Wednesday, December 13, 2017

There's Something About Mary ... Bennet, That Is!

Every year in late November I get the urge to experience a Christmas story that's new to me, so I was excited when I heard that Main Street Theater was staging Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon and directed by Claire Hart-Palumbo. Assuming this to be a sequel to Pride and Prejudice (as opposed to a prequel), I knew it would have to be about Mary or Kitty, the only two Miss Bennets remaining after Jane Austen was finished with her story about five sisters in need of at least a couple of husbands.

Given that Kitty Bennet is only slightly less a flibbertigibbet than her sister Lydia, I hoped this play would focus on the middle sister, Mary Bennet, and so it did. The official synopsis of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley reads as follows:
A sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Miss Bennet is set two years after the novel ends and continues the story, this time with nerdy middle-sister Mary as the unlikely heroine. Mary is growing tired of her role as the dutiful middle sister in the midst of everyone else’s romantic escapades. When the family gathers for Christmas at Pemberley, an unexpected guest sparks Mary’s hopes for independence, an intellectual match, and possibly even love.
Well, there was certainly no way I could resist that, in part because it just so happens I've encountered a rounded-out fictional Mary Bennet once before, in Patrice Sarath's lovely novel The Unexpected Miss Bennet (Berkley, 2011). For those who are unaware, there's an entire literary sub-genre devoted to new stories about the Darcys, the Bingleys, the Dashwoods, and the Knightleys. These "professional fan fiction" stories, if you will, are definitely a mixed bag. Some seem little more than an excuse to use the word "reticule," while others are quite thoughtful examinations of not only Austen's best-loved characters, but also some of her underappreciated ones.

For me, a big part of the fun in seeing this play was comparing these two new versions of Mary. Both are, of course, socially awkward and somewhat prone to lecturing, but in different ways. Sarath's novelized Mary initially clings to moral philosophizing as a way to feel superior, or at least equal, to her prettier, more socially graceful sisters. But Mary has been left behind while her sisters make their way in the world, and she gradually discovers an internal dissatisfaction she didn't know was there. She shocks everyone, including herself, when she agrees to act as a live-in companion to the heiress Anne de Bourgh, a situation that requires living in the lion's den with the Bennet-hating Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Without going into further detail, suffice it to say that this Mary learns to stand up for herself, and as a result finds love.

The Mary depicted by Gunderson and Melcon, on the other hand, finds love and as a result learns to stand up for herself, with a little help from said love interest. This Mary is pedantic, spouting intellectual esoterica at the drop of a hat, or even offering, quite seriously, to explain how human procreation works when someone makes a small joke about the visibly pregnant Jane. In fact, it could be argued that this Mary might today be diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, given her tendency to take every remark literally and her lack of ability to interpret social clues. She is also more sharp-tongued than the original Mary, who may have gently chided the younger Lydia and Kitty from time to time, but not with biting sarcasm. This approach works nicely in the play, however, due to the comedic opportunities it offers.

The de Bourgh family also plays a significant role in both stories. As mentioned, in The Unexpected Miss Bennet, Anne and Lady Catherine, in part at least, provide the means for Mary to find her own path in life. In Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, a newly invented (I believe) de Bourgh, Arthur, arrives to take his place as the head of Rosings due to the recent death of Lady Catherine. The formidable lady had wanted her daughter Anne to inherit, but we all know that's not how it worked in those days. Thus Anne, frightened of losing her home and her social standing, interrupts not only the Pemberly Christmas gathering but also Mary and Arthur's budding romance, imperiously announcing that she is to marry Arthur. And while Mary does not become Anne's companion in this story, that position, lying somewhere between friend and servant, does go to someone else in need of breaking away.

In the meantime, the youngest Bennet sister, Lydia, has arrived without her ne'er-do-well husband, Wickham; she pretends to be deliriously happy in marriage, but flirts shamelessly with the naive Arthur just the same. Lizzie and Jane, who actually are truly happy, spend the remainder of the play contemplating ways to help both of their sisters, while the entire cast of characters navigates misunderstandings and comically awkward encounters.

(And in case you're wondering where Kitty is during all this, she's off in London with an aunt and uncle; one of my favorite jokes of the play occurs near the end, when Jane and Lizzie observe that they'll have to bring Kitty up to date on Mary's news, since Kitty has simply been "left out of the whole story.")

Even if you don't consider yourself an Austenite, or don't know the first thing about the Bennet sisters, this play is a charming way to ease into the holiday season. For this production, the cozy venue that is Main Street Theater's Rice Village location sports a single set, the Pemberly drawing room, surrounded by the audience on three sides in riser seats. At the beginning of Act 1, a bare evergreen tree stands in front of the window, prompting every character who enters the room to say some variation on "Lizzie, did you know there's a tree in your drawing room?!" Naturally, the tree doesn't remain bare, making this very much a Christmas celebration for both players and audience.

The performances are as charming and polished as the set. Chaney Moore is simultaneously humorous and sympathetic as Mary, and it's an extra bonus that her version of the character plays the pianoforte brilliantly, since the original Mary was specifically known for her mediocrity in that regard. Having this Mary as a now-accomplished musician shows that she'd been doing a little growing of her own even before meeting her new love interest: the earnest and bumbling Arthur as played by Brock Hatton. The Darcys and the Bingleys are played, respectively, by Laura Kaldis, Spencer Plachy, Heidi Hinkel, and Blake Weir; these characters remain primarily cheerful throughout the show, mixing enjoyable wit into their concern for their loved ones. However, it's the actors playing Anne de Bourgh (Lindsay Ehrhardt) and Lydia Wickham (Skyler Sinclair) who really have a chance to shine. Their roles have the most humor, as Anne pursues Arthur with domineering haughtiness instead of tenderness, while Lydia tries to slink around like a cat and maneuver herself as physically close to Arthur as possible.

So do I prefer one of these two Mary Bennets over the other? No, and that's what makes juxtapositions like this fun -- you don't have to choose if you don't want to, but you still can debate whether the author and playwrights improved upon the original characters, whether the interpretations ring true, and even how you would have done it yourself if you were the one telling Mary Bennet's story. At any rate, I highly recommend both tales of Mary, and the Christmas elements of Gunderson and Melcon's play are a lovely added bonus at this time of year.

[Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is currently running at the Main Street Theater in Rice Village (2540 Times Blvd.). It was originally set to run from November 11 through December 17, 2017, but due to high demand, additional performances have been added as follows: Wednesday, December 20 at 7:30 pm; Thursday, December 21 at 7:30 pm; Friday, December 22 at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, December 23 at 7:30 pm. For ticket information, click here.]

Read more!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

FENCON XIV - September 22-24, 2017

Here is my programming schedule for FenCon XIV, which takes place in Irving, Texas (Dallas-Fort Worth area) this weekend on September 22-24, 2017. I highly recommend this convention, which I've been attending for years. Click here for more information.


Friday 8:00 PM - Chinaberry - "Is Writing Media Tie-Ins Right For You?"

Writing tie-ins means working with someone else's characters and settings, and the rules of their worlds. How can you do projects like this justice, and what unexpected joys and limitations might you run into? Kevin J. Anderson, Brad Sinor, Amy Sisson, Kathryn Sullivan (*)


Saturday 12:00 - Pecan - Reading

This will be a reading from my short fiction. For those who came last year, be warned: Captain Drake rides again!


Sunday 10:00 AM - Red Oak - "20 Years of Harry Potter"

Harry Potter is 20 -- well the books are. How timeless are the books? Are you reading them to your children/grandchildren? Where is the Harry Potter Franchise headed? Are you looking forward to prequel movies, and more books around the cauldron? Leslie Hudson, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Amy Sisson, Libby A. Smith, Rosemary Clement (*)


Sunday 12:00 PM - Chinaberry - "You Collect What!?"

What are you collecting these days? Anything you wanna show off? Do you collect pens/envelopes/action figures/pulp books/Pez dispensers? Share your collecting habits and magic ways with your fellow fans. Alan J. Porter, Amy Sisson, Vixy, Lys Childs-Wiley (*)

(*) = moderator

Read more!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Two New Short Stories - July 2017

* * *

I have two new stories out this month, both free to read at the links below.

"Jackpot Time"

Every day, Cass puts a quarter into "Bessie," the slot machine at the Lovelock Grand View Cafe. Is it possible Bessie might give her something special in return? This story appears in Issue 19 (July 2017) of the Devilfish Review.
* * *

"Ménagerie in Motion"

With animals ranging from a lynx kitten to a floating yellow angelfish, Armand's Amazing Traveling Ménagerie is on the move yet again. But how long can Armand keep the Ménagerie in motion all by himself? This story appears in the Summer 2017 issue of Syntax and Salt.

* * *

To see a complete list of my published short stories, click here.

* * *

Read more!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Worldfest-Houston 2017: Animation/Family Shorts

The 50th Annual Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival

Animation/Family Shorts
Sunday, April 23, 2017, 1:00 p.m.

* * *

The animation short film category always tends to be strong at Worldfest-Houston, and this year was no exception. The category also encompassed several family shorts without animation this year, some of them just as strong. Overall, this has been my favorite category so far this year.

* * *


Director: Pia Shah
Screenwriter: Pia Shah
Length: 14:49 minutes
Category: Family/Children
Country: India
Link: Complete film on Vimeo

In "Waterbaby", a boy named Melvin lives in the coastal town of Goa, but is afraid of water after being thrown into it as a young child; this fear makes him the target of bullies during swimming lessons at school. After being invited to a pool party by the new girl in his class, Melvin finds courage by remembering the adventures of his favorite cartoon superhero, who happens to have a goldfish sidekick.

This film was sweet and just the right length, and I enjoyed how the small amount of animation was integrated. Some of the film's music was so pretty that I'd love to find a recording of it. "Waterbaby" is a simple story, but the writer/director added some depth by indicating that Melvin's father was neglectful of both wife and son, with behavior verging on mental cruelty.

The only thing about the film that bothered me was the way Melvin spoke to his mother, snapping at her not to touch his things, and complaining about the food she fixed for him without thanks of any kind. It's possible this was meant simply to show his agitation, but I found it unfortunate that he didn't treat his mother much better than his father did. Overall, however, this film left me with a good feeling.

* * *

Fox and the Whale

Director: Robin Joseph
Length: 12:03 minutes
Category: Animation/Family-Children
Country: Canada
Link: Film trailer on YouTube

The only way to describe "Fox and the Whale" is to call it a gorgeous piece of animation. The viewer follows a simply rendered fox as it explores nature, and in particular searches for an elusive and mysterious whale. I liked the juxtaposition of the fox's minimal, shape-based body (triangles for the head and legs) with the more complex shapes, shadows, and reflections of the various environments through which it passes.

Overall, this piece was both beautiful and soothing, like one of those CDs with a babbling brook intertwined with the music. In addition, there was a lovely attention to detail; the fox's tail never stopped moving, and its reflection in the wet sand on the beach was always visible. "Fox and the Whale" was just a pleasure to watch.

* * *

Quitting Time

Director: Robert Dollase
Screenwriter: Robert Dollase
Length: 9:20 minutes
Category: Animation
Country: United States
Link: Various download links for film

If I had gone to the theater to see a big studio blockbuster movie, and seen this particular animated short preceding it, I wouldn't have blinked an eye. It was so polished and clever that it looked like it came from a major animation studio itself.

The program's synopsis says that "in the age of dinosaurs, a stubborn and obstinate time traveler refuses to learn the lessons of this future." What it doesn't say is how hilarious this film is, as the mad scientist time traveler ignores his future self's warnings about meddling in the past, and the two versions of him actually come to blows.

* * *

Papa Under Water

Director: Welf Reinhart
Length: 8:30 minutes
Category: Family/Children
Country: Germany
Link: Film's IMDB page


In this family-oriented short film, a boy who feels neglected by his stressed-out father occupies himself by cleaning his goldfish's aquarium, but he accidentally endangers the fish, and ends up flooding his father's work area, including his computer and paperwork. The father is angry at first but then sees an opportunity to reconnect with his son.

Like "Waterbaby", this was a heartfelt film with a good message, and I quite enjoyed it. I did think the father's transition from anger to affection was slightly rushed and unexplained, but I'm still glad it went in that direction.

* * *

Falling in the Flowers

Director: Yating Liang
Screenwriters: Yating Liang, Christopher L. Adam
Length: 12:14 minutes
Category: Family/Children
Country: United States
Link: Demo reel on IMDB


A young girl with low self-esteem finds herself ignored or ridiculed by her peers, until a gardener named Mr. Ted gives her a flower that he says makes the wearer beautiful. The girl is amazed how much difference her newfound confidence makes, then realizes she wasn't wearing the flower after all, but had rather dropped it before setting out to go home.

This was a sweet film, but I felt as though Mr. Ted's role and lines were a little too on the nose. His interaction with the girl seemed forced to me, as though he was a generic "wise old man." I did like the message for the most part, but it was conveyed and resolved so simplistically that it wasn't quite as effective as I might have liked.

* * *

Not Real

Director: Michael Nicholls
Screenwriter: Michael Nicholls
Length: 6:02 minutes
Category: Family/Children
Country: Australia
Link: Film's trailer on Vimeo

I adored this film. A young boy is horrified when his father tells him that Santa Claus isn't real. When his baby sister sleepwalks and happens upon the parents trying to put together "Santa's" gifts on Christmas Eve, the boy has to decide whether to take his disappointment out on his parents, or keep the magic alive for his sister.

At just over six minutes, this film manages to tell a whole story, and it includes some funny bits in which the boy imagines his parents' malicious delight at having deceived him. And even though appearances shouldn't matter this much, I have to say that the baby sister may have been the most beautiful little girl I've ever seen. Seriously, the face of an angel.

But my picture above shows the boy instead, because it was his story, and the young actor did a terrific job. I would list his name, but the acting credits in the program book don't specify which actor played which role.

* * *

First Snow

Director: Lenka Ivancikova
Screenwriters: Lenka Ivancikova
Length: 13:34 minutes
Category: Family/Children (listed); Animation (my categorization)
Country: Czech Republish
Link: Film's trailer

In this film, a young hedgehog wakes up and goes exploring while its parents lay sleeping. While on its adventure, the hedgehog experiences its first snow and is entranced until it realizes that it can't see the familiar landmarks to find its way back to its den.


Story-wise, "First Snow" is simple but effective. The hedgehog encounters danger when it is stalked by a fox, but fortunately for the hedgehog, the fox is stalked by something else in return. I cringed a little at the violence of the encounter, but it's not as though it was gratuitous or even gory -- it's just a personal trigger for me to see animals of any kind in danger. But there was nothing wrong with including this bit of realism in the film, and since our viewpoint character has a happy ending, I can't complain.

Technically speaking, the animation was extremely accomplished, and the depiction of the full moon was enchanting.

* * *

Green Light

Director: Seongmin Kim
Screenwriters: Seongmin Kim; Woojin Chang
Length: 15:33 minutes
Category: Animation
Country: Korea
Link: Film's trailer on YouTube

"Green Light" was a good film on which to end the session; it had the most polished animation of any of the entries, and told a sweet if predictable story. In an post-environmental-disaster world, a young girl encounters a broken battle robot and fixes him, after which it joins her in her efforts to re-seed the barren landscape with plants. Unfortunately another battle robot happens upon the scene and, presumably following its original program, engages the first robot in battle, with tragic consequences but an ultimately hopeful message.

While the message of this film isn't subtle, it happens to be a message I agree with, so it's hard for me to find fault with it. I was reminded of Wall-E, both in story and style. I also liked the film's lack of dialogue -- and I loved the swiveling "bunny ears" on the young girl's environmental suit. Finally, the landscape vistas were breathtaking.

* * *

My next post will be on Monday's "Texas Shorts" session.

* * *

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

* * *
Read more!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Audio teaser: Places We Call Home

This is a 52-second audio teaser for my recently published story "Places We Call Home", narrated by Lauren Harris and produced by Bryan Lincoln.

To access the entire story in audio or text, click here.

And here is the same snippet in text form:

ONE OF MY MOST VIVID MEMORIES from our time on Radu IV is hearing my nanny calling, or rather trilling, “Faeeeerrrin! Faeeeerrrin!” He did this every evening after the first sunset and before the second. His inflection, alien but familiar, made a song of the name, so beautiful that even now the memory brings back feelings of safety and longing and loss.

Safety because those were the days when I knew my world, and felt safe in it. Longing because Anyuen wasn’t calling me; he was calling Faren, my baby sister.

And loss because Faren is lost to me forever.

Read more!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Worldfest-Houston 2017: Sci-Fi Shorts

The 50th Annual Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival

Sci-Fi Shorts
Saturday, April 22, 2017, 3:00 p.m.

* * *

Rebel Scum

Director: Timothy Van Nguyen
Screenwriter: Paul Van Nguyen
Length: 9:07 minutes
Category: Animation/Sci-Fi
Country: Canada
Links: Official film

In this Star Wars fan film, a Rebel pilot is stranded following the battle on Hoth. After destroying an Imperial probe droid, he finds a wounded Stormtrooper and comes up with a way to save himself.

This short film is obviously a true labor of love. In fact, it so accurately recreates the atmosphere of The Empire Strikes Back that I initially wondered if it was using footage from the original movie, but the filmmakers' website says that it was made "over a period of 2 months on the Athabasca Glacier situated on the Columbia icefield in Alberta, Canada." When an AT-AT, aka Imperial Walker, comes into view, the difference in skill level between the original material and this film are slightly more apparent, but the stop-motion animation was still incredibly impressive.


At a scant nine minutes long, this work seemed to be more about the technical challenges than about the actual story. There is a plot, of course; the pilot exchanges his flight suit for the Stormtrooper's snow armor, presumably enabling himself to hitch a ride off-planet with the Empire. But the plot is very slight indeed.

While I don't want to undermine the success of the film's technical execution, two things kept me from fully enjoying the story. First, I knew that the Stormtrooper was a woman the moment I saw her even though her armor was identical to every other Imperial soldier and she was sitting down, so if her gender was intended to be a surprise, it didn't work for me. Second, I didn't believe the Rebel pilot could exchange their apparel so completely out in the bitter cold.

My minor nitpicks notwithstanding, the filmmakers deserve a lot of credit for the amount of work put into this short film.

* * *


Director: Maru Buendia-Senties
Screenwriter: Maru Buendia-Senties
Length: 13:00 minutes
Category: Sci-Fi
Country: United States
Link: Film's webpage

This little bilingual (English and Spanish) film was a real treat, visually and otherwise. A woman living in an almost-all-white apartment goes jogging before coming back home to work at some unspecified task on a transparent computer display. Her routine rarely varies, although she does take time out to fold colorful origami hot air balloons, which provide not only the apartment's only color, but also it's only non-functional decor. One day she is surprised and pleased to see another woman through her transparent window, but when she tries to locate the other woman's apartment, she keeps ending up back where she started.

I won't spoil this one, but I will say that the story was right up my alley. The visuals, including creative camera angles, striking white-and-color contrasts, and computer graphics, were stunning. The spare dialogue was effective, and even the music was notable, resulting in a lovely short film that proves how much story can be told in a short time. My only quibble is that I felt the third character, shown only briefly, was unnecessary.

* * *


Director: Emil Sallinen
Screenwriter: Emil Sallinen
Length: 8:53 minutes
Category: Sci-Fi
Country: Finland
Link: Film's trailer

In "Might", the viewer is transported back and forth between scenes showing a female rebel entering some kind of tomb or ruin and being captured, and the same female standing with three other condemned prisoners in a futuristic coliseum while a religious overlord addresses the vast crowd that is there to witness the executions.


While I liked the look of this film, I found it a bit difficult to follow what was going on. The program description says that Maryam is a rebel leader who is "set to prove that the god hovering in the sky is a lie." But she is stopped by "a holy warrior that turns out to be her lost father. Soon their lives change as they are about to find out a secret only a god can keep."

Unfortunately, I did not take any of that away from my viewing of the film. While it was obvious that the rebel knew the older male warrior who at first tried to capture her and then took her side, only to be arrested along with her, I'm not sure there was any way the audience could figure out their actual relationship. My initial take on the story before reading the description was that the woman was a tomb raider of some kind, and the place she entered was the ancient ruin of the place where the executions had taken place long before, possibly thousands of years ago. I thought that perhaps the ruins retained some kind of telepathic or empathic energy, making this woman briefly flash back to what had happened to the actual rebel, so that she feels as though she is experiencing it herself even though it happened to someone else long before. I probably went in this mental direction because that's something a Star Trek episode would do, and to be honest, I think it would have been a more interesting story this way.

At any rate, the film looked polished, and gave off the vibe of an interesting video game set-up, but for me the storytelling was a little muddled.

* * *


Director: April Campion
Screenwriter: Greg Beck
Length: 13:41 minutes
Category: Drama/Sci-Fi
Country: United States
Link: Film's IMDB page

This film begins with a PSA announcement stating that contamination in the water supply has led to a pandemic; citizens must therefore seek treatment before it's too late, and be mindful of the boundaries of the protective zones. A doctor in a hospital works frantically on a cure, while a law enforcement or military officer ominously warns him not to do anything he will regret. Without getting into spoilers, I can say that the plot veers towards a somewhat generic dystopian police state story. The specifics of the plague were not terribly clear, in part because the doctor conveniently tells his wife that he doesn't have time to explain any details to her.

Although there were some aspects of the story that showed promise, I was bothered by the fact that the officer was rather clichéd, showing up suddenly at various times and somehow knowing that the doctor was defying him. In addition, it bothers me when films show some characters in hazmat suits while other characters at the exact same location wear no protection at all. It always makes me feel as though the hazmat suits are just there to show the audience that the situation is "serious," but that's kind of thrown out the window by leaving other characters completely vulnerable. It's possible the argument could be made that only the workers who have to try and physically restrain an infected patient need suits, but I don't really buy that. In addition, the film ends abruptly with little resolution.

* * *


Director: Cameron Burnett
Screenwriter: Cameron Burnett
Length: 33:05 minutes
Category: Drama
Country: United States
Link: Film's IMDB page

Due to technical difficulties, two films scheduled for this session couldn't be screened, and a work titled "Alibi", which was a straight drama piece, was substituted instead. At 33 minutes, it was the longest film in the session, which was unfortunate since it wasn't science fiction. In any case, it was beautifully acted, although I found it a little slow in its pacing and not as engaging as I'd hoped it would be. A young man sleeps with his brother's wife, goes for an early morning walk in a fit of guilt, and stumbles upon a murder scene. Because his alibi would reveal their adultery, he refuses to defend himself because he doesn't want to hurt his brother.

I'm afraid I found the story quite predictable, although that's not to say it wasn't moving. The three leads (Judah McFadden, Lorynn York, and Nate Scholz) were fantastic, and set the acting bar so high that the other, more minor performances suffered a little by comparison. I also thought that this film had a polish to it that was a cut above most of the other film festival works I've seen in the last few years. For instance, it's a small thing, but the sets looked completely natural, rather than staged or self-conscious. Little things do matter.

* * *

My next post will be on Sunday's "Animated / Family Shorts."

* * *

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

* * *
Read more!

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.

* * *


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!

* * *
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.

* * *

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

* * *

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.

* * *

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!