Sunday, 1 March 2015

Jupiter Ascending by the Wachowskis

Jupiter Ascending is a science fiction adventure movie in the classic mould — a space opera — from the Wachowskis (formerly the Wachowski brothers) who created The Matrix and recently made the strange, extraordinary and beautiful Cloud Atlas, which wasn't a box office success but was a marvellous film. 

Perhaps bearing Cloud Atlas in mind, Jupiter Ascending is obviously an attempt at a mainstream hit, but it misses by a breathtaking extent. It does have an outstanding cast and spectacular, gorgeous special effects. And it delivers extravagant, imaginative action sequences which, unfortunately, leave the viewer cold.

This is because we don't care anything about the character involved, just one of the fatal flaws in an amazingly weak screenplay. The movie tells the story of Jupiter Jones (yes, really), a young American-Russian woman. 

Jupiter's Russian family is depicted with hair-raising racism. Just try imagining African Americans being subjected to the offensive hijinks depicted in this movie and you'll see what I mean. 

Jupiter has a miserable existence of poverty and drudgery. She works as a skivvy in the houses of the rich where she cleans toilets. In fact, the Wachowskis are so obsessed with her cleaning toilets that we get five shots of her doing so and then the Big Evil Space Bad Guy even has a speech about it.

But, in the manner of classic fairy tales and cliched fantasy scripts everywhere, Jupiter has a destiny. She is the chosen one. The reincarnation, or genetic recurrence, of a space princess. So evil people from space want her dead and good guys from space intend to save her.

Sadly, Jupiter is a miserably badly written character. She is weak, stupid and utterly passive — the other protagonists move her around the story like a piece of baggage. By the time she finally stands up for herself at the end, it's really too late.

The only reason we have any sympathy at all for Jupiter is because she's played by the luminous Mila Kunis. Kunis is a proper movie star. She lights up the screen and all the film makers need to do is shoot a close-up of her to make the movie watchable — albeit briefly.

Channing Tatum plays a disgraced space cop come to rescue Jupiter. He brings dignity and conviction to a thankless role and carries off some awful dialogue with admirable grace. However, because he has wolf DNA he's buried under some silly make up which minimises his screen presence. You screw with a movie star's look at your peril, Wachowskis.

There is one effective scene in the movie, where Tatum takes Kunis to an odd, dilapidated safe house out in the sticks surrounded by bee hives. Here Channing's old commanding officer, played by Sean Bean, is waiting for them. 

Bean (decapitated in Game of Thrones a few seasons ago) is another terrific actor. And he and Kunis have a startling amount of chemistry between them in their brief scenes together — way more than Kunis and Tatum, sadly for the film makers (all those posters pushing an epic romance between Kunis and Tatum are offering an empty promise). This bit in the bee house, thanks to the odd environment and Bean's contribution, is the only segment of the movie which really comes to life.

Jupiter Ascending features a memorable villain portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, who under-plays it in a chilling fashion, instead of eating the scenery. And there are epic space battles, ravishing science fiction panoramas and brilliant special effects shots — of such a calibre that I wished I'd seen the movie in the 3D print. 

There are also occasional flashes of wit and imagination to remind us the the Wachowskis have previously written some great scripts. But nothing is going to save this one. If you want to see this sort of space opera done properly, then check out Guardians of the Galaxy.

(Image credits: the posters are from Imp Awards. The still of Mila — we're on first name terms — is from Wall Paper.)

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Q is for Quarry by Sue Grafton

My brother James and I are both admirers of the American crime writer Lawrence Block. When James told me that Block kept mentioning another writer, Sue Grafton (for instance, Block's characters were often to be found enjoying Grafton's crime novels) I decided I had to check her out. 

In selecting my first Grafton book to read, I used my tried and tested method... I waited to see what turned up cheap in charity shops or at jumble sales.

What turned up was Q is for Quarry and T is for Trespass, the 17th and 20th adventures in the alphabet-titled series featuring female private eye Kinsey Millhone (great name). 

Kinsey is a very engaging character. A bit of a slob, she tries to go jogging every day but doesn't quite make it. And she has a real junk food jones, whimpering with pleasure as she devours her quarter pounder with cheese. Besides having created an engaging and well developed character, Sue Grafton also scores highly for the scrupulous research she does. A sense of rock solid authenticity pervades her writing. I particularly like the way the retired (but still active) cops in the book always lock their guns in the trunk of their car before they go into a restaurant. Details like that convey a strong sense of everyday reality which elevates Grafton's work above the competition.

But what really I really admire is the quality of her writing, which vividly evokes the southern California coastal locale: "The surf looked forbidding, a silt-churning cold, applauded only by the sea lions who waited off shore, barking their approval."

Q is for Quarry tells the story of a cold case, a murdered teenage girl who has never been identified and whose killer remains at large. Kinsey and her partners go to the forensic unit to inspect the victims remains: "... we all fell into a respectful silence. Eighteen years after the violence of her death there was only the crackle of white paper and the snap of gloves."

I love Grafton's observations, and her similes. An unpleasant revelation is like finding "a nest of spiders in the pocket on an old overcoat." And there are admirable, punchy descriptions of characters — "I could smell whiskey fumes seeping through her pores like toxic waste."

Q is for Quarry proved to be an engrossing, methodical procedural which at the end moves towards a satisfying — and unexpected — conclusion with great efficiency and considerable excitement. After 16 previous books in this series Grafton has obviously perfected her technique. She's a master of the genre.

At the end of a post I usually find something to moan about, so what is my complaint here? Well, perhaps there's a little too much about Kinsey's family background in this story. But to regular readers this may well be catnip. Then there's the fact that both the retired cops who work with Kinsey are seriously ill, and that makes the story a bit of a downer. 

However, I doubt very much that this will be an issue with the next Kinsey Millhone adventure... which I am already eager to read. In fact, I've just started it

 (Image credits: all the book covers are from Good Reads.)

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

White Heat by Goff & Roberts and Kellog

Of course I knew White Heat was a classic movie, but I hadn't seen it since I was a kid. And I had no idea what a knockout it was. It's aged amazingly well and is one of the best movies of the 1940s. A classic crime thriller, people also call it a film noir, but personally I don't think it fits into that category by almost any criteria (except the music). Who cares? It's great.

The director is Raoul Walsh, who does a spectacular job. The script is also terrific, well researched, beautifully paced and extremely well organised. Some of the dialogue is the usual phony hardboiled poppycock of the era, but we'll forgive them that. 

The screenplay is by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts from a story by Virginia Kellogg. Goff & Roberts (the ampersand is appropriate, since they were a screenwriting team) had a long and successful career in together movies followed by an equally long and successful career together in television — they created Charlie's Angels! But we'll forgive them that, too.

Virginia Kellogg wrote for the movies for over twenty years, including the Anthony Mann crime thriller T-Men, though her women's prison movie Caged is probably best remembered now — as something of a camp classic.

White Heat doesn't have the depth of feeling, or quite the complexity of characterisation of High Sierra — also directed by Raoul Walsh. It does, however, start with a brisk robbery sequence which is set in the High Sierra mountains, the first of two major heist setpieces in the movie. And White Heat is very dynamic and gripping, moving swiftly from heist to manhunt to prison to escape to climactic heist. The basic spine of the story is how an undercover cop (Edmond O'Brien) infiltrates the gang of dangerous psychopath Cody Jarrett (James Cagney).

It's a post-code Hollywood production, which means we have the ludicrous spectacle of a gangster and his moll not only having separate beds but separate bedrooms. Although the writers do manage to smuggle in a daring line from Cody's Ma when she sneers at the girl "Wearing out the mattress."

The moll Verna is played by Virginia Mayo. She's given a rather two-dimensional, stereotyped character to play. But she adds some lovely touches. After a drinking session she decides it's bedtime and jumps up onto Cagney and gets him to give her a piggyback upstairs. Heading for the big heist at the end she wishes him luck, and spits out her chewing gum just before she gives him a goodbye kiss. 

Cody's relationship with his mother really makes the film distinctive. Although, interestingly, Cagney's very first movie, Sinner's Holiday (1930), also featured him as a mother fixated hoodlum. Rather disturbingly, in White Heat the undercover cop ends up as a surrogate mother figure for Cody after Ma's death.

Ma is bumped off in an amazingly cold and casual way. It happens offscreen and we only learn about it when the jailed Cagney asks a fellow con for news of her on the outside. The answer that comes back, passed along the line, is brutally terse: "She's dead." And Cody, who is a dangerous lunatic at the best of times, flips. 

Goff & Roberts pull off a beautiful twist in the screenplay. It's what I think of as a Peter O'Donnell reversal, where you set up an elaborate plot development and create audience expectation for it — and then startle us by discarding it for something else entirely. In this case there's a jailbreak all ready to go, with the undercover cop setting up an oscillator to track the fugitives. Everything goes wrong and Cagney's gang escape in an entirely different way. But the neatly set up oscillator proves crucial later in the story. Great writing, boys.

Cagney is magnificent. His believability and charismatic naturalism makes almost everyone else look phony and mannered, though Margaret Wycherly is impressively restrained and menacing as Ma Jarrett.

We also have to note Max Steiner's overpowering noir music score. I think I heard a theremin in there somewhere.

And of course the unforgettable climax with Cagney immolated ("Top of the world, Ma!") atop the Horton spheres in the chemical plant. This explosively apocalyptic ending anticipates Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly.

(Image credits: The vintage poster of Cagney and Mayo is from Cagney Online. The poster of Cagney solo is from Films Noir Net. As is the "Top of the world" vignette. Cody and Verna in the car with Ma is from Derek Winnert's Classic Film Review. The shotgun and tear gas image is from Dr Macro's high quality movie scans. The title shot is from the Twenty Four Frames movie blog. Absurdly, it seems impossible to find an image of the Horton spheres from White Heat. The one here is from the the Provincial Archives of Alberta (!) via Flickr.)

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Killer Inside Me by Curran and Winterbottom

The Killer Inside Me isn't a recent release, but it was one of the best films of 2010 and I just watched it again on Blu-ray, so it's fresh in my mind. It's based on a novel by Jim Thompson and is probably the ultimate Thompson adaptation in its quality and fidelity. The other contender is Sam Peckinpah's version of The Getaway, with a script by Walter Hill. But The Getaway cops out on Thompson's nightmare vision of things by dispensing with his apocalyptic conclusion in favour of a happy ending — quite rightly, I think. Jim Thompson's hellish sensibility is not for everyone. Indeed I often think it's not for me.

Written in 1952, The Killer Inside Me was ahead of its time in being a first person narrative by a murderous psychopath, one which forces us to inhabit his skin and see the world through his eyes. 

And, being Jim Thompson, this sadistic killer also happens to be a cop. Stanley Kubrick praised the novel highly and used Thompson as a screenwriter on two of his early films, The Killing and Paths of Glory.

Now, more than half a century after publication, this book finds its way to the screen in a magnificent version, brilliantly directed by Michael Winterbottom and faithfully scripted by John Curran, who directed the impressive Somerset Maugham adaptation The Painted Veil. 

(Intriguingly, there is also a 1976 version of The Killer Inside Me starring Stacy Keach which I have yet to see.)

The new film stars Casey Affleck, who is perfect as the nightmare protagonist Lou Ford, and Jessica Alba as the prostitute who loves him. Alba's presence lights up the screen but, this being a Jim Thompson story, her fate is horrible. 

The brutality meted out to the women in his life by Lou Ford is hard to take, and many viewers have reacted with violent distaste. I can understand that, but it is true to Jim Thompson's vision and Winterbottom and Curran are to be congratulated on their courage. Like I said, this is one Thompson adaptation which doesn't cop out.

(And it should be noted that Lou is no sexist. He also murders men and boys. And at one point he puts his cigar out in the palm of a drunk's hand. He may be a homicidal sadist, but he doesn't discriminate.)

It's also a perversely beautiful movie, especially on Blu-ray, with luminous photography by Marcel Zyskind and a gorgeous 1950s graphic-style title sequence. And I guess it says something about me that what I find much more offensive than any act of violence in the film is the fact that poor John Curran is forced to share his screen credit with three producers instead of getting a card to himself, like a writer should.

(Image credits: the blue poster and the Jessica Alba head shot and the Russian one are from Imp Awards. Smoking in the car is from What Culture. Politely holding hat is from Out Now. )

Sunday, 1 February 2015

The Drop by Lehane & Roskam

American crime novelist Dennis Lehane has had a considerable presence in films. Clint Eastwood and Brian Helgeland's adaptation of Mystic River was impressively bleak. Martin Scorsese and Laeta Kalogridis's Shutter Island began strongly then turned into a risible misfire. While Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard's Gone Baby Gone was simply terrific.

Now there is another excellent Dennis Lehane movie. It's called The Drop, directed by Michaël R. Roskam. 
And it's different in several ways from earlier Lehane vehicles. for a start, it's based on a  short story ('Animal Rescue') rather than a full length novel (although the author now seems to have expanded it into a full length novel to tie in with the film). Also, the movie shifts the scene of the action from Lehane's native Boston to Brooklyn. 

And the script is adapted by Lehane himself — he's done a sterling job, too. (It's his first feature film script, although he's written for the top TV dramas The Wire and Boardwalk Empire.)

The Drop combines the tale of a bar which is a mob dirty-money-drop (hence the title of the movie) with the story of Bob (played by the redoubtable Tom Hardy), a bartender there, who rescues an abandoned and abused puppy (hence the title of the original story).

In the process he meets and falls for a girl, Nadia (played by Noomi Rapace — the original Girl With a Dragon Tattoo) who own the dustbin where he finds the dog. This action puts him on a collision course with Eric Deeds (a terrific Matthias Schoenaerts), a dangerous nutcase who owned the dog — and thinks he also owns Nadia.

Lehane instantly wins our sympathy for his protagonists, and proceeds to expertly weave together the  strands of this suspenseful story.

As you can see, the film has a great cast, also including in his last role James Gandolfini as Cousin Marv, a bulky, embittered, failed mobster who can barely squeeze past the fridge in the tiny kitchen of his blue-collar dump of a house

Tom Hardy's Bob initially comes across as passive and none too bright. He appears to be permanently bullied and firmly under the thumb of Marv, his boss in the bar (which is called Cousin Marv's). But Bob shows an early flash of spirit that signals all is not what it seems. When Marv refers to the local Chechen mobsters (who've supplanted him) as Chechnyans, Bob corrects him "They're Chechens, not Chechnyans. You don't call people from Ireland 'Irelandians', do you?"

The film features authentic and intriguing glimpses of police life (like a regular spot where the cops park and drink while they watch the sunset). In this regard it's reminiscent of the work of another Boston writer — William Monahan's script for the US remake of Edge of Darkness.

Just as the flunky Bob is surprisingly spirited and assertive, this movie develops in a very unexpected and interesting fashion. In some ways it's a classic tale of the triumph of an underdog, no pun intended. It's a deeply satisfying, very enjoyable crime drama with strong characterisation. And very dark, when you think about it.

My only beef is a tense scene late in the film where Eric the bad guy starts talking about a character called "Didi", causing the viewer to think, "Who the f*ck is Didi?" and jolting us out of the story for a moment. It turns out that "Didi" is his pet name for "Nadia." How are we supposed to know this? Well, we can't. We have to puzzle it out. It's an annoying tyro error. Go back and study screenwriting 101, Dennis. But that's my only complaint about this exemplary script. 

The Drop didn't quite make it into my list of the top films of 2014. But it's a small gem of a movie. And I recommend it highly.

(Image credits: All from the reliable Ace Show Biz. I particularly like the blue and white one with the dog.)

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis

In my continuing project to read, or re-read, all the fiction of Kingsley Amis, I was particularly looking forward to getting to his James Bond pastiche, Colonel Sun (written under the pseudonym Robert Markham). And I wasn't disappointed. Amis was a genuine Bond fan (just like he genuinely loved science fiction) and he approached the task of penning a post-Fleming 007 novel with respect, love and knowledge. For example, although Amis personally hated Bond's boss M, he is smart enough and fair-minded enough to understand that Bond loves M and write accordingly.

In his earlier novels Amis was accustomed to the sedate pace and minimal plotting of literary fiction so it's impressive to see how effectively he adapts to the need of a high octane thriller. By page 23 of Colonel Sun, M  has been abducted and his household staff murdered. And Bond himself is about to be given an incapacitating injection ("Keep your feet quite still and lower your trousers") and taken prisoner. Our hero escapes, but not before he's injected and there is a great sequence as the drug takes hold while he flees ("he had forgotten everything except the necessity to take the next stride, and the next...").

And, this being 1968, when he stumbles into a police station and receives medical attention, the first thing the doctor does is give Bond a cigarette: "He drew the life-giving smoke deep into his lungs." Given that cigarettes killed Ian Fleming — and didn't do Amis much good — "life-giving" is coming it a bit strong. What's more, in a subsequent meeting when someone has the temerity to ask to open a window to remove some of the metric ton of cigarette smoke hovering in the room, Bond observes "hatred of tobacco was a common psychopathic symptom, from which Hitler among others had been a notable sufferer." And later on Bond's "cigarette tasted wonderful." Of course. Bond ain't no psychopathic tobacco-hater. One begins to speculate that the book might have been partly sponsored by Morland of Grosvenor Street, 007's tobacconist.

Traces of the drug linger in Bond's system, giving an unreal tinge to things, allowing Amis to display his superb gift for disturbing off-kilter surrealism: Bond has the feeling that M's empty house is a "derelict stage set... if he got up and pushed his hand at the wall, what was supposed to be stone would belly inward, like canvas." But the agreeable lightning pace of the novel continues and by page 46 the story shifts to Greece, where M is being held captive, and Bond is soon in Athens (where Amis describes the "calm permanence of the ancient buildings") to track him down.

Kingsley Amis had studied the Bond novels closely — he wrote a book about them — and he has fun with Fleming's tics and tropes and clichés. Amis's is affectionately parodying Bond's creator when he describes not only "firm, dry" handshakes — naturally Bond abhors, limp, wet ones; don't we all? — but also (in Chapter 7) a "firm dry" kiss.

Amis's own gift for description is sharpened by his project to emulate Fleming's vivid concision. So the heroine of the book, Ariadne, has memorable "sherry-coloured eyes". There is also the sensual appreciation of food; "they ate a meal of black olives, fresh bread, delicious plum-shaped tomatoes, sliced raw onion and manouri cheese, followed by peaches and tiny sweet seedless grapes." And drink: "Bond savoured the smooth ferocity of the vodka" (Stolichnaya, in case you're interested).

Incidentally, Ariadne is a terrific Bond girl. Gorgeous, with an interestingly complex background — she is a loyal communist, and the political aspects of the book are deft and convincing, as is all the Russian detail. (I suspect input here from Amis's friend Robert Conquest, who was an expert on such matters.) The impressive Ariadne is also able in a pinch to employ a tommy gun with deadly efficiency — "It was just like you said... vibration and a pull to the right, but mostly I hit him."

Intriguingly, Amis is ahead of the literary spy genre by some decades. At the height of the Cold War he wrote this novel in which the bad guy is not Russian, but Chinese. In fact, the Russians are Bond's allies here. Even more intriguingly, China was also the enemy in Amis's own 'straight' spy novel The Anti Death League. And, being an unreconstructed Fleming-style Bond novel, we get racist references to the Chinese and talk of a "yellow faced devil" (Colonel Sun himself).

The Anti Death League is also referenced in a clever hint about tactical nuclear weapons — "'Atomics," said Bond grimly. 'Close support type'." — which turns out to be a total red herring.

The need to be faithful to Fleming has an interesting, bracing, and wholly positive effect on Amis's prose. The heightened sensuality of the proceedings goes beyond an appetitive appreciation of food and sex. It even colours the descriptions — quite literally. 

In his "own" books Amis tends to flat, uninspired monochromatic descriptions (except of course when he's being funny). But here we have "Steel-coloured water, lightly touched with the lilac of the opening dawn" and "fantastic horizontal bands of igneous rock, black lava, porous white and yellow tufa, harder, more violently coloured strata of crimson, royal purple, seaweed-green."  You certainly don't get this richness of evocation in One Fat Englishman. Amis is having fun in Colonel Sun and it shows — and communicates itself to the reader.

Great descriptions abound. Bond receives a disabling blow and "The muscles of his upper arms seemed to turn to thin streams of cold mud." Or we find a giant granite slab on the volcanic island, "canted like the deck of a foundering stone ship." As Bond tells M that his housekeepers have been murdered, "M... flung up a hand in an odd and touching gesture, as if to ward off a blow." (The latter is also a surprisingly moving moment, in which reality enters this world of lurid melodrama for an instant.)

And just as Ariadne is a top notch Bond heroine, the eponymous Colonel Sun is a genuinely first rate Bond villain, with a philosophical and metaphysical basis for his (very scary) sadism. The torture scene is genuinely hair raising and almost unbearable, even though we know that Bond must survive — and triumph.

Colonel Sun is an enthralling thriller. And Amis has genuinely absorbed the lessons of Ian Fleming; we see this most clearly in the way the pace of the novel accelerates towards the end; a hallmark of vintage Bond. (If you ever want a lesson in pace and compression, read the end of Goldfinger.)

The book does have some weaknesses. In one scene there's sloppy uncertainty about just who the hell is in the room (again, oddly reminiscent of The Anti Death League). In another there's a sudden and jarring shift of narrative viewpoint (from Bond to Ariadne). And, considerably worse, the ending involves Bond escaping thanks to the deus ex machina intervention of a character we've seen too little of earlier. But these don't torpedo what is a fine Bond adventure, carefully planned and told vividly and with great gusto.

In achieving what he set out do so successfully with Colonel Sun, Kingsley Amis proved himself to be an outstanding literary craftsman. He also wrote what will I suspect will stand as the best non-Fleming Bond novel for a long time to come. This is partly because Amis was so close to the source, loved the original so honestly, and lived in a world which was still the world of 007 and Ian Fleming.

But it's also because Kingsley Amis was such a bloody good writer.

(Image credits: As usual, the bulk of the covers are from Good Reads. But the Coronet edition with the red cover and the Bantam are from the excellent Piz Gloria. The text free Frank McCarthy Bantam painting is from Good Comics. The original Andy Walker art work for the red Coronet is from Illustrated 007. The glorious Tom Adams original art for the Cape hardcover is from Absolutely James Bond. The intriguing — Chinese devil mask? — Australian book club hard cover is from The Quietus. Incidentally, the best site for Pan Fleming cover images is Cats Paw Dynamics.)

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

It's difficult to express the depth of my admiration for Gone Girl. I've already written about the film. Now it's time to concentrate on where it all started, the novel by Gillian Flynn. ("Gillian" is pronounced with a hard "G" — I just thought you should know.)

This novel is dark — it explores some very twisted realms of psychology, like a magnificent modern take on a classic James M. Cain noir (think of the end of Double Indemnity — the book I mean, not the movie; they're radically different). 

Gone Girl is a fantastically engrossing book. Even more than James Cain, it reminds me of John D. MacDonald, like a vintage Travis McGee tale where the hero begins to unravel the chilling background of the implacable psychopath — the cumulative creation of a most memorable monster.

Quite apart from being superbly plotted, it is also beautifully written. It's full of sharp observation: "Sleep is like a cat: It only comes if you ignore it." And vivid evocation: "The canned heat of a closed house in July shimmered over me." Or: "A jet shot over the house, that awful sky-rip noise."

And then there's the way Flynn nails people. Like the white trash couple who are "meth-weathered." And the bawdy girl who is brought to life thus: "She laughed a pirate-wench laugh." Or consider this unfortunate: "She already has the righteous, eye rolling cadence of a conspiracy crackpot. She might as well wrap her head in foil." (As you can see, Flynn is also often very funny.)

As you may know, the book is as much about media scrutiny — the feeding frenzy of the press — as it is about a murder. And this brings out some of Flynn's finest moments. Here she is describing what it feels like to be under siege by the press: "The seagull cries of a few female news anchors" ... "Once the shades were pulled, it was like covering a canary for the night. The noise out front stopped."

Not since the masterworks of Thomas Harris have I come across a novel which is both so brilliantly conceived and beautifully written. "I could feel my brain expand and deflate simultaneously — my own cerebral Hitchcock zoom." (Gillian Flynn is here referring to a dolly zoom — those unforgettable moments when they zoom in and pull back the camera simultaneously. You know exactly what she means.)

And it is a very acute piece of writing psychologically — "now that she was gone I could enjoy the idea of her." Particularly on the subject of marriage, where the book throws up some deeply unsettling observations: "Our kind of love can go into remission."

It's amazing the grip Gone Girl has on the reader. I was furious, outraged, sick with dread, even though I knew what was going to happen (as a result of seeing the movie). It's almost unbearable to read as Nick gets in deeper and deeper...

Now having both seen the movie and read the book I am tremendously impressed at how they adapted it into a film. Because although all the essentials are the same, there are also huge differences. If you want a masterclass in turning a novel into a motion picture, then study this. (On the other hand, if you want to see how to turn a novel into a TV show, check out The Slap.) 

It's positively breathtaking, what Gillian Flynn and David Fincher have achieved; the diligence with which they boiled down, re-structured and re-emphasised the book is deeply impressive. They have also set about a ruthless winnowing of the book's secondary characters.

My single complaint (I have to have one): Abbreviating a character's name from the proper noun "Margo" to the presumed verb "Go" is as confusing on the page as it was on the screen. Budding authors beware.

(Image credits: All these covers are from Good Reads, including the Czech edition. I love the Czechs — they've just bought my novel.)