‘Oh William!’ by Elizabeth Strout

Part three of the trilogy – assuming author Elizabeth Strout decides to end the Lucy Barton narrative at this juncture – is, like its predecessors, deceptively simple in style and prose, and continues to explore the then and now of Lucy’s life. Only the now sees Lucy, a recent widow, spending unexpectedly more time with her first husband William – and consequently the then becomes about him and them.

An eminent storyteller, Strout weaves and wafts between time frames and characters as William discovers he has a half sister only a few years older than himself. It appears that when William’s mother walked off the Maine potato farm belonging to her first husband, she left behind a baby girl. He feels he needs to know more. With time on both their hands (William’s third, and much younger, wife has just left him), Lucy agrees to accompany her former husband to the small, rural town in Maine.

And that’s about it as far as a ‘story’ is concerned. But Strout does not need a structured beginning middle and end to her storytelling. Lucy Barton may remain as the central pivot but plot lines be darned – random moments of recall, distinctive memory of place and time, conversations partially remembered, vague recognitions all form part of Lucy’s armoury of life remembered.

But sadly, Oh William! does not reach the heights of its predecessors. There’s something laconic and uncertain as the two spend time together – either in Maine or New York, alone or in the company of their two daughters. The strengths of Lucy developed over the years, someone who came from nothing as we are frequently reminded, are somehow undermined as the relationship with the William of today appears to make Lucy appear somehow gullible – not the same character who left home in rural Amgash, Illinois to take up a place of study in Chicago. Add the level of condescension – oh William! this, oh William! that – prevalent throughout and the result is a tale eminently readable but not as commanding or engrossing as the earlier parts of the trilogy.

Nominated for the 2022 Booker Prize but lost out to Shehan Karunatilaka and The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida.

‘Trust’ by Hernan Diaz

Playful yet thoughtful, challenging yet engaging with its four manuscripts of interconnected narratives resulting in, in part, a novel-within-a-novel structure, Trust is a fictionalised tale of an early twentieth century New York power couple. Or at least, that’s how it initially appears.

Through fiction, Diaz explores the fiction of money as Benjamin Rask becomes a wealthy man by playing the part of a wealthy man – a billionaire successfully playing the financial markets in the years leading up to the 1929 Wall Street crash and the resultant Great Depression. Yet the crisis makes him even richer – with more than a hint that through discrete sales earlier in the year, he was responsible for the crash. There’s a lingering sense that he’s pulling the strings of the national economy.

Whilst on the surface Rask betrays potential Great Gatsby traits with his extreme wealth, lavish parties and more, Rask and his equally aloof and eccentric wife, Helen, take little interest in New York society. Invitations may be at a premium but the financier leaves it all to staff – right down to the guest list. It’s not unusual for him to not even attend his own functions. To Rask the act of making money is all important through well-timed investment decisions. Focus is required – he attributes his success to his strong intuitive capabilities, intense research and his acute understanding of the financial world. Everything else is secondary.

Within the narrative of Trust, Rask is fictional character. Or is he? Andrew Bevel is concerned it’s too like him – so much so Ida Partenza becomes the secretary – and ghostwriter – to the financial mogul as he decides to put the records straight. And then the final section blows all the putting of records straight in all preceding sections out to sea. As Ida’s father says,

You can’t eat or wear money, but it represents all the food and clothes in the world. This is why it’s a fiction. … Stocks, shares, bonds. Do you think any of these things those bandits across the river buy and sell represent any real, concrete value? No. … That’s what all these criminals trade in: fictions.

It’s no easy read. But, unexpectedly, considering it’s subject of financial institutions, stocks, bonds, the making of money, it’s also engrossing.

‘Only Murders in the Building’ (Season 1)

Light, quirky and entertaining murder mystery as three amateur sleuths attempt to identify the murderer of a dead body in their apartment building on the Upper West Side of New York.

Struggling to pay his bills, theatre producer Oliver (Martin Short) is desperate to identify income. Following the discovery of a dead body – initially believed to be suicide – Oliver, refusing to accept the police report, looks to the production of a truecrime podcast. Working with fellow residents Charles Haden-Savage (Steve Martin), a former star TV detective, and Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez), the sleuths look to finding the identity of the killer.

It’s 10 episodes of undemanding, 21st century Miss Marple chock full of expletives and red herrings as the three unearth any number of dodgy goings on, past and present, in their semi-exclusive building – as well as secrets each of the amateur sleuths prefer to keep quiet. Lots of theatrics and banter as various residents come under suspicion (including Sting!) – with the final seconds of the 10th episode providing the perfect segueway into season 2 and the next case.

Rating: 64%

‘The Lost Weekend’

A powerful, searing drama that picked up a swag of Oscars in 1946, The Lost Weekend is an unflinching portrayal of a man teetering on the edge of self-destruction.

A frustrated, wannabe writer, Don Birnam (a career-best bravura performance from Ray Milland – Dial M For Murder, Love Story) finds solace in the bottle. Escaping a planned long weekend away with Helen (Jane Wyman – Magnificent Obsession, Johnny Belinda) and brother Wick (Phillip Terry – Bataan, To Each His Own), Birnam instead hits the New York bars, becoming more and more desperate as his cash runs out.

Stark and confronting, the groundbreaking feature from legendary writer/director Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity) created controversy before release. With its serious depiction of alcoholism as a modern illness, The Lost Weekend was treading new ground for Hollywood – so much so the alcohol industry wanted to destroy the film’s negative and remove it from circulation.

Nominated for 7 Oscars in 1946 including soundtrack (Miklós Rózsa), cinematography, editing, won 4 – best film, director, actor, screenplay.

Rating: 73%


A wonderfully elaborate series of hoaxes keeps the audience engaged and entertained as thousands and then billions of dollars slip through grasping hands.

Character by character we are introduced to the players in Benjamin Caron’s feature film debut (but with several episodes of The Crown and stage to screen collaborations with Kenneth Branagh, we’re in experienced hands). From the gentle bookstore owner Tom (Justice Smith – Jurassic World: Dominion, Paper Towns) to his despised stepmother, Madeline (Julianne Moore – Far From Heaven, Still Alice), nothing is as it seems as hedge funds, endowments, Manhattan real estate all form part of the equation of an elaborate hoax. Coincidences are few as old hand Max (Sebastian Stan – Captain America – The First Avenger, The Devil All the Time) plays the field – with support from PhD student Sandra (Briana Middleton – The Tender Bar, Augustus).

It’s a myriad of hoaxes that draws us in with Julianne Moore on form among a top rate cast that provide an entertaining ride.

Rating: 71%

‘Your Place or Mine’

Templated rom com as two best friends of 20 years discover the one night stand when they first met had more importance than they both realised.

Divorcee Debbie (Reese Witherspoon – Wild, Walk the Line) lives with her 10 year-old son Jack (Wesley Kimmel – TV’s Wanda Vision, The Book of Boba Fett) in suburban Los Angeles. She talks to New York-based Peter (Ashton Kutcher – No Strings Attached, Jobs), an in-demand marketing executive, virtually every day. When the possibility to pursue a long-held dream comes Debbie’s way and with it a week in New York, its the ideal occasion for the two to catch up. But plans go awry leaving Debbie in New York and Peter in LA with Jack. Lives change in unexpected ways as each impact on the other’s lifestyle in that single week.

Written and directed by Aline Brosh McKenna (writer of The Devil Wears Prada), it’s a breezy template of a feature that has its moments but one that would have likely worked more effectively with the rom com toned down and the drama ramped up.

Rating: 48%

‘Pillow Talk’

Made in 1959, Pillow Talk is a fun, early rom com ‘sex comedy’ where rivalry and sexual tension turns enemies into lovers.

Sharing a telephone party line, the uptight Jan (Doris Day – Send Me No Flowers, Calamity Jane) is constantly frustrated by songwriter and playboy Brad (Rock Hudson – Send Me No Flowers, Giant) hogging the line. Complaints fall on deaf ears until Brad bumps into her at the office of his best friend and publisher, Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall – Send Me No Flowers, TV’s The Odd Couple ) – who is trying to make Jan wife number three. She becomes a challenge to the songwriter who, incognito, acts as a wealthy but lonely Texan out of his depth in New York City.

An Oscar-winning script sees splendid sparring between the two leads alongside a frequently overlooked Jonathan and the scene-stealing Thelma Ritter (Rear Window, All About Eve) as Jan’s alcoholic maid. The result, as directed by Michael Gordon (Move Over Darling, Cyrano de Bergerac), is a slick, sleek, flirtatious dramedy.

Nominated for 5 Oscars in 1960 including best actress and supporting actress, won 1 for best original screenplay.

Rating: 63%

‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’

Aggressive, unpleasant, The Wolf of Wall Street is a hard-to-take, hard-assed narrative based on the true story of one man’s rise to a wealthy stock-broker to his fall from corrupt grace.

As success follows success, a drug-fuelled Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio – The Aviator, The Revenant) loses control, spiralling downward as his desire for money and fame is replaced by a life that’s empty and destructive. It’s a dark, bacchanalian comedy that is so over-the-top that, in its three hour running time, cries out for a change of pace in what is an unquestionably superbly made but bloated indulgence.

Director Martin Scorsese (GoodFellas, Casino) knows his way round the material (this is a gangster film inside the system) and the cast – with Jonah Hill (21 Jump Street, Moneyball) as Belfort’s side kick never better – superb. But sometimes less is more.

Nominated for 5 Oscars in 2014 – best film, director, lead actor, supporting actor, adapted screenplay.

Rating: 63%

‘Guys and Dolls’

As a stage musical, Guys and Dolls is something of a legend. As a film dirceted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, The Barefoot Contessa), it’s not clear as to why.

Challenged to take the Salvation Army-style missionary (Jean Simmons – Hamlet, Elmer Gantry) with him to Havana, the gamble-on-anything Sky Masterton (Marlon Brando – The Godfather, On the Waterfront) accepts the challenge – only to fall in love with her. Back in New York, assuming to be the winner of the bet, Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra – Ocean’s Eleven, From Here to Eternity) organises a crap game with high stakes.

It’s a sprightly enough version but the studio-bound filming highlights the feature’s stilted restrictions which ultimately becomes repetitive and tedious as besuited hustlers scuttle furtively around the alleys of the city avoiding police detection and bursting into song.

Nominated for 4 Oscars in 1956 for cinematography, art direction, costume and original score.

Rating: 48%

‘Shadow of a Doubt’

An early American feature from the master of suspense, Alfred HItchcock (Rebecca, Rear Window), Shadow of a Doubt is a quietly understated thrill of a narrative as a suspected serial killer moves into respectable middle-class suburbia.

Leaving New York in a hurry, Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten – The Third Man, Citizen Kane) heads for the Californian home of his older sister, Emma (Patricia Collinge – The Little Foxes, The Nun’s Story) and her family. Adored and worshipped by his niece, Charlie (Teresa Wright – Mrs Miniver, The Best Years of Our Lives), a desparate Charlie is quick to realise his liberty is at risk – and detectives have drawn in his niece in an attempt to trap him.

The plot may be implausible but the dialogue is cracking (written by Pulitzer prize winning Thornton Wilder) – Emma’s explantion to the detectives on how to bake a cake is priceless. On the surface, Shadow of a Doubt has limited reach but underlying is the exploration of loneliness, despair, greed, complacency and death. A small gem of a feature.

Nominated for best original story Oscar in 1944.

Rating: 78%