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Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #1)Hyperion by Dan Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a little hard to get into, as I had no frame of reference for this universe. But once I got through a few stories, things started to make a little more sense, although I’m still not sure I understand all the factions. Each of the six stories tackles different aspects of interstellar life in some 700-800 years from now. Simmons tackles topics like religion in that time, artificial intelligence, time travel, poetry, and small town life versus globalization (galactification?). For the most part, especially once I figured some things out, I liked it, but some things still took me out of suspended belief. Apparently, everyone in the future is obsessed with John Keats, and almost all the quotes are from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, of which there are many. And then, of course, there’s the cliffhanger, complete with the Wizard of Oz reference. I’m still deciding whether to let myself get sucked into the sequel. But it was a good book.

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11/22/6311/22/63 by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was my first time reading a Stephen King book. I’m not a big fan of horror, so I chose one that wasn’t horrific. At least, I didn’t think it would be. And for the most part, it isn’t. For the most part, it was a nice read, and had me wanting to get to the end. But there are some problems. The narrator seems to have little trouble slipping back fifty years and fitting in. A lot of the racism and issues back then are kept to a minimum and more told than showed. But the biggest offense is that you go into the book thinking that you’ll eventually get to see Stephen King’s vision of what the world would be like today if Kennedy hadn’t died. Well, you don’t, not really. You get a brief overview of some events, some presidents are different (Hilary instead of Obama), but the most different is something supernatural, the fabric of reality tearing itself apart. Good enough book, up til the end, when it got lame.

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The Magicians (The Magicians, #1)The Magicians by Lev Grossman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What do you get when you cross Harry Potter with Narnia? On the surface, The Magicians seems to be the answer. An awkward kid goes to a school for magic, and then finds a magical land of talking animals and saves it…kind of. But the spirit of the book is quite different than that of Harry Potter and Narnia. Aside from the copious amounts of alcohol, this book deals with more mature themes, like finding a meaning for yourself and navigating a real relationship. In fact, the main theme, which hits you quite bluntly over and over, especially in the second half, is that if you don’t learn how to be happy with yourself, nothing, not even magic or finding out that your childhood fantasies are true will make you that way. This isn’t really escapism like most fantasies, but quite the opposite: it tries to make you face reality. Or at least Grossman’s version of reality, which is quite depressing. Still, it sucks you in, makes you want to finish it even though you know it won’t end happily ever after. The characters are deeply flawed and can be jerks, especially Quentin, the main character, and much of the setting only exists to serve as a contrast to Hogwarts and Narnia. Do I dare read the next books? That would be rather masochistic, but the writing was well done, full of great metaphors. As long as you know what you’re getting into, this can be a good, although not so much fun, read.

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This is it. The movies based in Middle Earth have finally ended. This brings up a similar feeling to what happened over ten years ago, when Return of the King ended, and fans were left feeling bittersweet, as they had just witnessed a great movie but didn’t think they would see another movie based on Tolkien’s works, as there was a lot of doubt for a while whether The Hobbit would ever see the big screen. Well, it made it, with its own trilogy of movies, and brought us back into the world, but overstayed its welcome. The new trilogy, a combination of a cash grab and a tribute to fan wishes, takes a small book and adds so many things that these movies barely resemble it in both tone and content. The Hobbit was originally a child’s book, and Lord of the Rings a sequel asked for by the publishers. The Hobbit films tried to make more links to The Lord of the Rings where none existed, but the simple tale of a small man looking for treasure got lost in the movies. And out of the three, this last one could possibly be the most egregious in that.

In the book, the battle of the five armies took relatively few pages. After the death of Smaug, anything else seemed anticlimactic. Yet it gets its own movie. One where the whole last half is one big battle scene. And the first half is the preparation for that. Definitely the darkest of the three, with several character deaths, the whole thing feels more bleak. The battles follow other Peter Jackson ones, with some attempts to inject humor, but eventually become one on one battles for revenge, with typical deus ex machina, more forgivable in the child’s book than this movie. In the end, it leaves more of a bitter than sweet taste, from all the deaths, a lonely Bilbo, and the end of an era.

Lord of the Rings will be missed, and looked on with fondness. I doubt this trilogy will ever garner as much love as the original. It distracted us from our loss, and had its moments, but will never replace the adventures of Frodo.

Whenever a religious movie is made, especially based on the bible, and especially on the Old Testament, believers face a dilemma. They want to go to support it, but at the same time, we’ve been cultured, and rightly so in most cases, to think of a movie as fictitious and a form of escapism. Even with biographies and historical movies, we know that there are actors, and that the movie doesn’t always follow all the facts. So when Hollywood takes a story from the bible and adds their special effects, they often portray it, wittingly or not, as more akin to The Hobbit than Lincoln. In fact, these depictions, especially coming from a mostly anti-religious Hollywood, may do more to shake the faith of believers than build it. Sometimes they even come across as patronizing, as in, “We’ll make this movie for you, even as we show you how unrealistic this bible fable is.”

When telling the story of something that happened at least 3500 years ago, based on a few pages from one of the books of the bible, you just don’t have the details to know exactly what happened. This movie attempts to differentiate itself from ‘The Ten Commandments’ and ‘The Prince of Egypt’ by making the plagues and crossing of the Red Sea more scientifically based. And for all we know, it did happen in that way. But like I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t attempt to build up the faith of those watching, as it portrays Moses as possibly delusional and snarky toward God, who is portrayed as a little boy (supposedly for innocence and purity, but he doesn’t come off that way. Instead, God comes off as a mean little bully, motivated more by revenge than love, a point that exacerbates instead of reconciles the apparent conflict between the Old Testament God of wrath and the New Testament God of love). Also, Christian Bale, despite supposedly having studied up on historical Moses, misses some important clues from the book of Exodus, namely that Moses needed his brother Aaron as a spokesman because he felt he couldn’t speak up himself.

So for a believer, there are some major issues, just like in the movie Noah, although maybe not so overt or hard to overcome. As for the movie quality itself, the effects are good, they do try to make Moses human and to grow through the movie (although maybe a little overdone on that part, as Hollywood apparently can’t stand anyone who isn’t as cynical as itself), and it doesn’t feel too long, although there are parts that drag. It was also devoid of humor and Moses wasn’t all that likable. It was, for me, an average movie that won’t overtake its predecessors, especially Ten Commandments, and will be forgotten faster than Noah, which, if nothing else, managed to stir up controversy as a marketing tool. This movie’s subversion of religion is too subtle and played a bit too safely for a Hollywood success, while straying too far from the established Ten Commandments pattern to make it a religious success.

All in all, I give it a “Meh.”

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read this because of all the hype surrounding the movie. Haven’t seen the movie, probably won’t.
I liked the book. I did. But it wasn’t the tear jerking, profoundly life changing book people promote it as. At least, not for me. No tears.
What I liked about the book: Smart writing, fast reading that sucked you in, and a better understanding of some of the lesser known issues a person, especially a teen, faces when dying of cancer, like the unrealistic pressure to endure it like a saint.
What I didn’t like about this book: The dialogue, while using interesting metaphors, did not sound like it come out of any human’s mouth, let alone a cancer struck teenage girl or boy. How long did John Green take to come up with the dialogue vs the seconds in a real conversation that someone has to think about what they are saying. It was also pretentious, with the kids so much smarter than their parents, or even the author they’d come to cherish and hate. And then the love story…well, it didn’t feel real, either. Like, love-at-first-sight-mixed-with-Twilight-creepy-person-staring-at-you. The only obstacle their romance, aside from the whole cancer thing, was Hazel’s Peter Parker angst (“I don’t want the ones closest to me getting hurt”). While their love story was pretty, it didn’t really click with reality.
A good read, but not a life changing one, at least not for me.

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I was able to get the chance to screen this movie a little early, which was great, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on this with you. I’ll try not to spoil anything that’s not in the book or trailers, but if you haven’t read the book, read on at your own caution.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It’s fun returning to Middle Earth, although not quite the same as in the original trilogy (now it’s starting to sound like Star Wars…) The biggest flaw of the film, along with the first part, is that it feels so padded that it’s bloating. The Hobbit, the book, is about half as long as one of The Lord of the Rings books. That means the movie should be about two hours. And only one movie, not three. Now, granted, in the Lord of the Rings, the page count is bigger because Tolkien spends more time elaborating on things, while The Hobbit, supposedly a children’s book, has denser action. So maybe two movies would have been fine. But this one book, one sixth the length of The Lord of the Rings, should not get equal screen time as those movies. There are characters added needlessly, and the middle third of the film drags on. Not quite three hours, but felt longer. And not in a good way.

There are some great action scenes, though. Going in barrels in the river was especially entertaining, although equally implausible. There is a bit of humor, and it deserves some props for trying to connect to Lord of the Rings. Tying it to Lord of the Rings and the rise of Sauron was both good and bad. It makes it feel more cohesive, and gives Gandalf a reason to leave, instead of his unexplained absence in the book, but also takes away from the simplicity that the book held, that was part of its charm. The original book was about a lowly hobbit getting the chance to go on an adventure, fight a dragon, and get treasure. Nothing so dramatic as saving the world, but the movie tries to be. In doing so, it gets a darker tone and loses focus of the titular character: Bilbo. Except for a bit when he’s with Smaug, he doesn’t really do much, and even then gets passed up by the antics of the dwarfs when they come. There is little characterization, although Bard, whose role in the book made me mad, is more fleshed out in the movie, which is one good thing. We get Legolas, who doesn’t do much aside from killing orcs, and a lady elf who didn’t exist in the books (the only females in this trilogy seem to be elves), and a few other characters, but they don’t add a whole lot to the story.

The dragon, Smaug, was done well and his act ended the movie at a faster pace and kept things interesting, although I do have a complaint about one part of his design: he has no forelegs. The dragons I know all had four legs and two wings, but lately, especially in movies, they’re reduced to walking using their wings. What makes this especially grievous is that in the first film, there was a part that definitely implied the four feet, but was changed in the extended version. “Oh, but no animal on earth has four legs and two wings,” you say. “It’s more anatomically correct.” Really? This dragon is bigger than any dinosaur, shakes off falls that would break the bones of an elephant, flies despite the impossibility of something so big doing so, and breathes fire. I prefer my dragons with four legs, they look more menacing and intelligent. But aside from that, and the battle scenes with Smaug going on a bit too long, it was fun seeing the dragon, definitely the highlight of the movie.

It’s just hard to take the dwarfs’ quest to get money and a kingdom seriously when Frodo has already saved the world, and treating the movie in the same way was a big mistake. It should have been a bit lighter and shorter and not taken itself so seriously.

I liked this one better than the first part, but it still doesn’t measure up to any of the Lord of the Rings movies. Somewhere along the way, it traded it’s magical wonder for moneymaking.

Maybe Peter Jackson and company suffer from the same malady as Thorin and Smaug: greed for gold.

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