Film Review – NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

NO TIME TO DIE (2021, UK/USA) ***½
Action, Adventure
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (USA), Universal Pictures International (UPI) (UK); pr co. Eon Productions / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) / Universal Pictures / Danjaq / B25 / Cinesite; d. Cary Joji Fukunaga; w. Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (based on a story by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Cary Joji Fukunaga and characters created by Ian Fleming); pr. Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson; ph. Linus Sandgren (Colour. D-Cinema. Arri 765 (source format) (some shots), Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), Dolby Vision, IMAX (source format) (some scenes), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format), Panavision Super 70 (source format) (some shots). 2.39:1); m. Hans Zimmer; ed. Tom Cross, Elliot Graham; pd. Mark Tildesley; ad. Mark Harris; rel. 28 September 2021 (UK), 8 October 2021 (USA); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 163m.
cast: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Léa Seydoux (Madeleine), Rami Malek (Lyutsifer Safin), Lashana Lynch (Nomi), Ralph Fiennes (M), Ben Whishaw (Q), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny), Rory Kinnear (Tanner), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter), Billy Magnussen (Logan Ash), Christoph Waltz (Blofeld), David Dencik (Valdo Obruchev), Ana de Armas (Paloma), Dali Benssalah (Primo (Cyclops)), Lisa-Dorah Sonnet (Mathilde), Coline Defaud (Young Madeleine), Mathilde Bourbin (Madeleine’s Mother), Hugh Dennis (Dr. Hardy), Priyanga Burford (Dr. Symes), Joe Grossi (Hotel Porter), Nicola Olivieri (Cemetery Caretaker), Pio Amato (Cemetery Attendant), Javone Prince (MI6 Security Guard), Davina Moon (Madeleine’s Receptionist), Mattia Lacovone (Young Shepherd), Giansalvatore Duca (Young Shepherd), Amy Morgan (Alison Smith), Lizzie Winkler (Sarah Jones), Andrei Nova (Bunker Guard), Ernest Gromov (Bunker Guard), Gediminas Adomaitis (Blofeld’s Right Hand Man), Andy Cheung (Chinese Businessman), Brigitte Millar (Vogel), Hayden Phillips (Sir Sebastian D’ath), Winston Ellis (Spectre Agent), Adnan Rashed (Spectre Agent), Rae Lim (Spectre Agent), Chi Chan (Spectre Agent), Denis Khoroshko (Spectre Agent), Lourdes Faberes (Spectre Agent), Philip Philmar (Spectre Agent), Raymond Waring (Spectre Agent), Eliot Sumner (Spectre Guard), Rod Hunt (Spectre Guard), Michael Mercer (El Nido Bartender), Gemmar Mcfarlane (Passersby), Leighton Laing (Passersby), Kimo Armstrong (Passersby).
Craig makes his fifth and final appearance as James Bond and completes several story arcs that have spread through his tenure. Here, Bond has left active service, but his peace is short-lived when Felix Leiter, an old friend from the CIA, turns up asking for help, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology. The story has personal impacts for Bond and more than once nods back at 1969’s George Lazenby starring ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. The pre-credit opening sets up the story by re-introducing us to Bond and his relationship with Madeleine (Seydoux). The set-up creates conflict between the characters and introduces us to the main villain of the piece, portrayed by Malek. There are also links to SPECTRE and Blofeld (Waltz), which are resolved in a surprising fashion. It is not possible to explore the plot further without revealing key plot points. Needless to say, the plot is more complex than the usual villain who wants to take over the world – it is in fact that and much more. How successful the film is at dealing with these complexities is debatable. There are clever twists, but also an increased level of incredulity which requires the audience to suspend their disbelief and accept that whenever the villains shoot at Bond with their spraying machine guns, they never hit the mark, yet Bond dispatches them with such ease that the action feels overly choreographed on the level of a computer game rather than a real-life threat. This makes Bond feel like a comic book or gaming superhero and contrasts less favourably with the grittiness of the action sequences in Craig’s CASINO ROYALE debut. There are many positives, however. The cast is strong and the performances good, despite some occasionally clunky dialogue. The greater focus on character and inter-character relationships gives us something to care about. The locations and photography are excellent – as are all the technical attributes. The film’s excessive running time is not as cumbersome as it would seem, as the footage all feels relevant to advancing the story. I did feel, however, that I was being overly manipulated by the filmmakers and what I was watching sometimes felt superficial – particularly during the finale in Malek’s poisoned garden lair – a nice nod to Fleming’s novel You Only Live Twice. Overall, this is probably middle-ground Bond, both in Craig’s tenure and the series as a whole. It will be interesting to see where the producers take the series next.

Film Review – THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975)

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975, UK/USA) ****
Action, Adventure
dist. Allied Artists Pictures; pr co. Columbia Pictures Corporation / Devon / Persky-Bright; d. John Huston; w. John Huston, Gladys Hill (based on the story by Rudyard Kipling); pr. John Foreman; ph. Oswald Morris (Technicolor. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. Maurice Jarre; ed. Russell Lloyd; pd. Alexandre Trauner; ad. Tony Inglis; rel. 27 November 1975 (Iran), 16 December 1975 (USA), 18 December 1975 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 129m.
cast: Sean Connery (Daniel Dravot), Michael Caine (Peachy Carnehan), Christopher Plummer (Rudyard Kipling), Saeed Jaffrey (Billy Fish), Larbi Doghmi (Ootah), Jack May (District Commissioner), Karroom Ben Bouih (Kafu Selim), Mohammad Shamsi (Babu), Albert Moses (Ghulam), Paul Antrim (Mulvaney), Graham Acres (Officer), The Blue Dancers of Goulamine (Dancers), Shakira Caine (Roxanne).
Two British soldiers in India decide to resign from the Army and set themselves up as deities in Kafiristan–a land where no white man has set foot since Alexander. This critically acclaimed morality piece was a commercial failure at the box office despite the star power and strong chemistry between Connery and Caine. It is only in the passing years that its stature has grown. The two leads are excellent, as is Plummer as the author, then a journalist, Rudyard Kipling. The film’s technical attributes are top-notch from production and costume design to its photography and location. The moral tale is laced with humour and adventure before its downbeat finale issues its warning message. The tone may shift jarringly from time to time, but this remains an impressive production expertly directed by a past master.
AAN: Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted from Other Material (John Huston, Gladys Hill); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Alexandre Trauner, Tony Inglis, Peter James); Best Costume Design (Edith Head); Best Film Editing (Russell Lloyd).

Book Review – ‘TIL DEATH (1959) by Ed McBain

‘TIL DEATH (1959) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1986, 160pp (157pp)
First published in 1959 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1959
ISBN: 978-0-140-02164-6
Blurb: The wedding day of Detective Steve Carella’s sister Angela should be the most romantic, special day of her life. But it might turn out to be the worst if her brother can’t figure out which man on the guest list has come to murder the groom. Carella and the men from the 87th Precinct find themselves on the clock as they desperately hunt amongst the name cards and catered dinners for the would-be assailant. Trouble is, the crowd has numerous people with viable motives: the best man who stands to inherit everything the groom owns, the ex-boyfriend with a homicidal crush, and even an ex-GI with a score to settle. But time is ticking, and if they don’t act fast, Angela will become a bride—and a widow—on the same day.
Comment: The ninth in the 87th Precinct series written by Ed McBain is this offbeat story set at the wedding of Carella’s sister. As such the story acts as a diversion from the grittier storylines that precede and follow it. The result is a minor entry in the series that coasts on McBain’s command of his characters and dialogue. The plot itself often lacks plausibility and as such fails to engage in the way his earlier titles did. Even at a brief page count of just under 160 pages, there are elements of padding where the author and his characters philosophise. That said McBain’s skill as a writer gets him through to a tense, if somewhat familiar, finale. Not top-draw McBain, but an often fun and diverting and easy read despite this.

Book Review – LADY KILLER (1958) by Ed McBain

LADY KILLER (1958) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1986, 176pp (172pp)
First published in 1958 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1958
ISBN: 978-0-140-02019-9
Blurb: “I will kill the Lady tonight at 8. What can you do about it?” The boys of the 87th have just twelve hours to find out who the crank letter writer is–and who he means by “the Lady “–for whom there will be no second chance.
Comment: This is often listed as the eighth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels, but as I read through it I realised it was written and set before Killer’s Wedge, so is the seventh. Having read the whole series before, this can now be seen as a warm-up for some of the Deaf Man cases that infrequently occupied the squad’s time. Here a would-be killer taunts the squad that he will kill “The Lady” at 8 pm and it is up to the detectives to track down who wrote the note and who the intended target is. The investigation leads the squad down some blind alleys before they close in on their target. The book is one of the lesser of the early entries which, whilst endowed with McBain’s usual excellent prose and dialogue, feels a little bit manufactured and the conclusion leaves the reader questioning the motives of the detectives’ quarry. It is still a quick and entertaining read and a formula that McBain would develop better in the Deaf Man books.