Here’s a few movies I have seen lately and a brief word about each.
Far From the Madding Crowd
Short answer: this movie caught my interest early. I enjoyed the English countryside and the subtlety of the main characters. So despite my final criticism, I can recommend it.
I have not read the classic book, although Thomas Hardy is one of my favorite authors, which I consider a kind of guilty pleasure since he was so relentlessly pessimistic toward human fate. What is exquisite about Hardy is the nobility, endeavor, and the search for redemption in the main characters who inevitably are foiled by a cruel fate; perhaps there is just the slightest uptick at the end of his novels. And Hardy’s poetry is usually as black as the night.
This movie, however, had a very uncharacteristic happy ending. The rest of the movie was very Hardian with its twists of fate, but at the end it became Hollywood. Let me just say, if the book ends with the guy getting the girl, then I will move it to the end of my reading list.
Mad Max: Fury Road
All I can say is, I am too old for this kind of movie. I would have enjoyed it when I was younger. But my requirements have increased in 20 years, and Mad Max is a not much more than a roaring, mutant, post-nuclear war, road rally. I felt like I had sand in my mouth by the end of it. And character development? What? What!? Char. Act. Er. Dee-VEHL-up-MINT? Sorry, wrong continent. This is Australia, and we got a desert to cross with 5 hotties in the boot and a band of maniacal, thirsty bounty hunters on our tail. We don’t got no time for no Kar-akt-er Di-vel-oop-munt. An none of that snooty moteefs or whatnot.
Avengers: The Age of Zoltron. Or whatever
Same as above. I’m too old. The problem with this movie is that I never came to care about anything—not the Avengers themselves, the many humans who died, the robots, the future, life, the planet, meaning, literature, philosophy. Nothing. I’m afraid this is Joss Wheadon’s signature, condemned 400 years ago by Shakespeare himself, sound and fury, signifying nothing. And this from the guy who recently wrote a novel about superheroism and the plight of mankind. Superheroes themselves are not as interesting as what they say about us.
As I see it, this movie is a signal of Marvel Comics running out of gas. I can virtually see the throngs of 15 year-olds coming out of the theaters with a rapidly fading buzz of excitement, rapidly. Forgotten before their moms arrive to pick them up outside the mall. That’s exactly the point about this series. It has killed itself by having to continuously outdo the last episode. It’s so overwrought, it’s trying so hard, it’s following such a long trail of previous blockbusters, that there just aren’t that many eye-popping scenes, there just aren’t that many concepts left. I think if Marvel wants to have any more movies with traction, they need to dump Joss Wheadon and hire Christopher Nolan, who seems to be the only guy in TinselTown who can pile on enough layers to keep modern viewers happy with action thrillers. He’s managed to pull the mind-blowers out one after another for a while now; I think even his days are numbered.
But about the Avengers, I don’t care! I don’t bloody care about the Avengers. I don’t love them! I don’t support them. If they died I would feel the same as if my video game character died. Just press restart. That’s what this stupid franchise ends up with. Compare this to James Bond. Now, we all love James Bond. We have for years. Especially Daniel Craig. I don’t know. The masses are fickle, Joss. We are a fickle bunch.
Age of Adeline
This is a clever and sophisticated movie. I enjoyed it even more the second time I watched it. Adeline herself is totally classy. Harrison Ford plays himself in his character (whose name I cannot remember) and therefore he is delightful. The premise of the movie is tough for a skeptic of human infinite perfectibility such as myself (Adeline hits about 28 and ceases to age. Then lives that way in secret for 80 years for fear of becoming a government specimen). You can always find some Deepak Chopra or Andrew Weil or Ray Kurzweil who thinks we will inevitably discover the “aging gene” and learn how to stop the aging clock, and humans will effectively become immortal. But I would stake a bag of Doritos that science will never find a “cure” for aging. But anyway, even though this movie is based on this idea, and Adeline’s transformation is a freak of nature which has no basis in anything, it is still a clever idea and the filmmakers turned it into a charming film with charming characters and good, old fashioned drama and tension.
The Spectacular Now
[This post has been edited.] I knew after I wrote my original comments about this film that I maybe, just maybe, didn’t know what I was talking about because, truth be told, I was not entirely conscious for the last third of the movie. So, I have watched it again, and want to say that my first round was completely obtuse, ridiculously obtuse, I mean, Donald Trump obtuse. This is a good movie, full of real human struggling and growth. Yes, it was all very high-school-ish, with popular young, Divergent actors, but it delivered the kinds of things that I really look for in a movie. It wasn’t Lawrence of Arabia, but it was a meaningful contemporary film. I recommend it.
This was an eventful week for The Former Hero with two significant pieces of news. First, I received notice that I was a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Award in the genre of Thriller (alas, they don’t have a category for “Speculative, Psychological, New adult, Multi-Genre, Literary Thriller.”)
As you can tell by the name, this contest is a national one, which means I must have been up against a lot of other contestants. I am very honored to have placed as a finalist.
The second event is the publication of a review by Alicia Smock on the Englewood Review of Books. Am I allowed to even quote this? Smock calls the book a “philosophical masterpiece.” [turns red, kicks the sand].
Today I had the pleasure with several other members of the Texas Association of Authors of meeting with Mayor Steve Adler at City Hall for the proclamation of April 12th as DEAR Texas Day. As you can see, I was more concerned about standing up straight and holding my stomach in than I was about smiling or paying attention.
Afterward, each of the authors who showed up gave Mayor Adler a copy of our books (at the suggestion of the TAA coordinator). If he actually reads my book I hope he will not take offense; the chief villain in my book is the city’s mayor.
I didn’t pay extra to see it. Are you kidding? No. I didn’t go out and rent it. I’m a grown man.
But it showed up on Netflix last week, so I thought, “Oh. That thing that everyone was talking about a few years ago.”
“Ugh. Alright. Play.”
Being in the world. Popular culture. Knowing what people are talking about. Listening to the stories that people identify with. All that stuff.
Synopsis: a guy vampire, Edward, and human girl, Bella, who go to the same high school develop extremely (supernaturally?) strong romantic feelings for each other. Edward is wildly fixated on Bella and all the while fighting back his own savage vampire urges to kill her for food. For some reason, Bella is especially tasty as vampire food, and Edward has to try extra hard not to eat her. Meanwhile, other vampires want to eat her too, and he protects her from them while holding at bay his own instinct to kill/eat her. Roll credits.
So, what did I think? What did I think about the movie/book/story that sent millions of young girls into raptures of ecstasy and millions of women between ages 18 and 59 into paroxysms of guilty vicarious pseudo-nostalgic euphoria? And probably a lot of guys too? First an aside.
I’ll admit. The main reason I saw this movie is because somewhere once I heard a talk-show preacher talking about it. He labored to parse out, to elucidate what was the nature of the magic of that film that affected so many. He opined, with the breathless wizardry of an O’Connor-esque southern prophet, that it was about how Edward was SO INTENSELY FOC– USED on his human inamorata Bella, and this reveals the deep psychology of how every woman longs to be desired like that by her man. And you men out there need to cherish your women so they feel loved like Bella did. Everything about this guy’s message made my skin crawl, but I wasn’t sure why at the time. Perhaps because I had not seen the movie.
So. My response to the film? I was expecting the worst and was all prepared to hate it just for being this big teen sensation. But ya know what? For a vampire movie, it was pretty good, I thought.
Edward was pretty cool, I guess. The tortured, noble vampire from whom all strength of will is required to keep from making a bloody wreck of his beloved Bella.
And Kristen Stewart. Despite how much abuse she has taken from the celebrity gossipers and internet haters, I thought she was pretty good in the film. I’ll admit that I think her dark-circled eyes, her taut little mouth, and her dark hair are very successfully melancholy, and I like that.
OK, so she’s not Cathrine Zeta-Jones, big deal! Why so do many people hate her? I don’t get it. But whatever. Let’s move on.
The film had a cool, wet, evergreen, overcast Seattle vibe. The colors were muted and blueish. And pretty much all the humans were good characters.
The vampires however were a ridiculous failure, all walking around with their eyes extra wide open, all looking at each other with sidelong knowing glances, all a little too cliche’ goth-looking. But I suspended disbelief.
The so-called magic of the film, the recipe that made girls and women so captivated was not, as Mr. Clueless Pastor tried to explain in a tiresome play to cultural relevance before his bewildered sheep-flock, that Edward was giving Bella the kind of intense attention that every woman longs for in a relationship, and which men are now challenged to provide.
Edward and Bella’s attraction was anything but realistic, anything but a model for the rest of us. Sure, we’re all fools in love, as they say. But we’re not all obsessive.
In fact, back in the 90’s Edward and Bella’s hyperactive attraction used to be known to psychologists as “codependency” (maybe it still is) and was a condition for which a person should seek counseling. Are we saying now what used to be clearly unhealthy is the new gold standard, the unattainable perfection, the crack-cocaine of romantic feelings?
And not to put to fine a point on it, is this pastor’s observation and prescription more a capitulation to the ever-increasing-ism of the last so-many decades (harder louder music, intenser movies, bigger explosions, fatter muscles, smaller bikinis, taller skyscrapers, extremer sports, sharper graphics, faster communications, double-down super-sized Dub-step-and-Red Bull-infused Nutella wrapped-in-bacon culture) than sane counsel to lovers about what to expect from life?
Or maybe this whole thing isn’t so new. After all, romance stories have been creating hot&sweet, gladiator-pecs, boom-shicka-wow-wow, unfulfillable longings and dissatisfaction with real life for many decades. But those Harlequin books were never set up by the sages and teachers of society as instructive.
My advice: watch movies you like and enjoy the art. Escape for a while in a good story. And then forget about it and go build a birdhouse or something.
The 5th annual “Take 190 West” is an arts festival in Killeen Texas with sculptors, artists, and authors, including young authors. It will be held at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center (click for map), and I hope you will come out and engage in a little art appreciation while visiting my table for a signed copy of The Former Hero.
Incidentally, the book has received a complete updating with numerous typos removed, a few other interior changes, and an updated cover with bylines from reviewers and other authors on the back. My ‘winner’ medallion from the Texas Association of Authors will also appear on the cover.
The festival is from 10am to 6pm.
I am very pleased to announce that my debut novel The Former Hero has won the 2015 Book Award for Suspense/Thriller from the Texas Association of Authors!
TAA is a major sponsor of the first ever DEAR Texas Book Event, a state-wide program to promote the enjoyment and value of reading. The other winners and I will be announced at the kick-off event at the Texas State Capitol on April 11, 2015.
Then on April 12th bookstores around the state will be hosting DEAR Texas events. TAA authors will be present at many participating bookstores. Your truly will be doing a reading/signing at Malvern Books on April 12, 1-5pm
D.E.A.R. stands for Drop Everything And Read, a program originally created by Harper Collins to encourage people of all ages to read.
Winners will also be featured in C-Spot Magazine.
Trying to Buy My Book?
Austin residents can also buy my book at Book People at 6th and Lamar. [Outdated. Not sure if BookPeople has copies anymore. Just email me and I’ll get you a copy with a Venmo or other payment method.]
I post this announcement more for the sake of chronicling stuff that is happening with my book. Yes, The Texas Book Club has selected The Former Hero for their February book. I am honored.
I can only suppose that tens of thousands of avid book lovers around the country are reading pirated and bootleg ebook copies of my book this month, not only because sales have not shown a corresponding spike, but because Amazon, in their grand tradition of undermining indie booksellers, continues to tell people that my book is “not available”.
If you are looking for a copy of The Former Hero, please get it from Book People (if you are in Austin) or on discount at the Texas Association of Authors website who has my book ready to ship.
AND STAND BY FOR A BIG ANNOUNCEMENT THIS TUESDAY!!
So today I did what was probably a foolish thing, but I learned from it.
I belong to a private group for writers on Facebook. It has literally thousands of members, over six thousand. Today was designated “First Line Friday,” a day in which everyone is invited to post the first line of their book or story. My mistake was in choosing a controversial, hard to read, experimental short story that I wrote 4 years ago to post.
Why did I bother? I don’t know. I wanted to contribute something. I saw other posts, pithy short sentences mostly.
It was like 6th street in Austin on Saturday night. Teeming masses of people are wandering by, snatching bits of culture and society like so many little smokeys at a Charlie Hebdo support rally. And I chose that open sewage, riverfront sidewalk setting to set out the “first line” of my holy virgin short story, like a bumbling novice, an uncareful steward, an unwatchful eunuch.
What did I expect? I did not know what to expect. I hoped, yes, that people would get it. But I had never contributed to a thing like this before.
The first few comments were 50% appreciative. Some people actually tracked with it. Others admitted that reading is hard, and they skipped it. Alas, reading is not for everyone.
It IS hard to read. Not hard, just demanding. You have to understand, it was something I wrote after finishing a Faulkner novel. Absolom, Absolom, I think it was. And the opening sentence was not brief or pithy. It was longer than most paragraphs. You’d have to see it to understand. And you’d have to have recently come from a funeral, or a Benedictine monastic cell, or else be someone who has the well-trained patience of a lover of poetry.
But as most of you have already surmised, after the first few tentative comments of appreciation and dismissal, the jackals who like to come in a cackle over fresh carcass descended.
Comments started to flow. People who openly manifest themselves as novices, neophytes, wanna-be’s, amateurs, rule-followers, half-wits, posers, would-be lecture circuit speakers, strict grammarians, Stalinist punctuationalists, Fascist spell-checkers, Nazi lexicographers, artists whose aesthetic sense is covered by a thick callous, swooped down and condescendingly informed me that the “first sentence must draw the reader in,” suggesting that my vestal virgin should be submitted as a candidate for the Bulwer-Lytton Award, counseling me to “go back to Hemingway,” and other such freshman-grade formulaic pablum.
I shortly clicked on the “Stop Notifications” button (thank you Facebook for that).
What did I expect? That a bunch of Vampire Romance hacks and 50-Shades-of-Gray Me-Toos are going to slow down long enough to read my divinely inspired utterance? No. No way. Lesson learned.
I threw myself into the mosh pit, and now I’m bandaging up my lacerations. I knew it was a jungle out there. I knew the internet is simply impacted like a sedentary colon with trolls of every sort.
And if I hit the big time some day, I will face this kind of thing every day. Until, like all writers and public figures in any field know, I stop listening to them. I click the “Stop Notifications” button, and silence their empty cavils, and leave them to their mud pies and pee-wine.
So it was good practice.