My Own Line-Up: Apollo 18

Apart from being one of the more accessible film genres that anyone with access to recording equipment can feasibly pull off, there are still plenty of areas to explore in terms of story when it comes to the found footage genre. Apollo 18 reminds us that we’ve been using film to document our history since the equipment was available, and that the last frontier can be as scary as any haunted house.

The film uses a combination of stock footage from the Apollo missions. Older lenses are used to give the film a genuine late 60’s documentary feel, so that if you were looking at some of the interview scenes and you didn’t recognize any of the actors, you might be justified in believing that this was actual footage of a secret mission to drop listening devices on the moon. Fancy camera work, combined with stunt harnesses and enforced method acting are used to give the illusion that the actors are in a genuine zero gravity environment, which is doubly aided by the fact that the set for the lunar module is faithfully recreated. The scenes on the actual surface of the moon are so realistic, that the minor goof of having the actors “run” across the set can be almost forgiven.

As far as the acting goes, I have no complaints. Everything about this movie should have been perfect, but once you know what the “Big Scary” thing is, the rest of the film becomes a by-the-numbers story that would be perfectly summed up as The Blair Witch Project in space. Your suspense of disbelief will really be put to the test when you read the crawl that implies that some underground “truth” movement has somehow gotten a hold of this footage (which would have to be floating around in the vacuum of space no less) and made it available through their website.

This would be a great movie to watch once, maybe twice for the riffiablity. As a gift, it would be great for fans of the found footage genre. Just don’t expect it to have the same pants filling moments that made other films of its kind so famous.

The Alpha Reads: The Nikki Heat Series

I have a bit of a history with Richard Castle. It began with the first time I saw episodes of Castle on ABC. The premise is simple. A novelist by the name of Richard Castle is caught up in a murder investigation when crime scenes are being carefully tailored to match the ones in his books. As a consequence, he comes into contact with Detective Kate Beckett, who is not only a longtime fan of the author, but soon becomes the muse for Castle’s latest series of books about a hard hitting New York City detective who goes the distance to keep the citizens of her city safe, working from the bullpen of the Twentieth Precinct: Nikki Heat.

Castle Fans of Murder She Wrote may be aware that the fictional Jessica Fletcher, who portrayed by Dame Angela Lansbery, also wrote novels based on the murders she inevitably became involved in solving, but was somehow never suspected of committing. Just like you can find those books in any retailer or library, the Nikki Heat series became a reality starting with the first book: Heat Wave

You can imagine Castle drawing inspiration from the characters on the show, as fans of the series realize that Jameson Rook is the stand-in for Castle himself. Captain Montrose, Detectives Raley and Ochoa, and Medical Examiner Lauren Parish are also loosely based on their “real life” counterparts in the series.

The illusion in the first couple of books is completed with blurbs from best selling authors, and front matter with the copyright assigned to Richard Castle.

If you’ve never watched Castle, don’t worry. Readers of the series will find a fast paced story, with carefully woven subplots, well rounded characters, and what I can only describe as a stack of love letters to New York City. With the exception of having a slightly similar backstory to Kate Beckett, the comparison stops there as Nikki Heat takes on a life of her own, as do Jameson Rook and the rest of the cast.

Naked Heat picks up where the previous book left off. Nikki deals with the sudden surge of recognition that resulted from Rook Jameson’s article, there’s a coyote loose in Manhattan, a garbage strike, and a murder. One of the amazing things about this series is the ability to combine so many elements to bring the world to life around the characters.

Heat Rises contains the first of what will eventually be a series of subtle and not so subtle references to Firefly. If you ask anyone in the geek community who Nathan Fillion is, and you don’t get a clear response, then you’re probably asked the question in English to a non-English speaker. Because it’s not a stretch to imagine that Jameson Rook is the spitting image of Richard Castle (confirmed later on in the Derrick Storm novels, which I will cover in another post) who is portrayed by the Fillion, the references to Firefly are pretty self-explanatory.

They do get gratuitous however, especially in Frozen Heat and again in Deadly Heat when the Homicide Division brings on a pair of detectives from Burglary named Malcolm and Reynolds to help with the caseload.

Deadly Heat and Raging Heat are also where things take a downward turn in terms of quality. I wrote about this in my other blog, but to recap, the editing mistakes in this book are just not acceptable when you consider the price they’re asking you to pay for the book in hardcover. The story is great and everything else holds up, but when you consider how many amateur authors out there think that they can get away with abusing the rules of grammar and expect a million dollar publishing contract, it makes you wonder how much the people behind this book care about you as the consumer.

Well, obviously someone heard me because the most recent book in the series, which I just finished about an hour before I began writing this post, was Driving Heat. Great, fast paced read, with a mystery that had me glued to the pages, trying to solve it before the detectives did. They dialed back the Firefly references by about a thousand, and there was just a tiny pinch of editing mistakes that could be forgiven.

The Nikki Heat series may be written by an equally fictitious writer. I secretly hope they reveal the ghostwriter behind the series, but in the meantime, I go with my original sentiment: This is a TV tie-in series done right.

The Handwritten Review

I just had the first handwritten review of Survive by the Sword. It was very nice, full of supportive comments, and favorable comparisons to the writer’s favorites.

Any review is always welcome, even if it’s not entirely complimentary. There are many schools of thoughts as to how one should respond to a reviewer, and mine is simply, “Thank you”.

The prevailing wisdom behind this is that you don’t want to have the reputation of being defensive and argumentative. So if someone responds with a review that’s less than complimentary, just remember that you can’t please everyone. If they have advice that resonates, take it on board, but otherwise let it slide.

And if someone takes the time to give you a handwritten review, count it as a blessing and cherish it always.

Gamble or Grace?

Originally, Survive by the Sword was supposed to be published on September 1st. But I didn’t have all of the specifics for Smashwords figured out yet, so I published it on August 15, which is my youngest brother’s date of birth. Now November is looming in the distance.

My plan for The Sweetest Death was to publish it in December, which would be ideal as it would give me time to raise the appropriate amount of money to get the cover I would prefer. However, with what I’ve raised, I could get an acceptable premade cover, which would be a gamble as the cover really draws the readers.

Yet just like August was the birth month of my youngest brother, three more siblings were all born in the month of November. Would it be a gamble to publish early, after I’ve done all of the polishing I can do at this stage, or would be it be an act of grace that my second book would be published in another month when I have been so blessed with two brothers and a sister?

That would leave me with the month of May, the month in which my original partner in crime was born. I’d have to really work hard to publish something else by then. Wonder if I’d be up for the gamble?

The Same Page Media Reviews: X Factor UK 2015, Mason Noise

Hold on to your butts, because this is going to get ugly.

I swore I wouldn’t use this blog to criticize the artist, but rather the art. I have another blog for just that purpose. But at the same time I realize that I can’t be a legitimate reviewer if I only cover things that I like. And unfortunately, when you criticize the piece you are by proxy criticizing the artist. So I’ll take this gamble this early in the blog’s lifespan and go right for the jugular.

For a quick recap, Mason Noise was one of the contestants from this year’s X-Factor, featuring veteran judges Simon Cowel, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, and new comers Rita Ora and Nick Grimshaw. After an intense audition, followed by an impressive showing at boot camp, Mason was on his way to claiming one of coveted seats in the Six Chair Challenge.

To make a long story short, Mason apparently wasn’t happy with the way his first audition was cut, alleging that it was only 47 seconds long as opposed to the ten minutes apiece the other contestants got. This shouldn’t have been such a huge deal, as his Six Chair performance basically guaranteed him one of the chairs, but he felt so strongly about this that he had a big shouting match with Simon at the end of his time. Names were called, mics were dropped, and the judges were left stunned at the behavior.

Whatever happened off screen, I couldn’t tell you, but apparently Mason made his way back into the good graces of the X-Factor family, and he was invited to perform at the next round of the competition: The Judge’s Houses. (I’m looking forward to seeing that, by the way) According to interviews, Mason was correct about the time of his first audition, and perhaps that was the major factor in the decision to let him back in, but there’s still some concern that he won’t behave himself at the Live Shows.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am in no position to criticize someone else for rage quitting. Maybe Mason was right and maybe there was no way to go about this supposed wronging than to make a big public stink about it, in front of thousands of fans who would no doubt go to Youtube and Twitter with their findings. I have no real love or hate for Mason as an artist and I do wish him well. I suppose my only concern is that getting back into the X-Factor sends a strange sort of message to future contestants, when you consider the kinds of behaviors that got people ejected from these competitions in the past.

Ultimately it was Nick Grimshaw’s decision. I don’t know if Simon would have been so forgiving, but the only thing to do now is to sit back and watch as the drama unfolds.

The Process Starts Over Again

The new reading group works on a schedule. Two members send out their stories, giving the other members time to read and make comments on each piece. The meeting is spent giving our critique to the stories that were in the spotlight.

My turn is coming up sooner than expected, so my goal is to have something new prepared for the others to read. Some might ask why I’m not showing them my Nicodemus Dean series, and the answer to that is that aside from some basic grammar and syntax, there’s nothing I want to change in the stories. Plus, there’s a word limit for each submission, and I don’t want to spend a year having two chapters at a time critiqued.

So for this group, it will be something new. And it was no small coincidence that I happened to have a dream on the night of the 21st, our last meeting, that had begun a slow metamorphosis all day, until it was the vulnerable form of what I hope I can turn into a piece that is ready to polish.

Come Lately Reviews: Back to the Future: Part 2

Title: Back to the Future Part 2

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Originally Released: 1989

How could I have a blog dedicated to reviewing all things past and present, and not include a review of the movie that is responsible for shaping my vision of the future? This may also have been the movie that got me hooked on the idea of time travel, among other things. I wanted the hover car, the hover board, the thumb plate payment system, and the Cafe 80’s with the Max Headroom waiter.

The Internet is already alive with lists of plot holes, what the movie got wrong and right, what it predicted, and how it fell flat. And none of that makes me love this movie any less, because at the core of the superficial plot of the movie, is a story about a boy whose decisions have a very real impact on his life and the lives of those around him.

We learn in the course of the film that Marty McFly’s life does not go according to plan, and that a much bleaker future awaits him in the year 2015. If you’re paying attention to the film, we already get a hint of what will be revealed to us in Back to the Future Part 3 (This is a brilliant example of non-linear storytelling done right). To sum it up: Marty makes a terrible decision in response to some name calling, which costs him his ability to play the guitar. This knee jerk response to taunting and bullying doesn’t change, and not only does it continue to cause problems in the future, but it passes on to his kids.

You could argue that bullying is never that simple. God knows that I am the last person to criticize people for not thinking before they act. But if you get no other lesson from this movie, it is that no matter what our mentors and our peers think of us, it is that we are ultimately responsible for our futures and we have to live with the decisions we make.

An example of the time when I finally figured this out comes from my senior year of high school. A vendor truck for Pepsi was parked outside of the school, wide open. Drinks just there for the taking, right? And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t tempted. One of my classmates, a mouthy girl who took no small joy in teasing and taunting me along with many of the others, said, “Grab one.”

What if I had taken one? Surely there would be no consequence, right? I mean if the “cool” kids told me to do it, then it must be okay, and they might have stopped giving me a hard time if I just grabbed a free Mountain Dew. Who was going to miss it?

At that moment, my future had one of two distinctive possibilities. In the first place, I was still a senior in high school who hadn’t graduated yet. But I was also legally an adult, and could very well face a criminal charge that would wind up on my permanent record. However my life proceeded from there on in, would forever be determined by the decision I made that day, when the truck full of soda sat in the parking lot, unsupervised.

Readers will be happy to know that I didn’t follow the goading of my classmate. However, to prove how cool she was to her own friends, she decided to grab a soda while I was walking away. Oh, she left some money there, but people had seen her and were quick to rat her out when the vendor came back to the truck. He was accompanied by the campus sheriff and the principal when they confronted her and escorted her up to the office.

The point is, every one of us in our lives, faces tough choices like the ones Marty McFly was forced to face in the Back to the Future trilogy. Sure, the movie got some things wrong. Sometimes the decision is never that black and white. Actually the situation is never that black and white period. Sometimes we don’t get a choice in the matter at all. But until we begin to take that responsibility, as Marty eventually does, we’re in no position to put the blame on anyone else when it comes to our future.