Film Review – THE LAST HARD MEN (1976)

THE LAST HARD MEN (1976, USA) **½
Western
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Twentieth Century Fox; d. Andrew V. McLaglen; w. Guerdon Trueblood (based on the novel “Gun Down” by Brian Garfield); pr. Walter Seltzer, Russell Thacher; ph. Duke Callaghan (DeLuxe. 35mm. Panavision. 2.35:1); m. Jerry Goldsmith; ed. Fred A. Chulack; ad. Edward C. Carfagno; rel. 23 April 1976 (USA), 18 May 1976 (UK); BBFC cert: X; r/t. 98m.
cast: Charlton Heston (Sam Burgade), James Coburn (Provo), Barbara Hershey (Susan Burgade), Christopher Mitchum (Hal Brickman), Jorge Rivero (Menendez), Michael Parks (Noel Nye), Larry Wilcox (Shelby), Thalmus Rasulala (Weed), Morgan Paull (Shiraz), John Quade (Gant), Robert Donner (Lee Roy), Sam Gilman (Dutch Vestal), James Bacon (Deputy Jetfore), Riley Hill (Gus), Dick Alexander (Bo Simpson), Yolanda Schutz (Paloma), Alberto Piña (Storekeeper), David Herrera (Indian Policeman).
Violent and often unpleasant revenge Western, which benefits from strong production values. In 1909 Arizona, Heston is a retired lawman whose life is thrown upside-down when his old enemy (Coburn) and six other convicts escape a chain-gang in the Yuma Territorial Prison and come gunning for him, kidnapping his daughter (Hershey) in the bargain. Lots of bloody action and some by-line comments on the passing of the old west without the subtlety of touch to elegantly land the message. Coburn does his best with a one-dimensional character, but Heston delivers a stiff performance as his quarry. Parks is memorable in a smaller role as the embodiment of the changing times, but Hershey has little to do with her role other than scream, fight and run.

Book Review – KING’S RANSON (1959) by Ed McBain

KING’S RANSOM (1959) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 176pp (172pp)
First published in 1959 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1959
ISBN: 978-0-140-02219-3
Blurb: Half a million dollars – or a boy’s life . . . But what if that boy isn’t your own son? And what if paying the ransom will ruin the biggest deal you ever made? What do you do then? Throw away your future or sacrifice someone else’s child? That was the dilemma facing wealthy Douglas King. Detective Steve Carella of the 87th Precinct can only keep trying to find the kidnappers and hope that Doug King will decide to give them the payoff. Because if he doesn’t, Carella will have a case of cold-blooded murder on his hands.
Comment: The tenth book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series is the strongest so far. McBain takes time to flesh out each of the key characters and this elevates the story beyond the procedural formula adopted up to this point, thereby widening the series’ scope. By presenting his central character, the driven and ambitious businessman Douglas King, with the dilemma he does, McBain allows himself to comment on themes of corporate greed and loyalty through three-dimensional characters. McBain’s strengths of plotting, characterisation and dialogue are again in full evidence here and this book marks the point where McBain began to hit his stride with the series. This was also the first series appearance of the obnoxious Detective Andy Parker.

Film Review – THE MARKSMAN (2021)

THE MARKSMAN (2021, USA) ***
Action, Thriller
dist. Open Road Entertainment (USA), Shear Entertainment (UK); pr co. Cutting Edge Group / Raven Capital Management / Sculptor Media / Stonehouse Motion Pictures / UTA Independent Film Group / Voltage Pictures / Zero Gravity Management; d. Robert Lorenz; w. Chris Charles, Danny Kravitz, Robert Lorenz; pr. Tai Duncan, Eric Gold, Warren Goz, Robert Lorenz, Mark Williams; ph. Mark Patten (Colour. 2.39:1); m. Sean Callery; addl m. Jonas Friedman; ed. Luis Carballar; pd. Charisse Cardenas; ad. Gregory G. Sandoval; rel. 15 January 2021 (USA), 26 February 2021 (UK – internet); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 108m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Jim), Katheryn Winnick (Sarah), Juan Pablo Raba (Mauricio), Teresa Ruiz (Rosa), Jacob Perez (Miguel), Dylan Kenin (Randall), Luce Rains (Everett), Sean A. Rosales (Hernando), Alfredo Quiroz (Carlos), Jose Vasquez (Isidro), Antonio Leyba (Rigo), Yediel Quiles (Jorge), Christian Hicks (Danny), Jose Mijangos (Emilio), Roger Jerome (Otto), Kellen Boyle (Dalton), Ann Barrett Richards (Bartender Clara), David DeLao (Coyote), Elias Gallegos (Agent), Rose Leininger (Waitress).
In this efficient but flawed action thriller, Neeson delivers a fine crusty performance as a rancher on the Arizona border who becomes the unlikely defender of a young Mexican boy desperately fleeing the cartel assassins who’ve pursued him into the U.S. Whilst the film has echoes of other, stronger movies and ultimately fails to fulfil its promise, it is still a serviceable vehicle for Neeson’s grizzled action hero persona. Here his character carries more baggage and has stronger motivation for his actions than in other recent similar vehicles. The script, however, fails to fully mature his character’s relationship with the boy and slips too often into conventional action set-pieces.

Film Review – THE ICE ROAD (2021)

THE ICE ROAD (2021, USA/Canada) **
Action, Adventure
dist. Netflix (USA), Signature Entertainment (UK); pr co. Code Entertainment / ShivHans Pictures / Envision Media Arts / Ice Road Productions; d. Jonathan Hensleigh; w. Jonathan Hensleigh; pr. Al Corley, Eugene Musso, Lee Nelson, Shivani Rawat, Bart Rosenblatt, David Tish; ph. Tom Stern (Colour. DCP Digital Cinema Package. ARRIRAW (4.5K) (source format). 2.39:1); m. Max Aruj; ed. Douglas Crise; pd. Arvinder Greywal; ad. David Best; rel. 25 June 2021 (UK/USA – internet); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 109m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Mike McCann), Marcus Thomas (Gurty McCann), Laurence Fishburne (Jim Goldenrod), Amber Midthunder (Tantoo), Benjamin Walker (Tom Varnay), Holt McCallany (Lampard), Martin Sensmeier (Cody Mantooth), Matt McCoy (GM George Sickle), Matt Salinger (CEO Thomason), Chad Bruce (Shift Super Mankins), Adam Hurtig (Fred Ford), Bradley Sawatzky (VP Operations Jack Tager), Marshall Williams (Mine Safety Supervisor Tully), Paul Essiembre (Deputy Minister O’Toole), Arne MacPherson (Miner Claude), Gabriel Daniels (Miner Barney), Natasha Elise Kotzubei (Lead VA Nurse), Lauren Cochrane (VA Nurse), Harry Nelken (VA Administrative), Al Corley (Doctor).
A grizzled Neeson is the main draw in this cliched action thriller. After a remote diamond mine collapses in far northern Canada, a ‘big-rig’ ice road driver (Neeson) must lead an impossible rescue mission over a frozen ocean to save the trapped miners. Saddled with a by-the-numbers script with some risible dialogue, Neeson and company still manage to inject some energy into the proceedings. Unfortunately, the plotting becomes increasingly illogical and the action sequences are unevenly directed and edited with sub-standard CGI.

TV Review – MAN IN A SUITCASE: MAN FROM THE DEAD (1967)

MAN IN A SUITCASE
MAN FROM THE DEAD (1967, UK, Colour, 49m) ***
Incorporated Television Company (ITC)
Crime, Drama
pr. Sidney Cole; d. Pat Jackson; w. Stanley R. Greenberg (series created by Richard Harris and Dennis Spooner); ph. Lionel Banes; md. Albert Elms; theme m. Ron Grainer; ed. John Glen; pd. William Kellner.
Cast: Richard Bradford (McGill), John Barrie (Harry Thyssen), Lionel Murton (Coughlin), Angela Browne (Rachel Thyssen), Stuart Damon (Williams), Fabia Drake (Receptionist), Timothy Bateson (Pfeiffer), Dandy Nichols (Landlady), David Nettheim (Leader), Gerry Wain (Cap), Arthur Howell (Moustache), Clifford Earl (Policeman), Fred Haggerty (Agent).
One of many ITC productions in the 1960s, this benefited from Bradford’s method approach to the lead character McGill and a desire to capture a realistic level of toughness. The series premise is set up in this debut episode (broadcast sixth in sequence) Rachel Thyssen (Browne), McGill’s ex-girlfriend, spots her father Harry (Barrie), who supposedly drowned years ago. Harry was McGill’s boss in American intelligence from where McGill was forced to resign, having been scapegoated when a scientist under observation, defected to Russia. McGill had believed Harry dead, but he is undercover as a double agent. McGill needs his help to clear his name, but the Russians are also taking an interest in him. The elements are well handled and there is greater use of London locations, including a memorable action finale filmed at White City Stadium (renamed Regal City Stadium).

TV Review – THE LARKINS (2021)

THE LARKINS (2021, UK, Colour, 6 x 46m) ***
Objective Fiction / Genial Productions / Objective Media Group Scotland / Independent Television (ITV)
Comedy, Drama
Exec pr. Sophie Clarke-Jervoise, Ben Farrell, Charlotte Lewis, Simon Nye, Toby Stevens, Bradley Walsh; pr. Serena Cullen; d. Andy De Emmony; w. Simon Nye, Abigail Wilson (based on the novel “Darling Buds of May” by H.E. Bates); ph. Darran Bragg; m. Nick Green; ed. William Webb, David Head; pd. Lucy Spink; ad. Polly Stevens; cos. June Nevin.
Cast: Bradley Walsh (Pop Larkin), Joanna Scanlan (Ma Larkin), Sabrina Bartlett (Mariette Larkin), Tok Stephen (Cedric ‘Charley’ Charlton), Davina Coleman (Zinnia Larkin), Rosie Coleman (Petunia Larkin), Liam Middleton (Montgomery Larkin), Lydia Page (Primrose Larkin), Lola Shepelev (Victoria Larkin), Amelia Bullmore (Miss Edith Pilchester), Peter Davison (Vicar), Stephen Hagan (Tom Fisher), Francesca Wilson Waterworth (Libby Fothergill), Kriss Dosanjh (The Brigadier), Tony Gardner (Alec Norman), Seeta Indrani (Miss Chand), Natalie Mitson (Pauline Jackson), Barney Walsh (PC Harness), Timmika Ramsay (Poll Saunders), Selina Griffiths (Norma Norman), Wil Johnson (Old Reg), Robert Bathurst (Johnny Delamere), Angela Bai (Aunt Fan), Victoria Grove (Lil), Georgie Glen (Lady Bluff-Gore), Nicholas Le Prevost (Sir George Bluff-Gore).
Charming, if loose, adaptation of Bates’ beloved novel, It follows the warm-hearted, wheeler-dealing adventures of the iconic Larkin family in the idyllic Kent countryside pales next to the classic 1991-3 series THE DARLING BUDS OF MAY but still delivers enough sunny charm to remain entertaining. Walsh and Scanlan are well cast as the charismatic Pop and Ma and help give the production its energy. Picture postcard locations and colourful photography also add to the heartwarming mood. Some will baulk at anachronisms, such as the diverse casting, but this helps introduce the material to a wider audience. Amongst the supporting cast, Davison has fun as the unconventional vicar and Stephen is loveable as Charley.

TV review – CLOSE TO ME (2021)

CLOSE TO ME (TV) (2021, UK/Sweden/Mexico, Colour, 6 x 45-48m) **
Dopamine / Nordic Entertainment Group / The Development Partnership
Drama
Exec pr. Gina Carter, Dave Clarke, Ed Clarke, Josephine Genetay, Connie Nielsen, Robert Taylor; pr. Alison Sterling; d. Michael Samuels: w. Angela Pell (based on the novel by Amanda Reynolds); ph. Sergio Delgado; ed. Tania Reddin.
Cast: Connie Nielsen (Jo Harding), Christopher Eccleston (Rob Harding), Susan Lynch (Cathy), Leanne Best (Anna), Tom Taylor (Finn), Nick Blood (Thomas), Rosy McEwen (Sash Harding), Henning Jensen (Frederik), Ray Fearon (Nick), Lorraine Burroughs (Helen), Mads Madsen (Young Frederik), Jamie Flatters (Owen), Kate O’Flynn (Rose), Zoe Croft (Ella), Emilia Lazenby (Young Jo (Age 7)), Sidsel Rostrup (Susanne), Rosa Niemann (Young Jo), Ellie Haddington (Wendy), Joe Tucker (Jerry), Sandra Huggett (Michelle).
Angst-ridden and overlong drama in which Nielsen plays a woman who has a perfect life with her partner until a fall erases an entire year from her memory. As she struggles to piece events together, Jo discovers that her life was in fact far from perfect. It is difficult to invest in or care about such self-consumed characters, despite the valiant efforts of Nielsen and Eccleston in particular. The plot is initially intriguing but soon wears thin as it becomes stretched over six episodes – repeating scenes ad-infinitum as Nielsen tries to find and join the missing pieces of her life together. Brooding dialogue and moody long shots of barren landscapes echo the Scandinavian noir this series aspires to be. The main problem is with the script (or the source material), which requires you to go along with an increasingly manufactured premise. The result is a drama as soulless as the house the couple occupy.

Nursery Cryme at 50

12 November 2021 is the 50th anniversary of the release of Genesis’ third album NURSERY CRYME, their first with new members Phil Collins (drums, vocals) and Steve Hackett (guitar). The album would be the first of four studio recordings between 1971 and 1974 from the five-man line-up including founder members Tony Banks (keyboards), Peter Gabriel (vocals, flute) and Mike Rutherford (bass, guitar). The loss of guitarist Anthony Phillips, a major writing contributor, had been a big blow to the band. Hackett however brought more experimental sounds and greater playing fluidity, if initially less of a contribution to composition. Meanwhile, Collins brought rhythmic dynamism, additional vocal capabilities, and a strong sense of musical arrangement – all things John Mayhew, his predecessor on the previous years’ TRESPASS, lacked.

The album opener ‘The Musical Box’ builds on the song journey approach explored on TRESPASS’s ‘Stagnation’ and adds a stronger structure, truly macabre lyrics by Gabriel, driving guitar riffs and moments of high musical drama. It is the band’s first true masterpiece. ‘For Absent Friends’ is an acoustic dalliance mainly included to appease new members Hackett and Collins, who co-wrote the whimsical song. ‘The Return of the Giant Hogweed’ is an abrasive rocker along the lines of ‘The Knife’, which closed out TRESPASS so superbly. Here Hackett uses his pioneering tapping technique to add pace and attack. Gabriel’s lyrical story is reminiscent of John Wyndham’s ‘Day of the Triffids’. ‘Seven Stones’ is a pleasant piano-led Banks piece, a mood he would explore more successfully and memorably on later albums. ‘Harold the Barrel’ has a music-hall whimsy that gets the best out of Gabriel and Collins in terms of vocal characterisation. ‘Harlequin’ is a forgettable folk ballad that would have been more at home on TRESPASS. The album closer, ‘The Fountain of Salmacis,’ comes close to matching ‘The Musical Box’ and points the way forward for the band with its sweeping mellotron chords and dramatic passages. The album demonstrated Genesis’ growing strength in building structurally complex and dramatic songs, whilst mixing them with lighter shorter material. Each song has a unique approach and Genesis would move from strength to strength from here on in.

GENESIS
NURSERY CRYME (Charisma, 12 November 1971) – Album Score – 76%
Tony Banks – Hammond Organ, Mellotron, Piano, Electric Piano, 12-String Guitar, Backing Vocals
Mike Rutherford – Bass, Bass Pedals, 12-String Guitar, Backing Vocals
Peter Gabriel – Lead Voice, Flute, Oboe, Bass Drum, Tambourine
Steve Hackett – Electric Guitar, 12-String Guitar
Phil Collins – Drums, Voices, Percussion, Lead Vocals on “For Absent Friends”, Co-Lead Vocals on “Harold The Barrel” and “Harlequin”

Produced by John Anthony
Assistant Engineered by David Hentschel
Recorded at Trident Studios, London, August 1971
2008 remix by Nick Davis assisted by Tom Mitchell and Geoff Callingham
Sleeve design by Paul Whitehead

TRACK SCORES

  1. The Musical Box (10:30) *****
  2. For Absent Friends (1:48) **
  3. The Return of the Giant Hogweed (8:09) ****
  4. Seven Stones (5:08) *** (B-side to ‘Happy the Man’ 10 May 1972)
  5. Harold the Barrel (3:01) ***
  6. Harlequin (2:56) **
  7. The Fountain of Salmacis (8:02) ****

All songs credited to Genesis

We Can’t Dance celebrates 30th Anniversary

11 November 2021 is the 30th anniversary of the release of Genesis’ WE CAN’T DANCE – the last studio album recorded with Phil Collins. The record was released five years after their mega-seller INVISIBLE TOUCH and consolidated on the huge success of that album. The sound here is much earthier, the result of a change in production engineer and a desire to create a more natural sound. The album was released with the CD era in full swing and the band utilised the increased running time available (70+ mins as opposed to 45-50 mins) on disc to produce a collection of songs that had great variety.

The opener is ‘No Son of Mine’, an arresting and emotional tale of a broken father-son relationship. ‘Jesus He Knows Me’ shows the band delving into satire in an up-tempo and melodically catchy exploration of the motivations of TV evangelists. ‘Driving the Last Spike’ is the first long song on the album, which has strong passages but suffers from over-length, being framed in a traditional structure. Collins’ lyrics depicting the working conditions during the building of the railways are amongst his best. ‘I Can’t Dance’ is another satiric song, this time looking at TV advertising. Rutherford’s riff is memorable and Collins has fun delivering the vocals. ‘Never a Time’ is a nice ballad, one that feels like the band could write it in their sleep. The brooding ‘Dreaming While You Sleep’ is one of the album’s strongest songs. A dark tale of a hit-and-run accident and the guilt the driver must face. ‘Tell Me Why’ is an unfortunate mismarriage between music (upbeat and slightly psychedelic) and lyrics (concerning poverty and starvation). ‘Living Forever’ returns the band to satire, this time looking at contradictions in advice on healthy living. The song plays out with a pleasant, but undemanding, instrumental section. ‘Hold on My Heart’ is a strong ballad with Banks’ trademark chords and a great vocal from Collins. ‘Way of the World’ has a shuffling rhythm to drive its philosophical look at life and is musically strong with a neat short solo for Banks. ‘Since I Lost You’ laments the tragic death of Eric Clapton’s young son, with the jarring backdrop of a plodding piano and Phil Spector-like production sound. The album closer, ‘Fading Lights’, is a masterpiece of reflection with one of the band’s best instrumental sections filling the sandwich. Bank’s lyrics seem to announce the end of this line-up of the band deliberately closing with the word ‘remember’. Whilst the album is inconsistent, there are still a good number of high-quality songs. Of the two non-album tracks ‘On the Shoreline’ would have been worthy of inclusion.

GENESIS
WE CAN’T DANCE (Virgin, 11 November 1971) – Album Score – 72%
Tony Banks – Keyboards
Mike Rutherford – Guitar, Bass
Phil Collins – Vocals, Drums, Percussion, Drum Machines

Produced by Genesis and Nick Davis
Engineered by Nick Davis assisted by Mark Robinson
Recorded at The Farm, August 1971
2007 remix by Nick Davis assisted by Tom Mitchell and Geoff Callingham
Cover and Art Direction by David Scheinmann of Icon Photography
Cover Illustration by Felicity Roma Bowers

TRACK SCORES

  1. No Son of Mine (6:41) **** (A-side single 28/10/91)
  2. Jesus He Knows Me (4:23) **** (A-side single 20/7/92)
  3. Driving the Last Spike (10:10) ****
  4. I Can’t Dance (4:04) *** (A-side single 6/1/92)
  5. Never a Time (3:52) *** (A-side single (US) 19/10/92)
  6. Dreaming While You Sleep (7:21) ****
  7. Tell Me Why (5:00) ** (A-side single 8/2/93)
  8. Living Forever (5:42) ***
  9. Hold on My Heart (4:40) **** (A-side single 13/4/92)
  10. Way of the World (5:40) ***
  11. Since I Lost You (4:10) **
  12. Fading Lights (10:16) *****

Non-album tracks:

  1. On the Shoreline (4:45) *** (B-side to ‘I Can’t Dance’)
  2. Hearts on Fire (5:15) ** (B-side to ‘Jesus He Knows Me’)

All songs written by Banks/Collins/Rutherford