June 2013

ottercreek1I’ll come clean with you.

I saw a movie a couple of days before I wrote The Peculiar Incident at Otter Creek, which goes live today over at Go Read Your Lunch. That movie, however, wasn’t Cowboys & Aliens regardless of any similarities you might spot. The movie was the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit.

I love writing stories like this, where the voice is such a vital component to the overall success (or otherwise) of the piece. In Memorising Pi to 120 Decimal Places, it was a young autistic boy. In The Scottish Book of the Dead, it was a weary old profane Scotsman. And I have a couple of other examples that are currently collecting rejections among the great and good. Here, though, it’s the strangely eloquent son of an eighteenth century pioneer which was inspired by the wonderful Mattie Ross in Charles Portis’s classic novel.

Go Read Your Lunch is a new market for me and is still in its infancy. However, among its authors, it’s already picked up work by my wife and by my friend Timothy Gager. It’s nice to share virtual pages with these guys.

You can find out just how peculiar the incident was at Otter Creek by following this link:



Some movies require too much work. You sit there and wonder just what was going on in the writer’s head. Or try to fathom what the director’s vision was for the movie. Or wonder what the hell people were thinking when they pictured James Franco in a lead role.

With other movies, it doesn’t take a awful lot of guesswork to imagine the creative process undertaken to get the idea from brain to page to screen or to encourage a signature from a star to a contract.

This Is The End, conforms to the latter with everything it’s got. At some point in 2007, Seth Rogen sat down with Evan Goldberg and said, “Hey wouldn’t it be a great idea to write a movie where me and all my pals play exaggerated versions of ourselves during the apocalypse?” Evan Goldberg said yes. Thus was born Seth and Jay Versus The Apocalypse, a short which has been expanded here.

And you know what? It is a great idea. Even better, it’s executed well.

The premise isn’t all that different to how it’s described above. Seth Rogen picks up Jay Baruchel at LAX and the two pals, who’ve drifted apart somewhat over the years, go to a party at James Franco’s house. Jay doesn’t think much of Seth’s new friends and it isn’t hard to see why. Michael Cera, in a hilarious cameo, is a coke-fuelled sex maniac. Jonah Hill is a pathetic, whiny, goody-two-shoes who sees the best in everyone. Danny McBride is repulsive. James Franco is James Franco.

Rogen and Baruchel leave the Hollywood debauchery to pick up a pack of cigarettes and while they’re gone, members of the public are plucked from the ground via shafts of blue light and the earth opens up. They hightail it back to Franco’s where the party is blissfully unaware of LA burning around them but it isn’t long until this external trouble gatecrashes the party with violent effect. Poor Michael Cera. Along the way, the two old buddies will realise how far apart they’ve become and have to decide if they want to do anything about it.

It’s surprising how well it works and how many of the gags hit their target. The celebs are hopelessly equipped to deal with any of this and so in lieu of any proper ideas for saving themselves, they become immersed and side-tracked in the inconsequential and the superficial. A Milky Way bar, for example, gains conch-esque significance and crops up multiple times.

The leads are all excellent. And yes, this is easily the best thing I’ve seen James Franco in in a very long time. Maybe ever. There’s very much a sense of an improvised script in places, best examples being where they slag each other off for the movies they’ve made in real life. Rogen is reminded of The Green Hornet. McBride is told that no one would ever want to see Your Highness 2. And because these are delivered in little more than under-the-breath asides, they don’t feel too contrived.

And as you’d expect from an end of the world movies, an awful of things catch fire. The special effects are used pretty sparingly as the attention is mostly focussed on the characters and this too works in the movie’s favour, prompting a more positive and impressed reaction for what are fairly basic effects these days.

With the exception of a five minute lull in proceedings just before the movie enters the final act, I really loved it. I laughed out loud so many times I lost count and just when I started to have doubts around whether they could end it well, they went and did that too. I Will Always Love You has never been put to better use.

Seth Rogen’s output is pretty hit and miss, but here not only has he made an entertaining movie, but he’s managed to build that around a single concept and still make it work as a feature rather than a short. Pretty impressive.

A triumph.

imageI’m jealous of writers who can see a phrase or a word as a prompt and, an hour later, have hammered out at least a rough draft of something they can then hone into a decent story or poem. My problem is, I think, once the idea has presented itself to me, I can quite quickly talk myself out of even starting to write it, thus robbing me of seeing where that seed will take me. It’s a bad habit and I’m doing my best to overcome it.

Other times, though not nearly frequently enough, I can skip the idea generation almost completely and the story appears to me fully formed. This happened back in 2011 with a story called I Fought The War (And The War Won), which was picked up by the glorious and now sadly defunct Night Train.

It happened again more recently in November 2012 with Evidence of Terrestrial Life, which has gone live today over at Writers Who Rock. No, I’m not sure why it’s accompanied with a picture of a teddy bear either.

(STOP PRESS — The teddy bear has gone. Must’ve been a mistake rather than a deliberate placement of a stuffed animal. Which is nice.)

Anyway. I’m a sucker for astronomy and while trawling the backwaters of Wikipedia on the matter, I read about a huge observatory out in the Atacama in Chile. Through following a few links, I soon stumbled upon information about the dissidents of Pinochet’s regime who had been murdered and dumped in the same location and because of the arid atmosphere, their bodies are often preserved in perfect condition to the extent that searching widows have been known to find their loved ones.

The image of all this technology out in the middle of nowhere coupled with old women seeking closure was so striking in my head that it didn’t take long to spot the comparisons about the scientists and widows both looking into the past for their own versions of evidence. Add in my favourite tropes of loneliness and isolation and the story pretty much wrote itself after that.

This was also the first story I wrote after moving from Scotland to Michigan and was the first time I’d put the figurative pen to equally figurative paper for six months. Regardless of the quality of the story, it was something of a relief to write something new and to discover that I hadn’t left my desire or ability to write back at the departures lounge in Edinburgh Airport. In the months that have followed, I think I’ve written some of my best work, both in short stories and poetry. It feels like I’m at an exciting and interesting point in my writing career.

You can have a read of Evidence of Terrestrial Life by following this link: http://www.writerswhorock.com/#/new-short-story/4573312265

imageThere wasn’t much about The Hangover that I liked but I did think the basic idea had potential. The execution of the idea seemed quite lazy to me, especially after the 100 minutes we discover that if we’d just looked a little harder where we started, we could’ve saved ourselves an awful lot of bother. And there was a very strong sense to me that Dude, Where’s My Car had pretty much tackled the idea so much better already.

In comparison, The Hangover Part II was terrible. It was racist, homophobic, sexist, mean-spirited and went out of its way to discover a new, lower common denominator. The fact that it was essentially a remake of the first movie with some variables tweaked (Las Vegas became Bangkok, a baby became a monkey, a tooth became a tattoo, Mike Tyson became Mike Tyson) did it no favours and the same “we could’ve saved ourselves an awful lot of bother by looking a bit harder at the outset” just made matters worse.

Safe to say, then, that I didn’t go into The Hangover Part III with a whole lot of confidence. So it came as quite a shock to come out of it thinking it my least hated entry in the series. It really is. It’s the best one. By some considerable way. Wow. I wasn’t expecting that.

It manages this by basically abandoning the formula that dictated the first two installments. Ignoring the segment in the end credits, there is no hangover in The Hangover Part III. There is no piecing together the events of the night before. And the racist, homophobic, sexist elements have been toned right down. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still far from pleasant and I think I’d rather autograph my own eyeballs with a fountain pen than spend a minute in the company of any of these characters but it’s less abhorrent.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around Mr Chow (Ken Jeong) who Shawshank Redemptions his way out of a Thai prison and hightails it to the US where Alan (Zack Galifianakis), a character who I’ve never ceased in wanting to punch in the face, is apparently out of control and off his meds. The other members of the Wolfpack (Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha and Ed Helms) intervene and while they’re driving him to a facility (hopefully a maximum security one) in Arizona, they’re forced off the road by some acquaintances of Chow who want some stolen gold back. For reasons never fully explored, the baddies, led by John Goodman, rely on the gang to track down Chow, taking Doug hostage as collateral. And they do this twice. It doesn’t really make sense. It doesn’t really matter.

Despite all these changes, some things are the same. Acting standards and directorial style are both as expected. It’s the same bunch of largely hateful characters, doing largely hateful activities, in the pursuit of a largely hateful goal. And, like the other two movies, it’s not funny. This time, I’m not even sure it’s trying to be funny. Surely too many people get shot for it to be a comedy.

However, whether it intends to be a comedy, an action-thriller, or a period drama, it did manage to coax one laugh out of me but because it came during the aforementioned end credits segment I’m not sure that it counts. Fans of the series, who will surely be utterly disappointed with the preceeding 100 minutes, will be livid with this extra scene as it looks to the world what they would have expected the actual movie to be about.

So if there’s a sense of default by this “best in series” proclamation, that’s certainly no accident. I have no intention of ever watching it again and I’d have a hard time recommending it to anyone, but at least it’s over. Like the tagline says in the poster, The End. And that makes me happy.