Monday 13 May 2024

Shared Remains - Rachel Lynch


New thriller in DI Kelly Porter series out now from Canelo

Following on from last year's bestseller Silent Bones, Lynch returns to her ongoing series of DI Kelly Porter who surveys and polices the Cumbrian landscape with her team while balancing a new relationship when not on duty.

This story revolves around the discovery of a body in a quarry one morning and from there a can of worms very much gets opened involving a nearby elderly home. At the home, mysterious deaths are mounting up, and then the paper trail leads to the discovery that the funeral directors are the main beneficiaries of the recently deceased. The only snag is that the quarry body is the funeral director, Vince, and there-in lies a problem.

Falsifying death certificates, grave digging and fraud all come to head for Porter and her team. This macabre set of narrative junctions lead to a less than breezy feel to the reading of the story that stops and starts on occasion with some emphasis put upon the domestic situation for Kelly at home which at times is a bit distracting.

As ever with Canelo Crime reads, the final quarter of the book - when the evidence comes to the fore and exhumations begin - is when the book kicks into gear with a gratifying conclusion for this reader.

The atmosphere of the book with the greys and dismal weather of late summer becoming that unimpeachable autumn is evoked effectively by Lynch, with the old adage grim up north ringing true.

And yet through the gloom, there is a ray of sunshine coming to the surface for Kelly with the hopes of a new relationship ready to bloom as snow falls on the ground

SHARED REMAINS is out now from Canelo

My thanks to them for the pre-approval on NetGalley for my review 

Friday 3 May 2024



Double winner at 2023 Venice Film Festival released 

Written and directed by Soudade Kaadan, it tells the story of a family wanting to stay put in their house in war torn Damascus, rather than flee as refugees. While devastation and danger surround them, love and idealism keep them grounded and safe, even as a bomb hits them directly and their roof comes crumbling down. As they are held captive by their situation, they somehow find personal freedom.

Shot by celebrated cinematographer Hélène Louvart (La Chimera, Happy as Lazzaro, The Lost Daughter), the film contains a magical realism in its look and feel, that suspends reality while also never shying away from the atrocities that surround them. Co-cinematographer Burak Kanbir contributes to the authentic sense of time, place and space.

The film is in Arabic and stars Syrian actors Samer Al Masri and Kinda Alloush, alongside newcomers Hala Zein and Nizar Alani.

Kaadan says of the film and of her own experience: “It is only after the bombing started in our neighbourhood in Damascus that I left the house with my sister. Damascene society was conservative, even in liberal families. With the new wave of displacement, it became normal (for the first time) to see young Damascene women living alone and separating from their families. Myself, and many of my friends, started to make decisions we would never make before. Now, sadly, there is no more society, something new has occurred.” 

Kaadan’s filmography includes feature documentary Obscure (CPH:Dox 2017), narrative feature The Day I Lost My Shadow (Lion of the Future award for Best Debut at Venice Film Festival 2018) and short film Aziza (Sundance Grand Jury prize 2019).

She adds: “The word ‘nezouh’ means in Arabic the displacement of souls, water and people; it is the displacement of light and darkness. NEZOUH tries to talk about this inevitable invasion of light and hope in the midst of this chaos.”

Filmed in a style reminiscent of documentary and hand-held cinema, the film is a celebration of life and valuing that which you hold dear within that life; in this instance the father (Samir Al Masri) will not vacate his home despite the bombing, he is too proud of the legacy he has created in his home as Zeina says, 'my father is ready for anything, except leaving'

The film tellingly, in the magical realism mentioned previously, acts as it is upon a different spectral form, the clever device of the bombing essentially breaks down the wall for the characters - by expanding their space more story is available and the world is now open to them.

Incorporating styles such as Kiarostami who consistently balances that line between fact and fiction and the eccentric work of Roy Andersson, the Swedish absurdist, there is always life in dull moments of existence; this is a film that tells so much about the human condition.

Screenings can be found here

NEZOUH is out from Modern Films on limited release from 3rd May around the country

Thursday 2 May 2024

That They May Face The Rising Sun

New Irish award-winning film based upon the novel of the same name by Irish author, John McGahern's final novel

Patrick Collins, an audio-visual poet who has created works of quiet solitude set against the picturesque setting of the lush Irish landscape has found the means to create a faithful adaptation to McGahern's work and a love letter to that beautiful countryside reflecting upon a simpler time without mobile phones and other modern day distractions.

Joe (Barry Ward) and Kate (Anna Bederke) have returned to their homeland to live the good life - to borrow from a late 70s cultural artefact - and what we would describe nowadays as off the grid. Joe is a writer (a conduit for McGahern himself), experiencing the place he lives in and soaking that into his daily writing. Kate owns and runs an art gallery in London, a reason for her to still return to the capital on occasion to visit friends. Yet they are living at a pace of their own making, with no children on the horizon seemingly, they are content to live in this happiness - the building of a shed or timber outhouse painstakingly over the year with little or no progression indicative of a life being lived slowly.

The couple, who would be described as bohemians I suppose, have an open door policy welcoming visitors, neighbours and family whenever ready for a cup of tea and sympathetic ear. These interactions with the community works as a sort of social currency, in exchange for information and conversing, the couple are thought of highly in that community.

This is Collins' third feature film and he is a vaunted documentarian, his keen eye of observation and minute detail works in perfect harmony with that of the relationship of the couple who fit perfectly within a suburban setting yet are finding solace with their lot in life, a path that they have made for themselves. The film is finding that balance between the rituals of life and work along with the passing seasons; we bare witness to one year in the life of this couple but it could be any year over a ten year period with the added fork in the road moments of someone's passing - world events do not occur in this world of County Galway, where principal photography taking place near the Mayo border.

Credit for the film's feel and look goes to Richard Kendrick, who has shot both of Collins' first two films Silence (2011) and Song of Granite (2017), there are moments when Joe and Kate are embracing and the film looks like an Austen adaptation per excellence and that is the general feel of the film as something approaching a comfort watch like All Creatures Great and Small or Doc Martin; a lovely teatime viewing that is nostalgic without feeling cheesy with a tone of maturity that is not patronising.

Collins in conjunction with Kendrick and the score by Irene and Linda Buckley which is soft and ambient yet very much in keeping with Irish heritage has crafted a film that is intelligent, adult and beguiling.

The film has just won Best Irish Film at the Irish Film and Television Awards this month, and is about to have a limited release at select repertory cinemas across the country. This is recommended viewing for those who miss those slow paced films that teach us a lot about the world we used to know, love and mostly miss; a film that rewards its audience for its patience. A virtue lacking in today's age. 

That They May Face The Rising Sun is out from Conic Films on 26th April

Monday 22 April 2024

Kind Hearts and Coronets


Vintage Ealing Studio comedy released on 4K UHD from Studiocanal on 22nd April

In a series of re-releases and new prints upon the Vintage Classics label from Studiocanal, the company has taken the legendary series of post-World War 2 films from the Ealing Studios archive.

These films are long-established in the canon of British public consciousness and yet they remain vintage in every sense of the word - regal from a bygone era, original in their gestation and witty still despite the advancement of culture and society. This film appears as a satire upon the British fascination of nobility and the pursuit of social mobility.

After spending an hour and a half in the mere presence of Dennis Price's serial killing cousin, one will feel quite jolly and wish for the days when people would harken back to the days full of lavish production design and featuring the well-equipped acting of an ensemble who went from film to film delivering exquisite performances. 

While Price is the figurehead of the film and upon repeated viewings, his role is one of quiet restraint that is befitting a sociopath who is more in need of social ambition he feels is owed rather than earned. Yet this film remains most memorable as a showcase for the ever growing reputation of Alec Guinness. This is after his double bill of appearing in David Lean's Charles Dickens' adaptations most notably as Fagin in Oliver Twist. In this he portrays the D'Ascoyne family - those who Price as Louis - wants to dispose of so his lineage to the Duke of Chalfont can be obtained.

Guinness embues so much character into each of the family, it led to his scaling the heights of British film with The Lavender Hill Mob and The Ladykillers to follow before Hollywood and his Award winning role as Captain Nicholson in Lean's The Bridge over the River Kwai.

What is most striking though along with the performances is the erudite script that while based upon a novel is witty and astute in its understanding of social class, aspiration and norms in the post-war era. Credit also to Robert Hamer for marshalling proceedings with such precision and care.

If film fans have not heard nor seen this film, they should seek it out and enjoy the darkly black comedy that became familiar from the Ealing Studios, in a post-war world which should have been full of optimism, there remained those grains of doubt and pessimism that maybe good times may never return and you have to set out and make your own path in life perhaps to better yourselves.

The film is released on UHD on 22nd April, it features an introduction by fan John Landis, an audio commentary by film critic Peter Bradshaw, director Terence Davies and Matthew Guinness, an alternate US ending, gallery and trailers.

Kind Hearts and Coronets is released on UHD from 22nd April 

Thursday 18 April 2024

The Lavender Hill Mob


Ealing Studio classic THE LAVENDER HILL MOB

 rereleased in 4K Restoration from Studiocanal

Originally released in 1951, Ealing Studios' veteran Charles Crichton with a script by T.E.B Clarke and starred Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway and Sid James as the most unlikeliest of gold bullion robbers.

Guinness plays Henry Holland, a faithful bank transfer agent of 20 years who has never put a foot wrong and is non-descript to his employers. He dreams of the perfect gold bullion heist, yet does not know what to do with the bullion when stolen. Holland befriends new housemate Pendlebury (Holloway) who as a smoulder, they happen upon the idea of forging the gold into miniature Eiffel tower paperweights smuggling it from England to France.

The pair hire two professional criminals Lackery (James) and Shorty (Alfie Bass) and together the foursome put the plan into place full of unexpected twists and turns.

To think this film is over seventy years old is how swift and economical the script is and it is not surprising that the film won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Yet the x factor of the film is Alec Guinness, whose chameleon like ability to become an character he inhabits is to the fore again in the role of Henry Holland. When we first encounter Holland he is in some Caribbean island flaunting his wealth and fame around the resort, flirting with a young Audrey Hepburn and giving money to the help around the hotel. He promptly tells the story to someone sitting with him and so the story is told in flashback as all good heist films tend to be. Guinness up to this point had been the supporting player in such works as Oliver Twist and Kind Hearts and Coronets, yet this was the launching pad for his leading man career garnering a Best Actor nomination from the Academy Awards.

Shot at Ealing Studios but also embracing the post-war London with real-life locations for chases near London landmarks, the film is a breath of fresh air throughout. One note of criticism would be that once the heist is completed, the hapless pair running around Paris is somewhat not wanted but that is merely a slight note to be forgotten.

The moral integrity remains by the film's end and all you can remember is that the smiles elicited by the cast are real, the story is well told and Crichton deploys an even hand across proceedings.

The new 4K restoration is being released in cinemas from 29th March (Easter weekend) and will garner a 4K UHD and Digital release from 22nd April. Kind Hearts & Coronets will be released on UHD from 22nd April also.

The release offers a treasure trove for the British film lovers. Essays and Q&A's by Benedict Morrison and Paul Merton. An introduction by Martin Scorsese, audio commentary by film historian Jeremy Arnold, stills, two posters, four pop-art artcards by Art and Hue. Pre-order here

My thanks to Studiocanal UK for the review copy

Dark Road Home - Sheila Bugler

New novel by Eastbourne based, Irish born author Bugler from Canelo Crime

As a vivacious reader of crime novels and thriller reads from the publication house, Canelo, and its sub-print Canelo Crime I have taken pleasure in reading and following the careers of Marion Todd, Rachel Lynch, MJ Lee and Bugler.

Unlike the other contemporaries, who have dealt with a series of detective fiction revolving around a central character, Bugler has dealt with different storylines and characters jumping from a different premise, location and environment from book to book. This book is her 10th release, a wonderful milestone.

In this instance, Dark Road Home, is a coming home of sorts for her. Set in the fictitious west Ireland coastal town of Dungarry; her conduit for this homecoming is Leah Ryan. She returns home after an absence of two decades to face the turmoil she left behind which led her to Australia. Upon her return though to visit her ailing, wheelchair bound mother, another tragedy hits as her first love Eamon is brutally murdered as his restaurant business.

It seems a mystery, but soon as in all small towns where everyone knows everybody's business, everything is connected and there are secrets behind every front door.

Leah starts a flirtatious relationship with a cop who is investigating and she tries to bury the hatchet with her brother, Frank, the sibling who was meant to leave in Leah's place and explore the world. Instead Frank has remained and is a shell of the man he was hoping to be, drinking too much and carrying a spare tyre.

Bugler writes about the Irish homeland - a place she would like to retire to - with such fondness and for fans of The Woman in the Wall and other Irish crime series (the returning Blue Lights) this will be a welcome addition to the canon. 

The story which has a dual narrative of now and twenty years prior which leads to Leah's departure for this reader felt like it was treading water, and yet as so often in Canelo releases the second half of the book picked up steam and went to a crescendo that is worthy of Bugler's talent. The delicate handling of Leah and Frank's relationship and the guilt Leah feels for her leaving is told effectively.

While for me not as good as Bugler's other earlier works or her last work Black Valley Farm, it nevertheless is a solid thriller and a well told standalone plot and story that was entertaining and full of twists.

Dark Road Home is out from Canelo on 18th April on all formats.

Home - Sheila Bugler

Friday 5 April 2024

Dream Talk - Still Corners

New album Dream Talk from Still Corners out April 5th via Wrecking Light Records

The new album from duo of Tessa Murphy and Greg Hughes is an album they have been building towards as a two-piece since forming in 2009.

Dreampop would be a category you would attempt to pigeon hole Still Corners into, yet they are a band who are not restricted by such terms, they are a pop band with rock sensibilities or a rock band with electro stylings in abundance that tick so many boxes of influences.

Returning with new album material since 2021's The Last Exit which was well received, the duo return with new songs that are both ethereal and melodic. From the opener 'Today's the Day' which is sounds like a long lost cousin of Chris Isaak's 'Wicked Game' it has this earnest hook that yearns for attention. It is a great modus operandi opener for an album that does not deviate from the hypnotic course it is sailing. This idea of sailing comes full circle in a song like 'The Ship' which appears near the end of the album; a deeply affecting vocal featuring layered vocals and swooning production

Take for instance a song like 'Crystal Blue' a dreamy song that could be the access point for any such dreampop playlist yet it is Murphy's hushed delivery (reminiscent of Alice Boman) that makes it earworm worthy, the deliberate restrained nature of the production happening underneath her is mesmeric.

Fans who know their work will not be surprised by the content available, and for this listener who is familiar with the oeuvre of dream-gaze pop and such contemporaries as Mint Julep will be raptured by this album

The best moments of the album is when it lets the chains of dream-gaze fall away and veers closer to pop such as 'Lose More Slowly' or 'Faded Love' and these fleeting moments enhance an album that will be greatly appreciated on multiple listens. 

At times romantic, swooning and mysterious this is a yearning piece of stylish dream pop ripe for a wider audience and will be perfect for the summer (if it ever comes) as we sway to it as the sun goes down on a festival evening.

Dream Talk is out now via Wrecking Light records