MOVIE: Christopher Robin (2018)

Christopher Robin Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a child from a famous story grows up into a businessman who doesn’t have time for his family but eventually comes to face his lack of work/life balance by revisiting the fantastical world of his childhood. If you thought this was the plot of Hook (1991), you’d be right. Unfortunately, it is also the almost-identical plot to the Winnie the Pooh sequel, Christopher Robin (2018). I’d forgive its unoriginality only if I knew who the audience for it was. Is it a morality tale for overworked parents? Is it a lesson for kids to never take work seriously? I honestly don’t know. I will say that Disney did a good job bringing the stuffed animals of the original story to life in this live-action adaptation, except that I was pretty shocked to find out that Rabbit (Peter Capaldi) and Owl (Toby Jones) were actual animals, and not of the stuffed variety....
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BOOK: Sideways (2004)

Sideways Year: 2004 Author: Rex Pickett Length: 665 minutes / 11.08 hours When I got into this book, the only things I knew about it were that it was about wine and it was made into a movie of the same name by Alexander Payne. Unfortunately, unlike a good wine, this book doesn’t seem to have aged well. Maybe people were able to put up with buddy comedy sex romps back in the early 2000’s, but the social climate has changed considerably since then. I doubt a book like this would be written today, at least without some outcry from people who find the women in it to be inherently objectified. Most of my issue with this book comes down to the characters. I’ll give the author credit for creating individuals that made me react to them so vehemently. The problem is that I hated these characters. I hated Jack for being so sex-crazed that he felt obligated to satiate his urges mere days before...
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MOVIE: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Ant-Man and the Wasp Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours I'll be the first to defend Ant-Man (2015) from its detractors. Once I realized it was supposed to be a comedy (mostly due to Edgar Wright's early involvement), I knew the superhero aspect would take a back seat to the laughs. That being said, I cannot defend the honor of its sequel. Sure, a lot of the elements that made Ant-Man entertaining are still present in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), but it's really more of a standard superhero film that's meant to answer questions brought up in previous films. While this film picks up well after the events of this first film and Captain America: Civil War (2016), not a lot has changed. The main characters are all there, but now Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) also has a shrinking suit. This is no surprise, considering the after-credits scene from the first movie, so it was nice to see her get into...
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MOVIE: Ocean’s Eight (2018)

Ocean’s Eight Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours As the gender-swapped spin-off of a remake, Ocean’s Eight (2018) feels convoluted merely based on its heritage. While I love the Ocean’s Eleven (2001) remake, I was curious to see what would make Ocean’s Eight something that would distinctly empower women (which I’m assuming was the point). In the end, it seems like Ocean’s Eight merely highlights the 72% wage disparity when compared to Ocean’s Eleven since most of the tropes and clichés almost felt like they were pandering to the very audience they were trying to lift up. While I will praise Ocean’s Eight for its ability to be a passable heist film, both with main and “twist” heists, that’s mostly where my adoration ends. Sure, I get the need to move the setting to New York to better align with fashion and other women’s interests, and part of Sandra Bullock’s character introduction after being released from prison was fun, but there were so many problems with the plot and characters that I’m still...
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BOOK: Pebble in the Sky (1950)

Pebble in the Sky Year: 1950 Author: Isaac Asimov Length: 487 minutes / 8.12 hours As I pulled together some of the information for this review, I became aware that Pebble in the Sky was Isaac Asimov’s first novel. To be honest, that explains a lot. I’d read a few Asimov books before—I, Robot being a personal favorite—so I was a little disappointed with this story. If anything, it showed Asimov’s potential for bigger and better stories, or at least stories that were a little more focused. As it is, Pebble in the Sky provided the groundwork for prequels and some of Asimov’s best writing, but it remains fairly rough in comparison. Some of the ideas in Pebble in the Sky are certainly noteworthy, including an age limit for humans and telepathic abilities. We also see here the ability of science fiction to address social issues as well. In this case, racism was the topic du jour, which was definitely in the early edges of revolution in 1950. And yet, the political commentary...
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BOOK: Pensées (1669)

Pensées Year: 1669 Author: Blaise Pascal Length: 771 minutes / 12.85 hours While I do enjoy and appreciate the ease of which I can listen to an audiobook and absorb the content of a variety of books, there are always a few books that don’t translate well into the format. Sure, I might have my qualms about the narrator’s pronunciation, volume control, or other technical issues. However, this is the first book where the rating I’m giving applies explicitly to the audiobook version, and not necessarily to the book’s contents. The difference here is that the audiobook version of Pascal’s Pensées doesn’t allow the reader enough time to adequately absorb the content. If I were to classify this book, I’d probably say it’s closer to a listing of complaints/observations that would work better on a multi-year “item-a-day” calendar than in an audiobook format. The majority of Pensées is a series of proverbs by Blaise Pascal, a name that most scientists will recognize. The fact that...
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MOVIE: Jack Reacher – Never Go Back (2016)

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours The follow-up sequel to Jack Reacher (2012), Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) is almost a warning to the audience in the title alone. I understand how a long-running book series like the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child is advantageous for the author by allowing the reader to pick up any book in the series and not need the background of the previous titles. However, with these self-encapsulated scenarios, Jack Reacher is probably better aligned with a television series than a series of movies. Not everyone can be the James Bond series, which has been able to get away with this for as long as it has. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the original Jack Reacher movie, as it seemed to channel the “man with no name” / high-plains drifter / Ronin style that was prevalent in Westerns and Samurai films. His skills and calm demeanor unquestionably imply military...
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MOVIE: Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours Look, I'm all for giving women a shot in traditionally male-focused franchises, but when all it boils down to is an application of "Rule 63," then I don't think we're doing these women justice. In this remake/reboot, the visuals and weapons get an upgrade, and that's about it. If they truly wanted to make a "Ghostbusters with women," then the characters shouldn't have been so interchangeable with the originals. I understand the need to maintain the parallels to the original, but these characters come off more like men in women's bodies than women who have their own, unique challenges and approaches to solving problems. If anything, Ghostbusters (2016) shows how extraordinary the comedy and special effects of the original Ghostbusters (1984) were. While the original usually earned its laughs with a wink, this remake had jokes that mostly relied upon awkward and uncomfortable situations or faux pas. I get that sometimes the improvisational nature of comedy can work for...
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BOOK: The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678)

The Pilgrim’s Progress Year: 1678 Author: John Bunyan Length: 324 pages I distinctly remember my parents reading this book to me when I was a child. Decades later, I decided to re-visit it and read it for myself. I don’t know if it was an abridged version or a simplified re-telling appropriate for kids, but this was not the book I remember from my childhood. Sure, the action bits were still there, like the fight with Apollyon, the Slough of Despair, and the suicide discussion in Vanity Fair, but there was way more dialogue than what I recalled of the story. Not to mention the verbiage/wording seemed more along the lines of a King James Bible than of a fantasy setting. Sure, I’ll concede that, for 1678, this was a groundbreaking piece of fiction, and perhaps the first piece of successful fantasy ever written, but it hasn’t aged entirely as well over the years when compared to its source material. There are undoubtedly little lessons...
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BOOK: On Stranger Tides (1987)

On Stranger Tides Year: 1987 Author: Tim Powers Length: 721 minutes / 12.02 hours Since I knew the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie was based on this book, I decided to give it a read to see if it was any better than the so-so extension of the Pirates franchise. Let's just say that this book was a loose inspiration for the film. About the only elements that survived the transition were Blackbeard and the Fountain of Youth. Of course, even the movie version vastly improved the Fountain. In fact, I think I prefer the Pirates movie of the same name, even if the two don't share much in common. I will say that On Stranger Tides does excel in its action sequences. The fights and battles are choreographed and described in such a way that is entertaining to read and comprehensible to understand. Unfortunately, a book full of fight sequences does not a good story make. Events in this book just seemed to happen,...
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