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Movie Review: Baby Driver is a Fun Ride

4 out of 5 stars

Earlier this week, I had a chance to finally catch Baby Driver in my home theater. Edgar Wright is my favorite active film director, so I was really looking forward to seeing what he would do with a dramatic action film, rather than his mostly comedic recent work. Baby Driver didn't disappoint! I thoroughly enjoyed the film, though not as much as some of his other work. Highly recommended, especially if you're a fan of Edgar Wright's unique style!


Other Review: Hamilton Blows Us All Away

5 out of 5 stars

Last night, I had the pleasure of experiencing the hit musical Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages Theater here in Los Angeles. Over the summer, American Express offered some of its members early access to tickets, and we jumped at the opportunity, snagging some pretty incredible seats about 25 rows from the stage in the center orchestra. After a lovely dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant with my wife and some good friends, we headed over to the theater and settled in for the show.

As a busy father of two, I've managed to largely avoid Hamilton hype. I hadn't listened to the music or read up on the show beforehand, so I didn't have a solid idea of what to expect. I will admit that I've read up on the show's creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, as he's signed on to produce a film and TV adaptation of my favorite fantasy series. Again, as a parent of young kids, I've also watched Disney's Moana multiple times, and thoroughly enjoyed the music, which Miranda wrote. So, I had an idea that the show would be enjoyable, but was mostly just looking forward to a night out with friends.

I wasn't even close to prepared for how good Hamilton would be. I walked out of the theater absolutely stunned. The music, choreography, sets, writing, and plot were shockingly good. The pacing was frenetic and energizing. It was a funny, enthralling, emotional tour de force like I haven't experienced ever before. Hamilton is easily the best musical I've ever seen, perhaps one of the best pieces of live performance ever created. I was truly blown away.

Plenty of content has already been written on the subject of Hamilton, so I won't dive into many more details, other than to say this: if you haven't yet seen Hamilton, its time to make plans. Its worthy of all the hype.


Other Review: Things 3 Matches Form and Function

5 out of 5 stars

Between work, family, and life, I've got a lot on my plate. When it comes to appointments and obligations, I live and die by my calendar. But, for years, I've struggled to manage my tasks in an effective manner. I've tried relying on my calendar applications, online services like Trello, and native task management apps, but none has really fit my brain perfectly. Earlier in the week, Cultured Code released an all new update to their Things task management application for iOS, macOS, and watchOS. After watching the quick introduction video on their website, my interest was piqued, and I took the plunge, buying the iOS app, and downloading the free trial for macOS.

After spending a few days with Things, I can safely say I've finally found the task management solution for me. Things combines an attractive, modern user experience, transparent cloud sync across devices, with just the right mix of power and simplicity. Things gives you the ability to organize your life into "areas," such as "Work" and "Home," and then to create "Projects," like "Renovation," or "Market Report." Once segmented out into these components, you can create tasks, assign them tags and deadlines, and add notes.

On iOS, Things takes full advantage of the touch screen, providing delightful interactions for most tasks, my favorite of which is the "Magic Plus," which you can drag to quickly toss items into your Inbox, create new projects, and more. In addition, the design feels right at home on iOS 10, even including a smart feature that enables the creation of new tasks in your Inbox through Siri.

Things also integrates beautifully with the native calendars on your Mac and iPhone, providing a "Today" view, which shows your tasks for the day integrated with scheduled appointments from your calendar. There's also an "Upcoming" view, which shows your tasks and calendar events integrated together in daily, weekly, and monthly views.

Things 3 is an excellent application suite, and I highly recommend it to design-minded people with busy lives.


Restaurant Review: Astro Is Epic

5 out of 5 stars

One dozen assorted doughnuts from AstroA few weeks ago, Astro Fried Chicken and Doughnuts opened up a location only a few blocks from my office in Downtown Los Angeles. Astro was founded in Washington, D.C., and quickly built a reputation as one of the best doughnut shops in the United States. Their move into L.A. is a big step up for the fledgling empire. Astro offers four "daily" doughnuts that stay on the menu – classic glazed, maple bacon, peanut butter and jelly, and creme brulee. Astro also offers a rotating menu of "special" doughnuts, including such delights as meyer lemon, smoked almond, strawberry rhubarb, and rocky road.

In addition to their sweets, Astro makes some incredible fried chicken, including both breakfast and lunch sandwiches, served on savory doughnuts or cheddar biscuits, topped with a variety of delicious toppings and sauces, including kimchi slaw and buffalo sauce. The combination of sweet, savory, and fatty is pretty much perfect for my taste.

Today for lunch, I enjoyed two pieces of dark meat fried chicken, a cheddar biscuit, and a creme brulee doughnut. I was very impressed! My DreamHost coworker and I brought back an assorted dozen doughnuts to share with the office, and they were also tasty.

I'm delighted to have Astro in the neighborhood, and I will definitely be back. Highly recommended!


Movie Review: Disney Recreates a Classic

4 out of 5 stars

The family hit the theater today for a matinee viewing of Disney's new live-action remake of its 1991 animated feature, "Beauty and the Beast." The original is one of my all-time favorite Disney animated films, with great animation, a strong story, and a musical score that has become a classic. The live-action remake isn't as good as the original, but is a worthy take, with a strong performance by Emma Watson as Belle, reprises of all the catchy songs, and plenty of personality.

The film drags a bit in the middle, and could stand to be cut down by about 15 minutes. There is a bit too much exposition about the respective family histories of both Belle and the Beast, as well. That said, I really did enjoy the film and would recommend it for any fans of the original.


Other Review: Hello From the Magic Tavern

5 out of 5 stars

I recently discovered Hello From the Magic Tavern, a spectacular podcast with a ridiculous premise.

Hello! I’m Arnie. I fell through a magical dimensional portal behind a Burger King in Chicago and found myself in a strange magical land called “Foon.” I’m still somehow getting a weak wi-fi signal from the Burger King so I host a weekly podcast from the tavern the Vermilion Minotaur, interviewing monsters, wizards and adventurers.

The show primarily features Arnie and his "boon companions" Chunt, a shapeshifter usually taking the form of a talking badger, and Usidore, a wizard with a ludicrously long name. The show is silly, hilarious, and nearly completely improvised on a weekly basis. My commute has been massively improved by listening to Arnie, Chunt, and Usidore, and I highly recommend you join in, too!

Photo Credit: Hien Pham


Movie Review: Sing

3 out of 5 stars

It was movie night in the LaCour home theater, and the family hunkered down to watch Sing, a 2016 animated feature from Illumination Entertainment.

Sing tells the tale of a struggling theater owner Buster Moon, voiced by Matthew McConaughey, as he tries to save his theater from financial ruin by hosting a signing competition. After a mishap by his assistant, Moon ends up advertising that the show will feature a $100,000 prize, rather than a $1,000 prize, and chaos ensues.

The movie features average animation and some decent voice work from McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, and Seth McFarlane. It drags a bit in the middle, and could lose about 15-20 minutes of run time to make it tighter. That said, great music and some decent laughs make it a worthwhile rental for the family.


Review: The Martian should make a great movie...

4 out of 5 stars

Do you have a fear of abandonment? Enclosed spaces? The outdoors? Are you terrified by the prospect of death? Well, Andy Weir’s The Martian likely isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you have a penchant for science, problem solving, and laughing in the face of death, you’ve come to the right place.

The Martian tells the tale of Mark Watney, an astronaut on a mission to Mars that goes terribly wrong, leaving him stranded on the planet and presumed dead by his crew, his family, and the rest of the population of Earth. Watney is alone, with minimal resources, on a planet that is hostile to life. Thankfully, Watney is a resourceful scientist with a background in engineering and botany, and perhaps more importantly, a sense of humor that never seems to quit.

Action and adventure are prevalent in the book, but The Martian features something that most works of fiction eschew–science. Mars offers no shortage of challenges for Mark Watney, and Weir describes in meticulous detail not only how Watney is in danger, but why he is in danger. Physics, chemistry, botany, and engineering are woven intricately through the story as Watney details each and every challenge he faces.

If this all sounds mind-numbingly boring, allow me to reassure you. Watney may be a “nerdy botanist,” as he describes himself, but he’s also extremely witty. Long passages of scientific exposition are frequently interspersed with wise cracks, one-liners, and mischief. If Watney is going to be stuck on Mars, he’s at least going to make the best of it. Make no mistake, The Martian is a thoroughly humorous book, in spite of the intense topic.

I truly enjoyed The Martian, especially considering that it was the first novel for Andy Weir. It drags at times, and I struggled to get through a few of the more long-winded sections of scienctific exposition, but in the end, I really feel that the novel pays off. The story is compelling, the characters likeable, and the world well-crafted and realistic.

Later this year, The Martian will be released in theaters as a full feature film directed by Ridley Scott. Watney will be played by Matt Damon, who I can easily envision in the role. Trailers look promising, and the fact that the novel read a bit like a screenplay isn’t lost on me. The Martian should make an excellent movie, if Scott plays his cards right.

Next time you’re in the mood for a good read, you could do a lot worse than The Martian. If you act quickly, you can even smugly declare to your friends and family that you “read the book before the movie.”


Movie Review: Imperator Furiosa's Lovely Day

5 out of 5 stars

When I first saw the trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road, I immediately knew that it would be something special. I enjoyed each of the original Mad Max films, and was looking forward to the reboot of the series. I expected to see a lot of Tom Hardy's Max Rockatansky, clearly establishing Hardy's Max as the core of a potential two or three film arc. I was right that Fury Road would be special, but boy was I wrong about why it's so special.

Much has already been written about Fury Road since its release, and as you may have surmised, director George Miller clearly places Max in a supporting role – a passenger on the journey down the Fury Road. The real hero of Fury Road is, in fact, the ultra-badass, one-armed lady-warrior named Imperator Furiosa, who is beautifully played by Charlize Theron.

Fury Road is a non-stop, dusty chase through the outback, as Furiosa leads a pack of abused women away from the villainous Immortan Joe and his cadre of power-hungry men. Max acts as a sort of proxy for the viewer, allowing us to feel a part of Furiosa's fight to free her fellow women. Along the way, we meet a tribe of badass women who align with Furiosa's cause, and provide just enough depth to Furiosa's background to strengthen your understanding of her resolve.

Mad Max: Fury Road could certainly be viewed as a non-stop action romp, but its subversive approach pitting women in the starring roles of one of the most intense action films in recent memory make it so much more. Fury Road is a film about true empowerment and community. It was an exhausting, emotional, intense ride that I'll never forget.

If you haven't seen Fury Road yet, its time. Trust me, you won't regret it.


Book Review: Blood Rites Hits the Mark!

4 out of 5 stars

The sixth book in The Dresden Files saga by Jim Butcher truly doesn't disappoint. Blood Rites finds our favorite wizard Harry Dresden embroiled in magical drama that he's seen before (curses, evil forces, vampires, and murder) in a truly unique setting – an adult film set. You heard me right.

Blood Rites is my favorite book in the series thus far, not only because it features a great storyline, but also because it reveals much about Harry, his past, his family, and his future. Revelations abound in the book, and have me truly excited to move on to book seven!