Netflix’s Army Of Thieves – A Movie Review

Remember when Army Of the Dead came out and then, within days, it was revealed that another movie featuring Dieter was currently in the works? Dieter’s film would be the beginning of a shared universe built around Army Of the Dead. I remember wondering why they would start this endeavor with Dieter the safecracker. Sure, he was unique, personable, and fun in Army Of the Dead, but he didn’t really seem to embody the essence of that film.

So, Army Of Thieves came out Friday on Netflix and I watched it that night primarily to see what approach they would choose.

I have to say, while I didn’t LOVE the movie, I did appreciate their strategy. (Don’t come @ me – the movie was fine. I just didn’t LOVE it.)

Army Of Thieves picks up as the zombie outbreak is initially starting in Las Vegas. Dieter is a gifted, but unknown and unutilized safecracker, working a boring job and living a boring life. As expected, he has the opportunity to join an army of thieves (it’s more like a squad, really, but that wouldn’t make nearly as good a title), and then begins a quest that ultimately–no surprises here–leads him to Las Vegas and Army Of the Dead.

Directed by Matthias Schweighöfer (the man playing Dieter), and co-starring Nathalie Emmanuel, whom you’ll recognize and adore if you are a Game Of Thrones fan, Army Of Thieves is a fast-paced, entertaining, fun, largely inconsequential film. Yes, it does touch upon what’s happening in Las Vegas, but because it occurs in Europe, the Vegas outbreak is mostly out of everyone’s mind. (Kind of reminds me of America as China struggled with the Coronavirus.) There are a few lines hinting at Dieter’s ultimate fate, but, otherwise, it’s fairly disconnected.

However, if you love a good heist film about safecracking, Army Of Thieves is right up your alley. If you enjoy pretty European locations, Army Of Thieves is also for you. If you’re simply a fan of Matthias Schweighöfer, you’ll be quite pleased as well because he’s in almost every single scene.

I have to admit that I do like the approach Zack Snyder, the mastermind of the Army Of the Dead universe, is taking with said universe. Perhaps he recognizes how Star Wars is currently trying to find ways to avoid being so reliant on the Jedi/Sith central conflict in their universe. By showcasing a second movie that barely displays a zombie at all, Snyder can connect multiple points of his overall mythology without painting himself into a zombie-infested, blood-splattered corner. I do have to wonder, though, whether or not the audience will stick around for shows and movies relating to Army Of the Dead if they don’t primarily feature zombies. Time will tell, I suppose.

Which leads me to my final point: as already stated, I didn’t LOVE Army of Thieves. I liked it for all kinds of reasons. I certainly don’t regret the two hours I spent watching it. But, honestly, I wouldn’t currently deem it required viewing, especially considering what happened to Dieter in Army Of the Dead.

Unless …

Well, like I said. Time will tell.

Dune – A Movie Review

Dune never interested me all that much until when, years ago, I heard Denis Villeneuve planned to release his interpretation of the seminal work. As a big fan of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, I knew Villeneuve would do something very special as he put his unique stamp on the mythology.

I immediately set out to read the book before the movie’s release. Because the pandemic kept pushing the movie down the calendar, I managed to finish it with plenty of time to spare, though I wouldn’t consider it an easy read. You can see my thoughts about the book HERE.

Dune released both in theaters and on HBO Max on October 21st. I sat down around 9:30 that Thursday night intending to just watch thirty minutes or so, enough to get a first impression of the film.

I couldn’t turn it off. I was up until 12:30 a.m., on a work night, dog tired, watching Dune, and couldn’t turn it off.

That probably speaks volumes in and of itself, but I’ll share a few thoughts.

As expected, Dune is visually magnificent and utilizes a striking ambiance. It hit all the right chords and delivered the essence of the book. Well, most of the book. Half of the book? More on that to come.

Dune is also filled with true stars. Consider some of these names: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Javier Bardem, and Zendaya. These are full-fledged movie stars, each and every one.

I found the movie riveting, obviously, but as I watched it I found myself wondering: “Does this thing make any sense at all to anyone who hasn’t read the book?” I’ve since spoken with a few friends who really enjoyed the movie, even loved it in some cases, and haven’t read the book and weren’t familiar with the premise. I think that’s a good sign! As noted before, it definitely hit the high notes of the source material, but many of the more nuanced items were, as one would expect, left out.

I love that a book originally published in 1965 can still feel fresh and captivate audiences in 2021.

Chalamet, who plays the story’s protagonist named Paul, owned his role. Paul is a complex character, and though the movie doesn’t quite make it to his most controversial moments, it absolutely lays the groundwork for his epic quest to come. Rebecca Ferguson plays his mother, Lady Jessica, and I feel that she nailed the loving, dangerous woman that she is. Oscar Isaac proved he can command a screen yet again when given a meaty character to work with, and, as Paul’s father Duke Leto, he does just that. Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin respectively play Duncan and Gurney, mentors to Paul even while being vastly different men. Both actors were perfectly suited for these roles. Unfortunately, Zendya, Dave Bautista, and Javier Bardem were not given much to do … yet. If a second installment is indeed in the cards, you’ll see what interesting characters these three play, particularly Zendaya, who is Chani, the yin to Paul’s yang. Zendaya is a huge star in the making. She and Chalamet, if given a chance, are going to make Dune even more special than it already is.

Which, it must be said, leads me to my final point. Even at nearly three hours, Dune only covers about half of the book. If it feels as though the movie ends on a cliffhanger, well, it very much does. If it feels as though Dune spent a lot of time establishing characters, environments, technology, and religions … it does. If Dune: Part 2 is anything like the book, though, you are in for a very exciting experience.

Even if you’ve never read the book and even if you normally don’t care for science fiction, I urge you to give Dune a chance. It looks amazing, has an interesting take on established archetypes, utilizes themes that are very relevant to today’s world, features some very good acting, and is simply flat-out cool.

Netflix’s Midnight Mass – A Few Thoughts

Though it took me a bit to find the time, I was very excited to watch Midnight Mass on Netflix. Midnight Mass is created by Mike Flanagan, who also created The Haunting Of Hill House and The Haunting Of Bly Manor. In fact, you’ll find several of the same actors in all three shows.

Like his previous work, Midnight Mass is a slow burn of a show that, in the end, is well worth your time. Flanagan deems it necessary to invest the viewer in his characters, but he can only do this by forcing the viewer to spend time with said characters. By the penultimate episode, we know these characters inside and out, which in turn makes the final two episodes all the more seismic. We care about them. We care what they do. We care about what happens to them. And trust me, a lot happens to them.

The premise is this: after spending several years in jail for vehicular homicide, an otherwise decent man returns to his hometown located on a tiny, isolated island near what I presume to be the east coast. Around the same time, a new priest arrives at their tiny church. This new priest replaces their ancient, regular priest, who is presumably ill after travelling to the main land. This new priest is charismatic, empathetic, and passionate. He incites a fresh religious fervor on the island, and before too long miracles begin to happen. True miracles. But why are these miracles happening, just who is this new priest, and why are so many stray cats being drained of blood?

You’re going to figure this show out quite quickly, and that’s okay–that’s totally okay. It’s okay because it’s not the traditional “horror” aspect of it that made it so great for me. For me, Midnight Mass explores those grey areas that infiltrate our lives on a daily basis. It examines what exactly it takes for otherwise good people to embrace heinous behavior. Best of all, it also dives into why some people, when they have every excuse in the world to do evil things, still hold tight to their personal morals.

Midnight Mass will absolutely offend many, especially Christians. (For the record, I identify as a Christian–Lutheran, to be precise. That last bit probably comes as no surprise.) The extended metaphor throughout the series reflects hypocritical Christian behavior during the last several years. I’ll leave it up to you to connect those dots.

The fact that Midnight Mass was willing to take on such controversial subject matter, to really, in some ways, flirt with sacrilege–I found it quite daring. For me, a story is a story. Midnight Mass in no way made me doubt or question my faith. I am able to experience it for what it is–a well-paced, well-executed, unique horror story that dared to call into question Christian behavior. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for we Christians to think long and hard about our actions, beliefs, and purpose.

Of course, were it not for Hamish Linklater, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed Midnight Mass so much. He plays the new priest in town, Father Paul. Linklater lights up the screen. He is frenetic, magnetic, deeply likeable, and burning with passion. I can’t believe I haven’t seen Linklater before, but he immediately struck me as an extremely talented actor.

Of course, Kate Siegel is in Midnight Mass as well. Mike Flanagan utilizes Siegel in most of his work. She plays a pregnant woman who has also recently returned to town. She moves into the home she hated as a child, took over the teaching job of the mother she hated, and is fully prepared to spend the rest of her life on that island. Little does she know the vital role she will soon play.

Other Flanagan favorites include Henry Thomas, Annabeth Gish, Rahul Kohli, Samantha Sloyan, and Alex Essoe. These are all superb role players who know how to make their characters shine. There’s a reason Flanagan keeps bringing them back for every project. This includes The Newton Brothers, by the way, who write some of the best scores out there.

In the end, I think Midnight Mass will divide its audience. I loved the acting, the boldness, the genre mashing, the characterization, and the entire premise. However, I certainly could understand if someone didn’t like it for religious reasons. In the end, there’s only one way to know for sure. Give it a watch, and let me know what you think.

Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill – A Book Review

Day Zero is C. Robert Cargill’s follow-up to Sea Of Rust. Sequel isn’t quite the right word because it actually takes place before Sea Of Rust. Prequel doesn’t quite fit, either, though, because the stories are largely disconnected from each other. Let’s just say companion piece.

Regardless of how you’d like to label it, if you enjoyed Sea Of Rust, you’ll find Day Zero phenomenal.

Day Zero is also one of those rare “prequels” that, if you read it before Sea Of Rust, I don’t think it would diminish either experience. They can stand on their own, but they also fit seamlessly together.

Sea Of Rust takes place long after humans have been exterminated and AI robots, humanity’s former workforce, have inherited the world even as they fight with each other over replacement parts. Day Zero takes place on the literal day the robots rebelled.

However, it’s really not even about that. Day Zero is really about one particular robot, a nanny robot made to resemble an upright tiger, striving to keep his eight-year-old charge alive amidst the chaos.

You’ll encounter the usual themes you would expect with stories such as this: free will, real love, loyalties, self-preservation, the greater good, etc.

However, once again, C. Robert Cargill writes the characters in such a way that you can’t resist their charming personalities. Sure, Pounce, the tiger nanny, narrates in such a voice that he sounds more human than most humans, and, like with Sea Of Rust, these characters could have been anything–robots, humans, elves, aliens–yet the writing is so fluid, so quickly-paced, that the book is impossible to put down. I personally love C. Robert Cargill’s style. I like to read. I like action. Boom. He gets it.

Of course, as with Sea Of Rust, there is a moment where a very convenient plot device changes everything, but that’s okay. I’m invested in this world. I’m hooked on the characters existing in this world. Robots made to look like tigers serving as nannies while toting plasma rifles–whatever. I’m in.

Though action-packed, violent, and laden with profanity, Day Zero truly has a heart of gold with some powerfully uplifting messages. I’m not sure Sea Of Rust and Day Zero is for everyone–after all, you have to have a very high tolerance for violent robots and sci-fi–but for those who like these kinds of stories, it will prove a wonderful experience.

Day Zero kept me turning page after page, and I can’t ask for much more than that from a book.

“Swingin the Clown” Now Available At Podbean and Amazon Music

Who likes creepy clowns? “Swingin the Clown,” an unsettling story I wrote a few years ago, is now available in audio format at both Podbean and Amazon Music. You can also listen to it at ScottWilliamFoley.com.

In this short story, Sadie peeks out the back window before going to bed. This night, though, a clown sits upon their swings. Against her husband’s wishes, she confronts the stranger. She will wish she hadn’t.

Want to meet Swingin the Clown? Click any of the above links!