Black Panther – A Movie Review

This is NOT just another Marvel movie.

Black Panther gamely partakes in the Marvel Universe while largely operating as a standalone action movie striving to deliver a societal message of great relevance.

Let’s start with what I determine to be the most important aspect of Black Panther.  I am a forty-one year old white male.  My whole life, I’ve enjoyed white superheroes depicted in comic books, cartoons, toys, and movies.  Christopher Reeve, Michael Keaton, Toby Maguire, and Hugh Jackman are but a few.  Let’s not forget to mention the action stars that peppered my youth such as Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Kurt Russle, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Tom Cruise–the list can go on an on.  It wasn’t until my own daughters were born that I realized women and people of color weren’t given characters who reflected their identity–not in the way that I always enjoyed.

So Black Panther ISN’T just another movie.

For many, Black Panther represents a cultural shift.  It signifies an important moment in our society, a moment that says those who were previously underrepresented will now be given time to shine.  And guess what?  Those who are typically underrepresented on film are letting the world know there exists an audience hungry for more.  It’s no accident that Wonder Woman financially overachieved.  It’s not happenstance that Black Panther DOUBLED the previous Thursday night ticket sales record for February.  The numbers say it all.

I’d like to quickly mention another interesting detail.  My friends and I regularly go to superhero movies on either its Thursday or Friday opening night.  I write this on Saturday morning, February 17th.  We attended the 9:00 p.m. Black Panther show on Friday night, February 16th.  As soon as we entered the theater, it became obvious this superhero movie was different.  There were more African American women, men, and children in the theater than I’ve ever seen before at a premier.  I instantly felt in the minority and a little out of place.  The irony was not lost on me, nor should it be lost on you.

Let’s talk about the actual movie.

First of all, they have created with Black Panther a world unto itself.  Wakanda, the African nation in which Black Panther rules, felt solid, real, and established.  This utopia drew me in completely.  Its glorious technology felt tenable, as did its ancient rituals.  The clothing, the environment, the language, the customs, the unique neighboring tribes–it all struck me as genuine.  The filmmakers successfully created a world that I hope will live on in the Marvel movies for decades to come.

I also loved that they introduced an entirely new technology concept to the Marvel Universe.  Yes, vibranium has been seen in Marvel movies before, but never to this extent.  The full potential of the metal is explored in Black Panther, and I imagine Tony Stark is going to be very jealous.  However, the filmmakers didn’t just use vibrainum as a means to an end.  It wasn’t just the reason they had a Black Panther suit or weaponry or ships.  It also served a cultural purpose to the Wakandan society.  They made it clear that vibranium influences their way of life, and has for generations.  This kind of storytelling and world building is greatly appreciated by those such as me.

The supporting cast in Black Panther also made the film radiant.  His mother, his sister, his general, his friends, his challengers, his mentor–they all had distinct personalities and they all utilized a charisma specific to their character.  No one wasted a moment on screen.

As for the story, I believe Black Panther broke new ground for Marvel movies.  Marvel always does action, humor, and general story pretty well.  They are very good at blending one movie into the next.  No one is denying that.  However, I don’t believe Marvel ever tried to say anything socially relevant … until now.  Black Panther challenges itself not just to deliver an action-packed feast full of visual splendor.  It also tries to say something–something specific not only to people of color, but to all races, all peoples, all creeds, all governments.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s definitely there.  Do they hit you over the head with it a little too blatantly at times?  Sure, but so did The Post, and it’s up for an Oscar.

When I saw the previews, I felt a little apprehensive about Michael B. Jordan’s villain–Killmonger.  I didn’t like that he also wore a Black Panther suit in the previews.  This is a tried and true mistake superhero movies make time and time again.  Hulk fought a version of himself.  Spider-Man has fought a version of himself.  Superman has fought a version of himself.  Iron Man has fought a version of himself.  The Flash regularly fights versions of himself on his TV show.  You get the idea.  I’m glad that they found a sensible reason to have Killmonger in the Black Panther suit that organically served the story well.  When you see the movie, it makes perfect sense.

Killmonger brings me to my only complaint about the film.  It bothered me that the only black American male character in the entire movie was depicted as angry and out for revenge.  I may be reading too much into it, but it seemed as though a subtext existed that black American males cannot save themselves–only outside benefactors such as Wakandans can come rescue them.  We know this is not true, especially in the Marvel Universe.  We’ve seen upright American men of color in the Marvel movie and TV universe before such as Luke Cage, Falcon, and War Machine.  And I realize that it would have been awkward to sandwich those characters in only to serve as a parallel to Killmonger, but it still bothered me a bit, especially because I’m positive that this is, for many people, their first Marvel movie.  They may not even know about those other African American characters.  In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the only other major American male in the movie was Everett K. Ross, a white intelligence officer who helps save the day.  See what I’m saying?  Am I way off on this one?

Speaking of subtext, I loved the fact that Wakanda absolutely relied on its women to thrive.  From the military to the sciences, women were the driving force of order and progress in their society.  Black Panther may have been king, but the women ruled in every other way.

I believe Black Panther succeeded on all levels.  It kept the overarching Marvel story line moving forward while also delivering an epic standalone film that delivered relevant social commentary.  Even if you’ve never seen a Marvel movie before, you can go into Black Panther and enjoy it as an entity unto itself.  In fact, I encourage you to do so.  Though plainly obvious by now, I highly recommend Black Panther.

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


Strange Weather by Joe Hill – A Book Review

Joe Hill first won me over with his graphic novel series entitled Locke & Key.  Since then, I’ve particularly enjoyed his books Horns and Heart-Shaped Box.  Without a doubt, though, the short story collection called 20th Century Ghosts is my absolute favorite work by the author.

Because he does shorts so well, I knew I had to read Strange Weather.  This book is a compilation of four brief novels–also called novellas.

I’ll briefly review each installment …

The first is titled Snapshot.  It’s about a man using a Polaroid camera that essentially steals memories.  The main character first encounters this man as a child, and he is horrified to learn the villain has been terrorizing his elderly neighbor.  He is eventually forced to confront the evil stranger.  This story is a simple yet brilliantly imaginative concept.  It takes such a universal idea but makes it feel fresh, inventive, and unique.  Hill provided very likable, identifiable characters in this tale, and he kept me turning the pages until the very end.  My only complaint is the “epilogue” of sorts.  I think Hill let this story linger a bit too long as he updated us on the main character’s adulthood and connected his experience as a child to modern day technology.  This connected felt forced to me.

The second story is called Loaded.  There’s nothing supernatural about this installment, and that makes it the most horrifying of all.  It’s about our nation’s sick fetish with guns, and how lives are routinely ruined due to the rampant misuse of them.  Loaded is consistently either discomforting or flat-out terrifying.  Hill does not let up and go easy on the reader in this story.  I think it’s perhaps his best work … ever.

Aloft is the next novella in this book.  There have been a few moments in my life when I blatantly got jealous of an author because he or she came up with an idea that I wish could have been mine.  I don’t want to give too much away with this one because it genuinely surprised me and I want you to have a similar experience.  I’ll tell you this much–a skydiver lands on a UFO before opening his parachute.  … I know!  Great idea, right?

Hill finally delivers Rain as his last offering.  A freak thunderstorm breaks out in Boulder, Colorado, but this is no ordinary rainstorm.  This storm rains nails.  Honeysuckle must watch her girlfriend die in a flurry of crystalline spikes during this storm, and she then takes it upon herself to walk to Denver in order to inform her girlfriend’s father.  She encounters awful, post-apocalyptic scenes as a result, but also witnesses humanity’s will to continue.  Honeysuckle is challenged by awful scenarios throughout the story, but nothing is more revolting than her own neighbors.  Like Snapshot, I think Hill took this one just a bit too far.  I feel he should have left a mystique regarding the spiked rainfall that eventually plagues the planet, but he instead reveals the cause.  The perpetrator of the vile deed struck me as too contrived, too coincidental, and too, well, manufactured.

Overall, Strange Weather proved an incredibly enjoyable experience.  Hill has a talent at creating imaginative plots and filling them with rounded, charismatic characters.  If you’ve ever wanted to try Joe Hill, I believe this book encapsulates the best of what he has to offer.

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

Locke & Key: Heaven and Earth by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez – A Book Review

You may remember that I did not care for the price of Locke & Key: Small World in relation to the amount of pages.  (Click HERE if you’d like to revisit my angst.)  Heaven and Earth, like Small World, is a collection of three very short stories involving the Locke & Key mythology.  Short stories may be an overstatement.  One of them is short.  The other two are downright minuscule.

The first short involves the family introduced in Small World.  It is an excellently executed short story that will have you tearing up before you know it.

The second short, which is far shorter, focuses upon the children in the first after they’ve reached early adulthood.  Some gangsters come their way with rape and murder on their minds.  Let’s just say the gangsters receive poetic justice.

The third will be over before you blink, but it will bring a smile to your face, guaranteed.

The book also contains photographs of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez exploring the island they used as a model for the book.  They are candid, interesting shots with the guys joking around.  There are a few alternate covers that use actual crafted keys to replicate those found in the stories, which are actually very cool.

Now that I’ve accepted the price point of these little additions to the Locke & Key story line, I’m not quite so upset.  As a Locke & Key fan, I would say that both Small World and Heaven and Earth are required reading.  I appreciate that they tried to fill in some space to better justify the price, but I personally would have much preferred one more story instead.

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

Star Wars: From a Certain Point Of View – A Book Review

This collection of short stories will satisfy every Star Wars fan alive.  The premise is genius.  It takes small, seemingly unimportant moments from A New Hope and zeroes in on them.  It provides names and backstories, tragedies and victories, motivations and inclinations.  It satisfyingly adds to a universe already well developed.

One of these stories in particular proved among my favorites.  Do you remember the guy standing lookout in the crow’s nest of a pole?  You saw him as the X-Wings took off to intercept the Death Star?  His story is written by Will Wheaton, entitled “Laina,” and it is absolutely heartbreaking.  There is another called “Time of Death” which features Obi-Wan Kenobi’s final moments and thoughts as he faced certain death at the hands of his former apprentice.  Speaking of such, Claudia Gray wrote “Master and Apprentice” which explores Qui-Gon Jinn’s spirit visiting Obi-Wan on Tatooine.  Still another is called “There Is Another,” and it’s about Yoda living on Dagobah and wishing he could train one last Jedi–someone he believes has great potential.

Of course, as you can see, not all stories are directly related to a moment in A New Hope.  Such as with the Yoda story, some of the stories check in on characters technically not introduced in the original 1977 classic.  Boba Fett, for example, offers a first-person account during a bounty hunt.  We have a story starring Lando trying to swindle someone.  We have another with Doctor Aphra, a relatively new character, in the lead.  Yet another stars the Emperor himself.

However, these are all pretty big names in the Star Wars mythology.  Most of the short stories actually utilize characters that are essentially unknown.  Remember the red R2 unit that Luke and Uncle Owen almost bought?  He’s got a story.  Do you recall the Tusken Raiders who knocked out Luke?  Yep, they have a story, too.  That bartender who told Luke to get the droids out of his tavern?  You guessed it.  Even one of those little mouse droids in the Death Star has a story.

Are all forty of these short stories great?  Not in my opinion, no.  However, those that didn’t speak to me personally may very well be your favorite.  I will say this, though, the vast majority of them were exceptional.  The writers’ ability to take seemingly irrelevant characters and develop them into engaging, charismatic figures proved uncanny.

I highly recommend this book for any Star Wars fan.

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




Phantom Thread – A Movie Review

Surprised I’m reviewing this movie?  I’ll watch anything starring Daniel Day-Lewis.  It’s really that simple.

My wife and I have not been together to see a movie in quite some time, so we figured Phantom Thread would be a nice “date” movie for us to enjoy.  In the end, I’m not sure we “enjoyed” it, but we definitely “appreciated” it.

Let’s get this out of the way — Phantom Thread is not a “date” movie.  I wouldn’t even consider it a “mainstream” movie.  It’s very slow, very quiet, very long, and very understated … until it’s not.  More on that in a minute.

I’d also like to say upfront that, had we watched this at home, my wife probably would have fallen asleep and I would then probably have turned it off.  I’m glad we saw it in the theater because that guaranteed we’d give it our full attention.  We were fully engaged and fascinated the whole time, even if we did occasionally check the time.

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, Daniel Day-Lewis plays a fussy dressmaker in the 1950s.  He is something of a mastermind and his house (brand) is always in demand.  However, he is obsessed with his work, and he will not tolerate anything or anyone that detracts him from his life’s meaning.  He soon falls for a waitress while on holiday.  He brings her back with him and then the meat of the story really begins.  He wants to continue life as it was before her–she’s supposed to just slide right into his established patterns.  But she wants to love him on her terms, not his.  Both are headstrong, sharp-tongued, and repressed … until they’re not.  I don’t want to say more because it will spoil a rather interesting development regarding their dynamic.

So, getting back to the thing I said about appreciating it but not necessarily enjoying it.  Watching Daniel Day-Lewis transform himself into this man proved amazing.  His character, Reynolds Woodcock, is contradiction personified.  He is so calm and collected until he loses his temper.  He is tough and cold until he’s an emotional mess.  He’s calculated and intelligent until he spouts angry gibberish.  He’s polite and sophisticated until he acts like a spoiled child.  He’s independent and self-reliant until he admits to being a mamma’s boy.  Day-Lewis delivered this character without apparent effort making him simultaneously believable, charming, and detestable.  As is often the case with Day-Lewis, I did not see the actor during the film, I saw only Reynolds Woodcock.

I believe this movie had a lot to say about relationships as well.  I think many of us can relate to the honeymoon phase of a relationship and then the unavoidable humdrum of routine and monotony.  His love interest, Alma, refused to fall into Reynolds’ regimen.  As I said earlier, she loved him, but she demanded to love him on her own terms, in her own way.  Again, I won’t spoil the actions she takes to make him completely hers, but it’s unexpected to say the least.  His ultimate reaction to her extreme behavior is something I would love to speak to you about privately.  I won’t write about it here, of course, out of respect to those who haven’t see it yet.  Needless to say, my wife and I had much to discuss during the drive home.

Though this movie takes place in the 1950s, I think it applies very much to the world today.  Woodcock works relentlessly.  He takes no time to enjoy those around him.  He does not derive pleasure from the simple things in life.  Nor does he allow life’s spontaneity to influence his existence.  He experiences the world completely on his own terms, even at the exclusion of his loved ones.  I think most of us will see ourselves reflected in Woodcock on some level.  Perhaps we will recognize our own irrational obsessions in him–whether it be that we our workaholics, addicted to social media, tied to our televisions …

In the end, I found Phantom Thread refreshing.  I don’t think a single special effect appeared in the entire movie.  The score rarely rose above the sound of a piano tapping.  This movie excelled purely due to story, production, dialogue, and performance.

While I wouldn’t recommend Phantom Thread as a date movie, I would definitely recommend it for those wanting a change from capes and laser swords.  I’m no film aficionado, but even I recognized the sheer mastery of craft unfolding before my eyes.  Phantom Thread is absolutely worthy of your appreciation.

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



Manifest Destiny: Mnemophobia & Chronophobia by Dingess and Roberts – A Book Review

Manifest Destiny is one of my favorite comic books running at the moment.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, Lewis and Clark are still exploring the American wilderness west of St. Louis, but in this alternate history, they are not merely mapping out the landscape and marking rivers, they are also analyzing any potential preternatural threats to the American pioneer.  Guess what?  There are many, many strange plants and animals ready to kill them at every opportunity.

There is also a larger plot at play from one volume to the next.  They keeping coming across arches, much like the famed St. Louis Arch.  However, these arches are made of natural materials and developed organically … or did they?  Whatever the case may be, they tend to serve as the epicenter of unusual, and deadly, occurrences.

In this fifth volume, Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, and their band of soldiers and felons have founded a fort in order to survive the winter.  Soon, though, a strange fog rolls in, and this fog brings some of their past–and most horrific–threats with it.

This is a high-concept book, but such industrious titles tend to burn out by the time they reach their twenty-fifth issue.  I’m happy to tell you that Manifest Destiny shows no signs of slowing down.  Dingess has found the perfect balance of horror, adventure, and characterization to keep this title engaging and interesting.  Honestly, I thought this particular volume would end up boring me.  After all, a fog doesn’t sound terribly exciting, does it?  It became readily apparent that the fog wasn’t the real threat–the men’s fear, bias, and paranoia is the real threat, and those things burst free during their encounter with the fog.

Matthew Roberts also keeps this title driving forward.  His art appears historically accurate in terms of clothing, tools, weapons, boats, forts, and things like that.  He is also a master of anatomy and perspective.  There appears to be no animal, plant, or combination thereof that he cannot render perfectly.  But, even with that all being said, his most important quality is that he knows how to keep one panel moving into the next, and then into the next, and then into the next.  He realizes the importance of “sequence” in sequential art.

There are only a few titles currently being published that I consider “must-read.”  Manifest Destiny is one of them.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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

Star Wars: Screaming Citadel – A Book Review

I’ve greatly enjoyed the various Marvel Star Wars series, but Star Wars: Yoda’s Secret War left me a little unsatisfied.  I’m very happy to say that the next installment–Screaming Citadel–righted the course and returned the series to its high standard.

Of course, this volume is not just comprised of the Star Wars series.  It also has issues from Doctor Aphra.  Obviously, the two comics crossed over with each other to deliver this story as  whole.

Doctor Aphra has an ancient crystal supposedly housing the sentience of a powerful Jedi.  She needs the Queen of the Screaming Citadel to access it for her, and she needs Luke Skywalker to entice the queen into doing so.  You’ll have to read the book for the details on using Luke as bait.  Doctor Aphra sells it to Luke as a chance for him to encounter an actual Jedi master, and it’s a chance for her to witness a remnant of the ancient past because she is an archaeologist after all, albeit a bit of an immoral one.

That’s a pretty good premise to achieve what this story is really all about–watching Luke and Aphra interact.  I believe Doctor Aphra is one of the greatest additions to the Star Wars universe in decades.  She first appeared in the Darth Vader series, and she won over the audience so thoroughly that she quickly earned her own title.  Honestly, though Aphra works best when pitted against the pure of heart, or at least those on the side of the Rebels.  She’s Aphra, so of course she manipulates Luke, double-crosses him, saves his skin a few times, then cheats him again.  That’s just who she is.

It’s also interesting to see a rebellious streak in Luke as he jaunts off with Aphra without telling Han, Leia, or anyone else for that matter.  We know his dad didn’t always follow protocol, so these little deviations are always revealing when Luke is concerned.  It’s also fun to see him beginning to realize his power.  This particular story takes place soon after A New Hope, so Luke has not yet begun to completely understand what he has at his disposal–though this book does depict Luke having some pretty cool moments with his burgeoning abilities.

We also have quite a bit of Han, Leia, and another invaluable addition to the mythology named Sana Starros.  All three get their moment to shine as Han finds more and more of the hero within, Leia further establishes herself as the capable leader she is, and Sana Starros slowly reveals more and more of her past to the reader.  Guess what?  Not only does she have deep connections to Han Solo, but it’s heavily hinted that she is also tied to Doctor Aphra as well.  The specifics may surprise you.

And, as always, Aphra’s versions of C3PO and R2D2 steal the show.  They are named 0-0-0 and BT-1.  They are basically the murderous, demented, evil version of our favorite droids, and they are forever a delight.

The story of Screaming Citadel itself is entertaining.  The art is very pleasing to the eye and keeps the plot moving at a quick pace.  At times the faces of the characters based off of real life actors look almost photo realistic, which is sometimes jarring when the rest of the panel does not look so true to life.  Of course, the best quality of the book is simply seeing all of these characters play off of each other.  It’s refreshing to have such rounded, charismatic new characters as Aphra, Sana, Triple-Zero, and Bee-Tee 1 making waves with our legendary favorites.

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