That, no matter what they do, they just can’t catch a break?
Saul Goodman is one of those people in the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul.
Or Jimmy McGill as he is when we first meet him. It’s some years before the riveting roller-coaster that was Breaking Bad. The not-yet-but-just-about-to-become-Saul-Goodman Jimmy McGill is working as a lawyer of last resort from a cramped office behind a nail salon. His office has enough room – barely – for Jimmy to squeeze into with some impressive contortionism. His landlady just about acknowledges his existence. A shipping container would be a jump up in the world.
This first series of 10 episodes explains Jimmy’s backstory and sets up the premise for his looming transformation into Saul Goodman.
When we meet him first, Jimmy’s doing battle with the legal firm where his older brother, Charles McGill, is a senior partner.
Charles’ life has been turned upside down by the sudden onset of electromagnetic sensitivity. His electricity is disconnected, his curtains drawn, he lives in the dark, stores food in boxes of ice and refuses to let any piece of electrical equipment into the house – and he also refuses to leave the house. His only connection to the outside world, his lifeline quite literally, is Jimmy.
Jimmy is attempting to convince his brother’s firm to pay out millions of dollars since it seems unlikely Charles will ever return to practice law. In the meantime, Jimmy is supplying Charles with food, ice, newspapers and a host of other much-needed goods.
His good deeds are slowly driving Jimmy into bankruptcy. He’s casting about for new and well-paying cases – and everyday he gets more desperate and less scrupulous.
How far will he go? Will he sacrifice himself to save his brother?
Not saying too much to spoil the experience, but the core of the show hinges on the fact that though Jimmy may be a rogue willing to countenance a fair amount of fuzziness around what constitutes legal in his book, he is at heart a genuinely good person while the respectable society he’s so eager to be a part of may not be all it seems.
Funny and genuinely poignant at times – well worth a watch even for anyone who has never seen Breaking Bad.
Eric has a problem with Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy).
Bob is a bartender at his cousin Marv’s (James Gandolfini in his last film) bar, conveniently called Cousin Marvs. He lives in the house he inherited from his parents and generally keeps himself to himself. Doesn’t say much, just gets on with things.
Until the night he finds a beaten and bleeding pup in a trash can.
That night changes Bob’s life.
The trash can was in a front yard Bob was passing on his way back from a shift at the bar. It turns out the house is owned by a young woman called Nadia (Noomi Rapace). It takes Bob a while to find out her name. It takes him longer to convince her not to call the police and have him arrested.
Bob’s previously simple life rapidly becomes complicated on a number of fronts.
He promises Nadia to keep the pup, rather than giving it up to a dog shelter. Bob though doesn’t know anything about looking after a dog, so Nadia agrees to help.
And then up pops Eric Deeds (Mathias Schoenaerts). He turns up in the park as Bob and Nadia walk the dog. Then he knocks on Bob’s door and invites himself in. Compliments Bob on his dog. Or actually, his, Eric’s, dog he claims. Eric eventually leaves but it’s clear the number of bats in his belfry don’t add up to what they should.
Bob tells Marv what happened and enquires about Eric Deeds – who he is and what he’s like. Marv warns him that Deeds is seriously bad news, erratic unpredictable and given to violence. People in the neighbourhood believe he killed a man called Richie Whelan.
While Bob is mulling over these developments, more trouble drops into his world. Marv’s bar is robbed at closing time by two gun-wielding bandits who make off with $5000. Despite the name, Marv doesn’t own his bar. He used to. Back when he was a big name in the neighbourhood, a loan shark as well as bar owner, and want-to-be hoodlum and hardman.
Now though he’s been forced to hand the bar over to Chechen gangsters, and these days Marv answers to them. A loss of any kind is a black mark and the brutality that may be meted out in punishment unknowable.
Unless Marv and Bob can find the robbers and recover the money. And convince the Chechens that they had nothing to do with it. As well as the police detective (John Ortiz) who believes they know more than they’re telling.
And all the time not forgetting that Eric Deeds still has a bone to pick with Bob. And Nadia. And possibly Marv.
The resolution of these strands is like watching speeding trains all bound for the one terminus, hurtling ever closer – something explosive almost certainly will happen, but even as the tensions build we’re not quite sure how.
Then again there may be switches to be thrown and twists to come that change the entire story as we (believe we) know it……..
Hugely enjoyable in a quiet, understated way and played out on a very human scale, with sympathy for and insight into the often unsuspected depths of lingering fears and frustrations, hopes and dreams we all accumulate as we move through life.
It’s hard not to think of that line, and many other ‘science fiction’ films when coming to a movie like Interstellar.
Especially a movie like Interstellar. Humans. Machines. Space Exploration.
There however the similarities cease. Nods and oblique references, some quite funny, are made to these predecessors, but Interstellar is very much its own film. And all the better for it.
Humanity is at the core, the heart of Interstellar. It might seem strange but it’s as much and actually much more of a love story than a space epic.
Tech and adventure provide the stunning backdrop for a story of human relationships, encompassing everything from romantic, family and friendship to the bonds that link us all.
How strong are those bonds? How far do they reach? What would we do to save those we love? Who would we sacrifice for them? Is a planet full of people worth less than one special person?
It would be unfair to unravel any more of the threads that go into to weaving this story together.
Like the science of worm holes it folds back in and through itself in complex ways that thoroughly reward the viewer.
In its best moments and there are many, it’s a heart thumping thrilling experience – made all the better by the immensely powerful soundtrack, crescendos of perfectly chosen notes lending power to scenes throughout the film.
It’s rare to say that all the parts of a movie work, but in this they do: concept, story, script, actors, music, pace, visuals – and even the message.
It’s an emotional roller-coaster transcending genres in much the same way as the scientific theories at the heart of the movie aim to short cut reality, and in the same way as black holes are, apparently, inexplicable from the out side , the only real way to understand the magic of this movie is to go see it!
Do. It’s well worth it, even for those who have no interest in science or science fiction.
You just need to have a heart – or have known one once.
For a movie that’s two and a half hours long, Fury fairly zips by. It’s not always evenly paced and there are slow sections, but I was surprised at how fast the time had passed when the end credits rolled.
Perhaps part of the reason for this is that the film jumps straight into the heart of the story – and stays there. There are few distractions or deviations from the man storyline – Brad Pitt and his tank crew (Shia LeBeouf, Michael Pena, John Bernthal) show a new recruit the ropes as they fight some of last battles of the European war in Germany, April 1945.
Some reviews have called this an old fashioned straight-up war film, but that it is not. Or at least not all of the time.
Long stretches, most of the movie, actually is action – Fury and her crew against Nazi tanks, infantry, mines, and panzerfausts.
Other sections though are closer, almost, to scenes from a stage play – mannered, studied, carefully posed and presented, slow, heavy-handed, coarse even crude. They work against the rest of the movie’s attempts to depict the reality of the war alongside the banality of the warriors, and vice versa. Some of these central scenes undermine the essential ‘ordinariness’ of conscript soldiers that is crucial to the storyline – desperate times and situations wreak havoc on peacetime people and behaviour, this we know and have seen from a long litany of recent movies.
Lingering on an exaggerated if not bizarre vision of this well known idea does nothing for the audience, except perhaps to alienate them from the protagonists. The numerous, varied and prolonged horrors of war turn many people into human wrecks of course, but not always freakish outlandish over-the-top monsters as is sometimes the case here; the result is that when later in the film we might be expected to care about these characters, we really don’t. Internal, silent, unseen but hinted at damage can be more powerful than in-your-face grotesquery.
This seeming compulsion to sledgehammer and telegraph rather than adopt nuance and allusion, the triumph of unabashed spotlighting over subtlety, crops up throughout the movie, as if the creators were unsure how much of their message was making it into the viewers consciousness – or maybe they doubted whether their viewers might actually have consciousness. The answers seems to be slap them in the face with a giant can of ‘Did you see what we did there!!’ at frequent intervals.
It revels in its more brutal moments and seems to make special effort to make sure that no one misses the point – almost to such an extent that feels like showing off, ‘look at how much gory gritty reality we could ladle into these scenes’. Or it’s a lack of confidence. Maybe a better approach would be to trust yourself, your idea and not least your audience – if it’s visceral, we’ll notice, it’s not necessary to flag everything as if the audience may be either dimwits or not fully human.
When the film stops treating it’s viewers like they have a lower IQ than the popcorn they’re munching on, it gets a lot of things right.
Foremost, whoever came up with the idea of using tracer rounds so extensively in the battle scenes deserves extra special mention. In a way this is sledgehammering the viewer again, but this time it works. I don’t know if it bears any similarity to reality but it is astoundingly effective. Trajectories of bullets and shells blaze through the sky in vicious flashes of red and green, striking and ricocheting with blinding speed and cacophonous racket. Between the light, the sounds and the rapidity, the viewer’s senses are thoroughly assaulted and set on edge, giving a visceral experience quite unlike anything I’ve seen before.
The shock, disorientation and sheer inability of the human brain to make sense of such situations is powerfully conveyed. Luck and the awful randomness at work are also highlighted, a millimetre here or there making all the difference, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what you’ve done, moral, immoral, black, white, tall, short, good, bad or indifferent – a split second and you’re dead. Those in the firing line have no means of controlling or effecting what happens. Nor can they do much to help or protect their comrades. This sense of utter helplessness and powerlessness adds the greatest sense of terror – death and injury stalk the combatants impersonally, and there’s no rhyme or reason to who dies, and no way to avoid or influence it.
Despite the frankly ludicrous Bible bilge that crops up at intervals to annoy and distract, the main terror we see are people in a horrendous situation that they have absolutely no power to influence and no way to escape other than it seems through death.
All told overall, Fury is worth the investment of time and money by the viewer. It has some interesting things to say but not as many as it thinks, and its strongest element by far is its truly excellent and innovative battle scenes, which go further to show war as hell than all of the words of the script.
Gillian Flynn’s novel became a phenomenon in 2012. Published in June, it sold over two million copies within the year.
It became a favourite of book clubs and a stalwart of review pages, staying at the top of the New York Times bestseller index for weeks on end.
Somehow it passed me by at the time, but with the movie version arriving in Ireland I decided to catch up with the book before seeing it.
Near the end of the book I was faced with quandary of whether to see the movie if I’d read the book, and compromised by not finishing the last few chapter.
The film itself sticks closely to the book, with some minor changes – interestingly the screenplay is by Gillian Flynn as well, so fidelity to the written word is not surprising. By no means though is this a rigidly ‘stage bound’ production slavishly following every aspect of the book; some parts and characters have been omitted, and some minimised and the timeline altered where necessary.
The core of the story remains the same. Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott Dunne are married. Both are writers. They live the life of a dream couple. Amy is the inspiration for and living embodiment of her parents’ best selling children’s books ‘Amazing Amy’, about a near perfect girl who (over)achieves at everything.
Nick Dunne left his North Carthage, Missouri behind and become a success in the literary/journalism world of New York.
Boy meets girl at a party, true love strikes and the two are entwined as soulmates for ever.
Not quite. The fairytale takes a bit of a dent when both lose their jobs and move back to Nick’s hometown, but their lives continue more or less as normal.
When the film opens we see Nick Dunne now an ex-writer running a bar with his sister, Margo – or Go for short.
It’s Nick and Amy’s five year anniversary; he doesn’t have a present yet but he has the whole day……then the phone rings.
Nick drives home and finds his house empty. Amy has disappeared – the Gone Girl.
The rest of the movie unravels and unspools the story in more detail, using present and flashback perspectives.
The surprises come thick and fast, as do the twists, turns, and revelations. What starts as a simple love story and two people fated to be together, takes a complicated turn with many angles. Will true love run its course? In sickness and in health, till death do them part?
Rosamund Pike was a little questionable for the early part of the film but by the end her performance will be seared in your brain – especially one particular scene; if you don’t like blood, be prepared!
Ben Affleck is well-nigh perfect for the role of Nick, and the supporting cast of Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens in particular are very much contenders for best on-screen performance.
Very enjoyable with some of the tense and uncomfortable moments that mark out a good thriller. Do see it if you get a chance – just not if your relationship (should you be in one) is in any way delicate!
America 1844: Religious Fervor, Westward Expansion, and the Presidential Election That Transformed the Nation– (November 1, 2014; Chicago Review Press) by John Bicknell
It’s fair to say that neither John Tyler nor James Polk rank very highly as memorable Presidents of the United States.
If he had lived slightly longer perhaps Tyler might at least have become infamous – he was elected to the Congress of the Confederate States of America but died soon after, sparing the USA the sting of seeing one of its ex-Presidents serving the secessionist South.
But as author John Bicknell makes clear in America 1844 perhaps these two largely forgotten occupants of the White should be better known because momentous events were set in train during their terms – events that would have far-reaching consequences, not just for America but much of the world.
1844 was an election year in America, and Bicknell takes this as his jumping off point. President John Tyler harboured hopes of running for a second term; his opponents manoeuvred to replace him.
Tyler was unusual in not having a party solidly behind him – he had been elected as Vice President in 1840 on the same ticket as President William Henry Harrison of the Whig party. Tyler was the first Vice President to succeed to the Presidency when Harrison died in office, just 30 days after his inauguration on 4 March 1841.
As President (His Accidency as wits dubbed him), Tyler was expelled from the Whig party for vetoing a number of its proposals. Without a dedicated following he needed nothing short of a miracle to win re-election. To Tyler’s mind, that miracle would be the annexation of Texas – bring that vast land of opportunity into the Union and he would sweep the election of 1844.
The story of that election bookends and scaffolds this volume’s central narrative. Rather than focus entirely on politics, Bicknell skilfully weaves into this tale of electoral chicanery other fascinating aspects of a rapidly changing America that would transform and convulse the new nation in years to come.
Slavery and territorial expansion were closely tied to political wrangling, intimately linked to each other and both were inextricably bound up with the future shape of America. Should the US spread beyond its existing boundaries and settle the question of slavery as it did? Or should it consolidate its achievements for a time, given it was still a young and recent creation with many internal issues to resolve?
While Congress and state politicians ponderously discussed and debated, migrants voted with their feet. Thousands of settlers journeyed into the unknown, towards what they hoped would be better lives in the West – despite not knowing much of what lay there.
Trying to change that in 1844 was John C Frémont, who had set off the previous year to explore the vast unknown areas of what today are parts of Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Nevada and California and map a reliable route westwards. His expedition included the famous ‘mountain man’ Kit Carson. Throughout much of 1844 Frémont’s wife Jessie waited anxiously for news that travelled at snail’s pace across the vast distances involved. Letters intended for the east arrived haphazardly and sporadically.
Samuel Morse’s new invention, the telegraph, was just undergoing its first practical trials in 1844 and would soon render Jessie Benton Frémont’s long agonising wait for news from her husband a thing of the past. Asa Whitney, a New York merchant had an even more radical plan to bind America together not with copper wire but iron rails – his day had not yet arrived but it was a harbinger of the railroads his advocacy and perseverance would eventually bring about.
Add in the social upheavals caused by violent riots against Catholic Irish immigrants in Philadelphia and a large group of religious Americans who were fervently convinced the end of world was nigh and 1844 truly was an eventful year in American history – with more long term importance than anyone could have known at the time.
John Bicknell writes about all of these themes with a telling eye for insightful personal stories and human interest angles that allow the reader to relate to the era. Equally many of the issues that transfixed America then have resonance today – a nation deeply divided, unsure about the impact of immigration, on the cusp of great technological promise while still beset by paralysing fears for and of the future.
A great tale well told and one that provides the reader with both enjoyment and food for thought.
It might seem strange or facetious, or even downright perverse, to connect this movie – ostensibly a science fiction film about talking monkeys – to the dark events of the last few weeks on the world stage, war, death, destruction, suffering, but it is particularly resonant on all these scores, perhaps precisely because so much blood has been spilled to no good end and no conceivably justifiable purpose in real life.
The core theme and message of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is how similarities transcend and unite, even across apparently wide gulfs of difference. Basic emotions are shared despite class, colour, and creed. Like our simian cousins humans are social animals, most often choosing to live in groups. How we organise those groups though can to lead to problems.
How do we make decisions? Who gets to make decisions? What outcomes do we want? Which outcomes are best? How do we judge? How do we achieve them? By consensus? By domination? Peacefully? Violently? Are some things important enough to die for? To kill for? What’s life for anyway? Love? Power? Plenty? Happiness? Dignity? Control? Duty? Responsibility? Belief? Me? Mine? Ours? Us?
All of these questions in one form or another have arisen in the last few weeks – and are at the centre of events in Gaza/Israel, Ukraine, Syria, and Ferguson, USA. As well as each of lives and all of our homes.
Power and Control, Pain and Death, Conflict and Sorrow.
Or another way?
An unlikely place to seek ruminations on all these questions concerning the foundations of the human condition perhaps, but nevertheless this is what this film does, and does it very well and even somewhat poignantly.
Tense and taut from its very first seconds, Banshee is Justified on speed.
I’m just catching up now with this series which has been renewed for a third season.
The first episode opened with a man being released from prison. Rehabilitation doesn’t seem to have gone very well. Within minutes he’s slept with a female bartender and stolen a car. Minutes later he’s dodging bullets amid manic mayhem on the mean streets of New York – no glamorous parties or lavish settings for our resolutely grim, grimy and gritty Mr Anonymous.
Escaping death by a hair’s breath he sets off in search of an old acquaintance. At this stage we have very little idea of who the mystery ex-con is, what he wants, where he’s going or why – the backstory arrives slowly, drip by drip, dollop by sparsely doled out dollop over the next 40 tense and action-packed minutes.
Our antihero/villain arrives in the town of Banshee, Pennsylvania. Calling into a roadside bar, he gets caught up in the middle of a robbery which ends with the death of an equally newly arrived man who’s just-about-to-be sworn in as the new sheriff. Opportunity has knocked, and Mr Anonymous assumes the identity of Lucas Hood, Banshee’s newest lawman.
After that we gradually learn why he’s in town and a little about the town itself – a small place on the edge of Amish country with one top dog in terms of crime, Kai Proctor – and that life for the new Sheriff Hood (!) is going to be anything but simple on many fronts.
Banshee is resolutely dark in tone, frequently very violent, but rarely if ever dull. Made with an adult audience in mind, it has a hard edge, graphic sex scenes, a soundtrack that alone would make it worth watching and hypnotic camera work that chimes every bit with the unsettled and jumpy feel of the show.
Certainly not for everybody but if you’re looking for a stylist, fast-moving, no-holds barred show about dark pasts, dangerous secrets and doomed dreams, this is it.
I’ve just finished reading The Boys on the Bus, Timothy Crouse’s landmark book about the press coverage of the 1972 US Presidential election. Written in 1973, the book reads as freshly as if it had been produced last week.
Richard Nixon effectively stonewalled the media and escaped any critical assessment. His much more open opponent, George McGovern, suffered for his accessibility and the relative chaos of his communications strategy.
Other than the candidates, very little has changed since then in how elections have been covered or the tactics used by political campaigns to ‘spin’ and try to control or manipulate the news cycle.
Perhaps social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc – will draw the current era that started in the 60’s to a close. In some ways it already has, if we cast our minds back to Mitt Romney’s close encounter with almost everything being recordable, everywhere, all of the time when he gave his tuppence worth in a Florida hotel in 2012 on 47% of American voters being hooked on entitlements
How relevant will professional journalists be in future political campaigns, in the US and abroad? Or newspapers themselves?
Ironically, Crouse’s book suggests a fairly positive prospect. His central point about 1972 is that journalists were almost completely boxed in by official and officious handlers – as well as by their editors and publishers, and their own unwillingness to rock the boat and be frozen out.
Today such tight shepherding and shaping of what’s seen and heard is no longer assured: every phone can record and broadcast. A balance of sorts has returned between responsibility and authenticity, and a critical examination of candidates to an extent that Crouse bemoans was not possible in the 1972 may again be on the cards.
A useful analogy might be found in the world of TV. By the 70’s it was a tightly managed world, with little of it’s free-wheeling 1950’s origins. Formula and the health of the bottom line dictated as little experiment or deviation from the norm as possible.
But even as things became more regimented, Crouse’s book highlights that the undoing of the inventiveness-deficit was already an idea. He mentions how 28 young cable TV reporters headed by Michael Shamberg had an idea that they believed would revolutionise the small screen:
“The networks, with their economic dependence on mass audiences and mass advertising, would eventually go the way of the mass magazines like Life, he thought. And cable TV – local, decentralised, appealing to small audiences and specialised tastes – would gradually take over. This might not happen until Shamberg was old as Walter Cronkite, but he was in no hurry ” [Chapter VII: Television. Kindle version, location 2761].
Crouse and Shamberg were spectacularly right, and far-sighted, on both scores. Right that cable TV was something worth mentioning and right that it would only come into its own far into the future.
But it did. And cable, HBO and the Sopranos and a host of other programming has reinvigorated TV.
A prediction and half from 1973.
Who knows what social media will do in the same time frame to come?
I was lucky enough to be able to read an advance copy, through Netgalley.com, of this thriller by American author Robert K. Tanenbaum, due for publication on August 12. And I was really hoping to like it. A lot.
It seemed promising. The CIA, covert ops, Chechen rebels, drone attacks, clandestine affairs, grisly murder, skullduggery, cover ups and court room drama.What’s not to love as stories go?
Unfortunately the book has a number of problems.
Tanenbaum, a former Assistant Attorney General of New York county, wears his conservative politics on his sleeve. Barely a page passes without some sideswipe at President Obama, the Democrats, administration officials, government in general, and the US news media. The Comedy Channel and Jon Stewart (not named but you don’t need the forensic skills of say a former Deputy Attorney General to figure it out) come in for some particularly harsh and unfair criticism.
Beyond the distorted looking-glass world of Tanenbaum’s skewed view, even those who strenuously disagree with Stewart and his politics acknowledge his ability – and his effectiveness. Not liking the angle he takes and the fact that he does what he does well is no excuse for petty attacks in print intended to be a work of fiction.
The tide of real world points scoring and recrimination is relentless and frustrating. Indeed the reader begins to wonder why Tanenbaum didn’t just write a political screed instead and concentrate on telling the story in this book.
Perhaps for certain sections of the US market the rather snide asides and continuous flow of carping cynical criticism against everything American except apple pie, guns and Republicans will actually be a selling point but on this side of the Atlantic, and on this island in particular where the Barack Obama Plaza has just been completed, the book and its main protagonist Butch Karp will be a fish out of water.
This explains why Tanenbaum has achieved significant sales in the US but remains largely unknown in Europe. Paradoxically his success in America presents a problem for would-be non-US readers. Fatal Conceit is just the latest in a long line of works in a series stretching to over 25 books featuring the same characters: Butch Karp, his wife Marlene, their daughter Lucy, and twin sons.
Much of the plot in this book inevitably refers back to early happenings in its companion volumes, and indeed many of the secondary characters have featured in previous outings. For the non-aficionado this makes life difficult, and Tanenbaum has tried to overcome the hurdle with extensive backstory exposition. In doing this he ends up falling between two stools, with not enough detail for new unfamiliar readers but a clunky clogged text.
Structurally, the story also has other problems. The plot unfolds in a convoluted timeline, full of flashbacks and timeshifts between chapters, with some overlapping in later sections. Action takes place in three main locations, Chechnya with special ops, New York among the administration and cops and finally in the court room. Trying to maintain a sense of suspense and stretch the narrative to encompass all the parts – an uneasy combination of Tom Clancy action set-pieces and John Grisham legal drama – is a struggle requiring the bolting together of what would much more comfortably be two separate books.
All in all I found it a disappointing read but then again I’m not the target audience. For those who read and liked the previous 25 books – and obviously any author, even with credited ghostwriters, who has produced that amount of books is doing something right for a large number of people – this will be I suspect a good experience, a return to familiar characters picking up where they left off, a continuation of previous enjoyment. Which in its way is its own success I suppose.