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Tweet Tales Tuesday Week 173

I had a fun weekend hanging out with my sister. On Saturday we enjoyed Black-Eyed Susans (the official drink of the Preakness), while watching the gorgeous horsies race on TV. I was so nervous something bad would happen with all the rain and slop, but thankfully they all made it safely across the finish line. 
Drinking Black-Eyed Susans
 
Then on Sunday we went to see Pitch Perfect 2. I loved the first one. I loved it so much I wrote two blog posts about writing pitches using quotes from the movie:
 
 
But as much as I loved it, I rolled my eyes when I heard there was going to be a sequel, figuring there was no way lightning would strike twice. But it was actually a lot of fun. It didn't quite have the magic of the first one, but there were plenty of laughs, lots of head-bobbing and toe-tapping, and I grinned like a maniac through the entire final competition. I'm already looking forward to getting the DVD, so I can watch the performances again and again. 
 
Hope y'all had a fun-filled weekend, too! And now here are my 15 Minute Tweet Tales for the week:
 
5/13 - With each bon mot he spouts at the party, his wife rolls her eyes. He'd spent hours researching and revising to appear spontaneously clever.
 
5/14 - They both cry as she pulls the trigger, but with no zombie cure available, a coup de grâce is the only way to save her husband's soul.
 
5/15 - His cries sound painful as they surge de profundis, but Mom's not ordering him pie. Patrons shoot them dirty looks; she gets him a piece.
 
5/16 - "I say this ex animo: you are horrible, and I hope you burn in hell." Sue blinked. She'd only told Ivy she liked her hair better long.
 
15 Minute Tweet Tales5/17 - Mom always nagged him to festina lente. Now he'd gotten three speeding tickets, arrived late anyway, and would have to admit she was right.
 
5/18 - The genius loci of the house caused most owners to move within weeks,but he found it peaceful. He was even smiling when they found his body.
 
5/19 - She prepares a romantic dinner; he shows up with friends. She finds some Cheetos to serve as hors d'oeuvres then dumps him after dessert.
 
What fun things did you get up to this weekend? Play along and write tweet tales for the above words. If you’re willing to share, post them on twitter with the hashtag #15tt or add them below in the comments because I’d love to read them. Any thoughts about this week's tweet tales or #15tt words?

Zombie Zeal

Freya with the letter ZWe’ve finally made it to the last day of the Blogging from A to Z challenge!  There were definitely days I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the end, but I’ll save that for my reflections post next week. For now, it’s Movie Monday and the letter is Z, so you know what that means - zombies!!  Which is kind of ironic considering I feel a bit like a zombie after a month of daily blogging.

I’ve always been a fan of zombie movies.  Zombies may seem slow and bumbling, but their sheer numbers and determination make then pretty dang scary.  Today’s Netflix Watch Instantly selection is called Zombie Apocalypse (in some listings there is a 2012 in the title).  For my previous Monday Movie selections, I picked ones I’d never heard of until the Netflix ratings predictor assured me I was going to love it (and the ratings were always right).  But in this case, Netflix tried to warn me off, saying, “Girl, you are NOT going to like this, turn back now, you could do so much more with this hour and a half, like trim your dog’s toenails.”  Usually I listen to Auntie Netflix because her rating system really ‘gets’ me, but I had another reason for wanting to watch this particular zombie flick.

Jocelyn Rish, Gary Weeks, and Brian RishTwo months ago, my short film Saying Goodbye was screened at the Beaufort International Film Festival.  While there, we met a charming guy named Gary Weeks.  He introduced himself as a screenwriter, but my sister thought he looked familiar, so we looked him up on IMDb.  Turns out he’s also an actor who’s played several parts we remembered, including Fiona’s paramedic boyfriend from Burn Notice.  We chatted with Gary several times over the course of the festival, and he was very nice; so since we are zombie fans, we decided to watch him in action as one of the main characters in Zombie Apocalypse despite Netflix’s dire prediction.

Well, the Netflix rating system enjoyed having another chance to say, “I told you so.”  As much as I wanted to like it because of Gary, I was not a fan.  I think Gary did a great job giving his character depth and pathos because I’m 99% sure none of that was actually on the page since the script was so bad.  It was as blandly typical as a zombie movie gets - a random group of survivors trying to… survive.  The dialog was cringe-worthy to the point I was embarrassed for all the actors who had to deliver the lines.  And there were actually well-known actors involved in the project like Ving Rhames, Taryn Manning, Eddie Steeples (Crabman!), and Lesley-Ann Brandt (aka the gal who left the buzz-worthy show Spartacus to be in American movies. Oops!).  I guess the producers spent their entire budget on hiring familiar faces because the zombie makeup and special effects were bargain basement terrible.

Zombie ApocalypseIt wasn’t all bad.  There were a few creative zombie kills, and the characters actually wore sports gear when wandering around to protect themselves from potential zombie bites (I don’t recall seeing that in previous zombie movies I’ve watched, but I’ve now added looting a sporting goods store to the top of my to-do list when the zombie apocalypse actually happens… ‘cause you know it’s coming!).  Also, there was one character who got some funny one-liners, but I actually think it was more the actor’s delivery than the lines themselves.  Annnd… that’s about it as far as bright spots.

So even though I thought Gary was a great guy, I can’t recommend this movie.  But I will be checking out some of Gary’s other movies and following his career as both a filmmaker and an actor.  

 

Have you seen Zombie Apocalypse?   What did you think of it?  Any really good zombie movie recommendations?  How Zonked is Freya with her letter Z (just like I feel!)?

eXceptional eXample

Chloe with the letter XI imagine today is the most dreaded day of the Blogging from A to Z challenge – the infamous letter X.  There just aren’t that many words out there that start with X, and most of the ones that do are pretty strange: xenolith, xylograph, xanthic.  If today were Willy-nilly Wednesday, I’d just grab one of these weirdos and start babbling about them.  But it’s Film Friday, and since I couldn’t find a short film that started with X, I’m going to have to cheat a little (don’t judge, I’m sure lots of a-z bloggers got creative today!).  So my “X word” is eXceptional, and today’s short film is Sebastian’s Voodoo, which definitely lives up to that description.  It’s only four and a half minutes long, so if you haven’t seen it yet, give it a watch:

As you can see, in addition to being eXceptional, the voodoo dolls have X’s for their eyes and hearts - another connection with today’s letter, so I didn’t cheat too much.
 
Anyway, I first saw this short at the Charleston International Film Festival a few years ago, and I was blown away by it.  I actually teared up, which feels a little silly.  I mean, they’re voodoo dolls – they don’t even have real faces!  And they’re only on screen for four minutes and don’t utter a single line of dialog.  Yet the message of sacrifice is so powerful it really makes an impression.  It’s bolstered by amazing animation and a perfect musical score, but it truly demonstrates that sometimes the simplest stories can be the most effective.
 
I’ve actually seen the film several times since then, and it gets to me every time. One of the places was a screenwriting class where the instructor was showing it to drive home the point that oftentimes less really is more.  I also think it’s a great illustration of the writer’s mantra “show don’t tell” – the body language of the voodoo dolls and a few simple actions not only tell us everything we need to know, but also impact us emotionally.  Sebastian’s Voodoo is an example of simple, yet powerful storytelling I think we should all keep in mind while writing.
 
What did you think of Sebastian’s Voodoo?  Do you think it has anything to teach us as writers?  How eXited is Chloe with her letter X?  (Actually I’m not sure what kind of eXpression that is on her face!)

Time’s A-Tickin’

Baily with the letter TWe’re in the home stretch now – only a week left of the Blogging from A to Z challenge – I think I can, I think I can…. Today is the letter T, so on this Movie Monday, I’m talking about the 2009 romantic comedy TiMER.  Here’s the Netflix description:

In this comedic fantasy, science has facilitated the search for a soul mate via biotechnological implants that count down to the moment one is supposed to meet his or her match. But Oona (Emma Caulfield) is worried: She's nearly 30, and her TiMER isn't ticking yet. Will her dream guy get snatched up by someone else? John Patrick Amedori co-stars in this film from first-time writer and director Jac Schaeffer.
 
I have to say, TiMER is one of my favorite movies Netflix Watch Instantly has recommended for me - not so much for the quality of the movie (there is some dodgy acting and low budget production design issues), but for the idea itself and how much it has made me think.  It’s been almost two years since I watched it, and I still find myself thinking about the issues it presents.
 
The writing is very clever, and the dialog is quippy and zips right along.  Emma Caulfield (Anya!!) does a great job as Oona, so that you become invested in her even though most of her problems are of the whiny woe-is-me variety.  As a hopeless romantic who really does believe in soul mates even though I haven’t found mine yet, I was fascinated by this idea of a timer that counts down to the moment you meet your soul mate.  It sounds like exactly what I need, but the movie does a great job of showing the pitfalls of something like this.  
 
The driving force of the story is the fact that Oona’s timer hasn’t started ticking. Having a timer implanted is not mandatory, and your timer will not start unless your soul mate also has a timer, so if your person doesn’t have one, you’re left hanging. Therefore Oona is constantly on the prowl for men without timers, and after they have a few successful dates, she pushes them to get timers and drops them as soon as hers is not activated.  After many disappointments, she starts to wonder if she even has a soul mate out there.  Then she meets a man who doesn’t believe in timers and really falls for him, but he refuses to get one.  So does she follow her heart or turn away because science hasn’t told her he’s “the one”? 
 
TiMERHer sister has an arguably worse situation.  Her timer is ticking, but it says she won’t meet her soul mate for another 40-50 years (I can’t remember the exact time left, but long enough that she would be an elderly woman).  So how is she supposed to behave knowing she has to wait most of her life to find her true love?  Find someone else to temporarily love?  Only have random flings with no emotion attached?  
 
The movie really made me think about my beliefs about love and fate and destiny.  And the idea of a biological timer has stirred up many different story ideas in my head, which is always a great thing. The biggest downfall of the movie is the ending.  I won’t say I hated it (even though I kind of did), but I will say I strongly disliked it.  I think the writer-director did a huge disservice to the story she crafted over the first three-fourths of the movie with the ending.  But despite that, I still think it’s a great indie film and well worth a watch.
 
Have you seen TiMER?  What did you think of it?  If you could have a device implanted to tell you exactly when you would meet your soul mate, would you do it? How Tuckered out is Bailey with her letter T?  

Resolute Robby

Molly with the letter RToday’s short film for the letter R is a cute student short called Robby that clocks in at an easy-watching four and a half minutes.  The most impressive thing about it is that the animator made a worm (a worm!) absolutely adorable.  Worms are nasty, slimy things, yet this lil’ guy is so charming. I think it’s the giant, googly eyes – they make anything cute.  

If you have a few minutes to spare, give it a watch:

So what’s my main takeaway from this short?  That I want a magical purse like Robby’s backpack!  My current purse has some pretty impressive clown-car like abilities, spewing forth all manner of cosmetics and personal care items, but a girl never knows when she’s going to need a backhoe . . . or a stick of dynamite.

Like last week’s film, this one deals with the importance of determination and striving toward your goal.  Robby has equipped himself with the tools he needs to dig, similar to writers learning different “rules” and techniques and styles to stuff our writing packs with helpful tools.  Robby has a compass to help guide him, just like we need to map out a plan of what we want to accomplish with our writing.  

I even think the progression of Robby’s tools mirrors a writer’s approach to revising a first draft.  First we start by shoveling some shit around (or maybe that’s just me!).  Next we kind of pick at it until we realize that ain’t getting it done.  Then we bring out the big guns like drills, backhoes, and dynamite to blow whole chapters away and make massive changes.  Then we’re ready for the detailed edits, the kind done with a delicate tool like a plastic spoon.  Then finally, after lots of hard work, we reach our goal – the cherished completed manuscript aka top of the apple..  

And the very end reminds us that no matter how hard we try, sometimes life is going to gobble us up.  Oh, wait, that’s a sad, pessimistic ending.  How about instead, it’s a metaphor for an agent/editor loving our manuscript and gobbling it up in one sitting?  Yeah, that’s much better.

What did you think about Robby?  Does his trip through the apple work as a metaphor for revising?  How Resplendent is Molly with her letter R?

 

A Lady Learns a Lesson

Lily with the letter LToday’s short film for the letter L is The Last Knit, and it not only lacks dialog, it doesn’t have much of a score either.  It uses effective sound design and basic animation to tell a deceptively simple story.  This is another one where I think much of what people take from it will be informed by their own lives.  It’s about six and a half minutes, so if you have some time, give it a watch:

For me, this is partly a film about the dangers that occur when any activity turns into an obsession or addiction.  I’m the type of person who has to do everything perfectly when I do it.  For example, I hardly ever clean because I can’t just straighten up the magazines and whip around the feather duster.  I have to haul out the toothbrushes and cotton swabs to scour every crevice and buy colored folders and filing cabinets to organize the magazines by date and usefulness of the articles.  It’s just easier and less stressful to let things stay messy.  So I can really relate to this woman who turns a simple thing like knitting into a dangerous obsession.

I also think it is a metaphor for writing (or any artistic endeavor).  If we are serious about our writing, we have to be extremely focused, just like the woman.  And when things get tough, we have to be creative about finding ways to persevere like she does with using her hair when the yarn runs out.  I also think it’s a good illustration of how we have to put some of ourselves into our work.  

However, as important as it is to be focused and believe in our dreams, we have to be careful about finding the right balance so we don’t fall off the cliff’s edge where determination turns into something destructive.  Our writing is vital to us, but so are other things in our lives.  And it’s important to put parts of ourselves in our writing, but not so much that our very souls are crushed when someone says something less than glowing about it.  

And as the lady learns at the end, we also have to know when to cut our losses.  We hear those stories about bestsellers like A Wrinkle In Time, Gone With the Wind, and Carrie being rejected multiple times, and they give us hope.  Encourage us not to give up.  And this is a very good thing.  But sometimes it’s just not in the cards for a particular book.  If you’ve learned as much as you can about the craft of writing and rewritten it many times to make it the best book it can be and you still can’t find the right home for it, then it might be the right thing to put it in a drawer and start a new project.  This doesn’t mean you’re giving up on your dream, it just means that wasn’t the right book to get you there.  

So while being hopeful, dreaming big, and staying focused on our craft, we also need to make sure we have our eyes open wide enough to see the edge of the cliff before we tumble over into the abyss.  

What did you think about The Last Knit?  I’ve seen lots of different interpretations about it on the web, so what did it say to you?  How Lovely is Lily with her letter L

Horrific Hidey Hole

Chloe with the letter HThis week’s recommendation via Netflix Watch Instantly ratings is the 2001 movie The Hole.  Here’s the official description:

A teen thriller about four prep school students who ditch a field trip and spend a weekend partying in an abandoned bunker near campus. But before long, they discover that they're locked in. As the hours turn into days, their suspicions grow, and they find themselves in a desperate fight to make it out alive. What began as a spontaneous lark could turn into a case of cutting class permanently.

I actually think this movie’s description does it a disservice, since it sounds like a pretty cliché horror movie.  And while I’m a big fan of horror, this one sounded so generic, I would have skipped right by if Netflix hadn’t recommended it so highly for me.  The fact that it stars Thora Birch, Desmond Harrington, and Keira Knightley (in her first big role) also helped me decide it might be worth an hour and a half of my time.

*mild spoilers in this paragraph* The film actually has more depth than the description alludes to – it’s more of a psychological thriller than a tale about survival.  It starts with one of the characters escaping from “the hole” and then the police trying to unravel what actually happened.  The character is traumatized by the events in the hole and is therefore an unreliable narrator.  Much of the film is spent trying to figure out how the pieces of the story fit together and what motivated the characters who were involved.  And it really makes you question what you would do in a similar situation – how far would you go to get what you wanted?

The Hole

There were a number of things in this movie that didn’t make sense, and it was tough to figure out which ones were on purpose because of the unreliable narrator and which ones were just plot holes due to sloppy writing.  But the acting of the main four was very strong, and I think they gave the characters more layers than what was actually on the page.  If you’re looking for something a little different from your standard teens-get-hacked-up-by-a-killer horror movie, then I do suggest trying this one.  It’s not perfect, but it intrigued me enough that I’m thinking about reading the book it’s based on, After the Hole, to see how the story progresses with more breathing room.

Have you seen The Hole?  If so, what did you think?  What movies has Netflix recommended that you enjoyed but never would have picked on your own?  How Handsome is Chloe with her letter H?

There are just two days left to enter my contest - click here for more details.

Flying Books? Yes Please!

Freya with FIt’s finally Friday!  And according to my agenda that means it’s Film Friday where I share a short animated film that tells its story without a single word of dialog.  With today’s letter being F, I’m pleased to present The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (TFFBOMML), which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film this year.  At fifteen minutes, it’s on the long side for a short, but if you love books – reading them and/or writing them – then you really should watch this delightful film at some point.  

 
I hesitate to say too much about it lest I ruin the magic that makes it so special. Plus, I imagine it means different things to viewers depending on their relationship with reading and writing.
 
The first time I watched it, I got teary-eyed at several points, and by the end I was full on snotty-nosed-need-a-tissue-to-mop-up-my-face crying.  I doubt most people have that reaction, but I’m at a point in my struggles with being a writer that it was exactly the catharsis I needed.  Although I do think most readers and writers will feel the charm of TFFBOMML in some way.
 
I’ve always loved books – their stories transported me to different worlds that often felt more real than the one I was living in, and I think TFFBOMML really captures that feeling.  And even though I was a computer science minor during college, I have completely resisted the move to e-readers.  As I writer I understand the magic is in the story no matter how it’s delivered, but as an old-school reader, I love books.  I love wandering along the shelves pulling out one on this shelf or test driving another on that shelf.  I love the smell of the pages.  I love the feel of the paper.  So for me, that scene where he brings a book back to life by reading it perfectly conveys the magical connection between books and their readers.
 
But where TFFBOMML turned me into a weepy mess was at the end as the man completes his journey as a writer.  Being a writer is a long, hard road, but we travel it hoping for the day our words touch others. This film beautifully expresses how all the stories that came before help our imaginations soar until the day we’re ready to release our own story that will in turn help someone else fly to new heights.  It truly is a magical process.
 
What did you think about The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore?  Did it touch you as a reader/writer?  And how Fantastic is Freya with her letter F?
 
Also, if you haven't entered yet, I'm having a contest here.

Baran’s the Man (well, not really)

Bailey with the letter BMy handy-dandy agenda tells me today is Movie Monday where I talk about a lesser-known Netflix Watch Instantly movie.  I’m always impressed with how well their recommendation algorithm predicts my movie preferences, but I still gave it the side-eye when it repeatedly recommended Baran.  Although I love reading, and I love movies, I don’t really love reading my movies, so I tend to avoid those with subtitles.  But after I read the description, I was sold:

When 17-year-old Latif (Hossein Abedini) loses his job at a Tehran, Iran, construction site to the illegally hired Afghan Rahmat (Zahra Bahrami), he begins playing cruel pranks on Rahmat. Soon, however, Latif discovers that Rahmat is actually a girl named Baran, and he begins helping shoulder her burden at the construction site. When officials demand that all illegal workers be fired, Latif must choose between safety and social standing, and his young love.

The sappy romantic in me really likes movies where the girl pretends to be a guy and the love interest falls in love with her anyway: Just One of the Guys, Mulan, Yentl, even that silly Amanda Bynes movie She’s the Man.  I think it’s because if a guy who identifies as straight falls in love with you even though he thinks you’re a dude, then he must REALLY love you – at that point it’s not about looks or other superficial things, it’s about truly loving who you are as a person.  Since Baran was available on Watch Instantly and I wouldn’t be “wasting” a DVD on it, I decided to watch.

*mild spoilers in this paragraph* The movie was set and filmed in Iran, so it gave me a window into a world I am woefully ignorant about.  While the conditions were heartbreaking, the cinematography was incredible and showed the beauty present in that harsh land.  The character of Baran never spoke a single word in the film, which helped protect her secret, but was also symbolic of the oppression of 

Baranwomen in that region.  The protagonist Latif starts as a brash, yet fearful boy, and by the end is on his way to becoming a brave and selfless man.  Since it’s not a Hollywood movie, there’s no Hollywood ending, which I admit was very unsatisfying to that previously mentioned romantic who lurks inside me, but it made the movie feel more real.  

Not everything worked – the pace was slow, and some of the acting was problematic – but it was an interesting way to spend an hour and a half.  It’s tough to say whether I’d recommend it or not – I’m glad I watched it, but I know it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.  I appreciated the exposure to a different culture and unimaginable way of life; and as a writer, it was helpful to see storytelling very different from what I usually watch.  So thank you to Netflix for once again steering me in the direction of a movie I never would have picked on my own.

Have you seen Baran?  If so, what did you think?  What movies has Netflix recommended that you enjoyed but never would have picked on your own?  How Beautiful is Bailey with her letter B?

Sticking with Netflix

I got my price hike email yesterday from Netflix, and like most people venting on the interwebs, I was outraged.  While an increase in prices over the years is expected, this was a huge jump, and the tone of the email was a tad condescending.  Honestly, I think the whole thing would have gone over better if the email had used more conciliatory wording (a reminder that words have power!). 

But now that I’ve had a chance to cool down and think about it, I won’t be one of the people jumping ship when the prices go up.  Even with a 60% increase, I’m still getting a lot of bang for my buck. 

When the streaming option first came out, it was a bonus I never used.  None of the “big” movies were on there, so what did I care?  Then one night I was bored and between DVD deliveries, so I wandered into the streaming catalogue and found something that caught my eye.  It was a small independent film I’d never heard of, and it was fantastic!  But since I knew nothing about it, I never would have “wasted” a DVD rental on it, which makes me sad to think about.  I’m now hooked on streaming and watch more movies that way than I do DVDs.  Sure there are plenty of stinkers out there, but I’m discovering all kinds of treasures I never would have seen otherwise. 

I need both features of my Netflix account.  The DVD deliveries keep me up-to-date on the Hollywood blockbusters, so I can participate in pop culture conversations.  And the streaming side helps me find those hidden gems that inspire me as a writer and a filmmaker.  To me, that’s definitely worth an extra six bucks a month.  Just don't push your luck again anytime soon, Netflix!

What did you think about the Netflix price increase?  Are you going to keep your plan or look for an alternative?  Or should we all quit watching movies and go read a book?