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 – MILLER’S CROSSING (1990)

Image result for miller's crossing 1990 posterMiller’s Crossing (1990; USA; DuArt; 115m) ***  d. Joel Coen; w. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; ph. Barry Sonnenfeld; m. Carter Burwell.  Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, Albert Finney, Jon Polito, J.E. Freeman, John Turturro, Steve Buscemi, Mike Starr, Richard Woods, Al Mancini, Sam Raimi, Frances McDormand. In the 1920s, an Irish gangster and his trusted lieutenant and counsellor find their domination of the town threatened by an ambitious Italian underboss. The Coen Brothers mix traditional gangster movie tropes with very black comedy to produce a lively but ultimately frustrating tale of false loyalties. It starts out well, establishing the key character of Byrne as he plays off Finney against Polito, but the story descends into an increasingly implausible sequence of double-crosses. Good period detail and handsome photography, along with frequently sharp dialogue, are the highlights. Based on the novels “Red Harvest” and “Glass Key” by Dashiell Hammett, which previously were filmed as or inspired ROADHOUSE NIGHTS (1930), YOJIMBO (1961) and FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964). [15]

Film Review – ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998)

Image result for enemy of the state 1998Enemy of the State (1998; USA; Technicolor; 132m) ***½  d. Tony Scott; w. David Marconi; ph. Daniel Mindel; m. Harry Gregson-Williams, Trevor Rabin.  Cast: Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Lisa Bonet, Regina King, Stuart Wilson, Loren Dean, Jake Busey, Barry Pepper, Jason Robards, Laura Cayouette, Ian Hart, Scott Caan, Jason Lee, Jack Black. A lawyer becomes a target by a corrupt politician and his NSA goons when he accidentally receives key evidence to a serious politically motivated crime. Exciting and frenetically edited, if slightly overlong, action thriller plays on public paranoia with privacy and mistrust of government. Smith is good as cynical everyman caught up in a conspiracy. Hackman is reliable as ever as surveillance expert who comes to his rescue. Extended version runs to 140m. [15]

Film Review – THE DEEP (1977)

Image result for the deep 1977 movie posterDeep, The (1977; USA; Metrocolor; 123m) ***  d. Peter Yates; w. Peter Benchley, Tracy Keenan Wynn; ph. Christopher Challis; m. John Barry.  Cast: Robert Shaw, Jacqueline Bisset, Nick Nolte, Louis Gossett Jr., Eli Wallach, Dick Anthony Williams, Bob Minor, Robert Tessier, Earl Maynard, Teddy Tucker, Lee McClain, Peter Benchley, Peter Wallach, Colin Shaw. A pair of young vacationers are involved in a dangerous conflict with treasure hunters when they discover a way into a deadly wreck in Bermuda waters. Riding on the coat-tails of JAWS, this underwater adventure lacks the thrills and tight editing of its inspiration. The positives are the sumptuous photography, shot on location in Bermuda, and Barry’s lush score. Shaw is also at his abrasive best, whilst Nolte and Bisset look good for the camera. The version aired in the original ABC network telecast contained 53m of extra footage. Based on the novel by Peter Benchley. [PG]

Film Review – THE BIG STEAL (1949)

The Big Steal 1949 U.S. Half Sheet PosterBig Steal, The (1949; USA; B&W; 71m) ***  d. Don Siegel; w. Daniel Mainwaring (as Geoffrey Homes), Gerald Drayson Adams; ph. Harry J. Wild; m. Leigh Harline.  Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, William Bendix, Patric Knowles, Ramon Novarro, Don Alvarado, John Qualen, Pascual García Peña. An army lieutenant accused of robbery pursues the real thief on a frantic chase through Mexico aided by the thief’s fiancee. Simple plot is essentially an elongated chase punctuated by fight scenes and gun battles. It is tightly directed in his to be trademark efficient manner by Siegel. Mitchum and Greer are the main sell here and they display strong chemistry trading witty dialogue. There is a lightness of touch to proceedings that tells its audience not to take things too seriously. The movie was filmed in Los Angeles and on location in Tehuacán, Puebla, Mexico. Based on the story “The Road to Carmichael’s” by Richard Wormser. [PG]

Film Review – THE ENEMY BELOW (1957)

Related imageEnemy Below, The (1957; USA; DeLuxe; 98m) ****  d. Dick Powell; w. Wendell Mayes; ph. Harold Rosson; m. Leigh Harline.  Cast: Robert Mitchum, Curt Jurgens, Russell Collins, Theodore Bikel, Doug McClure, David Hedison, Kurt Kreuger, Frank Albertson, Biff Elliot, Alan Dexter. During World War II, an American destroyer meets a German U-Boat. Both captains are good ones, and the engagement lasts for a considerable time. Suspenseful battle-of-wits war drama benefits from a tight script and strong direction from Powell. Mitchum and Jurgens excel as the duelling captains, who gain a mutual respect whilst trying to destroy each other in order to survive. Finds time to comment on the inhumanity and science of war. Won an Oscar for Special Effects (Walter Rossi). Based on the novel by D.A. Rayner. [PG]

Film Review – FARGO (1996)

Image result for fargo 1996 blurayFargo (1996; USA/UK; DuArt; 98m) ****½  d. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; w. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; ph. Roger Deakins; m. Carter Burwell.  Cast: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, Peter Stormare, Steve Reevis, Kristin Rudrud, John Carroll Lynch, Tony Denman, Gary Houston, Warren Keith, Larry Brandenburg, Bruce Bohne. Jerry Lundegaard’s inept crime falls apart due to his and his henchmen’s bungling and the persistent police work of the quite pregnant Marge Gunderson. A darkly comic and violent thriller set against a cold and snowy backdrop with winning performances from a strong cast. McDormand and Buscemi are standouts who make the most of the Coen Bothers’ Oscar winning screenplay. Followed by a 60m pilot for a TV series, which didn’t sell, but a series was eventually taken up in 2014. [18]

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]

Book Review – THE LATE SHOW (2017) by Michael Connelly

THE LATE SHOW by MICHAEL CONNELLY (2017; Orion; 424pp) ***½

Blurb: Detective Renée Ballard works ‘The Late Show’, the notorious graveyard shift at the LAPD. It’s thankless work for a once-promising detective, keeping strange hours in a twilight world of crime. Some nights are worse than others. And tonight is the worst yet. Two shocking cases, hours apart: a brutal assault, and a multiple murder with no suspects. Ballard knows it is always darkest before dawn. But what she doesn’t know – yet – is how deep her investigation will take her into the dark heart of her city, the police department and her own past…

Michael Connelly has established a reputation as one of the great modern crime thriller writers – notably for his series featuring LAPD detective Harry Bosch. Here he introduces us to a new female detective hero in Renée Ballard. Ballard is a well-sketched character and a dedicated detective with emotional baggage – a seeming requisite for the modern detective. Her debut novel, The Late Show, is also set in LA and follows a similar police procedural pattern, mixing meticulous exposition of investigative techniques with the more conventional excitements of the modern-day thriller. The result is a solid mystery. The story is slow to get going, but picks up around the half-way mark as Connelly unravels the plot utilising techniques such as increasingly shortening chapters, to quicken the pace. Connelly’s experience as a former police reporter means he is very knowledgeable of police procedure and he displays that knowledge throughout the novel. But Connelly is also a craftsman, who deftly works in sufficient clues for the reader without giving the game away too early. The Late Show is therefore a satisfying, if familiar, read which serves to demonstrate Connelly’s skills without really stretching them.