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An undercover cop and a Police mole have to try and work out each other’s identity before either of them is caught. And when the undercover cop is working for infamous gangster Frank Costello, getting caught could be fatal.

An exciting and fast paced thriller with a stellar cast – Leonardo Dicaprio as undercover Billy Costigan, Matt Damon as policeman Colin Sullivan, Jack Nicholason as Frank Costello, plus other famous faces including Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin and Ray Winstone.

There is a simmering tension throughout and the ending is fantastic. I highly recommend this film.

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Year of release: 2006

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writers: William Monahan, Alan Mak*, Felix Chong*

*2002 screenplay Mou gaan dou

Main cast: Jack Nicholson, Leonardo Dicaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon

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Hilarious is a word often thrown about to describe shows, film, tv etc., but in the case of National Theatre’s One Man, Two Guvnors (based on Carlo Goldoni’s play from the 1700s, Servant of Two Masters), it’s completely appropriate.

It’s the early 1960s, Francis Henshall is the none-too-bright minder of gangster Roscoe Crabbe – but Roscoe is really Roscoe’s twin sister Rachel, disguised as her brother for her own safety, after her brother was murdered…by none other than Rachel’s boyfriend Stanley Stubbers!  To complicate matters, Francis is hired to work for Stubbers, but he must keep his two gunners – who (as he far as he knows) don’t know each other – apart, and that proves to be a lot harder than it sounds.

Quite honestly, after reading reviews of this play, I expected a few good belly laughs.  What I did not expect was to be literally crying with laughter, but there’s no doubt – this is simply one of the funniest shows I have ever seen.  First of all the music – skiffle band The Craze come on stage about 10 minutes before the show begins, and then during the performance they provide a number of musical interludes.  The music is jaunty and thoroughly enjoyable, performed by very obviously talented musicians.  There are other musical interludes too – performed by various cast members, and all very enjoyable.

Gavin Spokes was absolutely perfect as Francis.  This role was originally played by James Corden, who I’ve no doubt was brilliant, but I’ve also no doubt that he could not have been more brilliant than Spokes.  Francis is loveable, despite all the double-crossing and deceit which is character employs with varying degrees of success.  Shaun Williamson (forever destined to be known as ‘Barry from Eastenders’) is probably the most well known cast member, as Charlie Clench (!) father of ditzy blonde Pauline Clench (Jasmyn Banks), who was due to enter a marriage of convenience with the newly dead Roscoe, but who has since fallen in love with wannabe actor Alan Dangle (a superbly over-the-top Edward Hancock).  Roscoe/Rachel is played with aplomb by Alicia Davies, and I also really enjoyed Patrick Warner as the upper-class Stanley Stubbers.  The terrific cast is completed by Derek Elroy as Lloyd Boateng (a friend of Rachel/Roscoe and Charlie Clench), Emma Barton as Dolly (Charlie’s book-keeper who Francis falls for), David Verrey as Harry Dangle (the lawyer father of Alan) and Michael Dylan who practically brought the house down with his portrayal of Alfie, a doddery old Irish waiter.

The wordplay is fantastic, with many genuinely laugh-out-loud lines – and I also loved how Francis broke the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience, reminding us that this is after all, not real, before pulling everyone back into the delight of the show.  However, as well as a great script, there is also a LOT of physical slapstick comedy, the highest point of which is probably the scene at the end of the first half of the show, where Francis is trying to serve dinner to both of his bosses in the same venue, but without letting them find out about each other.  The cast throw themselves around spectacularly, and I can only imagine that Gavin Spokes in particular must be exhausted by the time the show finishes!  There is also some terrific interaction with audience members, but at the risk of revealing spoilers, I’m not going to give details.

Overall, I reiterate that this is truly one of the funniest and cleverest plays I have ever seen.  Just brilliant from the opening scene to the closing moment.

(For more information about this production, please click here.)

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On his 100th birthday, Allan Karlsson decides to escape from the old people’s home in Sweden where he lives, and climbs out of the window.  When the disappearance is discovered, a huge search is launched, with everybody wondering what has happened to the centenarian.  The truth is stranger than they could possibly imagine.

As Allan gets involved with, amongst others, a lifelong petty crook, a foul mouthed woman, and an elephant(!), he finds himself accidentally becoming rich, and evading gangsters; he takes all this in his stride – as, it turns out, he has been doing his whole life.

The chapters in this book alternate between 2005, when Allan makes the aforementioned bid for freedom, and his life prior to ending up in the old people’s home.  And what a life it’s been!  It turns out that Allan has met several world leaders (including Stalin, Chairman Mao, Churchill, and three American Presidents), and has also had a huge influence on world events.  Throughout it all, he has spoken his mind, kept his temper, and enjoyed a glass or two of Vodka whenever he can.

I wasn’t sure about this book at first.  The premise is pretty ridiculous, and there was also a lot of repetitive phrases used throughout, which did grate a bit at times.  However, it does have a certain kind of charm which won me over, at least enough to keep me listening, (I had the audiobook), because I did want to know what happened.

Allan was in turn frustrating and endearing.  In the end, I had to admire his attitude to life; he was pragmatic, but also able to use his brain to get him out of a sticky situation – a skill which came in handy on more than one occasion.  His companions weren’t as well depicted, but then, it’s not really their story.

The historical parts were interesting – although Allan’s part in events were entirely fictitious, the situations described, such as the Cold War, and Chinese Communist Revolution, were very real, and I think this book would be entertaining for 20th century history buffs.

Overall, I enjoyed the story – maybe not enough to read another book by the same author, but enough to recommend it to fans of quirky comedy.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This 1948 gangster/film noir movie has Humphrey Bogart in fine form as Frank McCloud, a world weary ex-soldier who comes to visit the family of a dead comrade at their hotel, only to find that the establishment has been taken over  by a team of gangsters, led by Johny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson).  Bogart’s real life wife, Lauren Bacall plays Nora Temple, the widow of Frank’s friend, and Lionel Barrymore is her father-in-law.  Tensions rise between the hotel owners and Frank, and the gangsters, until events must surely reach a climax…

This is not normally my favourite genre of movie, but the excellent cast make it compelling viewing.  Bogart is superb as Frank, who has already seen too much violence and doesn’t want to get involved in more. Bacall is sultry and sensual as Nora Temple, and Barrymore is just excellent as James Temple.  Edward G. Robinson is also suitably menacing as Johnny, and Claire Trevor as Johnny’s alcoholic girlfriend, deservedly won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for her part.

The film is set almost entirely within the hotel, with just a few outdoor scenes, and this serves to crank up the tension.  Throughout most of the film, you can sense the atmosphere between the two parties.

Plotwise, it is actually quite thin – the gangsters want to escape to Cuba, the hotel owners just want to get out of the situation alive, but they don’t want the gangsters to get away with their crimes (which mount up as the film progresses).  The enjoyment of the film comes from the different characters and the dynamic between them.  Acting was generally less subtle and more theatrical when this film was made, but here the subtle nuances and fleeting looks between characters makes this film deeply layered and lends to the claustrophobic atmosphere.

There’s not much more you need to know about the plot – but this is definitely a film worth seeing, as much for the uniformly excellent cast as for the storyline itself.

Year of release: 1948

Director: John Huston

Writers: Maxwell Anderson (play), Richard Brooks, John Huston

Main cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore

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This is the first book in a new series by Craig Russell, who has had success with his series about Detective Jan Fabel, set in Hamburg.  However, here the setting is 1950s Glasgow, and the eponymous character is an enquiry agent with some distinctly dodgy methods, and who gets most of his work from the ‘Three Kings’; a triumvirate of gangsters, who between them are behind most of the crime in the city.

When up and coming gangster Tam McGahern is murdered, his twin brother Frankie asks Lennox to find out who’s behind it.  But then Frankie himself ends up dead and Lennox finds himself in the frame for the murder.  As he gets drawn into investigating the matter, he finds himself in ever more dangerous situations, never knowing who he can trust and who is not to be believed – and he discovers that things are far more complicated than he could have imagined…

Glasgow and its underworld is certainly brought into vivid focus here, and I felt able to easily imagine the atmosphere of the city.  The story itself moves along at a rapid pace and never allows time for the reader to become bored.  There are also plenty of twists and turns, at times so many so that the story became a little tied up in itself.

Lennox himself is not actually a particularly nice or likeable character; however, he is the nearest thing to a hero to be found in this novel, which is populated by criminals of all persuasions, with varying degrees of ruthlessness.  The book is narrated by Lennox himself, which means that the reader only gets to know what he knows, as he finds it out.  Unfortunately, it also meant that for me anyway, I did at times find his character jarring.  He had a habit of saying something, and then adding a little quip on the end, apparently to demonstrate how witty or ironic he was being.  The other problem was that a lot of the characters were very stereotyped, especially the criminals (and there aren’t many characters who aren’t criminals).

Nonetheless, this book is plot driven more than character driven, and the fast moving story, together with the problems which Lennox faces – which just keep piling up on top of each other – mean that it is never less than an entertaining read. 

So would I read another book in this series?  Possibly, but I wouldn’t rush out to get hold of a copy.  I have read one book in the Jan Fabel series and I definitely preferred that one.  If you like your crime stories cosy and funny, this probably isn’t the book for you – but if you like a more bleak and violent setting, you might want to give this one a try.

(Autor’s website can be found here.)

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