Saturday, April 20, 2019

Into the Spider-Verse: in Pseudo 3-D

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is possibly the most comic-book-looking animated film I've ever seen. And it was able to pull together nearly all past versions of Spider-man into one movie.

Somehow, each Spider-man who has ever existed, or been dreamt up, exists in his or her own universe. (Sorry -- I just can't misuse the word "dimension" as most shows do. The proper word is "universe.") After Kingpin opens a portal to these other universes, they all clash together.

In one sense, this is yet another movie like TRON, where the overall idea is ludicrous, but when put together in an enjoyable way--a good plot, good humor, and good action--no one seems to notice the ludicrousness. You want to see how good writers can effectively fit in a looney-tunes talking spider pig? Then watch this film.

The animation is awesome. It seemed like it was constantly switching between different styles, and I couldn't find any patterns, but it all seemed to work. Sometimes the animation was an intentional low bit rate, helping to create a jerky comic-book action feel. Sometimes there was an out-of-focus double vision to emulate 3-D without the glasses -- sometimes with red-blue borders, and sometimes more like today's polarized 3-D look. (In fact, during the viewing, I thought the theater had accidentally shown us the 3-D version without the glasses. I only found out later through research that the pseudo 3-D effect was intentional, even in the 2-D version.)

Sometimes the animation looked like the old 4-color dot matrix comics. Other times it was a newer more modern type of animation with computer-aided 3-D shading and the like. And often we got to see word bubbles with some humorous variations.

Overall, it was fun for the whole family. I saw it in the theater, but it's out now on disc and streaming. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it. I'll probably be watching it again sometime soon to catch what I missed the first time.

Shazam: A Marvel of a Movie

SHAZAM! helps to bring DC out of the dust in the movie sphere. Using a good balance of humor and action, this movie keeps attention from start to finish.

Billy Batson, foster teenager in search of a good home, is chosen to be the champion to help protect the world. All he has to do is say, "Shazam!" and he turns into an adult-sized superhero with several superpowers.

This movie brings back several memories from similar movies and TV shows in the past. Just like in The Greatest American Hero, Billy doesn't receive an instruction manual and needs to discovers the powers on his own. Of course he has a friend to help him along, and the results are hilarious.

Just like in Big, Billy must learn how to deal with an adult body while having only the experience of a child. As one might expect, Zachary Levi pulls this off remarkably well. Then again, he's always been great in acting as a child.

It appears that the writers give intentional nods to these works that came before it. And before anyone accuse the current writers of being unoriginal, just remember that SHAZAM (Captain Marvel) did it first in the comics in the 1940s, well before these other shows.

This movie, as well as providing tons of good laughs, also provides good action scenes. Dr. Sivana is a good evil villain. He obtains his powers through impure means and provides Shazam a formidable foe. A warning though: at least one scene is likely to scare younger children. Warner Brothers still allows its foes to go a little further than we've yet to see in the Marvel universe. I actually enjoy the darker feel in these movies.

When you go see this movie, be prepared to relax and enjoy the show. If you think too hard, it should be easy to find plot holes (such as: "Where are Superman and Batman, et al?"), but this movie is too much fun to care about those.

Random trivia: SHAZAM is a acronym of Solomon (wisdom), Hercules (strength), Atlas (stamina), Zeus (power), Achilles (courage), and Mercury (speed). Also, I doubt there has been any superhero character that has been sued more than SHAZAM (Captain Marvel). You should look it up and enjoy the whole story.

Take your family (teenage kids and older) to catch this in the theater. It's not an Adam Sandler movie as some previews would have you believe. Rather, just a good humorous action-filled fun movie.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

First Contact: Rocking in Space

I'm not one to pick up a book featuring a rock star in space, but Kelly Brewer makes it work in First Contact. I was asked to provide this review, and occasionally I love to read works from new and uprising authors.

Earth has reached the edge of its solar system and is slowly branching out further, an effort known as the Deepening. While things are bad on Earth, Kyle Supplantis, lead singer of the Cosmic Mechanix, embarks on a rock-and-roll tour throughout the solar system in an attempt to bring hope to mankind and to inspire further exploration.

Along the way, nefarious parties try to sabotage and otherwise destroy the tour. Even those close to Kyle have hidden motives. And evidently unseen aliens are watching as well.

As one may expect from a rock-and-roll book, there is music, crazed fans, dangerous drugs that kill, band member issues, backstabbing, some strong language, and a little bit of sex. Though, Kyle is noble and pure, almost to a fault. He needs to be clean if he's going to try and save the world.

The writing style is new and interesting, incorporating what might be called Millennial speak. Several words contain periods or emoticons, like one might see in code or on the Internets. The people of the strange Coexist religion seem to have their own language heavy with the letter Z.

The concepts in the book are highly imaginative: robots that are half human / half machine, long distance jumps in space involving the switching of matter, built-in communication devices, new kinds of drugs, and so on.

Overall, the plot is satisfying, though it leaves much open to sequels. This book seems more about building the world and stage setting for these future books.

If you love rock-and-roll and you also love space operas, then give this book a try. It's good light entertainment.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Captain Marvel: Another Hero

Here we are ... the movie what proceeds Endgame. That means you have to watch it, right?

Then again, is an excuse needed? Captain Marvel is a fun ride all the way through. Again proof that Marvel still knows how to put together an enjoyable movie. This is yet another standalone origin story -- and get this -- possibly the best noninvasive incorporation of Avengers mythology out of all of the other post-Avengers (1) origin stories. (Maybe?)

Vers (as the future Captain Marvel is called in this movie) has joined her fellow Kree in their war against the Skrull. When things go wrong, she finds herself on the planet Earth. Cool for us! The Skrull, who are able to shape-shift and imitate anyone, start infiltrating and trying to stop her. Along the way, she joins forces with none other than younger 1995 versions of Nick Fury and Agent Coulson.

The action was fun. The music by Pinar Toprak was good and different. The plot was decent. The acting was believable. Special effects awesome -- especially in a theater, with an amazing young-ification of Nick Fury's face, though Agent Coulson's face had a little uncanny valley going on.

Some people have accused this movie of pushing a feminist agenda, but honestly, I must have missed it all. There were little "you go girl" moments here and there, such as one lady saying, "Who are you calling a little lady?" For a movie with a so-called agenda, it certainly had a lot of men helping her along the way!

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, and I look forward to see how it all comes together in the upcoming Endgame. Take the family, and catch this before it leaves theaters.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

2019 Checkpoint #1

Two months of 2019 are now passed, and now I report in on my progress.

The year started off great. During January, I successfully built up my writing habit (the goal of one hour a day), and I was able to put together my first new short story in two years. You can read it here:

The Immortal Actuary

By the end of this month, I should learn if I won anything in that contest.

And then on January 31st, I got sick. Not one, but TWO stupid flus. The first was short, but the second one (which may have been a resurgence of the first) lasted for two weeks. And I'm still recovering. It wiped out all of my productivity.

I'm happy with what I accomplished so far, but I am also frustrated knowing it could have been more. Now I must build up the writing habit again. So much to write!

I hope you're doing well with your writing goals. Ever onward and keep pushing forward!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Mary Poppins Returns: Worth Watching

Every now and then, Disney pulls off the unthinkable ... making a decent sequel to a perfect movie. Despite a couple of distractions, I was blown away with how much of the original magic made it into this release, and how well it was made to relate to a newer generation.

Just like the first movie, this one seems to remind each of us what we can learn from children and how to reach our inner child.

Michael and Jane are now older. Michael, who still lives in the Banks household, has lost his wife, and now his sister is staying with them to help. Having accrued too much debt, Michael is about to lose the home to the bank -- all making for a perfect time for Mary Poppins to return.

My two youngest children, who don't remember the original, seemed to love this movie. It spoke to them.

For me, it was more of revisiting what I had already seen, as many of my emotional responses were from remembering scenes from the original. The sequel relies heavily on the original form and plot. In fact, almost everything from the original seems to be mapped to something in the sequel. In some respects, the sequel did better, and in others it came only close.

My only disappointment was that the writers decided to introduce a nefarious element. Since the original movie had already demonstrated how a writer can build so much tension without there being any "truly bad guys," I was disappointed to see bad guys in the sequel. It didn't faze my children, though, who are more than used to that Hollywood formula. It just felt out of place for a Mary Poppins movie. Plus, the plot would have been nearly the same with the nefarious elements removed.

The music was great, though slightly inferior to the original. If I were to give the first score a 10, I'd give this one a 9. The songs were good and intelligent, but just slightly less memorable than the original songs. Plus, I heard more parallel 5ths in the newer film, which usually distracts me. The "music box" scene was quite effective until right before the box was closed when the music played just one non-music-box note that took me out of the moment. My 13-year-old daughter also independently pointed out that "wrong" note.

One of the songs, which was cleverly worded and performed, seemed a little too "burlesque" for a Mary Poppins movie. I enjoyed it, but it felt out of place.

And one more thing about the music I must compliment before wrapping up ... something that really needs to be said: if there was any auto-tuning going on, it was very well done and nonintrusive. I perhaps heard some minor auto-tuning for Jack in the very last song, but other than that, it sounded like real human beings singing. Disney in particular has been very bad and lazy with auto-tuning in their recent movies, and this was a pleasant surprise.

If you haven't yet seen this movie, I would recommend it for a great family outing. Go ahead and bring out that inner child and perhaps leave feeling better about the world around you.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Goals for 2019

Looking back on 2018, I actually accomplished quite a bit, but not in the area of writing. The good news is that I've restarted the writing machine, so I anticipate that the upcoming year will be productive.

As I mentioned somewhere earlier, I'm going to do away with the stats. I'm such a numbers guy, but I realize numbers are usually boring to us writing types.

Last year I introduced my annual movie lists back to 2010, which is both fun and yet annoying, as I'll have to keep updating these as I watch more movies.

Here's my favorite post from last year:

Looking ahead, here are my goals for 2019:
  • Novel writing:
    • Revise "Justice" and prepare for publication.
    • Work on either "Space Cadets" or "Time Sleuths."
  • Short stories:
    • "The Immortal Actuary" (a new idea that recently came up)
    • "The Jesse Flag" (flash fiction)
    • "The Rainbow Flush" (flash fiction)
    • "Godspring"
    • "Descendent History"
  • Short story submissions: restart

I hope 2019 turns out good for you!

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.