Film Review – Night Will Fall

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This timely documentary is essential viewing for 1) anyone with a serious interest in film, 2) anyone interested in the post war politics that led to the suppression of some extraordinary Nazi death camp documentation and 3) anyone brave enough to view some of the most distressing images of the Holocaust ever captured on film.

In 1945, producer Sidney Bernstein and director Alfred Hitchcock (yes, you read that correctly) were commissioned to oversee German Concentration Camps Factual Survey – a film which was to contain everything in the liberated death camps that would “prove this actually happened”. This documentary was shot, scripted and partially edited, but the project was ultimately shelved by a Foreign Office who ruled it “inconvenient”, given rapidly changing post war political considerations, such as the rise of Zionism and the need for Germany as an ally against the Soviets.

The complete film, missing for several decades, has subsequently been rediscovered and finished to Bernstein and Hitchcock’s original specifications by Imperial War Museum scholars. It will screen at the London Film Festival next month, but in the meantime Night Will Fall, director Andre Singer’s companion piece, explains the story behind the making of this film, and provides interviews and context for its truly horrifying footage.

Singer is the ideal choice to oversee a project like this, given his involvement in The Act of Killing (a documentary I haven’t had the courage to watch yet, in spite of its near universal acclaim). The result is a sober and fascinating piece of work. Be warned – the imagery on display here is beyond shocking and will scar your memory forever. However, this remains a vitally important and profoundly relevant film as, to quote Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian, it “exposes once again the obscenity of Holocaust denial”. Given recent current events, I couldn’t put it more eloquently than that.

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Film Review – A Most Wanted Man

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The late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives a strong, suitably dour performance as the spy at the centre of A Most Wanted Man. To be honest, he is really the primary reason to see what is otherwise a fairly low key thriller.

Adapted from John Le Carre’s novel, the film clearly has aspirations of the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy variety. But unlike Tomas Alfredson’s outstanding version of that spy classic, Anton Corbijn’s picture is a far less riveting affair. The story concerns a Chechen Muslim illegal immigrant whose presence in Hamburg is suspected to be part of a terrorist plot. Rather than arrest him, spymaster Gunther (Hoffman) works hard to persuade other interested parties – including the Americans – to keep their distance to see if he will lead them to the mastermind behind the plot. Further convoluting the mix are a dodgy banker (Willem Dafoe) and lawyer (Rachel McAdams), who Gunther accuses of being a “social worker for terrorists”.

The murky morality of espionage is duly examined with the requisite hand-wringing, but with little of the piercing insight into the human condition that made Tinker Tailor so memorable. On the plus side the location work is good, and Corbijn’s eye for a good image remains keen. But visually his previous films Control and The American are far more interesting. Hoffman aside, the performances are decent and the film does just enough – even if it does grind along in very low gear – to keep the audience interested. In the end though, there can be little doubt that A Most Wanted Man is, at best, a moderately wanted film.

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Children of the Folded Valley questions and answers

Since my most recent novel Children of the Folded Valley was released, I’ve received a number of questions and comments that I’d like to address on this blog.

Is Children of the Folded Valley based on a true story?

No. Children of the Folded Valley is entirely fictional, with fictional characters, setting, plot and so on. I am surprised people have asked this, considering the science fiction elements the book contains!

Was Children of the Folded Valley rewritten and the ending changed following the death of my father?

No. The entire novel was written before my father died in May 2012, with the first draft dating back to the summer of 2011. The death of the father in the story was an essential element of the plot, foreseen from the outset. At no point did the main story change for any reason at all.

What is true is that early outlines of the story had the tone of a pulpy conspiracy thriller, told from the point of view of a journalist who stumbled into the Folded Valley and became trapped there. I subsequently decided against this approach, as I felt a more personal point of view was required. Eventually I settled on the idea of a telling the story from the perspective of a child who had been born within the Folded Valley.

Does Children of the Folded Valley have some basis in experience?

To a limited degree, yes. My own experiences in a religious cult known as “the Fellowship” took place between when I was born until I was seven. Some of what took place provided inspiration for the novel, but I also drew inspiration from other parts of my life. It is important to emphasise that most of what takes place in the story is complete fabrication with no basis in real events at all.

Which incidents in the story are based on real events?

Mostly minor details. For example, my parents put up Christmas trees in defiance of the wishes of the leadership. Pretty much everything fun was banned; so no television, no cinema, no music (unless it was recorded worship music from the Fellowship meetings) or theatre trips. I wasn’t even allowed to go on school trips or attend firework nights.

Toys were at one point prohibited for no other reason than the leader wanted parents to buy their children presents from the sports shop he had set up. I can actually recall talking to God and asking him why it was so wrong for me to get the toys I particularly wanted, much as James does in the story after the train set incident. Incidentally, trains weren’t something I was particularly interested in, but my father was – hence their inclusion as a recurring motif and metaphor within the plot.

More seriously, we did at one point have an individual living with us who suffered paranoid schizophrenia, and the individual in question did once attack my mother. And yes – it is true that within the cult there were some horrific sexual abuses, financial abuses and many examples of control and isolation perpetuated by the leader. We were not permitted to see friends or relatives who were not a part of the Fellowship, so I was unaware of the many cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents I had for many years.

Will you ever write the true story of what happened in those early years of your life?

Very unlikely, because really it is my parent’s story, not mine. But I hope people enjoy Children of the Folded Valley for what I intended it to be, namely a gripping sci-fi tinged story with a cautionary undertone about abuse of power and deception.

Children of the Folded Valley has proved something of a hit amongst readers. Given how nervous I was about 1) my first grown-up book, 2) the subject matter, 3) my first attempt at a first person narrative and 4) how people would take the ending, I am pleasantly surprised.

The book spent two weeks at the number one spot on Amazon’s free science fiction chart, and remained in the top ten for over a week on the paid chart after the free offer came to an end. Five star reviews continue to pour in from readers across the world.

The novel presently available for Kindle from Amazon:

Print copies are available from Lulu.com:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/simon-dillon/children-of-the-folded-valley/paperback/product-21732639.html

Here is the blurb from the back of the book:

During a journey to visit his estranged sister, James Harper recalls his childhood in a mysterious valley cut off from the outside world, where he grew up as part of a cult called the Folded Valley Fellowship.

In this seemingly idyllic world, the charismatic Benjamin Smiley claimed to be protecting his followers from an impending nuclear apocalypse.

But the valley concealed a terrifying secret.

A secret that would change Smiley’s followers forever.

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Film Review – Lucy

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Luc Besson’s Lucy is a daft, preposterous but enjoyable ninety minutes of genre fun. By default, it’s also a bit anti-Christian, but more on that later.

Scarlett Johansson is entertaining in a Milla Jovovich kind of way, playing the eponymous and imperilled Lucy, who gets caught up in a drug mule operation in Hong Kong that goes badly wrong when the new experimental drug inside her ruptures. Suddenly she is able to use previously untapped areas of her brain, leading to all manner of exciting and bizarre shenanigans across Hong Kong and later Paris.

It’s utterly, utterly silly, but the action is slick and enjoyable. There are one or two good supporting parts in the script (such as the notable presence of Morgan Freeman, playing a similar role to one he had in the similarly themed Transcendence). Luc Besson hasn’t made a film this outrageously entertaining since The Fifth Element, although his best work (Nikita, The Big Blue, Leon) seems to now belong to a dim and distant past. Certain elements of the direction feel heavy handed, such as the obvious animal symbolism intercut with the main action during the opening, but given that the film culminates in a bold, outrageous how-the-heck-did-the-studio-approve-that-ending finale, taken as a big, barmy whole the film works.

It is therefore slightly disappointing to note that whilst Lucy isn’t directly attacking Christianity per se, it definitely contains a default anti-Christian undercurrent. Lucy implies that unlocking the brain’s full potential will lead us on the path to essentially becoming gods. From a Christian perspective, it could be argued that the Fall of Man led to the human race losing the ability to use their full brain capacity, and that such abilities will one day be restored. However, within the secular humanist framework of Lucy, the implication is that we can achieve this without any involvement from God, and indeed without the human race needing to be redeemed at all.

Of course, given how ludicrous the film is, I doubt anyone will be pondering deep theological matters after viewing it, other than perhaps people like me.

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George goes to Mars now FREE at Amazon

My earlier novel George goes to Mars is now available for Kindle FREE from Amazon.

I have been trying for some time to persuade Amazon to make this novel free, and I have finally succeeded. So please take advantage of this opportunity and download the book now. And if you like it, please do leave a one-liner review (or a longer review if you prefer) on Amazon to say so.

George goes to Mars is a thrilling read for young and old alike. It is the first part of a trilogy that I know has been enjoyed by many others outside of the Amazon readership (reviews are available on other sites selling the book). It was originally intended as a stand-alone adventure (as indeed was the second novel), but this year I have written a third instalment which will be released sometime in early 2015.

To the matter at hand, however. Here’s a brief blurb about the plot to whet your apetite. Enjoy!

When George Hughes discovers he has inherited the planet Mars, he goes from poverty to becoming the richest boy on Earth overnight.

Accompanied by his new guardian, a mysterious secret agent and a crew of astronauts, George voyages to Mars to sell land to celebrities wanting to build interplanetary holiday homes. But sabotage, assassination attempts and the possibility of an alien threat plunge him into a deadly adventure…

UPDATE: I have been informed that Amazon.com is not listing this book free, only Amazon.co.uk. I will try and get them to change this as soon as possible.

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Film Review – The Guest

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I wasn’t a fan of Adam Wingard’s last picture You’re Next, but his follow-up The Guest is actually a highly enjoyable slice of psycho-thriller hokum. Yes it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before many times, but The Guest does it rather well.

The bereaved Peterson family are visited by seemingly charming David (Dan Stevens) who claims to have served with their son before he died in action. He slowly insinuates his way into their lives, charming each member of the family in turn. However when teenage daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) begins to suspect David isn’t all he claims to be, she calls the military to check into his story. This provokes an immediate response from army intelligence, led by Carver (Lance Reddick – best known for his roles in TV series The Wire and Fringe), who seems particularly alarmed at the appearance of David in the Peterson household.

This is ludicrous, overblown, clichéd nonsense, but it’s very entertaining ludicrous, overblown, clichéd nonsense. Although anyone with a basic knowledge of the genre will predict almost every plot turn, the stylish direction, well-chosen electronic soundtrack and performances keep this ticking along very nicely. Maika Monroe is particularly worth singling out for praise, and I suspect she is a name to watch. The usual warnings about violence, nudity and bad language apply, and certainly the latter part of the film is something of a bloodbath. But if this is your kind of thing, you could certainly do a lot worse.

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Doctor Who censored

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An edit was made to yesterday’s Doctor Who episode to remove a beheading scene. The BBC said it made the change “in light of recent events” – presumably the beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff by Islamic terrorists, and the beheading of an 82 year old woman in London last week.

Whilst the real life beheadings are obviously tragic, barbaric and deserve condemnation in the strongest possible terms, I must admit I am always dubious when Auntie BBC censors programmes to protect the sensitivities of their apparently oh-so-sensitive audience. The escapist romance of last Saturday’s Doctor Who story – an episode entitled Robot of Sherwood that involved Robin Hood – was hardly likely to draw comparisons with horrific real life events.

SPOILER WARNING: I have seen the beheading sequence in full (look around the internet, and you can too), and it simply involved Robin Hood beheading the Sheriff which revealed, as suspected, that he was an android. Incidentally, this did not kill the android, and a few seconds later he had his head back on again, sword fighting exactly as seen in the transmitted episode. The sequence was not disturbing in any way but rather comical, entirely in line with what one would expect for the family audience.

I cannot understand how this scene could offend anyone. For one thing, fantastical events in Doctor Who are hardly likely to be on the radar of the victim’s relatives, as they will be too caught up in the hellish aftermath of the real life murders. Even if they were, I doubt an analogy would be drawn between robotic decapitation in a sword fight and real life execution/murder. Indeed, it is hard to imagine even the most professionally offended getting angry at this scene, so why act in such a heavy handed, censorial, patronising manner?

The Doctor Who incident is just one of many such cases in the past where the BBC has, I believe, overreacted. Perhaps I am foolish and naïve, but I actually think audiences should be credited with intelligence. Besides, even if they are determined to find Doctor Who offensive or insensitive (which again, based on the edited footage in question I simply cannot believe), every television has an off switch.

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The most unfilmable novel

What is the most unfilmable novel of all time? For me there is but one answer: JD Salinger’s classic, controversial The Catcher in the Rye.

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Salinger himself never wanted the novel to be made into a film, and I can understand why. The entire book is the inner monologue of protagonist Holden Caulfield, an American teenage schoolboy who has just been expelled from a private prep school. The novel then follows a weekend of misadventures in New York, as themes of alienation, angst, rebellion and sexuality are touched upon.

The book remains something of a definitive text on the contradictory and overwhelming feelings encountered during teenage years, but it would not make a good film as it is simply too dependent on the inner thoughts and feelings of Caulfield. Besides, Caulfield himself dislikes movies, calling them “phony” along with many other things he also dislikes. It would be ironic, to say the least, to adapt his story in film.

Caulfield is clearly more disturbed than many teenagers, and as such the book has attracted more than a little controversy. It has the unusual distinction of being one of the most taught books in US schools, as well as one of the most banned. It has also been dubiously linked to various shootings, including the murder of John Lennon, and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.

My view is that The Catcher in the Rye is a masterpiece. It is amongst the greatest American novels on a par with To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. I’m fairly sure reading it won’t turn you into a psychopath, but don’t hold your breath for a film version any time soon.

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Film Review – Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

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Those who enjoyed 2005’s Sin City are in for more of the same with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, only not quite as memorable.

The principle reason this belated sequel is a lesser beast is that the art-directed-to-within-an-inch-of-it’s-life schtick that seemed so fresh visually nine years ago has since become more commonplace. Moreover, this instalment lacks the emotional core of the previous film, namely the Bruce Willis/Jessica Alba relationship.

Both the Willis and Alba characters return to continue that relationship, albeit with one watching over the other from beyond the grave. However this time round their characters are more peripheral, less convincing and therefore less satisfying. Instead the bulk of the film focuses on femme fatale Ava (Eva Green, who is naked in at least half her scenes) and the various men she tries to lure to their doom, including private detective Dwight (Josh Brolin). Surrounding this main story is another one concerning corrupt senator Roark (Powers Boothe) and one of his illegitimate sons Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).  Other characters known to fans of Frank Miller’s original comics – including Marv (Mickey Rourke) – also make an appearance, weaving in and out of the various plotlines.

Robert Rodriguez directs just as slickly as he did with the first Sin City, and visually the monochrome with splashes of colour is every bit as eye popping (as it is in the comics). Performances are completely over the top for the most part, but appropriate to the subject matter. Incidentally, the rest of the cast also includes the likes of Juno Temple, Christopher Lloyd, Rosario Dawson, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta  and even Lady Gaga at one point.

Needless to say, morally and spiritually this is all but indefensible given it’s apparent celebration of bloody vengeance in pretty much all the plotlines. However, taking it too seriously would be a mistake. Like the comics, this film is deliberately exaggerated, often tongue in cheek and has a faintly satirical edge amid all the noir gloom.

The bottom line is that if you enjoyed the first film, you’ll probably like this one too, just not as much. If however you were bothered by the extreme violence of the first – not to mention the dubious female characterisation – you’d be best to give this a wide berth.

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Children of the Folded Valley – initial reviews

My latest novel Children of the Folded Valley has had a number of very positive reviews, including some raves, from those who have read it. Here’s a brief sample from those on Amazon:

“A dystopian treasure! I have lived in this valley for the last few days due to the author’s skill at world-building. I have watched the characters come alive, and have experienced a mind-boggling mystery come to light. This is storytelling! You will be left with wanting more…” – Kathy, Amazon.

“I don’t usually leave reviews but I felt so strongly about encouraging people to read this fantastic book. It had me captured from start to finish. At one stage in the book I actually thought it was a true story.” – Paul Taylor, Amazon.

“Creepy and unnerving… Kept me gripped the whole way through.” – Lucyboo, Amazon.

“Draws the reader from a seemingly normal world into the horrific.” – Olga, Amazon.

“Readers will be gripped by the anguish of a community coming to terms with what is going on behind closed doors…” – Al Gibson, Amazon.

“I can’t put it down.” – Andre Pena, Amazon.

Children of the Folded Valley is currently available FREE from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, Kobo and various other places in various downloadable formats (including Kindle).

Print copies are available from Lulu.com: http://www.lulu.com/shop/simon-dillon/children-of-the-folded-valley/paperback/product-21732639.html

Here is the blurb from the back of the book:

During a journey to visit his estranged sister, James Harper recalls his childhood in a mysterious valley cut off from the outside world, where he grew up as part of a cult called the Folded Valley Fellowship.

In this seemingly idyllic world, the charismatic Benjamin Smiley claimed to be protecting his followers from an impending nuclear apocalypse.

But the valley concealed a terrifying secret.

A secret that would change Smiley’s followers forever.

Posted in Books | 2 Comments