2013 in Movies — Top 20 List

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The other day I did a “Best of” list for the books I’d read in 2013. That got me to thinking about the movies I watched in 2013. Since I didn’t write down what I watched, I had to find a release schedule for the past year and find the movies I saw. Turns out, I watched 16 movies in the theatre as well as four that were released in 2013 that I saw later on DVD or some premium channel. I will now rank these movies as to which I enjoyed the most to the least. My criteria for this follows this line of thought: Would I watch it again? If so, which would I watch first?

Another thing to remember as I begin. This is the year I told my daughter (she turned 9 in August) that I was not going to take her to “crappy” movies. Basically, if Daddy decided they looked stupid, we weren’t going. For the most part, that worked. There are a few regrettable choices, however.

Image1. PACIFIC RIM. Big, loud, and silly. Yes, yes, and yes. I loved it. It was the only movie on this list that I’ve seen twice and both times in the theatre. I’ve got a Pacific Rim movie poster hanging above my desk at school. I know it didn’t do well at the U.S. box office, but that means nothing to me. It was my favorite 2013 release, in spite of the lack of A-list stars.

2. FROZEN. I’m a sucker for Disney musicals. Frozen looked good before I went to the theatre a few weeks ago, but after seeing it, I knew it was GREAT. So great, I bought my daughter the soundtrack for her to play endlessly in her bedroom. Just like when I was young, I listened to the Lion King soundtrack over and over, she can now do the same to an equally good movie. Go see it if you haven’t already.

3. OBLIVION. Can you keep a secret? I’m a big Tom Cruise fan. Mission Impossible, Jerry McGuire, War of the Worlds. I love to see that man run. He is great at running. And yelling. And being near things when they blow up so he has to run and yell. You take that and put him into an ORIGINAL sci-fi movie, and you’ve got my second favorite movie of the year.

4. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS. Alright. I know there are the haters. THE ORIGINAL TIMELINE! some will shout. I do love the original timeline stuff, but I gotta say, I loved J.J. Abrams’ second Star Trek movie as well. The lens flares do get a bit distracting and the whole “Khan” reveal got to be a bit tedious, but overall I thought it was a well done movie.

5. THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE. Better than the first movie by far and I loved the first one quite a lot. It almost seems so ridiculous to have a sequel to movie where so many of the characters die and then they do it again! I thought it was really well done and am anxiously awaiting the Mockingjay movies (and yes, I liked Mockingjay and I know I’m in the minority).

Image6. CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2. Silly and not afraid to show it. The first one gets put on repeat by my daughter and this one will be a mainstay in the DVD player as well. All the food puns…she was quoting them before we even saw it and it was even better than I thought it would be. Would watch again in a heartbeat.

7. IRON MAN 3. This movie worked on many levels. The kid in the middle was fantastic and worked very well with Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark when it could have fallen flat on its face. What really put this movie over so many others was the final action sequence. Wow.

8. MONSTERS UNIVERSITY. My second animated movie on this list and ahead of a few others…one of which you might find a little shocking. I so-much loved Monsters, Inc. that perhaps my feelings towards that transferred to this movie, but as an adult, I loved the hints towards movies like Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, and dozens of other “college” movies. I loved that they managed to get a prequel out of Sully and Mike and will definitely watch it again.

9. THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. Peter Jackson should have stuck with the plan to make two movies. I could have understood that. But when my daughter turns to me halfway through this movie and says “This movie is long,” then I know it’s long and drawn-out. She doesn’t usually comment on movie lengths, but what saves this movie from being farther down the list is the barrel scene as the dwarves and Bilbo escaped the Mirkwood Elves. I am looking forward to the final Hobbit film, but there is a certain aspect of simply checking it off the list with these movies.

Image10. THOR: THE DARK WORLD. The second Marvel movie on this list and yet I will say it was a million times better than its predecessor. Thor is a tricky hero to capture on film because he is a “god,” but this movie was much better at making him relatable and showing his world as opposed to him as an outsider on Earth.

11. ENDER’S GAME. Finally. That was the reaction of so many after reading the book as adolescents and finally seeing the dream fulfilled this year of seeing Ender on screen. Asa Butterfield did as good as could be expected and I actually thought Harrison Ford did fine in his role. What I didn’t like was the lack of Peter and Valentine’s storyline on Earth as well as the Battle Room sequences sped up a little too much, but you’ve got to trim for a movie and that’s where they had to cut, I guess.

12. DESPICABLE ME 2. I know this will be a little unpopular, but I honestly enjoyed Cloudy 2 and Monsters U better than DM2. I thought the girls were a huge part of why the first part was so good and yet this one was all about those yellow minions. I think they are a little funny and cute, but not enough to base the whole movie and its marketing around. Just not as good as what it could have been.

13. MAN OF STEEL. This past summer, I probably would have put this higher on the list. I was so disappointed after the last Superman movie that this one had me feeling positive after leaving the theatre about the future of the franchise. I thought Supes did an outstanding job of destroying IHOP and other businesses in and around Smallville, but there were some serious flaws with the movie and I’m not so sure that adding Batman and Wonder Woman to the sequel is the way to go.

Image14. WARM BODIES. I didn’t see this in the theatre, but looking back I kind of wish I did. Great zombie movie with a twist. Not lighthearted like Zombieland, but a good turn on the genre anyway. If it is possible to have a zombie romance, Warm Bodies did it well.

15. THE CROODS. I waited to see this one for a while, but my daughter and I had some free time to kill one day and this was playing, so I caved. It wasn’t as bad as I feared. Nicolas Cage as the father certainly didn’t help in my opinion, but overall the movie was better than I expected from the previews.

16. A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD. Did this movie really come out this year? I saw it on DVD this summer — must’ve been a quick turn-around from theatrical to DVD release. I love Die Hard 1 and 2 (Yes, I know they are essentially the same movie) and the third is highly underrated. The 4th was okay, but this one was just disappointing. I love the John McCLane character, but I hated his son. A lot. The action was good, but I found myself checking my phone a lot, which was good that I was at home, instead of at the theatre.

17. PERCY JACKSON AND THE SEA OF MONSTERS. My daughter loves the Percy Jackson books, so I took her to see this. She liked it, but there were so many (I lost track how many) times during the movie that she leaned over and said, “that’s not what happens in the book.” I eventually had to remind her that sometimes the books are different than the movies even with the same name. For a movie directly named after a children’s book, they really did a poor job of trying to connect with the source material.

18. OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. I also saw this on DVD, but I kind of wish I hadn’t. I just really didn’t get into it. I like the Wizard of Oz, but some of the things they did in this movie didn’t really work for me.

19. THE LAST STAND. It’s a fun and stupid movie. I saw this a few weeks ago on TV and Arnie is about the only thing that saved it for me.

20. FREE BIRDS. This is the worst movie I watched that was released in 2013. This means one thing. I didn’t see Disney’s Planes. Again, my mantra to my daughter of not seeing stupid movies worked for Planes and Turbo, but we had some Daddy-daughter time in November and no kid-friendly movies, save for Free Birds. I saw it and I can now say I’ve seen an animated movie about time-traveling turkeys. Oy.

 

So….what does that mean? It means I didn’t see some (what I’ve heard are) great movies like Gravity or some really dumb ones like After Earth. Summer is also prime movie viewing time as I’m not teaching then with winter coming in second with a few weeks off for Christmas. Because of this, some movies simply get missed simply because I couldn’t get to the theatre when they were out.

Overall, I liked a lot of what I saw this year and only regret a few of the movies I saw. Hopefully my discernment will lead me down wise paths in the future as well.

2013 — A Great Year to be a Reader

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What a year.

I will always remember 2013 for a number of reasons. I finally decided to write (and then publish) my first novel. In fact, since late July, I’ve published a novel, three short stories and a novella. Along the way, I’ve learned a TON about writing, publishing, and marketing…I’ve learned about myself…and I’ve become friends with loads of new people whether fellow authors or readers.

As I looked back on the year, I also realized how many books I read. Just looking through my Kindle, I realized I’d read over 50 books just through Amazon and another 10-20 in physical copy as well. True…many of the Kindle books were what we might call short stories, but I’ll call them books nonetheless. That many books was pretty amazing, especially considering the time I have to spend working on my classes for school and the time I spent writing doesn’t exactly lend itself towards reading.

With all those books, I felt compelled to write a Best of the Year List. I don’t want to rank them, necessarily, but I’ll just say these are the ones that really stuck with me. When I think back on this year, these are the books I’ll really remember reading.

dustDUST by Hugh Howey

I’ll remember this because it was the epic conclusion to Howey’s ground-breaking WOOL Saga. Not only did he finish his story, he nailed the landing. There are a lot of stories that have difficulty on the final leg, but fortunately Howey didn’t succumb to the general rule. It seemed like I waited a long time for the story, but in all actuality, Hugh puts his stories out so quickly that I read WOOL, SHIFT, and then DUST within two years’ time. The book landed on Kindle on my birthday and the best present I received was time from my family to read DUST from cover to cover that day.

lgmLITTLE GREEN MEN by Peter Cawdron

I’d heard about Cawdron through Facebook posts by Howey earlier in the year, but I hadn’t read any of his works until LGM, which came out right before Labor Day in the U.S. I had a splurge in the three days of the holiday weekend and LGM was one of the books I read. The Jason Gurley designed cover catches the eye of any reader and quickly brought me in. Cawdron dedicated the book to Philip K. DIck and you can definitely see influences of PKD as well as Asimov and Heinlein. So good, I bought it in paperback and gave it to my father for Christmas.

pa2PENNSYLVANIA 1 & 2 by Michael Bunker

Why do you torture me so, Bunker?! Okay…so I count Michael Bunker as one of my friends, but even with that admission, I’ll say that both PA1&2 blew me away. Just fantastic. That said…I’d really like to read PA3 to see how this story ends. I said how LGM reminded me of sci-fi masters…well Bunker nailed Heinlein in Pennsylvania. Bunker calls it his “Amish Sci-Fi story” and that really drew me to it. My wife doesn’t read much beyond Amish romance and I love sci-fi — something I’d threatened to write for years. Bunker beat me to it, but that’s alright. He knocked it out of the park.

the sowingTHE SOWING by K. Makansi

Who is K. Makansi? Before I read The Sowing, I assumed it was just another ambitious sci-fi author and my assumption took me towards the masculine. I was wrong. Three times. K. Makansi is a mother and two daughters who wrote the book together and boy…is it a good one. The Sowing reminded me a lot of reading The Hunger Games for the first time — discovering a diamond in the rough. Reviewers compare it to both Hunger Games and Divergent, but I thought it was better than DIvergent. In fact, I read all of the Divergent trilogy this past year as well, including the finale, Allegiant. I wrote a two-star review of Allegiant and one of my complaints was telling the story first-person, alternating the chapters between the main characters Tris and Four. Makansi was able to pull this off between a male and female protagonist and make it feel like two separate people with very opposite lives and goals. Well done — looking forward to Book 2 in 2014.

ImageSTEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson

Speaking of The Hunger Games, there have been countless stories written by Young Adult authors since Suzanne Collins’ post-apocalyptic tale came out that tried to mirror the story. Sanderson managed to make his own futuristic tale with a unique twist — what if super powers existed, but everyone who had them abided by Machiavelli’s principle that men are self-centered. Anyone in the Steelheart universe is either super-powered evil-doer or plain old human. Fascinating and riveting.

ImageTHE SCOUT by Eric Tozzi

I’d first heard about Eric through Michael Bunker and once his book was released late this year, I purchased, read, and loved. It is a great story that jumps off the page like it was designed for the screen. Tozzi tells the story of a man, faced with the personal story of his parents’ mortality, confronted with a possible alien invasion. Tozzi does phenomenal in his debut novel and I’ll be among the first to get whatever he writes next.

ImageGREATFALL by Jason Gurley

I’d read W.J. Davies’ WOOL fanfic The Runner and a few other smaller WOOL stories, but when I finally dove into Greatfall this past summer, I was stunned by how well someone could write a story set in someone else’s universe. This story probably really set me on course to write my own WOOL stories and in fact, Gurley’s work as a cover artist helped me out a ton as well. I’ve had a sneak-peak at Gurley’s book Eleanor, which he should be releasing some time in 2014 and it is already drawing comparisons to Neil Gaiman’s The House at the End of the Lane — and for good reasons.

I suppose we’ll go with those as my Top 7, but I’ll give a few others as Honorable Mentions:

Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave, Ben Winters’ The Last Policemen, Hugh Howey’s Sand 1 & 2 (we’ll see how Sand plays out in 2014), Carol Davis’ Blood Moon, John Scalzi’s The Human Division (which I read in 13 installments early this year), and CyberStorm by Matthew Mather.

There were so many books I loved in 2013, but I’m betting 2014 will be even better. As always, check back here from time to time for my progress. As of late December, I’m probably 90 percent done with the rough draft of my sequel to Dead Sleep. I’ve also got a couple fantastic ideas cooking in my noggin. Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

The BEST thing about The Hobbit being 3 Films

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So I took my nine-year-old daughter Molly to see the second installment in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy today. We saw the first part last winter so this has now turned into a tradition for us and she had been looking forward to seeing the movie for quite a while. 

Before we get to my point, let me talk about the movie a bit. I’ll admit it’s been a couple years since I read The Hobbit, but I really enjoyed the movie. The inclusion of Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel was really inspired casting — I thought she was one of the best parts, even better than Legolas and a reprise by Orlando Bloom. Legolas’ character really suffered without the foil of Gimli throughout the film. The barrel scene down the river rapids was one of the best chase scenes I’d seen in a movie in a long time. 

Now, of course, since Jackson took a smallish book and made it into three gigantic movies, there are bound to be slow parts and some of the Laketown parts dragged, but I look forward to the payoff in the third movie for Luke Evans’ Bard and the rest of the city. 

Now, as for Molly, this isn’t her first experience with movie series, sequels or trilogies by any means. As a matter of fact, we’re working out way through a few other notable sci-fi series. We’re taking out time with them, but we’ve watched together:

— Parts IV and V of the Star Wars movies. 

— The Fellowship of the Ring and half of The Two Towers

— Back to the Future (just the first so far)

All of those I plan to conclude sometime in the next year, but we can do those at any time. If we wanted to, we could watch the final pieces to each of those series tomorrow and she’d be done with them once and for all. 

The difference with The Hobbit is the movie-going experience. She saw both the movie this year and last in the theatre. She’ll see it next year the same way, but not before then. In fact, last year when she saw it, I didn’t tell her beforehand that it was going to be multiple films. After the dwarves and Bilbo were left staring out in the distance at the end of the film’s runtime with no obvious conclusion, she stared at the screen and said, “Really?!”

Same thing this year. The final credits roll as Smaug is preparing to lay waste to Middle Earth…I lean over and tell her it’ll finish next year…and she says “Really?!”

There’s a lot to be said for delayed gratification and that is one thing that she’s experiencing with The Hobbit. Could Peter Jackson have shrunk the movies? Sure, but with three movies Molly has to wait to see the epic tale finished on the big screen. Just seeing her experience a movie trilogy in real-time is paying for itself and for that, I’m thrilled. 

Bookin’ It!

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ImageMy novel Dead Sleep has sold pretty well, all things considered, and I totally appreciate anyone who has read it — and even more for anyone who has gone the extra step of reviewing it. It’s been $2.99 since I released it in July and the paperback is currently $11.24 on Amazon. 

Next Monday (12/16) it will be 99 cents. It’ll be that price for a few days and then jump up to $1.99 for a few more days. It’s part of a new promotion tactic Amazon is using called Countdown Deals. Feel free to check out the Countdown Deal page here (where you can find the awesome Cyberstorm by Matthew Mather and some other great books for great prices right now!) That’s where you’ll find Dead Sleep on Monday and you can buy it for cheap! 

But not only that, I’d really love for you to tell your friends and anyone else you know who loves to read. You can’t sniff at 99 cents and the more downloads I get on Monday and Tuesday the better because it’ll start showing up on the charts and more people will buy it and so on. (It’s like a domino effect with Kindle books)

But you might say — “Will, I’d love to, but I really like to read trilogies!”

I understand. I love series and trilogies myself. That’s why I’m nearing the end of the rough draft of Dead Sight, my sequel to Dead Sleep. I’m pretty pumped about it and I’m hoping to have it out in the next few months. After that will come book 3 and who knows from there? 

But you say — “Will, I don’t have a Kindle!”

Totally understand. But, did you know you can read Kindle books on any smartphone or computer? You just need the Kindle app, which you can find here

But you say — “Will, I don’t like you!”

Also totally understandable. I occasionally don’t like me, either. But that’s OK. I learned all about self-esteem in junior high. I’ll be alright and you don’t have to buy my book if you don’t want to. 

Regardless, I just wanted to plant the seed. Buy the book, tell others about it. Tweet it. Text it. Facebook it. Blog it. Share it. Anything and everything you can do would be fantastic. You can even gift it — Christmas is just around the corner!

Telling about Toppers

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Have you ever met a Topper?

You know the type – whatever you say, whatever you talk about, whatever you’ve done…they’ve done and done it better (or worse as the subject requires) than you. They’ve “topped” your story. No matter what.

I’ve known a few, and one in particular springs to mind. No matter what I said, she had a story to tell. Now, I don’t mind if someone wants to join the conversation and shows understanding and compassion by sharing a similar story, but when your stories are always – ALWAYS – bigger, better and grander, then you are doing it wrong.

Let’s call my Topper…Mrs. Knowitall.

Mrs. Knowitall and I would occasionally eat lunch together at a different job with a few other co-workers. She couldn’t bear to be left out of the conversation and had to constantly stick herself into each and every topic.

Example (may be highly stylized for the purposes of this blog):

“So last night I ate a big meal. Oh, boy, you wouldn’t believe all of the food I devoured. I probably had two entire pizzas’ worth at the Pizza Hut buffet and that doesn’t include salad and dessert,” I might have said.

“Really? I went to a different Pizza Hut last night and I was able to eat probably four entire pizzas with three full orders of breadsticks along with a head of lettuce covered in a one-inch layer of ranch dressing and croutons,” the wafer-thin Mrs. Knowitall replied.

The conversation would have veered off from there, but I would again say something else later.

 “I’m pretty excited – I think I may have another job soon. I’m really looking forward to teaching,” I said.

“Teaching is pretty good, but I tried out for Apprentice with Donald Trump. Apparently he was so impressed with my resume that he gave me a job on the spot. He actually decided that I’m going to succeed him when he retires,” Mrs. Knowitall said.

I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but her final one may have done it.

“I found out last night that my cat has cancer. We’re probably going to have to put her down next week,” I would say, eliciting sympathy from most of our co-workers.

“That’s too bad. That reminds me of the time when my pet unicorn developed incurable Alzheimer ’s disease and then he grew wings and flew into the sun because he forgot that it was hot. We were all pretty sad about that for years at our house,” Mrs. Knowitall said with a smug look on her face.

Fine.

Your life is more epic than mine. Hands down.

I eventually gave up and couldn’t even speak when I was in their presence for fear of being topped. Every time.

So ask yourself: Who is the Topper in my life?

And I guarantee you that my Topper is 1 million times worse plus infinity.