Film Review – DOWNTON ABBEY (2019)

Image result for downton abbey 2019DOWNTON ABBEY (UK, 2019) ***
      Distributor: Universal Pictures International (UPI) (UK), Focus Features (USA); Production Company: Carnival Film & Television / Focus Features / Perfect World Pictures; Release Date: 13 September 2019 (UK), 20 September 2019 (USA); Filming Dates: began 10 September 2018; Running Time: 122m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: Digital (Digital Cinema Package DCP); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: PG – mild threat, language.
      Director: Michael Engler; Writer: Julian Fellowes (based on characters created by Julian Fellowes); Executive Producer: Nigel Marchant, Brian Percival; Producer: Julian Fellowes, Gareth Neame, Liz Trubridge; Director of Photography: Ben Smithard; Music Composer: John Lunn; Film Editor: Mark Day; Casting Director: Jill Trevellick; Production Designer: Donal Woods; Art Director: Mark Kebby; Set Decorator: Gina Cromwell; Costumes: Anna Robbins; Make-up: Elaine Browne; Sound: David Lascelles.
      Cast: Matthew Goode (Henry Talbot), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Talbot), Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates), Maggie Smith (Violet Crawley), Tuppence Middleton (Lucy Smith), Elizabeth McGovern (Cora Crawley), Imelda Staunton (Maud Bagshaw), Stephen Campbell Moore (Captain Chetwode), Geraldine James (Queen Mary), Allen Leech (Tom Branson), Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith), Sophie McShera (Daisy Mason), Mark Addy (Mr. Bakewell), Kate Phillips (Princess Mary), Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham), Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes), Raquel Cassidy (Miss Baxter), Susan Lynch (Miss Lawton), Robert James-Collier (Thomas Barrow), Jim Carter (Mr. Carson), Penelope Wilton (Isobel Merton), Brendan Coyle (Mr. Bates), Max Brown (Richard Ellis), Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore), David Haig (Mr Wilson), Kevin Doyle (Mr. Molesley), Perry Fitzpatrick (Chris Webster), Harry Hadden-Paton (Bertie Hexham), Simon Jones (King George V), Michael Fox (Andy Parker), Philippe Spall (Monsieur Courbet), James Cartwright (Tony Sellick), Douglas Reith (Lord Merton).
      Synopsis: An aristocratic family and their staff have to prepare for an unexpected visit from the King and Queen.
      Comment: Fans of the TV series, which ran for six seasons, will no doubt love this big-screen adaptation. Casual viewers may get lost in the abundance of characters, well played by the ensemble cast, and their carry over backstories. The story itself is slight, based around the tensions caused by the Royal visit to the household. There are nods at the Irish hatred toward the crown and the underground gay movement, but these are not fully explored. Instead, the writer and director focus on the inter-relationships between the main characters. Sumptuously designed, it’s all very civilised and often witty, but the lack of substance means this will only really have any lasting legacy with its sizeable fan base.

Film Review – BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE (1958)

      Distributor: Columbia Pictures; Production Company: Producers-Actors Corporation / Scott-Brown Productions ; Release Date: 6 August 1958 (USA), December 1958 (UK); Filming Dates: 4 February 1958–27 February 1958; Running Time: 78m; Colour: ColumbiaColor; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: U.
      Director: Budd Boetticher; Writer: Charles Lang (based on the novel “The Name’s Buchanan” by Jonas Ward); Producer: Harry Joe Brown; Associate Producer: Randolph Scott; Director of Photography: Lucien Ballard; Music Composer: Stock (Mischa Bakaleinikoff, George Duning, Heinz Roemheld, Paul Sawtell); Film Editor: Al Clark; Art Director: Robert F. Boyle; Set Decorator: Frank Tuttle; Costumes: Bucky Rous; Make-up: Al Greenway (uncredited); Sound: John P. Livadary.
      Cast: Randolph Scott (Tom Buchanan), Craig Stevens (Abe Carbo), Barry Kelley (Lew Agry), Tol Avery (Judge Simon Agry), Peter Whitney (Amos Agry), Manuel Rojas (Juan de la Vega), L.Q. Jones (Pecos Hill), Robert Anderson (Waldo Peck), Joe De Santis (Esteban Gomez), William Leslie (Roy Agry), Jennifer Holden (K.T.), Nacho Galindo (Nacho).
      Synopsis: A Texan heading back home with enough money to start his own ranch stops in the crooked town of Agry, where he’s robbed and framed for murder.
      Comment: Whilst this is one of the lesser of  Scott and Boetticher’s seven Western collaborations in the late 1950s, it is economically told and entertaining. The main problem is with the tone, which veers uneasily from tongue-in-cheek to melodrama with an eccentric cast of characters – notably the Agry brothers who run the town. Avery gives the strongest performance as the elder of the brothers, a judge looking to become senator but unable to resist holding a wealthy Mexican rancher’s son as hostage for money. Scott is tangled in the crossfire between the Agrys and looks on bemused at the absurdity surrounding him. Burt Kennedy ghosted on the script and his economic prose keeps the plot moving along nicely.

Film Review – TERMINATOR: DARK FATE (2019)

Image result for terminator dark fate posterTERMINATOR: DARK FATE (USA/China, 2019) **
      Distributor: Paramount Pictures (USA), 20th Century Fox (UK); Production Company: Paramount Pictures / Twentieth Century Fox / Skydance Media / Lightstorm Entertainment; Release Date: 23 October 2019 (UK), 1 November 2019 (USA); Filming Dates: 29 May 2018 – 17 November 2018; Running Time: 128m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Atmos | Dolby Digital; Film Format: D-Cinema; Film Process: ARRIRAW (4.5K) (source format), Cineovision (anamorphic) (source format), Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), J-D-C Scope (anamorphic) (source format), Master Scope (anamorphic) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 15 – strong violence, bloody images, language.
      Director: Tim Miller; Writer: David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray (based on a story by James Cameron, Charles H. Eglee, Josh Friedman, David S. Goyer and Justin Rhodes and characters created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd); Executive Producer: Edward Cheng, Bonnie Curtis, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger, John J. Kelly, Julie Lynn; Producer: James Cameron, David Ellison; Director of Photography: Ken Seng; Music Composer: Junkie XL; Film Editor: Julian Clarke; Casting Director: Mindy Marin, Lucinda Syson; Production Designer: Sonja Klaus; Art Director: Lucienne Suren; Set Decorator: Mike Britton; Costumes: Ngila Dickson; Make-up: Dennis Liddiard, Brian Sipe, Bill Corso; Sound: Stephen Brown, Tim Gomillion, Tamás Bohács; Special Effects: Neil Corbould, Aaron Cox, Pau Costa; Visual Effects: Lisa Beroud, Thomas Boland, Lenka Likarova, Samantha Finkler Brainerd, Daniel Booty, David Fox, Matthew Dravitzki.
      Cast: Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Arnold Schwarzenegger (T-800 / Carl), Mackenzie Davis (Grace), Natalia Reyes (Dani Ramos), Gabriel Luna (Gabriel / REV-9), Diego Boneta (Diego Ramos), Ferran Fernández (Flacco), Tristán Ulloa (Felipe Gandal), Tomás Álvarez (Lucas / Floor Guard (as Tomy Alvarez)), Tom Hopper (William Hadrell), Alicia Borrachero (Alicia), Enrique Arce (Vicente), Manuel Pacific (Mateo), Fraser James (Major Dean), Pedro Rudolphi (Cholo), Diego Marínez (Cesar Mateo), Kevin Medina (Pepito), Steven Cree (Rigby), Matt Devere (US Border Riot & Locker Officer), Karen Gagnon (AFB Operator).
      Synopsis: Sarah Connor and a hybrid cyborg human must protect a young girl from a newly modified liquid Terminator from the future.
      Comment: Pointless sixth and probably final entry in the TERMINATOR franchise basically rehashes elements from earlier series entries. It is the laziest of blockbusters where all the money goes to the technicians to polish the visuals and none to the script to polish the story. The plot is a hackneyed riff on the original story, but here lacking the wit and originality of that ground-breaking movie. Stilted dialogue and numerous action-movie clichés undermine the hefty action sequences, which ultimately dull the senses through their cartoon-like realisation and heavy reliance on CGI visual effects. The movie pretends to have a heart, but it comes across as contrived rather than organic from within the characters. Hamilton returns as Sarah Connor and delivers a one-note performance. Arnie has one or two funny lines but otherwise is handed over to the stuntmen and vfx technicians. Davis and Reyes try hard to inject some life into their characters but are given some truly awful dialogue to work with. A big disappointment that will only please those with an addiction to video game-like violence. Anyone looking for a modicum of intelligence would be better looking elsewhere or revisiting the original.

Film Review – DECISION AT SUNDOWN (1957)

      Distributor: Columbia Pictures; Production Company: Columbia Pictures Corporation / Scott-Brown Productions; Release Date: 10 November 1957 (USA), January 1958 (UK); Filming Dates: 1 April 1957–24 April 1957; Running Time: 77m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Budd Boetticher; Writer: Charles Lang (based on a story by Vernon L. Fluharty); Producer: Harry Joe Brown; Associate Producer: Randolph Scott; Director of Photography: Burnett Guffey; Music Composer: Heinz Roemheld; Film Editor: Al Clark; Art Director: Robert Peterson; Set Decorator: Frank Tuttle; Costumes: Harvey Gerhard, Iva Walters (both uncredited); Make-up: Lee Greenway, Bob Mieding (both uncredited); Sound: John P. Livadary, Jean G. Valentino.
      Cast: Randolph Scott (Bart Allison), John Carroll (Tate Kimbrough), Karen Steele (Lucy Summerton), Valerie French (Ruby James), Noah Beery Jr. (Sam (as Noah Beery)), John Archer (Dr. John Storrow), Andrew Duggan (Sheriff Swede Hansen), James Westerfield (Otis), John Litel (Charles Summerton), Ray Teal (Morley Chase), Vaughn Taylor (Mr. Baldwin), Richard Deacon (Reverend Zaron), H.M. Wynant (Spanish).
      Synopsis: Scott and his sidekick arrive in the town of Sundown on the wedding day of the town boss, whom the Scott blames for his wife’s death years earlier.
      Comment: Well-made Western where all the characters are shades of grey. Scott delivers one of his best performances as an angst-ridden ex-civil war vet out for revenge on Carroll, who he believes drove his wife to suicide. Duggan is the town Sheriff, who is in Carroll’s pocket and Steele is the girl Carroll is about to marry, much to the annoyance of mistress French. The story is initially conventional in its straight-forward revenge plot, but once the siege is underway, the plot navigates several unexpected twists and turns leading the characters to re-evaluate themselves. A bold and strong script, with occasional contrivances, challenges standard Western conventions. Third of seven superior Westerns Scott and Boetticher made together.

Book Review – THE SHAMELESS (2019) by Ace Atkins

THE SHAMELESS (2019) ***½
by Ace Atkins
This paperback edition published by Corsair, 2020, 446pp
First published in hardcover by Corsair, 2019
© Ace Atkins, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-4721-5500-9
The Shameless (Quinn Colson Book 9) by [Atkins, Ace]      Blurb: Twenty years ago, teenager Brandon Taylor walked into the Big Woods north of Tibbehah County, Mississippi, and never returned. For former Army Ranger-turned-sheriff Quinn Colson, the Taylor case has a particular meaning. As a ten-year-old, Colson had been lost in those same woods and came back from them alive and a local legend. Years later, bones of a child are found in the woods, confirming for many the end to the Taylor story. As the case reopens, some point fingers to Quinn’s uncle, the former sheriff, who took his own life in a cloud of corruption and shame. Still, Quinn’s wife, Maggie, can’t believe it. As a childhood friend of the Taylor boy, she thinks there’s a darker conspiracy at work. Letters she receives from a mysterious inmate at a Tennessee state pen may hold the answers. With a heated election for governor on the horizon and the strengthening of a criminal syndicate’s death grip on the state, Quinn’s search for answers will upset the corruption that’s plagued his home since before he came back from Afghanistan. Greed, false piety, power, bigotry, and dirty deals make for a dangerous mix he knows all too well.
      Comment: Number 9 in the Sheriff Quinn Colson series takes Ace Atkins’ hero into a cold case that hits close to home. It’s a slow-burning story, built around two New York reporters arriving in Tibbehah County to investigate what really happened to a teenager who allegedly killed himself in the woods. Again the characters are rich and the dialogue superb. Those who have been with the series from the start and seen how it has developed will consider this book a crossroads in a story arc that has built throughout, with its cliffhanger ending and some major shifts for most of the characters. What it lacks in action (a hitherto pre-requisite of the series) it makes up for in plot progression. Quinn, newly married to Maggie is up against forces that would have him removed from office, sister Caddy takes up with a man affiliated to those forces, Fannie Hathcock looks to broaden her criminal empire and battle those who would oppose her, Boom struggles with alcoholism following events from the previous book, THE SINNERS. Many of these plot threads remain unresolved by the book’s conclusion, giving it the feel of a transitionary novel with its lack of closure potentially leaving readers unfulfilled. Casual readers would, therefore, be advised to start from the beginning with THE RANGER, to get acquainted with the core characters, their back-story and the setting. They will be rewarded with a series that has matured with each book and leaves you wanting more.

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) ***½
The Shameless (2019) ***½

Film Review – RIDE LONESOME (1959)

Image result for ride lonesome 1959RIDE LONESOME (USA, 1959) ****
      Distributor: Columbia Pictures; Production Company: Columbia Pictures Corporation / Ranown Pictures Corp.; Release Date: 15 February 1959; Filming Dates: began 14 August 1958 – 28 August 1958; Running Time: 73m; Colour: Eastmancolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: CinemaScope; Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: U.
      Director: Budd Boetticher; Writer: Burt Kennedy; Executive Producer: Harry Joe Brown; Producer: Budd Boetticher, Randolph Scott; Director of Photography: Charles Lawton Jr.; Music Composer: Heinz Roemheld; Film Editor: Jerome Thoms; Art Director: Robert Peterson; Set Decorator: Frank Tuttle; Costumes: Ed Ware; Make-up: Al Greenway, Dave Grayson, Maybelle Carey; Sound: Harry D. Mills.
       Cast: Randolph Scott (Ben Brigade), Karen Steele (Mrs. Carrie Lane), Pernell Roberts (Sam Boone), James Best (Billy John), Lee Van Cleef (Frank), James Coburn (Whit), Bennie E. Dobbins (Outlaw), Roy Jenson (Outlaw), Dyke Johnson (Charlie), Boyd ‘Red’ Morgan (Outlaw), Boyd Stockman (Indian Chief).
       Synopsis: A wanted murderer, Billy John, is captured by Ben Brigade, a bounty hunter, who intends to take him to Santa Cruz to be hanged.
       Comment: Many regard this as the best of the Scott/Boetticher Westerns and it is certainly a strong vehicle. Kennedy’s lean script presents another battle of wills with Scott playing the silent bounty hunter with an ulterior motive around his prisoner, Best. Great support from Roberts, Best, Coburn (on debut) and Steele as a party thrown together and having to fend off attacks from Indians and Best’s outlaw brother (Van Cleef). The character layers are again what makes this story stand out from the crowded 1950s arena for the Western. Scott is at his stoic best toward the end of his career.

Film Review – THE TALL T (1957)

Image result for the tall t 1957THE TALL T (USA, 1957) ****
      Distributor: Columbia Pictures; Production Company: Producers-Actors Corporation / Scott-Brown Productions; Release Date: 1 April 1957 (USA), June 1957 (UK); Filming Dates: 20 July–8 August 1956; Running Time: 78m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Budd Boetticher; Writer: Burt Kennedy (based on the story “The Captive” by Elmore Leonard); Producer: Harry Joe Brown; Associate Producer: Randolph Scott; Director of Photography: Charles Lawton Jr.; Music Composer: Heinz Roemheld; Film Editor: Al Clark; Casting Director: Art Director: George Brooks; Set Decorator: Frank Tuttle.
      Cast: Randolph Scott (Pat Brennan), Richard Boone (Frank Usher), Maureen O’Sullivan (Doretta Mims), Arthur Hunnicutt (Ed Rintoon), Skip Homeier (Billy Jack), Henry Silva (Chink), John Hubbard (Willard Mims), Robert Burton (Tenvoorde), Robert Anderson (Jace), Dick Johnstone (Townsman), Ann Kunde (Townswoman), Christopher Olsen (Jeff), Fred Sherman (Hank Parker).
      Synopsis: Having lost his horse in a bet, Pat Brennan hitches a ride with a stagecoach carrying newlyweds, Willard and Doretta Mims. At the next station the coach and its passengers fall into the hands of a trio of outlaws headed by a man named Usher.
      Comment: A strong Western typical of the output from Scott and director Boetticher. The humour of the story’s first act gives way to psychological drama once Scott and O’Sullivan are taken hostage by Boone, Silva and Homeier. What sets this tale apart from many other Westerns with similar themes is the complexity of the chief villain, Boone and the empathy he builds with Scott despite the prisoner/captor relationship. This creates an additional edge to the drama and the inevitable showdown finale. Tightly scripted by Kennedy from a story by Elmore Leonard (the first adaptation of his work) and set in a sparse rocky landscape, this is one the strongest entries in Scott’s filmography.


Image result for doctor who the timeless childrenDOCTOR WHO: ASCENSION OF THE CYBERMEN/THE TIMELESS CHILDREN (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 23 February & 1 March 2020; Running Time: 115m (1 x 50m & 1 x 65m); Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Jamie Magnus Stone; Writer: Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Sam Heasman; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Rebecca Trotman; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Harry Barnes; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
      Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Sacha Dhawan (The Master), Jo Martin (The Doctor), Patrick O’Kane (Ashad), Ian McElhinney (Ko Sharmus), Julie Graham (Ravio), Alex Austin (Yedlarmi), Matt Carver (Ethan), Rhiannon Clements (Bescot), Seylan Baxter (Tecteun), Kirsty Besterman (Solpado), Steve Toussaint (Feekat), Rhiannon Clements (Bescot), Jack Osborn (Fuskle), Evan McCabe (Brendan), Branwell Donaghey (Patrick), Orla O’Rourke (Meg), Andrew Macklin (Michael), Paul Kasey (Judoon Captain Pol-Kon-Don), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of Cybermen & Judoon Captain), Matthew Rohman (Cyberman), Simon Carew (Cyberman), Jon Davey (Cyberman), Richard Highgate (Cyberman), Richard Price (Cyberman), Mickey Lewis (Cyberman), Matthew Doman (Cyberman), Paul Bailey (Cyberman).
      Synopsis: In the far future, the Doctor and her friends face a brutal battle across the farthest reaches of space to protect the last of the human race against the deadly Cybermen uncovering the secret of the Time Lords in the process.
     Comment: Enjoyment of this two-part finale will very much depend on the viewer’s willingness (notably die-hard fans) to buy into writer Chibnall’s re-invention of Time Lord history. The opening episode is an excellent scene-setter full of energy and drama, featuring the Cybermen on a mission to reassert their domination, with an injection of mystery surrounding the so-called “Timeless Child”. Then at the cliffhanger, the Master resurfaces along with a gateway through to a destroyed Gallifrey and we move into a second episode that will divide fandom right down the middle. Firstly, Dhawan’s take on the Master as some form of unhinged psychotic has taken the character away from the charm and subtlety established by Roger Delgado back in the 1970s, with more than a nod toward John Simm’s similarly unhinged portrayal. Dhawan’s performance is way OTT and ill-serves the character, robbing him of any real menace. Secondly, the Master’s appearance relegates the Cybermen to a mere side-show as his battle of wills with Whittaker’s Doctor in the Matrix takes centre stage. The Master’s motives are muddled and his seeming alliance with the Cybermen (mirroring that in The Five Doctors) lacks any core logic beyond the madness displayed in the character. The frenetic nature with which Chibnall tries to cram so many revelations and explanations ultimately weighs down the second episode. The story’s whole is very much less than the sum of its parts – the excitement of the first episode giving way to bafflement in the second. That said, the second episode still has its moments. Whittaker is able to stretch her range more, for the most-part dialling down the motormouth patter. The visuals are very good and each of the companions gets room to breathe. However, I can’t help feeling Chibnall has created a rod for his own back here, by trying to create his own vision and tying it with what has gone before. The result feels overly forced in its attempt to re-boot Time Lord history, leaving the viewer pondering how this will change things going forward. The likely answer is it won’t as the general premise of a time traveller fighting evil throughout the universe remains.