Saturday, December 23, 2017

Merry Christmas from the Writing Fortress

Image result for royalty free merry christmas

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Stronger paints a realistic picture of recovery from the Boston bombing

As an author, I think it's fascinating how screenwriters can bring real events to the Big Screen.

RELEASED on DVD on December 19th.

Movie Title:   Stronger (2017)

Grade: A-

Rating: R, 119 minutes

In a Nutshell:   Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is outstanding, as always.  He’s truly fantastic in everything he does.  I'm such a fan. I'd love to see him get an Oscar nomination for this role.  He deserves it.  He really makes you feel.

This dramatic, true story spotlights emotional honesty as one of the many heroes from the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 attempts to regain his life.  The fantastic Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman, whose

If you like this kind of #BostonStrong movie, there is another one very similar called Patriot's Day.  In fact, both movies were filmed at the same time.

#BostonStrong !!
Uplifting theme: 
  • Tenacity, perseverance
  • Strength of every kind
  • family, loyalty
  • "You helped me as much as I helped you." - Carlos (Carlos Sanz)   I was super impressed with Carlos' humble spirit.
  • "I just want to see the world from higher up." - Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal)  I'm interpreting that line in a couple of different ways.  He says it when he realizes he wants to be a better man, as well as get out of his wheelchair and walk.
  • Hope

Things I liked:
  • Fantastic camera angle in the scene where they take off Jeff’s bandages.
  • It doesn’t feel like an acted movie, but more of a realistic documentary.
  • I’ve been to Boston twice and absolutely love it there.  It just broke my heart to see the iconic city in so much pain.  I will never understand evil people who hurt others.
  • It's not just about a man's rehabilitation from a terrible injury, but also the transition from being a regular guy to a national hero.
  • Director David Gordon Green hired real medical personnel to act in certain scenes, which is pretty cool.  My twin sister is a nurse.
  • There is an incredibly touching, powerful scene towards the end of the movie that will make you weep or even sob.
  • Miranda Richardson was really great.
  • Tatiana Maslany also did a fantastic job.  The relationship between Jeff and Erin was really interesting and showed the ups and downs of a relationship under stress and extremely unusual circumstances.
  • Both Jeff Bauman and Jake Gyllenhaal got to throw the first pitch at Boston's Fenway Park in 2016.  Cool.
  • Blue collar grit.

Things I didn’t like:
  • I felt so bad for the Costco manager who was simply trying to help and Jeff’s family jumped all over him.  I understand that they were grieving and in shock, but still…a little kindness goes a long way.  The family is extremely dysfunctional and not pleasant to spend time with, but their fierce love and loyalty are inspiring.  By the way, the real Costco supervisor is an Extra in several scenes in the movie.
  • So much profanity.  Seriously, can't anyone speak a single sentence without using vulgar language? 

Tips for parents: 
  • A LOT of profanity and crude language, including F-bombs.
  • Some nudity during a pre-marital sex scene, mostly a women’s chest.
  • Some bloody, gory images of Jeff’s legs.
  • Lots of people smoking and drinking.


New movie about Charles Dickens makes authors smile and laugh

If you're an author, you'll get a kick out of this new movie about one of England's most cherished authors, Charles Dickens.  I posted this movie review on my web site Movie Review Mom.   Enjoy!

Movie Title:  The Man Who Invented Christmas

Grade:  A-

Rating:  PG, 104 minutes

In a Nutshell:   I admit it.  I loved this movie, because I'm an author.  

I have a particular fondness for movies that peel back the curtains on the life of a successful author and reveal the painful writing process, including writer’s block, muses, and taking notes of people’s names (I do all that too.)  In this case, Charles Dickens is the author and the book that he struggles to write in less than 6 weeks is the famous, beloved A Christmas Carol: Original illustrations by John Leech.

I love that he was inspired by life around him.  Charles Dickens’ father warns, “We must not disturb the poet when the divine frenzy is upon him.”  True THAT!  When I’m writing and “in the zone”, it makes me crazy when I get interrupted, so I got a kick out of watching Charles Dickens deal with the constant knocking at his door.

Based on the book, this family friendly film is perfect for almost all ages and will leave you with the desire to do something kind for someone this Christmas season.  In fact, after A Christmas Carol: Original illustrations by John Leech was released in 1843, charitable giving immediately surged.  I hope this movie gets the same reaction.

Uplifting theme: 
  • “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.” –
  • “Christmas…the hope that our better natures will prevail.” - John
  • Are you fettered by chains that you have made in life?  Jacob asked, “Do you know the link of the chain you bear yourself?”
  • Poor vs. rich

Things I liked:
  • Dan Stevens and those blue eyes!  If you wanted to see more of him since you first discovered him in Beauty and the Beast (2017) (Theatrical Version), you’ll love watching him star in this movie as Charles Dickens.
  • Christopher Plummer was perfect as Ebenezer Scrooge. 
  • The set pieces, furniture, and costume designs are really great.  I loved the details like the oil lamps for street lights.  Speaking of sets, some of the pieces from the TV series Penny Dreadful: Season One were used to make this film.  Despite the fact that you really feel like you’re in 19th Century London, most of the filming was done in Ireland.
  • Some well-placed humor.
  • The audience laughed when Charles Dickens’ publisher said, “There’s not much of a market for Christmas.”
  • While A Christmas Carol addresses the spirit of Christmas more than particular Christian beliefs, Charles Dickens’ book The Life of Our Lord: Written for His Children During the Years 1846 to 1849 where he bears testimony of the Savior of the world and shares his Christian beliefs.
  • We don’t often see PG live action movies, so this was refreshing to see playing in theaters.
  • I love how the characters in Charles’ books come to life for him and through him and are a part of the cast in the film.  In fact, Charles explains, “Get the name right and the character will appear.”  I write non-fiction and have always been fascinated with how the writing process works for fiction authors who create characters and worlds.
  • There are several references to Shakespeare and, in fact, most of the cast in the film are trained Shakespearean actors.  In real life, Charles Dickens adored “The Bard” and acted in some of his plays.  Many of them had also previously worked on other adaptations of A Christmas Carol.

Things I didn’t like:
  • It’s a little slow moving.
  • Neither the title of the movie nor the original book are properly explained during the movie.
  • Some of the flashbacks were shown at odd times and might be a bit confusing for children.
  • While a biopic of sorts, some of the story is fiction.  We honestly don’t know as much about Charles Dickens’ writing process as we would like to!

Interesting quotes:
  • “Debt is an ogre.  If you’re not careful, it can eat you up.” – Charles Dickens
  • “People will believe anything if you’re finely dressed.” – John Dickens (Jonathan Pryce) 

Funny lines:
  • “I’m the author here!” – Charles Dickens
“Allegedly.” - Scrooge

Tips for parents: 
  • If your kids have never heard or read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, then you’ll want them to become familiar with it first.
  • Kids will be surprised to learn that Christmas wasn’t always so commercial as it is now.
  • Kids also won’t know about “debtors’ prison” in England, where people were sent when they couldn't pay their bills.  That always seemed strange to me, because there would be no possibly way for them to earn the money they owed while in prison!
  • Work houses in England are also mentioned several times.  Poor and destitute people were encouraged to go to work houses to live and earn money.  The conditions and stigma were so terrible that people would rather die than go there.
  • I heard profanity twice. One of those times was the British swear word “bloody.”
  • Some words your kids may not know are “nappies” (British word for “diaper”) and “necromancer” (conjurer).


Saturday, November 11, 2017

New movie takes another look at Agatha Christi's Murder on the Orient Express

Rating: PG-13, 1 hour 54 minutes

In a Nutshell:  With an incredible A-list cast, this is a well-made, stylish “Who-dunnit” mystery directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also stars as the Belgium inspector Hercule Poirot.  

It’s extremely picturesque and beautiful, yet slowly fizzles with a disappointing reveal of who the murderer is.

Uplifting theme: 
  • “We seek the truth from within, not without.” – Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh)
  • “Sometimes the law of man is not enough.” – Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz)
  • “poison of deep grief”, healing, peace
  • Revenge 
  • Right vs. wrong and everything in between
  • Truth

Things I liked:
  • The period pieces and costumes of the 1930’s are beautiful.
  • You don’t often see movies that take their time telling the story.  Both the time period and the style of movie-making seemed old-fashioned.  It was shot in 65 mm and really immerses you in the various environments.  The sets are incredible.
  • The all-star cast includes the talented Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leslie Odom Jr., Daisy Ridley and Derek Jacobi.  Kenneth Branagh was absolutely outstanding. You might wonder how old Judi Dench is…She was born in 1934, making her 82 years old.
  • There was some humor, although the tone was a bit inconsistent, beginning with a very light feel and then remaining mostly dark for the rest of the film.
  • There were some really great camera sequences.  One scene was shot from above the characters as they talked.  Another scene was shot from outside the train as it scanned the people walking down the hall through the windows.  You really feel the movement of the train and feel like you're on one.
  • There is a reference to a murder on the Nile, possibly a sneak peek into a sequel, but definitely a reference to another one of Agatha Christie's books called Agatha Christie's Poirot: Death on the Nile.  Speaking of the author, Agatha Christie's Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express was her best-selling novel.
  • The movie begins at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem with some gorgeous vistas and a funny sequence.  One of these days, I'm going there.
  • There are some beautiful vistas in Istanbul.  One of these days, I’m going there too. 
  • Michelle Pfeiffer sings "Never Forget", which was co-written by director/actor Kenneth Branagh. Wow, he was really busy with this film.
  • The photo of Katherine, Hercule Poirot's lost love, is actually Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh's real ex-wife.

Things I didn’t like:
  • Some say it grinds to a halt, rather than get more intense.  Yeah, it's true.  The ending is anti-climatic.
  • In the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express, the star-studded ensemble had equal moments of importance; whereas this version doesn't have much character arc and kind of fizzles.  A lot of movie critics are comparing it to the movie Clue which was able to develop characters much better.
  • Daisy Ridley’s character is way too young for her character, who should be much older.
  • Sergei Polunin is a famous ballet dancer in real life, but we don’t get to see him dance at all!  Instead, we get to see him beat up some people.
  • All of the actors were great, but felt underutilized.  So much talent wasted.
  • I heard a lady sitting near me say, “That mustache has to go!” Hercule Poirot’s double-decker mustache is ridiculous, but his mustache mask is even worse.  Ha ha   When the 1974 movie of Murder on the Orient Express  Agatha Christie was still alive and she commented on how much she didn't like Albert Finney's mustache on his Hercule Poirot's character.

Interesting lines:
  • “Romance never goes unpunished.” – Hercule Poirot
  • “To a man with a hammer, everything is a nail.” – Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley’s character is actually quoting Mark Twain.)
  • “There is right.  There is wrong.  There is nothing in between.” – Hercule Poirot  (He learns about grey areas.)
  • “Vice is where the devil finds his darlings.” – Pilar Estravados (Penelope Cruz) 

Funny lines:
  • “Did we die?” – Hercule Poirot 

Tips for parents: 
  • Young children may get bored, as it’s a “talking” movie that unfolds slowly.
  • There are some subtitles when two people speak German.
  • French is spoken, but there are no subtitles.



Friday, October 20, 2017

Geostorm is a disaster movie in every sense of the word

Movie Title:  Geostorm

Grade:  C+

Rating: PG-13, 1 hour 49 minutes

In a Nutshell:  I’m embarrassed to admit that I love disaster movies.  This predictable end-of-the-world drama follows the cookie-cutter formula, resulting in a movie that self destructs.  After being delayed many times, this movie is the difinally hits the Big Screen as the directorial debut of Dean Devlin.

Uplifting theme: 
  • Those who are interested in global warming will appreciate the premise of the film, which shows the world in chaos because of natural disasters.  The narrator at the beginning (Hannah Lawson played by Talitha Bateman) announces, “Everyone was warned, but no one listened.”
  • Talitha states at the end of the movie, “No single nation could solve this.”  There’s a theme of togetherness and international unity.  “One planet.  One people.”  Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all really could work together in peace?
  • Family is most important.

Things I liked:
  • The space station was called “The Dutch Boy” named after the old story of the Dutch boy who saved the town by putting his finger in the dike to stop the leak.
  • It gives new meaning to the world wide “net”.
  • Cool gadgets and technology.  I especially liked the “holoframe” cell phone things.
  • Talented cast includes Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Andy Garcia, Richard Schiff, Ed Harris.  Too bad the material isn’t as good as they are.  

Things I didn’t like:
  • A lot of the humor fell flat.
·       Some good special effects, but not much we haven’t already seen before.  Almost every scene was green screen.
·       A lot of things simply don’t make sense and are laughable.
·       It could have been fun if the movie took itself less seriously.  One of my favorite disaster movies of all time is Independence Day                          It's a perfect example of drama, comedy, special effects, and heart.
*    Politicians are evil and stupid.

Tips for parents: 
  • Profanity, including some that a little girl says.  I hate that.
  • Natural disasters and massive destruction.
  • People die.

Want to learn more about global warming? Check out the book Climate Change: The Facts 2017



Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas from the Writing Fortress!

Merry CHRISTmas! 

Thank you for reading my blog in 2016! 



Sunday, November 13, 2016

Arrival movie is a fascinating look at how we communicate with each other

This blog is reserved for my random ideas about writing.  As an author, I'm fascinated with communication, so I simply had to share this movie review I just posted on my movie blog!

Movie Title:  Arrival

Grade:  A

Rating:   PG-13, 116 minutes

In a Nutshell:  Earning 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, this intelligent sci-fi thriller features an outstanding performance from Amy Adams that already has garnered Oscar buzz.  This fascinating film will tickle your brain and warm your heart.

I didn’t want to post my review right after I saw it, because I wanted it to percolate in my head and process it for a while first.  The more I thought about it, the more I loved it.   It’s hard to write a review without giving too much away, so I apologize for the spoiler alerts below.  It’s better to see the movie “blind”, so to speak, so that you get to experience the unfolding of the story.  

"Arriving" at the end of the movie and understanding it is a satisfying journey when you have to work it out in your own mind.

You know a movie has done its job when the audience claps and then slowly walks out of the theater, as they try to contemplate what they have just experienced.  That’s what happened when I sat in a packed theater Friday night.  I can’t wait for you to see it and read your comments!

Uplifting theme: 
  • “Language is complicated and messy and sometimes it can be both.” – Dr. Louise Banks
  • This is less about aliens and science fiction, but instead, more about humanity and working together.
  • “If you could see your whole life start to finish, would you change things?” – Dr. Louise Banks    I loved the movie City of Angels and how, despite life being hard and even heart-breaking at times, it’s still worth living….every minute.

Things I liked:
  • Director Denis Villeneuve usually makes violent, profanity-laced Rated R movies like Sicario and Prisoners, so I was happy to see him offer something else more family-friendly and cerebral. 
  • The cinematography is fantastic.  One of the best takes is when we first see the alien spacecraft in a field in Montana with fog drifting over the ridge.  Gorgeous. The camera rolls in almost a 360 degree span that is absolutely stunning.
  • It reminded me a little bit of the movie  Signs , which I loved, because of the lingering uneasiness that lasts throughout the entire movie.  The tension is handled very well.  It also reminded me of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Contact, because of the lessons we learn about humanity and our connection to the universe.
  • I loved the no-gravity chamber inside the spaceship, especially when the people inside could look far down below at the people walking around.  Super cool. 
  • I’m such a nerd that when Dr. Banks’ lecture on the Portuguese language was interrupted, I was disappointed that I didn’t get to hear it.   Ha ha 
  • We’ve never seen aliens like this before.  We’ve never seen a spaceship like this before.  We’ve never seen a written language like this before.  Three cheers for creative writers!
  • I was mesmerized with how the spaceships left the atmosphere….soooo cool. 
  • Did you catch Louise’s earrings at the fancy event when she was talking to General Shang of China (played by Tzi Ma)?  If you look closely, you’ll also see that same image repeated on her daughter’s notebook.  Pay attention to other places you see a bird in a cage too.
  • There is a little bit of humor, which audiences always appreciate.
  • SPOILER ALERT.  As a university professor who teaches English, I LOVE that the film revolved around language and trying to communicate with the aliens, yet was really about how we humans communicate with each other.  Amy Adams’ character (also a college professor) wrote, “Language is the cornerstone of civilization.”  The gift that the aliens brought was perfect. An intriguing idea in the movie is that language shapes the way we think more than the way we think shapes our language.
  • HUGE SPOILER ALERT!!!!   I LOVED the way that time was used in the movie.  Because we’re human, we view time as linear.  That simple fact makes us believe that what we’re seeing at the beginning of the movie is the beginning of the story.  The movie folds over on itself, just as the language of the aliens does.  Once Louise realizes that, we also realize what is happening in the story.  Very cool.

Things I didn’t like:
  • Some viewers have complained about the slow pace, but I didn’t mind, because it gave my brain a chance to consider all of the different story angles and messages.
  • Each encounter with the aliens cut off too soon.  I wanted them to last longer.
  • Jeremy Renner delivers a good performance.  Unfortunately, his character doesn’t contribute much and he admits that they wouldn’t be anywhere without Louise.  He figures out one thing without her and he makes a really strange decision in the end that I didn’t like. 
  • What was the deal with Forest Whitaker’s weird accent?
  • There is a lot of quiet mumbling, making it often difficult to understand what people are saying.
  • Sometimes things were out of focus, which was annoying.  I recognize that was an artistic choice, forcing us to focus on a specific thing, but sometimes it just annoyed me; I wanted to see everything!

Interesting lines:
  • “If all I ever gave you was a hammer…” – Louise
“Every answer is a nail.” – Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker)

  • Memory is a strange thing.  It doesn’t work like I used to think.  We are bound by time, by its order…” – Louise
  • “There are days that define your story beyond your life.” - Louise

Funny lines:
  • “You made quick work of those insurgent videos.” – Colonel Weber
“You made quick work of those insurgents.” – Louise
  • “When was the last time you did something stressful?” – Army doctor
“Does this count?  Just saying…” – Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner)
  • “Yeah.  That just happened.” – Ian Donnelly
  • “Trust me.  You can understand communication and still end up single.” - Louise

Tips for parents: 

  • Kids will think the aliens are cool, not too scary.
  • Yay for science and math!  
  • There are some subtitles your kids will need to read or have read to them.
  • The one and only person who dropped an F-bomb happened to be an Avenger…Jeremy Renner. 
The movie is based on a short story by Ted Chiang entitled 

Cool alien movies you must see: