August 25, 2020

AF Diary #18 (Murder on the Orient Express, Last Blood, How to Build a Girl, Ad Astra reviewed plus CL thoughts)

AF Diary #18



Can’t say I can remember seeing another adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. This star-studded Ken Branagh version has actually got me excited to visit some classic whodunnits. It’s a genre I really like but seldom find time for.


Murder on the Orient Express is headed up by director Branagh as the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Branagh plays it with a good balance between establishing the seriousness of the situation and the quirky behavioural patterns that make him such an outstanding detective. Also he has a magnificent moustache.


The supporting cast have a lot less to work with. Daisy Ridley has a few scenes of potency but nothing to really get her teeth into. Glass of rose aside. Derek Jacobi is good as Johnny Depp’s man-servant and both Josh Gad and Michelle Pfeiffer do good work. Judi Dench is great, as always, and doesn’t overwhelm scenes as I was worried she would.


The trouble with a big powerhouse ensemble is so many talented people get left out of the meaty scenes. There’s a decent amount of Willem Dafoe here but I could have used more. Olivia Colman rarely gets a chance to shine as well. Outside of one scene conducted almost entirely in German.


The film’s finale, typical of almost every whodunnit, “the library scene” takes place in the tunnel on a mountainside and allows all the little strands of the previous 90 minutes to be woven together into a rich tapestry. Is it a work of art? Not really but it’s good enough and Branagh’s moustache deserves a sequel. He’s off to the Nile.


Watching this made me realise I’d never read any Agatha Christie so I’ll be correcting that. I’ve picked up a copy of “And Then There Were None” and will be reading it over the coming weeks.



One of Stallone’s iconic characters beginning with the letter R has had a graceful move into old age. One has not. Guess which this is? Rambo’s debut in 1982 as a Vietnam vet crossing a small town Sherriff was a subtle anti-war picture. It didn’t take long for this to become subverted. Fans seemed to hone in on the action aspects of First Blood and each subsequent Rambo film has focused in on ultra-violent action content.


Last Blood changes gears somewhat and spends the early part establishing Rambo as a horse whisperer who takes care of his live-in maid and her granddaughter on a ranch with a load of tunnels under it. There’s some decent acting and I’m almost drawn in by it.


The middle act is where Last Blood completely falls apart. In spectacular fashion. Rambo goes to Mexico and runs afoul of a couple of sex trafficking brothers in an attempt to rescue his maid’s granddaughter from their clutches (this is so tenuous). For an ace military infiltrator John makes an absolute mess of his time in Mexico and everything bad that happens to him is entirely his fault. Perhaps an allegory for the Vietnam War?


Act three is where Last Blood is salvaged. The entire plot is thrown out of the window in favour of Rambo’s Revenge. A mindless display of carnage culminating in a man’s still-beating heart being cut from his chest. Something that was so comical that even my wife was in floods of tears laughing at it and she’s usually quite squeamish. I found myself chuckling for several minutes. It’s credit to Stallone that he understands himself, a bumbling old man, shouldn’t be featuring in an action film at his age and instead made a parody of one. It’s sly (*wink*) and references back to First Blood being an anti-war film. This is an anti-action film.



  1. Rambo: First Blood Part II
  2. First Blood
  3. Rambo (2008)
  4. Rambo: Last Blood
  5. Rambo III


Is it controversial that I think First Blood Part II, the action-packed sequel, is the better film? As with Aliens it probably helps that I saw the sequel first. My first view of John Rambo was as a balls-out action hero. The more subtle approach of First Blood I saw years later. Maybe that’s why I like the braindead action film that is Rambo (2008). There’s one thing I’m sure we can all agree on, regardless of our first dip into Ramboland and that’s Rambo III is just terrible.



Ad Astra is the latest Hollywood movie to ape 2001 and it’s really not as clever as it thinks it is. Director James Gray called it “2001 meets Apocalypse Now with some Joseph Conrad sprinkled in”. Possibly ignoring the fact that Apocalypse Now was based on Conrad’s “Hearts of Darkness”.


As I was watching Ad Astra I did enjoy the levels of ambition present in a big Hollywood production. It’s a beautiful looking film but it doesn’t really know who it wants to appeal to. Some of the stuff is pure arthouse. The scene where Brad Pitt is sat in a sound booth is pure Kubrick but the set design is just deliberately weird.


Then there’s the action sequences. Moon pirates feels like it’s from a different movie altogether and Space Monkeys? Look, I enjoyed all of this but you can’t really shoehorn this nonsense into a film that tries to aim for a higher purpose. Ad Astra makes a point of throwing stuff in for the action fan. But at what cost to the artistic merit of the film as a whole?


Ultimately the film isn’t as deep as it thinks it is and all the mumbling and staring in the world are no substitute for substance. Is Pitt’s Roy deliberately boring because astronauts are supposed to be dull? All the same you can’t say that for Tommy Lee Jones or Donald Sutherland. It’s just a bizarre film, that tries to juggle so many different genres and isn’t particularly satisfying because of it.



Having traversed the streets of Wolverhampton more frequently than I’d like, I have to say I’ve never heard an accent quite the same as the one Beanie Feldstein brings to the show in “How to Build a Girl”. The film, loosely based on the upbringing of Caitin Moran, is set in Wolverhampton and yet Feldstein’s accent is the kind of horrific mish-mash you get when an American stumbles blindly into a foreign country and can’t quite grasp what they’re hearing.


This said How to Build a Girl starts tentatively, establishing the lead Johanna Morrigan as a loser in high school, going nowhere fast and not adapt at anything apart from writing. Morrigan discovers that her passion for writing can be adapted into any number of pursuits and gets a job writing for NME under the pseudonym Dolly Wilde. When Dolly Wilde was born, my opinion of How to Build a Girl radically shifted.


I could now look past the accent issues and into the heart of what I was seeing. A self-made writer, finding a world of music that she never knew existed. As her first column reads “At 9pm rock n’ roll meant nothing to me, at midnight it was everything”. Any writer worth their salt needs that inspiration and to see Morrigan finding it and embracing it wholeheartedly, was good for my soul.


Dolly’s sudden transformation from pleasant fan-girl to super-bitch for the good of her popularity is also eerily reminiscent of my own personal life. “Thank you, your hate is delicious”. I do like the mentality of the finale too. Rip it up and start again. Burn it down, rebuild it. Says the man who gave up writing about wrestling a few months ago and now reviewing movies and writing about Football Manager.




The Club 2020, tournament of football, business has concluded. I quite enjoyed it. I watched most of the games, the ones I was home for. Bayern’s 8-2 over Barcelona will stay long in the memories. I really enjoyed the Europa League too. Inter’s crushing 5-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk, Man Utd raining shots on Sevilla’s goal but still somehow losing and a final that saw four first half goals. It was a lot of fun to watch.


The only thrilling conclusion we got was PSG vs. Atalanta though. And that’s not a game I wanted to see go down like that. PSG are rich as fuck and Atalanta were this beacon of hope for the people of that area of Italy. An area that suffered so badly from COVID-19 and a club that had massively overachieved to even get here. I’ll not soon forget Neymar’s reaction to PSG’s late winner.


So I was fairly gleeful during the final as Neymar found himself unable to alter the script that Bayern were this unstoppable machine. The Germans controlled large parts of the game and deserved to win. I know there’s this narrative that players dive and cheat and feign injury because this innate desire to win. That doesn’t wash with me. I like sportsmanship. Especially when you’re the best. If you’re as talented as Neymar you shouldn’t need to cheat. Especially against the likes of Atalanta. So, he got what he deserved.


What a job Hansi Flick has done at Bayern. He’s turned them into a team of robots and those robots are virtually unbeatable. They’ve done the treble. It’s made even more bizarre because Flick hasn’t managed a club side since Hoffenheim in 2005.



I’ve now read three books about Donald Trump. Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s character assassination of Trump’s first few months in charge of the United States. One that almost tried to paint Steve Bannon as the hero of the piece because he was the only twat who knew what he was doing. Unfortunately what he was doing was evil. The Washington Post’s book on Trump’s background, which contained meticulous research and should have served as a huge red flag to anyone supporting him. And now Mary Trump’s book. A book from Trump’s own niece.


Looking inside the family itself is perhaps even more of a revelation of how much of an absolute cunt Donald is. The bit where he decided to go to the cinema instead of visiting his terminally ill brother perfectly sums up his attitude to other people. He has zero compassion. Zero empathy. He is a habitual liar who believes the fantasies he creates. His behaviour is consistently despicable and the book goes on to confirm that Trump doesn’t really know anything. He just pretends. He’s this fat, privileged waste of space that highlights the worst of the upper class. Rich trash with poor taste and worse manners. Someone who doesn’t care who he tramples over as long as he gets the win.


I already hated Donald Trump before I read this book but I’m strangely fascinated by his life and career. He’s a car crash. A horrific natural disaster that you just can’t take your eyes off in case you miss something. If he wasn’t such an abhorrent racist and utter scumbag it might even be funny. Haha, look at what America has done to itself! Maybe it would be for the best if everyone ignored him after the election. Just hope he goes away. He won’t. No matter what happens he’ll be here, running his mouth on social media because that’s all he’s got. That’s all he’s good at. He still thinks the Central Park Five are guilty. If there was any justice Trump would become a footnote in history. An anecdote about a misstep the USA made on its way to becoming a better place.




No action to speak of yet, it’s a plodding old summer, but there are transfers. I don’t know if I mentioned it or not but when I got to Southampton they had no full backs. None whatsoever. Obviously I know a lot of full backs but the standard at Southampton is incredibly high. I ended up bringing in Mexican left back Ramon Chan. Ramon is 21 years old, with bags of potential. He is, however, already brilliant. 17 tackling. He needs to work on stamina and marking but he’s so close to being a great player already. £12M met his release fee. Another left back brought in is PSG’s Evan Meslin. When I was at PSG I thought he was going to be a star. He’s still only 20 years old but if he had attacking attributes he wouldn’t be joining me, he’d be starting at PSG.


I asked Bayern about Jorge Lazaro and they quoted me £130M. Yes, £130M. That’s…a lot. I probably could have stretched to £50-60M but £130M! No. There are some options. Goran Kovacic, who I had at Porto, is on the transfer list. He’s really not good enough to play at this level. Jon Sarriegi, who I’ve been keeping tabs on forever, is available. Sergio Marce, my second choice Spain right back, is available. As is Pino Pallecchi, who played for me at Juventus and is the second best right back I’ve ever had. None of these options are particularly expensive. Maybe I should just buy them all and see how it pans out.


I have definitely signed one right back; PSG’s Cristobal on loan. As with Meslin, I’m familiar with how talented he is. It shouldn’t be an issue but I’m also looking for another right back who will be first choice going forwards.  The season starts in a few days so I’ll be back when it’s underway.

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