Film Review – ESCAPE TO ATHENA (1979)

BBC Two - Escape to AthenaESCAPE TO ATHENA (1979, UK) **½
Action, Adventure, Comedy, War
dist. ITC Film Distributors (UK), Associated Film Distribution (AFD) (USA); pr co. Incorporated Television Company (ITC); d. George P. Cosmatos; w. Edward Anhalt, Richard Lochte (based on a story by Richard Lochte and George P. Cosmatos); exec pr. Lew Grade (uncredited); pr. David Niven Jr., Jack Wiener, Erwin C. Dietrich (uncredited); assoc pr. Colin M. Brewer; ph. Gilbert Taylor (Eastmancolor. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. Lalo Schifrin; ed. Ralph Kemplen; ad. Petros Kapouralis; set d. Peter James; cos. Yvonne Blake; m/up. Eric Allwright, Paul Engelen, Ramon Gow, Mike Jones, Jacques Moisant; sd. Nicholas Stevenson, Derek Ball, Bill Rowe (Mono); sfx. John Richardson; st. Vic Armstrong; rel. 9 March 1979 (UK), 6 June 1979 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 125m.

cast: Roger Moore (Major Otto Hecht), Telly Savalas (Zeno), David Niven (Professor Blake), Stefanie Powers (Dottie Del Mar), Claudia Cardinale (Eleana), Richard Roundtree (Nat Judson), Sonny Bono (Bruno Rotelli), Elliott Gould (Charlie Dane), Anthony Valentine (SS Major Volkmann), Siegfried Rauch (Braun), Michael Sheard (Sergeant Mann), Richard Wren (Reistoffer), Philip Locke (Vogel), Steve Ubels (Lantz), Paul Picerni (Zeno’s Man), Paul Stassino (Zeno’s Man).

A bizarre mix of World War II adventure and comedy, involving a group of Allied P.O.W.s, Nazis, black market priceless art treasures, Greek resistance, a Greek monastery, and a secret German rocket base. The film was shot in Rhodes and feels like it was made on a holiday for its impressive roster of stars – most of whom sport anachronistic apparel and haircuts. There is a laziness to much of the direction and story-telling that is only marginally offset by some excellent stunt work and pyrotechnics. That said the action sequences are often poorly shot and fail to generate the level of excitement and suspense the budget spend deserves. As for the cast, Moore is badly miscast as the German Commandant, whilst Gould’s wisecracking  troupe comedian character and performance feel like they belong in another movie. The pluses are Savalas’ determined resistance leader and Cardinale’s passionate brothel owner. Niven coasts on his natural charm as an art historian, whilst Powers delivers an energetic performance as a dancer pursued by Moore. Roundtree has little else to do than fire his gun, whilst Bono is another bizarre casting choice as an army chef. Even Lalo Schifrin’s score lacks pizzazz. Ultimately, Cosmatos is not able to find the right tone and action fans will be disappointed in this sub-Alistair MacLean tale.  Watch for William Holden in a brief cameo as one of the prisoners. Edited US prints run to 101m.

Film Review (re-watch) – SHAFT (2019)

After more than a year, I decided to give the new Shaft another go. Whilst I enjoyed it more, I still can’t get past its faults and haven’t changed my opinion that it was a wasted opportunity…

SHAFT (2019, USA) **½
Action, Crime, Comedy
dist. New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. (USA), Netflix (UK); pr co. Davis Entertainment / Khalabo Ink Society / Netflix / New Line Cinema / Warner Bros.; d. Tim Story; w. Kenya Barris, Alex Barnow (based on the character created by Ernest Tidyman); exec pr. Kenya Barris, Richard Brener, Marc S. Fischer, Josh Mack, Ira Napoliello, Tim Story; pr. John Davis; assoc pr. Antoine Jenkins; ph. Larry Blanford (Colour. D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Hawk Scope (anamorphic) (source format). 2.39:1); m. Christopher Lennertz; m sup. Trygge Toven, Dave Jordan; ed. Peter S. Elliot; pd. Wynn Thomas; ad. Jeremy Woolsey, Brittany Hites (additional photography); set d. Missy Parker; cos. Olivia Miles; m/up. Kimberly Jones, Shunika Terry; sd. Sean McCormack  (Dolby Digital); sfx. Russell Tyrrell; vfx. Nicole Rowley; st. Steven Ritzi; rel. 14 June 2019 (USA), 28 June 2019 (UK – internet); cert: 15; r/t. 111m.

cast: Samuel L. Jackson (John Shaft), Jessie T. Usher (JJ Shaft), Richard Roundtree (John Shaft, Sr.), Regina Hall (Maya Babanikos), Alexandra Shipp (Sasha Arias), Matt Lauria (Major Gary Cutworth), Titus Welliver (Special Agent Vietti), Method Man (Freddy P.), Isaach De Bankolé (Pierro ‘Gordito’ Carrera), Avan Jogia (Karim Hassan), Luna Lauren Velez (Bennie Rodriguez), Robbie Jones (Sergeant Keith Williams), Aaron Dominguez (Staff Sergeant Eddie Dominguez), Ian Casselberry (Manuel Orozco), Almeera Jiwa (Anam), Amato D’Apolito (Farik Bahar), Leland L. Jones (Ron), Jalyn Hall (Harlem Kid), Sylvia Jefferies (Once Beautiful Woman), Whit Coleman (Butch Lesbian Girl), Chivonne Michelle (Baby), Tashiana Washington (Sugar), Philip Fornah (Jacked Dude), Laticia Lee (Cocktail Waitress (as Laticia Rolle)), Ryan King Scales (Male Secretary), Tywayne Wheatt (Portly Doorman), Kenny Barr (Cop (Thomas)), Mike Dunston (News Anchor), Jordan Preston Carter (5-8 Year Old JJ), Nyah Marie Johnson (5-8 Year Old Sasha), Joey Mekyten (5-8 Year Old Karim), Sawyer Schultz (Mike Mitchell), Esmeree Sterling (Cute Bartender), Jose Miguel Vasquez (FBI Employee), Gabriel ‘G-Rod’ Rodriguez (Goon), Keith Brooks (Drunk Disorderly Man), DominiQue MrsGiJane Williams (Beautiful Woman), Michael Shikany (Older Man in Mosque), Lucia Scarano (Lady in Line), Greta Quispe (Employee), Heather Seiffert (Hostess), Charles Green (Hallway Man), Dorothi Fox (Old Lady Neighbor), Adrienne C. Moore (Ms. Pepper), Shakur Sozahdah (Worshiper).

JJ, aka John Shaft Jr. (Usher), may be a cyber security expert with a degree from MIT, but to uncover the truth behind his best friend’s untimely death, he needs an education only his dad can provide. Absent throughout JJ’s youth, the legendary locked-and-loaded John Shaft (Jackson) agrees to help his progeny navigate Harlem’s heroin-infested underbelly. And while JJ’s own FBI analyst’s badge may clash with his dad’s trademark leather coat, there is no denying family. Besides, Shaft’s got an agenda of his own, and a score to settle that is both professional and personal. This belated fifth film in the Shaft series is a misguided attempt to blend comedy with violent action. Although the comedy only occasionally strays into being too broad, the whole tone – mixing what could have been a serious story about drug smuggling with the generational gap in father/son relationships – is just off. Jackson does what Jackson does and for the most part does it well. Usher struggles to find the right level of performance, whilst Roundtree almost saves the movie with a neat cameo in the finale. Ultimately, however, it is difficult to buy into what Story is selling. Whilst it may please the popcorn crowd in search of mindless entertainment with its flashy visuals and hip dialogue, it will almost universally disappoint fans of the original movies through its lazy story-telling and its looking down on the Shaft legacy. Most of the movie was shot in Atlanta, doubling for New York.

TV Movie Review – COLUMBO: ANY OLD PORT IN A STORM (1973)

Adrian CarsiniCOLUMBO: ANY OLD PORT IN A STORM (TV) (1973, USA) ****
Crime, Drama, Mystery
dist. National Broadcasting Company (NBC); pr co. Universal Television; d. Leo Penn; w. Stanley Ralph Ross (based on a story by Larry Cohen); pr. Robert F. O’Neill; ph. Harry L. Wolf (Technicolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.33:1); m. Dick DeBenedictis; m sup. Hal Mooney; ed. Larry Lester, Buddy Small; ad. Archie J. Bacon; set d. John M. Dwyer; cos. Grady Hunt; sd. David H. Moriarty (Mono); rel. 7 October 1973 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 96m.

cast: Peter Falk (Columbo), Donald Pleasence (Adrian Carsini), Joyce Jillson (Joan Stacey), Gary Conway (Enrico Guiseppe Carsini), Dana Elcar (Falcon), Julie Harris (Karen Fielding), Vito Scotti (Maitre d’), Robert Donner (The Drunk), Robert Ellenstein (Stein), Robert Walden (Billy Fine), Regis Cordic (Lewis), Reid Smith (Andy Stevens), John McCann (Officer), George Gaynes (Frenchman), Monte Landis (Steward), Walker Edmiston (Auctioneer), Pamela Campbell (Cassie Marlowe).

Adrian Carsini (Pleasence) runs a California winery owned by his younger half-brother (Conway) who reveals he’s about to sell it. This enrages the older wine connoisseur who knocks the young playboy out cold and ties him up in the wine cellar. Soon Carsini has committed a murder and makes it look like a scuba diving accident. The rumpled Lt. Columbo (Falk) is on the case and is willing to harass everyone – even Carsini’s cold but devoted secretary (Harris) – until he’s discovered the truth. One of the most entertaining of the Columbo mystery movies and one of the few where the rumpled detective has a liking for the killer. The winery setting and Pleasence’s delightfully snobbish performance give this episode a playfully novel feel. Whilst the murder is hardly perfect, the way Falk unravels the case is sublime. The finale in the expensive restaurant and on the cliffs overlooking the sea are neatly staged and the final scene where the detective and the murderer share a last bottle is nicely played. The production values are standard for 1970s TV, but the light, humorous touch and the lead performances make this well worth a look.

Film Review – FIRST MAN (2018)

First Man (2018) — The Movie Database (TMDb)FIRST MAN (2018, USA) ****
Drama, Biography
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Universal Pictures International (UPI) (UK); pr co. Universal Pictures / DreamWorks SKG / Temple Hill Entertainment / Perfect World Pictures; d. Damien Chazelle; w. Nicole Perlman, Josh Singer (based on the book by James R. Hansen); exec pr. Adam Merims, Josh Singer, Steven Spielberg; pr. Marty Bowen, Damien Chazelle, Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner; ass pr. Kevin Elam; ph. Linus Sandgren (Colour. D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K). 2.39:1); m. Justin Hurwitz; ed. Tom Cross; pd. Nathan Crowley; ad. Erik Osusky; set d. Kathy Lucas; cos. Mary Zophres; m/up. Katelyn Barton, Marie Larkin; sd. Mildred Iatrou, Lee Gilmore, Nia Hansen, Phil Barrie (Dolby Atmos | DTS (DTS: X) | Auro 11.1); sfx. J.D. Schwalm; vfx. Radley Teruel, Paul Lambert, Josh Dagg; st. Nick Brandon, James M. Churchman; rel. 29 August 2018 (Italy), 31 August 2018 (USA), 12 October 2018 (UK); cert: 12; r/t. 141m.

cast: Ryan Gosling (Neil Armstrong), Claire Foy (Janet Armstrong), Jason Clarke (Ed White), Kyle Chandler (Deke Slayton), Corey Stoll (Buzz Aldrin), Patrick Fugit (Elliot See), Christopher Abbott (Dave Scott), Ciarán Hinds (Bob Gilruth), Olivia Hamilton (Pat White), Pablo Schreiber (James Lovell), Shea Whigham (Gus Grissom), Lukas Haas (Mike Collins), Ethan Embry (Pete Conrad), Brian d’Arcy James (Joe Walker), Cory Michael Smith (Roger Chaffee), Kris Rey (Marilyn See (as Kris Swanberg)), Gavin Warren (Young Rick Armstrong), Luke Winters (Older Rick Armstrong), Connor Blodgett (Mark Armstrong), Lucy Stafford (Karen Armstrong (as Lucy Brooke Stafford)).

This account of Neil Armstrong’s journey from personal tragedy, following the tragic death of his young daughter from a brain tumour in 1961, to becoming the first man to walk on the moon as the commander of Apollo 11 eight years later. The character portrait is one of an insular man who struggles to share his emotions or connect with his family. Gosling’s passive acting style is perfect for the role. The best performance comes from Foy as his increasingly alienated wife and her struggle to reach into her husband’s inner thoughts. The movie is shot in a documentary style with frequent use of hand-held camera giving a personal perspective and a high level of authenticity but creating a distanced perspective toward its characters along the way. The drama is often absorbing, despite the somewhat snapshot approach to the material. The production design is accurate, perfectly capturing the period as well as a real sense of the danger the brave astronauts put themselves in on achieving their country’s goal. Ultimately, the film shows how flawed characters can become national heroes, whilst maintaining a sense of perspective between the human and technical dramas.

AA: Best Achievement in Visual Effects (Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles, J.D. Schwalm)
AAN: Best Achievement in Sound Editing (Ai-Ling Lee, Mildred Iatrou); Best Achievement in Production Design (Nathan Crowley, Kathy Lucas); Best Achievement in Sound Mixing (Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Ai-Ling Lee, Mary H. Ellis)

Film Review – STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Poster by Josh Kirby, 1983 for sale at PamonoSTAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983, USA) ***½
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
dist. Twentieth Century Fox ; pr co. Lucasfilm; d. Richard Marquand; w. Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas (based on a story by George Lucas); exec pr. George Lucas; pr. Howard G. Kazanjian, Rick McCallum; ph. Alan Hume (DeLuxe. 35mm (Eastman 5384). Digital Intermediate (4K) (2019 remaster), Dolby Vision, J-D-C Scope (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. John Williams; ed. Sean Barton, Duwayne Dunham, Marcia Lucas; pd. Norman Reynolds; ad. Fred Hole, James L. Schoppe; set d. Michael Ford, Harry Lange; cos. Aggie Guerard Rodgers, Nilo Rodis-Jamero; m/up. Stuart Freeborn, Graham Freeborn, Tom Smith, Pat McDermott; sd. Ben Burtt (70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints) | Dolby (35 mm prints)); sfx. Roy Arbogast; vfx. Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston; st. Glenn Randall; rel. 25 May 1983 (USA), 2 June 1983 (UK); cert: U; r/t. 131m.

cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Sebastian Shaw (Anakin Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (The Emperor), Frank Oz (Yoda (voice)), James Earl Jones (Darth Vader (voice)), David Prowse (Darth Vader), Alec Guinness (Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi), Kenny Baker (R2-D2 / Paploo), Michael Pennington (Moff Jerjerrod), Kenneth Colley (Admiral Piett), Michael Carter (Bib Fortuna), Denis Lawson (Wedge), Tim Rose (Admiral Ackbar), Dermot Crowley (General Madine), Caroline Blakiston (Mon Mothma), Warwick Davis (Wicket), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), Femi Taylor (Oola), Annie Arbogast (Sy Snootles), Claire Davenport (Fat Dancer), Jack Purvis (Teebo), Mike Edmonds (Logray), Jane Busby (Chief Chirpa), Malcolm Dixon (Ewok Warrior (as Malcom Dixon)), Mike Cottrell (Ewok Warrior), Nicolas Read (Nicki (as Nicki Reade)), Adam Bareham (Stardestroyer Controller #1), Jonathan Oliver (Stardestroyer Controller #2), Pip Miller (Stardestroyer Captain #1), Tom Mannion (Stardestroyer Captain #2), Margo Apostolos (Ewok (as Margo Apostocos)), Ray Armstrong (Ewok), Eileen Baker (Ewok), Michael Henbury Ballan (Ewok (as Michael H. Balham)), Bobby Bell (Ewok), Patty Bell (Ewok), Alan Bennett (Ewok), Sarah Bennett (Ewok), Pamela Betts (Ewok), Danny Blackner (Ewok (as Dan Blackner)), Linda Bowley (Ewok), Peter Burroughs (Ewok), Debbie Lee Carrington (Romba Ewok (as Debbie Carrington)), Maureen Charlton (Ewok), Willie Coppen (Ewok (as William Coppen)), Sadie Corre (Ewok (as Sadie Corrie)), Tony Cox (Ewok), John Cumming (Ewok), Jean D’Agostino (Ewok), Luis De Jesus (Ewok), Debbie Dixon (Ewok), Margarita Farrell (Ewok (as Margarita Fernandez)), Phil Fondacaro (Ewok), Sal Fondacaro (Ewok), Tony Friel (Ewok), Daniel Frishman (Ewok (as Dan Frishman)), John Ghavan (Ewok (as John Gavam)), Michael Gilden (Ewok), Paul Grant (Ewok), Lydia Green (Ewok), Lars Green (Ewok), Pam Grizz (Ewok), Andrew Herd (Ewok / Jawa), J.J. Jackson (Ewok),

As the evil Emperor Palpatine (McDiarmid) oversees the construction of the new Death Star by Darth Vader (Prowse/Jones) and the Galactic Empire, smuggler Han Solo (Ford) is rescued from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt by his friends, Luke Skywalker (Hamill), Princess Leia (Fisher), Lando Calrissian (Williams), and Chewbacca (Mayhew). Leaving Luke Skywalker Jedi training with Master Yoda (Oz), Solo returns to the Rebel fleet to prepare to complete his battle with the Empire. During the ensuing fighting, the newly returned Luke Skywalker is captured by Darth Vader. This third of the original STAR WARS trilogy is the least effective, being served by a script that offers little new and unimaginative direction. The Death Star plot merely re-cycles that of the first film and the character interaction lacks the slick camaraderie so apparent in the first two films. Fortunately, there is sufficient action and bravura in the lead performances to push through these faults and produce an entertaining, if flawed, conclusion. 1997 Special edition with added new effects runs to 134m. Original title: RETURN OF THE JEDI. Followed by STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999).

AA: Special Achievement Award: Visual Effects (Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston, Phil Tippett)
AAN: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Norman Reynolds, Fred Hole, James L. Schoppe, Michael Ford); Best Sound (Ben Burtt, Gary Summers, Randy Thom, Tony Dawe); Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing (Ben Burtt); Best Music, Original Score (John Williams)

Film Review – STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)

Star Wars: Leigh Brackett and The Empire Strikes Back You Never Saw | Den  of GeekSTAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980, USA) *****
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
dist. Twentieth Century Fox ; pr co. Lucasfilm; d. Irvin Kershner; w. Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan (based on a story by George Lucas); exec pr. George Lucas; pr. Gary Kurtz, Rick McCallum; ass pr. Jim Bloom, Robert Watts; ph. Peter Suschitzky (DeLuxe. 35mm. Digital Intermediate (4K) (2019 remaster), Dolby Vision, Panavision (anamorphic), VistaVision (special effects). 2.35:1); m. John Williams; m sup. ; ed. Paul Hirsch; pd. Norman Reynolds; ad. Leslie Dilley, Harry Lange, Alan Tomkins; set d. Michael Ford; cos. John Mollo; m/up. Graham Freeborn, Stuart Freeborn, Barbara Ritchie; sd. Richard Burrow, Bonnie Koehler, Teresa Eckton (70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints) | Dolby Stereo (35 mm prints) | Dolby Digital EX (DVD) | DTS-ES (6.1 channels) (Blu-ray) | Dolby Atmos); sfx. Nick Allder, Neil Swan, David H. Watkins; vfx. Brian Johnson, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, Bruce Nicholson; st. Peter Diamond; rel. 17 May 1980 (USA), 20 May 1980 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 124m.

cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), David Prowse (Darth Vader), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Frank Oz (Yoda (voice)), Alec Guinness (Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), John Hollis (Lobot, Lando’s Aide), Jack Purvis (Chief Ugnaught), Des Webb (Snow Creature), Clive Revill (Emperor (voice)), Kenneth Colley (Admiral Piett), Julian Glover (General Veers), Michael Sheard (Admiral Ozzel), Michael Culver (Captain Needa), John Dicks (Imperial Officer), Milton Johns (Imperial Officer), Mark Jones (Imperial Officer), Oliver Maguire (Imperial Officer), Robin Scobey (Imperial Officer), Bruce Boa (Rebel Force General Rieekan), Christopher Malcolm (Rebel Force Zev (Rogue 2) (as Christopher Malcom)), Denis Lawson (Rebel Force Wedge (Rogue 3) (as Dennis Lawson)), Richard Oldfield (Rebel Force Hobbie (Rogue 4)), John Morton (Rebel Force Dak (Luke’s Gunner)), Ian Liston (Rebel Force Janson (Wedge’s Gunner)), John Ratzenberger (Rebel Force Major Derlin), Jack McKenzie (Rebel Force Deck Lieutenant), Jerry Harte (Rebel Force Head Controller), Norman Chancer (Other Rebel Officer), Norwich Duff (Other Rebel Officer), Ray Hassett (Other Rebel Officer), Brigitte Kahn (Other Rebel Officer), Burnell Tucker (Other Rebel Officer).

Luke Skywalker (Hamill), Han Solo (Ford), Princess Leia (Fisher) and Chewbacca (Mayhew) face attack by the Imperial forces and its AT-AT walkers on the ice planet Hoth. While Han and Leia escape in the Millennium Falcon, Luke travels to Dagobah in search of Yoda. Only with the Jedi Master’s help will Luke survive when the Dark Side of the Force beckons him into the ultimate duel with Darth Vader (Prowse/Jones). The sequel to STAR WARS was confirmation we were now into a full blown series – this one listed as Episode V. Being the middle film in the first trilogy the film gains by the reduced need for character and background set-up and loses in the lack of closure. However, as a cinema experience it was, and still is, exhilarating. The action sequences are superbly edited and imaginatively handled. The story has a darker tone with its portent around the dark side of the force and the relationship between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker and the finale is truly memorable. Williams’ majestic score drives the action along and Hamill, Ford and Fisher pick up where they left off. The developing relationship between Ford’s Han Solo and Fisher’s princess Leia gives the story an emotional edge and the introduction of Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian adds another memorable character to the roster. The muppetry with Jedi Master Yoda and a cameo from Guinness keep the mysticism at a high level only hinted at in the first film. A true fantasy classic. Special edition with new effects runs 127m. Original title: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Followed by STAR WARS: EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983).

AA: Best Sound (Bill Varney, Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker, Peter Sutton); Visual Effects (Brian Johnson, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, Bruce Nicholson)

AAN: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley, Harry Lange, Alan Tomkins, Michael Ford); Best Music, Original Score (John Williams)

Book Review – A SONG FOR THE DARK TIMES (2020) by Ian Rankin

A SONG FOR THE DARK TIMES (2020) ****
by Ian Rankin
First published by Orion 2020, 325pp
ISBN: 978-1-4091-7697-8
© John Rebus, Ltd., 2020
    Blurb: When his daughter Samantha calls in the dead of night, John Rebus knows it’s not good news. Her husband has been missing for two days. Rebus fears the worst – and knows from his lifetime in the police that his daughter will be the prime suspect. He wasn’t the best father – the job always came first – but now his daughter needs him more than ever. But is he going as a father or a detective? As he leaves at dawn to drive to the windswept coast – and a small town with big secrets – he wonders whether this might be the first time in his life where the truth is the one thing he doesn’t want to find…
      Comment: As has become common-place with the Rebus-in-retirement books, Rankin juggles two separate cases, in which there is hinted a connection. The first involves Rebus trying to clear his daughter’s name when her husband is found murdered, the second sees Siobhan Clark and Malcolm Fox investigating the murder of a socialite in Edinburgh. The connection is a land deal proposed for a golfing holiday site near the north west coastal village where Rebus’s daughter Samantha lives with her own young daughter. A number of other elements are woven into the story. Rebus has moved to a ground floor flat due to his respiratory condition; gangster Cafferty has a hold over the Assistant Chief Constable when he comes across photos of her husband in an affair. Cafferty is also dealing with the prospect of his empire coming to an end and the book closes with some uncertainty on this. The two central mysteries are played out in familiar fashion and offer nothing really new beyond the background of a  WWII POW camp that was being studied by Samantha’s husband. The real delight, as ever, is in the familiar characters and their interactions. Rebus is at his abrasive best as he tussles with the local police. Clark and Fox’s working relationship continues to be tainted by their mistrust of each other. Cafferty is portrayed as an increasingly lonely figure relying on his past reputation. The page count is relatively and refreshingly brief, leading to an efficiently told story. There is still more to be said in this series and I look forward greatly to see where Rankin takes his characters next.

The Rebus Series:
Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
Hide and Seek (1991) ***
Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
Strip Jack (1992) ***½
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
A Song for the Dark Times (2020) ****

Film Review – STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE (1977)

Star Wars (Star Wars: A New Hope) (1977) - Movie Review / Film EssaySTAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE (1977, USA) *****
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
dist. 20th Century Fox; pr co. Lucasfilm / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; d. George Lucas; w. George Lucas; exec pr. George Lucas; pr. Gary Kurtz, Rick McCallum; ass pr. James Nelson (uncredited); ph. Gilbert Taylor (Technicolor. 35mm. Digital Intermediate (4K) (2019 remaster), Dolby Vision, Panavision (anamorphic), VistaVision (special effects). 2.39:1); m. John Williams; m sup. ; ed. Richard Chew, Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas; pd. John Barry; ad. Leslie Dilley, Norman Reynolds; set d. Roger Christian; cos. John Mollo; m/up. Stuart Freeborn; sd. Sam F. Shaw (70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints) | Dolby (35 mm prints)); sfx. John Stears; vfx. John Dykstra, Dave Carson, John Knoll, Alex Seiden, Joe Letteri, Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams; st. Peter Diamond; rel. 25 May 1977 (USA), 27 December 1977 (UK); cert: U; r/t. 121m.

cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia Organa), Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin), Alec Guinness (Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), David Prowse (Darth Vader), James Earl Jones (Darth Vader (voice)), Phil Brown (Uncle Owen), Shelagh Fraser (Aunt Beru), Jack Purvis (Chief Jawa), Alex McCrindle (General Dodonna), Eddie Byrne (General Willard), Drewe Henley (Red Leader), Denis Lawson (Red Two (Wedge)), Garrick Hagon (Red Three (Biggs)), Jack Klaff (Red Four (John D.)), William Hootkins (Red Six (Porkins)), Angus MacInnes (Gold Leader), Jeremy Sinden (Gold Two), Graham Ashley (Gold Five), Don Henderson (General Taggi), Richard LeParmentier (General Motti), Leslie Schofield (Commander #1).

The Imperial Forces, under orders from cruel Darth Vader (Prowse/Jones), hold Princess Leia (Fisher) hostage in their efforts to quell the rebellion against the Galactic Empire. Luke Skywalker (Hamill) and Han Solo (Ford), captain of the Millennium Falcon, work together with the companionable droid duo R2-D2 and C-3PO (Daniels) to rescue the beautiful princess, help the Rebel Alliance and restore freedom and justice to the Galaxy. It is hard to believe today in this world of blockbuster CGI driven epics, the impact the original STAR WARS had on release in 1977. Driven by a fast-paced pulpy script, superbly edited with its scene transitions ensuring the story keeps moving. It made a star of Ford as the cynical Han Solo and introduced characters that would pass into cinema folklore. The well-choreographed action sequences, great visual effects, detailed model work and imaginative realisation of alien landscapes and worlds were spectacular for the time. Influences ranged from the western to samurai films and swashbucklers. The effects industry may have moved on, but the heart and sheer exuberance of this story have rarely been equalled since. The special edition with new effects runs 125m. Original title: STAR WARS. Followed by the equally superb STAR WARS: EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980).

AA: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (John Barry, Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley, Roger Christian); Best Costume Design (John Mollo); Best Sound (Don MacDougall, Ray West, Bob Minkler, Derek Ball) Best Film Editing (Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas, Richard Chew); Best Effects, Visual Effects (John Stears, John Dykstra, Richard Edlund, Grant McCune, Robert Blalack); Best Music, Original Score (John Williams); Special Achievement sound effects. (For the creation of the alien, creature and robot voices.) (Ben Burtt)

AAN: Best Picture (Gary Kurtz); Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Alec Guinness); Best Director (George Lucas); Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (George Lucas)

Film Review – THUNDERBALL (1965)

Thunderball (1965) Review - The Action EliteTHUNDERBALL (1965, UK) ****
Action, Adventure, Thriller
dist. United Artists Corporation; pr co. Eon Productions; d. Terence Young; w. Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins (based on a story by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and Ian Fleming and an original screenplay by Jack Whittingham); exec pr. Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman (each uncredited); pr. Kevin McClory; ass pr. Stanley Sopel (uncredited); ph. Ted Moore (Technicolor. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. John Barry; ed. Ernest Hosler; pd. Ken Adam; ad. Peter Murton; set d. Peter Lamont (uncredited); cos. Anthony Mendleson; m/up. Basil Newall, Paul Rabiger; sd. Maurice Askew, Bert Ross, Eileen Warwick (Mono (Westrex Recording System)); sfx. John Stears; vfx. Roy Field (uncredited); st. Yvan Chiffre; rel. 21 December 1965 (USA), 29 December 1965 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 130m.

cast: Sean Connery (James Bond), Claudine Auger (Dominique ‘Domino’ Derval), Adolfo Celi (Emilio Largo), Luciana Paluzzi (Fiona Volpe), Rik Van Nutter (Felix Leiter), Guy Doleman (Count Lippe), Molly Peters (Patricia Fearing), Martine Beswick (Paula Caplan), Bernard Lee (‘M’), Desmond Llewelyn (‘Q’), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Roland Culver (Home Secretary), Earl Cameron (Pinder Romania), Paul Stassino (Angelo Palazzi / Major François Duval), Rose Alba (Madame Bouvar), Philip Locke (Vargas), George Pravda (Pofessor Ladislaw Kutze), Michael Brennan (Janni), Leonard Sachs (Group Captain Pritchard), Edward Underdown (SIr John – Air Marshal), Reginald Beckwith (Kenniston), Harold Sanderson (Hydrofoil Captain).

When a British Vulcan bomber is stolen with two atomic bombs on board. S.P.E.C.T.R.E. announce that they have the plane and will detonate the bombs unless one hundred million dollars worth of uncut diamonds are delivered. James Bond (Connery) tracks the plane down to the Bahamas but still has to deal with the deadly Emilio Largo (Celi). This was the biggest Bond film of the 1960s and is one of the best. Connery is at the height of his game here and the story has a scale that is larger than any of the previous entries. The underwater sequences may tend toward the slow side, but on the whole the story moves along at a good clip and is well edited. The humour is more evident, but it is still kept in check. Paluzzi is one of the best Bond villainesses and her verbal and literal tussles with Connery are memorable. The Bahamas are well photographed, and the underwater staging is handled with skill by second unit director Ricou Browning. Followed by YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967). Remade with Connery as NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983).

AA: Best Effects, Special Visual Effects (John Stears).

Film Review – HALLOWEEN II (1981)

Halloween II is Better Than the Original & Here's Why | Horror Obsessive |  Film ReviewHALLOWEEN II (1981, USA) ***
Horror, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Columbia-EMI-Warner (UK); pr co. De Laurentiis / Universal Pictures; d. Rick Rosenthal; w. John Carpenter, Debra Hill; exec pr. Joseph Wolf, Irwin Yablans, Moustapha Akkad (uncredited), Dino De Laurentiis (uncredited); pr. John Carpenter, Debra Hill; ass pr. Barry Bernardi; ph. Dean Cundey (Metrocolor. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.35:1); m. John Carpenter, Alan Howarth; ed. Mark Goldblatt, Skip Schoolnik; pd. J. Michael Riva; set d. Peg Cummings; cos. Jane Ruhm; m/up. John Chambers, Michael Germain, Frankie Bergman; sd. David Lewis Yewdall (Dolby Stereo); sfx. Lawrence J. Cavanaugh; vfx. Sam Nicholson (uncredited); st. Dick Warlock; rel. 30 October 1981 (USA), 25 February 1982 (UK); cert: 18; r/t. 92m.

cast: Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Donald Pleasence (Sam Loomis), Charles Cyphers (Leigh Brackett), Jeffrey Kramer (Graham), Lance Guest (Jimmy), Pamela Susan Shoop (Karen), Hunter von Leer (Gary Hunt), Dick Warlock (The Shape / Patrolman #3), Leo Rossi (Budd), Gloria Gifford (Mrs. Alves), Tawny Moyer (Jill), Ana Alicia (Janet), Ford Rainey (Dr. Mixter), Cliff Emmich (Mr. Garrett), Nancy Stephens (Marion), John Zenda (Marshall), Catherine Bergstrom (Producer), Alan Haufrect (Announcer), Lucille Benson (Mrs. Elrod), Howard Culver (Man in Pajamas).

After Doctor Samuel Loomis (Pleasence) shoots Michael Myers six Times and falls off a balcony. Michael escapes and continues his massacre in Haddonfield, Laurie (Curtis) is also sent to the Hospital and Dr Loomis gathers a group of police officers to hunt down Michael and put an end to his murderous rampage. This sequel is a more formulaic and bloody continuation but makes effective use of the almost empty hospital setting. Curtis gives a much more physical performance here, requiring little dialogue, whilst Pleasence manically tries to convince others that Myers lives on despite the number of bullets he has put in him. The most effective moments are those that mirror set-pieces from the classy original, which emphasises the film’s weakness in that it has nothing new to offer and merely feels like an extension of the first movie. Followed by the unrelated HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982). The true sequels picked up with HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988), HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1989), HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995), HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER (1998), HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (2002), HALLOWEEN (2018) and HALLOWEEN KILLS (2021). The film was also remade by Rob Zombie in 2009.