Hanging Around With Neil Gaiman

I took my ten-year-old daughter to the Bloomington, Illinois, Barnes and Noble today so that she could use her hard-earned money to buy a Hermione Granger replica wand.  I live in Bloomington-Normal and actually did a signing at this store recently, so I thought I’d take a look in the science fiction section just to … you know.

First all, imagine my joy when I saw several copies of Andropia sitting on my local Barnes and Noble’s bookshelf.  That was pretty cool.

Then, to make it even better, I saw one of my literary heroes–Neil Gaiman–on the shelf below me.  To see my book in proximity to his work … it gave me chills.

Of course, while Neil Gaiman seems incredibly polite and genuinely kind, I’m sure his excitement regarding this occasion would not match mine.  I’m definitely getting the better deal out of all this.

Take a look at the picture below.  Cool, right?

By the way, my daughter was not impressed by any of this.

Ah, to be humbled.

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

Tenet – A Movie Review

I wish I could say to you that Tenet is an intellectual masterpiece, that Christopher Nolan has broken with cinematic convention to such a degree that he has essentially reinvented the medium, and that the story is so complex it works as the equivalent of a Russian doll.

I wish I could say all of that, but I can’t.

Tenet is a confusing mess of a plot with wooden dialogue and an obvious atmosphere of overinflated self-importance. From the minute it started to the minute it ended, I didn’t quite know what was going on, nor did I particularly care.

You could argue that I simply didn’t get it. Maybe I’m not smart enough to decipher the enigma of Christopher Nolan’s work. I don’t think that’s the case, though. I don’t believe Tenet was conceived or written particularly well.

However, there were some highpoints. John David Washington is very charismatic. Though he seemed stiff and restrained throughout the film and had truly awful dialogue, he still emitted an undeniable quality of stardom. Robert Pattinson, believe it or not, is absolutely a good actor and fun to watch. Elizabeth Debicki also had terrible dialogue to work with and little to do in the film, but the six foot, three inch actress also displayed charisma.

In truth, even if Nolan’s plots don’t always click for me, the direction and cinematic quality typically win me over. This was not the case with Tenet. It didn’t look especially beautiful, the shots were not awe-inspiring, and even the angles struck me as rather mundane.

There’s no denying that Christopher Nolan normally makes good movies worthy of praise, but, in my opinion, he missed the mark with Tenet.

Godzilla vs. Kong – A Movie Review

It’s all in the title, right?

Let’s start with the positives–the special effects in Godzilla vs. Kong are spectacular. You see every hair on Kong’s body, every scale on Godzilla’s face. It really is very impressive.

Also, when the two behemoths clash, it is epic. The falling buildings, the crashing waves, the displaced earth–they’ve got the physics of their brawling down pretty well.

Furthermore, the actors–respectable names like Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, and three minutes of Kyle Chandler–they’re trying. They’re trying. So. Hard.

And the director, Adam Wingard, he’s doing his best. He really is. The movie looks great. The actors are obviously giving it their all. I think he’s got everyone motivated, he’s got the film appearing exquisite, and he’s got the technical people overachieving.

But, despite all of those positives, the movie is just dumb.

There’s no other way to put it.

I wish they would stop trying to insert human stories into monster fight movies. I wish they would stop trying to humanize monsters. I wish they would stop trying to force motivation upon the monsters.

Here’s my monster fight movie–monster’s fight for 75 to 90 minutes. Multimedia news reports are spliced in to provide context. Done. Everyone is happy.

Godzilla vs. Kong has a lot going for it. It’s a fun, entertaining spectacle with sublime special effects (even on the “small” screen through HBO Max). But there’s a lot about this movie that just plain doesn’t make any sense at all, no matter how suspended the disbelief.

Derry Girls – A Few Thoughts

A friend once recommended that I give Netflix’s Derry Girls a try and, frankly, it didn’t do much for me. I watched the first episode and didn’t get it.

However, we then saw several of the stars appear on The Great British Baking Show, and they were hilarious. I decided to try the show again and, this time, my wife wanted to see it, too.

I don’t know if I was in the wrong frame of mind the first time I watched Derry Girls or what, but I loved it on the second attempt. In fact, my wife and I powered through the first two, albeit very short, seasons and can’t wait for the third.

The show follows five close friends, four of whom are girls, as they tackle their teenage years during the Nineties. The fifth friend is a male cousin from London who is allowed to attend their all-girls Catholic school for the sake of his own safety. As you can imagine, he is the relentless butt of never-ending jokes. The girls are flawed, misguided, mostly well-intentioned, and more than a little self-centered. However, all of them are, in their own way, extremely lovable.

Amidst the bawdy humor, foul language, and ludicrous plots, Derry Girls subtly tackles the very real conflict occurring in Ireland during the 1990s. Sometimes it is more overt than others, but the potential for violence is always there, always lurking, always on the adults’ minds. It is a fascinating juxtaposition, and one that is handled very well.

Not that those adults are any less humorous than the girls, by the way. The featured family’s grandpa, father, and mother are an absolute roar (especially the grandpa).

If you’re looking for a short, hilarious, mostly breezy comedy to enjoy, I highly recommend Derry Girls. You can find it on Netflix.

(By the way, the Irish accents are thick, so you might want to enable closed captioning.)

Emma. – A Movie Review

After truly enjoying Little Women with my wife and daughters, I thought Emma. might be another hit with the family. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we never quite got around to watching it. My wife and I noticed that it was now available on HBO MAX, so at around ten o’clock at night, after the kids were in bed, we decided to give it a shot.

Let me quickly note that I have never read the book nor have I seen any previous film adaptation of the source material. The previews made it look bright, cheerful, amusing, and pretty. With a PG rating, I thought it would be perfect. We figured we’d preview it for an hour to be sure it was family friendly, then restart it with the kids the next day.

Let me be frank–I was bored. So. Bored. I didn’t find Emma. charming, amusing, or cheerful. However, it was definitely bright and very, very pretty. More on that in a moment.

Emma is a handsome, clever, and rich young woman who is surprisingly unlikable in this film. Is she equally unlikable in the book? I don’t know. As I said–I haven’t read it. She’s supposed to be a matchmaker, yet I found her motivations selfish, contemptable, and ill-intentioned.

Furthermore, in the end, she was rewarded for her bad behavior, which I found troublesome.

So, as you can tell, the story did nothing for me.

However, there’s no denying that Emma. is a beautiful film. The colors are bold and bright. The costumes are magnificent. The scenery is exquisite. It’s shot very well and it looks great.

My wife and I ended up watching the entire film, which kept us awake past midnight, so there must have been something engaging about it.

Even with that being said, I’m afraid I can’t recommend Emma.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

As I said with my original Justice League review, I’m going to like a Justice League movie no matter what. I’ve loved these particular characters since I was a small child reading comic books and watching Super Friends.

But, even with that stated, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a vastly superior version of what came out in 2017. Allow me to elaborate.

As you know, Zack Snyder had to step away from Justice League due to the tragic suicide of his daughter, Autumn. Warner Brothers brought in Joss Whedon, who had obviously enjoyed great success with the MCU, to take over directing duties. Whedon made significant changes to Snyder’s version, and, because the studio wanted Justice League to come in under two hours, a very different movie released from what was originally intended.

I am not a Zack Snyder acolyte, but I personally believe he is unfairly mocked. I believe he has a specific vision with his movies, a particular style, and an unmatched kinetic energy. With Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, people wanted him to copy MCU. Zack Snyder is never going to do anything but what he wants to do. Whether you like him or not, he seems to be loyal to his own artistic sensibilities. He had a take on Batman and Superman, and he stuck with it.

As a result, Zack Snyder’s Justice League felt incredibly satisfying. This Justice League, unlike its predecessor, is truly a continuation of the story that came before. This is the same Wonder Woman, the same Batman, the same Martha Kent, the same Lois Lane, and a continuously evolving Superman.

We get to see Batman organically tackle the ramifications of Batman v Superman. We get to witness Lois and Martha grieve the loss of Clark Kent. We get to see Wonder Woman truly try to reenter the world. And we get to bear witness to the hero’s journey of Superman.

Furthermore, Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg are now fully realized characters. The hokey jokes are gone. The bad one-liners have been erased. Instead, we get rounded characters given room to breathe. Rumors existed that Cyborg was the true star of Justice League before Whedon’s involvement, and I would say that this is true. The Flash is even more endearing than in the 2017 version, and far more interesting. And Jason Momoa, who plays Aquaman, shows off some real acting skills now that he’s not been reduced to a surfer barbarian dude.

Of course, among the biggest differences are the cosmetic changes to Steppenwolf and the inclusion of Darkseid. Steppenwolf now looks very, very cool and seeing Darkseid on screen in such a terrifying role is, frankly, awesome. Steppenwolf is clearly obedient to Darkseid, even fearful of Darkseid, and so his motivation is much different, much easier to understand, and much better. Steppenwolf is a threat to the entire planet, and our heroes treat him as such. This is not a cartoon. This is war.

In fact, the whole story just makes a LOT more sense. From the ancient attack involving Greek Gods, Amazons, and Atlanteans to the whole reason they bring Superman back from the dead (and how they do it), the movie simply takes time to allow characters to explain, to interact, and to experience. As a result, the audience is given time to understand.

Though the movie is four hours long, it flew by for me. I’m a DC fan and I enjoy Snyder’s take on DC characters, so your opinion regarding the film’s length may vary from mine. Knowing that this is likely Snyder’s last foray into the DC Universe, I truly savored every minute of this movie.

I must admit that it was bittersweet, however. Zack Snyder’s Justice League has an epilogue that will leave you salivating for more. Snyder is on record as saying he intended his Justice League to be a trilogy. He shows us quite a bit of what could have happened in those two subsequent films. It’s a shame we probably won’t ever see them made.

Finally, and though this could perhaps be considered a spoiler, he ended the movie with a simple: “For Autumn.” I won’t lie–that unassuming dedication nearly brought me to tears. In a way, I imagine the release of this movie is a sort of closure for Snyder regarding his daughter’s death. There will obviously forever be a hole in his heart due to the loss, but the fact that his daughter’s death and Justice League are inexorably linked is undeniable. I think it was brave of him to share that with the world.

There’s Something Normal About Souls Triumphant

I recently released the 15th anniversary edition of the one that started it all, Souls Triumphant. I initially came up with the idea for Souls Triumphant while attending Illinois State University in Normal, IL. Then, when I neared graduation, I took an amazing creative writing class and really started fleshing out the plot in the form of a short story. Of course, this eventually led to that short story becoming a full-fledged novel, and the rest is history.

Before uptown Normal became Uptown Normal, it was just a humble stretch of buildings consisting of barber shops, comic book stores, coffee houses, and bars aimed at the college crowd. Those of you who attended ISU before the much needed revitalization of the area may recognize certain characteristics of the old uptown Normal in Souls Triumphant.

This may be the first time I’ve publicly announced this, but uptown Normal absolutely served as the inspiration of the uptown area in Souls Triumphant. Though I never specifically say in the book that it’s taking place at Illinois State University in Normal, IL, the area certainly served as the basis for the primary setting.

If you’re familiar with Normal, IL, and want to play a fun game, see if you can match up certain bars, locations, and cafes in the book with the Normal that existed in the late 1990s.

Haven’t read Souls Triumphant yet? You can find your copy by clicking the cover below.

Super Mario Odyssey – A Few Thoughts

You may remember that I had a great time playing Link’s Awakening. I had such a positive experience with that game, in fact, that I then searched the best overall games for the Nintendo Switch. Some of the games struck me as a little too juvenile, while others seemed a little too … intense. But then I saw him–my old friend, Mario.

Of course, we were never really friends.

I think I’ve mentioned that while I beat The Legend of Zelda and Metroid as a kid, I wasn’t a very good gamer in general. In fact, I’ve always been ashamed that I am the only person from that era in time who did not beat Super Mario Brothers.

So when I saw Super Mario Odyssey, I initially kept on scrolling. But then I consistently saw it on on various “best” lists. This prompted me to read a few reviews. Frankly, they were all glowing. I decided to take a chance on it.

Honestly, if you’re not a serious game and just want something fun to play, you can’t go wrong with Super Mario Odyssey.

First of all, the game immediately offers to give you directions throughout in the form of arrows on the ground telling you where to go. Of course, I accepted that offer. Secondly, while the actual gameplay is a little challenging, almost any age can handle it. It’s not ridiculously easy, but it’s pretty close. Third, the game simply looks fantastic. It is beautiful. Cartoony, yes, but gorgeously so. I’m serious–parts of this game looked stunning.

The premise is that you have to travel across the planet in a kind of hot air balloon in pursuit of Bowser, who, as expected, has kidnapped the princess. However, you have to stop at several different locales in order to collect “moons,” which power the ship. Each location is unique unto itself and a real blast. You can also collect tokens at these locations which enable you to buy different outfits for Mario, stickers and souvenirs for the ship, and even moons! Once I got the hang of the outfits and souvenirs, I wouldn’t leave a location until I had bought everything available.

Best of all, when you finish the game, a whole new challenge begins, which allows you to buy even more outfits and souvenirs!

I finished the game in a matter of weeks, and that’s with only playing a little bit at a time. You could probably finish this game in a few days if you really wanted to. It was so fun, I really wanted to make it last.

Even though I intended to play the secondary storyline of the game, I lost interest after a bit because it felt more like a treasure hunt than anything. I’ll probably return to it at some point, but, at that moment in time, I wanted to move on to another game.

If you’re looking for a family friendly, beautiful, fun game for the Nintendo Switch, I highly recommend Super Mario Odyssey.

Radioactive – A Movie Review

My wife and I tend to enjoy movies based on historical events. Though we’d honestly never heard of Radioactive, we both like Rosamund Pike and I generally find Amazon Originals to be high quality.

While we’re glad we watched Radioactive, we agreed that it probably isn’t for everyone.

First of all, as expected, it is well made with very good acting. The sets, the effects, the costumes–all were top notch. They also depicted Marie Curie as an actual human being with very real flaws. I always envisioned Curie as a stuffy old woman, so this dynamic presentation shook up my presumptions.

I also appreciated a very fast pace. In just under two hours, they managed to cover most of her adult life. Furthermore, they did their best to explain the process of her science–warts and all.

However, Radioactive took some surrealistic turns that might prove jarring for some viewers. It would also jump forward in time for a few moments in order to illustrate the ramifications of Curie’s work, which, while interesting, seemed largely unnecessary.

Finally, I can’t help but sense that the film may have taken some liberties in the interest of creating drama. After watching the movie, you can do a quick Google search to see how much of it was sensationalized. Surprisingly, Curie actually was somewhat scandalous in her own time.

There’s no denying, though, the hugely important scientific contributions Curie made to the world and the film does an excellent job at conveying that fact. It also makes a point to accurately depict Curie having to work far harder at obtaining the basic resources her male counterparts easily received. Some things never change, I guess.

Radioactive will surely make you look at Curie in a different light, but that’s not a bad thing. Like I said, it looks great, is very well acted, generally maintains historical accuracy, and even takes a few experimental risks to keep you on your toes. If movies based on history are your thing, Radioactive will surely entertain.

(Note: For teachers thinking about showing this film in classrooms, be aware that there is brief nudity and suggestive moments between Curie and her husband. I would encourage you to view the movie beforehand to determine your comfort level.)