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Saturday, 1 June 2019

Deadwood The Movie delivers a great ending to a TV masterpiece

When HBO abruptly cancelled Deadwood after three excellent season, fans were left furious and immediately started making their voices heard and although it took HBO a long while to admit their mistake, it took a whole lot longer for Deadwood to return to the screen - 13 years in fact. And they've been thirteen long years with the actors having obviously aged in that time, some of them unrecognizably so and recognizing this series creator, David Milch moves the story forward to 1889 with South Dakota about to be granted statehood.

This is a great hook because it allows for character who left Deadwood to return for the state celebrations and seems perfectly natural. Of course, with such a time jump Milch has to imagine what those passing years have been like for the characters and he doesn't miss a beat, remaining true to each and every character as well as the original series. It's quite an achievement but five minutes into the TV movie and it seems as if the foul mouthed citizens of Deadwood have never been away.

The Deadwood series was unmistakably Ian McShane's show, but the movie very much belongs to Timothy Olyphant who puts in a great performance as the Wyatt Earp-alike, Seth Bullock but all of the characters shine in one way or another.  Gerald McRaney for instance is brilliant as the manipulative  George Hurst. But going back to Ian McShane's iconic Al Swearengen -  the story arc between McShane's character and the one time prostitute, Trixie is a vital element of this movie and it delivers wonderfully

The movie, like the TV series,  also luxuriates in its dialogue, often lyrical and Shakespearean, which is  challenging to decipher. It always has been, but the reward for careful viewing is dialogue that challenges, surprises and delights.

“I’d not prolong the chewing up, doc, nor the being spat out — not go out a cunt.”

Deadwood originally came about during a golden time for televison, when networks including HBO, FX, and AMC debuted shows such as The Wire, The Shield, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad, and this TV movie wraps things up in an exciting and worthy fashion. There’s a particularly tragic tinge to the circumstances of the movie: Writer and creator David Milch recently revealed he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, making the entire affair feel particularly elegiac. Even so, this script is among the greatest things he’s ever produced.




Deadwood now has an ending and it's a brilliant one at that

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Eastwood displays his thoroughbred status in The Mule

I've just gotten around to watching The Mule, last year's Clint Eastwood thriller that showed that even in his late Eighties, the actor can carry a movie and very much remains Hollywood's premier movie legend.

For someone who regularly watches old Eastwood movies it can be brutal to see just how old the actor really is, especially when you've been a fan for your entire life. Eastwood has always been craggy faced, even as far back as the Dollar movies but these days even his wrinkles are wrinkled. Still, he's not the only one - I was probably around ten years of age when I first started watching Eastwood moves, staying up late to devour Dirty Harry or Magnum Force on ITV back in the Seventies, and I'm into my Fifties now so I do hope that I wear my own wrinkles with the grace of Mr Eastwood.

He's still the same old Clint, too touch for age to change him and one scene in this movie sees the ancient thespian enjoying a romp with two prostitutes. Thankfully, the scene cuts away from the main action but the implication that things went well enough, even without viagra, is quite clear. There are several scenes where Eastwood's characters is pushed around by a group of thugs and the viewer does long for \a scene where Eastwood punches out one of these thugs and asks him if ,  'are you feeling lucky, punk?'. of course that would be silly and The Mule is anything but silly.

In this movie, based on the true story of drug mule, Leo Sharp Eastwood plays aged gardener Earl Sharp who has fallen on hard times - his flower business ruined by the onset of the Internet who becomes a drug mule after meeting a drug runner who offers him an easy way to make money - 'all you've got to do is drive'. In the real life story Leo Sharp was a veteran of World War II but in the movie Eastwood's character is a vet of the Korean War.


The real Leo Sharp and Eastwood's Earl Sharp
And so using the story of Leo Sharp as a basis for the story Eastwood's movie changes the facts slightly for dramatic effect - in our film Sharp is estranged from his family and in the movie Sharp's ex-wife dies of cancer, which prompts Sharp to send the drug cartel into a frenzy when he rushes home mid-job with the back of his pick-up truck concealing a fortune in cocaine.

The Mule is a great slow burning movie; a typical latter day Eastwood movie though in truth Eastwood's career is filled with slower films that take their time in telling their stories - think of Honkytonk Man, the underrated masterpiece, for one and even further back something like, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. The Mule grapples with several of Eastwood preferred themes including regret, forgiveness, mortality and the power of redemption, and is a grown up drama that proves the silver screen can be magical without explosions and lycra-clad heroes. 

I for one thought The Mule was excellent, but then I may be a little biased since I fucking love Clint Eastwood.





Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Game of Thrones: Missing a middle act


As I write, we are less than a week away from the final episode of Game of Thrones and I, like anyone who has been with the show since the start, am eager to see how this all plays out. At the same time the way the show's played out since season six has been a bit of a disappointment. There was a time when the show was character driven but since the show makers have run out of source material it's become action driven and there's been a definite sharp dip in quality.

If season 7 seemed rushed then season 8 has gone supersonic in its need to reach the end that George R R Martin envisaged.

I still love the show and will watch till the end but it is so very very disappointing given how groundbreaking the show has been - many of the major characters have suffered bizarre changes and the promise of many storylines have been thrown away - Jamie Lannisters redemption arc became a cheap joke at the viewer's expense, and whilst it may have been inevitable that Daenerys Targaryen become the mad queen it should have been built up to in a far better way - instead the program seemed to show her move from being a basically good person who cared about ordinary people, could not tolerate injustice and abhorred slavery to a crazy power mad harridan in the blink of an eye - 'Burn them all. Let them burn.'


The dragons too have been fucked up - at first they were treated almost like nuclear weapons, but as the seasons went on we saw they were vulnerable after two were destroyed and they were relegated to the status of effective military weapons and yet in the penultimate episode of the final season they, or rather it since there was only one left, became full nuclear and was able to destroy King's Landing without raising a sweat. It sure did look spectacular, though.

Over the last two season we've seen Daenerys Targaryen's army depleted after the battle with the Night King and her dragons paired down to one single creature. The show suggested an arduous battle for King's Landing not the walkover it eventually turned out to be - worse, it wasn't a even a battle but more mass murder on a grand scale carried out by some mad bitch on a dragon. This once beloved character has become  a mad bitch which is something that will surely annoy all those parents who named their daughters after the character. The name Khaleesi was given to 560 girls in the US last year, and in the UK there were 300 girls given the name. In total, more than 3,500 children have been named after her since the show began. A freer-of-slaves, mother-of-dragons and all-round badass, she won fans around the world but now that she's become a crazy murdering harridan those parents with little Khaleesi's of their own may be a little peeved.


Season eight  has done a lot of work trying to balance out the forces of Dany and Cersei so that a real threat could be presented -  decimating the Dothraki and Unsullied and leaving  her with a single dragon. However, it turns out that  Drogon has aced some off-screen arrow-dodging training, and in one fell swoop destroys the Iron Fleet, and blasts his way into King’s Landing.

Perhaps the single most ruined character of the entire show is Tyrion Lannister - where are his witty remarks? He's gone in the last two seasons from being a giant of a character to a sullen little dwarf . He's become little more than a paperweight in a show that his character once carried. Other characters too have suffered - Bron's has just become a bore but at least the writers haven't used him much this season and given the way the story has played out I can't really see him turning up in the final episode - then again, he just might.

There was once scene in the last episode where I felt we were watching the old Thrones - in one of the early episodes there's a line that says when Jamie was born he emerged from the womb holding his twin sister, Cersai's foot. The way they died together, in each other's arms was I feel a fitting end for their characters, even if the redemption arc Jamie was set off on was a bit of a cheat.


As I understand it this was how Thrones was always going to end - mad queen, King's Landing, Jon Snow and all that that but since George R R Martin seems to be suffering writers block and failed to finish the books, the showrunners have had to work with just his notes. This, to my mind, makes the show feel like it is missing a true middle act.


I'll be watching until the end, and I still rate the show has one of the best TV series ever but it's not lived up to the promise of seasons 1 - 6. Ah well, I guess I'll just have to wait for Martin to deliver the final books to get a worthy lead up to an explosive ending.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

The Genre that's too tough to die

"One of the most vapid and infantile forms of art ever conceived by the brain of a Hollywood film producer." ...Dwight Macdonald, The Miscellany 1929

"The western remains, I suppose, America's distinctive contribution to the film."...Arthur Schlesinger Jr, Show April 1963



Geographically and historically the concept of "The West" is very loosely defined, when associated with the literary and film genre of the western. With the possible exception of the Eastern Seaboard almost every part of the USA had been called "The West" at some stage in the country's history.

The federal government defines "The West" as including the following states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada,New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. But from the movies and books both Kansas and Nebraska can be added. And maybe Hawaii and Washington should be removed. The West of popular imagination usually contains those areas associated with the final frontiers of American settlement - anything West of the Mississippi River. An area associated with cowboys, Indians, outlaws and lone lawmen.

Amongst the earliest western literature with artistic merit were the works of James Fennimore Cooper, his most famous works being 1826's Last of the Mohicans - though by the true definition of the genre none of the author's works are strictly westerns. The books were set in colonial America and featured the British rule but true westerns are set in independent America.

EZC Judson, writing under the pen name Ned Buntline was an early writer of traditional westerns. He earned himself the nickname of, 'Father of the Dime Novel' and turned Buffalo Bill into a figure of mythic proportions. However the first western with the classic ingredients was Owen Wister's The Virginian in 1902, which largely invented the guidelines that western writers still follow today.



The names Louis L'amour and Zane Grey have dominated the genre for many years and still do to some extent. But an early European champion of the genre was Karl May with his popular Shatterhand books. He wrote over 60 books but Shatterhand remains his most famous character. Indeed Shatterhand was revived by B.J. Holmes in a series of books for the successful UK western house, Black Horse Westerns.

The cinema has always had a love affair with the western and during the silent era there were many hundreds of westerns made. Most of these have been lost but there are still some prime examples of early westerns to be sought out by fans.

Some of the most important silent westerns that still exist and can be found on DVD or in many cases for free download from archive.org include:

The Iron Horse (1924) directed by John Ford
The Covered Wagon (1923) directed by James Cruze
Battle of Elderbush Gulch (1914) directed by D W Griffith

In cinematic terms there is little doubt that the Golden Age of the western took place between the years 1940 - 1970. There were many classics before and since but during these years there was never a time when most major studios didn't have at least one western in production.

During the Fifties and Sixties in particular the western also dominated the small screen with many western TV series being aired. Among the most well known are:
Bonanza
Gunsmoke
The Big Country
The Virginian
The Rifleman
Have Gun will Travel
Wyatt Earp
Wanted Dead or Alive

The modern era has also seen many classics of the genre, both on the screen and between the covers - Lonesome Dove, Sons of Texas, Blood Meridian, Tombstone, The Unforgiven to name but a few. And of course in recent years we've seen the Coen's re-make of True Grit, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. Those though are just the tip of the hay bale - for instance check out the excellent Netflix westerns series, Godless.

The Western truly is THE GENRE TOO TOUGH TO DIE. Kevin Costner is working on a new western and there is a remake of Butch and Sundance in the works. American greats like Dusty Richards and  Larry McMurtry continue to write quality western works. And British western house, Black Horse Westerns are continuing to bring out new western fiction written by writers from all over the world. Among these you will find such loved writers as B. J. Holmes, Ben Bridges, Jack Giles,Nik Morton,  Ian Parnham, Mathew P. Mayo, Chap O'Keefe, Jim Lawless and myself, Jack Martin. And this is just a small selection of the writers producing all new traditional westerns under The Black Horse banner. And of course there is the story of John Locke who became the worlds' first self published writer to sell a million eBooks on Amazon, and several of his titles are westerns. Mind you Locke was recently discredited when it emerged that he had paid for many positive reviews which helped sell his books.




Westerns have also made the transition to eBooks and the excellent publishing house, Piccadilly Publishing is reissuing western classics in the new electronic format, and of course the popular Edge series is also available in eBook. The Edge books, for instance, are a particular favorite of mine and I am proud to say that I was instrumental in initially bring the series to eBooks, but the reissue program is now in the industrious hands of Malcolm Davy.

So if you've never tried  a western then maybe now is the time to do - they've never been so easily available and online giant Amazon has many titles at good prices.

Come on saddle up and let's ride.

Take a look at my Jack Martin page at Amazon - click HERE


 

Thursday, 4 April 2019

The award winning Tainted Archive

This blog has been honoured by being listed among the top twenty western fiction blogs on the wild west web - HERE

Gunsmoke.

I've just started watching Gunsmoke from the very first episode - twenty seasons in all, 635 episodes , so I guess I'll be watching awhile.

Episodes in the first season are 30 minutes long, but later in the run they were increased to fifty minutes and I must be honest I'm more familiar with the radio show than the TV series. I've got many of the radio episodes in MP3 format and regularly listen to an episode or two on my commute to and from work. So although I've always been aware of the TV version I can't say that I've ever really watched it.


The series was shown over here in the UK, originally retitled, Gun law and it was a big hit over here. The national newspaper, The Daily Express even ran a cartoon strip called, Gun Law which remained in the newspaper from 1957 - 1958.

Alas, I was too young to catch the series on TV and although I've always loved westerns the only TV oaters that I remember from those dim distant days of childhood are Bonanza, Rawhide, Maverick and High Chaparral. 

Daily Express - Gun Law
'Get the hell out of Dodge.'

I've watched the first five episodes last night and enjoyed them all - John Wayne introduced the first episode with the following words -

'Good evening. My name's Wayne. Some of you may have seen me before; I hope so. I've been kicking around Hollywood a long time. I've made a lot of pictures out here, all kinds, and some of them have been Westerns. And that's what I'm here to tell you about tonight: a Western—a new television show called Gunsmoke. No, I'm not in it. I wish I were, though, because I think it's the best thing of its kind that's come along, and I hope you'll agree with me; it's honest, it's adult, it's realistic. When I first heard about the show Gunsmoke, I knew there was only one man to play in it: James Arness. He's a young fellow, and maybe new to some of you, but I've worked with him and I predict he'll be a big star, so you might as well get used to him, like you've had to get used to me! And now I'm proud to present my friend Jim Arness in Gunsmoke.'




Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Book Review: King Arthur - Dragon Child by M K Hume



 "Perhaps my love for the legends was because my husband shares a name with the venerable hero. Perhaps, I was just so upset because the story had become so bastardised over the years that I decided to put my own mark on it. And perhaps I wanted to honour human courage rather than magic. Whatever the reason, I am certain that there are so many stories in the great sweep of history that are so vivid, compelling and riveting that I will never lack for subject matter." M K Hume, talking of the Arthurian legends.

I came across this book by happy accident - it was mistakenly placed among a pile of old western paperbacks that I picked up from a musty old secondhand book shop - as well all know musty old shops are the best kind of secondhand book shops. I started reading the book and before I knew it I was fifty or so pages in and hooked - the book tell of Arthur's (Artor as he's called in the book) early life and of his rise to the position of King of the Britons. The Arthur legends are of course just that - legends and no-one knows if he really existed at all.He first  appeared in print in the writings of Welsh historian, Nennius who gave a list of 12 battled in which the fabled king fought. In the 12th century, Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the first life story of Arthur and it is here that Caliburn, the magical sword commonly called Excalibur first appears. So did Arthur exist? Who knows but someone certainly kept the invading Saxons at bay for a great many years. In fact all that can be said with even  the least degree of certainty is that sometime in the fifth and sixth centuries, someone called Arthur or Arturus led a band of warriors who fought a resistance against the invading Saxons,Jutes and others from the north of Europe.


M K Hume

M. K. Hume's epic tale uses the voice of historical fiction rather than fantasy, and the Celtic world is vividly brought to believable life - magic doesn't play a part in this story and indeed the wizard, Merlin is here a master strategist, which makes the book all the more believable and fits in with the convincing historical context. As does the author's take on the sword in the stone legend, and immediately upon finishing this book I  took a trip up the Amazon and downloaded, Warrior of the West, which is the second book in the Arthur trilogy. I'm currently reading that book on my all new Kindle Paperwhite (expect a review of the newest Paperwhite soon) and this book is even better than the first so there'll be a review of the second part, and no doubt the third, appearing on these tainted pages very soon.



Quite excellent storytelling.


Was King Arthur a real person? Find an interesting article by John Mathews HERE




Monday, 14 January 2019

Granny Smith: Double the Trouble - The world unfolds before your ears

The Granny Smith series has proven very popular, especially on the Kindle with sales of the back-list remaining strong. There are three full length novels, and one short story in the series and later this year Granny will return in an all new adventure.

Amazon bill the books as cozy crimes, and to some extent they are just this but they are a lot more earthy than the standard cozy crime - the language is often far more fruity than is the norm for the genre, and the situations the senior detective finds herself in would shock anyone expecting nice polite murders in the library, a highly polished dagger between the shoulder blades, the newly created corpse shedding little blood and falling in an orderly position onto the plushly carpeted floor. Nope, that's not really Granny Smith - as the tagline states, It's Miss Marple on steroids.

Last month a new audio-book that collects together the short story, The Welsh Connection and the novel, Murder Plot was published by those nice people at Audible under the title, Double the Trouble. The book is performed by Fiona Thraille, the same voice who has brought the other Granny Smith titles to life with her wonderful interpretation of Granny's world.  Fionna really brings the stories to life and listening to her performance is always a joy.


I knew from the first few minutes that I was going to enjoy this audiobook and I was right. The dry (yet sassy) humour was spot on and the narration was perfectly matched to the tone of the story. Highly recommended! *****

The narrator really brought the characters to life. Great performance, fun and engaging murder mystery. *****

If I won the lottery I would attempt to hire Fiona Thraille to read books to me on a regular basis! I love the non stereotypical characters in this amusing adventure, but Fiona's range of voices and accents brings each character to life, making this audiobook a real pleasure. If I didn't know better I'd believe Ms Thraille grew up in the Welsh valleys! I will definitely be looking out for more books narrated by this talented actor. *****



Audible members can buy the audio now, as well as the other titles in the series. If you're not a member of Audible then you can get any of the Granny Smith titles for free when you sign up for their NO RISK trial. The audio-books can be listened to on computers, tablets, MP3 players, smart phones or on those personal assistant thingies such as Alexa, Google Home and other smart speakers.

How to describe the world of Granny Smith?

Well, imagine Agatha Christie liked to hang out at dogging sites and nine months after a particularly inventive orgy involving Tom Sharpe, Terry Pratchett and an industrial strength tube of Vaseline, a love child was born - that love child would be Granny Smith.

The words above are not mine - they come from a review and made me chuckle. And I'm sure you'll enjoy Granny's adventures too - so why not go get the new Audio-book, Granny Smith: Double the Trouble - not only will you be entertained but you'll also discover the answers to many profound questions. Such as:


Do all dicks tastes like Chicken?
Who was the better lover - Keef Richards or Shakin Stevens?


Discover the answers to these questions and many more in Granny Smith: Double the Trouble - available now at Audible, Apple Books, Amazon and anywhere else that audio-books are sold.

All titles are also available as eBooks and paperbacks.