Sunday, April 23, 2017

Worldfest-Houston 2017: Comedy-Romantic / Dark Shorts

The 50th Annual Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival

Comedy-Romantic/Dark Shorts
Saturday, April 22, 2017, 1:00 p.m.

In what has become an April tradition for me, today I attended the first two of several short film sessions at Worldfest-Houston, a terrific film festival that's now in its fiftieth year. The first session was a category I haven't seen in this festival since I started attending in 2014: Comedy-Romantic/Dark Shorts.

Before I get started on individual films, I wanted to note that two trends jumped out for me today: 1) many of the films this year were crowd-funded, based on the credits listing Kickstarter and Indiegogo backers; and 2) a high percentage of the films had terrific cinematography, using unusual camera angles to great effect.

Spoilers may occur in individual reviews, but I'll mark them so folks can avoid them if they want to.

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Director: James Kennedy
Screenwriter: James Kennedy
Length: 23:19 minutes
Category: Comedy/Romantic (listed); Sci-Fi/Dark Comedy (my categorization)
Country: United Kingdom
Link: Film's Kickstarter page

This first film was a treat, and elicited a lot of laughter from the audience. Ed, a hopeless romantic with a crush on a beautiful young woman sitting near him in a diner, has invented a device that lets him choose a "save point" to which he will always return when he dies. This means that each time he screws up in his awkward attempts to approach the woman, all he has to do is kill himself and he can have another go at it. Meanwhile, Ed's actual dining companion, a platonic female friend, is becoming mighty annoyed that Ed is willing to suck her and other people into his ongoing time loop without considering the consequences.

Although this film could easily have been labeled as pure sci-fi, it truly was a dark comedy, and actors Edward Easton and Kath Hughes had just the right comedic timing and delivery. I did miss some of the dialogue due to the actors' accents (and the fact that they kept talking with food in their mouths), but what I did hear was pretty damn funny, and overall the film was quite polished. And this is one film for which I won't spoil the ending, because to do so in this case would be criminal.

P.S. - Click on the poster to enlarge it enough to see the words -- they're as funny as the film was!

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Bank Robber's Serenade
(orig: Braquage Sérénade)

Director: Guillaume de Ginestel
Screenwriter: Guillaume de Ginestel
Length: 22:56 minutes
Category: Comedy-Black/Dark (listed); Comedy-Romantic/Dark (my categorization)
Country: France
Link: Film's IMDB page

A bank robber in love with one of his early heist victims has stalked her -- via repeated robberies -- all over town for several years. As this film opens, he has finally worked up the courage to kidnap her in order to declare his love, all while wearing his customary ski mask. His partner sits in the car as well, suffering from a gunshot wound but still playing the supportive wingman to the best of his ability.

I found this film both funny and endearing. Not that I exactly condone stalking someone and committing repeated felonies in the name of love, but I think the audience was pretty much rooting for the robber in spite of his tenuous grasp on reality and his tendency to write terrible poetry. There's also a terrific moment when the sidekick's girlfriend shows up to support her man as well.

Finally, the cinematography in this film was gorgeous.

* * *

Beyond Shattered Lenses

Director: Avree Ito-Fujita
Screenwriter: Avree Ito-Fujita
Length: 10:26 minutes
Category: Drama/Mix Media(listed); Sci-Fi / Comedy (my categorization)
Country: United States
Link: Film's Facebook page

In this film, a lowly office worker named Travis is furious when the mean boss lady deliberately steps on his glasses, then is surprised when those same glasses portray the people around him according to how he feels about them: said boss lady is a devil wreathed in a halo of flames; several co-workers are mindless robots; and the pretty tall co-worker looks like she's auditioning for a Noxzema commercial, complete with hair blowing in the breeze.

Although the film's concept was cute, the evil boss is so over-the-top that it was hard to get past her. Not only did she torment Travis, she also pours coffee on Travis's boss's report and then fires him for being clumsy, even though we weren't led to believe that she hated him the way she did Travis. Also, while this is a petty complaint, I kept noticing how deliberately props were placed where they would be needed for the next bit of action. Of course, props do have to be put in the right places, but the set never looked natural or realistic to me.

I also felt that some of the dialogue wasn't thought through. Travis's boss says he can't lose his job because his woman wants to go somewhere fancy on their honeymoon. This would imply to me that he's not married yet, but he's wearing a wedding ring. And then at one point he's approached by an attractive colleague and he pockets her number with a big smile, implying that he plans to follow up with her. This, from a man who is so recently married that he hasn't even gone on his honeymoon yet. These are small things, but they're also unnecessary distractions.

I will note that there was one adorable moment when Travis and the boss lady face off with each other, using cardboard tubes that glow like lightsabers courtesy of the broken spectacles, and an animated tumbleweed rolls across the cubicle farm to the music of a classic western showdown. That made me laugh out loud.

* * *

Hi-Glow Retro

Director: Alex Morsanutto
Screenwriter: Alex Morsanutto
Length: 13:52 minutes
Category: Comedy-Romantic
Country: United States
Link: Film's IMDB page

This film starts out with scenes rapidly flashing by in which a high school student named Tommy finds himself in the spotlight at a wild and crazy party. In retrospect, I think we're meant to view this as a product of Tommy's imagination, but while viewing the film, I thought that Tommy's moment of glory was actually happening, and we were going to get the "here's how we got here" flashback.

Alas, that isn't quite what happened. We do go back in time a week, to when Tommy's love interest promises to dance with him if he'll come to the school's retro seventies disco party, but when the big day arrives, he doesn't exactly become the life of the party, at least not in a positive way. He experiences an epic fail, even after preparing all week by paying a sexy, tough co-worker to teach him to dance.

There was a lot to like about this film. Tommy was nerdy in a charming way, and the editing work, with lots of rapid cuts, seemed quite expert. I enjoyed the dance lesson scenes, except that I couldn't help comparing them to the ones in The Silver Linings Playbook, in which Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper similarly prepare for a big dance night.

* * *


Director: Mark D. Manalo
Screenwriter: Amy Lowe Starbin
Length: 13:52 minutes
Category: Suspense/Thriller (listed); Drama (my categorization)
Country: United States
Link: Contest page for this film's movie poster

Well, this film certainly must have an identity crisis! The program book lists it as "suspense/thriller" but I didn't see it as either that, or as a romantic dark comedy; instead, I found this to be straight drama. Fiona is a college student and a virgin, and is particularly frustrated by the latter condition. While slowly developing a relationship with a sexy co-worker, she re-connects with her on-again off-again estranged mother. The usual family tensions are heightened when her mother reveals that she has advanced colectoral cancer but cannot afford the recommended therapy. Fiona vows to find the money, and ends up heading in an unexpected direction.

On the plus side, the acting was fantastic all around; Renee Faia, who plays the mother, was particularly effective. (She also reminded me of a younger, more natural version of Cher.) On the other hand, I felt as though the film ended in the wrong place. While I believe that a lot can be left unsaid in storytelling, the abruptness of the ending, and the lack of true resolution, was a little frustrating.

On a side note, I didn't really understand the film's title until I looked up the word "loveology," and found it described as "a theology of love." That makes sense. Fiona's preoccupation with religion and saving herself for marriage is challenged on more than one front, and it also rang true to me that a young woman whose mother was often not there (alcoholism is strongly implied) would turn to religion in an effort to find structure and meaning in her life.

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My next post will be on Saturday's "Sci Fi Shorts."

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Click here to see my other reviews of Worldfest-Houston short film screenings from this and previous years.
Read more!

Friday, April 14, 2017

New Story Podcast - Places We Call Home

I'm happy to announce that my novelette titled "Places We Call Home" is now available in the April 2017 issue of Perihelion. It can be read as free online text, but even better, it's available in podcast form (also free), narrated by the talented Lauren Harris and produced by Bryan Lincoln.

In this story, Bronwyn realizes that her younger sister Faren is suffering from neeranji, an alien form of homesickness. With time of the essence, Bronwyn must ask herself what she is willing to sacrifice to make things right.

I started this story in the year 2000 while attending Clarion West, but it just wasn't working. In the years since, I returned to this story over and over, trying to capture a specific emotion that eluded me. Aside from the first paragraph, which remained unchanged during fifteen years of revision, I finally got the rest of the story just the way I wanted it. Now I consider this my most fully realized story to date.

Read -- or, better yet, listen to -- the story here.

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Several of my other stories are available as podcasts as well (click on "Read more" for links):

(* this episode consists of several bear-themed flash stories) Read more!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Hugo Nominations

This post is woefully late, since the nominations for Hugo Awards close tonight. I'm afraid personal circumstances have prevented me from posting for several months, and from finishing up my short fiction reading project the way I intended, but for what it's worth, these are some of the works I just nominated for the Hugo Awards. (I nominated other works as well, but these are the ones that I would like to draw attention to, for a variety of reasons.)


- "The Long Fall Up" by William Ledbetter, F&SF May-June 2016

- "The Map of Tiny Perfect Things" by Lev Grossman, Summer Days and Summer Nights (anthology), St. Martin's Griffin, 2016


- "Sparrows" by Gary Emmett Chandler, Flash Fiction Online, May 2016

- "Millepora" by Shannon Peavey, Flash Fiction Online, March 2016

- "The Right Sort of Monsters" by Kelly Sandoval, Strange Horizons, April 2016

- "The Opening of the Bayou Saint John" by Shawn Scarber, Strange Horizons, February 2016

- "Walls of Nigeria" by Jeremy Szal, Nature, August 2016


- Arrival

- Passengers


- Beautiful Dreamer, directed by David Gaddie, based on the short story "Memories of My Mother" by Ken Liu"

If you are eligible to nominate, please do, even if you only nominate a single work or person. Every nomination counts!

Read more!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

New Short Story at "Escape Pod"

Captain Drake Learns His Lines

I'm happy to share the news that a story I co-authored with Kate Suratt recently appeared on the podcast Escape Pod. This story introduces the hapless Captain Drake, who just can't seem to catch a break.... You can listen to the story or read it online here.

[Please disregard the "read more" link at the end of this post.] Read more!