Film Review – COOGAN’S BLUFF (1968)

Image result for coogan's bluffCoogan’s Bluff (1968; USA; Technicolor; 93m) ***½  d. Don Siegel; w. Herman Miller, Dean Riesner, Howard Rodman; ph. Bud Thackery; m. Lalo Schifrin.  Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee J. Cobb, Susan Clark, Don Stroud, Tisha Sterling, Betty Field, Tom Tully, David Doyle, James Edwards, Louis Zorich, Melodie Johnson, Rudy Diaz, Meg Myles, Seymour Cassel, Marjorie Bennett. An Arizona deputy goes to New York City to escort a fugitive back into custody. First collaboration between Eastwood and Siegel is a pointer to things to come with Eastwood’s economic and laconic approach perfectly complemented by Siegel’s efficient direction. Cobb is excellent as world-weary NYC lieutenant and the script is both punchy and witty. Schifrin’s jazzy score perfectly underpins the action. Inspiration for the TV series McCloud starring Dennis Weaver. [15]

TV Review – LUTHER: SERIES 5 (2019)

Image result for luther series 5Luther: Series 5 (TV) (2019; UK; Colour; 4 x 60m) **½  pr. Derek Ritchie; d. Jamie Payne; w. Neil Cross; ph. John Pardue; ed. Jamie Trevill.  Cast: Idris Elba, Ruth Wilson, Dermot Crowley, Enzo Cilenti, Hermione Norris, Patrick Malahide, Michael Smiley, Wunmi Mosaku, Lewis Young, Sonita Henry, Luke Westlake, Lex Daniel, Michael Obiora, Katie Brayben, Paul McGann, Roberta Taylor, Anthony Howell, Nicholas Asbury.  When a series of seemingly indiscriminate killings become ever more audacious Luther and new recruit DS Catherine Halliday are confounded by a tangle of leads and misdirection that appears designed to protect an untouchable corruption. Relentlessly grim and often strangely compelling, but ultimately too implausible to be fulfilling. When almost every major character, including the detective hunting them, seems to have psychological issues resulting in disturbingly violent actions there is little empathy to be invested in the characters and we are left with a feeling of being a voyeur to the sick and gruesome acts of murder. The detective work is also clumsily written with us having to accept Luther’s brilliant deductions as inexplicable foresight, rather than clever analysis. This is no police procedural. In all the key chase and heavy drama scenes, the rest of the populace of London also seem to strangely disappear, giving the whole thing a feeling of being acted out on some different plane as if we are observing an alternative reality. This may have been deliberate to intensify the drama, but adds to the false sense of environment. That’s perhaps as well as any police force that operated in the way this one does would be dragged across the coals. There are moments to enjoy amidst the horror – notably some moments of black humour and the performances of Cilente and Malahide in contrasting roles; the former as a psychotic killer and the latter an old-school gangster. The re-appearance of Wilson’s character (another psychotic killer), whilst resolving issues that hung over from previous stories, is actually a distraction from the more interesting elements of this story. Elba’s Luther is at the centre of everything and, for the most part, keeps you just about on his side, despite his increasingly bizarre behaviour, until the two plot strands come to a head. Ultimately though this is sensationalism TV that draws the viewer to it like a seedy newspaper headline. As such its widespread appeal, which perhaps it does not deserve, is guaranteed.

Book Review – IN A HOUSE OF LIES (2018) by Ian Rankin

IN A HOUSE OF LIES (2018) ***½
by Ian Rankin
Published by Orion, 2018, 372pp
ISBN: 978-1-4091-7691-6

Blurb: Everyone has something to hide… A missing private investigator is found, locked in a car hidden deep in the woods. Worse still – both for his family and the police – is that his body was in an area that had already been searched. Everyone has secrets… Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is part of a new inquiry, combing through the mistakes of the original case. There were always suspicions over how the investigation was handled and now – after a decade without answers – it’s time for the truth. Nobody is innocent… Every officer involved must be questioned, and it seems everyone on the case has something to hide, and everything to lose. But there is one man who knows where the trail may lead – and that it could be the end of him: John Rebus.

The 22nd book in Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series sees the retired detective feeling his age as his deteriorating health leads him to quit smoking and limit his drinking. Bored, he grasps at the opportunity to help his former partner, DI Siobhan Clarke, by re-investigating an old case. Meanwhile, Clarke herself is deeply embroiled in a murder investigation whilst fighting off an internal enquiry into her conduct.

Rankin steers away from any major political and social issues and concentrates on the mechanics of the two cases. The murder mystery involves a high-ranking businessman and a film producer as well as two corrupt cops, giving the novel a few narrative strands to weave together. Of course, there is a link between these threads and Rebus again locks horns with his nemesis Big “Ger” Cafferty who is tied to both.

Nothing too surprising here, just another well-written crime mystery by a writer who knows his craft. It’s difficult to see where Rankin will take his lead character as he ages in retirement and struggles with ill-health.

The Rebus Series:

Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
Hide and Seek (1991) ***
Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
Strip Jack (1992)
The Black Book (1993) ***
Mortal Causes (1994) ***
Let it Bleed (1996)
Black and Blue (1997) ****½
The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
Dead Souls (1999)
Set in Darkness (2000) ****
The Falls (2001)
Resurrection Men (2002) ****
A Question of Blood (2003) ****
Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
The Naming of the Dead (2006)  ****½
Exit Music (2007) ****
Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ***½
Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½
In a House of Lies (2018) ***½

Film Review – ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

Related imageEscape from New York (1981; UK/USA; Metrocolor; 99m) ***½  d. John Carpenter; w. John Carpenter, Nick Castle; ph. Dean Cundey, George D. Dodge; m. John Carpenter, Alan Howarth.  Cast: Kurt Russell, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasence, Harry Dean Stanton, Isaac Hayes, Season Hubley, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Frank Doubleday, John Stobel, Bob Minor, John Diehl, George “Buck” Flower. In 1997, when the US President crashes into Manhattan, now a giant max. security prison, a convicted bank robber is sent in for a rescue. Cult classic may have dated, notably in the visual effects, but still has much to enjoy. Russell deftly essays Clint Eastwood in his portrayal of Snake Plissken. Good support cast of oddball characters and some nice tongue-in-cheek touches from director/co-writer Carpenter. Grimy and decadent representation of Manhattan as a prison city is well realised. Followed by ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996). [15]

Film Review – BRANNIGAN (1975)

Image result for brannigan 1975Brannigan (1975; UK; Colour; 111m) ***  d. Douglas Hickox; w. Christopher Trumbo, Michael Butler, William P. McGivern, William W. Norton; ph. Gerry Fisher; m. Dominic Frontiere.  Cast: John Wayne, Richard Attenborough, Judy Geeson, Mel Ferrer, Ralph Meeker, John Vernon, Lesley-Anne Down, Barry Dennen, Brian Glover, James Booth, Daniel Pilon, John Stride, Arthur Batanides, Pauline Delaney, Del Henney. An American detective is sent to London to bring back an American mobster who is being held for extradition. Nice twist on the fish-out-of-water formula with Wayne coasting on his charisma. Attenborough also adds a sprightly performance to this otherwise routine crime action thriller. Hickox directs with some flair although his shooting in London often resembles a tourist film capturing as many iconic shots as possible. [15]

Book Review – IN THE LINE OF FIRE (1993) by Max Allan Collins

IN THE LINE OF FIRE (1993) ****
by Max Allan Collins (based on the screenplay written by Jeff Maguire)
Published by HarperCollins, 1993, 262pp
ISBN: 0-00-647856-5

Image result for in the line of fire max allan collinsBlurb: It was his job to safeguard the destiny of the nation. But at the crucial moment, Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan was a split second too late. Now, after a lifetime of second thoughts and second guesses, Frank Horrigan is about to get a second chance. And this time, he’ll be ready.

Movie novelisations were a common site on paperback shelves back in the days before home video. At the time they were the only way to relive a movie in the comfort of your own home as films would, as a rule, not be screened on TV for at least 5 years after the release date. This particular book was published in 1993 to coincide with the release of the Clint Eastwood vehicle directed by Wolfgang Petersen. The film is one of Eastwood’s very best. A taut, suspenseful and efficiently made thriller. Eastwood’s significant screen presence and charisma gave depth and likeability to a character carrying years of guilt about not having been able to prevent the assassination of President John F Kennedy in 1963.

Here, Jeff Maguire’s lean screenplay has been worked into a novel by popular pulp writer Max Allan Collins. The result is a book that is as slick as the movie. Collins’ prose style effectively captures the narrative drive of Petersen’s movie. It is told mainly from the perspective of the two protagonists – Frank Horrigan and wacko Mitch Leary, who is out to extract revenge on the US Government by killing the President. It is difficult to convey John Malkovich’s creepy performance as Leary on the printed page, but for anyone who has seen the movie the imprint of Eastwood and Malkovich will loom large over the crackling dialogue between the two characters as Leary leads Horrigan on a cat-and-mouse chase. There are one or two elements that vary from the final film presented on screen, presumably changes that had been made to Maguire’s screenplay on set, but overall this is a thoroughly entertaining and quick read that accurately captures the excitement of the movie.

Book Review – KILLER INTENT (2018) by Tony Kent

KILLER INTENT (2018) **½
by Tony Kent
Published by Elliott and Thompson Ltd., 2018, 530pp
ISBN: 978-1-78396-382-9

36570437Blurb: When an attempted assassination sparks a chain reaction of explosive events across London, Britain’s elite security forces seem powerless to stop the chaos threatening to overwhelm the government. As the dark and deadly conspiracy unfolds, three strangers find their fates entwined: Joe Dempsey, a deadly military intelligence officer; Sarah Truman, a CNN reporter determined to get her headline; and Michael Devlin, a Belfast-born criminal barrister with a secret past. As the circle of those they can trust grows ever smaller, Dempsey, Devlin and Truman are forced to work in the shadows, caught in a life-or-death race against the clock, before the terrible plot can consume them all.

Enjoyment of this book will depend pretty much on your willingness to buy into the increasingly implausible plot presented. The story has its twists and turns, but none of these came as a surprise and the motivation and actions of the chief villain of the piece increasingly defied logic. Kent has two strong heroes in Dempsey and Devlin and a gutsy heroine in Truman. However, the latter character takes an increasingly back-seat role, having been the conduit for the early action. The book then descends into a stereotypical chase with a hostage/shootout climax that is somehow unfulfilling.

The book could have been more tightly edited. There is not enough in terms of plot progression and characterisation to warrant a 530-page count. The motivations of the characters are drawn out and repeated through long monologues. The book is essentially pulp-fiction and in that genre quantity does not necessarily directly correlate with quality. Here, readers have too much time to think and absorb and that enables them to dwell on the plot’s incredulities. That said, there are moments of promise and Kent may well go on to refine his skills as the series progresses – there is a swift set-up for follow-up stories in this tale’s closing pages. He has a good handle on action scenes, which will ensure his writing remains popular with a like-minded readership.

Unfortunately, the moments of promise are undermined by its preposterous plot resulting in a book that both pleases and frustrates at the same time.

TV REVIEW – JACK RYAN – SEASON ONE (2018)

Image result for jack ryan season oneJack Ryan – Season One (2018; USA; Colour; 1 x 65m, 7 x 42m-51m) ****  pr. Nazrin Choudhury, José Luis Ecolar, Robert Phillips; d. Morten Tyldum, Daniel Sackheim, Patricia Riggen, Carlton Cuse; w. Carlton Cuse, Graham Roland, Stephen Kronish, Daria Polatin, Patrick Aison, Annie Jacobsen, Nazrin Choudhury, Nolan Dunbar; ph.  Richard Rutkowski, Checco Varese, Christopher Faloona; m. Ramin Djawadi.  Cast: John Krasinski, Abbie Cornish, Wendell Pierce, Ali Suliman, Emmanuelle Lussier Martinez, Dina Shihabi, Karim Zein, Nadia Affolter, Jordi Mollà, Arpy Ayvazian, Adam Bernett, Amir El-Masry, Goran Kostic, Eileen Li, Mena Massoud, Victoria Sanchez, Marie-Josée Croze, John Hoogenakker, Shadi Jahno, Zarif Kabier, Kevin Kent, Brittany Drisdelle, Shailene Garnett, Matt McCoy, Maxime Robin, Kenny Wong, Chadi Alhelou, Jonathan Bailey, Jamil Khoury, Stéphane Krau, Al Sapienza, Kareem Tristan Alleyne, Ron Canada, Michael Gaston, Matthew Kabwe, Yani Marin, Laurean Adrian Parau, Kaan Urgancioglu, Jessica Abruzzese, Numan Acar, Mehdi Aissaoui. When CIA analyst Jack Ryan stumbles upon a suspicious series of bank transfers his search for answers pulls him from the safety of his desk job and catapults him into a deadly game of cat and mouse throughout Europe and the Middle East, with a rising terrorist figurehead preparing for a massive attack against the US and her allies. Impressively mounted reworking of Tom Clancy’s hero as an ex-marine with a past thrown back into the field to hunt down the terrorist leader, whilst trying to protect the leader’s defecting wife and children. Action scenes are well handled and for the most part the script is both intelligent and suspenseful, only occasionally lapsing into genre conventions. Krasinski is good as the latest actor to take on the role of the eponymous hero with Pierce equally good as his superior. Suliman manages to convey menace with a deeper rooted motivation as the terrorist leader, making him a three-dimensional character.  Certain elements of the background stories are left unresolved signalling a second season will follow. [15]

Book Review – RIDING THE RAP (1995) by Elmore Leonard

RIDING THE RAP by ELMORE LEONARD (1995, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 326pp) ***

Riding the Rap by [Leonard, Elmore]Blurb: Palm Beach playboy Chip Ganz needs money – fast. He has spiralling debts, and his mother’s gravy-train has just derailed. So he has a plan: he’s going to find somebody rich, and take them hostage. With the help of an ex-con, a psycho gardener and the beautiful psychic Reverend Dawn, he chooses bookmaker Harry Arno as the lucky victim. The trouble is, Harry can scam with the best of them. And that’s not the only problem. US Marshal Raylan Givens is sleeping with Harry’s ex girlfriend, Joyce, and she wants Harry found. And when everyone’s got a gun, someone is going to get hurt …

Elmore Leonard’s second novel to feature Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens lacks the scope of the first, 1993’s Pronto. It is, however, still an entertaining read filled with Leonard’s trademark characters. The character of bookmaker Harry Arno returns from that book and plays a major part in the story here. The plot again is slight – revolving around a kidnapping scam where the victim is asked to pay for their own release. Raylan is quickly onto the gang and most of the book is spent on detailing how the gang unravel as personal greed and personality clashes take over. Leonard has a fantastic ear for dialogue and his writing style is as efficient as ever. Whilst Riding the Rap won’t sit high in his overall output, it further confirms the potential in his main protagonist, something that Leonard would explore further in his novella, Fire in the Hole and would be taken into the TV series Justified. This novel would be adapted into the third episode of the first season of the series with changes to characters.

Raylan Givens books by Elmore Leonard:
Pronto (1993) ***½
Riding the Rap (1995) ***
Fire in the Hole (novella) (2002) – the basis for Justified.
Raylan (2012) ***½

Film Review – KEY LARGO (1948)

Key Largo (1948; USA; B&W; 100m) ****  d. John Huston; w. Richard Brooks, John Huston; ph. Karl Freund; m. Max Steiner.  Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, Thomas Gomez, Harry Lewis, John Rodney, Marc Lawrence, Dan Seymour, Monte Blue, William Haade. A man visits his old friend’s hotel and finds a gangster running things. As a hurricane approaches, the two end up confronting each other. Tense thriller extracts maximum impact from its strong cast who are well directed by Huston. Bogart and Robinson’s antagonistic interplay is electric, whilst Trevor also excels as Robinson’s alcoholic mistress. Bacall and Barrymore offer good support. Rousing Steiner score and effective photography from Freund give added atmosphere to the production, which at times betrays its static stage roots until its exciting climax on the fog bound ocean. Won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (Trevor). Based on the play by Maxwell Anderson. [PG]