Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Lansdale, Joe R: The Thicket

A teenage boy is travelling with his younger sister and his grandfather to the latter's home after his
parents have died in a smallpox outbreak.   A ferry crossing has his grandfather shot by bandits,
his sister abducted and he nearly drowned.   He meets up with a midget and the son of a slave who
have a large hog with them.   He promises them his inheritance if they will help him get his sister
back even though he accepts she will have been raped and possibly even killed by her captors who
are a well-known bunch of evildoers.   The book follows the tracking down of the bad guys with a
fair amount of sidetracking including a lot of philosophising.   Jack, the young lad, loses his virginity
in a whorehouse while looking for one of the villains: the latter is caught, tortured and handed over
to the local sheriff.   The whore with Jack talks him into helping her escape the whorehouse which he
does and she joins up with him as does the sheriff when the villain escapes.   Lengthy but relatively
easy to read and wryly amusing at times, it seemed more diffuse than I recall other Lansdale books
having been but he does win a lot of awards whatever his style may be

Connolly John: The Lovers

Charlie Parker is a private eye who, in this book, is working in a country bar in Maine following
events detailed in earlier books.   He is haunted by what happened to his father who was a New York
policeman who killed himself having inexplicably shot two teenagers.   This book tells of Parker's
search for the truth behind the events.   In what I felt was an overlong telling, he becomes involved
in supernatural events as well as uncovering unsavoury details of the past involving his father's
colleagues.   It all sort of hung together but was not that easy a read and I may not read the other
books I have by the same author.

London Korean Film Festival 3 to 17 November 2016.

Having enjoyed some of the films in previous year's festivals, I was looking forward to this year's
offerings though making a selection was not easy.
The Last Princess seen on 9 November is based on the true story of the last princess of Korea who
was sent as a child to Japan which had just annexed Korea.   Although she is promised a return
visit to see her family she is effectively held captive and eventually married to a Japanese prince.
Meeting a childhood friend with whom she falls in love she tries, with the help of him and his
friends, to escape but the Korean general who took her to Japan and has become all but Japanese
thwarts their plans.   Even when World War II ends, her return is refused and she grows old in
exile until she is finally allowed to return to Seoul to be greeted by her former servants and friends.
A solid, well-acted film with a strong emotional end.
A Fish seen on 11 November in 'homemade' 3D has a troubled professor looking for his wife.   He
hires a psychotic private detective who traces her to an island where she is training to be a shaman.
A number of disconnected episodes follow in what is decidedly one of the odder films I have seen
for a long time.
Alone came the next day and was also directed by Park Hong-min whose 3D film we had seen the
previous day.   Set in the labyrinthine back streets of one of the older districts of Seoul, the lead is
a photographer who sees a murder take place across the rooftops but he is spotted and chased to
escape eventually winding up naked in an alleyway.   The rest of the film has him wandering around
while trying to piece together what has happened to him.   He meets the same people, including a
young boy who may or may not be himself, more than once is what is well-photographed but rather
a disappointing film.

London East Asia Film Festival: 20-30 October 2016

As the dates above show, it has taken quite some time for me to review the films seen - in part
through not feeling too well after a failed operation but mainly through being distracted.
Curtain Call seen on 23 October tells of a rubbishy theatre group performing semi-pornographic
farce whose theatre is about to close.   The director decides they should end with something good
and enters them into a competition in which they will perform 'Hamlet'.   An outside is cast in
the lead role but takes little part in rehearsals which he considers beneath him.   Come the day,
the performance is something of a disaster with forgotten lines, missed entries and the leading
man walking out.   A sub-plot involves the actress playing Gertrude and her daughter with the
latter dutifully turning up to see the play together with her friends.   The ensemble cast produce
a highly enjoyable film which has a happy ending after much laughter.   I do not recall which
of us chose this but it was more than worth the effort of getting to the ICA on a Sunday morning.
Karaoke Crazies seen on 29 October is set in a karaoke club in a small town.   It has seen better
days and has few customers.   The owner and sole occupant takes on a completely unsuitable
girl assistant who is tone deaf but does help business along by giving blowjobs to customers.
They are joined by a live-wire helper who claims to be a specialist in reviving businesses.   Here
she uses her good looks and provocative clothing to entice custom by promising but not giving.
A fourth occupant is a defeated fat young man who has effectively hidden in the building before
being noticed.   The four gradually form a sort of family at a time when a serial killer is on
the loose attacking women who entertain in some way.   A rather strange film which was not
what I was expecting but it has style and a certain charm.   Again, the ending is a happy one.
The films were part of the first ever festival of this name and I will definitely look out for the
event later this year.  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Carrell, J.L.: The Shakespeare Secret.


A young American academic has left her career to become a noted theatre director.   While rehearsing
at Shakespeare's Globe in London, her former mentor and professor turns up and is murdered.   The
theatre is set on fire and Kate Stanley is in danger from the mysterious assassin.   She is helped by a
theatrical knigh who was due to play Hamlet's Fatherin her new production and by a very capable
retured soldier who is the murdered woman's nephew.   The plot is very involved and the action moves to Boston, Washington D.C., Idaho, New Mexico and back to England where both Wilton House and Stratford upon Avon feature before the denouement back in the USA.   A number of other
characters feature and for much of the book it is hard to tell who are good, apart from those who are
murdered along the way, and those who are bad.   The narrative is interspersed with chapters set in
the reign of James I which enhances the mystery of who wants waht and why.   A mixture of learned
exposition, sometimes perhaps too much, and fast-moving action, this is an unusual thriller which I
found quite gripping.

Camilleri, Andrea: Hunting Season


Having enjoyed previous books by Camilleri featuring Inspector Montalbano, I saw this and bought
it without reading the blurb.   While the book is set in Vigata, the year is 1880.   A young man returns
to the town to set up a pharmacy following in the footsteps of his father whose home-grown remedies
were legendary before his murder many years ago.   He soon finds himself involved with he local
nobility including the daughter of Don Filippo, the local marchesa, whom he had seen before his
exile.   Then people start to die until the final chapter when all is explained.   Something of a romp
but fitting well into what might be the earlier history of this Sicilian town.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Carroll, Jonathan: Voice of Our Shadow

Haunted by the death of his brother, Joe Lennox moves to Vienna where he meets a charismatic
couple, Paul and India Tate.   She is an artist and he is a brilliant magician; they spend more and
more time again and Joe falls in love with India.   This love is returned and, eventually, Paul
finds out and kills himself.   However, as time passes, Paul reappears to haunt the couple in various
ways which ends with India going back to him.   The book is a mixture of the everyday life of
friends and betrayal mixed with the supernatural which is to be expected from Mr Carroll.   It is
all believable even when what happens is not really possible though one is left with the distinct
thought that it might be.   Even Joe's attempt to break with India and lead a normal life with
another woman fits as does his return to Vienna and the final scary climax.

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.