Michael Gambon


Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon), who was not reprised in Viva La Madness.

Sidney (Ben Whishaw) and Tammy (Sienna Miller) who also weren’t reprised.

Near the start of Layer Cake, [xxxx] and Morty go to lunch with Geno and Jimmy Price at Pepe’s Barn.  As far as we are concerned, that scene and the conversation between [xxxx] and Price at lunch, and then in the bathroom, were outstanding, having perfectly conveyed the path of the book, overall.  They are just two scenes of many outstanding ones in Layer Cake, as Connolly is most genius at language, obviously proving that out with giant scenes for Eddy Temple, and Geno and frankly, most of the people who had speaking parts.  When [xxxx] gets kidnapped and filled in?  Phenomenal.  And then again, when Eddy fills [xxxx] in with the layer cake speech at the end.  And then, in the movie, [xxxx] shows why he’s already up the layer cake farther than Mr. Temple knows, or Mr. Ryder, in the movie.  You know we are bigger on the movie’s ending, where he leaves with a leg up, than the book’s most disappointing outcomes.  And you know why.  So we’ll not get into that, though as always, I would certainly entertain comments, as it has become a spirited discussion between the fans of the book.

There was no big setup moment.  Or good setup moment.  And frankly, we thought the first 100 pages were extremely tedious and uninteresting.  But the sequel, Viva La Madness, a good ten years in arriving after Layer Cake, perhaps got it done in other ways, as we have walked away about as best we could be satisfied with a story in which Connolly skunked nearly a dozen worthy characters.  It bothers us also that he didn’t really write any that were that stirring either.  Viva La Madness opens slowly and leaves you wanting for old characters.  Look, I think you knew I’d be honest.  Gene, Mr. Temple/Mr. Ryder, Tammy, Trevor & Shanks, Tiptoes, Billy Bogus, and many of the flashback characters, in the very least, were all compelling characters who all the fans have really gotten attached to.  How could you not?

Here’s another thing, while we are airing the complaints.  It doesn’t sound like him in all parts.  I don’t really know what’s going on there.  But Connolly was using phrases that seemed out of character.  Again, comment me on that if you like.  It would be too difficult to explain and we do not wish to be so overly critical.  We said what we needed to say on that.

But the book does start to satisfy.  And when you are in full clip, you are reading this beast furiously.  Because Connolly is that kind of writer.  He writes a good, compelling, fun story.  And because the characters are a bit too drab or a bit too “heads the balls”, you want the two good characters, our man [xxxx] and Mr. Mortimer to win more than ever.  Anything else will be indecent.  And that is what we always said from the start was the problem from the first book, then corrected in the movie, and then seen to not need correcting in the new novel.  The good guys win.  Finally.

And they get laid.  On my word, [xxxx] gets laid, finally, and the pussy is very good.  That’s great.  We who are rooting for him want him to get laid.  So they gave us that as well.  The book is really not as colorful as the first.  It’s also not as black and white.  It’s quite grey, in fact.  And that should be one’s outlook, and perhaps not so black and white.  Remember, they are commodities traders, and they do make fair compensation.  It is a business at which men like them are successful.  That they do not complete the $100M score, and only come out with a several million dollar score is really nothing to cry about.  This book goes down over a period of about twenty days.  So if you are getting 3M to walk away with, you have been fairly compensated for those twenty days worth of work, especially if you are already a murderous drug dealer.

We have to say we really like it.  We liked the ending.  More grey.  That black and white first book, was really tainted in our mind, by the ending.  You don’t have that here.  The characters we like are rich and safe.  Yay.  The plot is well developed, and complicated, and it is a real page turner.  Exactly what you want.  But we just weren’t feeling these new characters.  We are sure that Connolly and Vaughn will punch them up better if/when the movie becomes a reality.  So we are not gonna cry about that.  If a book is not perfect you are going to have to live with some flaws.  Connolly might have had the one truly great story that made Layer Cake the lightning bolt it was.  That is not going to be easy to duplicate.  But it’s a good sequel to Layer Cake and was well worth buying and reading and anticipating as we did.

Smiler’s alright, but the Venezuelans and the other Brit’s were just brutal, not interesting.  Sonny and Roy? The Toff?  Ih.  He’s alright.  Ted Granger?  Not really impressed.  But this book was funny, and was compelling from about page 100 through to the end.  We did not expect this book to be better than or equal to Layer Cake.  As we have suggested, that may be impossible for Connolly.  But if you like this kind of fiction, drug crime fiction, it’s really the only game in town, and the very big boys who Connolly describes are doing very similar things to the things that Connolly describes, especially in business.

So we have to say kudos.  We were immediately satisfied.  We sat on writing this for many months, as we read it fairly immediately upon release.  And our opinion hasn’t changed any.  We’ve seen a lot of people reading the ‘Layer Cake Sequel Approaches’ post, so we may as well let you know our thoughts.

Viva La Madness should be a satisfying read for Connolly fans.  And they should want to see it on the big screen, where once again, the book will outdo the movie.  But we say all this while fully acknowledging that Connolly is a master in the genre, and we have to thank him for bringing some compelling stories to us.  Thanks JJC.  But if we could suggest for next time, please bring back some of the old guard.  There would be no questions as to any book’s interest level with some of those characters in the mix.

Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)       

The grounds of beautiful Santa Anita Park (above), which has given HBO’s new series “Luck” unprecedented access.

We can imagine some of the criticisms of what we feel is a budding hit series, HBO’s new drama “Luck”.  The first few episodes seemed incredibly veiled, cloaked in terseness, as though the show was afraid to give away too much, too soon.  On top of that, anyone not acquainted with race track vernacular and etiquette, as I am not, had another layer of code to wade through.  But from early in episode one when the four amigos put together a complex pick six parlay, led by Jerry, a degenerate gambler genius, who reasoned out the long shot selection of Mon Gateau, a horse they now own, a person like me who fancies a good gamble–especially a good parlay, which is where the real money is–could feel that Luck was cultivating a certain electricity and excitement at Santa Anita.  And when Mon Gateau went out and won its race,  which was captured brilliantly in it’s full glory, as one would expect from a David Milch production, and the four amigos had won the 2.6M pick six, we felt that gambler’s high that only comes when a good wager goes green.

Jerry (Jason Gedrick), who tempts fate by playing in high stakes poker games he usually loses, has already lost a good portion of those massive pick 6 winnings, but the flawed nature of this character has hit home, making his storyline all the more interesting to us.  The four amigos made him the point man for the acquisition of Mon Gateau, and his street smarts both sealed the acquisition and secured that ace trainer Escalante (John Ortiz) would continue working with the horse, who, it seems very few people have the patience or nature to get along with.

While Jerry, to us, has stolen a portion of the show, there can be no doubt that this endeavor belongs to the legendary Dustin Hoffman, whose Ace Bernstein character has just been paroled from prison, taking a Cocaine possession charge for his grandson, that landed him 3 years in the fed.  While the first few episodes were exceedingly murky especially in regard to the Bernstein character, the plot has done enough to direct us toward a Bernstein revenge plan against those who have wronged him and his family.

In our minds, Bernstein is the next great HBO character, and will fall in line with the likes of Al Swearengen and Tony Soprano.  And to see Hoffman on HBO in his first ever television gig has been an immense gift for acting buffs and an all time coup for the network, with the credit going to Hoffman and David Milch.  To see Hoffman in scenes with his driver/confidante/right hand man, Dennis Farina (who could forget Farina as crime boss Jimmy Serrano in the all time DeNiro classic “Midnight Run”?) has been a real treat, and they are brilliant together.  And what about Hoffman’s first scene with our guy, Michael Gambon, who played Eddie Temple in Layer Cake, and who delivered on one of our all time favorite film monologues that ended with him telling Daniel Craig, “Welcome to the layer cake, son.”?  Gambon, most well known to youngsters for his work in the Harry Potter films, plays an ex and again business associate of Bernstein’s named Mike, dubious of character at best, and who was probably behind Ace’s set up and 3 year jail term.

Mike:  ‘How’s your grandson, Ace?’

Ace:  ‘He’s good.  Don’t talk about my grandson again.’

Mike:  ‘He’s very lucky to have someone do what you did for him.  Really, he’s good?’

Ace:  ‘You better fucking pray to fucking God every day he stays that way.’

There could be no doubting that Hoffman would bring his trademark electricity to the role, also establishing instant rapport with Patrick Adams (Mike Ross, Suits), who Ace has chosen to be his go between with the villainous Mike.  When Adams, playing young lawyer Nathan Israel, is first enlisted by Bernstein, the uptight young man is mock chided for “answering a question with a question.” When Israel is a bit more comfortable with Bernstein, in a subsequent meeting, he asks, “so what will I be doing to earn my keep?” Bernstein replies, “so what do you think you’d be good at?” Israel retorts, “answers a question with a question.” After Israel reports back to Ace the details of his first meeting with Mike, he tells him he’s not sure he can continue because of his conscience.  Bernstein replies, “that’s because you’re an honest man.  So far.”

With all of the obvious big money on the line, and with Bernstein already spending a fortune to buy a 5.1% stake in the race track, while leading others to believe he will bring lucrative casino and parlor gaming to Santa Anita, the stage seems set for the sting, and we expect it will bring out the duplicitous nature of some.  In the first episode, Ace tells Gus that he doesn’t trust anyone, but that in Gus’s case, he gets a pass.

In light of the congratulatory cake that Gus and Ace received in episode 6, a message to Gus emblazoned upon it that read not “Way to go Greek” but rather “Wait To Go Greek”, which was presumed as having something to do with Gus’s horse winning a race, from Mike and his crew, until Gus says out of earshot of Ace, “No icing error, this.”

Gus is obviously receiving a signal from the other side, but is he really one of them?  Or are they possibly threatening him?  All still part of the unrevealed plot.

While Ace has shown a forthright business nature in meetings with his board of directors, with the head of the casino, and with Escalante, whom he confronts over the training of the horse Ace secretly owns, Pint of Plain, he has also shown a tremendous soft side for the animal, spending one night in a chair in the barn outside the horse’s stall to see him through the night, and beaming in conversations about the animal.  Bernstein is truly at peace when the horse is at peace, and is livid when he feels Escalante is misusing the horse as a means of manipulating the odds.  Escalante, a major player in Luck, is a gruff trainer and a difficult guy, and Bernstein calls him to the carpet right away, because he wants to know if Escalante is a trainer or a gambler.  Escalante replies, ‘who says if you’re one it means you can’t also be the other?’

To his credit, the hardened Escalante does obviously love the animals he trains, and seems to respect both Jerry and Ace for their smarts, and for the way in which they care for their animals.    Also, Escalante doesn’t seem to know that it was Bernstein who got Escalante his break in the business, by suggesting that the stables hire him when he was only a kid who seemed to always be hanging around the horses.  We feel this is a resting plot line right now that will be revealing itself in good time, which Luck most certainly is, a veritable cornucopia for TV fans, replete with two forms of lightning in a bottle.  They have captured the tension, intensity, and magic of the races themselves, a tall order when filming with the animals, and also, the magical chemistry between fantastic castmates performing edgy, well written scenes.

We even get to see more of Kerry Condon practically naked (Octavia from Rome), who jockeys Walter Smith’s (Nick Nolte) star horse, Gettn’up Morning.

We like everything about Luck, including the song.  If you’re behind on your Luck, you have some great television to look forward to, and for those caught up, while only 3 episodes remain, Luck has already been renewed by HBO for a ten episode run beginning next January.

Lucky for us.

Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/04/18/layer-cake-author-on-the-drug-problem-we-should-be-more-grown-up-about-it/

https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com/2010/03/06/welcome-to-the-layer-cake/