Tag Archives: Best of

Best Books of 2017

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Making_sense_of_GodTimothy Keller cements himself with this book as the C.S. Lewis of our time. He writes to the skeptical in an age of reason by taking on Nietzsche, Marx, Freud and others. Its a book for those that may be interested in the Christian faith as well as a wonderful reminder for those that profess it. Honestly, it’s a must read.

 

under-our-skin-coverBenjamin Watson has written one of the most timely books. In an age of growing tribalism and segregation, Watson confronts race relations head on. With clarity, humility and raw honestly he dives into the issues we face, bringing light to areas we so often try to sweep under the rug. This book deserves your immediate attention.

 

9781578061259-usGeorge Lucas it not the most loquacious filmmaker and much of what he’s said over the years has been twisted to fit a writer’s preconceived ideas about him. Here, Sally Kline collects all of his interviews from 1971 through 1999. It’s fascinating to hear from the man himself, in his most formative years. The only bad thing about it is that it does not cover through is sale of Star Wars (which makes sense since it was released in 1999).

 

591b42d3aeb66.imageSasse does a marvelous job at pinpointing the major issues facing the American people in the 21st century. The book looks to begin a conversation about what has been lost in the last 50 years and some ways which we can possibly get them back. Whether you agree completely or not, it’s worth reading and thinking deeply about these issues, if we don’t, we might not like where we end up.

 

9781455540181_DemocracyHC.tifI think this is one of the most important books of 2017. Rice uses history to show the story of democracy from the American experience to it’s experiments in places like Russia, Poland, Africa and the Middle East. In each, looking at what has made it successful or lead to it’s corruption. It’s a “long road to freedom” and unless we understand what’s come before, we’ll never know how to get where we want to go.

 

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I know in my own life and faith that there are times we need the simple reminders of what we believe and why. Butler does such a good job at laying these out and reminding us that, “…God’s reckless love is on the prowl, willing to crash through our distance and crush down our idols to get to our heart. God’s divine grace bears down upon us, calling us to turn and receive his love. As his footsteps draw closer, the sound of his voice breaks through the silence, and the light of his encroaching presence begins to pierce the darkness. The question we’re then faced with is not whether we’ve been good enough, jumped high enough, or sought hard enough. . . .”

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I love this book. It speaks directly to us in the 21st century and lays out the importance of thinking deeply. Just to whet you appetite here’s a quote, ‘Why would people ever think, when thinking deprives them of “the pleasure of sharing an attitude one knows is socially approved”—especially in an online environment where the social approval of one’s attitudes is so much easier to acquire, in the currency of likes, faves, followers, and friends? And to acquire instantaneously?’

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The election of 2016 dominated the news and much of our collective conversation. Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes spent that time interviewing those in the campaign, compiling an account of just went wrong and why. It’s an important read for all Americans.

 

 

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Carr, like Jacobs, is worried about our thinking. He looks at the history of how mind works and how we as humans have learned in the past. Each invention we create, impacts the way our brain’s behave, so how has the internet changed us and is it a good thing? It’s a fascinating read and again, one of the most important. We must think critically about these things or, “…as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”

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I love Isaacson’s work. Each of his previous biographies has been brilliant and his work on Da Vinci is the same. This does differ in that since Da Vinci lived so long ago, the records about him are not as extensive, yet Isaacson finds a way to weave the narrative of his life alongside his artistic and scientific accomplishments well. Da Vinci was a man, who in many ways was before his time but his impact is still being felt. One major plus is that the book has color pictures showing you his art and sketches which enhances the experience as you can look at what Isaacson is referring to.

Honorable Mentions

There were some fantastic Star Wars books this year, Thrawn (Don’t miss my panel from Dragon con with author Timothy Zahn and Star Wars Rebels co-executive producer about Thrawn),  Inferno Squad, Rebel Rising and Phasma were all top notch. I thoroughly enjoyed Harry Potter’s Bookshelf as it explores the inspirations in literate to Rowling’s creation. George Perez’s Omnibus volume one for his run of Wonder Woman was brilliant.

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Best Films of 2017

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This is my list of best films that I saw in the theater this year.

silence-posterSilence is one of the most challenging movies of the year as Martin Scorsese adapts Shusaku Endo’s novel about Jesuit priests in feudal Japan. It asks brutal questions about faith under fire. It’s affecting and powerful. I’d say more but I think it’s something that just needs to be experienced and digested, slowly.

 

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How do you say goodbye to one of the longest running comic book characters to grace the screen by one actor, the answer is Logan. Hugh Jackman is a revelation as a broken mutant in a world that’s turned against them. On top of his performance you have Patrick Stewart and new comer Dafne Keen who complete this film perfectly. James Mangold creates not just a good comic book movie but one that transcends the genre. Still one of the very best of the year. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on it!

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It would be hard to eclipse what I already wrote about the film in my review so here is a bit of that here.

Gal Gadot is a star. She sells every moment of this film. She has a wonderful, childlike innocence that is needed to bring this character, raised in paradise to life. Diana’s transformation from innocence to a fuller understanding of the real world is powerful and moving. The chemistry she has with Chris Pine is fantastic. They are the heart and soul of this movie and luckily they do not disappoint.

The fight scenes in the movie are incredible. Many superhero movies these days seem to have similar types of set pieces, but Wonder Woman does a marvelous job of making her fighting style feel fresh, leaving you silently fist-pumping in your seat. Even the more CGI-heavy battle at the end has enough emotion built into it, to make you care about what’s happening.

One final note, Patty Jenkins direction is excellent. This woman needs to be given a sequel, as well as more movies to direct. She understands clearly how to make a superhero movie feel serious and fun all at the same time and that’s not always easy to do.

Wonder Women is the first major female superhero to be given her own movie (yes I discount Catwoman and Elektra as they are more side characters) and it’s a triumph. The film is serious in tone, but with laughs aplenty. It’s the movie we all hoped for and deserve. Wonder Woman is rated 4 and half out of 5 stars.

Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on it here!

war-for-planet-of-the-apes-poster-5Like Wonder Woman, War is a movie I adored this year and the perfect way to wrap up the Apes trilogy.

This movie has so many other themes I could talk about, but honestly, just go see it. It’s a triumph of filmmaking. The effects are some of the best ever seen on screen. There was never a moment I didn’t believe what was happening. The music was moving and perfectly matched to the film. War for the Planet of the Apes is the perfect conclusion to one of the best film trilogies in years. It’s rated 5 out of 5 Bad Apes.

Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on it here!

bbay_vert_tsr_intl_2764x4096_master-rev-1Christopher Nolan delivers again. He subverts expectations in the best way by telling the story from three perspectives, air, land and sea. Each of these also take place over different spans of time that collide by the end. The movie left me feeling like I had actually been apart of each perspective. This is a must see from the year. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode here!

 

blade-runner-2049-posterLike Dunkirk, this movie is a pinnacle of cinema as art. The themes resonate with the world we live in and it’s a treat for the imagination. It’s one of those movies that needs to be seen multiple times to truly soak in everything it is doing but that left me breathless in my first viewing. I believe it will only rise in people’s estimation over the coming years. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode here!

 

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No movie was more unfairly maligned than this one in 2017. It had a lot to over come in it’s production, most of all, a studio that would not stop meddling. Yet for all of this, what we got still let me grinning.

This movie is by no means perfect. It does feel rushed at only 2 hours. There is a lot happening and it does seem like a bit more time with the stories of the villain, Victor, Barry and Arthur could have helped the audience connect even more with the story. The villain is one note, but it does leave us with more time to focus on the heroes and their journeys to becoming a team. There are places where you wish the effects team had more time with the CGI to refine it and make it better. The best comparison that I can make would be the DC animated films that have come out over the last few years or some of your favorite episodes of Justice League United, if you liked those, you’ll like this. Overall, what wins you over is the team, their dynamic and the charisma they bring to each moment. Justice League is rated 4 out of 5 resurrections.

Don’t miss The 602 Club episode here!

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I love these kinds of movies, small, intimate and affecting. I honestly cannot say more that I did in my review and encourage you to check that out.

The more I think about the movie the more I like it and that’s always a good sign. It’s well acted and moving. I highly recommend Lady Bird, it’s rated four and a half out of five stars.

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Check your cynicism at the door as Hugh Jackman and cast are the perfect antidote to the dourness of 2017. The film and it’s music are a celebration of everything that is good, true friendship, not looking to others for your self worth and not living life as a consumer but as a giver. Loved this last theme, as the movie shows Barnum almost lose everything he’s built because of his selfish using of people to prop himself up. I left the theater with a lighter step and joy in my heart.

Disappointments

2017 also had a few movies that I was looking forward to that I was disappointed in and the biggest was The Last Jedi. My review says it all and The 602 Club and Cinema Stories podcast allowed me to cover it from a few different perspectives. A few other notable letdowns are Thor: Ragnarok, Logan Lucky and The Shape of Water.

Honorable Mentions

Ghost in the Shell was surprisingly good, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 was even better than the first, I really enjoyed Alien: Covenant, Baby Driver was fun, but I did not love it like others and lastly, Their Finest was a nice companion to Dunkirk.

PS. I have have now seen Darkest Hour and Molly’s Game. They both make the list. amazing films in acting and story. Highly recommend both!

Best Films of 2016

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If the title is linked, you can find the full review. Plus don’t miss The 602 Club links for the podcast episodes done on many of the films gracing the list.

13-hours-5747c2d34ab3a13 Hours

This movie was a fantastic way to kick off the new year and told the story behind the events of the Benghazi terrorist attack of 2012. This is far and away direct Michael Bay’s best film. Casting is brilliant and the story will have you glued to your seat the entire time. This movie is not to be missed.

 

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The Nice Guys

Director Shane Black delivers a funny buddy movie with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe that perfectly captures the 70s. It’s not deep or thought provoking, yet it’s still just a joy to watch. Great soundtrack and perfect for a good laugh.

 

batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-ultimate-edition-5776c6dd47d33Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 

No movie this year sparked more debate online that this. I love this movie. It’s Ultimate Edition should have been what was released in theaters and to me, that’s the only version I will watch from now on. My original review, while too long to put here sums up the film well,

“This movie is a comic book on screen. It is fun too, do not let the reviews out there fool you, there were moments I was cheering and having a blast. I like that the plotting of Lex throughout the film brings all of the heroes together in the end, as well as sets up the need for the Justice League to form. I thought that Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was a refreshing take on a well known character. He brought a manic malevolence to the performance that set him apart from other Luthors we have seen. I also enjoyed the final climax to the movie as the three heroes try to find a way to defeat Doomsday and not destroy another city. The movie is not perfect, but I like is immensely and cannot wait to see it again as well as Zach Snyder’s Director’s Cut on blu ray. This is 4 and a half stars out of 5 for me.” Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on it!

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Captain America: Civil War

The second superhero movie this year where the heroes fight and the second best hero film of the year. My original review encapsulates my thoughts,

“Captain America: Civil War is a fantastic movie and honestly the Avengers movie we all hoped Age of Ultron would be. While I do have some minor quibbles, I feel Spider-man is shoehorned into the film and would have rather had his time devoted to other characters like Agent 13 or Black Panther, it does not detract too much from the enjoyment of the film. This is rated four shields out of five.” Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on it!

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Star Trek Beyond

2016 was the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and honestly and Paramount Studios and CBS Television did an awful job of celebrating. Sadly Paramount’s marketing department dropped the ball with Beyond and it did not perform as well as it could have at the box office which is a shame because the movie is good!

“There are a couple things I don’t like about the film. One, I am not crazy about the action editing which often leaves the viewer wondering what just happened. It is so fast and cut so quick that it is sometimes hard to see or understand what transpired. I also have to say there were no surprises about the story, I leaned over to my wife a few times and called all the “reveals” or plot points well in advance.

What the movie does do well are the characters. The way in which we see them interact and grow is spot on and the introduction to Jaylah is a joy. Here’s to hoping that this is not the last time we see her in Star Trek. On top of all of this, Michael Giacchino has crafted a beautiful score that harkens back to The Motion Picture in some places as well as the best from every Trek movie since.

Star Trek Beyond is a fantastic way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and with the announcement of a 4th film coming in the “Kelvin Timeline”, the future is bright. The film is rated 4 out of 5 detached saucer sections.” Don’t miss The Ready Room episode on it.

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Hell or High Water

“On the plains of West Texas, two brothers systematically rob banks in a desperate attempt to save the family ranch, while a pair of Texas Rangers slowly piece together the evidence leading to a race against the clock. Director David Mackenzie’s new film Hell or High Water intelligently tackles issues of poverty and corporate greed while not losing the heart that leaves the audience thinking long after the last shot…Hell or High Water is the best movie I’ve seen this year. The themes, character work, direction and acting are fantastic. Don’t miss this movie. Hell or High Water is rated 5 out of 5 stars.”

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The Hollars 

Life is so unpredictable and the choices we make are made with so little information, yet they can lead to the most unexpected things. The Hollars, John Krazinski’s new film, is all about life in its messy, glorious joys and sorrows. The story revolves around John Hollar, who is recalled home when his mother is diagnosed with a brain tumor. He is quickly dragged back into his utterly flawed family, a pursuant ex-girlfriend and the need to juggle the pregnant girlfriend he left back in New York. What follows is a poignant reminder of just how important living life to the fullest can be…The Hollars is one of those rare films that comes along, in the midst of towering blockbusters, to remind you of the power of a well-told story. I recommend you go seek this one out and enjoy the simple pleasures of explosion-free cinema.

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The Magnificent Seven

“The 21st century has seen a serious lack of westerns in theaters as they have gone out of style in favor of superhero films. So, who better to bring back the swagger than Antoine Fuqua, director of films like Training Day. This remake of the 1960’s movie stars Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm, Chris Pratt as Josh Faraday, Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux, Vincent D’Onofrio as Jack Horne, Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vasquez, a Mexican, Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest, Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen and Peter Sarsgaard as Bartholomew Bogue, the film’s villain. What follows is a tale of good vs. evil in a western that’s more progressive and just down right fun…The Magnificent Seven is fun, but it also has some interesting things to say along the way. While not perfect, it’s a reminder that the western still has a place today and here’s to hoping that we get more. The movie is rated 4 out of 5 stars.

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Moana

Disney has struck gold again and this time  it’s using Oceanic mythology to tell the coming of age story of it’s title character. The music is fantastic, in fact I like the big song “How Far I’ll Go” much better than Frozen‘s “Let it Go”. The messages here of finding out who you are are classic Disney, yet it’s the addition of the story of community and it’s importance in our lives that set this film apart. It also has an important message about the need to learn from and remember our history. Don’t miss this one.

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Arrival 

This movie blew me away. I did not know what to expect walking it but walking out I was stunned. Beautifully pro-life and profoundly thought provoking as it tackles the ideas of communication and it’s foundational importance in our existence as humans.  I cannot recommend a movie more, 5 out of 5. Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on it!

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

“This is the first of five movies in the Fantastic Beasts series, written specifically for the screen by J.K. Rowling. There is a really strength to this since there are no books to compare it to leaving the audience free to enjoy the film for it’s own sake. The movie does a good job of laying the foundations for the world of wizardry in this time period as well as what’s to come in the series. The cast is outstanding, with the relationship between Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein and Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski being a true highlight. James Newton Howard’s score is good, even if it never reached the heights of Williams and the production value, character design and world building is, well, magical. The film nicely begins it’s journey to telling the history of the Harry Potter universe that we got hints of in the previous series, making it a wonderful addition and expansion to the world, yet, at the same time, it stands on it’s own. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is rated 4 out of five Bowtruckles.” Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on it!

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Hacksaw Ridge

This is the newest film from director Mel Gibson and it tells the true story of conscientious objector Desmond T. Doss who single handedly saves 75 men in some of the fiercest fighting seen in the Pacific theater during WWII. Desmond’s determination and faith are some of the most inspirational things you will see this year. Don’t miss this movie.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

There is so much to say about this one but my review wraps it up well,

“I’ll get personal, this movie is everything I wanted a new Star Wars movie to be. Pushing the boundaries of what it means to be Star Wars while at the same time respecting the history and the franchise as a whole. Here’s to hoping the rumors of Edwards wanting to direct a Kenobi movie are true. Rogue One is rated 4.5 upside down Death Stars out of 5.” Don’t miss The 602 Club episode on it!

This list is likely to be revised since I have yet to see La La Land and Passengers.

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