Archive for the ‘ Film ’ Category

CREATOR OF HEROES

The following is an interview with New York Times bestselling author David Morrell, master of the high-action thriller, creator of Rambo, author of such fine novels as First Blood, The Protector, and Murder As a Fine Art. He writes nonfiction, and for comics, and is a mentor to emerging writers and has a passion for protecting wildlife. And his latest collection, Before I Wake, is available June 30th from Subterranean. He’s all over the place, but at this moment he’s at Written Backwards to share a few things. Enjoy!

the_chosen

The interview [ by Michael Bailey ]:

My first exposure to your work was in the form of a Halloween costume. This was either 1983 or 1984, which means I was either four or five years old when I first met a character by the name of “Rambo” (only knew him by that name) because my older siblings talked about him often. You published the novel First Blood in 1972, and ten years later, in the fall of 1982, the movie debuted (directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Sylvester Stallone, who also contributed to the screenplay). Back then, movies stayed in theatres much longer, for years even, and First Blood was a huge success, grossing an unheard-of $125.2 million, which, way back when, was a lot of money.

Here’s where the costume comes in. My oldest sister came out of her room the following year (or the next) with fake blood dripping down her face and neck, her long hair tied back with a red ribbon around her forehead, and I believe she wore a tank top and a long black survival knife belted to her waist, the kind with a compass on the hilt (back then, you could wear such weapons in public). “I’m Rambo,” she had said, for Halloween, introducing him to me, and she explained the blood was there because Rambo had apparently jumped off a cliff and into some trees, scraping his face and neck. Let me repeat that I was either four or five years old, so I wasn’t allowed to watch such violent movies. This Rambo guy sounded kinda cool, I thought. And my sister, she’s kinda cool.

first_blood

Fast-forward another ten years, and I’m considered old enough to watch the Rambo movie (or perhaps not), and it quickly becomes a favorite. I watch First Blood a couple dozen times, and my older brother and I often play “Rambo” in the backyard, throwing knives at trees, making bows and arrows from fallen branches, scavenging to make forts in trees, crawling on the dirt, always running from something (like in the film). John Rambo becomes part of my childhood, and for the course of about twenty years, I don’t know there’s a book about this Rambo hero of ours.

Fast-forward another ten years, and I start writing fiction, poetry, anything I can think of. I don’t want to be a writer (and hate reading in general, at this time), but for some reason I have to write, like it’s some kind of disease. Sometime around then, I discover there’s a novel version of First Blood (why’d he call it that?), by some guy named David Morrell. And then I find his other books, such as The Brotherhood of the Rose, The Fraternity of the Stone, The Protector, The Naked Edge. I become a constant reader.

brotherhood

Fast-forward another ten years, and I’m still writing, but seriously. I’m at some kind of boot camp hosted by Borderlands Press, with the likes of Thomas F. Monteleone, Douglas E. Winter, and F. Paul Wilson, and this David Morrell fellow I’ve come to know through his words and through his characters. The creator of Rambo! I’m thinking. The guy who created one of my (and my siblings’) childhood heroes! It’s thirty-something years later, and wouldn’t you know it, the idea behind First Blood is still relevant. My oldest brother, he’s been in the military all this time. He’s my own Rambo. He’s fought in the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and countless others, and he’s there during the fall of Saddam Hussein, helps take over the Baghdad Airport and later shows me a picture of him and a few others underneath a sign proclaiming that such a thing would never happen. And each time he returns from war, like many others, he’s perhaps looked down upon.

Fast-forward to the present, and I’m interviewing the creator of Rambo, and so many other incredible characters. And I’m falling in love with new series altogether, such as the Thomas De Quincy series, which starts with Murder As a Fine Art.

murder.jpg

The questions:

Michael Bailey: I promise this will be the only Rambo-related question, but his story is important to me and to so many others, so I must ask: Why do you feel the story of John Rambo is forever-relevant?

David Morrell: It depends on which Rambo we’re talking about. The character in my novel First Blood is furious about what happened to him in Vietnam, whereas the character in the film is a sympathetic victim while the character in the second and third films is jingoistic. Sly told me that in retrospect he wasn’t happy with the treatment of violence in Rambo II and III, which is why he saw the fourth film [Rambo] as his version of a Sam Peckinpah movie. The character was more like the one in my novel. “Wars. Old men start them, young men fight them, and everybody loses,” Rambo says at one point in the fourth film (the director’s-cut DVD amplifies the theatrical version). If we look for a common denominator, I suppose it comes back to the military virtues of courage, honor, loyalty, and sacrifice, which are virtues that everyone, not only those in the military, should emulate. I mention those virtues in my Captain America; The Chosen six-part comic-book series.

sly

David Morrell with Sylvester Stallone

MB: Movies based on comic book characters are perhaps the most costly but also the most profitable of all movies, with Avengers: Endgame recently grossing over $1.2 billion worldwide over a single weekend, and movies like Black Panther and Captain Marvel and many others making over $1 billion worldwide before their short runs (compared to the long-ago). Movies are only in theatres now for months, yet raking in insane amounts of money. Why are comic book characters such a big part of our lives?

DM: It’s about promotion as much as the characters. After the collapse of the DVD market, Hollywood producers looked elsewhere for revenue. They found it in China and India, where the theatrical-distribution systems were starting to make Hollywood films available in a big way. Comic-book heroes (and characters from films such as Star Wars) are so universally familiar that Oriental audiences recognized them, despite the differences in cultures. In marketing language, these films are “pre-sold.” As the revenue from Oriental audiences increased, studios made more films to satisfy that market. Meanwhile, to use the United States as an example, the binge-watching of television series is so popular that only films with a visceral magnitude motivate families to leave the house as a group. A family of four spends more than a hundred dollars to go to a movie (a low estimate). The impressive CGI effects and the wall-rumbling sound of superhero films aren’t anything they can get at home. The spectacle is the attraction. Marketers have brilliantly convinced families that these are experiences they ought to share, even though the action scenes can be prolonged and repetitive to the point that they’re numbing. That isn’t to say I’m negative about superhero films. I loved the origin films for Wonder Woman and Black Panther, which emphasized characterization as much as spectacle.

MB: Why are we, as people, so in need of superheroes?

DM: It depends on how we define a superhero. Remember that in the 1930s Hitler used elements from Germanic mythology to promote his agenda. For a superhero to appeal to me, that character needs to personify fairness, selflessness, the belief in equality, the protection of the weak, etc. Fortunately those values are what traditional comic books and Hollywood superhero movies represent. In our crisis-ridden culture, we need as many representatives of those values as we can get. I’m reminded that the mass shooter at the film theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012 opened fire at an audience watching The Dark Knight Returns. He could have been a villain in the movie. When I wrote my Captain America: The Chosen comic-book series, my theme was that each of us has within us the capacity to be a superhero. In my Spider-Man: Frost two-parter, my theme was the selfless meaning of Spider-Man / Peter Parker’s mantra: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

capain_america

MB: It’s not as well-known as some of your other projects, but you have dipped into Marvel comics, writing such series as Captain America: The Chosen (one of my favorite short-run comics of all time, the story you created as relevant as (or perhaps mirroring) that of John Rambo’s, once again making me think of my brother in the military), as well as a two-parter of The Amazing Spider-Man (#700.1 & 700.2), and an issue of Savage Wolverine (#23). The question: How much easier, or more difficult, is comic-writing vs. prose-writing?

spider-man

DM: I think of comics as stop-action stories comparable to storyboards for films. The dynamism comes from the jump between panels. One contrast between prose fiction and comics is that in fiction I can use all five senses to try to achieve a feeling of three dimensions whereas in a comic book I’m working in an emphatically visual medium, with limited sound effects that are printed on the page and require the reader to imagine them. Some readers might be surprised that a comic-book writer chooses the number of images per page (a single image or two or four or even eight images on a page) and describes what happens in each of those images. A 22-page comic book might have a script that’s as long as the comic itself. Moreover, what characters say or think needs to be kept to a minimum in favor of letting the images tell the story. I think of each page as a paragraph and try to use the bottom panel on a page to catapult the reader to the top of the next one. Similarly, when a reader turns a page in a physical comic book, I try to have a “reveal” on the page that’s uncovered. My essay about writing Spider-Man: Frost, can be found on the Writing page of my website, www.davidmorrell.net. The essay includes script pages and matching illustrations from artist Klaus Janson and colorist Steve Buccellatto.

MB: If you were given the opportunity, which comic series would you write next?

DM: Probably Batman, because of the psychological implication of caves and bats. He’s a DC character, of course, but I think my contract with Marvel has expired.

wolverine

MB: Okay, no more comic-related questions. You are well-known to up-and-coming writers (100% of those I encounter, at least) as a person always willing to offer advice and support, always going above and beyond, such as with your involvement in the Borderlands Press boot camps. Why is it important to help those new to the business?

DM: A couple of reasons. One is that the writing world is contracting. It’s increasingly difficult for beginning writers to get established. I recall the writers who gave me generous advice at the start: William Tenn, Stirling Silliphant, Donald E. Westlake, Brian Garfield, and Lawrence Block, to name some. I also recall how grateful I was. They told me to pay it forward, so that’s what I do. The second reason is that I‘m by nature a teacher. I love sharing information and explaining, which might be another example of paying it forward.

MB: You are also often involved with wildlife rescue, and have a few stories you’ve shared in the past with the wildlife where you live. What first sparked this need to help other animals and why is so important we do so?

DM: I’ve always felt close to animals and nature. One of my most transformative experiences involved living in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming for 33 days as a member of a Wilderness Expedition course through the National Outdoor Leadership School. That was research for my novel, Testament. I’ve always had my home in small communities with easy access to the countryside. I’m a gardener, especially when it comes to vegetables (and in New Mexico, that’s a task). I see my world as if it’s a Van Gogh painting with the universe’s spirit swirling through everything. The wildlife rescues started four years ago. I live in Santa Fe, near the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. One day I stepped outside and found a mother bobcat with two kittens. She stared into my eyes as powerfully as I’ve ever been looked at. But she wasn’t threatening me. Young and weak, she was pleading for help. I don’t feed wildlife. But I did let her use a copse of trees near my house as a den. I never bothered her. She and the kittens were there every day. Then one night, I heard three shots and knew in my heart that a neighbor had killed her. She never came back. I learned about the New Mexico Wildlife Shelter, who sent someone to teach me how to capture the kittens. I took them to the shelter, learned about its worthy mission, and have supported it since then. Last summer, the director brought a sharp-shinned hawk in a cage. The hawk had been injured but was now healed. I kept the hawk for a day as it became used to the sound and look of my wooded neighborhood. Then I released it. The hawk came back many times after that. On one occasion, it perched on a rain barrel and looked through our kitchen window. For me, that’s like going to church.

MB: As a creator of heroes, what single piece of advice would you share?

DM: If you mean advice about writing, my mantras are, “Be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of another writer.” And “Don’t chase the market. You’ll always see its backside.” But the larger issue is the responsibility that comes with writing in genres that attract more readers than other types of writing. My work emphasizes action and suspense, but underneath there are embedded themes, and they go back to what I mentioned that I felt were the qualities of a superhero: fairness, selflessness, the belief in equality, the protection of the weak, etc. It’s no accident that I wrote three novels and three short stories about protective agents and that one of them is called The Protector.

* For additional writing advice, check out The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons About Writing and Publishing, and also his Writing page at www.davidmorrell.net.

2018 BRAM STOKER AWARDS® FINAL BALLOT

The Horror Writers Association recently announced the final ballot for the 2018 Bram Stoker Awards®. I am happy to report that my novelette Our Children, Our Teachers is nominated for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction. You can read it for free here!

My work has appeared on the preliminary ballot twelve times over recent years, and on the final ballot seven, and it’s always a shock. I took home the statue for The Library of the Dead as editor back in 2015, so my fingers are crossed this year to bring home a statue for my own fiction.

Kudos to everyone who made the cut. 2018 was a spectacular year, book-wise / story-wise. I’ve had a few already ask what stuff of mine has been nominated in the past, so here you go. The complete list of the Horror Writers Association’s final ballot follows.

  • Superior Achievement in Short Fiction, “Fireman / Primal Tongue” (2013)
  • Superior Achievement in an Anthology, Qualia Nous (2014)
  • Superior Achievement in an Anthology, The Library of the Dead (2015)
  • Superior Achievement in an Anthology, Chiral Mad 3 (2016)
  • Superior Achievement in Short Fiction, “Time is a Face on the Water” (2016)
  • Superior Achievement in Short Fiction, “I Will Be the Reflection Until the End” (2017)
  • Superior Achievement in Long Fiction, Our Children, Our Teachers (2018)

 

Superior Achievement in a Novel

The Hunger – Alma Katsu

Glimpse – Jonathan Maberry

Unbury Carol – Josh Malerman

Dracul  – Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

The Cabin at the End of the World  – Paul Tremblay

 

Superior Achievement in a First Novel

What Should Be Wild – Julia Fine

I Am the River – T.E. Grau

The Rust Maidens – Gwendolyn Kiste

Baby Teeth – Zoje Stage

The Moore House – Tony Tremblay

 

Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel

Dread Nation – Justina Ireland

Sawkill Girls – Claire Legrand 

Broken Lands – Jonathan Maberry

The Night Weaver – Monique Snyman

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein – Kiersten White

 

Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel

Abbott – Saladin Ahmed 

Moonshine Vol. 2: Misery Train – Brian Azzarello

Bone Parish – Cullen Bunn

Destroyer – Victor LaValle 

Monstress Volume 3: Haven – Marjorie Liu

 

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction

Our Children, Our Teachers – Michael Bailey

You Are Released – Joe Hill

Dead Lovers on Each Blade, Hung – Usman T. Malik

The Devil’s Throat  – Rena Mason

Bitter Suites – Angela Yuriko Smith

 

Superior Achievement in Short Fiction

“Mutter” – Jess Landry

“Dead End Town” – Lee Murray

“Glove Box” – Annie Neugebauer

“A Winter’s Tale” – John F.D. Taff

“And in Her Eyes the City Drowned” – Kyla Lee Ward

 

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection

Spectral Evidence – Gemma Files

That Which Grows Wild  – Eric J. Guignard

Coyote Songs  – Gabino Iglesias

Garden of Eldritch Delights  – Lucy A. Snyder

Dark and Distant Voices: A Story Collection – Tim Waggoner

 

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay

Hereditary – Ari Aster

The Haunting of Hill House: The Bent-Neck Lady, Episode 01:05 – Meredith Averill

Annihilation – Alex Garland

Bird Box – Eric Heisserer 

A Quiet Place – Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski

 

Superior Achievement in an Anthology

A New York State of Fright: Horror Stories from the Empire State – James Chambers, April Grey and Robert Masterson 

The Devil and the Deep: Horror Stories of the Sea – Ellen Datlow

A World of Horror – Eric J. Guignard

Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror – Lee Murray

Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road – Alexander D. Ward

 

Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction

Horror Express – John Connolly

The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film  – Lee Gambin

We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror – Howard David Ingham

It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life – Joe Mynhardt and Eugene Johnson

Uncovering Stranger Things: Essays on Eighties Nostalgia, Cynicism and Innocence in the Series – Kevin J. Wetmore Jr.

 

Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection

Artifacts – Bruce Boston

Bleeding Saffron – David E. Cowen 

Witches – Donna Lynch

War – Marge Simon and Alessandro Manzetti  

The Devil’s Dreamland – Sara Tantlinger  

 

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2018 BRAM STOKER AWARDS® PRELIMINARY BALLOT

The Horror Writers Association recently announced the preliminary ballot for the 2018 Bram Stoker Awards®, the details of which you can find below. While Chiral Mad 4: An Anthology of Collaborations (the final anthology by Written Backwards) did not survive the great culling, there are many great anthologies competing this year for Superior Achievement in an Anthology. But hey, Lucy and I gave it our best, and it’s a great book full of collaborations that hopefully brought the writing community together. Check it out if you haven’t already!

The anthology co-editors made the cut for different categories, however. Garden of Eldritch Delights by Lucy A. Snyder is on the list for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection, and my own novelette, Our Children, Our Teachers, for Long Fiction.

Kudos to those on the preliminary ballot, lots of friends in the genre, no doubt, and also kudos to those whose work did not make the cut. There are many works I’d personally add to this list, but lists can only be so long. And 2018 was a great year for horror!

 

Superior Achievement in a Novel

The Shape of Water – Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus

Dark Mary – Paolo Di Orazio

The Hunger – Alma Katsu

The Outsider – Stephen King

Glimpse – Jonathan Maberry

Unbury Carol – Josh Malerman

Naraka – Alessandro Manzetti

Hazards of Time Travel – Joyce Carol Oates

Foe – Iain Reid 

Frankenstein in Baghdad: A Novel  – Ahmed Saadawi

Dracul  – Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

The Cabin at the End of the World  – Paul Tremblay

 

Superior Achievement in a First Novel

The Garden of Blue Roses – Michael Barsa

What Should Be Wild – Julia Fine

Breaking the World – Jerry Gordon

I Am the River – T.E. Grau

The Rust Maidens – Gwendolyn Kiste

Fiction – Ryan Lieske

The Honey Farm – Harriet Alida Lye 

The War in the Dark – Nick Setchfield 

The Nightmare Room – Chris Sorensen

Baby Teeth – Zoje Stage

The Moore House – Tony Tremblay

 

Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel

Pitch Dark – Courtney Alameda

The Wicked Deep – Shea Ernshaw 

Attack of the 50 Foot Wallflower – Christian McKay Heidicker 

Dread Nation – Justina Ireland

Wormholes: Book One of Axles and Allies – Dani Kane

Sawkill Girls – Claire Legrand 

Broken Lands – Jonathan Maberry

The Night Weaver – Monique Snyman

The Wren Hunt – Mary Watson

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein – Kiersten White

 

Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel

Abbott – Saladin Ahmed 

Cursed Comics Cavalcade – Alex Antone and and Dave James Wielgosz

Moonshine Vol. 2: Misery Train – Brian Azzarello

Redlands Volume 1: Sisters by Blood – Jordie Bellaire

Bone Parish – Cullen Bunn

Denver Moon: Metamorphosis – Warren Hammond and Joshua Viola

Destroyer – Victor LaValle 

Gideon Falls Volume 1: The Black Barn – Jeff Lemire

Monstress Volume 3: Haven – Marjorie Liu

Infidel – Pornsak Pichetshote 

 

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction

Our Children, Our Teachers – Michael Bailey

The Barrens – Stephanie Feldman

Shiloh – Philip Fracassi

You Are Released – Joe Hill

Cruce Roosters  – Brent Michael Kelley

Black’s Red Gold – Ed Kurtz

Dead Lovers on Each Blade, Hung – Usman T. Malik

The Devil’s Throat  – Rena Mason

Body of Christ – Mark Matthews

Bitter Suites – Angela Yuriko Smith

Shape Shifting Priestess of the 1,000 Year War  – Todd Sullivan

 

Superior Achievement in Short Fiction

“All Summers End” – Tom Deady

“Life After Breath” – Tori Eldridge

“Cold, Silent, and Dark” – Kary English

“The Gods in Their Seats, Unblinking” – Kurt Fawver

“The Woman in the Blue Dress” – Heather Herrman

“Mutter” – Jess Landry

“Dead End Town” – Lee Murray

“Glove Box” – Annie Neugebauer

“Fish Hooks” – Kit Power

“Her Royal Counsel” – Andrew Robertson

“A Winter’s Tale” – John F.D. Taff

“And in Her Eyes the City Drowned” – Kyla Lee Ward

 

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection

Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked  – Christa Carmen

Spectral Evidence – Gemma Files

That Which Grows Wild  – Eric J. Guignard

Coyote Songs  – Gabino Iglesias

Octoberland  – Thana Niveau

Frozen Shadows: And Other Chilling Stories – Gene O’Neill

Apple and Knife – Intan Paramaditha

Occasional Beasts: Tales – John Claude Smith

Garden of Eldritch Delights  – Lucy A. Snyder

Little Black Spots – John F.D. Taff

Dark and Distant Voices: A Story Collection – Tim Waggoner

 

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay

Hereditary – Ari Aster

The Haunting of Hill House: The Bent-Neck Lady, Episode 01:05 – Meredith Averill

The Haunting of Hill House: Screaming Meemies, Episode 01:09 – Meredith Averill

Mandy – Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn 

Ghost Stories – Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman

Halloween – Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride and David Gordon Green

Annihilation – Alex Garland

Bird Box – Eric Heisserer 

Overlord – Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith

A Quiet Place – Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski

 

Superior Achievement in an Anthology

A New York State of Fright: Horror Stories from the Empire State – James Chambers, April Grey and Robert Masterson 

The Devil and the Deep: Horror Stories of the Sea – Ellen Datlow

Suspended in Dusk II – Simon Dewar

A World of Horror – Eric J. Guignard

Welcome to the Show – Doug Murano and Matt Hayward

Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror – Lee Murray

The Fiends in the Furrows: An Anthology of Folk Horror – David T. Neal and Christine M. Scott

Phantoms: Haunting Tales from Masters of the Genre – Marie O’Regan

Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road – Alexander D. Ward

Quoth the Raven – Lyn Worthen

 

Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction

Horror Express – John Connolly

Adapting Frankenstein: The Monster’s Eternal Lives in Popular Culture – Dennis Cutchins and Dennis R. Perry

The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film  – Lee Gambin

Woman at the Devil’s Door: The Untold True Story of the Hampstead Murderess  – Sarah Beth Hopton

We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror – Howard David Ingham

Sleeping with the Lights On: The Unsettling Story of Horror – Darryl Jones

It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life – Joe Mynhardt and Eugene Johnson

A Place of Darkness: The Rhetoric of Horror in Early American Cinema – Kendall R. Phillips

Wasteland: The Great Ward and the Origins of Modern Horror – W. Scott Poole

Uncovering Stranger Things: Essays on Eighties Nostalgia, Cynicism and Innocence in the Series – Kevin J. Wetmore Jr.

 

Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection

Artifacts – Bruce Boston

The Comfort of Screams – G.O. Clark 

Bleeding Saffron – David E. Cowen 

The Hatch – Joe Fletcher

Witches – Donna Lynch

Thirteen Nocturnes – Oliver Shepard

War – Marge Simon and Alessandro Manzetti  

The Devil’s Dreamland – Sara Tantlinger  

Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions – Jacqueline West

Gwendolyn Witch and Other Macabria – Twyla Wren

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CINEMA 13 – BEST OF 2012

People often ask one of four questions when they discover I write horror: 1) Where do you get your ideas? (my head never shuts up), 2) Would you ever want to write full time? (the answer is no), 3) What kind of books do you read (the ‘you’ inflected, as if I hold some sort of stereotype, in which case my answer is always everything, and in which case I typically add something clever like, “What do you people like to read?”), and 4) What kind of movies do you watch? (also with the implied ‘you’re a crazy person, right?’) So, the answer to question number 4 can perhaps be covered by listing / reviewing my top 13 movies of 2012. I’m a crazy person, I write horror, and this blog is my answer.

I have seen a lot of movies this year (none of them were horror, except for one). I like movies. I enjoy going to the theatre, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, sometimes my shoes making that sticky thwok-thwok-thwok sound with the floor as I find my seat. I try not to smell the burnt popcorn, and do my best to ignore those around me who should have stayed home. Movies are necessary escapes from reality. Anyway…

Below are my top 13 movies of 2012, seen in theatres (DVD/Blu-ray don’t count), ranked in an order that will make you shake your head one way or the other. The rankings are based on the overall movie-going experience: Was I immersed or pulled into the movie in a way that made me forget how shitty our world has become? Did the story and its characters move me? Did I care? (I write horror, so what should I care?) Was the writing (yes, movies are written) spectacular, as well as the acting, the dialogue, the pacing, the tension, the art, the score, the script, the cinematography, the direction? Was it fun? Was I disappointed to see it end? Did I stay through the credits contemplating?

Whether or not you agree with my list, I’ll try to justify each of my choices. And I will start at the top (because everyone else does it the other way around and I do things backwards):

1. Cloud Atlas

1_cloud_atlasWhat can I say? With a nonlinear mesh of storylines (sound familiar?) all told at once, spanning centuries upon centuries, Cloud Atlas is the top movie for 2012. Why? A slave ship on the Pacific Ocean (1850), love letters shared between a composer and his partner in Belgium (1931), a murder mystery in California (1975), a vanity publisher avoiding his gangster client in Britain (present), a dystopian future set in Korea (22XX?) involving “fabricants” and a post-apocalyptic / nearly-primitive society (unspecified date hundreds of years after the fall of the previously mentioned dystopian future). Yes, all of that. All at once. Souls rippling and re-emerging through time to inspire a revolution in a distant future. Consequence weaving through the past, present and future. This movie is an unsteady mix of history, romance, comedy, sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Six storylines to follow, all at once, thrown at your face and then slowly pieced together through some amazing filmography. This is my kind of movie! And to top it off, each actor / actress plays anywhere between 3 and 13 roles. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellen, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent… the list goes on and on. I must admit, I went into this movie thinking it would be a disaster (sounds like it from this horrible summary) because Cloud Atlas is one of my favorite novels by David Mitchell (Ghostwritten, Number9dream, Black Swan Green). This is the guy that got me into writing, so if you think my novels are convoluted, you can thank David Mitchell. Unlike the movie, where all six storylines simultaneously occur on screen (not really simultaneously, but snippet after snippet of one story to the next, rinse and repeat), the novel gives us the first half of each story in turn, with one in the middle, followed by the second half of each, in turn. The book is complex enough to warrant six separate movies, yet Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) somehow pull it off in this nearly 3-hour epic masterpiece. I think that is the main reason why Cloud Atlas ranks #1 on my list. The movie did not hinder my appreciation for the novel, but expanded upon it. I watched this movie three times in theatres. Cloud Atlas is an incredible adaptation, probably one of the best original takes on an adapted screenplay I’ve ever seen. I only wish the movie were longer, or never ended. And, believe it or not, this is an indie film, and will probably get overlooked, especially for award nominations.

2. Django Unchained

2_django_unchainedQuentin Tarantino is the king of dialogue. Yes, he’s a cinematography copycat, but he’s the best at it, and he has a good taste in music and camera angles and the overuse of fake blood. If I could describe Django Unchained, I would probably call it a spaghetti western mix of Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, both Kill Bill volumes, Inglourious Basterds, and nearly every other movie he’s made. Django is ultra-violent and ultra-funny. And serious, believe it or not. Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds, Water for Elephants) is one of my new favorite actors (not new to acting, but somewhat new to acting in the US). He plays a witty German cowboy bounty hunter disguised as a dentist (you read that right), alongside Jamie Foxx, a freed slave in search of his wife, a slave owned by Leonardo DiCaprio. Leo plays a villain remarkably well, as does Samuel L. Jackson, a cutthroat slave trader (you read that right as well). The most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time. And I may see it again. I’m not sure if this is one of Tarantino’s best films, but it’s one of the best films this year, which says a lot for his work. The supporting actors in this film should win some awards this year.

3. Argo

3_argoHate what you will about Ben Affleck, but the man can direct. And act. And allegedly write, or at least “co-write.” He fell off my radar after co-writing and acting in the Oscar-worthy Good Will Hunting (one of Robin Williams’ best performances) alongside Matt Damon (How you like them Apples?), but reappeared on my radar when he directed his younger brother in Gone Baby Gone (co-wrote the screenplay), and then directed and starred in The Town (co-wrote as well), an adaptation of the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan. This gave me high hopes for Argo, a movie about a joint CIA-Canadian operation to extract six American hostages out of a revolutionary Iran in 1980. Like the previous two films, I was pulled into this movie from the opening scene and was never let go until the credits rolled. And the tension is nail-biting. Although you already know how the movie ends before it ends, it still holds you on the edge of your seat with your heart palpitating. The characters played by John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) are still memorable. This movie deserves some best Screenplay nominations.

4. Prometheus

4_prometheusI don’t give a crap what you think about Prometheus. I loved it. And the original Alien, as well as the sequel, Aliens, are two of my favorite movies of all time. Someone once asked what my favorite horror movie was, and I blurted out Alien without thinking. There’s something about the setup of that movie that intrigues me. The fear of what you don’t see. I constantly hear complaints about Prometheus from both Alien and non-Alien lovers, mostly about a lack of aliens: “I was expecting to see more alien creatures, you know, like those in Alien and Aliens” or “This isn’t a direct prequel to Alien!” If you want to see a bunch of those little cat-like buggers, then watch the CGI-heavy / horrible Alien vs. Predator (AVP) movies and be done with it. Ridley Scott is a brilliant writer and director, and he brings his A-game (the A stands for ‘Alien’ in this case) to Prometheus, a story about the origin of mankind. And no, this is not a direct prequel to Alien. It could be considered a prequel of prequels, as we will most likely see a few more Prometheus-like movies in the future to fill that giant gap. My only gripe is that the Blu-ray version of the movie is disappointing and that all Charlize Theron had to do was run to the side… just sayin’. They changed the ending from the one I saw in theatres. The original ending is now considered a deleted / altered scene, which just pisses me off. Noomi Rapace (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is amazing as the woman in distress and has an unforgettable scene in an automated surgeon tube, and Michael Fassbender (Magneto from X-Men: First Class) is stellar as an android named David, and Charlize Theron (Monster) is a downright evil bitch in this movie. Guy Pearce, however, was dreadful in his role as the old man in bad makeup. Overall, I dug it. A lot.

5. Looper

09_looperThis movie is probably one of the surprises to appear on the list of top movies of the year, probably because not a lot of people saw it in the theatres (similar to Cloud Atlas). Time travel movies rarely work. There’s always some kind of logic that ruins it for me. In Looper, set in the 2040s, time travel is invented 30 years in the future, but illegal, and only used on the black market by the mob because murder is nearly impossible in the 2070s. Whenever they need someone ‘gone,’ they send their victims 30 years into the past, where a hired gun, such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, Brick, 50/50), takes them out. The Looper waits near an empty white sheet, a hooded body materializes, the Looper blows that person away (without hesitation) with a weapon called a Blunderbuss. The body is strapped with silver bars as a form of payment. There is also a villain known as ‘The Rainmaker’ who has been closing the loop on his hired guns by sending Loopers (from the future) to the past, tricking the Loopers into committing a 30-years-in-the-future suicide. Gold bars are strapped to these bodies instead of silver. A retirement fund to spend over the next 30 years before they no longer exist. When the main character (JG-L) is confronted with his older self (Bruce Willis), he hesitates, and chaos ensues from that point onward. His older self has come back to kill three little boys (one he knows will become ‘The Rainmaker’). This movie explores string theory, and explores it well. I sat long after the movie contemplating, and was reminded of Inception, one of my favorite movies from the year before. I can’t wait to see this one again.

6. Life of Pi

05_life_of_piAh, Life of Pi, another of my favorite novels. A boy on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a tiger, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a rat. What could go wrong? I remember finishing this book from Yann Martel 10 years ago, closing it, and saying, “This should be required reading in schools.” Well, I found out a month ago it was recently added to the curriculum at a few schools in California. Rightly so. The book is incredible. The movie industry will screw this one up. That was my thought going in to the movie. And then I remembered it was directed / produced by Ang Lee, so it was either going to be excellent, or it was going to suck. And then I remembered the cast was not composed of modern heartthrob-teeny-bopper-wannabees, but actors I had never heard of, so maybe Mr. Lee could pull it off. And then I saw the movie with a good friend of mine. Wow. Every frame of every shot is absolutely beautiful. Stunning, even. Life of Pi stayed true to the novel, for the most part, enough for me to enjoy the movie and place it in the number 6 spot. While I wish the movie focused more attention to symbolism and the orangutan’s importance, it was a great adaptation from book to film. Richard Parker (the tiger) deserves an Oscar for his performance.

7. Moonrise Kingdom

6_moonrise_kingdomYou either love Wes Anderson, or you hate him. Understand him, or hate him. That seems to be the consensus with his movies (Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox). He writes, directs, and produces his films, and for whatever reason, I enjoy every one of them. Moonrise Kingdom is a love story between two twelve-year-olds who make a pact to run away together into the wilderness: Sam is running away from Camp Ivanhoe, while Suzy is running away from her parents. The film features offbeat performances by Scout Master Edward Norton, the boy’s parents, played by Bill Murray and Francis McDormand (Fargo) and small town authority, Bruce Willis. Like I said before, you either love Wes Anderson movies, or you don’t. And this movie screams Wes Anderson. The film is distributed by Focus Features. To date, I haven’t found a Focus Features… feature, that I haven’t absolutely loved.

8. Lincoln

11_lincolnDaniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York, The Last of the Mohicans) is probably the finest actor working today. With each of his movies, he transforms into his characters, and Lincoln is no different. He is not Daniel Day-Lewis playing Lincoln, he is Lincoln. And he doesn’t even have to fight off vampires in this one! This movie ranks up there with Steven Speilberg’s best history films: Schindler’s List, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, and Amistad. I went into the movie expecting one Civil War battle after another, something like a Civil War version of Saving Private Ryan. The typical “two sides clashing together in epic fight scenes” that have become expected in nearly all movies today. But Lincoln is different. The war takes place off screen. Lincoln focuses on the man, his family, and the politics behind his course of actions to do three important things for this country (all at once): ending the civil war, reuniting the nation, and abolishing slavery. Most of those in the 25-and-under range watching the movie were restless throughout, wanting explosions and action, and a few even left the theatre bored. But those are the same people that think Schindler’s List is boring. Lincoln, both as a movie and as a character, perfectly portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, is incredibly engaging. Daniel Day-Lewis will win the Oscar for this movie. No doubt. There are also some other amazing performances: Sally Field as Mary Lincoln, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as their son, Robert, and Tommy Lee Jones pulling off one of his best acting roles to date as Thaddeus Stevens (stealing the show every time he appeared on screen). Lincoln is a film that should be shone in schools.

9. Les Miserables

10_les_misI have to tell you something about Les Mis. If the movie rating was based solely on Anne Hathaway’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream,” this movie would be number 1. I would pay full admission price to watch her sing that song, over and over again. Anne is the perfect Fantine, which unfortunately means she’s not in the movie very long, but watching her sing “I Dreamed a Dream” will make the tears flow, make you hold your breath, make you do all sorts of emotional things. She is simply amazing. Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean is equally impressive; his singing is incredible and makes you wonder why he ever left Broadway to focus on film. He should be recording music. There are some other standout musical performances by Éponine (Samantha Barks… never heard of her before), and the little boy. Helen Bonham Carter (Sweeney Todd, The King’s Speech, Alice and Wonderland) and Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Hugo, he’s even in Django) are quite comical as Madame and Monsieur Thénardier (the masters of the house). Russel Crowe as Inspector Javert was kind of abysmal (his singing, anyway), and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette had some good soprano, and some bad soprano. Overall, this is an amazing take on Les Miserables.

10. The Avengers

7_the_avengersThis is a Joss Whedon geek-fest, plain and simple. Whether or not you like super hero movies, The Avengers kicked some serious blockbuster ass. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk #3 (Mark Ruffalo, although Edward Norton would have rocked this character like before), Thor (sorry, Chris Hemsworth, but out of all of the Marvel movies, yours downright sucked; the modern-day stuff was entertaining, but your home world is on the lame side), and don’t forget Nick Fury (Samuel F. Jackson (the F. was a MF’ing joke, MF!), and Jeremy Renner (I mean Hawkeye)… and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and on and on and on. The plot’s lame, but there’s so much going on in this movie in terms of eye candy that who really cares if the plot’s any good? It’s The Avengers. Together. All at once. As long as a movie can pull you out of reality for a few hours, that’s all that really matters.

11. The Hobbit, part whatever

08_hobbitNow you hate me. Why isn’t this number 1? Why is it below The Avengers and all of those other movies? Well, if all three movies were out at once, and they were combined cumulatively to a 4-5 hour version of The Hobbit (instead of nearly 8-9 hours by the time this saga is over), it would probably be much higher in the rankings, but not number 1. The Hobbit, part whatever, reminded me of the first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring. It was slow, but entertaining, and the movie pulled me into J.R.R. Tolkien’s world easily enough… familiar territory now that we’ve lived through 10 hours of the Lord of the Rings (or 14 hours of extended cuts). The troll scene at the campfire was fun to see on screen (although their voices were a little high-pitched like Cosette from Les Mis), and Gollum once again made the movie, but I felt the film was more kid friendly (which, I know, it should be), and spent too much time with the line of dwarfs (dwarves or dwarfs? I can’t remember… I think Tolkien used dwarfs) marching along in the typical Peter Jackson zoomed-out landscape shot followed by zoomed-out landscape shot with awesome music in the background, or the more typical ‘everyone running at the same time through an impossible number of easily-defeatable foes that swarm like ants but part like the red sea when the good guys coming running with daggers and hammers and whatnot with Gandalf saving their hides every time the group requires him as their deux ex machina’ kind of scenes. Ian McKellen plays Gandalf well, and Andy Serkis hides behind the CGI to help create the best Gollum yet, but the movie was just… okay. The Hobit, part whatever, only makes my top 13 because I’m a Tolkien fan.

12. Skyfall

13_skyfallSecond from last is Skyfall, which has received some stellar movie reviews from critics. I have no idea why. Believe it or not, The Dark Knight Rises ruined this movie for me. They have the same plot elements. As I was watching Bond, I was thinking, This is Bruce Wayne a few movies ago. They could have called the movie James Bond Rises. But, it’s a good movie. I like the Daniel Craig version of Bond much better than Brosnan, Connery, or Moore, which is probably some sort of 007 blasphemy to Bond fanatics. Skyfall has some of the best action scenes I’ve seen this year, such as the rooftop motorcycle chase and the opening train scene. The main reason why Skyfall makes the list is Ralph Fiennes (another brilliant actor), and Javier Bardem playing his creepiest villain role since No Country for Old Men. Judy Dench as M was annoying though. By the end of the film, I was wanting her character dead. Speaking of the end of the film: Home Alone. I couldn’t help but think of Macaulay Culkin barricading himself inside the house and setting traps. Like I said before, this is a great film, but I have no idea why critiques are praising it.

13. The Dark Knight Rises

12_dark_knightI watched The Dark Knight Rises in the theatre as the finale to a Batman marathon, which I believe is why it ranks last. Honestly, the first time I watched it, I didn’t like it at all. Christopher Nolan (Memento, Inception, The Prestige) is one of the best directors / producers / writers working today, especially when he gets his brother involved, so there was a lot of expectations with this film. A repeat viewing on Blu-ray has bumped the film onto this list. The marathon started with Batman Begins (my second favorite in the series), the beginning to Nolan’s revamp of the Batman saga. The marathon then should have concluded with The Dark Knight, one of the last films featuring Heath Ledger, who gave us the best performance ever captured on film (my take, anyway) as The Joker. Then the marathon actually concluded with The Dark Knight Rises (a title that basically adds ‘Rises’ to the previous). I think the main problem with seeing all three movies in a row like this was the brilliance of The Dark Knight. That film is so good, it makes The Dark Knight Rises look paltry, or at least a strong downward curve of this three film arc, especially at 3:00am when the film ended. Truth be told, I could not get over Bane’s voice: sort of a mix between Sean Connery from Indiana Jones and Goldmember from Austin Powers. I kept expecting Bane to say, “Bat-man, we named the dawg Indiana, because I like Goooold.” But, after repeat viewings, I was able to get over the voice and enjoyed the movie more; although, Anne Hathaway ruins it for me as Catwoman. Her character had no place in this film (unlike her role in Les Mis). Christian Bale as Batman… a little rough in the second movie, but better in this one. The savior of this film is Joseph Gordon-Levitt (he’s in three of my top movies this year) as John Blake. He gave a certain human emotion that held the entire movie together, which makes sense if he’s going to take over as Robin.

So, that’s my top 13 for the year. Below are a few movies that either didn’t make the cut, or I haven’t seen yet.

Movies I enjoyed, but didn’t make the cut:
Cabin in the Woods (would have taken the 10 spot if I had seen it in the theatres), Expendables 2 (absolutely fun), The Grey (would have made the 13 spot if I hadn’t moved The Dark Knight Rises onto the list).

Movies I enjoyed, but found extremely overrated:
The Hunger Games, Dark Shadows, Snow White and the Huntsman, Ted, Spiderman.

Still want to see (expect to be good):
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Killer Joe, Robot & Frank, Arbitrage, The Master, Trouble with the Curve, End of Watch, Seven Psychopaths, Hyde Park on Hudson.

Still want to see (expect to suck):
The Campaign, The Bourne Legacy, Total Recall, Savages, Lawless, The Words, Woman in Black, The Raven, Taken 2, M.I.B. 3, Sinister, Flight, Killing Them Softly, Jack Reacher.