A Nice Review For The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II

I want to take a moment and thank Joy Tashlik for offering some kind words about my short story collection entitled The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II.

She wrote, “This collection of short stories reads like a series of Twilight Zone episodes, in the most excellent way. The narratives start off plausibly enough, in an old man’s house, a husband bringing his wife to visit his hometown, a burned out intellectual returning home in shame, a bed and breakfast, even the streets of a college campus, but they take the most delicious twisted turns. The book is appropriately titled. The stories within are wonderfully written and spring to life as you read. Each story is self-contained and fairly short in length. Most even lend themselves to great read-alouds. I would recommend this book for anyone who loves a good tale as well as the English teacher looking to inspire their students. Scott William Foley also has some other amazing books. I would recommend his works highly.”

Even though this particular book has been out for nearly ten years, it’s exciting to know it’s still entertaining readers.

Visit Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com if you’d like a copy.

The Revenant by Michael Punke – A Book Review

No doubt you’ve heard quite a bit about the movie entitled The Revenant.  Knowing it was based upon a book, I decided I’d try to read it before seeing the film.  I am very glad I did.

The Revenant is a story of revenge, pure and simple.  It’s also mostly based upon a true story.  Punke is forthcoming that some characters were created for the purpose of narrative, but the tale is largely constructed upon testimony and research.  It’s about Hugh Glass, a man left behind by his fur trading party in 1822 as they traversed the wild frontier.  He’d been attacked by a bear in the wilderness, and no one thought he’d survive, especially the two men tasked with burying him after he finally died.  They didn’t wait for him to die before they left, though, and they took something from him, something he wanted back and would kill them for stealing.

This book is a fast, exciting, action-packed read that flows incredibly well especially considering how much information it seamlessly infuses.  Punke is careful to provide ample backstory for each major character, and he does so both creatively and in a manner that only enhances the overall story.

The book is so much more satisfying than the movie.  Hugh Glass is no hero, certainly not as the movie depicted, and his quest for revenge had little to do with any sense of love, honor, or family.  The film significantly departed from the book in nearly all cases, and I don’t understand why.  Had it stuck word for word to the book, it would have been far less cliched and far more complex.  After all, few of us are heroes, and many of us become obsessed for rather selfish reasons.  Glass is no exception.  His flawed character coupled with his indomitable will to survive makes for a fascinating read.

 

The Revenant – A Movie Review

They say the book is always better than the movie, and in the case of The Revenant, that is certainly true.  Don’t misunderstand, the film is breathtaking.  The visuals are absolutely amazing, and Tom Hardy is phenomenal.

Honestly, if I hadn’t read the book literally in the days before viewing the movie, I very well could have felt the frontier movie a masterpiece.   But, as it stands, the film dove into fairly familiar waters while abandoning its source material.

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I say Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, an actual historical figure who survived a bear mauling only to be left behind by his partners when it seemed obvious he would not survive.  But lived he did, and he sought two men in particular to punish for committing an abomination against him.  One of those men is Fitzgerald played by Tom Hardy, and in both the book and the movie you are unlikely to find a more unsettling fellow.

The movie depicts Glass as a heroic man, a decent man, a man with a just cause.  The film follows a fairly linear course, is paced well, and, again, provides beautiful landscapes for the audience to behold.

But, truthfully, I can’t say I felt satisfied by the movie.

To find out why, I’m going to have to discuss important aspects of both the movie and the book, so there will be spoilers if you continue …

In the movie, Fitzgerald kills Glass’ son when the young man protests leaving Glass behind.  Glass already lost the boy’s mother as well as her entire tribe that took him in.  His son, Hawk, was literally the last good thing he had, and Fitzgerald slid a knife between his ribs.  That is Glass’ motivation to survive and hunt Fitzgerald down.  While doing so, he saved an Indian woman taken prisoner and regularly raped by her French captors.  Her father, an important chief, later  repaid Glass’ brave act.

Here’s the problem – none of that happened in the book.  The book makes no mention of Glass having a son  or saving any woman held captive by the French.  The real reason he hunted Fitzgerald down is because the man stole Glass’ rifle, his favorite thing in the world, before leaving Glass to rot.

Yes, Glass fought to survive a brutal bear attack to hunt down the man who stole his gun.

As you can imagine, Hollywood probably didn’t think that motivation would sit well with a mainstream audience.  It’s obvious they added the son and Glass’ good deeds to make him a true protagonist and someone the audience could feel good about, but in doing so they turned their back on the core of the book and, truthfully, the real Hugh Glass.  They made  Glass a typical Hollywood hero, something Glass was not.

The book is a fantastic read.  It delves deeply into Glass’ past, and Fitzgerald’s, as well as several other significant men.  Each of them had rich, complex backstories which the movie completely ignored.  The book also made a point to show the passage of time by marking each chapter with a date.  All in all, it took Glass over seven months to heal and locate Fitzgerald.  The movie makes it seem as though it happens in a matter of days.  Oh, and let’s not even get into the endings.

I don’t know what I would have thought of the movie had I not read the book first.  However, having read the book, the film strikes me as a cliched, mutinous adaptation coupled with beautiful cinematography and scenery.

 

 

Mr. Holmes – A Movie Review

Sherlock Holmes and Ian McKellen is surely a match made in Heaven.

McKellen’s charm is on full display as he plays one of literature’s greatest analytical thinkers.  He perfectly captures Holmes’ wit, his intellect, his brazenness, and even his repressed guilt.

There is a catch in this version, however.  Holmes is 93 and suffering from memory loss.  He wants to set the record straight about his real persona and is therefore striving to write his account of events in opposition to Watson’s, but he simply can’t recall all the facts.  For a man like Holmes, this is torture.

Now living in the countryside and tending bees, Holmes relies on his housekeeper and her young precocious son to run the property.  Three plots ensue – Holmes desperately trying to recount his last case, one that drove him into seclusion.  Another is a mysterious plant he needs to restore his powers of recollection and the man providing it.  Still another involves the young boy living on his property, and the unlikely bond they develop.

This film is very much a character driven piece.  The main character is 93, so it never moves very quickly, but don’t let that fool you.  McKellen brilliantly depicts a man accustomed to outsmarting every challenge imaginable, and the horror behind his eyes is potent as he realizes this is one feat he can’t overcome.

The climax is an engaging one – there are no big action scenes.  But that moment, the moment a man disconnected from a world he very much intellectually dominated finally joins it on an emotional level – McKellen will leave a lasting impression, I assure you.

Though the movie is subdued and quiet, the scenery is beautiful, the acting is superb, the characterization is fascinating, the mystery is legitimate, and the story is ultimately satisfying.

 

Lost Stars by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

I’ve read the majority of the new books and graphic novels promoted as “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and this one is, by far, my favorite.

Lost Stars accomplished something that doesn’t happen very often – I could not wait to read it.  I looked forward to getting in bed at the end of the day and diving into this one.  I love to read, don’t misunderstand, but I do so more out of habit than a daily burning passion.  Believe me, I felt authentic excitement for Lost Stars.

The story follows a man named Thane Kyrell and a woman called Ciena Ree.  Though from very different cultures upon the same planet, they befriend one another as children due to their shared passion for star ships.  In fact, after the Empire annexes their world, they cannot wait to join the Imperial Academy in order to navigate the stars.  They both believe in the law and order the Empire provides to the galaxy and want to be a part of the greatness.

Once old enough, they attend and graduate from the Imperial Academy.  Both are standouts and on the fast track to success within the Imperial Fleet.  Before long, they begin to realize their friendship may not be as simple as they thought, and each also realizes their impression of the Empire may have been incorrect.

What happens, though, when one of them decides to leave and the other wants to enact change from within?  What happens when one is a traitor and the other is an Imperial Officer?  What happens when these bitter enemies want nothing more than to save each other’s life, even when it puts them at odds with their respective affiliations?

I loved this book first and foremost because the pacing is masterful.  It starts off a little slow as we get to know the characters as youngsters, but as they age, their situations become far more complex, and by the end of the book I couldn’t read fast enough as their story reached a crescendo.  The various levels of conflict between Thane and Ciena is absolutely riveting.

Furthermore, it proved unique because it provided a previously unrealized perspective in that we see the destruction of the Death Star, the battle at Hoth, and even the conflict of Endor primarily from the Empire’s point of view.  Before this book, it never dawned on me that Luke Skywalker killed thousands of people on the Death Star when he blew it up.  I never even considered the loss of Imperial life.  Our two characters make us care about those loss upon the space station, those who they considered friends.  They make me think of the average Imperial as a person rather than a faceless, evil monster.

And that’s really the magic of Lost Stars.  It made me think about familiar things in a new light.  It made me consider duty versus loyalty.  It forced me to reflect upon the murky middle ground between good and evil.

At 551 pages, this is not a short read, but it pulls you in so fast and so deep that you won’t even mind the length.  In fact, if you’re like me, you won’t want it to end.  Thane and Ciana are now two of my favorite Star Wars characters forevermore.

… I’ll say it: I hope they adapt this book to film.  I’ll be the first in line.