Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Hotel Scarface

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Released on 25th January in paperback by Bantam Press, Roben Farzad's book tells the story of the Miami Cocaine Trade that helped inspire Brian De Palma's classic 1983 movie, Scarface which starred Al Pacino as Tony Montana.

In Miami, December 1979, you have to watch your back at the Hotel Mutiny on the Coconut Grove.  A fiery explosion of cocaine is going to blow over South Beach with bullets, blood, flash cars and immigrants fighting for a piece of the pie; amidst the political changing landscape of a new presidency under Ronald Reagan with the omnipresent shadow of Fidel Castro abounds.

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Expertly researched and featuring an abundance of interviews with those who survived the bloodbath and the mountains of drugs; it paints the picture that this was the a lifestyle of lavish debauchery, high flyers with fast cars, sailboats and sexual orgies in penthouse suites.

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Farzad has done a great job in his research and in plotting the story chronologically, making head and tail of all the characters involved would drive many a script editor mad, yet Farzad keeps the chapters short and full of incident to keep you involved with them; even when some fall by the wayside due to circumstances be it lead poisoning, overdoses or lost at sea.

For fans of true crime, crime fiction, Scarface, Wolf of Wall Street,

Hotel Scarface is out on Paperback from Bantam Press/Transworld Publishers on 25th January for £14.99RRP

Thursday, 18 January 2018

We All Begin As Strangers


Out in paperback today from Orion Publishing

The debut novel from journalist, Harriet Cummings, is a piece of historical fiction set around the year 1984, a hot summer when a burglar universally referred to as 'The Fox' is terrorising the small village of Heathcote near Oxford.  Cummings' novel tells the story from four differing viewpoints - opening with Deloris, the policeman Robert, vicar and nice guy Simon.

The problem I had with the book was the difficult opening of Deloris, a character who is unhappy in her marriage and sets about leaving her husband, Harvey, including taking a job in a hotel in London.  Apart from mere mentions of the Fox breaking into neighbour's properties, the story focuses on her plight and it comes across as a bit needy and unnecessary to the plot.  When Deloris appears later in the book, she is better on the periphery.

The four differing viewpoints is something we have seen in all manner of popular culture, most famously Akira Kurosawa's 1951 film Rashomon, where the differing viewpoints alter the narrative and who is telling the truth when all people claim ownership of the truth.

In this novel, the truth is not fully revealed until the last viewpoint entwined with Simon's personal problems of identity, this leaves the reveal of the Fox as almost secondary and when it was revealed, it was somewhat out of nowhere and underwhelming.

This is a shame as I had high hopes for this novel with it's beautiful book cover and the setting of 1984 for social and political context.

In conclusion, this is a novel that will garner critical attention, but may struggle to capture the imagination of the mainstream reader.

We All Begin As Strangers is published by Orion Publishing on 20th April 2017

Monday, 15 January 2018

Ezra Furman 'Suck the Blood from my Wound'

Out today from Bella Union is the next single from Ezra Furman from his February released album Transangelic Exodus, following the video release of 'Driving Down to LA'

Part concept record, part novel, part tale of America in this Trump-era Presidency; the song is a great example of the album on a whole - catchy hook, erstwhile lyrics and a yearning for a better world full of hope despite the anxiety with the current climate, as Furman himself vouches:

“What’s essential is the mood - paranoid, authoritarian, the way certain people are stigmatised. It’s a theme in American life right now, and other so-called democracies.”

Full of intensity but paired with a bracing honesty that has been missing from recent rock records that focus on nostalgia and catchiness, Furman along with his backing band The Visions, may well be able to breakthrough to the mainstream - following critical acclaim for 2015's 'Perpetual Motion People' - by making the first true rock and roll artefact of the Trump administration.

Ezra Furman is doing three brief shows in February followed by a headline show of bigger arenas including the Brixton Academy on Wednesday 23rd May.

The album Transangelic Exodus is released from Bella Union on 9th February, my full review will be following.

Television in 2018

A new year brings the promise of new resolutions, promises and the belief that this year will be the better than the last. This belief extends to the arts from cinema to music, painting to sculpture. But never more so than in television, is the leap made clearer than in television where channels propel new stellar productions to the forefront of the schedules in the hope for recognition and ratings.

From the return of stalwart shows Silent Witness to the BBC One and Vera to ITV, to the return of actors in new shows like Kiri on Channel Four starring Sarah Lancashire in a post-Happy Valley world to the high concept Hard Sun on BBC One.

There are changes a plenty not just in terms of the shows structure but how we watch them.  Last year the water-cooler show was Doctor Foster, the five-part second series was must-see television for one night a week showing the demand for such shows to get people talking about it the next day or immediately on Twitter and social media.

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Hard Sun is an interesting case; a thriller with dystopian tendencies predicting the sun to explode in five years causing the end of our planet and how dealing with this world-ending event puts things into perspective. Yet the show premiered on a Saturday night at 9.30pm, with all six episodes of the series available on BBC iPlayer at once in a box set to allow viewers to watch the next episode immediately if they so wished.  The BBC attempted this at the tail end of last year with Gunpowder with relative success. The Corporation looks to be changing its ways with that of the audience needs and wants in the current climate.

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McMafia is the stand-out show on offer though from British television. Reminiscent of The Night Manager, featuring a breakthrough role for a young British star to translate to the worldwide audience in a story with global reach wearing its expense on its sleeve. 

McMafia is an eight-part series which had a two-part show over New Year's Day holiday to entice the audience; it now sits at 9pm on Sunday for the water cooler effect.

Whilst it does not have the sheer wow factor of Tom Hiddleston's stab at a James Bond audition coupled with the telling adaptation of John Le Carre's source material, James Norton does embody the role of Alex Godman (has there ever been a more egotistical name) with relative ease sashaying from one suit to a tuxedo and jet to yacht as travel of choice; the supporting cast help with the reality of the world falling around him. The Night Manager had a glamorous cast of characters, whereas the Godman family and their rivals look more experienced at life and feel the pain and ache of having to leave their beloved Russia in exile.

As an audition for Bond, we have not yet seen Norton do necessarily atypical Bond things apart from fend off a choke-hold and wear a suit really well; whereas Daniel Craig has a ice-cold steeliness when he plays Bond, Norton has a somewhat laid back feel when he is smiling that would not translate to the iconic role of 007; but that does do a disservice to what he has done in three episodes of Alex - slowly he is getting warn down by the world he is step by step entering, becoming less and less of an investment banker and more an international money launderer to save his family's name and reputation, the hope being they can return to Russia.

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Next of Kin began on ITV on Monday 8th January, a six-part global drama featuring a mixed-race marriage and the abduction of a British-Indian doctor in Pakistan against the backdrop of a terrorist attack in London.  Featuring a cast of talented actors, the series paints a multi-diverse London correctly but looks at well to do people in terms of class structure; both siblings are doctors, the female doctor's husband works with the government.

And that perhaps may be the one criticism of all these shows is that it focuses on middle-class individuals and not the problems that beset the working class population around the country. With all the series mentioned set predominantly in our capital city, London, there is a myopic window of the world being served to a licence-paying audience.

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Kiri (Channel 4) is set around Bristol and deals with the sensitive issues of a mixed-race adoption and social services, written by Jack Thorne, it may well harken back to a gritty social realism more in common with Ken Loach and Alan Clarke than anything served up by the BBC in recent years; even Gunpowder is about upset middle class rebels wanting to blow up upper class people because they are against their policies.

It is indicative that the most socially political aware programme is based around characters outside of London; a city that is afraid to acknowledge people near the poverty line, whereas other cities do not have a problem with this awareness.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

A Woman's Life (Une vie)

Released on Friday 12th January from Arrow Films, Une Vie is a French film adaptation of the novel by Guy de Maupassant from director Stephane Brize (The Measure of A Man) which tells the story of one woman and her life, where she marries a scoundrel, has a son who is difficult and all in all her life does not meet the high mark of ambition she hoped for.

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Shot majestically with a regal air, the film has a painterly quality reminiscent of notable French film-making from Eric Rohmer to the renaissance painting of Monet and Vermeer.

Figures standing in medium shot allowing a performance to take hold and come to fruition, you can feel the harshness of the environment helped by the lack of orchestral soundtrack; Brize chooses to use the wind and weather to provide the noise swirling within Jeanne's (Judith Chemla) delicate psyche.

A film for cinephiles and those amour with French cinema especially, the film is both ravishing for the eye and a dramatic film of a life gone wrong; with a brilliant performance by Judith as the woman whose life we watch.

Yet it is a strange film; a male has written this epic sweeping film full of lustrous landscapes and sweeping vistas a la Wuthering Heights, yet she treats her female lead with a certain level of contempt. She is unattractive for large sections of the film, down at heel and treated with contempt by male protagonists - from her lying husband to her stay away son - even to the director himself who does not use capital letters 'une vie' for the film's title page at the film's conclusion.

A Woman's Life is released from Arrow Films on Friday 12th February in selected cinemas.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018


GLORY (SLAVA, Bulgaria, 2016)

Winner of the Best International Feature at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2017, the Bulgarian feature Glory written and directed by Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov is released in selected cinemas on Friday 5th January.

Telling the story of a lonesome train track engineer, Tsanko Petrov (Stefan Denolyubov) who on his rounds discovers millions of lev. Instead of pocketing the money for himself, Tsanko reports the money to the authorities and he is heralded as a hero and rewarded by the Ministry of Transport for his efforts with a watch. That does not work.

Tsanko is handled in a PR effort by married woman Julia Staikov (Margita Gosheva) who in a brief spell of bad press for the train industry sees an opportunity to make a good story, the only problem is Tsanko suffers from a debilitating stutter and stammer.

Julia is an ambitious woman hell bent on succeeding no matter the cost to integrity putting pressure on her married life with hen-pecked husband, Valeri (Kitodar Todorov) as they attempt IVF treatment for their first child.

At the ceremony, when Tsanko is to be honoured, Julia removes his beloved watch from his wrist for the merits of the ceremony; following on the PR department misplace his watch which he wishes to be returned. What follows is a tale of irresponsibility and arrogance, in an attempt to belittle the hard working labour force with the brute corruption of ministry position.

Shot by Krum Rodriguez utilising hand-held cameras and close to medium shots for the majority of the film, the film is a window into a world of behind the scenes back-baiting and how government laughs at the lower classes, such as when Julia and her team first see the footage of Tsanko laughing at his inability to talk clearly.

The film is a slow burn as most European language films are but there is a power to the performances in the honesty of their portrayal; Denolyubov plays Tsanko as a mild man in a crazy world stuggling to be understood, and Gosheva adds a femme fatale tinge to Julia yet has the power to convey panic such as when she reads a paper in a press conference, her eyes have character.

The ending confrontation between Tsanko and Julia is heart pounding fraught with tension, with a bittersweet ending for Valeri who is happy in his own world whilst his wife does her usual damage limitation.

Grozeva and Valchanov have crafted a morality tale for the these fraught times of frustration and lack of trust in ruling bodies, which can translate well to Western Europe from our Eastern European neighbours.

Glory is distributed by New Wave Films on Friday 5th January.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

The Greatest Showman

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Following on from the unprecedented success of La La Land, we have another musical gracing the big screen. Featuring new songs from the same composers as the aforementioned film - Benj Pasek and Justin Paul - the film takes on the well known story of P. T. Barnum, the visionary promoter who created the modern day circus full of oddities, curiosities and amazements.

Hugh Jackman plays Barnum with great aplomb, a role he was born to play and coveted for several years having followed it from inception to production over a seven year period.  Barnum was a down at heel, jack of all tradesman who took an opportunity and sold himself to banks and the people he exploited for his gain.  That is telling that Barnum, like other self-made men in American history (think Henry Ford, Tucker, even Donald Trump) they have this self-belief and drive to make the most of a bad situation and damn to the consequences.

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The film follows Barnum from his youth where his first and only love Charity (Michelle Williams in adult life) is from an upper class family and that the things he promises to her will be gone if he cannot supply a stream of income to a life she is more accustomed to.

There follows Barnum's wheeling and dealing initiating the works of the freaks and outcasts to his show and how the audience eats it up; he is shut out by theatre critics and ostracised by society of New York who consider him a laughing stock and treat his cast with disdain and fear.

Michael Gracey directs the film (in his debut feature) with great relish, instigating some great set pieces from the bar duet between Barnum and his business partner, Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron) 'The Other Side' to the scene stealing 'Come Alive'.

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While the film may take on board current day affairs such as identity and gender politics - all ages, races, shapes and sizes are conveyed in Barnum's troupe - the film is a winner because it embraces the outsider and the underdog who fights to be heard and ultimately are.

That is the beauty of most musicals, it follows the downtrodden on their journey and watch out as they endeavour to be heard.  Pasek and Paul have written a great crossover hit in 'This Is Me', one that shall be heard at countless talent show auditions and is struck in the same vein as Sia or Lady Gaga.

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When watching the film, the trailers before hand were of The Post, Darkest Hour and Phantom Thread; prestige films but dark and grey in compositions.  The greatest feat of the Greatest Showman is that it is a film full of vibrancy, joy and life; too often you have to find films of colour and excitement within a comic book adaptation or animation, a film like this should be embraced and loved for being exactly that.

The Greatest Showman is out now on general release.