Why You Should Be Watching BBC America’s Killing Eve

Tonight, Killing Eve’s season finale airs.  If you’re not watching this show, you really should.  I heard about it on a few different podcasts, and so my wife and I checked it out and it immediately won us over.  Why?

Good question.

Let me see if I can answer it.

Sandra Oh plays Eve Polastri, and American born citizen who came to Britain and never left.  She works for MI5, which is England’s equivalent of the FBI.  A global assassin has come to her attention, and, to be honest — she’s a fan.

Jodie Comer plays Villanelle, the assassin.  She is young, brilliant, beautiful, athletic, and a total psychopath.  When she discovers Eve is hot on her trail, she becomes infatuated.

Do you recognize the beginnings of a very unhealthy relationship?

This is a quirky show.  At times it is incredibly violent because Villanelle loves what she does for a living.  At other moments it is quite dramatic as Eve’s relationship with her husband suffers due to her professional, and personal, secrecy.  It then becomes a flat-out thriller when Eve and Villanelle come face to face.  However, amidst everything, it is always darkly humorous.  This show has a weird, pervasive sense of humor that is always lurking just below the surface.

This is probably due to the series creator: Phoebe Waller-Bridge.  She also created and starred in Fleabag, an equally idiosyncratic show that I rave about at every opportunity.  She has a strangely captivating sense of humor, and it shines in this series she based on a novel.

Everyone gives a top-notch performance in Killing Eve.  The writing is crisp.  The locations are both beautiful and mundane.  Even the clothes are oddly interesting.

But beneath it all, the show has an electricity to it that I don’t detect in many other programs.  It just feels … different.  It strikes me as fresh, original, and a little dangerous.

With its eighth and final episode premiering tonight, it doesn’t require much of a commitment on your part.  They move fast and believe me when I say you’ll be entertained the entire time.  Be prepared, though, when Villanelle is on the job, she pulls no punches.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer in Killing Eve (2018)

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Seeing Hamilton In Chicago – Our Complete Journey

My wife recently celebrated a milestone birthday, and so I thought it would be nice to mark the occasion with a special event.  Because she’s been dying to see Hamilton for years, I figured that would be something special for us to do.

However, tickets for Hamilton are always in demand, so I had to plan ahead if I wanted this to work out.  Way back in January, I bought tickets for the May 19th matinee.  (You can do the same by clicking HERE.)  Be prepared, the tickets range from ridiculously expensive to fairly overpriced.  Unless you buy at the very last minute, you’re going to spend a pretty penny.  But our loved ones are worth it, right?  Absolutely.

We originally planned to take the Amtrak train from Normal to Chicago.  We’ve done this in the past and it’s always been a simple endeavor.  Shockingly, Amtrak cancelled our train the week before departure.  Again, I scheduled these tickets back in January, so this proved unwelcome news.  I discovered when I called to find out what caused the cancellation that they had transferred our train tickets to bus tickets without telling us, so I immediately cancelled those and told them we’d be driving ourselves.  Oh, by the way — the reason for the train cancellation?  Line work.

I don’t mind driving into Chicago, but it does introduce a new set of challenges —  primarily the issue of parking.  Fortunately, this turned out to be easy.  I found a website called iParkit which allows you to reserve a spot.  This particular spot could be found in a parking garage near the theater.  I just had to mark the date, the arrival time, and the departure time.  They then sent me a QR code via email.  When I got to the garage, I simply scanned my code and drove in.  When it was time to leave, I scanned my code again and left.  We reserved our spot for ten hours and it only cost $13, which I prepaid.  It could not have been less complicated.  (If you want to reserve a space at the garage we used, click HERE.)

We took I-55 literally from Normal to downtown Chicago.  I think we only actually had to make three turns from the time we got on the interstate to the time we reached our garage.  Driving into Chicago from two plus hours away can be an unpredictable adventure.  The show began at 2:00 and we knew we wanted to grab lunch, so we left at 8:00 a.m.  We reached the garage in just over two hours.  I’ve never reached downtown Chicago so quickly!

After parking the car, we walked around a bit and got our bearings.  We specifically made sure we were clear on where to find the CIBC Theater — home of Hamilton.  We took a look at a few restaurants before settling on Miller’s Pub.  It had great reviews online and rightly so — we loved our meals.  If you have a chance to eat there, I recommend it.  It’s got a great atmosphere with a diverse menu.

By the time we were done eating, we had about an hour before we wanted to enter the CIBC Theater.  We shopped around a bit, then made our way to the show.

We arrived about twenty minutes before showtime.  A large crowd blocked the entire front of the theater.  We walked around them and made our way through the doors.  I’m still not sure if they didn’t realize they could go on in, if they were trying to buy tickets, if they were just gawking — not sure.  Once we got into an actual line, we moved indoors at a good pace.

Security checked my wife’s bag.  We noticed they were confiscating drinks and snacks.  Signs were posted clearly prohibiting such things, but it still caught us by surprise when we saw them throwing away people’s drinks.  Be aware — don’t try to sneak in any food or drink!

We climbed a few flights to the mezzanine.  Upon entering the actual stage area of the theater, a few things struck me.  First of all, I’m not sure there’s a bad seat in the house.  The theater is a relatively small space, but when one considers that it was built in 1906, this may not come as much of a surprise.  We were high up, yet we were still fairly close to the stage.  No need for binoculars, that’s for sure.  Also, the seats are very close together, both in terms of width and leg room.  Don’t plan on stretching out.  Luckily, I had my wife on one side of me and an average sized woman on the other, which afforded me plenty of shoulder and elbow room.  Had a man similar to my size or bigger sat next to me, it may have been uncomfortable.

My wife loved the actual show itself.  Miguel Cervantes starred as Hamilton.  He performed magnificently with a charismatic voice and fun comedic timing.  Cervantes aptly pulled off both song and rap, and could also deliver more sentimental moments.  His blend of charm, intelligence, and street toughness felt authentic.  I won’t run though the whole cast, but no one stuck out as performing poorly.  Everything seemed top-notch.  The voices, the dancing, the costumes, the choreography — perfect.  (If you want to learn more about the cast, click HERE.)

Theater is always hit or miss with me.  I’ve loved things I thought I would hate and hated things I thought I would love.  Hamilton fell somewhere in the middle for me.  I didn’t love it, but I also didn’t hate it.  My wife described it as a musical history lesson, and she did so affectionately.  However, in my view, that’s an apt description, but for a different reason than my wife’s.  Hamilton is a lot of standing around explaining.  There are few scene changes, few costume changes, few moments of actual action.  Dancing is happening all of the time by the background dancers, but Hamilton, Burr, Washington, Jefferson — they are all mostly standing still while singing to us about things that are happening.  As a writer, I believe firmly in the old adage:  “Show, don’t tell.”  I found all the explanation a little boring, to be honest.  Show me what’s happened and happening, don’t just tell me about it.

Even with that being said, though, I want to be sure to voice my appreciation at the genius of the writing.  The musical unfolded in complete song.  To deliver so much exposition in perfect rhythm and rhyme — it felt Shakespearean.  Seriously.

Speaking of Shakespeare, I’d like to make a few comparisons … if I may.  First of all, I love Shakespeare, yet I’m the first to admit that he also could lean heavily into explanation.  I feel that the more I study Hamilton, the more I’ll probably grow to love it.  Also, some are very troubled by the fact that Hamilton is not entirely historically accurate.  All dramatist are known for fudging facts a bit for effect.  Shakespeare also played fast and loose with historical fact if it meant a good payoff for the audience.  Let’s not get too bogged down with historical accuracy when seeing a musical, okay, folks?  Take a history class at your local university or community college if you want textbook precision.

On a related note, I found the cast diversity thrilling.  I noticed it, but it did not bother me in the least.  I’m glad this musical is more than willing to give people of color their shot.  Talent should be the driving factor in doling out these roles, and let me tell you, the talent shined.  Again, for those crying foul, for those concerned that every major historical role in the play was filled by a person of color — relax.  I don’t think anyone but the severely uneducated are going to walk out of Hamilton believing that George Washington was black.  This is not a big deal.

Speaking of “shot,” I personally found the themes of seizing the moment and working against time interesting.  I think we can all probably relate to these themes, which may explain the musical’s popularity.  Knowing Hamilton’s ultimate fate, we could forgive his burning desire to achieve at the cost of his personal and family life, even as his friends and family couldn’t.  That’s called “dramatic irony,” by the way — when the audience knows things about the plot that the characters don’t.

For the financially minded — are the tickets worth almost $200 at the minimum?  Frankly, no.  It astounds me that the floor prices were over $500.  I saw some near the $1000 mark.  However, we are a economy that thrives on supply and demand.  I’m not going to begrudge the artists, management, or the theater itself for taking advantage of the musical’s fame.  It’s hard to make money in the art business — go for the profits while you can!

Including the intermission, the musical concluded at just under three hours.  My wife and I did not use the bathrooms, but from what I understand, there are not many of them in the theater and they are not very big.  Again, considering the venue’s time of origin, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

Leaving the parking garage offered no problems.  I scanned out as easily as I scanned in.  Google Maps took us on kind of an odd route out of the city, but I think that was due to construction.  We still made it back home in just over two hours.

All in all, it was a wonderful time.  We had a ton of fun, my wife loved Hamilton, and it was nice to spend the day together as husband and wife.

If you’re thinking of attending the show, I hope this serves as a helpful guide.  Thanks for reading.

Hamilton

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Jessica Jones: Season 2 – A Netflix Review

I really enjoyed the first season of Jessica Jones.  The series had such a strong concept.  It definitely wasn’t a super hero show, yet it featured a character with super human strength … who didn’t necessarily want her powers.  She mostly just wanted to be left alone.  The series felt far more like a thriller than an action-adventure.  With David Tenant’s Kilgrave, the series also struck a deeply disturbing psychological note.  Krysten Ritter’s Jones wanted to forget about her past by drinking herself silly, wasn’t interested in being nice, and certainly wasn’t out to save the day.  I believe, overall, it may be the strongest of Netflix’s Marvel series due to excellent pacing, interesting characterization, a consistent tone, and a cohesive plot.

So, as you have probably guessed, I very much looked forward to the second season.  Unfortunately, I knew by the first episode that this season would be different.

At the risk of sounding too harsh, all thirteen episodes of season two disappointed me.

Jessica Jones: Season Two is cliched, boring, and a disservice to the first season.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but Jessica Jones herself has gone from being charmingly cranky to just annoying.  The huffs, the sighs, the eye rolls, the monotone vocal delivery — she’s become one-dimensional.  All of those things seemed appropriate in the first season.  Combine those things with the second season’s primary antagonist and she’s comes off as, well … a brat.

And that pretty much describes everyone in the second season.  Trish Walker, who was pretty interesting in the first season, is now a shadow of her former self and incredibly unlikable.  Malcom is all over the place — a doormat one minute, a boy toy the next, and then a ruthless businessman?  Wasn’t that Foggy’s character arc?  Hogarth, the heartless lawyer, actually turns out to be the most sympathetic of all, but in doing so utterly contradicts every other previous appearance of the character.  Luke Cage makes no appearance at all, which is a shame because Colter and Ritter had great chemistry and made season one very enjoyable.  Kilgrave appears for five minutes, and those five minutes were a delight.  Ritter and Tennant are amazing on screen together, which is partly why season one succeeded so well.

Season two lacks any plot in which the audience can invest.  Season one featured a real mystery and characters that were truly opposite of Jones that allowed her to shine all the more.  In season two, everyone is kind of like Jones, which is, frankly, depressing.  Everyone is damaged goods.  There is no character representing hope, or nobility, or morality.  When Jones is forced to be these things, it doesn’t work.  She’s not especially hopeful, or noble, or moral.  She’s fun when she gets to be the “bad cop” working off of others serving as her foil.  It’s not fun when an entire show drowns in hopelessness, immorality, and dreariness.

The show also falls prey to the worse of the genre’s cliches.  Unresolved family issues that create arrested development — check.  Evil version of protagonist with the same basic power set — check.  Clandestine corporate entity that creates protagonist and antagonist for murky reasons at best — check.  Misjudgment of audience’s interest in “origin story” — check.  Mommy issues — check.

In my opinion, the first season of Jessica Jones may be the best of all the Netflix Marvel shows.  The second season, unquestionably, is the worst.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

Altered Carbon – A Netflix Series Review

Based on a book, Altered Carbon is a Netflix series set in the distant future where people have the ability to store their personality and memories in a disk at the back base of their neck.  If their body dies, they can have their disk inserted into a new body, thus allowing someone to effectively live forever.  If they have enough money, that is.

Altered Carbon is a fascinating concept.  It’s part hard-boiled mystery, part techno thriller, part philosophical exploration, part social commentary, and part action extravaganza … but it’s not really completely anything.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  I watched it purely for the eye-popping special effects.  In my opinion, this show utilizes some cutting-edge techniques that I haven’t seen before.  In that regard, it’s a raging success.

But, let’s face it — the dialogue is really, really bad.  I know some will say the show endeavored to achieve a pulp noir quality, but I find that to be a poor excuse for lazy writing.  Couple the lackluster dialogue with actors of only adequate talent and you have some difficult scenes to endure.  I know that sounds mean, and I’m very sorry to all of the actors and writers.  I don’t want to offend, but I also want to write an objective review.

Of course, the negative qualities mentioned is the trade-off for exquisite special effects.  As much as Netflix seems willing to spend, even they must have limits.  It’s obvious their budget went toward the special effects, not necessarily the actors.  Don’t get be wrong–the actors are fine.  They are good.  Just … none of them are great.

Should you watch this series?  If you’re into science fiction and special effects, I’d give it a shot.  It never quite finds its voice, nor does it really gain solid traction in terms of story, but it comes close enough on both counts to remain an interesting watch.  Again, at the risk of becoming redundant, the special effects are mesmerizing.  Beware, though, there is some heavy nudity in almost each of the ten episodes and the violence is pretty graphic from time to time.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Regarding the Moms Demand Action First Meeting In Normal, IL

I’m tired of the senseless killing of our school children.  It baffles me that the greatest nation on the planet can’t seem to put our country’s children first.  I simply can’t accept the tired phrase, “Well, there’s nothing we can do — it’s part of life.”  It’s not part of life.  I have two small children.  I teach hundreds of students every year.  Every single young person’s life is precious and should be protected.  We, as Americans, must demand the safety of our children.

If you’re like me, I want to take action, but outside of my own blog I don’t know what steps to take.  A friend told me about Moms Demand Action, a nationwide group striving for common sense gun laws in America.  As it happened, they planned to start a chapter in Bloomington-Normal and March 4th marked the date of their first meeting.

To be honest, I’m always leery of activist groups.  Like with politicians, funding often puts them in precarious positions and influences their allegiances.  I wasn’t willing to commit myself to Moms Demand Action without first learning more about them.

However, because I wanted to take action and knew of many others in a similar mindset, I contacted everyone whom I thought might be interested.  Of course, I made it very clear I was not yet affiliated with Moms Demand Action and didn’t know their political stance.  For me, it would purely be a reconnaissance mission.

First of all, I’ll say this: I liked what Moms Demand Action had to say.  I liked the group and I’m willing to hear more of what they have to say.  I also appreciate that you do not have to be a mom to join this organization.  You can be a dad, concerned citizen — whatever.

Some things, though, did give me pause.

I’d first like to discuss those things that sat well with me, and then I’d like to mention a few things that alarmed me.

Pros

*They are very well-organized: I desperately wanted direction on what to do, who to talk to, and how to go about doing both.  Moms Demand Action seem to know how to contact politicians, how to plan events, how to collect data, how to fund their cause, how to influence government officials, how to recruit … essentially how to get things done at both a state and federal level.

*They are focused: Moms Demand Action focus on achieving four things …

  1. Close loopholes in background check systems that allow felons and domestic abusers easy access to guns.
  2. Support reasonable limits on where, when, and how loaded guns are carried and used in public.
  3. Promote gun safety so that American children are no longer exposed to an unacceptable level of risk.
  4. Mobilize popular support for policies that respect Second Amendment rights and protect people.

I like that they know their goals and appear to know how to achieve them.

*They are bi-partisan:  This was the biggest issue for me.  I didn’t want to join a political campaign for a republican, democrat, or any other politician.  They said from the outset that they are bi-partisan.  They told us they are comprised of both parties.  The group today definitely seemed to lean left, but I felt reassured that they made a point to let everyone know they are not party specific.

*They welcome gun owners: Stick with me here.  They were very candid about wanting more gun owners in their organization.  They are glad to have responsible, knowledgeable gun owners who can’t stand the thought of a child dying by the misuse of a firearm.  This group is all about common sense gun laws, promoting gun safety, and educating the public about how to keep guns away from children.

*They do NOT want to take away your Second Amendment: They recognize the importance of the Second Amendment to a large portion of our nation and they in no way, shape or form want to ban it, dissolve it, or otherwise alter it.  They just want to make things more secure through better laws, better safety measures, and better education.

I won’t lie, though, a few things concerned me about the meeting today …

Cons

*They are extremely diplomatic: Though this is a bi-partisan group, everything felt very politically correct.  I understand why — they want to keep all lines of communication open with everyone of political influence.  Make no mistake, their four goals are plainly stated and they do not back down from those goals.  However, they definitely struck me as a group who wants to play it safe.  This is probably a good decision.  I’m sure they can achieve far more by being smart, reserved, rationale, and purposeful.  I think many of us in the room felt so much anger about the numerous mass shootings over the last twenty years that that we expected a little more … righteous fury.  Of course, the speaker at the event has been at this for many years — she knows what methods work best.  She had passion; she struck me as emotionally invested, but she also seemed fully in control, calm, and even good-humored.

*They are not willing to publicly call for a ban on assault weapons:  I totally understand their thought process behind this.  They realize that, by and large, handguns kill far more people daily than assault weapons.  Their focus is on gun violence in general.  Nonetheless, it troubled me that they would not, as a group, publicly denounce our nation’s casual use of military-grade assault weapons.  To the spokesperson’s credit, she fully recognized that their unwillingness to call for a ban turns some prospective members off.  They understand that some people want a more radical stance and she acknowledged that Moms Demand Action may not be the group for those people.

Like I said earlier, overall, I liked what Moms Demand Action had to say.  I like the steps they’ve already taken and I like that they know how to get things done.  They not only demand action, their actions garner results.  I plan to attend their next meeting and learn more.

If interested, here are some steps you can take …

*Click HERE to learn more about the origins of Moms Demand Action

*Click HERE to sign a petition for Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to sign gun dealer licensing into law

*Click HERE to learn about Educators Demand Action

*Plan to attend the next Bloomington-Normal Moms Demand Action meeting at 7:00 p.m. on April 9th in the Normal Public Library

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Big Little Lies – A Satisfying Experince

Like all of you, my wife and I heard great things about this seven-episode HBO series.  At under an hour apiece, we figured we’d give it a try.

Guess what?  The rave reviews are accurate – this is an incredibly satisfying experience.

I’l describe the plot without spoiling any important revelations.  Madeline and Celeste, respectively played by Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, are best friends in a very affluent town who befriend a younger mom named Jane, played by Shailene Woodley.  Jane is apparently a single mom and new to the community.  The three woman have children the same age who attend the first grade of the local school.  On the first day of school, Jane’s child is accused of abusing a classmate, but the child proclaims innocence.  Laura Dern plays the bullied child’s mother, Renata, and she is out for blood.  Battle lines are drawn between the parents of the children and tensions are running high.  It’s then revealed that, weeks later, a murder has occurred during a fundraiser on school property, one that obviously involved parents.  The only question throughout the series remains … who was killed?  … And who did the killing?

Of course, there are many subplots to the show as well.  Nicole Kidman is trying to navigate a viciously abusive relationship with her husband; Reese Witherspoon must somehow share her oldest daughter with her ex and his second–seemingly perfect–wife played by Zoe Kravitz.  Shailene Woodley is trying to keep her sanity as her child is vilified and she strives to reconcile her own tumultuous past.

The show somehow manages to balance several elements that normally shouldn’t fit together at all.  It is darkly funny, but it’s also incredibly tense.  At times the childish behaviors of the grownups will make you cringe, but they will also touch your heart as you watch their emotions get flayed.  The abuse Nicole Kidman suffers will shock you, disgust you, and make you angry.  Yet, throughout the entire series, the mystery remains as to who got killed, and who is the murderer?  As you probably guessed, the show gives everyone a motive to kill, and everyone has also upset someone else enough to kill them.

The real magic of Big Little Lies is the editing, though.  They edited each episode brilliantly in that they keep that mystery thriving, they give you just enough information to keep you guessing without giving it all away, and they offer little snippet after little snippet to keep you coming back for more.  Furthermore, while the big mystery is obviously the grand finale, each character also has minor mysteries that are built upon and revealed little by little, which proved very satisfying as well.

That’s how I would describe Big Little Lies — satisfying.  From start to finish, each episode left me riveted.  And when the events of the murder are finally revealed?  I couldn’t have asked for a better depiction of the moment.  The set up, execution, and resolution were perfect.

I highly recommend you watch this show if you haven’t yet.  My wife and I both loved it.

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 (Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Are You Excited For These Movies? Read the Books First!

Do you love to read the books that movies are based upon before those movies come out?  Check out this activity I had for my students today.  In order to get excited to read the source material, I had them watch the correlating trailers for upcoming films.  I’m happy to say they were very enthusiastic for several of the books (and movies)!  My primary goal as an educator is to help people want to read.  Take a look below and let me know which book you would most like to read, and also which movie looks the best to you.

Black Panther (Trailer)

Black Panther (Book)

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Forever My Girl (Trailer)

Forever My Girl (Book)

*

12 Strong [Horse Soldiers] (Trailer)

Horse Soldiers (Book)

*

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (Trailer)

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (Book)

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Annihilation (Trailer)

Annihilation (Book)

*

Avengers: Infinity War (Trailer)

Avengers: Infinity War (Book)

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Every Day (Trailer)

Every Day (Book)

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Ready Player One (Trailer)

Ready Player One (Book)

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Red Sparrow (Trailer)

Red Sparrow (Book)

*

A Wrinkle In Time (Trailer)

A Wrinkle In Time (Book)

*

Love, Simon [Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda] (Trailer)

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Book)

 

(Last year’s movie trailers and books can be found HERE.)

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(Did you enjoy this post?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)