evseymour

Word on the Wire

Category: Film

FABULOUS BOOKS AND FILM

With coronavirus and floods, (and locusts plaguing Pakistan and parts of Africa), February has been a dismal month. But, on the reading and dramatic front, there has been no shortage of talent to shout about.

‘The Split’ led me to four straight hours of binge watching. Written by the brilliant Abi Morgan, it features a family of sisters who are divorce lawyers. The narrative follows them through the trials and tribulations of their professional and personal lives. For anyone who has had the misfortune to go through divorce, it will ring true; the script never puts a foot wrong. Acting is superb, with a strong cast that includes Nicola Morgan, Stephen Mangan and Deborah Findlay. Watch out for the genius scene in which a warring couple bellow at each other, but with the sound turned off. No need for words when their faces say it all. Be advised to have a box of tissues ready for the finale.

Late to the party, I read M.W. Craven’s rather brilliant ‘The Puppet Show.’ I loved this on so many levels. It’s dark. It’s brutal. But Craven’s original characters, in Poe and Tilly, lighten the load. It’s a totally worthy and deserving winner of the CWA Golden Dagger Award 2019. Published by Constable.

Next up, another author, Gerard O’ Donovan’s ‘The Doom List.’ Old style Hollywood glamour combined with blackmail and historical, larger than life characters, what’s not to like? I loved Tom Collins, a former cop turned PI and, naturally, of Irish descent. He’s the perfect fixer to the stars and those in a tight spot. If you want to disappear into the 1920’s, without mobiles or computers, this comes highly recommended. Published by Severn House.

Former Chief Superintendent, Graham Bartlett, has written a first-hand account of the investigation into the murders of two little girls in 1986, with best selling author, Peter James. Providing dramatic insight into the mechanics of a murder investigation, it also highlights the dogged pursuit of the police to bring a killer to justice. Published by Pan.

I had the pleasure of working with James Ellson on his novel, ‘The Trail,’ although he needed absolutely no help when it came to police procedure, as he’s a former serving police officer with Greater Manchester. Featuring beekeeper DCI Rick Castle, a missing person enquiry leads him to Nepal. What seems straightforward is anything but and Castle is faced with an unenviable moral decision. Published by Unbound Digital.

On the film front, check out ‘Hostiles’. Hands up, apart from some stunning exceptions, I’m not a massive fan of Westerns. (Perversely, I rather enjoy Western novels, notably stunners like ‘Nunslinger’ by Stark Holborn). Anyway, my other half strong-armed me to give it a go. I’m so glad he did. Cinematography is sensational, creating a picture of beautiful landscape at odds with the raw savagery that takes place within it. If you can get past the deeply upsetting inciting incident, brilliantly conveyed by Rosamund Pike when her entire family is wiped out by Rattlesnake Indians (a psychotic tribe despised by other tribes) then you are in for a powerful and thought-provoking piece of drama. There are no good guys versus bad guys. Through Christian Bale’s character, (he plays a captain tasked to take an old dying chief back to his homeland in Montana) we witness a dramatic and emotional change in his once deeply held beliefs about the enemy. It’s the kind of story that stays with you long after the credits have rolled, and comes very highly recommended.

Finally, Orion released the e-book and audio of Neon by G S Locke, the paperback to follow in July. The cover alone is enough to whet a reader’s appetite. If you’re looking for a serial killer thriller set in Birmingham, with an antagonist who writes his signature in lights, this could be just the story for you.

HAT TRICK

Last Friday, I was in the slightly surreal position of celebrating three novels published in 2017 with the same publisher. ‘House of Lies’, ‘A Deadly Trade’ and ‘Final Target’ are released under the Killer Reads’ imprint, the first a female led psychological thriller, the others part of the Joshua Thane series and could be regarded as espionage light. This all came about as a result of hard work by my agent, Broo Doherty, good faith on the part of Charlotte Ledger and Finn Cotton, talented design work for the stunning front covers, good fortune, magic, and a little of my blood, sweat tears. It’s true what they say: writing books and getting them published is down to teamwork.

So what’s next? Today, in the spirit of Christmas, ‘A Deadly Trade’ is available for free for the next twelve days. So get requesting and, hopefully, reviewing. Over the next couple of weeks, check out the Writers’ Workshop Blog for my ‘Seven Top Tips for Writing Thrillers’.   My new novel is taking longer than it should due to on-going editing work. While I might sneak away over the festive period to write, I’m also looking forward to a break, long walks, wood fires and space to think in reasonably clear lines – nothing like a deviation in routine to fire the imagination. I’d also like to get some reading under my (potentially expanding) belt. The pile on my bedside table grows daily and I think those Christmas elves will be delivering a few more.

Looking back on 2017, I think of madcap moving house (again) days, the joyous expansion of the tribe, great novels I’ve read, a couple not yet published. I remember laughter as well as sadness, particularly for those who should still be here and aren’t. The only resolution I’m making for 2018 is to take a longer view and, at the risk of cliché, get the work/life balance better aligned.

So that’s it, in a few weeks’ time, we’ll be well into the festive season and 2018 will be hovering on the horizon. I hope that, whatever dreams and aspirations you hold for the New Year are yours in abundance.

PROMISES, PROMISES…

I like to think I’m pretty good at keeping my promises. If I say I’ll do something, I generally do it. Specific others may be forgiven for thinking, ‘Yeah, right’. By specific, I mean writers whose books I said I would read and review but, months on, spectacularly failed to do so.

I cannot blame it on Euro 2016 or Wimbledon – yes, I watched a lot of matches, but only in the evenings and at weekends. Crimefest is now a distant memory. (I read four fab novels in preparation – see previous post). Stonking family events are par for the course when you have a tribe the size of mine, so I can’t use this as a mitigating factor either. Have I been sunning myself in the sweltering heat or in foreign climes? Fat chance. Even my blog has reduced to once a month instead of once a week.

With regard to watching TV dramatizations and film, I confess that I’m guilty as charged.   Too many to mention, I particularly enjoyed, ‘The Five’, Harlan Coben’s superb and gripping thriller about a disappearing boy, ’13 Hours’, based on a true story about the secret soldiers of Benghazi, TV Western series ‘Texas Rising’, clue in the title, and (enjoyed is stretching it because of THAT scene) ‘Bone Tomahawk.’ So when not slumped in a heap at the end of the day, precisely what have I been up to that renders my reading for pleasure time minimal to non-existent? WRITING.

Aside from crafting reports for my day job in which I work with unpublished writers, and carrying out edits on ‘Don’t Tell Anyone’ scheduled for publication in December 2016, and ‘An Imperfect Past’, in March 2017, I’m working on a brand new stand alone. I delivered the first 70k words only a couple of days ago to my agent to give her a steer.  There is still much work to be done to finish the novel.  Once this is ‘in the can’, I intend to honour my commitment.

In the same way I like to vary what I eat, I take pleasure from mixing up my reading. So, in no particular order, the following are first up on my menu: ‘The Gingerbread Wife’ an anthology of stories, by Sarah Vincent, ‘In Her Wake’ by Amanda Jennings, ‘The Corruption of Chastity’ by Frank Wentworth, ‘Killer Plan’ by Leigh Russell and ‘The Locker’ by fellow Midnight Inker, Adrian Magson. Starters fully consumed, hopefully, I can move on to main courses that are already stacking up on my ‘to be read’ bookshelf.   Promises, promises…

 

 

 

 

SING SOPRANO

I have absolutely no idea how or why I missed ‘The Sopranos’ first time around, although a second marriage and five kids (my stock excuse) might have had a bearing.   As the saying goes, ‘better late than never’ and all the more poignant because James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano so convincingly, is very sadly no longer with us.

So it was with a sense of fevered anticipation that we prepared to devour 4,567 minutes or seventy-seven hours worth of viewing. And, my goodness, was it worth it. I can now see how ‘The Shield’ and ‘The Wire’ were spawned, both fabulously addictive series.

But back to David Chase’s ‘The Sopranos.’ It’s not easy to encapsulate six seasons, except to say that, as complex and credible characterisation goes, it doesn’t get much better. At various times, I hated Tony Soprano, top-dog crime lord. I hated his nephew Christopher, played fabulously by Michael Imperioli, I wanted to scream at the screen when ‘Sill’ dispatched Christopher’s girlfriend, Adriana. I loathed Pauli, one of Tony’s henchmen for his racism and mindless ruthlessness, and yet, at other times, I warmed to them, pitied them, found them endlessly amusing. If you could chart my emotions running through the entire series, the graph would dip deep, climb a bit, drop a bit, and soar, only to return to the bottom when character after character, to my mind, got their own kind of karma in spades. In many ways, my emotional journey with Tony Soprano mimicked that of his shrink, played with great style and class by Lorraine Bracco. Even she, in the end, realised that she was dealing with a self-serving sociopath as adept at manipulating her as his enemies and cronies.

Through it all, family was the glue that held it together, and I’m not just talking about ‘our thing’.   This is where the wives, girlfriends and widows played their greatest role. They saw the kids through school and advised on career choices, cooked huge dinners, ensured the refrigerator, (which had a minor part all its own in the Soprano household) was full, took care of their husbands’ every need while, on a personal level knowing said husband was banging some broad.  They did it all, while also knowing on an unpalatable, secondary level that the only reason they were able to live in style, eat out, holiday as and when, receive expensive gifts of jewellery and clothing, was because it came from ill-gotten gains and murder.   In spite of it, I found it hard not to feel respect for Carmella Soprano, played superbly by Edie Falco, for treading a fine path through the mayhem.

And the final climactic scene in the diner about which there has been much debate? Yes, I was reminded of The Godfather when Michael Corleone heads for ‘the john’ to pick up a gun. The man who casually glances across at the Soprano family definitely pricked my foe-detector. From a visual perspective, Hopper’s famous painting ‘Nighthawks’ sprang to mind. The final moment was not so much fade out as pitch black, indicating, for me, that Tony Soprano died as he lived. But what do I know?

A strong test of a series is the length of time it stays with you afterwards. I reckon this will take a long while to fade. In a lighter aside, I’m now in danger of asking any visitor to the house: ‘Do you want corfee?’ in that wonderful Noo Joirsey accent.

TUT TUT

I watched ‘Tut’ a few days ago. Based on the life of the young Pharaoh, Tutankhamun, it tells the story of his sudden rise to power following the murder of his father, to his early death from injuries sustained in battle.   Right from the beginning, his life is doomed. To ensure the bloodline, it’s decreed that he marries his half-sister who, in time-honoured fashion, is in love with another.   His chief adviser, (the Egyptian equivalent of Rasputin) has his own agenda with an eye to ruling Egypt himself. Manipulated, thwarted and himself in love with a woman who is not his Queen, poor King Tut doesn’t stand a chance. In three parts, to accommodate a running time of four hours and twenty-two minutes, it held the potential to be a great epic tale. Don’t get me wrong; there are some fabulous performances. King Tut’s lover, Suhad, played by Kylie Bunbury, is compelling and credible. Ben Kingsley, as the dastardly Vizier, acts his socks off even if, with his Egyptian eyeliner, he reminded me of an ancient Terry Alderton in the middle of one of his more surreal comic moments. Picky of me, but didn’t King Tut’s sophisticated and haughty Queen, have a problem with pronouncing ‘little’ or should I say, ‘Lit-tell’? It really jarred with the rest of the sexy and seductive persona. As for King Tut dragging around with a broken leg that eventually killed him, it appeared almost comic instead of tragic.   But these are minor carps so why didn’t I enjoy it?

It felt tired, somehow, as if I’d seen similar before and it had been done a lot better. The sets weren’t that spectacular. The slow plot, interspersed with battle scenes, had a clunky uneven gait. There was a heck of a lot of talking and scheming and banging on about the bloodline and yet there were few surprises when it came to the action. Yes, there were ruthless goings-on. Yes, rebels were chopped up and heads chopped off but it felt so predictable. Even the ‘strong sex’ scenes (according to the blurb) weren’t particularly strong. To be fair, I’m prejudiced because I’d just finished watching the final season of ‘Strike Back’ – in which some viewers are entitled to feel that they get to see more of Sullivan Stapleton than they bargained for.

Far be it for me to disagree with the Independent’s assertion that it was a ‘triumph’, but all I can say is ‘tut tut’.

TV ‘BLACKOUT’

Since our move, we haven’t got around to having an aerial fitted for our television. With so much other stuff to sort, it didn’t seem a priority. I really thought I’d miss it but, after a day of unpacking boxes, lugging furniture and critiquing authors’ manuscripts, I’m fairly pooped. My Twitter and Facebook activity similarly has taken a back seat over the last few weeks, although, clearly, I’m now back ‘on message,’ so to speak.

So what have I been doing instead? Catching up on old favourite films. The quirky thing about watching films for a second or even a third time is that you notice things you didn’t cotton on to before.   Clocking up a film a night, one stood out from the crowd: ‘The Last Samurai’. With an epic quality, it’s a serious film about Japanese honour; the clue to how the story unfolds in the title.   Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe act their socks off (without seeming to) and, if you’re into battle scenes, (I am) it’s worth watching for these alone. One look at the credits reveals the vast numbers of stunt men and, that speciality breed, stunt riders.   The soundtrack seemed more memorable, somehow, second time around. No wonder: Hans Zimmer wrote the score.

But, just in case, you think I’ve switched off from the world, the radio remains my best chum. I have an almost telepathic sense of ‘on the hour’ news which is when I invariably tune in. A lousy Broadband service has been defeated by that wonderful creation: Mobile Wi-Fi. As for books, I’ve got a fine selection just ready and waiting for me to dive into. Currently, I’m reading Clare Mackintosh’s intriguing ‘I Let You Go.’   It’s spent far too long on my bookshelf. More of this anon…

NUMERO UNO

Often you’ll hear writers admit that they are bad at maths. Occasionally, it’s trumpeted as a badge of honour, as if, by being lousy with numbers, one is de facto a whiz with words. Well, I’m genuinely embarrassed to confess that I’m rubbish at sums, always have been and always will be, without making great claims of literary prowess. The very mention of the word ‘percentage’ has me breaking out in a sweat. I hyperventilate at ‘algebraic equation’. Don’t get me started on mathematics’ close cousin, quantum physics because it elicits nausea, spots before the eyes and, finally, fade out. I put it down to consistently receiving a verbal thrashing from my father who, and without trying to go all Jeremy Kyle on the subject, found maths a doddle and couldn’t understand why his daughter was such a dimwit. My lifelong aversion to numerals explains why I’ve given Oscar winning ‘The Theory of Everything,’ based on the life of the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, a wide berth.

Until last week.

And what a fool I’d been.

If only I’d had Jane Wilde (played by Felicity Jones) as my teacher. In a memorable scene, involving potatoes and peas, she explains an aspect of quantum physics in a way that even I got it. But what blew me away, and explains why Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar was so richly deserved, is the way in which Redmayne, who plays Stephen Hawking, physically transforms from a healthy twenty-one year-old to a man in thrall to Motor Neurone Disease that robbed him of pretty much everything bar his ability to procreate and think.

In our image-conscious society, where so many of us worship the body beautiful, the film and Hawking throw up fundamental questions about attitudes to disability, the emphasis on what we look like versus who we are, and what we rate as important in a human being. I love films that make me think. And the Brits are very good at it.

And does a man who is physically bent out of shape by a disease cease to be sexy? Not a bit of it. The women in his life adore him because Hawking’s mind, along with his mischievous sense of humour, provides the big turn-on. It’s no accident that the most observant contemporary female writers allude to ‘bad sex’ as much as ‘good sex’ in the lives of their main protagonists because they recognise that a tight arse, rack of abs and pecs to die for, or the most beautiful features are not essential to attract members of the opposite sex.  I expect a smart bod will tell me that there’s a mathematical equation for falling in love too.

BLOODY NORA!

One of my most prized literary possessions is a dictionary of slang. Last week, I tried to find out the origin of ‘Bloody Nora’ and came up empty. Help was at hand through a familiar on-line source, and I quickly discovered that it started out as a Cockney phrase ‘flamin-orror’ that morphed into ‘Flamin’ Nora’ and, finally, the more colourful version, ‘Bloody Norah.’ What the hell does this have to do with anything, you might ask?

Well, it was the phrase that popped out of my mouth unbidden when watching the sequel to the Malaysian sub-titled film ‘The Raid.’ As it turned out ‘flamin’ was rather apposite for one particularly gruesome scene. And, my goodness, I wouldn’t advise you to watch it if you’ve just had your dinner. Talk about paint the town red.

The story, such as it was, involves Rama, a cop going undercover to gain access to a deadly criminal outfit in order to produce names and evidence. Actually, I forgot all this because the violence that quickly erupted superseded the narrative. Now don’t get me wrong, never has 143 minutes flown so quickly. I was utterly mesmerised by the fabulously choreographed fight scenes – why bother with a gun when you have a deft pair of feet and hands? However these were not the only weapons on show. There was a young guy with a ball and what looked like a rounders bat that most have weighed a ton, (all the better to smash someone’s face in) and a woman who was pretty nifty with a pair of claw hammers. (I had a vision of a backroom team sitting in a small office pitching ideas for the most innovative way to bump someone off.) As you might imagine, there was a point where I grabbed a breath and gave thanks for having a relatively sound mind. With so much blood gushing from every orifice on-screen, what might those visual images do to someone of a more vulnerable and impressionable disposition? Not that I’m advocating censorship. It did make me wonder, however, whether graphic violence packs more punch when the story isn’t in one’s native tongue.   Is there an added scary dimension because it seems slightly unfamiliar? I’m not sure…

I’m guessing ‘The Raid 2’ might be considered tame fare for fans of the horror genre, but, bloody Nora, I think this is pretty much as far as I want to go.

PLAYING CATCH-UP

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Cillian Murphy, especially in his role as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders, which explains why my thoughtful other half bought me a couple of earlier films in which Murphy had taken a lead role. We watched one of them last week, ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’.
Directed by Ken Loach, and set in Ireland in 1920, the film depicts the struggle of two brothers against the ‘Black and Tans’, a violent military unit sent by the British government to crush Ireland’s bid for independence. By God, crush they did.
I’m so accustomed to seeing Brits portrayed as ‘good guys’ and Irish with Republican or Loyalist views as terrorists that the story grabbed my attention from the first frame. The story rings with the grim truth that violence begets violence. How else could a decent man, Damien, (Cillian Murphy) a doctor, abandon a promising career, and ultimately the love of his life, for the cause in which he believes and that would inevitably put him on a collision course with his brother, Teddy?
An intriguing aspect of the film is that Teddy (Padraic Delaney) starts out as the radical, who subverts his peaceful and law-abiding brother, only to fall in with a diplomatic solution offered by the British later. By this time, Damien has already seen and done too much. There is a pivotal point in the film when he is forced to shoot a young informer. It’s a gut-wrenching moment that pretty much destroys him.
If I had one criticism, a bit of judicious cutting and the inclusion of more scenes on camera to convey the disintegrating relationship between the two brothers and the tumble into sectarianism would have strengthened the storyline. I longed to see more clearly Teddy’s gradual change from radical to peacemaker and Damien’s ‘my way, or the high way’. This thought provoking, compelling and memorable film could have been a truly great one. Nevertheless it’s one to treasure, catch it if you can.

HOW WRONG COULD I BE?!

Last week I flagged up ‘Hostages’, ‘Bnei Aruba’, an Israeli version of the US drama already aired by CBS. Writing about the series in glowing terms, I stated in print that I’d spotted a flicker of romance between Dr Yael Danon, (the surgeon held hostage) and her abductor, Adam Rubin. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, I was wrong about a lot of things other than the fine performances. When the concluding episode took place after a triple bill on Saturday night, I pretty much felt as though I’d misunderstood the entire series. I love to be surprised and have the rug pulled on me. I marvel when, looking back to earlier scenes in a drama, I see precisely the path of certain events (set-ups) only for the ‘pay-offs’ to be delivered later, along the lines of: ‘So that’s why x and y happened.’ Did I get a sense of this in the finale? Nope. Maybe too much was crammed in to the last episode. Maybe I was tired. I have no idea, but the end result was less than satisfying. If you have to scratch your head to try and work out what exactly took place and why, there’s a problem. Finales should be thrilling and clear.

There was no such doubt in my mind when watching an entirely different animal on Sunday: ‘Fury’, starring Brad Pitt. Set in 1945, in the last days of the war, the film focused on US tank regiments in Nazi Germany.   Badly outnumbered, and with the formidable firepower of German ‘Tiger’ tanks ranged against them, Brad Pitt, who plays a battle-hardened tank commander, takes his crew to the very limit. This is no Hollywood sanitised version of war. Bloody, brutal, visceral in the horrors it depicts, the film nevertheless challenges the viewer not to look away.   Pitt gives a great performance, but for me the real star of the movie was Logan Lerman, who plays Norman, the hastily drafted in tank driver who in a previous life was a humble clerk. Norman, a decent, innocent young man, is forced to grow up and face the reality of war and loss extremely quickly. I first saw him in Noah in which he plays the ill-fated son, never destined to have a wife. He corners the market in vulnerability and he brought that same vulnerability to the part he plays in ‘Fury’. At only twenty-three years of age, I’d wager that he’s a great star in the making. I hope I’m not wrong about that! On which subject, great news to hear that Jack Huston has landed the main part in the remake of ‘The Crow’.   I loved his portrayal of disfigured Richard Harrow in ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ and genuinely thought him destined for great things. Strange to say, a publisher who passed on my novel, ‘Beautiful Losers’ said that ‘disfigurement wasn’t sexy,’ the remark aimed at my character, clinical psychologist, Kim Slade. Sexy or not, ‘Beautiful Losers’ will be published next year by US publisher, Midnight Ink.