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Movie Mom
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“Central casting” at AdLit.org and Reading Rockets is looking for young, creative writers and filmmakers to participate in the Exquisite Prompt “Write It, Film It Video Contest” for kids ages 7-18.
First, you pick a “prompt” suggested by one of these great writers.
* Jon Scieszka (Time Warp Trio)
* Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia)
* Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux)
* Natalie Babbitt (Tuck Everlasting, The Eyes of the Amaryllis)
* Susan Cooper (The Dark Is Rising)
* Steven Kellogg (Chicken Little)
* Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events)
And be sure to check out their exquisite corpse adventure. An “exquisite corpse” is a writing game where everyone writes a different part of the same story, not seeing what anyone else has done.
Then you write a script. The site has a lot of great resources to help guide you.
Then you can enter your script or go ahead and make a movie (no more than 3 minutes) and send it in. Teams of two are allowed. All the rules and information about how to enter are here.
Film It! Keep it simple, keep it interesting. Remember: maximum length: 3 minutes. Titles, musical interludes, and ‘special effects’ are cool but not required.
Enter Now! The contest has three competition levels:
* Level I: ages 7-10
* Level II: ages 11-13
* Level III: ages 14-18
* Winners from each competition level will have their video published on Reading Rockets, AdLit.org, and YouTube
* Gold Award Winners will receive a Flip HD video camera, a collection of books and DVDs, and movie tickets
* Silver Award and Bronze Award Winners will receive books, DVDs, and movie tickets
Good luck!

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“Middle school may be the dumbest idea ever,” says Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), and I think he speaks for all of us. If you ask most adults whether they would rather be audited by the IRS or go back through middle school again, they’d have a hard time making a choice. No one understands that better than Jeff Kinney, whose wildly popular series of Wimpy kid books are so true to the middle school experience — and so funny about it as well — that more than 11 million copies have been sold.

The reason that middle school is so agonizing is that it is the time when we first realize that we would really like to be cool at the same time we are struck with the horrifying realization that we have no idea how to get there. It is a time of agonizing self-examination, growing uncertainty about everything we thought we knew, diminishing willingness to rely on our parents, and the terrifying conviction that everyone else seems to have it figured out. It is the time of the great hormone divide, where boys who look like they are 10 share a classroom — and a locker room — with kids who look like they could be in college. It is a time when we rethink everything we thought we knew about who we are and what we want from our friends. So much suddenly seems GROSS and EMBARRASSING. Everything suddenly seems so disgusting we end up projecting all of those feelings onto some weird object like a piece of moldy cheese, which then assumes urban legendary status with the power to cooty-fy anyone who touches it. And in the middle of this we are also expected to live through algebra and PE.

Greg thinks he understands what it takes to succeed in middle school, despite the endless list of “don’ts” he gets from his older brother Rodrick (an enjoyably predatory Devon Bostick). “You’ll be dead or homeschooled by the end of the year,” he concludes. Greg is sure that his elementary school best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) is clueless — Rowley still says things like “You want to come over and play?” instead of “You want to hang out?” and does a dance number WITH HIS MOM at a school party. But this wouldn’t be a movie — and it wouldn’t be middle school — unless Greg had some important lessons to learn about coolness, friendship, and just how much he still needs to learn.

The movie captures the tone of the books, even including animated segments featuring the book’s stick figures. Gordon has an engaging screen presence that keeps us on his side. He and Capron seem like real kids, centering even the heightened situations and emotions by reminding us that in middle school, that’s how it really feels.

Last week’s release of Charlie St. Cloud, with Zac Efron as a young man who visits every day with the ghost of his younger brother, made me think of some of my favorite movie ghosts. What are yours?

1. “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” A young widow (the exquisite Gene Tierney) finds her new home haunted by the ghost of a handsome sea captain (Rex Harrison) in this bittersweet romance that inspired a 1960’s television series.

2. “Ghost” The late Patrick Swayze played a ghost trying to help his girlfriend (Demi Moore) identify the man responsible for his murder with the help of a medium surprised to find out she is not a fake (an Oscar-winning performance from Whoopi Goldberg).

3. “Portrait of Jennie” A young artist (Joseph Cotten) has a series of mysterious encounters with Jennie, who inspires him to create the title work of art. When he first sees her, she is a child, wearing the clothes and remembering incidents of a generation before. But over a period of months he sees her again, each time several years older than the last until she is a beautiful young woman (Jennifer Jones) and he finds himself falling in love with her.

4. “Truly Madly Deeply” Juliet Stevenson gives a radiant performance in this story of a woman devastated by loss who is overjoyed at first to be haunted by the ghost of the man she loved (Alan Rickman).

5. “The Sixth Sense” Bruce Willis is a therapist trying to help a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) who “sees dead people” in this haunting drama with a legendary twist.

6. “Heart and Souls” Four souls with unfinished business become guardians of a baby born as their bus crashed. When he grows up (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) they enlist his help in resolving the issues that have kept them from entering heaven.

7. “The Unforgiven” A brother and sister (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) move into a mysterious abandoned house by the sea, even though their dog refuses to cross the property line. It turns out the place is haunted and a tangled story has to be revealed to prevent another murder. This was one of the first non-comedy ghost stories produced by Hollywood and it introduced the lovely song “Stella by Starlight,” later recorded by many jazz musicians and singers.

8. “A Guy Named Joe”/”Always” “A Guy Named Joe” was Spencer Tracy, a WWII bomber pilot known for taking great risks, despite the pleading of the woman he loves (Irene Dunne). When he is killed in action, he comes back to help her find love again. Steven Spielberg did an updated version with Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter called “Always,” featuring the luminous Audrey Hepburn as an angel.

9. “Topper” Cary Grant’s star-making role was as screen history’s most debonair ghost, half of a glamorous young couple who try to teach a milquetoast banker (Oscar-winner Roland Young) how to have some fun. Watch for Billie Burke (best known as Glinda the Good Witch in “The Wizard of Oz”) as the banker’s wife. This film led to two sequels and a 1950’s television series.

10. “The Canterville Ghost” This delightful family treasure based on a book by Oscar Wilde and updated to WWII has Robert Young and Margaret O’Brien as the descendants of a 17th century nobleman (Charles Laughton) cursed to haunt the family castle until his cowardice is redeemed by a member of the family. It has been remade a couple of times and there is even an opera version, but this one is the best and available for viewing online.

Other favorites: the ghosts of “A Christmas Carol,” “The Others,” “Ghostbusters,” “The Haunting” (the original version), “Poltergeist,” and “The Eclipse”

The latest Washington Post On Success query I was asked to respond to really hit home:
Q: At some point in your life, you probably decided to take a leap of faith and go in a direction — professionally or personally — that others did not expect. Like quit Goldman Sachs to be a goat farmer. Or leave a company job for your own venture. Was the move a success? Did the new direction turn out the way you thought it would?
I have had a lot of fun in my careers, but one of the the most exhilarating professional experiences I have had was rebooting myself when I decided after 18 years as a lawyer that I wanted to become a movie critic. Fifteen years later, I’m still doing both.
It’s not that being a movie critic is more fun than being a lawyer. Some days it is and some days it isn’t. But the experience of starting something completely new was completely thrilling. It was almost as much fun when I switched specialties eight years after law school.
Making a big change is a way to sweep out the mental cobwebs. By deconstructing your career, you challenge all of your assumptions about what you are capable of, especially any sense that you are stuck with what you’re doing just because that is what you have been doing. It’s a wonderfully bracing way for you to choose your life with energy, awareness, and purpose.
I had been the critic for my high school and college papers and had studied film history and criticism in college. Then I went to law school and did other things, including getting married and having two children, all of which occupied my full attention for quite a while.
But then the children began to become more independent. And I began to remember how much I missed seeing and writing about movies. I wrote an article for a magazine about sharing classic movies with children. And I became very intrigued with the then-new World Wide Web. I began posting my reviews and comments online. I knew I would need some sort of niche to make me stand out, so I decided the best was to use what I knew and write from the perspective of a mom. And I knew I would need some sort of credential, so I decided to write a book: The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies
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That led to my being invited to review movies on the radio. By the time Yahoo was looking for a movie critic, I had an archive ready to move to their site and weekly radio spots across the country to promote it. I had not planned to go to work for anyone else writing reviews, but when they had a job available, I was ready because I had done the work to establish myself. I later moved to Beliefnet, which made it possible for me to reach a broader audience and write features, commentary and interviews.
People often tell me they’d like to become a movie critic and I always tell them that if they write reviews, they are a critic. If they want to be a good critic, they will have to spend the time to study film history and they will have to make sure that their reviews are lively, vivid, engaging, and distinctive as well as illuminating and instructive. If they want to make money at it, they may have to find a time machine and go back to the 1970’s. This is the greatest time in history to be a writer, but it may be the worst time in history to try to get paid for it.
So it’s just two steps and one secret to making it happen. Step one is to own it. Don’t say, “if only.” Say, “I am.” And then be whatever it is. Be honest with yourself and take responsibility for making it happen. Step two is to do the work, every day. And the secret is: Define success by what you find fulfilling and meaningful, not what your great-aunt or your piano teacher or your own interior critic think you should be doing.
If it really is your passion and not just a Walter Mitty daydream, if you want to do it because it is something you love doing so much you can’t not do it, and not because you think doing it will make you successful and admired, then you will be the one willing to do the work to make it happen. As “Last Lecture” professor Randy Pausch said, “The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.” They are there so you can show everyone that you are the one who deserves the opportunity — and show yourself, too.
And I have found that my two careers nourish and inform each other in unexpected ways — really. But that’s a story for another day.

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