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.

Awesome!

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?


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Reviews: Sci-fi Triple Feature

Over the past couple of weeks, I watched three fun movies, and I would recommend all three. Here they are!



#1) Doctor Strange

I know. It's another one of those Marvel movies, but an impressive one that reaches further than I've seen before. It's almost like Marvel's version of Inception, though not quite as intelligent.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Doctor Strange, a world-class surgeon who loses most of his hand mobility in a car accident. Desperate to find purpose in his life, he seeks answers, which leads him to a group of people who specialize in the mystic arts.

The whole idea of the movie is that there is an unseen world outside of our mortal world, and wow -- is it imaginative! With top-notch special effects, the mystical world comes to life and makes it feel real. Marvel successfully brings magic into the mix.

As usual, Giacchino's music is always appropriate and interesting -- though, I did recognize a few Star Trek chord progressions in the closing credits.

The movie's main weakness is that it is a Marvel movie, and as such, certain steps are taken to make sure it merges with the rest of the universe. Oh, how I wished this movie could have been a standalone! Do we really need random references to the Hulk or Ironman?

Also, I felt that even though Doctor Strange's origin story started out so well, his transformation from egomaniac jerk to humble superhero was way too rushed. It was almost like: Okay, he can do that now.

Weaknesses aside, overall it was a well-done effort. I would recommend catching it in 3D even though it's all converted. Fun for the whole family!



#2) Arrival

I wasn't prepared for how good this movie was going to be. It may seem on the low end budget-wise, but its unique use of effects, color, music, and human story brings across an excellent delivery.

The movie starts with a lonely and broken Louise Banks. As aliens appear on our doorstep, Louise couldn't care less. What good is anything in her life? She suddenly finds purpose when she's recruited to help break the aliens' language.

What follows is good science fiction that strives to stick with the possible, while at the same time providing us something fantastic, and taking us on a 2001-like journey.

The minimalistic music and cinematography set a perfect alien-feeling atmosphere. The non-Hollywood-formulaic writing is a breath of fresh air. In fact, I found it very difficult to predict how it was all going to end.

And when it was all over, all I could say was, "Wow."

Highly recommended. Watch and enjoy.




#3) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I went in with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. It felt like another typical Harry Potter movie. Only, this one is set in the past. Around the 1920s, maybe? This is long before Harry Potter was born, and when Riddle was most likely an infant.

Newt Scamander arrives in New York City with high hopes of breeding one or more of his creatures, which he keeps safe in his magical briefcase. However, things go south when a wannabe baker accidentally swaps briefcases.

The result is a funny story mixed with fun action as Newt ends up fighting a new (to us) bad guy.

Some parts are just plain silly, and the movie often suffers from "this ought to kill a lot of people but it doesn't" syndrome, but I didn't really seem to care. The movie kept my attention the whole time, and it was fun.

Go watch it with the family, though younger children might be scared by some of the scenes.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Two Month Update - #5

Here I am, a little late reporting again, and I bet you already know what my excuse is going to be. I've been devoting nearly 100% of my free time working on my new music publishing company.

You can check it out here if you wish.

Having come to a temporary stopping point, I've decided to devote today to getting back to other aspects of my life I've been neglecting.

So, in this penultimate checkpoint report for the year, I'm happy to report that work progresses forward on my planned short story: "The Last Actuary." I will be submitting it in the Actuarial Speculative Fiction Contest this coming January.

I am not happy to report that I haven't been submitting other short stories. All of my outstanding stories have received their rejection letters, and I now have nothing out -- not a good feeling. My only excuse is that I hope to make money in my other music venture. But success in another venture should be no excuse of failure in another. Is that how that quote goes?

Anyway, I hope your writing year is going well. Anyone doing NaNoWriMo?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Two Month Update - Checkpoint #4

Yes, I know I'm late again checking in. The biggest reason: I've been dedicating nearly 100% of my time preparing for the opening of my music publishing business. You can read more about that on my music blog.

But never fear. This is a planned outage, and I will get right back to work in the later part of October, starting with the planned short story, "The Last Actuary." And early next year, I will start the final process of getting "Justice" published.

I'll be back ...

Monday, July 25, 2016

Two Month Update - Checkpoint #3

Okay, I'm a whole month late checking in. I was supposed to report on June 30, but I'll explain what happened.

As of the end of June, I had made terrible progress toward my writing goals. Life was getting in the way, stress was increasing at work, depression was getting strong, and blah, blah, blah.

Then I made up my mind. I was tired of not getting my book editing finished. At the same time, I've been trying to get my music business ready, but even that was suffering, since I was so depressed about not finishing the book and getting it out of the way. So, I decided to drop everything and finish that book. No more "just one chapter a week" nonsense. Just get it all done, and move on to the next project.

And that's what I did. I took two weeks and knocked out the remaining seven or eight chapters. Some I did in one day, and some I did in two days. Now it's ... Boom, baby! That goal is finished and done.

I only submitted one story during that two-month period (May and June), bringing my total to six for the year. Only twenty left to meet my yearly goal. If I do one a week going forward, I can still do it.

For blog writing, in May and June, I wrote eight posts in three of my blogs (just under one a week).

For the next bit couple of months, I'll be concentrating on my music business and getting that thing launched, so look for posts primarily on my music blog. I'll be back at the end of August to give my next report.

Good luck on your goals!