MOVIE: Godzilla Minus One (2023)

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

MOVIE: Tangled (2010)

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

BOOK: The Dark Tower (2004)

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

MOVIE: The Whale (2022)

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

MOVIE: RRR (2022)

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

MOVIE: Oppenheimer (2023)

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

BOOK: Nimona (2015)

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

MOVIE: Triangle of Sadness (2022)

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

VIDEO GAME: Portal 2 (2011)

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

VIDEO GAME: Chrono Trigger (2008)

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

MOVIE: The Menu (2022)

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

MOVIE: Skyfall (2012)

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

VIDEO GAME: Mega Man X (1994)

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

MOVIE: Little Boy (2015)

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

BOOK: Archenemies (2018)

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

VIDEO GAME: LEGO The Lord of the Rings (2012)

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

BOOK: Project Hail Mary (2021)

Project Hail Mary Year: 2021 Author: Andy Weir Length: 476 pages The strength of Andy Weir's hard sci-fi storytelling was evident in The Martian. He sets up a problem, shows us a solution, then does everything in his author-ly power to prevent the main character from achieving that solution. His scientific explanations might get a little dry, but they are necessary to understand the situation without diving too deep into details. While his sophomore effort with Artemis showed me he struggles with writing women, he came back to his roots and knocked it out of the park with Project Hail Mary. There are many similarities between The Martian and Project Hail Mary, which is probably why I like both books equally. Sure, the stakes are higher in Project Hail Mary—with the survival of humanity on the line instead of just one astronaut—but the explanation of the science follows the same format he used in The Martian. Specifically, a problem derails all the progress made so...
Read More

MOVIE: CODA (2021)

CODAYear: 2021Rating: PG-13Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours Every once in a while, a movie comes along that's surprisingly unique. Like, you would have thought such a plot would have existed a dozen times already, but Hollywood has only remade it once from a version that was initially in French. CODA (2021) is such a film. Sure, it has elements that are common to other dramatic films—like fishers, singers, and family dynamics. The combination of these things makes CODA stand out as unique to me. Not only does its double-meaning title elevate it above other movies, but its heartfelt content is something we need more of in this depressing world. CODA's take on the "my family doesn't understand my talent and is holding me back" cliche hits differently in this scenario. It's not that Ruby (Emilia Jones) has a family that ignores her obvious talent for singing, it's that they literally cannot understand how much better she is at singing than the...
Read More

VIDEO GAME: The Stanley Parable (2011)

The Stanley Parable Year: 2011 Rating: NR Time Played: ~2 hours The Stanley Parable is one of those odd video games that defies definition. Is it a walking simulator? Is it a choose-your-own-adventure? Is it a meta examination of itself? In the end, it truly is a combination of all three, but it's also so much more than that. While most video games have an objective you're trying to accomplish, The Stanley Parable is content with giving you the illusion of free will, then smirking as everything unravels in hilarious fashion. On my first playthrough of The Stanley Parable, I let the narrator guide me all the way to the end of the story. It was an uplifting ending that the narrator's voice prescribed, seeing as he told me what to do the whole time. However, there were no end credits after reaching this ending. Teleported back to the start of my journey, I progressed through this liminal space again, except now I knew what...
Read More

VIDEO GAME: Hollow Knight (2017)

Hollow Knight Year: 2017 Rating: E10+ Time Played: 2,712 minutes / 45.20 hours Every once in a while, I come across a game that hooks me right out of the gate. The music, ambiance, and gameplay mixed in a perfect combination that encouraged me to keep playing. Despite the sharp difficulty curve I encountered for the main bosses, the stakes made me continue the journey all the way to its conclusion (at least one of the few different endings, that is). There is nothing more rewarding than feeling so close to defeating a boss, only to mess up and need to try again and finally succeeding. For an affordable indie game, Hollow Knight is filled with content. Even if I found myself stuck at a particular junction, I could merely explore some other facet of the gigantic map until my skills improved to the point where I could defeat the roadblock in my way. All the while, I marveled at the unique visuals for each...
Read More

MOVIE: Oldboy (2003)

OldboyYear: 2003Rating: RLength: 120 minutes / 2.00 hours Some storylines are so timeless; they can't help to be made into something modern—thus becoming timeless in the process. Oldboy (2003) can easily draw comparisons to The Count of Monte Cristo in its structure but adds depth and layers to a wild ride that unfortunately could not be even closely matched in its American remake in 2013. As it stands, Oldboy is one of the pillars that shows how culturally significant South Korean cinema has been and how its predecessors like Parasite (2019) and Minari (2020) stood on its shoulders to achieve greatness. Oldboy is a lot like Memento (2000) in that it demands a second viewing, often right after reaching the end credits. Many of the plot's twists and turns readjust the viewer's understanding of previous events—to the point where you'll have to watch it again with this new knowledge fresh in your mind, thus opening up a whole new experience to the...
Read More

VIDEO GAME: Ocarina of Time 3D (2011)

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D Year: 2011 Rating: E10 Time Played: 16.95 hours When I was cataloging my video game collection a few years ago, I realized how I seemed to have a lot of Nintendo console games that I also had in a Game Boy version. While this seems to indicate I was the prime market for the Switch decades before it came out, I never considered the “portable” versions of these games to be that good. With the recent uptick in remakes and re-ports to newer hardware, I can’t claim that I appreciate buying the same game I already own and can still play on an older system. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is the exception to this. While it had been some time since I played Ocarina of Time, it was one of the first Zelda games I actually completed when I was growing up. So, with a bit of nostalgia tinting my play-through of the...
Read More

VIDEO GAME: A Link Between Worlds (2013)

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between WorldsYear: 2013Rating: ETime Played: 895 minutes / 14.92 hours While I bemoan remakes of games that are just straight ports from their original system, I can appreciate remakes that add a little something to make it worth playing the same story over again. That was definitely the case with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Basically a 3D re-skin of A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds modifies the mechanics and story just enough for me to consider it a moderately unique entry in the Zelda series. In fact, I think I like this game more than I do the game it was originally based on. This game's stereoscopic effect really adds to that top-down visual style that defined the earlier Zelda titles. So, while everything looked gorgeous in its reimagined 3D form, the game already lent itself to this technological feature. I also appreciated how open this game was, as...
Read More

MOVIE: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

The Trial of the Chicago 7 Year: 2020 Rating: R Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours For decades, Aaron Sorkin has written some of the best films ever created. Classics like A Few Good Men (1992) still stand up, and modern masterpieces like The Social Network (2010) and Moneyball (2011) are starting to become timeless as well. And while he's mostly been the writer of these films, The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) is his sophomore effort as a director. Somehow, the ability to accurately translate his words into the actors' performances created—in my opinion—the best film of 2020. It's clear Sorkin cut his teeth long ago with courtroom dramas, but this movie is by far the most intricately-crafted exposé of the corruption of the American justice system I've ever seen. The fact that the parallels to 50-years later are shockingly similar actually makes me sick, but that's perhaps why this film works so well right now. It doesn't give me hope that these...
Read More

BOOK: Exhalation (2019)

Exhalation Year: 2019 Author: Ted Chiang Length: 682 minutes / 11.37 hours My librarian uncle introduced me to Ted Chiang recently, and I was so intrigued by such an award-winning author who wrote exclusively in short stories that I had to check out one of his books. Exhalation is a collection of these stories, and I can see why Chiang is lauded as a writer. It seems that modern science fiction is too focused on new technologies and how they can lead to utopias or dystopias. In Chiang’s stories, I saw some stark realism that took well-tread topics of the genre and examined them through a lens that was extremely realistic to how society would function with such advancements. It was refreshing—a sigh of fresh air, or exhalation, if you will—to read stories about parallel universes, artificial intelligence, and time travel that didn’t stick to the same tropes that have made science fiction almost boring in comparison. In the end, Chiang is so concise with his...
Read More

MOVIE: The Lives of Others (2006)

The Lives of Others Year: 2006 Rating: R Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours Quantum Physics holds to a belief that you can never truly observe something without affecting it. The mere act of observation alters the state of the thing being observed to the point where we can never be sure of the accuracy of the observation. I say all this to set the stage for the wildly tense and enthralling Best Foreign Film Oscar-winner, The Lives of Others (2006). There’s this weird dichotomy between voyeurism and being able to play God that makes this film so entertaining to watch, especially in the modern, surveillance-heavy society in which we live today (of which Person of Interest does an excellent job of exposing). Set in one of those rare historical moments right before the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Lives of Others hinges on the superb performance of Ulrich Mühe as the audience is never quite sure what he’s going to do with the...
Read More

MOVIE: Doubt (2008)

Doubt Year: 2008 Rating: PG-13 Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Years before Spotlight (2015) won the Oscar for Best Picture, Doubt (2008) took a hard look at the scandals that have been in the Catholic Church for some time and presented a gripping parable of gossip versus evidence. Aside from this central point, I found Doubt to be a fantastic movie filled with contrasts. The differences between male and female leaders in the Church only heightened the fundamental conflict between Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s characters. Add to this the hardline stance of Streep’s Sister Aloysius, who has no flexibility for rules that aren’t actually in the Bible, and the result is an incredible look into changing times. Aside from Streep and Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis also gave superb performances full of raw and heartfelt emotion. In fact, I’d recommend everyone watch this film just for the career-defining roles of these individuals. Even among these, the intense ambiguity involved with Doubt’s...
Read More

BOOK: The Final Empire (2006)

The Final Empire Year: 2006 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 1,480 minutes / 24.67 hours Having already read a few of Brandon Sanderson’s later works, I knew I eventually wanted to tackle his Mistborn series. While he has a consistent style that makes his world-building a bit predictable, the concise nature of his magic systems and fantastically-written fight sequences deliver time and time again. After all, if it works, why change anything? In The Final Empire, the source of the magical superpowers is a set of metals utilized by “allomancers,” much like color was for Warbreaker and the energy of storms for The Way of Kings. I’m always in awe of the complexity of his magic systems, but with such simple concepts that I wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” If Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings is the standard for high fantasy and George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series is the baseline for “realistic” fantasy, I can already tell that Sanderson’s...
Read More

VIDEO GAME: Shovel Knight (2014)

Shovel Knight Year: 2014 Rating: E Time Played: 27.33 hours I grew up in the era of retro video games. My favorite was the Mega Man series, but I appreciated what games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link were trying to accomplish. While Shovel Knight isn’t a spiritual successor to any one game, it lovingly paints the pixelated beauty of classic video games in vibrant homage. I played through this game and all three of its free DLC add-ons on the 3DS, and I found the stereoscopic effect to be just as mesmerizing as the stunning visuals it used to create the effect. Shovel Knight managed to create a world filled with lore and unique characters that far surpasses anything programmed on the NES. Granted, there was a bit of a cheat in not being wholly constrained to NES graphics or audio, but I’d rather have a great game that fudges some nostalgia than one that suffers because of...
Read More

MOVIE: 1917 (2019)

1917Year: 2019Rating: RLength: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours While there have been movies filmed to look like they’re one long take (the Best Picture winner, Birdman (2015) comes to mind) and movies that revolve around key moments of retreat during war (Dunkirk (2017) comes to mind), never before have the two been so masterfully combined. 1917 (2019) is a rare piece of cinema that tackles the less-popular World War I as its subject matter, but doing so in a way that’s personal, gruesome, and tense. Those viewers who might be put off by the gore of this film might come to realize that cinema has been censoring the ugly side of war for far too long. None of the violence seems out of place in 1917. Its moments of horror highlight the ugliness of war that results in constant and ever-present death. Fortunately, there are enough moments of peace and rebuttal between these intense sequences to let the audience catch their breath....
Read More

MOVIE: Hugo (2011)

Hugo Year: 2011 Rating: PG Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours Enchanting. Charming. Magical. After re-watching this film again, I can still confirm Hugo (2011) legitimately earned all its technical Oscars, even if it didn’t end up winning Best Picture. Ironically enough, this American movie about the origins of French film lost out to a French movie about the origins of American talking pictures (i.e., The Artist (2011)). Of course, the more surprising aspect of this film was how Martin Scorsese was able to make such an entertaining (and family-friendly) film that didn’t involve the mafia at all. Personally, as an avid lover of classic films, I enjoyed the romanticism related to the earliest of film magicians. Scorsese’s love letter to the origins of cinema—and the masters of their craft like Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley)—is a stark reminder of how much we've lost of cinema’s heritage due to external events that forced the artistic community to abandon their art. The amount of experimentation and inventive...
Read More

MOVIE: The Current War – Director’s Cut (2017)

The Current War: Director’s Cut Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours I’ve known for some time about the “war” between alternating and direct current. It was such an interesting battle of egos between some famous names that are still known today. Heck, I even included elements of it as a sub-plot in my second book. Of course, I always thought the conflict was between Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) and Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and not being mainly between Edison and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). At any rate, I found The Current War (2017) to be an entertaining examination of the events that led the world to finally accept one of these currents as the de-facto way to distribute electric power. Stepping back for a moment to the presentation of this movie, I appreciated the cinematography and the driving music that helped ratchet up the tension between these famous engineers and entrepreneurs. Additionally, the actors chosen to play their respective roles fit quite well....
Read More

MOVIE: Joker (2019)

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

MOVIE: Secondhand Lions (2003)

Secondhand Lions Year: 2003 Rating: PG Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours Making a family-friendly film is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks in cinema. Not only does it have to appeal to children, but it also has to avoid plenty of material that might not be appropriate for younger audiences. If families can get a powerful life lesson out of it as well, all the better. While modern fare tends to resort to the crass and focuses on bathroom humor for laughs, there are those rare few films that manage to tell a tight story. With legitimate laughs and a heartfelt conclusion, Secondhand Lions (2003) is just such a movie. The two strengths that make this one of my favorite family-friendly films are its characters and its plot. All three of the main characters show some amount of significant character growth by the time the end credits roll. Besides, with acting talents like Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, and Haley Joel Osment, you really can’t miss...
Read More

MOVIE: Toy Story 4 (2019)

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

BOOK: Shakespeare’s Star Wars (2013)

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope Year: 2013 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 209 minutes / 3.48 hours Much like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies took a classic and fused it with something entirely opposite from its original intent, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope manages to take something modern and combine it with the classic styling of William Shakespeare. It’s no wonder these two kinds of books are both from Quirk Classics. While Pride and Prejudice and Zombies essentially forces the reader to read Pride and Prejudice, but with zombies added in, Shakespeare’s Star Wars is the re-telling of the original Star Wars (1977) screenplay, but in iambic pentameter. To be honest, if someone were to stage this version of Star Wars, I’d pay to see it in a heartbeat. Not only does the basic plot from the movie transfer over almost flawlessly, but the addition of the Shakespeare dialogue and verbiage made this way more entertaining than it had any...
Read More

MOVIE: Spider-Man – Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

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

MOVIE: Green Book (2018)

Green Book Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours Every once in a while, a movie comes along that has the right balance of themes and execution to make it into an instant classic. When I first saw trailers for Green Book (2018), I initially thought it was just going to be an inverse of Driving Miss Daisy (1989). Instead, what I got was so much more than that. Green Book tackles the difficult task of presenting a harsh mirror on our past, with a knowing wink that some of these challenges are still present today. It is more subtle than BlacKkKlansman (2018), but the message still gets across in a heartwarming and wholesome way. What makes Green Book so engaging is the simplicity that it approaches such a nuanced and complex approach to the topic of racism. The irony that rich white people in the south would hold Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) in such high regard as a musician but treat him as less-than-human the second he is not performing...
Read More

MOVIE: Mortal Engines (2018)

Mortal Engines Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours If I were to look at Mortal Engines (2018) critically, I’d notice a number of flaws. From fairly flat characters to a string of movies and directors that it tries to imitate, this film should be terrible. And yet, given that I’d already suspended my disbelief by entertaining the idea that an apocalypse would result in cities mounting up on enormous machines and scavenging smaller towns for fuel, I found this movie incredibly entertaining. Perhaps the base plot isn’t too original, but the execution felt fresh and new. Somehow, I was able to turn off my critical brain and just enjoy this movie for what it is: pure, unadulterated fun. As someone who appreciates film as an art form, there is plenty of it on display here. The look, feel, and aesthetic of Mortal Engines is so bold and consistent that the core concept of the plot naturally follows. The visuals and soundtrack merely accentuate the action...
Read More

MOVIE: Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 169 minutes / 2.82 hours The first time I saw this film, I was speechless. I knew what to expect from Christopher Nolan, who had been steadily increasing his repertoire for almost two decades. Each of his films outdid the last and built on the already mind-blowing pieces that have gone before them. From The Following (1998) to Memento (2000) to The Prestige (2006) to Inception (2010), I wondered how he could outdo himself with his first foray into hard science fiction. Needless to say, I was impressed by Interstellar (2014) and Nolan’s ability to bring the theoretical and incredible ideas of interstellar travel into an entirely plausible setup. As was the case with his previous films, Nolan manages to bring together almost disjointed moments into a cyclical narrative. Much like Memento, I wanted to sit down and watch the whole thing again immediately after viewing it for the first time, so that I could catch all the little things that lead to the major reveal at the end. Even...
Read More

BOOK: All the Light We Cannot See (2014)

All the Light We Cannot See Year: 2014 Author: Anthony Doerr Length: 962 minutes / 16.03 hours If All the Light We Cannot See were a movie, I would consider it “Oscar bait.” Set during the most romantic of World Wars: check. Main character with disability: check. Drama, tragedy, and suspense: check, check, and check. It’s then no wonder that All the Light We Cannot See ended up winning a Pulitzer. Sure, it’s filled with plenty of the “award” tropes that we tend to see repeated over and over again—but it works. What helps this book stand out from the rest of the books and movies that try too hard to earn awards is twofold: its characters and its plot. Before I get too far into my praise for this book, I have to mention that the narrator for the audiobook version seemed to mispronounce a few words early on, which threw me for a loop and made me wonder if I’ve been mispronouncing them myself. Similarly, it was...
Read More

MOVIE: (500) Days of Summer (2009)

(500) Days of Summer Year: 2009 Rating: PG-13 Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours I’ll be the first to admit that I’m biased when it comes to this film. In 2009, I experienced my first ever relationship. I also experienced a breakup from said relationship in the same year. Consequently, I can relate to the main character, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and his rise and fall brought about by Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Like Tom, I too held the romantic belief of “the one,” based mostly on the movies, books, TV shows, and music that touted this magical someone who would fill the hole in our souls. What (500) Days of Summer emphasizes is certainly closer to reality: not every story has a happy ending. As for the way the movie is presented, I must applaud the ingenious and artful direction of Marc Webb, this being his directorial debut after years of working on music videos. His previous experience certainly comes through in the music chosen for...
Read More

BOOK: The Pearl (1947)

The Pearl Year: 1947 Author: John Steinbeck Length: 155 minutes / 2.58 hours Perhaps one of the lesser-known of Steinbeck’s works, The Pearl still exhibits his concise and emotionally-powerful storytelling. More along the length of Of Mice and Men than The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck doesn’t waste much time arriving at the central conflict of The Pearl, using realistic characters and settings to weave his story. Some might find the characters in this story to be mere stereotypes, but I would almost argue that they’re the archetypes that have aided good storytelling for centuries. The fact that people today could easily find themselves in similar situations merely speaks to the timeless nature of the story itself. Somewhat of a deviation from the depression-era settings of some of his previous works, Steinbeck uses the natural beauty of the island setting to contrast the ugliness present in the hearts of its inhabitants. Granted, the antagonists of the story are the inherently-greedy colonialists who are trying to take advantage of the indigenous population, but...
Read More

BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (2007)

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians Year: 2007 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 414 minutes / 6.90 hours Never before have I read a book that has been so self-aware . . . and I loved every minute of it. There’s breaking the fourth wall, and then there’s Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. A fun and hilarious read for teens and adults, this book’s premise is as ridiculous as it is original. Of course, while it tends to border on the random (for maximum comedic effect), this book also manages to tie all these random pieces together in the most satisfying way. The comedy in this book is effortless, and the plot is certainly the most interesting thing I’ve read recently. I think the ability of this book to successfully break norms and fully immerse the reader in the world is due to Sanderson’s talent as a fantasy writer. The details that seem odd, like receiving a bag of sand for your thirteenth birthday, manage to...
Read More

MOVIE: Darkest Hour (2017)

Darkest Hour Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours There are plenty of films out there that claim to be “art” by pushing the boundaries of the medium. These movies often come off as just plain weird. Darkest Hour (2017) is an artfully crafted masterpiece, even if it seems to be a biopic about Winston Churchill at first glance. All the individual elements that go into a fantastic film are in top form here, as we see how lighting, cinematography, music, plot, and acting combine to create something greater than the sum of their parts. Darkest Hour doesn’t have one element that makes it stand out as an incredible movie; it uses all facets of its production to create a masterpiece of art. The look of this film is incredible. From the overhead shots of battlegrounds seamlessly transitioning into the carnage of war to the heavy contrast of light and shadow emphasizing the “darkness” of the “darkest hour,” the visual spectacle of Churchill’s unconventional rise to...
Read More

BOOK: If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? (2017)

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? Year: 2017 Author: Alan Alda Length: 213 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While miscommunication might be the source of conflict for romantic comedies, it’s a much more significant problem in the real world. If people aren’t able to efficiently and accurately communicate with their fellow man, then we all have room for improvement. Scientists and doctors are often the worst offenders, even though their ideas need to be communicated to the world for the advancement of society. Alan Alda has spent years trying to figure out why people are unable to communicate, and he has also figured out what we can do to improve this situation. As a scientist and writer, I feel many of his insights have merit. I grew up watching Alan Alda on Scientific American Frontiers, so I know how often he has interacted with scientists. His conclusions that we can all become better communicators through empathy and...
Read More

MOVIE: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours The first film by Martin McDonagh I saw was Seven Psychopaths (2012). I enjoyed how he was able to take the audience through many entertaining twists and turns. For his follow-up film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), McDonagh has improved on the twists, as well as the darkness of the comedy contained therein. In fact, the comedy is so dark that at times it was almost uncomfortable to laugh. All this being said, the two areas that make this a standout film are the characters and its complexity. Let’s start with the characters. Almost every single character is introduced in a way that the audience wants to dislike them. And yet, over the course of the film, the significant amount of character development makes the audience root for people who threw individuals out of second-story windows or chucked Molotov cocktails at a police station. Part of what helps in these character developments...
Read More

MOVIE: Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight Year: 2015 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours For many years, the running joke about the movies that have won the Best Picture Oscar is that they only won because another film should have won years prior. Spotlight (2015) is this generation's All the President's Men (1976) in that it is an excellent film about investigative journalism that broke open a huge cover-up, changing the world forever. Both films deserved to be Best Picture, but Spotlight manages to take an uncomfortable subject and be frank and open about the problems that we still see in today's society. Since most of the movie is comprised of uncovering the truth behind the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, it's surprising how gripping and well-paced the film ends up being. Part of the genius of this film is the high-energy dedication these four journalists have in uncovering the terrifying truths that had been lurking in the shadows for decades. While such a subject could easily create a...
Read More

MOVIE: Get Out (2017)

Get Out Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours I'll admit that I'm not a fan of horror films. The fact that Get Out (2017) was released in that weird, "horror month" of February that merely exists so people trying to catch up on their Oscar nominations don't have to watch anything new meant that it mostly passed under my radar. When buzz about the movie continued for the rest of the year, I was still skeptical as horror has been known for its cheap tricks and gratuitous violence, both of which I don't particularly care for. The trick is, Get Out is certainly a horror film, but with the minimum required trappings to be considered one. With a few jump scares and a violent and bloody ending, Get Out works on a level that's best described as "blatantly subtle." It's not so much that it screams about the racial differences between black people and white people, but that it does so...
Read More

MOVIE: Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner Year: 1982 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours When I first saw Blade Runner (1982) many years ago, I understood that it was the quintessential, if not the defining, cyberpunk film. Since I was used to the more modern cyberpunk at the time (a la The Matrix (1999)), I felt the slow unfolding of exposition wasn't nearly as action-driven as I had hoped it would be. Of course, at the time, I might not have been watching the "Director's Cut" version of Blade Runner, which was what I watched this time around. Needless to say, it's a much better movie than I initially remembered. I think part of my improved assessment of this film came from a realization that it wasn't intrinsically a science fiction film. Sure, it is based on a story by Philip K. Dick, it is set in a fast-approaching and somewhat inaccurate representation of the future, and it has the trappings of a sci-fi film (i.e., androids,...
Read More

BOOK: As You Wish (2014)

As You Wish – Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride Year: 2014 Author: Cary Elwes Length: 421 minutes / 7.02 hours While I love audiobooks for their capacity to let me mindlessly absorb books while I’m driving to or from work, much of the story comes down to the narrator and their inflections. Sometimes these narrators can be annoying, or incomprehensible, or vary their volume too much. It is a rare treat to find an audiobook that fully capitalizes on the medium, either by adding music and sound effects or (in this case) using the voices of actual people to narrate the story. As You Wish is just such an audiobook, and I would even go so far to say it is the superior version of this book, even without “reading” it for myself. As one of the most frequent and common of quotable movies, The Princess Bride (1987) is an odd little film that just works. It’s fantasy, it’s comedy, it’s family-friendly. It’s all these things...
Read More

BOOK: On Writing (2000)

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Year: 2000 Author: Stephen King Length: 480 minutes / 8.0 hours While I don't usually read horror books, the only ones that I have read were written by Stephen King. Consequently, when I found that he had written a book about writing, it struck me as an opportunity to get into the head of a prolific and successful writer. As a writer of novels myself, I am always looking for ways to improve my writing. I have come a long way in eight years, and King's little book here merely confirms that I'm doing the right things that a writer should do to help their craft. Written as a half-memoir, On Writing is a personal look into the upbringing and life of Stephen King, which then helps inform what and how he writes. Suddenly, you start to understand why he writes the things he does. Intermingled amidst these moments of becoming the writer he is today, King sprinkles in abundant gems...
Read More

BOOK: Children of the Mind (1996)

Children of the Mind Year: 1996 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 810 minutes / 13.50 hours Just like Xenocide before it, Children of the Mind is difficult to separate from the previous books in the Ender’s Game series. In fact, Xenocide and Children of the Mind are considered by Orson Scott Card to merely be two parts of the same book, separated at a point in the plot that makes sense. Even further to the point, I would consider Children of the Mind the last “part” of a story that stretches across four books. While it was easy to take Ender’s Game by itself, every additional piece of the story needs the previous parts for it to have the full impact of what Card was trying to accomplish. What’s most interesting about this series is how each book has a different focus, almost putting them in distinct genres. Ender’s Game was militaristic sci-fi, while Speaker of the Dead was more along the lines of a...
Read More

BOOK: Xenocide (1991)

Xenocide Year: 1991 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 1,210 minutes / 20.17 hours Much like authors Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were well ahead of their time in their science fiction writing, Orson Scott Card once again shows that he understood some of the key concepts of our universe. Written in 1991, Card’s Xenocide deepens and furthers the continuing adventure of Ender Wiggin that he began back in Ender’s Game. Picking up where Speaker for the Dead left off, Xenocide adds a powerful adversary while also tying plot points back to the first book in the series. In this sense, the tight intertwining of Xenocide with its predecessors makes it difficult to separate and review by itself. I appreciate what Card has done by creating a multi-book narrative that requires the reader to have started from the very beginning of the story. While Xenocide is not nearly the end of the series, as made clear by the astounding twist near the end, it does pull enough...
Read More

MOVIE: Dekalog (1989)

Dekalog Year: 1989 Rating: TV-MA Length: 572 minutes / 9.53 hours Dekalog almost defies categorization. While you could say it’s a TV show, the only recurring “character” is the apartment complex where many of the characters of the different “episodes” happen to live. If it’s a movie, it’s a very long one comprised of ten one-hour short films. Therefore, Dekalog is probably best defined as a TV mini-series. But, don’t let that label fool you: each one of these ten short films packs a huge punch individually, but produce a well-rounded examination of humanity in their entirety. Perhaps we should consider Dekalog as an anthology of the human condition. Life and death. Love and hate. Gain and loss. It’s all there in Dekalog. What hits you first with Dekalog is the depth of the plots. Most of the episodes have some ethical dilemma that drives their characters. From a man questioning his faith in science to a woman who is pregnant with a bastard child while her husband is dying in a hospital,...
Read More

MOVIE: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours It is comforting to know that the Marvel Cinematic Universe includes the universe. While most films in this ever-expanding movie multiverse take place on Earth, a few like Thor (2011) and Doctor Strange (2016) explore different realms but still tie back to Earth. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is different in that, almost immediately, Earth is left far behind in favor of alien worlds filled with fantastical creatures. Consequently, this film feels more like a sci-fi movie than a comic book flick. Considering how stagnant the superhero formula has become, this is a good thing. With almost no earthly constraints on it, Guardians of the Galaxy is practically indescribable, probably because it has everything. Comedy. Action. A talking raccoon. With a reasonably well-paced plot, this film excels in developing its diverse cast. These main characters each have their unique traits and little quirks that almost immediately made them amusing and endearing....
Read More

BOOK: Warbreaker (2009)

Warbreaker Year: 2009 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 676 pages For the last few years, Brandon Sanderson’s name kept coming up amongst my writer friends. I had never heard of him, but they had been fans of his writing for some time. In my goal to read all the unread books I own, I found that I had obtained a Brandon Sanderson book many years ago as a prize during my first National Novel Writing Month. Even with the daunting page count, I decided to give Warbreaker a read. All I can say is that it was refreshing to finally read a fantasy book written by someone who genuinely knows what they’re doing. I’ve read a lot of books recently that I would consider “amateur,” but Sanderson proves he’s a professional in this tightly written book. From incredibly interesting and entertaining characters to expertly placed foreshadowing to a fascinating magic system, Warbreaker is fully original while also maintaining the tropes and structure of a high fantasy...
Read More

BOOK: Armstrong and Charlie (2017)

Armstrong and Charlie Year: 2017 Author: Steven B. Frank Length: 304 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** With race relations where they are today, it’s almost somewhat jarring to know that things haven’t changed much in over four decades. In an attempt to educate the next generation about racism, Steven B. Frank’s Armstrong and Charlie is an excellent start. While I would like to think that race relations have improved since the mid-1970’s, there are plenty of lessons available in this book that are applicable today. Still, racism can be a two-way street, and I couldn’t help but think of the Avenue Q song, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” Beyond the obvious racial undertones to this book, Armstrong and Charlie is a fantastic book about growing up. Aimed at kids on the cusp of growing into adults, the book masterfully represents moments of peer pressure where the characters have to decide what the correct response should be. Not only does it have valuable lessons about lying, stealing, bullying, and...
Read More

MOVIE: Alien (1979)

Alien Year: 1979 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours Science fiction in film has faced an uphill battle in terms of being taken seriously. Up until the late 1960’s, most sci-fi was low-budget, B-movie schlock more likely to be Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fodder than Oscar potential. This all changed in 1968 with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now that sci-fi could be considered art it took almost a decade for other films to capitalize on Kubrick’s groundbreaking work. Star Wars (1977) expanded on the special effects and made sci-fi a fun, action-filled ride. Regarding the horror aspect of sci-fi, Alien (1979) remains the founding film of these combined genres. Not only does Ridley Scott do a fantastic job directing this movie, in particular through the use of elaborate sets, puppetry, and just plain spectacular cinematography; but the fact that Alien has an incredibly strong female protagonist (Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley) puts it leagues ahead of its time in terms of character-driven plot....
Read More

BOOK: Ender’s Game (1985)

Ender’s Game Year: 1985 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 380 pages In another “lapse” of my reading habits, I didn’t manage to read Ender’s Game until the movie of the same name came out in 2013. At the time, all the sci-fi fans were eagerly anticipating a film that had taken over 25 years to finally become a reality. While I thought the movie was quite well done and engaging, after I read the book, I can understand why some of the diehard fans of the series were disappointed. As is usually the case with book-to-movie transitions, sub-plots often find themselves on the cutting room floor. Of course, I don’t blame them for cutting what they did; after all, it is called Ender’s Game. Even though watching the movie first spoiled the exciting twist of the ending when I read the book, I almost read the book differently knowing how it would turn out. I could see the signs leading up to the shocking reveal,...
Read More

MOVIE: Arrival (2016)

Arrival Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours Despite all the mindless action and sex that hits the big screen every year, every once in a while there comes a film that's a little more . . . cerebral. Arrival (2016) certainly fits this category. Not only do you really have to pay attention to what's happening in this film, it makes you question how we perceive our world as it is right now. Never before have I seen the topic of encountering alien life forms approached from such a realistic and logical way. It makes sense that we wouldn't be able to understand them, so the first step in establishing an understanding is to establish communication. Much like Christopher Nolan, who has done a number of great, "cerebral" films including Memento (2000), Inception (2010), and Interstellar (2014), I have recently come to appreciate the directorial talents of Denis Villeneuve. From his previous films like Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015), I've seen him deliver...
Read More

MOVIE: La La Land (2016)

La La Land Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours In a world where people worship everything and value nothing, I have found that I value the many messages present within La La Land (2016). While simultaneously shining a harsh light on the hypocrisy of Hollywood and showing how our dreams and passions move us to make tough life decisions, I found myself deeply moved by the narrative presented within this film, not only as a lover of movies but as a creative artist myself. This film is for the dreamers. It's for the people who never give up in pursuing what they want out of life. It's for those who have a talent screaming to be noticed by others. Aside from literally being the best musical I've seen in nearly more than a decade (Chicago (2002) is the only recent one that comes to mind), what I found most impressive about this film is that it is only the second directed by Damien...
Read More

MOVIE: The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

The Young Girls of Rochefort Year: 1967 Rating: G Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours I've seen quite a few musicals over the years, but practically all of them have been in English. That was until I saw The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) (AKA Les Demoiselles de Rochefort in its native French). It's interesting to watch something with subtitles and hear how the songs rhyme in their native tongue. Partly because of this, I have quickly come to the realization that this film is an instant favorite of mine. I mean, who could blame me with the catchy tunes and upbeat jazz stylings of this musical? Of course, in a musical like this, the colorful and fun festival atmosphere was merely accentuated by the continuous singing and dancing. It's almost ridiculous how much dancing there is in this film. Even the background characters are dancing when there's simple dialogue being spoken in the foreground. Perhaps the style of the late 1960's is partly to blame for the...
Read More

BOOK: Psycho (1959)

Psycho Year: 1959 Author: Robert Bloch Length: 323 minutes / 5.38 hours Once again, I find that the source material on which a famous movie is based is equally as good and equally as famous. What strikes me as interesting is that the quick turn on some of these literary masterpieces from page to screen has largely remained unchanged. Gone with the Wind only took three years before its film debut, The Martian took four years, and Psycho only took one. Clearly, these stories are practically screaming to be made into movies, and most have done quite well as the cultural icons of their age. Of course, having already seen the film on which this book was based, I was well aware of the twist ending. Nevertheless, reading through this book was almost enhanced by this a priori knowledge as one would probably not have guessed the twist if they were reading it for the very first time. There are just little hints here and...
Read More

BOOK: Paradime (2016)

Paradime Year: 2016 Author: Alan Glynn Length: 272 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** The first time I was introduced to Alan Glynn’s writing was through the film, Limitless (2011), which itself was based off his first novel, The Dark Fields. While I enjoyed the film for its visuals, what really struck me as interesting was the storytelling and characters Glynn created. Now fifteen years after his first standalone novel, Paradime continues to show Glynn’s talent in creating engaging plots and characters. Since I really enjoyed this book, I will do my best to review it without spoiling it for anyone. At its most simple level, Paradime is a modernized retelling of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, or at least half of it anyway. Told from the perspective of an out-of-work and out-of-luck cook, Danny Lynch, the pacing of each of the three acts is steady and intense. Even if some of Danny’s vocabulary seems a little advanced at times, he is...
Read More

BOOK: Captain’s Share (2013)

Captain’s Share Year: 2013 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 420 pages Another book, another jump forward in time. While I do appreciate Lowell’s realism for how long it should take to gain enough experience to even be considered qualified enough to become a ship Captain, a lot can happen in ten years. Ishmael Wang has certainly matured into the role of Captain, even if some of his decision-making in his personal life is left lacking, especially considering how adept he was in Half Share. At least by the end of this book, some things are “back to normal” for him as he continues his meteoric rise through the ranks. In terms of plot, there was plenty of excitement in this entry of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series. Never before have I been so interested in the fate of a simple cargo delivery, let alone the ship that carried it. I haven’t been this attentive to an Estimated Time of Delivery since I ordered...
Read More

MOVIE: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Year: 2013 Rating: PG Length: 114 minutes / 1.9 hours Let me start by saying that I was skeptical to go see this film, mainly because it starred Ben Stiller. Given his track record of “comedies,” I found myself avoiding his films just because I knew that they’d be crude and not the type of comedy I would enjoy. Much in the same way I was surprised by Will Ferrell in Stranger than Fiction (2006), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) was a pleasant surprise. I don’t know if it’s because he also directed this film, but I truly enjoyed it on many levels, both as a lover of movies and a lover of photography. The strength of this film lies in its imagery and presentation. The beauty of our world and the way it’s captured in the travels of a man coming out of his shell is truly inspiring. I can honestly say I haven’t seen a...
Read More

MOVIE: The Martian (2015)

The Martian Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 144 minutes / 2.4 hours I, for one, am excited that space travel is now a topic regularly covered on the big screen. If the general public becomes even a little bit more interested in interplanetary travel, perhaps I can see man stand on the surface of Mars in my lifetime. The Martian (2015) is merely the latest in a string of space-themed sci-fi movies that brings the excitement of outer space to theaters. While not nearly as continually intense as Gravity (2013), or as epic as Interstellar (2014), what The Martian does right is give a sense of scale to the challenge of returning to Earth from being abandoned on Mars. Gripping and just humorous enough to keep it from being dour, director Ridely Scott uses many cinematic techniques, including several montages, to tell the story many have already read from Andy Weir's novel of the same name. While many sequences and scientific explanations were obviously cut for...
Read More

BOOK: The Martian (2014)

The Martian Year: 2014 Author: Andy Weir Length: 387 pages What a world we live in! It's exciting to see a self-published book receive such attention, eventually becoming a New York Times bestseller! Truly, if a writer is talented enough with a good enough story, they can make it in this over-saturated market. And while some of my love for this book comes from my hopes of eventually being "discovered" as a self-published author, most of it comes from my love of scientific realism in fiction. Truly, this is more of a challenge than world-building in a fantasy genre, because in order for it to be believable, it must obey the laws of physics. But let's get down to brass tacks here. There is no doubt that Andy Weir did his homework on this book. In fact, some sections almost read like the output section of a very complicated spreadsheet (which I certainly appreciate, on a personal level). Even with the technical detail to keep...
Read More

MOVIE: Dirty Harry (1971)

Dirty Harry Year: 1971 Rating: R Length: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours What makes an iconic film? Is it something that has memorable moments and catch phrases? Is it something that stands up against the test of time? Is it something that resonates with us on a deeper level? Whatever it is, I feel Dirty Harry (1971) is certainly an iconic film. Let's take a look at why this is the case. First off, there's the famous monologue about counting. "Do you feel lucky?" completes a tense moment that merely started with a detective's intuition that something was about to go down. But what make this early scene that much greater is the bookend it creates with the film's antagonist, Scorpio (Andy Robinson). This isn't even the only bookend this film has to offer, as the two deaths at either end of the movie end up being submerged in water. Secondly, while the 1970's seem quite different to our modern styles, something about the culture...
Read More

MOVIE: The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book Year: 2016 Rating: PG Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours If there’s any more proof there aren’t any new ideas in Hollywood, it’s the fact that beloved animated classics are being remade as live-action films. Sometimes this works, but more often than not, the ploy to attract those nostalgic feelings from the audience fails, thus leaving the viewer with the sense that their childhood is ruined. I’m generally pretty hesitant of these types of films, mainly because part of me doesn’t want to admit that the original films sometimes weren’t that great. That being said, the latest in these adaptations, The Jungle Book (2016) certainly surprised me. Unlike some films like Maleficent (2014), which takes a different point of view from the main story of Sleeping Beauty (1959), and more like Cinderella (2015), which covers the same material as its predecessor, Cinderella (1950), The Jungle Book takes the main ideas from Rudyard Kipling’s book, via the animated interpretation of The Jungle Book...
Read More

MOVIE: X-Men – Days of Future Past (2014)

X-Men: Days of Future Past Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours One of the more difficult plots to pull off in a film is that of the simultaneous prequel/sequel. Perhaps the most famous of this plotline is The Godfather: Part II (1974). However, I would argue that X-Men: Days of Future Past perfected it. Just like X-Men: First Class (2011) before it, Days of Future Past takes the retro stylings of its decade (this time the 1970’s) and places a plot intertwined with the well-known figures and events of the time. It also simultaneously puts the X-Men in a dire and hopeless situation in a distant future, thus driving the need to go into the past to fix the initial conditions that got them into this quandary. Plus, most of the film is driven by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), which just shows how vital he is to the series. In a return to form that was sorely missing in the previous two...
Read More