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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