Monthly Archive: May 2012

The Avengers: The Good, The Bad, and The Hulk

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE ... for snacks.

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE ... for snacks.

Yeah, okay: The Avengers is one of the better superhero movies out recently. This is faint praise, though, kids, so let’s stop acting like the fact that a movie starring Thor of all things is somehow fantastic just because it’s made with a bit of verve and cleverness. It is clever, and I did enjoy it, but it’s just a good movie. If someone hands you hundreds of millions of dollars, Robert Downey Jr, and Scarlett Johansson’s ass and you can’t even make a good movie, you are Fail on two legs, my friend.

So, here’s a few things I liked and a few things I disliked about this movie. Disclaimer: I do not read comics and barely know who any of these people are.

LIKED: The character bits. Whedon did make me feel like all of the characters were actual beings with motivations and personalities, and not just HEROES with POWERS, SHOUTING all the time! Even Thor, who is a ridiculous character on a good day, is distinct from the other folks. Even Hawkeye, who, as written in the movie has very little to do aside from glower and shoot arrows, comes out at the end with something resembling a personality. The result is that the final climatic battle, whatever other flaws it has, at least has the Avengers acting as a coherent unit in ways that make sense, whereas most blockbuster movies just have the heroes fighting the villains in chaotic, loud ways. The Avengers have a captain (Captain America, naturally) who is trained in military tactics and techniques, so it makes sense that he takes charge of organizing the team. They put the flying heroes in the air, the guy with the superhuman marksman’s eye on top of a building for aerial intelligence, and the Hulk is used the only way he can be: As heavy armor. They work together in ways that make sense.

LIKED: The way Whedon got past the fact that all these folks are, after all, superhuman. In most superhero movies the heroes are just too powerful; it’s difficult to drum up any drama. When Superman shows up, after all, how can he be defeated? Usually they solve this problem by making the villain(s) just as powerful, but this reduces the final fights to exaggerated brawls and that’s always kinda boring. In The Avengers, however, they solve this neatly: The villains are never portrayed as the equals of The Avengers. Loki is a cowering fool who’s no match for anyone in a fight, and his mooks from another dimension are easily torn up even by the Black Widow, who’s using nothing more than a handgun, martial arts, and her bosoms. But here’s the genius: The bad guys just keep coming. Whedon does a good job of showing each Avenger being worn down over the course of the final battle. Sure, they keep slaughtering the alien army, but the alien army just keeps coming. Whedon makes a point of showing each Avenger being pushed to their limit by sheer exhaustion: Even The Hulk ends up cornered by a dozen of the aliens, who pour fire on him, slowly adapting their tactics. Captain America is bleeding and panting. Black Widow is bleeding and barely able to stand. Even Thor is winded and bleeding. Iron Man is low on power and his suit of armor is dented and torn up. These guys just can’t go on forever, and that’s exactly how long they would have to. This is a clever way to surmount the fact that your characters are demigods.

LIKED: The Hulk. They made him the funniest part of the film, and that was absolutely a genius call.

DISLIKED: The endless middle part on the helicarrier. MY GOD. It was about six lifetimes long, and if Whedon used that endless tract of nothing to deepen the characters and illuminate their relationships, I still died a little inside waiting for something to happen. Could have trimmed it significantly without too much loss.

DISLIKED: The fact that there are two visually-identical Hulks in this movie. Did I miss something, or wasn’t the whole point of the middle section on the helicarrier that Bruce Banner cannot be trusted, and that if he turns Hulk he will SMASH them ALL into PIECES? And then he does turn Hulk and indeed he SMASHES everything to PIECES, including Boobs Widow. Who has a nice bit of PTSD afterwards, which is a nice touch. But then! At the very end, after falling out of the sky, Bruce Banner shows up at the final battle and all of a sudden he’s totally in control, yo, and can Hulk any time he wants. And when he does Hulk, he is totally still himself and can make jokes and punch Thor just to be funny, and save people, and makes no move at all to SMASH Boobs Widow. Strange, that. Also: Bad writing.

DISLIKED: The villains. The villains were awful. Loki and Thor’s innate ridiculousness aside (which is tough, because the ridiculous nature of those characters is huge and awesome in nature), Loki was a slightly stupid and very smug guy who never seemed to be in control in any real sense, and whose petulance reduced him to comic fodder by the end. The aliens were sort of dull. We knew nothing about them, learned nothing about them, and have no idea what in fuck they were. Is it asking too much for one villain, who gets just enough screen time to be fleshed out and made hateful? Apparently, yes. I think filmmakers should be forced to watch The Dark Knight and take notes on the character of The Joker when writing their villain characters.

Overall, though, the humor and deftness of the script won the day. Captain America saying “There’s only one God, Ma’am, and I don’t think he looks like that” (paraphrase) to Boobs Widow should have been a corny line that hit the floor with a clunk, but it works. They have six main characters but it never felt crowded, and none of the Avengers feels useless. The plot makes no fucking sense at all, of course (or, better said, the plot makes whatever sense you want it to because the MacGuffin at the center of it is vaguely magical and can do anything), but that is almost Standard Operating Procedure now, so why complain? Downey charms, Johansson spends the whole movie in a skintight outfit, and Mark Ruffalo gets the Best Line of Dialogue Written for a Hulk, ever:

HULK is kinda irritable.

HULK is kinda irritable.

What’s not to love?

Jeff Approves.

Mad Men: The Other Woman

Don Draper Thinks He's The Shit

Creatively Dead, but Don Draper Still Fills Out a Suit Well

Writing about Mad Men is almost a blogging cliché; it’s one of those shows that only the people who love it watch, thus every write up is either filled with praise or disappointment on a grand scale. It’s as close to a cultural event as we have these days; shows don’t draw 30 million viewers a week any more, so a show like Mad Men that has a certain sheen of class gets attention even if its viewership means it would have been canceled after five episodes in, say, 1982.

I love reading recaps of Mad Men episodes because the collective hive mind of the Internet often finds little details that I missed, details I can then regurgitate and use to seem smart at cocktail parties. Although, come to think of it, I never get invited to cocktail parties, so perhaps my strategery is not working as planned. Put a pin in that. Because as I read everyone’s recaps of the 5/27/12 episode The Other Woman, I am convinced The Internet is getting it wrong.

Specifically, I’m referring to the Don/Joan dynamic in this episode. If you don’t watch Mad Men and don’t give a shit about Don Draper, please, please stop reading before I bore you to death.

In The Other Woman, Joan is asked to sleep with a Jaguar representative in order to guarantee his vote for SCDP to take on Jaguar’s account. It’s a heinous and disgusting request, and Joan is horrified, but also tempted, especially when Lane suggests (for his own heinous reasons) that she hold out for a 5% partnership in the company in exchange. 5% of a growing ad agency about to land a major car account would set Joan and her son up relatively well for the future, especially since she makes about $12,500  a year, which would be about $70,000 today. Not a bad salary, but throw in a kid to raise and 5% of the profits on top of that and it’s pretty tempting.

Let’s put aside the interesting fact that we now know Don owns %25 of SCDP. Or maybe we already knew that. At any rate, I wonder if Joan’s 5% is going to come into play someday.

Anyway, Don is the only partner who votes against even asking Joan to sleep with the rep. When he finds out about the partnership offer (made without his knowledge) he even goes to Joan’s apartment to talk her out of it. Everyone seems to think he does this out of a sense of protective affection for Joan, or moral outrage.

He does not.

He doesn’t want Joan to sleep with the rep because he wants to win the Jaguar account solely with his creative team’s genius and his own power of personality doing the pitch.

The week before, Don made a stirring speech about winning the Jaguar account. He wants to get back to the old Don, the genius who came up with fantastic ideas and who then almost willed clients to buy them. The guy who was so powerful purely in his creative forces that an entire agency coalesced around him. No one else could have created SCDP. Don Draper was the key ingredient.

Since then, Don’s life has faded. He got divorced, then remarried, his best friend died, and he almost drank himself to death. But what’s really gone, truly gone, is his creative spark. Season 5 of Mad Men has been about Don’s creative death. He hasn’t had a good idea in a very, very long time (at least an entire year). When he stayed up all night to come up with an idea for the Snoballs account, he was barely able to squirt out a decent, perfectly usable idea. Nothing genius. He saw the Jaguar account as a away to get himself back, to stay in the office all the time and force himself to be the old Don. I think he would have preferred to come up with the genius idea himself, but he was satisfied to at least be the captain of the team that managed it.

Some people have noted that his Jaguar pitch was staged to be as dramatic and powerful as the “carousel” pitch to Kodak in an earlier season, but was disappointing. I believe that’s on purpose. The pitch was perfectly fine, but not genius, and it reflects where Don is today. He’s a pro. He has the moves. He can pitch anything with the smooth oil of a seasoned ad man. But he no longer has the ability to write something like the carousel pitch, does he? And he’s just starting to figure that out.

Then he finds out that at least 1/3 of the reason they got the account was because Joan Harris slept with one of the reps, and he is ruined by the thought. He thought the old Draper magic was coming back. Now he finds out it was an even older magic, and he’s sick about it.

This show is like a goddamn Russian novel.

Interview with Lil’ Ole’ Me

Huzzah! Old pal Josh Medsker of Twenty Four Hours fame interviewed me recently, and when I sobered up I forgot to issue an injunction to stop it from being printed:

“[FUTUREJEFF appears in a flash of purple light]
FUTUREJEFF: Dude, still with the not shaving? That beard is never going to come into its own. I’m from 42 years in the future. I speak from bitter experience.”


The Most Embarrassing Thing I Could Think Of

Sometimes I get into lulls in this blog, or my zine The Inner Swine, where I’m not sure what to write about. I mean, Jebus, I been writing this stuff since I was ten. Novels, stories, sure, but also just essays. Ramblings. Opinion pieces, stuff like that. Millions of words. Possibly billions, by now. It takes a certain kind of self-centeredness to come up with that many words just to describe your Inner World, fans, and hopefully there’s a certain amount of charm in that. Otherwise I am screwed.

I’ve written about everything. Every voice in my head, every emotional breakdown, every embarrassing failure. Somewhere there are words of mine describing it. The self-regard is amazing. But, on the other hand, I also have very little left that normal men might term dignity.

So: I talk to myself.

All the time, a running monologue. If you didn’t know me, you’d think I was crazy. In fact, some folks who do know me do think I am crazy. When i was a kid there was a fellow in the neighborhood who would walk around all day long with a transistor radio clamped to his ear, talking to himself. He was always insanely cheerful. I have grown up to be Radio Man, albeit a slightly more Ready for Prime Time version of him, and sans radio.

I have two different Talking to Myself modes. One is just a profane soliloquy I keep up on a constant basis. Sometimes this is superficially aimed at my cats, Pierre, Oliver, and Spartacus. Sometimes it is just in the air, a seamless rant at no one and nothing in particular. In this I’m probably not too different from other alcoholic, misanthropic people who work at home and have no human contact for days on end.

The other mode I have, however, is a little worse: I write. Well, I enact scenes, have dialogs. Work out plots by pretending to be one of the characters. This can get a little involved, and I even lose track of time. Suddenly, I’m standing in the shower, and I stop and think: Why am I pretending to be an alien sociopath whose alien mental illness causes him to think like a human being and thus is the perfect Fifth Columnist? And then I look around, thank goodness I’m inside and away from people, and get on with showering.

This is fine as long as you don’t get caught. Trust me, once someone walks in on you either a) talking to the cats like they were small furry men capable of responding or b) talking like you’re acting in a role and think you’re being secretly filmed, you don’t live it down. I repeat: You do not live it down. You will hear about it for the rest of your life. If your wife, The Duchess, is the one that catches you, she will also repeat it to people, telling them the story as if it’s simply hilarious and not humiliating at all.

Of course, sometimes it happens when I’m just walking down the street, too. I’m pretty conscious of my Rain Man tendencies, so I don’t really walk down the street talking to myself out loud. But I do often walk down the street talking to myself inside, and sometimes I think it must be really obvious. At least based on the way people get out of my way as I approach. When I was a kid there was a crazy guy in our neighborhood who walked around all day with a transistor radio held up to his ear. He was nice, he would stop and talk to anyone who flagged him down. When he wasn’t talking to people, he just talked, out loud, to himself, responding to things he heard on the radio. We came up with the genius name of Radio Man for him when we were kids.

If I were any less socialized, or if my Mom had had a few more drinks while pregnant, no doubt I’d be the Radio Man of 2012 Hoboken. Actually, maybe I am. Certainly the neighborhood kids run away when I approach. Hmmmn.

Sometimes I suddenly realize I’ve been talking to myself for a long time, deeply buried in some scene I’m working out, and I have this unsettling moment of realizing that for the last half hour I really wasn’t in charge of myself. I was just operating, you know? It’s kind of disturbing. I have to assume that it’s all part of my process for generating the genius writing ideas I have. Otherwise I am just nuts, and I don’t want to think about that.

To the bar!

The Sex Scene in “Lifers”

Lifers by Jeff SomersOn the insane assumption that any one cares, I thought I’d tell the story of the sex scene in Lifers, my first published novel.

It wasn’t in the draft submitted to the publisher (a cold submission, with no agent, pure slush to a tiny publishing company), which is amazing, because the final, published word count for Lifers was 39,616. Thirty-nine thousand words. This barely qualifies as a novella, much less a novel. So the fact is, the book was even shorter when I originally submitted it. The fact also is, I am a lazy, lazy man. If I ever become supersuper famous and powerful as an author, expect my novels to start being about 5,000 words long and written in bullet-point fashion, in huge 24pt type. Or possibly expect to be contacted by my people to write some novels for me, which might be better, if slightly more expensive.

But I digress.

When the publisher contacted me about buying the book, they were looking at it from a “Gen-X” point of view. For those of us too young to be Gen-X, this was back when being a twenty-something in the 1990s meant you were automatically a desirable market. As opposed to being middle-aged in the 2010s and realizing no one wants to sell you anything. YOU BASTARDS! MARKET YOUR AWFUL ENERGY DRINKS TO MEEEEEEEEE!!!

When I spoke to the editor on the phone about the book, he told me he thought the only thing the story needed was, in a word, sex. This was his sole editorial note. Looking back, this should have been some sort of warning sign for me.

Anyways, I was delighted with the offer to publish, of course. They were offering me $1000 as an advance, which in 1999 dollars was actually like $1003 today, and as a percentage of my gross annual income was about 75%. So, yeah, I was excited. Do you know how many packages of Ramen Noodles you can buy for $1000? LOTS.

I thus took his sexy suggestion seriously, though I wrestled with it for a bit. After all, I’d never been seriously edited before, and was generally convinced of my innate genius. The book was perfect! This clashed with my desire for the immense riches my debut novel was sure to generate for me (HA!), so I decided I would read the book over, see if there was a place for such a scene, and if so, write it. Then I could decide if I’d just ruined a perfect story, or improved it, or maybe just left it neutral.

In the end, I wrote a scene wherein the narrator has a one-night stand. It’s ridiculous and humiliating in that he’s almost not a voluntary player in it, and I ended up liking the scene a lot, as it speaks to the character a bit and it’s also one of the few scenes in the book where the narrator is apart from the other main characters. It ended up being a good addition to the story, though I don’t give that much credit to the editor at my publisher, who, I don’t think, even read the new manuscript when I turned it in. For him, he just wanted some sex in the story because young people like sex. End of story.

Of course, I was not put on this world in order to write erotica. Believe me – please! – this is not my purpose in life. We should all, in fact, take a moment to bow our heads and offer a moment of thanks that I have not been asked to repeat this experiment.

The lesson there, if there is one, is that any feedback or revision to a story has the possibility of improving the story. It doesn’t matter what the genesis of the note is. All that matters is what you do with it. That and that you can, apparently, sell a 40,000-word “novel” without an agent, a clue, or any clear idea of what a contract means. Incompetence, ho! And also, too, writing a sex scene involving stuffed animals, shame, and painful regret is not, apparently, sexy. At all. Or so I’ve been told.

Lifers is now available for $0.99 on Kindle and Nook, by the way. Just sayin’.

The New Style

Don Draper Does Not Get ItFriends, I like me some Mad Men. It’s one of the many television shows I ignored at first, smug in my resistance to marketing and hype, then watched in a marathon On Demand a few months after the first season ended, initially out of bored curiosity, then out of sincere excitement. It is an excellent show, written well and delivering subtle pleasures so consistently it’s hard to remember that the show is written and acted, and not just naturally generated from imagination, sunlight, and liquor.

Full disclosure: The show’s love affair with whiskey usually inspires me to drink a fifth of Rye during every episode, so my opinion of the show is … colored.

Anyways, I just watched episode “Lady Lazarus”, which I won’t bother summing up here because, why would I do that? Go watch it, you lazy bastards. Or find the eleventy-billion recaps out there waiting for your greedy eyes. This obsession with recapping the plots of TV episodes has got to stop. You know what’s really interesting about this episode? The fact that every single review or write-up about the episode I’ve seen mentions how much they paid to license Tomorrow Never Knows by The Beatles for it ($250,000).

Now, I’m a huge fan of Tomorrow Never Knows. It is a kick-ass song and is on a short list of songs that I think should never be seriously covered or re-imagined, because it is pretty much Awesome in musical form. And I think it was used wisely in the show, demonstrating to us that Don is not young and hip any more, and then demonstrating to us that he has no interest in being so any more. It’s important, I think, because Don is forty years old. In today’s age, forty is not so old any more. Forty year-old men today can be found at the same rock concerts as their kids. But back in 1966, friends, forty was fucking old. I’m sure there were some hip forty year-olds, but Don is certainly not one of them, and they used this song as a perfect way to demonstrate that: First of all, he can’t even tell a Beatles song from some horrible knock-off, and secondly, when he does give it a listen, he switches it off after a minute, disinterested.

All well and good, but for so many people, the big news was that they paid the whopping quarter-of-a-million bucks to use the song. Which is a lot of money. But why do we care so much? In today’s media-saturated world, it’s not so much that we’re so used to looking behind the curtain, there is no goddamn curtain any more.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It’s just interesting. Writers and other creative folks making these books and shows and movies are basically flim-flam artists. We fool you, we con you. We make you feel for imaginary people. We get you outraged at imagined atrocities. We trick you, over and over again. So it’s disturbing to realize how many tricks are no longer, strictly speaking, tricks any more, since y’all seem to know all about them.

It’s a challenging time. You know how you read books or see TV shows from 50 years ago, and they seem kind of simplistic and dumb and you know how they’re going to end like on page 2? Yup, because the audience is smarter now. Not in a general-IQ kind of way. In a media way. The tricks don’t work as well as they used to. These days, you buy a license to use a famous pop song from the ’60s and not only does everyone comment on your choice of music and what it means to the narrative, they also know exactly how the business works. They know you have to pay for that song, they know the song is expensive because of who wrote it, and they kow that as a result it was chosen very carefully.

I mean: Fuck. Where’s the mystery?

Of course, in a novel I can reference songs all I want, as long as I don’t print the lyrics. Titles can’t be copyrighted, so I can have my narrator cue as many damn songs as I like and hope the reader just hums along. Assuming they know the song. If they don’t, it goes awry – although, in the age of Spotify, that really isn’t a problem. In fact, if you’re writing a novel with a lot of song references, why not put together a playlist and be all 21st century and shit? Why not. Your readers will figure it out anyway.


Dear People of Hoboken,

As one of Hoboken’s literati, I have been scanning the pages of the local papers for my name on what can only be described as an obsessive basis.. Unfortunately, there have been no mentions of me. This distresses me. Although I am sure the local Hoboken papers are not causing me this distress on purpose, it remains a fact that the Hoboken free press teased me with a week of interest in my existence and then, just when I thought they were serious, dropped me like a hot potato for the next “flavor of the week“. I think you people owe me something, especially when you consider how much money I spend in the local bars, which is a lot, unless I can convince someone else to buy me drinks. Which isn’t easy when your face isn’t on the front page of the local newspapers, dig? So we come back to the central point: how can the Good People of Hoboken help a guy out and get him some free cocktails?

I have also noted, in a not-totally-unrelated-although-it-might-seem-so-at-first matter, that Hoboken does not seem to have a Poet Laureate. This really stuns me, as most class-act municipalities and nations have one. I had to go look up who the Poet Laureate of the United States is, and it’s Philip Levine, which is startling because, when you think about it, everyone’s first reaction to that is probably “Who in the world is Philip Levine?” I’m kidding, of course. I know who he is. A man who has not left a college campus in almost his entire life, and probably has forgotten what other human beings look like. Likely Mr. Levine peers out from his darkened lair with his fishbelly pale eyes stinging from the direct sunlight, and then he composes haunting poetry about how he hates all the Normals who mock his Phantom of the College existence, which he then mails off to the President. Who doesn’t read them.

Which brings me back to my point: I would like to be named Poet Laureate of Hoboken. There are many reasons for this. One, I would be a lot more charismatic and interesting to talk to (especially over a few gratis rounds of Killian’s Irish Red at, say, Stinky Sullivans, on you) than a freakish shadow-monster like the Poet Laureate of the United States. Two, I live in Hoboken and am the first person, apparently, to think of the idea. Three, I have crippling bar debts that threaten to force me into sobriety, and I could really use some sort of stipend from the government. Four, I think it would be very cool if I could introduce myself at parties by whipping out a striking business card that read, simply, JEFF SOMERS, POET LAUREATE OF HOBOKEN. Finally, I have actually written poetry, and while none of it specifically mentions Hoboken, quite a few deal with the horrors of hangovers, and that could arguably be symbolic of Hoboken. Here’s a sample Haiku:

“A DTs morning,
rats in red smoking jackets!
why do you mock me?”

I would appreciate the Good People of Hoboken‘s help in bringing the “Somers for Poet Laureate” movement to the attention of our mayor, whoever that is, and the other illuminati who run this city. Thank you.

The Futility of Writing

The following originally appear in The Inner Swine, Volume 11, Issue 4.

until drops of blood form on your forehead

The Futility of Writing

Brain Surgeon. No, really.

Brain Surgeon. No, really.

PIGS, when I was but a wee little one in Jersey City, before the standing-on-a-corner-drinking-blackberry-brandy period, I wanted to be a brain surgeon. The reasons for this desire are now obscure; possibly it had something to do with The Six Million Dollar Man. Possibly it was simply an easy answer to the endless questioning by tiresome adults about my career plans—adults were always asking us kids what the fuck we wanted to be when we grew up, and Brain Surgeon was a good response as it got a lot of grins and impressed gestures from the questioner. I coasted along with the whole Brain Surgeon thing for a few years, probably giving my poor parents—who probably hoped I’d magically evolve into some sort of athletic prodigy and earn scholarships to pay for school—a lot of sleepless nights as they contemplated the roughly 55 years of medical school such a profession requires.

Of course, I didn’t really want to be a brain surgeon. The only ‘profession’ I’ve ever desired is Writer, and as every writer in the world knows, the ‘profession’ of Writer is similar to the ‘profession’ of Sorcerer: Very cool sounding but usually only existing in movies and fantasy stories. Because no one makes any money at writing, ever, so it isn’t really a profession. But when I was six I didn’t realize writing was something I might someday palm off as a profession while standing on line for my food stamps, so Brain Surgeon it was.

And then, some time around grade three, I began to slowly realize that in order to become a Brain Surgeon, I was going to have to master math. Shortly after that came the aforementioned  standing-on-a-corner-drinking-blackberry-brandy period, and that was the last I thought about a career until I was twenty-two, waking from a lengthy alcoholic haze and realizing I needed a job, and right quick. And also too a change of clothes and a bath.

Somewhere in between, I sold my first novel, White Rabbit.