MOVIE: A Separation (2011)

A Separation Year: 2011 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours Regardless of where you live on this planet, plenty of scenarios are just as likely to happen in Tehran as they are in Toledo. This is where A Separation (2011) pulls its strength. Set in a mostly modern Iran, A Separation is a series of dramatic twists that could probably happen to anyone. After all, tons of people have to deal with elderly parents with Alzheimer’s. There are plenty of divorces for trivial and non-trivial reasons. Good help is hard to find and even harder to afford. The combination of these things results in a gripping narrative that’s only given a distinctive Iranian flavor by its cultural limitations. If anything, A Separation shows how difficult it is to be a woman in a Muslim country. It’s not impossible, but certain limitations become evident when the strict religious rules of the Quoran come into play. It was nice to see a more liberal version...
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BOOK: Leviathan Wakes (2011)

Leviathan Wakes Year: 2011 Author: James S.A. Corey Length: 1,264 minutes / 21.07 hours For years, my co-worker has been suggesting that I read the Expanse series of books. Before I finally got around to the audiobook for Leviathan Wakes, I took a slight shortcut and watched the television series on Amazon. This came in handy because I was able to pick up this book and immediately be able to visualize what was happening and who the characters were. Sure, the actors cast in the show are slightly different from their literary counterparts. Still, overall there was a lot in this book that I had already experienced with the television show. I will applaud this book for being a hard science fiction story, but not shoving the calculations in the reader’s face. Sure, The Martian did an excellent job of explaining all the scientific challenges of interplanetary travel. However, Leviathan Wakes took this a step further and created a universe that’s still controlled by the...
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VIDEO GAME: Mario Kart 7 (2011)

Mario Kart 7 Year: 2011 Rating: E Time Played: 2.35 hours One of the challenges of long-running series like Mario Kart is how to maintain the core gameplay mechanic while also continuing to innovate. Previous iterations in the franchise played with having two characters in a Kart (Double Dash on the Gamecube) before reverting to the traditional formula (Mario Kart Wii). Furthermore, with the limitations present in portable and handheld consoles, there’s a point where the experience isn’t quite the same as it would be on a television screen. Fortunately, Mario Kart 7 seems to have struck a good balance between new ideas and embracing nostalgia. Even if I didn’t use the online mode for racing against other individuals (one of the core attractions of the Mario Kart series), I did find that each race in Mario Kart 7 was just long enough for me to play through in a single sitting. If I had more time, the option to race through a series of...
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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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BOOK: Micro (2011)

Micro Year: 2011 Author: Michael Crichton and Richard Preston Length: 833 minutes / 13.88 hours I liked Michael Crichton’s writing. And what I mean by this is that I liked Jurassic Park (and to a lesser extent, The Lost World). Recently, I’ve been delving into a few of his other works, like Timeline and Micro. I understand that authors like Crichton excel in their genre—in this case, the technological thriller—but at what point does it just become the same old song and dance? Sure, I know a different author completed Micro and released posthumously. However, it mostly just felt like another re-hash of Jurassic Park mixed with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989). To Crichton’s credit, I feel his exploration of complex scientific principles in his writing are easy to understand and mostly accurate. For Micro, each bit of information that drove the plot seemed to make sense from a scientific standpoint. This was a plus considering how often the “shrink ray” sci-fi trope is...
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BOOK: Ganymede (2011)

Ganymede Year: 2011 Author: Cherie Priest Length: 729 minutes / 12.15 hours Now that I’ve read the first three books in the Clockwork Century series, any hope I had of some cohesive narrative is essentially gone. While following a new character for each book helps to provide a different setting of the steampunk alternate universe, when I know these characters won’t matter outside their own books, I kind of stop caring about them. Even previous heroines are relegated to cameo and minor character status as the persistent series of somewhat pointless events drags on. And don’t even get me started on the zombies, which are a distraction to any actual story in my opinion. I think the main problem I have with these books is the fact that things happen without much lead-up or foreshadowing. Sure, there are some fascinating factors involved with making a submarine work in the Civil War era, but the resulting battle and conclusion went exactly as I expected them to. This isn’t...
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BOOK: The Death Cure (2011)

The Death Cure Year: 2011 Author: James Dashner Length: 535 minutes / 8.91 hours If ever there was proof that not every book should have a trilogy, it’s The Death Cure. Sure, The Maze Runner was an interesting concept, but it brought up a lot of questions. None of these questions were answered by the end of the series since most of the focus was on random action sequences rarely driven by the main characters’ actions. If action wasn’t the focus, then the loose and unbelievable “love triangle” certainly was. In the end, I had no connection to the characters, which was why I was mostly unaffected by some of their deaths. The real problem with The Death Cure (as well as its predecessor, The Scorch Trials), is how much “fluff” is in the story. The Maze Runner worked because there was a concrete objective: escape the maze. In the two books that followed, what was the goal? Was it to defeat WICKED? If it...
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BOOK: A Boy and His Bot (2011)

A Boy and His Bot Year: 2011 Author: Daniel H. Wilson Length: 280 minutes / 4.67 hours Daniel H. Wilson knows how to write about robots. From How to Survive a Robot Uprising to Robopocalypse, he has taken the same material and re-packaged it in different forms. The tongue-in-cheek “guide” of How to Survive a Robot Uprising was more entertaining than the journal-entry styled Robopocalypse, but mostly because of its humor. In A Boy and His Bot, Wilson takes his knowledge of robots and wraps it in a children’s fantasy book. Somehow, this method worked better than the two books I’ve already mentioned, leaving me entertained and educated, but with a sincerity of story that was heartwarming. Taking cues from works like The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland, A Boy and His Bot immerses the reader in a world entirely comprised of robots. Via the stranger-in-a-strange-land approach, this book explores the many characteristics and traits that make robots different from humans. Often, these quirky characters have a lesson about robotics embedded within...
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BOOK: Robopocalypse (2011)

Robopocalypse Year: 2011 Author: Daniel H. Wilson Length: 759 minutes / 12.65 hours With the ever-increasing proliferation of “smart” technology throughout our society, the thought of a robot uprising remains fixed in the back of our minds. Since the introduction of the concept of robots decades ago, humans have feared their uprising to usurp us as the dominant sentient beings on our planet. Now, as we rely on our computers, smartphones, and connected devices to help run our lives, the threat of a full-on apocalypse resulting from their sentience seems more possible than ever. Author Daniel H. Wilson has certainly done his research on the “what if” scenario of a robot apocalypse (or the titular Robopocalypse, if you will). He manages to build the progression of a robot-themed doomsday scenario from the machines we know and use today. Many of the machines’ decisions and strategic moves mostly make sense. That being said, I did have a few issues with the book and its structure. First...
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BOOK: The Fifth Witness (2011)

The Fifth Witness Year: 2011 Author: Michael Connelly Length: 836 minutes / 13.93 hours In the fourth installment of The Lincoln Lawyer series, The Fifth Witness follows Mickey Haller as he navigates another murder trial. This time, the real scenario of the foreclosure crisis is brought in to help set the stage for the trial. Using a historical event like this helped to bring the story together in a way that felt more real and relatable than the previous entries in the series. Most Americans I know who were affected by the housing market crash would certainly be entertained by this story of corruption and underhanded dealings, if for no other reason than to justify how screwed up the system is. Gone from this part of the series is detective Harry Bosch, who I felt distracted from the main storyline centering around Mickey Haller and his court battle in the previous two books of this series. This time, it’s all Mickey. What helped to make...
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MOVIE: X-Men – First Class (2011)

X-Men: First Class Year: 2011 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours While prequels always hold the distinction of being the one type of movie that you know how it will end, seeing how they get there is certainly entertaining. Much like the Star Wars prequels gave us a point before the original trilogy to learn more about the background of the characters, the X-Men prequels manage to do this, but with a much better result. My only major qualm with prequel trilogies is that, while the mainstays of the franchise were there in terms of characters, the only ones who maintained their actor from the first set of movies were relegated to cameo appearances. This is only heightened by my opinion that the original X-Men trilogy’s cast was perfect in almost every way. That being said, with the prequel trilogy now complete, the younger cast has definitely grown on me as well, James McAvoy’s Xavier being my favorite of the prequel group. Because X-Men: First...
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