Unsane – A Movie Review

I’ve been hearing a lot from critics about Steven Soderbergh lately.  You know Steven Soderbergh even if you don’t know that you know Steven Soderbergh.  He directed the Ocean’s 11 movies, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Magic Mike, and Logan Lucky (just to name a few).

He has a movie that just released on Netflix called High Flying Bird.  My friends at The Ringer.com were talking about how much they were looking forward to seeing it because they consider Soderbergh a modern-day genius.  They said that though Unsane went largely unnoticed, High Flying Bird owes much to Unsane.  I generally trust the Ringer folks, so I decided I clearly haven’t appreciated Soderbergh enough.  I made the decision to soon watch High Flying Bird, but I figured I’d better watch Unsane first in order to fully experience the director’s repertoire.

I didn’t hear anything about Unsane when it released back in March of 2018, but it’s got Claire Foy in it, so it has to be good, right?  I mean, Claire Foy is pretty much incredible in The Crown.  Plus, I liked the movies that I’ve seen in the above list.  Therefore, I like Soderbergh … right?

I decided to take a look at Rotten Tomatoes before I watched UnsaneLet’s just say reviews are … mixed.  The critics generally like it.  The audience rates it slightly below a D-.  The critics were fixated on calling it Soderbergh’s “B movie” masterpiece.  Is that even possible?  The audience was really obsessed with the fact that it was shot on an iPhone.  Um … okay?

As for my opinion?

Don’t waste your time on this one.

Okay, that’s a little harsh.

Let’s go positive first.

Foy continues to impress me.  I think she’s got incredible range.  She is a bit of an unlikable character in this movie.  Her body language is purposefully rigid.  She’s also surly, terse, and angry.  However, she has good reason to be.  Or does she?

I was led to believe that this would be something of a psychological thriller.

Sorry.  It’s not.

They make the truth of the situation pretty clear early on in the film.

Let me explain.

Foy’s character unwittingly commits herself to a mental institution for short term observation.  According to one of the patients played by Jay Pharoah, it’s a scam by the institution to skim money from the insurance companies.  He tells her she can expect to be released in a few days once they’ve gotten their payment.

I found this entire premise really interesting, but don’t get excited … that’s not what the movie is about.

The movie then makes you think it is about whether or not Sawyer, Foy’s character, is actually being hunted and harassed by a stalker or if it’s all in her head.  Again, this is a really interesting concept.  We want to instantly side with Sawyer because she seems to be a victim.  However, due to her somewhat volatile nature, it’s hard to pin down her mental state.  But, yet again … that’s not really want this movie is about.

Spoilers ahead …

3 …

2 …

1 …

Unsane quickly confirms that yes, Sawyer’s stalker is now working in the institution; yes, he’s totally messing with her; and no , she’s not suffering any mental issues.  The stalker, played by Joshua Leonard, goes on a killing spree in order to kidnap her from the institution, and that’s when the “B movie” genre goes into full effect.

We are led to believe that Jay Pharoah’s character is an addict in recovery, but, once he’s killed by the stalker for being Sawyer’s friend, it’s briefly revealed that he was actually a reporter under deep cover and investigating the institution’s insurance fraud practices.  Wow.  That alone actually would have been a GREAT movie.

Sawyer loses everyone close to her, eventually gets the upper hand on the stalker, and kills him with a shiv.  Yes, you read that right.

I don’t know why the movie chose the path it did when it initially set up some really interesting ideas.  Maybe I’m missing something.  Maybe I’m failing to see a certain craft or art to the film that others have picked up on.  A lot of people seem to think it’s cool that it was shot on an iPhone, but to me … it looks like it was shot on an iPhone.

For what it’s worth, Foy gives a potent performance.  This is only the second thing I’ve seen her do outside of The Crown–I’ve never seen her quite like this.  If she did Unsane to show her ability to play against type, she made a wise decision.  This is about as far from Queen Elizabeth as one can get.

Do you need to watch Unsane to get a stylistic flavor in order to enjoy High Flying Bird?  I’m going to say “no.”  Should you even watch Unsane at all?  While I enjoyed Claire Foy, I find Unsane largely dispensable.  You’ll perhaps like it, but I wish I’d spent my time watching something else.

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

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First Man – A Movie Review

My wife and I really wanted to see First Man in the theater, but we just never got around to it.  However, I made sure to rent it from the Normal Public Library as soon as it became available.

If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, it stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong and follows his path to becoming the first man to step on the moon.  It also stars Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong, Neil’s wife.  You know Foy from The Crown–she played Queen Elizabeth.  The film is directed by Damien Chazelle, who also directed La La Land and Whiplash.  As you can see, First Man is a can’t-miss between these three talents.

Let me begin by saying that I loved this movie.  Admittedly, though, it did not follow the trajectory that I expected.  First Man zeroes in on Neil Armstrong the person, not the engineer, not the pilot, and not the astronaut.

I must confess–I knew nothing about Neil Armstrong other than his monumental feat.  Gosling played him as a quiet, repressed, introvert.  After a little research, it seems that this interpretation was not terribly off-base.

Furthermore, I did not realize that Armstrong lost a child when she was only two years old.  Though this loss occurs very early in the film, it becomes a subtle, though potent, plot point and driving motivator.

The creators of this film depict some beautiful cinematography, but they made some really interesting choices in what to show us.  They opted against shots depicting the magnificent glory of space travel.  Instead, they often give us the story from Neil’s perspective.  His view is often limited, obstructed, and cramped.  The machinery creeks, rattles, and doesn’t always respond as intended.  Even the NASA bathrooms were displayed realistically, which means … not exactly pristine.  First Man exposes the down and dirty aspects to making the impossible possible.

Don’t get me wrong, First Man absolutely inspires the human spirit to try to achieve more, but it also makes it very clear that these men were risking their lives each and every time they climbed into anything associated with space exploration.  Furthermore, the film made sure to honor those men who did indeed lose their lives to America’s cause.  Though it’s hard to watch, it does not shy away from death.

Claire Foy delivers an understated performance pertaining to the NASA wife’s existence.  Her Janet Armstrong must navigate the complexities of being a supportive wife, a lonely mother, and a grieving friend, but also that of an intelligent human being who will hold her husband accountable when he’s neglecting both she and his family.  She and Gosling’s chemistry is interesting, to say the least.  They exhibit a troubled marriage that it not yet completely revealed.

In fact, subtle is how I would describe this film as a whole.  It is quiet, understated, and moody.  Just know that, when they reach the moon, it is breathtaking.  The lunar landscape appears as it typically does–they did not break with reality.  But the tight shots of the astronauts, the equipment, and even the granular surface–it’s mesmerizing.  And, though you won’t expect it, a moment arrives that damn near brought me to tears.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it gave me great insight into the film’s perception of Neil Armstrong and his motivation.

Consequently, First Man has a beautiful–beautiful!–score composed by Justin Hurwitz.  It’s currently free to download if you are an Amazon Prime member.  Find it by clicking HERE.

Because of its somber tone, I’m not surprised First Man has not made more of an impact.  Though people would probably expect it to be, it’s not really a feel-good movie for the masses.  Nevertheless, it is a wonderfully constructed film.  If you love NASA, space travel, or any of the creative talents involved in making this movie, you will not be disappointed.  Though it’s unusual, it definitely won me over.

On a side note, the movie briefly notified the viewing audience that it was based on a book by James R. Hansen.  Because the movie portrayed Neil Armstrong in such an interesting manner, and because I literally know nothing about the American legend, I stopped by the library and picked it up.  It’s titled First Man: The Life Of Neil A. Armstrong.  You can take a look at it HERE.

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

 

 

Black Hammer – A Book Review

The cover to this book really threw me off.  I thought it was going to be some kind of a dark magic or horror book.  And though it’s got elements of both, it’s not at all what I expected.

Black Hammer: Secret Origins is about a group of super heroes who have been transported to a small, rural community and cannot leave their immediate surroundings.  Some of them are quite okay with this, some are ambivalent, and some are flat-out angry.

The six characters–by book’s end–captured my interest and prompted me to reserve the next installment at my local library, but I still can’t go so far as to say I “like” this book (even though I am clearly invested).

My primary issue is that the six characters are obvious riffs on popular DC and Marvel icons.  Shazam, Martian Manhunter, Captain America, Adam Strange–they’ve all been cribbed.  I found this kind of thing fascinating back in the mid-80s with Watchmen … I’m less entertained by it now.

Even so, the author, Jeff Lemire, excels at dialogue and character interaction, so I couldn’t help but be drawn in by this book.

Furthermore, the artwork is moody, dark, and eye-catching.  I particularly appreciated the facial expressions throughout.

They aren’t trying to pretend that they aren’t copying other characters, by the way.  There’s no deception taking place on their part.  And by the book’s conclusion, the characters have taken on a personality of their own and found themselves in an interesting predicament.  In fact, I have to hand it to Lemire in regards to character development.  Even though these characters begin as facsimiles, they soon become dynamic and full of engaging complications.  However, after almost four decades of reading comic books, none of these obstacles are unheard of.

It’s just, on a personal level, I feel like I’ve seen it all before.  The characters’ powers, the angst, even the isolation.  It’s all expertly-executed, but not especially fresh in my view.  Perhaps the next volume will completely win me over.  The good news is that I’m committed and want to keep reading this story.

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

Doctor Aphra: Remastered (Volume 3) – A Book Review

I still maintain that Doctor Aphra is one of the greatest additions to the Star Wars mythology in recent years, but this volume confirms my fear about the character–she cannot solely carry her own title.

This installment tries to spice things up a bit by making Doctor Aphra beholden to Triple-Zero, the murderous entity in the guise of a protocol droid.  Triple-Zero sends Aphra on a series of missions in which she must lead a group of mercenaries.  There are some interesting asides as Aphra develops a relationship with Magna Tolvan, the Imperial Officer.  Hera Syndulla also makes a substantial appearance, which was super cool to see.  But in the end, much of it felt forced to me.

The problem is that Doctor Aphra works best as a foil to, well, everyone else.  I love it when she pops into a scene, plays havoc with everyone and everything, and then leaves.  She has the luxury of being an agent of chaos.  She is naughty, hilarious, greedy, and lovable.  But in a title featuring her, she doesn’t have that advantage.  She has to carry every episode from month to month.  The writers seem obligated to reveal every little detail about her, and this is diluting the character.

In my opinion, Doctor Aphra has lost her “hook.”  She had it when she appeared in Darth Vader.  We knew just enough about her and what she was about and we (obviously) loved her.  Unfortunately, we loved her so much that they kept giving us more in the form of her own book.

I don’t know exactly how they can fix this issue, and I fully confess that this may be my issue alone.  Perhaps everyone else is loving the direction of the book and character.  I think I would like to see the book function as an ongoing gag on how Aphra swindles everyone she meets, but we never get the stories from her perspective.  Each arc would be narrated by her victims.  That would afford her the ability to maintain her mystique and “devil-may-care” persona.  It would take a great deal of creativity to constantly come up with stories where Aphra outsmarts everyone while revealing virtually nothing about herself, but I think that would maximize her potential.

Doctor Aphra does have a great deal of potential, by the way.  Clearly, she has connected with fandom.  I’m concerned that she’s being overexposed, though, and that we’re learning too much about her too quickly.  I adore this character and don’t want her to fade out of everyone’s interest.

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

Mission Impossible: Fallout – A Movie Review

I’m not a huge Mission Impossible fan, but I thought it would be fun to take this little movie in on its Thursday night release.

The good news is that it’s an action-packed, fast-paced movie with jaw-dropping chase scenes, very cool hand-to-hand combat, and beautiful locations.  You’re going to take thrill rides in cars, on motorcycles, out of airplanes, and in helicopters.

Tom Cruise is charming as always, Simon Pegg is funny, Rebecca Ferguson is a force, and Ving Rhames is cool (and also surprisingly emotional).

The movie moves very quickly, especially considering its two and a half hour run time.  (It honestly didn’t feel that long!)  There were several moments that I caught myself gasping out loud because some of the action scenes were flat-out incredible.

The bad news is that, even though you haven’t seen it all before … you’ve seen it all before.  We’ve got a nuclear bomb threat, Ethan Hunt and his team have to disarm it at the last possible moment.  We’ve got a traitor in the midst.  We’ve got Ethan’s loyalty to the USA coming into question.  We’ve even got a recurring villain in this one.  Did these retreads make me like the movie any less?  No, but it didn’t make me like the movie more, either.

I’m honestly at these movies for the stunts, chases, and fight scenes.  I don’t come in expecting much from the story.

By the way, I’m no Tom Cruise acolyte, but I have to give this man credit.  I believe he was 54 when he made this movie, and he’s currently 56.  This man is physically incredible!  His acting skills peaked long ago, but to be able to still perform his own stunts–even to sprint down the street at his age–it’s amazing.  I have no doubt he’s in better shape at 56 than most of us have ever achieved in our lives.

So, if you like the Mission Impossible films, you’ll like this one, too.  It’s a fun action movie that will thrill.  Oh, and not to worry, you’ll still get your people pretending to be other people in masks moments. Image result for mission impossible fallout movie poster

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

GLOW: Season 2 — Even Better Than the First

GLOW: Season 2 outshines the first for the very simple reason that much of the groundwork for this ensemble cast has already been laid.  Season 1 entertained and impressed in many unexpected ways, but it still had the task of introducing us to the characters and getting them onto the mat.  Season 2 benefits in that it can build on what came before and really explore these interesting people.

Make no mistake–these are wonderful characters.  Yes, it’s a program about an all-female wrestling show set in the early 80s and much of the comedy centers around that scenario, but these are very real people being portrayed.  All of them are lovable in their own way, and all of them are awful in their own way.  They each have their victories, but they all suffer their indignities as well.  The magic is that the actors have managed to make us care about each and every one of them.

What I like best about this second season is the writing.  Many of the supporting characters get fleshed out this time around.  It’s intriguing to learn about who they are, what makes them tick, and why in the world they got involved with this crazy show!  We become much better acquainted particularly with Kia Stevens’ character named Tamme Dawson.  It would not be easy to be a black woman playing a character named Welfare Queen, and both Stevens and the writers do a magnificent job of exploring that conflict.

Even better than the characterization, though, is the tight–so tight!–plot.  Little moments in the early episodes are hugely important later.  Yet it all feels natural and organic.  The plot isn’t forced, but it all ties together so nicely.  I could be wrong, but I got the feeling that the writers had this entire season perfectly laid out before they even started shooting the first episode.

Furthermore, the main characters became even more complex.  Debbie Eagon (played by Betty Gilpin) evolves as a businesswoman taking control of her own professional life, yet her personal life is falling apart as she struggles with divorce.  She also teeters precariously close to becoming the show’s villain which is an interesting development considering that she’s the star all-American wrestler on the roster.  It would be so easy to make her the obvious heel, but they don’t.  They instead present her as a woman who makes a few bad decisions but ultimately tries to make good even as she keeps her own self-interests at the forefront of her mind.  See what I mean?  Wonderfully complicated.

Allison Brie’s character, Ruth Wilder, is just as enthusiastic and positive as ever, yet she can get very close to annoying.  She never quite crosses that line, but there are moments when you can understand Debbie’s frustrations with her.  Debbie and Ruth are so charismatic because they are utterly realistic.  Like all of us, they have moments where they are at their best, but also moments where they are at their worst.  Ruth is also far from perfect, but she’s learned from her mistakes during the first season.  Amid the first season, her adultery always cast a shadow over her.  That shadow disperses this second season and they seem to have opted to give her some time in the light to make up for the first season.

Marc Maron’s character, Sam Sylvia, started out the season as an absolute jerk who couldn’t care less about his wrestlers, but by the season’s end–well, he’s still a jerk–but he becomes someone we can’t help but love.  There are moments when he finally reaches self-awareness and owns his shortcomings.  Sometimes he just flat-out admits why he’s being so crass.  Those instances really touched me.  I wish I could just say why I’m being so difficult like he finally does.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but watching his evolution as a father, a director, a friend, and a person really brought me joy.  He’s still a cranky old man, don’t worry, but now he’s the kind you want to hang out with anyway.

I’d finally like to touch on Bash Howard, played by Chris Lowell.  Bash originally seemed to be the dim-witted millionaire producer–an ardent wrestling fan with the means to make the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling a reality.  In this second season, Bash is still a little naive, yet his simple innocence really pays off regarding his friend and butler, Florian.  Florian is missing the entire season with Bash doing his best to locate him.  Florian’s whereabouts are finally revealed, and Bash is absolutely stunned.  It seems he didn’t really know his friend at all, and it’s heavily hinted that Bash may not fully even know himself.  Lowell plays Bash with such unassuming charm that it’s hard not to love the guy.  He could have come off as a rich, pampered moron, but instead he’s written and performed as someone just trying to make dreams come true.  Again, isn’t that all of us?

I’d also like to commend the cast on introducing some serious wrestling moves in Season 2.  I can’t say for sure, but it looks to me like Brie and Gilpin are doing a lot of their own wrestling, and these are more than simple headlocks.  For actors, especially Gilpin, to execute some technically difficult wrestling maneuvers really speaks to their dedication to the characters.  I appreciate the symmetry of it because, ironically, their characters are just mastering the moves as well since they are new to wrestling.  It’s an interesting learning curve to behold both on the show and in reality.

Finally, GLOW captures the 80s perfectly.  The hair, the fashion, the cars, the food, the music–everything!  My wife and I feel like we’ve stepped into a time machine when we watch it.  There is one episode during Season 2 in which it is made to look like an actual episode of the show on your TV during the 80s.  It’s got the square screen, the locally made commercials–it’s perfect.  It looks exactly like I remember TV from the early 80s.  They really outdid themselves.

If you’re looking for a show with short episodes, magnetic characters, great writing, and funny comedy mixed in with an actual story about real people, GLOW is for you.  There really isn’t anything else like it on TV.

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

Saints by Gene Luen Yang – A Book Review

I recently wrote a review of Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers, and this book, Saints, is a companion piece.  In fact, it’s more than just a companion piece — it’s a conclusion.

In Boxers, there’s a moment where the main character, Bao, sees a young girl close to his own age.  He believes she looks like the devil.  Later on in the book, when they are both much older, Bao (seemingly) kills this girl in the city of Peking because she will not renounce her Christianity.

Saints is the story of that girl, from the time she is eight up until the age of fifteen.  She is simply called Four-Girl in the beginning by her family.  She is unwanted, unappreciated, and largely neglected.  It isn’t until she meets converts to Christianity that she begins to feel a sense of security.  Eventually, Four-Girl converts as well and chooses the name Vibiana.  However, throughout much of the book, and despite being visited frequently by Joan of Arc herself, Vibiana is not exactly the most devout of Christians.  She likes the food.  She likes the roof over her head.  She likes being recognized as a human being and not a waste of space.  It’s clear Jesus is not at the forefront of her mind.

When she hears of the Boxers headed to kill Christians, she is inspired to follow Joan of Arc’s lead and fight in the name of God.  But really … she just wants to fight.  After the life she’s endured, can you blame her?

She is eventually captured by Bao from Boxers, and at that moment you get to find out exactly what took place between them in that scene from the first book.

While Boxers is quite a bit longer, the ending of Saints struck me as far more poignant.  Admittedly, this could be because I consider myself a Christian as well.  Vibiana (Four-Girl) undergoes a tremendous change, one that I won’t spoil for you, but one that absolutely resonated.

As Boxers depicted Bao losing more and more of himself in his plight to save China, Saints offers a bittersweet story about Vibiana finding peace.  That tranquility, however does not arrive as one would expect.  Just the  opposite.

A noted Christian himself, I appreciated that Gene Luen Yang did not get too heavy-handed with Saints.  In fact, like with Boxers, he made a point to show the good and bad in everyone.  The Boxers consider themselves freedom fighters striving to preserve their culture, yet the Christian converts consider them monsters.  The Christians in the book believe themselves to be righteous, yet many of them are self-serving and overtly sinful.  However, in the end, Yang reminds us what it is to be truly selfless.  Some would say that’s being Christ-like.  Others would say it’s simply being compassionate.

Though the artwork is simply rendered, this is a powerful story about history, people, motive, and belief.

The epilogue of the book, by the way, shook me to my core.  Perfect.

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