Love, Lies, and Pumpkin Pies: A Short Story

Matthew Campbell leaned over the chain-link fence he shared with Ramona Stocks and said, “Ah, don’t you just love these crisp October mornings?”

“I do,” Ramona replied as she tugged her summer flowers out of the soil. The first frost had arrived and done them in. She didn’t mind, though. Ramona possessed an infinite amount of patience, and so the endless planting and replacing of flowers each season did not bother her. “In fact,” she resumed, “fall is my favorite time of the year.”

“Mine, too,” Matthew agreed. His hands clasped together and hung over the fence, just a few feet from Ramona’s head as she toiled in her flowerbed. He twisted his wedding band around his finger—something he’d started doing after his wife passed away many years ago. “Whenever the leaves start changing and a chill enters the air, I always think about my mom’s cooking. Dad mostly grilled our meals in the summer time, so fall meant Mom was back on the job.”

Ramona smiled. 

She’d been a high school science teacher, and because she’d given every ounce of time she had to her profession, remained single. She enjoyed retirement, and as she glanced up at Matthew, thought perhaps it was the right time to finally start dating.

She moved into the house next to Matthew two years ago after occupying an apartment for most of her adult life. Renovating it was something she did for amusement, and gardening quickly became a passion for her, too. It also gave her an excuse to chat with Matthew, who never failed to appear when she was outdoors.

“Was your mother a good cook?” Ramona asked after pulling out the last of her impatiens.

“The best,” Matthew answered. “She kept my brother and me plenty fed, let me tell you.”

Ramona stood and removed her gardening gloves. “I bet she could bake well, too.”

“Oh, yes.”

Sensing an opportunity, Ramona said, “Well, baking is something I’ve been meaning to take up. What’s your favorite treat?”

Also sensing an opportunity, Matthew wasted no time in answering, “Pumpkin pie, without a doubt. Mom’s were to die for, but I’ve never found one quite like hers.”

Ramona patted away the dirt on her knees while asking, “Maybe I could practice by baking you a few? You could sample them and then offer some advice on how to make one like your mom’s. Once I get it right, I’m sure I’ll start winning contests in no time.”

Matthew adjusted his cap, grinned, and said, “Why, it’d be my pleasure, Ramona. You just bring those pies over whenever you like.”

Two days later, Matthew’s doorbell rang. When he opened it, there stood Ramona with a fresh pumpkin pie. She beamed when she saw him lick his lips.

He practically sang, “Let me put on some coffee.”

Once the coffee brewed, they both sat down at his kitchen table. “Some people put whip cream on their pumpkin pie, but not me,” he informed. “I appreciate it for what it is. Of course, that doesn’t apply to my coffee.” He then dumped two spoons of sugar into his mug.

“I can’t wait any longer, Matthew,” Ramona said. “Go ahead and take a bite.”

Ramona saw a flash of ecstasy on Matthew’s face followed by what seemed to be a concerted effort at looking disappointed. Teaching had given her the ability to read body language without error, and Matthew proved a poor actor.

Nonetheless, she asked, “Is something wrong?”

“No! No, it’s delicious,” Matthew responded between chews. 

“But?”

“Well, if you’re really trying to make it like Mom’s, she always served it after it’d spent the night in the refrigerator.”

Ramona chuckled and said, “So you like it cold.”

“Yes, but you couldn’t have known that,” Matthew said. “I should have remembered to give you that detail the other day. I can’t really comment on the ingredients unless it’s cold, you know, because the coldness changes the flavor.”

It was all Ramona could do to keep from laughing. “I understand, Matthew. Think nothing of it. Why don’t you keep this one and I’ll bring you another one—a cold one—in a few days and we’ll take it from there.”

“Perfect!” Matthew agreed. They then passed several hours talking while Matthew nibbled away the entire pie.

As the weeks passed, Ramona brought pie after pie to Matthew, and though each pie was delicious in its own right, Matthew always recommended a few things. A bit more ginger; a little less salt; a dash of extra cinnamon; add lots of sugar; just a hint of vanilla extract; go easy on the ground cloves; and on it went.

But after each sampling, Matthew and Ramona spent an increasing amount of time together. They went to the movies, out to dinner, took drives in the country, and even rode the train to the city for a few days of sightseeing. A relationship slowly developed, and both of them were perfectly happy with the way things progressed.

Finally, near the end of October, Ramona dropped a pie off at Matthew’s while his younger brother, Peter, happened to visit. 

She didn’t stay long because she didn’t want to intrude upon the brothers’ time together, but also because she didn’t want any complications thrown into the farce. 

After exchanging some friendly words with Peter, Ramona told Matthew to tell her later what changes needed to be made to get it more like his mom’s. The stunned expression upon Peter’s face did not go unnoticed.

The boys sat down to try Ramona’s latest incarnation. It was, as usual, scrumptious. Before they knew it, Peter and Matthew devoured the entire thing.

Leaning back in their chairs, Peter finally asked, “What was that about Ramona trying to make pie like Mom’s?”

Shame spread across Matthew’s face as he said, “She wanted to learn to bake well. I really like Ramona, and I really like pumpkin pie, too. I told her she could practice by making it like Mom’s. I wanted to continue seeing her, so I kept suggesting little changes to the recipe here and there.”

Peter’s mouth hung open. At last, he revealed, “Matthew … Mom hated pumpkin pie. She couldn’t even stand the smell of it. She always bought it for you at Parlier’s Bakery!”

“I know,” Matthew confessed.

Later …

“Good to see you again, Ms. Stocks.”

“Hello there, Jeremy. How are you?” Ramona asked her former student.

“I’m doing very well, ma’am. What can I get for my best customer today? Yet another pumpkin pie?”

“That’s right, Jeremy,” she said as she stood inside the bakery Jeremy inherited from his father, Robert Parlier. “Yet another pumpkin pie.”

“You sure you don’t want something else?” Jeremy asked. “I would think you’d be tired of it by now. At least let me make you one fresh with some different spices.”

“No, thank you, Jeremy,” Ramona said with a sly wink. “Your pumpkin pie is perfect. Don’t change a thing.”

________________________________________

Copyright © 2009, 2017 by Scott William Foley

This work originally appeared in Bloomington News and Views for the Young at Heart, October 2009

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are 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.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife – A Movie Review

I’ve always been a lifelong Ghostbusters fan. I loved the movies, had the toys, watched the cartoon, and even tried to make my own proton pack out of cardboard boxes back in the day. I constantly wanted more of Peter, Egon, Ray, Winston, and the rest of the gang up on the silver screen, but it never seemed destined to happen. Heck, I even supported the Ghostbusters reboot with Kristen Wiig (and still do)!

So when I saw the photo of the Ecto-1 covered in a tarp while in an old barn, I got very excited, but also a little confused. What exactly was going on there? Was this Wiig’s Ghostbusters? Was this another reboot? Was it the old gang getting back together? How is that possible due to the unfortunate passing of Harold Ramis in 2014?

Without spoiling anything, Ghostbusters: Afterlife disregards Wiig’s Ghostbusters and essentially functions as Ghostbusters III. It fully acknowledges the 80s Ghostbusters and, in a very real way, continues that storyline.

The plot centers around a grown woman whose father passed away in Oklahoma. She is down on her luck, broke, and completely estranged from her dad. She gathers up her 12 and 15 year old kids and heads to Oklahoma in the hopes of gaining some kind of inheritance. All she gets is an old, creepy house, a dirt farm, a dilatated barn, and–for some reason–Ecto-1.

The two kids, played by Mckenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard, actually carve out their own little niche in the small town as their mom, played by Carrie Coon, becomes involved with a local teacher played by Paul Rudd. The first half of the movie focusses on the kids’ slowly discovering who their grandfather actually was as they tinker with his gear and experience strange abnormalities. Before long, as you would expect, ghosts start popping up. The last half of the movie is full-on fun, surprisingly sentimental, and overflowing with just the right amount of nostalgic fan service. I mean that as a real compliment–no snark here.

If you loved the 80s Ghostbusters movies, you’ll love Ghostbusters: Afterlife. The music is similar, the effects are similar, even the story is honestly pretty similar once you reach that last half. It’s no accident that Jason Reitman wrote and directed Ghostbusters: Afterlife. His dad, Ivan Reitman, directed the original two. This is obviously a love letter to what came before and a proper goodbye to Harold Ramis.

Yet, even though the nostalgia is high, Ghostbusters: Afterlife also sets up a lot of future possibilities. I wouldn’t say it’s a coincidence that Finn Wolfhard is in this film. He’s one of the kids from Stranger Things as well as the two recent It movies. I think they plan to partly build the franchise around him. Mckenna Grace plays his sister, and she’s actually the star of the film. Her character, Phoebe, has the most in common with her grandpa and is a ton of fun to celebrate. Plus, her only friend named Podcast, played by Logan Kim, is an absolute joy. You’ll see what I mean.

Let’s not forget the two Hollywood heavyweights in the movie–Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon. It doesn’t get much better than these two. Reitman has a cast with ample chemistry and oodles of charisma. I’d be more than happy to keep watching them all together for years to come.

But … there’s even more to it than that. I won’t give anything away, but there are two distinct future storylines already at play, one for the old, and one for the new. I have no doubt they’ll eventually converge. Speaking of which, be sure to sit through ALL of the credits.

So, I could have saved you a lot of time by simply writing this one phrase: If you love Ghostbusters, you’ll love Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

Free Guy – A Movie Review

I’ve been meaning to see Free Guy for awhile now because I heard it was really funny and had some great cameos. It finally arrived on DVD, so I checked it out at my local library because … as previously established … I like my movies free.

I’ll be honest — the first hour dragged a bit for me. But the last hour — superb!

The premise is this — Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a nonplayable character in a video game. He doesn’t realize he’s in a video game, though. All the action stars of his world wear sun glasses, and we quickly realize those are the gamers. One day, after experiencing a kind of love at first sight, he gets hold of a pair of sunglasses, puts them on and … becomes free. From that moment on, we begin to get a glimpse into the real world, how programmers played by hot commodities Jodie Comer and Joe Keery influence Guy and his environment, and whether a game company owner villain extraordinaire played by Taika Waititi will end Guy’s life as he knows it.

Free Guy is big on action, hilarious on comedy with work buddies Lil Rel Howery and Ryan Reynolds exhibiting superb chemistry, and surprisingly complex as issues of video game ethics, artificial intelligence, and morality come into play. Plus, there’s a good old fashion love story.

Before it hits its stride, though, Free Guy is a little bit jarring. Ryan Reynolds plays Guy as a cross between Buddy from Elf and Emmet from The Lego Movie. It then moves into territory akin to The Matrix in terms of reality versus the digital world. But, once you wrap your head around the concept, it’s a super fun ride with a solid story.

Plus, there are some fantastic cameos and Easter eggs. I won’t spoil them, but be on the lookout for visual and audio standouts. Remember, technically speaking, this is a Disney film.

If you’re looking for an action comedy with a pretty engaging storyline, give Free Guy a shot.

Borderline: A Short Story

“Back away from the gate or I will shoot you!”

“No, don’t!” the girl shrieked with tears streaming down her face. She appeared no more than fifteen years old, and the boy with her couldn’t have been over ten. Both had obviously been traveling over rough terrain for quite a while. Their clothes were dirty and torn. She continued by pleading, “Please don’t kill us! Let us in; they’ll be here soon!”

Sentry Corporal Soto sat atop the wall mounted in his Individually Operated Cannon. He looked down at the kids through his reflective visor which obscured his eyes. Though he kept his left hand on the IOC control stick, he used his other to point a sidearm at them.

“No exceptions!” he shouted. “Turn away—now!”

“What’s going on here?” a new voice asked.

SC Soto glanced over his shoulder to see Sentry Sergeant Badu bobbing next to him. SS Badu operated a Piloted Hover Pack, which allowed him to quickly cover the half-mile distance between each IOC.

“Please!” the girl wailed through the gate. “Let us in! They’ll kill us!”

SS Badu briefly studied the kids and then faced SC Soto while saying, “I’m opening the gate.”

As SS Badu began to input the authorization codes on his wrist unit, SC Soto yelled, “Stand down, Badu! You’re breaking protocol!”

“We don’t have time for procedure!” SS Badu shouted as he pointed beyond the wall to the south.

There it was, just a tiny speck on the horizon but approaching quickly—a thornship.

The kids started crying even harder. The little boy covered his eyes.

“They’re terrified!” SS Badu yelled. “I’m letting them in!”

“They could infect us all!” SC Soto roared. “You want a repeat of what happened in Florida? This is exactly how we lost Georgia!”

“We’re not infected!” the girl howled. “We escaped Carmargo–we just want the cold! Please, let us in and you’ll never see us again!”

SC Soto sneered at SS Badu as he said, “Have you forgotten the Weedies infect humans and try to get them into the FHZ? The aliens can’t go north themselves, so they count on our bleeding hearts to do the job for them by letting in their infected prisoners.”

The girl declared, “Our parents told us you’d protect us! They died getting us out!” She next reached for the bars on the gate.

SG Soto barked, “Do not touch that gate or I’ll shoot you in the head–do you understand?”

SS Badu ordered, “Put that gun away, Soto.”

“Screw you–you don’t outrank me,” SG Soto returned.

“If that ship reaches them, they’re dead,” SS Badu said.

SG Soto replied, “Only if they’re not infected.”

The girl cried, “We’re not infected—I promise!”

SS Badu flew the PHP closer to SG Soto and asked, “You’re willing to let them die?”

“Better than being the guy who lost Texas,” SG Soto declared. “How can we be a Free Human Zone if we don’t have any free humans left alive?”

“It’s getting closer!” the girl screeched. “Please!”

“We’re letting them in,” SS Badu said.

SG Soto shook his head while arguing, “No one gets in who hasn’t been scanned and verified by the big brains–no exceptions!”

The girl wrapped her arms around the little boy as she bellowed, “We’re begging you!”

SG Soto said to SS Badue, “You do this and I’m filing a report that you broke procedure and allowed them in. If they’re infected, it’s all on you. Are they worth it? Thousands of free humans for two kids who have been sent to kill us all?”

The girl looked up at SS Badu with pleading eyes.

SS Badu landed his PHP and approached the gate. He placed his helmeted forehead against the bars, lifted his visor, and made eye contact with both children. After a few moments, he simply said, “I’m sorry, kids. I’m so sorry.”

The girl’s face went blank. She grabbed the young boy’s hand and started running west along the wall.

SG Soto and SS Badu watched the thornship approach. They knew it wouldn’t dare cross the border, but SG Soto prepped his IOC nonetheless. As expected, the ugly shaft of a craft banked west. Minutes later, the men heard the unmistakable sound of disintegration.

“Told you,” SG Soto seethed.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” SS Badu asked.

“That thornship was going so fast, it would have been way past the kids. They were infected, just like I said. Weedies don’t vaporize the infected. They’re counting on some other idiot like you to let those kids through.”

“It could have slowed down,” SS Badu said. “We might have just sentenced them to death.”

SG Soto holstered his sidearm, shrugged, and said, “Guess we’ll never know.”

SS Badu knew he could review the video after his shift. The entire wall was monitored at all times from California to North Carolina.

He knew he could … but he also knew he wouldn’t.

___________________________________________

Copyright © 2021 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 Red Notice – A Movie Review

Red Notice felt very much like the excuse we needed to get Dwyane Johnson, Gal Gadot, and Ryan Reynolds together in a movie. It’s not especially good, but it’s fun to watch the three of these stars work together, so there you go.

Oh.

I guess you need a bit more than that, huh?

Okay, so Red Notice is about an art thief (Reynolds) trying to outdo another art thief (Gadot) as he’s being pursued by a profiler (Johnson) who is working with Interpol. Reynolds and Johnson eventually have to team up as Gadot outsmarts them both in regards to ancient Egyptian art pieces in the shape of eggs that Reynolds at one point refers to as MacGuffins. (Yes, you read that right.) Like any good MacGuffin, they serve as the motivation for all three characters even though nothing much ever really comes of them.

Reynolds cracks wise through the whole thing, Johnson tries to play his straight man, and Gadot takes a shot at being a femme fatale.

Honestly, there’s action, but it’s not great action. There’s fun quips from Reynolds, but we’ve heard much better from him in every other movie he’s done. Johnson seems to lack his usual charm for some reason. Gadot is fine though even she doesn’t particularly stand out.

Red Notice is a perfectly acceptable popcorn movie, but it never quite seems to figure out what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it a buddy movie, an action comedy, a self-referential satire, or a mostly serious heist film? It does not settle on any one of these, but instead dabbles in all of them.

While it was indeed fun to see Johnson, Reynolds, and Gadot on screen together, Red Notice did not work nearly as well as it should have.

The Green Knight – A Movie Review

For several months now, I’ve heard very good things about The Green Knight. Unfortunately, it got lost in the mix during the pandemic and then the game began of just how much I was willing to pay to stream it since the theaters were no longer an option. The answer is that I wasn’t willing to pay very much at all. Nothing, in fact. That’s not a slight against the movie. I’m just a little cheap.

Anyway, at long last, The Green Knight became available for free on DVD at my local library. I put it on hold the day it was due to arrive.

Finally, I saw The Green Knight.

The verdict: pretty good, but a little weird.

I don’t mind weird; not at all. But this one … it’s a little weird.

For those unfamiliar, The Green Knight is about Gawain, nephew to King Arthur, a young man who must face The Green Knight again one year after being allowed to strike the knight down. The movie follows Gawain as he undertakes his journey in search of The Green Knight as things get pretty weird. Gawain finds The Green Knight, and then things get even weirder. I won’t lie, the ending confused the heck out of me.

But, even with that begin said, I actually enjoyed The Green Knight. It’s eerie, grotesquely beautiful, well filmed, interesting, and–as already established–weird. Dev Patel’s Gawain is vulnerable, understated, and charismatic. The Green Knight himself is mysterious, creepy, and noble. You’ll notice some stars currently breaking out such as Erin Kellyman and Barry Keoghan, as well as some established names like Joel Edgerton and Alicia Vikander, all of whom play fascinating characters in their own right. In fact, until after doing a little research, I didn’t even realize that Vikander played TWO characters in the movie!

I’m not sure The Green Knight is for everyone. Even though we’re led to believe we’re looking at King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, and Merlin, they are never called as such. The film is subversive in that the knights are not particularly chivalrous and the land is not especially pleasant to inhabit. There are some fantasy elements, but, like Gawain himself, they are subtle and understated.

In the end, The Green Knight is very open to interpretation. Those looking for a neat, tidy ending may be disappointed. Those in search of a unique movie that doesn’t seem to play by the rules might be quite entertained. I fall somewhere in the middle.

Eternals – A Movie Review

Let’s get right down to it – this movie is far better than the critics would have you believe. Is it a touch too long? For sure. Is it a tad melodramatic at times? Most definitely. However, knowing what I know about Eternals from the comic books, I told people not to expect Avengers or Spider-Man. I told them to expect a cosmic think-piece, and I stand by that prediction. A cosmic think-piece is exactly what we got.

I’ll try to boil the plot down without spoiling any of it. The Eternals are a group of powered entities sent to protect humanity specifically against an otherworldly race of predators. Once they rid Earth of these creatures, their mission will be complete. However, they are banned from interfering in any way that does not involve the predators. We span thousands and thousands of years in Eternals, with many cuts back and forth throughout time. Eventually, the Eternals believe the time to go home has finally arrived. And they are right, but for reasons they never could have imagined.

Eternals hired very good actors for a purpose – it needed them to bring these unknown characters to life and to make us care about them. (I mean, come on! Who doesn’t love seeing Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, Kumail Nanjiani, and Richard Madden in the same movie!) Again, yes, the movie is too long – no one is arguing that. But, that long runtime allows us to really get to know each and every member of the Eternals – all ten of them. They each have distinct personalities and philosophies, and the respective actors playing each character do a nice job with showcasing these unique attributes. This is a family of sorts, and we’re meant to believe that they’ve been together for thousands of years. As a result, their relationships are complicated. For the most part, I believe Eternals delivered a smart plot with fully developed characters. In fact, there were a few twists in this movie that I didn’t even see coming. I quite enjoyed that.

It’s important that Marvel begins to recondition their audience with a film like Eternals. I imagine Marvel wants to allow a bit more room for its characters to breathe. It wants to explore the deep, sometimes even trippy, imaginings of luminaries like Jack Kirby. It wants to present morally complex tales that exist beyond “good guys” and “bad guys.” It’s hard to do this with established characters or properties. We know we’re getting weird from Dr. Strange, but not necessarily deep characterization. We know we’re getting funny from Guardians Of the Galaxy, but maybe not cosmic philosophy. Eternals attempts to tackle this endeavor while still remaining part of the MCU. But think about how hard it is to break the mold with largely unknown characters! The audience isn’t familiar with any of them, nor do they have a preexisting affinity for them. Studios keep remaking movies from the past with well-known characters because that guarantees a certain audience draw. Marvel rolled the dice on a largely dramatic movie like Eternals, and they did so with a director not known for these kinds of films.

By the way, I love that Marvel took a chance on Chloé Zhao. Getting fresh perspectives, styles, and voices is important if you want to keep leviathans like the MCU feeling new. On first view, though, I didn’t get a huge sense of where Zhao’s sensibilities shook things up. She’s also the writer, so perhaps her macro level influence is exactly what I’m talking about. Slower pace. Deeper characterization. More complex plot elements.

Consequently, Eternals is not a total departure from established Marvel trends. It’s still funny at times, though there are far more tears than we’re accustomed to seeing. There are still great action sequences, though they are spread out further than what we’re used to. The special effects are fantastic, and the costumes are magnificent. Eternals also opened up a lot of potential storylines, both within the movie itself and with its credit stingers. (There’s two, so stay all the way through the credits.)

This film is honestly a big swing for Marvel. Eternals is an epic story involving ten main characters while spanning millennia. It’s addressing what has come before, the present, and setting up stories to come. No, it does not provide pulse-pounding excitement, but it does present an interesting story with fully realized characters that I came to care about. Too long? Yes. Too much crying? I think so. Worth seeing? Absolutely.