Doctor Aphra: Remastered (Volume 3) – A Book Review

I still maintain that Doctor Aphra is one of the greatest additions to the Star Wars mythology in recent years, but this volume confirms my fear about the character–she cannot solely carry her own title.

This installment tries to spice things up a bit by making Doctor Aphra beholden to Triple-Zero, the murderous entity in the guise of a protocol droid.  Triple-Zero sends Aphra on a series of missions in which she must lead a group of mercenaries.  There are some interesting asides as Aphra develops a relationship with Magna Tolvan, the Imperial Officer.  Hera Syndulla also makes a substantial appearance, which was super cool to see.  But in the end, much of it felt forced to me.

The problem is that Doctor Aphra works best as a foil to, well, everyone else.  I love it when she pops into a scene, plays havoc with everyone and everything, and then leaves.  She has the luxury of being an agent of chaos.  She is naughty, hilarious, greedy, and lovable.  But in a title featuring her, she doesn’t have that advantage.  She has to carry every episode from month to month.  The writers seem obligated to reveal every little detail about her, and this is diluting the character.

In my opinion, Doctor Aphra has lost her “hook.”  She had it when she appeared in Darth Vader.  We knew just enough about her and what she was about and we (obviously) loved her.  Unfortunately, we loved her so much that they kept giving us more in the form of her own book.

I don’t know exactly how they can fix this issue, and I fully confess that this may be my issue alone.  Perhaps everyone else is loving the direction of the book and character.  I think I would like to see the book function as an ongoing gag on how Aphra swindles everyone she meets, but we never get the stories from her perspective.  Each arc would be narrated by her victims.  That would afford her the ability to maintain her mystique and “devil-may-care” persona.  It would take a great deal of creativity to constantly come up with stories where Aphra outsmarts everyone while revealing virtually nothing about herself, but I think that would maximize her potential.

Doctor Aphra does have a great deal of potential, by the way.  Clearly, she has connected with fandom.  I’m concerned that she’s being overexposed, though, and that we’re learning too much about her too quickly.  I adore this character and don’t want her to fade out of everyone’s interest.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

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Mission Impossible: Fallout – A Movie Review

I’m not a huge Mission Impossible fan, but I thought it would be fun to take this little movie in on its Thursday night release.

The good news is that it’s an action-packed, fast-paced movie with jaw-dropping chase scenes, very cool hand-to-hand combat, and beautiful locations.  You’re going to take thrill rides in cars, on motorcycles, out of airplanes, and in helicopters.

Tom Cruise is charming as always, Simon Pegg is funny, Rebecca Ferguson is a force, and Ving Rhames is cool (and also surprisingly emotional).

The movie moves very quickly, especially considering its two and a half hour run time.  (It honestly didn’t feel that long!)  There were several moments that I caught myself gasping out loud because some of the action scenes were flat-out incredible.

The bad news is that, even though you haven’t seen it all before … you’ve seen it all before.  We’ve got a nuclear bomb threat, Ethan Hunt and his team have to disarm it at the last possible moment.  We’ve got a traitor in the midst.  We’ve got Ethan’s loyalty to the USA coming into question.  We’ve even got a recurring villain in this one.  Did these retreads make me like the movie any less?  No, but it didn’t make me like the movie more, either.

I’m honestly at these movies for the stunts, chases, and fight scenes.  I don’t come in expecting much from the story.

By the way, I’m no Tom Cruise acolyte, but I have to give this man credit.  I believe he was 54 when he made this movie, and he’s currently 56.  This man is physically incredible!  His acting skills peaked long ago, but to be able to still perform his own stunts–even to sprint down the street at his age–it’s amazing.  I have no doubt he’s in better shape at 56 than most of us have ever achieved in our lives.

So, if you like the Mission Impossible films, you’ll like this one, too.  It’s a fun action movie that will thrill.  Oh, and not to worry, you’ll still get your people pretending to be other people in masks moments. Image result for mission impossible fallout movie poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

GLOW: Season 2 — Even Better Than the First

GLOW: Season 2 outshines the first for the very simple reason that much of the groundwork for this ensemble cast has already been laid.  Season 1 entertained and impressed in many unexpected ways, but it still had the task of introducing us to the characters and getting them onto the mat.  Season 2 benefits in that it can build on what came before and really explore these interesting people.

Make no mistake–these are wonderful characters.  Yes, it’s a program about an all-female wrestling show set in the early 80s and much of the comedy centers around that scenario, but these are very real people being portrayed.  All of them are lovable in their own way, and all of them are awful in their own way.  They each have their victories, but they all suffer their indignities as well.  The magic is that the actors have managed to make us care about each and every one of them.

What I like best about this second season is the writing.  Many of the supporting characters get fleshed out this time around.  It’s intriguing to learn about who they are, what makes them tick, and why in the world they got involved with this crazy show!  We become much better acquainted particularly with Kia Stevens’ character named Tamme Dawson.  It would not be easy to be a black woman playing a character named Welfare Queen, and both Stevens and the writers do a magnificent job of exploring that conflict.

Even better than the characterization, though, is the tight–so tight!–plot.  Little moments in the early episodes are hugely important later.  Yet it all feels natural and organic.  The plot isn’t forced, but it all ties together so nicely.  I could be wrong, but I got the feeling that the writers had this entire season perfectly laid out before they even started shooting the first episode.

Furthermore, the main characters became even more complex.  Debbie Eagon (played by Betty Gilpin) evolves as a businesswoman taking control of her own professional life, yet her personal life is falling apart as she struggles with divorce.  She also teeters precariously close to becoming the show’s villain which is an interesting development considering that she’s the star all-American wrestler on the roster.  It would be so easy to make her the obvious heel, but they don’t.  They instead present her as a woman who makes a few bad decisions but ultimately tries to make good even as she keeps her own self-interests at the forefront of her mind.  See what I mean?  Wonderfully complicated.

Allison Brie’s character, Ruth Wilder, is just as enthusiastic and positive as ever, yet she can get very close to annoying.  She never quite crosses that line, but there are moments when you can understand Debbie’s frustrations with her.  Debbie and Ruth are so charismatic because they are utterly realistic.  Like all of us, they have moments where they are at their best, but also moments where they are at their worst.  Ruth is also far from perfect, but she’s learned from her mistakes during the first season.  Amid the first season, her adultery always cast a shadow over her.  That shadow disperses this second season and they seem to have opted to give her some time in the light to make up for the first season.

Marc Maron’s character, Sam Sylvia, started out the season as an absolute jerk who couldn’t care less about his wrestlers, but by the season’s end–well, he’s still a jerk–but he becomes someone we can’t help but love.  There are moments when he finally reaches self-awareness and owns his shortcomings.  Sometimes he just flat-out admits why he’s being so crass.  Those instances really touched me.  I wish I could just say why I’m being so difficult like he finally does.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but watching his evolution as a father, a director, a friend, and a person really brought me joy.  He’s still a cranky old man, don’t worry, but now he’s the kind you want to hang out with anyway.

I’d finally like to touch on Bash Howard, played by Chris Lowell.  Bash originally seemed to be the dim-witted millionaire producer–an ardent wrestling fan with the means to make the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling a reality.  In this second season, Bash is still a little naive, yet his simple innocence really pays off regarding his friend and butler, Florian.  Florian is missing the entire season with Bash doing his best to locate him.  Florian’s whereabouts are finally revealed, and Bash is absolutely stunned.  It seems he didn’t really know his friend at all, and it’s heavily hinted that Bash may not fully even know himself.  Lowell plays Bash with such unassuming charm that it’s hard not to love the guy.  He could have come off as a rich, pampered moron, but instead he’s written and performed as someone just trying to make dreams come true.  Again, isn’t that all of us?

I’d also like to commend the cast on introducing some serious wrestling moves in Season 2.  I can’t say for sure, but it looks to me like Brie and Gilpin are doing a lot of their own wrestling, and these are more than simple headlocks.  For actors, especially Gilpin, to execute some technically difficult wrestling maneuvers really speaks to their dedication to the characters.  I appreciate the symmetry of it because, ironically, their characters are just mastering the moves as well since they are new to wrestling.  It’s an interesting learning curve to behold both on the show and in reality.

Finally, GLOW captures the 80s perfectly.  The hair, the fashion, the cars, the food, the music–everything!  My wife and I feel like we’ve stepped into a time machine when we watch it.  There is one episode during Season 2 in which it is made to look like an actual episode of the show on your TV during the 80s.  It’s got the square screen, the locally made commercials–it’s perfect.  It looks exactly like I remember TV from the early 80s.  They really outdid themselves.

If you’re looking for a show with short episodes, magnetic characters, great writing, and funny comedy mixed in with an actual story about real people, GLOW is for you.  There really isn’t anything else like it on TV.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Saints by Gene Luen Yang – A Book Review

I recently wrote a review of Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers, and this book, Saints, is a companion piece.  In fact, it’s more than just a companion piece — it’s a conclusion.

In Boxers, there’s a moment where the main character, Bao, sees a young girl close to his own age.  He believes she looks like the devil.  Later on in the book, when they are both much older, Bao (seemingly) kills this girl in the city of Peking because she will not renounce her Christianity.

Saints is the story of that girl, from the time she is eight up until the age of fifteen.  She is simply called Four-Girl in the beginning by her family.  She is unwanted, unappreciated, and largely neglected.  It isn’t until she meets converts to Christianity that she begins to feel a sense of security.  Eventually, Four-Girl converts as well and chooses the name Vibiana.  However, throughout much of the book, and despite being visited frequently by Joan of Arc herself, Vibiana is not exactly the most devout of Christians.  She likes the food.  She likes the roof over her head.  She likes being recognized as a human being and not a waste of space.  It’s clear Jesus is not at the forefront of her mind.

When she hears of the Boxers headed to kill Christians, she is inspired to follow Joan of Arc’s lead and fight in the name of God.  But really … she just wants to fight.  After the life she’s endured, can you blame her?

She is eventually captured by Bao from Boxers, and at that moment you get to find out exactly what took place between them in that scene from the first book.

While Boxers is quite a bit longer, the ending of Saints struck me as far more poignant.  Admittedly, this could be because I consider myself a Christian as well.  Vibiana (Four-Girl) undergoes a tremendous change, one that I won’t spoil for you, but one that absolutely resonated.

As Boxers depicted Bao losing more and more of himself in his plight to save China, Saints offers a bittersweet story about Vibiana finding peace.  That tranquility, however does not arrive as one would expect.  Just the  opposite.

A noted Christian himself, I appreciated that Gene Luen Yang did not get too heavy-handed with Saints.  In fact, like with Boxers, he made a point to show the good and bad in everyone.  The Boxers consider themselves freedom fighters striving to preserve their culture, yet the Christian converts consider them monsters.  The Christians in the book believe themselves to be righteous, yet many of them are self-serving and overtly sinful.  However, in the end, Yang reminds us what it is to be truly selfless.  Some would say that’s being Christ-like.  Others would say it’s simply being compassionate.

Though the artwork is simply rendered, this is a powerful story about history, people, motive, and belief.

The epilogue of the book, by the way, shook me to my core.  Perfect.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Boxers by Gene Luen Yang – A Book Review

After teaching American Born Chinese for several years, I finally decided my (then) nine-year-old could handle it last fall.  She loved it, so when Gene Luen Yang came to our local library, we had to pay him a visit.  Unbelievably, we got there before anyone else and snagged a front row seat.  Mr. Yang was already there and held a wonderful conversation with my daughter.  He is truly an incredibly nice man and obviously a father of young children.

Because he made such a great impression on her, my daughter wanted to read everything by Gene Luen Yang.  She enjoyed Secret Coders, so I next grabbed her both Boxers and Saints as well.  Admittedly, I didn’t know much about either book.

She read them and made a few comments about them being a little bloody, then asked me to read them, too.  How could I say no?  I’m a fan of the author as well.

My daughter was right–these are bloody, violent books!  However, they are also very, very good.

Boxers takes place between 1894 and 1900.  Historically speaking, it deals with the Chinese uprising against Western invaders as well as Christian missionaries.  This all actually happened.

Yang focuses on Bao, a young man whose family, friends, and village has suffered at the hands of foreign influences and even Christians.  They are marginalized, bullied, and even killed for not conforming to outside forces.  Bao loves Chinese opera, specifically the many gods and goddesses featured therein.  As you know from American Born Chinese, Yang is particularly talented at infusing Chinese mythology into his stories.  Of course, in the case of Bao, these are not myths.  These gods and goddesses are reality, and he is soon able to harness their power.  He teaches others to harness their power as well, and this is the foundation of their strength against the bigger, better armed invaders that they confront.

The book culminates in the city of Peking.  There Bao must make his most difficult of decisions and face his ultimate challenge.

Boxers is a violent, complex book.  While I don’t regret letting my (then) nine-year-old read it, I should have done a little research and provided a bit more guidance as she devoured it.  It presents the very ugly, brutal side of colonialism and even Christian evangelism.  However, it also brilliantly depicts Bao compromising his “gut” feelings of right and wrong versus what he thinks is best for his nation.  Bao kills innocent Christian women and children in this book, but from his perspective, they are not innocent.  They are foreign devils trying to destroy his culture and people.

Yang himself is a Christian, so please don’t get on his case about this.  He’s depicting a character rooted in historical events and using him to explore obvious complexities that actually occurred.  The Chinese who did not conform were beaten and killed mercilessly.  The Boxers did the same to their adversaries.

Rest assured, Yang does not deal with any of this lightly.  He clearly put a lot of thought into how he wanted to execute this story.  I found it thoughtful, tasteful, and fair in relation to historical precedent.

I will admit, though, because of Yang’s drawing style, the violence jarred me.  This would have been a very different book by any other artist.  While there is blood, head shots, beatings, and even mass murder, Yang doesn’t make any of it gratuitous.  At the same time, though, he also doesn’t shy away from what’s happening.  At one point, Bao decides to burn a church with Christians inside of it.  Yang doesn’t soften this horrific event, but he also doesn’t sensationalize it.

As you can tell, Boxers deeply resonated with me.  I completely recommend it.  I do think it’s okay for children, but I would urge you to guide them through it (unlike what I did).  There is much to be learned from the book, to be sure.

I’ll review Boxers‘ accompanying title, Saints, soon!

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Having a Ball At Epcot: Family 2018 Disney World Vacation (Part 6)

I have to tell you–I love Epcot!  I know some of the rides are a little older, but I prefer to think of them as “classic.”  I really mean that!  Because we stayed at the Beach Club, we could literally walk into the back of Epcot in about five minutes.  Because of this, we spent many nights watching their fantastic fireworks.  But we did more than just the fireworks, as you’re about to find out …

Rides

Spaceship Earth — We did this both in the summer of 2017 and 2018.  I love it, but it’s definitely dated compared to newer attractions.  This ride takes place in the giant Epcot “ball.”  As you work your way up, you experience the history of our planet with special care given to our technological advances.  My nine-year-old and I find it to be a charming, educational ride, but it’s certainly not thrilling in the conventional sense.  I consider it a “must experience.” It’s the Epcot ball–you have to do it!

Living With the Land — Again, this is more educational than anything, but the slow boat ride is incredibly informative.  It details how different parts of the world grew food in the past and offers actual examples of cutting edge advances in farming techniques.  I personally found these innovations amazing.  For example, they showed how we can use fish farms and hydroponics to utilize the same space.  I also loved how they showed that many crops can be planted on pillars, thereby reducing the use of large fields.  I’m not sure how much our little ones enjoyed the actual ride, but my wife and I were very impressed by the educational aspect of it.

Soarin’ Around the World — I had to beg my nine-year-old to do this with me, and once she did, she loved it!  I think we rode it four or five times, mostly in that last hour before the park closed.  I personally would rate this as a “must experience” at Epcot.  In this ride, there are three rows of seats.  You strap in, and then the rows move out and up over a pit.  The row in front of us moved above us, and the row in front of them were at the very top.  You face a large screen which commences to take you through the skies on an adventure across the entire world.  Your row dips forward and back, simulating the feel of sitting in a hang glider.  It even blows wind in your face with accompanying scents.  You’ll see several wonders of the world with the ride coming to an end during the fireworks at Epcot.  I couldn’t get enough of this ride, and neither could my daughter.  I’d never ridden it before, and our first time enjoying it together felt absolutely magical.

Journey Into Imagination With Figment — Okay, this one was just weird.  I guess the little dragon guiding you through the ride is named Figment.  It briefly refers to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Flubber, and the Dexter Riley movies.  (I had to look that one up.)  It’s a strange ride about trying to determine the best way to utilize our imagination.  I’d skip this one.  None of us got much of a kick out of it, though it did have a nice gift shop at the end.  I would like to say, though, that the workers at the ride were incredibly nice and friendly.  That could be because we were literally the only ones on it.  (This was the last hour before closing.)

The Seas With Nemo and Friends Attraction — I didn’t actually ride this one, but my six-year-old adored it.  My wife rode it with her countless times.  My wife tells me you ride in a clam much like Under the Sea with very similar attributes.  Lots of neat scenery and video from the movies.  She tells me it’s a fun experience for the little ones.  Sorry I can’t be more helpful!

Gran Fietsta tour Starring the Three Caballeros — We found this little boat ride while in “Mexico” at the World Showcase.  It’s very similar to “It’s a Small World” except that it takes you throughout the country of Mexico.  It features puppets, beautiful architecture, and a musical video found on screens throughout starring Donald Duck, Panchito, and Jose Carioca–the Three Caballeros!  It’s a cute, engaging slow-moving boat ride that truly delighted us.  In fact, because it had such a short line, as soon as we got off we moved to get right back into line.  When we told a “cast member” (remember, this is how Disney refers to its workers), she moved us right to the front!  It’s kind of hard to find, but definitely worth the effort.

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Frozen Ever After — This was a HUGE hit with my six-year-old, and probably the most daring ride she’s ever done.  She thought she was big stuff!  It was a very fun ride.  You ride in a boat through several moments from the movie.  The ride is fairly tame, but there is a thrilling moment when you go downhill backwards.  The scenery is intricate and beautiful, and the music, of course, titillates.  Be aware, though, the ride ends fairly quickly.  I would definitely use your “Fast Pass” on this one.  The lines were consistently very long.  We got in line with 30 minutes to closing and had to wait about 40 minutes.  Of course, if you’re in line when the park closes, they let you finish out the ride.

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Attractions 

Illuminations: Reflections Of Earth — These are the fireworks that go off every night before closing.  We watched them from the World Showcase, which is the back part of Epcot.  They weren’t as extravagant as Magic Kingdom’s, but they were better than virtually any other fireworks show you’ll see!  Best of all?  We had plenty of room to get a great view.  At Magic Kingdom, you are packed together no matter where you stand for the fireworks.  At Epcot, this wasn’t the case.  Like I said, because Beach Club was only a five minute walk from the back of Epcot, we took in the fireworks often and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival — We love movies, especially Disney and Pixar movies.  This short little festival included rumbling chairs, smells, and even some splashes of water!  Though all of the shorts are in 3-D, Get a Horse proved the best 3-D I’ve ever seen in my life.  It was perfect!  The other two shorts included Piper and Feast.  We’d seen them all before, but the 3-D made them feel fresh.  And, like I said, Get a Horse was insanely seamless.  Seriously.

Turtle Talk With Crush — My wife and I did this with the kids in 2017 and then my wife did it again with my youngest this latest trip.  It’s actually pretty cool and worth experiencing no matter what your age.  You sit in front of a giant screen.  Pretty soon, Crush from Finding Nemo appears.  He talks a bit about ocean conservation, but he somehow also interacts with the audience.  He actually asks the audience questions, then replies to their responses.  It’s pretty amazing because he physically points in the direction of people he’s interacting with, his mouth moves in accordance with the people’s names he saying–it’s quite a sight to behold.

Canada — Yes, you read that right–Canada!  Again, Canada is part of the World Showcase and it was super cool.  There was a great castle to view from the outside, a lovely garden, a small mountain, and even a totem pole!  Also, we took in a short film called O Canada!  Hosted by the always-hilarious Martin Short, this movie is basically a promotional piece to get you to visit Canada.  Let me tell you–it worked!  I learned more about Canada and saw more of Canada during this little movie than ever in my whole life!  Now I’m itching to pay the land up north a visit!

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World Showcase — Just in general, we were excited to explore this entire back half of Epcot.  Our girls weren’t terribly interested in it, but my wife and I could have spent a whole day wandering around this area.  We didn’t actually enter many of the locales, but we promised ourselves that one day we would.  If just walking by on the path awed us, imagine what the interior would do!

We didn’t do nearly everything there is to do at Epcot, but we did about as much as we could at this stage of our daughters’ lives.  I’m hoping there will come a day when they are willing to do Test Track and Mission: Space with me.  We met many of the characters, but I’m going to write a separate entry on that because we met a lot of them.  Maybe all of them?  Surely all of them.  Thanks for reading!  Magic Kingdom will be up next!

By the way, most of the above photographs were taken by my wife, Kristen.  I wanted to give credit where credit is due!

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings – A Book Review

You may remember that my wife and I very much enjoyed Killing Eve, which aired on BBC America.  As is my habit, I had to go check out the source material, which turned out to be a novel entitled Codename Villanelle.

Written by Luke Jennings, this fast-paced, brisk thriller served as the basis for the television show.  However, as you read the book, you’ll notice the show greatly enriched virtually every character.

Villanelle is still present–obviously.  So is Eve.  Konstantin and Niko, too.  Several other characters were adapted into new characters for the show, or outright jettisoned.

The show also used the same general plot.  Villanelle is an international assassin who comes from less than nothing.  Konstantin is her handler.  Eve is a UK agent obsessed with apprehending Villanelle.  Niko is still her husband.  However, Jennings keeps them fairly bare-bones.  Yes, he introduces some of their little idiosyncrasies.  Eve is still something of a social train-wreck.  Villanelle is still a sociopath.  Niko is still incredibly patient and helpful.  But, we seem to just skim the surface of these interesting attributes.  None of them have the charm nor the depth of their televised counterparts.

The novel is very plot driven.  Jennings is incredibly specific with locations, weaponry, procedures, and technology.  There is ample action that moves at a whiplash pace, but, again, the characters are somewhat flat.

I have to wonder if I’m being unfair to the book.  Killing Eve is clearly such a special show, is it unfair to judge the source material too harshly in this case?  Could Killing Eve’s charming, odd, wonderful characters have existed without Jennings groundwork?

Honestly, I don’t think I’m being unfair.  The book was an entertaining read, but it didn’t strike me as monumental.  Without the show, I don’t think it would have made much of an impression on me.  Keep in mind, though, I don’t read much suspense or espionage spy stories.

Frankly, there were times when I thought the book was a little sexually gratuitous.  Jennings makes a point to depict Villanelle as a sexual predator.  He absolutely objectifies her and her prey.  It largely felt unnecessary to me, because it is–again–dealt with at a very shallow level that makes it seem like it’s there only to shock the reader.

If you like quick reads full of detail, action, violence, and suspense, this is the book for you.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)