We Love Brave Kids Art Club

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My friend, Jude Landry, recently made me aware of a YouTube channel called Brave Kids Art Club. We tried it out today, and as you can see from the pictures above, it was a huge hit!

Brad Woodard is a professional illustrator, and in these 15 to 20 minute videos he walks kids through a step-by-step process for drawing all kinds of different animals. We started with the video focusing upon an elephant. However, we see he’s already done videos for a wolf, a llama, a sea otter, a crab, a tiger, an owl–it goes on and on. Furthermore, it appears that he’s uploading these lessons daily.

Though we’ve only done one video so far, what I like best about Woodard is that he’s very friendly, fun to listen to, concise, and deliberate. Even though he’s taking the kids through a drawing line by line, he doesn’t waste a single second. While his tone is light and fun, he clearly knows what he’s saying and where he wants to go with the drawing. I also appreciate that he’s teaching the kids to draw all kinds of different animals in a manner that isn’t tied to any kind of copyrighted material or style.

My kids are 11 and 8, and they had no trouble following along. Like I said, there’s no downtime with these short videos, so the kids are busy keeping up the entire time. My kids love art, but our schedules are also very full with their remote learning and our working remotely. This video series fits our currently lifestyle perfectly.

Thanks to Brad Woodard for providing these lessons, and thanks to Jude Landry for bringing Brave Kids Art Club to my attention!

You can visit Brave Kids Art Club at YouTube by clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGpVxd8Y5ge2UYmvt7ketEQ/videos

East Of West (Volume 9) – A Book Review

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Author Jonathan Hickman continues to captivate with his East of West series from Image Comics. In this word, our idea of the United States has been divided up into many factions, and they all await the end of the world. The Four Horseman roam freely, and it’s only a matter of time.

East of West is a wonderful blend. It’s got strong roots in the Western, Science Fiction, and World Mythology genres. Death, our main character, is a stark white cowboy with a chip on his shoulder and everything to lose.

In this particular volume, Death and his fellow Horseman, War, air their grievances and near a climatic battle. We also discover relationships that we didn’t know existed, as well as important events from the past that most definitely influence the near future.

And that future is very near, for this is the second to last volume of the series.

As always, Hickman delivers a sparse, quick script that explains much with very few unnecessary words. Nick Dragotta, the artist, keeps getting better and better with his clean, dynamic lines. I think the real star of the series is Frank Martin, though. His colors really make everything pop off the page. Who knew characters comprised of almost a single color could look so amazing?

If you’re searching for a graphic novel series to read, East Of West is among the highest of my recommendations.

A Simple Science Activity For Your Student

It’s not my discipline, but here’s a simple science activity for your student. Have them pick an outdoor tree or plant that’s nearby and keep field notes on its progress this spring. Take into account animals and insects. This will keep their writing and observation skills sharp.

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The Witcher – A Few Thoughts

I finished this Netflix series several weeks ago and needed some time to wrap my head around it. After some days passed, I realized that I was really, really, really overthinking this show.

The Witcher is an enjoyable watch in the way that peeling dried glue from your fingertips is enjoyable. There’s no real purpose behind it, it doesn’t seem to accomplish much of anything, but man, is it ever fun.

That’s the operative word — fun. The Witcher doesn’t have particularly great special effects, the story is convoluted at best, the acting is mostly regulated to a series of grunts and scowls, yet it’s somehow a rollicking good time.

If you find yourself with some extra time, give it a shot. Beware, there is some pretty graphic nudity from time to time, so make sure the little ones aren’t around. Furthermore, the violence is never overtly gory, the language is about on par with most “mature” themed shows, and there’s even a pretty catchy song you might get stuck in your head.

You’ll know within twenty minutes if the show is for you or not. It doesn’t get any better, but it also doesn’t get any worse.

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Thumb War: My Short Story Of the Week

THUMB WAR

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She took her seat at the round, wooden table and placed her elbow upon the vinyl pad. Gawking people of every financial tier surrounded her in the basement of a disreputable bar with rotten lighting. As she stared down her opponent, she flexed her fingers and thumb.

The man across from her looked like the plume of smoke after a volcanic eruption. Huge—pervasive—but shapeless. His hands, though … they were the biggest she’d ever seen. He could probably engulf her entire head in one of those things ….

An averaged sized woman, Hannah Cane had been winning tournaments for months. She eased her way onto the scene but quickly dominated with such efficiency that those who cared about the sport nicknamed her “The Machine.” She may have been the smallest competitor, but her intellect, improvisation, and unrelenting willpower put her over the top time and again.

The men didn’t understand how she did it. Most of them were former premier athletes. Once upon a time, some were even professional arm wrestlers. Injury, in one way or another, ruined their hopes and dreams. Their thumbs proved the only part of their body still pain-free. As athletes, they admired “The Machine’s” passion and brains, but those attributes shouldn’t have matched the fact that their thumbs were unilaterally bigger and exponentially stronger than her thumb.

Though clandestine, the underground thumb wrestling competitions paid well. The crowds loved to see their former sports idols up close and, to be honest, a little desperate. The audience betted big, and so the competitors won big. Hannah actually lived off her earnings. After she won the next match, she would be set for months.

The massive creature across from her had once been a lineman in the NFL—Virgil Dunn. He played for the Patriots. No one told her this; she recognized him. She remembered the game in which he got his arm torn out of its socket. Until her own injury, it had been the most gruesome thing she’d ever seen. The television cameras cut away as soon as it happened, but because she wielded a flag on the sidelines, she got an up close and personal view.

“Hey,” she said to him. “I’m Anna.” Of course, her name was not “Anna,” it was Hannah. She couldn’t risk using her legal name anymore.

“I don’t care about your name,” he growled.

The referee approached, which prompted the crowd to grow silent. He leveled both competitor’s hands, made them lock fingers, and then personally lifted the individual thumbs.

As Hannah expected, nothing struck the referee as unusual.

“Let’s a have clean match,” the referee said. “Remember, winner takes all. Must hold the opponent’s thumb down for a three-count. This is not a ‘best-of.’ Again, winner takes the purse upon the first pin.”

“Good luck, Virgil,” Hannah said.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the promoter droned into his microphone, “now is the final moment to place your bets! The match begins in ten seconds. If you’d like to place a final bet, I have assistants throughout the establishment. Are you ready, ref?”

“Ready!” the referee shouted. “Wrestlers!” he yelled. “Get ready!”

The referee paused a moment until both competitors nodded at him. He then shouted, “One! … Two! …Three! … Four! I declare a thumb war!”

º

Hannah studied the specs for weeks before she started tinkering with the prosthetic. With a degree in mechanical engineering and a searing rage at the indignity she suffered, it took all of her patience to review the apparatus thoroughly before attempting any sort of customization.

The doctors taught her the basics regarding the new appendage. They told her everything she needed to know in order to use it to its fullest potential; they gave her a list of items to troubleshoot should any malfunctions occur; they drilled her on how to keep the port clean for the thumb’s remote uplink to her brain. Though the titanium rod connecting the thumb to her hand could possibly get contaminated, the port leading to her somatosensory cortex posed the greatest likelihood of infection.

Once she felt as though she understood the device, she detached it from the rod, peeled back the synthetic skin, popped out the imitation muscle, and then got to work on the motors.

Her commanding officer warned her against doing any such thing—he knew her well. In private, he told her that the Marines were happy to pay for the experimental prosthetic, but if she altered it in any way, they were no longer responsible for the cost of upkeep—a price that would surpass millions of dollars during the course of her life.

She connected both the thumb and the remote sensor to her computer, picked up her tool as best she could with only four fingers, and then stared at the largest motor housed in the thumb’s base. It measured only ¼ of an inch. The motors in the middle and tip of the thumb were even smaller. Limitless opportunities abounded for her to screw this up in no time at all. The minute she touched those motors, the United States government was financially off the hook.

She whispered her favorite motto: “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome,” before getting to work.

º

Hannah utilized her routine strategy against Virgil. She first avoided any contact at all with his thumb. This went on for several minutes. She learned early on that the longer she made a match last, the higher the bets tended to be at the next match. The audience grew to trust that she would always give them an exciting, lengthy bout, and so they placed their bets confidently.

Next, she let Virgil pin just the tip of her thumb in such a way that the slightest squirm would set her free. The crowd loved these escapes, and it typically bolstered her opponent’s confidence. She didn’t necessarily need them overconfident—she needed no mental advantage to secure a victory. The heartbreak in their eyes after being sure they had her beat, though … it never failed to make her heart flutter.

The crowd’s enthusiasm for the partial pins usually dictated how long she would let it go on. Once it seemed they tired of it, she would move the match into its third phase. This involved allowing her competitor three or four pins that would get all the way to the two-count before finally pinning him herself for the impossible win.

Of course, there was nothing “impossible” about it.

Her thumb, a prototype, looked and felt realistic in every way. The government would pay for it on behalf of the United State Marine Corps if Hannah agreed to be the test subject. After what happened, she considered it too good to be true. Of course, she obviously felt no obligation to the Marines or her government after the attack, and so she went underground the minute they turned their backs. They had a habit of doing that to her—turning their backs.

The prosthetic initially exerted the average amount of force consistent with a woman her size. The lab rats took into account her muscle mass, the length of the thumb—it involved a lot of calculations and calibrations. She quadrupled their settings. If she wanted to, she could thrust her thumb through a thin slab of concrete.

Pinning down anyone’s thumb offered no problem at all.

After beating Virgil, the crowd exploded. The promoter instantly handed her a cheap trophy and a lucrative check. Hannah flung the trophy at Virgil, tucked the check into her back pocket, and then started to weave her way through the crowd.

She noticed all of the cell phones recording her—a typical occurrence. This would necessitate the need to change her routine. If someone cared enough to study tape of her, they could figure out she’s doing the same thing every match. If suspected of cheating, this gravy train could come to an end.

“Hey!” Virgil yelled.

Hannah turned and faced him.

“You’re a fraud!”

º

Hannah responded to the three lieutenants cornering her, “I earned this fair and square, guys. No tricks. No alterations. No accommodations. I passed the course.” She tightened the towel around her.

“No way. There’s no way a woman could do it. They want the good publicity,” one of them said.

“Maybe,” Hannah agreed, “but I still passed the course. I’m going to be an infantry officer, and there’s nothing you boys can do about it.”

“The Marines have never had a female infantry officer,” another said.

“There’s a first time for everything,” Hannah replied. “If we’re being honest, you guys sound a little jealous. I take it you all didn’t pass.”

At the conclusion of her statement, one of the lieutenants shoved her against the wall. Hard. It didn’t hurt, but it told her they weren’t there only to talk.

“Look,” she said. “I just got out of the shower. I know I’m the only woman left, but this is still the female barracks. You guys can’t come in here without first announcing yourselves. You’ve broken protocol in a number of ways. I’m warning you—you need to leave. We can finish this in the field.”

“Maybe we should make sure you never make it to the field,” the other lieutenant said. “Be a shame if some kind of an injury got you discharged.”

Hannah narrowed her eyes before hissing, “Maybe you should stick your thumb up your ass.”

The lieutenant pulled out his knife as the other two pinned Hannah’s arms against the wall. Her towel came loose and fell to the floor.

“I think we’ll stick your thumb up your own ass,” he snarled.

º

The surrounding crowd silenced. Hannah sensed tension filling the air as Virgil approached her.

“I don’t know how you’re doing it,” Virgil said. “But you’re cheating.”

Hannah noticed a few guys she’d pinned in previous rounds appearing behind Virgil. It looked like they’d been comparing notes.

“It’s all in the technique, guys,” Hannah said.

“No woman—or man—has a thumb that strong,” Virgil replied.

“Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?” Hannah said with a laugh.

The promoter got between them while outstretching his arms. He tried to make it look like he addressed the crowd, but everyone understood he actually spoke to the thumb wrestlers. He said, “Winner takes all, folks. No questions asked.”

“Oh, I’m asking questions, Jack,” Virgil seethed. “No way a little girl like this could out-muscle us.”

Hannah smirked before saying, “First of all—that’s belittling and I take offense. Secondly, I’m hardly out-muscling you. We’re talking about thumbs, here.”

“I want that money,” Virgil said. “And I’m going to split it with the other guys you cheated.”

The crowd collectively gasped. They were in for an even better show than they anticipated.

“No!” the promoter shouted. “This is not happening. The cops have looked the other way, but this could shut us down. No fighting—especially with a woman!”

Hannah walked up to the promoter, placed her hand on his shoulder, and said, “It’s cool, Jack. How about this, though? Let’s give the people a chance to place their bets. Winner takes fifty-percent of your profit.” She next turned to the spectators before thundering, “Sound good to you, folks?”

They roared their approval.

“What about it, Virgil?” Hannah asked. “Me against you and your two friends. Think you can take me?”

“Damn straight,” Virgil uttered.

“Jack?” Hannah asked the promoter. “You down? I hope you say ‘yes’—I could use the extra money.”

The promoter saw Hannah wink at him and his nerves disappeared. He’d never seen such confidence in a person. “What the hell? Let’s do it. Place your bets!”

Hannah immediately started loosening up. She jumped in place while jabbing her arms around. All the while, her discerning eye assessed the enemy.

To escape any suspicions, she’d have to avoid using the prosthetic.

Shouldn’t be a problem. After all, she took down three Marines without a thumb.


Copyright © 2018 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 to the story

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.

Joker – A Spoiler-Free Movie Review

Let’s first talk about what Joker is not.

Joker is not for children.

Joker is not a superhero movie.

Joker is not a super villain movie.

Joker is not funny.

Joker is not part of a shared comic book universe. 

However, Joker is a psychoanalytical movie exploring a mentally ill man who eventually comes to embrace criminality. 

I have not stopped thinking about this movie since seeing it on October 3rd. I honestly can’t remember a movie that left me so disturbed and … unsettled. 

It’s not that Joker is particularly violent–it’s not when compared to most R-rated crime films. It’s more that this movie feels so … real. Joker does not have any kind of a fantasy element. It’s absolutely rooted in reality. We watch this man slowly fall apart in a way that is completely plausible. We watch the world keep kicking him and kicking him and kicking him until he fights back, and he strikes back in a manner that is far too familiar. 

I think this is what has me so conflicted about Joker. He is a killer–that should come as no surprise. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s not a vigilante, he’s an average man who elects to murder people. However, throughout most of the film, he’s victimized by bullies. He’s beaten up by society. He’s shunned by the world. We feel bad for him … until we don’t. This kind of complexity is rarely executed in mainstream Hollywood.

In regards to the acting, Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerizing. I left the theater believing that this man may actually be insane. I don’t mean for that to sound insensitive or flippant, but his portrayal proved thoroughly convincing. His body language, his movement, his voice, his facial expressions, his laughter, the way he seemed to transform once he became “Joker” … it was unreal.

Also, the film looks to take place forty years ago. I felt like I walked into a time machine. The clothes, the cars, the props–it all looked authentic.

Furthermore, the “feel” of the movie cut to my core. This is a cramped, gritty, almost claustrophobic film. It’s literally uncomfortable to watch. It’s not a horror movie, but it certainly isn’t interested in coddling the audience.

People keep asking me if it’s a good movie. I don’t know the answer to that just yet. I’m still processing it. I can tell you that I can’t stop thinking about it. I can tell you that it left me with questions that I can’t stop trying to answer. I can tell you that it provoked me. In my opinion, those are all signs of a “good” movie, yet I can’t claim that I enjoyed Joker. It definitely wasn’t fun. This is not a movie to go see on a date or if you’re just looking to pass some time. This film takes effort to watch. 

On the other hand, though, Joker will certainly change the industry. I’ve never seen anything quite like this, and I believe it will strike a chord with audiences which will result in massive earnings. My hope is that we don’t get cheap knock-offs. I don’t want a Two-Face or Killer Croc movie made in the same style as Joker. I don’t want a sudden deluge of intense, psycho-dramas featuring comic book villains. Joker is a perfect storm created by unique talent. Let’s try not to replicate it. 

Believe it or not, Joker is a complicated movie that elicits complex thoughts. I still don’t know if I like it, I’m still not sure if it’s “good,” but it certainly made an impression upon me.

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