Tuesday 23 April 2019

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

One of the best films I have watched recently must be Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, courtesy of having a DVD of it loaned to me by Jim Pitts.
This really is an excellent film, a bizarre slice of life of three people following the rape and murder of Frances McDormand's daughter. Woody Harrelson plays the well-meaning local sheriff who is charged with investigating the crime, though he struggles against a lack of evidence that can be used to track down the killer - and who is also suffering from terminal cancer. The other main character is played by Sam Rockwell, one of Harrelson's deputies, whose character develops during the course of the film in a surprising direction.
This is a fascinating movie, unlike any other I can think of - which is like a breath of fresh air.
Heartily recommended.
And Frances McDormand certainly deserved her Oscar for her role in this - as should the others, especially Sam Rockwell.

Now TV

Just signed up for Now TV, mainly to watch the new series of Game of Thrones. But a bonus has been a box set of Dexter, so I am now rewatching the very first series. After the rather poor final series, I had forgotten just how brilliantly good Dexter was iat the beginning - right up until just after the 'Trinity' storyline, in fact.

Monday 22 April 2019

How did The Shape of Water win so many Oscars?

It was a long time after most other people that I recently got round to watching The Shape of Water. And while it was beautifully filmed from a photographic angle, I cannot understand how such a dire mess of a story gained so much attention and respect.
Even (spoiler alert for anyone who has still not watched this film) the scars on Elisa (Sally Hawkins) Esposito's neck were an immediate giveaway about what would happen at the end. That they would turn out to be gills was the biggest non-surpise in the film! It was so obvious it was ridiculous - and unexplained. And if she was somehow kin to the "creature" how come she otherwise looks so human? And, apart from the gill slits, so unlike the "creature" in every way, apart from having two sets of limbs, a head with the usual placement of eyes and mouth, etc, like virtually every other creature on the planet?
Michael Shannon, an actor I don't particularly care for anyway, gives a phenominally one-dimensional, almost comic-strip portrayal of the jailer in charge of the "creature", pantomime-style in its grotesquery. I must admit that didn't surprise me. It's in line with virtually every other role I've seen him play.
Indeed, for me, this is one of the film's underlying and most common failings - all the portrayals are one-dimensional, almost pantomime in style - and unconvincing. As is the basic plot - which makes me look back with increasing fondness on the comparatively subtler stories and portrayals in the three "Creature from the Black Lagoon" movies of the 1950s! At least in them you could begin to feel empathy towards the "creature" and its plight, something I felt incapable of doing for this CGI version.
So, again, I am left wondering what it was about this film that gained it so many Oscars - and I'm baffled.

The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp

Just discovered The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp on amazon prime, a TV series from 1956. It's surprisingly good, with some excellently written scripts, some good acting and, probably unusual for that time, a continuous story that moves along and develops, with occasional references to previous episodes.

At the beginning of the series Earp becomes marshall for the small, unruly, cattle town of Ellsworth, Kansas. Several episodes later, when his reputation as a lawman has started to spread, he is offered the job of marshall in the city of Wichita. I dimly remember watching this program when I was a kid, though it was probably by that stage up to the sixth series in 1961.

I very much doubt the strict historical accuracty of the series, but I don't mind that. It's still great television - and much better than many western series that came later.

Monday 1 April 2019

The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors - reviewed in Phantasmagoria Magazine

Below is my review of The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors which has been published in the current issue of Phantasmagoria Magazine.


Edited by Peter Coleborn and Jan Edwards

Anthologies like this used to be commonplace once, back in the day when they were a regular part of the output by major publishers like Pan, New English Library, Sphere Books and Corgi, etc., often by editors like August Derleth, Peter Haining, Kurt Singer, Michel Parry and others. Today it is virtually only the small independent presses that keep the flag flying, though few come close to The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors for giving us such a bumper crop in nearly 400 pages of 25 outstanding stories. Congratulations must be offered to the editors for achieving this!

It would, I’m afraid, be too lengthy a task to discuss every single story, and some worked for this reader better than others, though I would vouch for there not being a single dud amongst them, so I will just highlight a few that I particularly liked. Ramsey Campbell reliably opens proceedings with Some Kind of a Laugh, which is different to but inevitably brings to mind his brilliant novel The Grin of the Dark, where laughter becomes menacing and the make-believe world of entertainment hides a terrifying horror. Samantha Lee goes visceral with a vengeance with The Worm, which would have been a worthy entry into any of the old Pan Books of Horror (of which she was once a contributor!) Marie O’Regan’s Pretty Things very soon belies its name, where masks play a key, sometimes gut-wrenching part. I’ve always enjoyed Mike Chinn’s stories, and Her Favourite Place, which is SF horror,  is one of his best, set in an undersea farm. Tony Richards’ The Garbage Men has an engrossingly claustrophobic nightmare effect and a great climax. It’s a while since I read anything new from Stephen Laws but Get Worse Soon is a cleverly plotted tale about an overly thrifty pound shop customer who literally gets more than he bargained for! It’s a very cleverly told tale. Scarecrows are often frightening creations, and Adrian Cole’s Broken Billy uses one to great and horrifying effect. John Grant’s Too Late shifts reality and perception of what is going on to great effect – and has a truly grand guignol twist at the end. These are just a few of the stories which for me stood out, though the standard throughout is consistently high. It is definitely one of the best anthologies I have come across for quite some time and I would highly recommend it. 

If the stories weren’t enough, the book is also illustrated throughout with finely drawn headers for each of the stories by the talented Jim Pitts, adding that extra touch of quality to this book, which concludes with an informative set of Contributor Notes.