Advice, please

I AM thinking about replacing this blog with a number of separate blogs, dedicated to films, books, wines etc. What do you think I should do?

Advertisements

Prepare to be appalled and angered

DETROIT ****

What’s it about? The brutal interrogation and murder of three young black men by white racist police officers at the Algiers motel during the Detroit race riots in August, 1967.

Who directed it? Kathryn Bigelow, who is best known for her powerful dramas Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and The Hurt Locker (2008), for which she became the first (and still the only) female winner of the Best Director Oscar.

Who is in it? Two of the three leading roles are played by British actors Will Poulter (The Revenant 2014) and John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2015). The third part is played by American actor-singer Algee Smith, in the biggest film role of his career to date.

My view: I did not enjoy this film. That is not a criticism. ‘Enjoyment’ would be entirely the wrong word to describe the range of emotions I experienced. I was appalled at the police brutality – and the way other men in uniform turned a blind eye to it; angered at the failure to bring the guilty men to account; and left with a sense of profound pessimism over whether much has changed in race relations and civil rights in the 50 years since the events portrayed in the film.

Bigelow presents the story in three acts. The first part – the police raid on an illegal drinking club that sparks the rioting – is gripping. The central act – the 60-minute real-time action in the motel, as events spiral downwards from racist abuse to murder – is suffocatingly tense. The final part – the trial of the police officers and a black security guard – inevitably suffers from a slackening of the tension.

There are strong performances from Poulter as the out-of-control racist cop, and Boyega as the black security guard who is seen as compromised by his uniform in Afro-American eyes. Smith’s performance, as the lead singer of the Detroit group The Dramatics, may just be an Oscar nomination in waiting.

Watch this film if: You want to see a masterful filmmaker in action; have any interest in racial politics; want to understand the back story to the Black Lives Matter campaign.

St Mary’s, Pennard

THE original,  medieval church of St Mary’s became overwhelmed by sand, and a new church was built further inland in the early 16th Century.

The building contains 13th Century stonework. Perhaps the building pre-dates its use as a church, or stones from the original church may have been used in the construction of the new church.

Today, the church stands on a busy road junction between Southgate and Bishopston.

St Teilo’s, Bishopston

Situated at the head of the Bishopston Valley, St Teilo’s occupies the site of one of the earliest Christian settlements in Wales. The Bishopston stream, which winds for more than two miles to Pwlldu Bay, runs past the church gateway.

St Teilo’s dates back to 460-490 AD, when Teilo established a church hidden in a dell above the stream. The current building was built in the 13th Century.

 

Drugs, Guns & Politics. There are no more good guys.

AMERICAN MADE ****

Plot: A TWA pilot is recruited by the CIA to fly clandestine reconnaissance missions over South America in the 1970s, and ends up smuggling drugs for the Medelin Cartel and running guns for the CIA.

Director: Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow 2014)

Cast: Tom Cruise (The Mummy 2017, Jack Reacher, Never Go Back 2016, Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation 2015): Sarah Wright (Walk of Shame 2014): Domhnall Gleeson (The Revenant 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2015)

Thoroughly entertaining, and based on the real-life story of pilot Barry Seal. Cruise is back on top form after the disappointment of The Mummy last time out. The role of Seal, who apparently was an adrenaline junkie, suits him perfectly, and Cruise gives every impression of having thoroughly enjoyed himself.

The film is deliberately un-slick, with handheld camera work, scrawled text on screen, and even that old ‘plane-flying-across-map’ technique to track Seal’s increasingly complex nefarious dealings.

In a world where everybody sees everybody else as a means to financial or political gain (or both), Seal’s feelings for his family are the honourable exception, and Wright is very good in the underdeveloped role of his wife.

The title, like the film, casts an ironic and cynical sideways look at the West’s great ‘defender of democracy.” “Is this legal?” Seal asks; “It is if it’s for the good guys” replies Gleeson’s CIA officer. Except, there are no good guys.

Verdict: A light touch on very serious issues, this is a perfect vehicle for Cruise.

 

A mental landscape of guilt and terror

World Crime Atlas is my retirement project to read a crime novel set in every country in The Times Atlas of the World, concentrating on the sense of place created by the author.

FRANCE

Three Days and a Life, by Pierre Lemaitre, Translated by Frank Wynne.

Plot: Antoine, aged 12, lives in a provincial town. In the last days of the departing century, a series of events unfolds, starting with the violent death of his neighbour’s dog, that inextricably links the fate of Antoine and the neighbour’s six-year-old son.

When and Where: The novel is divided in three parts, set in 1999, 2011, and 2015. The town of Beauval is set in a “region of lush, dense woodland which moved to its own slow, ineluctable rhythms.”

Sense of Place: Beauval is one of those small towns where “nothing ever happens”, and where people conform out of their desire for respectability in the eyes of their fellow townspeople; and where anyone who breaks this rigid code is regarded with hostility, suspicion, or contempt. The woods that surround the town are the setting for a shocking event; the death of a child (the killer’s identity is immediately revealed; this is not a ‘whodunnit?’ crime novel.) The physical appearance of the town and the all encompassing woods are well drawn, but the book is really describing the mental landscape of a guilt-ridden, terrified killer. Within this, there are memorable scenes of a Christmas Eve midnight mass, and of the twin storms that devastate the town which (“the landscape was changing fast, too fast”) mirror and act as a metaphor for the killer’s state of mind.

This is a very accomplished psychological study of the consequences of a shocking crime, both on the culprit and on the wider community.