2016 was a sucker punch. It showed up, full of promise and smelling a bit like a brand new car. The New Year understood that most of us had a less-than-super 2015. We arrived with baggage, which 2016 kindly took off our shoulders with a gentleman’s smile. Then, right when we were starting to feel comfortable in the new year, 2016 surprises with a throat punch. The Starman left the Earth and it was downhill ever since.
I’m going to remember 2016…
I will remember 2016 for the notable celebrity deaths, many of which felt like a personal loss to me as a fan.
I will remember 2016 as a crazy election year with hundreds of villains, very few heroes, and a twist ending that the audience did not deserve.
I will remember 2016 as the year when fascism became popular again. I will remember how a presidential candidate legitimized hate and how white supremacists crawled out from under the fridge like roaches no longer frightened by the light…
What the hell is happening?
I will also remember 2016 as the year when I became involved. I’d been aware of politics and social fights before but this year I was donating money and time to the fights I believed in.
And I will remain involved. Because 2016 truly was a sucker punch. We didn’t have our guard up, didn’t expect it to reward dirty play, didn’t see the worst coming until it was too late to prevent it. We must—I must—be ready for the next blow. Whether that means defending the powerless or holding the villains accountable for their misdeeds, we must do something.
The world does not fix itself.
2016… to be fair… also had some good moments. I will remember going to a Puscifer concert with my brother, going to the MST3K reunion show with my Mom, and driving an hour or more to see the new Godzilla movie (skreeonk!). I wrote less than I would’ve liked but I did edit a bunch this year, putting on the finishing touches (?) on two novels, The Greater Evil and In the Shadow of Extinction. In addition to that, I self-published my horror novella Rakasa, which has been pretty well received by readers and reviewers.
Next year… hmm.
It’s difficult to be overly optimistic about 2017 when you know that the Time magazine Person of the Year will now be backed up by a nuclear arsenal (I’m trying hard not to type his name—for my health). But I know that there are more good people in the world than there are bad people, so that gives me hope.
For me, 2017 will be a year when I try to get back on track. I’m going to write more and read more. I’m going to watch more movies because damn it, I need an escape. I’m going to go for more runs and drink less booze, work towards a healthier body and mind. I’m going to self-publish and I’m going to further explore traditional publishing as I plan to become a hybrid author. I’m going do my very best to kick all kinds of ass creatively.
And I’m going to be ready for a fight. Bring it on, 2017. I’m ready for ya.
Happy New Year, gang.
How can I feel my 2016 list of the year's favorite films is complete without having seen the new films from masters like Scorsese, Verhoeven, Jarmusch, and Chan-wook Park, just to name a few? Answer: it isn't. However, as a film lover, I feel like ending the year without any such list would make me feel like the yearend traditions are incomplete. So, here we go, missing pieces and all.
My Top 15 films of 2016...
15) OUR LITTLE SISTER (Hirokazu Koreeda) – Splendid family drama about three sisters taking in their half-sister after their father’s death. Gentle, sweet, and wise.
14) THE HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (Taika Waititi) – Shit! Just! Got! Real! New Zealand adventure comedy that’s impossible to dislike.
13) ROGUE ONE (Gareth Edwards) – Takes The Empire Strikes Back’s place as the darkest Star Wars film chapter. The Empire has never seemed more threatening.
12) THE JUNGLE BOOK (Jon Favreau) – Amazing effects, fun adventure elements, and a true sense of wonder. May not replace the animated film but it’s a fine adaptation.
11) THE WITCH (Robert Eggers) – Creepy, arthouse horror tale with strong attention to period. One of the best, most confident directorial debuts you’re ever likely to see.
10) 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (Dan Trachtenberg) – A kinda-sorta sequel to the kaiju found-footage thriller Cloverfield. Or maybe it’s a spinoff? Or maybe ‘Cloverfield’ is just a new Twilight Zone-like label for high-concept thrillers from Bad Robot? I don’t know how to explain how it figures into the new, expanding Cloverfield-verse, but I do know this: 10 Cloverfield Lane kicks all kinds of ass. After a car accident, Mary Elizabeth Winstead wakes up in a bunker with a stranger played by John Goodman. Her captor/savior tells her that everything she knew is gone and she cannot ever leave the bunker. It’s a claustrophobia thriller full of awesome, unexpected twists which I shall not spoil here. John Goodman is especially good in one of the most intimidating performances you’ll see this year.
9) KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (Travis Knight) – Kubo and the Two Strings is really quite wonderful. Sad I missed this in theatres because not only did it deserve better box office but it probably would’ve looked amazing. Funny, original, and beautiful to look at. It's magical. The best animated feature of the year.
8) THE CONJURING 2 (James Wan) – If you ask me, James Wan sits pretty high on the list of today’s masters of horror. He brings wicked camera moves, old school sensibilities, strong character work, and jump scares galore to his best films. The Conjuring was a bit of a surprise hit a few years back and the sequel is even better. A haunting in England draws the expert supernatural hunters played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga across the pond to investigate. Not only is it easily one of the best horror movies of the year, but it’s probably one of the best horror sequels of all time.
7) CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (Russo Brothers) – After a tragedy that cost the lives of numerous bystanders, political sanctions decree that superheroes must now act under certain guidelines. Not all agree, and so begins a civil war between the two mindsets, pitting former allies against one another. For Marvel’s heroes, things fall short of being completely apocalyptic, but it’s certainly a very messy divorce. Newcomers Black Panther and a younger, snappier Spider-Man keep things fresh but it’s the old favorites trading blows that make Civil War one of the best films that Marvel has made to date.
6) BLUE JAY (Alex Lehmann) – Blue Jay is so very, very good. Former high school sweethearts (Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass) meet by coincidence and decide to share a coffee and reflect. She’s living a successful life, he’s visibly depressed. As time unfolds and they get more comfortable with each other again, a more joking atmosphere takes hold, but the scars of their breakup remain hidden just beneath the surface. Expertly performed little indie that runs the gamut of emotions, from awkward to sweet, from funny to devastating. I loved it.
5) THE INVITATION (Karyn Kusama) – A group of friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time meet up for a special dinner date. Things get weird when unexpected guests arrive and begin sharing some very personal (and occasionally disturbing) details about their lives. It becomes clear that the strangers and the dinner hosts are now part of a cult and they hope to convince their old friends to join. What’s interesting is how our hero perceives the situation. He’s an unreliable narrator, I suppose, one who brings a great deal of baggage and preconceived notions to the dinner. Can we trust how he sees the situation? Are things really as weird as they seem or are we just experiencing our hero’s anxieties? The Invitation is one of the smartest suspense films I have seen in a long time. It’s never clear if this is a horror movie or if the horror movie is happening inside of the overly anxious and socially awkward main character’s head. Well done.
4) EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT (Ciro Guerra) – In this epic about the past, present, and future, two adventures explore the Amazon jungle, one dealing with first contact with tribes and then the next following the clues of that first journey. The search for a special plant seems innocent enough, and indeed all characters seem to have the best of intentions, but the film is unflinching in its depiction of a modern world impacting ancient tribes. Anything you study you also change. Embrace of the Serpent is a strange and magnificent film experience. Seek this out if you're a fan of Werner Herzog's classics Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo, or if you're drawn to Heart of Darkness-like journeys.
3) ARRIVAL (Denis Villeneuve) – Aliens arrive and the nations of the world race against the clock to communicate with our visitors in order to discern what they want, where they came from, and why are they here. An amazing film – and a hopeful one, where catastrophes are prevented by listening to each other instead of by acts of force. It’s a perfect rebuff to the adversarial nature of 2016. It is a movie about love and loss, but also a movie that is very, very sci-fi. It's brilliant and I loved it.
2) HELL OR HIGH WATER (David Mackenzie) – Chris Pine and Ben Foster star as brothers who rob banks and Jeff Bridges is the lawman who is tasked with bringing them to justice. Tense, thoughtful, and unexpectedly funny. It could almost be a spiritual sequel to No Country for Old Men. Or maybe it's more the anti-No Country for Old Men? Either way it'd make for a helluva double-bill. What I like is that, in addition to being a solid crime drama, its scope basically tells the story of a crumbling country. Like a sad love letter to America's old West which we've moved on from, sometimes happily, sometimes because we had no other choice.
1) GREEN ROOM (Jeremy Saulnier) – When I saw Green Room for the first time in July, it became my “favorite” film of 2016. I put favorite in quotes because damn, this is a mean movie. It’s incredibly well-made, creating suspense in the first 10 minutes and then not letting you go until the end credits, but it’s also so very dark and violent. As with most movies that I put on the yearly top spot, I have to revisit them a couple months later to see how they stand up. And oh boy, Green Room is just as intense the second time as it is the first. I might’ve known what was coming but I remained on the edge of my seat anyway. Actually, it added something more the second time, as I knew what would happen and was left hoping it wouldn’t this time, because our heroes do not deserve their fates.
If you don’t know what Green Room is about, the film follows a young metal band on a failed tour across the country. In need of gas money to get back home, they take a gig at a skinhead bar, not because that’s their scene but because they’re desperate. After the band witnesses a murder, the bar employees lock them in the green room and both sides are left in a state of unease as they plot against the other. The band just wants to get away and the bar’s owner wants to contain the situation, by any means necessary.
The movie feels unexpectedly topical as the bandmates are forced to contend America’s most deplorable in order to survive. Green Room isn’t a political movie – at least not blatantly political – but the choice to make white supremacists into horror movie villains seems very appropriate for 2016. And while I know that the film is fiction, I also know that places like the bar in the movie do exist in our country… and man, I hate that.
The villain, quietly played by Patrick Stewart, is one of the most chilling you’ll see in movies this year and the young star Anton Yelchin gives his most layered performance of his tragically short career. Green Room is also further proof that director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin) is the real deal. This movie may be too brutal for some but it’s a thrilling experience for the rest of us.
And there ya go. My Top 15.
I’ll continue to seek out the films I might’ve missed but I won’t be updating the list here. However, I will be updating my Top 50 of 2016 list on Letterboxd, if you’re curious to see more.
All in all, it’s been a fairly excellent year for film.
Celebrities die. They’re mortal like the rest of us. But some had managed to convince us that perhaps they would live forever, that by achieving greatness they’d become immortal. And indeed, the legendary accomplishments of David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, John Glenn, Harper Lee, and more will live on long after they’ve left the mortal plane. This year has given us too many gut punch moments where we’ve read the name of a favorite person trending online and immediately feared the worse.
There are some who criticize those of us who might mourn the passing of a celebrity. I think it’s partly because ‘celebrity’ has become an ugly word, one associated with wealth, paparazzi, and red carpet glamor. I prefer to think of people for what they did, what they brought to the world, what they fought for. David Bowie was a musician and a champion for individuality. Muhammad Ali was the greatest boxer of all time and a man of strong political convictions. John Glenn walked on the friggin’ Moon, ya’ll. They were celebrities in that they were celebrated personalities, but they were also people who did great things.
Some 2016 deaths mean more to me than others. That’s not to say that any life is worth more than the next, but simply that certain people connected personally with my life and others connected less so. That is why I mourn their passing.
I love David Bowie’s music and I think the man behind the music was endlessly interesting and mysterious. I became a fan of Bowie sometime between his 2003 album Reality and his 2013 album The Next Day. I believe that ten year gap was the longest in his career. So, I discovered Bowie’s out of order, and made up my own mind about what albums I liked the most (Heathen is so underrated). It was a great delight when Bowie then released The Next Day and Blackstar. It was then a huge blow when Bowie died so shortly after Blackstar’s release. I’m still sad and have listened to Bowie only sparingly since his death.
I’m writing this just hours after the passing of Carrie Fisher. She was a warrior who fought her demons and the Hollywood image critics, she was a marvelous writer and actress, and she managed to keep her wicked sense of humor in tact throughout it all. The world will miss her unique voice.
And hitting closer to home, the biggest loss in my 2016 came when we lost my Grandpa Warner. He was a wise man of particularly strong faith. He was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. He would just engage you in conversation that was on a level that few would ever reach. He was also a very loving family man. I will miss him very, very much.
There are no set rules for mourning. It’s human to grow attachments to other people, particularly if their lives have connected with you in some way. When those connections are severed, there is a real feeling of loss, whether you knew the person or not.
RIP to all you great people we lost this year. We love you and miss you.
My reading habits of 2016 were a bit scattered. I didn’t focus on new releases, old classics, or genres of choice: I just read whatever. It’s not the worst strategy, actually, because I read some truly excellent pieces of writing this year. In this list, you will find fiction, non-fiction, and even a comic book.
(If you are interested in any of the books listed, please consider clicking the covers. Doing so will bring you to Amazon via my affiliate link.)
10: BLOCKADE BILLY BY STEPHEN KING -- King loves baseball and this is his ode to the classic games of yesteryear. But, as expected from King, it has a dark edge to it. Rookie catcher ‘Blockade’ Billy Blakely becomes a rising star for the way he defends the plate, but there’s just something not quite right about the guy. I won’t spoil the surprises, suffice to say that it should equally appeal to fans of baseball and thrillers.
9: BROTHER BY ANIA AHLBORN -- Backwoods, redneck horror scares me more than most horror subgenres. It is stories like Brother that keep me from exploring the roads that lead behind the trees in certain regions. I think it’s because these horrors actually exist whereas zombies are a rare sight in the world of today (I’m not counting out future apocalypses, though). Brother never feels like a ‘plotted’ book. It feels character-driven and nasty on a level that’s all too real. But by the end Ania Ahlborn reveals that everything’s been carefully thought out. It’s a magic trick that makes you want to go back, discover the sleight of hand, and see how the story plays out differently now that you’re wise to its devious intentions.
8: EIJI TSUBURAYA: MASTER OF MONSTERS BY AUGUST RAGONE -- If you don’t know who Eiji Tsuburaya is, he’s the grandfather of Japanese special effects, the man who’s credited for creating suitmation among other techniques. Along with director Ishiro Honda and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, Tsuburaya helped bring Godzilla to the screen, thus creating the kaiju genre. The special effects wizard passed away in 1970 at the age of 68 but his legacy lives on in the imagination of fans and in the classic films he helped create. Ragone’s book Master of Monsters is a great, exhaustive look at the life and work of Eiji Tsuburaya. Full of interesting info and hard-to-find photos (so many great photos!), it’s a well-written biography for an important figure in film.
7: THE CITY STAINED RED BY SAM SYKES -- The City Stained Red is my kind of a fantasy novel. Instead of focusing on kings, manners at the table, the ranks of knights, and all the other stuff that the royals and their militaries are involved with, this book follows a small group of adventurers into a city that’s set to explode. The City Stained Red, like many pieces of genre fiction, has a lot on its mind. Mostly though, it’s a fun book. Filled with humor, likable characters, and set in an interesting, fresh fantasy world, it’s a novel that I’m quick to recommend to curious readers of fantasy.
6: THE NAZI HUNTERS BY ANDREW NAGORSKI -- Most of the tales of WWII focus on the soldiers and the leaders of the countries at war. For myself, I’ve always been more fascinated by the stories of those who operated without direct backing from government and military, like the French Resistance fighters or the Nazi Hunters. I must admit that much of my knowledge about the Nazi hunters was based primarily on novels, films, and dramatized versions of history. Andrew Nagorski’s The Nazi Hunters was my first real, ‘non-fiction’ look at the true story behind the mythmaking, and the men who refused to let war criminals slip into obscurity. Somewhere in the book, one of the captured Nazis said something along the lines of, “I am over it. If they’re not, that’s their problem.” To me, that’s what I’ll take away from this book most of all: the fact that the murderers thought it was their right to go on living their lives in peace after the war — that WWII was an event which belonged in the past and was no longer a part of them. Victims have longer memories, though. The Nazi Hunters is an endlessly compelling book, one which strips away the fiction of heroes and monsters and presents them as human beings.
5: THE SCARLET GOSPELS BY CLIVE BARKER -- My favorite madman of horror fiction has returned with a doozy of a book. With The Scarlet Gospels, Barkers brings back his two most popular characters, the demon Pinhead and magician/private eye Harry D’Amour. This time around Pinhead has gone rogue as he seeks more power in the domain of Hell. Harry’s drawn into the mess when he stumbles upon the demon’s puzzle box. The book puts its hooks in you within the first couple chapters and they only go deeper from there. It’s one helluva ride.
4: TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY BY JOHN LE CARRE -- I think Tomas Alfredson's 2011 adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one of the very best films of the past decade, so I considered John le Carre's Karla trilogy a must-read. What strikes me is that the book may actually elevate my appreciation of the film; it's a very loyal, very well done adaptation. The book is beautifully written. The prose finds both tragedy and whimsy in the tale of the mole in England's MI6. A spy mystery that unfolds quite unlike most spy thrillers would, with a hero about as different from James Bond as you can get. Excellent novel.
3: SAGA BY BRIAN K. VAUGHN AND FIONA STAPLES -- Reading the comic book Saga, volume by volume, has been one of my greatest delights in 2016. A sci-fi epic about a forbidden romance that ignites an intergalactic manhunt and shifts loyalties during wartime, Saga is the most fun I've had reading comics in a very long time. Stylish and weird. Cool and funny. Epic and character-driven. It's fantastic. (You must start with Vol. 1)
2: DARK MONEY BY JANE MAYER -- Fascinating and infuriating, I consider Jane Mayer's Dark Money an absolute must-read. Your politics may differ from mine (and that's okay) but I'd like to think that every American fears the idea of a small group of the super-rich using their money to undermine democracy and reshape the country to benefit them and only them. Unsympathetic to the middle class and the poor, the Koch brothers and others like them have done everything within their power to corrupt the nation (thanks largely to Citizens United), taking over political parties from the inside and flooding so much cash into elections that it's become absurd. You want tax breaks to help your sister who's a single mom? Too bad. The Koch's friends want tax breaks for their personal jets? Oh, you betcha, that's a priority. Originally operating in the shadows, the Kochs are now out in the open and they don't like it. That doesn't mean they're losing, though. Read Dark Money and prepare to get angry.
1: THE CARTEL BY DON WINSLOW -- Don Winslow’s The Cartel is The Godfather for a darker, bloodier age, and sure to be considered a classic before too long. An epic spanning many years and featuring nearly countless characters, The Cartel covers the drug war on the border between the United States Mexico. It’s unflinching in its depiction of violence and corruption, revealing very few heroes in a fight that claims so many faceless victims on both sides of the border. The Cartel deserves all the praise and awards it has gotten since its release in summer 2015. I was horrified and enthralled throughout. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in years.
After a long period of dead air, I finally have news about the upcoming sequel to Death’s Good Intentions. The Greater Evil, which picks up shortly after the events of Death’s Good Intentions, is now currently planned to be released on April 18, 2017.
And here's a cover reveal...
The dark fantasy saga which began with Death’s Good Intentions continues in The Greater Evil, an action-packed thriller about supernatural powers twisting our world into a dystopian empire…
The Antichrist sits in a position of power with most the world believing that he’s a hero of the people. Those who know the truth -- rebels led by young April Frausini and the rogue Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Death and War -- are labeled terrorists as they strike out at the Antichrist from the shadows. And though most civilians blindly trust their new leader, the voice of the opposition is growing louder. In response, the governments of the world create the Unity initiative, stripping citizens of their basic freedoms under the guise of tighter security in an increasingly dangerous world.
Meanwhile, Trey Decarr, the man also known as Death, bides his time in a Unity island prison. Unity has far grander plans than simply caging insurgents on the island, though. The prison camp will also be the testing grounds for Unity’s new biological weapons program, and Decarr is at the front of the line for ‘volunteer’ test subjects.
In a time when evil reigns triumphant, it will be up to Decarr and April to bring the truth to the world in an effort to make things right.
I realize that April 2017 is a bit of a wait, so until then you’ll be able to get the ebook copy of Death’s Good Intentions for FREE on Kindle, iTunes, GooglePlay, Nook, and more!
I'm rather proud of The Greater Evil. It’s a more thoughtful and mature book than its predecessor. I think of Death’s Good Intentions as a paranormal fantasy blended with a Bond movie. The Greater Evil drops the Bond villain lairs and goes for more of a paranoia thriller vibe. I think you’re gonna like it.
In the coming weeks and months I will have more updates on The Greater Evil, including sneak peeks and giveaway announcements. I’ll also let you know when the book is available for pre-order.
So, that didn't work out.
I did not reach 50,000 words and “win” NaNoWriMo. I am trying to convince myself that this is okay; it’s just a silly thing and it’s no big deal.
But it sucks.
This November was one shitty month. The election messed up my flow and I never quite recovered (hint: I'm not a fan of the winner). I doubt that I am the only writer or artist who found it difficult to focus on an imaginary world this month, though, so maybe that excuse isn't worth all that much.
The important thing is to finish the book and make it as good as possible. And I will do that. In fact, it's possible that I may finish it faster now, as I am not pressured in the same way. Who knows? Not me! All I know is that I will complete it and I think it's gonna be pretty dang cool when it's all fixed up.
'Can’t win ’em all,' is what a baseball coach said to a team of weeping infants.
My congrats to all others who took part!
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
Blog notice: mostly this blog is for sharing my thoughts and talking about my books. From time to time I will also comment on books, films, music, sports, and/or videogames. During these times I may use images of the creative works under discussion. I'm posting the images under the "fair use" allowance, for purposes such as criticism, comments, reporting, teaching, and research. If you have any issue with images used on this blog, please contact me and the images will be removed.
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