Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Zero Hour - A Familiar Story

After watching the pilot episode of Zero Hour, I feel like I've just watched an hour of National Treasure made for TV.  That could be good or bad.  In fact, I'll go as far to say that if you liked National Treasure, you'll love Zero Hour.

As for me, I didn't hate it, but I also didn't love it.  There was enough to keep it interesting, and I'm curious to see what the Nazis tried to do, and why it would be the end of the world.  It could be some fun Twilight-y Zone sci-fi semi-religious stuff.  Now, that would be awesome.

But just like in the Nicholas Cage thriller, the characters are nothing more than pawns moving on a board.  In other words, the story is all action and very little character development.  Maybe we'll get some of the latter later.

One part I found ironic was when Victor (the bad guy) kept referring to all those movies where this stuff happens, but this is real life.  I wonder if the writers were trying to be funny, because if they really thought "all those other stories are fake so this one must be real" would work, they were wrong.  It didn't work.  Instead it seemed like a funny joke.  Just like in all those "other movies and shows," this show has all the fun cliches.

I'll keep watching, because it is fun to watch.  But this will be near the bottom of my list until I get some other fun shows out of the way.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Last Resort - RIP

Last Resort was not one of favorite shows, but it was interesting enough to hold my attention for its 13 episodes.  It had some really good moments, but at the same time it had a couple of pretty boring parts.

My biggest complaint remains the same as when I reviewed the pilot episode.  Throughout the whole series, it felt like the writers tried to cram in so much into so little time.  The result was a lot of exposition without feeling.  In other words, I saw all the action happening, but I never really felt anything for any of the characters.  Even up to the end when the captain went down with the ship ... nothing.

Yet I still always wanted to see what happened next.  I'm at least glad that they tried to wrap up the show.  They did what I like to call a "Pushing Daisies" conclusion.  That's when you know your show is going to be cancelled and you're told that you can tweak your last episode, so you reshoot the last 5-10 minutes to quickly wrap things up.  The result was very disappointing for Pushing Daisies and it was equally disappointing for Last Resort.

The first 50 minutes of the finale felt like a normal season finale.  Even though the ship was run aground, there was that feeling that something would happen and they'd get that thing back into the water (like as was done in earlier episodes).  Then after that last commercial break, we saw the missile blow it to smithereens.  Kablaam!  We saw that one chick shoot the president.  We saw the XO reunited with his sweetie.  So, all the major loose ends are tied up, but there are so many other questions left unresolved ... like why did the US attack Pakistan again?

Great -- now the more I think about it, the more I get confused as I look over the last couple of months trying to figure out what I just watched.  Oh well.  At least it was fun, and I won't miss it very much.

Actuarial Speculative Fiction - 2013

Every other year, the Society of Actuaries hosts an Actuarial Speculative Fiction Contest.  The rules: the author has to be an actuary (including anyone who has taken one exam).  The story has to involve actuaries or feature some actuarial concept.

By now, you may be asking, "What's an actuary?"  My favorite answer to this question is: "A mathematician who predicts the future by examining patterns in the past."  That usually gets an oooh.

For me, this contest is the intersection between my day job and my aspiration as a writer.  By entering this contest, I can write stories geared toward other geeks just like me.  And I also get to read what my fellow geeks come up with.  Some of the stories can be quite good.

This is my fourth time entering.  My first three entries tried: #1) Funny, #2) Parody, #3) Action flick.  This time I went with a tiny bit of humor mixed with actuarial fantasy and exploring what happens when you turn someone's world around.  Will this be the time I win a prize?

You can see all eighteen entries by clicking here.  I invite you to read, and check out this crazy world of actuarial fiction.  Then if any story strikes your fancy, vote for your favorite story (instructions at the link).

In a couple of weeks, I'll present my own overview of the eighteen stories and pick my three favorites.

Happy actuarial reading!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

200,000 Views on YouTube

As a composer/pianist/etc., I've been posting music videos on Youtube, and a couple of days ago, I hit 200,000 views.


To celebrate, and at the same time, to introduce my writing friends to my world of music, here are six representative videos.

#1) My most popular video now has 58,000 views.  Someone asked me to arrange and play Chopin's funeral march on the organ, and at the time there weren't any such videos on Youtube.  I had no idea how popular this video would become (especially in Europe).  Listen to about 2 minutes of this, and then move down to my next video...

#2) Storm Etude is my own composition, a 7-minute experiment in orchestration.  I put together some virtual instruments to play it, and perhaps one day I'll get to hear it live.  Watch through the whole thing to get the full effect.

#3) For my sci-fi friends, here's what you get when you merge a popular tune with a Chopin prelude.  I first noticed that the two melodies where very similar and even in the same key, so I thought ... why not?

#4) Perhaps you like my writing voice, but what about my real voice?  Here's me singing some Handel.  The accompanist informed me at the time of recording that I needed to alter the return of the "A" theme the second time around, so I made stuff up on the spot.

#5) Here's a taste of some minimalist piano music.  I'm a huge fan of Glass, Adams, etc.

#6) And last but not least ... here is the video that started it all.  It's not particularly good, but it was my first, and I think it's pretty funny with all its mistakes and mishaps.  (At the beginning, I say "Pucker" with a "P."  I swear!)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

2013 TV Winter Preview

Now at the midseason point, I'll be trying out these three new TV shows.

Continuum on SyFy (Mondays @ 8PM): 4 episodes in already, this show promises to be my favorite of the three.  It starts in the year 2077 when terrorists are about to be executed.  However, just before the trigger is pulled, the terrorists launch a device that sends them back into time.  A cop named Kiera is caught in this time vortex, and she goes with the terrorists back to 2012.

Most of the story happens in our present (funny how it always seems to work out like that), but there are plenty of special effects to keep it interesting.  Each of the characters is richly portrayed.  Kiera wants to go back to her husband and child in the future, but at the same time, she feels duty-bound to stop the terrorists from whatever they're trying to do.

Also, the terrorists may not be completely bad.  Their desire is to overthrow the evil corporations that run the government (in 2077), though unfortunately they have to kill innocent people along the way.

Another one of those not-quite-so-black-and-white sci-fi shows, this is really good science fiction--the stuff you usually only read in books.

And the timeline continuum?  So far, it appears that the laws are "correct" in that there are no paradoxes or alternative timelines.  Though it remains to be seen if the writers will stick to these rules.  I can't wait to see the remaining 6 episodes of this first season.

If you want to watch from the beginning, there does not appear to be any way to stream for free.  But SyFy will run a marathon on Feb. 24 showing the first 6 episodes.  That would be your best bet to catch up.

The Following on FOX (Mondays @ 9 PM): 3 episodes in ... The first episode was shockingly good, and also very disturbing.  Kevin Bacon plays Ryan Hardy, an ex-FBI agent who is called in to go after a serial killer who just escaped from prison.  However, the serial killer has a grand plan.  He's recruited several followers who will do his bidding, much like a cult.  And this cult really wants to make Ryan Hardy suffer.

The whole premise could be interesting, but I have a couple of concerns.  The first being that the second episode was kind of boring, and it felt a lot like 24 -- especially the parts that show what's going on with the bad guys.  The second concern is the whole idea of relying on shocking scenes -- how gross can we make this?  Or what does the audience least expect here?

The third episode seemed to bring back the interest, and we'll see where this show goes.  Will it tell an awesome well-planned-out story?  Or will it just be another 24 with annoying plot twists and silly camera shots?

Zero Hour on ABC (starting Feb. 14): This show looks interesting ... a blend of action, sci-fi, and maybe a little religion-y stuff.  Plus, it has that ER guy.  I wonder if there will be one clock to rule them all!

Returning shows on my list:

The Neighbors (this show has picked up immensely--some episodes are very funny)
The Office (hit or miss, but some episodes are hilarious--will Michael come back for the finale?)
Person of Interest (still going strong)
Once Upon a Time (interesting, but feels like they're stretching--Mulan?  Really?)
The Simpsons (though, I'm getting fed up with the DVR and FOX's inability to show the show at its actually scheduled time and not start 2 minutes early and end 2 minutes late)

Touch (returning Feb 8--the coincidences are getting on my nerves, but I'll keep trying)
The Walking Dead (returning Feb 10--can you hear me girly scream?)
Psych (returning Feb 27--does Dad live or die?  Not sure, but the formula's changed, and I like the old formula better)
Grimm (returning Mar 8--I'm really enjoying where they're going, well ... except for I really don't want to see the almost-wife making it with the boss man)
Revolution (returning Mar 25--it has its moments)
Doctor Who (returning end of March--I'm looking forward to see how they explain the new companion, though I'm still reeling from the stupid way of losing Amy and Rory)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies has got to be the most optimistic zombie movie I've ever seen.  In most other movies, zombies don't think.  They don't have feelings.  There is no cure except for a shot in the head.

But as you can see from this first minute clip, these zombies are different.  They seem to hold on to some semblance of their former lives.  R is the main character.  He has a best friend zombie.  He has a routine.  He's searching for more purpose to his undead life.

He meets this girl.  She stirs feelings in him.  He decides to protect her instead of eating her.  His heart beats a couple of beats ... and by now you should get the picture.  This is your typical zombie meets girl film.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.  It's funny.  The style is hilarious.  I like the part where R is eating this dude and he stops to think, "Nice watch."  The whole movie is a simple plot, low-key, relaxing, zombie chick flick.

Is this film worth spending $7 to watch in the theater?  That depends.  If you and your wife happen to both like zombies, this could be a fun date night movie, though I wouldn't recommend eating spaghetti before or after the show.  Other than the date night scenario, you may prefer to wait till this hits DVDs/streaming.  This movie can be enjoyed just as much at home than in the theater.  Plus you won't have to worry about anyone spoiling the movie for you in the meantime, as with the simple plot, you probably already know how it's going to end.

Well ... there were some parts I didn't see coming.

Also, I would guess that hardcore zombie fans may not appreciate this deviation from the norm.  Even I said, "Zombies can't do that" in the first five minutes.   But if you do go and watch, make sure to relax and enjoy the show.  It has its moments.