Review: The Burnt Orange Heresy (2019)

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Opens Friday 6 March in the US

Don’t be put off by the title; it’s not an exposé of the current occupant of the White House, but an adaptation of the 1971 Charles Willeford novel of the same name. I went to a special screening thanks to the Woodstock Film Festival folks with my pal Peg Aloi AKA The Media Witch. There was a Q&A with producer William Horberg after.

The film stars the very tall pair, Claes Bang and Elizabeth Debicki, in the primary roles (I never noticed during the BBC Dracula how long Bang’s torso is) with Mick Jagger and Donald Sutherland in small pivotal roles. Scott Smith, who wrote A Simple Plan, scripted the film from the novel. He reduced the overwhelming misogyny of the book somewhat (‘Really?’ Peg asked). Horberg mentioned how his pal Neil LaBute was interested in filming the novel at one point. I shudder to think.

Art, grifting, theft and criticism: the book is a lot more deliberate about the last. Smith’s script takes the central themes and turns them into plot decisions. It’s more efficient and dramatic. I’m immersed in stories of art forgery at present for a project (yeah, there’s some Ripley in it, too) so this story has been swirling around in my head. Smith focuses on how the stories we shape in turn shape who we are, but the devil is in the details.

Bang and Debicki are excellent as Figueras (the Puerto Rican identity that’s a linchpin of the novel is dropped) and Hollis. Immediately drawn to each other but infinitely wary, too; he, because he has no authenticity—she, because she has too much. As an art critic on the make, he’s easily exploited by Jagger’s smarmy art dealer Cassidy to get an exclusive: one for each of them. Per Horberg, Jagger asked for rewrites of his part. Possibly just a power move, but the character is much more clever than in the books. It’s not giving away too much to say that he send Figueras to interview reclusive artist Jerome Debney (Sutherland) and to steal a painting from the man who’s only ever had one work displayed.

Berenice exists in the novel as an excuse for Figueras to ramble about his opinions on art and criticism at length (something I have an interest in though most noir fans may skip over the pages on Becket, Dada and Surrealism quickly) and as a plot point. It’s to Smith’s credit that she’s more than that in the film. It’s to Debicki’s credit that she makes her a believable character. The sweetness of her scenes with Sutherland is delightful (Horberg’s account of how he got him for the role spells out the importance of who-you-know-Hollywood). Smith has the elder artist spouting Yeats and Shakespeare not pretentiously, but as naturally as someone with a huge store of words hoarded over the years.

But I’m not sure why they changed the frankly even cheerfully sexual character into one who’s guiltily ‘whoring around Europe’ [cue eyeroll]. Ah, modern American puritanism. She’s ‘punishing’ herself by hanging around Figueras. He’s much more desperate and on the edge. In the novel he’s grafting as well as grifting. In the film, you get the feeling he’s scraping bottom more, thus easier to manipulate as Cassidy is more than willing to do. The transfer to Italy pays off in beauty (Visconti’s villa and grounds stand in for the collector’s summer home) what it loses in the seedy specificity of Willeford’s Florida. But in what world is this a ‘romance’ spiky or not? Only the Hollywood Reporter. Beautiful cinematography (David Ungaro) and music (Craig Armstrong) help build the neo-noir ambiance.

 

Spoilerish:

 

The guilty revelation at the final unveiling works well dramatically. In the novel the resigned self-sacrifice comes because Figueras realises he’s peaked. His confession to the crime is specifically to claim a false motivation. It’s a cover-up of the other crime that’s much more important to him and his legacy as a critic. He feels triumph.

 

DEFFO SPOILERS!

 

 

 

 

 

The breakdown of the murder into two parts makes it that much more horrible. In the book Berenice is barely more than a cypher, so her only purpose on the road trip is being knocked off. In the film the first attempt is a heat-of-the-moment thing; Figueras seems shocked by his own violence and when he talks her back up the stairs to the flat, you almost believe that he regrets it. But the anger is deep; his own fears of failure. When she taunts him with the buzzing fly sound, his move is violent, sudden and final. But he is consumed by guilt and when the fellow critic points him to the ‘Mark of Cain’ the painter left—or rather, the fingerprint Berenice left on the canvas—he’s obviously stricken. There’s no triumph. Not for Figueras anyway; Berenice’s posthumous triumph hangs from the humble refrigerator door of her mother’s house.

Out Now: Love is a Grift

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FOX SPIRIT: Out today! The amazing Love is a Grift by Graham Wynd!
With fabulous cover by S.L Johnson, this collection offers a fresh take on a classic genre, that begins with obsession and most often ends with death.

And don’t forget to check out the exclusive Love is a Grift music and artwork merchandise!

Love is a Grift can be found in ebook formats in our store here. The paperback can be bought at Amazon (N.B. there seems to be a slight delay with the paperback).

Love is a Grift, the theme song can be heard and purchased at Bandcamp or CDBaby.

Exclusive Love is a Grift merchandise can be found at S. L. Johnson’s store at Tee Public or Red Bubble.

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GO BIG OR GO HOME? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!

Review: Twerk by Isobel Blackthorn

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TWERK
Isobel Blackthorn
Hellbound Books

Desire, a spark, a decision made too fast, and a Las Vegas stripper is plunged into the depraved world of a psychopath. But is she the only target of his twisted desires?

A regular Sunday night in a Las Vegas strip club is rocked when a local oddball dies mysteriously, during a private dance.

Amber falls immediately in lust with the hot paramedic who arrives, and follows him outside, anticipating sizzling romance. But, her casual encounter quickly descends into a terrifying, twisted nightmare from which she is unable to escape.

Five days later, and it’s Lana’s next shift at the club; she’s a fly-in-fly-out stripper paying her way through law school – she’s also Amber’s best friend.

Where is Amber? And what about the dead client? Was it an accident? Suicide? Or murder?

Finding neither the police, nor the club are taking much interest, Lana conducts her own inquiries, even though she finds herself the victim of a social-media hate campaign, and an ex-boyfriend who is sending her death threats. She’s desperate to uncover the truth about the death, but the person she most needs to speak to is Amber, who has failed to show up for her shift yet again…

Lana is thrust into a web of lies and deceptions she is determined to unravel, in which everyone is a suspect.

An addictively dark, psychological thriller laced with steamy romance, mystery, action and suspense; Twerk exposes the working lives of Las Vegas strippers behind the glamor – the challenges, the rewards, and the deadly risks.

REVIEW

Set in the world of Vegas strip clubs, Blackthorn’s novel shows the real — and often decidedly unglamourous — life that means.  The women suffer all the aches and pains of the hyper-athletic work they do on stage and in the more intimate surroundings of the special after-shows — no touching though! The club’s license hinges on not turning into a brothel. Some of the women work in the sex trade, too, but on the outside. Most just use the club to finance their kids or a dream.

Lana falls into the latter group. During the week she’s an ambitious law student. On the weekends she’s a highly skilled stripper with a unique act. But then there’s a client death at the club which sets in motion a lot of strange events leading to a surprising climax.

The novel alternates between point of view: from Amber who falls for a hot paramedic and gets a lot more than she bargained for, to Lana, who’s finding social media can connect you with the past and that’s not always a pleasant thing, to the mysterious ‘Lacuna’ whose bizarre ramblings let you know there’s a very dangerous person in the mix. Blackthorn manages the narrative suspense by moving between actions and voices until the end where they all come together in a tense showdown after hours in the club.

You may be drawn in by the stripper theme, but you’ll keep reading for the suspense. Just like the strippers who are a lot more than just empty fantasies, the story dives beneath the surface to explore fears and pain and how some can nurture them for a lifetime until they explode.

Review: Sunburn – Laura Lippman

I inhaled this book. What a great tag line: She has nothing to lose. And everything to hide. The cover is slathered with glowing reviews from big names, big papers (and the Daily Fail) but you know that Lippman’s got a career that has more than earned those plaudits.

This is neo-noir yet as fresh as summer rain (I say with relief that we’ve finally got some this morning — a hot Scotland is just unnatural). Sure it’s got a sexy woman with secrets, private investigators and all kinds of people out to get something and damn the consequences. Lippman takes these sometimes self-conscious tropes and plays with them. Polly actually discovers noir during a bad marriage and it’s literally a lifesaver for her. Adam is no Sam Spade and hurrah for that, but he’s no Walter Neff either.

It’s an irresistible joy to watch two people fall for each other when they’re not sure they can trust each other and everything is against them — but you’re not sure what’s true and neither are they. Lippman alternates between a variety of characters from chapter to chapter and you learn things you didn’t know as well as wrong assumptions they’re making about others. Sometimes you just want to shout at the characters (or maybe that’s just me).

Some quotes:

The problem is, when a man wants her, he usually won’t stop trying to get her. They wear her down, men. She starts off by taking pity on them, ends up feeling sorry for herself.

It’s a special art, asking people to do things, yet making it seem as if you never asked at all.

How had she even figured out what he was planning to do? A witch, that one. She’s a witch.

Sometimes he used to wake up in the middle of the night and find her looking at him. The light from the streetlamp threw a stripe across her eyes, and it was as if she were wearing a mask that allowed her to read his every thought.

Maybe she should write an advice book for men, one that tells them everything they want to hear, as opposed to all those books for women, which tell them to be the opposite of what they are, no matter what that is.

I could keep quoting but this gives you a great idea: lean, mean, addictive — up to the last pages you won’t be sure how things will go. What a pleasure.