Author: Jeffrey Allen Mays (page 1 of 6)

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 Lewyn 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 luke warm 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.

My bias may be showing at this point.

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 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
  • 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 is 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 stupifiingly 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.

Dead Poets Society

Because if you’re ever distraught for some reason, and you happen to be by a pond in a heavy snow storm, you will know how to act. You will leave your friends behind. You will stumble forward in those loose-fitting robes, barking out incoherent falsetto yelps. Because that’s what one does. In that moment. Right?

Or. You will find your own authentic expression. You will reject what Hollywood has tried to teach you. No, you will say. Dead Poets Society, The Movie, will not dictate my life. I will not be a sad sick stupid romantic mime, parroting the silver screen. It may have been a great movie, but it is not me. It is just a movie. When my roommate kills himself I will do what my flesh and bone says I should do. It wont be a shimmering movie scene.

I will get in a shitty car. I will drive to a liquor store and buy a bottle of whiskey and a pack of smokes. And even though I gave up smoking, I will drive to a desolate lot where grackles hop around and the foliage and sandstone bristle with the morbid moment. And I will smoke eight cigarettes in a row and drink whiskey straight from the bottle, because if for no other reason, whiskey and cigarettes exist for those moments. I will breathe fire and huff out smoke like a dragon. I will drink of the divine gift commended in holy scripture for blunting the edge of life’s dark eventualities. And I will toast the memory of the dearly departed, singing his virtues, lamenting his absence, and I will grieve like a man.

And I will strive against all odds to be authentic in that moment, I say against all odds because movies have made us all melodramatic yahoos. Even if I never live to endure a best friend’s suicide, some bad thing will happen. And I will reject every whisper from media that dares to tell me how to act in the moment. And I will do and be what I should and always would have been and done in that moment, before the directors unwittingly deigned to tell me how to be and act in that moment.

A thrice-told tale

GN-maleficMy most popular short story Malefic has now been published by three different publishers. Did you miss it the other times? You can read it at God and Nature in their spring issue.  Enjoy!

Cover Art Bronze Winner

bronze2015I wrote in November 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.

Please bear in mind that it is mostly fictional with few details that actually happened. However, it does accurately describe our family about 6-8 years ago when things were very tight financially.

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

Cover Art Finalist

semi-finalistI am amazed to have another recognition for my debut novel. However, this time the credit goes to someone else.

I’m very honored to have the cover of The Former Hero be a semi-finalist in the AuthorsDB.com 2015 Cover Art Contest. Credit goes to my super cover artist Scarlett Rugers for the surreal, melancholy appeal of the cover.  The sun, moon, and stars emphasize a subtle motif in the book. You will notice several references to the swirling heavenly bodies, representative of the eyes of heaven, looking down upon the turmoil on earth yet placid and regular, distant and seemingly blind to the roiling activities of humanity here below.

But the man walking on a small planet against surging yellow clouds is a haunting image and suggests the personal dilemma involved in being formerly a hero.

Scarlett lives in Melbourne, in the state of Victoria, Australia (at least she did). We had a skype consultation before starting the project, and she read some portion of the book to have personal hand-on knowledge of the mood of the book. The particular package I purchased included several other graphical goodies including a bookmark, a 12×18″ poster, and a Facebook banner. She does free updates to existing cover art as needed; she updated the back cover text after I received a battery of glowing blurbs and reviews. If you’re looking for a true professional, I can definitely recommend her.

 

An excerpt

Here is a fun excerpt from my novel, The Former Hero, published about a year ago. Omni-man has lost his super powers and, as he seeks their return, he reminisces about his initial summons to greatness. The book is available on my website.

FH-perspectiveIchabod! Oh, for the love man! I was there when the sky fell and mankind plunged into collective drunkenness. I saw it and I know specific details, names and facts. And I went to sleep, and you could say I dreamed it all—the children, the elderly, the fire and disease, all—but I say it was only the appearance of sleep, and a dream like an alternative consciousness. In those hours, some seventy-seven hours while I was unresponsive, while I was in an altered state of dream-sleep, I experienced a kind of chemical reorganization, what scientists call punctuated equilibrium, not a joyful rebirth or springing new from some cocoon, but a collapse, in long tortuous agony, an implosion, a recomposition of sorts, as enzyme juices expressed, a violent cleansing, burning like Drain-o through my veins, like all the salt from seven billion sets of tearful eyes, their voices in my blood and the bitterness like bile on my tongue, I could hear all their shrieks with every heartbeat and it was these howling voices and no less the unearthly muteness crying through the eyes of the voiceless that did its work in me, and all of the images that I can never remove from my mind that fertilized the soured and contaminated blood that continued to course through the lobes of my brain for those many hours.

It was that day that I received my holy endowment. I was actually undergoing a change—a transformation that somehow harnessed the power of the mind to change the body. Call it psychosomatic. I call it miraculous, nay more, I call it the need of the hour. My mind was churning, reorganizing itself, inventing new structures and schemata, new ideas both physical and spiritual, harmonic, philosophic, astronomic. My heart pumped out new chemicals, endorphins, peptides, neurotransmitters and steroids, epinephrines and serotonins made of new protein compounds, created by free radicals firing wildly and making ever-growing surges of complex electrical connections in the primordial miasma of my brain which now worked rapidly, freely, originally, akin to the activity during REM sleep, but breaking down the helpless old ideas of fearfulness and apathy, harnessing greater and greater percentages of dormant mental matter, the ninety percent that goes unused in most of us—not making me smarter. No. I am no genius. But giving me those powers of vision and strength which I have used for justice, for truth, in aid of law enforcement and defense, for healing, and indeed, to change my physical form into something of the ideal.

After I arose from slumber—what can be said? Only that I knew who I was, as you already know, but at that time it was dawning slowly upon my consciousness the semi-divine vocation that was now mine, the only explanation to the change that had taken place, that is as I said before, the need of the hour, to use the new clarity of vision, the very eyes and mouth of the prophet, and the might of my hands and feet and mouth and mind to do good in the world, to be what everyone really wants and needs and cries out for, oh how many times had I heard the word—a hero (it is unbefitting that I should use this word to designate of myself, but it is true nonetheless)—I would do what had never been done before, I would bring what they cried out for: justice, order, revival. At my advent, the nations rejoiced. Had I not been refashioned by some directed benevolent force in this freakish cauldron of flesh? For some purpose? Would not this bring a turning of the times? A body was prepared for me, and I must follow the path set before me.

(Admittedly, as these words pass through my mind, even now, as I lay on a hospital bed, tormented by the incompetent Doctor Sheitly and his horde of sirens, my flesh has failed, though not my heart! It is nothing to worry about. Yes, today, for a brief intermission, by the decree of heaven in suspending my potent grace, I walk as any other man, fasting, as it were, from my labors, reminded for a season of my earlier estate of mortality before I received the blessing of heaven. By tomorrow I expect to be fully restored and with a bonus. But back to my tale.)

Too well I remember wakening that morning some years ago—every smell and sound—as I awoke to the reality that greeted me, the pain in my head subsided, my senses returned to their balances. It was a new dawn, and the sweet sunshine flooded my bedchamber. No hunger did I feel, nor need of any kind. Fruit in a basket was lain at my bedside, placed there by some well-wisher I suppose, and I ate and let the juice run down my chin, sucking in life and energy from all around, and containing my astonishment as I beheld my new form in the mirror. Suffused with life, I reclined on the bed pensive and wistful for a moment as a quintet of robins conversed outside my window and a cheerful breeze blew a bouquet of spring apricot and almondine into the room, and rosy-fingered dawn filled the space in subtle drifting sequins of light. It seems that I recalled my mother’s tears of joy and my father’s clenching jaw as he shook my hand without words, sending me as it were, and in the moments that followed I paced and breathed and thought upon those mournful faces of grief, and the approaching night that was my foe, and I, now manifest as Omni-man, went out to meet them.

The heightened bliss of that day stays clear in my memory if events that followed have blurred with time. Indeed I thought I heard the peal of silver trumpets in my soul, a funereal clarion, simultaneously summoning me and burying me, so rich and clear were their tones, nature’s whole frame watching in anticipation of my rise, that at last her chains might be broken!

The euphoria lingered, the ecstasy of superhuman animation that poured over my head like a warm milk-bath upon waking from that dark night, and, Ah! by the weeping tears of Qoheleth!—you will forgive me if I get carried away in my descriptions!

Ah! How rapture took me that blessed morn!

And clarity, vision I say, such that I wrestled to maintain circumspection, judgment and self-possession. For I tell you as one who has ascended the cave and seen the sun for the first time that the blend of blinding intuition and physical empowerment bred a seed of giddiness, a lightness of spirit unbecoming such a calling, and was then handily quelled in the rising heat of day that now turned the dewy morning gradually to the arid dust of battle. Then how I moved like lightning. I traveled the streets of affronted freedom and beheld their alabaster cities in ruin.

Movie update

Here’s a few movies I have seen lately and a brief word about each.

MaddingCrowdFar 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-roadMad 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.

AvengersAvengers: 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.

AdelineAge 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_filmThe 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.

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