Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Top 20 movie list, 15-11

Continuing my posts on the top 20 films I've seen this year with my husband Oliver. If you didn't catch the last post, that's got the standards and the structure, plus the first 5 on the list, check out the post from December 22.

#15 The Lunchbox (July 20th, 2014 via Netflix – 4 stars)
The Lunchbox (2013) Poster

Saajan, (Irrfan Kahn) an accountant in Mumbai receives the wrong lunchbox from the famous lunchbox delivery service. This one is from Ila (Nimrat Kaur), a young wife and mother, rather than the restaurant he expects. Through a series of notes, they become involved in each others' lives, culminating a deep friendship. Meanwhile, he trains his replacement, a poor young man. This touching film from India made me laugh and smile. The ending, which I won’t give away, resists simple closure, and seemed, to me, to fit perfectly. I hope to see more of this director and these actors make it across the pond to American cinemas and onto my radar.


#14 Life Itself (August 10, 2014 at the Cameo Theater – 4 stars)
Life Itself (2014) Poster
The George Ebert biopic. A warm tribute made by people who loved him, this film is a tearjerker (it certainly made me cry), though it isn’t necessarily sad. Ebert died after a long struggle with cancer, but also after an amazing and exciting career in film journalism, and with a deeply loved wife and family. It would be impossible to underestimate the effect he had on the film industry, and the movie delves into his sometimes volatile relationship with Gene Siskel. I know my first introduction to film criticism was watching Siskel and Ebert with my parents when I was kid. This film reminded me why he made me, and so many other people, want to go to the movies.

#13 Begin Again (July 23, 2014 at the Cameo Theater – 4 stars)
Begin Again (2013) Poster
In some ways, this is an old story. Gretta (Keira Knightly), a singer-songwriter, comes to New York with her just-about-to-make-it boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine). Fame breaks them up. On the night she moves in with Steve (James Corden), only a friend, she also meets Dan (Marc Ruffalo). Dan has been recently fired from his own music company, but when he hears Gretta play at an open mic night, the arrangement of her song blooms in his head (and for the studio audience). He convinces her to work with him, and they produce an album all recorded in various famous spots in New York City. One of the best things about this movie is that it is not a romance between the main characters. As Dan repairs his relationship with his estranged wife and fed-up daughter, Gretta gets ready to make it on her own. Sure, the film has the clich├ęd “will she take her ex back” and “will they use his old record label?” But both moments work well—and the music and acting are so good—that they show that originality isn’t always the key to great films; recurring myths done well are beautiful, too.

#12 Chef (July 7, 2014 at the Cameo Theater – 4.25 stars)
Chef (2014) Poster
This movie made the list for no other reason than I loved it. It’s predictable, but like I said about Begin Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) loses his job as an executive chef after a particularly public Twitter fight with a critic (Oliver Platt). He ends up starting a food truck to get back to the food he likes to cook, and takes his son (Emjay Anthony) along for the ride. Of course it’s a success, and of course he repairs his marriage to Inez (Sofia Vergara). Of course it leads to a fabulous new restaurant partially funded by aforementioned critic, who had loved his early cooking. What makes this movie great is the acting (plus a fun near-cameo by Robert Downey Jr.), and Favreau’s clear, genuine passion for the food he’s cooking. And he can cook. That passion transfers to his character and then to the audience. Another sweet family movie (yes, I’m sensing a theme in my choices), but one that tops the list.

#11: The Lego Movie (February 16, 2014 at Carmike Theater – 4.5 stars)
The Lego Movie (2014) Poster
And so we get to the blockbuster part of the list. Oliver was unsure about The Lego Movie, but I had wanted to see it from trailer 1. With sufficient good reviews, we headed to see it. This movie is a blast—a blockbuster animation movie, a silly kids movie, a slapstick comedy for adults, and a hidden family film all in one. Chris Pratt is great as the voice of Emmett, an ordinary constructor worker who finds himself “the special.” It brings together Batman, Gandalf, Shakespeare, the DC characters, Shaquille O’Neil, and many more as “master builders” who create worlds with the legos in their world. Plus, the father / son stuff at the end is tear-jerker worthy. “Everything is AWESOME! Everything is cool when you’re part of a team. EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!” There. Now it’s stuck in your head, too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Guest Blog: Liz Colter from Athena's Daughter's II

As you know, I'm excited to be a part of the Athena's Daughters II anthology and kickstarter.  

I'm equally happy to welcome Liz Colter, another author from ADII, here to talk about tone, story creation, and the inspiration for her ADII story, "The Flowers of Cenene."  

Allie is assigned to a three-person, interplanetary Psi-Ops team to investigate a report of a mass murder on a colonial planet. They set out to discover if the colonial leader has established a brutal dictatorship, but the most significant discoveries Allie makes are about herself and her fellow team members.

When I begin a story, I tend to begin with tone. Not always, but usually.

In order, the process is most often a feeling for the tone I want, followed by rough impression of the protagonist, then a setting, and a general idea of the beginning and ending. I'm a "pantser" not an outliner, and so at that point I begin writing. The tone guides me through the story - short story or novel - as I try to evoke and maintain an atmosphere: strange and unpredictable, lyrical, dark, political, noir; whatever I'm shooting for in that piece. I also strive to emulate the things that impress me most about my favorite authors: Gregory Maguire's beautiful use of language, Neil Gaiman and Tim Powers' ability to take me somewhere I wasn't expecting, George R. R. Martin's depth of characterization, or China Mieville's bizarrely unique worlds.

Even once I've settled on a tone for a story, it remains a fairly abstract. If someone asked me to summarize my life I doubt I could put it into words, yet I have a 'feeling' that I associate with the experience as a whole. In the same way, I 'feel' my protagonist. That, in turn, inspires their story.

My original inspiration for "The Flowers of Cenene," my short story in the Athena's Daughters II anthology, was a dream. It was one of the rare dreams I remembered on waking and it carried a strong emotional hangover, though no story ideas followed at that time. A few months later I was thinking about title ideas and, remembering the flowers in the dream, I jotted down "The Last Flower" and the words "cultural and emotional." No specific location had been implied in the dream, but there was a strong other-worldly feel and there had been a distant city, which shaped this into a science fiction story instead of my more usual fantasy. I knew that my protagonist was female and that I wanted her to have a different cultural background than my own. It's difficult to describe the actual 'feel' of the dream, but I knew it had given me my theme and my main character. I began with Allie in a field of other-worldly flowers, and the rest of the story flowed from there.

More about Liz:

Liz Colter lives in a rural area of the Rocky Mountains and spends her free time with her husband, dogs, horses and writing. Over the years she has worked as a paramedic, an Outward Bound instructor, an athletic trainer, a draft-horse farmer and a dispatcher for concrete trucks, but her true passion is her writing. She has been reading speculative fiction for a lifetime and creating her own speculative worlds for more than a decade. Liz is a recent winner of the Writers of the Future contest (V30), and has upcoming short stories in Galaxy's Edge Magazine and Athena's Daughters 2. She has previously been published in Penumbra e-Mag, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, the Fae anthology from World Weaver Press, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, among others. In longer works, she has two completed fantasy novels and is working on a third. Please visit her website at: