Tuesday, 23 October 2018

David at the movies: A Star Is - loudly - Born

A STAR IS BORN


Two major revelations: Lady Gaga can act! And Bradley Cooper can sing. This is very much a remake of the Barbara Streisand/Kris Kristofferson version (1976) with ‘country rock’ songs rather than the ‘Some Enchanting Evening’ sound of the 1954 Judy Garland/James Mason version, which I still prefer. Funnily enough, the ending of this new movie does carry a strong echo of the Garland movie and a fainter echo of ‘The Man That Got Away’.

The storyline is familiar all the way back to the 1937 non-musical original. Gaga plays an undiscovered mega-talent (she’s singing in a drag cabaret) whose career gets a boost from a singer (Cooper) who’s passing his peak. Gaga becomes a superstar while Cooper hits the sauce and becomes an embarrassment. But she loves him – more even than she loves her career. Aah.

The 1954 ballady version. Still my favourite!
The love story works thanks to onscreen chemistry and quality performances. Gaga actually reminds me of Streisand in Funny Girl: she brings that sense of a raw burgeoning talent. I’m not a fan of her singing: she has a shouty style that reminds me, not pleasantly, of Carly Simon. Bradley Cooper sings as well (and in similar voice) as Kristofferson in the 1976 version. He also directs with considerable flair and has an amazing screen presence. Not sure he’ll get awards for this, but clearly his star, unlike Jackson Maine’s in the movie, is rising.

This is a loud, gutsy movie. I’m an old softie, I wanted more ballads.

Wow! I'm on a Novel Prize "longlist"




That's a NOVEL prize - not the NOBEL Prize!

LILLIAN AND THE ITALIANS is on the "longlist" (22 out of 77 entries) for the Retreat West Novel Prize.

Extracts from Lillian and the Italians can be found on www.davidgeebooks.com

**************** 

Here's a link to Retreat West. The winner gets published by them ....


Friday, 12 October 2018

Wot I'm reading: psychos are getting weirder!

Jeffery Deaver: THE BURIAL 

HOUR


The last time an American psycho lured us to Italy it was Hannibal Lector, eviscerating a police inspector in Florence. Now US investigators Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs pursue a colourful villain who calls himself ‘The Composer’ to Naples, where this off-the-scale weirdo is orchestrating the panicked final hours of kidnap victims into a composition to honour his ‘Muse’ (whose identity is one of the story’s many surprises).

This is fairly extreme stuff. But with bone and skin collectors in his track record, Jeffery Deaver has made a speciality of the more exotic reaches of parapsychology. Lincoln and Amelia have complex relations with the various Italian law enforcement agencies involved in the case, introducing us to some colourful – and appealing – characters in both the agencies and the refugee community which Stefan, The Composer, is targeting. Towards the end the investigation undergoes a spectacular twist – another of Mr Deaver’s trademarks. Stefan, like Hannibal, is a man of many parts.

I’m not sure I found The Burial Hour entirely plausible – who needs plausibility? – but I certainly did find it enthralling and as satisfying as a glass of grappa (for which Lincoln Rhyme acquires a new taste).

Monday, 1 October 2018

David at the Movies: not strange enough

THE LITTLE STRANGER


The poster is scarier than the movie. This has had rave reviews from the critics. Since it’s based on a famous novel, I was expecting something in the league of The Innocents (1961), but this one is a plodding story with a leaden script.

It’s 1948. A timid young doctor (Domhnall Gleeson) is called to the crumbling country mansion where his mother once worked as a maid. The imperious Mrs Ayres (Charlotte Rampling – always good at imperious) lives with her war-wounded son and neurotic daughter. After a child dies a violent death strange things start to happen.

Not strange enough for my taste. Mysteriously pounding doors made us jump in The Haunting (1963) but we need a bit more than that to make us jump now. Are we meant to wonder if the haunting was imaginary? Presumably not, since everyone is affected. Perhaps the house itself is evil, like the one in The Fall of the House of Usher. Plenty of atmosphere here but more clarity needed. 

The ghost, if it was a ghost, moved v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Too slowly for me. I was bored.

KING OF THIEVES



A quartet of elderly crooks decide to give their pensions a boost by robbing a safe deposit vault in London’s Hatton Garden. The four old geezers are played by Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, Jim Broadbent and Ray Winstone. Since these are four National Treasures, they are played as lovable – albeit foul-mouthed – old curmudgeons: Victor Meldrew in quadruplicate! Michael Gambon as an antiquated chum who will fence the jewellery and diamonds makes it a geriatric quintet. The only youngster is an electronic expert (Charlie Cox) who they think must be a pouf because he disguises himself with long hair. There are a few hiccups in their plan to drill through to the vault from the basement next door – the drill burns out at one stage - but we know they will make it and bring off one of the biggest heists in crime history. And get caught.

How do we know? Because this is the third movie version of the true-life break-in of 2015 which was hailed as the Crime of the (young) Century. The title character (Michael Caine) came out of jail in time to see the movie this summer.

This is an easy story to like, despite its over-familiarity, because these are actors it would be hard to dislike in a caper in which no one gets hurt (other than the depositors and who cares about those affluent bastards?). Ray Winstone had a meatier robbery role in Sexy Beast (200), and Michael Caine is barely stretched to play a criminal mastermind. Tom Courtenay has to be a bit deaf and a bit daft; Jim Broadbent has to be bad-tempered; Michael Gambon has to be borderline-doolally; Charlie Cox has to be not-quite-eye-candy. Those are the goods, and everybody delivers them. Nuff said.

THE MEG


My first movie in six weeks and it’s this piece of tosh, which is probably best seen in 3D. A team of ocean-ographers accidentally liberate a giant shark which has been lurking in the ocean depths since the dinosaur era. Jason Statham, who specialises in sub-marine rescue (as well as fast driving!), is called in to deal with the creature which has developed a taste for fishing boats and their crew.

As the poster suggests, this is basically a mash-up of Jaws and Piranha. Filmed in the seas off China with a largely Chinese cast, it delivers what monster movie fans expect: an escalating series of disposable extras being disposed of. Jason and the scientists are in constant peril, but we sort of know who will make it to the end of the movie – and who won’t. Jason flashes his pecs in a shower scene, which for some fans is already worth the price of admission.

Jason Statham flashes his famous pecs
21st century CGI delivers a much better shark than Stephen Spielberg was able to muster in 1975. But Jaws had a screenplay which was original back then (from Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel) but has gone stale with repetition. Despite its recycled script, The Meg has terrific pace and some seriously jumpy moments. Yes, it’s hoary old hokum, but it’s hugely enjoyable.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Wot I'm (not) reading: Comedy flop

Tom Sharpe: GRANTCHESTER GRIND


It’s a big disappointment when a favourite writer produces a dud. Tom Sharpe, who died in 2013, was a great comic novelist, from his wicked Apartheid-era South African satires through to hilarious caricatures of the British establishment in Blott on the Landscape and Porterhouse Blue, both of which made hysterically funny TV series. I only recently discovered that I’d missed Grantchester Grind, a sequel to Porterhouse Blue, and decided to catch up on it.

I wish I hadn’t bothered. The humour here is very dry and barely raised the occasional chuckle. Porterhouse College needs to pay for a new roof to the Chapel and unwisely allows a philanthropic American media mogul to invest. Apart from a set-piece scene where some of the chapel ceiling falls on the congregation, most of the first 150 pages is taken is taken up with dialogue between the conservative College administrators and the deeply philistine American team. Both sides are liberal in the use of the F-word, giving this book the sledge-hammer impact of today's stand-up comedians who think foul language is intrinsically funny.

It is not. I can’t tell you if the following 350 pages get better, because I gave up. I hate to give up on a book, any book, but this one defeated me. Leaden and dull. Maybe Mr Sharpe was just going through a bad patch. After this he wrote several more novels, including another Wilt trilogy (Wilt was not my favourite Sharpe character). But for me Sharpe has joined the ranks of authors I had to stop reading. Iris Murdoch went very tedious in her later books (perhaps because of dementia stalking her), and I lost faith in Anthony Burgess and Gore Vidal, two of my all-time favourites. Lower down the literary food chain I long ago stopped reading Jackie Collins, who was never as good as Harold Robbins. Stephen King still delivers the goods, but Anne Rice, for me, does not.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

David at the Theatre: Anna and the King of Siam




Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Siamese musical has been entrancing theatre (and cinema) audience since 1951, when it starred Yul Brynner and Gertrude Lawrence. This latest production at the London Palladium is a transfer of the 1915/16 New York show with most of its American cast onboard. Kelli O’Hara sounds just as divinely British as Gertie did or Deborah Kerr in the movie (with her singing dubbed by Marnie Nixon) – Ms O’Hara has an operatic range and needs no dubbing. Ken Watanabe is the King, with a ‘singing’ voice no stronger than Yul Brynner’s but very much the same on-stage 'presence'.

The story is a bit crisper than the movie’s, but the plot is unchanged, divided between the governess’s rebellious relationship with the king and the concubine’s star-crossed love story. All your favourite songs are here, gloriously well sung, and the kids (presumably there are several groups alternating performances) are as captivating as they were in the movie and all other stage productions. The palace set is pleasingly simple, but the opening scene – a steamer sailing onto the stage – is as thrilling as any Lloyd Webber blockbuster.

This is a splendid production of a joyous musical. There’s just time to catch it before it closes at the end of September.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Wot I'm reading: The Spy who went back to the Cold

JOHN LE CARRE: A Legacy of Spies


Crafty John Le Carré: after 55 years he produces a sequel to the book that made his name. Peter Guillam, one of George Smiley’s dogsbodies, long retired to Brittany, is summoned back to London to face an enquiry into the operation that ended at the Berlin Wall with the death of Alec Leamas, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963). Leamas’s son Christoph and the daughter of Leamas’s mistress Liz Gold are demanding ‘reparations’ for the death of their parents in a mishandled Cold War mission.

The story is narrated by Guillam, who recalls his work with Smiley and ‘Control’ (Le Carré’s version of James Bond’s ‘M’) and re-reads stashed files from the 1960s. His interrogators at MI6 still talk in that stilted, slightly camp way we are familiar with from the plays of Alan Bennett. This is also a sequel to Smiley’s People (1980), with the return, if only in memory, of ‘Circus’ friends and a few old enemies from those Glory Days. Bill Haydon (Le Carré’s version of Kim Philby) is talked about. The ‘spectre at the feast’ is George Smiley, who became a father figure to Guillam. Along with Peter we are kept guessing for much of the book as to whether ‘owlish’ George is still alive.

Alec Guinness as BBCTV's George Smiley
Recreating old service files is like rummaging through a dusty attic, except that these are matters of life and death – and treachery. When Guillam briefly meets the son of agent ‘Tulip’, whose defection from East Germany’s notorious Stasi he and Alec Leamas masterminded, Le Carré reminds us that the bleakness of Cold War lives on in the children of that era, children who are now old and still bitter.

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy are two of the greatest espionage novels ever written. A Legacy of Spies is not quite as sublime as those two – I found the switching between past and present tense an irritant - but John Le Carré at his ‘nearly best’ is streets ahead of almost every other thriller writer. Smiley is a lot like the fiendish Dr Fu Manchu: at the end I was wondering if this is the last the world will hear of him.