Monday, April 17, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: Redone

The first question is, should they have remade Beauty and the Beast, a cartoon masterpiece? In this case, sure -- why not? I believe it sufficiently captures the magic of the original, plus it gives new songs and new scenes to bring more depth to the characters and to explain a few items untouched a couple of decades ago.

The special effects were done well enough to look believable, and not stupid -- a common danger of bringing animated films to life.

In some aspects, I thought the remake actually outperformed the cartoon, and worth watching. Bring the whole family and enjoy it.

Monday, March 27, 2017

More Actuarial Fiction

Oh yes! It's that time of the bi-year! The latest Actuarial Speculative Fiction is out and you can read all the entries here. As usual, I have submitted my own story: "The Last Actuary," which tells the story of actuary Sam Peters who is chosen to join a secret exhibition to colonize another planet in a last-ditch effort to save the human race. While he questions his purpose on board, he comes to realize that there are forces trying to stop their mission.

There are several other stories, many of which I'm sure are good, but I haven't had time to read them yet. Though, a colleague has read them all, and has created his own summaries and has even collected some pictures. You can check it out here, and it may help you decide which stories you'd like to read.

The winners will be announced next week, and hopefully I will have good news for you all.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Dog's Purpose: Good Family Movie

A Dog's Purpose received mainly negative reviews from the critics, and I'm not sure why. I found that the movie delivered exactly what was promised. If you love dogs, you'll most likely love this movie. Even as a cat lover, I found myself getting into it.

Bailey-Bailey-Bailey-Bailey-Bailey is a dog who experiences several lives, only to reincarnate over and over, touching the lives of several different sets of humans.

Overall, the movie is done well. It's light-hearted. The dog voice-over is actually funny--especially when it's obvious that a dog actor decides to do his own thing. The human stories are touching and believable.

As such, I can see exactly why most user ratings of the movie are positive. If you go to see a movie because of what it promises, and if it delivers, you're going to enjoy it, despite what those uppity critics say. (Remember, they have to give bad reviews to prove their own existence.)

I haven't read any of the negative reviews, but if I had to guess, it may be that some human characters disappear without any resolution (just like normal life?). Or perhaps it was missing all kinds of cussing, action scenes, and the typical Hollywood formula.

I will give one major complaint, though. The trailers I saw basically give away the ending, so when it was over, I was underwhelmed. I'm pretty sure I would have enjoyed it more had I not known what was coming. Even today, looking for a good trailer to post with this, I could only find this one 15-second trailer that doesn't spoil the ending. Perhaps this unforgivable sin is really why the critics gave bad reviews.

So, stay away from the trailers, and once this hits DVD, Netflix, or Hulu, check it out. It's the perfect family rent movie.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Checkpoint #1 - 2017

Here we are, two months into the year, and now I must do a planned check-in.

I'll start off by saying I have a bit of a conundrum. I'm simultaneously trying to drum up business for my music publishing business, which takes up some time and also a little bit of money. This could get in the way of my goal to publish my space-opera novel. If I don't have enough time and money for the task, I may be better off working on my other novels and get them closer to publication.

Though it would be nice to have that one book out there for you guys to read!  We'll see how the money flows in the next couple of months -- that will help decide which way to turn for the rest of the year.

I did successfully finish and send in my short story "The Last Actuary" into the Actuarial Speculative Fiction Contest. Usually, I do a read and report on all the competitors' stories, but this year I've been too busy to do it. That's sad for me! I may read the stories anyway and not report.

If interested, you can check out my story and all the other contenders here. Also, feel free to vote for your favorite story.

Other than that, I haven't submitted any stories to magazines yet this year. What I should do is have a four-week streak of sending a story out each week to help catch up on my goal. It doesn't take money to send, so no excuses!

Though, I have increased the number of blog entries between this and my other four blogs. I'm trying to increase my internet presence.

How are you doing on your writing goals?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hidden Figures: A Hidden Delight

The first I had heard of Katherine Johnson was a couple of months ago when I caught an episode of Timeless, in which time travelers go back and try to save the first moon walk. It blew me away that a black woman played such a key role in the space race.

Then when I saw a trailer to Hidden Figures, I said, "There were three of them?!" It turns out there were even more than that. So, I had to go check it out. I went with my wife on a double date for Valentine's Day, and it was more than worth it. Now I'm wondering why this movie wasn't played up as much as it should be.

This movie tells the true story of three women: Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, who each rise up above prejudices and become leading figures in their field. While watching them succeed, we also get to remember why Jim Crow laws were so bad.

The script is well written. The music is great. The story is paced well. It even has a little romance, a little math, and a little science. It's a story of unsung heroes that needs to be heard.

Be warned, though. As usual in movies like this, some liberties were taken. The math and science is significantly simplified to be enjoyable to a wider audience. The stories of Dorothy and Mary actually happened in the 40's and 50's, but were made to be concurrent with Katherine's story in the early 60s. Also, segregation was done away with at NASA as early as 1958, though all three characters had dealt with it to some degree at some points of their careers.

If you're a stickler for history, first go see the movie, and then go read the book by the same name to straighten out the details. Either way, it's an amazing set of stories, as it's always good to hear when people persist amongst incredible odds.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The LEGO Batman Movie: Holy Snap!

The LEGO Batman Movie was awesome. Wait ... can we use that word? Hmmm, not sure if anyone used it in the movie. Anyway, this movie was a hundred laughs per hour. It pokes fun at most every incarnation of Batman and features some cool new songs.

I'm not going to give much away. It has Batman, Robin, the Joker, Alfred, and other favorites. Of course, it's all mixed together with crazy child-like humor, and features thousands of LEGO bricks.


For a dark movie, I was amazed at how represented all colors of the rainbow were. We didn't see it in 3-D, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Though, if you like 3-D movies, this looks like one to catch in that format. Evidently IMAX - 3D isn't available in the states, but that's okay.

No matter how you see it, it's fun for the whole family.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Death's End: All Good Things

Death's End is the last book in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, bringing the Chinese masterpiece of Lui Cixin to a close. Just like the first two books (#1 and #2), this conclusion continues the epic story of Earth and the Trisolarians. And just when I thought there couldn't be much more to the story, Cixin pleasantly surprises.

The book follows Cheng Xin, a female scientist who visits different epochs of time thanks to the wonders of cryogenic hibernation.

And let me tell you, the imagery is so amazing and large, that I often felt small and depressed just from reading it. Cixin successfully captures the vast and ruthless nature of the universe, simultaneously instilling despair and hope at different times throughout the book, and he does so with his usual Chinese "legend" feel, all the way to the final sentence.

Cixin sticks with hard science, but takes it to limits I've never seen before, pushing the boundaries of the imagination, and presenting interesting conjectures. Though I enjoyed it, I know some physicists who would hate the science, as it relies heavily on String theory. Yet all physicists should enjoy most of the other science Cixin gets right.

The book series does have some minor plot holes and what I like to call science holes (things that could happen, but we already know it's not true), but I'll save that for a separate spoiler-filled post to come shortly. There's enough in this series to amaze and overcome these holes.

So, grab you a copy of each of these books, and prepare to be scienced away.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Reviews: Rogue One and Moana

Over the holidays, I caught two fun movies.

First was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

This was nowhere near my favorite Star Wars story, but it was a nice and refreshing break from the main saga. Rogue One has more grit and war-like feel than any of the other movies, and gives me hope that we'll see more shoot-off stories in the future.

Rogue One fills in some gaps in between Star Wars III and IV. Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, leads a group of ragtag misfits on a mission to obtain the Death Star plans. Right off the bat, you may wonder if they're going to be successful. No -- I better not give it away.

This movie dares to go into new places not breached many times before. For example, Tarkin and young Leia make appearances with a little help from impersonator actors and CGI. Many fans complained and asked, "why?" but I say, "why not?" I was impressed with what was accomplished.

My main disappointment with the movie was the protagonist, Jyn Erso. She just didn't do much for me. The only interesting thing about her was the relationship with his father, but as it was, I found myself liking her sidekicks much more than her. Donnie Yen was funny and awesome as Chirrut Imwe.

There was still plenty to keep my interest. The Death Star itself is an impressive presence throughout the whole film. There were plenty of Easter eggs to tickle my funny bone -- such as Jimmy Smits mentioning how he was going back to Alderaan to take care of business. Poor guy.

I watched in both 3-D and 2-D. 3-D didn't add much. I wish I could have seen it in 2-D IMAX. The glasses were just too distracting.

If you haven't seen it yet, I recommend catching it while it's still in theaters.

Moana caught me by surprise. I had avoided it for over a month, dismissing it as a PIXAR miss, but with its beautiful imagery and wonderful story, it may be one of my favorites.

Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) is chosen by the gods to save the Polynesian islands from a thousand-year-old curse. Together with the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson), she journeys across the ocean to fulfill her mission.

Most amazing was that to me, it felt like a Polynesian story, and not some Americanized version of a Polynesian story. Yes, I'm not up on my Polynesian legends, but wow -- was that some amazing view into their culture!

Only one thing bugged me, but this is nearly inevitable in every movie with an amazing story. You can almost find a plot hole that's annoying if you think about it too much. If the curse really were 1000 years old, and it's killing off islands, why did it take so long to get to Moana's island, and why did no one seem to know what was going on? But hey -- it was still fun.

I strongly recommend catching this in the theater (though it's getting near the end of its run). The animation makes it worth it, and I doubt it would be as awesome on a small TV screen.

Monday, January 2, 2017

2017 Preview

2017 is a prime number. I'm not sure why I always start these goals with interesting number facts, and there's nothing interesting about 2017, but why break with tradition? Since this is a prime year, and I have a prime-number age, it means it's a prime year for kicking up the goals a notch.

I will still be building up my music publishing business, but now that it's up and running, I can spend more time with the writing I had chosen to partially neglect last year. So, more time for accomplishing goals!

  • "Justice" (novel)
    • Submit to an editor
    • Make any needed changes
    • Get it published (self-publishing on Amazon)
  • "The Last Actuary" (short story)
    • Submit to Actuarial Speculative Fiction Contest
  • "Space Cadets" (novel)
    • Finish first draft
  • Short stories
    • Write three new stories
    • 26 magazine submissions (don't include "The Last Actuary" contest submission above)
  • 5 goal review sessions throughout the year
Good luck with your own goals.

Mel's Year In Review: 2016

At the end of 2015, I reported that I had the worst year of fiction writing. 2016 went a little better. Unlike 2015, I had an excuse not to do so much writing: I was putting together a music publishing company, which I knew would take a lot of time. For 2016, I had set some low grade fiction goals, and I did decently well.

I successfully finished the 6th draft of my novel, "Justice." I've chosen an editing service, which I will approach in early 2017, and I'm still on track to releasing the novel in 2017.

I successfully completed the first draft of "The Last Actuary," which I will submit at the end of January 2017 to another contest.

I made six submissions to magazines, which was twice as many as I submitted in 2015, but I still fell short of my goal of 26. This is my biggest regret for 2016, but I felt I made great strides in other areas.

Other stats for 2016:
  • 23 posts in this blog (same as last year).
  • 7,685 pageviews, bringing the total to 60,381 (up 15%).
  • The Mormon Mel had 3 new posts and 382 new pageviews for a total of 1,576 (up 32%).
  • The Music of Mel had 14 new posts and 1,381 new pageviews for a total of 4,812 (up 40%).
  • The Econo-Mel had 2 new posts and 364 new pageviews for a total of 1,999 (up 22%).
  • The Melkim Blog is a new blog with 10 posts. Evidently, since it's a Wordpress site, I haven't yet figured out how to capture the number of blog posts. (Something fun to research this next year).
  • My YouTube videos had 32,273 views for a total of 327,389 (up 11%).
  • I reviewed:
    • 13 movies
    • 10 TV shows
    • 5 books
  • Evidently, this past year, I only had one non-review/update post, and here it is:
How did you do in 2016?