TV Review – SHERWOOD (2022)

SHERWOOD (2022, UK, 6 x 60m, 15) ****
Crime, Mystery
dist. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) (UK); pr co. House Productions; d. Lewis Arnold, Ben A. Williams w. James Graham; exec pr. Lewis Arnold, James Graham, Juliette Howell, Ben Irving, Tessa Ross, Harriet Spencer; pr. Rebecca Hodgson; ph. Sam Care, Simon Archer (Colour | 2.00:1); m sup. Catherine Grieves; ed. Sacha Szwarc, Sam White; ad. Stephanie Nicolle.
cast: David Morrissey (DCS Ian St Clair), Lesley Manville (Julie Jackson), Robert Glenister (DI Kevin Salisbury), Kevin Doyle (Fred Rowley), Claire Rushbrook (Cathy Rowley), Lorraine Ashbourne (Daphne Sparrow), Terence Maynard (DS Cleaver), Perry Fitzpatrick (Rory Sparrow), Andrea Lowe (DI Taylor), Philip Jackson (Mickey Sparrow), Clare Holman (Helen St Clair), Adam Hugill (Scott Rowley), Adeel Akhtar (Andy Fisher), Bally Gill (Neel Fisher), Nadine Marshall (Jenny Harris), Bill Jones (Ronan Sparrow), Harpal Hayer (PC Arjun Patel), Chloe Harris (PC Kirsty Dove), Safia Oakley-Green (Cinderella Jackson), Don Gilet (Jacob Harris), Mark Addy (Ron St Clair), Alun Armstrong (Gary Jackson), Stephen Tompkinson (Warnock), Lindsay Duncan (Jennifer Hale).
In this moody crime drama, seemingly patterned after the highly popular BROADCHURCH, two shocking murders shatter an already fractured community, leading to one of the largest manhunts in British history while threatening to inflame historic divisions sparked during the Miners’ Strike three decades before. Intercutting the two time periods enables writer Graham to set the character background and the story involves a large cast of highly accomplished actors. The performances of the ensemble cast are uniformly excellent The result is a largely absorbing drama that only wanders through its later episodes as establishing backstory for many of the characters takes precedence. The mystery element switches between the search for the murderer of Armstrong’s former NUM member to that of a police spy who has, unknown to the rest of the community, remained there. There are also personal dramas for most of the lead characters to deal with – notably the antagonism between detectives Morrissey and Glenister. The portrayal of a community divided by ongoing grudges carried over from the miner’s strike of 1984 is painstakingly detailed, but the finale which gathers all those characters together to have their say feels a little staged and manufactured but serves to hammer home the points.

SHAFT AMONG THE JEWS PUBLISHED 50 YEARS AGO TODAY

Dial Hardback (USA)

SHAFT AMONG THE JEWS by Ernest Tidyman was published in hardback in the US by Dial Press on 29 June 1972 and now celebrates its fiftieth anniversary.

In the book, Shaft is hired by a group of Jewish diamond merchants to find out what is causing the destabilisation of their business. Morris Blackburn, an ambitious trader, is in financial difficulties and using his right-hand man, David Alexander, to source his stock illegally and then cut the supply line. Blackburn is visited by Avrim Herzel, an old friend of his father, who claims to have developed a formula for manufacturing synthetic diamonds and wants his formula to be a gift to the world. Blackburn plans for the old man to teach him his methods, then secretly plots to kill him and use the formula for personal profit. But Herzel is also being sought by Ben Fischer and his Israeli Secret Service agents, having left his homeland with the formula. Also looking for Herzel is his daughter, Cara. When Shaft goes undercover at Blackburn’s store and Cara turns up looking for her father the various parties come together explosively.

Inspiration for SHAFT AMONG THE JEWS came from a 1968 New York Times report on the murder of three travelling diamond salesmen over a three-month period. In the report executive secretary Arnold J. Lubin spoke on behalf of New York’s Diamond Dealers Club expressing fear of “Syndicate” involvement.

Tidyman was pleased with his work on the novel and in a letter to James Lynch of the New York Times said, “I think it’s better than the first one but what the hell.”

The UK hardback would be published on 15 February 1973 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Paperback versions of the book would follow in the US through Bantam in June 1973 and in the UK through Corgi on 21 September 1973.

Dial Press Release (May 1972)

Book Review – BREAD (1974) by Ed McBain

BREAD (1974) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1976, 191pp
First published in 1974
© Ed McBain, 1974
ISBN: 978-0-3302-4850-2
Blurb: The summer heat is sweltering. Tempers are rising. When the watchman in a warehouse filled with imported wooden figurines dies with a bullet to his head, the cops of the 87th Precinct are called in–but the case doesn’t end there. A fatal hunger for “bread” seems to be spreading throughout the city as a hooker loses her life in the quest for dough. Money is lost in a warehouse fire. Cash is flying in a slum redevelopment deal. And what the cops find behind a tale of fire and money is murder–and lots of it.
Comment: The 29th book in McBain’s 87th Precinct series returns to the single plot/case scenario of the early books and is a highly satisfying read. McBain’s cast of detectives is augmented by the bigoted, but relentless, Ollie Weeks of the 83rd. He is a colourful character and his interaction with Carella and Hawes creates an interesting dynamic. McBain’s authorial flourishes add his own personality to the storytelling. The dialogue flows easily throughout as the detectives doggedly get to the bottom of arson and murder with a shady cast of suspects.

Film Review – FATAL ATTRACTION (1987)

FATAL ATTRACTION (1987, USA, 119m, 18) ***½
Drama, Thriller
dist. Paramount Pictures (USA), United International Pictures (UIP) (UK); pr co. Paramount Pictures; d. Adrian Lyne; w. James Dearden; pr. Stanley R. Jaffe, Sherry Lansing; ph. Howard Atherton (Technicolor | 1.85:1); m. Maurice Jarre; ed. Peter E. Berger, Michael Kahn; pd. Mel Bourne; ad. Jack Blackman.
cast: Michael Douglas (Dan Gallagher), Glenn Close (Alex Forrest), Anne Archer (Beth Gallagher), Ellen Latzen (Ellen Gallagher), Stuart Pankin (Jimmy), Ellen Foley (Hildy), Fred Gwynne (Arthur), Meg Mundy (Joan Rogerson), Tom Brennan (Howard Rogerson), Lois Smith (Martha), Mike Nussbaum (Bob Drimmer), J.J. Johnston (O’Rourke), Michael Arkin (Lieutenant), Sam Coppola (Fuselli), Eunice Prewitt (Receptionist), Jane Krakowski (Babysitter), Justine Johnston (Real Estate Agent), Mary Joy (Teacher), Christine Farrell (Teacher), Marc McQue (Chuck).
This highly influential thriller had its origins in a 50-minute short. DIVERSION, made by screenwriter Dearden in 1980. Another obvious influence is the 1972 Clint Eastwood vehicle, PLAY MISTY FOR ME, which saw Eastwood’s DJ pursued by the psychotic Jessica Walter. Here, we see Douglas, as a high-flying lawyer, happily married to his wife (Archer), and has a loving daughter. But, after a casual fling with a sultry book editor (Close), everything changes as Close becomes increasingly unhinged following Douglas’ subsequent rejection. Director Lyne mines the material for maximum benefit with some memorable sequences of drama and suspense. Douglas and Close are convincing in their roles, as is Archer as Douglas’ wronged wife. The story only falters in its climax, where it reverts to genre convention. Its influence, however, cannot be underestimated as a succession of steamy erotic thrillers followed in its wake. It was the highest-grossing film of 1987 worldwide.
AAN: Best Picture (Stanley R. Jaffe, Sherry Lansing); Best Actress in a Leading Role (Glenn Close); Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Anne Archer); Best Director (Adrian Lyne); Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (James Dearden); Best Film Editing (Michael Kahn, Peter E. Berger)

Shaft’s Big Score! turns Fifty

Fifty years ago, at 8 p.m. on 20 June 1972, SHAFT’S BIG SCORE!, the sequel to 1971’s ground-breaking SHAFT, received its Gala Benefit Premiere at New York’s Cinerama Theatre. The premiere was attended by members of the cast and crew, with Richard Roundtree also accompanied by his 103-year-old grandmother. The beneficiaries were the Studio Museum and the Black Academy of Arts and Letters.
New York Daily News ad on 20 June 1972.
The film would open to the New York public the following day at the Cinerama, as well as the 59th Street Twin #2 and the RKO 86th Street Twin #2. In the first five days, across these three theatres, the movie reportedly set house records for each, earning a total of $115,599.
Openings followed at the Miligram in Philadelphia on Thursday 22 June and The Roosevelt Theatre in Chicago the following day. A benefit Midwest premiere, attended by Richard Roundtree Moses Gunn and Kathy Imrie, was held at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis on Monday 26 June. The movie opened in Los Angeles and 56 other major cities on Wednesday 28 June and a 10-city promotional tour of cast and crew took place over a period of two weeks.
Variety, 5 July 1972

On 5 July, Variety reported the film had grossed $2,175,811 by the end of the second week following its New York opening and its first week on wide release. In total, the movie went on to gross close to $10 million at the US box office (with $4 million in domestic rentals) from a budget of $2,294,228. Whilst short of the earnings from the first movie, this was still impressive enough to guarantee another healthy profit for MGM. The film’s UK opening would follow on 10 August at the Empire in Leicester Square in London.

A Caribbean setting had initially been proposed for the sequel, with an outline from Joe Greene (aka B.B. Johnson) briefly considered before producer Roger Lewis submitted a full screenplay using the same location. However, that script was vetoed by Shaft creator and co-producer Ernest Tidyman, who felt it was weak and ultimately pushed forward his own original story. Tidyman’s script returned to the gangster roots of the original and was initially set in Chicago, as the production team had shown a desire to shoot there. But when it became apparent officials would not be enthusiastic to see their city portrayed in a bad light, the production was relocated to New York.
Richard Roundtree and Gordon Parks on location at Cypress Hills Cemetery, Queens, New York.

Most of the crew from SHAFT returned, with Gordon Parks again in the director’s chair and providing the music score (after Isaac Hayes could not agree on terms). The bigger budget enabled Parks to shoot in Panavision and include a protracted but dynamic chase finale involving cars, a speedboat, and a helicopter. This led many reviewers to compare Shaft more closely with James Bond – something the producers would pick up on and run with for the following year’s SHAFT IN AFRICA.

Book Review – HAIL TO THE CHIEF (1973) by Ed McBain

HAIL TO THE CHIEF (1973) **½
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1975, 140pp
First published in 1973
© Ed McBain, 1973
ISBN: 978-0-3302-4491-4
Blurb: Carella looked in the frozen ditch. Kling fanned his flashlight over the naked bodies. Who was responsible – Death’s Heads, Scarlet Avengers or the Yankee Rebels? A couple of detectives with six corpses on their hands needed all the help they could get. They wouldn’t get it from the gangs, that was for sure. Those guys didn’t fool around. You were either their friends or you were their enemies. All hell was set to break loose…
Comment: Book number 28 in McBain’s 87th Precinct series is another departure from format. This time McBain interweaves the police investigation with the statement of the key perpetrator as Carella and Kling move between the three key gangs whilst trying to solve a multiple murder. The problem here is that we cannot really invest in these gangland characters. This is a similar problem to that encountered in McBain’s earlier attempt to tackle youth gangs in his 1960 novel, See Them Diealthough there he had a better framework with which to add some social commentary and colourful characters. The fact that the mystery element is all but removed from this novel turns it into more of an examination of gang culture as a metaphor for national, international and cultural conflict. That it also feels manufactured shows how much the subject is outside of McBain’s comfort zone. His strengths have always been in plot development, character and dialogue and here these qualities are less evident. As a result, this book is one of his least successful efforts.

Film Review – DIAMONDS (1975)

DIAMONDS (1975, Switzerland/Israel/USA/UK, 108m, PG) **½
Crime, Drama
dist. AVCO Embassy Pictures (USA), Fox-Rank (UK); pr co. AmeriEuro Pictures / Euramat Films; d. Menahem Golan; w. Menahem Golan, David Paulsen; pr. Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan; ph. Adam Greenberg (Eastmancolor | 1.85:1); m. Roy Budd; ed. Dov Hoenig; ad. Kuli Sander.
cast: Robert Shaw (Charles / Earl Hodgson), Richard Roundtree (Archie), Barbara Hershey (Sally (as Barbara Seagull)), Shelley Winters (Zelda Shapiro), Yosef Shiloach (Mustafa), Shaike Ophir (Moshe), Gadi Yagil (Gaby), Yona Elian (Zippi), Yehuda Efroni (Salzburg), Yossi Graber (Rabinowitz), Bomba Tzur (Momo), Aryeh Moskona (Avram), Tali Goldberg (Policewoman), Arik Dichner (Arik), Chen Plotkin (Danny Rabinowitz), Naomi Blumenthal (Ruth Rabinowitz (as Naomi Greenbaum)).
This minor heist movie sees Shaw as a British aristocrat who decides to become a thief as a way of embarrassing his security expert twin brother, who has built the supposedly impregnable Diamond Exchange in Tel Aviv. For the caper, Shaw enlists ex-con Roundtree, a heist expert, and his girlfriend Hershey (here billed as Barbara Seagull) to assist. Golan’s direction and shot setups are haphazard and the pacing is inconsistent as it gets bogged down with the need to add location colour. Shaw is much too good for the material, whilst Budd’s excellent pulsing score helps to add some tension to the heist climax. Winters’ role as an American woman looking for a suitor is superfluous. The theme song over the end credits is sung by The Three Degrees.

Film Review – JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION (2022)

JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION (2022, USA/Malta, 146m, 12) ***
Action, Adventure
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Amblin Entertainment / Latina Pictures / Perfect World Pictures / Universal Pictures; d. Colin Trevorrow; w. Emily Carmichael, Colin Trevorrow (based on a story by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow and characters created by Michael Crichton); pr. Patrick Crowley, Frank Marshall; ph. John Schwartzman (Colour | 2.00:1); m. Michael Giacchino; ed. Mark Sanger; pd. Kevin Jenkins; ad. Ben Collins.
cast: Chris Pratt (Owen Grady), Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire Dearing), Laura Dern (Ellie Sattler), Sam Neill (Alan Grant), Jeff Goldblum (Ian Malcolm), DeWanda Wise (Kayla Watts), Mamoudou Athie (Ramsay Cole), Isabella Sermon (Maisie Lockwood / Young Charlotte Lockwood), Campbell Scott (Lewis Dodgson), BD Wong (Dr. Henry Wu), Omar Sy (Barry Sembène), Justice Smith (Franklin Webb), Daniella Pineda (Dr. Zia Rodriguez), Scott Haze (Rainn Delacourt), Dichen Lachman (Soyona Santos), Kristoffer Polaha (Wyatt Huntley), Caleb Hearon (Jeremy Bernier), Freya Parker (Denise Roberts), Alexander Owen (Angus Hetbury), Ahir Shah (Sundar Kumar).
This is the globetrotting sixth (and likely final) entry in a series that has undoubtedly run out of steam but still manages to entertain on a basic level. The story takes place four years after Isla Nublar has been destroyed. Dinosaurs now live–and hunt–alongside humans all over the world. This fragile balance will reshape the future and determine, once and for all, whether human beings are to remain the apex predators on a planet they now share with history’s most fearsome creatures. Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return from the previous two films, as do Neill, Dern and Goldblum, stars of the original Jurassic trilogy. It is the latter who provides most of the nostalgic warmth and this is where the film derives much of its entertainment value. Neill slips easily back into his awkward palaeontologist role and Dern into hers as Neill’s more idealistic and pro-active associate, whilst Goldblum can still deliver wryly comic lines. The plot involving genetically created giant locusts being used to dry up the natural food supply so the bad guys can control the world’s resources through manufactured foods is certainly heavy-handed and lacks any real substance. Sub-plots surrounding the kidnapping of Sermon, a genetically created child, and a baby raptor are intended to provide an emotional core, but merely feel contrived to raise the stakes even further. The action set-pieces and dinosaur sequences are what the series is all about. Here the action often feels mechanical and derivative, but occasionally thrills, whilst the dinosaur sequences tend to repeat what we have seen before, albeit with the customary skill and technical proficiency. The film is also overlong and would have benefited from further trimming. Otherwise, it provides sufficient thrills and entertainment but without the depth to make it anything other than pure popcorn entertainment.

Book Review – LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE DEAF MAN (1973) by Ed McBain

LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE DEAF MAN (1973) ***½
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1976, 160pp
First published in 1973
© Ed McBain, 1973
ISBN: 978-0-3302-4307-1
Blurb: “You’ll have to speak a little louder,” the voice said. “I m a little hard of hearing.” Between a highly successful cat burglar and a hippie crucifixion, the 87th Precinct definitely doesn’t need the Deaf Man showing up again especially since his two previous appearances resulted in blackmail, murder, and general havoc. But at least they have him now…unless he had them first. The Deaf Man can hardly contain his glee. Detective Steve Carella is about to inadvertently help him rob a bank. Each day, he mails Carella a picture to keep the game going. The first two are pictures of J. Edgar Hoover, while the next ones involve George Washington. All are clues, obviously. But how do they add up? And will the 87th Precinct find out before the Deaf Man has the last laugh?
Comment: The Deaf Man, last seen in 1968’s Fuzz, returns for this the 27th book in McBain’s prolific 87th Precinct series. It would appear that McBain was looking to cash in on the movie adaptation of Fuzz, released the previous year. This time the Deaf Man’s scheme returns to his roots from 1960’s The Heckler, by his attempts to tease and wrongfoot the detectives, and in particular Carella, whilst planning a bank heist. As was becoming a regular approach, McBain weaves in two other unrelated plots: the first concerning apartment burglaries, where the perpetrator leaves a kitten as a calling card; the second featuring a murder in the form of crucifixion. McBain’s strengths in dialogue and plotting remain evident throughout, but the Deaf Man’s scheme feels a little boiled over by repeating that seen in his 1960 debut. This book takes a straighter approach than that seen in Fuzz, and the squad are presented as more competent. On the domestic front, we get to meet Kling’s new love in model Augusta Blair. Their romance feels a little rushed as it competes with the trio of plots. Nevertheless, this is another enjoyable read.

Film Review – NARROW MARGIN (1990)

NARROW MARGIN (1990, USA, 97m, 15) ***
Action, Crime, Thriller
dist. TriStar Pictures (USA), Guild Film Distribution (UK); pr co. Carolco Pictures; d. Peter Hyams; w. Peter Hyams (based on the screenplay by Earl Felton and the story by Martin Goldsmith & Jack Leonard); pr. Jonathan A. Zimbert; ph. Peter Hyams (Technicolor | 2.39:1, 2.20:1 (70mm prints)); m. Bruce Broughton; ed. James Mitchell; pd. Joel Schiller; ad. David Willson.
cast: Gene Hackman (Robert Caulfield), Anne Archer (Hunnicut), James Sikking (Nelson), Harris Yulin (Leo Watts), J.T. Walsh (Michael Tarlow), M. Emmet Walsh (Sgt. Dominick Benti), Susan Hogan (Kathryn Weller), Nigel Bennett (Jack Wootton), J.A. Preston (Martin Larner), B.A. ‘Smitty’ Smith (Keller), Codie Lucas Wilbee (Nicholas), Barbara Russell (Nicholas’ Mother), Antony Holland (Elderly Man), Doreen Ramos (Elderly Woman), Kevin McNulty (James Dahlbeck), Andrew Rhodes (Nigro), Lon Katzman (Loughlin), Dana Still (Bellman With Message), Lesley Ewen (Larner’s Secretary), Barney O’Sullivan (Ticket Agent).
This remake of Richard Fleischer’s well-regarded 1952 film noir sees Archer witness a brutal murder by mobsters. She hides out in a remote cabin in the Canadian tundra. Hackman is the Deputy DA who journeys into the wilderness to convince Archer to testify in court. When mob assassins shoot at the cabin in a helicopter, Hackman and Archer make a mad dash through the wilderness to escape the mob only to be trapped on a train with the villains on their tail. It lacks the dark intensity of the original but benefits from Hackman’s witty performance. The script is generally weak and lacks plausibility, but there are occasional flourishes of humour – notably in the exchanges between Hackman and Sikking. Great stunt work is in evidence too as the story is punctuated with violent action sequences. Archer, however, is given little to do other than look scared and Hyams seems undecided on tone throughout. The Canadian scenery is breathtaking and wonderfully captured by Hyams. Broughton provides a suitably brooding score. The result is a flawed but often highly entertaining thriller worth it for Hackman alone.