The Music of Chance by Paul Auster – A Book Review

Paul Auster once again scribes a tale that lingers in the consciousness long after the initial reading.

In The Music of Chance, Auster provides an utterly unpredictable story focusing upon Jim Nashe, a firefighter who inherits an unexpected sum of money and begins driving cross-country for no real reason.  As chance would have it, he happens across a self-proclaimed poker savant just as Nashe is in danger of running out of funds.  The poker aficionado, Jack Pozzi, guarantees Nashe he can multiply Nashe’s capital if only Nashe will back him in a big, upcoming game with a couple of millionaire dunderheads.

I won’t spoil any of the outcomes, but I can tell you that Auster’s story abruptly shifts direction so often and so savagely that it’s like riding in a brakeless car – thrilling and nerve-wracking.   Furthermore, when dealing with chance, there is often no reasonable explanation, and such is the case with The Music of Chance.  Auster’s brilliance with this novel is his sheer disregard for pattern.  Don’t get me wrong, Auster is always mindful of his thematic favorites – isolation, freedom, identity – but The Music of Chance has such unforeseen events that the mind races trying to fill in the unexplained gaps.

Perhaps most hauntingly is the fact that Auster appropriately provides no answers as to why certain events occur in The Music of Chance.  In the hands of a lesser author, this would be maddening, but Auster’s rebellious plot is delivered eloquently, skillfully, and engagingly, and so his unwillingness to elucidate certain incongruities somehow serves as a strength in The Music of Chance rather than a hindrance.  Consequently, if you’re like me, you’ll take joy in dissecting these mysteries long after you’ve finished the book.

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X-Files: I Want To Believe – A Movie Review

I loved this movie!

I enjoyed the X-Files television program.  I wouldn’t say I was a diehard fan or anything, but I liked it quite a bit.  So when I saw the commercials X-Files: I Want To Believe, I made a note to check it out on DVD, but didn’t get worked up enough to go to the theatre for it.

X-Files: I Want To Believe has virtually nothing to do with the previous X-Files movie.  And it also thankfully didn’t demand expert knowledge of the television show, either.  A few terse lines of dialogue pretty much caught everyone up to speed.  Sure, there were a few moments for the devout fans, but by and large, anyone could come into X-Files: I Want To Believe and simply enjoy a good movie.

Speaking of which, I just had a great time watching this film.  Mulder and Scully are such cool characters, and David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have such wonderful chemistry, I just really can’t get enough of these two on screen.

The plot is devoid of aliens or monsters; rather, it’s a murder mystery that takes on a slight science fiction element, but nothing supremely outlandish.  The crux of the story revolves around Billy Connolly playing a former man of the cloth who has visions related to missing women.  Scully, of course, doesn’t believe a word of it, but Mulder, as you would expect, gives Father Joe (Connolly) the benefit of the doubt.

In true X-Files fashion, the movie ends with just as many questions as answers, but hey, that’s what makes it an X-File, right?  Even with that being said, Anderson and Duchonvy offer fine performances and the movie is well made and very exciting.  Some of the acting is a little below par, specifically in regards to Amanda Peet and Xzibit-yes, Xzibit plays an FBI agent in this movie.  Also, they used the phrase “I want to believe” so many times it got to be a distraction.  I got it when it was first said-I caught the connection to the title.  No need to drive it home over and over again.

Instead of trying to create a garish, monstrosity of a movie, Chris Carter and the gang deliver an enigmatic, tense mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat and felt more like a really long episode of the TV show-and that’s a good thing!

Oh, and by the way, the subplot featuring Scully’s patient brought tears to my eyes.  Seriously.  If you’re a parent, keep the tissue nearby.

Breathers by S.G. Browne – A Book Review

With all due respect to Mr. Browne, I simply couldn’t finish this book.  After the first fifty pages, I knew it was a lost cause, but out of professional courtesy, I tried to press on.  I trudged through half of it and simply had to call it quits.

Breathers, a story about zombies trying find their place in a world that is bigoted towards them, touts itself as both humorous and touching.  I found it neither.

Browne delivers what I consider lazy writing that often contradicts itself.  He also goes back to the well so many times with certain phrases and “jokes” that I literally began to groan each time I came across them.  For example, Browne overused the phrase “If you’ve never blah, blah, blah, then you probably wouldn’t understand.”  This was funny the first time, but after I read it at least five more times in less than half the book, it became an unfortunate distraction.

I chose this book because it declared that if I liked Max Brooks and his zombie books, then I’d enjoy Breathers.  Brooks is a careful, articulate, thoughtful writer, and Breathers displays none of these attributes.

I do not recommend Breathers for even the most devout of zombie fans.

Fables: War and Pieces – A Graphic Novel Review

In this presupposed crucial volume of Fables, Bill Willingham and company finally bring about the “final” battle between the Adversary and his Empire … but first, we have to muddle through a clichéd and by-the-book tale featuring the unlikely super-spy, Cinderella, and even her two-issue story was preceded by an issue focusing upon Boy Blue and Rose Red’s festering relationship.

So, as you can plainly see, it takes a while for War and Pieces to actually get to the war part of everything.

I’ve waited a long time for this pinnacle battle, and once the battle ensued, I found myself more than frustrated by its brevity and irreverence.  It also seemed a little too formulaic and lacked the usual panache I’ve come to expect from Fables.

So while I still tout Fables as the best comic series currently running to anyone who will listen, War and Pieces proved unimpassioned, hurried, and a bit too unoriginal when compared to earlier volumes.

“No Words” – My Short Story In March’s News And Views For The Young At Heart

“No Words” is the story of Janis, an elderly woman who is having difficulty with once again being thrust into motherhood. But why is Janis now a full-time caregiver, and why has baby Tommy’s true mother, Agatha, abandoned them?

Find out by reading “No Words” in this month’s issue of News and Views for the Young at Heart.

“No Words” can be found in both the Peoria and Bloomington editions of the free periodical, News and Views for the Young at Heart.

News & Views for the Young at Heart is at virtually any Bloomington-Normal medical facility.  You can also pick it up at the following locations:

-Sud’s Subaru
-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 IAA Drive
-Eastland Mall at the main door between JC Penny and Macy’s
-Kroger on Oakland Avenue
-Schnucks
-Jewel-Osco on Veterans Parkway
-Borders
-Kroger on Main Street
-Bloomington Public Library
-Drop Off Laundry on Main Street, across from Kroger

Or, if you live in the Peoria area, get your copy at:

-CVS Pharmacies
-Borders at the Shoppes at Grand Prairie
-Save-a-Lot grocery store in Peoria Heights
-Hospital lobbies
-Barnato Pharmacy at Cub Foods in Peoria
-Kmart in Morton
-Methodist Atrium Building in Peoria
-Peoria Heights Library

The Peoria edition is also in most doctors’ offices and pharmacies in Pekin, Morton, Chillicothe, Lacon, Farmington, Canton, East Peoria, and Eureka.

I find “No Words” particularly relevant in today’s society, so f you have any comments, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at scottwilliamfoley@gmail.com.

Watchmen – A (Very Long) Movie Review

When Watchmen came out in the mid-Eighties, it revolutionized the comic book industry.  It gave us an angle on “super heroes” that had practically never before been investigated.  It had nuance, complexity, characterization, pacing, and, most of all, it utilized the comic book format and played to the strengths such a genre allows.

After hearing Zach Snyder had been attached to direct the long-in-development film version of Watchmen, I liked it.  300, another comic book adaptation, had style, charisma, and seemed to honor the source material while displaying the director’s indelible talent.  In fact, I lauded Snyder’s first Watchmen trailer here:

https://scottwilliamfoley.com/2008/07/24/first-reaction-to-the-watchmen-trailer/

and I offered him praise when he released the first images of his Watchmen characters here:

https://scottwilliamfoley.com/2008/03/07/a-reaction-to-the-first-look-watchmen-photographs/

However, I cannot avoid the fact that while I felt certain I would love Snyder’s Watchmen, I simply found it too mired in detail, silly, and even a little boring.

Now, before you declare me Satan, allow me to explain.

Snyder’s version of Watchmen is nearly identical to the comic book in terms of story, dialogue, and framing.  We’ve all heard how Watchmen creator Alan Moore detests the idea of his works being adapted to film, and Snyder made it clear from the beginning that he hoped his version of Watchmen would please Moore and remain true to the source material.

Well, it remained true to the source material in terms of nuts and bolts, but Snyder forgot one very important fact – the source material is a comic book.  You see folks, comic books are very different from movies.  First of all, comic books require a lot more effort on the part of the audience for obvious reasons.  Secondly, pacing, illustrations, word balloons, and narrative boxes play a crucial role in the comic book format as well.  They all come together to create an experience.  Also, the Watchmen comic book spanned twelve issues and employed incredibly complex layering.

In other words, what works in the comic books doesn’t work in the movies when closely copied.

Consequently, my biggest disappointment in Watchmen is that Snyder mistakenly tried to remain so precisely true to the source material that he seemingly lost all sense of self in the process.  Everything I loved about 300 disappeared in Watchmen.  Other than the slow-motion fights, I saw nothing indicative of Snyder.  It literally looked as though the Watchmen comic book had, in a way, come to life, but without the passion of Moore’s storytelling.

Initially, I was excited to see Snyder’s take on Watchmen.  I didn’t expect nor want a frame-for-frame interpretation of the comic book.  The comic book is a separate entity that can never be translated to film simply because of the medium for which it originated.  I’d hoped Snyder would take the source material, bend it to his own sensibilities, then inspire his audience to give the book a try if they liked Snyder’s adaptation and thus discover the brilliant writing of Alan Moore.  Instead, Snyder literally endeavored to transform sequential artwork and dialogue to film and lost his own unique talent in the approach.

And because of Snyder’s unrelenting efforts to remain true to the comic book version, I felt his film became too reliant on detail and back-story and thus became – dare I say it – a little boring.  Remember, Moore peeled away later after layer of his intricate story over a span of twelve issues – the equivalent of twelve months.  Snyder took all of that and crammed it into two and a half hours.  Unless you were well versed in the comic book, I honestly have no idea how you could follow the film, much less enjoy it.

Furthermore, I felt the film, at times, just seemed a little silly.  Remember, once again, in the comic book, you’ve got essentially one artist drawing the characters, the backgrounds, the settings, and so on.  So, in effect, everything “fits.”  Everything looks similar to a degree.  In the film version of Watchmen, I’m afraid these characters looked very awkward next to each other.  A movie featuring one of them alone?  No problem.  Putting them all together, especially when set against a very realistic world just looked a little goofy to me.  Other silly aspects included the in-costume sex scenes, Kung-fu Rorschach, and Dr. Manhattan’s muscles-upon-muscles.  I’ll get to Ozymandias in a moment …

Now here comes a slight spoiler: the lack of any “real” villain caused this film to get lost along the way.  Yes, I realize it’s a murder-mystery, but, unlike the comic book, I didn’t feel the “clues” were well placed, nor did I believe the realization of who the “villain” was held enough impact.  Again, what worked very well in the sequential art medium simply didn’t convert to film.  A movie such as this needs to deliver a “villain” much sooner in the story.  I felt the “mystery” of the Comedian’s murder got lost in the mix somehow, yet it was the driving force in the comic book.

And now let’s talk about Ozymandias.  Once he arrived in costume near the end of the film, I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I was willing to give the outfit the benefit of the doubt in the early still photographs, but he just looked ridiculous when captured in movement.  I felt like we were back to the Batman and Robin costumes – those sculpted, rubber muscles.  The grim and gritty violence preceding his big scene were all but negated by the sheer buffoonery of his appearance.  And don’t tell me he was supposed to look asinine.  They could have stuck to the original costume with its flowing fabrics and gold if they were trying to accomplish that – and it would have reinforced his Egyptian and Alexander the Great motif.  You can’t have graphic sex and people’s arms getting cut off on one hand and sculpted rubber muscle suits on the other.  They simply can’t coexist.

That’s not to say that the film didn’t have its moments of victory.  Jeffery Dean Morgan as the Comedian could not have been more perfect.  His undeniable charisma when coupled with the Comedian’s savagery created a character that repulsed me, yet I loved him at the same time.  He looked the part, acted the part, and I believed he was the Comedian.

Jackie Earle Haley also nailed it with Rorschach.  His natural face and size went a long way to convincing me he was the iconic character, and his voice, body language, and general creepiness in the film scored big in my mind.  And thank goodness they got his mask right.  I could have watched a movie starring Rorschach alone and been very happy.  Again, I felt Kung-fu Rorschach pushed it a little, but I can overlook that due to Haley’s magnificent interpretation.

I think we can all agree Dr. Manhattan had to be just right for this film to work.  I’m afraid he wasn’t.  Yes, the unnatural glow, the eyes, the particles surrounding him, his “powers” – those all came off wonderfully and seemingly broke new ground in special effects.  However, his over-the-top muscular frame distracted me, and Billy Crudup’s tiny, tiny voice simply didn’t fit the character.  I understand the importance of Dr. Manhattan lacking inflection and emotion in his words, but Crudup’s voice was so small, so earnest, that it just didn’t sound right coming out of Dr. Manhattan’s mouth.  And let’s not argue that his “Arnold” physique represented his achieving “perfection,” because the juxtaposition of his frail, self-conscious voice served as to much of a clash for that defense to succeed.

Patrick Wilson’s Nite Owl failed to move me one way or the other.  In the comic book, his was the main connection to the human condition – he was the one who represented us all.  In the movie, he simply didn’t matter.  Instead of coming across as modest and reserved, Wilson gave us tepid and inconsequential.  And when his halfhearted character suddenly became a bone-breaking machine it slammed the movie to a halt and felt “wrong” in every way conceivable.

Which brings us to the movie’s other star – Silk Spectre played by Malin Akerman.  I’m not familiar with Ms. Akerman’s previous work (though I’m told I saw her in The Heartbreak Kid), but until these moviemakers start treating women in comic book movies as more than sex objects, I’m afraid actresses like Ms. Akerman won’t have much to work with – not that I’m convinced she could have done better even if given superior direction.  (By the way, I realize the irony of asking moviemakers to treat comic book women as more than sex objects when most of the comic book industry is guilty of the same indiscretion, but I truly thought Moore presented a well-rounded, multifaceted character in Silk Spectre that was not adequately reflected in the film.)

As far as Matthew Goode as Ozymandias, well, he was apparently doomed from the beginning.  Wrong look, wrong costume, wrong “vibe,” wrong everything.

Now let me commit the ultimate act of sacrilege by admitting that I actually liked the film’s version of Ozymandias’ critical act against humanity better than the tentacle monster of the comic book.  Everything about the comic book worked in my mind, except for the monster.  I always found it too clichéd and beneath Moore’s sophisticated imagination.  I felt the film’s climax made more sense and I applaud Snyder for at least putting his stamp on the story in that regard.

So while Watchmen was well-made from a production standpoint, and while its special effects were incredible, and though it surpassed my expectations in regards to the Comedian and Rorschach, it failed to capture the passion of the source material and Snyder committed the one mistake that I said would doom Watchmen – he denied his own cinematic sensibilities and unique talents in favor of attempting to create a literal translation of a work that simply cannot be exactly translated to film.

Oh, Alchemy: Diplomat – A Music Review

I’m proud to claim Oh, Alchemy as a local area band made up of very innovative musicians, and Diplomat – a fast-paced, eclectic, fun album that is enormously engaging – perfectly displays their talents.

Oh, Alchemy’s songs are comprised of charming, quirky lyrics and really convey a strong sense of joy on the part of the lead singer.  The arrangements suit the lyrics wonderfully (or perhaps that’s the other way around), and I really love the choice of instruments Oh, Alchemy utilizes in Diplomat.  With adept engineering and skillful production, the album is an auditory feast offering new sound after new sound with each listen.

Furthermore, Diplomat is at its heart an entertaining album.  With strong, catchy beats and fast, energetic songs, Diplomat is one of those albums that lends itself to any occasion, whether it be a quick trip to the grocery store or a get-together of friends.

So if you’re looking for an upbeat, enjoyable listen with a great sound and unique songs, I recommend Diplomat and am thrilled to support Oh, Alchemy.

Oh, and for the record, my favorite song on Diplomat is “Past and Presents.”