BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (2007)

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians Year: 2007 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 414 minutes / 6.90 hours Never before have I read a book that has been so self-aware . . . and I loved every minute of it. There’s breaking the fourth wall, and then there’s Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. A fun and hilarious read for teens and adults, this book’s premise is as ridiculous as it is original. Of course, while it tends to border on the random (for maximum comedic effect), this book also manages to tie all these random pieces together in the most satisfying way. The comedy in this book is effortless, and the plot is certainly the most interesting thing I’ve read recently. I think the ability of this book to successfully break norms and fully immerse the reader in the world is due to Sanderson’s talent as a fantasy writer. The details that seem odd, like receiving a bag of sand for your thirteenth birthday, manage to...
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MOVIE: Darkest Hour (2017)

Darkest Hour Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours There are plenty of films out there that claim to be “art” by pushing the boundaries of the medium. These movies often come off as just plain weird. Darkest Hour (2017) is an artfully crafted masterpiece, even if it seems to be a biopic about Winston Churchill at first glance. All the individual elements that go into a fantastic film are in top form here, as we see how lighting, cinematography, music, plot, and acting combine to create something greater than the sum of their parts. Darkest Hour doesn’t have one element that makes it stand out as an incredible movie; it uses all facets of its production to create a masterpiece of art. The look of this film is incredible. From the overhead shots of battlegrounds seamlessly transitioning into the carnage of war to the heavy contrast of light and shadow emphasizing the “darkness” of the “darkest hour,” the visual spectacle of Churchill’s unconventional rise to...
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BOOK: If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? (2017)

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? Year: 2017 Author: Alan Alda Length: 213 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While miscommunication might be the source of conflict for romantic comedies, it’s a much more significant problem in the real world. If people aren’t able to efficiently and accurately communicate with their fellow man, then we all have room for improvement. Scientists and doctors are often the worst offenders, even though their ideas need to be communicated to the world for the advancement of society. Alan Alda has spent years trying to figure out why people are unable to communicate, and he has also figured out what we can do to improve this situation. As a scientist and writer, I feel many of his insights have merit. I grew up watching Alan Alda on Scientific American Frontiers, so I know how often he has interacted with scientists. His conclusions that we can all become better communicators through empathy and...
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MOVIE: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours The first film by Martin McDonagh I saw was Seven Psychopaths (2012). I enjoyed how he was able to take the audience through many entertaining twists and turns. For his follow-up film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), McDonagh has improved on the twists, as well as the darkness of the comedy contained therein. In fact, the comedy is so dark that at times it was almost uncomfortable to laugh. All this being said, the two areas that make this a standout film are the characters and its complexity. Let’s start with the characters. Almost every single character is introduced in a way that the audience wants to dislike them. And yet, over the course of the film, the significant amount of character development makes the audience root for people who threw individuals out of second-story windows or chucked Molotov cocktails at a police station. Part of what helps in these character developments...
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MOVIE: Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight Year: 2015 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours For many years, the running joke about the movies that have won the Best Picture Oscar is that they only won because another film should have won years prior. Spotlight (2015) is this generation's All the President's Men (1976) in that it is an excellent film about investigative journalism that broke open a huge cover-up, changing the world forever. Both films deserved to be Best Picture, but Spotlight manages to take an uncomfortable subject and be frank and open about the problems that we still see in today's society. Since most of the movie is comprised of uncovering the truth behind the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, it's surprising how gripping and well-paced the film ends up being. Part of the genius of this film is the high-energy dedication these four journalists have in uncovering the terrifying truths that had been lurking in the shadows for decades. While such a subject could easily create a...
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MOVIE: Get Out (2017)

Get Out Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours I'll admit that I'm not a fan of horror films. The fact that Get Out (2017) was released in that weird, "horror month" of February that merely exists so people trying to catch up on their Oscar nominations don't have to watch anything new meant that it mostly passed under my radar. When buzz about the movie continued for the rest of the year, I was still skeptical as horror has been known for its cheap tricks and gratuitous violence, both of which I don't particularly care for. The trick is, Get Out is certainly a horror film, but with the minimum required trappings to be considered one. With a few jump scares and a violent and bloody ending, Get Out works on a level that's best described as "blatantly subtle." It's not so much that it screams about the racial differences between black people and white people, but that it does so...
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MOVIE: Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner Year: 1982 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours When I first saw Blade Runner (1982) many years ago, I understood that it was the quintessential, if not the defining, cyberpunk film. Since I was used to the more modern cyberpunk at the time (a la The Matrix (1999)), I felt the slow unfolding of exposition wasn't nearly as action-driven as I had hoped it would be. Of course, at the time, I might not have been watching the "Director's Cut" version of Blade Runner, which was what I watched this time around. Needless to say, it's a much better movie than I initially remembered. I think part of my improved assessment of this film came from a realization that it wasn't intrinsically a science fiction film. Sure, it is based on a story by Philip K. Dick, it is set in a fast-approaching and somewhat inaccurate representation of the future, and it has the trappings of a sci-fi film (i.e., androids,...
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BOOK: As You Wish (2014)

As You Wish – Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride Year: 2014 Author: Cary Elwes Length: 421 minutes / 7.02 hours While I love audiobooks for their capacity to let me mindlessly absorb books while I’m driving to or from work, much of the story comes down to the narrator and their inflections. Sometimes these narrators can be annoying, or incomprehensible, or vary their volume too much. It is a rare treat to find an audiobook that fully capitalizes on the medium, either by adding music and sound effects or (in this case) using the voices of actual people to narrate the story. As You Wish is just such an audiobook, and I would even go so far to say it is the superior version of this book, even without “reading” it for myself. As one of the most frequent and common of quotable movies, The Princess Bride (1987) is an odd little film that just works. It’s fantasy, it’s comedy, it’s family-friendly. It’s all these things...
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BOOK: On Writing (2000)

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Year: 2000 Author: Stephen King Length: 480 minutes / 8.0 hours While I don't usually read horror books, the only ones that I have read were written by Stephen King. Consequently, when I found that he had written a book about writing, it struck me as an opportunity to get into the head of a prolific and successful writer. As a writer of novels myself, I am always looking for ways to improve my writing. I have come a long way in eight years, and King's little book here merely confirms that I'm doing the right things that a writer should do to help their craft. Written as a half-memoir, On Writing is a personal look into the upbringing and life of Stephen King, which then helps inform what and how he writes. Suddenly, you start to understand why he writes the things he does. Intermingled amidst these moments of becoming the writer he is today, King sprinkles in abundant gems...
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BOOK: Children of the Mind (1996)

Children of the Mind Year: 1996 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 810 minutes / 13.50 hours Just like Xenocide before it, Children of the Mind is difficult to separate from the previous books in the Ender’s Game series. In fact, Xenocide and Children of the Mind are considered by Orson Scott Card to merely be two parts of the same book, separated at a point in the plot that makes sense. Even further to the point, I would consider Children of the Mind the last “part” of a story that stretches across four books. While it was easy to take Ender’s Game by itself, every additional piece of the story needs the previous parts for it to have the full impact of what Card was trying to accomplish. What’s most interesting about this series is how each book has a different focus, almost putting them in distinct genres. Ender’s Game was militaristic sci-fi, while Speaker of the Dead was more along the lines of a...
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