MOVIE: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours There’s one quote in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) that sums up the entire movie. “This isn’t really about Fred Rogers.” Considering this film was based on the magazine article that is central to the plot, it’s no wonder that Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) is merely an ancillary character to the events that happen in Lloyd Vogel’s (Matthew Rhys) life. While Mr. Rogers’ gentle influence is undeniable, I can’t help but think that the recent documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018), is a better examination of his life’s work overall. I do have to give kudos to Tom Hanks for taking on a challenging role that has many fond memories for tons of people. Hanks captured Fred Rogers’ soft-spoken demeanor and gentle mannerisms as best as only he could. Part of the trouble, though, is that Tom Hanks is so recognizable, that half the time I...
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MOVIE: Rocketman (2019)

Rocketman Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours After the critical success of Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), it felt like the market was ripe for another movie about a homosexual piano-playing musician. Enter Rocketman (2019), a biopic about Elton John (Taron Egerton) that didn’t quite know what to do with itself. Was it supposed to be the greatest hits of Elton John songs, like Mamma Mia! (2008) was for ABBA? If it was intended as a straight biography of Elton’s life, it falls into all the tropes that seem to be requirements for the genre. There didn’t seem to be anything original here other than sex, drugs, and rock and roll. One aspect of Elton John’s rise to stardom that I found interesting was his ability to pick up and play any song after hearing it once. This skill is quite a rare trait, and I almost wished this film played up that aspect a little more. I also was intrigued to learn...
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MOVIE: Terminator – Dark Fate (2019)

Terminator: Dark Fate Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours I’ll admit that Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) was a difficult movie to follow. Basically the perfect sequel, this film is generally what we associate with the Terminator franchise. From its plethora of meme-able moments to its fantastic action and visual effects, Terminator 2 set a high bar for any film in the franchise to follow it. While Terminator: Rise of the Machines (2003) tried to tie up the first three movies into a neat little trilogy, most felt unsatisfied with its ending. This is why, almost 20 years after Terminator 2 released, we’re still trying to find that satisfying bit of closure. Compared to its predecessors, Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) certainly came the closest to achieving this closure. After all, we’ve seen the effects of time travel in the future with Terminator: Salvation (2009) and an alternate reality with Terminator: Genisys (2015). As a direct sequel to Terminator 2, Dark Fate...
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MOVIE: I Lost My Body (2019)

I Lost My Body Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 81 minutes / 1.35 hours Some movies can only be done with animation. Whether it’s the fantastical or alien nature of the content or the visual aesthetic trying to be achieved, animation is pretty flexible with what it can do. Enter I Lost My Body (2019), which is a prime case study in the power of animation. Sure, this could have been done up in realistic CGI, but then it would probably be more in line with the horror genre than the “slice of life” (har har) we have on display here. Either way, I have never seen an entire movie centered on a severed hand trying to get back to the body that lost it…until now. With hints of Homeward Bound (1993) and The Addams Family (1991), I Lost My Body plays out in parallel with the strangely-relatable severed hand and the flashbacks of the whole body, Naoufel (Dev Patel). At times heartfelt (even in...
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MOVIE: Marriage Story (2019)

Marriage StoryYear: 2019Rating: RLength: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours Marriage Story (2019) isn’t a movie about divorce so much as it is a movie about the east coast vs. the west coast. While I’ll admit that there were some pretty good performances in this film (notably, Laura Dern was spectacular), there wasn’t anything new here that other movies like Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) hadn’t covered. Additionally, it was a bit difficult to separate the two leads (Scarlett Johannsson and Adam Driver) from their other famous movie roles, which made it difficult to commit to the premise fully. Plus, movies like Marriage Story are just uncomfortable looks into lives in shambles that probably hit too close to home for some people. It’s weird how so many successful elements didn’t come together cohesively for me. Randy Newman’s score sounded great, but it made the film sound more like Toy Story (1995) than Marriage Story. Likewise, with the famous acting talent present: they had exemplary...
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MOVIE: Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Ford v Ferrari Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 152 minutes / 2.53 hours Full disclosure: I’m not a “car guy.” Sure, my education was in Mechanical Engineering, and I can appreciate well-crafted machines, but I see cars as mere tools to get from point A to point B. Consequently, I don’t have much interest in car racing and didn’t initially want to see Ford v Ferrari (2019). Luckily for me, this film was chosen as one of this year’s nominees for Best Picture. After watching it, I can clearly see why. For someone who isn’t into cars or racing, I was completely enthralled and entertained by Ford v Ferrari. This movie is a tour de force when it comes to several filmmaking aspects. It expertly used its sound design, music, and cinematography to give the raw tension of racing highly-engineered machines meant for one thing only: to go fast. In fact, I only had two qualms with this movie on the whole. First, the “marketing...
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BOOK: How To (2019)

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems Year: 2019 Author: Randall Munroe Length: 307 pages I’ve been a fan of Randall Munroe’s work for quite some time. This artist of the xkcd webcomic certainly has a sense of humor that I appreciate, so I looked forward to his latest book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems. While his previous book, What if? covered hypothetical scenarios asked by the users of the internet, How To takes a somewhat opposite approach by using extreme science to do the most basic things imaginable. If you’re looking for simple answers, this isn’t the book for you. While it’s fun to think of the most complicated way to (for example) be on time, often the joke goes on a little too long as the exact science behind the absurdity is explained. There were times I felt I was reading a textbook instead of a humorous treatise on how to cross a river. Even though I...
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MOVIE: Parasite (2019)

Parasite Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours If you haven’t discovered South Korean cinema yet, Parasite (2019) is a fantastic introduction for the uninitiated. Director Bong Joon-ho has been hard at work over the last 20 years, helping craft films that are thoughtful and horrifying. Movies like The Host (2006) and Snowpiercer (2013) give a sense of his artistic style. Parasite merely takes his ability to shed light on class conflict and molds it into a masterpiece that’s half heist-comedy, half horror-drama, and all suspense. If it weren’t for the somewhat lackluster ending, I’d give this film the full five stars it deserves. At the base of Parasite is a conflict between the impoverished and the rich. This theme could be easily applied to any country with a wide income disparity, which is probably why it works so well in the United States as well as in South Korea. To survive in these environments, the poor must do their best to...
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MOVIE: Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Jojo RabbitYear: 2019Rating: PG-13Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours When I first saw the trailers for Jojo Rabbit (2019), I thought this movie looked like a fun and satirical romp through Nazi Germany. With the director (Taika Waititi) portraying an imaginary Adolf Hitler, the comedy was in full display during the trailers. After all, Waititi directed Thor: Ragnarok (2017), which is arguably one of the funniest films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Plus, Jojo Rabbit seemed to focus on a 10-year-old boy (Roman Griffin Davis) in the Hitler Youth, which gave some strong Boy Scout vibes that I could potentially relate to. Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed to find that the trailers contained all the comedy in Jojo Rabbit. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the remainder of the film gave some amount of cynicism and reality to the fanatical enthusiasm of Jojo and the other members of the Hitler Youth. In fact, there’s a significant scene that really hits home...
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MOVIE: Frozen II (2019)

Frozen IIYear: 2019Rating: PGLength: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours After the cultural phenomenon that was Frozen (2013) had cooled off a little, a sequel was an inevitable conclusion. The trouble with such sequels is multi-faceted: how do you recapture the magic of the first movie while also creating something new that advances the story? Unfortunately, Frozen II (2019) falls into the trap of focusing on what made the first so successful that it almost feels like it’s mimicking its origins. To top it off, the new elements introduced in this film are either predictable plot points or over-done tropes. But hey, it’s Disney, and it looks absolutely gorgeous, even if some of the main characters seemed slightly more exaggerated in their presentation (perhaps starting to edge closer to the uncanny valley). While the songs all hit similar beats to their predecessors, most of them seem to fall short or were emphasized in the wrong places. Case in point, I found “Show Yourself”...
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MOVIE: Little Women (2019)

Little WomenYear: 2019Rating: PGLength: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours After the success of Greta Gerwig’s debut film, Lady Bird (2017), I was pleased to find her directing again with a tried and true classic, Little Women (2019). This movie isn’t new or its content original by any means (this is the seventh film adaptation after all). However, Gerwig has managed to give it a poignancy and relevance to today’s issues while still maintaining an apparent loyalty to the period. It probably helped that Gerwig had tons of acting talent along for this film, including collaborators from her last film: Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet. In the end, I found this to be perhaps my most favorite adaptation of this classic piece of literature. Where Gerwig shines in this film is her ability to use flashbacks and dueling timelines to show the contrast and growth of the characters in stark moments of brilliance. My one qualm is that this technique was perhaps used...
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MOVIE: The Irishman (2019)

The IrishmanYear: 2019Rating: RLength: 209 minutes / 3.48 hours At almost three-and-a-half hours long, The Irishman (2019) might seem like a daunting movie to sit through. However, much like Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019) gave Quentin Tarantino the space to make the movie he wanted to, Netflix seems to have allowed Martin Scorsese to create the film he wanted with little-to-no interference. Consequently, the 3.5 hours of this movie could have probably stood a bit of a trim, but the pacing is so well done as to make the time fly by (similar to another movie of epic proportions, Lawrence of Arabia (1962)). One of the most significant strengths of this movie appears to be its de-aging technology. While it’s still a bit on the edge of the uncanny valley, the main actors did look significantly younger than their current ages during the flashback sequences. Instead of relying on look-alikes and teaching them the mannerisms of these incredibly talented actors, Scorsese...
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VIDEO GAME: Untitled Goose Game (2019)

Untitled Goose Game Year: 2019 Rating: E Time Played: 2+ hours The indie breakout hit of the year, Untitled Goose Game, has a lot going for it. The action-synched music, the visual aesthetic, and (most of all) the ability to play as a modern-age dinosaur. While most of the geese I’ve interacted with in my life have been of the Canadian variety, the controls and feel of this British goose are accurate enough for me to become lost in moments of hilarity at the hands of this foul waterfowl. However, for $20, I can’t recommend anyone pay that much for what amounts to a polished tech demo. Despite all it has going for it, Untitled Goose Game is incredibly short. I was able to play through the four main areas in only a few hours, not bothering to complete the expanded list of tasks as most of them were minor variants of the things I had already done. Additionally, while the game seems open-world at...
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MOVIE: Knives Out (2019)

Knives OutYear: 2019Rating: PG-13Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours One of the most under-utilized genres to date, a good mystery movie is hard to find these days. This is partly why Knives Out (2019) is such a joy to watch. With plenty of twists and turns—and a murderer that subverts all the numerous tropes of the genre—this film is almost on the edge of self-aware satire of mysteries on the whole. This is partly why I found Knives Out to be delightfully amusing: the absurd nature of some of the genre’s most tightly-held motifs were playfully subverted for a couple of genuine laughs. Of course, part of the problem of Knives Out being so self-aware is that it is inevitably predictable at several key moments. Depending on how far ahead a viewer can deduce the solution to a critical piece of evidence might determine how predictable it is for them. I did appreciate that there was always one piece of the puzzle...
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MOVIE: X-Men – Dark Phoenix (2019)

X-Men: Dark Phoenix Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours I’m all for more faithful adaptations of stories into film. However, in long-running series like the X-Men franchise, I can’t help but wonder if efforts could have been spent on different storylines instead of trying to fix past mistakes. I know the “Dark Phoenix” saga is one of the best in the X-Men series, but after X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) tried to fill the gap of X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) created by the ret-con in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), I can honestly say I preferred the version in The Last Stand. Up until now, I’ve been okay with the “First Class” set of prequels. They have taken an alternate history approach to lay out the lore of the X-Men, which I like. The problem with Dark Phoenix is that—after covering three decades in the last three films—the timeline finally caught up with the original trilogy. It was fun to...
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MOVIE: Star Wars – Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 142 minutes / 2.37 hours Full disclosure: I’m not a die-hard Star Wars fan by any means. Sure, I like the original trilogy, but Return of the Jedi (1983) is my favorite of that set (take that how you will). In the end, I don’t look at this franchise through the lens of the expanded universe or all the lore tied to it. I just see them as movies. Are they entertaining? Sure, they have their moments. Are they groundbreaking? Not since A New Hope (1977), in my opinion. So, while The Force Awakens (2015) felt like a rehash/reboot, I did appreciate how The Last Jedi (2017) took some risks in terms of character development. So, how does The Rise of Skywalker (2019) fare? First of all, the plot moves at a hyperspace-clipped pace. There seemed to be so many loose ends to tie up and nostalgia to fit in that...
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MOVIE: One Piece – Stampede (2019)

One Piece: Stampede Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours It’s interesting how different Japanese franchises handle their 20th-anniversary movies. In the case of Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You (2017), a nostalgia tactic was used to bring in those viewers who might not have seen a Pokémon movie since the anime started airing back in 1997. Two years later, and another well-known anime (or at least it should be well known) has a movie that celebrates the 20th year of its animated series. One Piece: Stampede (2019) takes a somewhat different tactic here and embraces everything that turned it into what it is today. While anime movies rarely interact with the canon of the series they’re based on, it is essential to note that the author of the original manga did help create the story for Stampede. The reason why this is important is that this movie was able to bring together 20 years’ worth of extraordinarily overpowered and unique characters in a way...
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BOOK: Cribsheet (2019)

Cribsheet Year: 2019 Author: Emily Oster Length: 642 minutes / 10.70 hours As a new parent and an engineer, I am skeptical when so much advice about raising a baby comes from hearsay or anecdotal evidence. So many controversial topics abound in the early years of a child’s life that I wanted to make sure I was basing my decisions off the scientific data instead of mere wives' tales. Fortunately, Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool exists. Unfortunately, it has merely proven to me that there haven’t been enough rigorous studies to show any causal relationships to make my parenting decisions any easier. Similar in the tactics of Zero to Five (whose author was a science journalist), Cribsheet takes the experience of an economist and pits it against the studies that have been performed to determine which of them are legitimate enough to be trusted. In most cases, it seems that plenty of research into the benefits and detriments for children (and parents) merely...
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MOVIE: Zombieland – Double Tap (2019)

Zombieland: Double Tap Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours It's a little weird to me that it's been a full decade since Zombieland (2009) came out. While I thought the original film was goofy and fun, it has since gained a bit of a cult following. What's weirder to me is how—in the years since the original—many of the cast of this franchise have gone on to be nominated for (and in some cases won) Oscars for their acting talent. It's no wonder the advertisements for Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) have picked up on this fact and used it to promote another ridiculous foray into the self-aware satire of zombie films. While I do admit that Zombieland: Double Tap does require having seen the first film to pick up on its numerous references, I also knew that its comedy would be as smart as its predecessor. I appreciated this wit, especially with a few literary references thrown in (like to Of...
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MOVIE: Yesterday (2019)

Yesterday Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours When I saw the first trailers for Yesterday (2019), I had some high hopes for this movie. The premise of only one person remembering The Beatles in a world where this famous band didn’t exist was intriguing enough by itself to warrant a watch. Plus, with Danny Boyle directing, I had perhaps anticipated more than what I actually got. It’s hard to hate a movie with such a great soundtrack full of Beatles songs, but the execution of the entire idea left me wanting a bit more and breaking my suspension of disbelief on more than one occasion. Back in high school, I had a history assignment to perform a thought experiment similar to Yesterday: what happens if The Beatles didn’t exist? Instead of just being a weird gap in the cultural zeitgeist, I think this movie would have done better to see the amount of influence the band had throughout the music industry. Sure, some moments...
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MOVIE: Joker (2019)

Joker Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours With the saturation of superhero movies between Marvel and DC at all-time highs, it was only a matter of time before a movie like Joker (2019) would come along. If anything, the current socio-political environment in the real world is ripe for this kind of story. While superhero films are appealing to show how individuals with exotic abilities can do battle in CGI-heavy fight sequences, there is a certain amount of horror involved with Joker in the sense that it could realistically happen. There aren’t any radioactive spiders. There isn’t any high-tech gadgetry. There’s only mental illness. I applaud the team behind Joker for not resorting to hackneyed comic book origin stories like chemical spills or “tit for tat” vendettas (even if we had to watch one of the same origin stories again near the end). The casting of Joaquin Phoenix was initially an odd choice, but he nails the role. His type of methodical acting almost humanizes one of...
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MOVIE: Ad Astra (2019)

Ad Astra Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with Ad Astra (2019). The trailers I had seen made it seem like it was an action-filled space adventure akin to Interstellar (2014) or Gravity (2013). While it did handle all the outer space issues in a somewhat scientifically accurate way, Ad Astra was a much slower movie than I thought it would be. In fact, I’d probably compare it more to films like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) for its almost plodding pacing. The real trick is that the plot of Ad Astra is basically an outer space version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, of which Apocalypse Now! (1979) is perhaps the most notable movie adaptation. Ad Astra does get credit for the beauty of its outer space environment. The settings felt massive in scale and intimate in their proximity. Each portion and waypoint of the journey seemed precisely how I would picture them eventually occurring in our not-to-distant future. Even if some aspects of the film...
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BOOK: Get Thee…Back to the Future! (2019)

William Shakespeare’s Get Thee…Back to the Future! Year: 2019 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 215 minutes / 3.58 hours Having already listened to the audiobooks for the Shakespearean versions of the original Star Wars trilogy, I was curious to see how another beloved pop culture film would fare with the treatment. Get Thee…Back to the Future! had a bit more of a challenge when compared to the Star Wars stories. First, as the plot is set in (relatively) modern times, much of our technology had to be “explained” in Shakespearean format (e.g., a car is “a horseless carriage born on fumes of gas and flame”). At least the Star Wars stories seemed to fit in the Shakespearean timeframe a little better. Despite this clash of modern and medieval, the transformation into Shakespearean form does end up working. I’d probably compare this to some of his comedies like Taming of the Shrew, 12th Night, and Much Ado About Nothing, if for no other reason than the comedy...
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MOVIE: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 161 minutes / 2.68 hours Quentin Tarantino has changed. While I loved Inglorious Basterds (2009) for its alternate history, and Django Unchained (2012) was another strong showing, it seems like he’s just getting out of his western phase. For his latest film, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019), Tarantino seems to have continued his trend of making very long movies but chose to condense his trademark graphic violence down into an intense sequence that only lasts a few minutes at most  (like The Hateful Eight (2015)). Perhaps he has matured as a director, but that’s what makes this film so jarring compared to his previous work. Anyone familiar with the Tarantino aesthetic knows that he’s particularly fond of the pop culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Consequently, it’s interesting to see how real he’s made this era feel on the big screen. That being said, some of the “fake” movies appearing in this film are...
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MOVIE: Spider-man: Far from Home (2019)

Spider-man: Far from Home Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours After the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), there were still plenty of questions that remained. While still part of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Spider-man: Far from Home (2019) attempts to grapple with the outcome of such a pivotal film in the superhero franchise. As was the case with its predecessor, Spider-man: Homecoming (2017), Far from Home shows the audience the impacts of the other films in the MCU in a way that’s personable and relatable. After all, it’s easier to connect with a “friendly neighborhood Spider-man” than with a multi-billion dollar playboy. I did appreciate the emotional depth of this movie, especially considering how Tom Holland handles the role of Peter Parker. From grieving over the losses of Endgame while also trying to move forward with his life, Peter has plenty of growth opportunities throughout this film. That being said, Far from Home seems to hit almost...
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MOVIE: Toy Story 4 (2019)

Toy Story 4 Year: 2019 Rating: G Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours After the Toy Story “trilogy” ended in 2010, I was honestly a little confused and irritated that Disney/Pixar would open up this franchise again for a fourth entry. That being said, I now see the entire “story” was not complete at that point. There was still some amount of finality that the franchise had not reached. Of course, now I’ll be mad if they decide to make a Toy Story 5 since Toy Story 4 (2019) wrapped everything up so nicely and conclusively. Then again, maybe the next entry in the series will finally explain the odd rules about toy sentience. By far, the most striking thing about Toy Story 4 is its visuals. I was ten years old when Toy Story (1995) came out. Even in the four years between it and Toy Story 2 (1999), I could see massive improvements in what computers could create in terms of CGI imagery. With Toy Story 3 (2010) having just over a decade to improve its visuals,...
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MOVIE: Aladdin (2019)

Aladdin Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours When the animated version of Aladdin came out in 1992, I was seven years old. As a young boy, I could finally relate to the titular character since the focus of this Disney film wasn’t as much on the “princess” as it was on “Prince Ali.” Consequently, this film has remained one of my favorite Disney films over the years and is one I have mostly memorized after repeated viewings in my childhood. As such, I was partly looking forward to this live-action adaptation due to my love of the original. The other part of my anticipation was because Guy Ritchie was directing it (and I’ve loved plenty of his earlier works). Having now seen this version of the rags-to-riches tale, I’m in this weird “uncanny valley” of storytelling. Because I have the original memorized, this version of the story was close enough to be predictable but not a word-for-word re-enactment, which is what I found...
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MOVIE: Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours Captain Marvel (2019) fills this weird space that essentially exists between the “Part 1” of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). While Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) also explained some of the events and plot points that would need to happen before Endgame, Captain Marvel took a slightly different approach by essentially acting as an origin story and prequel for a lot of loose bits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Needless to say, I didn’t miss much by passing on this film and seeing Endgame first. I knew I was taking a risk with watching these movies out of order—especially considering how pivotal Black Panther (2018) was in setting the stage for Infinity War. However, there were key moments in this movie that made me go, “Huh. That explains that little bit from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).” The fact that Captain Marvel was...
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MOVIE: Shazam! (2019)

Shazam! Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours As far as self-aware movies go, I think Shazam! (2019) is the best example from the genre of comic book heroes. Deadpool (2016) might have been more “meta,” but Shazam! hits all the bits that make comic books popular to kids, especially young boys. As a fan of self-aware films, I would have seen this movie anyway. However, with Zachary Levi in the lead role, I absolutely had to see it. I’ve generally been a fan of his work from Chuck and Tangled (2010), so seeing that he still has his comedic timing in shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and movies like Shazam! is encouraging. In terms of plot, the premise is somewhat weak, but the pitch is something akin to “Big (1988), but as a superhero film like Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).” In fact, there’s at least one scene in a mall that winks so hard at this reference, I was afraid it...
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MOVIE: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Detective Pikachu Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours The transition of nostalgia into live action can be a tricky business. Plenty of franchises have faltered in this aspect, so it was interesting to see Pokémon approach it from a side angle. Instead of adapting the core series of games or anime to a live-action adaptation, they instead used a spinoff game as the framework to create this movie. Despite my initial skepticism, I can honestly say that Detective Pikachu (2019) works much better than any video game franchise adaptation before it. It’s not entirely perfect, but it came a lot closer than any of its predecessors. On the plus side, the “realistic” Pokémon were enthralling—if not wholly terrifying (I’m looking at you, Ludicolo)—to see in a real space interacting with humans. I already had a bit of a visceral reaction to seeing realistic fur, skin, and feathers on Pokémon when I played Pokken Tournament DX. At least they certainly seemed to be at...
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MOVIE: Missing Link (2019)

Missing Link Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 94 minutes / 1.57 hours It’s been about a decade since I started loosely paying attention to the works of Laika Entertainment. With so few studios committing to stop-motion animation, I’m always intrigued by a movie that isn’t just straight up CGI animation. For the most part, Laika’s films have been entertaining, but not incredibly extraordinary. Movies like Coraline (2009) and ParaNorman (2012) were certainly high points, but my personal favorite was definitely Kubo and the Two Strings (2016). Initially, when I saw advertising for Missing Link (2019), I didn’t realize it was a Laika film. Once I learned that it was, I made sure to see it. Unfortunately, while I would have liked another film along the lines of Kubo, Missing Link was more like The Boxtrolls (2014) in terms of its humor and presentation. I understand these films mostly target children, but the amount of crude humor mostly turned me off. That’s not to say that the technical achievements of Laika’s stop motion aren’t on full display here. With...
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MOVIE: How to Train Your Dragon – The Hidden World (2019)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours I haven’t always been a fan of DreamWorks movies, but the How to Train Your Dragon series is, in my opinion, perhaps the best they’ve ever created. Of course, I’m probably a little biased because each entry in the series came at a time in my life where I was reaching a milestone. How to Train Your Dragon (2010) came out as I was settling into my life as an independent adult. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) followed me from dating into marriage. Now, the final chapter in the series, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) is on the cusp of my transition into parenthood. Consequently, I had high expectations for the end of this trilogy. I wanted it to go out with a grand finale like Toy Story 3 (2010) did (before they even decided to make Toy Story 4 (2019), that is). Unfortunately, I did not find this to be the case....
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MOVIE: Avengers – Endgame (2019)

Avengers: Endgame Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 181 minutes / 3.02 hours With last year’s semi-cliffhanger, Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: Endgame (2019) had a lot of ground to cover to reach a satisfying conclusion of over ten years of filmmaking. It’s no wonder that it’s just a smidge over three hours since there’s a lot of ground to cover here. I’ll admit that the only instantiations of these superheroes that I’m familiar with is via the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, it was probably better to go into the finale this way, having no preconceived notions of how the characters should act or the lore they’re connected to in the comic books. For a three-hour movie, Endgame moves at a steady pace that accelerates toward the inevitable conclusion. Following a standard three-act structure, Endgame benefited from bringing all the heroes together in Infinity War and establishing a baseline to work from and a goal to work toward. It was nice to see how each of these characters handled such a dramatic universal event. This is...
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MOVIE: Isn’t it Romantic? (2019)

Isn’t It Romantic? Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 89 minutes / 1.48 hours I generally enjoy “self-aware” movies. Those films that know which genre they’re in and make fun of it the entire time. While it’s entertaining to see all the various tropes of a particular genre exposed in this method, these films still have to abide by these rules as well. This has been done to varying levels of success for action movies (Shoot ‘em Up (2007)), Disney movies (Enchanted (2007)), and superhero movies (Deadpool (2016)). Filling the hole of the self-aware romantic comedy is none other than Isn’t It Romantic? (2019). Despite not being terribly into romantic comedies, this self-aware film piqued my interest. Isn’t It Romantic? doesn’t necessarily fully commit to the self-aware theme. Instead, it encapsulates the ridiculous romantic comedy bit in the framing of a coma. The main problem I had with doing it this way was that Natalie—the main character played by Rebel Wilson—realizes she’s in a romantic comedy fairly quickly. However, she still seems...
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BOOK: Expeditions of the Mantis (2019)

Expeditions of the Mantis Year: 2019 Author: Jim Henderson Length: 260 pages Sequels are interesting creatures. While the onus of the first book of a series is to lay out some ground rules of the universe and introduce us to the main characters, any follow-on books should dive a little deeper into the characters and explore some of the conflicts that drive the universe. Expeditions of the Mantis attempts a bit of the latter when compared to Jaunts of the Mantis, but ends up falling into old patterns by the end of the book. If anything, I have more questions about this universe now than when I started, since Expeditions of the Mantis only scratched the surface of some fascinating topics. Unfortunately, while the crew of the Mantis was the most interesting aspect of Jaunts of the Mantis, the dynamic didn’t work as well in this sequel. If anything, the inability to add in a strong “third character” (a role held by the preacher in the previous book) highlighted how one-dimensional these characters...
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BOOK: Jaunts of the Mantis (2019)

Jaunts of the Mantis Year: 2019 Author: Jim Henderson Length: 241 pages Ever since I discovered the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, I found that I enjoyed the “down to earth” (metaphorically speaking) stories of space travel. These books added some realism to the science fiction genre by covering some of the details involved with running a ship in outer space. From ship maintenance to inventory management, these stories tended to focus on the close-knit relationships of the crew and their adventures across the universe as they try to make a living. Modern-era equivalents would be stories with people on submarines or shipping barges, but the addition of space travel makes this sub-genre entertaining for me. Another entry in this genre is Jaunts of the Mantis. Covering a handful of scenarios, the book gets into the adventure reasonably quickly with a minimum of the crew (maybe a few less than might actually be needed). These “jaunts” cover all the standard setups for this kind of book....
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MOVIE: The LEGO Movie 2 – The Second Part (2019)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Back in 2014, children at heart everywhere were able to experience the world’s most successful building toy brand on the big screen via The LEGO Movie. With a catchy, Oscar-winning song, this Matrix-like movie was fun and self-aware. Fast forward five years, and the sequel, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (2019) released with hardly the amount of fanfare and advertising that accompanied the original. I think this may have been in part due to how the formula the first movie used to great success has been done to death now. With spinoffs like The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) and The LEGO Ninjago Movie(2017) saturating the market, it's hard to capture the magic of the original. The real problem with The Second Part comes via the twist at the end of the first movie. Now that we know these toys merely exist in the imagination of a young boy, it’s hard to put that reveal back...
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MOVIE: Spider-Man – Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours There’s no hiding that Spider-Man is my favorite superhero. My reviews of Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Venom (2018) say as much. I grew up watching the 1990s animated Spider-Man show, so when I saw early trailers for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), I half-thought it would be some direct-to-video movie. After all, everything up until now had been live-action. I was encouraged to learn that it would receive a theatrical release, especially when I started to see more footage of its unique artistic style. Not only does Into the Spider-Verse embrace its comic book origins, but it also does so with a flair and panache that I’d almost like to see in other superhero franchises. Over the years, I’d only loosely been paying attention to what was happening in the Spider-Man comics. Sure, I knew about Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) but more in the sense that they were departures from the white-male Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) that...
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BOOK: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill (2019)

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill Year: 2019 Author: Abbi Waxman Length: 352 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’m not sure if The Bookish Life of Nina Hill is a millennial romantic comedy or a hipster romantic comedy. Either way, I did enjoy reading it, mostly because the formula for this genre is relatively straightforward and predictable. It probably helped that I could relate to the main character, or at least her introverted nature. The supporting characters were a bit quirky and fun as well which just added to the entertaining nature of the narrative. At the very least, I could see something like this becoming a movie, even if it was only released on cable television. Since the copy of this book I read was an advanced reader copy, I’m sure some of the errata like missing book images at several section breaks and a few backward quotes near the end will be fixed for the final product. Content-wise, I did find...
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MOVIE: Glass (2019)

Glass Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours Much like Incredibles 2 (2018) felt like a movie that came out far too late, Glass (2019) caps a trilogy of films that technically started with Unbreakable (2000). Both the original Incredibles (2004) and Unbreakable were genre-defining movies for the practically non-existent superhero films that are all but ubiquitous today. The fact that they took more than a decade to capitalize on this phenomenon is part of the reason why both sequels feel somewhat dated. Sure, they recapture a bit of the charm of the originals, but that’s not enough to overcome what superhero films have evolved into since then. If anything, Glass owes a debt of gratitude to its predecessor, Split (2016). If it weren’t for James McAvoy’s expert transitions between a dozen different personalities, I wouldn’t have been particularly interested in this final chapter of the trilogy. While Split was a return to form for Shyamalan, Glass seems like a bit of a regression. Perhaps this is due to the heavy burden placed upon Glass to combine two tonally different movies...
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BOOK: Nobody’s Fool (2019)

Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead Year: 2019 Author: Bill Griffith Length: 256 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** When I was growing up, I occasionally read Bill Griffith’s comic strip, Zippy the Pinhead. While the absurdist humor was a bit above my head at the time, the titular character stuck with me. Fast forward to when I won a giveaway copy of Nobody’s Fool. I thought this was going to be a fake biography about the origins of the comic strip character; I was surprised to start reading and find so many real-life details from the 1930s. I thought it was an odd detail to include a fictional character in a well-known cult classic like Freaks (1932) until I realized that this story wasn’t fictional. It was about the real person who inspired the character of Zippy the Pinhead. Of course, I didn’t come to this realization until I was about half-way through the book. Griffith’s self-insert around this point helped to confirm my suspicions....
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MOVIE: Alita – Battle Angel (2019)

Alita: Battle Angel Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours With the plethora of successes that the comic book movie has seen over the last decade, it’s a little disheartening to see the Japanese equivalent fail to make much headway. There are just as many interesting and action-packed stories from manga and anime that deserve the treatment given to comic book movies. Instead, busts like Dragonball: Evolution (2009) and Ghost in the Shell (2017) have shown that live-action adaptations are challenging, especially when there’s already an animated counterpart. This was why I was excited to see Alita: Battle Angel (2019). While many manga/anime film adaptations fail to grasp the feel of the source material, Alita appeared to be a passion project for James Cameron. The fact that Robert Rodriguez directed this movie helped as well, considering how well he brought the graphic novel Sin City to the screen in 2005. Of course, he also directed Spy Kids (2001), which was colorful and full of fun action. In the end, I found Alita to be somewhat...
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BOOK: Here and Now and Then (2019)

Here and Now and Then Year: 2019 Author: Mike Chen Length: 336 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’ve always found time travel to be an intriguing plot device. There are plenty of rules that come along with this phenomenon, but they can be somewhat flexible based on the situation that demands it. In Here and Now and Then (which is a brilliant title, by the way), the “rules” about time travel are reasonably strict, even if there’s a fair amount of hand-waving to explain away any changes made to the timeline. While this leads to a perfectly suitable ending, there were certainly a few alternative endings that I would have liked to have seen as well. Set in two time periods over 100 years apart, the main plotline follows Quinoa “Kin” Stewart, a time traveler from the future who was stuck in the past with no hope of returning home. Taking some advice from comedian Mitch Hedberg, “If you find yourself lost in the woods…build...
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BOOK: Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon (2019)

Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon Year: 2019 Author: John August Length: 384 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As a Boy Scout that grew up in northern Colorado, I was a little surprised to read a book like this that was able to combine the supernatural elements that would fit well in the Harry Potter universe with the pseudo-military structure and trappings of the scouting program. Of course, I’m also kicking myself for not writing these books myself first, because the two elements combine so well that the fusion is natural and fun to read. The icing on the cake was having the main character go to a summer camp with a “Redfeather Lake” and a layout that seemed suspiciously similar to the Ben Delatour Scout Ranch that I regularly visited when I was a scout. Coming in on the second book of this series, I didn’t feel too out of the loop with what had happened in the previous...
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