Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

Yes, this review is pretty late. I'm still doing catch up, and also, it's pretty difficult to talk about this movie without revealing any spoilers. I'm still going to try, somewhat comforted that most of you reading have already seen this movie.

Infinity War is by far my favorite Avengers movie. Not so much because it's big, awesome, and fun to watch, but because it did something different. It broke its own Marvel formula.

After years of waiting, Thanos finally makes a move on the Infinity Stones. If he can collect them all, he can become invincible, and all kinds of bad things can happen. And do you think the Avengers are going to let him get away with it?

Most impressive was the writers' ability to put together this ensemble and still maintain each individual's character, entirely consistent with earlier movies.

I caught this movie Preview night in standard -- no 3D, and no IMAX. I didn't miss the 3D at all, though I wish I had gone back and seen it in 2D-IMAX. I would have liked to have seen many scenes on a bigger and clearer screen.

That's pretty much all I have for this movie, but I wanted to make one further observation. This movie is similar to the first Star Trek reboot movie, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi in that all three movies went out of the way to change things up and totally upend their respective franchises. In two of these franchises, the changes were well received. The third was blasted by its fans. By most cinematic standards, all three are good movies, each earning more than 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. Just an interesting observation worth mentioning!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Movie List - 2010

Here it is: the Mel Movie List of 2010. With this list, I take us all back to when this blog first started. Man, I was so young back then! As always, this list is subject to change as I watch more movies.

Top 20:

Shutter Island
Tron: Legacy
Toy Story 3
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1
True Grit
Chronicles of Narnia, The: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Iron Man 2
How to Train Your Dragon
Clash of the Titans
Shrek Forever
Despicable Me
Knight and Day
Sorcerer's Apprentice, The

And the rest in alphabetical order:

Alpha and Omega
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Gulliver's Travels
Last Airbender, The
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
Alice in Wonderland
Tooth Fairy
Karate Kid, The
Dinner for Schmucks
Spy Next Door, The
Furry Vengeance

Thursday, May 3, 2018

2018 Checkpoint #2

There's not much to report this time, though I'm trying something different. It's come to my attention that making too many goals and failing to meet them has contributed to a lot of depression and lack of productivity in some areas. I am dinging myself for the tasks I'm NOT accomplishing, when I should be patting myself on the back for the tasks I AM accomplishing.

Even though I haven't been writing, I still have big plans for the future as pertaining to my fiction writing. I have to first reboot the writing engine, and then more fun things will be coming. You'll have to stay tuned for more details.

One thing I'm going to stop here and now are the numerical stats. They're boring, they're useless, and they're evidently punitive. I'm just going to have to find other ways to measure success.

We'll see how this goes. I hope that "What do I WANT to do today?" instead of "What do I HAVE to do today?" will make all the difference in the world, and I can finally accomplish everything I want to accomplish in the world of fiction.

I hope you all are doing well in your own writing.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

First Exposure to Philip K. Dick

Here I am -- nearly half a century old, and having watched and loved several films inspired by Philip K. Dick, I finally got around to reading a couple of his stories. I can see why a lot of people like his writing, and I can see why others don't. It took me a while to get over how he seemed to break many rules that get pushed on aspiring writers these days. For example, in both stories I read, PKD did more "telling" than "showing."

But yet, his stories felt organic. He was simply telling a story, he was going to tell it his way, and if people didn't want to listen, he couldn't care less. This taught me a lesson--something I've heard before from Orson Scott Card, but here I say it again in different words. An organic story is much more important than technique. If you spend all the time showing off how well you can follow all the rules and forget to tell a story, you will have succeeded in boring the whole world.

In a way, I appreciated PKD's ability to avoid flowery language and to stay out of the way to let the story be told. As a friend explained to me: PKD gets straight down to business and tries not to waste our time.

Here are the stories.

"Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?" (1968)

Of course, I had to start with the book that launched two of my favorite movies. (That and I chose to go with what the library had available at the time.)

Just like in Blade Runner and its sequel, the short novel stars Rick Deckard, the android bounty hunter, and also the robot Rachel Rosen. He is tasked to track down and retire the last of eight rogue androids after one of them shoots his colleague. Along the way he comes across an interesting cast of characters, many of which are androids that do not know they're not human. Toward the end, Rick even wonders if he, himself, is an android with implanted memories.

Expecting the book to be just like the movie was a mistake. The movie throws out many important aspects of the book, and ends up being a different kind of masterpiece.

Animals play a large role in the book, as most of them had been wiped out by the recent nuclear war. Thus, each living human feels duty-bound to raise and protect their own real animal. However, some like Rick, purchase electric animals to masquerade as real. And wouldn't you know it? Rick has an electric sheep.

The book introduces the idea of a mood organ, in which one can dial up a specific emotion to feel. There is also a strange religion called Mercerism, built on a story of a man who perseveres against all odds, and humans can tap into empathy boxes in order to relive the story over and over again. These two aspects dropped from the movie show that technology had gotten advanced enough to basically program humans, raising the question: what's the difference between humans and androids if we humans can be equally manipulated?

The book also gives Rick a current wife, though they appear to be struggling. At one point near the beginning of the story, during a disagreement, Rick orders his wife to dial her mood organ to an emotion of compliance.

When all is said and done, the book ends without answering most of the questions it raises, all while depressing the heck out of me, just like the movies. I highly recommend giving it a read.

"The Variable Man" (1953)

I include each story's date, so you can understand my next comment. The writing in "The Variable Man" is pretty bad. There is a lot of repetitive dialogue, and all the characters are shallow, but the story was yet captivating. I can understand why the copyright was allowed to lapse on this story (it is available for free via the Gutenburg project).

Terra (Earth) is surrounded by the Ancient Centaurian Empire, based at the closest star of Proxima Centauri. As Terra is unable to reach out and explore the stars, they are planning a war against the Empire. Daily, they run calculations to predict the outcome of such a war, and it constantly show a Terran loss until a secret weapon is developed.

As soon as Reinhart, the head military man, hears the news of a possible Terran victory, he prepares for attack whatever the cost. They must strike before the enemy learns of the weapon and has a chance to compensate.

All goes well until a man from the past, Thomas Cole, is accidentally pulled into their time. His mere existence causes the calculations to fluctuate widely, inspiring Reinhart to order the death of the man.

What happens next is actually a pretty good story. As you can guess, Cole doesn't want to be killed.

In addition to the not-so-good writing, there are some interesting plot holes in the science. For example, FTL plays a large role, but after establishing that Terra can't control FTL, how is it they can receive information faster than the speed of light? And if Terra is surrounded by the Empire, how could Terra even think of getting their warships anywhere near enough to attack, let alone communicate with home base? But whatevs -- fifteen years later, PDK would prove how much his writing had improved.

It was interesting to read this story shortly after having read the entire Three Body Problem trilogy, which has a similar plot.

I also wonder if James Cole of 12 Monkeys fame got his name from this very story.

Despite the semi-bad writing -- what do you have to lose? It's available for free, and it's a quick read. At least the story catches and maintains attention.

I'll come back later to read more of PDK's stories. In the meantime, it's time to try out some other books on my list.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Ready Player One: Game On, Dudes!

Are you looking for the perfect movie to take you away and forget about this crazy world? If so, Ready Player One may be the movie for you, especially if you happen to be a gamer.

As a standalone movie, it holds its own. The CGI is beyond amazing. The action sequences are fun. The 70s/80s/90s references are all cool. And it depicts something that could actually happen in the near future.

Wade Watts is a money-poor gamer living in the stacks -- future slums where trailers are stacked on top of each other. Despite his lack of resources, Wade joins the search for the ultimate easter egg, one that would give the winner full control of the ever-popular OASIS virtual world, worth a gazillion dollars. Along the way, he'll have to fight the affluent corporation IOI and their sixers. They have the money, but Wade has his passion.

I would strongly advise watching this movie while still in theaters so you can get the full effect. I must admit there were times I felt I was part of the movie and had to remind myself I was just watching.

My only complaints about the movie are nerdy in nature. For starters, I don't think the music fit as well as it could have. Silvestri seemed to be channeling a John Williams vibe, but not as well. For example, the incidental music at the start of the car chase wasn't exciting enough. Most of the 80's/90's song cues were cool, but even some of those choices seemed weak, especially the opening song.

If John Williams were scoring this, he would have hidden a Willy Wonka cue, much like "When You Wish Upon a Star" hidden in Close Encounters, but I didn't catch anything. (Yes, I know "Come With Me" is in a trailer, but that's not hidden, and I don't think Silvestri arranged it.)

Those who have read the book may find some parts annoying. I believe the movie adequately captures the most important parts of the books, but the three tests are so "easy" that most any nerd could have figured them out in real life. The tests in the book are much more nuanced and intelligent.

Also, Wade has much more character development in the book. For example, he already has most of his cool gear at the beginning of the movie -- so he's not nearly as poor. Then again, Spielberg is really good at creating empty main characters -- think Indiana Jones. This can be both good and bad. Bad because the character comes across as shallow, and their motives can be confusing. Good because the shallowness allows for the watchers to more easily insert themselves into the main character.

Either way, I didn't notice much of this until after the movie was over and I started analyzing.

I watched it in 3D IMAX. I generally choose not to watch such movies not shot in 3D (and I am disappointed Spielberg chose not to go this way in the real-life shots), but as most of the movie occurs inside the virtual world, which is by nature "shot" in 3D, I figured it was worth a shot. I'm not sure how much it added, but wearing the glasses was kind of like wearing VR glasses -- so maybe that helped with the feeling of being inside the movie.

Go have some fun. Catch this movie.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Movie List - 2011

The long anticipated Mel's Movie List of 2011:

Top 20:

Source Code
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (7.2)
Battle: Los Angeles
Sucker Punch
Adjustment Bureau
Super 8
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
War Horse
Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The
Adventures of Tintin, The
Cowboys & Aliens
X-Men: First Class
Captain America: The First Avenger
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
The Three Musketeers
In Time (2011)

And the rest in alphabetical order:

Arthur Christmas
Atlas Shrugged: Part 1
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2): Rodrick Rules
Gnomeo & Juliet
I Am Number Four
Johnny English Reborn
Mars Needs Moms
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Pirates of the Caribbean(4): On Stranger Tides
Puss in Boots
Smurfs, The
Transformers(3): Dark of the Moon
We Bought a Zoo

Saturday, March 10, 2018

2018 Checkpoint #1 -- Why I'm Slow to Submit

For my two-month checkpoint, I'd like to share some thoughts.

I am slow to submit stories to magazines. So far this year, I've only submitted twice. However, I may be okay with this. I've come to realize why it is I don't submit as much as I "should."

Let's talk about this.

When I started this blog eight years ago, I was all gung-ho about breaking into the business. I read up on what I was supposed to do, so that I could make sure to do it all right.

Part of this was to follow Ray Bradbury's persistence advice. Writing one story and submitting one story each week was the key to success. It worked for Bradbury, so it could work for me. I saw getting published in magazines as a rite of passage for those on their way to becoming established authors.

I tried it for a while, but all it seemed to do was to get me more rejections faster.

Then I saw a particular X-Files episode where the Smoking Man really wants to get published -- funny, right? After years of trying, he finally gets a hit. An obscure magazine decides to take one of his stories. He's so excited that he decides to quit his nefarious day job -- that is until he realizes the magazine changed the ending to fit their own purposes.

You can check out the clip here ...

But then, this also hit me: how many people actually read the magazines that I'm submitting to? There are a handful of sci-fi buffs who watch movies, TV shows, comics, books, blogs, etc. But what are they not reading? The short stories in sci-fi magazines!

I think that's it.

#1) The magazines are looking for specific stories and styles that fit their mold -- thus rejecting good stories while accepting others that might not be as good.

And #2) If my potential audience isn't even reading where I'm submitting, how exactly do I get to them?

If one thing, the pile of rejection letters I've received has toughened me up and taught me how to react like a professional, and how to understand the business concept of "no deal." Each rejection I receive has a little less sting in it.

However, the pile in total sends a strong message -- the 'zines aren't interested in my style. It becomes difficult to spend that 20 minutes putting together a package to send to a magazine, knowing it's just going to be rejected -- wasting both my time and theirs.

Then again, my sci-fi friend tells me, "It costs nothing to submit to a magazine. If you have the stories, go ahead and submit."

And then it hit me: it's not the submitting that's important, but rather it's the writing. It provides practice for writing bigger projects, and the stories can always be compiled into anthologies.

It's been a while since I've written a short story. That's where I need to be focusing my efforts. I can keep submitting to the 'zines and pile up the rejection letters -- but when the time comes, I'll end up self-publishing if I have to.

It's not recognition I need, but rather volume.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Movie List - 2012

Here is my movie list for 2012:

Top 20:

Life of Pi
Les Miserables
Dark Knight Rises, The
Cloud Atlas
Hunger Games, The
Avengers, The
Hobbit, The: An Unexpected Journey
Wreck-It Ralph
Amazing Spider-Man, The
Bourne Legacy, The
Total Recall
Wrath of the Titans
Hotel Transylvania
Lorax, The
Ice Age: Continental Drift
Jack Reacher

And the rest (in alphabetical order):

Red Dawn

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Black Panther Shines

Marvel has done it again. They have released another original standalone movie that rocks.

Black Panther takes us to Africa to the country of Wakanda, site of an ancient meteor strike that left a material so strong, it could be used to build amazing technology.

Prince T'Challa, first introduced in Civil War two years ago, returns to save his country from new threats while working to protect their secrets.

The result is an action-packed adventure, good plot lines, and even a few emotional moments mixed with some fun African music.

And my favorite part: the other Avengers do not show up at all throughout the whole movie! They're only mentioned in passing. So, I was able to enjoy this standalone in its entirety without annoying cameo appearances.

What was there not to like? Perhaps there are a couple of large plot holes, but that should be expected. The CGI was pretty awesome, though I may have noticed a few flaws. My 12-year-old daughter reports that the bit rate was slow enough to catch. I thought I noticed the same in a couple of scenes where a moving object seemed to skip across the screen, but then again, it could have been a not-so-great projector at our theater. And there was one scene where I could have sworn T'Challa's necklace was floating over/in front of his outfit. (Was his outfit largely green-screened? Or green-suited?)

Yeah, that was the most I could come up with. Go catch this movie while it's in the theater. We went to go see it the 2nd Saturday and it was still packed. There was a lot of clapping at the end of the movie.