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!)

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East of West: Volume 7 by Hickman and Dragotta

East of West continues to be one of the most satisfying series that I’m following.  Even with the seventh volume, Jonathan Hickman engages the reader with innovative plot development and surprising character development.  I never know what’s coming next with this series, and that’s about the highest compliment that I can pay.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the idea is that … I can’t even.  It’s far too complicated.  Just pick up volume one and you’ll catch on quickly enough.  Just know it’s a dazzling blend of fantasy, western, science fiction, military, alternate history, samurai, and religion.

Hickman utilizes an ever growing cast with grace and nuance — everyone gets a moment to shine in this series.  Furthermore, Hickman seems to know exactly where he’s going at all times.  At no point during this series have I felt as though Hickman is floundering — he never seems lost.  Every issue counts with this series.  Every scene serves a purpose.  There is no wasted time.  That’s rare for a title that has lasted as long as East of West.

Of course, as good as the writing is, East of West would not be the same without Nick Dragotta.  This artist has put a particular stamp on this book; he’s given it an inimitable style.  He makes everyone one and everything in this series look cool.  That’s a great characteristic for a comic as eclectic as this.  Though the term is overused, his art is absolutely epic in nature.

Of particular note regarding Volume 7 — several major players die (or seem to, at least).  Wolf steps to the forefront.  Crow continues to steal every panel in which she appears.  Doma gets the girl.  Oh, and Archibald Chamberlain reveals a very special talent.

When people ask me what current comic book series is a must-read, East of West is always at the top of my recommended reading list.  I see no reason why that will change anytime soon as its excellence continues.

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

Read “Independence Day” On Your Nook Or Kindle

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Click “NOOK” to download

Selena Epting finds herself in a dark parking lot with a man thrusting a knife at her and suggesting inexcusable acts. However, a hero emerges, someone ready to take on the perpetrator … but it’s not who you’d expect.  (Holiday/Adventure/Thriller)

Bug! The Adventures Of Forager – A (Comic) Book Review

This issue is so gloriously weird and so masterfully executed that you have to experience it.  It’s seriously a  must-read book for any comic lover out there.

As part of the Young Animal imprint (which is a division of DC Comics and, apparently, somehow connected to the mainstream content), Bug! The Adventures Of Forager utilizes several of Jack Kirby’s DC contributions, most notably Bug and Sandman.

Let that last sentence sink in a moment …

The first installment of this series is so strange. Bug wakes up after apparently breaking out of a cocoon.  He’s in a basement.  He’s flashing back to Cosmic Odyssey – you may need to “Google” that one.  A ghost girl appears along with a talking teddy bear.  This may be my favorite paragraph ever.

I won’t spoil it further, but if you loved Jack Kirby’s trippy Fourth World, this book is just as  nuts if not more so!  That’s not to say it isn’t well-constructed, though.  Lee and Michael Allred definitely seem to be headed somewhere.  There is a great deal of foreshadowing, and there are also several references to the past — we’re talking before Rebirth, before The New 52, even before Zero Hour — that raise very interesting questions not just about this title in particular but about the Young Animal imprint as a whole.

So along with a wild story and appearances by several revered Fourth World characters, you also have the most beautiful sequential art you will ever see.  Michael Allred is a very special talent.  Every single panel in this book is magnificent.  Not only is he a master of anatomy, but Allred is also able to do something many artists are not — he is able to convey body language and facial expressions that progress the story.  There are no superhero poses in this book.  His characters put actual weight on a single leg while standing, their fingers are never clenched into a superhero fist, and their faces convey actual emotion.  It is wonderful to behold.

Let’s not forget Laura Allred’s colors.  Michael Allred’s pencils and inks are gorgeous, but Laura’s colors amplify them exponentially.  It’s hard to pull of pink, red, and bright yellow in a single panel, but Laura does it and makes it all look perfectly complimentary.  Amazing.

Does this issue make any sense at all as a standalone?  Not really, no.  But, it absolutely lays solid groundwork for what seems to be a focused direction, and the wonderful art, Kirby character appearances, oddness, and general sense of fun make it a must-read issue.  Enjoy!

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

Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day in which Jesus revealed one of the Twelve Disciples would betray him and issued his final command.

A few weeks ago, a woman from my church contacted me and asked if I’d like to fill in for the role of Simon the Zealot during their Maundy Thursday play.  It’s a reenactment of The Last Supper.  Though the thought terrified me, it also excited me, and so I said yes.  I’ve always regretted not getting involved in high school drama, so I figured, hey, even though I’m 40, better late than never, right?

I practiced and I practiced and I practiced.  The thought of messing up in front of my family and strangers drove me to perfection.  By the time our only rehearsal rolled around, I thought I had my short paragraph perfectly memorized.  As it turned out, I did not.

Fortunately, everyone involved were extremely nice with fantastic attitudes.  They were a forgiving lot, assured me I’d get it down before the night of the performance, and laughed everything off.  It wasn’t a terrible rehearsal, mind you, but it did not go as well as I hoped.  I decided to practice even harder, even going so far as dropping by the church and getting in some private rehearsal.  Spending some extra time working with the stage, playing with the room’s acoustics, and getting a feel for my body language renewed my confidence.

Tonight we performed, and it went splendidly.  I had the shortest lines of anyone, and the guys amazed me not only by how well they knew their lines, but also by how committed they were to their roles, how much energy they projected, and how much they seemed to truly enjoy the moment.  We did two performances — one at 5:00 p.m. and one at 7:00 p.m.  Both were wonderful experiences.

After both performances, we stood in the lobby and greeted the audience.  People were so appreciative of us!  It really touched me how genuinely they seemed to enjoy the play and how gracious they were to us for performing it.  Talking with the audience definitely made me realize how powerful acting out this seminal moment is for people.  Several folks told me that seeing our expressions, hearing our voices, watching us interact — these things made The Last Supper feel all the more tangible.  It reminded them that it’s not just some story — it is truth.

Of course, it helped that we had a fantastic director.  We were also shepherded by an  amazing lead actor.  The costumes were phenomenal.  The backdrop actually looked like the backdrop from da Vinci’s famed painting.  The sound and lights were top-notch.  For a small, humble production, I think it made quite an impression.

For my part, it’s the first time I’ve ever done anything quite so public with my church, and certainly my first time acting on stage.  I honestly hope they will ask me to play Simon again.  It felt good to be on stage.  It felt good to deliver an important message.  It felt good to see my family in the front row.  It felt good to work side by side with such devoted, kind men and women.  It felt good to give back to the church.

Happy Easter to all!

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Passengers – A Movie Review

I love the recent resurgence of space movies.  To me, it’s a sign that we are regaining a societal urge to explore the stars once again.  Could this reflect a renewed dissatisfaction with Earthly events?  Perhaps.

Passengers did not initially demand my visit to the theater.  Honestly, I like Jennifer Lawrence, but she’s not “must-see” in my world.  The same can be said for Chris Pratt.  Both are immensely likable and charismatic, but both are also super-hot in Hollywood right now, which led me to believe Passengers could be nothing more than a vehicle for their stardom.  I did not expect an actual story with real weight.

I could not have been more wrong.

The premise is a rather simple one.  The Avalon is a star cruiser traveling 120 years to a distant colony planet founded by a mega-corporation.  5,000 passengers are on board, but they are in hibernation for nearly the entire journey, as are the 200+ crew members.  In fact, the passengers are not due to awake until 4 months before arrival.  Everyone they knew back on Earth will be long dead by the time they start their new lives.  Unfortunately, Chris Pratt’s character wakes up 90 years too soon due to a glitch in the system.  He is literally the only living person aboard the ship until … he isn’t.  That’s when Jennifer Lawrence’s character comes into play.

The story is a little bit of a romance, a little bit of a mystery, and a little bit of a thriller all wrapped up under the guise of science fiction.  There are also deeply complicated morality issues present in the story, which I definitely didn’t expect.  In fact, I think it was brilliant to cast such likable actors in roles that, at times, prove morally troubled, yet are always sympathetic.  Truthfully, this is one of those movies that inspires the viewer to start asking, “What would I do in that situation?”  “Would I really be any different?”  I appreciate films that subtly demand introspection.

So, yes, Passengers definitely had far more story than I anticipated, and that really delighted me.  Even better?  It’s a good story.  It’s a story that is easy to invest in.  These are characters who are easy to invest in.  There are questions of cause and effect, actions and consequences, internal versus external motivations, and morality that add a wonderful layer of depth.

And, as you would expect, there are also some jaw-dropping special effects.  I won’t spoil it for you, but there are a few scenes where gravity comes into play, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  Again, I won’t spoil it for you because it’s better to have it as a surprise, but it’s very, very cool.

Honestly, other than a few hokey lines of dialogue at the very end, I have no complaints about Passengers.  The performances were engaging, the special effects were top-notch, and the story proved incredibly complex, especially in terms of cause, effect, and morality.

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

Kong: Skull Island – A Movie Review

Let’s keep this fairly simple – if you like King Kong, you’ll like Skull Island.  This is Kong in all his glory.  He’s enormous.  He’s wild.  He’s vicious.  He’s easy to root for, even as he’s eating soldiers and blowing up helicopters.

Set in 1973, Skull Island is about an expedition to said island in order to beat the Russians (yada yada yada).  A team of scientists which includes John Goodman need a military escort to get them there.  More specifically, they need a helicopter unit to get them past an ever-present storm system surrounding the island.  Samuel L. Jackson commands this unit, and he’s lost his way since the very recent end of the Vietnam conflict.  He’s a man with no war anymore (yada yada yada).  Tom Hiddleston is a mercenary tracker ex-soldier hired to help them navigate the uncharted island’s terrain.  He’s also a lost soul (yada yada yada).  Brie Larson is a photographer who’s been embedded in Vietnam for years and now seeks a new angle and hopes this unknown island will provide it (yada yada yada).

Okay?  Everyone kind of has motivation and sort of a backstory (but we don’t really care because we’re all here for the giant primate.)

So this team of soldiers and scientists invade Kong’s island and he doesn’t like it.  He protects the island and its inhabitants at all costs.  He’s the top of the food chain, but there’s another species vying for his title and our heroes have seriously disturbed the natural order of things.  Plus, Jackson’s character does not like the fact that Kong killed most of his unit and he wants revenge against the king even as he loses his own grip on sanity.

I won’t spoil anything beyond that, but you can probably predict most of the movie and that’s okay.

What’s important is that Kong looks amazing.  He’s got real heft and he absolutely seems like he’s interacting with the jungle environment engulfing him.  When he’s causing huge waves, he looks wet, the water looks like its reacting to him, and everything appears natural.  When he’s jumping from mountain to mountain or sending trees flying, there is debris, there is gravity, there is air, and it all looks right.

Kong’s not the only monster in this movie, as you probably expect, and they all look really, really good as well.  You forget these are special effects when they brutally interact with each other.  They move like real creatures.  They have fur and scales and saliva and blood.  They have cuts and scars and muscles and bare patches.  It’s astounding.

My biggest complaint about Godzilla is that there wasn’t enough Godzilla!  We don’t have that problem with Kong: Skull Island.  There is plenty of Kong doing what he does best on his own turf.  No travels to the big city in this one (thank goodness)!

Truthfully, the actors were fine, but they really didn’t have to do much.  Astonishingly, these were all top-notch actors, and they played their characters well, but no one is winning any acting awards here because everyone knew Kong’s the real star.  We get just enough of each actor’s character to make us care a little about them, but not enough to make us care more about them than Kong.  That’s a tricky balancing act, but they pulled it off.  I will say this, though: John C. Reilly almost surpassed Kong in likability.  He’s a bigger part of the movie than the previews would have you believe, and he stole every scene in which he appeared.  He brought much needed levity to the film, but never in such a way that openly mocked the subject material.  All of these actors are charismatic on their own, but Reilly took it up a notch even against them.

Just remember, Kong is the star.  (Again, this is where they made a mistake with Godzilla.  They forgot who the star of that movie was.)

If you’re a Kong fan, I highly recommend you see Skull Island on the big screen.  You will not be disappointed if you’re looking for Kong in all his glory.  Be advised, though it’s PG-13, it was a tad more violent than I expected.  People had appendages pulled off, got eaten alive, were burned alive, thrown into chopper blades, etc.  There were some small children in our showing, and I guarantee you they will have nightmares tonight.  I recommend you don’t take your kids if they are younger than 13.

Enjoy!

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