Stuck in the middle with you

As we enter the middle of the year, I thought it would be interesting to examine the middle of a story. For those that don’t know, most stories are split up into a three act structure. The first act serves as the introduction to the story, its characters, the world, and all the other elements that are needed to orient the reader. The first act also sets the plot into motion. The third act…acts… like you’d think an ending should. It ends things. Whatever conflict the main characters are facing will ultimately be decided and the consequences of those actions are played out.

three act structure
Three act structure, click to go to photo credit.

The second act is where things get real. Now that the reader is oriented in the world, the conflict can truly begin. Sure, Frodo and his friends may have left the Shire with the One Ring in their pockets, but that was just the beginning of their adventure. Act two of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” starts with their trek to Rivendell where, along the way, they face some trials.

“The second act is really the heart of your book, the section in which your protagonist’s abilities and resolve are put to the test and his goal is most at risk,” Joseph Bates writes in his book “The Nighttime Novelist” and goes on to say that “It’s also the part of the book most consider the story proper.”

He lists Captain Ahab chasing Moby Dick, Dorothy navigating through the wonderful land of Oz. Frodo making that pledge to take the ring to Mount Doom.

If you’re planning out your novel and you’re stuck when it comes to the second act, here are some questions to ask:

  • What kinds of conflict will stand in the protagonist’s way?
  • What is your protagonist willing to do to achieve his goal?
  • What would happen if the protagonist fails?

Every good middle should have the following:

  • First Culmination, the midpoint of the story where the protagonist has his/her sights on the prize.
  • Darkest Moment, where the protagonist hits rock bottom and seemingly fails in his/her quest.
  • Plot Point Two, where the protagonist finds a new direction which then leads to Act three’s conflict and resolution.

Each conflict the protagonist faces should be harder than the last. This is what’s called rising action. Bates compares the second act to a roller coaster.

“A strong second act has the inevitable momentum of a roller coaster, something you white-knuckle your way through and enjoy the ride,” he writes.

Throw all of these ideas into your middle and you’ll have the good bones for your middle.

Take Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) for example. For the purpose of this example, you’ll have to view Thanos as the protagonist. I know, I know, but trust me when I say that Thanos is the hero of this movie. Spoilers for those that haven’t seen the film yet, but come on that was two years ago.

The second act starts after Thanos sends his kids out to collect the rest of the stones. This begins the rising action. Stark, Strange, and Spider-man (all those S heroes) are attacked by Squidward (another S). The Guardians fight Thanos and Gamora gets taken. The midpoint is when Thanos finds out that Gamora has the location of the Soul Stone. That was the only stone that was truly hidden from the big purple dude and now he sees victory.

For Thanos, the darkest moment is when Scarlet Witch destroys the Mind Stone. This robs Thanos of his long sought quest for galactic balance. The audience believes (celebrates because who really wanted Thanos to win… certainly not me) that his quest is done and he failed to collect all the Infinity Stones.

“Now is not the time to mourn,” says Thanos and he’s right. This is where Plot Point Two comes into play when Thanos utilizes the Time Stone and reverses what Scarlet Witch did.

thanos gets the mind stone
This is what I look like when a Monday hits, by the way.

That leads into Act Three where Thanos gets his chest caved in by Thor, but it doesn’t matter because Thor didn’t go for the head. That’s another rant for another time.

That’s a summary overview of the middle part of a story. Having said all of that, you don’t necessarily have to do it this way. You’re a writer and rules are made to be broken. However, there’s a reason why most of books, movies, and other media utilize the Three Act Structure. It works.

Also, if you haven’t read Joseph Bates book, I’d recommend it. It’s a very good tool for those that can’t write for a living.

What to read in a time like this?

I try to find the humor in every situation I face. Somehow, if I can laugh about something it just doesn’t seem that scary/depressing/overwhelming/(insert emotion). I remember when I was hospitalized for a three foot blood clot and I had made a joke about it to my wife (at the time). She doesn’t share my humor for laughing in the face of disaster.

Maybe that’s why we’re no longer together. Hmmm…

Anyhoo, so for those that are self-quarantined, staying away from the public, or just simply an introvert here are some choices in reading material for this time of season. And please, just know that even though this list is themed toward pandemics, it’s simply a literary book list with some dark humor to it.

So for your reading pleasure, here is my 2020 Pandemic Book List:

the stand1. The Stand, by Stephen King. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this horror classic. The premise of this ginormous novel is a detailed vision of the total breakdown of society after the accidental release of a strain of influenza that had been modified for biological warfare causes an apocalyptic pandemic that kills over 99 percent of the world’s population. It’s an amazing read about what happens to humanity and the good vs evil theme is quite page turning. I’m currently watching the television adapted movie and reading the uncut version of the novel. I’ve been sniffling and coughing up phlegm all the while.

Makes a man a bit paranoid, haha.

the-andromeda-strain2. The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton. First off, I love when people call books a techno-thriller. It’s such a great name for a genre. So this novel handles the narrative differently. It documents the efforts of a team of scientists investigating the outbreak of a deadly extraterrestrial mirco-organism in Arizona.

Year-One-Nora-Roberts3. Year One, by Nora Roberts. Okay, so if you’re not that into Stephen King because of the length of books he writers, I get it. However, if you’re looking for a pandemic themed book that invokes King’s The Stand without the 1,000 + page count then this one is it. I’ll warn you though, it’s part of a trilogy so if you’re wanting a one and done read, then you may reconsider it. It’s a great read about a sickness that spreads suddenly and within weeks, everything starts to crumble. This is different than your basic pandemic. Where science and technology falls, magic rises and people start developing magical powers and turning into elves and other magical creatures.

world_war_z_book_cover4. World War Z, by Max Brooks. So, without getting into all the zombie fiction out there (and believe me there’s a lot) I’ll just offer this one beacon of light among the undead. This book, written by Director Mel Brook’s son, is a collection of individual accounts following the devastating global conflict against the zombie plague. For those that have read The Zombie Survival Guide, this is the same author and it’s equally well written. While the guide was written in a half-comical nature, WWZ is written in a serious tone that examines survival-ism, uncertainty, and the ineptitude of individuals and governments. It’s really a must-read.

As an additional note, I really disliked the movie simply because it was nothing like the book. In my opinion, it would’ve been better to make it a strict adaptation of the novel. And you can fight me on that.

dracula_book_cover5. Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Okay, hear me out on this one before I get an angry voicemail about how I need to “get my facts straight.” Dracula is about a vampire that travels to England so that he may find new blood and spread the undead curse. However, the good Count is defeated by a band of humans that wield science as a weapon. Sound familiar? It should because that’s the basic theme of almost all pandemic themed fiction. I once wrote a college paper about how Dracula was a metaphor for Cholera. It was pretty good paper inspired by a very good work of fiction. Check it out.

Well, that’s five pandemic inspired fictional works. While I hope you all don’t fall ill with the coronavirus, I do hope you read some of the books on this list. All have a soft spot in my literary heart and have earned a place on my Hall of Fame for books.

With any luck, I’ll talk to you all next week.

2019 Film Recap: The Best

Last year I ranked the films I watched in three categories: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. This year’s film recap, I only watched 23 films that released during 2019. Because of that, I am categorizing this year’s list into two halves: The Worst and the Best. So, without any further ado, here are the top ten. Or as I like to call them… the best of 2019.
Since these films were released in the last year I will caution about spoilers.

Shazam10. Shazam
My Score: 7/10
IMDb Score: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 90%/83%

It’s strange, yet really enjoyable that Zachary Levi can such a great child trapped in a man’s body. Shazam reminds me of Tom Hanks in Big. DC Comics should stick to single hero franchises and not try to create a crossover like Justice League. Shazam, for those that don’t know, is about a kid that gets superhuman powers from a wizard. It’s just weird to me that the kid has to shout out the wizard’s name whenever he wants to use them. I know it’s magic, but, come on. Creepy. The movie has some heartfelt moments and some really sad ones when the kid gets rejected by his own mom. That’s cold. Overall, it’s a really nice, fun, and action-packed superhero movie with a strong family message. However, it suffers from a pretty adult themed bad guy that utilizes demonic seven-deadly sins smoke monsters. This has got to be one of my favorite DC superhero films.

brightburn9. Brightburn
My Score: 8/10
IMDb Score: 6.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 57%/67%

What would happen if Superman went bad? What if it happened when he was a child? These questions are explored in this film by James Gunn. I’ve been a fan of Gunn’s since I watched Super (2010) and Slither (2006). Brightburn really is one of those films where you may or may not like it because it’s not about a good guy. It’s about a bad guy. A villain’s origin story. And it’s a great one too. By the end of the film, you start feeling that Anakin was justified in killing all of the younglings. The kills are gory and messy. There’s one moment where this shard of glass sticks out of a waitress’s eye and you see her pull it out. It makes me cringe even now remembering it in my head. Plus, it sets up for a combined movie universe of bad guys including Rainn Wilson’s character from Super using a J. Jonah Jamison type character. It’s like that meme with Fassbender… perfection.

It chapter two8. It Chapter Two
My Score: 8/10
IMDb Score: 6.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 63%/78%

Pennywise the Dancing Clown is back for a second round. This is the continuing chapter to the prior film, in case the title didn’t give that away. The first film focused on the children’s tale, but it also focused on physical terror. Now that the children have grown into adults, Pennywise is focusing on emotional and mental terror. This works out pretty well for the sequel. We already know what and who Pennywise is so there isn’t any use trying to mask what he can do in the film. The casting choices made were great and the CGI was too. However, I didn’t like the ending. It basically says that in order to defeat the bully you have to become the bully. Not such a good message.

 
captain marvel7. Captain Marvel
My Score: 8/10
IMDb Score: 6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 78%/49%
It seems in the previous article and this article my scores heavily differ from the audience score. Because I really enjoyed the origin film of Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel. I thought that the nostalgia of the 90’s was present but didn’t bash the audience over the head. The twist at the end where the Skrulls were actually good guys was nice. I liked Jude Law being the bad guy. Even better, I liked his portrayal of Yon-Rogg and at the end when he was trying to goad Danvers into a fair fight and Carol just shot him into a wall. I’ve heard the critique about Brie Larson and her stony portrayal of the superhero. I’m alright with it simply because she was trained to suppress her emotions. The de-aging of Samuel L. Jackson was nicely done but having said that I chuckle because when you watch him fight it looks like an old man trying to perform an action sequence. Seeing Clark Gregg reprise his role of Agent Coulson was also a nice touch.

star wars episode nine6. Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
My Score: 8/10
IMDb Score: 7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 55%/86%

Personally, I really enjoyed this last entry of the Skywalker Saga. It did a great job of handling the poorly received Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. I say poorly received because it received a 43% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. In reference to the rest of the episodic Star Wars films, that’s the worst audience score, even worse than Episode II: Attack of the Clones. I’ve always thought that when you’re making films like the sequel trilogy, Ghostbusters, and other rebooted franchises you have to be able to please your fanbase. Even if you liked Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, you have to admit it split the fanbase like Obi-Wan defeating Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace. In my opinion, J.J. Abrams did the best he could do in what he was handed. The thing that I didn’t enjoy about the film was that it heavily lent from Return of the Jedi. Rey verse Palpatine had that “On your left” and “And I am Iron Man” scenes from Avengers: Endgame. Because of those two things, I couldn’t give The Rise of Skywalker a 9/10.

spiderman ffs5. Spider-Man: Far from Home
My Score 8/10
IMDb Score: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 91%/95%

Never in a million years did I think that Sony and Disney could strike a deal to share the Spider-Man property. But they did and because they did, we had five great movies that had an appearance of the web-slinger. Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man. Acting as the epilogue of The Infinity Saga, Spider-Man: Far from Home gives us a glimpse of the next Tony Stark. Maybe that’s why some people didn’t like this film as much as others, but I liked Peter Parker growing into his big boy webs and tackling global events. I get that Spider-Man is supposed to be the friendly neighborhood protector, but you can’t put the genie back into the bottle. Spider-Man is global now after the events of Endgame and Infinity War. Get used to it people. Plus, that end credit scene with J. Jonah Jamison.

Us4. Us
My Score: 9/10
IMDb Score: 6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 93%/59%

Who knew Jordan Peele could be such a great horror film director? After his debut film Get Out (2017), Peele proved that he could stand in the horror arena just as good as he could stand in the comedy one. The concept is a horrific one. Distorted clones rising up and killing their normal counterparts is crazy. What we find out by the end of the film is even crazier. It’s also more horrific and thought provoking. I knew going into the film that Peele would have some kind of twisty ending because of the twisty ending in his first film. That’s the curse that’s going to follow Peele in his next film. It’s the Shyamalan curse. Going back to Us, this film has such great acting and action that you’ll love this film.

doctor sleep3. Doctor Sleep
My Score: 9/10
IMDb Score: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 77%/89%

My third favorite film goes to the sequel to one of the most iconic horror movies of all history: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). Adapted from the novel by Stephen King, the narrative follows an adult, troubled, and drunken Danny Torrance as he tries to find redemption. There are some scenes that are recreated from The Shining using different actors and it’s pretty decent. It’s nicely done. The narrative also introduces a new set of villains led by Rose the Hat, played by Rebecca Ferguson. The villains are a group of vampiric creatures that were once humans that feed on the Shine of others. As Danny and a young child called Abra Stone, played by Kyliegh Curran, develop an uncle/niece relationship, the vampires focus their attention on Abra forcing Danny, aka Doctor Sleep, to come to her defense. Admittedly, it’s not better than The Shining, but it’s a great sequel.

joker2. Joker
My Score: 9/10
IMDb Score: 8.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 69%/88%

The second clown film released this year, but it was the better one in my mind. Directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix as the title character, this origin film does something that prior DC films don’t do. They hold nothing back. It’s dirty, it’s visceral, it’s bleak and dark, it’s also bloody and graphic. The Joker is a character that deserves an R rated film. Say what you want about comic book films entering into the R rating territory, but if there was ever a DC Universe character that was dark and gritty it was Joker. Phillips and Phoenix created such a great movie that makes you sympathize with the villain and also hate him at the same time. They did to Joker what Infinity War did for Thanos. It proves that Batman’s nemesis doesn’t need Batman to survive.

 

endgame2

1. Avengers: Endgame
My Score: 9.5/10
IMDb Score: 8.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 94%/90%

By far, the best film I’ve seen in years. There was such a huge expectation for this film because it was the culmination of over twenty films. It managed to wrap up multiple storylines of heroes and, at the same time, managed to cultivate future stories for newer characters. Like I said with my remarks about The of Skywalker, I love when a film pleases the fanbase. From beginning to the end, Endgame managed to payoff a plethora of fan moments. Cap wielding Mjolner against Thanos, Avengers Assemble!, and Cap’s dance with the love of his life. Those moments and more were what made Endgame such a fantastic movie and it’s what makes it my favorite movie of 2019.

endgame4
My favorite shot of the whole film. Captain America is my favorite character in the MCU and was happy to see him represented well in this film.

I can’t begin to tell you the impact movies have on me. The good, the bad, the ugly. Every film I watch has some sort of lesson. Because at the heart of a movie is the story. And that’s what I am: a storyteller.

What did you think of my list? Were there movies that you thought shouldn’t have made this list? What movies are on your favorite list of 2019? Let me know in the comments.

2019 Film Recap: The Worst

Last year I ranked the films I watched in three categories: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. This year’s film recap, I only watched 23 films that released during 2019. Because of that, I am categorizing this year’s list into two halves: The Worst and the Best. So, without any further ado, here are numbers 23 through 11. Or as I like to call them… the worst of 2019.

Since these films were released in the last year I will caution about spoilers.Dark Phoenix

23. Dark Phoenix
My Score: 2/10
IMDb Score: 5.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 23%/64%

You know, people complain about The Rise of Skywalker and all of its plot holes, but no one really talks about the horror that is Dark Phoenix. The bland alien invasion, the fact that it was forgotten that the Phoenix showed up in the previous film (how they defeated Apocalypse), the F-Bomb dropped by Cyclops, and the fact that Magneto was just allowed to exist after Apocalypse was killed. Most people will discount this film due to the fact that the entire thing is now pointless because Disney purchased Fox. The funny thing is that even if Fox hadn’t been purchased, the X-Men franchise would’ve been dead due to this garbage fire of a film.terminator

22. Terminator: Dark Fate
My Score: 4/10
IMDb Score: 6.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 70%/82%

Sure… kill John Connor. Okay… erase Skynet. I would’ve been onboard with these decisions if they’d been for a purpose. I’d have been on board with it if they tried to go at things from a different path. However, Dark Fate is the exact same plot. A poor lady gets targeted by termination by robotic assassins sent back in time by a robot overlord that’s trying to eradicate the human species. The only thing that stands in between her and the assassins is a human that’s sent back in time by the future version of that lady. Sound familiar? Well, it should. Swap Skynet for Legion, John Connor for Danni (I honestly don’t remember her name), Reese for another person I can’t remember, and update some of the tech and you’ve got pretty much the same movie.alita

21. Alita: Battle Angel
My Score: 4/10
IMDb Score: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 61%/93%

Granted, this film looks beautiful. I can’t knock the CGI. However, the weak storyline and the forgettable villains really just make this film forgettable in my opinion. I’m sure I’ll get some flack for my opinion on this film, but eh. And really, if you think about it, it’s just a CGI futuristic John Wick, dead dog included.

godzilla20. Godzilla: King of the Monsters
My Score: 5/10
IMDb Score: 6.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 42%/83%

I’m not much of a Godzilla fan. I’ll go watch them, but I’m not one of those fanboys that will defend the film religiously. I understand that they were trying to make a giant monster film, but what I don’t understand is why they have to attempt a human-interest side of things. The audience goes into a Godzilla film wanting to see the King of Monsters rampaging through cities as it defeats other monsters. For the most part, this film delivers in this aspect. However, the parts of the film where the humans are trying to do their human-thing just drags the plot. Just let them fight.

detective pikachu19. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu
My Score: 5/10
IMDb Score: 6.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 68%/79%

I went to see this twice in theaters. The first time, I really liked it. The CGI was great, the plot was decent, and the humor connected fairly well. Then I went to see it with my nephews. The second time was not as enjoyable as the first. The humor was stale, the plot had holes I hadn’t seen during the first viewing. Yet it was still pretty decent because of the franchise’s nostalgia. Overall, it was not a bad film. Not a good film either, but just average.

zombieland18. Zombieland: Double Tap
My Score: 6/10
IMDb Score: 7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 68%/88%

When I heard they were making a sequel of my favorite zombie flick, I felt both excited and apprehensive. Excited because I wanted more of that comedy and action. Apprehensive because they could totally mess things up. I got that humor and that action, but they totally messed things up. The idea of anti-gun, vegan hippies surviving in a zombie apocalypse is nuts. Having Tallahassee not kicking their butts once is a big letdown. Add in the fact that the humor is sorta stale, the girls take off on their own with the dudes going after them (same plot point as the last film), and the introduction of cool evolved zombies only to have them be referenced maybe once or twice and you’ve got a subpar film.

men in black17. Men in Black: International
My Score: 6/10
IMDb Score: 5.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 23%/66%

Another film that tries to compete with the prior films in the franchise. Overall, I liked this film. Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth have great chemistry together. The pawn alien voiced by Kumail Nanjiani was the highlight of the film. Really, when you consider MiB 2, anything is better.

glass16. Glass
My Score: 6/10
IMDb Score: 6.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 37%/68%

If this film came out before the superhero genre exploded, it would have performed better at the box office. Unfortunately, M. Night Shyamalan was a bit too late on this lackluster conclusion to his loosely linked trilogy. James McAvoy and Samuel Jackson are great, but Bruce Willis’ acting is as flavorful as a piece of dry white toast. Since it is an M. Night Shyamalan film, we know there’s some type of plot twist. This time around, the three main characters are murdered by a secret organization bent on keeping the fact that superhumans are real a secret. Of course, due to people’s obsession with social media, this secret gets out to the masses.

scary stories to tell in the dark15. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
My Score: 6/10
IMDb Score: 6.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 78%/72%

I loved the book that this film was adapted from. It was a treasured tome of mine growing up. The film did a decent job of merging a lot of those stories into one cohesive plot. The acting was alright, but the ending was the thing that suffered the most. It was meant to end with a few more sequels to build off of. However, I doubt that we’ll get those sequels because of the lukewarm reactions of the fans/critics. The monsters were very creepy, one of the best parts of that movie.

pet sematary14. Pet Sematary
My Score: 6/10
IMDb Score: 5.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 57%/34%

Most Stephen King films will rank higher than most on my list. I’m a huge fan of the author and I love watching his books come to life on the big screen. I think I’m being a bit picky, but I really didn’t like Jason Clarke as the main character, Louis. In truth, I’ve never liked anything Clarke plays. He’s not my favorite actor. What saves the film is John Lithgow as Jud. Loved his acting. If you’ve seen the original, then this may or may not be your favorite. The original is hard to beat because it instilled that creepiness. Watching the new version, that creepiness has been dulled a bit. But it was still there, lurking in the background as the plot lengthened.

childs play13. Child’s Play
My Score: 7/10
IMDb Score: 5.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 63%/57%

When you reboot a movie, you sometimes change some things about it to make it your own. In Terminator: Dark Fate they changed details but didn’t make things different. When Chucky came to the big screen in this reboot, just about everything was changed. Instead of a bad guy that wills his soul to enter a children’s toy, this time around it’s a doll that’s sabotaged and learns to be evil. It’s a great lesson about nature vs. nurture. Another lesson is to never make a child’s toy that can control all the electronics around him angry at you.

noelle12. Noelle
My Score: 7/10
IMDb Score: 6.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 53%/59%

This was a film I didn’t anticipate on watching this year. It wasn’t one that I really wanted to watch this year. It does have the powerful acting chops of Anna Kendrick, Shirley MacLaine, and Bill Hader to make this Disney + original Christmas film a success. Watching Noelle travel to Arizona to find her missing brother, the next Santa Claus, in time to save Christmas was a rather funny experience. The humor was unexpectantly funny and I laughed more than I expected.

in the tall grass11. In the Tall Grass
My Score: 7/10
IMDb Score: 5.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Score: 38%/36%

For this last film on this list, it sort of surprised me. Sure, it’s a mediocre film with a confusing plot and some vague pseudo-religious relic and cult. But that’s what makes it intriguing to me. Watching this Stephen King short story come alive is not a masterpiece, but it does make you scratch your head and wonder what the heck happened. For those that are gluttons for punishment, it’ll make you want to watch it again. Can I just add that Stephen King has now forced me to put corn fields on my “don’t mess with” list. And I’m from Indiana so that’s pretty impressive. And a bit scary.

Soon, I’ll have my best of 2019 list showcasing the top ten films I’ve watched. Did you think my list so far is accurate? Which ones did you agree with? Which films do you think should’ve been higher/lower? Let me know in the comments!

If You’ve Never Watched Horror

So, I have a lot of people tell me that they don’t like watching Horror films because they have too much violence/gore/swearing/jump scares/takes place in Michigan or some variety of other reasons. Or maybe you have a rule about not watching films that are Rated R. Since it’s Halloween soon, this rant I’ll be listing my top five Horror film picks for people that don’t watch a lot of the genre.

1. Psycho (1960) directed by prolific Auteur Alfred Hitchcock. Basic premise: Woman decides to embezzle money from employer and during her escape she finds refuge in a motel ran by a psycho with a mother obsession. And yes, it’s Rated R but hear me out. Back in the ‘60’s this was considered R, but in today’s standards, it’s PG-13. Hardly any violence or gore (Hitchcock used chocolate syrup as blood since it was filmed in black and white), one profanity and that’s the “OMG” phrase, and the only nudity was a silhouette of Janet Leigh in the famous shower scene. Having sad this, Hitchcock was a master at building suspense and crafting deeply disturbing narratives.

2. Insidious (2010) directed by James Wan is bordering on what I’m including on this list. Basic premise: family moves into a new house and are plagued by evil spirits and soon realize that a demon has trapped their son. So, it’s rated PG-13 and includes a single use of the “F” word. There’s a bunch of other mild obscenities. The violence in this film is very little, but there are multiple jump scares. No sexual content which is a plus. What might deter some people from watching this is the intense demonic entity that threatens the family.

3. The Sixth Sense (1999) directed by M. Night Shyamalan is another film that borders what I’m comfortable suggesting to you all. However, it’s such a great PG-13 rated film, I have to include it on this list. Basic premise: kid sees dead people and a psychologist tries to help the kid. Mild profanity, moderate frightening and intense scenes, mild sexual content, but moderate violence and gore are in this film. The ghosts appear how they looked at time of death, so some scenes are pretty grisly looking. However, if you’re wanting to watch a ghost film, this one is a must see.

4. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) directed by Scott Derrickson. Try finding a decent exorcist film that isn’t Rated R and you have this film here. Basic premise: A lawyer that doesn’t believe in good and evil takes on a negligent homicide case centered on an exorcism. The lawyer begins to question whether or not good and evil exists. This film is unique because it focuses on the exorcism after the fact from the lawyer’s point of view as she tries to unravel the mystery of what happened to Emily Rose. There are a handful (maybe two handfuls) of curse words, moderate violence, and really no sexual content. It’s the perfect film for someone wanting to dip their toes in an exorcism movie.

5. Beetlejuice (1988) directed by Tim Burton is one of those films that you watched when you were younger, but when you watch it with your kids you wonder “Why did my parents allow me to watch that?” It’s Rated PG, but in reality, it should be Rated PG-13. In fact, the entry above is tamer than this one and that was about a demonic possession. Basic premise: Homeowners die and haunt their house. They seek help from the “ghost with the most” when new homeowners move in. It’s a great scary/funny film, but I’d suggest watching it first before letting your kids watch it.

With all that being said, I really thought that finding five films that weren’t all that gory and graphic wouldn’t have been so hard. I’m sure there are a plethora of other films that would make this list, but I either never came across them or I’ve forgotten about them. Hopefully you all have/had (depending on when you read this) a Happy Halloween! Wishing you all a treat filled and no trick night. Dress up as something and eat some candy because dressing up as a character from your favorite movie/book/show/video game only comes once a year. Right? Oh wait, that’s what cosplayers do every day.

If I survive the night, I’ll talk to you all later.

Book vs Film: Scaring your Audience

Since it’s October, I thought it’d be appropriate to write a series of scary topics to coincide with All Hallows’ Eve. To kick off this series, I’ll be discussing the differences between a horror book and a horror film.

Boo!

By your reaction (yes, I’m watching as you’re watching this) I failed in my attempt at a jump scare. You see, that’s the main difference between a visual media and a written version. For those that don’t know the term, a jump scare is used to scare the audience by surprising them with an abrupt change in image or event. Typically, that means something, or someone appears in front of the audience and often accompanied with a loud noise. At this point, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two friends of mine. One friend, we shall call Angela, is particularly good at two things: hiding and jump scaring the other friend. The other friend, we shall call Kenny, is particularly good at one thing: being scared. Let’s just say, jump scares are an effective way to frighten your audience.
When used in films in an effective manner, jump scares can be a sudden payoff to a long period of suspense. As the tension builds up, the jump scare is the climax. They’ve been called “one of the most basic building blocks of horror movies.”

Recently, the use of jump scares has been criticized as overused and a lazy method to scare the audience. Which is true. Going back to my two friends, Kenny is like the audience and Angela is like the movie. Kenny’s been scared so many times by Angela that he’s used to it by now. Of course, that just means that Angela (and films) have to figure out new ways of scaring.

In a literary work, the author doesn’t have the above-mentioned technique to scare readers. Like film, authors must find alternative ways to scare the reader. One of those methods (there are many and I have just a limited amount of space, so I’ll only cover one in this article) is to create a false sense of security.

Simon Kurt Unsworth, author of The Devil’s Detective, talks about creating a false sense of security. He explains that if you make your story based in the real world so that readers recognize and relate to it, then add elements that show that world’s weaknesses. “Real fear comes from seeing in the narrative a set of events that, if they occurred, could threaten what’s important to the reader, and could change their world into something they no longer recognize or understand,” he once said. He goes on to say, and I really like this line, that “monsters aren’t really scary; monsters walking up the street where we’re living and threatening our children? That’s scary.”

Why do you think Stephen King’s books are so scary? IT, The Shawshank Redemption, The Institute, The Shining, Carrie, Firestarter… I could go on. He’s written so many books that are set in the real world and shows us that sometimes it isn’t a scary monster that’s the villain. It’s often society or the government that’s scarier than the space alien that feeds on children’s fear and then feasts on their flesh.

Even when your story is fantasy, there are still elements of realism that can be incorporated into it to make it more relatable to readers. In Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, the characters are effected by addiction and mental issues even as they traverse across Mid-World on the Path of the Beam. Sometimes, the things that scare you are the ones that live inside your head.

Like the King of Horror once said in The Shining, “Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters.” Sure, he was talking about a haunted resort, but it also meant Danny’s father turning into a homicidal abusive patriarch.

The real world is scary folks. Hopefully, we only experience it through the pages of a book or through the screen. It’d be nice to think that. Maybe that’s why we read and watch cinema. To escape the horrors of our everyday life. One last quote by Stephen King, I know, I quote him a lot. I think this sums up the article so here goes:

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win,” King said. Isn’t that the scariest part of life and literature, when the monsters win?

Review of Joker (2019)

jokerSimply put, Joker is a great film. Better yet, it’s a better comic book adaptation. Even better than all of those things, I dare say it’s the best DC film since The Dark Knight (2008). I’m sorry to have to break it to all two of you that liked Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), but it’s true. Joker is the equivalent to Marvel’s Rated R film Logan (2017). This is a gritty, dark, disturbing, and wonderful look at one of the most infamous comic book villains.

All DCEU bashing aside, Director Todd Philips was able to reinvent the classic Batman nemesis into something that serves as a cautionary tale, but also creates an interesting character story. As the title suggests, this film centers around the origin of Joker. Audiences watch as the character of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is slowly degraded and humiliated by society until that smile he tries to keep on his face turns into a snarl.
I say that this is a cautionary tale simply because, unlike most comic book adaptations, this one could actually become reality. Social Services, local government, his family, and the rest of humanity failed Arthur Fleck which turns him into the Joker. Unlike other films in its genre, there isn’t a radioactive spider or magical ring from outer space that creates the protagonist. It’s simply the way Fleck is treated that turns him into the crown prince of crime. The moral of the story is: be kind to your fellow man.

The highlight of the film is the acting performance by Joaquin Phoenix. From the odd dancing and the shots of his gaunt rib cage to the ill sounding laughter, Phoenix will definitely go down as one of the best Jokers in film history. One of the quirks that the character portrays is an uncontrollable laugh that displays itself during moments of intense awkwardness or stress.

joker 3The supporting cast is quite remarkable as well. Robert De Niro plays Murray Franklin, a late-night show host that is the focus of Fleck’s comedic career. Zazie Beetz plays Sophie, Fleck’s love interest. Frances Conroy, who many will remember from American Horror Story, plays Penny Fleck, Arthur’s sickly mother.

The thing that sets Joker apart from the rest of the DC superhero films is that this is a standalone story, not linked to the other films in the DC Extended Universe. Having said that, expect to see a young Bruce Wayne. As stated before, Batman doesn’t appear in the film nor is there a hint of an antagonist other than those that are the target of Joker’s ire.

If you’re a fan of comic book villains, Joker is an interesting origin story that will keep you wondering if you should be rooting for Fleck or hoping the police bring him down before the credits roll. I will caution anyone that wants to go see it, this is a Rated R film for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language, and brief sexual images. This is not a film to take your children to. Don’t think that just because this a character in the Batman universe that this is a safe, child friendly film.