MOVIE: The Founder (2016)

The FounderYear: 2016Rating: PG-13Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours I hate to admit it, but many of these biopics about successful individuals all come off as the same story. Some down-on-his-luck guy stumbles across an idea that he steals (or has stolen from him) and makes his own to enormous success, betraying his friends and family along the way. We saw it in The Social Network (2010), Jobs (2013), Joy (2015), and The Greatest Showman (2017). The Founder (2016) is just another in this almost cookie-cutter genre that covers the origins of the McDonald corporation we know today. That’s not to say that The Founder isn’t entertaining. As an engineer, I was fascinated at how the McDonald brothers were able to be successful by creating efficiencies and eliminating waste in the process of selling hamburgers and other fast food. The trick is that the titular character, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), is half protagonist (the one you want to root for) and half...
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BOOK: Cartwright’s Cavaliers (2016)

Cartwright’s Cavaliers Year: 2016 Author: Mark Wandrey Length: 473 pages I don’t generally read military sci-fi, but I picked this book up for free and thought I’d give it a try. Cartwright’s Cavaliers certainly has its strengths. The action sequences are well-described, and the origin story of the main character was a unique setup that seems like it would be uncommon in the military sci-fi genre. That being said, Cartwright’s Cavaliers has a strong start but bumbles along to the point of being cringe-inducing by the end. It’s unfortunate, considering how it could have been better if it had stuck to some of the more common tropes of the genre instead of focusing on a (mostly) unlikeable protagonist. Aside from a sprinkling of typos and proofreading errors, my main qualm with this book is the main character: Jim Cartwright. About one-third of the way through the book, he is revealed to be a fan of an animated series that was popular with men of his...
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BOOK: The Obelisk Gate (2016)

The Obelisk Gate Year: 2016 Author: N.K. Jemisin Length: 799 minutes / 13.32 hours I’ll admit that reading The Fifth Season had a bit of a learning curve for the Broken Earth series. Not only did I have to learn about the vastly powerful magic system based on rocks (and other rock forms), but I had to get used to a second-person point of view (POV). Jumping between timelines with similar characters who had different names was a bit confusing, but I was able to figure it out by the end. Fast forward to the sequel, The Obelisk Gate, and most of my qualms with the first book were smoothed over or solved outright. One of the things I enjoyed about The Obelisk Gate was the increase in the scale of the magic system. Including the moon in these calculations makes perfect sense considering the nature of the orogeny magic. I also appreciated how the story seemed to focus on a single POV, which made...
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BOOK: Weapons of Math Destruction (2016)

Weapons of Math Destruction Year: 2016 Author: Cathy O’Neil Length: 383 minutes / 6.38 hours I love data. I love what it can show us as individuals and what it can show as society changes from year to year. Being able to trend my spending is just as useful to me as knowing how many people are participating in my National Novel Writing Month region. Because I’m always interested in seeing what pure numbers can show me about the world, I was intrigued to find this book, Weapons of Math Destruction. While I had already heard many of this book’s conclusions, it was interesting to read about the algorithms that work silently behind the scenes of our society and how nobody can really control or change them. I’ll agree that it’s terrifying to have decision-making boiled down to a number popped out of an algorithm that decision-makers just blindly trust without understanding the rules of causality or correlation. People are messy, so I understand how finding...
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BOOK: Sleeping Giants (2016)

Sleeping Giants Year: 2016 Author: Sylvain Neuvel Length: 307 pages After my slight disappointment with Mecha Samurai Empire, I was pleased to find that a book that actually knows how to do "mecha" right already existed years before Mecha Samurai Empire was released. Taking a somewhat unique approach in its narrative structure, Sleeping Giants uses a series of interview transcripts to tell the story of discovering the parts of an ancient, giant robot and learning how to pilot this unique piece of equipment. There aren't any dialogue tags. There aren't any direct action sequences. There are just words describing the events as they happened. Somehow, it totally works. I seriously couldn't get enough of this book and basically devoured every word. I was a little disappointed with the semi-cliffhanger ending, though. Just as everything was starting to finally come together, it just kind of ends. Sure, many of the large plot movements reached a momentary conclusion but now I really want to know what happens...
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VIDEO GAME: Owlboy (2018)

Owlboy Year: 2018 Rating: E10 Time Spent: 5+ hours I had seen a video of some Owlboy gameplay a while ago that made the game look interesting enough to buy. The retro 16-bit-style graphics were what drew me to this adventure platformer. Now that I’ve played through it, I found it to be somewhat…disappointing. Sure, the visuals are quite striking, and each location certainly has some elemental charm to it. Additionally, the story is relatively simple but also charming in its own way. In the end, though, I don’t think I’ll give this game an additional playthrough. This is mostly because—without trying—I collected almost everything in the game in my first go. First off, this was a fairly short game, which I should come to expect from independent game developers. After all, Cave Story and Undertale weren’t terribly long, but perhaps I’ve been spoiled by games like Hollow Knight. Secondly, even up until the last boss, I could never quite get the hang of the...
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MOVIE: The Accountant (2016)

The Accountant Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours When this movie came out a few years ago, I missed watching it because it seemed like just another generic action-spy film. Sure, the main character might be smart, leading to his professional “skills” (in more than one realm), but the trailers never really hinted at the reason for this attention to detail. Having now seen it, The Accountant takes an interesting approach to the action-spy genre while also including a number of twists that were as satisfying to figure out ahead of time as they were to see revealed on the screen. I will say that the plot of The Accountant was sometimes confusing, but only because I felt like they glossed over some plot holes and leaps in logic. Even if I was asking myself, “Hey, what about . . . ?” I didn’t have much time to dwell on it. The somewhat frenetic pacing of the movie helped to push the plot forward to...
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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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BOOK: The Captain’s Kid (2016)

The Captain's Kid Year: 2016 Author: Liz Coley Length: 352 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** With today's Young Adult genre overtaken by books not appropriate for young adults, it's refreshing to read a book that not only has content for teenagers but realistic teenage characters as well. These are the characters dealing with their first foray into independence and finding their identity separate from that of their parents. Each of these individuals has their strengths and weaknesses, and it's in recognition of these assets and liabilities that they start to realize their true potential in life. The fact that the setting takes place in outer space is simply to keep the reader engaged with the plot. Regarding the science behind the plot, the author seems to have done her research. At a cursory glance, all the elements that come together to create the main thrust of the plot all make sense, and all add to each other to make a believable situation. From microgravity...
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BOOK: Tier One (2016)

Tier One Year: 2016 Author: Brian Andrews & Jeffrey Wilson Length: 402 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While violence, action, and excitement fill stories involving tactical military operations, one element of these stories that adds realism can also alienate unknowledgeable readers: jargon. I am fortunate to know enough of the terms and acronyms from my day job, but if a story like this needs an acronym and definitions list in the back, I can see it being difficult to get into for the casual reader. They might be able to push through it and make assumptions on what’s happening, but following the discussions helps the reader to understand the level of importance for each action. Of course, in this post-9/11 world, Islam has now taken the role of stereotypical “bad guy” that used to be held by the Nazis. I’m almost surprised by how many antagonists are Muslim in the books I read. From apocalyptic stories like Dark Ages: 2020 to science fiction novels...
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MOVIE: Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours Based on the surprise win of Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, I had high expectations for Moonlight (2016). There were some fantastic, motivational, and inspirational films in the running for this award, including the “follow your dreams” story of La La Land (2016), the “communication is key” story of Arrival (2016), and the “overcoming adversity” story of Hidden Figures (2016). So, what did Moonlight have to offer? In my opinion, not much; but maybe that was because I’m a straight white (you could argue, privileged) male and there was little to relate to in this film. Sure, the cinematography was impressive at times, but there wasn’t any story that I felt was impactful enough to warrant its award. I will give credit to Mahershala Ali, as his performance was certainly deserving of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. So, what lessons does Moonlight give us? Do we need to find good mentors in life?...
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BOOK: The Ares Weapon (2016)

The Ares Weapon Year: 2016 Author: D.M. Pruden Length: 268 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** The sci-fi genre is interesting in that it has almost limitless possibilities, but the physics of our universe usually constrains the stories, so they are at least somewhat believable. As a result, and in part due to our past and current space-travel capabilities, the genre has become rather stale. Unfortunately, this is also because a few franchises dominate the landscape and any work that seems similar to it are deemed derivative. Consequently, I have read a number of almost interchangeable sci-fi stories, and The Ares Weapon is just one of them. While the occasional proofreading or formatting error is distracting in this story, much of my qualms lie with the characters’ decisions and motivations. Instead of making sense, the decisions sometimes seem to merely exist only to move the plot along to a pre-determined path the author wanted to take. Similarly, the motivations don’t seem to make...
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MOVIE: Fences (2016)

Fences Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours Before going into this film, I knew it was based on a play of the same name. Of course, even if I didn't know this, I could have told you it was based on a play. Perhaps that's what kept bugging me throughout this movie: it was clearly a play. I could see in my mind's eye how it would look on the stage, which wasn't helped by the actors' cadence and almost continual monologues. If I wanted to see this as a play, I'd see it as a play; I watch a movie to get a more well-rounded experience. So, aside from this film being an almost direct adaptation of the play it's based on, the next thing that caught my attention was how many tropes were contained in the plot. Honestly, with topics like mental health, marital infidelity, inter-generational conflict, and death, the plot didn't seem that original to me at all....
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BOOK: The Infinite Lawman (2016)

The Infinite Lawman Year: 2016 Author: E.M. Lockaby Length: 380 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I do have to admit that the cross-genre Cyberpunk/Western novel, The Infinite Lawman was an interesting idea. I hadn't seen these two genres combined before, so the combination certainly had an original feel to it, at least initially. There were certainly a few moments where some of its sources showed themselves, but the strength and pace of the story helped to alleviate these concerns. Although, if this is the first book in a series, I'm not entirely sure where it can go from here. Before I get any further into my review, I did find it odd that the margins were so enormous on this book. The page numbers were also all on the same side of each page (in the gutter for the left-hand pages), and the font was quite small (so as to fit in the small space provided by the enormous margins). I can only assume...
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MOVIE: Passengers (2016)

Passengers Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours I have to admit that the plot presented in the trailers of this movie intrigued me. However, in its execution, Passengers (2016) left much to be desired. Of course, this was mostly due to the film using just enough “physics speak” to be partially accurate, but incredibly wrong. Those parts stuck out to me in this movie and I kept scratching my head while watching it and saying, “Wait a minute . . .” That being said, not all of Passengers was bad, just a pretty big chunk of it. I did appreciate the moral conundrum that Jim (Chris Pratt) encountered in the movie’s first act. It did add a bit of predictable drama to the characters, but depicting his struggle highlighted his humanity. In this plot with a clear three-act structure, this first act was the highlight that eventually devolved into a ridiculous setup for the final reveal. With each new character introduced,...
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MOVIE: Moana (2016)

Moana Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Let's get one thing straight: computers are incredible. Each successive year that passes, I find my eyes blown away at the amazing capabilities of computers to create the kind of imagery found in movies like this. From hair and water effects to some of the more supernatural aspects, the visuals of this film are quite commendable. Sure, Zootopia (2016) looked good too, but since its characters weren't human or in a "human" environment, it was difficult to see just how amazing the visuals could be. But this was likely due to Zootopia having more focus on an interesting plot instead of stunning effects. I am impressed that Disney has taken the leap to another non-white "princess" with Moana, but much of the cliche trappings of this type of film are out in full force. If I were to tell you Disney made a coming-of-age movie featuring the main character with an animal sidekick, a mute...
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BOOK: Dragon Airways (2016)

Dragon Airways Year: 2016 Author: Brian Rathbone Length: 202 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** A book filled with equal parts fantasy and steampunk, Dragon Airways delivers on the promise of flying the skies on the back of a dragon. Brian Rathbone does an expert job of fusing diesel engines and magic stones in this exciting story. Not only is the setting interesting, but most of the characters are quite engaging as well. Because of this, Dragon Airways was a pleasure to read, and I voraciously read every page that was available to me. While I did thoroughly enjoy reading this book, there were a few things that made it a little difficult to follow along. First, some of the minor characters weren't that well-developed (or non-existent after the first few chapters), which made it difficult to know who they were, especially when some of them had multiple names and titles assigned to them. Secondly, I minimally understood the layout of the world...
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MOVIE: Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Manchester by the Sea Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours Part of the trouble with the reputation of a film preceding it is the film rarely lives up to the hype. At least, that has been my experience. If I go into a movie with my own idea of what it will be and the movie delivers, I feel it is a good movie. However, if my idea of the movie is skewed based on what I’ve heard about it, then I might be disappointed if it doesn’t match what I was expecting. This is why I’ll likely watch a trailer for a film, but I won’t read any reviews of it until I’ve already seen it. For Amazon’s successful foray into filmmaking, part of me expected a lot out of Manchester by the Sea (2016). After all, they don’t necessarily have to ascribe to the same processes and procedures that hold down other production companies. Add to this my impression...
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MOVIE: Hell or High Water (2016)

Hell or High Water Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours It's interesting to me to see how the current social climate in this country can mold a film into a Best Picture Oscar nominee. I've probably seen this same scenario a number of different times, but the reasoning behind it is what brings Hell or High Water (2016) into a different category. There have been tons of heist films, and often the robbers have a tight connection, like that of brothers. Heck, The Blues Brothers (1980) essentially did the same basic plot but with "putting the band back together" as their way of "saving the ranch." Partly because this film seemed so quintessentially Texas, I couldn't help thinking it was a toned down version of another Best Picture Oscar winner No Country for Old Men (2007). With last year's Best Picture Oscar nominee, The Big Short (2015), showing how many honest Americans were swindled by the greed of banks, it's no wonder that...
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BOOK: Opaque (2016)

Opaque Year: 2016 Author: Calix Leigh-Reign Length: 254 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While I eventually liked this book, it took a little getting used to. When you start a story with a deplorable main character, it makes you not want to continue reading. Honestly, I think the plot probably could have started closer to the halfway part, and reveal everything important after the fact or merely hint at it. You know, via a “show don’t tell” method. There’s a lot of “telling” in the first half of this book. Despite this, there is plenty of excellent character development in the second half to redeem the first half. What strikes me odd about this book is its classification as “Young Adult.” I usually consider early teens to be this genre's demographic, given the main characters are generally in that age range. Considering the graphic violence, excessive swearing, and questionable sexual content in the first section of this book, I wouldn’t let teenagers read...
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MOVIE: Lion (2016)

Lion Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Of this year's Best Picture Nominees, Lion (2016) is certainly one of the more . . . artistic ones. Heck, the title of the film wasn't clear until directly before the credits. In part due to the subject matter and the culture in which it takes place, this film can be hard to watch at times. The audience has to come to grips with the poverty and difficult living conditions present in India not only 25 years ago, but today as well. Perhaps it's my need to watch movies that help me to escape from these realities, but it was challenging to be shown such a stark view of another country's reality. While I understand that the larger, overarching message of the film is to bring to light the social issue of lost children in India, the more inspiring subplot had to do with adoption. Many couples have a lot of different reasons for...
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BOOK: Zero-G (2016)

Zero-G Year: 2016 Author: William Shatner Length: 353 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** William Shatner, best known for his acting in the popular sci-fi series, Star Trek, is not someone who I thought would also be a writer. Of course, after reading Zero-G, I’m still not convinced, even with the help of ghostwriter Jeff Rovin. The book had an interesting premise, but the exposition and plot were so slow and clunky that it was hard to get into it. I will say there is an appreciation of the challenges of space in this book, but it almost plays a backseat to an aged government official trying to relive his glory days (sound familiar?). If I were to re-write this book, it would have been considerably shorter, possibly even a short story. As it is, the first third of the book is almost useless, filled with detailed explanations of the characters’ backgrounds and relationships. Even the first action sequence only emphasized that the...
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MOVIE: Arrival (2016)

Arrival Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours Despite all the mindless action and sex that hits the big screen every year, every once in a while there comes a film that's a little more . . . cerebral. Arrival (2016) certainly fits this category. Not only do you really have to pay attention to what's happening in this film, it makes you question how we perceive our world as it is right now. Never before have I seen the topic of encountering alien life forms approached from such a realistic and logical way. It makes sense that we wouldn't be able to understand them, so the first step in establishing an understanding is to establish communication. Much like Christopher Nolan, who has done a number of great, "cerebral" films including Memento (2000), Inception (2010), and Interstellar (2014), I have recently come to appreciate the directorial talents of Denis Villeneuve. From his previous films like Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015), I've seen him deliver...
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MOVIE: Doctor Strange (2016)

Doctor Strange Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours See if you can guess this movie: goatee'd egomaniac finds himself in a life-changing situation in a foreign land that makes him question everything he's ever stood for and become a superhero in the process. If you guessed Iron Man (2008), you'd certainly be close. No, this familiar plot is none other than the visually extreme Doctor Strange. I understand Marvel has a bigger plot in mind when they do these lesser-known heroes; but lately, it almost seems like they're just phoning it in. Doctor Strange merely feels like filler to get to Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018). I will give Marvel this much: they do know how to cast a film. Benedict Cumberbatch does a superb job at portraying the eponymous Dr. Strange, fused with enough gravitas and humor to make watching him a joy. And while many will question Tilda Swinton's role as The Ancient One, especially considering...
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MOVIE: La La Land (2016)

La La Land Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours In a world where people worship everything and value nothing, I have found that I value the many messages present within La La Land (2016). While simultaneously shining a harsh light on the hypocrisy of Hollywood and showing how our dreams and passions move us to make tough life decisions, I found myself deeply moved by the narrative presented within this film, not only as a lover of movies but as a creative artist myself. This film is for the dreamers. It's for the people who never give up in pursuing what they want out of life. It's for those who have a talent screaming to be noticed by others. Aside from literally being the best musical I've seen in nearly more than a decade (Chicago (2002) is the only recent one that comes to mind), what I found most impressive about this film is that it is only the second directed by Damien...
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BOOK: The Infinity of You & Me (2016)

The Infinity of You & Me Year: 2016 Author: J.Q. Coyle Length: 246 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Unlike Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory, The Infinity of You & Me really nails the complex and unique challenges of dealing with multiple universes. Far more serious than its comedic counterpart, Infinity takes the reader on a journey through the multiple lives of a teenage girl. The descriptive writing used for this task was quite adept at conveying the transition between worlds, as well as the numerous dystopian scenarios present within them. Clearly, the Sylvia Plath poems the main character holds dear also influenced the author's writing style. As I've said before, I'm not a fan of the young adult genre, especially when it devolves to cliches. This book managed to reside in that young adult genre, but successfully told a story that didn't make me roll my eyes in annoyance. Sure, the elements were there, but they were handled much more subtly, almost in the...
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MOVIE: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Hacksaw Ridge Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours For many years, Mel Gibson has been at the center of controversies and other unwelcome attention-grabbing incidents. While this normally kills any actor's chances of reviving their careers, Gibson has instead managed to remain somewhat unscathed by retreating into his other skill: directing. As we've seen from some of his other directorial efforts, he is skilled behind the lens, even if many themes remain the same. From Braveheart (1995) to The Passion of the Christ (2004), Gibson has a tendency to be pretty brutal in the imagery he brings to the screen. Granted, this is partly due to the semi-factual source material. In his latest work after a long hiatus, Gibson brings us the brutality that is World War II. Hacksaw Ridge takes some time to get to its emotional center, but the unfortunate side effect of this is a series of characters that feel almost comical in their exaggerations. From Andrew Garfield's goofily...
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BOOK: Esper Files (2016)

Esper Files Year: 2016 Author: Egan Brass Length: 221 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** Last year I wrote a short story entitled "Ironed Man" that I submitted to an anthology with the theme "Steampunk Superheroes." While my story didn't make the cut, clearly the idea already has merit as shown in Egan Brass' Esper Files. Just like my "Jurassic Manor" short story was a series of tongue-in-cheek references to the film, Jurassic Park (1993), "Ironed Man" was an alt-genre parody of the Iron Man franchise. I can only assume that Esper Files decided to do the same thing and merely put X-Men in steampunk form. If you like X-Men, you'll probably like this book. Despite many of the characters and trappings feeling like they were pulled from an X-Men fan fiction, the story still has some merit. What I found impressive about the narrative were the action scenes. I know how difficult it can be to write fight scenes with lots of supernatural...
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BOOK: Commanding the Red Lotus (2016)

Commanding the Red Lotus Year: 2016 Author: R.J. Sullivan Length: 236 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Not so much a novel as a collection of three novellas, Commanding the Red Lotus is your standard sci-fi space story. Unfortunately, because these novellas are collected together in this way, it feels like an attempt to string them together to make a novel. If this were a novel, it should have started with the third novella and expounded from there. After all, most of the backstory was mentioned or alluded to in this third story, so more pages could have been spent exploring the dynamic of the spacecraft crew. As it stands, there were a lot of characters mentioned that I couldn’t tell you a thing about. When it comes right down to it, I have two issues with this book. The first is the main character. I feel the main character should have been the pirate captain, mainly because she had such an interesting...
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MOVIE: Hidden Figures (2016)

Hidden Figures Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 127 minutes / 2.12 hours I often jokingly refer to my job as being a "rocket scientist." While it does involve rockets and space, it isn't nearly as "down in the numbers" as the jobs portrayed in this film were. I've worked with a lot of people over the years in this technical field, and my opinion has always been that, if somebody is competent enough to do the job, we should hire the most competent people to do said job. Even though this is a statement against nepotism and just knowing the right people in the right places, what this film has shown me is that it's not nearly that simple. In terms of competency, I will not judge you by your gender or your race, as long as you show you can do the work and not be a burden on the team. However, even though people are highly qualified, they have had the deck stacked against...
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BOOK: Paradime (2016)

Paradime Year: 2016 Author: Alan Glynn Length: 272 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** The first time I was introduced to Alan Glynn’s writing was through the film, Limitless (2011), which itself was based off his first novel, The Dark Fields. While I enjoyed the film for its visuals, what really struck me as interesting was the storytelling and characters Glynn created. Now fifteen years after his first standalone novel, Paradime continues to show Glynn’s talent in creating engaging plots and characters. Since I really enjoyed this book, I will do my best to review it without spoiling it for anyone. At its most simple level, Paradime is a modernized retelling of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, or at least half of it anyway. Told from the perspective of an out-of-work and out-of-luck cook, Danny Lynch, the pacing of each of the three acts is steady and intense. Even if some of Danny’s vocabulary seems a little advanced at times, he is...
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MOVIE: Rogue One (2016)

Rogue One Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours Years ago, when Disney acquired Lucasfilm, I had worried that they would ruin one of the most beloved sci-fi franchises ever to grace the big screen. That being said, Lucasfilm’s prequel trilogy showed us all how it could happen. Around the same time, I started to notice the quality of Disney’s animated fare was drastically improving, even outpacing Pixar. The proof to finally win me over was the way they have expertly handled the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With all this in mind, I was curious how this side-story to the main Star Wars saga would play out. First off, anyone worth their salt in nerd-cred knows that the original Star Wars is based off samurai films. Gareth Edwards (who directed the Godzilla (2014) reboot) certainly made this influence obvious in Rouge One, especially in the opening sequence and with the inclusion of a Zatoichi-like blind swordsman. At this point, all he needed was...
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MOVIE: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Kubo and the Two Strings Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours We live in the future, and it is incredible. I’ve found stop-motion animation to be a fascinating medium, not only for its “dirtiness” when compared to CGI, but also because of the painstaking care it takes to produce a full-length feature with this process. Animation studios like Aardman and Laika are really starting to take advantage of all the tools at their disposal to create some awesome stop-motion movies. We’ve come a long way since the films of Henry Selick, the most famous one being The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Through Selick, we now have a handful of fantastic films through the Laika brand. While their previous work, The Boxtrolls (2014) had started the trend away from more morbid themes and plots, Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) shows just how capable the stop-motion medium is to tell a fantastic story. With an origami motif existing throughout, Kubo and the...
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BOOK: Blood Brothers (2016)

Blood Brothers Year: 2016 Author: Rick Acker Length: 380 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Even though I don’t usually read books in mid-series, I’ll make an exception for a book I receive for free. Fortunately, I was able to deduce what happened in book 1 of the Dead Man’s Rule series just based on the context of the characters’ interactions. In fact, I’d probably like to read Dead Man's Rule, since it sounds like it was a pretty exciting plot. Of course, I’ve found legal thrillers like this one to be pretty stand-alone, which helped me really get into its engaging, if not somewhat predictable, plot. What I found most interesting about Blood Brothers, was the Christian undertones it took in its narrative. These moments helped to flesh out the characters, but only once did it feel like the reader was being browbeaten with some ideology. The infusion of realistic Christian characters was a pleasant surprise, especially considering that their beliefs did...
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BOOK: Emergence (2016)

Emergence Year: 2016 Author: S.G.D. Singh Length: 490 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** When I signed up for the giveaway for this book, the cover and title made it sound interesting. Now that I’ve had a chance to read it, I’ll say that it holds a “first” for me. That is, it was the first book I was unable to finish. I just couldn’t get through it. Maybe it’s because I’m not a huge fan of the “Young Adult” genre, but it’s likely due to a lot of nagging issues I found with it. Consequently, I will not give this book a star rating because it would be unfair due to my inability to read it in its entirety. Aside from the regular, and distracting proofreading and formatting errors, I found the entire story to be quite unbelievable. Sure, the context for these teenagers being so smart and skilled was there, but it was merely an excuse to write teenagers who were...
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MOVIE: Jason Bourne (2016)

Jason Bourne Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours Back in 2002, The Bourne Identity redefined not only the action film aesthetic but the modern spy thriller as well. While some elements of the Bourne films have been good for action films, others are now trite and cliché. If you were to break down the “Bourne formula”, these four elements could be used to make any action film in the “Bourne-style”: Car chases with spectacular driving in “common” vehicles Brutal hand-to-hand combat using everyday items Shaky camera movement during action sequences “The chase” where eventually the protagonist gets away, achieves his objective and escapes into the shadows once again Because the Bourne films are so formulaic, I found Jason Bourne (2016) to be no different. That being said, the film was still a fun and intense ride to watch. Now nine years later from the last in the “true” Bourne storyline (we’ll just forget that The Bourne Legacy (2012) happened), technology has vastly improved, making this film seem...
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MOVIE: Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours Perhaps the most controversial film of this summer, Suicide Squad (2016) tells a story that is necessary to highlight the eventual superhero team of the Justice League (2017). While I am aware of the real-life drama surrounding the film, including Jared Leto's method acting, director David Ayer's uncouth comments, and the fandom's revulsion of its negative critical reception, I will try and give an unbiased review here. After all, sometimes the greatest art can stand apart from the artists who create it. Decades from now, most will have forgotten the controversy, resorting to Wikipedia for a reminder. In the realm of superhero films, the motif has always been a dichotomy of extremes. Good vs. evil. In reality, things aren't nearly as clear-cut as this. Sure, there are those who do wrong and those who do right, but each side will have their own motivations. What Suicide Squad does is break down the stereotype of the...
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MOVIE: Finding Dory (2016)

Finding Dory Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 97 minutes / 1.62 hours As is the case with the rest of Hollywood right now, Pixar is cashing in on the nostalgia factor of their previous films. Just like Monsters University (2013) before it, Finding Dory (2016) brings together the same team of voice actors who brought their respective originals to life more than a decade ago. And while this sequel was more akin to the likes of Toy Story 2 (1999), the amount of time between the two films really gives Pixar the chance to show off how much the power of computers has advanced in that time. Unfortunately, while the visual style has been drastically updated, the plot has not. In its purest essence, Finding Dory is just like Finding Nemo (2003): a fish separated from its parent tries to find their way back home while the parent does everything in their power to find their child. I would have liked a bit more originality from...
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MOVIE: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Hail, Caesar! Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours I like movies as much as the next connoisseur of film, but clearly the Coen Brothers like them more than I do. Specifically, they like the films made during the “golden age” of Hollywood: the 1950’s. From action-packed westerns, to Biblical epics, to underwater choreography, to big-budget musicals, these films exemplified a Hollywood that was on top of its game. Unfortunately, as is the case with any great success, it can be hard to maintain over time. In what could be considered a “love letter” to a Hollywood of the past, the Coen Brothers bring all these films together in Hail, Caesar! (2016). While I could appreciate the references made throughout this film, many of them felt quite disjointed. Sure, there’s the tie-in to real-life Hollywood fixer, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), but he merely acts as a link between scenes of grandeur meant to show how well the Coen Brothers can follow...
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MOVIE: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Star Trek Beyond Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours First off, I want to admit that I am more of a Star Wars fan than a Star Trek fan. As a result, I have enjoyed the first two of the Star Trek reboot titles because they are structured more like a Star Wars film than a Star Trek one. Of course, this may also be due to my bias toward J.J. Abrams and everything that he directs. For this third installment in the reboot series, we no longer have Abrams, but rather Justin Lin (known for the Fast & Furious franchise). Maybe because of this, I didn't really think this film stood up to the previous two. Sure, there were segments that I thought were interesting and deep, but they were merely bookends in a confusing hodgepodge of action and "buddy up" subplots. I appreciated the beginning, with its humanizing narrative that made sense for the captain's current state of affairs....
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MUSIC: CSPhil – Symphonic Dances

Colorado Springs Philharmonic Conductor: Josep Caballé Domenech Date: September 17, 2016 This year, my wife and I decided to go to the symphony more. With this year being the 90th anniversary of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, they pulled out all the stops and have a great lineup. As a result, we ended up essentially getting season tickets. While it's difficult for me to really "review" pieces of music like these, since they've been around for a long time, I'll merely give my impressions on the following set from the first event of the 90th season of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. Some of these impressions come in the form of stories, so if you get a chance to listen to these pieces, read along and hopefully you'll get what I'm trying to convey through the piece. For Spacious Skies Anthony DiLorenzo Having never been to a "World Premiere" of a song before, this was quite a treat. The Philharmonic commissioned a number of pieces based on "America the...
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MOVIE: Now You See Me 2 (2016)

Now You See Me 2 Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours Sometimes the enjoyment of a particular film almost guarantees I’ll go to see the sequel. Now You See Me 2 (2016) is no exception. I really liked Now You See Me (2013) because the genres of “magic” and “heist” merge so easily together. Now three years later, and I certainly looked forward to this sequel, despite not knowing how the plot could advance any further than it had at the end of the first film. While the sequel did not disappoint, with numerous illusions, plenty of action, and loads of comedy, it felt like it was the same old gimmick as the original. Sure, there was a little more exploration into “the Eye”, but most of the plot of the second film centered on the consequences of the robberies from the first film (almost weighing it down, in my opinion). The addition of Daniel Radcliffe as a winking nod to...
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MOVIE: The Legend of Tarzan® (2016)

The Legend of Tarzan® Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours After watching The Legend of Tarzan®, the one unanswered question I had was, “Why was this film even made?” If this was to cash in on the plethora of live-action reinterpretations of Disney animated films, it might have held closer to that story. If this was to make a point about racism, it was making the wrong point. If this was because it’s a recognizable name with a hunky-looking protagonist, then I think they probably hit the mark. While the scenery is certainly immersive in this adaptation of an Edgar Rice Burroughs character, much of this film pulled me out of the illusion of the African jungle. Right off the bat, the “registered trademark” that appears after in the title reminds you that there is already plenty of media about Tarzan, and another movie probably doesn’t add to it. Secondly, while a star-studded cast is a good way to get audiences...
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BOOK: Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory (2016)

Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory Year: 2016 Authors: Nick Scott and Noa Gavin Length: 240 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As someone who enjoys learning about the many interesting unknowns in our universe, the mere title of Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory  (2016) caught my attention from the get-go. The ideas of parallel universes coexisting in an invisible space next to our own is something I eventually want to cover in my own writing (tentatively titled The Slumberealm Saga). And while this book somewhat delivered on the premise of its title, it unfortunately did so through an incredible plethora of clichés. Due to the authors’ background in improv comedy, it’s clear that they merely wrote this book to capitalize on the style’s random nature. I’m not sure who the target audience for this book might be, since the main characters are high school students who use an awful lot of foul language. I would think it’s aimed at being a Young Adult (YA) comedy,...
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MOVIE: The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours If there’s any more proof there aren’t any new ideas in Hollywood, it’s the fact that beloved animated classics are being remade as live-action films. Sometimes this works, but more often than not, the ploy to attract those nostalgic feelings from the audience fails, thus leaving the viewer with the sense that their childhood is ruined. I’m generally pretty hesitant of these types of films, mainly because part of me doesn’t want to admit that the original films sometimes weren’t that great. That being said, the latest in these adaptations, The Jungle Book (2016) certainly surprised me. Unlike some films like Maleficent (2014), which takes a different point of view from the main story of Sleeping Beauty (1959), and more like Cinderella (2015), which covers the same material as its predecessor, Cinderella (1950), The Jungle Book takes the main ideas from Rudyard Kipling’s book, via the animated interpretation of The Jungle Book...
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MOVIE: Captain America – Civil War (2016)

Captain America: Civil War Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 147 minutes / 2.45 hours When it comes to sequels, I fell very few film franchises do their predecessors justice. In my opinion, a great sequel requires a simple formula: cause and effect. The "cause" should be in the form of the first (or in this case, previous) movie(s). Whatever happens before a sequel should drive the plot of the following movie. This is the "effect." While it wasn't nearly as good as this effort, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) followed the same formula. Cause: Superman destroying most of Metropolis in Man of Steel (2013). Effect: Batman and Lex Luthor wanting to hold Superman accountable. See? Simple as that. What perhaps makes Captain America: Civil War such a great film is the amount of "cause" that led to its "effect." The driving plot of this film was in direct response to the destruction and mayhem brought about by the Avengers trying to save the...
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MOVIE: Independence Day – Resurgence (2016)

Independence Day: Resurgence Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 120 minutes / 2.0 hours Can we just be real for a second? Is the nostalgia factor so strong in Hollywood these days that anything coming upon its 20th anniversary is re-made, rebooted, and sequeled to death? Certainly, this is a pretty good marketing strategy, since last year's Jurassic World (2015) was such a huge financial success, even though it was essentially the exact same plot as the original Jurassic Park (1993). Clearly, the millennials who grew up with these films want to see them on the big screen again, 20+ years later with newer and flashier special effects. After all, Moore's Law implicates the visual style should be more than 1,000 times better than its predecessor. Here's the problem I have with this re-quel that seems to be going around: it doesn't give us anything new. Take Independence Day (1996) for example. This film was a great action film filled with plenty of interesting sci-fi, memorable characters,...
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MOVIE: X-Men – Apocalypse (2016)

X-Men: Apocalypse Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 144 minutes / 2.4 hours I’ll admit that I was excited for this film, mostly because I was somewhat familiar with its premise. I grew up on the X-Men: Evolution TV show, so I knew that the defining arc of that series was none other than the Apocalypse arc. This may have actually spoiled the movie for me, because it wasn’t quite in line with the plot I knew. Sure, Bryan Singer returned to direct this penultimate piece of the X-Men franchise, but there were just a few things that bugged me about this movie. First off, one of the elements of the previous prequel films I liked and appreciated was the inclusion of historical events and people into the storyline. This way it felt like an alternate reality not so far removed from our own. While there were loose elements of this present, it wasn’t nearly as integrated as it had been done in the past. Add...
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MOVIE: Allegiant (2016)

Allegiant Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 120 minutes / 2.0 hours For those following along at home, Allegiant is the third film based on the third book in the Divergent series. As I have made comparisons to The Hunger Games in each installment of these reviews, I will continue to not disappoint. Seems to me that the trend of splitting the last book of a literary series into two movies is annoyingly out of hand. Sure, having written the end of my own trilogies, I know there's a lot of plot and sub-plots to bring to a conclusion. I also know that much of the Divergent series didn't feel like it really did or said anything. Sure, there's the nod to some political statement or worldview that's relevant today, but honestly I want something that only the survivors of a post-apocalyptic future should have to solve. Where the previous two films in this series really excelled in their portrayal of "simulations", this film had absolutely none of...
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MOVIE: The Nice Guys (2016)

The Nice Guys Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours I'll be honest that the trailer for this film is the main reason I went to go see it. The few bits revealed in it definitely painted a picture of a smart and funny film. The pairing of Ryan Gosling with Russell Crowe was an interesting one, but definitely works on the "buddy cop" adventure level. While Gosling had almost every funny line, the action brought to the film via Crowe's slightly heavier form really helped to balance things out. The full film definitely delivered on what the trailer had to offer. With dialogue that comes fast and full of quips, I was laughing throughout most of this film. It almost has a "self-aware" feel to it, as each failed piece of the investigation would have normally led to the next logical step. As it is rated R, it unfortunately has an incredible amount of questionable material, including plenty of nudity (as...
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MOVIE: Miracles from Heaven (2016)

Miracles from Heaven Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 109 minutes / 1.81 hours Normally, I'm pretty hesitant to watch any movie that's overtly marketed as "Christian." The truth of the matter is, while I'm a Christian myself, these types of movies normally make me cringe at how cliche they are. When their message is continually shoved down our throats, it's hard to focus on anything else. I am all for inspiring stories of faith, but when the main thrust of your plot feels like a poorly written after-school special, it's hard to take seriously. Case in point: I really didn't like War Room (2015) not only because of the aforementioned qualms with the genre as a whole, but also because the characters and their actions felt completely unbelievable (and for a film about belief, this was a big no-no). Now, as you're aware of my stance on these types of movies, please note that I prefaced this with "normally". There are some films in this...
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MOVIE: Zootopia (2016)

Zootopia Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 108 minutes / 1.8 hours Let me just start by saying that I've really become a fan of Disney's animation since about 2010. Before then, I was wild for Pixar, but around the time Tangled (2010) came out, Pixar hadn't been making the quality films I had become used to. Instead, Disney was now churning out great films like Tangled (2010), Wreck-It Ralph (2012), Frozen (2013), and Big Hero 6 (2014). Their latest film, Zootopia (2016), certainly upholds the level of quality expected of this animation studio. Not only were the visuals stunning (as always), but the plot and characters were all on-point. As is almost expected of a film meant for children, but made with adults in mind, there were a number of popular culture references that I found myself laughing uproariously for while the rest of the audience missed the joke. From slight alterations to animal-themed products (i.e. "Cub Soda"), to jokes pertaining to certain animal characteristics...
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