MOVIE: Jack Reacher – Never Go Back (2016)

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours The follow-up sequel to Jack Reacher (2012), Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) is almost a warning to the audience in the title alone. I understand how a long-running book series like the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child is advantageous for the author by allowing the reader to pick up any book in the series and not need the background of the previous titles. However, with these self-encapsulated scenarios, Jack Reacher is probably better aligned with a television series than a series of movies. Not everyone can be the James Bond series, which has been able to get away with this for as long as it has. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the original Jack Reacher movie, as it seemed to channel the “man with no name” / high-plains drifter / Ronin style that was prevalent in Westerns and Samurai films. His skills and calm demeanor unquestionably imply military...
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MOVIE: Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours Look, I'm all for giving women a shot in traditionally male-focused franchises, but when all it boils down to is an application of "Rule 63," then I don't think we're doing these women justice. In this remake/reboot, the visuals and weapons get an upgrade, and that's about it. If they truly wanted to make a "Ghostbusters with women," then the characters shouldn't have been so interchangeable with the originals. I understand the need to maintain the parallels to the original, but these characters come off more like men in women's bodies than women who have their own, unique challenges and approaches to solving problems. If anything, Ghostbusters (2016) shows how extraordinary the comedy and special effects of the original Ghostbusters (1984) were. While the original usually earned its laughs with a wink, this remake had jokes that mostly relied upon awkward and uncomfortable situations or faux pas. I get that sometimes the improvisational nature of comedy can work for...
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BOOK: The Essex Serpent (2016)

The Essex Serpent Year: 2016 Author: Sarah Perry Length: 464 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** It’s been a while since I’ve read a book as profound as The Essex Serpent. Perhaps it’s because they don’t write books like this anymore. While written in the last few years, the style of The Essex Serpent is distinctly Victorian. It holds callbacks to the greats of gothic literature, including the physiological studies of Frankenstein and the back-and-forth letter writing of Dracula. All the while, the ever-present gloom of the muddy and foggy Essex shoreline hides the eponymous serpent just outside the reader’s view, providing anticipation of its reveal. Is the Essex Serpent real or is it a figment of so much imagination? Of course, in staying with the Victorian style, the book does suffer somewhat in readability. The vocabulary and description are certainly more voluminous than modern volumes, but my biggest qualm seems to be more along the lines of the seemingly endless talk that occurs in the first half of...
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BOOK: Soledad (2016)

Soledad Year: 2016 Author: D.L. Young Length: 245 pages This first book in the “Dark Republic” series is a prime example of the New Adult post-apocalyptic genre. I wouldn’t classify it as Young Adult due to the graphic nature of sex and violence, as well as the amount of obscenity peppering the dialogue. I’m not necessarily saying they’re bad things, as they help to define the world created by the author, it’s more that the audience should be prepared for these things. Even more to the point, the one sex scene present in this book was probably more along the lines of rape, even if it was a common element of the characters' backstories. Regardless of the content, the story in Soledad is compelling enough. Considering this is the first book in a series, the author spent almost the entirety of it exploring the three different factions present in post-apocalyptic Texas. While this was great for world-building, by the end of the book, little seemed to change...
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MOVIE: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours As someone who never fully immersed themselves in the Harry Potter fandom, this spin-off wasn't high on my "to watch" list. Sure, I liked the movies well enough for the continual narrative they provided (still haven't gotten to the books yet), and I understand that this parallel universe full of magic is a unique idea that hasn't been explored in this fashion, but this just seems like a tag-along to capitalize on a successful franchise. That's not to say that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) isn't good, it's just that it does require a bit of background knowledge in order to fully "get it." Partly because seeing wizardry and magic in the modern era might still seem odd, this throwback to the past is only made better by placing it in the United States. Both of these settings differ from the main Harry Potter franchise enough...
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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: Dark Matter (2016)

Dark Matter Year: 2016 Author: Blake Crouch Length: 608 minutes / 10.13 hours It seems to me that the multiverse is a popular topic in fiction today. Sure, there have been plenty of stories about parallel universes and the fractal branching of our decisions, but for some reason, there’s been an uptick in the number of these stories lately. Perhaps these stories are trying to find a better universe in which to live, or perhaps they’re trying to show us that the world we have could be much worse. Either way, Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter nails the multiverse plot by exploring all the different connotations of the ability to travel between parallel universes. Presented in a traditional, three-act narrative, Dark Matter thrusts its protagonist into another version of his reality, ripping him away from his idyllic life. Using quantum physics as a form of magical hand-waving, the narrative then turns to the main character’s relentless search for his original universe. While the result of this exploration fits nicely...
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MOVIE: Split (2016)

Split Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours For many years, M. Night Shyamalan’s directing career has been in continual decline. Many people, myself included, felt his groundbreaking work with The Sixth Sense (1999) was the peak of what he had to offer. Sure, Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002) were good movies that had their moments, but from that point onward, the films he made just got worse and worse. Although I have not seen it, 2015’s The Visit seemed to be a return to form for Shyamalan, indicating that his directing was no longer washed up. In Split (2017), we see that Shyamalan has been able to recapture the magic that made his previous films so memorable. The first thing I noticed in Split was the cinematography. The camera lets the audience see just enough to let them know that something is amiss, often preparing the viewer for an occasional jump scare. Secondly, James McAvoy’s performance was impeccable. Taking on the...
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BOOK: To the Sky Kingdom (2016)

To the Sky Kingdom Year: 2016 Author: Tang Qi Length: 460 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Many barriers prevent a smooth transition of an artistic from one language into another. In more visual mediums, like film and graphic novels, the language barrier is less of an issue because there are other cues the viewer is observing to help them make sense of what is going on. These visual cues are unfortunately absent from a written work, and thus the translated words are the only way the reader can interact with the original work. Add to this language barrier the vastly disparate cultures of the Chinese and the English (be it any of the English-speaking cultures), and you can start to understand why I did not finish reading To the Sky Kingdom. Over the years, I have developed a fairly thorough understanding of Japanese culture; but even though China is geographically close to Japan, their cultures are quite different. Consequently, I had trouble...
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BOOK: Stiletto (2016)

Stiletto Year: 2016 Author: Daniel O'Malley Length: 1,392 minutes / 23.20 hours I’ll be the first to admit that I like sequels. Or, more accurately, well-done sequels. While the first book in a series can be great by itself, it carries the burden of exposition and world-building. A good sequel gives a light refresher of the important points and gets right into the action. I would certainly consider Stiletto to be a well-done sequel to the first book in the Checquy Files series, The Rook. Not only does it expand upon the central conflict in the first book, but it throws in the twist of the warring factions of the Checquy and the Grafters coming together to form a truce. In making enemies into teammates, Daniel O'Malley shows the differences between them are almost superficial. The chess-based supernatural soldiers of the Checquy almost have the same strength of powers that the genetically and surgically enhanced members of the Grafters do. Since the whole plot usually...
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