All posts by KR Slade

From Nothing Comes A King

On Saturday evening I sat down with my better half and son number three to watch the most recent offering from director Guy Ritchie (“Snatch”, “Sherlock Holmes”), “King Arthur : Legend Of The Sword”.

Rob Knighton

Now I must admit that I wasn’t too sure what to expect, as the movie didn’t fare terribly well at the box office and reviews weren’t great either – particularly for football celebrity David Beckham’s brief cameo appearance, but we’ll get to that in time…

Poppy Delevingne & Eric Bana

The film opens with the legendary Camelot under attack from a warlock, Mordred (Rob Knighton – “Anti-Social”, “Riot On Redchurch Street”), who aims to ensure that the mages dominate mankind. He comes up against the King of the Britons, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana – “Munich”, “Deliver Us From Evil”) who defeats the warlock and his forces.

Jude Law

Unbeknownst to Uther, his brother Vortigern (Jude Law – “Dom Hemingway”, “Sleuth”) wants the throne for himself and has made a pact in which he will sacrifice his wife Elsa (Katie McGrath – “Jurassic World”, “Merlin”) in order to get Uther and his wife Igraine (Poppy Delevingne – “The Boat That Rocked”, “Absolutely Fabulous : The Movie”) out of the way.

Katie McGrath

The sole survivor of Uther’s family is his infant son who is put onto a small boat and drifts off, finally arriving in Londinium (that’s London in today’s lingo) where he is picked up and cared for by a group of prostitutes. Not sure where that would put Camelot, but a fair number of theories over the years have suggested Wales as a location, from where I don’t see a small boat drifting to London somehow…

Charlie Hunnam

We then fast forward through the boy’s childhood as he grows up and learns the way of the streets as well as gaining skills from training with an oriental fighter named George (Tom Wu – “Kick-Ass 2”, “Skyfall”). By adulthood Arthur (Charlie Hunnam – “Sons Of Anarchy”, “Deadfall”) is running a crew of his own.

Jude Law

Meanwhile the waters around now-King Vortigern’s castle have lowered, revealing a sword stuck fast in a stone. The King is forcing all men of around Arthur’s age to attempt to pull the sword from said stone.

Charlie Hunnam, David Beckham & Guy Ritchie

It is when Arthur himself has his turn to try to remove the sword that the aforementioned Beckham has his cameo. Beckham had a smaller cameo in Ritchie’s previous movie “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” which was fine and was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of thing. This time around Beckham plays Trigger, a Blackleg commander, and has some lines to deliver. Even now, some days later, I can’t decide if the problem – because there is one – is in Beckham’s delivery (he doesn’t have the most commanding voice for the role in question) or is simply, as my wife said, the fact that you’re thinking “oh, there’s David Beckham” and the scene would be fine with a “proper” actor rather than a celebrity?

Kingsley Ben-Adir, Djimon Hounsou, Poppy Delevingne & Annabelle Wallis

Regardless, it is at this point that Arthur becomes aware of his true origins and the destiny which awaits him. It is, however, a destiny which he is stubbornly determined to resist despite everyone around him – his old crew, including Tristan AKA Wet Stick (Kingsley Ben-Adir – “Trespass Against Us”, “Vera”) and Back Lack (Neil Maskell – “Dog House”, “Kill List”) – doing their level best to get him to do so.

Astrid Bergès-Frisbey & Charlie Hunnam

Also involved in this are Uther’s former knight Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou – “Fast & Furious 7”, “The Legend Of Tarzan”), Sir William AKA Goosefat Bill (Aiden Gillen – “Wake Wood”, “The Lovers”), Vortigern’s maid Maggie (Annabelle Wallis – “Come And Find Me”, “Mine”) and a mysterious unnamed mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey – “Pirates Of The Caribbean : On Stranger Tides”, “I Origins”).

Camelot Under Siege From Giant Elephants

Apart from the unsuccessful cameo from Beckham, my only real gripe was that a few of the action / fight scenes, particularly towards the end of the film, looked too much like they’d been taken from a video game, such was the level of slow-mo and CGI on display. Oh, and the giant elephants are the beginning?!. That said, the scenes with huge crowds etc. are really well done.

Jude Law, Guy Ritchie & Charlie Hunnam

All that aside we found the movie to be enormously entertaining. Sure it may not be historically accurate – but then how can one be with so many different stories and theories surrounding Arthurian legend – and one might argue that some of Ritchie’s usual approaches (such as the story within a story where as Arthur relays what he predicts is going to happen we see other characters doing exactly that etc.) and the modern language and haircuts don’t fit with the time period in question. However, taken for what it is – a fun and visually impressive retelling of the King Arthur story for today’s audiences (or maybe for those of us who still enjoy revisiting “Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” nearly twenty years down the line?) – it’s pretty damn good. Where this all leaves the remaining five films of the originally planned six part series is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, however, this is a well-recommended two hours of cinematic entertainment…

The Last Night Of The Electrics

Rick Parfitt

When I addressed the last – to date – studio album by legendary rock band Status Quo, 2016’s “Aquostic II – That’s A Fact!” and, more recently, shared my thoughts on the passing of the late, great Rick Parfitt, I noted that I wasn’t sure where the band would go in the wake of the band’s decision to go unplugged in future and after Parfitt’s decision last year to depart the band.

Well, here is perhaps the first indication. “The Last Night Of The Electrics” is a live album from the group, recorded at the O2 Arena in London last December – almost two months subsequent to Parfitt leaving the band but prior to his death. It’s been billed as an “emotionally charged set” though I’m not sure why that would be true of this particular gig? One could perhaps speculate that it’s a subtle way of pulling at the emotions around Parfitt’s passing, or is that just the cynic in me?

Status Quo – Live!

Regardless, this album is only the seventh live album, by my reckoning, in the band’s long history. 1977’s double “Live!” will for many be forever the benchmark by which any Quo live release should be judged. It’s certainly head and shoulders above the average “Live Alive Quo” (1992) and the more recent “Aquostic! Live At The Roundhouse” but for my money “Live At The N.E.C.” (1982) is also a cracking show – particularly if you can find the whole radio-transmitted performance rather than the edited LP. I guess, ultimately, the relative scarcity of Quo live releases is at least in part indicative of the static nature of the huge majority of their setlists over the years. Sound-wise, “The Last Night Of The Electrics” isn’t bad, but isn’t great either. The sound is a bit muddy to my ears and there are definite issues as a result of Parfitt’s absence.

Richie Malone

The set kicks of, as is the norm, with “Caroline” and it must be said that young guitarist Richie Malone does a creditable job on pulling off Parfitt’s tremendous rhythm parts. The hole left by Parfitt becomes much more obvious when his lead and co-lead vocal parts need covering. Parfitt himself struggled vocally at times in recent years during live show, but here bassist John “Rhino” Edwards takes some of these parts and, I’m afraid, doesn’t really do the job justice.

Francis Rossi, Richie Malone & John “Rhino” Edwards

Hearing songs like “Caroline” or “Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like” with Edwards singing with Francis Rossi, or even keyboardist Andrew Bown filling in for Parfitt on “Whatever You Want” or “The Wanderer”, when you’ve had decades of hearing the brilliant combination of Rossi and Parfitt – well it’s not quite like listening to a tribute band but it feels odd nonetheless. Sadly, it’s worse when Edwards takes lead on “Rain” and “Creepin’ Up On You”…

Andrew Bown & John “Rhino” Edwards

For some reason all of Rossi’s between song banter has been removed from the recording. Time limitations? A set lasting less than 95 minutes on a double CD (space for 140+ minutes) suggests not. Reviews of the show in question report that no mention was made of the missing rhythm guitarist so maybe that has something to do with it, I don’t know. On that front, though, Rossi changing the long-standing “…can’t escape this Ricky in my ears…” in “Burning Bridges” to instead sing “…can’t escape this paddy in my ears…” (Malone is Irish) seems a bit insensitive, I would have thought it would have been better to return to the song’s original “ringing” lyric.

Leon Cave

Rossi himself struggles vocally at times throughout this show, but guitar-wise is as on-the-money as you would expect. Elsewhere, drummer Leon Cave is solid but unremarkable and his drum solo would have been better cut out along with Rossi’s banter, to be honest. Of the set, you know what you’re going to get but even the “Heavy Traffic” songs have been played to death in the same order for years now, and “Gerdundula”, always a favourite of mine, now seems over-extended and is sounding tired.

Since the album was recorded and scheduled for release the band have announced that the “Last Night…” tour – supposed to be their final electric tour would now not be, with 2017’s winter tour, previously branded as “Aquostic Live – It Rocks!” (and, let’s be honest, as entertaining as the acoustic stuff is, it most definitely does not rock) will now be an electric affair under the title “Plugged In – Live And Rockin'”. With the “blame” for the turn to acoustic shows now being laid at Parfitt’s door – health issues apparently, though the man himself said he wasn’t interested in doing the acoustic thing – does this mean that future tours, if there are to be any, will also be electric?

Status Quo

This probably all sounds very negative, and I really don’t mean to be. I love Quo, and have done for many years, but this one doesn’t really excite me I’m afraid. I think that if the band are to continue without losing too many supporters then the new line-up needs to get into a recording studio and come up with a new album to promote and need to change the setlist to remove the songs that relied heavily on Parfitt’s voice – they have more than enough hits and album tracks to replace them with…

“The Last Night Of The Electrics” tracklist:

1. Caroline / 2. The Wanderer / 3. Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like / 4. Rain / 5. Softer Ride / 6. Beginning Of The End / 7. Hold You Back / 8. Medley : a. What You’re Proposin’ / b. Down The Dustpipe / c. Wild Side Of Life / d. Railroad / e. Again And Again / 9. The Oriental / 10. Creepin’ Up On You / 11. Gerdundula / 12. In The Army Now / 13. The Caveman (Drum Solo) / 14. Roll Over Lay Down / 15. Down Down / 16. Whatever You Want / 17. Rocking All Over The World / 18. Burning Bridges / 19. Rock ‘N’ Roll Music / Bye Bye Johnny

1, 5 and 14 originally from “Hello!” (1973) / 2 originally a single release (1984) / 3 originally from “Never Too Late” (1981) / 4 originally from “Blue For You” (1976) / 6 originally from “In Search Of The Fourth Chord”(2007) / 7 and 17 originally from “Rockin’ All Over The World” (1977) / 8a originally from “Just Supposin’” (1980) / 8b originally a single release (1970) / 8c originally a single release (1976) / 8d originally from “Dog Of Two Head” (1971) / 8e originally from “If You Can’t Stand The Heat…” (1978) / 9 and 10 originally from “Heavy Traffic” (2002) / 15 and 19b originally from “On The Level” (1975) / 16 originally from “Whatever You Want” (1979) / 18 originally from “Ain’t Complaining” (1988) / 19a cover of Chuck Berry single (1957)

Evil Takes Many Forms

A few nights ago I finally got around the watching a movie that’s been on my to-watch list for a while, the 2016 feature-length debut from writer / director Robert Eggers, “The Witch”.

Ralph Ineson

Subtitled as a “New-England Folktale”, the film begins in 1630 with a scene in which William (Ralph Ineson – “Case Sensitive”, “The Office”) is appearing before the elders of the Puritan plantation on which he and his family live, as he has a fundamental difference of opinion over interpretation of the biblical text by which they live their lives.

Kate Dickie

William, his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie – “Midwinter Of The Spirit”, “Prometheus”) and their four children are banished from the plantation and set off to make their lives on a farm near the edge of a large forest some distance from the plantation.

Anya Taylor-Joy

Eldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy – “Split”, Morgan”) is struggling with the demands of the family’s faith but determined to do the right thing. One day she is playing peek-a-boo outside with Katherine’s new baby Samuel when he suddenly disappears. We, the viewer, then see the baby’s body being used by a witch to make a flying ointment. Katherine is devastated and clearly feels that Thomasin is at least partly to blame for Samuel’s disappearance.

Ellie Grainger & Lucas Dawson With Black Phillip

The young twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger – “The Village”) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) claim that the family’s goat, Black Phillip, speaks to them and they take next to no notice of instructions given by their elder sister, increasing her inner torment.

Harvey Scrimshaw

The parents discuss sending Thomasin away to work for another family as she approaches woman-hood and the farm’s crops fail once again, a conversation overhead by their daughter and her younger brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw – “Oranges And Sunshine”). This leads Caleb to set off in the early hours into the forest in an attempt to hunt for food so that Thomasin won’t have to leave. She goes with him but falls from the horse when Caleb rushes off after a hare and is knocked out.

Sarah Stephens

Deep in the forest Caleb spots a small hut and when he approaches is met by an attractive young woman (model Sarah Stephens) who proves to be a witch, and maybe not as attractive as she first seems. When Thomasin reawakens she manages to find her father but, though they search, there is no sign of Caleb.

Black Phillip

Katherine takes this as further proof that Thomasin is evil, and when Caleb returns, naked and barely conscious, her impression is further strengthened when the young twins, Mercy and Jonas, tell their mother than Thomasin had claimed to be a witch. Thomasin counter-claims that the twins speak with Black Phillip. William responds by locking the three children, along with the goat, in the stable for the night, intending that the family should return to the plantation the next day. However, with all kinds of weird and violent events unfolding thereafter what will become of the family?…

The Witch

I’ve probably said too much already, but I really can’t go too much further into the story without definitely giving too much away. Suffice it to say that this is a pretty decent film. The cinematography gives the whole thing a suitably bleak feel, given the hard times that William’s family are enduring, and it all feels nicely atmospheric too.

Anya Taylor-Joy

The ending of the movie felt a little strange at the time of viewing, but a subsequent read of this article helped to make more sense of things – though it’s best read after viewing the movie! Taylor-Joy and Ineson, in particular, were excellent in their roles but all of the small cast are very good.

The Witch

The dialogue and religious aspect of the film felt realistic for the period of history in which it is set, when witch trials and executions were happening in New England and indeed the end titles claim that much of the dialogue is based upon real diaries and court transcripts etc. from that time, throwing light on the effects of a strict religious lifestyle mixed with the superstition of the age.

Overall, I thought “The Witch” was an intense, gripping, spooky and indeed thought-provoking way to spend an hour and a half – a well recommended movie to lovers of folk horror…

That Night. The Calls. The Guilt

“If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside – the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.

But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.

The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt.

Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her… “

The latest book that I’ve read is titled “The Breakdown”. This is the second novel from France-based author B.A. Paris.

I was intrigued by the synopsis, as above, but it didn’t really prepare me for just how gripping the book was to become. The story’s narrator is the character of Cass Anderson – a teacher just starting her six-week summer break. She passes a seemingly broken-down car on a dark lane on her way home on late at night on the last day of term and sees a woman sitting inside it. The weather is awful and although she stops to see if the woman needs help when said woman gives no indication of needing any assistance Cass decides to drive on home to her husband, and puts it out of her mind.

When she hears the next day that a woman has been found dead in her car on that exact stretch of road she feels guilty for not stopping. As more details of the circumstances of the death and the identity of the dead woman – Jane Walters – emerge, Cass’s guilt only increases and it becomes an ever-present stress on her mind. However, that’s not the only breakdown that will trouble Cass as she notices that she appears to be becoming more and more forgetful, leading her to worry that she is suffering from early onset dementia – which her mother was diagnosed with in her mid-40s.

Husband Matthew does his best to reassure Cass but as her behaviour grows more erratic she naturally worries that she will eventually push him away. Luckily she can also rely on best friend Rachel for support and has the whole summer break to try to get her head straight again. But, of course, things aren’t what they seem at all…

B.A. Paris

Some reviews that I have seen complain that the answers in this particular puzzle were too obvious and too easy to figure out. I don’t agree although it’s certainly true that you know the who and why by about the 80% mark – but that’s because Paris has told us by then and she spends the final fifth of the novel filling in the blanks etc. as the tale reaches its conclusion (which I didn’t expect anymore than our narrator did).

I’ve not read the author’s debut novel “Behind Closed Doors”, which I believe is scheduled for the big screen treatment but I would definitely recommend “The Breakdown” for anyone that enjoys psychological crime thrillers and can see that it, too, would make for a good movie…

Live At Carnegie Hall – An Acoustic Evening

Joe Bonamassa

Back to the music today, and I’ve been listening recently to the latest live release from the ever-prolific bluesman Joe Bonamassa. “Live At Carnegie Hall – An Acoustic Evening” is Bonamassa’s second acoustic double live album, and fifteenth live album overall.

Joe Bonamassa – An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House

I guess to be able to churn out that much product – an there have been eleven live albums in the period covered by his last three studio efforts – then you need something different perhaps to keep the punters coming back for more? Well, this one is certainly different from the rest of his live albums, including the earlier “An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House” which to my mind was more in keeping with what I like to hear from an acoustic album.

Tina Guo

Whereas the frankly excellent “…Vienna…” saw Bonamassa and his array of acoustic guitars augmented by musicians playing instruments such as fiddle, banjo and harmonium – making for a pretty rootsy sound – “…Carnegie…” features backing from an international cast made up of cellist Tina Guo, percussionist Hossam Ramzy, pianist Reese Wynans, multi-instrumentalist Eric Bazilian, drummer Anton Fig and backing vocalists Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins, and Gary Pinto and the resulting sound is somewhat more eclectic.

Reese Wynans

Kicking things off with Wynan’s picking out the piano introduction taken from Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” the ensemble are then thundering down the tracks with “This Train” – a song taken from Bonamassa’s “Blues Of Desperation” album which had not, at the time of this show’s recording, been released. Three more of the fifteen songs here also come from that album so it’s testament to the quality of the material that the audience responds so well to them.

Joe Bonamassa & Ensemble At Carnegie Hall

Fourth track “Dust Bowl” is one of just five that are repeated from the earlier acoustic release – the others being “Driving Towards The Daylight”, “Mountain Time”, “Black Lung Heartache” and “Woke Up Dreaming”. The rest of the set is made up from another couple of back catalogue numbers with a smattering of interesting covers. Of the latter, including tunes from Leon Russell and Bette Midler, I would have to say that I particularly enjoyed the version of “Song Of Yesterday”, the original of which comes from the self-titled debut album by Black Country Communion, the supergroup that features Bonamassa alongside Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian.

Tina Guo & Joe Bonamassa

“Woke Up Dreaming” features a kind of duel between Bonamassa and Guo and whilst impressive is undoubtedly one of those instances in which a live album recording is less successful than either witnessing the performance at the time or being able to see the visual side of things at the same time. It does however, just like the record as a whole, demonstrate just what good musicians these all are.

Joe Bonamassa Merchandise

I have fond memories of seeing Bonamassa in concert some years ago and would love to do so again. However, with tickets for next year’s British shows starting at £65.00 plus fees I’m afraid that isn’t going to happen. I gather that Bonamassa and his manager put together a structured business plan earlier in his career and – judging by the sheer number of vintage guitars, amps etc. that the man keeps adding to his collection – financially it looks to be working for him. No doubt the huge range of Bonamassa-branded merchandise that is on offer through his website helps with this too, so I do think that the pricing for his shows is honestly too high.

Joe Bonamassa – Live From Nowhere In Particular

It seems that in recent years Bonamassa has toured with a bigger band, often including backing singers and a brass section for example, so the costs of putting on the show are therefore going to be higher but I would personally rather see him stripped back to the blues rock format that worked so effectively on earlier live releases like “Live From Nowhere In Particular” where there were just four musicians on stage.

Joe Bonamassa

I would have liked to have seen a release of a recording from last year’s tour, “A Salute To The British Blues Explosion!”, which featured renditions of tracks by Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Led Zeppelin rather than this “…Carnegie…” one, to be honest – again that’s just my personal feeling. This one is very good for what it is, but is unlikely to be among the more frequently played of Bonamassa’s live releases around these parts, not when the aforementioned “…Nowhere In Particular” and the four volume “Tour De Force” set are in my collection anyway. Despite that fact this is still a very good recording and once again demonstrates that this is an artist who is head and shoulders above many out there today. Now if he could just reign in his money-making inner Gene Simmons!…“Live At Carnegie Hall – An Acoustic Evening” tracklist:

1. This Train / 2. Drive / 3. The Valley Runs Low / 4. Dust Bowl / 5. Driving Towards The Daylight / 6. Black Lung Heartache / 7. Blue And Evil / 8. Livin’ Easy / 9. Get Back My Tomorrow / 10. Mountain Time / 11. How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live? / 12. Song Of Yesterday / 13. Woke Up Dreaming / 14. Hummingbird / 15. The Rose

1, 2, 3 and 8 originally from “Blues Of Desperation” (2016) / 4 and 6 originally from “Dust Bowl” (2011) / 5 originally from “Driving Towards The Daylight” (2012) / 7 originally from “Black Rock” (2010) / 9 originally from “Different Shades Of Blue” (2014) / 10 originally from “So, It’s Like That” (2002) /11 cover of Blind Alfred Reed song (1929) / 12 cover of Black Country Communion song from “Black Country Communion” (2010) / 13 originally from “Blues Deluxe” (2003) / 14 cover of Leon Russell song from “Leon Russell” album (1970) / 15 cover of Bette Midler single (1980)

What Could Go Wrong?

I was going to write about a new album release today, but then my wife and I watched the 2015 comedy adventure film from writer / directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (both “Horrible Bosses”, “Game Night”) titled “Vacation”. We both enjoyed it so much I felt it deserved a few words…

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

The movie is the fifth in a series that started back in 1983 with the release of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” which told the story of the Griswold family taking a road trip cross-country to the Californian theme park Walley World and all the misadventures that befell them en route. This was followed by “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” (1985), “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989) and “Vegas Vacation” (1997).

Ed Helms

“Vacation” is a kind of sequel / reboot of the first film, with the son of the original Griswold family, Rusty (Ed Helms – “Stretch”, “We’re The Millers”), now grown up, decides to take his wife and two children on a trip to try to recreate his childhood trip to Walley World.

Ed Helms, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins & Christina Applegate

Rusty’s wife Debbie (Christina Applegate – “Married With Children”, “Bad Moms”) was hoping for a trip to Paris but she and the couple’s two sons – 14-year-old James (Skyler Gisondo – “Hard Sell”, “Night At The Museum 2”) and 12-year-old Kevin (Steele Stebbins – “A Haunted House 2”, “Within”) agreed to the trip to avoid the usual annual trip to a cabin in Cheboygan that they secretly hate.

Christina Applegate, Steele Stebbins, Skyler Gisondo & Ed Helms

The tag line for the film is “what could go wrong” and it’s giving nothing away to anyone even vaguely familiar with earlier entries in the series to say that an awful lot is likely to go wrong!

Chris Hemsworth & Leslie Mann

Among the more hilarious moments on the family’s journey is their visit to Debbie’s old college where she decides to show the current Tri Pi sorority sisters how things are done, and their stay-over with Rusty’s sister Audrey (Leslie Mann – “The Comedian”, “The Other Woman”) and her husband Stone (Chris Hemsworth – “A Perfect Getaway”, “Thor”) on their cattle ranch.

Hannah Davis

There’s also a very funny scene featuring model Hannah Davis which references one in the original that saw fellow model Christie Brinkley driving a red Ferrari. To keep some authenticity in terms of continuity, I’m guessing, Rusty’s parents Clark and Ellen are reprised by original stars Chevy Chase (“Fletch”, “Caddyshack”) and Beverly D’Angelo (“High Spirits”, “American History X”).

Chevy Chase & Beverly D’Angelo

Some of the content means that this is most definitely not a film that you could watch with younger children. Many reviewers have talked of the film being too much of a retread of the first movie but lacking in spirit and wit. We thought that potty-mouthed Kevin is a great character and I thought Applegate was brilliant as Debbie and Helms did a great job with his role too. Overall whilst it may not be the most original film in the world – which is surely a nigh-on impossible task these days anyway? – we both found it to be really funny and would thoroughly recommend it…

A Journey Paved In Blood

So the second movie mentioned at the start of my last rambling post about the Fifties film “Untamed Youth” was a new release. Directed by Brendan Muldowney (“Love Eternal”, “Savage”), “Pilgrimage” is a medieval period action thriller.

Tom Holland

As the film opens we are witness to a bound man being dragged by a group of men onto a beach in Colchis mid-first century AD and, having had a wooden crucifix torn from around his neck, being stoned to death. The time then switches to the time of the Crusades in the early 13th century and the location to the far West of Ireland where a small band of monks reside, including a novice monk named Brother Diarmuid (Tom Holland – “The Lost City Of Z”, “Edge Of Winter”).

Tom Holland & Stanley Weber

A white-robed Cistercian monk, Brother Geraldus (Stanley Weber – “Sword Of Vengeance”, “Not Another Happy Ending”), arrives with a message from the Pope that a religious relic held by the monks should be taken immediately to Rome as the belief is that it’s power will help the church in the crusades. The relic, it transpires, is a rock that was used in the aforementioned stoning of – we now learn – St. Matthias that God used to kill all those responsible.

John Lynch

Geraldus sets off with Diarmuid and a few other monks including Brothers Ciaran (John Lynch – “Alleycats”, “Detour”) and Cathal (Hugh O’Conor – “The Stag”, “Summer Of The Flying Saucer”) as well as an enigmatic mute (Jon Berthnal – “Sicario”, “The Ghost”) and soon meets up with a group of French soldiers led by Baron de Merville (Eric Godon – “In Bruges”, “Nothing Sacred”).

Hugh O’Conor, Stanley Weber, John Berthnal & Tom Holland

The Baron’s son Raymond De Merville (Richard Armitage – “Robin Hood”, “The Hobbit Trilogy”) and his men are to lead the monks to Waterford. On the way, however, a skirmish with native forces results in the monks being temporarily left to fend for themselves. Is everything and everyone what they seem and will the holy men manage to complete their pilgrimage with the relic intact?…

Eric Godon

This was a decent enough action flick. The fight scenes were often rather gruesome but I would imagine fairly authentic for the period and the setting certainly felt convincing enough. I think this was aided by the use of various languages throughout – specific to the background of the particular characters and enhanced by some very atmospheric music and cinematography.

Richard Armitage

I suspect that the historical aspects used are probably a combination of inspirations from actual history and a lot of imagined scenarios and this works really well. Armitage said in an interview that he hopes those watching the film “…are transported into a world and a time that feels very very alien to how we live now, but at the same time they can relate to the passions of these people centuries before, who are ultimately the same as we are now – full of ambition and full of rage and full of devout belief.” Well, for me there are most definitely echoes from this period of Christian history that reverberate all too strongly with current world events with people being tortured and killed for being the wrong religion or resisting that which is being forced upon them.

The Monks On Their Pilgrimage

Leaving such heavy thoughts aside and just looking at the movie as a piece of entertainment it’s generally very good. However, come the conclusion I did feel slightly cheated by the fact that we don’t get to really find out about the mute, we don’t know what happens next and Brother Diarmuid’s final action gives rise to the question “was it all worth it?”. Good question. I think so, but could understand if some viewers felt the opposite to be true…

Kids Turned Rock ‘N’ Roll Wild & The Correction Farm That Makes ‘Em Wilder!

Rubbish weather yesterday so watched a couple of movies – one new and one old. The old one was a drama from way back in 1957, directed by Howard W. Koch (“Bop Girl Goes Calypso”, “The Girl In Black Stockings”), and was titled “Untamed Youth”.

Robert Foulk, Mamie Van Doren & Lori Nelson

The film opens with a young man being chased across fields by police cars before being taken into custody. Presumably one of the untamed youths of the title. Then we meet sisters Penny and Jane Lowe (Mamie Van Doren – “Girls Town”, “Guns, Girls & Gangsters” and Lori Nelson – “Pardners”, “Revenge Of The Creature”) who are en-route to appear in a show as they are both entertainers. Unfortunately for them, the girls are promptly arrested for skinny dipping and hitchhiking by a leering police Sheriff Mitch Bowers (Robert Foulk – “The Love Bug”, “Hell On Wheels”).

Lurene Tuttle

Appearing in court before the small town’s female Judge (Lurene Tuttle – “Psycho”, “Niagara”) the pair are quickly sentenced to 30 days and get to choose to spend the time either in prison or doing some healthy, paid work picking cotton. Unsurprisingly they choose the latter, seemingly easier, option.

Lurene Tuttle & John Russell

When they arrive, along with a number of other convicts, at the cotton farm they discover that their wages will mostly be taken to pay for their board and food, leaving them with just a few cents each day. The owner of the farm is Russ Tropp (John Russell – “Rio Bravo”, “Pale Rider” – a man at ease with mistreating and sacking his workers for the slightest misdemeanor. He is also, secretly, married to the somewhat older Judge, who clearly adores him though we can see that it is purely business for the ambitious farmer.

Mamie Van Doren & Lori Nelson

Penny and Jane are put to work cotton picking, but not before they have entertained their fellow convicts / workers by belting out a tune – Jane sitting on a bunk and unconvincingly strumming at a guitar whilst her partly dressed and very voluptuous sister sings and dances.

Eddie Cochran

Among the other young people being forced to work on Tropp’s farm are young blonde girl Baby (Yvonne Lime – “I Was A Teenage Werewolf”, “Speed Crazy”) and the oddly named Bong (Eddie Cochran – “The Girl Can’t Help It”, “Fury Unleashed”) – the latter of whom also gets to sing a number, “Cotton Picker”, which doesn’t give any clue as to just what a rock ‘n’ roll legend he would become.

Don Burnett

Before long the Judge’s son Bob Steele (Don Burnett – “The Triumph Of Robin Hood”, “Tea And Sympathy”), returning from serving in the armed forces, goes to work for Tropp driving a combine harvester and finds himself becoming attracted to Jane.

John Russell & Mamie Van Doren

Despite the long hours picking cotton those working on the farm don’t seem to suffer from too much fatigue as they spend their evenings singing and dancing with great enthusiasm and energy. This is presumably just a release from the hellish conditions under which they survive, as not only does Penny have to contend with the unwanted attentions of Tropp but also Baby collapses after working too long in the sun. Bob rushes her to a hospital but she dies and it’s revealed that she was several months pregnant. The injustice of it all becomes too much for Bob to bear and he goes off to tell all to his mother, but will she be able to see past her adoration of Tropp to believe what she hears?…

John Russell

This is a strange movie to be honest. It’s kind of like musical-cum-social-drama wherein someone decided to string a bunch of inoffensive rock ‘n’ roll-lite singing and dancing numbers together with a plot involving a despicable man taking advantage of all-and-sundry in order to make his fortune?!

Cotton Pickers In Alabama c. 1970

There is undoubtedly some cultural appropriation going on. I don’t know much about the history of cotton picking in the USA but most of what I’ve been able to find online suggests that the vast majority, if not all, of those doing the picking were African-Americans, whereas all of those in the film are White. Perhaps unsurprising given that there were still major racial divisions in American at the time. Adding to this, the closing musical number is a calypso – sung again by Van Doren’s character, supported by an entirely white group of men, all adopting some kind of Caribbean accent.

Mamie Van Doren Sings “Go Go Calypso”

Incidentally, I gather that when rock ‘n’ roll started to take off the established record companies etc., whose business model saw them producing morally clean music for white audiences, tried to kill it off and one of the ways that they attempted this was by using calypso music (whilst replacing any social comment or sexuality in the lyrics with generalities about the Caribbean islands!)

Serbian Blues Artist Ana Popović – Cultural Appropriation Or Misappropriation?

Personally I find the current hysteria in certain quarters over cultural appropriation / misappropriation rather daft and overly politically correct to be honest. I have no doubt that there are cases where there can be genuine hurt caused but to say that one can’t take something from another’s culture would mean no white person could ever play jazz or the blues, for example, as the genres originated within African-American communities (just like the aforementioned calypso). Just my opinion, of course. Anyway, I digress…

Mamie Van Doren

At just 80 minutes this film entertains without outstaying its welcome, despite the feeling of being rather thrown together! Being a man of a certain vintage I’d have to confess that the talents of the (then) 26-year-old Van Doren – which may or may not include her singing(!) – certainly helped pass the time. Worth a look as a curio from another time…

What Makes A Killer?

“Lorna Belling, desperate to escape the marriage from hell, falls for the charms of another man who promises her the earth. But, as Lorna finds, life seldom follows the plans you’ve made. A chance photograph on a client’s mobile phone changes everything for her.

When the body of a woman is found in a bath in Brighton, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is called to the scene. At first it looks an open and shut case with a clear prime suspect. Then other scenarios begin to present themselves, each of them tantalisingly plausible, until, in a sudden turn of events, and to his utter disbelief, the case turns more sinister than Grace could ever have imagined…”

“Need You Dead”, the thirteenth entry in Peter James‘ police procedural series centred around Detective Superintendent Roy Grace and his team based in Brighton, finds the main man busy with case files for trials relating to Jodie Bentley and Dr. Edward Crisp – characters involved in the previous book “Love You Dead”.

On top of that Grace is having to arrange for his late first wife Sandy’s funeral (she committed suicide in Germany) and preparing for the ten-year old German son that he didn’t know existed, Bruno, to come and live with current wife Cleo, baby Noah and him in their quiet Sussex home.

Grace’s usual sidekick is away on holiday with his girlfriend so when a suspicious death – that of home-based hairdresser Lorna Belling – is referred to his team Grace decides to use acting DI Guy Batchelor to lead the investigation under his supervision.

The case is one that constantly shifts focus as the number of suspects increases – did Lorna kill herself? It’s possible but then her husband has a history of abusive behaviour. So does a man who wanted to buy Lorna’s car, and then there’s the man (or men?!) that she was having an affair with in an attempt to escape her marriage. So many possibilities and precious little clarity mean that the team struggle to make meaningful progress.

Peter James

I thought I’d figured it out soon after the half-way point, only to realise about three pages before James made the revelation that I’d fallen for one of his red herrings!…

Some reviewers have complained that the book is rather dry, with too much detail in the police procedures. Personally I find that this makes the whole story feel more authentic. I have previously written about my reservations over the Sandy storyline. Well, with her death that could have come to a conclusion, but the introduction of Bruno as a new part of Grace’s family means that effectively the remnants of Grace’s first marriage will stay with us as the series progresses. Whether that will be a positive or not remains to be seen.

In terms of this book I would say that although I enjoyed it immensely I can see that readers new to James and this series might have issues due to the number of references to past events. If you haven’t followed the series then you might find yourself rather puzzled over some of these.

For the future, there is presumably something to come from Grace’s nemesis ACC Cassian Pewe’s conversations in German with young Bruno, as well as from the suggestions that the boy may have mental health issues. No doubt James will expand on these as Grace’s adventures continue but, again, would mean little to anyone reading “Need You Dead” in isolation from previous stories.

I was slightly perplexed at the end of the book with – SPOILER ALERT – the  deadly spider crawling up Noah’s cot, as that plot element seemed to come from nowhere and just got left unresolved. Overall however I must say that this is yet another excellent novel from the very reliable Peter James. Most definitely recommended reading for lovers of great crime thriller fiction…

The Perfect Husband. The Perfect Stepson. The Perfect Lie?

“It took only six words to shatter her dreams.

When Rachel marries dark, handsome David, everything seems to fall into place. Swept from single life in London to the beautiful Carnhallow House in Cornwall, she gains wealth, love, and an affectionate stepson, Jamie.

But then Jamie’s behaviour changes, and Rachel’s perfect life begins to unravel. He makes disturbing predictions, claiming to be haunted by the spectre of his late mother – David’s previous wife. Is this Jamie’s way of punishing Rachel, or is he far more traumatised than she thought?

As Rachel starts digging into the past, she begins to grow suspicious of her husband. Why is he so reluctant to discuss Jamie’s outbursts? And what exactly happened to cause his ex-wife’s untimely death, less than two years ago? As summer slips away and December looms, Rachel begins to fear there might be truth in Jamie’s words:

‘You will be dead by Christmas.’…”

My most recent reading material was the psychological thriller “The Fire Child” by British author Sean Thomas. Thomas is a writer and journalist who writes religious / archaeological thrillers under the name Tom Knox, and “The Fire Child” is the second psychological novel that he has penned as S.K. Tremayne, the first being 2015’s “The Ice Twins”.

This book is set primarily in the western part of Cornwall, with a few scenes in London where the character of David Kerthen works as an expensive lawyer during the week. At weekends and in holidays he returns to his ancestral home of Carnhallow House, part of a large estate that includes a number of long since disused tin mines remaining from when the family owned and ran a very profitable mining business.

At home is David’s new wife Rachel, and his eight year old son Jamie. David’s first wife Nina died as a result of an accident in one of the mine shafts about a year and a half before the beginning of the story. Nina had been working on restoring the ancient house and former professional photographer Rachel finds herself taking on the task as well as doing her utmost to be the best stepmum to Jamie that she can be. Nonetheless this is a challenge as the child seems to be withdrawing into himself.

S.K. Tremayne

When one day Jamie tells Rachel that he believes that she’ll be dead by Christmas, which is just a few months away, this is just one of a number of strange conversations that she has had with him – and he seems to be convinced that Nina isn’t really dead too.

It’s clear that David knows more than he’s letting on and he is oddly adverse to getting any help for Jamie’s troubled state of mind. Meanwhile Rachel is harbouring secrets of her own and as the days tick by it becomes less clear just what is going on and who – if anyone – is the “bad guy”…

I did enjoy this novel, though with all the action centred in a small geographic area and around a very small cast of main players it did seem to perhaps be dragging things out a bit at times. That said, the sense of mental instability and impending madness was nicely handled and did keep the reader (this one, at least) guessing as to quite what was going on and where we would end up.

As the tale progressed I did feel that neither Rachel nor David were particularly nice individuals under the surface and that was borne out by various revelations, and it was unclear for a long time if this would turn out to be a kind of paranormal ghost story or what. I have to admit that some of the plot turns just seemed a bit too implausible for me in all honesty. All that said, however, “The Fire Child” was a decent enough read and one could do far worse than pick this one up…