Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Friday, November 18, 2011

3o Films I Tend To Watch While Writing On a Major Project: Numbers 21 - 30

21. Unforgiven

Many consider Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch the art house western flick. True enough, but Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven is the genre's greatest work of art. Atypical of most of Clint's prototype shoot 'em up cowpoke parties (aside from High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider), Unforgiven takes a humanistic approach of not only Eastwood's grizzled William Munny, but also the entire cast, who elevate the film to a nearly-unprecedented sense of far-flung empathy. By the time Eastwood reacts brutally to Gene Hackman's barbaric mistreatment of Morgan Freeman, his snapcase sadism is believable and wholly startling. Far deeper by proxy in comparison to the gunsmoked revenge sagas of Hang 'em High and Fistful of Dollars.

22. River's Edge

You know you're in for Hell when the opening frame greets viewers with a full frontal nude female corpse. River's Edge is partially about an act of cruel insanity in which an oafish outcast murders his improbable hottie girlfriend. It's more about the swarm of his low rent peers (including Crispin Glover in his finest hour) and how they react to his overt and sick braggadocio of the killing. With Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye and Dennis Hopper, River's Edge could've been subtitled "The Real Suburbia." A bitchin' soundtrack laced with heaps of Slayer makes River's Edge even more of a daunting venture.

23. Woodstock

I wasn't there at the original '69 Woodstock, but I feel a strange sense of connection to the festival. My mom would have me less than a year later, but she'd often told me she'd planned to car pool up to Woodstock but relented at the last minute to spare my grandmother needless worry. The music, the spirit and the urgency are all felt along with the hopeless ply for a utopia that was slightly shattered by the lack of proper sanitation, rainy weather and occasional rowdiness. Still, three days of music featuring The Who, Santana, Joan Baez, Mountain, Ten Years After, Ritchie Havens, Crosby Stills and Nash, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and a ton of other crucial rockers and folkies of the sixties? Man, it had to have been something. I always look forward to the scene in this documentary of the nuns who made it to Woodstock, one of them flashing up the peace symbol at the camera. It reveals the comradely nature of all walks of life as it does one generation's strive for change in the midst of social upheaval. Woodstock the movie captures all ends of the festival, in front of the stage, behind it and of course, all over it. If ever a case for widescreen was to be made for home video, Woodstock is it, with its frequent three-panel barrage. Still a spectacle in these jaded times.

24. The Other

Here's a film my mother gave me one Christmas with the message, "You need this film for your writing." And how. You've seen the story of combative twins many times over, but The Other (not to be confused with Nicole Kidman's creepy ghost tale The Others) is the be all end all. Well-written, sharply directed and even though you suspect what this movie's about, it still delivers a fair shock at the end.

25. Rebel Without a Cause

"What are you rebelling against?" "Whattya got?" James Dean issues a halcyon slamdunk to rival them all. If ever a film "got it" about explosive teenage angst (outside of The Wild One, Blackboard Jungle, Boyz in the Hood and American History X), Rebel Without a Cause is the ultimate snipe at conventionalism and domineering authority figures. James Dean and Natalie Wood could've been an unwitting Bonnie and Clyde in the making. Instead, they come off as young romantic fools eager to show themselves to the world as much as they simply want to be left the hell alone. Powerful prose in film form.

26. Memoirs of a Geisha

Ziyi Zhang (normally a butt-kicking movie martial artist) is a knockout in this more restrained role as a timid girl, Sayuri (fka Chiyo), sold into slavery by her family and thus learning the geisha trade under adverse conditions. Sayuri's trials and rise to prominence as an in-demand geisha sets her up for a near-fall from grace. Her love for Ken Watanabe's character "The Chairman" creates further tension to the story and it's positively beautiful to finally see their union. The cinemaphotography is as lush and vivid as Zhang herself, while Michelle Yeoh, Ken Watanabe and Gong Li are stellar. Visually stunning and rather provocative in theme, Memoirs of a Geisha is a harsh and moving story.

27. Nosferatu

In my opinion, this is the greatest vampire film of them all. Max Schreck's silent jewel Nosferatu is the reason for the season when you're talking about vampire lore. Dank, murky and chilly even with no sound, Schreck's scowling features and creeped-out stalking are dervied from Bram Stoker's original Dracula novel, yet there's a fearsome overload to the vehicle. He comes off as the real deal, which invites a look at the fictitious story-behind-the-story Shadow of the Vampire, starring Willem Dafoe. That now-classic indie horror flick purports Schreck was a genuine vampire on the set of Nosferatu. Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee deserve all of their long-established accolades, but Max Schreck could send the combined Twilight and True Blood casts into obscurity as sheer posers.

28. Let Me In

While we're on the topic of vampires, Let Me In gets the distinction as one of the best horror remakes of all-time. Based on the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In, this unnerving yarn about a persecuted tween befriending a female vampire preserved within his age bracket is so well done you can't take your eyes away from it. It's enough the film (gloriously executed by the rebounding Hammer Studios) captures its eighties-based setting with respectable accuracy, but the unholy union between boy and girlish vampire is played both innocuously and with terse squeamishness. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz exhibit impressive chemistry for their ages. A newer selection for my mandatory movies while writing a project, Let Me In is a tender and visceral horror film well-deserving of any honors it receives.

29. 2001: A Space Odyssey

Filled with celestial eye candy and stunning sets, 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most engaging spectacles in film, much as it is a searing social commentary. The moral of machines taking over our lives was issued long before this current Renaissance of technology. Doubtful anyone's learned their lesson since Stanley Kubrick taunted audiences with his evil spaceship computer Hal, but never let it be said the warnings weren't there.

30. Black Swan

Another one of my more recent additions, Black Swan, along with Let Me In, might be two of the most important transitional films for dark American cinema. Even without the shades of horror in Black Swan, the film is grandiose. Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career and while some reports indicate this is her swan song, let's hope she returns at a later date. Never has a film about ballet focused so deeply upon the obsession of the craft, to the point Portman's "Swan Queen" is suffering delusional maneuevers even as she herself is succumbing to the pressure to deliver nothing short of the perfect performance. If you know the entire saga of Swan Lake, you know what "perfection" constitutes. Graceful and horrific, Black Swan is an instant modern masterpiece.

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