Film Review – The Post

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Steven Spielberg’s The Post is another example of what I have come to call his “elder statesman” films , alongside previous examples Bridge of Spies and Lincoln. Like those films, The Post is possessed of an absolute belief in the decency inherent in the US constitution, and in common with Bridge of Spies specifically, it uses Tom Hanks as the everyman mouthpiece for such humanitarian tub-thumping, this time about the freedom of the press to hold the government to account.

Based on the true story of the leaked Pentagon Papers scandal in the early 1970s, Hanks plays Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, a dyed-in-the-wool, old school newsman through and through. The paper has recently been inherited by Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) following the death of her husband, who is at first cautious and lacks confidence in her new role. Kay and Ben are subsequently put to the ultimate test of integrity when the Pentagon Papers (which expose how several US governments knew the war in Vietnam was unwinnable, but did nothing to stop it) are acquired by the Post. The question of whether or not they should defy a court order and publish the story, thus risking prison and the collapse of the paper, forms the central drama.

Tom Hanks is very good, his performance by all accounts a good approximation of the real Bradlee’s posture and mannerisms. The rest of the cast, which includes the always excellent Bruce Greenwood as Robert McNamara, add fine support. However it is Meryl Streep who really impresses. Working from Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s first-rate screenplay, the arc of Streep’s character is particularly satisfying. Kay Graham is a woman who gradually finds her voice in what was then a man’s world, culminating in a brave and heroic stance against a bullying government that wanted to suppress the truth.

It goes without saying that as a director Spielberg is in complete control. With tremendous attention to period detail, the cigarette infused, ink under the fingernails atmosphere of the old Washington Post newsroom crackles with energy, as the riveting drama gradually unfolds. Spielberg’s regular collaborators are also present and correct, with editor Michael Kahn, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, production designer Rick Carter and composer John Williams all making their usual invaluable contributions.

In an era of “fake news” and renewed hostility between the White House and the Press, The Post could hardly be a timelier film. It doesn’t insult the intelligence of the audience, so doesn’t feel preachy, but by the end I was left in no doubt about why Spielberg chose to make this film so quickly, interrupting the post-production on his upcoming science fiction film Ready Player One in order to do so. History has an alarming habit of repeating itself, and Trump, like Nixon, must accept that however hostile it might be, a free press is essential to democracy.

To summarise, The Post is a worthy addition to the canon of great newspaper movies (of which All the President’s Men is probably still the greatest), and comes highly recommended.

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Film Review – Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

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Today I finally caught up with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which has been a surprise hit. What’s even more surprising is that it is actually a thoroughly entertaining comedy adventure, with charm, wit and even a smidgeon of satire to spare. Yes, it’s absolutely ridiculous, but it’s probably impossible not to emerge from the cinema with a big grin on your face.

A much belated sequel, this one begins where the original left off, with the Jumanji board game being found on a beach by a teenager who promptly dismisses is, muttering “Who plays board games these days?” Apparently the game hears him and adapts accordingly, because next time he opens the case he discovers it has become a video game, which he is then sucked into. Fast forward two decades, and a group of teenagers in school detention find the old video game, and are likewise sucked into it.

Here the film plays it’s ace. Main protagonist Spencer (Alex Wolff) is a nerdy, awkward boy who suddenly finds himself in the body of Dwayne Johnson, playing his video game avatar. His best friend Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), a strong, sporty guy, finds himself in the much smaller, much weaker body of Kevin Hart. Outsider Martha (Morgan Turner) finds herself in the body of Karen Gillan, prompting amusing comments about how her crop top is ridiculous and impractical attire for the jungle they find themselves in. And most awkwardly of all, narcissist mean girl Bethany (Madison Iseman) finds herself in the body of… Jack Black.

Director Jake Kasdan helms solidly, making the most of the witty and surprisingly satirical screenplay. I particularly enjoyed the swipes taken at the ghastly superficiality of social media, selfies and so on. Each character has an amusing and satisfying arc throughout the ensuing adventure of chases, traps, deadly animals, dark villains and knowingly nonsensical video game plotting. But the greatest joy is, surely, seeing Dwayne Johnson send himself up so hilariously, with a nerdy teenage boy inhabiting his ludicrous physique.

I was completely indifferent to the original Jumanji from 1996, but this one is a different matter entirely. Exciting, funny and breathtakingly silly, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is hardly groundbreaking cinema, but it is a very enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours with brain in neutral.

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Echo and the White Howl – the cover

Here’s the cover for my new novel, Echo and the White Howl.

Echo and the White Howl Cover 10 (FINAL)

I greatly dislike the word “team”. It is the word my children dread to hear at school (“team project”) because it often means they will end up doing all the work whilst others sit and twiddle their thumbs. It is also hurled around endless miserable corporate settings, often as a stick to bash over the heads of employees, implying responsibility beyond what they are paid for (“You’re letting the team down”). Generally I only use the word in a sport related context, and prefer to use other terms elsewhere (“group”, “department”, “squadron” – anything but “team”).

However, I cannot deny that the Echo and the White Howl cover was the product of excellent “teamwork”. My wife Zara and my good friend Yasmine Nuoraho both had a hand in the design, as did I. There were a number of variations (including one with an orange sunset background) but in the end I opted for the colder, blue-grey version which tonally suits the mostly wintery setting.

Set amongst a wolf pack in the vast Alaskan wilderness, Echo and the White Howl is a thrilling animal fiction adventure for all ages.

Here is the blurb from the back of the book:

When a wolf pack discovers humans lurking near their territory, Echo senses dark times ahead.

Despite the warnings and omens, Aatag, the pack Alpha, refuses to flee… leading to a cruel turn of events that forces Echo into exile, and a quest for revenge that will change the pack forever.

Echo and the White Howl is out now, as a download or paperback from Amazon. Click here for your copy.

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Film Review – Darkest Hour

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There is a lot of talk about Gary Oldman winning Best Actor at this year’s Oscars for his turn as Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s latest film Darkest Hour. To be fair, his performance is very good – exactly the kind of turn that Oscar loves, with plenty of scenery chewing and an excellent use of latex, akin to how Kevin Spacey would have looked had his performance in All the Money in the World remained intact. However I wish two things: 1) that Gary Oldman had won an Oscar for his subtle, understated, far less showy turn in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy back in 2011, and 2) that Darkest Hour was a great film, rather than merely a competent one.

Covering the tumultuous political events from the appointment of Churchill to the evacuation of Dunkirk, Darkest Hour is stuffed with the expected political shenanigans and backstabbing, along with a few personal stories (such as a subplot involving Lily James’s typist). However, the narrative feels unfocused at times, and occasionally drifts into credibility stretching artistic licence. For example, one undoubtedly apocryphal sequence, where Churchill interacts with commuters on the London underground to gauge opinions on negotiating surrender versus an uncompromising stand, feels particularly forced.

Despite the acclaim frequently lavished upon him, I have never been a big fan of Joe Wright (Atonement in particular left me cold). This is solid enough, although from the recent gamut of Churchill films, I much preferred The Gathering Storm (with Albert Finney). On the plus side, there is some fine cinematography, production and costume design, along with a very good music score by Dario Marianelli. Also, regardless of storytelling flaws, the stand Churchill took against evil remains hugely inspirational. If one is a Brit, one cannot possibly help but feel a little bit stirred at his “Never surrender” speech in the House of Commons (a speech also used to brilliant effect in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk).

In short, Gary Oldman remains the chief reason to check this out, and I do expect an Oscar nomination. However as a film, Darkest Hour rates as slightly above average, rather than great.

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Film Review – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Frances McDormand could well win Best Actress at this year’s Oscars for her turn as Mildred Hayes in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Playing a woman whose daughter was horrifically raped and murdered, McDormand seamlessly and simultaneously conveys a gamut of emotions and characteristics in her raw, fully-rounded embodiment of the character. There is a numb, brittle, brilliantly understated way she carries herself, yet she also explodes in sequences of rage, undercut with a rich vein of dark humour. We feel her righteous anger, yet we also see that the appalling tragedy has robbed her of some of her humanity. We see that she is formidable and not to be underestimated, yet we also learn that she was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband. In short, her performance of this superbly written character evokes wonder.

Frustrated at what she perceives as the laziness and ineptitude of the local police, Mildred hires three derelict billboards outside her small town of Ebbing to bemoan this fact, singling out Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) for particular responsibility. Needless to say this ruffles feathers, and local sympathy, which had previously been with Mildred, begins to turn against her.

To say too much more would spoil the plot, but suffice to say no character is painted entirely in shades of black or white. For example, Willoughby turns out to be a far more sympathetic character than we initially think he might be, and even thuggish, racist cop Dixon (a stand-out supporting role from Sam Rockwell) is a fully three-dimensional character whose story arc is fascinating. All other performances are solid, making the very best of writer/director Martin McDonagh’s first-rate screenplay. Donagh, previously best known for In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, has here directed his best film to date.

Some will moan that Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is depressing, but as ever I feel sorry for such people. Yes it is heartbreakingly sad, but the tragedy is undercut by the afore-mentioned pitch black humour. I do need to add warnings for extremely strong language and violence, but the film has a warm and humane undercurrent which subtly but convincingly gets across a powerful message about hate versus love. At one point said message is delivered via Mildred’s ex-husband’s nineteen year old lover (who, with deliberate irony, is frequently made an object of ridicule): hate only begets greater hate. As one character later states, love is the answer, because love causes you to slow down, think, and see what you couldn’t see previously.

A brilliantly written, acted and directed drama, I highly recommend Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.

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Another excerpt from Echo and the White Howl

Here’s another excerpt from my latest novel, Echo and the White Howl. An animal fiction adventure for all ages, this segment is from chapter 3, where Echo, Malakai and Imalik go on a scouting expedition to investigate human activity outside of their pack territory. (For an introduction to some of the characters, click here).

 

After a while, Imalik halted. He turned back to Malakai and Echo then pointed his snout at an indentation in the snow nearby. Echo peered at the tracks and realised with a certain degree of trepidation that they were unlike any he had ever seen.

‘Are those human footprints?’ asked Malakai.

Imalik nodded. ‘Quite recent too, by the look of them, and judging by the smell. I suspect we might come across some humans soon.’

Echo and Malakai exchanged glances. They didn’t need to be told twice about the dangers of humans. They continued on, sniffing the tracks and following them further into the forest. Their path curved around to the west before dropping steeply around the lip of a rocky dell. A curious scent mingled with that of the human presence which Echo had never encountered before; a dirty, greasy, sticky tang. He felt a little dizzy, and the further he got to the source of the odour, the more overpowering it became.

‘What is that smell?’ said Echo.

‘I don’t know,’ said Malakai. ‘But I don’t like it. This whole place feels… I don’t know. As though it’s waiting for something terrible to happen… The tree spirits are unsettled here, but I can’t understand why.’

‘Quiet!’ hissed Imalik, as they stopped for a moment. Imalik turned his head towards the dell, and a curious flicker entered his eyes. Echo couldn’t quite describe what he saw on Imalik’s face; an alarming mixture of excitement, greed and triumph. Yet Echo couldn’t explain how he felt, other than that he was suddenly afraid. Imalik had always been an intimidating presence. But it wasn’t just because of his scarred features or the fact that he was considerably larger and more cunning than the other wolves in the pack. Something about him had always bothered Echo, though he did not know what. Now that something seemed amplified, as though about to reveal itself.

‘We should go down there,’ Imalik said eventually.

‘I don’t think we should,’ said Malakai. ‘There is evil in that dell. I can sense it.’

Imalik snarled. ‘I’m in charge of this expedition. You’ll do as I say.’

Malakai opened his mouth to argue but Echo shot a warning look in his direction. He didn’t want to anger Imalik, especially after that strange gleam he had seen in his eye.

‘Follow me, but be careful,’ said Imalik.

The group cautiously made their way down along the side of the dell, until they were beneath the steep rock formations. Snow and ice covered the ground, and the entire area was shaded in thick trees that all but blocked out the sun. However, a strange, thick black liquid could be seen gently bubbling amid the snow and rocks, seeping from the earth itself. It stuck to rocks and blackened the snow. The smell of this curious liquid was stronger than ever, and Echo had a difficult time detecting any other scent. Even the human trail had been overpowered.

‘What is this stuff?’ said Echo, his paw hovering over a patch of bubbling black liquid.

‘Don’t touch it!’ cried Malakai.

Imalik sniffed a patch of the strange, sticky substance. ‘I think it is safe enough.’

Malakai shook his head. ‘No. This is dangerous. It attracts humans and causes them to do terrible things.’

‘What are you talking about?’ said Imalik. ‘How can you possibly know that?’

‘I can sense it,’ said Malakai.

Imalik scoffed. ‘Let me guess. The spirits of the trees told you?’

‘Leave him alone,’ said Echo. ‘Whatever this stuff is, Malakai is right. The humans are interested in it. If that brings more humans here it might be bad for the pack. Humans are afraid of us and kill us if they see us.’

‘Perhaps Father will know what this black stuff is,’ said Malakai.

‘I doubt it,’ said Imalik. ‘Aatag has not studied human lore the way I have.’

‘You know too much about humans,’ said Malakai. ‘Such knowledge is dangerous Imalik. Remember the Code of Akna forbids…’

‘Don’t lecture me about the Code!’ snapped Imalik. ‘This is a scouting mission to determine whether or not the human presence is dangerous to the pack, not a religious debate. We need to find out why they are here, and if it is for this stuff, we need to understand it.’

‘But how will we do that?’

Imalik thought for a moment. ‘Perhaps if we set a regular watch in this part of the forest… However, we are probably in the territory of another pack, which could cause problems.’

‘If there is another pack present in this territory, perhaps we should try and contact them,’ said Echo. ‘Perhaps they know what the humans are up to.’

Imalik’s ears suddenly cocked. He sniffed the air and frowned. ‘Humans,’ he said. ‘At least four. I think they are approaching. We should hide and see what they do.’

Echo and Malakai followed Imalik out of the dell and back around its edge, following the rocky path to an area overlooking the bubbling black liquid. There they settled behind some trees and bushes, concealing themselves within but still able to observe the ground at the bottom of the dell.

For several minutes they waited in silence. Echo could also smell the approaching humans, despite the overpowering scent of the black liquid. His heart began to beat faster and he wondered whether the humans would carry the rods that fired hot metal. Yet despite his anxiety, he felt just as unsettled by Imalik, whose eyes still betrayed a fiery curiosity, as though he had been bewitched. Although they were on a scouting expedition, trying to discover what the humans were up to, Echo couldn’t escape the nagging sense that there was more going on inside Imalik than he had let on. Judging by the look on Malakai’s face, he felt a similar concern.

Echo and the White Howl is out now as a download or paperback from Amazon. Order your copy here.

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Film Review – Hostiles

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Hostiles, a new western from director Scott Cooper, features a particularly savage opening. Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) is schooling her young children at their remote homestead whilst her husband chops wood outside. They are then attacked by a marauding party of Comanche. The homestead is burned, the husband scalped, and the children (including a baby) shot dead.

Rosalie is subsequently discovered by Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), an embittered Yankee soldier assigned to transport Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to their Montana homeland, as a result of Presidential order, following their seven year incarceration. Captain Blocker and his men have also committed atrocities in their battles with various Native American groups, but Blocker’s pathological hatred for his charges begins to gradually change as he takes the tough but traumatised Rosalie under his protection. However, their journey to Montana is fraught with danger from Comanche and other hostile parties.

In one sense, this is nothing we haven’t seen before. The Searchers and The Outlaw Josey Wales in particular are clear influences. However, Cooper has crafted a very fine western. Performances from Bale and Pike are both outstanding, Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography is moody and beautiful, and Max Richter contributes an atmospheric music score.

Returning to the afore-mentioned shocking violence, there is plenty more as well as the brutal opening, and it’s worth adding an additional warning for strong language. However, none of it felt gratuitous given the subject matter. Indeed, from a moral/spiritual perspective, Hostiles is ultimately a very redemptive story. It condemns war atrocities and the appalling damage to the perpetrator as much as the victim, yet also has a Judeo-Christian underpinning that emphasises kindness and forgiveness, hinting that even a soul as tormented and lost as Blocker’s can again find meaning and purpose.

All things considered, Hostiles is a grim, gripping and violent piece of work, shot through with melancholia, as are all great westerns. It also features one of the best closing shots that I’ve seen for a while.

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An excerpt from Echo and the White Howl

Here’s an excerpt from my latest novel, Echo and the White Howl. An animal fiction adventure for all ages, this segment is from chapter 1, just after Echo and the other wolves in his pack successfully hunt an elk amid the snowy Alaskan landscape.

(NOTE: click here for an introduction to some of the characters in the story.)

Echo and the White Howl Cover 10 (FINAL)

The wolf pack howled in triumph for a few seconds. Then Imalik hovered next to the dead beast, his great fangs drooling as though he were about to begin feeding. Aatag immediately approached, and the two wolves stared at one another. Echo watched the scene, and for a moment felt anxious as the two great wolves sized one another up. Aatag was a large grey wolf, with a great bushy tail and deep eyes filled with the experience of many hunts and many winters. His wisdom and cunning over the years meant he bore few scars, and yet there could be no doubt he appeared old. Perhaps as Puyak claimed, he wasn’t quite as sharp and swift in his instincts as he used to be.

Imalik by contrast seemed in his prime. He looked more scarred, but no less cunning. His black furry coat was matted and bloody as a result of the death blow he had inflicted on the bull elk, and one of his dark, steel eyes had an oddly milky texture, as though he were blind. Yet Echo knew Imalik’s eyesight was legendary. He could often see at a longer range than many wolves, seemingly through trees, rocks and beyond.

Copper trotted up to Aatag’s side, and Echo watched as the red wolf stared at Imalik, perhaps silently warning him. As Aatag’s Beta, Imalik would always feast second after Aatag and Kiana, but on more than one occasion he had grumbled about this. For a moment Echo wondered if another argument might ensue, but presently Imalik cocked his ears and head into a submissive pose.

As Alpha, Aatag ate first. He gnawed and chewed at the freshly slain elk whilst the rest of the pack looked on. Echo stood nearby, knowing he would have to wait his turn and that the best and most nourishing parts – the heart, the liver and so forth – would have almost certainly been consumed by then.

Once Aatag had eaten his fill, Kiana ate too. Echo could not fail to notice the resentful glare in Imalik’s eyes as he watched, growling quietly under his breath. But a quelling look from Copper rendered Imalik silent once more.

Puyak trotted up to Echo, planting his paw firmly in the snow with his ears alert, ready to feast on the carcass once permission had been given. He was next in line, then Echo, then Malakai. Finally Imalik and lastly Copper would be allowed to feast. Despite their hunting prowess Imalik and Copper were not cubs of Aatag and Kiana, and as such always came last during feeding. Both had previously been lone wolves; wanderers from other packs that had been allowed to join Aatag’s pack some years ago.

For a moment Echo glanced at Copper. He had less fur than the rest of the pack, and the rusty colouring of the red wolves was not seen as often in their region. Copper had a reputation almost as fierce as that of Aatag, and rival wolf packs for miles around had always kept well clear of their land. However, recently there had been more challenges than usual. With Aatag undertaking fewer patrols in person around the perimeters of their territory, much of the security work had been left to Copper and Imalik. Together they had marked the ground and ruthlessly intimidated any wolves that dared to stray too close to the border.

In the south, near the River Aga where they had caught the elk, there had been a number of recent skirmishes. Copper and Imalik had seen off scouts from at least two different packs over the last month. There had been rumours of aggressive stand-offs, and Imalik had said that challenges to territories further north had left a number of packs wandering, wanting to incur on their ground. Such news had been reported to Aatag, but the Alpha had so far not seemed overly concerned.

As Aatag and Kiana finished feeding, Puyak moved in to eat, but Aatag blocked his path.

‘You broke cover too soon,’ said Aatag. ‘You were impulsive. Because of you the elk could have escaped. Next time be patient, and await my signal.’

‘But you were too slow,’ said Puyak. ‘If we’d waited much longer…’

‘When we hunt in this pack you follow my orders, or you don’t hunt at all,’ said Aatag. ‘Is that clear?’

‘Yes Father.’

‘Good. Now you may eat.’

Aatag’s admonishment of Puyak was not unusual. Puyak was the biggest and bravest of the litter which Malakai and Echo had been born into, but he was also the most reckless and had frequently been warned that his actions could get him killed if he wasn’t careful. Malakai, Puyak and Echo had not been on many hunts, but on virtually every single one they had attended so far, Puyak had been singled out for criticism by his father.

‘He really doesn’t seem to learn,’ Echo said to Malakai.

‘His time will come,’ said Malakai. ‘One day, Puyak will balance wisdom with bravery, just as Father does.’

‘So you always say,’ said Echo.

‘I have faith in all my brothers,’ said Malakai. ‘Some learn quicker, some slower, but the important thing is to learn.’

Echo stared at Malakai, again thinking over what an enigma he was. His brother often seemed distant, elsewhere, and yet he seemed wiser than many wolves that were far older than him.

After Puyak finished eating, Echo finally took his turn. He sank his teeth into the tender flesh, tearing at the skin and gorging himself on the meat of the elk’s hind quarters. He ate until he was completely full, feeling refreshed and nourished following the long and tiring hunt.

Once Echo had finished, he moved away from the elk, knowing that Malakai would feast next. But Malakai didn’t move. His ears were cocked, his eyes wide, and he stared in the direction of the rushing river at their southern border, sniffing the air curiously.

‘What is it?’ asked Echo, barely able to sniff anything beyond their recently caught food.

Malakai didn’t reply. He kept staring fixedly to the south, unmoving and alert. Echo trotted to his side and looked in the same direction but saw nothing out of the ordinary.

‘What do you see?’ Echo repeated. But Malakai didn’t answer. He seemed to be in some kind of trance.

‘Oi, Malakai! You eating or what?’ said Copper.

Still Malakai didn’t move. He continued to gaze into the distance. Echo wondered what could possibly have so captivated his younger brother that he would delay feasting on their newly slain kill.

‘Malakai, go and eat or we go ahead of you,’ said Imalik.

‘That’s not the order we eat in,’ said Echo. ‘You know my father’s rules.’

Imalik growled softly. ‘Only too well… The cubs eat before the older, stronger, more experienced hunters…’

‘It is his law,’ said Puyak. ‘Are you going to stand in the way of it?’

‘The only one standing in the way of anything is Malakai,’ said Imalik. ‘He isn’t feeding, and in the meantime, we are getting hungrier.’

‘We do it Father’s way,’ said Puyak. ‘Malakai eats first.’

‘Malakai, get going,’ said Copper. ‘Snap out of it.’

But Malakai didn’t move. Copper trotted up next to him. ‘What does he see out there?’

For a moment Echo, Puyak, Imalik and Copper all looked towards the River Aga. Aatag and Kiana had curled up nearby, and were snoozing after eating. Echo stared towards the water and the trees beyond, but still could not understand what had so caught Malakai’s attention. The wind had dropped, and every twig and leaf froze. Even the sound of the rushing river seemed to vanish.

Eventually Imalik broke the silence. ‘Enough of this foolishness. I’m feeding now.’

Echo blocked the path between Imalik and the slain elk. ‘No Imalik. We obey the rules of the Alpha.’

‘Your father is asleep,’ said Imalik. ‘Should we wake him and ask whether he thinks it’s reasonable to wait for your dazed brother? Or are you going to do the sensible thing, move out of the way, and let me eat?’

‘We should wait for Malakai,’ said Copper.

‘That’s ridiculous,’ said Imalik. ‘I’m not waiting around for him to snap out of whatever trance he is in.’

‘Nonetheless, that is Aatag’s law, and that is what we will do,’ said Copper.

Imalik began to growl, and for a moment it appeared he and Copper were about to have a stand-off, but at that moment Malakai seemed to come to. He turned and trotted towards the elk and began gnawing at the meat. The others stared at him, bemused. Presently he frowned and addressed them.

‘What’s the matter?’

‘What were you staring at out there?’ asked Echo.

Malakai looked puzzled. ‘I don’t remember.’

But Echo had seen that look on Malakai’s face before. Whatever he had seen, he didn’t want to discuss – at least, not yet. Echo watched as Malakai continued to bite and chew at the elk. Imalik glared darkly at Copper and Echo.

‘Looks like you’ll be waiting your turn after all, Imalik,’ said Echo.

‘One day Echo, I will be first,’ said Imalik.

Aatag and Kiana continued to snooze. Puyak lay down and joined them. Echo also began to feel dozy. Tucking his paws in under his thick coat of fur, he looked out in the direction that Malakai had been staring, again wondering just what it was that had so distracted him from the business of feeding.

When it finally came to his turn to feed, Imalik glared at Malakai as he moved away from the elk. Copper joined Imalik and they both gnawed at opposite ends of the animal. Echo could feel Imalik’s angry stare but chose to ignore it, and instead began to question Malakai.

‘What did you see out there?’ Echo asked. ‘You really did seem absent for a moment.’

‘Not here,’ said Malakai. ‘I’ll tell you later, back at the Crown.’

Echo was intrigued, but said nothing further. Whilst the other wolves rested he kept staring down at the southern territory border, his mind idly wondering what lay beyond.

Echo and the White Howl is out now as a download or paperback from Amazon. Order your copy here.

 

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Film Review – All the Money in the World

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Considering Ridley Scott reshot over twenty scenes at the eleventh hour for his new film All the Money in the World – replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer following sexual harassment allegations – it’s something of a miracle that it turned out so well. In fact, Plummer is outstanding as famous billionaire Jean Paul Getty, providing an icy heart to the true story of how he refused to pay ransom money when his 16 year old grandson was kidnapped in Rome during the early 1970s.

Whilst certain events are fictionalised, there is plenty of unlikely truth here – including a particularly nasty bout of ear surgery more gruesome than a similar moment in Reservoir Dogs. The afore-mentioned Plummer is excellent, dominating every scene he’s in, aided and abetted by David Scarpa’s excellent screenplay (based on John Pearson’s book). Many in the supporting cast are equally good, including Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher) as Getty Jr, and Michelle Williams as his mother Gail. Mark Wahlberg is a bit more one-note as Fletcher Chase, a man hired in some vague “security” capacity by Getty, who is subsequently assigned to get his grandson back through any means necessary – as long as it doesn’t cost any money.

Money, or more specifically what it represents, is a key theme in the film. Getty himself is a walking cautionary tale about the deceitfulness of riches. His character is deftly fleshed out in flashbacks, in moments where he is preoccupied with ticker tape market reports (even to the extent that he infamously refused to take the call when his grandson was reported kidnapped), and also in a scene where he expounds on his view that objects are more reliable and therefore of more value than people. His grasping, miserly obsession and inability to ever be fully satisfied is depressingly and brilliantly depicted. No amount of money will ever be enough, despite the fact that he is not just the richest person in the world, but (at that point) the richest person who ever lived. Contrasted with this is the love Gail has for her son – a love is completely at odds with Getty’s greedy and twisted view of the world. For her money represents nothing more than a tool to secure her son’s freedom.

The film has a tremendous sense of time and place, with Rome locations used to great effect, and tremendous attention to period detail. As one would expect from a Ridley Scott film, it looks fabulous (courtesy of cinematographer Dariusz Wolski), and Daniel Pemberton contributes a fine music score. I must add the usual warnings for strong language and some violent scenes (including the notorious ear moment), and the film is perhaps a touch too long. However, despite this, Ridley is back on form again. For every Alien Covenant, there is, mercifully, an All the Money in the World. Expect Oscar nominations, especially for Christopher Plummer.

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

So what are my writing plans for 2018? Well, hopefully fairly early in the year, I plan to release my novel The Spectre of Springwell Forest, a gripping and chilling ghost story for grown-ups which I’m rather proud of.

Later in the year I plan to release another scary book, this time one aimed children: The Faerie Gate, which I know has been delayed for two years now. Adults can read it too obviously, if they are brave enough.

I am about to start writing an as yet untitled fantasy novel, set partly in the present and partly during the time of King Arthur. I will say no more about it now suffice to say it promises to be a challenging and unusual story. I think it will be more aimed at adults, depending on just how far I push certain envelopes.

I also aim to write the science fiction novellas I planned to write last year, but delayed on account of writing Echo and the White Howl. But as ever things can and could change.

As always, I look forward to sharing release dates, writing progress and other details on all the above here on the blog. Watch this space.

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