Jeffrey Allen Mays — Writer

One Observation about Star Wars: The Force Awakens

(This post was written long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, probably in 2016 but not published until 2018)

Aside from the title, which was way more auspicious than the film delivered, I was sad for Oscar Isaac, an actor that I like, that he was cast in such a one-dimensional role. He has great talent as an actor, and none of it showed in this film. But Star Wars films have never been known as breeding grounds for future Marlon Brandos.

I have seen Oscar Isaac in at least three other movies:

    1. Inside Llewyn Davis
    2. A Most Violent Year
    3. Ex Machina [2018 edit: His subsequent role as Apocalypse in the Avengers series maybe wasn’t a dramatic role, but he was still great, even though I’m lukewarm toward Avenger’s movies. And…well, if you’re an actor, you want to work, so you take the roles you can get.]

and I think I can say that, as an actor, he HAD to leap at the chance to be in at least one Star Wars episode. I mean, he is young enough that he grew up with Star Wars lore as part of his youth.

But I think he was conflicted. After working with the Coen Brothers (!) on Inside Lewyn Davis, and staring in the very innovative Ex Machina, he has to be thinking, as he walked on to the Disney set, “am I sure this is going to further my establishment as an actor?”

Was it a step up, or a step down for him? This has to tell you something about the film. It’s STAR WARS. And Oscar Isaac is questioning whether it will help his career.

Because if you saw his part, you noticed that he played a one-dimensional, totally transparent, flim-flam, comic book, did-this-in eighth-grade-drama-class, character.

"Yes. I played in the highest grossing film in the history of all film worldwide. No, it did not advance my acting career."

Because whoever wrote the script was laboring under the heavy iron grasp of Disney film, the nail-toothed, black-souled, iron-hearted, family-friendly, positive-messaged, giggly, feel-good-of-the-century, because-it-draws-the-masses-with-the-allure-of-traditional-values paradigm.

But I’m biased.

On dying

Unacceptable ways of dying:

  • after a long, desperate, nauseated, hairless battle with terminal cancer
  • by withdrawal of sustenance after being kept alive artificially
  • by some silly accident when I am so old and senile I can’t take care of myself, like falling and hitting my head against a porcelain toilet bowl
  • by a degenerative neurological disease (or rather, after the horror of perhaps years with such a disease, and then to succumb to some infection.)
  • after doctors have made herculean efforts to keep me alive so I can be miserable for another year, and then die
  • because of the failure of some pharmaceutical to do its job
  • liver failure due to being prescribed so many pharmaceuticals in an attempt to keep me alive
  • car accident (conversely, being kept alive by an airbag is an unacceptable way of avoiding death because of the essential absurdity of the entire situation. [Credit to Radiohead’s song Airbag for bringing this to my attention: “…an airbag saved my life”.] Are you kidding? Do you also like to go to inflatable bouncy houses? I’m a grown man here. I’ll drive slower, thank you, or just go ahead and die if I have to drive so stinking fast, rather than suffer the indignity of bouncing off of a balloon in the car. Just ride a bike or a horse like a man.)
  • drowning or falling from a high place, because both are too terrifying and give you no time to prepare yourself
  • most of the ways people die today

Acceptable ways of dying:

  • by a gunshot wound during an armed uprising against a corrupt government, like the Parisian anti-royalist students in Les Misérables
  • by being thrown from a horse
  • bleeding to death
  • freezing in a snowstorm while lost in the woods
  • terrorist attack
  • firing squad
  • pneumonia or infection
  • heart attack
  • old age
  • any way that is natural and relatively quick

Closer

(written 6/2017) There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who have seen enough pornography that they can watch Closer without getting squeamish, and those who have not and cannot. I am not joking. There are seriously, literally these two categories. Those from the second category would see Closer as if they were bombarded by porn and they could not appreciate the  film as an article of contemporary film art because they are blinded and offended by the language initially, but later by the blunt frank nudity, pole dancing, stripping, and raging sexual encounters (mercifully off-screen but described vividly).

This is a common quandary I find myself in: unable to recommend a movie to friends because I know that they are not hardened, soul-sickened, destroyed in their sensitivities as I am and therefore if I were to set a certain film before them, they would only undergo the destruction of the virtue of their innocence. They would not be able to view the film in any other mode. Their response would be grief, shock, offense. These responses I guess I went through at some point long ago. They are so far behind me that I am able to watch films like Closer somewhat bored with the sexuality and appreciate the drama and poignancy of the story.

By the way, it is Clossser? or Clozer? Close as in ‘near’ or close as in ‘closing up shop’? Perhaps the ambiguity of the title is part of the point.

Anyway, it was a sternum-blow of a movie, adapted from a stage play, and it explored a 4-way love quadrangle riddled with wild attraction, betrayal, cowardice, and guilty brutal abandonment of objects of a once-passionate love affair/marriage. How can a heart be so cold, we ask ourselves? Who could so brazenly, so guiltily, turn against a lover who was so committed, so dependent on them? Are we just plumbing the depths here? Seeing how heartless people can be? Are we portraying extremes of love and betrayal? Is this some Greek tragedy? Are we supposed to respond with pity and fear, like Oedipus or Antigone? Are the gods also gasping in horror?

Another point. I think the story is severely colored by the fact that the four main players are four of the most beautiful people in the world. Now, how does this change the equation? As a viewer, my heartstrings are pulled even harder than usual. For the love of all constancy, Natalie Portman is stupefyingly beautiful, as is and has been for 20 years, Julia Roberts. And Jude Law? Clive Owen? These are two fine, beautiful men beyond all reason. And these four are first loving one, then another? What is an average-looking, middle class, fly-over guy to think?

So this film, while it purports to show us the destructive power of betrayed love, actually shows us nothing that we can personally deal with, can relate to, because we are constantly distracted and dazzled (at least, I am) by the uncommonly beautiful, angelic faces acting out the drama before us. These people are not like us, we say. They don’t look like me, their capacity for destruction of their beloved is foreign to me, their overweening animal appetites are not like mine, their heartlessness, their sympathies, their incredulity is totally Hollywood and unlike any normal person’s experience. And the trajectory of the plot does not leave us with any hope.

This is one of those artistic endeavors that, however artful, has nothing for us to take home. It is in the category of art for art’s sake, which I more and more have come to reject as a premise for art. Portrayal of extremes for the sake of an extreme experience. For a thrill. Not to show us something real, not to exhort viewers to anything like fidelity, sympathy, self-restraint, or dignity. Not even to say something altogether true about human brokenness.

“One last BANG for old time’s sake,” the character says. Seriously? Yup, and only then will he sign the divorce papers. Who does that? Revenge sex. Combative, strip club banter. Let me pour you a drink honey, before I reveal that I had sex with your rival 30 minutes before you walked in the door. What do we do with this?

Nothing. I’m not particularly incisive about these things, but I’ve seen the film two  times now, and I do not see anything to take away except the emotionally brutal extremes of four stunningly beautiful people falling in love and then having affairs that destroy the beautiful relationship they had, AND the person they appeared to have found that special thing with.

And like the animal that I frequently am, and endeavor to rise above someday, I enjoyed the film for its tantalizing parts, and for the actors whom I have developed that theater-seat sense of connection to. But in my mind, not my heart, the knowledge is there that this story is void of virtue, is a mere relic of 2004 that will be forgotten by time. Because there was nothing enduring, no heroism, no lasting, faithful love outside the context of betrayal, no self-denial, nothing eternal.

Cover Art Bronze Winner

I wrote in November [2015] that the cover art for The Former Hero was a semi-finalist in the AuthorsDB.com Cover Art Contest. I didn’t bother to update the post when I learned I was a finalist. But now that the final results are in, and my book has won a Bronze Award, I will make the announcement.

Once again, I have to give credit to award-winning design artist Scarlett Rugers in Melbourne, Victoria in Australia who worked with me to come design the cover.

If you would like a signed copy of the book, please contact me.

My new short fiction piece is published

Topology Magazine published a short piece of mine today called “Water.”

You can read it here.

It is mostly fictional. But it does accurately describe our family about 6-8 years ago when things were very tight financially.

The theme of this Topology issue is “Thriftiness.” I recommend subscribing to anyone interested.

Movie update

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.

Two new items

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].

I gave the mayor of Austin a copy

Austin Proc med 2

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.

You’re going to find this weird, but I watched ‘Twilight’

Now.

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.

OK, Go.

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.