MOVIE: Blue Jasmine (2013)

Blue Jasmine Year: 2013 Rating: PG-13 Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours After the critical success of Midnight in Paris (2011), it seems that Cate Blanchett followed in Owen Wilson’s footsteps by providing her best Woody Allen impression in Blue Jasmine (2013). Of course, this is no coincidence, considering that pretty much all of Allen’s films are distinctly in his neurotic New Yorker style. After all, he writes and directs his films, which allows him to be on the screen, even if it’s not him directly acting on it. Still, Blue Jasmine falls into that happy medium of being a commentary on society as well as an examination of the mental illness it creates. There’s plenty of dark humor present when Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) comes to stay with her poorer sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). The culture clash of the New York elite and struggling-to-get-by is exemplified in Jasmine’s inability to adapt to a life of poverty after having lived in a life of luxury for...
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VIDEO GAME: Mega Man ZX (2006)

Mega Man ZX Year: 2006 Rating: E Time Played: 5.32 hours Much like how Mega Man Star Force expounded upon the Mega Man Battle Network formula, Mega Man ZX evolved the platforming and action of the Mega Man Zero series. While this meant the visual style and difficulty carried over from the Zero series, ZX added just enough modification to the player character to make it more reminiscent of the original Mega Man series. Given how I’d developed some of my skills via the Zero games, I was easily able to jump right in and start playing ZX without too much difficulty. Part of the problem with this game was the slightly “open-world” style of the overworld. I’ve been so used to playing Mega Man games that immediately transport you to the level you want to play. I’m so used to this formula that having to navigate a labyrinthine home base just to get to the next area was frustrating at times—if only for the...
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MOVIE: Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Once Upon a Time in AmericaYear: 1984Rating: RLength: 229 minutes / 3.82 hours Nobody doubts Sergio Leone’s talent as a director. While he’s best known for his Spaghetti Westerns, he did make a few films like Once Upon a Time in America (1984). One does wonder if Leone was given free rein with this film, as it was probably an hour longer than it needed to be and included a lot of situations that could have been cut out, or at least trimmed down. If anything, it’s clear directors like Quentin Tarantino were influenced by movies like this, considering some of the similarities between it and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019). I will admit that most of the scenes in this fractured timeline of a story were necessary. Something that was shown early in the film would inevitably come into play near the end. However, I don’t think this excuses the numerous (and gratuitous) sex scenes included in this film. With a run time of...
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VIDEO GAME: Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (2014)

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse Year: 2014 Rating: T Time Played: 562 minutes / 9.37 hours A couple of years ago, I started hearing about a cult classic Game Boy Color game known as Shantae. While this game released near the end of that handheld’s life cycle, there was plenty of buzz about how it was a solid platformer with plenty of potential. Fast forward eight years and the first sequel, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, made its appearance as a virtual game on the DSi. I happened to jump into this series with the 3DS virtual title, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse and I certainly enjoyed the pseudo-Metroidvania approach that WayForward took with this franchise. While I would have liked to have found a cartridge version of this game, I eventually settled on buying it from the eShop. I’m glad I did, as it allowed me to play the game instead of just thinking about it. Overall, it’s a solid action platformer with plenty of upgrades...
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MOVIE: About a Boy (2002)

About a Boy Year: 2002 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours It’s challenging to define the aesthetic of the early 2000s, but I think About a Boy (2002) is about as close as it comes. From the music and style to themes and plot, About a Boy is a solid little romantic comedy that probably hasn’t aged as well in the time since its creation. Although it is a rare sight to see Nicholas Hoult in one of his earlier film roles, knowing the kind of actor he has become (for such movies like X-Men: First Class (2011), Warm Bodies (2013), and The Favourite (2018)). I’ll admit that Will (Hugh Grant) is a bit of a creeper for going after single mothers as a way to hook up and get dumped without the guilt being on his side of the equation. However, the independently-wealthy status he has based on royalties from a single one-hit-wonder seems a little implausible. Still, maybe it was possible...
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MOVIE: The Founder (2016)

The FounderYear: 2016Rating: PG-13Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours I hate to admit it, but many of these biopics about successful individuals all come off as the same story. Some down-on-his-luck guy stumbles across an idea that he steals (or has stolen from him) and makes his own to enormous success, betraying his friends and family along the way. We saw it in The Social Network (2010), Jobs (2013), Joy (2015), and The Greatest Showman (2017). The Founder (2016) is just another in this almost cookie-cutter genre that covers the origins of the McDonald corporation we know today. That’s not to say that The Founder isn’t entertaining. As an engineer, I was fascinated at how the McDonald brothers were able to be successful by creating efficiencies and eliminating waste in the process of selling hamburgers and other fast food. The trick is that the titular character, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), is half protagonist (the one you want to root for) and half...
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VIDEO GAME: Mario Kart 7 (2011)

Mario Kart 7 Year: 2011 Rating: E Time Played: 2.35 hours One of the challenges of long-running series like Mario Kart is how to maintain the core gameplay mechanic while also continuing to innovate. Previous iterations in the franchise played with having two characters in a Kart (Double Dash on the Gamecube) before reverting to the traditional formula (Mario Kart Wii). Furthermore, with the limitations present in portable and handheld consoles, there’s a point where the experience isn’t quite the same as it would be on a television screen. Fortunately, Mario Kart 7 seems to have struck a good balance between new ideas and embracing nostalgia. Even if I didn’t use the online mode for racing against other individuals (one of the core attractions of the Mario Kart series), I did find that each race in Mario Kart 7 was just long enough for me to play through in a single sitting. If I had more time, the option to race through a series of...
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MOVIE: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Mary Poppins Returns Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours While it’s a somewhat rare occurrence, it usually doesn’t take Disney over five decades to release a sequel to a critically-acclaimed movie (like how Fantasia 2000 (1999) came out sixty years after Fantasia (1940)). The original Mary Poppins (1964) was a triumph in live-action for a studio known for its animation—which also makes an appearance. It raked in the Oscar Nominations, even gaining a nod for Best Picture. As far as sequels go, Mary Poppins Returns (2018) is a sharp and polished upgrade compared to the original but hits most of the same beats for the sake of nostalgia. Emily Blunt was more than passable as the title character, even if her representation seemed a bit more on the sarcastic and irritated eye-rolling side of the spectrum from Julie Andrews’ measured patience in the original. The songs in Mary Poppins Returns were certainly catchy—a trait undoubtedly inherited from Lin Manuel-Miranda—but didn’t seem...
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BOOK: Red Rising (2014)

Red RisingYear: 2014Author: Pierce BrownLength: 400 pages It is difficult to review a book like Red Rising without noting the heavy comparisons to The Hunger Games. Perhaps this speaks to the strength of The Hunger Games’ format, but there are almost too many parallels to ignore. Dystopian class-separated society? Check. A skilled lower-class individual who defies the odds? Check. Violence and a romantic subplot? Check and check. About the only difference between the two is that Red Rising takes place on Mars and over a few years instead of a week or so. Of course, it’s hard to tell the timespan since important details always seem to be missing from the first-person narrative. If anything, I’d peg Red Rising as the gritty, over-violent, and over-sexualized version of The Hunger Games. If The Hunger Games appeals to girls and women, Red Rising should appeal to boys and men. A lot of the content in this book felt a bit over the top and...
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MOVIE: Terminator – Dark Fate (2019)

Terminator: Dark Fate Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours I’ll admit that Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) was a difficult movie to follow. Basically the perfect sequel, this film is generally what we associate with the Terminator franchise. From its plethora of meme-able moments to its fantastic action and visual effects, Terminator 2 set a high bar for any film in the franchise to follow it. While Terminator: Rise of the Machines (2003) tried to tie up the first three movies into a neat little trilogy, most felt unsatisfied with its ending. This is why, almost 20 years after Terminator 2 released, we’re still trying to find that satisfying bit of closure. Compared to its predecessors, Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) certainly came the closest to achieving this closure. After all, we’ve seen the effects of time travel in the future with Terminator: Salvation (2009) and an alternate reality with Terminator: Genisys (2015). As a direct sequel to Terminator 2, Dark Fate...
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MOVIE: Onward (2020)

Onward Year: 2020 Rating: PG Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I always look forward to Pixar films, mostly to see how visually stunning a movie created entirely in a computer can look with each passing year of technological and programming advancements. The other reason I will always go to see a Pixar movie is their dedication to a good story. Sure, there have been some missed steps over the years (The Good Dinosaur (2015) being the latest example), but their track record has been good enough to warrant me seeing their films in the theater. While I was looking forward to this year’s offering of Onward (2020), the result felt a little lackluster overall. Choosing to explore a storyline with a deceased parent was odd in that it felt like something that had rarely been addressed in movies geared toward children while also having a strong “after school special” vibe to it. Either way, putting it in a pseudo-Monsters, Inc. (2001) fantasy world was a fun way to...
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BOOK: The Opal Deception (2005)

The Opal Deception Year: 2005 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 449 minutes / 7.48 hours As a fan of the three-act structure that trilogies can provide, I’ve found over the years that the fourth book in a series generally determines what the style of future books will be. Plenty of series have strong plotlines and character arcs that span multiple volumes, but some series settle into a tried-and-true formula that works for them. For The Opal Deception, the fourth book in the Artemis Fowl series, it’s the latter. Granted, the series is meant for grade-school readers, so it’s not entirely surprising that the series has become formulaic. There was an amount of status quo (and returning to it) that had to happen after the events in The Eternity Code, which is where The Opal Deception came in. It honestly feels a little like a half-step backward for the series, or at least a realignment to get the characters all back together to continue on future adventures....
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VIDEO GAME: Gris (2018)

GrisYear: 2018Rating: ETime Played: 3+ hours Much like Journey, Gris is an incredible fusion of art and video game. Taking a watercolor aesthetic and hauntingly beautiful music in stride to tell a subtle story of loss and recovery, Gris ended up being a relaxing trot through its geometric world for me. Unfortunately, much like Journey, the amount of effort that goes into making this game look beautiful was also probably why it ended up being so short. Even if I broke up the platforming gameplay into a few hour-long sessions, I could easily complete it in a long evening. In the end, the platforming of the game is relatively simple. There’s a couple of puzzles that took me a moment to figure out, and I still haven’t found all the hidden items, so I might come back and do a second play-through to complete it fully. The fact that I wanted to play it again shortly after reaching the end credits is...
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MOVIE: Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Jojo RabbitYear: 2019Rating: PG-13Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours When I first saw the trailers for Jojo Rabbit (2019), I thought this movie looked like a fun and satirical romp through Nazi Germany. With the director (Taika Waititi) portraying an imaginary Adolf Hitler, the comedy was in full display during the trailers. After all, Waititi directed Thor: Ragnarok (2017), which is arguably one of the funniest films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Plus, Jojo Rabbit seemed to focus on a 10-year-old boy (Roman Griffin Davis) in the Hitler Youth, which gave some strong Boy Scout vibes that I could potentially relate to. Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed to find that the trailers contained all the comedy in Jojo Rabbit. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the remainder of the film gave some amount of cynicism and reality to the fanatical enthusiasm of Jojo and the other members of the Hitler Youth. In fact, there’s a significant scene that really hits home...
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VIDEO GAME: Journey (2012)

JourneyYear: 2012Rating: ETime Played: ~2 hours As someone who enjoys movies and video games, I appreciate how cinematic video games have become over the last decade. Additionally, since many films can be “artsy,” there’s no reason why video games can’t follow the same style. Journey definitely fits this definition, and I’d almost go so far to say that it’s interactive and collaborative art. The story is pretty simple, but the execution of it gave me shivers as I finished and watched the end credits. The visuals and music add to the ambiance that engulfed me for the short time I spent playing this game. Perhaps my only qualm with Journey is the same qualm I have with any artistic video game: its length. I would have loved to spend more time in this world, but as it stands, I can easily complete it in a single sitting. Which I suppose is how it should be when you consider that the “partners” along...
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MOVIE: Frozen II (2019)

Frozen IIYear: 2019Rating: PGLength: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours After the cultural phenomenon that was Frozen (2013) had cooled off a little, a sequel was an inevitable conclusion. The trouble with such sequels is multi-faceted: how do you recapture the magic of the first movie while also creating something new that advances the story? Unfortunately, Frozen II (2019) falls into the trap of focusing on what made the first so successful that it almost feels like it’s mimicking its origins. To top it off, the new elements introduced in this film are either predictable plot points or over-done tropes. But hey, it’s Disney, and it looks absolutely gorgeous, even if some of the main characters seemed slightly more exaggerated in their presentation (perhaps starting to edge closer to the uncanny valley). While the songs all hit similar beats to their predecessors, most of them seem to fall short or were emphasized in the wrong places. Case in point, I found “Show Yourself”...
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BOOK: Schumann – The Faces and the Masks (2018)

Schumann: The Faces and the Masks Year: 2018 Author: Judith Chernaik Length: 773 minutes / 12.83 hours When it comes to biographies of famous artists, it can be difficult to separate their life from their life’s work. It is fascinating to understand the influences of an artist, especially when in the context of their creation. However, much of the ability to talk about the artist’s life depends on common knowledge of their artistic portfolio. For slightly more obscure artists, finding the balance between discussing their personal life and providing an explanation of their art can be a challenge. Schumann: The Faces and the Masks attempts to cover both Robert Schumann’s life and his musical pieces. While revealing some of the more interesting secret codes in Schumann’s music in this book, the moments discussing the songs in detail seem to derail the whole narrative of the biography. Schumann’s life was fascinating enough as it was, with the drama involved in his marriage to Clara Wieck, as...
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BOOK: The Crystal City (2003)

The Crystal City Year: 2003 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 690 minutes / 11.50 hours With the end of this series in sight, it seems that the focus of The Crystal City is back on track. That being said, there are a few curious omissions that made it somewhat frustrating to read. I understand that some stories aren’t meant to be part of full books, but when these side short stories sound much more interesting by their mere inference, then I wonder why they weren’t included in the main storyline to begin with. Still, there were enough exciting developments in The Crystal City to keep me wondering what the conclusion will bring in the next book. While I appreciated the historical name dropping earlier in the series, now they seem to be coming left and right, with little-to-no impact on the story other than to say, “Look! Here’s someone you should know, and here’s how they’re different now!” Part of this is due to the...
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BOOK: Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine (2018)

Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine Year: 2018 Author: Jessica Crichton Length: 260 pages While I’m a bit older than the target demographic, I’m not sure I was ever a fan of the kind of “gross-out” tropes that seem to permeate the middle-grade genre. My main problem with Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine is that it relies on this trope in spades. At the very least, it takes this slightly “uncultured” format and takes it to its logical extremes. After all, the amount of accented pidgin adds flavor to this parallel universe, even if it sacrifices some readability. In the end, though, it’s still a pretty good story even if the plot points felt pretty standard for the genre. Aside from some of the content being gross, there were several proofreading errors scattered throughout this book. Not enough to be distracting but enough to be noticeable. I’m also not sure the more complicated “twist” near the end is understandable for the target age range, considering the scientific knowledge needed...
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MOVIE: Star Wars – Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 142 minutes / 2.37 hours Full disclosure: I’m not a die-hard Star Wars fan by any means. Sure, I like the original trilogy, but Return of the Jedi (1983) is my favorite of that set (take that how you will). In the end, I don’t look at this franchise through the lens of the expanded universe or all the lore tied to it. I just see them as movies. Are they entertaining? Sure, they have their moments. Are they groundbreaking? Not since A New Hope (1977), in my opinion. So, while The Force Awakens (2015) felt like a rehash/reboot, I did appreciate how The Last Jedi (2017) took some risks in terms of character development. So, how does The Rise of Skywalker (2019) fare? First of all, the plot moves at a hyperspace-clipped pace. There seemed to be so many loose ends to tie up and nostalgia to fit in that...
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MOVIE: East of Eden (1955)

East of Eden Year: 1955 Rating: PG Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours East of Eden (1955) is one of those films that are famous only for who is in it and who originally wrote it. If this wasn’t one of the few roles James Dean had before his unfortunate death, I’m not sure I’d have watched it. Even if it’s based on a Steinbeck book, I think I’d prefer The Grapes of Wrath (1940) or Of Mice and Men (1939) to this. Still, there is some artistic merit to this film, even if it didn’t cover the entirety of the source material. It just goes to show how a movie can have staying power just from the people tied to it. Notably, I did enjoy pieces of the cinematography in East of Eden. In particular, when James Dean’s character is on the porch swing, that scene was shot in such a way that I haven’t seen done before or since. And while Dean’s performance...
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BOOK: Weapons of Math Destruction (2016)

Weapons of Math Destruction Year: 2016 Author: Cathy O’Neil Length: 383 minutes / 6.38 hours I love data. I love what it can show us as individuals and what it can show as society changes from year to year. Being able to trend my spending is just as useful to me as knowing how many people are participating in my National Novel Writing Month region. Because I’m always interested in seeing what pure numbers can show me about the world, I was intrigued to find this book, Weapons of Math Destruction. While I had already heard many of this book’s conclusions, it was interesting to read about the algorithms that work silently behind the scenes of our society and how nobody can really control or change them. I’ll agree that it’s terrifying to have decision-making boiled down to a number popped out of an algorithm that decision-makers just blindly trust without understanding the rules of causality or correlation. People are messy, so I understand how finding...
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BOOK: The Force Doth Awaken (2017)

William Shakespeare’s the Force Doth Awaken Year: 2017 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours As I’ve been working my way through Ian Doescher’s Shakespearean adaptations of pop culture movies, I think I’ve hit the point where the novelty has worn off. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel like The Force Doth Awaken had the same charm as other entries in this quirky mash-up series. I have a sneaking suspicion that this may be due to one of two factors: 1. The newer movies have more “modern” dialogue that seemed as if it was directly plopped into the Shakespearean format, or 2. The original trilogy had more time to be ingrained in my psyche, and the translation to Shakespearean felt appropriate. I don’t want to downplay the novelty of this adaptation, though. The voice acting is still superb, and the sound effects add a little something extra that immersed me as I listened to this audiobook. Plus, it’s not like these books are that lengthy...
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MOVIE: Zombieland – Double Tap (2019)

Zombieland: Double Tap Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours It's a little weird to me that it's been a full decade since Zombieland (2009) came out. While I thought the original film was goofy and fun, it has since gained a bit of a cult following. What's weirder to me is how—in the years since the original—many of the cast of this franchise have gone on to be nominated for (and in some cases won) Oscars for their acting talent. It's no wonder the advertisements for Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) have picked up on this fact and used it to promote another ridiculous foray into the self-aware satire of zombie films. While I do admit that Zombieland: Double Tap does require having seen the first film to pick up on its numerous references, I also knew that its comedy would be as smart as its predecessor. I appreciated this wit, especially with a few literary references thrown in (like to Of...
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BOOK: Mortal Engines (2001)

Mortal Engines Year: 2001 Author: Philip Reeve Length: 541 minutes / 9.02 hours In yet another case of watching a movie first before reading the books, I finally got around to reading Mortal Engines after absolutely loving the 2018 movie. While I understand middle-grade or Young Adult readers are the intended audiences, it left me wanting in its presentation. Sure, most of the elements that made it into the film were there (with some less-than-necessary parts being cut from the screenplay for obvious reasons), but the way it was written felt a bit too flowery for my tastes. In fact, the engineer in me would have loved a lot more world-building than I got in this short volume. I did still appreciate the post-apocalyptic steampunk world of Mortal Engines—if for no other reason than its ridiculous premise. The idea that whole cities would transform into moving monstrosities that devour lesser towns in a “predator and prey” relationship is such an intriguing notion that I had to give...
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MOVIE: Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008)

Anvil! The Story of Anvil Year: 2008 Rating: Not Rated Length: 80 minutes / 1.33 hours Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) is one of those movies I sat down to watch because it’s on the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. Before watching this film, I honestly had never heard of this Canadian heavy metal band, and it soon became apparent why. What immediately struck me was how similar the premise was to the 1984 mockumentary, This is Spinal Tap. It was difficult to separate this real-life story of the rise and fall of a heavy metal band with the Rob Reiner comedy since so many of the beats of the plot seemed to match up. Still, it was somewhat engrossing to see how Anvil! followed the progression I’d already seen in Spinal Tap. At first, I thought, “Is this for real?” This was before I realized that perhaps the reason why Spinal Tap worked so well was because that’s just how the music industry functions and has functioned...
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MOVIE: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 161 minutes / 2.68 hours Quentin Tarantino has changed. While I loved Inglorious Basterds (2009) for its alternate history, and Django Unchained (2012) was another strong showing, it seems like he’s just getting out of his western phase. For his latest film, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019), Tarantino seems to have continued his trend of making very long movies but chose to condense his trademark graphic violence down into an intense sequence that only lasts a few minutes at most  (like The Hateful Eight (2015)). Perhaps he has matured as a director, but that’s what makes this film so jarring compared to his previous work. Anyone familiar with the Tarantino aesthetic knows that he’s particularly fond of the pop culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Consequently, it’s interesting to see how real he’s made this era feel on the big screen. That being said, some of the “fake” movies appearing in this film are...
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BOOK: Ideas, Influence, and Income (2018)

Ideas, Influence, and Income: Write a Book, Build Your Brand, and Lead Your Industry Year: 2018 Author: Tanya Hall Length: 214 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’ll admit that I initially thought this book was for all kinds of writers, to include fiction authors. I was looking for a few good ideas to push my brand out of the mires of obscurity, and this book seemed like it would help. While Ideas, Influence, and Income is focused mainly on those people who might not even consider writing a non-fiction book, there’s still plenty of advice for authors of all stages. The insight the author brings to the table here is a little intimidating, though, and not for the weak of will. As far as I could understand it, this book caters towards individuals who are “trendsetters” or “influencers” who could turn their original idea into a brand that could support a book, speaking engagements, and other social media content pieces. Because of...
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MOVIE: Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours Captain Marvel (2019) fills this weird space that essentially exists between the “Part 1” of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). While Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) also explained some of the events and plot points that would need to happen before Endgame, Captain Marvel took a slightly different approach by essentially acting as an origin story and prequel for a lot of loose bits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Needless to say, I didn’t miss much by passing on this film and seeing Endgame first. I knew I was taking a risk with watching these movies out of order—especially considering how pivotal Black Panther (2018) was in setting the stage for Infinity War. However, there were key moments in this movie that made me go, “Huh. That explains that little bit from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).” The fact that Captain Marvel was...
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MOVIE: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Detective Pikachu Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours The transition of nostalgia into live action can be a tricky business. Plenty of franchises have faltered in this aspect, so it was interesting to see Pokémon approach it from a side angle. Instead of adapting the core series of games or anime to a live-action adaptation, they instead used a spinoff game as the framework to create this movie. Despite my initial skepticism, I can honestly say that Detective Pikachu (2019) works much better than any video game franchise adaptation before it. It’s not entirely perfect, but it came a lot closer than any of its predecessors. On the plus side, the “realistic” Pokémon were enthralling—if not wholly terrifying (I’m looking at you, Ludicolo)—to see in a real space interacting with humans. I already had a bit of a visceral reaction to seeing realistic fur, skin, and feathers on Pokémon when I played Pokken Tournament DX. At least they certainly seemed to be at...
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BOOK: The Far Side of the World (1984)

The Far Side of the World Year: 1984 Author: Patrick O’Brian Length: 406 pages Nautical historical fiction is a rare genre for me to read. The last one I read—and that most people would be able to recognize—was Moby Dick, and that was probably 15 years ago. Needless to say, I found myself in brief possession of The Far Side of the World and decided to give it a read. Of course, this was mostly because of the movie of the same name released in 2003 that earned many Oscar nominations (only winning in two). While the plot of both is slightly different in a few key areas, I wasn’t disappointed with having read this book. First, as a historical look into the realms of sailing and whaling at the time, The Far Side of the World does a fantastic job of informing and educating the reader without necessarily resorting to huge exposition dumps. Sure, a few moments were a little obvious that the author was trying to get...
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BOOK: The Desert Spear (2010)

The Desert Spear Year: 2010 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,573 minutes / 26.22 hours The second book in the Demon Cycle series, The Desert Spear practically proves my point that its predecessor, The Warded Man, started in the wrong place. In fact, if there weren’t an awesome battle sequence at the end of The Warded Man, I’d suggest just skipping to The Desert Spear since all the key moments from the first book were referenced in this sequel. That being said, this book has some of its own issues, some of which are gripes I continue to have about this series—which makes me think this is just the way these books are going to be. Before I get too far down the criticism hole, I do want to say that I truly enjoy the magic system in these books. The Desert Spear doesn’t necessarily do anything new with it, but there’s at least a little more world building that happens in terms of the...
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BOOK: Foundation and Empire (1952)

Foundation and Empire Year: 1952 Author: Isaac Asimov Length: 575 minutes / 9.58 hours One of my qualms with the start of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series was how different the stories were from each other. Each was set in the same universe but failed to have much of a cohesive narrative that tied them all together. While Foundation covered five different short stories, its sequel, Foundation and Empire managed to whittle this method of storytelling down to two novellas. The result was a clear improvement in clarity and focus as each half of this book only covered a single plot each. In Foundation and Empire, I finally was able to read a story that stuck with me in this series. Up until this point, I probably couldn’t tell you the premise of any of the short stories in Foundation, let alone the plot of the first half of this book. However, once this book transitioned over from topics that were more in line with science...
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MOVIE: Aquaman (2018)

Aquaman Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 143 minutes / 2.38 hours Now that Marvel’s 10-year behemoth of its cinematic universe is starting to pay off, it’s becoming more and more obvious that DC is trying desperately to catch up. There’s no doubt that DC has interesting characters, considering how often Superman has been rebooted and how successful Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was. Even Wonder Woman (2017) had its great moments, despite also feeling derivative influences from movies like Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Aquaman (2018) seems to continue this trend, despite again having a strong leading character (both physically and in backstory/lore). I will give DC credit for their casting decisions here. For decades, Aquaman has been the butt of the joke amongst many superhero aficionados. The fact that Jason Momoa is a badass, snarky, and overall entertaining actor to watch in the role speaks to their awareness of “image management.” Perhaps featuring him in previous films like Justice League (2017) also helped to get audiences interested in seeing this superhero in a standalone movie....
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BOOK: Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid (2019)

Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid Year: 2019 Author: Marcus Emerson Length: 336 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Once again, I seem to have jumped in on the second book of a series. Fortunately, there was plenty of exposition detailing the events of The Super Life of Ben Braver. Maybe a little too much exposition. This sequel took a little long getting to its own story because of this, along with a bit of heavy-handed foreshadowing as well. Regardless of its slow start, Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid is a pretty standard middle-grade book that calls upon the success of the superhero genre to package a lesson about pride between action set pieces. While there are some parallels between the X-Men series, I feel the main character’s arc is perhaps a little more similar to early My Hero Academia. Plus, it wouldn’t be a middle-grade story without a bit of a Harry Potter feel to it as well (i.e., a unique main character with a semi-bumbling male...
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MOVIE: Creed II (2018)

Creed II Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours While I have only ever seen the original Rocky (1976) and the spinoff/reboot Creed (2015), I’m still aware of some of the details of the Rocky franchise as a whole. I know who some of Rocky Balboa’s (Sylvester Stallone) opponents were over the years, including James “Clubber” Lang (Mr. T) and Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Consequently, even though Creed felt like it took the franchise in a new direction by focusing on Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) son, its sequel, Creed II (2018) felt too steeped in the franchise’s history and nostalgia to be anything more than a rehash of Rocky IV (1985). If anything, having Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), face off against Ivan Drago’s son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), as a revenge match that followed the same plot points as its predecessor smacks of lazy and clichéd writing. I would have been much more interested in this film if, even despite all the training each son endured, the outcome would have been different...
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BOOK: The Warded Man (2008)

The Warded Man Year: 2008 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 453 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** For anyone who thinks that fantasy is a childish genre, The Warded Man shows that it can have very adult themes. While this adds an element of realism by including sex and violence, it also means that the intended audience for this book should be mature enough to be able to pay attention. Unfortunately, this book takes a repetitive approach with its character arcs, almost as if writing for children who need the point constantly driven home. In the end, I’m mostly just disappointed at what this book could have been instead of what it was. I’m not sure if there’s a minimum page count/word count for fantasy books, but The Warded Man seems to be an interesting novella, padded out with tons of unnecessary backstory—or at least backstory that could be covered in a relevant line or paragraph when needed. I did like the concept and the magical system in...
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BOOK: The Elfstones of Shannara (1982)

The Elfstones of Shannara Year: 1982 Author: Terry Brooks Length: 1,400 minutes / 23.33 hours Back in 2016, I saw advertisements for a TV show adaptation of the original Shannara trilogy, likely trying to cash in on the success of Game of Thrones. While I never watched the show, I remembered enough from these trailers that I was able to recognize that the plot of the first book in the series, The Sword of Shannara, was not the plot of the series. However, when I started reading the next book in the series, The Elfstones of Shannara, suddenly memories of the TV show came to mind. Having finished this book, I can see why the TV show wanted to start here. I didn’t particularly care for the derivative Sword of Shannara, as it seemed to steal all its ideas from The Lord of the Rings. While The Elfstones of Shannara still appears to take influence from this quintessential epic fantasy, there are enough other fantasy tropes thrown in to make it feel at least...
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BOOK: Ender in Exile (2008)

Ender in Exile Year: 2008 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 823 minutes / 13.72 hours When it comes to the Ender saga, I was excited to read the direct sequel to Ender’s Game, Ender in Exile. After all, Speaker for the Dead was set so far after the events in Ender’s Game that there was a distinct division between the first book in the series and the following three (almost like The Hobbit when compared to The Lord of the Rings). And yet, while there was a huge gap between the first two books of the Ender saga, there was enough explanation about what had happened between them that Ender in Exile seemed a little unnecessary. My biggest problem with this book was that I haven’t started on the Shadow spinoff series, so a lot of the revelations presented in this book essentially spoiled those books for me. If you’re wondering when to read Ender in Exile, I’d suggest reading Ender’s Game, followed by the Shadow saga, and then read this book before continuing to the end of the Ender saga with Speaker for the Dead. I’ll still read...
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BOOK: The Long Mars (2014)

The Long Mars Year: 2014 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 723 minutes / 12.05 hours While the previous two entries in this series seemed to be disjointed in their writing styles, The Long Mars seemed to iron out some of these discrepancies . . . finally. In The Long Earth and The Long War, you could almost pinpoint the sections that Terry Pratchett wrote and the sections primarily written by Stephen Baxter. By The Long Mars, there are still a few moments of Terry Pratchett’s goofiness, but they are few and far between. Consequently, the narrative of The Long Mars seemed a lot more consistent than its predecessors. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that The Long Mars is absent of problems. While there was plenty of exploration of these parallel universes, the ones that were deemed necessary enough to describe didn’t add anything to the plot. In fact, I felt like this book could have been much shorter if these thought experiments that explored how parallel universes would function were cut out entirely....
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MOVIE: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible - Fallout Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 147 minutes / 2.45 hours It's a little weird to think that we're already on the sixth Mission: Impossible movie, especially considering how far the franchise has come since (what I consider) its revival in Mission: Impossible III (2006). Since then, the action has been consistently impressive and the stunts mind-bogglingly intense. Fallout continues to provide on this franchise's promise of high-octane action and neat spy tech, even if the latter doesn't seem to be nearly as impressive as in its previous installments. Ironically enough, one of the problems I had with this movie was how it tried to interweave plot from previous films in the franchise. I'll be honest and say that I don't watch these movies for the plot. Sure, I'll follow along to see how the team has to accomplish the "impossible" in the form of setting up a ridiculous stunt. From scaling tall buildings in Dubai, accessing computer servers underwater, and hanging above...
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MOVIE: Incredibles 2 (2018)

Incredibles 2 Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Before we start, I have to say that The Incredibles (2004) is perhaps my favorite Pixar film. Back when superhero films were starting to become successful (albeit, not nearly as lucratively successful as the Marvel Cinematic Universe), The Incredibles artfully blended a superhero film with a family/midlife crisis plot that worked on so many levels. It is then no surprise that I was truly looking forward to its sequel, Incredibles 2 (2018). In the back of my head, I knew that most of Pixar's talent had switched over to Disney about eight years ago, but I hoped enough of the original team would be around to make this sequel something special. Unfortunately, time seems to have worked against Incredibles 2. If this had come out ten years ago, it would have enjoyed some of the originality that comes with beating the Marvel behemoth out of the gate. As it is now, I'm not sure if Incredibles 2...
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BOOK: The Interpretation of Dreams (1899)

The Interpretation of Dreams Year: 1899 Author: Sigmund Freud Length: 736 pages Years ago, I tried picking up this book and reading it so I could become educated about dreams and their interpretations. Back then, I lost interest within the first hundred pages. This time, as I prepare to write my own fictional series of books about dreams and the parallel world they inhabit, I was much more focused and able to finish this daunting book. While many will say what they will about Freud and his theories, this book was the definitive and groundbreaking work that helped us all understand a little more of what influences our dreams. Written mostly as an academic examination of the influencing factors of dreams, Freud includes a plentitude of examples from his patients and his own life to help prove his point. This can be a little tedious at times, as it feels like he’s banging the reader over the head with multiple examples that don’t add much...
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MOVIE: Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours What happens when you genetically splice together a reboot and a sequel? This film. It's interesting to find a franchise that's willing to recognize the past material and build upon it, while also adding slightly new elements to it. The idea of training dinosaurs just like pets was undoubtedly the strongest element of this movie, even if the result was the same as it's ever been. Part of the problem with this reboot, however, is that the characters don't seem to click, even to the point of the relationships feeling forced. While there were plentiful nods to the first film that started off the franchise, the plot seemed almost identical to the 1993 classic, but with plenty of cliches and hokey lines to go around. I think sequels like this recognize the elements that made the original great, but almost spend too much time overanalyzing to try and recreate the magic. These films ultimately fall short,...
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BOOK: Sourdough (2017)

Sourdough Year: 2017 Author: Robin Sloan Length: 259 pages Much like Armada to Ready Player One or Artemis to The Martian, I looked forward to reading Robin Sloan’s follow-up to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. Unfortunately, much like the follow-up books by Ernest Cline and Andy Weir, respectively, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with Sloan’s Sourdough. I will give credit that Sloan’s quirky and charming style is still in high form here, it’s more that there wasn’t much of a central conflict that would have led to a satisfying ending. It’s almost like too many plotlines got into the mix, and it muddled everything up to the point where it would be too difficult to follow each to their logical conclusion. Cline has video game references. Weir has accurate, hard sci-fi. If there’s one thing Sloan does well, it’s the fusion of analog and digital. From Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, it was the appreciation of the printed book in the era of Google searches. In Sourdough, Sloan explores the future of food—which is perhaps the most analog of...
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BOOK: Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again) (2018)

Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again) Year: 2018 Author: Michael Fry & Bradley Jackson Length: 272 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As can be implied from the title, Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again) is the follow-up to an earlier appearance of the titular character in The Naughty List. One does not need to have read The Naughty List to understand what happened to Bobbie since this book does a pretty good—if not too thorough—re-telling of the events of the first book that would eventually lead her to save the world (again). While I’m sure the previous book was focused on Christmas-related shenanigans, this book opens up the potential for weird, random, and bizarre via the same inter-dimensional portals used previously. I will say that I was impressed with this book’s ability to seamlessly intertwine verbal narrative with accompanying pictures. It’s not quite a picture-book, but it’s also not a chapter book either. It’s a hybrid of the two. While I’m assuming the illustrations will be a...
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MOVIE: Isle of Dogs (2018)

Isle of Dogs Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours A few years ago, I got on a Wes Anderson kick. I practically watched his entire filmography to that point in one long binge-worthy day. After catching up, I felt I truly appreciated his quirky, orthogonal cinematography and deeply complex characters. I’ve essentially been a fan of his since Moonrise Kingdom (2012), so I was looking forward to his latest work, Isle of Dogs (2018). After all, he had proven his skill at stop-motion animation with The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and had received nominations for Best Picture and Best Director for The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) since then. Unfortunately, while Isle of Dogs carries Anderson’s distinct style and charm, it felt a little watered down. Sure, the shots were full of their beauty and symmetry, and the story had its cute moments, but it mostly felt like he was on autopilot. Maybe the PG-13 rating was holding him back? I don’t know. In most fiction, there is a suspension of...
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MOVIE: The Disaster Artist (2017)

The Disaster Artist Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Having seen a few snippets of The Room (2003) via reactionary and review videos, I have become somewhat familiar with how bad the film is without having to sit through all of it. In The Disaster Artist (2017), we get to see what led to this “worst movie ever made.” There’s a lot of lore and memes that have come out of The Room over the years, but the simple fact of the matter is that most serious Hollywood types probably couldn’t create a movie this bad if they had tried (and many certainly do so unwittingly every year). While James Franco is almost eerily on-point of his portrayal of director/writer/actor Johnny Wiseau, the recreation of specific scenes and setups from The Room isn’t nearly as impressive as I think the makers of The Disaster Artist realize. The side-to-side comparison during the credits was startling in the amount of accuracy, but it’s also not too challenging to recreate a film that seemed...
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MOVIE: Logan Lucky (2017)

Logan Lucky Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours I enjoy a good heist film. No heist is ever a straightforward “grab and dash” situation. When overcoming the barriers for the heist one-by-one, I can appreciate the interlocking elements of the robbery. Since one of my favorite heist films, Ocean’s Eleven (2001), was directed by Steven Soderbergh, I looked forward to his latest heist, Logan Lucky (2017). The trailers made it look like a fun film, and it was, but at the expense of all the best parts being conveyed in the trailer. About the only thing you don’t see in the trailer is the twist at the end, which is to be expected. When it comes to the setting, I’m not entirely sure if Logan Lucky is embracing or parodying the hillbilly stereotype. From beauty pageants for children to NASCAR races, this film has all the trappings of a West Virginia based on cultural perception instead of actual reality. At any...
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MOVIE: Pokémon the Movie – I Choose You! (2017)

Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours Over 20 years after its debut, it seems that Pokémon is not a fad and will be here to stay for the long haul. Of course, considering the mania surrounding the first games in the series back in the mid-1990’s, by now enough time has passed for nostalgia to be a contributing factor to the franchise’s continued success. The children who grew up with Pokémon are now adults in their late-20’s and early-30’s (i.e., “millennials”). In an attempt to cash in on this nostalgia, Pokémon’s latest movie, I Choose You! recounts some of the memorable first moments of the anime, but with a slightly different storyline. Initially, I was worried that this plot would be a pared-down selection of key moments from the anime, much like what has been done with other anime movies like One Piece’s The Desert Princess and the Pirates (2007) and Episode of Chopper Plus(2008). Fortunately, this film managed to...
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BOOK: Factor Man (2018)

Factor Man Year: 2018 Author: Matt Ginsberg Length: 292 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** First off, basing an entire book on solving the P=NP problem is a bit of a risky gamble. Most people have limited understanding of advanced mathematics, so describing this conundrum of complexity theory walks a fine line between not enough information and an exposition dump. Fortunately, Factor Man is able to maintain that balance, even if many of its sections and POVs did start to trend into exposition for exposition's sake. I mean, I understand the reasoning behind the New York Times' coverage of the lead-up, but each of the articles didn't read like they would have come from the New York Times. I will say that the strength of this book lies in its buildup. A lot is riding on the successful execution of Factor Man's plan, so his meticulous attention to detail to ensure every part of it comes to fruition was entertaining, to say the least. The mystery of Factor...
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BOOK: Dreadnought (2010)

Dreadnought Year: 2010 Author: Cherie Priest Length: 803 minutes / 13.38 hours For the most part, the book series I have read progress the story from one book to another. I get that there are some series with the same character in different predicaments for each book, but jumping from one character to another in each different book is an interesting tactic. Of course, I’m somewhat guilty of this, as The Fluxion Trilogy focuses on different characters for each book. As far as I can tell, The Clockwork Century series also does this, even if the connections between the characters are flimsy at best. Even so, the plot seemed to take a step backward from Boneshaker to Dreadnought. One of my qualms with Boneshaker was that there wasn’t a lot of world-building that established what this alternate-reality Seattle was like in the scheme of the broader United States. Dreadnought solves this problem by giving the main character an opportunity to travel across the country, thus establishing some of the world-building in the process. In fact, there...
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MOVIE: Justice League (2017)

Justice League Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 120 minutes / 2.00 hours While it can be difficult to separate comparisons of DC’s Justice League (2017) with Marvel’s The Avengers (2010), there are plenty of parallels and similarities between the two. That’s not to say this is a bad thing, as fans of comic book heroes will always love to see their favorite characters team up to take on evil forces almost as much as they want to see these bastions of justice duke it out. Justice League certainly delivers on this, but in a way that felt uninteresting and lacking the serious consequences to the world at large. Concerning the characters themselves, Justice League succeeds in creating a unique team with some interesting heroes. Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) success in her standalone film could be seen in one of the first (and possibly best) sequences of the film. Additionally, The Flash (Ezra Miller) was a constant source of entertainment as the comic relief. Most importantly, Justice League succeeded in making Aquaman (Jason Momoa) an absolute...
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BOOK: Louisiana Catch (2018)

Louisiana Catch Year: 2018 Author: Sweta Srivastava Vikram Length: 254 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** At a time when the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are at their peak, a book like Louisiana Catch is poised to address something that many American’s might choose to ignore: abuse of women in foreign countries. Sure, there’s sexual harassment in the United States, but in other cultures where there is a firm patriarchy in control, there are much more severe issues like throwing acid and marital rape. While Louisiana Catch does cover these abuses in the context of India, there are other elements to the story that distracts from the impact of overcoming past abuse. First of all, Louisiana Catch is a somewhat misleading title, since most of the action happens in either New York City or New Delhi. Sure, there’s some amount of Louisiana in the characters, and the women’s conference is held in New Orleans (not sure why, since New York would have been a better fit), but the focus of...
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MOVIE: Thor – Ragnarok (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours At this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), I feel these movies are practically on autopilot. Because Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) were absent from Captain America: Civil War (2016), there had to be a movie to explain what they were doing during that timeframe. Consequently, while Civil War had great conflict and an epic battle sequence, Thor: Ragnarok (2017) feels . . . less necessary. This being said, I do think that Ragnarok explores the Thor universe better than Thor: The Dark World (2013) did, thus making me wonder if Dark World was truly the unnecessary film. Sure, there are little snippets here and there in these films that set up other parts of the franchise (mainly, the Infinity Stones that will lead to Avengers: The Infinity War (2018)), as well as minor cameos that are fun, if not wholly filler (Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the case of Ragnarok). All Ragnarok seems to do is set the stage for the next big film in...
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BOOK: Soledad (2016)

Soledad Year: 2016 Author: D.L. Young Length: 245 pages This first book in the “Dark Republic” series is a prime example of the New Adult post-apocalyptic genre. I wouldn’t classify it as Young Adult due to the graphic nature of sex and violence, as well as the amount of obscenity peppering the dialogue. I’m not necessarily saying they’re bad things, as they help to define the world created by the author, it’s more that the audience should be prepared for these things. Even more to the point, the one sex scene present in this book was probably more along the lines of rape, even if it was a common element of the characters' backstories. Regardless of the content, the story in Soledad is compelling enough. Considering this is the first book in a series, the author spent almost the entirety of it exploring the three different factions present in post-apocalyptic Texas. While this was great for world-building, by the end of the book, little seemed to change...
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MOVIE: Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours Much like The Post (2017), Phantom Thread (2017) has a director/actor combination that just begs for an Oscar nomination. It seems that a decade after the last Paul Thomas Anderson/Daniel Day-Lewis collaboration, There Will Be Blood (2007), the Academy might want to pull their “should have won” trick and give the Best Picture Oscar to Phantom Thread. After seeing this film, though, I have changed my initial assessment. Sure, it’s good and has certain artistic elements that make it culturally significant, but other parts of it are just kind of . . . weird. First, the good. Daniel Day-Lewis, in his last role as an actor, unquestionably shows how good he is at his craft. I wouldn’t doubt that he has a good shot at earning his historic fourth Best Actor Oscar. The costume design and cinematography are noteworthy, but the best part of this film is a little more subtle: the music. The score for this movie permeates the...
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BOOK: Robogenesis (2014)

Robogenesis Year: 2014 Author: Daniel H. Wilson Length: 956 minutes / 15.93 hours While I appreciated the logical nature that Daniel H. Wilson brought to the idea of a robot apocalypse in Robopocalypse, I felt the book itself was disjointed as a series of short stories that examined the various forms our robot servants would turn on us. The whole book seemed more like an academic exercise than a piece of fiction. In the follow-up to Robopocalypse, Wilson picks up right where the last book left off. With the exposition of how the robots turned on us already covered, he then is able to fully explore the fictional environment via its characters in Robogenesis. It took me a little while to recall who some of these characters were and what had happened during the previous book, which left me confused in the early moments of each section. Once I eventually got my bearings, the stories themselves were interesting and tied together pretty well. Some of the action was a little disorienting,...
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MOVIE: The Shack (2017)

The Shack Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours When I saw the trailers for this film, I had no idea what it was about. It seemed to be part magical and part depressing, never really covering what the movie’s content was. For anyone who is curious, it’s about a meeting with the Holy Trinity. Consequently, while most “Christian” films are almost cringe-worthy, this one wasn’t half bad. Of course, there are still elements of it that made me roll my eyes, but these scenes were mere bookends to a great theological discussion-starter. In fact, I would almost prefer this film without the framing, since most people would probably relate to the main character, regardless. The trouble with the framing device used for the conversation with God is that it doesn’t feel natural. There’s a forced quality that pushes the main character into the situation where he encounters God, merely contrived so that he is near rock bottom when God appears. I will...
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BOOK: The Dot on the Left (2017)

The Dot on the Left Year: 2017 Author: Dave Swanson Length: 176 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As someone who has usually found themselves naturally on the center of any variety of bell curves, I know that application of some hard work and dedication can move someone to the right side of said bell curves. It was with this in mind that I was curious what advice is contained in The Dot on the Left. Were the same tactics used for those who underperformed to get them to (and even past) the average of the curve? I was disappointed to find that this book is not so much a “self-help/advice” type book, but rather a memoir from someone who was on the left side of the curve. Sure, there is still some of the advice that I would expect to find in a self-help book in The Dot on the Left, but it’s sometimes hidden within the memoir stories of the author....
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BOOK: Hearts in Atlantis (1999)

Hearts in Atlantis Year: 1999 Author: Stephen King Length: 1,210 minutes / 20.17 hours When I started Hearts in Atlantis, all I knew about it was that it was written by Stephen King and there was a movie of the same name that was likely based on it. As I began to read, I found myself enthralled by the coming-of-age story that presented itself. I had no idea it connected to the Dark Tower series, but that detail was almost ancillary, a neat little connection into a bigger picture. Having made it half-way through the book, I wanted to follow the main character’s development into adulthood but, then the story suddenly stopped. Instead of following a story that had engaged me, the focus shifted to a completely different character, only loosely tied to the events in the first half of the book via one of the characters, who was now in college. Almost in a fractal fashion, this story was half as long as the first, with each...
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BOOK: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (2010)

Dawn of the Dreadfuls Year: 2010 Author: Steve Hockensmith Length: 287 pages As I’ve mentioned before in my review of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I understand the concept of combining this classic piece of romantic literature with its complete obverse; it just felt like it was almost held back from its full potential by adhering to (most of) the original manuscript. With the prequel to this book, Dawn of the Dreadfuls manages to examine the ridiculous nature of this mashup in a way that’s so tongue-in-cheek that the tongue has practically ruptured the cheek entirely. That is, this prequel doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as the original Jane Austen adaptation did. Even if the non-Pride and Prejudice and Zombies characters were mostly cartoonish in their representation of stereotypes and tropes, they were fun to read as they provided a delightful offset to the canonical characters of the Bennet family. Also, instead of trying to find some boring section of text wherein to insert...
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BOOK: Kidnapped (1886)

Kidnapped Year: 1886 Author: Robert Louis Stevenson Length: 158 minutes / 2.63 hours Another one of those “short adventures” that I have finally gotten around to reading, Kidnapped doesn’t suffer from some of the attributes that I found irritating about Captains Courageous. Sure, some of my qualms with Captains Courageous came from the audiobook itself but Kidnapped managed to have an easy-to-understand narrator as well as some sound effects and music that added to the experience of the book. As for the book itself, Kidnapped is pretty basic despite its title being only a small fraction of its plot. Even despite its short length, a lot happens in Kidnapped. Aside from the obvious kidnapping, many events transpired because of it, including escaping and returning home. Of course, partly because of the short length of the book, the action moves at a pretty quick pace that was sometimes difficult to follow (which may also be an artifact of the time when it was written). The language...
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BOOK: The Killing Floor (1997)

The Killing Floor Year: 1997 Author: Lee Child Length: 1,067 minutes / 17.78 hours The first book in the Jack Reacher series is certainly a thriller, through-and-through. I certainly can understand its appeal, especially for male readers, since it has plenty of violence and sex while also exhibiting a number of action sequences. Consequently, it felt somewhat “pulpy” in that it was entertainment for entertainment’s sake. Sure, it’s a fun thrill-ride, but certain elements didn’t invest me in the characters. Jack Reacher himself is probably the majority of this issue, as he’s a drifter with little-to-no connections to anything or anyone, merely acting as a conduit to make action/killing happen. As for the core mystery of The Killing Floor, it was a fascinating premise and had a slow unraveling to keep me intrigued along the way. This was undoubtedly the strength of the book since it was a unique and intriguing twist on a pretty common crime. With a small cast of characters, the plot...
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BOOK: Stop Licking That (2017)

Stop Licking That Year: 2017 Author: Karin Mitchell Length: 270 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** As someone who does not have kids yet, I’ve read plenty about what to expect in the transition to parenthood. Stop Licking That takes the no-nonsense approach with a slightly humorous spin to let new parents know that it’s going to be a messy process for the first couple of years. While each of the chapters covers some topic about raising kids (especially two young boys), the stories tied to these sections end up being some of the same kinds of stories you’d hear from any other parent of young boys. If anything, Stop Licking That merely confirms that we shouldn’t take parenthood too seriously. As I received an Advanced Reader Copy for my review, I will assume that the handful of minor proofreading errors have been fixed. I also hope the gutter margins were increased, so the words don’t get lost in the crease between pages. I...
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BOOK: Zenith (2018)

Zenith Year: 2018 Authors: Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings Length: 512 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Every once in a while, I'll read a book which is basically the equivalent of literary "candy." It hits all the tropes of its genre, most of its twists are predictable, and the whole thing is purely entertainment for entertainment's sake. Zenith, the first book in the Androma Saga, is just such a book. This book has been described as an all-female Guardians of the Galaxy, and I would tend to agree with that assessment. Overall, it's a fun book, but there's not too much substance to it aside from the typical space opera Young Adult romance. If anything, it proves why the tropes of its genres work the way they do. The writing itself in this book is easy to read, which helped me crank through its 500 pages in just my lunch breaks and time at the gym. Even if I wasn't paying too...
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MOVIE: Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours If there was one thing this movie excelled in, it was the advertising leading up to its release. I saw video ads on Facebook, trailers on television, and all sorts of viral marketing. Consequently, while the film looked neat, I didn't really know what it was about. Fast forward to months later when it arrived at the cheap theater in town and I decided to go see it. Within the first few minutes, I was somewhat surprised to learn that this movie was based on an obscure comic book series. Not that this really surprises me any longer. Sure, the superhero comics are bringing in big money at the box office, but the more "adult" comics (also sometimes known as "graphic novels") have been seeping in over the years as well, in part due to adaptations like V for Vendetta (2005) and Watchmen (2009). Even in this year alone, we've seen Valerian and Laureline adapted...
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BOOK: The Maze Runner (2009)

The Maze Runner Year: 2009 Author: James Dashner Length: 650 minutes / 10.83 hours Partly due to the success of The Hunger Games, the Young Adult genre swerved into the survival/sci-fi/dystopian genres that also allowed The Maze Runner to have a ready and willing audience. With this being the case, I’d almost say The Maze Runner has more utopian sensibilities since the narrative encourages teamwork for survival, instead of a “winner take all” emphasis presented in The Hunger Games that valued selfish ambitions over communistic altruism. Plus, if you put 50 teenage boys in a box with no adult supervision, I think the logical conclusion would be more along the lines of Lord of the Flies instead of solving a deadly maze. While the premise was interesting and allowed for a constant and steady pacing of inciting events, I felt there was not enough explanation in this first part of the trilogy, with very few questions being answered by the end and a lot of hand-waving to push the characters forward to a conclusion....
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MOVIE: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 136 minutes / 2.27 hours I sometimes wonder if the strength of the first film in a series dooms the following films to a condition I refer to as “the trilogy conundrum.” If a single film is original and has a strong story that stands by itself, it almost requires the following films to be weaker in comparison, each sequel needing another sequel to tell a complete story. Films like Back to the Future (1985), The Matrix (1999), and Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) are fantastic films that defined their generation, but their sequels were highly dependent on a follow-on sequel, thus making the trilogy complete, but lacking the strength of the initial film. I hate to say it, but Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017) falls into this “trilogy conundrum.” The original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was a fun and meaningful departure from its Marvel comic book brethren. This sequel, however,...
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MOVIE: T2 Trainspotting (2017)

T2 Trainspotting Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 In the vein of successful and groundbreaking films receiving sequels two decades after the fact (I'm looking at you, Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)), director Danny Boyle is at it again with T2 Trainspotting (2017). While the original Trainspotting (1996) was a fun bit of cinema that used a unique visual style to emulate the sensations of the highs (and lows) of drug use, the ending was pretty definitive. Still, because drug use can have long-lasting effects, the Trainspotting sequel is an important part of the whole narrative. Unfortunately, as is the case with these types of sequels, the story didn't change at all. After all, if it worked once, what's to say it won't work again. T2 Trainspotting continues to glamorize the party lifestyle of sex, drugs, and rock and roll in a visual style that's fun to watch. Of course, what was a little interesting about this sequel is that it was almost self-aware of...
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BOOK: A Horse Walks into a Bar (2014)

A Horse Walks into a Bar Year: 2014 Author: David Grossman Length: 350 minutes / 5.83 hours Somewhere along the line, I saw that this book won the Man Booker International Prize this year and put it on my “to read” list on Overdrive. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, other than perhaps a little bit of comedy, considering the title is a basic setup for a joke’s punchline. In that sense, the book delivered on that premise by being about a stand-up comedian in a nightclub giving his routine to the audience. I did not expect, however, the deeper subtext about the character and his relation to the narrator. It’s in this subtext where we find the meat of this story. It has often been said that “Sometimes all you can do is laugh to keep yourself from crying.” A Horse Walks into a Bar epitomizes this statement by blending serious subjects like cancer, death, and the Holocaust with a smattering of jokes, physical comedy,...
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BOOK: The Lost Symbol (2009)

The Lost Symbol Year: 2009 Author: Dan Brown Length: 1,067 minutes / 17.78 hours After Dan Brown’s previous entries in the Robert Langdon series had covered the Illuminati and the Catholic Church, respectively, his next target in The Lost Symbol was the Masons. Unfortunately, as both National Treasure (2004) and its sequel, National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007), were released before this book came out, the setting and concept seemed derivative in The Lost Symbol. Especially with the focus on the Masons’ “treasure” for the better part of the book, I was half expecting the chase to be on a larger scale than just hopping from one Washington D.C. monument to the next as the puzzle unfolds. In a bit of a combination of Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol combines the exciting twists of uncovering the secrets of a Masonic pyramid with the pseudoscience of Noetics. Of course, the plot could have omitted everything about Noetics, and it would have stood just fine on its own, so I question why it...
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BOOK: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1994)

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle Year: 1994 Author: Haruki Murakami Length: 1,572 minutes / 26.2 hours A coworker of mine suggested this book to me a few months back. The title sounded interesting, so I put it on my Overdrive wish list and waited for it to become available. Both he and I have a somewhat thorough understanding of Japanese culture, so once I got into this book, I found myself imagining it as an anime. Of course, because The Wind-up Bird Chronicle was originally written in Japanese, there are plenty of cultural idiosyncrasies that might be hard to understand from a different cultural viewpoint. At times, the content is a bit weird, the sex awkward, and the violence strangely surgical. What was quite refreshing with the narrative in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, was its timelessness. Written in the early 1990’s and set in the mid-1980’s, only a few technological items (i.e. a land line, an early computer, etc.) haven’t held up well over time. Everything else...
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MOVIE: Logan (2017)

Logan Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours I'm not sure I know what to think about this movie. I mean, I wanted to like it inasmuch as I like a lot of the action-filled superhero movies that preceded it. However, the plot felt like it had less to do with these fantastic mutant abilities and more about just living life as normal people. Don't get me wrong: there are plenty of mutant abilities on display in this film, it's just that they weren't necessarily the focus of it. In fact, if you took away the fact that this was based on comic book characters, you'd still have a film about a father trying to care for a daughter he never knew he had. Almost sounds cliche to me. Regarding the Wolverine spinoff series, Logan (2017), is a strong finish after the abysmal Wolverine: Origins (2009) and slightly improved The Wolverine (2013). I did appreciate the finality of it, especially considering the whole X-Men...
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MOVIE: The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

The LEGO Batman Movie Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours While The LEGO Movie (2014) did a good job of initially not making its universe seem like it was just in the imagination of a 10-year-old child, The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) dispenses with that illusion and goes full-bore into the child-like mind. From the dialogue to the wide variety of licensed characters to the regular “pew, pew pew” sounds made when guns and lasers are fired, The LEGO Batman Movie steps right into what you’d expect a movie about a children’s building toy would be. Of course, with Batman being one of the best characters from The LEGO Movie, it’s no wonder why he was first to get a spinoff film. Regarding plot, it was simplistic. Kids would certainly be able to “get” that family matters, even if they aren’t biologically related. But fear not adults, there’s plenty for you in this film as well. Perhaps the best mark of...
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BOOK: Tier One (2016)

Tier One Year: 2016 Author: Brian Andrews & Jeffrey Wilson Length: 402 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While violence, action, and excitement fill stories involving tactical military operations, one element of these stories that adds realism can also alienate unknowledgeable readers: jargon. I am fortunate to know enough of the terms and acronyms from my day job, but if a story like this needs an acronym and definitions list in the back, I can see it being difficult to get into for the casual reader. They might be able to push through it and make assumptions on what’s happening, but following the discussions helps the reader to understand the level of importance for each action. Of course, in this post-9/11 world, Islam has now taken the role of stereotypical “bad guy” that used to be held by the Nazis. I’m almost surprised by how many antagonists are Muslim in the books I read. From apocalyptic stories like Dark Ages: 2020 to science fiction novels...
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BOOK: The Zero (2006)

The Zero Year: 2006 Author: Jess Walter Length: 640 minutes / 10.67 hours I'll be honest and say that I had no idea what this book was about before I started listening to it. Once I got into it, I could clearly see how the title and cover image related to the story at hand. It's interesting to think that a mere five years after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, a book like this could be written. Of course, there is plenty of highly descriptive language that helps to cement the story to the reality of the tragedy. That being said, there are many situations in the plot that feel quite cynical, if not downright dark in their humor. Perhaps it's this mixture of the absurd and the tragic that gives The Zero its interest. I did find the memory gaps experienced by the main character to be an interesting literary device, especially in their transitions. For the main character to have a series of...
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BOOK: Smoke and Mirrors (2012)

Smoke and Mirrors Year: 2012 Author: Neil Gaiman Length: 636 minutes / 10.6 hours As someone who has to read many short story submissions for the anthology my writing group puts together each year, I can appreciate a well-written short story. I have not read much of Neil Gaiman, but in his collection of anthology short stories, Smoke and Mirrors, I was able to see what kinds of stories a professional writer writes for an anthology. While quite a few stories were interesting, not all of them were necessarily in genres I typically read. Then again, I consider erotica and stories submitted to Hustler as pornography, which is why I do not read these kinds of short stories. Furthermore, it is a little more uncomfortable listening to erotica, as was the case with this audiobook. Fortunately, Gilbert Gottfried did not read it, but it still is uncomfortable to hear it nonetheless. Sure, the concepts in these short stories were somewhat interesting, but the sex ruined...
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BOOK: Opaque (2016)

Opaque Year: 2016 Author: Calix Leigh-Reign Length: 254 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While I eventually liked this book, it took a little getting used to. When you start a story with a deplorable main character, it makes you not want to continue reading. Honestly, I think the plot probably could have started closer to the halfway part, and reveal everything important after the fact or merely hint at it. You know, via a “show don’t tell” method. There’s a lot of “telling” in the first half of this book. Despite this, there is plenty of excellent character development in the second half to redeem the first half. What strikes me odd about this book is its classification as “Young Adult.” I usually consider early teens to be this genre's demographic, given the main characters are generally in that age range. Considering the graphic violence, excessive swearing, and questionable sexual content in the first section of this book, I wouldn’t let teenagers read...
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BOOK: The Crossing (2015)

The Crossing Year: 2015 Author: Michael Connelly Length: 564 minutes / 9.4 hours Having already blasted through the rest of the Mickey Haller series, I finally arrived at a book that didn't center around the defense lawyer. Instead, The Crossing follows Harry Bosch, Haller's half-brother (which we learned back in The Brass Verdict). I realize that Mickey Haller is merely a spin-off series from the main Harry Bosch series, so it was interesting to finally enter the main storyline of Connelly's longest-running character. Now I see that he writes Bosch books in third-person, as compared to Haller's first-person, which was why I was confused when the POVs switched in one of the previous books featuring both of them. Coming into this series at the twentieth book was a little jarring to me, but not entirely disorienting. There were plenty of references to previous books I had not read; but by the sounds of them, these predecessors were certainly exciting. What probably helped with my transition...
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MOVIE: Lion (2016)

Lion Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Of this year's Best Picture Nominees, Lion (2016) is certainly one of the more . . . artistic ones. Heck, the title of the film wasn't clear until directly before the credits. In part due to the subject matter and the culture in which it takes place, this film can be hard to watch at times. The audience has to come to grips with the poverty and difficult living conditions present in India not only 25 years ago, but today as well. Perhaps it's my need to watch movies that help me to escape from these realities, but it was challenging to be shown such a stark view of another country's reality. While I understand that the larger, overarching message of the film is to bring to light the social issue of lost children in India, the more inspiring subplot had to do with adoption. Many couples have a lot of different reasons for...
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BOOK: The Starchild Compact (2014)

The Starchild Compact Year: 2014 Author: Robert G. Williscroft Length: 396 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** With the popularity of The Martian bringing hard science into the realm of science fiction, there has been a bit of a resurgence of including accurate science in near-term speculative fiction. On the one hand, the book must remain readable to a wide audience, so the science shouldn't bog down too much of the exposition. On the other hand, if some of the science is not explained, it can leave less scientifically educated readers in the dark about why certain aspects of the plot are the way they are. The Starchild Compact manages to succeed at balancing these two elements while also introducing some strictly non-scientific plot development. First, let me address the science presented in this book. Knowing enough about general relativity and current space travel technologies, Williscroft certainly knows his stuff. The challenges and hurdles to travel to the gas giants of our solar system, as well...
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MOVIE: Doctor Strange (2016)

Doctor Strange Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours See if you can guess this movie: goatee'd egomaniac finds himself in a life-changing situation in a foreign land that makes him question everything he's ever stood for and become a superhero in the process. If you guessed Iron Man (2008), you'd certainly be close. No, this familiar plot is none other than the visually extreme Doctor Strange. I understand Marvel has a bigger plot in mind when they do these lesser-known heroes; but lately, it almost seems like they're just phoning it in. Doctor Strange merely feels like filler to get to Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018). I will give Marvel this much: they do know how to cast a film. Benedict Cumberbatch does a superb job at portraying the eponymous Dr. Strange, fused with enough gravitas and humor to make watching him a joy. And while many will question Tilda Swinton's role as The Ancient One, especially considering...
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BOOK: The Reversal (2010)

The Reversal Year: 2010 Author: Michael Connelly Length: 693 minutes / 11.55 hours After two novels of Mickey Haller defending guilty scumbags, Michael Connelly changes it up with The Reversal. Not only does the title refer to the reversal of a 24-year old conviction, but also to the main character’s swap over to the prosecution. While there seems to have been a book between this one and The Brass Verdict, I have a feeling it was mostly about Harry Bosch, since the hinted details in this book give me a good idea of what happened and it didn’t change the last reference point of Mickey Haller. Now that these two main characters were tied together in this case, one of the issues I had with this book was how often it switched between first and third person POVs. Perhaps I was too used to the story being told from Mickey Haller’s perspective and there was so much that happened outside of his direct involvement that...
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BOOK: The Brass Verdict (2008)

The Brass Verdict Year: 2008 Author: Michael Connelly Length: 681 minutes / 11.35 hours Another book, another trial for the Lincoln Lawyer. While I appreciated the stand-alone nature of this book, I also liked that knowledge of the events in the first book of this sub-series helped to provide context for the challenges Mickey Haller now faces. The main case of this novel was pretty predictable, especially if you read into the insinuation of the title. I would have liked a little more attention on the side-case surrounding the death of Haller’s lawyer colleague. It seemed to be more of a Harry Bosch story, though, so I can understand why the focus was on Haller’s case. Once again, Michael Connelly creates an easily readable series of events that unfold in the courtroom. Some twists at the end were exciting developments but were definitely easily guessed if the reader was paying attention. There’s almost a guilty pleasure in following Haller along as he embeds that reasonable doubt...
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BOOK: Esper Files 2 – Sky Cult (2017)

Esper Files 2: Sky Cult Year: 2017 Author: Egan Brass Length: 187 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** It has been said before that there are no original thoughts. The way to appear original is dependent upon how well you can hide your sources. One of my qualms with the Esper Files series from the beginning has been that it feels very derivative. Right from the get-go, I felt the series was essentially just an X-Men clone set in the steampunk genre. While this was an interesting concept, too much of it was pulled from the popular franchise, making it a bit distracting. In the sequel, Esper Files 2: Sky Cult, a few more references were worked in to help make the characters and story feel a bit more original. I picked up tones of anime like Fairy Tail and One Piece in this story, but I also picked up another blatantly obvious reference: Deadpool. Sure, I get it, he’s a fun character to...
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MOVIE: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Hacksaw Ridge Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours For many years, Mel Gibson has been at the center of controversies and other unwelcome attention-grabbing incidents. While this normally kills any actor's chances of reviving their careers, Gibson has instead managed to remain somewhat unscathed by retreating into his other skill: directing. As we've seen from some of his other directorial efforts, he is skilled behind the lens, even if many themes remain the same. From Braveheart (1995) to The Passion of the Christ (2004), Gibson has a tendency to be pretty brutal in the imagery he brings to the screen. Granted, this is partly due to the semi-factual source material. In his latest work after a long hiatus, Gibson brings us the brutality that is World War II. Hacksaw Ridge takes some time to get to its emotional center, but the unfortunate side effect of this is a series of characters that feel almost comical in their exaggerations. From Andrew Garfield's goofily...
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BOOK: Esper Files (2016)

Esper Files Year: 2016 Author: Egan Brass Length: 221 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** Last year I wrote a short story entitled "Ironed Man" that I submitted to an anthology with the theme "Steampunk Superheroes." While my story didn't make the cut, clearly the idea already has merit as shown in Egan Brass' Esper Files. Just like my "Jurassic Manor" short story was a series of tongue-in-cheek references to the film, Jurassic Park (1993), "Ironed Man" was an alt-genre parody of the Iron Man franchise. I can only assume that Esper Files decided to do the same thing and merely put X-Men in steampunk form. If you like X-Men, you'll probably like this book. Despite many of the characters and trappings feeling like they were pulled from an X-Men fan fiction, the story still has some merit. What I found impressive about the narrative were the action scenes. I know how difficult it can be to write fight scenes with lots of supernatural...
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BOOK: Unstoppable (2015)

Unstoppable Year: 2015 Author: Bill Nye Length: 651 minutes / 10.85 hours I grew up on Bill Nye’s science show on PBS. I appreciated his straightforward approach to teaching science to children that was both informative and humorous. Possibly in part due to this, I now find myself with a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and employed in a very technical field. I also find myself writing books which are surreptitiously educational, hoping that the entertainment value of my writing will subtly inspire people to learn more about science. Consequently, merely based on the author of this book, I was interested in reading it, despite the somewhat vague and ambiguous title. While there was plenty of very interesting material presented in this book, much of it I had already known about by keeping up with the technological advances of the world today, I felt like its order was a little off. Right from the get-go, Nye hammers home that global climate change is a problem....
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MOVIE: Rogue One (2016)

Rogue One Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours Years ago, when Disney acquired Lucasfilm, I had worried that they would ruin one of the most beloved sci-fi franchises ever to grace the big screen. That being said, Lucasfilm’s prequel trilogy showed us all how it could happen. Around the same time, I started to notice the quality of Disney’s animated fare was drastically improving, even outpacing Pixar. The proof to finally win me over was the way they have expertly handled the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With all this in mind, I was curious how this side-story to the main Star Wars saga would play out. First off, anyone worth their salt in nerd-cred knows that the original Star Wars is based off samurai films. Gareth Edwards (who directed the Godzilla (2014) reboot) certainly made this influence obvious in Rouge One, especially in the opening sequence and with the inclusion of a Zatoichi-like blind swordsman. At this point, all he needed was...
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BOOK: Half Share (2007)

Half Share Year: 2007 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 252 pages Well . . . that escalated quickly. In the previous book of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, I found the plot to be engaging and well-paced, despite the naïveté of the main protagonist. Ishmael Wong seemed to be a bit lacking in his romantic knowledge, sometimes oblivious of obvious euphemisms. For a kid of only 18 who really only spent time with his mother, I can understand how he might not know these things. It was the one thing I found a little unbelievable in Quarter Share, but boy did Half Share make up for it. Some of the plot felt a little formulaic and procedural by this point in the saga, which was good in the sense that it continued the realism and engagement of its predecessor. However, this also meant that there wasn’t as much progression of the sub-plots and minor characters like there was in Quarter Share. This book...
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MOVIE: Finding Dory (2016)

Finding Dory Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 97 minutes / 1.62 hours As is the case with the rest of Hollywood right now, Pixar is cashing in on the nostalgia factor of their previous films. Just like Monsters University (2013) before it, Finding Dory (2016) brings together the same team of voice actors who brought their respective originals to life more than a decade ago. And while this sequel was more akin to the likes of Toy Story 2 (1999), the amount of time between the two films really gives Pixar the chance to show off how much the power of computers has advanced in that time. Unfortunately, while the visual style has been drastically updated, the plot has not. In its purest essence, Finding Dory is just like Finding Nemo (2003): a fish separated from its parent tries to find their way back home while the parent does everything in their power to find their child. I would have liked a bit more originality from...
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MOVIE: Get Smart (2008)

Get Smart Year: 2008 Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours While film adaptations of television shows aren't new, Get Smart (2008) was certainly in the era when the idea to do so had become popular (even if we're still trying to forget Bewitched (2005)). What's nice about Get Smart is that it falls into that "self-aware" category, mainly because the source material (i.e. the 1960's TV show of the same name) was already self-aware when it came to the "spy" genre made popular by James Bond. Of course, it's no wonder that the king of parody, Mel Brooks was involved in both the TV show and this film adaptation. Of course, while the humor was more bathroom-oriented than witty, many of Carell's lines played off of the amusing nature of taking everything literally. Also, the bumbling nature of his new field agent character, Maxwell Smart, was certainly entertaining (as it is clearly Carell's forté), even if it was abandoned at times to advance the plot through...
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MOVIE: Now You See Me 2 (2016)

Now You See Me 2 Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours Sometimes the enjoyment of a particular film almost guarantees I’ll go to see the sequel. Now You See Me 2 (2016) is no exception. I really liked Now You See Me (2013) because the genres of “magic” and “heist” merge so easily together. Now three years later, and I certainly looked forward to this sequel, despite not knowing how the plot could advance any further than it had at the end of the first film. While the sequel did not disappoint, with numerous illusions, plenty of action, and loads of comedy, it felt like it was the same old gimmick as the original. Sure, there was a little more exploration into “the Eye”, but most of the plot of the second film centered on the consequences of the robberies from the first film (almost weighing it down, in my opinion). The addition of Daniel Radcliffe as a winking nod to...
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BOOK: Go Set a Watchman (2015)

Go Set a Watchman Year: 2015 Author: Harper Lee Length: 399 minutes / 6.65 hours Part of the problem of releasing a sequel to a beloved book 55 years later is a lot of other books have been written in between them. Consequently, there have been successful books written with some of the exact same plot and motifs, thus making the sequel feel like a rip-off instead of the other way around. In the case of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, I found myself drawing plenty of comparisons to Kathryn Stockett’s The Help (2009). While I felt the timeframe of Go Set a Watchman to be somewhat ambiguous, most of the similarities between it and The Help were in their heroines. Both were southern-born-and-raised women who smoked, were outsiders, and weren’t going to stand for racism. And while the main character of The Help did something about it, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch merely fell apart at the realization that everyone around her, including her...
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MOVIE: X2 (2003)

X2 Year: 2003 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours I’ve often held that the sequel of a superhero film is better than the original. Most superhero film franchises start out with an origin story, so by the time the second film comes around, all the “exposition” is out of the way and the heroes can really take on some powerful villains. However, since X-Men (2000) didn’t have much of an origin story, its sequel, X2 is almost relegated to the fate of a “flashback” sequel. Still, the darker tone does help set it apart from its predecessor, which is nice. Granted, the choice of exploring Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) past was a good one, considering the strength of the character. Heck, he got two more movies outside the main X-Men saga, so clearly he’s a fan favorite. What’s nice about the superhero sequel is that most comic book story arcs are short enough that they can be incorporated into a single film. In this...
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MOVIE: Insurgent (2015)

Insurgent Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours If The Hunger Games has given us anything from this uprising of Young Adult film adaptations, it's that each successive film is released in each successive year. There's no waiting for years for the next part of the trilogy to come out, only to have characters cast differently. The Divergent series is no different, but still stands in the shadow of its Hunger Games predecessor. This time around, we get the pleasure of Robert Schwentke directing the post-apocalyptic action. With his previous films like RED (2010) and The Time Traveler's Wife (2009), it's clear he can handle action as much as he can romance. While the action is excellent, the romance seemed to be a little lacking. Having read this book after watching the film, the plots start to diverge a bit (ha ha, get it?) almost in part due to the removal of the more sexually-charged relationship between Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James). Since the...
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MOVIE: The Nice Guys (2016)

The Nice Guys Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours I'll be honest that the trailer for this film is the main reason I went to go see it. The few bits revealed in it definitely painted a picture of a smart and funny film. The pairing of Ryan Gosling with Russell Crowe was an interesting one, but definitely works on the "buddy cop" adventure level. While Gosling had almost every funny line, the action brought to the film via Crowe's slightly heavier form really helped to balance things out. The full film definitely delivered on what the trailer had to offer. With dialogue that comes fast and full of quips, I was laughing throughout most of this film. It almost has a "self-aware" feel to it, as each failed piece of the investigation would have normally led to the next logical step. As it is rated R, it unfortunately has an incredible amount of questionable material, including plenty of nudity (as...
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