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.


*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 …


*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)


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)


Annihilation (Trailer)

Annihilation (Book)


Avengers: Infinity War (Trailer)

Avengers: Infinity War (Book)


Every Day (Trailer)

Every Day (Book)


Ready Player One (Trailer)

Ready Player One (Book)


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.)


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

Childhood Fallout

I spent most of my childhood living in fear of the Cold War, as did most people over forty years old.  Our movies, our comics, our songs, even our cartoons dealt with nuclear fallout on a regular basis.  It was a part of our existence, and it terrified me.  I felt certain that the world would end in ash.  That was pretty heavy stuff for a kid under ten years old.

I remember once hearing about a prediction by Nostradamus that the world would be destroyed by a man in a turban.  I now have no idea as to the validity of that prediction, but during my childhood I kept a ready lookout in the news or on magazine covers for anyone wearing a turban that looked like they were up to no good.  Any desert conflict had me on red alert.

The Cold War ended as I entered high school, and my fear of global nuclear annihilation gradually subsided.  Of course, with the original invasion of Iraq, I wondered if the draft could be reinstated, but it didn’t keep me up at night like that mushroom cloud did during my elementary years.  I had other things preoccupying my mind at that point–selfish things.  I had become the center of my own universe.

I am now forty years old with two children of my own, both under ten.  We literally do not have the news playing while they are awake.  We read the news online, I listen to the news when I’m alone in my car, but if they are around, the news is turned off.  I cannot shelter them from the world forever, but I will for as long as possible.  We give them the highlights so they stay informed and can discuss things at school, but we filter it … a lot.

This has always been the case, but more so than ever these last few months.

Yesterday the most powerful man in the world with the greatest nuclear capabilities in the world threatened to use his “button” to unleash nuclear hell.  He did not do this in a radio address, nor did he do it during a press conference.  He did it on Twitter.  Just a few taps on his phone and it’s done.  It’s that easy to end the world now.  (I’m sure some of you think this is an exaggeration.  I hope you’re right.)

I’m not going to get into the politics of this man.  If you agree with me, we agree.  If you disagree with me, then we disagree.  I learned a long time ago not to get into debates regarding this person.  No one is changing anyone’s mind.

However, if you have children, I hope you’ll join me in thinking about the fallout regarding this person.  He threatens, he bullies, he taunts, he belittles–and he does most of it online.  He basically does every single thing on social media that we teach our children not to do.

Furthermore, if your children are paying extra close attention, he regularly fans the flame of war, especially with one leader in particular.  How is this influencing our children?  Are they living in fear as quite a few of us did?  Will these lessons from our president churn out a generation who follow his example, or will they learn to rise above his volatile nature and demand better from our leaders?

I don’t know any better than you do, but I do know one thing–they are watching.  The children always look to us for guidance, whether they explicitly say it or not.  There will be a fallout one way or another.





My Reaction To the First Episode Of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

My wife and I have been meaning to watch this Amazon original for several weeks now, and last night we finally got around to the first episode.

In a word, we would describe it as “charming.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, an upper-class Jewish housewife becomes a stand-up comic after her would-be comedian husband leaves her and the kids.

At first, I wasn’t too sure about it.  Midge Maisel seemed a little too perfect, a little too flamboyant, a little too entitled.  The dialogue struck me as a little too fanciful, and the characters’ circumstances were just a bit too ideal.

However, before too long, her husband began to grate on the nerves and disaster lurked in the shadows.  When he finally revealed himself as the shallow jerk we suspected, the show took on a new angle — a far more satisfying angle.

It sounds terrible to say the show didn’t get interesting until Midge got the rug pulled out from under her, but it’s the truth.  I would not have continued watching the perfect wife living the perfect life, but watching Midge fall apart while inadvertently excelling at something on a whim (stand-up comedy) that her husband couldn’t do on his best day — that was so gratifying.

By the time the first episode ended, my wife and I were won over and excited for the next installment.

Rachel Brosnahan plays Midge Maisel, and I found myself enamored by her performance.  At times she came dangerously close to being annoying, but somehow she always managed to reign her character in enough to make her instead charming.  Best of all?  Brosnahan is actually really funny.  She’s got great timing, fun facial expressions, and fantastic inflection.  If the actress seems familiar to you, she played Rachel on House of Cards, which makes Brosnhan’s performance all the more amazing.   Midge is as different from Rachel as you can possibly imagine, especially in general body language and mood.  What a testament to Brosnahan’s range!

If you’re looking for a charming new show with a bit of drama but mostly comedy, this is the one for you.  Be aware, though, that it’s aimed at adults.  While the first episode is mostly light and fun, there are occasional swear words and flashes of nudity.


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

All In With Justice League

Tomorrow night the moment finally arrives.  The Justice League debuts.

I have literally loved these characters since the age of three.  I loved Super Friends, I loved the subsequent Super Powers, I loved all of the Batman, Superman, and Aquaman cartoons in-between.  I’ve followed their comic book stories from the Detroit era to the Bwa-ha-ha era to the Big Seven era all the way to modern day.  I have studied them, dove into their backstories from years long past, even researched the creative minds that spawned them.

I have longed to see these characters, together, on screen.  I am not joking when I tell you that this is a dream come true for me.  It seemed like such a simple thing, such a no-brainer, and even though it almost happened a while back, I feared this moment would never actually arrive.  Not an actual Justice League live-action, big-budget, Hollywood movie.  But it has.  It’s happening.

These heroes were with me in elementary school, junior high, high school, and college.  They were there when I started my career, when I married my wife, during the birth of both my children, and throughout my Master’s.  They have been with me as I made new friends, lost loved ones, experienced tremendous joy, as well as awful lows.  Though they are fictional characters, they have always existed within my imagination, and they have never stopped being my heroes.

When I soon see them bigger than life, it will not be as actors wearing costumes.  It will not be just a “comic book” movie to me.  I will not dissect every line of dialogue, nor will I critique the likely plot holes.  I will love this movie unconditionally, because I love these characters unconditionally, because, in my mind, they have always loved me unconditionally.  That may sound silly to some, but to others, you know exactly of what I speak.

This will be more than just a movie to me.  This will an experience.  This will be a realization.

I’m all in on Justice League–always have been, always will be.

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