Friday, July 13, 2018

Fuller, Samuel: Brainquake

I had not known that Samuel Fuller had been a novelist in the 1930s before turning to film after the
Second World War.   He then returned to writing novels later in life and this 'lost' novel was written
at the start of the 1990s.   In some ways this is a classic noir with a beautiful woman leading a man
astray but it is rather more than that.   The opening with a baby shooting its father startles and is an
unusual introduction to the two main characters.   Paul who suffers from blackouts, hence the title
of 'Brainquake' witnesses the shooting from the park bench where he has been in the habit of
watching the beautiful woman who is the baby's mother.   He is a bagman while she, unbeknownst
to him, is having an affair with the dead man's brother.   He has been delivering flowers to her which
he bought himself and, on one delivery, saves the baby's life which leads to an apparently idyllic and
passionate affair.   This is against the bagman 'code' but he ignores this, steals a large delivery and
flies, with his love, Michelle, and the baby to France.   She was raised there and is able to find refuge
with an old friend.   The mob, however, are after them with a Father Flanagan, their main enforcer
soon on their trail.   There are, however, many twists before the final chapter.   The writing is not
as spare and taut as that of some writers of noir but the additional words fill in the background an
the characters to make this a really fine example of the genre.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Fforde, Jasper: Shades of Grey

Set in an unspecified future on a planet where one's colour designation, which is set by the
colours one is able to see, determines one's rank in life though upward and downward
mobility is possible by marriage.   The story tells of a Red, Eddie Russett, who accompanies
his father to what is supposed to be a locum position in an area of the planet well away from
the civilised centre.   Here he meets and falls in love with a Grey called Jane who is rebellious
and anything but friendly at first.   However, a series of events including his volunteering for
what is expected to be a deadly expedition changes this.   This is a definitely eccentric world
with deadly trees, a self-mending road which absorbs anything left on the surface and a
single rather un-roadworthy van.   Quite enjoyable though I missed a lot of the satire, I am
sure.   it has made me interested in reading the two sequels should they still be available.

Izzo, Jean-Claude: Total Chaos

This is another book that I bought some years ago but have only just found the time to read.
It is the first book of the writer's Marseilles trilogy which the introductory eulogy describes
as Mediterranean noir.   The difference from other crime novels considered as noirs is that
it deals more with the general background of organised crime rather than the standard
concentration on a single event and its ramifications.   It is certainly different from most
crime novels, written in the first person singular by the police detective protagonist.   There
are several amorous dalliances to round out his character in the book which deals with his
relationship with two childhood friends who, unlike him, stayed on the criminal side of life.
Their separate deaths provide the impetus for the book which, even with the occasional
digression on the background, is pacy and interesting.   The translation reads well as I
suspect that the original may not have been in standard French in view of the setting.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Vargas, Fred: An Uncertain Place

Commissaire Adamsberg, together with Danglard and Estalere, attends a conference in London
when seventeen feet in shoes are found at the gates of Highgate Cemetery.   Returning to Paris,
the three are immediately involved in the violent killing of a rich old man whose body has been
completely dismembered.   The man's gardener is a suspect as he is the prime beneficiary but
Adamsberg hides him away as he believes him innocent.   Similar deaths have occured in
Germany with the link being that of distant relationship to a Serbian forebear.   Adamsberg
goes to the ancestral village where he narrowly escapes death.   His career is at risk as one of
those involved is a senior magistrate who has the power to get him dismissed but he does have
the help of others.   The plot is very complicated but it does eventually make sense with the
perpetrator finally being unmasked, again with some risk to Adamsberg.   Well up to this
excellent writer's standard.

Carroll, Jonathan: Bathing the Lion

Five residents of a small New England town have exactly the same dream even though one of them is
many miles away on a flight to Europe.   Some of them know each other, some not.   The story
develops almost magically as they eventually learn they have been sent to Earth from elsewhere.
The plot development is anything but straightforward with a strong f surreality pervading it.   Though
as well written as all of Carroll's books have been, I did find this one less gripping and memorable.
It has actually been a few months since I read the novel and I confess its impact has not lasted.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Connolly, John: The Wrath of Angels

Two old friends out hunting in the forests of Maine come across a crashed plane in which they
find a large pile of cash which they divide and are then careful with how they spend it, often
anonymously giving cash to thosein need in their community.   Their secret is known only to
the brother of one and the daughter of another.   They ask Charlie Parker to find the plane
which has remained undiscovered to the present day.   He agrees and finds himself involved in
various event which bring in characters from previous books until the finale at the site of the
plane which involves supernatural happenings.   Again, the book is well written, almost too
much so for a thriller, the occasional digressions tending to slow down what is already a rather
leisurely exposition.  Connolly is, however, skilled enough to ensure that the reader's interest
is held.   With books like this, I do sometimes wonder how the book is written - is there a
simple abc plot which is then elaborated or is the plot developed almost chronologically with
diversions occuring almost by accident.

Fowler, Christopher: Bryant and May Strange Tide

A young woman's body is found chained to a post on the banks of the River Thames in a place
with very limited access.   The Peculiar Crimes Unit are given the case which seems insoluble.
It is discovered that the dead woman had been taking courses at a  life-style clinic  which seems
to be above board.   However, the clinic is owned by an Armenian refugee who somehow got
to London and set up a new identity for himself which he changed when it suited his plans.  His
female partner runs the clinic and knows about his background.   Bryant is technically off duty
through illness as he keeps having hallucinations about the past but it turns out later in the book
that he had been poisoning himself with fumes from the silver skull he kept on his desk.   This
discovery leads to his being cured but May is then suspected of murder, not only because he
was the last known person with the murdered woman but mainly because his scarf was used to
strangle her.   With the usual digressions into the byways ofLondon's history, especially the
more obscure elements, the story maintains a good pace until the final chapter.

Connolly, John: The Burning Soul

Set in the small Maine town of Pastor's Bay where a 14 year old girl has been abducted, the main
suspect is Randall Haight who lives alone and keeps apart from local affairs.   Charlie Parker is
asked by the lawyer representing him to investigate which he does even though he finds Haight a
dislikeable person.   He learns that Haight and another had previously killed a black girl when all
were in their early teens with both the murderers being released and given new identities.   In a
rather convoluted story it turns out that the other killer has also moved to Maine, well away from
the scene of the original crime.   The denouement comes as a surprise but not a far-fetched one.
The writing is denser than in most thrillers but none the worse for it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

London Film Festival 2017

GHOST STORIES: the first film seen started life as a stage play with one of the authors playing the
lead role of an academic who debunks the supernatural.   He is contacted by a celebrated parapsychologist who has 'disappeared' and given three cases which the latter says he has been unable
to explain rationally.   These cases take up the rest of the film which deals with each case in turn.
The precis in the catalogue says 'it's bloody terrifying, too' which is a serious exaggeration of what
we actually see.   Some of the standard tropes are employed but scary the film is not - and I am one of
those who will at the relevant moment hide my eyes.   A poor start to the week.
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL: Takashi Miike's 100th film is based on a famous manga series which
starts with a renegade samurai looking after his sister who has been traumatised into a childlike state
by the death of her husband.   She is caught by those hunting them and, although the samurai lays
down his weapons to secure her release, she is deliberately killed: the samurai's immediate revenge
results in bloody mayhem leaving him all but dead until he is given immortality by a witch.   He
seeks redemption by saving a young girl whose parents have been murdered by members of a
fighting school which has been removing all opposition from their particular style of combat.   Our
hero tracks down the leaders one by one until the denouement which is even bloodier than the
opening battle.   Brilliantly crafted and filmed, this must be one of Miike's best.   Incidental to the
film was its screening in a temporary marquee in the Victoria Embankment Gardens.
LITTLE VERONIKA (INNOCENCE): a 1930 Austrian silent with the fluidity that later silent films
had achieved, this tells of a young girl going from her Tyrolean village to Vienna to stay with her
aunt.   Neither she nor her mother know that her aunt is a prostitute which makes the girl a potential
addition to the brothel though her aunt does not seem to be too eager for this.   She goes with her
aunt to a party where she is seduced by a middle-aged man who takes her to his apartment.   While
she is convinced he is the love of her life, he throws her out the next morning and she returns to the
Tyrol where she tries to drown herself but is saved by a friend she met again in Vienna who loves
her.   All's well that ends well.... The background of Viennese streets did not provide stunning views
of a disappeared city, the heroine was pleasant enough but looked (and was) some ten years older
than her character and the only plus is the continued existence of a film of this age.
Incidental comment number two: prior to the Miike film, an email from the BFI said films would
start on time and there would be no trailers.   This film started some 5 minutes late though, compared
with previous years, I suppose this could be considered on time.
THE SHAPE OF WATER: Guillermo del Toro's offering to the Festival started 20 minutes late and there was a trailer!   Sally Hawkins plays a mute woman working as a cleaner in a secret military
facility where an aquatic creature from the Amazon has been brought - shades of 'The Creature From
the Lagoon'.   Michael Shannon is in charge and delights in torturing the creature but Hawkins is
curious and makes friends with it in no small part by giving it a hard-boiled egg.   Their rapport
is seen by one of the project scientists who is actually a Russian spy (not that this really adds to
the story though it does amplify the atmosphere).   With help from a fellow cleaner and a neighbour,
she gets the creature to her apartment where eventually they somehow consummate what has become
love for each other.   They realise the creature must return to the wild but have to wait until a nearby
canal inlet is filled some days hence once the rains come.   This happens but Shannon has worked
out what occured which leads to a thrilling climax at the water's edge.   Hawkins was excellent as
were Octavia Spencer as a fellow cleaner, Richard Jenkins as her friend and neighbour and Shannon
as the villain.   I did not seen the point of the domestic interludes between Shannon and his family
but this is a small negative to what was del Toro's best film for some time.
LUCKY: 88 minutes of Harry Dean Stanton at his best playing the eponymous lead as an old retired
cowboy in a small community.   He gets up, exercises, goes to the town to buy milk, visits the diner
and one of the bars (apparently having been banned from the other) and repeats this the next day.
The value of the film lies in the spare script and the spot-on characterisation by Stanton of his role -
probably playing himself in later years after 'Paris, Texas'.   A nice framing is the opening shot of
a turtle crawling off into the bush, its loss bewailed by its owner David Lynch, and the final shot
of its return in the foreground while Stanton is gradually fading into the distance.   Very much a
chamber piece but very, very good.   Started more or less on time following trailer.
The PRINCE OF ADVENTURERS CASANOVA: a very long silent 1928 French film which was
trying to outdo Hollywood as a spectacle.   A set of episodes from Casanova's life which opens in
Venice, moves to Russia and returns to Venice.   With Ivan Mosjoukine in the lead, "(he) was born
to play this mischievous Harlequin with the melancholy heart" the programme says but does not add
that for contemporary eyes he was anything but attractive.   Two colour sequences were promised
but one was sepia only.   A rather disappointing film despite the considerable expense which had been
lavished on costumes and settings with this downbeat feeling emphasised by the fact that we had seen
a slightly shorter version of the film on German television some years ago with the title only being
'Casanova'.   Slightly late starting after a repeat trailer for "North By Northwest'.      

Brookmyre, Christopher: All Fun And Games Until Somebody Loses An Eye

Some time has passed since I last read this author.   This book continues his mix of humour and
excitement with a wider geographical range than I remember from before.   A select team invades
and secures a secret plant belonging to a major arms manufacturer but has done this at the request
of the company to improve security.   Soon after, a trusted employee goes missing after he has
demonstrated a new 'miracle' weapon.   The scene switches from France to Glasgow where a fit
young grandmother has taken her granddaughter to a local indoor amusement park: an attempt is
made to kidnap the girl but the grandmother manges to foil the attempt.   She is unknowingly
helped by members of the team that had raided the arms plant and then receives a phone call
telling her to be at a location in France if she wants to keep her family safe.  It turns out that the
missing employee is her son. Various events are detailed for both mother and son as well as the
security team and its somewhat enigmatic leader.   The son is caught by an international 'Mr Big'
who puts him up for auction, selling his knowledge to the highest bidder.   The story keeps up
the tension as the team which now includes the grandmother aim to rescue him.
I thought there were a few times when too much incidental activity was included but the overall
result was very entertaining and well worth a read of some 400 pages which seems to be the
expected length for this type of novel.  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Frightfest 2017: Monday 28 August.

'Meatball Machine Kodoku' shows that weird is alive and kicking in Japan.   An alien entity
invades a city and starts taking over the brains of the residents who are then turned into part
machine monsters.   A mild-mannered businessman is not so infected and proceeds to kill
those who are and protect those who are not.   A veritable splatter movie leavened with much
humour.
'Tragedy Girls' has two High School seniors obsessed with their profiles on social media.  A
serial killer in their town gives them an opportunity to expand their on-line presence despite
the opposition of more established media.   Having captured the actual killer, played by the
estimable Kevin Durand, they keep things moving by doing the killing themselves to its
culmination at the Senior Prom.   Hilarious and successfully done.
Final comments.
A much better choice than last year with sevn of the eight films worth the effort and only one
bummer though the young man sitting next to me at the screening of 'Fashionista' had seen it
at the Glasgow Frightfest and thought it was really good!!   Best film - 'The Villainess' with
an honourable mention to both 'The Glass Coffin' and 'The Bar'; most enjoyable -  a tie between
'68 Kill' and 'Meatball Machine Kodoku' with the remaining two close behind.

Frightfest 2017: Sunday 27 August

'Mayhem' sees a promising lawyer fired through a workmate's duplicity at the same time as a
virus, ID7, which makes those infected lose their inhibitions is released in the company's multi-
storey building.   Unable to leave he has to fight his way back up through the floors to the
accompaniment of unbridled sex and comic-book violence which continues with increasing
ingenuity until he reaches the top floor and the ultimate goal.   Definitely not to be taken at all
seriously although I suppose it could be read as a satire on the behaviour in large companies by
those trying to succeed.
'The Villainess' is a first-rate Korean film with a stunningly virtuoso opening sequence involving
the heroine.   Trained as an assassin in China, she loses her mentor but is given the chance of a
new life as a government agent in South Korea where her cover is that of a theatre actress.   The
film does not completely follow the pattern one would expect from Hollywood films but the end
finds her getting revenge but not in the way she thought.   The action did sag a little at time but
the set pieces were sufficiently brilliant to make up for this.

Frightfest 2017: Saturday 26 August

'The Bar'  attracted us because it is directed by Alex de la Iglesia, director of 'Day of the Beast'.
An attractive woman, Blanca Surez, is seen walking through Madrid and is cursed by a gypsy
woman shortly before going in to the eponymous bar.   The owner, her waiter and a number of
customers are there when they are instructed by loud-hailer to stay put.   One does not and is
shot and they see men in Hazmat gear outside.   They decide to leave through the sewer network
underneath the bar which proves harder than it might do because of the tight fit of the entrance
to it.   At first, the only person able to get through is our heroine and she can only do so after
removing some of her clothing.   There is a fight which leaves some of the habitues dead but
most get into the sewers and try to find a way through and out.   Tensions which are already
high get higher and the animosity between the men with disputes over what seems to be an
antidote to the mysterious disease leads to more death.   Eventually, the woman is the only one
able to get out and she is seen, muddied and semi-naked walking through the crowd who pay
her no heed.   The characters are well differentiated and the tension of the situation kept up
admirably.

Frightfest 2017: Friday 25 August

With the Festival returning to the West End, we did select a few more films this year but
decided against a full pass.
Our viewing opened with 'The Glass Coffin', a Spanish 'closed room' drama with a difference.
The heroine is first seen getting into a limousine to go to a gala where she is to receive an
award.   However, she soon discovers that the vehicle doors are locked and the windows have
become opaque.   A distorted voice tells her she is to obey whatever commands she is given;
when she refuses, the chauffeur goes into the limousine and beats her briefly.   As she then
slowly complies with the increasingly demeaning commands she finds out the name of her
captor and his reason for his actions.   An interesting two-hander with a fine performance
from Paola Bontempi holding the film together.
'Fashionista' features a plain heroine who runs a vintage dress shop with her husband.   She
suspects he is having an affair with one of their staff, which he is and she seeks revenge by
herself committing adultery.   The programme calls this 'a hypnotic and bracing exploration
of identity, body image and transformation' with a nod to DePalma which makes me think
we must have seen a diffrent film as this was, to put it bluntly, utter tosh badly acted.
'68 Kill' takes us into the world of trailer trash with Annalynne McCord in an over-the-top
performance as the girlfriend of a quiet sewage worker.   She talks him into robbing the
safe of her current sugar daddy but this goes wrong, they are then themselves robbed by
some of the local layabouts after which mayhem occurs.   Morally reprehensible and a
little hard to believe, the film is a delightful romp in the lower reaches of Louisiana life.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Fowler, Christoper: Bryant and May London's Glory


A series of short stories featuring the eponymous detectives is prefaced by the author's
comments on earlier detective novels and rounded off by comments on the Bryant and
May books to date with an indication of the inspirational source.   The individual
stories are all in the same vein as the full length novels with esoteric facts about London
and unsual settings and methods of killing.   People are killed in locked rooms, in
the centre of snow-covered fields with no tracks except the victim's, with some very
unusual ways of causing death involved.   Despite the unsavoury subject of murder,
the stories, like the novels, have a lightness of touch which is, in no small part, a
reflection of the pair and their interaction with each other.   The short stories are an
excellent introduction to the novels providing a feast of enjoyment.