Halloween (1978; USA; Metrocolor; 91m) ∗∗∗∗½ d. John Carpenter; w. John Carpenter, Debra Hill; ph. Dean Cundey; m. John Carpenter. Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards, Brian Andrews, Arthur Malet, Tony Moran, John Michael Graham, Nancy Stephens, Mickey Yablans, Robert Phalen, Brent Le Page, Adam Hollander. A psychotic murderer institutionalized since childhood for the murder of his sister, escapes and stalks a bookish teenage girl and her friends while his doctor chases him through the streets. Carpenter’s landmark slasher movie spawned many sequels and imitations, but none can better this masterclass in building tension through visuals and tight editing. Carpenter also contributed the eerie soundtrack. Curtis’ first feature film. Extended version runs 101m featuring footage shot during the filming of its sequel HALLOWEEN II in 1981. Remade in 2007. 
JUSTIFIED (2010-2015, USA, 1 x 52m and 77 x 38-45m, Colour, 1.78:1, Dolby Digital, Cert: 15, Crime/Drama/Thriller) ∗∗∗∗ / ∗∗∗∗∗
Starring: Timothy Olyphant (Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens); Nick Searcy (Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen); Joelle Carter (Ava Crowder); Jacob Pitts (Deputy U.S. Marshal Tim Gutterson); Erica Tazel (Deputy U.S. Marshal Rachel Brooks); Natalie Zea (Winona Hawkins); Walton Goggins (Boyd Crowder); Jere Burns (Wynn Duffy).
Developed by Graham Yost, based on the short story “Fire in the Hole” by Elmore Leonard; Executive Producers: Elmore Leonard, Graham Yost, Fred Golan, Michael Dinner, Sarah Timberman, Carl Beverly, Dave Andron, Don Kurt, Timothy Olyphant, Taylor Elmore, Benjamin Cavell, Chris Provenzano; Theme Music: Steve Porcaro
DVD Blurb: For six electrifying seasons, no crime series proved more combustible than the Peabody Award-winning Justified. At the explosive centre of the action, Western-style, gun-slinging U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) confronts murder, drugs, bank heists, mobsters, crime families, corrupt politicians and even his own tumultuous past – and never backs down. His ultimate adversary is the cunning, complex outlaw Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), but the real wild card is Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), the mysterious woman torn between the two men and both sides of the law. From creator Graham Yost and based on legendary author Elmore Leonard’s crime novella “Fire in the Hole,” it all leads to a perfectly unexpected final showdown.
Season One (2010) ∗∗∗∗
The story arc of season one concentrates on the crimes of the Crowder family. Raylan seeks to protect Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) from the rest of the Crowder clan after she shoots her husband, Bowman Crowder, dead in retaliation for years of abuse. Mix of standalone episodes and story arc make for a slightly disjointed season offset by the strength of characters and a witty scripts. Olyphant displays a wry charm and toughness, whilst Goggins creates a character of real depth as the bigoted criminal who got religion, Boyd Crowder.
Season Two (2011) ∗∗∗∗∗
Season 2 deals primarily with the criminal dealings of the Bennett clan. Family matriarch Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) and her three sons Dickie (Jeremy Davies), Coover (Brad William Henke), and Corbin County Police Chief Doyle (Joseph Lyle Taylor) plan to expand their marijuana business into Crowder territory following Bo’s death, as Boyd has proven somewhat reluctant to follow in his father’s footsteps. The best series of Justified is helped by a superb support cast who give great depth to their characters, engaging plot and top-notch performances all round – notably Martindale as the matriarch Mags.
Season Three (2012) ∗∗∗∗
Season 3 introduces a new main villain, Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough) of Detroit. The criminal organization connected to the Frankfort, Kentucky, mob has exiled Quarles to Kentucky. Quarles allies himself with local enforcer Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) and supplants the local criminals when Raylan begins investigating. Quarles is an initially interesting character but McDonough’s performance quickly descends into psychotic overkill. This season sees sadistic overtones playing an increasing part in the series.
Season Four (2013) ∗∗∗∗
Season 4 is about a mystery which was left unsolved for 30 years. On January 21, 1983, a man wearing a defective parachute plummets onto a residential street in Corbin, Kentucky, dying instantly. His body is surrounded by bags full of cocaine and an ID tag for a “Waldo Truth”. Interesting change of pace for the series that hinges on the mystery element. Once the mystery is solved it then becomes a tense tug-of-war between organized crime and the US Marshal Service.
Season Five (2014) ∗∗∗∗
Season 5 features the alligator-farming Crowe crime family, led by Darryl Crowe, Jr. (played by Michael Rappaport). The Crowes try to muscle in on the drug scene in Harlan county. Lots of incompetency amongst the criminals in their quest to climb the totem pole. This is interspersed with the series’ sometimes laugh-out-loud and dark wry humour and increasingly bloody violence. This is the series we get to see the most of Damon Herriman’s likeable rogue Dewey Crowe and he is excellent playing off Olyphant and Goggins.
Season Six (2015) ∗∗∗∗∗
Season 6 revolves around the culmination of Raylan and Boyd’s rivalry, complicated by Ava’s betrayal, the machinations of Avery Markham (Sam Elliott), and a plot to rob him by Boyd, Wynn Duffy and Markham’s secret adversary. Boyd succeeds in robbing Markham, but Raylan’s plan to entrap him with Ava’s help has tragic consequences. Triumphant final season rivals season 2 in quality and depth of character, displaying all the series’ strengths in its writing and performances with humour, shock twists and a satisfying conclusion to the Raylan/Ava/Boyd triangle. This has always been an excellent series for females and Carter gives her best performance of the series as the resourceful Ava, whilst Mary Steenbergen is also very good as the seductive and cruel Katherine Hale.
Black Sea (2014; UK/USA/Russia; Cinelab; 115m) ∗∗∗ d. Kevin Macdonald; w. Dennis Kelly; ph. Christopher Ross; m. Ilan Eshkeri. Cast: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall, Konstantin Khabenskiy, Sergey Puskepalis, Michael Smiley, Grigory Dobrygin, Sergey Veksler, Sergey Kolesnikov. In order to make good with his former employers, a submarine captain takes a job with a shadowy backer to search the depths of the Black Sea for a sub that’s rumoured to be loaded with gold. Law heads a strong cast in this claustrophobic underwater heist thriller. Script throws in heavy-handed socio-political statements alongside clichéd character motivation, but Macdonald’s capable direction keeps it undeniably tense. 
THE FINAL SILENCE by STUART NEVILLE (2014, Vintage, 336pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: Rea Carlisle has inherited a house from an uncle she never knew. It doesn’t take her long to clear out the dead man’s remaining possessions, but one room remains stubbornly locked. When Rea finally forces it open she discovers inside a chair, a table – and a leather-bound book. Inside its pages are locks of hair, fingernails: a catalogue of victims.
Horrified, Rea wants to go straight to the police but when her family intervene, fearing the damage it could cause to her father’s political career, Rea turns to the only person she can think of: DI Jack Lennon. But Lennon is facing his own problems. Suspended from the force and hounded by DCI Serena Flanagan, the toughest cop he’s ever faced, Lennon must unlock the secrets of a dead man’s terrifying journal.
This is the fourth of Stuart Neville’s crime thrillers featuring Belfast Detective Inspector Jack Lennon. We catch up with Lennon some time after the events of the excellent STOLEN SOULS (2013) recovering from post-traumatic stress having been shot in the previous book. He is on leave from the force and on the verge of splitting with his partner, Susan, who looks after their daughters from other relationships. It is against this domestic backdrop that Lennon links up with his ex-girlfriend, Rea, who has discovered her uncle, who had recently committed suicide, was keeping a dark secret. When Rea discovers the book she had found documenting a number of murders has gone missing leaving her nothing to show Lennon, the detective declines to help. When later Rea is murdered, Lennon is implicated as the prime suspect.
What follows is a familiar but expertly written variant on the fugitive trying the clear his name story. We are introduced to DCI Serena Flanagan (who will feature in her own series later), tasked with tracking down Lennon, who is on the run trying to clear his name. Flanagan also has problems of her own having been diagnosed with breast cancer and struggling to come to terms with her mortality. We also discover Rea’s father is a politician with his own secrets to protect. Neville expertly weaves themes of domestic violence, terrorist activity, political ambition and the psyche of a serial killer into his novel. His writing style is visual but concise with short sharp chapters many ending with a hook to take the reader to the next. As such it is the very definition of the page-turner.
Lennon has degenerated into an thoughtless and dislikeable individual by this book, yet the reader sticks with him as he tries to prove his innocence. There are questions from previous books still left unanswered at the conclusion, signifying Neville is not yet done with his characters. Flanagan is the career professional who likes to get things done by the book, but we also see her compassionate side through her consoling of Rea’s mother in both the death of her daughter and the abuse she has taken from her husband.
Overall, this book is a great read, that whilst written in a concise and efficient manner still manages to create three-dimensional characters. Whilst the subject matter is familiar there are enough twists in the story for it to remain an exciting thriller.
Taken 3 (2015; France/USA; FotoKem; 109m) ∗∗½ d. Olivier Megaton; w. Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen; ph. Eric Kress; m. Nathaniel Méchaly. Cast: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Jonny Weston, Forest Whitaker, Dougray Scott, Jon Gries, Leland Orser, Andrew Howard, Don Harvey, Al Sapienza. Ex-government operative Bryan Mills is accused of a ruthless murder he never committed or witnessed. As he is tracked and pursued, Mills brings out his particular set of skills to find the true killer and clear his name. What starts out promisingly, although borrowing liberally from 1993’s THE FUGITIVE, becomes increasingly formulaic and predictable. The action sequences are so frenetically edited as to be incomprehensible draining away any tension. Neeson displays a magnetic screen presence but he has little to work with leaving Whitaker to take the acting honours as the pursuing detective. Extended version runs 111m. 
Carry on Cowboy (1966; UK; Eastmancolor; 93m) ∗∗∗ d. Gerald Thomas; w. Talbot Rothwell; ph. Alan Hume; m. Eric Rogers. Cast: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Angela Douglas, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth, Percy Herbert, Jon Pertwee, Sydney Bromley, Edina Ronay. Stodge City is in the grip of the Rumpo Kid and his gang. Mistaken identity again takes a hand as a “sanitary engineer” (plumber) by the name of Marshal P. Knutt is mistaken for a law marshal. Pretty good spoof from the team with most of the team thriving on change. Slapstick and wordplay are to the fore with Pertwee and Hawtrey particularly funny. [PG]
Patriot Games (1992; USA; Technicolor; 117m) ∗∗∗½ d. Phillip Noyce; w. W. Peter Iliff, Donald Stewart; ph. Donald McAlpine; m. James Horner. Cast: Harrison Ford, Anne Archer, Patrick Bergin, Sean Bean, Thora Birch, James Fox, Samuel L. Jackson, Polly Walker, James Earl Jones, Richard Harris, J.E. Freeman, Alex Norton, David Threlfall, Alun Armstrong, Hugh Fraser. When CIA Analyst Jack Ryan interferes with an IRA assassination, a renegade faction targets him and his family for revenge. Slick and efficient action thriller with Ford in excellent form. Lacks the sophistication of the first Jack Ryan adventure, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, but is undeniably entertaining. Followed by CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER (1994). 
Magdalene Sisters, The (2002; Ireland/UK; Colour; 119m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Peter Mullan; w. Peter Mullan; ph. Nigel Willoughby; m. Craig Armstrong. Cast: Geraldine McEwan, Anne-Marie Duff, Nora-Jane Noone, Dorothy Duffy, Eileen Walsh, Mary Murray, Britta Smith, Frances Healey, Eithne McGuinness, Phyllis McMahon, Rebecca Walsh, Eamonn Owens, Chris Simpson, Sean Colgan, Alison Goldie. Three young Irish women struggle to maintain their spirits while they endure dehumanizing abuse as inmates of a Magdalene Sisters Asylum. This is a powerful and harrowing drama, brilliantly directed and acted. Its downbeat tone is often lifted by moments of humour making this both a touching and disturbing film. 
Eiger Sanction, The (1975; USA; Technicolor; 123m) ∗∗∗ d. Clint Eastwood; w. Hal Dresner, Warren Murphy, Rod Whitaker; ph. Frank Stanley; m. John Williams. Cast: Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy, Jack Cassidy, Thayer David, Vonetta McGee, Heidi Bruhl, Reiner Schone, Michael Grimm, Jean-Pierre Bernard, Brenda Venus, Gregory Walcott, Candice Rialson, Elaine Shore, Dan Howard, Jack Kosslyn. A classical art professor and collector, who doubles as a professional assassin, is coerced out of retirement to avenge the murder of an old friend. Lame spy story is not one of Eastwood’s best efforts but is rescued by spectacular and thrilling mountain-climbing scenes. Eastwood did all of his own stunts. Based on the novel by Rod Whitaker (as Trevanian). 
Fog, The (1980; USA; Metrocolor; 90m) ∗∗∗∗ d. John Carpenter; w. John Carpenter, Debra Hill; ph. Dean Cundey; m. John Carpenter. Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Houseman, Tom Atkins, Nancy Kyes, Charles Cyphers, George “Buck” Flower, Jim Haynie, James Canning, Ty Mitchell, John F. Goff, Regina Waldon, Darrow Igus. A Northern California fishing town, built 100 years ago over an old leper colony, is the target for revenge by a killer fog containing zombie-like ghosts seeking revenge for their deaths. Creepy, atmospheric and with more than its fair share of shocks. Carpenter nicely ratchets up the tension and a game cast keep the viewer engaged. Eerie score by Carpenter heightens the fear factor. Remade in 2005. 
Last Man Standing (1996; USA; DeLuxe; 101m) ∗∗½ d. Walter Hill; w. Walter Hill; ph. Lloyd Ahern II; m. Ry Cooder. Cast: Bruce Willis, Bruce Dern, William Sanderson, Christopher Walken, David Patrick Kelly, Michael Imperioli, Karina Lombard, Ned Eisenberg, Alexandra Powers, Ken Jenkins, R.D. Call, Ted Markland, Patrick Kilpatrick, Luis Contreras, Leslie Mann. A drifting gunslinger-for-hire finds himself in the middle of an ongoing war between the Irish and Italian mafia in a Prohibition era ghost town. Cartoon violence abounds in this tale of cross and double-cross. Willis is effective, but it is difficult to connect with any of the characters. Re-working of Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (1961) (story by Ryûzô Kikushima and Kurosawa), which in turn was remade as FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964). 
My second Christmas film choice was a James Bond classic…
ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969, United Artists, USA, 142 mins, Technicolor, 2.35:1, Mono, Cert: PG, Spy Action Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
Starring: George Lazenby (James Bond), Diana Rigg (Tracy), Telly Savalas (Blofeld), Gabriele Ferzetti (Draco), Ilse Steppat (Irma Bunt), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), George Baker (Sir Hilary Bray), Bernard Lee (‘M’), Bernard Horsfall (Campbell), Desmond Llewelyn (‘Q’), Yuri Borienko (Grunther), Virginia North (Olympe), Geoffrey Cheshire (Toussaint), Irvin Allen (Che Che), Terence Mountain (Raphael).
Producer: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman; Director: Peter R. Hunt; Writer: Richard Maibaum (Based on the novel by Ian Fleming); Director of Photography: Michael Reed; Music: John Barry; Film Editor: John Glen; Production Designer: Syd Cain; Art Director: Robert W. Laing; Set Decorator: Peter Lamont; Costume Designer: Marjory Cornelius
The first Bond film not to feature Sean Connery proved to be a return to basics, eschewing the smirking humour and excessive scope and gadgetry that had sneaked into the last entry in the series, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Here, James Bond (Lazenby) woos a mob boss’s daughter (Rigg) and goes undercover to uncover the true reason for Blofeld’s allergy research in the Swiss Alps that involves beautiful women from around the world.
This Bond film has an emotional centre and it stands out as the most authentic adaptation of Ian Fleming’s source material in the whole series. Much has been made of Lazenby’s debut by critics, but they overlook the fact that it is by using Lazenby the makers have managed to capture the true essence of Fleming’s story. The film simply would not have been as successful had Connery remained in the role. That is not to say Lazenby is a better actor or a better Bond, merely that Connery had become so closely identified with the part, he would not have been able to add the vulnerability and sensitivity required without audiences becoming suspicious.
Diana Rigg is excellent as Tracy, the girl who Bond wants to spend the rest of his life with. Savalas’ Blofeld has more charisma than Donald Pleasance displayed in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. The photography in the Swiss Alps is stunning and John Barry provides his best score of the series. The ski scenes are well shot and dramatically played. The heart-breaking finale is unforgettable.
The result is possibly the best Bond film of all and one that deserves re-appraisal. It is a shame Lazenby did not continue in the role as the producers shied away from authenticity and went for self-parody in Connery’s comeback, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER – an approach that would dog the Bond films for more than a decade.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve got through a few films with a Christmas theme. Most of them were chosen by my wife, but I did manage to sneek a choice of my own…
DIE HARD (1988, 20th Century Fox, USA, 131 mins, DeLuxe, 2.35:1, Dolby, Cert: 18, Action Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
Starring: Bruce Willis (Officer John McClane), Alan Rickman (Hans Gruber), Bonnie Bedelia (Holly Gennaro McClane), Reginald VelJohnson (Sgt. Al Powell), Paul Gleason (Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson), William Atherton (Richard Thornburg), Hart Bochner (Harry Ellis), James Shigeta (Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi), Alexander Godunov (Karl), Bruno Doyon (Franco), De’voreaux White (Argyle), Andreas Wisniewski (Tony), Clarence Gilyard Jr. (Theo), Joey Plewa (Alexander), Lorenzo Caccialanza (Marco).
Producer: Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver; Director: John McTiernan; Writer: Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza (Based on the novel “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp); Director of Photography: Jan de Bont; Music: Michael Kamen; Film Editor: John F. Link, Frank J. Urioste; Production Designer: Jackson De Govia; Art Director: John R. Jensen; Set Decorator: Philip Leonard.
Tough New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) finds himself in a tight situation when an office building in Los Angeles is taken over by terrorists. Apart from himself, everyone else in the building – including his wife – is held at gunpoint while their captors spell out their demands. The F.B.I. are called in to survey the situation, but John McClane has other plans for the terrorists.
Highly influential action blockbuster was the kick-start to Willis’ big screen career. It’s a thrill ride that runs on adrenalin with stupendous actions sequences brilliantly directed by McTiernan and edited by Link and Urioste. A film like this is not about the performances, but Willis displays a laconic charm and dishes off one-liners with aplomb. Rickman is hugely entertaining as the villain of the piece. Bedelia injects some warmth into the role of Holly, McClane’s estranged wife.
The film rattles along at such a pace that the rather extended running time flashes by. A number of sequels followed with the law of diminishing returns coming into play, but there is no doubting the towering achievement of the original and the influence it had on the action thriller genre.
A LONELY PLACE TO DIE (2011, Carnaby International / Eigerwand Pictures / Molinare Studio, 99 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Dolby Digital, Cert: 15, Action Crime Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
Starring: Alec Newman (Rob), Ed Speleers (Ed), Melissa George (Alison), Kate Magowan (Jenny), Garry Sweeney (Alex), Holly Boyd (Anna), Douglas Russell (Hunter 1), Alan Steele (Hunter 2), Sean Harris (Mr. Kidd), Stephen McCole (Mr. Mcrae), Karel Roden (Darko), Eamonn Walker (Andy), Paul Anderson (Chris), Eric Barlow (Sergeant Gray), Jamie Edgell (House Owner), Mathew Zajac (Mr. Rakovic).
Producer: Michael Loveday; Director: Julian Gilbey; Writer: Julian Gilbey, Will Gilbey; Director of Photography: Ali Asad; Music: Michael Richard Plowman; Film Editor: Julian Gilbey, Will Gilbey; Production Designer: Matthew Button; Art Director: Daniela Faggio; Set Decorator: Cathy Featherstone; Costume Designer: Hayley Nebauer.
The Gilbey brothers have written a neat little B-movie thriller, which makes effective use of its Scottish Highland setting. The story surrounds a group of mountaineers who discover a kidnapped girl buried underground and are pursued by her captors. The girl’s father has hired a group of mercenaries to retrieve her and when the three groups converge on a remote Scottish village in the middle of a Paegan festival a blood bath starts.
The mountain climbing scenes are authentically captured by director Julian Gilbey and the chase scenes on the mountain are gripping as the climbers and the girl are pursued by the kidnappers. The action in the closing village scenes is brutal and the whole thing becomes little more than a bloodbath in its finale. Characterisations are also in short supply, with the actors merely being cyphers for the plot. But the camerawork is excellent and the tension is maintained throughout.
A good example of using location and editing to get the best out of a slight story on a limited budget.