BOOK: Pandora’s Lab (2017)

Pandora’s Lab Year: 2017 Author: Paul A. Offit Length: 471 minutes / 7.85 hours Science is an interesting realm. The public would sure like to think that all scientists are dedicated to finding the purest form of some scientific concept and modifying it to benefit society. However, some things become readily clear: not all societies are the same, and science can be abused. If anything, some of the worst scientific discoveries of the last few centuries were made with the best intentions. Unfortunately, more often than not, the full science wasn’t brought to the table, and plenty of people suffered because of it. Enter Pandora’s Lab, a selection of a few of the worst scientific discoveries and the stories behind what made them go awry. Each of the scientific discoveries covered in this book had slightly different negative impacts on the world, but the reason why they became so notorious is almost ubiquitous. Science is no place for emotion, so finding quick fixes for something by...
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MOVIE: The Current War – Director’s Cut (2017)

The Current War: Director’s Cut Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I’ve known for some time about the “war” between alternating and direct current. It was such an interesting battle of egos between some famous names that are still known today. Heck, I even included elements of it as a sub-plot in my second book. Of course, I always thought the conflict was between Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) and Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and not being mainly between Edison and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). At any rate, I found The Current War (2017) to be an entertaining examination of the events that led the world to finally accept one of these currents as the de-facto way to distribute electric power. Stepping back for a moment to the presentation of this movie, I appreciated the cinematography and the driving music that helped ratchet up the tension between these famous engineers and entrepreneurs. Additionally, the actors chosen to play their respective roles fit quite well....
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BOOK: The Force Doth Awaken (2017)

William Shakespeare’s the Force Doth Awaken Year: 2017 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours As I’ve been working my way through Ian Doescher’s Shakespearean adaptations of pop culture movies, I think I’ve hit the point where the novelty has worn off. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel like The Force Doth Awaken had the same charm as other entries in this quirky mash-up series. I have a sneaking suspicion that this may be due to one of two factors: 1. The newer movies have more “modern” dialogue that seemed as if it was directly plopped into the Shakespearean format, or 2. The original trilogy had more time to be ingrained in my psyche, and the translation to Shakespearean felt appropriate. I don’t want to downplay the novelty of this adaptation, though. The voice acting is still superb, and the sound effects add a little something extra that immersed me as I listened to this audiobook. Plus, it’s not like these books are that lengthy...
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MOVIE: The Fate of the Furious (2017)

The Fate of the Furious Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 136 minutes / 2.26 hours I’ll be honest and admit that this is the first movie in the Fast and the Furious franchise that I’ve ever seen. Sure, I’ve been aware of the franchise for years, but it never really appealed to me (I’m not much of a car guy after all). I got a free digital copy of this movie somewhere along the line and decided I might as well watch it since I own it. I had plenty of preconceived notions about this series based on little tidbits I’d picked up over the years, and pretty much every one of them was confirmed with this movie. I think this movie might be best summed up by one of the lines of dialogue. “What are you, 12?” A lot of the characters’ interactions and dialogue seemed like how a 12-year-old boy who was really into cars would write them. This was especially apparent during...
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BOOK: A Closed and Common Orbit (2017)

A Closed and Common Orbit Year: 2017 Author: Becky Chambers Length: 690 minutes / 11.50 hours After the refreshing sci-fi The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, I was ready to follow the crew of the Wayfarer to their next adventure. Unfortunately, the sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, decided to take a path more akin to The Godfather Part II (1974). Instead of following the main characters of the first story, this sequel delved into the new life of the AI now known as Sidra, while also interspersing a quasi-related prequel story of one of the new characters introduced in this book. Fortunately, these two stories were well paced against each other. Even though I feel readers could pick up this book without having read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, there are certainly a few details about the diverse races found in this universe left out of this book—probably for the sake of brevity. This didn’t necessarily detract from the enjoyment of A Closed and Common...
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MOVIE: Kingsman – The Golden Circle (2017)

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours Back when I saw Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I was familiar with Matthew Vaughn's previous directorial work (like Kick-Ass (2010)), so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised at how much sex and graphic violence was involved. I was quite impressed by the church fight sequence, but everything felt so over-the-top and ridiculous that I couldn't take it seriously. Flash forward to its sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017). This time, I came in with a slightly different understanding that made me enjoy this movie quite a bit more than its predecessor. I think the fact that The Secret Service was somewhat derivative of the "coming of age" stories in films like Men in Black (1997) and Ender's Game (2013) was why I wasn't necessarily wowed by it. However, with the origin story out of the way, The Golden Circle managed to hit the ground...
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BOOK: Sourdough (2017)

Sourdough Year: 2017 Author: Robin Sloan Length: 259 pages Much like Armada to Ready Player One or Artemis to The Martian, I looked forward to reading Robin Sloan’s follow-up to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. Unfortunately, much like the follow-up books by Ernest Cline and Andy Weir, respectively, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with Sloan’s Sourdough. I will give credit that Sloan’s quirky and charming style is still in high form here, it’s more that there wasn’t much of a central conflict that would have led to a satisfying ending. It’s almost like too many plotlines got into the mix, and it muddled everything up to the point where it would be too difficult to follow each to their logical conclusion. Cline has video game references. Weir has accurate, hard sci-fi. If there’s one thing Sloan does well, it’s the fusion of analog and digital. From Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, it was the appreciation of the printed book in the era of Google searches. In Sourdough, Sloan explores the future of food—which is perhaps the most analog of...
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MOVIE: The Disaster Artist (2017)

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

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

The Greatest Showman Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours I can honestly say there aren’t nearly enough musicals in Hollywood anymore. The Greatest Showman (2017) certainly helps to fill in the gaps between these occurrences, and with a subject that easily lends itself to the musical format. I really enjoyed the songs and choreography, as well as its message of inclusion and being unashamed of who we are. All that being said, there was still something a little off when infusing pop music and modern dance moves with the 1800’s. It kind of works, but it also doesn’t immerse the audience in the historical aesthetic. While the story of P.T. Barnum’s (Hugh Jackman) rise to wealth and fame (or infamy, depending on the viewpoint) was entertaining enough, so much of its presentation seemed to have the “Hollywood coincidence” to it. Events lined up in such a way that I wondered if they really happened or if it was artistic license. This is also...
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MOVIE: Logan Lucky (2017)

Logan Lucky Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours I enjoy a good heist film. No heist is ever a straightforward “grab and dash” situation. When overcoming the barriers for the heist one-by-one, I can appreciate the interlocking elements of the robbery. Since one of my favorite heist films, Ocean’s Eleven (2001), was directed by Steven Soderbergh, I looked forward to his latest heist, Logan Lucky (2017). The trailers made it look like a fun film, and it was, but at the expense of all the best parts being conveyed in the trailer. About the only thing you don’t see in the trailer is the twist at the end, which is to be expected. When it comes to the setting, I’m not entirely sure if Logan Lucky is embracing or parodying the hillbilly stereotype. From beauty pageants for children to NASCAR races, this film has all the trappings of a West Virginia based on cultural perception instead of actual reality. At any...
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BOOK: Gaia (2017)

Gaia Year: 2017 Author: J.A. Darmanin Length: 296 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s one of those basic Young Adult stories, replete with the clichés like the “normal girl who finds out she’s super-special” and “main character is the only one who can save the world.” However, it also didn’t have the obscenity, violence, and sexuality that as seemed to permeate most YA books of late. Similarly, I found the main characters to be incredibly annoying, but then they were also written as teenage girls . . . so I guess there’s an amount of realism there. While there are certainly polished elements to this book, including the cover and some of the formatting, there are a few amateur mistakes that reveal that this is the author’s first book. The biggest problem I had was the variety of plot holes present throughout the book. Sure, there were a few moments that came...
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MOVIE: Pokémon the Movie – I Choose You! (2017)

Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours Over 20 years after its debut, it seems that Pokémon is not a fad and will be here to stay for the long haul. Of course, considering the mania surrounding the first games in the series back in the mid-1990’s, by now enough time has passed for nostalgia to be a contributing factor to the franchise’s continued success. The children who grew up with Pokémon are now adults in their late-20’s and early-30’s (i.e., “millennials”). In an attempt to cash in on this nostalgia, Pokémon’s latest movie, I Choose You! recounts some of the memorable first moments of the anime, but with a slightly different storyline. Initially, I was worried that this plot would be a pared-down selection of key moments from the anime, much like what has been done with other anime movies like One Piece’s The Desert Princess and the Pirates (2007) and Episode of Chopper Plus(2008). Fortunately, this film managed to...
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BOOK: The Clockwork Dynasty (2017)

The Clockwork Dynasty Year: 2017 Author: Daniel H. Wilson Length: 650 minutes / 10.83 hours If there's anything Daniel H. Wilson is good at, it's writing about robots. In his latest book, The Clockwork Dynasty, he takes a steampunk approach by setting the book, not in the future, but in the present and distant past. Returning to the origins of robots via the automatons created for the entertainment of the wealthy and royal, Wilson has crafted another workable piece of fiction centered on robots. Unfortunately, as is the case with some of this other writing, I didn't like a few of his stylistic choices. The Clockwork Dynasty jumps back and forth between flashbacks and "present era" actions, which can sometimes be distracting, especially if one of the storylines is particularly interesting at the time. I almost wonder if there could have been a better way to focus on the action in the present and to reveal the details of the past in more of a "show" instead...
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MOVIE: Darkest Hour (2017)

Darkest Hour Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours There are plenty of films out there that claim to be “art” by pushing the boundaries of the medium. These movies often come off as just plain weird. Darkest Hour (2017) is an artfully crafted masterpiece, even if it seems to be a biopic about Winston Churchill at first glance. All the individual elements that go into a fantastic film are in top form here, as we see how lighting, cinematography, music, plot, and acting combine to create something greater than the sum of their parts. Darkest Hour doesn’t have one element that makes it stand out as an incredible movie; it uses all facets of its production to create a masterpiece of art. The look of this film is incredible. From the overhead shots of battlegrounds seamlessly transitioning into the carnage of war to the heavy contrast of light and shadow emphasizing the “darkness” of the “darkest hour,” the visual spectacle of Churchill’s unconventional rise to...
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BOOK: If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? (2017)

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? Year: 2017 Author: Alan Alda Length: 213 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While miscommunication might be the source of conflict for romantic comedies, it’s a much more significant problem in the real world. If people aren’t able to efficiently and accurately communicate with their fellow man, then we all have room for improvement. Scientists and doctors are often the worst offenders, even though their ideas need to be communicated to the world for the advancement of society. Alan Alda has spent years trying to figure out why people are unable to communicate, and he has also figured out what we can do to improve this situation. As a scientist and writer, I feel many of his insights have merit. I grew up watching Alan Alda on Scientific American Frontiers, so I know how often he has interacted with scientists. His conclusions that we can all become better communicators through empathy and...
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MOVIE: Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Call Me by Your Name Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours Call Me by Your Name (2017) is the latest in a string of LGBTQ+ films nominated for Best Picture. Each year, we seem to see one of these LGBTQ+ films nominated for the highest award, but this year there’s a much more fundamental problem with it. Around the time the definition of marriage was changed by the U.S. Government, many opponents warned of a slippery slope that would lead to acceptance of lifestyles that are currently illegal. Call Me by Your Name is proof that we have proceeded down this slope. I understand that the themes of “first love” are what draw people to this film, and I’d be OK with that if the theme never entered sexual territory. As it is, this movie glamorizes sexual relations with a minor. This is statutory rape, which is illegal. Even if the parties involved were heterosexual, this would still be wrong. Unfortunately, I think it’s...
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BOOK: The Silent Invader (2017)

The Silent Invader Year: 2017 Author: R.B. Thurman Length: 353 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like this. In this case, that’s not a good thing. As a self-published author, I know how exciting it is to see my writing in print. Being able to hold a physical copy of my work in my hands feels good, but only if I know the content inside is worthy of the printed page. After struggling through The Silent Invader, I’m honestly wondering if I’m the first person, including the author, to read it all the way through (the only other rating so far is from the author, and he’s obviously biased). So much of the use of present tense, repeated word usage, passive voice sentences, and preposition-ended sentences just sound awkward and could easily be fixed if the author were to read this book out loud. Unfortunately, the grammatical errors that plague this book aren’t the only problem...
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MOVIE: Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours It’s weird to think that 2003 was 15 years ago. As someone who graduated high school in 2004, Lady Bird (2017) hit me right in the nostalgia. While there have been plenty of coming-of-age films over the years, Lady Bird simplifies the experience to a quick-paced trot through the senior year of high school for the titular character (portrayed to great effect by Saoirse Ronan). All the trappings of the coming-of-age story are there, including experimentation with drugs, sex, and alcohol, but done in a way that is still innocent and child-like. In the end, Lady Bird is about independence and defining who we are as individuals. What really hits home in the narrative of this film is the things we do to make ourselves stand out. From declaring that our name is different from the one our parents gave us to choosing which friends we spend our time with, we inevitably realize that we’re seeking approval and acceptance...
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MOVIE: Coco (2017)

Coco Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours In the never-ending string of incredible visuals brought to life by Pixar, Coco (2017) continues this trend into the afterlife. At this point, I’m convinced Pixar could just go ahead and shoot live video and put their animated characters in the scene and I’d still think the whole thing was animated. The interplay of color, light, and shadow really come out in this celebration of Mexican culture. All spectacular visuals aside, Pixar again delivers on an emotional impact that left me crying, as always. When it comes to new ideas, Pixar certainly still knows how to create a visually-compelling story. While Coco has a lot going for it, there are a few weaknesses, some of which are my own opinion based on my likes and dislikes. I know the film mostly targets children (and older children at that), but the plot was just a smidge too predictable. Sure, it was enjoyable to see my...
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MOVIE: Justice League (2017)

Justice League Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 120 minutes / 2.00 hours While it can be difficult to separate comparisons of DC’s Justice League (2017) with Marvel’s The Avengers (2010), there are plenty of parallels and similarities between the two. That’s not to say this is a bad thing, as fans of comic book heroes will always love to see their favorite characters team up to take on evil forces almost as much as they want to see these bastions of justice duke it out. Justice League certainly delivers on this, but in a way that felt uninteresting and lacking the serious consequences to the world at large. Concerning the characters themselves, Justice League succeeds in creating a unique team with some interesting heroes. Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) success in her standalone film could be seen in one of the first (and possibly best) sequences of the film. Additionally, The Flash (Ezra Miller) was a constant source of entertainment as the comic relief. Most importantly, Justice League succeeded in making Aquaman (Jason Momoa) an absolute...
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MOVIE: Thor – Ragnarok (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours At this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), I feel these movies are practically on autopilot. Because Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) were absent from Captain America: Civil War (2016), there had to be a movie to explain what they were doing during that timeframe. Consequently, while Civil War had great conflict and an epic battle sequence, Thor: Ragnarok (2017) feels . . . less necessary. This being said, I do think that Ragnarok explores the Thor universe better than Thor: The Dark World (2013) did, thus making me wonder if Dark World was truly the unnecessary film. Sure, there are little snippets here and there in these films that set up other parts of the franchise (mainly, the Infinity Stones that will lead to Avengers: The Infinity War (2018)), as well as minor cameos that are fun, if not wholly filler (Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the case of Ragnarok). All Ragnarok seems to do is set the stage for the next big film in...
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MOVIE: Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours Much like The Post (2017), Phantom Thread (2017) has a director/actor combination that just begs for an Oscar nomination. It seems that a decade after the last Paul Thomas Anderson/Daniel Day-Lewis collaboration, There Will Be Blood (2007), the Academy might want to pull their “should have won” trick and give the Best Picture Oscar to Phantom Thread. After seeing this film, though, I have changed my initial assessment. Sure, it’s good and has certain artistic elements that make it culturally significant, but other parts of it are just kind of . . . weird. First, the good. Daniel Day-Lewis, in his last role as an actor, unquestionably shows how good he is at his craft. I wouldn’t doubt that he has a good shot at earning his historic fourth Best Actor Oscar. The costume design and cinematography are noteworthy, but the best part of this film is a little more subtle: the music. The score for this movie permeates the...
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BOOK: Chasing Hindy (2017)

Chasing Hindy Year: 2017 Author: Darin Gibby Length: 285 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** I’ve read a few legal thrillers over the years. From John Grisham’s Runaway Jury to Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer, the excitement of the case is usually matched by the excitement surrounding the legal proceedings. Darin Gibby’s Chasing Hindy certainly fits the bill for a legal thriller, but perhaps with a little less polish than the big hitters in the genre. Even so, this book certainly kept me engaged and interested throughout, which is the mark of a good thriller, no matter what sub-genre it belongs to. Plus, even if the subject matter could have trended into “preachy” territory, Gibby manages to put the opinions about the environment in the subtext, and not in the reader’s face. While I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys this genre, I do have a few problems with it. First, the main character, Addy, is an interesting character, but I kept...
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MOVIE: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours The first film by Martin McDonagh I saw was Seven Psychopaths (2012). I enjoyed how he was able to take the audience through many entertaining twists and turns. For his follow-up film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), McDonagh has improved on the twists, as well as the darkness of the comedy contained therein. In fact, the comedy is so dark that at times it was almost uncomfortable to laugh. All this being said, the two areas that make this a standout film are the characters and its complexity. Let’s start with the characters. Almost every single character is introduced in a way that the audience wants to dislike them. And yet, over the course of the film, the significant amount of character development makes the audience root for people who threw individuals out of second-story windows or chucked Molotov cocktails at a police station. Part of what helps in these character developments...
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BOOK: Freedom’s Fire (2017)

Freedom’s Fire Year: 2017 Author: Bobby Adair Length: 338 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I find it somewhat refreshing to read a dystopian book where the dystopia has already happened. There are far too many that detail the onset of a dystopia, and a scant few that actually deal with the realities of the dystopia. While this does lead Freedom’s Fire to have a cynical and depressing tone, at least there is a growing hope as the story progresses. At the very least, this book was a quick read, helped along by its pacing and action-packed sequences. On a personal note, I also liked the fact that it was set in Colorado, as I could easily connect with the locations and lingo. While Freedom’s Fire was an enjoyable read, it did have a few minor flaws. As I read, I mostly understood the vague goals of the main character and his crew, at least in simplistic terms. Get off Earth. Join the Resistance. It was the...
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MOVIE: Downsizing (2017)

Downsizing Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours In the last decade, I’ve come to appreciate Alexander Payne’s films. From The Descendants (2011) to Nebraska (2013), it was clear he was improving as a director. I had high hopes for his latest work, Downsizing (2017) since the premise seemed interesting and ripe for social satire like his previous films. For a movie about becoming small, Downsizing certainly had big ambitions. Unfortunately, it means that this film was kind of all over the place. Sure, there was a somewhat logical progression of events, but even the main character was flabbergasted at the coincidence of it all. While I would fault the movie for Hong Chau’s clipped English, as it almost seemed culturally insensitive at first, eventually the character grows on the viewer. This leads to a very touching ending. Instead, I will fault the science behind this science fiction. I was half-expecting a lot of sight gags on how ordinary objects are much bigger with shrunken humans (a la The Borrowers), which Downsizing delivered...
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MOVIE: The Post (2017)

The Post Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours At this point, I just wonder if every movie Steven Spielberg makes that has anything to do with war (Schindler’s List (1994), Saving Private Ryan (1999), War Horse (2012), Lincoln (2013), Bridge of Spies (2015)) is just automatically given a Best Picture nomination. Don’t get me wrong, Spielberg has made a lot of quality movies that should be recognized and awarded. The question is more about the state of Hollywood films. Is there nothing else out there by up-and-coming filmmakers that would supplant a Spielberg film in the nominee list? Don’t even get me started on Meryl Streep’s nominations, either. Of course, in part due to the all-star power of Spielberg, and the leading roles filled by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, The Post (2017) is a movie that builds its tension right until the very end. Despite a somewhat slow start, the stakes are never higher when the ambiguity of publishing classified documents is taken all the way to its logical conclusion. The...
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BOOK: The Infinet (2017)

The Infinet Year: 2017 Author: John Akers Length: 410 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** After reading plenty of sub-par first novels from aspiring authors, The Infinet was a breath of fresh air. I was also pleasantly surprised that this book was written during a National Novel Writing Month, thus proving how useful the NaNoWriMo challenge is for people to get their stories out there. In the five years between the writing and publishing of this book, it looks like a lot of care went into polishing it into the entertaining and brilliant book that exists today. There are plenty of things that The Infinet gets right when it comes to speculative science fiction. First, it doesn’t dwell on the details of the “hard science,” but it does mention the concepts in passing. As far as I can tell, the ideas presented here are accurate, which is key for this genre. Secondly, so many authors put their personal biases into their narratives, which can sour the experience...
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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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BOOK: Boys vs. Men – The Definition of a Man (2017)

Boys vs. Men – The Definition of a Man Year: 2017 Author: Noah N. Johnson Length: 122 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Now, more than ever, society needs a good, hard look at what it means to be a man. For years and decades, absentee fathers have created generations of males who turn to less-reputable sources for their male role models. When I won this book as a Goodreads Giveaway, I was hopeful that it could be a resource I could recommend to “boys” who need to grow up into “men,” regardless of their age. Unfortunately, while this book addresses some of the fundamental issues of manhood, it doesn’t go nearly deep enough to hit the problems endemic with full-grown boys who should act like men. In defense of the author, this seems to be his first book, made evident by the very casual style of writing and a lack of understanding when it comes to interior formatting (all the pages were...
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MOVIE: Despicable Me 3 (2017)

Despicable Me 3 Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours Sometimes I wonder how this franchise became so popular. Perhaps this perception is due to the oversaturation of the annoying little “Minions” that seem to pervade every corner of social media. And yet, when I go to see a movie like this, I am soon reminded that there are relatable and underappreciated storylines and plot points contained within this silliness. I have rarely seen a better “adoption” storyline than the one presented in Despicable Me (2010). Of course, Despicable Me 2 (2013) took the natural next step and provided a “single dad looking for a wife” storyline that also is rarely seen in animation. With Despicable Me 3 (2017), the franchise transitions more into a series of vignettes better suited for a television show than a feature-length film. It was a little hard to tell which storyline was the main one for the film, even if they were all intertwined in some...
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BOOK: Plane (2017)

Plane Year: 2017 Author: William Hrdina Length: 148 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Two things help to create a good story: little to no suspension of disbelief, and realistic characters. The more a writer has to justify what they’re doing in the world they’ve written, either through scientific or historical inaccuracies, the harder it is for the reader to accept the story they’ve been given. Similarly, if the characters are only flat stereotypes or caricatures that act in pre-defined ways based on these broad brushstrokes, the reader can’t take the story seriously. Unfortunately, Plane fails on both of these elements. If anything, its short, novella length is its redemption since the reader doesn’t have to invest much into reading it. Let’s start with the suspension of disbelief. First off, I doubt a college student would be allowed to fill in for a professor at an international conference, let alone one where the student would be speaking on behalf of the professor. That...
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MOVIE: The Dark Tower (2017)

The Dark Tower Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours Like many “best-selling” books and book series made into movies, I don’t have the time to sit down and read them all before their film adaptations are released. The Dark Tower (2017) is no different. In fact, I was only made aware of the Dark Tower series shortly before the movie was announced. Therefore, unlike the diehard fans of the series, I had no expectations for the film other than the understanding that there would be some interesting fantasy/sci-fi elements presented on the big screen. Unfortunately, at a measly 93 minutes of runtime, The Dark Tower felt a little . . . light. Sure, all the essential elements of the story were there: the gunslinger protagonist (Idris Elba), the magical “Man in Black” antagonist (Matthew McConaughey), and the conflict of good vs. evil. And yet, so much of the plot seemed glossed over that the entire movie felt like a trailer for...
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BOOK: Stop Licking That (2017)

Stop Licking That Year: 2017 Author: Karin Mitchell Length: 270 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** As someone who does not have kids yet, I’ve read plenty about what to expect in the transition to parenthood. Stop Licking That takes the no-nonsense approach with a slightly humorous spin to let new parents know that it’s going to be a messy process for the first couple of years. While each of the chapters covers some topic about raising kids (especially two young boys), the stories tied to these sections end up being some of the same kinds of stories you’d hear from any other parent of young boys. If anything, Stop Licking That merely confirms that we shouldn’t take parenthood too seriously. As I received an Advanced Reader Copy for my review, I will assume that the handful of minor proofreading errors have been fixed. I also hope the gutter margins were increased, so the words don’t get lost in the crease between pages. I...
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MOVIE: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

War for the Planet of the Apes Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 140 minutes / 2.33 hours There’s something special about the final film in a “prequel trilogy” that almost defies explanation. It acts as a springboard to the original content while also tying up all the loose ends that presented themselves in the previous installments of the trilogy. Since the source material is well-known, a viewer can deduce how it will end, but not necessarily how it will get there. In this sense, movies like Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) and War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) share a common theme as links between the new and the old. Similar in tone to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), War continues the escalating conflict between the titular apes and the now-endangered humans. Unfortunately, because it places Caesar (Andy Serkis) as the primary protagonist of the whole trilogy, the “savior” parallels are a little too heavy-handed here. Heck, they should have titled it Passion of...
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MOVIE: Baby Driver (2017)

Baby Driver Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 112 minutes / 1.87 hours There are so many “heist” films nowadays that it’s practically its own genre, with all the tropes and clichés that go with it. Consequently, when I learned that Edgar Wright had directed a heist film, my interest was piqued. Best known for his parody comedies, Shaun of the Dead(2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World’s End (2013), the film of his I have enjoyed the most is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). His style is distinct throughout these films, which is what I was hoping for in Baby Driver (2017). While Wright’s visual style is present in Baby Driver, it is muted, almost in the background of the standard heist framework. With an almost 1980’s undertone, Baby Driver takes many cues from its predecessor, Drive (2011). Both feature an almost silent heist driver as the main character and plenty of entertaining driving sequences that are practically ballet on the boulevards. Fortunately, both films also focus on the characters, and not so much on the heist, giving...
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BOOK: The Legend of the Three Roses (2017)

The Legend of the Three Roses Year: 2017 Author: Jason Hubbard Length: 509 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** After reading plenty of sub-par independent authors recently, I was pleasantly surprised to have the opportunity to read The Legend of the Three Roses by Jason Hubbard. With a slick cover and good chapter header graphics, the book looks good, but how does it read? I’m a stickler for proofreading, and I found maybe one or two errors in the entire manuscript. Again, good so far. There were a few confusing spots near the end that could have used either chapter or scene breaks, but overall, the book was solid. What made me truly enjoy reading The Legend of the Three Roses were the characters. I can forgive a lot if the story is engaging, but if I find the characters annoying or illogical, I’ll usually force myself through. This book was not the case, as it had both an immersive story and setting,...
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BOOK: Forest Dark (2017)

Forest Dark Year: 2017 Author: Nicole Krauss Length: 290 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’ve read a lot of books this year, but very few of them I would consider “literature.” Forest Dark is the rare exception. The flowery language and high-concept imagery invoked in this book would certainly make it a prime candidate for some art-house film. Author Nicole Krauss doesn’t just tell a story (or two) in this book; she crafts them out of the very essence of the human condition with expertly chosen words. There’s little to no “fluff” in this book, which somewhat explains it somewhat shorter length, especially considering it’s two stories in one. While I am not Jewish, the two, intertwining narratives in Forest Dark pull out the cultural identity from two very different characters. From an aging man who wants to make a legacy without relying too much on his heritage to a woman who has been given an opportunity to use her skills as...
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MOVIE: Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours Wonder Woman (2017) is a triumphant movie that shows the comic book genre doesn’t have to be dominated by men. Unfortunately, because it took so long getting here, I can’t help but draw comparisons to other works that came before it, making Wonder Woman seem derivative. In fact, had this movie come out eight years ago, it would have made Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Thor (2011) look like they were copying it. As it stands, though, Wonder Woman feels formulaic, even if the superhero is a woman instead of a man. I will grant that some of the jokes come at the expense of the “fish out of water” character of Diana (Gal Gadot), playing on her naïveté of the “modern world” for laughs (a la Thor) but with a more sexualized context because she’s a woman. There were a few missed opportunities to add depth to the character via these circumstances, the interaction with Chief Napi (Eugene Brave Rock)...
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BOOK: Universe: Awakening (2017)

Universe: Awakening Year: 2017 Author: D. Ellis Overttun Length: 317 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** The idiom of “don’t judge a book by its cover” does not apply to Universe: Awakening. With a blurry and indistinct image that has a few colored boxes and basic sans-serif fonts slapped on top, it’s no wonder that the content inside is practically pointless. Furthermore, while there was an “awakening” in a flashback, and the book takes place in the universe, I suppose the title means something . . . not that it’s apparent to the reader. In fact, as this is the first book in the “Terra Nova” series, I can say those two words describe it adequately. “Terra” translates to “dirt,” which describes the clunky “tell instead of show” style of exposition (imagine reading someone doing Google searches for endless amounts of pages). “Nova” translates to “not going,” which describes the overall plot (every single scene had no point, and there was no urgency...
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MOVIE: Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours If there was one thing this movie excelled in, it was the advertising leading up to its release. I saw video ads on Facebook, trailers on television, and all sorts of viral marketing. Consequently, while the film looked neat, I didn't really know what it was about. Fast forward to months later when it arrived at the cheap theater in town and I decided to go see it. Within the first few minutes, I was somewhat surprised to learn that this movie was based on an obscure comic book series. Not that this really surprises me any longer. Sure, the superhero comics are bringing in big money at the box office, but the more "adult" comics (also sometimes known as "graphic novels") have been seeping in over the years as well, in part due to adaptations like V for Vendetta (2005) and Watchmen (2009). Even in this year alone, we've seen Valerian and Laureline adapted...
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MOVIE: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours When it comes to the films of Luc Besson, it’s often hit or miss. Sure, he’s directed many successful films, like Nikita (1990) and Léon: The Professional (1994), but some of his recent fare like The Family (2013) have left me disappointed. One of his best films is the sci-fi space opera (literally, even), The Fifth Element (1997). When I learned that he would be returning to this genre with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017), I certainly had high hopes for it. After viewing it for the first time, I can unquestionably say that my expectations were certainly met. Because Valerian has a French comic book series as its source, some of my qualms with this film might lie with the source material, and not the director. Some may recall the originality that came from another French comic book adaptation in the form of...
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BOOK: Napoleon’s Glass (2017)

Napoleon’s Glass Year: 2017 Author: Gillian Ingall Length: 308 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** While I received this book from the same publisher as Cale Dixon and the Moguk Murders and The Women of Cho: Heart and Seoul, I wasn't expecting anything good. However, I can attest that the author’s note at the beginning about how many people helped her edit this piece of historical fiction merely shows that the book could have just as easily been self-published. Sure, there are still a smattering of proofreading errors, and the punctuation seemed to be consistently lacking or against the American style I’m used to (It should be double quotes for all dialogue, in my opinion), but the story itself is quite solid. Put in the framework of a series of letters from a French noblewoman, Napoleon’s Glass puts a personal spin on the events of the downfall of Napoleon’s empire at the hands of the Russians, as well as other European turmoil that happened afterward. Despite some episodes being...
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MOVIE: Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours Part of me wishes that the title of this film were true. What I wouldn’t give to have these dead men not tell their tale of revenge. That being said, I had some hopes that this movie would help redeem the franchise after the lackluster On Stranger Tides (2011). After all, Javier Bardem has proven to be an effective villain in such films as No Country for Old Men (2007) and Skyfall (2012), so I thought he could help carry this movie as a solid antagonist. Unfortunately, even he could not save this sinking ship of a franchise. The main problem with Dead Men Tell No Tales is that it feels rote and uninspired. Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow feels more lucky than actually talented at pirating. Granted, that was some of his charm in the previous films, but not all of it. Add to this a...
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MOVIE: Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.76 hours Almost like clockwork, Christopher Nolan has directed a masterpiece of filmmaking every two-to-three years since the start of the millennium. While his prior work is certainly entertaining, most of it was set in a fictional environment that allowed him to play with the format of nonlinear storytelling. When I first heard that Nolan would be directing a film about the World War II retreat from Dunkirk, I was skeptical at first. I mean, while he's great at action movies like The Dark Knight (2010), mind-benders like Memento (2000), or even science fiction epics like Interstellar (2014), his only foray into the "historical" was via The Prestige (2006), and even that was mostly made up. What I did not realize going into Dunkirk (2017), was Nolan's ability to create art without the need for fancy camera tricks or mind-blowing plot twists. The simplicity of Dunkirk merely emphasizes the mastery of cinematography and directing that Christopher Nolan can...
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MOVIE: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 136 minutes / 2.27 hours I sometimes wonder if the strength of the first film in a series dooms the following films to a condition I refer to as “the trilogy conundrum.” If a single film is original and has a strong story that stands by itself, it almost requires the following films to be weaker in comparison, each sequel needing another sequel to tell a complete story. Films like Back to the Future (1985), The Matrix (1999), and Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) are fantastic films that defined their generation, but their sequels were highly dependent on a follow-on sequel, thus making the trilogy complete, but lacking the strength of the initial film. I hate to say it, but Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017) falls into this “trilogy conundrum.” The original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was a fun and meaningful departure from its Marvel comic book brethren. This sequel, however,...
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MOVIE: T2 Trainspotting (2017)

T2 Trainspotting Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 In the vein of successful and groundbreaking films receiving sequels two decades after the fact (I'm looking at you, Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)), director Danny Boyle is at it again with T2 Trainspotting (2017). While the original Trainspotting (1996) was a fun bit of cinema that used a unique visual style to emulate the sensations of the highs (and lows) of drug use, the ending was pretty definitive. Still, because drug use can have long-lasting effects, the Trainspotting sequel is an important part of the whole narrative. Unfortunately, as is the case with these types of sequels, the story didn't change at all. After all, if it worked once, what's to say it won't work again. T2 Trainspotting continues to glamorize the party lifestyle of sex, drugs, and rock and roll in a visual style that's fun to watch. Of course, what was a little interesting about this sequel is that it was almost self-aware of...
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MOVIE: King Arthur – Legend of the Sword (2017)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 126 minutes / 2.1 hours Years ago, I watched Guy Ritchie's first film, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). I thoroughly enjoyed the comedic repartee, well-paced action, and simple heist scenario. Afterward, I decided to watch the rest of his films (omitting Swept Away (2002) for obvious reasons). Films like Snatch (2000) and RocknRolla (2008) held very similar premises, but even in his other films like Revolver (2005), you could see the distinctive style Ritchie has when he shoots his films. In hindsight, not all of these films are great, but they were certainly entertaining for me. Enter Sherlock Holmes (2009), and this big-budget film gave Guy Ritchie a bit more mainstream attention, as it also sported Robert Downey Jr. on a career hot streak. The striking visual style remained, which also helped in the sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011). Because I also enjoyed the 60's period piece, The Man...
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BOOK: Armstrong and Charlie (2017)

Armstrong and Charlie Year: 2017 Author: Steven B. Frank Length: 304 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** With race relations where they are today, it’s almost somewhat jarring to know that things haven’t changed much in over four decades. In an attempt to educate the next generation about racism, Steven B. Frank’s Armstrong and Charlie is an excellent start. While I would like to think that race relations have improved since the mid-1970’s, there are plenty of lessons available in this book that are applicable today. Still, racism can be a two-way street, and I couldn’t help but think of the Avenue Q song, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” Beyond the obvious racial undertones to this book, Armstrong and Charlie is a fantastic book about growing up. Aimed at kids on the cusp of growing into adults, the book masterfully represents moments of peer pressure where the characters have to decide what the correct response should be. Not only does it have valuable lessons about lying, stealing, bullying, and...
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BOOK: Lost in Arcadia (2017)

Lost in Arcadia Year: 2017 Author: Sean Gandert Length: 412 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** When I first started reading Lost in Arcadia (the “A Novel” tag is unnecessary), I learned “Arcadia” was a computer program / operating system and expected the plot to be somewhat akin to Tron (1982), The Matrix (1999), or Ready Player One. Instead, this program barely features in the book, and the plot only briefly examines what an internet addiction can look like. Of the five-ish main characters, only three of them even interact with Arcadia, which I find hard to believe is a successful game from Electronic Arts, considering the plethora of bugs they usually have in their products. As a character-driven narrative, there are just too many to justify spending time with each of them. If the plot focused on the three Arcadia-linked characters, then they might have been developed and interesting. Of course, that’s if you even get that far into the book. All the characters are profane and irritating, not...
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BOOK: The Null Prophecy (2017)

The Null Prophecy Year: 2017 Author: Michael Guillen Length: 424 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As far as “end of the world” books go, this one is a new take on the apocalypse genre. From my knowledge of space weather and its effects on our world, I can say that aspects of this book are entirely plausible. That being said, I have minimal knowledge of the quantum vacuum, so I have merely chalked the plot points surrounding it to magical hand-waving to get the story to go where it needs to. While I would have enjoyed an apocalyptic story that didn’t blame humans for their own destruction, The Null Prophecy only met me half-way. What often comes across as “preachy,” the occasional mentions of green energy doing more harm than good do bring up an interesting point: in our race to solve the fossil fuel crisis, have we considered all the consequences of these newer energy-producing methods? When it comes to advancing the technological...
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MOVIE: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty and the Beast Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours When it comes to the Disney live-action remakes, there are a few things to consider. While some plots are drastically different from their originals, like in Maleficent (2014), others gained plots that were light or non-existent, like in The Jungle Book (2016). When it comes to adapting Beauty and the Beast (1991), the fact that it received a nomination for the Best Picture Oscar speaks volumes of the story that already existed. Consequently, little has changed with the general thrust of the live-action remake, but it added many details that helped to round out the plot. Not only was Belle’s (Emma Watson) past explained a little better, but the turning point in her relationship with Beast (Dan Stevens) was much more natural than it was in its predecessor. I will also admit that the ending, while still the same outcome, carried a much larger emotional impact (something closer to that of...
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BOOK: The Rook Crew (2017)

The Rook Crew Year: 2017 Author: Mirella Muffarotto Length: 488 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Usually, when I enter a Goodreads Giveaway, I have an expectation for what the book is about via the title and the cover. With The Rook Crew, my expectations were way off. With the cover, I was expecting a shoujo (a Japanese term signifying an audience comprised of female teenagers) light novel. I didn’t know what to think about the title, but I honestly can’t say it has anything to do with this book. “The Rook Café” is a location in this book that’s visited maybe a half-dozen times, with no indication of why it’s significant or unique. Likewise, the “crew” that visits The Rook Café regularly was never fleshed out beyond the main characters and one or two minor ones. If it were me, I’d title the book something like Soccer Sweetheart, which would accurately convey the sports/romance aspects of the book. I will admit that the pacing is...
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MOVIE: The Circle (2017)

The Circle Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours In an ever-increasingly digital world, practically everyone online is concerned with privacy. Of course, we are willing to give up this privacy to make our lives more convenient. In The Circle (2017), the eponymous corporation is merely a stand-in for Google/Facebook/Amazon/Apple and is essentially a conglomeration of sorts of these tech companies. Of course, just like that antiquated operating system you’ve meant to update, The Circle contains a premise about five years too late. When the book this movie was based on came out, I’m sure it was thought-provoking; now it’s more a matter of “Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard this already.” Part of what strikes me about this film is that several segments of it probably worked better in the book. When I’m watching characters explain “mandatory fun” I can’t help but cringe and wonder if it reads better than the performance I saw. Granted, there are segments which are better on the...
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MOVIE: Kong – Skull Island (2017)

Kong: Skull Island Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Given how incredibly groundbreaking the special effects in the original King Kong (1933) were, I can understand why they keep re-using this character. Of course, while King Kong (1976) was mislabeled as “original” in its advertising, the advancements in CGI made King Kong (2005) at least as visually stunning as its 1933 predecessor. Still, the story has remained the same: humans visit Skull Island, humans find Kong, humans bring Kong to New York, Kong climbs the tallest building, and humans kill Kong. Consequently, I didn’t have much of an expectation of Kong: Skull Island (2017), since I thought I knew what the plot would be. I can honestly say that Kong: Skull Island is the best adaptation of this character since 1933. A few choices helped to create an original story that deviated from the norm. Sure, humans go to Skull Island to find Kong, but the other creatures they find there...
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BOOK: The Lighthouse Keeper (2017)

The Lighthouse Keeper Year: 2017 Author: Cynthia Ellingsen Length: 380 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’d love to call this book “cute,” but I’m afraid Kip would toss me into Lake Michigan. That being said, part of me now wants to go out, get a nautical compass tattoo on my arm and buy a dilapidated lighthouse to restore. I don’t usually read “romance” novels. Of course, I'm not sure I could even consider this book in that genre since it had so many other aspects to it, but I almost immediately fell in love with the characters and the setting. The story came to life in my head, even to the point where I started mentally casting the movie (probably Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Evans, and Reese Witherspoon for starters). While the main premise that started the plot seemed a little unbelievable (why would this insurance company have a lien on a house that isn’t insured by them?), the story has a ton...
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MOVIE: Power Rangers (2017)

Power Rangers Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 124 minutes / 2.06 hours In one of the many gritty reboots of a nostalgic 1990’s franchise, I didn’t have much expectation for Power Rangers (2017). The original show was pretty campy, with a tried-and-true plot structure that didn’t change much from episode to episode. In fact, I probably couldn’t tell you the specific plot of any of the episodes. They’d usually follow this format: the main villain would go about trying to obtain some goal via their minions/henchmen, the Power Rangers would morph and fight the minions/henchmen, the minions/henchmen would grow large and start destroying everything, the Power Rangers would call their Zords out to battle, and (finally) the Zords would combine into the Megazord and the foe would be vanquished. While Power Rangers did follow some of the structure of the television show format, it also managed to create characters with some depth and background to them. From a disgraced football star to an autistic teen...
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MOVIE: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Having only seen the original Ghost in the Shell (1995) film (and its 2008 remake), and not having read the manga on which it was based, most of my comparisons of the 2017 live-action adaptation are from the anime film adaptations that came before it. For its time, the original Ghost in the Shell movie was revolutionary. Along with similarly violent anime films like Akira (1988), Ghost in the Shell showed the world that animation wasn’t just for kids. The adult and more psychological aspects of these films are what helped set them apart as some of the groundbreaking films in the anime genre. Regarding the live-action remake, I think it honestly took too long to get here. The concepts of cybernetically enhanced humans are surprisingly close to realized technology today. Given that these ideas seemed quite futuristic in the early 1990’s, the fact that they are plausible within the next...
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BOOK: The Tracker (2017)

The Tracker Year: 2017 Author: Chad Zunker Length: 336 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As I mentioned in my review of Hard Road, I’m starting to find myself genuinely enjoying the thriller genre. The pace is almost frenetic, the action is exciting, and the stakes are always high. The first book in the Sam Callahan series, The Tracker is all of these tropes and clichés, but it also has much more. While most thrillers have protagonists who are older and have plenty of life (and tactical) experience, The Tracker decides to go much younger with the main character. Granted, this choice works because Sam Callahan has already lived a lifetime out on the streets and managed to escape its clutches and now considers himself better in spite of it. Even though I appreciated the depth of the main character, part of me felt ripped away from the action each time the book went into “flashback mode.” Sometimes these sections would cover many...
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BOOK: Julia Dream (2017)

Julia Dream Year: 2017 Author: Fabia Scali-Warner Length: 280 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** When I received a request to review Julia Dream, the author told me I might like it because I enjoyed Ender’s Game. This book is no Ender’s Game. While the eponymous character of Julia Dream is a teenager conscripted into military service, much like the titular Ender from Ender’s Game, that’s essentially where the similarities end. Ender endured persecution and harsh realities and learned to work them into a strategic advantage over an alien species. Julia seemed to be picked at random to defend an empire, then promoted with no other reason than she survived easily survivable situations. Part of why I genuinely loved Ender’s Game was because the immersive narrative built upon itself, adding interesting characters who added to a well-rounded cast of compatriots. This is part of why I did not enjoy Julia Dream. As I read, I didn't engage with the main character, who was robotic and...
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MOVIE: Logan (2017)

Logan Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours I'm not sure I know what to think about this movie. I mean, I wanted to like it inasmuch as I like a lot of the action-filled superhero movies that preceded it. However, the plot felt like it had less to do with these fantastic mutant abilities and more about just living life as normal people. Don't get me wrong: there are plenty of mutant abilities on display in this film, it's just that they weren't necessarily the focus of it. In fact, if you took away the fact that this was based on comic book characters, you'd still have a film about a father trying to care for a daughter he never knew he had. Almost sounds cliche to me. Regarding the Wolverine spinoff series, Logan (2017), is a strong finish after the abysmal Wolverine: Origins (2009) and slightly improved The Wolverine (2013). I did appreciate the finality of it, especially considering the whole X-Men...
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MOVIE: The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

The LEGO Batman Movie Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours While The LEGO Movie (2014) did a good job of initially not making its universe seem like it was just in the imagination of a 10-year-old child, The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) dispenses with that illusion and goes full-bore into the child-like mind. From the dialogue to the wide variety of licensed characters to the regular “pew, pew pew” sounds made when guns and lasers are fired, The LEGO Batman Movie steps right into what you’d expect a movie about a children’s building toy would be. Of course, with Batman being one of the best characters from The LEGO Movie, it’s no wonder why he was first to get a spinoff film. Regarding plot, it was simplistic. Kids would certainly be able to “get” that family matters, even if they aren’t biologically related. But fear not adults, there’s plenty for you in this film as well. Perhaps the best mark of...
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BOOK: Tiger and the Robot (2017)

Tiger and the Robot Year: 2017 Author: Grahame Shannon Length: 250 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** In this era of smartphones and artificial intelligence (AI), it's interesting to see a book start to explore the topic of AI without getting too bogged down in the details. With movies like Her (2013) showing just how integrated into our lives an AI personal assistant can be, this book's approach almost takes the idea from that movie and fuses it with the "mute" AI from Person of Interest. Unfortunately, I felt the AI section of the book distracted by the endless sailing adventures. As someone who lives in a land-locked state, I didn't understand much of the sailing jargon in this book (especially when it became technical), but I do think this book had some potential. Despite containing a main character who comes off a bit like a creeper (and thus somewhat unrelatable), one of my main qualms with Tiger and the Robot was the disjointed...
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MOVIE: John Wick – Chapter 2 (2017)

John Wick: Chapter 2 Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours As far as sequels go, I was looking forward to the second installment of the John Wick franchise, mostly because I was interested to see how it would take the genre-defying changes it made in the first film and expound upon them. While you don't need to know much of the plot of the first movie, other than knowing John Wick (Keanu Reeves) was the best professional killer ever, and now he’s trying to live a peaceful life in retirement, one could almost wonder if the first film was even necessary. Plot-wise, John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) provides a much more interesting storyline instead of just an accidental mistake made by a stupid kid of a mob boss. Unfortunately, while the plot is much improved, the action seems a little stale. Sure, Wick’s “dance of death” remains an impressive sight to behold, but now the camera is starting to trend back...
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MUSIC: CSPhil – 007: The Music of James Bond

Colorado Springs Philharmonic Conductor: Thomas Wilson Date: March 4, 2017 Very few film franchises have been able to stand the test of time. Of course, with the resurgence of reboots and remakes, some long-gone franchises are starting to find themselves once again. The James Bond franchise has had a few bumps over the years, but it continues to maintain its presence in the popular culture landscape. One of the most recognizable aspects of this franchise has certainly been its music. There's a tension in it that oozes action and masculinity. With films spanning half a century, the music has done its best to keep up with the changing styles of our culture. Similar musical styles gave many of the early Bond films' title songs a very consistent sound. I was a little disappointed that the Philharmonic chose to do "The Look of Love" from the 1960's spoof, Casino Royale, instead of the Herb Alpert opening track, but at least it matched the tone with the rest of...
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BOOK: Eric Olafson, Space Pirate (2017)

Eric Olafson, Space Pirate Year: 2017 Author: Vanessa Ravencroft ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** I'll admit that I'm sometimes a glutton for punishment, but even I have my limits. About a quarter of the way through this book, I had to give up. I couldn't suffer through reading it anymore. There were a number of factors for this decision. First, this was apparently a book in the midst of a larger series and it was even an entry of its own, sub-series. I had not read any books from either series, so I was quite lost when it came to the characters and other pieces of information that might be considered "common knowledge" by this point in their respective series. Secondly, I could not stand the constant stream of proofreading errors. Every time they came up, I was immediately pulled out of the story. What strikes me as odd in this second aspect is the publisher of this work: Inkitt. On their website,...
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BOOK: Esper Files 2 – Sky Cult (2017)

Esper Files 2: Sky Cult Year: 2017 Author: Egan Brass Length: 187 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** It has been said before that there are no original thoughts. The way to appear original is dependent upon how well you can hide your sources. One of my qualms with the Esper Files series from the beginning has been that it feels very derivative. Right from the get-go, I felt the series was essentially just an X-Men clone set in the steampunk genre. While this was an interesting concept, too much of it was pulled from the popular franchise, making it a bit distracting. In the sequel, Esper Files 2: Sky Cult, a few more references were worked in to help make the characters and story feel a bit more original. I picked up tones of anime like Fairy Tail and One Piece in this story, but I also picked up another blatantly obvious reference: Deadpool. Sure, I get it, he’s a fun character to...
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MUSIC: CSPhil – Divas of the 60’s

Colorado Springs Philharmonic Conductor: Thomas Wilson Date: February 11, 2017 If there was one thing I learned about this performance by the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, it's that I really didn't start paying attention to music until the 1970's. Perhaps it was due to not understanding or appreciating the Motown style, but there were quite a few songs during the concert that I just straight didn't recognize. Even some famous songs just passed right by my recognition. This is all likely my own fault, but the experience was still nice, nonetheless. Of the pieces I did recognize, it was fun to sing along, especially with the enhanced music the philharmonic could provide to accompany it. There were times, though, that the music drowned out the singers and I couldn't tell what they were saying, but that also may have been due to my location in the uppermost part of the balcony of the Pike's Peak Center. Either way, the visuals provided by the lights and variety of dresses...
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MUSIC: CSPhil – Beethoven and Tchaikovsky

Colorado Springs Philharmonic Conductor: Josep Caballé Domenech Date: January 21, 2017 Halcyon Skies Daniel Kellogg Much like many of the other compositions commissioned to celebrate the anniversary of the writing of "America the Beautiful," this piece did an excellent job of capturing the size and majesty of the mountain known as Pike's Peak. It starts at sunrise, as the sun slowly illuminates the mountain in its purple pre-dawn light. As the alpenglow builds, the enormity of the mountain comes into view. The sunrise then rests on a lone hiker at the base of this prominent peak. We then follow this hiker as he climbs along the trail through the woods, occasionally taking a short break to look back on how far he's come. Continuing his climb, he arrives at the summit and is rewarded with the brilliance of the view afforded to his effort. Symphony No. 8 Ludwig van Beethoven It's interesting to me that this piece was chosen as one of the first to start off...
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