Netflix’s The Eddy – A Few Thoughts

theeddy

Though I was skeptical at first, the name Damien Chazelle initially drew me to The Eddy. You may know him from movies he directed like La La Land and First Man, which are two films I very much enjoyed.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show’s premise, it features Elliot Udo, a formerly famous American jazz musician. Udo has taken refuge in Paris and opened a club called The Eddy with this best friend, Farid. Though he doesn’t play music anymore, Udo manages The Eddy’s house band as Farid oversees the club’s operations. Before long, Udo’s estranged sixteen-year-old American daughter comes to live him him. Soon after that, Farid is murdered on the street right outside The Eddy. Keep in mind, this is just the first episode. From there on things get very complicated on many fronts very quickly.

The Eddy is grimy, claustrophobic, and mostly spoken in French. Again, these are not aspects I typically find appealing.

However, the show does many things so well, so perfectly, that I couldn’t help getting hooked on it.

First of all, the characters are captivating. All of them are fallible. Many of them make mistake after mistake, yet, because they are so realistically depicted and utterly likable, we become mesmerized by them.

In fact, the word “realistic” is a great way to describe The Eddy. They show you the real side of Paris–not the tourist areas. They show you just how difficult relationships between children and parents can get. They show you what real Parisians look like. they show you the conflict that can arise among creative people who both love and hate each other. Furthermore, it looks like the actors are really playing their instruments! That detail truly increases the level of authenticity. Sure, The Eddy has some far-fetched moments, but, overall, you’ll feel like you know these people on a personal level. You become invested in them.

Also, the pacing is perfect. As you probably guessed, there are three major plots occurring. The first revolves around Udo’s contentious relationship with his daughter. The second involves Farid’s murder. The third centers on Udo trying to break out his band. Of course, several other plot points arise, and each of them converge into one of the overarching three by the season’s finale. It’s excellent story telling unfolding at a gripping rate.

Finally, the music. Oh, my–the music. I’m not even a jazz fan, but the music truly won me over. It’s fantastic.

By the way, I feel embarrassed that I had no idea who André Holland was before watching The Eddy. Holland made me believe there’s actually a guy named Elliot Udo living over in Paris. He made Udo into a living, breathing, stubborn, charming, infuriating man that I would very much like to be friends with. If you search Holland at IMDB, he’s had a wonderful career in some high profile works. My failure to appreciate him until this point is my own error.

Even if jazz, Paris, and the French language are not your thing, I hope you’ll give The Eddy on Netflix a try. I wasn’t particularly interested in any of those things, either, yet the show easily won me over.

You Come First: My Short Story Of the Week

YOU COME FIRST

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You want to know who comes first? That’s right—you do.

It’s your right—your God-given right as an American citizen—to do whatever you think needs to be done. Who are they to tell you anything? You’re smart. You’ve been through a few things. You know what’s what, right?

These scientists, they’re changing their story every day. One day we’re supposed to wear a mask. The next day the mask doesn’t do anything. Then they’re back to telling us to wear masks again. Guess what? You’re perfectly healthy. You don’t have the virus, so you obviously can’t give it to anyone. You can’t give what you don’t have. There’s some real science.

Speaking of which, where do these grocery stores get off trying to force you to wear a mask? Are they the Gestapo? Who put them in charge? You go right into that store without your mask and just watch what they’ll do—nothing. Oh, they’ll talk. That’s all anyone does—talk, talk, talk. They’ll probably say something like “it’s for the safety of our workers,” but we all know that they shouldn’t have vulnerable people working there. Their employees’ frailty is supposed to keep you from eating? Not happening.

On the topic of food, can you believe they shut down the gyms? That’s a great strategy. There’s a virus going around, so let’s make sure people can’t exercise. Brilliant. Here’s some more science—exercise makes people healthy. The government has you sitting at home, eating like a pig, and won’t let you pump iron at the gym. They want you to get fat. They want you lazy. They want you at their mercy. That’s how they try to control you.

Furthermore, let’s talk about these people in charge. They think they can dictate where you can go, what you can buy, and who you can hang out with? Last you checked, you live in a democracy, and you most definitely did not vote for fascism. If you want to have people over, that is none of their business. Your friends are all grown, aren’t they? You can trust them to stay home if they’re not feeling well. You’re being treated like a child who’s been sent to your room, and you don’t like it. Not one bit.

In fact, they won’t even let you go to church. Seriously? There’s two things guiding the course of your life—God and the Constitution. Both of them want you in church. After all, you live in one nation under God. Are you really going to let some commie pinko tea party snowflake socialist get between you and your lord, Jesus Christ? No way. This is how they’ll eradicate Christianity from our schools, and you know it.

Schools. Can you believe this? It’s a fact that kids are barely getting sick at all, yet they shut down every school across the land. Just what are these teachers doing at home all day, anyway? Your kid hands in some papers a little late, just a few months, and those teachers take their sweet time grading. They’ve already got the whole summer off, and now an extra three months on top of that? Just to sit at home. You’re working your butt off, and they’re probably out on the golf course instead of grading papers the day they come in. You emailed your thoughts about that to your kid’s teachers, but they’re too cowardly to even respond.

Cowards. That’s the operative word. Everyone is scared of their own shadow. Not you, though. Just the other day, you were at the hardware store. You needed a new snow shovel—everyone with half a brain knows off-season is the time to buy. Some guy was taking too long looking at rakes, so you just stood right next to him and searched for the best price you could find—capitalism, baby. He thought he was tough, said something to you about keeping your distance. One cough in his direction proved what kind of courage he really had.

You’re good to go. You’ve got a big house with a giant yard and a great job you can perform from home. You earned everything you have, and if people are catching some bad luck during the Covid outbreak, that’s on them. They should have worked harder. The smart people know how to get things back on track, and it starts with the economy. When’s the last time the Covid spent a dollar?

You understand the Covid is flu. Technically, it’s not, but basically it is. Flu kills less than 1% of people who get it. The Covid kills less than 5%. You wish you were shocked the whole world shut down for less than 5%, but that’s today’s leaders for you—only worried about getting reelected. Let’s make everyone suffer for less than a handful of the population. The old, the weak, the sick—how much are those people contributing to society anyway?

You need to get this country up and running again by sacrificing whatever it takes.

America comes first, right after you.


Copyright © 2020 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.

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.

Huffy: My Short Story Of the Week

HUFFY1

 

Dino and Cary closed the screened-in summer porch’s deep freeze. Each boy giggled while sneaking back into the house with several Schwan’s frozen cookie dough patties in their hands. Cary looked around, saw no one, then led Dino through the hall that led straight to the garage.

As soon as Cary opened the door, both boys dropped their cookies.

There, in the middle of the garage, stood Mick’s black and gold Huffy bicycle with the garage door wide open and the family cars parked in the driveway. The bike faced outward, toward the street, eager to rocket through the small town.

The boys froze. They looked around them, behind them, even above them. They didn’t see Mick anywhere. Cary and Mick’s dad always made them park their bikes along the wall so that the cars would have plenty of room. It didn’t make any sense—both of Cary’s parents were home. Why were the cars in the driveway? Furthermore, Mick’s bike had no business sitting there, dead center, primed and ready, begging to be noticed.

It had to be a trick.

Cary didn’t bother to pick up his frozen cookies as he descended three steps into the garage. A slight breeze whistled though the garage’s only window, slightly opened, as he approached Mick’s bike.

It was beautiful. The rims and handlebars were golden and caught every bit of sunlight that shined its way in. The hand grips, frame, and seat were black, the kind of black Old West gunslingers wore. There wasn’t a chip on it; Mick kept the paint pristine. The chain had been freshly oiled and smelled like action. As far as Cary knew, no one else in town had a black and gold Huffy—Mick alone wielded the prestige. Comparably speaking, Cary’s own blue and white BMX could only be described as inadequate.

But why was it sitting out in the open? Mick never left it unguarded. He normally chained it to his dad’s rolling tool cart in the front corner.

Cary lifted a leg in order to straddle the Huffy.

“Don’t,” Dino warned. “It’s a trap—you know it is.”

Looking over his shoulder at Dino, Cary whispered with a grin, “I don’t care.”

And with that, Cary hopped onto Mick’s Huffy, kicked up the stand, stood on the peddles, and then jettisoned down the driveway into the street.

“Follow me!” Cary screamed against the wind.

Dino ran to the yard, lifted his blue and yellow Raleigh up off the grass, then tore after Cary down North Street.

“You’re crazy!” Dino yelled. “Mick will kill you!”

“It’s worth it!” Cary hollered back.

Dino caught up to Cary and they raced side by side. The other neighborhood children stopped what they were doing and stared, dumbfounded. Though Mick was a well-liked, charismatic teenager, it was common knowledge that you were not to provoke him. Cary saw a young girl with a Popsicle in her mouth close her eyes and do the sign of the cross in his direction.

“Isn’t the seat too high for you?” Dino questioned.

“I’ve never felt more alive!” Cary roared in return.

They angled their bikes and swerved right onto Beard street. Both boys knew they would pay for this infraction, but at that moment the thrill proved too intoxicating. Whatever the future held for them, nothing would ever top the day they stole Mick’s Huffy.

“Pop a wheelie!” Dino squawked over the torrent of air flowing through their hair.

Cary had never successfully popped a wheelie before, but he knew he was destined to do so on that July day. A blissful smile spread across his face. In perfect synchronization, he pushed with his legs, thrust back his chest, and yanked upwards with his hands as mightily as he could.

And for a brief instant, the front tire lifted off the pavement.

Cary bellowed, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

But then the unthinkable occurred.

Cary bawled, “No! No! No!”

For as the tire rebelled against gravity and became airborne, the handlebars ripped loose—completely loose.

Though he still clutched the hand grips, Cary found himself effectively riding with no hands as it wobbled precariously from side to side.

“What happened?” Dino screeched.

“I don’t know!” Cary replied.

Then things grew even more dire for the boys because, seemingly all at once, the bike’s front tire disengaged, both peddles flung away, and the seat spun at a ninety-degree turn.

Somehow, Cary landed on his feet.

He stood among a heap of gears, parts, nuts, and bolts as he still held the handlebars aloft.

Dino skidded to a stop next to Cary. He uttered, “Oh, no …”

“I don’t believe this,” Cary mumbled. “Do you think Mick booby trapped his bike?”

“What?” Dino asked. “Are you crazy? That’s impossible!”

“Then how do you explain this?” Cary wailed.

“I don’t know, but you’re a dead man,” Dino groaned.

“Go get my dad,” Cary said. “I’ll start gathering everything up. Get my dad and tell him I’m in front of Christian Academy. Maybe he can help us take it home and put it back together before Mick finds out.”

“What if I bump into Mick?” Dino demanded with bulging eyes.

“Just do it!” Cary yelled.

“Oh, man, this is so nuts!” Dino shrieked before racing down the rest of Beard and turning right onto Sunset.

Cary sat at the edge of the road and waited five minutes. He noticed a grey cat leering at him from within a bush across the street, then waited another ten. When twenty minutes passed, he realized that his dad wasn’t coming. Either Dino lost his nerve and went home or Mick had gotten to him. Either way, there would be no help.

After staring up at the blue sky for several seconds, Cary took a deep breath, then collected all the small parts that he could find and stuffed them into his front pockets. Each peddle went into a back pocket before he hoisted up the bike frame and slid his right arm through it until it rested on his shoulder. The handlebars were wedged under his left arm and he took a tire in each hand. He searched the pavement one last time with eyes darting erratically. No piece could be left behind—partly because he feared his brother, but also because one didn’t abandon even a bolt of the black and gold Huffy. It was a treasure, a paragon of bicycles, and it had to be treated as such.

Then began the long walk.

It wasn’t that far of a trek back to his house, but it felt interminable. Cary had no idea how he would explain the situation to his parents, and he was even less certain about how he would survive Mick’s guaranteed rage. He only knew he would put the Huffy back together again. No matter how long it took, no matter how hard it proved to be, he would right this awful wrong. The Huffy had asked for none of this—its days would not end as a heap of parts on Beard Street.

When Cary finally reached the opening of the garage, he fell to his knees in exhaustion and carefully allowed each part to rest upon the cold concrete floor. Evening approached and the crickets reproached.

The door then opened, and, while stepping over the thawed cookies, Mick walked out.

The older brother stepped down, and once he reached the bottom Cary saw that Dino trailed. They both stood a few feet from Cary and simply stared at the grease-stained, weary boy.

“Wha—I don’t understand,” Cary stammered.

“I had to be sure,” Mick said.

“Sorry, dude,” Dino added.

“Sure?” Cary repeated. “Sure about what?”

Mick crouched down with clasped hands before his younger brother. He said, “I turn thirteen next week.”

“Yeah? So?” Cary replied. He felt himself devolving into hysteria. It was all too much for him.

“Mom and Dad said I could pick out a new bike. I’m getting too big for the Huffy—I’ve had it since I was your age.”

Cary studied the Huffy’s parts surrounding him. A realization dawned.

“You did this,” Cary seethed. “You didn’t want anyone else to have it …”

“Whoa,” Dino warned, “you’re way off, man. Let Mick explain.”

Mick stood, put his hands behind his back, and paced the garage. He said, “It’s true—I set you up. I rigged the bike to fall apart. I knew you would take it for a joyride—who wouldn’t? I had to know …”

“Know what?” Cary whooped.

“If you’re worthy,” Mick answered.

“Worthy?” Cary repeated.

“If you left the bike, if you came running home like nothing happened, if you never admitted to what you did … then I would know you didn’t deserve it. But if you scooped it up, carried it with you, refused to leave it behind … That was the test.”

“And you passed, dude!” Dino proclaimed.

Narrowing his eyes at Dino, Cary growled, “You were a part of this?”

Mick interjected by saying, “The Huffy is yours, little brother.”

Cary took in the mess encircling him, then looked at Mick with his eyebrows lifted.

“Relax,” Mick said. “We’ll help you put it back together.”

Dino giggled, “This was so awesome.” Then, to Cary, he asked, “You’ll let me ride it, right?”


Copyright © 2020 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.

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.

Chubby Tummy: My Short Story Of the Week

CHUBBYTUMMY

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I remember standing in the shower with the steam rolling around me. The roar of the water combined with the whir of the fan created a loud, encapsulating experience. White stripes, about the width of three fingers, stretched across the middle of the door just enough to shield one’s private parts should someone enter the bathroom. In a house full of two adults and four children, such an invasion always proved likely. Even the dog committed the occasional incursion.

I remember staring at that clear glass with the white stripes. We once had a frosted glass door, but when my sister pushed it open too hard, it shattered. The shards fell everywhere and managed to slice open her forearm in the process. The neighbors put my two older siblings and me to bed that night because my parents drove her to the nearest emergency room, which was thirty minutes away.

I remember thinking my sister would not return home that night or any other night ever again.

I remember the beige stain that would appear on the floor of the shower. My mother made one of us scrub it every three days with powered bleach, but that brown residue never relented. With six people using one shower, Comet didn’t stand a chance against the constant barrage of oil, dirt, and, in my case, urine.

I remember the metal drain in the center of the shower floor. At one time it appeared silver—a round, metallic plate with twenty-three holes. The drain had taken on a greenish tint, however, with a bit of blue mixed in. It reminded me of shipwrecks featured in those shows with strange sounding men that hunted undersea treasure. Bits of mashed Dial clung to the edges of the holes on the underside of the drain. When the soap wore down to a sliver and careened to the floor, we would press it against the drain until it pushed through like sausage in a grinder. We took my mother to the brink of insanity.

I remember all the bottles lining the perimeter of the shower stall. My mother and two sisters each had their own brand of shampoo and conditioner. My dad complained he barely had anywhere to stand because of all the plastic containers. Dad told my brother and me just to use the bar of soap for our hair, but I actually used my sisters’ stuff. I would wash my hair every other day while making sure to switch from one brand to the next to the next. This method served me well for months until my oldest sister recognized her scent of raspberry atop my head during an impromptu wrestling match that resulted due to my unauthorized use of her athletic socks. As the youngest member of the family, I mastered the art of scavenging in order to fulfill my needs.

I remember looking down in the shower only to see my tummy blocking the view of my toes. The hot water hit the back of my head and flowed downward. It caught my dark hair in its currents and pushed my bangs into my eyes. I saw black tendrils hovering over a pink balloon—my fat gut.

I remember hating myself.

I remember my sisters, my brother, my father and mother—they were slender, toned, slim, strong. You could actually see my brother’s muscles through the skin of his stomach. I didn’t understand. My legs were lean, as were my arms. But my face carried a lot of flab in the jowls and my stomach—it looked like someone blew up a beach ball inside of me.

I remember being so confused. We all ate the same foods, drank the same drinks. Why were they so skinny? Why was I the only tubby member of my family? To make matters worse, it seemed like I got fatter every day. Wasn’t it bad enough that I regularly got the lowest grades amongst my siblings? Didn’t the world beat me up enough in that I always got picked last for sports? My oldest sister earned multiple academic scholarships—colleges lined up for her approval. My oldest brother consistently won the lead in every school play through elementary, middle, and high school. My other sister, though only a year older than me, could outplay anyone at soccer. Everyone agreed the Olympics could be in her future. Me? I could eat twice as much bread at dinner as my entire family combined. That was my only claim to fame.

I remember feeling hopeless. My grandmother once called me chunky when we hosted Thanksgiving. She said I inherited it from her side of the family. After her proclamation, I slowly and inconspicuously backed away from the table before fleeing to the room I shared with my brother. I sobbed for an hour before my mother found me. She tried to assure me that I would thin out. She compared me to a squirrel saving up for the winter. According to her, I would soon hit a growth spurt. This sudden growth would burn up all of my blubber as I got taller and taller.

I remember thinking that was bullshit.

I remember looking down at my gut in the shower. It would glisten like raw chicken meat as the hot, soapy water streamed over it. It stuck out so far that I couldn’t even see my thing. My best friends were thin as could be. We ate the same food at lunch—why weren’t they fat? Pudding pies, Twinkies, Nutty Bars, Swiss Cake Rolls, Cosmic Brownies—we all ate them! They drank Coke just like me, too.

I remember wondering if I would always be fat. Would I just get fatter and fatter? Would my arms and legs start to swell as well? Was I eternally destined to be the beefy kid? Would girls like me? Would I ever find someone willing to marry me? What would PE class be like for the rest of my life? Would coaches keep teasing me worse and worse, year after year? Would my dad’s friends ever stop accusing me of sneaking beer? Would the middle school kids bully me? Would people laugh at me until the day I died?

I remember standing in the steaming, noisy shower while praying to God to make my chubby gut disappear before sixth grade.


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.

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.

Visit Monica Estabrook’s Virtual Exhibition “mother•land”

I hope you will take a moment to visit Monica Estabrook’s virtual exhibition entitled “mother•land” by clicking HERE.

Monica Estabrook is an art teacher at Bloomington High School. I’ve known her as a coworker and friend for several years and appreciate her unyielding passion to create art even as she excels at teaching and raising children.

Many weeks ago, Monica invited my Creative Writing students to participate in an art show (“mother•land”) she had scheduled to appear at Heartland Community College. My students were both very excited by the prospect and also genuinely touched that Monica would share the spotlight with them. If you know Monica, however, this generosity would come as no surprise.

The plan was for my students to recite their poems on the opening night of Monica’s exhibition.

As you have probably guessed, the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything. However, the artistic spirit cannot be stopped, nor should it. Monica and Danell Dvorak, the HCC Art Gallery Coordinator, quickly developed a “plan b.”

When you visit the link, you’ll be able to view each of Monica’s photographs individually, and you’ll also be able to view a “walk-through” video as well. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find both text and audio versions of my students’ poems. They were tasked with recording themselves reading their poetry and submitting those audio files to Monica. Due to various circumstances, not all were able to participate, but those poems available are magnificent.

The pandemic has caused great tragedies, bitter disappointments, and mild inconveniences. I can only imagine how upsetting it must be to have an exhibition overshadowed and drastically altered due to the outbreak. But, if you know Monica, you won’t be shocked to learn that she took it all in stride, overcame the difficulties, and even found a new, creative way for her art and my students’ poems to shine.

Show this indomitable spirit your appreciation and visit her art show at this link: https://www.heartland.edu/artGallery/motherlandExhibit%20.html

OtherPieces

Star Wars: Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

Star Wars: Master & Apprentice is a new book written by Claudia Gray.  It features Qui-Gon Jinn and his relatively recently appointed Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  As you’ve probably guessed, it takes place before Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

I looked forward to reading this book for two reasons.  The first is that Qui-Gon Jinn is a fairly enigmatic figure in the Star Wars mythology.  I haven’t seen much of him in other books, graphic novels, cartoons, or movies.  I felt excited not only to learn more about him as a person, but to also examine his dynamic with Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The second reason is that I enjoy Cladia Gray’s Star Wars voice.  Her novel, Star Wars: Lost Stars, remains one of my all-time favorite Star Wars stories due not only to its unique characters but also because it connects seamlessly to major Star Wars events.  True, I didn’t find her two Princess Leia books as engaging, but I hoped Master & Apprentice would recapture the magic of Lost Stars.

Unfortunately, Master & Apprentice suffered the same fate as those other two Star Wars books featuring Princess Leia in that it gets far too bogged down in political complexities without any actual character growth or revelations occurring.

It started off on a good note.  Several references were made to Count Dooku which led us to believe he could make an appearance in this novel, especially because Dooku trained both Qui-Gon and a newly revealed Jedi named Rael Averross.  Rael is older than Qui-Gon, so it’s initially interesting to see that new side of Master Jinn.  There are also ample teases that Darth Maul could be working from the shadows.  This would make perfect sense as he’s later revealed to be the Phantom Menace.

Furthermore, early on in the book, Qui-Gon is invited to join the Jedi Council, which would mean he would have to relinquish his role as teacher to Obi-Wan.  Obi-Wan feels betrayed by this possibility, which further damages their already-strained relationship.  In this book, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon rarely see eye-to-eye on much of anything and are typically not on the same page.  I found this refreshing, though, to be honest, it is not especially innovative compared to other Master/Padawan duos that we’ve encountered.

So, as you can see, there is a great deal of rich character conflict available for exploration in Master & Apprentice.  Sadly, most of it falls by the wayside in favor of a political story pertaining to a child about to be named Queen and her connection to an intergalactic corporation hoping to gain control of a hyperspace corridor.

Frankly, I found the first two hundred pages of the novel a little uneventful.  Things started heating up for the last one hundred and thirty pages, but, in the end, nothing substantial happens to our favorite characters.  They are primed and ready for The Phantom Menace, but, other than improved communication skills, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are basically unchanged.

More often than not, this seems to be a theme in the Star Wars novels that I’ve read.  They delve far too much into political intrigue without any serious ramifications to the characters we care about.  Lost Stars proved special in that it created two brand new characters, made them important to us, mixed them in with major beats from the Star Wars movies, and then sent them through some serious character development.

Master & Apprentice had wonderful potential.  Acknowledging Dooku was really cool, but it went nowhere.  We really didn’t get that much of a better feel for Qui-Gon than we do in The Phantom Menace.  Obi-Wan is also virtually the same as he’s depicted in The Phantom Menace.  Rael seemed like an important addition, but even he remained unchanged by story’s end.  And those hints at Darth Maul?  Nothing came of them.  I hope that’s not a spoiler, but I don’t want you to be disappointed.

I really get the feeling that the authors of these books are being hamstrung by a corporate influence.  While they create complicated conflict, in the end, none of it really matters to the overall Star Wars story that we know and love.  Perhaps it’s just me, but if these books don’t somehow improve upon the characters or events that draw us to them, then what is the point of their existence?

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

X-Men: Dark Phoenix – A Movie Review

I just go out of X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and I’ve got some good news for you – it’s not that bad!

Sure, that’s not a huge compliment, but, to be honest, I expected it to be terrible.  Why did I have such dire expectations?  First of all, the constant delays in release is never a good sign.  Furthermore, those delays were, in part, due to the Disney acquisition which makes Dark Phoenix something of a lame duck.  We all know Disney plans to reboot, recast, and generally redo the X-Men sometime in the near future, so Dark Phoenix had a little problem with making us care about it.  Finally, judging from the previews and posters, Dark Phoenix looked far too similar to the ironically titled X-Men: The Last Stand.  That was, for all intents and purposes, the Dark Phoenix story line mixed in with a lot of other … stuff.  In other words, we’ve basically seen this movie … sort of.

I’m happy to tell you that, really, there weren’t that many similarities to The Last Stand.  There are some, true, but those familiar beats are better fleshed out in Dark Phoenix than they were in The Last StandDark Phoenix is only concerned with the plight of Jean Grey.

Also, let’s face it: Dark Phoenix has star power.  Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain – these are big names!  Let’s not forget up-and-comers like Nicolaus Hout, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan, and Kodi Smit-McPhee.  These are fun people to watch, and in the case of McAvoy and Fassbender, there is some serious acting being executed.

Dark Phoenix has very strong special effects as well.  We get to see Magneto perform some impressive feats, as well as Jean Grey.  Cyclops’ optic blasts have never looked better, nor have Nightcrawler’s “bamfs.”  Beast looks fantastic even if his movement still feels a little awkward.

Of course, Dark Phoenix has some issues.  The biggest issue is that, well, to a fairly large degree, we’ve already experienced the major themes of this movie.  Jean’s struggle with the Dark Phoenix was dealt with in The Last Stand, and while I think this movie did it better, it’s still well-covered territory.

Furthermore, Dark Phoenix didn’t seem all that interested in explaining much.  I know from my misspent youth that the cosmic energy that Jean absorbs is called “The Phoenix Force,” but the movie barely touches upon it at all and never calls it by name.  If I’m a casual movie goer, I have no idea what that’s all about.  Consequently, we’re given no reason for the arrival of the cosmic force at all – it just kind of made its way to Earth.  The movie also skipped a pretty important step in telling us why Jean Grey is the only entity capable of utilizing this cosmic energy.  They constantly talk about how “strong” she is, but that’s a pretty lazy cop out.

Jessica Chastain is a movie star, no doubt, but she was given very little to work with.  Look, I’ll watch Jessica act no matter what movie she’s in, but her character was about as thin as you can get.  There’s ample tropes and cliches regarding her motivation, but it doesn’t amount to much.

Speaking of character, is anyone else tired of sad Jean Grey?  Jean Grey is a wonderful, multi-dimensional character, but the movies can’t seem to get past this whole “Dark Phoenix” thing, which was a seminal moment for her character, to be sure, but not her only moment.  It seems as though no one can do anything on film with her other than depict her as a tortured spirit, crying most of the time, and always on the verge of losing control.  Jean Grey is so much more than that.  I wish Sophie Turner got to show us Jean Grey the teacher, the leader, and the heart of the X-Men.

Another note about character – I love what they did with Professor Xavier.  They really made him interesting in a way I haven’t seen before.  Everyone else, though?  Not so much.  Cyclops is just kind of there, likewise with Storm.  Magneto is still Magneto doing Magneto things.  Quicksilver is barely in this film at all, which is a real tragedy.  And I hate what they did with Nightcrawler.  Hate it.  He’s one of my favorite characters and they really dropped the ball with him.

Best moment?  A brief, ever so brief, blink and you’ll miss it moment featuring a certain X-Men favorite.  I’m not sure how many people will know her when they see her, but it was great.  It was true to her character, fun, and – like I said – brief.

If you’ve enjoyed McAvoy and Fassbender’s X-Men movies, go ahead and see this.  It’s not as good as the first two but better than Apocalypse.  I wouldn’t consider this a “must-see” movie, but it’s probably better than you expect.

Oh, and don’t bother sitting through the credits.  There’s nothing there.

One last word of warning.  If you’re taking kids to this thing, there is an F-bomb dropped near the ending.  It’s completely unnecessary, but it’s there.

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Aladdin (2019) – A Movie Review

I’m 42 years old, so I was in high school when the original Aladdin debuted.  I enjoyed it, especially the Robin Williams performance, but I didn’t consider it a masterpiece nor do I to this day.  Fun?  Absolutely?  Great music?  You bet.  A holy artifact that should remain untouched for the rest of time?  No.  Absolutely not.

When I heard they were remaking a “live-action” version of the film, I thought, “Yeah, okay.  That’s pretty consistent with what Disney is doing now.”  When I discovered that they cast Will Smith as the genie … well, I thought that was an odd choice not just for the movie, but for Will Smith himself.

So let’s get the most important thing out of the way right now: my ten-year-old and seven-year-old daughters loved this version.  They’ve seen the original, but they both said that they like this one more.  Will they feel as strongly about it in ten years?  Who knows.  But, this is a kids’ movie made for kids, and both of my kids adored it.  Bam.  Mission successful.

From a more critical view, or maybe I should say from a cynical adult perspective, Aladdin (2019) isn’t perfect.  First of all, it’s about thirty minutes too long.  Two hours and ten minutes is just a bit too much for this genre.  I definitely found myself looking at my watch.  Also, the CGI in the movie is just … weird.  There are times when it doesn’t look good at all, particularly in regards to the genie.  CGI blue Will Smith … never quite looked right.  I know this sound ludicrous, but he always appeared kind of fake … realistically fake.  You know?  They included rippling muscles and pores in the skin, yet he never seemed to be anchored to his surroundings.

However, there is quite a bit to like about this movie.  First of all, no one can deny Will Smith’s movie stardom.  He’s always fun to watch.  Will Smith gets to be regular human Will Smith for quite a bit of the movie, and that’s when he really shined.  Also, Mena Massoud, who plays Aladdin, has undeniable charisma.  His eyes and smile light up the screen every time he appears, and he also has a really interesting speaking voice.  Finally, though she doesn’t have the magnetism of her costar, Naomi Scott (Jasmine) has a fantastic voice.  When she sings–watch out!  This actress has one of those voices that just grabs you.  I actually wish they’d given her several more musical numbers.

I feel totally comfortable recommending this as a family movie.  If you all want to go out together and enjoy a fun time, Aladdin (2019) is a fine choice.  The kids will enjoy it, the parents will find things to like about it, and then everyone will forget about it by the next day, and that’s okay.

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The Main Reason I Love HBO’s Game of Thrones

I’ve been thinking a great deal about Game of Thrones since its conclusion.  Specifically, I’ve been trying to pinpoint its most captivating quality.  I love it.  You love it.  Most of the world loves it.  But why?  Is it the characters?  The actors?  The fights?  The special effects?  The plot?  Maybe even the dialogue?

It’s only since I started reading the first book a few days ago that I’ve been able to determine what I actually love best about it.

Of course, it must be said that I love books first and foremost.  TV and movies are wonderful, but literature is where my imagination gets to run wild.  My job is to envision whatever the author puts down on the page.  I have no budgetary limits set upon my special effects.  I have no location concerns or production issues.  I read what the author wrote, and then my imagination is off to the races.

However, in some cases, such as with Game of Thrones, the author is writing details about a reality so foreign, so extraordinary, that my imagination has no context from which to draw upon in order to formulate an image.  Yes, I can generally come up with something, but nothing that does the text justice.  Sure, I know what a wolf is, but is that the same as a dire wolf?  (Turns out … yup, it pretty much is the same.)

The creatives behind the Game of Thrones program have to show us these details, though, and so they must work out the nuances of clothing, castles, armor, weaponry, magical creatures–even chambers and cutlery!  They must take into account the climate of the various settings and depict an environment suitable to the source material.  They have to actually work out the cadence of languages and the visual practices of religions.

Game of Thrones has essentially created an alternate reality for us to behold.  They don’t just give us a single castle, or a lone homestead, they grant us an entire world.  And though the scope of the show constricted quite a bit during the last two seasons, we were previously offered a planetary civilization made up of unique elements specific to the culture and customs of its local inhabitants.

In this rare case, the show outperformed my own imagination in such a way that I felt as though I embarked upon a new realm, and I love that about it.

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Here Are Eleven General Items That I Hope Happen During the Final Game Of Thrones Episode

Be warned, spoilers abound …

I know this final season of Game Of Thrones has been controversial to some, but I’ve been perfectly happy with it thus far.  I will ultimately reserve my final judgement until the last episode’s conclusion, which I think is only fair.  If anything, this concluding season has been one giant episode rather than a series of installments.  I will wait and assess it as a whole.

However, there are a eleven items that I hope will be addressed tomorrow night.  I won’t be so bold as to suggest specifics, but, generally speaking, here they are, in no particular order …

  • Daenerys actually rules from the Iron Throne
  • Sansa claims Winterfell as an independent kingdom, which she rules
  •  Jon Snow’s resurrection is given ample explanation
  • Ghost and Nymeria return with a pack of direwolves to protect Winterfell from dragons–yes, dragons
  • Jamie and Cersie survive, but must live in squalor and anonymity
  • Bran becomes the Night King, but alters the Night King’s course
  • Arya and Brienne wander the world, committing acts of heroism wherever needed
  • Jon Snow returns to the Free Folk and lives among them
  • Drogon survives and gives birth to more dragons
  • Magic significantly reveals itself again in the Lord of Light, Children Of the Forest, Three-Eyed Ravens, Wargs, Shadows, etc.
  • Tyrion dies a good death

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