Earthquake (1974; USA; Technicolor; 123m) **½ d. Mark Robson; w. George Fox, Mario Puzo; ph. Philip H. Lathrop; m. John Williams. Cast: Charlton Heston, George Kennedy, Richard Roundtree, Lloyd Nolan, Walter Matthau, Ava Gardner, Genevieve Bujold, Lorne Greene, Marjoe Gortner, Barry Sullivan, Victoria Principal, Monica Lewis, Gabriel Dell, Pedro Armendariz Jr., Lloyd Gough. Various stories of various people as an earthquake of un-imagineable magnitude hits Los Angeles. A triumph of special effects over characterisation and plot. Heston plays the square-jawed hero in his usual style. Performances are variable with Gardner and Gortner particularly guilty of hamming up their roles. The finale lacks any real resolution. Oscar winner for Best Sound (Ronald Pierce, Melvin M. Metcalfe Sr.) and Special Achievement Award for visual effects (Frank Brendel, Glen Robinson, Albert Whitlock). Additional footage shot for 160m TV version. [PG]
Towering Inferno, The (1974; USA; DeLuxe; 165m) **** d. John Guillermin; w. Stirling Silliphant; ph. Fred J. Koenekamp; m. John Williams. Cast: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain, Susan Blakely, Jennifer Jones, Robert Wagner, Robert Vaughn, O.J. Simpson, Susan Flannery, Sheila Allen, Jack Collins, Norman Burton. At the opening party of a collosal, but poorly constructed, office building, a massive fire breaks out that threatens to destroy the tower and everyone in it. Along with producer Irwin Allen’s THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, this is the best example of the 1970s disaster genre. A stellar cast – notably Newman and McQueen – adds considerably to the familiar elements. Top-class production values and excellent score by Williams. Won Oscars for Best Cinematography; Film Editing and Original Song (Al Kasha, Joel Hirschhorn for the song “We May Never Love Like This Again”). Jennifer Jones’s final film. Based on the novels “The Tower” by Richard Martin Stern and “The Glass Inferno” by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. [PG]
Time Machine, The (1960; USA; Metrocolor; 103m) **** d. George Pal; w. David Duncan; ph. Paul Vogel; m. Russell Garcia. Cast: Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux, Alan Young, Sebastian Cabot, Tom Helmore, Whit Bissell, Doris Lloyd, Paul Frees, Bob Barran, Josephine Powell, James Skelly. A Victorian Englishman travels to the far future and finds that humanity has divided into two hostile species. Definitive version has great production values, a strong central performance from Taylor and the nightmarish ultimate evolution in the Morlocks. Works as a prophetic tale of the impact of man’s need for eternal conflict through imaginative vignettes. Dramatic score by Garcia adds to the atmosphere. Won an Oscar for Special Effects (Gene Warren, Tim Baar). Remade in 1978 (for TV) and 2002. [PG]
NOTHING SHORT OF DYING by ERIK STOREY (2016, Simon & Schuster, 314pp) ***
Blurb: Sixteen years. That’s how long Clyde Barr has been away from Colorado’s thick forests, alpine deserts, and craggy peaks, running from a past filled with haunting memories. But now he’s back, having roamed across three continents as a hunter, adventurer, soldier of fortune, and most recently, unjustly imprisoned convict. And once again, his past is reaching out to claim him. By the light of a flickering campfire, Clyde receives a frantic phone call from his sister Jen. No sooner has she pleaded with him to come rescue her than the line goes dead. Clyde doesn’t know how much time he has, or where Jen is located, or even who has her. All he knows is that nothing short of dying will stop him from saving her. Joining Clyde in his against-all-odds quest is a young woman named Allie whose motivations for running this gauntlet are fascinatingly complex. As the duo races against the clock, it is Allie who gets Clyde to see what he has become and what he can still be.
Erik Storey’s debut novel is an assured riff on the loner action hero popularised by Lee Child and Vince Flynn. Where Clyde Barr is different is that he has a family of sisters, one of whom experienced with him abuse as a child by a succession of their mother’s men, giving him a personal stake in the story. The plot here is a basic kidnap plot serving to introduce a character to an audience Storey hopes will invest in through a series (a taster for the follow-up, A Promise to Kill, is included in this paperback edition). Here Storey succeeds admirably making Barr a seemingly more human hero than say Child’s Jack Reacher, if no less indestructable. The violent action scenes are also well-written and there is a good establishing relationship between Barr and saloon girl, Allie, who he falls for. Whilst Allie’s willingness to accompany Barr plays a little conveniently as a device to give Barr someone to worry about, it does allow for some good character interplay. The psychotic Zeke, who Barr enlists for help, is a little too caricatured and the villains are your typical violent and charmless drug dealing thugs. We even get the Feds in the black SUVs. The resolution is straight-forward and there are no twists or stings in the tail. As an action thriller it works well and is a cinfident debut. It will be interesting to see whether Storey can add depth and variation to the formula going forward.
Well, after months of silence on this project, director Tim Story has given some clues as to the tone of the upcoming Shaft reboot. Story was interviewed at Showtime’s Television Critics Association party (reported by SlashFilm.com) where he said, “My Shaft movie is going to be definitely not straight action. We’re going action-comedy or comedy-action, I’m not exactly sure which one comes first. We’re going to definitely make sure the stakes in the world are real, and then you’ve got these characters who are dealing with kind of a father/son situation, we’re going to see them put a family back together.”
Story goes on to say, “We’re still paying an homage to the original, so [Shaft] still means what it means. At the end of the day though, it does mean just a strong figure. We also have Shaft’s son’s mom in it as well. She’s a strong figure as well. It’s not even specific to the male. It’s specific to just strong people.”
This news is not what fans of Ernest Tidyman’s creation were wanting to hear. David F Walker showed how the character could be made relevant again to a modern audience with his comic book series, Shaft: A Complicated Man, which in my view would have made for a great movie adaptation to re-introduce a cultural icon. What it seems like we’re going to get instead is something that is perceived to be more acceptable to an undemanding movie-going public, trading off a brand name.
Whatever it turns out to be, I hold no confidence it will be add anything positive to the Shaft legacy.
Sideways (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. 
Shirley 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. 
Wild Bunch, The (1969; USA; Technicolor; 145m) ****½ d. Sam Peckinpah; w. Walon Green, Sam Peckinpah, Roy N. Sickner; ph. Lucien Ballard; m. Jerry Fielding. Cast: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Strother Martin, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Jaime Sanchez, L.Q. Jones, Emilio Fernandez, Albert Dekker, Bo Hopkins, Dub Taylor, Paul Harper, Jorge Russek. An aging group of outlaws look for one last big score as the “traditional” American West is disappearing around them. Ultra-violent statement from Peckinpah symbolising the passing of the Old West and the introduction of modern warfare. Immaculately shot and edited with a percussive doom-laden score by Fielding. Veterans Holden and Ryan in particular are superb and are well supported by a strong stalwart cast. Opening and closing shootouts are brutal.