A Star Is Born – A Movie Review

You may have noticed a trend in which I’ve been watching a lot of movies recently released on DVD that I wanted to see in the theater.

A Star Is Born is yet another example of one such movie.

I should start by mentioning that I haven’t seen any of the previous iterations of this film.  I have no idea how much it stuck to the source material, nor did I have an inkling as to how it would end.

More on that in a minute.

Here’s what I do know: I loved this movie.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much I loved this movie.  On paper, I should just like this movie, not love this movie.  The story is not original (I mean that figuratively, but you could also take it literally).  The romance between Jack and Ally is not, on the surface, especially unique.  The ending of the film isn’t even breaking new ground.

So why did a story I’ve seen so many times before mean so much to me?

The answer to that is Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are absolutely the reason this movie struck such a chord with me.  I believed in their characters’ relationship.  I found myself inextricably emotionally tethered to both of them.  I cared about their health, I cared about their careers, I cared about them.

I generally like both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, but they are not sure-fire hits with me on any project they release.  This isn’t a blind faith kind of thing.  They had to win me over with A Star Is Born, and they did.  Oh, boy.  Did they ever.

I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but the general plot is that Cooper’s character, Jack, a nationally revered musician, happens across Gaga’s character, Ally, in an unlikely place.  A connection instantly forms, followed by a friendship.  Jack is impressed with Ally’s vocals, so he invites her up on stage with him.  From there, you guessed it–a star is born.  Their friendship quickly (very quickly) becomes romantic, and the case could probably be argued that they both experienced love at first sight.  Ally’s career takes off on its own, Jack suffers some health issues, these two things influence their relationship and, ultimately, bring about the film’s conclusion.

Like I said, I won’t spoil it for you, but the aforementioned conclusion?  It destroyed me.  I’m still rattled by it.

I’ve seen both Bohemian Rhapsody and The Favourite, and, in my opinion, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga gave much stronger performances than the Best Actor and Actress winners–Rami Malek and Oliva Coleman.  Not only did Cooper and Gaga act, sing, and play instruments, but they made me believe in their world in such a way that neither Malek nor Coleman achieved.  They made me forget about Cooper and Gaga and see only Jack and Ally.  Cooper and Gaga made me invest at such a deep level that they provoked a potent emotional response.

My only complaint about A Star Is Born is the pacing of the film.  I realize this can be a little difficult due to time constraints, but I never got a great sense of how much time passed within the duration of the film.  As a result, everything felt like it happened really quickly.  Their relationship, Ally’s rise to fame–it seemed to occur within months.  I realize this can’t possibly be the case, but the film never quite indicated the span of time between important moments.

This small complaint isn’t enough to negatively impact my opinion of the film, though.  In fact, as of right now, I would pick it as the real “Best Picture” winner.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Green Book, BlacKkKlansman, Roma, or Vice, so I can’t state that as objectively as I’d like.

It’s probably obvious, but I absolutely recommend you see A Star Is Born.

a star is born

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

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Come Support Minivan Morrissey (Or: This Van Will Be A-Rockin’!)

I hope you’ll join me in coming out on Friday night, March 1st, in order to support Minivan Morrissey at Legends Sports Bar and Grill in Bloomington, Illinois.

Minivan Morrissey is a local band comprised of a few good friends of mine.  This trio has been playing together for quite a while under different names.  Their latest iteration–Minivan Morrissey–will rock you garage band style with songs spanning the last 50 years.

Are they any good?  Honestly, I have no idea.  I’ve never seen them play.  But, I know for sure that they’ve been invited to perform at local fairs and venues, and I can also personally attest to the fact that one of them plays the guitar very well because I’ve seen it my own eyes.

I really like these guys.  They are good dudes.  That’s all it really takes for me to come out and show them some love.  However, I also admire that they are chasing their passion for playing live.  Like me, they are family men working full time, so it’s not a simple thing to muster up the willpower to do anything extra. The effort it takes to practice, book locations, travel, all while being loving dads and top-notch professionals … it’s not easy, I’m sure.

So come out and support Minivan Morrissey on March 1st from 7:30 to 10:30!  I know they will give you a great time.

While you’re at it, head on over to their Facebook page and click “like”: Minivan Morrissey Facebook Page

You can find the Legends Sports Bar and Grill website here: LegendsBloomington.com

minivan morrissey

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

The Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of

My wife and I attended a Delta Rae show back in November of 2016 at The Castle Theater.  If you’ve been a longtime reader, you might recall that they blew us away.  You also might remember that, though we were there to see Delta Rae, my wife and I were astounded by a two-man band called Penny & Sparrow.

These guys had two microphones and one guitar.  That was it.  Guess what?  That’s all they needed.  Their voices were rich.  They harmonized perfectly.  Their lyrics were insightful, thought-provoking, and even haunting.  Their music touched us on an emotional level.  I’ve never seen or heard anything quite like it.

Best of all?  Though their songs were eerily beautiful and melancholy, the men themselves were delightful.  They claimed to be best friends, and, judging by their banter, I believe it.  They had us in stitches between songs because they were so funny.  I mentioned it in my other article, but it was such a surreal experience to almost be moved to tears by their music and then to have tears running down my face from laughter.  I love serious talent displayed by people who don’t take themselves too seriously.

It recently came to my attention that Penny & Sparrow released a new album called Wendigo.  I’ve already listened to it a few times and it utilizes everything I admire about their other album–Let a Lover Drown You.  Both albums are free to stream for Amazon Prime members and can be found HERE.

If you love music, please give these guys a listen.  Talent like theirs deserve recognition.  You can visit their website and watch a few of their videos at the following link: https://www.pennyandsparrow.com/video/

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

penny and sparrow

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

 

 

Mary Poppins Returns – A Movie Review

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the original Mary Poppins from start to finish.  We had it on a few years ago for the kids, but I thought it was really strange and didn’t pay it much attention.  I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the character.

However, when we first started seeing the trailers for Mary Poppins Returns, my kids got very excited.  Frankly, I did, too.  I thought Disney really rolled the dice on trying to revitalize an iconic, beloved character that is deeply ingrained in many people’s psyche.  The willingness to risk financial failure on a venerated property shocked me.  And Emily Blunt?  Can you imagine the guts it takes to try to reprise such a famous role?  A role previously played by a revered actress?  Wow.

So even though I’m not necessarily a Mary Poppins fan, I have to confess that I had a great time watching Mary Poppins Returns.  I found it charming from start to finish.  It felt to me like a classic family movie–the kind of movie they don’t really make that often anymore.  I liked the message, the humor, the acting, the music, and the general creative direction.  In fact, we went with the grandparents and a great aunt, and they all loved it, too.

I’ve heard it argued that it just retreads the original movie.  Some have said it hits the same beats at almost the exact same cadence.  That may be true, but this movie isn’t made for the original fans of Mary Poppins.  This is a completely new experience to my six-year-old and ten-year-old.   Seeing it in a dark theater on the big screen with the loud speakers–this will be their Mary Poppins for life, and we need to realize that.  The same argument can actually be made for Star Wars.  Let the young have what we loved, too, but on their terms, in their own way.  It’s okay to borrow from what made the original a hit, and it’s okay to take things in a different direction as well.

By the way, I’d like to rave about Emily Blunt.  I adored her portrayal of Mary Poppins.  To me, her singing exceeded my expectations.  She sounded as good as anyone, in my opinion.  Furthermore, she had a sly glimmer in her eye that, for the first time, made me really consider the fact that Mary Poppins may be some kind of a supernatural entity–like a well-meaning fairy, or a helpful nymph, or maybe even a sort of angel.  She played the character incredibly stuffy, as the literary source material dictated, but she would at times offer a private grin, a lift of the eyebrows, or even a giant smile, that told me Emily Blunt is playing a character who is playing a character.  I think Mary Poppins’ whole persona is an act, and I loved that interpretation.  Though understated, Blunt’s execution of Poppins using exaggerated facial expressions and body language really struck me as funny.  She always held her hands just so.  The eyes would bulge indignantly just right.  I found the extrovert posing as a strict, prim, and proper snob totally engaging.

I’ve also heard some fans of the original movie claim that Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t have very catchy music.  Again, I’m no expert, but I thought it had excellent music.  My kids had me download the soundtrack which has resulted in several songs being stuck in my head.  Isn’t an earworm the sign of a good song?  Or at least a catchy one?

Finally, the production value of Mary Poppins Returns is phenomenal.  There are several instances when Mary Poppins and the children for whom she is responsible enter a world infused with cartoons.  The special effects are seamless.  I found it amazing to see the actors interacting with what appeared to be classic 2D images.  Of course, I could be mistaken.  Everything could have been CGI for all I know.  The point is that it looked beautiful.

Did the story make perfect sense?  No, not really, but who cares?  I’m not going to Mary Poppins Returns for a think-piece.  I’m going for the singing, the dancing, the humor, and the fact that it is a wholesome movie with a positive message for not just the children, but for everyone watching.

If you’re looking for a family movie, I completely recommend Mary Poppins Returns.

Image result for mary poppins returns movie poster

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

Regarding The Castle Theatre, Penny & Sparrow, and Delta Rae

A few years ago I discovered a cool video with a great song called Bottom Of the River.  I tracked down the artists to find they were a young band out of North Carolina called Delta Rae.  I followed them casually for a few years while listening to their music intermittently.

A few weeks ago I saw through a Facebook post that Delta Rae would soon perform at The Castle Theatre, a local venue located in Bloomington, IL.  Though I’d heard fantastic things about The Castle from friends, I’d never personally visited.  I decided I’d probably never have a chance to see Delta Rae again, so I immediately bought two tickets for reserved seats.

Last night (November 30th, 2016) marked what I believe to be their second stop on the Winter Acoustic Tour.  My wife and I could not be more glad we attended their show.

First, let me offer a few words about The Castle.  I have to be honest, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the staff.  The Castle had some very large men working, but they were all incredibly polite and friendly.  Granted, I wouldn’t want to get on their bad side because some of them were the size of small mountains, but they went out of their way to make us feel welcome and even showed us to our reserved seats (which turned out to be stools).  The Castle itself is a historic theatre, and while its age showed, it also oozed charm.  We had front row balcony seats, and though the stools weren’t terribly comfortable, we had a straight view of the stage that couldn’t be beaten.  We definitely plan to visit The Castle again.  If you live in the BloNo area, make a point to take in a show.

You can check out their upcoming shows HERE.

The opening act featured a duo called Penny & Sparrow.  Truthfully – I’d never heard of the guys.  They got up on the stage wearing ugly Christmas sweaters.  One of them had nothing more than a microphone.  The other wielded a guitar with his microphone.  That was it.  No lights.  No props.  Just two microphones and one guitar.  Furthermore, these guys, frankly, did not exactly exude performers, musicians, or entertainers at first glance.  They looked a lot like guys who might be sitting in a booth next to me at a coffee shop.  Well, the minute they started singing, they proved they were supremely talented.  Their voices were powerful, they harmonized seamlessly, and their songs were absolutely beautiful.  It became apparent very soon that their tempo and pace moved slowly, but the lyrics and the melody haunted my wife and me, and I mean that as a compliment.  As a final unexpected act, between songs, they had the audience rolling.  These two men were hilarious.  They said they were best friends, and the way they bantered with each other and the audience, I believe it.  They played off of each other as only real friends can.  It proved really fun to have your soul wrenched during the music and then find yourself laughing uncontrollably when they addressed us.  Get ready for some serious deadpan when you see them.  Make no mistake, you definitely need to see them.  My wife and I immediately downloaded their album on the way home.  We found that we much prefer their “live” sound compared to their recordings.  Again, that’s meant as a compliment.

Oh, and their Christmas music?  (Don’t forget the sweaters.)  Their Christmas songs were a true pleasure.  They even have a new album aptly titled Christmas Songs.

You can visit Penny & Sparrow HERE.

As for Delta Rae – they were amazing.  The folks can flat-out sing.  Though their performance was far more “produced” than Penny & Sparrow with lights, blowing fans, and multiple instruments, those things did not overshadow their magnificent voices.  In fact, my favorite song of the night, O Come O Come Emmanuel, did not utilize a single instrument and showcased the true beauty of their voices.  While they played some of their more popular songs such as Bottom Of the River, they also performed some unexpected works including a little snippet of I Want To Dance With Somebody.  Though they were a little more stiff than Penny & Sparrow and lacked some of their opening act’s spontaneity, Delta Rae absolutely entertained the audience, and, in my case, even awed.  To have such talent – such virtuosity with instruments along with flawless voices – they were inspiring.

I also want to add that this show occurred on a cold, Wednesday night.  The Castle wasn’t even half full.  My wife and I were but a handful of people in the balcony.  I can’t imagine what runs through a band’s mind, especially one that is nationally known, to look out and see an already cozy venue only half full.  But you know what?  To Delta Rae’s credit, they performed as though thousands watched.  Though low-key, even a little awkward, between songs, these talented men and women were explosive when singing and playing.  They practically crackled with energy.  I’m not saying they were slamming into walls and smashing guitars, I’m saying they were clearly giving it everything they had.  I appreciated that kind of passion, respect, and work ethic regarding their art, their performance, and their audience.

You can visit Delta Rae HERE.

If you have a chance to see Delta Rae, along with Penny & Sparrow, I completely recommend you do so.  My wife and I had a wonderful experience with these bands.  They made us completely forget we had work the next morning.  We were absolutely content to listen to them for as long as they wanted to play.

Here’s a little picture I took with my phone.  I wasn’t sure if it was proper etiquette or not, but I wanted a physical memory, you know?

My deep thanks to The Castle, Penny & Sparrow, and Delta Rae for a delightful night.

delta-rae

Get Mixed Up With Oh, Alchemy!

I’m proud to claim Oh, Alchemy as a local area band made up of very innovative musicians.  Like me, they all have careers that they care about deeply, but their muse is irrepressible and so they write whenever they can, record whenever they can, and rock whenever they can.

I’ve written about Oh, Alchemy before when I attempted my one and only music review, but I stand by my words.  Oh, Alchemy produces fast-paced, eclectic, fun albums comprised of charming, quirky lyrics that convey a strong sense of joy from the lead singer.  The arrangements suit the lyrics wonderfully (or perhaps that’s the other way around), and I really love the choice of instruments Oh, Alchemy uses.  With adept engineering and skillful production, Oh, Alchemy is an auditory feast offering new sound after new sound with each listen.

Because of the strong, catchy beats and fast, energetic songs, Oh, Alchemy is perfect for any occasion, whether it be a quick trip to the grocery store or a get-together with friends.

If you’re looking for an upbeat, enjoyable listen with a great sound and unique songs, I recommend you give Oh, Alchemy a try.

You can find them at

www.ohalchemy.com

www.facebook.com/ohalchemy

@ohalchemy

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Picture taken from Oh, Alchemy’s Twitter page

You Better Know the Score

I once read that Stephen King loves to listen to rock music while he writes.  Unfortunately, I can’t do that.  I get too distracted by lyrics and, well, words.

However, I do actually love to listen to music while I work.  For me, scores work well.

When I say “score,” I’m talking about movie music.  Not the soundtrack, those tend to have songs with words. I’m actually talking about the music you hear during the movie.  I guess you could call it the background music.

Oftentimes the score of a movie is filled with emotion and can really help with my pacing of a story.  The natural cadence of the film score correlates well with my own sense of rising and falling action.  Sometimes I’ll save an especially resonate song for an important scene, a scene that needs me in a heightened emotional state.

My scores of choice?  I currently adore the Cloud Atlas score.  It is fantastic.  I’m also a big fan of Last of the Mohicans, Tron: Legacy, Thor, The Fountain, any Doctor Who from 2008 on, Pan’s Labyrinth, and the last three seasons of Sherlock.

Scores allow me to remain engaged but not distracted, which is perfect for my writing style.

Even if you’re not a writer, do you have a favorite score?  Please do share!