MOVIE: Hugo (2011)

Hugo Year: 2011 Rating: PG Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours Enchanting. Charming. Magical. After re-watching this film again, I can still confirm Hugo (2011) legitimately earned all its technical Oscars, even if it didn’t end up winning Best Picture. Ironically enough, this American movie about the origins of French film lost out to a French movie about the origins of American talking pictures (i.e., The Artist (2011)). Of course, the more surprising aspect of this film was how Martin Scorsese was able to make such an entertaining (and family-friendly) film that didn’t involve the mafia at all. Personally, as an avid lover of classic films, I enjoyed the romanticism related to the earliest of film magicians. Scorsese’s love letter to the origins of cinema—and the masters of their craft like Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley)—is a stark reminder of how much we've lost of cinema’s heritage due to external events that forced the artistic community to abandon their art. The amount of experimentation and inventive...
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MOVIE: The Current War – Director’s Cut (2017)

The Current War: Director’s Cut Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I’ve known for some time about the “war” between alternating and direct current. It was such an interesting battle of egos between some famous names that are still known today. Heck, I even included elements of it as a sub-plot in my second book. Of course, I always thought the conflict was between Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) and Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and not being mainly between Edison and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). At any rate, I found The Current War (2017) to be an entertaining examination of the events that led the world to finally accept one of these currents as the de-facto way to distribute electric power. Stepping back for a moment to the presentation of this movie, I appreciated the cinematography and the driving music that helped ratchet up the tension between these famous engineers and entrepreneurs. Additionally, the actors chosen to play their respective roles fit quite well....
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MOVIE: Joker (2019)

Joker Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours With the saturation of superhero movies between Marvel and DC at all-time highs, it was only a matter of time before a movie like Joker (2019) would come along. If anything, the current socio-political environment in the real world is ripe for this kind of story. While superhero films are appealing to show how individuals with exotic abilities can do battle in CGI-heavy fight sequences, there is a certain amount of horror involved with Joker in the sense that it could realistically happen. There aren’t any radioactive spiders. There isn’t any high-tech gadgetry. There’s only mental illness. I applaud the team behind Joker for not resorting to hackneyed comic book origin stories like chemical spills or “tit for tat” vendettas (even if we had to watch one of the same origin stories again near the end). The casting of Joaquin Phoenix was initially an odd choice, but he nails the role. His type of methodical acting almost humanizes one of...
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MOVIE: Secondhand Lions (2003)

Secondhand Lions Year: 2003 Rating: PG Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours Making a family-friendly film is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks in cinema. Not only does it have to appeal to children, but it also has to avoid plenty of material that might not be appropriate for younger audiences. If families can get a powerful life lesson out of it as well, all the better. While modern fare tends to resort to the crass and focuses on bathroom humor for laughs, there are those rare few films that manage to tell a tight story. With legitimate laughs and a heartfelt conclusion, Secondhand Lions (2003) is just such a movie. The two strengths that make this one of my favorite family-friendly films are its characters and its plot. All three of the main characters show some amount of significant character growth by the time the end credits roll. Besides, with acting talents like Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, and Haley Joel Osment, you really can’t miss...
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MOVIE: Toy Story 4 (2019)

Toy Story 4 Year: 2019 Rating: G Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours After the Toy Story “trilogy” ended in 2010, I was honestly a little confused and irritated that Disney/Pixar would open up this franchise again for a fourth entry. That being said, I now see the entire “story” was not complete at that point. There was still some amount of finality that the franchise had not reached. Of course, now I’ll be mad if they decide to make a Toy Story 5 since Toy Story 4 (2019) wrapped everything up so nicely and conclusively. Then again, maybe the next entry in the series will finally explain the odd rules about toy sentience. By far, the most striking thing about Toy Story 4 is its visuals. I was ten years old when Toy Story (1995) came out. Even in the four years between it and Toy Story 2 (1999), I could see massive improvements in what computers could create in terms of CGI imagery. With Toy Story 3 (2010) having just over a decade to improve its visuals,...
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BOOK: Shakespeare’s Star Wars (2013)

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope Year: 2013 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 209 minutes / 3.48 hours Much like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies took a classic and fused it with something entirely opposite from its original intent, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope manages to take something modern and combine it with the classic styling of William Shakespeare. It’s no wonder these two kinds of books are both from Quirk Classics. While Pride and Prejudice and Zombies essentially forces the reader to read Pride and Prejudice, but with zombies added in, Shakespeare’s Star Wars is the re-telling of the original Star Wars (1977) screenplay, but in iambic pentameter. To be honest, if someone were to stage this version of Star Wars, I’d pay to see it in a heartbeat. Not only does the basic plot from the movie transfer over almost flawlessly, but the addition of the Shakespeare dialogue and verbiage made this way more entertaining than it had any...
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MOVIE: Spider-Man – Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours There’s no hiding that Spider-Man is my favorite superhero. My reviews of Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Venom (2018) say as much. I grew up watching the 1990s animated Spider-Man show, so when I saw early trailers for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), I half-thought it would be some direct-to-video movie. After all, everything up until now had been live-action. I was encouraged to learn that it would receive a theatrical release, especially when I started to see more footage of its unique artistic style. Not only does Into the Spider-Verse embrace its comic book origins, but it also does so with a flair and panache that I’d almost like to see in other superhero franchises. Over the years, I’d only loosely been paying attention to what was happening in the Spider-Man comics. Sure, I knew about Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) but more in the sense that they were departures from the white-male Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) that...
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MOVIE: Green Book (2018)

Green Book Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours Every once in a while, a movie comes along that has the right balance of themes and execution to make it into an instant classic. When I first saw trailers for Green Book (2018), I initially thought it was just going to be an inverse of Driving Miss Daisy (1989). Instead, what I got was so much more than that. Green Book tackles the difficult task of presenting a harsh mirror on our past, with a knowing wink that some of these challenges are still present today. It is more subtle than BlacKkKlansman (2018), but the message still gets across in a heartwarming and wholesome way. What makes Green Book so engaging is the simplicity that it approaches such a nuanced and complex approach to the topic of racism. The irony that rich white people in the south would hold Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) in such high regard as a musician but treat him as less-than-human the second he is not performing...
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MOVIE: Mortal Engines (2018)

Mortal Engines Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours If I were to look at Mortal Engines (2018) critically, I’d notice a number of flaws. From fairly flat characters to a string of movies and directors that it tries to imitate, this film should be terrible. And yet, given that I’d already suspended my disbelief by entertaining the idea that an apocalypse would result in cities mounting up on enormous machines and scavenging smaller towns for fuel, I found this movie incredibly entertaining. Perhaps the base plot isn’t too original, but the execution felt fresh and new. Somehow, I was able to turn off my critical brain and just enjoy this movie for what it is: pure, unadulterated fun. As someone who appreciates film as an art form, there is plenty of it on display here. The look, feel, and aesthetic of Mortal Engines is so bold and consistent that the core concept of the plot naturally follows. The visuals and soundtrack merely accentuate the action...
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MOVIE: Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 169 minutes / 2.82 hours The first time I saw this film, I was speechless. I knew what to expect from Christopher Nolan, who had been steadily increasing his repertoire for almost two decades. Each of his films outdid the last and built on the already mind-blowing pieces that have gone before them. From The Following (1998) to Memento (2000) to The Prestige (2006) to Inception (2010), I wondered how he could outdo himself with his first foray into hard science fiction. Needless to say, I was impressed by Interstellar (2014) and Nolan’s ability to bring the theoretical and incredible ideas of interstellar travel into an entirely plausible setup. As was the case with his previous films, Nolan manages to bring together almost disjointed moments into a cyclical narrative. Much like Memento, I wanted to sit down and watch the whole thing again immediately after viewing it for the first time, so that I could catch all the little things that lead to the major reveal at the end. Even...
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BOOK: All the Light We Cannot See (2014)

All the Light We Cannot See Year: 2014 Author: Anthony Doerr Length: 962 minutes / 16.03 hours If All the Light We Cannot See were a movie, I would consider it “Oscar bait.” Set during the most romantic of World Wars: check. Main character with disability: check. Drama, tragedy, and suspense: check, check, and check. It’s then no wonder that All the Light We Cannot See ended up winning a Pulitzer. Sure, it’s filled with plenty of the “award” tropes that we tend to see repeated over and over again—but it works. What helps this book stand out from the rest of the books and movies that try too hard to earn awards is twofold: its characters and its plot. Before I get too far into my praise for this book, I have to mention that the narrator for the audiobook version seemed to mispronounce a few words early on, which threw me for a loop and made me wonder if I’ve been mispronouncing them myself. Similarly, it was...
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MOVIE: (500) Days of Summer (2009)

(500) Days of Summer Year: 2009 Rating: PG-13 Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours I’ll be the first to admit that I’m biased when it comes to this film. In 2009, I experienced my first ever relationship. I also experienced a breakup from said relationship in the same year. Consequently, I can relate to the main character, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and his rise and fall brought about by Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Like Tom, I too held the romantic belief of “the one,” based mostly on the movies, books, TV shows, and music that touted this magical someone who would fill the hole in our souls. What (500) Days of Summer emphasizes is certainly closer to reality: not every story has a happy ending. As for the way the movie is presented, I must applaud the ingenious and artful direction of Marc Webb, this being his directorial debut after years of working on music videos. His previous experience certainly comes through in the music chosen for...
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BOOK: The Pearl (1947)

The Pearl Year: 1947 Author: John Steinbeck Length: 155 minutes / 2.58 hours Perhaps one of the lesser-known of Steinbeck’s works, The Pearl still exhibits his concise and emotionally-powerful storytelling. More along the length of Of Mice and Men than The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck doesn’t waste much time arriving at the central conflict of The Pearl, using realistic characters and settings to weave his story. Some might find the characters in this story to be mere stereotypes, but I would almost argue that they’re the archetypes that have aided good storytelling for centuries. The fact that people today could easily find themselves in similar situations merely speaks to the timeless nature of the story itself. Somewhat of a deviation from the depression-era settings of some of his previous works, Steinbeck uses the natural beauty of the island setting to contrast the ugliness present in the hearts of its inhabitants. Granted, the antagonists of the story are the inherently-greedy colonialists who are trying to take advantage of the indigenous population, but...
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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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BOOK: Xenocide (1991)

Xenocide Year: 1991 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 1,210 minutes / 20.17 hours Much like authors Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were well ahead of their time in their science fiction writing, Orson Scott Card once again shows that he understood some of the key concepts of our universe. Written in 1991, Card’s Xenocide deepens and furthers the continuing adventure of Ender Wiggin that he began back in Ender’s Game. Picking up where Speaker for the Dead left off, Xenocide adds a powerful adversary while also tying plot points back to the first book in the series. In this sense, the tight intertwining of Xenocide with its predecessors makes it difficult to separate and review by itself. I appreciate what Card has done by creating a multi-book narrative that requires the reader to have started from the very beginning of the story. While Xenocide is not nearly the end of the series, as made clear by the astounding twist near the end, it does pull enough...
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MOVIE: Dekalog (1989)

Dekalog Year: 1989 Rating: TV-MA Length: 572 minutes / 9.53 hours Dekalog almost defies categorization. While you could say it’s a TV show, the only recurring “character” is the apartment complex where many of the characters of the different “episodes” happen to live. If it’s a movie, it’s a very long one comprised of ten one-hour short films. Therefore, Dekalog is probably best defined as a TV mini-series. But, don’t let that label fool you: each one of these ten short films packs a huge punch individually, but produce a well-rounded examination of humanity in their entirety. Perhaps we should consider Dekalog as an anthology of the human condition. Life and death. Love and hate. Gain and loss. It’s all there in Dekalog. What hits you first with Dekalog is the depth of the plots. Most of the episodes have some ethical dilemma that drives their characters. From a man questioning his faith in science to a woman who is pregnant with a bastard child while her husband is dying in a hospital,...
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MOVIE: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours It is comforting to know that the Marvel Cinematic Universe includes the universe. While most films in this ever-expanding movie multiverse take place on Earth, a few like Thor (2011) and Doctor Strange (2016) explore different realms but still tie back to Earth. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is different in that, almost immediately, Earth is left far behind in favor of alien worlds filled with fantastical creatures. Consequently, this film feels more like a sci-fi movie than a comic book flick. Considering how stagnant the superhero formula has become, this is a good thing. With almost no earthly constraints on it, Guardians of the Galaxy is practically indescribable, probably because it has everything. Comedy. Action. A talking raccoon. With a reasonably well-paced plot, this film excels in developing its diverse cast. These main characters each have their unique traits and little quirks that almost immediately made them amusing and endearing....
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BOOK: Warbreaker (2009)

Warbreaker Year: 2009 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 676 pages For the last few years, Brandon Sanderson’s name kept coming up amongst my writer friends. I had never heard of him, but they had been fans of his writing for some time. In my goal to read all the unread books I own, I found that I had obtained a Brandon Sanderson book many years ago as a prize during my first National Novel Writing Month. Even with the daunting page count, I decided to give Warbreaker a read. All I can say is that it was refreshing to finally read a fantasy book written by someone who genuinely knows what they’re doing. I’ve read a lot of books recently that I would consider “amateur,” but Sanderson proves he’s a professional in this tightly written book. From incredibly interesting and entertaining characters to expertly placed foreshadowing to a fascinating magic system, Warbreaker is fully original while also maintaining the tropes and structure of a high fantasy...
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BOOK: Armstrong and Charlie (2017)

Armstrong and Charlie Year: 2017 Author: Steven B. Frank Length: 304 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** With race relations where they are today, it’s almost somewhat jarring to know that things haven’t changed much in over four decades. In an attempt to educate the next generation about racism, Steven B. Frank’s Armstrong and Charlie is an excellent start. While I would like to think that race relations have improved since the mid-1970’s, there are plenty of lessons available in this book that are applicable today. Still, racism can be a two-way street, and I couldn’t help but think of the Avenue Q song, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” Beyond the obvious racial undertones to this book, Armstrong and Charlie is a fantastic book about growing up. Aimed at kids on the cusp of growing into adults, the book masterfully represents moments of peer pressure where the characters have to decide what the correct response should be. Not only does it have valuable lessons about lying, stealing, bullying, and...
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MOVIE: Alien (1979)

Alien Year: 1979 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours Science fiction in film has faced an uphill battle in terms of being taken seriously. Up until the late 1960’s, most sci-fi was low-budget, B-movie schlock more likely to be Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fodder than Oscar potential. This all changed in 1968 with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now that sci-fi could be considered art it took almost a decade for other films to capitalize on Kubrick’s groundbreaking work. Star Wars (1977) expanded on the special effects and made sci-fi a fun, action-filled ride. Regarding the horror aspect of sci-fi, Alien (1979) remains the founding film of these combined genres. Not only does Ridley Scott do a fantastic job directing this movie, in particular through the use of elaborate sets, puppetry, and just plain spectacular cinematography; but the fact that Alien has an incredibly strong female protagonist (Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley) puts it leagues ahead of its time in terms of character-driven plot....
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BOOK: Ender’s Game (1985)

Ender’s Game Year: 1985 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 380 pages In another “lapse” of my reading habits, I didn’t manage to read Ender’s Game until the movie of the same name came out in 2013. At the time, all the sci-fi fans were eagerly anticipating a film that had taken over 25 years to finally become a reality. While I thought the movie was quite well done and engaging, after I read the book, I can understand why some of the diehard fans of the series were disappointed. As is usually the case with book-to-movie transitions, sub-plots often find themselves on the cutting room floor. Of course, I don’t blame them for cutting what they did; after all, it is called Ender’s Game. Even though watching the movie first spoiled the exciting twist of the ending when I read the book, I almost read the book differently knowing how it would turn out. I could see the signs leading up to the shocking reveal,...
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MOVIE: Arrival (2016)

Arrival Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours Despite all the mindless action and sex that hits the big screen every year, every once in a while there comes a film that's a little more . . . cerebral. Arrival (2016) certainly fits this category. Not only do you really have to pay attention to what's happening in this film, it makes you question how we perceive our world as it is right now. Never before have I seen the topic of encountering alien life forms approached from such a realistic and logical way. It makes sense that we wouldn't be able to understand them, so the first step in establishing an understanding is to establish communication. Much like Christopher Nolan, who has done a number of great, "cerebral" films including Memento (2000), Inception (2010), and Interstellar (2014), I have recently come to appreciate the directorial talents of Denis Villeneuve. From his previous films like Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015), I've seen him deliver...
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MOVIE: La La Land (2016)

La La Land Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours In a world where people worship everything and value nothing, I have found that I value the many messages present within La La Land (2016). While simultaneously shining a harsh light on the hypocrisy of Hollywood and showing how our dreams and passions move us to make tough life decisions, I found myself deeply moved by the narrative presented within this film, not only as a lover of movies but as a creative artist myself. This film is for the dreamers. It's for the people who never give up in pursuing what they want out of life. It's for those who have a talent screaming to be noticed by others. Aside from literally being the best musical I've seen in nearly more than a decade (Chicago (2002) is the only recent one that comes to mind), what I found most impressive about this film is that it is only the second directed by Damien...
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MOVIE: The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

The Young Girls of Rochefort Year: 1967 Rating: G Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours I've seen quite a few musicals over the years, but practically all of them have been in English. That was until I saw The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) (AKA Les Demoiselles de Rochefort in its native French). It's interesting to watch something with subtitles and hear how the songs rhyme in their native tongue. Partly because of this, I have quickly come to the realization that this film is an instant favorite of mine. I mean, who could blame me with the catchy tunes and upbeat jazz stylings of this musical? Of course, in a musical like this, the colorful and fun festival atmosphere was merely accentuated by the continuous singing and dancing. It's almost ridiculous how much dancing there is in this film. Even the background characters are dancing when there's simple dialogue being spoken in the foreground. Perhaps the style of the late 1960's is partly to blame for the...
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BOOK: Psycho (1959)

Psycho Year: 1959 Author: Robert Bloch Length: 323 minutes / 5.38 hours Once again, I find that the source material on which a famous movie is based is equally as good and equally as famous. What strikes me as interesting is that the quick turn on some of these literary masterpieces from page to screen has largely remained unchanged. Gone with the Wind only took three years before its film debut, The Martian took four years, and Psycho only took one. Clearly, these stories are practically screaming to be made into movies, and most have done quite well as the cultural icons of their age. Of course, having already seen the film on which this book was based, I was well aware of the twist ending. Nevertheless, reading through this book was almost enhanced by this a priori knowledge as one would probably not have guessed the twist if they were reading it for the very first time. There are just little hints here and...
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BOOK: Paradime (2016)

Paradime Year: 2016 Author: Alan Glynn Length: 272 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** The first time I was introduced to Alan Glynn’s writing was through the film, Limitless (2011), which itself was based off his first novel, The Dark Fields. While I enjoyed the film for its visuals, what really struck me as interesting was the storytelling and characters Glynn created. Now fifteen years after his first standalone novel, Paradime continues to show Glynn’s talent in creating engaging plots and characters. Since I really enjoyed this book, I will do my best to review it without spoiling it for anyone. At its most simple level, Paradime is a modernized retelling of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, or at least half of it anyway. Told from the perspective of an out-of-work and out-of-luck cook, Danny Lynch, the pacing of each of the three acts is steady and intense. Even if some of Danny’s vocabulary seems a little advanced at times, he is...
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BOOK: Captain’s Share (2013)

Captain’s Share Year: 2013 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 420 pages Another book, another jump forward in time. While I do appreciate Lowell’s realism for how long it should take to gain enough experience to even be considered qualified enough to become a ship Captain, a lot can happen in ten years. Ishmael Wang has certainly matured into the role of Captain, even if some of his decision-making in his personal life is left lacking, especially considering how adept he was in Half Share. At least by the end of this book, some things are “back to normal” for him as he continues his meteoric rise through the ranks. In terms of plot, there was plenty of excitement in this entry of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series. Never before have I been so interested in the fate of a simple cargo delivery, let alone the ship that carried it. I haven’t been this attentive to an Estimated Time of Delivery since I ordered...
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MOVIE: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Year: 2013 Rating: PG Length: 114 minutes / 1.9 hours Let me start by saying that I was skeptical to go see this film, mainly because it starred Ben Stiller. Given his track record of “comedies,” I found myself avoiding his films just because I knew that they’d be crude and not the type of comedy I would enjoy. Much in the same way I was surprised by Will Ferrell in Stranger than Fiction (2006), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) was a pleasant surprise. I don’t know if it’s because he also directed this film, but I truly enjoyed it on many levels, both as a lover of movies and a lover of photography. The strength of this film lies in its imagery and presentation. The beauty of our world and the way it’s captured in the travels of a man coming out of his shell is truly inspiring. I can honestly say I haven’t seen a...
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MOVIE: The Martian (2015)

The Martian Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 144 minutes / 2.4 hours I, for one, am excited that space travel is now a topic regularly covered on the big screen. If the general public becomes even a little bit more interested in interplanetary travel, perhaps I can see man stand on the surface of Mars in my lifetime. The Martian (2015) is merely the latest in a string of space-themed sci-fi movies that brings the excitement of outer space to theaters. While not nearly as continually intense as Gravity (2013), or as epic as Interstellar (2014), what The Martian does right is give a sense of scale to the challenge of returning to Earth from being abandoned on Mars. Gripping and just humorous enough to keep it from being dour, director Ridely Scott uses many cinematic techniques, including several montages, to tell the story many have already read from Andy Weir's novel of the same name. While many sequences and scientific explanations were obviously cut for...
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BOOK: The Martian (2014)

The Martian Year: 2014 Author: Andy Weir Length: 387 pages What a world we live in! It's exciting to see a self-published book receive such attention, eventually becoming a New York Times bestseller! Truly, if a writer is talented enough with a good enough story, they can make it in this over-saturated market. And while some of my love for this book comes from my hopes of eventually being "discovered" as a self-published author, most of it comes from my love of scientific realism in fiction. Truly, this is more of a challenge than world-building in a fantasy genre, because in order for it to be believable, it must obey the laws of physics. But let's get down to brass tacks here. There is no doubt that Andy Weir did his homework on this book. In fact, some sections almost read like the output section of a very complicated spreadsheet (which I certainly appreciate, on a personal level). Even with the technical detail to keep...
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MOVIE: Dirty Harry (1971)

Dirty Harry Year: 1971 Rating: R Length: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours What makes an iconic film? Is it something that has memorable moments and catch phrases? Is it something that stands up against the test of time? Is it something that resonates with us on a deeper level? Whatever it is, I feel Dirty Harry (1971) is certainly an iconic film. Let's take a look at why this is the case. First off, there's the famous monologue about counting. "Do you feel lucky?" completes a tense moment that merely started with a detective's intuition that something was about to go down. But what make this early scene that much greater is the bookend it creates with the film's antagonist, Scorpio (Andy Robinson). This isn't even the only bookend this film has to offer, as the two deaths at either end of the movie end up being submerged in water. Secondly, while the 1970's seem quite different to our modern styles, something about the culture...
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MOVIE: The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours If there’s any more proof there aren’t any new ideas in Hollywood, it’s the fact that beloved animated classics are being remade as live-action films. Sometimes this works, but more often than not, the ploy to attract those nostalgic feelings from the audience fails, thus leaving the viewer with the sense that their childhood is ruined. I’m generally pretty hesitant of these types of films, mainly because part of me doesn’t want to admit that the original films sometimes weren’t that great. That being said, the latest in these adaptations, The Jungle Book (2016) certainly surprised me. Unlike some films like Maleficent (2014), which takes a different point of view from the main story of Sleeping Beauty (1959), and more like Cinderella (2015), which covers the same material as its predecessor, Cinderella (1950), The Jungle Book takes the main ideas from Rudyard Kipling’s book, via the animated interpretation of The Jungle Book...
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MOVIE: X-Men – Days of Future Past (2014)

X-Men: Days of Future Past Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours One of the more difficult plots to pull off in a film is that of the simultaneous prequel/sequel. Perhaps the most famous of this plotline is The Godfather: Part II (1974). However, I would argue that X-Men: Days of Future Past perfected it. Just like X-Men: First Class (2011) before it, Days of Future Past takes the retro stylings of its decade (this time the 1970’s) and places a plot intertwined with the well-known figures and events of the time. It also simultaneously puts the X-Men in a dire and hopeless situation in a distant future, thus driving the need to go into the past to fix the initial conditions that got them into this quandary. Plus, most of the film is driven by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), which just shows how vital he is to the series. In a return to form that was sorely missing in the previous two...
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