Sunday, 12 October 2014


Do you have a favourite director?  There may be a few that you may have recognised to have achieved a significant standard in the world of film-making, but I have a favourite and it is David Fincher.  In such a short and recent period of time, he has been behind some of the best films ever made.  Straight off, I'll mention Fight Cub and Seven.

As for his background, he started early, practicing his craft amongst friends with the use of an 8mm camera.   At the age of 18, he got a job with George Lucas' special-effects company, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), between 1981 and 1983, contributing to the matte photography of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as well as The Never Ending Story, whilst serving as Assistant Cameraman on The Return of the Jedi.  After that, he went on to become a very successful figure in the direction of TV commercials and music videos before his shot at helming feature films came along.

Off the back of his achievements in the direction of music videos, he was presented with the opportunity to direct the third film in the Alien franchise, starring Sigourney Weaver.  His bad experience in the production of that film is well-documented and I will not elaborate on it further here.  It was a film that he would have walked away from had it not been a major production with a budget of $60 million in 1992.  Three years later, his proper debut arrived; the iconic serial killer horror-thriller Seven with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman.  I shouldn't need to explain Seven, apart from saying that if you haven't seen it you need to.  Seven re-established his reputation and was followed by the psychological thriller The Game, starring Michael Douglas.  That is what I see as the start of  his contribution to the comparison I'd make between him and Alfred Hitchcock.  In an elaborately plotted story, the film succeeds in making us empathise with a character that you wouldn't usually root for.  The Game continued to establish Fincher's distinctive style and, whilst entertaining enough, does not really compare to his following production.

Fight Club arrived in 1999.  The adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel wasn't seen as a major success at the box-office, but has since become a cult classic.  On release, the visceral film wasn't received well by the studio and went on to uphold their concerns with conflicting reviews and disappointing box-office results.  Similar to the journey of The Shawshank Redemption a few years earlier, the film went on to achieve overwhelming success and a cult following when released on DVD/Video.

He went on to direct 2002's Panic Room with Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart, which he acknowledged was more mainstream  compared to his other films; a popcorn movie about survival.  It's an entertaining piece about a mother and daughter hiding in their house's safe-room when criminals break in, needing to access the room in which they're hiding in order to get to the fortune they seek.  He referred to the script reminding him of aspects of 1954's Rear Window, again linking back to the comparisons I make between him and Hitchcock, with the opening titles of Panic Room sharing the style of those you'd associate with a Hitchcock thriller.

It would be five years until his next film, the masterpiece that is Zodiac.  Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr led the cast in the adaptation of the true story behind the unsolved investigation of a serial killer in San Francisco during the late 60's and 70's.  It's a detailed and intricate film, which was heavily researched  by Fincher prior to production, and the result could be described as something akin to the 1976 film All The Presidents Men.

His next film was a departure from his usual adults-only material as he teamed up with Brad Pitt for a third time on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, leading to his first Academy Award nomination for his direction.  The adaptation of an F Scott Fitzgerald short story, which had been in development since the 80's, Benjamin Button was a fantasy drama with Brad Pitt playing the lead character aging in reverse with Cate Blanchette playing the love of his life.

A couple of years later, Fincher directed what many refer to as the Facebook film, The Social Network.  Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield, it tells the story of the legal battle that played out concerning the founding of the social media website.  It received universal acclaim and resulted in Fincher receiving another nod at the Oscars.  Screenwriter  Aaron Sorkin was deservedly awarded for his adaptation of the book, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal.  The score for the film, created by Trent Reznor, from industrial rock bank Nine Inch Nails, and Atticus Ross was also awarded and resulted in the partnership producing the scores for Fincher's following films.  Their signature sound effectively drives Fincher's version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and his most recent, Gone Girl.  One of the things I love most about Fincher's Dragon Tattoo is the opening titles sequence.  It sets the tone with stunning cyberpunk visuals accompanies by Karen O's powerful vocal over a Reznor and Ross-produced rendition of Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song.  The film is technically superb and brilliantly acted by an impressive cast headed by Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.  Yet another tour de force.
His most recent release was Gone Girl, which I heard him describe in an Empire podcast as a satirical adaptation of a supermarket thriller.  I read the novel earlier this year and was gripped from start-to-finish.  Referring to Hitchcock once again, I remember thinking that it would be exactly the kind of story that he would make a good film from were he alive today.  A few months passed and Fincher's Gone Girl, from the screenplay adapted by the author of the novel, Gillian Flynn, did not disappoint.  It was everything that I had hoped it would be and I wouldn't be surprised to see it result in another Best Director nomination early next year.

David Fincher's next project will be another collaboration with Gillian Flynn; an American remake for HBO of the channel 4 TV series, Utopia.  It'll be his second television project after the brilliant Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright Netflix series, House of Cards

All of Fincher's films have a distinctive look and feel to them  and once again, in summary, to explain why he's my favourite director, his amazing CV includes: Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Inspiration from the Movies

People find movies inspirational for all sorts of reasons and take away all sorts of motivations from those that strike a chord with them.  Some take away lessons on life, finding characters that overcome the odds or stand up against oppression and adversity.  However, the inspiration that this post is going to focus on isn't from a classic like Dead Poets Society or The Shawshank Redemption.  I recently took inspiration from the film  'Chef' written by, directed by and starring Jon Favreau. 

Chef was released in cinemas this year and was a heart-warming, uplifting film about a chef who reignites his creativity when he starts a new business after losing his restaurant job as a result of a clash with a high-profile food critic on twitter.  Favreau plays the successful chef Carl Casper with Dustin Hoffman playing the owner of the restaurant that he works at, where Scarlett Johansson is the waitress.  When everything goes wrong, his ex-wife presents him with the idea of taking an old truck and turning it into a successful business.  He's joined on his trip across America by his faithful colleague Martin, played by John Leguizamo and his tech-savvy young son, Percy.  

Full of lively and infectious music, fun, optimism, fantastic food and Robert Downey Jr, I'd say this movie is certainly a crowd-pleaser.  Be sure not to see it on an empty stomach though.  Of all the things I took from this film, it was the inspiration to make a Cuban sandwich, aka a Cubano. 

This film inspired me to buy a cafe-style sandwich press, specifically the Breville VST025, and a meat thermometer.  You see, in the film, when Casper stops making the same old menu that his boss insists he sticks to, he finds his niche with Cubanos.  After seeing them, and having them described on the screen, I just had to make one.   I found the recipe online and share it with you below.
It's all down to chef Roy Choi, co-producer of the movie and founder of a branded fleet of taco trucks and owner of several restaurants in Los Angeles.  At the heart of the sandwich is his Mojo pork recipe. To start with, in large bowl, whisk 2/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil, a tablespoon of orange zest, half a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice, half a cup of freshly squeezed lime juice, 7 minced cloves of garlic, 2/3 cup of coriander leaves,1/4 cup of chopped mint, 1 tablespoon of minced oregano, 1 teaspoon of cumin and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Then you add 1.8 to 2.7 kg of boneless pork shoulder. Turn the pork until well coated all over before transferring it all to a large, re-sealable plastic bag. Place the bag in a bowl and refrigerate, turning occasionally,  for between 12 to 24 hours.
So, that's quite a bit of preparation before you roast it, uncovered, in a preheated 425F (220C) oven for 30 minutes.  Then baste it with the  pan juices. Reduce the heat to 375F (190C). Roast, basting every half hour, until the instant-read thermometer inserted in the centre registers 160F (71C), for between 90 to 120 minutes.  Then you've got your sandwich filling to slice as you want.
Heat 6 thin slices of normal, supermarket-standard ham and the sliced Mojo pork on the sandwich press. Cook, turning once, until warmed and browned in spots, for just about 1 minute and then rest them on a plate.
Cut a large white baguette  into three or four pieces and split lengthwise.   Butter the cut sides generously and toast on the press until lightly browned, which should take a minute or two.   Then put them aside and layer the bottom of the buns with the pork, ham, slices of Swiss cheese and pickles (I omitted the pickles).  Next, brush the inside of the bun tops with mustard, close the sandwiches and generously butter the outsides.  Place on the press and cook until the cheese melts and the outsides are browned and crispy, which should take around 3 minutes.
What are the movies going to inspire me to do next?

Chef is released on DVD, Blu Ray and On-Demand from 4th November 2014 in UK (where I live) and is one of the most enjoyable movies to arrive this year.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

My New Novel: Disposition

Here it is.  After three years of writing, my third novel is complete and available either as a download or paperback.  It's quite different to my first two novels, especially my second one, Barren Endeavour.  Where that was a historical thriller about a farmer getting caught up with gangsters in New York, Disposition is a modern-day piece of general fiction set in Birmingham.

It started out as a story that I can best describe as something akin to the 80s movies St Elmo's Fire or the 90s movie Reality Bites, with a hint of Very Bad Things.  It then took a turn towards the dark side, as my stories usually do, and developed into a murder mystery.  The way it's turned out,  I could identify influences stemming from thrillers including Basic Instinct, The Killing and Dragon Tattoo.   The theme of compulsive behaviour then came to the fore.  We don't always have a tendency to do the mature thing.  Then I stopped at around 93,400 words when it just felt that I'd reached the perfect place to stop.


A group of friends and their partners reunite at a house-warming party during a time that proves to be the epicentre of a tumultuous period in their lives. They wouldn't want each other to know about their navigational struggles through the complexities of life, but unavoidable conflicts are imminent. 

Things will never be the same again for all involved. Secrets and lies simmer before friendships and marriages collide amongst lustful betrayal and tragic discovery.

David hasn't told his friends that his wife has left him, while Greg is very open about the fact that he's separated from his and he's happily moved on with a younger woman. Marcus has an open marriage and is using it to his advantage as he attempts to blackmail his way to a promotion at work. Calvin's life seems perfectly content, but could this be too good to be true? Then there's Joel, a police detective investigating a murder, which has ties to more than one of their group, uncovering the hidden depraved behaviour of those that he thought he knew better.

Past indiscretions resurface and a murder investigation ensues, revealing that the age-old cliché, that it's a small world, is often startlingly accurate. 

Set in Birmingham, England, DISPOSITION is the third novel from D K Thomas.

Here are some of the links for Amazon, which is not an exhaustive list.  It is also available through Amazon's marketplaces in Australia, Canada, France, Italy, India, The Netherlands, Japan, Mexico. Spain and Brazil.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Hidden Gems

Many of my posts have served as previews of promising times ahead, so I'm going to focus on the good times that have passed.  With the multitude of films that are released each year, it is inevitable that some of them fail to show up on your radar or linger in the shadow of the blockbusters before falling between the cracks. 
Some are forgotten about and some never find a place in your consciousness in the first place.  You could call them hidden gems, the films that time forgot, underrated classics, whatever you like.  There'll always be something out there that you haven't seen that holds a special place in the heart of the person who'll unreservedly recommend it to you.  Sometimes you'll wish that person had reserved their recommendation, but that's movies for you - forever dividing opinion.  If you're already familiar with those that I mention, great, I'm glad.  Many won't be.  Also, my taste is very eclectic, as I'd imagine would be the case for most film fanatics, so I'm sorry if my selection isn't for everyone.

To start with, I'll cover some that you may have missed as recently as last year.  Short Term 12 impressed me last year.  It tells the story of a supervisory care worker at a treatment facility for troubled teens, played by Brie Larsson, hiding her own troubles from the past and present.  There's uplifting drama, played out with a range of fleshed-out characters, balanced perfectly with tragedy and heartbreak.  However, if you want a film without any sadness whatsoever, another that didn’t get the recognition it deserved last year was The Way Way Back; a very enjoyable, feel-good, summer-set coming-of-age comedy drama.  It's about a shy teenager spending the summer at his mother's boyfriend's holiday home in a seaside town, and it reminded me of the kind of film I would have watched growing up in the eighties.  Other films that grabbed my attention last year included the extraordinarily vague Upstream Color, which left much open to interpretation, and Neil Jordan's engaging vampire drama, Byzantium, starring Saorise Ronan and Gemma Arterton.  But, that was last year, and there's still time for these films to get noticed (even Blade Runner and Shawshank Redemption were flops at the cinema when they were released).

For another lesser-known film featuring the nocturnal undead of the fanged variety, you could look back to 1987 and find Kathryn Bigelow's directorial debut, Near Dark.  The word vampire is never used and the mythology remains vague, as it's not established whether they are vulnerable to the usual threats such as garlic, holy water and so on.  What is clear is that they are immortal, dependant upon blood for sustenance and definitely keep 'odd hours.'  It's more of a road movie than a horror and could certainly be described as a film that the term cult-classic would have been coined for, different to the more mainstream vampire flick released that year, Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys.  Joel Shcumacher's portfolio has range, from the iconic Falling Down and the compelling A Time to Kill to shockers like Batman & Robin.  One of his smaller movies was one of Colin Farrell's earlier movies, Tigerland, in 2000.  It's a gritty movie with an independent-feel, shot on hand-held digital; unlike anything you'd expect from Schumacher.  Tigerland was the training camp that US soldiers would go through before being deployed in the Vietnam war during the sixties and seventies, but it's not really what could be simply described as a war film.  That would be like describing One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest as a prison movie.  Colin Farrell shines as Bozz, the rebel with an ethos akin to Yossarian from Catch 22, with a performance that paved his way to stardom.  While I'm pointing out star-turns in early roles, I'll mention What's Eating Gilbert Grape from 1993.  Johnny Depp takes the lead, but this was the movie in which Leonardo Di Caprio broke through as his mentally-disabled brother.  It's a remarkable film and earned Di Caprio his first Academy Award nomination a few years before hitting it big with Romeo & Juliet, that one with the ship and his ongoing collaborations with Martin Scorcese.  Another film frrom the nineties that I'd like to cite would be one starring the lead from one of Di Caprio and Scorcese's most successful collaborations; The Departed.  Matt Damon plays a law student, pulled back into the dangerous wold of high-stakes poker, in Rounders, after an old friend, played by Ed Norton, is released from prison.  I remember first watching it on my little TV in the Halls of Residence during University, gripped after renting it on video from Blockbuster.  John Malkovich is magnificent as Teddy KGB, the Russian responsible for running one of the underground establishment that they frequent on the poker-playing circuit, and the movie benefits from a strong supporting cast comprised of Gretchen Mol, Jon Turturro, Famke Janssen and Martin Landau.  It's one of the many that provides the thrills through the tension that it conveys.  On that score, 2011's Margin Call also succeeds.  It's set at a Wall Street investment bank during the start of 2008's financial crisis and focuses on the psychological implications of transpiring events for the key figures involved at the bank rather than the technicalities.  It's completely engaging and well acted by Zachary Quinto, Paul Bethany, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, Kevin Spacey and a scene-stealingly over-the-top Jeremy Irons.  However, it's not a patch on one of my favourite outstanding ensemble-cast films, Glengarry Glen Ross.  This again includes Kevin Spacey, along with Ed Harris, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Pryce, Al Pacino and an iconic scene driven by Alec Baldwin.  Released in 1992, Glengarry Glen Ross focuses on a few hours at a Real Estate office.  The pressure to sell is high, the salesmen have reached desperation point and it's masterfully written by David Mamet.  It was the film that brought Mamet to my attention.  He's got a very distinct style as a screenwriter and playwright, applying rhythm to his realistic dialogue.  His well-known works include The Edge, Ronin and The Untouchables, but you should check out The Spanish Prisoner,Heist and Spartan.  For me, those showcase his ingenuity when it comes to plotting and telling a story.

And finally, many may have seen Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhall last year.  It was directed by Denis Villeneuve and evoked a strong reaction from those that I've spoken to and from the reviews that I've read.  A film that packs an even stronger punch would be Villeneuve's previous movie, academy-award-nominated Indendies from 2010.  It's a very powerful drama with a mystery unfolding for brother and sister twins following the reading of their mother's will. 

I'd like to revisit this subject again in the future and mention others that I feel are underrated classics and hidden gems. I'm always on the lookout and hope that many new discoveries come to my attention before then.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Cross the bridge

I heard this track by Mint Royale last Sunday, which must be one of their latest.  The tingling bells at the start have featured heavily on BBC One's programme introductions since the new year, but what follows is an inspiring voice-over monologue from Willem Dafoe.

As well as being a decent tune, I'd say it speaks to us all.  I chose to cross the bridge today and then burned it down.  That is to say, I did something I hadn't done before and now there's no turning back.  I was fed up of all of the clutter - inside and out of the house.  Inside, I've got so much sensitive paperwork that it would take months to shred it all.  It's tempting to just put it in the bin for recycling, but you never know what can happen.  In the age of identity theft and fraud, it would most probably be a dumb move.  The thing is though, the amount that I've got would take months to shred.  I haven't got the time,  commitment or the tolerance to withstand the boredom threshold to do what's required.  I've found old, mouldy nets and curtains under the stairs that have been taking up valuable storage space for about ten years.  These things have to go.  Then, outside, there's the three dead Christmas trees that I haven't got rid of yet.  I would chop them up and put them out for the fortnightly garden waste collection, but the council don't offer this any more.

So, I bought a garden incinerator.  It's one of those steel bins with a hole to emit the smoke on top.  Yes, I'd prefer to dispose of my waste without the emissions, but I going to be considerate about which time I choose to burn stuff.  I'll make sure it's not a time when people are going to have stuff hanging out on their washing line and all that.  I could stuff the manky old curtains  into bin bags and leave them out for the rubbish men, but I think it's better to disintegrate them rather than have them taken to landfill.  It was a good start.  I've made some space and I've begun to get rid of some of the clutter.  It's the way forward - getting rid of what I don't need.

I'm also going to have to 'cross that bridge,' as the lyric goes, and do something I haven't done before once I've finished editing my new novel.  I don't know what that something is yet, but it's linked to marketing.  I'm close to having 'Disposition' ready for distribution and I'm hoping its going to reach further than 'The Ellroy Deflection' and 'Barren Endeavour' have.  It's a challenging marketplace, emphasised by an article I read this week.  Most writers earn less than £600 a year apparently.  CLICK HERE to read it.  Its not surprising.  Watch this space...

Wednesday, 15 January 2014


Box-office-wise, 2013 was cinema’s biggest year yet.  Leading the way was Iron Man 3, taking over $1.2 billion as it became the 5thbiggest film of all time.  Clearly, the comic-book superhero movie genre is the biggest genre for the studios alongside the family-favourite animated features.  Thor: The Dark World saw the successful return of another Avenger and we’ll see him again in 2015 when the Avengers re-assemble. 

But, before that, Steve Rogers will have another entry in the series with Captain America: Winter Soldier next year as well as the movie debut of The Guardians of the Galaxy arriving in the summer.  Zack Snyder’s Superman-reboot Man of Steel did well enough this year to ensure a return in 2015, with Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot recently cast to join the sequel as Batman and Wonder Woman.    Another group of superheroes set to stick around would be the X-Men following the success of Logan’s second solo outing this year in The Wolverine, next year’s epic-scale sequel/prequel Days of Future Past with another sequel, Apocalypse, already greenlit for 2016.

A long loved-character that seemed to have transformed into a superhero this year was John McLane in the disappointing A Good Day to Die Hard.  Bruce Willis’ tough New-York cop seemed to have superpowers of invincibility during his trip to Russia to rescue his secret-agent son.  I was defiantly willing myself to like the film because I’m a huge fan of the series.  But, there’s no denying how bad it was.  I’m in two-minds as to whether I want a 6th entry, which is inevitably going to happen because of the amount of money this one still made.  On the one hand, this was bad and maybe enough's enough.  On the other, I’d really like to see the franchise redeem itself with a return to the standard of previous instalments.  Disappointments this year, however, were few and far between.  On the other end of the scale, there were plenty of triumphs and, without a doubt; the film of the year was Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity.  Not only was it an amazing technical achievement, but it was a gripping thriller with an outstanding career-best performance from Sandra Bullock.  It won’t pack as much of a punch on the smaller-screen, so I’d urge you to catch this one in 3D on the biggest screen available if you can.

Now, I haven’t seen all of the films released this year.  So, before you accuse me of omitting to mention a few that may have impressed you this year, I’ve been told good things about Captain Phillips, Philomena and Prisoners, which I look forward to seeing in the new year.

What I was first-in-line for on the day it came out was Rush, portraying the true story of the exhilherating rivalry between racing drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda.  If you don't know their story - lucky you.  Ron Howard's made a lot of good films, but I'd say this is his best.  You don't even have to know anything about Formula One motor racing to enjoy this one.  It was expertly written, shot, scored, acted, directed and it's out on Blu Ray and DVD at the end of January 2014 if you want some enthralling entertainment.  Other fantastic dramas that you should check out, if you didn't catch them, would include The Place Beyond the Pines, The East and Mud.

Some of my favourites this year have been visually-stunning offerings from some of the most artistically-visionary directors in the business today.  The first was a film from Nicholas Winding-Refn, which divided audiences and critics alike, called Only God Forgives.  I gave my thoughts on it back in August, so click here for my review.  Another film that divided opinion was Terrence Mallick's To The Wonder, which might have just caught me the right mood as I wasn't a fan of last year's Tree of Life at all.  Then there was Chan Wook Park's English-language debut with Stoker, an excellent gothic drama written by Wentworth Miller (Schofield from TV's Prision Break).  Park's most famous film was 2003's Oldboy, of which Spike Lee's remake was released recently.  I had been looking forward to it, but the reviews were terrible.  So, I didn't bother.  Many of Oldboy's reviews have cited Sharlto Copley's villainous performance as one of the worst of the year, which is surprising considering I'd say he was the villain of the year in Elysium.  Elysium was one of the sci-fi hits of the year, amongst Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Pacific Rim and Oblivion, which was a relief after the tedious and predictable After Earth from M.Night Shamaylan.

If, like me, you enjoy a good scare, there were a few crackers to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up - Mama, Evil Dead, Dark Skies and The Conjuring.  But, if you'd prefer a good laugh, some of the more successful rib-ticklers this year were Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, This Is The End, Warm Bodies, The Heat and The World's End.  I hope I'm not wrong, but I took Pain and Gain to be a comedy, even though it's a Michael Bay film, and it featured one of two subtle crowd-pleasing performances from Mark Whalberg, with the other following in the comedy-actioner 2 Guns.  The only remaining comedy from my list has only just been released.  I haven't seen Anchorman 2 yet, but I don't doubt that any fan of the first is going to love this one just as much. 

In summary, here are the films I enjoyed the most this year:

10. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
 9.  Frances Ha
 8.  The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
 7.  Stoker
 6.  The Way Way Back
 5.  The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
 4.  Only God Forgives
 3.  Les Miserables
 2.  Rush
 1.  Gravity