MOVIE: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (2023)

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & SnakesYear: 2023Rating: PG-13Length: 157 minutes / 2.61 hours I think it's hard to appreciate how The Hunger Games movies did a decent job of adapting the source material for the big screen while not evolving into a behemoth of a franchise. That Suzanne Collins made it clear that there was only the three books, and she didn't want to do anything else until she was ready was a welcome change from an entertainment industry that likes to squeeze as much money out of popular things as fast as possible. With this in mind, I can applaud The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (2023) for being respectful of the original trilogy while also trying to expand the narrative in prequel form. While not a completely necessary prequel, it was still interesting to see how early versions of the Hunger Games were run. Of course, our knowledge of how they eventually evolve into something worse is...
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BOOK: Exit Strategy (2018)

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

Bullshit Jobs: A TheoryYear: 2018Author: David GraeberLength: 759 minutes / 12.65 hours Every so often, I read a non-fiction book so eye opening that it continues to stay with me long after reading it. These are the books that point a light at something so obvious that I have to wonder why I didn't see it that way before. And perhaps these are the best non-fiction books because they can pull an entrenched mind out of the status quo to look at the system surrounding it with an entirely new perspective. Bullshit Jobs is one of these books for me. I've been fortunate to have worked at a job that I like for about 15 years now. But even within these comfortable confines, I see much of what Graeber talks about when he refers to these so-called bullshit jobs. It's present in the bureaucracy, the middle managers, and the micro managers. That almost all jobs today have some element of BS in...
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BOOK: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Year: 2007 Author: Junot Diaz Length: 960 minutes / 16.00 hours I picked up this book because it was on a list of Pulitzer Prize winners and I figured that was a good enough metric to give it a shot. I was not disappointed. Told from a few different perspectives, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a fantastic look into the lives of Dominican Americans. I could tell the author was writing from deeply personal experiences, and the result was riveting. There's a lot I don't know about the Dominican culture, but I felt this book was an eye-opening look into their history. Told as personal anecdotes from the characters, it was wild to see the effects of living under a dictator. However, even once someone escaped from that oppression, life in America wasn't an easy walk in the park either. The effects of racism might not be as bad as having your daughters sold to...
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VIDEO GAME: Gato Roboto (2019)

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

RenfieldYear: 2023Rating: RLength: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours Sometimes, a movie comes along that has a fun concept and delivers on it. Renfield (2023) asks, “What if Dracula’s servant realizes his boss is toxic?” With all the modern progress that’s been made in worker’s rights, this ridiculous combination is just hilarious enough to work. There’s a lot of lore surrounding Dracula, so a story that’s set in the present time plays the contrasts for laughs. That this movie is even canonically connected to Dracula (1931) makes it feel like a heartfelt sequel to its almost 100-year-old predecessor. The two actors who make this movie work are none other than Nicholas Cage (Dracula) and Nicholas Hoult (Renfield). Cage basically (and almost literally) gnaws on the scenery as he’s allowed to ham it up as the iconic monster. Hoult has shown he has great acting talent in recent movies like The Favourite (2018) and The Menu (2022). Renfield shows he knows how to play...
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MOVIE: The Shining (1980)

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

Ocean's ElevenYear: 2001Rating: PG-13Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours While I usually agree with people who say that remakes are worse than the originals, Ocean's Eleven (2001) is an exception. Not only did it bring the same amount of star power that made the original stand out, but it had a heist that was much more entertaining and compelling than its predecessor. Having re-watched it recently, I found it still stands up over 20 years later, even if it's starting to show its early-2000 edges. I still think it's a classic that works because of its complexity and scale. It's impressive how there are so many big names in this movie, yet they all have their room to shine. There's a reason many of them are still making great movies today, and their talent is on full display here. And perhaps the collective charisma of this all-star cast makes the heist they pull off so thrilling. Sure, I already knew how they...
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MOVIE: Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours While I’ve never quite been fully on board with the works of Alex Garland, I recognize there’s something about his movies that makes me want to see them, eventually. I appreciated his approach to Artificial Intelligence in Ex Machina (2014), but it took a while for me to get around to his next work, Annihilation (2018). His style of science fiction borders on horror, but more importantly, it emphasizes one philosophical question in particular. What makes us human? Instead of exploring the Turing Test as he did in Ex Machina, Annihilation focuses on the larger scale of the universe to answer this question. Even if it takes a while to establish all the exposition, Annihilation does its best work in unraveling the mystery surrounding the return of Kane (Oscar Isaac). Most of this is done once the main character, Lena (Natalie Portman) arrives in the anomaly and can explore the bizarre alien effects on...
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MOVIE: Castle in the Sky (1986)

Castle in the Sky Year: 1986 Rating: PG Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours Having only seen a handful of Hayao Miyazaki films, I finally got around to some of his earlier works. Castle in the Sky (1986) might not seem special by today’s standards, but in the era when it was released, I’m sure it was quite a bold statement. As a steampunk-styled adventure, there’s a lot in this movie that has since been copied and adapted into other works (case in point, my younger brother noticed that it’s almost an identical plot to Mega Man Legends which came out a decade later). As Miyazaki’s third film, Castle in the Sky sees many of his established visual styles and themes (like flying girls) that he has used in many of his following projects. Even with a relatively simple plot, the gorgeous animated visuals are always a major draw for Miyazaki movies like this. There’s a charm that’s hard to describe, but it’s there in...
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BOOK: Bone, Vol. 1 – Out from Boneville (2005)

Bone, Vol. 1: Out from Boneville Year: 2005 Author: Jeff Smith Length: 138 pages Bone is one of those comics I’ve always been aware of but haven’t gotten around to reading until now. It’s interesting how the visual style of the titular characters evokes an older style of comics, while the other characters in the world feel more modern. The storytelling runs at a pretty fast pace that kept me turning the pages to see what happens next. There’s some pretty good humor here, as well as tense situations to keep it from becoming too silly. I can definitely see the appeal and why it’s been a notable comic since its origins in the early 1990s. My only qualm with this book has to do with the main characters. The three “Bones” feel out of place in the fantasy realm, let alone our world. It also took me a while to distinguish visually between Fone Bone and Phoney Bone, which was only aided because this...
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MOVIE: Barbie (2023)

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

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

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

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

Song of Susannah Year: 2004 Author: Stephen King Length: 822 minutes / 13.70 hours Six books into the Dark Tower series, and I'm glad that things are wrapping up. I felt Wolves of the Calla was only as good as it was because it was clearly a ripoff of The Magnificent Seven (1960). And with so many of the books in this series focusing on the men of the ka-tet, it was nice to get a book that mostly focused on Susannah's experiences. A lot of weird stuff happened in this book, but at least it laid the groundwork for the last entry in the series. Perhaps the weirdest part of this book was its meta-narrative with Stephen King. I was a little surprised this fourth-wall-breaking move worked as well as it did. Then again, King clearly hinted that this was a possibility in the previous book in the series. Author self-inserts usually take the form of the main character living out the author's fantasies....
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BOOK: A River Runs Through It (1976)

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

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish Year: 2022 Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours It's honestly been so long since there have been any movies from the Shrek franchise. I had almost forgotten Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022) was a sequel to a spinoff that came out 11 years ago. Animation has changed a lot in that time, and this movie shows that traditional CGI animated fare is now following a much different look. Even with the change in animation style, The Last Wish excels at the thing that made the Shrek movies great: unique takes on well-known fairy tales. It surprised me how dark parts of this film were, considering its target audience. When the titular character has to come to terms with his own mortality in the form of death as a deadly sickle-wielding wolf, it gets perhaps a bit too scary for younger children. Sure, there are comic relief characters like Perrito (Harvey Guillén) to lighten the mood....
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MOVIE: Nimona (2023)

Nimona Year: 2023 Rating: PG Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours It's funny how I initially read about Nimona (2023) as an upcoming animated film on Netflix, which inspired me to read the graphic novel, which itself made me watch the animated film when it came out. And while the movie was good, it was missing some of what made the graphic novel great. But that's always going to be the challenge of adapting a book into a movie. Using the source material as inspiration helped make this film a tight story that works for the medium. Sure, I would have liked to have seen an animated film in the distinctive style of the graphic novel. The emotions and climax didn't have enough time to get deep enough—like they did on the printed page. Still, I can accept that movies like The Shining (1980), Ready Player One (2018), and Nimona are distinct and different, but just as good as the books they're based on. An...
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VIDEO GAME: Hue (2016)

Hue Year: 2016 Rating: E Time Played: 270 minutes / 4.50 hours The strength of a 2-D puzzle platformer boils down to how well its gimmick works. In this genre, you move from point A to point B and collect items in tough spots for an added challenge. It's how BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! works, and it's how Gris works. If the puzzle aspect is lacking, then the game just becomes a platformer. And making an interesting platformer is its own challenge. Fortunately, Hue has a well-done puzzle gimmick. Using colors to solve puzzles also gave this game a natural difficulty curve that was satisfying to complete. I'll applaud Hue for having some semblance of a plot that explains why changing the colors of the background is the main mechanic. I'm not wild about the student falling in love with her professor, though. It's also obvious that these sections of exposition could have easily been edited out since they occur in corridors that are just long...
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MOVIE: Borat (2006)

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

Solutions and Other Problems Year: 2020 Author: Allie Brosh Length: 519 pages My first introduction to Allie Brosh's work—as I'm sure is the case for many—was the "all the things" meme. For those looking for more depth from these drawings, look no further than the humorous illustrated memoir, Solutions and Other Problems. I have never quite read a book like this. When I picked it up off the shelf, I was expecting a graphic novel, only to be surprised with big chunks of text between illustrations. Clearly, the best of both worlds here. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll be glad you read this book. While it might be easy to discount the simple drawing style at first glance, many illustrations in this book prove to be quite exquisite. The stories themselves, which are not all silly or humorous, aid this distinction. Solutions and Other Problems subverted my expectations by being both hilarious and deeply profound. I've never read a book that had both a story...
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MOVIE: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 (2023)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 Year: 2023 Rating: PG-13 Length: 150 minutes / 2.50 hours Ever since the original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), it felt like this corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was left to do its own thing. These movies didn't have many cameos or connections to the larger MCU except for introducing characters who fought in the Avengers films. Perhaps because of this level of separation from the core MCU, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies have felt more stable tonally than the rest of the MCU films. You can probably thank James Gunn for that. While I consider the first Guardians movie to be one of the best superhero (or even sci-fi) films ever made, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017) diving into Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) origins wasn't quite up to snuff. And while Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 (2023) is another origin story, it felt more impactful than its predecessor. After all, the one...
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MOVIE: Léon – The Professional (1994)

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

Alba: A Wildlife AdventureYear: 2020Rating: ETime Played: 193 minutes / 3.22 hours As I go through my backlog of free games I received from the Epic Games store, I've been trying to find games I can play with my daughter. Alba: A Wildlife Adventure seemed like it would be a good fit for us to play together, and It certainly was. Alba is a fairly simple game and doesn't take that long to play all the way through. In fact, I 100% cleared the game in the almost three-and-a-half hours we played together. Set on an Iberian island, Alba follows the adventures of the titular character who is spending some of her summer with her grandparents. With her handy smartphone, Alba must collect pictures of all the different wildlife on the island, filling up a digital field guide in the process. Along the way, Alba must help clean up the island and repair the wildlife preserve that was closed after a suspicious...
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MOVIE: The Northman (2022)

The NorthmanYear: 2022Rating: RLength: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours Robert Eggers doesn’t have many films under his belt, but he already has a bit of a cult following for his bizarre movies. Films like The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019) are distinct by themselves. However, these movies certainly have a psychological aspect that might leave certain viewers scratching their heads. Taking a more traditional storytelling approach, The Northman (2022) still has elements that make it distinctly a Robert Eggers film. It leans heavily on a plot that’s familiar to most high school English students, however. While it’s certainly less thought-provoking than his previous works, it’s perhaps what makes The Northman the most approachable of his filmography. Disguised behind the Norse setting, The Northman is basically Hamlet. Most of the story beats are similar to the Shakespearean play. That is, except that the duel between a man and his usurping and murdering uncle was much more epic in this movie. Considering the...
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MOVIE: John Wick – Chapter 4 (2023)

John Wick: Chapter 4Year: 2023Rating: RLength: 169 minutes / 2.17 hours One thing I can appreciate with a franchise like John Wick is how it knew when and how to end. Some franchises seem to think that they have something significant to add even if the ninth entry in their long-running universe was the same plot as the previous eight. And while I had lost some of my faith in the John Wick franchise as it became more ridiculous with each iteration, perhaps my low standards made this last entry in the franchise that much better. John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023) was a fitting and classy end to a set of movies that re-defined the action genre. I loved the simplicity and steady, fast-paced choreography of John Wick (2014), but the world-building in John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) and John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019) started adding too many things that complicated the base elements of what made the first movie...
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MOVIE: Glass Onion (2022)

Glass Onion: A Knives Out MysteryYear: 2022Rating: PG-13Length: 139 minutes / 2.31 hours Hollywood has woefully underutilized the mystery genre for some time. It probably doesn’t help that there aren’t a lot of mysteries being written that have been adapted to the big screen. The two modern examples that come to mind are Gone Girl (2014) and The Girl on the Train (2016) but they’re darker than the classic mysteries by Agatha Christie. That Hollywood is still releasing movies based on Christie’s works (like Murder on the Orient Express (2017)) or Christie-adjacent works (like See How They Run (2022)) shows there’s a desire for ensemble-based mysteries. Glass Onion (2022) is the breath of fresh air in this somewhat stagnant genre. I’m glad that Knives Out (2019) did well enough to warrant a sequel with Daniel Craig’s fantastic character, Benoit Blanc. Glass Onion takes that same humor and applies it in a biting satire against the hyper-wealthy and “influencer” types that all need...
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VIDEO GAME: Sable (2021)

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

Women Talking Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Some conversations are difficult. Things that people in power want to be covered up are often the conversations that need to happen the most. And while revealing these topics to the public is a great way to raise awareness, sometimes the most impactful way to effect change is to band together. A unified front against an egregious sin does more than merely asking those in power to stop. Women Talking (2022) takes on the heavy topic of sexual assault and makes it a not-so-simple conversation about what to do in a helpless situation. While I feel She Said (2022) received more visibility, the heaviness of the circumstances of these Mennonite women hit significantly harder. Granted, neither film really captured the tension the way Spotlight (2015) did. It's great that movies like this are coming out, despite being heavy topics that require introspection into the systems that enable them. Heck, even Promising Young Woman...
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VIDEO GAME: Portal (2007)

Portal Year: 2007 Rating: T Time Played: 3 hours When it comes to video game mechanics, it feels like most of the foundational concepts were born in the early years and merely perfected over time. The endless puzzle possibilities of Tetris. The platforming of Super Mario Bros. The first-person-shooter perspective of Doom. It still amazes me that a game made in 2007 could combine these foundational elements of video games into something truly original. Portal is more than its gameplay, though, which is part of what makes its story so iconic—enough to be part of some of the earliest memes. While the length of this game makes it feel more like a tech demo, the gradual reveal of the game's story adds some heft to its impact. As the player slowly uncovers the reality of their situation and the insanity of the expertly written GLaDOS, the portal mechanics become less about solving puzzles and more about trying to survive. That the one-sided banter of the...
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MOVIE: NOPE (2022)

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

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

Cars 2Year: 2011Rating: GLength: 106 minutes / 1.35 hours If anyone asks me for my unpopular movie opinion, they're likely going to hear that I think Cars 2 (2011) is the best entry in the Cars trilogy. While it still doesn't hold a candle to the superior works that Pixar released before it, Cars 2 took a risk by adapting the spy genre to its kid-friendly films. I was never much of a fan of NASCAR-style racing, so pushing these characters into worldwide Grand Prix races felt much more exciting to me. Still, I can see why some didn't like this pivot. As with most of the Cars movies, I never cared much for Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). The forced comedic relief always felt like it was based on how cringe-worthy they could make the character. Unfortunately, Mater had a much larger role in this movie, which only marginally worked because of how it felt like The Man Who Knew Too...
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MOVIE: Avatar – The Way of Water (2022)

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

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

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

The Wind Through the Keyhole Year: 2012 Author: Stephen King Length: 627 minutes / 10.45 hours Backstory can often be a difficult element to work into a series. To keep the action in the present and moving forward, there’s rarely time to go into the background of the characters, let alone the main character of the series. This is why side stories like Fairest and The Wind Through the Keyhole exist. There’s a subtle need to explore the troubled past of a main character, but to get into the depth of their backstory requires a significant amount of words that won’t fit into already full books in the main series. In The Wind Through the Keyhole, Stephen King lets the reader see the origins of Roland the Gunslinger. What’s interesting here is that King does so in a series of nested stories, almost evoking something from Inception (2010) or Cloud Atlas. After all, a single story hardly affects real people but is instead a string...
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MOVIE: Quantum of Solace (2008)

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

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

Casino Royale Year: 2006 Rating: PG-13 Length: 144 minutes / 2.40 hours For almost 40 years, the adaptation of the first book in Ian Flemming's James Bond franchise was a parody of the action movie the Bond films had become. Even with only four movies in the Bond franchise released at the time, Casino Royale (1967) made fun of all the goofy gadgets, girls, and guns that were staples of Flemming's works. Fortunately, when it was time to reboot the character with Daniel Craig, Casino Royale (2006) received the remake it truly deserved. Cut down to its base elements and filmed in a more modern style, Casino Royale is a much grittier take on the Bond franchise that lets the action set-pieces and skillful spy-craft take center stage. Sure, there are still Bond girls here, but this time there's a deeper connection with characters like Eva Green's Vesper Lynd (which you can take much more seriously than characters named "Pussy Galore"). It then comes as...
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MOVIE: She Said (2022)

She Said Year: 2022 Rating: R Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours After the gripping Best Picture winner Spotlight (2015) brought to light the struggles of journalists to expose systemic sexual abuse in our society, it's a little sad that the somewhat similar She Said (2022) hasn't gotten the same amount of attention. And perhaps that's just highlighting the continuation of the issue at hand: sexual assault rampant throughout the Hollywood film industry. One wonders if this introspective piece would have done better without Spotlight's shadow looming over it or the movie industry wanting to continue to silence the voice of these women. She Said has plenty of gripping moments where women put their entire careers on the line to become named sources to out the deplorable practices of producers like Harvey Weinstein. The trouble is, the whole movie plays out quite similarly to how Spotlight did seven years ago. If you want to see more thrilling investigative journalism that brings to light the abuse...
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VIDEO GAME: Picross 3D – Round 2 (2016)

Picross 3D: Round 2Year: 2016Rating: ETime Played: 3,310 minutes / 51.17 hours When I bought Picross 3D, I assumed it was a 3D game for the Nintendo 3DS. While I still enjoyed the three-dimensional gameplay of that Nintendo DS game, I knew the capabilities of the 3DS would easily enhance the puzzles presented in such a game. Fortunately, the developers of the first game came out with a sequel for the 3DS. Picross 3D: Round 2 is basically the same game as Picross 3D, except that you get to see the finished puzzles with the Nintendo 3DS stereoscopic top screen once you've completed them. This sequel has an additional facet to the gameplay that the first game did not possess. While Picross 3D was more or less a standard extrapolation of Picross, this game introduced two colors into the gameplay. Blue blocks are solid, and yellow blocks are corners or other edges that round out the puzzle you're solving. This allowed for...
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VIDEO GAME: Pistol Whip (2019)

Pistol Whip Year: 2019 Rating: T Time Played: 4+ hours While Beat Saber likely convinced many people to jump into owning a Virtual Reality (VR) headset, it should be noted that it is hardly the only music rhythm game out there. Now, imagine if you mashed the rhythm game portion of Beat Saber with the polygon-person shoot-'em-up action of SUPERHOT. The result is Pistol Whip, a full-body workout with great songs and visceral reactions to being shot (and shooting your enemies). With so much free content released for this game, you'd almost be stupid to not get it—even if you already own Beat Saber. Before some of the later updates, Pistol Whip had the same problem most VR music rhythm games have: boring or repetitive backgrounds. Each song would play, and you'd only focus on the beats you need to hit to progress to the end of the level. However, with the "western" and "sci-fi" updates, there's at least some variety in the scenery as...
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BOOK: The Heroine’s Journey (2020)

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

Walkabout Mini Golf Year: 2020 Rating: E Time Played: 4+ hours It's funny how Virtual Reality (VR) can encapsulate both the most banal things (a la Job Simulator) and the most fantastic (a la Moss) almost in the same breath. The prime example of this fusion is in Walkabout Mini Golf. Most people have played mini golf, but few have done so on a space station or in a haunted castle. Sure, some better real-world courses work hard to bring that sense of fantasy, but rarely for more than a hole or two. In Walkabout Mini Golf, the gameplay feels fantastic. Mini golf in VR like this is fun, even if you have to sit through an entire course worth of holes in a particular theme (like a Pirate Island or Arizona). Sometimes, the physics might feel a little frustrating when trying to get a precise shot; but overall, the golf doesn't feel any worse than the golf mini-game from Wii Sports—which is a compliment....
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BOOK: Grave Peril (2001)

Grave Peril Year: 2001 Author: Jim Butcher Length: 378 pages The third book in the Dresden Files, Grave Peril continues the adventures of Chicago’s resident wizard as he takes on ghosts, godmothers, and ghoulish vampires. While it’s definitely an improvement from Fool Moon, Grave Peril still has some of the misogynistic flaws of the series’ titular character. On the plus side, we finally get to delve into deeper lore for the series. And we get Michael. He’s the best new character in this series and by far my favorite for many reasons—mainly because how he does things differently than Dresden. I’ll admit that it took me a while to get through this book, which felt odd considering the action was superb, the writing was proficient, and the story was thrilling. For some reason, I didn’t feel the motivation to continue reading and went weeks between picking it up and continuing. I think if I had read it all as quickly as possible, then it might...
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VIDEO GAME: Genshin Impact (2020)

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

The Bob's Burgers Movie Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours Let a television show get popular enough, and eventually, you'll see a movie get made of it. This is true for older shows like Get Smart (2008) as well as modern shows like Bob's Burgers. It seems that animated shows have finally "made it" when they get their first animated movie. South Park, The Simpsons, and SpongeBob SquarePants are among the ranks of well-known animated sitcoms that made the leap to the big screen. Now Bob's Burgers joins their ranks with The Bob's Burgers Movie (2022). The challenge for a 30-minute animated show expanding to a feature-length movie has always been the strength of its intertwining plotlines. For this movie, introducing an enormous sinkhole that's blocking the entrance to the restaurant ups the scale of normal shenanigans, especially on the first day of summer when people are ready to go out to eat. Add to this a murder mystery that the...
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MOVIE: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

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

Murder by Numbers Year: 2020 Rating: T Time Played: 35+ hours I haven't played many visual novel games, so it only figures that the first one I fully completed was also a nonogram (or picross) game. Murder by Numbers mixes the point-and-click adventure of a visual novel mystery with the blocky puzzle styling of nonograms. Divided into several "episodes," the player follows an actress who plays a detective on TV as she solves actual crimes with the help of a mysterious robot known as SCOUT. It's cute and the characters are pretty fun; however, there are a few things I would change. The most frustrating part about this game was how close I came to completing it 100%, only to find that I could not go back and find one puzzle I missed in one of the episodes and instead had to go through the entire episode again. Since the game gives you an update of how close to "S Rank" you are for each...
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BOOK: Supernova (2019)

Supernova Year: 2019 Author: Marissa Meyer Length: 992 minutes / 16.53 hours If there's one thing I appreciate about Marissa Meyer's writing, it's that she has a conclusive ending in three to four books. The Lunar Chronicles wrapped up everything nice and tight in four books, and the Renegades trilogy does the same thing with the last book, Supernova. After all, I enjoy reading a tight set of three or four books instead of a meandering series with dozens of entries. That being said, I wasn't a fan of the epilogue in this book, but at least everything else concluded in a way that made sense for the narrative arc of the whole trilogy. In the first two books of the Renegades trilogy, I had some assumptions about the big questions Meyer presented to the reader. Who really killed Adrian's mom? How would Nova eventually be found out? Who is Phobia? While Archenemies really hit it out of the park by introducing the moral gray...
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VIDEO GAME: Picross 3D (2010)

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

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On Year: 2021 Rating: PG Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours The documentary format is so ingrained as a genre of film that it can be quite easy to take the same visual style and plot structure and apply it to something that doesn't actually exist. In the case of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021), the audience gets a glimpse into this peculiar little creature named Marcel (Jenny Slate) who lives in an Airbnb with his grandmother—both of which are shells that have shoes and can talk. Equally charming and meta, this film is a cute piece of fluff. While I never saw the short films this movie was based on, they must have been significant enough at the time (roughly a decade ago) for me to feel like this was a familiar piece of media that I had somehow missed from my childhood. The stop-motion style of these small creatures helps to show the challenges they face...
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MOVIE: Enemy (2013)

Enemy Year: 2013 Rating: R Length: 91 minutes / 1.52 hours My first introduction to Denis Villeneuve was Prisoners (2013). This was an intense film, but even after seeing Sicario (2015), I didn't get hooked on his directing until Arrival (2016). What's interesting is that another Villeneuve film from 2013 evaded my radar until now. My film-loving friends made me aware of Enemy (2013), but I didn't get around to watching it until now. I'm glad I did. Seeing Villeneuve in the early stages of defining his style is fascinating, and Enemy certainly is more stylistic than Prisoners ever was, even if it felt like a student film at times. Of course, being one of Villeneuve's earlier films, Enemy has some rough edges. It's difficult to tell whether the source material influenced some of this film's weird choices, but it's the one thing that really prevents me from giving it a perfect score. Maybe cutting out the spider bits would have made Enemy more cohesive,...
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MOVIE: Top Gun – Maverick (2022)

Top Gun: Maverick Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours The COVID pandemic delayed the release of Top Gun: Maverick (2022) for a few years. Having only watched the original a few days prior to seeing this in the theaters, it was definitely worth the wait to see something like this on the big screen. The trailers only hinted at the spectacle that could be achieved over 35 years after the original wowed audiences with great fighter jet footage. That's not to say that this film doesn't lean heavily on its nostalgia—or plots that come strikingly close to other famous franchises. Part of the appeal of Top Gun (1986) was all the footage of fighter jet acrobatics. Most civilians never get to see these things outside an occasional air show, so there's an amount of awe involved when seeing what these marvels of modern engineering can do. Over three decades of advancements in cinematography allowed this sequel to surpass the original. Cockpit...
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VIDEO GAME: Lego Pirates of the Caribbean (2011)

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean Year: 2011 Rating: E10+ Time Played: ~25 hours I have to give props to Lego for making perhaps the best movie franchise video games that have ever existed. Sure, there were a few good Disney games for the SNES back in the day, but the scope of Lego's video game adaptations of famous film franchises makes any official video game adaptations of these movies pale in comparison. Sure, it's basically the same game over and over again with a different skin, but if it's a fun formula, why change it? Lego Pirates of the Caribbean may only cover the first four films in the franchise (which I'd consider a good thing), but it's certainly enough content to enjoy a solid playthrough. These games are fairly easy to get 100% completion on, and this one is no different. Gameplay is still the standard "collect items in each level" and "unlock upgrades and characters with studs" that most Lego video games had...
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BOOK: Renegades (2017)

RenegadesYear: 2017Author: Marissa MeyerLength: 1,018 minutes / 16.97 hours After having finished Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, it pleased me to learn that her next major series was about superheroes. After all, the fairy tale sci-fi retelling was great, but its source material always felt like it was for girls. Just like getting the choice of a girl's toy or a boy's toy in a Happy Meal, Renegades felt like it was meant for the guys. Obviously, I'm being a little facetious, as both series are definitely for all genders. The twist with this book is that the main character is a villain in a world filled with superheroes. Renegades feels like the pendulum swing away from the superhero purism that saturated the market with the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Shows like The Boys and Invincible—both of which started as comics themselves—bring up interesting thought experiments when questioning the legal and moral repercussions of superheroes in the real world. Renegades does...
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VIDEO GAME: LEGO Batman – The Videogame (2008)

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

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

The Batman Year: 2022 Rating: PG-13 Length: 176 minutes / 2.93 hours I am glad that society has reached the point where every new reboot of a comic book franchise does not require repeatedly rehashing the same origin story. Spider-man: Homecoming (2017) did this, and now The Batman (2022) can join its ranks. It's a good thing, too. At almost three hours long, The Batman takes its time exploring a side of Batman we rarely see: the detective. Perhaps now that he's solved this case, he can figure out where all the lights in Gotham City went? Either way, the aesthetic and style of this Matt Reeves reboot had me skeptical at first, but won me over by the end. After rolling my eyes at yet another reboot of a comic franchise that has seen five reboots since I've been born, I have to admit that this film felt the closest to being realistically feasible. The characters (brilliantly acted by Robert Pattinson, Jeffrey Wright, Colin...
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MOVIE: Ghostbusters – Afterlife (2021)

Ghostbusters: Afterlife Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours Hollywood nostalgia is a huge moneymaker for my generation. Movies we grew up loving like Star Wars (1977), Jurassic Park (1993), and Ghostbusters (1984) have all received "requels" in The Force Awakens (2015), Jurassic World (2015), and Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021). These movies act as sequels, reboots, and remakes that take advantage of years of movie-making technology that weren't available when the originals came out (even if the originals created amazing spectacles without excessive CGI). The question is: are these requels still entertaining? For Ghostbusters: Afterlife, I think it certainly did a better job than Ghostbusters (2016) did. While these types of films rely heavily on call-backs and recycled plots from the movies that came before them, that's part of what makes them fun nostalgia-fueled flicks. New characters can give a spark of something different, even if the story beats are still the same as before. Case in point: I absolutely loved Paul Rudd's...
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BOOK: Wolves of the Calla (2003)

Wolves of the Calla Year: 2003 Author: Stephen King Length: 1,563 minutes / 26.05 hours There comes a point when you've consumed enough stories that you notice similarities. Sure, there are common tropes applied to plots that make them seem similar, but what I'm talking about is when you're reading a book and immediately, you're like, "This is exactly like [FILL IN THE BLANK]." For me, the fifth book in the Dark Tower series, Wolves of the Calla, laid out its premise, and I instantly thought, "This is exactly like Seven Samurai (1954)." Fortunately, there was more to this book than this classic tale of villagers defending themselves with the help of skilled warriors. I will give credit to Stephen King for taking a well-known plot and adding enough sub-plots to distract from the fact that this book is the Dark Tower equivalent of The Magnificent Seven (1960). This is probably because these sub-plots are the driving force behind the main story arc of the...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokemon — White Version 2 (2012)

Pokémon White Version 2 Year: 2012 Rating: E Time Played: 2,857 minutes / 47.61 hours With the "soft reboot" of the Pokémon franchise in Generation V, a lot had changed about these games. Black and White were harder than before, and a whole new set of 150 Pokémon left some long-time fans (like myself) wondering when any of our favorites would appear in the game. The expectation for "enhanced" versions for each Generation was cemented by Pokémon Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, and Platinum. To then get a two-game split sequel in Pokémon Black and White Version 2 was a bit of a shock. Released only a year after its predecessor, White 2 learned a bit from the original White. Classic Pokémon had returned to Unova and weren't locked behind the post-game content. These games still had enhanced features like being able to catch legendaries from previous games—a welcome inclusion that has remained to this day. And while I had just played through White when I started...
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MOVIE: Drive My Car (2021)

Drive My CarYear: 2021Rating: UnratedLength: 179 minutes / 2.98 hours There are movies made to be entertaining, then there are movies that gaze into the soul of human existence and dare us to blink. Drive My Car (2021) is the latter. Grief is such a complex topic that few have successfully tackled it meaningfully or with the depth that this film does. It's slow, steady, and meandering through various subplots, but it eventually gets its point across in the most stoic ways possible. After all, it's challenging to grieve for someone who you know has wronged you. I am no stranger to three-hour-long foreign films, but even this one pushed my limits. The problem is, I'm not entirely sure what I would have cut from it to make it any shorter (although, they probably could have ended this film a little earlier since the last scene made little sense to me). All the subplots combine to make a meaningful statement of the...
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MOVIE: King Richard (2021)

King Richard Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 144 minutes / 2.40 hours It's a little surprising to see two critically acclaimed movies about talented children released in the same year. While CODA (2021) shows us what it's like to have a family who doesn't initially support a child's talents, King Richard (2021) highlights the amount of effort and sacrifice that dedicated parents give to their children when they recognize their talent early on. Granted, not every talented child with parental backing grows up to be extremely successful, let alone having this happen twice. And yet, Venus and Serena Williams are proof that it can happen. I found it odd how a movie that follows the early success of the Williams sisters focused so much on their father, Richard Williams (Will Smith), who made it happen by sheer determination and will. It makes sense considering how young these two prodigies were, but there's still a little sour taste to it, considering how their success was always...
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BOOK: Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011)

Thinking, Fast and Slow Year: 2011 Author: Daniel Kahneman Length: 1,202 minutes / 20.03 hours We all make choices. Every day, from the banal to the life-altering, we can break these choices down into two different ways of thinking. It's amazing to me how this psychological subject presented in Thinking, Fast and Slow is so intuitive, but so difficult to control. Daniel Kahneman does a superb job bringing this topic down to the layperson level with plenty of examples and quizzes to show the reader how we can literally change an impulsive decision into a logical one. Thinking, Fast and Slow opened my eyes to the two systems that influence every decision I make. The quick-thinking "System One" runs on emotions, whereas the slower "System Two" takes time to examine a situation thoroughly before deciding. The amazing thing about these systems is that sometimes the intuitive System One is correct—meaning that it can sometimes be easy to overthink a problem. What's even more fascinating is...
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VIDEO GAME: BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! (2019)

BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! Year: 2019 Rating: E Time Played: 511 minutes / 8.52 hours While I was aware of the BoxBoy! series of games on the Nintendo 3DS, I didn't try any of them until BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! released on the Switch. As a puzzle platformer, this game uses the most simple of mechanics in a variety of interesting ways. The cute little box characters were fun to control and none of the puzzles were ultimately impossible. The challenges definitely kept me playing all the way until the end, providing just enough mental stimulation to re-play levels immediately after clearing them. I rarely finish games completely anymore, but BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! had just enough in-game motivation for me to reach 100% in a mere 8.5 hours. It might lean heavier on the "puzzle" side of "puzzle platformer" but this just meant I had to think outside the box (ha ha) if I wanted to solve each level with the minimum number of blocks. I was...
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BOOK: Abaddon’s Gate (2013)

Abaddon's GateYear: 2013Author: James S. A. CoreyLength: 1,182 minutes / 19.7 hours I'll admit that watching the Expanse television show spoiled this book for me. I already knew what was going to happen, so there weren't too many surprises in this book because the show kept close to the source material. Even with this a priori knowledge going in, I found Abaddon's Gate to be my favorite book of the series so far. The plot felt like it was actually getting somewhere instead of just dancing on the edges of the important series arc that finally solidified in this book. Some of my favorite moments of the series were retained in the written form of this book, including the description of the first "sudden stop" when someone tried entering the alien portal. The human drama was also interesting because it wasn't entirely geopolitical but wove in elements of religious beliefs as well. It helped that the crew members of the Rocinante are...
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MOVIE: West Side Story (2021)

West Side Story Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 156 minutes / 2.60 hours I absolutely adore West Side Story (1961). When I heard it was being remade 60 years after it dominated the Academy Awards, I was skeptical. Why mess with perfection? Even with Steven Spielberg directing, I had my doubts. Then I watched the first trailer and had chills of nostalgia. Maybe it wouldn't be as bad as I thought. After finally watching West Side Story (2021), I had to admit that this remake mostly recaptured most of the magic of the original. It even had some improvements, which I appreciated. The qualms I had with this version of the hit Broadway musical were relatively minor. First, Spielberg has a visual style that sometimes went a little overboard on the lens flare. We aren't talking J. J. Abrams-levels of lens flare, but it was enough to be distracting. Second, the choice to have more of the Puerto Rican characters speak Spanish really helped sell...
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VIDEO GAME: Shadow Point (2019)

Shadow Point Year: 2019 Rating: E Time Played: ~7.5 hours One of the most underappreciated kinds of virtual reality games are the ones that both tell a great story and have interesting gameplay mechanics. In Shadow Point, the story follows a lost girl who finds herself trapped in a parallel universe and enjoying the freedom this bizarre world gives her. Its gameplay centers on a form of “shadow puppets” that the player creates using light and a variety of found objects. There is enough content in both portions of this game to be entertaining right up to the end of the emotionally gripping climax. With narration provided by Patrick Stewart, Shadow Point jumps along the young girl’s timeline with each subsequent world explored via the observatory “hub world.” As she grows up fending for herself, the initial excitement involved with exploring this new world gradually fades. Her voice actor expertly captures this change as the game progresses, eventually leading to one of the most emotional moments I’ve...
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MOVIE: Shutter Island (2010)

Shutter Island Year: 2010 Rating: R Length: 138 minutes / 2.30 hours Over time, it becomes difficult to avoid spoilers for twist endings in movies. While it took me over a decade to watch Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island (2010), I had already heard about the twist a few times and had prepared myself for it. Of course, only the best films like Shutter Island can have this twist spoiled and still provide enough subterfuge to hide this revelation for most of its runtime. I knew it was coming, and it still blindsided me. Of course, knowing the twist of Shutter Island made me watch it with a modicum of awareness as I tried to spot the cracks in the narrative that would hint at this revelation. Part of how this film expertly hides this twist is by following Edward "Teddy" Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and showing the audience what he thinks is happening. It's not until near the end of the film that we get a...
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BOOK: Earth Afire (2013)

Earth Afire Year: 2013 Author: Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston Length: 924 minutes / 15.40 hours It's odd how the main ideas presented in the original Ender Saga have almost no depictions of combat or war in them at all. It is then appropriate that the second book in this prequel trilogy pulls out all the stops and shows what a horrific battle against ant-like aliens would be like in the not-to-distant future. After all, war is hell, and the atrocities committed by a species trying to terraform Earth to their specifications are quite gruesome. Fortunately, Earth Afire does not focus too much on the gory details of war. There are still subplots being explored that bring realism to this doomsday scenario—like needing to go against orders and bureaucracy to save people. The reader finally gets to spend some significant time with Mazer Rackham, who is absolutely the most interesting character in this prequel trilogy. His story is where Earth Afire really shines. Sure,...
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BOOK: Earth Unaware (2012)

Earth UnawareYear: 2012Author: Orson Scott Card and Aaron JohnstonLength: 839 minutes / 13.98 hours Prequels sometimes get a bad rap because they often feel unnecessary. If the story was important enough to start at the very beginning, then that's where the series should have started. Still, there is a comfort in prequels that comes from knowing what will happen. Little details that the reader knows will become important for the main part of the series act as subtle nods in the early stages of the series' lore. Earth Unaware is the first book in the Ender's Game prequel trilogy and flawlessly introduces the events that lead to the Earth's drastic response. Orson Scott Card co-wrote Earth Unaware over a decade after publishing the first books in the Ender Saga. In that time, science advanced to the point where a near-future scenario like the one presented in Earth Unaware could be plausible. All the reader ever knew about the first Formic War from...
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MOVIE: The King’s Man (2021)

The King's ManYear: 2021Rating: RLength: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours One benefit of the rise of superhero movies over the years is the adaptation of other comic books to the big screen. Some are serious examinations of society, like V for Vendetta (2005), but others often keep the silly action-packed novelty of their comic origins, like The Losers (2010). Considering Matthew Vaughn's previous works like Kick-Ass (2010), the Kingsman franchise easily falls into the second category of comic book adaptations. The latest in this series, The King's Man (2021) has some fun with history while still keeping the flashy action sequences that made its predecessors successful. I love a good alternate history. They might be campy, but films like Inglorious Basterds (2009), Watchmen (2009), or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) are more fun to watch because they take a basic knowledge of common historical figures and events and spins them into an entertaining alternate explanation of what really happened. In The King's...
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MOVIE: Encanto (2021)

Encanto Year: 2021 Rating: PG Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours As Disney hits all the cultural checkboxes across the globe, Encanto (2021) follows in the footsteps of Moana (2016) and Coco (2017) to expose audiences to the culture of Columbia. With catchy songs by Lin Manuel-Miranda, Encanto is full of fun and color in a way that doesn't seem disrespectful to the culture it's representing. And while I know little about Columbian culture, I know enough about Latin America to realize that the foundational lesson in Encanto is important for everyone, regardless of their culture of origin. On its surface, Encanto is about a family with magic powers that live in a magic house. Everyone in the family except Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). Normally, the story about Mirabel trying to figure out why she didn't receive magic powers would be enough for this kind of movie. Encanto, however, digs deeper and addresses the significant pressure that can come from an individual's family to live up...
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VIDEO GAME: Superliminal (2019)

SuperliminalYear: 2019Rating: ETime Played: ~2 hours I can appreciate it when a game tries to do something different. In Superliminal, the main gameplay mechanic revolves around the idea of forced perspective. Something small can appear large if you hold it up to your eyes, and vice versa. Superliminal fully explores this concept in the psychologically unending liminal spaces of an individual trapped in a dream. Unfortunately, it attempts to be witty about this setting in a way that (as with many indie first-person puzzle games) tries too hard to be Portal 2. What Superliminal does well is its puzzles. Not only is it satisfying to shrink and grow items using forced perspective, but having to align items in just the right way to match with the background uses the right amount of brainpower to be engaging. Most of the puzzles are fairly straightforward and I only struggled with a few of them that suffered from dim lighting (for ambiance/tone's sake). Each puzzle...
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MOVIE: Spider-Man – No Way Home (2021)

Spider-Man: No Way Home Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 148 minutes / 2.47 hours First off, if you haven't seen this movie yet, I want to warn you that there are spoilers in this review. There's no way I can talk about this movie freely without divulging key plot points. With this out of the way, I want to recognize that nostalgia played a big part in the hype for this third entry in the Tom Holland Spider-Man series. No Way Home is the kind of film that I figured could never be made due to all the different rights needed (much like Ready Player One (2018) and all its nerdy references). That Marvel and Sony pulled this off is testament to their ability to make the impossible happen. I was glad that this latest reboot of the Spider-Man franchise forewent the "origin story" in Homecoming (2017). Little did I know, they'd pull the same trick that Skyfall (2012) did with the James Bond franchise...
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BOOK: Shadow of the Giant (2005)

Shadow of the GiantYear: 2005Author: Orson Scott CardLength: 746 minutes / 12.43 hours I'm glad Ender Wiggin's crewmates had this side series to explore their identities. While most of these characters were in the background of the Shadow series until now, Shadow of the Giant finally gives them time to shine on their own. After all, after three books focusing on Bean, it's nice to see the geopolitical drama unfold between these young tactical geniuses. I can definitely appreciate the storytelling that fills in the gaps between Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. With Achilles being killed off in the previous book, Shadow Puppets, the principal antagonist of the series left a vacuum on the world stage that was inevitably going to be filled by Ender's Jeesh. And while these individuals had aged to the point of young adulthood, I can't deny the clever game they played with entire nations so they could position themselves in stations of power. It's entertaining...
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VIDEO GAME: Manifold Garden (2019)

Manifold GardenYear: 2019Rating: ETime Played: 5+ hours I first saw the trailer for Manifold Garden on a Nintendo Switch indie showcase. The visual style and gameplay mechanic were interesting enough for me to download this indie first-person puzzle game. I had seen nothing like it before and its infinitely repeating, fractal-like world appealed to the mathematician in me. Still, there's only so much you can do with a concept like this, so it's a good thing Manifold Garden didn't overstay its welcome. It's difficult to avoid comparisons to other first-person physics puzzle games. You might have a hit like Portal 2 or a pastiche of Portal 2 like Q.U.B.E. 2. Manifold Garden, fortunately, doesn't lean too heavily on Portal 2's mechanics. Instead, it uses the "rotate" feature to modify gravity, thus manipulating the elements needed to solve each puzzle. Plus, the cel-shaded and monochromatic color-coded visual style (similar to Gris) easily helps the player to know how the environment is currently oriented....
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MOVIE: Dune – Part One (2021)

Dune: Part One Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 155 minutes / 2.58 hours Adaptations of beloved books can be a challenging endeavor. It's not impossible, as we've seen with The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003), Harry Potter (2001-2011), or The Hunger Games (2011-2015) but there are certain traps that can doom a film version of a story to be hated by the community that loves the book. While Dune (1984) attempted to give this story life on the big screen, the special effects at the time and your opinion of David Lynch's filmmaking may have tainted an otherwise "impossible" adaptation. When a new adaptation of Dune came along with Denis Villeneuve as its director, I had hope that he would honor the source material. Villeneuve has proven himself to be a fantastic sci-fi director. From Arrival (2016) to Blade Runner: 2049 (2017), he has shown that he understands stories as much as aesthetics. The best way to honor Frank Herbert's legacy in this adaptation of...
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VIDEO GAME: Tetris Effect (2018)

Tetris Effect Year: 2018 Rating: E Time Played: ~10 hours While most virtual reality games attempt to immerse the player in an interactive environment, Tetris Effect is best played sitting completely still. Tetris is Tetris, but Tetris Effect takes this classic formula and adds just enough new mechanics to it for the entire game to feel fresh and engaging. I've played this game both on my PC and on my Oculus Quest, and I have to say that I prefer the Quest version because of how immersive it is. There are no distractions. It's just you and Tetris. Since I recently trained myself on Tetris 99, I still found some levels in Tetris Effect's story mode to be quite difficult. Of course, as a single-player game, Tetris Effect had little to offer past this story mode. That was until they added the "Connected" mode that introduced online multiplayer. The 3-versus-1 mode is some of the most innovative Tetris I've ever played. With the multiplayer aspect...
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BOOK: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – Powers of a Squirrel (2019)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Powers of a Squirrel Year: 2019 Author: Ryan North Length: 184 pages I was first made aware of this somewhat obscure Marvel superhero because I am a regular reader of Ryan North's Dinosaur Comics webcomic series. While I sat on the knowledge of Squirrel Girl's existence for some time, I finally broke down and bought the two-volume collection of North's imagining of the hero. In this first volume, Powers of a Squirrel, we get to know Doreen Green (aka Squirrel Girl), a computer scientist student studying at Empire State University. As a much more comedic superhero compared to the likes of Iron Man or Captain America, Squirrel Girl's claim to fame is the fact that she is "Unbeatable." This includes defeating some of Marvel's most fearsome and powerful villains in unique ways that don't involve violence. Sure, sometimes Squirrel Girl has to get her paws dirty, but the more amusing storylines are the ones where she saves the day using unconventional...
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BOOK: The Core (2017)

The Core Year: 2017 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,778 minutes / 29.63 hours While it took me a while to finally get around to the last book in the Demon Cycle series, I'm glad I put the time in to complete it. The initial concept laid out in The Warded Man was so interesting that I had to see it play out to the end. The Core wraps up this series with an ending that was mostly inevitable while also managing to add more subplots that merely padded out an already large conclusion to this series. Overall, my main qualm with the Demon Cycle series is that it is a prime example of "Men Writing Women." This trope is evident in many places across this series but seems most egregious in The Core with its depiction of childbirth (especially the one at the beginning). I understand that many fantasy worlds are based on medieval Europe, but that doesn't mean the writer has to be...
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VIDEO GAME: SUPERHOT (2016)

SUPERHOT Year: 2016 Rating: T Time Played: 4+ hours When I started playing PC games a year ago, I recalled being intrigued by a game where time only moves when you do. The game? SUPERHOT. Don't let the low-polygon count and high-contrast graphics distract you from how fun this game is to play. The core gameplay mechanic is so excellent that this aesthetic works to its advantage. After all, there's something satisfying about watching your enemies shatter into thousands of pieces in slow motion. While the function of this first-person shooter is like SUPERHOT VR, they are two different games. I found the VR version easier to pick up and play, mostly because I haven't played many first-person shooters on the PC. I eventually trained myself to adapt to the tighter keyboard and mouse controls to make it to the end credits. Additionally, I have played through SUPERHOT on the Nintendo Switch, which is somewhere in-between the ease of the VR version and the two-handed...
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MOVIE: Evangelion – 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time (2021)

Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time Year: 2021 Rating: R Length: 154 minutes / 2.57 hours One of the classic series of anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, is both exceptional spectacle and moments of "WTF?" It balances the line between post-apocalyptic survival and psychological horror. While it's always exciting to see large "robots" fighting alien creatures, a lot of Evangelion's appeal comes from the struggles of its characters. Sure, there's plenty of fan service (which is a staple of the series), but there is also an equal amount of philosophy that makes you question what it means to be human. Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time (2021) is the last movie in the Rebuild of Evangelion series. This series has attempted to bring the flashy 1990s action anime into stunning HD while also attempting to fix some of the original's more confusing aspects. It's difficult to pin down Evangelion's "true" version. Still, I think the Rebuild series does a fine job of maintaining some of the...
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BOOK: Winter (2015)

WinterYear: 2015Author: Marissa MeyerLength: 1,384 minutes / 23.07 hours If there's one thing I appreciate with a series, it's when all the loose ends are tied up by the end. In the fourth and final installment in the Lunar Chronicles series, Marissa Meyer manages to wrap up all the disparate parts of the story that had been running in parallel for three books. Not only does this series have a satisfying ending, but there's even enough time to flesh out the titular character, Winter, so that her presence makes sense in the context of the whole series. Still, even if the backstory for Levanna in Fairest isn't directly needed to understand more of Winter's character in this book, it certainly helped that I had already read it going into this final chapter of the series. While my standard qualms with the "teenage girl" style of characterizations remain for this book (as it has for the entire series), the dialogue feels very natural...
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VIDEO GAME: Axiom Verge (2015)

Axiom Verge Year: 2015 Rating: E10+ Time Played: 843 minutes / 14.05 hours As I play more and more video games, I'm finding that I enjoy Metroidvanias. Something about exploring and upgrading a character to unlock more parts of a map (for more exploration) feels satisfying to me. Axiom Verge adheres to many of the tropes that make a Metroidvania great, including mimicking the pixelated 16-bit style of one of the genre's founders, Super Metroid. The fact that a single person created the entirety of this game is astounding, even if its edges show in a few spots. Even though I enjoy playing through a Metroidvania like Axiom Verge, I also found myself struggling to beat the final boss of the game. Much like how I had to take a break before finishing off Hollow Knight, I found myself just barely able to keep up with Axiom Verge's final boss. It turns out I had missed picking up one of the game's best weapons because...
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BOOK: Fairest (2015)

Fairest: Levana’s Story Year: 2015 Author: Marissa Meyer Length: 392 minutes / 6.53 hours I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere in the last decade or so, the idea of “redeemable villains” took off. So many stories had antagonists that had their heinous acts justified by some past trauma that somehow made them more human and understandable. While I appreciate flawed characters and the bad decisions that eventually led them down the dark and evil path, I don’t think it’s always necessary to make villains redeemable. That is unless it’s done well. Fairest does it well. Right from the first pages of Fairest, the reader understands that Levana was the runt of the family. The amount of teasing and hypocrisy that formed this young girl into the evil queen she would eventually become is understandable. However, the real brilliance of this story comes in when Levana tries to solve her problems the only way she knows how: by manipulation. It’s not entirely her fault,...
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MOVIE: Free Guy (2021)

Free Guy Year: 2021 Rating: PG-13 Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours This pandemic has messed with my sense of time. I could have sworn that Free Guy (2021) had already come out, but it had just been endlessly delayed until this year. As someone who enjoys video games, I was hesitant to watch this movie because it could be filled with too many references that would immediately date it. Fortunately, I was surprised by the few glimpses of a deeper plot hidden behind Free Guy's goofy exterior. Of course, Ryan Reynolds makes this movie work with his best PG-13 Deadpool impression. Within the first three minutes of this film, I thought to myself, "Oh, this is just The LEGO Movie (2014)." A non-player character (NPC) named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) breaks out of the mundanity of his existence to go on a great video game adventure. It wasn't until much later in the film that I realized the major plot points of The Truman Show...
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VIDEO GAME: Mario’s Super Picross (1995)

Mario’s Super Picross Year: 1995 Rating: Not Rated Time Played: 3,898 minutes / 64.97 hours It’s a little odd to me that Picross (or Nonograms) never took off as a puzzle genre outside of Japan. Sudoku and (my personal favorite) Kakuro eventually found popularity in the United States in the 2000s. This was likely due to the ease with which these puzzles could be printed. While Nonograms have the novelty of producing a pixelated two-tone image, they sometimes take up to 30 minutes to solve (especially for the more detailed puzzles). Pokémon Picross introduced me to Picross games, and it has the advantage of a stylus and touchscreen. The Japanese-only release of Mario’s Super Picross does not have this advantage. Mario’s Super Picross became available on the Super Nintendo Virtual Console for the Switch, which is what allowed me to finally play this game. While the controls take a little getting used to, this game’s one novelty is the little animations that play when solving...
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MOVIE: The Social Dilemma (2020)

The Social Dilemma Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 94 minutes / 1.57 hours I joined Facebook in 2005. Before that, I was on MySpace. As someone who started heavily using the internet when the concept of social media started taking off, I honestly feel that I managed to avoid a lot of its pitfalls. My introverted self loved getting updates on people's lives without having to cultivate all those relationships intentionally. Of course, the system only works if people post updates of their lives. What The Social Dilemma (2020) brings to light is that programs meant to keep us connected have since been tainted by dangerous technology that keeps us coming back for more and getting little in return. While The Social Dilemma is inherently about how damaging social media can be, the greater lesson here is how artificial intelligence was created to handle these enormous datasets. Unfortunately, because these AIs were created to maximize ad revenue, they break us down to our psychological building...
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BOOK: Stories of Your Life and Others (2002)

Stories of Your Life and OthersYear: 2002Author: Ted ChiangLength: 623 minutes / 10.38 hours After reading Exhalation, I found myself in search of more stories by Ted Chiang. This led me to Stories of Your Life and Others. Partly because this collection included many of Chiang’s earlier stories, not all of them were great pieces of literature like the ones in Exhalation. I could tell that Chiang was still trying to find his voice as a writer as he explored many science fiction topics common to the genre. While not all of the stories are fantastic, there are enough good ones to warrant reading this collection. What’s a little disappointing is how some of the ideas Chiang explores in this book are truly interesting topics, but the execution of these stories feels a little too erudite for the common reader. I appreciate Chiang’s later ability to humanize these ideas (as shown by my love of Exhalation), but he just wasn’t quite there...
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MOVIE: Luca (2021)

LucaYear: 2021Rating: PGLength: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours It's interesting how computers continue to become more powerful, just so they can make 3D CGI look more like traditional 2-D animation. Granted, this usually applies to the characters, as textures and settings are becoming so realistic as to be nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. While I'm sure we could probably jump the uncanny valley by now, Pixar chooses to play to its more "cartoony" roots in perhaps the most charming way possible. Their latest film, Luca (2021), oozes charm in a way that a small story like this can only achieve. Set in what appears to be early to mid-1960s (at least by the movie posters hung on the town's walls), Luca is another coming-of-age tale like Onward (2020) but with less emphasis on family bonds and more emphasis on personal independence. And while I appreciated the "big brother" narrative of Onward, I think Luca's format worked a little better since not...
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MOVIE: The Big Lebowski (1998)

The Big Lebowski Year: 1998 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours In the last year or so, I've tried to watch a few cult classics that had escaped my purview. I'm familiar with their cultural significance, and I can understand why they are beloved by many, but they aren't necessarily perfect films by any means. Movies like The Goonies (1985) and Mean Girls (2004) are mostly known via their memeable moments. This was why I already understood the gist of these movies before actually sitting down and watching them. The Big Lebowski (1998) was yet another cult classic that had these same strengths and weaknesses. First off, Jeff Bridges is "The Dude." If he didn't provide such a solid performance, I doubt this movie would have become nearly as memorable. However, what people might forget about this film is how weird it is. Many sequences left me scratching my head and wondering what the heck was going on. And perhaps it's this kind...
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VIDEO GAME: Job Simulator (2016)

Job SimulatorYear: 2016Rating: E10+Time Played: ~2.5 hours While I didn't know it at the time, one of the first Virtual Reality games I ever encountered was none other than Job Simulator. Many years later, I bought this game for my Oculus Quest and immediately understood the appeal. Sure, the graphics aren't top-notch, but that's not the point of Job Simulator. If anything, it's an easy introduction into the world of VR that allows the user to play around in a variety of "job" environments. The comedy in this game is quite amusing; however, its replay value is fairly limited. Set in the far future, Job Simulator pokes fun at several professions, including Auto Mechanic, Gourmet Chef, Store Clerk, and Office Worker. Anyone who has experienced any of these jobs will likely get a chuckle out of its tongue-in-cheek satire. As a single-player game, it only takes a few hours to complete all four campaigns. And while the tasks are the same on...
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MOVIE: El Camino (2019)

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie Year: 2019 Rating: R Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours While the television show Community always joked about getting "six seasons and a movie, Breaking Bad actually accomplished the feat with only five seasons of the best heart-pounding drama ever to be seen on the small screen. As an epilogue to this fantastic series, El Camino (2019) wraps up the one remaining loose end that remained from the series finale: what happened to Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul)? While El Camino is basically two episodes of Breaking Bad used to tie everything up into a nice little bow, it was nice to finally have that final bit of closure. As is the case with a lot of Breaking Bad's best episodes, there are moments in El Camino that are hard to watch. Jesse's slavery really hits home in this film as the viewer grapples with the intense psychological punishment that can break down a man and steal his motivation to...
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BOOK: Caliban’s War (2012)

Caliban's WarYear: 2012Author: James S.A. CoreyLength: 1,190 minutes / 19.83 hours One of the things I like about James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series is how these books focus on the crew of the Rocinante. Many hard sci-fi writers try to show how smart they are by making it obvious how much math they did to explain how their sci-fi universe works. While The Expanse certainly has these moments, they’re fit in between the human drama that follows James Holden and his crew. Trouble seems to follow them wherever they go, and in Caliban’s War, they’re pulled into a political conflict that spans the solar system. I appreciate how an overarching plot with the protomolecule connects Leviathan Wakes to Caliban’s War. While the first book in the series took some time ramping up into having a cohesive collection of characters, Caliban’s War uses all four members of Rocinante’s crew in a new way that felt more interesting. Of course, this book also contains...
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VIDEO GAME: Florence (2018)

Florence Year: 2018 Rating: T Time Played: ~30 minutes Video games as a medium are changing. Technology has advanced to the point where storytelling isn't just confined to books, movies, and televisions shows. Sure, there are "cinematic" triple-A titles that have exciting gameplay and dramatic twists. Then there are the indie titles like Florence that make a heartfelt story interactive through video games. It's a cute game that doesn't have much replay value but is worth checking out at least once if you have a little time to kill. It's odd how such a simple game can pack an emotional punch with such a short story, but that's where Florence succeeds. The player is engaged in portions of the story through a series of minigames that don't necessarily change the plot in any significant way (which might have been an interesting way to increase its replayability). However, these little interactive bits are great at expressing the wordless emotions of the characters as they try and...
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VIDEO GAME: Moss (2018)

MossYear: 2018Rating: ETime Played: ~4 hours As gaming advances into an era with an option for virtual reality, I'm glad to see some games embrace this technology in ways to bridge the gap between traditional gaming and VR gaming. For example, it's too easy to merely adapt a first-person shooter like SUPERHOT into the VR space since the platform is basically made for the first-person perspective. But what about platformers? Adventure games? Moss shows how games in these genres can still work in virtual reality while also making the interactivity of the medium part of the gameplay. I have to say there's a bit of a challenge in controlling the player character while also using these controllers to modify the environment. This multitasking takes some time to get used to but ultimately is interesting enough to not be completely frustrating. Sometimes, the next step in a particular room isn't readily apparent, which led me to look up the solution to advance the...
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MOVIE: The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)

The Mitchells vs. the MachinesYear: 2021Rating: PGLength: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours After Sony Pictures Animation released the visually stunning, Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), I awaited their next project with great interest. Eventually, they put out a trailer for a movie titled Connected, which seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Then the pandemic hit. Netflix grabbed the rights, renamed the film, and released The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021). Ultimately, it was a fun movie, even if it followed many tropes of the family road trip. Visually, I'm finding the new style of 3-D animated movies that look closer to the traditional 2-D animated films to be an intriguing middle ground. There are benefits from both styles, and this movie takes advantage of them. Ultimately, though, I think this kind of movie knows its demographic is millennials and does its best to pander to some of our absurd humor (like a fantastic scene with Furbies) as we...
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MOVIE: Hamilton (2020)

Hamilton Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 160 minutes / 2.67 hours I'll admit I'm late to the game on this musical. Luckily, Disney+ helped give me the option of seeing this modern masterpiece. Granted, I know it's not the same experience as seeing it in the theatre (aside from the modifications to allow it on Disney+), but I'm glad I had the opportunity to see it nonetheless. While Hamilton (2020) is not the first musical about the early United States I've heard, it certainly taught me way more about this time period than I had previously thought possible. A word to the wise: be prepared for almost three hours of fast-talking politicians. Subtitles might help, but it's awe-inspiring to hear these rhymes fly through the air at a frenetic pace. I was a little exhausted after I finished watching this since I felt it crammed a six-hour history lecture into less than half the time. It helped that the artistic license Lin-Manuel Miranda had with...
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BOOK: Religion – Ruining Everything (2015)

RELIGION: Ruining Everything Since 4004 B.C. Year: 2015 Author: Zach Weinersmith Length: 261 pages Much like SCIENCE: Ruining Everything, RELIGION: Ruining Everything is another collection of webcomics from "Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal" (SMBC). Basically, these two topics cover the vast majority of Zach Weinersmith's comics. This book can act as a primer for anyone who wants to start reading this webcomic but happens to not have the internet (for some reason). This printed collection of webcomics still manages to capture the humor and hidden jokes present in the online versions of these same comics, but with a few extras sprinkled in to make long-time readers pick it up as well. While not nearly as biased as The Holy-Bible Unabridged, no religion is safe from being the butt of Weinersmith's jokes in this collection. It did help that the distribution of jokes about these different religions seemed to be fairly well balanced in this book. And even as someone who considers themself a Christian, I could...
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MOVIE: Happy Feet (2006)

Happy Feet Year: 2006 Rating: PG Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours Very few movies have pivoted so hard on me like Happy Feet (2006). I vaguely remembered the trailers for this film back in the day but wasn't too interested in it because it wasn't from Disney or Pixar (I might have also confused it with Surf's Up (2007)). However, the fact that it won Best Animated Picture for that year should have told me there was something special here. However, my expectations for Happy Feet were much different than the plot twist that I hadn't seen coming. Since I was coming in cold to this film (har har), I had expected it to be the standard "individual is unique, but doesn't fit in with the status quo" type plot. After all, the main character (voiced by Elijah Wood) is the odd-one-out in a community of penguins by being unable to sing. However, this inability to sing is overshadowed by Mumble's extraordinary ability to...
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BOOK: The Lost Colony (2006)

The Lost Colony Year: 2006 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 504 minutes / 8.40 hours A good fantasy series knows that it needs to keep building its lore as it progresses past its first few volumes. Some might start to sag around the fifth volume, but The Lost Colony doubles down and introduces a whole new species into its universe: demons. The fact that these creatures are both tied to the fairies that have comprised the series up to now and have their own set of rules that tracks with traditional demon lore is a testament to the research that went into this series. Of course, introducing demons into the series this late in the game isn't necessarily what makes The Lost Colony good. Rather, it's the introduction of a rival for Artemis—who also has the potential to be a rival in love against Holly Short. The last few books in the Artemis Fowl series felt like an episodic "deus ex machina" that didn't change much...
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MOVIE: Minari (2020)

Minari Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours One has to wonder if last year's Best Picture, Parasite (2019), helped pave the way for Minari (2020). While both are quite different films, the acceptance of South Korean cinema has been a long time coming. However, one thing both films share is their sense of foreshadowing. The subtle phrasings and actions of the characters seem inconsequential at first but evolve into hard-hitting plot points as the movie progresses. These story beats hit hard even with a relatively simple plot and left me emotionally devastated with each twist and turn. Set in 1980s America, Minari speaks into the evolution (or, some would say, death) of the American Dream. The belief that anyone from anywhere can come to this land of opportunity and make a living doing what they want to do is the strongest in the immigrants who came here hoping to capitalize on the United States' freedom. But, unfortunately, it's not as easy...
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MOVIE: Nomadland (2020)

Nomadland Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a psychological structure that explains how people will obtain their basic needs before attempting to fill psychological and self-fulfillment needs. In the current American culture, these basic needs of food, water, warmth, rest, and safety are usually met by living in a house. Of course, there are plenty of strings attached to household living—such as a steady income through employment. While this is the most common way to reach self-fulfillment, people out there manage to achieve it without living as part of the standard American structure. Nomadland (2020) is an intimate look into the society of people who—for lack of a better term—are houseless. Part of me was jealous of the amount of freedom these people have to live the lives they want, experiencing much of the natural beauty of the middle of the United States. Much in the same way that Nebraska (2013) captured the realities of the...
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BOOK: A Darkling Plain (2006)

A Darkling Plain Year: 2006 Author: Philip Reeve Length: 931 minutes / 15.52 hours With the way Infernal Devices ended, I immediately knew there had to be a fourth book to finish this unique series. Few books resolve their respective series as well as A Darkling Plain does, which I can appreciate. In fact, the final epilogue was as beautiful as it was tragic. Along the way, the little loose ends tie up nicely so that all the characters are given some closure—whether or not they deserve it. I wasn't wild with the time-skip tactic that Infernal Devices used since it basically split this series into two larger stories. Mortal Engines and Predator's Gold covered Hester and Tom's relationship, while the last two books covered their daughter's adventures. Of course, I was shocked with the ending of Infernal Devices, which did get an explanation in this book, even if it lessened the impact of that plot twist. That being said, some of the characters' fates...
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VIDEO GAME: The Minish Cap (2005)

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish CapYear: 2005Rating: ETime Played: ~16 hours The almost forgotten title in the Zelda franchise, Minish Cap has a subtle nod to its portable system in the way that Link can shrink down to engage with the world on a smaller scale. It’s a shame we didn’t see more unique titles in the Zelda series for the Game Boy Advance, as Minish Cap was a charming adventure that added to the developing lore of the franchise. While the visuals and controls were quite good considering the Game Boy Advance’s limitations, the length of this game left me wanting more by the time I completed it. As a unique entry in the portable Zelda games, Minish Cap has a surprising amount of depth regarding the characters, plot, and overall game mechanics. Each step in restoring the Minish sword revealed a little more about the lore, which caused me to keep playing to find out what would happen next....
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MOVIE: Godzilla – King of the Monsters (2019)

Godzilla: King of the Monsters Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours Despite the cult following of the original Godzilla films, the special effects were definitely limited at the time. While the American version of Godzilla (1999) had too many flaws to be noteworthy, the recent reboot of Godzilla (2014) into its own cinematic universe with King Kong is something I look forward to, if for no other reason than huge monsters dueling it out on the big screen. I’d be over the moon if it ever combined with the Pacific Rim (2013) franchise, but that’s probably asking for too much. As it stands, though, Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) is a great sequel that amps up the action. When I go to see a Godzilla movie, one thing I want to see is large monsters. King of the Monsters has these in spades. Even if you have a passing knowledge of Godzilla monsters, you’ll likely recognize names like Rodan, Ghidorah, and Mothra. While the plot is a little lacking in why these monsters are fighting, the result...
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MOVIE: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Hunt for the Wilderpeople Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours After enjoying films like Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Jojo Rabbit (2019), I decided to watch some of director Taika Waititi’s previous films. First up is Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), a humorous outdoor adventure that doesn’t hide many of its influences, which ends up being a good thing. The plot and style are somewhat reminiscent of Moonrise Kingdom (2012) but takes advantage of New Zealand's wilderness to tell its own story. There is plenty of character development, and the two leads—played by Sam Neill and Julian Dennison—work well together to create a meaningful connection. Anyone who has seen other New Zealand comedies are likely to enjoy the specific cultural brand of humor here that feels like an evolved version of the classic British humor of the 1960s. Hunt for the Wilderpeople uses its minor characters to deliver its humor, with Rhys Darby carrying an exceptionally funny sequence. It’s this irreverent humor that hints at what Waititi’s future...
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BOOK: Cinder (2012)

Cinder Year: 2012 Author: Marissa Meyer Length: 602 minutes / 10.03 hours For years, I had heard of The Lunar Chronicles and thought people were referring to the two Sega Saturn video games, Lunar: Silver Star Story and Lunar 2: Eternal Blue. However, seeing as most people haven’t heard of these video games, I eventually figured out that they referred to the Young Adult series of books. While 2012 was definitely around the height of the re-imagined fairy tale craze, I do have to admit that this science-fiction take on these classic stories is a fresh new way of adapting the plots that we all grew up with through Disney movies. The first book in the series, Cinder, takes Cinderella's down-and-out heroine and updates her to a cyborg unaware of her royal origins. What made this story engaging was figuring out how the standard trappings of the Cinderella story would be adapted to this futuristic setting. Granted, this made some of the plot points more than obvious well before they happened, but...
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VIDEO GAME: Link’s Awakening DX (1998)

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX Year: 1998 Rating: E Time Played: ~16 hours With the recently-released Switch remake of this game, I realized I never actually managed to play through the original Link’s Awakening. Perhaps one of the first Zelda games my family-owned, I decided to pull out my copy of Link’s Awakening DX and play through it (and thus, save me the $60 on a “new” game). While I played for a bit on the Super Game Boy to get that “big screen” feel, the colors I experienced on the Game Boy Advanced made playing in a handheld mode that much more enjoyable, if not more intimate. After running through the first few dungeons, it became evident to me that I never made it very far in this game when I was 20 years younger. I was content just exploring what I could at the time. However, this also highlights how there were some moments where the next step in completing the...
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MOVIE: Soul (2020)

Soul Year: 2020 Rating: PG Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours I'll give Pixar credit: they know how to make trailers that give away almost nothing about what the plot is. Sure, I could roughly gauge what Soul (2020) was about, but I could never have guessed it would be this deep. Of course, when dealing with concepts as heady as the afterlife, Pixar had to really balance the line between adhering to any particular religious belief. Be prepared to tear up at least a few times because Soul can hit hard when it comes to life itself. As is the case with any Pixar film, I usually watch for CGI modeling/technology advancements. In Soul, they took the time to perfect the look of some of the most difficult hair to animate, and it shows. This isn't to say that we're getting closer to jumping the uncanny valley (of which they can probably do by now) because this would also ignore the mind-bending "architects" who...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon Shuffle (2015)

Pokémon Shuffle Year: 2015 Rating: E Time Played: ~824 hours Considering how much time I’ve sunk into this game, I should probably give it a review. While on its surface, Pokémon Shuffle is merely a branded version of a “match three” puzzle game, the mechanics it adds to this genre gives the game an amount of strategy that is clearly addicting. As a free-to-play gamer, I haven’t put a single dollar into this game (on either the 3DS or mobile versions). Consequently, it takes a very long time to get anything done in this game, at least when it comes to maxing out the stats on the best Pokémon to use. While the game has finally entered a regular cycle of events and specially available Pokémon, there was a time when I was excited to open up the game on Tuesdays to learn what new Pokémon I could catch/power-up each week. At the very least, with the normalization of events, I know I won’t have...
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BOOK: White Fragility (2018)

White Fragility Year: 2018 Author: Robin DiAngelo Length: 381 minutes / 6.35 hours With race relations as challenging as they currently are in the United States, a book like White Fragility is required reading for both opponents and allies of racial unity. Racism is a huge problem, and it’s difficult to tackle something this large without first understanding the foundation on which it was built. It can be easy to simply address the problem's symptoms instead of digging out the root and identifying where many secondary and tertiary issues originate. As a straight white male, I was first hesitant to read such a book, but now I think it should be required for all of us straight white males. The only qualm I have with this book is that it almost exclusively addresses the racism toward the black community. While I understand this is the most volatile and pressing facet of racism right now, I would have appreciated a chapter about applying the tools presented in...
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MOVIE: Song of the Sea (2014)

Song of the Sea Year: 2014 Rating: PG Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours In perusing Netflix a while ago, I came across Song of the Sea (2014), a nominee for the Best Animated Feature Oscar that had completely gone under my radar. At first glance, this film seemed to be by the same people who had done The Secret of Kells (2009). I appreciated the 2D style of the animation from Kells and looked forward to additional stories that could be told in that style. I was not disappointed in the visuals, but I was confused, perhaps more than I should have been with the plot. Don't get me wrong: the plot is pretty simple. I certainly was able to understand the story of a brother and his mystical mother and sister. Some of the plot points seemed pretty cliche, all things considered. What I had trouble with was some of the Irish folklore that ran throughout this movie. Perhaps it was all part...
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MOVIE: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours Over the years, I've found two types of people: those offended by the original Borat (2006) film and those who find it funny. I'm probably in the latter camp, mostly because I can appreciate how politically incorrect comedy can be "safely" created by introducing a cultural/language barrier. 14 years later, and I'm certain that the people who didn't find the original Borat funny won't find the humor in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020). As an American, it's amusing to see our foibles pulled out as the butt of the joke in this film, especially after we've made fools of ourselves through the last decade of partisan politics and recent refusal of science and common sense. And while Borat Subsequent Moviefilm still relies on physical and sexual humor that is awkward to watch, there are moments of pure genius...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon X (2013)

Pokémon X Year: 2013 Rating: E Time Played: 36.37 hours When I finally bought a 3DS, one of the games I had missed (that I quickly rectified) was Pokémon X. I appreciated all the legendary Pokémon given out as part of the 20th anniversary of the Generation 1 games. Still, I didn’t get around to playing through this game until after Pokémon Sun came out. For the first game in the series to be fully 3D, I certainly enjoyed the look and polish of it, even if the stereoscopic abilities of the 3DS weren’t used as much as they should have been. After all, with everything rendered with 3D visuals, I want the full game to use the ability of the hardware to display in 3D. After playing the much more difficult Generation 5 games, I did enjoy how much easier they made Pokémon X. Granted, they kind of overdid it with the sharp drop in difficulty. Still, I also think they were trying to...
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MOVIE: Enola Holmes (2020)

Enola Holmes Year: 2020 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours When a character like Sherlock Holmes is already written, you do the next best thing: write fanfiction. Enola Holmes (2020) feels like an author-insert fanfiction of the famous detective stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While this would be a mark against any other story, it works here and creates an amusing plot that was fun to watch. Sure, the mystery wasn't at the level Sherlock Holmes would normally solve, but Enola isn't necessarily Sherlock. Of course, I don't know if this story would have worked as well if there wasn't the tie-in to Sherlock Holmes. As for the actors, no doubt on retainer from their other Netflix projects, Henry Cavill (The Witcher) is a passable Sherlock but wasn't given quite enough screen time to really show his talents. The star of the show is definitely Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things), who has certainly shown that she's not only good at playing...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon Sun (2016)

Pokémon SunYear: 2016Rating: ETime Played: 115.37 hours While I grew up with the original 1st Generation Pokémon games, I had lost interest in the series just after Gen. 3. This was around the time I headed off to college, so I didn’t have as much time for video games as I did while in high school. Fast forward to the 20th anniversary of Pokémon and the release of Pokémon Sun and Moon. There were plenty of legendary Pokémon being given out at the time, so I found it was as good a time as any to get back into the series. A lot had changed since I left, and Pokémon Sun carried over plenty of these changes. I appreciated a lot of these tweaks, including the removal of HMs and unlimited-use TMs. And while adjusting the “experience share” to give experience to all the Pokémon in my team made the game a little easier, it also reduced the amount of grind that...
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MOVIE: V for Vendetta (2005)

V for Vendetta Year: 2005 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours It's a little weird watching a dystopian movie like V for Vendetta (2005) in 2020. I watched this film each year around the 5th of November, but life eventually got in the way and made it difficult to continue the tradition. At the time, I enjoyed the "underdog" of V (Hugo Weaving) protecting art and freedom of thought from the tyranny of an oppressive government. Having gone back and re-watched it in the current global climate, I'm honestly shocked at how prescient it was in predicting a lot of our future. Hopefully, things don't become worse to the point of completely fulfilling this prophecy. I think part of the reason this film remains timeless—other than the flawless performances of Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving—is how it shows the amount of freedom people in society give up in the name of "safety." Fear-mongering is a common political tactic to get individuals to vote...
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VIDEO GAME: Pokémon Sword (2019)

Pokémon Sword Year: 2019 Rating: E Time Played: 92.03 hours As with any new iteration of a long-running franchise, it’s equally interesting to see how the formula is changed to make things interesting while also cutting out some of the tedium present in previous installments. While Pokémon Sword has certainly improved some of the quality of life issues present in the franchise, some of the newer features still need a bit of work to be fully enjoyable. That being said, for the first time in many generations, I was able to (almost) completely fill my Pokédex (even with the DLC Pokémon, having not actually bought it) while playing entirely by myself. I still have a few evolutions I need another friend for, but they account for ~1% of the total. I was somewhat pleased with the introduction of the “Gigantamaxing” mechanic, even if it was essentially a combination of Mega Evolution and Z-Moves from Generations 6 and 7, respectively. The annoying thing about these special...
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BOOK: Fool Moon (2001)

Fool MoonYear: 2001Author: Jim ButcherLength: 607 minutes / 10.12 hours I haven’t read a lot of the urban fantasy genre, but series like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files is what I’ve come to expect. There’s a certain amount of logic that goes into combining fantasy elements into modern settings, and—if done well—can bring a story to life. Fool Moon (a delicious play on words, if I do say so myself) continues to take the noir twist from Storm Front and applies Harry Dresden’s magical skills against werewolf foes. Perhaps Storm Front wowed me with the concept of a detective magician so much that I thought Fool Moon was slightly weaker in comparison. For starters, I felt there were too many factions to keep track of in this book. Half the time, I was trying to remember if the werewolves in question were the good guys or the bad guys. Granted, the ambiguity of the factions’ intent helped drive the plot, but they all...
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VIDEO GAME: SUPERHOT VR (2016)

SUPERHOT VRYear: 2016Rating: TTime Played: 2 hours The concept: time moves when you do. The challenge: survive. I had already played a few hours of the regular SUPERHOT game on my PC, but SUPERHOT VR is an experience on a whole other level. Sure, there's not as much of a plot in this version of the game (they are two entirely different games), but it's compensated for by being one of the most immersive experiences I've had on my Oculus Quest. In fact, it's likely one of the titles that caused me to get the Quest at all. What's interesting about this quasi first-person shooter is how it's more like a puzzle game than anything else. When you have to figure out the best way to avoid being "reset" in each scene, you start to think strategically about where you are and what items are nearby to use. Sure, the violence of gunning down humanoid shapes is lessened by them being bright...
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MOVIE: Tenet (2020)

TenetYear: 2020Rating: PG-13Length: 150 minutes / 2.50 hours I'll admit: I probably have to watch this movie again. I'm usually pretty good at unraveling a Christopher Nolan movie when I watch it for the first time. Not since Memento (2000), have I had such a difficult time piecing together the intertwining timelines. At least with Memento, I was aided by the black-and-white sections. In Tenet (2020), time moves in both directions in the same scene. Sure, this is a visually-stunning feat, but it's often a slap in the face of the Grandfather Paradox, which Tenet simply waves away with a shrug and a "don't worry about it." What's interesting is how moments of foreshadowing in this film triggered my "lightbulb reflex" each time the corresponding portion of the plot came into focus and gave me the "aha moment." I'm sure I'll pick up more of these when I watch it a second time. As it stands after a single viewing, my mind...
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MOVIE: Mean Girls (2004)

Mean Girls Year: 2004 Rating: PG-13 Length: 97 minutes / 1.61 hours With the theaters opening back up again, I took advantage of a few “comeback classics” showings to see a movie that I had missed the first time it came around: Mean Girls (2004). I’m familiar with the numerous memes that this movie spawned, so it was a little weird seeing these little references in their original context. Of course, I’m also not necessarily the target demographic for this movie, as I am not (and have not been) a high school girl. Sure, it gave me an appreciation of the cutthroat and somewhat petty social hierarchy involved with female relationships in high school—in the sense that I didn’t have to put up with it. I can appreciate the ability of Mean Girls to create a situation where the audience learns about this “wild” world of high school by introducing a homeschooled student into the jungle that is the teenage learning environment. The fact that...
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VIDEO GAME: Animal Crossing – New Horizons (2020)

Animal Crossing: New HorizonsYear: 2020Rating: ETime Played: 195+ hours I’d never had any interest in the Animal Crossing series before New Horizons came out. I didn’t get the point of it. There didn’t seem to be any objective other than paying off a loan to a capitalist raccoon. That being said, when I saw the first trailer for New Horizons, my interest was immediately piqued. While the graphics were sharp and adorable, the crafting and terraforming mechanics seemed to give me the flexibility I’d want in such a simulation game. And while there is plenty to do in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, at a certain point, it becomes a repetitive chore. By now, this game is my most-played on my Switch. I’ve put in the time and effort to build a 5-star island and have long paid off my house (thanks to a fortunate week in the “stalk market”). I have orchards full of the different varieties of trees, flowerbeds on their...
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BOOK: The Dark Talent (2016)

The Dark Talent Year: 2016 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 348 minutes / 5.80 hours There’s foreshadowing; then there are five books of foreshadowing. In The Dark Talent, Brandon Sanderson starts wrapping up this amusing middle-grade series by finally reaching the part of the story that was alluded to so many books ago. While this could easily be the final book in the series, I believe there’s enough left unconcluded that another volume should be written to wrap these remaining subplots up into satisfying conclusions. By this point in the series, the Alcatraz formula has been thoroughly explored, and it almost seems to be running on autopilot*. Granted, this was after four books of character and plot development, but there’s still an amount of “been there seen that” here. I am always in awe of Brandon Sanderson’s world-building, and the Alcatraz series is no exception. Breaking into the Library of Congress was such a natural extension of the “Librarian” motif that I’m a little surprised it...
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MOVIE: The Player (1992)

The Player Year: 1992 Rating: R Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours Those who are aware of Robert Altman’s other films are sure to recognize the themes that permeated his oeuvre. He always seemed to find a way to satirize something in a way that underscored how broken the system is. From the military in M*A*S*H (1970) to the music industry in Nashville (1975), Altman had a keen eye to bring the ridiculous nature of these anthropological machines into the spotlight. Clearly, his time in the movie industry helped him adapt Michael Tolkin’s novel into The Player (1992). In a weird and meta way, nothing has changed since its early-90’s release. If you’re playing the “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game at home, this film is literally a “who’s who” of actors and movie personalities (many of whom appear “as themselves”). Unfortunately, this film does suffer from its early-90’s aesthetic, often highlighting how far we’ve come in terms of fashion and technology in nearly three...
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MOVIE: Winter’s Bone (2010)

Winter’s Bone Year: 2010 Rating: R Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours It feels like so few films deal with the actual consequences of poverty. It’s probably why Winter’s Bone (2010) seems like a raw and unflinching examination of what happens when a family is on the edge of homelessness. In fact, while I’m sure there are some inaccuracies, I almost saw this film as a documentary of life in rural Missouri. The handheld camera style was intimate and present as it followed Jennifer Lawrence in one of her breakout roles, investigating where her father disappeared to in order to save her struggling family. I didn’t understand why so much of the community around Lawrence’s character didn’t come to help and support her in a time of need. Sure, her father did some pretty terrible things, but why punish his family because of it? Perhaps this is just an aspect of the dog-eat-dog world of rural poverty that seems so illogical to me. In the...
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BOOK: Leviathan Wakes (2011)

Leviathan Wakes Year: 2011 Author: James S.A. Corey Length: 1,264 minutes / 21.07 hours For years, my co-worker has been suggesting that I read the Expanse series of books. Before I finally got around to the audiobook for Leviathan Wakes, I took a slight shortcut and watched the television series on Amazon. This came in handy because I was able to pick up this book and immediately be able to visualize what was happening and who the characters were. Sure, the actors cast in the show are slightly different from their literary counterparts. Still, overall there was a lot in this book that I had already experienced with the television show. I will applaud this book for being a hard science fiction story, but not shoving the calculations in the reader’s face. Sure, The Martian did an excellent job of explaining all the scientific challenges of interplanetary travel. However, Leviathan Wakes took this a step further and created a universe that’s still controlled by the...
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MOVIE: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Cat on a Hot Tin RoofYear: 1958Rating: Not RatedLength: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours While I understand the ease of adapting stage plays into movies, the result still feels a lot like watching a stage play on the big screen. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) is no exception. Adapted from the Tennessee Williams play of the same name, this movie boasts a few big names like Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. I think this movie probably wouldn’t have been as notable unless it had these names tied to it in some way. After all, there’s a reason why we still remember these writers and actors today. Even if Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starts slow, the increasing amount of twists and reveals makes for an entertaining movie. I think part of my issue with the slow start might be with Elizabeth Taylor’s acting. It felt to me like she was reading memorized lines and didn’t put much emotion or effort into her performance....
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VIDEO GAME: Super Mario Odyssey (2017)

Super Mario OdysseyYear: 2017Rating: E10Time Played: 20+ hours As is the case with many Nintendo systems, Super Mario Odyssey marked the mustachioed plumber’s arrival on the Switch, much like Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy did for the Nintendo 64, Gamecube, and Wii, respectively. Taking cues from all its predecessors, Super Mario Odyssey is a gorgeous platformer with plenty to do, almost to its detriment. It’s clear a lot of attention to detail went into this game, but it’s also evident that Odyssey is a celebration of Mario’s history as Nintendo’s de facto mascot. The fact that you can now play as many of Mario’s enemies is a fantastic mechanic that is as unique as it is timeless. Odyssey uses the improved graphics on the Switch to create stunning worlds that are just itching to be explored. The music as well is perhaps some of the best in the franchise, with the theme to the Wooded Kingdom being...
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BOOK: The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains (2010)

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains Year: 2010 Author: Neil Gaiman Length: 83 minutes / 1.38 hours As I’d realized in previous works of Neil Gaiman’s that I’ve read, he excels at (at least) two things: short stories and fairy tales. One could argue that the latter is a subset of the former, but longer works like Stardust cause me to separate the distinction. Perhaps this book was made all the more magical by its audiobook production. Not only did the author himself read it, but it was accompanied with some great atmospheric music to enhance the mood produced by Gaiman’s words. I missed the illustrations this book sports, but I think the words can speak for themselves. In terms of a fairy tale, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains manages to contain the usual flare of morality and truth against a backdrop of riches and mysterious wonder. I’m almost surprised there aren’t more authors writing modern fairy tales...
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VIDEO GAME: Undertale (2015)

UndertaleYear: 2015Rating: E10+Time Played: 5+ hours By the time I had the chance to play Undertale (on the Nintendo Switch, no less), most of the surprising revelations about its battle system were already spoiled for me. Regardless of knowing the unique playstyle for this game, I tried my best to play by the counterintuitive methods that set this game apart from others of its genre. And while I didn’t get the true pacifist ending for some reason, it was still an enjoyable and humorous game. Despite its somewhat shorter length, I still think making it any longer would have ruined the tight storytelling. Now, Undertale is by no means a perfect game, and I’m sure the diehard fans of this franchise will hate me for saying this. The visual style was pretty good for a retro throwback, but it felt inconsistent from place to place, almost like it didn’t know if it wanted to be 8-bit or 16-bit. Similarly, the fantastic music...
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VIDEO GAME: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (2017)

Mario Kart 8 DeluxeYear: 2017Rating: ETime Played: 5+ hours Just like how Mario Kart 7 expanded on the core gameplay mechanic of the Mario Kart series by adding gliding and underwater features in its tracks, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe goes a step further and removes the confines of gravity from the franchise. This core change to the Mario Kart formula results in a lot of genuinely unique courses that couldn’t have been possible in previous games. To top everything off, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is presented in gorgeous high definition while also including all the downloadable content from the Wii U version at no additional cost. With a variety of new courses, as well as classic racetracks enhanced to the Switch’s advanced graphical capabilities, I was glad to finally see some representation in this franchise from characters outside the typical Mario franchise. Representative characters and courses from the Zelda, Animal Crossing, and Splatoon franchises felt like welcome additions and perhaps even the...
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BOOK: Peter Pan (1911)

Peter Pan Year: 1911 Author: J.M. Barrie Length: 302 minutes / 5.03 hours I didn't grow up with Peter Pan as a child. The fact that I'm reviewing this book when I'm 34 merely highlights this oversight. I didn't even get into this story through the animated Disney version. Again, another oversight. About the only reason I know anything about Peter Pan is through the 1991 movie Hook—which I remember quite fondly. At this point, finally getting around to reading the source material was refreshing even if I already picked up most of the pop culture references this book inspired. While I didn't grow up with Peter Pan, I can see its merit. I'll probably even read it to my daughter when she's old enough to understand it. What's perhaps the most notable quality of this book is how its randomness almost makes sense. Do you know how kids make stuff up but have a logical sense about their creations? Well, Peter Pan has plenty...
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VIDEO GAME: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2018)

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Year: 2018 Rating: E10 Time Played: ~45 hours I grew up playing the original Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64. I loved being able to play as a variety of characters across some well-known (and perhaps less well-known) Nintendo franchises. With each iteration of the series, I’ve enjoyed seeing new characters representing new and classic games join the roster. However, even if I can understand cutting some characters as the series moved forward, it was still a disappointment when I couldn’t play as my favorites in subsequent entries in the franchise. This is why I was hyped up for the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. For the first time, I was able to play as a staggeringly large number of characters. The fact that (almost) everything from previous games made it into this one made it feel like this was a celebration of the history of video games and not just a party brawler. And while I didn’t bother...
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BOOK: Breach (2018)

BreachYear: 2018Author: W.L. GoodwaterLength: 368 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** It’s always interesting to see an alternate take on history where fantastical elements can help explain some mostly banal events and activities. In Breach, the reader is offered a glimpse into the top-secret realm of magicians in military espionage. Most of my knowledge of Cold War Berlin is based on pop culture representations, so there wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary here that would scream of historical inaccuracies. If anything, Breach almost felt like it could have been an extension of the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts franchise with how well it integrated history and magic. While there was perhaps a bit too much browbeating over women’s role in society during the Cold War, the pacing, twists, and characters were excellent. It was a little difficult to tell the timeframe of this book, but I assumed it was probably in an alternate 1950s, based on the context clues. Of course, with the pacing of a...
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MOVIE: I Lost My Body (2019)

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

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems Year: 2019 Author: Randall Munroe Length: 307 pages I’ve been a fan of Randall Munroe’s work for quite some time. This artist of the xkcd webcomic certainly has a sense of humor that I appreciate, so I looked forward to his latest book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems. While his previous book, What if? covered hypothetical scenarios asked by the users of the internet, How To takes a somewhat opposite approach by using extreme science to do the most basic things imaginable. If you’re looking for simple answers, this isn’t the book for you. While it’s fun to think of the most complicated way to (for example) be on time, often the joke goes on a little too long as the exact science behind the absurdity is explained. There were times I felt I was reading a textbook instead of a humorous treatise on how to cross a river. Even though I...
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BOOK: Wizard and Glass (1997)

Wizard and GlassYear: 1997Author: Stephen KingLength: 1,656 minutes / 27.6 hours When I started reading Wizard and Glass, it became abundantly clear why The Waste Lands ended with a cliffhanger. While it would have been nice to have a short conclusion at the end of The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass needed a small amount of framing. That way, it didn’t become a book entirely devoted to a flashback. Granted, the large majority of this book is a flashback, even to the point that I’d consider it to be a prequel. Fortunately, Roland’s backstory was something that desperately needed to be expounded upon in this series. I know most writers are discouraged from using flashbacks, but in the context of a more extensive series, Wizard and Glass is an integral part of understanding how the Dark Tower universe works. Plus, Stephen King can get away with a lot since he’s so well established. In the end, this book works well because it...
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BOOK: The Eternity Code (2003)

The Eternity CodeYear: 2003Author: Eoin ColferLength: 414 minutes / 6.90 hours After the last two adventures in the Artemis Fowl series helped to reunite the titular character with his family, it was entertaining to watch him strike out on his own. This was for no other reason than to prove he has the criminal chops his family name is known for. While decidedly middle-grade to young adult in tone, The Eternity Code is still an entertaining read. One might need to have read the previous two volumes to know who all the main players are, but at least the story is strong enough to carry the reader through to the conclusion without too much hassle. While I appreciated the “on top of it” style Artemis had in Artemis Fowl, I could also enjoy the cracks of vulnerability in his façade present in The Eternity Code. After all, Artemis is merely a teenage boy, and it helps to ground him in reality when...
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MOVIE: The Irishman (2019)

The IrishmanYear: 2019Rating: RLength: 209 minutes / 3.48 hours At almost three-and-a-half hours long, The Irishman (2019) might seem like a daunting movie to sit through. However, much like Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019) gave Quentin Tarantino the space to make the movie he wanted to, Netflix seems to have allowed Martin Scorsese to create the film he wanted with little-to-no interference. Consequently, the 3.5 hours of this movie could have probably stood a bit of a trim, but the pacing is so well done as to make the time fly by (similar to another movie of epic proportions, Lawrence of Arabia (1962)). One of the most significant strengths of this movie appears to be its de-aging technology. While it’s still a bit on the edge of the uncanny valley, the main actors did look significantly younger than their current ages during the flashback sequences. Instead of relying on look-alikes and teaching them the mannerisms of these incredibly talented actors, Scorsese...
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BOOK: Shadow of the Hegemon (2000)

Shadow of the HegemonYear: 2000Author: Orson Scott CardLength: 365 pages It’s almost fitting how the follow-on book in the spin-off series to Ender’s Game takes the same tactic as Speaker for the Dead and transforms itself into a completely different genre. While Speaker for the Dead and its sequels still maintained a level of science fiction for the Ender saga, Shadow of the Hegemon pivots into a political thriller with almost no hints of sci-fi to be seen. The strength of the characters helped make this transition relatively smooth, but it still highlights how these child-aged individuals hardly have any child-like qualities. While the Shadow saga certainly needed to start out focusing on Bean, I did appreciate how Shadow of the Hegemon developed many of the supporting characters. For the first time in both series, I felt like the reader was able to know Petra and Peter while also seeing what Achilles was capable of accomplishing. The results of bringing back children...
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MOVIE: Knives Out (2019)

Knives OutYear: 2019Rating: PG-13Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours One of the most under-utilized genres to date, a good mystery movie is hard to find these days. This is partly why Knives Out (2019) is such a joy to watch. With plenty of twists and turns—and a murderer that subverts all the numerous tropes of the genre—this film is almost on the edge of self-aware satire of mysteries on the whole. This is partly why I found Knives Out to be delightfully amusing: the absurd nature of some of the genre’s most tightly-held motifs were playfully subverted for a couple of genuine laughs. Of course, part of the problem of Knives Out being so self-aware is that it is inevitably predictable at several key moments. Depending on how far ahead a viewer can deduce the solution to a critical piece of evidence might determine how predictable it is for them. I did appreciate that there was always one piece of the puzzle...
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MOVIE: An Education (2009)

An Education Year: 2009 Rating: PG-13 Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours I’m not sure how I missed this film when it first came out. I suspect it was because I hadn’t started making a point to see all the Oscar-nominated films of that year—and 2009 bumped that number up significantly from five to ten. At any rate, I’m glad I eventually came around to it as it was a delightful—if not mostly generic—coming-of-age story. The only modern and recent example I can think of that equates to An Education (2009) is Lady Bird (2017), and I loved that film for similar reasons. As someone who generally grew up feeling “older” than his peers, I could relate to Jenny (Carey Mulligan, in her best Audrey Hepburn impersonation). There’s a point when some teenagers like Jenny think they’ve figured out the “rules” of life and are therefore ready to jump into adulthood with both feet. This is definitely where the titular “education” comes in. It's both...
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BOOK: Pandora’s Lab (2017)

Pandora’s Lab Year: 2017 Author: Paul A. Offit Length: 471 minutes / 7.85 hours Science is an interesting realm. The public would sure like to think that all scientists are dedicated to finding the purest form of some scientific concept and modifying it to benefit society. However, some things become readily clear: not all societies are the same, and science can be abused. If anything, some of the worst scientific discoveries of the last few centuries were made with the best intentions. Unfortunately, more often than not, the full science wasn’t brought to the table, and plenty of people suffered because of it. Enter Pandora’s Lab, a selection of a few of the worst scientific discoveries and the stories behind what made them go awry. Each of the scientific discoveries covered in this book had slightly different negative impacts on the world, but the reason why they became so notorious is almost ubiquitous. Science is no place for emotion, so finding quick fixes for something by...
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MOVIE: One Piece – Stampede (2019)

One Piece: Stampede Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours It’s interesting how different Japanese franchises handle their 20th-anniversary movies. In the case of Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You (2017), a nostalgia tactic was used to bring in those viewers who might not have seen a Pokémon movie since the anime started airing back in 1997. Two years later, and another well-known anime (or at least it should be well known) has a movie that celebrates the 20th year of its animated series. One Piece: Stampede (2019) takes a somewhat different tactic here and embraces everything that turned it into what it is today. While anime movies rarely interact with the canon of the series they’re based on, it is essential to note that the author of the original manga did help create the story for Stampede. The reason why this is important is that this movie was able to bring together 20 years’ worth of extraordinarily overpowered and unique characters in a way...
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BOOK: Quiet (2012)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking Year: 2012 Author: Susan Cain Length: 639 minutes / 10.65 hours While it’s taken me a long time to finally get around to reading this book, most of what Quiet presented was what I had already known by living my life as an introvert. I will applaud this book’s ability to help society realize how ubiquitous the introverts that comprise the population are. Quiet also helps show what our needs are in this world that prizes the traits of extroversion over anything else. Even if there are many times where I have to put on my “extrovert suit,” it helps to know that there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. Perhaps my only qualm with this book is how anecdotal the evidence is. Whether it’s stories about famous introverts (which can be inspiring) or younger introverts who are being brought up by parents who don’t quite understand the strengths of the introvert type, Quiet uses a lot of case...
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MOVIE: Hero (2002)

Hero Year: 2002 Rating: PG-13 Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours After the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) in most of the worldwide markets, it’s no wonder that a film like Hero (2002) would make an appearance. Capitalizing on the choreography and visuals that brought Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon success, Hero takes these acrobatic battles to the next level, even to the point of them becoming ridiculous and semi-cartoonish. Add to this the deliberate color theming for each of the film’s different sections, and Hero almost becomes a piece of art in its own right. It’s almost a shame that there haven’t been more movies like this in the years since. While some of the CGI hasn’t aged well since 2002, and the acting can sometimes be too flat or too over the top, the story is still entertaining. The language barrier did make it slightly confusing at times, but the twists were top-notch. It did help to have the “framing” of the throne room to not only show the...
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MOVIE: Senna (2010)

Senna Year: 2010 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours I’ve never been much of a fan of NASCAR racing, mostly because I knew that Formula-1 existed. While I haven’t paid much attention to Formula-1, it was interesting to watch the documentary on Ayrton Senna, especially with how it was put together. Most documentaries will intersperse interviews and other pieces of ancillary information to support the main narrative. Not Senna (2010). Consisting almost entirely of video clips recorded at the time he was racing, Senna is a fascinating look into this racer’s life that benefits from hindsight to piece the video clips together and the full story. The sheer amount of skill and mechanical prowess it takes to race Formula-1 cars at top speeds is what gives this film its initial entertainment value. Added to that, we have the charismatic personality of Ayrton Senna, whose whole goal in life was to be the fastest driver around. He didn’t care about the politics of the...
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BOOK: Cribsheet (2019)

Cribsheet Year: 2019 Author: Emily Oster Length: 642 minutes / 10.70 hours As a new parent and an engineer, I am skeptical when so much advice about raising a baby comes from hearsay or anecdotal evidence. So many controversial topics abound in the early years of a child’s life that I wanted to make sure I was basing my decisions off the scientific data instead of mere wives' tales. Fortunately, Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool exists. Unfortunately, it has merely proven to me that there haven’t been enough rigorous studies to show any causal relationships to make my parenting decisions any easier. Similar in the tactics of Zero to Five (whose author was a science journalist), Cribsheet takes the experience of an economist and pits it against the studies that have been performed to determine which of them are legitimate enough to be trusted. In most cases, it seems that plenty of research into the benefits and detriments for children (and parents) merely...
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MOVIE: Blood Diamond (2006)

Blood Diamond Year: 2006 Rating: R Length: 143 minutes / 2.38 hours For years, I had heard about Blood Diamond (2006) from a variety of different viewpoints. Many friends would mention it about either Leonardo DiCaprio’s accent, the tense action, or the diamond industry as a whole. After a while, I made it a point to eventually see this film, even if I wasn’t sure when that would be. It took a while, but I did eventually have this chance, and I’m glad that I took it. Sure, Blood Diamond is a little difficult to watch in the sense that there are aspects of the African diamond industry that are straight-up human rights violations. However, it is important to know these things are going on to become informed about our world. The fact that there have been (and likely still are) child soldiers being brainwashed by ruthless rebels to overthrow the governments in Africa is a sobering thing to watch and a heartbreaking realization when you see how it...
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BOOK: The Fifth Season (2015)

The Fifth Season Year: 2015 Author: N.K. Jemisin Length: 927 minutes / 15.45 hours It’s been a while since I’ve read a fantasy book with such a unique magic system in place. I truly enjoyed the amount of thought that went into a world where the main source of power was that of the earth itself. From magma to solid obelisks, the ability to control the vibrations of the planet (either to amplify or dampen) had an interesting and logical follow-through in its characters and storyline. I’m honestly looking forward to eventually starting the next book in the series since the world was built so well. It’s no wonder that it ended up winning the Hugo Award for that year. While I suppose The Fifth Season is also partly a pseudo-post-apocalypse story, it was only shown in small snippets and references here and there. Consequently, this would make this story almost “modern fantasy” in comparison to some of the classics. Additionally, this would explain some...
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MOVIE: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

Cave of Forgotten Dreams Year: 2010 Rating: G Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours Every once in a while, ideal conditions align to preserve a piece of ancient human history. Time and the march of civilization have destroyed plenty of important artifacts of our past, but occasionally something happens that protects this history for future generations to find. In Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), the audience gets a breathtaking look into an amazing discovery that has a cultural impact stretching back eons to the origins of our species. It’s a shame that most will never be able to visit this cave, but this documentary is practically the next best thing. Interspersing first footage and high-quality video of the cave, the music and narration in this film create a mesmerizing quality as we are introduced to cave drawings and other artifacts that haven’t been seen by human eyes in a very long time. The expansive nature of the art and the level of preservation are quite awe-inspiring. I...
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BOOK: Get Thee…Back to the Future! (2019)

William Shakespeare’s Get Thee…Back to the Future! Year: 2019 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 215 minutes / 3.58 hours Having already listened to the audiobooks for the Shakespearean versions of the original Star Wars trilogy, I was curious to see how another beloved pop culture film would fare with the treatment. Get Thee…Back to the Future! had a bit more of a challenge when compared to the Star Wars stories. First, as the plot is set in (relatively) modern times, much of our technology had to be “explained” in Shakespearean format (e.g., a car is “a horseless carriage born on fumes of gas and flame”). At least the Star Wars stories seemed to fit in the Shakespearean timeframe a little better. Despite this clash of modern and medieval, the transformation into Shakespearean form does end up working. I’d probably compare this to some of his comedies like Taming of the Shrew, 12th Night, and Much Ado About Nothing, if for no other reason than the comedy...
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BOOK: The Waste Lands (1991)

The Waste Lands Year: 1991 Author: Stephen King Length: 1,090 minutes / 18.17 hours Before I got into reading the Dark Tower series, I saw the movie adaptation. It’s honestly what inspired me to get into the books. While I was a little disappointed with The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three showed me the series’ true potential. Moving on from my favorite book in the series, we have The Waste Lands. It's sort of a mash-up of the two earlier books in terms of characters and plot points. However, it's ultimately less than the sum of their parts (and that’s mostly due to the ending). What strikes me with The Waste Lands is how it could have been better than it was. Those who have seen the movie version of The Dark Tower will recognize a lot of scenes, if not a huge chunk of them. I can see why they cut the two most interesting characters from the film, especially since everyone ends...
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MOVIE: Chocolat (2000)

Chocolat Year: 2000 Rating: PG-13 Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours Chocolat (2000) is one of those movies that I was aware of but hadn’t watched until recently. While it received a Best Picture nomination, I don’t think it was up to the level of the winner for that year, Gladiator (2000). Nevertheless, Chocolat is a charming story that lies somewhere between Footloose (1984), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), and Babette’s Feast (1987). What’s maybe a little odd to me about this movie is how I thought Johnny Depp would have a more prominent role in it, since he covers almost half the movie poster. Instead, it’s more a bit part that comes in about half-way through the film. While the conclusion of Chocolat is practically telegraphed from the start, it was still entertaining to watch the townspeople warm to the newly arrived chocolatier. Despite most of the characters might feeling a little one-dimensional, they are so fully fleshed out in the one or two qualities that make them distinguishable that you can’t help but enjoy...
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BOOK: The Daylight War (2013)

The Daylight War Year: 2013 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,607 minutes / 26.78 hours I’m glad to see that it only took two books for Peter V. Brett to cut down on some of the extraneous flashbacks and exposition in the Demon Cycle series. While whole chunks of The Warded Man could have been cut with nothing significant lost in the process, and The Desert Spear had what appeared to be an unrelated storyline that weaved through the narrative, The Daylight War has a minimal amount of this “fluff.” Granted, there is still some amount of world-building that helped to explain yet another aspect of this setting, but it’s minimal in comparison to its predecessors. Additionally, I already knew this series was an adult fantasy from my experience with The Warded Man and The Desert Spear. These are tame when compared to the third entry in the series. The sex in this book made the previous two look like nuns in comparison. Sure, it...
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MOVIE: Heat (1995)

Heat Year: 1995 Rating: R Length: 170 minutes / 2.83 hours It’s interesting to go back and watch something by Michael Mann after seeing his later work. I enjoyed Collateral (2004) and considered it to be a well-directed film. Of course, there’s deliberate pacing and acceleration of Collateral that drew me in. Unfortunately, this biased me somewhat when I sat down to watch Heat (1995). Stylistically, both are fairly similar and use similar locales. However, at almost three hours long, some of the pacing in Heat made me think that it could have used a bit of a trim in the first half. I understand the deliberate nature of the buildup of the first half, with each event introducing some core tenet of the main characters that come to fruition by the end of the film. It helps that there’s a good bit of action early on, but until the twist that happens about half-way through occurs, the comparison to the pacing of the second half makes the early part of this movie...
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MOVIE: As Good as it Gets (1997)

As Good as it Gets Year: 1997 Rating: PG-13 Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours I’m not sure how it’s taken me this long to sit down and finally watch this movie. I’ve enjoyed other films by James L. Brooks, like Terms of Endearment (1983) and Broadcast News (1987). If anything, As Good as it Gets (1997) is almost like the end of the trifecta of Brooks films, considering how well-received by critics they are. When it comes right down to it, the appeal of these movies is the characters. There’s a heart and realism rarely seen in comedies (most of which resort to stereotypes and fart jokes to get a laugh). As a more intellectual comedy, As Good as it Gets manages to bring together three unlikely people and push their boundaries to grow as characters. Of course, it’s somewhat easy to do this with abrasive characters like Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson). After all, actively trying not to be a jerk is great growth potential. Additionally, other characters grow through their...
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BOOK: BlacKkKlansman (2014)

BlacKkKlansman Year: 2014 Author: Ron Stalworth Length: 352 minutes / 5.87 hours As someone who lives in Colorado Springs and calls this town my home, I was intrigued by Ron Stalworth's story after watching the 2018 Spike Lee movie based on the undercover investigation into the local Ku Klux Klan. Sure, I didn’t live in the Springs during the period covered in this book, but I did have enough understanding of the town to know the locations referenced throughout. To think that I live close to some of the areas that could have been affected by cross burnings or other Klan events is a little eerie to me, mostly because it’s something I rarely think about. For those who have seen the movie first, this book covers everything that made it to the big screen but also adds some details about other events not directly linked to the Klan (but were still relevant to the discussion of race in the area). I’ll admit that Colorado...
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MOVIE: Spider-man: Far from Home (2019)

Spider-man: Far from Home Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours After the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), there were still plenty of questions that remained. While still part of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Spider-man: Far from Home (2019) attempts to grapple with the outcome of such a pivotal film in the superhero franchise. As was the case with its predecessor, Spider-man: Homecoming (2017), Far from Home shows the audience the impacts of the other films in the MCU in a way that’s personable and relatable. After all, it’s easier to connect with a “friendly neighborhood Spider-man” than with a multi-billion dollar playboy. I did appreciate the emotional depth of this movie, especially considering how Tom Holland handles the role of Peter Parker. From grieving over the losses of Endgame while also trying to move forward with his life, Peter has plenty of growth opportunities throughout this film. That being said, Far from Home seems to hit almost...
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BOOK: How to Tell Fate from Destiny (2018)

How to Tell Fate from Destiny: And Other Skillful Word Distinctions Year: 2018 Author: Charles Harrington Elster Length: 320 pages I’ve written blog posts and recorded vlogs about writers who seem to rely on spell check to make sure they’re using the right word. Most of the time, they probably didn’t have an adequate editor to review their manuscript and thus didn’t check whether or not they were using the right word (even if the wrong word is spelled correctly). With the state of the printed word slipping year after year, a book like How to Tell Fate from Destiny should be a standard reference on any writer’s desk. Although, many of the words covered in this book are slowly changing due to idiomatic circumstances. It is slightly encouraging to see examples provided in this book from reputable sources (like well-known newspapers and magazines) that still have these common errors in their writing. If anything, these examples prove how difficult it can be to distinguish the correct...
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BOOK: Red Prophet (1988)

Red Prophet Year: 1988 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 733 minutes / 12.22 hours Continuing from the previous book in the Alvin Maker series, Red Prophet flashes back and shows certain events from a different point of view before driving forward into some fascinating alternate history. I continue to enjoy the fantastical elements brought into American history, even to the point of explaining how certain famous historical figures were the way they were. Although, if you know enough history, you’ll realize the fates of some of the characters presented in Red Prophet (William Henry Harrison, for instance) might not need the foreshadowing missing from this text. While Seventh Son managed to set up this alternate history and establish some of its rules, Red Prophet delves into the action and excitement that comes from some of the more “kinetic” talents of these characters. Once the plot catches up with where Seventh Son left off, I was hooked. The interactions between Alvin and the Native Americans were quite interesting, and I found everything up until the climactic battle to...
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MOVIE: Aladdin (2019)

Aladdin Year: 2019 Rating: PG Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours When the animated version of Aladdin came out in 1992, I was seven years old. As a young boy, I could finally relate to the titular character since the focus of this Disney film wasn’t as much on the “princess” as it was on “Prince Ali.” Consequently, this film has remained one of my favorite Disney films over the years and is one I have mostly memorized after repeated viewings in my childhood. As such, I was partly looking forward to this live-action adaptation due to my love of the original. The other part of my anticipation was because Guy Ritchie was directing it (and I’ve loved plenty of his earlier works). Having now seen this version of the rags-to-riches tale, I’m in this weird “uncanny valley” of storytelling. Because I have the original memorized, this version of the story was close enough to be predictable but not a word-for-word re-enactment, which is what I found...
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BOOK: Seventh Son (1987)

Seventh Son Year: 1987 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 547 minutes / 9.12 hours Having loved Orson Scott Card’s Ender Saga, I decided to start into another of his series, Tales of Alvin Maker. I was used to his science fiction writing, so I thought it would be interesting to see how he handled semi-historical fiction. For the first book in a series, Seventh Son certainly has its strengths and weaknesses. It’s clear this book came on the heels of the Ender Saga, as there are a lot of parallels between characters and motifs that I just couldn’t ignore. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing by any means. While the history of colonial America is the setting of Seventh Son, the fantasy elements added to it made for an interesting read. I did appreciate the distinctive “good vs. evil” conflict between the Makers and the Unmaker, even if it’s a little too tried and true. At the very least, while the religious characters had...
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BOOK: Ember Falls (2016)

Ember Falls Year: 2016 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 234 pages Being a fan of children’s series like The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as a lover of rabbits (owning two Flemish giants as pets), I was glad to get back into the Green Ember series with the second book, Ember Falls. Obviously, as this series is mainly geared toward children, there were a few points of the plot of this second book that I either predicted from the start or could see coming from a mile away. In any case, the world building that continued with this book was top notch, despite certainly feeling like a “linking” part of the series. While The Green Ember could stand on its own and laid the groundwork for the books that came after it, Ember Falls certainly needs its predecessor to make sense. It also seems to rely on the next book in the series to reach some conclusion. This is an issue that often arises in book...
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MOVIE: Shazam! (2019)

Shazam! Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours As far as self-aware movies go, I think Shazam! (2019) is the best example from the genre of comic book heroes. Deadpool (2016) might have been more “meta,” but Shazam! hits all the bits that make comic books popular to kids, especially young boys. As a fan of self-aware films, I would have seen this movie anyway. However, with Zachary Levi in the lead role, I absolutely had to see it. I’ve generally been a fan of his work from Chuck and Tangled (2010), so seeing that he still has his comedic timing in shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and movies like Shazam! is encouraging. In terms of plot, the premise is somewhat weak, but the pitch is something akin to “Big (1988), but as a superhero film like Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).” In fact, there’s at least one scene in a mall that winks so hard at this reference, I was afraid it...
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BOOK: Nightflyers (1985)

Nightflyers Year: 1985 Author: George R.R. Martin Length: 247 minutes / 4.12 hours Those who are familiar with George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series may be lamenting the end of the semi-faithful Game of Thrones television show. In the time we’ll all have to wait until the next Song of Ice and Fire book comes out, there are other little stories from this author to satiate our appetite. Nightflyers is a short novella by Martin that also seems to be hinging itself on the success of Game of Thrones, albeit in the science fiction genre instead of high fantasy. Considering how verbose Martin can get with his works, it was almost refreshing to read a story that was so focused and short. Granted, even though Nightflyers is science fiction, all of the notable George R.R. Martin elements were present: mainly, sex and violence. Depending on your tolerance of these elements, I can say that they’re at least naturally integrated with this...
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BOOK: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (2008)

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die: 5th Edition Year: 2008 Author: Steven Jay Schneider Length: 960 pages As a movie aficionado, it was only a matter of time before I picked up this book. At the time, the 5th edition covered most of the films that were out at the time, but I do realize there are more recent versions of this book that include some of the latest hits of the last decade. Not one to use this book as a simple desk reference, I took the time to sit down and read through the reviews of these 1,000+ movies. In the time since buying this book, I’ve managed to increase my percentage of films seen, but there’s still a long way to go. Even before I started reading this book, I had already seen a good portion of the movies mentioned, many of which won critical awards for their achievements. With a concerted effort, I’m now sitting at 42% of these 1001 movies...
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MOVIE: Vice (2018)

Vice Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours It’s a little weird to me how a director like Adam McKay has gone from directing movies like Anchorman (2004) and Talladega Nights (2006) to entertaining exposés like The Big Short (2015) and Vice (2018). Sure, I can see how his comedy background could lead to the razor-sharp wit used to educate the movie-going public about the 2008 mortgage crisis and the former vice president, respectively. It’s evident the Academy likes his new style as well, as both The Big Short and Vice were nominated for Best Picture. While I liked The Big Short a lot, Vice certainly had its moments. I’ll give props to Christian Bale for his ability to mimic Dick Cheney’s mannerisms in this role. Sam Rockwell was also pretty great as George W. Bush, but I couldn’t get past Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld. I also appreciated the tongue-in-cheek “false ending” in Vice, as it was probably one of the funniest moments in the film. Just like how learning about the mortgage crisis was...
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BOOK: Kaleidoscope (2018)

Kaleidoscope: Keeping the church from becoming a museum Year: 2018 Author: Kurt Trempert Length: 226 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** In Kaleidoscope: Keeping the church from becoming a museum, Kurt Trempert uses the metaphor of the kaleidoscope to examine what an incarnational church looks like when compared to some of the stagnancies arising in the modern American church. This book addresses many issues and criticisms the church faces in the contemporary era. They're covered in a way that shows not only what’s perhaps behind these shortcomings, but what can potentially be done to fix them. Of course, this then begs the question, who is this book’s audience? Is it for those who run their local church, or the congregation of said churches? Content-wise, I didn’t have many issues with what was presented here. Most of my qualms had to do with the formatting, including right-align text, the font, and lack of indents. Since it was consistent throughout, I eventually got over it. I would...
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BOOK: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill (2019)

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

Alita: Battle Angel Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours With the plethora of successes that the comic book movie has seen over the last decade, it’s a little disheartening to see the Japanese equivalent fail to make much headway. There are just as many interesting and action-packed stories from manga and anime that deserve the treatment given to comic book movies. Instead, busts like Dragonball: Evolution (2009) and Ghost in the Shell (2017) have shown that live-action adaptations are challenging, especially when there’s already an animated counterpart. This was why I was excited to see Alita: Battle Angel (2019). While many manga/anime film adaptations fail to grasp the feel of the source material, Alita appeared to be a passion project for James Cameron. The fact that Robert Rodriguez directed this movie helped as well, considering how well he brought the graphic novel Sin City to the screen in 2005. Of course, he also directed Spy Kids (2001), which was colorful and full of fun action. In the end, I found Alita to be somewhat...
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BOOK: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Year: 1831 Author: Victor Hugo Length: 1,136 minutes / 18.93 hours Victor Hugo is one of those classic authors who I’ve hesitated reading because his stories tend to have a lot of details that don’t necessarily add to the plot. Sure, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is no Les Miserables, but Hugo’s style made this book perhaps a little longer than it should have been. Either way, now I know a lot more about the architecture of Notre Dame Cathedral. Despite all this, the story of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is timeless in many ways, not the least of which centers around its titular character. While modern stories are vying to be inclusive and diverse, Victor Hugo managed to write a story in the 1800s that not only included a disabled individual but racially diverse characters (at least for France) as well. The fact that both are sympathetic protagonists helps cement Quasimodo and Esmerelda in my mind. They’re both persecuted in their own ways;...
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BOOK: Artemis Fowl (2001)

Artemis Fowl Year: 2001 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 281 pages With the movie adaptation of this book coming out in a few months, I figured the premise of Artemis Fowl looked interesting enough that I’d want to read it before seeing the film. After all, a child genius going up against fantasy forces sounded like it would be entertaining. Overall, this was true. Granted, this book starts one of those classic Young Adult series that’s actually meant for children, so I can forgive a bit of its bathroom humor—but only to a point. Still, I found the fusion of modern technology and fantasy elements to be the strength of this book. Much in the vein of the science fantasy genre, Artemis Fowl uses scientific principles and concepts to explain the numerous phenomena connected to creatures like fairies, dwarves, and trolls. It only makes sense that these creatures would evolve technologically along with humanity. Being able to explain how these creatures could remain undetected for thousands of years was nearly...
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BOOK: Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire (2018)

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire Year: 2018 Author: John August Length: 411 minutes / 6.85 hours Having already read Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon, I decided to go back and read the book that kicked off this series. While I already knew what had happened in Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire—as the sequel frequently referenced it—I still appreciated reading the details myself. I had a few questions and concerns that I hoped this book would address, and only about half of them were answered to my satisfaction. Still, I did enjoy this Harry Potter and Boy Scouts mashup, even if it is literally that. In the sequel, I definitely got the Harry Potter vibe, but I fully realized the almost 1-for-1 influence of the J.K. Rowling series on this series when I read this book. Unsuspectingly powerful main character with a unique physical trait? Check. Overachieving female friend? Check. Somewhat bumbling male friend? Check. Different groups categorized via...
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MOVIE: The Favourite (2018)

The Favourite Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours What. The. Favourite. For those of us watching all of this year’s Best Picture nominees, The Favourite (2018) is certainly the token “artsy” film of the set. It felt like it was following in the footsteps of last year’s Phantom Thread (2017) in that the set decoration and costume design were exquisite, despite the—let’s face it—weird characters. Regarding the plot, though, I did find The Favourite to parallel the events in the 1950 Best Picture winner, All About Eve. While its art is on full display for all to see, The Favourite is a bit more than how it looks. Aside from the aforementioned set decoration and costume design, I have to applaud this movie’s cinematography. I’d wager that it’ll win in these three categories, but the cinematography stands out because it’s so different from most films. Heavily utilizing wide-angle fisheye lenses, as well as copious amounts of natural light (perhaps as an aesthetic homage to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975), which also shares a somewhat...
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BOOK: The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006)

The Girl Who Played with Fire Year: 2006 Author: Stieg Larsson Length: 1,115 minutes / 18.58 hours Despite some of its weaknesses, some of which were due to my reading it via audiobook, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a great book. In its sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, some of these weaknesses were addressed, but others manifested in their place. Again, these faults might be attributed to the audiobook format, but are fairly minor when considering how fantastic the story is as a whole. In fact, I probably like The Girl Who Played with Fire more than its predecessor. Of course, part of this was how events in the first book carried over to influence the plot of the second. In the first book of the Millennium series, I didn’t realize just how much sex was in it. This was mostly because of the rape scene that made everything else seem tame in comparison. In this book, the sex is still there, but there’s so much of it...
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BOOK: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Year: 2005 Author: Stieg Larsson Length: 980 minutes / 16.33 hours For many years, I was hesitant to read this book, mostly due to a few intense sequences that I saw in the David Fincher film adaptation. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be subjected to them in book form any more than I had been already. Fortunately, these scenes were quite a bit more tolerable in the book, mostly because the descriptions weren’t nearly as visceral as watching them on the big screen. I’m only now kicking myself for waiting this long to read such a fantastic book. While the book and the movie diverge in a few spots, I can see the reasoning behind the differences. When it comes right down to it, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a showcase for its titular character. Lisbeth Salander is tough, smart, and an overall entertaining individual to follow. While it takes quite a while for her to...
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BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia (2009)

Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia Year: 2009 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 406 minutes / 6.77 hours You know, it’s difficult to review a book that already highlights its flaws in the text itself. Part of me wonders if the reviews from the second book in the series were bad enough to warrant this kind of meta self-awareness. In the end, while Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia does take the time to address these weaknesses in its story and characters, it still doesn’t excuse the fact that they’re in there in the first place. These winking soliloquies seem to gloss over the fact that the book knows what’s wrong with it, but instead decides to gloss over it with self-reference instead of fixing the root of the problems themselves. By this point in the series, I have come to terms with its middle-grade silliness and occasional bathroom humor. I loved the rule-breaking first book in the series, only to become annoyed by this constant...
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MOVIE: BlacKkKlansman (2018)

BlacKkKlansman Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours The idea that an African American could become a member of the Ku Klux Klan is silly enough that it became a joke on Dave Chapelle’s television show. Of course, this movie isn’t a comedy sketch, as it is based on true events. Obviously, there were plenty of elements in this film that were likely fictionalized to make the story more “Hollywood,” but it’s still an interesting story, nonetheless. Part of the trick of this movie, though, is that it treats itself almost like a half-modern documentary of the KKK as well, which makes it seem like there wasn’t enough source material to make an engaging plot. Another part of me was interested in this movie for its setting. Living in Colorado Springs, it was interesting to me that certain landmarks and places in town were referenced, which merely added realism to the story as it was presented. From NORAD and Fort Carson to...
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MOVIE: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Bohemian Rhapsody Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours It's difficult to hate a film that's filled with so many great songs. Fortunately for Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), almost all of Queen's greatest hits are pulled out and strung together to cover a rather large timeframe of 15 years. Of course, like most musical biopics, it does tend to hit the same notes as predecessors before it. Perhaps this is merely due to the "rock and roll" lifestyle, but I couldn't help but see similar situations in films like De-Lovely (2004), Ray (2004), and Walk the Line (2005). While the cultural landscape has changed a lot from the 1970s and 1980s until now, some of the film's "reveals" that would have been a little more shocking (i.e. Freddie's homosexuality) were perhaps lessened due to the fairly famous end of this talented singer. That being said, some of the lyrics of these well-known songs take on a strikingly more poignant context during the recreated Live Aid concert in...
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BOOK: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (1993)

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print Year: 1993 Authors: Renni Browne and Dave King Length: 237 pages Even though this book was published 25 years ago, its advice for aspiring authors is timeless. From those just starting to veterans still polishing their craft, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is perhaps even more relevant today than when it was initially released. After all, the pre-eminence of self-published authors has spawned a plethora of poorly-written and amateur works that seriously need some form of editing. On the plus side, the more self-published authors who take the advice in this book and put it to good use, then perhaps there will be less of a stigma against them in the future. Breaking down the editing process into 12 distinct parts, this book shows the reader—through numerous examples—how a lousy piece of prose can be edited into something much more palatable. That being said, there are a lot of examples, some of which take up multiple pages. Occasionally, the errors...
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BOOK: A Closed and Common Orbit (2017)

A Closed and Common Orbit Year: 2017 Author: Becky Chambers Length: 690 minutes / 11.50 hours After the refreshing sci-fi The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, I was ready to follow the crew of the Wayfarer to their next adventure. Unfortunately, the sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, decided to take a path more akin to The Godfather Part II (1974). Instead of following the main characters of the first story, this sequel delved into the new life of the AI now known as Sidra, while also interspersing a quasi-related prequel story of one of the new characters introduced in this book. Fortunately, these two stories were well paced against each other. Even though I feel readers could pick up this book without having read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, there are certainly a few details about the diverse races found in this universe left out of this book—probably for the sake of brevity. This didn’t necessarily detract from the enjoyment of A Closed and Common...
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BOOK: Dreadfully Ever After (2011)

Dreadfully Ever After Year: 2011 Author: Steve Hockensmith Length: 287 pages While the original Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a combination most people never knew they needed, apparently making it into a trilogy was the next logical conclusion. Combined with the prequel, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, Dreadfully Ever After puts the series to rest with a sequel that seems to re-hash a lot of similar ideas presented in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but with enough connection to the prequel and at least one or two original ideas that helped to round out the characters. These new ideas were logical extrapolations from the events that concluded Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so they weren’t necessarily shocking, but still entertaining to pull the thread nonetheless. I think, overall, I prefer the prequel and sequel to the original Austen/monster mashup. It probably helped that both were written by the same author, who was essentially writing fan fiction based on the idea that this romantic classic could be combined with the undead. Dawn...
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BOOK: The Black Star of Kingston (2015)

The Black Star of Kingston Year: 2015 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 160 pages Immediately after I finished reading The Green Ember, I picked up this short story/prequel and read through it in one sitting. I had become pretty well invested in the world created in The Green Ember and wanted more of it before diving into the sequel, Ember Falls. While The Green Ember mentioned a story of The Black Star of Kingston in its main plot, I have to say that I wasn’t as impressed as I would have hoped. Sure, all the things that made The Green Ember great were mostly present in The Black Star of Kingston, but it felt a little…underdeveloped. Once again, the strength of the plot and characters helped provide entertainment as I read this story. However, without a more comprehensive understanding of the lore of this series, I wasn’t quite sure where this story fits in with the rest of the canon. I knew it was a prequel...
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BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones (2008)

Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones Year: 2008 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 425 minutes / 7.08 hours Earlier this year, I read Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians and absolutely loved it. Consequently, I had high hopes for the next book in this series, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones. While there was still the same amount of self-awareness and humor in this book, it felt a little…off. Perhaps I should have read these two books closer together, but I had some trouble coming up to speed in the beginning and wasn’t entirely sure why the “goal” of this book was to find Alcatraz’s father. In any case, Sanderson’s world-building is still in top form here. Of course, the “cute” way that this series was self-aware when I read the first book was a bit more annoying this time around. It almost felt like every chapter had to have a soliloquy, even if it didn’t link itself to where the plot was at the time—which often broke the...
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BOOK: The Red Badge of Courage (1895)

The Red Badge of Courage Year: 1895 Author: Stephen Crane Length: 315 minutes / 5.25 hours War is an ugly thing full of death and destruction. While most books written today bemoan this fact and complain that wars should never start in the first place, what do the individual soldiers handle a war that they didn’t even start? Set in the Civil War, The Red Badge of Courage is perhaps the best representation of the growth of a soldier from a deserter to a courageous fighter. Our intrinsic fear of death is what motivates so many of us to do the things we do to survive. Overcoming that fear and charging headlong into battle does take a measure of courage usually not present in most people. Stephen Crane does a fantastic job weaving the story of a young man who has to learn what it truly means to earn the titular “red badge of courage.” His prose is almost poetic as he describes the landscapes,...
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MOVIE: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 94 minutes / 1.57 hours Growing up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I did spend a fair amount of time watching PBS. From Sesame Street to Bill Nye, one of the shows I would frequently watch was Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. Plenty of friends had raved about this documentary, so I finally decided to sit down and watch it. Let me state that most people will probably cry at one point during this movie. After all, there was so much heart present in Fred Roger’s life and profession that you can’t help but be touched by his ministry. This documentary was a little eye-opening in the sense that it took something from my nostalgia and made me realize how groundbreaking it was. I don’t recall the more “serious” episodes, but watching clips where subjects like assassination, racism, and war are all presented in a fashion that children can understand them is astounding. Fred never...
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BOOK: Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon (2019)

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