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Ever wonder what it's like to be in that moment between struggling artist and published author? Read on and find out.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Movie Review: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip $$$

92 Minutes

Starring: Jason Lee, Josh Green, Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Jesse McCartney.  

Directors: Walt Becker.

            The Chipmunks return for another family film.
            I was disappointed with the last offering in the Chipmunk franchise so my expectations were not high. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the latest installment.
            Dave (Jason Lee) introduces the boys, Alvin (voiced by Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler), and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) to the new woman in his life, Samantha (Kimberly Williams-Paisley). Getting a mother isn’t so bad, but she has a son, Miles (Jesse McCartney) who is as opposed to being related to a bunch of rodents as the chipmunks are to being saddled with an obnoxious human who delights in making their lives miserable.
            When the boys discover that Dave is taking an engagement ring on his trip to Florida they set aside their differences to break up the impending marriage. The Road Chip was funny and contained a good family message in the end.
            This is how I rated The Road Chip.

1. Fun – Absolutely. I enjoyed the movie from beginning to end. Lots of music. Lots of laughs. Lots of chipmunks running around doing what chipmunks do best. I gave it a full MB for fun.

2. Story – This is a Chipmunk story. Which means it’s fairly light on content and heavy on laughs. I didn’t find any blaring holes in the plot which would distract from my enjoying the film, but let’s be realistic—it’s the chipmunks running around and getting into trouble. I gave it half a MB for good chipmunk mayhem.

3. Technical – The animation was up to the typical standard you expect from a feature of this sort. However, I think they could have done more with the musical numbers to really make the movie POP. I gave it a full MB for fun chipmunk animation and some catchy tunes.

4. Acting – Jason Lee does well with the role of Dave Seville. Jesse McCartney is both likeable and unlikable at the appropriate moments doing a great job of portraying a teen who learns to embrace his new family. My favorite character in the film was Tony Hale as Agent Suggs. It would have been nice to have more direct interaction between him and the boys. Overall, I gave a half MB for acting. These are not Oscar worthy performances, but neither are they painful to watch either.

If you like the Chipmunks then I recommend you see this film. I suggest watching it as a matinee. The material was funny enough for me to watch again so purchasing a DVD is a possibility. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip scores a very respectable 3 Movie Bucks from me. See it and have some laughs.

                        Randy’s Rating System

$$$$   = Full Price    See this movie right away and pay full price, it’s worth it.
$$$     = Matinee      Catch this as a matinee or other discounted showing.
$$        = Discount     Wait until this movie reaches a discount theater near you.
$          = Rental         Wait until this movie reaches your local video rental outlet.
0          = No Sale       Don’t see this movie at any price.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas

     Just wanted to take a moment to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and heartfelt wishes for a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Writing Prompt #5


             This is probably the most common writing prompt that I’ve encountered. The human mind is very adept at making connections and that principle comes into play as you select five random words and attempt to make sense them in story form.
            Nouns works best, but verbs and adjectives are fine as long as you keep them to a minimum. One method of randomly selecting the words you will use it to leaf through the newspaper and take the first noun, verb, or adjective you see. You can also flip through the channels of your television or radio and just copy down whichever word catches your attention or ask five people for their favorite word.  
            Once you have decided on the number of words you can look them over. If a story idea doesn’t immediately jump out to you select one word at a time and determine if it represents a character, a placed, a motive, or a goal in the story. By the time you finish assigning a role to all of the words you should have an excellent idea what the story is all about.         

            Here are five words I selected by flipping through the television channels.


            Based on these five words I generated this following elevator pitch.

Hunger Strike – Joe Carson’s dreams of a daring career in the FBI vanished on the day they assigned him to be a supply clerk in a dead end post. Now the lead investigators in the office have mysteriously eaten themselves to death and Joe is the only person with a lead on what they were investigating when it happened.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Writing Prompt #4

            PROMPT 4 – LYRICAL MUSE

            Songs are a great source of inspiration for story ideas. Not only can you generate ideas from the title, but the lyrics seem ideally suited for coming up with interesting story concepts. The music itself often translates directly into mood and setting.
            Listen to a few songs. If you have a rough idea of what you want write about you can even pick songs that have a tempo appropriate for the story. Since lyrics are interpreted differently by each individual the chances are good that it will lead you to create a unique storyline. I think the trick to this method is to think outside the box. Most songs have a message that is easily followed (when you can understand what they’re singing), but ignore that and really stretch your imagination on what it could mean.
            Here are a portion of the lyrics from a few songs.

1. Children of the Sun by Billy Thorpe

The people of the earth stood waiting
Watching as the ships came one by one
Setting fire to the sky as they landed
Carrying to the world children of the sun, children of the sun

2. My Generation by the Who

Why don't you all f-fade away (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
And don't try to dig what we all s-s-say (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
I'm not trying to cause a big s-s-sensation (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
I'm just talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-generation (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

3. Holiday by Green Day

There's a song sounding out of key
To a hymn called Faith and Misery (Hey!)
A plead, the company lost the war today

I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies
This is the dawning of the rest of our lives
On holiday

4. Savin’ Me by Nickelback

Heaven's gates won't open up for me
With these broken wings I'm fallin'
And all I see is you

5. The Look by Roxette

She's got the look.
She's got the look.
What in the world can make a brown-eyed girl turn blue.
When everything I'll ever do I'll do for you
and I go: la la la la la

            Based on the lyrics above I generated the following elevator pitches.

Based on “My Generation” is a pitch for a YA book. Most teenagers complain about their parents, but Jerrod may have the coolest parents on the planet. The problem is—they’re too cool. How can he convince his friends to pay more attention to him than his parents?

Based on “Holiday” is a pitch for a dystopian book. After a brutal war, the Holy Voice has brought peace and harmony to the nation as it recovers from near annihilation. But when Sunflower’s parents mysteriously disappear she discovers a diary that chronicles their activities with a secret society intent on overthrowing the government. And that’s when the Holy Voice takes notice of her.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Movie Review - Spectre

Spectre  $$


148 Minutes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Cristoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, and Ralph Fiennes.
Director: Sam Mendes.

            The Bond franchise had some worthy competition this year with Man From Uncle and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation this year and Kingsman: The Secret Service  last year. Frankly, I feel that all of those films outperformed Spectre.

            In this film we find James Bond primarily operating on his own as MI6 undergoes changes and the threat of shutting down the Double-O program entirely. James is on the trail of a secret organization that was the driving force behind several of the threats he has dealt. In order to find the leader of this organization he has to protect Dr. Swann (Lea Seydoux), the daughter of the assassin known as Mr. White (Jesper Christensen). 
            Spectre has all of the traditional 007 elements. This is how I ranked them.

1. Fun – Not so much. My son, a friend, and I all agreed that we were more interested in the movie ending so we could go home than we were in seeing what happened next. It felt slow and uninspired.
            Spectre gets 0 MB for fun.

2. Story – Nothing we haven’t seen before. James does some globe trotting in search of the bad guys, seduces women, and kills a few bad guys. The unfortunate part about it is that he does all of this without demonstrating hardly any emotion. It was nice to see the Spectre storyline finally introduced into the franchise reboot and as an origins story for the villain it works fairly well.
            Spectre gets Full MB for story.

3. Technical – There are many state of the art special effects. Most of the time, the high end films get a Full Movie Buck rating in this category because they have employed top people in this field and made the film look and sound tremendous. While Spectre does look fantastic and the rest of the special effects are excellent I can’t get past the vehicle chase seen early in the film. The three of us attending the movie all agreed that this was probably the dullest chase scene we had ever witnessed.
            Spectre gets a Half MB for Technical.

4. Acting – As I mentioned before I felt Daniel Craig turned in a performance that reminded me more of an emotionless robot than a man risking everything to save the world. I found it hard to care what happened to Mr. Bond. On the other hand, I wholly enjoyed the performance from Ben Wishaw as Q and Ralph Fiennes as M. The movie might have been better if it had focused on the efforts of these two members of the British spy squad as they worked together to bring down the gathering of villains. Lea Seydoux was a mistake to cast opposite of Daniel Craig. With both of them on the screen together none of their scenes generate any energy. Christoph Waltz turns in an excellent performance as the mastermind who has organized the villains of the world.
            Spectre gets Half a MB for acting.

            Put all of that together and Spectre earns a rating of 2 Movie Bucks. If you’re going to put out a turkey I guess Thanksgiving is the best time to do it. My suggestion is to avoid this film and check out one of the many good selections that are currently in the theaters.

                        Randy’s Rating System

$$$$   = Full Price    See this movie right away and pay full price, it’s worth it.
$$$     = Matinee      Catch this as a matinee or other discounted showing.
$$        = Discount     Wait until this movie reaches a discount theater near you.
$          = Rental         Wait until this movie reaches your local video rental outlet.
0          = No Sale       Don’t see this movie at any price.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Writing Prompt Three

            PROMPT 3 – THE COVER STORY

            Titles are not the only way to find inspiration in the books and movies that already exist. Movie posters and book covers provide a visual stimulation for your creative juices. Look through the shelves of your local book store until you find a cover that grabs your attention. Ignore the title, ignore the back copy and decide what story that image speaks to you.
            The back cover can also give inspiration in the form of the story blurb. Obviously, you don’t want to steal their story idea, but something about the description might stand out and generate a unique concept of your own.

            Here are five classic movie posters

            Airplane (Plane tied in a knot)
            Vertigo (Man in a spiral)
            True Grit (Cowboy silhouette with eye patch)
            Singing in the Rain (Three people wearing rain coats and umbrella)
            The Shining (Twin girls blocking a hallway and boy on bigwheel)

            Based on True Grit I generated the following pitch.

Cyber Eye – The eye always knows. Jake is a detective who doubles as a bounty hunter. Unfortunately, the bounty hunting business is booming. His cybernetic eye has made him the most sought after bounty hunter on the continent. Until he captures a criminal who claims to know where his dead wife is living.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Writing Prompt #2


            This is by far my favorite writing prompt. In Hollywood, many movie deals are made from a simple comparison of two successful films. The banter for these pitches go something like this, “This is Driving Miss Daisy meets Silence of the Lambs.”
            For the best results use stories that have clearly different plots and settings. Then find a way to put them together in a way that blends the key elements from both stories, but in a way that gives you a finished product that is unique. As difficult as that may sound keep in mind there is a lot to work with in these stories: plot, theme, character, setting, mood, conflict, etc. There exist an endless number of possibilities that can be generated from any pairing.
            In my mind, the best thing about this sort of prompt is how it lends itself to creating cross-genre tales that stand out from the excessive clones and retellings of previously successful stories.

            Here are two Oscar winning movies.

Ben Hur (1959)

Titanic (1997)

            Based on a blend of these two films I generated the following elevator pitch.

Sea of Fire – After encountering a powerful religious leader, a fisherman and his family are converted to a faith that preaches peace and tolerance that are at odds with the vicious laws and violent nature of the country in which they live. A long time personal rival uses his position as a judge to falsely accuse the family of treason and they are forced to work as slaves during a barbaric race across the ocean. If they win they will be set free to colonize the newly discovered land. If not, they will remain as slaves or die in one of the many sea-battles that are a normal part of the race.

            Since I had so much fun with the first one I decided to combine these two films.

Gladiator (2000)

Chicago (2002)

I’m Spartacus – Cross Gladiator with Chicago and you get a musical set in the violent, bloodthirsty height of the Roman Empire. Sing along with the cast through rousing numbers such as No, No, I’m Spartacus and When In Rome – Kill the Romans. Follow Spartacus and his band of gladiators as they break out of the Roman prison and fight their way to Broadway where they realize their unspoken dreams and tell the story of their lives on stage. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Writing Prompts

     My most popular workshop is Jumpstart Your Creative Juices in which I discuss writing prompts. If you think that writing prompts are nothing more than exercises handed out by creative writing teachers--you are mistaken. They are a proven method of generating some truly memorable story ideas. The first novel I wrote was based on a writing prompt and has an elevator pitch that never fails to capture the attention of the people I share it with.
     That being said, I recently promised to repost the writing prompts I have managed to develop for my workshops. If these look familiar it's because I've posted them before on my blog. I did manage to clean them up a bit, but they are basically the same. I'll be posting one of them a week until I have gone through the entire list. I hope you enjoy them.

            PROMPT 1 – TITLES
            I generated the idea for my first novel from a Title prompt. As a beginning author I worried about running out of ideas for stories—silly me. Just to see how hard it would be to generate more story ideas I scanned through a list of movie titles. Whenever one caught my attention I wrote it down. Once I reached a goodly number of interesting titles I took a closer look at the list. Death Race 2000 was on the list and started me thinking about what a race would be like for dead people and from that I wrote Hellathon.
            My example is based on movie titles, but any sort of title works. Movies, novels, short-stories, songs, and even band names can all be used to generate ideas. The trick is to let your mind wonder what kind of story you could write with that title. Look at it figuratively. Look at it literally. Look at it with whimsical eyes. Use it as a starting point for your creativity.

            Here are the ten titles. I hope you have fun with it.

            1. They Might Be Giants
            2. The Long Goodbye
            3. They Were Expendable
            4. Thunder Road
            5. Angels Die Hard
            6. You Only Live Twice
            7. Keeper of the Flame
            8. A Song Is Born
            9. A New Life
            10. Walk, Don’t Run

            Based on the list above, I generated the following elevator pitches.

Based on “They Might Be Giants” is a pitch for a children’s book: Jared and Sally have been asked by their father to take a pair of shoes to a customer in the next town. They are the most enormous shoes either of them have ever scene. Could it be that the people living there are giants? And if so, what will happen to the children when they arrive?

Based on “The Long Goodbye” is a pitch for romantic screenplay: Rob and Sarah have one last weekend together before he ships off to war.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Author Interview

During my recent blog tour for Call to Arms: Nations Fall, I was interviewed several times. I wanted to repost those interviews for anyone who missed their chance to read them.

Q1: What was the inspiration for your latest book (i.e. the one you are currently promoting)?

A1: This story deals with the events leading up to the end of the world (the Second Coming) from an LDS perspective. I wanted to write a realistic story that would give people warning of what they could expect and also to give them hope in an increasingly chaotic world.

Q2: How much of yourself is reflected in this book, and how?

A2: Virtually none. Anything pulled from my life that shows up in the book is by subconscious accident. The characters in my book are true heroes while I’m pretty average. 

Q3: The first thing that draws me to a book is its cover. Can you tell us about your cover - why you chose that concept and who the artist is.

A3: The cover artist is Michelle May. She does wonderful work. Part of the book takes place in Trenton, Italy. I found some pictures of Trenton while I was writing and used them to help me with the descriptions of the city and to give me a feel for the environment. One of the pictures is of the Fountain of Neptune. The cover for Call to Arms: Nations Fall is an apocalyptic version of the picture I used during my writing.

Q4: Why should we read this book (or series) and what sets you apart from the rest? / What makes your book/series unique?

A4: I think readers will see similar events to what I’ve written happening in the world today. The reason they should read it is to open their eyes to the crumbling world society and use that as inspiration to prepare themselves for upcoming events. My stories on this topic are meant to be as realistic as possible. The characters, for the most part, are people like you and me trying to get through life as best they can.

Q5:  Can you tell us something quirky about this book , its story and characters? (for example, were the characters named after something or someone in particular)

A5: All of the main characters are named after people in my family tree. Calvin McCord, for instance, is my great-great-great-uncle.

Q6:  Who would you recommend this book to and what should readers be aware of (any warnings or disclaimers)?

A6: I would recommend it to fans of apocalyptic fiction, religious fiction, and to a lesser extent military fiction. We see the beginning of World War III in this story. As far as warnings, usually my readers comment about how they couldn’t put the story down so you might want to wait for the weekend to start on the book. However, even though I write clean fiction there are a couple of scenes that are rather intense and some military action scenes. In movie terms I would give it a PG rating.

Q7: If you could / wished to turn this book/series into a movie, who would be your dream team? (e.g. director, actors, locations, etc. - dead, alive or mythical!)

A7: I do have a few actors picked out for some of the roles.

Robert Williams would be a young Richard Thomas (John-Boy Walton)

John Williams would be Karl Urban

Sarah Williams would be Emma Stone

Calvin McCord would be Brian Cox

Nelson Boggs would be Sean Penn

Sierra Weintraub would be Alexandria Daddario

Q8:  What do you like to write about? Do you stick to a particular genre or do you like to explore different ones? Is this / Are these the genre(s) that you also like to read about?

A8: Most of what I write is Fantasy/Sci-Fi. What I find myself wanting to write about the most is the conflict between angels and devils-with humans firmly stuck in the middle. My favorite reading genre is post-apocalyptic sci-fi.

Q9: What is your writing process?

A9: I have a moment when I’m excited about an idea for a story. I spend a couple of weeks plotting the story. Then I spend the next six months writing the story from the outline.

Q10:  What is in store next? (please tell us about your future plans; if book is part of a series, can you give us any hints on future developments)

A10: There is a follow-up novel planned. Actually, I have 3 more stories in the series planned. I have to tell you that I really feel bad for Robert. He has a long and painful road ahead of him. And poor Calvin, despite his excellent leadership the government he hopes to save is doomed. Frankly, I’m not sure what I’m going to do with him.

Bonus Question: And as a final quirky thing, to get to know you a little bit better... do you have a pet or something that is special to you (this could be absolutely anything!)? Could you please provide us with a picture of you with them / it?
A10: No pets. I have a daughter who loves to be with me. She attends most of my author events and really helps me out. Here is a picture of my daughter, Lucy, with one of my fans at a book signing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wanna Be Famous?

            I’m about halfway through plotting the next book in The Gathering series. This is the point where I start assigning names to all the new characters I’ll be introducing. And that gives me an opportunity to ask all of you—do you want to be famous?

            I tried using the names of people I know in my last book and I think it worked pretty well. One of my wife’s coworkers jumped at the chance to be truly evil. A friend in my neighborhood read the first story and readily agreed to lend me her name as long as I didn’t kill her, maim her, or turn her into a jerk. (Where’s the fun in that?)

            A couple of important characters are going to be introduced into book three and at least one of them will appear throughout the rest of the series. Without a doubt, I’ll find a way to kill off several people that have a few lines of dialogue before they meet their untimely demise. And I expect to go through a reasonably large number of names for cast members who are less than nice. All of these people need names.

            If you are interested in possibly having your name used for a character in my next book post a comment or send me an e-mail through the contact page. Let me know if you are willing to accept a fate as a villainous cad, an eventual cadaver, or if your name can only be associated with the cream of humanity. But I have to warn you that I don’t have a lot of room for nice people in my story.  

            So, do ya wanna be famous?



Thursday, August 13, 2015

Book 2

            A friend once told me that less than 1% of hopeful authors succeed in having one of their books picked up by a publisher. And I know from my experiences since I’ve been published that many first time authors do not go on to have a second book published. But thanks to all of you I have beaten the odds and my second book, Call to Arms: Nations Fall, is on the bookstore shelves.
            Thank you.



            Does the publishing experience feel different the second time around?
            Yes it does. The thrill of seeing a story I created in the book store is still there as is the giddy hope that people will enjoy the story and even possibly have it enrich their lives in some way. Gone is the confusion of what I need to do next. I have established contacts and know the routine all that remains is to go out and meet the public as I market the book. And I know from my marketing efforts over the last 18 months that marketing is the fun part of the process. 
             One thing that has gained a new level of complication is how to answer the question, “What’s going on with your book?” That question now needs clarification. Do they mean my first book? Do they mean the book that’s about to come out? Do they mean the book I submitted to several publishers and now wait for acceptance? Or do they mean one of the three books for which I am currently writing chapters?
            In case you’re interested, here are the answers: 

            Book One, The Gathering: End’s Beginning, is still selling a few copies. I’m still getting people in my neighborhood coming up to me and telling me how much they enjoyed reading it. They are still leaving reviews on Amazon. This is a new experience for me and one that I rather like. My work lives on. Granted, this will be more impressive if the book had already been out for twenty years, but you have to take the pleasures in life as they come along.  

            Book Two, Call to Arms: Nations Fall, was released on August 11 and I am in the middle of the blog tour for the novel. Hooray. This is the busy time. I have the official book launch party on Friday and then the first of a series of book signings on Saturday. It is still too early in the process to have a feel for how people are enjoying Call to Arms, but I’m anxious to find out. What parts of the story did they like best? What part did they not like? Did I manage to hook them into wanting to read the next story in the series? Only time will tell.  

            The middle-grade fantasy I finished a couple of months ago has been sent to a publisher and I am waiting to hear whether they want it or will reject it. This is easily the most difficult part of the authoring process. It contains an equal mixture of excitement and dread. Will the story take me to the next level as an author? Or will all of the publishers reject it, forcing me to self-publish what I feel to be a wonderful story.  

            The next book in the series, a middle-grade story about a boy and his dog, and YA dystopian story are the three novels I am currently working on—simultaneously. Did I hear you say that’s insane to work on three books at once? Why, yes it is. And I certainly don’t advise anyone else to join in the insanity. I’m in the early stages on all three of the novels and still excited about writing them.            

            Anyway, thank you everyone who has taken the time to read The Gathering: End’s Beginning. Please, consider picking up Call to Arms: Nations Fall. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Movie Review - Strange Magic

Strange Magic $$$$


99 Minutes

Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Alan Cumming, Elijah Kelley, Meredith Ann Bull, and Sam Palladio.
Directors: Gary Rydstrom.

            I happened to be looking for a PG movie to take my family to see and this is what was playing at the luxury theater we planned to attend. Nobody in the family had heard anything about the film so we were a bit unprepared for a musical. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed it, but it took a few numbers for us to adjust our thinking. The best way to describe the movie is Grease in fairyland.

            The plot is pretty simple. Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood) is preparing to marry Roland (Sam Palladio) when she catches him cheating on her. She vows to never fall in love again. Meanwhile, Sunny (Elijah Kelley) travels into the dark forest in order to have the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth) create a love potion that will make Marianne’s sister, Dawn (Meredith Ann Bull) fall in love with him. The problem with that is the Bog King (Alan Cumming) holds the Sugar Plum Fairy captive and forbids the making of any more love potions.
            There you have it, a tale of love from both the light and dark side of the point of view. And even though I found it a bit odd, I really enjoyed it.

            This is how I rated Strange Magic.

1. Fun – How can nearly 100 minutes of music and the pursuit of love not be fun? Alright—don’t answer that. I like musicals and this certainly hit the spot. I gave the film a full MB for fun.

2. Story – Let’s face it, musicals are fairly weak as far as story goes. Other than being on the simple side there is nothing wrong with this one. I enjoy where they go with the story, but don’t feel that it deserves a full rating for it. I gave Strange Magic half a MB for a pretty standard tale.

3. Technical – Good animation. Check. Lively music and sound. Check. An interesting take on the classic romantic tale. Check. I gave it a full MB for hitting all the right technical notes.

4. Acting – The acting did not get in the way of the story. Which is good, but not great. Alan Cumming (The Bog King) turns in the strongest performance in the film. I also enjoyed Elijah Kelley and Maya Rudolph (Grisela) as well. However, the acting just wasn’t strong enough to warrant a full MB so I am giving it half a MB for some solid voice work.

            That combines for a rating of 3 Movie Bucks. And that may be an unfair rating as I would be willing to pay full price to see the film again. It was a lot of fun. A matinee makes more sense for an outing with the entire family, but don’t hesitate to take a date to this and pay full price (assuming that both of you like odd musical fare).

                        Randy’s Rating System

$$$$   = Full Price    See this movie right away and pay full price, it’s worth it.
$$$     = Matinee      Catch this as a matinee or other discounted showing.
$$        = Discount     Wait until this movie reaches a discount theater near you.
$          = Rental         Wait until this movie reaches your local video rental outlet.
0          = No Sale       Don’t see this movie at any price.