VIDEO GAME: Bayonetta (2009)

BayonettaYear: 2009Rating: MTime Played: 690 minutes / 11.50 hours As a somewhat sheltered person, I wasn't particularly aware of Bayonetta until the character appeared as a DLC character in Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS/Wii-U. The concept of a woman in black spandex with guns as high heels was ridiculous enough that I eventually had to check it out. After all, I had heard good things about it and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Sure, it has loads of fan service, but it was also pretty fun to play as well. For a game that came out 15 years ago, it does show its age graphically in spots (especially in the cut-scenes). Fortunately, the big boss battles—which are often just a series of quick time events—were amazing spectacles that looked amazing. However, it was still occasionally frustrating to have to re-do an entire boss battle because I lacked the reflexes to hit a particular button at the right...
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MOVIE: Migration (2023)

MigrationYear: 2023Rating: PGLength: 83 minutes / 1.38 hours If there’s one thing I took away from Migration (2023), it’s that Illumination has finally matured as an animation studio. Sure, just like there’s a Disney/Pixar/DreamWorks “style,” Illumination has a look to the characters in their movies (especially the humans) that makes them immediately distinguishable. In Migration, there was less of that distinctive style, but the freedom to match what the movie needed to tell its original story about a family adventure. If this is what taking risks looks like, then I think it was a successful foray into more original fare. The voice acting was superb, mostly because there were only a few characters whose voices were immediately obvious who they were. I do wonder if director Benjamin Renner’s previous work, Ernest & Celestine (2012), helped shape some of the voice acting decisions, because they certainly fit the characters well. The animation also feeling closer to a 2D traditionally animated film while still...
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BOOK: Housekeeping (1980)

HousekeepingYear: 1980Author: Marilynne RobinsonLength: 332 minutes / 5.53 hours As I'm working my way through Pulitzer winners and finalists, I approached Housekeeping with skepticism. I knew nothing about this book other than its inclusion on these lists for "high literature." Having now read it, this book completely underwhelmed me. I'm going to include this with other books of literature like One Hundred Years of Solitude or Ulysses, both of which I found extremely boring and lacking of any kind of plot that I could latch onto. At least this was short and had some occasionally flowery prose. Even now, thinking back on what I read, I can't pick out anything significant that happened in this book. That I'm having trouble remembering what it was about should indicate how little impact it had on me. I vaguely remember there being something about an aunt who was a drifter and the bigger metaphor of "home is where the heart is." And, of course, extrapolating...
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MOVIE: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (2023)

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & SnakesYear: 2023Rating: PG-13Length: 157 minutes / 2.61 hours I think it's hard to appreciate how The Hunger Games movies did a decent job of adapting the source material for the big screen while not evolving into a behemoth of a franchise. That Suzanne Collins made it clear that there was only the three books, and she didn't want to do anything else until she was ready was a welcome change from an entertainment industry that likes to squeeze as much money out of popular things as fast as possible. With this in mind, I can applaud The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (2023) for being respectful of the original trilogy while also trying to expand the narrative in prequel form. While not a completely necessary prequel, it was still interesting to see how early versions of the Hunger Games were run. Of course, our knowledge of how they eventually evolve into something worse is...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon Go (2016)

Pokémon Go Year: 2016 Rating: E Time Played: ~170,000 minutes / ~2,862 hours Ever since Pokémon swept the world in the mid-1990s, fans of the franchise have longed to live in a world where they could actually interact with these creatures. On its surface, Pokémon Go scratches that itch by fusing a location-based game with the successful franchise. I can literally go out in the tall grass and catch virtual Pokémon on my phone. I really enjoy this concept and play the game daily, but there are still plenty of things that it could improve upon. I understand the need to prevent players from cheating, but the need to be connected to the internet constantly—especially when exploring less urban areas with poor cell service—makes this game entirely too frustrating to play. The only times I can consistently trust that the game will work correctly are when I'm sitting on the couch at home connected to Wi-Fi. This game has had several controversies from its developer,...
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MOVIE: The Marvels (2023)

The MarvelsYear: 2023Rating: PG-13Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours The problem with extremely critical and vocal reviews of a movie like The Marvels (2023) is that often the problem is the fans themselves. There's an amount of misogyny that's present in fans of comic books that is difficult to ignore here. And with so many people saying this movie is bad just because it's led by three women, it comes as a bit of a surprise when it's actually pretty passable. Granted, it still relies heavily on having seen almost everything else in the MCU, but we'll get to that in a second. While I'll admit that I'm still watching these movies because it's basically a sunk cost fallacy, I found The Marvels to be entertaining. It's maybe not as goofy as any of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but it has heart based on the characters' connections. It also has perhaps one of the most underappreciated twists that had me...
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BOOK: Exit Strategy (2018)

Exit Strategy Year: 2018 Author: Martha Wells Length: 226 minutes / 3.77 hours Until now, I've enjoyed the somewhat serial format of the novellas from the Murderbot Diaries series. Each story grows the story of the main character with a concise plot that does a little world building along the way. It didn't matter if the characters changed between each book, as the focus was always on the first person perspective. With Exit Strategy, we loop back to the beginning as old faces come back into the major thrust of the plot. I appreciate that there seems to be an overarching narrative across this series. Now that things are connecting together, it feels like a much more thought-out universe instead of the "flavor of the month" stories that the series could have become. Granted, with each one being so short, this book feels like a solid arrival in the second half of the entire story arc—maybe even the pivotal half-way point. The more the titular...
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MOVIE: The Boy and the Heron (2023)

The Boy and the HeronYear: 2023Rating: PG-13Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours Studio Ghibli films—specifically the ones directed by Hayao Miyazaki—are immensely beautiful and imaginative. The distinct visual style in movies like Castle in the Sky (1986), Princess Mononoke (1997), and Spirited Away (2001) is nothing but consistent. In the latest (and perhaps last) film by Miyazaki, The Boy and the Heron (2023) still maintains the beautiful 2D animation that everyone loves from this studio. The one trick with these films is that sometimes I feel the plot is a little lost in translation from Japanese to American audiences. This isn’t anyone’s fault, but it left me feeling a little lost. While I understood the major coming-of-age themes present in The Boy and the Heron, there were so many fantastical elements in it that I felt I may have missed something from one scene to the next. Perhaps I was too tired to give this movie the adequate attention it deserved, but...
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VIDEO GAME: Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon (2021)

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon Year: 2021 Rating: E Time Played: ~270 minutes / 4.50 hours With the overabundance of Roguelike games these days, I appreciate that Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon at least put a unique spin on it. As a puzzle game, it's really no different from a Tetris or Panel de Pon. However, the difficulty curve is such that you need to unlock items/health with the resources gained from multiple runs. Getting to the end, unfortunately, can be a matter of luck of the draw as much as it is your skill of the game. Using the retro-inspired characters from the Shovel Knight series makes the Pocket Dungeon aesthetic work. Even if you haven't played the original game, the characters are visually interesting and have quite a lot of personality. The game developers added new characters specific to this game that also mesh well with the established bosses and enemies. Because everything has a pixel-art feel to it, I had no trouble playing this...
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MOVIE: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 154 minutes / 2.57 hours If you want proof that Hollywood won’t let a good franchise die, look no further than Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023). The original 1980s trilogy stands pretty well by itself, but the first reboot, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) was so odd that it took almost another 20 years for the franchise to try anything else. Dial of Destiny merely exacerbates the problem of trying to resurrect this franchise by not transitioning off Harrison Ford (like it tried to do in Crystal Skull) but instead doubling down on de-aging technology and nostalgia. There’s a huge section in the first part of this movie that was so CGI heavy, I could have sworn I was watching a video game cut scene for 30 minutes. De-aging Harrison Ford still has the same issues that all other de-aging techniques seem to have (mainly,...
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BOOK: Bullshit Jobs (2018)

Bullshit Jobs: A TheoryYear: 2018Author: David GraeberLength: 759 minutes / 12.65 hours Every so often, I read a non-fiction book so eye opening that it continues to stay with me long after reading it. These are the books that point a light at something so obvious that I have to wonder why I didn't see it that way before. And perhaps these are the best non-fiction books because they can pull an entrenched mind out of the status quo to look at the system surrounding it with an entirely new perspective. Bullshit Jobs is one of these books for me. I've been fortunate to have worked at a job that I like for about 15 years now. But even within these comfortable confines, I see much of what Graeber talks about when he refers to these so-called bullshit jobs. It's present in the bureaucracy, the middle managers, and the micro managers. That almost all jobs today have some element of BS in...
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MOVIE: Godzilla Minus One (2023)

Godzilla Minus One Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours While the original Godzilla franchise has been around for 70 years, I must admit that I’ve only ever seen the American versions of this Japanese monster. This includes the travesty that was Godzilla (1998), as well as the much better Monsterverse iterations like Godzilla (2012). Having never seen a Godzilla film in its original Japanese context, I was curious to try Godzilla Minus One (2023) for my first foray into the “official” Godzilla franchise. What I found here was better than I could have ever imagined—and for multiple reasons. Coming from decades-old movies that used people in rubber suits fighting among miniatures, Godzilla Minus One uses just enough special effects to make the scale of the monster believable. However, this version of Godzilla still looks a bit like the version that had a guy inside a rubber suit. Plot-wise, there are a few great sequences that make this an incredibly solid movie....
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon Masters (2019)

Pokémon Masters Year: 2019 Rating: E Time Played: 50,800 minutes / 846.5 hours A defining feature of the Pokémon franchise has not only been the amount and variety of Pokémon the player can catch, but how the characters who use these creatures for battles also have unique traits and personalities. While these characters might have more screen time in the anime compared to their in-game representation, they ultimately have a favorite Pokémon that they use for battling. Pokémon Masters fulfills the dream of many fans by allowing us to actually play as high-level trainers. This game is a free-to-play gatcha mobile app, which should tell you all you need to know about it. The gameplay is simple, but the "gotta catch 'em all" mechanic is collecting all the different characters. This includes "Synga Suit," holiday costumes, and a glut of other variants of the fan-favorite characters. There are plenty of ways to upgrade these characters, most of which require you to battle other trainers for...
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MOVIE: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Year: 1954 Rating: Approved Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) is one of those musicals during the golden age of musicals that I was aware of but had only seen bits and pieces of. I found a DVD of it a while back and finally got around to watching it. As far as musicals go, it's colorful and has a few good songs that are sung well by the cast. Unfortunately, the content is dated and is almost cringeworthy by today's standards. I will give some leniency that this film represents an era that was not entirely enlightened when it came to women. The Wild West was about survival as much as it was about the loneliness that came with it. While I'm sure there were more men than women out in these regions, it doesn't excuse how these seven brothers went about obtaining their wives. That they'd even consider the plight of the...
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BOOK: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Year: 2007 Author: Junot Diaz Length: 960 minutes / 16.00 hours I picked up this book because it was on a list of Pulitzer Prize winners and I figured that was a good enough metric to give it a shot. I was not disappointed. Told from a few different perspectives, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a fantastic look into the lives of Dominican Americans. I could tell the author was writing from deeply personal experiences, and the result was riveting. There's a lot I don't know about the Dominican culture, but I felt this book was an eye-opening look into their history. Told as personal anecdotes from the characters, it was wild to see the effects of living under a dictator. However, even once someone escaped from that oppression, life in America wasn't an easy walk in the park either. The effects of racism might not be as bad as having your daughters sold to...
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MOVIE: Creed III (2023)

Creed III Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours It's a little weird to me that each time the Rocky franchise gets further into its sequels, it ceases to understand what made the original work so well. People don't want to see someone living in opulence (or owning a robot butler) confronting the ghosts from their past. Instead, they want to see the underdog go the distance to show what they're made of. And while Creed III (2023) mostly falls into this trap, it has a few moments about fatherhood that shine through. After Creed (2015) and Creed II (2018) pulled out the biggest connections to the Rocky franchise with Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago, respectively, I wasn't sure where this franchise would go from there. It didn't feel narratively strong to look backward at Adonis' (Michael B. Jordan) past with Damian (Jonathan Majors) since any generic boxing film could have used those story beats. Sure, it makes it more personal and...
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VIDEO GAME: Gato Roboto (2019)

Gato RobotoYear: 2019Rating: ETime Played: 210 minutes / 3.50 hours Here’s the hook: you control a cat who can also pilot a mecha robot. That’s Gato Roboto. It’s a simple Metroidvania, both in length and graphics, but the charm of the concept itself makes it worth a play-through. It almost reminds me of Earthworm Jim (where a worm pilots a humanoid power suit) without all the weird gross-out elements. Despite its straightforward concept, Gato Roboto has a bit of a learning curve. Fortunately, given enough time and practice, it can be beaten in a couple of hours. Your mileage may vary given how used to Metroidvanias and Souls-like games you are. Plot-wise, Gato Roboto has some amusing little twists and turns that help drive the game forward. I love that the principal antagonist is a rat/mouse in a variety of mecha robots. There isn’t too much backtracking/looping involved here, which usually lengthens how long it takes to get through a Metroidvania—thus the...
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MOVIE: Renfield (2023)

RenfieldYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours Sometimes, a movie comes along that has a fun concept and delivers on it. Renfield (2023) asks, “What if Dracula’s servant realizes his boss is toxic?” With all the modern progress that’s been made in worker’s rights, this ridiculous combination is just hilarious enough to work. There’s a lot of lore surrounding Dracula, so a story that’s set in the present time plays the contrasts for laughs. That this movie is even canonically connected to Dracula (1931) makes it feel like a heartfelt sequel to its almost 100-year-old predecessor. The two actors who make this movie work are none other than Nicholas Cage (Dracula) and Nicholas Hoult (Renfield). Cage basically (and almost literally) gnaws on the scenery as he’s allowed to ham it up as the iconic monster. Hoult has shown he has great acting talent in recent movies like The Favourite (2018) and The Menu (2022). Renfield shows he knows how to play...
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BOOK: Summer Knight (2002)

Summer Knight Year: 2002 Author: Jim Butcher Length: 673 minutes / 11.22 hours A piece of advice given to most writers is to make their characters suffer, then document how they grow. In Summer Knight, Jim Butcher puts Harry Dresden through the ringer. Not only is Dresden on the edge of being homeless and dead from starvation, but he finds himself tangled up in the politics of the wizards and faeries. As usual, the world-building in the Dresden Files is fantastic and multi-layered. Sure, there are still the problems that keep popping up in this series, but they seemed less when Dresden was focused on merely staying alive. With each book in the Dresden Files, I find the deepening lore fascinating. In Summer Knight, we finally learn about the council of wizards and see how unique Harry is when compared to others from the organization. In learning about more of his past, it’s easy to see how Dresden has come to this impasse with the...
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MOVIE: Napoleon (2023)

Napoleon Year: 2023 Rating: R Length: 158 minutes / 2.63 hours On paper, this movie had a lot going for it. Ridley Scott, partnering with Joaquin Phoenix again after the wildly successful Gladiator (2000) felt like this was a surefire entertaining film. Instead, the few scenes of military action were the only things that made this movie worth watching. Usually, when I watch a biopic about a famous individual like Napoleon Bonaparte, I’d expect something eyebrow raising that I didn’t know before. Napoleon is not that kind of film, as it is filled with history that I already knew, and I don’t consider myself a scholar of Napoleon. A lot of biopics tend to either show the genius of their titular character or cast light on their odd behavior (despite their angelic public persona). Napoleon has moments of both, each of which undercuts the effectiveness of the other. I can’t take his military success seriously when he has such peculiar bedroom habits, and I find...
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VIDEO GAME: Animal Crossing – Pocket Camp (2017)

Animal Crossing: Pocket CampYear: 2017Rating: ETime Played: ~150 hours Before Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out, I had played none of the previous entries in the Animal Crossing franchise. Once I got into New Horizons, I was hooked on the gameplay mechanic and wanted more. Luckily, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was a free and easy way to continue playing an Animal Crossing game even if I didn’t have my Switch on me. As a free-to-play mobile game, I could log in and do the daily tasks that most Animal Crossing games have, just with the convenience of it being on my phone. While I didn’t play this game at launch, picking it up around 2020, it was clear that some of the standard “predatory” free-to-play practices had been added a few years prior. It locked a lot of the rare or seasonal items behind loot boxes that required real money to purchase. Even some of the “free” items came with extensive time...
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MOVIE: Leap! (2016)

Leap!Year: 2016Rating: PGLength: 89 minutes / 1.48 hours In searching for movies to watch with my daughter, I figured Leap! (2016) was a good fit since she is actively interested in dance/ballet. She seemed to enjoy it, but I wasn’t entirely impressed. I’m willing to give animated films a try when they aren’t from big studios with lots of gravitas, but this one felt just generic enough as to be almost indistinguishable from the swath of cheap direct-to-streaming fare that clogs these services. I will grant that the animation looks pretty good for 2016, but visuals aren’t the only thing that makes these kinds of movies tick. The story in Leap! is mostly your generic “follow your dreams” fare that most movies directed at kids have done before. Common tropes of persevering and working hard are here, as usual, but with the slightly more troubling trope of lying to catch a break. Sure, gatekeeping isn’t a great way to discover new talent,...
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BOOK: The Road to Little Dribbling (2015)

The Road to Little Dribbling Year: 2015 Author: Bill Bryson Length: 844 minutes / 14.07 hours I keep forgetting that Bill Bryson’s books are hit-or-miss for me. I’ll read one and think it’s great, then proceed to another and find myself disappointed. Perhaps I’ve already read the good books from his bibliography and now all I’m left with are the ones that aren’t. I’ll usually forget that I’ve been disappointed after a few months or years of not reading Bryson, which inevitably leads me to remembering his good books and giving it another shot. The Road to Little Dribbling is another book I’d put on the “bad” pile. While I never read the book that preceded this one, I didn’t need any context to determine The Road to Little Dribbling’s major flaw. As a Millennial, I am often annoyed by Boomer-age people who bemoan that things “used to be better.” They’ll moan about prices being lower, quality being better, and everyone living happily together in...
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MOVIE: Elemental (2023)

Elemental Year: 2023 Rating: PG Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours I initially wasn’t too sold on the concept of Elemental (2023). The idea that elements live together in a city felt a bit too close to Zootopia (2016) to be truly original. However, Pixar (generally) has a good handle on stories, and I eventually gave this one a shot. I was surprised to find not only an approachable love story—which is rare for Pixar—but a touching look at expectations from immigrant parents and what it’s like to integrate into a society that isn’t made for you. As always, the visuals were striking, and the emotions were heartfelt. While the movie poked fun at certain human-based design decisions for the city (like when both main characters easily pass through a chain-link fence), the overall concept felt thought out enough to truly invoke the ethnic boroughs that many cities have for immigrants of similar ethnic backgrounds. Choosing the fire people to be the “odd element out”...
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VIDEO GAME: Nintendo Badge Arcade (2015)

Nintendo Badge Arcade Year: 2015 Rating: E Time Played: 6,490 minutes / 108.17 hours Don't let the enormous amount of playtime fool you. Free games on the Nintendo 3DS (like Pokémon Shuffle, Pokémon Rumble World, and Pokémon Picross) rewarded playing regularly, and this one certainly tried its hardest to get me to pay for more playtime. I get why people lose a ton of money on actual claw machines, since this game is basically a digital version of these devices. The desire to collect all the "badges" from each machine kept me playing for a long time—well after the game itself had stopped being updated. The enticement of free plays each day made me value the occasional bonus tries that I'd get for playing the practice machine in the lobby. The problem was, even with extra plays, there were some machines that had badges arranged in such a way that it couldn't be cleared without purchasing more tries. When the extra free tries dried up...
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MOVIE: The Shining (1980)

The Shining Year: 1980 Rating: R Length: 146 minutes / 2.43 hours Stanley Kubrick is one of those directors who can make a great movie in any genre. From science fiction like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) to political satire in Dr. Strangelove (1964) to historic epics in Spartacus (1960), it's no wonder that he could excel in horror with The Shining (1980). The descent into madness in an isolated mountain hotel was done with such expert craft that this film stands as a pinnacle of the genre even today. It might not be an exact representation of the Stephen King novel, but it works well for the big screen. Kubrick succeeds in the emotions of unease here through clever application of cinematography and sound design. The audience gets the full experience. We're along for the ride down at Danny's (Danny Lloyd) level. We feel small and insignificant in the vast open spaces of the hotel and its nearby hedge maze. The building insanity in...
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BOOK: Rogue Protocol (2018)

Rogue Protocol Year: 2018 Author: Martha Wells Length: 226 minutes / 3.77 hours By this point in the Murderbot Diaries series, I'm used to the short length of these stories. I appreciate that there's still an overarching plot that the books are driving toward, but the bite-size adventures of the sentient AI robot are also entertaining by themselves. Now that the series is in a good groove by book three, I was glad to see the introduction of a foil to compare and contrast the main character's interactions with the humans. The rogue SecUnit continues to find himself deeper into the shady dealings of humans, but with each interaction, he's finding it harder to hide who he is and what he's doing. That these "missions" he gives himself are a significant amount of effort for someone who would much rather be lazy and just watch vids all day seems contradictory until you realize that it's great character development—even if it's subtle. Raising the stakes with...
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MOVIE: Tangled (2010)

TangledYear: 2010Rating: PGLength: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours Tangled (2010) is one of those movies that hit me at a vulnerable time in my life. Shortly after I bought it on Blu-Ray, I ended up watching it at least once for ten days straight. I had the soundtrack memorized and I still cry at the pivotal scenes. I danced to the lantern song at my wedding as the first dance with my wife. Clearly, I'm going to give this movie full marks here, but even over a decade later, I think it holds up. After college, I moved out of my home state and was finally living on my own. Even with a good job and a handful of new friends, I related to Rapunzel's (Mandy Moore) first song of the movie: When Does My Life Begin? There were societal expectations that I didn't feel like I met, so seeing Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) grow to accept non-toxic masculine traits—thanks in part...
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VIDEO GAME: Super Mario 3D Land (2011)

Super Mario 3D Land Year: 2011 Rating: E Time Played: 676 minutes / 11.27 hours There are few certainties in this life, but one of them is that Nintendo usually releases a Mario game to show off their new hardware. It might not be right at the launch, but it's usually within the first few years—like Super Mario Odyssey. The Mario game that rolled out alongside the Nintendo 3DS was none other than Super Mario 3D Land. While it showed off the capabilities of the 3D screen that doesn't need special glasses, its levels rehashed a lot of what had already been done in Mario games before. Sure, the 3D effect in this game is quite striking. For handheld hardware, the game looks gorgeous. The thing is, it added nothing to the gameplay other than a third dimension to the visuals. And it's not like its predecessor, the Nintendo DS, couldn't also handle some level of 3D Mario platformer since it had Super Mario 64...
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MOVIE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Mutant Mayhem (2023)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem Year: 2023 Rating: PG Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours I don't have a lot of nostalgia for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sure, I played the arcade game quite a few times and saw some episodes of the original TV show—it just wasn't one of those franchises that stuck with me through the years. With this in mind, what made me watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (2023)? Honestly, I'm intrigued by the new wave of stylized animated films, and this movie fits the bill. I'm glad I gave it a chance. Of the four words that make up this franchise, the one I felt was never accurately represented was the first one: Teenage. Most of the iterations of these four mutated reptiles I've seen focus on the "Ninja" part of their background. Here, these characters truly feel like teenagers, and the choice to make them closer to 13 than 19 was a refreshing take on the franchise....
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BOOK: I Am Not Okay With This (2018)

I Am Not Okay With This Year: 2018 Author: Charles Forsman Length: 160 pages I'm open to a lot of visual styles for graphic novels. It can be what elevates a mediocre story to something profound, but it can also tonally clash with the message and leave a muddled mess. Storytelling in this format is a challenge to pull off and few have been able to do so successfully. I Am Not Okay With This unfortunately falls into the other camp here. Even if this were just a novel without the "graphic" part, there's not much to recommend it. Filled with cliches about what it's like to be a teenage girl, I Am Not Okay With This suffers from the "men writing women" trope. None of the interactions felt believable or realistic. Instead, they seemed forced through what a man thought these interactions should be based on minimal or merely pop culture research. None of it had the feel of anyone who has lived as...
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MOVIE: Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

Ocean's ElevenYear: 2001Rating: PG-13Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours While I usually agree with people who say that remakes are worse than the originals, Ocean's Eleven (2001) is an exception. Not only did it bring the same amount of star power that made the original stand out, but it had a heist that was much more entertaining and compelling than its predecessor. Having re-watched it recently, I found it still stands up over 20 years later, even if it's starting to show its early-2000 edges. I still think it's a classic that works because of its complexity and scale. It's impressive how there are so many big names in this movie, yet they all have their room to shine. There's a reason many of them are still making great movies today, and their talent is on full display here. And perhaps the collective charisma of this all-star cast makes the heist they pull off so thrilling. Sure, I already knew how they...
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VIDEO GAME: VirtuaCreature (2021)

VirtuaCreature Year: 2021 Rating: E Time Played: 41.3 hours Back in the ‘90s, the digital pet craze led by the Tamagotchi toys taught kids how to take care of a pixelated animal. These pets needed basic things like food, entertainment, and attention or their mood would deteriorate. They could even “die,” which was a threat that kept kids playing with them regularly throughout the day. While this fad has since faded away, there are still remnants of these digital pets around today. One such example is the game VirtuaCreature—a hybrid between Tamagotchi and Pokémon. The simple graphics of VirtuaCreature brought the vibe of Tamagotchi to my computer and Steam Deck. There is also the option to battle these creatures in a rock-paper-scissors style battle that pulls at least a limited influence from Pokémon. These creatures evolve given enough experience through training and battling, but they also have a mood that can sour if you let them get too hungry/full or lose too many battles. It...
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MOVIE: Us (2019)

Us Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours I’ve been reluctant to jump on the Jordan Peele bandwagon. This has mostly been because I rarely watch horror films. What initially won me over was the social commentary Get Out (2017) provided. NOPE (2022) was an interesting take on alien films that spoke to the inherently violent nature of animals. With these two movies in mind, I finally filled in the gap and watched Us (2019). Unfortunately, my lack of desire to watch this film when it came out seems to have been justified as I ask, “What was the point?” I don’t want to spoil too much, but the twist was pretty easy to spot quite early on. Once the premise became clear, the movie seemed to be an excuse to just have the characters fight each other to the death—sometimes in the bloodiest way possible. Even the ending didn’t seem to be anything profound unless I’m missing something deeper that was...
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BOOK: The Dark Tower (2004)

The Dark Tower Year: 2004 Author: Stephen King Length: 1,731 minutes / 28.85 hours For a series that spanned over two decades, it’s nice to see that The Dark Tower ends on a titular high note. Other series may lose steam or fade to mediocrity as the stories to tell become less interesting. Or the author dies. While this series narrowly avoided this fate, the meta subplots in the last few books were well out of the way for the grand finale that is The Dark Tower. I’m almost disappointed that more of the books in the series weren’t like this, since there were actual stakes involved. I don’t normally think of Stephen King as an “action” writer, but the fight sequences in this book were absolutely superb. These enemies had the “final boss” gravitas that made the battles so entertaining to read. That there was an incredible new superpower introduced in this book makes me wish we had more stories about that character since...
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MOVIE: The Creator (2023)

The Creator Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours Knowing how rare new science fiction movies are, I was interested to see what The Creator (2023) would say about artificial intelligence. Even if we’re currently seeing a rise in generative AI tools, the AI in The Creator are more like the replicants in Blade Runner (1982). And while Gareth Edwards hasn’t had a lot of movies under his belt, he’s proven that he can handle big franchises like Godzilla (2014) and Star Wars (with Rogue One (2016)). Unfortunately, this “original” film feels highly derivative of these previous movies in his filmography. Plot-wise, much of The Creator cribs from Rogue One. The big orbiting doomsday device that looms as a threat over key battle sequences gives off big Death Star vibes. That there’s a MacGuffin that’s supposed to save the world/universe which causes the main character to undergo great sacrifice is yet another parallel that’s hard to ignore. Granted, many consider Rogue One...
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VIDEO GAME: Deepest Sword (2021)

Deepest Sword Year: 2021 Rating: E Time Played: 41 minutes / 0.68 hours There are plenty of reasons I like Deepest Sword. It’s a simple gameplay gimmick with wide-ranging applications. It’s a quick play-through that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Most of all, it has a cute pixel art aesthetic and amusing dialogue for the dragon at the end of each level. There was a lot of love and care put into a game like this, and it shows. It almost feels nostalgic for the little freeware games I used to play growing up and I can half imagine it sitting on some floppy disk in my parents’ basement. As a physics-based puzzle game, the challenge scales with the size of your weapon. Each level increases the length—and by proxy the weight—of the sword. After the first few levels, I was hooked. While it uses basically the same layout for each level, the limitations of my sword forced me into different paths that led to the...
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MOVIE: Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours While I’ve never quite been fully on board with the works of Alex Garland, I recognize there’s something about his movies that makes me want to see them, eventually. I appreciated his approach to Artificial Intelligence in Ex Machina (2014), but it took a while for me to get around to his next work, Annihilation (2018). His style of science fiction borders on horror, but more importantly, it emphasizes one philosophical question in particular. What makes us human? Instead of exploring the Turing Test as he did in Ex Machina, Annihilation focuses on the larger scale of the universe to answer this question. Even if it takes a while to establish all the exposition, Annihilation does its best work in unraveling the mystery surrounding the return of Kane (Oscar Isaac). Most of this is done once the main character, Lena (Natalie Portman) arrives in the anomaly and can explore the bizarre alien effects on...
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BOOK: Infected (2008)

Infected Year: 2008 Author: Scott Sigler Length: 684 minutes / 11.4 hours Stephen King has written most of the horror I’ve read. In deciding to branch out from the master of the genre, I saw the cover for this book in the listing of audiobooks for my library’s reader app and thought it looked interesting. While the horror here was more body/gross-out horror—which I didn’t have any issue with—there are other, deeper problems with this book. I’ll grant that in terms of audiobooks, it was an interesting recording with the sound effects and “alien voice” bits. However, I can’t say I recommend this book based on those merits alone. Perhaps this is an artifact of the times, but a book that came out in 2008 has not aged well at all. First, is the abundance of “men writing women” tropes that not only minimize the female characters to minor roles but doesn’t consider that perhaps not everything has to be about sex. Furthermore, while the...
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MOVIE: Castle in the Sky (1986)

Castle in the Sky Year: 1986 Rating: PG Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours Having only seen a handful of Hayao Miyazaki films, I finally got around to some of his earlier works. Castle in the Sky (1986) might not seem special by today’s standards, but in the era when it was released, I’m sure it was quite a bold statement. As a steampunk-styled adventure, there’s a lot in this movie that has since been copied and adapted into other works (case in point, my younger brother noticed that it’s almost an identical plot to Mega Man Legends which came out a decade later). As Miyazaki’s third film, Castle in the Sky sees many of his established visual styles and themes (like flying girls) that he has used in many of his following projects. Even with a relatively simple plot, the gorgeous animated visuals are always a major draw for Miyazaki movies like this. There’s a charm that’s hard to describe, but it’s there in...
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VIDEO GAME: Mom Hid My Game! (2016)

Mom Hid My Game! Year: 2016 Rating: E Time Played: ~1 hour Mom Hid My Game! is one of those simple puzzle games that feel like they would easily fit into a larger mini-game structure (like the WarioWare series). Its simple gameplay makes for quick rounds of play, which comes in handy for the iterative process of determining the solution. Even its simple visual style hearkens to the peculiar games in the WarioWare franchise. Of course, with such limited objectives in such a game, there wasn’t much to do in Mom Hid My Game! once I completed all the puzzles. The premise of Mom Hid My Game! is explained in the title itself. A young child is trying to find the handheld gaming system that his mother has taken away (likely due to how obsessively the child plays it). The obstacles that separate the child from his game are as simple as doors and drawers and as complicated as an enormous hole in the living...
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MOVIE: The Patriot (2000)

The Patriot Year: 2000 Rating: R Length: 165 minutes / 2.75 hours Over the years, I’ve seen most of The Patriot (2000). Having now purposely sat through the entire thing (and the Extended Cut, no less), I can see parts of its appeal. Now, I’m not going to watch a Roland Emmerich movie for any kind of historical accuracy. That Emmerich set The Patriot during the Revolutionary War is merely a backdrop for over-the-top action sequences. Some of its political statements are cringeworthy now, but there’s an amount of entertainment here that is hard to ignore. And that’s what this movie is: entertainment. The star power in The Patriot is hard to ignore. Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Jason Isaacs, Chris Cooper, and Tom Wilkinson all deliver outstanding performances. In particular, the “win at all costs” Colonel William Tavington (Jason Isaacs) was a great motivator and foil for Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) to avenge the losses he endured during the film. This subplot comes off as...
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BOOK: Morning Star (2016)

Morning Star Year: 2016 Author: Pierce Brown Length: 1,310 minutes / 21.83 hours After the disappointment of Golden Son, I was leery of starting on the last part of the Red Rising trilogy. Oddly enough, this book was actually somewhat interesting, but in a way that made the first two books seem unnecessary. There was definitely a lot of action in this book, which is part of what made it more exciting than the others. And as far as a book that’s supposed to wrap up a trilogy, Morning Star certainly doesn’t leave too many loose plotlines when it ends. I still think the world-building is forced with all the Roman imagery and sci-fi tech, but at least now it’s over. As with the previous books, I still had trouble with keeping track of all the different characters and their motivations. The main character was pretty straightforward (if not bluntly so) and his love interest just felt like she wanted to do whatever he was...
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MOVIE: White Noise (2022)

White Noise Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 136 minutes / 2.27 hours It's funny how I've always heard Noah Baumbach's name in discussions revolving around directors I appreciate. Usually, when the conversation of scripts comes up with directors like Wes Anderson or Greta Gerwig, Baumbach gets a mention. While I couldn't name a film of his that I had seen, his name was recognizable enough that I felt I had to give White Noise (2022) a try. After wishing I had those 2+ hours back, I realized I had seen one of his movies, Marriage Story (2019), which I also didn't particularly care for. Now I know. Granted, White Noise has some interesting bits. However, it never sticks with them long enough to fully conclude them. Instead, it flits from idea to idea, mostly making no sense at all (hence the title of the film, I suppose). There's a lot of talking in this movie, but most of it feels so random that I wonder...
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VIDEO GAME: Nintendo Labo – Vehicle Kit (2018)

Nintendo Labo - Vehicle KitYear: 2018Rating: ETime Played: ~5+ hours Nintendo’s cardboard peripheral line, Labo, is a magnificent case study of the Switch’s ability to be customizable. For the “03” Vehicle Kit, the Switch joycons are used to control three different vehicles. From steering wheels to gas pedals, this kit provides a setup that emulates the feel of driving, flying, and diving. Even with the flexibility of these vehicles, there are limitations built into the game that make exploring less than ideal. It’s certainly fun to put the cardboard together, but it feels like a waste when I haven’t even spent the same time using the vehicles. As with the other Labo kits, the sturdy cardboard is easy to manipulate. Using the Switch as an instruction booklet is a great way to provide slow-motion steps that also allow for moving the camera to get a better view. These instructions also go over what sensors in the Switch are being used to provide...
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MOVIE: Disenchanted (2022)

Disenchanted Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours It’s interesting how the “direct-to-video” sequel has changed now that streaming is the ubiquitous delivery method. Movies that studios still want to capitalize on but don’t want to spend money on putting in theaters. Disney has taken this route with many of its animated films in the 1990s, releasing multiple sequels to beloved classics. Even The Disney Channel used to be a place for them to put cheap movies. Now, with Disney+, we see movies like Disenchanted (2022) filling the space that used to be occupied by VHS releases. It’s unfortunate because these sequels could be much better than they are. I loved the self-aware nature of Enchanted (2007). That Disenchanted held most of the same cast was encouraging, but clearly not the magic needed to recreate the energy of the original. The parody (and adherence to) traditional Disney princess stories in Enchanted made it a fun tongue-in-cheek film to watch. This sequel felt...
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BOOK: Bone, Vol. 1 – Out from Boneville (2005)

Bone, Vol. 1: Out from Boneville Year: 2005 Author: Jeff Smith Length: 138 pages Bone is one of those comics I’ve always been aware of but haven’t gotten around to reading until now. It’s interesting how the visual style of the titular characters evokes an older style of comics, while the other characters in the world feel more modern. The storytelling runs at a pretty fast pace that kept me turning the pages to see what happens next. There’s some pretty good humor here, as well as tense situations to keep it from becoming too silly. I can definitely see the appeal and why it’s been a notable comic since its origins in the early 1990s. My only qualm with this book has to do with the main characters. The three “Bones” feel out of place in the fantasy realm, let alone our world. It also took me a while to distinguish visually between Fone Bone and Phoney Bone, which was only aided because this...
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MOVIE: The Whale (2022)

The Whale Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours Darren Aronofsky is the kind of director who makes movies that have moments that are hard to watch but you must see at least once. With his style established in such films as Pi (1998) and Requiem for a Dream (2000), he has continued with this over the decades with varying levels of intensity. The Whale (2022) is the latest film to conform to Aronofsky’s early directorial oeuvre. It’s a simple film—which happens when adapting a stage play—but with heart-wrenching depth. That it works so well in an on-screen format is a testament to Aronofsky’s talents. Brendan Fraser’s performance of Charlie carries this film. There’s not a lot of representation of morbidly obese people, but Fraser makes it seem realistic. Granted, Aronofsky also makes it gross quite a few times, but that’s to be expected. That Charlie seems to always be in the frame, as if Aronofsky gravitationally locked the camera to him...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon Violet (2022)

Pokémon VioletYear: 2022Rating: ETime Played: 45+ hours I’m conflicted. Pokémon Violet is one of those games that would be so much better if they changed one thing. Even though it’s something that doesn’t directly affect the gameplay. Even if all the other mechanics in the game are fun. Sure, I got used to it, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. Perhaps they should have delayed the game instead of adhering to a strict release schedule. After all, other games have done well by delaying to add that extra layer of polish. Unfortunately, I don’t think anything’s going to change. Visually, Pokémon Violet is a tough pill to swallow. All the Pokémon models look fantastic, which just makes the look of the rest of the game a disappointment. I don’t think it would have mattered if I experienced more of the game in long shots, but the number of close-up focus moments that show jagged jpeg-artifact textures were...
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MOVIE: Barbie (2023)

Barbie Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours I’ll admit that the only reason I watched Barbie (2023) was because Greta Gerwig directed it. I loved her style in Lady Bird (2017) and Little Women (2019). Going into Barbie, I was prepared for a full commentary on feminism, especially through the lens of the “perfect woman” that so many girls grew up with. And while the casting was flawless, there still felt like moments where Barbie could have gone deeper with the subject matter but declined due to pressure from Mattel. Its writing was smart and snappy, but it’s also a movie about a beloved childhood toy. Of course, a lot of Barbie wouldn’t work if the cast was different. Margot Robbie is the epitome of the classic Barbie look. Ryan Gosling gnaws on the scenery and almost steals the show (thus enforcing the patriarchy, ironically enough). Other standout performances go to Kate McKinnon, Michael Cera, and America Ferrera. That there are...
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BOOK: The Memory of Earth (1992)

The Memory of Earth Year: 1992 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 635 minutes / 10.58 hours Having read through Orson Scott Card's science fiction Ender's Game saga and alternate reality historical fantasy Alvin Maker series, I was comfortable starting a new series from him. The Memory of Earth is the first book in the Homecoming series. As a post-apocalyptic story, there are definitely elements of science fiction and fantasy in this book (however, I wouldn't quite call it science fantasy). And while there are elements of his writing in the previous series I've read that I don't much care for, I really didn't like The Memory of Earth. I'm not sure if this book was so bad due to publisher deadlines or if Card wasn't getting honest feedback on it. As it stands, everything in this book feels generic. The post-apocalyptic setting has all the annoying "let's have an in-world complicated name for items from modern technology" tropes that don't really add anything. The plot...
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MOVIE: Air (2023)

AirYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours As a child of the 90s, I never gave much thought to Nike shoes. They were always this popular brand that—in my child-like brain—would make me run faster and jump higher. I had no idea that the singular reason they were so ubiquitous in my childhood came down to one incredibly risky decision to bet the entire company's future on a single athlete. That this athlete was Michael Jordan is what made this deal as historic as it was. Air (2023) does a great job of giving the audience a look behind that fateful curtain. It's fascinating to me how a third-tier company like Nike used to be below shoe producers like Adidas and Converse. I also had no idea these other companies had the foreign commitment to excellence (Adidas) or star power (Converse) to place them above a company mostly known for jogging activewear. Despite these obvious choices, Air really tells the story...
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VIDEO GAME: Fez (2012)

FezYear: 2012Rating: ETime Played: 312 minutes / 5.20 hours When it comes to indie games, I appreciate how much can be done with minimal graphics. These pixel-based games have a charm that’s difficult to get right but really shines when they’re successful. Fez is such a game. As a puzzle platformer, the genre isn’t original. However, pivoting in 2-D planes to create a 3-D game is an ingenious way to expand the gameplay. Of course, this also makes it a little difficult to keep track of where you are and where you’re going. But with such relaxing visuals and sound design, spending extra time in this game isn’t a bad thing. There are limitations to the pixelated style that make navigating the half-dozen worlds difficult to memorize. Sure, there are gimmicks in each world that define how you move around it, but knowing where to go to solve a larger puzzle within the game can be challenging. That there are so many...
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MOVIE: Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning (Part 1) (2023)

Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning (Part 1) Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 163 minutes / 2.72 hours When it comes to the Mission: Impossible movies, you know what you’re going to get. Tense countdowns. Action set-pieces. Tom Cruise running. Even though the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) has overcome many obstacles in the past, there’s always a question of whether this latest mission will be too much for them. With Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning (Part 1) (2023), the threat is so large that this movie only covers half of it. As long as you’re OK with not having a conclusion to the full plot, this movie is fun and full of action. With Artificial Intelligence (AI) being a current hot topic, using it as the antagonist of this film felt like it fit right into the cultural zeitgeist. Not that AI has been a new villain by any means (as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) has shown). Considering the (fictional) power of this AI, the Maguffin of the two-piece...
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BOOK: Song of Susannah (2004)

Song of Susannah Year: 2004 Author: Stephen King Length: 822 minutes / 13.70 hours Six books into the Dark Tower series, and I'm glad that things are wrapping up. I felt Wolves of the Calla was only as good as it was because it was clearly a ripoff of The Magnificent Seven (1960). And with so many of the books in this series focusing on the men of the ka-tet, it was nice to get a book that mostly focused on Susannah's experiences. A lot of weird stuff happened in this book, but at least it laid the groundwork for the last entry in the series. Perhaps the weirdest part of this book was its meta-narrative with Stephen King. I was a little surprised this fourth-wall-breaking move worked as well as it did. Then again, King clearly hinted that this was a possibility in the previous book in the series. Author self-inserts usually take the form of the main character living out the author's fantasies....
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MOVIE: RRR (2022)

RRR Year: 2022 Rating: Not Rated Length: 182 minutes / 3.03 hours While I have watched some of the “classics” of Indian cinema, I haven’t kept up to date on this brand of foreign cinema. Nothing stood out enough for me to seek it out and watch it. That was until a friend of mine suggested I watch RRR (2022). He described it as the most “anime-style live-action movie” he’d ever seen. This intrigued me, so I watched it. He wasn’t wrong. It oozes machismo while also telling a compelling story about fighting against British occupation. And just to make sure that you know it’s an Indian film, there’s a great song and dance sequence that won an Oscar for Best Original Song. RRR reads a bit more like an American action film, especially in how ridiculous it is. Of course, that’s part of the reason I really love this movie. Sure, there’s a lot of violence, but the creative ways that it’s used made...
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VIDEO GAME: Golden Sun (2001)

Golden Sun Year: 2001 Rating: E Time Played: ~22 hours After the initial rise in popularity of Role-Playing Games (RPGs) in the 1990s, there was a bit of a lull in the genre. Square had established itself with hits like the Final Fantasy series and Chrono Trigger, and Game Freak had slightly reinvented the genre with Pokémon. With some of the “golden era” games from this genre coming from the Super Nintendo, it made sense to see the next notable RPG come in the form of Golden Sun on the similarly powerful Game Boy Advance. Using some tropes of the genre, Golden Sun felt original in its combat and class structure. The introduction of the Djinn mechanic made Golden Sun a blast to play. As pseudo-onetime spells, the Djinn were fun to find in the Overworld and powerful to use in battle. I wasn’t necessarily a fan of how they’d randomly seem to change the class of the characters. The elemental mixtures sometimes made it...
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MOVIE: The Sea Beast (2022)

The Sea BeastYear: 2022Rating: PGLength: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours It’s weird how there’s been such a shift in CG animated films that something like The Sea Beast (2022) feels like they made it years ago. The realism in CGI has reached a point where movies from studios that aren’t Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks look gorgeous. Since there’s been a leveling of what animated films can look like, the plot has become more important to these kinds of films. Unfortunately, while The Sea Beast looks great, its plot feels derivative of How to Train Your Dragon (2010), just with pirate-like characters instead of Vikings. That there aren’t a ton of sea-faring stories out there, let alone animated ones, makes The Sea Beast a unique setting. With so many fantasy worlds set in medieval Europe, basing one off the slightly more modern sailing age feels fresh. I’m a little surprised that there weren’t more inventive uses of the technology of that era, since...
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BOOK: A River Runs Through It (1976)

A River Runs Through It Year: 1976 Author: Norman Maclean Length: 236 minutes / 3.93 hours I love how books can give insight into things we might not otherwise know. How, when someone "writes what they know" in an autobiographical sense, the reader gets to experience that slice of their life. I'm not interested in fishing—in any of its styles. And yet, A River Runs Through It gave such a clear picture of what it's like to go fly-fishing that I felt like I had actually experienced it. I'm still not interested in trying it in real life, but now I feel like I get it. Of course, A River Runs Through It isn't entirely about fly-fishing. There are other universal themes, like fatherhood, brotherhood, sonship, and unity with nature. I can also appreciate that there is a Christian tilt to the main character without being judgmental of the choices his family has made. This unconditional love speaks to what Christianity is all about. That's...
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MOVIE: Puss in Boots – The Last Wish (2022)

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours It's honestly been so long since there have been any movies from the Shrek franchise. I had almost forgotten Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022) was a sequel to a spinoff that came out 11 years ago. Animation has changed a lot in that time, and this movie shows that traditional CGI animated fare is now following a much different look. Even with the change in animation style, The Last Wish excels at the thing that made the Shrek movies great: unique takes on well-known fairy tales. It surprised me how dark parts of this film were, considering its target audience. When the titular character has to come to terms with his own mortality in the form of death as a deadly sickle-wielding wolf, it gets perhaps a bit too scary for younger children. Sure, there are comic relief characters like Perrito (Harvey Guillén) to lighten the mood....
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VIDEO GAME: Mega Man X Dive (2020)

Mega Man X Dive Year: 2020 Rating: T Time Played: 23,340 minutes / 389.00 hours Having played almost every single Mega Man X game, the one thing I felt was missing from these games is the variety of player characters. Sure, you can start playing as Zero in Mega Man X4 and as Axl in Mega Man X7. You can even play as Vile in Maverick Hunter X (a Mega Man X remaster). But what if you could play as the Mavericks? Heck, what if you could play as Mega Man from other Mega Man franchises? Mega Man X Dive delivered on this premise. As a free-to-play mobile gatcha game, most of the gameplay was rather shallow once you'd gotten through all of it. The new content wasn't much different from previous events, boss rushes, or speedrun challenges. At a certain point, all I was doing was collecting resources to power up the characters and weapons I had obtained. I'm disappointed that the end-of-service is...
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MOVIE: Nimona (2023)

Nimona Year: 2023 Rating: PG Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours It's funny how I initially read about Nimona (2023) as an upcoming animated film on Netflix, which inspired me to read the graphic novel, which itself made me watch the animated film when it came out. And while the movie was good, it was missing some of what made the graphic novel great. But that's always going to be the challenge of adapting a book into a movie. Using the source material as inspiration helped make this film a tight story that works for the medium. Sure, I would have liked to have seen an animated film in the distinctive style of the graphic novel. The emotions and climax didn't have enough time to get deep enough—like they did on the printed page. Still, I can accept that movies like The Shining (1980), Ready Player One (2018), and Nimona are distinct and different, but just as good as the books they're based on. An...
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BOOK: How to Make Your Baby an Internet Celebrity (2014)

How to Make Your Baby an Internet Celebrity Year: 2014 Author: Rick Chillot Length: 128 pages I'm starting to think that these satirical "how-to" books genuinely only have one joke. If you've read the title and a few pages, you get the joke. Books like How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety or How to Traumatize Your Children wear out their singular joke much too fast. While How to Make Your Baby an Internet Celebrity doesn't have a lot of depth, at least it has cute pictures and diagrams of babies. Humor books with a "bit" like the ones mentioned above are usually better when they fully commit. That's why I prefer The Baby Owner's Manual for its ability to translate raising a baby into car mechanic terms. How to Make Your Baby an Internet Celebrity isn't quite that clever, since you might read it not knowing it's satire and try these techniques on your own baby. And perhaps my appreciation of satirical...
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MOVIE: Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Zero Dark Thirty Year: 2012 Rating: R Length: 157 minutes / 2.62 hours There are a few key moments from cinema that stick with me, even years after watching them for the first time. Zero Dark Thirty (2012) is a little frustrating to watch, but I suppose that's the whole point. Maya Harris (Jessica Chastain) had to deal with excessive government bureaucracy to avenge the United States after September 11th. That the last 30 minutes of this movie is the most gripping sequence I've ever seen is a testament to the payoff for two hours of buildup. What strikes me with this film is how raw it feels. It's unflinching in its depiction of torture. It doesn't hesitate to show that the U.S. would do anything to get back at those who killed so many on American soil. The problem is that it seems to insinuate that continuing in this extreme manner would have brought the eventual result a lot sooner. These red tape holdups...
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VIDEO GAME: Hue (2016)

Hue Year: 2016 Rating: E Time Played: 270 minutes / 4.50 hours The strength of a 2-D puzzle platformer boils down to how well its gimmick works. In this genre, you move from point A to point B and collect items in tough spots for an added challenge. It's how BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! works, and it's how Gris works. If the puzzle aspect is lacking, then the game just becomes a platformer. And making an interesting platformer is its own challenge. Fortunately, Hue has a well-done puzzle gimmick. Using colors to solve puzzles also gave this game a natural difficulty curve that was satisfying to complete. I'll applaud Hue for having some semblance of a plot that explains why changing the colors of the background is the main mechanic. I'm not wild about the student falling in love with her professor, though. It's also obvious that these sections of exposition could have easily been edited out since they occur in corridors that are just long...
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MOVIE: Oppenheimer (2023)

OppenheimerYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 180 minutes / 3.00 hours Christopher Nolan's filmography has been building to this movie. Over decades, Nolan has had gimmicks in his films that make them stand out. Oppenheimer (2023) uses many of them to create a compelling story that's half scientific discovery and half political drama. That a movie like this—about unleashing the Pandora's box of nuclear weapons—hadn't been made like this before is perhaps the more impressive feat. The way Nolan weaves the two halves of the story together is masterful. However, the actors definitely do a lot of heavy lifting here. It took me a second viewing to piece together that the black-and-white segments followed Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) while the color segments focused on J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy). This visual stylization hearkened back to the way Nolan made Memento (2000) unique. The shifted timelines between the black-and-white/color segments evoked Dunkirk (2017)., I'm just glad that I could actually understand what everyone was saying,...
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BOOK: Nimona (2015)

Nimona Year: 2015 Author: N.D. Stevenson Length: 266 pages It's a rare treat to find a graphic novel with well-rounded characters, an interesting story, and an art style that has range. Even if it started as a webcomic, Nimona shows a surprising amount of depth for the medium. Sure, some of the early parts were clearly encapsulated in a serial format, but they were a quick way to introduce the characters and setting. When the story has some room to grow, it gets even better. It's definitely a page-turner, and I devoured it as fast as I could. The heart of Nimona is its characters. Flipping the hero's journey on its head and focusing on the villain's perspective was a fun touch. Nimona's chaotic nature was a fun contrast to Lord Ballister Blackheart, who just wanted to do his villainous revenge alone. Perhaps the biggest surprise was how naturally the book handles LGBTQ+ themes. None of it felt forced or odd, even in a science...
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MOVIE: Asteroid City (2023)

Asteroid City Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours At this point, when I see a Wes Anderson film, I know what I'm getting. Not just the visual aesthetic or the almost monotone line delivery from every actor. Instead, there's a framing that either brings the disparate narrative together (like in The French Dispatch (2021)) or acts as a lens (like in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)). Now that we're almost 10 years into this phase of narrative framing (with a few exceptions like Isle of Dogs (2018)), it's finally gotten to the point of being distracting. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the base story that's being told in Asteroid City (2023). It hearkens back to some of Anderson's earlier works that dealt with the death of a loved one (a la The Darjeeling Limited (2007)). The science fair subplot was fun, and the whole military lockdown of the second half was entertaining. Just by itself, the core plot of...
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VIDEO GAME: Mega Man Star Force 2 – Zerker X Saurian (2008)

Mega Man Star Force 2: Zerker X SaurianYear: 2008Rating: ETime Played: 1,055 minutes / 17.58 hours After playing through the first Mega Man Star Force game, the experience underwhelmed me. I absolutely loved the Mega Man Battle Network games, so I figured this "evolution" of the formula would still keep my interest. Unfortunately, after two games of this, they haven't won me over. Sure, some mechanics that made the Battle Network games fun find a home here in the sequel, but the whole series just feels so far separated from the original series as to not even be related. I think some of what attracted me to the Battle Network series was the link between it and the robot masters of the original series. In the Star Force series, the enemies have either been based on constellations (as in the first game) or mythical creatures (as in this game). Neat themes, sure, but they don't link to my inherent Mega Man nostalgia....
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MOVIE: Borat (2006)

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan Year: 2006 Rating: R Length: 84 minutes / 1.40 hours As far as mockumentary films go, Borat (2006) is at least in the top five. It may have not been as groundbreaking as This Is Spinal Tap (1984), but its use of real people's reactions to a parody of Eastern European stereotypes still shocks today. Perhaps having experienced some of the American sub-cultures that were mocked is what makes those parts of this film funny to me. It certainly has its gross-out moments, but Sacha Baron Cohen's performance is iconic. I think what makes Borat one of the best mockumentary films is its unscripted nature. Sure, they wrote Borat's dialogue in such a way as to provoke people (or get them to open up about their own racism/sexism/homophobia). However, the responses from these people feel completely genuine. The ones who accept Sacha Baron Cohen's bit and try to play their part straight are...
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BOOK: Solutions and Other Problems (2020)

Solutions and Other Problems Year: 2020 Author: Allie Brosh Length: 519 pages My first introduction to Allie Brosh's work—as I'm sure is the case for many—was the "all the things" meme. For those looking for more depth from these drawings, look no further than the humorous illustrated memoir, Solutions and Other Problems. I have never quite read a book like this. When I picked it up off the shelf, I was expecting a graphic novel, only to be surprised with big chunks of text between illustrations. Clearly, the best of both worlds here. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll be glad you read this book. While it might be easy to discount the simple drawing style at first glance, many illustrations in this book prove to be quite exquisite. The stories themselves, which are not all silly or humorous, aid this distinction. Solutions and Other Problems subverted my expectations by being both hilarious and deeply profound. I've never read a book that had both a story...
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MOVIE: Spider-Man – Across the Spider-Verse (2023)

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Year: 2023 Rating: PG Length: 140 minutes / 2.33 hours Without fail, I have watched wildly successful movies gain sequels that were too big for just one movie. The latest entry in this Trilogy Conundrum is none other than the animated Spider-Verse series. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) was a stylish and refreshing animated film that won the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Its sequel, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023), is equally good in both storytelling and animation. However, the size of such a story being stretched over two films affected some of this movie's pacing. I am increasingly becoming a fan of the "stylized" animated movies like Into the Spider-Verse and Across the Spider-Verse. Pixar can show how realistic CGI animation can be, but I found truly creative CGI animation in other studios like this one. This "cartoony" style lends itself to the humor of the fight between Miles (Shameik Moore) and Spot (Jason Schwartzman). It's also versatile enough to be...
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VIDEO GAME: Spirit of the North (2020)

Spirit of the North Year: 2020 Rating: E Time Played: 458 minutes / 7.63 hours Spirit of the North is a game about death, rebirth, and the beauty of Iceland. Without knowing much about it, I selected this as the next game my daughter and I would play through since it had no dialogue and seemed to be fairly straightforward. And while I was worried that the random corpses littering the game's levels might scare her, I don't think she fully understood what they were as we played. I enjoyed the ambiance of the music and the beautiful scenery, but the game had some issues. While the beautiful scenery was quite immersive, any time the fox interacted with any of it, the graphics felt dated, like PlayStation 2-era graphics. It was also difficult to control the fox at times, especially when requiring precise jumps to reach secret areas. I also found the portions in the caverns/caves were extremely dark, to the point of being unable...
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MOVIE: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 (2023)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 150 minutes / 2.50 hours Ever since the original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), it felt like this corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was left to do its own thing. These movies didn't have many cameos or connections to the larger MCU except for introducing characters who fought in the Avengers films. Perhaps because of this level of separation from the core MCU, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies have felt more stable tonally than the rest of the MCU films. You can probably thank James Gunn for that. While I consider the first Guardians movie to be one of the best superhero (or even sci-fi) films ever made, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017) diving into Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) origins wasn't quite up to snuff. And while Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 (2023) is another origin story, it felt more impactful than its predecessor. After all, the one...
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BOOK: Sword of Destiny (1992)

Sword of Destiny Year: 1992 Author: Andrzej Sapkowski Length: 768 minutes / 12.80 hours In the second collection of short stories that start the Witcher saga, Sword of Destiny helps to further broaden the setting and characters that would eventually be used in Blood of Elves. Following somewhat chronologically and expanding upon ideas first covered in The Last Wish, this collection continues to flesh out characters like Geralt and Yennifer while also introducing characters like Ciri. While they're fine stories by themselves, they pale in comparison to long-form novels like Blood of Elves, mainly because of their episodic nature. I applaud author Andrzej Sapkowski for using these short stories to introduce the world-building of the Witcher series. While some writers might just make character sheets for their characters, he actually puts them in interesting situations to see what they would do. From a writing standpoint, I'd recommend this method of concept development as it gives certain edge cases or rarer character interactions to see where...
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MOVIE: Cocaine Bear (2023)

Cocaine BearYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours Back when I was in college, the most ridiculous concept for a movie was none other than Snakes on a Plane (2006). Now, almost 20 years later, the only movie that comes close to that level of ridiculous plot is Cocaine Bear (2023). Of course, being a ridiculous premise doesn't make it a good movie by any means. Not even the fact that it's loosely based on true events can help its lack of plot. But how much plot can you really fit into "bear snorts a ton of cocaine"? Part of the problem with Cocaine Bear is that it doesn't quite lean into the ridiculousness. There are too many moments that try to play the situation as seriously as possible. Despite all the stupid death scenes, there weren't nearly as many knowing winks toward the camera to make it into a violent dark comedy. Instead, Cocaine Bear sits in this weird limbo...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon Rumble World (2016)

Pokémon Rumble World Year: 2016 Rating: E10+ Time Played: 10,653 minutes / 177.55 hours When I first got my Nintendo 3DS in 2016, I downloaded all the free games I could. As a Pokémon fan, I was glad to have such titles as Pokémon Picross and Pokémon Shuffle to satiate my need for puzzle games. I also downloaded Pokémon Rumble World. As the free-to-play version of the game, there were a lot of things locked behind currency that took an incredibly long time to access. The game wanted you to spend enough money to buy the game (at full price) so you could access everything. As is the case with any Pokémon game, Pokémon Rumble World focuses on the "catch them all" aspect. Each balloon you unlock lets you visit a randomly selected area with a specific elemental theme (e.g., volcano, beach, castle, factory, etc.). By battling hordes of the Pokémon found in these areas, they occasionally become "wobbly" and are caught once fainted in...
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MOVIE: The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

The Super Mario Bros. Movie Year: 2023 Rating: PG Length: 92 minutes / 1.53 hours I’ll admit that I was skeptical about this movie going in. Some of the casting decisions were questionable, but I also knew Nintendo would have a much tighter hold on their intellectual property after Super Mario Bros. (1993). An animated take on a simple video game concept was the better way to go, but I also know Illumination has a reputation for somewhat “cheap” CGI movies. All this being said—nostalgia is a heck of a drug. The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) is bright, colorful, and a lot of fun to watch. I felt like the character designs were definitely on-point—which wasn’t hard to do when Nintendo already has 3D models of almost every character that appeared in this movie (something the previous attempt at this movie did not have). While the plot was simple, it’s not like a game from 1985 really had that much plot to go off,...
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BOOK: The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains (2016)

The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains Year: 2016 Author: Jon Morris Length: 256 pages With the success of comic book movies in the last decade, it's sometimes hard to forget that these films don't explore all of what the pulpy medium offered. The rise in popularity of comics in a few different "eras" inevitably led to saturation in the medium. When something becomes saturated, creators don't care as much about what they're putting out, since everything sells. This is how a book like The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains can collect quite a few foes that were better left forgotten. If there's anything this book does well, it's showing how simple and bland the early years of comics were. Perhaps I'm just used to the modern era that's had decades to figure out which superheroes and supervillains work best. Many of the early comic villains are forgettable, indicating a lack of imagination on the part of their creators. Unfortunately, since this book collects a lot of these...
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MOVIE: Léon – The Professional (1994)

Léon: The ProfessionalYear: 1994Rating: RLength: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours There’s something oddly satisfying about watching a professional do their job. The ease with which these people do the thing they’ve trained extensively to do is almost mesmerizing. While this usually applies to creative types, with Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional (1994), a skilled assassin is equally fun to observe. What makes this movie endearing is the simple life that the titular Léon (Jean Reno) lives. Additionally, the performances by Natalie Portman and Gary Oldman shine through here in some uncomfortable ways that make this movie both timeless and of its time. While the action sequences in Léon: The Professional are top-notch, the characters make the movie so much better. Since most people never encounter a professional assassin, there’s just this assumption that they’re always out killing people. Instead, there’s understandable caution and an almost savant level of adherence to rules that keep these professional killers alive to cash in on the...
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VIDEO GAME: Alba – A Wildlife Adventure (2020)

Alba: A Wildlife AdventureYear: 2020Rating: ETime Played: 193 minutes / 3.22 hours As I go through my backlog of free games I received from the Epic Games store, I've been trying to find games I can play with my daughter. Alba: A Wildlife Adventure seemed like it would be a good fit for us to play together, and It certainly was. Alba is a fairly simple game and doesn't take that long to play all the way through. In fact, I 100% cleared the game in the almost three-and-a-half hours we played together. Set on an Iberian island, Alba follows the adventures of the titular character who is spending some of her summer with her grandparents. With her handy smartphone, Alba must collect pictures of all the different wildlife on the island, filling up a digital field guide in the process. Along the way, Alba must help clean up the island and repair the wildlife preserve that was closed after a suspicious...
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MOVIE: Tetris (2023)

TetrisYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Every time I hear a movie is being made based on a video game that doesn’t have any story, I always wonder what those movies are going to be about. With Tetris (2023), the plot centers on the distribution rights for the titular puzzle game. While it’s interesting to see what happened to bring Tetris to its status as a worldwide cultural icon in gaming, the film really just boils down to the legal and international gymnastics that needed to occur. The Cold War setting did much of the heavy lifting for the suspense, but we already know how things turned out. I’m still confused about who this film was for. It seemed like they were trying to appeal to gamers by showing the history of one of the founding games of the industry. However, providing little pixel art cuts to explain how distribution rights for a video game were different between the arcade...
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BOOK: Michael Strogoff – Courier to the Czar (1876)

Michael Strogoff: Courier to the CzarYear: 1876Author: Jules VerneLength: 416 pages While we mostly know Jules Verne for his science fiction stories, it's hard to miss the fact that his books are also quite adventurous. Even though Michael Strogoff: Courier to the Czar isn't one of his famous works, it may be one of his best. This book was something my father wanted his children to appreciate, and now that I've read it a few more times, I truly understand how ahead of its time it was. Even if Michael Strogoff isn't explicitly a science fiction novel, Jules Verne still sneaks plenty of science into this race across Russia to save the life of the Czar's brother. Of course, since it is an adventure novel, Michael Strogoff certainly has a lot of adventure between Moscow and Irkutsk, with some scenes feeling like they were pulled out of a modern action film. The tension of sneaking behind enemy lines to deliver an important...
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MOVIE: Dungeons & Dragons – Honor Among Thieves (2023)

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among ThievesYear: 2023Rating: PG-13Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours I have a lot of hobbies and interests that are considered “nerdy.” Partly because of this, I have avoided Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) so that I am not fully subsumed by the culture. Despite this evasion, I have still picked up enough lingo and understanding of D&D to not be completely lost when watching Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023). I think, even without this loose knowledge of the tabletop role-playing game, this movie is a great heist film with a fantasy setting that should appeal to most people who have never encountered D&D before. What helps make this movie approachable is how it doesn’t seem to take itself seriously. You can almost imagine the individuals around the table making their decisions and dice rolls as the dungeon master throws ridiculous situations at them. Chris Pine’s performance anchors the humor. His bard character was easily riffed on by...
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MOVIE: The Northman (2022)

The NorthmanYear: 2022Rating: RLength: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours Robert Eggers doesn’t have many films under his belt, but he already has a bit of a cult following for his bizarre movies. Films like The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019) are distinct by themselves. However, these movies certainly have a psychological aspect that might leave certain viewers scratching their heads. Taking a more traditional storytelling approach, The Northman (2022) still has elements that make it distinctly a Robert Eggers film. It leans heavily on a plot that’s familiar to most high school English students, however. While it’s certainly less thought-provoking than his previous works, it’s perhaps what makes The Northman the most approachable of his filmography. Disguised behind the Norse setting, The Northman is basically Hamlet. Most of the story beats are similar to the Shakespearean play. That is, except that the duel between a man and his usurping and murdering uncle was much more epic in this movie. Considering the...
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BOOK: Golden Son (2015)

Golden SonYear: 2015Author: Pierce BrownLength: 1,143 minutes / 19.05 hours After reading this book (or more accurately, listening to it), I'm on the edge of whether I'll continue this series. I thought Red Rising was OK for what seemed like a Hunger Games rip-off. Perhaps my problem with this one was trying to listen to it while caring for an infant. Or it was that it's been three years since I read the last book. Maybe the genre (or what's become of it) really doesn't appeal to me. At any rate, I had trouble engaging with this book at all. It didn't help that I only vaguely remembered the main character and what his goal was. This sequel didn't seem to have any of the recurring characters from the previous book, or at least it didn't pull from that cast of characters very much. I understood the need for a revolution against the higher classes via infiltration, but the motivation of the...
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MOVIE: John Wick – Chapter 4 (2023)

John Wick: Chapter 4Year: 2023Rating: RLength: 169 minutes / 2.17 hours One thing I can appreciate with a franchise like John Wick is how it knew when and how to end. Some franchises seem to think that they have something significant to add even if the ninth entry in their long-running universe was the same plot as the previous eight. And while I had lost some of my faith in the John Wick franchise as it became more ridiculous with each iteration, perhaps my low standards made this last entry in the franchise that much better. John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023) was a fitting and classy end to a set of movies that re-defined the action genre. I loved the simplicity and steady, fast-paced choreography of John Wick (2014), but the world-building in John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) and John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019) started adding too many things that complicated the base elements of what made the first movie...
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VIDEO GAME: Haven Park (2021)

Haven ParkYear: 2021Rating: ETime Played: 281 minutes / 4.68 hours When I started playing video games with my 3-year-old daughter, I purposely tried to find games that favored exploration. Then I could let her dictate where we would go and what we would do. And while the big empty world of Sable was a good start, I thought Haven Park was cute enough and open-ended enough to fit the Animal Crossing niche. And this way I wouldn't have to restart my Animal Crossing island either. Even if it was a little short, Haven Park gave me some quality time with my daughter. With a story that's closer to A Short Hike, Haven Park allows you to build up campsites based scattered around an island. You get to choose what to put in each site, at which point campers will arrive and demand other amenities. It was difficult to keep track of all the different sites, but repairing the broken bridges, fences, and...
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MOVIE: Glass Onion (2022)

Glass Onion: A Knives Out MysteryYear: 2022Rating: PG-13Length: 139 minutes / 2.31 hours Hollywood has woefully underutilized the mystery genre for some time. It probably doesn’t help that there aren’t a lot of mysteries being written that have been adapted to the big screen. The two modern examples that come to mind are Gone Girl (2014) and The Girl on the Train (2016) but they’re darker than the classic mysteries by Agatha Christie. That Hollywood is still releasing movies based on Christie’s works (like Murder on the Orient Express (2017)) or Christie-adjacent works (like See How They Run (2022)) shows there’s a desire for ensemble-based mysteries. Glass Onion (2022) is the breath of fresh air in this somewhat stagnant genre. I’m glad that Knives Out (2019) did well enough to warrant a sequel with Daniel Craig’s fantastic character, Benoit Blanc. Glass Onion takes that same humor and applies it in a biting satire against the hyper-wealthy and “influencer” types that all need...
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BOOK: Snowpiercer – The Prequel Part 2 – Apocalypse (2020)

Snowpiercer - The Prequel Part 2: Apocalypse Year: 2020 Author: Matz & Jean-Marc Rochette Length: 104 pages After the somewhat disappointing Part 1 prequel to Snowpiercer, Part 2 was only slightly better. While the previous book in this prequel series was fairly generic with its apocalyptic scenarios, the Apocalypse portion of this trilogy gave personality to the story. Now that there are characters the reader is following, it's easier to relate to the plight of humanity. This still doesn't negate the fact that I know how things will eventually end up since I've already seen the Snowpiercer (2013) movie. What makes this volume more interesting than its predecessor is that we get to see how humanity would really act in an Apocalypse situation. Once the end of the world finally comes, all bets are off. For the "doomsday cult," their plan hinges on unhinged individuals. For the Snowpiercer project, it's not so easy to control tickets when everyone wants to board. And for humanity, we...
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MOVIE: Triangle of Sadness (2022)

Triangle of Sadness Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 147 minutes / 2.45 hours It speaks to the state of current society when 2022 churned out not one, but three films that focus on the absurdity of the rich. While The Menu (2022) focused on the "foodie" culture that surrounds so many wealthy individuals, Glass Onion (2022) highlighted those "influencers" who try to disrupt industries. The one film I feel best captured the satire of the ultra-wealthy was definitely Triangle of Sadness (2022). The humor was the darkest of all three, but it went further than the other two in exposing the uselessness of the rich. The first act sets up all the ridiculous things that rich people do. From absurd reasons to dump a romantic interest to how little money they actually have on hand, the audience gets a glimpse into their absurd world of opulence. Once the yacht enters the picture in the second act, we see all the different varieties of rich and...
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VIDEO GAME: Sable (2021)

SableYear: 2021Rating: ETime Played: 1,092 minutes / 18.20 hours Every once in a while, I’ll get a game for free via Epic Games that makes me want to jump right in and play it. Despite having hundreds of other games I’ve claimed for free in my library, I loaded up Sable and started exploring. I’m still trying to fill the “climb things, then jump off and glide” game mechanic that I enjoyed in Breath of the Wild that Genshin Impact partially met. The adventure aspect of Sable appealed to me, but the art style made me want to download it and play through it immediately. The cel-shaded style of this game is something I hadn’t seen in other games before. Honestly, it’s the game’s greatest appeal. The scenery feels hollow and desolate, which matches the sci-fi sandy crash of a group of colonizing spaceships. And while there’s not a ton of lore to speak of, there are definitely a lot of interesting...
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MOVIE: Women Talking (2022)

Women Talking Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Some conversations are difficult. Things that people in power want to be covered up are often the conversations that need to happen the most. And while revealing these topics to the public is a great way to raise awareness, sometimes the most impactful way to effect change is to band together. A unified front against an egregious sin does more than merely asking those in power to stop. Women Talking (2022) takes on the heavy topic of sexual assault and makes it a not-so-simple conversation about what to do in a helpless situation. While I feel She Said (2022) received more visibility, the heaviness of the circumstances of these Mennonite women hit significantly harder. Granted, neither film really captured the tension the way Spotlight (2015) did. It's great that movies like this are coming out, despite being heavy topics that require introspection into the systems that enable them. Heck, even Promising Young Woman...
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BOOK: Snowpiercer – The Prequel Part 1 – Extinction (2019)

Snowpiercer - The Prequel Part 1: Extinction Year: 2019 Author: Matz & Jean-Marc Rochette Length: 90 pages One of the best original sci-fi movies to come out in the last decade, in my opinion, was Snowpiercer (2013). The story originated as a 1982 French graphic novel under the name of Le Transperceneige. While I haven't read the original source material, I decided that a prequel graphic novel was probably pretty safe to read. I figured the events leading up to the world ending and a perpetual train being launched wouldn't spoil anything for me (I also haven't seen the TV show either). While it's only a scant 90 pages, part 1 of this prequel trilogy, Extinction, had nothing I didn't already know in it. Most of the plotlines in this book were fairly generic end-of-the-world-type stories. Each one obviously would lead to the last of humanity boarding this infinitely running train, which was no surprise. It probably didn't help that there weren't that many distinct...
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MOVIE: Tár (2022)

Tár Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 158 minutes / 2.63 hours I hate to say that Tár (2022) is what's wrong with Oscar nominees, but it's really what's wrong with Oscar nominees. I had only seen a trailer for this movie once and it was a vague two minutes of Cate Blanchett blowing smoke, followed by her briefly conducting an orchestra. There was nothing to indicate to me what this movie was about. Then it was released on the coasts, never making it to the Colorado Springs cinemas until it was nominated for Best Picture and I was given the chance to watch it. Tár is weird. It's psychological and unapologetic about never explaining itself. I get that it's intended as an almost "out of body" experience following the titular character around. The "artsy" aspects of Tár's clearly untreated mental illness left me scratching my head more often than not. Still, I enjoy classical music and attending the Philharmonic, so it was interesting to see...
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VIDEO GAME: Portal 2 (2011)

Portal 2 Year: 2011 Rating: E10+ Time Played: 8.5 hours While Portal felt like an innovative leap in gameplay, its bare-bones test chambers left a little to be desired for the variety of puzzles. Fortunately, four years after the release of Portal, Valve released the masterpiece that is Portal 2. Everything about the original game was taken into consideration and improved significantly. The environment was chock-full of lore, the gameplay added interesting mechanics with the addition of the gels, and the characters were funnier than ever. Even playing through this game over a decade after my first time still felt fresh and entertaining. Exploring the different areas of Aperture Laboratories (in various levels of decay) brought a much-needed ambiance to the series that was merely enhanced by the narrations of Cave Johnson (J.K. Simmons). That the game acts as a sort of prequel and sequel to the original merely emphasizes how well-considered its story is and how much lore can be crammed into a physics-based...
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MOVIE: Ant-Man and the Wasp – Quantumania (2023)

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 124 minutes / 2.06 hours I'm not sure how much more of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) I can take. After a lackluster Phase 4, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) is what they chose to kick off Phase 5? Don't get me wrong, I truly enjoyed the first Ant-Man (2015). However, this was because I saw it more as a comedy heist film than as an action-packed superhero film. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) initially indicated this shift for me, but now Quantumania has cemented the averageness of Marvel movies in my mind. The part that hurts most is that they could have leaned more into the comedy. They tried with M.O.D.O.K. (who had a fantastic comedy spin-off TV show before being in the MCU) but most of those jokes were childish at best. I have to give them props for making this bizarre character make sense in the greater scheme of MCU continuity....
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BOOK: Virtual Boy Works (2021)

Virtual Boy WorksYear: 2021Author: Jeremy ParishLength: 176 pages A few years ago, I found myself down a YouTube rabbit hole and stumbled across Jeremy Parish's "Works" series of videos detailing the history of video games. Specifically, he was making videos that chronologically documented the games released for the Nintendo Entertainment System,  Game Boy, Super NES, and Sega Genesis. One system that I was able to watch all the way through was his series on the Virtual Boy, Nintendo's oft-maligned 32-bit console. This book is a written-down version of the scripts from that series. While I enjoyed the bite-size chapters on each of the 22 games for the system, the few additional chapters on fan games were a nice addition that wasn't part of the YouTube series. The book also included a pair of blue/red 3D glasses so readers could catch a glimpse of what these games might have been like (it works OK, but it's no Virtual Boy emulation on a VR...
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MOVIE: All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

All Quiet on the Western FrontYear: 2022Rating: RLength: 148 minutes / 2.46 hours There has been a trend in recent years of remaking films that had previously been nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture. Movies like A Star is Born (2018) didn't win the highest prize in previous years like West Side Story (2021) did in 1961. The latest in these remakes is All Quiet on the Western Front (2022), a German-language film based on the 1929 book of the same name that had a Best Picture-winning adaptation in 1930. And while visually beautiful, I think this new version misses parts of what made the 1930 version stand out. I'll admit that I haven't read the book these movies were adapting. However, there was a powerful message that the 1930 version conveyed that was missing in this newer version. Both successfully showed that war is hell and completely pointless for those fighting on the front lines. And while the 2022 adaptation...
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VIDEO GAME: Portal (2007)

Portal Year: 2007 Rating: T Time Played: 3 hours When it comes to video game mechanics, it feels like most of the foundational concepts were born in the early years and merely perfected over time. The endless puzzle possibilities of Tetris. The platforming of Super Mario Bros. The first-person-shooter perspective of Doom. It still amazes me that a game made in 2007 could combine these foundational elements of video games into something truly original. Portal is more than its gameplay, though, which is part of what makes its story so iconic—enough to be part of some of the earliest memes. While the length of this game makes it feel more like a tech demo, the gradual reveal of the game's story adds some heft to its impact. As the player slowly uncovers the reality of their situation and the insanity of the expertly written GLaDOS, the portal mechanics become less about solving puzzles and more about trying to survive. That the one-sided banter of the...
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MOVIE: M3GAN (2023)

M3GAN Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I'm not usually one to watch "horror" films, so I was going to pass on M3GAN (2023) until a friend requested to see it together. By genre standards, this PG-13 cross between Child's Play (1988) and The Terminator (1984) was light on blood and gore that could have bumped it up to an R rating if they showed more of it. Perhaps this was intentional to emphasize the horrors of Artificial Intelligence (AI) overall. Because we all know unchecked machine learning algorithms will always lean toward some kind of murder. I think if you go into this movie understanding that it'll be goofy, then you can munch on your popcorn as it hits all the standard tropes. It's not quite funny enough to be part comedy, but there are some chuckle-worthy scenes sprinkled throughout. From a sci-fi perspective, though, any robotics or AI rules that you'd usually see in these scenarios were mysteriously absent....
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BOOK: What If? 2 (2022)

What If? 2 Year: 2022 Author: Randall Munroe Length: 354 pages As a fan of XKCD, I've loved the What If? spinoff series despite how irregularly Randall has updated it. Considering there have only been five new posts in the last five years, and they were all in the months leading up to the release of this book, I needed a good dose of What If? Partly because it had been so long since I had read any What If? posts, all the chapters in this book felt fresh and hilarious. Now that I read through it, I'm sad that I'll have to wait another eight years for a third book in the series. Randall always has a down-to-earth style of describing incredibly complicated scientific concepts. This means What If? 2 is quite educational once you get past the ridiculous premises that readers have sent in. It's also nice how each chapter is easily readable in a few minutes so that I could just pick...
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MOVIE: NOPE (2022)

NOPE Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours I don't know why I'm so skeptical of watching Jordan Peele's horror films. Once I got around to seeing Get Out (2017), it blew me away with how strong its premise challenged normal horror tropes. And while I haven't seen Us (2019) yet, I didn't need nearly as much convincing to give NOPE (2022) a try. I feel alien-themed horror is a bit of a niche genre with sci-fi entries like Alien (1979) being more prevalent than Earth-centric invasion movies like Signs (2002). NOPE (which can be interpreted as an acronym for "Not Of Planet Earth") definitely falls into the latter category. Overall, I appreciated the slow build-up to the alien reveal. Leaving hints about the cause of various strange events was a great way to add suspense until we finally got to see the alien in question. The alien itself was also a fantastic deviation from the standard "little green men" that usually...
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VIDEO GAME: Baseball (1985)

BaseballYear: 1985Rating: ETime Played: 30 minutes / 0.5 hours Recently, I've been filling out my collection of NES games and added the classic Baseball for a few bucks from a used game shop. I hadn't actually played this specific game growing up, having instead experienced the Baseball game Nintendo released for the Game Boy. Having a free evening one night, I got the cartridge cleaned up and running on my NES so I could play a round. While not considered one of the "standards" of the system, Baseball still shows the quality content Nintendo released with their first home console. Even with the limited graphical quality of the NES, Baseball uses what it needs to convey the game simply and efficiently. I'm sure Baseball plays differently in 2-player mode against another human, but the brief nine innings I experienced against the AI were enjoyable. Never did I feel the computer player was unfair in its fielding or batting. Similarly, I enjoyed the...
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MOVIE: Cars 2 (2011)

Cars 2Year: 2011Rating: GLength: 106 minutes / 1.35 hours If anyone asks me for my unpopular movie opinion, they're likely going to hear that I think Cars 2 (2011) is the best entry in the Cars trilogy. While it still doesn't hold a candle to the superior works that Pixar released before it, Cars 2 took a risk by adapting the spy genre to its kid-friendly films. I was never much of a fan of NASCAR-style racing, so pushing these characters into worldwide Grand Prix races felt much more exciting to me. Still, I can see why some didn't like this pivot. As with most of the Cars movies, I never cared much for Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). The forced comedic relief always felt like it was based on how cringe-worthy they could make the character. Unfortunately, Mater had a much larger role in this movie, which only marginally worked because of how it felt like The Man Who Knew Too...
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BOOK: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – Squirrels Just Want to Have Fun (2021)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrels Just Want to Have FunYear: 2021Author: Ryan NorthLength: 224 pages After reading the second collection of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, I was a little worried that this third collection would be more of the same. Comedic situations involving a variety of Marvel heroes and villains punctuated by some silly squirrel-based shenanigans. And while The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrels Just Want to Have Fun has these things, there was also a fair amount of character growth for the titular superhero. I appreciated that this volume included some of the lore surrounding Squirrel Girl, especially since we've only seen her in modern settings in most of these issues. Knowing what it was like growing up as Squirrel Girl helped ground the character a little more and make her relatable. The arc where she teamed up with Ant-Man was also entertaining because of the change of scenery (everything is in New York, give Canada a chance!). Still, these comics were...
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MOVIE: The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

The Banshees of Inisherin Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours After the masterpiece that was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), I was ready for the next film from Martin McDonagh. I appreciated the dark sense of humor he had in Seven Psychopaths (2012) and I understood his bizarre fascination with "boring" from In Bruges (2008), but for some reason, The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) didn't quite hit for me. It's likely because the premise is a metaphor for something I don't entirely understand. On a second watch, I did laugh at the jokes more and I always thought the setting was pretty, but it still didn't click. Going in without completely understanding what this movie was about, it immediately struck me how stupid the prime conflict is. It felt like Colm (Brendan Gleeson) took far too long to admit why he didn't want to be friends with Pádraic (Colin Ferrell) anymore, and his reason was quite stupid. I can't stand...
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VIDEO GAME: LEGO Builder’s Journey (2021)

LEGO Builder's JourneyYear: 2021Rating: ETime Played: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours I've played a lot of LEGO games over the years, but none of them quite matched the experience I had when playing through LEGO Builder's Journey. Early LEGO video games hit a lot of different genres until they settled into the "action adaptation" model that most LEGO games occupied in the early 2000s. Builder's Journey felt both classic and new in its minimalist puzzle platformer format. It's only a shame there weren't more levels to explore, but at least it told a tight story in the few hours it takes to get through it. Each level of Builder's Journey conveys a small piece of an overarching narrative that's communicated without a single word. This kind of storytelling is impressive in its own right, but even more so considering LEGO didn't lean on the expressiveness of their iconic minifigs. Instead, the characters are made of simple bricks that hop around the bonsai-like...
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MOVIE: Avatar – The Way of Water (2022)

Avatar: The Way of Water Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 192 minutes / 3.20 hours It's weird to me to see so many "science fiction" fans bash the Avatar franchise and then in the next breath complain that there aren't any new intellectual properties in the genre. Considering how recently these movies came out when compared to franchises like Star Wars, the Avatar films are the new intellectual properties in the genre. That there seems to be an overarching plan for the franchise gives me hope that James Cameron knows what he's doing. If Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) is any indication, he's done his homework with its world-building. I know people complain about the weak plot of these movies; but maybe with the state of the world, we need to reiterate stories about the harmful effects of colonialism and capitalism. As always, the visual spectacle of The Way of Water is on par with—if not significantly better than—Avatar (2009). A lot of what...
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BOOK: Hellboy – Weird Tales (2014)

Hellboy: Weird Tales Year: 2014 Author: Mike Mignola Length: 261 pages I have rarely read comics or graphic novels prior to seeing their movie adaptations, and Hellboy is no exception. I enjoyed the 2004 movie and its 2008 sequel but only just now picked up this anthology collection of Hellboy comics. It's difficult to know where to start with any western comic series, so Hellboy: Weird Tales was actually a perfect injection point for me since nothing from these comics is necessarily canon. Instead, I was able to enjoy other artists' take on this demon-fighting character's adventures. As with any anthology collection, not everything in Weird Tales is great. Still, there were a few comics that I enjoyed over the others. I appreciated the parody of comic books in the "Lobster Johnson" section and the manga-like "Hot" that also felt appropriate given the Japanese setting. The art style and punchline of "Haunted" were both entertaining. "Flight Risk" was bold and action-filled. "Family Story" and "The...
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MOVIE: Spectre (2015)

Spectre Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 148 minutes / 2.47 hours After the practically perfect Skyfall (2012), my expectations for what a Bond film should be were considerably heightened. And while Spectre (2015) still contained some elements that made me enjoy Skyfall, it missed that small little “aha!” moment that brought everything together for me. Sure, Spectre was directed by Sam Mendes, brought back franchise-famous villain Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), and had characters with emotional connections to Bond (Daniel Craig) that spanned across movies in Craig’s tenure, but it lacked the spark to make it fully work. Perhaps it was just abiding by the idiom that lightning can’t strike twice. That’s not to say that Spectre is a bad Bond movie, it just has a lot to compare against. The modern style and action that Craig’s Bond has are still better than some of the sillier entries in the long-running franchise. There’s a drag in the second act that probably could have been tightened up with...
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VIDEO GAME: Super Kirby Clash (2019)

Super Kirby Clash Year: 2019 Rating: E Time Played: 50.50 hours As I have mentioned in other reviews, I have an amount of patience that allows me to play games that try to encourage the use of micro-transactions. These games usually have a currency used for upgrading and a timer to prevent continued play. Super Kirby Clash is Kirby's version of this formula but with an online Player vs. Everyone (PVE) emphasis that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't (as is to be expected with any online games—especially Nintendo's). Still, I played through almost all of this game because it was fun. I think this was another one of those games that comforted me during the height of the COVID pandemic. Quick little boss battles were just long enough to pass the time and just challenging enough to incentivize me to upgrade the equipment of my main battle class (mage, by the way). And while it took quite a long time to fully max out the...
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MOVIE: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours Disney has dominated the fairy tale adaptation for so long that it’s refreshing to see something like Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022) take a different approach to the story of Pinocchio instead of merely copying the 1940 version. Fittingly enough, using stop-motion for this movie was a great way to be creative as well as align with the whole “talking wooden puppet” motif. And while the time jump into World War II Italy obviously doesn’t make this a faithful adaptation of the original work, it’s at least grittier than the more colorful animated versions have come to represent. I appreciate all the work that goes into stop-motion animated movies. I enjoyed Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) and Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), so it’s nice to see other animation companies like ShadowMachine enter the feature-length movie realm with their work. That being said, the...
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BOOK: Artificial Condition (2018)

Artificial Condition Year: 2018 Author: Martha Wells Length: 202 minutes / 3.36 hours After being disappointed with the length of the first entry in the Murderbot Diaries series, I'm glad that I stuck with it and read the second book, Artificial Condition. While All Systems Red was necessary to introduce the concept of a sentient (and pacifist) murderbot, this book was much more interesting from a narrative perspective. At this point, I'm used to the short length of these stories, but after reading this book now I have to know how the rest of the series plays out. The titular murderbot in this book felt much more fleshed out (ha ha) as a character. Having moved past the phase where it recognizes that its sentience is an anomaly, the challenge of fitting into society as a murderbot or as a human as the circumstances warranted was much more enthralling. The interactions with other AI like ART were much more entertaining than merely hearing about how...
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MOVIE: Babylon (2022)

Babylon Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 189 minutes / 3.15 hours If there’s one thing in common with Damien Chazelle’s films, it’s how they center on the sacrifices people endure to pursue their dreams. Whiplash (2014) focused on the physical limits someone might endure to become a successful drummer. La La Land (2016) highlighted how relationships and careers might need to take a second seat to pursuing a dream. First Man (2018) showed how a family might suffer to pursue something greater. Following this trend, Babylon (2022) gives light to the inability of some who have attained their dream—sometimes at great personal cost—to keep it in an ever-changing world. I can succinctly state the problem with Babylon as “I didn’t need to see that.” Clocking in at over three hours long, there were plenty of storylines that could have been cut. For instance, we’ve already seen Brad Pitt’s story of a famed silent film star struggling to find relevance in the talkies through the Best...
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VIDEO GAME: Chrono Trigger (2008)

Chrono Trigger Year: 2008 Rating: E10+ Time Played: 34.27 hours I've tried to play through Chrono Trigger for a few decades now. Ever since my family lucked out and found this game in a Super Nintendo bundle at a garage sale, I've played through the first half of this game multiple times. Heck, I even bought it on the Wii virtual console because I had such fond memories of it, despite never having reached the end credits. It wasn't until I bought this game (again) for the Nintendo DS that I could truly appreciate the top-notch game Chrono Trigger from beginning to end. While I definitely appreciated some of the improvements the DS version made to the game (including automatic running and visible health/magic bars), the base game is mostly identical to the SNES version from 1995. What's amazing about this game is how it truly changed the JRPG formula by putting the battles right there on the screen with no cuts or transitions. Additionally,...
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MOVIE: The Menu (2022)

The Menu Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours I want to chastise the advertisers of The Menu (2022) for making me almost miss this gem of a movie. I usually pass on horror films, so the ads for this one made me think that the “twist” would be something more like Soylent Green (1973). Instead, I was given the treat of a wildly dark comedy that plays off all the prestige and pompousness of foodies and high-concept restaurants. Sure, some moments are horrific during their brief appearances, but I would hardly put this movie in the horror category. The Menu has something to say and is actually quite funny about how it does it. What makes The Menu work is definitely because of the performances of its top-billed actors. Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Nicholas Hoult all act their hearts out, likely adding to how funny this satirical take on foodie culture ended up being. Almost as a bonus, this film...
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BOOK: The End of the World (2013)

The End of the World Year: 2013 Author: Don Hertzfeldt Length: 224 pages I was first introduced to the works of Don Hertzfeldt via his Oscar-nominated short film, Rejected. The bizarre humor immediately struck a chord with me but the simplistic animation style (with a 4th-wall-breaking ending) made this short a classic that I still quote to this day. Since then, I have still mostly kept up with the little animation projects Hertzfeldt has done over the years. As a graphic novel, The End of the World seems like a logical step for the animator, and it works, but only in a few spots. Despite Rejected being mostly silly, his other works (which retain his signature stick-figure style) are silly but with a profound message that seems out-of-place coming from someone who animated a character screaming of the woes brought on by a bleeding anus. The End of the World has a lot of one-off jokes that don't quite land, but the longer narrative bits...
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MOVIE: Toy Story (1995)

Toy StoryYear: 1995Rating: GLength: 81 minutes / 1.35 hours One benefit of having children is revisiting movies from my youth. I saw Toy Story (1995) in theaters and was immediately struck by how amazing it was that they made the entire film with computers. While this is no longer something that causes awe, there is something about the first movie to make this leap. Almost 30 years later, Toy Story shows its age in some of its visual aspects. However, the cinematography and storytelling here are top-notch and often made me ignore the CGI which is comparatively less polished than today’s effects. To Pixar’s credit, they did the best they could by focusing on slightly easier-to-animate characters than humans or animals. The people and pets in Toy Story look horrific (sometimes on purpose) but there has to be grace for the limitations of the time. Still, with the immense flexibility of the digital camera, some shots in Toy Story that would have...
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VIDEO GAME: Mega Man X4 (1997)

Mega Man X4 Year: 1997 Rating: KA Time Played: ~8 hours Much like how I enjoyed Mega Man’s evolution to Mega Man X when the franchise evolved to the 16-bit era, I equally enjoyed Mega Man X4’s jump to the next generation of console gaming. There’s some amount of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” here, which has honestly been what the Mega Man and Mega Man X franchises have touted for decades. And yet, the improvements that came with the jump in processing power were put in the few spots where it mattered. This refreshing upgrade brought back some of that “cool factor” that appealed to me with Mega Man X. Ever since Zero’s introduction in the first Mega Man X game, it took way too long for him to be a fully playable character. Sure, there are small sections you can use him for in Mega Man X3, but Mega Man X4 truly makes Zero their own character with a unique fighting...
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MOVIE: Skyfall (2012)

SkyfallYear: 2012Rating: PG-13Length: 143 minutes / 2.38 hours To me, one weakness of the James Bond franchise has always been the detached nature of the timeless character of James Bond (Daniel Craig) to anything from his past. He'd go off on some globetrotting mission to save the world while never having the stakes come anywhere close to where he lived—whether currently or when he was growing up. As such, the character of James Bond always felt like a caricature. An invincible man who always packed his plot armor before jetting off to a tropical paradise to deal with some megalomaniacal genius. I feel Skyfall (2012) is the absolute pinnacle of Bond films because it makes the main character human. The brilliant way Sam Mendes used Javier Bardem as the antithesis to Craig's Bond to highlight how loyalty is a two-way street is such a chef's kiss that I can't even begin to explain how it broke the mold for Bond villains. Visually,...
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BOOK: Story Engineering (2011)

Story Engineering Year: 2011 Author: Larry Brooks Length: 278 pages Every successful author eventually concludes that they have something to provide for the neophytes of the craft. The problem is that the most insight any individual author might provide for someone who wants to get into writing stories has probably been said before. In Story Engineering, I was hoping for some useful tips on structure but instead was accosted with incredibly biased opinions from the author (and his obsession with a handful of books). He seems to think there is only one singular way to be successful and his book is the only way to understand it. I’m used to biased non-fiction, but not nearly this much of it. I think that all writing methods have their benefits and downsides, but if you were to corner the author and ask him about pantsers (i.e., people who write by the seat of their pants via “exploratory writing”), he’d probably admit that they murdered his mother. In...
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MOVIE: The Expendables 3 (2014)

The Expendables 3 Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours When the first Expendables movie came out, the premise of a ton of washed-out action stars coming together in a single film amused me. It wasn't that great, mostly because I thought to myself, "These are the only guys they could get?" Partly because of this, my standards had been lowered for the second film in the franchise and I found it was an absolute blast with a lot of big names that the first movie was missing. Then they made a third one and ran out of names. What set the first two Expendables movies apart was the 80s action film machismo that made the concept of bringing these actors together so amusing. Now? It seems like they're reaching the bottom of the bucket for these types of actors—mostly because I don't consider them as the over-the-top action stars that the rest of the crew is. I mean, Kelsey Grammer? Really?...
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VIDEO GAME: Mega Man X (1994)

Mega Man XYear: 1994Rating: ETime Played: ~3.5 hours Growing up as a fan of the Mega Man franchise, Mega Man X was a hugely successful jump from the 8-bit era to the 16-bit era. The basic Mega Man mechanics were the foundation that X built upon, improving many aspects of the 2D platformer that needed some innovation. Yes, nostalgia may cloud my thoughts on this game, but it’s hard to deny how it affected the franchise for the better. It might not be on the level of Super Metroid in how it changed the gaming landscape, but its influence is definitely present in modern games today. Visually, Mega Man X is a treat. From underwater and underground levels to jungles and snow bases, each of the eight animal-themed maverick bosses are unique and memorable. The soundtrack is undeniably excellent, evoking the hard rock riffs that pay homage to the original Japanese protagonist’s name of “Rockman.” Furthermore, the presence of a small amount...
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MOVIE: The Fabelmans (2022)

The Fabelmans Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 151 minutes / 2.52 hours Steven Spielberg has been directing films for so many decades that it’s actually a little surprising that the semi-autobiographical The Fabelmans (2022) took this long to materialize. Because of his years of success as a filmmaker, I already knew some details of Spielberg’s rise to the successful director that he is today. Granted, I’m not sure how much of the family drama in The Fabelmans is a direct influence on Spielberg’s life or if he manufactured it for the movie itself. Still, it is interesting to see the early budding talent presented in this movie and be able to extrapolate to movies like Jaws (1975), Saving Private Ryan (1998), and Schindler’s List (1993). Perhaps my one qualm with this movie is that it’s a bit too long. I understand the desire to show the entire life of Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) to understand the context of the origins of his filmmaking passion, but...
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BOOK: The Wind Through the Keyhole (2012)

The Wind Through the Keyhole Year: 2012 Author: Stephen King Length: 627 minutes / 10.45 hours Backstory can often be a difficult element to work into a series. To keep the action in the present and moving forward, there’s rarely time to go into the background of the characters, let alone the main character of the series. This is why side stories like Fairest and The Wind Through the Keyhole exist. There’s a subtle need to explore the troubled past of a main character, but to get into the depth of their backstory requires a significant amount of words that won’t fit into already full books in the main series. In The Wind Through the Keyhole, Stephen King lets the reader see the origins of Roland the Gunslinger. What’s interesting here is that King does so in a series of nested stories, almost evoking something from Inception (2010) or Cloud Atlas. After all, a single story hardly affects real people but is instead a string...
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MOVIE: Little Boy (2015)

Little Boy Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours When it comes to movies with strong Christian messages, often the resulting movie is weak for a variety of other reasons. This might be because of poorly written characters, plot holes, or an overall lack of cinematic quality in the movie itself. This is why I absolutely adore Little Boy (2015). There are many great Christian values presented here, including faith and accepting others. However, the little twists put in the plot of this World War II story make it just that much better than a generic Christian film. If only more Christian movies were made like this, then maybe the (valid) stigma against Christian media might be reduced. Perhaps the one aspect of Little Boy that strikes me as the most unique is the xenophobia against Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). There have been plenty of movies about World War II, but you don’t see many of them addressing the racism against the Japanese...
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VIDEO GAME: Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion (2021)

Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion Year: 2021 Rating: E10+ Time Played: ~2 hours Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion is one of those games that got me to play it based on the name alone. That it also only took up two hours of my time was also a plus. A cutesy action-adventure, Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion is just silly enough to not be taken seriously, but not absurd enough to be ultimately funny. I definitely played through it shortly after adding it to my vast video game library, but I also was glad that it was a free game I got as part of my Amazon Prime subscription. As an action-adventure title, there are easy comparisons to The Legend of Zelda games, as well as the Metroidvania genre here. You collect items in dungeons that you need to defeat that dungeon's boss and advance to the next part of the map. Where successful versions of these games succeed is by making it clear what...
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MOVIE: Quantum of Solace (2008)

Quantum of Solace Year: 2008 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.76 hours Ever since the turn of the millennium, many film franchises have taken to starting over; reinventing themselves for this modern era. From superheroes like Batman and Superman to age-old classics such as Rocky and Rambo, these franchises have been going back to the drawing board in order to pull in ticket sales. The James Bond franchise is no different. In 2006, the ranks of Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan gained Daniel Craig as the new James Bond. Quantum of Solace is a rather rare Bond film as it actually has a connection to its predecessor, Casino Royale (2006). It also has all the elements of the franchise. There are the spectacular opening credits, Bond girls, fancy car chases, and gunfights. Somewhat missing from the mix is the legendary set of gadgets, which was also missing from Casino Royale. Instead, an impressive graphical user interface on all the computers and cell...
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BOOK: The Last Guardian (2012)

The Last GuardianYear: 2012Author: Eoin ColferLength: 459 minutes / 7.65 hours The Last Guardian—the final book in the Artemis Fowl series—could not have gotten here any faster. In my mind, the series was basically over once they did the "time travel" book in the fifth entry, The Time Paradox. That The Atlantis Complex felt like the weakest in the series meant I didn't have high hopes for this wrap-up of the series. Fortunately, the downward trend since the third book did not continue here, and it finished on a satisfying high note. Perhaps due to this being the last book in the series, the whole "deus ex machina" style of returning everything to normal by the end of the book seemed to go out the window here. This allowed for some truly exciting developments—not the least of which includes the death of main characters. Using not one, but two of the series' best antagonist was also a smart move to increase the...
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MOVIE: Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale Year: 2006 Rating: PG-13 Length: 144 minutes / 2.40 hours For almost 40 years, the adaptation of the first book in Ian Flemming's James Bond franchise was a parody of the action movie the Bond films had become. Even with only four movies in the Bond franchise released at the time, Casino Royale (1967) made fun of all the goofy gadgets, girls, and guns that were staples of Flemming's works. Fortunately, when it was time to reboot the character with Daniel Craig, Casino Royale (2006) received the remake it truly deserved. Cut down to its base elements and filmed in a more modern style, Casino Royale is a much grittier take on the Bond franchise that lets the action set-pieces and skillful spy-craft take center stage. Sure, there are still Bond girls here, but this time there's a deeper connection with characters like Eva Green's Vesper Lynd (which you can take much more seriously than characters named "Pussy Galore"). It then comes as...
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VIDEO GAME: Mario’s Picross (1995)

Mario's PicrossYear: 1995Rating: ETime Played: 666 minutes / 11.1 hours For as many Picross games as I've played, I figured I should probably go back and play the "original" picross video game, Mario's Picross. Since most picross (or nonogram) puzzles are merely black-and-white pixelated images, it made sense to put this concept on the monochrome Game Boy. And while there's nothing significant to write home about in this entry, I can't help but feel that more recent iterations of picross have spoiled me when compared to the early versions of picross to hit the home console market. Some of the charm that Mario's Picross has comes from the artistic style of the puzzles mimicking the "Mario style" (i.e., inanimate objects with elongated eyes). Aside from these puzzles being in-theme for a Mario game, they're still the fairly basic objects that you'd expect out of a Picross game. I'm sure they crammed as many puzzles as they could into a Game Boy cartridge,...
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MOVIE: She Said (2022)

She Said Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours After the gripping Best Picture winner Spotlight (2015) brought to light the struggles of journalists to expose systemic sexual abuse in our society, it's a little sad that the somewhat similar She Said (2022) hasn't gotten the same amount of attention. And perhaps that's just highlighting the continuation of the issue at hand: sexual assault rampant throughout the Hollywood film industry. One wonders if this introspective piece would have done better without Spotlight's shadow looming over it or the movie industry wanting to continue to silence the voice of these women. She Said has plenty of gripping moments where women put their entire careers on the line to become named sources to out the deplorable practices of producers like Harvey Weinstein. The trouble is, the whole movie plays out quite similarly to how Spotlight did seven years ago. If you want to see more thrilling investigative journalism that brings to light the abuse...
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BOOK: Shadows in Flight (2011)

Shadows in Flight Year: 2011 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 383 minutes / 6.38 hours You know how sometimes a series has overstayed its welcome? How, even though the author has wrapped up most of the loose ends, there's another story afterward that only exists to extend the series even farther than it has already come? The only times I can forgive these extensions is if the story in question isn't particularly long. For instance, the "epilogue" story in Marissa Meyer's Stars Above is a great way to show the characters settling into normal life after the main conflict ends. Shadows in Flight is almost unnecessary, but at least it's short. Shadow of the Giant was a satisfying conclusion to the Ender's Shadow saga, so the fact that Shadows in Flight exists is merely to wrap up Bean's story even if the rest of the world had already reached its peaceful conclusion. After all, one question remained from this series: can those with Anton's Key...
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MOVIE: Weird – The Al Yankovic Story (2022)

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours When it comes to biopics, there seems to be a natural attraction to musicians. The rise from obscurity into the descent of the artist via "sex, drugs, and rock & roll" is so ubiquitous, the script practically writes itself. We've seen it time and time again with such movies as Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), Rocketman (2019), and Elvis (2022). Because of this (or possibly in spite of it), the parody biopic of "Weird" Al Yankovic, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (2022) hits all the notes you'd expect of these kinds of films, but in a way that's so tongue-in-cheek, it's basically poking out the other side. Having been a fan of Weird Al for some time now (and recalling his first movie, UHF (1989)), it is amusing to see how some elements of truth shine through in this mock-u-drama. Some of the casting choices were quite hilarious, including the cameos played...
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VIDEO GAME: Picross 3D – Round 2 (2016)

Picross 3D: Round 2Year: 2016Rating: ETime Played: 3,310 minutes / 51.17 hours When I bought Picross 3D, I assumed it was a 3D game for the Nintendo 3DS. While I still enjoyed the three-dimensional gameplay of that Nintendo DS game, I knew the capabilities of the 3DS would easily enhance the puzzles presented in such a game. Fortunately, the developers of the first game came out with a sequel for the 3DS. Picross 3D: Round 2 is basically the same game as Picross 3D, except that you get to see the finished puzzles with the Nintendo 3DS stereoscopic top screen once you've completed them. This sequel has an additional facet to the gameplay that the first game did not possess. While Picross 3D was more or less a standard extrapolation of Picross, this game introduced two colors into the gameplay. Blue blocks are solid, and yellow blocks are corners or other edges that round out the puzzle you're solving. This allowed for...
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MOVIE: Black Panther – Wakanda Forever (2022)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 161 minutes / 2.68 hours As the last film in the fourth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) proves that there was no plan for this phase other than to clean up the remains of the Infinity War saga. To its credit, though, Wakanda Forever was burdened with finding an in-universe replacement for the titular Black Panther after the untimely passing of Chadwick Boseman. However, considering how most of Phase 4 was passing the mantle from one hero to the next generation, it fits well within this theming. There's a line in Avengers: Endgame (2019) where Naka (Lupita Nyong'o) states that Wakanda is aware of an anomaly on the ocean floor near their country and that they were handling it. This throwaway line was likely played for laughs, but it's peculiar how Wakanda was woefully unprepared for the invasion of their land by underwater enemies, even though they clearly knew...
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BOOK: The Man in the High Castle (1962)

The Man in the High CastleYear: 1962Author: Philip K. DickLength: 505 minutes / 8.42 hours While I haven't seen the Amazon TV series based on this book, I have had enough awareness of the basic premise going in. An alternate reality where the Allies lost World War II felt like such an interesting concept that I had to read the book that spawned this idea. Of course, I also enjoy Philip K. Dick's writing for the same reasons: he has novel ideas that he executes well. Unfortunately, I found The Man in the High Castle to be underwhelming. To Dick's credit, his world-building for a history where Japan took over part of the United States after World War II felt quite thorough. Little subtle ways that people act, economies based on American antiques, as well as other differences that made sense with such a drastic change to history. The problem is, Dick was so focused on world-building that he forgot to write...
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MOVIE: One Piece Film – Red (2022)

One Piece Film: RedYear: 2022Rating: PG-13Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours One challenge of making movies for such a long-running anime series like One Piece is that there are so many characters and aspects of the canon that it's hard to make a film that includes fan-favorite characters in a way that makes sense with the overall story. With Eiichiro Oda on board for One Piece Film: Red (2022), we finally have a movie that could easily be part of the canon for the series while also having stakes high enough to warrant the characters who appear to save the world. While I definitely enjoy One Piece movies that string together powerful moves from the best characters, like Stampede (2019) did, most of the time the villains for these movies are so separated from the series as to be completely inconsequential. For Red, including Shanks' family was a smart way to make the story relevant to the wider One Piece world without...
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VIDEO GAME: Pistol Whip (2019)

Pistol Whip Year: 2019 Rating: T Time Played: 4+ hours While Beat Saber likely convinced many people to jump into owning a Virtual Reality (VR) headset, it should be noted that it is hardly the only music rhythm game out there. Now, imagine if you mashed the rhythm game portion of Beat Saber with the polygon-person shoot-'em-up action of SUPERHOT. The result is Pistol Whip, a full-body workout with great songs and visceral reactions to being shot (and shooting your enemies). With so much free content released for this game, you'd almost be stupid to not get it—even if you already own Beat Saber. Before some of the later updates, Pistol Whip had the same problem most VR music rhythm games have: boring or repetitive backgrounds. Each song would play, and you'd only focus on the beats you need to hit to progress to the end of the level. However, with the "western" and "sci-fi" updates, there's at least some variety in the scenery as...
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MOVIE: Black Adam (2022)

Black Adam Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours I find it somewhat bizarre that DC released a successful movie with Shazam! (2019) only to follow it up with this spinoff that didn't seem to add anything to the DC Extended Universe other than to do a quick introduction of other characters. Other characters, mind you, who were much more interesting than the titular Black Adam (Dwayne Johnson). Instead of letting individual characters have room to build their own lore, this just felt rushed—a common trait of most DCEU movies, to be honest. As far as the action goes, there are a few really well-done set pieces that are visually entertaining. It's always fun to watch an overpowered superhero use the full extent of their powers. The real trick, though, is that you'd likely get a similar Marvel movie with The Falcon, Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange as the hero team sent to stop Captain Marvel. This is why DC really needs to...
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BOOK: The Heroine’s Journey (2020)

The Heroine's JourneyYear: 2020Author: Gail CarrigerLength: 305 pages When I started writing over a decade ago, I subconsciously modeled my story structures off the stories that I enjoyed. I didn't go into my first novel with the plan to make it the typical "Hero's Journey," and the result was far from it. The stories I was writing seemed to work, even if they didn't abide by the known structure many authors had used before me. The problem was, I didn't have a name for the style of story I was writing. After reading Gail Carriger's book, The Heroine's Journey, I can finally label the stories I write. Carriger makes it clear that stories that follow the Heroine's Journey don't always have females in the lead role. Instead, the Heroine's Journey is the antithesis of the Hero's Journey. Where the Hero's Journey is about individual achievement and sacrifice, the Heroine's Journey is more about building community to tackle a problem larger than any...
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MOVIE: Amsterdam (2022)

Amsterdam Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours Ever since I saw Silver Linings Playbook (2012), it convinced me that David O. Russell's films were good. When American Hustle (2013) and Joy (2015) didn't quite live up to my expectations, I figured it was a fluke. They were OK movies, just not to the caliber I had expected. I was cautiously optimistic about Amsterdam (2022) since it advertised such an all-star cast. Then again, the other movies also had all-star casts as well. Let's just say that this movie was probably my third strike against seeing any more David O. Russell films. Now, don't get me wrong—the acting in Amsterdam was great. These interesting characters were fun to watch, and it's clear that Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington are all talented actors (along with the many other actors involved, which would take too much space to list them all). The angle of injured military veterans was another element that...
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VIDEO GAME: Walkabout Mini Golf (2020)

Walkabout Mini Golf Year: 2020 Rating: E Time Played: 4+ hours It's funny how Virtual Reality (VR) can encapsulate both the most banal things (a la Job Simulator) and the most fantastic (a la Moss) almost in the same breath. The prime example of this fusion is in Walkabout Mini Golf. Most people have played mini golf, but few have done so on a space station or in a haunted castle. Sure, some better real-world courses work hard to bring that sense of fantasy, but rarely for more than a hole or two. In Walkabout Mini Golf, the gameplay feels fantastic. Mini golf in VR like this is fun, even if you have to sit through an entire course worth of holes in a particular theme (like a Pirate Island or Arizona). Sometimes, the physics might feel a little frustrating when trying to get a precise shot; but overall, the golf doesn't feel any worse than the golf mini-game from Wii Sports—which is a compliment....
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MOVIE: Minions – The Rise of Gru (2022)

Minions: The Rise of Gru Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 87 minutes / 1.45 hours It always felt weird to me that the prequel spinoff series to Despicable Me started with Minions (2015), set well before these yellow tic-tac creatures even met their eventual boss. As a true prequel to the main series, Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022) was the movie the previous Minions movie should have been. And while it definitely lives up to the somewhat immature nature of these films from Illumination, I am constantly in awe of how visually impressive these movies look despite not coming from Disney, Pixar, or Dreamworks. While definitely still geared toward children, Minions: The Rise of Gru definitely has its moments that parents forced to watch along with their kids will chuckle at. In particular, the names of the villains are puns well above little ones' heads but are quite amusing for the adults who know (Nun-Chuck (Lucy Lawless) being my favorite). I mean, they even...
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BOOK: Grave Peril (2001)

Grave Peril Year: 2001 Author: Jim Butcher Length: 378 pages The third book in the Dresden Files, Grave Peril continues the adventures of Chicago’s resident wizard as he takes on ghosts, godmothers, and ghoulish vampires. While it’s definitely an improvement from Fool Moon, Grave Peril still has some of the misogynistic flaws of the series’ titular character. On the plus side, we finally get to delve into deeper lore for the series. And we get Michael. He’s the best new character in this series and by far my favorite for many reasons—mainly because how he does things differently than Dresden. I’ll admit that it took me a while to get through this book, which felt odd considering the action was superb, the writing was proficient, and the story was thrilling. For some reason, I didn’t feel the motivation to continue reading and went weeks between picking it up and continuing. I think if I had read it all as quickly as possible, then it might...
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MOVIE: See How They Run (2022)

See How They Run Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours When it comes to certain actors, I've enjoyed their previous work enough that I'll watch them in anything now. Since Iron Man 2 (2010), I've liked what Sam Rockwell has done, whereas Lady Bird (2017) felt like Saoirse Ronan's breakout role for me. Having both these actors together in the same movie was a guarantee that I'd want to see it. Considering how the trailers made See How They Run (2022) look like a fun little whodunnit comedy, I was looking forward to how these actors would play off each other. Ronan's earnest police detective paired with Rockwell's hardened investigator was a fun match-up for this movie. It's not necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, but it's cute when it's amusing. That the "lessons" Rockwell's character inadvertently gives to Ronan's up-and-comer end up being the key to solving the case just makes it that much more fun. The other actors that surround this investigative...
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VIDEO GAME: Genshin Impact (2020)

Genshin ImpactYear: 2020Rating: TTime Played: 350+ hours Having played many free-to-play games, there’s usually a point where you run out of stuff to do and the game ceases to be fun. Usually, this is when the time-based resources run out and you have to wait to keep playing the game. It surprised me how many hours I put into the free-to-play action-adventure game, Genshin Impact before I hit this wall. Even when I reached this point, I still had plenty of diverse activities to do to keep me occupied for hours at a time. With regular story updates, it’s almost overwhelming how much you can get out of this game without paying anything. Part of Genshin Impact’s appeal is its somewhat Breath of the Wild-like open world and visual style. While it leans a bit more on anime influences for its character designs (of which there are plenty of characters to play as in this game), Genshin Impact‘s world might be even...
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MOVIE: Interceptor (2022)

InterceptorYear: 2022Rating: RLength: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours I heard about this movie from some co-workers and I decided to turn my mind off for a night and watch it. I'm glad that it was on Netflix because I would not have paid money to see this generic action thriller. It felt to me like someone was perusing the internet, trying to find interesting military resources to integrate into an action film. Then they found SBX. While this floating military asset is an interesting place to set an action film, there's nothing special in the plot to really demand it. A few things I couldn't get past in this movie were the motivations of the villains and the accent of the main character, Captain Joanna Collins (Elsa Pataky). I had trouble believing a Captain with such a strong eastern-European accent would be as successful in the United States military as she was. Then there are these random scenes with Chris Hemsworth working...
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BOOK: The Key House (2022)

The Key House Year: 2022 Author: Mike Curtis Length: 227 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** Growing up, I never read many middle-grade adventure books. I understood the appeal of a series like The Hardy Boys, but I was drawn more to Encyclopedia Brown. Even without this pre-existing knowledge of the genre, The Key House seems to hit all the required tropes for those who want something along the lines of a mystery/adventure. This is both a strength and a weakness of this book, as it feels done before (significant The Goonies (1985) vibes) but is familiar enough for young readers to know what to expect. The trouble is that the few points where The Key House strays from the middle-grade adventure tropes stick out. Most of these adventures don't involve parents at all, so it's not until halfway through the plot that it feels like this story can actually do what it needs to. The characters felt somewhat generic—like they belonged in Leave...
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MOVIE: The Bob’s Burgers Movie (2022)

The Bob's Burgers Movie Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours Let a television show get popular enough, and eventually, you'll see a movie get made of it. This is true for older shows like Get Smart (2008) as well as modern shows like Bob's Burgers. It seems that animated shows have finally "made it" when they get their first animated movie. South Park, The Simpsons, and SpongeBob SquarePants are among the ranks of well-known animated sitcoms that made the leap to the big screen. Now Bob's Burgers joins their ranks with The Bob's Burgers Movie (2022). The challenge for a 30-minute animated show expanding to a feature-length movie has always been the strength of its intertwining plotlines. For this movie, introducing an enormous sinkhole that's blocking the entrance to the restaurant ups the scale of normal shenanigans, especially on the first day of summer when people are ready to go out to eat. Add to this a murder mystery that the...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon Quest (2018)

Pokémon Quest Year: 2018 Rating: E Time Played: 105+ hours There are a lot of games I play that are part of the free-to-play structure. Pokémon Quest was one of them. I say was here because there really was no motivation to complete the Pokémon series slogan of catching them all without finally giving in and paying for the items needed to make grinding for these rare Pokémon much easier. If I had given in and paid for the necessary items to make the game completable, I’d be spending nearly $30, and this is not a $30 game. When a game can play itself without player input, it’s hardly even a game. Presented in a pixelated Minecraft style, Pokémon Quest is probably closest to the Rumble side series of Pokémon games. With a few limited moves, the Pokémon you play with in this game are sent into different biomes to take down the Pokémon that live there. While there is some amount of strategy for...
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MOVIE: Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)

Three Thousand Years of Longing Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours When I saw the posters for Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022) at my local movie theater, I couldn't easily figure out what it was about. A while later, I saw an article headline that told me that George Miller directed it, so I figured I'd give it a chance. I had seen no trailers or ads for it, but I figured the director of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Happy Feet (2006) would have something interesting for me to see. I found it a little ironic that this movie about storytelling was meandering with its own storytelling. Granted, it had three millennia to cover in less than two hours, but the framing of it felt a little odd. There are so many in-between moments in the hotel room that could have been used to intersperse modern life with ancient tales. I will give credit here to the somewhat...
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BOOK: Pity the Reader (2019)

Pity the Reader: On Writing with Style Year: 2019 Author: Kurt Vonnegut Jr. & Suzanne McConnell Length: 721 minutes / 12.02 hours People will always ask successful writers how they do what they do. What tricks do they have? What techniques make their writing timeless? Kurt Vonnegut is definitely a successful writer, so we'd want to know how he writes so we can apply his lessons to our own work. I picked up this book thinking it was like Stephen King's On Writing, not initially realizing that this book was released over a decade after his death. Consequently, this book was a disappointment. I would say that Vonnegut did not actually write any of this book. If he had, I'm sure it would have been much shorter. Instead, we get a pseudo-biography of the man who wrote such classics as Slaughterhouse Five and Cat's Cradle. This is a book written by Suzanne McConnell. And while she may have been close enough to Vonnegut to glean...
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MOVIE: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Full Metal Jacket Year: 1987 Rating: R Length: 159 minutes / 2.65 hours As a self-proclaimed film buff, I have to admit that it's almost criminal that I've gone this long without fully watching Full Metal Jacket (1987). After all, I have seen most of Stanley Kubrick's filmography and I understand the importance of his oeuvre. I think my hesitation is that I've already seen most of this film just through the memes that it eventually spawned. That, and doing more of a "straight" take on a war movie after the perfect satire that is Dr. Strangelove (1964) felt like a disservice. Even though this movie is almost three hours long, it really feels like two completely separate films smashed together. I don't believe any other film before or since has quite captured that "boot camp" feel that the first half of this movie does. It's spawned so many quotable lines that it stands on its own without a need to follow up. Then we...
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VIDEO GAME: Murder by Numbers (2020)

Murder by Numbers Year: 2020 Rating: T Time Played: 35+ hours I haven't played many visual novel games, so it only figures that the first one I fully completed was also a nonogram (or picross) game. Murder by Numbers mixes the point-and-click adventure of a visual novel mystery with the blocky puzzle styling of nonograms. Divided into several "episodes," the player follows an actress who plays a detective on TV as she solves actual crimes with the help of a mysterious robot known as SCOUT. It's cute and the characters are pretty fun; however, there are a few things I would change. The most frustrating part about this game was how close I came to completing it 100%, only to find that I could not go back and find one puzzle I missed in one of the episodes and instead had to go through the entire episode again. Since the game gives you an update of how close to "S Rank" you are for each...
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MOVIE: Stan & Ollie (2018)

Stan & Ollie Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours The duo of Laurel & Hardy is one of those classic acts that seems to come up when people talk about comedy. I'd certainly heard of them before, but I would be hard-pressed to tell you what one of their famous bits was. On the flip side, most people know the "who's on first" bit from Abbott & Costello. Sure, Laurel & Hardy's comedy was mostly physical, so there's not a lot of clever wordplay to remember or easily recreate. Until I watched Stan & Ollie (2018), I never knew how hard they really had it. Focusing on the two comedians trying to gain traction after determining that they were being screwed by the big production companies, Stan & Ollie is funny when these two men (aptly performed by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly) are in their element. The problem is, it's heartbreaking to see them try so hard and struggle...
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BOOK: Supernova (2019)

Supernova Year: 2019 Author: Marissa Meyer Length: 992 minutes / 16.53 hours If there's one thing I appreciate about Marissa Meyer's writing, it's that she has a conclusive ending in three to four books. The Lunar Chronicles wrapped up everything nice and tight in four books, and the Renegades trilogy does the same thing with the last book, Supernova. After all, I enjoy reading a tight set of three or four books instead of a meandering series with dozens of entries. That being said, I wasn't a fan of the epilogue in this book, but at least everything else concluded in a way that made sense for the narrative arc of the whole trilogy. In the first two books of the Renegades trilogy, I had some assumptions about the big questions Meyer presented to the reader. Who really killed Adrian's mom? How would Nova eventually be found out? Who is Phobia? While Archenemies really hit it out of the park by introducing the moral gray...
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MOVIE: Bullet Train (2022)

Bullet Train Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 127 minutes / 2.11 hours There's something inherently exciting about being trapped on a train with a murderer. It's why Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express has done so well for almost 100 years. In this more modern take, Bullet Train (2022) fills this titular high-speed form of transportation with a half-dozen unique killers with ties to a mob boss known as "The White Death." Ridiculous at times, Bullet Train is fun and full of action while also being the repeated poster child for the literary concept of Chekhov's Gun. With Brad Pitt in the leading role as the "unlucky" assassin with the codename "Ladybug," a lot of the comedy comes from the coincidental alignment of particular circumstances that pull Ladybug further into the conflict. There are almost Mr. Bean levels of close calls for Pitt's character as he finds himself tangled up in the parallel plans of his fellow assassins. Of course, the number of mistaken identity...
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VIDEO GAME: Picross 3D (2010)

Picross 3D Year: 2010 Rating: E Time Played: 4,199 minutes / 69.98 hours By now, I'm entirely on board with the whole concept of nonogram puzzles. Often referred to as "picross," I have had better experiences with these games using a touchscreen and stylus, which was why I picked up Picross 3D for the Nintendo DS. The few other picross games I played on the DS were definitely enhanced by the fact that I could use the stylus to select the blocks I wanted to mark. The third dimension is what sets this game apart from regular picross games. While Picross 3D still suffers from the puzzles common to picross (mainly everyday objects and things), by making the puzzles three-dimensional, there was just enough novelty to make the game interesting to play. Instead of selecting boxes to fill in to create a black-and-white image, Picross 3D has the player chisel away at a box, eventually revealing a 3D model if everything is chosen correctly. Granted,...
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MOVIE: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021)

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On Year: 2021 Rating: PG Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours The documentary format is so ingrained as a genre of film that it can be quite easy to take the same visual style and plot structure and apply it to something that doesn't actually exist. In the case of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021), the audience gets a glimpse into this peculiar little creature named Marcel (Jenny Slate) who lives in an Airbnb with his grandmother—both of which are shells that have shoes and can talk. Equally charming and meta, this film is a cute piece of fluff. While I never saw the short films this movie was based on, they must have been significant enough at the time (roughly a decade ago) for me to feel like this was a familiar piece of media that I had somehow missed from my childhood. The stop-motion style of these small creatures helps to show the challenges they face...
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BOOK: Blood Ties (2015)

Blood Ties Year: 2015 Author: Quincy J. Allen Length: 322 pages While I haven't read many steampunk stories, the genre is intriguing to me for a variety of reasons. Mostly, the aesthetic is a way to combine genres typically set in historical eras with other elements of science fiction or fantasy. In Blood Ties, steampunk is the overlay on a western, but with fantasy elements mixed in for a distinct flavor I haven't read before. And while its unique elements are its strengths, there were a few parts of Blood Ties that felt unfinished—or at least written in a way to force the reader to pick up the next book in the Blood War Chronicles. I appreciated that this book addressed some of the logistical challenges of steampunk. Metal is often heavy, so the fact that the main character had to ride something sturdier than a horse was a welcome detail. The zeppelin ride also seemed to take up much of the book's length, which...
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MOVIE: Thor – Love and Thunder (2022)

Thor: Love and Thunder Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours As someone who has not read the comics these superhero movies are based on, it's interesting how I picked up plot points from some of the recent comic arcs prior to their cinematic debut. Case in point, I knew for a while that Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) became Thor for a while for medical reasons. In Thor: Love and Thunder (2022), this somewhat recent plot line from the comics combines with the modus operandi of Phase 4 of the MCU: wrapping up the loose ends from Phase 3 of the MCU. Doing a victory lap after his well-received Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Taika Waititi still brought his trademark comedic sensibilities to this movie but seemed to falter a bit with the much heavier themes of the God Killer (Christian Bale). In fact, I was expecting a bit more out of Bale, considering how dedicated he is to his roles. Don't get me...
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VIDEO GAME: Baba Is You (2019)

Baba Is You Year: 2019 Rating: E Time Played: 1,604 minutes / 26.73 hours Every once in a while, a puzzle game comes along that is so unique in its presentation and gameplay that you almost wonder why nobody else has done something like this before. Most puzzle games—especially puzzle platformers—rely on some amount of “programming” where the user changes part of the environment to get to the end of each level. While using a top-down view (and thus removing the “platforming” aspect), Baba Is You's, core gameplay mechanic is programming. It’s such a simple and well-executed concept that is as elegant as it is mind-bendingly frustrating. The goal of each level of Baba Is You is to reach the flag to win. The trick is, you can move around various word blocks to create programming statements. For example, “BABA IS YOU” defines the variable “BABA” as the player character, “YOU.” Using modifiers to other program statements located in the level, rocks can become flags, water can move,...
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MOVIE: Elvis (2022)

Elvis Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 159 minutes / 2.65 hours Elvis Presley is one of those notable public figures that I couldn't quite wrap my head around. How could this singer not only cause teenage girls to lose their minds when he shook his hips but also have a military career while making Holywood movies, only to end up performing in Las Vegas until he died? It almost seemed like these were three separate individuals when, in reality, Elvis really did it all. I wasn't aware of the unfortunate relationship he had with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), but Elvis (2022) helped piece all the parts of Elvis' life together in an entertaining package. I don't think there is any director who was better suited to bring this story to the big screen than Baz Luhrmann. His tendency to create musical mashups blended so well with Elvis' background in both Gospel and Blues. Seeing this popular white man using his clout to...
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BOOK: The Atlantis Complex (2010)

The Atlantis ComplexYear: 2010Author: Eoin ColferLength: 458 minutes / 7.63 hours While I have certainly enjoyed the Artemis Fowl series, I knew the time-travel plot of The Time Paradox was the writing on the wall for this teenage genius criminal. The Atlantis Complex merely enforced my opinion, as it completely removed the elements that made the titular character himself. At least in the previous book, the author contrasted the character's growth against a younger version of Artemis. Here, it just feels off. Unmemorable and going through the motions, The Atlantis Complex is underwater in more ways than one. I get that YA series will often lean on the formulas that made them successful, but seven books into this series and it has become quite stale. Having read this book about six months before writing this review, nothing stuck with me other than the potential for an eventual development in the "relationship" between Artemis and Holly. Everything else faded into the background as...
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MOVIE: Enemy (2013)

Enemy Year: 2013 Rating: R Length: 91 minutes / 1.52 hours My first introduction to Denis Villeneuve was Prisoners (2013). This was an intense film, but even after seeing Sicario (2015), I didn't get hooked on his directing until Arrival (2016). What's interesting is that another Villeneuve film from 2013 evaded my radar until now. My film-loving friends made me aware of Enemy (2013), but I didn't get around to watching it until now. I'm glad I did. Seeing Villeneuve in the early stages of defining his style is fascinating, and Enemy certainly is more stylistic than Prisoners ever was, even if it felt like a student film at times. Of course, being one of Villeneuve's earlier films, Enemy has some rough edges. It's difficult to tell whether the source material influenced some of this film's weird choices, but it's the one thing that really prevents me from giving it a perfect score. Maybe cutting out the spider bits would have made Enemy more cohesive,...
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MOVIE: Under the Skin (2013)

Under the Skin Year: 2013 Rating: R Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours When someone describes an "artistic" film, what comes to mind? For me, minimalism is often an easy way to identify a movie with the "artistic" descriptor. Under the Skin (2013) is perhaps the most minimalist movie I have ever seen. Minimal dialogue. Minimal plot. Minimal clothes. It's a bit of a rough watch, but I still consider Under the Skin one of those movies you have to see at least once. You know, for its minimalist artistic qualities. I always appreciate it when a movie can tell a story with minimal dialogue. While not nearly as impressive as the 3.5-hour long Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), there's an unsettling amount of plot that was communicated in this movie without speaking a word. Chalk it up to Scarlett Johansson's stoic performance, but these moments of no dialogue really highlighted what makes us human. Choosing not to talk or not...
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BOOK: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel (2018)

Save the Cat! Writes a NovelYear: 2018Author: Jessica BrodyLength: 320 pages I had already written a dozen manuscripts by the time I read Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. Most of my plots had come fairly easily to me, but as a father, I now have less time to spend on planning novels. The plot of the last trilogy I drafted felt unfocused, so I knew I needed some way to re-structure my unedited and unwritten novels from here on out. When I asked my writer friend to suggest a few books to help me, she gave me this one to read. I am now a changed man. I had already heard of this book from a few other writers who use its method, but now I truly understand the appeal. Looking back on the books I had written, I was already using parts of the Save the Cat structure subconsciously. Fortunately, now that I had the full picture of this writing...
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MOVIE: Jurassic World – Dominion (2022)

Jurassic World: Dominion Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 147 minutes / 2.45 hours It's amusing to me that Director Colin Trevorrow thinks that there should have only been one Jurassic Park (1993), even after directing two of the sequels in the Jurassic World franchise. I mean, he's not wrong. Spielberg's film is a perfect blend of practical effects that helped bring the horror of rampaging dinosaurs to life. I'd forgive any of the sequels if they actually did anything interesting with the concept past what the original did. As it stands, even bringing back three members of the original cast for Jurassic World: Dominion (2022) just highlighted how repetitive this franchise has become. At the end of Fallen Kingdom (2018), there was a whole wide world of dinosaurs to explore, but the Park and World crews instead team up to go to yet another island filled with resurrected dinosaurs. Sure, some of them have feathers this time around, and we get a few "new" dinosaurs...
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VIDEO GAME: The LEGO Movie Videogame (2014)

The LEGO Movie Videogame Year: 2014 Rating: E10+ Time Played: ~10 hours Growing up with Legos, I definitely enjoyed The LEGO Movie (2014) when it came to theaters. Sure, it may have just been a knock-off of The Matrix (1999), but there were enough humorous bits and meta references for me to enjoy myself. Considering how Lego had been adapting several film franchises into Lego-themed video games for quite a few years prior to this movie's release, it just made sense that they would then turn their first arrival on the big screen into a Lego video game as well. Of course, by now the "Lego video game" had become somewhat of a tired formula. Even if I could play through the events of the movie, the almost mind-numbing action wasn't much different from any of the other Lego video games I had already played. It's no wonder that I felt burned out from these games after playing through this one. You definitely get the...
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MOVIE: Lightyear (2022)

Lightyear Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours One of my favorite bits from the Toy Story saga was the opening sequence from Toy Story 2 (1999). Seeing Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) in his element, fighting to save the galaxy, was an exciting start to one of the best Pixar films to hit the big screen. I have some strong nostalgia for the characters from Toy Story, which is why I had high hopes for the Lightyear (2022) spinoff. After all, Pixar rarely does science fiction—with WALL-E (2008) being the most notable example of what they can do with the genre—so I can appreciate them adding more sci-fi to their filmography. As a sci-fi movie, Lightyear is fine. It hits a lot of good tropes that are common to the genre. Visually, the efforts of Pixar look stunning as always. The problem I have here is with the characters and the plotline surrounding Buzz Lightyear's (Chris Evans) stubbornness. It's exhausting to watch...
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BOOK: Archenemies (2018)

Archenemies Year: 2018 Author: Marissa Meyer Length: 877 minutes / 14.62 hours There's a trope in comic books about how supervillains' schemes sometimes make sense. Maybe they want to solve some systemic problem with society, but the way they go about it is all wrong. There's often a leap of logic between "let's solve global warming" and "I want to build an ice ray to freeze the entire planet." Because this trope falls apart in the cartoony logic that graces the pages of comic books, it's refreshing to see some truly fantastic moral ambiguity between villains and heroes (all with quite unique powers and abilities) in Marissa Meyer's Archenemies. While there were a few moments of illogical villains in Renegades, this sequel really delves into these characters who think they're doing the right thing—from both sides. I love how there are heroes who take their "we are justice" ideology too far, while there are also villains out there trying to improve the broken society that...
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MOVIE: Cars (2006)

Cars Year: 2006 Rating: G Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours In terms of early Pixar films, I always felt Cars (2006) was a bit of a step backward for the animation company. I've never been much of a "car guy" and I find NASCAR racing a bit silly. Still, Pixar's focus on the story helped make this a solid sports movie. After all, the timeless "mentor teaching a cocky up-and-comer" narrative works for a reason. And while I'd love to see other Pixar franchises get as much love as this one, I can see why it's done so well for its target demographic. Cars is an excellent movie for freeze-frame analysis for the number of puns and visual gags alone. Granted, there are also a lot of disturbing extrapolations if you spend a significant amount of time thinking about this universe of sentient vehicles. Still, the growth of these characters helps make this movie into something more than just a vehicle (har har) for...
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MUSIC: “Weird” Al Yankovic – The Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour

"Weird" Al Yankovic - The Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour Date: September 6, 2022 Despite owning every one of "Weird" Al Yankovic's albums and knowing every one of his songs, I had never been to a Weird Al concert before. Well, technically I went to a Weird Al concert in 1985...in utero. And my parents wonder why I turned out the way I did. This time, I was conscious enough to remember it. After enduring a few years of not going to concerts (thanks to COVID and toddlers), this was a welcome change and a show I enjoyed because I finally got to see Weird Al in concert. My wife still had a good time, but this show was definitely for the super fans. I had no other Weird Al concerts to compare this one to, but I was not disappointed. After all, I could sing along to these songs since I knew them so well. Sure, there weren't...
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VIDEO GAME: Lego Marvel Super Heroes (2013)

Lego Marvel Super HeroesYear: 2013Rating: E10+Time Played: ~23 hours In 2013, you would have been stupid to not cash in on the phenomenon that was the up-and-coming Marvel Cinematic Universe. A year after The Avengers (2012) showed what could be done with a handful of movies, and suddenly everyone is into Marvel superheroes. It then makes sense that Lego would release the Lego Marvel Super Heroes video game in 2013. What's even better is that the muddled movie rights for Marvel IP don't apply to video games, thus making this game a smorgasbord of superheroes to play with. I can appreciate how this game incorporated some of the popularity of the MCU (I mean, look at the characters front and center on the cover), but didn't completely need to adapt to the movie versions of these heroes. The voice-acting work for these characters was top-notch and really brought the quality of this game above the various grunts and cheers of the playable...
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MOVIE: Top Gun – Maverick (2022)

Top Gun: Maverick Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours The COVID pandemic delayed the release of Top Gun: Maverick (2022) for a few years. Having only watched the original a few days prior to seeing this in the theaters, it was definitely worth the wait to see something like this on the big screen. The trailers only hinted at the spectacle that could be achieved over 35 years after the original wowed audiences with great fighter jet footage. That's not to say that this film doesn't lean heavily on its nostalgia—or plots that come strikingly close to other famous franchises. Part of the appeal of Top Gun (1986) was all the footage of fighter jet acrobatics. Most civilians never get to see these things outside an occasional air show, so there's an amount of awe involved when seeing what these marvels of modern engineering can do. Over three decades of advancements in cinematography allowed this sequel to surpass the original. Cockpit...
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BOOK: All Systems Red (2017)

All Systems Red Year: 2017 Author: Martha Wells Length: 199 minutes / 3.12 hours Sentient artificial intelligence is a topic that science fiction has covered for decades. Somehow, in all that time, I haven't really come across many stories from the perspective of the newly sentient AI. All Systems Red scratches that itch in a way that's intriguing but merely feels like a prologue to something much more interesting. Perhaps I'm just used to longer-form stories that explore such a complex topic like this. Still, to so densely convey what it's like to be a robot now in control of its destiny takes a certain level of skill. The problem is, it's been about six months since I listened to this audiobook and I can't recall much about it other than it's in first person via the "Murderbot" point-of-view. I guess there was some humor involved with this robot describing things that we as humans almost take for granted—using the external observer to point out...
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MOVIE: Top Gun (1986)

Top GunYear: 1986Rating: PGLength: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours Top Gun (1986) was one of those movies I actively avoided watching for years. I've never been too keen on the military, and this movie just screamed military propaganda to me. Sure, there were enough memes spawned from this movie (before memes were really a thing) that I felt I understood the movie well enough without having seen it. When the sequel came out this year, I figured it was probably time I give the original a chance before I went to the theater to see the summer blockbuster of 2022. For its time, Top Gun certainly used the best special effects it could to make it seem like Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, and Anthony Edwards were actually flying these fighter jets. These effects stand up pretty well to time, but mostly because the cuts where we see the actors are so close in that you can't even tell what's going on around...
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VIDEO GAME: Lego Pirates of the Caribbean (2011)

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean Year: 2011 Rating: E10+ Time Played: ~25 hours I have to give props to Lego for making perhaps the best movie franchise video games that have ever existed. Sure, there were a few good Disney games for the SNES back in the day, but the scope of Lego's video game adaptations of famous film franchises makes any official video game adaptations of these movies pale in comparison. Sure, it's basically the same game over and over again with a different skin, but if it's a fun formula, why change it? Lego Pirates of the Caribbean may only cover the first four films in the franchise (which I'd consider a good thing), but it's certainly enough content to enjoy a solid playthrough. These games are fairly easy to get 100% completion on, and this one is no different. Gameplay is still the standard "collect items in each level" and "unlock upgrades and characters with studs" that most Lego video games had...
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MOVIE: Chip ‘n Dale – Rescue Rangers (2022)

Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 97 minutes / 1.61 hours Nostalgia can be tricky to balance. There's nostalgia that feels pandering, even to the demographic it's aimed at. Then there's nostalgia that's so meta that only those deep scholars of the source material would get the inside jokes. As a Millennial, I found Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022) scratched an itch for balanced nostalgia I didn't even know I had. It's a shame that Disney tossed it onto Disney+ instead of getting a wider theatrical release because the comedy in this movie was top-notch. This movie was so smartly written that I laughed out loud more often than not. All the brief references it hid in plain view, but without drawing a cringey, eye-winking nod to it, was a welcome change to how most movies handle nostalgia reboots. Even modern references like Ugly Sonic were hilarious, mostly because they "went there." Of course, the movie still brought attention to...
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BOOK: Renegades (2017)

RenegadesYear: 2017Author: Marissa MeyerLength: 1,018 minutes / 16.97 hours After having finished Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, it pleased me to learn that her next major series was about superheroes. After all, the fairy tale sci-fi retelling was great, but its source material always felt like it was for girls. Just like getting the choice of a girl's toy or a boy's toy in a Happy Meal, Renegades felt like it was meant for the guys. Obviously, I'm being a little facetious, as both series are definitely for all genders. The twist with this book is that the main character is a villain in a world filled with superheroes. Renegades feels like the pendulum swing away from the superhero purism that saturated the market with the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Shows like The Boys and Invincible—both of which started as comics themselves—bring up interesting thought experiments when questioning the legal and moral repercussions of superheroes in the real world. Renegades does...
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MOVIE: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

The Nutcracker and the Four RealmsYear: 2018Rating: PGLength: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours A staple of the Christmas season, The Nutcracker is recognizable in many formats. Whether it's the ballet, the music, or just the story itself, most people have probably encountered a portion of The Nutcracker at some point in their lives. While most of these recognizable bits are classic representations of this work, these are the bare minimum used in crafting the Disney adaptation, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018). And I use "adaptation" fairly loosely here. Some things remain untouched, like a girl named Clara (Mackenzie Foy) being transported to a magical realm filled with toy soldiers, rats, and fairies. The trouble is that someone at Disney churned this familiar story through a "YA filter" that makes the whole thing feel like a generic adventure. Sure, there's some great visual storytelling in these four magical realms, but the narrative mostly follows the same "fight villain to learn about...
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VIDEO GAME: LEGO Batman – The Videogame (2008)

LEGO Batman: The Videogame Year: 2008 Rating: E10+ Time Played: ~30 hours LEGO Batman: The Videogame is a little bizarre because it came out well before The LEGO Movie (2014), where Will Arnett made LEGO Batman his own meme-able character (and eventually starred in his own movie spinoff). It also came out the same year as The Dark Knight (2008), which is arguably the best Batman movie in existence. However, this video game came early enough in the LEGO movie adaptation run in the late-2000s that it still had some of the rough edges that they hadn't smoothed out by later games in the series. This video game doesn't quite fit in the "movie adaptation" formula LEGO had created with hits like LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga. Instead, they seemed to pull from the iconic Batman the Animated Series for the game's episodic structure. We can all be grateful that the Tim Burton Batman films influenced this game much more than the Joel Schumacher...
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MOVIE: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of MadnessYear: 2022Rating: PG-13Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours It's a sobering thought that Spider-Man (2002) came out 20 years ago, cementing the age of the superhero movie in a time before the Marvel Cinematic Universe even existed. Sam Raimi's distinctive visual style worked for that movie and its two sequels (Spider-Man 2 (2004) of course being one of the best ever made). This is what makes Raimi's return to the superhero genre exciting in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022). Nostalgia is a heck of a drug, after all. What was interesting with this Doctor Strange (2016) sequel was how Marvel allowed Raimi to connect to more of his roots in the horror genre. The scariest scene in the original Spider-Man trilogy was in the operating room with Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina). In contrast, the amount of horrific things shown in this movie creeps closer to his Evil Dead trilogy. Nothing so bad as...
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BOOK: Public Works Steampunk presents Jane Eyre (2021)

Public Works Steampunk presents Jane EyreYear: 2021Author: R.A. Harding and Charlotte BronteLength: 941 minutes / 15.68 hours I heard about this book during a convention I attended earlier this year. Jane Eyre was required reading for one of my High School English courses, so it intrigued me that someone would make steampunk additions to this literary classic. The original book naturally fits into the steampunk timeframe, so I'm a little surprised this mash-up hasn't been done before. Unfortunately, because Jane Eyre is so compatible with steampunk, it didn't feel like Steampunk Jane Eyre added anything to the narrative. Perhaps my expectations were skewed for this modified classic from my experience with the "Classical Literature Monsters" series from Quirk Books. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters only add a little eldritch horror to a mostly unmodified book that's in the public domain. However, these minor changes make a significant shift in tone that ends up creating a...
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MOVIE: The Bad Guys (2022)

The Bad Guys Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours I honestly love that computer technology has improved so much that animated movies like The Bad Guys (2022) don't have to use super-realistic visuals and can instead have a stylized animation that gives it a lot of personality. What's a little astonishing to me is how this film is the first animated movie I can think of that takes the "heist" genre and runs with it. I love a good heist, after all. And while the twists are a bit obvious and the moral is a bit hokey, The Bad Guys is still a lot of fun. There's no reason to blame The Bad Guys for making a movie that children can figure out. It's loosely based on a series of children's books, so I get that some twists are going to be obvious to the adults in the audience. The thing that strikes me weird is that all the characters that...
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VIDEO GAME: LEGO The Lord of the Rings (2012)

LEGO The Lord of the Rings Year: 2012 Rating: E10+ Time Played: ~15 hours In the early 2010s, the one franchise I could trust to create faithful adaptations of movies into video games was none other than LEGO. Their formula of action, puzzle solving, and exploration worked for other franchises like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, so when it came time to adapt what is arguably one of the best cinematic trilogies to grace the big screen, I was all on board for the LEGO The Lord of the Rings video game. Following the events from the three films that came out a decade before this video game, LEGO The Lord of the Rings captures the feel of those movies in the individual level segments that follow the plot. As per usual, you need a variety of characters to reach all the collectibles in each level, which sometimes necessitates re-playing levels after beating them the first time. Using these collectibles, they can buy upgrades that...
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MOVIE: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours It's amazing to me that the original Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) movie pulled out a passable film despite decades of sub-par video game movie adaptations. While it didn't dive into much of the lore other than the conflict between Sonic (Ben Schwartz) and Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey), it set the stage for something better in its sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022). With nostalgia being a huge factor in this franchise, it pleasantly surprised me that this film knew which moments would achieve that intended effect. At first, I was worried that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was lumping too much new material together with the introduction of both Tails (Colleen O'Shaughnessey) and Knuckles (Idris Elba). Still, the combo—along with Robotnik's traditional video game look—really gave the impression that this movie cared about its source material. The huge action set pieces were the highlights of this film and I was grinning from...
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BOOK: City Monster (2020)

City Monster Year: 2020 Author: Reza Farazmand Length: 112 pages I'm not sure when I started reading Reza Farazmand's Poorly Drawn Lines webcomic, but I have enjoyed his simple art style and humor for quite a while. City Monster is a graphic novel in this same, simple style with a plot that's quite a bit longer than the handful of panels he uses to tell a joke in his webcomic.  With all-new characters that don't regularly appear in the webcomic, it was nice to see something different than just another adventure with bird, mouse, turtle, and maybe Kevin. Even at 112 pages long, it's a quick read, and the ending is satisfying. Still, City Monster has a few minor flaws. Again, I love Reza's simple drawing style. However, there's a danger in making something look simple because some might think this book is appropriate for children. The occasional strong language might put some people off, mainly because it feels a little out of character and is...
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MOVIE: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours One of the best bits in the television show Community was Abed's exploration of Nicolas Cage's career. Is he a genius? Is he a hack? There is an almost equal amount of evidence to suggest either side. When I first saw the trailers for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022), I thought the meta take on Nicolas Cage's career would be a fun trip. However, which version of the actor would we get? Genius or hack? The fundamental problem with The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is that it doesn't go far enough into the meta. It felt like someone just opened up IMDb and chose the top ten Nicolas Cage blockbusters to name-drop throughout the movie. We don't get Moonstruck (1987). We don't get Leaving Las Vegas (1995). We don't get Adaptation. (2001). As a result, this film mostly focuses on his action-oriented movies, which typically aren't...
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VIDEO GAME: Lego Indiana Jones – The Original Adventures (2008)

Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures Year: 2008 Rating: E10+ Time Played: ~20 hours Indiana Jones is one of those franchises that I enjoyed growing up, but was probably a bit too adult for me. Considering the amount of graphic violence that popped up in these films, it was easy to just "look away" during these intense moments. Heck, I hadn't even seen Temple of Doom (1984) until I had moved out on my own. It then seems weird to me that there would be a Lego video game based on this trilogy that's aimed at older children when the movies themselves probably should have been PG-13. In terms of gameplay, Lego Indiana Jones is still the same fun, simple, and mindless kind of game that encourages multiple play-throughs of the levels to collect all the items from three movies' worth of plot. This felt a bit more tedious in this game when compared to the six-film collection in Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga....
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MOVIE: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

Everything Everywhere All at OnceYear: 2022Rating: RLength: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours Multiverse stories are all the rage right now. While most of them seem to be relegated to comic book adaptations (like Loki, Spider-man: No Way Home (2021), and Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (2022)), by far the best one to emerge from this pile of parallel universes is Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022). It is the most bizarrely funny movie I've seen in some time, which just goes to show how films released by A24 are of a higher caliber than anything else. Most multiverse movies play it pretty safe when exploring branching paths of the known universe. Everything Everywhere All at Once throws literally everything at the audience, and the result is hilarious. Office equipment mechas, Human Ratatouilles, Rocks, Bagels. I honestly can't come close to describing the rapid-fire series of absurdist realities. Some moments were straight laugh-out-loud funny to me, and others were...a bit more adult...
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BOOK: The Hands We’re Given (2018)

The Hands We're Given Year: 2018 Author: O.E. Tearmann Length: 350 pages This book was not what I expected. First, the cover makes it look like it's some kind of heist/hacker book, which it's not. Instead, I got a military sci-fi with heavy LGBTQ+ themes. Second, even if you picked up this book for its gay/trans romance, the only reason it's a "slow burn" is because it starts in the wrong place. Third, even within this post-apocalyptic setting, I had so many moments where things made little sense. It also didn't help that one of the most annoying characters I've read maintained her annoying personality for much too long until they rectified it. Ultimately, this book was not for me. All this being said, The Hands We're Given is the first book I've read that appears to convey the struggles of a female-to-male transition somewhat accurately. Granted, I'm still confused about the main character's sexual attraction, since it would normally be considered "straight" before their transition,...
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MOVIE: Turning Red (2022)

Turning Red Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours I'll give Pixar credit for taking on a challenging subject like puberty. Of course, they also played it safe by making it modern enough that there are computers and cell phones, but not so modern that social media is a big issue. Oh, to long for that early 2000s nostalgia. While I couldn't relate to the gender issues presented in this movie, I definitely experienced late puberty around the film's timeframe. And perhaps that's why I found Turning Red (2021) so funny: they nailed a lot of the popular cultural elements. Also, as a guy, I actually found a lot of the "period humor" to be hilarious as well. Perhaps because it's somewhat embarrassing, but also a totally natural part of growing up, these jokes had me laughing out loud. Or, maybe my humor is just a bizarre combination of memes and puns. Probably the latter (gotta love all the multiple meanings of...
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VIDEO GAME: Lego Star Wars – The Complete Saga (2007)

Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga Year: 2007 Rating: E10+ Time Played: ~40 hours Back in the day, this game was an intersection of many of my interests. Not only was it based on Lego, but it had a Star Wars theme and was a playable video game. The trifecta. My younger brother bought one of the earlier games in the series, which convinced me that I needed to buy it myself. Fortunately, I only had to wait a few years for Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga to be released since it contained gameplay from all six of the (at the time) Star Wars films in Lego video game style. Split into a handful of levels that represent the plot from each of the Original and Prequel trilogy films, most of the gameplay is fairly simple. Break blocks, build things, collect items, and overcome obstacles. It can get a little chaotic—but that's when it's the most fun. With an enormous roster of playable characters,...
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