Film Review – BLACK SUNDAY (1977)

BLACK SUNDAY (1977, USA) ***½
Adventure, Crime, Drama, Thriller
dist. Paramount Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Paramount Pictures / Robert Evans Company; d. John Frankenheimer; w. Ernest Lehman, Kenneth Ross, Ivan Moffat (based on the novel by Thomas Harris); pr. Robert Evans; ph. John A. Alonzo (Movielab. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. John Williams; ed. Tom Rolf; ad. Walter H. Tyler; rel. 22 March 1977 (USA), 12 August 1977 (UK); cert: 15; r/t. 143m.
cast: Robert Shaw (Kabakov), Bruce Dern (Lander), Marthe Keller (Dahlia), Fritz Weaver (Sam Corley), Steven Keats (Robert Moshevsky), Bekim Fehmiu (Mohammed Fasil), Michael V. Gazzo (Muzi), William Daniels (Pugh), Walter Gotell (Colonel Riat), Victor Campos (Nageeb), Joseph Robbie (Joseph Robbie), Robert J. Wussler (Robert Wussler), Pat Summerall (Pat Summerall), Tom Brookshier (Tom Brookshier), Walter Brooke (Fowler), James Jeter (Watchman), Clyde Kusatsu (Freighter Captain), Tom McFadden (Farley), Robert Patten (Vickers), Than Wyenn (Israeli Ambassador).
Intermittently tense but overlong thriller in which Palestinian terrorists look to transport and explode a bomb in a Goodyear blimp to the stadium staging the Superbowl. Frankenheimer allows the character motivations to come to the fore, which occasionally slows the pace in the deliberate build-up. This allows Shaw, Dern and Keller to flex their acting muscles, with Dern in particular memorable as US military veteran harshly treated by the government. Well-staged action sequences are sprinkled throughout but the climax stretches narrative logic by going for big set-pieces.

Music Review – ELECTRONIC: ELECTRONIC (1991)

Electronic | Music fanart | fanart.tvELECTRONIC
ELECTRONIC (LP, Factory Records, 27 May 1991, 52:29) – score 73%

Musicians: Bernard Sumner – vocals, keyboards and programming; Johnny Marr – guitars, keyboards and programming; Neil Tennant – vocals on “The Patience of a Saint” and backing vocals on “Getting Away with It”; Chris Lowe – keyboards on “The Patience of a Saint”; Donald Johnson – drums and percussion on “Tighten Up” and “Feel Every Beat”; David Palmer – drums on “Feel Every Beat” and “Getting Away with It”; Denise Johnson – vocals on “Get the Message”; Helen Powell – oboe on “Some Distant Memory”; Andrew Robinson – additional programming.
Producer: Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr; Engineer: Owen Morris; Mastered by Tim Young; Recorded at Clear Studios, Manchester, December 1989–early 1991.

Electronic was one of the most unusual partnerships of the 90s with New Order’s Bernard Sumner teaming with Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to produce this hybrid of electronic synth and guitar based pop. The result was for the most part a success. Marr’s infectious “Shaft”-like wah-wah guitar riff coupled with Sumner’s melodic keyboard phrases on the opening “Idiot Country” demonstrate this is a marriage that can work. “Reality” is closer to Sumner’s trademark sound with its extensive programming, whilst the ebullient “Tighten Up” has more of a band feel. The Pet Shop Boys assist with “Patience of a Saint” and “Getting Away with It”, the former featuring Tennant’s lead vocals and Lowe’s lush keyboard textures and the latter (not on the original UK vinyl release) containing a longing chorus and an orchestral approach. “Gangster’s” stuttering programmed rhythms are complemented by Marr’s funky guitar rhythms whilst “Soviet” is a lush and sombre instrumental with Oriental hints and provides a nice interlude before the album’s true classic. “Get the Message” is where the elements of Sumner and Marr’s talents merge to form a wonderful blend of acoustic guitar, insistent bass, subtle synthesizers and sublime melodies, aided by Denise Johnson’s soulful backing vocals. “Try All You Want” is perhaps the least distinguished song on the album feeling a little bit by-the-numbers and “Some Distant Memory” follows suit but is helped by the warming synth motifs in its closing moments. The album finishes strongly, however, with the experimental “Feel Every Beat”, which is perhaps the most exciting track musically with its shuffling bass and piano rhythm, funky guitar and singalong chorus. The production is expansive and full of 80s echo with a pleasing dynamic range. Sumner and Marr would record two more albums as Electronic but their debut retains its distinct charm despite its sound being frozen in time.

TRACK SCORES:
1. Idiot Country (Sumner/Marr) (5:02) ****
2. Reality (Sumner/Marr) (5:39) ***
3. Tighten Up (Sumner/Marr) (4:38) ****
4. Patience of a Saint (Sumner/Marr/Tennant/Lowe) (4:11) ****
5. Getting Away with It (Sumner/Marr/Tennant) (5:14) ****
6. Gangster (Sumner/Marr) (5:24) ***
7. Soviet (Sumner/Marr) (2:00) ***
8. Get the Message (Sumner/Marr) (5:20) *****
9. Try All You Want (Sumner/Marr) (5:37) **
10. Some Distant Memory (Sumner/Marr) (4:09) ***
11. Feel Every Beat (Sumner/Marr) (5:08) *****

THE MUSIC PRESS:
NME (David Quantic): “This is a pretty 1990s sort of a record, fresh as a daisy and wearing huge new oxblood Doc Martens” (****)
Q (Phil Sutcliffe): “Its strength is in conflict … The inexorable pounding of the beatbox versus the fragile sadness of Sumner’s voice and the he’s/she’s leaving stories; the symmetry of the synthesized or sampled sounds versus the sheer blood and bone physicality of Marr’s guitar”. (*****)
Vox (Keith Cameron): “Electronic is simply a 100 per cent pure distillation of Marr and Sumner’s respective talents. The hit single ‘Get the Message’ has it in a nutshell: it breaks no new ground; it simply achieves perfection.” (*****)
All Music Guide (Ned Raggett): “Both more and less than what a partnership of Sumner and Marr would promise, Electronic’s debut has weathered time much better than might have been thought upon its release, but ultimately only half works.” (****)

Music Review – DEL AMITRI: FATAL MISTAKES (2021)

Review: Del Amitri Avoided Making 'Fatal Mistakes' On New Album - American SongwriterDEL AMITRI
FATAL MISTAKES (CD, Cooking Vinyl, 28 May 2021, 45:52) – score 76%

Musicians: Andy Alston – keyboards; Justin Currie – vocals, bass; Kris Dollimore – guitar; Iain Harvie – guitar, backing vocals; Ash Soan – drums.
Producer: Dan Austin; Mixed by Dan Austin; Mastered by Paul McGeehan; Recorded at Vada studio, March 2020.

Fatal Mistakes is the Scottish band’s seventh studio album and their first since 2002’s experimental Can You Do Me Good? It is a distinct return to the band’s roots and all the better for it. Currie’s gift for marrying wistful melodies with his characteristically cynical lyrics is in evidence right from the chirpy album opener “You Can’t Go Back” and most evident on the infectiously catchy “It’s Feelings”. Elsewhere, “Musicians and Beer” weaves around its tribal rhythm and crashing electric guitar chords; “Close Your Eyes and Think of England” lyrically deals with Brexit; “Losing the Will to Die” and “I’m So Scared of Dying” demonstrate Currie’s dark humour as he comes to terms with his own mortality; “Otherwise” is a moody and reflective ballad with warm instrumentation; and “Nation of Caners”, by far the longest song, closes the album with its insistent bouncing rhythm building in intensity along with Currie’s angry lyrics. Instrumentally the songs are largely based around Harvie and Dollimore’s neat and unobtrusive guitar work and could have fitted on any of the band’s heyday albums. The collection is remarkably concise, with all but two songs clocking in under four minutes. This does, however, give the feeling on some songs that they have ended abruptly. The production has a low-fi quality that gives the songs an organic and intimate feel. On the whole a welcome return from a band playing to its strengths.

TRACK SCORES:
1. You Can’t Go Back (Currie) (2:53) ****
2. All Hail Blind Love (Currie/Harvey) (4:04) ***
3. Musicians and Beer (Currie) (2:46) ****
4. Close Your Eyes and Think of England (Currie) (3:30) ****
5. Losing the Will to Die (Currie) (2:34) ***
6. Otherwise (Currie) (3:01) ****
7. It’s Feelings (Currie/Harvey) (2:42) *****
8. I’m so Scared of Dying (Currie) (4:27) ****
9. Mockingbird, Copy Me Now (Currie/Dollimore) (2:23) ****
10. Missing Person (Currie) (3:19) ***
11. Second Staircase (Currie) (3:00) ***
12. Lonely (Currie/Harvey) (3:28) ****
13. Nation of Caners (Currie) (7:39) ****

THE MUSIC PRESS:
Mojo (Jim Farber): “The music swings again, even if Currie’s damning viewpoint hasn’t lightened.” (****)
Classic Rock Magazine: “While long-term fans might initially be disappointed by the marked absence of the bar-room swagger of yore, repeated listens bear fruit.” (****)
Telegraph (Neil McCormick): “Del Amitri’s bracing feel-bad pop-rock won’t be for everyone, but for those of us who appreciate sweet melodies set off with sour sentiments, it is perversely good to have the old curmudgeons back.” (****)
American Songwriter (Lee Zimmerman): “Fatal Mistakes reflects a duelling perspective, one that recognizes the difficulty of maintaining a certain standard but that is determined to reach new goals. The fact that Del Amitri succeed as well as they do is a testament to both their confidence and their talent.” (***½)

TV Review – INNOCENT (SERIES 2) (2021)

INNOCENT (Series 2) (2021, UK) **
Crime, Drama, Mystery

pr co. TXTV; net. ITV – Independent Television (UK); pr. Jeremy Gwilt; d. Tracey Larcombe ; w. Chris Lang (series created by Matthew Arlidge, Chris Lang) ; ph. Ian Moss (Colour. 1.78:1); m. Samuel Sim; ed. Matthew Tabern; pd. Kieran McNulty; ad. Irina Kuksova; b/cast. 17-20 May 2021; r/t. 4 x 45m.

Cast: Katherine Kelly (Sally Wright), Jamie Bamber (Sam Wright), Shaun Dooley (DCI Mike Braithwaite), Priyanga Burford (Karen), Laura Rollins (Paine) Andrew Tiernan (John Taylor), Lucy Black (Maria Taylor), Amy-Leigh Hickman (Bethany), Ellie Rawnsley (Anna Stamp), Nadia Albina (Jenny), Poppy Miller (Supt Denham), Michael Yare (Alf), Michael Stevenson (DC Dave Green).

Matthew Taylor, a 16-year-old school boy was brutally murdered in the quiet Lake District. Five years later the accused is found not guilty and released from prison, but who did kill him? The premise here is to take a wrongly convicted party and make them the centre of a drama in which a new police  investigation uncovers the real perpetrator of the crime.  The format then moves into familiar whodunnit territory, whilst dealing with the personal dramas affecting the wronged party (in this case the excellent Katherine Kelly) and those immediately involved with the scenario. The issue I have with this drama is that the premise is so manufactured it requires a considerable suspension of disbelief to assume the initial investigation was so inept as to have missed the multiple clues presented here to solve the case. This is driven by both the concept’s restrictive boundaries and the lack of skilled writing to extract any believable situations from the idea. The feeling therefore is that the characters have been created to serve the scenario rather than falling naturally into Lang’s  environment. Additionally the direction falls into the trap of many similar crime drama series in recent years by pushing the big melodramatic moments and manipulating the audience through overly manufactured false trails and constant incidental music. It manages to retain some interest through Kelly’s excellent lead performance, which is much more nuanced than the majority of the cast, who appear to have waltzed in off the soap opera conveyer belt. The series plays out over 4 episodes and three hours of screen time and as such it does not feel protracted, but when we do get to the final act and the unveiling of the killer, only those unfamiliar with the genre tropes will be surprised.

TV Review – MARE OF EASTTOWN (2021)

MARE OF EASTTOWN (2021, USA) *****
Crime, Drama, Mystery

pr co. Home Box Office (HBO) / Mayhem Pictures / wiip studios; net. Home Box Office (HBO) (USA), Sky Atlantic (UK); exec pr. Gordon Gray, Brad Ingelsby, Paul Lee, Gavin O’Connor, Mark Roybal, Kate Winslet, Craig Zobel; pr. Karen Wacker; d. Craig Zobel; w. Brad Ingelsby; ph. Ben Richardson (Colour. Video (HDTV). ARRIRAW (2.8K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), 2.00:1); m. Lele Marchitelli; ed. Amy E. Duddleston, Naomi Sunrise Filoramo; pd. Keith P. Cunningham; ad. Gina B. Cranham, Michael Gowen, Michelle C. Harmon; b/cast. 18 April 2021 – 31 May 2021 (USA), 19 April 2021 – 1 June 2021 (UK); r/t. 403m (7 episodes).

Cast: Kate Winslet (Detective Mare Sheehan), Julianne Nicholson (Lori Ross), Jean Smart (Helen Fahey), Angourie Rice (Siobhan Sheehan), John Douglas Thompson (Chief Carter), Joe Tippett (John Ross), Cameron Mann (Ryan Ross), Jack Mulhern (Dylan Hinchey), Izzy King (Drew Sheehan), Justin Hurtt-Dunkley (Officer Trammel), Sosie Bacon (Carrie Layden), David Denman (Frank Sheehan), Neal Huff (Father Dan Hastings), James McArdle (Deacon Mark Burton), Guy Pearce (Richard Ryan), Ruby Cruz (Jess Riley), Enid Graham (Dawn Bailey), Chinasa Ogbuagu (Beth Hanlon), Kassie Mundhenk (Moira Ross), Mackenzie Lansing (Brianna Delrasso).

Kate Winslet stars as a detective in a small Pennsylvania town who investigates a local murder while trying to keep her life from falling apart. The result is one of the greatest crime TV series ever, driven by a superb script, expert direction and a lead performance from Winslet that is astonishing in its sincerity. Writer Brad Ingelsby has shown how to pace a mystery over 7 episodes whilst fleshing out fully rounded characters with flaws which show them to be real and believable. Where Ingelsby’s writing impresses most is that it avoids the pitfall of many modern crime dramas by refusing to manufacture melodrama and shock twists for the sake of it and instead relies on story progression through quality writing, strong characterisation and natural dialogue. Everything that happens here feels and looks real and is performed with integrity by a cast at the top of their game. Winslet holds the centre ground as the detective haunted by a tragedy in her family’s recent past and reminders in the disintegration of her best friend’s family as she investigates a murder case and a missing persons case, which may or may not be related. As Winslet unravels the mysteries and deals with ongoing personal dramas, she starts to come to terms with the tragedy that haunts her. The audience is pulled in to her life and feels everything she feels as her relationships with family and friends evolve with her investigation. US reviewers pointed to similarities in approach to TRUE DETECTIVE, and here there are parallels with BBC’s HAPPY VALLEY. MARE OF EASTTOWN surpasses the former and sits comfortably with the latter.