March 2013


candy-hearts-1-600There are some writers who insist that picking their own favourite short story or poem is like picking a favourite child and they flat out refuse to do it. Well, She Had A Thing About Hearts — which is published today in Northwords Now — is my own favourite poem. So there.

It was written, pretty much as is, over a lunch hour in November 2012 and just like The Proper Name for Killing Birds, its title presented itself before the actual idea, this time by about a week or so. There are probably a couple of ways the poem can be interpreted, both of them meaningful to me. It’s my first piece of work that was written, submitted, accepted and published all post-move.

And I’m very happy it has found such an excellent home. Northwords Now is published and distributed all over Scotland, particularly in the Highlands. It’s one of the few markets I know that publishes work in Gaelic. For those who prefer to read imaginary ink, it’s also available on Kindle or PDF. Chris Powici, its editor, tutored at Stirling Writers Group a few times before I left. SWG attracts some wonderful tutors and Chris is no exception. He helped transform two of my earlier poems, one of which — Black Friday at Westfarms Mall — has since been published in the Ranfurly Review. He has a fantastic eye for detail so it’s a real highlight of my poetry “career” to have my words, probably written while I had mustard and/or mayo congealing in my beard, appear in his fine journal.

If you don’t happen to live in the Highlands of Scotland (or if you do and you can’t be bothered going out) you can read the current issue of Northwords Now and my poem by clicking on this link:

http://www.northwordsnow.co.uk/issues/2013/NNow23ForWeb.pdf

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complianceInspired By True Events is scrawled along the top of the poster, a sentiment echoed in the opening and closing frames of the movie. Someone is certainly going to every possible length to ensure that we get the idea … that this is, well, inspired by true events. Not Based on a True Story, mark you. No, this is altogether more vague. Because what, exactly, does Inspired By True Events actually mean these days? Did the story we’re about to watch actually happen? Or was it just inspired by something that happened? For example, during the opening credits, we learn that a fast food restaurant has run out of bacon. Is this the single true event that inspired the mountain of lies that followed?

Well, if you’re to believe the director, and Wikipedia, seemingly everything that happens in the movie actually happened. Although some of the things that happened may not have happened to the same people that other stuff happened for, but mostly it all happened to the same bunch of people. Got it? No, neither have I. Perhaps it’s better to not question and go along with the claims of it being a true(ish) story.

Sandra (Ann Dowd) is middle-aged and runs a fast food restaurant. Her day starts badly when she discovers that she’s out of bacon (see?). It gets worse when she finds herself short-staffed. And it gets even more worserer still when she gets a prank call from a guy claiming to be a police officer, telling her that one of her teenaged counter-servers, Becky (Dreama Walker) has been identified as stealing money from a customer’s purse. Because they’re busy investigating the crime and Becky’s possible involvement in a bigger, drug-related offense, the cop asks Sandra to hold Becky in the back and strip search her to find the money. Perhaps it’s because she’s having a stressful day anyway, but Sandra takes the guy for his word, doesn’t suspect the prank, and after this, Sandra’s — and especially Becky’s — day gets much, much worse.

For the remaining seventy of so minutes, the audience is asked to suspend their disbelief time and again, each request hoisting that disbelief to higher, starrier levels because some of the things Sandra and her staff are asked to do to Becky are exceptionally troubling at best and I’m left thinking, why does no one stop this? Why does no one ask for some proof of identity? And if this is supposed to be real … I mean … come on! Granted some characters are more dubious of all this than others but still, no one shows any sign of initiative. No one asks for any proof. And according to Wikipedia, that’s exactly what happened.

Director Craig Zobel does a decent enough job here and really gets some great performances from his mostly unknown cast, but it’s decent in the same way that Funny Games was decently directed by Michael Haneke. Both are voyeuristic experiences, intentionally so, to make the audience feel as complicit as the prank caller or the murderous kids, but either way it’s an uncomfortable way to spend an hour and a half.

You’re not likely to be whistling a merry tune when you depart the cinema after this one. You may very well be scratching a troublesome itch on your arm. You’re probably going to want a shower.

Oz_-_The_Great_and_Powerful_PosterThere’s a moment about twenty minutes into Oz The Great and Powerful when Mila Kunis asks James Franco if he’s afraid. And I was glad she did because with James Franco, it’s never that easy to guess how he’s feeling. At the point of asking, I wasn’t sure if he was thoughtful, constipated or just wondering if he’d locked his car when he turned up on set that day. Turns out he was afraid after all.

For the remainder of the movie, unfortunately, no one thinks to question James Franco to discover which emotion he’s currently experiencing, so for the large part we have to rely on guesswork. I was able to deduce that based on the information at hand he was displaying all the traits of a man not knowing how to react to a green screen.

It’ll be news to no one to learn that Oz is the spiritual prequel to 1939’s Wizard of Oz which serves to answer the questions that’ve been brimming on everyone’s lips for the last 74 years … just who was the Wizard of Oz, how did he get there, and does he really have to be played by James Franco?

In a nod to its predecessor, we start in 4:3 black & white and are introduced to Oscar “Oz” Diggs (Franco), a womanising carnival magician / con-man. Discovered by a jealous husband, Oz makes his escape via hot air balloon, as one does, and flies straight into the heart of a Kansas tornado. This, as you’ll have figured out by now, transports him to his namesake land and delivers us into 2.35:1 colour, where he is mistaken for the Wizard prophesied to rid the kingdom of one Miss Wicked Witch of the West. After that, it’s all very much like a remake of The Three Amigos.

In the hands of director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) it actually isn’t that bad. Visually, all the green screen stuff that confused James Franco so much is put to glorious effect. Yellows have seldom looked as yellow. CGI characters have hardly ever looked as convincing. Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams put in decent turns and there’s even a small cameo from Bruce Campbell to keep Raimi fans happy. And in the 2D version, the visuals are so impressive that I almost thought it was 3D.

Outacted by Mila Kunis, a monkey in a bellhop’s outfit, and a piece of imaginary china, it’s really James Franco who lets down proceedings. He lacks sufficient warmth and believable charm to be convincing as a conman and without the acting talents of, say, a common orĀ garden vole, he’s left to ham it up to the extent that you can practically see the apple in his mouth and you’re left with an odd hankering for a bacon sandwich.

At 130 minutes, it’s a full half-hour longer than Wizard and towards the end there is a strong temptation towards watch-checking, but it’s actually not a bad film. It’s obviously a million miles away from being good enough to shoe the feet of The Wizard of OzĀ and I’m not entirely sure why it exists, but Franco notwithstanding there’s just about enough of interest and a couple of decent laughs to be found somewhere in the vicinity of a certain yellow brick road.