Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Sianostra - My return to filmmaking

So I recently released my latest short film, Sianostra. And that film marks my return to filmmaking after about a three year hiatus. My last movie I completed was Breathe back in 2015. And since then, I've dabbled in others' various film projects to certain capacities, but for the most part, I was taking a bit of a break. I spent the time mostly focusing on writing more new installments of the Ninja Kat novels, which were themselves going neglected while I was focusing on my filmmaking full-time at the time. But since I knocked two more of those out, and I also wound up writing no less than four new film scripts in that same time frame, I got the itch, and it was definitely time to come back to the world of filmmaking.

Now, I say that I wrote four different screenplays during that time, but I actually had five on my plate to choose from. Because before I had taken my break from filmmaking, I had actually written a script for a short film back in 2015, shortly after we had wrapped up Breathe. In fact, Cam Ray, who played the character Charlie in Breathe, approached me afterward with an idea for a film project of sorts.

What he pitched me was actually a really big series about these alien characters who come to our world and just sorta interact with us and experience life in a very quirky anime style slice of life sort of way. We had a number of discussions for ideas that we could pursue with this concept, but what I ultimately boiled it down to was, let's do a short film first, something that could act as an introduction to our main characters and the main concept, and if it works, and we decide to move forward with the bigger project at play, it could also work as either a pilot to a series, or just a short film introduction to a larger film production with a wider cast of characters to play with.

What's also interesting to note is that this also marked my first big collaborative writing project, which presented its own challenges and learning experiences. Cam pretty much wrote the first half of the original screenplay, and provided me with notes on where the story could go from there. And after a number of conversations, I filtered through for some of the better ideas and put together the second half, and went back over to try and tie everything together, revising accordingly until we were both satisfied with it. And while this was initially intended as the opening act to something bigger, I also felt it was important to try and keep things as standalone as possible, just in case it didn't really go anywhere, while leaving room to expand on if we did decide to later on.

So that's basically what this film was, was a script that I had dusted off after three years of sitting in the shelf, and finally getting around to shooting. I personally didn't feel my heart was quite in the project enough back in 2015 to really pursue it and do it any real justice at the time, but I definitely felt that now I was in a much better place mentally to give it a go. It was a simple enough concept to act as a good starting point to reintroduce myself into filmmaking and really get my feet wet again. And in the end, yeah, I definitely feel like you can see my rustiness in places in the finished product. But for the most part, I'm pleased with how it turned out all the same. As I mentioned, we were going for more of a quirky anime style, and wanted to play with music in a way that really interacts with the imagery on the screen. And in those regards, I'm definitely pleased with what we accomplished.

We definitely had a lot of fun filming it, too. There were a number of unexpected hurdles we had to cross over along the way (next door establishments making tons of noise, the neighbor's dog barking over dialogue, getting suddenly rained out mid-scene, etc.), but we managed to power through them and put together something decent all the same. Believe it or not, we actually filmed it at the same house we filmed Breathe as well, but you'd never know that just from looking at it. And the new cast were truly a pleasure to work with, and I've already since made plans to work alongside them again in future projects to come, so watch out for those as well.

It was also my first real foray into the genre of comedy. I've definitely sprinkled humor into mostly everything I've done so far, but this was what I suppose could be considered my first full fledged comedy. So that was a bit daunting, especially when I'm not entirely sure if any of the humor is actually landing or not, being so close to the project as I am. But after showing some rough cuts to some people and hearing them genuinely laughing in places, it was nice to see that at least it appeared we got some of it right.

In some ways, looking back on it now that the project's finished, this film actually reminds me of my first movie, The Red Scarf. For one thing, it's about as long as that one, but also the focus on a more anime inspired style and emphasis on music is prevalent in both as well. But just as with my first movie, as I mentioned, you can also see at points where we were definitely still finding our footing with this movie, just as we were learning as we were going along on The Red Scarf way back as well. So while this may have been a fun, if imperfectly shaky start back into filmmaking, then I can only hope that perhaps I'll be able to take all that I've learned from this experience, and that my next films will similarly follow in the footsteps of those that immediately followed The Red Scarf, in that we'll only improve from here.

As to where we go from here, I mentioned how this film was meant as an introduction point for a larger story. And that does still stand as a possibility for us to tackle one day. I've already had some conversations with Cam concerning where the story at large can go from here, so we definitely have some ideas. But in the meantime, we still have at least three more scripts on deck for us to attempt to tackle first, so it may be some time yet before we reacquaint ourselves with Noah and Sianostra again.

But for now, despite being a little rough around the edges in places, this movie has received a mostly positive reaction so far, with many using the words "cute" and "charming" to describe it. So I'm pleased enough by that. And so, now that I've given you a little bit of background behind it, if you kindly would, please give this new film a watch, and see what you think of my return to filmmaking with Sianostra!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Sianostra

The wait is finally over. If you would, please check out my latest short film, Sianostra!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Best of the Year movie rankings, revisited years later...

I've been doing these Best of Year in film lists for every year since 2009 now. At the end of the year, I pretty much rank my favorites, usually in a Top 10 list, and I may or may not briefly explain why the movie placed where it did. However, these lists really only reflect my feelings at that particular moment in time, which typically tends to be right at the tail end of the year in question. And as time continues to pass, my opinions on those films also continues to evolve as well. Some movies sit better with me in the months and years that follow. Others kinda become forgettable to me. And as such, if I were to redo these lists today, they'd almost certainly look quite different from how they appear in their preserved posts.

So today, I wanted to do just that, and take a look at some of the more drastic differences I would make to these lists. I'm not going to be re-ranking the whole thing, mostly just pointing out instances where certain key movies may have slid either up or down the list, and why that may have been. So to start off, let's go back to my first Top 10 Movies of the Year list that I posted here, and take a look at the year 2009:

2009

(Original Top 10 Movies of 2009)

The interesting thing about this one is that the movie I'd place at #1 here is a movie that I hadn't even seen at the time of posting. In fact, I hadn't seen it until several years after the fact. But that movie is (500) Days of Summer, which absolutely floored me when I finally got around to it, and has since become one of my favorite movies of all time.

So yeah, it'd easily take top honors for the year were I to redo this list today. But that's not to say that my listed #1, Avatar, would merely slip down to the #2 spot. In fact, it's possible that, if I were to put together a new list today, Avatar wouldn't even get ranked at all. I loved the movie when I first saw it in the theater. However, after revisiting it on DVD, it did not hold up. At all. And it's honestly the only example I can even really think of where I was so impressed by a movie in the theater, only to turn around and watch it at home, and not feel even the slightest bit impressed by it at all. But that's what happened, and that's why today it would slip right off the list for me.

2010

(Original Top 10 Movies of 2010)

This is one where I've gone back and forth with it a couple of times. The current list shows Inception at the #1 spot. However, there have been times where I've actually retroactively bumped Tangled up into that spot, which as you can see on the original list, was ranked #5 at the time of posting. Tangled actually had an opposite effect on me as Avatar, where revisiting it at home actually increased my appreciation for it, as my theater experience was a distracting 3D showing, and without that distraction at home, I was really able to be swept away by the emotion of the film.

That said, I've since placed Inception back in the top slot for the year, as it really does stick with you, and its influence on the medium is just impossible to ignore. But rest assured, Tangled continues to sit securely in the #2 spot, and could easily find its way back up top for me on another day.

2011

(Original Top 10 Movies of 2011)

At this point, if ever there was a year where my top pick of the year should've been a tie, this would've been it. Ask me on any given day what my #1 movie of 2011 is, and I'll give you a different answer. At the time of the original posting, I went with Sucker Punch. However, as you can see in my list of the Top Movies of the Decade So Far, Drive had slid past Sucker Punch in that instance. And it's sorta been back and forth and back again for me with those two in the years since.

As of right now, I'm currently leaning more towards Sucker Punch as the #1 film of the year again. But ask me in another month or so, and it's very possible that Drive will slide right past it again, if only for a little while. I just love those two movies, for entirely different reasons, but they've both really managed to stick with me in an equally strong manner.

2012

(Original Top 10 Movies of 2012)

This is a year where the #1 spot actually hasn't changed at all. Dredd's spot at the top remains quite secure there for me, as even now, nothing else from the year even comes close to it. However, where I might alter the list would be as it concerns The Avengers, which at the time of the original posting was ranked at #4. Nowadays, I could easily slide it up to the #2 spot and think nothing of it. But yeah, otherwise, not much else I would really put too much thought into altering from this particular year, so moving right along.

2013

(Original Top 10 Movies of 2013)

This is probably the most notable year for me where clearly I got it wrong at the time of posting. As you can see, I listed Iron Man 3 as the #1 movie of 2013. And the movie it bested out for that slot? Yeah, it just so happens to be none other than Frozen. So, for those of you who've been following me for some time now, you likely see the error there already.

Obviously Frozen has since retroactively become my #1 for that year. Hell, I also listed it at #1 in my aforementioned Top Movies of the Decade So Far, whereas Iron Man 3 didn't even receive an honorable mention there. And I'd also now consider Frozen to be my personal #1 favorite movie of all time at that. All things that hadn't become apparent to me until months after the posting of that year's list. So yeah, definitely the most glaring instance of me getting it wrong at the time of posting, which really just goes to show precisely how greatly one's feelings towards these movies and how we'd personally rank them can continue to change over time, the more they really sit with you.

2014

(Original Top 5 Movies of 2014)

As you can see, this is the only year where I only did a Top 5 list, as opposed to the usual Top 10. That's because I personally felt 2014 was a pretty weak year in film, and at the time of posting at least, despite all of the films that I had seen in that year, I didn't personally feel enough of them were great enough to warrant being listed when it came time to do my end of year rundown.

Now, while my #1 choice, Interstellar, hasn't changed, what has changed is that I feel that I now have seen enough truly great movies from that year to warrant doing a full Top 10. And what's especially silly is that it only took less than a month after the time of posting for that to happen, when I was able to see the movies Predestination and Selma. Neither of them were available to me at the time, but after I was able to see them, I felt that they were both not only worthy of the list, but hell, they'd both probably crack the Top 5 for the year at that. This year was certainly the greatest argument for why I should probably wait until sometime in January to actually post these lists, but alas, I find the tradition hard to break after all this time.

2015

(Original Top 10 of 2015)

My listed #1 is Inside Out. And I still love and adore this movie. However, listed at #3 is Mad Max: Fury Road, which is a film that I've only grown to admire and appreciate more and more over the years since. So much so that, similar to my 2011 example, depending on what day you ask me, I may actually consider it my new top pick for the year 2015.

As I said though, I still love Inside Out. But if I were to do an updated ranking for my Top Movies of the Decade So Far, if I'm being honest, I'm not so certain it would make the cut for such a list. However, that same thing can't be said for Mad Max: Fury Road, which on top of being a uniquely tremendous and relentlessly memorable film, easily stands as one of the greatest cinematic achievements of the past decade, which like Inception above, simply can not be ignored.

2016

(Original Top 10 of 2016)

Similar to Inside Out, I absolutely love La La Land, which was my original pick for #1 of the year. I love that movie so, so much! However, as much as I love that movie, I can't help but feel like my #2 pick for that year, The Neon Demon, just speaks to me so much more on a really messed up personal level. So much so that I might actually consider it my new favorite all around movie from that year.

And not only that, but another movie that I want to mention that I would specifically bump up the list is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Originally coming in at #6, it would easily sit somewhere in the Top 3 for me today, as that movie has aged incredibly well for me, and has continued to stick with me in a way that most films just flat out don't anymore. God, 2016 was such an awesome year for movies!

2017

(Original Top 10 of 2017)

And now here's where things get a bit tricky, because honestly, 2017 was a terrible year for film. And while my #1 pick, Logan, was certainly a great one, if I'm being honest? In a better year, it may well have not even cracked into my Top 5 for the year. But while I wouldn't necessarily lower its ranking now, I can say that I'd probably bump a couple of movies up, which over time could very possibly continue to grow on me and perhaps one day take over that top spot. And those movies are A Ghost Story, originally listed at #4, and Detroit, originally listed at #7, both of which would likely find their way somewhere higher in the Top 5 range.

Those were both fantastic films that have really stuck with me from that year, and Detroit in particular stands out to me in part due to how horribly it got overlooked during this past awards season. It didn't receive a single nomination, yet in my estimation? There wasn't a single movie from that year that deserved to win Best Picture over it. So yeah, I don't get that one at all.

But anyways, yeah, that's about it. I'm sure if I dove in more and got really in depth, there would be a lot more changes to each list, but I just wanted to point out the ones that really stood out to me the most, the ones that were most obvious to me without having to even really put too much thought into it, you know? And I just think it's pretty interesting how our opinions on these films can continue to change over time, where we might look at one movie more fondly today, only for another one to really stick with us as time passes, and we realize just how much more that other one really affected us.

So yeah, that's how my Best of Year lists would change, given the proper time for these movies to all settle. So how about you? Are there years where your #1 pick has changed? Is there a movie you weren't quite so hot on before, but which has really grown on you? Or vice versa? Let's hear it!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Sianostra - Coming Soon

We've been working on something new, just for you! So if you all would, please take a look at this teaser trailer for our next upcoming short film, Sianostra:

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.