MOVIE: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours As someone who never fully immersed themselves in the Harry Potter fandom, this spin-off wasn't high on my "to watch" list. Sure, I liked the movies well enough for the continual narrative they provided (still haven't gotten to the books yet), and I understand that this parallel universe full of magic is a unique idea that hasn't been explored in this fashion, but this just seems like a tag-along to capitalize on a successful franchise. That's not to say that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) isn't good, it's just that it does require a bit of background knowledge in order to fully "get it." Partly because seeing wizardry and magic in the modern era might still seem odd, this throwback to the past is only made better by placing it in the United States. Both of these settings differ from the main Harry Potter franchise enough...
Read More

MOVIE: Despicable Me 3 (2017)

Despicable Me 3 Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours Sometimes I wonder how this franchise became so popular. Perhaps this perception is due to the oversaturation of the annoying little “Minions” that seem to pervade every corner of social media. And yet, when I go to see a movie like this, I am soon reminded that there are relatable and underappreciated storylines and plot points contained within this silliness. I have rarely seen a better “adoption” storyline than the one presented in Despicable Me (2010). Of course, Despicable Me 2 (2013) took the natural next step and provided a “single dad looking for a wife” storyline that also is rarely seen in animation. With Despicable Me 3 (2017), the franchise transitions more into a series of vignettes better suited for a television show than a feature-length film. It was a little hard to tell which storyline was the main one for the film, even if they were all intertwined in some...
Read More

MOVIE: King Arthur – Legend of the Sword (2017)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 126 minutes / 2.1 hours Years ago, I watched Guy Ritchie's first film, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). I thoroughly enjoyed the comedic repartee, well-paced action, and simple heist scenario. Afterward, I decided to watch the rest of his films (omitting Swept Away (2002) for obvious reasons). Films like Snatch (2000) and RocknRolla (2008) held very similar premises, but even in his other films like Revolver (2005), you could see the distinctive style Ritchie has when he shoots his films. In hindsight, not all of these films are great, but they were certainly entertaining for me. Enter Sherlock Holmes (2009), and this big-budget film gave Guy Ritchie a bit more mainstream attention, as it also sported Robert Downey Jr. on a career hot streak. The striking visual style remained, which also helped in the sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011). Because I also enjoyed the 60's period piece, The Man...
Read More

MOVIE: Time Bandits (1981)

Time Bandits Year: 1981 Rating: PG Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours If there’s one thing Terry Gilliam’s films are known for, it’s their imaginative visuals. In a time before CGI was prevalent, the practical and model effects certainly made his films distinctive, especially in the fantasy genre. That being said, one of his earliest films, Time Bandits (1981) was quickly outclassed, not only by Gilliam himself but by other films as well. While Time Bandits is a cute little story about traveling through time, it is precisely that: little story. Even with the spectacular visuals, the plot seemed to be quite lacking, almost as an afterthought to how many interesting set pieces could cram into one film. I will admit that Time Bandits was ahead of its time, but I wouldn’t consider it better than films that came after it. If you want plenty of imaginative fantasy effects, look no further than Labyrinth (1986). A series of time-travel vignettes? Then Bill and Ted’s Excellent...
Read More

BOOK: The Rook Crew (2017)

The Rook Crew Year: 2017 Author: Mirella Muffarotto Length: 488 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Usually, when I enter a Goodreads Giveaway, I have an expectation for what the book is about via the title and the cover. With The Rook Crew, my expectations were way off. With the cover, I was expecting a shoujo (a Japanese term signifying an audience comprised of female teenagers) light novel. I didn’t know what to think about the title, but I honestly can’t say it has anything to do with this book. “The Rook Café” is a location in this book that’s visited maybe a half-dozen times, with no indication of why it’s significant or unique. Likewise, the “crew” that visits The Rook Café regularly was never fleshed out beyond the main characters and one or two minor ones. If it were me, I’d title the book something like Soccer Sweetheart, which would accurately convey the sports/romance aspects of the book. I will admit that the pacing is...
Read More

MOVIE: The Circle (2017)

The Circle Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours In an ever-increasingly digital world, practically everyone online is concerned with privacy. Of course, we are willing to give up this privacy to make our lives more convenient. In The Circle (2017), the eponymous corporation is merely a stand-in for Google/Facebook/Amazon/Apple and is essentially a conglomeration of sorts of these tech companies. Of course, just like that antiquated operating system you’ve meant to update, The Circle contains a premise about five years too late. When the book this movie was based on came out, I’m sure it was thought-provoking; now it’s more a matter of “Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard this already.” Part of what strikes me about this film is that several segments of it probably worked better in the book. When I’m watching characters explain “mandatory fun” I can’t help but cringe and wonder if it reads better than the performance I saw. Granted, there are segments which are better on the...
Read More

BOOK: Winter Witch (2010)

Winter Witch Year: 2010 Author: Elaine Cunningham Length: 368 pages Years ago, after completing my first NaNoWriMo, I received this book as a prize. Seven years later, as I try to read all the “unread” books on my bookshelf, this book finally made its way into my “read” pile. Full disclosure: I haven’t ever played any tabletop Role Playing Games (RPGs), be they Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. Because the Pathfinder universe defines this book's setting, I didn’t have any of the prior background to help me understand the setting better. Still, as this book was a conventional example of the “high fantasy” genre, it was relatively easy to get up to speed. Of course, partly because it is a conventional example of the fantasy genre, Winter Witch didn’t have that many surprises. Characters going on adventures to prove themselves / save someone / avoid responsibility seem to be pretty typical in this genre and this book certainly had all of them. While I did...
Read More

BOOK: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (2009)

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters Year: 2009 Author: Ben H. Winters and Jane Austen Length: 340 pages After struggling my way through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I thought perhaps the next entry in the “Quirk Classics” line of books would be better. After all, it had a new co-author (alongside Jane Austen) and replaced the almost cliché zombie trope with the lesser-seen sea monster framing. Unfortunately, I once again found myself struggling through the archaic language of Austen’s time. Not only that, but I felt there was far too much talking and way too much nonsense, and that wasn’t even about the sea monsters. I’m starting to suspect that I just plain don’t like Jane Austen’s writing. Half of the book is practically filled with young women swooning over eligible bachelors, learning that these bachelors are engaged or married, and then becoming depressed because of this revelation. If they spent less time gossiping and more time communicating, perhaps they wouldn’t have these problems....
Read More

BOOK: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Year: 2009 Author: Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen Length: 320 pages Back in the zombie heyday of 2009, the idea of combining one of the most feminine pieces of literature with the oft masculine-marketed gory violence seemed like an interesting idea. I, for one, didn’t particularly care to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but this take on the romantic classic certainly piqued my interest. Because of the addition of zombies to this plot, I was impelled to read this story to see how these drastically different archetypes were combined. I certainly wonder if the book would have been more enjoyable if I had read Pride and Prejudice beforehand, or if I would have remained far abreast of it altogether. Partly due to the severe dichotomy of the original story and the zombie additions, there were certainly moments where I could tell what segments of Jane Austen’s plot were modified to fit the new, apocalyptic sensibilities. The two concepts worked together...
Read More

MOVIE: Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours Based on the surprise win of Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, I had high expectations for Moonlight (2016). There were some fantastic, motivational, and inspirational films in the running for this award, including the “follow your dreams” story of La La Land (2016), the “communication is key” story of Arrival (2016), and the “overcoming adversity” story of Hidden Figures (2016). So, what did Moonlight have to offer? In my opinion, not much; but maybe that was because I’m a straight white (you could argue, privileged) male and there was little to relate to in this film. Sure, the cinematography was impressive at times, but there wasn’t any story that I felt was impactful enough to warrant its award. I will give credit to Mahershala Ali, as his performance was certainly deserving of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. So, what lessons does Moonlight give us? Do we need to find good mentors in life?...
Read More