Avengers: Infinity War – A Spoiler-Free Review

At long last, the film we’ve all been waiting for has arrived.  It’s hard to believe that the groundwork for Infinity War began all the way back in 2011 with Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor.  2012 brought The Avengers which introduced us to Thanos and his quest for those pesky Infinity Stones.

Was Infinity War worth the wait?

I literally just finished watching it about forty minutes ago and I can tell you … YES!  Infinity War surpassed my expectations and satisfied in ways I will address without getting too specific.

As always, I live a spoiler-free life, and I will not ruin this movie for you, I promise.

I’d like to first and foremost give the movie credit for fully realizing Thanos as a character.  This guy has been teased for the last several years, but this is HIS movie.  You get to know him very well and he proves far more complicated than I expected.  Furthermore, he looks great.  Special effects obviously played a big role with this character, yet they are seamless.  He looks to be physically present in every scene, and that’s rare in today’s CGI-obsessed movie world.  I’ve always considered Thanos a Darkseid ripoff and never given him much thought, but he definitely won me over as a worthwhile villain.

Also, they managed to bring us virtually the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Almost every character you know and love gets a moment in this movie.   I’m actually surprised at how much screen time several of our favorite Avengers received.  With story lines unfolding in various locales on Earth and in space, I’m amazed how it all somehow worked.  This is not a cash-grab.  Infinity War has a real story with several characters playing vital roles.

Make no mistake, by the way.  Thanos does indeed bring war with him.  He unleashes carnage, mayhem, and destruction at every opportunity.  This movie revels in chaos and pushes every one of our heroes to their breaking points.  This is the first Marvel movie in which the heroes’ victory is not a foregone conclusion.

Which brings me to my final point: Infinity War has real consequences.  This movie is not afraid to break convention.  It’s daring, bold, and, frankly, a breath of fresh air in a time of supposed cinematic super hero fatigue.  Infinity War has done something different with the cinematic super hero genre, something new.

I left the movie theater in shock.  That’s the highest compliment I can give any movie.

If you’re invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’ll want to go see this movie as soon as possible.  It will be very hard to avoid spoilers in the coming days.

All right, I have to get up for work in about five hours, so I better call it a night.  Thanks for reading!

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

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Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn – A Book Review

I took a chance on this very quick read after a friend recommended it.

Ella Minnow Pea is a unique concept.  The premise is that a small island exists off the coast of South Carolina.  This entire island’s culture is based upon Nevin Nollop, the man responsible for the blessed phrase: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

Though a literate, incredibly well-spoken people, the island’s inhabitants are thrown into complete disarray as a statue of Nollop begins to lose letters from the sacred phrase.  They take these jettisoned letters as spiritual intervention, and so they remove each letter from usage as it falls.

Because the book is written as literal correspondence between characters, a dark farce ensues.  The messages begin missing those outlawed letters, and, by book’s end, the notes between characters are nearly incomprehensible.

To make matters worse, the town punishes anyone caught using the banned letters.  Beatings, exile, even death can result as a byproduct of usage.  Things get very bleak very quickly, yet the circumstances continuously remain hilarious.

While the story itself did not make a lasting impact upon me, Mark Dunn’s execution absolutely impressed.  To literally omit those letters banned by the town in the actual story — that’s no easy feat!  I enjoyed the structure, construction, and style of the book immensely, and I would recommend reading it for that experience alone.

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

Batman: The War Of Jokes and Riddles by Tom King and Mikel Janin – A Book Review

I’m not totally on board with Tom King’s Batman. Tom King is a good writer, don’t misunderstand, but his take on Batman just isn’t really doing much for me.

In this volume, Bruce Wayne is in bed with Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. He is baring his soul regarding a horrific moment during his first year as Batman, a moment that occurred during The War of Jokes and Riddles.

First of all, that’s a really awkward name for a war. Maybe a little too literal as well. Don’t you think?

Anyway, Bruce is recounting his tale to Selina and we experience what is essentially a flashback. The Joker and the Riddler have declared war against each other, and all of the other villains in Gotham have chosen sides. There’s some perfunctory attempt at explaining why a band of murderous sociopaths would join forces, but it all fell a little flat with me. Eventually the story begins to focus on Kite Man. Yes. You read that right. That’s where it really lost its way with me.

I will admit that I appreciate King’s take on The Joker. Unfortunately, his Riddler seemed totally out of character in my mind. The whole story felt a little too contrived, a little too forced for my taste. It struck me as though they had a really cool idea to have Riddler and Joker wage war, but then couldn’t come up with anything any deeper than that concept.

Mikel Janin’s art, though, absolutely makes this volume worth reading. I believe his Joker is iconic, and his Batman is both regal and terrifying. I first discovered Janin on Justice League Dark, and his talent has only grown.

King’s moody, almost whiny Batman is not for me, but I appreciate the risks he’s taking and the new stories he’s trying to tell. His work is solid and well-executed, I just don’t care for his iteration of the character.

(His Mister Miracle, on the flip side, may be the best series that I’ve ever read.)

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

The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe – A Book Review

This particular book has been on my “to read” list for quite a while after I saw that Neil Gaiman recommended it.

The plot revolves around a man named Bax — a scholar many times over, a cheat, a sometimes fraud, and a recently released convict.  He has no money and so, after drifting a bit, takes up residence in what he presumes to be an abandoned house.  He soon discovers that the house has claimed him as its own, and so he must deal with all the sorcery, monsters, mystery, and family lineage that accompanies it.  The only question is to whom the title refers.  Is it the previous owner of the home … or Bax himself?

This book is unusual in that is is comprised of a series of letters written mostly by Bax himself.  Due to this method, we get to know Bax very well, or at least the persona he wishes to display to the recipients of his letters.  These letters make for a very fast, entertaining read.

However, because Bax is essentially a first-person narrator, I sometimes found myself distracted by his near omnipotence.  It’s a tricky thing to write a book in this manner, and, at times, Bax seemed to know too much which resulted in the letters feeling less like correspondence and more like actual chapters.

Even with that being said, I did enjoy the story’s trajectory.  It felt different in that it did not conform to the typical third act showdown.  Characters came and went without much fuss, which is how I would describe this book as a whole — it doesn’t make too much of a fuss.  It handles some rather epic concepts humbly and without much of a to-do.  I found that restraint rather charming, actually.

I’m glad Neil Gaiman, a literary hero of mine, thinks so highly of The Sorcerer’s House.  I apparently did not enjoy it as much as he, but if you think highly of Gaiman, I urge you to give it a try for yourself.

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

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson – A Book Review

As you know, I’m honored to be a teacher by day.  An esteemed student recommended this book to my class, and he made it sound so exciting, so imaginative, and so flat-out fun that we all wanted to read it.  I ran to my local library and picked up a copy as soon as I could.

Perhaps the most astounding thing about Snow Crash is that it debuted in 1992.  In many ways, this book is downright prophetic in regards to technology, specifically the internet.  It absolutely nailed what was then considered the near future.  I dare you to read this book and not see a world that came to realization.

The plot is … complicated.  Hmm.  How best to succinctly explain?  Okay, here goes: Hiro Protagonist is an underachieving hacker who spends his days delivering pizza for the Mafia.  However, he’s also a master swordsman responsible for much of what’s called the Metaverse, which is what we would call a world of virtual reality.  There’s a new virus attacking those most adept at coding, especially hackers.  It’s called Snow Crash.  However, this virus may not be new — it may be the remnant of something from Biblical times.  There’s so much more, but that’s the driving thread of the book.

Every single sentence in this book made me work, and I mean that as a compliment.  It’s so unique, so original that the reader cannot take a single word off — it demands your concentration at all times.

My only complaint is that the book seems to end rather abruptly compared to the epic tale preceding it.  Frankly, the ending struck me as almost anticlimactic, but that seems fairly consistent with the author’s sensibilities.  Mr. Stephenson seems like a writer that refuses to follow convention, especially when it comes to endings.

Some books require no necessary rereads.  Snow Crash is NOT one of those books.  I intend to read this book again, and probably a third time as well, in order to fully grasp it.

If you’re looking for something completely unique and unlike virtually anything else you’ve ever read, I suggest Snow Crash.  Though it will remind you of The Matrix and Ready Player One, you must remember that this came first.

 

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

East of West: Volume 7 by Hickman and Dragotta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – A Movie Review

The first half of this review will reveal no specific spoilers.  I will offer a warning and then a page break before I get into specifics situations.  However, I will generally address the tone and plot devices in the beginning of this review.  If you do not want any sort of preconceived notion before seeing the film, I suggest you to do not read this review.  Sound fair?  Okay, let’s go …

 

The Force Awakens got everything just right.  It introduced new, charismatic characters while allowing the established favorites to shine.  It utilized an action-packed pace while jumping from location to location to location as it revealed a plot that tickled our fancy in all the right — albeit familiar — ways.  It gave us spaceship chases involving, well, our favorite spaceships, lightsaber duels, witty banter, and real emotional stakes.  It focused on old relationships rekindling, new relationships bonding, and teased future relationships to come.  Best of all?  It set the scene for major revelations.  What would Luke Skywalker’s role be in this story?  Who are Rey’s parents?  Is Kylo Ren as evil as he would like us to believe?  Will Poe and Finn be the best new duo in Star Wars lore?  Will Captain Phasma have a defining moment?  How do Leia and Chewbacca move on after Han Solo’s death?  And just who is this Supreme Leader Snoke?  At the end of The Force Awakens, I not only felt extremely satisfied, but genuinely excited to discover all of these things with the next installment.

If I could choose one word to describe The Last Jedi, it would be “anticlimactic.”

The Last Jedi starts off with a bang, but then just kind of fizzles and fizzles and then disappears.  I actually found myself a little bored for quite a bit of this movie, which is something I thought I would NEVER say about a Star Wars film.  There’s so much talking.  Soooo much talking.  But nothing is really ever happening — nothing that felt substantial, at least.

And when something monumental did seem to be happening, it quickly turned out to be nothing.  It fizzled, like I said.  The Last Jedi would raise out hopes time and time again only to laugh in our face and run away.  It got a bit offensive, honestly.

Perhaps the greatest offense of all?  It did not get me excited at all for the next episode.  Just the opposite.  Again, I won’t get into specifics in this space, but The Last Jedi seemed intent to crush every cool thing The Force Awakens teased while leaving us with nothing to replace our anticipation.  The Force Awakens had me counting down the days until the next installment.  The Last Jedi left me ambivalent and, frankly, disappointed.

Want to know exactly why I feel this way?  Scroll past the below image and keep reading …

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Spoilers coming in …

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Let’s run through my long list of grievances …

Kylo Ren – Is he good or evil?  Is he a plant by the Resistance?  Is that why he had such difficulty killing his father?  Is that how he got overpowered by a novice, the great new hope of the Resistance?  Yeah, he’s evil.  Or, at least, that’s what they tell us.  Because, you know, they mostly tell us stuff in this movie.  I really don’t buy him as this supremely evil person.  Worst of all?  He wore his mask for maybe five minutes.  Kylo Ren with the mask and voice?  Awesome.  Could watch him all day.  Kylo Ren without the mask?  No thanks.  Adam Driver’s face does not scream the kind of evil they would like us to believe.  Exactly the opposite.

Leia – Spent most of her time talking.  They showed us an amazing display of the Force.  Then she fell into a coma.  Then she talked some more.  Then she faded into the background.

Finn – Virtually no interaction with Poe or Rey, which, I think, were the crowning moments of The Force Awakens.  No background revelations.  He’s honestly not in the movie much at all.  On a mission to accomplish a goal that seemed forced.  No longer the fish out of water trying to make good.  Just kind of there.

Captain Phasma – Showed up for about three minutes near the end of the movie.  Fell down a hole.  On the plus side, we learned one of her eyes is blue.  Yes, that’s sarcasm.

Poe – In quite a bit of the movie, but now depicted as a mutinous, trigger-happy lunkhead.  No longer the selfless, hotshot pilot with awesome one-liners.  Now spends most of his time questioning leadership as he’s apparently being groomed to be the next leader of the Resistance.

Chewbacca – In maybe two total minutes of the movie.  Does not address his dead partner at all.

Supreme Leader Snoke – Killed in perhaps the most anticlimactic fashion in the history of movies.  Absolutely nothing revealed about his past.  We never find out who he is, where he’s from, or even if he’s Jedi, Sith, or something else.  Why did I care about this guy again?  Why did they put so much effort into making me care about this guy?

Rey – Given virtually nothing to do as she spends most of the movie on Luke’s island being ignored.  No real “heroic” moments to speak of other than moving some rocks.  Has one cool lightsaber fight that proved pointless.  Got to see Finn for the first time with only five minutes left in the movie.  Oh, and her parents?  Apparently, they were nobody.  Just sold her off as a slave.  They wasted so much potential with Rey’s character.  So much potential.

Luke Skywalker – Return Of the Jedi gave us perhaps the perfect sendoff for Luke Skywalker.  He rescued his friends.  He made things right with Yoda.  He got closure from Obi-Wan Kenobi.  He turned his father, the supposedly irredeemable Darth Vader, back to the good side.  He got to see all three of his father figures reunited in peace and harmony as the Empire fell at last.  If you bring him back for The Last Jedi, you damn well better outdo Return Of the Jedi.  They didn’t.  He spends most of his time actively trying to ignore Rey, being cranky with Rey, or being sarcastic with Rey.  He does not train her as a Jedi at all beyond a philosophical lecture about the Force.  However, at the end of the movie, he makes his lone stand against The First Order.  Kylo Ren faces him one-on-one.  We’re prepared for an epic lightsaber battle as Luke stalls so his sister and her Resistance can escape.  Perhaps he’ll gain a grand death, one that will make movie-history.  Or maybe he survives to team up with his sister and lead the Resistance for the next movie?  Nope.  He evades Kylo Ren’s attacks, and then it’s revealed he’s simply an astral projection of the Force, an illusion.  He wasn’t really even there at all.  The real Luke is sitting on a rock, sweating, back on his island.  And after his friends escape, he falls off the rock.  And then he gets back on the rock.  And then he dies.  So, yeah, that felt like a slap in the face.

Those are just the highlights of my disappointment, by the way.  I could go on and on.  But I won’t.  The creative minds behind The Last Jedi seemed to take into account everything we loved about A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, The Return Of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens, and then do the exact opposite.  I don’t understand this rationale at all.

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