Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe – A Movie Review

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Maybe you’re like me and you intended to watch Always Be My Maybe with your significant other but you just never got around to it. I’m guessing that–also like me–you’ve found yourself with some extra time and are in search of viewing pleasure. My wife and I watched Always Be My Maybe the other night and we both loved it.

The premise is simple in nature. Sasha and Marcus were childhood friends who spent every moment together because Sasha’s parents were never home–they ran a restaurant. Marcus and his parents, Sasha’s neighbors, pretty much made her a member of their family.

Eventually, during Marcus’ senior year, they drifted apart–the kind of apart where you don’t speak, see each other on Facebook, nothing.

Then, around twenty years later–bam! Fate brings them back together. What happens from there on you’ll just have to see for yourself.

As far as romantic comedies go, this is right up my alley. It’s got some touching moments, but, for the most part, this is very smartly written dumb comedy that comes at you a mile a minute.

Ali Wong and Randall Park have insane chemistry. You will immediately fall in love with both of them. When you see them separately in movies they always shine. But when you put them together it’s a whole new level of likability.

In fact, I challenge you to find any character in this movie who isn’t likable. Even Daniel Dae Kim, who sort of plays a jerk, is likable. Of course, there’s the special surprise cameo … I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t know what I’m talking about, but it was hilarious.

For a romantic comedy, the story really held up well. It actually made sense, seemed to have a target, and unfolded fairly naturally. Sometimes comedies are just a series of gags–not so with Always Be My Maybe. Everything had a purpose.

If you’re looking for something light and funny to watch as a couple, I cannot recommend Always Be My Maybe highly enough. It kept us laughing and entertained throughout.

Netflix’s Unorthodox – A Few Thoughts

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Have you heard of Netflix’s Unorthodox? I hand’t, either. One of my wife’s friends recommended it to her. Even though it didn’t look like my thing at all, I decided to give it a try with her.

Let me tell you, this show is captivating.

At just four episodes averaging about fifty minutes apiece, Unorthodox is not a huge time investment, and it helps that each episode flies by.

The story focuses upon a young woman living in an ultra-conservative Hasidic community in New York. After a year of repressed marriage, she flees to Germany. However, her community is not willing to let her go freely, and they pursue her across the world.

Based on a true story, Unorthodox is brilliant due to the incredible acting, costumes, props, and editing. Of course, its main achievement is that it offers a glimpse into something I really haven’t seen depicted on screen much–ultra-conservative Hasidic Jews. It was like entering another world.

Unorthodox bounces around in time quite a bit, and at just the right moments. This kind of editing keeps the viewer enthralled as the story unfolds in a nonlinear fashion. There are plenty of surprises, and more thrills than I ever would have guessed.

My only complaint is that while in Germany, our main character befriends a group of students that are just a touch too perfect. Each one fits a certain demographic, which results in them feeling very forced upon the viewer. Don’t get me wrong, I liked them all, but I knew they were fashioned for me to like them.

I absolutely recommend Unorthodox no matter what your taste. It will grab your interest and hold onto it until the very last second.

Visit Monica Estabrook’s Virtual Exhibition “mother•land”

I hope you will take a moment to visit Monica Estabrook’s virtual exhibition entitled “mother•land” by clicking HERE.

Monica Estabrook is an art teacher at Bloomington High School. I’ve known her as a coworker and friend for several years and appreciate her unyielding passion to create art even as she excels at teaching and raising children.

Many weeks ago, Monica invited my Creative Writing students to participate in an art show (“mother•land”) she had scheduled to appear at Heartland Community College. My students were both very excited by the prospect and also genuinely touched that Monica would share the spotlight with them. If you know Monica, however, this generosity would come as no surprise.

The plan was for my students to recite their poems on the opening night of Monica’s exhibition.

As you have probably guessed, the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything. However, the artistic spirit cannot be stopped, nor should it. Monica and Danell Dvorak, the HCC Art Gallery Coordinator, quickly developed a “plan b.”

When you visit the link, you’ll be able to view each of Monica’s photographs individually, and you’ll also be able to view a “walk-through” video as well. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find both text and audio versions of my students’ poems. They were tasked with recording themselves reading their poetry and submitting those audio files to Monica. Due to various circumstances, not all were able to participate, but those poems available are magnificent.

The pandemic has caused great tragedies, bitter disappointments, and mild inconveniences. I can only imagine how upsetting it must be to have an exhibition overshadowed and drastically altered due to the outbreak. But, if you know Monica, you won’t be shocked to learn that she took it all in stride, overcame the difficulties, and even found a new, creative way for her art and my students’ poems to shine.

Show this indomitable spirit your appreciation and visit her art show at this link: https://www.heartland.edu/artGallery/motherlandExhibit%20.html

OtherPieces

Crisis: My Short Story Of the Week

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“He’s dying, damn it, and he’s all alone!”

“Mom—he’s not alone.”

Holly looked at her nineteen-year-old daughter through narrowed eyes. She held her cell phone in both hands after hanging up with the hospital as she stood next to the kitchen island.

“He’s not alone? Abby, what are you talking about?” Holly demanded.

Just a few feet away, standing by the kitchen table, Abby put her own cell phone down and replied, “Dad’s not alone—you know that.”

“Really?” Holly seethed with her head tilted. “Who’s with him, then?”

Abby answered, “Jesus.”

Throwing her chin back, Holly groaned, “Christ almighty.”

After folding her arms, Abby declared, “Exactly.”

Holly stomped past her daughter before plopping down on the living room couch. With her elbows upon her knees, she dropped her head into her hands.

Abby did not move from her spot, nor did she unfold her arms. She questioned, “You know that, right?”

Holly murmured into her palms, “Yes, I know. But your father needs more than that. He needs us.”

Abby lifted her eyebrows just a bit as she asked, “He needs more than Jesus? Before the coma, when they kicked everyone out of the hospital, Dad texted me. He said he wasn’t afraid. He cited Psalm 23.”

Holly lifted her head up and stared at her daughter. “I really don’t want to hear about the valley of Death right now, okay?”

“Are you worried about him?” Abby asked.

“What’s the matter with you?” Holly spat. “Of course, I’m worried about him! The doctor said he’s not going to make it!”

“But Dad’s okay with that,” Abby said as she unfolded her arms and shrugged her shoulders. “He wants to go to Heaven. That’s what we all want, right?”

“God,” Holly mumbled. “You go off to college and become a theology expert …”

“No,” Abby answered a little coldly. “I’m not a theology expert; I’m just repeating everything you taught me. What’s the matter with you?”

Holly jumped from the couch, pointed at Abby, and screamed, “Your father is dying! My husband is dying—alone, in a coma, suffocating—and nobody cares! Our own daughter doesn’t care!”

Abby put her hands on her hips and took a deep breath. Once she had control, she said, “I care. I care very much. But you and Dad taught me to believe, to have faith, and to accept Christ into my heart. You taught me to do these things so we could one day reach Heaven and join Him in all His glory. Are you saying you don’t actually believe those things?”

Holly fell to her knees and began to cry. Between sobs, she said, “Those are just things we tell kids … children’s stories …”

Abby stood her ground. “That’s not true. Not to me. Not to Dad.”

Unable to meet her daughter’s eyes, Holly remained on her knees with her head hung low.

“I don’t understand you,” Abby confessed. “You were our youth group sponsor. We prayed together every dinner—every night before bed. You got me up every Sunday for church. I don’t …”

“Those things …” Holly began as she fought to stifle her tears, “… they were just the right thing to do. I wanted to raise you … right.”

With eyes widened, Abby asked, “Are you saying you never actually believed?”

Holly faced her daughter again. Tears ran down her cheeks and her throat hitched. As she started to answer, Abby interrupted her.

“Don’t,” Abby said. “Don’t say anything. You don’t have to answer.”

Abby moved toward her mother, dropped to her knees as well, and wrapped her arms around her.

The daughter placed her head atop the mother’s and squeezed tightly.

“You’re upset. No matter what, I know Jesus is sitting with Dad right now, holding his hand. And Dad knows it, too. He’s not afraid. He’s joyful.”

Holly whispered, “I hope you’re right.”

The two women remained on the floor, hugging one another, waiting for the call.


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.

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.

Netflix’s Extraction – A Movie Review

extraction movie poster

If you’re thinking of watching Netflix’s new movie, Extraction, get ready for a wild, entertaining, and ultimately meaningless ride.

Extraction stars Chris Hemsworth as an Australian mercenary hired to retrieve the son of a powerful drug lord who was kidnapped by another powerful drug lord. Much of the story takes place throughout southern Asia and appears to be filmed on location. Hemsworth’s character is the best at what he does, but he’s also a broken, saddened man who seems perfectly fine with dying.

I’m sure this is all nice to know, but none of it really matters.

This is an action movie–through and through. The action, by the way, is hypnotic. There are incredible fist fights, gun fights, knife fights, fist fights with guns, gun fights with knives–you get the idea. I also enjoyed the style of the film. It cut from scene to scene to scene very quickly, almost as though it dared you to look away. Furthermore, the action scenes looked very similar to what you might find in a top-rated video game. They were very tight, almost intimate.

Consequently, like an over-the-top video game, this is an unabashedly violent movie. It’s not gross, but there are lots of blood splatters, blood pools, and just blood in general.

Unfortunately, once you get past the frenetic action, there’s nothing substantive about Extraction. We don’t get much of a chance to care about the boy, Ovi Mahajan, nor do we really even get much opportunity to invest in Hemsworth’s character, Tyler Rake. We’re told why we should care about him, but that’s not the same as actually creating investment in a character. I’d argue that only one character actually demanded our interest, and that was in the form of a quick cameo by a Netflix superstar. I won’t name names, but it was a fun, though brief (and unnecessary), surprise.

While Hemsworth’s physicality in Extraction is mesmerizing, there’s nothing about him in this film that sets him apart from any other classic action hero. He didn’t even get a zippy catchphrase like you would expect from Arnold, Sly, or Bruce. In fact, Hemsworth barely speaks at all in Extraction. We all know that Hemsworth oozes charm, charisma, and can be quite funny. None of that was on display in Extraction.

Finally, the ending really bothered me. And when I say the ending, I’m talking about the last two seconds of the movie. What little emotional investment I developed quickly fluttered away during those last two seconds.

In the end, Extraction is a fast, entertaining action film. It won’t capture your heart or your imagination, but it will certainly thrill, and it will look good while doing it.

 

We Love Brave Kids Art Club

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My friend, Jude Landry, recently made me aware of a YouTube channel called Brave Kids Art Club. We tried it out today, and as you can see from the pictures above, it was a huge hit!

Brad Woodard is a professional illustrator, and in these 15 to 20 minute videos he walks kids through a step-by-step process for drawing all kinds of different animals. We started with the video focusing upon an elephant. However, we see he’s already done videos for a wolf, a llama, a sea otter, a crab, a tiger, an owl–it goes on and on. Furthermore, it appears that he’s uploading these lessons daily.

Though we’ve only done one video so far, what I like best about Woodard is that he’s very friendly, fun to listen to, concise, and deliberate. Even though he’s taking the kids through a drawing line by line, he doesn’t waste a single second. While his tone is light and fun, he clearly knows what he’s saying and where he wants to go with the drawing. I also appreciate that he’s teaching the kids to draw all kinds of different animals in a manner that isn’t tied to any kind of copyrighted material or style.

My kids are 11 and 8, and they had no trouble following along. Like I said, there’s no downtime with these short videos, so the kids are busy keeping up the entire time. My kids love art, but our schedules are also very full with their remote learning and our working remotely. This video series fits our currently lifestyle perfectly.

Thanks to Brad Woodard for providing these lessons, and thanks to Jude Landry for bringing Brave Kids Art Club to my attention!

You can visit Brave Kids Art Club at YouTube by clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGpVxd8Y5ge2UYmvt7ketEQ/videos

Working Hard, Or Hardly Working? My Answer Is … Yes?

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The other day someone asked me if I’m working more or less than I did before the COVID-19 outbreak. I thought about it for a few moments, and I found that I could only logically answer “less.”

As a teacher, I spent about eight and a half hours at work every day before the pandemic. That doesn’t include any assessing, lesson planning, or prep work I did at home.

Now, with my wife working in the house as well, and two children under twelve years of age trying to learn remotely, I cannot honestly say I’m working eight and a half hours every day at my job.

I can’t.

It’s impossible.

There are far too many interruptions, distractions, and general necessities that come with a family spending all day together, every day.

However, even though I’m working less hours, I honestly feel like I’m working harder than ever before.

There is no routine now–not like there is when I’m at work during an average school day. As a result, I do a little work, we make lunch. I do a little work, I go outside and watch my kids as they play. I do a little work, we help our kids with their lessons. I do a little work, we make dinner. Do you see the pattern? The pattern is that there is no pattern. As hard as we try to establish a routine, it’s impossible due to the nature of our jobs and the circumstances.

Ultimately, there is no work “shut-off.” I’m thinking about work all the time. I’m at least reading–if not answering–emails at all hours of the day. It used to be that when I walked out of my place of work at the end of the day, that was it–the end of the work day. That mindset no longer exists.

I’m thankful that I work for a very humane district. They are stressing the importance of both physical and mental health, not just for the students, but for the employees as well. They have made it very clear to put health before work, which I greatly appreciate. However, teachers are self-motivated people who thrive on routine-oriented, multifaceted tasks. We like spinning a thousand plates at once, but we also like clearly established patterns.

I’m sure you’re probably in a similar circumstance–we all are. This is hard. It’s hard on kids, it’s hard on adults, it’s hard on everyone.

Are You Checking Your Child’s Grades?

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Whether COVID-19 has sent your life into utter chaos or perhaps simply a bit of disarray, chances are you’re forgetting to check on your child’s grades. I urge you to do so regularly.

Most school districts have an online grade book that allows family access. I’m sure your elementary and middle school teachers have communicated with you how to take a look at your student’s assessments, but if not, get in touch and ask. It is absolutely your right to keep up with your child’s grades.

Most high school students know how to check their grades using an online grade book, but that doesn’t mean they actually are. I suspect many high school students are checking out or in denial. They need your support right now, and that support will probably feel like nagging. Most adults have felt like shutting down and hiding under the sheets at some point during all of this. Teenagers feel that way, too, but they may not have the capacity to actually get over that feeling. They need you cheering them on, urging them on, or nagging them–whatever works.

Most districts have adopted a “do no harm” policy. This basically means that schools are focused on improving each and every student’s grade. If your student is currently failing, most teachers will be very accommodating with helping that student improve. It could be in the form of making up missing work, doing work over again, or perhaps even excusing some work and treating it as a “no count.”

Whatever the case may be, it starts with you checking in. I know life might be crazy for you right now. I know it seems like you might not have time to do that. I know it seems like it’s the students’ responsibility to keep up with their grades, or the teachers’ responsibility to notify you of failing grades, but it’s yours as well.

The schools want your child to succeed, the teachers want your child to succeed, your child wants to succeed, and you want your child to succeed. Let’s all work together to make sure that success is achieved.

Code 8 – A Movie Review

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Have you noticed a movie on your Netflix Top Ten list called Code 8? Know anything about it? No? I didn’t either.

In fact, it wasn’t until I read an article over at Wired that I even became aware of Code 8. This movie has a fascinating history, one that prompted me to see the film

In short, this was a crowd-funded independent film that began as a short, then had a limited theater release, and is now part of Netflix’s Top Ten. That’s quite a story in and of itself!

Starring Robbie Amell and his cousin, Stephen Amell, Code 8 is about a city full of super powered beings who are treated as second class citizens. Despite their power, they are discriminated against, hated, and treated less than human. These are not super heroes–these are just regular people trying to squeak out a living. When the mother of Robbie Amell’s character desperately needs expensive medical treatment, he turns to Stephen Amell’s character and a life of high-paying crime in order to save her. But how high of a price is he willing to pay, even if for his mother’s life?

If the name “Stephen Amell” sounds familiar to you, it’s because he played Oliver Queen on the CW’s Arrow. His cousin, Robbie, also played a smaller role on the CW’s Flash. I’d like to say that it was refreshing to see Stephen Amell playing a different kind of character. There were plenty of similarities, to be sure, but Stephen definitely has a “star” quality. And, frankly, so does Robbie. Both men more than carried Code 8.

Speaking of which, is Code 8 actually any good?

Yes, it is. At just over an hour and a half, it’s full of action, has some cool special effects, and it knows how to tease us with the captivating robotic police officers called “Guardians”–they give us just enough of these things to satisfy, but definitely leave us wanting more.

However, Code 8 didn’t quite stick the landing for me. I felt that the last five minutes were a little awkward and inconsistent with the rest of the film. Generally speaking, though, Code 8 kept me entertained, and what more can you ask for during these difficult days?

If you enjoy action, sci-fi, fast-paced movies, or just simply the Amell cousins, I recommend you give Code 8 a chance.

 

In This: My Short Story Of the Week

IN THIS

Dr. Timothy Walker tried to enter the grocery store on the wrong side. After a long day at work, he’d forgotten that they had recently established a designated “entrance” and “exit.”

As he walked along the storefront, he pulled out his cell phone and cued up the list his wife sent him. Thankfully, it wasn’t very long.

Once he grabbed a basket, Dr. Walker made his way to the produce. His kids were out of Honeycrisp apples—basically the only fruit they’d eat. Next, he made his way to the carrots, which, as you probably guessed, was their vegetable of choice.

The store had plenty of both. He wondered if he’d be so lucky in the toilet paper aisle.

Dr. Walker double-checked his screen for the next item. As he did so, he noticed a man walking toward him. They briefly made eye contact. Dr. Walker realized the stranger aimed to confront him.

But why? Dr. Walker still wore his surgical mask along with his scrubs—there’s no way anyone could recognize him. Could it be the mask? Dr. Walker noticed the man did not wear one. Perhaps he was desperate and planned to steal Dr. Walker’s.

Dr. Walker turned to face the man with his phone positioned upright at the waist and recording. If he was about to be attacked, he would be sure to collect evidence. His free hand balled into a fist. Something about the man’s intensity set him on edge.

When it seemed obvious the man did not intend to honor six feet of distance, Dr. Walker ordered, “Stop there.”

“What?” the man asked.

“Just, stop there, okay?”

The man said, “I want to say something to you.”

“Okay,” Dr. Walker replied. “Go ahead. Just, don’t get any closer, all right?”

“Yeah, okay. Yeah—you’re right. Sorry about that.”

Dr. Walker stared at the man from behind his surgical mask.

“I just wanted to thank you,” the man said.

“What?”

The man continued, saying, “Yeah, you know, you guys, you’re all out there, on the front lines, protecting us all—keeping us healthy, saving our lives. So, thank you.”

Dr. Walker stammered, “Er—You’re welcome. Of course. It’s just that—”

“No, no,” the man interrupted. “Don’t be humble. I know you’ll say you’re just doing your job. But you’re not just doing your job. You could have quit. You could have walked away. But you didn’t. All of you—all the doctors and nurses—you’re all putting your lives on the line for us. Thank you. Thank you all.”

The man’s eyes got misty at the conclusion of his statement.

“I … It’s an honor,” Dr. Walker said. “I should probably tell you, though—”

The man asked, “Can I shake your hand?”

“Absolutely not,” Dr. Walker replied.

“You’re right. That was dumb. Anyway, I’ll let you get back to shopping. Doc, if you ever need anything, you just ask, okay?”

Dr. Walker replied, “I need you to wear a mask, friend.”

“Yes! Yes, as soon as I get home, I’m going to make one. I saw a thing on YouTube about turning a jock strap into a mask.”

Dr. Walker said, “Oh, well, I don’t know about that. A tee shirt would work just as—”

“God bless you, doctor! Good luck. I’ll keep you all in my prayers!”

The man walked away. Dr. Walker watched him for a few moments. The man didn’t have a cart or a basket, he just collected items in his arms as he strolled along.

Dr. Walker continued shopping and, as fate would have it, found a mega-pack of toilet paper. It wouldn’t fit in his basket, though, so he had to wedge it between his left arm and his body as he made his way to the cash register.

As she rang him up, Dr. Walker made pleasantries with the woman behind the plexiglass. The young man bagging his groceries was far too close, but what could they do? They both wore masks, so Dr. Walker deemed it an acceptable risk.

“Doc, one last time—thank you, brother! You’re saving lives!”

Dr. Walker looked over to see the man from earlier walking by on his way to the self-checkout units. He couldn’t wave to Dr. Walker because his arms were full of groceries, so he tried to lift his chin higher and higher as he smiled.

Though the man couldn’t see it, Dr. Walker beamed from ear to ear while giving him the “thumbs-up” as he said, “We’re all in this together, my friend. Thank you for the love. Much appreciated.”

The cashier asked, “Are you a doctor?”

“Yes,” Dr. Walker replied.

“So, you’re, like, treating people with the Covid?”

“No,” Dr. Walker said. “I’m a podiatrist.”

“Yeah, but,” the bagger began, “that guy acted like you were in the thick of it, you know?”

“Yeah,” Dr. Walker confirmed. “I tried to tell him, but he wouldn’t let me finish. It was so heartfelt; I just decided to go with it.”

“But …” the woman began. She was too polite to finish her thought.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Dr. Walker chuckled. “I got the whole thing on video. I may not be on the front lines, but I have plenty of friends who are. That guy is going to make their day.”


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.

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.