2016 AMC Best Picture Showcase, Day 2

2016 AMC Best Picture Showcase, Day 2

This year is the 10th anniversary of AMC’s annual event, the AMC Best Picture Showcase. On two successive Saturdays, the theater chain runs all of the nominees for the Best Picture Oscar (at selected locations). With eight nominees this year, they’re running four movies on February 20th and the remaining four on the next Saturday, February 27th. The Oscars, of course, are on Sunday, February 28th.

So, what did I think of the movies that played on Day 2?

Brooklyn: Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, an Irish girl who immigrates to America in the 1950’s and ends up in Brooklyn. Finding romance in America, she soon has to decide which world she really belongs to: her new life in Brooklyn or back in Ireland. A beautifully filmed character study of both a woman and an era.

Spotlight: A driving film about the journalist team that broke the Catholic molestation scandal as not just a couple of bad priests here and there, but rather as a systemic problem within the Church. A powerful film with a strong ensemble cast.

The Martian: When an accident occurs on the first manned Mars mission, the crew is forced to abandon their base and leave the planet. What they don’t know is that astronaut Mark Watney, presumed dead in the accident, is actually still alive and stranded on Mars. What ensues is a harrowing tale of survival on a hostile planet. An excellent, riveting movie with a good dose of humor. The screenwriters did an excellent job taking a scientifically dense novel and turning it into a terrific movie.

The Revenant:Leonardo Dicaprio plays Hugh Glass, a fur trapper in 1823. When he is mauled by a bear and left for dead by other members of his hunting party, he expends every effort to survive and gain revenge on those who wronged him. A little long, but very moving. Features some of the best outdoor cinematography ever seen in a film.

I liked all of these films. Each one is highly worthwhile in diverse ways. My pick for the day was The Martian, an uplifting film backed by real science.

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2016 AMC Best Picture Showcase, Day 1

2016 AMC Best Picture Showcase Day 1

This year is the 10th anniversary of AMC’s annual event, the AMC Best Picture Showcase. On two successive Saturdays, the theater chain runs all of the nominees for the Best Picture Oscar (at selected locations). With eight nominees this year, they’re running four movies on February 20th and the remaining four next Saturday, February 27th. The Oscars, of course, are on Sunday, February 28th.

So, what did I think of the movies that played on Day 1?

Bridge of Spies: A beautifully filmed Cold War story about spies from director Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks (in his fourth movie for the director). It’s a little slow-paced, with excellent cinematography and some nice touches of humor to leaven the seriousness of the topic. It’s a good film, but not really in the same class as such Spielberg films as Schindler’s List or even Saving Private Ryan.

Room: A young mother tries to build the best possible life for her five-year-old son, even though they’re trapped in a single, small room with no access to the outside world. Interestingly, the film is told from the viewpoint of Jack, the five-year-old. It’s a devastatingly powerful film, with riveting performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay (playing 5-year-old Jack in the film).

Mad Max: Fury Road: Action. Action. Action. With just enough plot to keep the action in a meaningful context. And with real stunts, not that CGI stuff. It’s an adrenaline rush, but not really an Oscar contender in my mind, despite the feminist thread that surprisingly runs through the film.

The Big Short: News flash. There are greedy people on Wall Street who will do anything to make money. It’s a good story about complex money matters, and the creators pull out every stop to make it as interesting as possible. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it. It made me mad at Wall Street, of course, but I’m already cynical enough to realize that the Wall Street money chase is a rigged game.

My pick for top movie of the day was Room.

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Our New Writer’s Group T-Shirt

I’m a member of Loudoun SF & Fantasy Writers, a writing group that meets here in Loudoun County, VA, just south of Washington DC. And now, we have our own T-shirt, the back of which features the cover of our group’s first anthology, Uncommon Threads.

In fact, that anthology commemorated the group’s one-year anniversary (which is why we’re in the process of putting together a second anthology).

Loudoun County SF & Fantasy Writers Group T-Shirt

Note that the ebook of Uncommon Threads will be available soon (the print edition came out last June). I know this, because I’m the one working on it.

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Deadpool! Your Valentine’s Day Rom-Com

I’d heard a lot of good things about the new X-Men movie, “Deadpool.” I’d also been impressed with the savvy, in-your-face marketing campaign for it. So I decided to go see it today.

Before I tell you what I thought about the movie, let’s look at some more of that marketing…

Deadpool on Valentine's Day

The first thing you need to know about “Deadpool” is that it’s R-rated. Very. And very violent. And it deliberately tries to break every rule going, from the crazy initial credits to breaking the fourth wall, to making fun of everything under the sun (including other X-Men movies, the poor performance of Ryan Reynold’s ill-fated movie, “The Green Lantern,” and its own budget limitations).

It’s crazy, with extreme attitude. It’s raunchy. It’s fun. It redefines what the Chinese Year of the Dog means (you’ll know what I mean when you see the appropriate scene in the film). But it’s also clever, which makes all of the difference. In short, it’s a surprisingly good movie…and it doesn’t even come close to having the sort of plot where the heroes are saving the world.

There’s something refreshing in seeing the filmmakers embrace the character, Deadpool, and all of the things that make him a favorite with fans. And rather than toning it down, or filing the edges off, they just go for it. Full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes. You have to respect the chances they took with the film, and the way they made it pay off.

We may be looking at the top-grossing film in the overall X-Men franchise, despite the fact that, as an R-rated film, its audience is more limited than most other PG-13 superhero films.

If you like superheroes, daring filmmaking, raunchy humor, over-the-top violence and an intelligent script…go see this film. Oh, at heart, it’s also a romantic comedy. Go figure.

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Upcoming: Road Trip

My latest story is a novelette called “Road Trip,” which will be appearing in the upcoming anthology, Reliquary, edited by S. C. Megale, Donna Royston and myself.

Here’s a preview of the story:

It’s 2003 and Rocco Fitch is a down-and-out disabled veteran of the War Against Terror, having been severely injured by an IED in Afghanistan. Since his return, his wife has left him (taking his daughter with her), he can’t get a job, unemployment payments have run out, his car’s been repossessed, the bank wants to foreclose on his house and life just isn’t working out well in general

Then some beggar tries to sell him a road. Sensing that the beggar is a war vet like himself, Rocco buys the road from him for all the money he has left: $3.37.

At first, Rocco thinks the sale is just a strange way for the beggar to talk himself into accepting a handout from a fellow vet. But then he wakes up the next morning with a road, a magical road, crossing his backyard. A road that nobody else can see…

Besides the mysterious road that he now owns, the one bright spot in his life is his unlikely friend, his neighbor Sammie, an aging black rogue with a diabolical sense of humor, a foul mouth, friends in low places and a rather piratical way of looking at the world.

Between the two of them, they might just be able to set Rocco’s life on a new and different path.

It’s intended to be the first of a series of novelettes that I’m calling RoadWerks, LLC. If all goes well, the anthology should be coming out at the end of May, 2016, in both ebook and print. The story will be separately available for purchase on Amazon in January, 2016.

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Thoughts on Dixie Fey: The Accidental Urban Fantasy Series

Dixie FeyThere was one really interesting thing that happened when I ran my workshop, “Creating an Adaptive Setting,” at Capclave last October. I created the “Dixie Fey” urban fantasy setting, based in the southern U.S., as a world-building exercise to illustrate the strategies I was teaching in my workshop.

To my surprise, in addition to the workshop itself going extremely well, it turned out that the “Dixie Fey” setting turned out to be considerably more of a hit with the attendees than I expected. I fielded questions from the class in which they asked me if the setting was real, i.e. – if I was setting stories there. And whether I’d consider a “Dixie Fey” anthology.

I intend to run this workshop again. I can’t help but wonder if this question will come up again. It seems to me that there’s an opportunity here. Somewhere.

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Reliquary Cover Concepts

I’m one of the editors for the upcoming anthology, Reliquary. The challenge is for writers to provide us with stories on the theme of “relics,” which can range from magical artifacts to, in the realm of science fiction, mysterious high-tech artifacts left by a long-vanished alien species. In fact, contributors were invited to stretch the boundary of “relics” as far as they could feasibly expand it.

Now, the anthology also needs a cover, so this is what we’ve received so far with regard to cover concepts for the book:

Reliquary Concept 01 Reliquary Concept 02

And, well, um, we’ve had a few joke concepts submitted as well. The noir cover below was a response to comments that the first concept above didn’t present a story question to viewers. The second was a response from female participants in the anthology that the second concept had a statue of a nude woman, but, hey, what about the men? Personally, I’m not sure that the last concept represents an anthology to which I’d submit a story…

Reliquary Concept 03 Reliquary Concept 02

Anyway, I thought folks might get a kick out of seeing this. On another note, I know details now about two of the stories that will be in the anthology…

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