Thursday, March 29, 2018

Star Wars - The Prequel Trilogy

So I recently revisited the Star Wars prequels. Well, more specifically, I revisited Episodes II and III. I skipped Episode I, because I feel like I've given that movie more than enough chances over the years, probably more chances than any other movie, but it just never quite works for me, outside of a handful of scenes here or there. But anyways, while I've never really been a fan of the first movie, I've always loved Episodes II and III. Those two have always been real comfort movies for me, and have always held a special place in my heart as such.

I had always enjoyed the original Star Wars movies, but never really found that personal connection to them that so many had. They were just good fun flicks for me for the most part, and I didn't really think much of them beyond that. However, Attack of the Clones was the first time that Star Wars really started to connect personally with me, and this feeling totally continued with Revenge of the Sith, which is the only movie in the series that just about pushed me into legitimate Star Wars fanboy territory, as opposed to just a fan in general of the series. Like, I was legit obsessed with Episode III when that first came out, and it was a rare of example of a film that really left me feeling like I had just watched something truly special.

However, it's been quite a while since I last watched them, close to a decade at least, so I was curious how they would hold up for me upon a revisit. Particularly now that the newer Star Wars movies produced by Disney have left me less and less enthused with the franchise with each new entry, I was curious, was it really Disney, or was perhaps my admiration for the franchise, or even just this kind of movie in general, just naturally diminishing?

Well, I won't hold you in suspense for too long, as they definitely more than held up for me. But I gotta say, I was genuinely concerned, and as such went in with reservations in mind. After all, there have been a handful of times in the recent past where revisiting other movies that I had at one time loved really wasn't too kind to the films in question. Films such as The Time Machine, or more recently, Spider-Man 3, where their flaws stood out all the more clearly to me now than they had before way back. I can assume this has something to do with my ever evolving taste in film, plus my overall knowledge on the medium increasing as much as it has over the years, which may make me subconsciously look back at some of these movies with a bit of a more critical eye than I may have initially done. Not to say that I now suddenly hate these movies in question, mind you. I still quite enjoyed them, even if my enthusiasm for them had perhaps diminished a bit.

But the Star Wars prequels held up for me much in the way as another recent rewatch did, that being Independence Day, which I covered at the time of that particular revisit. There was a concern back then that perhaps that movie wouldn't be nearly so impressive, now living in an era in which such big bombastic blockbusters are so much more commonplace and, quite frankly, oversaturated within the market. But thankfully, that movie held up and managed to stand out all the same due to the sheer care for craft, character, and artistic integrity that so often feels missing in a lot of today's major releases. And I found much of the same to be the case while rewatching Episodes II and III.

I'll just come right out and say it, I think that George Lucas' direction on these films is criminally underrated. I know that a lot of people may have some gripes with some of the acting, which I've also jumped to the defense of in the past, but just from a pure visual perspective, these films are impeccable. Sure, some of the CG effects may be showing their age now, which is honestly the only real gripe I was able to come away with upon this latest rewatch. But otherwise, I was just taken aback by the sheer visual storytelling on display in these films.

Lucas has a way of really placing emphasis on such striking imagery throughout, imagery that just ingrains itself in your brain. And as I was watching, I just kept thinking of my admiration for another visual filmmaker favorite of mine, Zack Snyder. Just the way he's able to conjure up such striking, iconic images in his films that really embed themselves in you, rewatching these films really felt like a precursor to all of that, and probably helps to explain where my initial admiration for Snyder may well have originated in the first place.

As a small example of this in practice, there's an old Chris Stuckmann review of Revenge of the Sith where he complains about a particular closeup shot on Obi-Wan's eyes, as he's facing off against General Grievous and announces, "Oh, I don't think so."

Stuckmann complained about the framing of the shot in question, how it's not centered. And I was curious about this while watching his review. However, seeing this scene in the movie itself, all I could think was, of course it's framed in the manner that it is. It's because, how many times have we seen that exact shot that Stuckmann is complaining about, the centered closeup on the eyes? It's been done and done to death. But by framing it just a bit off center, suddenly, that same shot stands out. Suddenly, that same shot is something new, something different. Something that sticks with you, where you can just see it in a screencap and know exactly where this is from and what's being said. Basically, by framing it how he did, he created an image that truly stays with you, as opposed to merely recreating the same sort of disposable image that we've already seen time and time again, to the point that it's perhaps lost its effectiveness.

And there's really so many more examples of this throughout, most notably to me in the final battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin in Revenge of the Sith. And speaking of, just the whole entire conclusion to that movie is really just stunning. About the last ten minutes is almost completely devoid of any dialogue, as the remainder of the story is all told almost exclusively through its visuals and music. And yet even so, these closing moments are among the most emotionally stirring in the entire series to date. And that's not something that just comes by accident, that's exceptional filmmaking and direction.

But even beyond the visuals, what also really struck me was the sound design, particularly in Episode II. Like, I was just blown away listening to all of the inspired sounds in that movie. It really just made me think of just how inventive this series has always been with its sound effects, and Lucas definitely never lost his touch in this regard at all. It's like that inventiveness of such futuristic sound work was kicked up another notch in this particular film, to a level that's just off the charts, in a way similar to his visual work, where they just really cement themselves in your mind. And as such, the sounds of various ships and other tech throughout this movie were really just hitting me in those nostalgic feels in a way that I wasn't nearly prepared for, like being revisited by an old friend who you didn't even realize how much you'd been missing them.

But this is the genius of these films. Where I feel that so many blockbusters these days are just mindless, "in one ear, out the other" affairs, these were movies that were truly elevated to a level that really stays with you. They're a lot more complex than they're given credit for, but a lot of the complexities play out more in the background, while the main story is more simple and relatable, placing the focus more on the emotion and characters first and foremost, and allowing for the dynamic visuals and music to help tell that story, rather than act as mere spectacle.

Granted, this is more so the case with Episodes II and III, as I felt that Episode I was perhaps the opposite in that regard. And in fact, I've always felt that The Phantom Menace was the oddball of the whole series, the one entry that really didn't feel much like a Star Wars movie at all. In terms of tone and music, it feels far more kid-centric than any of the rest, and even the fact of how far apart it is in timeline with the rest has always presented a bit of a disconnect. That's why I've always had a hard time really even considering the prequels to be a true trilogy.

But then it hit me recently, that perhaps, it's not really a trilogy. But rather, it's a two-parter, with Episode I acting more as the prologue to the events of Episodes II and III. It's a movie that really acts more as an introduction to this universe in general, laying down the groundwork for how this universe operated during this period of time, and perhaps was more just George Lucas reacquainting himself with this universe as well, before really diving into the story he really wanted to tell. So it's something that adds some depth and background to what you're watching in Episodes II and III, should you decide to watch it, but is perhaps not entirely necessary viewing in order to still enjoy and appreciate the main story being told in these prequels.

Speaking on the timeline a bit, I also really dug how you could totally tell these films were taking place during an entirely different era in this universe. Looking at the new films from Disney, I almost have to roll my eyes and groan at just how much of the typical iconic imagery they reuse from the original movies in order to market them, images of storm troopers and classic ships and such. Despite taking place 30 years later, it all looks the same. But not so with these prequels.

Hell, Episode I has almost no familiar imagery to fall back on in order to sell itself. The ships all look newer and sleeker, we visit a number of brand new locales and cultures, and the general look of the people and these worlds are vastly different in these films. And as we move on to each new entry in the series, you can see the natural evolution as the world around them continues to progress. So much thought and care went into all of this aspect to really further build this universe, and it especially emphasizes just how unimaginative the newer Disney movies have really gotten in comparison.

Moving on to the main story though, I'll just say that, up until now, I've always considered Revenge of the Sith to be not only the superior movie, but honestly my favorite Star Wars movie in the whole series at that. However, if there's one way in which my shift in film tastes may be prevalent upon this rewatch, it might be that I think I may have actually liked Attack of the Clones even more this time around. And I think that may have to do with my brewing appreciation for much smaller stories being told in films, with recent examples including A Ghost Story or this year's Thoroughbreds.

I'm beginning to grow a bit tired of so many grand sweeping epics, and am finding myself more and more drawn to the more minimal approach in film. And not to say that Attack of the Clones is a minimal movie or anything like that, but I just found myself really digging the more personal story being told on the slightly smaller scale in that film in comparison. Anakin's struggle with his emotions felt so raw and so real to me, particularly when you take his young age and circumstances into account. And while yes, the big payoff leading to the grand epic that was Revenge of the Sith is certainly earned, I just really appreciated the more scaled back look on these characters' lives in this go around.

As for Revenge of the Sith, well, I just said it, didn't I? It's a hell of an epic, and it's a movie that is quite frankly six films in the making, taking the original trilogy into account, and it makes the absolute most of all that buildup. Where I complain about so many big movies just going all out with a mind numbing degree of spectacle and action, it's pretty rare these days for such scenes to come across as truly earned. And this was certainly one of those rare times, which is why I think it struck me so much back when I first saw it, and why it's continued to stay with me after all this time. Lucas knew he needed a big payoff, and he delivered in the biggest and most emotional way possible, showing us the downfall of our heroes and this society as a whole, and really driving the point home in a sheer visceral level with its striking visual metaphors to boot.

And with that ending taken into account, it's so amazing to go back and see how much of the movie plays out rather comedically early on. The back and forth banter between Anakin and Obi-Wan during the rescue mission just really tickled me, and painted a perfect picture for how their friendship had developed since we last left off with them. But it also makes their downfall all the more tragic and gut wrenching to witness, as the film progressively takes a darker and darker turn. It just goes back to my old theory that you've really gotta shine just enough light in there first in order for a truly dark story to be most effective. And to this day, it's still stunning to see it all play out.

And it was actually as I was watching these final moments in Revenge of the Sith when it suddenly struck me just what it is about these prequels that make them work for me so well in a way that the new movies from Disney just don't. And that reason is, these films truly feel like a genuine artistic expression first and foremost. These feel like films that Lucas made because he felt he had a story to tell. Whereas, on the other hand, the new movies just feel like cynical cash grab products to me, movies that are made solely with money in mind, and little in the way of true artistic integrity, which I just personally find really off-putting. Now I can get into more detail on all of that, but I feel that that's an entirely different discussion altogether, which we'll have to save for perhaps another day. Or not. Who knows?

So anyways, those are my updated thoughts on the Star Wars prequels. And quite frankly, not only did they hold up for me, I actually think that upon revisit, they're far better than even I remember them being, and certainly better than they're largely given credit for. Attack of the Clones is a genuinely fantastic movie that gets a whole lot of hate, which I've never quite fully understood. And Revenge of the Sith stands as a testament of how to pull off such a tragic fall from grace in the grandest manner imaginable. These films are certainly underappreciated works of art, and I honestly feel may have been well ahead of their time. But hey, don't take it from me. Give them a revisit for yourself, and see just how well these movies may well have aged over time for you, too.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Anti-Plastic Cascade Podcast Interview

Last May, I was invited onto The Anti-Plastic Cascade podcast, where I was interviewed by fellow filmmaker M.H. Smith. We discussed my Ninja Kat series, as well as all my films to date, going a bit in depth into the creative processes of novel writing and filmmaking and such. The full interview has finally been posted online, broken up into three parts, and now I'd like to share it and invite all of you to give it a listen for yourselves. Enjoy!

Part 1:

This episode covers Chris’ novel series "VELCRO: THE NINJA KAT" and his introduction to filmmaking.

Part 2:

This episode covers Chris’ three short films and novel writing vs. filmmaking.

Part 3:

This episode covers Chris’ future goals, work ethic/creative process, and the origin of his Twitter handle.

Friday, December 29, 2017

My Top 10 Movies of 2017

So this year's gonna be a bit different. I'll still be sharing my full Top 10 Movies of 2017, with some Honorable Mentions. But truth be told, I really only feel like discussing my Top 5, so I think I'll do just that. I technically did something similar back in 2010, where I only discussed that year's Top 4 films, so it'll be sorta like that I guess.

But anyways, 2017 has honestly been a pretty weak year in film for the most part. A lot of movies that are perfectly fine and serviceable, an overabundance of movies that are merely okay, but all in all just an absolute overload of completely forgettable movies, with very, very few truly great ones released in the year, movies that really wowed me. However, I'd now like to take a look at those very few, but first, how about those aforementioned Honorable Mentions, hmm?

Honorable Mentions
Battle of the Sexes (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris)
Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo)
Gerald's Game (Mike Flanagan)
Happy Death Day (Christopher B. Landon)
Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)
Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins)

And now, moving right along, numbers 10-6...

#10

Megan Leavey
(Gabriela Cowperthwaite)

#9

Mother!
(Darren Aronofsky)

#8

Coco
(Lee Unkrich)

#7

Detroit
(Kathryn Bigelow)

#6

Blade Runner 2049
(Denis Villeneuve)

All really damn good films, all of which I don't really have a whole lot to say about right now. Very quickly, I suppose I wrote a full review for Coco that you can check out, and I just loved the batshit wild direction of Mother!, and I'm genuinely surprised that Detroit has gone completely ignored this awards season (I honestly figured it'd be an easy frontrunner for Best Picture, but what do I know apparently?).

But yeah, those are all really solid films that are among my favorites of the year, and are all well worth checking out. But now, let's move right along once more to my Top 5 Movies of 2017, the ones that especially left their impact on me, and have remained with me through the year like none other.

#5

Power Rangers
(Dean Israelite)

Joining the likes of Need For Speed, San Andreas, and Batman v Superman from years past as this year's "movie that could", I think Power Rangers is quite possibly the biggest shock of the whole year for me. I totally went in expecting it to be crap, but was highly impressed and highly entertained by what it actually turned out to be. I wrote a full review for it, where I go a bit more in depth with how much this movie just truly surprised me, and also discuss my own personal connection to the movie as well, so check that out, and check this movie out for yourself, and see if it doesn't exceed your expectations like it did mine.

#4

A Ghost Story
(David Lowery)

The second I saw the trailer for this movie, I immediately became jealous that I hadn't thought of this idea first. But I just really loved this movie. It's the ultimate minimalist movie, and it's truly inspiring just how much they're able to get out of so little. I've talked this movie up quite a bit when talking with my fellow filmmakers who are on my own no-budget level, as a piece of work that shows you just precisely how you can pull off some of those truly ambitious ideas with a very minimal approach. Definitely a must see for any aspiring filmmaker, and a clever and thought provoking film in its own right.

#3

47 Meters Down
(Johannes Roberts)

I've constantly made mention all throughout the year how 2017 has been an absolutely incredible year for horror movies. And hell, even in this list alone, there are six horror movies that I felt were worth mentioning above all else. And for me, none was better than 47 Meters Down. Like Power Rangers, I really didn't expect much from this movie, and went in honestly just thinking it was gonna be some dumb silly shark movie. What I got, however, was one of the most god damn intense movies that I've seen in recent memory. Like, I honestly can't even recall the last movie that made me feel so tense watching it in the theater. And that feeling stayed with me well after the fact, similar to how one might reflect on the original Halloween after first viewing.

This film may perhaps be the most overlooked gem of the year, as I honestly have seen barely anyone talk about it. But it's one that's definitely worth looking into, especially if you're a fan of horror. 'Cause in an era where I find most horror movies to be merely creepy, if not exactly scary, this was one that definitely kept me on edge, and in a big way.

#2

The Greatest Showman
(Michael Gracey)

Speaking of eras of movies, I honestly believe that nowadays we may be so oversaturated by movie releases that hardly any of them leave much of an impact at all anymore, and I find myself forgetting most of them almost immediately after leaving the theater. And then there's The Greatest Showman, which has so infectiously invaded my brain that I haven't been able to get a single song out of my head since first seeing it last week. Literally every single morning since, I have woken up with the music and their accompanying scenes playing out through my mind, with the relentless urge to experience it all over again, and I've since gone out and purchased the soundtrack, and already saw the movie a second time. And sure enough, I fell in love with it even more on that second viewing.

Admittedly a little light in terms of its plot and characterization, it's a movie where I can understand if not everyone falls completely in love with it like I have. However, most of the story is told through its songs, and the musical numbers in this thing are pure cinematic magic. You just really don't see musicals of this variety too often these days, and I found myself completely swept away. The dance choreography is so stunning and impressive that I've actually pulled up behind the scenes making-of footage on youtube, which is something I never do for movies anymore. But it's like, I just can't get this movie out of my mind, and I just gotta know what all actually went into it. And what I found was just pure joyous passion, which only made me grow even more passionate for the film myself.

The songs are absolutely phenomenal, and Hugh Jackman has just an absolutely incredible singing voice. I knew he was a good singer from Les Misérables, but damn, I didn't know he was this good! And Zac Efron and Zendaya and the rest also bring the goods, and that passion I had mentioned before truly shines in all their performances. The breathtaking musical numbers in this movie gave me chills on first viewing. They nearly drove me to tears on a rewatch. And I can't wait to see it again already!

#1

Logan
(James Mangold)

Yeah, Hugh Jackman is undoubtedly the MVP in film for 2017, snagging both the #1 and #2 slots in this year's Top 10 list. And hell, director James Mangold is a big double winner here, too, as I noticed he was listed in The Greatest Showman as an executive producer. But what more can I say about this movie that I haven't already covered in my in-depth analysis earlier this year? I'll say this, all throughout the year I was waiting for something to come out that could possibly top this movie for me. Yet, by year's end, nothing even came close. Logan has remained at the top, and for damn good reason, because it is without a doubt the very best piece of cinema to come out all year, without equal.

And it's kind of a shame, as we enter awards season, that it's looking like it's bound to go ignored this year, because while most of the field consists of those "perfectly fine" serviceable yet forgettable fare that I had mentioned before, very few of them truly reached the heights of greatness that this movie managed to achieve. Even beyond its comic book genre, this was an absolutely fantastic movie, and sports the absolute best performances of the entire year at that, featuring career best performances from both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. This was precisely the sort of movie that forced the Academy to change their Best Picture category from five to a possible ten, so to see it go ignored would truly be a waste of that alteration.

The X-Men franchise has always been a bit sloppy over the years, yet this movie managed to pull everything together and close out the final chapter on the series in the most profound way imaginable. Hell, it's even retroactively impacted the franchise, as rewatching Days of Future Past after this movie takes what used to be a sappy happy ending, and turns it into something far more gut-wrenching and tragic, as the sheer emotion and stakes from this movie bleed out onto the rest of the franchise. A perfect ending to an imperfect series, and a perfect end to this year's imperfect list as well.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

My Life in 2017

Whelp, it's that time of year again, where I take a look back at what all I accomplished in the past year, as we move forward into the next one. And this has been a pretty productive year for me, all things considered. I worked on a lot of writing and film projects throughout the year, while I otherwise spent a good majority of the year finding some semblance of peace in my life.

With The Masquerade newly released at the end of 2016, this year was my big jump back into the world of conventions and book signings in order to market my work.

I've made a lot of connections with a lot of locations and other authors here in the Tampa area, and I've seen a lot of success at a number of the events I've attended this year. I didn't stray too far from home this time around however, but I hope to expand back out a little bit in the next year in terms of the cons and such that I attend.

And in the meantime, I've been hard at work writing the fourth book in The Ninja Kat series, Polluted War, which I was able to finish and release last month.

I'm still waiting to hear back on a consensus for it, but I'm mostly pleased with how it turned out myself (though if I'm being honest, The Masquerade is still the best thing I've written to date, in my opinion at least). I hope everyone else likes it, and will come back for the fifth installment, whenever that may be.

As to the fifth book, I've thus far written a full outline, though I've admittedly been stalling on actually beginning work writing the actual book. Instead, I've finally had a number of really micro-budget-friendly film ideas come to mind, and I've been hard at work playing around with some of those ideas, and even have a full script written out for a new short, as well as one for a possible feature length film. As far as actually filming them is concerned, that remains to be seen when I'll be able to get to that, but I'm hoping to be able to begin work on them as soon as next year.

Speaking of film projects, I've also been involved with a couple of them this year, in an acting capacity. In the summer of 2016, we began work on what was intended to be a mini-series starring yours truly as an assassin named Charlie Temple, and helmed by my good friend and collaborator M.H. Smith.

The production stalled for some time due to a number of factors that put into question the ability to finish it in its original series format, but earlier in the year, I approached him with an idea that would allow for us to revamp it into a short film and continue production. He loved it, and we were able to film the last handful of scenes that would allow for this change to happen, and filming has finally wrapped on the project. He's now working on post-production with the project, and I've seen an early rough cut of the film, so I can't wait to see how the final product turns out and share it with everyone.

I was also cast in another series this year, too, this one helmed by another collaborator friend of mine, Andre Forbes. The project is called Not So Innocent, and in it, I play, well, another assassin of sorts? Except, this one's more of a reluctant one? Well, it's funny, but there's actually a scene in this production that almost mirrors exactly with a scene from M.H. Smith's film, and the two scenes were even filmed on back to back days. So I really can't wait til the two projects are finished and released, and I can go back and place those two scenes together in some sort of comparison video of sorts, heh. But nah, this has honestly been another really interesting and rewarding project to work on so far, and I can't wait to continue on with the project in the coming year.

One thing I've really learned on both of these projects is to have to place my trust in the directors to capture my performances as best as they can. Up until now, I've mostly been used to just directing myself in my own film projects, so I have full control of my performance and how it looks on camera. But on these projects, I essentially give up all that control, and just hope that I don't make myself look too foolish in their hands. It's been, well, different, and something I've had to get used to, but I really hope the results turn out well enough all the same in the end (they assure me it has at least).

So that's what all I've been working on at least. And in my personal life, I've gone through a number of changes in the past year to work towards bettering my quality of life as well. For one, I've finally found a job that gave me the financial means to move back out on my own for the first time in, well, way too long. And life at home has been really nice ever since, with a semblance of peace at home that I haven't really known in what feels like forever. I even live in a pretty decent neighborhood with cool neighbors who aren't too loud or anything, so that's totally a plus as well.

However, the job that gave me those financial means hasn't always been so swell. In fact, for the majority of the year, I was absolutely miserable at work, having to deal with relentless harassment and terrible management who only encouraged, supported, and rewarded this harassment after it had been brought to their attention, and who they themselves took part in publicly belittling me and treating me horribly for well over half the year. I took every means possible to escape this situation, reaching out to higher management, and corporate management, and various levels of HR, and in the meantime spent months trying to find work elsewhere that would pay me at least as much as I'm making now, to no luck.

But finally, a little over a month ago, I was able to be transferred to a different location, and my life at work has been such a relief ever since then. Like, I feel like I can actually breathe at work again, which is a really good feeling. My prior working arrangement was absolutely horrible, by far the worst working arrangement I've ever experienced in my entire life, and it was all so entirely unnecessary. I was so stressed out for so long, but now it's finally over, and I'm glad to finally be in a place where I can feel at relative peace both at home and at work.

And yeah, that pretty much catches us back up to now I suppose, as we look onto the new year and what all that may hold. I'm not sure where I'll end up exactly, but I know I have a lot of projects to continue to work on (and finally a new competent computer with which to work on those project at that. Thanks Dad!), and a lot of events I hope to attend as well. I also have some decisions to make in my personal life, which can impact some of these projects, but I'd rather keep those plans to myself for the time being. Hopefully everything works out for the best in either event though, and hopefully the next year brings its own fun and successes.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Double Feature: Olaf's Frozen Adventure and Coco

Okay, so perhaps it's a bit of a stretch to call this a double feature, but the new Pixar film Coco came attached with the new Frozen short Olaf's Frozen Adventure in front of it, which I of course have a lot to say about, so there you go. So first up, Frozen!

The story sees Olaf go out in search of a family tradition for Anna and Elsa to celebrate during the holiday season, and I really quite enjoyed how this new Frozen short played out. Something I've noticed is how both Frozen Fever and now Olaf's Frozen Adventure are essentially gift themed, which sorta plays into how the films are presented more as gifts to the fans of the series. However, while Frozen Fever may have been a bit more heavy handed on the fan service, this one ties back into the original film in ways that feel a lot more organic, and are as such a lot more satisfying.

I mentioned in my Frozen Fever review how I liked how that movie really added new layers to Elsa's character that we hadn't seen before. And I think that this movie accomplishes a similar feat with Olaf, adding a lot more depth to the character, and strengthening his bond with the other characters in a really fulfilling manner.

However, not all of the characterization feels quite right here. Specifically, there's one scene that takes place in an attic (which itself felt odd as a setting. Do castles even have attics like this?). And in this scene, Elsa speaks to Anna as if Anna's far younger than she is, and Anna in turn responds accordingly, acting about half her age. And, I dunno, it just felt awkward. Like, perhaps they'd act this way towards each other because, due to their upbringing, there's a part of them that's still stuck in that place in their life. But this is also the only time in any of these films we've really seen them act this way, which lends itself to that off feeling. That scene aside, I didn't really have any issues with the characterization, but that one did throw me off a bit. (Also, is it just me, or does it feel like Anna got just a little bit shafted in general this time around, comparatively speaking?)


Just a bit odd, that.

What I especially love most about this new short though is how they managed to fit in a full fledged musical into such a short period of time. The previous short, Frozen Fever, was just a single song, which is about what one would expect from one of these. However, with a slightly longer runtime of about 20 minutes, there's actually six new songs packed into this one. And the music is mostly great all around.

I'd say that perhaps a single song is a little extraneous, that being Elsa's brief solo reprise of "Ring in the Season". I know, shocking that I'd say such a thing about anything Elsa related of all things, but it honestly was the one musical cue that felt a bit forced, though the song is still quite nice. And really, I'm just nitpicking at this point, and probably wouldn't have felt it as out of place had it perhaps not been quite as abrupt as it was.

That said, when you listen to the soundtrack, you'll find there's an extended version of Kristoff's song "The Ballad of Flemmingrad", which is really the only time in which Jonathan Groff is given the opportunity to really show off his singing chops. However, the version we get in the film is significantly cut, including his moments where he really shines as a singer, which is really a bit of a shame. Groff really does keep getting screwed over in these movies like that, but it would've been nice to see a fuller version play out in the final film, even if it meant cutting the brief Elsa song to make it happen. At least we got it on the soundtrack, though.

As to the rest of the songs, Olaf's numbers "That Time of Year" and its more somber reprise are obviously the bulk of the film, and they're fine for what they are. But the two big standouts are the opening and closing songs, which are both duets from Anna and Elsa, "Ring in the Season" and "When We're Together", which are both really powerful tracks that'll stay with you well after the movie.

So anyways, there are some hiccups along the way, but all in all, I quite liked the new Frozen short. And the fact that it has its problems is perfectly fine honestly, and stays true to the rest of the series. I've mentioned time and again that Frozen is by no means a perfect film, and a lot of its charm comes from its flaws, being a film about such broken characters after all. So I'm more than okay with there being a handful of flaws here as well, none of which bring this film down at all.

And I'd also say that this was a perfect short to place in front of Coco, despite not actually being a Pixar short. For one, there's a lot of shared themes regarding family between the two movies, but the fact that it's a musical preceding what is essentially Pixar's own first musical is also quite fitting.

Now, I call Coco a musical, though that's not in the traditional sense. There's no moment where the characters suddenly stop and spontaneously break out into song and dance. Rather, it's one where the music comes more realistically, through performances and such throughout. So leave it to Pixar to take a different route with the musical genre, but it definitely works for what they're going for.

Hell, the main character, a boy named Miguel, doesn't even actually sing any of the songs himself until about halfway into the movie. But they spend a lotta time building up to the moment where we'll finally hear him perform, and when he does, boy is it worth it. Anthony Gonzalez seriously surprised me in the role, what a voice!

As to the film as a whole, we follow Miguel who wants to be a musician, but his family has forbidden it. So, in his quest to follow his dreams despite his family's wishes, he somehow finds himself in the world of the dead, and now has to find his way back home. And along the way, the story is beautifully told through its stunning visuals and outstanding mariachi style music, with plenty of satisfying twists along the way that keeps things interesting, and keeps the emotions stirring in unexpected ways.

And really, I honestly don't have much to nitpick about Coco. It's a real solid outing through and through. So much so that I've already seen the film twice. Though if I'm being honest, had it not been for the Frozen short attached, it's very likely that I wouldn't have gone out of my way for that second viewing. Because after all, while the movie is magnificent while in the moment, my one squabble with it is that it's not exactly a memorable outing.

You see, right after the movie's over, I've left the theater, and almost immediately it was the songs from Olaf's Frozen Adventure that leaped back into my head, as opposed to the songs from Coco. And soon enough I found that I was barely thinking about the new Pixar movie at all. And I've experienced this now twice. So I can say that, yeah, it's a bit ironic just how much of the movie is about being remembered, considering just how little I find myself able to keep this new film in memory after the fact.

Still though, I'd say it's definitely worth checking out, even if it doesn't quite have the staying power of the likes of other Pixar films such as Wall-E or Inside Out. If you're a fan of Pixar, then you'll love this. And if you're a fan of Frozen, then definitely check this out while it's still in theaters, so you can see Olaf's Frozen Adventure on the big screen beforehand.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Velcro: Polluted War - Now Available!

It's been a little under a year since we had our last Ninja Kat romp, and already we're back at it with Velcro: Polluted War, which is available now! The darkest chapter yet in Velcro's action packed tale comes at you in either paperback or e-book form, so pick up your copy and continue the fight today!

www.VelcroTheNinjaKat.com

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Breathe v Breathe

When I first got the trailer to this new Andrew Garfield flick, and I saw the title of the movie was Breathe, well you knew that I was going to see this and talk about it. Of course I was. After all, just a couple years back I released a short film by the same title, so of course I couldn't resist seeing this feature length remake to my own movie (though it is odd that nobody bothered to tell me about it before now). And to top it off, my film was a horror movie, and this new film was being released in October, the month of horror movies, so surely it was going to live up to the original short, right? So then, how does this new movie compare to the original made by yours truly?

Well for one thing, despite all of the budget at their disposal, not one single werewolf appears in this movie, which I'm sorry, but that's bullshit. Especially when we come to the ending credits and I see that this was directed by Andy Serkis. You're really telling me that he couldn't have put on some CGI makeup and played a damn werewolf in this thing?


Now imagine this face, but like, a wolf.

And it doesn't end there. In fact, there's very little relation between this movie and my own at all. In this movie, we follow a man played by Andrew Garfield who suddenly becomes paralyzed and has to learn how to live with this, and his wife played by Claire Foy, who does everything within her power to make life manageable for her husband. Now, notice I didn't include these characters' names. That's because this movie does so little to initially establish anything about these characters that it wasn't until well after halfway into the movie that I even learned the man's name. (Not sure I ever actually caught the woman's.)

You see, before becoming paralyzed, the movie wastes no time immediately dropping us on a scene where Andrew Garfield sees a pretty lady at some pompous rich people's gathering, and decides he wants to woo her. We then jump to him playing cricket, where they're incongruously positioned to where the ball would be hit directly at the gathering of people for some reason, and he hits the ball and breaks a dish directly behind this woman, drawing her attention.

Cut to the two driving together in a car, I assume on a date, and then cut immediately to another scene where she's on a swing talking with her brothers about the prospect of marrying him. Then we cut to the two on some outback vacation, where we learn that she's now pregnant, yet I've still yet to even learn anything about these two. Not their personalities, not their relationship, and not even their names.


Our heroes drive in a car, and we learn nothing.

If it seems like I'm just randomly hopping all over the place with those quick scene descriptions, then that only means that I'm doing an accurate job portraying what it was like sitting through the opening 15 minutes of this film. And during this entire hopping around sequence, I was just shaking my head, worried that I was in for a hard sit, and just thinking, this movie could really take note from its title and just calm down and actually allow these scenes to breathe a little.

You see, we get the opposite problem here as we do in the original short. In that film, we possibly spend a bit too much time with a couple of our characters early on, a pair of policemen who become quite engaged in conversation while hauling a masked perpetrator off to jail. And we perhaps learn a little too much about them in the process. Where as here, we really don't spend nearly enough time with our two leads, and thus learn nothing about them. So, what we get is essentially an over-correction, if you will.


Our heroes drive in a car and, we learn too much.

So really, one of two things seriously needed to happen with these opening scenes in this new movie. Either they needed to be cut, and we just open on the two already together on the day that he's about to fall ill and become paralyzed. Or they needed to be drastically expanded upon, and a solid extra half hour should have been added to the final runtime just to really give these scenes their proper breathing room. Because as is, we literally learn nothing about these characters, so nothing from these brief opening scenes carries over into the bulk of the movie.

Thankfully, after Garfield gets paralyzed, the movie finally calms down somewhat, and becomes a bit bearable. We finally get a sense of these characters and their situation, but the passage of time is still radically off. What feels like weeks passing in the film, we discover is actually years, as his child is newborn when he's first admitted into the hospital and hooked up to his breathing machine (which I bet they weren't forced to shoot their hospital scenes gorilla style like we were), and when he's finally brought home, his child is now closer to three, though it felt like maybe only a few months had passed at most.

Anyways, the movie goes on, and we see how Garfield becomes accustomed to his new life, and how his friends and family help him still find a way to actually live, as opposed to merely exist, inventing a chair that aids him with his breathing and such, and going on adventures around the world along the way. And this is all mostly fine, I will admit.

Fret not though, for the aspect of poorly developed characters is a recurring one throughout, as there's a revolving cast of side characters who just sorta slip in and out of the movie on a whim, and only a few who I was able to still even recognize come the film's end. Like, there's his one lonely friend, and their inventor friend, and the wife's two brothers. But then as he's coming to terms with his death, there's some large gentleman who comes to sit by him and express how they've known each other for all these years, and I was left asking myself, has this character even been in any of the rest of the movie? And he certainly wasn't alone in that regard, not by a long shot. Though, to be fair, this much is in keeping with the original as well, to a certain degree...


You only learn the girl on the far left's name in the credits.
As to the other two, even
I'm not entirely sure.

But anyways, as we near the end of the movie, Garfield is giving a speech to a group of people who are deciding whether or not to fund the production of chairs such as his, so as to make for a better quality of life for people like him. And as he's speaking, he says the line, "When I first became paralyzed, I wanted to die." And then, right on cue, the power in the theater went out, like someone in the back was playing some sort of really twisted joke. I mean, I didn't think this was too entirely funny, but two ladies in the back row were hysterical at this, so what do I know? We figured the movie was mostly over, but I'm glad I stuck around for it to start back up and resume, because there was still some darker areas for the movie to go to yet.

Now, up to this point, despite a handful of scenes of sheer panic on Garfield's part as it concerns his condition, you'd be hard pressed to call this film a horror movie. However, I gotta say that I was quite surprised to see that they still went with the bloody conclusion in the end all the same. Literally, he's even bleeding out from the neck and everything, just like one of my own characters does in the original short. And it gets pretty gruesome, too. So at least they got that part right.


Now imagine this face, but like, Andrew Garfield.

Otherwise though, there was very little in common between these two films. No murder mystery, no tangential police conversations, and worst of all, no werewolves. But at least we still got the bloody finale, not to mention the obnoxious constant breathing, though this movie's came as a result of a breathing machine, as opposed to someone just relentlessly breathing heavily into a mic for minutes on end. So, to say the least, while the film started out rough, I wouldn't necessarily call it a bad movie overall. It does pick up, and actually becomes quite an intriguing and heart warming story as it plays out. But as an adaptation, that heart warming feeling is a total miss, and not at all faithful to the source material (even if it may well be faithful to the actual true story this movie purports to be based off of).

But then, maybe I'm just too close to the source to really compare the two for sure. So just to be safe, while I don't highly recommend it or anything, it's not a terrible movie by any stretch of the imagination (the first 15 minutes or so aside, that is), so by all means see this new movie if you're curious enough. But first, definitely check out the original short, and see for yourself just how well the two stand up to one another: