Dune – A Movie Review

Dune never interested me all that much until when, years ago, I heard Denis Villeneuve planned to release his interpretation of the seminal work. As a big fan of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, I knew Villeneuve would do something very special as he put his unique stamp on the mythology.

I immediately set out to read the book before the movie’s release. Because the pandemic kept pushing the movie down the calendar, I managed to finish it with plenty of time to spare, though I wouldn’t consider it an easy read. You can see my thoughts about the book HERE.

Dune released both in theaters and on HBO Max on October 21st. I sat down around 9:30 that Thursday night intending to just watch thirty minutes or so, enough to get a first impression of the film.

I couldn’t turn it off. I was up until 12:30 a.m., on a work night, dog tired, watching Dune, and couldn’t turn it off.

That probably speaks volumes in and of itself, but I’ll share a few thoughts.

As expected, Dune is visually magnificent and utilizes a striking ambiance. It hit all the right chords and delivered the essence of the book. Well, most of the book. Half of the book? More on that to come.

Dune is also filled with true stars. Consider some of these names: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Javier Bardem, and Zendaya. These are full-fledged movie stars, each and every one.

I found the movie riveting, obviously, but as I watched it I found myself wondering: “Does this thing make any sense at all to anyone who hasn’t read the book?” I’ve since spoken with a few friends who really enjoyed the movie, even loved it in some cases, and haven’t read the book and weren’t familiar with the premise. I think that’s a good sign! As noted before, it definitely hit the high notes of the source material, but many of the more nuanced items were, as one would expect, left out.

I love that a book originally published in 1965 can still feel fresh and captivate audiences in 2021.

Chalamet, who plays the story’s protagonist named Paul, owned his role. Paul is a complex character, and though the movie doesn’t quite make it to his most controversial moments, it absolutely lays the groundwork for his epic quest to come. Rebecca Ferguson plays his mother, Lady Jessica, and I feel that she nailed the loving, dangerous woman that she is. Oscar Isaac proved he can command a screen yet again when given a meaty character to work with, and, as Paul’s father Duke Leto, he does just that. Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin respectively play Duncan and Gurney, mentors to Paul even while being vastly different men. Both actors were perfectly suited for these roles. Unfortunately, Zendya, Dave Bautista, and Javier Bardem were not given much to do … yet. If a second installment is indeed in the cards, you’ll see what interesting characters these three play, particularly Zendaya, who is Chani, the yin to Paul’s yang. Zendaya is a huge star in the making. She and Chalamet, if given a chance, are going to make Dune even more special than it already is.

Which, it must be said, leads me to my final point. Even at nearly three hours, Dune only covers about half of the book. If it feels as though the movie ends on a cliffhanger, well, it very much does. If it feels as though Dune spent a lot of time establishing characters, environments, technology, and religions … it does. If Dune: Part 2 is anything like the book, though, you are in for a very exciting experience.

Even if you’ve never read the book and even if you normally don’t care for science fiction, I urge you to give Dune a chance. It looks amazing, has an interesting take on established archetypes, utilizes themes that are very relevant to today’s world, features some very good acting, and is simply flat-out cool.

Netflix’s Midnight Mass – A Few Thoughts

Though it took me a bit to find the time, I was very excited to watch Midnight Mass on Netflix. Midnight Mass is created by Mike Flanagan, who also created The Haunting Of Hill House and The Haunting Of Bly Manor. In fact, you’ll find several of the same actors in all three shows.

Like his previous work, Midnight Mass is a slow burn of a show that, in the end, is well worth your time. Flanagan deems it necessary to invest the viewer in his characters, but he can only do this by forcing the viewer to spend time with said characters. By the penultimate episode, we know these characters inside and out, which in turn makes the final two episodes all the more seismic. We care about them. We care what they do. We care about what happens to them. And trust me, a lot happens to them.

The premise is this: after spending several years in jail for vehicular homicide, an otherwise decent man returns to his hometown located on a tiny, isolated island near what I presume to be the east coast. Around the same time, a new priest arrives at their tiny church. This new priest replaces their ancient, regular priest, who is presumably ill after travelling to the main land. This new priest is charismatic, empathetic, and passionate. He incites a fresh religious fervor on the island, and before too long miracles begin to happen. True miracles. But why are these miracles happening, just who is this new priest, and why are so many stray cats being drained of blood?

You’re going to figure this show out quite quickly, and that’s okay–that’s totally okay. It’s okay because it’s not the traditional “horror” aspect of it that made it so great for me. For me, Midnight Mass explores those grey areas that infiltrate our lives on a daily basis. It examines what exactly it takes for otherwise good people to embrace heinous behavior. Best of all, it also dives into why some people, when they have every excuse in the world to do evil things, still hold tight to their personal morals.

Midnight Mass will absolutely offend many, especially Christians. (For the record, I identify as a Christian–Lutheran, to be precise. That last bit probably comes as no surprise.) The extended metaphor throughout the series reflects hypocritical Christian behavior during the last several years. I’ll leave it up to you to connect those dots.

The fact that Midnight Mass was willing to take on such controversial subject matter, to really, in some ways, flirt with sacrilege–I found it quite daring. For me, a story is a story. Midnight Mass in no way made me doubt or question my faith. I am able to experience it for what it is–a well-paced, well-executed, unique horror story that dared to call into question Christian behavior. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for we Christians to think long and hard about our actions, beliefs, and purpose.

Of course, were it not for Hamish Linklater, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed Midnight Mass so much. He plays the new priest in town, Father Paul. Linklater lights up the screen. He is frenetic, magnetic, deeply likeable, and burning with passion. I can’t believe I haven’t seen Linklater before, but he immediately struck me as an extremely talented actor.

Of course, Kate Siegel is in Midnight Mass as well. Mike Flanagan utilizes Siegel in most of his work. She plays a pregnant woman who has also recently returned to town. She moves into the home she hated as a child, took over the teaching job of the mother she hated, and is fully prepared to spend the rest of her life on that island. Little does she know the vital role she will soon play.

Other Flanagan favorites include Henry Thomas, Annabeth Gish, Rahul Kohli, Samantha Sloyan, and Alex Essoe. These are all superb role players who know how to make their characters shine. There’s a reason Flanagan keeps bringing them back for every project. This includes The Newton Brothers, by the way, who write some of the best scores out there.

In the end, I think Midnight Mass will divide its audience. I loved the acting, the boldness, the genre mashing, the characterization, and the entire premise. However, I certainly could understand if someone didn’t like it for religious reasons. In the end, there’s only one way to know for sure. Give it a watch, and let me know what you think.

“Swingin the Clown” Now Available At Podbean and Amazon Music

Who likes creepy clowns? “Swingin the Clown,” an unsettling story I wrote a few years ago, is now available in audio format at both Podbean and Amazon Music. You can also listen to it at ScottWilliamFoley.com.

In this short story, Sadie peeks out the back window before going to bed. This night, though, a clown sits upon their swings. Against her husband’s wishes, she confronts the stranger. She will wish she hadn’t.

Want to meet Swingin the Clown? Click any of the above links!

“Fallen Man” Now Available At Podbean and Amazon Music

My science fiction short story, “Fallen Man,” is now available at ScottWilliamFoley.com, Podbean, and Amazon Music.

In this story, Bryan is certain he’s going to die at the bottom of that ravine. When help arrives, it’s in a form he never expected.

Click any of the above hyperlinks to give it a listen!

Luigi’s Mansion 3 For Nintendo Switch – A Few Thoughts

If you follow my writings, you may remember that I returned to video games last January after taking a twenty year hiatus. I started with Link’s Awakening, then took on Super Mario Odyssey, and finally found the courage for Breath Of the Wild. I heard the news that another favorite property of mine is due to release in October — Metroid: Dread. As I anxiously await that moment, I thought I’d tackle a highly recommended game called Luigi’s Mansion 3.

As I stated with Super Mario Odyssey, I wasn’t a big fan of Mario and Luigi growing up. I was never particularly good at Super Mario Bros. Of course, Odyssey proved an absolute blast and showed me the waywardness of my thinking. If Luigi’s Mansion 3 proved half as fun as Odyssey, I’d have a great time.

And the truth is — I had a great time indeed!

I won’t say I liked Luigi’s Mansion 3 as much as Odyssey, but I certainly had a ton of fun playing it. I was totally unfamiliar with Luigi’s Mansion, so, if you’re like me, you may need a bit of catching up. Luigi, Mario, and friends are headed to a beautiful hotel. It is suddenly overrun by ghosts. King Boo takes Luigi’s friends and family hostage. Luigi, who is completely terrified throughout the game, must use some cool inventions given to him to clear the hotel of ghosts, level by level, until he can finally rescue his loved ones.

Honestly, it’s a little bit Ghostbusters, a little bit Casper, a little bit Haunted Mansion, and a whole lot of good times. The ghosts were super creative throughout the game, especially each level’s main villain. You might get a jump scare here and there, but, for the most part, the game is pretty funny and lighthearted. The graphics are crisp and the gameplay is both intuitive and fluid.

I especially liked that it’s not a particularly hard game. I had to look a few things up on the Internet, but overall, it’s a quick, breezy game that doesn’t demand too much commitment from you. After Breath Of the Wild, that was very much appreciated!

The game actually keeps track of how much time you spend playing it, which I thought was a really cool feature. I beat it in about 25 total hours. Keep in mind that I’m the guy constantly searching for coins, gems, and those kinds of things. I’ll pull down every curtain and flip every garbage can in search of treasure. That sort of thing eats up a lot of time, but I love the exploring aspect of video games.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 only cost me $40 (it was on sale), and I didn’t regret buying it for a single moment. If you’re looking for a fast, enjoyable, lighthearted game to pass the time, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is for you.

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Gram Jones – A Book Review

Most of my recent reads come from a list of recommendations by Literary Hub’s “The 50 Best Contemporary Novels Under 200 Pages.” Mapping the Interior is from among those many wonderful books.

Written by Stephen Graham Jones, Mapping the Interior is a concise 107 pages. It’s told from the perspective of a Native American boy nearing his teens. His mother moved he and his little brother–who seems to have some health challenges–off of their reservation and into a lackluster trailer. The boy reveals his father died some time ago, so no one is more surprised than he when that very same father appears in their home. Their real father is dead and buried, though. This is something … different.

For such a slim book, Mapping the Interior dives into some rather poignant issues such as poverty, racism, violence, alcoholism, bullying, brotherly love, motherly love, disabled family members, and absentee fathers. Running throughout all of these themes, however, is a sense of dread as a monster seems to persistently lurk.

At times surreal, Mapping the Interior plays with the reader a bit as it teases fantasy while dealing very much in reality. Those two genres eventually merge and it becomes difficult to separate fact versus fiction as our narrator may or may not be totally reliable. There were several moments in the book when I had to read a paragraph over to be certain I read it correctly, but this wasn’t a bad thing. Mapping the Interior demands your engagement.

My only criticism of the book pertains to the ending. It managed a consistent, fast-moving pace until the very end, when the pace suddenly hit lightspeed. I understand the point Jones wanted to make about fathers and sons, but the last ten pages of the book were frustratingly rushed. In all honestly, the last ten pages should have been given another hundred pages if not an entire follow-up book.

If you like thoughtful, brief works that aren’t afraid to dabble in horror, I highly recommend Mapping the Interior.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – A Movie Review

My daughter and I, who both love movies, haven’t been to a theater during the entire pandemic. However, for an MCU theater-only release, and because we’re both vaccinated, we decided to make our triumphant return in order to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

I won’t lie – it wasn’t a totally comfortable situation at the theater. Even with that being said, though, we’re SO glad we went.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is absolutely an action comedy with moments of fairly poignant emotional drama. I know Marvel often goes for that concept, but they resoundingly connect on Shang-Chi. Furthermore, the special effects are phenomenal, but it’s the hand-to-hand martial arts that will mesmerize you. Best of all? The story isn’t too bad, either.

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t very familiar with Shang-Chi despite the fact that I grew up reading Marvel Comics. Shang-Chi has been a comic book character since 1973, after all. Even so, I knew every thing I needed to know about the MCU Shang-Chi within moments of his introduction on screen. He puts his dishes in the sink after joining Katy’s family for breakfast. He kisses Katy’s grandmother on the head before taking his leave. Bam. There it is. He’s not just a hero, he’s nice.

However, when the fighting starts, and you won’t have to wait long, prepare to see Shang-Chi unleased. You’ve seen parts of the bus fight in the previews – you haven’t seen anything yet. It is a thrilling moment and firmly establishes that Simu Liu has both the charisma and the physicality to headline an MCU martial arts action movie.

Speaking of which, the heart and soul of this film is Simu Liu, who plays Shang-Chi, and Awkwafina, who plays Katy. Their comedic chemistry is a blast and I honestly believed they were the best of friends. I look forward to seeing these two for many years to come.

Tony Chiu-Wai Leung plays Shang-Chi’s father, the true leader of The Ten Rings. Marvel has given us heroes with daddy issues before, but Leung might be the first one who actually elicited sympathy from me – maybe even a bit of empathy. His story is vital to the overall plot, and though father/son conflicts are something of a fantasy trope, this one still felt uniquely fresh.

I promise not to spoil anything, but there are many, many delightful surprises in this film. There are several actors I want to commend, but I don’t want to ruin anything for you. Just know that I’ve only touched upon the three you’ve seen in previews. This film is full of performances that will both catch you off guard and make perfect sense to you.

In the end, I found the story fairly captivating. The comedic friendship between Shang-Chi and Katy were my favorite parts, the backstory with Shang-Chi’s father proved interesting enough, other elements of Shang-Chi’s family also held my attention, but the last act’s “big battle” was problematic. These giant end-of-movie-fights are escalating to an impossible degree. It was visually magnificent, but the stakes seemed way too high for such a predictable outcome. Believe it or not, Shang-Chi struck me as oddly intimate throughout most of the film – the ending contradicted that more tightly-woven approach. But, the ending got the Shang-Chi character where he needed to go, and now his future is wide open.

If you’re vaccinated and comfortable going to the theater, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is certainly worth the trip. My daughter and I immensely enjoyed it from start to finish. Loveable characters, big laughs, thrilling action, cool story – you can’t ask for much more than that of an MCU movie, right?

Grief Is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter – A Book Review

I once again must thank Literary Hub’s “The 50 Best Contemporary Novels Under 200 Pages” for suggesting yet another novella, this time the book called Grief Is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter.

At just 114 pages, this novella is a series of paragraphs and stanzas exploring the utter heartbreak of a man after losing his young wife. He must now raise their two boys alone, and he hasn’t a clue how to do so. A crow appears to guide the man through his grief, comfort the children, and help out in any possible way. However, Crow’s also there to encourage chaos, to promote carnage, and to spout madness.

Crow is a complicated figure in this book, especially because I’m not convinced he was ever really there at all. Or perhaps he was grief personified. Or maybe he represented the delicate balance between tranquility and turmoil that exists perpetually within our daily lives. It would also make sense if he was death. Maybe he was just a crow? Like I said–complicated.

As I mentioned, Grief Is the Thing With Feathers is a quick read due to its unconventional formatting. Somewhere between prose and poem, the novella flies by for the invested reader.

That being said, I had a hard time making the time to read it. I found myself a little disinterested throughout, though, I will admit, the last few pages were strikingly emotional.

I think everyone who reads Grief Is the Thing With Feathers will have a different encounter. The material is both universal and very specific, yet everyone will connect with it in some capacity. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the book, but I do admit that it’s a book every reader should experience for themselves.

Cruella – A Movie Review

I can’t lie–I loved Disney’s Cruella.

In fact, I was willing to pay the Disney Plus Premier fee so that my family could see it when it first came out, but nobody wanted to give it a shot. I thought it would be kind of strange if I watched it alone, so I agreed to wait until it arrived on Disney Plus for free.

That day finally arrived, and so my wife, daughters, and I all had a movie night last night on the couch.

I loved it. My daughters loved it. My wife fell asleep, but, to be fair, she’d had a long week.

Cruella delves into the history of the title character, all the way back to childhood. We learn how she became just so evil, though, honestly, I’ve never seen 101 Dalmatians, so I don’t know just how evil she actually got.

What I do know is that in Cruella, she’s not evil, nor is she good. Like all of us, she exists in a shade of grey. We simply dabble in that area–she tends to exist there while sliding from one end of the spectrum to the other.

The trailers initially caught my interest with Cruella. They looked stylish, interesting, and fun. Furthermore, I believe in Emma Stone. She rarely makes a bad movie. If she felt Cruella deserved her talents, I was more than happy to bear witness. Plus, let’s not forget Emma Thompson. Thompson has been Hollywood elite for decades. These are two Oscar winners, folks. Disney or not, they both wouldn’t have signed on to Cruella unless they thought it had promise.

Simply put–it’s a good movie. It’s entertaining, it looks great, the costumes are fantastic, there’s plenty of action, the soundtrack is amazing (listened to it just this morning), the special effects are extravagant, the acting is excellent, it’s safe for the whole family, and the comedy is actually pretty funny.

In fact, Cruella’s two friends/henchmen, Jasper and Horace, are hilarious. Best of all? They are perhaps two of the most capable henchmen in the history of cinema. Cruella pulls off some pretty impressive feats in this film, all due to the efforts of Jasper and Horace, played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser. Oh, and let’s not forget Buddy and Wink, the adorable canine companions of Cruella, Jasper, and Horace. Though they aren’t Dalmatians, they are responsible for a large part of Cruella’s comedy.

Look, I’ve tried to offer some valuable insight into why I liked Cruella, but it really just comes down this–it’s cool. The filming is cool. The music is cool. The actors are cool. The costumes are cool. It just felt cool.

Don’t believe me? Go watch it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson – A Book Review

I’ve enjoyed short novellas all summer that were recommended by Literary Hub’s “The 50 Best Contemporary Novels Under 200 Pages.” I just finished my favorite one yet – Train Dreams by Denis Johnson.

I find it very hard to believe this book is only 116 pages. Though I flew through it, I literally felt as though I had lived a lifetime alongside the protagonist, Robert Grainer.

Set at the turn of the 20th Century, Grainer is an outdoorsman accustomed to working on bridges, in the woods, with animals, and under consistently harsh conditions. He ranges throughout the northwest during his early life but does indeed eventually settle down as circumstances dictate. Grainer is an unassuming man, a capable man, and a man who wants to be moral even while acknowledging he sometimes isn’t. Grainer suffers horrific tragedy throughout his life, yet he persists.

As I said, though the book is only 116 pages, we experience flashes of Grainer’s life in potent, concise, brilliantly constructed vignettes. “Epic” seems an improbable word to use in describing such a brief work, but I can’t help admitting that “epic” is the first word that comes to mind while trying to describe Train Dreams.

Sometimes surreal, oftentimes brutally realistic, Train Dreams is easily counted among my favorite reads of late. I look forward to finding more works by Denis Johnson.