Archive for December, 2012

Seven Psychopaths

Posted: December 26, 2012 in Film reviews

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Starring Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, and Christopher Walken.

Seven Psychopaths marks the second collaboration between writer/director McDonagh and Farrell, following on from the hugely entertaining, not to mention hugely sweary, In Bruges.

Set in Hollywood we meet Marty (Farrell) who’s a screenwriter at work upon a new script, though he hasn’t got much beyond the title, which is Seven Psychopaths. The studio is expecting a blood and guts action film, but Marty really wants to write something with more meaning.

His best friend is Billy, played by Sam Rockwell, a somewhat unhinged man who wants to help Marty write the script, and who even goes as far as placing an ad in the newspaper for psychopaths to get in touch as part of Marty’s research. Billy has a side-line in dognaping with Hans (Walken). They steal people’s pets, then wait for the reward posters to appear, at which point they go claim their prize. The trouble is that the latest dog they’ve napped belongs to a vicious (let’s be honest, psycho) mobster played by Woody Harrelson. Pretty soon the three men are on the run, but things aren’t quite as they appear, and one of the Seven Psychopaths might be closer than they imagine.

As soon as I knew this was by the man who gave us In Bruges I knew I definitely wanted to see it, but then I started hearing the reviews, and they weren’t all favourable,  and so it was with a little trepidation that I went to see it.

The first thing to make clear is that anyone expecting In Bruges part 2 will end up disappointed. Seven Psychopaths isn’t anywhere near as tautly plotted, and probably doesn’t have quite the heart that In Bruges has (although I think some reviewers have been unduly hard on it in this respect because it does have some heart).

The notion of a film within a film is a great idea, but it does mean that, to some extent, McDonagh wants to have his cake and eat it. He wants a low key finale, but still wants to have the all guns blazing final shootout, and the nature of the film allows him to have both. I can see how some reviewers have baulked at this, and it is slightly irritating that McDonagh clearly wants to make a film extolling the virtues of pacifism and Buddhism, albeit one that still indulges the viewers’ desire for explosions, gunplay and violence. For me, however, this just about works, maybe I just wanted to have my cake and eat it as well.

Another criticism is over the film’s treatment of women, with Walken’s character even going so far as to lampshade this fact by pointing out that Marty writes terrible women characters, and it is true that Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko have roles that are practically made out of cardboard, and only seem to be there to further the plot (and give Billy someone to be horrible to). Maybe McDonagh is trying to make a point about female characters in this kind of film, or maybe he just can’t write female characters and he’s highlighting this before someone else does?

I’d almost believe it was the latter, except we have the character of Hans’ wife who, despite not being in the film very long, manages to be far more three dimensional and has some great scenes with Walken and Harrelson.

The plot sags a little in the middle, and the story does seem to meander a bit, with McDonagh clearly knowing how he wanted the film to start, and how he wanted it to end but perhaps being a little unsure how he gets his characters from point A to point B. this could have been annoying, but I found it a little refreshing, much like Looper from earlier in the year, this film doesn’t quite join the dots in a way you might expect which just makes it more surprising than annoying.

The film’s biggest strengths are in its casting and its humour. Nobody does utter bewilderment better than Farrell and he’s the anchor of the film, the one sane (if possibly drunk) man surrounded by varying degrees of lunatics. Rockwell is given free rein to indulge the hyperactive mad man shtick he does so well, but he does give Billy some quieter moments, and manages to make him more than a mere caricature. Harrelson is always good value, although he perhaps doesn’t quite come across quite psycho enough. Walken puts them all to shame though, owning many of the scenes he’s in, at times without having to say a word, and though he’s actually playing a nice character, he still seems very scary at times.

The humour is great throughout, and I laughed a lot, in fact one scene might have had me rolling around on the floor if I hadn’t been in a cinema with other people…I did come close to having tears in my eyes it was that funny.

As I say, the film isn’t perfect, it meanders in places, and characters appear and disappear too rapidly, and though each of the psychopaths stories is interesting in its own way, you do feel a few of them are just there to pad the number out to seven (and one bit of padding seems a bit too much). Still it’s funny, action packed, and has the eponymous cast to die for, so I’d give this at least seven psychopaths out of ten, maybe a smidgen more.

Can you have half a psychopath…?

 

 

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Christmas with the family

Posted: December 25, 2012 in Free fiction
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Here’s a new short story, written especially. Wishing everyone a ghoulish Christmas 🙂

* * *

Once upon a time there was a woman named Grace. She lived in a remote area of Scotland, in a house that was far too big for her, a family home though she no longer had a family.

Despite being almost sixty, she was a strong, sprightly woman, and as she did each Christmas Eve, she tidied and arranged the house, hung decorations and placed a dusty old angel atop the tree; preparing everything for the return of her family on Christmas morn.

Some might have seen this as a somewhat redundant task, for Grace’s two children had been taken from her when they were mere bairns, and her husband had left her shortly afterwards, when he realised that she would never be able to let their children go.

Grace of course realised that Christmas, more than any other time of the year, was a time of miracles, of hope, And, most importantly, a time of family. And so each year she followed the same routine, made everything ready for the return of her loved ones, set the table with the kind of precision only a woman who’d been a matron for many years could muster, and then she went to bed early, though like many during the hours when Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day, she did not sleep, so excited was she at the prospect of her family finally returning to her.

The snow had yet to fall this winter, but it was still a cold and blustery night, and her house was old and ramshackle. She shivered beneath many blankets, and tried not to hold her breath each time there came the creak of a floorboard, or the groan of a window frame from somewhere deep within the house.

Eventually, despite her excitement, despite the howling gale that swirled around her house as if God himself were trying to sweep her home away, she slept. And whilst she slept, she dreamed, of little Michael, and bonny Miranda, and of her husband, Brian, of the twinkle in his eye. When she awoke she awoke with a smile.

There was, of course, no stocking hung from the end of her bed filled with treats, the kind of stocking she’d got as a child, the kind she and Brian had snuck into the bairns’ rooms many a time to hang upon their bedposts. She did not take this as a bad omen, did not lose her hope. She dressed quickly, yet smartly, pinning her long white hair up with care as if she were still planning to conceal it beneath a nurse’s cap.

She crept slowly downstairs, her hand trembling against the worn wooden bannister. She could hear nothing from below, no voices, no carols echoing from the old television in the sitting room. There was no laughter as children opened their presents.

Still she did not despair, did not turn her back on the possibility that this year, this year the miracle would finally happen.

The door to the kitchen was firmly closed. She lifted the latch and, taking a deep breath, she opened the door. Bright December light streamed in through the windows, so the table was illuminated fully, and so were the members of her family seated around it.

Grace released her breath with an exhale that became a girlish, yet nervous, giggle. Like a wee child she skipped towards the table, resisting the urge to reach out and touch her son as she passed, wary of somehow spoiling the enchantment.

She took her seat at one end of the table. At the other end sat her husband, there was no twinkle in his eye yet, but she knew that would come. To her left sat Michael, her strong wee boy, and to her right was her most precious angel, Miranda. Her children looked at her, their expressions frozen in place as if they too feared that to speak, to acknowledge each other’s presence, might shatter the magic of Christmas morning.

In the end though, excitement, pure unbridled joy, meant Grace couldn’t wait any longer. “Merry Christmas!” she cried, tears of happiness wetting her old weathered cheeks like mountain streams coursing down the ancient, craggy mountains that surrounded her home.

None of her family responded. None of them moved. Not her husband, not her son, not even her wee angel. The three corpses sat rigidly, held in place by petrification and time. For a few seconds more, Grace continued to believe that they might still return to life, but then her tears of joy turned bitter.

She left the table and went into the sitting room. She did not turn the TV on; she didn’t even turn on the lights. She merely sat in her old armchair and wept. She wept for a long time, she wept most of the day until, just before dusk, she gently carried the bodies of her family back to their resting place in the cold, arid cellar.

After the last journey she paused at the top of the cellar stairs for a moment. Looking down at the three bodies sat in a circle on the dry stone floor she smiled sadly to herself, then turned the light out and closed the door.

Maybe next Christmas…

 

 

 

 

 

Judge Dredd: Juve’s Play

Posted: December 7, 2012 in Free fiction
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In May I submitted a story to the Judge Dredd the Megazine short story competition. Sadly my story wasn’t one of the three chosen as winners, but since I quite like the tale I thought I’d share it on my Blog.

Obviously Judge Dredd and his world are the creations of John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra and the property of Rebellion Developments, I’m just borrowing them, and should Tharg the Mighty have any copyright issue I’ll happily take the story down 🙂

* * *

Juve’s Play

He was in pain, but frankly he’d handled worse, and if anything the screaming was more agonizing than his wounds.

As he dragged himself onwards with difficulty, Dredd mentally catalogued his injuries, if only to distract him from the shrilling of the juve. He’d taken a slug to his left arm; the limb was now limp, and he couldn’t feel his fingers. His right arm was broken in several places, and every time he dug his fingers into the carpet to pull himself along shattered bones rubbed against each other sending spasms of pain through his body.

He could just about still feel his legs, but they weren’t much use at the moment. He chided himself for not spotting the creep under the bed before they’d unloaded a scattergun into his shins. He’d relaxed, always a mistake, thought he’d got them all with only the shot to his left arm in reply. Then the scattergun had boomed, and Dredd had fallen.

He’d twisted as he went, lawgiver tracking under his body in order to target the final enemy. With no time for subtlety he’d sent a hi-ex round under the bed. The mattress had contained the blast, but bloody fragments of cloth and feather now drifted like red rain in the air.

He’d fallen onto his arm, even as the bed exploded, the crack as bones shattered masked by the dying whump of the hi-ex round. His lawgiver had tumbled from his grasp, but to be honest it wouldn’t be much help now anyway.

Looking through his helmet visor he focused on the juve. Kid was four years old, still wearing the same clothes he’d been wearing when the members of the Roger Moore Block Tryad had kidnapped him three days before. He was bound tightly to a chair, though the kidnappers had left his hands free for ease of feeding. Right now as well as screaming the juve—Jasper Cufflink III—was using his free hands to bang on the box fastened to his chest, and each time he thumped Dredd winced.

It was a simple affair, made from plasteen or some similar composite, black in colour and lacking any markings aside from an electronic display, where blood red numbers were counting down towards zero. Even if the box only contained the feeblest of home made fertiliser explosives, Dredd gauged there’d be enough to ensure there’d never be a Jasper Cufflink IV, and he put his own chances of survival as 50/50 at best.

Given several of the Tryad were members of the Roger Moore Citi-Def, the likelihood was they had some potent stuff in there, so the more likely outcome would see both him and the juve vaporised.

He dug his fingers into the carpet and hauled himself another few centimetres closer to the ticking bomb and screaming kid, already knowing he’d never make it in time.

He always knew he’d die on the streets, but even though he’d killed his killers first, it grated to know that the creeps who’d finally take down Judge Dredd would be such a pack of idiots.

Idiotic mistake #1: When kidnaping the sole heir to a multi billion cred Soy-mush empire it was stupid beyond belief to shoot dead every relative the heir had in the process.

Idiotic mistake #2: Whilst painting over the Roger Moore Block citi-def markings on the side of the hov-truck you were using to commit the kidnap was a smart move, leaving the raised eyebrow logo that every Judge in the sector knew meant you were from Roger Moore wasn’t.

Idiotic mistake #3: When judges show up at your door, even if one of them is old Stony Face himself, for Grud’s sake at least try to bluff your way through it before you start shooting. Dredd hadn’t even known their apartment was the one, he and rookie Judge Roark were just conducting door to door interviews, as were dozens of other Judges throughout the block.

The hyperactive  little toad of a man who opened the door, however, didn’t bother to even try the old “evening officer, how can I help you” ploy, instead his eyes had gone saucer wide, he’d screamed “Judges!” at the top of his lungs, and then he’d pulled a zip gun and shot the rookie clean through the chest.

Idiotic mistake #4: When faced with two Judges, Dredd and a rookie in a white helmet, and when you only have time for one shot, you shoot Dredd!

Dredd had drawn his lawgiver and blown a hole through the toad’s stomach. He hadn’t paused after that, he’d kicked the dead man out of the way and run into the apartment.

There were three other kidnappers (or so he’d thought) and though they got a few shots off, only one had been remotely accurate. Dredd fired three times, each a head shot that would save the City the cost of a cube.

That’s when the kid had started screaming, and the bomb’s timer had started ticking, obviously programmed to kick in when one or more of the Block Tryad were dead. Dredd had just called for back up and bomb disposal when the last kidnaper had fired from under the bed.

Dredd hauled himself another few centimetres closer. The counter said 54 seconds. Even if backup was on its way, the chances were they wouldn’t make it in time, and he couldn’t check because the fall had damaged his helmet mike.

50 seconds.

Dredd wasn’t ready to give up though. He couldn’t make it to the bomb in time, but there was someone closer who could.

Jasper Cufflink III stopped screaming mid yelp as Dredd’s boot knife thudded into the high backed chair, the merest whisper from his right ear. The kid turned his head slowly and gaped at the blackened blade.

Dredd gave him no time for introspection. “Pull the knife out, now!”

The deep growl that could make even innocent cits confess worked wonders. The juve didn’t even question, he tugged the knife free.

“Now prise the lid off the box.”

The kid spent precious seconds staring at the bomb until he realised Dredd wanted him to insert the knife blade into the seam that ran around its middle. He did as instructed and a moment later the top half of the device popped free, though it remained connected, dangling from the bulk of the bomb by several wires. The countdown clock now swung in the air like a pendulum.

30 seconds.

“There should be a lump of something like clay inside there with wires connected to it. How many wires do you see?”

The kid looked down, then looked up. “Two,” he said holding up a pair of pudgy fingers.

“What colour are they?”

“Red.”

“Sure, one’s red but the other…” Dredd felt his heart sink.

“Both red,” said the kid.

20 seconds.

Dredd took a deep breath. “Cut ‘em both,” he muttered through gritted teeth.

The kid awkwardly reached the knife inside the box, then tugged upwards, the blade initially just pulled the wires into view, but then it sheared through them both.

10 seconds.

Dredd exhaled.

9 seconds.

“Stomm,” he cursed.

The countdown continued.

“Nice try, kid,” he said, but Jasper Cufflink III wasn’t listening, he was staring intently into the box. After a moment he dug in with the knife and began waggling it around.

3 seconds.

Dredd clenched the fingers of his right hand, despite the pain.

3 seconds.

The clock had stopped. Dredd looked up. The juve was holding up a capacitor of some kind, his eyes were twinkling as he stared at it.

Dredd pondered that the kid might make a damn fine Tek-Judge someday, and now he was a ward of the City he could be inducted into the Academy with no hindrance.

He’d just started to consider that Justice Department could probably take control of the Cufflink Soy-mush Empire as well when he heard a door that had swung shut kicked open once more, followed by heavy footfalls. Someone ran into the room, Dredd saw green Judge issue boots pass by.

“Bomb squad!” he heard a voice cry, one he recognised. The man stopped dead when he saw the kid with the dismantled bomb. For a second he looked down at the scene, then he turned to regard Dredd. Dredd couldn’t see the other man’s eyes behind his visor, but the slackened jaw spoke volumes.

“You need to check your watch, Holiday” groused Dredd. “The nick of time was twenty seconds ago.”