MOVIE: A Star is Born (2018)

A Star is Born Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 136 minutes / 2.26 hours If this movie feels like the same old song and dance, it’s because it is. This film is the fourth iteration of the same plot that was nominated for Best Picture back in 1937. While it’s been over 20 years since its last incarnation in 1976, A Star is Born (2018) is surprisingly still relevant. While they’re somewhat touchy subjects, alcoholism and depression are still as alive and well today as they were just over 80 years ago. After all, you can’t be an entertainer without sex, drugs, and rock and roll. That being said, I do appreciate this movie’s overarching theme of “words have power.” I did find it hard to suspend my disbelief with the casting in this film, though. I mean, even if Lady Gaga is playing some nobody, it’s not like I have to stretch my imagination to think that her character would suddenly become a music...
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MOVIE: Venom (2018)

Venom Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 112 minutes / 1.87 hours If I haven’t said it before in my review of Spider-man: Homecoming (2017), I’ll repeat it here: I grew up watching the 1990s animated Spider-man series, which makes the Spider-man franchise one of my favorite. Consequently, most of my knowledge of the franchise comes from the show. In my mind, the symbiote storyline that introduced Venom was one of the best in the series, and I was disappointed when Spider-man 3 (2007) woefully miscast Eddie Brock with Topher Grace. Flash forward a decade later, and the big screen is taking another crack at the Venom storyline in a standalone film…but without Spider-man. As a long-time fan, I appreciated the mostly faithful origin story in Venom (2018), with a few minor and vital details still retained to make it close to what actually happened. This time around, Tom Hardy was a much better choice for the titular role, even if his mumbling accent was a little distracting at times. While the physique was a match,...
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BOOK: The Long Utopia (2015)

The Long Utopia Year: 2015 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 725 minutes / 12.08 hours After the events that take place in The Long Mars, I was expecting the next book in the series, The Long Utopia, to be about the CEO of the Black Corporation and the settlement he established to help him live longer. Instead, I got a story that had little to no connection to the previous plots. That being said, at least there was a story with a projected conclusion instead of merely a series of random events that eventually led to the sudden destruction of some location (as had been the case up until now). While I did appreciate some of the back-story for Joshua Valienté, there wasn’t anything in Joshua’s behavior or motivations in any of the previous books that indicated that he was even interested in learning about his past. I also was pleased that some of the “limitations” of this universe were brought back, or at least provided...
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BOOK: One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)

One Hundred Years of Solitude Year: 1967 Author: Gabriel García Márquez Length: 844 minutes / 14.07 hours I’ll admit: I didn’t really “get” this book. I had seen a TED-Ed YouTube video that told me how great it was, and I decided to give it a try. While there were parts that were entertaining, most of this book went over my head. I suppose if I understood Columbian history and the culture of Central and South America, I might have had a better grasp of what was going on. As it was, I felt lost most of the time and kind of wonder what makes it so highly-recommended. Perhaps my biggest qualm with this book is how its narrative structure is laid out. There’s practically no dialogue, and it’s basically told in the form of a parable or fairy tale. There are a lot of characters, but their names were so similar that I had trouble keeping track of them all. I get they’re all...
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BOOK: Beyond the Checkup (2018)

Beyond the Checkup from Birth to Age Four: A Pediatrician's Guide to Calm, Confident Parenting Year: 2018 Author: Luke Voytas Length: 288 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While I do not have children yet, I am doing my best to prepare my knowledge for when they do become a part of my life. Consequently, books like Beyond the Checkup seem to be a perfect resource for parents, as it is written by a pediatrician. That being said, I think I'm probably a little biased in wanting an older, more grandfatherly pediatrician writing books like this. After all, a lifetime of experience seems to speak more than just 15-years-worth of it. Regarding the book's content, Luk Voytas does a reasonably good job of presenting the big problems that might come up in a child's first four years. While he does use scientific studies to back up his suggestions, there are some instances where it's unclear whether or not there is any science behind his opinion, or if it's his...
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BOOK: Moonraker (1955)

Moonraker Year: 1955 Author: Ian Fleming Length: 410 minutes / 6.83 hours For those of you who have seen the movie Moonraker (1979), push everything you know about this story out of your head. About the only things that the film has in common with the book are the main character, villain, and an enormous rocket. While the film tried to capitalize on the sci-fi that was popular at the time, the original book takes a look at the threat introduced in World War II by the Germans: ballistic missiles. For its time, the book was relevant in a world that hadn’t even been to space yet. Having now read a handful of the James Bond books, my problem with this book stems from how formulaic it was. Only three books in, and it felt like Fleming was recycling content and would continue to for books to come (like in Goldfinger). I mean, never before has a game of bridge been so exciting, but using card games as...
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MOVIE: Alpha (2018)

Alpha Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 96 minutes / 1.60 hours I’m not sure what surprises me more about this movie: that nobody had made a film about the domestication of the wolf or that anyone needed to make that film at all. Consequently, Alpha (2018) seems a little unnecessary and highly predictable as the “hero’s journey” plays out. The trailer doesn’t leave much for the imagination, as a lot of the events in this film don’t have any significant twists that the astute viewer wouldn’t see coming. And maybe I’m biased because I’d be more of a cat person than a dog person—despite being allergic to both. Visually, though, Alpha does provide some fantastic shots of wilderness that one can only find in places like Canada and Iceland. Plenty of the flat silhouette shots of characters traversing huge distances and the stylized slow-motion events made this movie feel a bit like 300 (2006), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The real trouble is that it takes these characters so long...
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BOOK: The Currents of Space (1952)

The Currents of Space Year: 1952 Author: Isaac Asimov Length: 475 minutes / 7.92 hours For the first time, it seems that I’m reading a series backward. Of course, it was also written a bit backward, which explains why I’m going about it this way. While Pebble in the Sky was the first book in this series, it actually comes at the end of the narrative. A year later, Isaac Asimov would write the prequel, The Stars, Like Dust, which was then followed by a book that fit between the two. The Currents of Space is that book. Fortunately, there isn’t much tying this book to Pebble in the Sky, other than the universal setting for the events to take place. It is encouraging that Asimov’s writing was able to improve in two short years between his first ever novel and this follow-on prequel. The Currents of Space has a distinct main character, apparent conflict, and well-timed plot revelations. The focus of this book helps to describe a somewhat interesting and thrilling scenario,...
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MOVIE: Solo – A Star Wars Story (2018)

Solo: A Star Wars Story Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours Most superhero franchises start with an origin story. Sure, sometimes the franchise gets to this foundational plot after its first set of films (a la X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)), but these movies are usually pretty rare. Unfortunately, they’re also hampered by the source material that preceded them. While not necessarily “prequels,” these films need to fit within the canon of the franchise while also telling a story that expands the canon as well. Star Wars is not a superhero franchise, but it has its fair share of prequels and origin stories. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) is the first to focus on a specific character, though. With Han Solo being such an iconic and fan-favorite character, there was plenty to pull from to expand out his backstory. Unfortunately, most people will only recognize Harrison Ford as the “true” Han Solo, and this film gives them some ammunition for that. Sure, Alden Ehrenreich does a...
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BOOK: Timeline (1999)

Timeline Year: 1999 Author: Michael Crichton Length: 912 minutes / 15.20 hours It’s been a while since I read any Michael Crichton. I thoroughly enjoyed Jurassic Park—and to a lesser extent, The Lost World. I enjoyed the action and the science that went into creating these stories, helping to educate as well as entertain (kind of like my own writing style, if I do say so myself :D). For Timeline, the science in question is more quantum in nature, but I felt the explanations given were sufficient to arrive at a time-travel narrative, even if it did require a small amount of scientific hand-waving. Also, a lot of my perceptions about the dark ages were completely flipped around through this book’s meticulous details. Even though I liked the scientific and historical sections of this book, there were undoubtedly some weaknesses I cannot overlook. First of all, Crichton seems to like hammering home the idea that science as an entertainment business is a bad idea (a la...
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