1917 – A Movie Review

1917

1917 proved to be an amazing experience. I heard the film was special because it was made to look like a single sequence, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, two soldiers are given orders during World War I to let a commander know that he must cease his impending attack–that it’s a trap. If the two men fail to deliver this message, thousands could die, including one of the men’s big brother. 

The story of the film unfolds as you would probably imagine without any real surprises, but that’s not what this movie is really about. Not to me, at least.

Instead it’s the way that the movie is shot that makes it so extraordinary. First of all, like I said, it is made to appear as though it is one single shot. In other words, there are no obvious cuts. The film’s story runs mostly in real time. They got a bit clever with one moment which allowed for several hours to pass, but otherwise it’s happening as you sit in the theater. You really can’t envision what a “no cut” movie looks like until you see it for yourself. It’s mesmerizing. The camera must track around the characters, move in front of them, then behind them, then next to them–it’s beautiful. 

Furthermore, 1917 shows you the horror of not just war, but WWI in particular. You are drudging through those trenches with the men, you are crawling over the dead, decaying bodies, you are avoiding bullets by mere inches and blind luck–you are right there, just over the characters’ shoulders, for all of it. The rubble, the ruined countryside, the dead soldiers and animals littering the ground and half-buried in craters–it’s awful. Yet, from a production standpoint, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen better. Even the costumes and props were incredible. 

From a purely technical standpoint, 1917 deserved to win Best Picture. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I did not connect with the main characters all that much, nor can I say that the actors gave particularly breathtaking performances. Now, to be fair, it’s hard to be too poignant in a film that is moving at a breakneck pace with the actors either walking or running almost the entire time, but the story never quite captured my heart.

Even with that being said, however, I consider 1917 required viewing. For the casual patron, it will thrill you. For those interested in the art of film making, it will revolutionize your ideas of what’s possible. 

Natural Law: My Short Story Of the Week

NATURAL LAW

 

She rests at the bottom of the ocean somewhere between the North American and African continents while watching bizarre fish glide by in total darkness. The water is cold, frigidly so, and it is just the rejuvenation she needs.

They don’t know any better–she knows that. She understands in her heart that she shouldn’t let them upset her.

The demands started seven years ago, when she was four, and they haven’t stopped since.

Her parents were the first to notice. Apparently, she’d gone days without using the bathroom. They took her to the doctor and he determined that she was both perfectly healthy and legally dead. She didn’t believe this story at first, but after traveling back in time and seeing it for herself, she saw that her parents had not been exaggerating.

The military visited the next day. They burst in with machine guns aimed at her. They marched toward her, looked down at her, yelled at her, threatened to shoot her. She rose to their height, stopped their guns from firing, and then made a decision.

She could have atomized them. She watched herself do so in a fabricated reality that she quickly deconstructed, for it brought her no joy.

Unmitigated annihilation felt unnatural.

Instead, she chose to grant them happiness. She cured one soldier’s PTSD, another’s addiction, and a third’s chronic knee pain. She then faced her parents and intuited that they were the ones who called the government. In an instant, she comprehended their fear, their paranoia, their confusion. Yet, she detected not a trace of hate–none at all.

She gave them peace, then left for the moon.

There she remained for two years. She spent that time observing the Earth and all of its workings. There was much that made her sad, but more often than not those things she witnessed brought her comfort. Love, generosity, charity, compassion, forgiveness–these were but a few traits that inspired her.

She made yet another choice. She could have gone anywhere, done anything, but she decided to remain on Earth.

The last five years were spent serving.

She worked in soup kitchens. When the food ran out, she made more. She helped cultivate fields. When those fields needed rain, she brought water. She volunteered at hospitals. When the doctors were at a loss, she found a remedy. She visited war zones. When people needed to escape, she gave them refuge.

Food, sleep, shelter, drink–these were things she didn’t require. Therefore, her benevolence knew no bounds. She served endlessly, without falter, without ego.

Of course, the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations wanted to meet with her. They wanted to know her intentions, her loyalties, her agenda.

She was more than willing to meet with each and every one one of them, as long as they came to her. They had to find her around the homeless shelter, or at the medical tent, or in the quarantine.

Her answer always remained the same. Her intentions were to help, her loyalties were to those who needed help, and her agenda centered around finding ways to help.

They were never satisfied with the response.

They would also ask: “Are you American? Russian? Mexican? German?”

To that, she would reply: “I’m only trying to be human.”

Some nations tried to bribe her. They wanted her to commit murder, genocide, theft, espionage. She refused them all. They had nothing she desired, for she desired nothing more than to help.

One leader in particular could not accept this. He knew her country of origin and demanded her allegiance, her blind devotion, her unquestioning fidelity. When she refused him yet again, he waited until she appeared in a nearby, third-world nation,  and then he fired a nuclear weapon in her direction.

She dematerialized it, obviously, but, for a fleeting moment, she considered sending it back to him. Until that instant, she believed such petty thoughts beneath her. She felt no disappointment in him, for he acted only according to his nature; she instead experienced disappointment in herself. She did not know that aspect of herself still remained.

Which is how she ended up at the bottom of the ocean.

It will never stop. Each new era of leadership will demand her conformity. They will attack her, demean her, and try to demoralize her.

But the needs will never stop, either.

The light above cannot pierce the depths, yet she looks to it anyway.

She bursts through the water, hurls over Africa, and lands amid a fire in Australia. An arsonist initiated the catastrophe–it is not a natural occurrence. Therefore, she has no qualms about interfering. She kneels, allows the flames to overtake her, and then absorbs them–all of them. The fire is drawn into her from miles away.

Once the last spark melted into her hands, she looked around. She saw no signs of humanity. No cameras, no helicopters, no people.

No one will ever know what she did, which is the way she prefers it.

An incinerated joey lay not far off from her. She wants to put her hands upon it–to rectify its unfair death. But she does not. It would be unnatural to enact its resurrection.

Instead, she sends it beneath the ground, spares a moment to mark its passing, then fades into the folds of reality before reappearing in China.


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental to the story

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Lovebirds: My Short Story Of the Week

Lovebirds

 

Bob Lyons walked into the kitchen, his blue, denim shirt soaked in sweat and peppered with twigs, leaves, and dirt. Paula, his wife, bent at the waist and peered under the sink in search of something. Because the basin had nearly filled with hot water and soap bubbles threatened to overflow, it seemed she’d been hunting longer than intended.

“Need these?” Bob asked in a gravelly voice while peeling Paula’s dishwashing gloves off of his hands and tossing them onto the adjacent counter. He ran callused fingers through his damp, thinning flattop before wiping his forehead with a blue and white bandana that he had pulled out from his back pocket.

Paula, irritated that Bob had obviously used her gloves for something other than washing dishes, huffed before embarking upon her chore without the benefit of protective latex.

Shuffling to the cupboard, Bob removed an old mason jar. Next, he invaded Paula’s space by reaching past her and turning on the faucet. He filled his jar with cold tap water and then left her in peace when he sat at the nearby table.

While rubbing and scrubbing away grease and grime, Paula mumbled, “So you couldn’t resist poking your nose in, huh?”

Bob clenched his jaw, thumbed at a dent in the table, and uttered, “They were making a mess of things. It’s like they don’t have any sense. They needed my help.”

Paula encountered a particularly resilient chunk of grease and, as she threw her whole body into scouring it, grunted, “They’ll never learn if you do it for them.”

“I know,” Bob sighed. “I didn’t have any choice. They’ve got babies on the way and they weren’t about to have their home ready in time.”

Paula finally offered Bob her full attention. Her shoulders hunched, exhausted from battling the pots and pans, when she lectured, “And what happens next time? What will they do if they have to face the world without you?”

Staring at his wife, Bob gripped his empty mason jar, his fingers whitening from the pressure, and returned, “You’ve been watching them through the window just like I have, Paula. We both know there wouldn’t be a next time if I didn’t do something this time.”

Taking his jar, Paula rinsed it off before setting it on the drying rack with the other dishware.

Her silence spoke volumes, and so Bob stood, yanked on the pants that no belt could keep affixed around his narrow waist, and mumbled, “Come see for your own self, then.”

Paula trailed her lanky husband as he led her through their humble home. They arrived in the living room. Bob pointed through their picture window.

“You see that?” he asked.

“Yes.”

Folding his arms, Bob griped, “Before I gave them a hand, that place was a disaster.”

“I take it you waited for them to leave.”

Bob answered, “I couldn’t very well work on it while they were home, could I?”

Leaning in closer to the window, Paula ignored her husband’s sarcasm and questioned, “So what did you do?”

Agitated that his handiwork did not speak for itself, Bob gruffly informed, “They had so many holes going on, you could have driven a truck through it. Their sticks were too small, and neither one of them can weave worth a nickel. They left everything loose as a goose, and to top it all off, they had a plastic bag just stuck in there, unsecured.”

Paula rolled her eyes and groaned, “So now I know what they did wrong, but I still haven’t heard what you did right.”

“I’m getting to it,” Bob spat. “I took some good, thick grass and patched up their holes. Then I rounded out the innards so that something could actually sit in there. Finally, I reinforced its base with some twine, fastening it every which way to the surrounding branches. Thanks to me, a tornado couldn’t budge that thing.”

Deciding to swallow several barbed comments, Paula instead tugged on her left pearl earring, an heirloom bequeathed by her long-departed grandmother, and asked, “And you think they’ll still use it, even after you fiddled with it?”

A smile emerged upon Bob’s face, so diminutive it could have been just another crack or crevice. He said, “That’s why I wore the dishwashing gloves.”

Feeling her hands already chapping, Paula thought of the soiled gloves that contaminated her counter, next to the drying, clean dishes, and grumbled, “I suppose that means I’ll be visiting the store soon …”

Then, as an afterthought, she noted, “You need a shower.”

♥♥♥

A few days later, Bob and Paula rolled out of bed just after daybreak. As was usually the case, before Bob made his coffee or Paula read her email, they overcame their stiff joints and stumbled into the living room in order to check up on the lovebirds.

Though the bright red male and his dowdy mate weren’t home, probably thanks to the old couple’s plodding along the hardwood floor, Bob and Paula looked through their window, examined their Japanese maple, and discerned four gray eggs covered in brown and black flecks lying within the nest.

Plainly pleased that the eggs appeared safe and sound, Bob rubbed the back of his neck, working out the rigidity, and said, “You know, cardinals can live for over ten years, and they tend to stay in the same area.”

Paula chuckled while replying, “Then let’s hope they’re as good of neighbors to us as you are to them.”

She turned around, wrapped her housecoat more tightly about her torso, and began the journey through the house to the computer room. Before Paula left the living room, however, she abruptly spun and returned to her husband. Pecking him on the stubbly cheek, she whispered into his ear, “You’re a fine man.”

Bob nodded in return, feeling a surge of warmth throughout his body.


Copyright © 2009 Scott William Foley

Originally appeared in the August, 2009, issue of News and Views for the Young at Heart.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental to the story.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

 

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn – A Movie Review

Birds-of-Prey-2020-Poster-12

I really, really wanted to like this movie. The trailers looked vibrant, action-packed, and fun. I didn’t see how this film could miss. Unfortunately, I can only describe it as “fine.” It wasn’t bad–not at all. However, it also wasn’t especially good.

As I think on it, I believe the biggest misstep occurred by having Harley Quinn share the screen with others. We already know Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad, so the film might have been wise to simply pick up her story and go from there. Instead, they included Dinah Lance (Black Canary), Renee Montoya, Cassandara Cain, and Helena Bertinelli (Huntress), which resulted in a great deal of additional exposition. The movie had to introduce and explain these new characters as it also tried to intertwine them with Harley Quinn’s plot. This resulted in several start and stops, many flashbacks, and more than a few backtracks.

The fact is, Margot Robbie and Harley Quinn can carry a movie by themselves. The more I see Robbie in other movies, the more I appreciate her as Quinn. She really lays it all on the line with this character. There are so many interesting places to take Quinn. After all, she’s a former psychologist, an actual doctor. While treating the Joker, she descended into madness herself. Or, perhaps she finally accepted her own madness. That alone is a compelling thing to explore. Sadly, they only touched upon these aspects and instead chose to focus on her more manic tendencies, which, admittedly, lend themselves to frenetic scenes and a visually exciting experience.

Much of the movie revolved around her break-up with the Joker. For a film that touts Harley Quinn’s emancipation from the Clown Prince of Crime, it spent a lot of time focusing upon that issue. That being said, I found it odd that they neglected to actually include the Joker. They showed drawings of him, or the back of his head or shoulder in a few scenes, but never his face. If they simply said they broke up and left it at that, I wouldn’t have found the awkward flashbacks with him so … awkward. It’s as though they refused to let Jared Leto reprise his role as the villain while Joaquin Phoenix is attempting to win an Oscar for playing the same character.

It was fun to see Rosie Perez (Renee Montoya) on screen again, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Black Canary) stuck me as a true movie star, but they simply weren’t necessary to the story. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was completely mishandled. Her “Huntress” barely even appeared in the film. (If you want to see her at full strength, check out 2017’s Fargo FX series, which also stared Ewan McGregor, believe it or not.)

Speaking of whom, I’ve never seen McGregor so villainous. His take on “Black Mask” kept us off balance because he was at times childish, at times charming, at times brutish, and even feminine in some moments. So while the character remained consistent, we never knew what actions to expect from him.

By the way, the action is mesmerizing. Women fighting men twice their size have to be creative, and there is a great deal of creative fight choreography in Birds of Prey. There’s one particular scene in which Harley Quinn wields a bat, and it is beautiful. I’ve heard others say this is DC’s best action movie, and I think that’s accurate. There’s ample eye-popping action to behold.

I want to recommend a movie featuring not just primarily female actors, but female DC characters as well. I think it’s a meaningful development not just for the genre, but for the movie industry. Unfortunately, Birds of Prey simply failed to capture much of my interest due to its attempt at explaining all of the new characters it included. It’s a fun action movie with entertaining humor and hypnotic visuals, but it could have been far more with Margot Robbie at the helm.

 

 

 

 

A Man Out Of Time: My Short Story Of the Week

AManOutOfTime

 

Jenna sat next to her grandfather at the Academy Awards in a dress designed by someone whose name proved too difficult to pronounce.  Mateo, of course, wore nothing but the best, though he wore it in hues long outdated and cuts antiquated.

Mateo Sandoval found himself nominated for the eleventh time.  He first earned a nomination in 1946 for playing a tormented Confederate Civil War medic trapped by an abolitionist woman who kept him chained to her woodstove, vowing he would not be released until the war ended.  Mateo acted superbly in the film, but he did not win that year—the award went to Frederic March.  Nor two years later when Olivier took it.  Nor seven years after that when they gave it to William Holden.  The decades passed with him nominated time after time, but he never triumphed.

This year his nomination arrived by playing an atheist who, after living to see his wife, children, and grandchildren all die under tragic circumstances, took Christ into his heart only so that when he died and went to Heaven he could personally kill God.  The role proved demanding, but he pulled it off magnificently.  Many felt this year would be his.

Jenna always prioritized her grandfather’s best interests.  Her job that night wasn’t much different than their daily lives together.  Because Mateo refused to wear hearing aids, she often clarified things for him.  After much discussion, they decided when he won for Best Actor, she simply had to lean in and let him know as such.  Though they spoke of him perhaps losing, neither could accept that possibility.

Thus, when Julian Howard’s name reverberated through the speakers, none appeared more shocked than Jenna as she threw her hands up and thrust back into her seat.  She bumped Mateo, which prompted him to arise.  He mirrored the winner’s movement as they both approached the stage from opposite ends.

Mr. Howard, a man of thirty-three, wore a perplexed expression upon his face as Mateo took the statue from the presenter and stood directly before the microphone.  The applause quickly died down, and it appeared as though Mateo believed it did so out of reverence.  Jenna suspected it rather the result of universal embarrassment.

However, her own heart swelled, for at long last her grandfather held the award he deserved.

Mr. Howard, sensing the awkwardness, simply took his place alongside the presenters and watched as his idol accepted an Oscar that, while not awarded, certainly had been earned.

“I’d like to thank the Academy,” Mateo said, “for finally coming to its senses.”  He laughed and did not look troubled when no one else joined.  “You have no idea how much I’ve always wanted to say that.”

The orchestra music played, softly yet inauspiciously, and Mateo bellowed, “I’ve waited over five decades for this award; there is no way in Holy Hell you’re going to play this best actor off stage!”

He next shook the Oscar high over his head and beamed from ear to ear.  The crowd could not help but put their hands together in support of the sheer vitality displayed by their favorite luminary.

The orchestra music wisely placated.

“Thank you,” Mateo offered with an open-handed gesture to the composer.  “As I was saying, I’ve been in this game for many, many years.  I’ve worked with the best and the worst.  I’ve lived a good life, and now I can die happily.  I know that sounds silly to some of you, but when an artist pours his heart—his very soul—into his work and that effort is never commended by the greatest awards show in the world … well, that can prove burdensome.

“Some would give up.  Hell, I’ve known a lot that did.  Not me, though.  I knew one way or the other, by God, I was going to get up on this stage, even if in the twilight of my career—my very life—and finally hold this award.  And look, here I am.”

A roar of applause erupted, led by Jenna.

“I’ve got to be honest with you, this film wasn’t my favorite.  The director’s an egomaniacal prick; my costars rigid and unnatural; and frankly, I thought the script self-serving and pompous.  However, I knew it had the stuff of controversy, Oscar’s favorite skirt, so I plunged in headfirst like any horny boy would!”

Here he chuckled a little.  A few accompanied him, but most were losing faith again.

“Despite its utter tastelessness, I knew Hollywood would lap it up with the usual fervor it displays for gourmet shit, and so I made a point to give it my all.  You could say that for me, it was Oscar or bust.

“Well, thank God … it’s not bust,” Mateo sighed.  “It’s Oscar.  Finally, it’s Oscar.”

Mateo’s eyes glistened and he paused while holding his fist up to his mouth.  He looked away from his audience for the briefest of moments, and then, with a renewed flourish of intensity, said, “I want to thank you all for watching my movies.  Chasing this castrated little boy is what’s kept me alive these last few decades.  Hell, the Academy did me a favor.  They added years to my life!”

Jenna noted that some of the crowd laughed and nearly all smiled.  He had his Oscar, just as everyone wanted, and so the world turned a little more gracefully.

“If I die tomorrow, or the day after that,” Mateo said with the award clutched to his chest, “don’t mourn for me.  I am satisfied.”

This time, when the music floated up, he said, “Now I truly am a man out of time.  Thank you—thank you for this moment.”

He then grinned at Jenna.  She offered an impish wink in return.

The crowed rose and offered a standing ovation, Mateo’s last.


Copyright © 2017 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental to the story

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.