Book Review – CITY PRIMEVAL (1980) by Elmore Leonard

CITY PRIMEVAL (1980) ****
by Elmore Leonard
This paperback edition published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005, 160pp
First published in the USA in 1980
© Elmore Leonard, 1980
ISBN: 9780-753-81967-8
Blurb: Clement Mansell knows how easy it is to get away with murder. The crazed killer is back on the Detroit streets – thanks to some nifty courtroom moves by his lawyer – and this time he’s feeling invincible enough to execute a crooked Motown judge. Homicide Detective Raymond Cruz thinks the ‘Oklahoma Wildman’ crossed the line long before this latest outrage, and he’s determined to see that the psycho does not slip through the legal system’s loopholes a second time. But that means a good cop is going to have to play somewhat fast and loose with the rules – in order to manoeuvre Mansell into a showdown that he won’t be walking away from.
Comment: Elmore Leonard’s 1980 novel, subtitled High Noon in Detroit, presents a battle of wits between psychotic killer Clement Mansell and Detroit detective Raymond Cruz. References to the old west play throughout up until the inevitable showdown conclusion. Leonard’s easy styled prose and his command of character and sharp, witty dialogue are fully present here. It is easy to see now that Cruz was the prototype for Leonard’s popular Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, introduced in his 1993 novel Pronto. This has been acknowledged by the newly commissioned continuation of Fox Network’s Justified TV series as Justified: City Primeval, which is due to commence shooting soon.  Cruz’s Texas roots and his laconic approach bestow him with a sense of cool when dealing with the Detroit low-life. Mansell is an edgy villain who manages to extract loyalty from his dope-head girlfriend, Sandy Stanton. Cruz has some sympathy for Sandy and also becomes involved with Mansell’s attorney, Carolyn Wilder. Add some Albanian gangsters into the pot and Leonard mixes the ingredients with the consummate skill of a seasoned pro at the top of his game.

Film Review – THE BIG HEAT (1953)

THE BIG HEAT (1953, USA, 89m, 15) ****
Crime, Film-Noir, Thriller
dist. Columbia Pictures; pr co. Columbia Pictures; d. Fritz Lang; w. Sydney Boehm (based on the Saturday Evening Post serial by William P. McGivern); pr. Robert Arthur; ph. Charles Lang (B&W | 1.37:1); m. Henry Vars; ed. Charles Nelson; ad. Robert Peterson.
cast: Glenn Ford (Dave Bannion), Gloria Grahame (Debby Marsh), Jocelyn Brando (Katie Bannion), Alexander Scourby (Mike Lagana), Lee Marvin (Vince Stone), Jeanette Nolan (Bertha Duncan), Peter Whitney (Tierney), Willis Bouchey (Lt. Ted Wilks), Robert Burton (Gus Burke), Adam Williams (Larry Gordon), Howard Wendell (Commissioner Higgins), Chris Alcaide (George Rose), Michael Granger (Hugo), Dorothy Green (Lucy Chapman), Carolyn Jones (Doris), Ric Roman (Baldy), Dan Seymour (Mr. Atkins), Edith Evanson (Selma Parker).
Tough and uncompromising film noir sees Ford as tough cop Dave Bannion with a personal score to settle take on a politically powerful crime syndicate. Lang handles the material unobtrusively, focusing on the actors and allowing them to deliver top-notch performances. Ford’s transition into a bitter single-minded cop seeking revenge is stark. Grahame brings personality and wit to her role as sadistic and corrupt politician Marvin’s mistress. Lang’s no-frills approach allows the story to breathe, and Vars’ musical score is subtly effective.

Film Review – GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021)

GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021, USA/Australia/Canada/India, 113m, 12) **½
Action, Sci-Fi
dist. Warner Bros.; pr co. Legendary Entertainment / Warner Bros.; d. Adam Wingard; w. Eric Pearson, Max Borenstein (based on a story by Terry Rossio and Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields); pr. Jon Jashni, Eric McLeod, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull, Alex Garcia, Mary Parent; ph. Ben Seresin (Colour | 2.39:1); m. Junkie XL; ed. Josh Schaeffer; pd. Tom Hammock, Owen Paterson; ad. Richard Hobbs, Dawn Swiderski.
cast: Alexander Skarsgård (Nathan Lind), Millie Bobby Brown (Madison Russell), Rebecca Hall (Ilene Andrews), Brian Tyree Henry (Bernie Hayes), Shun Oguri (Ren Serizawa), Eiza González (Maya Simmons), Julian Dennison (Josh Valentine), Lance Reddick (Guillermin), Kyle Chandler (Mark Russell), Demián Bichir (Walter Simmons), Kaylee Hottle (Jia), Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Admiral Wilcox), Ronny Chieng (Jay Wayne), John Pirruccello (Horace), Chris Chalk (Ben), Conlan Casal (Apex Cybernetics Security Guard), Brad McMurray (Apex Cybernetics Security Guard), Benjamin Rigby (Sonar Operator), Nick Turello (Apex Cybernetics Armed Guard), Daniel Nelson (Hayworth).
This giant monster movie mash-up pits two of the greatest icons in motion picture history against one another – the fearsome Godzilla and the mighty Kong as a group of scientists explore a Hollow Earth theory that may account for the monsters’ existence. The film is a visual and sonic assault on the senses – so much so we become anaesthetised and dulled by the constant action. The technical attributes are admittedly very impressive, and the CGI is top draw. But what little attempts at humanity exist does so in characters that are cardboard and must deliver comic-strip dialogue. Story logic has been left at the door and the viewer is merely left to marvel at the visuals with little else to grab hold of.

Film Review – THE DRY (2020)

THE DRY (2020, Australia/USA, 117m, 15) ***
Crime, Drama
dist. IFC Films (USA), Sky Cinema (UK); pr co. Made Up Stories / Arenamedia / Cornerstone Films / Film Victoria / Media Super / Pick Up Truck Pictures / Screen Australia; d. Robert Connolly; w. Harry Cripps, Robert Connolly, Samantha Strauss (based on the novel by Jane Harper); pr. Eric Bana, Robert Connolly, Steve Hutensky, Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea; ph. Stefan Duscio (Colour | 2.35:1); m. Peter Raeburn; ed. Alexandre de Franceschi, Nick Meyers; pd. Ruby Mathers; ad. Mandi Bialek-Wester.
cast: Eric Bana (Aaron Falk), Genevieve O’Reilly (Gretchen), Keir O’Donnell (Greg Raco), John Polson (Scott Whitlam), Julia Blake (Barb), Bruce Spence (Gerry Hadler), William Zappa (Mal Deacon), Matt Nable (Grant Dow), James Frecheville (Jamie Sullivan), Jeremy Lindsay Taylor (Erik Falk), Joe Klocek (Young Aaron Falk), BeBe Bettencourt (Ellie Deacon), Claude Scott-Mitchell (Young Gretchen), Sam Corlett (Young Luke), Miranda Tapsell (Rita Raco), Daniel Frederiksen (Dr. Leigh), Eddie Baroo (McMurdo), Renee Lim (Sandra Whitlam), Martin Dingle Wall (Luke Hadler), Francine McAsey (Amanda).
Slow, moody mystery based on Jane Harper’s harrowing novel in which Bana plays a police detective who returns to his drought-stricken hometown to attend a tragic funeral. His return opens a decades-old wound – the unsolved death of a teenage girl. Bana gives a sympathetic performance as the conflicted detective and he is decently supported. Connolly commendably conjures up the local atmosphere and focuses on the characters but does so at the expense of building dramatic tension until the denouement.

Shaft deserves a “boutique” blu-ray release

Having celebrated its 50th-anniversary last year I was disappointed that SHAFT did not get a celebratory collector’s edition Blu-ray release. With so-called “boutique” distributors such as Criterion, Indicator, BFI and Arrow pushing out high-quality releases of both classic and lesser-known titles with superb packaging, a host of extras and commemorative booklets, it is hard to understand why iconic movies like SHAFT have not received such respectful treatment. Licensing of releases would appear to be one reason. In the US, Warner, who hold the distribution rights to SHAFT and its sequels, has focused primarily on vanilla releases for older titles through its Warner Archive arm – and the 1970s Shaft trilogy is no exception. In the UK, the better known Warner Archive releases have been given superior packaging through HMV’s Premium Collection, but for SHAFT this has only gone as far as adding a few art cards and a slip case.

Image 1 - Shaft (hmv Exclusive) - The Premium Collection [15] Blu-ray

Here in the UK, Indicator is the leading distributor of collectable releases. I have bought a number of their titles and even their Standard Edition releases are packed with extras and are beautifully presented. Their Limited Edition titles add a hefty booklet containing essays, interviews and production information, along with a superb collection of stills. These are real collectables for serious movie fans, collectors and students.

For example, one such title, FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE, was packaged in a sturdy box with beautifully reproduced poster artwork. The box contained an 80-page book, which included: cast and crew details; a production overview by Sheldon Hall; a re-production of 1978 and 1979 Photoplay articles including on-set interviews; a 1978 Daily Mail interview with Robert Shaw; a location report culled from a number of sources including material by cinematographer Christopher Challis and uncredited script doctor George MacDonald Fraser; and a selection of contemporary reviews. All this was illustrated with artwork, production stills and a copy of the press release. Five sturdy art cards were included with photographs from the set. Then on the discs themselves (there are two) were the following extras:
– High Definition remasters
– Extended version with original mono audio, and alternative stereo and 5.1 surround options (126 mins)
– Limited edition exclusive presentation of the original theatrical cut, with mono audio (118 mins)
– Audio commentary on the extended version with film historians Steve Mitchell and Steven Jay Rubin (2020)
– This Is a Giant Movie (1978, 21 mins): archival location report by Channel Television featuring interviews with producer Oliver A Unger, and actors Edward Fox and Carl Weathers
– Tour de Force (2020, 24 mins): actor Angus MacInnes recalls his early film role
– From Žabljak with Love (2020, 28 mins): the making of the film as told by construction manager Terry Apsey, stuntman Jim Dowdall, grip Dennis Fraser, chief hairdresser Colin Jamison, and chief make-up artist Peter Robb-King
– A Life Behind the Lens (2020, 33 mins): a tribute to the acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Challis, featuring interviews with fellow directors of photography and camera crew Dennis Fraser, Oswald Morris, John Palmer and Sydney Samuelson, as well as archival footage of Challis
– The BEHP Interview with Ron Goodwin (1999, 89 mins): archival video, made as part of the British Entertainment History Project, featuring the celebrated composer in conversation with Linda Wood
– A Show of Force (2020, 26 mins): a look at the different versions of Force 10 from Navarone
– Super 8 version: cut-down home cinema presentation
– Original trailers, TV and radio spots
– Image gallery: publicity and promotional material

Now, FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE is an enjoyable movie, but it does not have the level of cultural significance of SHAFT. If Indicator or Criterion managed to get licensing rights to SHAFT they would no doubt provide a release that would do justice to the film’s legacy.

Here is a potential schedule of extras I have drawn up for such a release:
– 4k scan and remaster.
– A 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio mix. Not sure if this is possible. The current Warner release is in DTS HD Master Audio 1.0 and SHAFT’s sound is notoriously poor. A clean-up job and remix would be expensive and maybe even impossible.
– Audio commentary with Richard Roundtree and/or suitable film historian.
– Soul in the Cinema: Filming SHAFT On Location (1971, 11 mins). A short behind-the-scenes documentary focusing on the directing of Gordon Parks and the musical score by Isaac Hayes. This was included in the Warner release.
– A Complicated Man: The Shaft Legacy (2019, 45 mins). A look at the Shaft franchise in the 1970s including input from Richard Roundtree and a number of film historians and fans, including new Shaft author David F. Walker. This was included in Warner’s Blu-ray release of Tim Story’s 2019 film SHAFT.
– Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks (2000, 91 mins). An intimate look at the life and career of Gordon Parks a true Renaissance man who has excelled as a photographer, novelist, journalist, poet, musician and filmmaker.
– Gordon Parks – Conversations With Black Filmmakers (1990, 20 mins). Interview with Alex Haley.
– Richard Roundtree speaks at SIU, Carbondale, Illinois (2018, 64 mins).
– Newly commissioned profile of Richard Roundtree (New, 45-60 mins). This would be newly shot material.
– Newly commissioned profile of Shaft author Ernest Tidyman including a history of Shaft in print. (New, 30-45 mins)
– Soul Man: Isaac Hayes (2000, 60 mins). BBC documentary. This Close Up special profiles the singer and actor whose Oscar-winning music for SHAFT captured the social, sexual and racial revolutions that were sweeping America in the early seventies. Candid interviews with Hayes, and contributions from colleagues and friends, paint a portrait of one of soul music’s most enduring icons
– Isaac Hayes performing “Shaft” at the 2002 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (2002, 5 mins)
– Isaac Hayes winning an Oscar® for “Shaft” (1972, 3 mins).
– Deleted Scenes. If these still exist. We know scenes were shot of Marcy Jonas’ kidnapping and a scene at Ellie Moore’s boutique. These are believed to have been included in the original US TV broadcast in the mid-1970s.
– Original trailer, TV and radio spots
– Image gallery.
– PDF material:  Ernest Tidyman original script; John D.F. Black final shooting script; Production material inc shooting schedule, production design drawings, etc.; Movie Pressbook.
– Commemorative Booklet. Essays; Interviews; Article re-production; Production Notes; Cast & Crew detail; Review Extracts.
– Art cards.
– Movie poster.

Hopefully, sometime soon Warner will look to their “boutique” piers and  SHAFT will get the Blu-ray release it truly deserves.

UPDATE 15/1: No sooner had I posted this than I was made aware that there is a planned Criterion Collection release of SHAFT in a new 4k scan sometime this year.  Artist Bill Sienkiewicz confirmed he was working on the art for the release. So wishes do come true!

 

Book Review – SEE THEM DIE (1960) by Ed McBain

SEE THEM DIE (1960) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan, 1987, 160pp
First published in 1960
© Ed McBain, 1960
ISBN: 9780-330-25402-2
Blurb: Kill me if you can – that was Pepe Miranda’s challenge. Murderer, two-bit hero of the street gangs, he was holed up somewhere in the 87th Precinct, making the cops look like fools and cheered on by every neighbourhood punk. It was not a challenge Lieutenant Pete Byrnes and the detectives in the squad room could leave alone. Not in the sticky, July heat of the city with the gangs just waiting to explode into violence . . .
Comment: The thirteenth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series once more sees McBain trying out a new approach. McBain concentrates less on plot/detection and more on social comment, in this story of a Puerto Rican criminal under siege in his own community from the cops of the 87th Precinct. Alongside this McBain delves into issues of inter-gang warfare and the bravado of youth in the immigrant community alongside and the racial attitudes of the cops (juxtapositioned by the racist slob Andy Parker and the Puerto Rican Frankie Hernandez) and those who live in the community itself. As such the story unfolds in the style of a three-act play. The result is a patchy novel that only comes to life in its nail-biting final act.

 

Film Review – UNDER SUSPICION (1991)

UNDER SUSPICION (1991, UK) ***
Crime, Drama, Thriller
dist. Rank Film Distributors (UK), Columbia Pictures (USA); pr co. Carnival Film & Television / Columbia Pictures / London Weekend Television (LWT) / The Rank Organisation; d. Simon Moore; w. Simon Moore; pr. Brian Eastman; ph. Vernon Layton (Colour. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.35:1); m. Christopher Gunning; ed. Tariq Anwar; pd. Tim Hutchinson; ad. Tony Reading; rel. 27 September 1991 (UK), 28 February 1992 (USA); BBFC cert: 18; r/t. 99m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Tony Aaron), Laura San Giacomo (Angeline), Kenneth Cranham (Frank), Maggie O’Neill (Hazel Aaron), Stephen Moore (Roscoe), Alphonsia Emmanuel (Selina), Alex Norton (Prosecuting Lawyer), Kevin Moore (Barrister), Alan Talbot (Powers), Malcolm Storry (Waterston), Martin Grace (Colin), Richard Graham (Denny), Michael Almaz (Stasio), Nicolette McKenzie (Mrs. Roscoe), Alan Stocks (Paul), Tommy Wright (Hotel Janitor), Lee Whitlock (Ben), Noel Coleman (Judge), Stephen Oxley (Hotel Deskman), Colin Dudley (Hotel Waiter).
In this emulation of ‘40s and ‘50s film noir, Neeson is a private eye who becomes a double-murder suspect when his client’s boyfriend and his own wife are found dead, side by side. The sleaze has been amped up here with increased doses of sex and more graphic violence. The genre conventions are played to the hilt quite nicely in the first two acts, but the story goes off the rails in its final act as implausibility takes over with director/writer Moore keen to top each twist. A race against the clock element is also thrown in for good measure. The result is an entertaining but contrived and flawed mystery/thriller – not least because San Giacamo makes for an unconvincing femme fatale. Neeson, however, is good in the lead role and the period setting (Brighton, 1959 into 1960) is well realised.

Film Review – ADRIFT (2018)

ADRIFT (2018, USA) ***
Drama, Adventure
dist. STX Entertainment; pr co. Huayi Brothers / Ingenious / Lakeshore Entertainment / Pantagruel Productions / RVK Studios / STX Entertainment; d. Baltasar Kormákur; w. Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, David Branson Smith (“Red Sky in Mourning: The True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea” by Tami Ashcraft with Susea McGearhart); pr. Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, Baltasar Kormákur, Shailene Woodley; ph. Robert Richardson (Colour. Digital (Digital Cinema Package DCP). ARRIRAW (3.4K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format). 2.39:1); m. Volker Bertelmann; ed. John Gilbert; pd. Heimir Sverrisson; ad. Andy McLaren; rel. 1 June 2018 (USA), 29 June 2018 (UK); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 96m.
cast: Shailene Woodley (Tami Oldham), Sam Claflin (Richard Sharp), Jeffrey Thomas (Peter Crompton), Elizabeth Hawthorne (Christine Crompton), Grace Palmer (Deb), Tami Ashcraft (Tami Ashcraft), Siale Tunoka (Customs Agent), Kael Damlamian (Smiley), Lei-Ming Caine (Outrigger Girl), Neil Andrea (Crewman), Apakuki Nalawa (Musician), Tim Solomon (Musician).
Woodley gives an impressive physical performance as Tami Oldham, who with her new boyfriend Richard Sharp (Claflin) sails directly into a hurricane. In the aftermath of the storm, Tami awakens to find Richard severely injured and their boat in ruins. Adrift without hope of rescue, Tami must fight for their survival. Kormákur’s film is based on a true story and combines love story elements of the couple’s meeting and growing relationship, told in flashbacks throughout, with their battles on the open sea. The director struggles to find the right balance and structure with the latter elements working best and the less interesting love story increasingly feeling like an interruption. It is Woodley who keeps us hooked as her character adapts to the harsh environment. Technical attributes are good, with vivid photography by Richardson.

Book Review – THE HECKLER (1960) by Ed McBain

THE HECKLER (1960) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 176pp
First published in 1960 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1960
ISBN: 978-0-140-02393-0
Book CoverBlurb: Spring was intoxicating the city air, but the harassing anonymous telephone calls planting seeds of fear around town were no April Fool’s joke. Crank calls and crackpot threats reported to the 87th Precinct by a respected businessman were not exactly top priority for detectives Carella and Meyer — until a brutal homicide hits the papers. Connections are getting made fast and furious, and there’s a buzz in the air about the Deaf Man, a brilliant criminal mastermind. Now, the 87th Precinct is buying time to reveal the voice on the other end of the line — as the level of danger rises from a whisper to a scream….
Comment: The twelfth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series introduces us to the squad’s recurring nemesis, the Deaf Man. The plot is a convoluted one of distraction and heist planned out and delivered with the utmost attention to detail by the Deaf Man and his cohorts. The detectives of the 87th, are working on what they believe to be the distinct cases of a heckler threatening shop proprietors and a murder. The Deaf Man’s scheme appears to be foolproof as the police are dispatched across the precinct in the aftermath of a wave of bombings and arson distracting them from the gang’s real plans. The plot unfolds in customary McBain fashion showing our detectives to be both human and vulnerable. The dialogue sparkles as ever and the prose has the familiarity of a storyteller at the top of his game. The resolution relies on irony, happenstance and remains open-ended. Another strong entry in the series.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: EVE OF THE DALEKS (2022)

DOCTOR WHO: EVE OF THE DALEKS (2022, UK) ***
Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
dist. BBC One; pr co. BBC; d. Annetta Laufer; w. Chris Chibnall; pr. Sheena Bucktowonsing; ph. Robin Whenary (Colour. 2.00:1); m. Segun Akinola; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; b/cast. 1 January 2022 (UK); r/t. 58m.
cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Aisling Bea (Sarah), Adjani Salmon (Nick), Pauline McLynn (Mary), Nicholas Briggs (Daleks (voice)).
The third successive New Year Special in Chris Chibnall’s reign to feature the Daleks and it is fair to say this is the most low-key of them. Sarah (Bea) owns and runs ELF storage, and Nick (Salmon) is a customer who visits his unit every year on New Year’s Eve. This year, however, their night turns out to be a little different than planned with the appearance of an executioner Dalek. Like all stories using time loops as their basis, this one has several lapses in story logic and continuity. There is fun to be had, however, with Bea and Salmon delivering likeable characters and performances. As for the rest, there is little new or original on offer and the Daleks’ dialogue often feels out of character. Once again, the producers try to shoe-horn a companion’s infatuation and physical attraction to the Doctor, and it just feels like it is placed there to tick the diversity box as it adds nothing to the story itself. It will likely play out over Whittaker’s final two stories later this year. The result is a passable hour’s entertainment, but little from this or the FLUX series convinces me Chibnall will pull anything extraordinary out of the fire for his final two stories.