Monday, October 22, 2012

Crime Writers' Association - the complete daggers 2012

We now have the full list of CWA Dagger winners for 2012.  These are announced in two batches - in July and October.  I have no idea why.  Anyway, here is the list in full.

Diamond (lifetime achievement):  Frederick Forsyth.  Surely no one can argue with that.
Gold: Gene Kerrigan, The Rage
Steel (thriller): Charles Cumming, A Foreign Country
John Creasy New Blood: A Land More Kind than Home, Wiley Cash
International: The Potter's Field, Andrea Camilleri
Non-Fiction: The Eleventh Day (9/11), Anthony Summers & Robbyn Swan.  Summers previously won back in 1980 for Conspiracy, which is probably the best non-American analysis of the JFK assassination.
Dagger in the Library:  Steve Mosby.  This is an interesting award, given for a body of work by someone about to break through to the big time and nominated by library users.  Previous winners include Alexander McCall Smith (2004) and Mo Hayder (2011), which I suggest indicates just how close Mosby is to becoming a huge bestseller.
Debut: Beached, Sandy Gingras
Ellis Peters Historical Fiction: Icelight, Aly Moore

I am sure I will happily read all the above but I have to say the one that really caught my eye was the Aly Moore.  Set in 1947 - dirty doings in MI5 - it's a must-read.

Peter Lely allegories at the Courtauld

Found this on the Courtauld blog (one of my faves) and found it fascinating.  I especially like the way the curator has chosen to focus on one main painting, The Concert, thereby using the limited time available to go into some worthwhile detail.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Good Cop (final episode) & Homeland S2 (first episode)

Thanks to football's international break, we finally got to see the fourth and final episode of Stephen Butchard's compelling psychological thriller cum police procedural last night.

The scheduled showing was of course cancelled because it was only two days after the ambush and murder of two women police officers in Manchester.  The suggestion was that a police woman was similarly shot in Good Cop.  But it turns out that she suffered bruises, scrapes and a black eye in completely different circumstances.  And, naturally, the perp got exactly what was coming to him.  Still, the BBC was in a no-win situation and probably made the right decision.

Fortunately the delay wasn't so long that we forgot the nuances of what had gone before.  I sat down to watch feeling it was a pity that we were only ever likely to have these four eps.  Sav couldn't get away scot-free so there was going to have to be some sort of terminal closure. I simply couldn't envisage how to leave a way open for a second series.  But Butchard could.  Oh yes.  He even managed to leave the main revenge storyline unresolved (one of the gang still walking around) and add to the pressure on his protagonist (innocent party caught in the crossfire).  Definitely one of the best cop shows of recent times.  Pushing the boundaries.  Subverting the genre.  I look forward to the second series.

I'd also been looking forward to Homeland Season 2, which launched in the UK on Channel 4 last Sunday.  I was hugely disappointed.  Same old, same old - like every other mainstream US drama series.  The traitor's now running for even higher office.  The CIA's head honcho still couldn't detect a fart in a box.  And of course the first person he calls on in an emergency is bi-polar Carrie who, fresh from Electro-Convulsive brain zap, is now a fully fledged inspirational teacher.  Frankly, I was so bored I found myself yearning for the ad breaks.  Because Season 1 was so brilliant, I'll give it another shot tonight.  If I nod off, though, that's it for me.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Killing Them Softly

Andrew Dominick's pitch-black gangster comedy is George V Higgin's 1974 novel Cogan's Trade updated to 2007-8.  On TVs in the background (only ever directly alluded to in the climactic scene) the financial insitutions of the western world crumble under the weight of their corporate corruption.  Senator Obama stands as a beacon of hope when we in 2012 know the promise came to nothing and he ended up just plain hopeless.  In what turns out to be New Orleans (I never realised this whilst watching the movie) criminal commerce crashes when Markie Trattman's game is heisted for the second time.  Silly Markie (Ray Liotta) has let it be known that he organised the first heist.  Now it's happened again everyone knows Markie must be responsible.  But he isn't.  Squirrel Amato has sent into two hopeless losers, Frankie and Russell, to do the deed in the sure and certain knowledge that Markie will take the heat.  Those in charge of such matters need a person of repute to restore order.  Enter the underworld version of Obama, Jackie Cogan.  He's Brad Pitt.  He's even prettier than Obama.  And just as Obama presents himself as a reincarnated Jack Kennedy, Cogan too has an esteemed progenitor, the legendary enforcer Dillon, glimpsed, in the briefest of a cameos, in the form of living legend Sam Shepard.

The broadest comedy concerns Australian loser Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) and his absurd dognapping project.  The scenes of this thread are also the only ones to be set in the wide outdoors in broad sunny daylight.  Everything else is set indoors or at night and is kept close and tight.  Even key plot developments like the removal from the scene of Mickey (James Gandolfini) and Dillon are simply announced not shown.  The focus is on the handful of principals, any one of whom must be a possible nominee for Best Supporting Actor.  Gandolfini is mesmerising, Scoot McNairy luminous as the hapless Frankie, Richard Jenkins pitch-perfect as the mob apparatchik who liaises with Cogan.

Pitt is great but we have long known that he is the finest pretty-boy actor of his generation.  He produced Killing Them Softly and it is a mark of his maturity that he is willing to play second fiddle to so many scene-stealers.  But make no mistake - Pitt's quiet, controlled performance is the glue that holds this movie together.  Without his restraint we would be in constant danger of straying into Jason Statham territory.  With Pitt as his pivot-point, Dominick unleashes some jaw-dropping visual effects (the extra-extreme-super-slo-mo of Markie's demise, the stoned miasma in the middle of which Russell lets drop the fatal flaw that unravels Squirrel's masterplan) all set against an uber-Tarantino ironically iconic soundtrack (respectively Love Letters Straight From Your Heart and the Velvet's mighty Heroin.)

It's a genre film of a genre book.  It never claims to be anything else.  Indeed Dominick gets added impact from riffing on genre tropes and references.  Gandolfini is inescapably Tony Soprano, brought in to off Squirrel, who is beautifully played by Vincent Curatola, who played Tony's nemesis from New York Johnny Sack.  Gandolfini and Pitt enjoyed long rolling conversations in The Mexican (a personal favourite).  And Ray Liotta is and will forever be the sweatiest of Goodfellas.

Already a cult classic.  Definitely not for the squeamish.