Tag Archives: Movies

SPRING: #horror #romance #movie

Has anyone watched SPRING yet? The 2014 horror, sci-fi, romance flick directed by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson and staring Nadia Hilker and Lou Taylor Pucci? (It’s not rated, but I’d put it squarely in the rated “R” category.) I saw it last week and have been thinking about it on and off since. If you’ve seen it and want to discuss, read on! If you haven’t, be aware – big spoilers below!!


The woman who cuts my hair recommended this to me. I’ve been going to her for years and we talk about movies all the time. We have similar tastes and she watches as many movies as I do. So it’s always fun to catch up and swap recs. I have to say, the day we discussed this one was pretty funny. The backdrop was this semi-swanky hair salon and there we were, me in the chair, her chopping away behind me, talking about blood and tentacles and syringes and killings and body transformations… and it seemed like every head in the room turned our way. I couldn’t figure out if they thought we were insane or just wanted to watch the movie too.

As some of you know, I’m actually not a huge horror fan. I prefer supernatural thrillers, psychological suspense, and/or dark fantasy to straight up horror but, occasionally, I’ll watch something with a twist (The Cabin in the Woods comes to mind). So I was wary when my hairdresser first recommended Spring. After hearing all the gory details, I asked her:

Does it have a happy ending?

Yep, I’m a wimp sometimes and I just wanted to know what I might be getting myself into. She was reluctant to spoil it for me but finally said, “Yes.” And her answer is what convinced me to watch it and why I’m passing this info on. Romance fans who like dark stories, this one’s for you. Bonus: horror fans will not be disappointed either (but don’t tell them the ending ;-) Half the fun for horror fans will likely be trying to figure out whether the guy will end up the girl’s victim in some sort of gruesome black widow scenario).

Why did I like it?

I loved that it successfully blended two near-opposite genres. Combining horror and romance is really difficult. Romances are about bringing two people together. They are about human connections, closeness, emotions, warmth, and love. Horror is about frightening the crap out of the audience. You know someone’s gonna die and it might even be the MC.

Ok, so what’s it about?

The movie opens with Evan losing his mother. It’s a really sad scene. Tough to watch, but it immediately establishes his capacity to love and be there for those he loves. Grief-stricken, he decides to travel and round-aboutly makes his way to Italy where he meets a mysterious, beautiful woman – Louise. The rest of the movie centers on their developing relationship, which is massively complicated by who and what she is.

What you may not like about it

FlickFilosopher wrote a review that points out that, in order to get to the happy ending, Louise had to give up her immortality and change who she was. The reviewer’s point was that, not only was Evan not worth Louise’s sacrifice, but why should the girl always have to change to get the guy?

It was an interesting point and one that caught my attention. (Obviously, the stories are different, but in my first novel, Noon also struggled with who and what she was. Ultimately, she decided not to change.)

For me, however, Louise’s change and sacrifice worked. Why? Three reasons.

First, I thought Evan might be someone who was worth that kind of sacrifice. Hey, it’s a movie. The filmmakers only get two hours for audiences to fall in love with their characters. They showed me enough of Evan’s character for me to fill in the gaps. He had potential as an awesome beau even if we didn’t see all of it. His devotion to his mom and his interactions with the other characters (the two buddies he traveled with for a while and the old widowed farmer he worked for) gave us hints that he was someone who, despite being at a very dark point in his life, was still going to approach the world with openness and warmth.

Second, he loved Louise enough to die for her. Yes, he fell in love quickly but, man, once he was in, he was all in. When he found Louise mid-shift in her apartment looking deadly and terrifying, he didn’t run. Nope, he bashed down the door and found a way to help her. And, at the very end, when Louise kept telling him she was probably going to kill him – that she didn’t love him and that, for his own sake, he should get the hell out of dodge – he didn’t. He never left her. He was willing to risk her killing him if it meant having a chance at a life with her.

Third, there were hints that Louise was sick and tired of that immortality b.s. Is it really all it’s cracked up to be? Sounds pretty lonely to me. And Louise’s rebirths every twenty years sounded awful. If she was fully embracing who and what she was, she wouldn’t have been carrying around all those syringes to stop the transformations. Nope, she was ready for it to be done.

Have you seen SPRING? What did you think?

[Am I back to blogging? No. Not really. I may share my thoughts on stuff from time to time here, but for now, I’m still focused on my WIP. So I’m heading back to my writing cave. NaNoers – soldier on!!! Wishing you – and me – high word counts for today! :-D ]

Egg Timer Reviews: 20 Stories! (Books, Movies, TV & Broadway Shows)

I was supposed to post an author interview yesterday, but I never received it. If I do, I’ll reschedule because I think her Q&A would be interesting and fun to read. In the meantime, however, I was in a bind bc I had nothing of my own ready to post. What to do?

Egg timer reviews.

What the heck are those? Well, it’s where I take a look at my bookshelf, Kindle, movie queue, etc. and see what I’ve watched and read lately (or eons ago) that I can talk about in three minutes or less. So these aren’t really reviews. They’re more like stream of consciousness goo. (I filled in some of the names via internet search later – my memory’s not that good. ;-) )

Are there spoilers? Is it still miserably cold outside!? Yes, there are some spoilers!


Stolen Songbird

Trolls! Trolls! TROLLS!! I always wanted to do a romance featuring a leprechaun but could never figure out how to make a leprechaun sexy. Well, Danielle Jensen found a way to make trolls sexy. When I read the back cover copy, I knew I had to read it just to see how she did it. The first part of the book is the best: the dynamic tension between Cecile and Tristan, the descriptions of Trollus and its inhabitants… good stuff. There was a bit too much coming and going in the end (it felt a little “fillerish” to me) and I worry that the trolls might really be “e—” (maybe not…? since that would take away from the Big Accomplishment here). But, if you love YA fantasy, pick this one up. You’ll love it. (Worth noting: Jensen started out with Strange Chemistry, Angry Robot’s now defunct YA imprint. I think Angry Robot picked this series up, but it’s still nice to support authors who end up in this situation).

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

I loved this character’s transformation. You all know I love big character growth arcs and Elisa has one! At the start of the book she is clueless, overweight, and timid. By the end of the novel, she has sought forbidden knowledge, grown physically stronger, and become much more confident and assertive. The only thing that gave me pause was the almost over emphasis on the character’s weight. I’m a big “love your own body” kind of person. And yet, I can also get behind a person’s wanting to change themselves. (My own work reflects my ideological tug of war between “learn to love yourself” versus “pursue your dream to change,” especially my first novel). The bigger question is always, why does a person want to change? Is it society telling them (perhaps subtly and evilly) that they should or is their desire to change truly coming from within? – But rest assured, genre fans, Girl of Fire and Thorns is mostly an adventure story with some magic and romance.

Throne of Glass

I think I read this in a day or two. (I’m a big DNF’er so that, in and of itself, is a rec to read). Hmm… what else can I say? Cool cover. She looks really bad ass. I think there’s a love triangle, but I don’t mind them. (Ahem :-D ) Who would like this? Fans of YA female assassin characters and YA fantasy with equal emphasis on both romance and action. It’s been a long time since I read it, but this reminded me of Maria Snyder’s Poison Study.

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover

It was the cover that drew me to this book. A historical romance heroine in pants! As with Jensen’s troll hero, I had to check it out. What was the story behind this heroine? I read quite a bit of historical romance. And many times the heroines run together. That doesn’t mean the books aren’t well written. They are. They’re doing exactly what they’ve promised their readers they will do: deliver a hot, sometimes witty, romance. So why egg time review this one? Well, the heroine backs up the cover and the title’s promise. There was a lot more going on with the plot than I expected. The heroine had not just one cover (aliases), but two. That’s three different personas for the author to keep track of. Sarah MacLean did a great job! (Worth noting: MacLean wrote Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake. I haven’t read it, but may now. MacLean was on an RWA panel last summer and discussed how hard it was to come up with titles, especially when you lock yourself into a format. She was funny. (I buy some of the recorded sessions). I’m currently trying to title Noon Onyx B4. It’s tough. Blank Blank of Blank. Left Hand of Darkness? Oops. Taken. ;-) Little Shop of Horrors? Dagnabbit. Nabbed too. :-D In any case, I thought the title to Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover was extra awesome bc it fits MacLean’s “Rules of Scoundrels” series title format, it references the heroine’s aliases, and it’s a nod to the book’s unusual genre cover.)



A period romance with a great hero and heroine, Belle is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, an illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy officer who was raised by her rich great-uncle. The film divides its time between the romance and the hero’s quest for social justice (he’s an aspiring lawyer attempting to change the law on slavery, albeit through a fairly narrow ruling). Gugu Mbatha-Raw was excellent.

Begin Again

I actually thought this would be awful. Like some sort of weird Juno [aging music aficionado has unrequited feelings for someone who’s totally inappropriate for him… am I remembering that movie right?] meets Love Actually [clichéd romance]. But it was better than that. My worst case scenario plot prediction did not come true. Instead this was a cool, little story about a down-on-his-luck music exec with zippo money who helps a talented, young up-and-comer. The story’s take on how imagination can be used to see a person’s potential and creatively solve funding problems was fun. I liked that the exec fixed his unhealthy family dynamics (he has a teenage daughter and estranged wife) instead of having a romance with his music mentee.


The shame of this movie is that it’s rated R but the best part about it was the story of how the character reconnected with his son. Minus a few parts, I’d love to watch this with my kids. What’s it about? A chef (duh) who is fired from his job bc he wants to create exotic dishes versus tried-and-true. When he gets panned by a food critic for his boring menu, he lashes out at his boss and gets the pink slip. After some soul searching, he decides to take it on the road. He gets a food truck and goes cross country. With the help of his social media savvy son, he draws crowds wherever he goes. It ends well. For foodie movie fans, road trip movie fans, Jon Favreau fans, food truck fans, fans of movies where characters reinvent themselves, tell their boss to shove it, and/or tell a critic to shove it (and then make up w them later).


Saw this over the holidays with my daughters. They loved it. And I did too. It was cute. Quvenzhane Wallis was wonderful. I was less taken with Jamie Foxx. Cameron Diaz as a reimagined Ms. Hannigan was ok, as was Rose Byrne. Who should see this? Quvenzhane Wallis fans and anyone who liked any of the other eighteen million Annies.

Box Trolls

We actually bought this, which meant we were able to watch the extras. And they were pretty neat. There was a featurette on how the filmmakers created characters that live in boxes and the world they inhabit and some cast member interviews, but my favorite was the one where Dee Bradley Baker and Steve Blum talk about how they came up with the Box Troll language. Oh, and I loved Winnie and Eggs! :-)

Magic in the Moonlight

My recollection is that this was not a huge success but I enjoyed it. I like Emma Stone and Colin Firth. I’m not familiar with Woody Allen’s work (although I liked Midnight in Paris). Magic in the Moonlight is for anyone who likes the idea of a stage magician and would-be clairvoyant falling in love against the backdrop of the 1920s French Riviera.

Maze Runner

I had heard so much about this, and it had been hyped so much, before I watched it, that I’m amazed I wasn’t disappointed. That said, it didn’t make me think very much (not like Into the Woods or Predestination did) and that’s the main reason why it’s getting an egg timer review. I thought it was good. Definitely worth two hours of your time. None of the actors really wowed me, but I’d happily watch them again. The sets were visually interesting but not stunning. In fairness, maybe part of my mehness is bc I didn’t read the book so watching this didn’t give me the pleasure of seeing a favorite novel successfully adapted.


Finally!! I had been wanting to watch this since the summer when I’d mistakenly assumed it was based on Laurence Gonzales’ book. It isn’t, but (as I’d suspected; it’s not like the reference was subtle) it is based on Lucy, the Australopithecus, and a “what if” evolution scenario. Bottom line: Scarlett Johansson is a good action heroine. I’d watch her in a similar role again. As for Lucy? Read Gonzales’ book instead. I didn’t love everything about it, but it was better.

Showrunners (documentary)

Featuring J.J. Abrams, Steven DeKnight, Jane Espenson, Michelle King, Damon Lindelhof, Janet Tamaro, Joss Whedon, and a gazillion other people, this is a full length documentary on showrunners – the head writers/creators of a show. If you’ve ever wanted a peek inside a writer’s room, or if you’d enjoy hearing behind-the-scenes interviews of some of the most well-known and/or interesting TV show wranglers, this doc is for you.

World without End (miniseries)

I’ve read the book (and read and watched Pillars of the Earth) so when I saw this was available for streaming, I had to see it. I loved the books (although Pillars was my favorite; I liked Aliena and Jack better than Caris and Merthin). Even though I utterly despised her (I was supposed to), the best part of World was Cynthia Nixon’s Petranilla. Conniving, deceitful, murderous, immoral… she was just Jaw Droppingly Awful. Which made the scene where Caris forgives her sins just before her death that much more powerful. If you’ve read the book, like TV miniseries set in the Middle Ages, or just want to see Nixon’s range, rent it.


Finding a TV show that I love enough to watch every single episode is extremely rare. Ones I’ve enjoyed start to finish in the past: Alias, Lost, and Battlestar Gallactica. Shows I’m currently addicted to: Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Mr. Selfridge’s, and Outlander. So I wanted to find a new addiction. Below, my candidates.


I streamed 10 episodes of this before I couldn’t do it anymore. At first, it was amazingly addictive. Definitely a guilty pleasure type of show. Beautiful kids playing monarchs-to-be with friends who have names like Kenna. (Is that historically accurate? Do I care? Does anyone who watches a show like Reign? No! :-D ) BUT the problem was exactly that. History. I know where this story is going. There wasn’t enough tension in the story questions. Will Mary wed Francis? Will Mary become Queen of France? Will Mary live happily ever after? I know the answers to those questions already.


I watched 2 episodes before moving on, but may return. I like Lagertha. And kudos to the writer/director/showrunners/whoever for moving the story along at breakneck speed! I remember saying to my husband, “Wow! They’re already going to England.” I thought it would take Ragnar all season to gear up, find men, etc. And then – in that same episode – saying: “WOW! They’re going back home!” After they’d landed in England, I’d just assumed they’d spend all season there. And I liked that it’s based on real Norse mythological characters. But… it didn’t grab me as much as I’d hoped.


I wanted to like it. The pilot opened well. It captured my attention… but couldn’t hold it. (My husband hated it, although we often differ on TV shows.) As with Vikings, I’m hard pressed to say exactly why. I might return to this. But would choose Vikings over Arrow.

House of Cards

Streamed 2 episodes so far and am very much looking forward to the next one. I had to talk my husband into this one (he watched Vikings and Arrow with me, not Reign; lol). He’s in DC a lot for work and I think he thought the show would be one big cerebral snooze fest. And the opening credits! Geesh, sorry, but horrible. They’d make anyone who works in DC feel like they’re commuting in instead of lounging on their couch getting ready to watch an entertaining show. (Although maybe that’s the feeling the credits hope to evoke…?) But the show itself – terrific! We’re hooked. Kevin Spacey! Robin Wright! My only worry is that the show may end up like The Newsroom, which I stopped watching midway through the first season.


Matilda at the Shubert

Saw this just this past weekend. Fantastic! If you are looking for an entertaining, funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but ultimately happy, family show – see Matilda. The whimsical, bright, colorful sets seemed custom-designed for book lovers. The letter tiles surrounding the proscenium and incorporated into the many sets were decidedly Scrabble-esque. Bookshelves, libraries, classrooms… not to mention swings, scooters, lasers, confetti, strobe lights, helium balloons, a story-in-story told partially through a vintage paper doll/shadow puppet-like presentation. But the best part (as it should be with live shows) was the singing and acting: Brooklyn Shuck as Matilda! So expressive, sweet, sympathetic, and adorable… So confident, bold, and fearless. Also loved Mrs. Wormwood and Rudolpho. And Christopher Sieber as Miss Trunchbull!! (10.0 for the vault number. :-D )

The Illusionists at the Marquis

Saw this a few months ago. Seven magicians, each with completely different acts. There’s an escape artist, an archer, an inventor, a Vegas style comedian “trickster,” a truly phenomenal card manipulator, an Edward Scissorhands type “anti-conjuror,” and a dance performer “futurist.” It was fun trying to figure out the magicians’ tricks. (I’m no magician and lots of their acts stumped me). Watching audience members (who may have been pre-selected?) become part of the act was hilarious (glad it wasn’t me!). Who should see this? Anyone who likes top-notch stage magic and illusionists who can put on a diverse, spellbinding show.

So, please, go forth and purchase, rent, stream, read, or watch. Support creativity… and stories… and egg timer reviews!

What have you read or watched lately that’s worth mentioning? Come on, sharing only takes three minutes or less…

PREDESTINATION: Does happiness require a deep connection with another?

If I was a blogger with a good sense of timing I would have posted this on Valentine’s Day but instead of writing this post, I had lunch with a close friend and, later, played poker with my family. Romantic? Not really, but it was one of the best Valentine’s Days I’ve had in a while. The experience seemed to underscore the meaning of the movie I watched just a few days prior to the holiday – PREDESTINATION.

Predestination, Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, time travel, science fiction,  Spierig  brothers, Robert A. Heinlein, All You Zombies

As with Into the Woods, I knew I’d likely do a blog post about Predestination because I kept thinking about it long after I watched it. But Predestination is no fairy tale, not even a subversive one. Its themes are mature and provocative and written with an adult audience in mind. My post is tame but not spoiler free. If you haven’t read the source material or watched the movie, skip the orange section below.

I’ve mentioned before how plague movies never get old with me. But time travel movies… eh. I have to admit, when I first saw the description for Predestination my response was, “another time travel movie?!” But then my husband suggested we watch it AND pointed out its Rotten Tomatoes rating (81%) and I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

Predestination is the story of a time traveling agent who is trying to stop a mass murderer – the “Fizzle Bomber.” It stars Ethan Hawke (who I loved in Gattaca but haven’t seen much of since; I haven’t seen the Before Midnight/Before Sunrise/Before Sunset movies… yeah, I know, I should see them too…) and Sarah Snook (who I’ve never seen before, but hope to see more of in the future).

The movie starts in medias res with a mysterious figure trying to stop a bomb. The bomb fizzles but the stunted explosion is still powerful enough to completely disfigure the person. They then travel back to the “future” (1992) where the story’s basic premise is established.

The injured mystery man is a Temporal Agent who works for the Temporal Bureau, a government agency that sends people back in time to prevent crimes before they happen. That part felt very “PreCrime”/Minority Report-ish to me, which, combined with the fact that time travel was discovered in 1981 [would we have traded MTV or the IBM PC for time travel?] gave the story a slightly dated feel, but it wasn’t until later in the movie, when Space Corps (and its ridiculous “female companions for male astronauts” search) appeared in the plot that the story’s 1959 origins became fully apparent.

(I found out later that the movie is based on Robert A. Heinlein’s “ ‘—All You Zombies—’ ”. And my gripes about Space Corps’ dubious side mission are relatively minor. All I’m sayin’ is that it felt laughable to me that a contemporary non-dystopian sf story would feature a would-be respectable space program that disallowed female astronauts while searching for women streetspacewalkers. And yet… I came to see that searching for companionship, as well as what happens when you find it and lose it, was one of the themes of the story.)

So back in futuristic 1992 the injured agent tells us part of his story as his face is reconstructed. When he’s finally healed enough for his bandages to be removed, he looks in the mirror and declares, “I’ve changed so much, I doubt my own mother would recognize me.”

He’s then sent on another mission – NYC in 1975 – to stop the Fizzle Bomber from killing 11,000 people. He goes undercover as a barkeep and one of his customers insists he tell him a joke. After first refusing, the barkeep opens the next part of the story with, “A man walks into a bar…”

Maybe it’s that I love tricky, trippy plots. Maybe it’s that I know storytellers love to leave clues for people who are paying attention. Maybe it’s because I’d made a late afternoon Starbucks run that day so I was working with more late night caffeine than I’m used to. All I know is that about halfway into it, my husband and I both shared our theories about what was really going on. Both theories were interesting and backed up by story clues but I thought, “it would be impossible for us both to be right.” And that’s when I knew… We were both right. And that’s when the story got really interesting. And heartbreaking.

But this is not a heartbreaking post, I promise. In fact, now would be a good time for those of you who don’t like spoilers, or dark tales about transformative journeys, to jump ahead to my warm and fuzzy closing.


If you’re sticking around to read this part of the post it means you’ve read the story or watched the movie…

And so you know that the story revolves around the identities of the barkeep/agent, his customer, the customer’s past/future lover, and the Fizzle Bomber.

Due to the aforementioned mid-afternoon mocha and my husband’s alternative theory of Who Was Really Who, we got it all sorted out pretty early on. But that doesn’t mean the movie was predictable. Seeing a snake eat its own tail isn’t going to be boring even if you know it’s going to happen. I thought the movie’s use of the ouroboros symbol was well done. The movie’s not just about identity, it’s also about reinvention and transformation. Yet that transformation isn’t always welcome or good. Unlike the symbol of the mighty phoenix, which rises triumphantly out of the ashes to begin its life anew, the ouroboros consumes itself. It isn’t kind to itself. It is its own worst enemy.

I condemned and hated the final iteration of the main character. Who wouldn’t? But, oh, how I sympathized with the young, uncannibalized version.

But cannibalized by what is the question. What ultimately destroyed Jane and created the Fizzle Bomber?

Too many time jumps? Maybe. There were all sorts of references to the fact that too many jumps could wreak havoc on one’s mind.

But I think it was loneliness (exacerbated by the character’s repeatedly betraying him/herself) that ultimately destroyed Jane. In the end, the Fizzle Bomber says something like “by killing me, you become me.” So sad. Honestly, I, like everyone else, was blown away by Sarah Snook. Her portrayal made me want to give Jane a huge hug and kick the crap out of everyone who was giving her so much grief. But then I also kind of knew Jane wouldn’t thank me for it. Because this was the same character who willingly admitted (if only to herself) that she was better than everyone else.

Ah, Jane. How could I fix your story? How could I give you an HEA? Leaving aside the perilousness of attempting to tinker with Heinlein, it’s still interesting to contemplate. Reunite her with her parents? Nope. Let her grow old with her one true love? Nope. All the horrible things that happened to her storywise had to happen in order for her to be born, have the childhood she had, live the life she had, etc., etc. because taking away any one of those things would jeopardize her very existence.


So, yep, Predestination is a very good time travel movie. Definitely better than a Plain Jane plague movie.

My final thoughts? One day a year isn’t enough. And it doesn’t always have to be about hearts, chocolate, and roses. It can be about tapas or sushi, poker or pedicures, a walk in the woods, a trip to your local animal shelter, complimenting a stranger, or simply smiling at them. You can and should deepen your connections to other living things every day throughout the year and you should be kind to yourself. That doesn’t mean be egotistical or narcissistic. It just means, don’t be your own worst enemy.

Want to read more about Predestination?

Did you do anything fun for Valentine’s Day? Are you doing anything fun for President’s Day today? We’re headed to see Jupiter Ascending later. Tomorrow? Gah!! Looks like it might be another snow day…!? At least my commute is short. Lol. Stay safe and warm, people. Here’s wishing you more than romance – I wish each of you HAPPINESS. :-)


Last night I took a group of kids ranging in age from 10-13 to see Into the Woods. My thoughts on the movie are below, roughly divided into two sections: thoughts during and immediately following watching and later after I read a few other reviews and looked up info about its source material. Caution: spoilers!

Initial thoughts: The songs were fantastic!

The kids I took were confused by the part in the story when Prince Charming and the Baker’s Wife kiss.

Well, who wouldn’t be?

There was a bit of foreshadowing for this (e.g. “A Very Nice Prince” performed by Cinderella and the Baker’s Wife) but not much. I kept thinking that if the storytellers were going to go down that road then I needed to see how horrible the relationship between the Baker and his wife was — bc it wasn’t! The only reason I went along with this plot point was bc of the Baker’s Wife’s line: “This is ridiculous. What am I doing here? I’m in the wrong story” which alerted me to the fact that the story was about to go off the rails.

At the time, I thought that making the Baker’s Wife “sin” was a story choice made to make her less sympathetic, which then made her necessary death less sad.

(Despite the Baker’s Wife’s faults, I thought she was a sympathetic character. I thought her death was necessary bc it had to happen in order for her husband to have that moment when he decided to be a better father than his father had been when he had abandoned him.

I also wondered if the storytellers thought the Baker’s Wife had it coming to her even BEFORE she kissed Prince Charming. After all, she was the one who lied to Jack about getting Milky White back, cut and stole Rapunzel’s hair, and attacked Cinderella. Not that I think death should be the consequence of those things, but it was a fairy tale after all. And fairy tales ALWAYS have extreme consequences for poor decisions. Isn’t *that* their true purpose? ;-) )

But I came to think that what that scene was REALLY about was “be careful what you wish for.” (Duh).

Later thoughts: The movie’s screenplay was written by James Lapine based on the Tony-award winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, a version of which is still playing off-Broadway at the Laura Pels Theater. My understanding (based on what I read, partial list of links below) is that the playwrights took a bunch of fairy tales, mashed them up in a great big ball (Act I) and then exploded them (Act II) in order to explore various themes: wish fulfillment, growing up/path to maturity, parents and children, blame, responsibility, and HEA versus reality.


STAGE VIEW: Sondheim’s Winding Paths

INTO THE WOODS: Into the Words

Disney Is Officially Destroying Into the Woods

Did Disney Take All the Bite out of Into the Woods?

How Disney Wrecked Into the Woods

How Hollywood drains the subversion out of Into the Woods

[Geesh, enough already with the downer headlines… it’s worth seeing, people!]

The Wolf: he felt creepy to me and not in the way I like (it wasn’t a fun creepy; it was an icky creepy). After reading up on the source material, and discovering that the Wolf and Prince Charming are often played by the same actor (bc both characters are unscrupulous and predatory), I got why the Wolf and his scene with Little Red Riding Hood made me feel uncomfortable. I’ve liked Johnny Depp in the past but can’t say I was in favor of the choice to use him for the part of the Wolf. It would take more time and hubris than I have to say how I might have fixed the problem of adapting this part of the story.

Bottom line: I LOVED the songs. And there were some lines that were so comical and self-aware they made me laugh out loud. I liked the movie and want to see it again, especially now that I know more about it. Younger kids may be confused by some parts. (Heck, I was confused by some parts). This was a story made to be told in one medium (Broadway play) that lost something when it was translated into another (Disney movie). But as Sondheim himself put it: “censorship is part of our puritanical ethics.” If you want to “sell your painting or perform your musical [, y]ou have to deal with reality.”

Hmm… maybe Sondheim’s shrug over the changes to his story was because one of the play’s main themes was reality versus fairy tale…?

In any case, seeing the film and reading about its adaptation is a must for anyone who is into that kind of thing (which I hope includes a lot of you!)

I’m sure my analysis is lacking. I could spend a week or more looking into this and thinking about it. But I had less than a day. How about you? Have you seen it? What do you think?

p.s. where was Prince Charming’s just reward? Was Cinderella leaving him enough? The Baker’s Wife died. Did he get his comeuppance in the play? (I don’t think so…. But then again I don’t think the play’s point was that life is fair.)

Ten Things from Summer 2014 (#movies #books)

My thoughts on ten things I watched or read this summer:

  1. The Lunch Box
  2. Outlander
  3. Snowpiercer
  4. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy
  6. The Giver
  7. Noah
  8. The Firebird
  9. Lucy
  10. Me Before You

The Lunch Box

This mixed-up lunch box story involves India’s dabbawallas, the men who pick up hot lunch from home and deliver them to office workers. I was nearly as fascinated by the dabbawallas as I was infatuated with the movie. And I’m not the only one. Apparently, others have been interested in the process by which the dabbawallas deliver hundreds of thousands of lunchboxes daily with very few mistakes or delays. But don’t watch the movie just to see the dabbawallas! Watch it for the wonderful characters: a lonely, unappreciated housewife who cooks amazing food, a cantankerous, soon-to-retire office worker, and his genial replacement.


Who else is watching this series on Starz? I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was worried it might be too much Lifetime and not enough HBO, but I was pleasantly surprised by Episode 1 and now, after six episodes, I’m firmly entrenched. I read the books years ago so it’s been fun returning to the story and seeing how it’s being told on screen. Tobias Menzies as Frank/Jack Randall (remember him from Rome and GoT?) and Graham McTavish as Dougal (in truth, I did not remember him from The Hobbit) have been doing a terrific job. And Claire and Jamie (Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan), if not looking exactly as I imagined them, are skilled actors with great chemistry. And I loved the author’s cameo in Episode 4!


I loved this movie. Yes, it’s gory and violent and bloody. And, yes, it strains credulity (there’s steak up front; where are the cows?!) and, yes, there are a few things not to like about the MC (well, one thing in particular). But it sticks with you. It’s unique and memorable, as much for the story – admirable these days since post-apocalyptic stories seem to be everywhere ;-) – as for the juxtaposition of scenes and characters (gruesomely dark and wet ax fights; kids singing over-the-top propaganda songs inside a surreally calm and disturbingly charming classroom car; Tilda Swinton as a vile, deranged second-in-command; Octavia Spencer as a vengeful mother on a search and rescue mission; and Chris Evans as oh-so-conflicted Curtis).

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

I wanted to love it. I really enjoyed the first one, despite the fact that I didn’t think the franchise needed a reboot. But 2 didn’t wow me. It wasn’t the ending, it was the fact that the relationship between Gwen and Spidey before the end didn’t seem as fun as it did in the first movie and the villains were kind of meh. I’m still planning on seeing The Amazing Spider-Man 3, but only because Spidey is one of my favorite superheroes and I like Andrew Garfield. I think if everything around him comes together it could be great fun.

Guardians of the Galaxy

All the fun that was missing from Spidey 2. Word seems to be that this was everyone’s favorite summer ’14 film. Yeah. What they said. And for good reason. Mostly, the cast. I was largely unfamiliar with Chris Pratt before the film. I don’t watch Parks and Rec, I didn’t see Her, and, even though I saw Moneyball, I don’t remember his character. But he was terrific in Guardians! I read an Entertainment Weekly article before the movie that detailed his career to date. He sounded genuine and grounded. His portrayal of Peter Quill made the movie for me. And, of course, I loved Zoe Saldana as Gamora and Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket too. My kids loved Groot.

The Giver

I didn’t read the book. My older daughter did though and it was interesting hearing her take on how the book and the movie were different – namely, and among other things, that the movie’s characters were older and its ending less ambiguous. I found myself wondering if the novel’s vague ending was a subtle message and, if so, what that message might be. Ambiguous endings can be more powerful and achieve a more lasting impact because readers love to argue about them. Regardless of her original intent with respect to The Giver’s ending though, Lowry’s now written three other books that provide definitive closure.


I put this off for a while even though the trailer looked great and reviews were positive because I worried that it might be The Fountain meets Evan Almighty. But it wasn’t. If you are on the fence about this movie, rent it. Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly had already proved they worked well together in A Beautiful Mind and adding Emma Watson to the mix definitely cinched it. They all delivered emotional, compelling performances. The special effects and visuals were fantastic and the filmmakers’ take on one of our oldest stories (especially the watchers, a fanciful bit of storytelling) was interesting.

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

The story of modern-day Nicola who has the gift of psychometry (she can sense an object’s history by touching it) interwoven with the story of Anna, a young Scottish woman living in Russia during the aftermath of the 1715 Jacobite Uprising. I love parallel timeline plots when they are done well (Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth and Katherine Neville’s The Eight come to mind) so I very much enjoyed this. Two romances, historical detail, and a bit of ESP = an irresistible combination. I will definitely be searching for other Kearsley titles in the future!

Lucy by Laurence Gonzales

Last month, I promised to talk more about this. At the time, I wanted to see the movie so that I could compare and contrast it with the book, even though they are two entirely different stories. But I never made it to the theater. (I see very few R rated movies in the theater because I can’t bring my kids). In any case, my theory, which I’ll have to test later, is that the book and the movie share a similar title because each is about an evolutionarily advanced girl/woman and Lucy is a reference to “Lucy” our oldest human ancestor, the first Australopithecus afarensis skeleton ever found. [Incidentally – and as a wonderful example of how art can impact science deeply and directly – the Australopithecus afarensis skeleton was named after the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”]

So what about the book? If you like social science fiction, read it. It’s the story of a girl who is half-human, half-bonobo, which to someone like me (who spends lots of time in a fictional world inhabited by all sorts of shapeshifters and human hybrids) doesn’t sound too outlandish. But the story initially appealed to me because it wasn’t fantasy. It’s billed as a Crichton-esque “biotechnical thriller.” And the book jacket copy describing the fifteen year old “adorable, lovely, magical Lucy” made me curious. I was worried about what would happen to her before I even started reading her story.

The two best parts of the book for me were the character’s relationships (more time is spent on these than on the scientific aspects, which suited me fine but may disappoint others) and the author’s idea of The Stream (his term for the whole ecosystem of living things and their observable and imperceptible, though real, effects on that ecosystem and other living things within it).

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

I saved this one for last because it was the toughest one for me to gather my thoughts on. Initially, I downloaded this book because I was simply looking for a nice, warm emotional romance – one I could read in 24 hours and would, by and large, likely forget about 48 hours later. [As an aside, this is not a criticism of stories that can be consumed quickly or are forgotten easily; there’s an art to crafting them too – just because a story’s easy to read doesn’t mean it’s easy to write]. But Me Before You *isn’t* that kind of story. Parts of it are nice, warm, emotional, and romantic. But the book is a lot more than that and it’s not easily forgotten. Nor should it be.

It’s the story of a 26-year-old woman (Lou) who’s a little lost. At the start of the book, she’s living with her parents, she’s in a so-so relationship, and she’s lost her job. It wasn’t a glamorous or high paying job but it was one she enjoyed and its loss propels her in search of another. She finds one caring for a 35-year-old quadriplegic (Will) who’s not lost (he knows all too well what he wants). He’s rich and handsome… a former business tycoon and lady charmer who is now at times angry, withdrawn, or resigned.

SPOILERS… don’t read ahead if you want to read it and don’t like spoilers…

Before reading Me Before You I’d never heard of DIGNITAS, the Swiss right-to-die organization. And then, the day after I finished it, CNN ran this article. And then, the next week, a very close friend of mine had a family member take her own life. She wasn’t quadriplegic, but she was dealing with issues that were just as serious as Will’s. So I’ve been thinking, on and off nearly every day since I read Me Before You not just about the dignity of life, but the dignity of death. Is it a happy topic? No, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. It’s a huge, meaningful topic. A blog post can’t do it justice. So, for now, I’ll simply say that Jojo Moyes’ book should be read – as much for the author’s thoughtful portrayal of Will and his struggles as for the author’s down-to-earth and at times truly humorous take on Lou and Lou’s life.

Have any of you watched or read any of the above? If so, what did you think? If not, are you watching or reading anything worth sharing? Let me know in the comments! I hope everyone’s September is off to a great start.

16 Favorite Fairytale Films by Juli D. Revezzo and Jill Archer

Paranormal romance author Juli D. Revezzo was one of the first people to reach out and connect with me when I first started blogging. Two years ago she guest blogged here about “Ghosts as Paranormal Heroes.” [Two years! How the heck did that happen?!] She has a new book out called CHANGELING’S CROWN. When she contacted me about guest blogging again we discussed a few topics and one of them was fairytale film adaptations. Juli said she’d love to write a post about her favorites. And — because I couldn’t resist — I added a few of my own below too. Welcome, Juli!


Juli’s Favorite Fairytale Films

Jill asked me to come today to talk about fairy tale movie adaptations. There are some great ones out there—and some not so great. Let’s dispense with the not-so-great for the moment, these are my top favorites. Do I think these movies may’ve had an influence on my new release, CHANGELING’S CROWN? I’ll let you see what you think. :-)

10: Snow White and the Huntsman. Yes, Twilight’s Kristen Stewart was miscast, but she pulled it off. More importantly, the story was well done and Snow White doesn’t rely just on the prince to save her hide. I liked that.

9: Enchanted: Princess Giselle is sent to New York City by an evil queen. A quirky take on the princess and fairy godmother story.

8. Cinderella by Disney. Of course, you can’t really go wrong with this adaptation.

7. Shrek. Mashing all the faery tales together and giving them new problems? Brilliant.

6. Princess Bride. A tongue-in-cheek take on faery tale themes. A poor girl falls in love, loses her love, and is forced to marry a prince. But someone comes to change her plans. And some very memorable lines to boot.

5. The Little Mermaid. Disney paints a happier version of the tale yet it’s still by far the best. You all know this one, Ariel, the little mermaid, falls for a prince, and trades her voice to her father’s rival in order to gain human legs so she can be with him. In true Disney fashion, it ends happily.

4. The Princess Diaries. Mia, a typical teen, finds out her father was a prince and she his only heir. She is swept up into lessons at her grandmother’s behest so she can rule their small kingdom. Charming and funny YA series, the movies only hint at the fun tale Meg Cabot spins.

3. Pan’s Labyrinth: A young girl living during the Spanish Civil war meets a mysterious faun at the heart of a labyrinth and to fulfill his prophecy she must complete three tasks. If she does, she will take up her destiny as a princess, missing for decades. If not…she’ll be forever doomed to live under the iron rule of her evil stepfather.

2. Red Riding Hood. This one is the latest adaptation starring Gary Oldman. The bones of the story are here, but barely. In a nutshell, the lead actress lives in a village plagued by wolf attacks. When her sister falls victim to the attacks, a zealous priest comes into town and tells them it’s not just a wolf, but a curse and he’s going to rid them of. Red is part of a love triangle with one man, and another whom she loves. But mama and grandma won’t let her chose the one she wants most. Meanwhile, the villagers go after the wolf only to narrow it down to one possible suspect. Guess who gets to take the blame for the wolf attacks? Really a brilliant twist on the tale, I think, if some of the acting (not Oldman’s) leaves something to be desired.

1. Labyrinth. A young girl, sick of her boring life and little brother, tells him a bedtime story of child-stealing goblins, never knowing they’re about to grant her wish. Plus, you get David Bowie as the goblin king and a great soundtrack. What’s not to love?

So all these somehow had an influence on my latest book, CHANGELING’S CROWN. Would you like to see if you agree?  Here’s the synopsis:

CHANGELINGS CROWNWhen Ianthe began her career as a faery godmother, she stumbled so badly that Snow White will probably never speak to her again. After a long suspension, she’s finally been given a chance to redeem herself…but everything on this latest assignment is going wrong.

But why?

Worse, she definitely doesn’t need an attractive mortal man distracting her from her duties. Of course, needs and wants are two different things.

Briak has had his eye on Ianthe for a very, very long time, but he’s been waiting for just the right moment to make his move. Despite the fact all hell’s about to break loose on his watch, he can’t resist the opportunity to insert himself into her earthly assignment. Can he convince Ianthe of her true calling and thereby win her heart? Or will his subterfuge ultimately cost him her love?

CHANGELING’S CROWN is available at:

I hope you will enjoy it, and my thanks to Jill for inviting me here today!

More about Juli

Juli D. Revezzo

Juli D. Revezzo is a Florida girl, with a love of fantasy, science fiction, and Arthurian legend, so much so she gained a B.A. in English and American Literature. She loves writing stories with fantastical elements whether it be a full-on fantasy, or a story set in this world-slightly askew. She has been published in short form in Eternal Haunted Summer, Dark Things II: Cat Crimes (a charity anthology for cat related charities), Luna Station Quarterly, Crossing the River, An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys; The Scribing Ibis: An Anthology of Pagan Fiction in Honor of Thoth, Twisted Dreams Magazine and more. She’s the author of The Antique Magic series and the Paranormal Romance Harshad Wars series.

Jill’s Favorite Fairytale Films

Some of Juli’s favorites are on my list too. My thoughts on some of her choices?

Snow White and the Huntsman: I thought Kristen Stewart was okay. She would have been better if she hadn’t reminded me so much of Bella. Charlize Theron rocked her role as she always does.

Enchanted: on my list too! I adored this film. Amy Adams is absolutely fantastic. Only she could pull off a role like that — part poking good fun of the princess stereotype, part reminding us why we love it so much. She’s one of my favorite actresses because she has such range but also because of the Happy Working Song. Anyone who has spent precious time cleaning toilets, scrubbing soap scum, or doing loads of laundry is indebted to her for actually making it look funny.

Princess Bride: Yep, agree with Juli. Anything that spawns this many quotes deserves a spot on everyone’s list.

Pan’s Labyrinth: This one’s on my list too for the dark visuals and its multi-layered storyline that leaves the film’s ending and meaning open to multiple interpretations.

Red Riding Hood: This one’s not on my list, but it IS a fun film to talk about. I mostly agree w Juli’s take. My Jan 2012 review has my thoughts on who I thought the real stars were and what I most wanted to see Virginia Madsen do in that film.

Labyrinth: How the hell did I miss seeing this film? It may have been that I didn’t trust Bowie’s involvement. (I seem to recall being underwhelmed by Sting in Dune two years earlier, but I honestly can’t remember.)

And here are my adds:

#6 — Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? Kind of a cheat since it’s based on an epic poem not a fairytale but George Clooney and his Dapper Dan pomade made me an instant fan. As well acted as Amy Adams in Enchanted and as quotable as Princess Bride.

#5 — Edward Scissorhands. It’s no secret that I like Tim Burton. Slightly Frankenstein-esque but very original.

#4 — Sleepy Hollow. I also like Christina Ricci. For years, we used to watch this movie every Halloween.

#3 — Black Swan: also kind of a cheat because it references Swan Lake rather than retelling it. But it makes my list because it’s incredibly creepy and I’m a fan of movies that play with the line between reality and fantasy.

#2 — A.I. Artificial Intelligence: inspired by Pinocchio. Heartbreaking. Spielberg made me care about an A.I. character (something that’s not real twice over!) David is a fictional robot who wants to become a real boy so his human mother will love him. Ugh. I’m sad just remembering it.

#1 — Hoodwinked: ‘Cause I gotta end on a happy note AND because my girls and I often break out into song whenever we refer to this movie. I also love the non-linear plot and the quirkiness of the characters and humor.

 Do you agree with our choices? What are yours? Thank you to Juli for guest blogging today!

Fictional “Feast Masters,” Maleficent and Miscellaneous

Hi all– the White Heart of Justice blog tour continues! I’m over at Suzanne Johnson/Susannah Sandlin’s blog Preternatura today discussing how I used Saturnalia and the Lord of Misrule as inspiration for one of the opening scenes in White Heart of Justice. There’s a cute picture of a snow demon — the only one I could find. Why a snow demon? Because that’s what the students carve out of snow at the Festival of Frivolity. Come on… I know you want to read more about it! Click here. :-D

Last Friday, CBY Book Club posted their interview of me. I share what my very first favorite book was and I discuss my TBR pile — past, present, and future. Since the start of the tour on May 20th there have been other spotlights and reviews. Check out my blog tour page for the complete list of bloggers/reviewers who are participating. Each link gives you an extra chance to win the fun prizes I’m giving away at the end of the tour:

  • $50 Amazon eGift Certificate (or bookseller of winner’s choice) (international)
  • 5 copies of White Heart of Justice (or an earlier book in the series, winner’s choice) (international so long as Book Depository ships to your address)
  • Dark Light of Day themed SWAG pack (includes signed copy of book and other awesome goodies; see below) (US only)
  • Fiery Edge of Steel themed SWAG pack (includes signed copy of book and other awesome goodies; see below) (US only)
  • White Heart of Justice themed SWAG pack (includes signed copy of book and other awesome goodies; see below) (US only)


The Release Day Party at Bitten by Books was fantastic. So many terrific questions, including:

Do I have a favorite classic novel with a winter setting?

Is there an inspirational playlist for the Noon Onyx series?

How do I come up with the names for things in my series?

Have I used historical people, places, or things as inspiration?

What country would I love to visit?

Which actress would play me if my life were made into a movie?

If I could visit any place in Halja, which would it be and why?

What books would I recommend to a young reader?

and…perhaps my favorite:

If I could do a crossover with any book, film, or TV series, what would it be and why?

Bonus: Lanie left a DIY snow globe link, which I may use to make White Heart of Justice themed snow globes. Fun, right?

See all of the comments, questions, and answers here.

EMMA D. won the $50 Amazon eGift Certificate I was giving away there. I loved that (urged on by me) she made a “completely wild” wish that would require great miracles and supernatural happenings. It was a really nice wish. In fact, so many of readers’ wishes were heartfelt, selfless, and inspiring. (One of my reader questions was: What would you wish for at the fountain outside Kalisto’s Crystal Palace?)




Anyone who tweets one of these will be entered to win ANY fantasy book of their choice from Book Depository (so long as Book Depository ships to your address, up to $10.00). Ends at midnight EDT on 6/3/14.

One tweet/entry per person.

If you aren’t on Twitter, or don’t want to tweet the above, you can still enter to win the book. Just tell me what’s the last fantasy book you read, or the one you’re most looking forward to reading, in the comments below. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Open to international participants 18 and over. Complete rules here.

Lucem in tenebras ferimus. Into the darkness, we bring light.” @archer_jill #DARKLIGHTOFDAY

“When traveling into the unknown, sometimes the biggest danger is the one you bring with you…” @archer_jill #FIERYEDGEOFSTEEL

“One out of every two hunters who follow the Old Trail will not return.” @archer_jill #WHITEHEARTOFJUSTICE

Finally! I’m looking forward to seeing Noon embrace her fiery magic. @archer_jill #WHITEHEARTOFJUSTICE

Ari Carmine is smokin’ hot. I wanna see if Noon can forgive him for that nasty surprise at the end of B2. @archer_jill #WHITEHEARTOFJUSTICE

I heard a rumor that Rafe Sinclair makes a wish and I wanna know if it’s granted. @archer_jill #WHITEHEARTOFJUSTICE

Nocturo. Tall dark handsome. Heard his scalpel’s put to good use. Is he gonna threaten Brunus w it again? @archer_jill #WHITEHEARTOFJUSTICE

I love the characters, but I’m really just in it for the monsters and magic. Bring on the ice demons! @archer_jill #WHITEHEARTOFJUSTICE

Armageddon is over. The demons won. But it’s not as dark as all that. Parts of it are romantic and sweet. @archer_jill #NOONONYXSERIES


This past weekend I saw The Machine (a Blade Runner-esque science fiction movie: Caity Lotz was terrific; the noir feeling felt a little forced at times, but overall, I enjoyed it) and Maleficent, in which Angelina Jolie was magnificent. There’s an interesting discussion over at io9 today. I was going to comment but then got frustrated at having to create yet another social media app account to manage my comments there, especially when the pop up box blocked the terms & conditions so that I couldn’t even read them. In any case, the post and my thoughts are worth a read IF:

1. You’ve seen the movie (massive spoilers)

2. You don’t mind rants (it’s filed under “rants”)

For what it’s worth, my take:

I can’t help but think that Disney was damned if it did, damned if it didn’t. To me, the most significant scene storywise wasn’t the dragon transformation (although that could have been much more impressive regardless of who was doing the shifting) but the kiss. I don’t want to spoil it further for anyone who hasn’t seen it so I’ll just say: Bravo, Disney!

As for the wing cutting scene… horrible. Just horrible. But I have to admit I enjoyed watching Maleficent’s dark transformation into a character capable of exacting revenge. Just as I equally enjoyed her other, lengthier, but perhaps more meaningful, transformation into something else. Not a dragon, but something potentially more powerful.

Also visited Baltimore’s National Aquarium and the Inner Harbor. Because you all know how much I love my photo galleries, here’s one from the weekend:

Beautiful, Deadly, Cute, Helpful:

But which is which?

That’s it for now, but I’ll be back tomorrow with a fun guest post from Auralee Wallace, author of Sidekick, and a link to my guest post at Addicted 2 Heroines. Have a great night!

The Best Offer, Mr. Selfridge, and a Peek at My TBR Pile #movies #books

The Best Offer, movie

The Best Offer

I recently rented The Best Offer and, despite its lackluster reviews (52% on Rotten Tomatoes), I liked it and think it’s well worth watching and discussing. First off, who doesn’t love Geoffrey Rush? Anyone who can play Barbossa, the Marquis de Sade, and the man who had the gall to give a king elocution lessons will always be a favorite of mine. For anyone unfamiliar with the movie, it’s about an art auctioneer who is both obsessed and terrified by female beauty. Needless to say, he’s a bit of a loner and eccentric. (Let’s face it, he has mild OCD, although he is a master at his craft, allowing him to live a life full of luxury, opulence, and two-dimensional relationships).

In any case, he gets involved with a hermit heiress and begins the process of inventorying and valuing all of the art and furniture in her family’s crumbling, rambling villa. Soon, other story elements come into play: rusty gears and broken pieces from an antique automaton, a portrait of a ballerina, a young Romeo who also happens to be a machinist, a brilliant female mathematician, and a middling painter cum art thief accomplice – all set against the backdrop of the old villa, which give parts of the movie a gothic tone.

But the real reason I liked this movie was simply for the storytelling. Yes, there were scenes that strained credulity. And there were scenes that were simply unpleasant. But they were few. I loved watching how all of the elements coalesced around the movie’s themes of love, trust, deceit, art, and beauty. More of my thoughts on the ending are below… but be warned, they spoil the whole movie. So if you want to watch without knowing anything about the ending, don’t read the last part of this post…

Mr. Selfridge

The other thing I’ve been watching recently is Mr. Selfridge. (Have I mentioned how much I love PBS Masterpiece?) Set in 1909 London, the show is about the titular character, an American huckster who is on a mission to “teach Londoners how to shop.” To me, the show is P.T. Barnum meets Macy’s. Episodes revolve around the lives of Harry Gordon Selfridge, played by Jeremy Piven of Entourage fame, Harry’s wife, a French window designer, and a shop girl with an alcoholic father and a weak, naïve, but good-hearted brother. I just finished episode 4 and am looking forward to the rest!

fantasy, fiction, folk tale, young adult, Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed, Fade to Black, Francis Knight, The Spirit Keeper, The Crane Wife, Hollow City, Ransom Riggs

My February TBR Pile

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about books in this post so here’s a peek at my latest, ambitious TBR pile:

1. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs: I adore stories that are told in unique ways, especially ones that use more than one type of medium to do it. So, from the beginning, I was enchanted with Riggs’ books which combine bizarre vintage photographs with creative storytelling. Click here to read my review of his first book, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (which, interestingly, was my first post!).

2. Surfmen by C.T. Marshall: This book gives us a peek inside the early days of the United States Lifesaving Service, which became the U.S. Coast Guard. There is a seven page afterward “The Facts Behind the Fiction” that gives readers more information on the chronology, characters, conflicts, Carolina coast, wrecks, racism, and Croatan Indians found in the story. Chip, the author, is a friend of mine, and, after my recent trip to Key West’s Shipwreck Museum and doing a bit of pirate research for a short story I completed recently, I’m in the mood for some nautical fiction!

3. The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness: There were two reasons I picked up this book – The Indie Next List said it was based on a Japanese folk tale and the book jacket description was compelling. (A print shop owner removes an arrow from a bird’s wing, saving its life. The next morning a beautiful, mysterious woman enters his shop. Thus begins a story of passion, sacrifice, dream, and myth… “A novel that celebrates the creative imagination and the disruptive power of love.”)

4. The Spirit Keeper by K.B. Laugheed: Set in 1747, the premise (a miserable, neglected Irish girl is abducted by American Indians who believe she is the subject of their holy man’s visions) intrigued me. I loved the Author’s Note too, which warns readers up front that the book contains variations in spelling, grammar, and syntax and, “Therefore, if you have any hope of understanding this story as the author wrote it, read quickly—before it all changes.”

5. Fade to Black by Francis Knight: The cover! I thought it looked pretty cool. And, of course, I love the idea of a story set in a city built upward, not across, and I want to see how Knight built this world. I’m curious about the MC too, the pain-mage Rojan Dizon who “prefers the shadows”.

6. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed: Proving that great quotes from trusted sources can still capture a reader’s attention, io9’s endorsement, “The best swashbuckler of the year… If you love smart escapism, don’t miss out on this book” had me immediately interested. The blurb wasn’t too shabby either and I’m eager to see how the power struggle between the Khalif and the Falcon Prince plays out in the Crescent Moon Kingdoms, “home to djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics.”

The Best Offer – The Ending

If you’re reading this, you’ve decided you don’t care if I spoil the movie for you in favor of discussing it. Great. Here are my final thoughts:

I love how the heist was its own work of art and I thought that was set up well. The off-balance relationship between Oldman (the auctioneer) and Billy (his accomplice in deceit) was established early on. Billy makes a casual remark about how disappointed he is that Oldman never saw any promise in his paintings. Donald Sutherland plays this scene just right, masking the character’s bitterness. Oldman tells Billy that “you need an inner mystery” in order for something to be a masterpiece.

But the thing I loved most about The Best Offer was its sense of cosmic justice. Over the course of the movie, the viewer starts to sympathize with Oldman. Although he is rude, cold, and obsessive, there were times when I found myself wishing he could be happy. But it was always marred by a sense that he didn’t deserve it. Because he was a dishonest, deceitful person. His collection of antique beauties were all acquired by trickery, if not outright thievery. (Oldman would intentionally devalue paintings he coveted and then have Billy bid on them). Worse, when he finally meets a living, breathing human being whom he may have a chance at happiness with, he continues his deceits and lies.

Oldman believed the automaton (made up of the rusty gears and broken pieces he kept finding in the villa), once completed, would be the most valuable piece of art he’d ever found. Yet he repeatedly (even during a scene when Claire is worried about money and her future) failed to tell Claire about it. It’s clear that he intended to steal it from her. Worse still, in a creepy, voyeuristic scene, Oldman spies on Claire – this poor, borderline mentally ill woman whom he has begged to “trust him.”

So their relationship was doomed from the start because both Oldman and Claire were hiding things from one another. The big reveal was that Claire wasn’t hiding herself, she was hiding the heist – Billy’s masterpiece. There’s a wonderful scene where Oldman and Billy discuss the nature of art and whether human emotions are like art, which leads Oldman to muse about whether emotions can be faked… or forged. Billy’s reply: “Everything can be faked, Virgil… even love.”

For those of you that saw the movie:

* Do you think Billy proved he was the ultimate artist or the ultimate forger? What was Billy’s best work of art? The heist? Claire’s “love” for Virgil? Or the ballerina portrait (his final thumb in Virgil’s eye)?

* Toward the end of the movie, Oldman tells Robert (the young Romeo machinist) that “there’s something authentic in every forgery.” Do you think Claire really loved Virgil? I don’t, but she does make that interesting statement when Virgil finally shows her his room full of ill-gotten beauties that, no matter what happens, she wants him to know that she loves him. Hmm…

* Where was Oldman at the end of the movie? In a convalescent home or at the café? My interpretation was that the end scenes were filmed out-of-order and he spent his remaining days having Lambert bring him his mail. But, I suppose, the more romantic interpretation is that Virgil’s still waiting for Claire at Night and Day.

So how about you? Have you seen The Best Offer or Mr. Selfridge? Have you read Throne of the Crescent Moon, Fade to Black, The Spirit Keeper, The Crane Wife, Surfmen, or Hollow City? If not, have I convinced you to put them in your TBR pile or Netflix queue? Best wishes for a wonderful weekend!

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Ghost Cat

“Life is about courage and going into the unknown.”

Nearly every year since I can remember, I’ve done one thing the day after Christmas: laid on the couch. It is the ONE day of the year when I feel completely guilt free for doing absolutely NOTHING. But this year, I surprised myself by going to the movies. We all went and it was fun. It felt positively joyful to go somewhere with no To Do List. We saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

I loved it. I think Ben Stiller, who starred and directed, took a real chance with the film and that alone makes me admire it. My favorite scene? The Kristen Wiig Major Tom scene. My least favorite? The scene referencing Benjamin Button, which seemed to threaten the fim’s delicate balance between silly and serious.

I’ve neither read the 1939 short story by James Thurber, nor have I seen the original 1947 movie. Not sure if that’s good or bad. But I’m going to be positive and say it’s a good thing. After all, I’m a blank slate for the filmmaker on stories like this. I have no preconceived notion of how the story should be told. Tell me a good story, the way you want to tell it, and I’ll think your story is great. Simple, right? ;-)

So from a story telling perspective, I thought the mix of comedy, drama, mystery, and quest was really well done. Mitty’s search for the picture/himself was nicely supported by the name of the magazine he works for and its motto. I liked the scene with Sean Penn where his character compared the elusive Frame 25 to a Ghost Cat, which was a metaphor for the photograph’s subject.

Mitty’s transformation triggered memories of Joan Wilder’s transformation in Romancing the Stone. But, although the two movies share some elements – comedy, mystery clues, and a transformational quest plot – they’re different in tone. There’s no fantasy in Romancing the Stone and the romance is a lot lighter in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Even so… I think I liked The Secret Life of Walter Mitty better. It’s newer, of course (at least this version is), so it feels fresher, but it’s not just that. It’s the message. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty seems to speak directly to each and every person in the audience. You know you’re watching this character’s journey but you can’t help feeling that you’re watching a guidebook for your own journey toward whatever life goal you haven’t yet gone after.

And then the ending makes it personal to the character again and brings us back to the story on screen. That beautiful ending, easily appreciated by everyone, but most spectacularly so by those of us who work, write, and create in the publishing world.

Here’s to all the Ghost Cats out there – you guys rock!!

So how about you? Have you seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty? What did you think? What other movies do you plan on seeing this holiday season? I finally saw Catching Fire today. Sad, moving, and emotional. The sets and costumes were terrific. Loved Johanna and Finnick. Tomorrow, we’re headed to see The Desolation of Smaug. Hope everyone is having a great weekend!

What to Read and Watch: 3 Fantasy Novels + 2 Futuristic Movies + 1 Horror Show #SFF

I’m a panelist at SF Signal’s Mind Meld today. The question was:

What lesser-known books have you read, fairly recently, that you think deserve more attention, and why?

If you stop by, you’ll get to see what my answer was (hint: 3 fantasy novels), as well as read the other panelists’ answers, which should give you some great reading ideas for your holiday break.

For those of you who need to take a break from your TBR pile (it happens; you’re forgiven ;-) ), below are my thoughts on what I’ve been watching.

General Spoiler Warning: I find it hard to discuss things without giving too much away. I’m not a reviewer, I’m a fan. So… if you don’t like spoilers, go watch MR. NOBODY, HOW I LIVE NOW, and AMERICAN HORROR STORY (COVEN) and come back.

Mr. Nobody

Like Inception and Cloud Atlas, this is a movie you’re gonna wanna watch twice. I knew from the trailer that it was trippy science fiction (a good thing). Even so I still had to resort to some post-viewing internet searches to get the red-yellow-blue thing. But once I did, I thought it was a brilliant visual way of reinforcing Nemo’s various life choices/paths. The story is about a man named Nemo Nobody who is 118 years old when the movie starts. He is the last mortal man in a futuristic society that has learned how to achieve immortality through stem cell compatible pigs (that part sounds absurd, but the movie isn’t, and the filmmakers treat the concept as absurdly as it sounds… perhaps a commentary on the futility and absurdity of man’s constant search for immortality?).

In any case, Nemo is being interviewed on his deathbed. A journalist has snuck into his room and wants to hear his life’s story. But his joy at snagging the scoop turns to confusion as Nemo weaves a story that is full of multiple inconsistencies and not a few earlier deaths. Nemo isn’t just musing about “what if” or “wish I woulda.” His constructs three different realities with alternate endings in each. Most of us tell our life’s story in chronological order. Not Nemo. His story is full of all the choices he made – and all the ones he didn’t. It’s pretty neat. (Although I found his “blue” life and wife hard to take, but she’s supposed to be that way. Great acting by Sarah Polley, btw. Who saw The Claim? That’s another good one to rent, although there’s not even a whiff of SFF in it).

All of the above aside, I’m not sure I agree with the ending premise: that all your life’s paths are just as worthy, equal, or meaningful. At the same time though, since we live in the real world (where smoke will not go back into the cigarette even if we live to be 118), I think it’s important not to regret past choices or wonder too much about paths not taken.

Interested in reading more about Mr. Nobody?

How I Live Now

Fifteen year old Elizabeth a.k.a. “Daisy” – a troubled teen who hears voices and has a constant need to wash her hands – arrives from the U.S. to spend a summer with cousins on a remote farm in the English countryside. A nuclear bomb is dropped on London. WWIII breaks out. Martial law is declared. And then… bad stuff happens. The kind of stuff you can imagine. And then are glad that you’re only imagining it, not remembering it.

The movie opens with scenes of idyllic summer days (you know their only purpose is to sharply contrast with whatever’s coming next) and scenes from an idyllic summer love (the fact that the young lovers are cousins is glossed over and, in light of the film’s true horrors, I had no trouble forgetting about that too).

Saoirse Ronan plays Daisy and she is terrific, as always. I wanted to know more about Daisy’s character. Why did she hear voices before the war even started? Why was she always washing her hands? There was other evidence of mental and/or emotional vulnerability (medication, a vague reference to a possible eating disorder) but the underlying cause was never explained. Were all of Daisy’s pre-war problems just due to the fact that her dad ignored her? Maybe the character was more fully fleshed out in the novel. Or maybe it doesn’t matter. The message of the film was survival and forward motion, not looking back.

Regardless of the cause of Daisy’s initial troubles, the one bright spot of the film was watching her transform from a prickly, obsessive, anti-social teen into someone with close family relationships, the competence to plan and execute a cross-country trek back home through land pock-marked with enemies and other dangers, and the will not just to survive but to make sure those she cares about do too.

Above all, How I Live Now is a film that makes you appreciate life. All of it. The big stuff. Family. A safe place. A sense of self. And the small stuff. Gardens. Sunshine. Clean water.

American Horror Show (Coven)

Even though I’m a speculative fiction fan, I don’t read or watch a lot of horror. But I love certain aspects of it: dark, macabre storylines, monsters, usually a twist or two, and sometimes, humor. I think I first heard about this show in Entertainment Weekly and the premise intrigued me: a New Orleans boarding school for non-conformists who also happen to be witches. In the first episode, a witch accidentally kills her boyfriend – by her act of passion, not in an act of passion – and another is burned at the stake (she comes back to life in E2). The show never looked back. Each episode just got more and more outlandish, which is what makes it so entertaining.

Ordinarily, by now, I would be wondering how the creators could possibly sustain the dramatic trajectory they’ve put themselves on, but that brings me to the other reason I got hooked on the show: its unique anthology format. Each season is a standalone story, with its own story arc – a promised beginning, middle, and end – all in one season. Each season stars many of the same cast members: Jessica Lange, Taissa Farmiga, Evan Peters… As well as some who are there only for that season: Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Emma Roberts, Zachary Quinto… So, of course, I had to go back and start watching season 1 (Murder House) in between episodes of S3. Be forewarned, however, this is not a show for the meek. (Fans of True Blood or Game of Thrones, you’ll be fine. :-D ).

What about you? Have you seen Mr. Nobody, How I Live Now, or American Horror Story (Coven)? What do YOU think? Hope everyone’s having a great week!


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