MOVIE: Isle of Dogs (2018)

Isle of Dogs Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours A few years ago, I got on a Wes Anderson kick. I practically watched his entire filmography to that point in one long binge-worthy day. After catching up, I felt I truly appreciated his quirky, orthogonal cinematography and deeply complex characters. I’ve essentially been a fan of his since Moonrise Kingdom (2012), so I was looking forward to his latest work, Isle of Dogs(2018). After all, he had proven his skill at stop-motion animation with The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and had received nominations for Best Picture and Best Director for The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) since then. Unfortunately, while Isle of Dogs carries Anderson’s distinct style and charm, it felt a little watered down. Sure, the shots were full of their beauty and symmetry, and the story had its cute moments, but it mostly felt like he was on autopilot. Maybe the PG-13 rating was holding him back? I don’t know. In most fiction, there is a suspension of disbelief,...
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BOOK: Spinning Silver (2018)

Spinning Silver Year: 2018 Author: Naomi Novik Length: 434 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** About seven years ago, there seemed to be a renaissance of fairy tale retellings and reimagining that swept through popular culture. From television shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm to movies like Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and Mirror Mirror (2012) to the books of Melanie Dickerson, it seemed that wherever you turned, you could find someone’s different take on classic fairy tales. While perhaps a little outside this bubble of pop culture, Spinning Silver has the benefit of standing out in a field of genre books that seems to have cooled in recent years. Based partially on the story of Rumpelstiltskin, author Naomi Novik has masterfully combined elements of Jewish and Russian folklore to reimagine this story from a somewhat more modern perspective while also maintaining its fairytale settings and tropes. If anything, her strong and independent female characters highlight how chauvinistic the original fairy tales seem when compared to the culture we’re living in...
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BOOK: The Long Earth (2012)

The Long Earth Year: 2012 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 691 minutes / 11.52 hours Having read a few of Sir Terry Pratchett’s books before, I am no stranger to the randomness of his writing style. Usually, he has some character or object that just doesn’t fit in a normal narrative, but he manages to work it in with an explanation that’s both natural and makes sense. However, this only works if Pratchett has control over the entire story. Unfortunately, as is the case in The Long Earth, the randomness that Pratchett brings to the table sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the mostly sci-fi story. For instance, does an artificial intelligence have to be a reincarnated Tibetan motorcycle repairman? If you want to take the story seriously, probably not. In the end, this book seems to be mostly written by Stephen Baxter, with only a smattering of Pratchett’s charm thrown in occasionally for levity. I haven’t read any of...
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MOVIE: Deadpool 2 (2018)

Deadpool 2 Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours At what point does the fourth wall stop? I only ask this because there’s a point where an audience member will have to know not only the plot of the film that started the franchise, but the subsequent reactions to the film, the complete history of comic books, and the entirety of the lyrics to Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Major-General’s Song” to understand the references. While Deadpool (2016) maintained that sly balance between knowing winks to the superhero genre as a whole and being an actual superhero film, Deadpool 2 (2018) almost went toward both extreme ends in order to maintain its balance. There were plenty of references and little sight gags that will leave true fans of the franchise pausing their Blu-rays for years to come, and I certainly did appreciate some of the meta-humor, but only to a point. Strangely enough, Deadpool 2 felt more like a superhero film than its predecessor, which seems odd as it...
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BOOK: Pebble in the Sky (1950)

Pebble in the Sky Year: 1950 Author: Isaac Asimov Length: 487 minutes / 8.12 hours As I pulled together some of the information for this review, I became aware that Pebble in the Sky was Isaac Asimov’s first novel. To be honest, that explains a lot. I’d read a few Asimov books before—I, Robot being a personal favorite—so I was a little disappointed with this story. If anything, it showed Asimov’s potential for bigger and better stories, or at least stories that were a little more focused. As it is, Pebble in the Sky provided the groundwork for prequels and some of Asimov’s best writing, but it remains fairly rough in comparison. Some of the ideas in Pebble in the Sky are certainly noteworthy, including an age limit for humans and telepathic abilities. We also see here the ability of science fiction to address social issues as well. In this case, racism was the topic du jour, which was definitely in the early edges of revolution in 1950. And yet, the political commentary...
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MOVIE: Rampage (2018)

Rampage Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours I didn’t go into this movie expecting much, and it still disappointed me. Seems like every time some Hollywood studio gets their hands on a video game franchise and decides to turn it into a movie, this is the kind of thing we get. I wouldn’t be so mad about it except that nothing in this film seems anywhere close to original at all. In fact, it seems to be cobbled together from summer movie blockbuster clichés and tropes, almost like a CGI-heavy Frankenstein. What’s probably worse is that it could have been somewhat passable if it held to the source material. There’s a weird kind of disconnect when a movie like Rampage (2018) has an actual arcade cabinet of the game it’s based on in the background of the corporate penthouse suite. Like, did they do this genetic-engineering research and name it “Rampage,” fully knowing that they’d create the exact creatures from the game? In any case,...
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BOOK: Wish Upon a Sleepover (2018)

Wish Upon a Sleepover Year: 2018 Author: Suzanne Selfors Length: 208 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While the story of “stone soup” has been around for a long time, and traversed many cultures, apparently it needed another re-telling in the form of this book. Wish Upon a Sleepover is a pretty standard middle-grade book that seeks to teach a number of lessons about judging others while managing to create some interesting characters with unique and modern quirks. It is through these characters—and not necessarily the primary protagonist—that any child who decides to read this book can learn how to interact with others. The irony is that the central protagonist is probably better described as the antagonist of the story. Even though this book is stated as being appropriate from children from grades 3 to 7, as a result of this somewhat broad range of ages, it seems to be more geared toward the low end of the range, while having characters from the upper...
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BOOK: Piercing the Darkness (1989)

Piercing the Darkness Year: 1989 Author: Frank Peretti Length: 1,250 minutes / 20.83 hours It’s weird how something that was done so well the first time loses all its magic during a sequel. I absolutely loved This Present Darkness, as I felt it accurately captured the invisible war of the spiritual world while also providing a gripping thriller in the human realm to keep the action moving forward. I was not impressed with the follow-up book, Piercing the Darkness. If it was a separate story with separate characters, I might have gotten into it more, but as it is, the tie-in to the first book seemed sloppy and almost unnecessary. Almost every part of This Present Darkness that I thought was amazing seemed copied into Piercing the Darkness, but without the stakes or “oomph” to make the plot even semi-interesting. I think the reason for this was that most of the subtlety was gone from the characters. It’s a little more terrifying when you learn that normal, everyday people are...
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MOVIE: The Disaster Artist (2017)

The Disaster Artist Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Having seen a few snippets of The Room (2003) via reactionary and review videos, I have become somewhat familiar with how bad the film is without having to sit through all of it. In The Disaster Artist (2017), we get to see what led to this “worst movie ever made.” There’s a lot of lore and memes that have come out of The Room over the years, but the simple fact of the matter is that most serious Hollywood types probably couldn’t create a movie this bad if they had tried (and many certainly do so unwittingly every year). While James Franco is almost eerily on-point of his portrayal of director/writer/actor Johnny Wiseau, the recreation of specific scenes and setups from The Room isn’t nearly as impressive as I think the makers of The Disaster Artist realize. The side-to-side comparison during the credits was startling in the amount of accuracy, but it’s also not too challenging to recreate a film that seemed...
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BOOK: The City of Brass (2017)

The City of Brass Year: 2017 Author: S.A. Chakraborty Length: 533 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** In S.A. Chakraborty’s debut novel, The City of Brass, we find some of the standard tropes that seem to be the foundation of the Young Adult genre. There are snippets of works like Harry Potter and Twilight that seem to leak through, their influences helping to shape the world that the author has created. However, while some of these tropes might be tired in any other setting, they are used to great effect here, as the author has created something grounded in culture and traditions that helps to enhance the fantasy world that lies just beyond our own. While I did enjoy reading this book overall, there were a few weaknesses. The start of the story was action-packed and hooked me right from the get-go, but then the section leading up to the second half of the plot seemed to be bogged down with lots of exposition and world-building. It also...
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