Taming the Tango Champion

What is it about the tango?

That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. As any of you who know anything about tango already know, it’s all about sultry chords, throbbing rhythms, latin passion, and highly suggestive movements which are (barely) held in check, the male half of the tango pair being, of course, a perfect gentleman, maintaining an air of manly restraint no matter how much the lady (or so it is implied) wishes he would come in close and possess her, right there on the dance floor.

Oof. Sorry, just needed a moment to catch my breath.

Anyway, you don’t need me to tell you anything. There are any number of great renditions online, both from professional dancers and in films. Here’s one of my favourites, starring one of the screen’s great hotties – Antonio Banderas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lAKlYTQVKY And if you really want an insight into just how sexy tango can be, I’d recommend the wonderful Al Pacino film ‘Scent of a Woman’. In fact, I might treat myself to it tonight. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCnB05GrUgc

Cait O’Sullivan’s Taming the Tango Champion https://www.amazon.co.uk/Taming-Tango-Champion-Wicked-Romance-ebook/dp/B06XC4VKRD/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1498398858&sr=8-1&keywords=taming+the+tango+champion is tango-in-words. It comes in hot and steamy and full of passion, and just keeps ramping it up from there. The tango champion himself, Argentinian Matthias, horse trainer (mm, those thighs…) and dance master, is a barely-contained maelstrom of passionate emotions. He strides onto the first page and takes control, and hardly lets go of it long enough for our heroine, Ava, to tell her story.

Will she fall in love all over again with the completely unsuitable man who fathered her child two years ago? Will she admit to him that he is Bella’s father – and how will he react when he finds out? Most importantly of all, will they finally dance together in front of an audience? Although one suspects that if they do standards of public decency will be not only flouted, but will go up in flames and possibly bring the house down with them.

I first read Taming the Tango Champion in April and enjoyed it very much, but I wasn’t sure I really believed that two people were capable of feeling quite as much as Matthias and Ava manage to express over the course of their story. But they’ve stuck with me, their problems feel very real and the solutions just as difficult to find. Today as I read the book again I’m feeling the truth of this quote from Scent of a Woman.

“No mistakes in the tango, darling. Not like life, simple, that’s what makes the tango so great. If you make a mistake, get all tangled up, you just tango on.”

Matthias and Ava are going to have to sort out their differences, both on and off the dance floor, and the journey this book takes us on describes that very enjoyable process. Tango on down to the good old interweb and get yourself a copy. See if you can handle the Tango Champion. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Taming-Tango-Champion-Wicked-Romance-ebook/dp/B06XC4VKRD/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1498398858&sr=8-1&keywords=taming+the+tango+champion

Five Scariest Screen Psychos Of All Time

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While writing my crime thriller The Watcher, and forming the make-up of my lead antagonist, I made a study of various infamous psychopaths.  I did this both from real life psychopaths, and from fictional psychopaths depicted in novels and on screen.  What I was attempting to do was to build up a composite, a unique character who possessed his own, individual motivations, but would feel authentic to readers by carrying on the long tradition of the fictional and cinematic psychopath.

The true psychopath is probably one of the most interesting and yet possibly one of the hardest characters to write, as although he (or she) might be superficially charming, the psychopath has absolutely zero good intention once you get down to the bottom line.  No empathy, zilch, none.

Unlike most villains, who might at least have a redeeming feature or two, a psychopath is defined by their distinct lack of empathy.  It’s hard to find redeeming features in someone who lacks this essential quality.

After all, people can be flawed, they can even do bad things, but someone who can’t identify with people’s pain, who might even enjoy causing harm and seeing others suffer is naturally abhorrent to us.

Quite rightly too, for that lack of empathy, that sadistic streak, is what makes them a psychopath after all, and not just someone’s who’s merely antisocial or has behavioural problems or violent tendencies.

With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at how psychopaths have been portrayed on the big screen.   I selected five screen psychopaths, who I feel have made the most impact on viewers and on movie depictions of psychopathy in general, each selected for their own particular brand of psychosis.

So here it is, my round up of the five all time scariest screen psychos – ever.  Feel free to comment if you agree, or disagree, and mention your fave screen psychopaths in comments, if they haven’t been included.

Max Cady in Cape Fear (Robert De Niro) 1991 Directed by Martin Scorsese

Cape Fear was one of the first films I remember watching that scared the hell out of me, which was mostly due to Robert De Niro’s sinister portrayal of convicted rapist Max Cady.  Cady is a menacing, violent and revengeful psychopath, who’s determined to seek revenge on the lawyer he sees as having betrayed him.

The Scorsese directed film also stars Nick Nolte as Sam Bowden, the aforementioned lawyer, and  introduced me to one of my favourite actresses ever, Juliette Lewis, who went on to star in another psycho flick, with Oliver Stone’s bloodsoaked Natural Born Killers.

Cady is manipulative, a master at getting his own way, but he’s also predatorial, as evidenced by the way he expertly works his way into Nolte’s family, via his grooming of Lewis.  There are many points during this movie where I felt the suspense grab me by the gut and the end scene is particularly tense; the first time I saw it I was, literally, on the edge of my seat.

This film is important in the hisroty of fictional psychopaths because it emphasises a common trait many who possess the psychopathic personality have and that’s being unable to rest until perceived injustices are righted.  In Cady’s mind, that’s his rape conviction, and in the movie, his mission number one is to cause maximum damage for the person he perceives as responsible for that conviction, Nolte’s Bowden.

Annie Wilkes in Misery (Kathy Bates) 1990 Directed by Rob Reiner

A truly chilling depiction of a screen psychopath, the sinister yet chillingly everyday Annie Wilkes, brilliantly portrayed by Kathy Bates in Rob Reiner’s adaptation of the Steven King novel.  Annie’s psychopathy unfolds slowly, which only prolongs the intensity and suspense for the viewer, as we all suspect what’s coming for James Caan’s poor writer Paul Sheldon, but we have to wait to have our worst fears confirmed.

When I watched Misery for the first time, it struck me that a claustrophobic domestic setting such as Annie’s cabin can be just as scary, if not more so, than any scenario involving high octane chase or outright kidnap or abduction.

Often it’s the ordinary things, mundane situations carrying a hint of the sinister, that have the power to elicit more creepiness out of us than any amount of over-the-top outright psychotic displays.  What could be more ordinary than the stereotypical middle-America character of Annie Wilkes, at first glance?   Though of course Annie does go on to unleash the full power of her terrifying psychosis in Reiner’s film, at first it’s this subtle undercurrent of menace that grips us and makes us watch on.

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Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (Christian Bale) Adapted from the Bret Easton Ellis Novel

As well as being a brilliant satire on corporate America’s culture of greed, and more, more, more, American Psycho introduces us to one of the most chilling psychos I have ever seen depicted on screen, or in fiction for that matter.

Bateman exudes danger, and unpredictable menace, and what’s more he inflicts the most brutal carnage without showing one shred of remorse.  The film, adapted from the excellent novel by Bret Easton Ellis, is more than just a slasher fest, but is also a fusion of bitingly acerbic social commentary, horror movie, and sly observation on just what happens when a character with no soul like Bateman is enabled by a society committed to some truly selfish mores.

American Psycho features some bizarre and disturbing scenes that perfectly depict the senseless violence of a psychopathic and damaged mind.  More than that though, I think it goes further, and forces us to take a long hard look in the mirror, at our society, and some of the values we currently embrace.

Norman Bates in Psycho (Anthony Perkins) Directed By Alfred Hitchcock 1960

Norman is the classic movie psycho, the gold standard of terrifying madness depicted on the silver screen.  Influenced by his bullying, sadistic mother, Norman goes on to become a psycho of utterly horrifying proportions, butchering seemingly randomly selected hapless guests who’ve had the misfortune to book a stay at the Bates Motel with merciless frenzy.

Norman though, is unlike our other screen psychopaths.  In fact I would argue he is a psychopath made not born, as we the viewers are shown that while indeed he is under the grip of a psychosis of  biblical proportions, his madness is at least in part someone else’s fault aka his mothers.

Hitchcock, of course, was one of the masters of suspense, and in this movie he peaks, with a chilling portrayal of a disturbed and abused mind.  Norman is important in the pantheon of movie psychosis because twisted and depraved as he might be, because of what he has had to endure, viewers can even find some empathy with him.

Hannibal Lector in Silence Of The Lambs (Anthony Hopkins) Directed by Jonathon Demme (Academy Award Winning)

Ah, Hannibal Lector, the menacingly muzzled psychotic, first introduced to us on the silver screen in Jonathon Demme’s dark psychological cinematic foray, The Silence Of The Lambs.  The movie, starring Jodie Foster as FBI agent with a troubled side Clarice Starling, and Anthony Hopkins as the charming but psychotic Hannibal, dares to probe beneath the typical trappings of the big screen psychopath and lets us glimpse at the even more horrifying psyche beneath.

Silence Of The Lambs is particularly scary because Hopkin’s Hannibal knows no bounds.   In his world, everything can be justified, and morality is all relative, held in thrall to a madman’s slanted perspective.  Everything Hannibal does, he can justify, at least in his own mind, and frequently, extremely eloquently to others.

Lector is such an expert manipulator, and so adept at getting under other’s skin, that even Foster’s tough-as-nails FBI Agent Starling starts to unravel. Even in Lector’s most brutal killings there is a chilling restraint and meticulous execution, unlike Bateman, or Bate’s frenzied violence.

Who’s your favourite big screen psycho and why?  Leave a comment below and tell us why you agree or disagree with the top five cinematic psychos featured in this article.

If you enjoy probing the recesses of a psychopathic mind, you’ll love THE WATCHER, a terrifying journey into the twisted mind of a master predator.  The novel is released on June 21st by Crooked Cat Books, and you can pick up a paperback copy at special discount price ahead of the official release, or pre-order your e-copy
GET YOUR COPY OF THE WATCHER AT PRE-ORDER PRICE HERE!

Eli Carros is published by Crooked Cat

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Screen Magic if you like your pleasures extra sweet

In the last week I have had the unexpected pleasure of viewing Magic Mike XXL twice. I wasn’t planning to. It just worked out that way. It’s been interesting, since then, to note the pretty mixed reviews the film has got. People seem be split down the middle over whether the film works or not. My take is this: if you loved the rather dour and pessimistic plotline of the original Magic Mike, you’ll hate the new film. If you’re looking for any kind of plausible plot or character development you’ll hate the new film. If you’re looking for a happy ending – well, somebody gets one but it’s certainly not universal.

But if your idea of a good night out is a comfortable (-ish) seat with a bucket of popcorn and Channing Tatum and the Kings of Tampa getting it on right in your face – you’re in for a treat. It’s cheesy, silly, and just a little bit clever, the screen is awash in gym-toned flesh and it made me feel good. No film needs to do more than that. Here’s the review I wrote for the film:

“Pure escapism bathed in Southern sunshine”

Okay, it’s official: this is my feel-good movie of 2015. Nothing’s going to top it. It’s funny, clever, and surprisingly subversive. And as for that boy – you know, the one who can dance – he’s finally got old enough to begin to be interesting. And, dear lord, he can still dance!

Magic Mike XXL is an altogether lighter, frothier confection than its predecessor. There’s not much room here for serious plot structure – it’s pure escapism bathed in Southern sunshine and marinated in a cocktail of pecs, biceps and spray-on tan. All the remaining characters from the original film get a bit more character development, but it’s not overdone; watching this film is far from being an intellectual exercise.

The film is full of parody, and sends itself up as much as the other films it references. Mike’s familiar ineffectual bumbling, here ramped up to an almost irritating degree, masks an incisive mind that is at work manipulating the rest of his crew until at the final moment they are all exactly where he wants them to be. This is where Channing Tatum shines: in a darker character, these machinations would be sinister or chilling, but he only wants what’s best for everybody – and in a film as light and sweet as candy floss everyone can get what they deserve, even if it’s only for five minutes under the spotlights in a rowdy club.

There were a couple of reluctant boyfriends amongst the overwhelmingly female audience at the cinema, and they both belly-laughed within the first few minutes. It’s good. Don’t take my word for it. You deserve to have the same goofy grin on your face – pure pleasure.

From Texas to Poldark, via The Shire

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There’s an interesting article in The Times today (‘When TV is your style guru’, Harriet Walker) about the way in which, these days, we get our fashion information direct from film and TV – the article cites programmes such as Game of Thrones and Mad Men as being particularly influential.

Now, I don’t think this phenomenon is new. If I look back to my own teenage obsession with fashion, it was influenced far more by film than by magazines (which I couldn’t afford) or newspapers (which were bought, rarely, by my parents and not available for me to read).

I always had an interest in clothes, fed in part by my Auntie, only six years older than me, who passed down some very trendy 1960s clothing. I especially remember the hot pink tartan kilt and matching skinny rib jumper, and the lurid orange nylon bell-bottom jumpsuit that produced marvellous amounts of static, creating a lovely light show under the bedclothes, or in any darkened room.

But the experience that suddenly made me aware that fashion was created, and then fed to the public, as opposed to being a response to public taste, was going to the cinema to watch the John Wayne film Hellraisers. This film about oil well cappers, based on the freely reimagined fictionalised biography of famous oil firefighter Red Adair, was costumed by a wonderfully inventive and elegant designer, Edith Head.

It’s probably fair to say that my attention was caught by the clothes not only because they were especially gorgeous, but also because the film was pretty slow. And then there was that essential moment of serendipity – the following day I went to play with a friend, and her Mum had a fashion magazine with an article specifically about the film costumes, and their designer. It was the first time I’d associated a particular person with design, and it led to a happy few years searching out Yves St Laurent and Chanel and a wealth of other designers, and hunting down other films dressed by Edith Head (there are a lot!) not to mention becoming one of those sad people who sits in a darkened cinema and watches the credits roll up.

These days one of the things that impresses me is the quality of costume design in modern productions. Gone are the days when the crew could mock something up out of metallic knit and call it chain mail. One exemplar of this drive for perfection is Peter Jackson, whose Tolkien extravaganzas, deservedly trumpeted for their creativity and production values, should also be appreciated for their painstaking attention to detail in costume design – everything from the weave of elven cloaks to the design of jewellery.

I was thinking on just this topic last Saturday, when I watched the most recent episode of Poldark. I know it’s hard to tear your attention away from the swooningly lovely Mr Aidan Turner, but do me a favour – next time, take a brief glance at the dresses worn by Demelza (upmarket peasant girl, but beautifully made and fitted) or Verity’s half mourning – delicate subtleties in shades of grey. And the menswear is just as good – subtle differences in station and attitude in matters as simple as the turn of a cravat, or the length of a coat. Another example of this drive for realism and believability in costume design is Outlander, recently filmed in Scotland and showing on Amazon Prime. Gorgeous work, from hessian rags to full tartan regalia, all with just the right amount of dirt for verisimilitude.

I am eagerly awaiting the sight, when spring finally arrives, of kilts on the street in numbers, or the return of the cravat. No, there’s nothing new in looking to film and television for fashion tips. It’s been going on since the first Victorian playhouse opened. Long may it continue!