“He’ll Be Just Fine” – My July Bloomington News and Views Short Story

With my baby girl arriving any day now, I’ve had fatherhood on my mind quite a bit.  Such thoughts led to my latest story in Bloomington News & Views for the Young at Heart, “He’ll Be Just Fine.”  Forced to wait, George Murdock is left with his thoughts … and fears … about his role as a father.

You can find Bloomington News & Views for the Young at Heart, a free periodical, at virtually any Bloomington-Normal medical facility.  You can also find it at the following locations:

Suds Subaru on the corner of Fort Jesse and Towanda
Busey Bank on Fort Jesse
Kroger on the corner of Landmark and Visa
Commerce Bank on the corner of Towanda and College
Tuffy Muffler on Vernon
Kmart behind Kep’s restaurant on 1AA Drive
Eastland Mall at the main door between JC Penny and Macy’s
Kroger on Oakland Avenue
Schnucks
Jewell-Osco on Veterans Parkway
Borders bookstore
Kroger on Main Street
Bloomington Public Library on Olive Street
Drop Off Laundry on Main Street, across from Kroger

If you’d like to share your thoughts on “He’ll Be Just Fine,” feel free to contact me at scottwilliamfoley@gmail.com.

 

Lars and the Real Girl – A Movie Review

I’m proud to admit that the main reason I wanted to see Lars and the Real Girl is because I’m a Ryan Gosling fan.  I loved his work in The Notebook, Stay, and Fracture, so I figured as strange as Lars and the Real Girl sounded, I’d give it a shot.

If you ask anyone, they’ll tell you Lars and the Real Girl is about a guy who falls in love with a sex doll.  On the absolute most superficial surface, yes, that’s what this movie is about.

(SPOILERS)

However, what it’s really about is a repressed young man who absolutely has no idea how to interact with the world.  His mother died giving birth to him, and his older brother left him with their equally antisocial father.  So after the father dies, years later, the older brother and his wife return to share the father’s house with Lars.  Lars, being a genuinely good man, lets them have the whole house and moves into the garage.

Lars forever wears a baby blanket his mother made him around his neck as a scarf.  When he discovers his sister-in-law is pregnant, his awkward behavior intensifies.  You realize that he is suffering from a crippling fear that she will die giving birth as well, but he has no idea how to verbalize or even address these fears.

Enter Bianca.  Bianca is a sex doll Lars orders online.  The minute she arrives, Lars begins acting more normal and even happy.  When he brings Bianca over for dinner, his brother, Gus, and sister-in-law, Karin, are at a loss, but they don’t attack him over it.  Instead they watch as Lars interacts with Bianca as though she’s truly speaking to him, and he then asks if she can stay in the house because she’s very religious and doesn’t want to give the wrong image.  This is very important because it allows the audience to realize that sex with the doll is the last thing on Lars’ mind.  He needed a companion and something to help him get through his anxieties, and Bianca was the answer.

Karin suggests they take Bianca, who, according to Lars, was just in from Brazil, to the doctor to make sure she hasn’t suffered any illness as a result of her travels.  This, of course, is really a subtle way of getting Lars to the doctor.  The doctor pretends Bianca is real, and she later explains to Karin and Gus that Lars is experiencing a delusion, but he’s not schizophrenic.  Her suggestion is to treat Bianca like a real person and see what happens.

Before long, the entire town gets in on the act.  Bianca becomes a thriving member of their community, even getting elected to the school board.  It’s not that the town believes she’s real; it’s that they all love Lars so much that they’re willing to do anything to help him through this possibly life-long phase.

Before long, Lars undergoes several growing experiences that I believe ultimately leads to his relinquishing Bianca, though in a slow, heartbreaking, and natural process … relatively speaking.

(END SPOILERS)

I adore this movie.  My wife and I both were all-but crying at its conclusion because Gosling completely immerses himself in Lars’ quirks and Lars’ emotions.  Plus, the message is so absolutely touching.  I felt ashamed because throughout the movie I kept expecting some jerk to get on Lars’ case, but it never happened.  Lars and Bianca were accepted at Church, at office parties, at the bowling alley, at the hospital-everywhere.  And I felt shame because I forgot that when dealing with people face to face, when dealing with people you know, they will usually do right by you.  People are good.  People do care.  And it took this movie to help me realize I shouldn’t always assume the worst, most people in this world really are kind and generous.

Seriously, I implore you to watch this movie if you haven’t done so.  It’s labeled a comedy, but you’ll be amazed at the emotional depth of it.  It is so much more than just a movie about a guy who falls in love with a sex doll.

Wait … Fifty Books For Three Weeks At No Cost? That’s Crazy Awesome!

So now that we have a baby girl arriving in a few days, Kristen and I are looking for new and innovative ways to save money.

One of the best ways for me to personally save us a few dollars is to cut down on my book buying.  Apparently there’s this facility in most towns known as a “library.”  Now, you’ll have to ask a librarian for sure, but my understanding is they’ll let you take books home for free if you have proof of residency.

I decided to put this “library” to the test.

Today Kristen and I went to the Bloomington Public Library.  We got our Normal Public Library cards yesterday, and we were told the BPL would honor our NPL card, and indeed they did.

You’ll need to know that I did my research on the contents of each library.  I’ve got a few authors that I read regularly, but they’re not what really cost a lot of money.  Depending on the size of the book, it usually takes me at least two weeks to get through a novel, sometimes longer.  Couple that with the fact I bought most of my novels used through Amazon.com, well, we were talking about six bones a book, tops.

No, what really cost the dough were my graphic novel inclinations.  (For those of you who are losing out, graphic novels are typically collected editions of ongoing comic book series or collections of limited series.  Sometimes they’re one-shot releases.)  Most graphic novels cost at least eight dollars used at Amazon, and when you couple that with shipping, well, you’re not really saving money by that point, are you?  Plus, it’s hard to take a chance on anything new when you’re paying that amount.

So before we went to our local Bloomington-Normal libraries, I perused their catalogues to see if they have my favorite literary authors, but also to see if they have any graphic novels I’d like to check out.  (Pun totally intended.  Lame, I know, but I can’t help myself.  It’s a sickness.)

Long story short, they had oodles of both.  I have to admit, though, BPL beat out the Normal Library in terms of graphic novel selection.  I saw several titles at the BPL I wanted to try out.

So today, we were registering with the BPL at their front desk and filling out simple paperwork. 

As they were about to set us free, I asked, “How long can we keep a book?” 

They replied, “Normally, you can keep a book for three weeks.” 

“Awesome!  And how many books can we check out at a time?”

I couldn’t believe my ears when they said, “We can’t let you take more than fifty at a time.”

Swuh-heet!

I saw several novels I’ll check out over the coming months once I finish my Chabon book I just bought (favorite author, had to pay for my own copy), but I did walk out with several graphic novels such as Gaiman’s The Eternals, Ellis’ Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., Azzarellos’ 100 Bullets Volume I, and Sandman Mystery Theatre: Sleep of Reason.  These are titles I always wanted to try but was never willing to buy.

In summation: Libraries rock!  Go visit yours!*

*Unless, of course, you’re interested in one of my books.  You’ll then want to BUY those, preferably directly from me using PayPal at http://www.myspace.com/scottwilliamfoley 🙂

The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy – A Book Review

Volume II of The Border Trilogy, The Crossing is McCarthy’s follow-up to All the Pretty Horses.  The United States-Mexican border is the only recurring character from the previous volume, but the settings and themes are quite similar.

However, The Crossing is unlike its predecessor in the fact that while All the Pretty Horses followed a fairly linear story, The Crossing resembles exact life in that one never knows what the next day will bring and sometimes today’s conflict has no resolution tomorrow.  Nonetheless, we grow and learn from one day to the next, whether we intend to or not.

The Crossing begins with Billy Parham, a teenager, inexplicably deciding to return a captured pregnant wolf to Mexico and neglecting to inform his parents of the trip.  The plight continues for such a lengthy time that I found myself wondering if the entire book would be about the return of the wolf.

It isn’t.

In true McCarthy style, the wolf’s tale comes to an abrupt conclusion.  However, Billy’s story continues on.

He returns home, only to have a horrifying discovery.  He now must return to Mexico with his younger brother on a new odyssey.  They have a mission, but that mission soon gets derailed and practically forgotten.

After a great deal of conflict, Billy finds himself alone once more and returns to America.  He wanders for several years and then resolves to return to Mexico a third time and find his brother.  What he does when he finally locates his brother will both stun and touch you.

McCarthy writes The Crossing in elaborate detail that sometimes can lull your interaction with the book.  However, just as things become almost dull, he jars you back to full alert.  Because of this, I like to compare this book to real life because follow-through is so rare in our day-to-day affairs.  We never know what to expect and predictions are so infrequently accurate we wonder why we bother in the first place.  McCarthy understands such nuances of true life but manages to synthesize such reality with enough drama and conflict to keep the reader invested.  We follow Billy on an epic journey that plays out over years and we watch him grow from a boy to a man, experiencing hardship that would annihilate most people.

I wouldn’t say The Crossing is one of my favorite reads, but I learned a great deal from the author about pacing and description.  I also learned more Spanish from this novel than three years in high school and understand the complexities of horses and camping on the open plain far more than I ever could have imagined, thanks to this book.

Goodbye, Old Friend – Pictures

I wanted to post a few pictures to supplement my original post, Goodbye, Old Friend.

This is the day I bought the car back in 2000.  I bought it from  Gentry Motor Company in Macomb, IL.

Me, sitting with my car for the last time.

The interior.  Not too bad after ten years of heavy use.

Goodbye, old friend.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – A Movie Review

The fourth installment of the Indiana Jones mythos was adequate and entertaining, but failed to capture the charisma of earlier films.

I thought something that worked particularly really well was the pairing of Harrison Ford and Shia LaBeouf.  LaBeouf takes a lot of flak from the internet community, and I’m not sure why.  He’s got a charm about him that complimented and even augmented Ford’s.  I was also glad to see Ford pretty loose in this film.  He’s played a few of my all-time favorite characters, but he can at times come off fairly stiff on the big screen, especially in The Last Crusade.  As with Sean Connery, LaBeouf helps to add another dimension to Indiana Jones that gives Ford a little something more to work with and enriches his performance.

Furthermore, I appreciated that while Indiana Jones is much older in this movie, he’s also much wiser and has a sense of confidence and aptitude about him that really resonated.  Though always a professor, it wasn’t until this film that he really came across as a mentor as well, especially to Mutt Williams, LaBeouf’s character.  (Very funny that both characters named themselves after some aspect of a dog.  Remember, Indiana was the name of Jones’ dog when he was a boy.  Mutt … well, that speaks for itself.)

The dialogue in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull also wasn’t quite as rigid as in previous films.  While I loved The Last Crusade because of Connery, some of Ford’s dialogue really grated on my nerves.  This film had a sense of wit and fun about it that really helped the actors with their delivery.

The addition of communists as Ford’s antagonists seemed totally appropriate.  They acknowledged so much of the time period, from atomic bomb testing to the King, it really felt like a logical progression from where Indiana Jones was last film.  I loved that they peppered some of what he’s been up to over the last few decades into the story as well.  That was a very nice touch.

So while the acting and chemistry between LaBeouf and Ford was a positive, and the dialogue was a bit more organic, and the story had some enjoyable nuggets of times past, there were a few negatives.

First and foremost, it really bothered me how they took Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood, a tough, spunky character from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and basically made her into an ogling space cadet.  Nearly every time they had her on screen she had a goofy grin on her face like she’d been hit on the head too many times.  Marion was a character that was almost tougher than Jones, and they didn’t stick to that blueprint in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  It takes more than a flighty grin to win the heart of Indiana Jones.   

Also, I can appreciate that this is a family film trying to lighten things up for a broader audience, but there were moments in this movie that had me rolling my eyes.  I can handle mainstream appeal, but it had some really blatant lunacy that I couldn’t get past.

(SPOILERS AHEAD)

For example, Jones escaping a nuclear explosion by climbing into a lead-lined refrigerator and luckily getting blasted clear was a bit hard to swallow, but I managed.  Later, though, they had LaBeouf swinging from tree vines with a troop of simians in the jungle like he was Tarzan.  That … was impossible to overlook.  Finally, the mystery of the crystal skulls is revealed to be a race of inter-dimensional beings that we had previously believed aliens.  Now, I can handle aliens, no big whoop.  But, when it comes to Indiana Jones, I like him chasing down religious artifacts or some other mystic collectibles.  Seeing him face-to-face with an alien, it just didn’t completely work for me.

(END SPOILERS)

But even with all those issues, the overall movie was fun to watch and greatly entertained.  I felt like I wouldn’t be “wowed” by it and I wasn’t, but I enjoyed the evolution of the Jones character, his world, and the dynamic of his supporting characters. 

On a side note, I really hope they’ll continue on with the Indiana Jones movies, especially considering Jones’ new role.  I think they’ve left the future wide open for some potentially fun movies.

So while I wouldn’t say you MUST go see this movie in the theatre, it is definitely one to rent and if you’re willing to put up with a little silliness, I think you’ll find yourself entertained.

The Incredible Hulk – A Movie Review

If you’ve ever been a fan of the Hulk, hardcore or otherwise, go see The Incredible Hulk.  You’ll be glad you did. 

This version of the Hulk is not the psychoanalytical drama of Ang Lee from a few years ago (which, while a little boring, didn’t particularly bother me).  No, this Hulk is directed by the guy who brought us Transporter 2, so he knows a little something about high-octane action.  And action it had!  They spend the first three minutes brilliantly recapping how Bruce Banner became the Hulk, why General Ross is after him, and how he hurt and abandoned the woman he loves.  From that moment on, it picks up five years later and races to the finish!

However, while this is most certainly an action flick, Edward Norton as Bruce Banner brings a certain amount of credibility to the film that might have been lacking without his involvement.  He delivered a depth to Bruce Banner that was expertly understated, but there nonetheless.  Honestly, when I heard they were making another Hulk movie, I thought, “Too soon.”  But when I heard Norton was in the lead, I said to myself, “This will work.”  I’ve always respected Norton’s artistic integrity and even with a comic book movie he does not rest on his laurels. 

Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, Banner’s love interest and daughter to General Ross, delivered a good performance and I felt as though she and Norton had real chemistry.  I really believed she and Norton’s characters had a history and wanted a future together.

Jettisoning all remnants of Ang Lee’s Hulk, The Incredible Hulk surprised me by its tight plot.  Though straightforward in nature, all portions of the film actually worked to progress the storyline and/or characterization.  I especially appreciated that the character who eventually becomes Hulk’s nemesis, The Abomination, slowly worked up a grudge against the Hulk and went through a slow process over the duration of the film to become a powerhouse himself.  Too often in movies a villain shows up out of nowhere with little explanation or logic.  Such is not the case with The Incredible Hulk.

They made sure to pay homage to all Hulk’s history that came before, too.  You’ll see familiar scenes and hear theme music from the old seventies show, notice the original Hulk actor himself, catch a scene with Stan Lee, and get some classic lines from the comic books.  And, if you’ve seen the commercials, a certain “Iron Man” appears as well, laying the foundation for the future.

Finally, this Hulk actually looked real.  They did such a great job of blending him in with the live action.  There were times I forgot I was watching a CGI creation with all the rippling muscles and realistic movement.  And move this Hulk did!  We finally get to see the berserker Hulk we’ve all waited for!  He’s on the rampage, tearing things apart, and it’s a blast to watch!

In summation, The Incredible Hulk is an all-out, fast-paced action movie that took special care to deliver a tight story with logical progression, rounded characterization, and very good acting.  But even with all these wonderful attributes, they delivered the most important aspect-they gave us a Hulk who relished smashing stuff up.

I’ll say it again, if you consider yourself a fan of the Hulk at all, go see The Incredible Hulk.

Goodbye, Old Friend

Tomorrow I say goodbye to a steadfast friend who has been with me for almost eight years to the day-my car.

I know this will seem silly to some.  Heck, even I’m surprised at how emotional I’ve become at the prospect of losing my 1998 cherry red Ford Mustang. 

There’s nothing particularly special about it in terms of mechanics.  It’s an automatic, stock vehicle.  No frills, no enhancements.  But that car was my first major purchase as an adult.  I bought it soon after I graduated from college and made monthly payments on it for the following five years.  In the early days of my teaching career, I struggled to make ends meet, but I never missed a payment.  And when I sent in that last check and knew the car was mine completely, I can’t tell you the feeling of satisfaction I experienced. 

I bought my Mustang weeks before I moved out to North Carolina for my first teaching job.  I never thought about it much before today, but I liken it to a young man riding out into the unknown on his horse way back in the old West.  Just the two of them against whatever the future threw their direction.

In North Carolina that car was with me as I made new friends, and it was with me when I said goodbye to them and moved back to Illinois.  It went through several joys down South with me and even some heartache as well.  I can remember some lonely drives late at night along the interstate listening to Pete Yorn and the hum of its engine with the glow of its dash. 

After living with the Tar Heels for two years, I started my new job at Bloomington High School, and it was right there by my side ready to take on all comers.  We got off to a rough start, but we managed.  I smile to think back to when a coworker set me up with one of her friends and the Mustang was one of her main selling points.  I later went to pick that girl up on our first date, and the Mustang was right there with me.  A few years later it drove that same girl and me to the Church to get married.

Ironically, a few weeks ago the Mustang and I drove out of Bloomington High School’s parking lot for what could be at least a year’s absence.

I chuckle remembering when we couldn’t fit our soon-to-be-born daughter’s stroller into my wife’s car, the Mustang opened wide and in it went. 

So why am I giving up my stalwart friend?  As you’ve probably deduced, we have a little girl on the way.  And as wonderful as my car has been in the past, I’m not going to pretend it’s a car for a new father.  There’s a good chance I’m going to be a stay at home daddy for the coming year, and the Mustang does my wife’s once-broken tailbone no favors.  Therefore we’ll need a ride more car seat friendly.

Don’t get me wrong-while I’m more upset than I could have imagined about giving up my car, it’s totally worth it.  My daughter is the most important thing to me, and will be for the rest of my life, and when all is said and done, the Mustang is only a car.

When I tell myself that the Mustang has been with me through thick and thin, has never broken down, and even has a piece of me in it, I think of my daughter, who will also be with me through thick and thin, and who literally has my heart and soul in her blood.  When I think of her, the emotion of giving up my car turns to joy at the arrival of my baby girl.

The Mustang has been with me for my entire adult life.  Every major event from my adult life involves that car in some facet or another.  But my little girl will be with me for the rest of my days, and she, Kristen, and I will make countless new, happy memories together.

So, as silly as all this is, think of me tomorrow as I watch my car leave my driveway for the last time, but smile for me at the thought of daddy’s little girl pulling into that very same driveway in just a few short weeks.

… Goodbye, old friend.

Guest of a Wonderful Book Club

This morning I met with the most delightful book club!  Many of them were friends with my wife through Oakland Elementary and had requested copies of my first short story collection, The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume I.

I was a bit nervous about attending the session because many of the stories in that collection were written five years ago and I feel as though my writing style and skill have improved greatly since.  The fact many of them were teachers compounded my anxiety, especially because one of them teaches English at a junior high!

Thankfully, my fears could not have been more misplaced.  They were the nicest group of people with fantastic questions, astute observations, and thoughtful comments.  And best of all-they were hilarious! 

I’m so appreciative they not only read my book, but allowed me to take part in their discussion.  Getting to meet and interact with my audience is always an invaluable experience, and in this particular case a real joy!

Sweeney Todd – A Movie Review

How can you go wrong with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp?  Answer: You can’t. 

First and foremost, you must understand that Sweeney Todd is a musical.  Many people don’t make this realization before they sit down to watch the film.  If you’re among them, don’t feel bad-you’re not alone.  However, bear in mind this is a film adaptation of Steven Sondhiem’s musical and the vast majority of the movie is pure song.

That being said, while I’m not particularly a fan of musicals, I am a fan of Burton and Deep, Burton, and Depp (in that order).  We get the classic gloom and melancholy playfulness we love from Tim Burton, and Depp makes Sweeney Todd his own with emotional glares, terse dialogue, and a stylistically eerie appearance.

And while it was obvious none of the actors were professional singers, I didn’t find Depp’s singing nearly as distracting as I thought I would.  Be aware, though, at times the music itself grates on the nerves.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise Sweeney Todd offered was the scene-stealing acting and singing of Sacha Baron Cohen.  Of Borat fame, the nearly-unrecognizable Cohen dazzles with multiple accents, mesmerizing body movement, and probably the best singing existent within the film.

Burton, as usual, gives us wonderfully morose scenery and costumes.  Never a slave to convention, a musical would have been the last endeavor I would have expected him to undertake, but I’m glad he did.  It goes a long way to solidifying his versatility, and the fact he did it his own way with tremendous risk in casting only reestablishes my faith in his artistry.

Be aware, however, that had anyone else directed Sweeney Todd, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to watch it.  If you’re a fan of Burton/Depp collaboration or musicals, I think you’ll be pleased.  If you don’t particularly enjoy either, I’d make a point to avoid Sweeney Todd.