BOOK: Freedom’s Fire (2017)

Freedom’s Fire Year: 2017 Author: Bobby Adair Length: 338 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I find it somewhat refreshing to read a dystopian book where the dystopia has already happened. There are far too many that detail the onset of a dystopia, and a scant few that actually deal with the realities of the dystopia. While this does lead Freedom’s Fire to have a cynical and depressing tone, at least there is a growing hope as the story progresses. At the very least, this book was a quick read, helped along by its pacing and action-packed sequences. On a personal note, I also liked the fact that it was set in Colorado, as I could easily connect with the locations and lingo. While Freedom’s Fire was an enjoyable read, it did have a few minor flaws. As I read, I mostly understood the vague goals of the main character and his crew, at least in simplistic terms. Get off Earth. Join the Resistance. It was the...
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MOVIE: The Shape of Water (2017)

The Shape of Water Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours The modern master of the monster movie, Guillermo del Toro is at it again with The Shape of Water (2017). Much like the Universal Studios monster classics, del Toro has created a career around directing films about how humans interact with these monsters. From building giant robots to fight giant monsters in Pacific Rim (2013) to hiring monsters to kill other monsters in Hellboy (2004), del Toro has also occasionally shown the more human side of monsters. Or, more accurately, he has shown how monster-like humans can become. Previous films by Guillermo del Toro, like Cronos (1993) and Pan's Labyrinth (2006) have highlighted the negative qualities of man while infusing these films with a sense of fantasy that can often border on straight-up fairy tales. The Shape of Water certainly falls into the "man is the real monster" category of del Toro's movies, but it kind of beats you over the head...
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MOVIE: The Princess Bride (1987)

The Princess Bride Year: 1987 Rating: PG Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours The Princess Bride (1987) is a movie that defies genres. It’s an adventure film with swashbuckling pirates. It’s a fantasy film with giants and six-fingered men. It’s a comedy with numerous quotable lines. It’s a family film about storytelling. It’s all these things, and more, which is part of its appeal (even if it makes the whole movie difficult to classify or market). The real trick with The Princess Bride is that it is subtle with its self-awareness. While other films may go so far self-aware that they’d break the fourth wall (a la Deadpool (2016)), The Princess Bride manages to poke fun at these classic genres with a knowing wink to the audience. Of course, this is part of its appeal. Many self-aware films make overt references to other big-hitters in their genre, thus relying on the audience who has done their homework to understand the joke. In The Princess Bride, there are no references to The Lord of the...
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MOVIE: Loving Vincent (2017)

Loving Vincent Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 94 minutes / 1.57 hours Animation has become somewhat easier since the days when every frame was drawn out by hand. This change has been mostly due to the use of computers to simplify the animation process. And yet, there are still those who want to embrace the painstaking process of manual animation, mostly for the artistic merit that it gives the film. Usually, this is done in short form, like the stop-motion film, Fresh Guacamole (2012) by PES, or the paint-on-glass animated short, The Old Man and the Sea (1999). Both of these short films were nominated for the Animated Short Oscar, with the latter winning the prize. With Loving Vincent (2017), we now have a feature-length (albeit at a short 94 minutes) animated feature that took the time to recreate the aesthetic of Van Gough’s paintings via a plentitude of hand-painted oil paintings that comprised the individual frames of the film. If awards are given for artistic merit alone, Loving Vincent deserves to win...
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MOVIE: Spider-Man – Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours Of all the superheroes in their respective comic universes, the one I grew up with was Spider-Man. I watched the animated 1990’s television show, and I loved when this relatable superhero made his way to the big screen in Spider-Man (2002). I was even more pleased when Spider-Man 2 (2004) set the tone for future superhero franchises. The first film is the origin film so the second film can dispense with the best villain and not spend all its time in exposition. Unfortunately, I ended up being disappointed by the third entry in this original Spider-Man trilogy, which was a rare miss in my book. Fast forward to 2012, when Spider-Man was rebooted with Andrew Garfield in the title role. Having to sit through the origin story again, but with a different, green-colored villain as the antagonist seemed like it wasn’t exploring anything new. Around the same time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was...
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BOOK: The Kite Runner (2003)

The Kite Runner Year: 2003 Author: Khaled Hosseini Length: 324 pages In an odd twist, I haven’t actually seen the movie this book was based on before I started reading it. Sure, I was aware The Kite Runner was a notable book, but I knew little about it other than the peripheral knowledge that comes from seeing an occasional movie trailer. About five years ago, I found this book for cheap at a bookstore and decided to pick it up on a whim. Now that I’ve finally read it, I’m glad I bought it those many years ago. Unquestionably, it deserved the notoriety it received, as it is a well-written and engaging story. I’ll admit that there is much I don’t know about the specifics of Afghanistan and Islam. This book certainly opened my eyes to a lot of things I had suspected, but could never confirm. First of all: men are awful. I’m a man myself, but I’m ashamed that so much of human misery is...
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BOOK: The Screwtape Letters (1942)

The Screwtape Letters Year: 1942 Author: C.S. Lewis Length: 216 minutes / 3.60 hours Perhaps the first documented fictional exploration of spiritual warfare, The Screwtape Letters is an expertly crafted examination of what the enemy of our souls is plotting. The reader is given insight into one side of a correspondence between two demons of differing influence and rank, thus providing a “behind the scenes” look at what the enemy is plotting and what they consider to be a victory for them. At moments, it can be difficult to follow along since the context of Screwtape’s “enemy” is really the “good” side of the spiritual battle. Either way, C.S. Lewis has crafted a brilliant satire about how little humans understand of their spiritual lives. While I wouldn’t necessarily ascribe The Screwtape Letters to pure theology, there are plenty of eye-opening and thought-provoking statements in Screwtape’s letters to his nephew. From the demons’ acknowledgment that pleasure is of God’s design but overindulgence in pleasure is in their realm to the...
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MOVIE: Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.76 hours Almost like clockwork, Christopher Nolan has directed a masterpiece of filmmaking every two-to-three years since the start of the millennium. While his prior work is certainly entertaining, most of it was set in a fictional environment that allowed him to play with the format of nonlinear storytelling. When I first heard that Nolan would be directing a film about the World War II retreat from Dunkirk, I was skeptical at first. I mean, while he's great at action movies like The Dark Knight (2010), mind-benders like Memento (2000), or even science fiction epics like Interstellar (2014), his only foray into the "historical" was via The Prestige (2006), and even that was mostly made up. What I did not realize going into Dunkirk (2017), was Nolan's ability to create art without the need for fancy camera tricks or mind-blowing plot twists. The simplicity of Dunkirk merely emphasizes the mastery of cinematography and directing that Christopher Nolan can...
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BOOK: Dark Matter (2016)

Dark Matter Year: 2016 Author: Blake Crouch Length: 608 minutes / 10.13 hours It seems to me that the multiverse is a popular topic in fiction today. Sure, there have been plenty of stories about parallel universes and the fractal branching of our decisions, but for some reason, there’s been an uptick in the number of these stories lately. Perhaps these stories are trying to find a better universe in which to live, or perhaps they’re trying to show us that the world we have could be much worse. Either way, Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter nails the multiverse plot by exploring all the different connotations of the ability to travel between parallel universes. Presented in a traditional, three-act narrative, Dark Matter thrusts its protagonist into another version of his reality, ripping him away from his idyllic life. Using quantum physics as a form of magical hand-waving, the narrative then turns to the main character’s relentless search for his original universe. While the result of this exploration fits nicely...
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BOOK: Shadowguard (2015)

Shadowguard Year: 2015 Author: Gama Ray Martinez Length: 228 pages I picked this book up for free on my Kindle recently, probably due to some promotion to heighten awareness of the latest book in the Pharim War series. As the first book in this series, Shadowguard doesn’t waste any time getting down into the action of the story. Somewhat light on exposition and description, the world created here is still vibrant and fascinating, regardless. The story's characters and setting immediately immersed me in the world, and that's not even mentioning the interesting magic system Gama Ray Martinez has created. It fell in line with the fantasy genre without being too derivative of it. Some may say a series of books about a magical boy learning magic at an illustrious school sounds a lot like the Harry Potter series. The fact that the Pharim War series has a fantasy world setting, and isn't just a hidden part of our real world, makes it distinctly different from J.K....
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