The Parade by Dave Eggers – A Book Review

A friend recommended The Parade to me. I initially hesitated because Dave Eggers is always a little hit or miss, but when I saw the length of the book, which is very short, I decided it was worth a shot.

I flew through this book. Not only is it very short, it’s also written in a direct, straight-forward fashion. I believe Eggers wrote The Parade in such a way because it mirrors both the primary plot of the novella as well as the main character’s personality.

The Parade is about a nameless man hired by a nameless company in a nameless land razed by civil war to asphalt a road. The corporation has already dropped off the machine that will lay the asphalt. The nameless man, nicknamed the Clock, must simply pilot it and connect the two halves of the small country. The man wastes no time, does not interact with locals, and is concerned only about meeting his deadline. He’s completed over sixty such tasks without fail.

The same cannot be said for his partner. The Clock’s partner, who he simply calls Nine, is to drive an ATV ahead and make sure the road is clear of obstructions, people, or anything else that could cause the machine to stop. Nine’s job is to mitigate any potential issues.

Unfortunately, this is Nine’s first job with the company, and he is not at all interested in following policies or procedures. He is the opposite of the Clock–also known as Four–in every way.

Four is informed that the leader of the tiny country wants to execute a parade the moment the road is finished. It will begin in the capital city and head into the part of the nation that previously did not accept his authority. Four is told it will be a celebratory display of unity and peace.

As you can imagine, complications arise. Nine gets himself into all kinds of trouble, the kind of trouble Four cannot ignore. Does Four complete the road on time? Will the parade run as expected? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

The Parade seems interested in exploring three different ideas.

The first idea is about what happens when one is so focused on completing a task that no attention is paid to one’s surroundings? It is ethical to show up, do a job, and then leave without giving any consideration to the effect of one’s labor on people, government, or the land?

On the other hand, The Parade also delves into the repercussions of perhaps becoming too involved. Is it responsible to show up and immerse oneself into a situation without fully understanding the nuances? Even if trying to help, should one investigate the consequences of even the smallest kindness?

Finally, The Parade is gravely intent on analyzing bias. Four trusts no one in this novella. Nine trusts everyone. Four believes only in his work goals. Nine lives life without thinking of the future at all. Both come to regret their ideologies. However, by the end of the novel, we realize that we, the readers, are just as guilty as both Four and Nine. We understand that we too have made several errors in what we did and did not choose to trust throughout the book.

The Parade is a brief, potent read. I’ll admit that the ending is something of a shock to the system, but it’s also what forces our minds to detour and scout new territory. I’m certain the ending is not for everyone, but, because the book is so quick, so well written, and so thought-provoking, I definitely recommend you give it a try.

theparade

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The Primary Reason I Love Once Upon a Time In Hollywood So Much (Warning: Major Spoilers)

I saw Once Upon a Time In Hollywood last Thursday night, and I loved it. In fact, I love it more today than I did last Thursday. Now, I love it for lots of different reasons. Brad Pitt is at his ultimate level of charm, Leonardo DiCaprio puts on perhaps his best performance ever, Margot Robbie makes Sharon Tate incredibly likable, and Quentin Tarantino delivers a magnificent story, script, and production. Really, I don’t see how it can get much better than Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.

But, even with all of that being said, none of those are the primary reason I love Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. The real reason I love the movie so much pretty much spoils the entire thing, so I’d like to offer a warning: If you want to see the movie and haven’t yet, please stop reading now. If there’s any chance you might see the movie … stop reading now. You want to be totally fresh for Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, trust me.

Spoilers coming in …

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The film goes to great lengths to intermittently depict Sharon Tate as an affable, kind, identifiable person with little snippets of her simply enjoying life in Hollywood. Tarantino also weaves Charles Manson’s cult in and out of the main story line. However, neither of these two things comprise the majority of the movie. Most of the film is about Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Rick Dalton, trying to work his way back to the top of Hollywood stardom.

As one would expect, though, Manson plays a role. At one point, Manson himself visits the home that Tate shares with Roman Polanski. It’s a harmless scene, yet it fills the viewers with dread because, while none of us know exactly what this film is even about, we all understand it will culminate with Tate’s grisly murder. Furthermore, DiCaprio’s character is neighbors with Tate and Polanski, which makes us believe he will somehow bear witness to the awful slaughter. Manson’s cult continues to contaminate the movie throughout as Brad Pitt’s character eventually befriends one of Manson’s followers. However, it’s not long until Booth realizes his new friend’s friends are up to no good and leaves her behind, but the threat they pose is clearly established.

In other words, the entire movie functions as something of a countdown. No matter what occurs, no matter how much the movie seems to be about Rick Dalton’s quest to renew his fame, we all know it’s really about the impending death of Sharon Tate.

But here’s what I failed to realize before seeing the movie. It’s not called Once Upon a Time In Hollywood because it’s a history lesson. It’s called Once Upon a Time In Hollywood because it’s a fairy tale. And what good is a fairy tale without a happy ending?

Tarantino is not known for happy endings, but Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is about as happy of an ending as you will get from the man.

In this fairy tale, or alternate universe, or revised history, or whatever you want to call it, Manson’s goons decide to kill Rick Dalton before they kill Sharon Tate. When they enter Dalton’s home, though, they encounter Cliff Booth. Cliff is about as tough as they come, and he literally beats them to death. I won’t go into too much detail, but trust me when I say it’s pretty gory.

Consequently, once the audience realizes that Cliff is going to win this battle, the scene, as violent as it is, becomes almost a celebration. The audience begins to understand that the Manson monsters will never make it to Sharon Tate’s home–Sharon will survive!

In this world we currently live in, where it seems like the bad guys are winning at every turn, it proves incredibly cathartic to watch the would-be killers suffer poetic justice.

The last shot of the film, a moment featuring a concerned, amenable Sharon Tate inviting Rick Dalton into her home, left me almost giddy. The movie ends implying that Cliff and Rick’s friendship will never end, Sharon Tate will go on to live a wonderful life, and Rick’s career might just get a jumpstart from Roman Polanski himself.

Even though the putrid odor of burned flesh probably still lingered in the air, in  a Tarantino fairy tale, this is the happiest of endings.

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“Follow Me: A Short Story” Now Available On the Nook

Yesterday I announced that “Follow Me: A Short Story” could be read on the Kindle, and today I’m happy to report that it can be read on the Nook as well!

If you have a Nook, I hope you’ll download “Follow Me: A Short Story.” It’s about TJ, a little boy whose big brother wakes him up with a simple order: “Follow me.” By the night’s conclusion, he’ll wish he had stayed in bed.

Originally published in the November, 2007, issue of 60 Plus News & Views, this humorous little story will take you right back to your childhood, especially if you had a big brother.

Click on the image or click HERE to download to your Nook for $00.99.

Thank you so much for giving my story a read. Enjoy!

FOLLOW ME

Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

Do You Read On Your Kindle? Check Out “Follow Me: A Short Story”

Do you enjoy reading on your Kindle? If so, I hope you’ll check out my short story called “Follow Me.”

Here’s the pitch: TJ’s big brother wakes him up with a simple order: “Follow me.” By the night’s conclusion, he’ll wish he had stayed in bed.

Originally published in the November, 2007, issue of 60 Plus News & Views, this humorous little story will take you right back to your childhood, especially if you had a big brother.

Click on the image or click HERE to download to your Kindle for $00.99. Thank you!

FOLLOW ME.jpg

Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood – A (Spoiler-Free) Movie Review

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio proved the biggest draw for me in regards to Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. I can’t remember ever seeing them on screen together even though they are two of Hollywood’s biggest names. I generally like what Quentin Tarantino does with these two men as well, so I figured this movie would be right up my alley.

I honestly didn’t know much about Once Upon a Time In Hollywood going in. Like you, I heard it involved DiCaprio playing an actor with Brad Pitt playing his stunt double. I also saw from the trailers that Margot Robbie played Sharon Tate and that Charles Manson’s cult would be a factor as well.

Now that I’ve seen it, I really don’t want to tell you any more than that. Even the slightest bit of revelation could ruin the whole experience for you, so I’m going to abstain.

I will say this, though. Both Pitt and DiCaprio are fantastic. I love their performances, I love their chemistry, and I love their characters. Margot Robbie didn’t get quite as much screen time as I expected, but she portrays Sharon Tate as the lovely, kind, charismatic person, which, by most accounts, seems true to reality.

The story is sprawling even if, at times, plodding. My friend and I joked that Tarantino could have gotten the running time down to ninety minutes if he cut out all of the driving scenes! However, the truth is, by story’s end, every single moment of the movie is worth it. I feel that this could be Tarantino’s strongest story yet. The plot is strong, the pacing is appropriate, the dialogue is perfect, the characterization is rich, and the climax is astonishing.

Furthermore, I think this is also among Tarantino’s strongest directing efforts. This movie takes place in 1969, and it looks like 1969. It feels like 1969. It sounds like 1969. I felt like I stepped into a time machine. Once I realized just how authentic everything appeared, I started looking for anachronisms. I didn’t see one. Not one, which is amazing. That attention to detail made the movie a blast.

Also, for the most part, this is not a violent movie, nor is it an explicit one. By Tarantino standards, I found it rather tame, even funny at times. Of course, as you would expect, there is some violence at the end, but other than that, there’s not that much blood or language.

About that ending–I promise, no spoilers–I found it deeply moving. It touched me in a way I hadn’t expected.

If you are a Tarantino fan, I would consider this a must view. If you love Brad Pitt and/or Leonardo DiCaprio, this could be their best work yet. If you simply feel like hopping into a time machine and reliving the 1960s, this will be a thrill ride for you as well. In other words, I believe Once Upon a Time In Hollywood has something for everyone.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

Exhalation by Ted Chiang – A Book Review

Ted Chiang has once again delivered a short story collection that is thought-provoking, prophetic, and–most importantly–fun to read.

If you’re unfamiliar with Chiang, his writing is deeply rooted in science. I actually consider him something of a futurist in that most of his fiction will probably be fact tomorrow. In some cases, it already is! It’s particularly interesting to look at the publication date of some of the stories in this collection. Most of them were published at a time that predates the technology we are currently enjoying.

Furthermore, I appreciate that Chiang is not afraid to tackle mythology and religion as well. This author is unafraid to explore difficult ideas. Chiang will demand quite a bit of intellectual engagement form you, so put on your thinking cap!

If you enjoy science fiction, I would consider Exhalation a must. I also recommend this book if you’re simply looking for something smart, daring, and well-written.

exhalation

Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

The Lion King (2019) – A Movie Review

This new photo-realistic version of The Lion King is both exhilarating and redundant.

It’s a visual feast in that everything looks absolutely real. My understanding is that this film is almost entirely CGI, yet the animals, the environment–all of it–looks not only real, but also rooted in reality. You see labored breathing, you see real weight coming down on shoulders as the lions walk, you see dust in the air, you see ears twitch, you see plants in the background swaying in the breeze. It’s unreal how real it looks.

However, it’s also repetitive in that it’s a virtual copy of the original animated film. The scenes are the same, the pacing is the same, the jokes are the same, it’s all almost entirely the same. After having seen the original film several times as well as the musical, this latest version felt too much like a rote reproduction.

I also felt that the voices were detached from their characters. Yes, the animals’ mouths looked fantastic and even natural as they spoke, but the voices didn’t seem to be coming out of those mouths. The voices were too clear, too clean, and too undisturbed by the wild surroundings. In other words, the voices sounded straight from the recording booth. They didn’t match the environment I saw on the screen.

But even with that being said, I definitely recommend that you see this film. We took both of our kids, and because it’s the same, there were no surprises, and thus no scares. They do not increase the violence, nor do they display any blood. The hyenas were a little more intimidating than in the original, but my seven-year-old didn’t seem to mind them and she’s generally not a big fan of dogs or wolves.

It’s the CGI that makes this a must-see. At times, I literally could not believe my eyes. From a purely technological standpoint, there are moments in this film that will take your breath away.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

Batman: White Knight by Sean Murphy – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ve read a lot of Batman stories in my day, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like Batman: White Knight.

Published under the DC: Black Label imprint aimed at more mature audiences, Batman: White Knight is a stand-alone collection that exists outside of regular Batman continuity.  Because of this, anything can happen.  Even so, for a book that is disconnected to the monthly Batman stories, it is oddly beholden to them as well as to the cartoons, video games, and movies.  More on that in a moment …

White Knight embraces a simple premise — What if Joker became good and Batman turned evil?  Now, the story is not quite that simple, but that’s the central concept.  Sean Murphy dives deeply into that idea while also exploring familial bonds, corrupt politics, abusive relationships, and mental health.  Like I said, this book distinctively examines content in a way that is unrivaled.

However, even though the story kept me guessing, certain aspects struck me as obviously recognizable.  For example, White Knight pays homage to the classic animated series, all of the Batman movies, the old live-action TV show, the comic books, and even the various Batman video games.  It’s as though parts of all of that happened in this Batman’s past, but in a way that we can’t fully understand.

Make no mistake, however, Murphy’s depiction of Batman and Joker, as well as their supporting cast, is what makes this book so enticing.  This is a Batman even more unhinged than in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.  This is a Joker unusually sane.  This is a Harley Quinn gloriously empowered.  This is a Commissioner Gordon realistically compromised.  This is a Gotham City genuinely broken by its atypical combination of criminals and vigilantes.  And though the book is gritty, it’s also not afraid to be bombastic.  Murphy offers an ending that seems like something out of The Fast and the Furious — and I mean that as a compliment.

Finally, Murphy is the writer and artist on this title, so I wanted to address his line work.  His Batman is feral, intimidating, and a force of nature.  Murphy tweaked the costume just a bit, but it’s his use of shadows and shading that really makes his panels pop.  Speaking of costumes, I love the slight alterations Murphy made to everyone’s look in this book.  You’ll know who’s who, don’t worry about that.  The changes he made were simultaneously appropriate and dynamic.

If you’re a Batman fan but feel like you’ve seen it all, give White Knight a chance.  It will strike you as extraordinary.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home – A Movie Review

Spider-Man: Far From Home is an impressive exhibition of visual effects with some great one-liners, but the most interesting thing about the movie happens during the middle and end of the credits.

If you’re not familiar with the plot, Spider-Man: Far From Home sends Peter Parker and his classmates on a European vacation.  While there, Peter is drafted by Nick Fury to help Mysterio defeat monstrous elementals intent on destroying the world.

This movie is simply a run little romp.  It’s not too heavy, it’s not too serious, and it’s not too meaningful … until those end credits.

In fact, I think it’s maybe a little too light.  I understand the need to break away from the cosmic gravitas of Avengers: Endgame, but Far From Home didn’t delve quite deeply enough into the ramifications of that movie.

I say “deeply” because, yes, Far From Home absolutely acknowledges Endgame and goes out of its way not only to catch us up on how those who disappeared are adapting to their return, but how the world is adapting to those who reappeared.  The movie also centers itself around the death of Tony Stark.  (We can talk about that now, right?)

However, all of these things are never deeply explored.  Peter feels like he can’t live up to being Iron Man … and that’s what we get about that for most of the movie.  We are not allowed a deep dive into Peter’s psyche regarding this loss.  It’s all kept very surface-level.  I literally felt the movie pushing forward, forward, forward at a harrowing pace.

I found this shallow treatment of such important events in Peter’s life troubling.

Furthermore, I really do not care for the depiction of Peter Parker’s personality in Far From Home.  I kept track, and he apologized at least four times in a single scene.  They’ve made Parker a little too apologetic, a little too full of doubt, and a little bit of a whiner.  We’re not getting much of Spider-Man’s famous quips in Far From Home.  The movie is funny, but Spider-Man is not.  I think this is the fifth appearance of Spider-Man in the MCU … I believe his confidence should be growing by this point, not weakening.  I have no doubt Spider-Man will eventually become the linchpin of the MCU.  He’ll be the moral compass, the selfless hero, and the intellectual leader years down the road.  However, he should be further along in that journey than what we see here.

Finally, the European setting just didn’t work for me.  Maybe I’m too rigid, but I love my Spider-Man set squarely in New York City.  Peter returns to NY at the end of the movie, and you could just feel the energy boost in the film when that happened.  Something about his red and blue set against the NY skyline–it’s iconic.

On that note, I do admire the movie makers for taking such a risk.  Putting Spider-Man in Europe was a bold move, and not an obvious one.  They are trying to give us things we haven’t seen before, which I appreciate.

Speaking of which, I also appreciate the fact that they had the guts to put Mysterio in this movie.  He’s one of my favorite Spider-Man villains in the comics, and they do him justice in Far From Home.  I’ll be honest, I did not like Jake Gyllenhaal’s depiction of the character in the beginning.  I think Gyllenhaal is a talented, multifaceted actor, so I felt shocked when I found his performance wooden, lifeless, and forced soon after his introduction.  Trust me, that all changes pretty quickly.  Give Mysterio time.  They use a fantastic approach with him and I think Gyllenhaal nails it.  Just like with Vulture, they don’t ignore his comic book roots, but they also add a modern day twist.

Consequently, the special effects are magnificent in Far From Home.  There are some breathtaking scenes of Spider-Man jumping and swinging around, especially at the end of the film.  And, because Mysterio is a master of illusion, they lean heavily into that area and deliver some very cool moments.

You also can’t deny the charisma of Tom Holland and his supporting cast.  Zendaya is a star, Sam Jackson is always a blast, Jon Favreau is lovable even when he’s trying to act gruff, Marisa Tomei is a living legend, Jacob Batalon should be everyone’s best friend, and Tony Revolori somehow plays a jerk we all like.

Is this the best Spider-Man movie that I’ve ever seen?  No, but it’s a fresh approach and tried hard to give us something different.  I love that they are not going after the low-hanging fruit.  It would have been so easy to use Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus again, to have them fight in NYC again, but they fought that urge.  Spider-Man has such a vast array of villains–they should have no trouble finding foes for him if they are willing to go for it like they did with Vulture and Mysterio.

I will say this: after watching the end credits, I cannot wait for the next Spider-Man movie, and I am extremely excited for the next phase of the MCU.  Both end credit scenes truly surprised me.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1