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: Angels and Demons (2000)

Angels and Demons Year: 2000 Author: Dan Brown Length: 416 minutes / 6.93 hours While Angels and Demons is not nearly as popular as its sequel, the famous (if not infamous) The Da Vinci Code, the elements which led to its successor’s success are certainly all contained within this first book in the Robert Langdon series. Of course, just because you have the materials to build a nice house doesn’t mean that it magically becomes a mansion. Despite containing many of the elements that made The Da Vinci Code so good, Angels and Demons feels a little underdeveloped in quite a few areas. First, the protagonist, Robert Langdon, is supposed to feel like an “Indiana Jones”-type character, but with a specialty like symbology as his background, I just can’t buy the action-hero transformation of this everyday academic. Add to this the almost repetitive nature of his “discoveries” wherein he makes an assessment, then goes to the location of the assessment only to find that he...
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MOVIE: Split (2016)

Split Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours For many years, M. Night Shyamalan’s directing career has been in continual decline. Many people, myself included, felt his groundbreaking work with The Sixth Sense (1999) was the peak of what he had to offer. Sure, Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002) were good movies that had their moments, but from that point onward, the films he made just got worse and worse. Although I have not seen it, 2015’s The Visit seemed to be a return to form for Shyamalan, indicating that his directing was no longer washed up. In Split (2017), we see that Shyamalan has been able to recapture the magic that made his previous films so memorable. The first thing I noticed in Split was the cinematography. The camera lets the audience see just enough to let them know that something is amiss, often preparing the viewer for an occasional jump scare. Secondly, James McAvoy’s performance was impeccable. Taking on the...
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BOOK: 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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BOOK: The Accidental Superpower (2014)

The Accidental Superpower Year: 2014 Author: Peter Zeihan Length: 739 minutes / 12.32 hours I can’t remember when or why I added this book to my “to-read” list on Overdrive, but I’m certainly glad I did. While it’s a little dated from a 2017 perspective, The Accidental Superpower is an incredibly insightful book that helps to peel back the onion of global politics and economics to reveal the underlying factors that are, and have been, shaping the world into what it is today. As a bonus, after reading this book, I have a better understanding of how countries and societies develop from a geographical and economic standpoint and can use these insights to aid in the world-building for a few of my upcoming novel series. Right from the get-go, The Accidental Superpower opened my eyes to the obvious: geography determines economy. Mountains separate areas almost as well as oceans do, but the best economies are the ones that can move their goods about in the...
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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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BOOK: To the Sky Kingdom (2016)

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

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