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.

Brekke, Jorgen: Where Evil Lies

The opening of this novel is set in 16th century Bergen to where an Italian monk
has travelled to collect a set of scalpels.   The scene changes to contemporary
Richmond, Virginia, where the curator of the EdgarAllan Poe Museum is found
dead.   He had been flayed with this being the primary cause of death.   At about
the same time in Trondheim, a retiring university librarian is discovered in the
locked inner area of the library similarly killed.   A celebrated manuscript, the
Book of John, bound in human skin, is missing and suspicion falls on a security
guard at the library.   Th case is given to Odd Singsaker, who has just returned
to work following a serious operation.   The similarity of the two cases is soon
recognised and Felicia Stone, a detective from Richmond, flies to Norway to
check if there is any link.
There are some chapters which return to the past without really adding to the
core of the present-day investigation.   There is a new librarian who is under
suspicion briefly because she had access to the inner area without her presence
really adding much except as a diversion.   Where the Norwegian detective is
flawed by memory loss, the American one has a relationship problem caused
by her having been raped on her Senior Prom night.   The two of them are,
however, attracted to each other.   The investigation proceeds, as seems to be
the case in most thrillers, in fits and starts but with a fair degree of realism.
The unusual, to British readers, settings add to the pleasure of this well-
constructed thriller.  While, for once, I worked out who the villain was before
his exposure the denouement was somewhat unexpected.
Overall, very enjoyable

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Kerr, Philip: If The Dead Rise Not

The novel is in two parts, the first and longer set in Berlin, 1934, during the build-up to the
1936 Olympics and the second in pre-Castro Cuba in 1954.   Bernie Gunther, Kerr's main
protagonist, has left the police and is now house detective at the Adlon Hotel.   In the course
of checking out a murder in the hotel, he meets and falls in love with a beautiful American
journalist, Noreen and crosses paths with a Chicago gangster who is involved with Nazis
and the building of the Olympic stadium.   The girlfriend is strongly anti-Naziand finds it
best to leave while declaring and demonstrating her love for Bernie.   The gangster, Max
Reles, threatens to kill the girl even though she has left but Bernie trades for her life at
the close of the first part.
In Cuba, Bernie has a different identity, Noreen is now married and wealthy and Max is one
of the gangsters enjoyinglife under Batista.   Bernie agrees to work for Max but he is killed
soon afterwards and Bernie is asked by Meyer Lansky to find the murderer quickly to stop
a gang war breaking out.   Bernie produces the killer who has committed suicide before
being revealed so everyone is happy.   The denouement does, however, produce the real
killer though not to the gang bosses.
The historical background appears accurate and Kerr is praised by reviewers for his close
attention to the nexessary details.   Possibly this is why the inclusion of historical figures
in both parts fits in without annoying.   Though, as ever, the book took me some time to
read, it progressed with ease and at no time did I have any problem in accepting that what
was written could well have happened, not only among the leading characters but also
among the many lesser ones whose appearance added colour to the tale.


Anthony, Piers: Pornucopia,

Best known as a writer of science fiction, this 'picaresque black comedy' presumably had some
appeal when I first read it over 12 years or more ago.   This time, even in short doses, I have
possibly managed to read less than a quarter before giving up for good.  Only completeness of
book reviewing justifies this entry.

Tower, Wells: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

The title is that of the final short story of nine by the author who, according to one critic, has
'sentences so good you want to cut them out and pin them to the wall'!!!   I have taken some
months to get through the stories, all of which are well written but none of which had me more
than mildly interested or impressed.   Since my reading these days is more than a little piecemeal,
as the times between reviews will show, possibly I have missed something.   however, I did not
find the collection any more inspiring than the works of most of the authors I have reviewed up to
now.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Fowler, Christopher: Bryant and May The Bleeding Heart

Again, I am reviewing some time after the reading of this, the most recent Bryant and May novel
I have read.   The Peculiar Crimes Unit is now under the control of the City of London Police but
no more secure than it has been for many years.   This tale has two teenagers see a dead man arise
from his grave though the male teenager is killed shortly afterwards.   Graves are desecrated and
the case develops into an investigation of a local funeral director who provides the common link
between the graves.   Parallel to this, Bryant is also trying to find out why the ravens have left
the Tower.   With the usual plethora of local London knowledge providing the backdrop to the
investigations, the final solution does rely as much on instinct as it does on regular police work.
The end leaves Bryant and May looking at the Thames from the middle of Waterloo Bridge with
Bryant wrapping up the loose ends.   I did not find this quite as good as some of the recent
books in the series though it is still better than most of its kind.

Vargas, Fred: The Ghost Riders of Ordebec

I finished this excellent novel some time ago but have only just decided to review it.   The book
features Commissaire Adamsberg who is visited by a frightened woman who will speak to no-one
but him.   She tells him of a vision her daughter has had which, according to local legend, is a
forecast of death.   Shortly afterwards, a cruel, vicious man disappears and Adamsberg agrees
to investigate though rural Normandy is well outside his jurisdiction.   In the course of his
investigation, he meets and is befriended by an elderly lady who turns out to be the wife-to-be
of the local landed nobility.   She, too is attacked but does survive, thanks to Adamsberg's
solicitous behaviour.   He also meets and lusts after the daughter whose vision seems to be at
the heart of things as well as meeting her rather odd set of brothers.   As with all Vargas's books,
there are many twists and turns, a fair deal of esoteric information which just about relates to
the case, an almost irrelevant sub-plot, and, finally, a suitably exciting denouement.   It would
seem that Fred Vargas has few peers, if any, as she yet again produces a nonpareil novel.

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.