Karoo by Steve Tesich: Book review.


I totally stumbled upon this book.  In fact my wife did.

I knew nothing about it or its author Steve Tesich (who it transpires wrote the screenplays for The World According to Garp, Eleni, Four Friends and won an Academy Award for Breaking Away.  He died in 1996 aged 53, just after finishing this novel.)

It’s flawed.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not very good.

First flaw.  It’s pretty long and ekes out a story that might benefit from a fairly savage edit.  At times it becomes, not so much repetitive as just too languid.  The story threatens constantly to burst into action, and yet ever does.  But this is also one of its strengths because Tesich writes in such an engaging way that being immersed in the book is as pleasing as being driven by narrative.

It’s the story of a highly succesful but alcoholic screenwriter, Saul Karoo, who can no longer get drunk and who’s mid-divorce.  In fact he’s not so much a screen writer but a script doctor (or hack as he defines himself.)

He can’t find any way to create true loving relationships with anyone, most notably his adopted son Billy, who was taken from the arms of a 14 year old girl, Leila, straight from birth.

Upon rewriting (in fact recutting) a failed movie by a film auteur (which Saul regards a masterpiece) he realises that an extra in the movie is Leila, tracks her down and begins a relationship with her, planning to introduce her, at some time to his (her) son Billy.

After that it gets a little complicated.

Second flaw. The story becomes a story within a story and that is one of the tricks of the novel.  Sadly, the denouement adds a story within a story within a story, that fails miserably.

It’s funny, sometimes laugh out loud so and it’s skilfully written..  The character of Saul Karoo whilst not lovable is affable enough and his deeply embedded lack of self esteem (despite his brilliant career) often overwhelms him with anxiety and lack of drive and ambition.

He hates Hollywood.  He hates the movie business.  He hates life frankly.

It’s an odd thing in many ways, but I cautiously recommend it.

If after 100 pages it’s too slow for you, ditch it.  It doesn’t go anywhere any faster.



Save Me. Sky Atlantic.


This is brutal TV.

Set in Inner London (Detford?) it’s written by its star, Lennie James, wearing a rather helpful bright yellow puffer jacket throughout, which aids recognition in long shots.  Lennie James has a thirty year acting career but you can’t help thinking, as you immerse yourself in this torrid tale, that this is the part he was destined for.  It will certainly take him up a step or two in the acting firmament.

Credit also goes to a truly brilliant cast of misfits, ne’er-do-wells, cross dressers, alcoholics, hard men, paedophiles, small time crooks, drug dealers, students and hookers.

This is Shameless with a purpose and far fewer laughs.

It’s brutal from start to finish; both upsetting and riveting.

It concerns the abduction of Nellie’s (James) daughter, Jody, from a previous relationship.  He hasn’t seen since she was three but his is the number she calls at the timer of her disappearance.  This immediately makes him prime suspect with the police.

But Nellie’s no child abductor.  He’s too busy maintaining his mildly alcoholic lifestyle which involves his moving from one girlfriend to another (he has four) in his ‘manor’.  Dodging and diving he ‘makes a living’ and spends all his spare time in the local pub where all his ‘family’ hang out and where he brashly lords it.

His ex and the girl’s mum, played extremely convincingly by Suranne Jones, are brought back together in the search for the girl, as the police take on something of a ‘Three Billboards’ type of half-hearted investigation.  But Nellie’s having none of that.  He wages his own investigation that takes him into an underworld of paedophile rings under the cover of his pal Melon, a convicted paedophile, played sympathetically by Stephen Graham.  He pulls off a tough part really well.

It’s a harrowing watch and every character plays their part in making it a too hard to call police procedural with a big difference (no police).  The story avoids cliche and maintains credibility throughout.

It’s tough.  But it’s great. And the loose ending promises more quality in series two.




Annihilation: Netflix Movie Review.



If you have access to Netflix you have a treat in store.

Annihilation is Alex Garland’s second movie as director/writer after the Oscar nominated Ex-Machina and joins his writing portfolio that includes The Beach, Sunshine and 28 Days Later – all Danny Boyle movies.

Starring Natalie Portman (usually pretty bland and fairly much so here) and the superb Jennifer Jason Leigh (who plays it down in this) it’s a full on girl power let’s take on the aliens movie without any aliens.

The story concerns five female scientists who are sent into a strange growing entity called ‘The Shimmer’ on the coast of the USA hat hat has already chewed up and spat out a bunch of marines and inexplicably threatens life on earth.  In its early days it needs dealt with and female scientists may hold the key.

Inside ‘The Shimmer’ we find a world where DNA is ‘refracted’ in such a way that flora and fauna swap DNA and the resultant organisms range from extremely beautiful to hideously malformed.  These along with a breakdown in the scientists’ own DNA and organ tissue (leading to madness) form the threats to their existence as the seek the source of ‘The Shimmer”.

In many ways the concept is pretty close to standard fare but it is treated intelligently. (Too intelligently, it seems, for the US test cinema audience who didn’t ‘get it’ and so it was released straight to Netflix.)  Portman’s back story adds interesting colour and fleshes the movie out without intruding.

Maybe they tested int in the heart of Trump country because it’s not that tricky.  Anyway, cinema’s loss, your gain.  It’s a cracking yearn, well acted, well scripted, clever and stunningly shot.  My wife, who doesn’t go for sci-fi ordinarily, loved it.

Garland is a great ideas man and is already a gifted director.  This is a sound addition to his canon of work and I highly recommend it.