Archive for July, 2012

This book is a tie-in to the ABC tv series ‘Castle’ – but not your usual kind of tie-in.  In that show, celebrity author Richard Castle tails NYPD Detective Kate Beckett and her team, in order to research his latest crime series.  He bases his character Nikki Heat on Beckett, and releases a number of Nikki Heat books.  This book is the first one in that series, so in effect it is a book written by a fictional character! (The identity of the actual author of the books is a closely guarded secret.)

The way it’s done is very clever, complete with an author photo of Richard Castle (actually Nathan Fillion, who portrays him on the show), and in his acknowledgements he thanks both the fictional characters and the actors on the show.

The story of the book revolves around the death of property mogul Matthew Starr.  There are no shortage of suspects as Nikki and her colleagues, including Jameson Rook (the character which Castle bases on himself) investigate the murder, and Nikki finds herself in danger as she works to uncover the truth.

It’s hard to review this book without connecting it to the tv series.  It could be read as a straightforward crime thriller, even if the reader had never seen the show.  However, I think fans of the show (and I count myself among their number) will probably get more out of it, as the characters in the show all have counterparts in the book, and I found myself hearing their voices in my head as I read the story.

I definitely enjoyed the book.  It moves along at a rapid pace, and certainly captures the atmosphere of New York City.  I was kept guessing right until the end, and there were enough twists and turns to make it difficult to predict what was going to happen.

And for fans of the show – the much-referred to sex scene between Heat and Rook is in the book, and does indeed happen on page 105, just as stated in the show!

Overall, an enjoyable read – I will definitely read the subsequent books in the series.

(‘Author’s’ website can be found here.  For more information on the tv show, please click here.)

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Paul Newman was mainly known to the world as a movie star – an icon, really – with a beautiful face, mesmerising blue eyes, and a air of rascality about him.  His long marriage to Joanne Woodward was revered in a profession where marriages often seem to break up almost as soon as the vows are read.  This book is a journey through Newman’s life, from his happy childhood as the son of the owner of a successful sporting goods business, to the start of his acting career, and of course, his Hollywood stardom.  However, just as interesting are the details of Paul’s passion for motor racing, his political activism, and his philanthropy.  The book also covers darker periods of his life, such as the tragic death of his son Scott, and a period when he and Joanne  briefly separated. 

The book was written in a respectful, but not fawning fashion, and painted a picture of a man who was sometimes uncomfortable with his stardom, who was almost obsessive about details regarding his characters and the settings of films, and whose greatest love in life was his wife.  Shawn Levy has taken a huge number of interviews that Paul Newman gave, and put them into chronological order; in this way, although Newman did not participate in any way with the writing of this book, we are still able to see his thoughts on certain times in his life, certain films that he made, etc.  The book does not portray Newman as a saint, but he is treated with the warmth and respect that such a man would deserve.

One of the most fascinating parts of the book for me was when Newman set up the Hole In The Wall camps – places where sick children could go to simply have fun, play games, forget about their illnesses for a while.  Newman was determined that no child’s family should have to pay for their child to go to the camp, and importantly, as well as giving his money to the project, he also gave his time – he would often pop into the camps on spec, and play games or chat with the children.  I knew that Newman was a generous man, but I was surprised to learn of some of the things that he did, at no benfit to himself.

The book is very readable, and not at all dry – it’s a fascinating read from start to finish.  I actually found myself with a lump in my throat at the end, when reading about the death of this mercurial, precise, rogueish, handsome, kind, intelligent and funny man.  I would urge fans of Paul Newman to read this book.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This review relates to the original 1955 Ealing Comedy The Ladykillers, and not the 2005 Coen Brothers remake. In this film, Alec Guinness heads up a team of robbers who pose as musicians. He rents a room in a house owned by a sweet elderly lady, from where the robbers plan their heist. However, they have reckoned without their feisty landlady Mrs Wilberforce, who unwittingly threatens to scupper their plans…

What a very charming film this is! It’s casting is pretty much perfect – Katie Johnson, who plays Mrs Wilberforce, darn near steals the whole show, which is no mean feat when you have a cast that includes Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers and Cecil Parker! Guinness himself is perfect as the sleazy but somehow still charming ‘Professor Marcus’, and Parker and Sellers are among the excellent supporting cast. There are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments, and I found myself smiling throughout the whole film.

Interestingly, Katie Johnson was 76 when she made this film, and nearly lost out on the role as the producers thought she might be too frail to cope with the filming. They cast a younger actress in the role, but the actress died before filming began, and Johnson ended up with the role anyway. She balances her character’s shrewdness and confusion perfectly, and gives a note-perfect performance.

The film uses the power of suggestion to show when something bad is going to happen (but make no mistake, this is not a thriller; it’s played for laughs), and is very typically British (I’d be interested to see the remake purely for comparison purposes, and to see how it was adapted for an American audience). It ranks high on the British Film Institute’s Top 100 Films, and deservedly so. Well worth watching!

Year of release: 1955

Director: Alexander MacKendrick

Producers: Seth Holt, Michael Balcon

Writers: William Rose, Jimmy O’Connor

Main cast: Alec Guinness, Katie Johnson, Cecil Parker, Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom, Danny Green


Click here for my review of the 2012/2013 stage production.


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This film from 1998 won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench). It’s a completely fictionalised account of Shakespeare’s (Joseph Fiennes) problem with writer’s block, while he was writing Romeo and Juliet, and how he overcomes such difficulties (but creates more problems for himself) when he falls in love with Viola De Lessups (Paltrow), who is betrothed to the evil Lord Wessex (Colin Firth).

I expected to really love this film – after all, it’s historical fiction, based on William Shakespeare and has an undeniably excellent cast – but I think I went in with my expections set a little too high, as I enjoyed it, but not as much as I had hoped. I cannot criticise any of the cast – Fiennes is great as Shakespeare, Paltrow is great as Viola, and Judi Dench is simply terrific as Queen Elizabeth I. Firth is his usual excellent self, camping it up as the stupid and obsequieous Wessex. Martin Clues, Geoffrey Rush and Simon Callow also lend great support (Rush was nominated for an Oscar), and Ben Affleck also popped up unexpectedly. It might seem as though he was out of place in a British historical comedy, but he was clearly happy to send himself up, and fitted right in.

It does have plenty of laughs, and also a couple of genuinely touching moments, and it is certainly a film I am glad I watched. However, I’m not sure that it’s one I would bother watching again; I think I prefer to see adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, rather than a film based on him writing them. All in all though, it’s a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours, and there is certainly no weak link in the cast. I would rate it at 7.5/10, as I think it would have been more enjoyable if it had been perhaps 30 minutes shorter.

Year of release: 1998

Director: John Madden

Producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Julie Goldstein, Linda Bruce, Mark Cooper, Donna Gigliotti, Marc Norman, David Parfitt, Edward Zwick

Writers: Tom Stoppard, Marc Norman

Main cast: Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, Judi Dench, Martin Clunes, Ben Affleck, Tom Wilkinson

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This 1955 film stars Clark Gable as Hank Lee, an American living in Hong Kong, who runs a successful smuggling business. Susan Hayward plays Jane Hoyt, a woman who comes to Hong Kong to search for her photographer husband, who has been kidnapped. The authorities can’t help her, but maybe Hank Lee can. However, the attraction between Jane and Hank complicates matters.

This is not one of Clark Gable’s better known films, which is a shame, because it’s really very good. Here, he is doing what he did best – being all sexy and bad-ass!!  Even as he got older, Gable still had that twinkle in his eye, and that quality of charming rascalliness (if that’s a word!). He is great here as Hank Lee – a man of dubious business dealings, but who certainly has some honour and integrity. He and Susan Hayward certainly have plenty of chemistry and the attraction between them was beautifully played – she reluctant to follow up on it, because after all, she is married and her husband may be in danger; he anxious to find her husband, because he feels that he can’t compete with a ghost. The relationship is real and believeable.

The story of Hank’s rescue attempt of Jane’s husband is also filled with tension, but for me the real enjoyment of this film came from the relationship between the two main characters. This was a film I had never heard of, but spotted it one day on television and decided to give it a try. I’m very glad I did, and this is certainly a film I would like to watch again.

Definitely recommended, especially for fans of Clark Gable.

Year of release: 1955

Director: Edward Dmytryk

Producer: Buddy Adler

Writer: Ernest K. Gann

Main cast: Clark Gable, Susan Hayward, Michael Rennie, Alex D’Arcy

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This film is rightly regarded as a classic in the comedy/crime genre. It stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford in their second pairing (the first being Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), as grifters Henry Gondorff and Johnny Hooker. When their friend Luther (Robert Earl Jones) is murdered, they seek revenge upon the man responsible by setting up a plan to con him out of a huge amount of money…

I really enjoyed the film. It is full of good humour, courtesy of the wise-cracking stars (and ladies, it should be noted that there is ALL KINDS of hotness going on in this picture, with Newman and Redford arguably at their best!). The off-screen friendship of the two stars really comes through on-screen, and is no doubt part of the reason for the huge success of both of the films in which they co-star. As well as lots of laughs, there is also plenty of tension, and as a viewer, you are never sure who exactly you can trust.

Robert Shaw is perfect as Doyle Lonnegan – the object of Gondorff and Hooker’s sting – bringing a great amount of menace to his role, and I also particularly liked Harold Gould’s role as another member of the grifters’ team, named Kid Twist (yes really).

The influence of this film can be seen in more modern films and programmes (‘Hustle’ was certainly influenced by this movie), and I hope that it’s appeal continues to endure for many many more years to come. Overall, a very enjoyable film indeed.

Year of release: 1973

Director: George Roy Hill

Producers: Tony Bill, Robert Crawford Jr., Julia Phillips, Michael Phillips, David Brown, Richard D. Zanuck

Writer: David S. Ward

Main cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw

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Jean-Baptiste Baratte is an educated and enthusiastic engineer from Belleme in Normandy, who is given teh job of dismantling and disposing of the remains of the les Innocents church and cemetery, in Paris.  He initially thinks it should be a routine, if somewhat unpleasant job, but it soon becomes clear that there is a lot more to the matter than he first thinks.  Some of the locals who live near to the church are opposed to the destruction of the property – one in particular shows her feelings in an extreme fashion – and he realises that to find workers willing to assist in the project, he will have to call on outside help.  The book tells Jean-Baptiste’s story of the year it took to clear the remains of the cemetery and the church, a year that involves, love, rape, suicide…

There are certain parts of this book which I loved.  It won the 2011 Costa Book of the Year Award, and I can see why.  Based on real events, the writing is gorgeous and evocative, occasionally beautiful.  The destruction of a cemetery did not really sound as though it would make for an interesting story, but it does work, possibly because the book is also about how the job affected Jean-Baptiste and those around him.  I really felt as though Andrew Miller captured the atmosphere of the place and brought it to life. 

However, while I felt the scene was set beautifully, I found that it was hard to relate to or invest in any of the characters, including Jean-Baptiste himself, who I felt ambivalent about.  That said however, the female characters in the book – the mysterious Heloise, the sweet Jeanne and the no-nonsense Lisa, were far more sympathetic, and a lot more likeable than most of the males.  Overall though, I found myself reading the book with a sense of detachment – it never felt like a story I could lose myself in, although the writing is undeniably eloquent, and the story itself is pacey enough never to become boring.

I would recommend the book to fans of historical fiction, and would probably read more by this author.

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Stalag 17 is part of a prison camp in World War II, where American prisoners of war are kept. When two of them attempt to escape and their plan is foiled, a POW named J.J. Sefton (William Holden) is suspected of leaking details of the escape plan to the Germans. When the German Officers seem to be constantly one step ahead of the POW’s – finding out about the radio they have smuggled into the camp, for instance – the suspicion grows, and Sefton is ostracised by the others, especially since it is known that he trades goods with the guards in order to obtain privileges for himself. As tensions rise, it becomes clear to Sefton that he will have to find the real informant if he is to exonerate himself.

This film was not the first, nor the last collaboration between director Billy Wilder and actor William Holden. I would not even count it as the best (that honour would go to Sunset Boulevard), but still, I thoroughly enjoyed Stalag 17, and unhesitatingly would rate it 10/10.

Holden – one of the most under-rated actors of the 20th century (in my opinion, for what it’s worth) – turns in a superb performance as Sefton, a not-altogether-sympathetic or likeable character. He quite rightly won the Oscar for his performance in this film. Otto Preminger, usually known for directing films rather than starring in them – is also great as the head of the camp, and Sig Ruman, as the officer in charge of Stalag 17, is perfect in his role too.

The tension is mainained throughout – the audience becomes aware of who the informant is, quite a while before the POWs in Stalag 17, but this does not detract from the tension of the story at all. And it is quite some achievement to incorporate comedy, thrills and tension in a film about a WWII prisoner of war camp, but that is exactly what happens here. It has quite a claustrophobic atmosphere, as most of the action takes place in the hut where the POW’s live, and all of it takes place inside the camp itself. This helps to raise the sense of distrust and suspicion.

The ending is great – it rounds off the story perfectly, and I could not have predicted it.

Overall – definitely a film worth seeing!

Year of release: 1953

Director: Billy Wilder

Producers: Billy Wilder, William Schorr

Writers: Donald Bevan (play), Edmund Trzcinski (play), Billy Wilder, Edwin Blum

Main cast: William Holden, Don Taylor, Otto Preminger, Robert Strauss, Harvey Lembeck, Richard Erdman, Sig Ruman, Peter Graves

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