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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