Author: davidgeebooks

David at the Movies: Thin fare for diehard Satanists

The First Omen

 

It’s 1971 and a young American  nun, Margaret (Nell Tiger Free), is sent to Rome to help in a convent school while she waits to take her final vows. She befriends two other novitiates; one introduces her to bars and discos; the other has scary visions, as does Margaret. A rebellious priest (Ralph Ineson) tells her the convent is involved in a conspiracy to midwife the birth of an Antichrist, fulfilling Biblical prophesies.

After a gory opening with a two-minute cameo from Charles Dance, the movie slips into a low gear for half-an-hour or more before the Revelations start to kick in to make it an over-ripe prelude to the Omen originals. Bill Nighy looks very uncomfortable in his role as a cardinal who may or may not be fully protective of our heroine; in one early scene I thought his lines were being dubbed, God knows why.

There’s a garish glamour to the whole show that calls Dario Argento to mind. There are some welcome nods to the Gregory Peck Omen, but the link to that movie at the end of this one is clumsy and seems to leave open the possibility that The First Omen will not be the Last Omen. A prequel with a sequel – not sure that’s a good idea. Sadly, Bill Nighy does not bring anything like the degree of class that Gregory Peck brought to the first Damien story in 1976. For diehard fans of Satanic-themed movies (count me in!) this is rather thin fare.

David at the Movies: Exorcism on live TV – such fun!

LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL

 

Pretending to be “found footage” from the 1970s, this is the night TV chat show host Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) hoped his show would get a boost from a Halloween special featuring a Latino medium and a teenage girl possessed by a demon. He got more than he bargained for. Obviously, things were going to go horribly wrong, and they did – horribly.

This is – almost – a gloriously original movie, or at least it’s an original twist on familiar tropes, in the vein of, let’s say, Scary Movie. Some projectile vomiting heralds the inevitable “hommage” to The Exorcist. Lilly, the possessed girl (Ingrid Torelli), is clearly referencing Linda Blair, but she reminded me a bit of Pamela Franklin (The Innocents, 1961).

Late Night With the Devil is unusually short, less than 90 mins. A  bit gross towards the finale, but not as sickeningly gross as the majority of current horror films. Recommended.

 

What I’m reading: Dan Brown-style thriller that’s better than Dan Brown

Paul Christopher: MICHELANGELO’S NOTEBOOK

 

Not a new paperback, one I missed previously, the first in a promisingly juicy series of conspiracy thrillers.

Finn Ryan, an art history student from Ohio, has two summer vacation jobs in New York: one as a nude model for a group of amateur artists, the other doing an inventory audit for a major art gallery. In the back of a drawer she comes across an unrecorded drawing of a dissected corpse that has all the hallmarks of Michelangelo. Within hours Finn’s boyfriend and the director of the gallery are both gruesomely murdered. Finn goes on the run with an antiquarian bookseller following links to a lost collection of looted Nazi art treasures. The Vatican-appointed assassin is hot on their heels.

The potboiler plot has some over-egged elements, such as the flashbacks to a convoy of trucks carrying the looted paintings at the end of WW2 and a provocative scandal involving Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII.

The title and the cover place Michelangelo’s Notebook firmly in the Dan Brown canon, although Paul Christopher writes a more elegant prose than Mr. Brown. The sheer pace and scale of the story have pleasing echoes of the rip-roaring Nicholas Cage National Treasure  movies.

David at the movies: Poison-pen letters? More like dirty postcards!

 

WICKED LITTLE LETTERS

 

This is another of those small British movies that leaves a large impression, like 2022’s Living. Based on a true story from the 1920s, director Thea Sharrock takes us back to the seaside town of Littlehampton in Sussex (more photogenic Arundel is used for the setting). Escalatingly vicious poison pen letters are  being sent to local inhabitants, starting with Edith Swan (Olivia Colman), a middle-aged spinster still living with her elderly mum and dad (Gemma Jones and Timothy Spall). The prime suspect is their next-door neighbour Rose (Jessie Buckley), a potty-mouthed Irish immigrant with whom the Swans have had many altercations. A police investigation uncovers the truth, although most viewers will get there before they do.

The letters are not just Wicked, they are Filthy, and much of the film’s humour derives from the inept smuttiness of their phrasing. Take out the dirty-postcard humour (please don’t!) and this movie would fit seamlessly into the grand comedy tradition of the Ealing Studios output of the 1940s and 50s (The Lavender Hill Mob et al). Cinematography and set design beautifully recapture the period. The script and the performances are gloriously OTT, close to pantomime level. It’s all in the worst possible taste – and all the better for it!

David at the Movies: the garden next to Auschwitz

 

This movie is almost entirely set in the house and garden of Rudolf Höss, commandant of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. A high wall separates the garden from the camp where tens of thousands of Jews are being exterminated. The storyline never takes us over that wall, although screams and cries and gunshots are often heard and dark smoke rises from the crematorium chimney. The full horror of the Holocaust is left to our imagination, although we are shown staff meetings in the dining room where the number of trains and elimination targets are discussed. Meanwhile Höss’s children play in the garden, as if unaware of the horror behind the wall. The children of other officers come to a birthday party.

They are not unaware of the horror. One of the kids is given gold teeth to add to his collection. Höss’s wife parades in a magnificent fur coat brought from the camp; she even tries on the lipstick left in a coat pocket. And she frets when the possibility of her husband’s transfer to another camp threatens to separate the family from the garden she cherishes.

Adapted from a novel by Martin Amis and beautifully filmed, this is a subtler, darker movie than The Boy in the Striped Pjamas, which it inevitably recalls; the commandant’s son was accidentally herded into the gas chamber, and we could, if we chose, see him as somehow a more “innocent” victim than the deported Jews he died with. The banality of evil is at the core of The Zone of Interest, and I think the audience is invited to see the indifference of the Höss family as symbolic of the indifference of the German nation to the genocide on their collective doorstep.

A grim movie on a grim theme. It will not be to every cinemagoer’s taste. I’m not sure it was to mine.

David at the movies: “I see dead people.”

All of Us Strangers

 

This must be the most intense gay movie since Brokeback Mountain, but All of Us Strangers is a lot more mystifying  than Brokeback. Adam (Andrew Scott), a lonely screenwriter in a bleak London high-rise, starts dating Harry (Paul Mescal) after meeting him in the lobby of the building. Via a kind of London Transport time tunnel, Adam takes regular trips to his old home in the suburbs, where his parents (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell) are living again thirty years after they died in a car crash. Mum and Dad are nearly the same age as Adam; they don’t know he is gay or that the world has moved on since the fear-filled early days of AIDS. Adam builds a stronger bond with his parents at the same time as his affair with Harry deepens.

Given that a tube train can take him to see dead people, we have to decide how much of this story is real and how much a fantasy scripted by the unhappy Adam, who was orphaned at twelve and has limited interpersonal skills. The ending adds another layer to the mystery.

The love scenes are beautifully (and tastefully) shot, but the weirdness of the story will probably baffle and even alienate a lot of viewers. I’m not sure how I rate this: great performances from the charismatic lead actors, but I didn’t feel as emotionally engaged as I was in Brokeback or God’s Own Country.

What I’m reading: the changing lives of gay men and women

 

Peter Scott-Presland: A GAY CENTURY Volume Two

 

The second volume of Peter Scott-Presland’s short plays chronicling the lives of gay men and woman through the twentieth century takes us from the 1970s to the millennium – three decades which saw huge changes to laws and attitudes in the UK and most of the world. Section 28 is revisited, and the legislation to legitimize same-sex partnerships and marriage and gay parenting.

In an ironic twist on the grim reality of the Aids pandemic, ‘Quarantine’ imagines that Health Secretary Norman Fowler was empowered to intern anyone with (or even suspected of having) HIV in prison camps on the Isle of Man. Comedy with a dark edge.

These playlets are written to be spoken or sung. As operettas they would be in the style of Brecht rather than Puccini; there are no soaring arias and the language is everyday. The opening chapter in Volume One, with Queen Victoria visiting Oscar Wilde on his deathbed in a Paris fleapit hotel and pirating lines from his plays, remains my personal favourite, as fruity as a Christmas cake, not quite equalled by anything in Volume Two. Victoria and Oscar, with others from the series, make ghostly cameo appearances in the seventeenth and final play, ‘Two Into One’, which has Ken Livingstone among the supporters of two old queens – make that two ancient queens – on their wedding day, a pair as dated and waspish as Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen in ITV’s weirdly old-fashioned sitcom Vicious.

A Gay Century is an imaginative triumph. Bravissimo, Peter Scott-Presland!

Who inspired soap diva Tawdra Thanatos?

 

 

Bonham Carter gives a fruity performance as Crossroads diva Noele Gordon. But which star of which Soap do you think inspired Tawdra Thanatos, the uber-bitch queen of Eldorado, the Florida-based soap in my novel SOAP-STUD & BLUE-MOVIE GIRL?

Read Extracts from the novel by clicking on the links. And post your “theories” about Tawdra in Comments!

David at the Movies: The man who saved Jewish children

Much discussed on TV in the run-up to its release, this is the true story of Nicholas Winton, a young British stockbroker who helped fund and organise the rescue of 669 Jewish children from Prague fleeing Nazi persecution ahead of the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in September 1939. Fifty years later some of those he saved paid tribute to their rescuer on a television show.

The Prague scenes – panic and looming chaos – are vividly captured despite the limitations imposed by a non-blockbuster budget. Johnny Flynn gives a believable portrait of an earnest young man fighting the bureaucratic obstacles to the transportation of hundreds of children. There are harrowing goodbyes at the train station to parents who we know will not live to see their children again.

In the 1980s scenes Anthony Hopkins plays the now knighted Winton, embarrassed by the hoopla that attends his exposure as a hero and emotionally scarred by the knowledge of what happened to the children (millions of them) who did not escape Hitler’s hideous plan to exterminate European Jewry. A scene when Sir Nicholas is reduced to tears had the same effect on most of the audience at my local multiplex.

This is another small – and timely – movie on a big theme, reminding us of the great horror that was the Holocaust in a month when the population of Gaza must be feeling that an Apocalypse has been visited on their ghetto-like homeland.

What I’m watching: Intense gay Italian drama – Brokeback intense

NUOVO OLIMPO 

 (Netflix)

Netflix has become a notable stable for LGBT-themed movies and TV series. Nuovo Olimpo is the latest, a one-off Italian feature centred on the aborted romance between Enea (Damiano Gavino), a young film director, and Pietro (Andrea Di Luigi) an ophthalmologist  new to the gay scene. They meet in the Nuovo Olimpo fleapit cinema in the 1970s, a notorious gay cruising ground that is Rome’s equivalent of London’s Biograph cinema (aka “the Bio-grope”). A passionate affair is cut short when the cinema is invaded during an anti-fascist demonstration and they lose contact.

Ten years later Enea has made a movie about their brief fling, and a re-encounter is narrowly missed. More years pass: Ennea has a doting husband and Pietro a wife who is sensitive to the gap in his life. An accident on a film set brings the two men together in the eye hospital and offers the opportunity to relight the flame between them. A “will they/won’t they” moment gives the movie a soap-opera climax.

The intensity of the early sex scenes is more than a little reminiscent of Brokeback Mountain (as in other Netflix productions full-frontal nudity takes the movie to the vertiginous edge of lite porn). The story also has faint echoes of Theorem, Pasolini’s pansexual odyssey which seemed extremely bold and weird in 1968 and might still seem pretty far out in 2023.

Nuovo Olimpo isn’t weird but it is a full-on exploration of gay and bisexual love, written and directed with a rare sensitivity by Ferzan Ozpetek and beautifully played by the two handsome leads. This is a must-see drama whose appeal, very much like Brokeback Mountain, extends far beyond the gay audience.