For My Fellow Creators Who Stay On The Grind

I’ve been a freelance writer for 10 years. I started out working for The Atlanta Voice Newspaper back in 2006, and I’ve been able to build a pretty decent career as a “hired gunslinger” when it comes to the written word. With the guidance of awesome folks like Maurice Waters, Tony Cade, Mark Stancil, and Dennis Malcolm Byron, I’ve been able to grow in this freelance world of journalism and comics.

The freelancing has provided me with some awesome opportunities, and put me in front of people that I never thought I’d ever be in the same room with. I’ve had a chance to interview such hip hop icons as Ludacris, Chuck D, and Andre 3000. I’ve had a chance to do client work on such award nominated/ critically acclaimed series like the CDC’s Kabi Chronicles: The Edge, Barron Robert Bell’s Radio Free Amerika and William Satterwhite’s Stealth: The Life and Times of Allen White.

Heck I even parlayed my love of comic books into doing a phone interview with one of my writing inspirations, the late great Dwayne McDuffie, for a story I did on black comic book creators with The Atlanta Voice Newspaper.

So when I say I’ve been blessed/ fortunate to have the career that I’ve had, that’s an understatement. I’m extremely grateful for every opportunity that has graced my pallet, not even including the creator owned comic book work that I’ve done.

But I want more. 🙂

This is what I'd love my 9-5 to be: writing full time, or something close to it. :-)

This is what I’d love my 9-5 to be: writing full time, or something close to it. 🙂

I want to do this full time, or at least close to it. I want to be able to provide for my family, and still parlay this love of the written word into my primary 9-5.

Is that greedy? Is that unrealistic? Maybe so, in today’s economic climate. But I’d be damned if I didn’t say I didn’t want more.

And you know what? I don’t just want it for myself, I want it for my fellow Tessara Guild members John McGuire, Amanda Makepeace, Chad Snok, J Edward Neill. For the kick ass poet/ rapper I know as I my little brother, Brandon Jeffrey, a.k.a OB. For my director/ writer/ Jane of all Trades cuzzo Gabrielle Hawkins. I want it for my ride or die brother in arms Sean Hill. For Barron Robert Bell. For Tony Cade. For Mark Stancil. For Takeia Marie. For Tanya Woods. For Maurice Waters. For Nicole Kurtz. For Deon Brown, William Satterwhite, Vincent Christie, Bobby NashAshton James Mason, and heck, everyone else I know I’ve missed because I’m apparently suffering early onset memory loss.

I want our collective love and passion for the fields of writing, art, comics, filmmaking, etc., combined with our strong worth ethic to parlay into something where we can do this for our 9-5’s. Because, hell we deserve it, and we are constantly putting in the work and drive to get there.

What I wanted to do with this post was give a shout out to my folks who grind at the 9-5’s that they have to work, to get to where they want to work (or at least closer to where both career’s bring in equal amounts of income).

Two songs that I love that I feel capture this idea of a creator doing what they have to do, to do what they love, are Lupe Fiasco’s Hip-Hop Saved My Life (feat. Nikki Jean), and Ace Hood’s Hustle Hard. I’m a hip hop/ rap fan so both speak personally to such a drive to find a way to do what you love, so you can take care of those you love, and still enjoy what you’re doing.

This post is for those folks like myself who would rush out at 5:00  pm on the dot to do an interview with someone halfway across the country. For those people who stay up to 1:00 am in the morning to knock out final edits on a personal project, or client work, knowing you have to be up at 6:00 am that day for your other job. Or for those who become true weekend warriors to put the final touches on an awesome piece of art, realizing that Monday brings yet another day of the main job that puts food on the table, and a roof over your families’ head.

And hey, reaching such a level can be done. I look at those creators who are doing what they love full time, 24/7 and feel driven to get to where they are, while also being extremely happy for them. Not for the reason of making a crazy amount of money. Nope, I simply want to get to a point where I actually love what I’m doing full time.

Heck, at least close to full time would be great, so I’m not choosy.

So to all my fellow “after 5:00 pm/ weekend/ up to all hours of the night/ holiday warriors-creators” I salute you with a Captain Benjamin Sisko toast. You, and all of your work is mad’ appreciated yo’.

Now get back to creating so we make these dreams a reality.

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Captain Benjamin Sisko approves this message

Star Trek… Beyond?

Or Why You’re Wrong About the New Star Trek Movies

Cast your mind back to the Spring of 2005, regardless of how you felt about the show (or its final episode – which I still don’t completely understand the backlash there), Enterprise was going off the air. Which meant for the first time since 1987 there wouldn’t be a Star Trek show on TV.

What the hell did that even mean? For almost as long as I can remember, some starship was out there discovering, searching, having a 5-year or a continuing  or some kind of mission. There were missteps and ideas that took a while to really gel. But apparently whatever ratings they were getting not only wasn’t good enough for Enterprise, but not good enough to even warrant a replacement show.

Three years earlier was the last Next Generation movie: Nemesis which barely made back its production budget of $60 million (it took in a worldwide box office of $67 million, down almost half of Star Trek: Insurrection).

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Star Trek was dead on the vine.

Here’s the thing, I’m a Star Trek Fan, but I am not a Fanatic about it. I will fully own up to the fact that I haven’t seen most of the episodes of the various series (The Original Series and Next Generation I’m probably in the 90% range, but the rest are somewhat scattered). And normally this would mean that I should probably keep my mouth shut about it other than to say “I like the shows”… but…

You see, I think I’m much more in the vein of the person that can see things as they are (and maybe not how we all might really want them to be). So when I say Star Trek was dead on the vine, I don’t take any joy in that fact. There was something very comforting about knowing I could turn on my tv any given week and have a new episode to comfort me.

That’s why I both understand the venom against the new movies (the Reboot) and can’t understand it at all. Think of it another way – clearly the fan base for the show had become numb to the lot of it. You were down to the diehards as opposed to even some of the fans like myself (who had watched 2 seasons of Enterprise and then got distracted by life). After my disappointment in Insurrection, I made no attempt to watch Nemesis (and while I know I’ve seen it – I couldn’t tell you very much about it). This from someone who loved the movies before those last two.

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But the Reboot… I get it. I personally don’t like it when DC comics keeps doing that same thing to my comics. I don’t like the idea that MY VERSION of things is no longer cannon. And I hate it when someone tells me the answer is to reread my old comics or search out old comics if “that is what you want to read about”. How insulting.  While I love to go back a reread things I loved or even find those hidden gems I never knew about in the first place. Yet, I participate in fandom because I want to experience it in new and exciting ways.

I’m not sure the old universe had much juice left in it for broad consumption. Note, this isn’t taking anything away from the numerous fan film projects (some that look flat out amazing). This isn’t taking anything away from the newer comics or books or anything else that might have still existed. This was about saving the series for (forgive the pun) the next generation of potential fans.

The Reboot. I liked it. It’s not perfect, but it did exactly what was needed to be done. It made Star Trek into a spectacle, an event again. And while money isn’t the only thing we should gauge this stuff on, it made SIX times as much as Nemesis. So I’m not wrong (at least not completely).

This was the shot in the arm.

You want to know why these movies needed to happen (lens flares and all)? Because of someone like my wife. A person who has managed to embrace pretty much all my crazy fandoms. From Spiderman and the Avengers to the Flash tv show to Star Wars and Firefly.

You want to know the one thing she could never really understand/connect with? Star Trek.

You want to know what happened when we went and saw Into Darkness? She was literally bouncing in her chair at the end of the movie. Yes, for us who had seen Wrath of Khan (still the best movie) there was a lot of switch-a-roo (and plot holes – why do they need Khan’s blood when they have a whole ship worth of guys and gals with the same blood? – I digress). And maybe that pissed you off (and that’s cool… not that you needed my permission). She really enjoyed it.

New fans. New blood.

And what has that led to? A NEW SHOW. Something I wasn’t sure was possible a decade ago. And maybe a chance for that Star Fleet Academy show to finally happen (you know, the one that always gets thrown around as an idea for the next show) (have they announced what the new show is about yet?).

Perhaps it is time to slacken up on the death grip you’ve performed with the series all these years. Let’s invite these new fans in and then show them why the old shows ruled so much… and if we have to deal with the Beastie Boys in a Star Trek movie… well, that might be the price we have to pay to still have it around at all.

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Sequels That Never Were – The Crow

The Crow: The Devil’s Mask

Setting: Washington, D.C.

Time: The Near Future

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Night. A crow soars through the city streets of Washington, D.C. In the distance there are fires burning, the results of the latest riots. While the crow continues its flight, the narrator, a woman’s voice, speaks.

“Sometimes, when a person has died a horrible death their soul is too sad to cross over to the other side.  Then sometimes a crow comes to guide the spirit back to right the wrongs that had been done to it.”

The crow lands on a rooftop and scans the surroundings until its gaze rests upon the White House.  The building is only half standing. Only a few of its flags remain waving in the night breeze, and those are dirty and tattered. The crow continues on to the White House.

Interior of the White House.  A large black man sits at the head of the long hall. Beneath him is his throne, a patchwork of various pieces raided from the old seat of the Republic. Beside him, one to either side, are two women in various states of undress. Throughout the hall are an assortment of thugs and hired guns ensuring that their “King” is in no danger. Above the leader rests lays a rifle with a scope. And around the leader’s neck is a Yin-Yang necklace.

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The front door to the hall opens (slow motion style) and some measure of slower techno/metal song begins to play (only slow at first and then building throughout the scene. Through the entrance stalks our hero, The Crow, with his bird flying in just above him.

The music is in full swing as the Crow lays into the men.  Throughout the fight we cut back to the leader who merely looks at the rifle above him as if he is trying to decide something. Eventually he takes it down, raises it, puts his eye to the scope, and sets the cross-hairs targeting the crow (the bird).  The Crow (the guy) is about to pummel the last of the King’s men when the gun is fired (this coincides with the stoppage of music).

Bird and man fall as the bullet impacts.

The King brings his weapon down to his side and makes his way over to the would-be hero. “Very good.  One, two … nine of my men total you were able to get to.  I think that is well beyond the record.”

As the Crow begins to stand the King raises his weapon again and shoots the Crow’s kneecap.

Screams of pain fill the room.

Over The Crow’s shoulder, the two women walk up beside their leader.  The one on his right holds a revolver, and the one on his left holds a red mask in her hands.  The each hand their items to the Leader. He slowly places the red devil mask on.

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The Crow whispers, “I’m sorry Laura.”

The King cocks his head to one side and raises the gun to the mask’s lips.

“No, no, no.  Tell Laura that you’ll be with her in a moment.  Tell her that I sent you home.”

At that moment a crow flies up from behind the King and lands upon his shoulder.

Wide-eyed, the Crow mutters out, “You’re…”

The King merely nods and levels the revolver at the Crow.

“Tell everyone ‘Hi’ for me.”

The chamber echoes with gun fire.

Fade to black – Narrator’s voice

“And sometimes the person doesn’t want to go back.”

the crow fire

***

Years ago, after being disappointed in the second Crow movie (after loving the original so much), Chad wrote up a pitch for a sequel to the Crow. And like many things when you get writers to start riffing on a subject, a story appeared to me. I jotted down the notes I had for it while at work, typed it up, and sent it out that next night.

But because I’m a pack rat and never throw anything out (idea or otherwise), this is one of those bits of story I keep trying to reuse in other forms… sometimes it seems like a decent fit, and sometimes it just doesn’t work and the story goes into the folder on the computer not to be looked at again…

But I was looking through that folder this evening and came across the document again, so I thought I’d share it. Not that this is all of it, just what would be in a movie right before the credits kicked in…

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Movie Casting for A Door Never Dreamed Of

Not all that long ago, I dreamed up a book.

And then I wrote it.

And loved every moment of its creation.

When it hit Amazon, the reactions were pretty much identical. “Make this into a movie,” my readers suggested. “Now!”

Gosh, I’d love to, I thought. A Door Never Dreamed Of might make an even better film than this and this. We’ve got opportunities for epic-scale fights and small, quiet moments of reflection. We’ve got beautiful women and huge, scary dudes. As long as we keep Michael Bay at…well…bay, it could be a sci-fi tale for the ages.

Ok. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

Maybe.

No matter. Here’s my dream cast for A Door Never Dreamed Of:

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Moz

 

Michael B. Jordan (Mozelle) – Every story worth its salt needs a hero. And who better than Creed’s shredded, skillful M.B.J. to play Moz. He’s exiled to a far-off space station. He’s millions of miles from Earth, which he dreams of every night. He’s ready for the Door to open and the war to begin. Suit up, M.B.J.. Time to fight!

 

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Anjel Chloe Grace Moretz

 

Chloe Grace Moretz (Anjel) – Gosh, Chloe grew up fast. Her Kick Ass roots revealed not only her acting ability, but her confidence and badass-ness. Therefore she’s perfect for Moz’s love interest, Anjel. She’s also an exile, but she’s definitely not as ready for war as her lover. Brains over brawn, people. Remember…

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Kodi-Smit McPhee Rafe

 

Kodi-Smit McPhee (Rafe) – You remember him as Nightcrawler from the X-Men movies. But in A Door Never Dreamed Of, he’ll play the unlucky Rafe. Awakened from his perfect, plugged-In world, he’ll have to face off against impossible odds, with nothing other than the fate of the world in the balance. Get some, Kodi.

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Absinthe

 

Margot Robbie (Absinthe) – What kind of villain is worse than a maniacal, evil tyrant? A cold, calculating woman, that’s what kind. She’s stunning. She’s smarter than everyone. She has plans that stretch well beyond Earth. I’m confident Margot has the looks and the chops to pull of the cunning, sneaky Absinthe, whose plots know no boundaries.

 

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Gerrard Gerard Butler General

 

Gerard Butler (General Gerrard) – The name similarity is a coincidence. Despite his flop in Gods of Egypt, Gerard’s been awesome in pretty much everything else he’s been in. And as General Gerrard, he’ll get to set the stage for humanity’s biggest conflict. Ins versus Outs. Jacked-In dreamers versus exiles. When he makes plans, you’d best worry.

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Bautista Zamo Kosi Dalip Singh

Dave Bautista (Zamo) and Dalip Singh (Kosi) – As mentors to Mozelle and badasses in their own right, these two behemoths get to suit up and wage war alone against entire jacked-In cities. I wouldn’t want to fight either one, but especially not if they were wearing battle suits that make them weigh 10,000 kilos. Would you?

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Frigg Idris Elba

 

Idris Elba (Frigg) – Idris has some serious acting chops. This we know. He’s also got a commanding voice (Jungle Book – Shere Khan) which he’ll need in order to become Frigg, commander of the Achilles space station, and Mozelle’s big, bad boss.

 

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Yeo Gary Oldman

 

Gary Oldman (Yeori) – Is there a movie Gary shouldn’t be cast in? I mean really? Ever since Dracula, he’s been my personal favorite actor. Here he’ll get to play the cantankerous old warrior, Yeo. He’ll have to adopt a weird accept (not a problem) and he’ll get to blow up Paris. All by himself. Sound fun, Gary? Bring it.

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Emperor Gad Hassan

 

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Gad Hassan (Emperor) – A small role, to be sure. But as Emperor, the cranky, ambitious In scholar, Gad will fall in nicely. He’ll get to poke lots of fun at Margot Robbie. Brave, indeed. Or foolish…

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Kate Beckinsale Silk the Scientist

 

Kate Beckinsale (Silk) – Perhaps no one has more sympathy for our lead character than the jacked-In Silk. We’ll nerd up Kate with glasses and an ugly, post-modern dress, and she’ll fill in nicely as one of few people who really gives a rip about anything happening on Earth.

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Judi Dench Old Woman Krubera

 

Judi Dench (The Old Woman of Krubera) – Wise and benevolent. Fair and calm in the face of any storm, Judi Dench will greet all comers with her wit and utter wisdom. She doesn’t even get a name. It won’t matter. She’ll have a crucial role in all things to come, and she’ll do it all so very quietly.

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The screenplay is in the works. The book is done.

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J Edward Neill

Author of the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy

Creator of the Coffee Table Philosophy series

Short Film: Code 8

You are in for a treat today! Code 8 is a short film that was created as a proof for a feature film. The creators ran an IndieGoGo back in March of this year–a mega successful crowdfunding campaign. This is a movie I want to see! Here’s a description from that campaign:

The film takes place in a world where 4% of the population are born with some type of supernatural ability. Instead of being billionaire superheroes, most ‘specials’ live in poverty and resort to crime, forcing the police to become more militarized.

The story follows a young man with special powers (Amell) struggling to find work as a day laborer. After a dispute over payment, he finds himself in a confrontation with a police officer (Kang) and the autonomous robots backing him up.

Why I don’t write negative reviews.

People who know me will say I’m cynical.

They’ll note my lack of optimism, my occasional indifference, and my somewhat dark view of humanity’s intentions. These observations are completely my fault. I’ve worked a bit too hard to earn a ‘cold’ reputation, and now I’ve got to live with it.

But…

Despite this image I’ve cultivated, there are traits neither my friends nor foes will ever observe in me. Things like anger, entitlement, a sense of vengeance, or a tendency to be judgmental. I’ve my share of failings, but these are not among them. I lack the genetic disposition to hate, to scorn, and to demand retribution. I just can’t do it. It’s not in me.

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I will never be this guy.

So…

Like any American, I buy my share of stuff. Some of it is awesome stuff, like my writing chair, my epic-level pancake griddle, and the billion books I’ve collected for my son. Likewise, some of my stuff sucks. Like the patio umbrella I bought that rotted within a month or the DVD copy of Devil’s Advocate which turned out to be a blank CD (serves me right for getting excited about a $0.99 DVD.) In each of these cases, I spent money. Hard-earned money. And in each case I took my new possession home and installed it into my life.

But…

No matter whether my purchase turned out amazing or shitty, I didn’t let it affect my emotional state. Meaning; my pancakes were amazing, but not life-altering. My writing chair is so very comfy, but I don’t plan on living in it. And my Devil’s Advocate DVD is…well…still blank. I figure, no matter how great or terrible my purchases are, it’s not worth getting ecstatic or depressed about stuff. Because it’s just stuff, right? So even when my umbrella fell to pieces and my Xbox told me to F off when I slid Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron inside, I didn’t get pissed. I didn’t rush to the complaint dept. And I definitely did not write any scathing reviews.

Ok.

There was one exception.

It’s story time.

Very recently, I moved. It wasn’t a fun move. I had to leave a dream home I loved for a third-story apartment in a complex with about two-square feet total of green-space. It took two weeks to complete the move. It sucked. Hell, it still sucks. But the worst part was my experience with a not-to-be-named moving company. Two guys showed up to help me carry all my aforementioned stuff out of my beloved house and into a cramped, third-story shoebox. And to be honest, these guys sucked worse than leaving my dream home. One of them quit in the middle of his shift. I’m serious. He looked at me and said, “I’m done.” The other guy was slow. As in slooowwwwwwwww. In the end, I ended up carrying way more of my stuff than both guys combined. It was amusing…in a way. If you think paying someone else money while you perform hard labor is funny.

A few days later, the moving company sent me a review request.

Oh, was I ever tempted. I could’ve crushed these guys. In the big blank thousand-character space requesting ‘customer comments,’ I could’ve named names and drilled these guys seventeen new holes in their asses. I could’ve told them everything they did wrong, and I could’ve clicked ‘No’ in the big fat box labeled ‘Would You Recommend Our Service?’

And so I did. I killed them. I slew them. The fires of their failure are still smoldering. Their manager has called me…oh…a dozen times to apologize. And I’ve ignored him. Utterly.

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It felt a little bit like this.

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…and a LOT like this.

But there’s two differences between reviewing a moving company and reviewing art, books, and movies.

1. I reviewed the moving company privately. For their benefit alone. No public slander. No single-star rating on Yelp.

2. There’s no opinion involved in reviewing someone’s skill at box-lifting. There’s tons of opinions involved in reviewing film, paint, and words.

Which brings me here…to Tessera Guild…and to my personal website, Down the Dark Path.

From time to time I write reviews. Movie reviews especially, like this one and this one, and a recent review of Neil deGrasse Tyson throwing down some science in Atlanta. If you’ve ever read my reviews, and you should; trust me :), you’ll notice one thing they have in common: they’re ALL positive. Not positive in a blow-sunshine-up-your-ass way. Positive in a I-want-to-share-something-amazing kind of way. I review stuff I love because to me that’s the only stuff worth reviewing. Sure, I pick at a few small failures, but overall my comments on other people’s creative work are glowing. Because I want to spread the love, not stifle it. Because my opinions are better served helping people than shitting on other artists’ efforts. And because, let’s face it, the world and everything in it has plenty of bad reviews already.

A few observations:

A great review of an awesome piece of creative work will do hundred times more cultural good than a horrific review of something shitty.

When I see extremely negative reviews of movies, art, or books, I find it hard not to yawn.

I have better things to do (and so do you, probably) than sling stones at other artists and writers.

Opinions of art, movies, and books are rarely objective.

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Look, I get it. If you spent $12 to watch a movie you hated, you’re entitled to vent about it. If you paid $9.99 for a crap novel on Amazon, you’ve every right to give it negative 47 stars. And if your umbrella rots while your lazy movers are carrying it, go nuts and complain to everyone. Scream into the heavens. Slap the cashier in the mouth. Burn down your local Wal-Mart. You’re allowed to do all of this.

But not me. I’m not allowed. I’ve banned myself from bitching. I’ve closed off the part of my mind that wants to nerd-rage about how such-and-such movie is awesome, but another one is trash. If I want bad reviews on stuff, I’ll just visit Rotten Tomatoes or post my selfies to Tinder. Sure, it’s fun to read a good rant, but it really doesn’t entertain me as much as it used to.

So if you see a movie review, a book review, or a commentary on a piece of art, and if you see I’m the one who wrote it, maybe you don’t have to read the review at all. You’ll know it’s positive when you see my name.

Unless you work for the moving company.

Then you’re screwed.

J Edward Neill

Author of A Door Never Dreamed Of

Creator of the Coffee Table Philosophy series

What if We’re Wrong – Batman V Superman

What if all this has just been shouting in the wind? What if all our complaints about Man of Steel are flat out meaningless? What if we’re the ones in the wrong.

Every so often, DC comics likes to shake things up with their universe. This started with Crisis on Infinite Earths where they rebooted the universe and started over with nearly every character such that their adventures in the past 30, 40, or 50 years just didn’t matter to the current crop of stories being told.

One of the characters that needed to have this done was Superman. You see, he’d gotten too powerful over the years to the point that they were inventing new Kryptonite colors in an effort to keep telling new stories. I mean, what do you do to a character that can move planets? But with the reboot, they had an opportunity to scale back on those powers and make him someone who might be able to get hurt once in a while.

superman-moves worlds

FYI – Batman really didn’t get this treatment. Yeah, some stories were kind of glossed over (the more science fiction ones of the 50s) and whether Joe Chill was the one who killed his parents. Overall, they didn’t mess with him too much. He was getting darker due to the stories being told about him.

Years later they would reboot again with the New 52. And again it’s Superman who gets a complete reboot. De-aged, no longer married, lower power level… while Batman… well, his history is pretty much intact.

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Batman Begins is really the natural evolution of where we had been with the Batman character and where he is in the process of going. And while the Nolan movies are uber-realistic (and dark), they were merely following in the footsteps of Batman 66 to Batman 89.

You see, Batman doesn’t require reboots in the comics because he is adaptable.

Superman requires reboots because he is not.

Superman is the boy scout. Big blue. He’s going to save us. But change who he is? Have him question something and everyone loses their minds. You see there are rules to Superman. Fundamental things that you cannot change. He is supposed to bring hope to those he saves. To those who watch or read his exploits.

Hope.

Only, what if he doesn’t have to be in this particular box we’ve set up for him? What if he could be angry at the world for not taking care of itself? What if he was tired of the constant struggle? What if you could present Superman in a way that had never been seen before? Would it be alright to do that?

superman kills

Is that even Superman at that point?

Man of Steel – That’s the attempt. There’s no humor in that movie. There’s no joy. It is dark and depressing until he finally ends things the only way he knows he can – by killing the bad guy.

Then comes the complaints, many by people who have actually written Superman stories.

Superman wouldn’t do that.

Superman would have found a way around it.

Superman doesn’t kill.

Yet, here was Superman who did just that. And this Superman, this version, has been seen by more people than probably have ever read an issue of the comic.

Superman used to not be able to fly… he leaps over buildings in a single bound… he jumped, no flying involved.

Kryptonite was introduced on the radio show… but no one would try to argue that wasn’t a great thing to introduce.

Things can change, right?

Why can’t he kill? I’m not talking like the Punisher, but when there is no other way out. When the threat is too great. When it will save hundreds of thousands of lives. When is it OK? Can it ever be OK for Superman to take a life?

Maybe we’re wrong. We’ve railed against Man of Steel and the darkness for 4 years now. All of us convinced that this version of Superman is not the right one to portray.

Superman V Batman made $166 million in its opening weekend. Maybe this is the version we get now. Maybe this character resonates with the non-comic book guys and gals more than big blue. Maybe it’s OK that this is happening. It may not be your Superman, but which version of the character was yours to begin with?

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The goofy Silver Age version?

The original version from the 30s?

The Smallville TV show version?

The Christopher Reeves version?

The one that wears his red trunks?

The one that can move the sun?

The one that kills, but only when there is no other option?

Maybe we’re the ones who are wrong. Just dinosaurs, seeing the comet about to crash into the Earth, and paying it no mind?

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

Why I gave up watching television

I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I had to walk away.

One way to murder your creativity is to spend all your time embracing other people’s creations.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

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I can’t really remember when it started. Maybe when I moved out of my house as a teenager. Possibly even earlier. Some of the big shows of the early 90’s were stuff like Law and Order, The Simpsons, Full House, Martin, Coach, et cetera. There was nothing wrong with any of these. They were funny and engrossing, mostly. I watched plenty of them, and I enjoyed myself when I did.

But even back then, a thought process had begun to grow within me. It was subtle, but it was there. It itched, but not bad enough to apply any cream.

It went kinda like this: I begun noticing things about our culture. Small things. How people’s sense of humor seemed to start and end with whatever they’d seen on a little flashing box. How families set up their schedules in order to catch certain shows. How more and more channels sprang up, specialized channels, catering to every possible desire. How news and journalism felt engineered, not discovered.

Now this isn’t to say the shows themselves weren’t entertaining. Of course they were. Hell, The Simpsons is still funny (and Martin Lawrence still isn’t.) And yet it seemed every year more and more of each TV time-block became commercial time. An hour-long show was really only a 37-minute show. My friends’ conversations changed from being about the shows…to being about the funny new commercial, the hot new car, or the news clips they’d caught only a few seconds of but wanted to discuss as if they’d actually been on the scene.

Months went by.

Then years.

I still watched TV, but less and less. It wasn’t really a conscious decision. It was more like I wandered off. Like I’d forgotten.

And then I got married.

And TV came back into my life.

I can’t remember how that happened either. The TV coming back…or the getting married thing. Whatever. If there was a part of me that rebelled against watching TV, it got shoved aside. Suddenly I was watching game shows, sitcoms, Seinfeld, and some show about six douchebags I’d probably murder if they were my Friends. It wasn’t the wife’s fault. She was just doing what most Americans did: go to work, get home, and flip the TV on until bedtime. No biggie.

Except I hated it. I didn’t even know I hated it, but I did.

During those years, I didn’t paint much. I wrote books at a glacially slow pace. A full third of my conversations with everyone on the planet could be Kevin Baconed in two steps back to whatever show we’d mutually seen. My creativity felt stifled. My dreams were dulled. The situation wasn’t life-threatening, but even so. There was something about it that sucked. A small, dull suck. But definitely a suck.

And then one day I ‘forgot’ to pay the cable bill. The TV went off, and I awoke from a decade-long hibernation. At the time I didn’t put two and two together. I just felt…liberated. I didn’t know why. I guess I probably didn’t care. And when the wife ‘fixed’ the situation and got the TV back on, it stopped being a thing for me. Stopped dead. Shows I used to watch came on, and I walked out of the room. I heard laugh-tracks in the background, but I tuned them out. Entire wars in the Mideast came and went, and I missed the newsfeeds entirely. I’m sure this probably contributed to friction with the wife; after all, TV time had once been together time. But it didn’t matter. Not anymore. It was more than cold turkey. It was as if a surgeon had come into my bedroom one night, carved out the part of my brain that wanted anything to do with parking my ass on a couch for 2-3 hours every night and not creating, and left without billing me.

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Now it’s true this little renaissance came with its share of problems. Friends I used to talk to would start chatting about TV, and a voice inside me would say, “If you say one more thing about American Idol or Bones, I’ll kill you and all your offspring.” Coworkers I liked would hit me up for my opinions on world news, and the first thing I’d think was, “When can I slap the shit out of you?” And naturally, whenever any TV would flicker on anywhere, I’d have to check myself so as not to judge the people watching it. It wasn’t easy. I suddenly had this asshole living inside my mind who thought judgy, nasty things about totally normal people. I didn’t like this asshole. But it’s clear he wasn’t going anywhere.

And so there I was, partnered with a huge inner-jerk. Sometimes I resisted him. Other times I’d completely give up on friends because of their talking-about-TV habits. And I get it; that’s not cool. But it’s what happened. I’d shut down whenever people talked about their fav show. Or when they talked about their TiVo lineup. Or programming their DVR. And after my divorce, I’d immediately rule out any girl who mentioned ‘Netflix binging’ as an acceptable date-night. (Actually, I still stick to this rule.) Harsh, right? But like I said, the asshole wasn’t leaving. He and I had to coexist. No getting around it.

During all of this, my last island of TV-interest lay in sports. Specifically baseball, hockey, and football. I still watched them once in a while, and I hated myself a little for doing it. Look, it’s true; I love me some Chicago Cubs, Blackhawks, and Bears. And for many years I justified watching them over sitcoms, reality TV, and news. “They’re different,” I convinced myself. “Sports aren’t like other shows.” “They’re real.”

But wait a second.

How does a 60-minute NFL football game take 3 hours and 15 minutes to watch?

How many commercials will I endure if I watch even half of my beloved baseball team’s 162-game schedule?

And why the fuck isn’t hockey on TV at all?

Holy shit.

And now here I am. For the last two years, I haven’t had cable. Or satellite. Or Netflix. Or whatever the fuck Hulu is. I rarely even watch sports anymore. If there’s a huge event I have to see, I call a friend and go to the bar…and usually completely ignore the TV in favor of drinking Long Island ice teas or Balvenie 17. It’s utterly freeing. I’ve no urge to ever watch anything. I save hundreds of dollars and thousands of minutes every year. And let me tell you; my creativity has never been more alive. Removed from the electronic influence of other people’s humor, stories, and art, my imagination is free. The time I once spent watching TV is now spent creating. Hundreds of hours per year…reclaimed. Just. Like. That.

And better still, the inner-asshole is gone. Dead. Deceased. The only time I even remember him is when someone starts talking about The Walking Dead, a show approximately 900% of my friends adore.

I’m kidding. I don’t hate people who love zombies.

Mostly.  🙂

Love,

J Edward Neill

Speaking of undead, here’s something WAY worse than zombies.

And speaking of ruthlessly invasive entertainment, here’s something WAY, WAY worse than TV.

Marking Time with Movies

Like everything else in my life, I have milestones, road signs, stops, ups and downs, and everything else in between. These moments become fixed in my mind whether I want them to or not.

But there is another thing that can happen. Through the movies we watch. The best movies have a story. And I don’t mean the plot of the movie. I mean they tell a story from your own life, offering a snapshot of what things might have been occurring around the time you watched the film.

Sometimes I think that aspect can get lost in the newest spectacle which comes down the pipe from Hollywood. We rush to see these things on opening weekend that we’ll forget details of in the weeks and months that follow.

But when you can connect them to something else. Some event… they will always be there to illuminate that memory.

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Star Wars – At the Drive Through – When I was about 3 or 4 years old.

I like to think of this as my first memory. It could be that I don’t know the exact dates involved here. I have others from around this time, so it is entirely possible that it chronologically falls later than I think. What I do know is that this is the very first “movie experience” I have. It’s no surprise then that like every other kid I fell in love with the movies.

The thing is, I don’t have specifics. Oh I remember little things, but over the course of 30+ years and multiple viewings of the movie I’m no longer sure what is my memory of this event and what might just be a memory of the movie itself.

Still, that opening scene… I can hear that through the speaker perched on the driver side window.

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Transformers the Movie – At home

Consider something you are ultimately passionate about. Some toy or comic book or tv show or novel or whatever. Now find out that they are making a movie about that very thing… you’d be excited. You’re friends would be excited. I mean, you talk about the show ALL THE TIME.

ALL THE TIME.

And then the day begins to approach. Yet, for some reason your mom is unable to take you to the movies opening weekend. You, being the kid, actually take it fairly well (I have no memory of complaining… I’m sure I did). Promises of seeing it the following weekend accepted, you go to school on Monday to hear your best friends talking about these characters you’ve never seen. Plus, this being a time before you even understand there is such a thing as spoilers… well, they tell you the biggest news: Optimus Prime is dead, killed by Megatron.

You have your Princess Bride moment, “You mean Megatron wins?”

On and on it goes, bits and pieces of the movie suddenly etched in your mind without having viewed the damn thing.

But it didn’t matter. You were going to see it in 5 days… 4… 3… 2… 1… and on Friday you hurried home to look at the movie times on Saturday…

And couldn’t find the movie listed. See, you live in small town USA where movies come and go in a week’s time.

Disappointment. That’s what it felt like. And you watched the new episodes where they referenced some of the stuff in the movies and you figured it out, but still… you missed out…

Until finally it came on tv, broken into 5 parts (to be shown in place of the regular episodes). And you finally connected all the dots.

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Clerks/Mallrats – Dorm Room

While it was Chad Shonk who first showed me his copy of Clerks, it wasn’t until my college roommate and I made a bootleg copy of Clerks and Mallrats onto one VHS tape that it became an anthem of sorts for those long days in the middle of the year. Those days where we weren’t going anywhere. We didn’t have any homework to do (or we just weren’t going to do it right then). So we’d pop it in and listen more than watch as we sat at our desks surfing the internet, playing video games, or just talking.

All those quotable scenes flying in the background helped the two of us bond in a way that we might not have if we hadn’t found the appropriate common language.

Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters II and Who Framed Roger Rabbit – Home… and the beach

For two summers I saw these two movies every day at least once each. My sister and I watched our younger brother (2 or 3 at the time) during the summer months while my mom slept (she worked nights). Now when you are babysitting a small child with your mom trying to squeeze in 6 hours of sleep it is a lot like Fight Club.

Rule 1 – Don’t let Mark wake up Mom.

Rule 2 – Don’t let Mark wake up MOM!

Most days we could find plenty of things to keep him occupied, whether it was hanging out with me in the basement playing video games (he just held the other controller while I played)… but the all-time fix to a fussy toddler was those two movies (again bootlegged on the same tape). One played right into the other. And while he’d normally fall asleep on the couch at some point during the 3 plus hours of cinematic offerings, neither my sister or I dared to change the tape… Mark had a 6th sense about such things.

roger rabbit

However, in the last year there is a slight caveat to Who Framed Roger Rabbit for me. While at the beach with my nephew, he asked to watch a movie with me (he was 7) and we chose Roger Rabbit. Even though he had seen the movie before, it was like he was watching for the first time.

And when the Judge is revealed as a Toon… his mouth literally fell open. Just perfect.

That image will stick with me now… and so the movies change my perception one more time.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

In Defense of The Kents

A few years ago DC Comics/ Warner Bros. decided to reboot/ restart/ re-whatever the Superman franchise on the big screen with 2013’s Man of Steel. The movie was sort of a grittier take on the tale of a man who could leap tall buildings in a single bound, being styled with the tone of the previous Christopher Nolan Bat-flicks.

Was it a good movie? It’s still a point that’s debated, even on the cusp of the release of the movie’sman-of-steel-43 sequel / jump off to the DC Cinematic Expanded Universe, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Overall the film was a’ight the first time I saw it, but it’s kind of grown on me since.

One of the re-branded plot points that came out of this new tone/ focus that I found which was extremely effective was the relationship between Clark and his adopted parents, the Kents.

Played by Diane Lane (Martha Kent) and Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), the story of the Kents fateful meeting with a downed Kryptonian life pod pretty much stayed true to the comics. Where this relationship had some detractors, or might have deviated from the source material, though was the tone struck by the Kent’s, towards Clark accepting his possible role as his adopted world’s savior.

I remember a lot of criticism being directed at the fact that the Kent’s were of the mindset that Clark stay under the radar with his abilities, in some cases, with some pretty harsh lines of dialogue.

Case in point: there’s a part in the movie where a young Clark and his classmates are involved in an automobile accident, when their bus careens off the side of a bridge and falls into a river. The kids are trapped, Clark taps into his Kryptonian roots, and saves everyone in a pretty awesome feat of superheroics.

The possibility arises that someone has possibly seen him do this, and it leads to a heart to heart with Pa Kent, as shown in the below line of dialogue.

Clark Kent at 13: I just wanted to help.

Jonathan Kent: I know you did, but we talked about this. Right? Right? We talked about this! You have…!

[calms himself]

Jonathan Kent: Clark, you have to keep this side of yourself a secret.

Clark Kent at 13: What was I supposed to do? Just let them die?

Jonathan Kent: Maybe; but there’s more at stake here than our lives or the lives of those around us. When the world… When the world finds out what you can do, it’s gonna change everything; our… our beliefs, our notions of what it means to be human… everything. You saw how Pete’s mom reacted, right? She was scared, Clark.

Clark Kent at 13: Why?

Jonathan Kent: People are afraid of what they don’t understand.

Even in the previews for the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Diane Lane has a brief line of dialogue which still sort of speaks to the above sentiment, in present day now that Clark has accepted the Superman mantle, world saving duties and all.

 

First, let me say this: this depiction of the Kent’s is one of my all time favorites.

Secondly: I wasn’t a huge fan of Man of Steel on the first viewing. I thought it was an okay movie, and there were a few things that just prevented it from being pushed into a higher ranking for me.  I still have issues with it, but its gotten a little better for me. How the Kents were handled was partly instrumental in this.

There’s been this suggestion that the Kents were at times just a bit too apathetic. Selfish for keeping their son and his abilities away from the world. Fearful. Distrusting. Etc.

There’s another side of this that I really want people to understand. In the comics, and in subsequent film/ television adaptations of Superman’s origin story the Kents have often been written as a couple who wanted children. For whatever reason they weren’t able to do that. In some instances the Kent’s have been depicted as a couple in their early 40’s, in other instances a bit older, maybe even pushing towards their 60’s, still with this yearning (maybe waning a bit) to have a child to call their own.

Without bringing the added component of whether the couple was religious or not (don’t know if the faith of the couple was ever discussed in the comics, or in other adaptations), the symbolism of the child being rocketed to Earth had to be seen as some sort of miracle to the couple.

So imagine all of this coalescing into a gift from the skies above being dropped in a Kansas field one sunny day. Your prayers/ desires have been seemingly answered. You then find out this kid is an alien from another world, and can possibly change the very course of the world as we know it.

But at the end of the day, all that you see in front of you is that gift from the heavens. Someone that you’ve asked for day in and day out, and he’s there. Your little Clark.

man-of-steel-image04-e1422553488658So yeah, I have no doubt that the Kents would probably be extremely protective of their adopted son. Especially in a world where the common line of thinking is shoot the hell out of it first, then ask questions later. Also, it seems a bit more plausible to me that even if the couple didn’t have the backstory of being childless or having that yearning to fiercely protect their “gift”, they wouldn’t be so likely to push their son out into the world to save the day.

I know a lot of parents who, even when they want to get their knuckleheads out of the house, still worry for the welfare of their child. Of course they eventually get to the point of acknowledging that their child has to become an adult, and has to experience the world. But the depiction of the Kents as not totally being on board with their son “saving the day” immediately has more of a realistic slant for me.

Man of Steel has its faults, and maybe Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice will also. But for me at least, the one thing that I can say the screenwriters/ director got right between both would be the Kent’s love for their son, and their desire to keep him protected from an often distrustful and malicious world.

Makes perfect sense to me.

 

Taking a stab at the DC Movies

There was a time… not all that too long ago where if you were to ask which of the Big 2 comic companies made the best movies, the answer would have been DC comics and it wouldn’t have even been close.

We no longer live in that time, but now we are on the verge of a true beginning of sorts from DC. Their cinematic universe truly begins this week. So now seems as good a time to rank the old movies. Note, I have only included those movies I’ve actually seen (so no Jonah Hex, Steel, or Catwoman… though, if I had to hazard a guess on where those might end up…)

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15. Batman and Robin – No doubt, just awful. I didn’t see this in the theater, and word of mouth spread pretty quickly on this one. And so I avoided the suck for so long… until one night I’m in my apartment with nothing to do and guess what’s coming on? I knew and I still watched it, trying to convince myself that there was NO WAY it was as bad as everyone made out. That worst case I could find some redeeming quality to it. Somewhere.

No. There is none. NONE.

14. Supergirl – I have seen it, but damn if I remember very much about it. I remember it being cheesy and… that’s pretty much it. Given that we never got another Supergirl movie I might not have been the only one.

13. Superman Returns – So Superman goes out into space for 5 years and only now comes back so that he can effectively redo his very first movie except that he has fathered an illegitimate child with Lois Lane? And Lex is doing a land grab? Again?

12. Superman IV – The Quest for Peace. Is that Ducky from Pretty in Pink? Oh, Lex, Lex, Lex… what happened? Oh Clark, what happened?  Has the Nuclear Man ever appeared in the comics? Yeah, I think that says it all.

11. Superman III – Why didn’t they use Red Kryptonite? Just why? I enjoyed seeing a mean Superman, but when you get right down to it, he’s really just having a Nic-fit, right?

But hey, Richard Pryor is in it. And I love Richard Pryor.

10. Batman Forever – It doesn’t hold up, I know that much. The Riddler, while way over the top (tell us something we don’t already know) is actually fine, but Two-Face… dear lord. Ugh. I don’t know who Tommy Lee Jones is playing, but that is not Two-Face.

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9. Green Lantern – I love Ryan Renolds. I love Green Lantern (not like I love the Flash, but I have been collecting a Green Lantern comic since the early 90s). So this should have been a slam dunk, no doubter. And I enjoyed the movie, but I also know that it isn’t the greatest movie either. But I don’t know what exactly to fix… it seems like there is a lot. I just can’t see it.

8. Man of Steel – A lot of my thinking on this movie will/may be changed this weekend. There are tons of things I have problems with in this movie. Pa Kent’s death, the 45 minutes of disaster porn at the end, the fact that there is very little joy in the movie. Probably the only thing I don’t have a problem with is the ending. No, Superman doesn’t kill, but I’m not entirely convinced he’s Superman just yet. I think he’s still Clark Kent playing dress up trying to figure out how he fits into this world.

7. Batman Returns – Let’s forget about the Penguin storyline. No, really. If it was just Catwoman and Batman we’d put it on repeat and never leave the house. That’s how good their scenes are (and how good Michelle Pfeiffer was). Sadly it does have the Penguin and so it doesn’t end up higher on the list.

6. Superman – The glasses. It may be the dumbest thing in comics. I can’t explain it to my non-comic book friends and family. I just shrug and shake my head. Yet, Reeves made me believe that a man could wear glasses and no one would know. There is a scene (I think it is in this movie… it may be Superman II) where he’s about to tell Lois that he’s Superman. He takes off the glasses, stands up straighter, and projects his voice… and then thinks better of himself. By the time Lois has turned around he’s back to the nerdy Clark Kent and Superman is long gone. It’s a powerful moment that Reeves pulls off that not many could have. And if that was all this movie did, it would be enough to be this high, but this movie also gives us “Otisburg”… and I will forever love it for that.

otisburg

It’s an itty bitty place.

 

5. The Dark Knight Rises – Yes, I know. Your Batman would never retire. Your Batman wouldn’t mope and cry over the loss of a woman. I get it, and I got over it. Not a perfect movie, but it wrapped up the Nolan movies in a pretty satisfying way. Bane, Catwoman, Talia al Ghul (another one I didn’t think would show up on the big screen). Flaws and warts and Joseph Gordon Levitt.

4. Batman Begins – Tell me a Batman story I’ve never seen on screen before. Show me a version of his origin story that doesn’t begin and end in Crime Alley with pearls scattering onto the ground. This is my first “grown-up” superhero movie. It is grim and gritty, but more than that it is the journey from the Batman we know and love and that little kid in the alleyway (at least until Gotham, I guess). And it introduced everyone to Ra’s al Ghul. What more needs to be said?

3. Batman – I didn’t collect Batman comics in the 80s, so my 2 biggest exposures to Batman was the old live-action tv show and Super Friends (and I guess his occassional appearance on Scooby doo). I didn’t know anything about Frank Miller and his ground-breaking update of the Bat. So when I say that Tim Burton blew me away, I’m trying not to undersell it.

Oh, and Michael Keaton is still my Batman.

2. Superman II – For over twenty years this was my favorite superhero movie. It’s cheesy, I know. And I don’t care (though I’m still not sure why they thought Superman needed new and weirder powers). This movie gave us our first super powered fight. But what seals it for me is how he wins. After all the chaos and destruction, it isn’t through brute force that Superman saves the day… no, he does it by outwitting his enemies (even the great Lex Luthor). This was no naive kid from Kansas, but a hero worthy of watching.

 

i believe in harvey dent

1. The Dark Knight – And it wasn’t even close. Not only a great Batman movie, but a great movie. Period. Nolan had updated the Batman myth in Begins, but here he provides us with not only the most worthy of adversaries, but a character who I wasn’t sure would ever get a fair shake outside of the animated series in Harvey Dent. They gave us the true fall into insanity the character deserved.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

My Favorite Films of 2015 (two days too late)

sicario_header
I don’t live in Los Angeles anymore. I’m reminded of this all the time, of course. Whenever I board this city’s competent mass transit. Whenever I eat Bay Area “Mexican” food. Whenever I look off in the distance and see a big red bridge that for some reason is called “golden”.

I miss Southern California for lots of reasons and I could list a hundred of them, but that’s not what this is about. But one thing I miss very dearly, that is relevant here, is film culture. Not “The Business.” Not the Hollywood Community. Film Culture.

Los Angeles is a town that makes movies but is also a town that loves movies. Especially the movies that not everyone loves. The ones not in English. The ones with small budgets and big ideas. The ones that are not deemed marketable enough to open in thousands of theaters but still need to be seen. A lot of these films make it to other cities, but they ALL play in L.A. And not just the new ones. Several theaters, including the legendary and place-I-miss-most New Beverly Cinema, specialize solely in playing older films. Golden age masterpieces. 70s grindhouse. Silents. Cult classics.

One of the things I miss most about living in Los Angeles is that fact that there was always a movie to go see. Not on TV. Not on Netflix. Not at home. But a movie to go out and see.

I’m typing this while watching the Academy Awards (Chris Rock took an angle on the #OscarsSoWhite thing that I did not see coming) and I usually like to put out my Best of the Year list before the Oscars air. Not that anyone cares, but that’s just usually my deadline. But this year it was harder to see all the films I thought I needed to see. It’s just not as easy up in here in the land of Giants, Warriors, and 49ers. I’ve still missed a few things that I think might have had an impact on the list, but I’ll catch them when I catch them. So, after some pointless rambling, here’s my list of the best films of 2015.

(Oh, note: Star Wars. I liked it. I did not love it. I have too many problems with it to name it one of the best films of the year, despite its success, despite people’s love for it. It’s the film from 2015 that I will probably see a hundred times before I die, but it was never close to making this list. So consider this an honorable mention for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (J.J. Abrahms), I guess.)

I: THE GREAT

sicarioSICARIO (written by Taylor Sheridan, directed by Denis Villeneuve)

My first instinct when beginning to write about Villeneuve’s Sicario was to just rattle of a list of adjectives, but they were all just synonyms for one word: bleak. This is a dark, dark movie. You will not walk out of it with a jaunty spring in your step. You won’t call your mom to tell her “you NEED to see Sicario!” You can watch it on a date, but don’t expect it to put anybody in an amorous mood. Sicario is (and I say this as a man with a degree in film therefore know the terminology better than anyone) a fucking bummer, man.

It’s also extraordinary.

Chilling.

Beautiful.

Sobering.

Knuckle-whiteningly tense.

Okay. I found some more adjectives. And made up an adverb.

Sicario is a film you think is one thing then you find out it’s another and then “whoops!” it’s a completely other thing and it’s frustrating and confusing and you can’t stop watching it. On the surface, it is about the futility of the drug war. Benicio Del Toro is not officially reprising his Oscar-winning role in Soderberg’s Traffic, but it’s not hard to imagine a sequence of horrible events that would change 2000’s beleaguered Tijuana cop into 2015’s mysterious government operative.

He’s equally great in this film as he was in Traffic. Blunt is fantastic. Brolin is amazing. It looks great. It sounds great. It will have you scratching your head and gnawing your nails. I know I’m being vague but I really think the best way to see this film is in the complete dark.

And some people will come out into the light hating it. It is a polarizing film, mostly due to its stunning last act. I come down on the “pro” side; I think the whole point of the movie is the last act. But the last minutes of the film leave you feeling pointless, impotent, and oh so small. That makes it hard for some people to enjoy. And I totally get it. This movie so absolutely fucking frustrating.

But I absolutely fucking loved it.

creed

CREED (written by Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington, directed by Ryan Coogler)

Here’s the thing about Creed. There are a million ways to do this movie wrong. A million understandable decisions that could have produced a piece of shit movie. But Ryan Coogler found all of the ways to make this picture absolutely right. It is reminiscent of Rocky without being a complete rehash. It jumpstarts the franchise (I hate to use the word but it’s the world we live in) while honoring what came before it. It rewards you if you’re a Rocky fan but doesn’t punish you if you aren’t. It’s nostalgic without being fan service. It’s young and fresh and fun without being cloying or alienating to older fans.

(Actually, as I write this, I’m realizing that the makers of Creed and The Force Awakens had nearly identical missions laid out before them: and Creed, I really do feel, was more successful.)

But what really makes Creed work is that, despite its new protagonist and indie feel, is a straight-up, no bullshit, Rocky movie. And probably the best one this side of the 1976 original.

Oh, and Stallone is great here. (note from the future: he didn’t win the Oscar. The guy who did is a phenomenal actor but I really wanted to see Sly win this one). And Michael B. Jordan is a big giant motherfucking movie star. I would say it made everyone forget the travesty that was Fantastic Four, but that would be implying that people actually saw that garbage. Mr. Jordan is going to be just fine.

I love, love, love this movie. Thank you, Ryan Coogler. My favorite moment in any movie in all of 2015 is in Creed. If you’ve seen it you know it: the last round, the bell rings… and the music comes.

For that moment and many more, I can’t help but put Creed in my Top Three. It’s the most crowd-pleasing movie I’ve seen in years. If you didn’t see it in a packed theater, you missed out.

machinaEX MACHINA (written and directed by Alex Garland)

This past December, millions of people around the world understandably fell in love with a dashing X-Wing pilot named Poe Dameron and the handsome actor who portrayed him. But more savvy film goers have been a fan of Oscar Isaac for some time now. I first noticed him as Prince John in Ridley Scott’s lackluster Robin Hood, but it was the quirky 2013 Coen Brothers gem Inside LLewn Davis that made me fall in love. The following year he starred opposite powerhouse Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year, a movie I really wish people had given a chance. And earlier in 2015, before Isaac became the new Han Solo, he appeared in Ex Machina, the directorial debut of acclaimed screenwriter Alex Garland.

Ex Machina is smart, minimilist science fiction that treats its audience like adults. I’m noticing that several films on this list heavily feature smart people doing smart things. The Martain. Spotlight. Bridge of Spies. Steve Jobs. As well as my favorite film of 2014, The Imitation Game. In a world that sometimes feels like it’s on the express train to Idiocracy, there’s comfort to be found in stories that romanticize knowledge and intelligence.

I really don’t want to say any more about this film. Just watch it if you haven’t. If you already have, you know. You don’t need me telling you.

* * * * *

II: THE EXCELLENT

aANOMALISA (Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson)

Praise be to Jebus. The most unique voice in American cinema has finally returned to the screen. Seven years after his heartbreaking directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, Academy-Award winner Charlie Kaufman returns with an animated film that can only be described as, well, Kaufman-esque. As much as I loved this movie, in a real, deep down way, I know that I’m going to like it even more the next time. Because no one rewards repeat viewings better than Charlie Kaufman.

victoria (1)VICTORIA (Sebastian Schipper)

Turn the lights down. Silence your phone. Close the laptop. And just watch Victoria. Don’t have it on in the background. Don’t second-screen it. WATCH IT. This film wants to take you on a little trip. Take it up on its incredibly generous offer.

'Room' is a journey out of darkness, director saysROOM (Lenny Abrahamson)

If you’ve managed to not know ANYTHING about Room, keep it that way until you see the film.  When I sat down  I had no idea what it was about (with a small part of me hoping it had something to do with Tommy Wiseau) and was better off for it. I suggest you do the same if you can.

deadpool_107447DEADPOOL (Tim Miller)  NO! WE’RE TALKING ABOUT LAST YEAR. GET OUTTA HERE!

insideINSIDE OUT (Pete Docter)

Whenever we want to count Pixar out, they come up with a masterwork like this. Their most mature film. I’m not even sure how much it appeals to children. But as the father of a nearly three-year-old girl, this movie, on multiple occasions, conjured up a weird moist substance that leaked from my eyes. I should probably see a doctor about that. Inside Out is so smart. Clever. But it’s also honest in a way that “family entertainment” rarely is. Painfully honest. I wish the movie was longer; kind of wish there was more to the story. But it’s a wonderful film and a tough yet beautiful sit for any parent.

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Guitar-Player-Doof-WarriorMAD MAX: FURY ROAD (George Miller)

Do you know how good Mad Max: Fury Road is? I like it less than almost everyone I know, and I love it. I think it’s overrated and amazing. I’m on the low end of people who liked this movie and I can’t wait to watch it again and again. That’s how good this movie is.

* * * * *

III: THE VERY GOOD

spotlightSPOTLIGHT (Tom McCarthy)

martianTHE MARTIAN (Ridley Scott)

carolCAROL (Todd Haynes)

deadpool-emma-insert-6DEADPOOL (Tim Miller) NO. I TOLD YOU, WRONG YEAR!

tim-roth-walton-goggins-hateful-eight-xlargeTHE HATEFUL EIGHT (Quentin Tarantino)

artisans-thumbnail-the-revenant_cleanTHE REVENANT (Alejandro González Iñárritu)

ST. JAMES PLACE

BRIDGE OF SPIES (Steven Spielberg)

socSTRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (F. Gary Gray)

deadpool-trailer-2-56-163948DEADPOOL (Tim Mil  STOP THAT!!!

* * * * *

Also worth checking out: DEADPOOL, STEVE JOBS, THE BIG SHORT, MI: ROGUE NATION, TRUFFAUT/HITCHCOCK, FURIOUS 7, DEADPOOL, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, TRUMBO, ANT-MAN, AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, AND DEADPOOL.

Apologies to: THE DANISH GIRL, JOY, CONCUSSION, BEASTS OF NO NATION, DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL, SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE, AMY, SPY, CRIMSON PEAK, 99 HOMES, 45 YEARS, BROOKLYN

Oh and the best Television Show of 2015 was Season Two of “Deadpool”:

Deadpool-Reading-Screenshot-Movie-2016-Wallpaper

I mean “Fargo”:

fargo

Now that I’m done, I’m going to tear up the fucking dance floor, dude. Check it out.

55014d5a94e57e4d05baa219a079db85

Celebrity Journal Entries

After writing the Weird Journal Prompts post, it occurred to me that what we all like to do more than generate our own Journals is to read the journals of others. It’s in movies and tv and books. How better to be able to really see into someone’s thought patterns than to read those thoughts they put down… something they only want to be able to share with this book. Something, I’d guess, to mark their exact feelings at the time they wrote it so they could look back fondly (or perhaps not so fondly) in a month/year/decade from now.

But I’ve done that one better. I’ve discovered, not unlike Indiana Jones, and unearthed some people’s journal entries that I think we all would like to read. Each have their own prompts to help them unpack some of that emotional baggage they’re carrying around.

 

landscape-1445356666-star-wars-luke-skywalker-tatooine

To think, a week ago I wanted to go to Tosche Station for some power converters.

From the Journal of Luke Skywalker

What kind of day are you having?

Awesome day! Even better week all things considered. I mean, I rescued a princess, she kissed me (on the cheek, but still… Han didn’t get a kiss), blew up the Empire’s Space Station – suck it Evil Empire!

I got a medal from the Rebellion!

Oh, and I learned how to use a laser sword and something called the Force.

What is your relationship like with various members of your family?

Well, my Aunt and Uncle are dead. And my father was betrayed by Darth Vader. So not great.

Who is someone you miss?

Ben. I know I only knew him a short amount of time, but it was like he was always watching over me.

What do you wish for?

If only I could get another kiss from the Princess…

 

Peter Gibbons - Office Space

I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life.

From the Journal of Peter Gibbons

What kind of day are you having?

Apparently I missed some memo about the TPS reports. So for the rest of the day I had one boss after another come and bug me about it. I messed up. It’s alright.

Sigh.

I hate my job.

What keeps you up at night worrying?

That Bill Lumbergh will end up making me work on the weekend. Every… damn… time.

That, or him banging my girlfriend.

Who is someone you miss?

I wouldn’t say I was missing them.

What do you wish for?

A million dollars. If I had a million dollars, I ‘d do absolutely nothing.

 

mcfly

I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet. But your kids are going to love it.

From the Journal of Marty “Calvin Klein” McFly

What kind of day are you having?

It’s been heavy. My mother is in love with me, my father is a loser who has no chance with her, and if I don’t find a way to make sure these two end up together I’ll cease to exist at all!

And did I mention I’m stuck in the past with my only way home is hopping to channel a lightning bolt into the Delorean.

So, yeah, not the greatest day.

What is your relationship like with various members of your family?

Aside from my mother wanting to make out with me at every chance she gets? Oh, it’s just peachy.

What keeps you up at night worrying?

Honestly, when you realize that you may disappear randomly because you screwed up time… well, it’s hard to focus on much else.

Who is someone you miss?

Ah, Jennifer. Though, when I think of her it’s almost like she has two different faces. Weird, right?

What do you wish for?

For Doc not to get killed by the Libyans… but I have an idea on how to stop that.

 

reynolds_malcolm_4422

Someone ever tries to kill you, you try to kill’em right back.

From the Journal of Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds

What kind of day are you having?

Ship just about ran out of gas a while back. Had to take on some new passengers, but that led to complications.

You know, it probably ain’t best for me to spell out any of my specific misbehavings. What, with the Alliance and all.

Just a random Tuesday for me and the crew. A good day.

What is your relationship like with various members of your family?

My crew’s all the family I need. I take care of them, and they… well, sometimes they end up almost getting me killed.

Now, wives… wives are a different story. And a much longer one than I have time for.

What keeps you up at night worrying?

Are we going to have enough to get to the next port? Is the Alliance going to seize my ship? Is Jane going to try and take the ship over from me? Will Kaylee be able to keep us up in the sky?

Who is someone you miss?

Never had a mind to be missing anyone much at all. Figured a long time ago, you miss someone that fiercely, you ought to make sure they never leave your side.

What do you wish for?

To keep flying. That’s enough for me.

 

 

Hodor

Hodor!

From the Journal of Hodor

What kind of day are you having?

Hodor.

What is your relationship like with various members of your family?

Hodor.

What keeps you up at night worrying?

Hodor.

Who is someone you miss?

Hodor.

What do you wish for?

Hodor.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Lost Classic Movies – Let It Ride

“You could be walking around lucky and not even know it.”

In light of the fervor from the billion dollar lottery last week, there’s been tons of talk on the radio, on tv, at my office about winning all that money. Strategies to try and game the system in some way or another. And then the sheer amount of money we’re talking about is something I really can’t even mentally comprehend.

Of course, I’m not greedy. I’d take even a very small portion of that overall amount of money. I mean I could figure out a way to make due with only a couple hundred thousand dollars…

And whenever I find myself thinking that way, I recall a movie which ran on HBO day in and day out for probably a couple of months in the late 80s/early 90s: Let it Ride (spoilers for a 25 year old movie).

let it ride

Basically (and this is mostly from memory), Richard Dreyfuss plays a down on his luck guy who probably (definitely) has a gambling problem. Of course, if he won more than he lost, it probably wouldn’t be a “problem”, but sadly he’s not what you’d call a winner. And his wife has had enough of it all. So in an effort to repair what may be left of his marriage he decides to stop cold-turkey and sit down with his wife.

Things get a little sideways almost immediately when a friend of his brings him a tape of someone discussing the fix being in at the local racetrack. Using this knowledge to his advantage, he places a bet, and for once actually wins.

Of course, you can’t give an alcoholic just one drink, and sure enough he can’t stop with one bet.

“You could be walking around lucky and not even know it.”

And that’s the thing, he can’t lose. Not today. Whether it is his luck finally turning around or some kind of divine intervention or just one of those days… he keeps “Letting it ride”, and each time he gets more and more money turning that intial bet into over $100,000.

That’s enough for him. There’s no reason to keep going. I mean that will set him up for a long while (it being a few years salary for him already). And he rushes home to find his wife passed out on the couch… drunk. Seems like addiction isn’t just on him.

But this is the part of the movie I always remember more than anything else. He sits down and takes a piece of paper and starts writing out his winnings on the day… and then figures out the things he can do to help his marriage. Things like buying a new washer and dryer, or maybe a newish car… really any number of things. All those things we all have to do to keep our houses up, our cars up, or just live our lives.

He subtracts it from his winnings and realizes it equals out to ZERO.

All that luck on the day, and really, when it is all said and done… he’s got nothing. Yeah, some debts are paid off, but really… why bother? What’s the point of it all? He has this money he thought would make it up to his wife for all the shit he’s put her through over the years. But it might as well not exist because on paper he’s still got nothing.

calculator-424564_1280

So he decides to head back to the track to make one last bet.

No, this movie doesn’t necessary go into the Jaws realm for me when it comes to Richard Dreyfuss. It’s not in the What About Bob? category either.

However.

I think there is an odd lesson to be taken from the movie. It sounds strange, but that one line comes back to me:

“You could be walking around lucky and not even know it.”

When we don’t try, when we don’t bother, when we don’t actually go and test ourselves… and leave ourselves a little exposed in the process… we could be missing out on a success. When we don’t ask the girl out for fear of what her reaction is going to be. When we don’t go after the job we really want because it might take a little more work. When we don’t put our “stuff” out into the world for both criticism and praise.

leap of faith

Just a little Leap of Faith…

How will you ever know?

“You could be walking around lucky and not even know it.”

For me, I think I’ve been putting off submitting to agents for those exact reasons. Oh, I have good excuses, and some are very valid, but underlining them all is this weird thing where I’m asking for the approval from complete and utter strangers. The gatekeepers will decide if my query is good enough to read a few pages. And if those are good enough to read the rest of the book.

It’s so much easier just to not do it. Don’t press that SEND button. Don’t bother with such things. You’re good where you are, right?

“You could be walking around lucky and not even know it.”

Exactly. So let’s find out.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Movie Plots for Sarcasm Lovers

So…

I recently bumbled and stumbled across a number of ‘honest alternative movie descriptions.’ You’ve probably seen these. They’re movies looked at from a brutally honest, non-family friendly perspective. They’re pretty funny…mostly. In case you haven’t seen any, here’s a small sample of other articles’ work:

 Home Alone – Neglectful parents go on holiday but leave their unhinged, sociopathic son at home to entertain himself, which he does by mutilating petty criminals. *

 

 Gladiator – After a successful campaign annihilating free people, a Roman warmonger (played by Hollywood warmonger Russell Crowe) is enslaved but makes the most of it by killing fellow prisoners on his quest to commit history’s most public regicide. *

 

* Courtesy of: http://www.sbs.com.au/comedy/article/2014/06/30/honest-alternative-movie-synopses (Liam Ryan)

 * * *

These were fairly funny.

But they got me thinking.

I can do this better. Or at least cruder

Let’s go.

  * * *

J’s Alternative Movie Plots:

(Yeah, there are a few spoilers.)

MockingJay

Hunger Games – Mockingjay – Well-dressed terrorist uses a bow and arrow to promote anarchy and attempt multiple assassinations. She then succeeds at getting the first black woman president elected.

 

 Gone GirlGone Girl – Having somewhat subdued his Boston accent, a slow-witted cheating husband chases down the woman he betrayed in order to continue living a hollow, unhappy life with her.

 

 American SniperAmerican Sniper – A gifted killer travels to a faraway land to slaughter freedom fighters from a rooftop.

 

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow – In a blatant remake of Groundhog Day, an asshole becomes a better man by forcing himself to relive at least two-hundred days with a stunningly beautiful woman. Meanwhile, the woman insists on using a giant sword instead of a gun.

 

Mad Max

Mad Max – Fury Road – A speech-impaired drifter helps a truck driver kidnap and endanger five women who happen to be Australia’s only hope for having normal, healthy babies.

 

The Hobbit

The Hobbit – Battle of Five Armies – A stoner gathers thirteen dwarves and a thief to burglarize their own mountain and sacrifice their lives for a cause he reveals only to tall people.

 

Maleficent

Maleficent – An angry faerie seduces an asshole and casts spells his on daughter, thereby perpetuating war between normal people and ambulant trees.

 

 WhiplashWhiplash – The guy from the Farmer’s Insurance commercials starts bodybuilding in order to intimidate young musicians. His latest target, a petulant boy who hates beautiful women, decides that the best way to impress his new teacher is to practice so hard his hands no longer function.

 

 Wolf of Wall StThe Wolf of Wall Street – A movie centered around mocking American greed is absorbed by its target audience wholly and without any sense of irony. But the parties are epic and Margot Robbie gets nude…so it’s all good.

 

Terminator Genisys

Terminator Genisys – A robot built to live thousands of years begins to age poorly after just a few decades. Is once again sent through time without any decent weapons to stop an ultimate killing machine.

 

Imitation Game

The Imitation Game – A socially inept cryptologist decides he hates people so much he’s going to help them win a war.

 

Star Wars

Star Wars – The Force Awakens – A young woman teams up with a janitor to steal a spaceship, ignite a violent insurgency, and lead a galactic hero to his death. Meanwhile, a bearded man who killed his dad plays a pointless game of hide-and-seek with the entire universe.

 

* * *

If sarcasm’s not your thing, get serious here.

If sarcasm IS your thing, you might wanna read this.

J Edward Neill

The Revenant Movie Review

(Disclaimer: No major spoilers. Includes small plot revelations.)

 

Revenant: One who returns after death or a long absence

An apt name indeed.

The Revenant was a movie I knew I had to see from the first time I glimpsed its preview. A frozen wasteland. A grizzly Leo DiCaprio. An even grizzlier Tom F’n Hardy. And not to mention an actual grizzly bear. Terrible things were about to happen. Even watching the trailer, I could just feel it.

First, let me hit you with some truth. The Revenant is NOT for everyone. It’s not for kids. It’s not for teenagers. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for fans of Michael Bay, Kevin Hart, superhero movies, or happy endings. It’s dark. And when I say dark, I don’t mean in a visual sense. Or a gothic, ‘look how angst-ridden the hero is’ sense. What I mean is that the subject matter gets down to the very bottom of what it is to be desperate. And human. And hungry.

The Revenant may very well be the darkest movie I’ve ever seen.

And the longer I lie here and dwell on it, the more I like it.

What we’ve got here is Leo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, an enigmatic tracker/hunter in the service of Captain Andrew Henry (Played sharply by Domhnall Gleeson.) Also in their group are the brutal John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and the young Hawk, who happens to be half-Native American (and Hugh Glass’s son.) These men find themselves on an expedition to collect and prepare hundreds of animal skins for sale, presumably to the American army.

REv1

John Fitzgerald – Not a dude you want to F with

Without giving anything away, the whole sell-animal-skins plan goes downhill…and fast. The Native American Arikara, hostile with every right to be, get involved. A grizzly bear shows up. Tom Hardy is pissed. And death starts happening.

Let me summarize the next two and a half hours: Beautiful Violence

Because The Revenant is violent. So very violent. It’s not stylized. It’s not pretty. It’s not epic. It’s harsh. And it’s realistic. By realistic I mean it’s so visceral and unwashed that it feels like this is how real life was. It’s the opposite of The Matrix’s pretty skirmishes, Lord of the Rings’ bloodless warfare, and even Saving Private Ryan’s booming, catastrophic clashes. If I had to pick a movie to step through a door and experience in real-life, The Revenant would be last on the list. I’d be dead in seconds. And so would you.

But it’s also beautiful. So very beautiful. I fully expect this movie to take home the easiest Oscar for best cinematography ever. Not that awards matter. They don’t. What I mean is; every frame of The Revenant is poetry in motion. From the cold, sharp, deadly mountains to the frosted rivers to the snow-blanketed plains, the landscapes are stunning. I sat in my seat and felt the wind blowing over me. I saw the characters wandering beneath moonlit skies, and I was held rapt. The shots were all real. Very little CGI. The Revenant’s terrifying world is the truth. These places exist.

So what’s the point? What are these hard, hard men doing out in the middle in winter? It’s clear from frame one that some brave and foolish white men are moving through the wilderness during the last stages of the war against the Native American tribes of the American Northwest. They’re risking their asses, and they know it. But in the midst of this, Hugh Glass appears different. His son is half-Native American. He endures constant flashbacks (some of them a bit disconcerting) of his Native American wife and of the terrible things that happened to her tribe. His son, Hawk, is as noble as he is, and therein lies a problem. Fifteen minutes in, you know things are gonna go very wrong for Glass. And you know why. And how. It’s not just about racism. It’s about how some people know what honor is, and everyone else does not.

Kinda sounds like modern-day reality, right?

I suppose some people might say that the majority of the movie is a revenge/redemption trip similar to Braveheart. Or maybe a survival tale a la The Grey. I get it. And there are definitely moments in the movie that will confuse some folks. There’s not a ton of dialog. There are no one-liners. All the movie’s glory is given over to nature, not to man. Once it comes down to one dude slogging his way through the brutal wilderness, there is a slowness that will drive some movie-goers away. That’s all well and good.

But if you love movies, and you have a soul, and you’re willing to stop worrying about just simply being entertained, you’ll find something in The Revenant. It’s not just about white people fighting natives. The bad guys don’t wear capes to make themselves easy to hate. Every deed that happens here feels like it really could go down. It’s all so bloody human. When you finish watching it, sit down and ask yourself if you’d never do the things the bad guys do in this movie. If you’re honest with yourself, really honest, you’ll be conflicted.

And that’s beautiful. Because the best movies should make you think.

Look…I’m not sure whether or not The Revenant is my favorite flick over the last year. It had a few strange moments, to be sure. And sometimes it walked a tightrope of not knowing whether to be hard and cold or a little abstract in meaning. But ultimately, if you like movies about realistic human conflict, this is up there with the best of them. I recommend you go see it early in the day. Preferably on a cold, rainy day. And then, after it’s over, maybe even several hours later, I think you’ll start to like it more and more.

Just like I did.

* * *

Like this review? Hit up my reviews of Mad Max – Fury Road, Whiplash, and my personal favorite, Ex Machina.

Or, since we’re talking about seriously dark fiction, drown in my short story, Let the Bodies.

J Edward Neill

The 7 best things from 2015

2015 was a pretty straightforward year.

It had a lot of suck: gearing up for an election, Rhonda Rousey, crappy movies, dabbing, death, war, and the continued proliferation of Facebook quizzes

But whatever.

For once in my life, I’m gonna dwell on the positive.

So eat some of this:

 * * *

The best movie(s) of 2015:

No. Not Star Wars. Ha. Not even close. The best movies of 2015 were Ex Machina, with its subtle nods toward one possible fate for humanity, aaaaaand Inside Out, among the most thought-provoking kids’ movies ever made. Please, let’s not talk about Jurassic Park (yawn) or Avengers 900. The year was short on excellence, but had high moments that might never be forgotten. Also considered for this list: The Revenant (technically didn’t hit theaters in time) and Mad Max – Fury Road (aka: the best action movie ever made.)

Machina

Ex Machina. Wasn’t really a hard decision.

 

The best book of 2015:

Whoa. Intimidating choices here. Admittedly I read less than any previous year since grade school (was too busy writing.) Nonetheless, with attention spans decreasing and the glut of vampire/romance/vomit thundering down upon the world, I’ve an answer for you. It’s Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning. It’s a bunch of slick short stories. It’s perfect for those who like quick reads, but who also like sharp, dark, excellent literature.

Trigger Warning

The best album of 2015:

Look. I get it. I know what you’re gonna say. You’re gonna talk about Drake, Adele, The Weeknd, or a bunch of other stuff with words. My full confession is that I can’t stand music with words. It really has all been said before. The sounds are what’s new, not the words. So with that in mind, I’m giving you an album you can actually use. It’s Junkie XL’s Mad Max soundtrack. Just blast this shit while driving and tell me it isn’t extreme fun. What’s better: no words. None. Just booming, thundering, 1,000 horsepower beats. Even my kid loves it, especially the unbelievably intense track – Brothers in Arms.

Max

The rhythms ARE the words.

The best meme of 2015:

Yep. Memes. They suck. They’re supposed to be miniature joke bombs to lighten everyone the F up. But nowadays they’re abused for politics, bullying, and stupid, never-ending inside jokes. So instead of sifting through the trash and finding something transcendent, I give you:

GIFSec.com

The best TV shows of 2015:

Look. I’ve a confession. I didn’t watch a single minute of anything not named football, baseball, basketball or hockey. Not a single, f’ing minute. So I’m leaving this one to you, the readers. What were your favorite TV shows? Because hell if I know. Just insert your show here __________________. I’ll trust your judgment.

untitled

Jake Arrieta. What real reality TV looks like.

Most beautiful woman of 2015:

I know said I didn’t watch any TV in 2015. It’s still true. But I did catch a preview or two, and it got me thinking. Who’s this year’s new hotness? Who the F really cares? But since I made this a category, we’re going with that girl from that new show. I’m talking about Krysten Ritter. Followed closely by Rosie Huntington Whiteley. Yeah. I know. Rosie’s another nod to Mad Max. Shut up. 🙂 Anyway, Krysten really is stunning. Just look at her sulking here. If you can sulk and still be attractive, you’ve done something. Also a close runner up: Jan from the Toyota commercials. No kidding.

Krysten

Really? Right here on the train? Ok, girl from that show. If you insist.

Most handsome guy of 2015:

Who the F cares?

🙂

 

* * *

This got really sarcastic, really quickly.

Cut the sarcasm out of your life with some deadly serious fun. Right here.

J Edward Neill

Best Works Featuring “Regular Folks with Super Abilities”: Part 1

2016 is going to bring no shortage of superheroes and super-villains on both the large and small screens. We’ve got Batman vs. Superman, Daredevil: Season 2, The Suicide Squad, Luke Cage, Agent Carter: Season 2, Captain America: Civil War, and the list goes on and on.

I’m personally a huge fan of such stories, in all mediums, and as a geek/ fan of pop culture I think that we’re living in a golden age of comic book storytelling, both on and off the pages of comics.

What I’m also a huge fan of are those stories of everyday people blessed/ cursed with awe inspiring abilities who don’t necessarily decide to put on a cape and tights to save the day. Folks who find themselves caught up in a set of crazy circumstances, while trying to continue to live their lives.

Pay the bills. Deal with relationship issues. Keep a job.

Now I’m not saying that these stories don’t eventually go the way of your typical tale of super heroics, but most of the one’s that I’ve become a fan of haven’t necessarily gone this route. As in the case of comic books, there’s a huge amount of action and adventure, with a smattering of some of the best elements of great science fiction.

Sometimes some of these examples start off as solid science fiction, but wind up playing within the spectrum of  the “regular folks with powers” sub-genre.

At the root of most of these works is a focus on how the characters involved decides to work with the abilities they’ve been either blessed or cursed with. There’s no immediate call to save the day, though we eventually get there in some of these cases.

For a while there have been a number of really notable examples of movies, novels, television programs, and comics that have played within this arena. There have also been some that have been not so stellar.

This will be the start of a list that I’ll try to add on to as I come across more examples of what I think is a pretty interesting sub genre of the tights and fights area of fiction.

4400

The 4400 (Television Series)

The USA Network for me was always the home of comedies like Psych and marathon broadcast sessions of dramas like Law and Order: Criminal Intent. It wasn’t a network that delved too much in the fantastical, at least at the points where I had cable.

So color me surprised when The 4400 dropped. I’m planning on doing another post that will go into detail on the awesomeness of the television series. Needless to say USA surprised me in a very good way.

The 4400 told the story of a group of 4400 individuals who disappeared worldwide over the years, beginning in 1946. In 2004 they are brought back to a Seattle, Washington beach and a division of US government agents are tasked with figuring out what happened to them, why they’ve been brought back, and to basically watch over them.

What is soon revealed is that a large amount of these individuals have abilities, and the show then becomes a mixture of X-Files meets X-Men. For the first season we follow a pair of agents, Agent Diana Skouris and Agent Tom Baldwin who tackle a sort of “ability” of the week story line, while we also watch how this plays out on the larger story being told.

The show ran for 4 seasons, with an abrupt cancellation in the last season. There have been four novels set within the continuity of the TV show which builds the world even further that should also be checked out.

Though the show focused on the concept of people with abilities, as mentioned before, these individuals weren’t trying to be superheroes. You have people who abused their abilities for selfish gain, saw the abilities as a blessing, or even tried to use them for committing disturbing acts.

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For example there was one episode during the first season where one returnee attempted to use his ability to simply save his neighborhood, after seeing the state of decay it had experienced in the years that he’d been away. But even then, you see the effects of what happens to an untrained individual who, though they had a set of “super” abilities, paid the consequences of the harsh reality he’d attempted to change, good intentions be damned.

The story grows in scope over the later seasons as we see the true purpose for these individuals being brought back, and definitely throws in a large amount of sci-fi elements. But at the core of this larger story we always come back to how these abilities are affecting these normal, everyday folks who are in essence caught out of time.

Chronicle (Film)

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Simple synopsis of Chronicle: A group of teens at a party find a glowing rock, investigate, experience nose bleeds, black outs, and develop telekinetic abilities.

And everything else afterwards is f&^%$ing awesome.

What works about this movie is this simple synopsis. Only towards the end of the flick do we get some obligatory, grandiose hero vs. villain fight. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome, but that’s not the strongest part of the flick.

No, before then we simply get a tale of kids gaining super abilities, and just being kids.

They get a handheld camera, and just do what teens nowadays would do: show off, and have fun with these new found abilities. Whether it’s pulling pranks at a grocery store, or just flying through the Washington state skies, the teens are just enjoying these awesome abilities.

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We have the popular nice/ intelligent dude (Steve/ Michael B. Jordan), the middle of the road likeable guy (Matt/ Alex Russell), and the sympathetic outcast (Andrew/ Dane DeHaan). Through the gifting of these abilities an unexpected friendship organically grows between the three, and makes you enjoy these characters even more.

In addition to this focusing on the budding friendship between the trio, we also get a really good example of something that I’ll tackle in Jumper: a focus on what a person who has been physically/ mentally abused might do with such a set of abilities.

One of the strongest, and depressing character arcs that we see in this movie is Andrew’s, played masterfully by DeHann. He’s the butt of everyone’s joke at high school, he’s the kid with the alcoholic father who verbally and physically beats him down it seems with every single day.

Imagine what a kid like that might do if granted god like abilities? Put on an outfit and fight crime?

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Nope, he’d be more inclined to probably F’ ‘ish up, as he lashes out with a huge well of pent up pain and frustration that’s been building over the years.

Andrew probably should’ve seen a counselor in the years before the events that play out in Chronicle, but that’s not the case. Even as his new friends try to intervene and help him to see the awesome guy that they see, it’s too late.

That’s why this story works extremely well for me. You have a kid who doesn’t go the typical route that teenagers endowed with abilities might go in the world of super heroic tales of do gooders.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit the dude gets a bit too super villain-esque at the end, but the build up to that, and even the final fight make up for this.

Chronicle is a great movie, featuring a believable take on teens gaining super abilities that shouldn’t be missed.

Jumper1

 Jumper by Steven Gould (Novel)

First, let’s start with this: get that movie out of your head. The one featuring that guy who played the whiny Anakin Skywalker, and Samuel L. Jackson with yet another weird wig.

The movie was fun in spots, bad in others, but got too convoluted and grandiose in the story that it was trying to tell. Nice special effects, but kind of “blah” at the middle.

Jumper, the novel was much, much, much more in terms of a sci-fi story about a kid who discovers he has the ability to “jump”, or teleport. But David Rice, the stories protagonist, doesn’t do this for the sake of fighting crime, or saving lives (at first). For a large chunk of the book this kid is running from an abusive relationship.

David’s mother left him when he was a kid, fleeing the abuse that her husband was tossing out. Rather than eventually be continually hurt by him, or worse, she decides to leave the household, unfortunately leaving David to be the sole receiver of David’s ass-hat of a father’s abuse.

So when David discovers that he can teleport, he becomes the ultimate runaway kid. And you do nothing but root for him the whole time that he does this. Imagine being able to wondrously get away from a person who does nothing but berate you, hit you, psychologically just break you down to the point where you just want to die.

That’s where David is at in the book, and we see his growth into a stronger individual as the story plays out, the further away he gets away from his father.

Later on in the story David does use his abilities for good, but this is only after he suffers a personal tragedy of sorts. Throughout the book he’s constantly escaping the crappiness that life had heaped on him, and it makes for a compelling story.

Just as Jessica Jones focused on what someone with super abilities who had been psychologically and physically abused might deal with that, I think Jumper does the same in telling a science fiction based story of a runaway who is trying to simply escape a set of crappy circumstances.


 

That’s it for this round. I’ll add more in upcoming weeks to this list. Thanks for checking it out and happy viewing/ reading.

Star Wars : My Thoughts Before We Wake

featuring art by the late great Ralph McQuarrie

Star-Wars-Concept-Art-New-Hope3

I’m writing this from the past.

All the way back on Tuesday, December 15, 2015.

Because today, Friday, December 18, is a big day. For me. For a lot of us. I wanted to write this post ahead of time. Before today. Before it happens. Before we see it. Before the Awakening. Before the results of all this hype and hope and speculation and excitement are known. Will we be disappointed today? Will we be thrilled? Will our prayers be answered? I don’t know and for the purposes of this post, I don’t want to know.

So I’m writing this from the past. star_wars_r2d2_c-3po_ralph_mcquarrie_desktop_1920x1080_hd-wallpaper-1054461

Last night (for me, here in the past), The Force Awakens had its premiere at the Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Which means that people have seen it. A large group of people, a lot of them famous, a lot of them on Twitter. And, while I trust that none of them are going to run and tweet “Oh my God! Han Solo is just Dexter Jettster wearing a Mission Impossible Mask!”, I have deleted Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and any other social media app off my phone; deleted the bookmarks in Google Chrome. From Monday until Saturday, I am in as much of a media blackout as is possible in this day and age.

Because I don’t want to know.

I’m not a spoiler-phobe. I actually find that trend more than a little annoying, as I wrote about a while ago HERE. Do I want to know the story? The surprises? The ending? Fuck no. But mostly, I don’t want to know what people think about the movie. I don’t want to read Kevin Smith tweeting “HOLY SHIT STAR WARS IS SO GOOD!” or Patton Oswalt saying “Bad news guys…”. I don’t want to know what the critics have to say. Not a single fucking one. Not because I don’t like critics, but because I have no interest in what other people think about the movie.

I only care about what I think about it.

Two reasons for this:

1. There are at most a dozen people in this world whose opinions on film I actually respect. Who I can talk movies with in a way that satisfies me. Whose praise or condemnation of a film can actually sway my desire to see it. Does this make me a snob? Fuck yes. I embrace being a snob. I don’t care what most people think because I think I know better. It’s an ugly truth about me but a truth all the same. I feel that way about all movies; with Star Wars I feel it tenfold.

2. Knowing the general consensus on a film’s quality undoubtedly taints your experience in watching it for the first time. If the praise is effusive, often times you are disappointed by what you see because it was merely “good”, not “amazing” as every keeps saying. For me, I call this the Something About Mary effect. Conversely, if the word on the film is bad, if people are ripping it, if the cursed Rotten Tomatoes (boy do I hate Rotten Tomatoes) rating is low, you go into it expecting bad and you look for the bad. All you can see is the bad. And you don’t want to feel like an idiot for liking something that everyone else hates. Or you can go the other way. You’ve heard the film is bad, you go see it, enjoy it, and think “That was much better than everyone is saying. I don’t get it.” That happened with me on The Dark Knight Rises. The word wasn’t great on it but when I saw it I enjoyed it. Looking back, I realize those low expectations inflated my opinion of the film. I bought it on blu-ray the day it came out and haven’t been able to watch it all the way through even once. I find it mediocre and disappointing.

star-wars-mcquarrie3I don’t want to walk into the theater today with that baggage.

I’m bringing in enough with me as it is.

Because, well…

I love Star Wars more than you.

Since I don’t know who you are, dear reader, it’s understandable if you find that statement laughable.

But I love Star Wars more than you because Star Wars is my thing.

And it has been since 1980.

When I was four years old, my parents let me stay up to watch the network television debut of Star Wars. It was hosted by Billy Dee Williams (which is how I know it was around 1980), from a badly mocked-up version of what I would later learn was the Mos Eisley cantina. (Did you know it was owned by a Wookiee named Chalmun? Of course you didn’t. No reason you should. But I do. Because Star Wars is my thing.)

Like so many people, the first time seeing George Lucas’s Star Wars changed my life. I was never the same after that. I had, at the age of four, fallen truly, madly, and deeply in love.

I obviously don’t remember every detail of that night, but I remember enough. I remember the opening shot of the Blockade Runner (the Tantive IV) and the Star Destroyer (the Devastator) coming over the top of the screen and thinking the child’s equivalent of “holy shit!”. Being terrified of Darth Vader. I remember the cantina, obviously. Ben cutting off Ponda Baba’s arm. Meeting Han Solo. Seeing the Falcon for the first time. I have very strong memories of the trash compactor and, after that, the image that probably stuck most in my mind: Luke and Leia swinging across the chasm in the Death Star. Of course, the getaway fight with the TIE Fighters was amazing (“Don’t get cocky!”).

But what left an indelible impression on me was the final assault on the Death Star, later known as the Battle of Yavin. It enraptured me in a way I had never experienced. Starting with the scene in the briefing room where they break down the plan (I have this thing. Don’t know what it is, but my favorite scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark is when Indy uses the chalkboard to explain to the guys, one of them the actor that played Jek Porkins in A New Hope, how the Staff of Ra worked. Don’t know why that is.) and then of course the visuals, the action. It was so damn exciting and tense. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I had seen very few movies, so it never occurred to me that of course the hero was going to save the day. I was four. I didn’t know that it was an automatic thing in movies like this. I was terrified for Luke every step of the way. He’s just a kid from a farm! This is so dangerous! How is he going to make it out alive?

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Ships crash. People die. Darth Vader starts mowing down Y-Wings in his funky looking fighter (TIE Advanced x1). It was all too much.

Then Luke switched off his targeting computer.

I stopped breathing.

Then, it happened. The moment that brings me chills every time I think about it, let alone see it. Seriously. Right now, seeing it in my head, I’m getting that feeling.

Just when it looked like Vader was going to shoot Luke down. Just when the Rebellion was about to be blown to oblivion, a miracle happened.

“Yahoo!”

The Falcon came down out of the sun and saved the day.

yahoo

They came back! Han and Chewie came back! If you were an adult, you probably knew it would happen. Because that’s how movies work. The cynical loner always grows a heart and comes back to help. But as a child? I had no idea it was coming.

And when it did, I felt it for the first time.

The jolt. The shiver. The surge.

For all I knew, at that moment, 35 years ago, it was The Force Itself.

That feeling, you know? The potent injection of emotion that seems to shoot up your spine when you see, hear, read something that just hits you in a place you never knew you had. It’s the white soldiers cheering “give ‘em Hell!” to the 54th Massachusetts as they leave to die attacking Fort Wagner. It’s a brave vampire slayer leaping to her death to save both her sister and the world (“She saved the world. A lot.”). It’s the “Ode to Joy”, when that damn chorus comes in and the bliss crackles like electricity under your skin.

I was paralyzed with… I don’t know what that feeling is. It’s a cocktail of emotions, universally known but undefined. Just that… rush. That feeling.

It was the first time I had felt it.

It was riding my first roller coaster.

It was losing my virginity.

Drinking my first beer.

I have George Lucas to thank for that. And I thank him, as all fans should, for giving us this gift.

I also wanted more.

star_wars_movies_atat_ralph_mcquarrie_fan_art_1280x800_wallpaper_wallpaper_2560x1600_www-wallpaperswa-comThe first Star Wars trilogy was an enormous hit. Millions and millions of people are fans of the films. Made Lucas a brand of his own, the most successful independent filmmaker in history. The original trilogy is beloved the whole world over. Especially The Empire Strikes Back, nearly universally considered the best of the films.

But my love affair didn’t stop in 1983 when Return of the Jedi was released. I didn’t think “Well, that cool thing is over. On to the next thing.”

I was in love. I still wanted more.

And to get more, I had to dive deeper. And there wasn’t a whole lot there.

I’ve seen the two pretty-awful Ewoks TV movies more than a dozen times each. Why? Because they were Star Wars. Same with the “Droids” and “Ewoks” cartoons. I read the seven available Star Wars spin-off novels, including the very enjoyable Han Solo and Lando Calrissian series. I read the lackluster Marvel comics.

But between 1983 and 1991, it was slim pickings for a kid who wanted more of his favorite thing.

But in ’91, a novel was published. Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. It took place 5 years after Episode VI and heir-to-the-empire-coverstarred all of the original characters, and introduced a few new ones, including one of the great Star Wars villains (hell, characters) of all time. Soon after, in the world of comic books, Dark Horse got the Star Wars license and released “Dark Empire”, which took place a year after Heir to the Empire. It was a bleak story about Emperor Palpatine rising from the dead to take one last stab at conquering the galaxy.

With those two pieces of fiction, the entity that would eventually be called the Expanded Universe was born. It would live and grow for almost a quarter of a century.

And I experienced all of it. Every novel. Every comic book. Every video game. Every role-playing game. Every encyclopedia. Star Wars became much more than three movies for me.

Even through the Special Editions and the Prequels, the Expanded Universe thrived. The novels and comics kept coming. Some were great. Some sucked. Most were in the middle somewhere. But the Star Wars galaxy continued to grow outside of the movies. In the case of the prequels, it often times eclipsed it in terms of quality. When 2005 was over, and Revenge of the Sith had come and gone, Star Wars wasn’t over for me like it was for so many others. I hadn’t abandoned it because of the quality of the prequels. Because to me it was so much more than six films. The movies were the most important aspect, sure, but I enjoyed the prequel era. While Lucas’s movies were bad (at times horrible), with several great moments, they spawned so many interesting stories between the cracks. In comics. And fiction. And in the spectacular “Clone Wars” television show.

I can imagine losing faith in Star Wars if all you know is the films. I don’t begrudge anyone for being done with the franchise after the prequels. Nor do I blame people for hopping back on in hopes that The Force Awakens is awesome. Please, come back to Star Wars. But also understand that some of us never left. Not out of blind loyalty, but because we’re fans. Not fans of the Star Wars movies; fans of Star Wars as a whole, the entire multi-media giant it has grown into.

MCQ-dagobah

Now George Lucas is out. Disney, Kathleen Kennedy, Lawrence Kasdan, and J.J. Abrams are in. The Force Awakens takes place 30 years after Return of the Jedi.Everyone is excited to see what things are like, what’s happened, what’s going, three decades after the death of the Emperor and Darth Vader. So am I. Except, I’ve already seen it. The novels hit “30 years later” a long time ago. In the (now defunct) Expanded Universe, a lot happened in those years. Weddings. Births. Deaths. New villains. New heroes. Wars. Adventures. Tragedies. Triumphs. A fully fleshed-out timeline that has been built upon that first wonderful Timothy Zahn novel.

None of this has any bearing on The Force Awakens. This is a new timeline. A new vision. One that only includes the films and animated TV shows as “canon”. And I’ve come to terms with that. It’s fine. It’s all make-believe bullshit anyway. But it will be impossible for me to not bring all that (fictional) history with me. That knowledge is in my DNA. It’s part of what makes me me.

J.J. Abrams is without a doubt a Star Wars fan. But, if I had to guess, not the same type of Star Wars fan as I am. He loves Star Wars and I think he is going to make a film that represents it well. Except, his Star Wars is not my Star Wars. My Star Wars galaxy is so much bigger than most people’s. The question is really going to be, for me, is “is what J.J. loves about Star Wars the same thing I love about Star Wars?”. Maybe, but maybe not.

RMQ-CarkoonSkiff

What do I want this new movie to be?

I want it to be a good story.

I want it to feel like Star Wars.

I want the Kurosawa screen wipes between scenes instead of dissolves and cuts.

I want Harrison, Mark, and Carrie to be Han, Luke, and Leia.

I want Rey and Finn and Poe to be great characters that I will enjoy watching carry on the saga.

I want it to feel old and new.

I want someone to say “I have a bad feeling about this.”

I want John Williams to make me bawl like a baby.

I want it to pay homage to George but not be an homage to George. There’s a difference. Ask Bryan Singer.

I want Kylo Ren to be badass.

I want Captain Phasma to be badass-er.

I want it to be its own movie but also earn the title “Episode VII” and feel like part of the greater saga.

I want it to be good.

I want it to be great.

I want to love it.

ralph-mcquarrie-star-wars-original-artwork-concept-lucas-films-9

What do I not want?

I do not want Luke Skywalker to be evil.

That is the one thing that could turn me off of Star Wars for a very long time. Make me lose faith in the new regime. I think it would betray the original films, the films that everyone behind The Force Awakens say they are trying to do right by.

“Where’s Luke?” has been the refrain as the hero of episodes IV through VI has been absent from the poster, the trailers, the TV spots, and the toys. “Where is Luke?!?”

There could be many reasons why they haven’t shown Luke Skywalker in any of the promo material. Maybe he’s not in it that much. Maybe he’s only in scenes that are later in the film and they don’t want to spoil anything. Maybe his entrance into the movie is so motherfucking Orson-Welles-in-The-Third-Man-awesome that they want to hold onto it. Make us wait for it. Because when I see Mark Hamill playing Luke Skywalker, 32 years after he did it last, I’m going to cry. The quality of his reveal will determine whether I just get misty-eyed or curl up into a sobbing ball on the floor of the theater. I want his entrance to floor me. I want to feel like a kid again.

He could also be a bad guy. That would be a legitimate reason not to reveal him until we see the film, as some have speculated. I really hope that’s not true.

Because I don’t know what I’d do. They would have to do it REALLY well to keep me watching.

They could have Jar-Jar and Wickett talk about midichlorians for two hours and I’d still be there for Episode VIII. But making Luke the bad guy…?

Let’s hope not. MCQ-emperor

As this posts, 1:20 pm, EST, I am sitting down with my father and brother at the Regal Cinemas Atlantic Station theater in downtown Atlanta to watch The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D. The last time I saw a Star Wars film in the theater with these two people that I love: 1983. So that, in itself, will be special.

If you are reading this within two and a half hours of me posting it, I am currently sitting in a darkened theater with an appropriately StarWarsian mix of hope and fear. I don’t need this movie to be good. If it’s not, I’ll still be a Star Wars fan tomorrow. I’ll be sad Star Wars fan, sure, for a while, but I’m not walking away. When my baseball team has a bad game, a bad season, even a bad decade, I don’t stop wearing their caps. I don’t stop rooting for them, watching their games, going to see them when they come to town. And even if the last year was horrible, I still start the next season with hope that they’ll get it right this time.

I feel the same way about Star Wars. In all of pop culture, there is nothing that is nearer to my heart. That’s why I wanted to write this before seeing the film. To express my undying love. No matter what I am experiencing at this very moment, I will be a Star Wars fan tomorrow.

As for my opinions on The Force Awakens, I will express them. On Saturday I will be recording another episode of the NEEDLESS THINGS podcast where we will have a round table discussion about the film. The episode will be available online soon after the film comes out, if you really want to hear me talk about it. I’m sure I’ll have one or two or five hundred things to say.

I may even let the other panelists talk. If I’m feeling generous.

Thank you, George.

Good luck, J.J.

It’s time. You psyched? I’m psyched.

Let’s do it. Here we go.

Punch it, Chewie.

jump

May the Force Be with You,

Chad J. Shonk
December 15, 2015

A Few Hidden Movie Gems for The Week of Halloween

Getting right to the meat…

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Zombie Honeymoon

I’m not saying it doesn’t have some eye-rolling moments. It may very well not live up to this on rewatch.

But…

We all know that zombie movies are never only about the zombies as much as they are a device to tell a story about people and the world they inhabit. And this movie is no Apocalyptic Wasteland, but more or less a normal life with one small twist:

The husband is slowly turning into a zombie.

So the movie asks you one question: if you truly loved someone, how far would you go for them? And not in an action movie “gotta save my wife/daughter/husband/son” sort of way. This is your husband turning into a creature who kills people. Do you cover it up? He still can have conversations with you. He’s still seems to be the man you fell in love with… only he now eats people.

Do you kill for him?

When is love not enough?

 

Teeth_poster

Teeth

I’m going to get crap about even mentioning this movie. I brought this one to a Halloween movie night and it did not go over well with everyone. Doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching once.

In a ton of ways It Follows delivers on Teeth’s original promise. They both are views on sexuality and how both sexes view the issue differently. They both attempt to capture the old Horror movie standby that SEX = BAD = DEATH.

Except that in Teeth they aren’t saying it is outright bad, only that aggression will be met with aggression. That if you decide to stick your piece somewhere unwanted, well… BAD things are going to occur. Suddenly the woman has the power to defend herself in an unexpected way.

But mostly it is about growing into an adult. How you deal with the changes – both physically and emotionally.

 

the signal

The Signal & Pontypool

I’m grouping them together because they both deal with the idea of communication gone wrong.  I’m reminded of an Twilight Zone episode from the 80s version of the show. Two reporters come to a town to investigate some strange things going on, but what they find is that someone has figured out the Secret of Life. The only problem is that our minds cannot handle the truth, and so we snap.

I’ve always loved that idea of ideas as a virus.

Pontypool deals with the very idea our words can be the thing to cause us to go mad. A DJ, trapped in his station by a snowstorm getting these various updates of madness. And him slowly beginning to understand what might be causing it.

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With The Signal you get more of the traditional zombie movie, with a strange signal driving the madness. People turning on one another. Divided into three sections, the movie shows how we need to keep our loved ones safe… and how that ultimately may not even be possible.

George Carlin had a routine where he talked about the idea that given how we mistreat the Earth, perhaps our sexually transmitted diseases are the way the planet fights back. That anything related to sex was a no brainer since we all do it, want to do it, or perhaps are currently doing it. Sex is the ultimate delivery system to spread the madness.

So are words.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Back To The Future II: A Fan Reminisces

For me personally, this week was a GLORIOUS WEEK to be a sci-fi fan.

We got a new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer.

I picked up my copy of The City: A Cyberfunk Anthology, a book that I’m loving.

I’ll have the first draft of my short story set in the world of The Crossing ready to be sent off for edits soon, which will be submitted for this awesome anthology.

And then there was 10-21-15.

Before we jump into why I feel this day held so much significance for fans of one particular movie franchise known across the world, lets hop back into the ‘ole Delorean.

It was 1989 and I was living in Chicago. My mother had taken my brother, myself, and a few cousins to the theater to see Back To The Future II. I was a huge fan of the first movie, having killed our VHS copy of Back To The Future upon subsequent viewings (an act that would also occur with our copies of Hook and New Jack City. Weird combination, I know).

Back-to-the-Future

To say the first movie blew my mind was a huge understatement. You’ve got time travel. You’ve got great comedy. You’ve got the weirdest, awesomest (not a word, I know) buddy adventure pairing of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and past/present Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) that I don’t think has been matched since. There was a homicidal bully/ antagonist. Wrongs being righted. Timelines being changed. Crispin Glover in all of his manic weirdness. A skateboard chase sequence. Great acting. A solid story that just damn worked.

And one of the greatest ending’s to a movie ever.

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

And to think that there weren’t any immediate plans for a sequel, that the movie was just going to end on this huge cliffhanger, is mind boggling. As a kid, your brain just starts racing with the possibilities.

“No roads?” younger Robert said to himself as the credits rolled in the darkened living room.

“Means some serious ‘ish is about to go down.”

Unknown(1)

The moment young Robert’s mind melted.

Ok, I wasn’t cursing at the age of 7, but you get the point.

So fast forward to 1989. Back To The Future II hits, and my 7 year old mind is just ready to be blown to bits.

And it was. 🙂

Once again you’ve got McFly and Doc Brown (who just work so darn well with each other). Cripsin Glover is gone, replaced by some dude in bad old person make up. The homicidal Tannen family are still around. Time travel. Doubles. Action. Adventure. More time travel.

B2F2

And here’s where it gets crazy.

You’ve got a wacked out version of the future. 10-21-15. There was a time when anytime maybe, 30 years plus ahead in the future was seen as possibly being this crazy foreign period where things would be extremely outlandish.

Back To The Future II wasn’t an exception. You had flying cars. Interactive 3D movie ads. Crazy fashion styles. Video phone calls (yeah, not too crazy now with things like Face Time and Skype). And hoverboards.

Marty-square-2015-2

As a kid seeing all of this, and with later viewings, it was a fun peek into what could be. Seeing Marty rolling around on his Mattel  branded hoverboard was awesome, and had all of us debating if some shadowy government program had created this technology in the real world.

hoverboard3-20140305273101

We were kids. Don’t be too harsh.

The flying cars were great. I wanted Marty’s self-lacing Nike’s and blow dry jacket then and there. Griff Tannen and his height growing abilities was crazy. Duck Hunt being seen as a golden oldie of the video game era was a fun nod to the Nintendo games we were then playing. And the Cubs had won the World Series.

As a kid, this is what I appreciated the most. The more visceral, fun nods to what the future could possibly bring.

The movie also ends with a teaser for the third installment that was being filmed shortly after the second movie was completed. As a kid, to have a guaranteed movie coming down the line was a fun surprise, as it confirmed we’d be seeing more of Marty and Doc’s cinematic escapades.

In this day and age where such end credit teasers are common place with big budget movies, Back To The Future II was the first time I’d experienced this. Marty and Doc in the Wild West?

Take my mother’s money, because she was going to be the one paying for that shindig.

Upon subsequent viewings, as I got older, other things started to stand out.

First and foremost, I think this would have been the first time I’d been introduced to the idea of alternate timelines. Sure there were things like Days of Future Past before, and any host of other sci-fi TV shows, and films that dealt with this idea, but this was the first time I’d experienced the concept firsthand.

hell-valley

When Doc Brown broke down how old Biff stealing the Grays Sports Almanac created Hell Valley (please see the movie for further explanation if you haven’t seen it) was just mind blowing as a kid, but appreciated for a cool storytelling tool as I got older. The idea that one man’s selfish pursuit of wealth destroyed the idyllic town of Hill Valley creates a dark tone for the flick , providing a counter balance to the whimsical adventure that we’d been experiencing before. And this alternate timeline confirmed for me that the Tannen’s are a group of murdering psychopaths.

back-to-the-future-2_8col

That face just screams psycho. Actually that face just screams all the time.

Another idea that continues to resonate with me is that as much as you might think you’re laying the foundations for a successful future, that’s not always going to be the case.

Case in point: where future Marty’s life winds up. He’s working a crappy job, his dreams of being a professional guitarist are out the window. His family life is kind of blah, and rather than try to rebuild what’s fallen around him, he continues to make bad decisions based on some crappy sense of bravado.

Now that I think about it, where did dude’s obessession with being called a chicken come from? That was totally out of left field.

Sorry, I digress.

Not saying that all of our lives have a tendency to turn bad or horrible, it was just interesting to see that the screenwriters sought to show that everything wasn’t so peachy keen in the McFly household. Remember, Doc’s whole reasoning to come back was to save Marty’s son from going to jail, which led to a downward spiral in regards to the McFly family. For a sci-fi adventure you could say such a concept being introduced was as Marty would say “Heavy”.

n-FORKS-IN-THE-ROAD-large570

The same could be said for the horrible direction that Biff takes with his greed filled run of murder and gambling. Biff chooses to be an opportunistic ass, who leaves nothing but pain and misery in his wake. And he accepts this, and revels in it, creating the hellish alternate timeline Marty and Doc head towards.

I know it’s a stretch to think that B2FII (as it’s known to all the cool kids) might have something to say on life decisions. But often we find that science-fiction can be used to speak to our personal experiences. Heck, I know as I get older, that as much as I may want to move things in a certain direction, that’s not always going to be the case, try as I might. But if I don’t at least try, then nothing will happen.

The thing to realize is even though the chips may not fall where you want them to, you still have opportunities to make those decisions. As long as you at least try. Roads less traveled and all that jazz.

I know I’m jumping movies a bit, but I feel the final scene from Back To The Future III sum’s this up perfectly:

bttf3

Jennifer Parker: Dr. Brown, I brought this note back from the future and – now it’s erased.

Doc: Of course it’s erased!

Jennifer Parker: But what does that mean?

Doc: It means your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one, both of you.

Marty McFly: [Marty wraps his arm around Jennifer] We will, Doc.

That scene always gets me on that ‘ole sappy emotion level.

So to round things out, I’ll go on the record and say this is my favorite movie trilogy of all time.

Watch this movie. Heck, watch the trilogy in a binge session and just enjoy some good cinema. Happy post October 21, 2015/ Back To The Future II day.

I almost ran off with this hoverboard. But that probably would've screwed up my future timeline.

I almost ran off with this hoverboard.
But that probably would’ve screwed up my future timeline.

 

Movies that I Don’t Like…

But lots of people do.

I did a blog on various movies I should have seen by this point in my life. Sadly for me, I’ve apparently spent a small portion of that time on some other movies that either other people told me I’d enjoy or are considered “classic” by the world at large. What follows is a handful of those movies, and why I never really either “got” it or just why I don’t care for it.

If these happen to be your favorites, just remind yourself that I am also the guy who likes A Knight’s Tale and you’ll quickly forgive my stupidity.

Funny Games

This is one of those critically acclaimed movies that I had never heard of before I stumbled onto it one late night. And I watched this strange horror movie play out much like many horror movies play out. Two youths who have little to nothing better to do end up terrorizing a family throughout.

FunnyGames_4Sht5B15D

Nothing to see here, right?

Except the main villain constantly breaks the 4th wall, a twisted Ferris Bueller. And while strange, I don’t have a problem with the idea of talking to the audience. It made things a little different, and offered a little bit of spice to the viewing.

Until the villain is able to literally rewind the movie at a certain point to change the outcome back into his favor. I immediately checked to make sure I hadn’t done it myself, or just been in a dream world along with the characters in the movie, but no… that just happened. And for some reason where I was willing to go along with every other tweak or oddity… that was just too much for me to deal with.

And really, that should have been the very thing which put it over the top for me.

A Clockwork Orange

Fundamentally I don’t get the love for this movie. Oh, I get the idea of showing the future as something disturbing, a distopia where violence is celebrated by the youth of their time. And is forcing someone to not be the way they were supposed to be, “curing” them of their afflictions the right way to go about helping bad people or is it a case where you have to want to change. You have to want to be cured?

Clockwork'71

All great questions.

But watching the movie I felt like it was an assault on my senses (and not in a good way). Violence shown for the sake of violence being shown. Kubrick certainly does his job of putting us in his protagonist’s world where feeding oneself is the only rule that you should have.

It was just one of those that I don’t think I could deal with. Too much.

Raising Arizona

Chalk this one up to seeing it on HBO on an almost daily basis back in the late 80s. At first it was this funny little movie about a couple stealing a baby and the guy’s wacky convict friends trying to get involved and then there is a bounty-hunter at the end.

Raising Arizona

And it was fine (a word my wife thinks is a 4-lettered word when I say it).

But as time has gone on it became this rallying cry for people I knew. Everyone had seen it. Fine (there it is again!). But they all LOVED it. I mean this was one of the greatest movies they’d ever seen. They spoke glowingly of this stupid movie where the convict buddies are “birthed” during their escape. It was almost like they wanted to apply some higher-level thought to what should have been a fairly simple movie.

And for some reason, with every utterance of glory heaped upon this movie, it transformed from “Fine” to “Ugh” to “that f-ing movie, really?!?”

I haven’t watched it since. I can’t do it, because while there is a thin hope I will find enjoyment in it once again, there is just as much of a chance that I’ll remember every little “glorious” idea, and it will grate on me during the entire viewing.

Airplane!

Wait! Don’t click away. I have an excuse. I had just gotten my wisdom teeth removed that day. Hopped up on painkillers my friends decided to stop by and brought something they thought I’d get a chuckle out of. Instead what I saw was a slough of things that my drug-addled mind just did not think was funny.

airplane

Nothing will make you realize how surreal things are when you are the only one NOT laughing at a funny movie. And that was my experience for EVERY joke they told.

Given the circumstances, I’m willing to give it another try, but I can never bring myself to actually do it. I’m sure if I did it would end up giving me some kind of psychedelic style flashback where I’m 18 again and worried about some high school test.

That is not what I’d like to remember, thank you very much.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Second Star to the Right and Straight on ’til Compton

StraightOuttaSomewhere (3)I think every young filmmaker has a handful of dream projects in their back pocket. Not only dozens of original ideas but also ones based on preexisting content: an adaptation of a novel or comic book, someone’s life story, a sequel to a beloved franchise, a tale from history, a (gasp) remake of a classic film. Projects filed away under the “When I make it big, I’ll use that clout to get one of these things made” category. Some of these projects you are sure will rock the box office; others, that you don’t really think will make any money but, if all goes well, will net you some critical acclaim.

The two big dream projects for me could not have been more different in tone and subject matter:

I wanted to do a live-action, semi-serious, sticking-to-the-book version of JM Barrie’s Peter and Wendy

…and a biopic about Eazy-E and the creation and dissolution of legendary hip-hop group N.W.A.

And they both got made.

But not by me.

It’s weird seeing these films come to fruition; it’s even weirder watching them. You can’t help but think about what you would have done differently, what they did better than you, what they fucked up entirely. It’s not a crushing feeling; I never got close to making either one a reality. But it’s… strange.

peter-pan-wendy-03What attracted me to JM Barrie’s 1911 novel Peter and Wendy was that it was a version of Peter Pan I had never seen, knowing only the Disney interpretation. The book was darker than the animated film. More violent. More powerful. With a bittersweet message about childhood, both celebrating it and recognizing our need to shed it. Peter himself was full of contradictions: he was charming, fun-loving, sometimes feminist (“Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys.”) optimistic and brave, but also selfish, mean, forgetful, and super-duper violent.

Which all made sense to me. Little boys are terrors. When I was a child, I may have used a stick or wooden sword to fight pirates (or Darth Vader. Let’s be honest here.) but I was imagining a real blade. I wasn’t knocking people over. I was running them through. Cutting off their heads. Killing bad guys. In Barrie’s novel, that’s what Peter does. He kills bad guys. It’s not the bloodless, G-rated action of the Disney film.

The novel has several other dark tropes that few Peter Pan adaptations have yet to explore. Peter’s role as an Angel of Death, tasked with holding children’s hands on their way to heaven. His hatred of adults, parents especially, and how he genuinely wanted them dead. The slaughter of the Indians, an aspect of the story that I admit feels racist here in the 21st Century. And the famous Peter Pan quote, when stranded on an island left to die, a line that has forever stuck with me as probably the most positive outlook on death I’ve ever heard:

to-die-would-be-an-awfully-big-adventureAnd then there’s the end. I’m not going to get into it, but the last chapter of Peter and Wendy is sad and beautiful and a real reminder that Pan is a boy who will NEVER grow up. Which is the main reason why I hate Spielberg’s Hook. I know it’s beloved by the generation after me, and that’s fine, but it’s a bad film, hands down, my Peter Pan purist proclivities aside. But more than anything: Pan doesn’t grow up. He isn’t a child. He’s a demigod, an angel, an imp, maybe even a devil. He will live forever, as the final lines of the novel tell us:

“When Margaret grows up she will have a daughter, who is to be Peter’s mother in turn; and thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.”

Gay and innocent and heartless. That is Peter Pan to me. I have yet to see him on screen.

30521196_1300x1733I’m not going to offer a full review of PJ Hogan’s 2003 adaptation, Peter Pan. I have only seen it once and did not care for it. It got a lot right, especially in the first half hour or so. But then it fell apart for me. And, while it did incorporate a little bit of the adult edge I was looking for, it didn’t go far enough. But when that film came out, I knew my chances of making a film out of Peter and Wendy had just been cut drastically. And then when it failed at the box office, it showed that maybe a big-budget Peter Pan movie wasn’t commercially viable.

We’ll see if Joe Wright’s film, simply called Pan, will be different when it comes out this year. It’s apparently a prequel or something which we know ALWAYS bodes well, right? (see: Prometheus, The Thing, Star Wars, Hannibal Rising). But I doubt it’s the film I would have made.

And, man, the film I would have made is so good. It’s still there, in my head, scene by scene. I could still write it, legally. In 2007 the rights to the novel basically became public domain, leading to a series of disparate book series’ that I have not read. And maybe one day I will. Or maybe one day I’ll come up with a different take on one of my favorite stories, a new way to bring it to life.

Straight_Outta_Compton

“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.”

In the late 80’s, when I was 13 years old, I got hold of a cassette tape I shouldn’t have. It was called Straight Outta Compton, by a band called N.W.A., which I soon learned stood for “Niggaz wit’ Attitude”. It scandalized me, excited me, educated me, and, quite frankly, scared the shit out of me. Especially the song “Fuck tha Police” and the shit storm that came with it.

The group’s frank and often gratuitous depictions of life on the street in a city I had never heard of called Compton, a place so far removed from suburban Atlanta that I couldn’t imagine ever going there, was eye-opening, sure, but it was also dirty. The non-stop assault of profanity, violence, and sex was exceptionally titillating to my white, sheltered, adolescent mind.

Just the use of the word “nigger” (or “nigga” or “niggaz”, technically), which my parents had raised me to strike from my vocabulary forever (“Forever. Forever? Forever ever. Forever ever?”), was scandalous. And, I admit, intriguing. This was a bad word used to describe black people. Why would these guys talk about themselves that way? I sort of understood it, but not really. Not for a long time. But I knew it was controversial and adult and, in the back of my brain, powerful. I just couldn’t tell you why.

18280-n-w-a-1680x1050-music-wallpaperO’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson. Lorenzo “MC Ren” Patterson. Eric “Eazy-E” Wright. Antoine “Yella” Carraby. Andre “Dr. Dre” Young. These are guys whose faces and voices I’ve known since puberty. I can recite all of Straight Outta Compton (the album, not the movie. I guess we have to differentiate now) as well is its companion piece, Eazy-E’s Eazy-Duz-It, word for word. Still, to this day.

"See you at the crossroads."

“See you at the crossroads.”

When (SPOILER) Eric Wright died of AIDS in 1995, it shook me. I was mostly listening to heavy metal and grunge, but I had never forgotten N.W.A. and their 5’ 5” superstar (“Niggaz [his] height don’t fight.”) . I knew the group had broken up and there had been bad blood. If you were alive in the early 90s and remember Dr. Dre’s The Chronic coming out, it was impossible not to know. But Eazy was a part of my adolescence and he was gone.

I wanted to make a movie about Eazy-E and the formation of N.W.A. I did some reading and found that there was a lot of drama to be mined. The music would be center stage, of course, but there were also political, financial, racial, sexual, and societal themes to be explored. Were these men artists pretending to be gangstas or gangstas who stumbled into being artists? I wanted to explore that question.

And, morbidly, films about actual people are more satisfying if they have a definite ending. And by that I mean death. It’s fucked up, I know, but it’s true. And the more tragic that ending, the more drama you can conjure. And (SPOILER) Eazy’s death was tragic, to be sure. He was destroyed by his own reckless behavior, sure, but dying of AIDS made Wright an icon of the 1980s. He not only helped birth a style of music that rules the airwaves over 25 years later, but he was struck down by the 20th Century’s Black Death, just at the point where we were starting to understand it. As Eazy said, from his hospital bed, after being told he had AIDS: “But I ain’t no fag.” That was the attitude then. For a lot of people.

I tried to pitch this movie to anyone who would listen. Every one of my L.A. friends knew about it. But I was never able to get through any doors of consequence. People I did get to talk to weren’t interested. Plus, there was the matter of clearing the music, an incredibly expensive process that meant the film could never be made independently. I still held out hope for 15 years. Just like with Peter and Wendy, I had the whole movie in my head and “damn, that shit was dope!”

maxresdefaultRight now, for the second straight week, F. Gary Gray’s film, Straight Outta Compton, is on top of the box office charts. I was both excited and nervous to go see it. I mean, the subject matter is obviously attractive to me, but, motherfucker, I wanted to make this movie. And I was weary that the film was produced by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. That meant that rough corners were going to be sanded down. Certain less-than-flattering things would be omitted. I was especially worried about how the film would depict Eazy, who would have been my protagonist.

I really liked the movie.

It’s odd. It’s not at all the movie I would have made but it’s also exactly the movie I would have made. It doesn’t look like the movie in my head. Doesn’t feel or sound or flow like it. But it covers the exact story beats I would have. Its Point A is my Point A and its point Z is my Point Z. It told the story I wanted to tell, just not in the style I wanted to tell it in.

And that’s fine. Because I liked it. And a lot of people seem to feel the same way.

(Especially after the mind-blowing clusterfuck that was the Biggie Smalls “movie”.)

I do wish it had explored a little more of the dark side of things, especially the famous incident involving Dr. Dre and Dee Barnes, an omission that is getting a lot of press over the last week. It should be in the movie. It really should. The first step to atonement is to acknowledge what you’ve done. Dre has done that in the press this week, releasing statements that seem genuine. But it would have been much more powerful to explore these themes in the film. Let it all hang out. Show your ugly side. The movie has to stand on its own and Dre’s history of domestic violence isn’t something that should be discussed in a press release.

osheajacksonjr_withicecubeBut the performances are great, especially by O’Shea Jackson Jr, who not only looks like his father but does a spot-on impression. The music is of course awesome. The cinematography interesting. The script could be better and sometimes the “bio-pic-ness” of the thing hurts it, with its need to make sure you understand who all these people coming in and out of the story are. Hey guys? I’m at a movie about N.W.A. I know that guy is playing Tupac. I am aware of his music. No need to point him out to me.

Surprisingly Eazy, the drug-dealer turned hip-hop mogul and star, comes across as the one of the biggest heart. He’s actually the soul of the movie. This makes me happy. Because that was going to be my way in, too. Through him. And when (SPOILER) Eazy dies, I was shaken, teary, even though I knew it was coming.

The only thing that pisses me off about the success of Straight Outta Compton (the movie) is… its success. It’s making BANK. All those years I was told no one wanted this movie. That it would be too expensive to get the music rights. That who cares about some gangster who died of AIDS? And now it’s ruling the Summer box office. Beating the crap out of more traditional Summer movies. I TOLD YOU, YOU MOTHERFUCKERS.

the-devil-in-the-white-city-by-erik-larson-book-cover-960x1459Do I have more dream projects in my head? Of course. Novels I want to adapt (not telling you which ones). Life stories I want to tell. Historical incidents I’m dying to recreate. And I will hold onto them, along with the countless original ideas I have in my head, until the next one gets knocked down by someone who got to it before me.

One of my favorite books, well, ever, is Erik Larsen’s Devil in the White City. I would love to make it into a movie. Recently, it has been announced that Leonardo DiCaprio will be starring in the adaptation, with our greatest living filmmaker, Martin Scorsese, behind the lens. I will defer and gladly give up that dream. Because while I think one day I could match the talents of PJ Hogan or F. Gary Gray (both accomplished, not taking anything away from them), I will never-ever come close to Mr. Scorsese. So make that movie Marty. I can’t wait to see it.

 

I don’t know how interesting this has been. I just had this gut reaction to seeing Straight Outta Compton (the movie) that made me sit down and write my first blog post in forever. Sitting there, watching a movie I have dreamed about a thousand times, not looking at all like the film I would have made but enjoying it all the same.

Now that I think about it, that’s probably how I’m going to feel about The Force Awakens, too, because I know I have at least 3,263,827 Star Wars movies in me.

And I’m not giving up entirely on Peter and Wendy. Some dreams die harder than others.

Gate 128 – Short Film By Henry Ceiro

Gate 128, a mysterious place, promising salvation from the extinction of the female species, draws two struggling survivors (Rose and Camilo) in a post-apocalyptic world. The last known female on earth, and her protector must finish their dangerous journey past the world outside of Gate 128.

Follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Gate128


 

Gate 128 (PG-13) is a little weak in spots but I like the premise–post-apocalypse with a touch of Children of Men. It’s a diamond in the rough. Let me know in the comments what you think!

Is it too late for the Fantastic Four?

So the Fantastic Four movie came out this weekend. I did not see it. I will eventually see it when it hits OnDemand or some such nonsense, but I was kind of iffy on the whole idea of them rebooting the franchise in the first place after they did such a bleh job with the first two movies.

FF movie poster

Let me set the record straight though… I try to maintain an open mind when it comes to these movies. Just because it is not Marvel Studios does not immediately mean that it is going to be terrible or awful or whatever. Most of the X-Men movies would like to explain that they vehemently disagree with such a statement (as would the first 2 Rami Spider-man movies, but I digress). I try to keep an open mind when it comes to Ben Affleck as Batman because I remember reading about how no one thought Michael Keaton could do the job in the 80s and he killed it.

is-michael-keaton-jealous-of-ben-affleck-s-batman-michael-keaton-batman-returns

<Alright John, they get it. Now on with the skewering.>

Right, the FF movies. What is going on over at Fox? I can’t believe that they can’t figure this property out. I wrote about the seeing the trailer back in January and just the overall concept of the Fantastic Four here. But what I can’t figure out is that they have 50 years worth of stories with these heroes and they keep going off the rails trying to make it different or trying to tie Doctor Doom in with their origins.

So it makes me ask: is the Fantastic Four something that just can’t work in a movie format? Are they too much of a product of either their time or the idea that they are not really superheroes first (they’re explorers). If that is the case it is nothing to be ashamed of. There have been plenty of excellent comic book writers who didn’t seem to “get” one aspect of the FF or another. It isn’t an easy concept to wrap your brain around because if you only have them exploring the unknown then are audiences going to wonder where the heck the superhero fights are? And when they treat them as more superhero than not… well we get what we’ve always gotten.

So now, after such a dismal opening weekend (about 1/2 of what they were expecting) it’s caused the hard-core Marvel Studios fans to hope that THIS might be the thing to get control back in the right hands. These are the same people that prior to the movie’s release were hoping for this exact outcome. That if FOX loses too much money they will “come to their senses” and send the property packing.

The thing is, had Marvel Studios had the rights to Fantastic Four and X-Men and Spider-man we wouldn’t have the Avengers franchise (or certainly not the way it is today). Marvel had to look at their library and realize “we don’t have some of our top line characters… what the hell do we have?”

If FF were brought back into the fold, would they even want to focus on those characters for the time being? Sure we’d get mention of the Baxter Building, but those types of Easter Eggs are for the hard-core fans. Marvel already has its slate of movies for the next 4, 5? years it seems. They have a plan and seem to want to stick to it. The last thing you want is another of these movies pushed just because they have the rights back (plus the movie-going audience may not forget how bad this one seems to be – that’s going to be an uphill battle just to start).

I guess there is one reason for me to get on the bandwagon in regards to Marvel getting the rights back… maybe Doom can show up in an Avengers movie. Maybe that’s the one thing that might be able to rehabilitate the first family of Marvel?

Victor_von_Doom_(Earth-616)

A well done Doom would be amazing.

 

<Oh and why can’t they just steal a rocket in order to go into space? Given the private industry side of things when it comes to rockets to outer space… this idea makes more sense now than it did in the 60s (Space Race aside)… Stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Please.>

<Just something else I don’t understand.>

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Movies I Should Have Seen By This Point

This post was spurred on by a moment with my wife a few weeks ago where she mentioned she’d never seen any of the Alien movies. I had two responses:

“You haven’t seen them? What are you doing with your life!?!”

And…

“Don’t let Amanda Makepeace know, she may stop being your friend.”

We’ve all had that conversation – “You haven’t seen XYZ thing? How is that possible?”

Sometimes it is a classic and sometimes it just is one of those movies you assume that everyone has seen (unless you are talking with Chad Shonk, in which case he HAS already seen it and he’s probably shaking his head at your ignorance – and by “your” I mean “my”). In fact, once he gets done reading this post he may go Clockwork Orange on me.

Clockwork'71

This is what I’m worried about.

Listen, I’m not being too cool for school here. I’m not pulling some weird power play and not watching them for some kind of agenda (like I’ve heard people say about the Star Wars movies “I haven’t watched them yet, so why should I bother?”). This is more to do with us all leading busy lives… and me needing to watch Office Space for the 97th time instead.

Clear?

Big Lebowski – So I’m not familiar with The Dude. What little I do know about the movie… well, now that I think about it – I don’t know ANYTHING about the movie. I know that Jeff Bridges is in it. And I know…

Uhm…

Well…

Lots of people seem to quote it a fair amount.

Sadly, I own the movie after seeing it in a $5 bin at Wal-Mart and still haven’t opened it up yet and watched it. Which is kinda strange since it is Veronica Mars’s favorite movie in the show and my wife hasn’t sat us down to watch yet.

Scarface – Al Pacino as a mobster/gangster in Miami. That could be enough.

It is my brother-in-law’s favorite movie.

I have seen the “say hello to my little friend” moment. But then again, that moment is apparently so iconic that you could be deaf and blind and still would know every beat, ever bullet which Pacino empties into his enemies.

life of brian

Monty Python’s The Life of Brian – I have seen The Holy Grail. And I like it. I figured that would be enough. But over the years I’ve heard others talk about this movie. How it is funnier than Grail (impossible). And then more and more people mention it. Very much a “yes, Grail is excellent, but what do you think about Life of Bryan?” And I have to shake my head and suffer under their disappointing stares.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High – This feels like one of those movies my sister and I should have been watching when we were binge watching the John Hughes films. But at the same time, I was fine not having seen it. But more and more time passes and now other movies and tv shows are referencing moments from it – and again, I feel a little left out of the cultural conversation.

And then I saw the other day it was written by Cameron Crowe. Now I have no excuses left.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show – I just, you know… something about this… I can’t figure out what it is about. Why should I feel like I should have watched it by now? Maybe it is really just a cult film and I’m not going to be one of the cool kids.

And then there is the idea that you need to see it in a group to really enjoy it. I mean, why would that matter?

Yet, I am intrigued. Not yet intrigued enough to have watched it, but enough to put it on this list… so that is something.

monument-valley-618363_1280

So many Westerns – The Magnificent Seven, The Man with no name trilogy (I have seen The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, but not the others), Lonesome Dove, and so on. I love westerns. I actually would like to write a western. I have a bunch in the Netflix queue as “research” (the great equalizer  – “honey, it’s research!”). And I have seen a whole bunch, but the biggest ones have mostly avoided me. But slowly I am working my way through them.

And I have some time before I’m going to write that western.

The Godfather – I think I should keep this one a secret. Men have lost their “guy card” for admitting this much. But I am brave enough to admit it. And to note that I bought this one probably 2 years ago to solve this problem. I mean, it is considered one of the best, if not THE BEST movie of all time by many. And I like movies. And I like mob movies. And this is the big one.

So it too sits on my shelf, collecting dust. This is a movie who wants to be watched.

But I also have a fear… what if I don’t like it? There have been “classics” that I have not been over the moon about. Is it better to have this image in my head of what the Godfather MIGHT be or have the real thing but dislike it?

Just another excuse, really.

 

So there they are, all my movie sins… OK, some of my movie sins on display. I promise, they are on the list to be watched.

Really.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Short Film: Dark Origins

One of the highlights from Dragon Con 2014 (besides being in the art show!) was taking some time out to enjoy the Dragon Con Independent Film Festival. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t even know there was a film festival. Dark Origins is from the Horror track (Demons, Ghosts, Aliens, & Monsters). This 12+ minute film was one of my top three.

A psychologist discovers the terrifying trauma haunting her young patient may in fact lurk beyond the girl’s fractured mind.

Directed by Evan Randall Green; Produced by Evan Randall Green; Written by Evan Randall Green

 

DARK ORIGINS – Short Horror Film 720p from Evan Randall Green on Vimeo.

Short Film: Spoiler

Spoiler

Another great short from my personal archive… Spoiler.

The zombie apocalypse happened — and we won.

But though society has recovered, the threat of infection is always there — and Los Angeles coroner Tommy Rossman is the man they call when things go wrong.