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 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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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: 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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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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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: 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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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: 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: 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: 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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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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VIDEO GAME: Owlboy (2018)

Owlboy Year: 2018 Rating: E10 Time Spent: 5+ hours I had seen a video of some Owlboy gameplay a while ago that made the game look interesting enough to buy. The retro 16-bit-style graphics were what drew me to this adventure platformer. Now that I’ve played through it, I found it to be somewhat…disappointing. Sure, the visuals are quite striking, and each location certainly has some elemental charm to it. Additionally, the story is relatively simple but also charming in its own way. In the end, though, I don’t think I’ll give this game an additional playthrough. This is mostly because—without trying—I collected almost everything in the game in my first go. First off, this was a fairly short game, which I should come to expect from independent game developers. After all, Cave Story and Undertale weren’t terribly long, but perhaps I’ve been spoiled by games like Hollow Knight. Secondly, even up until the last boss, I could never quite get the hang of the...
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BOOK: Expeditions of the Mantis (2019)

Expeditions of the Mantis Year: 2019 Author: Jim Henderson Length: 260 pages Sequels are interesting creatures. While the onus of the first book of a series is to lay out some ground rules of the universe and introduce us to the main characters, any follow-on books should dive a little deeper into the characters and explore some of the conflicts that drive the universe. Expeditions of the Mantis attempts a bit of the latter when compared to Jaunts of the Mantis, but ends up falling into old patterns by the end of the book. If anything, I have more questions about this universe now than when I started, since Expeditions of the Mantis only scratched the surface of some fascinating topics. Unfortunately, while the crew of the Mantis was the most interesting aspect of Jaunts of the Mantis, the dynamic didn’t work as well in this sequel. If anything, the inability to add in a strong “third character” (a role held by the preacher in the previous book) highlighted how one-dimensional these characters...
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BOOK: Nobody’s Fool (2019)

Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead Year: 2019 Author: Bill Griffith Length: 256 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** When I was growing up, I occasionally read Bill Griffith’s comic strip, Zippy the Pinhead. While the absurdist humor was a bit above my head at the time, the titular character stuck with me. Fast forward to when I won a giveaway copy of Nobody’s Fool. I thought this was going to be a fake biography about the origins of the comic strip character; I was surprised to start reading and find so many real-life details from the 1930s. I thought it was an odd detail to include a fictional character in a well-known cult classic like Freaks (1932) until I realized that this story wasn’t fictional. It was about the real person who inspired the character of Zippy the Pinhead. Of course, I didn’t come to this realization until I was about half-way through the book. Griffith’s self-insert around this point helped to confirm my suspicions....
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MOVIE: The Fate of the Furious (2017)

The Fate of the Furious Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 136 minutes / 2.26 hours I’ll be honest and admit that this is the first movie in the Fast and the Furious franchise that I’ve ever seen. Sure, I’ve been aware of the franchise for years, but it never really appealed to me (I’m not much of a car guy after all). I got a free digital copy of this movie somewhere along the line and decided I might as well watch it since I own it. I had plenty of preconceived notions about this series based on little tidbits I’d picked up over the years, and pretty much every one of them was confirmed with this movie. I think this movie might be best summed up by one of the lines of dialogue. “What are you, 12?” A lot of the characters’ interactions and dialogue seemed like how a 12-year-old boy who was really into cars would write them. This was especially apparent during...
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BOOK: The Long Cosmos (2016)

The Long Cosmos Year: 2016 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 742 minutes / 12.37 hours By the time I reached the end of the Long Earth series, I had a revelation. With the bounding conditions of the universe being that there are multiple worlds accessible via stepping and that no iron can pass between worlds, the ideas to explore these multiple worlds are almost endless. My revelation was that this series would have been better as an anthology of short stories from a collection of authors, instead of a handful of semi-disjointed novels that didn’t ever quite know what they were doing. The story never shined through, instead of feeling like a distracted three-year-old who wants to explore the potential of other worlds. While I felt the series was starting to succeed in telling coherent and solid plots, this book removed that forward progress. When nearly one-third of the first part of the book seems to be comprised entirely of summary and recaps...
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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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BOOK: Gaia (2017)

Gaia Year: 2017 Author: J.A. Darmanin Length: 296 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s one of those basic Young Adult stories, replete with the clichés like the “normal girl who finds out she’s super-special” and “main character is the only one who can save the world.” However, it also didn’t have the obscenity, violence, and sexuality that as seemed to permeate most YA books of late. Similarly, I found the main characters to be incredibly annoying, but then they were also written as teenage girls . . . so I guess there’s an amount of realism there. While there are certainly polished elements to this book, including the cover and some of the formatting, there are a few amateur mistakes that reveal that this is the author’s first book. The biggest problem I had was the variety of plot holes present throughout the book. Sure, there were a few moments that came...
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MOVIE: Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Call Me by Your Name Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours Call Me by Your Name (2017) is the latest in a string of LGBTQ+ films nominated for Best Picture. Each year, we seem to see one of these LGBTQ+ films nominated for the highest award, but this year there’s a much more fundamental problem with it. Around the time the definition of marriage was changed by the U.S. Government, many opponents warned of a slippery slope that would lead to acceptance of lifestyles that are currently illegal. Call Me by Your Name is proof that we have proceeded down this slope. I understand that the themes of “first love” are what draw people to this film, and I’d be OK with that if the theme never entered sexual territory. As it is, this movie glamorizes sexual relations with a minor. This is statutory rape, which is illegal. Even if the parties involved were heterosexual, this would still be wrong. Unfortunately, I think it’s...
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BOOK: Ganymede (2011)

Ganymede Year: 2011 Author: Cherie Priest Length: 729 minutes / 12.15 hours Now that I’ve read the first three books in the Clockwork Century series, any hope I had of some cohesive narrative is essentially gone. While following a new character for each book helps to provide a different setting of the steampunk alternate universe, when I know these characters won’t matter outside their own books, I kind of stop caring about them. Even previous heroines are relegated to cameo and minor character status as the persistent series of somewhat pointless events drags on. And don’t even get me started on the zombies, which are a distraction to any actual story in my opinion. I think the main problem I have with these books is the fact that things happen without much lead-up or foreshadowing. Sure, there are some fascinating factors involved with making a submarine work in the Civil War era, but the resulting battle and conclusion went exactly as I expected them to. This isn’t...
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BOOK: Watership Down (1975)

Watership Down Year: 1975 Author: Richard Adams Length: 953 minutes / 15.88 hours In an ever-increasing list of books I failed to read as a child, I finally managed to get to Watership Down. While I am aware that many people speculate the true meaning of the book to be an allegory for Nazis or Communism, or whatever, the prologue provided by the author in this edition stated that it was merely a bedtime story for his children. With this in mind, I’m sure many subconscious influences led to some of the themes in Watership Down. Either way, the story seemed to be a rambling series of events that didn’t have much of a point or purpose. Let’s be clear: I like rabbits. I think they’re cute, and I even own two of them. Therefore, I appreciate the little details of lagomorph mannerisms sprinkled throughout. And yet, there were a few confusing choices made in this book, like giving a somewhat-confusing “rabbit language” that rarely...
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MOVIE: The Dark Tower (2017)

The Dark Tower Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours Like many “best-selling” books and book series made into movies, I don’t have the time to sit down and read them all before their film adaptations are released. The Dark Tower (2017) is no different. In fact, I was only made aware of the Dark Tower series shortly before the movie was announced. Therefore, unlike the diehard fans of the series, I had no expectations for the film other than the understanding that there would be some interesting fantasy/sci-fi elements presented on the big screen. Unfortunately, at a measly 93 minutes of runtime, The Dark Tower felt a little . . . light. Sure, all the essential elements of the story were there: the gunslinger protagonist (Idris Elba), the magical “Man in Black” antagonist (Matthew McConaughey), and the conflict of good vs. evil. And yet, so much of the plot seemed glossed over that the entire movie felt like a trailer for...
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BOOK: Captains Courageous (1897)

Captains Courageous Year: 1897 Author: Rudyard Kipling Length: 356 minutes / 5.93 hours Captains Courageous is one of those classics that I just haven’t read, for whatever reason. I got the sense it was about being at sea, probably in the same vein as Moby Dick or Treasure Island. And yet, I don’t know if I could tell you what happened in this book. Sure, the main character was picked up by a fishing vessel, and eventually, they learned how to deal with the harsh job of being a fisherman, but that’s pretty much it. The series of fishing adventures seem to be loosely tied together, and the overarching plot was weak at best. Part of me wonders if the audiobook version of this classic was to blame. Not only did the narrator have a bit of an accent, but she did all the different dialects of the various characters based on their ethnic origins. While I would usually love this attention to detail, more...
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BOOK: Notes from the Internet Apocalypse (2014)

Notes from the Internet Apocalypse Year: 2014 Author: Wayne Gladstone Length: 323 minutes / 5.38 hours The main concept behind Notes from the Internet Apocalypse is interesting: one day, the internet just stops working. All the computers and phone lines still work, but the internet has just gone missing. The story that results should be considered a satire since I hardly believe people who have hidden behind a veil of anonymity for so long will do the same deplorable things in real life just to get their “internet fix.” Bringing the reality of our connected society to its extreme logical conclusion in a world without internet, Notes from the Internet Apocalypse is a harsh mirror of what we’ve become, even to the point of cringing at it. I was a little taken aback by the amount of vulgar language, overt sexuality, and lack of common decency by the characters in this book. Of course, in a book about the internet, these types of people run...
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BOOK: Rumors of Another World (2003)

Rumors of Another World Year: 2003 Author: Philip Yancey Length: 272 pages Having been a Christian for some time, I was familiar with the name Philip Yancey. I knew he often wrote books about Christianity and how those of us in the faith should examine some of the more challenging topics of our belief. When I picked up Rumors of Another World from a friend, I was expecting an examination of the afterlife promised us in God's Word. Part of me was planning to use this book as a bit of research for my own fictional writing, or at least to give me ideas on how to incorporate a heavenly realm into it. In the end, this book was not what I expected. It has been a long time since I've read any Yancey, but I don't think this is his strongest work. My primary issue with it is that it tries to speak to too many audiences. If it either focused on trying to convince...
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BOOK: The Sword of Shannara (1977)

The Sword of Shannara Year: 1977 Author: Terry Brooks Length: 1,600 minutes / 26.67 hours Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: an unassuming character is given the task to use a magical item to destroy a great evil that once terrorized the world. To help this character on their quest is their best friend, a magic-wielding individual, a ranger with a love interest, a dwarf, and some elves. Look, I get that The Lord of the Rings redefined the fantasy genre in the 1950’s, but why were fantasy writers still replicating this formula twenty years later? I only half-paid attention to this derivative plot, mostly because I already had an idea what was going to happen. Now, I will admit that The Sword of Shannara isn’t completely a 1-for-1 rehashing of The Lord of the Rings, but enough of it is similar that it feels almost too familiar. The plot does divert from the Tolkien formula, but probably not until about halfway through....
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BOOK: Valkyrie (2009)

Valkyrie Year: 2009 Author: Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager Length: 268 minutes / 4.47 hours I first gained awareness of “Operation Valkyrie” when the film starring Tom Cruise, Valkyrie (2008), was first released. It makes logical sense to me that not all Germans involved in the war were Nazis, and not all Germans agreed with Hitler’s tactics. It is then the logical conclusion that some of them would attempt to assassinate the leader who had brought their country into a sweeping, global conflict. While this assassination attempt failed, I was still curious about the inner-workings of the plot and the people who would go so far as to try and kill Hitler. My expectation of this book was for it to be an in-depth analysis of the many facets of the operation. From Hitler’s security concerns to the backgrounds of the lives of the individuals involved, I was expecting this book to be a non-fictional examination of the assassination that never succeeded. Instead, I was a...
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BOOK: The Other Side of Magik (2006)

The Other Side of Magik Year: 2006 Author: Michael Lingaard Length: 411 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** The “fish out of water” plot device is not new by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, it’s an interesting way to provide exposition in a fantasy world when an individual from our world comes to visit, but often the differences aren’t fully considered. Of course, there are good examples of this form of storytelling. From Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to Marvel’s Thor (2011), both directions of the “world swap” transaction can provide entertainment. Unfortunately, The Other Side of Magik tries to have its cake and eat it too. If The Other Side of Magik had merely focused on the adventures of a single teenage boy unknowingly thrust into a parallel dimension, it could have made sense. Instead, while the majority of the story was in the “magik” realm (of which I still don’t like that spelling), occasionally it would swap back over to our world and give the...
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MOVIE: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Having only seen the original Ghost in the Shell (1995) film (and its 2008 remake), and not having read the manga on which it was based, most of my comparisons of the 2017 live-action adaptation are from the anime film adaptations that came before it. For its time, the original Ghost in the Shell movie was revolutionary. Along with similarly violent anime films like Akira (1988), Ghost in the Shell showed the world that animation wasn’t just for kids. The adult and more psychological aspects of these films are what helped set them apart as some of the groundbreaking films in the anime genre. Regarding the live-action remake, I think it honestly took too long to get here. The concepts of cybernetically enhanced humans are surprisingly close to realized technology today. Given that these ideas seemed quite futuristic in the early 1990’s, the fact that they are plausible within the next...
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BOOK: Angels and Demons (2000)

Angels and Demons Year: 2000 Author: Dan Brown Length: 416 minutes / 6.93 hours While Angels and Demons is not nearly as popular as its sequel, the famous (if not infamous) The Da Vinci Code, the elements which led to its successor’s success are certainly all contained within this first book in the Robert Langdon series. Of course, just because you have the materials to build a nice house doesn’t mean that it magically becomes a mansion. Despite containing many of the elements that made The Da Vinci Code so good, Angels and Demons feels a little underdeveloped in quite a few areas. First, the protagonist, Robert Langdon, is supposed to feel like an “Indiana Jones”-type character, but with a specialty like symbology as his background, I just can’t buy the action-hero transformation of this everyday academic. Add to this the almost repetitive nature of his “discoveries” wherein he makes an assessment, then goes to the location of the assessment only to find that he...
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BOOK: Tiger and the Robot (2017)

Tiger and the Robot Year: 2017 Author: Grahame Shannon Length: 250 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** In this era of smartphones and artificial intelligence (AI), it's interesting to see a book start to explore the topic of AI without getting too bogged down in the details. With movies like Her (2013) showing just how integrated into our lives an AI personal assistant can be, this book's approach almost takes the idea from that movie and fuses it with the "mute" AI from Person of Interest. Unfortunately, I felt the AI section of the book distracted by the endless sailing adventures. As someone who lives in a land-locked state, I didn't understand much of the sailing jargon in this book (especially when it became technical), but I do think this book had some potential. Despite containing a main character who comes off a bit like a creeper (and thus somewhat unrelatable), one of my main qualms with Tiger and the Robot was the disjointed...
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MOVIE: Passengers (2016)

Passengers Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours I have to admit that the plot presented in the trailers of this movie intrigued me. However, in its execution, Passengers (2016) left much to be desired. Of course, this was mostly due to the film using just enough “physics speak” to be partially accurate, but incredibly wrong. Those parts stuck out to me in this movie and I kept scratching my head while watching it and saying, “Wait a minute . . .” That being said, not all of Passengers was bad, just a pretty big chunk of it. I did appreciate the moral conundrum that Jim (Chris Pratt) encountered in the movie’s first act. It did add a bit of predictable drama to the characters, but depicting his struggle highlighted his humanity. In this plot with a clear three-act structure, this first act was the highlight that eventually devolved into a ridiculous setup for the final reveal. With each new character introduced,...
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BOOK: Commanding the Red Lotus (2016)

Commanding the Red Lotus Year: 2016 Author: R.J. Sullivan Length: 236 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Not so much a novel as a collection of three novellas, Commanding the Red Lotus is your standard sci-fi space story. Unfortunately, because these novellas are collected together in this way, it feels like an attempt to string them together to make a novel. If this were a novel, it should have started with the third novella and expounded from there. After all, most of the backstory was mentioned or alluded to in this third story, so more pages could have been spent exploring the dynamic of the spacecraft crew. As it stands, there were a lot of characters mentioned that I couldn’t tell you a thing about. When it comes right down to it, I have two issues with this book. The first is the main character. I feel the main character should have been the pirate captain, mainly because she had such an interesting...
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MOVIE: Superman Returns (2006)

Superman Returns Year: 2006 Rating: PG-13 Length: 154 minutes / 2.57 hours Technically the fifth in the Superman franchise that started in the late 1970's, Superman Returns feels a bit like the black sheep of the bunch. There's a sense that it's just tacked on to try and capitalize on some of the popularity of superhero films, in part because of the director's previous successes with other superheroes. Part of me thinks that Bryan Singer should have directed the third X-Men film instead of this movie; since he clearly knew what he was doing with that Marvel property. But what really gets me about this film is the way it "plays to the audience." If you ask diehard fans of two of the most iconic fandoms what their absolute least favorite film is in their canon, you'll get some telling answers. For Star Wars fans, it's Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) and for Star Trek fans, it's Into Darkness (2013). But why do they hate...
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MOVIE: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Hail, Caesar! Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours I like movies as much as the next connoisseur of film, but clearly the Coen Brothers like them more than I do. Specifically, they like the films made during the “golden age” of Hollywood: the 1950’s. From action-packed westerns, to Biblical epics, to underwater choreography, to big-budget musicals, these films exemplified a Hollywood that was on top of its game. Unfortunately, as is the case with any great success, it can be hard to maintain over time. In what could be considered a “love letter” to a Hollywood of the past, the Coen Brothers bring all these films together in Hail, Caesar! (2016). While I could appreciate the references made throughout this film, many of them felt quite disjointed. Sure, there’s the tie-in to real-life Hollywood fixer, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), but he merely acts as a link between scenes of grandeur meant to show how well the Coen Brothers can follow...
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MOVIE: Independence Day – Resurgence (2016)

Independence Day: Resurgence Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 120 minutes / 2.0 hours Can we just be real for a second? Is the nostalgia factor so strong in Hollywood these days that anything coming upon its 20th anniversary is re-made, rebooted, and sequeled to death? Certainly, this is a pretty good marketing strategy, since last year's Jurassic World (2015) was such a huge financial success, even though it was essentially the exact same plot as the original Jurassic Park (1993). Clearly, the millennials who grew up with these films want to see them on the big screen again, 20+ years later with newer and flashier special effects. After all, Moore's Law implicates the visual style should be more than 1,000 times better than its predecessor. Here's the problem I have with this re-quel that seems to be going around: it doesn't give us anything new. Take Independence Day (1996) for example. This film was a great action film filled with plenty of interesting sci-fi, memorable characters,...
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