Film Review – THE DRY (2020)

THE DRY (2020, Australia/USA, 117m, 15) ***
Crime, Drama
dist. IFC Films (USA), Sky Cinema (UK); pr co. Made Up Stories / Arenamedia / Cornerstone Films / Film Victoria / Media Super / Pick Up Truck Pictures / Screen Australia; d. Robert Connolly; w. Harry Cripps, Robert Connolly, Samantha Strauss (based on the novel by Jane Harper); pr. Eric Bana, Robert Connolly, Steve Hutensky, Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea; ph. Stefan Duscio (Colour | 2.35:1); m. Peter Raeburn; ed. Alexandre de Franceschi, Nick Meyers; pd. Ruby Mathers; ad. Mandi Bialek-Wester.
cast: Eric Bana (Aaron Falk), Genevieve O’Reilly (Gretchen), Keir O’Donnell (Greg Raco), John Polson (Scott Whitlam), Julia Blake (Barb), Bruce Spence (Gerry Hadler), William Zappa (Mal Deacon), Matt Nable (Grant Dow), James Frecheville (Jamie Sullivan), Jeremy Lindsay Taylor (Erik Falk), Joe Klocek (Young Aaron Falk), BeBe Bettencourt (Ellie Deacon), Claude Scott-Mitchell (Young Gretchen), Sam Corlett (Young Luke), Miranda Tapsell (Rita Raco), Daniel Frederiksen (Dr. Leigh), Eddie Baroo (McMurdo), Renee Lim (Sandra Whitlam), Martin Dingle Wall (Luke Hadler), Francine McAsey (Amanda).
Slow, moody mystery based on Jane Harper’s harrowing novel in which Bana plays a police detective who returns to his drought-stricken hometown to attend a tragic funeral. His return opens a decades-old wound – the unsolved death of a teenage girl. Bana gives a sympathetic performance as the conflicted detective and he is decently supported. Connolly commendably conjures up the local atmosphere and focuses on the characters but does so at the expense of building dramatic tension until the denouement.

Book Review – SEE THEM DIE (1960) by Ed McBain

SEE THEM DIE (1960) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan, 1987, 160pp
First published in 1960
© Ed McBain, 1960
ISBN: 9780-330-25402-2
Blurb: Kill me if you can – that was Pepe Miranda’s challenge. Murderer, two-bit hero of the street gangs, he was holed up somewhere in the 87th Precinct, making the cops look like fools and cheered on by every neighbourhood punk. It was not a challenge Lieutenant Pete Byrnes and the detectives in the squad room could leave alone. Not in the sticky, July heat of the city with the gangs just waiting to explode into violence . . .
Comment: The thirteenth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series once more sees McBain trying out a new approach. McBain concentrates less on plot/detection and more on social comment, in this story of a Puerto Rican criminal under siege in his own community from the cops of the 87th Precinct. Alongside this McBain delves into issues of inter-gang warfare and the bravado of youth in the immigrant community alongside and the racial attitudes of the cops (juxtapositioned by the racist slob Andy Parker and the Puerto Rican Frankie Hernandez) and those who live in the community itself. As such the story unfolds in the style of a three-act play. The result is a patchy novel that only comes to life in its nail-biting final act.

 

Book Review – THE HECKLER (1960) by Ed McBain

THE HECKLER (1960) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 176pp
First published in 1960 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1960
ISBN: 978-0-140-02393-0
Book CoverBlurb: Spring was intoxicating the city air, but the harassing anonymous telephone calls planting seeds of fear around town were no April Fool’s joke. Crank calls and crackpot threats reported to the 87th Precinct by a respected businessman were not exactly top priority for detectives Carella and Meyer — until a brutal homicide hits the papers. Connections are getting made fast and furious, and there’s a buzz in the air about the Deaf Man, a brilliant criminal mastermind. Now, the 87th Precinct is buying time to reveal the voice on the other end of the line — as the level of danger rises from a whisper to a scream….
Comment: The twelfth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series introduces us to the squad’s recurring nemesis, the Deaf Man. The plot is a convoluted one of distraction and heist planned out and delivered with the utmost attention to detail by the Deaf Man and his cohorts. The detectives of the 87th, are working on what they believe to be the distinct cases of a heckler threatening shop proprietors and a murder. The Deaf Man’s scheme appears to be foolproof as the police are dispatched across the precinct in the aftermath of a wave of bombings and arson distracting them from the gang’s real plans. The plot unfolds in customary McBain fashion showing our detectives to be both human and vulnerable. The dialogue sparkles as ever and the prose has the familiarity of a storyteller at the top of his game. The resolution relies on irony, happenstance and remains open-ended. Another strong entry in the series.

Film Review – BLACK GUNN (1972)

BLACK GUNN (1972, USA/UK) **½
Action, Crime, Thriller
dist. Columbia Pictures (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); pr co. Champion Production Company; d. Robert Hartford-Davis; w. Franklin Coen (based on an original screenplay by Robert Shearer and an original story by Robert Hartford-Davis); pr. John Heyman, Norman Priggen; ph. Richard H. Kline (Eastmancolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.85:1); m. Tony Osborne; ed. Pat Somerset; ad. Jack De Shields; rel. 20 December 1972 (USA); BBFC cert: 18; r/t. 96m.
cast: Jim Brown (Gunn), Martin Landau (Capelli), Brenda Sykes (Judith), Luciana Paluzzi (Toni), Vida Blue (Sam Green), Stephen McNally (Laurento), Keefe Brasselle (Winman), Timothy Brown (Larry), William Campbell (Rico), Bernie Casey (Seth), Gary Conway (Adams), Chuck Daniel (Mel), Tommy Davis (Webb), Rick Ferrell (Jimpy), Bruce Glover (Ray Kriley), Toni Holt Kramer (Betty), Herbert Jefferson Jr. (Scott Gunn), Jay Montgomery (Junkie), Mark Tapscott (Cassidy), Gene Washington (Elmo).
One of the many black action thrillers that followed on the coattails of SHAFT (1971) but lacked the class of that production. It is a fast-paced, but unevenly handled, action vehicle for Brown in which a black militant group robs a Mafia bookie joint and steals incriminating ledgers which, in turn, prompts retaliation from the mob. When the group’s leader, who happens to be nightclub owner Brown’s brother, is killed Brown hunts down the perpetrators. Brown is a physically effective lead but otherwise, his performance lacks charisma. Sykes brings some charm to her role as Brown’s loyal girlfriend. Landau and Paluzzi (as key mob members) are underused in a strong supporting cast. Glover, however, enjoys himself as the mob’s chief henchman. The plot is overly familiar, and the earthy dialogue is heavy on themes of the struggles of black Americans. British director Hartford-Davis’ handling of the material is occasionally unfocused with jarring camerawork hampering some otherwise bloody and lively action sequences.

Film Review – BADGE 373 (1973)

BADGE 373 (1973, USA) **½
Crime, Drama, Thriller
dist. Paramount Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Paramount Pictures; d. Howard W. Koch; w. Pete Hamill (inspired by the exploits of Eddie Egan); pr. Howard W. Koch; ph. Arthur J. Ornitz (Technicolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.85:1); m. J.J. Jackson; ed. John Woodcock; ad. Philip Rosenberg; rel. 25 July 1973 (USA), 9 August 1973 (UK); BBFC cert: 15; r/t. 116m.
cast: Robert Duvall (Eddie Ryan), Verna Bloom (Maureen), Henry Darrow (Sweet William), Eddie Egan (Scanlon), Felipe Luciano (Ruben Garcia), Tina Cristiani (Mrs. Caputo), Marina Durell (Rita Garcia), Chico Martínez (Frankie Diaz), Jose Duvall (Ferrer (as Jose Duval)), Louis Cosentino (GiGi Caputo), Luis Avalos (Chico), Nubia Olivero (Mrs. Diaz), Sam Schacht (Assistant D.A.), Edward F. Carey (The Commissioner), ‘Big’ Lee (Junkie in Casino), Duane Morris (Gay in Casino), John Marriott (Superintendent), Joel Veiga (Manuel – Botica Proprietor), Mark Tendler (Harbour Lights Bouncer), Robert Weil (Hans).
When his partner is killed, tough Irish detective Eddie Ryan (Duvall) vows to avenge the death, whatever the cost. As he begins unravelling clues, his behaviour becomes so outrageous that he’s obliged to turn in his badge, but the experience only emboldens him. Ryan eventually learns that his partner was caught up in a Puerto Rican gun-running scheme masterminded by a crook named Sweet Willie (Darrow), who wants to foment revolutionary war. Billed as being based on the exploits of real-life NYPD cop Eddie Egan, this production follows on the coattails of the vastly superior 1971 landmark, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, which had also been based on one of Egan’s cases. This time Duvall takes on the cop role and does a creditable job. However, the film lacks the directorial style and the building of tension that made THE FRENCH CONNECTION a winner. Here we have a cop seeking revenge and, after he is suspended, going it alone. Good use is made of New York locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan adding an authenticity that is lacking elsewhere. The script lacks dramatic punch and the gun-running sub-plot feels formulaic, with the Puerto Rican villains decidedly stereotypical. Egan has a significant role as Duvall’s boss, but his lack of acting experience shows, whilst Darrow lacks the charisma required for his role as the arms dealer. The actions scenes, though, are well-staged – notably, a chase involving Duvall on board a bus with the villains in pursuit in a fleet of cars. Despite its flaws, the film remains a moderately entertaining but lesser entry in the rogue cop genre.

Book Review – GIVE THE BOYS A GREAT BIG HAND (1960) by Ed McBain

GIVE THE BOYS A GREAT BIG HAND (1960) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 176pp (170pp)
First published in 1960 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1960
ISBN: 978-0-140-02310-7
Blurb: The mystery man wore black, and he was a real cut-up king. Why else was he leaving blood-red severed hands all over the city? Was he an everyday maniac with a meat cleaver, or did he have a special grudge against the 87th Precinct? Steve Carella and Cotton Hawes went along with the grudge theory because the black-cloaked killer didn’t leave any clues to go on – the grisly hands even had the fingertips sliced off. And how do you nail a murderer when you can’t identify or unearth most of his victims? That’s what the boys of the 87th Precinct have to do: find a killer before he carves up any more corpseless hands!
Comment: The eleventh of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series is an efficient and neatly plotted mystery, which finds McBain moving back to the series’ core procedural format after a couple of diversions. The detectives have to find the identity of a corpse from just a pair of severed hands. McBain takes us through the investigation via his trademark engaging prose and witty dialogue. Whilst the story does not veer from the formula that made the series so successful, it remains an engaging read in the hands of a master storyteller. McBain effectively builds the tension in the finale by intercutting scenes as two leads converge into one a climax that is both shocking and satisfying.

Book Review – KING’S RANSON (1959) by Ed McBain

KING’S RANSOM (1959) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 176pp (172pp)
First published in 1959 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1959
ISBN: 978-0-140-02219-3
Blurb: Half a million dollars – or a boy’s life . . . But what if that boy isn’t your own son? And what if paying the ransom will ruin the biggest deal you ever made? What do you do then? Throw away your future or sacrifice someone else’s child? That was the dilemma facing wealthy Douglas King. Detective Steve Carella of the 87th Precinct can only keep trying to find the kidnappers and hope that Doug King will decide to give them the payoff. Because if he doesn’t, Carella will have a case of cold-blooded murder on his hands.
Comment: The tenth book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series is the strongest so far. McBain takes time to flesh out each of the key characters and this elevates the story beyond the procedural formula adopted up to this point, thereby widening the series’ scope. By presenting his central character, the driven and ambitious businessman Douglas King, with the dilemma he does, McBain allows himself to comment on themes of corporate greed and loyalty through three-dimensional characters. McBain’s strengths of plotting, characterisation and dialogue are again in full evidence here and this book marks the point where McBain began to hit his stride with the series. This was also the first series appearance of the obnoxious Detective Andy Parker.

Film Review – THE MARKSMAN (2021)

THE MARKSMAN (2021, USA) ***
Action, Thriller
dist. Open Road Entertainment (USA), Shear Entertainment (UK); pr co. Cutting Edge Group / Raven Capital Management / Sculptor Media / Stonehouse Motion Pictures / UTA Independent Film Group / Voltage Pictures / Zero Gravity Management; d. Robert Lorenz; w. Chris Charles, Danny Kravitz, Robert Lorenz; pr. Tai Duncan, Eric Gold, Warren Goz, Robert Lorenz, Mark Williams; ph. Mark Patten (Colour. 2.39:1); m. Sean Callery; addl m. Jonas Friedman; ed. Luis Carballar; pd. Charisse Cardenas; ad. Gregory G. Sandoval; rel. 15 January 2021 (USA), 26 February 2021 (UK – internet); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 108m.
cast: Liam Neeson (Jim), Katheryn Winnick (Sarah), Juan Pablo Raba (Mauricio), Teresa Ruiz (Rosa), Jacob Perez (Miguel), Dylan Kenin (Randall), Luce Rains (Everett), Sean A. Rosales (Hernando), Alfredo Quiroz (Carlos), Jose Vasquez (Isidro), Antonio Leyba (Rigo), Yediel Quiles (Jorge), Christian Hicks (Danny), Jose Mijangos (Emilio), Roger Jerome (Otto), Kellen Boyle (Dalton), Ann Barrett Richards (Bartender Clara), David DeLao (Coyote), Elias Gallegos (Agent), Rose Leininger (Waitress).
In this efficient but flawed action thriller, Neeson delivers a fine crusty performance as a rancher on the Arizona border who becomes the unlikely defender of a young Mexican boy desperately fleeing the cartel assassins who’ve pursued him into the U.S. Whilst the film has echoes of other, stronger movies and ultimately fails to fulfil its promise, it is still a serviceable vehicle for Neeson’s grizzled action hero persona. Here his character carries more baggage and has stronger motivation for his actions than in other recent similar vehicles. The script, however, fails to fully mature his character’s relationship with the boy and slips too often into conventional action set-pieces.

TV Review – MAN IN A SUITCASE: MAN FROM THE DEAD (1967)

MAN IN A SUITCASE
MAN FROM THE DEAD (1967, UK, Colour, 49m) ***
Incorporated Television Company (ITC)
Crime, Drama
pr. Sidney Cole; d. Pat Jackson; w. Stanley R. Greenberg (series created by Richard Harris and Dennis Spooner); ph. Lionel Banes; md. Albert Elms; theme m. Ron Grainer; ed. John Glen; pd. William Kellner.
Cast: Richard Bradford (McGill), John Barrie (Harry Thyssen), Lionel Murton (Coughlin), Angela Browne (Rachel Thyssen), Stuart Damon (Williams), Fabia Drake (Receptionist), Timothy Bateson (Pfeiffer), Dandy Nichols (Landlady), David Nettheim (Leader), Gerry Wain (Cap), Arthur Howell (Moustache), Clifford Earl (Policeman), Fred Haggerty (Agent).
One of many ITC productions in the 1960s, this benefited from Bradford’s method approach to the lead character McGill and a desire to capture a realistic level of toughness. The series premise is set up in this debut episode (broadcast sixth in sequence) Rachel Thyssen (Browne), McGill’s ex-girlfriend, spots her father Harry (Barrie), who supposedly drowned years ago. Harry was McGill’s boss in American intelligence from where McGill was forced to resign, having been scapegoated when a scientist under observation, defected to Russia. McGill had believed Harry dead, but he is undercover as a double agent. McGill needs his help to clear his name, but the Russians are also taking an interest in him. The elements are well handled and there is greater use of London locations, including a memorable action finale filmed at White City Stadium (renamed Regal City Stadium).

Book Review – ‘TIL DEATH (1959) by Ed McBain

‘TIL DEATH (1959) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1986, 160pp (157pp)
First published in 1959 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1959
ISBN: 978-0-140-02164-6
Blurb: The wedding day of Detective Steve Carella’s sister Angela should be the most romantic, special day of her life. But it might turn out to be the worst if her brother can’t figure out which man on the guest list has come to murder the groom. Carella and the men from the 87th Precinct find themselves on the clock as they desperately hunt amongst the name cards and catered dinners for the would-be assailant. Trouble is, the crowd has numerous people with viable motives: the best man who stands to inherit everything the groom owns, the ex-boyfriend with a homicidal crush, and even an ex-GI with a score to settle. But time is ticking, and if they don’t act fast, Angela will become a bride—and a widow—on the same day.
Comment: The ninth in the 87th Precinct series written by Ed McBain is this offbeat story set at the wedding of Carella’s sister. As such the story acts as a diversion from the grittier storylines that precede and follow it. The result is a minor entry in the series that coasts on McBain’s command of his characters and dialogue. The plot itself often lacks plausibility and as such fails to engage in the way his earlier titles did. Even at a brief page count of just under 160 pages, there are elements of padding where the author and his characters philosophise. That said McBain’s skill as a writer gets him through to a tense, if somewhat familiar, finale. Not top-draw McBain, but an often fun and diverting and easy read despite this.