Video Review: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

I have been a fan of filmmaker and author Nicholas Meyer since he exploded into my consciousness as the creative force behind the best Star Trek film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. His other films include Time After Time, The Deceivers, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and many others.  Among the films he has written The Seven Percent Solution is one I have wanted to see for years and  years. Unavailable on DVD, I have been patiently waiting for its release. By a stroke of good fortune I learned that HBO Now had it on their menu of on-demand movie this month and together with my sweetie-wife we watched it.han

The film is set during the period when Holmes (Nichol Williamson) is believed dead, but it actually starts just prior to that. Watson (Robert Duvall) is happy married to mary and is suddenly summoned to Holmes’ side. Holmes is suffering from a paranoid attack brought on my his abuse fo cocaine. Fearing for his friend’s life Watson engages the assistance of Holmes’ brother Mycroft (Charles Gray) and the collude to bring Holmes to the only doctor who might break his addiction, Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin.)

This film plays within the cannon, but also breaks the cannon, providing an alternative explanation for Holmes’ disappearance after his final confrontation with Professor Moriarity (Lawrence Olivier.) There is a light-hearted tone to the film though not as comical as Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Overall it was enjoyable to watch and I adored Nichol Williamson as Holmes. (Many fans will know him as Merlin from John Borman’s Excalibur.) Alan Arkin is fine as the famous Freud, and most of the cast perform their roles competently. Sadly Duvall’s English accent is a terrible affront to the ears and grated on me throughout the movie.

If you have HBO and its on-demand services it is certainly worth a go.

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The Creative Process

Now that I have completed – at least in a submission form – my latest novel and it’s off to my agent it’s time to that start the gears turning on the next one. That has got me thinking about the creative process and how vague ideas turn into prose.

Every artist has a different thing that primes the pump. For me on of my most valuable tools is a solo trip to a theme park.

Theme parks are not something most people engaging in alone. They are family affairs, days out with friends, or a way for couples to bond, but I discovered a few years ago that solo trips held a special interest for me.

I have been described by some people as a shy extrovert. It is true that forming an initial one on one conversation without someone I do not know is a challenging task, but once that bond is formed I’ll happily chat at length. I also need alone time to think to ponder and to let my idea bounce around in a random Brownian fashion. This alone time doesn’t mean there can be no people, just people I am not interacting with. In my life there are lots of people I care about and lots of people I will interact with if they are around. Since I have a day job and writing is not a full-time profession, I don’t have an empty house to wander through, a solo trip to a theme park perfectly fits my needs.

Theme parks engage me enough that I am distracted, but do not require focused attention, allowing my mind to make those wonderful unplanned connections. I can spend four or five hours enjoying myself and never say more to anyone than ‘I’ll have that hot dog.’

For the last few years, my go-to park has been Universal Studios Hollywood. The annual passes were affordable, had no blackout dates, and on Super Bowl Sunday the attended has been light and the freeways clear. This Sunday will be my last Super Bowl Sunday trip to Universal Studios Hollywood. Now that their newest attraction is about to go on-line, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,’ they’ve dramatically raised their prices on the annual passes, introduced blackout dates, and in general driven me away.

I am going to investigate Knott’s Berry Farm as my go-to park of the future, but until then, this Sunday will be spent with the tourists and guides at Universal Studios Hollywood.

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A spot of political humor

Spotted this morning on Facebook:

 

1-trump

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Plotting – but not the writing kind

So while my latest novel is in the hands of the beta readers, and my previous novel is under consideration at a top publisher, (which one? puffs on pipe ‘Top publisher’) I taking a little time to read for pleasure and daydream a bit.

The daydreaming is actually turning into planning.

It has been a long time since I had a chance to spend hours just looking at a nighttime sky uncorrupted by light pollution and I fully anticipate that Will is going to be successful in selling my novels. So it occurred to me that a way to celebrate, once that first novel contract arrives and is signed, would be to go somewhere for a weekend where I could enjoy the glory of the night sky.

My sweetie-wife seems amiable to the idea and so the research has begun. Ideally, I’d find a place within driving distance, with a nice way to rent a room or a cabin. That way I can just step out into the night and enjoy nature and the galaxy.

So far finding something that meets all needs has been challenging but there are several strong contenders.

In case you might construe this post to mean that there has been news that I am not allowed to mention. No. The publishing game is a game of patience, and that is a skill I am cultivating. There has been no news, but I remain upbeat.

 

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A Bunch of Bad Movies Part III

So we come to end if the collection and boy was the very ending rough. Six films and of those 5 were actually watchable, but the last one, well we’ll get to that.

A very optimistic view of where the space program might be six years after the films release.

A very optimistic view of where the space program might be six years after the films release.

The next movie was 1959’s Battle In Outer Space. now given the type of film being made, particularly SF films from Japan, this one wasn’t too bad. Earth has a thriving space exploration program complete with a nifty ring space station. (While the model maker put the windows on the rim of the ring, the set people curved the floor showing that they, at least, understood how a spinning station works.) Aliens come along and blow it up. Guess we got straight to the title. Anyway, there’s lengthy exposition – something about these 50’s and early 60’s SF movies felt that they had to explain everything and in doing so get so much wrong. Bringing atoms to absolute zero doesn’t negate gravity. nope. After the exposition, two rockets are sent to the moon to do battle with the aliens in their base. There are setbacks – after all the aliens can mind control people — the base is destroyed and the earth prepares for the final showdown. More aliens arrive there’s a big battle and eventually the day is saved. Not great cinema but watchable.

Iguana-don is not frightened by your puny matches.

Iguana-don is not frightened by your puny matches.

The final film on the set they saved for the worst, Valley of the Dragons. In theory, this is adapted from a poor Jules Verne story, but the movies is a dull plodding affair with too much stock footage and too little story. Like 12 to the Moon, this is a sequence of events that really don’t add up to a complete story. An Englishman (Michael) and a Frenchman (Hector) are about to have a duel while a passing comet strikes the earth and the two men awake to find themselves marooned on a planetoid hurtling away into space. I wish I could say quickly but nothing in the film feels fast, they work out that the planetoid is really a fragment of the Earth knocked loose into space earlier in history and is populated by dinosaurs, cavemen, and neanderthals. They work together to survived, become fast friends, find sexy young women to fall in love with, and if all that wasn’t enough, stop warring tribes of cavemen, bring peace to the humans trapped on the fragment. This sounds like a lot fo action stuff, but it’s turgid and slow and boring. At an hour and twenty-two minutes this thing felt longer than a Peter Jackson uncut expanded Blu-ray.

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Celebrity Death and Online Grieving

The next and final installment of my ‘vintage’ SF collection watch is not yet ready, but it will be here soon.

The last couple of weeks have been rough ones for fans of various arts. We lost David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Lemmy (whose art is unknown to me as that is not my music) and Natalie Cole.

Personally celebrity deaths don’t impact me emotionally. While the art that they produced can be evocative and inspiring because they remain in fact strangers to me- the art is not the artist – I am not one to grieve their passing. However that is not so for all people.

It’s touching to see the profile pictures change, the videos posted, the toughing memories recounted, and inspiration shared. Art matters and if the loss of the artist is a source of grief for you, then grieve in all the way that your heart demands.

To those who snidely and with false wisdom dismiss such public displays of loss I say it is none of your business. Just as I do with innumerable that I don’t agree with, scroll on past t something else. There’s no one made happier or wiser by such comments. It adds nothing to the world escape another example of fallacy on conflating wisdom with cynicism.

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A Bunch of Bad Movies: Part II

So after waking up this morning with a splitting migraine and double dosing on my meds to kill the damned thing, I stayed home from work. Now that I feel a wee bit better I’ll give you the next installment in my bad movie watching.

I am watching the movies in disc order so next up was a little Japanese horror film I had never seen The H-Man. Given being on the receiving end of two atomic bombs and having fishermen caught in the fallout from US fusion testing the Japanese have always had a keen interest and utilization of radioactive horror in their post-war cinema. The H-Man is a lesser contender for the fare then the better known and better produced films such as Gojira, known to the rest of the world as Godzilla.

In a better movie that cop was a one-eyed scientist.

In a better movie that cop was a one-eyed scientist.

The H-Man is sort of like a mashing together of a mob/crime picture with The Blob. A crew of a fishing boat encounters a deserted ship and discovers a fluid monster. The monster eventually makes its way to Tokyo and begins massacring mobsters. There is never any reason given for the predilection for gangsters, but hey that’s what it is. The movie’s character are rather stock, the idealistic young scientist who figure it all out but has a hard time convincing the police. A mob gal/nightclub singer who’s really a good person and had no idea her boyfriend was selling drugs. The tough a nail cop but with a good heart and of course, the gangster who is deadly, violent, and develops a sudden third act need for the dame.

The monster is like the blob but man-sized, which makes the resolution of the story rather problematic. In order to get this thing that has killed four or five gangsters the police and authorities burn down an entire section of the city. In addition to the overkill ist is all anti-climatic as they get the monster on their first attempt. I haven’t been more underwhelmed by the end of a movie monster since The Blood Beast Terror when the giant killer moth threw itself into the bonfire.

Next up was 12 To the Moon from 1960. In addition, to the usual terrible exposition, silly science, and overly cardboard characters what aspiring writers and filmmakers can learn from this movie is simple: a series of events do not a story make.

A little know lunar danger - quicksand.

A little know lunar danger – quicksand.

This is a movie about the first trip to the moon, but with a gigantic crew, 12 international top scientists. A cast this crowded in a large production with a big budget would have a difficult time fleshing out all the characters. (To wit; The Hobbit movies) With a limited budget and poor writing the trouble is only compounded. The dangers are mostly standard bad SF movies fare, frequent meteor swarms (I have to comment that perhaps my favorite science error is the constant shooting stars on the lunar landscape.) There is also a love story that come out of nowhere and is equally dispatched back to nowhere, and of course aliens.

While the characters faces constant challenges and the entire North American continent is threatened. (Apparently the aliens fell everything else is not so much a danger) the film has no narrative throughline and as such is simply a collection of and then this happens and then this happens until the story ends. The writers certainly took up sides for the cold war, but then as suddenly performed a reversal that in a better script would have been interesting. In this movie is was just another iteration of ‘and then this happened.’

 

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A Bunch of Bad Movies: Part I

So last week in a fit of impulse buying – thanks Amazon one click – I purchased a 2 DVD set of six ‘vintage’ SF films for $7.

Friends and acquaintances are perpetually perplexed my by hobby of enduring bad cinema, but the truth of the matter is really quite simple. Beside the ‘so bad it’s fun’ category such as Plan 9 from Outer Space, bad movies can be very instructive. From them you can learn all about bad exposition and info dump, poor dialogue, poorly plotted stories and hosts of other failures. Learning why they are bad, the mechanics of the mess can lead to improvement in your own craft. In many ways it is easier to learn from someone else’s failure than from a work of genius.

The first movie in set I had seen before but I still watched The 27th Day Again.

Kodos the Destroyer hands out free weapons to random humans.

Kodos the Destroyer hands out free weapons to random humans.

Calling this film ‘bad’ is perhaps too strong. It is weak with a foundation of science that had been laid out on beach sand. (Particularly when The Alien announces he is from another Universe and all he means is planetary system.) However, the plot is actually rather intriguing.

The Aliens face the destruction of their world, their high ethical standards prevent them from invading and just taking the Earth, so they give five people capsules that are fantastic weapons. IF the humans manage to NOT kill themselves off with the weapons then the Alien will lose and humanity will survive. The movie can be looked at as a poor man’s The Day The Earth Stood Still, but played out – despite budget restrictions – on a global scale.

The ending, though adapted from the novel by the original writer, is very weak and it is a shame that the production did not stick closer to the novel’s more ‘uplifting’ ending.

The second movie up, The Night The World Exploded was not as good. There aren’t very many movies that present minerals as the principal threat. The only other one that springs to mind is The Monolith Monsters– a film worth watching.

Seismologists demonstrating proper earthquake protocols.

Seismologists demonstrating proper earthquake protocols.

The Night the World Exploded starts with one advance in science – earthquake prediction – and quickly moves to a world threatening danger as a new elements building to a detonation that will destroy the planet.

With even worse science and a lower budget this movie is not enjoyable to watch, but there is at least the core plot of a story and even characters in transformation, something that is often lacking in SF films of the 50s. Still it has a lot of stilted dialogue, sexist tropes, and for a global disaster movie a disappointingly lack of spectacle.

Two down – four to go.

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A quick comment aimed at the left this time

So in the last few weeks I have seen several times on social media a petition to strip the National Rifle Association (NRA) of their non-profit status for the opposition to gun control. This petition is a ridiculous and pointless exercise, but it also shows a blindingly insulting level of short-sightedness.

Setting aside that any non-profit that has not violated the law is safe from the mob justice of a petition, the proponents of this idea have given zero thought as to the outcome should they in some fantastically unlikely event become successful.

Stripping the NRa’s non-profit status via gathering enough angry signatures and for purely political purposes would off course open up all non-profits to such tactics.

Should Planned Parenthood lose their non-profit status if enough social conservatives sign an on line form?

Should Unions be stripped if enough pro-business people gather the requisite signatures?

Or maybe we could go after NOW, or Equality Now, the Human Rights Council? Hell maybe fan run science-fiction and the SCA can be targets as well!

Those of you who shared this idiotic meme, do you really want the same standard placed upon your groups and your interests?

Yes you do not like the NRA, yes they stand against your thoughts and goal on gun control, but they also have broken no law and they truly do represent a dedicated number of voters. Agree with them or disagree with them, but do not try to use the political process to strip them of their rights lest others do the same to you and yours.

Of course if you want to argue that *all* non-profits should lose that status, that is a far different argument and one I am more inclined to agree with.

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Thoughts and Opinions on Donald Trump

Last year we started the summer silly season in American politics with the announcement by Donald J. Trump that he was running for president. This coincided with John Stewart leaving the daily, a bitter timing that I am sure was keenly felt, but here it is January 2016 and we are no longer laughing.

Trump has dominated the polls, debates, news, and conversation with his Presidential bit.

A lot of opinion cycles and time has been spent explaining the media mogul’s mastery of the political process. The ideas range from the mundane (it’s all just name recognition) to the far-fetched (He’s a plant by Hillary Clinton to make the Republican Party look bad.) These explanations in my opinion are all avoidance tactics, dodging the central fact that Trump has a commanding control of the primary nomination because of what he advocates not in spite of it.

Let’s take the Name Recognition argument first.

In m opinion name recognition in politics is like an aircraft carrier’s catapult; it will get you off the deck but it will not make you fly. Typically a name recognition candidate will crash shortly after announcing when the reality if the candidate collides with the idealized image of the candidate that existed the hazy ill-defined future before the announcement. This has not happened with Trump. As people see more and more of him, his support remains firm. This also discredits the ‘free media’ explanation, because again while he is getting tons of free exposure, nothing he says or does during that exposure undercuts his support. His message is not turning people off.

Jeb! Has put forth, at least once, the hypothesis that Trump is an enemy mole out to make the Republican Party look bad. The trouble with Jeb!’s argument is that Trump isn’t polling in the * range, but rather that he’s leading the national polls. If that support looks reflects badly on the party is is because 20-30 percent of the party enthusiastically support the positions and statement from Trump.

Another argument I have heard is that the exact things Trump says are unimportant, what really matters and why he is gaining such support is that he is paying attention to the issue that really matters to the base – immigration.

The trouble with that argument is that there has been plenty of pols talking tough on immigration long before Trump stood and announced that Mexico was sending criminals and rapists – and he assumed ‘a few’ good people – across our southern border. The Border Wall is a device/promise that has been around for a few elections. Talking tough is nothing new, Trump, despite his insistence, did not bring up an issue no one was talking about.

A corollary to the immigration issue argument is that Trump benefited from the tragic murder of a woman by a illegal immigrant. Correlation does not equal causation, because Trump rose in the polls after that incident does not mean it was because of that incident. Even if he did gain support because of it, that doesn’t explain how he maintained that support. (And there is simply NO good evidence that immigrant, legal, illegal, documented or undocumented are more criminally violent than the general population. Grabbing that case to prove your point is like pointing to a mass murderer’s use of an assault rifle to prove the need for their ban when so terribly few are ever used violently.)

The truth of the matter is that Trump has spewed from day one hateful, bigoted, xenophobic, and racist statements. These statement do not cost him support and it is increasingly evident that a significant portion of the conservative base endorse these ideas.

That is NOT to say that all, or even most, conservatives are racist, xenophobic bigots. The total non-Trump number far outnumber the Trump numbers . I do think that a lot of the ‘explanations’ that main on the right search for to dismiss Trump’s support is an attempt to ignore that fact that racism is selling in their party. That is a problem that will not go away with Trump eventual collapse – if he does collapse. It is a part of the Republican civil war and only time will tell us which faction wins in the end.

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