“In the aftermath of 1066, a Norman army marches through the North of England: burning, killing and laying waste to everything in its path. The Harrowing has begun. As towns and villages fall to the invaders, five travellers fleeing the slaughter are forced to band together for survival. Refugees in their own country, they journey through the wasteland, hoping to find sanctuary with the last stand of the Saxon rebellion. But are they fleeing the Normans or their own troubles?
Priest, Lady, Servant, Warrior, Minstrel: each has their own story; each their own sin. As enemies past and present close in, their prior deeds catch up with them and they discover there is no sanctuary from fate…”
I’ve just finished reading “The Harrowing” by Wiltshire-born author James Aitcheson, a book that I was inspired to read when I saw a write-up of it in a booklet publicising the recent 950th anniversary events for Chepstow Castle – construction of which began in 1067, the year after the Norman invasion under William The Conqueror. A change from the usual crime thrillers that I tend to gravitate towards then.
The narrative follows a group of five people who, for one reason or another, are heading north to Hagustaldesham (now Hexham) even as the Normans are laying waste to the large swathes of the country during the brutal “harrying of the north”of 1069/70 in which they seek to consolidate their power and quash the rebellion headed by Edgar Ætheling.
First we meet Tova, a young maidservant who is fleeing her home with her Lady, Merewyn. We do not know, at least not yet, why they are desperate to get away.
Before long they come across a warrior, Beorn, who saves them from certain death at the hands of a group of Normans, and a little later on the trio stumble across a priest named Guthred. The quintet is completed when wandering poet Oslac joins the group as they travel through seven wintry days and nights across a country ravaged by war.
Whilst the majority of the tale is told through Tova’s eyes, as they rest at night each has a tale to tell the others – some more willingly than others. The individual characters’ stories fill in a lot of background information, not just about themselves, but also about the rebellion and the response of the Normans – which seems to have been something or a scorched earth policy, destroying everything and everyone in their path with utter ruthlessness.
I did find at times the telling of their stories to be filled with a lot of unlikely detail, and the pace of the story drops a little as a result, but recognise that this was the author’s way of giving the reader the information needed to fully understand the story as well as to begin to appreciate just what a devastating period of time it was. This is achieved without our band of travellers having much contact with the Normans at all, meaning that a lot of the violence etc. is done “off camera” as it were. That does not make it any less horrifying, however!
Aitcheson spent the better part of a decade, by his own reckoning, studying and learning about the Anglo-Saxon period of history, including the Norman Conquest, and this particular book (his fourth novel) was three years in the making. That level of research shines through in the detail contained within and the excellent way in which the author transports the reader to a dark period in this country’s history.
This isn’t an pleasant story to digest, so if you’re after happy endings this is the wrong place to look, but for a fascinating look at the consequences of war (and an illustration that there really is no glory to be found) for all concerned – the guilty and the innocent – this is a very good read…
The latest movie that my beloved and I have enjoyed is the new action drama from director Toa Fraser (“The Dead Lands”, “Giselle”). The film is based upon the real-life Iranian embassy siege in London at the end of April 1980 and is titled “6 Days”.
I was twelve years old at the time of the actual siege, so although I have memories of seeing images from the SAS assault that ended the siege I had little knowledge of the events that had led up to that point.
At the start of the film we see a group of armed men walking up to the Iranian embassy and bundling the on-duty policeman at the door, PC Trevor Lock (Toby Leach – “Shortland Street”, “The Making Of The Mob”) into the building before quickly rounding up all those inside. They took a total of twenty-six hostages, and demanded the release of Arabian prisoners being held in the Khuzestan province of Iran, as well as their own safe passage out of the UK.
Naturally the authorities are quickly on the scene, as are TV and radio journalists – including a young BBC correspondent named Kate Adie (Abbie Cornish – “Limitless”, “Seven Psychopaths”) – and sees Chief Inspector Max Vernon (Mark Strong – “Kingsman : The Secret Service”, “Before I Go To Sleep”) tasked with the role of police negotiator.
Margaret Thatcher’s government, which had at this point been in power for just under a year, arranged for a team of SAS soldiers to travel from their base in Hereford to Knightsbridge, where they moved into the building next to the Iranian embassy and prepared various scenarios in the event that they were required to take action against the terrorists. For the purposes of the film, at least, the main focus of the SAS activities is Lance-Corporal Rusty Firmin (Jamie Bell – “The Eagle”, “Filth”).
The film then tracks the six-day siege primarily from the perspectives of Adie, Vernon and Firmin as the viewer gets to see the action surrounding the events unfolding within the embassy, but little of what’s actually taking place inside – with the exception of during telephone exchanges between Vernon and lead terrorist Salim AKA Ali Mohammed (Ben Turner – “Casualty”, “300 : Rise Of An Empire”).
Other well-known names appearing include Martin Shaw (“The Professionals”, “Inspector George Gently”) as Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Dellow of the Metropolitan police and the late Tim Pigott-Smith (“Quantum Of Solace”, “King Charles III”) as Home Secretary William Whitelaw.
I thought that this was a really well made movie. Despite knowing the outcome in advance there was still a good sense of tension as each day – and in some cases hours and even minutes – went by and even though the film is noted as “based on real events” you get the impression that the filmmakers have tried to tell the story of what actually happened as opposed to using the true story as a mere jumping off point for a big and brash action movie. The end result feels like a very entertaining history lesson – albeit a very one-sided one presenting the Thatcher government’s position that the terrorists should only leave the embassy to go to prison or in a coffin whilst ignoring the backstory that lead to the siege taking place at all. Nonetheless, this is a film that is most definitely worth a watch…
Having visited the Welsh town of Bridgend recently for a Death Angel gig, it seemed as good a time as any to check out the 2015 drama film, titled “Bridgend”, from director and co-writer Jeppe Rønde, whose credits are almost exclusively for documentary work.
This is a movie that has caused some degree of controversy and consternation, particularly for the real-life residents of the town. That’s because between the end of 2007 and start of 2012 there were apparently 79 suicides in the Bridgend area – largely teenagers and the vast majority by hanging. (In fact, a 2014 documentary film on the subject That there were by then 99 victims). Whatever the true statistics it seems that there is no clear reason for this unusually large spate of suicides taking place. A fictional drama film inspired by these events, then , was always likely to upset someone.
The movie sees teenage girl Sara (Hannah Murray – “Game Of Thrones”, “Detroit”) and her policeman father Dave (Steven Waddington – “When The Lights Went Out”, “The Imitation Game”) relocating from Bristol to Bridgend, where Dave is tasked with trying to get to the bottom of a series of teen suicides. They arrive, along with Sara’s horse Snowy, just after the death of the latest victim.
With Dave busy at work Sara is left to her own devices a lot of the time and soon gets drawn into a group of local teens who spend their time drinking, smoking, swimming naked in a lake in the woods, dicing death in front of trains and partying.
Sara grows steadily more distant from her father, whilst getting closer to vicar’s son Jamie (Josh O’Connor – “The Durrells”, “The Riot Club”). All the while the group thins as the woodland hangings continue and Dave worries that Sara will get in too deep with the locals and become yet another victim…
I thought this was a really well made film. Filmed entirely on location in Bridgend, the cinematography is suitably bleak and claustrophobic when it needs to be and the whole thing gives a feeling of real-life horror as the teens self-destructive behaviour almost seems to be the only signs of actual life in the isolated community.
As this is not a documentary there are no real attempts to explain the causes for the tragic events which inspired it in the first place. Instead there are suggestions of the circumstances and influences that could perhaps bring such events to bear. Murray is excellent throughout, and is supported by strong performances all round.
The final portion of the film drifted somewhat into supernatural horror in a way, and could be interpreted in more than one way, I felt, but that only helps to make the movie the difficult but potent experience that it is…
A little over a week ago number two son and I headed off to the first concert together since catching Cradle Of Filth in Bristol getting on for two years ago, as many of the shows that I go to aren’t really his cup of tea. I think that whilst he credits me with his taste in music – particularly the really heavy stuff – he doesn’t have the appetite for experiencing some of the bluesier or lighter acts that cross my radar.
This one, however, was right up his street. San Francisco thrash legends Death Angel headlining at the intimate surroundings of Hobos in the Welsh town of Bridgend as part of their European tour that seems to be mainly made up of festival slots and low key club shows like this one.
We found the 150 capacity venue upstairs through a door between two shops in the main shopping area of the town. There’s a bar area where a merchandise table was set up and then through a door into the performance area, where we arrived as the first act of the evening, Welsh death metal band Sodomized Cadaver were getting started. The space was, even at this early stage, fairly packed so we took up a position close to the nearest PA stack situated in slightly to the side of the stage front.
Neither of us were remotely familiar with the band or their material but were both impressed by what we saw. The band started life back in 2013, and these days drummer Gavin Davies is the sole remaining founder member. Completing the line-up are bassist / vocalist Charlie Rodgers and diminutive guitarist Jordan Roberts.
The three-piece outfit got an enthusiastic response – one chap headbanging in front of the stage like his life depended on it – from the audience for numbers with typical death metal titles such as “Half Dead Burial” and the delightfully-named “Lords Of Rape”. There was a nice mixture of pace on display from the fast and frenetic death metal to more doom-like passages. For whatever reason the group had to leave out the final two tracks of their planned set – whether they were late starting or were just overrunning their allotted times. Regardless, the band gave is a good start to the evening’s entertainment…
1. Chapel Of Unrest / 2. Vampire Of Düsseldorf / 3. Martyrdom / 4. BKTC / 5. Skull Fracture Massacre / 6. Torture / 7. Rapid Guttural Disfigurement / 8. Lords Of Rape / 9. Half Dead Burial
1 and 4 origin unknown but perhaps as 8 / 2, 3, 5, 7 and 9 originally from “Verses Of Putridity” (2016) / 6 originally from “Vorarephilia” (2014) / 8 from yet to be released “Morbid Tales Of Mutilation” (2017)
After a short break and equipment changeover it was the turn of main tour support act Warbringer. Formed in 2004, Wabringer are a thrash metal band from Los Angeles who have had a relatively high turn over of members in the subsequent thirteen years. Alongside founding members John Kevill (vocals) and Adam Carroll (guitars) are Chase Becker (guitars), Carlos Cruz (drums) and Jessie Sanchez (bass), the last two of which have only been with the group since last year.
Despite that the group’s performance was tight and polished. On tour to promote their fifth album “Woe To The Vanquished” the band didn’t look like one that had nearly imploded completely following the previous album and tour cycle a couple of years ago.
Of the “big four” thrash bands I suppose my initial impression was that Warbringer have to most in common with Slayer sound-wise. Our position close to the PA stack meant that whilst Becker certainly looked skilled with his guitar we were only really able to hear Carroll’s contributions to the onslaught. Kevill got the now-expanded crowd involved and a mini circle-pit going too and I suspect the group will have made a good few new fans with their performance in Wales.
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what the band’s setlist for the night was, and my direct request to them has gone unanswered, so below is my best guess, using the tracks played two days earlier in Wolverhampton…
1. Silhouettes / 2. Woe To The Vanquished / 3. Remain Violent / 4. Shellfire / 5. Descending Blade / 6. Shattered Like Glass / 7. Hunter-Seeker / 8. Living In A Whirlwind / 9. Combat Shock
1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 originally from “Woe To The Vanquished” (2017) / 6 originally from “Worlds Torn Asunder” (2011) / 7 originally from “IV : Empires Collapse” (2014) / 8 originally from “Waking Into Nightmares” (2009) / 9 originally from “War Without End” (2008)
Finally, as 9:20pm came around, the main attraction appeared. Drummer Will Carroll took to his stool first, followed onto the stage by bassist Damien Sisson, rhythm guitarist Ted Aguilar and band founder Rob Cavestany (lead guitar) and lastly long-serving vocalist Mark Osegueda as the group launched straight into the one-two of a snippet of “The Ultra Violence” leading into “Evil Priest” – both from their 1987 debut album.
Immediately it was apparent – and this is no disrespect to what we’d witnessed before – that Death Angel are a class act. The sound was really good (though rather loud where we were standing. It would be two days before I could hear normally again after the show was over!) and you could see that whilst these men were seasoned pros they also clearly love what they do.
One could perhaps argue that Osegueda laboured the themes of “unity in metal” and “being true to yourself” etc. and could have arguably left out some of the talking – particularly the over-long band introductions – but he can certainly belt the songs out with the best of them! (Also number two son was more than a little chuffed to have fist-bumped the man twice during the show).
I found myself watching Cavestany most as the gig progressed, impressed by his mix of technical prowess and flair for showmanship as he cranked out a succession of excellent thrash metal riffs and blinding solos in a set showcasing tracks from last years’s excellent “The Evil Divide” record as well as a selection from the majority of their back catalogue releases and a great Black Sabbath cover too.
As with the recent Blood Ceremony show in Bristol, which was in a similarly small venue, I can’t help wondering how bands can play gigs like these. Assuming this one was a sell-out, at £12.50 a ticket (excluding costs) that gives a total take of £1,875.00. This is to pay for venue hire, coach and truck hire, PA, crew wages, living costs etc. even without the three sets of band members getting anything. With just four shows in the UK in four days – covering London, the Midlands, Wales and Scotland – its hard to see the artists making much out of it financially. And as all four were small venues this trip is clearly not about fame and fortune – its about dedicated metal musicians reaching the fans who love the music. So, on that front this show must be considered a huge success…
1. The Ultra-Violence / Evil Priest / 2. Claws In So Deep / 3. Father Of Lies / 4. Caster Of Shame / 5. Thrown To The Wolves / 6. Seemingly Endless Time / 7. Breakaway / 8. Lost / 9. Falling Off The Edge Of The World / 10. Kill As One / 11. The Moth
1 and 10 originally from “The Ultra-Violence” (1987) / 2 originally from “Relentless Retribution” (2010) / 3, 7, 8 and 11 originally from “The Evil Divide” (2016) / 4 originally from “The Dream Calls For Blood” (2013) / 5 originally from “The Art Of Dying” (2004) / 6 originally from “Act III” (1990) / 9 cover of Black Sabbath song from “Mob Rules” (1981)
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”.
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…
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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?
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.
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”).
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.
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…
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?
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.
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.
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”…
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.
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?
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)
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?…
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.
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 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…
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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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)
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…
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).
“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.
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.
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!
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.
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”).
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…