Elevation by Stephen King – A Book Review

I can honestly say that nothing written by Stephen King has ever brought me to tears … until now. Elevation is a mere 146 pages, but don’t let the brevity of the book fool you. King does everything so perfectly in this novella that even one more page would have been unnecessary.

Elevation is about a Castle Rock native named Scott Carey. Scott is 42 years old, divorced, paunchy, and losing weight. He doesn’t look like he’s losing weight, but he is, and at a fairly fast clip. Furthermore, anything he touches becomes weightless as well. Scott hasn’t any idea why this is happening, nor does he particularly care. He’s accepted it as his fate, and he decides to live and let live.

However, before he reaches zero, he’s decided to do a little good in his town. His neighbors are new to the area, two married women, and they have opened a restaurant. However, due to their lifestyle, the small town has agreed not to support them. Scott’s going to see if he can do something about that before his time is up.

Elevation is now one of my all-time favorite King books. He introduces a simple concept, but one that is also thought-provoking. He builds tension with the weight loss countdown. He creates very likable characters that happen to feel very real. Everything about this book is captivating.

King can write 1,000 page books, but he doesn’t need to. He can do everything that makes those lengthy reads wonderful in under 150 pages as  well, and Elevation proves it.

If you haven’t read King in a while, do yourself a favor and go check out Elevation. You’ll love it. But be ready: you’ll love it so much that the ending might just bring you to tears.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

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Spider-Man: Far From Home – A Movie Review

Spider-Man: Far From Home is an impressive exhibition of visual effects with some great one-liners, but the most interesting thing about the movie happens during the middle and end of the credits.

If you’re not familiar with the plot, Spider-Man: Far From Home sends Peter Parker and his classmates on a European vacation.  While there, Peter is drafted by Nick Fury to help Mysterio defeat monstrous elementals intent on destroying the world.

This movie is simply a run little romp.  It’s not too heavy, it’s not too serious, and it’s not too meaningful … until those end credits.

In fact, I think it’s maybe a little too light.  I understand the need to break away from the cosmic gravitas of Avengers: Endgame, but Far From Home didn’t delve quite deeply enough into the ramifications of that movie.

I say “deeply” because, yes, Far From Home absolutely acknowledges Endgame and goes out of its way not only to catch us up on how those who disappeared are adapting to their return, but how the world is adapting to those who reappeared.  The movie also centers itself around the death of Tony Stark.  (We can talk about that now, right?)

However, all of these things are never deeply explored.  Peter feels like he can’t live up to being Iron Man … and that’s what we get about that for most of the movie.  We are not allowed a deep dive into Peter’s psyche regarding this loss.  It’s all kept very surface-level.  I literally felt the movie pushing forward, forward, forward at a harrowing pace.

I found this shallow treatment of such important events in Peter’s life troubling.

Furthermore, I really do not care for the depiction of Peter Parker’s personality in Far From Home.  I kept track, and he apologized at least four times in a single scene.  They’ve made Parker a little too apologetic, a little too full of doubt, and a little bit of a whiner.  We’re not getting much of Spider-Man’s famous quips in Far From Home.  The movie is funny, but Spider-Man is not.  I think this is the fifth appearance of Spider-Man in the MCU … I believe his confidence should be growing by this point, not weakening.  I have no doubt Spider-Man will eventually become the linchpin of the MCU.  He’ll be the moral compass, the selfless hero, and the intellectual leader years down the road.  However, he should be further along in that journey than what we see here.

Finally, the European setting just didn’t work for me.  Maybe I’m too rigid, but I love my Spider-Man set squarely in New York City.  Peter returns to NY at the end of the movie, and you could just feel the energy boost in the film when that happened.  Something about his red and blue set against the NY skyline–it’s iconic.

On that note, I do admire the movie makers for taking such a risk.  Putting Spider-Man in Europe was a bold move, and not an obvious one.  They are trying to give us things we haven’t seen before, which I appreciate.

Speaking of which, I also appreciate the fact that they had the guts to put Mysterio in this movie.  He’s one of my favorite Spider-Man villains in the comics, and they do him justice in Far From Home.  I’ll be honest, I did not like Jake Gyllenhaal’s depiction of the character in the beginning.  I think Gyllenhaal is a talented, multifaceted actor, so I felt shocked when I found his performance wooden, lifeless, and forced soon after his introduction.  Trust me, that all changes pretty quickly.  Give Mysterio time.  They use a fantastic approach with him and I think Gyllenhaal nails it.  Just like with Vulture, they don’t ignore his comic book roots, but they also add a modern day twist.

Consequently, the special effects are magnificent in Far From Home.  There are some breathtaking scenes of Spider-Man jumping and swinging around, especially at the end of the film.  And, because Mysterio is a master of illusion, they lean heavily into that area and deliver some very cool moments.

You also can’t deny the charisma of Tom Holland and his supporting cast.  Zendaya is a star, Sam Jackson is always a blast, Jon Favreau is lovable even when he’s trying to act gruff, Marisa Tomei is a living legend, Jacob Batalon should be everyone’s best friend, and Tony Revolori somehow plays a jerk we all like.

Is this the best Spider-Man movie that I’ve ever seen?  No, but it’s a fresh approach and tried hard to give us something different.  I love that they are not going after the low-hanging fruit.  It would have been so easy to use Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus again, to have them fight in NYC again, but they fought that urge.  Spider-Man has such a vast array of villains–they should have no trouble finding foes for him if they are willing to go for it like they did with Vulture and Mysterio.

I will say this: after watching the end credits, I cannot wait for the next Spider-Man movie, and I am extremely excited for the next phase of the MCU.  Both end credit scenes truly surprised me.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – A Book Review

I picked up this thin book after enjoying the Netflix series. As I’m prone to do, I wanted to experience the source material.

For those of you craving a more detailed version of the show, prepare to be disappointed. However, if you’re willing to accept The Haunting Of Hill House on its own merits, I think you’ll have a nice read.

Shirley Jackson published The Haunting Of Hill House in 1959. This, of course, predates Stephen King and the brand of horror that we now come to expect. Interestingly, though, I think you’ll find that The Haunting Of Hill House has its own unsettling moments–they are simply just far more subtle, nuanced, and psychological.

To briefly summarize the book, Dr. Montague has gathered a few people together to study Hill House. One of them is Eleanor. She is a young woman isolated from society due to a sickly mother, but very much hoping to rejoin the world now that her mom has passed. Another woman Theodora, is something of a medium, and she bonds with Eleanor immediately. Luke Sanderson is in line to one day take ownership of the home, and he is there to make sure the doctor doesn’t take any liberties with the estate. The four of them immediately hit it off. They experience some disturbing sounds, and doors have a tendency to close without aid, but the real terror of the house emanates from the home itself. To the adventurers, the house simply feels evil. Much of the book establishes the characters and their interpersonal relationships, but then, finally, near the end of the book, the home’s influence rears its true power.

I have to admit that the first three-fourths of the book perplexed me. Not much occurred in regards to a haunting; in fact, Jackson seemed most interested in depicting her four main characters as quick-witted, jovial, and entertaining people with whom to study ghosts.

When the understated horror begins, though, it is all the more potent due to the characterization. We care about these characters, as well as their ultimate fates.

If you enjoyed the Netflix show, this read is worth your time. You’ll obviously recognize some names and scenes, but the show definitely deviated into something far more intricate. Even with that being said, I found this book’s brand of horror refreshing. It didn’t try too hard to scare me, which served the story very well. There’s an old saying that less is more–The Haunting of Hill House proved this to certainly be the case.

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This Season Of The Handmaid’s Tale Will Be My Last

We’re not Hulu subscribers, so when everyone heaped praise upon The Handmaid’s Tale, we had to wait until it came out on disc to experience it for ourselves.

We were able to finally watch it a few months ago, and we can attest that it deserved all of the acclimation it received.  Sure, it was intense, disturbing, and fraught with modern day political implications, but the sheer skill in terms of writing, acting, and production could not be denied.

In fact, the series impressed me so much that I immediately found the book and read it as well.  To my surprise, the first season of the show followed the book very closely.  The only aspect of the book the series did not cover pertained to the final ten or fifteen pages.

I presumed the second season would tackle those last pages of the novel.

I could not have been more wrong … so far.

The second season of The Handmaid’s Tale blazes its own trail by adding original material to the classic Margaret Atwood novel.  It’s serving as something of a sequel to the book as it continues Offred’s plight, the Waterford’s tyranny, and the general awfulness of a place like Gilead.

However, they’ve managed to up the stakes this season.  It’s become even more tense, more unsettling, and more … well, horrific.

Honestly, my wife and I watched episode eleven (of thirteen) last night, and we both decided that this season will be our last.  Yes, we’ll finish it out, but we agreed that neither of us wants to infiltrate Gilead’s boundaries anymore.

Minor spoilers here–with Offred’s complicated pregnancy and a heart-wrenching story line revolving around her first daughter, as well as an extremely frightening scene depicting rape … it’s too much.  This dystopian society of Gilead has become too real.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to retreat from a show.  Back in 2014, The Walking Dead began killing children every week and threatening to kill an infant, so I had to quit it, too.  Our real world is scary enough.  We see enough tragedy on a daily basis in our reality.  I can’t deal with this level of calamity on a show, too.

In the end, when I watch a show, see a movie, or read a book, I’m engaging in a certain amount of escapism.  I cannot, for a sustained amount of time, feel extremely depressed after watching a show.  Every once in a while is manageable, but every episode of an entire season?  Maybe it’s not as potent if watching it on a weekly basis, but we’re watching an episode a night, and it’s absolutely altering my overall mood.

The Handmaid’s Tale crossed a line in my mind.  I understand children are the driving force of the entire premise, but by bringing them front and center, and by teasing their exploitation and abuse on a regular basis, in addition to the constant barrage of violence against powerless women … Again, it’s too much.

This second season is too blunt, too graphic, and too ruthless.  I found the first season, though very troubling, a little more nuanced, poignant, and purposeful.

I think the show and the book both serve as a significant warning against people manipulating religious and political beliefs for their own personal glorification, and I believe The Handmaid’s Tale inspires us to hold firm onto our own morals even in the face of rampant corruption, but I simply can’t partake in such abasement as a means of escapism any longer.

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

Authority by Jeff Vandermeer – A Book Review

You may remember that I read the first book of the Southern Reach Trilogy, called Annihilation, in anticipation of the movie.  You may also remember that I wasn’t crazy about it.  However, I eventually saw the movie and loved it.

So even though I didn’t like the first book, the general premise and the movie itself tempted me to give the second literary installment a try.

I recently finished Authority, the sequel to Annihilation, and it left me rather apathetic.  The author, Jeff Vandermeer, elected to change course from the first book and focus instead on the Southern Reach facility, the entity responsible for sending the team into Area X from the first book.  Our main character is no longer the biologist who narrated Annihilation.  Instead, Vandermeer is using a third-person narrator with the story squarely settled on “Control,” the new head of Southern Reach.  Control (John Rodriquez) moves throughout the book utterly confused.  Like the reader, he has no idea what is going on in Area X, nor does he understand the full scope and history of Southern Reach.

In the beginning of the book, I accepted Control’s chaotic immersion into Southern Reach.  I assumed that he would soon solve some of the enigmatic entity’s mysteries.  Instead, Vandermeer chose to pile even more mystery upon both Control and the reader.  Though some revelations arrive, both Control and the audience are left feeling even less informed than they did before!

I basically plodded through most of this book.  The ending intensified, but for the most part, I never fully invested in neither the story nor Control.

However, I’ve come this far, so guess what I’m reading now?  Yes, Acceptance, the third part of the Southern Reach Trilogy.  Like Control, I seemingly have to know Area X and Southern Reach’s secrets, no matter what level of discomfort occurs during the process of discovery.

I have a feeling, though, that the third book will ultimately disclose nothing.  That appears to be the pattern.  I’ll let you know.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  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.

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

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – A Movie Review

When I first saw the trailer for this movie and noticed it was PG, I thought, “Huh.  That might be one for the kids and me.”  We weren’t in a rush to see it, mind you, but as the reviews kept praising it, and as Rotten Tomatoes continued to maintain a 97% “fresh” rate, I got more and more interested.

I can’t necessarily claim to be a huge Spider-Man fan, nor can my two daughters (ages 10 and 6).  I loved his comics as a kid, but generally lost interest in Marvel as an adult.  Don’t hold this against us, but we are a DC family through and through.

With all of that being said, if you like Spider-Man even a little, I urge you to see this movie.  It has earned every single positive review it has received.  I loved it.

There are so, so many reasons to enjoy it.  First of all, the voice acting is superb.  Check out this cast list and you’ll understand the high quality.  The animation also won me over.  You’ll have to see it to really understand what I’m saying, but it’s refined yet rough, classic yet edgy, bright yet dark.  Best of all?  It’s not afraid to do, well, anything.  Colors pop, word panels appear, dot matrix appears and disappears–it’s a visual feast.

It also wasn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve.  As cliche as it sounds, this movie will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you cheer, it will make you think–it engages virtually every emotion available.  And while I think it was perfectly appropriate for my six-year-old, my ten-year-old picked up on the messages of self-confidence, self-sacrifice, supporting others, and what it really takes to be a hero.  There existed in this movie an inspirational message that managed to pierce this old forty-two-year-old heart of mine.

However, the absolute best trait of the film can be summed up in one word: fun.  My gosh, this was a fun movie!  The plot is so ridiculously “comic book” that you can’t deny its charm.  Kingpin builds a machine that breaches other dimensions, which then pulls many “Spider-People” from various realities into that of Miles Morales, a teenager recently infused with the powers of a spider-man.  The movie treats its story seriously, but it doesn’t ever take itself too seriously.  I mean, Spider-Ham is in this thing!  And while I would ultimately call this a comedy, it has some heart-wrenching moments made all the more so by fantastic voice acting.  Oh, and the action.  The action is mesmerizing.  They do their best with the live-action movies, but only animation can truly capture the essence of Spider-Man.  Just look at the poster below and you’ll get a sense of the movement displayed within the film.

Even if you’re only moderately interested in Spider-Man, I highly recommend Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  It’s family friendly, beautiful to behold, funny, action-packed, and delivers several moral messages pertaining to heroism, family, friends, and self-confidence.

I hope you’ll check it out. Image result for spider man into the spider verse movie poster

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