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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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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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: 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: 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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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: 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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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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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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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: 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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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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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: 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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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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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: 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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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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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: 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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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: 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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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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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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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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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: 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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MOVIE: Redline (2009)

Redline Year: 2009 Rating: Not Rated Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours Redline (2009) is one of those films that I saw a few clips of and decided it looked interesting enough to sit down and actually watch the whole thing. After all, I enjoy a good anime, and if I don't have to get invested in a multi-season show, all the better. Of course, anime can also be quite weird. As long as it looks cool, though, it doesn't really matter. Sometimes, the more stylized an anime movie is, the more entertaining it is to watch. And Redline is certainly a stylized anime. Produced by Madhouse, Redline has a distinct visual style that aligns with their other works. I'd probably say it's closest to Trigun in terms of overall feel, but that's likely because Trigun was one of the first anime I watched while growing up. There's an almost manga-like quality to the visuals here. Plenty of hard black outlines and shadows, but with...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon Ultra Moon (2017)

Pokémon Ultra Moon Year: 2017 Rating: E Time Played: 1,972 minutes / 32.87 hours In each Generation of the Pokémon franchise, the "second set" of games released were often the same game, but with a few notable enhancements. For example, Pokémon Yellow would allow a player to obtain all three of the original starter Pokémon—a feat that would normally take multiple restarts with two cartridges of Red and Blue. When Generation V introduced "sequels" instead of a third enhanced game, these second games lost some of their appeal. Pokémon Ultra Moon carries on this legacy that eventually became the DLC approach we saw in Pokémon Sword. The unfortunate side effect of these sequel games, which feels more evident in Ultra Moon than in previous Generations, is that the first games in a Generation (in this case, Pokémon Sun) feel unfinished. After all, the "Ultra" games came out only a year later, so one wonders why anyone would want to purchase both the original and the...
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VIDEO GAME: Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (2014)

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS Year: 2014 Rating: E10+ Time Played: 1,288 minutes / 21.47 hours Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS was the system seller for me. I held out and didn't buy any version of the Nintendo DS or 3DS until this game (and the New Nintendo 3DS XL) came out. I bought the bundle that included this game and couldn't have picked a better one to start my experience on the 3DS. Since the start of this fighting game series, I've enjoyed playing each iteration of Super Smash Bros. and now I could play on the go. This was a fun game to play by myself, but this was also one of its weaknesses. I'm the type of gamer who likes to play through the different individual characters in story mode and unlock all the little trophies and trinkets. Unfortunately, I also like the couch multiplayer that previous iterations of this series thrived on. The concept of online play never appealed...
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MOVIE: Ron’s Gone Wrong (2021)

Ron's Gone Wrong Year: 2021 Rating: PG Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Let's face it: social media is a challenge for parents trying to raise kids in an increasingly tech-savvy world. Adults all know the dangers of it because we were the test subjects. Now it's exposing our children to the addicting and potentially dangerous concept of trying to "go viral" by any means possible. While documentaries like The Social Dilemma (2020) reveal how these dark systems work, there aren't many movies directed toward kids that show these dangers in a way they can understand. Ron's Gone Wrong (2021) attempts to fill this gap. The problem with how this movie goes about teaching its lesson is that the premise requires a large amount of suspension of disbelief. In this universe, parents are completely oblivious to the dangers of giving their children AI robots who act as their gateway into social media via pranking videos or TicTok beauty clips that get tons of likes. Sure, there...
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MOVIE: Licorice Pizza (2021)

Licorice Pizza Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours Paul Thomas Anderson is an acquired taste. Unfortunately, I don't think I've completely acquired it yet. I absolutely loved There Will Be Blood (2007), which was my first exposure to this director. I saw The Master (2012) after that and was so confused that I stayed away from Inherent Vice (2014). Maybe the magic came with Daniel Day-Lewis, which is why I gave Phantom Thread (2017) a shot. Still weird. With Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, Licorice Pizza (2021), the odd name prepared me for more weird, which it delivered. By "weird" I don't mean something filled with bizarre drug-induced visuals. It's more like the setting and plot ground it to reality, but the characters act strangely throughout. They're almost illogical. Luckily, most of these "weird" characters (like the ones portrayed by Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper) are minor distractions from the primary plot of the film. Still, having a child star who is...
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VIDEO GAME: Accounting+ (2017)

Accounting+ Year: 2017 Rating: M Time Played: ~2 hours A lot of VR games lean into the gimmick by providing an immersive and interactive experience. Sometimes, this experience is through stereoscopic 3D, which is easily achieved in a VR headset. Other times, these games use the medium to place the user in settings that are not possible in real life. For the most part, though, each VR game sticks to a single concept or setting. Accounting+ is hard to describe because it goes in so many directions, each of which relies on the "meta" nature of virtual reality to work. There isn't a lot of cohesion between the different "levels" of Accounting+, other than interacting with the characters and environment to find the next VR headset to warp into the next world. As a comedic game, it has its funny moments if you can get past some of its more crass humor. Other portions are a bit gruesome as well, depending on how cartoony the...
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MOVIE: Last Night in Soho (2021)

Last Night in Soho Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours In the last five years, it's been interesting to see director Edgar Wright move further from the comedies that helped put his name on the cinematic map. Most know him for his British comedies like Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007), but stylistically I don't think you can go wrong with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). This kind of cinematography drew me to his more serious film, Baby Driver (2017), and the even more serious Last Night in Soho (2021). It is a little odd to see Wright step out from his comfort zone just because he's so good at comedic writing (having also written Ant-Man (2015)). While I liked the music-themed mayhem in Baby Driver, there wasn't much in Last Night in Soho that was artistically interesting. Sure, the whole mirror-image special effects were neat and occasionally a little mind-blowing, but the biggest problem with Last...
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BOOK: Earth Awakens (2014)

Earth Awakens Year: 2014 Author: Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston Length: 896 minutes / 14.93 hours Having read most of Orson Scott Card's Shadow series that follows the events of the rest of the cadets after the events of Ender's Game, it's clear to me he has a skill in describing geopolitics. This skill is also on display in the third book of the First Formic War series, Earth Awakens. Acting as bookends to the Ender Saga, these two series give a plausible look into the world before and after the alien invasion of Earth. There's a challenge with prequels, though. How much does the author leave unsaid between the end of the prequel and the start of the original lore? I can appreciate how Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston wrapped up many of the threads in this trilogy, but there were also too many things left unresolved that the reader must assume wrap up between the end of this book and the...
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MOVIE: The French Dispatch (2021)

The French Dispatch Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Wes Anderson's films are immediately recognizable for their aesthetic, pacing, and ensemble casts. The dark subject matter of these movies is often glossed over through the application of bright colors, symmetry, and ho-hum characters. The French Dispatch (2021) is basically a "greatest hits" of Wes Anderson's oeuvre, both in its stylistic visual choices and its vast cast of common collaborators. There's not enough content for a full movie here, so instead, we get a glimpse into four shorter films tied together via the eponymous "French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun." Over the last few decades, Wes Anderson has explored a variety of different film techniques through his movies. From stop-motion (like in Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and Isle of Dogs (2018)) to small-scale models (like in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)), Anderson builds upon his distinctive style with each successive project in his filmography. Perhaps this is what is a...
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BOOK: Neverwhere (1996)

Neverwhere Year: 1996 Author: Neil Gaiman Length: 828 minutes / 13.80 hours Neil Gaiman has written a lot of different books. His writing has been hit-or-miss for me, but nothing that's truly middle-of-the-road average. That was until I listened to Neverwhere. I appreciate how Gaiman narrates most of the audiobooks of his works that I've listened to so far, and Neverwhere was in line with the narration quality I expect from him. However, the content felt so mediocre that I honestly wouldn't have been surprised if it came from any other different British authors like Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams (both of which are talented writers, mind you). There's a distinct flavor of British comedy that comes through in the absurdist naming of characters and places in Neverwhere. Perhaps it's why I felt this book was so generic. It's your classic "Institutionalized" story where a man has (what seems to him) a stable life, only to have this life upended by a fantastical parallel world...
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BOOK: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Big Squirrels Don’t Cry (2020)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Big Squirrels Don't Cry Year: 2020 Author: Ryan North Length: 288 pages In this second collection of Squirrel Girl comics, you'll once again find Doreen Green trying to balance her life as Squirrel Girl and as a computer science student at Empire State University. This can be quite the balancing act, especially when you have a huge fluffy tail that you have to hide when you're in your civilian persona. While other superheroes have origin stories that explain their tremendous powers, Squirrel Girl is...Squirrel Girl. Doreen's "unbeatable" title continues to be tested as she uses both her skills as a squirrel person who can communicate with and control squirrels and as a computer science major to defeat villains who terrorize New York City. The fact that she's a superhero who can talk to and control squirrels is just amusing enough that fans of the first collection will likely enjoy this one. However, I wasn't prepared to read a Howard the Duck...
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MOVIE: Finch (2021)

Finch Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours As time goes on, one starts to wonder if all the best post-apocalyptic stories have already been told. With the current state of the world looking more depressing with each passing year, many visions of dystopia from years past are coming true, while stories of our near future are looking a lot more post-apocalyptic. Finch (2021) fits into this latter category but only has a few newer twists to this common problem: how do humans survive on a planet that is no longer hospitable toward life? Visually, I was most impressed by "Jeff" (Caleb Landry Jones), the humanoid robot Finch (Tom Hanks) builds to ensure his dog Goodyear has a caretaker. Of course, movies like Chappie (2015) have shown that CG artists figured out how to do this well over five years ago. Regardless, it's still a visual feat and treat to see realistic-looking CG robots in movies like this. I can also appreciate...
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VIDEO GAME: Tetris 99 (2019)

Tetris 99 Year: 2019 Rating: E Time Played: 125+ hours The "Battle Royale" genre of video games took the world by storm a few years ago. While most of these games were shooters like Fortnite, one odd entry resonated with me. Tetris 99 takes the versus mode of this classic video game and pits you against 98 other players to see who has the skills to be the best for that round. I never played much "competitive" Tetris before I picked up this game, so there was a bit of a learning curve. Still, I eventually trained my playstyle to survive long enough to achieve the title of "Tetris Maximus." With over 125 hours clocked in this game, I found it easy to pick up and play. After I rose to the top of the 99 players, I could play in the "Invictus" mode, only for players who had become Tetris Maximus at least once. I usually play in Invictus mode for the challenge, but...
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BOOK: Stars Above (2016)

Stars AboveYear: 2016Author: Marissa MeyerLength: 581 minutes / 9.63 hours Something I feel is underappreciated in book series is when authors don't try to cram in as much material and side stories as possible to pad each of the books to be longer than they should be. Keeping the core books of a series concise helps drive the main plot forward without requiring larger and larger volumes to tie up all the loose ends introduced along the way. The Lunar Chronicles excels in this. Look no further than the "prequel," Fairest, and the collection of short stories and epilogue that is Stars Above for proof of this restraint. I can appreciate that worldbuilding will often create so much content that it doesn't always make sense to include it in the actual storytelling. Still, some origin stories might seem interesting, only to find out that most of these moments of exposition happened along the way as the character's motives are revealed to the...
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MOVIE: Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)

Die Hard with a Vengeance Year: 1995 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours It's interesting to go back and see certain points in a movie franchise where you could tell that they were already running out of ideas. I still think Die Hard (1988) is a fantastic action movie, and it's almost its own genre of action films. Movies falling into the "Die Hard on a/in a [BLANK]" category have since cemented its cultural significance. As of right now, the only Die Hard I haven't seen is Die Hard 2 (1990), but Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) marks where the franchise departs from its roots. I will say that the casting for this movie was quite delightful, with excellent performances by Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jeremy Irons. I can also appreciate how this film tried to tie back to the original by using the original director and the fantastic work of Irons' antagonist. Action-wise, it's what you'd expect from a...
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MOVIE: Cruella (2021)

Cruella Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours It seems the latest trend in the last few years is to take well-known villains and make them relatable through tragic backstories. While Maleficent (2014) seems to have started this string of villain-centric movies, Cruella (2021) does an adequate job of showing this villain's transformation while also making you want to root for her. However, the problem with idolizing someone like Cruella De Vil (Emma Stone) is that her eventual crime against the 101 Dalmatians (1961) is the desire to kill every single one of them in the name of fashion. While the plot pulls elements from Oliver Twist and All About Eve (1950), there are enough twists at the end of this film that make it worth the watch. Even if one of these moments had me laughing at how ridiculous it was, it all paid off because of Emma Stone's excellent acting throughout. Of course, it also helped that the flamboyant fashion...
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MOVIE: Army of the Dead (2021)

Army of the Dead Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 148 minutes / 2.46 hours Some of the most original movies I've seen have mixed genres to create something new. Movies like Cowboys & Aliens (2011) combine the western and sci-fi genres, while movies like Army of the Dead (2021) work by fusing zombie movies with heist films. The tropes of these genres can often accentuate each other and can fuel character development or drive the plot. The premise of Army of the Dead might be a weak reason to motivate the characters to risk their lives in the first place, but as long as the result is a Las Vegas-themed zombie apocalypse, it works. While I'm not generally a fan of "serious" zombie films, I can appreciate the level of depth put into the undead in this movie. Generally, "smart" zombies are much more interesting than those that mindlessly wander around and wait for someone to make a noise. I also loved the tongue-in-cheek use...
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VIDEO GAME: Flower (2009)

Flower Year: 2009 Rating: E Time Played: 2 hours Video games are truly a unique form of interactive art. While many of the medium’s detractors will point to the excessive violence present in many triple-A titles, many counter-examples show how peaceful the medium can be. Take indie developer, Thatgamecompany, for instance. The beautiful narrative format they used in Journey had me in tears by the end, and the only things I could do in that game were move, jump, and make a sound with my character. One of their previous works, Flower, goes so far as to remove jumping and interacting from the equation. In Flower, you play as a single flower petal that activates other flowers that add additional flower petals to the player’s entourage. A level system breaks up the narrative a little and allows me to see if there were secret areas I had not yet found in each portion of the game. These standard video game conventions—along with defeating the “big...
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BOOK: The Three-Body Problem (2006)

The Three-Body Problem Year: 2006 Author: Liu Cixin Length: 806 minutes / 13.43 hours A few years ago, someone suggested that I read the Remembrance of Earth's Past series, so of course, I added it to my Overdrive wish list so I could eventually listen to the audiobook. I'm usually down to read some hard sci-fi since it's a niche genre I enjoy. I was intrigued that this book came from China because I don't usually think of hard sci-fi when I think of that country. In fact, I hardly think of literature that wasn't written hundreds of years ago. It's been about five months since I read this book, so this review is a long time coming. I still vaguely know what this book was about and what science was explored within its prose, but that's about it. Nothing stuck with me other than the sense that it was a bit of an Ender's Game ripoff. I would have liked to connect with the...
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MOVIE: The Suicide Squad (2021)

The Suicide Squad Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours I don't mind superhero films. I think they're fun and flashy, and I can turn my mind off for an hour or two. What I do mind is endless reboots of franchises. The fact that I saw three separate Spider-Man reboots in 15 years accentuates my point. Now, I understand that The Suicide Squad (2021) is allegedly a sequel to Suicide Squad (2016). Still, it felt more like a reboot since Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) were the only recurring characters. And, let's be honest, they can't cast Harley Quinn with anyone other than Margot Robbie now. For those who thought that having a great director like James Gunn on board would make this film better than its predecessor, you're partly right. Sure, there's a bit of his style of humor that is on display. Still, it's essentially the same plot as the previous...
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VIDEO GAME: Sayonara Wild Hearts (2019)

Sayonara Wild Hearts Year: 2019 Rating: E10+ Time Played: 1+ hour Another game I picked up during an "indie game" sale on the Switch, Sayonara Wild Hearts looked interesting mostly on the strength of its visuals. When I actually sat down to play it, I found an experience I wasn't expecting. Sayonara Wild Hearts manages to be many different games, all covered by the low-poly style and catchy soundtrack that drives its action. At its base, Sayonara Wild Hearts is mostly a rhythm game. However, its multi-genre approach made it feel like a rail-shooter more often than not. Unlike the normal music-rhythm games out there (like Guitar Hero or Rock Band), Sayonara Wild Hearts allows for some mistakes but brings the action to a halt unless the player performs certain actions needed for quick-time events. Even if it's forgiving in allowing the player to eventually memorize what needs to happen, the result is that the player's ranking for the level suffers. That being said, I...
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BOOK: Augie and the Green Knight (2014)

Augie and the Green Knight Year: 2014 Author: Zach Weinersmith Length: 219 pages While I’m slowly getting into the deep and thorough lore of the Arthurian legend, one story that seems to be popular in the cultural zeitgeist is the one about the Green Knight. I haven’t seen the recent The Green Knight (2021) movie adaptation yet, but I’m definitely aware of its overarching story due to the middle-grade book Augie and the Green Knight. It’s clear from some of the review snippets I’ve seen for the movie that the logic of the tale doesn’t hold up to today’s standards, an issue that Augie and the Green Knight thoroughly explores. This book follows Augie, a precocious girl who is definitely smarter than her years—even at the cost of the credulity of the story. When she finds herself transported into the mythical world of the Green Knight, she is unfazed by the peculiar world. The plot unfolds as it always does in this story, except that...
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MOVIE: Black Widow (2021)

Black Widow Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours After the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), it was difficult to perceive where a Black Widow movie would fit in the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fortunately, even though there are over 20 films in this cinematic juggernaut, there is still room to fill gaps in the overall story. Taking place after the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), Black Widow (2021) follows Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson) as she takes some "personal time" to put to bed the demons from her past. It's a little weird to have such a standalone film in the MCU, but it's the only way something like this could work. Almost a decade after the "Budapest" incident was first mentioned in an offhand remark in The Avengers (2012), Black Widow finally shows us the details of this significant event—even if it was played as a joke in previous films. Natasha's past was brought up in other parts of...
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MOVIE: The Lighthouse (2019)

The Lighthouse Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours When Oscar season rolled around a few years ago, I heard a lot of buzz about an artsy film known as The Lighthouse (2019). Years later, I finally found the time to sit down and watch it on Amazon Prime. Now I understand why the Academy didn't nominate this film for Best Picture. It's weird. I legitimately tried to figure out what was going on but gave up when things just spiraled into chaos. I have a suspicion that a key moment in the film resulted in a character's death and that the remainder all takes place in some sort of purgatory, but that's the best explanation I can give at the moment. For a film that features two actors for almost the entire runtime, I have to say that Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson make this movie something to see at least once. In fact, I'm still half-certain that Willem Dafoe wasn't...
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BOOK: The Stone Sky (2017)

The Stone SkyYear: 2017Author: N.K. JemisinLength: 862 minutes / 14.37 hours I have to say I’m a bit disappointed with The Stone Sky. It took me some time to get used to the way the author wrote the Broken Earth trilogy, but by the end of the second book, The Obelisk Gate, I had bought into the premise. The fact that this book had a lot to live up to with the foreshadowing presented in the second book might be why I’m disappointed with the result. After all, I was looking forward to some epic moments involving the moon, which didn’t seem to materialize for me. Now that I’ve finished this trilogy, I’m starting to wonder if the reason it didn’t quite fully click for me was because I was reading it via audiobook. There seemed to be a lot that I missed that would leave me confused about who the characters were, what they were doing, and why they were doing...
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MOVIE: Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Raya and the Last Dragon Year: 2021 Rating: PG Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours For a studio that built itself on Euro-centric fairy tales and stories, I can appreciate how Disney is (finally) trying to make movies that explore other cultures of the world. While not necessarily based in any lore from Asian countries, Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) pulls enough aesthetic influence from these cultures to be a nice homage. As always, I’m stunned at the visuals Disney can produce with CGI, and Raya and the Last Dragon is no exception to this rule. Add to this the incredibly well-choreographed fight sequences, and this film certainly had its moments. However, what’s weird about Raya and the Last Dragon is how parts of it felt done before. Kung Fu Panda (2008) might not have had realistic humans using martial arts techniques. Still, the choreography for this kind of animated movie was already there more than a decade before Raya came along. Similarly, the “collect...
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MOVIE: Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

Godzilla vs. Kong Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours When the theaters were opening again, I knew this was one of the movies I wanted to see on the big screen. I had missed Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)—having watched it at home well after it had come out—and wanted to be sure that I experienced all this movie had to offer. And while I waited a little too long and was spoiled a little before going to finally see it, Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) delivered on its promise to show me two large animals fighting. The trouble with the MonsterVerse franchise is that ultimately, the humans surrounding these titans are insignificant. Sure, they may drive some plot here and there, but mostly they're present for exposition as to why these giants are even fighting in the first place. In previous entries, I usually let it slide. However, I found the addition of conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry)...
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BOOK: Alamo Tree (2020)

Alamo TreeYear: 2020Author: Tana S. HolmesLength: 29 pages As a new father, I can appreciate when picture books try and approach complex subjects. I'm already tired of learning about zoo animals and colors, so a book like Alamo Tree is a nice reprieve from the monotony. Granted, I don't think my child is old enough yet to have the attention span to read this book, but it's nice to know I have it when that time comes. Of course, I'm not sure when I'll need to teach my child about the Alamo either. Told through the perspective of a tree located at the Alamo site, Alamo Tree tries to make the tragedy that happened at the Alamo relatable to children. Unfortunately, this means it cuts out quite a bit of context that kids might miss and wouldn't be appropriate for them anyway. Despite this, I'd consider Alamo Tree a good primer to gauge a child's interest in American history (even if it's...
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BOOK: Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself (2007)

Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself Year: 2007 Author: Alan Alda Length: 361 minutes / 6.02 hours After reading If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?, I decided to add some other Alan Alda books to my reading list. Months later, I finally got around to listening to the audiobook for Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. I appreciate that Alda was the narrator, as he already has such a great voice for narration. That being said, there are a few aspects of this book that were likely lost in the translation to audiobook format. As a celebrity, Alan Alda was invited to speak at many graduation ceremonies for many decades. This book is a collection of some of the speeches he gave at these events. While there are certainly gems of wisdom spread throughout this book, many of the same points are reiterated from speech to speech, making it slightly repetitive after a while. Also, if you...
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MOVIE: Icarus (2017)

Icarus Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 120 minutes / 2.00 hours Some things in this world don't really need an explanation. If you've been around long enough, you can be fairly certain some things are true without requiring evidence. After all, we can usually extrapolate a reason for something if we know how the systems around it work. Even if there are barriers to keep these things from happening, we always have a hunch they're happening. For example, Icarus (2017) exposes the doping of Russian athletes for basically the entire time that Russian athletes have existed. This, of course, is not a surprise to anyone. While we can certainly blame the Cold War for Russia's obsession with winning at sports (and especially the Olympic Games), it is a little unsettling how far and how thoroughly the Russian government went to make sure their athletes were the best. The exposé Icarus provides is enthralling as it is revealed just how far up the oligarchy this conspiracy...
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BOOK: Science – Ruining Everything (2013)

SCIENCE: Ruining Everything Since 1543Year: 2013Author: Zach WeinersmithLength: 266 pages One of the webcomics I regularly enjoy is none other than "Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal" (or SMBC for short). SCIENCE: Ruining Everything Since 1543 is a collection of some of the best science-related comics from SMBC that Zach Weinersmith has created over the years. Of course, much like his "Abridged" series—especially Science Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness—there are concepts presented in this book that go way over my head. Even as a mechanical engineer, there are still lots of scientific jokes that I didn't understand in this book. I do find it interesting how certain webcomic artists adapt to the printed page. Weinersmith's comics vary in length so much that it can be challenging to contain these comics in such a limited space. Still, even the little secrets and jokes that hide on a webpage format find their way into this book in a way that works. Of course, another benefit...
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MOVIE: Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Judas and the Black MessiahYear: 2021Rating: RLength: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours Isn't it funny how I only had a passing understanding of the Black Panther party until this last year, when it featured in two Oscar-nominated movies? Granted, it was more of a secondary plot point in The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020), so the movie where it was the star of the show was none other than Judas and the Black Messiah (2021). But, regardless of the coincidence, I did learn a lot about the Black Panther party through this movie and continue to hate the past that straight white males have created for others. Judas and the Black Messiah's title is quite fitting considering the unification that Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) managed to create in Chicago in the late '60s. I was shocked to see some of the groups of people he managed to bring together, even if it made sense for them to rise up against the...
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BOOK: Scarlet (2013)

Scarlet Year: 2013 Author: Marissa Meyer Length: 679 minutes / 11.32 hours I continue to be impressed with Marissa Meyer's ability to weave a compelling narrative based on common fairy tale themes but set in a sci-fi framework. A continuation of the story that started in Cinder, Scarlet felt a little distracted as it added in elements from "Little Red Riding Hood" and split its time between the new characters—mainly Scarlet and Thorne—and advancing the plot of Cinder to its next logical step. As long as you realize this series centers around Cinder and her rise to the Lunar throne, this book should provide some great entertainment. Perhaps what I enjoyed most about this book was how it seamlessly integrated with the lore already established in the previous volume while also being true to its source. Nothing strays too far from the themes of wolves/werewolves, so it's a bit of an obvious connection to make in a series that's titled the Lunar Chronicles. Still, the...
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MOVIE: The Father (2020)

The Father Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 97 minutes / 1.62 hours The failing mental health of an elderly parent is a perennial topic for critically-acclaimed movies. Most of the time, the focus is on how their supportive family watches them steadily deteriorate until they can do nothing else. The Father (2020) is one such film, but with a unique twist that makes it hit a lot harder than the standard Alzheimers fare. While attempting to present this disease from the aging parent's perspective is a bold choice, The Father leans into some radically artistic choices that might leave some viewers more confused than enlightened. I'm trying to avoid discussing the avant-garde method The Father uses to induce the kind of confusion that comes with Alzheimer's, mostly because I don't want to spoil the effect for anyone who hasn't seen this film yet. Needless to say, things make sense...eventually. The point isn't to understand it; it's to empathize with the main character. Of course, with...
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MOVIE: The Prom (2020)

The Prom Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours I enjoy a good musical like the rare heterosexual man I am (played in the movie by Keegan-Michael Key), and The Prom (2020) scratched that itch for me this year. I enjoyed its self-aware first act, even if the overall plot seemed like it was about 10 years too late to be relevant. And while many of the story beats were either predictable or cliche, there were a few moments of rare depth that felt genuine, even if they broke the facade of the whimsical characters that had filled the first two acts. There's something about narcissistic Broadway types having to interact with the midwest that was entertaining to me. Much of this film's humor revolves around how out-of-step with the rest of the country these east coast elites are—even if it's far from realistic (I hope). Of note, a few of the songs are quite exceptional, including "It's Not About Me" and...
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BOOK: The Last Wish (1993)

The Last Wish Year: 1993 Author: Andrzej Sapkowski Length: 617 minutes / 10.28 hours Those of us who have seen Netflix’s adaptation of The Witcher will find this collection of short stories quite familiar. The first book in the series, The Last Wish introduces the titular Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, as he goes about his job ridding the world of dangerous supernatural creatures. It’s no wonder the TV series felt a little disjointed, as it had a series of short stories that were loosely connected via Geralt to work with. Still, these stories are solid and help flesh out the world where humans and creatures live together, rarely in harmony. Told in a somewhat chronological manner, these bite-size stories often carry over and blend into each other in a way that feels natural. Actions in one story may influence the characters in another, so there is something deeper here than just a collection of short stories. While this technique is rarely used, I can appreciate how each story...
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MOVIE: Mank (2020)

Mank Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours When I first saw the trailers for Mank (2020), the premise intrigued me. As a "behind the scenes" look at the screenwriter for Citizen Kane (1941), I was interested to see his process in penning one of the most famous screenplays of all time. On top of that, I've generally enjoyed David Fincher's work and wanted to see this movie based on this fact alone. However, despite all it had going for it, I was ultimately disappointed in what Mank had to offer. Perhaps the most jarring part of this movie was how it tried to emulate the style of the films from the 1940s while also using more modern cinematography techniques to tell its story. At times, this juxtaposition made me wonder if this was filmed in the '40s or if it was merely a black-and-white modern film. Additionally, there's a particular visual style for Fincher's films distinctly lacking here—which may have been...
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VIDEO GAME: Oracle of Ages (2001)

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages Year: 2001 Rating: E Time Played: ~30 hours As the second half of the “Oracle” games in the Zelda franchise, Oracle of Ages takes more of its cues from the wildly popular Ocarina of Time than its sister game, Oracle of Seasons, did. While Oracle of Seasons had a fairly unique mechanic (albeit not fully realized), Oracle of Ages had the benefit of its Nintendo 64 predecessor to help craft some of the puzzle-solving that needed to happen throughout its gameplay. And even if I played through using a linked account, giving me quite a few advantages—Oracle of Ages still suffers from some of the Game Boy Zelda titles' limitations. Even if the story in Oracle of Ages isn’t that strong compared to the Nintendo 64 games, it’s at least more fleshed out in terms of characters and their motivations when compared to Oracle of Seasons. The end boss wasn’t nearly as difficult in this game, but at...
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MOVIE: Cars 3 (2017)

CarsYear: 2017Rating: GLength: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I'm usually a huge fan of Pixar films. However, I'm not wild about the Cars franchise. Something about these anthropomorphized vehicles is a little too cartoonish for me. Granted, the first movie in the series was the only film to make me care about the outcome of a NASCAR-type race. While the visuals are definitely improved in the 11 years since the original film came out, this end cap of the trilogy feels like a rehash of what worked before. Distancing itself from the trilogy's black sheep, Cars 2 (2011), this third part of the trilogy felt all too similar to the plot of Cars (2006). Sure, some of the roles were swapped around to show the "full circle" narrative from student to mentor. Still, ultimately it was about a car finding its racing mojo and utilizing well-known driving techniques to defeat its opponents. Ultimately, though, I don't care for the main character. Lightning...
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MOVIE: Meru (2015)

Meru Year: 2015 Rating: R Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours Having done my fair share of hiking in the Colorado mountains, I know how deadly these rocky monuments can be. Meru (2015) highlights this in spades as it documents the conquering of one of the last untouched routes in professional mountain climbing. It's no wonder such a daunting spire of rock remained un-summited from this approach, and this film highlights all the challenges that combine to make Meru as difficult as it is. Of course, because it's a mountain climbing documentary, it follows most of the tropes and cliches common in the genre. One of my biggest qualms with the mountain climbing genre of documentaries is how they all tend to be about the same progression of events. There's always some storm that prevents the team from summiting. Somebody always gets injured. Success is always just out of reach. It also doesn't help that there's no way for the uneducated viewer to tell this...
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MOVIE: Barry Lyndon (1975)

Barry Lyndon Year: 1975 Rating: PG Length: 185 minutes / 3.08 hours As someone who appreciates classic films, perhaps I had my hopes set a little too high for Barry Lyndon (1975). Going in, I already knew the technical challenges director Stanley Kubrick had to overcome to film indoors and by candlelight with no extra lighting. Of course, if that was the main thing I knew about this film before I actually sat down and watched it, that should have told me something about how boring the plot would be. Then again, even a master of cinema like Kubrick can only do so much with mediocre material. I will give some credit where it's due, though. Most of this movie did contribute to the tension of the climax. If certain events hadn't transpired in the way they did, Barry's (Ryan O'Neal) life would have been much different. Then again, the whole "rags to riches" storyline seemed overdone, even for the mid-1970s. And sure, duels can...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon Picross (2015)

Pokémon Picross Year: 2015 Rating: E Time Played: ~78 hours I’ve never been much of a fan of picross-type games. Mostly, the user interface for them required the use of a D-pad, which made solving each puzzle a slow endeavor. Additionally, most of the pictures created via these picross puzzles were not that interesting. This was why I was surprised to find that I enjoyed Pokémon Picross so much. Sure, it might be a picross game at its core, but the addition of the Pokémon brand made it much more entertaining to play than any other picross game I’ve come across. Additionally, the 3DS touch screen and stylus made completing puzzles that much easier than using a D-pad. While the Pokémon content and stylus controls were two reasons I ended up completing this game, I admit that it has one annoying flaw: paywalls. Granted, Pokémon Picross is a free-to-play game, but there are a few points early on where you need a certain amount of...
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BOOK: Predator’s Gold (2003)

Predator’s GoldYear: 2003Author: Philip ReeveLength: 580 minutes / 9.67 hours Taking place a few years after the events of Mortal Engines, I was aided somewhat in my read-through of Predator’s Gold by the fact that I didn’t have a movie to compare against. While the first book in this series helped set the stage, I felt the real story didn’t start until book two. After all, this series really is about the relationship between Hester and Tom. In Mortal Engines, they had only just met; in Predator’s Gold, we see how far they’ll go for each other, even if most of the story beats are somewhat predictable. I appreciated how thoroughly real this ridiculous concept of monstrous towns roaming the world and devouring each other seems in this book. This post-apocalyptic setting felt thought-out by adding the main setting of Anchorage and the introduction of a charlatan author who cons everyone around him for his sole benefit. So often, an additional concept...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon – White Version (2011)

Pokémon White Version Year: 2011 Rating: E Time Played: 61.88 hours As I worked through the back catalog of Pokémon games I had missed between Generation 3 and 7, I had always heard that the Generation 5 games were the most difficult. Having completed Pokémon White Version, I can say that there is a definite challenge spike when compared with previous entries in the series. This doesn’t mean it’s an impossible game, just that it took a little more work and a little more grinding to be able to defeat the final bosses. Since grinding isn’t necessarily that enjoyable, this made the gameplay suffer slightly as a result. I was quite surprised to start up this game and find that all the Pokémon I was used to were nowhere to be found. Granted, they did show up after I beat the game, but by then, it was clear that this Generation of games was a reboot of the series formula. With a whole bunch of...
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MOVIE: Poltergeist (1982)

PoltergeistYear: 1982Rating: PGLength: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours Some movies have spoilers, and then some movies have so deeply-ingrained themselves in the popular culture zeitgeist that it’s nearly impossible to not have some knowledge of them before actually sitting down and watching the film itself. Poltergeist (1982) is just such a film for me. I’ve seen it referenced on many different lists and other places that claim it to be a great horror film. I’ve also seen it referenced and parodied in several places (like The Simpsons). The combination of its notoriety and its parody meant that I had pretty much already seen this film before actually watching it. Since I already knew the “big reveal” that caused the main characters’ house to become haunted, I had to watch this movie with a slightly different focus. Mainly: how and why has this film stood the test of time? Sure, it dates itself sometimes with its early-1980s style; however, the special effects for...
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MOVIE: 50 First Dates (2004)

50 First Dates Year: 2004 Rating: PG-13 Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours I don't particularly care for Adam Sandler's comedies. Most of them are crass and pull their jokes from bodily humor or the uncouth main character (usually played by Sandler). There are two exceptions to this: The Wedding Singer (1998) and 50 First Dates (2004). Since this is a review of the latter, I won't go into the details of why I like The Wedding Singer. Instead, let's talk about what works in 50 First Dates for me to recommend it. Yes, I'm not necessarily giving this a perfect "5-star" score, but I do think its story has enough merit that you should watch it. As mentioned above, I don't give this film a perfect score, mostly due to Adam Sandler's comedy style. This is mostly exhibited in the first act of the plot, where we meet a reprehensible man, Henry (Adam Sandler), who basically only has sex with tourists so that he...
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VIDEO GAME: What the Golf? (2019)

What the Golf?Year: 2019Rating: E10+Time Played: 5.27 hours It seems to me that modern indie games fall into two categories: art and humor. While games like Journey and Gris trend toward the art, games like Untitled Goose Game and What the Golf? are solidly in the humor category. Of course, the humor in What the Golf? is best appreciated by those who are familiar with a wide variety of video games. Just off the top of my head, this game references Super Mario Bros., Angry Birds, Superhot, Portal, Metal Gear Solid, and Super Meat Boy. Even without this referential humor, What the Golf? does have enough amusing moments for anyone to enjoy. The biggest problem I found with this game is its difficulty and replay value. Granted, I haven’t found someone to explore the co-op mode on the Switch version, but I completed the base game in just over five hours. Since I also took the time to collect some of the...
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MOVIE: Blue Jasmine (2013)

Blue Jasmine Year: 2013 Rating: PG-13 Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours After the critical success of Midnight in Paris (2011), it seems that Cate Blanchett followed in Owen Wilson’s footsteps by providing her best Woody Allen impression in Blue Jasmine (2013). Of course, this is no coincidence, considering that pretty much all of Allen’s films are distinctly in his neurotic New Yorker style. After all, he writes and directs his films, which allows him to be on the screen, even if it’s not him directly acting on it. Still, Blue Jasmine falls into that happy medium of being a commentary on society as well as an examination of the mental illness it creates. There’s plenty of dark humor present when Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) comes to stay with her poorer sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). The culture clash of the New York elite and struggling-to-get-by is exemplified in Jasmine’s inability to adapt to a life of poverty after having lived in a life of luxury for...
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VIDEO GAME: Mega Man ZX (2006)

Mega Man ZX Year: 2006 Rating: E Time Played: 5.32 hours Much like how Mega Man Star Force expounded upon the Mega Man Battle Network formula, Mega Man ZX evolved the platforming and action of the Mega Man Zero series. While this meant the visual style and difficulty carried over from the Zero series, ZX added just enough modification to the player character to make it more reminiscent of the original Mega Man series. Given how I’d developed some of my skills via the Zero games, I was easily able to jump right in and start playing ZX without too much difficulty. Part of the problem with this game was the slightly “open-world” style of the overworld. I’ve been so used to playing Mega Man games that immediately transport you to the level you want to play. I’m so used to this formula that having to navigate a labyrinthine home base just to get to the next area was frustrating at times—if only for the...
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MOVIE: Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Once Upon a Time in AmericaYear: 1984Rating: RLength: 229 minutes / 3.82 hours Nobody doubts Sergio Leone’s talent as a director. While he’s best known for his Spaghetti Westerns, he did make a few films like Once Upon a Time in America (1984). One does wonder if Leone was given free rein with this film, as it was probably an hour longer than it needed to be and included a lot of situations that could have been cut out, or at least trimmed down. If anything, it’s clear directors like Quentin Tarantino were influenced by movies like this, considering some of the similarities between it and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019). I will admit that most of the scenes in this fractured timeline of a story were necessary. Something that was shown early in the film would inevitably come into play near the end. However, I don’t think this excuses the numerous (and gratuitous) sex scenes included in this film. With a run time of...
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VIDEO GAME: Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (2014)

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse Year: 2014 Rating: T Time Played: 562 minutes / 9.37 hours A couple of years ago, I started hearing about a cult classic Game Boy Color game known as Shantae. While this game released near the end of that handheld’s life cycle, there was plenty of buzz about how it was a solid platformer with plenty of potential. Fast forward eight years and the first sequel, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, made its appearance as a virtual game on the DSi. I happened to jump into this series with the 3DS virtual title, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse and I certainly enjoyed the pseudo-Metroidvania approach that WayForward took with this franchise. While I would have liked to have found a cartridge version of this game, I eventually settled on buying it from the eShop. I’m glad I did, as it allowed me to play the game instead of just thinking about it. Overall, it’s a solid action platformer with plenty of upgrades...
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MOVIE: About a Boy (2002)

About a Boy Year: 2002 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours It’s challenging to define the aesthetic of the early 2000s, but I think About a Boy (2002) is about as close as it comes. From the music and style to themes and plot, About a Boy is a solid little romantic comedy that probably hasn’t aged as well in the time since its creation. Although it is a rare sight to see Nicholas Hoult in one of his earlier film roles, knowing the kind of actor he has become (for such movies like X-Men: First Class (2011), Warm Bodies (2013), and The Favourite (2018)). I’ll admit that Will (Hugh Grant) is a bit of a creeper for going after single mothers as a way to hook up and get dumped without the guilt being on his side of the equation. However, the independently-wealthy status he has based on royalties from a single one-hit-wonder seems a little implausible. Still, maybe it was possible...
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MOVIE: The Founder (2016)

The FounderYear: 2016Rating: PG-13Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours I hate to admit it, but many of these biopics about successful individuals all come off as the same story. Some down-on-his-luck guy stumbles across an idea that he steals (or has stolen from him) and makes his own to enormous success, betraying his friends and family along the way. We saw it in The Social Network (2010), Jobs (2013), Joy (2015), and The Greatest Showman (2017). The Founder (2016) is just another in this almost cookie-cutter genre that covers the origins of the McDonald corporation we know today. That’s not to say that The Founder isn’t entertaining. As an engineer, I was fascinated at how the McDonald brothers were able to be successful by creating efficiencies and eliminating waste in the process of selling hamburgers and other fast food. The trick is that the titular character, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), is half protagonist (the one you want to root for) and half...
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VIDEO GAME: Mario Kart 7 (2011)

Mario Kart 7 Year: 2011 Rating: E Time Played: 2.35 hours One of the challenges of long-running series like Mario Kart is how to maintain the core gameplay mechanic while also continuing to innovate. Previous iterations in the franchise played with having two characters in a Kart (Double Dash on the Gamecube) before reverting to the traditional formula (Mario Kart Wii). Furthermore, with the limitations present in portable and handheld consoles, there’s a point where the experience isn’t quite the same as it would be on a television screen. Fortunately, Mario Kart 7 seems to have struck a good balance between new ideas and embracing nostalgia. Even if I didn’t use the online mode for racing against other individuals (one of the core attractions of the Mario Kart series), I did find that each race in Mario Kart 7 was just long enough for me to play through in a single sitting. If I had more time, the option to race through a series of...
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MOVIE: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Mary Poppins Returns Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours While it’s a somewhat rare occurrence, it usually doesn’t take Disney over five decades to release a sequel to a critically-acclaimed movie (like how Fantasia 2000 (1999) came out sixty years after Fantasia (1940)). The original Mary Poppins (1964) was a triumph in live-action for a studio known for its animation—which also makes an appearance. It raked in the Oscar Nominations, even gaining a nod for Best Picture. As far as sequels go, Mary Poppins Returns (2018) is a sharp and polished upgrade compared to the original but hits most of the same beats for the sake of nostalgia. Emily Blunt was more than passable as the title character, even if her representation seemed a bit more on the sarcastic and irritated eye-rolling side of the spectrum from Julie Andrews’ measured patience in the original. The songs in Mary Poppins Returns were certainly catchy—a trait undoubtedly inherited from Lin Manuel-Miranda—but didn’t seem...
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BOOK: Red Rising (2014)

Red RisingYear: 2014Author: Pierce BrownLength: 400 pages It is difficult to review a book like Red Rising without noting the heavy comparisons to The Hunger Games. Perhaps this speaks to the strength of The Hunger Games’ format, but there are almost too many parallels to ignore. Dystopian class-separated society? Check. A skilled lower-class individual who defies the odds? Check. Violence and a romantic subplot? Check and check. About the only difference between the two is that Red Rising takes place on Mars and over a few years instead of a week or so. Of course, it’s hard to tell the timespan since important details always seem to be missing from the first-person narrative. If anything, I’d peg Red Rising as the gritty, over-violent, and over-sexualized version of The Hunger Games. If The Hunger Games appeals to girls and women, Red Rising should appeal to boys and men. A lot of the content in this book felt a bit over the top and...
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MOVIE: Terminator – Dark Fate (2019)

Terminator: Dark Fate Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours I’ll admit that Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) was a difficult movie to follow. Basically the perfect sequel, this film is generally what we associate with the Terminator franchise. From its plethora of meme-able moments to its fantastic action and visual effects, Terminator 2 set a high bar for any film in the franchise to follow it. While Terminator: Rise of the Machines (2003) tried to tie up the first three movies into a neat little trilogy, most felt unsatisfied with its ending. This is why, almost 20 years after Terminator 2 released, we’re still trying to find that satisfying bit of closure. Compared to its predecessors, Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) certainly came the closest to achieving this closure. After all, we’ve seen the effects of time travel in the future with Terminator: Salvation (2009) and an alternate reality with Terminator: Genisys (2015). As a direct sequel to Terminator 2, Dark Fate...
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MOVIE: Onward (2020)

Onward Year: 2020 Rating: PG Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I always look forward to Pixar films, mostly to see how visually stunning a movie created entirely in a computer can look with each passing year of technological and programming advancements. The other reason I will always go to see a Pixar movie is their dedication to a good story. Sure, there have been some missed steps over the years (The Good Dinosaur (2015) being the latest example), but their track record has been good enough to warrant me seeing their films in the theater. While I was looking forward to this year’s offering of Onward (2020), the result felt a little lackluster overall. Choosing to explore a storyline with a deceased parent was odd in that it felt like something that had rarely been addressed in movies geared toward children while also having a strong “after school special” vibe to it. Either way, putting it in a pseudo-Monsters, Inc. (2001) fantasy world was a fun way to...
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BOOK: The Opal Deception (2005)

The Opal Deception Year: 2005 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 449 minutes / 7.48 hours As a fan of the three-act structure that trilogies can provide, I’ve found over the years that the fourth book in a series generally determines what the style of future books will be. Plenty of series have strong plotlines and character arcs that span multiple volumes, but some series settle into a tried-and-true formula that works for them. For The Opal Deception, the fourth book in the Artemis Fowl series, it’s the latter. Granted, the series is meant for grade-school readers, so it’s not entirely surprising that the series has become formulaic. There was an amount of status quo (and returning to it) that had to happen after the events in The Eternity Code, which is where The Opal Deception came in. It honestly feels a little like a half-step backward for the series, or at least a realignment to get the characters all back together to continue on future adventures....
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VIDEO GAME: Gris (2018)

GrisYear: 2018Rating: ETime Played: 3+ hours Much like Journey, Gris is an incredible fusion of art and video game. Taking a watercolor aesthetic and hauntingly beautiful music in stride to tell a subtle story of loss and recovery, Gris ended up being a relaxing trot through its geometric world for me. Unfortunately, much like Journey, the amount of effort that goes into making this game look beautiful was also probably why it ended up being so short. Even if I broke up the platforming gameplay into a few hour-long sessions, I could easily complete it in a long evening. In the end, the platforming of the game is relatively simple. There’s a couple of puzzles that took me a moment to figure out, and I still haven’t found all the hidden items, so I might come back and do a second play-through to complete it fully. The fact that I wanted to play it again shortly after reaching the end credits is...
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MOVIE: Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Jojo RabbitYear: 2019Rating: PG-13Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours When I first saw the trailers for Jojo Rabbit (2019), I thought this movie looked like a fun and satirical romp through Nazi Germany. With the director (Taika Waititi) portraying an imaginary Adolf Hitler, the comedy was in full display during the trailers. After all, Waititi directed Thor: Ragnarok (2017), which is arguably one of the funniest films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Plus, Jojo Rabbit seemed to focus on a 10-year-old boy (Roman Griffin Davis) in the Hitler Youth, which gave some strong Boy Scout vibes that I could potentially relate to. Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed to find that the trailers contained all the comedy in Jojo Rabbit. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the remainder of the film gave some amount of cynicism and reality to the fanatical enthusiasm of Jojo and the other members of the Hitler Youth. In fact, there’s a significant scene that really hits home...
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VIDEO GAME: Journey (2012)

JourneyYear: 2012Rating: ETime Played: ~2 hours As someone who enjoys movies and video games, I appreciate how cinematic video games have become over the last decade. Additionally, since many films can be “artsy,” there’s no reason why video games can’t follow the same style. Journey definitely fits this definition, and I’d almost go so far to say that it’s interactive and collaborative art. The story is pretty simple, but the execution of it gave me shivers as I finished and watched the end credits. The visuals and music add to the ambiance that engulfed me for the short time I spent playing this game. Perhaps my only qualm with Journey is the same qualm I have with any artistic video game: its length. I would have loved to spend more time in this world, but as it stands, I can easily complete it in a single sitting. Which I suppose is how it should be when you consider that the “partners” along...
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MOVIE: Frozen II (2019)

Frozen IIYear: 2019Rating: PGLength: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours After the cultural phenomenon that was Frozen (2013) had cooled off a little, a sequel was an inevitable conclusion. The trouble with such sequels is multi-faceted: how do you recapture the magic of the first movie while also creating something new that advances the story? Unfortunately, Frozen II (2019) falls into the trap of focusing on what made the first so successful that it almost feels like it’s mimicking its origins. To top it off, the new elements introduced in this film are either predictable plot points or over-done tropes. But hey, it’s Disney, and it looks absolutely gorgeous, even if some of the main characters seemed slightly more exaggerated in their presentation (perhaps starting to edge closer to the uncanny valley). While the songs all hit similar beats to their predecessors, most of them seem to fall short or were emphasized in the wrong places. Case in point, I found “Show Yourself”...
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VIDEO GAME: Let’s Go Pikachu (2018)

Pokémon: Let’s Go PikachuYear: 2018Rating: ETime Played: 23 hours I hesitated to pick up Let’s Go Pikachu for the sole reason that I already had bought this game decades ago in the form of Pokémon Yellow. I couldn’t justify spending $60 for a re-skin and decreased difficulty to align it with the Pokémon Go-style of catching. That being said, I was able to pick this title up for $20 as a part of Redbox’s video game sale, and I’m glad I did. Sure, the game is the same as before, but there are a few things I still enjoyed about it as I reveled in the nostalgia it brought to me. First off, the visuals are stunning. I think we often forget how limited the Game Boy’s graphics were, but seeing all these classic Pokémon in full HD on my big screen was an experience. I also appreciated how they removed HMs in favor of special techniques for Pikachu to use, which...
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BOOK: Schumann – The Faces and the Masks (2018)

Schumann: The Faces and the Masks Year: 2018 Author: Judith Chernaik Length: 773 minutes / 12.83 hours When it comes to biographies of famous artists, it can be difficult to separate their life from their life’s work. It is fascinating to understand the influences of an artist, especially when in the context of their creation. However, much of the ability to talk about the artist’s life depends on common knowledge of their artistic portfolio. For slightly more obscure artists, finding the balance between discussing their personal life and providing an explanation of their art can be a challenge. Schumann: The Faces and the Masks attempts to cover both Robert Schumann’s life and his musical pieces. While revealing some of the more interesting secret codes in Schumann’s music in this book, the moments discussing the songs in detail seem to derail the whole narrative of the biography. Schumann’s life was fascinating enough as it was, with the drama involved in his marriage to Clara Wieck, as...
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BOOK: The Crystal City (2003)

The Crystal City Year: 2003 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 690 minutes / 11.50 hours With the end of this series in sight, it seems that the focus of The Crystal City is back on track. That being said, there are a few curious omissions that made it somewhat frustrating to read. I understand that some stories aren’t meant to be part of full books, but when these side short stories sound much more interesting by their mere inference, then I wonder why they weren’t included in the main storyline to begin with. Still, there were enough exciting developments in The Crystal City to keep me wondering what the conclusion will bring in the next book. While I appreciated the historical name dropping earlier in the series, now they seem to be coming left and right, with little-to-no impact on the story other than to say, “Look! Here’s someone you should know, and here’s how they’re different now!” Part of this is due to the...
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BOOK: Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine (2018)

Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine Year: 2018 Author: Jessica Crichton Length: 260 pages While I’m a bit older than the target demographic, I’m not sure I was ever a fan of the kind of “gross-out” tropes that seem to permeate the middle-grade genre. My main problem with Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine is that it relies on this trope in spades. At the very least, it takes this slightly “uncultured” format and takes it to its logical extremes. After all, the amount of accented pidgin adds flavor to this parallel universe, even if it sacrifices some readability. In the end, though, it’s still a pretty good story even if the plot points felt pretty standard for the genre. Aside from some of the content being gross, there were several proofreading errors scattered throughout this book. Not enough to be distracting but enough to be noticeable. I’m also not sure the more complicated “twist” near the end is understandable for the target age range, considering the scientific knowledge needed...
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MOVIE: Star Wars – Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 142 minutes / 2.37 hours Full disclosure: I’m not a die-hard Star Wars fan by any means. Sure, I like the original trilogy, but Return of the Jedi (1983) is my favorite of that set (take that how you will). In the end, I don’t look at this franchise through the lens of the expanded universe or all the lore tied to it. I just see them as movies. Are they entertaining? Sure, they have their moments. Are they groundbreaking? Not since A New Hope (1977), in my opinion. So, while The Force Awakens (2015) felt like a rehash/reboot, I did appreciate how The Last Jedi (2017) took some risks in terms of character development. So, how does The Rise of Skywalker (2019) fare? First of all, the plot moves at a hyperspace-clipped pace. There seemed to be so many loose ends to tie up and nostalgia to fit in that...
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MOVIE: East of Eden (1955)

East of Eden Year: 1955 Rating: PG Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours East of Eden (1955) is one of those films that are famous only for who is in it and who originally wrote it. If this wasn’t one of the few roles James Dean had before his unfortunate death, I’m not sure I’d have watched it. Even if it’s based on a Steinbeck book, I think I’d prefer The Grapes of Wrath (1940) or Of Mice and Men (1939) to this. Still, there is some artistic merit to this film, even if it didn’t cover the entirety of the source material. It just goes to show how a movie can have staying power just from the people tied to it. Notably, I did enjoy pieces of the cinematography in East of Eden. In particular, when James Dean’s character is on the porch swing, that scene was shot in such a way that I haven’t seen done before or since. And while Dean’s performance...
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BOOK: Weapons of Math Destruction (2016)

Weapons of Math Destruction Year: 2016 Author: Cathy O’Neil Length: 383 minutes / 6.38 hours I love data. I love what it can show us as individuals and what it can show as society changes from year to year. Being able to trend my spending is just as useful to me as knowing how many people are participating in my National Novel Writing Month region. Because I’m always interested in seeing what pure numbers can show me about the world, I was intrigued to find this book, Weapons of Math Destruction. While I had already heard many of this book’s conclusions, it was interesting to read about the algorithms that work silently behind the scenes of our society and how nobody can really control or change them. I’ll agree that it’s terrifying to have decision-making boiled down to a number popped out of an algorithm that decision-makers just blindly trust without understanding the rules of causality or correlation. People are messy, so I understand how finding...
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BOOK: The Force Doth Awaken (2017)

William Shakespeare’s the Force Doth Awaken Year: 2017 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours As I’ve been working my way through Ian Doescher’s Shakespearean adaptations of pop culture movies, I think I’ve hit the point where the novelty has worn off. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel like The Force Doth Awaken had the same charm as other entries in this quirky mash-up series. I have a sneaking suspicion that this may be due to one of two factors: 1. The newer movies have more “modern” dialogue that seemed as if it was directly plopped into the Shakespearean format, or 2. The original trilogy had more time to be ingrained in my psyche, and the translation to Shakespearean felt appropriate. I don’t want to downplay the novelty of this adaptation, though. The voice acting is still superb, and the sound effects add a little something extra that immersed me as I listened to this audiobook. Plus, it’s not like these books are that lengthy...
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MOVIE: Zombieland – Double Tap (2019)

Zombieland: Double Tap Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours It's a little weird to me that it's been a full decade since Zombieland (2009) came out. While I thought the original film was goofy and fun, it has since gained a bit of a cult following. What's weirder to me is how—in the years since the original—many of the cast of this franchise have gone on to be nominated for (and in some cases won) Oscars for their acting talent. It's no wonder the advertisements for Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) have picked up on this fact and used it to promote another ridiculous foray into the self-aware satire of zombie films. While I do admit that Zombieland: Double Tap does require having seen the first film to pick up on its numerous references, I also knew that its comedy would be as smart as its predecessor. I appreciated this wit, especially with a few literary references thrown in (like to Of...
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BOOK: Mortal Engines (2001)

Mortal Engines Year: 2001 Author: Philip Reeve Length: 541 minutes / 9.02 hours In yet another case of watching a movie first before reading the books, I finally got around to reading Mortal Engines after absolutely loving the 2018 movie. While I understand middle-grade or Young Adult readers are the intended audiences, it left me wanting in its presentation. Sure, most of the elements that made it into the film were there (with some less-than-necessary parts being cut from the screenplay for obvious reasons), but the way it was written felt a bit too flowery for my tastes. In fact, the engineer in me would have loved a lot more world-building than I got in this short volume. I did still appreciate the post-apocalyptic steampunk world of Mortal Engines—if for no other reason than its ridiculous premise. The idea that whole cities would transform into moving monstrosities that devour lesser towns in a “predator and prey” relationship is such an intriguing notion that I had to give...
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MOVIE: Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008)

Anvil! The Story of Anvil Year: 2008 Rating: Not Rated Length: 80 minutes / 1.33 hours Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) is one of those movies I sat down to watch because it’s on the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. Before watching this film, I honestly had never heard of this Canadian heavy metal band, and it soon became apparent why. What immediately struck me was how similar the premise was to the 1984 mockumentary, This is Spinal Tap. It was difficult to separate this real-life story of the rise and fall of a heavy metal band with the Rob Reiner comedy since so many of the beats of the plot seemed to match up. Still, it was somewhat engrossing to see how Anvil! followed the progression I’d already seen in Spinal Tap. At first, I thought, “Is this for real?” This was before I realized that perhaps the reason why Spinal Tap worked so well was because that’s just how the music industry functions and has functioned...
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MOVIE: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 161 minutes / 2.68 hours Quentin Tarantino has changed. While I loved Inglorious Basterds (2009) for its alternate history, and Django Unchained (2012) was another strong showing, it seems like he’s just getting out of his western phase. For his latest film, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019), Tarantino seems to have continued his trend of making very long movies but chose to condense his trademark graphic violence down into an intense sequence that only lasts a few minutes at most  (like The Hateful Eight (2015)). Perhaps he has matured as a director, but that’s what makes this film so jarring compared to his previous work. Anyone familiar with the Tarantino aesthetic knows that he’s particularly fond of the pop culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Consequently, it’s interesting to see how real he’s made this era feel on the big screen. That being said, some of the “fake” movies appearing in this film are...
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BOOK: Ideas, Influence, and Income (2018)

Ideas, Influence, and Income: Write a Book, Build Your Brand, and Lead Your Industry Year: 2018 Author: Tanya Hall Length: 214 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’ll admit that I initially thought this book was for all kinds of writers, to include fiction authors. I was looking for a few good ideas to push my brand out of the mires of obscurity, and this book seemed like it would help. While Ideas, Influence, and Income is focused mainly on those people who might not even consider writing a non-fiction book, there’s still plenty of advice for authors of all stages. The insight the author brings to the table here is a little intimidating, though, and not for the weak of will. As far as I could understand it, this book caters towards individuals who are “trendsetters” or “influencers” who could turn their original idea into a brand that could support a book, speaking engagements, and other social media content pieces. Because of...
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MOVIE: Captain Marvel (2019)

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

Detective Pikachu Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours The transition of nostalgia into live action can be a tricky business. Plenty of franchises have faltered in this aspect, so it was interesting to see Pokémon approach it from a side angle. Instead of adapting the core series of games or anime to a live-action adaptation, they instead used a spinoff game as the framework to create this movie. Despite my initial skepticism, I can honestly say that Detective Pikachu (2019) works much better than any video game franchise adaptation before it. It’s not entirely perfect, but it came a lot closer than any of its predecessors. On the plus side, the “realistic” Pokémon were enthralling—if not wholly terrifying (I’m looking at you, Ludicolo)—to see in a real space interacting with humans. I already had a bit of a visceral reaction to seeing realistic fur, skin, and feathers on Pokémon when I played Pokken Tournament DX. At least they certainly seemed to be at...
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BOOK: The Far Side of the World (1984)

The Far Side of the World Year: 1984 Author: Patrick O’Brian Length: 406 pages Nautical historical fiction is a rare genre for me to read. The last one I read—and that most people would be able to recognize—was Moby Dick, and that was probably 15 years ago. Needless to say, I found myself in brief possession of The Far Side of the World and decided to give it a read. Of course, this was mostly because of the movie of the same name released in 2003 that earned many Oscar nominations (only winning in two). While the plot of both is slightly different in a few key areas, I wasn’t disappointed with having read this book. First, as a historical look into the realms of sailing and whaling at the time, The Far Side of the World does a fantastic job of informing and educating the reader without necessarily resorting to huge exposition dumps. Sure, a few moments were a little obvious that the author was trying to get...
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BOOK: The Desert Spear (2010)

The Desert Spear Year: 2010 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,573 minutes / 26.22 hours The second book in the Demon Cycle series, The Desert Spear practically proves my point that its predecessor, The Warded Man, started in the wrong place. In fact, if there weren’t an awesome battle sequence at the end of The Warded Man, I’d suggest just skipping to The Desert Spear since all the key moments from the first book were referenced in this sequel. That being said, this book has some of its own issues, some of which are gripes I continue to have about this series—which makes me think this is just the way these books are going to be. Before I get too far down the criticism hole, I do want to say that I truly enjoy the magic system in these books. The Desert Spear doesn’t necessarily do anything new with it, but there’s at least a little more world building that happens in terms of the...
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BOOK: Foundation and Empire (1952)

Foundation and Empire Year: 1952 Author: Isaac Asimov Length: 575 minutes / 9.58 hours One of my qualms with the start of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series was how different the stories were from each other. Each was set in the same universe but failed to have much of a cohesive narrative that tied them all together. While Foundation covered five different short stories, its sequel, Foundation and Empire managed to whittle this method of storytelling down to two novellas. The result was a clear improvement in clarity and focus as each half of this book only covered a single plot each. In Foundation and Empire, I finally was able to read a story that stuck with me in this series. Up until this point, I probably couldn’t tell you the premise of any of the short stories in Foundation, let alone the plot of the first half of this book. However, once this book transitioned over from topics that were more in line with science...
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MOVIE: Aquaman (2018)

Aquaman Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 143 minutes / 2.38 hours Now that Marvel’s 10-year behemoth of its cinematic universe is starting to pay off, it’s becoming more and more obvious that DC is trying desperately to catch up. There’s no doubt that DC has interesting characters, considering how often Superman has been rebooted and how successful Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was. Even Wonder Woman (2017) had its great moments, despite also feeling derivative influences from movies like Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Aquaman (2018) seems to continue this trend, despite again having a strong leading character (both physically and in backstory/lore). I will give DC credit for their casting decisions here. For decades, Aquaman has been the butt of the joke amongst many superhero aficionados. The fact that Jason Momoa is a badass, snarky, and overall entertaining actor to watch in the role speaks to their awareness of “image management.” Perhaps featuring him in previous films like Justice League (2017) also helped to get audiences interested in seeing this superhero in a standalone movie....
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BOOK: Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid (2019)

Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid Year: 2019 Author: Marcus Emerson Length: 336 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Once again, I seem to have jumped in on the second book of a series. Fortunately, there was plenty of exposition detailing the events of The Super Life of Ben Braver. Maybe a little too much exposition. This sequel took a little long getting to its own story because of this, along with a bit of heavy-handed foreshadowing as well. Regardless of its slow start, Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid is a pretty standard middle-grade book that calls upon the success of the superhero genre to package a lesson about pride between action set pieces. While there are some parallels between the X-Men series, I feel the main character’s arc is perhaps a little more similar to early My Hero Academia. Plus, it wouldn’t be a middle-grade story without a bit of a Harry Potter feel to it as well (i.e., a unique main character with a semi-bumbling male...
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MOVIE: Creed II (2018)

Creed II Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours While I have only ever seen the original Rocky (1976) and the spinoff/reboot Creed (2015), I’m still aware of some of the details of the Rocky franchise as a whole. I know who some of Rocky Balboa’s (Sylvester Stallone) opponents were over the years, including James “Clubber” Lang (Mr. T) and Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Consequently, even though Creed felt like it took the franchise in a new direction by focusing on Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) son, its sequel, Creed II (2018) felt too steeped in the franchise’s history and nostalgia to be anything more than a rehash of Rocky IV (1985). If anything, having Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), face off against Ivan Drago’s son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), as a revenge match that followed the same plot points as its predecessor smacks of lazy and clichéd writing. I would have been much more interested in this film if, even despite all the training each son endured, the outcome would have been different...
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BOOK: The Warded Man (2008)

The Warded Man Year: 2008 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 453 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** For anyone who thinks that fantasy is a childish genre, The Warded Man shows that it can have very adult themes. While this adds an element of realism by including sex and violence, it also means that the intended audience for this book should be mature enough to be able to pay attention. Unfortunately, this book takes a repetitive approach with its character arcs, almost as if writing for children who need the point constantly driven home. In the end, I’m mostly just disappointed at what this book could have been instead of what it was. I’m not sure if there’s a minimum page count/word count for fantasy books, but The Warded Man seems to be an interesting novella, padded out with tons of unnecessary backstory—or at least backstory that could be covered in a relevant line or paragraph when needed. I did like the concept and the magical system in...
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BOOK: The Elfstones of Shannara (1982)

The Elfstones of Shannara Year: 1982 Author: Terry Brooks Length: 1,400 minutes / 23.33 hours Back in 2016, I saw advertisements for a TV show adaptation of the original Shannara trilogy, likely trying to cash in on the success of Game of Thrones. While I never watched the show, I remembered enough from these trailers that I was able to recognize that the plot of the first book in the series, The Sword of Shannara, was not the plot of the series. However, when I started reading the next book in the series, The Elfstones of Shannara, suddenly memories of the TV show came to mind. Having finished this book, I can see why the TV show wanted to start here. I didn’t particularly care for the derivative Sword of Shannara, as it seemed to steal all its ideas from The Lord of the Rings. While The Elfstones of Shannara still appears to take influence from this quintessential epic fantasy, there are enough other fantasy tropes thrown in to make it feel at least...
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BOOK: Ender in Exile (2008)

Ender in Exile Year: 2008 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 823 minutes / 13.72 hours When it comes to the Ender saga, I was excited to read the direct sequel to Ender’s Game, Ender in Exile. After all, Speaker for the Dead was set so far after the events in Ender’s Game that there was a distinct division between the first book in the series and the following three (almost like The Hobbit when compared to The Lord of the Rings). And yet, while there was a huge gap between the first two books of the Ender saga, there was enough explanation about what had happened between them that Ender in Exile seemed a little unnecessary. My biggest problem with this book was that I haven’t started on the Shadow spinoff series, so a lot of the revelations presented in this book essentially spoiled those books for me. If you’re wondering when to read Ender in Exile, I’d suggest reading Ender’s Game, followed by the Shadow saga, and then read this book before continuing to the end of the Ender saga with Speaker for the Dead. I’ll still read...
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BOOK: The Long Mars (2014)

The Long Mars Year: 2014 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 723 minutes / 12.05 hours While the previous two entries in this series seemed to be disjointed in their writing styles, The Long Mars seemed to iron out some of these discrepancies . . . finally. In The Long Earth and The Long War, you could almost pinpoint the sections that Terry Pratchett wrote and the sections primarily written by Stephen Baxter. By The Long Mars, there are still a few moments of Terry Pratchett’s goofiness, but they are few and far between. Consequently, the narrative of The Long Mars seemed a lot more consistent than its predecessors. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that The Long Mars is absent of problems. While there was plenty of exploration of these parallel universes, the ones that were deemed necessary enough to describe didn’t add anything to the plot. In fact, I felt like this book could have been much shorter if these thought experiments that explored how parallel universes would function were cut out entirely....
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MOVIE: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible - Fallout Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 147 minutes / 2.45 hours It's a little weird to think that we're already on the sixth Mission: Impossible movie, especially considering how far the franchise has come since (what I consider) its revival in Mission: Impossible III (2006). Since then, the action has been consistently impressive and the stunts mind-bogglingly intense. Fallout continues to provide on this franchise's promise of high-octane action and neat spy tech, even if the latter doesn't seem to be nearly as impressive as in its previous installments. Ironically enough, one of the problems I had with this movie was how it tried to interweave plot from previous films in the franchise. I'll be honest and say that I don't watch these movies for the plot. Sure, I'll follow along to see how the team has to accomplish the "impossible" in the form of setting up a ridiculous stunt. From scaling tall buildings in Dubai, accessing computer servers underwater, and hanging above...
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MOVIE: Incredibles 2 (2018)

Incredibles 2 Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Before we start, I have to say that The Incredibles (2004) is perhaps my favorite Pixar film. Back when superhero films were starting to become successful (albeit, not nearly as lucratively successful as the Marvel Cinematic Universe), The Incredibles artfully blended a superhero film with a family/midlife crisis plot that worked on so many levels. It is then no surprise that I was truly looking forward to its sequel, Incredibles 2 (2018). In the back of my head, I knew that most of Pixar's talent had switched over to Disney about eight years ago, but I hoped enough of the original team would be around to make this sequel something special. Unfortunately, time seems to have worked against Incredibles 2. If this had come out ten years ago, it would have enjoyed some of the originality that comes with beating the Marvel behemoth out of the gate. As it is now, I'm not sure if Incredibles 2...
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BOOK: The Interpretation of Dreams (1899)

The Interpretation of Dreams Year: 1899 Author: Sigmund Freud Length: 736 pages Years ago, I tried picking up this book and reading it so I could become educated about dreams and their interpretations. Back then, I lost interest within the first hundred pages. This time, as I prepare to write my own fictional series of books about dreams and the parallel world they inhabit, I was much more focused and able to finish this daunting book. While many will say what they will about Freud and his theories, this book was the definitive and groundbreaking work that helped us all understand a little more of what influences our dreams. Written mostly as an academic examination of the influencing factors of dreams, Freud includes a plentitude of examples from his patients and his own life to help prove his point. This can be a little tedious at times, as it feels like he’s banging the reader over the head with multiple examples that don’t add much...
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MOVIE: Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours What happens when you genetically splice together a reboot and a sequel? This film. It's interesting to find a franchise that's willing to recognize the past material and build upon it, while also adding slightly new elements to it. The idea of training dinosaurs just like pets was undoubtedly the strongest element of this movie, even if the result was the same as it's ever been. Part of the problem with this reboot, however, is that the characters don't seem to click, even to the point of the relationships feeling forced. While there were plentiful nods to the first film that started off the franchise, the plot seemed almost identical to the 1993 classic, but with plenty of cliches and hokey lines to go around. I think sequels like this recognize the elements that made the original great, but almost spend too much time overanalyzing to try and recreate the magic. These films ultimately fall short,...
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BOOK: Sourdough (2017)

Sourdough Year: 2017 Author: Robin Sloan Length: 259 pages Much like Armada to Ready Player One or Artemis to The Martian, I looked forward to reading Robin Sloan’s follow-up to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. Unfortunately, much like the follow-up books by Ernest Cline and Andy Weir, respectively, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with Sloan’s Sourdough. I will give credit that Sloan’s quirky and charming style is still in high form here, it’s more that there wasn’t much of a central conflict that would have led to a satisfying ending. It’s almost like too many plotlines got into the mix, and it muddled everything up to the point where it would be too difficult to follow each to their logical conclusion. Cline has video game references. Weir has accurate, hard sci-fi. If there’s one thing Sloan does well, it’s the fusion of analog and digital. From Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, it was the appreciation of the printed book in the era of Google searches. In Sourdough, Sloan explores the future of food—which is perhaps the most analog of...
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BOOK: Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again) (2018)

Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again) Year: 2018 Author: Michael Fry & Bradley Jackson Length: 272 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As can be implied from the title, Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again) is the follow-up to an earlier appearance of the titular character in The Naughty List. One does not need to have read The Naughty List to understand what happened to Bobbie since this book does a pretty good—if not too thorough—re-telling of the events of the first book that would eventually lead her to save the world (again). While I’m sure the previous book was focused on Christmas-related shenanigans, this book opens up the potential for weird, random, and bizarre via the same inter-dimensional portals used previously. I will say that I was impressed with this book’s ability to seamlessly intertwine verbal narrative with accompanying pictures. It’s not quite a picture-book, but it’s also not a chapter book either. It’s a hybrid of the two. While I’m assuming the illustrations will be a...
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MOVIE: Isle of Dogs (2018)

Isle of Dogs Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours A few years ago, I got on a Wes Anderson kick. I practically watched his entire filmography to that point in one long binge-worthy day. After catching up, I felt I truly appreciated his quirky, orthogonal cinematography and deeply complex characters. I’ve essentially been a fan of his since Moonrise Kingdom (2012), so I was looking forward to his latest work, Isle of Dogs (2018). After all, he had proven his skill at stop-motion animation with The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and had received nominations for Best Picture and Best Director for The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) since then. Unfortunately, while Isle of Dogs carries Anderson’s distinct style and charm, it felt a little watered down. Sure, the shots were full of their beauty and symmetry, and the story had its cute moments, but it mostly felt like he was on autopilot. Maybe the PG-13 rating was holding him back? I don’t know. In most fiction, there is a suspension of...
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MOVIE: The Disaster Artist (2017)

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

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

Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours Over 20 years after its debut, it seems that Pokémon is not a fad and will be here to stay for the long haul. Of course, considering the mania surrounding the first games in the series back in the mid-1990’s, by now enough time has passed for nostalgia to be a contributing factor to the franchise’s continued success. The children who grew up with Pokémon are now adults in their late-20’s and early-30’s (i.e., “millennials”). In an attempt to cash in on this nostalgia, Pokémon’s latest movie, I Choose You! recounts some of the memorable first moments of the anime, but with a slightly different storyline. Initially, I was worried that this plot would be a pared-down selection of key moments from the anime, much like what has been done with other anime movies like One Piece’s The Desert Princess and the Pirates (2007) and Episode of Chopper Plus(2008). Fortunately, this film managed to...
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BOOK: Factor Man (2018)

Factor Man Year: 2018 Author: Matt Ginsberg Length: 292 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** First off, basing an entire book on solving the P=NP problem is a bit of a risky gamble. Most people have limited understanding of advanced mathematics, so describing this conundrum of complexity theory walks a fine line between not enough information and an exposition dump. Fortunately, Factor Man is able to maintain that balance, even if many of its sections and POVs did start to trend into exposition for exposition's sake. I mean, I understand the reasoning behind the New York Times' coverage of the lead-up, but each of the articles didn't read like they would have come from the New York Times. I will say that the strength of this book lies in its buildup. A lot is riding on the successful execution of Factor Man's plan, so his meticulous attention to detail to ensure every part of it comes to fruition was entertaining, to say the least. The mystery of Factor...
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BOOK: Dreadnought (2010)

Dreadnought Year: 2010 Author: Cherie Priest Length: 803 minutes / 13.38 hours For the most part, the book series I have read progress the story from one book to another. I get that there are some series with the same character in different predicaments for each book, but jumping from one character to another in each different book is an interesting tactic. Of course, I’m somewhat guilty of this, as The Fluxion Trilogy focuses on different characters for each book. As far as I can tell, The Clockwork Century series also does this, even if the connections between the characters are flimsy at best. Even so, the plot seemed to take a step backward from Boneshaker to Dreadnought. One of my qualms with Boneshaker was that there wasn’t a lot of world-building that established what this alternate-reality Seattle was like in the scheme of the broader United States. Dreadnought solves this problem by giving the main character an opportunity to travel across the country, thus establishing some of the world-building in the process. In fact, there...
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MOVIE: Justice League (2017)

Justice League Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 120 minutes / 2.00 hours While it can be difficult to separate comparisons of DC’s Justice League (2017) with Marvel’s The Avengers (2010), there are plenty of parallels and similarities between the two. That’s not to say this is a bad thing, as fans of comic book heroes will always love to see their favorite characters team up to take on evil forces almost as much as they want to see these bastions of justice duke it out. Justice League certainly delivers on this, but in a way that felt uninteresting and lacking the serious consequences to the world at large. Concerning the characters themselves, Justice League succeeds in creating a unique team with some interesting heroes. Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) success in her standalone film could be seen in one of the first (and possibly best) sequences of the film. Additionally, The Flash (Ezra Miller) was a constant source of entertainment as the comic relief. Most importantly, Justice League succeeded in making Aquaman (Jason Momoa) an absolute...
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BOOK: Louisiana Catch (2018)

Louisiana Catch Year: 2018 Author: Sweta Srivastava Vikram Length: 254 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** At a time when the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are at their peak, a book like Louisiana Catch is poised to address something that many American’s might choose to ignore: abuse of women in foreign countries. Sure, there’s sexual harassment in the United States, but in other cultures where there is a firm patriarchy in control, there are much more severe issues like throwing acid and marital rape. While Louisiana Catch does cover these abuses in the context of India, there are other elements to the story that distracts from the impact of overcoming past abuse. First of all, Louisiana Catch is a somewhat misleading title, since most of the action happens in either New York City or New Delhi. Sure, there’s some amount of Louisiana in the characters, and the women’s conference is held in New Orleans (not sure why, since New York would have been a better fit), but the focus of...
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MOVIE: Thor – Ragnarok (2017)

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

Soledad Year: 2016 Author: D.L. Young Length: 245 pages This first book in the “Dark Republic” series is a prime example of the New Adult post-apocalyptic genre. I wouldn’t classify it as Young Adult due to the graphic nature of sex and violence, as well as the amount of obscenity peppering the dialogue. I’m not necessarily saying they’re bad things, as they help to define the world created by the author, it’s more that the audience should be prepared for these things. Even more to the point, the one sex scene present in this book was probably more along the lines of rape, even if it was a common element of the characters' backstories. Regardless of the content, the story in Soledad is compelling enough. Considering this is the first book in a series, the author spent almost the entirety of it exploring the three different factions present in post-apocalyptic Texas. While this was great for world-building, by the end of the book, little seemed to change...
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MOVIE: Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours Much like The Post (2017), Phantom Thread (2017) has a director/actor combination that just begs for an Oscar nomination. It seems that a decade after the last Paul Thomas Anderson/Daniel Day-Lewis collaboration, There Will Be Blood (2007), the Academy might want to pull their “should have won” trick and give the Best Picture Oscar to Phantom Thread. After seeing this film, though, I have changed my initial assessment. Sure, it’s good and has certain artistic elements that make it culturally significant, but other parts of it are just kind of . . . weird. First, the good. Daniel Day-Lewis, in his last role as an actor, unquestionably shows how good he is at his craft. I wouldn’t doubt that he has a good shot at earning his historic fourth Best Actor Oscar. The costume design and cinematography are noteworthy, but the best part of this film is a little more subtle: the music. The score for this movie permeates the...
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BOOK: Robogenesis (2014)

Robogenesis Year: 2014 Author: Daniel H. Wilson Length: 956 minutes / 15.93 hours While I appreciated the logical nature that Daniel H. Wilson brought to the idea of a robot apocalypse in Robopocalypse, I felt the book itself was disjointed as a series of short stories that examined the various forms our robot servants would turn on us. The whole book seemed more like an academic exercise than a piece of fiction. In the follow-up to Robopocalypse, Wilson picks up right where the last book left off. With the exposition of how the robots turned on us already covered, he then is able to fully explore the fictional environment via its characters in Robogenesis. It took me a little while to recall who some of these characters were and what had happened during the previous book, which left me confused in the early moments of each section. Once I eventually got my bearings, the stories themselves were interesting and tied together pretty well. Some of the action was a little disorienting,...
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MOVIE: The Shack (2017)

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

The Dot on the Left Year: 2017 Author: Dave Swanson Length: 176 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As someone who has usually found themselves naturally on the center of any variety of bell curves, I know that application of some hard work and dedication can move someone to the right side of said bell curves. It was with this in mind that I was curious what advice is contained in The Dot on the Left. Were the same tactics used for those who underperformed to get them to (and even past) the average of the curve? I was disappointed to find that this book is not so much a “self-help/advice” type book, but rather a memoir from someone who was on the left side of the curve. Sure, there is still some of the advice that I would expect to find in a self-help book in The Dot on the Left, but it’s sometimes hidden within the memoir stories of the author....
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BOOK: Hearts in Atlantis (1999)

Hearts in Atlantis Year: 1999 Author: Stephen King Length: 1,210 minutes / 20.17 hours When I started Hearts in Atlantis, all I knew about it was that it was written by Stephen King and there was a movie of the same name that was likely based on it. As I began to read, I found myself enthralled by the coming-of-age story that presented itself. I had no idea it connected to the Dark Tower series, but that detail was almost ancillary, a neat little connection into a bigger picture. Having made it half-way through the book, I wanted to follow the main character’s development into adulthood but, then the story suddenly stopped. Instead of following a story that had engaged me, the focus shifted to a completely different character, only loosely tied to the events in the first half of the book via one of the characters, who was now in college. Almost in a fractal fashion, this story was half as long as the first, with each...
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BOOK: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (2010)

Dawn of the Dreadfuls Year: 2010 Author: Steve Hockensmith Length: 287 pages As I’ve mentioned before in my review of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I understand the concept of combining this classic piece of romantic literature with its complete obverse; it just felt like it was almost held back from its full potential by adhering to (most of) the original manuscript. With the prequel to this book, Dawn of the Dreadfuls manages to examine the ridiculous nature of this mashup in a way that’s so tongue-in-cheek that the tongue has practically ruptured the cheek entirely. That is, this prequel doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as the original Jane Austen adaptation did. Even if the non-Pride and Prejudice and Zombies characters were mostly cartoonish in their representation of stereotypes and tropes, they were fun to read as they provided a delightful offset to the canonical characters of the Bennet family. Also, instead of trying to find some boring section of text wherein to insert...
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BOOK: Kidnapped (1886)

Kidnapped Year: 1886 Author: Robert Louis Stevenson Length: 158 minutes / 2.63 hours Another one of those “short adventures” that I have finally gotten around to reading, Kidnapped doesn’t suffer from some of the attributes that I found irritating about Captains Courageous. Sure, some of my qualms with Captains Courageous came from the audiobook itself but Kidnapped managed to have an easy-to-understand narrator as well as some sound effects and music that added to the experience of the book. As for the book itself, Kidnapped is pretty basic despite its title being only a small fraction of its plot. Even despite its short length, a lot happens in Kidnapped. Aside from the obvious kidnapping, many events transpired because of it, including escaping and returning home. Of course, partly because of the short length of the book, the action moves at a pretty quick pace that was sometimes difficult to follow (which may also be an artifact of the time when it was written). The language...
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BOOK: The Killing Floor (1997)

The Killing Floor Year: 1997 Author: Lee Child Length: 1,067 minutes / 17.78 hours The first book in the Jack Reacher series is certainly a thriller, through-and-through. I certainly can understand its appeal, especially for male readers, since it has plenty of violence and sex while also exhibiting a number of action sequences. Consequently, it felt somewhat “pulpy” in that it was entertainment for entertainment’s sake. Sure, it’s a fun thrill-ride, but certain elements didn’t invest me in the characters. Jack Reacher himself is probably the majority of this issue, as he’s a drifter with little-to-no connections to anything or anyone, merely acting as a conduit to make action/killing happen. As for the core mystery of The Killing Floor, it was a fascinating premise and had a slow unraveling to keep me intrigued along the way. This was undoubtedly the strength of the book since it was a unique and intriguing twist on a pretty common crime. With a small cast of characters, the plot...
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BOOK: Stop Licking That (2017)

Stop Licking That Year: 2017 Author: Karin Mitchell Length: 270 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** As someone who does not have kids yet, I’ve read plenty about what to expect in the transition to parenthood. Stop Licking That takes the no-nonsense approach with a slightly humorous spin to let new parents know that it’s going to be a messy process for the first couple of years. While each of the chapters covers some topic about raising kids (especially two young boys), the stories tied to these sections end up being some of the same kinds of stories you’d hear from any other parent of young boys. If anything, Stop Licking That merely confirms that we shouldn’t take parenthood too seriously. As I received an Advanced Reader Copy for my review, I will assume that the handful of minor proofreading errors have been fixed. I also hope the gutter margins were increased, so the words don’t get lost in the crease between pages. I...
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BOOK: Zenith (2018)

Zenith Year: 2018 Authors: Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings Length: 512 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Every once in a while, I'll read a book which is basically the equivalent of literary "candy." It hits all the tropes of its genre, most of its twists are predictable, and the whole thing is purely entertainment for entertainment's sake. Zenith, the first book in the Androma Saga, is just such a book. This book has been described as an all-female Guardians of the Galaxy, and I would tend to agree with that assessment. Overall, it's a fun book, but there's not too much substance to it aside from the typical space opera Young Adult romance. If anything, it proves why the tropes of its genres work the way they do. The writing itself in this book is easy to read, which helped me crank through its 500 pages in just my lunch breaks and time at the gym. Even if I wasn't paying too...
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MOVIE: Atomic Blonde (2017)

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

The Maze Runner Year: 2009 Author: James Dashner Length: 650 minutes / 10.83 hours Partly due to the success of The Hunger Games, the Young Adult genre swerved into the survival/sci-fi/dystopian genres that also allowed The Maze Runner to have a ready and willing audience. With this being the case, I’d almost say The Maze Runner has more utopian sensibilities since the narrative encourages teamwork for survival, instead of a “winner take all” emphasis presented in The Hunger Games that valued selfish ambitions over communistic altruism. Plus, if you put 50 teenage boys in a box with no adult supervision, I think the logical conclusion would be more along the lines of Lord of the Flies instead of solving a deadly maze. While the premise was interesting and allowed for a constant and steady pacing of inciting events, I felt there was not enough explanation in this first part of the trilogy, with very few questions being answered by the end and a lot of hand-waving to push the characters forward to a conclusion....
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BOOK: Flashforward (1999)

Flashforward Year: 1999 Author: Robert J. Sawyer Length: 628 minutes / 10.47 hours As time marches on, predictions of the future made in the past are tested against reality. In 1984, we didn't have George Orwell's dystopian government. In 2001, we didn't have Arthur C. Clarke's interplanetary travel. Sure, these authors did have a few interesting ideas that did come true, eventually. Still, they were writing well before the events in their books would come to pass. Robert J. Sawyer's Flashforward did not have that luxury. Written in 1999, Sawyer only imagines a future set a decade in the future. For those keeping track at home, Flashforward takes place in 2009, with a vision of a future 21 years ahead of that. Since 2009 has come and gone, there were a few things Sawyer got right, but many he could not have predicted. The crux of this story is similar to that explored by Machine of Death: everyone in the world gets a glimpse of their future...
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MOVIE: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)

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

T2 Trainspotting Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 In the vein of successful and groundbreaking films receiving sequels two decades after the fact (I'm looking at you, Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)), director Danny Boyle is at it again with T2 Trainspotting (2017). While the original Trainspotting (1996) was a fun bit of cinema that used a unique visual style to emulate the sensations of the highs (and lows) of drug use, the ending was pretty definitive. Still, because drug use can have long-lasting effects, the Trainspotting sequel is an important part of the whole narrative. Unfortunately, as is the case with these types of sequels, the story didn't change at all. After all, if it worked once, what's to say it won't work again. T2 Trainspotting continues to glamorize the party lifestyle of sex, drugs, and rock and roll in a visual style that's fun to watch. Of course, what was a little interesting about this sequel is that it was almost self-aware of...
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BOOK: A Horse Walks into a Bar (2014)

A Horse Walks into a Bar Year: 2014 Author: David Grossman Length: 350 minutes / 5.83 hours Somewhere along the line, I saw that this book won the Man Booker International Prize this year and put it on my “to read” list on Overdrive. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, other than perhaps a little bit of comedy, considering the title is a basic setup for a joke’s punchline. In that sense, the book delivered on that premise by being about a stand-up comedian in a nightclub giving his routine to the audience. I did not expect, however, the deeper subtext about the character and his relation to the narrator. It’s in this subtext where we find the meat of this story. It has often been said that “Sometimes all you can do is laugh to keep yourself from crying.” A Horse Walks into a Bar epitomizes this statement by blending serious subjects like cancer, death, and the Holocaust with a smattering of jokes, physical comedy,...
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BOOK: The Lost Symbol (2009)

The Lost Symbol Year: 2009 Author: Dan Brown Length: 1,067 minutes / 17.78 hours After Dan Brown’s previous entries in the Robert Langdon series had covered the Illuminati and the Catholic Church, respectively, his next target in The Lost Symbol was the Masons. Unfortunately, as both National Treasure (2004) and its sequel, National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007), were released before this book came out, the setting and concept seemed derivative in The Lost Symbol. Especially with the focus on the Masons’ “treasure” for the better part of the book, I was half expecting the chase to be on a larger scale than just hopping from one Washington D.C. monument to the next as the puzzle unfolds. In a bit of a combination of Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol combines the exciting twists of uncovering the secrets of a Masonic pyramid with the pseudoscience of Noetics. Of course, the plot could have omitted everything about Noetics, and it would have stood just fine on its own, so I question why it...
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BOOK: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1994)

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle Year: 1994 Author: Haruki Murakami Length: 1,572 minutes / 26.2 hours A coworker of mine suggested this book to me a few months back. The title sounded interesting, so I put it on my Overdrive wish list and waited for it to become available. Both he and I have a somewhat thorough understanding of Japanese culture, so once I got into this book, I found myself imagining it as an anime. Of course, because The Wind-up Bird Chronicle was originally written in Japanese, there are plenty of cultural idiosyncrasies that might be hard to understand from a different cultural viewpoint. At times, the content is a bit weird, the sex awkward, and the violence strangely surgical. What was quite refreshing with the narrative in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, was its timelessness. Written in the early 1990’s and set in the mid-1980’s, only a few technological items (i.e. a land line, an early computer, etc.) haven’t held up well over time. Everything else...
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MOVIE: Logan (2017)

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

The LEGO Batman Movie Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours While The LEGO Movie (2014) did a good job of initially not making its universe seem like it was just in the imagination of a 10-year-old child, The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) dispenses with that illusion and goes full-bore into the child-like mind. From the dialogue to the wide variety of licensed characters to the regular “pew, pew pew” sounds made when guns and lasers are fired, The LEGO Batman Movie steps right into what you’d expect a movie about a children’s building toy would be. Of course, with Batman being one of the best characters from The LEGO Movie, it’s no wonder why he was first to get a spinoff film. Regarding plot, it was simplistic. Kids would certainly be able to “get” that family matters, even if they aren’t biologically related. But fear not adults, there’s plenty for you in this film as well. Perhaps the best mark of...
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BOOK: Tier One (2016)

Tier One Year: 2016 Author: Brian Andrews & Jeffrey Wilson Length: 402 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While violence, action, and excitement fill stories involving tactical military operations, one element of these stories that adds realism can also alienate unknowledgeable readers: jargon. I am fortunate to know enough of the terms and acronyms from my day job, but if a story like this needs an acronym and definitions list in the back, I can see it being difficult to get into for the casual reader. They might be able to push through it and make assumptions on what’s happening, but following the discussions helps the reader to understand the level of importance for each action. Of course, in this post-9/11 world, Islam has now taken the role of stereotypical “bad guy” that used to be held by the Nazis. I’m almost surprised by how many antagonists are Muslim in the books I read. From apocalyptic stories like Dark Ages: 2020 to science fiction novels...
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BOOK: The Zero (2006)

The Zero Year: 2006 Author: Jess Walter Length: 640 minutes / 10.67 hours I'll be honest and say that I had no idea what this book was about before I started listening to it. Once I got into it, I could clearly see how the title and cover image related to the story at hand. It's interesting to think that a mere five years after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, a book like this could be written. Of course, there is plenty of highly descriptive language that helps to cement the story to the reality of the tragedy. That being said, there are many situations in the plot that feel quite cynical, if not downright dark in their humor. Perhaps it's this mixture of the absurd and the tragic that gives The Zero its interest. I did find the memory gaps experienced by the main character to be an interesting literary device, especially in their transitions. For the main character to have a series of...
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BOOK: Smoke and Mirrors (2012)

Smoke and Mirrors Year: 2012 Author: Neil Gaiman Length: 636 minutes / 10.6 hours As someone who has to read many short story submissions for the anthology my writing group puts together each year, I can appreciate a well-written short story. I have not read much of Neil Gaiman, but in his collection of anthology short stories, Smoke and Mirrors, I was able to see what kinds of stories a professional writer writes for an anthology. While quite a few stories were interesting, not all of them were necessarily in genres I typically read. Then again, I consider erotica and stories submitted to Hustler as pornography, which is why I do not read these kinds of short stories. Furthermore, it is a little more uncomfortable listening to erotica, as was the case with this audiobook. Fortunately, Gilbert Gottfried did not read it, but it still is uncomfortable to hear it nonetheless. Sure, the concepts in these short stories were somewhat interesting, but the sex ruined...
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BOOK: Opaque (2016)

Opaque Year: 2016 Author: Calix Leigh-Reign Length: 254 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While I eventually liked this book, it took a little getting used to. When you start a story with a deplorable main character, it makes you not want to continue reading. Honestly, I think the plot probably could have started closer to the halfway part, and reveal everything important after the fact or merely hint at it. You know, via a “show don’t tell” method. There’s a lot of “telling” in the first half of this book. Despite this, there is plenty of excellent character development in the second half to redeem the first half. What strikes me odd about this book is its classification as “Young Adult.” I usually consider early teens to be this genre's demographic, given the main characters are generally in that age range. Considering the graphic violence, excessive swearing, and questionable sexual content in the first section of this book, I wouldn’t let teenagers read...
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BOOK: The Crossing (2015)

The Crossing Year: 2015 Author: Michael Connelly Length: 564 minutes / 9.4 hours Having already blasted through the rest of the Mickey Haller series, I finally arrived at a book that didn't center around the defense lawyer. Instead, The Crossing follows Harry Bosch, Haller's half-brother (which we learned back in The Brass Verdict). I realize that Mickey Haller is merely a spin-off series from the main Harry Bosch series, so it was interesting to finally enter the main storyline of Connelly's longest-running character. Now I see that he writes Bosch books in third-person, as compared to Haller's first-person, which was why I was confused when the POVs switched in one of the previous books featuring both of them. Coming into this series at the twentieth book was a little jarring to me, but not entirely disorienting. There were plenty of references to previous books I had not read; but by the sounds of them, these predecessors were certainly exciting. What probably helped with my transition...
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MOVIE: Lion (2016)

Lion Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours Of this year's Best Picture Nominees, Lion (2016) is certainly one of the more . . . artistic ones. Heck, the title of the film wasn't clear until directly before the credits. In part due to the subject matter and the culture in which it takes place, this film can be hard to watch at times. The audience has to come to grips with the poverty and difficult living conditions present in India not only 25 years ago, but today as well. Perhaps it's my need to watch movies that help me to escape from these realities, but it was challenging to be shown such a stark view of another country's reality. While I understand that the larger, overarching message of the film is to bring to light the social issue of lost children in India, the more inspiring subplot had to do with adoption. Many couples have a lot of different reasons for...
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BOOK: The Starchild Compact (2014)

The Starchild Compact Year: 2014 Author: Robert G. Williscroft Length: 396 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** With the popularity of The Martian bringing hard science into the realm of science fiction, there has been a bit of a resurgence of including accurate science in near-term speculative fiction. On the one hand, the book must remain readable to a wide audience, so the science shouldn't bog down too much of the exposition. On the other hand, if some of the science is not explained, it can leave less scientifically educated readers in the dark about why certain aspects of the plot are the way they are. The Starchild Compact manages to succeed at balancing these two elements while also introducing some strictly non-scientific plot development. First, let me address the science presented in this book. Knowing enough about general relativity and current space travel technologies, Williscroft certainly knows his stuff. The challenges and hurdles to travel to the gas giants of our solar system, as well...
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MOVIE: Doctor Strange (2016)

Doctor Strange Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours See if you can guess this movie: goatee'd egomaniac finds himself in a life-changing situation in a foreign land that makes him question everything he's ever stood for and become a superhero in the process. If you guessed Iron Man (2008), you'd certainly be close. No, this familiar plot is none other than the visually extreme Doctor Strange. I understand Marvel has a bigger plot in mind when they do these lesser-known heroes; but lately, it almost seems like they're just phoning it in. Doctor Strange merely feels like filler to get to Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018). I will give Marvel this much: they do know how to cast a film. Benedict Cumberbatch does a superb job at portraying the eponymous Dr. Strange, fused with enough gravitas and humor to make watching him a joy. And while many will question Tilda Swinton's role as The Ancient One, especially considering...
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BOOK: The Reversal (2010)

The Reversal Year: 2010 Author: Michael Connelly Length: 693 minutes / 11.55 hours After two novels of Mickey Haller defending guilty scumbags, Michael Connelly changes it up with The Reversal. Not only does the title refer to the reversal of a 24-year old conviction, but also to the main character’s swap over to the prosecution. While there seems to have been a book between this one and The Brass Verdict, I have a feeling it was mostly about Harry Bosch, since the hinted details in this book give me a good idea of what happened and it didn’t change the last reference point of Mickey Haller. Now that these two main characters were tied together in this case, one of the issues I had with this book was how often it switched between first and third person POVs. Perhaps I was too used to the story being told from Mickey Haller’s perspective and there was so much that happened outside of his direct involvement that...
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BOOK: The Brass Verdict (2008)

The Brass Verdict Year: 2008 Author: Michael Connelly Length: 681 minutes / 11.35 hours Another book, another trial for the Lincoln Lawyer. While I appreciated the stand-alone nature of this book, I also liked that knowledge of the events in the first book of this sub-series helped to provide context for the challenges Mickey Haller now faces. The main case of this novel was pretty predictable, especially if you read into the insinuation of the title. I would have liked a little more attention on the side-case surrounding the death of Haller’s lawyer colleague. It seemed to be more of a Harry Bosch story, though, so I can understand why the focus was on Haller’s case. Once again, Michael Connelly creates an easily readable series of events that unfold in the courtroom. Some twists at the end were exciting developments but were definitely easily guessed if the reader was paying attention. There’s almost a guilty pleasure in following Haller along as he embeds that reasonable doubt...
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BOOK: Esper Files 2 – Sky Cult (2017)

Esper Files 2: Sky Cult Year: 2017 Author: Egan Brass Length: 187 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** It has been said before that there are no original thoughts. The way to appear original is dependent upon how well you can hide your sources. One of my qualms with the Esper Files series from the beginning has been that it feels very derivative. Right from the get-go, I felt the series was essentially just an X-Men clone set in the steampunk genre. While this was an interesting concept, too much of it was pulled from the popular franchise, making it a bit distracting. In the sequel, Esper Files 2: Sky Cult, a few more references were worked in to help make the characters and story feel a bit more original. I picked up tones of anime like Fairy Tail and One Piece in this story, but I also picked up another blatantly obvious reference: Deadpool. Sure, I get it, he’s a fun character to...
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MOVIE: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Hacksaw Ridge Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours For many years, Mel Gibson has been at the center of controversies and other unwelcome attention-grabbing incidents. While this normally kills any actor's chances of reviving their careers, Gibson has instead managed to remain somewhat unscathed by retreating into his other skill: directing. As we've seen from some of his other directorial efforts, he is skilled behind the lens, even if many themes remain the same. From Braveheart (1995) to The Passion of the Christ (2004), Gibson has a tendency to be pretty brutal in the imagery he brings to the screen. Granted, this is partly due to the semi-factual source material. In his latest work after a long hiatus, Gibson brings us the brutality that is World War II. Hacksaw Ridge takes some time to get to its emotional center, but the unfortunate side effect of this is a series of characters that feel almost comical in their exaggerations. From Andrew Garfield's goofily...
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BOOK: Esper Files (2016)

Esper Files Year: 2016 Author: Egan Brass Length: 221 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** Last year I wrote a short story entitled "Ironed Man" that I submitted to an anthology with the theme "Steampunk Superheroes." While my story didn't make the cut, clearly the idea already has merit as shown in Egan Brass' Esper Files. Just like my "Jurassic Manor" short story was a series of tongue-in-cheek references to the film, Jurassic Park (1993), "Ironed Man" was an alt-genre parody of the Iron Man franchise. I can only assume that Esper Files decided to do the same thing and merely put X-Men in steampunk form. If you like X-Men, you'll probably like this book. Despite many of the characters and trappings feeling like they were pulled from an X-Men fan fiction, the story still has some merit. What I found impressive about the narrative were the action scenes. I know how difficult it can be to write fight scenes with lots of supernatural...
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BOOK: Unstoppable (2015)

Unstoppable Year: 2015 Author: Bill Nye Length: 651 minutes / 10.85 hours I grew up on Bill Nye’s science show on PBS. I appreciated his straightforward approach to teaching science to children that was both informative and humorous. Possibly in part due to this, I now find myself with a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and employed in a very technical field. I also find myself writing books which are surreptitiously educational, hoping that the entertainment value of my writing will subtly inspire people to learn more about science. Consequently, merely based on the author of this book, I was interested in reading it, despite the somewhat vague and ambiguous title. While there was plenty of very interesting material presented in this book, much of it I had already known about by keeping up with the technological advances of the world today, I felt like its order was a little off. Right from the get-go, Nye hammers home that global climate change is a problem....
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MOVIE: Rogue One (2016)

Rogue One Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours Years ago, when Disney acquired Lucasfilm, I had worried that they would ruin one of the most beloved sci-fi franchises ever to grace the big screen. That being said, Lucasfilm’s prequel trilogy showed us all how it could happen. Around the same time, I started to notice the quality of Disney’s animated fare was drastically improving, even outpacing Pixar. The proof to finally win me over was the way they have expertly handled the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With all this in mind, I was curious how this side-story to the main Star Wars saga would play out. First off, anyone worth their salt in nerd-cred knows that the original Star Wars is based off samurai films. Gareth Edwards (who directed the Godzilla (2014) reboot) certainly made this influence obvious in Rouge One, especially in the opening sequence and with the inclusion of a Zatoichi-like blind swordsman. At this point, all he needed was...
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BOOK: Half Share (2007)

Half Share Year: 2007 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 252 pages Well . . . that escalated quickly. In the previous book of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, I found the plot to be engaging and well-paced, despite the naïveté of the main protagonist. Ishmael Wong seemed to be a bit lacking in his romantic knowledge, sometimes oblivious of obvious euphemisms. For a kid of only 18 who really only spent time with his mother, I can understand how he might not know these things. It was the one thing I found a little unbelievable in Quarter Share, but boy did Half Share make up for it. Some of the plot felt a little formulaic and procedural by this point in the saga, which was good in the sense that it continued the realism and engagement of its predecessor. However, this also meant that there wasn’t as much progression of the sub-plots and minor characters like there was in Quarter Share. This book...
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MOVIE: Finding Dory (2016)

Finding Dory Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 97 minutes / 1.62 hours As is the case with the rest of Hollywood right now, Pixar is cashing in on the nostalgia factor of their previous films. Just like Monsters University (2013) before it, Finding Dory (2016) brings together the same team of voice actors who brought their respective originals to life more than a decade ago. And while this sequel was more akin to the likes of Toy Story 2 (1999), the amount of time between the two films really gives Pixar the chance to show off how much the power of computers has advanced in that time. Unfortunately, while the visual style has been drastically updated, the plot has not. In its purest essence, Finding Dory is just like Finding Nemo (2003): a fish separated from its parent tries to find their way back home while the parent does everything in their power to find their child. I would have liked a bit more originality from...
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MOVIE: Get Smart (2008)

Get Smart Year: 2008 Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours While film adaptations of television shows aren't new, Get Smart (2008) was certainly in the era when the idea to do so had become popular (even if we're still trying to forget Bewitched (2005)). What's nice about Get Smart is that it falls into that "self-aware" category, mainly because the source material (i.e. the 1960's TV show of the same name) was already self-aware when it came to the "spy" genre made popular by James Bond. Of course, it's no wonder that the king of parody, Mel Brooks was involved in both the TV show and this film adaptation. Of course, while the humor was more bathroom-oriented than witty, many of Carell's lines played off of the amusing nature of taking everything literally. Also, the bumbling nature of his new field agent character, Maxwell Smart, was certainly entertaining (as it is clearly Carell's forté), even if it was abandoned at times to advance the plot through...
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MOVIE: Now You See Me 2 (2016)

Now You See Me 2 Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours Sometimes the enjoyment of a particular film almost guarantees I’ll go to see the sequel. Now You See Me 2 (2016) is no exception. I really liked Now You See Me (2013) because the genres of “magic” and “heist” merge so easily together. Now three years later, and I certainly looked forward to this sequel, despite not knowing how the plot could advance any further than it had at the end of the first film. While the sequel did not disappoint, with numerous illusions, plenty of action, and loads of comedy, it felt like it was the same old gimmick as the original. Sure, there was a little more exploration into “the Eye”, but most of the plot of the second film centered on the consequences of the robberies from the first film (almost weighing it down, in my opinion). The addition of Daniel Radcliffe as a winking nod to...
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BOOK: Go Set a Watchman (2015)

Go Set a Watchman Year: 2015 Author: Harper Lee Length: 399 minutes / 6.65 hours Part of the problem of releasing a sequel to a beloved book 55 years later is a lot of other books have been written in between them. Consequently, there have been successful books written with some of the exact same plot and motifs, thus making the sequel feel like a rip-off instead of the other way around. In the case of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, I found myself drawing plenty of comparisons to Kathryn Stockett’s The Help (2009). While I felt the timeframe of Go Set a Watchman to be somewhat ambiguous, most of the similarities between it and The Help were in their heroines. Both were southern-born-and-raised women who smoked, were outsiders, and weren’t going to stand for racism. And while the main character of The Help did something about it, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch merely fell apart at the realization that everyone around her, including her...
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MOVIE: X2 (2003)

X2 Year: 2003 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours I’ve often held that the sequel of a superhero film is better than the original. Most superhero film franchises start out with an origin story, so by the time the second film comes around, all the “exposition” is out of the way and the heroes can really take on some powerful villains. However, since X-Men (2000) didn’t have much of an origin story, its sequel, X2 is almost relegated to the fate of a “flashback” sequel. Still, the darker tone does help set it apart from its predecessor, which is nice. Granted, the choice of exploring Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) past was a good one, considering the strength of the character. Heck, he got two more movies outside the main X-Men saga, so clearly he’s a fan favorite. What’s nice about the superhero sequel is that most comic book story arcs are short enough that they can be incorporated into a single film. In this...
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MOVIE: Insurgent (2015)

Insurgent Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours If The Hunger Games has given us anything from this uprising of Young Adult film adaptations, it's that each successive film is released in each successive year. There's no waiting for years for the next part of the trilogy to come out, only to have characters cast differently. The Divergent series is no different, but still stands in the shadow of its Hunger Games predecessor. This time around, we get the pleasure of Robert Schwentke directing the post-apocalyptic action. With his previous films like RED (2010) and The Time Traveler's Wife (2009), it's clear he can handle action as much as he can romance. While the action is excellent, the romance seemed to be a little lacking. Having read this book after watching the film, the plots start to diverge a bit (ha ha, get it?) almost in part due to the removal of the more sexually-charged relationship between Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James). Since the...
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MOVIE: The Nice Guys (2016)

The Nice Guys Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours I'll be honest that the trailer for this film is the main reason I went to go see it. The few bits revealed in it definitely painted a picture of a smart and funny film. The pairing of Ryan Gosling with Russell Crowe was an interesting one, but definitely works on the "buddy cop" adventure level. While Gosling had almost every funny line, the action brought to the film via Crowe's slightly heavier form really helped to balance things out. The full film definitely delivered on what the trailer had to offer. With dialogue that comes fast and full of quips, I was laughing throughout most of this film. It almost has a "self-aware" feel to it, as each failed piece of the investigation would have normally led to the next logical step. As it is rated R, it unfortunately has an incredible amount of questionable material, including plenty of nudity (as...
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