Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Breathe debuts at Tallahassee Premiere Nights

So this past Friday, May 20th, a film of mine was screened in a movie theater for the very first time. The film was Breathe, the horror short that I filmed last year, and it premiered at the debut event of Tallahassee Premiere Nights at All Saints Cinema, a new event run by Tally Shorts with the promise of showcasing local movies by local filmmakers every other month.

They contacted me a couple weeks prior to the event, asking if I'd like for one of my movies to be shown, and I of course accepted, though I had to decide which one I wanted to showcase on this occasion. I was initially torn on which film to go with, either Dream Girl or Breathe, as they both had their positives and negatives I felt. On the one hand, Dream Girl is probably the more overall solid film, however, it's also a little simple, almost too simple perhaps. And on the other hand, Breathe is probably the more interesting film, certainly the more ambitious, but it's also the more problematic, what with the car scene that perhaps drags on for just a bit too long, and the sound issues that are impossible to predict (the movie sounds perfectly fine on a computer, however, it sounds terrible anytime we've tried to play it on a TV).

And so I turned to the internet to see what everyone else thought. And yeah, the vote was pretty mixed. It's sorta funny, but almost everyone I actually know in real life, friends and family and such, all unanimously said Dream Girl. However, all of my internet pals sided with Breathe. And, well, I guess in the end I agreed with Team Breathe's reasoning more, that a more interesting film will have a better chance of standing out, despite any apparent issues, and so I decided to go with that. Not to mention I couldn't help but be curious as to how it would play in a theater, if the sound issues would persist in that environment or not, and so I guess my curiosity got the better of me on this occasion, and I decided to go with the riskier option of the two. Sorry, friends and family!

But yeah, so I was really nervous going into the screening. The show was set to present four different films, and they were kicking things off with my own. And, well, it certainly was an experience. I mean, it was just pretty cool seeing a film of my own playing on the big screen, in a theater full of people there to watch it in silence. I'm happy to report that the sound in this environment worked flawlessly, so that was a huge load off! And on top of that, it was just really neat being surrounded by an audience watching a film that I made, and hearing them react to it, chuckling at certain moments in the dialogue, gasping at all the right times. It was just an absolute treat, and a very satisfying experience.

After the four films played, they called all of the directors to stand in front of the theater and do a quick Q&A, which was also pretty fun. I learned that, as has often been the case with this film, about half of the audience didn't quite understand it, and as I vaguely tried to explain a few things, hearing the murmured "aha" reactions of the audience was really rewarding. And afterwards, I was briefly interviewed by a team filming something for their school. And yeah, really the whole evening was just a real cool deal, seeing this room of people really take us all seriously and genuinely ask us questions in earnest about our craft. A very cool experience indeed.

So yeah, that was my first time seeing one of my movies on the big screen. Another milestone reached in my ongoing journey as a filmmaker. And on top of that, my film appeared to be received relatively well at that, which I couldn't be more proud of. It's also cool to see that Breathe, in fact, plays well in a theater, so I'll feel more confident moving forward should I decide to enter it into any other screenings, though I'm thinking of giving Dream Girl a shot at perhaps a future screening, so we'll see.

But yeah, I'm really grateful for those who showed up and came out to see the films and show their support, most notably the ever dependable Simmons family and a new filmmaking collaborator of mine Nicole who both showed up for the event, and I also definitely appreciate those who reached out in some other way to show their support elsewhere. And also a congratulations to the other filmmakers at the event, who impressed me with their own work on this evening as well.

If I'm being completely honest, I do wish that perhaps some of the others involved with the actual film would have shown some enthusiasm for such an occasion, and it's a little disheartening that a number of them didn't appear to care at all that a film that they had worked on was making its theatrical debut (not everyone, mind you, but those who did know who they are). Because this achievement really is just as much theirs as it is mine, and I couldn't have done it without them, so I really do wish that they would perhaps be a little more proud of their own efforts, if nothing else. But alas, I can't control how much people care one way or the other, but even if there wasn't as much internal support as I would've hoped for, the support from everyone else really has been absolutely incredible, and I'm very gracious for all of it!

So yeah, all in all, this really did turn out being a great experience. It makes me feel like a real filmmaker, like I'm heading in the right direction, and I'm just ecstatic to get back to work on more new things and get some more of my films out there and shown in theaters. This is just one more step in the long journey ahead, but it feels like a big one, and I couldn't be more excited for where things are going from here. So once again, thank you to Tally Shorts for running this event, thank you to the All Saints Cinema for screening mine and everyone else's films, thank you for everyone who came out on this occasion, and thank you to everyone else who continue to show their support in this monumental endeavor of mine. That support really does mean the world!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Double Feature: Batman v Superman and Civil War

When talking about music in modern day superhero movies, it's sad that, for the most part, gone are the days of our favorite superheroes having their own theme music. Typically speaking, oftentimes the music in modern superhero movies is serviceable at best, it gets the job done, but it's nothing that'll necessarily stick with you or anything. However, one thing I'll give DC for their series of movies is at least they're making an attempt at reviving the concept of theme music, and that couldn't be more apparent than in their latest outing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which all our heroes had their own individual themes throughout.

Whether it's Superman's more somber yet hopeful Malick-esque music first introduced in Man of Steel, or Batman's more brooding, gothic music that has a classic feel for the character, I love how this universe's first ensemble foray put in the effort to give each of our heroes their own distinct music throughout, none more so distinct than that of Wonder Woman's, whose amazonian beats and rockin' electric guitar accompaniment at first sounds like something that doesn't even belong, yet soon grows on you and really pumps you up as the climactic battle rages on. These are precisely the kinda themes that'll stay with you, that'll stick around in your head and bring these characters to mind, just like the themes of old.

Meanwhile, on the Marvel end of the spectrum, they've really not done much in the way of standout music in any of their movies so far, the exception being Guardians of the Galaxy and its incredible use of classic rock tracks. But when it comes to actual original scores, they've kept it pretty generic for the most part thus far. That is, until Captain America: Civil War came around, and for the first time in 13 movies, actually gave us a score that not only stood out during the film itself, but that stuck with me well after the movie had ended.

In the movie, our main villain discusses his intentions on crumbling the empire that is The Avengers, and this shows in the music, as the booming horns and almost lamenting tone sounds precisely like the hymns you'd expect to hear upon such an epic fall from grace for our heroes as they engage in battle against one another. Perhaps not exactly theme music, but certainly a step up from the typically serviceable outings we've come to expect from our Marvel films, something that really elevates the material on screen and helps make it stick with you, gives it that added emotional depth.

Great music is hardly the only thing these two movies have in common, though. In fact, it's almost fascinating just how similar the two are to one another, and yet how drastically the two go in such different directions with various aspects of their respective plots. After my initial viewing of Batman v Superman, I had intended to give it another watch, with particular interest after also recently rewatching Man of Steel and coming away with a far more positive reaction than my initial viewing. Then after watching Civil War, and having my faith in Marvel movies rejuvenated after a slew of disappointments from the studio, I decided that I was going to be ridiculous one Monday afternoon and give both of these movies a second viewing in one big epic double feature.

Both movies essentially have the same premise, two heroes facing off against one another in a battle over ideals, gradually being manipulated more and more into an actual physical encounter, and a slew of other heroes entering into the foray along the way. From the outset, Batman v Superman certainly appears to have the more appropriate title, as Civil War's comes from a loose adaptation of the Marvel comic book story, but really could've just as easily been titled Iron Man v Captain America, as that's really the central conflict there.

However, I'll jump to the defense of the name Captain America: Civil War for the movie's title based on a few things. A number of people have mentioned how this movie could've easily just been called Avengers 3, however, I don't feel that's accurate. The two Avengers flicks so far have been really well balanced amongst their ensemble cast, giving an equal share of the spotlight to every member of the team. Here, though, it's an even split amongst Captain America and Tony Stark specifically, with the other heroes definitely playing more supporting roles. So then, why couldn't this be Iron Man 4 instead of Captain America 3? After all, Stark is arguably in more of the movie than even Cap.

Well, in that case, I'd point to the fact that, in terms of the actual content and tone of the movie, it's definitely more in line with what we've been getting out of the Captain America flicks thus far than the Iron Man films. Not to mention that it directly continues Cap's story from where it left off with The Winter Soldier, and carries over several other elements introduced in that film, and yeah, you can see why they decided to place it under the Captain America banner. The only other appropriate alternatives would've been had they actually named the movie Captain America vs. Iron Man, or titled it Marvel: Civil War perhaps, but placing it under the Captain America banner prevents them from needlessly having to introduce a new IP for the MCU on top of everything else, and it fits there well enough, so all things considered, going with Captain America: Civil War for the title of this new movie honestly does work the best.

As for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I've heard a number of complaints that the movie isn't enough actual Batman v Superman and probably should've just been called Dawn of Justice. However, upon a rewatch, I really have to disagree with this stance as well. Honestly, though there is a lot going on in the film, the entire movie does build up the encounter between Batman and Superman, and the way their fight concludes equally segues us into the "Dawn of Justice" aspect that's also at play throughout, so really, the whole title works perfectly fine for this film.

But anyways, now that I've discussed the titles of these movies in more length than is probably really necessary, how about we discuss the actual content in the two movies themselves? First off, I just want to mention how, despite these two movies being as long as they are and tackling as much as they do, they are both incredibly well paced movies, as my double feature flew by in absolutely no time at all, despite my spending around 5 and a half hours in the theater on this occasion. But speaking of just how much these two movies tackle, let's start off by discussing their use of ensemble casting.

Marvel is certainly no stranger to this at all by now, having successfully given us The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy and proving their abilities to balance out a larger cast of characters. And this latest outing is largely another success for them as well. Though some of the characters do feel a bit tacked on and largely unnecessary to the grand scheme (I'm looking at you, Spider-Man), their inclusion doesn't take anything away from the story, and they're all used just enough to not feel too intrusive, either. Many of these guys were brought in solely to give us that great action set piece at the airport, the big clash amongst the two sides of opposing heroes, and the scene was just so much fun all around that I really can't fault the film for going this route. So, though not everyone's quite so organically integrated into the actual narrative, they all still served their purpose and didn't feel pointless or wasted, either.

And speaking of Spidey, if The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a very flawed movie that happens to have quite possibly the best closing 10 minutes in any superhero film to date, then Batman v Superman is, too, a very flawed movie that just so happens to have quite possibly the best opening 10 minutes in any superhero film at that, as we witness the battle from Man of Steel from Bruce Wayne's point of view. Just wanted to get that in there, even if it wasn't quite so seamlessly incorporated as perhaps the rest of my scattered thoughts stringing these two movies together, but I digress!

Now, DC on the other hand is playing a bit of catch up, and decided to introduce a lot of new characters all at once in one go. And yeah, some of these instances felt pretty forced, such as when Wonder Woman is literally sitting at a computer and watching the three after credits scenes teasing Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash respectively. And I would say that the main villain, Lex Luthor, was also handled somewhat questionably as well. On first viewing, I didn't have too big an issue with this universe's take on the character, but on a second watch, Jesse Eisenberg's radically over the top performance does sorta just stick out like a sore thumb, like this character doesn't really fit in this established dark and grim world. I still don't think it's a bad performance necessarily, just perhaps a misguided choice.

Now that said, the one new character introduced in either of these movies who stands out tooth and nail above the rest as being by far the best inclusion would have to be Wonder Woman.

I love this movie's portrayal of this character. Her action scenes at the end are an absolute blast, and are so fun that, even after my second viewing of both these movies, her scenes are the ones that make me tempted to possibly give Batman v Superman a third viewing. Quite frankly, if her standalone movie is anything like what what we got out of her in this film, then Wonder Woman is easily among my absolute most anticipated upcoming superhero films.

I mentioned a possible third viewing of Batman v Superman (which honestly isn't too likely to happen), and a lot of that has to do with just how much the movie improved on a second viewing. Now, it was a movie where, despite being pretty messy in areas, I didn't think was nearly so bad as critics were making it out to be, even if I didn't actually disagree with many of the criticisms being lobbied its way. However, most of my misgivings for the movie didn't bother me nearly so much on a second viewing, and the things I did enjoy about it I found myself loving even more.

Meanwhile, I was pretty high on Civil War after my initial viewing, thinking it was one of Marvel's best yet and being just overall highly impressed with how well balanced, well written, and well performed the movie was all around. This is quite possibly Robert Downey Jr.'s best performance I've seen from him for instance, and like Guardians of the Galaxy, the sheer emotion this movie displayed elevated it well above the rest of Marvel's best. And after a second viewing, yeah, I pretty much came away with precisely the same feeling. The movie didn't improve in any regard necessarily, it just remained very much a very solid, very evoking film, and definitely one of my favorites out of the studio yet.

And speaking on that emotion, that brings me to the actual title encounters in these two films. First, Civil War, and the final confrontation featuring Iron Man taking on Captain America and The Winter Soldier. The tease of this fight in the trailers gave me hope that the Russo brothers would improve upon their more problematic action directing from The Winter Soldier, and that proved to be precisely the case in the final film. In fact, the way this movie played out, I almost thought the scenes from the trailer might be trailer exclusive, like Marvel was faking us out again, much like they did with Iron Man 3's marketing.

But no, the movie ends quite gloriously on that fight, and while many might be citing the airport battle as being a highlight for the movie, the encounter between Iron Man, Cap, and Bucky is the best fight in the entire MCU to date. The sheer raw emotion on display is off the charts, and the aforementioned booming music accompanying it will send chills through your body. It's a fight where you can clearly see where both of our heroes are coming from, and you don't even want them to fight, and it's almost frustrating in that regard, but all you can do is watch and see it play out in an inevitable, tragic fashion.

Batman v Superman takes a bit of a different route with its title encounter, however, as the movie doesn't end on their battle, but rather, sees the two uniting in the end in order to take on a bigger threat. The fight itself was enjoyable enough, even if, unlike Civil War, the actual reason the two are fighting does get a bit muddied up along the way. Though one of those lingering issues I still took with the film is in regards to what actually concludes their encounter.

Now, I'm not opposed to the idea of the two bonding over their mothers having the same name. In fact, it's a pretty human notion that I kinda liked initially, and seeing Batman literally coming back from his darker place and re-finding the humanity hiding deep within himself upon that revelation is a great moment in the movie. However, my issue with this ordeal comes down to its execution, specifically of Superman asking Batman to help him save "Martha". Not his mother, but Martha. And this just rang as very forced to me. Why is Superman referring to his mother by her name? Why isn't he asking Batman to help "save my mother", or something more along those lines? That would certainly feel more natural. And yes, I know that in order to do that would mean also naturally sacrificing the bonding realization of their mothers having the same name, something that had been a foreshadowed element from the very beginning. But all the same, the moment felt contrived, and took me out of the scene. I don't have the answer to how they could've necessarily accomplished what they were going for in a more natural way, but I do wish that perhaps some more thought and care went into that actual pivotal turning point.

Speaking on those "mommy issues", that brings me to one of the areas where the movies took completely different routes on a similar aspect. In Batman v Superman, a revelation involving our heroes' parentage is what ultimately unites them. Meanwhile, in Civil War, said revelation concerning our heroes' parentage is what completely drives them apart and actually kick starts their final fight, which I found quite interesting.

And one other thing I do appreciate very much about both movies is that they both gave us a very definitive victor to those fights. There may have been cop outs in other regards to both movies, particularly as it regards killing off certain characters, but the fact that they followed through with giving us a winner to those fights is honestly more than I actually expected. And that's another aspect in which both movies took a different route, which I again found pretty interesting. In Civil War, Captain America, who's fighting to defend his friend, succeeds in stopping Iron Man, the aggressor in their battle. Meanwhile, in Batman v Superman, it's the aggressor who actually wins, as Batman succeeds in taking down Superman, who is fighting more defensively throughout in a vain attempt to knock some sense into Batman and get him to listen to reason, much like Cap in Civil War.

And again, just the fact alone that the movies conclude in such different manners, in Batman v Superman seeing our heroes brought together to unite against a common enemy, and in Civil War our heroes being brought together to contend against one another, is just sorta interesting as well. I don't actually have any point I'm driving to here with these comparisons, nor am I making any attempt to dissect what either company might be trying to say with their particular decisions. I just really genuinely found it fascinating how these two movies that came out at around the same time could have just so much in common with one another, quite frankly even more than I honestly expected them to, and yet still go in such different directions from one another in all of their similarities. Can you imagine if these two movies actually ended up releasing on the same day as they were at one point in time slated to do? How bizarre would that have been?

And yeah, that's pretty much all I got. This was honestly one of the more enjoyable double features that I've done, as I quite liked both of these films, despite any of their apparent flaws. And a lot of that enjoyment came from seeing these two harshly different takes on essentially the same subject. I would say that Civil War is certainly the more solid movie of the two, as well as the more emotionally powerful, though Batman v Superman perhaps has a bit of an upper hand in terms of its visual prowess, as well as the sheer fun factor of its action sequences. And thinking ahead, I've gotta say that the Russo brothers have officially won me over and have my confidence in them moving forward with future Marvel projects, and though DC's outing was certainly the messier of the two, I remain hopeful that they'll perhaps pull it together, and if nothing else, at least remain entertaining moving forward. (I'm looking at you, Wonder Woman!)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

My mindset heading into film production

So in only a week, production will officially begin on my latest film project, which is by far the biggest project I've tackled to date, that being a full feature length film. And in the meantime, I've been knee deep in pre-production for the past few months, getting everything ready, securing locations, holding auditions, and gathering together a full team in which to tackle this thing head on. This film has pretty much entirely consumed my life, and that's even before we've officially begun filming. And yeah, the further along we come, the more I can definitely feel scale of the project weighing down on me, and that's actually what I wanted to talk about today.

On all of my prior film projects to date, I've typically had a right hand man standing by my side, someone who I trusted to help me out and basically be my go-to to discuss project related things as we're going along, to give me a second opinion on matters I'm not 100% on and basically help me from getting derailed in any way. But as I've gone into this project, my biggest project to date, I've done so with a distinct lack of someone filling that particular role. Not to diminish the help that I have received from the number of people that I have so far, but I've definitely felt the lack of having that #1 person to really be my go-to for things, and for a while, it was pretty tough.

And as it regards my mental state, despite things going relatively smoothly more or less so far, I've also had times where I've completely stressed out and become overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the project I'm attempting to tackle, at just how much there is to keep in order and take into account, juggling so many people's schedules and talking to so many people that I've found myself at times forgetting whether or not I've had a particular discussion with someone yet, or if I'm just repeating myself. My mind's been kinda scrambled, and I've mostly been keeping that to myself, for fear of giving off the impression to my cast and crew that I'm not up to the task and having them possibly second guess the project. And not having that right hand man to go to, even if just to let off a little steam, has made this all the more hard.

However, recently, I've had a couple of meetings with a couple of particular individuals who really set my mind straight. These people spent our entire meetings pretty much talking down to me, speaking to me like I was an idiot, like I didn't know what I was doing, and they were essentially trying to tell me how I was supposed to do my job, no matter how much I tried to assure them that this wasn't my first rodeo. And then on top of all that, one of these individuals, upon hearing my plans for shooting the film in a timely manner, spent almost an hour trying to convince me that it wasn't possible, not on my budget at least, telling me that he was "just being real" with me, that filming was going to take upwards of a year or more. But try as he might, I remained unwavered.

Yes, the road ahead is going to be hard, and it's probably going to be complicated at times. But is it impossible? Not in the least, and that much I am absolutely certain of. Sure, this project may be much bigger than anything else I've ever taken on, but I've put in the time planning it out in a believable and doable manner, and bring with me everything I've learned on all my previous projects so far, as well as a solid team to pull it all off. And sure, there may be some hiccups along the way here or there that we'll have to accommodate for, but I wholly believe that we can most certainly finish this thing according to plan and keep on a timely schedule.

So that's what it's pretty much come to as it regards my mental state. I may be stressed, and at times that stress may get to me, but even so, I remain confident and steadfast in my conviction moving forward. Am I in over my head? I dunno, maybe not so much in over my head, but perhaps maybe just a little nuts for even tackling something this big? And is it going to be hard? Absolutely, and I'm very likely going to remain a big ball of stress the entire way through, even if only in private. But is it impossible to do, in the time I want to do it in? Hell no it's not, and to hell with anyone who would dare try to convince me otherwise.

My meeting with that particular individual lasted a little longer than an hour, but really, he could've spent the whole entire night, hell, the whole entire week trying to convince me, and I would still remain absolutely unwavered and determined in my stance. And that's where my mind is right now, as we're set to officially begin filming about a week from now. So I suppose I'm like Roman Reigns in that regard: I can, and I will. Except, unlike Roman Reigns, I actually will. And also unlike Roman Reigns, I'm not going to have anything handed to me on a silver platter without having to put in any actual work or effort. So really, that was just a terrible comparison altogether!

But yeah, we're ready to tackle this thing, and though I might not necessarily have that one right man hand in particular at the time of this writing standing by my side, I've received an absolutely invaluable amount of help and support from so many people so far, which really can't be understated at all, and I can only hope to be able to repay in full when all is said and done. And even to the assholes who wanted to talk down to me in such a disrespectful manner, even those interactions I find myself thankful for, for ultimately giving me the reassurance in myself and my abilities to pull this whole thing off, even if unintentionally so.

So yeah, I'm no longer ashamed of my mental state, because no matter how much this project may weigh down on me, at least now I know that I won't crack under the pressure, and I will find a way and remain tenacious moving forward. I'm ready... no, we're ready, and I can't wait to have a finished product to show everyone. And the fact that it is going to be such a challenge will make it all the more worth it in the end.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Paranormal Activity - A Full Series Overview

So up until recently, of the six Paranormal Activity films, I had only seen the last three, and as such, formed a fitting enough opinion of them, writing the series off as just being merely a hilariously bad series of movies. However, for years I've had a friend urging me to go back and watch the first three, and for years I've just kinda been putting that off. That is, until a couple weeks back, in which I finally gave those first three movies a watch, and then followed that up by re-watching the ones I had already seen again, which pretty much changed my perception both on those movies and the series as a whole. So let's start from the beginning now and see what I thought about Paranormal Activity in its entirety.

Warning: spoilers ahead!

The first movie I actually found myself quite impressed with. I found its simplicity actually made it stand out as quite an effective little film, and made for a pretty novel approach. Just the fact that they were able to get so much out of so minimal was really quite a feat. Honestly, it's a pretty solid film, and one that lays the mythological groundwork for the rest of the movies to gradually expand upon. However, if I were to say one negative thing about it, it would be that Micah proves himself to be quite possibly the biggest douchebag of the whole series, and it woulda been nicer to follow some more likeable characters here.

But anyways, that was the first movie, and the second movie honestly felt like a natural progression, giving us more of the same for the most part, but broadening the approach via the use of more security cameras through the house, and bringing a slightly larger cast into play. And it was fine, and actually pretty clever how it acts as both a prequel and sequel to the first movie, and continues to expand even further upon the series' myths with what exactly this whole paranormal activity these families are dealing with actually is. So yeah, this was another pretty solid outing, though honestly is probably the most forgettable in the series, as it really doesn't do much different that wasn't honestly done more effectively in the first movie.

Movie 3 is where things start to change up a bit, as we travel to the past, watching footage that was shot while our main characters from the first two movies, Katie and Kristi, were both kids, and this paranormal activity first came into their lives. I would say this movie is honestly probably the best in the series, featuring some very clever tricks via the use of the revolving fan camera that make for some of the most effective scares in the series, and also featuring quite honestly the most all around likeable cast of the whole series. You really grow to legitimately care about all of these characters in this one, making for all the more tragic an ending when all hell breaks loose in the end. So yeah, this was another really solid outing, and it was a nice change in pace going back to a different time period and discovering the truth of what happened to those two girls when they were kids. And yeah, this movie also introduces the first instance of it making no sense that the characters are still filming this footage with this one's big finale, but it was executed so well that I was willing to forgive it.

This comes in complete contrast to that similar feeling with the finale of movie 4, but more on that in a sec. First, I'd like to say how overall genuinely impressed I was by the first three movies, not only in execution, but also in how they've introduced this whole over-arching mythology that continued to gradually expand more and more with each film, tying everything together so neatly. So while I didn't intend on doing so initially, after watching the first three films, I very much had a desire to revisit the second half of this series, and see how the story as a whole really came together. And that brings us to movie 4, which is currently the only movie I've previously written a full review of to date, and yeah, to say that that review is now outdated is putting it mildly.

Where as before I wrote the fourth movie off as just being sort of an awesomely bad experience, now with the context of the first three present, I can see that it was actually just a bad experience. Suddenly, all of the criticisms I had seen hurled its way made so much sense, because really, this movie didn't hold up all too well upon being revisited at all.

For one thing, the writing is completely lazy in this one compared to the first three. The characters record all of this footage, but then proceed to never actually bother reviewing any of that footage, meaning that it's all literally only being filmed for us, the viewer. So there's that, and there's also the fact that absolutely none of the characters in this movie actually listen to one another, which only becomes increasingly bizarre and frustrating as the movie goes along. And by that, I mean something as simple as a husband trying to tell his wife that a knife just fell from the ceiling goes ignored, as she completely doesn't process what he's saying at all and just tells him to go to bed. Or when the girl is desperately trying to tell her father about all of the crazy stuff that's been happening to her, he talks to her as if she's not saying any of that at all, just ignoring her every plea.

The only other instance of this really happening in the series is when the wife in movie 3 won't watch the footage, but at least there she has the context that she's reached her breaking point, so you can see where she's coming from. Here, though? It's just so that the film can continue to move along without having to juggle too many things. All these factors just feel like the writers just introduced way too much with this movie, but didn't have the energy to actually follow through with any of the characters actually having to interact with one another or, alternatively, even react at all to any of the footage being shot, so they just said screw it, and didn't bother addressing it at all, taking the laziest route possible. And what makes this even more frustrating is that movie 2 already tackled and successfully balanced a larger cast with constantly recording footage being reviewed, so to see them drop the ball with this so badly in this outing is really just disappointing and inexcusable.

And as I alluded to before, the final scene in this movie makes absolutely no sense why it's being filmed at all. And yeah, I mentioned how it really didn't either in movie 3, but at least there, it started out making sense, it was only as the scene proceeded along that we eventually reached a point where, realistically, he really probably woulda stopped worrying about recording everything.

Here? She's literally dragged out of her room by the demon, then in the next shot, is out of her house screaming for help as she runs to the neighbors house to save her dad, only for some reason deciding she needed to bust out her camera and shoot it all first. And yeah, like most of the footage shot in this movie, it was done in a way that feels like it's solely for us, the viewer, to actually see what happened, and not something that feels organically integrated into the movie, as was the case with the first three films. This really shows that, after a certain point, they really probably should have just abandoned the whole "found footage" aspect to this series, as what they were trying to do was just way too big to make a whole lotta sense being shot in that way.

That said, it wasn't all bad, if I'm being fair. For instance, some of the new gimmicks introduced, such as the Kinect vision, were actually quite clever little inclusions. But really, other than that, yeah, movie 4 really didn't hold up too well. And in fact, not only would I call it the worst in the series, but in hindsight, also the most pointless, as several elements just left me scratching my head as to why they transpired the way they did. Things such as Hunter apparently going up for adoption after the events of the second movie. Why? Was it really just so they could lure the girl over so they could have their big "virgin sacrifice"? Because, really, I'm pretty sure that there had to be far easier ways for them to accomplish that goal, ways that didn't involve them putting Hunter up for adoption and having to go through the whole process of bringing him back over to their side, even though they already had him after the end of the second film.

But yeah, that was movie 4, and that brings us to the fifth movie, which I have a separate yet far different little rant about as well, but I'll get to that in a minute. First, I want to start off by saying that where Paranormal Activity 4 was in all honesty hurt by going back and watching the first three movies, the opposite is quite true here, as the prior knowledge of those movies actually really strengthened Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.

This one definitely feels the most overall ingrained in all of the brewing mythology of the series, so knowing everything that had lead up to this point brings a whole new light to everything going on in this fifth outing. Now, that said, is it a good outing? Well, let's just say that where my feelings may have changed on the fourth on this matter, I can whole heartedly assure you that this one still holds up as a legitimate example of a film that is so bad, it's actually kind of good.

It certainly features by far the most unintentionally silliest imagery in the series, images such as the dog being pressed against the ceiling against its will, or our main antagonist suddenly materializing in the room via cheap photoshop effects (though the gangsters shot-gunning down all of those witches may well have been intentionally hilarious). And in terms of the found footage aspect, I'll just flat out say that the entire second half of this movie even being filmed makes absolutely no god damn sense at all! But even so, it was all so enjoyable that you're willing to forgive it this time around, and quite frankly, the change in scenery they chose for this film made for a much needed breath of fresh air for the series.

Now, as for that rant, one issue I take as it concerns this movie is not with the movie itself, but rather, with the continued insistence that some people have that this movie is merely a spin-off, and not an actual legitimate entry in the series. And to that I say, clearly every single person insisting as such either has never actually seen this movie and made that opinion based solely on the trailers, or they did watch it, but weren't paying a lick of attention at all.

For one, this movie picks up the series' mythology directly where both movies 3 and 4 left off, further expanding on the aspects of the witches coven introduced by those movies. And it also formally introduces key elements that come into play with the sixth movie, meaning that its placement in the series ties directly in sequence with the other films. And the movie makes direct reference to this taking place after the events of movie 4, and also features enough references to the other films that it's placement in the series is more than prevalent, such as the mysterious traveling box of tapes showing up near them, including the Katie and Kristi tape from movie 3, as well as the sole surviving girl from movie 2 even being called in to help out. (In fact, come to think of it, it's interesting how that girl from movie 2 is actually the only character out of every single one of these movies to make it out both alive and un-possessed. Huh.) And that's not even taking into account that the final climactic scene takes place both in the grandma's house from movie 3 and the original house from the first film, tying directly into the latter's ending as well.

Honestly, the only thing that really makes this movie any different from the others outside of following a bunch of Latino characters instead of another wealthy white family (which, if that's why some are considering it a spin-off, then, racist much?) is that this movie doesn't include the nightly breakdowns monitoring the ongoing paranormal activity while everyone's asleep. But, given the context within the movie, it wouldn't make sense for them to do so anyways, so there's really nothing lost there either. And I suppose this is also the only movie that doesn't actually feature Toby as the main ghost, but it otherwise ties in so snugly with everything else surrounding that entire storyline that it definitely feels like the natural progression that keeps the series moving forward. So all in all, yeah, spin-off? Certainly not. But anyways, tangent aside, no, it's not as good as the first three, but it's still quite enjoyable.

And that brings us to the sixth and final film in the series, The Ghost Dimension. And this is the movie that I probably have the most mixed feelings on. It's definitely a return to the more traditional format, only introducing a new aspect in the form of a camera that can actually see the paranormal activity, which it turns out is apparently mostly just a black blob of bad CGI effects. So on the one hand, this probably shows us way too much, though on the other, it's at least showing us a new perspective, while also addressing the issue as to why they're continuing to film throughout the whole thing even as shit hits the fan, so that the characters themselves and not just us, the viewers, can actually see what they're up against.

And in terms of cast, this is also a mixed bag there as well. On the one hand, we have characters who continue to play ignorant and try and act like all of this is just in their heads, even after they've seen proof of it all actually happening for real, which can be really frustrating. But on the other hand, you have characters like the little girl, who quite frankly is probably the best actor in the whole series, and naturally jumps between sweet and innocent child, to genuinely creepy and menacing possessed girl. So they're not all obnoxious, and in fact, I actually found most of the cast to be quite likeable, so at least that much is good, but those few frustrating moments do really stand out as just, again, inexcusably poor and lazy writing.

That said, I wouldn't call the writing on the whole in this one poor on the level of the fourth movie, as the way it ties in with the series is really sort of ingenious. They discover that same said mysterious traveling box of tapes, and decide to go through them and give them a watch, including them literally watching Paranormal Activity 3 at various points. But then it cuts ahead to after the events of the third movie, as Katie and Kristi were being brainwashed by this mysterious cult, and the way this winds up tying into the plot of the sixth movie is actually pretty neat.

That the movie fumbles with its ending is then made all the more disheartening as a result of these otherwise clever aspects throughout, but yeah, this movie's biggest downfall definitely comes in the form the big finale, which also happens to be the series wrap-up (at least, as of this writing, that's reportedly the case). And, well, yeah, let's just say that it's a bit of a letdown.

Where the previous three movies were all building up this whole witches coven aspect, and the fact that they were building an army for something, this movie completely disregards that entire aspect to focus back solely on Toby and his singular goal, which it turns out was just to become human. And... that's it. At least, that's as far as this movie explains it. But to what end is this his goal? Is he brought to life in order to lead said army? But even if that's the case, to what means? What is the army's actual purpose? We can only speculate. And I'm not saying that the movie had to answer every question raised throughout the series. But that it chose to answer so few, and even left many go completely ignored, made for a pretty unsatisfying conclusion to an otherwise quite intriguing series of films.

So yeah, those are my thoughts on the series, and I have to say, overall, despite some of its hiccups along the way, I quite enjoyed the ride. I loved just how connected all of the movies are, and found discovering new information behind the gradually building myths behind the demon and the witches and such to be very interesting, and in many regards, well executed. There's actually a lot of attention to detail as far as continuity goes for the most part, which made for an overall satisfying watch, even if the ultimate conclusion in the end wasn't so satisfying itself.

But yeah, it's interesting how going back and watching those first three movies so drastically changed my stance on the series. Where before I wrote it all off as being pretty dumb yet fun, now I can see that the series actually started off quite smart with its smaller beginnings, reaching its peak with the third installment, and only after that point started to get a bit too big for its own good, where some of the filmmakers struggled to keep a nice, coherent balance. I can definitely see where some people are coming from with their harsher criticisms of the later films, though I still would personally say that some people may be a bit too harsh on this series at times. All in all, it was fun, and left me with a lot to discuss, so I was left pretty impressed by enough of what I saw to say that it was worth it. And I don't know where they would go from here, what with Toby being human now and all, but I honestly wouldn't mind seeing one more shot at a more conclusive finale that could more fully tie together all the major aspects introduced in the series, and to what ends the master plan was ultimately leading to. But I'm not holding my breath on that.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Productivity in 2015

So with the year coming to an end, I'd like to take a look back at what 2015 had to offer, and what I look to accomplish in the year coming up. It's been a pretty productive year for me, one my most productive yet actually. After having spent the past couple years focused mostly on my novel writing pursuits, I decided that I had been neglecting my filmmaking aspirations for far long enough, and so proceeded to shift focus onto that for the majority of the year.

There have been ups and downs, but to jump straight to the positives, I filmed and released two new short films this year, which I'm just ecstatic about. Dream Girl was a bit of a smaller, more scaled back project, but a nice way to segue back into the filmmaking groove, and we managed to pull it off all the same, putting together and nice solid little film. And it received a generally positive reaction all around, which I was very pleased by.

And Breathe was a bit more of an experimental work, which I used as a means to test myself as a filmmaker, and which released to a more mixed reaction as a result. But even so, I was still personally satisfied with how it turned out in the end, and found the experience working alongside my cast and crew to be an absolute delight.

And these experiences have lead to other projects that have lined up, some of which have panned out, and some not so much. But of those that came through, working on the stage production Splintered Judgement turned out to be quite a rewarding new experience for me, and really tested me as an actor. And, again, working on this play introduced me to a whole lot of great people who I hope to continue to work with moving forward.

I did allude that not quite everything went smoothly, however. For instance, at the beginning of the year, I had a job that restricted my availability to really work on a lot of these projects, which proved to be a real hurdle, and it still bothers me thinking back on just how much I missed out on throughout the first half of the year as a result. But I've since found a new, much better job, one that's got a lot more flexibility with their scheduling, and is a relatively stress-free work environment, giving me plenty of time and peace of mind to work on these various projects of mine, which is definitely a far more ideal situation. And, well, some other collaborative projects may have just fallen by the wayside, for one reason or another, but I've decided to just keep focused on my own thing in the meantime, and so far, it's worked out pretty well for me.

Since the conclusion of Breathe, I've been hard at work writing again, and have actually completed the screenplay for my first feature length film. And trust me when I tell you that this one's going to be to die for! But we've now entered into pre-production, and intend to move forward with the project going into the new year. And in the meantime, I've also worked out a lot of the kinks in one of my older script ideas I've been working on in an on and off fashion over the past few years, and for the first time really, it finally feels like it's starting to all come together and actually work, which I'm very pleased by.

So I'm happy with my efforts in the past year, working more and more towards this goal of mine, and I look to continue those filmmaking pursuits in full force going into 2016. But that's not to say that I've abandoned novel writing altogether. I also completed a final outline for the third book in The Ninja Kat series, The Masquerade, with intent to move forward writing the actual narrative next year as well. Believe me, I'm feeling the itch to return to the Velcro world once more, so it won't be too much longer now before we all feel that sweet relief!

So yeah, looking back at all of that, it's actually kind of hard to believe all that happened in only a year. See, I don't just spend all my free time watching every single movie that comes out! Though, working on these various projects of mine has effected my blogging activity a bit, though really, what I've been working on lately is far more important than yet another review for the latest new movie. But it's been a pretty decent year, I must say. I met a lot of great people, made a lot of new friends, and got a lot done towards working on my bigger goals. So that's all I've got for now, and hopefully it was a good year for all of you as well! And here's to yet another solid productive year to come!

Monday, December 28, 2015

My Top 10 Movies of 2015

So here we are again, time to count down my picks for the Top 10 Movies of the Year. And 2015 proved to be an especially tremendous year for film, which makes this year's list harder to narrow down than usual, and that's even before I've had a chance to get to some of the more prolific releases that haven't come around here just yet, the most notable among them being Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. But as always, before we begin with the list, let's first take a look at a handful of Honorable Mentions that just missed the cut:

Honorable Mentions
Ex Machina (Alex Garland)
Maggie (Henry Hobson)
Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs)
Sicario (Denis Villeneuve)

And even that was hard to narrow down, but those four stood out above and beyond all the rest as especially noteworthy films. But now, moving onto the main list, let's start off strong with...

#10

The Revenant
(Alejandro G. Iñárritu)

Iñárritu's follow up to last year's Birdman definitely lives up to expectations. This was a technical marvel of a film. The way this movie is shot with longer takes and visceral movement is just a spectacle on film, and makes you feel like you're right there in the thick of things with our characters. And the performances are great across the board, and wraps up yet another standout year for Tom Hardy, who continues to prove himself to be one of the most versatile actors out there, but also Domhnall Gleeson, who I'm glad to see breaking out into his own variety of bigger and better roles. But really, let's just talk a minute about the star of the show here.

That bear was fantastic! I mean, did you see that thing? I swear, this movie should win the award for best visual effects for that bear alone. What a fucking beast!

...

Oh, yeah, and Leonardo DiCaprio was good, too. Heh, but all kidding aside, seriously, just give this guy his damn Oscar already. The things they put him through in this movie, every growling, guttural crawl is just begging for Oscar gold. When he grabs a fish out of water and eats it alive in his bare hands, you just know that he's thinking "this tastes like Oscar!" He barely speaks throughout the movie, and yet says so much through his facial expressions and physical acting alone. It's time, guys. It's time to include poor Leo in the ranks of Academy Award winning actors.

The Revenant was a great revenge flick that took us through the harshness of the wilderness and man, with stunning cinematography and outstanding performances that'll make your own blood boil. The only thing that could've made this thing even better is if they had somehow gotten this movie a Thanksgiving Day release. Come on! How perfect would that have been?!

#9

Clouds of Sils Maria
(Olivier Assayas)

If The Revenant was a great "director's film", then Clouds of Sils Maria was a great "writer's movie". This wasn't a perfect movie all around, but when it's good, it's damn good, and that's typically when one of two things are at play here: 1. The lovely writing is taking center stage, and 2. Kristen Stewart is on screen.

Now that we're in the thick of awards season, honestly the person I'm rooting for hardest is Kristen Stewart. She gives quite possibly my favorite performance of the whole year here, and when the Golden Globe nominations were announced, I commented how the only snub that really bothered me was hers. Hopefully the Academy Awards will correct this horrible oversight, because god damn does she deserve it. She's one of the most unfairly hated on actors working today, so to see her actually get recognized for her phenomenal talents and put her haters in their place would be the ultimate recompense.

But even beyond her, I loved the writing in this thing, and feel it's a fascinating film with its parallels and character interactions throughout. Pulled together with great performances and some gorgeous scenery shots in tow, Clouds of Sils Maria is one that actors and writers alike should be able to particularly appreciate and take away from.

(Original review)

#8

San Andreas
(Brad Peyton)

Now this may seem like a silly choice to include here. But of all the big dumb stupid blockbusters released this year, this one stood out as being the especially fun one of the bunch. Now, I'll admit that I didn't go in with the highest of expectations, thinking the trailers looked pretty ridiculous, even for my tastes. But I was actually quite surprised by what we got here, and found the movie to be more than just dumb action spectacle on screen, thanks to some, again, surprisingly good performances throughout.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has proven himself time and time again to be an incredible actor, and has only continued to improve over the years. In fact, I'd say that it's only a matter of time now before people start to take him seriously for awards recognition. And he didn't disappoint here, giving yet another noteworthy performance, and bringing in a, again, surprisingly deep level of emotion with his delivery. I know I keep using the word "surprising" to describe this film, but I suppose I just can't emphasize enough how true that is.

This movie also acted as my introduction to the drop dead beautiful Alexandra Daddario, who brought with her an absolutely commanding presence.

Sure, anytime she stepped foot on screen I may have been melting in my seat (honestly the first time an actor's mere presence has had this effect on me since Loki in The Avengers), and I even at one time started writing an overly long and embarrassing post that was going to go far too much into detail on this subject alone, before ultimately deciding against it. But there was just something about her presence here that just elevated the movie. And I've seen a lot of beautiful women on film, so it wasn't just her looks, but something about her personality, the way she moved, the way she carried herself, the look in her eyes, something that just captivates one's attention. And that something made all of the chaos erupting around her feel all the more real, the stakes all the more dire.

So yeah, San Andreas surprised me, in more ways than one. This movie knew that it took more than just exciting visuals to make the spectacle of a disaster film truly work, and so injected it with a good ol' dose of emotion, with more than capable actors up to the task of making you take this otherwise relatively silly movie a lot more seriously than you normally would.

#7

Steve Jobs
(Danny Boyle)

My boy Fassbender killed it again. As did the whole cast, including Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, and Seth Rogen. As did director Danny Boyle with his kinetic style, and as did screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and his trademark fast-paced dialogue. Everything just came together so magically to create a fittingly frenetic work of art built upon a foundation of love.

The structure of this movie was brilliant, broken up into three scenes played out in real time leading up to various pivotal moments in Steve Jobs' career, and the editing and orchestral music made for some of the most powerful moments of the year on film. There's an argument about halfway into the film between Fassbender's and Daniels' characters, which intercuts with another argument the two were having in the past, and is gradually built up through its lighting, through the music, and through their performances, and creates one of the most pulse-poundingly intense scenes of the whole year.

This movie is just filled with so much energy. And it all comes through so passionately. So much so that, despite the fact that this is now only one of many movies on the life of Steve Jobs, this one stands out all the same and somehow manages to feel fresh. When the only flaw you can think of for a movie is that the title is a bit underwhelming, I think we're onto something good there.

#6

Creed
(Ryan Coogler)

A while back, I highly recommended this movie to a filmmaker friend of mine, describing the movie to her in detail, discussing the great performances here, with Michael B. Jordan impressing yet again, and Sylvester Stallone giving us quite possibly the most genuinely incredible performance of his career, so much so that I'll be rooting for him to take home the Oscar for this one (but seriously, who would have ever that that, between Maggie and Creed, we'd be getting legitimately great acting performances from both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in 2015?).

I mentioned how its blend of new and iconic musical cues will send chills through your body. And I also mentioned that the cinematography was simply outstanding, and how the boxing scenes here are quite possibly the best shot boxing scenes in any movie to date, finding new ways to reinvent the wheel, even after we thought we've seen everything the genre has to offer. So, all in all, what it boiled down to was, as I recommended this movie to my filmmaking collaborator, what I was describing to her that truly left an impression with me was that this was a real "filmmaker's film".

By incorporating a fresh take to a franchise that, even beyond the Rocky movies themselves, we're all too familiar with by now (hell, the original Rocky invented all the cliches that an entire genre has been utilizing ever since), Creed manages to stand out among the pack as a brand new instant classic in its own right. You'll feel the raw emotion, you'll experience chills, and you'll maybe even tear up a bit by this all around impressive modern spin on an old classic.

#5

Boruto: Naruto the Movie
(Hiroyuki Yamashita)

Yeah, it's possible that this is my most biased inclusion on this list, but I was damn impressed by this particular Naruto outing. I've covered all of the Naruto movies to date now, and while most of them are essentially just a crappy, extended version of a typical filler episode, this is the first one that actually feels like a true legitimate movie, and one that just happened to be about Naruto. And I loved that about it.

I have mentioned to some friends how I one day would love to direct a live action Naruto movie. But, being such a wide and expansive series with so much to cover, the issue would always be what would you choose to include, what would you cut, and how would you cut it down. This movie, just in its structure alone, shows itself to be essentially the perfect blueprint on just precisely how one would make such an adaptation work in the most effective manner. And I loved that about it.

Brimming with gorgeous, flowing animation and the classic emotional beats that the best moments of the series are known for, this is a movie that truly captures the heart and soul of the main series, and was an absolute delight to see play out on the big screen. In fact, I was actually a little disappointed that this was only a limited Fathom Event release, because if this had received a more traditional theater run, I most certainly would have gone out to see it again. And maybe I'm saying that just because that's just how big a fan I am of this series. But truly, even beyond my love of the series, Boruto: Naruto the Movie was a fantastic feature film.

(Original review)

#4

Crimson Peak
(Guillermo del Toro)

This movie was just so gorgeous and rich, drenched in style and character. Definitely more of a gothic romance than the horror movie it was mismarketed as, I thought this was just a lovely movie through and through, and you can definitely tell that this is a Guillermo del Toro film.

However, one common complaint that I continued to hear about this movie was that it was all style but no substance, that the plot was somehow underwritten, the characters underdeveloped. And I have to say, having seen it twice now and paying particular attention with this complaint in mind the second time around, that is just not the case here at all. The movie's style and its writing go hand in hand and truly compliment one another throughout, and quite frankly, the writing in this thing is just as deep, brilliant, gorgeous, and colorful as any of the production design.

I have no idea where that complaint originated, but it honestly feels like the kind that one critic expressed, and everybody just latched on to without giving it any further thought of their own. That, or the only other conclusion I can come up with is that somehow seemingly everybody who saw this thing was so swept up by the visuals that the plot and character development equally swept over their heads. But I'll say this, the second time I saw this, I watched it with a friend who had also had these complaints brought to her attention, and halfway through the movie she turned to me with a bewildered look and asked "what the fuck are people talking about underwritten?" This, mind you, after a scene that was gushing with character development. The same character development that many would lead you to believe doesn't exist in this film.

But I digress, and whether or not you see the clever writing on hand for the brilliance that it is, one thing that's for certain either way is that this movie is simply magnificent. Beautiful to watch, and a perfect example of a movie where every single frame is, indeed, a painting all its own, and brought to life by some chilling performances from the likes of Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston, and especially Jessica Chastain, who gives one of the most maniacal performances of the year. Crimson Peak is not only one to watch, but one to really pay attention to.

#3

Mad Max: Fury Road
(George Miller)

Holy shit what a movie. So much of what I've already said about all the other movies leading up to this pick feels like you can roll it all up into one, and you'd get this masterful beast of a film. And really, what can I even say about this movie that isn't just repeating what everyone else has already said ad infinitum by now? This movie is like nothing else out there, and is just brimming with brilliant decisions throughout.

I will say this about it, though, while it may not be at the top of my list, it is the one single release this year that I guarantee you, years and years from now, will continue to be looked back upon, studied and dissected in film courses and the like. Just the making of this movie alone is almost even more fascinating than the movie itself, and it's a damn fascinating movie.

I'm so loving that this is actually being taken seriously now that we're in the thick of awards seasons, not only in that it's being nominated, but it's winning Best Picture awards left, right, and center. And good! I'm glad this movie isn't being disregarded just for being an action flick. Because not only from a filmmaking perspective, but also a social point of view, Mad Max: Fury Road is absolutely brilliant, and important, and absolutely deserves the recognition that it's currently getting, and hopefully will continue to get moving forward.

#2

It Follows
(David Robert Mitchell)

I'm just gonna say it right off the bat, this is the best damn horror release I've seen in about a decade. This movie gets right what so many other horror films get oh so wrong, and harkens back to older John Carpenter films, both in terms of its style and its excellent score, back when horror movies were about scaring the living daylights out of you. And this movie can be absolutely terrifying. Some of the imagery here is the stuff nightmares are made out of. And the way it's all captured is still my favorite camera work of the whole year, done in a way that constantly keeps you on edge, constantly keeps your eyes scanning the scenery, looking for anything out of place.

The premise is fairly simple enough, but the movie's filmed in the most clever and effective way possible that maintains the tension all the way through. And as much as it may at times seem to over-explain things, it leaves quite a bit of visual details hidden throughout that only those who are really paying attention will be able to pick up on, making for a rewarding experience at that. And the cast of characters we follow are all fully fleshed out three dimension people who you come to care for and hope they make it out alive. Maika Monroe especially stood out, who, after her showings both here and in the similarly Carpenter-esque film The Guest, is a new young actor who is definitely on my radar now.

I loved this movie, and I especially loved the way they filmed this movie. In a day and age where most horror movies have forgotten what it actually means to be scary, It Follows acts as a good reminder of better times, not relying on cheap jump scares, but actually taking its time to gradually build a true looming sense of dread that'll follow you home and stick with you. Truly a modern classic in the genre.

And now, this brings us to my pick for the #1 Best Movie of 2015...

#1

Inside Out
(Pete Docter)

This movie is an absolute miracle. One of the best screenplays ever written in the history of cinema, brought to life in the very best film Pixar has ever produced, by an incomparable margin. To call this movie brilliant is quite frankly cutting it short, this movie is something else entirely. They thought of absolutely everything for this movie, and executed it all in a way that manages to tackle such a complex subject in such a seamless manner.

Even now, several months after seeing it, just thinking about certain scenes still gives me chills and starts to make my eyes well up. This is one of the most emotionally powerful movies that has ever been produced, and is, in my opinion at least, the absolute most must see movie of the entire year.

Earlier in the year I wrote one of my more extended pieces really breaking down just how much this movie meant to me, so anything I write about it here will feel like I'm just repeating myself. So I would just direct you to my original review of it for a more in-depth break down, and suggest that you just go see this movie and experience the perfection that is Inside Out for yourself.

(Original review)

So there it is again, my Top 10 Movies of 2015. And those weren't the only good films from this year, there were tons more, and I could keep listing more and more films all night, but this should suffice for now. However, not all was good, and so, seeing as I won't be doing a separate post for the worst of the year, I'll quickly toss out my picks for the Top 5 Worst Movies of 2015 here as an added bonus.

My Top 5 Worst Movies of 2015
#5 - Aloha (Cameron Crowe)
#4 - The Age of Adaline (Lee Toland Krieger)
#3 - Cinderella (Kenneth Branagh)
#2 - Jupiter Ascending (Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski)
#1 - Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow)

And I'll throw out a Dishonorable Mention to Leo Gabriadze's Unfriended as well. And I could get really in-depth as to why these are all the worst of the year (that I've seen at least), but I really can't be bothered to create an entire post for it, so I'm just tossing those out there for anyone who might be curious, seeing as those picks usually tend to stir up the most interest anyhow for some reason. But honestly, bad as those movies may have been, there were far fewer bad movies this year compared to the good, and here's hoping that we see that trend continue moving into the next year as well!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars Into Darkness

Warning! The following review for Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be very spoiler-heavy at points, so you probably don't want to read any further until you've seen it!

Alright, getting that out of the way right off the bat, so now we can talk about the new Star Wars! And, what did I think about it? Well, I will say that there were certain aspects to it that were very good, and on the whole I do like the movie, enough to where I've even gone and seen it a second time already. However, the movie has some very glaring flaws, which will require those heavy spoilers for me to really get into, and which I will also warn you right now may come across as a bit of a rant at times. But just keep in mind, as you're reading my rant, that I actually did like this movie, quite a bit at that, and do recommend seeing it!

But before we get to all of that, let's start with what I thought this movie did well. Really, the entire cast was phenomenal, and they're what really make this movie work on the whole. Generally speaking, I enjoyed all of the new characters. The new droid BB-8 is appropriately adorable throughout, and Oscar Isaac and John Boyega are both a delight.

In fact, it actually is pretty cool to see a different side of the Stormtroopers here in the form of Boyega's Finn, and actually experience things from their perspective for a bit. The Stormtroopers have never been cooler than they are in this movie, and I liked that they felt like more than just cannon fodder for once. And our new main villain is okay as well, I suppose, though Kylo Ren does leave a little something to be desired, leaving me missing our old pal Vader. Though, well, I suppose that actually is kinda the point of the character, that he's a poor man's Darth Vader. But there is a really compelling internal struggle to the character, which will definitely make him an interesting one to see how he continues to develop from here.

As for returning cast, Harrison Ford was great, and Chewie comes in and straight up steals the show from a comedic standpoint, having all of the biggest laughs in the whole movie. And Carrie Fisher was there, too. But great as it was to see some of our old classic favorites on the big screen again, this movie introduces us to a new character who's bound to go down as a classic all her own, and may very well end up being my new favorite character in the entire series as a whole.

That character is Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, who was fucking fantastic. I loved this character so much! She's such a strong, fascinating, fully fleshed and yet still mysterious new player in the series, and I actually wish that the movie had placed even more focus on her than it already did, that this was more her movie than the more equally split effort that we got. She was definitely the best thing about the whole movie, without question, and its her development through the movie that are the standout scenes. As she's coming more and more in tune with the force awakening within her, these are the most powerful moments of the whole thing, the moments that give you chills and leave one breathless. And it's seeing how her story will continue to progress from here that I'm most looking forward to in the future installments of the franchise.

Outside of the cast, I would also point out the fantastic cinematography and use of lighting as a highlight for the movie. We get some very atmospheric shots not dissimilar from some of the moments in The Empire Strikes Back, and the way that the light shines on the scene, that the shadows slowly creep in, really stood out in a way that especially elevated the mood throughout.

And there were some other details here and there that I liked, which I'll get to a little, but now's about the time where I need to get into why I feel this movie initially left me less than enthused by the end of it upon first viewing. And really, what it ultimately all boils down to is that this movie is far too similar to A New Hope. In fact, it's so similar, it's almost a modern day beat for beat remake of that movie, which, in this day and age of remakes and reboots, almost makes this movie's existence a cliche in its current state.

Oftentimes, I've found that the best kinds of sequels are those that are pretty radically different from their predecessors, that aren't afraid to change things up and don't just try and do the exact same thing over again. And up until now, the Star Wars series has been really good about this. All six prior movies have a unique feel to them. None of them feel like they're trying to just mimic another entry in the series. But that all comes to a screeching halt here, where director J.J. Abrams decided that, instead of making a brand new wholly original entry in the series, he was more interested in just recreating what he loved about the original Star Wars.

Yes, the same J.J. Abrams who, with Star Trek Into Darkness, was more interested in recreating scenes from Wrath of Khan than telling a new, compelling story in the Star Trek universe. The same J.J. Abrams who, with the 2009 Star Trek, used that as an opportunity to put together a Star Wars highlight reel taking place in the Star Trek universe, thus likely landing him his job on this movie in the first place. And the same J.J. Abrams who, upon getting this job, again, decided that, instead of making a brand new story, he was going to just regurgitate yet another older entry that we've already seen. And this bothered me to no end.

Hell, it's apparent from the very opening scene that this is just a retelling of A New Hope. They've gotta get this message stored in this new droid to the Resistance (which is really just a rebranded Rebel Alliance), so that they can fight back against the First Order (or the rebranded Empire), in their new bigger, badder Death Star, the Starkiller Base (which is now more of a Death Planet, and was admittedly pretty cool, especially that it even had its own ecosystem and everything), and which the Resistance has to then take out. And once this fact begins to settle in, this over-familiarity also instantly telegraphs the whole movie, so you can see precisely where this thing is going well before we ever get there. And then suddenly, moments such as the death of Han Solo become some of the most predictable aspects of the whole film, when really, that's the kind of moment that no one should see coming.

This almost makes me curious if this isn't the reason that the plot was kept so heavily under wraps in all of the promotion. Now, I will say that I loved the marketing for this thing, and that other movie studios can learn a thing or two from this movie's trailers as it concerns building intrigue through showing restraint. However, right now a big thing being emphasized is not spoiling the movie for anyone, something that was emphasized even in the trailers themselves. But was that only because, were they to put any story elements in the trailers, so predictable would it suddenly be that everyone would see precisely where this movie was going even before setting foot in a movie theater?

My patience has really worn thin with Abrams' nostalgic obsession by this point. As the movie went along, it started off sorta neat how he would toss in little references to the older series. But by the time they were aboard the Millennium Falcon and the 3D monster board game came to life, I was left groaning instead of grinning at these intrusive references. We get it. We get the point. This is a new Star Wars movie, and takes place in the same universe as the old ones. Now, can we get on with the story already? Except, as I mentioned before, the story, as well, was just all too familiar.

There's paying homage, and then there's just being a fanboy, and this film was far too much of the latter. In fact, with the sheer amount of fanboy nostalgia just forced all throughout this movie, Episode VII honestly felt less like a real entry in this series, and eventually got to the point where it felt more like we were watching a real big budget fan fiction project instead. And it's a shame, because Abrams has proven himself to be a very talented technician behind the camera, and very capable at putting together a good film. But it's his constant insistence on returning to old familiar territory that holds him back as a filmmaker, and that I fear will ultimately lead to his movies having a harder time standing the test of time.

Years from now, we can go back and revisit any one of the six previous Star Wars films. And, despite your feelings on the matter of their quality, each of them offers a unique experience that adds to the greater whole of the series. The Force Awakens, however, opts to retread old ground instead of doing something else new, and relies far too heavily on older references to provide an almost artificially fan-pleasing experience, but an experience that really doesn't have the legs to stand on its own as a true genuine new entry in the series.

So yeah, there's my big rant. I think the movie on the whole does still work, but I think it's possibly despite J.J. Abrams' involvement, and not because of it. The cast definitely does their job bringing their new characters to life and making us really care for them, and it's the characters that really make this movie work. But outside of that, I was honestly left feeling like Abrams really wasn't the right man for the job after all, and that his now typical nostalgia-obsessed nonsense that he brought to the table was to the film's ultimate detriment in the end.

And that's not to say that I think there was anything malicious behind his choices here. I definitely think that he had the best intentions, and approached this movie with as much respect for the franchise as possible. And that respect does shine through, as the movie does have a genuine heart and soul behind it. I just fear that he doesn't have nearly enough trust or respect for his own abilities as a filmmaker to not have to rely so heavily on nostalgia to piece his movies together, and that until he gains the real confidence to just make something new and original and not worry too much about throwing in references in a desperate attempt to please fans in the most shallow way possible, well then he's just going to continue down this rut of putting together these technically well made shrines to the past, but leave nothing original behind of his own to truly show what he was capable of bringing to the table.

So yeah, despite all that was good in the movie, I wasn't blown away or even all that satisfied by the end of the movie upon first viewing. After watching Episodes II and III in the theater, I was ecstatic, and couldn't wait to see those again. And yeah, this is one I was willing to see again as well, but more so out of curiosity than out of enthusiasm. Still, it was a good movie overall, and I loved the few things that actually were new additions to this series, especially the introduction of Rey. But all in all, good as it may be, it still wasn't great, and I couldn't help but feel that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was not the new Star Wars we were looking for.

However, that all was how I felt after my first viewing. And, having since seen it that second time, I will say that, while I still feel many of my points brought up in terms of direction are still valid, most of those issues really didn't bother me the second time around at all. In fact, the movie improved quite a significant degree on second viewing, to where the striking moments were even more striking, the compelling, complex characters were even more compelling, and I overall found myself get even more sucked up by the epic story playing out.

The over-familiarity that I initially found distracting suddenly didn't even phase me, and I found I was able to brush past a lot of the more obnoxiously in-your-face references and just enjoy the movie for what it was. No, it's still not perfect, but this time, I actually did feel quite a bit more satisfaction by the time the credits rolled, and certainly feel that this is definitely a movie with a lot worthwhile going on that's worth checking out.

I do still think that, especially given the unique circumstances of a lot of our characters, following a rogue Stormtrooper and a lone scrapper finding her place in the world, that there was more than enough room to tell a newer and more unique story here, but I can live with what we got for now, and hopefully this installment has gotten all of the nostalgia-baiting out of this series' system so that we can see a truly interesting new take with the next installment reportedly being helmed by Rian Johnson, the guy who brought us Looper, one of the most depressing bleak movies of the past few years. Now that's a movie I'm looking forward to! But in the meantime, The Force Awakens did a good job whetting our appetite with the introduction of such an awesome new cast of characters, who I more than look forward to continuing to follow.