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This book is the second in the Phryne Fisher Mystery series, and revolves around not one, but two mysteries. The book opens with Phryne meeting a new client – a nervous lady who is convinced that her son is going to murder his father and she wants Phryne to intervene to stop this. When the father does indeed turn up dead shortly afterwards, Bill the son is naturally the main suspect.

The second mystery is the kidnapping of a young girl, whose parents engage Phryne to retrieve their daughter and return her to safety.

Naturally Phyrne, along with her friends Bert and Cec, and trusty maid Dot not only investigates the crimes, but investigates them with panache and cunning, and all while wearing a beautiful wardrobe and seducing a couple of rather gorgeous men!

I think I probably enjoyed this book marginally more than the first one (I gave the first one 3.5 out of 5, I’d give this one 4), which bodes well for the rest of the series. It is an undemanding read, sprinkled with humour and with enough twists to keep the reader interested. As ever, Phryne is loveable, exasperating and stubborn. Fans of the TV series should note that Jack Robinson hardly appears in this book (and in any event, he is entirely different in the show, not to mention still firmly married to his wife) and the main police officer in the story is Detective Inspector Benton.

Another enjoyable instalment from a series that I look forward to continuing to read.

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Sex and Death 101 stars a pre-The Mentalist (just – this came out the year before The Mentalist started) Simon Baker, as Roderick Blank, a man who is about to marry his girlfriend Fiona (Julie Bowen) and thinks that his life is just about perfect.  But then he receives a mysterious email, which lists all the women he’s slept with – with Fiona correctly occupying the number 29 slot – but then goes on to list lots more, totalling 101.  Not surprisingly he is somewhat shocked – who has sent the list?  How can he be going to have sex with more than 70 more women, when he is about to marry the woman he loves?!  Roderick’s obsession with the list starts to ruin his life, and pretty much all aspects of it.  Meanwhile, a woman (Winona Ryder) nicknamed Death Nell by the media, is going round murdering men who have treated women badly, and it looks as though Roderick and Nell’s paths are going to cross at some point.

I’m not entirely sure how to categorise this film.  It’s part sci-fi, part romantic comedy, part black comedy – there’s certainly a lot going on, and maybe a bit too much at times.  But….I actually really enjoyed it.  There were some VERY funny moments – and some very adult comedy –  as Roderick initially finds the list intriguing, but then finds that it’s taking over his life.  Simon Baker is wonderful at comedy, and keeps the audience on his side.  Roderick is sometimes lovely, and sometimes pretty damned obnoxious, but it’s difficult not to like him.  Winona Ryder gets surprisingly less screen time than you might expect, given that at the time, she was probably the most famous cast member.  She’s great in her role though – perfect for the part.  Robert Wisdom is great as the leader of a mysterious trio who are behind the list of names that was sent to Roderick, and Patton Oswalt gets a few funny line.  However, as far as the supporting cast goes, nobody betters Mindy Cohn as Roderick’s PA and friend Trixie.

The film got mainly negative reviews on release, and I can see why people might not like it – it sometimes seems as though it’s not quite sure what it’s trying to be, but I did really enjoy it.  A lot of this was because of the gorgeous Simon Baker; he’s a great lead, who for me, perfect for this kind of part, and as mentioned, the supporting cast were all great as well.

If you like quirky comedy, I’d recommend giving this a go.  It’s brash and colourful, and for my money, very entertaining.

Year of release: 2007

Director: Daniel Waters

Producers: Aaron Geller, Cary Brokaw, Elizabeth Zox Friendman, Jerry P. Jacobs, Greg Little

Writer: Daniel Waters

Main cast: Simon Baker, Winona Ryder, Robert Wisdom, Patton Oswalt, Mindy Cohn, Neil Flynn, Leslie Bibb

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Adapted from a Thomas Middleton play written in 1605, Director Sean Foley has based this comedy in 1950s London, which is a perfect setting for a filthy, hilarious comedy about sex and money, with plenty of innuendo, and double (and single) entendres.

Dick Follywit decides to con his rich uncle Bounteous Peersucker out of his fortune by playing a Lord, a prostitute and an actor, while in a parallel storyline, Mr Penitent Brothel is madly in love with Mrs Littledick, but her husband’s paranoia about her fidelity prevents them from being together.  Tying both stories together is prostitute Truly Kidman, who poses as a nun in order to become friends with Mrs Littledick and help her meet Mr Brothel in secret.

The action was fast and snappy, and the stage looked wonderful – colourful, glamorous and seedy, and the musical numbers, sung by jazz singer Linda John-Pierre (what an amazing voice!) were wonderful.

The cast were all terrific in their performances, and it’s hard not to imagine that they were having as wonderful a time as the audience.  Richard Goulding and John Hopkins (both of whom were so good in Titus Andronicus, this season, also at the Swan Theatre) could not have been better as respectively, Dick Follywit and Penitent Brothel.  Ian Redford was a joy as Sir Bounteous Peersucker, and the two main female roles, Mrs Littledick and Truly Kidman, played by Ellie Beaven and Sarah Ridgeway, were excellent.  The smaller supporting characters also added to the fun (the audience loved Richard Durden’s portrayal of doddery butler Spunky).

There were lots of scene changes, which were seamlessly done, and as well as lots (LOTS!) of very funny lines, there was also plenty of cleverly done physical comedy.  The whole audience seemed to love this show, and honestly, I think it would be hard not to be drawn in and have a good time.  I came out with a huge smile on my face, with my only regret being that I did not have tickets for subsequent performances!  This play should be mandatory viewing for anyone who needs a good belly laugh.  Simply wonderful.

(For more information about the Royal Shakespeare Company, or this production, please click here.)

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Click here for my review of the English Touring Theatre’s production of this play in 2015.

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Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer head up the cast of this story of scheming and sex, set in pre-revolutionary France. Close plays Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil, an outwardly respectable lady, who sets out to avenge a former lover by asking Vicomte Sebastian de Valmont (Malkovich) to seduce her former lover’s new fiancee, the young Cecile (Uma Thurman). Valmont in turn, decides to seduce Madame de Tourvel (Pfeiffer), for nothing more than the fun of it….but neither Isabelle nor Valmont has reckoned on their personal feelings getting in the way…

Well! I wasn’t sure what I expected from this film, but what I got was a steamy, seedy, decadent story of two rather unpleasant individuals who seem intent on humiliating and debasing their peers, simply for the fun of it. But that is not to say that the film is not enjoyable; I actually found it very gripping, and at times amusing. Malkovich seems to relish playing the villain – he’s just so good at it, and far sexier than such a dastardly character deserves to be. Close really shows off her acting chops here – she is brilliant, managing to convey such feeling with just a subtle change of expression. Pfeiffer too is great – this is possibly the best acting I have ever seen her do.

Swoosie Kurtz heads up the supporting cast admirably, and Uma Thurman plays the innocent (but soon to be corrupted) Cecile very well. Keanu Reeves plays the unsuspecting and innocent young music teacher who falls for Cecile, but who is used as a pawn by Isabelle and is drawn into her world of deceit.

I’m not sure that this is a film I would watch again, but it is certainly a film that I would recommend people to watch at least once. Enjoyable, if not exactly uplifting.

Year of release: 1988

Director: Stephen Frears

Producers: Norma Heyman, Hank Moonjean, Christopher Hampton

Writers: Choderlos de Laclos (book), Christopher Hampton

Main cast: Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Thurman, Keanu Reeves, Swoosie Kurtz

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This is a very interesting book, which inspires the reader into thinking about the subjects talked about. It is less a novel than a collection of essays, which use four main characters – the womanising Tomas, his devoted wife Tereza, his mistress Sabina and her lover Franz – to illustrate the points made. 

The reader is often reminded that these are not characters to believe in – more, they are devices necessary to explain the author’s writings. This may put off some readers, and it is certainly unusual; for that reason maybe I found it hard to engage with the characters.  It never felt as though they were really brought to life, due to the fact that the author reminds us that they are merely plot devices.  However, this is in keeping with the general theme of the story…

The book questions the point of life; of ‘being’, and asks such questions as, if we have this life and no other, is there any point to this life – and if we do indeed have future lives (i.e., reincarnation) where we continue to make the same mistakes and follow the same paths as we followed in our first life, again – is there any point to that life? We are also given to question the difference between love and sex, and how the two can co-exist apart from each other, yet within the same person. It also gives an interesting insight to life in the former Czechoslovakia under the Communist regime. 

All in all, an insightful and intelligent book – not always the easiest or lightest read, but worth investing the time in.

(For more information about the author, please click here.)

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