Monday, 20 December 2021

What I'm reading: Another take on the plot to kill JFK



Perhaps taking a leaf from Stephen King, espionage writer Philip Kerr invites us back to the Kennedy era. The Shot starts with Jack beating Nixon in the election in November 1960, narrowly and – Kerr repeats an oft-told tale – with some help from the Mafia in the key state of Illinois.

A professional assassin (presidentially named Tom Jefferson) is hired by mobster Sam Giancana (who famously shared a girlfriend with JFK) to murder Fidel Castro, so that Cuba can revert to its previous Mob-dominated money-spinning status. But there are other pressures on Jefferson, and he diverts his attention to a plot to remove Kennedy before the inauguration.

Georgetown lay on his soul like a dead weight.” Philip Kerr, as we know from his WW2 and Cold War novels, has a neat way with words. His extended dialogue scenes reminded me of Robert Ludlum at his most prolix, but the assassination theme pulls the reader through the occasional slow patch. As with The Day of the Jackal, you think the end won’t spring any surprises – but it does!

Most conspiracy buffs believe that Cosa Nostra did play a key role in the events in Dallas in 1963; Oliver Stone’s movie JFK included this and several of the other scenarios in a mash-up of the conspiracy to end all conspiracies. The Shot offers one more tense, imaginative chapter to the Mythology of “Camelot”.

Friday, 10 December 2021

David at the movies: Gaga on overdrive


 HOUSE OF GUCCI


If you’re expecting the drama and pace of Ridley Scott’s The Gladiator, you may be in for a disappointment. Back in 1991, Scott directed Thelma and Louise, a dark study of two women on the road to self-destruction. House of Gucci gives us two hours and 38 minutes of Lady Gaga on a non-stop rampage.

As Patrizia, a girl from the slums who marries the heir to half the Gucci fashion house, Gaga is incandescent. She quickly insinuates her way into the life of Maurizio (Adam Driver), but it’s an uphill task to win over his father (Jeremy Irons) and his uncle (Al Pacino). One sly move at a time Patrizia and Maurizio steal the company from the rest of the family, running up vast debts in the process.

Gaga’s not the only one in overdrive: Al Pacino is back in his Scarface scenery-chewing mode. Jeremy Irons does an Italian accent so mellifluous that I half expected him to start singing ‘Volare’. The production values are off the scale, but the scenes of family showdowns and directors’ meetings are numbingly repetitious. The last half-hour is the most exciting, as the Patrizia-Maurizio marriage disintegrates, but the courtroom scenes, which might have made for the most engrossing chapter, are condensed to mere moments.

A woman near me was yawning. Can’t say I blame her.

Saturday, 4 December 2021

What I'm watching: Is crime drama getting too sick?


Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen & Laurence Fishburne

 HANNIBAL


Clearly I’m very late catching up on this, the TV version of the crimes of Hannibal Lecter, our favourite cannibal. Three series – 39 episodes – of crime and punishment. Mostly crime. I found it terrifically watchable but deeply disturbing.

The credits tell us this is “based on characters from Red Dragon by Thomas Harris”, but the “Tooth Fairy”, the family-slayer from that book, doesn’t appear till the last few episodes of Series Three. The first thirty-plus hours introduce other killers, other crimes – and, of course, Hannibal whose crimes are sometimes attributed to others.

The ill-fated Florence detective and Mason Verger (and his sister) (from Harris’s third book) are featured, and there are scenes augmented from Hannibal Rising, Book Four – the “prequel”. Conspicuously absent is Clarice Starling and the whole storyline from Silence of the Lambs. Clarice is replaced by some new female characters, including Gillan Anderson as a shrink who is close to Hannibal and also close to psychosis herself.

The big liberty taken in this version is that Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) is working with Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) at the FBI as a consultant; he’s also Will’s psychotherapist. We, the viewers, are shown his killer/cannibal side, but it takes a while for the others to catch on to the viper in their bosom. Will Graham bonds with Hannibal and learns what happens when the moth gets too close to the flame.

Production values are high and the cast, down to the supporting players, are all on top form. Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is a lot creepier than Anthony Hopkins’s near-pantomime baddie. The screenwriters have pushed the envelope way beyond the Tooth Fairy (and even the absent Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs) to introduce their own bevy of serial slayers. Bryan Fuller is credited as creator/producer, so I guess this gore-fest is what he set out to achieve. One killer in the first series turns bodies and body parts into totem poles. This I found genuinely nauseating. This show takes us close to torture porn, of which we see increasing amounts on TV and in the cinema. I worry that this kind of thing gives nourishment to already sick minds.

Yes, I found the whole 39 episodes relentlessly compelling – apart from a few longueurs (Dancy’s breakdown is over-extended and Anderson’s character becomes tiresome). But I think it’s time we reappraised the current definition of what is classed as Suitable Viewing.


(I watched this on DVD, but it's also available on Amazon Prime)

Dinner at Hannibal's. Who's on the menu?