Saturday, December 1, 2018

Crimes of Grindelwald: Fun Yet Confusing

The second installment of the Fantastic Beasts series is out. This one is called The Crimes of Grindelwald, and I'm not entirely sure of the name's significance. I'm also not sure what exactly happened, and what was accomplished. It was a visually stunning movie with awesome music and epic scenes, which I'm sure will make more sense later, but I think a little more editing and/or explanation could have helped to make this even more of an enjoyable movie.

The movie is also full of fun Easter eggs, as well as some explanations of what happened in the past, some of which ties in with the Harry Potter series. With this is mind, I'm sure many fans would be ecstatic to see this movie. So what was so wrong with this one?

My son pointed out the biggest issue. It was almost as if the writer(s) went out of their way to keep information from the audience. I'm not sure if this was Rowling's idea or some other co-writers, but it doesn't fit the story telling in any of the other Rowling movies. My son notes one scene in which one character had no reason not to tell the other character important information except to not spoil the later surprises for the audience. "Shh ... I can't tell you because some mysterious audience is watching." This was also a major issue for another visually stunning, epic-filled movie that featured Redmayne a couple of years ago, which didn't do so well.

There were a few characters, even some major ones, that existed, but were never explained. I couldn't remember them from the first movie, nor did I understand who they were related to. Most importantly, I didn't understand their incentives or desires, so I had nothing to latch onto. For example, who was that evil looking lady working in the library? You'll know her when you see her. Who was that lady working with Grindelwald near the beginning of the movie? Who was that who helped Grindelwald escape in the beginning, and what exactly happened in that scene?

Also, I think the writers had established that there was a parallel magic world in Paris, but it was confusing as to which scenes were happening in magic land, and which were happening in the real world. And how exactly did the two worlds interact with each other?

And how again was Grindenwald able to get so many followers and why did it take so long for him to escape?

Out of the four of my family who were watching, none of us could figure out what was going on. We tried to piece it all together after the movie, but there were still some questions. I think we figured most of it, but it might take another viewing. The funny thing is, I don't think it would have taken that much editing to make it all work better. I'll most likely continue watching, but it's hard to get very excited about future movies.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

2018 Checkpoint #5

Here I am again ... another couple of months gone past without any sizable output. Music business ... blah blah ... tired after work ... blah blah ... more excuses. I can forget all of that, because I finally had an epiphany.

The reason why I've stopped writing is because I've placed myself in one of those infinite loop things. I know I need to write, and I have all kinds of ideas in fiction, non-fiction, and rantings, and so on. But most of these tasks happen to be large.

For example, I set aside a little bit of time -- say Monday night -- to write a passionate blog entry, but then it takes forever. I do research. I end up changing and even deleting large sections. Then I edit the final for grammar, flow, and spacing, etc., and when I hit send, three hours have past. Groan!

Then the next day I want to write another story or just about anything, but another three hours? Hmmm ... isn't there something I should be doing with my music business? In other words, I allow myself to burn out. Funny how it's always my fault!

The answer is so simple: one hour a day. Once I hit an hour, I stop, and continue the next day. I can write about anything: fiction, blog posts, letters to my friends, in my journal. Hopefully this will help me avoid my burn out, and help me make real progress, and still have time for my music business and relaxing, and whatever else. A little more discipline to get back into the habit, and never stop again!

I hope your writing is good and consistent!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Alpha: A Decent Movie

Ever since I saw the first trailer, Alpha was one movie I had been anticipating for over a year, even though I'm more of a cat lover. But as the months passed and having heard nothing, I feared that I had missed it. Then one day at the movie theater, I happened to look at the "Now Showing" posters, and recognized it. We went to go see it the very next week. It turns out they had delayed the release several times, and evidently decided not to advertise when it finally came out. So, I fully anticipate that most of you have never heard of this movie.

It was decent. It feels more like an independent film, not following the usual annoying Hollywood formulas, but rather just telling a story. In that way it was more fresh and intimate rather than pandering to the lowest common denominator. But this also means the intended audience may be smaller.

Keda is a young man living in a prehistoric post-caveman nomadic tribe. On his first hunting trip, he ends up lost and injured, and must make his way back before winter comes. On the way, he helps to nurse an injured wolf back to health and becomes good friends.

What originally attracted me to this movie was a semblance of the Akela story from Kipling, which was incorporated into the Cub Scouting program. "Law of the Pack" and all that good stuff. The idea of watching man and wolf becoming friends sounded interesting.

At the same time I feared that it would be dumb as other recent pre-historic movies (think 10,000 BC), but in the case of this movie, I was pleasantly surprised. Pre-historic man was not portrayed as ignorant cave dwellers, but rather as resourceful survivors. In fact, some scouts may recognize some survival techniques throughout the movie. The humans didn't speak in English, but rather some made-up language with subtitles, thus adding to the sense of reality.

The cinematography was superb, almost as good as Life of Pi, though at times it got a little too dark, and the stars didn't seem to have enough contrast. (Then again, it could have been because I was at a cheaper theater.)

The story was also good, providing all the feels. When the father thinks his son is dead, you know exactly what he's thinking. When the son thinks he won't survive, you know exactly what he feels.

My only complaint is that it felt too short. It was as if this film had so much potential that could have been reached if they had fleshed out the script a little more. For example, the "Alpha" concept that was introduced never really seemed to play out later in the movie. When it was over, I think we all asked, "That's all?" Maybe it just needed a more satisfying ending.

Even with that said, I highly recommend this film, especially if you like animals. It may be too late to catch it in the theaters, but rent it when you get a chance. It's a great family movie.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Just like it's predecessor, Ant-Man and the Wasp was exactly what I was expecting: funny, exciting, light, full of action, imaginative, and different. And certainly a needed break from Infinity War.

Scott and Hope continue their story as they try to rescue Dr. Pym's wife. Along the way, they come across a new villain, Ghost, who can phase in and out, and as such becomes very difficult to fight.

Though this sequel relies heavily on gimmicks and techniques introduced in the original, it does add new material and even a tad bit of development among some of the characters. The amount of humor is just right. The villain is believable. The plot is tight.

As you may expect, it has some crazy science that falls apart if you think about it even a little, but I didn't care much. I was impressed with the actual topics of physics they touched on, even if used incorrectly. Either way, the writers let us in on the joke when Scott asks, "Do you guys just put the word 'quantum' in front of everything?"

My only complaint is the same as with the original. The writers had to tie this into Civil War and Infinity War. Scott starts out being under house arrest. Sure, it makes for funny shenanigans. (I loved Agent Woo's parts.) But, it wasn't necessary to the "real" plot. And the tie into Infinity War doesn't make sense if you think about the timing of events and the overuse of coincidences. But -- meh! The writers had no choice but to do things the way they did.

Due to my lateness in writing, you may laugh while I say, "Go see it in a theater," but then again, I think it would be just as enjoyable on the small screen.

Monday, September 3, 2018

2018 Checkpoint #4

Another two months have passed, and this time I don't have much to report. I've bumped up my blog post counts, mainly in my sister blogs, and I've also worked a little more on my current short story, but not much output to show for it.

Though I'm having fun with my new goal system, I'm still waiting for the momentum to hit. It appears that I've been attacking this large wall of tasks I had been avoiding in the past -- almost like I'm trying to come out of some kind of time debt.

I have no choice but to keep pushing forward, and try to allot more time specifically to fiction/blog writing. There are things on my mind that need to be said and stories that need to be recorded, and they're not doing any good just sitting around in my brain.

Stay tuned for more details.

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!