BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens (2010)

Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens Year: 2010 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 382 minutes / 6.36 hours After reading through the last two books in Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz series, I was hesitant to continue with the fourth book, Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens. What I found innovative and hilarious in the first book had become a bit more annoying by books two and three. Book four, however, was a refreshing addition to the series. It helped that the jokes were funny enough that I actually laughed out loud. Moreover, the lore and overall arching plot of the series seemed to coalesce into something that made sense and was actually driving toward a satisfying conclusion. While I can’t completely disregard the previous two books in the series, I felt that there was probably enough backstory explanation in Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens that these other books could be potentially be skipped over altogether. After all, we learn a lot about Alcatraz, his family roots, and the Smedry talents in this book, and...
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MOVIE: Bumblebee (2018)

Bumblebee Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours While I’m nowhere close to being a fan of the Transformers series, I’d occasionally watch the latest installment when it came to the cheap theater in town. I stopped doing this after the third film and only saw the fourth one on Redbox. I never even bothered with the most recent one. Then comes along this spinoff to the main storyline, Bumblebee (2018). For once, I was legitimately interested. The trailers made it seem like a cute little prequel/backstory for the practically mute robot in disguise. In the end, I was not disappointed, as Bumblebee was a fun and charming romp that showed what this franchise could have been like if Michael Bay didn’t direct. I appreciated how this movie essentially went full-in with its nostalgia. After all, since the Transformers originated in the 1980s, why couldn’t a film take advantage of this timeline to also reference lots of other 80s pop culture? Fortunately,...
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MOVIE: Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Ralph Breaks the Internet Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours Back in 2012, I was impressed that a movie like Wreck-It Ralph could exist. The amount of licensing agreements needed to bring together so many recognizable characters from famous franchises was a daunting task the likes of which I hadn’t seen since Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). Similarly, the sequel to Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018) had the challenge of integrating so many brand names and websites into something that could work as a story without becoming too dated as time marches on. In both cases, I think the balance between brand-name recognition and original content helped to make for an entertaining film. In the lead-up to the release of Ralph Breaks the Internet, I was concerned that it was going to rely heavily on internet memes for its laughs—taking a somewhat similar tack from The Emoji Movie (2017). I also had concerns that this movie would also focus...
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BOOK: In Ashes Born (2015)

In Ashes Born Year: 2015 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 310 pages As someone who enjoyed the core Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, parts of it seemed rushed in order to focus on the rise of Ishmael Wang to the penultimate title of “Owner.” Along the way, there were characters and sub-plots that I would have loved to see more of but woefully had to settle with focusing almost entirely on Ishmael’s story. From his time at the Academy to whatever happened with his first marriage, I think these moments not contained in the wrappings of ship life would have added a few moments of reprieve between the exciting world of Solar Clippers. In Ashes Born manages to quench my thirst for more stories set in this universe. It also manages to pull together many of the interesting characters over the core 6-book series and place them on track to have perhaps the most exciting adventure yet. Similar to how Ender’s Game pulled disparate characters together for a final battle...
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MOVIE: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 133 minutes / 2.21 hours The Coen Brothers have a curiously innate ability to be able to create stories that can one moment be comedic and laugh-out-loud funny before taking a dark turn into tragic territory. While their latest work, the Netflix film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018), looks like it would trend more toward comedy, it basically spends most of its time in the realm of violence and tragedy. Now don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. In fact, once the first few “comedic” pieces conclude, the movie really gets into some fantastic stories. Arranged as a series of six vignettes, the main star of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the setting. Filmed on location in a variety of western locales, the beauty of the scenery is on full display in each of the six stories (even if in lesser amounts in the last piece). The cinematography is superb, only barely outperformed...
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BOOK: Here and Now and Then (2019)

Here and Now and Then Year: 2019 Author: Mike Chen Length: 336 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’ve always found time travel to be an intriguing plot device. There are plenty of rules that come along with this phenomenon, but they can be somewhat flexible based on the situation that demands it. In Here and Now and Then (which is a brilliant title, by the way), the “rules” about time travel are reasonably strict, even if there’s a fair amount of hand-waving to explain away any changes made to the timeline. While this leads to a perfectly suitable ending, there were certainly a few alternative endings that I would have liked to have seen as well. Set in two time periods over 100 years apart, the main plotline follows Quinoa “Kin” Stewart, a time traveler from the future who was stuck in the past with no hope of returning home. Taking some advice from comedian Mitch Hedberg, “If you find yourself lost in the woods…build...
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BOOK: The Green Ember (2014)

The Green Ember Year: 2014 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 368 pages On the other end of the spectrum of “fantasy rabbit” stories from Watership Down, we have The Green Ember, the first in a series that probably could have been written without the animal trappings and still been a good story. Where Watership Down had very rabbit-like characters interacting with the human world, The Green Ember has very person-like characters interacting with an animal world. Occasionally, the attributes that make the rabbits unique were used—especially in the battle sequences—but there were often moments when I forgot that these characters were rabbits. I felt the cuteness of rabbits, and the scariness of wolves and hawks, help reach a younger audience without directly confronting them with the realities of the scary world around them. After all, if it was people vs. people in this book, then the intended audience might miss out on some of the important morals and lessons contained therein. Having a clearly evil force...
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MOVIE: Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump Year: 1994 Rating: PG-13 Length: 142 minutes / 2.36 hours For the longest time, I had only seen pieces of Forrest Gump (1994). After watching it in fits and starts, I finally sat down and watched the whole thing in one go probably ten years ago. Upon re-watching this Best Picture-winner, I realized how it has maintained its cultural appeal for so long. After all, it’s not necessarily a story about a slow southern boy; it’s the story of history and the story of America. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its faults, but they’re relatively minor compared to the impact of the rest of the film. What’s perhaps the most impressive part of Forrest Gump is the visual effects. From digitally inserting the titular character into archival footage to removing a Vietnam War soldier’s legs, even knowing these computer-aided elements are there doesn’t hinder how real they look. Although, being able to match the visual tone and style of several decades was equally as impressive....
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MOVIE: First Man (2018)

First Man Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours I’ll admit: I’m already a fan of Damien Chazelle. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s only a few months older than I am, or if it’s how I can personally relate to the subjects of his films. I understand the obsession he covered in Whiplash (2014). I can relate to the dreams of creative individuals he brought to light in La La Land (2016). Now, Chazelle has used his filmmaking talent to cover another topic I have a great interest in: space. First Man (2018) feels like a film that’s been waiting for the right director to come along, and Damien Chazelle hit it out of the park. Lying somewhere between The Right Stuff (1983) and Apollo 13 (1995), with a little bit of Interstellar (2014) thrown in as well for style, First Man does a fantastic job of showing how dangerous the missions that landed us on the moon really were. There seemed to be an adherence to realism in this film that helped to...
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MOVIE: The Accountant (2016)

The Accountant Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours When this movie came out a few years ago, I missed watching it because it seemed like just another generic action-spy film. Sure, the main character might be smart, leading to his professional “skills” (in more than one realm), but the trailers never really hinted at the reason for this attention to detail. Having now seen it, The Accountant takes an interesting approach to the action-spy genre while also including a number of twists that were as satisfying to figure out ahead of time as they were to see revealed on the screen. I will say that the plot of The Accountant was sometimes confusing, but only because I felt like they glossed over some plot holes and leaps in logic. Even if I was asking myself, “Hey, what about . . . ?” I didn’t have much time to dwell on it. The somewhat frenetic pacing of the movie helped to push the plot forward to...
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