Underrated Movies: Part 1

Some movies hit the top of the blockbuster list instantly because they’re just that great. Others catch a few nods from the critics but amass huge cult followings. Then there are those underappreciated gems that, while being entertaining and well-written, are side-lined while such shameful offerings as Mall Cop rake in mindless viewers. (Yes, believe it. Mall Cop was the longest running movie at my local theater. It makes me cry inside too.) So, here are a few movies I’ve come across that deserve more than just a passing glance in the five dollar video rack.

In no particular order:

1. Hostage – Police negotiator Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis) thinks he’s talking three juvenile delinquents out of holding two suburban kids for ransom. The delinquents think they have an easy payday from the kids’ wealthy father. But when the source of daddy’s illegal funds gets involved, Talley finds himself dealing with two hostage situations: the wealthy swindler’s family, and his own. Fast-paced, with a strong script and sympathetic characters, it will keep you guessing.

2. The Butterfly Effect – Ashton Kutcher never struck me as the dramatic type, but his role in this sci-fi thriller is poignant, believable, and compelling. It opens on Evan, a troubled mental patient who has spent his life repressing his most painful memories. When he finds a way to access and relive these lost scenes, he thinks he has the key to saving himself and the girl he can’t forget–but with every change he makes, the future alters in ways he could never forsee. Dark, eerie, and cleverly put together, with an ending even Hollywood can’t sugarcoat.

3. Garden State – Romantic comedy meets indie meets drama. After ten years of absence, Andrew Largeman (Zack Braff) returns home to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral. Desperate for meaning, he takes a break from the numbing pills forced on him by his father and finds real life experiences in his oddball old friends and a quirky, equally troubled girl named Sam (Natalie Portman). The plot builds slowly, but the characters are unique and lifelike players in a story balanced by touching drama and understated humor.

4. Labyrinth – What do glam rock, Jim Hensen, and leather pants have in common? This bizarre fantasy musical featuring Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie, and a supporting cast of cute and creepy muppets. When Sarah accidentally sends her crying baby brother to the clutches of the Goblin King, she has 13 hours to find him in the center of an impossible maze before the King turns him into a goblin. But don’t be fooled; this is no children’s movie. Sarah’s search is fraught with sinister enemies and suspicious allies in a place where even the walls are determined to trap her forever.

5. Anastasia – In an age of helpless Disney princesses with superficial love affairs, Don Bluth offered a compelling and fantastical answer to the mysterious disappearance of a real-life royal. Dimitri (John Cusack) is a con-artist with a get-rich-quick scheme–return the lost Grand Duchess to her surviving family for a pretty reward. Anastasia (Meg Ryan) is a spunky, self-reliant tomboy with a striking resemblance to the missing girl. When Dimitri meets her and convinces her that she must be the real Anastasia, neither of them know that she really is the lost Duchess, or that the dastardly fiend who killed her family is back to eliminate her. An updated fairytale with a competent heroine, a realistic romance, and songs that will be stuck in your head for months.

Happy viewing! And soon, Part 2.

Publishing a Novel in 2009

A few weeks ago, I strolled into the Young Adult section of my local Borders bookseller, curious to find the ends to a few favorite series and a new book or two.  I unknowingly waltzed into a kiosk full of Twilight conversation hearts, bookmarks, and umbrellas.  This kiosk flanked two long shelves stocked only with the Twilight saga.  Intrigued, I took a spin around the nearby shelves.  Vampires.  Vampires.  And, you guessed it, more vampires. 

As an aspiring author, I thought, by gum! this could be the key to selling that first novel.  But others needed to know this information too.  So, after a few hours of perusal, I compiled this penetrating guide into the 2009 book market.  Fear not, writers!  Just follow these agonizingly easy steps and you will soon be smothered by a mob of girls throwing wads of cash at you in exchange for the fruits of your pen. 

1.  Write a vampire romance.  Yes, you guessed it.  With Stephenie Meyer taking an indefinite break from Midnight Sun, the next installment in the Twilight saga, vampire fan girls must unearth their seductive night-bound heroes in other places.  Fortunately for the fang-frenzied, one stop in the Young Adult section of a major bookseller will satisfy their cravings.  With Meyer’s saga raking in millions in print, film, and merchandise, dozens of new vampire romances have squeezed their way onto shelves. 

2.  Create your characters.  So, now that you have your genre, you need a leading lad and lady.  They must be or at least look like teenagers.  The girl can vary.  She is just a placeholder for the female reader to fill.  Make her a vampire or a strong-willed human, as long as she can fulfill the fantasy.  Your hero, however, should be darkly handsome, with chiseled features described in minute detail and eyes for your reader to drown in.  Add an aloof personality, a tortured past, and inner turmoil, and you will have every reader writing Mrs. Vampire on her notebooks.  Do not dwell on names.  Pick something mysterious, unusual, or mystical sounding.  Cassandra?  Yes.  Jennifer?  Not so much. 

3.  Craft a plot.  The plotline can vary widely, as long as you stick to a few key elements.  First of all, you need to introduce your vampire!  Either your hero or heroine should be a new student, or maybe your hero is a familiar student with a mysterious reputation.  They can traipse on whatever adventures you like as long as you include a healthy dose of loving gazes, passionate proclamations, and sizzling make-out scenes. 

4.  Pick a title.  This will hook your reader and alert them to your genre, so choose wisely for both your book and series (of course you will be writing more than one!).  You can pick something punny (Frostbite), sexual (Untamed, Shadow Kiss), cryptic (Hunted, Marked, Wicked, Huntress), dark (Night World, City of Night), or blatant (Vampire Academy, Royal Blood, Vampire Kisses), as long as it clearly reads vampire! 

5.  Design a cover.  You may not need this until later, but keep it in mind.  Either a half-naked guy and girl half turned from the viewer or a cryptic, Egyptian or Celtic object or symbol will do, as long as the style is black and Victorian. 

6.  Sell!  Yes, it is easy as that.  Send off your completed manuscript and wait for the critical acclaim to roll in. 

So, aspiring authors, you have the tools you need.  Good luck on your enterprise!  May the powers of the vampires inspire you. 

Disclaimer:  This article is not intended to be a factual or comprehensive to the real publishing market, nor is it intended to derogate the works mentioned.  It is an overgeneralization intended for the purposes of humor only.