April 2013

the place beyond the pinesThe last time I forgot the name of the movie I was going to see as I was on my way to see it, it was Up in the Air, which actually turned out to be alright. Today, I would find out if lightning would strike twice as the words The Place Beyond The Pines completely exited my brain as I was asking for tickets and also while watching the opening credits.

Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is a motorcycle stunt rider, touring the country from state fair to state fair. When the carnival pulls into Schenectady, NY, he meets up with Romina (Eva Mendes) with whom he’d shared a “special performance” the previous year. Bo and lehold, but Romina has had a kid and Luke is the father. Who’da thunk it? Determined to do the right thing by his kid, he quits his job with the carnival and stays in town, picking up a job with a small auto repair shop. It isn’t long, however, before money gets so tight that … em … Luke starts to rob banks. As you do. To be fair, it makes a bit more sense in the movie. During one robbery, he runs into Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a young cop whose life is about to take a dramatic turn.

Director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) isn’t exactly lacking in ambition as he steers the story across 15 years and three acts, with each transition shifting the focus onto another character. It’s an epic so influenced by Greek tragedy you can almost taste the tzatziki and hear the smashing plates. The ambition, while admirable, is a bit of a problem.

The first point of view shift, around the 45 minute mark, is so jarring that the soundtrack of the movie was briefly drowned out by everyone in the cinema shifting uncomfortably in their seat. Thrown in are a number of subplots and minor characters that, by the end, don’t amount to a whole lot. I spent the best part of the film’s 140 minute running time desperately looking for someone to root for. It was a search that would ultimately draw a blank because this world is filled with heavily flawed characters. Luke is a bank robber, Romina is a cheat, Avery is a liar and opportunist. The woman at the pharmacy is probably a vampire. Okay, maybe not.

To his credit, Cianfrance does his best to maintain a reasonable pace and works exceptionally well with the location. Coupled with Faith No More’s Mike Patton’s soundtrack, this generates a sense of brooding drama even without those pesky actors to get in the way.

Gosling is believable as he descends into crime but for reasons never explained his body is a canvas to around a gazllion tattoos which, along with his constant smoking, is a real distraction. Bradley Cooper’s oeuvre will permanently be blighted by the morally reprehensible Hangover trilogy but he manages to convince, particularly once his character is required to pile on the smarm and the charm. And poor Ray Liotta. As soon as he appears on screen in his brief couple of scenes, I can’t help but think of him as Henry towards the end of Goodfellas. The shine that was applied to his head did absolutely nothing to dissuade me of that.

Early on, the film has some interesting things to say about consequentialism and sins of the father, but overall, it’s a largely underwhelming experience that’s far too long, becomes far too predictable in its final movement and broadcasts its themes far too loudly and aggressively to build on the initial decent work.

So thanks, lighning. Thanks for nothing.


tenerifeSometimes, I write a story or poem, tune it a little, submit it to a magazine that has a short turnaround time, it gets accepted and this all happens relatively quickly. Between The Lines, for example, was written, submitted, and accepted in four days back in 2009. Wish You Were Here – which is published today at Everyday Fiction – is the opposite of that.

It was written towards the end of 2010 and sat patiently on my hard drive until January of 2012 when I remembered it existed and sent it off to EDF. Once again, it drifted from my mind, probably because I was stuck at home with labyrynthitis and going through a frenzy of submitting everything I had that hadn’t yet found a home just to give myself something to do. The clock, however, didn’t forget and it kept ticking.

Skip forward a year and a bit and I was checking my tracking spreadsheet and spotted the “Returned” field was still sitting blank on this, by now, very old submission. This is completely unlike EDF who are extremely timely in their responses so I sent them an email saying that I hadn’t heard anything back, assumed it had been rejected, but if they could confirm the outcome that would be great. Within 24 hours I got a reply saying they’d actually sent me a rewrite request about 10 months ago. They were kind enough to extend that request again and so I gave it a quick polish, resubmitted it and it was finally accepted for publication at the end of March, some 14 months after it was first submitted and around 28 months after it was written.

Wish You Were Here is, as you may have guessed from the title, told through a series of postcards. This isn’t the first time I’ve used this means of communication to drive a story. Postcards from the Departure Lounge, available to read over at McStorytellers, touches on postcards used to deliver a far heavier message than the quality of the weather and food in foreign climes, a theme I kinda revisit here. Nor is it the first time I’ve written an epistolary story and Since You Left, published in Café Lit in 2011, was the foundation that I eventually built a whole novel upon. What interested me about Wish You Were Here when I first had the idea was that each communication had to be pretty short and snappy, no longer than what could feasibly fit on a postcard, and yet still tell a tale.

Written from the point of view of a bride during her honeymoon with her new husband, it indirectly refers back to the events that occurred at the wedding and its lead up, and also hints at events further in the past through correspondence to several different people. I always imagined this would be a take it or leave it story because there’s no room for exposition and a lot of the backstory has to be inferred by the reader to fill in the blanks. EDF agreed and went with it anyway.

You can have a read of Wish You Were Here, leave a comment, and give it a mark out of five like some modern day Roman emperor, by clicking this here link:


image2013 continues to be a pretty good year for bagging some more publications. And in a variety of formats to boot. My short story — For Jane — is now available to download from Bound Off. That’s right, download. It’s a podcast. So my lucky reading several can become my listening several and hear me read these words what I wrote, as if to them personally. So very lucky.

I love Bound Off. I was surprised to learn that this is the fourth time I’ve had a story there. All but one time I’ve narrated the story myself. I have to admit, it was something of a highlight of my writing career to have someone else read my words, which happened with my story called A Documentary About Sharks, read by Vincent Louis Carrella. He did a great job.

For Jane was written, kinda, to one of Alex Keegan’s Bootcamp prompts back at the start of 2011. I can’t remember it exactly but it was something like, “write a story from the point of view of an emotion.” A more precise prompt was the phrase scrawled in paint, which features in the opening sentence of the story. This phrase was, to the best of my recollection, written word for word, kiss for kiss, on a wall near the Beefeater in Falkirk. It was there when Falkirk Public Baths were still in existence, which may be a chronological barometer for some. For Jane is what happened when these two separate prompts finally found each other in a dusty corner of my brain, shared a bottle of red and got all creative.

It was written shortly after I’d “moved back in with my mum” so perhaps it’s unsurprising that the theme turned out the way it did. A few early critiquers of the story thought that it had too much of an exercise feel to it, which I agreed with up to a point. However, I’d read an earlier, rawer version of it live at Last Monday at Rio in August of 2011 and it went down very well with the discerning (or drunken) audience. You can watch the video here, with a poem ((Event is in the Past), previously featured in Every Day Poets) thrown in at no extra charge. I’d watched it myself quite recently and thought if I gave it a scrub and a polish, it might be a good fit for Bound Off, given the podcast element. As an aside, I’ve lost weight since that video. Quite a bit of weight.

So there you go. You have Alex Keegan and an unknown graffiti artist to blame / thank for this story’s existence.

Sadly, the wall and its anti-social declaration are no longer with us, but I hope the real life Jane, who presumably lived near the Beefeater in Falkirk, eventually found her Tarzan.

You can download the current issue of Bound Off from the site, or from The iTunes,  or you can simply listen to it right now by clicking on this link:



evildeadHorror movie reboots get a bad name, and it’s usually justified. There’s no earthly reason why remakes of I Spit on Your Grave, Psycho, A Nightmare on Elm Street or Last House on the Left should exist but there has been the occasional exception. The first remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for example, was pretty decent (I don’t mean the 3D one) but even so, it wasn’t as good as the original.

So I went into Evil Dead (not The Evil Dead) excited but expecting the worst and knowing that the best I could hope for probably wasn’t going to be as good as the original Raimi classic from 1981.

Mia is going cold turkey from a heroin habit so she, her brother David, her brother’s girlfriend Natalie and two random friends Eric and Olivia, all retreat to a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere to help her overcome her demons. It’s a neat little device as, when everything goes south, and it goes very south very quickly, her buddies put it down to her craving for drugs and ignore her pleas to leave.

In amongst this set-up, we’re introduced to a number of random items that common sense dictates will be feature heavily later on. There’s a nail gun. A machete. A chainsaw (yay!). An electric meat carver. Soon the smell in the cabin is sourced to a bunch of dead cats hanging in the basement and the pals discover a book of witchcraft, bound in human skin and wrapped in barbed wire, which they obviously want to read. Who wouldn’t?

“Don’t say the name aloud!” some scrawlings in the book declare. And, of course, the first thing Eric does is say the name aloud. For this act of utter stupidity, Eric spends most of the rest of the movie pulling sharp and spiky things out of his body. Serves him right.

Look. It’s not bad. It’s not bad at all. But it’s far from the film the quotes on the poster would lead you to believe. Yes, it’s gory. It’s exceptionally gory. And yes, there are a few wince-inducing moments, moments where my toes searched about in my shoes for something to cling on to. But it’s not scary. I didn’t jump once. I jumped loads of times at the original. I remember wishing it would be daytime in the original so the horror would be over. There was something more claustrophobic about the original, something more panic inducing, which is why, despite the poor production and shoestring budget, the original worked. These hearts are both missing from this new vision. But it wants to be good. It wants to be the most terrifying experience of your life. And I kinda respect it for that.

The cast of unknowns put in good shifts, especially Jane Levy as Mia and Lou Taylor Pucci as the hapless Eric and while the movie doesn’t have the same humour as Evil Dead 2, the brief moments where comedy does threaten to break through are handled exceptionally well, with pathos. For the whole 91 minute running time, director Fede Alvarez does his best to make us queasy with spinning and swooping landscape shots through to wobbly end credits and again, despite all the viscera flying around, it’s nice to look at. Seemingly, Diablo Cody had her hand in redrafting Alvarez’s script but apart from a dog named Grandpa, there’s little evidence of her work here. This isn’t Jennifer’s Body. Any sassy dialogue was presumably cut, thrown out in the woods, and left to fend for itself.

Ultimately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to but the over the top denouement, which comes on the back of a oddly flat ten minute period where the pace and supposed unrelenting terror nip out for a quick cappuccino, is a reasonable last image to take back to the foyer. I’m back home, not scared to look in the basement. Maybe that’s a good thing.