BOOK: Jaunts of the Mantis (2019)

Jaunts of the Mantis Year: 2019 Author: Jim Henderson Length: 241 pages Ever since I discovered the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, I found that I enjoyed the “down to earth” (metaphorically speaking) stories of space travel. These books added some realism to the science fiction genre by covering some of the details involved with running a ship in outer space. From ship maintenance to inventory management, these stories tended to focus on the close-knit relationships of the crew and their adventures across the universe as they try to make a living. Modern-era equivalents would be stories with people on submarines or shipping barges, but the addition of space travel makes this sub-genre entertaining for me. Another entry in this genre is Jaunts of the Mantis. Covering a handful of scenarios, the book gets into the adventure reasonably quickly with a minimum of the crew (maybe a few less than might actually be needed). These “jaunts” cover all the standard setups for this kind of book....
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MOVIE: The LEGO Movie 2 – The Second Part (2019)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Back in 2014, children at heart everywhere were able to experience the world’s most successful building toy brand on the big screen via The LEGO Movie. With a catchy, Oscar-winning song, this Matrix-like movie was fun and self-aware. Fast forward five years, and the sequel, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (2019) released with hardly the amount of fanfare and advertising that accompanied the original. I think this may have been in part due to how the formula the first movie used to great success has been done to death now. With spinoffs like The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) and The LEGO Ninjago Movie(2017) saturating the market, it's hard to capture the magic of the original. The real problem with The Second Part comes via the twist at the end of the first movie. Now that we know these toys merely exist in the imagination of a young boy, it’s hard to put that reveal back...
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MOVIE: Glass (2019)

Glass Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours Much like Incredibles 2 (2018) felt like a movie that came out far too late, Glass (2019) caps a trilogy of films that technically started with Unbreakable (2000). Both the original Incredibles (2004) and Unbreakable were genre-defining movies for the practically non-existent superhero films that are all but ubiquitous today. The fact that they took more than a decade to capitalize on this phenomenon is part of the reason why both sequels feel somewhat dated. Sure, they recapture a bit of the charm of the originals, but that’s not enough to overcome what superhero films have evolved into since then. If anything, Glass owes a debt of gratitude to its predecessor, Split (2016). If it weren’t for James McAvoy’s expert transitions between a dozen different personalities, I wouldn’t have been particularly interested in this final chapter of the trilogy. While Split was a return to form for Shyamalan, Glass seems like a bit of a regression. Perhaps this is due to the heavy burden placed upon Glass to combine two tonally different movies...
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BOOK: The 39 Steps (1915)

The 39 Steps Year: 1915 Author: John Buchan Length: 234 minutes / 3.9 hours It’s weird to think that stories like The 39 Steps have only been around for 100 years. Perhaps their ubiquity in modern action thrillers has made me numb to their “man on the run” plotline, but I didn’t find this book to be as interesting as I had expected. Sure, it’s short, but how many of its twists and turns were merely repeating the same way of escaping the main character’s pursuers time and again? And perhaps that’s the main issue I have with this book: the main character seemed to be too skilled at eluding capture for it to be believable. I know the “wrong man” trope that thrusts an ordinary person into these kinds of circumstances isn’t as realistic as it could be, but when Richard Hannay just happens to know exactly what to do at each instance, I wonder how “ordinary” he really is. Don’t get me wrong, the chase...
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MOVIE: Roma (2018)

Roma Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours Don't get me wrong. I like Alfonso Cuarón's films. I liked his films before I even really knew who he was as a director. If anything, he's shown that he's the master of cinematography, especially in long takes that seem to pan through almost the entire film. He first showed this talent in Children of Men (2006) and continued to impress with this technique in Gravity (2013). While he's shown he has mastered the long take, his signature style is still on display in Roma (2018) through its numerous pans. That being said, I found the content of Children of Men and Gravity to be much more interesting than that of Roma. Cuarón pulls us into his Mexican roots in this film, choosing the early 1970s to set this "slice of life" tale. The problem is, while the film looks quite artistic, with the black-and-white aesthetic fusing nicely with the expert camera work (along...
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BOOK: The Arctic Incident (2002)

The Arctic Incident Year: 2002 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 387 minutes / 6.45 hours Sequels can be tough. There seems to be a need to incorporate what made the original successful, while also trying out new ideas at the same time. Additionally, the characters need to grow and show that they can handle any new problems thrown their way. In The Arctic Incident, the sequel to Artemis Fowl, I found more of the same military sci-fi fantasy elements present, but with changes to the characters that took away a lot of what I liked about them in the first book. And by characters, I specifically mean Artemis Fowl. While the first book in this series contained a confident, coy, and conniving teenage super-genius, The Arctic Incident took Artemis Fowl and expanded those brief moments of emotional vulnerability into an entire character. Perhaps this was due to Artemis joining forces with the same magical creatures that he swindled out of their gold in the first book, or maybe it was...
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BOOK: Creating Characters (1990)

Creating Characters: How to Build Story People Year: 1990 Author: Dwight V. Swain Length: 195 pages Writing advice is generally pretty timeless. Fundamentally, little changes between the classics written hundreds of years ago and the classics written today. Sure, there might be some new way to go about creating plots, or there might be a scientific breakthrough that tweaks a setting or two, but the one thing that remains constant throughout is characters. Complex characters have always been interesting, even if it can be a challenge to create them for a story. This is where Creating Characters: How to Build Story People comes in to help. While there is plenty of great advice in this book, I did find that it to be somewhat dated in a few spots. We’re now almost 30 years after this book was initially written, so the author's advice for writers working on radio plays might work for someone doing podcasts, but not much else. Similarly, there are tons of great examples...
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BOOK: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2007)

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest Year: 2007 Author: Stieg Larsson Length: 1,222 minutes / 20.37 hours Now that I’ve finished the third book in this series, I realize it falls into the “trilogy conundrum” of having a strong, standalone first part, followed by two sequels that rely on each other to finish out the story. Heck, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest should have just been Part 3 of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo since it completed the story arc started back in book one. I had my suspicions this book would continue from the exact moment where The Girl Who Played with Fire ended. After all, there were a ton of loose ends, and the story ended abruptly. Part of my issue with this book was that it was primarily tasked with tying up all the subplots from the first two books. However, it still felt like it needed to spend time on new storylines that didn’t add much to the overall plot and were only...
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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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