Film Review – THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974)

THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974, Morningside Productions, Inc., UK/Spain/USA, 105 mins, Colour, 1.66:1, Mono, Cert: U, Fantasy Adventure) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: John Phillip Law (Sinbad), Caroline Munro (Margiana), Tom Baker (Koura), Douglas Wilmer (Vizier), Martin Shaw (Rachid), Grégoire Aslan (Hakim), Kurt Christian (Haroun), Takis Emmanuel (Achmed), David Garfield (Abdul), Aldo Sambrell (Omar).
      Producer: Charles H. Schneer, Ray Harryhausen; Director: Gordon Hessler; Writer: Brian Clemens (from a story by Clemens and Harryhausen); Director of Photography: Ted Moore; Music: Miklos Rozsa; Film Editor: Roy Watts; Product ion Designer: John Stoll; Art Director: Fernando Gonzalez; Set Decorator: Julian Mateos; Special Visual Effects: Ray Harryhausen.

golden_voyage_of_sinbadA throwback to the adventures of the late fifties and early sixties that at the time of its release was a welcome departure from the urban thrillers dominating early 1970s cinema. Here, Sinbad (Law) and his crew intercept a homunculus carrying a golden tablet. Koura (a pre-Doctor Who Baker), the homunculus’ creator and practitioner of evil magic, wants the tablet back and pursues Sinbad. Meanwhile Sinbad meets the Vizier (Wilmer) who has another part of the interlocking golden map, and they mount a quest across the seas to solve the riddle of the map, accompanied by a slave girl (Munro) with a mysterious tattoo of an eye on her palm. They encounter strange beasts, tempests, and the dark interference of Koura along the way.

Whilst the effects may seem quaint compared to the modern-day CGI approach, they also give this tale its charm and the creatures carry more personality as a result of Harryhausen’s legendary stop-motion approach to animation. The pace improves as the story progresses with good action scenes centred around battles with mythological creatures pumped along by a strong score from Rozsa. The quest plot is a familiar hook for fans of the genre and whilst the film does not match the heights of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS or even THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. This is still pleasingly entertaining escapism for kids of all ages.

Robert Shaw had pitched for the role of Sinbad but settled for an uncredited role as the Oracle, for which his face was heavily swathed in make-up and his voice electronically altered by a sound engineer. Followed by SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER in 1977.

Film Review – THE WRONG MAN (1956)

THE WRONG MAN (1956, Warner Bros., USA, 105 mins, B&W, 1.66:1, Mono, Cert: PG, Crime Drama) ∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Henry Fonda (Manny Balestrero), Vera Miles (Rose Balestrero), Anthony Quayle (Frank D. O’Connor), Harold J. Stone (Det. Lt. Bowers), Charles Cooper (Det. Matthews), John Heldabrand (Tomasini), Esther Minciotti (Mama Balestrero), Doreen Lang (Ann James), Laurinda Barrett (Constance Willis), Norma Connolly (Betty Todd), Nehemiah Persoff (Gene Conforti), Lola D’Annunzio (Olga Conforti), Kippy Campbell (Robert Balestrero), Robert Essen (Gregory Balestrero), Richard Robbins (Daniel), Dayton Lummis (Judge Groat), Peggy Webber (Miss Dennerly).
      Producer: Alfred Hitchcock; Director: Alfred Hitchcock; Writer: Maxwell Anderson, Angus MacPhail (from a story by Anderson); Director of Photography: Robert Burks; Music: Bernard Herrmann; Film Editor: George Tomasini; Art Director: Paul Sylbert; Set Decorator: William L. Kuehl.

2mpakhfHitchcock himself introduces this intriguing adaptation of a true story of Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda), who makes little money as a musician. When his wife (Vera Miles) needs some dental work, Manny attempts to cash in on her insurance policy. Unfortunately, he resembles an armed robber who held up the office twice before, so the police are called and Manny is placed under arrest.

Where the film scores is in the unfolding psychological drama. As Manny retains a certain calmness as he attempts to prove his innocence, his wife Rose becomes increasingly strained mentally leading her to an eventual breakdown. Fonda and Miles capture the essence of their characters very well as the story unfolds in a matter-of-fact fashion. Herrmann also contributes another evocative score that conveys the increasing desperation of the couples’ situation. Hitchcock also uses the New York locations (including the city’s Stork Club) effectively, which are captured moodily through Burks’ camera work. The director deliberately steers away from any visual tricks and lets the story speak for itself. As such it is one of his most straightforward films.

Balestrero’s story had previously been dramatised on Robert Montgomery Presents in an episode entitled “A Case of Identity,” which aired on 11 Jan 1954 on the NBC network based on the Life magazine article bearing the same title.

Film Review – SHADOW DANCER (2012)

SHADOW DANCER (2012, BBC Films/Irish Film Board/ Element Pictures, UK/Ireland, 101 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Dolby Digital, Cert: 15, Drama) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Clive Owen (Mac), Andrea Riseborough (Colette McVeigh), Gillian Anderson (Kate Fletcher), Aidan Gillen (Gerry), Domhnall Gleeson (Connor), Brid Brennan (Ma), David Wilmot (Kevin Mulville), Stuart Graham (Ian Gilmour), Martin McCann (Brendan).
      Producer: Chris Coen, Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe; Director: James Marsh; Writer: Tom Bradby (based on his own novel); Director of Photography: Rob Hardy (DeLuxe); Music: Dickon Hinchliffe; Film Editor: Jinx Godfrey; Production Designer: Jon Henson, Art Director: Aeveen Fleming; Costume Designer: Lorna Marie Mugan.

10644038-1355145852-938663The opening set-up of this adaptation of Tom Bradby’s novel in 1973 Belfast produces the most haunting scenes of the film and establishes Riseborough’s burden of guilt over the death of her little brother, who was shot after she sent him to the shops on an errand. When twenty years later she is finally convinced it was the IRA who were responsible, she uses that guilt to spy on her own brothers – Gillen and Gleeson – with Owen as her MI5 guardian.

There are a few twists and turns in the plot as the tale unfolds to its logical conclusion. Performances are good – notably Brennan as the family matriarch and Wilmot as the IRA’s fixer. Riseborough’s relationship with her own son is meant to symbolise her redemption for the loss for her brother, yet Marsh directs this with a cold realism. The film’s focus on Riseborough and her family also leads to a sense of detachment from the community and the ongoing tensions – excepting for one scene with a flag-waving funeral. As such there is a lost opportunity to further explore the family’s continued fight being at odds with the changing political climate.

Marsh keeps the tension and drama bubbling under the surface whilst building deliberately to the climax. His use of Owen and Anderson as MI5 agents is interesting after early set-ups they stay on the periphery of the story, although their characters’ differing methods do provoke the final twist that ignites Riseborough’s anger and action.

Although this is a credible adaptation I am still left with the feeling it could have been even better had it been adapted for TV as a mini-series and the characters and scenarios had even more room to breathe.

Film Review – JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014)

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014, Paramount Pictures/Skydance Productions, USA/Russia, 105 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, SDDS/Datasat/Dolby Digital/Dolby Surround 7.1, Cert: 12, Action/Thriller) ∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Chris Pine (Jack Ryan), Keira Knightley (Cathy Muller), Kevin Costner (Thomas Harper), Kenneth Branagh (Viktor Cherevin), Lenn Kudrjawizki (Constantin), Alec Utgoff (Aleksandr Borovsky), Peter Andersson (Dimitri Lemkov), Elena Velikanova (Katya), Nonso Anozie (Embee Deng), Seth Ayott (Teddy Hefferman), Colm Feore (Rob Behringer), Gemma Chan (Amy Chang).
      Producer: David Barron, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mace Neufeld, Mark Vahradian; Director: Kenneth Branagh; Writer: Adam Cozad, David Koepp (based on characters created by Tom Clancy); Director of Photography: Haris Zambarloukos (DeLuxe); Music: Patrick Doyle; Film Editor: Martin Walsh; Production Designer: Andrew Laws; Art Director: Stuart Kearns; Set Decorator: Judy Farr; Costume Designer: Jill Taylor.jack-ryan-shadow-recruit-blu-ray-cover-69

Chris Pine becomes the fourth actor in five films to play Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. This is the first film, however, not to be based on one of Clancy’s books and is in essence an origins story. Here, Jack Ryan is in his early career as a young covert CIA analyst when he uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.

By making Ryan younger and with heavy nods to his heroic military career this is an attempt to turn Ryan into more of an intelligent action hero than deskbound analyst. Pine has the right amount of energy and exuberance for the role and acquits himself admirably. Knightley becomes the fourth actress to portray his fiancée, Catrhy Muller (later his wife), but they lack the chemistry of the Harrison Ford/Anne Archer partnership of PATRIOT CAMES and CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER. Director Branagh also portrays the chief Russian heavy and there is a distinct cold war feel to the modern setting, which mirrors the increasingly cold relations between the US and Russia. The plot seems convoluted and demanding of attention, but in reality is rather simplistic and lacking in scale. Branagh’s direction prefers dialogue and exposition to be punctuated by bursts of adrenalin fuelled action. His camerawork however adopts the shaky style of the BOURNE trilogy and is a little off-putting with fast edits often adding confusion to the scenes. Also on board is Costner as Ryan’s first mentor, but he is largely on the periphery of the action.

Despite the uneven pace, this remains an enjoyable resurrection, but like its predecessor THE SUM OF ALL FEARS, which tried to re-launch the series with Ben Affleck as a younger Ryan, its movement into Bond and Bourne territory may leave it too indistinguishable to progress the series any further.

Film Review – UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY (1995)

UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY (1995, Dark Territory Productions, USA, 100 mins, Colour, 1.85:1, SDDS/Dolby Digital, Cert: 15, Action/Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Steven Seagal (Casey Ryback), Eric Bogosian (Travis Dane), Everett McGill (Marcus Penn), Katherine Heigl (Sarah Ryback), Morris Chestnut (Bobby Zachs), Peter Greene (Mercenary #1), Patrick Kilpatrick (Mercenary #2), Scott Sowers (Mercenary #3), Afifi Alaouie (Female Mercenary), Andy Romano (Admiral Bates), Brenda Bakke (Captain Linda Gilder), Sandra Taylor (Kelly, Barmaid), Jonathan Banks (Scotty, Mercenary), David Gianopoulos (Captain David Trilling), Royce D. Applegate (Ryback’s Cook), Nick Mancuso (Tom Breaker).
      Producer: Arnon Milchan, Steven Seagal, Steve Perry; Director: Geoff Murphy; Writer: Richard Hatem, Matt Reeves (based on characters created by J. F. Lawton); Director of Photography: Robbie Greenberg (Technicolor); Music: Basil Poledouris; Film Editor: Michael Tronick; Production Designer: Albert Brenner; Art Director: Carol Winstead Wood; Set Decorator: Kathe Klopp; Costume Designer: Richard Bruno.

under-siege-2-dark-territory-blu-ray-cover-46In this sequel to Seagal’s UNDER SIEGE Casey Ryback gets on board a train travelling from Colorado to LA to start a vacation with his niece. However, in an extraordinary case of deja-vu a group of terrorists take over the train in order to use it as a base from which to hijack a top secret US satellite carrying deadly weapons.

It’s basically more of the same and for anyone who enjoyed the first they will likely enjoy this. However whereas the first had elements of class amongst the cheese – notably Tommy Lee Jones and the tight direction of Andrew Davis – here the villains are even more one-dimensional and the direction is merely competent and lacking in flair. Seagal, if anything, is more wooden when delivering his lines than in the first film, but his physical presence makes up for his shortcomings as an actor. There are good supporting roles for Chestnut as a porter who becomes Seagal’s unwitting sidekick and Heigl as his stroppy niece. McGill, as a heavy, makes a good serious contrast to Bogosian’s wildly overblown chief villain.

The confines of the setting limits the film’s opportunities for action set pieces, which begin to become repetitive as it progresses. The end result is a functional, but overly-derivative action thriller that whilst watchable offers nothing new.

Film Review – UNDER SIEGE (1992)

UNDER SIEGE (1992, Northwest Productions, USA, 102 mins, Colour, 1.85:1, Dolby Digital, Cert: 15, Action/Thriller) ∗∗∗
      Starring: Steven Seagal (Casey Ryback), Tommy Lee Jones (William Stranix), Gary Busey (Cmdr. Krill), Erika Eleniak (Jordan Tate), Colm Meaney (Doumer), Patrick O’Neal (Capt. Adams), Andy Romano (Adm. Bates), Nick Mancuso (Tom Breaker), Damian Chapa (Tackman), Troy Evans (Granger), David McKnight (Flicker), Lee Hinton (Cue Ball), Glenn Morshower (Ens. Taylor), Leo Alexander (Lt. Smart), John Rottger (Cmdr. Green).
      Producer: Arnon Milchan, Steven Seagal, Steven Reuther; Director: Andrew Davis; Writer: J. F. Lawton; Director of Photography: Frank Tidy; Music: Gary Chang; Film Editor: Robert A. Ferretti, Dennis Virkler, Don Brochu, Dov Hoenig; Production Designer: Bill Kenney; Art Director: William Hiney; Set Decorator: Rick Gentz; Costume Designer: Richard Bruno.

under-siege-blu-ray-cover-20Action hero Steven Seagal plays a former Navy S.E.A.L., who is now a cook and is the only person who can stop a gang of terrorists after they seize control of a U.S. battleship containing nuclear warheads.

Basically DIE HARD on a battleship, this is a serviceable action thriller typical of the star and of its time. Whilst Seagal has a physical presence on screen, he lacks charisma. Tommy Lee Jones, on the other hand, more than compensates with an enjoyably unhinged performance as the chief terrorist. Busey, however, adopts an overly broad approach that cheapens the thrills and is at odds with O’Neal’s more naturalistic style as the ship’s captain. Eleniak is along as eye-candy and to deliver dumb lines. Director Andrew Davis wrestles between macho action thrills and a tongue-in-cheek humour and mostly succeeds in keeping our interest and stops us from dwelling too long on the improbability of the plot with his well-paced edit.

A sequel, UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY followed in 1975 – this time set aboard a train.

Film Review – EDGE OF ETERNITY (1959)

EDGE OF ETERNITY (1959, Thunderbird Productions, Inc., USA, 81 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Mono, Cert: U, Crime/Drama) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Cornel Wilde (Les Martin), Victoria Shaw (Janice Kendon), Mickey Shaughnessy (Scotty O’Brien), Edgar Buchanan (Sheriff Edwards), Rian Garrick (Bob Kendon), Jack Elam (Bill Ward), Alexander Lockwood (Jim Kendon), Dabbs Greer (Gas Station Attendant), Tom Fadden (Eli Jones), Wendell Holmes (Sam Houghton).
      Producer: Kendrick Sweet; Director: Don Siegel; Writer: Knut Swenson, Richard Collins (based on a story by Ben Markson and Knut Swenson); Director of Photography: Burnett Guffey; Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof; Film Editor: Jerome Thoms; Art Director: Robert Peterson; Set Decorator: Frank A. Tuttle; Costume Designer: Izzy Berne, Edna Taylor.

edge-of-eternity-x28-1959-x29-cornel-wilde-victoria-shaw-1212-p[ekm]221x336[ekm]The stunning photography in and around the Grand Canyon is the real star of this taut crime drama directed by Don Siegel. Guffey’s aerial swoops (courtesy of Skymasters International) and widescreen vistas add an extra dimension to the familiar greed-driven murder plot.

Wilde is a deputy sheriff looking to atone for his past mistakes in the hunt for a killer driven by a desire to unearth un-mined gold deposits in a ghost mining town. As the murder count rises and Wilde gets close to the wealthy miner’s daughter (Shaw) we are taken on a twisting journey toward an excellent fight finale on a transport bucket hanging from a cable stretched across the Canyon.

The acting is solid at best with Buchanan the most impressive as the aging sheriff. Siegel keeps the plot moving and the editing is tight. But those stunning image of “Filmed at one of the Wonders of the World: The Grand Canyon”, as the titles proudly announce, are what lift this neat thriller above the routine.

Film Review – POINT BLANK (1967)

POINT BLANK (1967, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., USA, 92 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Mono, Cert: 15, Crime Action Thriller) ∗∗∗∗
     Starring: Lee Marvin (Walker), Angie Dickinson (Chris), Keenan Wynn (Yost/Fairfax), Carroll O’Connor (Brewster), Lloyd Bochner (Frederick Carter), Michael Strong (Stegman), John Vernon (Mal Reese), Sharon Acker (Lynne). James Sikking (Hired gun), Sandra Warner (Waitress), Roberta Haynes (Mrs. Carter), Kathleen Freeman (First citizen), Victor Creatore (Carter’s man), Lawrence Hauben (Car salesman).
     Producer: Judd Bernard, Robert Chartoff, Irvin Winkler; Director: John Boorman; Writer: Alexander Jacobs, David Newhouse, Rafe Newhouse (based on the novel “The Hunter” by Richard Stark); Director of Photography: Philip H. Lathrop (Metrocolor); Music: Johnny Mandel; Film Editor: Henry Berman; Art Director: George W. Davis, Albert Brenner; Set Decorator: Henry Grace, Keogh Gleason; Costume Designer: Lambert Marks, Margo Weintz.

point-blank-coverAdapted from Richard Starks’ 1963 novel this is the tale of a gangster (Marvin) seeking revenge on his partner (Vernon) who double-crossed him, stole his wife (Acker) and left him for dead at a money drop at Alcatraz. In his search Marvin finds his wife dead from an overdose and subsequently blows holes in the middle of organised crime with the help of his wife’s sister (Dickinson), who has also hooked up with Vernon.

Shot on location in San Francisco and Los Angeles – being the first to make use of the then recently closed Alcatraz prison – the story is a simple take on an oft-told story. But what elevates the film is Boorman’s vision – dialling up the psychological impacts on Marvin’s character working with editor Berman in introducing strobe-like flashback techniques to show the scars on Marvin’s psyche. A little disorienting and distracting at first, the cutting style increases in effectiveness as the film progresses and it is used more sparsely. Marvin is cold and clinical in his portrayal of a man driven by nothing more than the need for retribution, showing what a good actor he was when not being asked to ham up his own image. He is given strong support by Vernon, Dickinson and O’Connor. An excellent example of the experimental film making in the sixties it has grown in reputation over the years along with Boorman’s cult status as a director.

A further adaptation of Stark’s novel was produced in 1999 as PAYBACK starring Mel Gibson.

Film Review – BIG BAD MAMA (1974)

BIG BAD MAMA (1974, Santa Cruz Productions, Inc., USA, 87 mins, Colour, 1.85:1, Mono, Cert: 18, Crime Action Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Angie Dickinson (Wilma McClatchie), William Shatner (William J. Baxter), Tom Skerritt (Fred Diller), Susan Sennett (Billy Jean), Robbie Lee (Polly), Noble Willingham (Uncle Barney), Dick Miller (Bonney), Tom Signorelli (Dodds), Joan Prather (Jane Kingston), Royal Dandy (Reverend Johnson), William O’Connell (Crusade preacher), John Wheeler (Lawyer), Ralph James (Sheriff), Sally Kirkland (Barney’s woman), Wally Berns (Legionnaire).
      Producer: Roger Corman; Director: Steve Carver; Writer: William Norton, Frances Doel; Director of Photography: Bruce Logan (Metrocolor); Music: David Grisman; Film Editor: Tina Hirsch; Art Director: Peter Jamison; Set Decorator: Coke Willis; Costume Designer: Jac McAnelly.

big_bad_mama_uk_dvdRoger Corman produced this low-rent BONNIE AND CLYDE clone in which the attempts at comedy seem ham-fisted and ill-conceived when played alongside some often violent and bloody action.

Angie Dickinson stars as Wilma McClatchie who along with her teenage daughters targets 1932 small town Texas with her criminal schemes and daring robberies. Along the way she is aided by a couple of misfits in Skerritt and Shatner and remains one step ahead of the law until the film’s conclusion.

Carver doers conjure a nice sense of period and Dickinson, as ever, is capable in the lead role. The film was shot quickly (in 20 days) and the rushed nature of the production is evident on screen. But where the film mainly falls down is in its shifting tone between comedy and drama. These troubles stem from Norton and Doel’s script, which lacks focus and is episodic, merely shuffling from one set-piece to the next mixing violence and slapstick without enriching the characters or giving us anyone to root for. Alongside the problems of plot and characterisation, Dickinson’s exploitation of her seemingly young daughters (Sennett and Lee) feels a little ill-judged by today’s standards. Corman also exploits the virtues of Dickinson, Sennett and Lee as they seduce their various male accomplices in order to manipulate their involvement in their criminal activities.

Whilst the film has attracted a somewhat dubious cult status, this is primarily due to the exploitative content rather than artistic merit. A sequel, BIG BAD MAMA II, followed in 1987.

Film Review – ONE SHOE MAKES IT MURDER (TV 1982)

ONE SHOE MAKES IT MURDER (TVM, 1982, Fellows-Keegan Company / Lorimar Productions, USA, 95 mins, Colour, 1.78:1, Mono, Cert: NR, Mystery) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Robert Mitchum (Harold Shillman), Angie Dickinson (Fay Reid), Mel Ferrer (Carl Charnock), José Pérez (Det. Carmona), John Harkins (Smiley Copell), Howard Hesseman (Joe Hervey), Asher Brauner (Rudy), Bill Henderson (Chick), Cathie Shirriff (Caroline Charnock), William G. Schilling (Cab driver), Sandy Martin (Gloria), Grainger Hines (Garage attendant).
      Producer: Mel Ferrer; Director: William Hale; Writer: Felix Culver (based on the novel “So Little Cause for Caroline” by Eric Bercovici); Director of Photography: Terry K. Meade (Metrocolor); Music: Bruce Broughton; Film Editor: Jerry Young; Art Director: Donald Lee Harris; Set Decorator: Ernie Bishop; Costume Designer: Thomas E. Johnson, Joy Tierney.

51KgLaMyjzL._SX200_Robert Mitchum made his TV debut in this old-fashioned mystery. Hale’s movie echoes the noir films of the 1940s and 1950s without ever conjuring the atmosphere to match, despite Mitchum’s world-weary voiceover and Broughton’s retro music score.

Mitchum is a washed-out ex-cop hired by a rich Nevada casino owner (Ferrer) to find his wife (Shirriff) who went missing at the same time as the casino was shut down by the authorities. Along the way Mitchum also meets up with Dickinson, an ex-hooker turned good, who takes a shine to him and helps him out. When Shirriff falls from a balcony, after she has been traced to San Francisco, Mitchum suspects foul play whilst the police suspect Mitchum.

The plot unfolds in familiar fashion from here with a small cast in which both Ferrer and Pérez standout. Whilst Hale fails to inject any real rhythm to the story and it at times feels laboured, both Mitchum and Dickinson hold our interest by turning in performances which play heavily on their iconic status. Culver’s screenplay adaptation could have been tighter and the limitations of TV budget scaled back the production.

Whilst this fails to hold a candle to genre classics it remains an entertaining enough mystery on its own terms and is worth exploring by genre fans.