1666: Plague, War and Hellfire is a wonderful narrative history of the fall and rise of London. Bringing a city that was riven with death to vivid life, Rebecca Rideal has crafted a fascinating tale of London in its darkest night before it's glorious dawn.
A quick review of Alastair Reynolds latest novel Revenger. Taking a well trod path into the pirate/Firefly/salty-space-dog genre, Reynolds' has crafted an entertaining, if not not wholly original, tale.
Can you make a good joke about the Holocaust? Nazis, by all means. But the Holocaust itself? That is the premise of Ferne Pearlstein's superb documentary on the subject. To broach such a subject, you need to have the roster to bring weight to the subject and my goodness, Pearlstein has gathered a who's who of the great and greater of Jewish comedy. A film that could have relied on the humour doesn't and the survivors interviewed make this the best film I saw at this years London Film Festival.
I went to the cinema the other evening and I cried. Not a terribly rare occurrence, easily sentimentally manipulated movie-goer that I am. But this night, I saw something magical. Film is in itself is a magic trick. Twenty-four still images being shown to you a second that your brain interpenetrates as movement in the light. The movement in the light that is La La Land reminded me of what cinema truly can be.
Miss Stevens is a film that I didn't think I'd see again. It is joyous, full of heart and populated with a believable, relatable cast of characters that subtlety draws you in, breaks your heart and then pops it back together again. The directorial debut of Julia Hart is plainly wonderful.
The latest remake of The Magnificent Seven is out now. What ever you do, do not take a shot of mezcal for every western cliche you see, it'll kill you. It is an enjoyable film but, with all these great pieces in place, it is a cliche ridden missed opportunity that could have been so much better.
When a plane falls from the sky, it is a violent reassertion of gravity, of which, there is little escape. We hope that it is quick and the people on board know very little, but we rarely know much about the lives of those on board. When it is a small aircraft, those on board come under much closer scrutiny as, if it is an executive jet, they tend to be rather well off. This is the premise of Noah Hawley's latest novel, Before The Fall.
When you hear about a documentary about the world of Competitive Endurance Tickling, that response you just had, yep that one just then, was probably the same as mine. And yet, when you watch David Farrier and Dylan Reeve's film, you see that it is not a film about extreme sports or tickling for that matter, but very much about the state of America, class and the vices of privilege. Tickled, it is needless to say, is a terribly odd and rather scary journey.
A book that is essentially a history of political drinking and the use of various forms of alcohol in politics could turn out to be a wet weekend of nothing more than drunken anecdotes or a dry cautionary tale on the dangers of drinking. Wright, a Political Corespondent for the BBC, walks a fine line and hits the sweet spot between the two brilliantly. Order, Order!, while genuinely hilarious at times, is a sobering look at booze and it's affects on those who attempt to hold onto power.
There is an old Trekker adage that Star Trek movies follow the even formula, as in, all the even numbered Trek films are good, Khan, Voyage Home, Undiscovered Country, First Contact etc. With the new, JJ Abrams inspired “Kelvin Timeline” Star Trek series, the hope was that all the films would be good. But, the even numbered film formula has devolved into the law of diminishing returns; Star Trek Beyond, the 13th Star Trek film, unfortunately lives up to both adages.
Robert Harris' new book Conclave is out now. Having visited the Henley Literary Festival and meeting up with Robert, amidst 300 others, I have a spare copy to give away. See the post for details and a recording of the conversation Robert Harris had with Paul Greengrass. Yes, THAT Paul Greengrass, who was a delight.
In this new, reasonably regular, series, we’re going to look at some of the photographs that have affected me over the years. The old adage “A picture paints/is worth a thousand words” is going to be our dictum. Over the course of a thousand words, we’ll tell the story of the image, the photographer and the subject and try to add a bit of depth to the image. The first is Sharon Tate by Terry O'Neill
Following the thrilling end to the Austrian Grand Prix where the Mercedes F1 drivers came together on the last lap, team boss Toto Wolff has threatened the use of Team Orders to reign in his two drivers, who are vying for the 2016 World Championship. This is my plea to Herr Wolff to hold off that threat, let the Silver Arrows continue to race freely and delight, thrill and excite us all the way to whichever one of his drivers claims the title come November.
Commuting is one of those modern evils that most of us have to endure each day. For me, my trip to the office involves two trains and a bus, basically the gamut of all the horrors of public transport in South and West London. To while away the anything from the hour to many hours of journey each way (depending on which hell the train companies have chosen to enact on any that day), reading is an escape from the overcrowded nightmare that my need to pay the bills, and book addiction, entails.
When my Grandparents came over for a mammoth visit after we had moved to England, I had an old Canadian TV and VCR to watch the tapes we'd brought with us. My Granma brought me a bunch of old movies, which is what she always did when we spent time together. She introduced me to some of the greatest films I have ever seen and, also, that good movies do not also need to be made in colour. On this trip, knowing me as she did, she brought me a copy of an RKO Picture called Spitfire.
Sunday sees the BBC's take on John Le Carre's The Night Manager. I love this book and to celebrate, I'm giving away a copy signed by the man himself, Le Carre, not the hotelier. Here I talk about the book and how you can win this via the old Twitter machine. A little note, this is one of my favourite of Le Carre's novels.
The wall was red. I remember that vividly. What I could not tell you was how long I’d been staring at it. I knew I hadn’t slept, my legs were hurting and there was a tightness in my chest. I remember asking myself, “Self, why are you staring at a wall?” It took a physical effort to pull myself away. That was the only success of that night. I started pacing about, wired yet exhausted, my brain going ten to the dozen, thinking about everything and nothing at all. I found myself in the kitchen, face to face with my mother, who stalks these halls at that hour, who looked both worried and unimpressed.
Following on from last years Top 7, it is that time of year again to look back at the best cinema I've seen in the calendar year 2015. Usual rules apply, I count the films I've seen that are new but may not yet had a proper release, so things I've seen at festivals etc, and feature length films that went out On Demand so don't count for Academy consideration. I do this because I pay for all this and frankly, I doubt anyone will read it anyway.
We are in the midst of Bond-fever, SPECTRE is printing it's own money and all the initial reviews have been stellar. I've not got round to seeing it yet due to a lack time and, oddly, worry. Skyfall related worry. Skyfall opened in October 2013 to universal relief. Quantum of Solace, in this writers humble opinion, is one the best Bond movies every made. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, mostly due to constraints of the writer's strike. I have gone to some lengths on the subject of QoS in a previous blog, so, for now, I'll just get stuck into Skyfall.
Does something that you cannot heft in your hands have less value, physically and emotionally, than something that does? This is something I've been juggling with for a while, especially when it comes to books. Books are my addiction. Having a book in my hand elicits a response that fills me with joy. But, is it the actual papery thing tied up with sting or is it the contents of it that are important? As I sit and write these words, I am surrounded by books. Having a quick count on the walls either side of me, there are about 380 books on the shelves. Hardback, paperback, signed first editions, special editions, some more loved than others, all wonderful and utter dust magnets. Looking at them, they pull memories from my life.