BOOK: Welcome to the Monkey House (1968)

Welcome to the Monkey House Year: 1968 Author: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Length: 686 minutes / 11.43 hours Much like short story anthologies by a single author (see Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors and Ray Bradbury’s The Golden Apples of the Sun), Welcome to the Monkey House is both quintessentially a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s biting wit and satire as well as an exploration of other genres not often associated with Vonnegut’s style. Fans of Vonnegut will likely have already read some of these short stories (like “EPICAC” and “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”), but some of the other stories might have been missed and for a good reason. Overall, Welcome to the Monkey House is a fantastic set of stories, but a few of them fail to have the impact to make them memorable. Granted, these stories are few and far between, and help to break up the well-written social commentaries presented in “Harrison Bergeron” and the titular “Welcome to the Monkey House.” Vonnegut’s ability to show the slippery slope of such...
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MOVIE: Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours If there was one thing this movie excelled in, it was the advertising leading up to its release. I saw video ads on Facebook, trailers on television, and all sorts of viral marketing. Consequently, while the film looked neat, I didn't really know what it was about. Fast forward to months later when it arrived at the cheap theater in town and I decided to go see it. Within the first few minutes, I was somewhat surprised to learn that this movie was based on an obscure comic book series. Not that this really surprises me any longer. Sure, the superhero comics are bringing in big money at the box office, but the more "adult" comics (also sometimes known as "graphic novels") have been seeping in over the years as well, in part due to adaptations like V for Vendetta (2005) and Watchmen (2009). Even in this year alone, we've seen Valerian and Laureline adapted...
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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: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours When it comes to the films of Luc Besson, it’s often hit or miss. Sure, he’s directed many successful films, like Nikita (1990) and Léon: The Professional (1994), but some of his recent fare like The Family (2013) have left me disappointed. One of his best films is the sci-fi space opera (literally, even), The Fifth Element (1997). When I learned that he would be returning to this genre with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017), I certainly had high hopes for it. After viewing it for the first time, I can unquestionably say that my expectations were certainly met. Because Valerian has a French comic book series as its source, some of my qualms with this film might lie with the source material, and not the director. Some may recall the originality that came from another French comic book adaptation in the form of...
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BOOK: Napoleon’s Glass (2017)

Napoleon’s Glass Year: 2017 Author: Gillian Ingall Length: 308 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** While I received this book from the same publisher as Cale Dixon and the Moguk Murders and The Women of Cho: Heart and Seoul, I wasn't expecting anything good. However, I can attest that the author’s note at the beginning about how many people helped her edit this piece of historical fiction merely shows that the book could have just as easily been self-published. Sure, there are still a smattering of proofreading errors, and the punctuation seemed to be consistently lacking or against the American style I’m used to (It should be double quotes for all dialogue, in my opinion), but the story itself is quite solid. Put in the framework of a series of letters from a French noblewoman, Napoleon’s Glass puts a personal spin on the events of the downfall of Napoleon’s empire at the hands of the Russians, as well as other European turmoil that happened afterward. Despite some episodes being...
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BOOK: The Scorch Trials (2010)

The Scorch Trials Year: 2010 Author: James Dashner Length: 623 minutes / 10.38 hours As I read The Maze Runner, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that the story was meant for a video game instead of a novel. The Scorch Trials merely confirms my suspicions. I mean, who in their right mind would acronym their organization with WICKED? While the first book in this series had a pretty straightforward goal (escape the maze), the sequel made no sense whatsoever. OK, these kids escaped the maze, but then what? The idea of traveling to the “safe haven” seemed to come so late in the plot that it almost felt like an afterthought. Concerning the characters, the main ones are still there, but so many of the ancillary minor characters are so forgettable as to be practically useless. Brenda was added into the mix merely to elicit a “love triangle” between the two love interests of the first book, but it just felt forced . . . like everything...
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MOVIE: Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours Part of me wishes that the title of this film were true. What I wouldn’t give to have these dead men not tell their tale of revenge. That being said, I had some hopes that this movie would help redeem the franchise after the lackluster On Stranger Tides (2011). After all, Javier Bardem has proven to be an effective villain in such films as No Country for Old Men (2007) and Skyfall (2012), so I thought he could help carry this movie as a solid antagonist. Unfortunately, even he could not save this sinking ship of a franchise. The main problem with Dead Men Tell No Tales is that it feels rote and uninspired. Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow feels more lucky than actually talented at pirating. Granted, that was some of his charm in the previous films, but not all of it. Add to this a...
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BOOK: The Women of Cho – Heart and Seoul (2016)

The Women of Cho: Heart and Seoul Year: 2016 Author: David C. Dagley Length: 294 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** Did you know that this book was the sequel to Cale Dixon and the Moguk Murders? Of course not. Once again, Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Co. (SBPRA) has put out another sub par book that has numerous mistakes that should have been caught by a legitimate publisher. Almost all of the same qualms I had with Cale Dixon and the Moguk Murders are back, but now there’s a host of new problems. From the unreadable cover containing a collection of fonts and almost random images to the constant peppering of basic homophone errors in the text itself, The Women of Cho: Heart and Seoul is merely a cash-grab by a publishing company that does nothing but release unpolished manuscripts. I actually started reading this book before its predecessor, mainly because the individual who contacted me from SBPRA said that it had little...
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BOOK: The Maze Runner (2009)

The Maze Runner Year: 2009 Author: James Dashner Length: 650 minutes / 10.83 hours Partly due to the success of The Hunger Games, the Young Adult genre swerved into the survival/sci-fi/dystopian genres that also allowed The Maze Runner to have a ready and willing audience. With this being the case, I’d almost say The Maze Runner has more utopian sensibilities since the narrative encourages teamwork for survival, instead of a “winner take all” emphasis presented in The Hunger Games that valued selfish ambitions over communistic altruism. Plus, if you put 50 teenage boys in a box with no adult supervision, I think the logical conclusion would be more along the lines of Lord of the Flies instead of solving a deadly maze. While the premise was interesting and allowed for a constant and steady pacing of inciting events, I felt there was not enough explanation in this first part of the trilogy, with very few questions being answered by the end and a lot of hand-waving to push the characters forward to a conclusion....
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