Friday, November 11, 2016

London Film Festival 2016

A Journey Through French Cinema: Bertrand Tavernier
A lengthy but very interesting personal recall of Tavernier's experiences in film from his childhood film-going in the 1930s to his involvement in the Nouvelle Vague of the late 1950s and 1960s.   With
an obvious enthusiasm and delight, he recalls not only the earlier days but also his experiences with
such luminaries as Godard and Becker,   Some of the pre-war directors were unknown to me but this
documentary will encourage me to look out for them.   The closing credits indicate that there will be
a sequel bringing Tavernier's thoughts closer to the present day.
La La Land: Damien Chazelle
Emme Stone plays an aspiring actress whose first encounter with Ryan Gosling who wants to play
jazz while working in his family restaurant is a brief bad-tempered exchange in a traffic jam   The
jam provides the backdrop for a musical item reminiscent of the street scene in 'Fame' though the
programme notes claim 'West Side Story' as the inspiration.   Eventually they meet again, fall in love
with musical accompaniment.   She achieves success while he is still on the verge of it: they break
up when he goes on tour as she becomes a big star, marries and has a child.   They meet again some
years leter and there is a sweet 'what might have been sequence' before the film ends with their going
separate ways.   Very highly hyped and one of the big Festival films which I thought was pleasant
enough and quite well made but nothing special.
Mascots: Christopher Guest.
With the same approach as his other films, this is an affectionate look at the world of live mascots -
the human representations of team mascots who come together in the 8th World Mascot Association
Champio nships.   With short background introductions to many of the competitors, Guest takes them
through their performances mainly with hilarity but occasional melancholy.   Not up to his best but
a pleasant hour and a half.
Interchange: Dain Iskander
A Malaysian/Indonesian supernatural thriller takes a cursed tribe in Borneo photographed some 100
years eralier placing the working out of the curse in the present day.   A forensic photographer is asked to investigate but he becomes involved with a very attratcive neighbour who truns out to be a
descendant of the tribe.   There are two inter-changeable policemen involved but their frenetic efforts
are all but laughable.   The film finally leaves our reality behind - while lovingly photographed, it
just did not appeal all that much.
The Wailing: Na Hong Jin.
Another supernatural thriller, this time Korean.   A series of killings appear to be linked to a mysterious Japanese man living in the woods outside the town.   The local policeman investigates but
is out of his depth and he calls in a shaman to exorcise his daughter who seems to be under the spell
of the Japanese man.   The ritual is slightly comical and is anything but successful since it unleashes
the demonic forces at work.   The ending seems very confused but the overall impression was a
positive one.
Lost In Paris: Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon.
While not quite up to 'La Fee', the duo again display their eccentric and physical humour in the tale of
a naive librarian (Gordon) who comes to Paris to rescue her long last aunt (Emmanuelle Riva!).   She
loses her rucksack which Dom (Abel) finds and the comedy builds delightfully on this.   Their comic
timing is brilliant and has been compared to that of Jacques Tati but this is Tati on speed!
A Woman of the World: Malcom St Clair
This 1925 silent stars Pola Negri as a European aristocrat whose fiance is unfaithful to her.   She decides to go to the USA to visit her cousin who resides in Maple Valley, Iowa.   Needless to say,
her behavious does not go down well with the locals but, this being a comedy, all is well in the end.
A restored print of a rather minor film with mild humour and what, to present day eyes, is a rather
plump leading lady.
On the Milky Road: Emir Kusturica
The director appears in all three parts of the film which starts with him collecting and delivering milk
during, presumably, the Yugoslav civil war.  He then has a passionate affair with Monica Bellucci
which does not end well before, in the final sequence, playing a priest collecting and laying out stones
in the middle of a minefield.   Elements of fantasy contrast with the brutality of war in a film which
can only be described by one word - Kusturican - such is the singularity of his story-telling.
Summing up our experience of the Festival I found it better than in some years while not outstanding
though the first and last reviews are of, for me, the stand-out films

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Garnier, Pascal: The A26.

A huge motorway is being constructed through Picardy setting the scene for this short, taut novel.
Yolande has not left her house since being shamed for having a German soldier lover during WW2
and relies on her brother, Bernard, to provide groceries etc.   He has taken indefinite sick leave fom 
his job with SNCF as he has been given a short time to live.   Whether this changes him or awakens
a dormant streak is uncertain but he kills a girl he has given a lift and then others.   The road works
provide a suitable place to hide the bodies.    The style is reminiscent of Simenon but blacker in tone
than I remember Simenon being.   There is humour but this, too, is black and the end of the story is
well arranged and somewhat unexpected.   

Hawkins, Paula: The Girl on the Train

Recently made into a major filmstarring Emily Blunt (who, even made up, is far to attractive to fit
Rachel as she is described), the book is rather confusing as it tells its story from the viewpoint of three women connected by their lover for the same man who was married to Rachel, is now married
to Anna while having an affair with Megan.   The latter is dead at the time of the main story which
is, in effect, a search for her killer.   Rachel is a drunk who cannot come to terms with her ex-husband's remarriage and she is suspect because she cannot remember the events of the night Megan
disappeared though she was in the immediate area.   She becomes involved, to an extent, with Scott,
Magen's husband, who is understandably the main suspect.   What might have been a reasonable
straighforward thriller is complicated by not only the change of narrator (though most of this is
Rachel) but also by the change of time over a period of months.   This confusion is cleverly done
but unduly complicated and I did start to find it annoying.   However, the somewhat unexpected
denouement made up for the annoyance caused.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Yoshida, Shuichi: Villain

A young woman is murdered on a remote mountain road.   this act is use by the writer to display a number of related stories about the woman, her family and friends, their lovers and their relatives.
A review quoted on the cover says the author has been compared with Stieg Larsson and that the
novel covers all levels of Japanese society.   I think neither remark is correct.   What makes Larsson
so good is the strength with which Lisbeth Salander is portrayed throughout the trilogy whereas none
of the characters in 'Villain' have anywhere near that impact.   The book also limits itself to working
class characters with only one exception, the man suspected of being the killer.   The main male is
a labourer in his uncle's building firm, the dead woman is a part-time whore and the main female a
saleswoman in a department store.   The other characters are either related to the main characters or
have some interaction with them.   Within each long chapter there are a number of shorter changes
of viewpoint to provide links between characters though a few of them remain unclear.   Overall,
this variation does help provide a rather more rounded picture without really providing any great
depth of characterisation.   I did not find it 'a superlative crime novel with intriguing twists' (Sunday
Times' as the killer's identity becomes obvious wuite early on nor did I think it was 'a gripping
psychological thriller' (Financial Times).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Fowler, Christopher: Nyctophobia

A first person narrative of a woman whose life has been damaged by psychological problems with
particular reference to fear of the dark.   She meets and falls in love with an older Spanish wine
executive whose charm and sophistication are such that they marry.   They find a rather strange
mansion inland from Marbella which both of them like so he buys it as the family home   With the
house they inherit a housekeeper, the third generation of her family to have the position, and a
gardener/handyman.   They settle in with his daughter and life appears fine until the narrator starts
having visions.   The line between reality and the actual becomes blurred in what develops into a
literally haunted house story.   Obviously, this is far removed from the Bryant and May books for
which Fowler is best known and it reads differently to his earlier horror stories.   This is a more
subtle approach while still being a chilling tale.    Perhaps because my reading was more than a
little interrupted (I started the book before but finished it after the two previously reviewed novel), I
found it well-written but not as involving as I at first thought it would be.

Frightfest 2016

This year's Frightfest was moved to Shepherd's Bush as the Vue Leicester Square is being refurbished.   This was one of the reasons we did not buy a Festival Pass or even a Day Pass
but only three single tickets since the journey time there and back was almost doubled.   Our
choices from the programme turned out to be anything but the best.   In reverse order of quality
the final film was 'The Director's Cut' which was described as 'The cleverest, funniest, sharpest
most Meta horror ever'.   Penn Jillette and Missy Pyle starred in this abortion which was neither
clever, funny or sharp.   The amateurish direction by Adam Ritkin was matched by the appalling
acting from which none emerge with any credit.    If the film was meant to be a satire, it failed
as there was no sharpness and no target unless it was the ever-growing number of 'reality shows'
on TV.   A complete waste of our time and energy with the only plus being the light meal we had
at Search's at St Pancras on the way home!   The middle film both in time and quality was 'The
Master Cleanse' to which we were attracted by the cast - Angelica Houston, Oliver Platt and Anna
Friel with Johnny Galecki who is in 'The Big Bang Theory' a TV serial.   The plot is that the latter
two and others are selected to go on a spiritual retreat run by Platt and Houston in order to bring
vitality back into their lives.   Needless to say, things do not work out as they should but the slow
development fails to create any tension and I would think that none of the leads will want to be
reminded of their part in this film - Houston and Platt in particular mailed in their performances.
The first film seen 'They Call Me Jeeg Robot' was far and away the best of the three and may well
have been the best film of the whole weekend.   A small time crook, Claudio Sanataria, is being
chased as the film opens but escapes by hiding in a contaminated River Tiber.   This gives him
superpowers, not at first obvious, as he continues his life of petty crime while becoming involved with the daughter, Ilenia Pastorali, of a fellow crook who is killed in a drug deal gone sour.   The
girl is several slices short of a loaf of bread (possibly ongoing trauma after her mother's death) and
she relates everything to a Japanese TV anime 'Jeeg Robot' which has her mentally transforming
those around her into characters from the series.   The hero's aim is to deal with the psychotic crook
responsible for the drug deal failure with the latter also acquiring superpowers in the same way.   He
intends to cause chaos in Rome by exploding a bomb at a major soccer match but is thwarted by our
hero who ends the film standing guard over the Eternal City.   Oh, if only the other two had been
half as good as this one.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Camilleri, Andrea: Angelica's Smile

Montalbano finds himself investigating a series of burglaries involving the elite of Vigata.   There
are a number of details in common which make it obvious that all the burglaries are the work of
a single team.   During the course of his investigation he becomes involved with Angelica, a younger
beauty who effectively seduces him.   One thing that I did find annoying in the book is the way in
which Catarella's inability to get facts and names correct is shown.   This is something one is well
award of in the TV adaptations but it seems overdone here - 'Chief, promise ya won't get upset if I tell
yiz I dunno wha'ss a grieve party?' in response to Montalbano's 'The aggrieved party'.  I assume the
Italian TV has Catarella using a coarse accent than the others but the mispronunciation of names is
surely sufficient to convey his character.   This did detract from my enjoyment of the book which
was otherwise up to the usual standard.

Tracy, P.J.: Two Evils

The authors' usual detectives Gino and Magozzi find themselves dealing with a series of killings in
the Somali area of Minneapolis.   At the same time, Grace McBride, on a yacht owned by her ex-FBI
agent friend, has killed two intruders who had come to kill them.   The two strands inevitably come
together.   In the Minneapolis killings, an ex-soldier dying of cancer is found shot with two local
crooks and this sends the two detectives to the north of the state to interview the man's friends with
whom he had been staying.   They, too, are ex-Army, one of them now the Police Chief on a Native
Reservation.   The denouement takes place in the latter's area.   While up to the standards of the
earlier novels of this mother and daughter pair, the underlying concept is a little hard to take even
in the current climate.   This, however, did not distract from the overall enjoyment of the book.

Vargas, Fred: Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand

Featuring Commissaire Adamsberg, the story covers many years with murders dating back to 1943.
The murders have all been 'solved' with suspects being obvious.   One was Adamsberg's own brother
who escaped because of the false alibi Adamsberg provided.   He is convinced the real killer was a
highly respected Judge Fulgence but he could not prove it.   A new murder arouses Adamsberg's
interest as the method replicates that of the earlier killings but he learns that Fulgence has died and
been buried some time previously.   Adamsberg and his team go to Canada to learn new techniques
from the Canadian police.   While there, he has a brief affair with a young woman who is then found
murdered after the French detectives have returned to Paris.   Adams berg agrees to return to Canada
with a colleague who is actually meant to watch him.   Needless to say, after some adventures the
truth comes out.   The complex plot is very well handled and the various events are plausible even
when seemingly far-fetched.   The book definitely consolidates the deservedly high reputation that
Vargas enjoys.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Cadigan, Pat (Editor): The Ultimate Cyberpunk

A series of stories covering the development of this strand of science fiction from Alfred Bester and
Philip Dick to William Gibson, generally looked on as the founder of cyberpunk, and later writers.
The collection was published in 2002 so it has taken me a long time to read it.   By and large, I do not
see much difference between the tales here and other sf books apart from the solid technically based
ones where the scientific advances held centre stage.   The individual stories vary in length and also
readability as far as I am concerned.   If I had to pick one only I would select "Green Days in Brunei'
by Bruce Sterling.

Shimada, Soji: Tokyo Zodiac Murder

A rather strange murder mystery which is told mainly in retrospect.   A celebrated artist who lived with seven women, his wife and daughters, is found murdered in a locked room.   None of the women
are in evidence but there is, amongst his writings, a declaration of intent to kill them according to a
mystic astrological pattern   Their bodies are found in the locations indicated over an extended period
as some are more deeply buried than others.   All this is historical with there being two mysteries which have led to a considerable literature - the first is the locked-room mystery and the second is
the murders of the women as the artist was already dead before they were killed.    The locked room
mystery is relatively easy to explain but solving the other murders takes time.  The narrator has an
astrologer friend who eventually works out what really happened.   This interplay between the
two is one of the standard approaches - Holmes and Watson et al. - and it works effectively here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Higashino, Keigo; Malice

A best-selling novelist is found dead in his locked study inside his locked house the day before he and
his wife were due to leave Tokyo for Vancouver.   The wife has a solid alibi as does Nonoguchi, the
dead man's best friend, who had visited him the evening before.   The detective investigating the case,
Kyochiro Kaga, knows Nonoguchi from the time when both were teachers.   He finds the latter's
statement does not quite fit and finds evidence linking him with the murder.   Nonoguchi confesses
and writes an extended statement in which he claims to have been the originator of the dead man's
success as he was blackmailed into writing the novels on which this success rests.   The blackmail is
the result of his being caught trying to murder Hidaka, the dead man, years earlier so that he could
continue an affair with Hidaka's wife.   She has been dead for a few years.the widow being from a
second marriage.   The opening chapters alternate between Nonoguchi's story and confession and
Saga's investigation, the latter continuing after the confession because he does not accept the
murderer's motivation as stated.   The story flows easily despite the changing viewpoints until the
closing chapters when the true situation is elegantly revealed.   I picked this novel up with two more
by the same author at a considerable discount even though they are recently printed.   On the basis
of this book, a very worthwhile purchase.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Stress, Charles: Glasshouse

Set well into the future when interstellar travel is a matter of teleporting, this is a thriller of sorts with
the lead actor initially trying to find out who is trying to kill him.   He agrees to join an experimental
social programme only to wake up as a woman married to someone who eventually turns out to be the woman he loves (don't ask).   The novel is heavier going than other novels I have read by this
author but, fortunately, not all the time.   Several chapters move along concisely and the book did
keep me interested though I found the later chapters something of an add-on, almost as if they had
been transposed from a different tale - or that there were some missing chapters somewhere.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Boileau, Pierre & Narcejac, Thomas: Vertigo (D'entre les morts)

First published in 1954 apparently with Hitchcock in mind, this thriller is the 'book of the film' if you
ignore the differences.   The collaboration between the two had Boileau producing the elaborate plots
and Narcejac the character details.   In this case, the story is set at the outbreak of World War 2 in
Paris and surroundings and continued after the end of the war in Paris and Marseilles whereas the film is set after World War 2 completely with a somewhat shorter gap between the two parts, the film
action taking place in San Francisco and south of that city.   While the story is basically the same, there are differences - in the film, the hero has an ongoing friendship with a woman designer/painter
who is not in the novel, there is no coroner's scene and the ending is different.   Our authors set up the plot concisely with the hero engaged by a former college friend to watch his wife who exhibits some
odd habits.   He follows her discreetly until she falls or jumps into the Seine for him to rescue her and
become her friend and confidant.   So far, location apart, book and film are the same but the film does
have him demonstrating his love while the book has him announce it but no more.  Madeleine, the
wife, seems possessed by the spirit of an ancestor who killed herself and she, too, does this by falling
from a church tower.   Here book and film differ - in both, the hero flees the scene but this is the end of it in the book whilst in the film he is berated by the coroner for his behaviour.   After some time in
the film with no idea of how much, he sees a look-alike in the street whilst the book has him see the
look-alike in a newsreel.   He finds or follows her and becomes her lover (book/film differences are
irrelevant) but is still trying to put the past behind him.   In the book, ill health has led to their moving
south to Marseilles where she confesses to him that she was Madelaine helping his former friend to
murder his wife, the latter's being the body that was discovered at the foot of the tower.   Following this he strangles her and the book ends.   In the film we see the murder before the end with the hero
who has by now transformed her appearance to that of Madelaine, working out what may have happened when seeing her put on the same necklace the original had worn.   He takes her back to the
tower and forces her up to the top where they are suddenly disturbed by a nun whose appearance leads her to fall to her death.   The book is much tauter and satisfying than the film which is spoilt
by the reveal before the end of what did happen.   While the film is considered by many to be Hitchcock's masterpiece, it is decidedly flawed - far too many shots of one car following another
around San Francisco, the give-away of what happened before the end in particular.   The novel does
hold up well despite its age and I am encouraged to find a second reprint, this time of a Henri Clout
film adaptation, to see how this compares.   Full marks to the authors but not to the film-maker.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Lansdale, Joe R: Lost Echoes

Harry Wilkes has visions following a childhood illness.   They are formed when he is in places that
have seen murder performed.   While in college, he has perfected the routes he takes to avoid seeing
any of these but is then taken up by the local rich man's gorgeous daughter.   This rather unnecessary
episode comes to an end when she takes him a hideaway on the family estate where he has a vision
of a man's death while holding her - tightly enough to bruise her.   She rejects him, though her actions
were a ploy to make someone else jealous, her father has him beaten up and he starts drinking heavily
until one evening when he sees an elderly drunk beat three muggers.   The drunk befriends him and
agrees to teach him martial arts, get off the booze and, hopefully, tame the visions.   His childhood
girlfriend who had moved away has now become a member of the local police force and she asks him
to help her find out what really happened to her father, also a policemen, who apparently had killed
himself.   The outcome is that he was killed by the current police chief as he intended exposing the
latter's killings, one of which being the one Harry saw with the rich girl friend.   The episodes with
the rich girl do not really add to the story which ends up as a straightforward (more or less) thriller
with the inevitable happy ending.   Readable but not anything special.