Archive for August, 2012

Rude Awakening

Posted: August 28, 2012 in Free fiction

Another flash fiction story, but this one is brand new, and has never been published before. Enjoy, but don’t have nightmares :-]

 

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Meredith had been in the midst of a soothing dream when her clumsy oaf of a husband clambered out of bed with all the grace of a drunken elephant. The fact that she knew he was actually trying not to wake her (he used to be a lot worse) didn’t make her feel any more forgiving.

She opened her eyes but made no move to suggest she was awake, kept her back to him and merely scowled as she tried to recall details of her dream, whilst simultaneously resisting the urge to look at the digital clock on the bedside table. She didn’t need to know how close she was to the alarm going off, she only hoped there’d be enough time to slip back to sleep and maybe, with a bit of luck, find herself back in her dream.

She heard the door open, the squeak of hinges was mild, barely noticeable during daylight hours, but in the middle of the night it was like the whine of a hungry Alsatian. Heavy footsteps echoed out onto the landing. He hadn’t turned the bedroom light on (more than his life was worth) and he didn’t put the landing light on either. She’d have seen the hint of glow at the periphery of her vision, besides the sudden clatter as he, she suspected, crashed into the wall suggested he couldn’t see a blessed thing. She winced and hoped he hadn’t hurt himself, she didn’t want to have to waste time tending to a wounded man-child when she had a big meeting the next day, she needed sleep!

The bathroom door didn’t squeak, so she didn’t hear him enter, or leave, the smallest room in the house, but after a moment the bedroom door groaned again. She was amazed; he’d managed to remember for once not to flush the toilet at night unless he had to. Miracles did happen!

Her pleasant feelings lasted all of a few seconds. After several clodhopping steps across the floor he clambered back into bed with all the alacrity of a drunken elephant that’d had a few more drinks, and gained a few more pounds as well, and the bedsprings protested under the weight.

Right, enough was enough, he was going on a diet again, whether he wanted to or not. She pushed the thought away, tried to calm herself, knowing it was the only way to get back to sleep.

And then an arm reached over to embrace her. Oh God, she thought, frown creasing her brow, now he’s horny. Well tough, he should have been nicer to me when we went to bed. Right now she planned to stay quiet and pretend to still be asleep, he’d quickly give up, although another noisy visit to the bathroom would be likely.

He nuzzled the back of her neck, but she remained still.

And then a voice she’d never heard before said, “Hello, sexy,” and the arm around her drew tight…

 

 

 

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The power of Flash!

Posted: August 28, 2012 in Regarding writing

No, not the superhero, not the Ming the Merciless fighting serial hero, not even the kitchen cleaner…No I want to talk about Flash Fiction.

Flash fiction is a term that refers to very short stories. Now very short stories have been around for probably as long as there have been stories in general, think Aesop’s fables, and there have been some notable writers who’ve dabbled in the art of what the French refer to as micronouvelles (micro stories). The famous example that’s often given is of Earnest Hemmingway, though the jury’s out on whether he did or didn’t write the wonderfully short, wonderfully poignant micro story reproduced below:

“For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”

The notion of what constitutes flash fiction varies, but the highest word count I’ve seen associated with it is 1500 words. Personally I’ve always felt it shouldn’t exceed 1000 words and most of the flash fiction I’ve had published has been around 500 or 600 words in length, though there are shorter variants out there, for example the ‘Drabble’ which has to be exactly 100 words in length, and as Hemmingway (or maybe someone else) has shown, it’s amazing what you can say using just 6 words.

Now obviously flash fiction has drawbacks. It’s hard to come up with a detailed plot and deep characterisation within such a small framework, and for a writer who’d like to earn a living at the craft, flash fiction doesn’t offer untold riches. It’s hard to imagine JK Rowling owning a castle on the back of a few hundred words, but still, I think flash fiction has a lot to offer the aspiring author.

For starters it’s a great way to boil a plot down to specifics, there’s no room for waffle in flash fiction, no room to spend half a page describing the curtains in a room, or explaining how much like Harrison Ford your leading man looks. Flash encourages brevity.

It’s also great for editing. When you find yourself with a 575 word story you want to submit to a publisher who only wants 500, you have a choice, you can give up (which no writer should ever do) or you can take a knife to your literary child. It’s truly amazing how much fat you can trim from even the leanest stories, and still have them make sense, and you soon learn how one or two words can perform the same job as five or six.

As a final point, flash is a good way to get published. Now I don’t mean that in a “they’ll accept any old guff” kind of way, but plenty of publishers produce anthologies purely composed of flash fiction, and as such they might be on the lookout for dozens, if not hundreds, of stories, so if nothing else the odds are better than if you’re submitting to an editor who’s only looking for ten or twelve stories.

 Anyway, Word is advising me that I’m close to 500 words so I’d better…

The Expendables 2

Posted: August 22, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by Simon West. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and an awful lot of other people!

On the heels of Avengers Assemble comes another big budget ensemble, one featuring a cast of actors who no doubt in real life each have an ego the size of Tony Stark’s fictional one.

The follow up to 2010’s The Expendables, The Expendables 2 begins with Stallone’s Rag tag group of mercenaries rescuing a Chinese billionaire somewhere in Nepal, with a huge battle that’s big on spectacle, and somewhat low on plot. The film in general has a lot of holes, and nowhere are they more evident than in the opening section, where characters miraculously seem to move through time and space as if they had access to a teleporter. Still it’s kinda fun, and all the plot holes are worth it for the surprise that turns up mid rescue.

After the battle, and after dropping off Jet Li who sadly isn’t fated to be in the film for more than ten minutes, Stallone and co decamp back to the USA for some well earned R&R. Of course they aren’t allowed to rest for long before Bruce Willis’ shadowy CIA operative turns up and blackmails Stallone into going on a mission to recover ‘something’ from the safe of a crashed plane. An easy mission…apparently….

Of course it’s anything but, and soon the Expendables are engaged in a very personal mission to get revenge on the appropriately named Jean Vilain (see what they did there) played by Jean Claude Van Damme.

Ok first things first. This is a bad film. As I’ve said there are a lot of plot holes in it, and quite a few things make little sense, for example at one stage Stallone makes it seem like they’ve been after Vilain for weeks, maybe longer, yet in reality it’s probably barely a few days.

Then there’s the dialogue. At times the film attempts to inject some pathos into proceedings with some monologues about the horror of war…one sincerely hopes Stallone wrote these to be intentionally hilarious, because they’re funny as hell.

In fact the entire film is hilarious…laughable in fact…but thankfully in a good way! Because for all its faults, and it has a lot, the film has such gusto that one can’t help but be swept along with it. Although how much you enjoy the ride really might depend on your fondness for cheesy 80’s/90’s action films, and your ability to suspend your disbelief that a bunch of, let’s be kind, older gentlemen, can still kick arse with the best of them.

For me it was worth it to see Schwarzenegger, Willis and Stallone standing side by side blazing away with automatic weapons. And that’s even before we get to Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and the rest.

In some respects the cast of thousands is a bit of a failing. As has been said Jet Li doesn’t hang around, and certain other characters waft in and out, some staying longer than others. Bruce and Arnie, unfortunately, are just along for cameos again, although thankfully both men are in this a lot more than they were in the first Expendables, which is a plus point. Willis grounds the film (as much as a film like this can ever be grounded) by virtue of being the best actor in it, whilst Schwarzenegger has lost none of his screen presence, and the ‘big three’ bounce off each other well. Statham pulls his weight, but seems to go missing at times, possibly because amongst all of them he’s the one with the busiest career, and the film misses him when he’s not there. Lundgren, as in the first film, is probably the funniest thing in it, although the introduction of a certain Chuck Norris runs him a close second. Terry Crews and Randy Couture are back as well, although I hate to admit I still couldn’t tell you which one is which, which is saying something when one is white and the other black. Liam Hemsworth stars as the youngest member of the group, and Yu Nan is something of a revelation as Maggie, the only female Expendable, and for a young woman surrounded by a bunch of older, very large, men, she never fades into the background, and I hope she’s back for Expendables 3.

This leaves Van Damme, who’s an above average villain. The downside is that he’s really the only villain with any personality. He has a henchman who’s a bit boring, and an army of goons who are really just there as targets for the Expendables, and the film could have done with a few more old school action stars on the bad-guys’ side.

All in all though, this is a far more enjoyable film than it has any right to be. If you like old school action films, if bad dialogue makes you laugh in a good way, and if you like your films to feature an explosion at 2.5 second intervals, then Expendables 2 is for you.

Is it any good? No. Is it ridiculously enjoyable? Hell yeah!

 

The Dark Knight Rises

Posted: August 1, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy.

And so we come, at last, to the end of the trilogy begun by Nolan in 2005. Amazing to think that was seven years ago. Of course back then no one was sure if a new, more grounded version of Batman was possible, or whether Nolan was the right man to direct or Bale the right man to be Bruce Wayne/ Batman. Quite quickly it became apparent that Nolan knew exactly what he was doing, especially in casting Bale who has both the acting chops and the physicality needed for the role and Batman Begins was an excellent film.

Then in 2008 we got the sequel, The Dark Knight , which gave us both the Joker and Two Face, and sadly proved a swansong for Heath Ledger, who did a fantastic job as the Joker, and kudos to Nolan for making the Joker seem like a character who could really exist.

Now, finally, we get the Dark Knight Rises. It’s 8 years since the events of The Dark Knight, and Batman hasn’t been seen since the night he took responsibility for the death of Harvey Dent, who’s been lionised as a hero rather than the tragic villain he’d become. Gotham City is a better place thanks to somewhat (it appears) draconian legislation enacted in Dent’s name, and Bruce Wayne is a broken man, hobbling around his palatial mansion like Howard Hughes, unable to move on from the death of the woman he loved, nor from the cowl.

But things are beginning in Gotham, things that will necessitate the return of the Dark Knight. The question is, can even he fight what’s coming?

I’m going to try and limit what I say here to preclude giving anything away, and there’s a fair bit to give away, with the film taking several twists and turns during it’s almost three hour running time. I’ll stick to the information that’s widely available. Bale is still Bruce Wayne, and still doing an excellent job, and his interplay with Michael Caine’s Alfred is a joy as always, although sadly there isn’t enough of it. Tom Hardy is Bane, the masked strongman who’s come to Gotham as a mercenary, but has his own ulterior motive beyond this. He gives a good performance, and he’s certainly imposing, having truly bulked out for the role. Unfortunately because his face is obscured by a mask for the entire film he’s perhaps the weakest of the Nolan Bat villains, lacking the grandeur of Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul or the weasel like qualities of Murphy’s Scarecrow. He can’t compete with Ledger’s twisted, reptilian Joker or Eckhart’s tragic Two Face (even though we barely saw him). This isn’t to say Hardy isn’t good, he just might have been better with a different look.

Anne Hathaway is Selina Kyle, AKA Catwoman, and she’s really good, showing great range and looking good in practically every outfit she’s asked to wear. The woman harks back to the Hollywood glamour of the 40s and 50s and suits Gotham down to the ground and she’s a very good Catwoman—very different to Michelle Pfeiffer’s version, but that’s to be expected given this is Nolan’s take on the Bat. On the downside you do kinda wish there’d been more of her (which is a recurrent problem for several characters).

Caine, Oldman and Freeman could sleepwalk through their parts and still be brilliant, three fine actors, but it’s a shame they don’t get more to do here.

This leaves Marion Cotillard as Bruce’s potential love interest, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake, a cop who becomes an important ally to Batman. In many ways Blake is the best character in the film, a noble everyman, and at times the film seems to revolve more around him than it does Batman, Bane, or Catwoman.

And there are several great cameos, but its best to find out about them yourself…

Now as to the film itself. It’s brilliant, truly awe inspiring at times…and yet…it has problems. There is a lot of story packed into it, an awful lot of story, and even with 165 or so minutes to play with, at times the film has to play fast and loose with logic to keep all the various plates spinning. It’s credit to Nolan as a director that, for the most part, he gets away with it, but there’s a lot of exposition, a lot of very obvious leading, and at times you need to work on the assumption that characters must be having meetings off camera, or  otherwise they must be gaining information by osmosis, as suddenly one character knows what another has learned, even though they don’t ever seem to intersect.

There’s a period of several months that passes in Gotham which also stretches credulity in several ways, and even though the film is packed full of incident, you still come away feeling there was more to see here, we never get a feel for what the average Gothamite is actually going through during this time.

I can’t help but compare this to Prometheus though, but where the holes in Scott’s film were jarring, those in Nolan’s film seem less so, perhaps because the film has such great momentum that by the time you’ve started to think “Hang on a second…” you’ve been distracted by something else, and despite its length I was never, ever bored, and frankly I wouldn’t have complained if it’d gone on a bit longer.

In many ways it’s the most ambitious of the trilogy, but that isn’t necessarily the same as being the best of the three. It lacks the narrative clarity of Begins, and however good Hardy is, Bane is no Joker. It’s epic story is both a blessing and a curse in equal measure and frankly Nolan packs enough story for two(maybe even more) films here.  It’s a fitting end to the trilogy, and I never felt cheated in any way by the ending. This is a serious contender for one of the best films of the year so far, yet I can’t help wonder what it might have been like with a slightly narrower scope, a slightly shorter narrative and a different villain.