The Burning Maze


The Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze

Written By: Rick Riordan
Published: May 2018
Grade: A

The third book of Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series, Lester-as-Apollo, along with his “master” Meg McCaffrey, and Grover Underwood (from the original Percy Jackson series) end up in California, where they enlist the help of Piper McLean and Jason Grace (both from the Heroes of Olympus series) to defeat the third emperor in the Triumvirate.  While there, they learn that part of the Labyrinth has caught fire, and they need to figure out what’s causing it so they can put a stop to the wildfires raging through Southern California.

Riordan once again takes his vast knowledge of history and mythology and makes a compelling, engaging story that holds your attention and makes you wish there was more to read.  Apollo continues his character development, and we get small insights into the previously-established characters as well.  He also gives a tiny history/mythology lesson and drops some interesting and educational trivia without hitting you over the head with it.

As the series continues, Apollo seems to discovering his humanity, as he becomes more and more concerned about those around him, including a new friend he picked up on his journey.  In addition to the established characters mentioned above, there’s also a brief appearance by Leo Valdez, who also first appeared in the Heroes of Olympus series and also played a role in this series’ previous installment, The Dark Prophecy, and we meet new characters in the form of several dryads, or nature spirits, who are taking refuge on the land once owned and cultivated by Meg’s deceased father, all of whom go by the name of their plant type (Joshua Tree, Aloe Vera, Prickly Pear, etc.), and Crest, a pandos, which is a mythological race of furry, big-eared, eight-fingered-and-toed creatures from India which appeared in some ancient Greek literature.

There are still two more books left in this particular series, as is typical with Riordan’s Greek-centered books, so don’t expect everything to be wrapped up by the end.

This book should be available at your local library or through a local or on-line retailer.




Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright, Jimmi Simpson, Ben Barnes, Luke Hemsworth, Angela Sarafyan, Tessa Thompson, Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins,
Rated: TV-MA
Network: HBO
Grade: A+

Westworld is a continuation/update of the 1973 movie written and directed by Michael Crichton.  The show follows the daily routines of robotic “hosts” Dolores, Teddy, Maeve, and Clementine as they serve the parks guests, as well as the behind-the-scenes technicians Bernard, Angela, Stubbs, and Dr. Ford, and a few of the park’s guests, William, Logan, and the sadistic Man in Black.  Throughout the first season, we see the robots slowly evolving their programming as the various technicians try to figure out what’s going wrong with the park’s attractions, as well as dealing with the implementing of a new story narrative being introduced.  The Man in Black sets off on a quest to find what he calls The Maze, and William and Logan set out on an adventure in advance of William’s wedding to Logan’s sister.

This show is delicately woven and almost mesmerizingly told.  The various stories are almost seamlessly put together, with the final reveal of some of the plot twists coming almost naturally.  As several of Westworld’s robotic hosts, or characters, begin to show glitches in programming stemming from a recent software update, the park’s technicians begin to wonder if the error is really an error, or part of something else.  In the meantime, hosts Dolores, Teddy, and Maeve, as well as several others, begin to evolve, becoming more violent and self-aware.  At the same time, the Man in Black has set off on a quest to find The Maze, which he believes will offer a more realistic genuine experience in the park as friends William and Logan attempt to have an adventure before William is to marry Logan’s sister, which ends up revealing more about William’s character than he thought was there.

The acting is terrific.  The actors who play the hosts give it just enough to seem slightly off at one moment, and completely human in the next.  There’s very little scenery chewing, and most of it’s done  Most of the actors get to use their natural accents, from what I can tell, with the only exceptions being Ben Barnes and Luke Hemsworth, who use flawless American accents, and Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden, whose Southern accents slip occasionally, which can always be explained away by the fact that they play robots.

The show is filmed in Utah, as well as various other sets used in Westerns, which offers beautiful scenery.  We don’t get to see the “real world” outside the park’s offices.  The closest we get is a small, resort-like complex that seems to be mostly used by employees and visiting executives.

I highly recommend this series.  The show is, for the most part, a sci-fi/western hybrid, and it has an appeal for fans of either, or both, genres.  It can be a little violent at times, but there’s nothing too graphic, with most of the harsh violence being against the non-human characters.

Like all HBO shows, this can only be streamed from the HBO website, which requires subscription, or through an inclusive package, or with an iTunes or Amazon Prime Season Pass.  You can also rent the first season through Netflix home delivery service.

Peter Rabbit


Peter Rabbit

Directed By: Will Gluck
Starring: James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Daisy Ridley, Sam Neill, Sia, Colin Moody
Rated: PG
Grade: B

Peter Rabbit is a modern-day telling of the stories of Beatrix Potter.  In the movie, Peter and his family live in a wooded area just outside the small British town of Windermere, where they spend their days sneaking into the vegetable garden of Old Mr. McGregor, or spending time with their human friend Bea.  After Old Mr. McGregor dies and his nephew, Thomas, inherits the property, they face a new challenge in that Bea appears to be developing feelings for the young Mr. McGregor, which incites a rivalry between Peter and Thomas.

On the whole, this movie is enjoyable.  It’s definitely more geared toward children, and they’ll probably enjoy it more than adults will, at least for the first 3/4 of the movie.  The voice actors, James Corden (Peter), Margot Robbie (Flopsy), Elizabeth Debicki (Mopsy), Daisy Ridley (Cotton-Tail), Colin Moody (Benjamin), and Sia (Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle), all play computer-generated forest creatures who interact with Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, and Sam Neill’s live-action human characters, and Robbie’s Flopsy also serves as the film’s narrator.

As stated before, adults might have a hard time getting into the movie.  There were times I found myself not rooting for the rabbits, and questioning some of the logistics of the plot, like why Bea, who’s so insistent that the rabbits and other forest creatures be able to wander wherever they please and raid the local gardens, doesn’t seem to have a garden of her own to provide for them.  Toward the end, however, once Peter and Thomas have set aside their differences, the movie becomes more enjoyable and emotionally rewarding.  Most of the animals who speak don’t seem to do it in front of humans, and much of the movie implies that the animal language isn’t even understandable to human ears, aside from a brief scene near the end in which one of the characters begins to question their sanity after hearing Peter talk.  Children will love this movie, and while the parents will only have a handful of entertaining bits until the end, it’s ultimately worth the watch, just for the adorable ending.

Live action/CG mix is a difficult thing to get right, but animation studios have made great advances since the concept was first introduced.  While the animals don’t look terribly realistic, they look real enough to not be an eyesore while watching.  Aside from said animals and a series of explosions toward the end, there aren’t any obvious special effects, though I’m sure there were some used.

Ultimately, I would recommend seeing this movie.  Your kids will most likely enjoy it, and there are a few enjoyable niblets for adults to tide them over until the end.

Peter Rabbit isn’t available to stream anywhere, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service.

The Alienist


The Alienist

Starring: Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans, Dakota Fanning, Brian Geraghty, Robert Wisdom, Douglas Smith, Matthew Shear, Q’orianka Kilcher, Matt Lintz,
Rated: TV-MA
Network: TNT
Grade: A-

The Alienist, based on the novel by Caleb Carr, revolves around New York City in the late 1890s, where a series of grisly murders grips the city.  Unofficially brought in to consult on the case is Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a local alienist, or psychiatrist, as well as John Moore, a reporter for the New York Times.  The two team up with some NYPD employees, Sara Howard, the first woman to work for the NYPD, and Marcus and Lucius Isaacson, Jewish twins whose forward methods of investigation are looked down upon by the rest of the force.  The group runs a parallel investigation reporting directly to Teddy Roosevelt (yes, that Teddy Roosevelt), who at the time was the head of the NYPD.

Serialized murder mystery shows have never quite caught on here in the States like they have in other countries, though I myself am a fan of them.  This show does not employ a side mystery-of-the-week that many of its counterparts have done, and the show is somewhat stronger for it.  The pace if kept faster, and B stories tend to go toward character development and secondary characters rather than a distraction from the main story.  The show is billed as a Limited Series, meaning it was developed with only one season in mind, but given the fairly decent ratings, and the potential the show has to expand upon its characters and their world, it wouldn’t be surprising if they decided to give a second season a go.

The acting is fairly decent.  Only Dakota Fanning, who’s normally dynamic, seems a bit stilted and wooden, as though she’s unsure of why she’s there.  She seems to mostly recover from it by the end of the season, but you can tell she’s uncomfortable through the first few episodes.  Luke Evans handles an American accent well, though his natural Welsh one does slip through occasionally.  Daniel Brühl manages to water down his natural German accent a touch without eliminating it completely, which is on point for his foreign-born character.  The rest of the cast are Americans playing Americans.

The scenery for this show is beautiful.  It was filmed in Budapest, which has plenty of old-world architecture to use for a late 19th century setting, and they really make the most of it.  The costumes are also well done, with Fanning’s character getting some rather impressive sleeve poufs.

I would definitely recommend this series.  The story is compelling, and for the most part, the action is swift.  It may require a bit of attention, so it’s not really a casual watch, but it is worth the time to sit and pay attention.

This show can only be streamed from the TNT website, which requires a subscription or an inclusive package, or through an iTunes or Amazon Prime Season Pass.  It hasn’t yet been release to video and isn’t available free through any streaming sites.




Directed By: Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alannah Ubach, Renee Victor,
Rated: PG
Grade: A+

Disney/Pixar once again delivers a beautiful, emotionally satisfying story with Coco, the story of a boy named Miguel who is determined to have a career as a musician, despite his family’s generations-long ban on it, which unwittingly leads him to pursue his roots in the Land of the Dead in order to gain approval from his ancestors and lift his family’s music-based curse.

At a time when, unbelievably, non-Caucasian heritage is still too often glossed over and whitewashed, it was a pleasant surprise to see a movie that took so much care and effort to bring an important Mexican holiday tradition to the world.  The story is touching, and resonates with everyone.  The voice work is superb, and not an emotion is missed.  While not a true musical, there are plenty of music sequences, and the songs are beautiful and catchy.

Anthony Gonzalez is Miguel, a boy from a small Mexican town who’s sole desire is to grow up and become a great musician, like the town’s legend, Ernesto de la Cruz, voiced by Benjamin Bratt.  Unfortunately, his family has banned all music from their lives after Miguel’s great, great grandfather abandon the family to pursue a music career and never returned.  Believing he can change his family’s mind by winning a local singing contest, he breaks into the late de la Cruz’s crypt and attempts to take the famed actors legendary guitar to use when he performs.  Unfortunately, this leads Miguel to be taken to the Land of the Dead, where he runs across Bernal’s Hector, a soul who’s light is quickly fading, and makes a deal to with him to find de la Cruz, whom Miguel believes is his long-lost great, great grandfather, and get his blessing to pursue music in exchange for placing a picture of Hector on an altar so he may be remembered and keep from fading away.  Along the way, Miguel finds his other deceased relatives, who try to send him back on the promise that he won’t pursue music, which Miguel rejects in favor of finding his hero.  At some point, Miguel learns the truth about both who his true ancestor is, and what his hero did to achieve the status he’s remembered for.

The animation is beautiful.  The colors are rich and vivid, and when they’re faded out, the darks have a depth to them, all of which is a hallmark of Pixar’s animation studio.

I highly recommend seeing this movie.  As stated before, the story resonates with everyone, and people rarely scoff at others for wanting to see Disney/Pixar movies since they tend to be so enjoyable.

Coco isn’t available to stream anywhere, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service.




Directed By: Carlos Saldanha
Starring: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias,
Rated: PG
Grade: B+

Ferdinand follows the story of a young bull calf from Spain who runs away after learning he will be forced to compete in a matador competition when he gets older and attempts to live a life of relative ease as the pet of a girl on a flower farm.  Unfortunately, after a misunderstanding at a festival, he’s sent back to his old home, where he finds that little has changed, and his life now depends on being the toughest bull in the lot.

If you can look past the fact that the movie takes place in Spain and most of the characters are voiced by Caucasian American actors, then you won’t have a problem with this movie.  It’s based on a children’s book, so the movie’s main demographic is for the under 10 set, who probably won’t care who the voice actors are.

The movie itself is actually very good.  The story is simple and sweet, and John Cena continues to flesh out what little acting ability he has as Ferdinand, the title character.  Kate McKinnon was clearly having fun voicing Lupe, Ferdinand’s friend/comfort goat, and she puts her usual zest into the role.  Bobby Cannavale seems to enjoy voicing the minor villain turned ally Valentino, a fellow bull who’s determined to be picked for the latest matador fight.  David Tennant voices Angus, an out-of-place Highland bull who’s mostly used for comic support.  Anthony Anderson’s Bones, another childhood friend/rival of Ferdinand’s, is an almost painfully undersized bull (I think he might be a Holstein or a Jersey, but I’m not certain) who’s determined not to let his size stop him.  Payton Manning’s Guapo, a bull with a sensitive stomach, doesn’t do much besides provide growth for the other characters, and there’s a short sequence devoted to rescuing his character from a dog food factory toward the end.  The main cast is rounded out with Gina Rodriguez’s Una, Daveed Diggs’ Dos, and Gabriel Iglesias’ Quatro, a trio of hedgehogs who help Ferdinand plan his second escape from the bull ranch.  There’s also a trio of German-accented show horses voiced by Flula Borg, Boris Kodjoe, and Sally Phillips who act as tertiary villains/roadblocks to freedom.  As with most animal-centric movies, the humans seem to be the real villains.  Ferdinand is only able to convince his fellow bulls to leave the ranch after he reveals that the bulls never win the fights and always die.

The animation is typical for Blue Sky, who’s also responsible for the Rio and Ice Age movies.  It’s reminicint of hand-drawn animation, despite the fact that it was done on computer, though it’s not a bad thing, and lends to the charm of the story.

I would recommend seeing this movie.  You can use your kids as an excuse if you want to, but it’s something that most people not averse to cartoons will enjoy.

Ferdinand isn’t available to stream anywhere, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service.

Thor Ragnarok


Thor: Ragnarok

Directed By: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchette, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Karl Urban, Idris Elba, Taika Waititi, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeff Goldblum, Anthony Hopkins
Rated: PG-13
Grade: A+

Thor: Ragnarok infused life back into a dying branch of the MCU.  After 2013’s overly-dour Dark World, many had lost hope that the franchise could be saved, but this movie proves it still has some juice left in it.  In an attempt to put a halt to Ragnarok, Norse Mythology’s version of the apocalypse, Thor, having left Earth, has set out to defeat those who would see it brought on, and in the process, learns that all is not as well on Asgard as he’d been led to believe.

This movie is amazing.  It’s funny and dramatic, and everyone involved seems like they’re having the time of their life, particularly Cate Blanchette, who plays Hela, Marvel’s first major female villain.  Tessa Thompson shows some skill with accents as the boozy Valkyrie, a scrapper on the planet Sakaar who’s spent the better part of a millennium numbing the pain of being the last of her kind, mainly in part to the first battle against Blanchette’s Hela.  Jeff Goldblum shows up and basically plays the same quirky weirdo he usually plays, not that anyone would complain.  Director Taika Waititi has a supporting role as Korg, an affable rock creature who acts as spirit animal/camp counselor for the warriors enslaved by Goldblum’s Grandmaster, which includes Thor.  Hiddleston’s Loki, the poster boy for all Marvel villains, finally gets started on the emotional arc/redemption storyline fans have been asking for since the first movie.  He also gets to show that he do more than just metaphorical mustache twirling.  Mark Ruffalo almost expertly pulls off the confusion and constantly being half a step from completely losing it as Bruce Banner, who’s spent the previous two years, since his character flew off at the end of Age of Ultron, Hulked up on Sakaar, where he’s become the Grandmaster’s prized possession and greatest warrior.   Karl Urban’s Skurge is somewhat underdeveloped and underused, though the actor makes the most out of what little he’s given to do, and by the end, you do actually kind of care about what happens to him.  Benedict Cumberbatch shows up briefly to reprise his role as Dr. Strange, though like with Hopkins, his role is little more than a glorified cameo.

In addition to the decent storyline, the effects are also well done.  Comic movies tend to rely heavily on CGI, and this movie was no different.  In addition to large, Hulk-heavy sequences, there are also lots of aliens, space travel, and battles.  And a ginormous wolf.  The opening sequence alone, a huge CGI battle set to Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song, is worth watching the movie for.

Definitely see this movie.  You really don’t even need to be that familiar with the Thor franchise or the MCU to understand most of what’s going on, and they also do a quick catch-up of what led to the movie’s events.

Unfortunately, this movie isn’t available to stream anywhere yet, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service.

Midnight Crossroad


Midnight Crossroad

Written By: Charlaine Harris
Published: May 2014
Grade: B+

Inspired by my enjoyment of the Midnight, Texas television show, I dug this book out from the depths of my to-reads and sat down with it.  The plot line of the book is similar to the first half arc of the show, with Manfred moving to Midnight (though for reasons different than the show), and the mystery surrounding the death of a local woman.

I’m really only familiar with Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books, which I enjoyed.  These books take place in a similarly supernaturally-inclined world, and a little research tells me that some of the characters have crossed paths with ones in her other series, making all of her book series fundamentally connected.

Seeing as how this is the first book in a series, some of the character personalities are left a little wanting.  We learn about Manfred, an internet psychic with a touch of the real deal.  Fiji, a Wiccan running a New Age shop, who’s also genuine witch.  Lemuel, who takes the night shift at the local pawn shop, a centuries-old vampire who’s slightly different than Harris’ typical vampires.  And Bobo, who owns the pawn shop and runs it during the day, and is one of Midnight’s few truly human residents.  Other characters are touched on, but not developed much, which leaves room for future installments.

As stated before, the plot follows the first arc of the show, mainly dealing with the death of Aubrey, Bobo’s girlfriend who had disappeared several months before the events of the book.  It’s not a disappointing mystery to follow, since there are other tertiary characters in the book that weren’t used in the series who help flesh out the story.  Despite knowing who the killer was from the show, I was still interested in where the story went and how it panned out.
I would definitely recommend this book if you like Harris’ other works, or if you’re into Urban Fantasy.  It doesn’t focus too heavily on the supernatural stuff, so those who like a decent murder mystery might find it interesting as well.

Check your local library or bookstore for availability, or purchase through any on-line book retailer.

XXX: Return of Xander Cage


XXX: Return of Xander Cage

Directed By: D.J. Caruso
Starring: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette, Nina Dobrev, Ruby Rose, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Ice Cube
Rated: PG-13
Grade: D+

XXX: Return of Xander Cage sees Vin Diesel return to the franchise after opting out of 2005’s XXX: State of the Union, in which his character, this movie’s titular Xander Cage, is said to have died.  We quickly find out that’s not the case, and Diesel’s Cage is once again brought into the world of extreme sports/spying, this time to keep seemingly unstoppable weapon out of the hands of terrorists.

This is your basic action movie, thrown into a blender, and saddled on poor Vin Diesel’s shoulders all to cash in on the actor’s ever-growing status and bankability.  The plot is so thin you can see through it, and none of the characters evoke any kind of sympathy.  Nina Dobrev plays a glasses-wearing nerd girl who spends most of her time fangirling over Cage and the motley crew of misfits he brings in to help him out.  Ruby Rose basically plays the same person she always does: a smart-mouthed, I’m-too-cool-for-this, wannabe bad ass who ultimately comes off as trying too hard to look like she’s not trying too hard.  Toni Collette is Cage’s new handler, after Jackson’s Gibbons is seemingly eliminated in the opening sequence, and she spends most of her time wandering around chewing on scenery.  Ice Cube reprises his role from State of the Union, though his appearance, like Jackson’s, is little more than a glorified cameo.  Deepika Padukone and Donnie Yen, naturally, play the terrorists, a pair of disillusioned former XXX agents bent on vague revenge, though only one of them is a true believer.

Normally I can forgive a lazy, thinly-plotted movie if the acting and effects are decent, but both seem to have been sleepwalked through.  Most of the performances are completely phoned in, including Diesel’s, and the effects are too run-of-the-mill to be impressive, which at least the first XXX movie had a couple of (at the time) somewhat impressive sequences.  It’s very evident that everyone involved in this movie was looking for a quick paycheck, and didn’t actually care about the type and/or quality of movie they were making, which ultimately makes a bad movie even worse.

You really shouldn’t invest any money in attempting to watch this.  It’s not worth it.  A boring, predictable mess whose value is limited to something to watch when you need background noise and don’t care how you achieve it.

You can stream this free with your Amazon Prime and Hulu accounts, and it can also be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service.




Directed By: Seth Gordon
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra
Rated: R
Grade: B-

What you see is what you get with Baywatch, a movie based on the TV series from the late 80s/early 90s.  The show takes place in the fictional Emerald Bay, Florida, a seeming Miami substitute, and follows Mitch Buchannon as he tries to protect the beach he loves.

One of the best things about this movie is the fact that it seems to realize that its source material, a show that took itself seriously when it aired, as aged into something of a fine cheddar over time, and makes itself into a nice cracker with which to enjoy the nostalgia of what was ultimately a completely ridiculous show.  The cast seems to be having a blast, which shines through in the performances.  They know they’re not making great cinema, and they’re okay with that, which helps make it okay for the viewers to find the humor.

The storyline is somewhat predictable.  Johnson’s Buchannon is an overzealous lifeguard lieutenant who has made it his job to not only protect people in the water, but out of it as well.  This becomes a problem for Chopra’s Victoria Leeds, who’s determined to found a drug/real estate empire out of her club on the beach, all because she has daddy issues (and yes, she actually tells another character that she’s doing this because her father left the family’s legitimate business to her idiot brother, and she wants to show the world that women are just as capable of being successful).  Along the way, the Baywatch Lifeguard station (company?) is taking applications for new hires, including Efron’s Matt Brody (a washed up former Olympian with disciplinary issues) and Daddario’s Summer Quinn.  There are also cameos by David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson, who are probably both still best known for their roles on the show.

All in all, the movie is highly enjoyable to watch.  As stated before, the cast seemed to be having fun while filming, and the movie doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be considered actually bad.  More in line with so-bad-it’s-actually-kind-of-good.  The effects aren’t too complex, so there wasn’t much to mess up in that department.  Definitely check this out when you want something light and funny and you don’t want to think too hard.

Baywatch isn’t currently free to stream, but can be rented from Redbox, as well as Netflix home-delivery video services.