Film Review – STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013, USA, 132m, 12) ***½
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
dist. Paramount Pictures; pr co. Paramount Pictures / Skydance Productions / Bad Robot; d. J.J. Abrams; w. Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof (based on the television series Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry); pr. J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci; ph. Daniel Mindel (DeLuxe | 2.39:1); m. Michael Giacchino; ed. Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey; pd. Scott Chambliss, Amelia Brooke; ad. Ramsey Avery.
cast: Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Karl Urban (Bones), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), Benedict Cumberbatch (Khan), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), Bruce Greenwood (Pike), Peter Weller (Marcus), Alice Eve (Carol Marcus), Noel Clarke (Thomas Harewood), Leonard Nimoy (Spock Prime), Nazneen Contractor (Rima Harewood), Amanda Foreman (Ensign Brackett), Jay Scully (Lieutenant Chapin), Jonathan Dixon (Ensign Froman), Aisha Hinds (Navigation Officer Darwin), Joseph Gatt (Science Officer 0718), Jeremy Raymond (Lead Nibiran).
Action-packed and effects-driven follow-up to 2009’s STAR TREK reboot coasts on the familiar character interaction of the lead cast to overcome its story shortcomings. This time the crew of the Starship Enterprise returns home after an act of terrorism within its own organization destroys most of Starfleet and what it represents, leaving Earth in a state of crisis. With a personal score to settle, Captain James T. Kirk (Pine) leads his people crew on a mission to capture a one-man weapon of mass destruction, thereby propelling all of them into an epic game of life and death. Rehashing elements of 1982’s STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, this film cannot recreate the tension generated in that earlier model. Abrams tends to go for broke on the visual effects and mass destruction, stifling the story and blunting the characters’ motivations. The cast gives game performances and the visuals are sensational, but the action is too often overblown and lacking in credibility – notably during the protracted climax. There is still much fun to be had though, and this largely comes via the familiar character interactions. Pine, Quinto and Urban have captured the camaraderie seen in the original series characters and their interpretations are spot on. Followed by STAR TREK BEYOND (2016).
AAN: Best Achievement in Visual Effects (Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann, Burt Dalton).

Film Review – PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943)

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943, USA, 92m, PG) ***
Drama, Horror, Music, Romance, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); pr co. Universal Pictures; d. Arthur Lubin; w. Eric Taylor, Samuel Hoffenstein, Hans Jacoby (based on the novel “Le Fantôme de L’Opéra” by Gaston Leroux); pr. George Waggner; ph. W. Howard Greene, Hal Mohr (Technicolor | 1.37:1); m. Edward Ward; ed. Russell F. Schoengarth; ad. Alexander Golitzen, John B. Goodman.
cast: Nelson Eddy (Anatole Garron), Susanna Foster (Christine DuBois), Claude Rains (Erique Claudin), Edgar Barrier (Raoul Daubert), Leo Carrillo (Signor Ferretti), Jane Farrar (Biancarolli), J. Edward Bromberg (Amiot), Fritz Feld (Lecours), Frank Puglia (Villeneuve), Steven Geray (Vercheres), Barbara Everest (Aunt), Hume Cronyn (Gerard), Fritz Leiber (Franz Liszt), Nicki Andre (Lorenzi), Gladys Blake (Jeanne), Elvira Curci (Biancarolli’s Maid), Hans Herbert (Marcel), Kate Drain Lawson (Landlady), Miles Mander (Pleyel), Rosina Galli (Christine’s Maid).
Lavish production of Gaston Leroux’s novel in which the talented Christine (Foster) is unaware that her singing lessons are being funded by a secret admirer, Enrique (Rains), a mysterious violinist with a disfigured face. Christine’s colleagues become suspicious when mysterious accidents start occurring at the Paris Opera House, as the deaths coincide with her meteoric rise to stardom. Christine’s suitors, Raoul (Barrier) and Anatole (Eddy), brave the dark recesses of the opera house to find the true culprit. The film suffers from the imbalance of music to horror with the former creating some longueurs. Attempts at comedy also feel forced. Rains does his best, but his role lacks the motivation that was apparently evident in earlier drafts of the script. Some effective scenes do emerge, however – notably the chase through the flies and the finale in the Phantom’s lair. The extravagant and evocative art direction and crisp Technicolor cinematography deservedly won Oscars. Filmed many times before and since to varying degrees of success.
AA: Best Cinematography, Color (Hal Mohr, W. Howard Greene); Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color (Alexander Golitzen, John B. Goodman, Russell A. Gausman, Ira Webb)
AAN: Best Sound, Recording (Bernard B. Brown (Universal SSD)); Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (Edward Ward)

Film Review – HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016)

HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016, USA, 102m, 15) ****
Crime, Drama
dist. Lionsgate (USA), Studio Canal (UK); pr co. CBS Films / Sidney Kimmel Entertainment / MWM Studios / Film 44 / LBI Productions / Oddlot Entertainment; d. David Mackenzie; w. Taylor Sheridan; pr. Peter Berg, Carla Hacken, Sidney Kimmel, Julie Yorn; ph. Giles Nuttgens (Colour | 2.35:1); m. Nick Cave, Warren Ellis; ed. Jake Roberts; pd. Tom Duffield; ad. Steve Cooper.
cast: Jeff Bridges (Marcus Hamilton), Chris Pine (Toby Howard), Ben Foster (Tanner Howard), Gil Birmingham (Alberto Parker), Marin Ireland (Debbie Howard), John-Paul Howard (Justin Howard), Katy Mixon (Jenny Ann), Kevin Rankin (Billy Rayburn), Ivan Brutsche (Buster), Heidi Sulzman (Ranger Margaret), Christopher W. Garcia (Randy Howard (as Christopher Garcia)), William Sterchi (Mr. Clauson), Dale Dickey (Elsie), Buck Taylor (Old Man), Kristin K. Berg (Olney Teller (as Kristin Berg)), Keith Meriweather (Rancher), Jackamoe Buzzell (Archer City Deputy), Amber Midthunder (Vernon Teller), Joe Berryman (Bank Manager), Taylor Sheridan (Cowboy).
Pine is a divorced father trying to make a better life for his son. His brother (Foster) is a hot-headed ex-convict with a loose trigger finger. Together, they plan a series of heists against the bank that’s about to foreclose on their family ranch. Standing in their way is Bridges, a Texas Ranger who’s only weeks away from retirement. As the siblings plot their final robbery, they must also prepare for a showdown with the crafty lawman who’s not ready to ride off into the sunset. The script adds layers of social commentary and character motivation to this otherwise familiar heist movie. Mackenzie’s sympathetic direction and willingness to develop the characters bring out the best in a strong cast. Bridges has fun essaying his long-in-the-tooth Texas Ranger who spars verbal insults at his half-breed sidekick Birmingham. Peppered with witty dialogue, this is a thoughtful and resonant tale.
AAN: Best Motion Picture of the Year (Carla Hacken, Julie Yorn); Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Jeff Bridges); Best Original Screenplay (Taylor Sheridan); Best Achievement in Film Editing (Jake Roberts)

Film Review – FARGO (1996)

FARGO (1996, USA/UK, 98m, 18) *****
Crime, Drama
dist. Gramercy Pictures (USA), PolyGram Filmed Entertainment (UK); pr co. PolyGram Filmed Entertainment / Working Title Films; d. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; w. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; pr. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; ph. Roger Deakins (DuArt | 1.85:1); m. Carter Burwell; ed. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (both as Roderick Jaynes); pd. Rick Heinrichs; ad. Thomas P. Wilkins.
cast: Frances McDormand (Marge Gunderson), William H. Macy (Jerry Lundegaard), Steve Buscemi (Carl Showalter), Harve Presnell (Wade Gustafson), Peter Stormare (Gaear Grimsrud), Steve Reevis (Shep Proudfoot), Kristin Rudrüd (Jean Lundegaard), John Carroll Lynch (Norm Gunderson), Tony Denman (Scotty Lundegaard), Gary Houston (Irate Customer), Warren Keith (Reilly Diefenbach (voice)), Larry Brandenburg (Stan Grossman), Bruce Bohne (Lou), Steve Park (Mike Yanagita), Cliff Rakerd (Officer Olson), Bain Boehlke (Mr. Mohra), James Gaulke (State Trooper), Sally Wingert (Irate Customer’s Wife), Bix Skahill (Night Parking Attendant), José Feliciano (José Feliciano).
This highly influential and blackly comic crime drama sees Minneapolis car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (Macy), desperate for money to clear his debts, hire two thugs (Buscemi and Stormare) to kidnap his own wife. Jerry will collect the ransom from her wealthy father (Presnell), paying the thugs a small portion and keeping the rest to satisfy his debts. The scheme collapses when the thugs shoot a state trooper and McDormand’s police chief leads the investigation. Full of nuanced observation and richly comic dialogue, the film sees the Coen Brothers fulfil their considerable potential. Roger Deakins’ cinematography beautifully contrasts the wide snowy landscapes, with the blood-red violence being committed within. McDormand, Macy, Stormare and Buscemi all give career-defining performances aided by a screenplay that is lean and perfectly balanced. A film that can be appreciated more and more through repeated viewings. Followed by a 60m pilot for a TV series, which didn’t sell, but a series was ultimately taken up in 2014.
AA: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Frances McDormand); Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)
AAN: Best Picture (Ethan Coen); Best Actor in a Supporting Role (William H. Macy); Best Director (Joel Coen); Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins); Best Film Editing (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (both as Roderick Jaynes))

Criterion release of Shaft scheduled for June

Criterion has announced that Shaft will receive its Criterion Collection physical media release (Spine #1130) on 21 June. The title will be available in two forms – a 3-disc 4k and Blu-Ray combo and a 2-disc Blu-Ray set. The Special Features include:-

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • Alternate uncompressed stereo soundtrack remastered with creative input from Isaac Hayes III
  • In the 4K UHD edition: One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and two Blu-rays with the film and special features
  • Shaft’s Big Score!, the 1972 follow-up to Shaft by director Gordon Parks
  • New documentary on the making of Shaft featuring curator Rhea L. Combs, film scholar Racquel J. Gates, filmmaker Nelson George, and music scholar Shana L. Redmond
  • Behind-the-scenes program featuring Parks, actor Richard Roundtree, and musician Isaac Hayes
  • Archival interviews with Hayes, Parks, and Roundtree
  • New interview with costume designer Joseph G. Aulisi
  • New program on the Black detective and the legacy of John Shaft, featuring scholar Kinohi Nishikawa and novelist Walter Mosley
  • A Complicated Man: The “Shaft” Legacy (2019)
  • Behind-the-scenes footage from Shaft’s Big Score!
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by film scholar Amy Abugo Ongiri
  • New cover by Bill Sienkiewicz

Film Review – STAR TREK (2009)

STAR TREK (2009, USA, 127m, 12) ****
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
dist. Paramount Pictures; pr co. Paramount Pictures / Spyglass Entertainment / Bad Robot / Mavrocine ; d. J.J. Abrams; w. Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman; pr. J.J. Abrams, David Witz; ph. Daniel Mindel (DeLuxe | 2.35:1); m. Michael Giacchino; ed. Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey; pd. Scott Chambliss; ad. Keith P. Cunningham.
cast: Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Leonard Nimoy (Spock Prime), Eric Bana (Nero), Bruce Greenwood (Pike), Karl Urban (Bones), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), Ben Cross (Sarek), Winona Ryder (Amanda Grayson), Chris Hemsworth (George Kirk), Jennifer Morrison (Winona Kirk), Rachel Nichols (Gaila), Faran Tahir (Captain Robau), Clifton Collins Jr. (Ayel), Tony Elias (Officer Pitts), Sean Gerace (Tactical Officer), Randy Pausch (Kelvin Crew Member).
A hugely entertaining reworking of the classic 1960s TV series sees the crew of the Enterprise set on a new timeline. The brash and arrogant James T. Kirk is looking to live up to his father’s legacy with Quinto’s Mr Spock keeping him in check. All the favourite characters are back as the crew tackles a vengeful, time-travelling Romulan looking to create black holes to destroy the Federation one planet at a time. Whilst the plot may not stand up to scrutiny, the action set-pieces are thrillingly staged, and the visual effects work is first-class. Abrahams directs with gusto and a strong feel for the characters with the richly humorous interaction between the leads that made the TV series so popular evident again here and only occasionally feeling forced. Followed by STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013).
AA: Best Achievement in Makeup (Barney Burman, Mindy Hall, Joel Harlow)
AAN: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing (Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson, Peter J. Devlin); Best Achievement in Sound Editing (Mark P. Stoeckinger, Alan Rankin); Best Achievement in Visual Effects (Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh, Burt Dalton)


AN HOUR BEFORE IT’S DARK (CD, Intact/earMUSIC, 4 March 2022, 54:10) – score 79%
Musicians: Steve Hogarth – Vocals, Keyboards; Mark Kelly – Keyboards; Steve Rothery – Guitars; Pete Trewava- Bass, Additional Guitar; Ian Mosley – Drums
Kat Marsh – Backing Vocals (1, 6); P. Bissett – Additional Noises (1); Luis Jardim – Percussion (2, 4, 6, 7); B. Hartshorne – Additional Sounds (2, 4); The Friends Chorus (2), Choir Noir (5, 7); Bethan Bond – Concert Harp (5, 7); “In Praise of Totty” String Quartet (5); Sam Morris – French Horn (7)
Producer: Michael Hunter and Marillion; Recorded and Mixed by Michael Hunter; Assistant Engineer (at Real World): Katie May; Recorded at The Racket Club, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire; Real World, Box, Wiltshire, 2021; Strings recorded by Christine Verscoren at Ace Studio, Aartselaar, Belgium, 2021.
Marillion return with their first album of new material since 2016’s critically acclaimed album FEAR. The band adopt a similar approach to the music here with four of the seven songs split into multi-sectioned titles, which demonstrates the band’s approach to linking separately composed pieces together to form a dynamically varied whole. This works to a wonderful effect on the album opener “Be Hard on Yourself” with its nagging chorus hook and the closer “Care” with its soaring guitar figure being one of Rothery’s finest. “Reprogram the Gene” and “Sierra Leone” feel less focused with the latter’s repeated chants feeling more forced. The emotional heart of the album is seen in the relatively short “Murder Machines” with its sad irony etching the tragedy of the recent pandemic. There is an evocative use of a vocal choir on both “The Crow and the Nightingale” and “Care” giving these songs additional harmonic layers and freshness. Playing to their strengths Marillion continue to produce quality music that is often achingly beautiful

1. Be Hard on Yourself (i. The Tear in the Big Picture ii. Lust for Luxury iii. You Can Learn) (9:27) ****
2. Reprogram the Gene (i. Invincible ii. Trouble-Free Life iii. A Cure for Us?) (7:00) ***
3. Only a Kiss (0:39) ***
4. Murder Machines (4:20) ****
5. The Crow and the Nightingale (6:35) ****
6. Sierra Leone (i. Chance in a Million ii. The White Sand iii. The Diamond iv. The Blue Warm Air v. More Than a Treasure) (10:51) ***
7. Care (i. Maintenance Drugs ii. An Hour Before It’s Dark iii. Every Call iv. Angels on Earth) (15:18) *****

All Songs: Music by Marillion; Lyrics by Steve Hogarth.

Classic Rock (Dave Everley): “An Hour Before It’s Dark is more than just one of the finest albums of Marillion’s career, it stands as a beacon of hope as we slowly begin to emerge from the bleakest of times.” (****½)
Sputnik Music (Brendan Schroer): “An Hour Before It’s Dark currently stands as the best post-2000s Marillion album, and it’ll be one hell of a difficult record for them to top.” (****½)
The Arts Desk (Graham Fuller): “This album’s six main songs (another is merely a fragment) are not exactly tuneless, but the melodies are buried so deep in Marillion’s intricate clamour they’re all but indiscernible.” (***)

Film Review – THE RAVEN (1935)

THE RAVEN (1935, USA, 61m, PG) ***½
Crime, Horror
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures; d. Lew Landers; w. David Boehm (based on the poem by Edgar Allan Poe); exec pr. Stanley Bergerman (uncredited); ph. Charles J. Stumar (B&W | 1.37:1); m. Clifford Vaughan; ed. Albert Akst; ad. Albert S. D’Agostino.
cast: Boris Karloff (Edmond Bateman), Bela Lugosi (Dr. Richard Vollin), Lester Matthews (Dr. Jerry Holden), Irene Ware (Jean Thatcher), Samuel S. Hinds (Judge Thatcher), Spencer Charters (Col. Bertram Grant), Inez Courtney (Mary Burns), Ian Wolfe (Geoffrey “Pinky”), Maidel Turner (Harriet).
Lugosi plays a spurned surgeon who seeks revenge using Edgar Allan Poe’s devices of torture and a hideously disfigured Karloff. Lugosi gives a commanding interpretation of madness in this lean horror that makes up in enthusiastic performances what it lacks in the sophistication and black humour that a director like James Whale would have brought to the proceedings. Karloff makes a late entrance and once again gives a strong physical performance mixing both pathos and threat. Ware makes a sparkling, if screechy, heroine and the final act in Lugosi’s chamber of horrors is enjoyably tense.

Film Review – MR. MAJESTYK (1974)

MR. MAJESTYK (1974, USA, 103m, 18) ***½
Action, Crime, Thriller
dist. United Artists; pr co. Mirisch Company; d. Richard Fleischer; w. Elmore Leonard; pr. Walter Mirisch; ph. Richard H. Kline (DeLuxe | 1.85:1); m. Charles Bernstein; ed. Ralph E. Winters.
cast: Charles Bronson (Vince Majestyk), Al Lettieri (Frank Renda), Linda Cristal (Nancy Chavez), Lee Purcell (Wiley), Paul Koslo (Bobby Kopas), Taylor Lacher (Gene Lundy), Frank Maxwell (Det. Lt. McAllen), Alejandro Rey (Larry Mendoza), Jordan Rhodes (Deputy Harold Richie), Bert Santos (Julio Tomas).
Enjoyable action-thriller wittily scripted by Leonard and directed with efficiency by Fleischer. Bronson is a Vietnam War veteran trying to keep his watermelon farm afloat when he is approached by Koslo who tries to force him into employing an inept band of farmhands. This incident lands Bronson in jail for assault where he crosses mobster hitman Lettieri when he tries to obstruct his escape plans. Bronson must now stand up for his farm and his workers, led by Cristal, against Lettieri and his men. Bronson is in good form, but Lettieri demonstrably overplays his role resulting in his highly emotive hitman character not ringing true. The action scenes, though, are well-staged and the slight story moves swiftly and entertainingly along to its inevitable shootout finale.

Film Review – THE BATMAN (2022)

THE BATMAN (2022, USA, 175m, 15) ****
Action, Crime
dist. Warner Bros.; pr co. Warner Bros. / 6th & Idaho Productions / DC Entertainment; d. Matt Reeves; w. Matt Reeves, Peter Craig (based on the comic book by Bill Finger & Bob Kane); pr. Dylan Clark, Matt Reeves; ph. Greig Fraser (Colour | 2.39:1); m. Michael Giacchino; ed. William Hoy, Tyler Nelson; pd. James Chinlund; ad. Grant Armstrong.
cast: Robert Pattinson (Bruce Wayne / The Batman), Zoë Kravitz (Selina Kyle), Jeffrey Wright (Lt. James Gordon), Colin Farrell (Oz / The Penguin), Paul Dano (The Riddler), John Turturro (Carmine Falcone), Andy Serkis (Alfred), Peter Sarsgaard (District Attorney Gil Colson), Barry Keoghan (Unseen Arkham Prisoner), Jayme Lawson (Bella Reál), Gil Perez-Abraham (Officer Martinez), Peter McDonald (Kenzie), Con O’Neill (Chief Mackenzie Bock), Alex Ferns (Commissioner Pete Savage), Rupert Penry-Jones (Mayor Don Mitchell, Jr), Kosha Engler (Mrs. Mitchell), Archie Barnes (Mitchell’s Son), Janine Harouni (Carla), Hana Hrzic (Annika), Joseph Walker (Young Riddler).
Dark, violent and noirish take on the DC comic book hero exceptionally well directed by Reeves. Here, The Riddler is a sadistic serial killer who begins murdering key political figures in Gotham City thereby uncovering corruption. Batman helps Lt. Gordon of the Gotham Police Department investigate, but questions arise about his family’s involvement in the city’s dark dealings. Long, but not rambling, the story’s mystery plays out well with the Riddler’s clues joining the dots. Pattinson is a brooding Batman and Dano gives a wonderfully unhinged performance as The Riddler. Along the way, there is a re-invention of other villains from the series too. The action scenes are well-staged and excitingly punctuate the plot. The running time is excessive but there is enough psychological drama and story development on the screen to sustain interest. Only in the grandiose finale does the story drop in quality and follow convention.