DVD Review The Six Million Dollar Man Volume 1

Yeah, I know, everything probably thinks it was a campy little show, but The Six Million Dollar Man was actually a pretty good sci-fi/action program. Back in the day, at least in the seventies when I was growing up,  we didn’t have a lot of TV super-heroes, and Steve Austin was the closest around until Spider-Man and the Hulk got their own shows.

sixmilliondollarman01I think everyone knows the story: Steve Austin, “a man barely alive” after a test piloting accident, is rebuilt to be the world’s first bionic man. He helps out Oscar Goldman at the OSI, with various secret missions that border from James Bond to Allan Quartermain. Lee Majors starred as Steve, in a role that normally would’ve typecast someone forever, but he managed to avoid it in the same way Bill Shatner did with TJ Hooker. As with a lot of seventies TV stars, I think you pretty much get Lee Majors as Lee Majors, which isn’t a bad thing.

The six discs of this DVD set contain the three pilot movies-of-the-week that spawned the production, as well as the entire first season of thirteen episodes. Guest stars include William Shatner, John Saxon, Gary Lockwood, Henry Jones, George Takei, George Montgomery,Noah Beery (right before The Rockford Files), Farrah Fawcett (right before becoming Mrs. Lee Majors), Don Porter, and many more.

The stories are actually pretty good, given the limitations of TV and the need for the special effects. One thing you’ll immediately notice is that the familiar hollow da-da-da-da-da sound effect for Steve’s bionics is missing from these shows; I had not realized that it wasn’t added to the aural repertoire until second season. It shows up a few times being used by other characters, like John Saxon’s robot double, but it’s really the only annoying thing about the shows themselves. The episodes are all solid adventure tales. I do have to say that the second TV movie veers a bit too far into James Bond territory, at least in my opinion, making Steve Austin too much of a cardboard cut-out. Also, the final episode of the season, “Run, Steve, Run” is, for the most part,  a cost-cutting flashback episode, but still has a decent half-hour of original story.

The sixth disc is a bonus with several interviews, including a nice one with the late Harv Bennett, and a segment on the creation of the main title and opening of the show, which rivals nearly any show out there for “most memorable”.

If you want the Steve Austin you remember as a kid, you’ll probably want to start with the Season 2 set (which I start watching tomorrow). If you simply love the Six Million Dollar Man as a series, then by all means start with this set!

Blu ray Review #1: King Kong Escapes (1967)

I thought I drop a review on some of the blu-ray DVDs I’ve picked up lately, and I figured I’d start things up with this fun little number. King Kong Escapes was not, as you might expect, based on the original King Kong (1933) or the popular King Kong vs. Godzilla, which I think still ranks, adjusted for inflation, as the most profitable Godzilla movie in the franchise.

KKEscapesNo, this movie was based on the cartoon series The King Kong Show, which hit American small screens between 1966-1969. It, like the movie, was produced by Rankin/Bass, which is perhaps better remembered for the many stop-motion animated holiday TV specials they produced, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerThe Year Without a Santa Claus, and the movie Mad Monster Party.  This was a co-production between the company and Toho Studios, much like The Green Slime and The Last Dinosaur. 

Most people look at King Kong Escapes as probably the worst Kong movie every made. And mainly they’re looking at that atrocious gorilla suit. Much like the aforementioned KK vs. G, there wasn’t a lot of money spent on the primate star of the movie. Even Bob Burns’ legendary and somewhat ratty suit would’ve looked better on screen then the plasticine-faced monstrosity we were shown. You can see seams a-plenty, flaccid lower arm extensions that often make it look like Kong has two elbow joints, and a flap on the back of the head that has a tendency to flutter when the hero gets tossed around too much.

But if you discount that suit, this is actually not a bad movie. The special effects are really top notch for a G-rated movie, the sort directed at kids – it’s head-over-heels better then most of Daiei’s Gamera output of the same era. The miniatures, for the most part, are as good in any of the good Godzilla movies, and even the green screen work is exemplary.

This film was the first appearance of the monster that would later become known as Gorosaurus. He’s pretty much just a dinosaur, though with a kangaroo-like predilection for jumping and kicking opponents. The suit is one of the best dinosaur presentations of the pre-CGI era, and looks really good.

The acting is hammy and on a kids’ level. Dr. Who, played by Eisei Anamoto, is dubbed by the inimitable Paul Frees, star of many dubbed kaiju flicks over the century. Rhodes Reason stars as UN Commander Carl Nelson,  and does a good job as the square-chinned male lead. He appeared in an episode of Star Trek and in a barn full of action oaters. He was the younger, nearly identical brother of Rex Reason, perhaps best remembered for This Island Earth.  Linda Miller was a model who worked in Japan, and this was one of only two movies she appeared in (the other was The Green Slime). She’s pretty, but really dull as a performer. Akira Takarada portrays the other male lead, who appeared in loads of kaiju flicks for Toho. The sultry Madame X was Mie Hama, who appeared in numerous Japanese films and hit international shores in the James Bond vehicle You Only Live Twice and the dubbed Woody Allen film What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

I know the film kept me rapt when I saw it on the CBS Late Night Movie back in the seventies.  It’s just a fun little monster flick. The highlight of the movie was the Robot Kong that Who created from Nelson’s plans. When I first saw the movie, I was amazed at how cool the robot looked, and the opening sequence where Robot Kong attempts to uncover the Element X deposit was spellbinding on a 9-inch black-and-white set. Yeah, I was easy to please back then. Oh, and while every source seems to note this, the robot was never called MechaniKong, no matter how cool that name might sound.

The Blu ray DVD of King Kong Escapes was put out by Universal Studios in 2014. The print they use of the film is pretty good – at least I didn’t notice a lot of film scratches, and I didn’t see any pixelation or any problems with the playback. The disc is barebones, having only a commercial for Ultraviolet (which, naturally, doesn’t cover THIS movie), and nothing else. No trailers, no behind-the-scenes…not even a menu. But with Amazon Prime, it only case me $8.99, so it wasn’t a big loss or expenditure either way.

I love monster movies, and this one is no exception. Many people will grind it down for the Kong outfit, but any viewing that chooses to go beyond that will see a fun, kinda goofy movie, with some otherwise pretty good production values. Definitely something every kaiju fan should see.

Balls Deep in Bariatric Surgery

While I know it has done wonders to improve some folks quality of life, I must say that after tonight’s consultation session at Reading Hospital, bariatric surgery is mostly a big racket. Of the hundred or so people in the room, maybe ten or fifteen were really obese enough to qualify (including myself). Mostly, the consultation was a waste of time, a waste of a trip to Reading through thirty miles of torn up highway, and a poke in the right direction.

I had been considering getting the lap-band type of surgery, which is the least invasive, and has a patient geared up to lose a pound or two a week (the other types, gastric sleeve and bypass surgery, provide a much quicker weight loss). I sat there and thought “Fuck, if I can’t do that myself by cutting out Cheetos and peanut butter sandwiches at midnight, I deserve to be slit up a fucking treat (which is what the other two types of surgery do to a person).” Also the doctor mentioned about one person whose lapband went through his stomach wall and came out his mouth. That didn’t sound too appealing.

Mind you, I have met some folks who are happy as clams with their surgery results, and more power to them! I am truly happy they got the results they wanted, and are true to themselves. I saw the results on one of Mona’s friends and it was truly amazing and inspiring.

But many people seem to go into this thinking that losing a few pounds the easy way (as opposed to dieting and exercise) is going to make them these wonderful, popular people. Sorry folks, if you’re an asshat to begin with, nine times out of ten, you’re going to be a bigger asshat as a slightly-thinner person. Consider the fact that you’re going to be on protein and vitamin supplements, among other medications, for the rest of your fucking life. That’s seems like it would be a major annoyance, and you’re gonna be taking that out on a lot of folks around you. And we won’t even get into the annoying flaps of empty, now-fatless skin that no insurance company will pay to remove.

The doctor’s spiel at the meeting, and the number of comparatively thin people there, made me realize why it takes an armload of paperwork to get insurance companies to pay for this kind of operation, even when it could seriously increase a person’s quality of life (or just keep them alive): The doctors treat it as cosmetic more than anything else. Sure, he said quite plainly that the insurance companies in this country deem weight-loss surgery as elective surgery (he did even use the term “cosmetic”). If the doctors are using it as a major profit generator (these are very short operations at about $10,000 USD each; he mentioned he had done three that morning), like face lifts or botox, yeah, the insurance companies are going to look down on that. Need bigger boobs? No problem. Need a face that makes you look like a Joan Rivers mannequin? We got you covered. Want to lose a lot of weight really quick? Buddy, you came to the right place.

The doctor and his representatives were virtually condoning insurance fraud to get the companies to pay for the procedure; you have to go through three to six months of counseling, losing weight to prove you’ve got the cojones to do it after the operation – but not TOO much weight. If you lose too much weight, you may lower your BMI too much to qualify, or the insurance companies will think you can actually do it on your own and not pay for the hack-and-slash. “Don’t lose weight too fast” the woman at the meeting said. “Lose some and then level it off.” In other words, you may have the wherewithal to lose the weight on your own, without a shiny blade being involved, but don’t do that, because then we won’t get paid you won’t get the full benefits of the procedure.

Yes, before you start leaving nasty comments, I realize that bariatric surgery IS the only option for some people. There are many legitimate conditions that preclude normal weight loss after a point. My PCP thinks I’m one of those cases, which is why he sent me there. I can’t walk more than twenty or so yards, or stand still for more than five or ten minutes, without having pains in my legs – to be honest, they feel like someone’s slicing my thighs with flaming, electrified katanas.  But I know it’s just a matter of pushing through that pain and getting more exercise and trying to eat less junk (and less of everything). It’s going to be slow at first, and it’s gonna hurt. But I also won’t be spending $10,000 (well, Medicare won’t be spending that, I should say, since apparently bariatric surgeons LOVE Medicare, as long as it’s the right one; however, they don’t like Obamacare, since none of the plans cover this type of procedure) on something that I can do without.

Beginning the first of the month, Mona and I are going to start watching what we eat a lot more closely. And I am going to start trying to exercise more. I’ve never been one to trust doctors unless absolutely necessary, since several of them have out-and-out killed members of my family, and my best friend. While my PCP certainly has my best interests at heart, I’m going to try my best to prove him wrong on this particular point.

Balls Deep in Kindle Unlimited: The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

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Original artwork by Jack Sparling, from House of Mystery #173 Copyright 1968, 2014 DC Comics, Inc.

Or at least that’s the way it seems in some quarters. Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s new subscription-based e-book service, has been the hot topic for about five days now, which is of course more than enough time to know EVERYTHING about the service and EVERY SINGLE THING it could effect. Not.

Here’s the facts, as far as I can determine, for each end of the equation.

Readers:

Readers pay $9.99 a month for Kindle Unlimited. At the moment, all participants are enjoying a free trial month.

For that sawbuck, they get access to several hundred thousand books, of which they can borrow ten (10) at a time. If you have ten on your Kindle and you return a book, you can borrow another.

Unlike similar subscription services like Scribd or Oyster, KU does not require a separate app to use; e-books are delivered directly to your Kindle as they normally would be with any e-book purchase or library borrow (or can be downloaded to your computer to be sideloaded onto the devices if you don’t have a wireless connection).

The title selection currently includes a number of traditionally-published and independently-published titles, such as the Harry Potter books, the Hunger Games trilogy, and the Life of Pi, along with a good collection of titles from indie writers. Most genres appear to be fairly well represented, with the exception of erotica (click the picture on the sidebar below to see the numbers in each category).

You can return your Kindle Unlimited titles from your Kindle if you go to the Kindle Store, select “All Categories”, choose Kindle Unlimited, and then pick My Kindle Unlimited books, which will bring up the proper interface to return them.

If you return your books via the internet on your Manage Your Content page, the book will be deleted from your Kindle the next time you sync it. So, if you’re reading one and haven’t finished, don’t return it that way. It WILL be deleted and no, it isn’t a conspiratorial scam like many might tout that sort of invasiveness after the 1984 debacle of a few years back.

Readers also have access to a select number of audiobooks (noted by the Audible Whispersync logo in the book listing), which can be downloaded much like you would from Audible.com (this requires a software download to your PC or laptop, or the Audible app on your Kindle Fire). I personally haven’t tried this yet, since I’m not a big audiobook consumer at the moment.

Categorys and numbers of titles in Kindle Unlimited as of July 22, 2014
Categorys and numbers of titles in Kindle Unlimited as of July 22, 2014

 

Authors: 

In order to participate in Kindle Unlimited, you MUST be a member of Kindle Select. If you are already a member, your books were automatically added to the KU library (if you do not wish to be in the program, you can withdraw them without penalty to your Select account for a limited time on the KDP website).

Naturally, the exclusivity rule applies as it would to any Kindle Select title: You cannot have your book for sale on any other venue but Amazon during your 90-day enrollment in order to use the program. Just like the commercial says, “membership has privileges”.

Authors will get a paid a royalty share, much like the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) for each book that is read at least to the 10% mark. That exact amount is unknown at the moment, but KOLL has averaged about $2.00 USD per borrow over the past year or so.

And that’s pretty much all we know. The two notable items that no one is quite sure of at the moment that, in my opinion, will make or break Kindle Unlimited are:

1. How many readers are going to re-up for a second month (and longer), actually paying the $9.99 monthly charge?

2. Exactly how much are authors going to get for each borrow from KU? Is it going to be the same amount as KOLL? Less? More than a regular royalty? Less than that?

We’ve got about a month to wait on the former, and about a fortnight on the other.

Another minor quibble that needs to be explained is that, if a reader doesn’t use Whispernet/3G/wifi and sideloads all their borrowed e-books on their Kindles, how does Amazon know if the 10% read qualification for payments has been met or not? Surprisingly, there still are some people out there without access or who choose not to invest in a wireless connection, so this is a salient discussion point.

For me, as an indie author, I’m looking at Kindle Unlimited as a great way to get my books in front of people that wouldn’t normally read them; I have one in Select right now, but the KOLL is really a crap shoot, since a Prime user only gets one e-book a month they can borrow. And considering I review every book I read (and have done so for going on two and a quarter years now), that means that other “power readers” may also be doing the same thing. Reviews are one of those sticky points that indie authors can never seem to get enough of … or often any at all. Hopefully this could be a much more inexpensive in-road for that that problem.

I do have to say that authors in the program had better make sure their books are up to snuff in terms of formatting, editing, and proofreading. I’ve read about fifteen books since the start of the Kindle Unlimited program, all of which were books that I had interest in, but not nearly enough to chance buying them. At least four of them so far would’ve been returned for a refund because of poor presentation (two were nearly unreadable because of formatting issues).  This program could be a boon to indie writers, but we cannot live up to the stereotype that’s been forced upon us by the less scrupulous segments of our own community through a lazy attitude toward the basics of publishing!

So the sky is not falling. Rome is still standing, and in fact, Nero hasn’t even gotten his fiddle out. The Silver Surfer has not located us yet. Darkseid’s still a few factors away from the Anti-Life Equation. It’s still the main aria and there are no Viking helmets in sight. Let’s all just sit back and let things progress naturally, so we can all make some properly informed decisions on Kindle Unlimited.

Balls Deep in Self-Publishing: Crowdfunding, or as it should be called, Begging.

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It seems to be one of the more common things today, using one of the various crowdfunding sites to get your good idea off the ground and running. No problem with that at all; there are many interesting ideas, inventions, causes and the like that are worthy of the crowdfunding model.

However, I just can’t see independent authors and self-published authors using this method as a viable way to get their book published. If anything it should be the Court of Last Resort for any indie publishing effort, after all other options have been attempted.

I’ve seen quite a few campaigns on kickstarter, and particularly Indieagogo, from “authors” and even “publishing houses” trying to get money to fund their efforts. Most of them have been pretty outlandish, at least to anyone who knows the self-publishing game.

With many projects, you can estimate your expenses here and there. Hell, you don’t even have to give specific breakdowns for what you plan to do with the money, just say it’s going for this, this and this. A lot of people liked posting it like a budget. That’s where you get to see who’s fudging the numbers and who’s gonna be livin’ large on the fatted calf after the campaign’s over. People want money to cover printing expenses, e-book conversion, cover creation, editing, proofreading, promotional costs, and pretty much everything else that a self-respecting indie author works out on his or her own, either by saving up and forking over the dosh, working out a payment plan with an editor, or learning how to do things themselves. Three-quarters of the expenses of publishing a book, using Createspace and/or KDP (or Smashwords), normally end up adding up to a big goose egg for most indies.

Whenever I see exorbitant costs listed for “printing expenses” on self-published books, or expenses for turning a book into an e-book, and other items that don’t actually cost anything, I know that either someone’s playing the game, or they got caught by AuthorSolutions and are trying to get other people to pay for their moronic mistake. (And I am sorry if that offends anyone who got snookered, but getting caught by a vanity predator like AuthorSolutions, iUniverse, PublishAmerica or their ilk IS a moronic mistake, given the wealth and depth of information available about their shoddy business practices on the internet. Fucking learn to Google, people!)

I saw a recent campaign from a publishing venture that needed help, even though they were an “established” entity already. They noted the funds were going for such things as a new printer, and to pay their employees. Umm, I hate to tell them, but you can get a pretty decent printer at Wally World for about $50. If you can’t afford an outlay of fifty bucks without resorting to selling pencils on the street corner, you are NOT a publisher; you shouldn’t even be in business. I really felt sorry for the authors associated with that one.

It comes down to this: Crowdfunding is begging. It has its moments, where things gibe and the process works great and there is innovation. Publishing your own book is NOT innovation. I can publish a book. It doesn’t cost me a damn thing.

Indie authors are already at a disadvantage. There have been so many lackluster and generally crappy books out there since this new publishing paradigm started, that we’ve got a huge stigma to overcome when compared with “real” and “traditional” authors. We do NOT need to be called beggars and mendicants as well.

If you think you need to crowdfund the publication of your book, I think it’s time for you to sit down and completely reassess what you’re doing. You may not be cut out for the author game.
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Now if you want a couple of indie books that didn’t resort to the crowdfunding malarkey, and turned out exceptionally good, here’s a couple of suggestions:

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by Erin McGowan

An exceptionally good first novel. It kept my attention without a single dinosaur or outer space battle, so it’s got my seal of approval.

 

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by L.B. Clark

A very good story, that’s really hard to categorize: Romance, relationships, a dash of the paranormal, rock music, fast cars … well, it’s a very good read in any event.