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.

TV Review – SHETLAND – SERIES 4 (2018)

Shetland Series 4 [DVD] [2018]Shetland – Series 4 (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) ****  pr. Eric Coulter; d. Lee Haven Jones, Rebecca Gatward; w. David Kane, Louise Ironside, Paul Logue; ph. Ed Moore, Michael Coulter; m. John Lunn.  Cast: Douglas Henshall, Alison O’Donnell, Steven Robertson, Mark Bonnar, Julie Graham, Erin Armstrong, Lewis Howden, Stephen Walters, Neve McIntosh, Sean McGinley, Fiona Bell, Allison McKenzie, Amy Lennox, Sophie Stone, Gerard Miller, Eleanor Matsuura, Carolin Stoltz, Arnmundur Bjornsson.  Perez (Henshall) and the team are forced to re-open a twenty-three year old cold case when convicted murder, Thomas Malone (Walters), is released from prison. The case concerns teenager Lizzie Kilmuir, who was found strangled to death on a kiln. Upon returning to Shetland, Thomas tries to make amends with Lizzie’s elder sister, Kate (McIntosh). Meanwhile, local journalist Sally McColl (Lennox) attends the Shetland Folk Festival with a group of her friends, but doesn’t return home later that evening. The next day, she is found strangled to death on a kiln, in what looks like a copycat of Lizzie’s murder. Top-class mystery with a bleak, isolated setting adding to the atmosphere. A strong cast – notably Henshall as the dedicated detective and Walters as the psychologically damaged, but misunderstood, convict – deliver earnest performances. Despite the length of the drama there is little flab in the plotting, which winds its way to a satisfying and tense conclusion. Based on the characters created by Ann Cleeves. [12]

Film Review – SUCH DUST AS DREAMS ARE MADE ON (TV) (1973)

Image result for such dust as dreams are made onSuch Dust as Dreams Are Made On (TV) (1973; USA; Colour; 76m) ***  d. Jerry Thorpe; w. Howard Rodman; ph. Jack Woolf; m. Billy Goldenberg.  Cast: David Janssen, Martin Sheen, Margot Kidder, Will Geer, Marianna Hill, Sal Mineo, Mel Stewart, Kathleen Lloyd, Lawrence Cook, Karen Lamm, Les Lannom, S. John Launer, Bill McLean, Cheryl Ladd, Joe Hoover. A private detective is hired by a slightly wacky female to find her brother, who is AWOL from the navy. Janssen is excellent as the dour PI Harry Orwell, Whilst the character and script lacked the wry narration that would make the subsequent series so enjoyable, this is still a professionally packaged tale. Sheen and Mineo head a strong supporting cast in this made-for-TV movie was the first pilot for Harry O (1974-6). For some reason this pilot didn’t sell the show, but someone at ABC saw enough in it that a second pilot was made seven months later: SMILE JENNY, YOU’RE DEAD (1974). [15]

Film Review – SMILE JENNY, YOU’RE DEAD (TV) (1974)

Image result for smile jenny you're deadSmile Jenny, You’re Dead (TV) (1974; USA; Colour; 96m) ***½  d. Jerry Thorpe; w. Howard Rodman; ph. Jack Woolf; m. Billy Goldenberg.  Cast: David Janssen, Andrea Marcovicci, John Anderson, Jodie Foster, Howard Da Silva, Tim McIntire, Zalman King, Clu Gulager, Martin Gabel, Barbara Leigh, Victor Argo, Ellen Weston, Harvey Jason, Chet Winfield, Bill McLean. An ex-cop protects his ex-partner’s supermodel daughter when she becomes the target of an psychopath who kills the men intimately involved with her. Second pilot for Janssen’s Harry O TV series is a classy detective thriller built around themes of obsession, with King giving a truly creepy performance. A strong script, tight direction and a moody score add to the atmosphere. Look out for a young Jodie Foster as a pre-teen runaway. [PG]

Book Review – THE INNOCENTS (2016) by Ace Atkins

THE INNOCENTS  by ACE ATKINS (2016, Corasir, 372pp) ***½

Image result for ace atkins the innocentsBlurb: After being voted out of office and returning to the war zone he’d left behind, Quinn Colson is back in Jericho, trying to fix things with his still-married high school girlfriend and retired Hollywood stuntman father. Quinn knows he doesn’t owe his hometown a damn thing, but he can’t resist the pull of becoming a lawman again and accepts a badge from his former colleague, foul-mouthed acting Sheriff Lillie Virgil. Both officers have fought corruption in Tibbehah County before, but the case they must confront now is nothing like they’ve ever seen. When a former high school cheerleader is found walking a back road completely engulfed in flames, everyone in Jericho wants answers for the senseless act of violence. As Quinn and Lillie uncover old secrets and new lies, the entire town turns against them, and they soon learn that the most dangerous enemies may be the ones you trust most.

This is the sixth book in Ace Atkins’ series featuring Sheriff Quinn Colson set in the small county of Tibbehah. Atkins continues to produce quality writing, notably in character and dialogue echoing one of his heroes – Elmore Leonard. The plot itself is familiar, but does introduce a shock element in its closing chapters. There is also the ongoing arc surrounding Quinn’s family and his love life. These sub-plots remain unresolved at the novel’s conclusion compelling the reader to return for the next volume. Also unresolved is the set up of a new adversary in the form of Fannie Hathcock, who has taken over as the owner of the strip bar from the imprisoned Johnny Stagg. She establishes an antagonistic relationship with Lillie Virgil from the off, as the similarities in their personalities initially cause a clash, but ultimately creates a way they can be of mutual benefit. Whilst this novel is familiar to those who have read earlier books in the series, it is still an entertaining read and the unresolved arcs leave a hook to pull you in to the next adventure.

The Quinn Colson series:
The Ranger (2011) ***
The Lost Ones (2012) ***
The Broken Place (2013) ***
The Forsaken (2014) ***½
The Redeemers (2015) ****
The Innocents (2016) ***½
The Fallen (2017)
The Sinners (2018)

Film Review – TO CHASE A MILLION (1967)

To Chase a Million (1967; UK; Colour; 97m) **½  d. Pat Jackson, Robert Tronson; w. Stanley R. Greenberg; ph. Lionel Banes; m. Albert Elms.  Cast: Richard Bradford, Yoko Tani, Ron Randell, Norman Rossington, Anton Rogers, Mike Pratt, Aubrey Morris, Simon Brent, Gay Hamilton. A lone shark bounty hunter pits himself against secret agents from three countries. The prize: a million bucks in cash for vital state secrets. Flat spy thriller betrays its TV origins with studio sets and stock location footage. Bradford is excellent as the loner McGill, who it seems is forever being beaten up. Rodgers also impresses as a Russian spy. The plot unfolds at a slow pace and the resolution lacks punch. Compiled from a two-part story from the TV series Man in a Suitcase, originally entitled “Variation on a Million Bucks”. [PG]