BOOK: The Enigma Strain (2014)

The Enigma Strain Year: 2014 Author: Nick Thacker Length: 271 pages The basic formula for a thriller is as follows: one loner, one love-interest, and lots of running. The Enigma Strain is your cookie-cutter thriller, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The premise is somewhat entertaining, if not downright ridiculous and unrealistic. The pacing is certainly fast enough to keep the characters moving and racing against the clock of destruction (at times even literally). In the end, there were no surprises as the day is saved and the loner opens up enough to attract the love interest. The fact that the ending was predictable just meant that it delivered on the thriller formula. One of the weaknesses of The Enigma Strain is the sense of space and time. There was plenty of driving around to different locations, which made them seem like they were quite close together. However, the love-interest kept talking about flying, which made me wonder how far away these places were. If...
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BOOK: Boneshaker (2009)

Boneshaker Year: 2009 Author: Cherie Priest Length: 822 minutes / 13.70 hours I suppose when I chose to read this book, it would have been a little more steampunk than it was. Sure, Boneshaker has some of the trappings of a steampunk story, like the Civil War and inventions comprised of brass; but in the end, it felt more like light window dressing than something important to the plot. Surprisingly enough, this book was more along the lines of a zombie apocalypse novel than a steampunk one. In that sense, I’m disappointed that the cover didn’t completely deliver on its premise and instead decided to rely on the tropes of the post-apocalyptic genre. The characters themselves were somewhat interesting, but their motivations seemed a little flat. The boy who wants to find his father and the mother who chases after him aren’t that compelling. In fact, the journey of both characters could have probably been accomplished via one of them, with supporting characters providing information about the...
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MOVIE: Downsizing (2017)

Downsizing Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours In the last decade, I’ve come to appreciate Alexander Payne’s films. From The Descendants (2011) to Nebraska (2013), it was clear he was improving as a director. I had high hopes for his latest work, Downsizing (2017) since the premise seemed interesting and ripe for social satire like his previous films. For a movie about becoming small, Downsizing certainly had big ambitions. Unfortunately, it means that this film was kind of all over the place. Sure, there was a somewhat logical progression of events, but even the main character was flabbergasted at the coincidence of it all. While I would fault the movie for Hong Chau’s clipped English, as it almost seemed culturally insensitive at first, eventually the character grows on the viewer. This leads to a very touching ending. Instead, I will fault the science behind this science fiction. I was half-expecting a lot of sight gags on how ordinary objects are much bigger with shrunken humans (a la The Borrowers), which Downsizing delivered...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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