Weekends – My Favorite Oscar-Nominated Animated Short (Which Did Not Win)

A friend invited me to watch a complete showing of the 2019 Oscar-nominated animated short films last Friday night at the beautiful Normal Theater.  I didn’t know anything about the nominees, but I thought it sounded like a fun time so I went.

All of the nominees were very good in their own particular way, but only one of them won me over in all facets.

No, it wasn’t Bao.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like Bao.  I’d actually seen it at Disney World last summer.  It’s got a heart-warming story and the animation is wonderful.  I think most people figured it would win the Oscar.  Heck, I figured it would win the Oscar.  It’s hard to compete with Pixar, after all.  Guess what?  It won the Oscar.

But, as much as I liked Bao, it wasn’t my favorite.

No, my top choice was actually an animated short film called Weekends.

Weekends did not have the cleanest animation, nor the finest detail, nor the most inspired texture, but it had heart.  And at its heart, the messy animation actually amplified a messy story.

Weekends is about a young boy being shuffled between his mom’s house and his dad’s house after a divorce.  The boy is loved by both parents, but he’s also–at times–something of a distraction through no fault of his own.  Therefore, the boy spends a lot of time alone while at both houses.

My parents are still married to this day, but Weekends struck me as a very real depiction of what childhood must be like for the children of divorcees.  The mother and the father of the boy are not evil, they are not bad in any way shape or form.  However, both of them are trying to build a new life, both of them are experiencing new lovers, and both of them are trying to figure out how to live without the other.  In the mix of all that, the child, at times, falls to the wayside.  His loneliness during these moments are heart-wrenching.

There’s no dialogue in this short film.  The animation sets the mood just fine on its own.  While Bao is a top-notch, beautiful, well-rendered film that makes us feel squeaky clean,  Weekends is scratchy, a little ugly, and makes us feel off-kilter.  But even though it doesn’t look pretty, Weekends‘ creators absolutely knew what they were doing.  It’s obvious they found a style that best fits the story and the boy’s journey.

In my opinion, Weekends story and design execution resonated most deeply with me on an emotional and technical level, which is what made it my all-around favorite of the nominees.

I’ve embedded it below if you’d like to give it a watch …

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)

 

 

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All Hail Jeff Passan! … Wait, Who’s Jeff Passan?

I’ve written before about my love of The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz.  They are a daily radio show on ESPN that take a slightly different approach to sports.  Often hilarious, they are also always entertaining.

A new guest debuted today–Jeff Passan.  Passan spent over a decade with Yahoo Sports and just joined ESPN in January of 2019.  Apparently, he will be their new baseball analyst and breaking news guy.  Dan kind of stumbled over his intro, so I get the feeling not too many people at ESPN have gotten a good feel him.

If we’re being honest, I could not care less about baseball.  Even with that being said, Passan may be my new all-time hero.

Dan and the guys were talking about bald men because that’s the kind of things they talk about, which somehow led to Sean Connery, which next led to bad Sean Connery impressions, which then prompted Dan to ask Passan if he did a bad Sean Connery impression as soon as Passan joined the show.  Passan, realizing that this was the first time we’ve heard him on the program, gamely played along and performed a poor Sean Connery impression.  Okay!  As far as we–the audience–were concerned, this guy was going to be all right.  He can have some fun.  He doesn’t seem to take himself or sports too seriously.  He can be fluid and flexible when he makes an appearance.

Passan could have left it at that and made a fine first impression.

Oh, but he decided to level up.

Passan, who had to know what would come next, willingly volunteered the fact that, while his Connery impression isn’t great, he has a few impressions that are masterful.

Well, come on.  Dan and crew aren’t going to let that slide by.  They asked him which one he thought was his best.

Passan answered Elmo.

Elmo.

Dan’s impending dementia flared up when he got Elmo and Grover confused, but that’s okay, we love him anyway, and then Passan added that he will only do Elmo if he can say something inappropriate.

I won’t tell you the line Dan threw out there because I’m a public school teacher and value my career, but Passan nailed it.

Nailed it.

At that point, Dan and the team insisted that Passan give them his analysis on recent baseball news only in an Elmo voice.  Passan, being probably the newest guy at ESPN and hoping to establish himself as a credible sports reporter to an unfamiliar audience had every right to laugh off the request right then and there.  He did Connery.  He did Elmo.  What more could we ask of the man?

He agreed to do it.

Listening to Passan offer baseball analysis in an Elmo voice … I had tears rolling down my face.

Passan made a point to joke about the whole thing being a bad idea with phrases similar to “career suicide” and “I’m going to regret this” … but he kept going!

Look, I don’t care about baseball at all, but I instantly followed Jeff Passan on Twitter.  This is my kind of guy.  I can’t wait for him to visit the show again … as long as he does his Elmo voice.

Go give Passan’s segment a listen and show this man a little love.  You can hear his appearance at this link: http://www.espn.com/espnradio/play?id=26038796

You can also follow Jeff Passan on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/JeffPassan

Men with this kind of bravery … they deserve our adoration.  Move over Elmo, it’s–na na nana, na na nana–Passan’s world!

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)

 

The Repercussions Of Student Fights

I typically don’t discuss anything negative about my career as a high school English teacher.  Funny stuff?  You bet.  Inspirational topics?  No problem.  But those things that could be viewed as “airing dirty laundry?”  Nope–won’t write about it.

Until now.

I suspect the topic I’m about to address, however, is not unique to my place of work.  I’m willing to bet a lot of schools suffer the issue I’m about to explore.

We had a fight at the school today.  I’m sorry to say this is not all that unusual lately.  Though I wasn’t involved with it in any way, the effects of the fight were felt throughout the building.  I heard students talking about the fight gleefully, as though they watched some kind of live entertainment.  I saw students in the hall reenacting the fight as they smiled and laughed.

This upset me.

Look, kids get into fights.  Kids like watching fights.  It breaks up the monotony of the day, because no matter how fun we try to make school–school is school.  Anything exciting and dramatic is always welcomed by the students as respite.  None of this is new in the history of public education.

But when I see students taking joy in each other’s discord, when I see them celebrating their peers’ violence, it makes my heart ache.

Our school tries to teach social skills.  Some of our staff go above and beyond in working tirelessly to help kids bond and form communities.  Our entire staff buys into building relationships with the students.  We’re trying.  We’re all trying.  I bet your school is trying, too.

But try as we might, this is an issue that’s difficult to overcome.  I wish we could get the kids who like to fight–as well as the kids who like to watch fights–I wish we could get them to see the value in supporting each other, to realize that building each other up is so much more productive than tearing each other down.  I wish they knew that, once they leave our school, no one out there is going to do them any favors.  They’ll have to rely on themselves.

I wish they felt like they could also rely on each other.

Look, this is hard to write about.  I hope it’s coming across as intended.  I’m not trying to criticize my school, and I’m certainly not trying to belittle our students.  And most of our students do support one another.  But those kids who take pleasure in fighting, starting fights, and watching fights … I worry about those kids and what kind of a future they have in store for them.  I want the best for all of our students.

As teachers, we have to keep pushing social skills.  We have to keep building kids up.  We have to keep creating communities within our school.  We have to keep helping kids find their niche.

All I ask is that the community outside our school walls do the same.  Help us reinforce the power of education.  Help us show kids that love and kindness is always the answer.  Help us teach kids that we are always stronger when we stand together, not apart.

A better tomorrow can only begin when we work for a better today.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)

 

I Once Made An Amazing Basketball Play … That My Coach Hated

Though I now love basketball as an adult, I wasn’t into it at all as a child.  In fact, I didn’t really start playing basketball until I entered seventh grade.  I’m guessing a four inch growth spurt (also, my last growth spurt) prompted this interest in the sport.

I liked it a lot, more than football, but had some catching up to do with the guys who played in the youth programs.  Luckily, I was from a small town, so if you tried out for the team … you were pretty much on the team.

Seventh and eighth grade basketball treated me well.  I wasn’t anything better than average, but I learned a lot about the sport and, even more importantly, had a great time.

By ninth grade, I was feeling pretty good about myself.  I still wasn’t anywhere close to being the star of the team, but I regularly did particularly well on the “B” team, so I thought I still had plenty of room to improve, and I believed that I would improve.

With my confidence soaring, I once made a play that I thought was inspired, efficient, and full of style.  My coach completely disagreed.  Thankfully, this all happened at practice.

I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I somehow gained possession of a loose ball while playing defense.  I remember I had to chase it down and bend over to retrieve it.  I knew members of my team were already fast breaking to our basket.  Sure, I could pick the ball up, turn, and then thrown it down court to them, but that would waste precious seconds, seconds that would allow the defense time to catch up.

In perhaps one of the most ingenious moments in basketball history, I figured out how to bypass those three wasteful moves into one economical motion that would surely result in two points.

I bent over to grab the ball with both hands.  I spread my legs nice and wide.  And then, with the efficiency of an NFL center and with my butt facing the basket in which we wanted to score, I launched the ball with both hands right between my legs to the lead fast breaker.

I’ll never know if my teammate scored because I stopped watching him when I heard my coach scream, “AXLE!”

A quick side note: My coach called me “Axle” after the character “Axle Foley” from Beverly Hills Cop.  Remember, this was all happening in the early ’90s.  I kind of liked the nickname.  “Axle” always sounded pretty cool.  Of course, looking back, I’m pretty sure half the time he wasn’t actually saying “Axle.”  Apparently, my unorthodox methods often befuddled him.

Coach had a brief chat with me about my pass.  He said something along the lines of, “I never … ever … want to see that again.  … Ever.”

I’ve watched a lot of professional basketball since that moment.  I’ve loved the NBA, and, more specifically, the NBA playoffs, since ninth grade.  In all the games I’ve watched during the last thirty years, I can attest that Coach was right.  I’ve never seen that pass executed by, well, anyone.

To this day, though, I maintain that it was a brilliant pass.  I hit my breaker right on the money.  Sure, it looked silly, but it was so efficient.

Man, I loved basketball.

Maybe I should have played past ninth grade.

Maybe one day I’ll tell you why I didn’t.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)

 

 

The Weekly Weigh-In: Still Ahead Of Schedule

I felt very nervous about sharing my weight with you a few weeks ago.  That’s a truly personal thing to throw out onto the internet, and, if I failed to lose any weight, a rather embarrassing defeat.

On the other hand, I know myself well enough to realize that the pressure of going public might actually encourage me to try harder and hold myself more accountable.

It would seem that I’ve used the correct strategy.

Thankfully, at 213 pounds, I managed to come in a pound under my target weight last week.  For this week, I hoped to maintain that amount from last week–213 pounds–because that was my projected weight for this weekend.  Whatever happened, I just didn’t want go back up to 214 pounds.

I’m very happy to reveal that the extra pound trend is continuing.  I weighed 212 pounds this morning.

While this is more than I expected, I want to be careful not to rush things.  It’s generally agreed that a pound a week is the healthiest way to lose weight.  I’m going to assume that this extra weight loss per week is simply the immediate result of healthier portion control.  I don’t expect to maintain an extra pound a week, and I certainly want to make sure that I don’t pressure myself to do so.  It’s exciting, but it’s also not necessarily sustainable.

I made two major changes to my diet this week that seem to be reaping benefits.  Firstly, I’ve switched to eating a sensible cereal for breakfast.  I’m currently enjoying Special K with honey and oats.  I had been eating two microwave oven sausage patties and three microwave pancakes with syrup.  Wow.  Now that I see that in writing–yikes.  Secondly, I’m having a single serving of maple and brown sugar oatmeal for my afternoon snack.

Other than that, I’m simply eating less than I normally would.  For example, we had breakfast night Thursday evening.  I normally make three biscuits for my “biscuits and gravy.”  Thursday, I only had two.  I also did not make sausage patties to go with it.  We were already having bacon, so I figured that was enough.  Typically, I would have made sausage, too.  These little tiny changes, while not earth-shattering, are contributing to calories not being consumed.  Of course, if we burn more calories than we eat, we lose weight.

So, next week I’m hoping to maintain the 212 pounds from this morning.  That will keep me on schedule.  If that extra pound trend continues–fantastic.  If not, no problem.  The primary goal is to leave 213 pounds in the past.

Hope your journey is going well, too!  Good luck!

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s e-book series HERE)

A Few Thoughts Concerning Outlander: Season 4

I’ve had an interesting ride with Outlander on Starz.  When it debuted in 2014, my wife and I thought it would be a good show to watch together.  Neither of us knew exactly what it entailed, just that it was a popular book series and that a lot of people were looking forward to it.

Though it ended up being more intense than either of us expected, we loved the story, the acting, the costumes, the settings, and the charisma between Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser, the two main characters played by Caitriona Balfe and Same Heughan.  Again, the violence surprised us, as did the very graphic adult content, but overall we were won over.

The second season did not impress us as much as the first.  Claire’s penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time began to wear thin with me, as did Jamie’s constant frowning.  However, the time travel element got more and more complex, as did the historical aspect of the show in regards to Scotland and it’s struggles with England.

That being said, I can’t lie–I quit the third season after a few episodes.  The coincidences became too outlandish, the situations too forced, and the dynamic between Claire and Jamie a little too stale.  It seemed like the same things kept happening over and over, just in different settings.

However, the premise of the fourth season fascinated me, so I came back.  Claire and Jamie are now living in the New World.  Jamie has built a cabin in the wilds of North Carolina and has been given a vast amount of land.  He and Claire, along with his nephew Ian, must learn to coexist with the Cherokee as they also navigate the growing political unrest within the colonies.

A much-needed complication arises with Brianna, their adult-daughter, and Roger, Brianna’s on-again-off-again love interest.  We last saw them quite a bit in the second season.  At the risk of spoiling the latter half of this latest season, Brianna and Roger make their way from the 1960s to the late 18th century.  Why do they visit Colonial America?  I won’t give that away, but Sophie Skelton and Richard Rankin bring a refreshing energy to the show.  Though we’ve seen them before, we’ve never encountered them facing real danger.  Brianna and Roger are both thrown right into the frying pan after traveling to Claire and Jamie’s era.  Though Brianna and Roger’s relationship can be infuriating, seeing them interact with Claire and Jamie brings a new vitality to the show.  It’s also captivating to see Jamie playing a father to the daughter he never thought he would meet.

This fourth season isn’t perfect.  For example, Claire’s habit of finding skulls is … weird.  Jamie still seems to only have three or four facial expressions.  Roger is flat-out unlikable through much of the season.  Brianna takes unnecessary risk after unnecessary risk, effectively replacing Claire in that regard.  And there are once again some far-fetched coincidences, inexplicable actions taken by characters, and bizarre plot points.

But, overall, I really enjoyed the season.  Jamie and Claire’s characters are growing, the change in scenery is fun, Brianna and Roger are interesting, and the stories involving both the colonial politicians as well as the Native Americans are gripping.  The sets, though subtle, are stunning, and the costumes are–as always–fantastic.

Be warned, though.  This season can get very explicit in regards to adult content.  There isn’t anywhere near as much nudity as the first season, but there are several disturbing moments of sexual violence.  It’s very upsetting–as it should be.

I’m glad I came back to the show.  If you moved away from it like me, I recommend giving the fourth season a try.  I think Outlander will recapture your attention.

Outlander Season 4 2018

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

The Worst Football Hit I Ever Experienced

If you had the pleasure of playing football with me, you know I wasn’t the top talent to ever go through Beardstown High School.  In fact, it seemed as though I got progressively worse as my experience grew.

I’m joking.

… Mostly.

I loved running the football.  Loved it.  Defense, though?  I didn’t care for defense a whole lot.  Initiating contact wasn’t really my thing.  More on that in a moment.

Honestly, I thought about getting hurt back then–a lot.  More specifically, I worried about breaking my neck.  I know now it’s pretty unlikely, but it happens in football more often than people think, and it sometimes even results in paralysis.  I knew I wasn’t great at football–not even good enough for a small college.  (Not that I had my sights on a small college).  The thought of permanently injuring myself for a sport that wasn’t going to take me very far … it always lurked in the back of my mind.

During my junior year, I broke a bone in my left hand while at practice.  I thought it was a sprain, so I kept playing on it.  My right hand is my dominant hand, so it wasn’t too bad.  Three months went by before I went to the doctor.  I thought it was a sprain–everyone thought it was a sprain.  Turned out a little tiny bone was broken kind of where the thumb attaches to the hand.  I had to wear a cast up to my shoulder for three months.  The same cast.  (I actually ran track with it on, which made it, well, a little smelly by the time our relationship ended.)  Needless to say, that was enough football for me.  I didn’t play my senior year.  There’s more to the story … but I won’t get into it here.

When I think about my old football days, one hit sticks out to me more than any other.  Keep in mind, I got tackled all the time.  I played second-string on varsity, so I had to practice against the first-string defense, which resulted in getting hit a lot.  The fact that one hit is as vivid today as the day it happened over twenty years ago is pretty astounding to me.

We were playing a game during the daytime on our home field.  I couldn’t begin to tell you who we contested.  I was playing secondary on defense.  Remember how much I liked defense?  I saw a running back break through the line and so, without even thinking, I rushed at him.  We hit helmet to helmet and both fell to the ground.  Everything went instantly quiet.  I didn’t have a ringing in my ears–just the opposite.  Everything went silent.  I popped right back up, and so did the other guy.  The whole thing lasted only a few seconds.  I looked over at my coaches and saw one of them, usually a pretty stoic guy, losing his mind and congratulating me on the hit.  The game continued.  I didn’t have a concussion or any other injury, but even in that moment the impact struck me as unnatural and it still does to this day.

I imagine that guys at the collegiate and professional level experience those kinds of hits literally all of the time.  I can’t even begin to fathom what that must be like.  More and more research is coming out connecting football collisions to brain damage, and let me tell you, that one hit I had scrambled my circuits for a moment or two, no doubt.  It’s probably one of the most violent blows I’ve ever experienced.

I wish I could tell you that I miss those glory days.

I don’t.

I love to watch football.  I love the sport.  I especially love the Chicago Bears.  But, I’m totally fine without playing tackle football ever again.  Even though it was my senior year and I’d played since seventh grade, I was relieved when I finally had the guts to give it up.  Isn’t that crazy?  I felt like it took more courage not to play.  I don’t begrudge anyone who lets their children play tackle football, but there’s no way in hell I’d let my son play the sport–if I had a son, that is.  That single time I got my bell rung told me all I personally needed to know.

I don’t think of myself as a wimp, but maybe you do after reading this.  If that’s the case, that’s fine.  I’ve been called a lot worse, trust me.  But take it easy on those families who don’t let their kids play football.  Give those boys who don’t want to play a break.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to avoid injury.  Some might say it’s even smart to try to preserve your health if it doesn’t seem as though a professional career awaits in the future.

Below is a picture taken by Ralph Sabetti for the Beardstown newspaper.  My mom kept a scrapbook of all my childhood and teenage doings.  She gave it to me a few years ago.  I’m running the ball with pure joy in my heart.  I’d like to tell you that I broke the tackle that guy is about to put on me and ran for a touchdown, but I honestly don’t remember.

I’m guessing not.

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