Book of the month: The Legendary Lugs Branigan by Kevin C Kearns

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I decided on a change of pace this month. Something true, something Irish. A story to take me back to the rare old times, when men were perennially drunk and the local lawman was uncompromising and fearless.

Lugs Branigan is an interesting character no matter what your perspective. Born in the south inner city of Dublin in 1910, he lived through the formation of the state and bore witness to the social change, both gradual and manic, until his death in 1986.

This book attempts to chart his early beginnings from within the relative comfort of his family home on the grounds of what is now St James’ Hospital right through to his final years in rural County Meath.

Of course, most people would be more interested in the space between, his forty-three years of service to An Garda Síochána.

The book is broken down into a straight chronological timeline of the early years right through to retirement. We are offered useful bits of information along the way. One important note was that Branigan hated being called Lugs. It was an allusion to his prominent ears which jutted out far beyond his head. Very few people had the nerve to call him this to his face. And those that did, we are assured,  were quickly corrected.

We also learn that Branigan had early thoughts of being a vet, until family finances precluded such an arrangement. Instead he chose a career in the Irish Railway company. There he suffered badly from bullying though the writer seems unwilling to really delve into why except to say his co-workers took an immediate dislike to him. This is an early hint of what’s to come from Kearns.

We are brought along quickly as Branigan elects to take a job in the newly formed Garda Siochana. We are told how tricky it is to get a job in the service at this time, with key emphasis placed on physical size. Jim Branigan eventually becomes a sturdy seventeen stone but at this early age, he remains rakish.

After making the cut by the skin of his teeth, he begins to take a strong interest in physical fitness and among his numerous past times decides boxing is the one he likes best. This leads him to the kind of opportunities very few working class Irish people could have dreamed of back in the 1920s and 30s. A pre-WW2 trip to Germany chiefly among them.

We trudge along from there. Going from his daily beat in Dublin’s liberties and getting to know the locals to his battles with the Animal gang, a vicious mob of angry young men, employed by unscrupulous bookies amongst others. The ensuing battle at Baldoyle Racecourse, where we get to see the first signs of his maturity as a policeman come to the fore. Omnipresent throughout this are his trusty leather gloves, which according to this record at least are the only weapon Branigan ever used. The suggestion that these gloves were lined with anything foreign is quickly denounced here.

I could checklist the rest of the book and recite each chapter heading but I won’t. It’s all there, all the good stuff anyway. Marrying a fine Irish girl : check. His bodyguard duties to the likes of Cliff Richard and Liz Taylor : check. Dealing with the changing face of Irish youth from respectful, quiet Catholics to more rebellious Teddy boys and other assorted bus traveling bowsies, it’s all here.

I guess what the writer really wanted to do was to tell the story of this man’s career. What he saw and what he did to make things better. At his disposal, he has endless newspaper reports, the eyewitness accounts of younger Gardai who served with Branigan and of course the man’s family as well.

It is a very positive account of the man. Little in the way of criticism gets in the way and the reader is often subjected to repetition and bombast. Kearns is a writer I have no prior engagement with but even a cursory glance at his previous works might indicate he has something of an obsession about dreary old Dublin. It comes across here as a miserable god fearing place for the most part, with the demon drink never too far away and only one sheriff willing to clean the whole damn mess up.

For all that though, it is impossible to ignore the impact Jim Branigan had on policing Dublin city. We might only hear one side of it in this instance but there can be no doubt he was a hugely popular figure around the south inner city in particular. There are endless anecdotes about him going out of his way to protect long-suffering women from drunken spouses and more still of Branigan’s fatherly approach to would be criminals. His meticulous research before going to court and his special relationship with the judges who served there is all highlighted as well.

One advantage of Kearns stringent chronological style is that you can really imagine Dublin’s development from before the War right up until the early 1970s. Tenement houses are falling down daily as the local authority tries to keep up with the demand for new accommodation.

Unemployment is a constant as well as the trouble it brings around the city. Branigan’s attitude and response to this is largely seen as necessary action. His superior’s attitude to him is questioned later in the book, as well as the stress of poor pay and narrow scope for promotion, all of which many wouldn’t find surprising even nowadays with the Gardai.

All in all, it’s a bit one-sided but pretty informative record of the man and the service he did.

More critical accounts of his behaviour could probably be found elsewhere but this is all about a legend and the mask rarely slips.

Film of the week: Wild Tales

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I am regularly disappointed by the output of Film Four’s TV channel. So often it just seems to be endless repeats of the X Men films and Vin Diesel led rubbish. So when something different comes along these days, it really is a pleasant surprise. Relatos Salvajes (aka Wild Tales, Argentina 2014) is just that.

The film is a collection of six short films, bearing no relation to each other, with no crossover of stories or characters. The glue binding it all together instead seems to be dark comedy and perhaps poetic justice.

The opening film is based on a large commercial flight, where a charming middle aged professor gets talking to an equally pleasant fashion model. Within minutes they’ve discovered they share a mutual acquaintance. Was it mere luck that brought them together, or kismet? It would be a shame to spoil it for you.

The other stories are also based not quite in the every day, but certainly in the bad but plausible category. There are annoying late night cafe patrons, a vehicle owner who becomes a victim of a ruthless car towing company, road rage merchants, inexperienced drivers getting bailed out by parents and a wedding with a restless bride and groom.

With Pedro Almodovar as one of the producers, there’s always a chance that domestic bliss will be challenged and that the mundane will be portrayed in epic terms, all with beautiful, crisp staging and normal people going a little bit crazy. If you’re a loyal fan of his, then you won’t go far wrong here.

But if that endorsement means nothing to you or worse yet, turns you off, it really shouldn’t. The director Damian Szifron has a long, creditable body of work in his native Argentina, many projects of which have been based in the short film format.

It really is an impressive skill to convey a story over a shortened duration. The key thing I noticed here was that while I felt the characters were important enough to care about the story, I was quite prepared to see anything happen to them, all for the benefit of the payoff. It is often a mistake I feel to put your character on some kind of impregnable pedestal.

As a writer, you are going to end up in a cul de sac of predictable behaviour, simply because you have decided that your hero needs to please everyone else. Here both Szifron and his team of writers have collectively nurtured characters who are sleazy, selfish, cowardly, stubborn, psychotic, greedy and in more than one case very much an arsehole.

In these stories too, the director doesn’t seem afraid to criticize what many people might see as perfectly reasonable. Excessive wealth is questioned but so too is extortion. Would your stereotyped beliefs allow for the fact that some men can’t change a tire properly? Or what about over exuberant wedding parties that have become new normal and that the newlyweds find comfort in the discomfort of others? it really has some good thought-provoking stuff in here.

That it is framed as well as it is, probably owes a lot to the financial backing it received. But I for one, would love to see more of this type of short film anthology style coming out of Ireland.

And the fact that it’s an international film with subtitles ought to figure positively in your decision. A good habit should be to watch something in a foreign language at least once a week. When I stick to my own rule here, I rarely regret it.

Credit to Rory Cashin on Joe.ie, .never would have heard of it but for his recommendation. Keep an eye on Film Four listings for a repeat screening.

ADIFF 2017

 

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Caroline, Gearoid, Paddy & Me!

 

 

One of the most notable events in the Irish film calendar has become the Dublin International Film Festival. It has been around in its current guise since around the turn of the millennium. I think my first one was about ’04 or ’05. It was a more innocent time. A world without Facebook, where the Screen Cinema still looked like it would go on forever and Marvel Comics slow rise up the All Time Box Office charts was only beginning to gather pace.

I don’t recall much else from those days, except that the volunteers were always very friendly, the official Festival t-shirts were a bit cooler, the wrap party was always a good laugh and, to my regret, I never went to as many movies as I should.

 

This year I returned after a few years away from the madness. I was delighted to see that so many of the loyal soldiers of yesteryear were still involved in some capacity. The continuity of staff is a good thing as it always makes things easier for the newbies coming along.  It certainly helped things run very smoothly as far as I could see.

As a slightly more experienced ‘volly’ you become privy to the workings of the engine room along the way. The Festival itself runs for about two to three weeks now if you include the special kiddie events and other things. But even before that, a lot of time and effort goes into making all the pieces fall into place. The marketing, the publicity, transporting the print of the film, managing the guests, hospitality, the big panic to get the red carpet done quickly and of course making sure the green room has whatever it needs, be it gummi bears or cold lagers.

The choosing of the films to be screened is decided over the course of the year. Agreements are made with distributors to offer them a place in the Festival programme, with an eye not only on quality but also variety. America, Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, Iran. Comedy, horror, animation. Oscar nominees, classics, all in.

Back in my earlier days, it might have been a bit of a struggle to see so much Irish representation but now it’s a much different story. I haven’t counted but I daresay Ireland has produced about 10-15% of 2017’s schedule…probably more actually.

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This year I saw about 6 films in total. I do regret not seeing more but now that I’m living out in the boonies I guess I’m always thinking about getting back to the country air. Many of the festival staff would actually be quite jealous of my six, for it is they who suffer the most during the fortnight of screenings. It is little wonder then they find such solace in the bottom of a Five Lamps beer glass.

I really did enjoy this year, though. Perhaps even more than in previous incarnations. As a lapsed filmmaker it was nice to get out and watch a few films just for the sake of watching them, going in blind, being surprised. Always pleasantly.

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It was good to see the festival has found itself a new bar to hang out in. The means of deciding this has never been easy, with some years more successful than others. But I think Wigwam definitely compares favourably to its predecessors. Plus it was dead handy for me getting my bus home.

So there you have it. Another year, another festival in the can. If I am around Ireland again next year, I’ll certainly volunteer again, if they’ll have me. If you are living in anywhere near Dublin City or even if you aren’t but can get a bus or train into town, I highly recommend you do it.

 

WHAT I SAW

The Red Turtle

The Secret Garden

Girl Asleep

To Live and Die in LA

Paradise

Free Fire

WHAT I WISH I SAW

Best: All by Himself

Their Finest

Notes on Rave

Handsome Devil

& many many others

 

book of the month: Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth

weirdo

I don’t envy anybody who has to pick out a novel in the crime & thriller section these days. There seems to be an endless amount of options from various parts of the world and as well as a bottomless pit of writers, old and new vying for a reader’s attention.

What got me to read this? I had just finished the Ed McBain when I decided I wouldn’t mind continuing down the slang/noir route. The Guardian is fond of their ‘ten best’ lists and I saw Weirdo was the least expensive of her collection on Kindle so…

What great decisions are made by force.

Anyway, I made a start on it, not knowing what to expect really. I didn’t read up on Ms Unsworth beforehand and I’m kind of glad I didn’t. She is not a serial killer or anything. I just think that sometimes when you hear what a novelist used to do for a job it clouds how you judge their work.

Weirdo is a story based in the fictional town of Ernemouth, a sleepy seaside village in Norfolk. It follows two separate timelines chapter by chapter, with one section based in 2003/04 and the other in 1983/84. This is something I really like. Other writers have used alternative time periods to great effect. Nesbo, Faulks and of course Stephen King. It is a great way of giving even the smallest story more scope.

The noughties story sees a private detective by the name of Sean Ward arrive in the town. He has been given the job of resurrecting a cold case from the early 80s after new forensic evidence is found. Gradually he feels his way around the case by asking questions in a non-offensive way.

Ward is written in a very straightforward fashion. He is not a smart mouth nor cynical. Doesn’t go through whiskey or cigarettes like a 50s gumshoe. Respects women. In some respects, he could be considered boring but there is plenty of colour around him and I think making him so one dimensional really doesn’t do the story any harm.

The ‘Weirdo’ in question is a girl by the name of Corrine. Early in the story, we learn that she was charged with the murder of a school friend and locked up ever since, her mind long since diminished by high doses of sedatives.

That story unfolds quite neatly in the 2000s section. There are helpful journalists, overly helpful police, traumatised elderly folk with long memories, reluctant pillars of the community and Ward in the middle, trying to wrangle it all together, with only the editor of the local gazette to assist him.

What’s key all the way through the book is plot. It is by no means a masterful labyrinth of suspense but there is enough corruption, double crossing and revenge to keep those pages turning. Though the characters can be a bit clichéd at times, you really do want to get to the bottom of it all.

And how we get there is by going back. It is pretty clear reading the 80s sections, Unsworth enjoyed the trip down memory lane far more. There could even be a mixtape promotional tie-in if all the artists mentioned agreed to it. Either way, it is a simple and effective way to set mise en scene.

As the 80s story goes on we learn about Corrine, her friendships, family and future prospects. These parts are generally well written with occasional bursts of colloquialisms that don’t ever threaten to take over. The cast of characters is kept quite tight and though there are a few name and gender changes it’s not too hard to follow.

Another thread in this book is the use of voodoo.  The writer does not delve too far into this which might have been a mistake. Then again she might have felt it was going to alienate her regular readers so simply decided to get the basics right and leave it at that.There is also a mention of Captain Swing which might interest some budding British historians.

The town itself, though fictional is clearly based on a composite of seasonal holiday destinations. There are the funfairs and amusement arcades that close in winter, pubs with regular low-paid punters, hair salons doing occasional business and a seemingly unspoken agreement between police and the limited criminal output to keep any aggravation to a minimum.

The writer is not one for scrupulous detail though there are some very poetic descriptions of the weather all the way through.

I found the book to be very solid all round. Unsworth works very hard to satisfy her readers by taking the plot very seriously here. It is an ideal companion for journeys on the train to and from work.

All that said, I’m not particularly loyal to any writer and I don’t know if this one convinced me to purchase any more of her titles.

 

 

It’s all so Absurdia!

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There’s nothing I dislike more than the water cooler synopsis of a film or tv show. For one thing, it’s very hard to give a full and detailed opinion of something when you’re rushing off to do something else. The boss has his eye on you both and the doubts begin to creep in. Will I just say that yes, I really did enjoy Better Call Saul instead of engaging in a long debate about how it ran out of good ideas after the first three or four episodes*.

*note: I never even watched it, just a random example.

On the other hand, I have often flirted with the idea of being a full-time reviewer and the devastating effects it can have on you creatively. Criticism even when it’s constructive, is usually a negative thing. You are finding imperfections and if done right, taking up a lot of time to do so.

I try to avoid reviewing anything new because as I’ve found on my facebook status history, I am not the most reliable source of a review moments after watching something. I need to think about it for a while, maybe watch it twice or a third time before it all sinks in. Is this an admission that I’m a bit slow? Well, yes it is and I am!

So if you aren’t willing to critically analyse everything you see and just want to observe things and make mental notes, fair enough. But who out there, is doing this noble work instead? Well, step forward City Absurdia.

This young man has put out some excellent videos on subjects as diverse as the Easter Rising to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Critical analysis is his forte. Making an observation and explaining his reasons why is his strength. They are about eight videos available currently on Youtube( see below) and I recommend you watch any or all of them if you want to change the way you watch things or indeed just want to learn something.

 

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfMKkvxD2P65x1Wk5aVJwlg/videos

 

Also this week I have been watching a lot of this guy…

 

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Bill Burr is an American comedian teetering on the edge of liberal decency every week now. He doesn’t like Hillary, feminism, snowflakes or any other of these buzzwords that have become part of the Twitter vernacular. On the flipside, he doesn’t like Trump, modern men or Steve Jobs either. I don’t know if he likes many things( the New England Patriots notwithstanding), but his annoyance at the world is quite entertaining I think.

I think he’s a bit hit and miss, overall. But he’s human, he’s not always on it, which is refreshing.

He has a few stand-up shows on Netflix but I have to say I prefer his podcasts or short bursts of him on youtube. Remember folks, it’s comedy. If you’re offended, move on!

  1. Bill on Steve Jobs  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3s-qZsjK8I
  2. Bill on feminism https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0vZhz3sN_E

3. Interview with Conan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z85Tm8Py-BE&t=111s

Film of the week: The Neon Demon

 

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Perverted, bizarre, grotesque, pointless, self indulgent.

These are the kind of words you’ll be most likely find beside a review of this film. And with that, no doubt Nicolas Winding Refn will feel all the more validated.

When you know the rules of cinema you either spend your career strictly adhering to them or brazenly trying to ignore them. Many might think Refn is doing the latter but I’m not so sure.

Here we open with Jesse(good work here from Elle Fanning), a teenage wannabe supermodel, willing to be seen dying for her dream. Her faux blood sacrifice a mere appetiser for what’s to follow. A small town girl who has seemingly got the midnight train into L.A looking to get on the covers of some magazines. Sounds pretty traditional thus far.

She meets a make-up artist and some supermodel friends who actually turn out hating her out of fear and jealousy. But Jesse has a bit of fight in her, punchy little thing that she is.

There are cameos from such luminaries as Christine Hendricks, Keanu Reeves and the guy who played Pollax in Face Off( he also played a half decent footballer in Goal)

The plot drifts away a fair bit, hinting at the fact that Refn was particularly bored that morning he wrote the third act over his liver and kidney beans. Or perhaps it was that he realised his lead character has done little to deserve so much screen time and that he should have put more eggs in the make-up artist’s basket (Jena Malone very good here) None of this matters if you’re a fan of his oeuvre. If you are a fan, you’re wishing it was another hour long, if you’re not you probably sneaked out to watch something else.

To overanalyse any Refn film’s script is akin to creating a job for yourself where there is no market. His films have hitherto been very low on complicated narrative, lower still on creating little or any empathy for his characters( the fleeting and oftentimes humiliating career of a fashion model notwithstanding). You’d think for all that I’d hate the guy but I just don’t!

Once again the visuals are on song here. Lots of red. Lots of vacuous, classical staples of American cinema( full moon wolf symbolism, diners with simple minded waitresses, restaurants, empty swimming pools) but also nods to European horror, both literary and cinema. I can live with the deliberate lens’ flares here as I think this might a subtle metaphor for perfect imperfection…or something. But apart from that, every shot looks like something you’d hang on your wall. Admittedly, you’d have to be into some weird shit for this to happen but it’s a very weird world.

So yeah it’s gonna be adored by a few, misunderstood by many more. I wasn’t crazy about it. But I’m so glad he’s able to make stuff like this. He’s a unique talent.

Manchester

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A few weeks ago I bought a return ticket to Manchester. Then I bought another one. Reason being I was supposed to go over and watch the Liverpool United game(not actually in Old Trafford itself you understand, that would be impossible) but Sky then rearranged the fixture to a Sunday when our return flight was due.

With Ryanair being about as helpful as they’re legally able to get away with, I knew I couldn’t change the return flight. So I booked new ones. But in my haste I booked the following week in error.

Anyway, I decided to head over anyway, on my lonesome.

I have notions of becoming an intrepid traveller all the time. I dream about it like I dream about having leather bound hardbacks with my name on the spine or glossy Red Kremlin film posters on a wall somewhere, sometime.

But yet, I find it hard to get motivated. The idea of doing and seeing by yourself should be fine with me. But if I wasn’t able to even get to Manchester and back on a solo mission, what chance was there of Shanghai or Calcutta or wherever?

So this really was a test of oneself, a test to see if I could entertain myself for a whole weekend. Did I pass? Well…

It started on Saturday morning in the airport obviously. There I saw a splattering of Sky Blue Ethiad kits been worn by young boys and assorted others. Man City were at home to Spurs. There were a few people buying match tickets there and then too via the Internet. It seemed to be a nice stress-free club to follow. The flight itself had plenty of empty seats.

Our trip was swift and I got into the city centre without much fuss. Manc Piccadilly turned out to be about a seven-minute walk to my hotel off Oldham Street. Sachas Brittania, cheap and cheerful; second honeymooners should probably keep walking, however.

I had my eye on a Carhartt coat online for weeks and took a chance on them having the same one in their shop over there. I guessed right. Half price too, a very good start to the weekend.

Liverpool then somehow lost to Swansea which took the wind out of my sails. But no matter, I would get a quick nap in and prep for the evening. Schoolboy error though, the shower refreshed me too much. Couldn’t nod off. So I watched some telly while I came up with a plan.

As Ronnie and Marco played out a cracker in the Masters(wearing unfamiliar but very cool neckties instead of traditional dickies) I decided I’d wait til the sun went down and would head out with the camera. I had my heart set on no particular shot though I did want to get a look at Chinatown.

As I walked around, I noticed how bloody cold it was. I hadn’t brought gloves and my will was not strong enough to stay out. What does a man do in this situation? Drink pints obviously! Ah but not this man. New year, new me right!

 

So I went to see Manchester by the Sea. Yes, in Manchester.

It was a decent film. Casey Affleck was really good and it was a bit of a thrill to find a character that has a mutual appreciation for American work wear.

Anyway, I knew I had to get some work done so I started walking around. The Printworks, where the cinema was, turned out to be very fussy about photography. It’s a gaudy enough place anyway. I assume it’s been salvaged by some conglomerate to offer a new option of consumerism to the Manchester district. Out I went.

I did make it to Chinatown though it wasn’t the feast of the senses that I hoped. The arch is pretty special and there was a smattering of red lamps criss-crossing the street. But I was looking for life, street vendors, neon! I got a little bit of neon and a few street signs. Restaurants, massage parlours etc.

Overall the evening was okay. It was cold but I was enjoying having the camera out again. I must say as well, I felt very safe. Didn’t spot any trouble around the place at all. There was a fair amount of homeless folk around too and I did not envy them on this bitter night.

About ten o’clock I realised I hadn’t eaten so I broke a good rule and had a bad McDonald’s. Second in three days, shocking. After that, I just wanted to leave my camera back and possibly head back out for a few beers. But after a quick hot whiskey in the bedroom and with the football on BBC I could see I was fading.

Normally that used to break my heart. I used to love Saturdays out, didn’t even mind if it was on my own. I was tired but I probably could have gone back out. Then again I was fast asleep by midnight so who knows?

The next day I was on a few missions. I wanted to see the Football Museum for a start. It turned out to be alright. Very pro ‘Man Utd’ and very much proud of 1966 and all that. I think kids would like it more. I grabbed an excellent Burrito straight after and made my way back towards Piccadilly.

I wanted to grab a train to Salford because I really wanted to see the Lads Club. To be honest, I never would have remembered unless Paul Halpin had said it the day before.

Unfortunately, the trains were off, or at least some of them were. I got a connection bus out but lost my way a bit and ended up out at Salford Quays, which isn’t the same thing at all. Through the mist, I could see Old Trafford. I was tempted to get closer but nah. Instead, I had a quick look at the fairly new television centre, pausing to think about what life might have been like if things were different!

But the mission was the Lads club. Recreate the Smiths photo, look like a frustrated poet-singer/songwriter-grumpy chap in a parka.

The weather was perfect now, spitting Manc rain. I was wandering around with merely a notion of where to go; Google maps and WiFi no longer working. I did find it eventually. It looked perfect. Right there on the proper Coronation Street too.

I went back into town on foot, delighted with myself. But as I travelled back in, I was struck by the enormity of the city. It dwarfs Dublin in terms of tall buildings. The Midland Hotel looked like it was designed for another age. A vast beast of a building. There were beautiful red bricks, cathedrals and refurbished railways all along my route. I was very impressed.

That evening I had pizza and pledged to make up for the previous night’s inactivity. But the city wouldn’t play ball. It was deathly quiet. Apparently, Saturday night is the big one. I assume Friday too but Sunday just ain’t happening.

I didn’t mind really. The mission was to see if I could get back into the travelling groove. I think I can.

But I was very much in holiday mode here and spent far too much for what was a session free weekend. Now that could be me and years of post-recession trauma where I don’t know if two hundred quid is a lot anymore. Maybe I’m being hard on myself.

Please visit Manchester anyway if you can. It’s not that expensive, they’re are lots of decent second-hand shops, it’s got tons of massive stone buildings and a pint of bitter is fantastic after your dinner!

BOOK OF THE MONTH: CUT ME IN (aka The Proposition) by Ed McBain

cut-me-in-aka-the-proposition-hunt-collins-aka-ed-mcbain-1954

The great advantage of the Kindle is that it is essentially a very very good bookshop. Think about it. The like of Easons, Dubray, WH Smith, Waterstones et al will never have ‘every book’ you want. Some will be out of print or some out of fashion. Indeed Easons itself can have a limited range even if you are shopping in the O’Connell Street version. Many other shops suffer from a similar fate of bestsellers and new releases only. Anyway, there are enough people staying away from bookshops without me helping, so I’ll say no more about it.

I had been trying to think of what to buy next after reading the very decent James Bond continuation novel Trigger Mortis. I wanted something set in a similar era, only perhaps more hard boiled and maybe from someone I could trust. Cue Ed McBain.

I am not an aficionado of McBain but know that his real name was Evan Hunter and under both titles, he wrote well over one hundred novels, which by any standard is impressive. I am familiar with both his 87th Precinct collection and the Matthew Hope stories. The latter are a series of Florida-based legal dramas that paint a very illuminating and cynical picture of the Sunshine State. The former are police procedurals based in New York that are highly respected for their accuracy of detail and witty wordplay. Both are, in my opinion very hard to put down.

I can’t remember if I actually typed in McBain or whether it came up on my suggested reading tab but I’m delighted to have discovered ‘Cut Me In’. First published in 1955 it is a novel that helped launch McBain into the big leagues of crime writing. Arguably the 87th Precinct might never have seen the light of day without it.

And yet it is very different. The story begins with a dead body, Del Gilbert. This turns out to be a prominent publisher who is found dead in his office by the co-owner of the publishing house. The partner is Joshua Blake, a literary agent who may or may not have a few more scruples than the recently deceased.

What follows is a humourous, stylish and pacy thriller which owes more in style to Dashiell Hammett though certainly has shades of Chandler as well. There are great descriptions of women wearing ordinary clothes in extraordinary ways as well as alcohol soaked regret in every second or third page.

I won’t lie. If you’re a proud feminist who thinks stuff like this should have been left on the shelf sixty years ago I probably won’t convince you otherwise here. The women in the book are all judged on their looks which is a bit desperate. Also, Blake is not a particularly likeable character and often comes across as spiteful and has contempt for those lesser than him.

With that said, there’s plenty to like. McBain evokes vivid images of streets and gravel driveways like they were in the last days of Rome. The weather, almost always a key staple of McBain’s stories is almost certainly a supporting cast member here too, this time a mercury-busting heatwave.

The plot plays out well, keeping you guessing as to who the ‘perp’ will eventually be. Blake, unhappy with the quality of police work, becomes a bit of a part-time detective which leads to him discovering new layers of intrigue about his partner’s death. Del’s death does not appear to be an unpopular one but it has certainly inconvenienced Blake as well as jeopardizing his financial future. Turns out the business were relying on Del to agree a television deal with a novelist that would set them all up for life. Hence the name ‘Cut Me In’. The original title (The Proposition) didn’t make as much sense to me though there are a number of said propositions along the way.

If I was to have one criticism it would be the abrupt ending. It’s a bit of an anticlimax and seems rushed. But there’s plenty there for a McBain fan or any hard-boiled fan to like.

Film of the Week: After Dark, My Sweet

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This film by James Foley is a little gem. It is based on a Jim Thompson novel from the mid-50s. Thompson has a number of great books and many of them have been turned into more successful films. When it came out in 1990 it did not do well at the box office, it happens from time to time.

Anyway the film tells the story of Collie, a former pro boxer turned wanderer. A man blundering along from town to town, looking haggard and shifty, annoying every cafe and bar owner along the way. En route on his journey to nowhere he meets a widow who can’t help but join in on the joke. A brief glimpse of Collie defending himself shows hidden depths. Her derision turns to curiosity. And so without realising Collie has stumbled into a scheme to make some easy money.

This is classed at film noir but perhaps many will have a different view of what that means. It certainly doesn’t share any cinematic lineage with any Bogart era movies.There are no dutch angles. No over stylized shadows or fooling around with colour grading. This is a strange case of a modern noir where the actors take centre stage. And this is the most compelling thing for me.

Jason Patric might be known as the guy who had to replace Keanu Reeves in Speed 2. Damn shame he was pigeon-holed like that. Because here he is great to watch. He starts off as this bumbling fool who gets occasional flashbacks to his boxing past. Gradually we learn that his punchiness is a mask he wears, or is it? That Patric can manage to keep us all guessing right up to the end credits means he must have some chops. I found him to be excellent here.

Then there’s Bruce Dern. What a snivelly crafty old bugger he is here. Uncle Bud. Everybody knows an Uncle Bud. Been doing things half-assed all his life then someone new comes along that he expects to fix it all for him. Dern though is not bitter. Instead, he is determined to prove to Collie that he is much smarter. It is a curiously written character because it doesn’t rely on the ‘woe is me’ cliche.

I am still undecided on Rachel Ward, who plays Fay. Initially, I was thinking, this actress is just annoying me. She isn’t selling it. Gradually again though, her performance began to make sense. She walks like an awkward teenage farm girl, she is constantly drinking. She is frustrated with her own shitty life and takes it out on the nearest person to her, usually Collie. It might actually be a great performance after all

You have to understand that this whole thing takes a little while to get going. I watched the first twenty minutes last year on a slow stream and didn’t show much determination to stick with it. This time I was more ready, though I did take a nap in between. No offence to the film, I do that with a lot of good ones when I’m home.

There is a lovely closing theme on the end credits by Maurice Jarre, which could have been utilized a little more I felt.

But yeah, I really dig this film. If you do get around to it, check it out. Give it a chance. You’ll not be disappointed.

Chill, It’s only Netflix

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I decided to sign back up with Netflix in November. I think I was trying to find a link to the David Brent film(which is apparently terrible) and saw that it was on Netflix. I figured it was coming up to Christmas so I might have signed up again anyway. Turned out the Brent film won’t be out til March. So I decided to watch some TV series’ instead.

Committing to a series is a big deal for me! This year I only watched The Wire for the first time. That’s about nine years since it was on TV first time around. In 2015 I watched The Sopranos. I think it was down to a combination of stubbornness and a ridiculous loyalty to film. Anyway, everyone else is right, both are brilliant.

So with Netflix, I started with Black Mirror Season 3, followed by Stranger Things. Then Fargo Season 1 and 2 with Happy Valley Season 1 the meat in the grizzly North Dakotan sandwich.

I really enjoyed Happy Valley. Six episodes, very tight writing and well produced. Sarah Lancashire is brilliant as the main character, a Sergeant in a small Yorkshire town.

Her co-stars are also very well cast and deliver well. Particular kudos to Rhys Connah, who plays her grandson.

I think what I liked about it best was her performance but Yorkshire has such a colourful back story of crime and hardship you could almost consider it to be a supporting cast member.

There’s no denying the production value of Valley was minuscule compared to its American counterparts. But 6 episodes. Bang tidy if you ask me.

Black Mirror has been around for a few years now. I really enjoyed the first two series on channel four but must confess I only watched each episode once.

It is an unashamed critique on modern life and where we’re going. All very terrifying. But I’ll never love it. That’s the risk with having completely new characters each time around. I wasn’t invested in all of them. Some I liked more than others.

Stranger Things was charm personified on the other hand. The young actors were marvelous. Very well cast. The story itself seemed to be a hodge-podge of a lot of things I’ve seen before which isn’t all that strange. But it won me over. Cool soundtrack.

Fargo! Well it’s basically excellent. I won’t bore you to tears about how and why it is excellent. Just seek it out post haste. I might write about it in further detail some  other time.

But the point of this blog was to maybe identify why Netflix is so popular nowadays. And why many are basing their lives around it.

Obviously there’s ‘hilarious’ play on words I made with the title of this post. And indeed many’s a great meme has been made about it. A cheap night in and a few cuddles with someone you like, sounds good to me. Of course you do run the risk of missing a vital part of the action while you’re in the throes of passion. Is it worth the risk? Or indeed are you going to miss anything vital at all? And what of those single people who actually just want to actually chill and watch some stuff?

I have a theory that it isn’t simply down to the quality of the programmes, great as they are. I think it’s more down to us being broke and wanting to stay out of the cold. Also there’s the thing of binge watching which I found myself doing over Christmas. I hated myself for it too. Three hours plus of watching a very good show and barely being able to remember any of it afterward. Also realizing that I might never find the time to watch it again. Horrible! And yet I couldn’t help myself. There was a satisfaction to completing something even though I knew I wouldn’t be writing a review for each episode. Even though I knew I wouldn’t even be in a chatroom after it talking about the nuances of each act.

So I decided I won’t do that again. Then again I decided I would limit myself to Facebook for thirty minutes a day and that isn’t working out. Boy, do I need to get a handle on that this year.

 

Anyway,

 

Here’s some good linkage for this week

 

  1. Disability in acting is an interesting topic. I have often wondered if some disabled people might think it’s offensive for a non disabled person to portray a disabled person on screen. This BBC 4 doc answered that question, plus a whole lot more.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b085xr6j

 

  1. Róisín Murphy goes about her business quite brilliantly. You never hear anything about her private life on social media which is always a plus in my book. Instead she just makes cool sounds and records them, much to the delight of many though arguably not enough. Check this out.

 

https://youtu.be/E4xe-qiKE00

 

  1. . Here are some documentaries you might want to track down, and a few I need to see myself. This list is courtesy of the Guardian. I don’t think there’s any of these on Netflix but it’s worth the effort casting the net a bit further.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jan/02/documentaries-to-unleash-the-activist-in-you-lucy-walker?CMP=fb_gu

 

  1. Louis CK perfectly illustrates one of society’s greatest failings..or is it two?? The mobile phone joke and of course the flying one.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRTMDS7Y0jc