Archive for September, 2021

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

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

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?