The Thursday Murder Club

Posted: January 12, 2022 in Book reviews
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By Richard Osman

(Read in 2021 I’m just really slow at updating my blog!)

The luxurious retirement village of Cooper’s Chase might seem like a place where old people go to be forgotten and to wind down before they die, but this certainly isn’t the case for the Thursday Murder Club, a foursome of pensioners who meet to discuss old murder cases (they have to meet on Thursdays because it’s the only day they can get the room). There’s Elizabeth (a former intelligence agent) Ron (an ex-trade unionist and all-around rabble rouser) Ibrahim (a psychiatrist) and newbie Joyce (a former nurse).

When people connected with Cooper’s Chase start being murdered it’s up to the Thursday Murder Club to find out whodunnit.

It’s probably fair to say from the off that the cosy is not a subgenre of crime novels that I’m that familiar with, or usually drawn to (as you’ll know if you’ve been following the kind of things I read, I lean more towards the hardboiled detective fiction) but Osman is a likeable presence on TV and this book has had phenomenal reviews. So, is it very good?

Well yes and no, and obviously my own prejudices may have counted against me enjoying it as much as others might. In simple terms I think Osman’s characterisation is top notch, his prose about average and his plotting…well that’s where it kinda falls down, in fact at times he seems so enamoured of his fearless foursome that he lets them meander around on various side quests, and the central mystery be damned.  

The premise is a doozy though, pensioners written off as old duffers prove they’re much more switched on than people think, and it’s nice to see characters in their twilight years still being shown to be useful, still being shown to be fully functional human beings rather than old dogs who can’t be taught new tricks of people with dementia. As an elevator pitch it’s great.

The four central characters are mostly well realised, as are several supporting characters, though others are pretty flimsy. You’ll have to suspend your disbelief a lot here, especially with regard to the latitude the police will give the Thursday Murder Club members, and the pensioners do manipulate the coppers quite easily. All four main characters have skills that prove useful at various points, even if in Ron’s case that just seems to come down to getting under people’s skin and organising a good protest. Elizabeth proves the most useful, her contacts from her former life give her access to information even the police don’t have. Useful.

There are plenty of red herrings, and most are fairly obvious (though fair dos to Osman there’s a moment later on where, for a moment, I thought he was about to completely pull the rug out from under me.) The murder resolutions are a little unsatisfying, but again this might just be me, certainly the huge success of the book, with a film or TV series on the way, suggests most people like it.

A lightweight, amusing and altogether cosy read, but there’s enough to enjoy that I’ll probably read the sequel at some point.  

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. Starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung.

The latest in my irregular review series of films I would have seen at the cinema if it wasn’t for this pesky pandemic.

Shaun (Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) are best friends and work as parking valets in San Francisco, they lead a fairly aimless existence which annoys some of their friends. One day on the bus they’re attacked by strangers who are intent on stealing Shaun’s necklace. To Katy’s astonishment Shaun proceeds to fight the gang off, although they do make off with his pendant.

Shaun reveals to Kary that his name is really Shang-Chi and he’s the son of Xu Wenwu (Leung) the head of the clandestine Ten Rings organisation. A thousand years ago Wenwu discovered ten mystical rings which not only granted him immortality, but also God like powers. For hundreds of years the Ten Rings operates as a criminal empire, toppling governments across the world, but then in the late 20th Century Wenwu met Ying Li (Chen), guardian of Ta Lo, a village said to harbour mythical beasts. The two fell in love and Wenwu put away his rings and Li left her village to be with him. They had two children, the eldest of which was Shang-Chi.

Sadly tragedy led to Wenwu resurrecting the Ten Rings organisation. Despite being trained as an assassin Shang-Chi escaped and fled to San Francisco and a normal life. Until now. Fearful that the Ten Rings will go after his sister, Xu Xialing (Zhang) Chang-Chi flies to Macau to warn her, and Katy goes along too. All too soon they’re embroiled in an adventure that could have catastrophic consequences for the world.

Shang-Chi isn’t a character I’m overly familiar with, the notion of the magic rings seemed a little preposterous, even for Marvel, and I’ve never been a huge fan of kung fu movies, and so this idea of seeing this film didn’t grab me as much as some Marvel films have. Of course, I might have once said similar thing about the Guardians of the Galaxy, so you’d think I’d have learned my lesson. Turns out Shang-Chi is a hugely enjoyable film full of action, humour, magic and heart. As the first Asian led Marvel film it’s also a little bit different from what we’ve seen before, although it does follow the Marvel template for the most part, which of course means a giant battle at the end, albeit one that isn’t as soulless as some have been.

Liu is great as the protagonist, a handsome leading man who can clearly handle the physicality of the role, yet who’s also vulnerable and conflicted where it comes to his family.

As his sister Zhang is equally good, especially factoring in this is her first film role (it won’t be her last). This is far from Leung’s first film, he has a huge body of work behind him and he’s excellent as Wenwu, who is more than just another two-dimensional villain. Given how badly this character has been portrayed before (effectively he’s the Mandarin) it’s testament to Marvel that they went all out to give us a well-rounded villain.

It’s no surprise to find Michelle Yeoh turning up later on in the film, and as is always the case her presence elevates matters—that woman is incapable of giving a poor performance.

Michelle Yeoh as Jiang Nan in Marvel Studios’ SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2021 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.

There are also a couple of characters from previous Marvel films who show up, one in particular was a complete surprise and proved very funny.

Not as funny as Awkwafina of course, and it’s fair to say that Katy is my favourite character in the film, funny, snarky, brave yet also for much of the film, as Awkwafina herself has said, useless. Much like Yeoh I’ve yet to see Awkwafina be anything less than great in anything I’ve seen her in (admittedly in fewer films).

The fight choreography is superb, in particular the fight on the bus and a battle that takes place on the outside of a skyscraper in Macau! Even if it is a bit predictable, the final fight is also great to watch. The quieter moments don’t disappoint either, and this is more than just a sequence of fights strung together. Cretton’s direction is spot on throughout.

Funny, exciting and downright magical, this is top drawer Marvel and I can’t wait for the sequel!

The Big Sleep

Posted: December 15, 2021 in Book reviews
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By Raymond Chandler

When PI Philip Marlowe is called to the house of the wealthy and elderly General Sternwood he can little imagine where events will lead. Initially Sternwood hires him to deal with a bookseller named Arthur Geiger, who is trying to blackmail his wild youngest daughter, Carmen.

Marlowe agrees to take the case but on his way out is accosted by Sternwood’s eldest daughter, the only slightly less wild Vivian. Vivian believes her father has actually hired Marlowe to track down her missing husband, Rusty Regan. Marlowe doesn’t confirm or deny her suspicions.

Quickly Marlowe finds himself embroiled in mayhem as he becomes entangled in the criminal underworld of Los Angeles, in pornography and murder, but just what is going on?

I’ve always loved the film of The Big Sleep, and it’s not a lie to say that for much of my reading of the book I had Humphrey Bogart’s voiceechoing through my mind. Much as I enjoy the film I’m never entirely sure what exactly transpires in it, and having read the book, and done some research on the Wikipedia page, I can see that the convoluted plot of the film was lifted pretty much from the book, and I also discovered that I’m not the only one to find it a bit of a headscratcher, though to be fair now I’ve read the book I think the film should seem a little more coherant.

In some respects the confusing complexity of the plot makes sense. My reading of Chandler has made it obvious that he was a writer who rated characterisation and atmosphere over plot, and given The Big Sleep, like most of his novels, was a hybrid of several of his short stories (at least four apparently) then that confusion makes even more sense. There’s one clear loose thread still left dangling at the end.

But I don’t necessarily read Chandler for the plot. I read it for the characters and the prose, for the ambiance of the world He’s writing about.

As usual Chandler is great at this, and populates the book with a slew of memorable characters. Carmen and Vivian for starters (though it’s hard to separate Vivian from the wonderful portrayal of the character by Lauren Bacall) then there’s General Sternwood, an infirm old man who spends his days in the hothouse so he can feel warm, and who enjoys his old vices vicariously through others. The servants, particularly the butler, are also great. Then there’s Harry Jones and the killer Canino who don’t show up for long but who make a strong impression. Pretty much everyone Marlowe meets makes an impression.

It’s also interesting to see how racy the book is, it had to be toned down for the film. There’s sex and nudity and homosexuality, most of which never made it into the film. Hence when Bogie finds Carmen in the film she’s oddly fully clothed, despite having been just photographed for pornographic material, whereas in the book she’s naked.

Anyway, a wonderful book, just don’t expect it to make a whole lot of sense!

Time to Murder and Create

Posted: November 24, 2021 in Book reviews
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By Lawrence Block

When small time crook turned big time blackmailer Jacob “Spinner” Jablon turns up dead the cops aren’t much interested in solving the crime, but unlicensed Private Investigator Matt Scudder has already been hired to bring Spinner’s killer to justice, by Spinner himself! Months before Spinner gave Matt a sealed envelope and told him to only open it in the event of his death. Matt opens the envelope to discover his fee, and details on the three people Spinner was blackmailing, along with instructions to figure out which one killed him, and then to let the other two off the hook.

Scudder didn’t much like Spinner, but he has a thing about murder, and his innate sense of honour means he takes Spinner’s case. But who is the killer? The father whose daughter killed someone in a hit and run? The pederast politician? Or the society wife who was once a hooker/porn star?

One thing soon becomes clear, whoever killed Spinner now has Matt Scudder in their crosshairs!

I think I was a teenager when I read my first Matt Scudder novel, borrowed from the library in the late 1980s I think (could have been early nineties I guess which would make me not a teenager!). It was, I think, either When the Sacred Ginmill Closes or Eight Million Ways to Die. What matters is that I loved it and, I think, I’ve read every Scudder novel since, or at least most of them, because I don’t hold onto many books anymore, not like I used to, it’s hard to recall which books you’ve read and which you haven’t. Anyway, I’ve been considering a reread for a while and as luck would have it I found a second hand bookshop with quite a stash. I picked up three, but really should have nabbed the other three they had, but much as I love adding to my never ending reading pile, one must have limits!

Time to Murder and Create is the second Scudder novel, though I think around this time they’re fairly interchangeable. Scudder spends a lot of time thinking about the child he accidentally killed when he was still a cop, he spends a lot of time sitting in churches despite not being religious (even going so far as to tithe ten percent of everything he earns into church poor boxes) and he spends most of his time drinking, no matter the time of day or night. Of course, it could be argued that Scudder becomes really interesting, and shakes off a few hard boiled tropes, once he stops drinking, but that’s a few books away, and there’s still much to enjoy here.

Scudder is no Poirot, he doesn’t do deductive reasoning, what he does is get in people’s faces, ask questions, shake the tree and see what falls, and he’s very good at it, even if his plan to pretend to be taking Spinner’s blackmail operation over yields some tragic consequences.

The plot is slight, but that just makes for a fun, quick read. There’s all you’d expect from this kind of story there’s a vicious killer, a lascivious femme fatale, and all manner of lowlifes and decent people caught in difficult situations, oh and Block’s prose is always a joy, and slips off the page as easily as the booze Scudder drinks slips down his throat.

Always highly recommended.    

By Charlie Kaufman

When Joel Barish discovers that his ex-girlfriend, Clementine Kruczynski, has used a radical new process to erase any memory of him from her mind, he employs the company behind it, Lacuna, to perform the same procedure on him, but as his memories are erased Joel begins to realise that he doesn’t want to lose Clementine from his life after all, but trapped in his own head can he somehow keep the memory of the woman he loved safe from Lacuna’s invasive procedure?

It would be fair to say that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my top ten films of all time, a film I’ve adored since the first time I saw it at the cinema way back in 2004. A thoughtful meditation on romance and memory, and in many respects one of the most honest films about love there is. A film that manages to be melancholy and happy, nihilistic, and yet hopeful. It could have failed miserably, it could have been too sappy, or too cynical, but it isn’t, it walks a tightrope between the two which results, for me, in one of the most beautiful films ever made.

Having recently re-watched the film for the first time in many years (and reminding myself not to leave it so long next time!) I wondered if the script was available to buy and was thrilled to see that it was. That the book came complete with a foreword by director Michel Gondry and a Q&A with screenwriter Kaufman, plus on set photos, was the icing on the cake.

It’s always interesting to read a script because you can see how a film changes what’s on the page, and despite this being the shooting script there’s a lot in here that we didn’t see in the film, and I have to say it’s hard to see anything that would have made the film any better, and certain scenes happen in a different order to the finished film. Did we really need to see Joel’s ex, Naomi? No, we didn’t, and many speeches are snipped, which helps the film flow—in particular it appears Mary’s use of Lacuna to erase the memory of her love for Dr. Howard Mierzwiak was originally even more fucked up than in the finished film.

There’s interesting anecdotes as well, like how Kaufman originally intended for there to be a prologue and epilogue set in the far future (which seems like a terrible idea) and the fact that the parade scene was a chance occurrence, the parade went past as they were filming and they decided to film Carrey and Winslet in character watching it. Given the parade features elephants, who of course never forget, this seems like a wonderful example of serendipity.

 A treat not only for fans of the film, but for those interested in the mechanics of screenwriting too given how labyrinthine and non-chronological he plot of the film is, and it’s a salient reminder of the strange alchemy that goes into making a great film, because while on the whole Kaufman’s script is fantastic, there are plenty of moments when what’s on the screen is far superior to what’s on the page, and however good Kaufman’s words are, it took Gondry, Carrey, Winslet and a whole raft of other people to create pure gold.

New Fears 2

Posted: October 27, 2021 in Book reviews, horror
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Edited by Mark Morris

Having read the first New Fears back in 2017, when I saw a follow up I quickly pounced. There are 21 stories so as I did with New Fears I’ll say a little about each of them. As usual with any anthology I enjoyed some stories more than others, but all were interesting and likely other readers might like some I didn’t and vice versa.

The book opens with Maw by Priya Sharma. A Shetland based folk horror, interesting environment and characters, but the horror was a little too nebulous for me.

Airport Gorilla by Stephen Volk is a trull horrific story, more so because it’s obviously based on fact (to an extent). Well written but not sure is in the best taste. The shooting down of an airplane is told from the perspective of a cuddly toy.

Thumbsucker by Robert Shearman is an unsettling tale of a character’s father’s extracurricular activities. Has the feel of Tales of the Unexpected about it, not to mention a very curious eroticism.

Bulb by Gemma Files has an interesting concept around technology and electricity but after a good start it didn’t really work for me.

Fish Hooks by Kit Power is a genuinely disconcerting story about a woman who starts seeing horrors in everyday life. Good story with a great dénouement

Emergence by Tim Lebbon is one of my favourites in the book, an excellent story involving a man who travels through a tunnel to what appears to be an alternate earth. Grim tale about inevitability, time travel and paradoxes.

On Cutler Street by Benjamin Percy,  a very brief story that didn’t make much of an impact on me.

Letters from Elodie by Laura Mauro, a young woman grieves for a woman she loved, it begins as one thing but by the end has morphed into something much more interesting than it initially appeared.

 Steel Bodies by Ray Cluley, this has an interesting premise about a ship graveyard in Africa but it didn’t grab me for some reason

Migrants by Tim Lewis, a story that intrigued, even though I’m not entirely sure what occurred. In an ordinary housing estate, a man is approached to escort a mysterious person from one house to another, apparently his neighbours have been doing this for a while.

Rut Seasons by Brian Hodge. A good story about a woman’s relationship with her aging parents, particularly her mother with whom she has a very fractious relationship.

Sentinel by Catriona Ward. Another aging mother, this time one determined to protect her daughter and granddaughter from a vengeful entity from the old country that’s followed them to America. An interesting story albeit one that didn’t deviate from an obvious conclusion.

Almost Aureate by V.H Leslie. A young father on holiday abroad becomes obsessed with a heavily tanned man he sees watching him from atop the hotel they’re staying at. An odd yet certainly unnerving tale.

The Typewriter by Rio Youers. A man buys an old typewriter with the intention of renovating it but he finds himself possessed by the spirit of it’s former owner. A well-worn tale but handled well which made it an interesting read.

Leaking Out by Brian Evenson.  A homeless man breaks into what he thinks is an empty house but finds someone is home after all, or rather something.

Thanatrauma by Steve Rasnic Tem. An old widower grieves for his lost wife while struggling to find meaning in life. Well written but another that didn’t grab me.

Pack Your Coat by Aliya Whiteley. A tale about viral stories, in particular an urban legend and the affect it has on one woman. A very interesting and well written tale, though I have to admit the ending let me down somewhat.

Haak by John Langan. Probably my favourite story in the entire collection and a great example of a story within a story (within a story?). A teacher recounts a tale to his students of how the writer Joseph Conrad encounters a mythical land after befriending a steamboat captain on a Swiss lake. An incredibly imaginative, fantastical tale that merges fact and fiction, mythology and horror, and the moment when I realised just where the mythical land was, was joyous. The book is worth if for this story alone.  

The Dead Thing by Paul Tremblay. There’s probably a decent story in here somewhere, but the stream of consciousness format with no paragraphs just several long unbroken blocks of text   interspersed with occasional text conversations, put me right off. A young girl struggles to protect her younger brother from a mysterious box he’s found

The sketch by Alison Moore. A woman in an unhappy marriage, possibly suffering from post-natal depression finds escape in an old sketch book from her teenage years before she gave up on her dreams.

Pigs Don’t Squeal in Tigertown by Bracken MacLeod, it’s debatable whether this is horror or thriller, but this story of a biker gang member travelling to a poorly maintained tiger park is certainly a fun read.

All in all a decent anthology with something for everyone…well, so long as they like horror.

No Time to Die

Posted: October 11, 2021 in Film reviews, James Bond
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Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Starring Daniel Craig, Rami Malek,  Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Ana de Armas, Christoph Waltz and Ralph Fiennes.

Please note: This is going to be as spoiler free as I can make it. I will do a more spoilerific review once I’ve seen the film again. I can’t guarantee I won’t give away snippets of spoilers though so if you’d rather see the film completely spoiler free, I’d suggest reading my review afterwards 😊

After the events of Spectre, James Bond (Craig) and Madeline Swann (Seydoux) are holidaying in the city of Matera in Italy, when they’re ambushed by Spectre agents intent on avenging Blofeld. In the aftermath of events in Matera, Bond retires to Jamaica.

Five years later Felix Leiter (Wright) arrives and ties to tempt Bond into returning to the field because he needs to locate a missing scientist in Cuba. Bond is a little hesitant, but after a new 00 agent, Nomi (Lynch) appears and warns him off, Bond decides to help Felix out.

In Cuba Bond contacts CIA agent Paloma (de Armas) and they locate the scientist. Things aren’t what they initially appear to be however, and Bond soon returns to London and MI6 and all too soon he’s at odds with Lyutsifer Safin, a mysterious adversary with links to Madeline, and a man in possession of a deadly weapon.

Finally! Eighteen months after it was supposed to come out No Time to Die finally arrives in cinemas, and I take my first trip back to the pictures since March 2020 (Parasite, in case you’re wondering).

So was it worth the wait, does it justify the hype, or is it merely Spectre 2?

It’s difficult to truly judge a Bond film until I’ve seen it a few times, so my opinion may waver (I famously hated the final act of Skyfall the first time I saw it but now adore it) but at the moment what I can say is that No time to Die is very, very good.

Not perfect, and maybe not top five Bond film status, but a huge improvement on Spectre and a hugely enjoyable film pretty much all round. The action set pieces are superb and the emotional heft of the film carries it buoyantly along, even through a somewhat choppy third act. This is a film that goes places no Bond film has ever gone before and wears its homages to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with pride, the first time Hans Zimmer lets a hint of ‘We have all the time in the world’ play a shiver went down my spine.

As he’s been all along, even if the material was at times suboptimal, Daniel Craig is immense. He truly has been a fantastic 007 and it kinda takes some getting used to the fact that, while James Bond will return, Daniel Craig won’t, but at least we have Knives Out 2 to look forward to. Here he has a whole gamut of emotions to run through. Despair, joy, anger, resignation. At times he’s very funny but he’s always mesmerising. The next Bond really has big shoes to fill.

I was not overly enamoured with Léa Seydoux in Spectre, but then much like everyone else she didn’t have a lot to work with. Here, given a story arc with true emotional intensity, she’s wonderful and has probably quickly risen through my Bond girl rankings. The chemistry between her and Craig is also a lot more palpable now than it ever was in Spectre (where they fell madly in love in the space of about 13 seconds) and their relationship finally has room to breathe, bringing their romance closer to the levels of Tracy or Vesper.

Of course, she isn’t the only woman in Bond’s life. As Nomi, Lynch makes a fine addition as the franchise’s first official 00 agent (there are women seated amongst agents being briefed in both Thunderball and The World is not Enough, though it isn’t clear if either is a 00). She’s snarky and tough, although the nature of Bond as the film’s lead means she is somewhat side-lined as the film progresses, though she plays a significant part in the final act.

There is, of course, another kick arse female agent on display, CIA agent Paloma who Bond works with in Cuba. Sadly the wonderful Ana de Armas (see Blade Runner 2049 and Knives Out for further details) has limited screentime, but what an impression she makes. The trailers show her as deadly and competent, and she is, but what they don’t show is how downright adorkable she is!

This leaves Harris as Moneypenny, and I genuinely feel sorry for the actor. She’s fantastic in Skyfall but since then she’s had little to do and it’s been a waste of a fine actor and an interesting character. In another universe maybe she’d have taken Nomi’s place by Bond’s side in the final battle.

Talking on Moneypenny brings us onto Tanner, Q and M. Kinnear gets about as much to do as he ever has (here’s an idea Eon, next time why not combine the roles of Moneypenny and Tanner?). Whishaw is wonderful, but again doesn’t get a whole lot to do. At least the film proudly shows Q is most assuredly gay, and we get to meet his cat (cue hilarious line for Bond). Fiennes is arguably one of my favourite actors, but again feels short-changed as M, at times here he always feels like the bad guy, or at least as a man who’s made questionable choices. Whether he remains as M or not I think the producers need to give the character a more respected footing.

A villain can make or break a Bond film, but thankfully the rest of the film is so good that this isn’t the case here, because Rami Malek is…well, he’s just kinda there. I don’t wholly blame the actor, and he is given a decent backstory (even if it does retcon my own personal cannon about Spectre) and at least initially, his motives are solid, but then he just becomes a generic Bond villain, I’m not 100% sure what his eventual plan actually is, the film gets a bit fudgy here. He’s going to do something evil, that’s all you need to know I suppose. Most of his lines are in the trailer. Shame really.

Blofeld returns, but not for very long. Waltz and Craig spar nicely and Blofeld manages to have more of an impact on the story than you might imagine, and it’s nice to see Jeffrey Wright return for Craig’s final film. He makes for a great Felix.

Of course, the most shocking casting, for British viewers anyway, is the appearance of Hugh Dennis!

Fukunaga’s direction is excellent, and he manages to snag a writing credit as well, which suggests he, and the incomparable Phoebe Waller-Bridge, had substantial impact on the script, which for the most part is excellent. This is a film about something, a film with a solid emotional core, which makes it easier to forgive some plot related issues (seriously what is Safin’s plan?)

The near three hour run time was never an issue for me, in fact I didn’t start to get remotely fidgety until right near the end, and thanks to some judicious planning I managed not to need the loo while watching it! I was quite numb when I walked out of the cinema, but the length of the film had nothing to do with this.

The film is exceptionally well paced. Most of the action is superb but the film has plenty of quiet contemplative moments as well. There are some neat homages, including a reference to Delectado cigars, last seen in Die Another Day.

Great set pices, great performances, wonderful cinematography and true emotional engagement with its characters, this isn’t a Bond film without its flaws (Safin!) but the good outweighs the bad significantly, and even that final act is rescued by the end.

A Bond film in every way, yet a Bond film that goes places Bond has never gone before.

So long, Daniel, we’ll miss you, but as the title card said right at the end of the credits…

James Bond will return.

Directed by John Krasinski. Starring Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou and John Krasinski.

Another in my irregular series of films I would have seen at the cinema. Please note, while I won’t be including spoilers for this film, discussing it will involve spoilers for the original Quiet Place so be warned!

In an opening flashback we see the arrival of the aliens that will soon ravage the Earth and view how the Abbott family (including Krasinski as dad, Lee) survive the initial assault.

We then return to the present and pick up immediately after the end of the first film, where the surviving members of the family Evelyn (Blunt) Regan (Simmonds) Marcus (Jupe) and Evelyn’s new-born baby are attempting to find more survivors. They come across Emmett (Murphy) once a family friend but now an embittered survivor reeling from the death of his family. Emmett is reluctant to let the family stay but Evelyn convinces him to give them some time to rest.

When a song comes on the radio Emmett explains that it’s been playing over and over for months. Regan deduces that it’s a message from another group of survivors and sets out to find them, hoping the discovery that her cochlear implant can disorient the aliens can be weaponized.

As Regan travels into unknown territory and into peril, those who stayed behind aren’t safe either, and there are other dangers now beyond the aliens.

A Quiet Place is one of those films that came out of nowhere, a low(ish)budget monster movie with a great hook, what if the world was invaded by monsters who, although blind, had incredibly sensitive hearing and the only way to survive was to commit to living in a world of near total silence? Despite a huge plot hole it succeeded because the script, direction and performances were all top drawer. The script by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, rewritten by Krasinski, was excellent, and Krasinski’s direction was spot on, creating a tense environment where the slightest noise could mean certain death. Added to this the cast were superb, with the standout being Simmonds, deaf in real life. When the first film was a hit a sequel was inevitable, it’s just a shame we had to wait over a year from when it was supposed to come out. As with any such sequel the most important question is, is it as good as the first one?

And the answer is, almost, which I think for the majority of sequels is a ringing endorsement. It lacks the surprise factor of the first film, and the bigger budget means more action set pieces and perhaps a little less of the intimate tension of the original but it’s still a superior monster movie.

Again the cast prove one of the film’s greatest strengths. Blunt is a superb actress, and she’s not afraid to take a back seat to let others shine. For a while I worried she was taking too much of a supporting role but thankfully as the film progresses she comes into it more, though the real leads in this film are Simmonds and Jupe, who are both great once again. I love how Jupe plays Marcus as almost perpetually terrified, but who wouldn’t have PTSD in this world? He gets to develop more this time, becoming more of a hardened survivor by the end of the film. Simmonds carries on her star role from the first film, and again is the best thing about the film. Determined and willing to stride into the unknown, despite her disability—which as the film shows is exacerbated in this world because she can’t hear when she’s made a noise—yes you might call her foolhardy, but the character has agency, and drives the story onwards, and it’s great to see someone differently abled being shown as up to the task of survival as anyone else. This leaves Cillian Murphy who’s long been an actor I’ve admired and he slots into the film perfectly as Emmett. Like Blunt his American accent is spot on and he essays a man who’s lost everything perfectly, and you’re never quite sure if he’ll do the right thing. As he did so well in Peaky Blinders and Dunkirk he does a thousand-yard stare with scary authenticity, leaving you in no doubt that Emmett is a man who’s seen horrible things.

Djimon Hounsou rounds out the cast. Another actor I like but he isn’t given much to work with here, in fact his character doesn’t even get a name!

While the world is broadened somewhat it doesn’t go all globe trotting or epic on us, retaining the small scale that worked so well. Yes there’s more CGI, and yes the aliens seem a trifle familiar but coming up with truly original monster designs is a tough ask. Despite their familiarity they’re still a potent threat and in Krasinski’s hands a source of unbelievable tension at times.

Don’t shout it from the rooftops (“they” might hear) but roll on A Quiet Place Part III if it can be this good.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Posted: September 20, 2021 in Book reviews
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By Agatha Christie

Towards the end of the First World War, the household of Styles Court is rocked by the death of its elderly owner, Emily Inglethorp. It is quickly ascertained that she has been poisoned with strychnine and suspicion immediately falls upon her younger husband, Alfred.

Staying at the house is Arthur Hastings, a solider recuperating away from the Western Front. Hastings had recently discovered that his friend, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, is living in the nearby village, having arrived in England as a refugee. Hastings asks Poirot for his help in solving the crime, though he feels the detective may be past his prime.

Poirot begins his investigation, but there are numerous suspects, and it will take all his powers of deduction to solve the crime.

And at the ripe old age of 50 I decided to read my very first Agatha Christie novel. I’m not sure why I waited so long. In part I had a fear that I would find her prose stuffy, and I thought perhaps it would be all terribly polite and staid. And in truth I’ve always been more interested in the hardboiled detective who solves the crime by shoe leather and determination rather than deductive reasoning. Also given I have several friends who are huge Christie fanatics I was wary of not enjoying her work!

 The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the perfect place to start, being Christie’s very first novel, and thusly the first appearance of Poirot, although it seems apparent that Christie’s style will evolve and improve, and if this is the case then I look forward to reading more of her novels, because I enjoyed this one and if they only get better then I’ll definitely keep reading!

Christie’s prose, even in her first book, is top notch, incredibly descriptive yet not so bogged down in detail that it’s remotely a chore to read. There are myriad characters, yet I rarely got any of them confused, everyone is distinct with their own foibles and characteristics. Hastings’ description of Mary, for example, is joyfully poetic. Poirot leaps off the page from the off, this curious little Belgian. His age isn’t clear but given Hastings had worked with him in the early 1900s he’s obviously no spring chicken (given how many Poirot novels she’ll go onto write I understand Christie will keep his age nebulous.)

Any fears I had about prudishness were soon tossed out of the window as well, there’s extramarital affairs and some quite near the knuckle (for the time) commentary. Plus there’s something awfully ‘today’ about Poirot being a refugee.

Hastings is a trifle dull, and the fact that we only see things from his perspective is a tad annoying. In particular the way Poirot keeps things from him rankles a little. It’ll be interesting to see how Christie manages the plot when writing in the third person.

In terms of the murder itself, halfway through I thought I had it all figured out. I was wholly wrong, which is a good sign, although Christie does keep some things hidden most of the clues are right in front of you. It’s a little convoluted, and some clues are very tenuous, but again I understand Christie dials this down a little going forward.

Suffice to say it won’t be another 50 years before I read Agatha Christie again!

Double Indemnity

Posted: September 5, 2021 in Book reviews
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James M. Cain.

Walter Huff is an insurance agent. Though basically a decent man he begins an affair with Phyllis Nirdlinger and, seduced by the idea of committing the perfect murder, conspires with her to kill her husband for the insurance money, which will be doubled due to a double indemnity clause specific to death involving a railroad accident.

The murder goes as planned but things soon start to fall apart. Walter’s colleagues at the insurance company than smarter than he thought, and Phyllis is a lot more dangerous than she appears…

Shameful to admit but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the film, or if I have it was a long time ago, but given I’ve been reading a lot of Chandler recently when I spotted this in the second-hand book shop how could I say no.

The first thing to note is that Cain is no Chandler, in fact in many ways he’s the antithesis of Chandler. Chandler is all about mood and character, dialogue and (wonderfully) purple prose. Plot is often the last thing at play in chandler’s work. By contract Cain’s prose and dialogue are a lot more workmanlike, but his plotting is superb. It’s not that he’s inferior to Chandler, they’re just completely different kinds of writers, even though they wrote in the same genre, and it makes for a really interesting contrast.

And it’s the plot that sells Double Indemnity.  From Huff’s initial dalliance with Phyllis, to planning the perfect crime, to trying to get away with the perfect crime, but this is no A to B to C story, Cain throws some bumps in the road.

It’s s short book (more a long novella than an actual novel) and a quick read, in part down to Cain’s style which will keep you turning the pages. The use of first person is good for getting inside of Huff’s mind—in many ways his agreeing to kill the husband seems less about Phyllis’ wiles than Huff’s own intellectual desire to game the system he’s spent years being a part of—but it does render Phyllis, initially at least, as little more than a cipher. It’s only later that her true femme fatale nature becomes apparent.

Anyway, this is a cracking little read, and you can totally see why Hollywood lapped it up. I’m interested in reading more Cain now, The Postman Always Rings Twice next perhaps?