Nox…nearly done

The dearth of new blog entries of late is mostly due to the fact that I’m really, really hard at work finishing off my latest novel, Nox.  The novel is the fourth in the Corrosive Knights series, after Mechanic, The Last Flight of the Argus, and Chameleon.

It is also the first book in this series that ties together the various story strands introduced in those first three books.  Those who have read Mechanic should realize right away that Nox features the protagonist of that book and, thus, is a pretty direct sequel to Mechanic.  Without giving away too much, the book is more than “just” a sequel.

I just finished doing the fifth (yes, fifth) revision of that book.  It is absolutely grueling work, but the way I write, I need to go over each novel very carefully to make sure all the story elements follow a logical progression.  Most people who have written to me about my books or reviewed them note how there are plenty of “twists” in the stories.  Making a story work while shocking and (hopefully!) delighting a reader with surprising plot twists involves carefully going over all those elements and making sure the plot twists follow logical paths and “make sense” when all is said and done.

I may have mentioned this before, but I know I’m getting close to being done with a novel when the latest draft revisions involve more grammatical issues rather than story deficiencies or structure.  In the case of this fifth revision, a good 90% of the revision was indeed about grammatical issues, ie better sentence structure, tighter dialogue, eliminating repetition, etc.  Toward the end of the novel there were some story issues that needed to be addressed but I believe they are good now and, after giving the book one more read-through, I’m reasonably comfortable to say the sixth draft will likely be the last.

A while back I posted an early version of the cover for Nox.  Here is that early version:

Even when first posting this image, I figured there were things needed to be done and it wouldn’t be the final image used for the novel’s cover.  Here, then is my most recent version, which I’m far more comfortable calling the “final” one:

I’m hoping in the next month or, at most, two, the book will be available.

25 Things You Didn’t Know About Full Metal Jacket

Interesting list from Moviefone on this, the 25 Anniversary of the release of legendary director Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket:

Sad to realize this film would be the second last one Mr. Kubrick would direct before his death in 1999.  Full Metal Jacket was followed a little over a decade later, and just before Mr. Kubrick passed away, with the Eyes Wide Shut, a film that to this day I don’t like.  At all.  And that’s saying something as I’m a HUGE fan of Mr. Kubrick’s work.

As for Full Metal Jacket, I absolutely loved the first half of the film, which featured boot camp.  The second half of the film, wherein the recruits go to Vietnam, wasn’t quite as good, at least in my opinion.  I’ve always felt that despite some flaws (most notably a very muddled ending), the Francis Ford Coppola directed Apocalypse Now remains my favorite Vietnam War film and could well be one of the best films about war ever.

Having said that, I always felt that Apocalypse Now was a very Kubrick-like film, though that remains a personal opinion and does not at all detract from what Mr. Coppola created.

John Carter (2012) a (mildly) belated review/autopsy

Has there been a movie that received as much bad press as 2012’s John Carter?

Based on the 1912 novel A Princess of Mars by author Edgar Rice Burroughs (his most famous creation, of course, is Tarzan), the movie was released earlier this year and proved a massive flop.  It cost in the neighborhood of $250 million to make (not including marketing, which I’ll return to in a moment) and its worldwide take was a decent, but far from good considering the costs, $179 million.  The losses from this Disney production’s release resulted in the resignation of a chairman within the company.

The fact is that the film appeared doomed almost from the beginning.  Word leaked early on in the production that there were problems.  There was whispers of dissatisfaction from the studio regarding the work in progress.  There was also word of reshoots and rumors that Andrew Stanton, the director of the film who was best known for his computer animated Pixar work, was in over his head with actual human actors.

When the film neared actual release, I had the feeling potential audiences already were poisoned against the movie.  These opinions certainly weren’t helped by the film’s very bland title (the studios appeared worried mentioning “Mars” in the title would turn off the already turned off audiences) and a truly inept advertising campaign.  In fact, the later may well have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Yet as the film was released and proved a financial calamity for Disney, I couldn’t help but notice that despite the massive disinterest shown by audiences, the reviews of the film weren’t all that…awful.  True, the film polled at a mediocre 52% among critics at, but it held a higher 64% among the audiences that bothered to see the film.

So I wondered:  Was the film unfairly condemned?  Did it deserve a better fate?  Were potential audiences wrong in turning their backs?

I was curious to find out.  I missed the film in theaters but when it arrived on home video, I gave it a look.  So, what did I see?  In brief, a good, though not great adventure film.

To begin, John Carter is gorgeous to look at.  The visuals are quite impressive and I felt the filmmakers most certainly captured the “look” of the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels. The computer generated effects are, for the most part, seamless. The alien creatures look quite real, and Taylor Kitsch looks good as John Carter and Lynn Collins looks equally good as Dejah Thoris, the Princess of Mars.

Unfortunately, that the best thing I can say about them.  As handsome as the two actors are in the title roles, they really lack chemistry.  I always felt that one of the things that made the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs so successful, apart from the obvious pulp adventures presented, was the sexuality.  Both Tarzan and the Mars series featured brawny, swashbucking men’s men and incredibly beautiful women in peril.  As readers we longed for Tarzan to get Jane.  In the Mars series, we longed for John Carter to marry Dejah Thoris.

But in this film, the sexuality is toned waaaay down.  As I said before, part of the problem is that the actors lack chemistry.  The other part, I suspect, is that the producers/director really clamped down on the sexuality.  For most of the movie John Carter and Dejah Thoris show little interest in each other, it seemed, and certainly nowhere near the sexual tension present between Tarzan and Jane in films from the 1930’s.

There is also so much going on that I couldn’t help but wonder just how much was cut.  The character of Sola, for example, accompanies Carter and Thoris for the middle section of the film on but is relegated to being such a minor character with so few lines of worth that one wonders why they even bothered having her in the film at all.  The movie features three main “villains”, but once again very little is shown of them and when two meet their fate, one feels little satisfaction that the villain(s) got what was coming to them.

I suspect that John Carter was a victim of a combination of factors, from studio interference to director inexperience to an underdeveloped script.  The actors, I felt, did what they could and weren’t bad in their roles, though I suppose an argument could be made that the two leads failed to register enough chemistry between them.

And yet, having said all that, the film is not the disaster audiences suspected it would be.  It is a pleasant enough time killer with some good humor and some impressive set pieces but, and its a very BIG “but”, given the film’s costs, it could and should have been so much more.  On a four star scale, I’d give John Carter 2 1/2 stars.

First Spacecraft to Reach Interstellar Space…?

Fascinating article from Time Magazine concerning Voyager 1, a spacecraft sent from Earth way back in 1977 which may now be reaching the edge of the Solar System…and entering into Interstellar space, making it the first such craft to do so:

What is depressing to consider is the fact that this spacecraft was launched some 35 years ago and is only now reaching the edge of the Solar System, having traveled an incredible 11 BILLION miles.

Prometheus Redux…Redux

This should be my last post regarding the movie Prometheus.  Yesterday, I posted a video that presented a pretty crushing take down of all the things that didn’t make sense/weren’t clearly explained/plot holes in the movie Prometheus.

Today, a link to a very well thought out examination by Cavalorn of much of the mythological (and other) symbolism found in the movie:

Curiously, while the author points out the many mythological elements, he misses what I thought was one of the more obvious ones, that of the myriad ways a parent/child interacts, whether good (trying to follow in their steps, make them proud) to bad (wanting them “out of the way/dead” so they can take over).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  Prometheus is a tough film to discard off-hand.  It fails on many levels, perhaps the greatest of which is that there are so many plot holes/unanswered questions and idiotic characterizations (and idiotic character actions) that it is not possible for me to recommend the movie to anyone.

But having said that, clearly there was considerable thought put into the film and, while it may fail overall as entertainment, Prometheus does present the viewer with many interesting symbols/mythological elements that provide plenty of food for thought…for those interested.

Prometheus Redux…

Red Letter Media, perhaps best known for their epic evisceration of the Star Wars prequels, here offers a nice, tight, compendium of almost all the very frustratingly unanswered questions present in the movie Prometheus:

I have to give the folks above credit, they pretty much hit every question left unanswered in the movie in these four minutes, including a few things I certainly didn’t even think about but, in retrospect, probably should have.

As I said before, it is difficult to completely discard Prometheus (at least for me…many others have!).  I think the film does make a genuine attempt to do something “different” and I admire the whole “parent/child” dynamic they were exploring in all its myriad ways.  Having said that, all these silly unresolved issues really take away from the overall enjoyment one might have of the film.  Will there be a sequel that addresses some of this stuff?  Director Ridley Scott is now 74 years old.  Realistically, he’s only got a few more films in him and I wonder if he’ll ever get to do a sequel to this film…or leave it in other, perhaps less capable hands.

Prometheus (2012) a (right on time!) review

Of the films scheduled for release this summer, there were only a couple I really, really wanted to see in theaters.  Of those, there was one I absolutely would not miss:  Director Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe, Prometheus.

In spite of my excitement to see the film, I tried to keep my expectations low, for I knew that sometimes those things lead to a huge let down.  In the end, I chose to see the film in as “good” a format as possible:  In IMAX and 3D.  I sat in the theater and, for the very last time, kept my hopes in check.  The film played out…

…and I found myself incredibly disappointed.

A few days have passed since then, and I’ve taken some time to process my thoughts.  I still feel this film is a major disappointment, and presents the viewer with too many inept moments and silly character actions, yet I nonetheless can’t help but admire what Mr. Scott and company tried to do, rather than succeeded in actually doing.

Prometheus, as the name should imply to anyone with even a casual knowledge of mythology, relates to the Titan Prometheus, who in the fables created man from clay and stole fire from the Gods.  The main theme of the film relates to this as well as the parent/child relationship.  On the surface and just below, this film is filled with references to how children and their parents interact…or don’t.

The protagonist of the movie, Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw, is presented as a person that is, ironically, both outside and tied in deep with parent/child concerns.  On the one hand, she’s an “orphan”, who as a young girl lost her father…yet has strong memories of him and hopes to emulate him.  On the other hand, it is revealed that she is incapable of having children of her own, thus of becoming a parent herself.

The two other main characters to follow, Charlize Theron’s Meredith Vickers and Michael Fassbender’s David, have their own parent/child issues, but to go into details about that would involve considerable spoilers.

The symbolism present in the film, I have to admit, has kept me from writing Prometheus off completely, this despite the fact that the film is remarkably -surprisingly- sloppily made, with way too many story holes, paper thin characters, and general stupidity.  Further, the film doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, trying for a “Chariot of the Gods” type story for much of its run time before lurching into horror only in its final act.

I could spend way too much time going over things that didn’t make sense or were muddled in their presentation, but I’ll focus on one specific thing that bothered me more than anything else in the film…and I’ll try to be as spoiler free as possible:

Why exactly did David spike the drink?

There is never a clear explanation of this, though there are hints, particularly David’s talk with Vickers just before.  But why was it done?  What was the purpose?

Despite some intriguing symbolism, in the end I remain roughly where I was upon walking out of the film.  I admire the attempt to create a “deep,” mythical story, but I simply cannot recommend Prometheus.  I’ve heard there is a longer “cut” of the film that features at least 20 additional minutes of material not seen in the theatrical release.  Perhaps when that version is released, those twenty minutes might explain the whole spiking the drink thing…though I doubt they’ll help make some of the movie’s other problems, including the cardboard side-characters and their fate, any more interesting.

A real shame.

Civil War Photo Mystery…

Absolutely fascinating article I found on The Huffington Post regarding Civil War era photographs found on the corpses of soldiers and the belated attempt to identify the people who were on the photographs.  This would obviously help identify both the victim and the family around them.  It is an admitted long shot given the length of time that has passed since the Civil War, yet one hopes that perhaps some name can be placed with some of the photographs:

Can Cops use Google to prevent murder?

Fascinating article by Will Oremus and posted on Slate Magazine regarding the possibility of the police using “real time” Google searches to possibly prevent crimes:

The first thing I thought about when I started reading this article was the Steven Spielberg directed movie Minority Report.  While not a big fan of the film (I thought the movie’s entire second act was really silly), the concept of crime prevention before the fact was fascinating and quite thought provoking.  The author of this article does mention that film, as well, but notes that while the movie’s science fictional psychics do not exist, it is possible to look in on suspicious Google searches while they occur to then get some idea of the possibility of a future crime.

People may Google all kinds of things, including how to commit various crimes, and it is that which the police, legally, could search for.

The big problem, however, is the same one that Minority Report alludes to: How do you know the person Googling suspicious/criminal things isn’t just curious and would never actually pursue anything illegal?  Further, if searching through real time Google queries becomes common place among law enforcement, there will inevitably be “jokers” out there who make criminal-sounding Google searches just to provoke a reaction.  Of that I have little doubt.

Still, fascinating article and food for thought.