Film Review – THE FACE OF FU MANCHU (1965)

FACE OF FU MANCHU, THE (1965, UK/West Germany) ***½
Action, Crime, Drama

dist. Warner-Pathé Distributors (UK), Seven Arts Pictures (USA); pr co. Hallam Productions; d. Don Sharp; w. Harry Alan Towers (as Peter Welbeck); exec pr. Oliver A. Unger (US only); pr. Harry Alan Towers (as Peter Welbeck) (based on characters created by Sax Rohmer); ph. Ernest Steward (Technicolor. 35mm. Techniscope (uncredited). 2.35:1); m. Christopher Whelen; ed. John Trumper; ad. Frank White; cos. Dorothy Edwards; m/up. Gerry Fletcher, Anne Box; sd. Ken Cameron, Fred Hughesdon (Mono (RCA Sound Recording)); rel. 6 August 1965 (West Germany, UK), 24 October 1965 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 96m.

cast: Christopher Lee (Fu Manchu), Nigel Green (Nayland Smith), Joachim Fuchsberger (Carl Jannsen), Karin Dor (Maria Muller), James Robertson Justice (Sir Charles), Howard Marion-Crawford (Dr. Petrie), Tsai Chin (Lin Tang), Walter Rilla (Muller), Harry Brogan (Gaskell), Francesca Tu (Lotus (as Poulet Tu)), Archie O’Sullivan (Chamberlain), Edwin Richfield (Chief Magistrate), Joe Lynch (Custodian), Peter Mosbacher (Hanumon), Ric Young (Grand Lama (as Eric Young)), Deborah DeLacey (Slave Girl), Jim Norton (Mathius), Jack O’Reilly (Constable), Peter Mayock (Soldier), Aiden Grennell (Security Guard).

Faced with a crime wave involving Orientals and drugs, Nayland Smith (Green) of Scotland Yard begins to suspect that it is masterminded by Fu Manchu (Lee), although he himself witnessed the latter’s execution in China some years previously. This highly entertaining and fast-moving adventure has a spirit of the old movie serials. Sharp keeps the plot moving and directs with an enthusiastic zeal. The cast are game too and their performances carry a conviction that elevates the material. Lee is commanding as Fu Manchu and Green authoritative as Nayland Smith. The stunt work on the many fight sequences is excellent (despite the stunt doubles being a little obvious), although you must wonder about old Fu’s recruitment programme given the ineptitude of his followers. Cold and bleak Irish locations double for Tibet and the film was successful enough to spawn several sequels. Followed by THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU (1966), THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU (1967), THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU (1968) and THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU (1969).

TV Review – FIREFLY: SERENITY (2002)

FIREFLY: SERENITY (TV) (2002, USA) ****
Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi

dist. Fox Network (USA); pr co. Mutant Enemy / 20th Century Fox Television; d. Joss Whedon; w. Joss Whedon; exec pr. Joss Whedon, Tim Minear; pr. Gareth Davies, Ben Edlund; assoc pr. Lisa Lassek, Brian Wankum; ph. David Boyd (Colour. 35mm, HDTV (remastered re-runs), Video (NTSC). Spherical. 1.78:1); m. Greg Edmonson; theme m/l. Joss Whedon (performed by Sonny Rhodes); ed. Lisa Lassek; pd. Carey Meyer; set d. David A. Koneff; cos. Jill M. Ohanneson; m/up. Camille Calvet, Tina Hoffman, Ron Pipes, Colette Slattery; sd. Cindy Rabideau (Dolby Digital); sfx. Bruce Minkus; vfx. Kristen Branan, Loni Peristere; st. Eddie Braun; rel. 20 December 2002 (USA), 12 May 2003 (UK); cert: 12; r/t. 86m.

cast: Nathan Fillion (Captain Malcolm ‘Mal’ Reynolds), Gina Torres (Zoë Washburne), Alan Tudyk (Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne), Morena Baccarin (Inara Serra), Adam Baldwin (Jayne Cobb), Jewel Staite (Kaylee Frye), Sean Maher (Dr. Simon Tam), Summer Glau (River Tam), Ron Glass (Shepherd Derrial Book), Carlos Jacott (Lawrence Dobson), Mark Sheppard (Badger), Andy Umberger (Dortmunder Captain), Philip Sternberg (Inara’s Client), Eddie Adams (Bendis), Colin Patrick Lynch (Radio Operator), Bonnie Bartlett (Patience), Domingo Vara (Ensign), Stephen O’Mahoney (Man (Dortmunder)), Jamie McShane (Man), John F. Kearney (Old Man).

Malcolm Reynolds (Fillion) is a veteran and the captain of Serenity. He and his crew are smuggling goods, but they need to pick up some passengers for extra money. However, not all the passengers are what they seem. This highly entertaining and witty mix of Sci-Fi and Western themes was the pilot episode for the TV series Firefly. The premise transplants the aftermath of the American Civil War to outer space – the browncoats replace the greycoats and the Alliance replace the Union, whilst the “’verse” replaces the states and the Reavers replace the Native Americans. Fillion channels Harrison Ford’s Han Solo but adds the complexity of a defeated soldier still proud of the cause he fought for and refusing to surrender his values. His crew all have distinctive characteristics that makes them standout as individual characters. The ambiguity between the crew making a living from salvage via criminal distribution and the moral stance they are often asked to take give the story and the subsequent series its focus. Whedon had developed a wonderful premise and had executed it with finesse. Unfortunately, the TV public were slow to catch on and Fox cancelled the series before it had managed to pick up an audience. The resultant TV series (2002-3) ran for just 14 episodes but built enough of a cult following to warrant a theatrical sequel SERENITY (2005).

Film Review – STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005)

STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005, USA) ***½
Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Lucasfilm / Pandora Films / CTV Services; d. George Lucas; w. George Lucas; exec pr. George Lucas; pr. Rick McCallum; ph. David Tattersall (DeLuxe. 35mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), 70mm (horizontal) (IMAX DMR blow-up) (Kodak Vision 2383). Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Dolby Vision, HDCAM SR (1080p/24) (source format). 2.39:1); m. John Williams; ed. Roger Barton, Ben Burtt; pd. Gavin Bocquet; ad. Peter Russell; set d. Piero Di Giovanni, Richard Roberts; cos. Trisha Biggar; m/up. Nikki Gooley, Annette Miles, Josh Head; sd. Ben Burtt, Matthew Wood (DTS-ES | Dolby Digital EX | SDDS (uncredited) | Dolby Atmos); sfx. Rodney Burke; vfx. Roger Guyett, John Knoll; st. Nick Gillard; rel. 12 May 2005 (USA), 16 May 2005 (UK); cert: PG-13/12; r/t. 140m.

cast: Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Padmé), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Jimmy Smits (Senator Bail Organa), Frank Oz (Yoda (voice)), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku), Keisha Castle-Hughes (Queen of Naboo), Silas Carson (Ki-Adi-Mundi / Nute Gunray), Jay Laga’aia (Captain Typho), Bruce Spence (Tion Medon), Wayne Pygram (Governor Tarkin), Temuera Morrison (Commander Cody), David Bowers (Mas Amedda), Oliver Ford Davies (Sio Bibble), Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks), Rohan Nichol (Captain Raymus Antilles), Jeremy Bulloch (Captain Colton), Amanda Lucas (Terr Taneel), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Matt Sloan (Plo Koon), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Rebecca Jackson Mendoza (Queen of Alderaan), Joel Edgerton (Owen Lars), Bonnie Piesse (Beru Lars), Jett Lucas (Zett Jukassa), Tux Akindoyeni (Agen Kolar), Matt Rowan (Senator Orn Free Taa), Kenji Oates (Saesee Tiin), Amy Allen (Aayla Secura), Bodie Taylor (Clone Trooper), Graeme Blundell (Ruwee Naberrie), Trisha Noble (Jobal Naberrie), Claudia Karvan (Sola Naberrie), Keira Wingate (Ryoo Naberrie), Hayley Mooy (Pooja Naberrie), Sandi Finlay (Sly Moore), Katie Lucas (Chi Eekway), Genevieve O’Reilly (Mon Mothma), Warren Owens (Fang Zar), Kee Chan (Malé-Dee), Rena Owen (Nee Alavar), Christopher Kirby (Giddean Danu), Matthew Wood (General Grievous (voice)), Kristy Wright (Moteé), Coinneach Alexander (Whie), Olivia McCallum (Bene (as Mousy McCallum)), Michael Kingma (Wookiee General Tarfful), Axel Dench (Wookiee), Steven Foy (Wookiee), Julian Khazzouh (Wookiee), James Rowland (Wookiee), David Stiff (Wookiee), Robert Cope (Wookiee).

It has been three years since the Clone Wars began. Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) and Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker (Christensen) rescue Chancellor Palpatine (McDiarmid) from General Grievous, the commander of the droid armies, but Grievous escapes. Suspicions are raised within the Jedi Council concerning Chancellor Palpatine, with whom Anakin has formed a bond. Asked to spy on the chancellor, and full of bitterness toward the Jedi Council, Anakin embraces the Dark Side. This is a visually impressive final instalment of parts 1-3 of the STAR WARS saga. Whilst many of the problems encountered in the first two films – notably the flat lead performances and leaden dialogue – remain, here the stakes are higher and as such the viewing experience is more rewarding. There is also a better balance between the political intrigue and the action sequences. The latter, however, often appear overly choreographed resulting in reduced tension as the viewer marvels at the movement rather than becomes embroiled in the struggle. The final act is largely engrossing but also feels manufactured in that it attempts to tie everything neatly into the set-up for part 4, which was released twenty-eight years earlier.

AAN: Best Achievement in Makeup (Dave Elsey, Nikki Gooley)

Film Review – STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)

STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002, USA) ***
Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Lucasfilm / Recce & Production Services / Mestiere Cinema; d. George Lucas; w. George Lucas, Jonathan Hales (based on a story by George Lucas); exec pr. George Lucas; pr. Rick McCallum, Lorne Orleans; ph. David Tattersall (Colour. 35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), 70 mm (horizontal) (IMAX DMR blow-up) (Kodak Vision 2383), Digital (Texas Instruments DLP 1280 x 1024, 1.9: 1 anamorphic). Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Dolby Vision, HDCAM (1080p/24) (source format) (matted to 2.39: 1). 2.39:1); m. John Williams; ed. Ben Burtt; pd. Gavin Bocquet; ad. Peter Russell; set d. Peter Walpole; cos. Trisha Biggar; m/up. Lesley Vanderwalt, Sue Love; sd. Ben Burtt, Matthew Wood (DTS-ES | Dolby Digital EX | SDDS | Dolby Atmos); sfx. David Young, Geoff Heron, Tom Harris; vfx. Pablo Helman, John Knoll, Dennis Muren, Ben Snow; st. Nick Gillard; rel. 12 May 2002 (USA), 14 May 2002 (UK); cert: PG/PG; r/t. 142m.

cast: Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Padmé), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku / Darth Tyranus), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Frank Oz (Yoda (voice)), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine), Pernilla August (Shmi Skywalker), Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett), Jimmy Smits (Senator Bail Organa), Jack Thompson (Cliegg Lars), Leeanna Walsman (Zam Wesell), Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks / Achk Med-Beq (voice)), Rose Byrne (Dormé), Oliver Ford Davies (Sio Bibble), Ronald Falk (Dexter Jettster (voice)), Jay Laga’aia (Capt. Typho), Andy Secombe (Watto (voice)), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO / Dannl Faytonni), Silas Carson (Ki-Adi-Mundi / Viceroy Nute Gunray), Ayesha Dharker (Queen Jamillia), Joel Edgerton (Owen Lars), Daniel Logan (Boba Fett), Bonnie Piesse (Beru), Anthony Phelan (Lama Su (voice)), Rena Owen (Taun We (voice)), Alethea McGrath (Madame Jocasta Nu), Susie Porter (Hermione Bagwa / WA-7), Matt Doran (Elan Sleazebaggano), Alan Ruscoe (Lott Dod), Matt Sloan (Plo Koon), Veronica Segura (Cordé), David Bowers (Mas Amedda), Steve John Shepherd (Naboo lieutenant), Bodie Taylor (Clone Trooper), Matt Rowan (Senator Orn Free Taa), Steven Boyle (Senator Ask Aak / Passel Argente), Zachariah Jensen (Kit Fisto), Alex Knoll (J.K. Burtola), Phoebe Yiamkiati (Mari Amithest), Kenny Baker (R2-D2).

Set ten years after the events of THE PHANTOM MENACE, the Republic continues to be mired in strife and chaos. A separatist movement encompassing hundreds of planets and powerful corporate alliances poses new threats to the galaxy that even the Jedi cannot stem. These moves, long planned by an as yet unrevealed and powerful force, lead to the beginning of the Clone Wars — and the beginning of the end of the Republic. This continuation of the STAR WARS saga delves deeper into the political intrigue, but has enough action sequences, some of which fail to convince with their logic, to keep the less demanding viewers entertained. Where the film pales in comparison to those that preceded it are in the characters and the actor’s performances. McGregor, Christensen and Portman lack the personality of Hamill, Ford and Fisher from the original trilogy. What humour is there is uninspired and largely repeats lines from earlier movies. Portman and Chsritensen, in particular, are given wooden dialogue to work with but fail to rise above their material in a way Christopher Lee in particular does. There is little emotional resonance despite the big themes at play. Technically, though, the film is a triumph. The visuals are highly impressive, albeit it increasingly CGI dependant. Lucas’s direction, though, is workmanlike and he fails to bring his own material to life in a way he did back in 1977. Followed by STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005).

AAN: Best Visual Effects (Rob Coleman, Pablo Helman, John Knoll, Ben Snow)

Film Review – AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS (1956)

AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS (1956, USA) ***½
Adventure, Comedy, Romance
dist. United Artists; pr co. Michael Todd Company; d. Michael Anderson, John Farrow (uncredited – Spanish sequences); w. James Poe, John Farrow, S.J. Perelman (based on the book by Jules Verne); pr. Michael Todd; assoc pr. William Cameron Menzies, Kevin McClory (uncredited); ph. Lionel Lindon (Technicolor. 35mm, 70mm. Todd-AO. 2.20:1); m. Victor Young; chor. Paul Godkin; ed. Howard Epstein, Gene Ruggiero; pd. Ken Adam (uncredited); ad. James W. Sullivan; set d. Ross Dowd; cos. Miles White; m/up. Edith Keon; sd. Ted Bellinger, Fred Hynes, Joseph I. Kane (4-Track Stereo (Mag-optical) (35 mm prints) (1956) | Mono (optical) (35 mm prints) (re-release prints) | 70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints) (Westrex Recording System) | 4-Track Stereo (Perspecta Sound encoding) (35 mm magnetic prints) (1956)); sfx. Lee Zavitz; vfx. Fred Sersen (uncredited); titles. Saul Bass, Shamus Culhane; rel. 17 October 1956 (USA), 3 July 1957 (UK); cert: G/U; r/t. 167m.

cast: David Niven (Phileas Fogg), Cantinflas (Passepartout), Shirley MacLaine (Princess Aouda), Robert Newton (Inspector Fix), Charles Boyer (Monsieur Gasse – Thomas Cook Paris Clerk), Joe E. Brown (Fort Kearney Station Master), Martine Carol (Girl in Paris Railroad Station), John Carradine (Col. Stamp Proctor – San Francisco Politico), Charles Coburn (Steamship Company Hong Kong Clerk), Ronald Colman (Great Indian Peninsular Railway Official), Melville Cooper (Mr. Talley – Steward R.M.S ‘Mongolia’), Noël Coward (Roland Hesketh-Baggott – London Employment Agency Manager), Finlay Currie (Andrew Stuart), Reginald Denny (Bombay Police Inspector), Andy Devine (First Mate of the ‘S. S. Henrietta’), Marlene Dietrich (Barbary Coast Saloon Owner), Luis Miguel Dominguín (Bullfighter (as Luis Dominguin)), Fernandel (French Coachman), John Gielgud (Foster – Fogg’s Ex-Valet), Hermione Gingold (Sporting Lady), José Greco (Flamenco Dancer), Cedric Hardwicke (Sir Francis Cromarty – Bombay to Calcutta Train), Trevor Howard (Denis Fallentin – Reform Club Member), Glynis Johns (Sporting Lady’s Companion), Buster Keaton (Train Conductor – San Francisco to Fort Kearney), Evelyn Keyes (Tart – Paris), Beatrice Lillie (Leader of London Revivalist Group), Peter Lorre (Japanese Steward – S.S. Carnatic), Edmund Lowe (Engineer of the ‘S. S. Henrietta’), Victor McLaglen (Helmsman of the ‘S. S. Henrietta’), Tim McCoy (U.S. Cavalry Colonel), Mike Mazurki (Drunk in Hong Kong Dive), John Mills (London Carriage Driver), Robert Morley (Ralph – Bank of England Governor), Alan Mowbray (British Consul – Suez), Edward R. Murrow (Edward R. Murrow – Prologue Narrator), Jack Oakie (Captain of the ‘S. S. Henrietta’), George Raft (Barbary Coast Saloon Bouncer), Gilbert Roland (Achmed Abdullah), Cesar Romero (Achmed Abdullah’s Henchman), Frank Sinatra (Barbary Coast Saloon Pianist), Red Skelton (Drunk in Barbary Coast Saloon), A.E. Matthews (Club Member), Ronald Squire (Reform Club Member), Basil Sydney (Reform Club Member), Harcourt Williams (Hinshaw – Reform Club Aged Steward), Ronald Adam (Club Steward), Walter Fitzgerald (Club Member), Frank Royde (Clergyman), Robert Cabal (Elephant Driver-Guide).

Niven heads the huge cast as the supremely punctual Phileas Fogg, who places a £20,000 wager with several fellow members of London Reform Club, insisting that he can go around the world in eighty days (this, remember, is 1872). Together with his resourceful valet Passepartout (Cantinflas), Fogg sets out on his journey from Paris via balloon. Meanwhile, suspicion grows that Fogg has stolen his money from the Bank of England. Diligent Inspector Fix (Newton) is sent out by the bank’s president (Morley) to bring Fogg to justice. In India, Fogg and Passepartout rescue young widow Princess Aouda (MacLaine, in her third film) from being forced into committing suicide so that she may join her late husband. The threesome visit Hong Kong, Japan, San Francisco, and the Wild West. Only hours short of winning his wager, Fogg is arrested by the diligent Fix. This lavish production is more of a triumph of logistical organisation than offering any real dramatic or comic worth. The travelogue and episodic nature of the story is lovingly captured in Anderson’s widescreen frame. Shots of a busy Victorian London are realised with style, whilst others around the globe mix location footage and studio inserts. Niven is at his best as the epitome of a stiff-upper-lipped Englishman. Cantinflas offers energetic support and acrobatic comic relief, whilst MacLaine has little to do in her role as the liberated Indian princess. There are longueurs – notably an extended bullfight sequence and endless stock locational footage inserts. but there is also good humour and a spirit that carries the production through. Many past and present stars appeared in cameos. The last film of both Harcourt Williams and Newton. Runs for 183m with entr’acte and exit music. Remade in 2004.

AA: Best Picture (Mike Todd); Best Writing, Best Screenplay – Adapted (James Poe, John Farrow, S.J. Perelman); Best Cinematography, Color (Lionel Lindon); Best Film Editing (Gene Ruggiero, Paul Weatherwax); Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Victor Young)

AAN: Best Director (Michael Anderson); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color (James W. Sullivan, Ken Adam, Ross Dowd); Best Costume Design, Color (Miles White)

Film Review – THE HEROES OF TELEMARK (1965)

HEROES OF TELEMARK, THE (1965, UK) ***
Action, History, War
dist. Rank Film Distributors (UK), Columbia Pictures (USA); pr co. Benton Film Productions; d. Anthony Mann; w. Ivan Moffat, Ben Barzman (based on the novels “Skis Against the Atom” by Knut Haukelid and “But for These Men” by John Drummond – both uncredited); pr. Benjamin Fisz; ph. Robert Krasker (Technicolor. 35mm, 70mm (blow-up). Panavision (anamorphic). 2.20:1 (70 mm prints), 2.35:1); m. Malcolm Arnold; ed. Bert Bates; pd. ; ad. Anthony Masters; set d. Robert Cartwright, Ted Clements (both uncredited); cos. Elsa Fennell; m/up. Neville Smallwood, Maude Onslow; sd. Teddy Mason (Mono (Westrex Recording System)); sfx. John P. Fulton; st. Gerry Crampton; rel. 23 November 1965 (UK), 9 March 1966 (USA); cert: U; r/t. 131m.

cast: Kirk Douglas (Rolf), Richard Harris (Knut Strand), Ulla Jacobsson (Anna), Michael Redgrave (Uncle), David Weston (Arne), Sebastian Breaks (Gunnar), John Golightly (Freddy), Alan Howard (Oli), Patrick Jordan (Henrik), William Marlowe (Claus), Brook Williams (Einar), Roy Dotrice (Jensen), Anton Diffring (Major Frick), Ralph Michael (Nilssen), Eric Porter (Terboven), Wolf Frees (Knippelberg), Karel Stepanek (Hartmuller), Gerard Heinz (Erhardt), Victor Beaumont (German Sergeant), George Murcell (Sturmfuhrer), Mervyn Johns (Col. Wilkinson), Barry Jones (Professor Logan), Geoffrey Keen (General Bolt), Robert Ayres (General Courts), Jennifer Hilary (Sigrid), Maurice Denham (Doctor), David Davies (Captain of ‘Galtesund’), Philo Hauser (Businessman), Faith Brook (Woman On Bus), Elvi Hale (Mrs. Sandersen), Russell Waters (Mr. Sandersen), Jan Conrad (Watchman In Factory).

As Axis and Allied scientists race to create the first atomic bomb, British Intelligence receives shocking news of significant breakthroughs at a Nazi facility in occupied Norway. The British work with Norwegian Resistance head Knut Straud (Harris) and distinguished physicist Dr. Rolf Pederson (Douglas) to plan an urgent response. As a Norwegian team headed by Straud struggles to stop Nazi science in its tracks, a civilian hostage situation erupts. An uneven war adventure, which is a disappointment from a director with a legacy such as Mann. His direction here feels loose and the editing is at times slipshod – with real black and white bomber footage jarring against the Technicolor presentation and German soldiers seemingly blind as the resistance leaders simply shuffle past them time after time. The film’s strongest assets are the leads. Douglas and Harris give strong performances in an initially antagonistic partnership that grows as the film progresses. Some of the action scenes are well-staged and there is an added tension in the film’s climax aboard a ferry. Ultimately, though, this could have been much better.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: REVOLUTION OF THE DALEKS (2021)

DOCTOR WHO: REVOLUTION OF THE DALEKS (TV) (2021) **½
Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
dist. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); pr co. BBC Studios; d. Lee Haven Jones; w. Chris Chibnall; exec pr. Chris Chibnall; pr. Alex Mercer; ph. Luke Bryant (Colour. 2.00:1); m. Segun Akinola; ed. Joel Skinner; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; ad. Rebecca Brown; set d. Vicki Male; cos. Ray Holman; m/up. Claire Pritchard-Jones; sd. Harry Barnes (Dolby Digital); sfx. Real SFX; vfx. DNEG, Chris Thomas; b/cast. 1 January 2021 (UK/USA); cert: 12; r/t. 71m.

cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Chris Noth (Jack Robertson), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Leo Rugazzi), Harriet Walter (Jo Patterson), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Leo Rugazzi), Nathan Armakwei-Laryea (Armen), Helene Anderson (Rachel), Nicholas Briggs (Daleks (voice)), Sharon D. Clarke (Grace).

The Doctor is imprisoned halfway across the universe. On Earth, the sighting of a Dalek alerts Ryan, Graham and Yaz. Can the return of Captain Jack Harkness help them stop a deadly Dalek takeover? A disappointing special which is failed by a script that is full of plot holes and is decidedly lazy, skirting over key narrative progressions. It also fails to make the most of its dramatic potential – for example Jack and Yaz’s discovery of the Tokyo Dalek factory should have been the surprise reveal, but we had already been introduced to it a few scenes earlier. The whole threat lacks the global and epic scope its plot suggests, and the wrap-up is far too convenient. Barrowman’s return is welcome, but he disappears at the story’s conclusion. Noth’s performance is way over the top and just as unconvincing as it was in his previous appearance in ARACHNIDS IN THE UK (2018). Moments of character introspection are welcome and help to add some explanation of motivation. Whittaker is okay as the Doctor, but still lacks the presence of previous incarnations. The Daleks are great in both traditional and new designs and the clash of different factions recalls earlier episodes – notably REMEMBRANCE OF THE DALEKS (1988). Technical values are high and the episode is nicely shot, but the direction of Jones fails to overcome the limitations of Chibnall’s script.

Film Review – STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)

Watch Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (Episode I) | Full Movie | Disney+STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999, USA) ***
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Lucasfilm; d. George Lucas; w. George Lucas; exec pr. George Lucas; pr. Rick McCallum; ph. David Tattersall (DeLuxe. 35 mm (Kodak Vision 2383, Vision Premier 2393), D-Cinema (Texas Instruments DLP 1280 x 1024, 1.9: 1 anamorphic). Dolby Vision, HDCAM (some scenes), Hawk Scope (anamorphic), Powerscope (anamorphic) (underwater scenes), VistaVision (some scenes). 2.35:1); m. John Williams; ed. Ben Burtt, Paul Martin Smith; pd. Gavin Bocquet; ad. Peter Russell; set d. Peter Walpole; cos. Trisha Biggar; m/up. Paul Engelen, Sue Love; sd. Tom Bellfort, Ben Burtt, Matthew Wood (Dolby Digital EX | SDDS (8 channels) | DTS-ES | Dolby Atmos); sfx. Geoff Heron, Peter Hutchinson; vfx. John Knoll, Dennis Muren, Scott Squires; st. Nick Gillard; anim. Miguel A. Fuertes; rel. 16 May 1999 (USA), 14 July 1999 (UK); cert: U; r/t. 136m.

cast: Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn), Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Queen Amidala / Padmé), Jake Lloyd (Anakin Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Senator Palpatine), Pernilla August (Shmi Skywalker), Oliver Ford Davies (Sio Bibble), Hugh Quarshie (Captain Panaka), Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO (voice)), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Frank Oz (Yoda (voice)), Terence Stamp (Chancellor Valorum), Brian Blessed (Boss Nass (voice)), Andy Secombe (Watto (voice)), Ray Park (Darth Maul), Lewis Macleod (Sebulba (voice)), Warwick Davis (Wald / Pod race spectator / Mos Espa Citizen), Steve Speirs (Captain Tarpals).

The first of the second trilogy of STAR WARS movies goes back to the start of the story. Here, two Jedi Knights, Qui-Gon Jinn (Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) escape a hostile blockade to find allies and come across a young boy (Lloyd) who may bring balance to the Force, but the long dormant Sith resurface to reclaim their old glory. The film is a technical and visual marvel but is lumbered with a leaden narrative, a wordy script and wooden dialogue. Except for Neeson and the villainous McDiarmid, the actors fail to breathe life into the characters leaving an experience that lacks emotive investment. What’s left is to marvel at the staging of the action sequences, which at times feel too heavily choreographed, and to be antagonised by Jar Jar Binks – the singularly most annoying character of the series. The finale battle is well staged and sets up the thread to be taken forward in the next two films. Re-released in 3D in 2012. Followed by STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002).

AAN: Best Sound (Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, Shawn Murphy, John Midgley); Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing (Ben Burtt, Tom Bellfort); Best Effects, Visual Effects (John Knoll, Dennis Muren, Scott Squires, Rob Coleman)

Film Review – THE EAGLE HAS LANDED (1976)

The Eagle Has Landed (1976) | They shoot jerries, don't they?EAGLE HAS LANDED, THE (1976, UK) ***½
Adventure, Drama, War
dist. Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK), Columbia Pictures (USA); pr co. Associated General Films / ITC Entertainment; d. John Sturges; w. Tom Mankiewicz (based on the novel by Jack Higgins); pr. David Niven Jr., Jack Wiener; ph. Anthony B. Richmond (Colour. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.35:1); m. Lalo Schifrin; ed. Anne V. Coates; pd. Peter Murton; ad. Charles Bishop; set d. Peter James; cos. Yvonne Blake; m/up. Eric Allwright, Paul Rabiger, Freddie Williamson, Betty Glasow, Mike Jones; sd. Jonathan Bates, Robin Gregory (Mono (35 mm prints) | 70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints) | 4-Track Stereo (some 35 mm prints) (London premiere print)); sfx. Roy Whybrow; st. Gerry Crampton; rel. 25 December 1976 (Finland/Sweden), 31 March 1977 (UK), 2 April 1977 (USA); cert: PG/15; r/t. 135m.

cast: Michael Caine (Oberst Kurt Steiner), Donald Sutherland (Liam Devlin), Robert Duvall (Colonel Radl), Jenny Agutter (Molly), Donald Pleasence (Himmler), Anthony Quayle (Admiral Canaris), Jean Marsh (Joanna Grey), Sven-Bertil Taube (Captain von Neustadt), John Standing (Father Verecker), Judy Geeson (Pamela), Treat Williams (Captain Clark), Larry Hagman (Colonel Pitts), Alexei Jawdokimov (Corporal Kuniski), Richard Wren (Hans Altmann), Michael Byrne (Karl), Joachim Hansen (SS-Obergruppenführer), Denis Lill (Churchill’s aide), Rick Parsé (E-Boat Commander), Léonie Thelen (Branna), Keith Buckley (Hauptmann Gericke).

This adaptation of Jack Higgins’ bestseller has a fanciful plot of a team of WWII German soldiers and spies out to kidnap Winston Churchill to enable Nazi Germany to bargain a stronger settlement in lieu of their inevitable defeat. That it remains entertaining throughout is largely due to its strong cast. Caine is the sympathetic German commander; Duvall the architect of the scheme and Sutherland the German-Irish spy who infiltrates the English village community. Pleasence is also excellent as the scheming Himmler. Hagman’s bombastic performance, however, is off-key as a gung-ho American commander out to prove his superior’s judgement of him wrong. The love interest between Sutherland and Agutter also feels false and the sleepy locale is at odds with the stakes at play. The battle scenes in the final third of the movie are well edited though, covering up for Sturges’ reported lack of interest in post-production. The result is an enjoyable adventure that could have been better but demonstrates the importance of interesting casting and enthusiastic performances. The US release ran for 123m. An extended cut was released on DVD with 15m additional footage.

Book Review – DR. NO (1958) by Ian Fleming

DR. NO (1958) ****
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 329pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1958
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1958
Introduction by Sam Bourne a.k.a Jonathan Freedland (10pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57692-1

Blurb: Dr Julius No is a man with a mysterious past. Nobody knows what secrets are hidden on his Caribbean island, and all those who have attempted to investigate further have disappeared. When two British agents go missing in Jamaica, Bond is sent to investigate. Battling the Doctor’s twin obsessions with power and pain, he uncovers the true nature of his opponent’s covert operation – but he must undergo a deadly assault course before he can destroy the Doctor’s plans once and for all.

Comment: This sixth novel in Fleming’s James Bond series brings the spy back from a seemingly terminal finale at the end of From Russia With Love. He is chastised by M for his choice of firearm and dispatched on a routine mission to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of two members of the Jamaica station staff – who it is believed have taken a romantic triste. Bond soon discovers there is more to the couple’s disappearance leading him to the island of Crab Key and the sinister Doctor Julius No. It is easy to see why this book was chosen to kick off the film series. It is the most fantastical novel in the series to date and also the most thrilling in terms of set pieces – notably the extended finale where Bond is subjected to an assault course designed to test human endurance of pain. Honey Rider is a Bond girl with a backstory that makes her fiercely independent and very interesting. It is understandable that Bond falls for her. Dr, No is the archetypal Bond villain, handicapped through the loss of his hands and having to use metal pincers, and his verbal jousts with Bond over dinner set a template for future Fleming novels and the film series. The book’s exotic setting, fluent writing and slick pace make this one of the strongest in the series, despite its outlandish plot.