Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Dunkirk: Another Nolan Production

Dunkirk is a remarkable movie. With Germany successfully pushing British and French forces to the sea at Dunkirk, 400,000 British soldiers must be evacuated across the channel back to England. So close to home, and yet so far away, the British air force is unable to provide adequate air coverage, so the armies are exposed to continual German attacks.

The movie starts as a British soldier crosses over a French blockade and arrives at the beach. At first there is a sense of safety, but it isn't long before the first German plane comes flying overhead dropping bombs.

Though I'm no war expert, the film felt remarkably real to me. I can't think of even one scene where I thought, "That looked fake." There were some times that when a bomb or gunfire went off, I actually screamed in surprise. Freakiness.

And this was all done under a PG-13 rating -- proof that you don't need gratuitous gore and swaths of F-bombs to effectively capture a war scene. Though, there were plenty of "bloody's," which I think is supposed to be a swear word? And I think I heard an F-bomb in there somewhere, but it was hard to make out with the accent.

With all that said, this wasn't my favorite Nolan movie. There were several distractions which all seemed to take away from the experience, which I will list here.

#1) Nolan decided to tell the story out of order. Part of this is because there were three parties at play: the armies that were on the beach for days, the ships who took a day or so to make the journey across the channel, and the planes who only had an hour of fuel. So, we see the planes take off near the beginning of the movie, about the same time that we see a ship that left harbor the day before. By the end of the movie, there is a convergence, but along the way the story goes back and forth in time, even showing the same scene four times from different points of view.

I'm sure that if I went back and watched the movie again, I'd appreciate this quirk a little more, but on a first viewing it was confusing. I saw a plane go down once, and when I saw another plane going down it took me a while to realize it was the same plane.

#2) The music by Hans Zimmer was awesome, as usual, but in this case I think it detracted from the movie. It was too loud and too interesting. The entire soundtrack was basically one big Philip-Glass-like treatment of Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations. It was a good and appropriate piece to feature -- it's British and one of my favorite Elgar tunes. But see there? That was the problem. As soon as I said, "I recognize that music," it took me out of the movie.

#3) And then there were the obligatory Nolan actors. As soon as I saw the "Scarecrow," whom I saw in Batman and Inception, it took me out of the movie. Tom Hardy's character wasn't so bad, as he had a mask on the whole time ... wait! And there was even a cameo near the end of someone we've seen in Batman and Nolan's TV show, Person of Interest. I think it would have been much more effective to use far less recognizable characters playing soldiers.

Still ... it remains a movie to see, and I hope it gets awards.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Double Feature: Apes and Spider-Man

So many good movies coming out at the same time! That means: get ready for more reviews. Today you get two.

Spider-Man: Homecoming was as good, if not better than I expected. Good story, good pacing, and believable characters keep the movie going and worth watching.

As the second or third reboot in the last couple of decades (anyone counting?), the writers wisely decided against rehashing the origin story, but at the same time, they were able to catch much of the spirit of an origin story. Peter Parker is already the Spider-Man, but is a young teenager with the usual problems. He knows he has powers, but doesn't know how to use them. He should really be going to school, and dating girls, etc., but he wants to be an Avenger and catch the bad guys. The first thirty minutes demonstrate what happens as he hilariously botches several hero attempts.

Tony Stark makes an appearance to remind Peter he just needs to chill and grow up a little, but Peter comes to learn something big is going down, and no one will listen to him.

The title "Homecoming" has several meanings: the movie somewhat centers around the high school's homecoming dance, and this movie celebrates SONY finally working out a way to have Spider-Man join the rest of the Marvel universe.

Michael Keaton plays an interesting bad guy -- someone who is only taking advantage of an opportunity that lands in his lap. He just wants to make money, but he is willing to hurt people who get in his way. In a sense, his lack of insanity sets him apart from other villains we've seen before. Some may find this boring, but hey ... not everyone can be Heath Ledger.

The effects were decent -- some scenes looked fake when Spider-Man went swinging between buildings, but I didn't care much. I think it added to the quirkiness of the film. When it got to the big action, some of the in-your-face scenes were dark and confusing to follow. Perhaps that was intentional as well.

It was a lot of fun, and I suggest catching this while it's still in theaters.

War for the Planet of the Apes was another fun movie. I had seen the first movie ("Rise"), skipped the second ("Dawn"), and after being lost for a few minutes, I felt like I was quickly caught up and was able to enjoy the majority of this third movie.

Caesar and his band of intelligent apes have established a home in the forests north of San Francisco. When humans come to fight and destroy them all, Caesar learns that they must flee elsewhere in hopes of finding a place of safety.

After the "Colonel" (played by Woody Harrelson) infiltrates and kills many of the apes, Caesar leaves his group to fulfill a vendetta, in many ways becoming like Koba from the second movie. Others join him to keep him in check. Along the way, they pick up a girl who can't speak, and ... well ... it sets up the stage for plenty of fun action and drama. Harrelson does a good job playing the desperate Colonel who is only trying to do whatever it takes to save the human race.

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed watching the movie, I found it interesting that the plot seemed to rely both on deus ex machina (where something comes out of the blue to save the day) and diabolus ex machina (where something comes out of the blue to wreck the day). In other words, too many coincidences.

Still, there were some awesome scenes, and it was all worth watching. I highly recommend catching this in the theater as well.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Three Recent Shows 2016-2017

In my attempt to catch up my TV viewing reviews, tonight I move on to three new shows that started in the 2016-2017 season and are still kicking. For each of these shows, the first season is done, so I may touch on some minor spoilers.

Designated Survivor (ABC)

I picked up Designated Survivor, fully expecting it to be another 24. Though there are some elements that echo that overdone show, I was overall impressed with how this show turned out. A couple of episodes got way too preachy on liberal topics, and some of the terrorist scenarios were a bit unrealistic, but I nevertheless enjoyed the intelligence level that went into the bits where President Kirkman fought to become an effective president. It was amazing how many people wanted him to fail, and for different reasons.

The main premise of the show is probably the most unrealistic -- the idea of punishing someone by making him or her the designated survivor. The Secretary of HUD has indeed taken the position in the past, but the powers that be would not choose someone who had just been "fired" to take the "ignominious" role. Rather, the designated survivor is an honored role for someone who has a non-zero chance of becoming president in the event of a disaster.

After a couple of episodes, I was able to overlook that premise and enjoy the show.

The first half of the season focuses on the disaster's aftermath, while the second half focuses more on Kirkman's attempts to take charge of the White House, which I believe contained more of the intelligent bits.

One thing's for sure. I think our nation could use a person like Kirkman in office, to bring us all together despite all our differences. I'd pick this fictional character to be in office any day over the real President we have in there now.

I highly recommend catching this show if you haven't started already. All 21 episodes are currently available on Hulu.

The Good Place (NBC)

Creating a show about the afterlife, albeit a funny show, is always a risky move. Sometimes you end up with a mess, and sometimes you strike gold. The Good Place achieves the latter. Its ability to infuse the story with good philosophy and consistent mythology helps to deliver a high-intelligence funny story.

Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) dies and finds herself in the Good Place. She is greeted with a large sign boasting, "Welcome! Everything is fine." Then Michael (Ted Danson) introduces himself and explains what's up.

The only problem is that Eleanor knows that she's a terrible person and comes to realize that a mistake has been made. When she confesses to her soulmate, Chidi, they both struggle to decide what to do next. Tell Michael? Try to help Eleanor become a good person so she becomes worthy of the Good Place? Any guesses what they decide to do?

Each episode, the writers introduce some traditional philosophical idea, which Eleanor then flips and turns on its head. So, not only do we get good laughs, but we get ideas that make us think. What exactly would we expect in "heaven"? How many people would really go to the Bad Place, and why?

A quick warning ... like most other funny shows on TV today, there are some sexual innuendos and topics, though nothing is shown. Also, Eleanor constantly tries to cuss, but since it's not allowed, the words get deflected. For example, she says, "What the fork?" often. I usually complain that these diversions are not necessary, but in this case, they actually fit into what the show attempts to accomplish.

I highly recommend watching -- and I look forward to Season 2. All Season 1 episodes are on Hulu.

I only caught this show because of a trailer I saw in the movie theaters. I had never heard of the Freeform channel, and only learned later that it's what used to be called "ABC Family."

Beyond caught my attention long enough to watch all ten episodes. It's a well-produced show with a good story, decent acting, good effects, and so on. However, overall it didn't seem to do much that was different. The title is unimaginative. The idea of a consistent world on the other side (where you go when you're in a coma) doesn't make sense.

Holden, after spending 12 years in a coma, awakens to find he has special powers. Some guys start chasing after him, killing people along the way. A strange girl approaches him and tries to warn, protect, guide, or something -- Holden's not sure exactly what her motives are.

There are some good episodes in there, and once or twice I felt the need to go ahead and watch the next one. The ending was kind of cool, but it doesn't answer all the questions. There's plenty to support a season 2, but will I continue to watch? Maybe, maybe not. I will if they promise to do something really different.

The entire season 1 is currently on Hulu -- yeah I caught all three of these shows on Hulu, though I think each of them are available for free on their respective network websites.

Also, just a quick note -- I think the new name for "ABC Family" is rather unfortunate. The whole time I watched Beyond, there were these little letters in the lower right corner that never went away, and I could have sworn that they said, "FREE PORN." I even showed it to a friend of mine and asked, "What does this say in the corner?" He corroborated my thoughts.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Checkpoint #3 - 2017

Here is my mid-year progress report. I'm happy to report that I've been busy submitting short stories to magazines. For the first time ever, I had all four available stories out at one time. I'm currently at 5 out of 26 submissions for the year, and I will do another one tomorrow. That will leave 20 more submissions to do in order to meet my goal.

I've also been planning some more short stories to write. Perhaps I can have two or three more ready to go by the end of the year. I need to do at least one flash fiction piece (that is less than 1000 words).

I also believe I have enough in the budget to start finalizing my novel Justice if I wait till fourth quarter. Then it would go out for sale next year.

These past two months, I wrote eleven blog posts, matching my last time's performance -- just over one blog post a week.

Once my Melkim Classical business is launched in August, I'll then have more time for fiction writing, but I think I can begin as early as July with actual writing.

I'm getting excited for returning back to the unwritten stories. They are just waiting to be told!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Three More Shows That Died Recently (and One That Came Back to Life)

As I continue to play catch-up, here are four shows that I started recently and that were canceled or came to an end.

The IT Crowd

This show has actually been dead for a while, but I just came across it on Netflix. This is an over-the-top British comedy that tells the stories of Jen, Roy, and Moss who work in the basement IT department at Reynholm Industries. 

Jen, who knows nothing at all about computers, is the manager, and geniuses Roy and Moss struggle with unending Help Desk phone calls, picking up girls, socializing with other people, and just all-around trying to get noticed by their work associates.

You can imagine the shenanigans! For a taste, check out the next two videos. In the first one, Roy and Moss try to convince Jen that the Internet is inside a little black box. In the second one, Jen presents the Internet at a board meeting.

If you liked that, there's more on Netflix (and other outlets). Overall, I found the whole show to be hilarious. A few times, the over-the-top-ness got a little too much, but I got used to it pretty fast. It can also get on the raunchy side, but it is kept within bounds. I would stick with the TV-14 rating.

My favorite episode of the whole lot is Series 2 Episode 1, "The Work Outing." The IT trio goes out to the theater and the most ridiculous things happen. Oh, man, was I on the floor!

This show has four "series" and a closing two-hour episode to wrap things up. That last episode came out in 2013, some three years after the fourth series ended, so even though it was funny, it felt out of place. The actors look noticeably older, and the magic wasn't quite there. However, I appreciated the fun over-the-top conclusion to the show.


It's not too often that the CW comes out with a show that interests me. This was one of four time-travel TV shows that premiered in the 2016-2017 season. And all four got canceled!) Of the four, I watched two, and Frequency was my favorite.

Just like the movie from 2000, a freak accident of nature allows a man from the past, Frank Sullivan, to speak to his child in the future over a shortwave radio. The two end up working together in an attempt to change Frank's future.

In the CW's reboot, the child is a girl, Raimy Sullivan. You can watch the following scene from the first episode ...

The show kept my interest because it played a lot on the human element, and not so much on the time travel mechanics. In fact, I found myself often forgetting about the time travel piece ... it just became a natural part of the show.

In the middle, a couple of episodes felt a little repetitive, but on the most part I thought it had great forward motion.

My only complaint is with the finale. When it came very close to tying off lose ends, the writers did the usual but-wait-guys-there's-a-twist thing in the last couple of minutes. I don't know why people think this is an awesome way to set the stage for the next season. In this case, we'll never know what comes next. But then again, I feel like I got enough of a good story from the first season. I can almost forget that twist ever happened and pretend it was a happy ending.

In fact, a couple of months later, I'm now having trouble even remembering what that twist was.



This show on NBC was a close second -- the other time travel show that I chose to watch. This show felt a lot more cliche and predictable, it used the annoying "Star Trek" time travel mechanics that relies on "audience" time (yes -- I keep promising to write a blog entry on what I mean by this), but like Frequency, it relied heavily on character arcs that kept the show interesting.

But wait! Before I continue, I just learned that this show (after having been canceled) has been given the green light for a second season. So, it will have another chance. Thus, I'll cut this one short and try not to spoil anything.

The show seems to do a pretty good job with presenting history accurately. It was this show, and not Hidden Figures, that first introduced me to Katherine Johnson of NASA fame (Season 1, Episode 8). This show is also not afraid to allow history to change! Yeah -- I thought that was pretty cool. For example, Booth did not shoot Lincoln. (Oops! I guess I spoiled one thing.)

Check it out. Some episodes are available to stream for free right now, including the pilot episode.

Emerald City

And I save the worst for last. I really tried to like this show, and I stuck with it for more than half of the season, but I just had to stop watching.

I like a show that will take something familiar and do something different -- if they do it well. I enjoyed The Tin Man, which aired on the Sci Fi Channel way back when. But for me, it seemed that Emerald City tried way too hard to be different. It was as if the writers and creators took every line from the classic movie and asked themselves, "How could we take this line and reinterpret it in the most furthest way possible?"

The result was disappointing, and I'm talking "Kevin Sorbo" disappointment.

I even tried to un-marry the show from the classic movie and enjoy it as a standalone TV show, but still no dice. There were just too many scenes and events that made no sense unless you saw the movie. I'm not even sure what the writers hoped to achieve. Just when I tried to hook myself to a story line, it decided to go in some random direction, and I eventually lost interest altogether. I think it was the episode where they had some big army come through for some reason, but I fell asleep trying to figure out what was going on. I guess they were trying to do something like Game of Thrones without compelling story arcs.

It definitely had special effects covered. Kudos to such a grand attempt, but it was too bad it failed to connect with me. Perhaps the next reimagining will work better.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Wonder Woman Saves the Day!

Before I begin my review of Wonder Woman, I should disclose that I'm a big Zack Snyder fan. It's hard for me to watch one of his films and not be entertained. I loved Man of Steel, and I enjoyed Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad even though both of those movies had plenty to annoy me. I know a lot of people can't stand Snyder's films, and I can see why: the slow pacing, the overly exaggerated violent battle scenes, the plot lines that don't quite work.

I went into the theater fearing the worst: a film I would enjoy, but also a film that would end the Snyder DC run. At first, I was concerned when Amazon ladies went around reciting cliche lines, but after a few minutes, I was hooked. The movie turned out to be great. The story was good, it had good music, good cinematography, good acting, good special effects, good scenes that make you think, and so on.

There were still some slow parts, but overall the plot flowed naturally and organically. One of the villains seemed to be the most human I've seen among the Zack-iverse. The build-up to the big battle scenes was well executed, providing epic scenes that actually deliver.

If you're worried about another Zack flop, worry no longer and get thee to a theater. If you're worried about Wonder Woman being too much for the kiddies, do not worry -- she's covered up most of the time. If you're worried that women played so many roles in producing and directing the movie, get over it, as you'll wish these women did more movies like this.

So go ahead. Take your family and have a fun time watching this "good" DC movie.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

TV Shows That Died Off in 2016

As part of my TV show catch-up-athon, here are four shows I mentioned earlier that have all died in 2016. Join me now as we relive some fond memories. Beware, thar be spoilers!

Heroes Reborn: I believe this was always designed to be a one-season event, though they were keeping the door open for more seasons. They were not renewed for Season 2, and as far as I can tell, there are no reboots on the horizon, other than in the form of comic books.

I remember enjoying most of what I watched, though I had to read a few synopses to remember what happened. Most of it has come back, but obviously, the plot doesn't naturally stick long in my memory.

After the Cheerleader had exposed the powers of heroes, the world has become a new place. Much like in the X-Men stories, regular peeps fear and mistrust the "Evos." Some Evos do evil things, and others struggle to live good lives while hiding their powers. Regular peeps pass laws to force Evo registration and even develop a way to locate and identify them....

Yes ... that's my complaint #1. It is the X-Men movies reborn. That set of story lines failed to deliver anything new.

However, we did get a computer character who appealed to gamers like me. We got fun time-travel stories, even though they did use the usual annoying "Star Trek" time mechanics (you know ... the kind of time mechanics that relies heavily on audience time flow ... maybe I'll blog about this later). We got an evil lady who thought she had the one and only solution to the upcoming solar flare disaster, sending a small group of people thousands of years in the future to a time after the flare destroys everything. At the same time, she works to hinder the heroes who have the real power to stop the whole thing.

In the end, Noah Bennet gives himself as the conduit that helps the twins save the entire world.

Yeah ... there were some cool parts in there.

One last complaint: what was the deal with the Cheerleader? It was as if there were some legal order in place that didn't allow for the use of her image in any way, shape, or form. We almost got to see the dead body, featuring a blond wig. We get to see Noah see his daughter's face, but we never see her face even once. And how much did her death came from her decision not to do the show? It was particularly annoying, as she was a main pivotal character throughout the four seasons of the original show.

Yet, I stuck with the show till the end. It helped that the story was sufficiently contained in its 13 episodes. It had a good set of story arcs. I didn't miss it when it was over, and I enjoyed it while it lasted.

The Muppets.: I could have told you after one episode what would eventually kill off this show. It suffered from something I'll call "audience confusion." It was a whole bunch of cute puppets, so was it for kids? But it also had all those adult jokes, beer, and sex. So was it for adults? Not exactly sure what it was, people just tuned out.

At first, I was disappointed. Those first couple of episodes showed the same type of humor and mayhem, but at the same time, the "Office" style of mockumentary gave it a strange adult feel that didn't seem to fit. At least it was nothing like what I remembered growing up with these guys.

I quit watching after a couple of episodes. But those things accumulated on my DVR until I decided to try and watch some more, turning off my earlier preconceptions, and then I found I was able to enjoy it. (Though I never did get over the idea of Kermit or Miss Piggy talking about sex.)

I must admit, that one dirty joke in an early episode was pretty funny. Kermit says, "Zoot! Stop drawing dirty pictures on the get-well card!" And Zoot says, "Uh, I guess I can turn that into a saxophone."

Yeah -- it was stuff like that that got the Million Moms to boycott the show even though there's much worse stuff on TV.

Watching more episodes, I found myself being pulled in. Some of the lesser-known characters were developed very well as the season progressed. All the sub-story plot lines were interesting. Everyone acted with consistency. The show actually had good writing.

The story ends as that cute little shrimp Pepe sneaks on the plane to try to help Kermit and Piggy get back together ... a cliffhanger of sorts.

Then it ended, and I was okay with it. It was fun while it lasted.

It was enough to see that Gloria Estefan penguin a few times. Mehk!

Person of Interest: This show started out pretty strong. It stayed interesting the whole time, but toward the end, I thought it was getting to be too silly. At its lowest point, the writers had our heroes trapping a version of the bad computer virus within a physical Faraday cage, since we all know how one of those works, right?

But I was willing to overlook those silly science things. It was all bunk, but there were still good stories. The show relied heavily on the "Weird of the Week" formula, but toward the end, the writers found creative ways to use the weekly weirdoes in pushing the overall story arc forward.

With bad science aside, the show did (for me) capture the reality we face now or in the near future where computers (and humans) are watching our every move with constant surveillance. It even touches on the all-too-real threat of computer AI's taking control of our lives and making immoral decisions in the name of achieving better efficiencies.

Though ... main complaint #1 ... if the baddie computer virus was so all-powerful, it would really have no problem finding our heroes and killing them within minutes, and that's even despite the counter-virus that the Machine had Root plant. The bad guys really couldn't see Root in her many "disguises" that looked remarkably alike? Samaritan really had no way of figuring out the identity of that cop that Reese was playing?

I did enjoy watching the fight against Samaritan coming to a wire toward the very end. Though, I didn't appreciate the artificial setup that caused Reese to give up his life. I loved the epic feel they tried to accomplish, but it was all ruined with me yelling on the inside all the different tactics he could have used to protect that briefcase long enough and still survive.

But ... fine, Reese, be that way and do the stupid thing so you can die that noble death!

It was a good attempt at an ending, but not so good in execution.

In the end, I did not regret watching the whole show.

The X-Files (2016): Technically this show isn't dead. In fact, this reboot was considered to be an extension of the original series -- its tenth season. And I just learned that FOX plans to bring it back near the end of this year with season eleven (no details are available).

Will I continue watching? Most likely, but I was mainly disappointed with season ten.

The pacing was just terrible. The six episodes didn't really fit together, and the last episode was the worst with events escalating so quickly it left no time to be processed.

The whole idea that the government staged EVERYTHING in the first nine seasons is super sucky, and really does a terrible job at explaining what all happened in the original series.

The other three shows I mentioned above I actually liked. This show, not so much.

There were a couple of good moments, but mostly I felt like Kathy Bates in that Stephen King movie a lot of us enjoyed. Cockadoodie! You can't keep changing the story on us, Mr. Carter! We saw the Smoking Man die!

Yet I will most likely continue watching, and give Carter another chance to redeem himself.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Updated TV Reviews Page

Okay ... I'm on way back to work on my writing. Yes, I'm still busy with my music publishing business, but I'm trying to switch gears. I'm back to submitting stories to magazines, and now I will attempt to do some catch up in my blog.

As you loyal readers know, I love to talk about movies and TV shows, especially sci-fi shows. If possible, I like to follow a show from inception to its death. I'm a couple of years behind, so I have a lot of catching up to do.

In preparation, I've updated my Review page to make it easier to follow the TV shows I write about. Go ahead and check out the TV section and see if you can find your favorite (recent) TV show, especially if it's sci-fi.

Stay tuned for more TV Reviews on the way.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy 2: Big Trouble in Space

There are some movies I just have to catch for the "midnight" showing, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was one of them. I went, I saw, and it delivered exactly what was expected. From eye-popping special effects and cinematography to hilarious music, action and crazy antics, the movie kept me entertained.

Starlord, during one of his gang's messed up missions, comes to meet his father, played by Kurt Russel (insert girly nerdy scream), and learns about his true origins. And just as in the first movie, the Guardians must save the galaxy -- again.

As a Marvel movie, don't expect anything brainy. This is one of those put-your-seatbelts-on-suspend-belief-and-enjoy-the-ride movies. It doesn't quite live up to the same magic as the first one, mostly because the audience already knows the characters, thus the writers could take more time with character development.

Of course, there are the many scenes where our heroes survive onslaughts that would kill off any normal beings, but who cares?

My only complaint is that the writers seemed a little too preoccupied with sexual innuendo jokes. A couple here and there should be sufficient, like in the first movie. But all over the place? Vol 2 left me wondering why they now let teenagers in the writing room. There's even one scene -- perhaps about five minutes long -- that takes place where half nude robots walk around flirting with everyone. It reminded me too much of Futurama and the robots weren't even cute. With that in mind, I would suggest keeping your pre-13 kids at home. Even my older teenagers who went felt a little uncomfortable at times.

As for 3-D, the producers filmed it with a "perfect" conversion in mind. I hear they did a good job, and I'm sure the IMAX version is super awesome. But you know what? They did such a good job in preparing for 3-D that I felt like I had watched it in 3-D even though I went to the 2-D version. I felt as if I enjoyed the entire effect without even having to wear the annoying glasses!

The incidental music was great, but nothing special. The music from the 70s and 80s, on the other hand, helped give the movie its charm. My only disappointment there was that they couldn't fit in "Hooked on a Feeling" again?

Still, go see this movie while it's still in the theater. Bring your older kids. Have fun.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Global Warming: Bill Nye vs. Neil deGrasse Tyson

Let's talk about global warming. A couple of nights ago I watched the first episode of Bill Nye Saves the World on Netflix, and I got annoyed.

This is what I see. I do not doubt the existence of global warming. I also do not question the idea that we humans have been contributing to rising temperatures. But, wow, people can be so annoying about it!

There's one camp that chooses to believe that global warming doesn't exist at all. This tends to include conservatives who are really more concerned with the costs of cutting pollution than anything else. These people rely on obscure reports to support their beliefs (such as one or two years of increasing ice in the arctic), while at the same time ignoring tens if not hundreds of more reports to the contrary (such as decades of decreasing ice in the arctic). It's easy to get annoyed with this camp, especially now that they may have control of our government.

There's another camp that is just as annoying: the oh-my-gosh-we're-already-too-late-to-do-anything-about-it-and-we're-all-going-to-die-and-we-should-still-turn-off-all-our-lights-at-night camp. No matter the cost, we all need to switch over to renewable energy and make corporations pay. Really?

Where is the camp that prefers to take a more reasonable and realistic approach and come up with real solutions? Fortunately for us, this camp exists, and they're already hard at work. I have full confidence that we will find the solution with plenty of time to spare -- that is if we can keep those other two camps at bay.

Enter in Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. I have already written a review here, but I'd like to revisit the global warming episode (#12. "The World Set Free"). Three years ago, I called it my favorite episode of the series. It's possibly the best presentation I've seen on global warming. Despite how much Tyson like to take little pot shots at religionists, this one episode was free of that, free of politics, and it simply presented the facts. It even demonstrated what's already being done, and what can be further done to effectively counter global warming at a relatively low price.

In other words, I strongly recommend that you catch it (still on Netflix right now).

And now I come to Bill Nye's version. Let me save you time, and recommend that you skip it -- that is unless you want to see what irritates me so much about the ultra-save-the-planet camp.

Bill did present a couple of ideas supporting global warming. Heating water in an experiment caused it to rise (barely). He presented one (count on my hand here -- one) example of water rising in Venice. He did explain on a really high level about how carbon gases (rhymes with glasses) traps heat, ... and that was about it. Nowhere near enough facts to convince anyone.

He spent the rest of the time whining and complaining about "deniers." He even spent a full minute (in the "Bill Takes a Minute" segment) giving a really heated rant about how stupid people are for ignoring all this stuff, and then when the minute was up, he caught his breath and said, "I feel better now." At the very end of the episode, he had everyone in the audience chanting, "I'm tired of talking about global warming, and I'm not going to stop until everyone listens!" Bill is tired that no one is doing anything about it!

Now, let me tell you how unproductive this episode was. Getting angry never convinces anyone except for those who already believe what you're trying to say. Bill's cute rants is nothing more than a variation on "preaching to the choir."

If anything, this presentation is likely to do more harm than good. Think about it. If you were to present something with very little facts, and then rant like a lunatic and call everyone "deniers" if they don't listen, how would you expect to be received? Yeah, people would tend to believe anything other than what's coming out of your mouth.

Most of all, I take offense at Bill Nye's claim that nobody is doing anything about it. That's just a bunch of crock. What planet is he not living on? How can he deny evidence to the contrary? Come on, Bill! Open your eyes and see what's going on in the good old USA.

On my last road trip out west last August, I passed by many wind farms that weren't there a couple of decades ago. More and more people are turning to power their homes with solar energy, and are choosing to buy fuel-efficient cars. People are experimenting with solar-cell roads and sidewalks that can gather energy over a large area while providing electricity, warmth, and even light.

Conservatives that we would expect to be greedy fuel consumers turn out to be green powerhouses, such as George W. Bush's Texas nearly-self-sustaining ranch compared with Al Gore's 20-room power-sucking mansion.

If no one is doing anything, then why are carbon emissions from the USA decreasing over the past decade?

A lot of people may choose not to believe in global warming, but you know what? I think our scientists will find an answer, and there will be enough of us to implement solutions, and everything will turn out okay, and ultimately, "deniers" will wonder what all the fuss was about.

That would be a great outcome! Bill Nye may get so angry at "deniers" for being so stupid that he collapses under a tree, but Neil deGrasse Tyson would clap his hands and praise humans for prevailing in the end.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Checkpoint #2 - 2017

Okay, here goes another checkpoint report. I'll come out and say that I haven't done much the past two months, and again with the same excuses. I'm spending most of my time getting music ready to sell, researching how to reach my audience, and all around catching up with chores around the house.

I did write a total of eleven blog posts among my several blogs, which is just over one post a week. Yay!

Even though I have no regrets getting nothing much else done in the fiction area, I am starting to feel the nagging growing inside -- that desire to write. I can only force it to be silent for so long. I want to get back to those ideas, get back to work on my novel Justice (though I still need to crunch the numbers to see if I can afford those costs yet).

I really do need to get back to submitting stories to magazines. It only takes an hour at most to select a market, put together a cover letter, and send it off. I should be able to do this without taking away much time from my music publishing activities. I'll get back on that starting this next week.

How are you doing on your yearly goals?

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?