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!

“Fallen Man” Now Available At Podbean and Amazon Music

My science fiction short story, “Fallen Man,” is now available at ScottWilliamFoley.com, Podbean, and Amazon Music.

In this story, Bryan is certain he’s going to die at the bottom of that ravine. When help arrives, it’s in a form he never expected.

Click any of the above hyperlinks to give it a listen!

Luigi’s Mansion 3 For Nintendo Switch – A Few Thoughts

If you follow my writings, you may remember that I returned to video games last January after taking a twenty year hiatus. I started with Link’s Awakening, then took on Super Mario Odyssey, and finally found the courage for Breath Of the Wild. I heard the news that another favorite property of mine is due to release in October — Metroid: Dread. As I anxiously await that moment, I thought I’d tackle a highly recommended game called Luigi’s Mansion 3.

As I stated with Super Mario Odyssey, I wasn’t a big fan of Mario and Luigi growing up. I was never particularly good at Super Mario Bros. Of course, Odyssey proved an absolute blast and showed me the waywardness of my thinking. If Luigi’s Mansion 3 proved half as fun as Odyssey, I’d have a great time.

And the truth is — I had a great time indeed!

I won’t say I liked Luigi’s Mansion 3 as much as Odyssey, but I certainly had a ton of fun playing it. I was totally unfamiliar with Luigi’s Mansion, so, if you’re like me, you may need a bit of catching up. Luigi, Mario, and friends are headed to a beautiful hotel. It is suddenly overrun by ghosts. King Boo takes Luigi’s friends and family hostage. Luigi, who is completely terrified throughout the game, must use some cool inventions given to him to clear the hotel of ghosts, level by level, until he can finally rescue his loved ones.

Honestly, it’s a little bit Ghostbusters, a little bit Casper, a little bit Haunted Mansion, and a whole lot of good times. The ghosts were super creative throughout the game, especially each level’s main villain. You might get a jump scare here and there, but, for the most part, the game is pretty funny and lighthearted. The graphics are crisp and the gameplay is both intuitive and fluid.

I especially liked that it’s not a particularly hard game. I had to look a few things up on the Internet, but overall, it’s a quick, breezy game that doesn’t demand too much commitment from you. After Breath Of the Wild, that was very much appreciated!

The game actually keeps track of how much time you spend playing it, which I thought was a really cool feature. I beat it in about 25 total hours. Keep in mind that I’m the guy constantly searching for coins, gems, and those kinds of things. I’ll pull down every curtain and flip every garbage can in search of treasure. That sort of thing eats up a lot of time, but I love the exploring aspect of video games.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 only cost me $40 (it was on sale), and I didn’t regret buying it for a single moment. If you’re looking for a fast, enjoyable, lighthearted game to pass the time, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is for you.

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Gram Jones – A Book Review

Most of my recent reads come from a list of recommendations by Literary Hub’s “The 50 Best Contemporary Novels Under 200 Pages.” Mapping the Interior is from among those many wonderful books.

Written by Stephen Graham Jones, Mapping the Interior is a concise 107 pages. It’s told from the perspective of a Native American boy nearing his teens. His mother moved he and his little brother–who seems to have some health challenges–off of their reservation and into a lackluster trailer. The boy reveals his father died some time ago, so no one is more surprised than he when that very same father appears in their home. Their real father is dead and buried, though. This is something … different.

For such a slim book, Mapping the Interior dives into some rather poignant issues such as poverty, racism, violence, alcoholism, bullying, brotherly love, motherly love, disabled family members, and absentee fathers. Running throughout all of these themes, however, is a sense of dread as a monster seems to persistently lurk.

At times surreal, Mapping the Interior plays with the reader a bit as it teases fantasy while dealing very much in reality. Those two genres eventually merge and it becomes difficult to separate fact versus fiction as our narrator may or may not be totally reliable. There were several moments in the book when I had to read a paragraph over to be certain I read it correctly, but this wasn’t a bad thing. Mapping the Interior demands your engagement.

My only criticism of the book pertains to the ending. It managed a consistent, fast-moving pace until the very end, when the pace suddenly hit lightspeed. I understand the point Jones wanted to make about fathers and sons, but the last ten pages of the book were frustratingly rushed. In all honestly, the last ten pages should have been given another hundred pages if not an entire follow-up book.

If you like thoughtful, brief works that aren’t afraid to dabble in horror, I highly recommend Mapping the Interior.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – A Movie Review

My daughter and I, who both love movies, haven’t been to a theater during the entire pandemic. However, for an MCU theater-only release, and because we’re both vaccinated, we decided to make our triumphant return in order to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

I won’t lie – it wasn’t a totally comfortable situation at the theater. Even with that being said, though, we’re SO glad we went.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is absolutely an action comedy with moments of fairly poignant emotional drama. I know Marvel often goes for that concept, but they resoundingly connect on Shang-Chi. Furthermore, the special effects are phenomenal, but it’s the hand-to-hand martial arts that will mesmerize you. Best of all? The story isn’t too bad, either.

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t very familiar with Shang-Chi despite the fact that I grew up reading Marvel Comics. Shang-Chi has been a comic book character since 1973, after all. Even so, I knew every thing I needed to know about the MCU Shang-Chi within moments of his introduction on screen. He puts his dishes in the sink after joining Katy’s family for breakfast. He kisses Katy’s grandmother on the head before taking his leave. Bam. There it is. He’s not just a hero, he’s nice.

However, when the fighting starts, and you won’t have to wait long, prepare to see Shang-Chi unleased. You’ve seen parts of the bus fight in the previews – you haven’t seen anything yet. It is a thrilling moment and firmly establishes that Simu Liu has both the charisma and the physicality to headline an MCU martial arts action movie.

Speaking of which, the heart and soul of this film is Simu Liu, who plays Shang-Chi, and Awkwafina, who plays Katy. Their comedic chemistry is a blast and I honestly believed they were the best of friends. I look forward to seeing these two for many years to come.

Tony Chiu-Wai Leung plays Shang-Chi’s father, the true leader of The Ten Rings. Marvel has given us heroes with daddy issues before, but Leung might be the first one who actually elicited sympathy from me – maybe even a bit of empathy. His story is vital to the overall plot, and though father/son conflicts are something of a fantasy trope, this one still felt uniquely fresh.

I promise not to spoil anything, but there are many, many delightful surprises in this film. There are several actors I want to commend, but I don’t want to ruin anything for you. Just know that I’ve only touched upon the three you’ve seen in previews. This film is full of performances that will both catch you off guard and make perfect sense to you.

In the end, I found the story fairly captivating. The comedic friendship between Shang-Chi and Katy were my favorite parts, the backstory with Shang-Chi’s father proved interesting enough, other elements of Shang-Chi’s family also held my attention, but the last act’s “big battle” was problematic. These giant end-of-movie-fights are escalating to an impossible degree. It was visually magnificent, but the stakes seemed way too high for such a predictable outcome. Believe it or not, Shang-Chi struck me as oddly intimate throughout most of the film – the ending contradicted that more tightly-woven approach. But, the ending got the Shang-Chi character where he needed to go, and now his future is wide open.

If you’re vaccinated and comfortable going to the theater, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is certainly worth the trip. My daughter and I immensely enjoyed it from start to finish. Loveable characters, big laughs, thrilling action, cool story – you can’t ask for much more than that of an MCU movie, right?

Grief Is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter – A Book Review

I once again must thank Literary Hub’s “The 50 Best Contemporary Novels Under 200 Pages” for suggesting yet another novella, this time the book called Grief Is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter.

At just 114 pages, this novella is a series of paragraphs and stanzas exploring the utter heartbreak of a man after losing his young wife. He must now raise their two boys alone, and he hasn’t a clue how to do so. A crow appears to guide the man through his grief, comfort the children, and help out in any possible way. However, Crow’s also there to encourage chaos, to promote carnage, and to spout madness.

Crow is a complicated figure in this book, especially because I’m not convinced he was ever really there at all. Or perhaps he was grief personified. Or maybe he represented the delicate balance between tranquility and turmoil that exists perpetually within our daily lives. It would also make sense if he was death. Maybe he was just a crow? Like I said–complicated.

As I mentioned, Grief Is the Thing With Feathers is a quick read due to its unconventional formatting. Somewhere between prose and poem, the novella flies by for the invested reader.

That being said, I had a hard time making the time to read it. I found myself a little disinterested throughout, though, I will admit, the last few pages were strikingly emotional.

I think everyone who reads Grief Is the Thing With Feathers will have a different encounter. The material is both universal and very specific, yet everyone will connect with it in some capacity. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the book, but I do admit that it’s a book every reader should experience for themselves.