MOVIE: The Shape of Water (2017)

The Shape of Water Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours The modern master of the monster movie, Guillermo del Toro is at it again with The Shape of Water (2017). Much like the Universal Studios monster classics, del Toro has created a career around directing films about how humans interact with these monsters. From building giant robots to fight giant monsters in Pacific Rim (2013) to hiring monsters to kill other monsters in Hellboy (2004), del Toro has also occasionally shown the more human side of monsters. Or, more accurately, he has shown how monster-like humans can become. Previous films by Guillermo del Toro, like Cronos (1993) and Pan's Labyrinth (2006) have highlighted the negative qualities of man while infusing these films with a sense of fantasy that can often border on straight-up fairy tales. The Shape of Water certainly falls into the "man is the real monster" category of del Toro's movies, but it kind of beats you over the head...
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BOOK: Mr. Booker’s Summer Vacation (2017)

Mr. Booker’s Summer Vacation Year: 2017 Author: Mark Lages Length: 312 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Can we please stop using fiction as an avenue to whine and complain about the state of current affairs? Books like Mr. Booker’s Summer Vacation and Nobel Peace Prize do nothing other than highlight how broken society is, all the while never providing any actual solutions to these problems. The only way these authors think they can get away with it is by packaging it as “fiction.” Let’s face it, just title the book, Things are terrible and here’s why everyone else is to blame and put it in the non-fiction section. Regarding Mr. Booker’s Summer Vacation, I couldn’t figure out who the target audience was. It’s written in a clipped, repetitive, redundant, and childish prose that makes me think it’s targeted toward children. However, with sexual situations (including a story about rape), violent and unnecessary subplots, and a sprinkling of profanity, I would never give this book to a child to read....
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MOVIE: Get Out (2017)

Get Out Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours I'll admit that I'm not a fan of horror films. The fact that Get Out (2017) was released in that weird, "horror month" of February that merely exists so people trying to catch up on their Oscar nominations don't have to watch anything new meant that it mostly passed under my radar. When buzz about the movie continued for the rest of the year, I was still skeptical as horror has been known for its cheap tricks and gratuitous violence, both of which I don't particularly care for. The trick is, Get Out is certainly a horror film, but with the minimum required trappings to be considered one. With a few jump scares and a violent and bloody ending, Get Out works on a level that's best described as "blatantly subtle." It's not so much that it screams about the racial differences between black people and white people, but that it does so...
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MOVIE: The Shack (2017)

The Shack Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours When I saw the trailers for this film, I had no idea what it was about. It seemed to be part magical and part depressing, never really covering what the movie’s content was. For anyone who is curious, it’s about a meeting with the Holy Trinity. Consequently, while most “Christian” films are almost cringe-worthy, this one wasn’t half bad. Of course, there are still elements of it that made me roll my eyes, but these scenes were mere bookends to a great theological discussion-starter. In fact, I would almost prefer this film without the framing, since most people would probably relate to the main character, regardless. The trouble with the framing device used for the conversation with God is that it doesn’t feel natural. There’s a forced quality that pushes the main character into the situation where he encounters God, merely contrived so that he is near rock bottom when God appears. I will...
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MOVIE: Blade Runner – 2049 (2017)

Blade Runner: 2049 Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 164 minutes / 2.73 hours Back when I first heard about a Blade Runner (1982) sequel, I was skeptical about its quality. Sure, the ending was a little open-ended, but it stood by itself quite well. A Blade Runner sequel coming out mere years away from the original’s futuristic timeline of 2019 seemed just as ridiculous. The one redeeming factor that eventually led me to think this sequel would be any good was that Denis Villeneuve was tapped to direct it. While I’ve liked Villeneuve’s films as far back as Prisoners (2013), I’ve really become a fan since his Best Picture-nominated Arrival (2016) revealed how well he can do science fiction. Of course, Blade Runner isn’t really science fiction. Sure, it has the trappings of a futuristic society, but at its core, the movie is a noir. The plot and aesthetic of noir is considerably different than that of sci-fi, but Villeneuve manages to merge the two...
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BOOK: The Dot on the Left (2017)

The Dot on the Left Year: 2017 Author: Dave Swanson Length: 176 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As someone who has usually found themselves naturally on the center of any variety of bell curves, I know that application of some hard work and dedication can move someone to the right side of said bell curves. It was with this in mind that I was curious what advice is contained in The Dot on the Left. Were the same tactics used for those who underperformed to get them to (and even past) the average of the curve? I was disappointed to find that this book is not so much a “self-help/advice” type book, but rather a memoir from someone who was on the left side of the curve. Sure, there is still some of the advice that I would expect to find in a self-help book in The Dot on the Left, but it’s sometimes hidden within the memoir stories of the author....
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MOVIE: Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 152 minutes / 2.53 hours After the success of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015), director Rian Johnson had to strike a fine balance in the following sequel, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017). Since The Force Awakens was essentially a flashy, rehash of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), The Last Jedi needed to separate itself from the predictable path already laid out in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Unfortunately, the formula employed in Empire Strikes Back has become so integral to sequels that deviating from it could prove to be disastrous. While I’m curious where Episode IX will go from here, I hope it builds upon what Johnson has done here. The tensions of war helped drive the characters into interesting moments of growth, defiance, and desperation, but much of the story was well wrapped up by the time the credits rolled. The real balance of this film came from paying homage...
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MOVIE: Loving Vincent (2017)

Loving Vincent Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 94 minutes / 1.57 hours Animation has become somewhat easier since the days when every frame was drawn out by hand. This change has been mostly due to the use of computers to simplify the animation process. And yet, there are still those who want to embrace the painstaking process of manual animation, mostly for the artistic merit that it gives the film. Usually, this is done in short form, like the stop-motion film, Fresh Guacamole (2012) by PES, or the paint-on-glass animated short, The Old Man and the Sea (1999). Both of these short films were nominated for the Animated Short Oscar, with the latter winning the prize. With Loving Vincent (2017), we now have a feature-length (albeit at a short 94 minutes) animated feature that took the time to recreate the aesthetic of Van Gough’s paintings via a plentitude of hand-painted oil paintings that comprised the individual frames of the film. If awards are given for artistic merit alone, Loving Vincent deserves to win...
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MOVIE: Spider-Man – Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours Of all the superheroes in their respective comic universes, the one I grew up with was Spider-Man. I watched the animated 1990’s television show, and I loved when this relatable superhero made his way to the big screen in Spider-Man (2002). I was even more pleased when Spider-Man 2 (2004) set the tone for future superhero franchises. The first film is the origin film so the second film can dispense with the best villain and not spend all its time in exposition. Unfortunately, I ended up being disappointed by the third entry in this original Spider-Man trilogy, which was a rare miss in my book. Fast forward to 2012, when Spider-Man was rebooted with Andrew Garfield in the title role. Having to sit through the origin story again, but with a different, green-colored villain as the antagonist seemed like it wasn’t exploring anything new. Around the same time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was...
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BOOK: A Natural (2017)

A Natural Year: 2017 Author: Ross Raisin Length: 386 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** This book was, without a doubt, the gayest book I’ve ever read. Usually, I don’t read books with LGBTQ+ themes, but the cover and title led me to believe it was about soccer (or, in this case, football). I am not against books with these themes, per se, as long as the characters are likable and relatable. It’s just I would hope that Random House isn’t merely publishing books with these themes to get “automatic” sales from people who want to support the LGBTQ+ movement. Unfortunately, based on the weakness of the story in A Natural, I suspect this was the only reason a large publisher released it. For a book I thought was about football, actual instances of the sport being played collectively comprises perhaps 1% of the entire book. That’s roughly 3.86 pages of football in a book about football players. If you’re looking for tension and...
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