TRIGGER POINT (2022, UK, 6 x 45m, 15) ***½
dist. ITV Studios; pr co. HTM Productions; d. Gilles Bannier, Jennie Darnell; w. Daniel Brierley; pr. Julia Stannard; exec pr. Jed Mercurio, Mark Redhead, Jessica Sharkey; ph. Nick Gillespie (Colour | 2.00:1); m. Chris Roe; ed. David I’Anson, Peggy Koretzky; pd. Anna Pritchard; ad. Tom Atkins; sp fx. Ryan Crew.
cast: Vicky McClure (Lana Washington), Adrian Lester (Joel Nutkins), Tom Stokes (Pete), Gavin Sibson (PS Costa), Cal MacAninch (Inspector Lee Robins), Gwynfor Jones (PS Brown), Mark Stanley (DI Thom Youngblood), Manjinder Virk (DI Samira Desai), Eric Shango (Danny), Ralph Ineson (Commander Bregman), Warren Brown (Karl Maguire), Kerry Godliman (Sonia Reeves), Nabil Elouahabi (Hassan Rahim), Nadine Marshall (DSU Marianne Hamilton), Kris Hitchen (John Hudson), Ewan Mitchell (Billy Washington), Michael Akinsulire (PS Carney), Lucy Russell (Moira Bloxham), Salima Saxton (Ayesha Campbell-Khan), Rick Warden (Andy Phelan), Kevin Eldon (Jeff Washington), Tamzin Griffin (Val Washington), Neil Stoddart (Nick Roberts), Camilla Power (Agatha Jack), Jennifer Castle (Jocasta Wellings), Mo Idriss (Ali Hussein).
An absorbing, if not altogether convincing, race-against-time thriller that sees McClure as Lana Washington, an experienced bomb disposal officer working for the Metropolitan Police. A terrorist bombing campaign is threatening London and it is up to the Met’s Bomb Disposal Squad to deal with the situation. As the campaign continues Lana begins to believe that the team may be the bomber’s real target. The production succeeds due to tight direction and McClure’s convincing central performance. The tension is sustained throughout and the episodes zip by. Whilst the plot stretches credulity and the mystery twist elements are not overly taxing, McClure is so good you are carried along. The sound mix, though, is often distracting in that it frequently leaves you struggling to hear the dialogue, but otherwise technical attributes are solid. The show has been renewed for a second series.
MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961, UK/USA, 101m, U) ***
Adventure, Family, Sci-Fi, Fantasy
dist. Columbia Pictures; pr co. Ameran Films; d. Cy Endfield; w. John Prebble, Daniel Ullman, Crane Wilbur (based on the novel by Jules Verne); pr. Charles H. Schneer; ph. Wilkie Cooper (Technicolor | 1.66:1); m. Bernard Herrmann; ed. Frederick Wilson; ad. William C. Andrews; vfx. Ray Harryhausen.
cast: Michael Craig (Capt. Cyrus Harding), Joan Greenwood (Lady Mary Fairchild), Michael Callan (Herbert Brown), Gary Merrill (Gideon Spilitt), Herbert Lom (Captain Nemo), Beth Rogan (Elena Fairchild), Percy Herbert (Sgt. Pencroft), Dan Jackson (Cpl. Neb Nugent).
Jules Verne’s sequel to “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” is vigorously adapted here but the production lacks narrative clarity seeming more like a series of episodic action set-pieces strung together. The film logs the experiences of a group of escaped Union soldiers, led by Craig, marooned on a fantastic island populated by outsized animals. The action scenes are directed with energy by Endfield and the story is never dull. The result though is a lack of characterisation with the cast merely acting as props around which the action is based. Craig does his best in the lead role whilst Herbert delivers one of the worst southern accents committed to film. Lom’s late appearance as the charismatic Nemo gives him little time in which to make his mark. The stop-motion monster effects by Harryhausen may now seem dated, but they captured the imagination back in the day. Herrmann’s foreboding score helps raise the tension. Previously filmed in 1929 then remade in 1973, 2005 and 2012. Adapted for TV in 1995.
DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936, USA, 71m, PG) ***
Drama, Fantasy, Horror
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures; d. Lambert Hillyer; w. Garrett Fort (based on the story “Dracula’s Guest” by Bram Stoker); pr. E.M. Asher; ph. George Robinson (B&W | 1.37:1); m. Heinz Roemheld; ed. Milton Carruth; ad. Albert S. D’Agostino.
cast: Otto Kruger (Jeffrey Garth), Gloria Holden (Countess Marya Zaleska), Marguerite Churchill (Janet), Edward Van Sloan (Professor Von Helsing), Gilbert Emery (Sir Basil Humphrey), Irving Pichel (Sandor), Halliwell Hobbes (Hawkins), Billy Bevan (Albert), Nan Grey (Lilis), Hedda Hopper (Lady Esme Hammond), Claud Allister (Sir Aubreys), Edgar Norton (Hobbs), E.E. Clive (Sergeant Wilkes).
This sequel to Universal’s 1931 adaptation of DRACULA commences where that film left off with Von Helsing (Van Sloan) arrested for the murder of Count Dracula. Dracula’s “daughter” (Holden) is still alive — and the Count’s death has brought her no closer to eradicating her vampiric thirst for blood. When attempts to free herself of the disease fail, she turns to psychiatrist Kruger for assistance, but soon finds herself struggling with her inner demons. The film lacks the gothic atmosphere of the original and underuses Van Sloan. Holden holds the screen well but there is little progression of the plot during the scenes in London leading to a rushed finale’s return to Castle Dracula in Transylvania. A nice touch is the humorous verbal interplay between Kruger and his secretary Churchill. Followed by SON OF DRACULA (1943).
THE BLACK CAT (1934, USA, 65m, PG) ***½
Crime, Horror, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures; d. Edgar G. Ulmer; w. Peter Ruric (based on a story by Edgar G. Ulmer & Peter Ruric and suggested by a story by Edgar Allan Poe); pr. Carl Laemmle Jr. (uncredited); ph. John J. Mescall (B&W | 1.37:1); m. Heinz Roemheld; ed. Ray Curtiss; ad. Charles D. Hall.
cast: Boris Karloff (Hjalmar Poelzig), Bela Lugosi (Dr. Vitus Werdegast), David Manners (Peter Alison), Julie Bishop (Joan Alison (as Jacqueline Wells)), Egon Brecher (The Majordomo), Harry Cording (Thamal), Lucille Lund (Karen), Henry Armetta (The Sergeant), Albert Conti (The Lieutenant).
Dark and macabre story sees Manners and Bishop as a newlywed couple who share their train coach with Dr Vitus (Lugosi), a psychiatrist. Later, they share a bus that crashes in a storm and they move to the fortress-like home of the sinister Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff). This effective horror thriller suffers from a loose script and uneven direction but is heightened by the expert performances of Karloff and Lugosi. Mescall’s shadowy photography and Hall’s stylish production design add to the atmosphere. Watch out for John Carradine as the organist during the cult ritual. Aka: THE HOUSE OF DOOM; THE VANISHING BODY.
WESTWORLD (1973, USA, 88m, 15) ***½
Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Western
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (USA), MGM-EMI (UK); pr co. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); d. Michael Crichton; w. Michael Crichton; pr. Paul N. Lazarus III; ph. Gene Polito (Metrocolor | 2.39:1); m. Fred Karlin; ed. David Bretherton; ad. Herman A. Blumenthal.
cast: Yul Brynner (Gunslinger), Richard Benjamin (Peter Martin), James Brolin (John Blane), Norman Bartold (Medieval Knight), Alan Oppenheimer (Chief Supervisor), Victoria Shaw (Medieval Queen), Dick Van Patten (Banker), Linda Gaye Scott (Arlette), Steve Franken (Technician), Michael T. Mikler (Black Knight), Terry Wilson (Sheriff), Majel Barrett (Miss Carrie), Anne Randall (Daphne), Julie Marcus (Girl in Dungeon), Sharyn Wynters (Apache Girl), Anne Bellamy (Middle Aged Woman), Chris Holter (Stewardess), Charles Seel (Bellhop), Wade Crosby (Bartender), Jared Martin (Technician).
Michael Crichton wrote and directed this tale set in a futuristic theme park where paying guests can pretend to be gunslingers in artificial Wild West, Roman and Medieval settings populated by androids. After paying a sizable entrance fee, Brolin and Benjamin are determined to unwind by hitting saloons and shooting guns. But when the system malfunctions the escapist fantasy suddenly takes a dark turn. Crichton builds his setting with humour and not-so subtle comments on fantasy fulfilment, but it is not until the system failure, embodied by Brynner’s steely cold robot gunslinger, that the story catches fire. The finale, with Brynner’s relentless pursuit of Benjamin, is full of tension and can be seen as a major influence on John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) and James Cameron’s THE TERMINATOR (1984). Crichton himself would revisit his plot in a different setting for his novel “Jurassic Park”, which was sensationally filmed in 1993 by Steven Spielberg. Followed by FUTUREWORLD (1976). Later adapted for TV as Beyond Westworld (1980) and Westworld (2016- ).
BELFAST (2021, UK, 98m, 12) ****
dist. Universal Pictures International (UPI) (UK), Focus Features (USA); pr co. TKBC; d. Kenneth Branagh; w. Kenneth Branagh; pr. Laura Berwick, Kenneth Branagh, Becca Kovacik, Tamar Thomas; ph. Haris Zambarloukos (B&W/Colour | 1.85:1); m. Van Morrison; ed. Úna Ní Dhonghaíle; pd. Jim Clay; ad. Dominic Masters.
cast: Caitriona Balfe (Ma ), Jamie Dornan (Pa), Judi Dench (Granny), Ciarán Hinds (Pop), Jude Hill (Buddy), Lewis McAskie (Will), Josie Walker (Auntie Violet), Freya Yates (Cousin Frances), Nessa Eriksson (Cousin Vanessa), Charlie Barnard (Cousin Charlie), Frankie Hastings (Auntie Mary), Máiréad Tyers (Auntie Eileen), Caolan McCarthy (Uncle Sammie), Ian Dunnett Jnr (Uncle Tony), Michael Maloney (Frankie West), Lara McDonnell (Moira), Chris McCurry (Mr. Stewart), Rachel Feeney (Mrs Ford), Elly Condron (Mrs. Kavanagh), Drew Dillon (Mr. Kavanagh).
Branagh tells the story of his adolescent upbringing in Belfast during the troubles in the late 1960s. The film focuses on the impact that the escalating religious and political issues had on passive communities as seen through the eyes of 9-year-old Billy (engagingly portrayed by Hill). His working-class parents (Balfe and Dornan) are, like many, struggling to make ends meet with Dornan requiring taking work in England to pay off their debts. The closeness of the community and the family’s bond with Billy’s grandparents (Dench and Hinds) are strengths that enable them to live in the battle-torn streets. As the violence escalates and Dornan resists the pressures from the local protestant gang leader to swear his allegiance, the family must decide on its future. The film has no political points to make and instead throws light on the impact of the actions of the militant few on the peaceful many. The film merely intends to reflect philosophically on these issues, wonderfully expressed through Hinds, who delivers an understated but impactful performance. The film only falters when sentimentality creeps in from time to time with the need to create a feel-good factor to offset the horrors of the street violence, but otherwise, this is an honest and thought-provoking experience with moments of warm humour.
THE GLASS KEY (1942, USA, 85m, PG) ***½
Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
dist. Paramount Pictures; pr co. Paramount Pictures; d. Stuart Heisler; w. Jonathan Latimer (based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett); ph. Theodor Sparkuhl (B&W | 1.37:1); m. Victor Young; ed. Archie Marshek; ad. Haldane Douglas, Hans Dreier.
cast: Brian Donlevy (Paul Madvig), Veronica Lake (Janet Henry), Alan Ladd (Ed Beaumont), Bonita Granville (Opal Madvig), Richard Denning (Taylor Henry), Joseph Calleia (Nick Varna), William Bendix (Jeff), Frances Gifford (Nurse), Donald MacBride (Farr), Margaret Hayes (Eloise Matthews), Moroni Olsen (Ralph Henry), Eddie Marr (Rusty), Arthur Loft (Clyde Matthews), George Meader (Claude Tuttle).
This complex film noir was the second adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s 1931 novel, which had previously been filmed in 1935 as a vehicle for George Raft. Donlevy is the crooked politician who finds himself being accused of the murder of the son of a prospective Baltimore governor by a gangster (Calleia) from whom he refused help during a re-election campaign. Ladd is Donlevy’s right-hand man who is encouraged by the victim’s sister (Lake) to find the real killer whilst protecting his boss’s interests. Ladd gets to essay his tough-guy persona, whilst Lake’s alluring performance and the pair’s obvious chemistry helps elevate the film’s stature. Bendix is also memorable as Calleia’s heavy – the beating he gives Ladd is particularly brutal. The plot twists, however, are perhaps too plentiful whilst Heisler’s direction and Latimer’s dialogue is often heavy-handed. The film’s production followed hot on the heels of the previous year’s successful adaptation of Hammett’s THE MALTESE FALCON. Ladd and Lake, who had earlier appeared in THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942), would go on to make seven movies together.
THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932, USA, 72m, PG) ****
Comedy, Horror, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures; d. James Whale; w. Benn W. Levy (based on the novel by J.B. Priestley); pr. Carl Laemmle Jr.; ph. Arthur Edeson (uncredited) (B&W | 1.37:1); ed. Maurice Pivar (uncredited); pd. Charles D. Hall.
cast: Boris Karloff (Morgan), Melvyn Douglas (Penderel), Charles Laughton (Sir William Porterhouse), Lilian Bond (Gladys), Ernest Thesiger (Horace Femm), Eva Moore (Rebecca Femm), Raymond Massey (Philip Waverton), Gloria Stuart (Margaret Waverton), Elspeth Dudgeon (Sir Roderick Femm (as John Dudgeon)), Brember Wills (Saul Femm).
Alternately funny and chilling, this thriller sees three travellers, driving through a brutal thunderstorm in Wales, take refuge in an eerie house owned by the Femm family. Reluctantly admitted by Horace Femm (Thesiger), the three sit down to a strange dinner. Horace is neurotic; mute butler Morgan (Karloff) is an alcoholic; and Horace’s sister, Rebecca (Moore), raves about chastity. When the storm brings in an industrialist and chorus girl Gladys DuCane Perkins (Bond), Morgan’s lust and Rebecca’s ire are ignited. Whale injects the adaptation with his unmistakable brand of the camp and the macabre. Whilst some of the performances are dated in their dialogue delivery. there is plenty of atmosphere created by Edeson’s lighting of the scenes and Hall’s gothic production design of the house. Karloff commands the screen with his physical presence and it is interesting to see Laughton playing his Lancastrian aristocrat with a broad accent.
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021, USA/Iceland, 148m, 12) ***½
dist. Columbia Pictures; pr co. Columbia Pictures / Pascal Pictures / Marvel Studios / Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE); d. Jon Watts; w. Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers (based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko); pr. Kevin Feige, Amy Pascal; ph. Mauro Fiore (Colour | 2.39:1); m. Michael Giacchino; ed. Leigh Folsom Boyd, Jeffrey Ford; pd. Darren Gilford; ad. David Scott.
cast: Tom Holland (Peter Parker / Spider-Man), Zendaya (MJ), Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange), Jacob Batalon (Ned Leeds), Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan), Jamie Foxx (Max Dillon / Electro), Willem Dafoe (Norman Osborn / Green Goblin), Alfred Molina (Dr. Otto Octavius / Doc Ock), Benedict Wong (Wong), Tony Revolori (Flash Thompson), Marisa Tomei (May Parker), Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker / Spider-Man), Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker / Spider-Man), Angourie Rice (Betty Brant), Arian Moayed (Agent Cleary), Paula Newsome (MIT Assistant Vice Chancellor), Hannibal Buress (Coach Wilson), Martin Starr (Mr. Harrington), Haroon Khan (Apprentice), J.B. Smoove (Mr. Dell).
Entertaining, if self-indulgent, third outing for Holland as our favourite web-slinger. Picking up where SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME left off with Spider-Man’s identity revealed, Peter asks Doctor Strange (Cumberbatch) for help. When a spell goes wrong, dangerous foes from other worlds start to appear, forcing Peter to discover what it truly means to be Spider-Man. Watts directs the action with pace but does not neglect attention to character as Holland comes to examine more closely the pros and cons of being a super-hero. The dialogue is witty and ironic without becoming overly annoying. The action scenes are often spectacular, aggressive, and technically superbly realised with expert use of CGI. It’s good to see old villains returning and there are other surprises along the way too. Fans will lap it up, but casual audiences may get left behind.