Thursday, August 9, 2018

Incredibles 2: Fantastic Sequel



Overall, Incredibles 2 is a good continuation of The Incredibles. It's a good story, good plot, good flow, excellent music, decent humor, and awesome animation.

The only thing I didn't like was the "apology" that aired before the movie even started -- something about being sorry for taking 14 years to make the sequel. Look guys, we get it. You've been busy making other great Pixar movies. Sure, the actors supplying the voices look noticeably older in the apology clip, but the first movie is timeless, as this second movie is, also. It fits. The characters remain consistent between movies. At least you guys didn't give us another Cars 2 and all the other movies that came after in that series. You should have no regrets making this movie.

At the start of this sequel, our heroes combat the Underminer, picking up exactly where the first movie leaves off. As the general public still doesn't accept supers, a Walt-Disney-like billionaire decides to step in and help boost their image, hoping that good PR can help bring supers back into favor, thus helping them to become legal again, until a new super villain tries to stop them.

If some of this sounds familiar, it's probably because the story does rely partially on tropes from other mutant/super stories, but the writers bring it together with fresh twists. I particularly like the use of new technologies.

There do seem to be a few slow parts, but it's mainly due to setting up the story. It all leads to a very satisfying ending.

I'm glad I caught it in the theater, but I think it will perform well on the small screen as well.

One thing to watch out for. One part (repeated a few times) can evidently cause epileptic seizures. Check out the trailer above at time 2:06 for an example. In hindsight, I wonder if the animators really needed to do that. When this happens, it might be a good idea to look away if you're susceptible.

For good family fun, be sure to catch this movie.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Old Man's War: An Okay Book



Old Man's War is the second time I've tried John Scalzi. I was annoyed with Redshirts, so this book was definitely a step up. It's well written, well edited, flows nicely, easy to read, sets up a nice and rich world, and has a mostly good story arc.

The overall concept is innovative. By the time John Perry turns 75, his wife has died and he has nothing to look forward to, so he decides to join the Colonial Defense Forces. They have technology that can make him young again, but there's one small catch: he must be declared legally dead and start a new life off-world, never to return to Earth again.

Once he enters the intergalactic war, he learns that Earth fights not to conquer, but rather to survive. As many different civilizations compete for limited resources in the galaxy, they have no choice but to fight. Conquer other worlds or die--much like the Dark Forest philosophy from the Three Body Problem series, but instead of hiding, all worlds come out fighting.

As I read on, something kept bugging me, though. It was a good book, but I didn't see anything that made it a great book. I'm going to be extra picky, as this novel placed first in Tor's top ten SFF novels of the decade.

The book suffered from some annoyances common among early novels. Even though Scalzi did a decent job in distinguishing his different characters, he yet had all of them acting the same. It was as if he had instilled his own funny pessimistic satiric view on life. For example, when our heroes are youngified, the first thing they do is go have sex with themselves -- for an entire chapter! At first, a reader might say, "Well, why wouldn't they? Wouldn't you do that if you were young again?" There's no question that Scalzi himself wouldn't hesitate, and I know a majority of people would likewise indulge, but I also know several people in real life who just wouldn't do it. Scalzi missed a wonderful opportunity for further character distinction by having one of the characters decide not to participate.

The same comment goes also for the F-bomb dropping by everyone. Not everyone does that. Several books I've read recently are not in the Tor list, and they do a better job at character distinction than this (having only certain characters cussing). It's understandable that their first drill commander would let the F-bombs fly, but wow, was that character the most cliche character in the book. It just didn't flow naturally.

And finally, the book's form was disappointing. The whole purpose of the plot was to build the world for the readers. John just happened to find himself at the right places at the right time to learn different aspects about how things worked. As I saw the future pages in the book were getting fewer, I started wondering why it was chosen as #1 of the decade. Was there some great Ender's Game reveal coming at the end?

When I got to the last page, it didn't happen, and it seemed that so many things were left unresolved. The book just ended. I sat there staring at it and scratched my head. I had enjoyed the other three novels I had already read from the Tor list much more than this one. How did it get to be #1? Popularity? Does the series get much better in the sequels, now that the world has already been established?

Old Man's War was a fun read and well done, but for now I'm not too excited to continue the series. Eventually I'll get around to it, ... maybe in a couple of years ...


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Solo: Fun Fan Fodder




Next up in my catch-up-athon: this awesome review of Solo: A Star Wars Story.

I'll be honest and say that going into the theater, I wasn't too excited about this movie, even though I loved The Last Jedi (review). It felt like I had just seen a Star Wars movie, it was way too close to Infinity Wars, and most of the trailers out at the time didn't hook me. (Though, the trailer attached here is a lot more exciting than what I had seen -- why didn't they lead with this one?) I had no desire to catch this movie on review night, nor any desire to watch in IMAX or 3D or with any other gimmicks. But still, as a Star Wars fan, I had to go.

Despite a few slow parts, I ended up enjoying it more than I had expected. Why? Because it had action, a decent story, and a whole slew of nods and easter eggs geared toward fans. If I had to make a comparison with Star Trek, I would compare this one to #3: The Search for Spock. That was another movie made entirely for the fans, but lost on most everyone else.

If there is any question you previously had about Han Solo, this movie most likely covers it. My personal favorite was an explanation of the Kessel Run and the 12 parsecs remark. It was a BIG stretch, but I approved with a good laugh.

Another moment near the end takes a swing, mocking George Lucas' digital adjustments to the original trilogy. Again, I approved with a good laugh.

My main complaints are these:

I and others in the theater evidently spent too much time trying to figure out where this movie fit in the whole anthology. How many years after #3 did it come? At one part, a lot of people seemed confused, wondering if it were possible that this movie might be happening before #1. I think a quick paragraph in the beginning could have better set the stage and avoid this confusion.

I felt that a large part was missing from Qi'ra's story. How exactly did she come to her position after three short years? And how could her character allow for it?

I already mentioned the timing of the release ... way too early in the year, and way too close to other blockbusters. November or December would have been much more enjoyable. And now we must wait a year and a half for the next installment?

Other than that, I rather enjoyed the movie, and I'm disappointed that it performed poorly in the box office. One of the reasons for this came to light when I read a recent column blasting again The Last Jedi and saying why it was prudent to miss Solo, even though he listed it as being a "good movie." That made me scratch my head. "You mean to tell me you're a Star Wars fan, but you're so mad at The Last Jedi that you would happily skip a movie written by one of the original screenplay writers for people just like you?" Their loss. There are yet millions of true fans who are sticking with the series while things are starting to get interesting.


Monday, July 2, 2018

2018 Checkpoint #3

I'm happy to report that my new goal system appears to be a success. Over the past two months, I've noticed that depression has been way down. I don't feel so stuck anymore. I still get depressed over world events sometimes, but I've learned a trick in that area: stay away from the news! Last week was awesome while I was on vacation.

My biggest milestone is: I've started writing fiction again! Yay! It hasn't been much, but just doing it makes me feel good.

And yes, I have plenty of excuses for my low output: pressures from my music business, the day job sucking the life out of me, getting caught up with organizing the home, and so on. You've heard it all before, but this time it's okay, because I see a path now. Things are getting done. Once I put a task on my list, it will get done, even if it takes a couple of weeks to get around to it.

I expect that as I push forward, things will start gaining momentum, and I'll be able to do things faster.

My plans are to first spit out some shorter fiction pieces, and then move on to some moderately longer ones I've been planning. And then perhaps by the end of the year, I'll start working on my books again.

I'm also going to spend more time in the near future working on my Mormon blog, as I'd like to relate some recent stories and experiences -- and evidently it's easier to write when you have something to say.

I've got more plans for what comes next, and I will succeed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War



Yes, this review is pretty late. I'm still doing catch up, and also, it's pretty difficult to talk about this movie without revealing any spoilers. I'm still going to try, somewhat comforted that most of you reading have already seen this movie.

Infinity War is by far my favorite Avengers movie. Not so much because it's big, awesome, and fun to watch, but because it did something different. It broke its own Marvel formula.

After years of waiting, Thanos finally makes a move on the Infinity Stones. If he can collect them all, he can become invincible, and all kinds of bad things can happen. And do you think the Avengers are going to let him get away with it?

Most impressive was the writers' ability to put together this ensemble and still maintain each individual's character, entirely consistent with earlier movies.

I caught this movie Preview night in standard -- no 3D, and no IMAX. I didn't miss the 3D at all, though I wish I had gone back and seen it in 2D-IMAX. I would have liked to have seen many scenes on a bigger and clearer screen.

That's pretty much all I have for this movie, but I wanted to make one further observation. This movie is similar to the first Star Trek reboot movie, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi in that all three movies went out of the way to change things up and totally upend their respective franchises. In two of these franchises, the changes were well received. The third was blasted by its fans. By most cinematic standards, all three are good movies, each earning more than 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. Just an interesting observation worth mentioning!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Movie List - 2010

Here it is: the Mel Movie List of 2010. With this list, I take us all back to when this blog first started. Man, I was so young back then! As always, this list is subject to change as I watch more movies.


Top 20:

Inception
Shutter Island
Tron: Legacy
Toy Story 3
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1
True Grit
Chronicles of Narnia, The: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Iron Man 2
Tangled
How to Train Your Dragon
Megamind
Clash of the Titans
Skyline
Frozen
Shrek Forever
Despicable Me
Knight and Day
Sorcerer's Apprentice, The


And the rest in alphabetical order:

Alpha and Omega
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Devil
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Gulliver's Travels
Last Airbender, The
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
Hereafter
Salt
Alice in Wonderland
Tooth Fairy
Karate Kid, The
Dinner for Schmucks
Spy Next Door, The
Furry Vengeance

Thursday, May 3, 2018

2018 Checkpoint #2

There's not much to report this time, though I'm trying something different. It's come to my attention that making too many goals and failing to meet them has contributed to a lot of depression and lack of productivity in some areas. I am dinging myself for the tasks I'm NOT accomplishing, when I should be patting myself on the back for the tasks I AM accomplishing.

Even though I haven't been writing, I still have big plans for the future as pertaining to my fiction writing. I have to first reboot the writing engine, and then more fun things will be coming. You'll have to stay tuned for more details.

One thing I'm going to stop here and now are the numerical stats. They're boring, they're useless, and they're evidently punitive. I'm just going to have to find other ways to measure success.

We'll see how this goes. I hope that "What do I WANT to do today?" instead of "What do I HAVE to do today?" will make all the difference in the world, and I can finally accomplish everything I want to accomplish in the world of fiction.

I hope you all are doing well in your own writing.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

First Exposure to Philip K. Dick


Here I am -- nearly half a century old, and having watched and loved several films inspired by Philip K. Dick, I finally got around to reading a couple of his stories. I can see why a lot of people like his writing, and I can see why others don't. It took me a while to get over how he seemed to break many rules that get pushed on aspiring writers these days. For example, in both stories I read, PKD did more "telling" than "showing."

But yet, his stories felt organic. He was simply telling a story, he was going to tell it his way, and if people didn't want to listen, he couldn't care less. This taught me a lesson--something I've heard before from Orson Scott Card, but here I say it again in different words. An organic story is much more important than technique. If you spend all the time showing off how well you can follow all the rules and forget to tell a story, you will have succeeded in boring the whole world.

In a way, I appreciated PKD's ability to avoid flowery language and to stay out of the way to let the story be told. As a friend explained to me: PKD gets straight down to business and tries not to waste our time.

Here are the stories.


"Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?" (1968)

Of course, I had to start with the book that launched two of my favorite movies. (That and I chose to go with what the library had available at the time.)

Just like in Blade Runner and its sequel, the short novel stars Rick Deckard, the android bounty hunter, and also the robot Rachel Rosen. He is tasked to track down and retire the last of eight rogue androids after one of them shoots his colleague. Along the way he comes across an interesting cast of characters, many of which are androids that do not know they're not human. Toward the end, Rick even wonders if he, himself, is an android with implanted memories.

Expecting the book to be just like the movie was a mistake. The movie throws out many important aspects of the book, and ends up being a different kind of masterpiece.

Animals play a large role in the book, as most of them had been wiped out by the recent nuclear war. Thus, each living human feels duty-bound to raise and protect their own real animal. However, some like Rick, purchase electric animals to masquerade as real. And wouldn't you know it? Rick has an electric sheep.

The book introduces the idea of a mood organ, in which one can dial up a specific emotion to feel. There is also a strange religion called Mercerism, built on a story of a man who perseveres against all odds, and humans can tap into empathy boxes in order to relive the story over and over again. These two aspects dropped from the movie show that technology had gotten advanced enough to basically program humans, raising the question: what's the difference between humans and androids if we humans can be equally manipulated?

The book also gives Rick a current wife, though they appear to be struggling. At one point near the beginning of the story, during a disagreement, Rick orders his wife to dial her mood organ to an emotion of compliance.

When all is said and done, the book ends without answering most of the questions it raises, all while depressing the heck out of me, just like the movies. I highly recommend giving it a read.


"The Variable Man" (1953)

I include each story's date, so you can understand my next comment. The writing in "The Variable Man" is pretty bad. There is a lot of repetitive dialogue, and all the characters are shallow, but the story was yet captivating. I can understand why the copyright was allowed to lapse on this story (it is available for free via the Gutenburg project).

Terra (Earth) is surrounded by the Ancient Centaurian Empire, based at the closest star of Proxima Centauri. As Terra is unable to reach out and explore the stars, they are planning a war against the Empire. Daily, they run calculations to predict the outcome of such a war, and it constantly show a Terran loss until a secret weapon is developed.

As soon as Reinhart, the head military man, hears the news of a possible Terran victory, he prepares for attack whatever the cost. They must strike before the enemy learns of the weapon and has a chance to compensate.

All goes well until a man from the past, Thomas Cole, is accidentally pulled into their time. His mere existence causes the calculations to fluctuate widely, inspiring Reinhart to order the death of the man.

What happens next is actually a pretty good story. As you can guess, Cole doesn't want to be killed.

In addition to the not-so-good writing, there are some interesting plot holes in the science. For example, FTL plays a large role, but after establishing that Terra can't control FTL, how is it they can receive information faster than the speed of light? And if Terra is surrounded by the Empire, how could Terra even think of getting their warships anywhere near enough to attack, let alone communicate with home base? But whatevs -- fifteen years later, PDK would prove how much his writing had improved.

It was interesting to read this story shortly after having read the entire Three Body Problem trilogy, which has a similar plot.

I also wonder if James Cole of 12 Monkeys fame got his name from this very story.

Despite the semi-bad writing -- what do you have to lose? It's available for free, and it's a quick read. At least the story catches and maintains attention.

I'll come back later to read more of PDK's stories. In the meantime, it's time to try out some other books on my list.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Ready Player One: Game On, Dudes!



Are you looking for the perfect movie to take you away and forget about this crazy world? If so, Ready Player One may be the movie for you, especially if you happen to be a gamer.

As a standalone movie, it holds its own. The CGI is beyond amazing. The action sequences are fun. The 70s/80s/90s references are all cool. And it depicts something that could actually happen in the near future.

Wade Watts is a money-poor gamer living in the stacks -- future slums where trailers are stacked on top of each other. Despite his lack of resources, Wade joins the search for the ultimate easter egg, one that would give the winner full control of the ever-popular OASIS virtual world, worth a gazillion dollars. Along the way, he'll have to fight the affluent corporation IOI and their sixers. They have the money, but Wade has his passion.

I would strongly advise watching this movie while still in theaters so you can get the full effect. I must admit there were times I felt I was part of the movie and had to remind myself I was just watching.

My only complaints about the movie are nerdy in nature. For starters, I don't think the music fit as well as it could have. Silvestri seemed to be channeling a John Williams vibe, but not as well. For example, the incidental music at the start of the car chase wasn't exciting enough. Most of the 80's/90's song cues were cool, but even some of those choices seemed weak, especially the opening song.

If John Williams were scoring this, he would have hidden a Willy Wonka cue, much like "When You Wish Upon a Star" hidden in Close Encounters, but I didn't catch anything. (Yes, I know "Come With Me" is in a trailer, but that's not hidden, and I don't think Silvestri arranged it.)

Those who have read the book may find some parts annoying. I believe the movie adequately captures the most important parts of the books, but the three tests are so "easy" that most any nerd could have figured them out in real life. The tests in the book are much more nuanced and intelligent.

Also, Wade has much more character development in the book. For example, he already has most of his cool gear at the beginning of the movie -- so he's not nearly as poor. Then again, Spielberg is really good at creating empty main characters -- think Indiana Jones. This can be both good and bad. Bad because the character comes across as shallow, and their motives can be confusing. Good because the shallowness allows for the watchers to more easily insert themselves into the main character.

Either way, I didn't notice much of this until after the movie was over and I started analyzing.

I watched it in 3D IMAX. I generally choose not to watch such movies not shot in 3D (and I am disappointed Spielberg chose not to go this way in the real-life shots), but as most of the movie occurs inside the virtual world, which is by nature "shot" in 3D, I figured it was worth a shot. I'm not sure how much it added, but wearing the glasses was kind of like wearing VR glasses -- so maybe that helped with the feeling of being inside the movie.

Go have some fun. Catch this movie.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Movie List - 2011

The long anticipated Mel's Movie List of 2011:


Top 20:

Source Code
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (7.2)
Hugo
Battle: Los Angeles
Thor
Sucker Punch
Adjustment Bureau
Super 8
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
War Horse
Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The
Adventures of Tintin, The
Cowboys & Aliens
X-Men: First Class
Captain America: The First Avenger
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Hanna
Rio
The Three Musketeers
In Time (2011)


And the rest in alphabetical order:

Arthur Christmas
Atlas Shrugged: Part 1
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2): Rodrick Rules
Gnomeo & Juliet
I Am Number Four
Johnny English Reborn
Limitless
Mars Needs Moms
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Pirates of the Caribbean(4): On Stranger Tides
Puss in Boots
Rango
Smurfs, The
Transformers(3): Dark of the Moon
We Bought a Zoo
Zookeeper