Review: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

30 06 2008

Brad Pitt as Jesse James or should that be Tyler Durden 1880?

In the 1880’s it was said that Jesse James was the most famous American after Mark Twain. A point noted in the film. On April 3rd, 1882 Jesse James was assassinate in his own home by a man he knew. Jesse is still famous today, as much for how he died as how he lived and a popular subject for filmmakers.

It would be easy, I suppose, to state the film was about Jesse’s death. After all, it’s there in the title and there is indeed a brutal recreation of the murder. Still that would be wrong.

Starting with his last train robbery, the film focuses in on the last few months of Jesse James’ life and his relationship with his eventual killer, Bob Ford. Rather than a grisly examination of his murder what is offered is a gritty drama about hero worship and obsession. The real lead is not Brad Pitt as Jesse but the green, Jesse worshipping, gun hand Bob Ford and his obsession with stepping out of Jesse’s shadow.

The film features an interesting and competent performance by Casey Afleck (as Ford), a casting choice that seemed a touch ironic. There is of course Brad Pitt who, despite moments of nuance, pitched James a bit too close to Tyler Durden for this reviewer. A choice underlined by some of the costume choices. However, for me, it was Sam Rockwell as Bob’s older brother stole the show with a captivating turn as a man hopelessly trapped in a situation that he knows will ultimately destroy him.

The writing is good, and like Brad Pitt’s performance, actually moves into brilliant in places. Handfuls of genuine insight: where Jesse calls on an old friend who is less than pleased to see him, where Bob watches Jesse in the bath and when Jesse gives Bob the gun that will eventually kill him. Yet in other places it just clunks, breaking the spell.

The film’s major let down is the dreadful voice over that seemed superfluous to requirements. Perhaps it was intended to give the film the feel of folk lore but all it did for me was break the narrative structure and take me away from the film’s characters. The film’s premise is also diluted by the bloated runtime.

Overall it’s a gritty, hard drama with a strong cast and solid writing. It could have benefited from a nip and a tuck but, if you like this sort of Western (I do), it’s well worth a look.

Friday Flash Fiction: Descent

27 06 2008

This post has moved. You can read the full post here:

Hopefully this marks the end of my very specific writer’s block around Flash Fiction. Feedback, as ever, is welcomed. Enjoy:

By Neil Beynon

I keep having a reoccurring dream:

I am standing on grass, a short distance from an airport. It’s not a real airport and I only recognise it because on some level I know I’m dreaming. That I’ve stood here before.

I look up at the sky and planes drop from the blue like oversized snowflakes, rising on the occasional gust but ultimately crunching into the ground. There is nothing cold about the landing, the flames giving way to rolling mountains of thick black smoke that chokes.

There is no sound. That’s how I know I’m dreaming.

This post has moved. You can read the full post here:

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Ready for my close up

26 06 2008

Assuming of course you’re shooting a film involving a bespecled, bearded chap dressed like a tramp and sporting a full set of luggage under his eyes.

Apologies for the lack of bloggage. It’s been a bit frantic this week with family stuff (Niece being born), work and my stuffing up my time management due to last week’s trip to Wales and thankfully I have tomorrow off. Which, judging from the amount of soy sauce I just spilt down my white shirt, is a good thing.

I have a list of things to be posting about that are backing up and so expect some content to be coming your way soon. Just caught a glimpse of myself in the monitor.

Oh lord, I look frightening today:

Not so much web 2.0 today as Hobo 1.0.

Sticky Bits

23 06 2008

Things I learned this weekend:

– If feeding family home cooked ham with sticky bits it’s best to stand back
– Pineapple eaten whilst bouncing on a pink ball following a long walk induces labour
– A golden retriever can hear a banana being peeled at fifteen paces
– You don’t want to know what a sweep is
– Be careful what you leave lying on the kitchen counter
– Never ask G to navigate unless you like adventures in the valleys
– It is not possible to ask a question to which the answer “sticky bits” does not produce instant innuendo
– In the event sticky bits doesn’t work just ask my sister, E, how she likes her peri peri

Friday Free Fiction: Bag Lady

20 06 2008

This story has moved. You can read the full thing here:

I went over, hence the change in title. This is an experiment. Feedback welcomed.

Bag Lady
By Neil Beynon

I confess there are days when I do not feel like writing. Days when the page flashes a white neon tundra at me and the cursor blinks accusingly at me. On these days I fear it – whatever it is – has gone for good and panic wraps its steely arms around my chest.

Bad form I know but still: it’s true.

As I sit here struggling to think of something to say, something new to grab your attention, my mind wanders, it pulls at the thread of memories past, picks them up, turns them around, looking for new ways to stitch them, new patterns that might entertain. One by one they are discarded like used tissue.

I type a sentence. Something to hook my attention. I let it sit there, its naked serifs flapping in the wind. This is going to be hard.

The memory when it comes is not picked up. It invades.

It begins with a smell. A faint whisper at the edge of my nostrils, an odour dancing on the slight swells and troughs of the air as it curls around you like a silent, invisible gas. It is the smell of dust undercut with bad perfume and urine, shot through with notes of faeces. It is the smell of old age. It is the smell of death barely postponed…


…It is the smell of the old woman pressing against me before I can even get to the paramedic. She is bleeding. Her forehead is a mess of grey skin, pink flesh and blood. The woman’s movement is so violent she gets blood all over my uniform. And dirt, her right hand leaves dark smudges all over my uniform; I won’t get them out, no matter how hard I wash.

“Don’t let them take it,” she exhales in my ear. Her breathe could strip enamel and it leaves me feeling giddy as the paramedic separates us, helping her to sit down. She is clutching something, a small bundle of rags, to her chest with her left arm. The paramedic makes the mistake of touching the bundle in trying to help her to rest easier and earns a swift cuff from her free arm.

It leaves a welt on his cheek, red and angry, as he stumbles backwards.

“Jesus,” he says.

“Looks like you’ve made a new friend Matt,” I reply.

Matt is a good paramedic and he doesn’t give me shit like a lot of them do. That he’s here is a good sign: calm under fire. I can feel the crowd watching me as I lead Matt to one side, the old lady with his partner.


I delete the line. It was a stupid hook: melodramatic and self-indulgent. The starkness of the page is hurting my eyes, a migraine loitering with intent and so I look out the window at the street.

There are kids playing. Harmless, shrieking and laughter but it jars against the inside of my skull, jacks my shoulders up. And I never used to be like this so…

This story has moved. You can read the full thing here:

A brief interlude…

18 06 2008

The walk to work this morning:

I’m sooo tired.


Ow. Jeez, you’d think people would look where they’re going.


Say, you’re a bit thin, you need some feeding up. Oh wow! I can smell freshly baked pastry; I’m really hungry . Is that…oh shit the lights have changed….*runs fuelled by profanity and adrenaline*

That was close.


Same time tomorrow?


Things What I Learned

16 06 2008

I’ve been chattering on about my novel for long enough. Obviously some of this has – hopefully – imparted some wisdom along the lines of not doing what I do i.e. setting wildly unrealistic deadlines. However I’ve learned loads through this project, about myself, about writing and about fiction; mainly I’ve learned through mistakes and that’s part of what makes it fun. I thought it might be of use:*

1. There are no rules – The most important lesson, requires constant re-enforcing courtesy of a state education.

2. First drafts should be written as fast as possible – if you can’t write quickly at least separate the creative process from the editing process, for example: write in the morning, edit in the evening; or vice versa; or write in the week and edit at the weekends; you get the idea.

3. World building is not wasted time – if you’re writing other world fantasy or SF you need to generate as much material as possible here to avoid running out…quite literally…of ground around the middle of Act Two.**

4. Leave time between drafts.

5. Don’t leave too long between drafts – a fortnight is probably enough and if you leave it longer then you – like me – will find yourself working on the manuscript years after the first draft and rewriting simply to reflect what you’ve learned in the interim. At some point you have to move on.

6. Plotting by scene cards is really useful.

7. Plotting by scene cards is the devil’s work.

8. Plot happens whether you plan it or not. Go with whatever gets the thing finished.

9. Never try to incorporate a ideas that don’t ring true for you. Even if it’s meant to be a pastiche or tribute to another writer, include what’s true for you – you may even create something new and, even if you don’t, I guarantee your readers will thank you for it.

10. Copy edits are best done by reading the text aloud. That way you are forcing yourself to think as a new reader, if you can’t say it they won’t be able to read it.

And of course never forget the unwritten rule: always check you haven’t inadvertently picked a Kevin Bacon film as your story title.

*Although I’d encourage you to find out for yourself.
** Please believe me on this – you do not want to be doing research and redefining the landscape in the middle of drafts.

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