Tuesday, 28 April 2015


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I’ve seen Locke twice; God how I identify with it. My life on film.
Its about Locke, a Welsh construction professional, leaving a Birmingham building site in his BMW, which is where he stays for the rest of the film, driving and making phone calls. His wife and two sons are expecting him home to watch a football match but Locke informs them he won't be back in time. Nor will he be at work the next day, where he's due to supervise a major concrete pour . . . a job on which £11m [and the structural dependability of a skyscraper] is riding.
Why is this reliable man going awol? It turns out that Locke once slept with a woman named Bethan [heard only on the phone] and that she became pregnant. He barely knows Bethan, he matter-of-factly tells his wife Katrina but has decided to drive to London, where the baby is due. Meanwhile there's the concrete to worry about but he is determined to see the job through, remote-guiding his increasingly anxious deputy organising traffic closures and basically trying to do right by everyone . . . including his family, whose stability he has just quietly dynamited.
Locke believes in doing the right thing when he tells his son, ‘I'll fix it and it'll all go back to normal’.
Over 85 minutes we watch Locke attempt to deal with three different crises over the phone while he is driving to link up with Bethan in the Maternity Ward; Bethan, the Site and his bosses, and his wife. That’s it. Apart from one external shot at the beginning of the Birmingham building site the entire film is of Locke driving and talking on the phone. All the characters, the wife, the site manager, Bethan herself are just voices on the phone. But that’s all we need.
Couldn’t take my eyes off it. The Guardian sunk it without trace when it came out with a two-star review although I see now they have had one of their other cinema critics take a look and he has bumped it to four stars.
Me? I lived like this for the last ten years of my working life; didn’t get anyone pregnant but I know that like Locke, I would have done the right thing if I had.
At all costs.


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Seen quite a few films since my post about Blue Ruin; and read two blockbuster books and really moved on with my third novel, Parallel Lines; about halfway through already. I wanted to say something about Winter Sleep, a Turkish film that won the Prix at Cannes in 2014. Three-and-a-half hours.
If you have seen it or read reviews of it you will know that it is in three sections . . . linked of course . . . but the main section in the middle concerns the conflict in a marriage between an older man and his much younger and beautiful wife. Bradshaw in The Guardian gives it four stars and describes it as Chekhovian; he says however that the Director, Ceylan denied he was influenced at all by Checkov. I agree that it is Chekhovian; three principal characters filmed in an enclosed and isolated space in dim candlelight, speaking intensely and unedited about relationships. Not Chekhovian? Well, I suppose Chekhov didn’t realise he was writing a Chekhovian play when he wrote The Seagull.
This is similar ground to my novel, TRAIN THAT CARRIED THE GIRL where the central section is about a young girl who marries a much older man whom comes to resent her beauty and youth. When I was writing it I didn’t think I was writing Chekhovian; I actually thought I was re-writing the story of Miss Lily Bart but later, my tutor said I had been influenced by Chekhov [whom at that time I hadn’t read]. Now I realise that it owes much more to Strindberg.
The New York Times only gives it two-and-a half stars; very mean. The reviewer says it is very minor-key and the coals it rakes over don’t amount to much. Fair point. In TRAIN THAT CARRIED THE GIRL, I at least show how they loved one another once and it wasn’t always the mis-match it seems to be now. Ceylan fails to explain how they got together, what the attraction is or was and therefore why it has gone so wrong. I think that why the NYT dismisses it as concerns of little concern. I liked it though; little bit too heavy on the symbolism for me but some great performances and scene after scene of stressful suffocation. Lovely.  

Monday, 27 April 2015


I’ve recently read and in one case quarter-read two Blockbuster books by which I mean they have great five-star reviews [hundreds] and have sold well.

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THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is a novel, set in England about a plague which not only wipes out the population but creates a fearsome sub-race of zombies who will eat any living flesh in seconds; the writer calls them Hungries. The story revolves around four character tropes; the hard-bitten seen-it-all soldier; the lovable [brown] innocent teacher, couldda been a nurse or some other empathetic female character; the brainy totally focused scientist, in this case a sexless woman and a child, in fact the Girl with all the Gifts; ten-year old Melanie. I honestly have never read a book about zombies; watched Buffy as I posted recently but I didn’t actually realise when I was watching it that it was about zombies but, there you go. 

 [Well-written by someone with a degree in English from Oxford] Plot hole after plot hole follows. The Hungries can smell fresh flesh and can come running in a nano-second so our little band of characters are provided in the novel with a cream that they can apply to hide their scent. The cream runs out. Why would a novelist do that? To provide conflict? Why introduce scent and smell in the first place? As ever in popular thrillers the writer make the aliens/zombies/ Al-qaeda warriors/ whatever invincible, nothing and no-one and no weapon can destroy them. But they do and always in the nick of time. Why bother making them invincible in the first place? Tiresome, tiresome stuff. The soldier-guy has a mobile phone. In a world of nothing.

I read it, right to the end didn’t skim. Someone whose opinion I respect said it was a must-read but, not for me.

DEJA DEAD is a crime novel set in Montreal, also with many, many good reviews. Pretty much hated it. I bought it second-hand and for all the wrong reasons. I’m well on with my third book about Kikarin and in this one there is a chapter where she visits Montreal. I’ve been to Montreal but it was a long time ago and I wanted to read some crime-fiction set in Montreal so I could try and get a sense of how police and the court system work. But this is a terrible novel, overwritten, over-detailed, lurid to the point of gratuitousness. She was stabbed with a knife in the vagina, a very long knife, over and over WHILE SHE WAS ALIVE being just one of many examples. Do people read this? It would seem so because it has consistent four and five star reviews on Amazon. Grisly, some reviewers say. Grisly? Grisly? I have absolutely no idea what draws people to this. I would struggle to sit at my desk and write it, let alone read it. Terrible.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

21stC Museum of Modern Art Kanazawa

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This is the 21stC Museum of Modern Art Kanazawa, in Japan. Unfortunately no single image quite does justice to it but I have selected this one. Greenfield site, unlimited funds [$9million] and this is the result; pretty great though.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015


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Saw Blue Ruin at the weekend: a modern Noir Masterpiece sez here. One of The Guardian’s Films of the Year 2014, so up there with Leviathan and Under the Skin and 5* according to Rotten Tomatoes.
It was okay. Three stars max.
Its about a nerd in a difficult situation. He is a beach-bum living in his car on the beach in Connecticut or somewhere and he finds out that the murderer who killed his parents is about to be released from prison. He ups-sticks, finds the murderer, kills him and is then chased around the North-east states by the murderer’s family.
What do we want and expect from a modern Noir film? Classically of course, there is a tough-guy hero and a Femme Fatale who leads him astray plus a charming but powerful villain. Out of the Past, with Robert Mitchum is the most-quoted example.
What do I want from a Noir film? Don’t care about the Femme Fatale; don’t actually care that much about how the characters work and definitely don’t need a tough-guy hero. The most important thing to me is the plot and that there are no plot-holes. I can forgive small plot-holes, for example; in Blue Ruin the nerd drops his car keys; later he recovers them but we don’t see how he does that. Big plot-holes and Out of the Past is full of them, will turn me off regardless of how sharp, witty and clever the script is, or convincing the actors are.
Blue Ruin is slow-burning. Good.
The hero is a Nerd. Good. But a resourceful Nerd. Good again. He kills the bad-guy with a kitchen knife he finds lying on the table. Good again, the less guns the better. No police; good. Then two things happen; the pace slackens. I’m all for slow-burning plots but once you have got it rolling downhill, don’t put your foot on the brake or you will lose your audience. Secondly, he gets a gun. I wouldn’t have done that. I wholly accept that trying to make a slow-burning story within the confines of a ninety-minute film means that sooner or later, you need to bring things to an abrupt end. Guns do that but it would have been worthwhile trying to think up another ending. In Riccarton Junction, my version of the slow-burning Noir, the protagonists are nerds; there are no guns. And no police. But Riccarton Junction  is deeper than Blue Ruin; there are other themes that not only round-out the story but give dimension to the characters. None of the characters in Blue Ruin are three dimensional, not even the Nerd.

Okay, here is a list of ten Noir films I love:
Usual Suspects
Funny Business
Double Indemnity
Postman Always Rings Twice
Jackie Brown
Lucky Number Slevin
Reservoir Dogs

One missing, because I’m not 100% sure Blade Runner is Noir. Terminator could be Noir and there is that famous street scene where the club sign Tech Noir can be seen, although most reviewers seem to regard it as Science Fiction. There is an absolutely fabulous book about Terminator by Sean French, by the way that has consistent 5* reviews on Amazon; off-topic, I suppose but it is quite short and definitely worth your time.
End of post about Blue Ruin.