Monday, March 30, 2015

One of Our Deathbots is Missing! -- First Place!

I am very delighted to announce that I just won first place in a monthly writing contest. The goal is to write a story based on the provided image that must also be 500 words or less. My story is called "One of Our Deathbots is Missing!" and I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Third Place

I recently won third place in two story contests.  The latest is in SFReader's yearly science fiction contest.  You can read "Price of War" here:

I also won third in another contest last November for "Babel On."  The story had to be about the image provided by the contest -- in this case, the Tower of Babel.  Oh, and it also had to be under 500 words.  So it's short!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Horror Movies for Halloween (Part III)

Like any good horror franchise, this October series of micro-reviews has many sequels. I'm including a few more popular titles since I just happened to watch them recently.

The Aggression Scale (2012) - A group of hitmen are hunting down their boss's stolen money when they encounter a young emotionally disturbed kid and his sister who take them on with equal hostility. Unfortunately, this movie is just silly and has one of the worst cliches in film history. It's an R rated Home Alone with consequences. Skip.

Burning Bright (2010) - A young woman and her autistic brother are trapped inside a house with a hungry tiger during a hurricane. I know this sounds absurd, but it makes perfect sense within the film. Something about two defenseless people against a ferocious beast is very intriguing so I was looking forward to this movie and it doesn't disappoint. While I would have liked to have seen the tiger take down a few more random victims, this was a fun film. Recommend.

The Final (2010) - A bunch of bullied teens kidnap and torture their bullies. The first half hour was interesting but it completely peters out once the tables are turned and there's no one to root for since everyone is now evil. The last hour becomes dull and boring with really no suspense. Skip. (Currently on Netflix.)

Fright Night (1985) (Supernatural) - A teenager can't convince anyone that a vampire just moved in next door so he employs the help of a washed up movie icon who now hosts a horror show. I had never seen this 80s cult classic and while I enjoyed it on one level, I found the lead annoying and the overall movie very dated. I liked the concept and really wish it had been better executed. Maybe I should have seen this back in the day. I haven't seen the recent remake so I can't say if it's better or worse (but I would suspect worse). Kind of fun if you're bored. (Currently on Netflix.)

A Horrible Way to Die (2010) - An escaped serial killer is chasing down the ex-girlfriend who turned him in to the police. There are some really good moments in this film, but I found the ending predictable and the overall story too dull. Even though I'm on the fence with this one, I have to lean toward skipping.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2011) - Two hillbillies find themselves inadvertently thought of as kidnapping murderers, but nothing could be further from the truth! This film isn't really horror and probably and shouldn't be on this list, but I keep seeing it on similar lists and I also thoroughly loved this film. It's actually a great parody of hillbilly horror (The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn), but it should be considered more in the vein of Shaun of the Dead. Highly recommended. (Currently on Netflix.)

Warm Bodies (2013) (Supernatural) - Romeo and Juliet retold with a zombie and a survivalist's daughter. How can this unlikely couple ever get together? Simple -- it's Hollywood. I must admit, this movie is very well shot, well acted, looks great and has an interesting enough premise, but I just couldn't get past the idea of a zombie not wanting to eat brains. My tasty brain just couldn't accept the premise, but the fault lies with me. I know many people who really enjoyed this film so I'll say check it out and decide for yourself. It's definitely made for the Twilight crowd, but it's a huge step above those horrid films.

(To be continued...)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Horror Movies for Halloween (Part II)

Continuing my short reviews of semi-obscure horror films. Listed in alphabetical order, I hope you find a good suggestion or two in one of these lists to haunt your dreams.

Dead Silence (2007) (Supernatural) - I've been fascinated with maniacal dummies ever since I saw the 1978 film Magic and not one, but two great Twilight Zone episodes about dummies coming to life. So I was delightfully surprised when I stumbled upon this entry on Netflix. I was more surprised when I found out it was from the creators of Saw. This movie definitely has some interesting concepts and a couple of fun scenes, unfortunately, the characters are dull and flat and the overall story is just too boring. Skip. (Currently on Netflix.)

The Bay (2012) - A found footage film directed by Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Good Morning, Vietnam). Made as a documentary after the events, this found footage film works better than most as we have a few good shocks, a pseudo-scientific explanation, and a fairly interesting narrative. It's about a small community that is ravaged by contaminated water. There's more to it than that, but I don't want too reveal much. Partial recommend. (Currently on Netflix.)

House of the Devil (2009) (Supernatural) - A college girl in desperate need of rent money takes on a strange babysitting job. When she arrives at the house, she finds there's no baby, but an elderly woman she's not too bother. The couple only want her there in case of an emergency. They offer a ridiculous sum of money for a few hours service. They need someone so they can go out and enjoy the unusual lunar eclipse. Of course, things aren't as they seem and our college girl soon becomes hunted as a Satanic sacrifice. This film is by Ti West, director of The Innkeepers another in the genre of slow burn horror. As much as I enjoy subtlety and find most modern horror films too over the top, this film is simply too slow. It takes so long for anything to happen, that by the time it does, I no longer care. I wanted to like this film, but instead I almost fell asleep watching it. Skip. (Currently on Netflix.)

Splinter (2008) (Supernatural) - A young couple is kidnapped by another couple on a murderous spree through the backwoods somewhere when they all encounter a strange alien force that grows in living tissue until it takes over the being. The group finds themselves trapped in a remote gas station with no escape as they try to keep the entity out. This is a fun film that I quite enjoyed. Recommend.

Would You Rather (2012) - Eight people are gathered together at the behest of a wealthy benefactor who offers them the financial solutions to their problems if they just play a little game. Unfortunately, the game has some deadly consequences and there can only be one winner. This is an incredibly uncomfortable film and for that reason, I enjoyed it. Recommend.

You're Next (2011) - A family gathers at a large estate only to find themselves hunted by men in masks. Despite the all too familiar horror opening , this movie switches gears and reveals a few simple, but fun twists. I enjoyed it. Recommend. (Currently on Netflix.)
(To be continued...)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Horror Movies for Halloween (Part I)

Halloween is less than a month away, but I've already watched a number of horror films and I'd like to share my thoughts on a few. Although a few titles were recommended by friends I found most of the films in articles with such titles as "20 Great Horror Films You've Never Heard Of." Having watched a large number of films from such lists, there are some worthy entries, while others I found incredibly boring or cliched.

I tried to keep my summaries spoiler free, making them a bit vague, but clearly defining which I think are worth watching. I've also written "supernatural" next to those with that element versus the horror of serial killers or wild animals (there's a few of these).

The Children (2008) - Two families get together for a winter holiday that becomes a day of horror when a bacterial disease turns their children homicidal. Recommend!

Black Water (2007) - A group of three people are touring the mangrove swamps of Australia when their boat is overturned by a large crocodile. Sounds exciting, but it's one of those films where the characters are stupid, do stupid things, and almost nothing happens. This is a big skip.

Grave Encounters (2011) (Supernatural) - The crew of a ghost hunting reality show lock themselves into an abandoned mental hospital. The problem with most found footage films is that half of the movie is spent looking around whatever scary location the characters find themselves in while the other half has the characters running, screaming, and shouting with so much shaky cam that there are only quick glimpses of the "horror" that stalks them. I find most of these films so underwhelming that I can't wait for everyone to die just so the movie ends. However, there are so many found footage horror films being made, it's hard not to catch them now and then. I didn't mind the first half hour, but by the end, I hated this film. Somehow, it has spawned sequels, but I would avoid the entire mess. It's dreadfully cliched and boring. Definitely skip.

The Tunnel (2011) - A film crew explores abandoned tunnels beneath Sydney, Australia. In other words, another found footage film, but with an interesting difference. The Tunnel opens with interviews of the survivors and it's made in the style of a documentary. I actually quite enjoyed the beginning, but once they enter the tunnels, it becomes like every other found footage horror film, virtually indistinguishable from Grave Encounters (which also had tunnels and hallways). The "horror" is goofy and lame and I couldn't wait for it to end. Skip.

Resolution (2012) (Supernatural, but very subtle) - This is an unusual seemingly simple little film that has some quirky comedy every once in a while, but it's definitely not trying to be funny. I definitely liked this film, but realize it's not for everyone. You may like it or hate it. The ending concept is definitely a bit abstract, but I found it really fascinating. Not sure how it would hold up on a second viewing, but watching it through the first time, Renee and I both thoroughly enjoyed the film (she also found it a lot creepier than I did, though I think some of the creepiness might be too subtle for hardened viewers such as yourselves. (Currently on Netflix.)

No One Lives (2012) - Almost more of an action film than horror, but it has some solid slasher / serial killer elements that park it firmly in the horror camp. The twist is revealed very early but it also launches the action. The ending felt a bit easy, but I still enjoyed it. Partial recommend.

(To be continued...)

Friday, June 6, 2014

For Jay on the Fourth Anniversary of his Death

I met Jay Kovitch many years ago at a comic book shop where we initially bonded over superheroes, role-playing games, and action movies. He was two years older than me, so it was incredibly cool to have a friend who could drive. He went to college first and was always helpful with advice when it was my turn.

As we grew older, our interests changed, and though we drifted apart now and then, we never lost contact. Months might pass between calls, but we always stayed in touch and when we did talk, we talked for hours.

Once we grew up, most of our friendship took place over vast distances. He was around twenty when he joined the Navy and by the time he returned, it wasn't long before I moved to Los Angeles.

Jay and I had our differences. We didn't like much of the same music. He followed sports and I didn't. He loved to debate, often taking the opposing side just for the sake of arguing. He was stubborn and though he didn't drink often, when he did, he would drink too much.

Even though he was an old friend and I knew for certain that I would know him throughout my entire life, because he could be terribly difficult and argumentative and there were some things that I really didn't like about some of his personal philosophy, because of this, I didn't always think of him as a close friend. I was wrong. Terribly wrong.

Jay was killed four years ago today by a hit and run driver. I realize now that a part of me died with him. We had so many shared memories of growing up together and now half of those memories are gone. I miss him every day. Sometimes, to ease the pain, I write about him. It doesn't help, but I know he would have liked it.

June 6, 2010

Warm summer night
Just about to rain
He staggered from the bar
Where he drowned out his pain.

Reckless speeding driver
Wasn't looking out
Knocked him back so hard
He didn't even shout.

Body in a ditch
Dead where he dropped
Blood mixed with rain
Driver never stopped.

Police woke his mom
She thought her son in bed.
If he came home earlier
How could he be dead?

A week later at the funeral
Friends and family did flock
All gathered in disbelief
Still reeling from the shock.

Years later I miss him
He was like my brother
There was no one like him
There will never be another.

Now that he's gone
Countless tears I shed
I didn't know I loved him
Until after he was dead.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Let's Not Settle for Settlements

I recently received a check from American Express for a class action lawsuit of which I was unaware.  A few weeks ago, I received a large check from a class action lawsuit against LA Fitness.  I have on my desk, a form to fill out for Anthem (Health Insurance) fee settlement.  While I'm happy to receive all these checks, I feel it speaks to a larger issue. Namely, what are all these corporations doing that requires so many class action suits to get them to stop?  (We hope!)

In two of the three cases, my check was for illegal fees.  In the third case, the one against LA Fitness (my employer), it's because they refused to pay any overtime for instructors.

Despite the clear violation of our laws, the corporations push the limits to see how far they can go and what they can get away with.  In these three cases, they were caught, but how many more times do they get away with it, or worse, as in the case of Wall Street's "too big to fail" buyout of 2008, are caught, but completely unpunished?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Arrested Development

Last night, I finished the new (fourth) season of Arrested Development. I was mildly apprehensive when I heard they were bringing it back since I wondered if they could recapture the original magic. Then I read how the episodes were going to focus on one character and I became even more concerned and with good reason. Although I really enjoyed a few full episodes and some scenes here and there, overall I thought the series' resurrection fell flat. 

The main problem is that some of the characters are just too quirky to be featured in their own storyline without them becoming too annoying. Tobias and Lindsey are very shallow and humorous in contrast to Michael who's dedicated to his son (at least in the original series) when they often forget they have a daughter. But seeing a full episode focused on just one of them left me more annoyed and, in the case of Lindsey, sad as the comedy doesn't work when it delves so deeply into their shallow waters.

They also took the bedrock of the series, Michael Bluth, and turned him into just another neurotic selfish member of the family. He became more pathetic and even backstabbing. ( I'm trying to write this without spoilers so I'll leave it at that for now.)

I loved the original series and have seen it from start to finish at least twice. I was genuinely looking forward to its return, but bringing back the show without bringing back the original formula that made it so great (namely, the family interaction), left me disappointed.  Yes, the series is clever, the storyline complicated, but it often felt too clever for it's own good.

Lastly, I know they're trying to lead up to a movie, but after a long seven year wait for the show to return, they needed to have some kind of closure to the storyline and instead they left it far too open and too many things unexplained.  This might be okay if we knew for certain when we would get more answers, but the series' future is left in doubt and it would be unfortunate if, after the brilliant wrap up of season 3, we were now left with this anti-climactic finish with nothing else to follow.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Food Pictures Rant

I don't know when it became so fashionable to post pictures of food, but I have a request -- please stop. Unless you work in the food industry and are promoting yourself, your services, or your wares, I don't want to see a picture of your meal.

I know that it's now so easy to take a picture of anything that we feel as though we have to take a picture of everything, but really, we don't. This isn't a picture of your significant other on the beach, your child acting cute, or you and your friends hanging out that you'll nostalgically look back on in ten or twenty years. It's a picture of a meal, just one in a thousand that you'll have this year (assuming you eat three meals a day). You don't need a record of it.

If you do insist on photographing your food and posting it (really, it's just the posting I mind. You can take all the pointless pictures of food you want as long as you keep them to yourself), then I'm going to insist you also take a picture of what that food looks like coming out the other end. Apparently, my grandfather started doing this a few years ago to show his doctor (who told my grandfather it wasn't necessary, yet he continued anyway), so why not share that as well? Oh, because that sounds stupid -- well so does posting your meal!

So if you are one of those people who takes pictures of your meals and posts them on Facebook or tweets them to your friends, please stop. No one cares. No one. Not only that, but it's incredibly narcissistic to think that anyone beyond your dinner table cares what you're eating.

If this utterly absurd trend does continue, I just may puke. And take a picture of it. And post it. But I won't!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Facebook Fan Page

As usual, I'm far behind social media trends.  I created a myspace page when everyone was migrating to Facebook.  Now people are getting tired of FB and dropping it, so naturally I just created a FB fan page!  Here's the link:

Like the page and you'll be able to follow updates on all of my writing projects including Afterlife.

(I'll also try to post here more often.)