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Nine is Divine

Chloe with the letter NIt’s Movie Monday, and even though it has nothing to do with the letter N, I wanted to start off by mentioning my movie High Heels and Hoodoo had its first sneak peek screening on Saturday.  Since it was the first time actual strangers saw it, my brother and I were very nervous, but the screening went incredibly well.  The audience reaction was great, and lots of people came up to us later to tell us how much they liked it.  So we can now release the breath we’ve been holding since we finished the edit.  Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive!

And now back to our regularly scheduled N post.  Today’s Netflix find is the movie The Nines.  Here’s the official description:

Ryan Reynolds, Melissa McCarthy and Hope Davis appear in multiple roles in writer-director John August's independent thriller, which combines three intertwining stories that creatively converge in unexpected ways. A popular TV actor is under house arrest in "The Prisoner"; a TV producer struggles to launch a new series in "Reality Television"; and a video-game designer seeks help for his stranded family in "Knowing."
 
I’ve been a huge Ryan Reynolds fan since his goofball days in Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, and I think Melissa McCarthy is hilarious, so when this popped up as a recommendation, I eagerly pressed the play button.  It’s tough to explain The Nines without spoilers, and since I think very few folks have seen this movie, I don’t want to spoil anything.  But even if I were to incorporate spoilers, it would still be tough to explain this movie.  That probably doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, but I really liked it.  
 
The NinesRyan and Melissa both do excellent jobs in very dramatic roles – much different from the silly characters they often play.  Along with Hope Davis, they play different characters in each of the three vignettes.  It’s confusing, yet intriguing, as pieces from each of the stories bleed into the others until it reaches a completely unexpected conclusion.  
 
I’ve seen on the interwebs that people seem to really love or really hate this movie – there’s not much middle ground.  I can see the point of those who dislike it, thinking it’s pretentious, philosophical drivel, since I tend to think the same thing about these types of navel-gazing movies.  However, this one really struck a chord and stuck with me long after I’d watched it.  It makes you think because there are a lot of pieces to put together, but it also makes you THINK.  You know, that pondering your place in the universe type of thinking.  Plus, Ryan Reynolds shows off his abs, so what’s not to love?
 
Have you seen The Nines?  What did you think?  What movies has Netflix recommended that you enjoyed but never would have picked on your own?  How Nifty is Chloe with her letter N?

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?

A to Z Video Challenge

When I signed up for the A to Z Challenge, I noticed they were also having an A to Z video challenge to help spread the word about the blogging challenge taking place in April.  The video entries are due tonight, and since I wait until the last minute for everything, I finished mine this evening.  

Regular blog visitors know I’m crazy about my dog, which is a trait I share with the rest of my family; so when I was trying to think of ideas for the A to Z challenges, I knew they had to be dog related.  For the video challenge, I gathered clips from my brother, sister, and parents of their adorable dogs in action.  Some of the footage is not great quality, but I think y’all will agree that the canine cuteness more than makes up for it. 

I now proudly present… ABCDogs
 

I’d like to thank my sister Joanna for creating the doggie version of the ABC song for me.  I’d also like to thank my brother Brian for helping me with the editing.  I sat with him while we edited our two short films, but he always drove Final Cut while I watched, so this was my big chance to try out what I'd learned.  It was fun!  And I was unreasonably proud of what I was able to do on my own.  I only had to get his help with a few of the things.  Thanks again, siblings!
 
I hope you enjoyed my canine commercial for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.  If you haven’t sign up for it yet, think about giving it a try.  This will be my first year, and I’m really looking forward to it. 
 
Voting for the video challenge is now open, so if you thought my dogs were cute, you can vote for us here.
 
Are you entering the A to Z Blogging Challenge?  If you participated in the past, any tips for us newbies?  Aren’t the Rish family dogs adorable?

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?