The Post – Trailer Reaction

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This movie is going to check a lot of Oscar boxes. Best Director, Steven Spielberg – check. Best Actor, Tom Hanks – check. Best Actress, Meryl Streep – check. Best Score, John Williams – check. Just keep going down the list.

Spielberg fast tracked this one, and for good reason. It just feels like an important movie for this time in history. I love the beats in the trailer and will eagerly see this during the holiday season. Check it out:

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Marvel Cinematic Movies – Ranked

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thorimax3Can you believe we’ve had 17 (!) films since we were introduced to Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark in an Afghan cave? Marvel has truly shown the rest of the movie studios how to successfully do a movie universe, deftly weaving storylines from one character to another, teaming them up when possible and leaving them alone when necessary. As they got their foundation and feet under them, suddenly the head honchos over at Disney let the films start to be a little more unique with a little more flavor. If one film showed that, it was definitely Thor: Ragnarok.

I just saw it yesterday and I’m still reliving parts of it over and over again in my head. I laughed more than I expected (and I expected to laugh A LOT), yet this movie had some of the most dire consequences of any of the MCU films to date. I think the latter is partly done on purpose: so that the events that happen in the next Avengers team-up, Infinity War, don’t come out of left field. I think there’s a good chance we see some serious characters go down in that movie.

ANYWAY…I saw some other people making their MCU ranking thus far, so I decided to do the same. Now of course, art and movies are subjective, so my list will be different than yours and that’s OK. I based my list on a couple of factors: 1. Would I rewatch it again in a heartbeat? 2. How good of a movie is it? and 3. How does it really fit in and impact the rest of the MCU films?

So without anymore yammering from me…

  1. Captain America: Civil War
  2. The Avengers
  3. Captain America: Winter Soldier
  4. Guardians of the Galaxy
  5. Thor: Ragnarok
  6. Captain America: The First Avenger
  7. Ant Man
  8. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  9. Iron Man
  10. Doctor Strange
  11. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  12. Thor
  13. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  14. Iron Man 3
  15. The Incredible Hulk
  16. Thor: The Dark World
  17. Iron Man 2

Yep. I’m a big Captain America fan. I can hear people talking now, and that’s fine with me. Frankly, up until I actually typed it here, I had the first Cap movie at #5 instead of #6, but that’s really how much fun I had with the new Thor movie. If there is any kind of theme with the first group of movies (except for TFA), it is team-ups! Every single movie in the top five features heroes teaming up with one another, sometimes against other heroes, but oftentimes against one villain or another. Frankly when it comes to the Thor film, I’m still processing it, so come back in a week or so and I might have it a little higher or possibly a little lower. I tried to take the immediacy factor out of things, but I still love it to bits at the moment, so it makes my Top 5.

A few other notable bits:

  • I straight-up LOVE Ant Man. If there was more than just Falcon’s wonderful cameo in the movie, I might have even had it higher on my list. Paul Rudd is just hilarious and that Thomas the Train fight sequence at the end is better than most of the “fighting aliens or robots in the sky” parts that many of the films do.
  • Even if a movie is towards the bottom of the list doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, I would re-watch any of these movies and really liked them when they first released in theaters. But Iron Man 2 has some huge flaws and frankly I don’t remember much of the second Thor movie. In fact, the way they were able to take Thor and make him one of the BEST Marvel heroes in Ragnarok speaks to Taika Watiti’s ability to work with characters.
  • Many said that Doctor Strange was a better origin movie than Iron Man, and in some ways I do agree, but Iron Man was the first. If we didn’t have that first movie and the impact it made, we might not have the rest of this list.

But, what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Should Guardians 2 be higher? Should Ultron be higher than the Bottom 5? Is Stan Lee the real First Avenger? Where will I put Black Panther on this list? Do I love Captain America too much? (quite possibly). Let me know!

The Best Things I Laid Eyes on in 2015

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So a few weeks before Christmas, I put out my “Best of” list for short stories, fully intending to do the same for books and movies and who knows what. Then…I didn’t. But, I don’t want to leave it all hanging out there, so I’m combining lists and putting out a “Best Things I Laid Eyes on in 2015” list. You’ll find movies, books, places, people and more. I tried to think of the entire past calendar year, but I know I missed a thing or two I loved. Forgive me. So…here’s my list:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

bb-8_14e2ad77I’ve seen the newest Star Wars film twice now and yet it seems like we’ve just shaken hands. I can’t even tell you how many times I saw IV, V, and VI as a kid. We had the movies on VHS and I watched them over and over and over. I loved them all and when Lucas re-released them in theatres with the latest effects, my dad made sure all of us kids were sitting in the seats.

Then the Prequels. Ugh. Like so many others I wanted to like them. Like so many others I was disappointed. I barely remember watching them and I know I’ve only seen Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith once each. And I know with the final movie I only saw it so I could say I did. There was no hype. No anticipation. No excitement.

Not so here. There are haters, but they can forget about trying to get me to hate it. It checked all the boxes for me and established new characters I care about. A re-tread? Hardly. Similar storybeats, but so was Harry Potter. So have been stories throughout the ages. I am an unabashed fan and I don’t care who knows.

Weapons of Mass Deception by David Bruns and J.R. Olson

weaponsmass_cvr_lrgBruns and Olson have a great book on their hands, I think. Reading this book brought be right back to the hours and hours I spent reading Tom Clancy’s books when I was in high school and college. Clancy had a knack for telling a complicated story with complex international political ramifications and making me care about it. With Weapons of Mass Deception, Bruns and Olson have done the same. The book is a tremendous achievement and I can only hope that the two coordinate their efforts again to give us more books like this down the road.

Jessica Jones / Daredevil

David-Tennant-Jessica-Jones-Poster-Doctor-Who-BrasilI’m lumping these two together. The first two Marvel properties developed for Netflix and both were daring (pun intended) and showed us a side of Marvel we didn’t know we would ever get on the screen. In Daredevil we got a great introduction to the dirty underbelly of New York and were made aware early on that anything goes. Daredevil showed us that in violence, but keeping with the theme of Murdock’s blindness, a lot was kept in the dark and at night. That violence was brought to light big time in Jessica Jones. I loved Jessica Jones. I think I liked it better than Daredevil and that is saying a lot. As a father of a pre-teen girl, I am worried about the world she’ll grow up in and the boys she may date. As a high school teacher, I see a lot of borderline abusive relationships as well. In Jessica Jones, we see those relationships personified in the villain Kilgrave. What a performance and in a way it’s a shame what the end result was for his character. I’m looking forward to what Marvel and Netflix will be cooking up for us in 2016.

Chicago Architectural Tour

BoatTour2_NatalieTaylorI went on a school trip to Chicago early in the summer and one of the things we did was this. If you ever get the chance, it is a great trip up and down the Chicago River with historical context for nearly every one of the buildings along the shore. There is a lot of new building going on and the new Trump Tower gets its fair share of criticism, but I daresay that is part of what has spurred the new developments along the route. The day we went ended up being a lot colder than we anticipated, but I still wound up fascinated by what I saw and heard along the tour.

Constitution/Warrior by Nick Webb

warriorThese books were great. So great that when I was buying Christmas gifts, I bought them in paperback for my dad. He’s hard to shop for, but he’s a military space sci-fi nut, so I knew I was safe with these books. I enjoyed Constitution, but I wasn’t sure what Webb would give us in the follow up. Wow. He really set up a complex and interesting backstory for each side in the conflict (and there are many more than two) and set up a potentially explosive third book in this series. If you like action and intrigue in your science fiction, check out Nick Webb’s books.

Ant Man

The last movie I remember smiling about so much in the theatre before Star Wars was Ant Man. Such a great movie. Really impressed me with its humor and vibe. Just as Daredevil and Jessica Jones redefined Marvel for the TV audience, so did Ant Man for films after the success of Guardians of the Galaxy. I love the nods to Avengers and how it all fits in with the larger universe without feeling too small.

My Newest Book Cover

Coming Soon…. Check this out:

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The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott

I’d read the book by Andy Weir last year so I can’t credit that here, but the movie exceeded all my expectations. I have been burned too many times by books turned into terrible movies, and so when Scott managed to turn The Martian into not only a decent movie, but a GREAT movie, I was thrilled. Matt Damon did a fantastic job and I thought the changes made from book to film were slight and appropriate for the conversion to the movie theatre.

ALL the short stories

11160045_10207031928225789_1011873126454258904_oI read a lot of short stories in 2015. A LOT. I already did my Best of list for just short stories, so I’m not going to rehash them here, but if you like short fiction, you need to check out the Future Chronicles curated by Samuel Peralta. Some great works by a lot of amazing authors. (Myself included, Full Disclosure.)

My Family

Over the summer I had the opportunity to see a lot of family. My wife and I went on a joint vacation to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge with her parents. Unlike some, I do like my in-laws and we had a great kick-off to the summer and good stories for years to come.

We also had a family reunion for my family. My sister lives a couple states away and my older brother is over 2,000 miles away, so getting us all together is easier said than done. Fortunately it worked out and we all met at my parents’ home for a few days. Unfortunately, my 99-year-old grandmother passed away in North Dakota the same week, sending my parents off to handle that business. All of my siblings were able to make it for the funeral, but it did put a bit of a damper on the overall summer get-together. Regardless, it was a great time to see people I don’t typically get to see.

The Dark Man/The White Night by Desmond Doane

26105206A different kind of books than Webb’s offerings, but still just as compelling. If I was going to put out a Best Books of 2016 list, I really think The White Night would have held the top spot. Who is Desmond Doane? That’s the penname for Ernie Lindsey, an accomplished author on his own, but for these horror/supernatural books, he wanted a little edge he couldn’t provide as himself, so Desmond Doane was born. The first book is good, but the second…man, I couldn’t put it down. There was a moment – and you’ll get there too – when I read it and I had to send a message to Ernie cursing him out for what he did to me. I couldn’t wait to write up my review for it and I am strongly anticipating the third book in his Graveyard: Classified series in 2016.

Humbird Cheese, Toma, Wisconsin

humbird-cheese-mart-910750A must stop on our family trips to North Dakota. On our way up for the funeral, we had to stop here. If you love cheese, this is a great place with free samples of nearly all the varieties of cheese. Me? I love a good smoked cheddar and buffalo wing-flavored cheese curds.

Collider Movie Talk on YouTube

We ditched the Dish this year. After over 10 years with either Dish Network or DirecTV, we finally cut the cord so to speak. We rely on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu for most of our traditional TV viewing. However, I’ve come to expect one show each day – Collider Movie Talk on YouTube. Each day, John Campea leads a panel discussion show to discuss movie reviews, box office returns and general movie news. It isn’t dry – each of the hosts have their own unique brand of humor and their passion of movies and genre movies in particular is infectious. In addition to Movie Talk, they also produce weekly shows for comics (Heroes) and Star Wars (Jedi Council) as well as a plethora of TV show recap episodes. If you like entertainment news that isn’t just Kardashian this and Kanye that, check this out.

Maybe We Should Stop Comparing Books to Music and Instead Look To A Different Industry

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First off — I apologize for the ridiculously long blog title. However, I needed to write it down somewhere and the title seemed as good a place as anywhere else. 

Oftentimes the book industry — particularly those associated with it, like authors, editors, and readers — have a habit of referring to the early days of digital music when Napster allowed me to listen to literally anything I wanted. The music industry wasn’t prepared and suffered for a while. Thanks to iTunes, they have been able to survive, but the new digital age has provided new opportunities for independent artists and bands. 

I would argue that the latter aspect, while an important part of today’s music scene, was really always a part. The digital nature of the Internet has just allowed those bands to receive more exposure. Where does a lot of that exposure come from? 

YouTube. 

A band or singer writes a song, films themselves singing it (perhaps with some crazy and wacky props) and it goes up on YouTube with a viral hit a prayer away. We’ve seen this happen over and over. Sometimes this is an artist already signed to a contract like Psy from South Korea or OK Go. What about Rebbecca Black of the Friday fame (and I know just by mentioning it, that song is playing incessantly in your heads)? Let’s get away from the professionals and semi-professionals…what about the Mom and Dad who filmed themselves lip-syncing to Frozen’s “Love is an Open Door,” while their daughter sat oblivious in the backseat? (15 million hits on that sucker, by the way.)

All of these benefited from the nature of YouTube — where a person or small group can record themselves (possibly on a very tight budget) doing what they do best and putting it out there for the world to see. This is more analogous to the modern state of publishing today, I believe. 

Let’s take a look at John and Hank Green. They were not the first to have a vlog, but their Vlogbrothers channel on YouTube has been the force behind a lot of successful projects. (Last time I counted, between the two of them, the Greens had an interest in over a dozen YouTube channels from their normal twice-a-week vlog, a video game channel, educational science and history channels, the pioneering Brain Scoop among many others). Hank Green is also the originator of Vidcon, which just wrapped up in Anaheim, California. 

According to their website: 

VidCon is for people who love online video. Independent creators, enablers, viewers and supporters of all kinds. The ways that we entertain, educate, share, and communicate are being revolutionized. The creators attending and on-stage at VidCon are central to that revolution. The best part is, we’re having the time of our lives doing it.

Sounds a lot like the Independent writing and publishing community to me. In just a short time, I have written and published a few novels and a handful of short stories. Along the way I have made friends — from fellow authors, bloggers, editors, and even those who prefer to just read. The independent author with a negative outlook on their craft is rare and those who refuse to cooperate are even rarer in my experience. (In fact, in the last few days, I’ve written a blurb promoting a fellow author’s new space opera, and helped to beta-read another friend’s final installment in a four-part science fiction novel — neither one I would have done if those friends hadn’t shown their kindness to me on previous occasions. We lift up each other’s successes; by doing so, our own work may benefit, but it may not. We do it because we love this stuff. 

John and Hank have been in the mainstream news a lot lately because John is also the author of the Young Adult hit, The Fault in Our Stars. The press had difficulty understanding how John and Hank built their online community, affectionately known as “Nerdfighters,” which I will profess to being. These companies want to build these “genuine” communities like the Nerdfighters, but they don’t understand the time, the patience, and the hard work that goes into it. Also the “genuine” part. 

Now…I can’t help think of my friend Hugh Howey here as well. (Yes, this is a rare instance where we get to compare, not contrast Hugh and John Green.) After I had been following the Vlogbrothers for a couple years, I found myself getting into the books on my Kindle, notably WOOL. I wasn’t the only one. Greatness seemed to be thrust upon Hugh to a certain extant, but as far as I can tell, along the way he has been nothing but gracious and receptive to his multitude of fans, interacting with them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (!), even his own website, where he responded to tons of fan responses to a blog post earlier today. He has genuinely built an online community where his fans will follow and read just about anything he writes (even love stories from Europe!).

So why do authors compare their books to the music industry? I guess since we write the book and put it on Amazon for people to purchase, just like a band might record an album and put it on iTunes. However, I would argue we shouldn’t compare it to music — but rather to the YouTube phenomena. 

Maybe we can make the following comparisons:

Hardback books are like Hollywood Movies. Not all hardbacks sell great, but they are the best the book industry can put out there. Hardbacks are usually only manufactured with a significant investment and Hollywood movies are much the same. Some books don’t sell even in hardback and some movies are unseen as well (John Carter, Lone Ranger, etc…). 

Paperback books are like television shows. Paperback books are everywhere and the number of television channels seems to increase each day as well. You can find just about anything in paperback and TV offers so many niche shows. Some do well…some don’t. 

Independently published books are like YouTube videos. Indie authors put their heart and soul into their books, but there is still a bit of luck that gets that book to chart and rocket up the charts. Even quality books can languish without the “right” group of people finding that book and reading it. Same goes for YouTube videos. You can watch a dozen videos and maybe one will have the legs to go viral. Why does a video of a cat playing the piano become a worldwide sensation? Why does Fifty Shades of Grey do the same? Some questions will never be answered. 

Now…fellow indie authors, I am not saying this to mean anything negative about your books or the craft of writing. In fact, I honestly believe some of the most inventive, most creative, most compelling stories being created on film are shown on YouTube first. There is a reason why those previously mentioned Hollywood movies and TV shows are clamoring for YouTube hits as well. Hollywood is mining YouTube for their next stars and Jimmy Fallon’s YouTube channel has millions of subscribers. In fact, Fallon’s bits are specifically designed to have a viral factor most nights. 

There is an appeal to YouTube, just as there is more and more of an appeal of Indie Publishing. It’s cool. It is the cutting edge place to be. Where else can you find Amish Science Fiction stories? Where else can you get an American writing just like Neil Gaiman? If the publishing industry continued to exist as it did 50 years ago, you wouldn’t get traditionally-published books by Ernie Lindsey, Ann Christy, Stefan Bolz, Michael Bunker, Jason Gurley, or even me. But because of digital innovations from YouTube as well as Amazon, we are getting the best content we ever have. 

Now, I’m not hip-deep in the world of visual media as I am with books right now, so I don’t know if this is true, but from the outside it appears as though the movies, TV, and online content each have their own place and can coexist. If this is true for them, why can’t it be true for hardbacks, paperbacks, and indie published books as well?

 

 

 

We can go down the list and find dozens of 

Double Movie Day – Wolverine & Gravity

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I don’t get a chance to watch a double feature too often, but last night, I rented two movies I missed when they were out in theatres. Once school starts in the fall, it gets a lot more difficult for me to get to the movies, so Wolverine and Gravity slipped by me. (I also don’t subscribe to Netflix — just don’t have the time to justify the expense — so I actually rented these from the local gas station that does rentals. Life in a rural town.)

The-Wolverine

Starting with Wolverine, I’m super glad I got this one for a few reasons. First — can’t go wrong with mutants, ninjas, samurai warriors, and Hugh Jackman. Seriously — I think I could watch that guy in anything. The concept is great — what if you take away what makes Wolverine fearless? With his quick-healing abilities stripped away, you see Wolverine become vulnerable. He is already dealing with the after-effects of X-Men 3 and the death of Jean Grey, but when you add in the physical limitations, you see him at his most desperate.

I’m also grateful I decided to rent this one since I’m probably going to see Days of Future Past later today or this weekend. While I probably could have gone in without seeing Wolverine goes to Japan, it certainly will help fill in a few blanks. I’ve tried to stay away from a ton of spoilers for the new movie, but I’ve also heard Bryan Singer makes some timeline changes, which may undo what was done to the X-Men Universe in the the third movie, which he abandoned in favor of Superman Returns. 

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Once that was done, I grabbed some grub, then settled in for Gravity. I wanted to wait until the sun went down and I made sure to rent the Blu-Ray. Was it as impressive as seeing it IMAX 3-D — I highly doubt it, but I can imagine the enormity of seeing it on the really big screen and seeing it last night in the comfort of my living room impressed me.

Just the description is either terrifying or electrifying — only two actors on screen (!), with the bulk of the movie with only one of them portraying the vastness and danger of space. Sandra Bullock. Wow. What a performance without actually going into space itself. George Clooney was also fantastic in his role as Bullock’s guide/mentor/conscience.

There was a moment — and if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about — when I thought about how when I put my earbuds in my pocket and then pull them out and I have to solve the Gordian Knot to get them usable again. While I was fairly confident that Bullock’s character would survive the movie, there were so many moments that would have stopped me and left me wondering when the end would come.

I don’t usually watch the special features on a movie much anymore, but after watching Gravity, I had to watch these. How they simulated the space and microgravity, the lighting, everything that went into it. I think that, more than anything, is the magic of what Director Alfonso Cuaron did here. The technology they had to basically invent just to make this movie work.

Both fabulous movies and it made for a great night at home.

(And I still made time for writing!)

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.

Books and Movies

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We all love stories, to sit back and enjoy a good yarn.

But, where do we get those stories? More and more, those stories are coming from all sorts of different places. It could be plays, musicals, books, blogs, TV, movies, radio, podcasts, YouTube videos, and I could keep this list going forever and ever and ever…

But, what I want to address is books and movies. I gotta say – I love me a good book, but also love me a good movie. I’ll never be a filmmaker, but I can write a book, so I do have a somewhat vested interest in how books are re-translated to the big screen.

The issue came up for me today as I started showing a film in one of my classes after we read the novel together. The book is the 1964 Civil War novel, Across Five Aprils, that tells the story of one family’s experiences as they see sons leave for the war in rural Illinois. It received a Newbery Honor when it was first released, and has some great historical lessons. I wouldn’t say it’s a great book, but it isn’t bad.

But, then I found out there is a movie. “Great!” I thought. I can do the book and show the movie to cap the unit. One problem – the movie is terrible. I hate to criticize movies that are derived from books, but this is as much “based” on Across Five Aprils as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is based on Ol’ Abe’s life story.

There’s a point when you are no longer telling the story the author set out in the first place or when you are telling a whole new story. That latter camp is where Across Five Aprils finds itself. The characters are weak at best, the acting reminds me of a class project I might have shot on a weekend when I was in 8th grade and the plot is convoluted. The book, while is simple at times, at least has a clear and concise plot that is easy to follow.

In other words – it is terrible.

There are always going to be differences between the source material and the movie, but finding that balance is the trick. All of the Harry Potter films toe that fine line and, I think, come away for the better. Are they the same as the books? No. But, do they work as a movie and tell much of the same story? Oh yeah. As a companion to the books, they work amazingly. They get the key plot points dead-on and don’t mess with those who have longed to see their beloved characters on screen.

Not every book can be made into an effective movie. Well, at least that’s what I thought when I read World War Z. As a direct adaptation, it would have been unmakable as a film, but tweaking the plot and giving the story a main protagonist made for a very effective movie.

I get a kick out of watching movies with my daughter after she’s read the book first. This summer we watched the two Percy Jackson movies. She polished off the PJ books back at the end of last school year and was eagerly anticipating the new movie all summer. We watched it and the entire time I got, “Well, he wasn’t supposed to look like that!” or “They didn’t do that in the book,” or “Wait…that’s not what they did in the book.”

At a certain point we all need to step back and separate books from their movie adaptations, but filmmakers also need to sometimes do a better job of recognizing if the source material is better than the stuff they are filming.