VIDEO GAME: Phantom Hourglass (2007)

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom HourglassYear: 2007Rating: ETime Played: 19.78 hours Just like Ocarina of Time influenced the style and lore of the Oracle games, the Zelda series’ first foray into the DS system took its cues from The Wind Waker—perhaps even too much. Additionally, as there were plenty of new features in the Nintendo DS that were not present in previous Nintendo systems, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass decided to take advantage of almost all of them. Again, perhaps to its detriment. Still, for the limited graphics and repetitive sections of the story, Phantom Hourglass is a fairly good Zelda game. Even if it took a little bit to get used to the stylus-based combat system, I did eventually find it to be a neat alternative to the standard button configuration for a Zelda title, even if it didn’t behave as I wanted all the time. There were also limitations to how accurate the stylus inputs were when I needed...
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MOVIE: The Prom (2020)

The Prom Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours I enjoy a good musical like the rare heterosexual man I am (played in the movie by Keegan-Michael Key), and The Prom (2020) scratched that itch for me this year. I enjoyed its self-aware first act, even if the overall plot seemed like it was about 10 years too late to be relevant. And while many of the story beats were either predictable or cliche, there were a few moments of rare depth that felt genuine, even if they broke the facade of the whimsical characters that had filled the first two acts. There's something about narcissistic Broadway types having to interact with the midwest that was entertaining to me. Much of this film's humor revolves around how out-of-step with the rest of the country these east coast elites are—even if it's far from realistic (I hope). Of note, a few of the songs are quite exceptional, including "It's Not About Me" and...
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BOOK: The Last Wish (1993)

The Last Wish Year: 1993 Author: Andrzej Sapkowski Length: 617 minutes / 10.28 hours Those of us who have seen Netflix’s adaptation of The Witcher will find this collection of short stories quite familiar. The first book in the series, The Last Wish introduces the titular Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, as he goes about his job ridding the world of dangerous supernatural creatures. It’s no wonder the TV series felt a little disjointed, as it had a series of short stories that were loosely connected via Geralt to work with. Still, these stories are solid and help flesh out the world where humans and creatures live together, rarely in harmony. Told in a somewhat chronological manner, these bite-size stories often carry over and blend into each other in a way that feels natural. Actions in one story may influence the characters in another, so there is something deeper here than just a collection of short stories. While this technique is rarely used, I can appreciate how each story...
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MOVIE: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

The Trial of the Chicago 7 Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours For decades, Aaron Sorkin has written some of the best films ever created. Classics like A Few Good Men (1992) still stand up, and modern masterpieces like The Social Network (2010) and Moneyball (2011) are starting to become timeless as well. And while he's mostly been the writer of these films, The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) is his sophomore effort as a director. Somehow, the ability to accurately translate his words into the actors' performances created—in my opinion—the best film of 2020. It's clear Sorkin cut his teeth long ago with courtroom dramas, but this movie is by far the most intricately-crafted exposé of the corruption of the American justice system I've ever seen. The fact that the parallels to 50-years later are shockingly similar actually makes me sick, but that's perhaps why this film works so well right now. It doesn't give me hope that these...
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VIDEO GAME: The Minish Cap (2005)

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish CapYear: 2005Rating: ETime Played: ~16 hours The almost forgotten title in the Zelda franchise, Minish Cap has a subtle nod to its portable system in the way that Link can shrink down to engage with the world on a smaller scale. It’s a shame we didn’t see more unique titles in the Zelda series for the Game Boy Advance, as Minish Cap was a charming adventure that added to the developing lore of the franchise. While the visuals and controls were quite good considering the Game Boy Advance’s limitations, the length of this game left me wanting more by the time I completed it. As a unique entry in the portable Zelda games, Minish Cap has a surprising amount of depth regarding the characters, plot, and overall game mechanics. Each step in restoring the Minish sword revealed a little more about the lore, which caused me to keep playing to find out what would happen next....
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MOVIE: Mank (2020)

Mank Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours When I first saw the trailers for Mank (2020), the premise intrigued me. As a "behind the scenes" look at the screenwriter for Citizen Kane (1941), I was interested to see his process in penning one of the most famous screenplays of all time. On top of that, I've generally enjoyed David Fincher's work and wanted to see this movie based on this fact alone. However, despite all it had going for it, I was ultimately disappointed in what Mank had to offer. Perhaps the most jarring part of this movie was how it tried to emulate the style of the films from the 1940s while also using more modern cinematography techniques to tell its story. At times, this juxtaposition made me wonder if this was filmed in the '40s or if it was merely a black-and-white modern film. Additionally, there's a particular visual style for Fincher's films distinctly lacking here—which may have been...
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BOOK: Working with Difficult People (1990)

Working with Difficult People Year: 1990 Author: Amy Cooper Hakim and Muriel Solomon Length: 475 minutes / 7.92 hours Occasionally, I come across a book that doesn’t really work as an audiobook. Working with Difficult People is certainly a must-have for any working-class bookshelf. Still, it was difficult to follow the thread of different difficult personalities when it was being read aloud. Sure, there were useful descriptions of the types of people you’ll encounter in the workforce, but there were at least a few of them where I wanted to slow down and read through those archetypes again to better understand the people who irk me in life. Of course, going in, I was hoping I could read this book and understand how to handle people who I find difficult to work with. Instead, I kept listening to these people's descriptions and finding individuals who nearly matched them in my life. This was my main qualm with the book: people are more complex than a single...
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MOVIE: Godzilla – King of the Monsters (2019)

Godzilla: King of the Monsters Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours Despite the cult following of the original Godzilla films, the special effects were definitely limited at the time. While the American version of Godzilla (1999) had too many flaws to be noteworthy, the recent reboot of Godzilla (2014) into its own cinematic universe with King Kong is something I look forward to, if for no other reason than huge monsters dueling it out on the big screen. I’d be over the moon if it ever combined with the Pacific Rim (2013) franchise, but that’s probably asking for too much. As it stands, though, Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) is a great sequel that amps up the action. When I go to see a Godzilla movie, one thing I want to see is large monsters. King of the Monsters has these in spades. Even if you have a passing knowledge of Godzilla monsters, you’ll likely recognize names like Rodan, Ghidorah, and Mothra. While the plot is a little lacking in why these monsters are fighting, the result...
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VIDEO GAME: Oracle of Ages (2001)

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages Year: 2001 Rating: E Time Played: ~30 hours As the second half of the “Oracle” games in the Zelda franchise, Oracle of Ages takes more of its cues from the wildly popular Ocarina of Time than its sister game, Oracle of Seasons, did. While Oracle of Seasons had a fairly unique mechanic (albeit not fully realized), Oracle of Ages had the benefit of its Nintendo 64 predecessor to help craft some of the puzzle-solving that needed to happen throughout its gameplay. And even if I played through using a linked account, giving me quite a few advantages—Oracle of Ages still suffers from some of the Game Boy Zelda titles' limitations. Even if the story in Oracle of Ages isn’t that strong compared to the Nintendo 64 games, it’s at least more fleshed out in terms of characters and their motivations when compared to Oracle of Seasons. The end boss wasn’t nearly as difficult in this game, but at...
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MOVIE: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Hunt for the Wilderpeople Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours After enjoying films like Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Jojo Rabbit (2019), I decided to watch some of director Taika Waititi’s previous films. First up is Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), a humorous outdoor adventure that doesn’t hide many of its influences, which ends up being a good thing. The plot and style are somewhat reminiscent of Moonrise Kingdom (2012) but takes advantage of New Zealand's wilderness to tell its own story. There is plenty of character development, and the two leads—played by Sam Neill and Julian Dennison—work well together to create a meaningful connection. Anyone who has seen other New Zealand comedies are likely to enjoy the specific cultural brand of humor here that feels like an evolved version of the classic British humor of the 1960s. Hunt for the Wilderpeople uses its minor characters to deliver its humor, with Rhys Darby carrying an exceptionally funny sequence. It’s this irreverent humor that hints at what Waititi’s future...
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BOOK: Good Omens (1990)

Good Omens Year: 1990 Author: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman Length: 753 minutes / 12.55 hours Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I only thought Good Omens was just OK. You’d think that the combination of two of the best British writers would create an incredible story, but I felt it was mostly disjointed, un-climatic, and full of that British humor that tends to be more random than based in actual jokes. Granted, most books by Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman that I’ve read have been hit or miss, depending on how peculiarly random the subject might be. Sure, there are elements of a great story here; it just felt distracted from its main purpose half of the time. The core of Good Omens is split into two parts: following the actual Antichrist who is unaware of his theological significance/role in the end of the world and the journey of an angel and a demon who happened to lose said Antichrist. This idea's strength is enough...
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MOVIE: Hello, Dolly! (1969)

Hello, Dolly! Year: 1969 Rating: G Length: 146 minutes / 2.43 hours In WALL-E (2008), the one surviving movie in this post-apocalyptic future was a VHS version of Hello, Dolly! (1969). Does this mean Hello, Dolly! is any good? Hardly. It’s merely the only movie to survive. If anything, Hello, Dolly! is your standard 1960s musical. There are many superior musicals from this decade, and it’s clear that this one is on the tailing end of the fad. Sure, it has its moments, but it’s so cookie-cutter in its plot that the only thing special about it is Barbra Streisand’s performance. It’s no surprise that the few musical numbers that made it into WALL-E were some of the better ones in this movie. “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” is endlessly catchy, even if “Love is Only Love” is your standard love song. Of course, the title song, “Hello, Dolly!” works and is a bit of a bookend to the musical's start with “Call on Dolly.” As I mentioned before, Streisand’s performance in...
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VIDEO GAME: Oracle of Seasons (2001)

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons Year: 2001 Rating: E Time Played: ~30 hours When video games started splitting off into “two-part” versions in the mid-90s, my brother and I would always split who got which game. As a result, I realized that I had never played The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons, as I had the Oracle of Ages version. After finishing Link’s Awakening DX, I decided to remedy this situation. While it was evident that this game used a lot of the same assets from Link’s Awakening, there was also ample evidence that the Zelda games on the Nintendo 64 influenced these handheld games. The base mechanic of Oracle of Seasons uses the four different seasons to solve a variety of puzzles in the over-world to progress to each of the eight dungeons. While this sticks to the core Zelda formula, this game's unfortunate aspect is how lackluster the story is. This was weird because of how the Nintendo 64 titles...
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MOVIE: Fantastic Four (2015)

Fantastic Four Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours For a movie with "fantastic" in its title, it's anything but. It's difficult to make a movie that's worse than the original that was released a decade earlier, but here we are. I understand the need to reboot a franchise so the owners of the rights can continue to hold onto those rights, but this is just a sad excuse for a movie. I only hope—now that Disney owns this franchise—that the next reboot of the Fantastic Four doesn't spend any time on its origin story (which we've seen twice now). While the casting for the main characters was technically proficient, if not a little young, I was stunned to see such wooden and emotionless acting from absolutely every actor on the screen. If I didn't know any better, they replaced these actors with CGI robots who state their lines instead of, you know, acting. Additionally, there didn't seem to be any stakes...
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BOOK: Exhalation (2019)

Exhalation Year: 2019 Author: Ted Chiang Length: 682 minutes / 11.37 hours My librarian uncle introduced me to Ted Chiang recently, and I was so intrigued by such an award-winning author who wrote exclusively in short stories that I had to check out one of his books. Exhalation is a collection of these stories, and I can see why Chiang is lauded as a writer. It seems that modern science fiction is too focused on new technologies and how they can lead to utopias or dystopias. In Chiang’s stories, I saw some stark realism that took well-tread topics of the genre and examined them through a lens that was extremely realistic to how society would function with such advancements. It was refreshing—a sigh of fresh air, or exhalation, if you will—to read stories about parallel universes, artificial intelligence, and time travel that didn’t stick to the same tropes that have made science fiction almost boring in comparison. In the end, Chiang is so concise with his...
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MOVIE: Cars 3 (2017)

CarsYear: 2017Rating: GLength: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I'm usually a huge fan of Pixar films. However, I'm not wild about the Cars franchise. Something about these anthropomorphized vehicles is a little too cartoonish for me. Granted, the first movie in the series was the only film to make me care about the outcome of a NASCAR-type race. While the visuals are definitely improved in the 11 years since the original film came out, this end cap of the trilogy feels like a rehash of what worked before. Distancing itself from the trilogy's black sheep, Cars 2 (2011), this third part of the trilogy felt all too similar to the plot of Cars (2006). Sure, some of the roles were swapped around to show the "full circle" narrative from student to mentor. Still, ultimately it was about a car finding its racing mojo and utilizing well-known driving techniques to defeat its opponents. Ultimately, though, I don't care for the main character. Lightning...
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VIDEO GAME: Link’s Awakening (2019)

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Year: 2019 Rating: E Time Played: ~10 hours I'm not a huge fan of HD remakes of older games. After all, it's basically putting a new skin on the same game and asking modern prices for the privilege to play it. When I eventually picked up the Switch version of this classic Game Boy game, I was only partly justified in my skepticism. Sure, I didn't pay full price for these—albeit absolutely gorgeous—updated visuals, so I feel I still got my money's worth out of the game (which I still don't consider to be worth $60). Having only recently completed the DX version of this game for the first time, I found navigating through Link's Awakening (2019) was a lot easier the second time around. This was partly due to my memory of the game and my ability to easily complete some of the game's plot points that weren't as intuitive in my first playthrough. That being said, there...
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MOVIE: Meru (2015)

Meru Year: 2015 Rating: R Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours Having done my fair share of hiking in the Colorado mountains, I know how deadly these rocky monuments can be. Meru (2015) highlights this in spades as it documents the conquering of one of the last untouched routes in professional mountain climbing. It's no wonder such a daunting spire of rock remained un-summited from this approach, and this film highlights all the challenges that combine to make Meru as difficult as it is. Of course, because it's a mountain climbing documentary, it follows most of the tropes and cliches common in the genre. One of my biggest qualms with the mountain climbing genre of documentaries is how they all tend to be about the same progression of events. There's always some storm that prevents the team from summiting. Somebody always gets injured. Success is always just out of reach. It also doesn't help that there's no way for the uneducated viewer to tell this...
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BOOK: Cinder (2012)

Cinder Year: 2012 Author: Marissa Meyer Length: 602 minutes / 10.03 hours For years, I had heard of The Lunar Chronicles and thought people were referring to the two Sega Saturn video games, Lunar: Silver Star Story and Lunar 2: Eternal Blue. However, seeing as most people haven’t heard of these video games, I eventually figured out that they referred to the Young Adult series of books. While 2012 was definitely around the height of the re-imagined fairy tale craze, I do have to admit that this science-fiction take on these classic stories is a fresh new way of adapting the plots that we all grew up with through Disney movies. The first book in the series, Cinder, takes Cinderella's down-and-out heroine and updates her to a cyborg unaware of her royal origins. What made this story engaging was figuring out how the standard trappings of the Cinderella story would be adapted to this futuristic setting. Granted, this made some of the plot points more than obvious well before they happened, but...
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MOVIE: Artemis Fowl (2020)

Artemis Fowl Year: 2020 Rating: PG Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours When I first saw the trailers for Artemis Fowl (2020), I was intrigued enough to pick up the book and read it. With its continual delays, I was able to also read through the first five books in the series. This may have helped me understand what Disney was trying to do with this, but it doesn't excuse their butchering of the source material. I can only imagine how confused people who hadn't read a single word of the books would be, and I was right on the verge with them. What gets me is that, as a fairly short book, Disney could have made a perfect adaptation in a scant two hours. Instead, they decided to cram so much "sequel potential" into 95 minutes to lose focus on any of the stories they were trying to adapt simultaneously. I also understand how the movie version is inclusive of all races and genders,...
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VIDEO GAME: Link’s Awakening DX (1998)

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX Year: 1998 Rating: E Time Played: ~16 hours With the recently-released Switch remake of this game, I realized I never actually managed to play through the original Link’s Awakening. Perhaps one of the first Zelda games my family-owned, I decided to pull out my copy of Link’s Awakening DX and play through it (and thus, save me the $60 on a “new” game). While I played for a bit on the Super Game Boy to get that “big screen” feel, the colors I experienced on the Game Boy Advanced made playing in a handheld mode that much more enjoyable, if not more intimate. After running through the first few dungeons, it became evident to me that I never made it very far in this game when I was 20 years younger. I was content just exploring what I could at the time. However, this also highlights how there were some moments where the next step in completing the...
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MOVIE: Soul (2020)

Soul Year: 2020 Rating: PG Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours I'll give Pixar credit: they know how to make trailers that give away almost nothing about what the plot is. Sure, I could roughly gauge what Soul (2020) was about, but I could never have guessed it would be this deep. Of course, when dealing with concepts as heady as the afterlife, Pixar had to really balance the line between adhering to any particular religious belief. Be prepared to tear up at least a few times because Soul can hit hard when it comes to life itself. As is the case with any Pixar film, I usually watch for CGI modeling/technology advancements. In Soul, they took the time to perfect the look of some of the most difficult hair to animate, and it shows. This isn't to say that we're getting closer to jumping the uncanny valley (of which they can probably do by now) because this would also ignore the mind-bending "architects" who...
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BOOK: Autonomous (2017)

Autonomous Year: 2017 Author: Annalee Newitz Length: 627 minutes / 10.45 hours Science fiction often seeks to answer the moral and ontological questions that we’ll soon face in future technological landscapes. When I picked up Autonomous, I was expecting an examination of artificial intelligence and the ability for robots and machines to eventually become sentient. Unfortunately, that was only about half of the book that I ended up reading. The fact that there were two dueling scientific topics in this book made its message muddled, let alone misleading. It really should have been branded/titled as a book about pharmaceuticals and the patent system that holds the healthcare system hostage. While I’m sure the pharmaceutical elements of this story are accurate (at least in a fictional context), this wasn’t the reason I wanted to read Autonomous. Granted, telling two parts of the story—from the POV of the pirate chemist and from the POV of the law enforcement sent to catch her—was a good way to reveal the plot...
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MOVIE: I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

I'm Thinking of Ending Things Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours Perhaps I should have learned my lesson from when I watched Synecdoche, New York (2008). I have appreciated plenty of Charlie Kaufman's films, but only when he's the writer. Not the director. Or maybe this is a more recent change, as some of my favorite Kaufman films were released before 2005. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Being John Malkovich (1999) are some of my favorite films, with Adaptation. (2002) being at least something that I understood (despite its extremely meta nature). I'll admit that I thought I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020) was initially about suicide by its title. As I started to watch, I thought I would be getting a thoughtful look at the midwest's mundane nature (a la Nebraska (2013)). Then a bandage switched sides on a character's forehead. From that point, everything became much more bizarre—to the point where I stopped even trying to...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon Shuffle (2015)

Pokémon Shuffle Year: 2015 Rating: E Time Played: ~824 hours Considering how much time I’ve sunk into this game, I should probably give it a review. While on its surface, Pokémon Shuffle is merely a branded version of a “match three” puzzle game, the mechanics it adds to this genre gives the game an amount of strategy that is clearly addicting. As a free-to-play gamer, I haven’t put a single dollar into this game (on either the 3DS or mobile versions). Consequently, it takes a very long time to get anything done in this game, at least when it comes to maxing out the stats on the best Pokémon to use. While the game has finally entered a regular cycle of events and specially available Pokémon, there was a time when I was excited to open up the game on Tuesdays to learn what new Pokémon I could catch/power-up each week. At the very least, with the normalization of events, I know I won’t have...
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MOVIE: Barry Lyndon (1975)

Barry Lyndon Year: 1975 Rating: PG Length: 185 minutes / 3.08 hours As someone who appreciates classic films, perhaps I had my hopes set a little too high for Barry Lyndon (1975). Going in, I already knew the technical challenges director Stanley Kubrick had to overcome to film indoors and by candlelight with no extra lighting. Of course, if that was the main thing I knew about this film before I actually sat down and watched it, that should have told me something about how boring the plot would be. Then again, even a master of cinema like Kubrick can only do so much with mediocre material. I will give some credit where it's due, though. Most of this movie did contribute to the tension of the climax. If certain events hadn't transpired in the way they did, Barry's (Ryan O'Neal) life would have been much different. Then again, the whole "rags to riches" storyline seemed overdone, even for the mid-1970s. And sure, duels can...
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BOOK: White Fragility (2018)

White Fragility Year: 2018 Author: Robin DiAngelo Length: 381 minutes / 6.35 hours With race relations as challenging as they currently are in the United States, a book like White Fragility is required reading for both opponents and allies of racial unity. Racism is a huge problem, and it’s difficult to tackle something this large without first understanding the foundation on which it was built. It can be easy to simply address the problem's symptoms instead of digging out the root and identifying where many secondary and tertiary issues originate. As a straight white male, I was first hesitant to read such a book, but now I think it should be required for all of us straight white males. The only qualm I have with this book is that it almost exclusively addresses the racism toward the black community. While I understand this is the most volatile and pressing facet of racism right now, I would have appreciated a chapter about applying the tools presented in...
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MOVIE: Song of the Sea (2014)

Song of the Sea Year: 2014 Rating: PG Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours In perusing Netflix a while ago, I came across Song of the Sea (2014), a nominee for the Best Animated Feature Oscar that had completely gone under my radar. At first glance, this film seemed to be by the same people who had done The Secret of Kells (2009). I appreciated the 2D style of the animation from Kells and looked forward to additional stories that could be told in that style. I was not disappointed in the visuals, but I was confused, perhaps more than I should have been with the plot. Don't get me wrong: the plot is pretty simple. I certainly was able to understand the story of a brother and his mystical mother and sister. Some of the plot points seemed pretty cliche, all things considered. What I had trouble with was some of the Irish folklore that ran throughout this movie. Perhaps it was all part...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon Picross (2015)

Pokémon Picross Year: 2015 Rating: E Time Played: ~78 hours I’ve never been much of a fan of picross-type games. Mostly, the user interface for them required the use of a D-pad, which made solving each puzzle a slow endeavor. Additionally, most of the pictures created via these picross puzzles were not that interesting. This was why I was surprised to find that I enjoyed Pokémon Picross so much. Sure, it might be a picross game at its core, but the addition of the Pokémon brand made it much more entertaining to play than any other picross game I’ve come across. Additionally, the 3DS touch screen and stylus made completing puzzles that much easier than using a D-pad. While the Pokémon content and stylus controls were two reasons I ended up completing this game, I admit that it has one annoying flaw: paywalls. Granted, Pokémon Picross is a free-to-play game, but there are a few points early on where you need a certain amount of...
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MOVIE: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours Over the years, I've found two types of people: those offended by the original Borat (2006) film and those who find it funny. I'm probably in the latter camp, mostly because I can appreciate how politically incorrect comedy can be "safely" created by introducing a cultural/language barrier. 14 years later, and I'm certain that the people who didn't find the original Borat funny won't find the humor in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020). As an American, it's amusing to see our foibles pulled out as the butt of the joke in this film, especially after we've made fools of ourselves through the last decade of partisan politics and recent refusal of science and common sense. And while Borat Subsequent Moviefilm still relies on physical and sexual humor that is awkward to watch, there are moments of pure genius...
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BOOK: Infernal Devices (2005)

Infernal DevicesYear: 2005Author: Philip ReeveLength: 607 minutes / 10.12 hours Wow. OK. Maybe this series isn’t for children as much as I thought it was. Sure, a post-apocalyptic world has many subjects that can be considered dark—death being the main one—but Infernal Devices certainly went all in here and pushed the ugliness of humanity to the forefront of the plot. Of course, one wonders if the POV change to focus on the progeny of the two characters who comprised the first two books is part of why the tone of this book changed so drastically. Sure, there was violence in the previous two books; it just didn’t seem so gratuitous then. Aside from all the killing, which I suppose was meant to signify Hester’s character development, there wasn’t too much new in terms of world-building in this book. I appreciated all the developments in Mortal Engines and Predator’s Gold, but the addition of the African and Middle Eastern cities didn’t expound the...
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MOVIE: Guns Akimbo (2019)

Guns Akimbo Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours Perhaps you've seen the meme? Daniel Radcliffe is out in public in his boxers and a robe and gesticulating wildly with two pistols in his hands. That meme comes from this movie. Guns Akimbo (2019) is the kind of movie you think it is: ridiculous and gratuitous. Going in, I knew I couldn't take this film seriously, and it certainly didn't disappoint. I was expecting something along the lines of Shoot 'em Up (2006) and got what I wanted out of it. Sure, the premise is flimsy, and the characters are one-dimensional, but I came to have fun, and I certainly laughed quite a few times during this movie's short runtime. I think if this film took itself more seriously, it wouldn't have been the fun popcorn flick it turned out to be. That being said, I can appreciate how it is self-aware enough to recognize some of the challenges of having two...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon – Platinum Version (2009)

Pokémon Platinum Version Year: 2009 Rating: E Time Played: 88.65 hours Even though I was a fan of the Pokémon series growing up, when the main-line games transitioned over to the Nintendo DS, I couldn’t justify buying the new system at the time. I felt the dual-screen/touch screen format was a bit of a gimmick (which I still do, to an extent). However, fast forward a good decade or so when I finally gave in and bought a New Nintendo 3DS. This now meant I could play a sizable back catalog of games, including the Pokémon games I had missed since the change over to the DS. Fortunately, because I had waited so long, I could jump right into the 4th Generation games with the more complete Pokémon Platinum Version. Having now played at least one game from each Generation all the way through (I’m still working on Gen. 8, though), I think Pokémon Platinum provides the best experience of any Generation. Not only was...
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MOVIE: Klaus (2019)

KlausYear: 2019Rating: PGLength: 96 minutes / 1.60 hours It’s weird to me how many Christmas movies there are out there, and how few of them are any good. Fortunately, we now have a little gem with Klaus (2019). Animated in a beautiful 2D-esque style that uses 3D CGI as its base, Klaus works backward from what we understand as the current lore surrounding Santa Claus and develops a heartwarming story to explain all the little impossibilities that tie to the Yule tradition. And while it hits mostly predictable story beats, certain moments had me tearing up. What makes Klaus different from the rest of the Christmas-themed animated fare is that there seems to have been plenty of care devoted to the artistry of the visuals. It seems like most modern animated Christmas movies skimp on quality just to get something out to cash in on the holiday. The characters and character designs are unique and fitting to the story this movie is...
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BOOK: Predator’s Gold (2003)

Predator’s GoldYear: 2003Author: Philip ReeveLength: 580 minutes / 9.67 hours Taking place a few years after the events of Mortal Engines, I was aided somewhat in my read-through of Predator’s Gold by the fact that I didn’t have a movie to compare against. While the first book in this series helped set the stage, I felt the real story didn’t start until book two. After all, this series really is about the relationship between Hester and Tom. In Mortal Engines, they had only just met; in Predator’s Gold, we see how far they’ll go for each other, even if most of the story beats are somewhat predictable. I appreciated how thoroughly real this ridiculous concept of monstrous towns roaming the world and devouring each other seems in this book. This post-apocalyptic setting felt thought-out by adding the main setting of Anchorage and the introduction of a charlatan author who cons everyone around him for his sole benefit. So often, an additional concept...
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MOVIE: Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)

Bill & Ted Face the Music Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 91 minutes / 1.52 hours One thing I hate about trilogies is that sometimes movies don't need to be trilogies. If everything has been covered in the previous two movies (or even the first movie), the only reason for any additional films in the franchise seems to be for the sole purpose of making money. What's worse is franchises that release their third movie long enough after the first two that it's more of a nostalgia trip/reboot than anything that adds significantly to the lore. What's perhaps most disappointing about Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020) is how I had high hopes for it. Granted, my nostalgia for Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bogus Journey (1991) mean that I hoped there would be a significant shift in Face the Music that would explore something new that might have developed in the last 30 years. Instead, Face the Music treads all the same territory from...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon – White Version (2011)

Pokémon White Version Year: 2011 Rating: E Time Played: 61.88 hours As I worked through the back catalog of Pokémon games I had missed between Generation 3 and 7, I had always heard that the Generation 5 games were the most difficult. Having completed Pokémon White Version, I can say that there is a definite challenge spike when compared with previous entries in the series. This doesn’t mean it’s an impossible game, just that it took a little more work and a little more grinding to be able to defeat the final bosses. Since grinding isn’t necessarily that enjoyable, this made the gameplay suffer slightly as a result. I was quite surprised to start up this game and find that all the Pokémon I was used to were nowhere to be found. Granted, they did show up after I beat the game, but by then, it was clear that this Generation of games was a reboot of the series formula. With a whole bunch of...
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MOVIE: Mewtwo Strikes Back—Evolution (2019)

Mewtwo Strikes Back: EvolutionYear: 2019Rating: PGLength: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours Growing up with the Pokémon franchise during the peak of its fervor, I definitely remember going to see the first movie when it came out in theaters. Consequently, there is an amount of nostalgia that I associate with this first forray of the franchise onto the big screen. When I saw that Netflix had recreated the 2D anime of my childhood with their style of CGI animation, I was intrigued enough to check it out. Much like in the recent CGI version of The Lion King (2019), just because a movie was faithfully recreated using newer animation technology does not make it a better movie. Additionally, I believe the fact that I had aged since I first watched this movie made it so I could see it through a more objective lens. What I found was that the story was incredibly light, and the only thing that made it worth watching...
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MOVIE: The Lion King (2019)

The Lion KingYear: 2019Rating: PGLength: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Many years ago, I learned that The Lion King (1994) was basically the plot of Hamlet reenacted with animals. And while many people consider the original 2D animated version of this story to be one of the greatest Disney movies ever created, I never really cared that much for it. Fast forward to 2019, and the new "live-action" version of The Lion King is released. Again, I wasn't really wowed by anything in it because I was ambivalent to the whole story anyway. I did find it odd that they marketed it as "live-action" when it was completely CGI. It was an animated remake of an animated movie. Perhaps my biggest issue with this new version of The Lion King was that they didn't really change anything. It felt like the 1998 version of Psycho (1960) that recreated the whole movie shot-for-shot in color. While it was technically as close to the...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon X (2013)

Pokémon X Year: 2013 Rating: E Time Played: 36.37 hours When I finally bought a 3DS, one of the games I had missed (that I quickly rectified) was Pokémon X. I appreciated all the legendary Pokémon given out as part of the 20th anniversary of the Generation 1 games. Still, I didn’t get around to playing through this game until after Pokémon Sun came out. For the first game in the series to be fully 3D, I certainly enjoyed the look and polish of it, even if the stereoscopic abilities of the 3DS weren’t used as much as they should have been. After all, with everything rendered with 3D visuals, I want the full game to use the ability of the hardware to display in 3D. After playing the much more difficult Generation 5 games, I did enjoy how much easier they made Pokémon X. Granted, they kind of overdid it with the sharp drop in difficulty. Still, I also think they were trying to...
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MOVIE: Enola Holmes (2020)

Enola Holmes Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours When a character like Sherlock Holmes is already written, you do the next best thing: write fanfiction. Enola Holmes (2020) feels like an author-insert fanfiction of the famous detective stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While this would be a mark against any other story, it works here and creates an amusing plot that was fun to watch. Sure, the mystery wasn't at the level Sherlock Holmes would normally solve, but Enola isn't necessarily Sherlock. Of course, I don't know if this story would have worked as well if there wasn't the tie-in to Sherlock Holmes. As for the actors, no doubt on retainer from their other Netflix projects, Henry Cavill (The Witcher) is a passable Sherlock but wasn't given quite enough screen time to really show his talents. The star of the show is definitely Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things), who has certainly shown that she's not only good at playing...
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BOOK: Blood of Elves (1994)

Blood of Elves Year: 1994 Author: Andrzej Sapkowski Length: 655 minutes / 10.92 hours I’ll admit that I had a bit of a head start understanding the Witcher universe when I picked up this book. I’ve played a few hours of The Witcher 3 on my Switch, and I watched the first season of the show on Netflix. Would the lack of this prior knowledge have hurt my chances of understanding this high fantasy? Not likely. Arranged as a series of vignettes, Blood of Elves reveals its characters and setting based on a collection of almost everyday scenarios. While this approach made understanding the overarching goal of the series difficult to discern, it did make the characters quite a bit more realistic and relatable. When it comes down to it, this book is about its characters. Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer all stood out to me as unique and well-rounded individuals who each had their own stories to tell and plotlines to follow. And while their...
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MOVIE: Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Sonic the Hedgehog Year: 2020 Rating: PG Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours As someone who grew up with the original Sonic video games, I was highly skeptical of this film adaptation. There's not much plot behind a game that's basically: move right as fast as possible and defeat a robot-making madman. Granted, Sonic has developed a little more depth to its lore over the years...but not much. The appeal of the character in the '90s was his attitude, and I have to admit that his movie does capture that attitude quite well. For a video game adaptation, Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) isn't terrible, which is saying something. I can only imagine the nightmare-inducing original design for Sonic, though. However, it's still not the greatest movie ever for the genre of video game adaptations. I did appreciate the little "slow-motion" moments, as well as the practical use of the rings as teleportation devices. Jim Carrey's Dr. Robotnik was passable, if not a little too goofy/sinister...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon Sun (2016)

Pokémon SunYear: 2016Rating: ETime Played: 115.37 hours While I grew up with the original 1st Generation Pokémon games, I had lost interest in the series just after Gen. 3. This was around the time I headed off to college, so I didn’t have as much time for video games as I did while in high school. Fast forward to the 20th anniversary of Pokémon and the release of Pokémon Sun and Moon. There were plenty of legendary Pokémon being given out at the time, so I found it was as good a time as any to get back into the series. A lot had changed since I left, and Pokémon Sun carried over plenty of these changes. I appreciated a lot of these tweaks, including the removal of HMs and unlimited-use TMs. And while adjusting the “experience share” to give experience to all the Pokémon in my team made the game a little easier, it also reduced the amount of grind that...
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MOVIE: Birds of Prey (2020)

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours I will admit: Margot Robbie is perfectly cast as Harley Quinn. The fact that she even got her own movie after her debut in Suicide Squad (2016) is a testament to this. That being said, she's a bit of a shallow character past being "Joker's girlfriend." Look no further than Birds of Prey (2020) to see what I mean. If it were truly a Harley Quinn standalone film, it wouldn't have needed the sub-plots of a handful of other characters to make the running time long enough. As it stands, Birds of Prey is meant as a sort of "origin story" for this titular team of female heroes. The fact that it needed Harley Quinn to make it marketable is a bit of a disappointment in the ability of the writers to create a story that would give these women agency without resorting to...
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BOOK: Ringworld (1970)

Ringworld Year: 1970 Author: Larry Niven Length: 675 minutes / 11.25 hours It can be difficult to judge a book, especially one as critically acclaimed as Ringworld, with 50 years of scientific and societal progress between when it was written and today. On the one hand, there are many scientific concepts explored in this book that we almost take for granted in modern sci-fi. On the other hand, the stink of 1970s misogyny doesn’t age very well, and this book is a prime example. Even today, sci-fi authors are still trying to dig out from the sexist tropes that books like this perpetuated throughout the genre. It’s a complicated, uphill battle, but we’re trying to be better than this. For 1970, I do have to admit that the science presented here is relatively revolutionary. Unfortunately, the descriptions were occasionally a bit dry and felt more like reading a textbook than a sci-fi adventure. I could appreciate how Niven described the indescribable scale of something as...
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MOVIE: V for Vendetta (2005)

V for Vendetta Year: 2005 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours It's a little weird watching a dystopian movie like V for Vendetta (2005) in 2020. I watched this film each year around the 5th of November, but life eventually got in the way and made it difficult to continue the tradition. At the time, I enjoyed the "underdog" of V (Hugo Weaving) protecting art and freedom of thought from the tyranny of an oppressive government. Having gone back and re-watched it in the current global climate, I'm honestly shocked at how prescient it was in predicting a lot of our future. Hopefully, things don't become worse to the point of completely fulfilling this prophecy. I think part of the reason this film remains timeless—other than the flawless performances of Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving—is how it shows the amount of freedom people in society give up in the name of "safety." Fear-mongering is a common political tactic to get individuals to vote...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon Sword (2019)

Pokémon Sword Year: 2019 Rating: E Time Played: 92.03 hours As with any new iteration of a long-running franchise, it’s equally interesting to see how the formula is changed to make things interesting while also cutting out some of the tedium present in previous installments. While Pokémon Sword has certainly improved some of the quality of life issues present in the franchise, some of the newer features still need a bit of work to be fully enjoyable. That being said, for the first time in many generations, I was able to (almost) completely fill my Pokédex (even with the DLC Pokémon, having not actually bought it) while playing entirely by myself. I still have a few evolutions I need another friend for, but they account for ~1% of the total. I was somewhat pleased with the introduction of the “Gigantamaxing” mechanic, even if it was essentially a combination of Mega Evolution and Z-Moves from Generations 6 and 7, respectively. The annoying thing about these special...
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MOVIE: Poltergeist (1982)

PoltergeistYear: 1982Rating: PGLength: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours Some movies have spoilers, and then some movies have so deeply-ingrained themselves in the popular culture zeitgeist that it’s nearly impossible to not have some knowledge of them before actually sitting down and watching the film itself. Poltergeist (1982) is just such a film for me. I’ve seen it referenced on many different lists and other places that claim it to be a great horror film. I’ve also seen it referenced and parodied in several places (like The Simpsons). The combination of its notoriety and its parody meant that I had pretty much already seen this film before actually watching it. Since I already knew the “big reveal” that caused the main characters’ house to become haunted, I had to watch this movie with a slightly different focus. Mainly: how and why has this film stood the test of time? Sure, it dates itself sometimes with its early-1980s style; however, the special effects for...
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BOOK: Fool Moon (2001)

Fool MoonYear: 2001Author: Jim ButcherLength: 607 minutes / 10.12 hours I haven’t read a lot of the urban fantasy genre, but series like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files is what I’ve come to expect. There’s a certain amount of logic that goes into combining fantasy elements into modern settings, and—if done well—can bring a story to life. Fool Moon (a delicious play on words, if I do say so myself) continues to take the noir twist from Storm Front and applies Harry Dresden’s magical skills against werewolf foes. Perhaps Storm Front wowed me with the concept of a detective magician so much that I thought Fool Moon was slightly weaker in comparison. For starters, I felt there were too many factions to keep track of in this book. Half the time, I was trying to remember if the werewolves in question were the good guys or the bad guys. Granted, the ambiguity of the factions’ intent helped drive the plot, but they all...
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MOVIE: 50 First Dates (2004)

50 First Dates Year: 2004 Rating: PG-13 Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours I don't particularly care for Adam Sandler's comedies. Most of them are crass and pull their jokes from bodily humor or the uncouth main character (usually played by Sandler). There are two exceptions to this: The Wedding Singer (1998) and 50 First Dates (2004). Since this is a review of the latter, I won't go into the details of why I like The Wedding Singer. Instead, let's talk about what works in 50 First Dates for me to recommend it. Yes, I'm not necessarily giving this a perfect "5-star" score, but I do think its story has enough merit that you should watch it. As mentioned above, I don't give this film a perfect score, mostly due to Adam Sandler's comedy style. This is mostly exhibited in the first act of the plot, where we meet a reprehensible man, Henry (Adam Sandler), who basically only has sex with tourists so that he...
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VIDEO GAME: SUPERHOT VR (2016)

SUPERHOT VRYear: 2016Rating: TTime Played: 2 hours The concept: time moves when you do. The challenge: survive. I had already played a few hours of the regular SUPERHOT game on my PC, but SUPERHOT VR is an experience on a whole other level. Sure, there's not as much of a plot in this version of the game (they are two entirely different games), but it's compensated for by being one of the most immersive experiences I've had on my Oculus Quest. In fact, it's likely one of the titles that caused me to get the Quest at all. What's interesting about this quasi first-person shooter is how it's more like a puzzle game than anything else. When you have to figure out the best way to avoid being "reset" in each scene, you start to think strategically about where you are and what items are nearby to use. Sure, the violence of gunning down humanoid shapes is lessened by them being bright...
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MOVIE: To Be or Not To Be (1942)

To Be or Not To Be Year: 1942 Rating: Passed Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours I don't know about you, but I've found that World War II movies were released closer to the end of the war have a certain amount of emphasis that has seemed to fade with time. In fact, I'd almost wager that the comedies produced during the war are some of the most poignant films I've ever seen on the subject. Sure, making fun of Nazis is easy when you're not affected by them—but when the threat is still real, there's an amount of satire that can both entertain and thrill. Much like Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940) that came before it, To Be or Not To Be (1942) works off a bit of mistaken identity and farse to make the jokes that much funnier. The comedy in this film is expertly carried by a young Jack Benny—who manages to gnaw on every piece of scenery in every shot...
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BOOK: Real Artists Don’t Starve (2017)

Real Artists Don’t Starve Year: 2017 Author: Jeff Goins Length: 346 minutes / 5.77 hours I’m a little conflicted with this book’s message, mostly because it downplays its definitions at the beginning of what an “artist” really is. It would be nice to make a living on my writing, but this book isn’t about how to do that. In fact, I’m already the artist that this book describes: someone who sells their creative hobby while pursuing it on weeknights and weekends. I have a full-time job, so my art isn’t my primary profession like the term “starving artist” is meant to invoke. Sure, there are bits of useful advice sprinkled throughout this book, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t already picked up by now. Perhaps the audience for this book is the individual who is thinking of taking a considerable risk and quitting their job to jump wholly into being an artist? Any more, the current Millennial mindset of “hustles” makes this an old way...
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MOVIE: Tenet (2020)

TenetYear: 2020Rating: PG-13Length: 150 minutes / 2.50 hours I'll admit: I probably have to watch this movie again. I'm usually pretty good at unraveling a Christopher Nolan movie when I watch it for the first time. Not since Memento (2000), have I had such a difficult time piecing together the intertwining timelines. At least with Memento, I was aided by the black-and-white sections. In Tenet (2020), time moves in both directions in the same scene. Sure, this is a visually-stunning feat, but it's often a slap in the face of the Grandfather Paradox, which Tenet simply waves away with a shrug and a "don't worry about it." What's interesting is how moments of foreshadowing in this film triggered my "lightbulb reflex" each time the corresponding portion of the plot came into focus and gave me the "aha moment." I'm sure I'll pick up more of these when I watch it a second time. As it stands after a single viewing, my mind...
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VIDEO GAME: What the Golf? (2019)

What the Golf?Year: 2019Rating: E10+Time Played: 5.27 hours It seems to me that modern indie games fall into two categories: art and humor. While games like Journey and Gris trend toward the art, games like Untitled Goose Game and What the Golf? are solidly in the humor category. Of course, the humor in What the Golf? is best appreciated by those who are familiar with a wide variety of video games. Just off the top of my head, this game references Super Mario Bros., Angry Birds, Superhot, Portal, Metal Gear Solid, and Super Meat Boy. Even without this referential humor, What the Golf? does have enough amusing moments for anyone to enjoy. The biggest problem I found with this game is its difficulty and replay value. Granted, I haven’t found someone to explore the co-op mode on the Switch version, but I completed the base game in just over five hours. Since I also took the time to collect some of the...
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MOVIE: The Goonies (1985)

The Goonies Year: 1985 Rating: PG Length: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours Cult classics are intriguing films. I feel there is a lot of nostalgia tied to a movie that hits a generation of individuals at just the right time for them to be memorable to these people. Sometimes, these cult classics are movies that I didn't get around to seeing—especially when they were relevant to my friends. For whatever reason, The Goonies (1985) has eluded me for 35 years. I can certainly see its appeal, but I mostly just watched it and wondered why people thought it was so great. I will say that this film is a trip down memory lane in the sense that I don't think I've ever seen a movie with either Sean Astin or Josh Brolin as young as they were in this one. The fact that many meme-able moments from this film have lasted in the popular culture zeitgeist for so long is a testament to its powerful...
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MOVIE: Mean Girls (2004)

Mean Girls Year: 2004 Rating: PG-13 Length: 97 minutes / 1.61 hours With the theaters opening back up again, I took advantage of a few “comeback classics” showings to see a movie that I had missed the first time it came around: Mean Girls (2004). I’m familiar with the numerous memes that this movie spawned, so it was a little weird seeing these little references in their original context. Of course, I’m also not necessarily the target demographic for this movie, as I am not (and have not been) a high school girl. Sure, it gave me an appreciation of the cutthroat and somewhat petty social hierarchy involved with female relationships in high school—in the sense that I didn’t have to put up with it. I can appreciate the ability of Mean Girls to create a situation where the audience learns about this “wild” world of high school by introducing a homeschooled student into the jungle that is the teenage learning environment. The fact that...
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VIDEO GAME: Animal Crossing – New Horizons (2020)

Animal Crossing: New HorizonsYear: 2020Rating: ETime Played: 195+ hours I’d never had any interest in the Animal Crossing series before New Horizons came out. I didn’t get the point of it. There didn’t seem to be any objective other than paying off a loan to a capitalist raccoon. That being said, when I saw the first trailer for New Horizons, my interest was immediately piqued. While the graphics were sharp and adorable, the crafting and terraforming mechanics seemed to give me the flexibility I’d want in such a simulation game. And while there is plenty to do in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, at a certain point, it becomes a repetitive chore. By now, this game is my most-played on my Switch. I’ve put in the time and effort to build a 5-star island and have long paid off my house (thanks to a fortunate week in the “stalk market”). I have orchards full of the different varieties of trees, flowerbeds on their...
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MOVIE: The Lives of Others (2006)

The Lives of Others Year: 2006 Rating: R Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours Quantum Physics holds to a belief that you can never truly observe something without affecting it. The mere act of observation alters the state of the thing being observed to the point where we can never be sure of the accuracy of the observation. I say all this to set the stage for the wildly tense and enthralling Best Foreign Film Oscar-winner, The Lives of Others (2006). There’s this weird dichotomy between voyeurism and being able to play God that makes this film so entertaining to watch, especially in the modern, surveillance-heavy society in which we live today (of which Person of Interest does an excellent job of exposing). Set in one of those rare historical moments right before the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Lives of Others hinges on the superb performance of Ulrich Mühe as the audience is never quite sure what he’s going to do with the...
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BOOK: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Year: 2013 Author: Neil Gaiman Length: 348 minutes / 5.80 hours It’s nice to know that Neil Gaiman can write engaging, modern fairy tales that are longer than the short story format. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was a delight to read, and I can see some parallels to other famous middle-grade fantasies (the Narnia series came to mind here and was mentioned in the book). Everything about this story made sense, and the character and the world-building were top notch—which I’ve just come to expect from Gaiman’s work. Truly, he continues to be the modern fairy tale maestro. One of the unique aspects of this story was how it seamlessly integrated the magical and the mundane. So often, these types of fairy tales transition to a world of magic and leave the boring, ordinary world behind. Not so in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. If anything, using the supernatural to...
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MOVIE: The Look of Silence (2014)

The Look of Silence Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours It’s weird how a documentary can make something as deplorable as killing another human being a chilling experience. If the killings that happened in Indonesia were shown on the screen in all their gory detail, there’s a certain point where a viewer’s mind just shuts off from all the violence. It’s almost too much to watch, which is why interviews with those who did the killings is a different and almost more horrifying way to go about exposing this barbaric event. The Look of Silence (2014) is a tough movie to watch, but it is crucial for understanding how anyone could do something so vile. Put in the framing of an optometrist trying to confront his brother’s killers, The Look of Silence has this quiet, stoic energy about the horrific killings in Indonesia. I was in shock when these men talked so candidly, openly, and unabashedly about the atrocities they did...
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VIDEO GAME: Poochy and Yoshi’s Wooly World (2015)

Poochy and Yoshi’s Wooly World Year: 2015 Rating: E Time Played: 11.35 hours It’s weird to think that it has been 20 years since Yoshi split off into its own franchise. The sequel to Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island established the franchise’s game mechanics and the titular character’s movements back in 1995. Since then, there haven’t been too many entries in the core series. Yoshi’s Story rehashed some of the gameplay a little over a decade after Yoshi’s Island, just like Poochy and Yoshi’s Wooly World managed to do a decade after that. Part of the problem with this is that the visuals always get an update, but nothing else changes significantly with each iteration. Somewhat in the same universe as Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Yoshi’s Wooly World has a tactile and charming aesthetic that revolves around yarn and other fabric crafts. While Yoshi can launch balls of yarn—much in the same way that eggs were used in previous iterations of the franchise—one of the goals...
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MOVIE: A Separation (2011)

A Separation Year: 2011 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours Regardless of where you live on this planet, plenty of scenarios are just as likely to happen in Tehran as they are in Toledo. This is where A Separation (2011) pulls its strength. Set in a mostly modern Iran, A Separation is a series of dramatic twists that could probably happen to anyone. After all, tons of people have to deal with elderly parents with Alzheimer’s. There are plenty of divorces for trivial and non-trivial reasons. Good help is hard to find and even harder to afford. The combination of these things results in a gripping narrative that’s only given a distinctive Iranian flavor by its cultural limitations. If anything, A Separation shows how difficult it is to be a woman in a Muslim country. It’s not impossible, but certain limitations become evident when the strict religious rules of the Quoran come into play. It was nice to see a more liberal version...
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MOVIE: Blue Jasmine (2013)

Blue Jasmine Year: 2013 Rating: PG-13 Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours After the critical success of Midnight in Paris (2011), it seems that Cate Blanchett followed in Owen Wilson’s footsteps by providing her best Woody Allen impression in Blue Jasmine (2013). Of course, this is no coincidence, considering that pretty much all of Allen’s films are distinctly in his neurotic New Yorker style. After all, he writes and directs his films, which allows him to be on the screen, even if it’s not him directly acting on it. Still, Blue Jasmine falls into that happy medium of being a commentary on society as well as an examination of the mental illness it creates. There’s plenty of dark humor present when Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) comes to stay with her poorer sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). The culture clash of the New York elite and struggling-to-get-by is exemplified in Jasmine’s inability to adapt to a life of poverty after having lived in a life of luxury for...
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VIDEO GAME: Mega Man Star Force – Pegasus (2007)

Mega Man Star Force: Pegasus Year: 2007 Rating: E Time Played: 17.30 hours I have fond memories of playing the Mega Man Battle Network games in high school. I liked the RPG/Action/Card mechanics of this series and always wanted more. When the pseudo-spin-off series, Mega Man Star Force, arrived on the Nintendo DS, it seemed like a good evolution of the formula. However, I resisted buying a DS for so long that eventually, I had to come back and play these games a decade after they came out. With this amount of hindsight, I don’t know if I was viewing a series I never played through nostalgia or the evolved gaming landscape of today. Since I had watched the anime based on these games, I was already familiar with the basic story and plot structure. Additionally, not much had changed since the Battle Network games, other than a slight perspective shift and some modifications to the chip system. Even with this familiarity, I found myself...
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MOVIE: Doubt (2008)

Doubt Year: 2008 Rating: PG-13 Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Years before Spotlight (2015) won the Oscar for Best Picture, Doubt (2008) took a hard look at the scandals that have been in the Catholic Church for some time and presented a gripping parable of gossip versus evidence. Aside from this central point, I found Doubt to be a fantastic movie filled with contrasts. The differences between male and female leaders in the Church only heightened the fundamental conflict between Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s characters. Add to this the hardline stance of Streep’s Sister Aloysius, who has no flexibility for rules that aren’t actually in the Bible, and the result is an incredible look into changing times. Aside from Streep and Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis also gave superb performances full of raw and heartfelt emotion. In fact, I’d recommend everyone watch this film just for the career-defining roles of these individuals. Even among these, the intense ambiguity involved with Doubt’s...
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BOOK: The Dark Talent (2016)

The Dark Talent Year: 2016 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 348 minutes / 5.80 hours There’s foreshadowing; then there are five books of foreshadowing. In The Dark Talent, Brandon Sanderson starts wrapping up this amusing middle-grade series by finally reaching the part of the story that was alluded to so many books ago. While this could easily be the final book in the series, I believe there’s enough left unconcluded that another volume should be written to wrap these remaining subplots up into satisfying conclusions. By this point in the series, the Alcatraz formula has been thoroughly explored, and it almost seems to be running on autopilot*. Granted, this was after four books of character and plot development, but there’s still an amount of “been there seen that” here. I am always in awe of Brandon Sanderson’s world-building, and the Alcatraz series is no exception. Breaking into the Library of Congress was such a natural extension of the “Librarian” motif that I’m a little surprised it...
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MOVIE: The Player (1992)

The Player Year: 1992 Rating: R Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours Those who are aware of Robert Altman’s other films are sure to recognize the themes that permeated his oeuvre. He always seemed to find a way to satirize something in a way that underscored how broken the system is. From the military in M*A*S*H (1970) to the music industry in Nashville (1975), Altman had a keen eye to bring the ridiculous nature of these anthropological machines into the spotlight. Clearly, his time in the movie industry helped him adapt Michael Tolkin’s novel into The Player (1992). In a weird and meta way, nothing has changed since its early-90’s release. If you’re playing the “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game at home, this film is literally a “who’s who” of actors and movie personalities (many of whom appear “as themselves”). Unfortunately, this film does suffer from its early-90’s aesthetic, often highlighting how far we’ve come in terms of fashion and technology in nearly three...
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VIDEO GAME: Mega Man ZX (2006)

Mega Man ZX Year: 2006 Rating: E Time Played: 5.32 hours Much like how Mega Man Star Force expounded upon the Mega Man Battle Network formula, Mega Man ZX evolved the platforming and action of the Mega Man Zero series. While this meant the visual style and difficulty carried over from the Zero series, ZX added just enough modification to the player character to make it more reminiscent of the original Mega Man series. Given how I’d developed some of my skills via the Zero games, I was easily able to jump right in and start playing ZX without too much difficulty. Part of the problem with this game was the slightly “open-world” style of the overworld. I’ve been so used to playing Mega Man games that immediately transport you to the level you want to play. I’m so used to this formula that having to navigate a labyrinthine home base just to get to the next area was frustrating at times—if only for the...
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MOVIE: Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Once Upon a Time in AmericaYear: 1984Rating: RLength: 229 minutes / 3.82 hours Nobody doubts Sergio Leone’s talent as a director. While he’s best known for his Spaghetti Westerns, he did make a few films like Once Upon a Time in America (1984). One does wonder if Leone was given free rein with this film, as it was probably an hour longer than it needed to be and included a lot of situations that could have been cut out, or at least trimmed down. If anything, it’s clear directors like Quentin Tarantino were influenced by movies like this, considering some of the similarities between it and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019). I will admit that most of the scenes in this fractured timeline of a story were necessary. Something that was shown early in the film would inevitably come into play near the end. However, I don’t think this excuses the numerous (and gratuitous) sex scenes included in this film. With a run time of...
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MOVIE: Layer Cake (2004)

Layer CakeYear: 2004Rating: RLength: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours I always find it interesting to go back and watch breakout films by directors who would come into their own years later. In the case of Matthew Vaughn, I have enjoyed his work, which includes Stardust (2007), Kick-Ass (2010), X-Men: First Class (2011), and the Kingsman franchise. With Layer Cake (2004), I could see the kind of filmmaker he would become—with plenty of neat visual tricks—but there’s so much that’s lacking polish that I’m not even sure what happened in this movie. I kind of got the general sense of the plot, but I found myself lost by what was happening by the end of it all. Perhaps part of my problem is that the action is quite loud, but the dialogue is all quiet. I kept having to adjust the volume on my surround sound as a result. Maybe I should have put subtitles on because I had trouble understanding what most...
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VIDEO GAME: Shantae – Half-Genie Hero (2016)

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Year: 2016 Rating: T Time Played: 7 hours After playing through Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse on my 3DS, I was looking forward to experiencing the next game in the series on the big screen. I picked up Shantae: Half-Genie Hero on sale from the eShop, and I believe I got what I paid for. While there seems to be a lot of extra content locked behind DLC barriers, it doesn’t look like any of it adds to the core experience of this game. As far as I can tell, Half-Genie Hero hearkens back to the original Shantae game, relying more on transformations instead of items to uncover the secrets contained in the handful of colorful levels. While the higher definition graphics were great on the Switch, I felt that Shantae handled worse than she did in Pirate’s Curse. Often, I’d find myself trying to perform some action, and the game wouldn’t let me do it (the flying fortress level is of...
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MOVIE: Winter’s Bone (2010)

Winter’s Bone Year: 2010 Rating: R Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours It feels like so few films deal with the actual consequences of poverty. It’s probably why Winter’s Bone (2010) seems like a raw and unflinching examination of what happens when a family is on the edge of homelessness. In fact, while I’m sure there are some inaccuracies, I almost saw this film as a documentary of life in rural Missouri. The handheld camera style was intimate and present as it followed Jennifer Lawrence in one of her breakout roles, investigating where her father disappeared to in order to save her struggling family. I didn’t understand why so much of the community around Lawrence’s character didn’t come to help and support her in a time of need. Sure, her father did some pretty terrible things, but why punish his family because of it? Perhaps this is just an aspect of the dog-eat-dog world of rural poverty that seems so illogical to me. In the...
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BOOK: Leviathan Wakes (2011)

Leviathan Wakes Year: 2011 Author: James S.A. Corey Length: 1,264 minutes / 21.07 hours For years, my co-worker has been suggesting that I read the Expanse series of books. Before I finally got around to the audiobook for Leviathan Wakes, I took a slight shortcut and watched the television series on Amazon. This came in handy because I was able to pick up this book and immediately be able to visualize what was happening and who the characters were. Sure, the actors cast in the show are slightly different from their literary counterparts. Still, overall there was a lot in this book that I had already experienced with the television show. I will applaud this book for being a hard science fiction story, but not shoving the calculations in the reader’s face. Sure, The Martian did an excellent job of explaining all the scientific challenges of interplanetary travel. However, Leviathan Wakes took this a step further and created a universe that’s still controlled by the...
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MOVIE: Logan’s Run (1976)

Logan’s Run Year: 1976 Rating: PG Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours In today’s landscape of CGI and superb practical effects, it’s a little difficult to watch movies like Logan’s Run (1976). Sure, there are a few good bits (like dissolving bodies), but there are a lot of effects that look low-budget by today’s standards. Wires clearly hold up flying people, a robot is obviously a man in a boxy costume, and a futuristic society seems to be housed in a mid-1980s shopping mall. About the only reason I don’t necessarily deem Logan’s Run a B-movie fit for a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 ribbing is because it was the best technology they had at the time. Of course, I say this was the best special effects of the day, knowing full well that Star Wars (1977) would come out a year later. If anything, this movie shows the enormous leap in special effects that Star Wars provided the film industry in comparison. And while the...
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VIDEO GAME: Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (2014)

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse Year: 2014 Rating: T Time Played: 562 minutes / 9.37 hours A couple of years ago, I started hearing about a cult classic Game Boy Color game known as Shantae. While this game released near the end of that handheld’s life cycle, there was plenty of buzz about how it was a solid platformer with plenty of potential. Fast forward eight years and the first sequel, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, made its appearance as a virtual game on the DSi. I happened to jump into this series with the 3DS virtual title, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse and I certainly enjoyed the pseudo-Metroidvania approach that WayForward took with this franchise. While I would have liked to have found a cartridge version of this game, I eventually settled on buying it from the eShop. I’m glad I did, as it allowed me to play the game instead of just thinking about it. Overall, it’s a solid action platformer with plenty of upgrades...
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BOOK: Professor Challenger – The Serpent of the Loch (2018)

Professor Challenger: The Serpent of the Loch Year: 2018 Author: Lou J Berger Length: 30 pages Some days, I wonder what amazing new stories we could read if more intellectual properties were allowed to enter the public domain. Even if there is a wealth of characters who might continue to have adventures long after their authors have passed away, we can enjoy some of these expanding stories with today’s public domain works. Case in point, this short story that adds to the lore of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger character, The Serpent of the Loch. Even if you’re not familiar with the characters Doyle created, this story is well worth your time. While I’ve only read The Lost World and was familiar with Doyle’s style via a handful of Sherlock Holmes stories, I can say that Berger has done well to replicate the former author’s style. There were plenty of moments where I had to remind myself that this was written almost a century...
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MOVIE: About a Boy (2002)

About a Boy Year: 2002 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours It’s challenging to define the aesthetic of the early 2000s, but I think About a Boy (2002) is about as close as it comes. From the music and style to themes and plot, About a Boy is a solid little romantic comedy that probably hasn’t aged as well in the time since its creation. Although it is a rare sight to see Nicholas Hoult in one of his earlier film roles, knowing the kind of actor he has become (for such movies like X-Men: First Class (2011), Warm Bodies (2013), and The Favourite (2018)). I’ll admit that Will (Hugh Grant) is a bit of a creeper for going after single mothers as a way to hook up and get dumped without the guilt being on his side of the equation. However, the independently-wealthy status he has based on royalties from a single one-hit-wonder seems a little implausible. Still, maybe it was possible...
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MOVIE: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Cat on a Hot Tin RoofYear: 1958Rating: Not RatedLength: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours While I understand the ease of adapting stage plays into movies, the result still feels a lot like watching a stage play on the big screen. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) is no exception. Adapted from the Tennessee Williams play of the same name, this movie boasts a few big names like Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. I think this movie probably wouldn’t have been as notable unless it had these names tied to it in some way. After all, there’s a reason why we still remember these writers and actors today. Even if Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starts slow, the increasing amount of twists and reveals makes for an entertaining movie. I think part of my issue with the slow start might be with Elizabeth Taylor’s acting. It felt to me like she was reading memorized lines and didn’t put much emotion or effort into her performance....
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VIDEO GAME: Super Mario Odyssey (2017)

Super Mario OdysseyYear: 2017Rating: E10Time Played: 20+ hours As is the case with many Nintendo systems, Super Mario Odyssey marked the mustachioed plumber’s arrival on the Switch, much like Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy did for the Nintendo 64, Gamecube, and Wii, respectively. Taking cues from all its predecessors, Super Mario Odyssey is a gorgeous platformer with plenty to do, almost to its detriment. It’s clear a lot of attention to detail went into this game, but it’s also evident that Odyssey is a celebration of Mario’s history as Nintendo’s de facto mascot. The fact that you can now play as many of Mario’s enemies is a fantastic mechanic that is as unique as it is timeless. Odyssey uses the improved graphics on the Switch to create stunning worlds that are just itching to be explored. The music as well is perhaps some of the best in the franchise, with the theme to the Wooded Kingdom being...
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BOOK: Shakespeare’s Sonnets – Abridged (2018)

Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness Year: 2018 Author: Zach Weinersmith Length: 101 pages The third (and currently last) book in Zach Weinersmith’s “Abridged” series, Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness is by far the best of the set. While Holy Bible: Abridged was quite rough, and Science: Abridged showed promise, Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Abridged is wholly focused on its subject matter—and it shows. To top everything off, Weinersmith cleverly sums up each of Shakespeare’s sonnets in his own rhyming couplet, adding to the overall experience and maintaining some semblance of the poetry involved with the source material. If anything, reading all the truncated sonnets together helped paint the picture of what Shakespeare was trying to accomplish. Having never delved into Shakespeare’s Sonnets before, this book was a handy summary of the different “phases” of these poems. Adding context to the flowery language helped to paint a much different picture than most people consider when thinking about Shakespeare’s Sonnets. This book was...
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MOVIE: Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Synecdoche, New YorkYear: 2008Rating: RLength: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours I knew going into Synecdoche, New York (2008), that it was a Charlie Kaufman film. I knew his material could get weird (like Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation. (2002)) but movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) had enough heart that I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Except nothing could have prepared me for the madness of Synecdoche, New York (2008). I mean, there are meta films like Adaptation. then there are meta films of a whole different level like Synecdoche, New York. In the end, I think the story suffers due to its insistence on the artistic. I’m all for “smart” films that make the audience think. However, I am not a fan of movies that are so intellectually up their own behind to obscure every piece of meaningful plot and character development behind metaphor and “art.” There is a point where the plot gets so convoluted...
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BOOK: The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains (2010)

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains Year: 2010 Author: Neil Gaiman Length: 83 minutes / 1.38 hours As I’d realized in previous works of Neil Gaiman’s that I’ve read, he excels at (at least) two things: short stories and fairy tales. One could argue that the latter is a subset of the former, but longer works like Stardust cause me to separate the distinction. Perhaps this book was made all the more magical by its audiobook production. Not only did the author himself read it, but it was accompanied with some great atmospheric music to enhance the mood produced by Gaiman’s words. I missed the illustrations this book sports, but I think the words can speak for themselves. In terms of a fairy tale, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains manages to contain the usual flare of morality and truth against a backdrop of riches and mysterious wonder. I’m almost surprised there aren’t more authors writing modern fairy tales...
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MOVIE: Strangers on a Train (1951)

Strangers on a TrainYear: 1951Rating: PGLength: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours It’s a wonder after all these years that a Hitchcock film like Strangers on a Train (1951) escaped me until now. Sure, Hitchcock used trains in many of his films, but the premise here is so diabolically intriguing that it demands a viewing. After all, there’s an amount of logic involved with two strangers swapping the murders that they would like to happen to those tormenting them. And yet, Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) is so unsettling in his ability to follow through that the suspense of the rest of the movie practically films itself. Several camera tricks that Hitchcock uses adds his signature flair to this movie. From a punch to the face to a tension-filled series of shots at the bottom of a storm drain, the cinematography in Strangers on a Train is yet another reason why people need to watch this film. This being said, the ending (despite being...
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VIDEO GAME: Undertale (2015)

Undertale Year: 2015 Rating: E10+ Time Played: By the time I had the chance to play Undertale (on the Nintendo Switch, no less), most of the surprising revelations about its battle system were already spoiled for me. Regardless of knowing the unique playstyle for this game, I tried my best to play by the counterintuitive methods that set this game apart from others of its genre. And while I didn’t get the true pacifist ending for some reason, it was still an enjoyable and humorous game. Despite its somewhat shorter length, I still think making it any longer would have ruined the tight storytelling. Now, Undertale is by no means a perfect game, and I’m sure the diehard fans of this franchise will hate me for saying this. The visual style was pretty good for a retro throwback, but it felt inconsistent from place to place, almost like it didn’t know if it wanted to be 8-bit or 16-bit. Similarly, the fantastic music and audio...
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BOOK: Science – Abridged (2017)

Science: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness Year: 2017 Author: Zach Weinersmith Length: 60 pages Another in Zach Weinersmith’s “Abridged” series, Science: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness is another tongue-in-cheek examination of topics that require much more than a few witty summations to understand completely. Unfortunately, much like his Nerd Disses book, only those who have extensively studied all of these scientific disciplines will understand every joke. As an engineer, I could understand a lot of the humor here, but even I was ignorant of some of the more obscure (or more social) sciences. That being said, he nailed the abridged version of engineering, which makes me think the other sciences received the same treatment. While not nearly as borderline sacrilegious as The Holy Bible: Abridged, Science: Abridged does get its cheap shots in where it can. I’m sure those who extensively study these sciences will laugh at the sardonic tidbits contained in this book, understanding how ridiculous their chosen field may appear at...
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MOVIE: Bathtubs Over Broadway (2018)

Bathtubs Over BroadwayYear: 2018Rating: PG-13Length: 87 minutes / 1.45 hours To some, the idea that there were whole musical productions that were practically enormous advertisements for companies seems absurd. Since I grew up listening to Stan Freberg, I already knew that musicals could sell products (take his “Omaha” musical, for instance, since it was basically a 15-minute radio ad for Butternut coffee). At any rate, Bathtubs Over Broadway (2018) explores these oddities that most people never realize existed up until only a decade or two ago. It’s a little sad to see these ridiculous odes to corporate marketing go by the wayside…but it also makes sense as well. If there’s anything that Bathtubs Over Broadway gets across, it’s that these musicals were serious business, even if the companies they were selling weren’t. There were songs about bathrooms—repeated throughout its runtime—if that gives you an idea of the content. It is a little awe-inspiring to see famous names tied to these theatrical productions....
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MOVIE: The Founder (2016)

The FounderYear: 2016Rating: PG-13Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours I hate to admit it, but many of these biopics about successful individuals all come off as the same story. Some down-on-his-luck guy stumbles across an idea that he steals (or has stolen from him) and makes his own to enormous success, betraying his friends and family along the way. We saw it in The Social Network (2010), Jobs (2013), Joy (2015), and The Greatest Showman (2017). The Founder (2016) is just another in this almost cookie-cutter genre that covers the origins of the McDonald corporation we know today. That’s not to say that The Founder isn’t entertaining. As an engineer, I was fascinated at how the McDonald brothers were able to be successful by creating efficiencies and eliminating waste in the process of selling hamburgers and other fast food. The trick is that the titular character, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), is half protagonist (the one you want to root for) and half...
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VIDEO GAME: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (2017)

Mario Kart 8 DeluxeYear: 2017Rating: ETime Played: 5+ hours Just like how Mario Kart 7 expanded on the core gameplay mechanic of the Mario Kart series by adding gliding and underwater features in its tracks, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe goes a step further and removes the confines of gravity from the franchise. This core change to the Mario Kart formula results in a lot of genuinely unique courses that couldn’t have been possible in previous games. To top everything off, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is presented in gorgeous high definition while also including all the downloadable content from the Wii U version at no additional cost. With a variety of new courses, as well as classic racetracks enhanced to the Switch’s advanced graphical capabilities, I was glad to finally see some representation in this franchise from characters outside the typical Mario franchise. Representative characters and courses from the Zelda, Animal Crossing, and Splatoon franchises felt like welcome additions and perhaps even the...
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BOOK: The Holy Bible-Abridged (2015)

The Holy Bible: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness Year: 2015 Author: Zach Weinersmith Length: 72 pages Satire is a fine line between comedy and offense. While I can't fault The Holy Bible: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness for being precisely what it says—abridged beyond the point of usefulness—there's definitely a bias present in its scant 72 pages. I can take a joke about my faith pretty well, mostly because I understand the reference being made and can identify what's funny about it. Sure, The Holy Bible: Abridged has a few amusing bits in it, but there are almost too many portions that feel too irreverent to be funny. The Bible is a long book, and I know most people probably haven't read through the entire thing. This book tries to remedy this situation by providing a brief comedic sentence about each book in the Bible. Sure, it gets the point across quite succinctly sometimes, but it misses the point in many of its...
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MOVIE: The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

The Magnificent AmbersonsYear: 1942Rating: Not RatedLength: 88 minutes / 1.47 hours Some films are timeless classics, like Citizen Kane (1941), then some are doomed to live in their shadows like The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). It’s easy to see how a success like Citizen Kane would incentivize studios to let Orson Welles direct another film in the hopes that he’d surpass himself. Unfortunately, I don’t feel The Magnificent Ambersons ever achieves that level of cinematic notoriety, merely acting as a footnote to much more famous films. Consequently, this movie hasn’t necessarily aged as well as its 1941 counterpart. I’ll still give credit where credit is due and say that The Magnificent Ambersons contains the visual charm and bold style that defined Orson Welles’ films. If only the story and characters were memorable enough to care about, then we might have a good movie on our hands here. As it stands, I didn’t care for any of the characters, nor did I even feel...
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MOVIE: Milk (2008)

Milk Year: 2008 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours It seems like there are biopics for almost every notable person who has done anything significant in the last 50 years. In the case of Milk (2008), we get a peek into the personal, professional, and political life of gay rights activist Harvey Milk (Sean Penn). Unfortunately, as is the case with most biopics, I have found that the titular character is good at enacting societal change but at the cost of their relationship with a significant other. To me, I generally throw my hands up in the air and yell, “Come on!” when this happens since it seems to be ubiquitous with the genre. While I don’t mind watching a film about the activism behind gay rights, I do mind having to watch Sean Penn and James Franco make out. What struck me as odd was a portion of the film where people were encouraged to come out as being homosexual, which a...
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VIDEO GAME: Mario Kart 7 (2011)

Mario Kart 7 Year: 2011 Rating: E Time Played: 2.35 hours One of the challenges of long-running series like Mario Kart is how to maintain the core gameplay mechanic while also continuing to innovate. Previous iterations in the franchise played with having two characters in a Kart (Double Dash on the Gamecube) before reverting to the traditional formula (Mario Kart Wii). Furthermore, with the limitations present in portable and handheld consoles, there’s a point where the experience isn’t quite the same as it would be on a television screen. Fortunately, Mario Kart 7 seems to have struck a good balance between new ideas and embracing nostalgia. Even if I didn’t use the online mode for racing against other individuals (one of the core attractions of the Mario Kart series), I did find that each race in Mario Kart 7 was just long enough for me to play through in a single sitting. If I had more time, the option to race through a series of...
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BOOK: 2^7 Nerd Disses (2013)

2⁷ Nerd Disses: A Significant Quantity of Disrespect Year: 2013 Author: Zach Weinersmith and Philip Plait Length: 31 pages Have you ever been in an argument and had a stinging zinger of a remark that would have left the other party completely devastated? I’m sure plenty of socially-awkward nerds have been in this situation, which is probably why this book exists in the first place. 27 Nerd Disses is a small collection of witty comebacks that cover a variety of brainy topics. From economics to mathematics, all 128 of these insults require some amount of knowledge of their source material to get the joke they’re trying to make. Unfortunately, this book contains some knowledge at levels higher than a basic college education. While I understood a good majority of the nerdy references in this book, the parts of these disses that I had trouble with were the references that the uncultured masses were likely comparing these heady subjects to. This ends up being the problematic...
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MOVIE: The Little Prince (2015)

The Little Prince Year: 2015 Rating: PG Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours I understand there are limitations when it comes to adapting picture books into feature-length movies. The amount of content present in these books isn’t even enough to cover a few minutes just reading it aloud, so extending it out over 100 minutes requires a bit of framing and exposition. While movies like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) took the approach of explaining why there was giant food falling from the sky, The Little Prince (2015) framed its iconic story with your standard “overbearing parent wants their child to succeed at the detriment of said child’s childhood” sub-plot. When I was growing up, I never encountered The Little Prince in all the picture books I read. Even without this prior knowledge, I could get a sense that the entirety of the book’s content was contained in the stop-motion sections of this movie. I felt there was a missed opportunity to do...
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BOOK: Peter Pan (1911)

Peter Pan Year: 1911 Author: J.M. Barrie Length: 302 minutes / 5.03 hours I didn't grow up with Peter Pan as a child. The fact that I'm reviewing this book when I'm 34 merely highlights this oversight. I didn't even get into this story through the animated Disney version. Again, another oversight. About the only reason I know anything about Peter Pan is through the 1991 movie Hook—which I remember quite fondly. At this point, finally getting around to reading the source material was refreshing even if I already picked up most of the pop culture references this book inspired. While I didn't grow up with Peter Pan, I can see its merit. I'll probably even read it to my daughter when she's old enough to understand it. What's perhaps the most notable quality of this book is how its randomness almost makes sense. Do you know how kids make stuff up but have a logical sense about their creations? Well, Peter Pan has plenty...
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MOVIE: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Mary Poppins Returns Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours While it’s a somewhat rare occurrence, it usually doesn’t take Disney over five decades to release a sequel to a critically-acclaimed movie (like how Fantasia 2000 (1999) came out sixty years after Fantasia (1940)). The original Mary Poppins (1964) was a triumph in live-action for a studio known for its animation—which also makes an appearance. It raked in the Oscar Nominations, even gaining a nod for Best Picture. As far as sequels go, Mary Poppins Returns (2018) is a sharp and polished upgrade compared to the original but hits most of the same beats for the sake of nostalgia. Emily Blunt was more than passable as the title character, even if her representation seemed a bit more on the sarcastic and irritated eye-rolling side of the spectrum from Julie Andrews’ measured patience in the original. The songs in Mary Poppins Returns were certainly catchy—a trait undoubtedly inherited from Lin Manuel-Miranda—but didn’t seem...
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VIDEO GAME: Metroid II – Return of Samus (1991)

Metroid II: Return of Samus Year: 1991 Rating: E Time Played: 7.5 hours The forgotten child of the original Metroid trilogy, Metroid II is that weird transition between a neat idea and a video game masterpiece. Relying on most all of the same concepts that made the original Metroid on the NES popular, Metroid II suffers from the innate limitations of the Game Boy hardware. Color certainly helped delineate the different areas in the NES game and made the follow-on Super Metroid that much more vivid and haunting, which is why the lack of it in this game poses several problems. Still, it is a solid Metroid game at its base, despite its few flaws. One of the flaws of this game is its lack of a map. Another weakness is the ability for the player to know what exactly changed when the screen shows a rumbling vibration. I spent way too long going back over the same areas, only to learn later that I...
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BOOK: Red Rising (2014)

Red RisingYear: 2014Author: Pierce BrownLength: 400 pages It is difficult to review a book like Red Rising without noting the heavy comparisons to The Hunger Games. Perhaps this speaks to the strength of The Hunger Games’ format, but there are almost too many parallels to ignore. Dystopian class-separated society? Check. A skilled lower-class individual who defies the odds? Check. Violence and a romantic subplot? Check and check. About the only difference between the two is that Red Rising takes place on Mars and over a few years instead of a week or so. Of course, it’s hard to tell the timespan since important details always seem to be missing from the first-person narrative. If anything, I’d peg Red Rising as the gritty, over-violent, and over-sexualized version of The Hunger Games. If The Hunger Games appeals to girls and women, Red Rising should appeal to boys and men. A lot of the content in this book felt a bit over the top and...
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MOVIE: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours There’s one quote in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) that sums up the entire movie. “This isn’t really about Fred Rogers.” Considering this film was based on the magazine article that is central to the plot, it’s no wonder that Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) is merely an ancillary character to the events that happen in Lloyd Vogel’s (Matthew Rhys) life. While Mr. Rogers’ gentle influence is undeniable, I can’t help but think that the recent documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018), is a better examination of his life’s work overall. I do have to give kudos to Tom Hanks for taking on a challenging role that has many fond memories for tons of people. Hanks captured Fred Rogers’ soft-spoken demeanor and gentle mannerisms as best as only he could. Part of the trouble, though, is that Tom Hanks is so recognizable, that half the time I...
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MOVIE: Rocketman (2019)

Rocketman Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours After the critical success of Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), it felt like the market was ripe for another movie about a homosexual piano-playing musician. Enter Rocketman (2019), a biopic about Elton John (Taron Egerton) that didn’t quite know what to do with itself. Was it supposed to be the greatest hits of Elton John songs, like Mamma Mia! (2008) was for ABBA? If it was intended as a straight biography of Elton’s life, it falls into all the tropes that seem to be requirements for the genre. There didn’t seem to be anything original here other than sex, drugs, and rock and roll. One aspect of Elton John’s rise to stardom that I found interesting was his ability to pick up and play any song after hearing it once. This skill is quite a rare trait, and I almost wished this film played up that aspect a little more. I also was intrigued to learn...
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VIDEO GAME: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2018)

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Year: 2018 Rating: E10 Time Played: ~45 hours I grew up playing the original Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64. I loved being able to play as a variety of characters across some well-known (and perhaps less well-known) Nintendo franchises. With each iteration of the series, I’ve enjoyed seeing new characters representing new and classic games join the roster. However, even if I can understand cutting some characters as the series moved forward, it was still a disappointment when I couldn’t play as my favorites in subsequent entries in the franchise. This is why I was hyped up for the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. For the first time, I was able to play as a staggeringly large number of characters. The fact that (almost) everything from previous games made it into this one made it feel like this was a celebration of the history of video games and not just a party brawler. And while I didn’t bother...
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BOOK: Cartwright’s Cavaliers (2016)

Cartwright’s Cavaliers Year: 2016 Author: Mark Wandrey Length: 473 pages I don’t generally read military sci-fi, but I picked this book up for free and thought I’d give it a try. Cartwright’s Cavaliers certainly has its strengths. The action sequences are well-described, and the origin story of the main character was a unique setup that seems like it would be uncommon in the military sci-fi genre. That being said, Cartwright’s Cavaliers has a strong start but bumbles along to the point of being cringe-inducing by the end. It’s unfortunate, considering how it could have been better if it had stuck to some of the more common tropes of the genre instead of focusing on a (mostly) unlikeable protagonist. Aside from a sprinkling of typos and proofreading errors, my main qualm with this book is the main character: Jim Cartwright. About one-third of the way through the book, he is revealed to be a fan of an animated series that was popular with men of his...
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MOVIE: Terminator – Dark Fate (2019)

Terminator: Dark Fate Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours I’ll admit that Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) was a difficult movie to follow. Basically the perfect sequel, this film is generally what we associate with the Terminator franchise. From its plethora of meme-able moments to its fantastic action and visual effects, Terminator 2 set a high bar for any film in the franchise to follow it. While Terminator: Rise of the Machines (2003) tried to tie up the first three movies into a neat little trilogy, most felt unsatisfied with its ending. This is why, almost 20 years after Terminator 2 released, we’re still trying to find that satisfying bit of closure. Compared to its predecessors, Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) certainly came the closest to achieving this closure. After all, we’ve seen the effects of time travel in the future with Terminator: Salvation (2009) and an alternate reality with Terminator: Genisys (2015). As a direct sequel to Terminator 2, Dark Fate...
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BOOK: The Final Empire (2006)

The Final Empire Year: 2006 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 1,480 minutes / 24.67 hours Having already read a few of Brandon Sanderson’s later works, I knew I eventually wanted to tackle his Mistborn series. While he has a consistent style that makes his world-building a bit predictable, the concise nature of his magic systems and fantastically-written fight sequences deliver time and time again. After all, if it works, why change anything? In The Final Empire, the source of the magical superpowers is a set of metals utilized by “allomancers,” much like color was for Warbreaker and the energy of storms for The Way of Kings. I’m always in awe of the complexity of his magic systems, but with such simple concepts that I wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” If Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings is the standard for high fantasy and George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series is the baseline for “realistic” fantasy, I can already tell that Sanderson’s...
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MOVIE: The Gentlemen (2020)

The Gentlemen Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours I’ve enjoyed a good portion of Guy Ritchie’s filmmaking. While many of his more recent movies rely on franchise appeal (Sherlock Holmes (2009), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and Aladdin (2019) are of note), I usually associate his style of filmmaking with the British heist film (like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000)). Consequently, I was looking forward to seeing his recent film, The Gentlemen (2020), as it seemed to be a return to the kind of filmmaking that attracted me to Guy Ritchie films in the first place. Unfortunately, it seems Ritchie has been away from his core movies for so long that he’s almost forgotten how to make them. The meta framing with Hugh Grant and Charlie Hunnam was clunky enough that even Hunnam’s character was getting bored with the “telling” in the exposition provided by Grant’s character. Sure, there were a few neat twists here and...
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VIDEO GAME: Nintendo Labo – VR Starter Set (2019)

Nintendo Labo: VR Starter Set Year: 2019 Rating: E10 Time Played: ~5 hours With the increasing number and availability of virtual reality (VR) headsets, I figured it was only a matter of time before Nintendo jumped in on the craze. I always felt the Switch would be ideal for VR, as it has a gyroscopic screen with detachable controllers that have an equal amount of finesse in their movements. It is then no wonder that Nintendo decided to pursue the VR space with its line of experimental cardboard toys: Labo. While I didn’t have too much interest in the previous Labo sets, the fact that the VR Labo could also be used on other games for a VR effect is what pushed me to purchase the starter set. Putting together the cardboard for the VR goggles and blaster accessory took me a long evening to assemble. I appreciated the user interface for the instructions, as it made the whole process easy and basically idiot-proof. Of...
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BOOK: Breach (2018)

BreachYear: 2018Author: W.L. GoodwaterLength: 368 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** It’s always interesting to see an alternate take on history where fantastical elements can help explain some mostly banal events and activities. In Breach, the reader is offered a glimpse into the top-secret realm of magicians in military espionage. Most of my knowledge of Cold War Berlin is based on pop culture representations, so there wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary here that would scream of historical inaccuracies. If anything, Breach almost felt like it could have been an extension of the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts franchise with how well it integrated history and magic. While there was perhaps a bit too much browbeating over women’s role in society during the Cold War, the pacing, twists, and characters were excellent. It was a little difficult to tell the timeframe of this book, but I assumed it was probably in an alternate 1950s, based on the context clues. Of course, with the pacing of a...
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BOOK: Shadow Puppets (2002)

Shadow PuppetsYear: 2002Author: Orson Scott CardLength: 646 minutes / 10.77 hours It’s odd for me to read the third book in a series and be confronted with problems that I usually see by the fourth book. So far, I’ve been on board with the whole Shadow series as it focuses on an interesting character in the form of Bean. For two books, I’ve read about Bean’s survival, made all the more thrilling by the antagonist Achilles. Of course, during Ender’s Shadow and Shadow of the Hegemon, the series picked up plenty of side stories and sub-plots. This is what ruined Shadow Puppets for me: the focus wasn’t on Bean and Achilles, but rather on advancing the story of all these sub-plots. Now, don’t get me wrong, Shadow Puppets has a lot of interesting events. It’s just that it was so entertaining to read about Achilles in the previous books, and he’s relegated to a bookending motif for this book. We don’t get...
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MOVIE: I Lost My Body (2019)

I Lost My Body Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 81 minutes / 1.35 hours Some movies can only be done with animation. Whether it’s the fantastical or alien nature of the content or the visual aesthetic trying to be achieved, animation is pretty flexible with what it can do. Enter I Lost My Body (2019), which is a prime case study in the power of animation. Sure, this could have been done up in realistic CGI, but then it would probably be more in line with the horror genre than the “slice of life” (har har) we have on display here. Either way, I have never seen an entire movie centered on a severed hand trying to get back to the body that lost it…until now. With hints of Homeward Bound (1993) and The Addams Family (1991), I Lost My Body plays out in parallel with the strangely-relatable severed hand and the flashbacks of the whole body, Naoufel (Dev Patel). At times heartfelt (even in...
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BOOK: The Obelisk Gate (2016)

The Obelisk Gate Year: 2016 Author: N.K. Jemisin Length: 799 minutes / 13.32 hours I’ll admit that reading The Fifth Season had a bit of a learning curve for the Broken Earth series. Not only did I have to learn about the vastly powerful magic system based on rocks (and other rock forms), but I had to get used to a second-person point of view (POV). Jumping between timelines with similar characters who had different names was a bit confusing, but I was able to figure it out by the end. Fast forward to the sequel, The Obelisk Gate, and most of my qualms with the first book were smoothed over or solved outright. One of the things I enjoyed about The Obelisk Gate was the increase in the scale of the magic system. Including the moon in these calculations makes perfect sense considering the nature of the orogeny magic. I also appreciated how the story seemed to focus on a single POV, which made...
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MOVIE: Onward (2020)

Onward Year: 2020 Rating: PG Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I always look forward to Pixar films, mostly to see how visually stunning a movie created entirely in a computer can look with each passing year of technological and programming advancements. The other reason I will always go to see a Pixar movie is their dedication to a good story. Sure, there have been some missed steps over the years (The Good Dinosaur (2015) being the latest example), but their track record has been good enough to warrant me seeing their films in the theater. While I was looking forward to this year’s offering of Onward (2020), the result felt a little lackluster overall. Choosing to explore a storyline with a deceased parent was odd in that it felt like something that had rarely been addressed in movies geared toward children while also having a strong “after school special” vibe to it. Either way, putting it in a pseudo-Monsters, Inc. (2001) fantasy world was a fun way to...
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VIDEO GAME: Shovel Knight (2014)

Shovel Knight Year: 2014 Rating: E Time Played: 27.33 hours I grew up in the era of retro video games. My favorite was the Mega Man series, but I appreciated what games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link were trying to accomplish. While Shovel Knight isn’t a spiritual successor to any one game, it lovingly paints the pixelated beauty of classic video games in vibrant homage. I played through this game and all three of its free DLC add-ons on the 3DS, and I found the stereoscopic effect to be just as mesmerizing as the stunning visuals it used to create the effect. Shovel Knight managed to create a world filled with lore and unique characters that far surpasses anything programmed on the NES. Granted, there was a bit of a cheat in not being wholly constrained to NES graphics or audio, but I’d rather have a great game that fudges some nostalgia than one that suffers because of...
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BOOK: The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets (2013)

The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets Year: 2013 Author: Simon Singh Length: 253 pages My wife picked up this book for me from the library because she thought I might like to read it. To her credit, I am a huge fan of The Simpsons (and Futurama), and there are plenty of interesting mathematical concepts that I’ve loved reading about over the years. Clearly, I would be the target demographic for this book. Except, after reading through it, I’m clearly not. In fact, I’m not even sure who the target audience for this book is. Fans of Matt Groening’s work will already know the episodes and scenes that are re-described here. Fans of mathematics will already know about prime numbers, Fermat’s last theorem, and Klein bottles. In short, this book felt like a mathematician trying to make math seem interesting by pointing at freeze-frame gags in a popular TV show and waggling his eyebrows as if to say, “See how smart the writers of this...
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BOOK: The Opal Deception (2005)

The Opal Deception Year: 2005 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 449 minutes / 7.48 hours As a fan of the three-act structure that trilogies can provide, I’ve found over the years that the fourth book in a series generally determines what the style of future books will be. Plenty of series have strong plotlines and character arcs that span multiple volumes, but some series settle into a tried-and-true formula that works for them. For The Opal Deception, the fourth book in the Artemis Fowl series, it’s the latter. Granted, the series is meant for grade-school readers, so it’s not entirely surprising that the series has become formulaic. There was an amount of status quo (and returning to it) that had to happen after the events in The Eternity Code, which is where The Opal Deception came in. It honestly feels a little like a half-step backward for the series, or at least a realignment to get the characters all back together to continue on future adventures....
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MOVIE: Marriage Story (2019)

Marriage StoryYear: 2019Rating: RLength: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours Marriage Story (2019) isn’t a movie about divorce so much as it is a movie about the east coast vs. the west coast. While I’ll admit that there were some pretty good performances in this film (notably, Laura Dern was spectacular), there wasn’t anything new here that other movies like Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) hadn’t covered. Additionally, it was a bit difficult to separate the two leads (Scarlett Johannsson and Adam Driver) from their other famous movie roles, which made it difficult to commit to the premise fully. Plus, movies like Marriage Story are just uncomfortable looks into lives in shambles that probably hit too close to home for some people. It’s weird how so many successful elements didn’t come together cohesively for me. Randy Newman’s score sounded great, but it made the film sound more like Toy Story (1995) than Marriage Story. Likewise, with the famous acting talent present: they had exemplary...
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BOOK: Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry (2010)

Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry Year: 2010 Author: Neil Gaiman Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours I’m all for interesting ways to write books, but using a game of “Twitter telephone” is a new one for me. In fact, can we even call this book written by Gaiman at all? Sure, he’s great at these types of modern fairy tales (like Stardust, for instance), but he only got the ball rolling on this story and let the internet write the rest of it. Granted, he was the one who chose which segments to include next, to help guide it into some limited form of coherence, so maybe he “wrote” it after all? It’s not that Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry isn’t an utterly incoherent story; it’s that it lacks focus at times. Plenty of interesting subplots could have been explored but were quickly abandoned as the story switched over to a different writer. I’m almost glad this book was as short as it was because otherwise, I...
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MOVIE: Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Ford v Ferrari Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 152 minutes / 2.53 hours Full disclosure: I’m not a “car guy.” Sure, my education was in Mechanical Engineering, and I can appreciate well-crafted machines, but I see cars as mere tools to get from point A to point B. Consequently, I don’t have much interest in car racing and didn’t initially want to see Ford v Ferrari (2019). Luckily for me, this film was chosen as one of this year’s nominees for Best Picture. After watching it, I can clearly see why. For someone who isn’t into cars or racing, I was completely enthralled and entertained by Ford v Ferrari. This movie is a tour de force when it comes to several filmmaking aspects. It expertly used its sound design, music, and cinematography to give the raw tension of racing highly-engineered machines meant for one thing only: to go fast. In fact, I only had two qualms with this movie on the whole. First, the “marketing...
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VIDEO GAME: Gris (2018)

GrisYear: 2018Rating: ETime Played: 3+ hours Much like Journey, Gris is an incredible fusion of art and video game. Taking a watercolor aesthetic and hauntingly beautiful music in stride to tell a subtle story of loss and recovery, Gris ended up being a relaxing trot through its geometric world for me. Unfortunately, much like Journey, the amount of effort that goes into making this game look beautiful was also probably why it ended up being so short. Even if I broke up the platforming gameplay into a few hour-long sessions, I could easily complete it in a long evening. In the end, the platforming of the game is relatively simple. There’s a couple of puzzles that took me a moment to figure out, and I still haven’t found all the hidden items, so I might come back and do a second play-through to complete it fully. The fact that I wanted to play it again shortly after reaching the end credits is...
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BOOK: How To (2019)

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems Year: 2019 Author: Randall Munroe Length: 307 pages I’ve been a fan of Randall Munroe’s work for quite some time. This artist of the xkcd webcomic certainly has a sense of humor that I appreciate, so I looked forward to his latest book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems. While his previous book, What if? covered hypothetical scenarios asked by the users of the internet, How To takes a somewhat opposite approach by using extreme science to do the most basic things imaginable. If you’re looking for simple answers, this isn’t the book for you. While it’s fun to think of the most complicated way to (for example) be on time, often the joke goes on a little too long as the exact science behind the absurdity is explained. There were times I felt I was reading a textbook instead of a humorous treatise on how to cross a river. Even though I...
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BOOK: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)

The Man Who Was ThursdayYear: 1908Author: G.K. ChestertonLength: 355 minutes / 5.92 hours On the surface, The Man Who Was Thursday has all the markings of a witty thriller satire. Unfortunately, as the subtitle of this work is “A Nightmare,” things don’t necessarily stay coherent to the end. It’s not that The Man Who Was Thursday is terrible, but rather that it loses focus and becomes absurd the longer it continues. And perhaps that’s the greatest tragedy of this book: that it could have been a solid story if it didn’t devolve into a nightmare at the end. I certainly liked plenty of aspects of the early parts of this book. Infiltrating an anarchist society with day-of-the-week codenames. The revelation that few members of said society were actually who they said they were. The conspiracy and twists as the protagonists and antagonists get flipped on their heads. Of course, this last bit is when things started going downhill. Perhaps it’s that odd...
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MOVIE: Parasite (2019)

Parasite Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours If you haven’t discovered South Korean cinema yet, Parasite (2019) is a fantastic introduction for the uninitiated. Director Bong Joon-ho has been hard at work over the last 20 years, helping craft films that are thoughtful and horrifying. Movies like The Host (2006) and Snowpiercer (2013) give a sense of his artistic style. Parasite merely takes his ability to shed light on class conflict and molds it into a masterpiece that’s half heist-comedy, half horror-drama, and all suspense. If it weren’t for the somewhat lackluster ending, I’d give this film the full five stars it deserves. At the base of Parasite is a conflict between the impoverished and the rich. This theme could be easily applied to any country with a wide income disparity, which is probably why it works so well in the United States as well as in South Korea. To survive in these environments, the poor must do their best to...
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BOOK: Wizard and Glass (1997)

Wizard and GlassYear: 1997Author: Stephen KingLength: 1,656 minutes / 27.6 hours When I started reading Wizard and Glass, it became abundantly clear why The Waste Lands ended with a cliffhanger. While it would have been nice to have a short conclusion at the end of The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass needed a small amount of framing. That way, it didn’t become a book entirely devoted to a flashback. Granted, the large majority of this book is a flashback, even to the point that I’d consider it to be a prequel. Fortunately, Roland’s backstory was something that desperately needed to be expounded upon in this series. I know most writers are discouraged from using flashbacks, but in the context of a more extensive series, Wizard and Glass is an integral part of understanding how the Dark Tower universe works. Plus, Stephen King can get away with a lot since he’s so well established. In the end, this book works well because it...
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MOVIE: Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Jojo RabbitYear: 2019Rating: PG-13Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours When I first saw the trailers for Jojo Rabbit (2019), I thought this movie looked like a fun and satirical romp through Nazi Germany. With the director (Taika Waititi) portraying an imaginary Adolf Hitler, the comedy was in full display during the trailers. After all, Waititi directed Thor: Ragnarok (2017), which is arguably one of the funniest films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Plus, Jojo Rabbit seemed to focus on a 10-year-old boy (Roman Griffin Davis) in the Hitler Youth, which gave some strong Boy Scout vibes that I could potentially relate to. Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed to find that the trailers contained all the comedy in Jojo Rabbit. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the remainder of the film gave some amount of cynicism and reality to the fanatical enthusiasm of Jojo and the other members of the Hitler Youth. In fact, there’s a significant scene that really hits home...
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VIDEO GAME: Journey (2012)

JourneyYear: 2012Rating: ETime Played: ~2 hours As someone who enjoys movies and video games, I appreciate how cinematic video games have become over the last decade. Additionally, since many films can be “artsy,” there’s no reason why video games can’t follow the same style. Journey definitely fits this definition, and I’d almost go so far to say that it’s interactive and collaborative art. The story is pretty simple, but the execution of it gave me shivers as I finished and watched the end credits. The visuals and music add to the ambiance that engulfed me for the short time I spent playing this game. Perhaps my only qualm with Journey is the same qualm I have with any artistic video game: its length. I would have loved to spend more time in this world, but as it stands, I can easily complete it in a single sitting. Which I suppose is how it should be when you consider that the “partners” along...
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BOOK: Mist (2013)

Mist Year: 2013 Author: Susan Krinard Length: 384 pages My knowledge of Norse mythology is passable at best. Granted, much of it I “learned” from movies like Thor (2011), so I understand that there’s an amount of fictionalization to my knowledge. That being said, Mist seemed to take this pop-culture understanding of Norse mythology and transplant it into modern-day San Francisco. While solidly in the New Adult genre (there is plenty of sex and allusions to it here), I can’t say that anything is interesting here in terms of story. Sure, there are a few things that happen, but they all seem to be alluding to much more exciting developments that won’t happen until later in the series. One of my biggest qualms with this book was that I didn’t connect with the main character. Mist felt very “Mary Sue” to me. I found the more common elements of her existence (e.g., her employment, grocery shopping, laundry, etc.) were mentioned in passing but never given...
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BOOK: Caging Skies (2004)

Caging SkiesYear: 2004Author: Christine LeunensLength: 628 minutes / 10.47 hours When I saw Jojo Rabbit (2019) nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, I decided to give Caging Skies a read to see how close the adaptation came. After finishing this book, I can see why Taika Waititi ended his movie at the half-way point of the plot. This is mostly because this book only has half a plot. I can forgive a bit of blind enthusiasm of Austrian children who thought the Nazis were great, but I can’t forgive a teenager that gaslights (and, let’s be honest, rapes) a captive girl and tries to come off as the victim. While taking a much more serious tone than the one presented in Jojo Rabbit, Caging Skies does a reasonably good job exploring themes of war, disability, and the sacrifices it takes to do what is right. Unfortunately, a lot of the lessons presented by the main character’s parents are entirely lost by the half-way...
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MOVIE: Frozen II (2019)

Frozen IIYear: 2019Rating: PGLength: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours After the cultural phenomenon that was Frozen (2013) had cooled off a little, a sequel was an inevitable conclusion. The trouble with such sequels is multi-faceted: how do you recapture the magic of the first movie while also creating something new that advances the story? Unfortunately, Frozen II (2019) falls into the trap of focusing on what made the first so successful that it almost feels like it’s mimicking its origins. To top it off, the new elements introduced in this film are either predictable plot points or over-done tropes. But hey, it’s Disney, and it looks absolutely gorgeous, even if some of the main characters seemed slightly more exaggerated in their presentation (perhaps starting to edge closer to the uncanny valley). While the songs all hit similar beats to their predecessors, most of them seem to fall short or were emphasized in the wrong places. Case in point, I found “Show Yourself”...
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BOOK: The Eternity Code (2003)

The Eternity CodeYear: 2003Author: Eoin ColferLength: 414 minutes / 6.90 hours After the last two adventures in the Artemis Fowl series helped to reunite the titular character with his family, it was entertaining to watch him strike out on his own. This was for no other reason than to prove he has the criminal chops his family name is known for. While decidedly middle-grade to young adult in tone, The Eternity Code is still an entertaining read. One might need to have read the previous two volumes to know who all the main players are, but at least the story is strong enough to carry the reader through to the conclusion without too much hassle. While I appreciated the “on top of it” style Artemis had in Artemis Fowl, I could also enjoy the cracks of vulnerability in his façade present in The Eternity Code. After all, Artemis is merely a teenage boy, and it helps to ground him in reality when...
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MOVIE: Little Women (2019)

Little WomenYear: 2019Rating: PGLength: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours After the success of Greta Gerwig’s debut film, Lady Bird (2017), I was pleased to find her directing again with a tried and true classic, Little Women (2019). This movie isn’t new or its content original by any means (this is the seventh film adaptation after all). However, Gerwig has managed to give it a poignancy and relevance to today’s issues while still maintaining an apparent loyalty to the period. It probably helped that Gerwig had tons of acting talent along for this film, including collaborators from her last film: Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet. In the end, I found this to be perhaps my most favorite adaptation of this classic piece of literature. Where Gerwig shines in this film is her ability to use flashbacks and dueling timelines to show the contrast and growth of the characters in stark moments of brilliance. My one qualm is that this technique was perhaps used...
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VIDEO GAME: Let’s Go Pikachu (2018)

Pokémon: Let’s Go PikachuYear: 2018Rating: ETime Played: 23 hours I hesitated to pick up Let’s Go Pikachu for the sole reason that I already had bought this game decades ago in the form of Pokémon Yellow. I couldn’t justify spending $60 for a re-skin and decreased difficulty to align it with the Pokémon Go-style of catching. That being said, I was able to pick this title up for $20 as a part of Redbox’s video game sale, and I’m glad I did. Sure, the game is the same as before, but there are a few things I still enjoyed about it as I reveled in the nostalgia it brought to me. First off, the visuals are stunning. I think we often forget how limited the Game Boy’s graphics were, but seeing all these classic Pokémon in full HD on my big screen was an experience. I also appreciated how they removed HMs in favor of special techniques for Pikachu to use, which...
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BOOK: Lightless (2015)

LightlessYear: 2015Author: C.A. HigginsLength: 304 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** There seem to be a few cardinal sins most writers are cautioned to avoid at all costs. Two of these sins are exposition dumps and “show, don’t tell.” While the entire book doesn’t necessarily fall into these pitfalls, Lightless spends a big chunk of its 300 pages in telling the reader about all the exposition to the story that’s currently playing out. Instead of reading an interrogation, I would have much rather seen the events that led to the current state of the solar system. On top of all this, I failed to care about any of the characters or their plights because this method of storytelling was so impersonal. I’ll admit that I almost gave up reading this book right before it became interesting again. The ending does a pretty good job of re-invigorating the plot, but it might be a case of too little too late. Furthermore, not...
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BOOK: Storm Front (2000)

Storm Front Year: 2000 Author: Jim Butcher Length: 482 minutes / 8.03 hours The first book in the Dresden Files series, Storm Front is the fusion of urban fantasy and detective noir that I didn’t know I needed. As a wizard for hire, Harry Dresden gets a lot of weird cases that only a wizard could deal with, but it’s done in a way that hearkens back to Sam Spade and other detectives just trying to make a buck investigating mysteries that show up on their doorstep. Perhaps I just haven’t read any modern noir (most of it supplanted by the “thriller” genre), but Storm Front is a refreshing return to a classic form of storytelling. Of my two qualms, only one has to do with the book itself. The narrator of this audiobook had a bit too much breathing, sniffling, and other noises that—while being somewhat infrequent—pulled me out of the story far too often. And while I liked how there was always something...
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MOVIE: 1917 (2019)

1917Year: 2019Rating: RLength: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours While there have been movies filmed to look like they’re one long take (the Best Picture winner, Birdman (2015) comes to mind) and movies that revolve around key moments of retreat during war (Dunkirk (2017) comes to mind), never before have the two been so masterfully combined. 1917 (2019) is a rare piece of cinema that tackles the less-popular World War I as its subject matter, but doing so in a way that’s personal, gruesome, and tense. Those viewers who might be put off by the gore of this film might come to realize that cinema has been censoring the ugly side of war for far too long. None of the violence seems out of place in 1917. Its moments of horror highlight the ugliness of war that results in constant and ever-present death. Fortunately, there are enough moments of peace and rebuttal between these intense sequences to let the audience catch their breath....
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BOOK: A Darker Shade of Magic (2015)

A Darker Shade of MagicYear: 2015Author: V.E. SchwabLength: 694 minutes / 11.57 hours A co-worker of mine suggested I check this book out, and I have now finally gotten around to it. While he gave this series of books a glowing review, I can only hope that the other books in this trilogy fare better than this one. For what it was worth, A Darker Shade of Magic didn’t seem to be original enough for me to care much about what happened in it. It’s filled with so many fantasy and YA tropes that I could almost swear I’d read the same book somewhere else before. Perhaps part of my problem comes with the audiobook production of this story. I generally liked Lila, except when she was particularly annoying. There were quite a few times the narrator made her sound like Audrey Hepburn in the early part of My Fair Lady (1964), and that’s not much of a compliment. Overall, though, I...
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MOVIE: The Irishman (2019)

The IrishmanYear: 2019Rating: RLength: 209 minutes / 3.48 hours At almost three-and-a-half hours long, The Irishman (2019) might seem like a daunting movie to sit through. However, much like Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019) gave Quentin Tarantino the space to make the movie he wanted to, Netflix seems to have allowed Martin Scorsese to create the film he wanted with little-to-no interference. Consequently, the 3.5 hours of this movie could have probably stood a bit of a trim, but the pacing is so well done as to make the time fly by (similar to another movie of epic proportions, Lawrence of Arabia (1962)). One of the most significant strengths of this movie appears to be its de-aging technology. While it’s still a bit on the edge of the uncanny valley, the main actors did look significantly younger than their current ages during the flashback sequences. Instead of relying on look-alikes and teaching them the mannerisms of these incredibly talented actors, Scorsese...
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VIDEO GAME: Untitled Goose Game (2019)

Untitled Goose Game Year: 2019 Rating: E Time Played: 2+ hours The indie breakout hit of the year, Untitled Goose Game, has a lot going for it. The action-synched music, the visual aesthetic, and (most of all) the ability to play as a modern-age dinosaur. While most of the geese I’ve interacted with in my life have been of the Canadian variety, the controls and feel of this British goose are accurate enough for me to become lost in moments of hilarity at the hands of this foul waterfowl. However, for $20, I can’t recommend anyone pay that much for what amounts to a polished tech demo. Despite all it has going for it, Untitled Goose Game is incredibly short. I was able to play through the four main areas in only a few hours, not bothering to complete the expanded list of tasks as most of them were minor variants of the things I had already done. Additionally, while the game seems open-world at...
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BOOK: Shadow of the Hegemon (2000)

Shadow of the HegemonYear: 2000Author: Orson Scott CardLength: 365 pages It’s almost fitting how the follow-on book in the spin-off series to Ender’s Game takes the same tactic as Speaker for the Dead and transforms itself into a completely different genre. While Speaker for the Dead and its sequels still maintained a level of science fiction for the Ender saga, Shadow of the Hegemon pivots into a political thriller with almost no hints of sci-fi to be seen. The strength of the characters helped make this transition relatively smooth, but it still highlights how these child-aged individuals hardly have any child-like qualities. While the Shadow saga certainly needed to start out focusing on Bean, I did appreciate how Shadow of the Hegemon developed many of the supporting characters. For the first time in both series, I felt like the reader was able to know Petra and Peter while also seeing what Achilles was capable of accomplishing. The results of bringing back children...
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BOOK: Schumann – The Faces and the Masks (2018)

Schumann: The Faces and the Masks Year: 2018 Author: Judith Chernaik Length: 773 minutes / 12.83 hours When it comes to biographies of famous artists, it can be difficult to separate their life from their life’s work. It is fascinating to understand the influences of an artist, especially when in the context of their creation. However, much of the ability to talk about the artist’s life depends on common knowledge of their artistic portfolio. For slightly more obscure artists, finding the balance between discussing their personal life and providing an explanation of their art can be a challenge. Schumann: The Faces and the Masks attempts to cover both Robert Schumann’s life and his musical pieces. While revealing some of the more interesting secret codes in Schumann’s music in this book, the moments discussing the songs in detail seem to derail the whole narrative of the biography. Schumann’s life was fascinating enough as it was, with the drama involved in his marriage to Clara Wieck, as...
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MOVIE: Knives Out (2019)

Knives OutYear: 2019Rating: PG-13Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours One of the most under-utilized genres to date, a good mystery movie is hard to find these days. This is partly why Knives Out (2019) is such a joy to watch. With plenty of twists and turns—and a murderer that subverts all the numerous tropes of the genre—this film is almost on the edge of self-aware satire of mysteries on the whole. This is partly why I found Knives Out to be delightfully amusing: the absurd nature of some of the genre’s most tightly-held motifs were playfully subverted for a couple of genuine laughs. Of course, part of the problem of Knives Out being so self-aware is that it is inevitably predictable at several key moments. Depending on how far ahead a viewer can deduce the solution to a critical piece of evidence might determine how predictable it is for them. I did appreciate that there was always one piece of the puzzle...
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BOOK: The Crystal City (2003)

The Crystal City Year: 2003 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 690 minutes / 11.50 hours With the end of this series in sight, it seems that the focus of The Crystal City is back on track. That being said, there are a few curious omissions that made it somewhat frustrating to read. I understand that some stories aren’t meant to be part of full books, but when these side short stories sound much more interesting by their mere inference, then I wonder why they weren’t included in the main storyline to begin with. Still, there were enough exciting developments in The Crystal City to keep me wondering what the conclusion will bring in the next book. While I appreciated the historical name dropping earlier in the series, now they seem to be coming left and right, with little-to-no impact on the story other than to say, “Look! Here’s someone you should know, and here’s how they’re different now!” Part of this is due to the...
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MOVIE: X-Men – Dark Phoenix (2019)

X-Men: Dark Phoenix Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours I’m all for more faithful adaptations of stories into film. However, in long-running series like the X-Men franchise, I can’t help but wonder if efforts could have been spent on different storylines instead of trying to fix past mistakes. I know the “Dark Phoenix” saga is one of the best in the X-Men series, but after X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) tried to fill the gap of X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) created by the ret-con in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), I can honestly say I preferred the version in The Last Stand. Up until now, I’ve been okay with the “First Class” set of prequels. They have taken an alternate history approach to lay out the lore of the X-Men, which I like. The problem with Dark Phoenix is that—after covering three decades in the last three films—the timeline finally caught up with the original trilogy. It was fun to...
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BOOK: Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine (2018)

Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine Year: 2018 Author: Jessica Crichton Length: 260 pages While I’m a bit older than the target demographic, I’m not sure I was ever a fan of the kind of “gross-out” tropes that seem to permeate the middle-grade genre. My main problem with Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine is that it relies on this trope in spades. At the very least, it takes this slightly “uncultured” format and takes it to its logical extremes. After all, the amount of accented pidgin adds flavor to this parallel universe, even if it sacrifices some readability. In the end, though, it’s still a pretty good story even if the plot points felt pretty standard for the genre. Aside from some of the content being gross, there were several proofreading errors scattered throughout this book. Not enough to be distracting but enough to be noticeable. I’m also not sure the more complicated “twist” near the end is understandable for the target age range, considering the scientific knowledge needed...
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BOOK: Heartfire (1998)

Heartfire Year: 1998 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 728 minutes / 12.13 hours It’s been a while since I read this far into a series, and I can start to see why I like trilogies and stand-alone books. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think this series had evolved into a courtroom drama instead of a historical fantasy. At this point, the whole premise of this series seems to have veered off course and has lost its focus to tackle unrelated issues that were somewhat prominent at the time. Or, at least it’s merely acting as a chance to name drop historical figures and take the side of history against well-known issues that haven’t aged well over time. If anything, Heartfire could have easily been the fourth book in the series, since Alvin Journeyman added nothing to the story. Even so, Heartfire didn’t feel as strong as earlier books in the series. It almost seems like there’s more of a focus on world-building. There...
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MOVIE: Star Wars – Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 142 minutes / 2.37 hours Full disclosure: I’m not a die-hard Star Wars fan by any means. Sure, I like the original trilogy, but Return of the Jedi (1983) is my favorite of that set (take that how you will). In the end, I don’t look at this franchise through the lens of the expanded universe or all the lore tied to it. I just see them as movies. Are they entertaining? Sure, they have their moments. Are they groundbreaking? Not since A New Hope (1977), in my opinion. So, while The Force Awakens (2015) felt like a rehash/reboot, I did appreciate how The Last Jedi (2017) took some risks in terms of character development. So, how does The Rise of Skywalker (2019) fare? First of all, the plot moves at a hyperspace-clipped pace. There seemed to be so many loose ends to tie up and nostalgia to fit in that...
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MOVIE: An Education (2009)

An Education Year: 2009 Rating: PG-13 Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours I’m not sure how I missed this film when it first came out. I suspect it was because I hadn’t started making a point to see all the Oscar-nominated films of that year—and 2009 bumped that number up significantly from five to ten. At any rate, I’m glad I eventually came around to it as it was a delightful—if not mostly generic—coming-of-age story. The only modern and recent example I can think of that equates to An Education (2009) is Lady Bird (2017), and I loved that film for similar reasons. As someone who generally grew up feeling “older” than his peers, I could relate to Jenny (Carey Mulligan, in her best Audrey Hepburn impersonation). There’s a point when some teenagers like Jenny think they’ve figured out the “rules” of life and are therefore ready to jump into adulthood with both feet. This is definitely where the titular “education” comes in. It's both...
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MOVIE: Hugo (2011)

Hugo Year: 2011 Rating: PG Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours Enchanting. Charming. Magical. After re-watching this film again, I can still confirm Hugo (2011) legitimately earned all its technical Oscars, even if it didn’t end up winning Best Picture. Ironically enough, this American movie about the origins of French film lost out to a French movie about the origins of American talking pictures (i.e., The Artist (2011)). Of course, the more surprising aspect of this film was how Martin Scorsese was able to make such an entertaining (and family-friendly) film that didn’t involve the mafia at all. Personally, as an avid lover of classic films, I enjoyed the romanticism related to the earliest of film magicians. Scorsese’s love letter to the origins of cinema—and the masters of their craft like Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley)—is a stark reminder of how much we've lost of cinema’s heritage due to external events that forced the artistic community to abandon their art. The amount of experimentation and inventive...
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BOOK: Pandora’s Lab (2017)

Pandora’s Lab Year: 2017 Author: Paul A. Offit Length: 471 minutes / 7.85 hours Science is an interesting realm. The public would sure like to think that all scientists are dedicated to finding the purest form of some scientific concept and modifying it to benefit society. However, some things become readily clear: not all societies are the same, and science can be abused. If anything, some of the worst scientific discoveries of the last few centuries were made with the best intentions. Unfortunately, more often than not, the full science wasn’t brought to the table, and plenty of people suffered because of it. Enter Pandora’s Lab, a selection of a few of the worst scientific discoveries and the stories behind what made them go awry. Each of the scientific discoveries covered in this book had slightly different negative impacts on the world, but the reason why they became so notorious is almost ubiquitous. Science is no place for emotion, so finding quick fixes for something by...
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MOVIE: East of Eden (1955)

East of Eden Year: 1955 Rating: PG Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours East of Eden (1955) is one of those films that are famous only for who is in it and who originally wrote it. If this wasn’t one of the few roles James Dean had before his unfortunate death, I’m not sure I’d have watched it. Even if it’s based on a Steinbeck book, I think I’d prefer The Grapes of Wrath (1940) or Of Mice and Men (1939) to this. Still, there is some artistic merit to this film, even if it didn’t cover the entirety of the source material. It just goes to show how a movie can have staying power just from the people tied to it. Notably, I did enjoy pieces of the cinematography in East of Eden. In particular, when James Dean’s character is on the porch swing, that scene was shot in such a way that I haven’t seen done before or since. And while Dean’s performance...
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BOOK: Record of a Spaceborn Few (2018)

Record of a Spaceborn Few Year: 2018 Author: Becky Chambers Length: 696 minutes / 11.6 hours Considering that A Closed and Common Orbit was only loosely related to the first book in the Wayfarers series, I knew that I shouldn’t expect the third book in this series, Record of a Spaceborn Few, to have any significant connection to the previous books. Unfortunately, even the several different storylines in this book were hardly connected, seeming more like a series of short stories that were inter-cut between themselves. While Chambers’ world-building and dialogue are still top-notch, there isn’t anything in this book other than some boring characters living their boring lives. I understand that any author worth their salt will develop vast amounts of details about the universe they create. However, most authors leave the aspects of the minutia and banal day-to-day lives out of their writing in favor of an actual plot with actual conflict. Instead, this book is filled with the details of world-building and nothing else. If these characters...
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MOVIE: One Piece – Stampede (2019)

One Piece: Stampede Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours It’s interesting how different Japanese franchises handle their 20th-anniversary movies. In the case of Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You (2017), a nostalgia tactic was used to bring in those viewers who might not have seen a Pokémon movie since the anime started airing back in 1997. Two years later, and another well-known anime (or at least it should be well known) has a movie that celebrates the 20th year of its animated series. One Piece: Stampede (2019) takes a somewhat different tactic here and embraces everything that turned it into what it is today. While anime movies rarely interact with the canon of the series they’re based on, it is essential to note that the author of the original manga did help create the story for Stampede. The reason why this is important is that this movie was able to bring together 20 years’ worth of extraordinarily overpowered and unique characters in a way...
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BOOK: Tongues of Serpents (2010)

Tongues of Serpents Year: 2010 Author: Naomi Novik Length: 355 pages Up until now, I had only read one other book by Naomi Novik. I had loved Spinning Silver and the unique take on a classic fairy tale it presented. While I understand Tongues of Serpents is the sixth book in the Temeraire series, I found it to be inferior to Spinning Silver in many ways. I will also grant that I’m not necessarily the target audience for this genre of historical fantasy when it takes a more nautical tilt (like Far Side of the World does). Still, there was enough of a standalone element to Tongues of Serpents that I was able to pull a story out of it and write a review of it. Some things I had trouble getting used to in this book were the fact that the dragons all spoke in the same English as the human characters. I had a tough time identifying which characters were dragons and which were humans, and I didn’t know why they sounded so similar (I’m...
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BOOK: Quiet (2012)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking Year: 2012 Author: Susan Cain Length: 639 minutes / 10.65 hours While it’s taken me a long time to finally get around to reading this book, most of what Quiet presented was what I had already known by living my life as an introvert. I will applaud this book’s ability to help society realize how ubiquitous the introverts that comprise the population are. Quiet also helps show what our needs are in this world that prizes the traits of extroversion over anything else. Even if there are many times where I have to put on my “extrovert suit,” it helps to know that there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. Perhaps my only qualm with this book is how anecdotal the evidence is. Whether it’s stories about famous introverts (which can be inspiring) or younger introverts who are being brought up by parents who don’t quite understand the strengths of the introvert type, Quiet uses a lot of case...
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MOVIE: Hero (2002)

Hero Year: 2002 Rating: PG-13 Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours After the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) in most of the worldwide markets, it’s no wonder that a film like Hero (2002) would make an appearance. Capitalizing on the choreography and visuals that brought Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon success, Hero takes these acrobatic battles to the next level, even to the point of them becoming ridiculous and semi-cartoonish. Add to this the deliberate color theming for each of the film’s different sections, and Hero almost becomes a piece of art in its own right. It’s almost a shame that there haven’t been more movies like this in the years since. While some of the CGI hasn’t aged well since 2002, and the acting can sometimes be too flat or too over the top, the story is still entertaining. The language barrier did make it slightly confusing at times, but the twists were top-notch. It did help to have the “framing” of the throne room to not only show the...
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BOOK: First King of Shannara (1996)

First King of Shannara Year: 1996 Author: Terry Brooks Length: 1,155 minutes / 19.25 hours While this prequel to the original Shannara trilogy was written well after completing the first three books, First King of Shannara failed to re-capture the magic that made me adore Wishsong of Shannara. If anything, this book seemed unnecessary. It told a story that already had a fixed ending as described in the exposition of The Sword of Shannara (which itself had a pretty un-climactic ending if I remember correctly). Sure, there’s a lot more world-building in this book, but only avid fans of the series will find any of it interesting. Perhaps my main gripe with this book is how I failed to care for any of the characters. Most of their interactions felt cliché and trite, and there was a smidge too many of them for me to want to take the time to know who they were. If anything, the characters were flat stereotypes with no personality. This was...
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MOVIE: Senna (2010)

Senna Year: 2010 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours I’ve never been much of a fan of NASCAR racing, mostly because I knew that Formula-1 existed. While I haven’t paid much attention to Formula-1, it was interesting to watch the documentary on Ayrton Senna, especially with how it was put together. Most documentaries will intersperse interviews and other pieces of ancillary information to support the main narrative. Not Senna (2010). Consisting almost entirely of video clips recorded at the time he was racing, Senna is a fascinating look into this racer’s life that benefits from hindsight to piece the video clips together and the full story. The sheer amount of skill and mechanical prowess it takes to race Formula-1 cars at top speeds is what gives this film its initial entertainment value. Added to that, we have the charismatic personality of Ayrton Senna, whose whole goal in life was to be the fastest driver around. He didn’t care about the politics of the...
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BOOK: Weapons of Math Destruction (2016)

Weapons of Math Destruction Year: 2016 Author: Cathy O’Neil Length: 383 minutes / 6.38 hours I love data. I love what it can show us as individuals and what it can show as society changes from year to year. Being able to trend my spending is just as useful to me as knowing how many people are participating in my National Novel Writing Month region. Because I’m always interested in seeing what pure numbers can show me about the world, I was intrigued to find this book, Weapons of Math Destruction. While I had already heard many of this book’s conclusions, it was interesting to read about the algorithms that work silently behind the scenes of our society and how nobody can really control or change them. I’ll agree that it’s terrifying to have decision-making boiled down to a number popped out of an algorithm that decision-makers just blindly trust without understanding the rules of causality or correlation. People are messy, so I understand how finding...
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MOVIE: The Current War – Director’s Cut (2017)

The Current War: Director’s Cut Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I’ve known for some time about the “war” between alternating and direct current. It was such an interesting battle of egos between some famous names that are still known today. Heck, I even included elements of it as a sub-plot in my second book. Of course, I always thought the conflict was between Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) and Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and not being mainly between Edison and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). At any rate, I found The Current War (2017) to be an entertaining examination of the events that led the world to finally accept one of these currents as the de-facto way to distribute electric power. Stepping back for a moment to the presentation of this movie, I appreciated the cinematography and the driving music that helped ratchet up the tension between these famous engineers and entrepreneurs. Additionally, the actors chosen to play their respective roles fit quite well....
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BOOK: Cribsheet (2019)

Cribsheet Year: 2019 Author: Emily Oster Length: 642 minutes / 10.70 hours As a new parent and an engineer, I am skeptical when so much advice about raising a baby comes from hearsay or anecdotal evidence. So many controversial topics abound in the early years of a child’s life that I wanted to make sure I was basing my decisions off the scientific data instead of mere wives' tales. Fortunately, Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool exists. Unfortunately, it has merely proven to me that there haven’t been enough rigorous studies to show any causal relationships to make my parenting decisions any easier. Similar in the tactics of Zero to Five (whose author was a science journalist), Cribsheet takes the experience of an economist and pits it against the studies that have been performed to determine which of them are legitimate enough to be trusted. In most cases, it seems that plenty of research into the benefits and detriments for children (and parents) merely...
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MOVIE: Blood Diamond (2006)

Blood Diamond Year: 2006 Rating: R Length: 143 minutes / 2.38 hours For years, I had heard about Blood Diamond (2006) from a variety of different viewpoints. Many friends would mention it about either Leonardo DiCaprio’s accent, the tense action, or the diamond industry as a whole. After a while, I made it a point to eventually see this film, even if I wasn’t sure when that would be. It took a while, but I did eventually have this chance, and I’m glad that I took it. Sure, Blood Diamond is a little difficult to watch in the sense that there are aspects of the African diamond industry that are straight-up human rights violations. However, it is important to know these things are going on to become informed about our world. The fact that there have been (and likely still are) child soldiers being brainwashed by ruthless rebels to overthrow the governments in Africa is a sobering thing to watch and a heartbreaking realization when you see how it...
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BOOK: Sleeping Giants (2016)

Sleeping Giants Year: 2016 Author: Sylvain Neuvel Length: 307 pages After my slight disappointment with Mecha Samurai Empire, I was pleased to find that a book that actually knows how to do "mecha" right already existed years before Mecha Samurai Empire was released. Taking a somewhat unique approach in its narrative structure, Sleeping Giants uses a series of interview transcripts to tell the story of discovering the parts of an ancient, giant robot and learning how to pilot this unique piece of equipment. There aren't any dialogue tags. There aren't any direct action sequences. There are just words describing the events as they happened. Somehow, it totally works. I seriously couldn't get enough of this book and basically devoured every word. I was a little disappointed with the semi-cliffhanger ending, though. Just as everything was starting to finally come together, it just kind of ends. Sure, many of the large plot movements reached a momentary conclusion but now I really want to know what happens...
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BOOK: Assignment in Eternity (1953)

Assignment in Eternity Year: 1953 Author: Robert A. Heinlein Length: 520 minutes / 8.67 hours Back in college, my first introduction to Heinlein was Stranger in a Strange Land. I had to read this book for my “Science in Literature” course, and I found it moderately interesting. Since then, I’ve read other Heinlein books like Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but I didn’t realize how dedicated Heinlein was to some of his “supernatural” themes until I read Assignment in Eternity. Sure, most authors will have some concept or idea that they like to revisit. Still, the fact that a majority of Assignment in Eternity ’s included short stories deal in some way with “superhumans” must mean something. The whole concept of ESP and “evolved” humans isn’t interesting to me since I don’t think there’s much that can be done with the concept. While Stranger in a Strange Land covered most of the bases, Assignment in Eternity doesn’t really expand the ideas any further. If anything, Stranger in a Strange Land was the culmination of Heinlein’s obsession...
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MOVIE: City of God (2002)

City of God Year: 2002 Rating: R Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours About a decade ago, I saw a clip from City of God (2002) in my Film Studies course at college. One of my classmates brought it to show everyone how realistic the acting appeared during a scene where young children were initiated into a gang. I had to admit that the acting seemed authentic. However, I didn’t consider it as part of the whole movie until recently, when I had a chance to sit down and watch the entire thing. While I’ll agree that this short clip was a good example of what the film had to offer, I was more in awe of plenty of other aspects it brought to the table. First off, the beginning of this movie wowed me with its cinematography. The whole “chicken chase” sequence is perhaps one of the best I’ve ever seen. City of God still manages to maintain some exquisite subtlety in showing the audience what it wants...
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BOOK: The Force Doth Awaken (2017)

William Shakespeare’s the Force Doth Awaken Year: 2017 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours As I’ve been working my way through Ian Doescher’s Shakespearean adaptations of pop culture movies, I think I’ve hit the point where the novelty has worn off. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel like The Force Doth Awaken had the same charm as other entries in this quirky mash-up series. I have a sneaking suspicion that this may be due to one of two factors: 1. The newer movies have more “modern” dialogue that seemed as if it was directly plopped into the Shakespearean format, or 2. The original trilogy had more time to be ingrained in my psyche, and the translation to Shakespearean felt appropriate. I don’t want to downplay the novelty of this adaptation, though. The voice acting is still superb, and the sound effects add a little something extra that immersed me as I listened to this audiobook. Plus, it’s not like these books are that lengthy...
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MOVIE: Zombieland – Double Tap (2019)

Zombieland: Double Tap Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours It's a little weird to me that it's been a full decade since Zombieland (2009) came out. While I thought the original film was goofy and fun, it has since gained a bit of a cult following. What's weirder to me is how—in the years since the original—many of the cast of this franchise have gone on to be nominated for (and in some cases won) Oscars for their acting talent. It's no wonder the advertisements for Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) have picked up on this fact and used it to promote another ridiculous foray into the self-aware satire of zombie films. While I do admit that Zombieland: Double Tap does require having seen the first film to pick up on its numerous references, I also knew that its comedy would be as smart as its predecessor. I appreciated this wit, especially with a few literary references thrown in (like to Of...
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BOOK: The Skull Throne (2015)

The Skull Throne Year: 2015 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,509 minutes / 25.15 hours You’d think a book with (what I assume is) Renna Bales (nee Tanner) on the cover would follow her and the group of people she’s traveling with. You’d think a book titled “The Skull Throne” would spend a lot of time addressing the now-empty Skull Throne. Instead, we only got brief mentions of these two sub-plots. While I’m happy that the latter didn’t have many pages dedicated to it, I’m disappointed that the former was addressed for only a few scant sections at the beginning and end. Instead, the majority of this book spent time in places that didn’t advance the overall story at all. Having read all the books (and the “3.5” novella) up until now, my concerns that arose during Messenger’s Legacy seem to have materialized. Sure, I do enjoy following the three main characters from The Warded Man, but there were certainly moments where I thought I was reading...
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MOVIE: Yesterday (2019)

Yesterday Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours When I saw the first trailers for Yesterday (2019), I had some high hopes for this movie. The premise of only one person remembering The Beatles in a world where this famous band didn’t exist was intriguing enough by itself to warrant a watch. Plus, with Danny Boyle directing, I had perhaps anticipated more than what I actually got. It’s hard to hate a movie with such a great soundtrack full of Beatles songs, but the execution of the entire idea left me wanting a bit more and breaking my suspension of disbelief on more than one occasion. Back in high school, I had a history assignment to perform a thought experiment similar to Yesterday: what happens if The Beatles didn’t exist? Instead of just being a weird gap in the cultural zeitgeist, I think this movie would have done better to see the amount of influence the band had throughout the music industry. Sure, some moments...
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BOOK: Mortal Engines (2001)

Mortal Engines Year: 2001 Author: Philip Reeve Length: 541 minutes / 9.02 hours In yet another case of watching a movie first before reading the books, I finally got around to reading Mortal Engines after absolutely loving the 2018 movie. While I understand middle-grade or Young Adult readers are the intended audiences, it left me wanting in its presentation. Sure, most of the elements that made it into the film were there (with some less-than-necessary parts being cut from the screenplay for obvious reasons), but the way it was written felt a bit too flowery for my tastes. In fact, the engineer in me would have loved a lot more world-building than I got in this short volume. I did still appreciate the post-apocalyptic steampunk world of Mortal Engines—if for no other reason than its ridiculous premise. The idea that whole cities would transform into moving monstrosities that devour lesser towns in a “predator and prey” relationship is such an intriguing notion that I had to give...
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MOVIE: Joker (2019)

Joker Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours With the saturation of superhero movies between Marvel and DC at all-time highs, it was only a matter of time before a movie like Joker (2019) would come along. If anything, the current socio-political environment in the real world is ripe for this kind of story. While superhero films are appealing to show how individuals with exotic abilities can do battle in CGI-heavy fight sequences, there is a certain amount of horror involved with Joker in the sense that it could realistically happen. There aren’t any radioactive spiders. There isn’t any high-tech gadgetry. There’s only mental illness. I applaud the team behind Joker for not resorting to hackneyed comic book origin stories like chemical spills or “tit for tat” vendettas (even if we had to watch one of the same origin stories again near the end). The casting of Joaquin Phoenix was initially an odd choice, but he nails the role. His type of methodical acting almost humanizes one of...
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BOOK: Ender’s Shadow (1999)

Ender’s Shadow Year: 1999 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 469 pages Those who have already read my reviews of the Ender Saga know I hold this series in high esteem. While this original series follows a format more similar to The Lord of the Rings—in that it starts with a singular prequel then advances into a three-book main story—approaching the first book in the series from another character’s point of view is a compelling tactic. Despite already knowing the outcome of most of the plot of Ender’s Shadow (via Ender’s Game), it was interesting to see how Card had improved his writing in the years since the original book in the series was released. While Ender’s Shadow could stand on its own, the shocking reveal in Ender’s Game is something that I felt lacked the impact it had in this book. Additionally, there was an unusual amount of nudity, even if it was markedly non-sexual. In the end, though, Ender’s Shadow is an excellent setup to a true sequel series instead of having to endure the “time...
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BOOK: Alvin Journeyman (1995)

Alvin Journeyman Year: 1995 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 902 minutes / 15.03 hours With this fourth book in the Alvin Maker series, I’m starting to see why a lot of writers like to stick to trilogies. If anything, I think most readers can probably skip this volume and move on to the next one because there wasn’t anything too new or interesting that happened in it. If anything, it was a re-hash of events in the previous book with a few new characters added to it. I will concede that Alvin Journeyman did finally develop a fitting antagonist for Alvin. Still, so few pages were dedicated to this sub-plot that I’m wondering if it should have just been pulled out and made into its own novella that would span the gap between book three and book five. Once again, the strength of the series as a whole carries through here, and some loose character arcs are tied up before moving on to more important things. However, spending the...
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MOVIE: Ad Astra (2019)

Ad Astra Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with Ad Astra (2019). The trailers I had seen made it seem like it was an action-filled space adventure akin to Interstellar (2014) or Gravity (2013). While it did handle all the outer space issues in a somewhat scientifically accurate way, Ad Astra was a much slower movie than I thought it would be. In fact, I’d probably compare it more to films like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) for its almost plodding pacing. The real trick is that the plot of Ad Astra is basically an outer space version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, of which Apocalypse Now! (1979) is perhaps the most notable movie adaptation. Ad Astra does get credit for the beauty of its outer space environment. The settings felt massive in scale and intimate in their proximity. Each portion and waypoint of the journey seemed precisely how I would picture them eventually occurring in our not-to-distant future. Even if some aspects of the film...
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BOOK: The Fifth Season (2015)

The Fifth Season Year: 2015 Author: N.K. Jemisin Length: 927 minutes / 15.45 hours It’s been a while since I’ve read a fantasy book with such a unique magic system in place. I truly enjoyed the amount of thought that went into a world where the main source of power was that of the earth itself. From magma to solid obelisks, the ability to control the vibrations of the planet (either to amplify or dampen) had an interesting and logical follow-through in its characters and storyline. I’m honestly looking forward to eventually starting the next book in the series since the world was built so well. It’s no wonder that it ended up winning the Hugo Award for that year. While I suppose The Fifth Season is also partly a pseudo-post-apocalypse story, it was only shown in small snippets and references here and there. Consequently, this would make this story almost “modern fantasy” in comparison to some of the classics. Additionally, this would explain some...
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MOVIE: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

Cave of Forgotten Dreams Year: 2010 Rating: G Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours Every once in a while, ideal conditions align to preserve a piece of ancient human history. Time and the march of civilization have destroyed plenty of important artifacts of our past, but occasionally something happens that protects this history for future generations to find. In Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), the audience gets a breathtaking look into an amazing discovery that has a cultural impact stretching back eons to the origins of our species. It’s a shame that most will never be able to visit this cave, but this documentary is practically the next best thing. Interspersing first footage and high-quality video of the cave, the music and narration in this film create a mesmerizing quality as we are introduced to cave drawings and other artifacts that haven’t been seen by human eyes in a very long time. The expansive nature of the art and the level of preservation are quite awe-inspiring. I...
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BOOK: Get Thee…Back to the Future! (2019)

William Shakespeare’s Get Thee…Back to the Future! Year: 2019 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 215 minutes / 3.58 hours Having already listened to the audiobooks for the Shakespearean versions of the original Star Wars trilogy, I was curious to see how another beloved pop culture film would fare with the treatment. Get Thee…Back to the Future! had a bit more of a challenge when compared to the Star Wars stories. First, as the plot is set in (relatively) modern times, much of our technology had to be “explained” in Shakespearean format (e.g., a car is “a horseless carriage born on fumes of gas and flame”). At least the Star Wars stories seemed to fit in the Shakespearean timeframe a little better. Despite this clash of modern and medieval, the transformation into Shakespearean form does end up working. I’d probably compare this to some of his comedies like Taming of the Shrew, 12th Night, and Much Ado About Nothing, if for no other reason than the comedy...
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MOVIE: Secondhand Lions (2003)

Secondhand Lions Year: 2003 Rating: PG Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours Making a family-friendly film is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks in cinema. Not only does it have to appeal to children, but it also has to avoid plenty of material that might not be appropriate for younger audiences. If families can get a powerful life lesson out of it as well, all the better. While modern fare tends to resort to the crass and focuses on bathroom humor for laughs, there are those rare few films that manage to tell a tight story. With legitimate laughs and a heartfelt conclusion, Secondhand Lions (2003) is just such a movie. The two strengths that make this one of my favorite family-friendly films are its characters and its plot. All three of the main characters show some amount of significant character growth by the time the end credits roll. Besides, with acting talents like Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, and Haley Joel Osment, you really can’t miss...
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BOOK: The Green and the Gray (2004)

The Green and the Gray Year: 2004 Author: Timothy Zahn Length: 560 pages I’ll admit that The Green and the Gray is an interesting concept. Two factions of humanoids living in secret in New York, holding on to a tenuous peace because a war would devastate their respective families. Baking this into a bit of urban fantasy was interesting for a while (the action helped). However, there’s so much filler in this book that makes me wonder if authors who write in this genre are required to hit a specific word or page count to even be published. Perhaps I’m just used to snappier action and less retreading of facts that the reader knows, but the characters don’t. There’s certainly a lot of mystery that needs to be solved and a lot of world-building that needs to happen for The Green and the Gray to make sense. As with any standard story of this type, certain aspects of the strange events and people fuel the...
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BOOK: The Waste Lands (1991)

The Waste Lands Year: 1991 Author: Stephen King Length: 1,090 minutes / 18.17 hours Before I got into reading the Dark Tower series, I saw the movie adaptation. It’s honestly what inspired me to get into the books. While I was a little disappointed with The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three showed me the series’ true potential. Moving on from my favorite book in the series, we have The Waste Lands. It's sort of a mash-up of the two earlier books in terms of characters and plot points. However, it's ultimately less than the sum of their parts (and that’s mostly due to the ending). What strikes me with The Waste Lands is how it could have been better than it was. Those who have seen the movie version of The Dark Tower will recognize a lot of scenes, if not a huge chunk of them. I can see why they cut the two most interesting characters from the film, especially since everyone ends...
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MOVIE: Chocolat (2000)

Chocolat Year: 2000 Rating: PG-13 Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours Chocolat (2000) is one of those movies that I was aware of but hadn’t watched until recently. While it received a Best Picture nomination, I don’t think it was up to the level of the winner for that year, Gladiator (2000). Nevertheless, Chocolat is a charming story that lies somewhere between Footloose (1984), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), and Babette’s Feast (1987). What’s maybe a little odd to me about this movie is how I thought Johnny Depp would have a more prominent role in it, since he covers almost half the movie poster. Instead, it’s more a bit part that comes in about half-way through the film. While the conclusion of Chocolat is practically telegraphed from the start, it was still entertaining to watch the townspeople warm to the newly arrived chocolatier. Despite most of the characters might feeling a little one-dimensional, they are so fully fleshed out in the one or two qualities that make them distinguishable that you can’t help but enjoy...
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BOOK: Messenger’s Legacy (2014)

Messenger’s Legacy Year: 2014 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 172 minutes / 2.87 hours In a series that’s full of exposition and backstory, I found it a little odd that these extraneous details weren’t relegated to side-story novellas so the plot of the main series of books could focus on the current action. What’s even more curious is that Messenger’s Legacy, a side-story novella in this series, doesn’t explore anything new or interesting that hadn’t already been covered in the main books. The only new information I learned in this novella was slightly more detail about bog and swamp demons, which seems unnecessary with all things considered. Following somewhat minor characters from The Warded Man (who haven’t appeared in the series since), Messenger’s Legacy shows it is easier to survive in demon-infested nights than the series initially indicated. While I’m not sure if any of these details will come into play in the main-line books, it does help expand the world-building just a little bit...
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MOVIE: Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008)

Anvil! The Story of Anvil Year: 2008 Rating: Not Rated Length: 80 minutes / 1.33 hours Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) is one of those movies I sat down to watch because it’s on the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. Before watching this film, I honestly had never heard of this Canadian heavy metal band, and it soon became apparent why. What immediately struck me was how similar the premise was to the 1984 mockumentary, This is Spinal Tap. It was difficult to separate this real-life story of the rise and fall of a heavy metal band with the Rob Reiner comedy since so many of the beats of the plot seemed to match up. Still, it was somewhat engrossing to see how Anvil! followed the progression I’d already seen in Spinal Tap. At first, I thought, “Is this for real?” This was before I realized that perhaps the reason why Spinal Tap worked so well was because that’s just how the music industry functions and has functioned...
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BOOK: The Daylight War (2013)

The Daylight War Year: 2013 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,607 minutes / 26.78 hours I’m glad to see that it only took two books for Peter V. Brett to cut down on some of the extraneous flashbacks and exposition in the Demon Cycle series. While whole chunks of The Warded Man could have been cut with nothing significant lost in the process, and The Desert Spear had what appeared to be an unrelated storyline that weaved through the narrative, The Daylight War has a minimal amount of this “fluff.” Granted, there is still some amount of world-building that helped to explain yet another aspect of this setting, but it’s minimal in comparison to its predecessors. Additionally, I already knew this series was an adult fantasy from my experience with The Warded Man and The Desert Spear. These are tame when compared to the third entry in the series. The sex in this book made the previous two look like nuns in comparison. Sure, it...
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MOVIE: Heat (1995)

Heat Year: 1995 Rating: R Length: 170 minutes / 2.83 hours It’s interesting to go back and watch something by Michael Mann after seeing his later work. I enjoyed Collateral (2004) and considered it to be a well-directed film. Of course, there’s deliberate pacing and acceleration of Collateral that drew me in. Unfortunately, this biased me somewhat when I sat down to watch Heat (1995). Stylistically, both are fairly similar and use similar locales. However, at almost three hours long, some of the pacing in Heat made me think that it could have used a bit of a trim in the first half. I understand the deliberate nature of the buildup of the first half, with each event introducing some core tenet of the main characters that come to fruition by the end of the film. It helps that there’s a good bit of action early on, but until the twist that happens about half-way through occurs, the comparison to the pacing of the second half makes the early part of this movie...
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BOOK: The Drawing of the Three (1987)

The Drawing of the Three Year: 1987 Author: Stephen King Length: 766 minutes / 12.77 hours While it took me a while to get used to The Gunslinger, I was able to dive right in with The Drawing of the Three as I continue reading this Dark Tower series. Personally, I think the simplicity of the story and the immediacy of the danger helped to hook me from the start. Unlike the first book in the series, The Drawing of the Three has a solid set of relatable characters that are introduced just fast enough to get used to their unique personal challenges. If anything, these individuals piqued my interest, and I’m curious to see where their story goes from here. One aspect of this book I found to be extremely entertaining was the action sequences. When there were stakes on the line, and things had to happen, the resulting action in these plot-moving points was both intense and hilarious. Generally, I am not much...
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MOVIE: As Good as it Gets (1997)

As Good as it Gets Year: 1997 Rating: PG-13 Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours I’m not sure how it’s taken me this long to sit down and finally watch this movie. I’ve enjoyed other films by James L. Brooks, like Terms of Endearment (1983) and Broadcast News (1987). If anything, As Good as it Gets (1997) is almost like the end of the trifecta of Brooks films, considering how well-received by critics they are. When it comes right down to it, the appeal of these movies is the characters. There’s a heart and realism rarely seen in comedies (most of which resort to stereotypes and fart jokes to get a laugh). As a more intellectual comedy, As Good as it Gets manages to bring together three unlikely people and push their boundaries to grow as characters. Of course, it’s somewhat easy to do this with abrasive characters like Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson). After all, actively trying not to be a jerk is great growth potential. Additionally, other characters grow through their...
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BOOK: Mecha Samurai Empire (2018)

Mecha Samurai Empire Year: 2018 Author: Peter Tieryas Length: 447 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** For a genre that’s usually associated with Japanese anime and manga, I haven’t seen many “mecha” novels (or movies, for that matter, with Pacific Rim (2013) being the only notable example). Consequently, when I received an advance reader copy of Mecha Samurai Empire, I was looking forward to reading it. While there were still a few grammatical and proofreading errors in this book—of which I’m sure have been fixed in the final version—portions of the plot didn’t sit well with me. My main qualm is the main character who really isn’t good at anything but still gets to pilot a huge and complicated piece of machinery just because he wants to. A clear and obvious mix between The Man in the High Castle and Neon Genesis Evangelion, the few strong elements of this book were in the mecha battles themselves. The problem is that the references sprinkled throughout...
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BOOK: Roadwork (1981)

Roadwork Year: 1981 Author: Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King) Length: 577 minutes / 9.62 hours I wasn’t aware of Stephen King’s Richard Bachman pseudonym until I picked up this book to read on a whim. While it’s clear all of King’s technical prowess is still present in Bachman’s work, the “king of horror” gained a chance to write outside his genre. Of course, King has done this before with a few different books (like Hearts in Atlantis, The Green Mile, and The Dark Tower series), but writing under a pseudonym seemed to unleash an amount of cynicism I’ve hardly seen in King’s writing before. Written in the early 1980s, Roadwork exhibits all the identifying marks of a cynic who has been over-saturated with consumerism. The need to have a job to support a family by buying a house that needs to be filled with the accouterments of modern living is a bit too much for some people. This is especially true for those who don’t...
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MOVIE: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 161 minutes / 2.68 hours Quentin Tarantino has changed. While I loved Inglorious Basterds (2009) for its alternate history, and Django Unchained (2012) was another strong showing, it seems like he’s just getting out of his western phase. For his latest film, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019), Tarantino seems to have continued his trend of making very long movies but chose to condense his trademark graphic violence down into an intense sequence that only lasts a few minutes at most  (like The Hateful Eight (2015)). Perhaps he has matured as a director, but that’s what makes this film so jarring compared to his previous work. Anyone familiar with the Tarantino aesthetic knows that he’s particularly fond of the pop culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Consequently, it’s interesting to see how real he’s made this era feel on the big screen. That being said, some of the “fake” movies appearing in this film are...
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BOOK: BlacKkKlansman (2014)

BlacKkKlansman Year: 2014 Author: Ron Stalworth Length: 352 minutes / 5.87 hours As someone who lives in Colorado Springs and calls this town my home, I was intrigued by Ron Stalworth's story after watching the 2018 Spike Lee movie based on the undercover investigation into the local Ku Klux Klan. Sure, I didn’t live in the Springs during the period covered in this book, but I did have enough understanding of the town to know the locations referenced throughout. To think that I live close to some of the areas that could have been affected by cross burnings or other Klan events is a little eerie to me, mostly because it’s something I rarely think about. For those who have seen the movie first, this book covers everything that made it to the big screen but also adds some details about other events not directly linked to the Klan (but were still relevant to the discussion of race in the area). I’ll admit that Colorado...
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MOVIE: L.A. Confidential (1997)

L.A. Confidential Year: 1997 Rating: R Length: 138 minutes / 2.30 hours There are police dramas, and then there are police dramas set in Los Angeles. Something about this town makes the crimes that much more interesting. Maybe it’s the intersection of fame and criminal activity. Perhaps it’s that the crimes are so much more grandiose due to the wealth of the area. Whatever the reason, L.A. Confidential (1997) is a fantastic film that manages to show different perspectives of the seedy underbelly of the glamor and glitz that makes the town so successful. If it weren’t up against Titanic (1997), it probably would have won a lot more awards than it did. It’s almost surprising how many famous actors are in this film. Sure, some of them were unknowns at the time. Even within three years, we’d see Guy Pearce in Memento (2000) and Russell Crowe in Gladiator (2000), both rising into their stardom. This is not to mention the fantastic performances by Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, and Ron Rifkin....
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BOOK: Prentice Alvin (1989)

Prentice Alvin Year: 1989 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 830 minutes / 13.83 hours As I’ve been reading through the Tales of Alvin Maker series, I have found it interesting to see what big societal issues have been covered so far. While Seventh Son tackled religion and Red Prophet delved into politics and war, Prentice Alvin bit off a big chunk of racism and tried to address it in a way that’s half fantasy and half historical fiction. Sure, there’s still some semblance of the religion content present in this book that informs the racism dialogue. Still, these large issues end up taking a back seat to the more fascinating aspects of the titular character learning how to control his incredible powers. In fact, this might be my favorite book of the series so far. It’s always more entertaining to watch a character come into the depth of their abilities, and Prentice Alvin has this in spades (both metaphorically and literally). While there weren’t many instances of Alvin directly being affected by a conflict...
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MOVIE: Spider-man: Far from Home (2019)

Spider-man: Far from Home Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours After the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), there were still plenty of questions that remained. While still part of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Spider-man: Far from Home (2019) attempts to grapple with the outcome of such a pivotal film in the superhero franchise. As was the case with its predecessor, Spider-man: Homecoming (2017), Far from Home shows the audience the impacts of the other films in the MCU in a way that’s personable and relatable. After all, it’s easier to connect with a “friendly neighborhood Spider-man” than with a multi-billion dollar playboy. I did appreciate the emotional depth of this movie, especially considering how Tom Holland handles the role of Peter Parker. From grieving over the losses of Endgame while also trying to move forward with his life, Peter has plenty of growth opportunities throughout this film. That being said, Far from Home seems to hit almost...
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BOOK: Origin (2015)

Origin Year: 2015 Author: Dan Brown Length: 1,090 minutes / 18.17 hours When it comes to Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series of books, I have appreciated his ability to mold art and symbology into a tight and thrilling narrative. His works have not been without controversy, the main perpetrator, of course, being The Da Vinci Code. In Origin, Brown leaves the world of classical art for the modern pieces that are still filled with meaning and symbology, just not in ways that lend themselves to uncovering ancient mysteries. While there is plenty of interesting plot points and twists along the way, Origin seems set to stir the pot of controversy more than tell an interesting story. It’s been quite some time since the last Robert Langdon book released, so this book needed to advance its technology to be able to keep up with the modern times. If anything, I felt the inclusion of artificial intelligence down-played why Langdon was even involved at all, since he was mostly the “answer man” who knew the...
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MOVIE: Toy Story 4 (2019)

Toy Story 4 Year: 2019 Rating: G Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours After the Toy Story “trilogy” ended in 2010, I was honestly a little confused and irritated that Disney/Pixar would open up this franchise again for a fourth entry. That being said, I now see the entire “story” was not complete at that point. There was still some amount of finality that the franchise had not reached. Of course, now I’ll be mad if they decide to make a Toy Story 5 since Toy Story 4 (2019) wrapped everything up so nicely and conclusively. Then again, maybe the next entry in the series will finally explain the odd rules about toy sentience. By far, the most striking thing about Toy Story 4 is its visuals. I was ten years old when Toy Story (1995) came out. Even in the four years between it and Toy Story 2 (1999), I could see massive improvements in what computers could create in terms of CGI imagery. With Toy Story 3 (2010) having just over a decade to improve its visuals,...
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BOOK: How to Tell Fate from Destiny (2018)

How to Tell Fate from Destiny: And Other Skillful Word Distinctions Year: 2018 Author: Charles Harrington Elster Length: 320 pages I’ve written blog posts and recorded vlogs about writers who seem to rely on spell check to make sure they’re using the right word. Most of the time, they probably didn’t have an adequate editor to review their manuscript and thus didn’t check whether or not they were using the right word (even if the wrong word is spelled correctly). With the state of the printed word slipping year after year, a book like How to Tell Fate from Destiny should be a standard reference on any writer’s desk. Although, many of the words covered in this book are slowly changing due to idiomatic circumstances. It is slightly encouraging to see examples provided in this book from reputable sources (like well-known newspapers and magazines) that still have these common errors in their writing. If anything, these examples prove how difficult it can be to distinguish the correct...
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