Did I just fall off the face of the earth, or what?

I’ve never heard a Beyoncé song (that I know of.)

I haven’t seen The Walking Dead.

It’s been at least a decade since I bought an album anyone reading this article has heard of.

I can’t remember the last time I read the news, tried craft beer, or understood a hashtag cause.

Anyone else feel me?

Every day that goes by, I’m lost deeper and deeper in an ocean of information. My friends ask if I’ve seen or heard the latest ______, and I’m a deer in the headlights. I’m like, “Huh?” And my friends are like, “Duuude.” I haven’t seen the latest show, heard the new kickass song, or kept up with whatever the Kardashians are up to. (Are they still famous?) I feel like I should ask for help, reach out to friend, or crawl out from under the rock I’ve apparently been living under.

Nah.

“Huh? Whaaaa…?”

Look, you probably think I’m about to start a big rant against modern culture and all its evils. Nope. I don’t have enough data to make a case for or against whatever the world has become. The only rant I could dream up would be an essay arguing the infinite darkness of social media. But whatever. That’d be pretty hypocritical, wouldn’t it? Especially since I’m about to post this commentary on Facebook and Twitter.

What I do wanna know is: how the heck did I get here?

I’m not that old.

I don’t have an ‘our generation is better than yours’ complex.

I don’t tell stories about wading through the snow to get to school and eating rocks for dinner.

You’d think having a son would compel me to brush up against modern culture now and then. After all, he’s at that age when Justin Bieber must start to seem cool. Or when the latest ‘thing’ must be purchased. Or when we just have to watch some crazy new show. But no. All junior wants to do is hang with his weird dad (me) and roast marshmallows in the fire pit, play board games all night, and watch movies that haven’t been famous since the 80’s (Gremlins, Willow, Sword in the Stone, et cetera.)

Anymore, I’m not sure whether I’m rubbing off on him or his indifference to modern stuff has reinforced my own.

And I’m not really sure it matters.

What started this thought process? Well… I’m glad you asked. Just the other day, I overheard some friends chatting it up about the Grammy awards. (And yes, I know what those are.) At the big Grammy celebration, some pregnant lady killed it with her performance and everyone thought she was a queen. Not just any queen, but THE Queen. Turns out the Queen was Beyoncé. (And it turns out the program I’m using to write this knew to put a ‘ over ‘e’ in her name – which is really weird to me.) Also, the guy from Metallica’s microphone failed, prompting Lady Gaga (whom I know of via her Super Bowl gig) to save him. And lastly, some blonde lady (Adele?) gushed so loudly about the aforementioned Queen some people questioned her sincerity.

Ok, cool, I thought. Sounds pretty entertaining.

Wait. No it doesn’t.

To all of this, I listened wide-eyed and confused. And then I realized that although I’m not terribly old, my tastes are pretty much ancient. It’s almost as if my love of music, culture, art, and books stopped somewhere in the late 80’s – early 90’s. And I can’t explain it. It’s not as if I don’t want to find new music to love. It’s not like I find modern music disastrously boring on some random whim. And life sure would be more fun if I had any inkling to enjoy The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and ________ <—- (insert superhero tv show here.)

Does anyone else experience this?

Anyone?

What the F does this meme even mean??

If I think about it, I don’t particularly miss the cultural era in which I grew up. The 80’s were straight up strange, with all the long hair, horrid pop music, and low production television. The 90’s might’ve been even worse, dragged into despair by depressing grunge music and not-quite-awesome-yet video games.

But I guess I didn’t realize my situation until the new century rolled in and forcibly stopped me from caring.

I don’t remember when it happened, but at some point all the music on the radio turned me off.

Until I stopped listening entirely.

Next came TV.

And here’s the whole story behind that.

More recently, the wave of superhero movies and bombastic action films flew right over my head.

Leaving me almost alone in the theater watching this.

I guess I can’t really complain; living under a giant rock has its benefits. I have tons of extra time. Peace and quiet are my domain. And then of course there’s all the money I save by not having cable and never going to a concert starring anyone famous. But the drawbacks are…well…I’m not sure. I’m left out of discussions regarding politics, news, movies, television, et cetera. And while I don’t particularly mind sitting in my quiet corner, it tends to halt conversations when I admit I don’t know a damn thing about whatever’s being talked about.

Me. As in my face. Always.

It’s almost intentionally ignorant, right?

It’s cultural abandonment.

It’s a willful disregard for humanity.

And now, after all these years, I still have no idea what happened.

Do you?

J Edward Neill

Builder of better coffee tables.

Under-the-rock artist.

Ten Eccentric Movies Everyone Should See

There are Hollywood smash hits.

And there are bombs.

There are formulaic rom-coms, predictable horror cheese-fare, and various deadly serious films starring Matt Damon.

But as most of us know…

There are films that defy convention, break from the mold, and flip movie-goers’ expectations upside down. Many of these, you might not have watched or even heard of. They’re not quite mainstream, but not quite indie either.

Please enjoy my list of ten eccentric movies, all of which are worth viewing:

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Perfume – Story of a Murderer

It’s possible I’m starting this list with the best movie of the ten. Perfume – Story of a Murderer is among the most eccentric, most gripping movies ever to hit the screen. It goes like this: a young man with a gifted sense of smell decides he wants to capture the scent of all things. Only…that’s impossible. So rather than continue trying to capture the odors of copper, glass, and dead cats, he steps up his game and makes it his life mission to make the most powerful perfume the world has ever known.

I won’t spoil it more than that.

Featuring Ben Whishaw, the late, great Alan Rickman, Dustin Hoffman, and narrated by John Hurt, Perfume is a powerful tale of the dark places obsessions can go.

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Moon

One must be careful when describing Moon, lest one reveal spoilers.

So I’ll say only this:

A lonely, lonely man named Sam (played by Sam Rockwell) exists on the far side of the Moon with the sole purpose of mining Helium-3. Sam’s only companion is an AI named GERTY. His journey is haunting, sometimes grim, and always mysterious.

Moon’s atmosphere (no pun intended) is different than any movie I’ve ever seen, while the soundtrack is flat out beautiful and chilling.

Just see it.

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My Blue Heaven

Let’s go old school for a minute.

My Blue Heaven is my personal favorite Rick Moranis movie (other than mayyyyyyyyybe Ghostbusters.) And Steve Martin definitely has the best hairdo of any dude ever.

So…when Vinnie (Steve Martin) falls into a semi-ridiculous witness protection program, it becomes Barney’s (Rick Moranis) job to protect him. As expected, Steve Martin’s performance is over-the-top absurd, and Moranis plays it pretty deadpan throughout.

Plenty of critics will say My Blue Heaven’s premise is way better than its execution. To them I say, “Pfffffffft.” My Blue Heaven is good, silly fun.

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What We Do in the Shadows

Speaking of fun movies, What We Do in the Shadows is among the best of them.

The setup: four vampires living in New Zealand must cope with the everyday challenges of the modern world. This includes: wrangling new victims via a third-party, dealing with dirty dishes, bickering over whose turn it is to clean the house, etc. Each of the vampires is from a different era of history, meaning their interactions are flat-out bizarre and hilarious. It’s shot in a reality TV/documentary format, and it’s insane.

See it now.

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Ex Machina

Everything you need to know about this movie appears in my thorough review – right here.

But seriously, most people I know still haven’t seen this instant sci-fi classic, which baffles me. It’s probably among the best sci-fi movies ever made. It’s that good.

The quick and dirty premise: a megalomaniac scientist creates a powerful AI, which he lures an unwitting young man to perform a Turing Test on.

Big mistake.

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RockNRolla

Ever seen Snatch? What about Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels? Or…ever seen any Guy Ritchie movie ever?

If so, you’ll love RockNRolla. The plot is too complex to explain in just a few sentences, but I’ll try anyway:

When a Russian real estate magnate pursues big-time property in London, the worst of the city’s criminals close in for a piece of the pie. Meanwhile, the mobster’s son, a drugged-out rocker named Johnny Quid, is the key to the whole deal working out or completely unraveling. And meanwhile, meanwhile, a gang of thieves (played by Gerard Butler, Idris Elba, and Tom Hardy, to name a few) gets in wayyyy too deep.

I’ll just leave it at this – RockNRolla is top-notch Brit crime comedy.

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Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro, fantasy and horror genius, sets the stage for something truly beautiful in Pan’s Labyrinth.

In it, a little girl seeking refuge from a horrific civil war stumbles into a web of dark secrets surrounding her (sadistic) stepfather’s mansion. In typical del Toro fashion, we’re sucked out of the usual Hollywood fantasy tropes and thrust into something eerier, crawlier, and more visceral.

It’s not really a fantasy movie in the typical sense. Nor is it quite horror. It’s about a little girl trying to escape her awful reality, meaning it’s a step above most of the fiction fare you’ll ever see on the big screen.

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The Big Lebowski

You’ve maybe/probably heard of The Dude. At least, I hope you have.

Mashing up Jeff Bridges (mellow) John Goodman (insane) and Steve Buscemi (obnoxious) to star in a movie about a missing rug, a cheating wife, mistaken identity, and bowling, was pure genius from the start. And to call it a cult classic is easily an understatement.

My favorite parts: when John Goodman goes off on John Turturro’s (playing Jesus the bowler) teammate. And then of course the big fight with the nihilists (one of them is played by Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea) at the end.

It’s a total mess. It’s weird. It’s almost without a tangible plot. And it’s awesome.

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The Prestige

“Are you watching closely?”

The Prestige (Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine) is among my all-time favorites.

The plot: when a stage magician’s wife (Piper Perabo) is accidentally killed during a dangerous trick, a cold war begins between her husband (Jackman) and the man (Bale) who may or may not have been responsible for her death.

Everything about The Prestige is a bit dark, a bit tragic, and shadowed by questions about what’s really going on. It’s not really about the stage tricks the two warring magicians pull off. It’s about the rivalry between them, and how much damage the whole concept of revenge can do to everyone involved.

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Kubo and the Two Strings

I figured I’d tie in a kids movie, because…well…so many of us have kids, and kids love movies, too.

Kubo was one of those films I didn’t know anything about when I sat down in the theater to watch with my son. We’d seen exactly half of one preview, and we didn’t really know what we were getting into.

What we didn’t know – Kubo and the Two Strings is an elegant tale about a little boy, a monkey, a giant beetle, and a tiny paper man…and all their adventures as they try to escape the boy’s dreaded (and all-powerful) grandfather. The fight scenes are somehow bloodless AND intense. The subject matter is full of quiet wisdom. And the movie itself is beautiful. My son was riveted during the action, and full of sharp questions about life, death, and love afterward.

What more can you ask for in a kids’ movie?

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Honorable mentions:

Dragonslayer – The coolest old school fantasy film you’ve never heard of

Strange Brew – Max von Sydow versus Rick Moranis? Count me in

Memento – A classic head f**k

The Machinist – Christian Bale lost a million lbs. for the lead role

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If I were to make one of my novels into a movie, I’d choose this one.

…and this one, too.

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

My Life Without the Internet

For most of the last three and a half years, I’ve been internet-free.

No wifi.

No Netflix.

No television.

No Xbox Live.

No anything.

I’ve pretty much lived like Meaghan Trainor’s dating life. No. No. And no.

But…

That all changed recently when I picked up the cheapest (and slowest) possible internet package ever. It’s slow…as in realllllllllly slow. Hell I’ll be lucky if this article makes it onto the web, considering I’m plugged into a 1994-era beepy modem, green-screen bulletin board internet experience. And that’s only a slight exaggeration. But I’m finally in the 20th Century, and that’s something, right?

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Watching porn…still NOT an option.

So…

All these years of non-internet having and slow-internet having got me thinking. What’s it been like living without much web access? How did I survive? How did I manage to operate not one, but two websites…along with a hefty daily helping of web marketing my books?

The short answer: I have no idea

The long answer: A willingness to work a little harder just to be disconnected most of the time

Tempting as it is to explain the minutiae of how I worked around having no internet using a crappy phone with only 3 gigs of data per month, a laptop with broken shift keys (misery) and the most unreliable flash drive ever, I won’t subject you to it. My net-free lifestyle saved me a crapload of money, but it wasn’t always efficient. It was hard work. I don’t recommend living without the net to anyone.

Actually…wait…

Yes I do.

Let me be completely honest with you. If not for a nagging desire to not have to haul my Xbox into hotel rooms in order to update it and if not for having the whole writing/web-marketing career thing, I wouldn’t have signed up to get the net streamed throughout my tiny apartment. I’m serious. I wouldn’t be on Facebook. I wouldn’t have a Twitter account. I wouldn’t read articles or search for videos online. I’d be under a rock, ignorant to the world’s issues, and probably even happier than I already am. (Which, by the way, is pretty effing happy.) Since I’ve already lived more than half my adult life without access to any kind of television programming, the internet would’ve been easy to continue avoiding. Hell, I feel like a traitor for having it now.

Look, I like to think most of us agree that the web is sometimes a wasteful, hollow experience. Maybe you don’t…but maybe you do. It reeks of politics, crime stories, spam, clickbait, and stalker-esque creepers. That said, the web also has its good points. A few of them, anyway.

And since I do have several web obligations for the next few months (while I build my book-selling empire) I’ll suck it up and use my newfound wifi connection…slow as it is…to be a bigger part of the internet community than ever before.

And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

A little guilty, maybe?

A little bothered?

Because I don’t really want to check my email. Or pay my bills. Or find out what’s up with the Kardiashians and Donald Trump’s hairpiece. I want the minimal web experience. Get in…get out.

Mostly.

Ok. Here are few pros and cons to the web experience. Keep in mind this is from the viewpoint of a guy whose sole window into the net has been his four-years-out-of-date phone and occasional access to the internet in a high-security office setting.

Pros to having internet:

I can upload articles like this and this to the web without having to save them on a flash drive.

I can download 1 or 2 games per year (yeah, that’s my pace) onto my Xbox One.

I can post obnoxious pictures of myself on Facebook.

I can check my book sales slightly faster than on my garbage phone.

That’s it.

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Cons to having internet:

It’s liable to infiltrate my life in ways I don’t expect.

Memes. And the whole ‘seeing them more often’ thing.

People wanting to use it in my apartment…before realizing how slow it is. And then leaving.

It costs money.

The temptation to Google awful things will might one day eat away at my writing time.

I might accidentally see someone post a political rant.

I might accidentally read something on CNN or Fox.

Did I mention memes?

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In hindsight, I realize being web-free wasn’t a long-term life strategy. My kid will probably need access to do school-related stuff. I’ll spend less time ferrying my magic flash drive between computers. I’ll be able to research stuff at a far faster rate than before. The trouble is; I kinda miss being disconnected. I actually liked being the last person to find out whatever horrific things took place in the world. I savored my opportunity to never have to hear about celebrities’ lives…ever.

I know my desire to be unplugged won’t resonate with many of you. I get it, and I accept it. But for me living net-free felt a bit like being Braveheart. I could just roam through the Highlands, sword in hand, free as the wind.

I’ll miss that feeling.

Because in a way I know having wifi bubbling through my living space will eventually lure me in.

And a part of me rebels against it.

Love,

J Edward Neill

Author of these killer books:

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