TV Review – GUNPOWDER (2017)

Gunpowder (TV) (2017, UK, Colour, 3 x 60m) ***½  pr. Laurie Borg; d. J Blakeson; w. Ronan Bennett; ph. Philipp Blaubach; m. Volker Bertelmann; ed. Mark Eckersley.  Cast: Kit Harington, Liv Tyler, Peter Mullan, Mark Gatiss, Tom Cullen, Edward Holcroft, David Bamber, Shaun Dooley, Derek Riddell, Kevin Eldon, Robert Emms, Luke Neal, Richard Douglas, Pedro Casablanc, Jason Redshaw, Sian Webber. British activist Guy Fawkes and a group of provincial English Catholics plan to blow up the House of Lords and kill King James I in the early 17th century. Compelling BBC mini-series drama paints a black-and-white picture of the historical events. In driving for sensationalism the drama can lack emotional depth, but it remains compulsive viewing until the conventional shoot-out finale. Strong production values (and design by Grant Montgomery) with meticulous attention to period detail – including graphic scenes of torture and execution.  [15]

Film Review – TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944)

Image result for to have and have not 1944To Have and Have Not (1944; USA; B&W; 100m) ****½  d. Howard Hawks; w. Jules Furthman, William Faulkner; ph. Sid Hickox; m. Franz Waxman.  Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Brennan, Lauren Bacall, Dolores Moran, Hoagy Carmichael, Sheldon Leonard, Walter Szurovy, Marcel Dalio, Walter Sande, Dan Seymour, Aldo Nadi. During World War II, an American expatriate helps transport a French Resistance leader and his beautiful wife to Martinique while romancing a sexy lounge singer. Hawks worked with themes that sustained him throughout his career and many of his signature moments are on display here. The chemistry between Bogart and Bacall nearly melts the screen and their dialogue is wonderful. The plot mirrors some of the themes seen in Bogart’s earlier classic CASABLANCA and this comes very close to repeating the earlier film’s success. Filled with excellent character performances from a strong supporting cast and finding room for a handful of musical numbers, this is entertainment of the highest order. Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway. Legendarily, Hawks bragged to Hemingway that he could take the worst of his novels, and make a good film of it. He did this by disregarding the novel’s contents. [PG]

Film Review – CASABLANCA (1942)

Image result for casablanca blu-rayCasablanca (1942; USA; B&W; 102m) *****  d. Michael Curtiz; w. Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch; ph. Arthur Edeson; m. Max Steiner.  Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S.Z. Sakall, Madeleine LeBeau, Dooley Wilson, Joy Page, John Qualen, Leonid Kinskey. Set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications. All-time classic is memorable for so many things. The performances are note perfect, with Bogart at his absolute best as café owner Rick and Bergman superbly conveying her torn emotions as his lost love Ilsa. The screenplay is packed full of quotable dialogue. Steiner’s score is dramatic, romantic and contains the immortal “As Time Goes By” sung at the piano by Wilson. Edeson’s photography captures the smoke-filled atmosphere and chaos of the unoccupied French territory. It is all blended with Curtiz’s direction to become one of the finest achievements of American cinema. Triple Oscar winner, for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay. Based on the play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. Developed as a TV series in 1955 and again in 1983. [U]

Film Review – SIDEWAYS (2004)

Image result for sidewaysSideways (2004; USA; DeLuxe; 126m) ***** d. Alexander Payne; w. Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor; ph. Phedon Papamichael; m. Rolfe Kent.  Cast: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh, Marylouise Burke, Jessica Hecht, Missy Doty, M.C. Gainey, Alysia Reiner, Shaun Duke, Patrick Gallagher, Shake Tukhmanyan, Shaun Duke, Robert Covarrubias, Stephanie Faracy. Two men reaching middle age with not much to show but disappointment, embark on a week-long road trip through California’s wine country, just as one is about to take a trip down the aisle. Brilliantly written and highly entertaining exploration of male mid-life crisis featuring note-perfect performances from Giamatti, Church, Madsen and Oh. Moments of poignancy mix with laugh-out-loud comedy to produce a deft blend that matches the wines it celebrates. Won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Based on the novel by Rex Pickett. A Japanese remake was released in 2009. [15]

Film Review – SHIRLEY VALENTINE (1989)

Image result for shirley valentine dvdShirley Valentine (1989; UK/USA; Technicolor; 108m) ***½ d. Lewis Gilbert; w. Willy Russell; ph. Alan Hume; m. Willy Russell.  Cast: Pauline Collins, Tom Conti, Julia McKenzie, Joanna Lumley, Bernard Hill, Sylvia Syms, Alison Steadman, George Costigan, Anna Keaveney, Tracie Bennett, Ken Sharrock, Karen Craig, Gareth Jefferson, Gillian Kearney, Catharine Duncan. When her best friend wins an all-expenses-paid vacation to Greece for two, a housewife begins to see the world, and herself, in a different light. Beautifully observed exploration of mid-life crisis told from Collins’ point-of-view. The script and photography maximise the contrasts between the humdrum life of the northern housewife with the exotic life that can be explored in the Mediterranean. Collins is engaging and Conti adds charm to his heavily accented Greek tavern owner with whom Collins explores her fantasies. [15]

TV Review – KOJAK: THE CHINATOWN MURDERS (1974)

Image result for kojak season twoKojak: The Chinatown Murders (TV) (1974; USA; Technicolor; 95m) ∗∗∗  d. Jeannot Szwarc; w. Jack Laird; ph. Vilis Lapenieks, Sol Negrin; m. John Cacavas.  Cast: Telly Savalas, Michael Constantine, Sheree North, Tige Andrews, Roger Robinson, Dan Frazer, Kevin Dobson, George Savalas, Leonardo Cimino, Milton Selzer, Robert Ito, Victor Argo, Vincent Baggetta, Patrick Adiarte, Val Bisoglio. A series of gang-member murders in Chinatown starts a war. Kojak finds out that those murders were blamed on rival gangs in order to take over the territory from old families by a new gang. This feature-length episode opened Kojak’s second season. Despite attempts to inject some scope through its plot, the story is really nothing more than standard TV fare, albeit heightened by Savalas’ charismatic performance and a lean script. [PG]

Film Review – FUZZ (1972)

Image result for FUZZ BLU-RAYFuzz (1972; USA; DeLuxe; 92m) ∗∗∗  d. Richard A. Colla; w. Evan Hunter; ph. Jacques R. Marquette; m. Dave Grusin.  Cast: Burt Reynolds, Jack Weston, Tom Skerritt, Yul Brynner, Raquel Welch, James McEachin, Steve Ihnat, Bert Remsen, Peter Bonerz, Dan Frazer, Stewart Moss, H. Benny Markowitz, James Victor, Tom Lawrence, Vince Howard. Police in Boston search for a mad bomber trying to extort money from the city. Well-intentioned attempt to bring Ed McBain’s “87th Precinct” novels to the big screen. Colla struggles to find the right balance between serious crime drama and the humour drawn from the everyday police work, by occasionally lapsing into slapstick. The result is a hodge-podge of good and bad execution. Brynner appears all too late as the charismatic villain, whilst Reynolds adopts his usual persona. The result is entertaining but decidedly uneven. Inhat’s final film. Hunter adapted his own novel written as Ed McBain. [18]

TV review – PRIME SUSPECT: THE FINAL ACT (2006)

Prime Suspect: The Final Act (TV) (2006; UK/USA; Colour; 182m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Philip Martin; w. Frank Deasy; ph. Julian Court; m. Nicholas Hooper.  Cast: Helen Mirren, Stephen Tompkinson, Laura Greenwood, Eve Best, Gary Lewis, Katy Murphy, Frank Finlay, Tom Bell, Robert Pugh, Brendan Coyle, Robbie Gee, Russell Mabey. Approaching retirement, Jane Tennison investigates the murder of a missing girl. But the cracks soon begin to show as Jane struggles with an alcohol problem and the death of her father. Final installment in the series is a relentlessly downbeat affair. Mirren delivers a superb performance and the production values are excellent and authentic. There is the occasional contrivance and the finale seems rushed after over three hours of twists and turns. But this is still an absorbing last hurrah for one of TV’s great detectives. [15]

Film Review – ARRIVAL (2016)

Image result for arrival blu-rayArrival (2016; USA; Colour; 116m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Denis Villeneuve; w. Eric Heisserer; ph. Bradford Young; m. Jóhann Jóhannsson.  Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma, Nathaly Thibault, Pat Kiely, Joe Cobden, Julian Casey, Larry Day, Russell Yuen, Abigail Pniowsky, Philippe Hartmann, Andrew Shaver. When alien crafts land around the world, an expert linguist (Adams) is recruited by the military to determine whether they come in peace or are a threat. Thought-provoking sci-fi poses as many questions as it answers and as such may not satisfy everyone. But those looking for something more high-brow than the standard alien invasion movie, this gives much to enjoy. Great use of sonics to convey an alien language heightened by a resonant score. Murkily shot to create a genuinely memorable alien environment. Adams and Renner make for effective ordinary scientists in an extraordinary situation. Won Oscar for Best Sound Editing (Sylvain Bellemare). Based on a short story by Ted Chiang. [12]

TV Review – PRIME SUSPECT: THE LOST CHILD (1995)

Prime Suspect: The Lost Child (TV) (1995; UK/USA, Colour, 101m) ∗∗∗½  pr. Paul Marcus; d. John Madden; w. Paul Billing; ph. David Odd; m. Stephen Warbeck. Cast: Helen Mirren, Beatie Edney, Robert Glenister, Lesley Sharp, Tracy Keating, Richard Hawley, Jack Ellis, David Phelan, Stuart Wilson, John Benfield, Tony Rohr, Mark Bazeley, Chris Brailsford.  Supt. Tennison orchestrates a search for an abducted baby, but events take a turn for the worst when personal emotions cause complications. Emotive and dark episode due to its themes of child abduction and paedophilia. Again, the performances are uniformly excellent – notably Glenister as the prime suspect in question. Mirren continues to give a commanding portrayal of her career detective. The hostage resolution is tense and well-staged. Only some heavy-handed posturing in the script detracts from an otherwise excellent mystery drama. [15]