Thursday, November 23, 2017
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown
Brené Brown studies human connection -- our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk at TEDxHouston, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity.
Monday, November 20, 2017
Saturday, November 18, 2017
The other night I joined her for a screening of the film Billy Bishop Goes to War at the prestigious National Club in downtown Toronto. It was a few days before November 11th. Incidentally, this year marks the 100th anniversary of her grandfather getting the Victoria Cross from King George V.
When Diana isn’t writing books she helps ‘brand’ her clients and she branded me. What’s the brand?
‘A crusader for preserving history through the actions of unsung heroes.’
I probably never would have thought of that myself, but she’s right. Every book I ever wrote embodies this theme – some more, some less – but it’s always there. They are stories about heroes, and in the case of historical novels, about protagonists fighting some grave injustice.
Gift of the Bambino is a coming-of-age tale over three generations about a boy and his grandfather, and how the two are bound by baseball and Babe Ruth. In that one, the Grandpa is the hero.
The Last Witness is about a 100-year-old man who is the last living survivor of the Holocaust in a near-future world where people know little of the past. The survivor is the hero in that story.
Qumran is about an archaeologist who makes a dramatic discovery in the Holy Land and who is caught in the storm between science and religion. The archaeologist, whose core ideas are challenged in the novel, is the hero in this one.
So now I have put all this into a presentation that explores the stories, actions, and issues around many an unsung hero. And, of course, why history is important. I call it, well, A Crusader for Preserving History.
If only I can find the right cape.
Jerry Amernic is a Canadian writer of fiction and non-fiction books. He is the author of the Holocaust-related novel 'The Last Witness' and the biblical-historical thriller 'QUMRAN'
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Saturday, November 11, 2017
Warner Bros. has now released an official synopsis for The Meg and fans can relish the guilty pleasure that it promises.
Details regarding the WB monster movie have been pretty sparse up until now. Since the ‘Mega-Shark Vs. Jason Statham’ saw its release date pushed back to Summer 2018, the only notable update has been that the title has undergone a slight change and is now The Meg instead of simply Meg.
The Meg is an adaptation of the 1997 Steve Alten novel about a surviving prehistoric Megalodon shark, which surfaces from the Mariana Trench. The book was so successful that it resulted in 5 literary sequels and an ongoing franchise. Tentative development plans were made for a Hollywood film as soon as it was published, with directors like Jan de Bont (Speed) and Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) linked to it in the early stages. Eli Roth was then onboard to shoot it, but it ultimately fell to National Treasure director Jon Turteltaub to helm it. Statham was then recruited to play the role of main protagonist and expert diver, Jonas Taylor.
The basic premise of action-hero Statham facing-off against a massive shark pretty much sells itself, but a full official synopsis of the adaptation has now been made available online by WB. You can read the whole plot summary below:
“A deep-sea submersible – part of an international undersea observation program – has been attacked by a massive creature, previously thought to be extinct, and now lies disabled at the bottom of the deepest trench in the Pacific… with its crew trapped inside. With time running out, expert deep sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Statham) is recruited by a visionary Chinese oceanographer (Winston Chao), against the wishes of his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing), to save the crew – and the ocean itself – from this unstoppable threat: a pre-historic 75-foot-long shark known as the Megalodon. What no one could have imagined is that, years before, Taylor had encountered this same terrifying creature. Now, teamed with Suyin, he must confront his fears and risk his own life to save everyone trapped below… bringing him face to face once more with the greatest and largest predator of all time.”
Along with Statham, the movie also costars Jessica McNamee (Battle of the Sexes), Ruby Rose (John Wick: Chapter Two), and Rainn Wilson (The Office). Along with the recent title change, it has been confirmed that the movie will be a PG-13 affair, meaning that graphic gore and f-bombing will be absent from the plot. Of course, when you’ve got a shark capable of eating a boat, Jaws-like injuries aren’t really an ongoing concern.
The Meg completed principal photography back in January of this year, so hopefully all the post-production work and delay will make for a good-looking monster movie once it hits the theaters. Statham himself has described it as being ‘a cross between Jaws and Jurassic Park’, and also ‘really good’. At any rate, the eclectic cast and SFX should ensure that it’s a bite above the plethora of SyFy channel movies and other Jaws rip-offs that have been released over the years. It could just a film to keep an eye on when it arrives next summer on August 10, 2018.
Friday, November 10, 2017
A Marquee Man: Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival’s president and CEO Gregory von Hausch on becoming the voice for independent filmmakers.
To the uninitiated, how is viewing a movie at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival different from watching a film at the movie theater?
We’re not meant to serve the Tom Cruises or George Clooneys of the film world, though sometimes we do. We’re there for the filmmakers who haven’t made it yet; those who have financed their films on their credit cards. We are there to help them get noticed by a distributor or an investor. At the same time, we’re here to educate our audiences. It goes back to Shakespeare and the concept that “the play’s the thing.” We want to show films that have substance to them, that speak to people. The scripts in independent and international films are paramount, whereas in those blockbuster films, sometimes the script may be secondary to the explosions, special effects and the stars.
What do movies do that nothing else can replicate?
I think movies are the most incredible art form because they can take you from Miramar to the moon with just a snap of the fingers. They utilize everything, such as scenery, sets, music and special effects, in a harmonious way to tell a story. I get so caught up in them. If I see “Peter Pan,” I believe everything about it, including that fairies can fly. Movies do something to viewers, allowing people like me to experience things as the characters do.
What can we look forward to with FLIFF 2017?
We’ll be showing films from nearly 50 countries. The festival starts unofficially on October 27 with a salute to the European Film Awards; on a nightly basis, we’ll be showing movies that have earned the best film award each year for the past 29 years. The festival will then have its official opening night on November 3 at the Hard Rock Live, where we’ll be showing two films: “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World” and “Dog Years,” which stars Burt Reynolds. We will also honor actress Karen Allen, who played the heroine in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and her directorial debut, “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.”
What are some of your earliest memories of FLIFF?
I was hired in 1989 as the festival’s executive director, but the irony is I had never been to a film fest in my life. We were so small back then, operating out of a tiny office. I knew we needed more exposure, so I moved our office to Las Olas Boulevard, across from Blockbuster’s headquarters. One day, as I was putting up posters about the film festival on the office’s outside wall, I heard a rough voice behind me say, “What the hell is this film festival about?” I turned around, and the voice belonged to Ron Castell, the senior vice president for programming of Blockbuster. We struck up a conversation, and he got intrigued about the festival. He eventually brought Blockbuster on board, and things started moving up from there.
|FLIFF Crew back in the day including (AEI/Storymerchant's Chi-Li Wong)|
In its earliest incarnation, how did you manage to get FLIFF on the global film map?
There’s a little P.T. Barnum with some things we do. Our first year at the Cannes International Film Festival was 1991. We were the little fish in the sea sitting next to the Dino De Laurentiises of the film world. I remember on the first day seeing a fleet of prop planes soaring above with banners advertising Ridley Scott’s film “1492: Conquest of Paradise.” I looked at that and thought it was phenomenal marketing. I had a hunch this wouldn’t be the last time the planes would fly over, so I rented two airplanes with a trailing banner that read “Join us on the Florida Riviera.” I had those planes fly right after Ridley’s next scheduled flight, so he got everyone’s attention with his fleet, and then everyone at Cannes was looking at our banners that followed.
What do you want to achieve with FLIFF?
I went to a lot of festivals and fairs growing up, and I remember a cacophony of sounds, smells and colors. No matter where you turned, there was something happening, whether it was someone making cannolis or sausages or a performance going on. It wasn’t a one-ring circus; it was a multi-ring one. I wanted FLIFF to be more than people sitting down and watching a movie. So we’ve introduced events such as Around the World in 80 Nights, which highlights a foreign film and celebrates that country’s culture with authentic food and drinks, and performers dressed in native garb.
We couldn’t finish this conversation without asking: What’s your favorite film?
I have two, both of which I can watch over and over again and still enjoy. The first is Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which I’ve seen hundreds of times. The other would be “Get Shorty.” It’s just so well-written with such a wonderful ensemble cast.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 Issue.
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Kenneth Atchity's The Messiah Matrix is one of those fascinating books—a rara avis--that works on many levels including those that, ironically, the writer may not have been aware of in the beginning. The story of the discovery that the historical Jesus was really the Roman Emperor Augustus (neé Octavian), a secret kept under wraps by the Society of Jesus acting, as many Jesuits do, in the best bad manners of 19th-century "novels of sensation," The Messiah Matrix is the latest in a stream of fiction popularized by The Da Vinci Code though having a pedigree among a number of so-called heretical novels, previously having garnering fanfare in Irving Wallace's 1972 novel, The Word.
What separates Atchity's book from the tiresome vulgate of the roman historique is the firmness of Atchity's unadorned style, a style seemingly embedded in Atchity's erudition as a Classicist. (If ever one wanted to study good English prose written by someone well-versed in highly inflected languages such as Attic Greek or Classical Latin, without having to grapple with Chase and Phillips' Introduction to Greek or Gildersleeve's daunting grammar tome, then Atchity is your meat.) Also, even though Dr. Atchity's bona fides as a well-traveled academician are beyond me, I can certainly appreciate a fellow who apparently knows his way around Rome when writing about Rome. (I imagine Atchity could blindly find his way from the Mausoleum of Augustus on the east bank of the Tiber River to the Temple of Jupiter near where the Via Flaminia pierces the center of The Eternal City.)
With plucky heroes such as devout archaeologist Emily Scelba and quavering priest Father Ryan, both desperately fighting the forces of darkness (and trying to stay one step ahead of a Holy See that would preserve the myth of our well-known Χριστος as well as Jesuits hell-bent—literally—on bringing on the advent of the Deified Augustus as the true Christ—The Messiah Matrix lives up to its mission, providing thrills couched in provocative questions.
Considering the already sturdy tumulus of propaganda built up around the too sordidly human Octavian, who, in 42 B.C. became divi filius—"Son of God," we should not decry a few more harmless pieces of learned public relations. If Augustus and Livia had no biological children, they were blessed by a million minions of spin. The hype began with the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, probably composed in A.D. 13-76, begun a year before the death of the man significantly known as Sebastos (Reverend) but also as Imperator (General). This sort of conflation of Messiah and Master-of-Arms is a delightful hagiographic touch sure to please revolutionaries, apostates, and wise novelists looking to expand a genre designed to thrill and excite with liberal dashes of carnality and intellectualism. (If Kissinger was right about power being the ultimate aphrodisiac, then what better Viagra than a peek into the Mysteries, whether Eleusinian, Gnostic, or otherwise?)
Unlike many conventional thrillers, and more like the priapic Old Comedy of the Greeks, The Messiah Matrix seems less a plotted thing than a progression of heterogeneous episodes. The book deftly combines mythical patterns of threat, capture, escape, and pursuit—usually against terrible odds for success and under circumstances of hideous death. This is the formula of Edgar Rice Burroughs, epigone himself of many purple patches of narrative. The formula in The Messiah Matrix inheres with religious hysteria and a baroque melodrama that would have made Matthew "Monk" Lewis salivate. The book accelerates from the discovery of an aureus whose coin face shows a thorn-crowned Augustus to a series of Perilous Pauline chases through an underworld that is both heady and prosaic as the novel hits all the storytelling points required by a heroic descent in, and daring extrication from, chthonic imprisonment. (Here Atchity's bracingly correct prose enmeshes every subterranean action and texture in phrasing precisely capturing the sights, sounds, and smells of a marathon race out of Acheron.)
Deep characterization, stunning surprises, and piquant variations are not what The Messiah Matrix is about—on the seemingly intended surface, that is. Yet, a deeper reading of the book strangely teases and tantalizes. The story releases intermittent billows of ironic incense, redolent of what author Atchity may have been satirically intending all along. For example, not just another Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Emily is, perhaps, an ironical avatar of Dan Brown's insipid "sacred feminine," glittering with the aegis of Athena (though, in the modern vein, hardly maintaining the chastity of an Artemis). Neither is the ineluctably defrocked young priest Father Ryan able to surprise and astonish by any veer away from a bathetic plunge into Emily's arms. (A last minute restoration of Ryan's Vow of Celibacy would have been refreshing, but, significantly, out of the book's intriguing ironies and sometimes caustic satire, an example of which is the terms of the Emily/Priest love affair. The couple's passions are relayed as effulgently as one might find in any conventional nouvelle de romancier, with worlds sundered by the power of lascivious consummation and universes imploding as long-repressed passions flare from the frisson of suspenseful expectation to the fission of the first consummative clinch. Considering, again, Atchity's possibly ironic position to The Messiah Matrix, we might wonder if the author keeping a straight face? Our irrepressible protagonists' love is apparently real and reciprocal, fine in itself, but seemingly forced as far as the fulsome descriptiveness goes. Fortunately, all this verbiage about "electricity" between our stalwarts does not, thank Augustus, lead to an actual scene of faradized fornication.)
Without revealing too much of The Messiah Matrix, while nevertheless suggesting that everything will, like a sacral unveiling, be revealed, this critic would not suggest anyone analyze too closely Atchity's New Advent. Those left dripping at the end of The Da Vinci Code will find no such simple crudities in Atchity's immeasurably more intelligent book. Nevertheless, some relatively simple logico-mathematical formulations—and a bit of reliance on Aristotle's Metaphysics—should be sufficient to dismantle the nascent New Post-Christian Revealed Faith. When the Big News is revealed—again, in decidedly ironic, one might say, satirical terms—at the end of the novel, one can happily grin at the book's conveyance of such an unworkable faith and any attendant ecclesia based thereupon. One has to consider the very nature of the propagandizing, manipulative, disingenuous Emperor Augustus. All this makes for a denouement and coup de theatre that are deliciously wry. How else is one to take the scene where the offspring of Emily and Father Ryan proclaims Duh Word? Is the litany some half-baked Paul Kurtz zeppelin of buncombe? Or is this scene and its material legitimately felt by the author, as an admittedly respectable secular humanist manifesto? Again, however, Atchity intrigues and inveigles, ending the book with a line that seems like a species of oblique, crafty, and adroit Menippean satire, when the rosy-cheeked young minister says, "Don't you know that I must be about the emperor's business?" (Note "emperor" and its tie-back to imperator, or general. Bravo, Atchity! This line is the sort of ingenious, lapidary reference that would have fit right into David Seltzer's The Omen.)
The Messiah Matrix should not convince anyone that it was only some Joe Jerusalem who died on the cross, about as divine as the two thieves flanking the Holy Rood. However, like many mystery stories whose contrivances are satisfyingly temporary but potent, the novel will entertain. This new genre of rejecting Jesus as what the faithful know as Jesus, and fad of delegitimizing Christianity as True Writ, has already spawned, like Scylla and Charybdis, two masterpieces, where denunciations of Christ follow the apothegm indicating that a vigorous rejection of "Him" only engenders a vigorous affirmation. (This paradox was, of course, part of the genuine charm of Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood.) Nor is The Messiah Matrix in the genuinely iconoclastic, apocalyptic vein of a novel like James Blish's Black Easter, where magic, working according to physical principles, is used to unleash, for one night, the entire Hosts of Hell, leading, literally, to God's death and the renascence of Dis on Earth. (Take that, Rosemary's Baby!) As in much fiction, the so-called proofs wind up relying more on manipulates than metaphysics, with whatever might be eligible for introduction as author Atchity's "apostasy" reliant, as most are, on a typically inadequate materialism.
As Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensees:
"I wonder at the hardihood with which such persons undertake to talk about God. Proving God's works from Nature…only gives their readers grounds for thinking that the proofs of our religion are very weak…It is a remarkable fact that no canonical writer has ever used Nature to prove God."
Nevertheless, despite what a casual reader might perceive as a straightforward recit, one utilizing, notably in this instance, proversa oratoria as a stylistic fundament, not a mere flourish, another view is that Atchity has really contrived a sort of mirthful roman noir, a book that may be an inversion of the Dan Brown-type it seems to follow.
If so, The Messiah Matrix resembles some sort of explication of a heresy that really wants to make fun of heresy. In terms of the sacred, venerable Augustus' depiction of how he wished posterity to view him and the "high points of his reign" (cf. Rex Wallace's book), and any charging of religious significance because of the adjectival use of "augustus," The Messiah Matrix actually reduces the first Roman emperor back to being merely a dude named Octavian. Who was that? A canny, manipulative opportunist, favored by a Senate willing to indiscriminately convey influence and de facto tyranny. A chap for whom the cognomen Augustus was undeserved, a golden crown for someone not even deserving a dented tin fillet.
This Augustus was, then, a very base fellow. Neither the Latin version of the bronze inscriptions, Monumentum Ancyranum, nor the version installed at Ancyra (modern Turkish Ankira), the capital of Roman Galatia, dare to describe the real man, who, as a private citizen, unconstitutionally raised an army and, on gaining power, killed his political opponents, although those crimes were spun as pardons.
The Messiah Matrix is a distinguished, exceedingly rich book. Get it.
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
"If you are a writer you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework … you can still be writing, because you have that space."
~ Joyce Carol Oates
~ Joyce Carol Oates