MOVIE: Noah (2014)

Noah Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 138 minutes / 2.30 hours If there’s any filmmaker more controversial than Darren Aronofsky, I’m not sure who it would be at this point. Interestingly enough, while most of his films are rated “R” (or higher, like the uncut Requiem for a Dream (2000)), I think Noah (2014) is the first time one of his films has been at the PG-13 rating. Since most of the controversy of his movies comes via the content that would make it R-rated, it’s interesting that the controversy with Noah is more along the lines of how Aronofsky filled in the gaps and created a dramatic narrative inside the Biblical story of Noah. As is always the case with an Aronofsky film, Noah is a beautiful spectacle of filmmaking. Even if the landscapes of Iceland helped create this stunning setting, certain dream-like sequences and moments speak to the art that Aronofsky can evoke on the screen. The setting of the pre-flood world is believable, and most of the costumes...
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BOOK: Forest Dark (2017)

Forest Dark Year: 2017 Author: Nicole Krauss Length: 290 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’ve read a lot of books this year, but very few of them I would consider “literature.” Forest Dark is the rare exception. The flowery language and high-concept imagery invoked in this book would certainly make it a prime candidate for some art-house film. Author Nicole Krauss doesn’t just tell a story (or two) in this book; she crafts them out of the very essence of the human condition with expertly chosen words. There’s little to no “fluff” in this book, which somewhat explains it somewhat shorter length, especially considering it’s two stories in one. While I am not Jewish, the two, intertwining narratives in Forest Dark pull out the cultural identity from two very different characters. From an aging man who wants to make a legacy without relying too much on his heritage to a woman who has been given an opportunity to use her skills as...
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MOVIE: Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours Wonder Woman (2017) is a triumphant movie that shows the comic book genre doesn’t have to be dominated by men. Unfortunately, because it took so long getting here, I can’t help but draw comparisons to other works that came before it, making Wonder Woman seem derivative. In fact, had this movie come out eight years ago, it would have made Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Thor (2011) look like they were copying it. As it stands, though, Wonder Woman feels formulaic, even if the superhero is a woman instead of a man. I will grant that some of the jokes come at the expense of the “fish out of water” character of Diana (Gal Gadot), playing on her naïveté of the “modern world” for laughs (a la Thor) but with a more sexualized context because she’s a woman. There were a few missed opportunities to add depth to the character via these circumstances, the interaction with Chief Napi (Eugene Brave Rock)...
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BOOK: Welcome to the Monkey House (1968)

Welcome to the Monkey House Year: 1968 Author: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Length: 686 minutes / 11.43 hours Much like short story anthologies by a single author (see Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors and Ray Bradbury’s The Golden Apples of the Sun), Welcome to the Monkey House is both quintessentially a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s biting wit and satire as well as an exploration of other genres not often associated with Vonnegut’s style. Fans of Vonnegut will likely have already read some of these short stories (like “EPICAC” and “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”), but some of the other stories might have been missed and for a good reason. Overall, Welcome to the Monkey House is a fantastic set of stories, but a few of them fail to have the impact to make them memorable. Granted, these stories are few and far between, and help to break up the well-written social commentaries presented in “Harrison Bergeron” and the titular “Welcome to the Monkey House.” Vonnegut’s ability to show the slippery slope of such...
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MOVIE: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours When it comes to the films of Luc Besson, it’s often hit or miss. Sure, he’s directed many successful films, like Nikita (1990) and Léon: The Professional (1994), but some of his recent fare like The Family (2013) have left me disappointed. One of his best films is the sci-fi space opera (literally, even), The Fifth Element (1997). When I learned that he would be returning to this genre with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017), I certainly had high hopes for it. After viewing it for the first time, I can unquestionably say that my expectations were certainly met. Because Valerian has a French comic book series as its source, some of my qualms with this film might lie with the source material, and not the director. Some may recall the originality that came from another French comic book adaptation in the form of...
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BOOK: Napoleon’s Glass (2017)

Napoleon’s Glass Year: 2017 Author: Gillian Ingall Length: 308 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** While I received this book from the same publisher as Cale Dixon and the Moguk Murders and The Women of Cho: Heart and Seoul, I wasn't expecting anything good. However, I can attest that the author’s note at the beginning about how many people helped her edit this piece of historical fiction merely shows that the book could have just as easily been self-published. Sure, there are still a smattering of proofreading errors, and the punctuation seemed to be consistently lacking or against the American style I’m used to (It should be double quotes for all dialogue, in my opinion), but the story itself is quite solid. Put in the framework of a series of letters from a French noblewoman, Napoleon’s Glass puts a personal spin on the events of the downfall of Napoleon’s empire at the hands of the Russians, as well as other European turmoil that happened afterward. Despite some episodes being...
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BOOK: Machine of Death (2010)

Machine of Death Year: 2010 Author: (Various) Length: 452 pages The concept is simple: a machine takes your blood and spits out a card with the means of your demise printed on it. In this collection of short stories, a variety of authors explore what this truly means for individuals, as well as society as a whole. Based off an idea by Ryan North (author of “Dinosaur Comics”), this anthology has plenty of different approaches to the concept that a machine could predict how a person will die. However, many of these ideas hit upon the same concepts and social implications, making the whole thought exercise seem redundant by the end of the book. Part of me felt the idea itself was a little derivative of Death Note, but with a more ambiguous set of constraints. Each of the short stories included in this anthology had some unique twist on the idea, ranging from humor to romance to horror. Still, every author tended to agree:...
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BOOK: Inferno (2013)

Inferno Year: 2013 Author: Dan Brown Length: 1,033 minutes / 17.22 hours In this, the fourth installment of the Robert Langdon series, Dan Brown has continued to successfully marry science to art, albeit with the same tropes and trappings that occur in the book’s predecessors. With Inferno, we get the same race across Europe explored in Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, with the ambiguity of the antagonist’s motives that fueled The Lost Symbol. All throughout this adventure, the now-standard “female who is an expert in her field” accompanies Langdon as he tries to unravel the mystery and save the world. Langdon continues to be part Indiana Jones and part James Bond, that’s for sure. Utilizing the standard “temporary amnesia” plot device, Brown refines his style while also increasing the stakes. While previous books in the series had potential impacts on the local and national levels, Inferno takes the antagonist’s plan to a global scale. With the main character as talented with memory...
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MOVIE: Get Low (2009)

Get Low Year: 2009 Rating: PG-13 Length: 103 minutes / 1.71 hours Despite its PG-13 rating, Get Low (2009) is about as wholesome a movie as there ever was. Loosely based on a true story of a man who wanted to have his funeral before he died so he could hear what people would say about him, the simplicity of this classic plot relies heavily on the characters within it. From the crotchety hermit to the struggling funeral parlor owner to a town full of rumors and gossip, the implication that Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) has done something terrible drives the narrative forward to its logical conclusion. The two standout performances in this movie come from Robert Duvall and Bill Murray. Duvall’s Felix Bush is as cantankerous and stubborn as they come, and he fully plays up the fact that nobody likes him. Of course, it makes sense that 40 years of carrying the burden Felix has carried would affect a man like that. On the other...
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BOOK: The Golden Apples of the Sun (1997)

The Golden Apples of the Sun Year: 1997 Author: Ray Bradbury Length: 338 pages While I know Ray Bradbury is a great science fiction writer, before I read this book I only knew of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, both of which I’ve read. In this collection of short stories, Bradbury shows he’s not just a writer of sci-fi, but of other genres and ideas as well. That being said, his strength certainly lies in science fiction, even if these stories are a bit dated from their original, 1950’s publications. Either way, most of the stories contained in this collection were quite short and could be easily read in those brief moments in between life’s activities. Many of the stories reveal the political ideologies of their time. From the threat of nuclear war to the unknown of interplanetary travel, these themes continue to pop up throughout this book. Some of the stories are a little abstract, but there are enough solid pieces to make...
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