Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Reading Event at SOUTHWARK tomorrow


I'm doing a READING EVENT 

for LGBT+ HISTORY MONTH


tomorrow Wednesday 20th February


at SOUTHWARK COUNCIL OFFICES 13.00-14.00
160 Tooley Street (near London Bridge Station)


with two other members of Gay Authors Workshop and Paradise Press.


I'll be reading from THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS and A BOXFUL OF IDEAS


 

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Friday, 15 February 2019

David at the Movies: the cure for homosexuality

BOY ERASED


This is a film made in a mighty rage, which is intended to make you and me feel equally angry. It does – it did – though it’s not quite the movie I’d like it to have been.

Fictionalising a true story, the screenplay introduces us to Jared (Lucas Hedges), teenage son of an Arkansas Baptist minister (Russell Crowe). When the preacher and his wife (Nicole Kidman) learn that Jared is gay, they enrol him on a 'conversion program' run by Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed).

The programme consists of humiliating public confessions, aggressive shouting from Sykes (a real-life convertee turned ‘converter’) and being thumped with Bibles by others in the group – a second definition of Bible-bashing which could only have come from American (or perhaps African) fundamentalist Christians. Homosexuality is a form of demonic possession which must be exorcised. In this area Southern Baptists and Ugandan bishops sing from the same hymnbook as Shia ayatollahs and Sunni clerics (not all of them in distant deserts)

This is not an easy movie to sit through. It frequently stretches credulity, although – the end credits remind us – over 700,000 young Americans have been submitted to procedures like this. Crowe and (especially) Kidman are very believable as the parents conflicted between parental love and what they see as a violation of God’s holy purposes. Lucas Hedges has given some fine performances to date and he works hard at this role, but – was it him or the script? – he didn’t seem quite gay enough or tormented enough. An intrusive score of bland pop ballads quickly went from ironical to tiresome. If Boy Erased didn’t quite live up to its rave reviews, it did fire me with righteous – and even unrighteous - anger. Mission accomplished.


STAN & OLLIE



Never a fan of Laurel and Hardy (didn’t like Norman Wisdom either; slapstick comedy doesn’t push my buttons), I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Stan & Ollie. But - a nice surprise - I was totally charmed by it.

After a Prologue showing the making of one of the movies of their Hollywood heyday, the story jumps to the 1950s when, thanks mainly to television, comedy has moved on from their kind of humour. They come to England for a tour of provincial theatres. Ollie (John C. Reilly) is overweight and overdue for a stroke. Stan (Steve Coogan) is struggling to come up with new material. Luckily for them, their fans are still happy to pay to see the same old pratfalls and clunky one-liners.

Coogan and Reilly are pitch-perfect as the two old hams; no-one could have played them better. Shirley Henderson and Nina Arlanda are terrific as their wives: Lucille (Henderson) watches Ollie’s drinking like a hawk; Ida (Arlanda) loves to talk about the acting career she never really had before marrying Stan. There could almost be another movie about the lives of the wives.

the originals!
Laurel and Hardy bicker like the old married couple they sort of are; they come close to falling out. Their act – especially the dance routines – was quite camp for its time, but there’s nothing here to suggest a gay relationship (something of a relief after this year’s early crop of lesbian rustling under the bedcovers!).

Stan & Ollie wears its heart on its sleeve – an affectionate tribute, beautifully written, splendidly directed and magnificently played, to a comedy duo who were deservedly loved by millions for a few decades in the mid-twentieth century. A joy from start to finish.


COLETTE


We mainly know Colette as the author of the book on which the much-loved movie Gigi was based, but before that she was a literary superstar in France and beyond as the author of the mega-selling Claudine series of saucy novels, which were to early 20th-century France what Fifty Shades of Gray has been to the new millennium. 

Her husband Willy Gauthier-Villars, a gambler and womanizer, originally published the first Claudine episode under his own name, although Wikipedia tells us he almost certainly employed a ghost-writer. The next ‘ghost’ was his teenage bride who battled in the courts to get herself credited as the books’ author.

The real Colette
The new movie dramatises, with a few necessary liberties, this battle. It also dramatises their marriage, how freely I’m not sure. Colette (Keira Knightley) is initially happy with her husband (Dominic West) and seemingly very happy with their energetic sex-life, but then she falls in love with an American millionaire’s gold-digging wife (Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson). Later she becomes the great love of Paris’s most in-your-face butch bitch, Missy (Denise Gough). Colette’s affairs are reproduced in the Claudine books, making her a scandalous success in society as well as book sales.

 Plot-wise, the movie has to build a mountain out of a series of mole-hills, the moles being Collette and Willy’s frequent changes of partners. Unlike this winter’s other lesbian love-fest The Favourite, with its bawdy comic overtone, Colette is played very straight (ahem), so it’s not quite so much fun. Bravura performances all round. Sumptuous cinematography beautifully recreates Belle Epoque Paris, and with gorgeous frocks and throbbing sex scenes the movie is definitely a feast for the senses.


THE FAVOURITE


It’s the early 1700s. England’s war with France is not going well, and the Queen is playing with her rabbits. She has 17 rabbits, in memory of the 17 children she lost or miscarried. When she’s not playing with rabbits, Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), gouty and doughty, is playing with her latest squeeze, Sarah Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz).

Yes, dear fellow citizens of the realm, our sometime sovereign lady Queen Anne was a "friend of Dusty" (long before Dusty). There is (Wikipedia) historical evidence (mostly letters) of a whole series of attachments to ladies of the court. In the movie Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) inveigles her way into the palace and, surprisingly soon, into the Queen’s bedchamber. The feud for Anne’s affections has ramifications in Parliament as well as in the palace.

There are some lesbian scenes here, plus a small amount of heterosexual sex in the movie – played for laughs – and a large amount of swearing, with liberal use of both F-word and C-word. The somewhat camp vulgarity and the brisk pace of the narrative will have reminded many in the audience of the Carry-On comedies. I was more reminded of The Madness of King George, Alan Bennett’s royal Regency romp, which wore its lese-majesty with a similarly brazen air of triumph.

The acting by the three female stars is nothing less than glorious. The male cast members are also outstanding in more ways than one. There are some weird camera angles which I found distracting and some of the music score is painful to hear, but this is another right-royal romp, tragi-comic with a bias towards comedy, not quite as enjoyable as Mr Bennett’s, but a splendid visual feast.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

David at the Movies: Fifty shades of tulip

TULIP FEVER


Based on a book by Deborah Moggach, who gave us the original story for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Tulip Fever could hardly be more different. For starters it’s a lot more raunchy, with sex scenes that could almost be out of Fifty Shades – except than there isn’t any spanking. In 17th-century Amsterdam, when tulip bulbs are changing hands at the kind of price we associate with Chanel fragrances, Sophia Sandvoort (Alicia Vikander) starts cheating on her much older husband (Christoph Waltz) with a handsome young artist (Dane DeHaan). Sophia’s cook (Holliday Grainger) becomes jealous after her own lover is shanghaied.

The tulip bubble is about to burst, and with it comes the inevitable crisis in the love affair. Despite an intelligent script and good performances, Tulip Fever is a bit like period soap opera spiced up to porno-lite. As in soaps, the storyline is predictable and the characters over-familiar, but the cinematography is gorgeous and production values are high. In a similar league to Scarlett O’Hara, Sophia Sandvoort is not an entirely sympathetic heroine.


WIDOWS



In case you’re too young to remember, this was a UK TV mini-series back in 1983 from Lynda La Plante, who also gave us several series of Prime Suspect. Co-written and directed by Steve McQueen (who gave us award-winning Twelve Years a Slave), it’s been updated to contemporary Chicago where four women, widowed by the violent death of their gangster husbands, take on a $5 million robbery that one of the husbands (Liam Neeson) was planning.

Neeson’s widow Veronica (Viola Davis, whom we remember from The Help and several other fine movies) leads the gangsta girls. In the background (more like a foreground) is the upcoming local city council election between corrupt millionaire Colin Farrell (taking over from his corrupt father Robert Duvall) and vicious crimelord Brian Tyree Henry. (Poor Chicago voters: and only two years ago they had to choose between the Donald and the Hillary!)

Despite some talky scenes, the movie moves at a fairly cracking pace, with car chases and killings paving the way to plot twists that add to the echoes of last summer’s all-girl Ocean’s 8. More caper than crime story, this version of Widows replaces the gritty realism of the 1980s TV series with high-gloss violence and the kind of villains we have seen all too often. Liam Neeson’s Harry is a minor variation on his overdone Taken character, and although her performance is first-rate, Viola Davis’s Veronica lacks the quiet fury of Ann Mitchell’s Dolly Rawlins in 1983.

Worth watching? Yeah, but I’d rather see the TV series again.

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.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Theatre at the cinema: geriatric song-and-dance show!

 ALLELUJAH!


This may be coming soon to a multiplex near you, Alan Bennett’s latest play. Set in the geriatric ward of a North of England hospital, it’s a barbed ‘celebration’ of Britain’s National Health Service, of which Mr B. is a staunch defender.

The hospital is earmarked for closure and replacement by a new one in a nearby city which will not have a designated geriatric ward (many hospitals already do not).

Supervised by 25-year veteran Sister Gilchrist (Deborah Findlay), the ward is full of chronic cases, including a few with dementia. Run like a care home, the patients (and staff!) are encouraged to break into song at regular intervals. Visiting from the Ministry of Health is Colin (Samuel Barnett whom we remember from The History Boys). The ward’s doctor is Valentine (Sacha Dhawan, another handsome History Boy, also remembered from TV’s Last Tango in Halifax). One of the patients is Simon Williams, whose past history includes the less than gallant James Bellamy in the 1970s run of Upstairs, Downstairs; Simon is still roguishly handsome at 72.

Alan Bennett
At the end of Act One Sister Gilchrist is revealed to have her own ruthless way of unblocking beds. Despite taking a dark turn, the play remains broadly comic and filled with nostalgic musical numbers. The elderly cast members perform as energetically as the youngsters. Not in the same league as History Boys or The Madness of King George, this is nevertheless another fine piece of theatre from Mr Bennett, whose talent is undimmed at 84. We are promised more to come from our theatrical ‘National Treasure’.
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View forthcoming screenings of stage plays at www.ntlive.com 

Friday, 26 October 2018

Wot I'm reading: the hunt for another Muslim fanatic

Frederick Forsyth: THE KILL LIST


Frederick Forsyth has been keeping us up past our bedtimes since his nerve-shredding debut in 1971, The Day of the Jackal (of which I have a cherished first edition). The Kill List proves that, decades later, he is still a master of his art. As topical as you could wish for, this has a Mission Impossible-style ex-marine, codenamed ‘the Tracker’, tasked with hunting down a secretive Muslim fanatic called ‘the Preacher’ whose disciples are carrying out random suicide killings in the US and the UK.

Forsyth outlines terrorist cells and those who pursue them across cyberspace and the deserts of the Middle East with all the accuracy and immediacy of a TV documentary. His style is succinct, with telling little sketches: in a refugee camp outside Mogadishu “they had no sanitation, food, employment or hope”. Background details like this aren’t allowed to slow down the pace as the Tracker and a talented teenage hacker relentlessly breach the Preacher’s online defences and identify who he is, his history and his whereabouts.

All the plotlines, including an Israeli spy in a Somali market town and a Swedish billionaire’s son kidnapped by pirates, converge on a hamlet in the middle of nowhere and a Bin Laden-style kill-and-rescue operation. If you’ve never jumped out of a plane at 25,000 feet with a 40-kilo rucksack of ammo and survival kit, get ready for it now! Forsyth takes you there as vividly as a virtual-reality theme park ride. Not many thrillers are as thrilling as this.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

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

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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).