (Norton), the man responsible for the brutal rape that impregnated Becky and drove her to suicide shortly after Ryan was born, is out of prison after serving eight years for drug charges. Catherine soon becomes obsessed with finding Royce, unaware that he is involved in the kidnapping of Ann Gallagher (Murphy), a plot instigated by Kevin Weatherill (Pemberton) and orchestrated by Ashley Cowgill (Armstrong). Things quickly take a dark turn as the abductors scramble to keep the kidnapping secret, although Catherine is onto them. This is crime TV writing of the highest order, enhanced by a dynamite cast – including Lancashire as the world-on-her shoulders police officer and Norton as the dangerously psychotic ex-con. Well-paced and stylishly directed throughout – despite the use of three directors. Wainwright sealed her reputation as one of the best writers on TV with this series, which deftly mixes in elements of domestic drama along with a dry wit to complement a riveting crime thriller plot. A must see TV experience. [15]