MOVIE: Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Rise of the Guardians Year: 2012 Rating: PG Length: 97 minutes / 1.62 hours While the idea of the holidays being connected isn't a new idea (see The Nightmare Before Chrismas (1993) for another take on it), there is something intrinsically interesting with making the respective figureheads of their representative mythos come together in an Avenger-esque fashion against a common enemy. Rise of the Guardians (2012) certainly does a good job of this, even if only two of its characters have anything to do with holidays at all. In its essence, the fanciful characters from our childhood banding together to fight evil personified is based on the belief that we all have something to believe in. What I particularly like about Rise of the Guardians is the surprising depth of the characters chosen to fight for the belief of all children around the world. From a Russian-themed Santa Claus to the Australian Easter Bunny (expertly voiced by Alec Baldwin and Hugh Jackman, respectively), these added details...
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BOOK: Owner’s Share (2014)

Owner’s Share Year: 2014 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 574 pages Well, here we are. The end of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series has been quite the interesting journey, essentially tagging on to the events that happened in the previous book, Captain's Share. While this was the logical final step for Ishmael Wang, I appreciated that some of the loose ends that had been introduced throughout the series were finally resolved. I also appreciated that the characters weren’t all idyllic or idiotic, thus providing a balance of the likable and unlikeable characters instead of heavily including one side of the spectrum or the other. In terms of plot, Nathan Lowell has spun together a great yarn here with a lot of “what could go wrong next?” scenarios. Even if these events didn’t feel like they carried much in terms of consequences, due to these inevitabilities never coming to pass, they were usually impediments to Wang’s goals. The one twist near the end of...
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MOVIE: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Kubo and the Two Strings Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours We live in the future, and it is incredible. I’ve found stop-motion animation to be a fascinating medium, not only for its “dirtiness” when compared to CGI, but also because of the painstaking care it takes to produce a full-length feature with this process. Animation studios like Aardman and Laika are really starting to take advantage of all the tools at their disposal to create some awesome stop-motion movies. We’ve come a long way since the films of Henry Selick, the most famous one being The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Through Selick, we now have a handful of fantastic films through the Laika brand. While their previous work, The Boxtrolls (2014) had started the trend away from more morbid themes and plots, Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) shows just how capable the stop-motion medium is to tell a fantastic story. With an origami motif existing throughout, Kubo and the...
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BOOK: Double Share (2008)

Double Share Year: 2008 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 308 pages Much like Half Share overcompensated for Quarter Share’s naïveté, I found Double Share to take an extreme stance on the dynamic of a ship’s crew. This stance was practically diametrically opposed to the crew of Ishmael Wang’s first crew aboard the Lois McKendrick. While it might sound like I’m complaining about this, I’m actually lauding Nathan Lowell for finally creating a crew that’s a little more realistic than the idyllic one he used during the first three books in this series. Of course, it would have been nice to intersperse difficult characters throughout the books, instead of having to deal with them all at once, but it is what it is. Even though the first three books in this series were fairly close together in timeframes, I would have liked a little more detail given to the handful of years dedicated to Wang’s time at the Academy, especially since the end of Full Share made...
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MOVIE: 42 (2013)

42 Year: 2013 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours In today's charged racial climate, it seems that we haven't come that far from the 1940's. All the barriers that have been broken to allow equal opportunities to everyone don't seem to matter if the heart of the people has not been changed. Needless to say, several films have been made in the last few years which have highlighted the racial struggles of the pioneers in their respective professions. Initially, I was skeptical that 42 (2013) would devolve into your standard "fight against racism" story, but the expert camerawork, peppy pacing, and superb casting really made this movie for me. Having played baseball myself up through my senior year in high school, the appeal of a story about the game is what initially piqued my interest. The fact that this is a story about one of the most recognizable names in baseball was merely icing on the cake. There have been a number of...
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MOVIE: Limelight (1952)

Limelight Year: 1952 Rating: Approved Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours While it is rare to find a film by/starring Charlie Chaplin that isn't uproariously funny, the depth of the drama of this piece certainly shows the range everyone's favorite silent actor could perform. Chaplin will always have the little idiosyncracies in the way he moves, but when they're applied to a washed-up drunk, suddenly they take a much more serious turn. Films like The Dictator (1940) and Monsieur Verdoux (1947) certainly have their amusing moments, but work better as social commentaries, or at least are more direct about their message than the earlier films like The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), and Modern Times (1936). What's really interesting about Limelight is it feels almost as autobiographical as it does groundbreaking. I mean, if we were to name one famous actor who excelled at playing a "tramp", Chaplin is the only one who would come to mind (although Buster Keaton, who also appears in the...
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MOVIE: Road to Morocco (1942)

Road to Morocco Year: 1942 Rating: Not Rated Length: 82 minutes / 1.37 hours It’s unfortunate that many people who might be familiar with this film only know it through the homage done on Family Guy. The unfortunate part of this is that most wouldn’t recognize the origin of the bit and go watch the reference material, which is much funnier than Family Guy could make it. Buddy films have been around for a long time, so it’s nice to see how one of the founding films of this comedy sub-genre succeeded at it. The success of a Buddy film comes from the talent of its two main characters. In this case, Orville "Turkey" Jackson (Bob Hope) is the lovably dim partner to Jeff Peters (Bing Crosby), the snarky singer and brains of the operation. Those who might be looking for a pure slapstick comedy are bound to be slightly disappointed, because the gold of this film is in its repartee. Verbal jabs, wordplay, and double entendre...
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MOVIE: Captain America – Civil War (2016)

Captain America: Civil War Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 147 minutes / 2.45 hours When it comes to sequels, I fell very few film franchises do their predecessors justice. In my opinion, a great sequel requires a simple formula: cause and effect. The "cause" should be in the form of the first (or in this case, previous) movie(s). Whatever happens before a sequel should drive the plot of the following movie. This is the "effect." While it wasn't nearly as good as this effort, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) followed the same formula. Cause: Superman destroying most of Metropolis in Man of Steel (2013). Effect: Batman and Lex Luthor wanting to hold Superman accountable. See? Simple as that. What perhaps makes Captain America: Civil War such a great film is the amount of "cause" that led to its "effect." The driving plot of this film was in direct response to the destruction and mayhem brought about by the Avengers trying to save the...
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MOVIE: Independence Day (1996)

Independence Day Year: 1996 Rating: PG-13 Length: 145 minutes / 2.41 hours While most people just roll their eyes at the mention of Roland Emmerich as a director, many forget that he essentially started the revival of the "destructive action" film. What used to be common in the seventies, with movies like The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and Towering Inferno (1974), films showing catastrophes had taken a bit of a back seat until Independence Day. This revival on a globally-catastrophic scale brought about such films as Armageddon (1998) and Deep Impact (1998). Granted, Emmerich continued to make world destruction a part of his directing career, which is why films like this almost seem hokey today. Godzilla (1998), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), 2012 (2009), and White House Down (2013) haven't been the most critically-acclaimed films of all time, but they certainly carry Emmerich's penchant for demolishing cultural landmarks. One does wonder why Independence Day stands out amongst his other films, almost as an anomaly. While later films by...
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MOVIE: X-Men (2000)

X-Men Year: 2000 Rating: PG-13 Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Up until the 21st Century, DC had dominated the comic book adaptations on the big screen. Film franchises like Superman and Batman were essentially the only acts in town. Of course, by the time the year 2000 rolled around, Superman hadn’t been in theaters for more than a decade, and Batman had become almost as campy and goofy as its 1960’s counterpart. This was now Marvel’s time to shine. Partly due to a large cast of recognizable characters, X-Men was the right choice to reboot the comic book adaptation film franchise. Even though X-Men set the standard pretty high for comic book adaptations, very few have followed in its stead. Where most first films in a hero franchise focus on the origins of the main character, the X-Men spans such an enormous timeframe, with characters coming in and out of relevance, that it would be difficult to give all of their origins at once. Instead,...
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