Friday, December 30, 2016

My Top 10 Movies of 2016

It's that time of year once again. Time to count down my Top 10 favorite movies of the past year. And honestly, 2016 has been a pretty weak year for movies, so much so that, until just the past couple weeks, I honestly wasn't sure if I was gonna be able to do a full Top 10, but rather a Top 5 with some honorable nods. But I said that it was gonna take December's releases to really wow me to change my mind, and well, enough did just that, to where I feel I can go ahead and move forward with the full list this year. But first, let's take a look at a few honorable mentions for the year, then waste no more time getting right down to the list.

Honorable Mentions
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Ang Lee)
Café Society (Woody Allen)
Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross)
The Conjuring 2 (James Wan)
Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier)


Captain America: Civil War
(Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)

I may be feeling a bit of superhero movie fatigue, but that didn't prevent a handful of this year's entries from making the list, and the latest Captain America is a shining example of how these movies can still bring the goods. Civil War is second only to Guardians of the Galaxy as the best in the MCU to date, bringing with it a well balanced ensemble piece and a rare example of true emotional stakes in the form of its tragically grand finale, made all the more so by its accompanying epic score that'll send chills down your spine.

On top of it all, I'd also say that this movie contains quite possibly Robert Downey Jr.'s best performance in a movie to date, showing that even despite playing the Tony Stark character for as long as he has, that he can still bring a world of emotional range to breathe a whole new life into the role. I wasn't too thrilled with the Russo brothers' first outing in The Winter Soldier, but they proved their worth with Civil War, and leave me feeling more confident in their abilities moving forward into the next Avengers flicks.


(Tim Miller)

And moving straight from one Marvel property to another, Deadpool was a real breath of fresh air in the genre. After it ended, I declared that the movie was absolutely perfect, and that really still stands true even now, it really is as perfect a Deadpool movie as I could imagine. You could tell that this was a passion project, a true love letter to the character, and that passion oozed onto the screen through both Ryan Reynolds' phenomenal performance as the title character, and the great script and inspired non-linear format that really brought this character's world view to life.

Also, great as it may be, it's still not the kind of movie that I ever imagined would even be in consideration for serious awards competition. So the fact that it's received a Best Picture nomination at the Golden Globes I just find to be absolutely awesome. So much so that, despite it not even being my favorite of the year, I'm gonna be rooting for this one to go all the way. 'Cause really, how freaking cool would that be to see Deadpool of all movies take home some Best Picture awards?


Nocturnal Animals
(Tom Ford)

Shifting gears now, Nocturnal Animals was a movie that spoke to me on a personal level as a creator in a way that I'm not entirely sure will speak to everyone. The movie begins with a seemingly odd opening credits sequence featuring a number of obese women dancing in the nude in an art show, which at first glance appears like a really bizarre choice, until the core of the movie really sets in, and its meaning becomes more apparent: this is a movie featuring an author who is putting himself out there, putting his deepest, darkest feelings on display, making himself vulnerable for the whole world to see, and it's going to get real ugly real fast.

And that's really what I loved about the movie. It's essentially two stories, one following our main character played by Amy Adams, and the book that she's reading by said author, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, which we see come to dark and twisted life, and the various parallels with his real life that the events in this book are based on. And really, this movie nails the creative process to a tee. It's not a literal retelling of his life, but you can connect the dots to see how the events from his life inspired what transpires in his story, which makes it all the more tragic once you know the full context. Some of the best stories comes from taking the traumas in our life and being inspired to create art from our dark pasts, and this film is a chilling example of that in action.


Sing Street
(John Carney)

But it's not just trauma that can inspire us to create, but rather, a little thing called love, as Sing Street shows us in beautiful fashion. And this is a sentiment that also just rang so true to me on such a deeper level that I can really relate to, as we see our main character go on a full journey starting from scratch to create his art in the name of love.

This was just an all around lovely movie, and the various relationships we see brewing are just a joy to behold. I loved the philosophical discussions about the true meaning behind the art that our main character had with his brother, and the truly creative ways that they go about forming a band and trying to come up with a unique look and sound. And as I mentioned, the main character's driving force behind it all being the love and passion he has for this girl really shined throughout it all, and was just a really charming and endearing thing to behold.

There's a scene where they're filming a music video that features a girl falling into a river, but to be careful, they didn't want to film her actually jumping in. However, once the camera rolls, much to the band's surprise, the girl jumps right into the water, and when they ask her why she did it, she says that you can't go halfway with your art. You either gotta go in all the way or not at all. And it was at that moment that the movie wholly won me over.


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
(Zack Snyder)

Okay, before anyone jumps down my throat over this entry, let me just clear up that I fully acknowledge all of this movie's faults. Hell, I honestly don't even disagree with the majority of the criticisms that have been lobbied this movie's way ad infinitum. It's a very messy movie. That said, despite all of it, it still stands out to me as one of my personal favorites regardless, and seeing as this is a list of my favorite movies of the year, that's what makes it land where it does on the list.

Because really, I had a blast with this movie. Yeah it's trashy, yeah it's all over the place and convoluted and tries to do way too much all at once. But god damn if this wasn't one of the most fun movies I've seen all year. Feeling much more like a Snyder film than his previous effort in Man of Steel, I love the added touch that really brings his signature elements to light. His kick ass use of music and stylized action direction remain some of the best in the business today, and made for some truly memorable moments throughout this ambitious mess of a film.

And really, that's sort of the key word there that stands out for me, is ambition. I have a fellow film buff friend who described The Dark Knight Rises as a mess of a movie that he could truly appreciate regardless for the sheer ambition that it showed. And while I didn't agree with that sentiment in regards to that movie, that definitely feels like the case for me with this one. It certainly tries to tackle way too much, much more than it can (or even should) realistically handle, but god damn if it didn't try and just go for broke in the process, so much so that it arguably broke the entire movie!

So yeah, call this a guilty pleasure maybe, or call it a garbage flick if you will. But either way, this is my kinda garbage, and damn if Wonder Woman isn't still my hero by the end of the year.


Manchester by the Sea
(Kenneth Lonergan)

Dramatically shifting gears yet again, this was just a sucker punch of a movie (and that was my last Zack Snyder reference for this post!). Nah, but seriously, this movie packed an absolute wallop, 'cause this is a movie that'll catch you off guard and leave you reeling afterward. It tackles the subject of grief in a way that's just gut wrenching, so much so that this is a rare example of a movie where just thinking back on it after the fact has made me feel numb and brought me to the verge of tears.

Definitely a downer of a film, but damn if it isn't outstanding and gripping all the same. The performances from Casey Affleck and the rest of the cast truly feel lived in, and I honestly felt like I could've spent all day with these characters, where I kinda never wanted the movie to end, as they just sorta go about their day to day life while trying their best to deal with the terrible circumstances that life has delivered them.

This is a movie that to me feels like the times when you're lying down trying to go to sleep, but then your mind starts to wander against your will about all of the horrible things that might happen to the ones you love, and how you would go about dealing with that, what this would do to you as a person, and the depressed state this line of thought might put you in. Now take those terrible thoughts and put them on the screen, and you've got this hauntingly terrific film.


Swiss Army Man
(Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert)

I don't know what else I can say about this film that I didn't already cover in my in-depth analysis earlier in the year, but this was just a majestic little movie. An absolute metaphorical work of art, and as I described it before, The Tree of Life for the weird and the awkward.

No, this movie isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but this really struck a chord with me on a personal level for just how genuine, open, and honest it was about being the type of socially awkward introvert that Paul Dano's character is portrayed as here, and the sheer creative ways that all of his various personality quirks are put on display in a visual form. And Daniel Radcliffe's performance here in particular remains one of my favorites of the whole year.

But anyways, like I said, nothing I really say here in a brief write-up can really do this movie its proper justice, so go back and check out my original analysis of the film for a more in-depth discussion on this film's deeper meanings to get a real feel for just why this film placed where it did on this list, and what it really means to me.


(Byron Howard, Rich Moore)

Now as we get to the Top 3, we enter a three way race between the movies that were all vying for that pivotal top slot. And for the longest time, Zootopia held on to that very spot, and for damn good reason. This is a movie that's just brilliant in its execution, and has made me emotional just thinking about the deeper themes regarding race that they actually tackled in a movie such as this. I was just amazed that this movie was actually going there, and the way it showed us the full spectrum was just astounding.

Sadly, I've seen many people complain about how the movie is far too heavy handed in its approach, to the film's detriment. However, I've personally witnessed far too many people merely dumb its message down to simply "racism is bad" to say that that "heavy handed" sentiment holds any real credence, as this film's true themes clearly flew right over the heads of a number of movie goers. It's about so much more than just racism being bad, it actually shows us the roots of racism, how it actually manifests in our lives, whether it be through our various upbringings, or even how it can be manufactured in society, manipulated by our leaders, who use the ensuing racial tension for their own personal monetary and political gain.

This is a movie that's such a reflection on our current society that it just hurts. And it's a movie that so many can learn such a harsh lesson in reality from, if they just opened their minds and really looked at what this movie was trying to show them, and how our modern society has reached the place that it has, where so many are so divided from one another. It's a subject that I'm very passionate about, and have wanted to use this movie as a means to discuss more in depth, but have ultimately refrained due to how similarly passionate others can be, and how many can easily take things the wrong way when discussing the issues brought to light in this movie in an open minded and intelligent platform.

But really, this is a movie that in and of itself already presents most of my arguments for me, and so if a movie such as this isn't getting through to certain people, then really, nothing more that I have to say on the matter probably will either. But still, give this movie a watch, and even if doesn't open your mind the way it opened mine, there's still a hell of a lot of entertainment to be had here all the same, with great characters in a creative world populated by animals that feels not too dissimilar from my own world I've created in my Ninja Kat universe (let it be known that this movie totally stole its small animals city from my hamster village!).

From Velcro: The Ninja Kat, published 2012.


The Neon Demon
(Nicolas Winding Refn)

So close to making #1! But nope, yet another Refn film just misses the mark, and at the last minute, too! But even so, damn was this a beast of a movie. And unlike most on this list, there's very few who I would actually recommend this one to, as this is not a movie that's going to be for everyone. Flat out, this is a movie that's gonna either be right up your alley, or it probably isn't. A movie that'll either leave you salivating at the mouth, or revolting in disgust. And for me, well, I dunno what this says about me as a person, but this is a movie that feels like it was specifically made for me.

On the outset, this can come across as a movie that is all style and no substance. However, considering that the very subject matter itself is about that very thing, I find that aspect to be more that appropriate in this particular instance, and actually compliments the movie on the whole. But this is just an absolute gorgeous film, where every single frame of it looks like a painting that you could take and hang up on your wall. And yet, to be perfectly blunt about it, beneath its beautiful exterior lies one of the most fucked up movies to release this year, and I loved every single second of it.

This is a movie that so easily could've been disposable trash in the hands of a lesser director. Yet Refn's touch for sheer perfectionism elevates this material to a place that takes that trash and transforms it into a true work of art. This is beautiful trash. This is stunning, respectable garbage. And hearing Refn speak on the movie shows us just how deep seated this movie lies within the darkest crevices of his mindset.

I love how he describes this movie as an expression of the sixteen year old girl that resides within him, and what that says about both himself as a creator, and this film as his creation. And it's a sentiment that makes me appreciate this movie on a far deeper level as well, and truly revel in the dark and twisted imagery and sequence of events that transpire all throughout the movie. It's narcissistic and brutal and unrelenting, and if you're not careful, it'll eat you right up and swallow you whole, just like it did with me.


La La Land
(Damien Chazelle)

This movie was sheer magic captured on film, and possibly the purest and most cinematic experience that you'll have all year. This is a movie like Inside Out or Interstellar or Dredd from years past, where I just wanna go back and experience it over and over again, and bring everyone I know to it, so that they, too, can experience the same beauty that I did.

And in a day and age in which we are bombarded by movies that are filmed with an obsession for nostalgia in mind, this is a movie that takes nostalgia and tackles it in a way that actually feels organic and natural, as opposed to the "wink wink, nudge nudge" way that most filmmakers like to shove their nostalgia in our face. It's a movie that's in constant evolution, starting out as a more traditional musical from times long past, only to gradually morph into something more modern and down to earth. And as the movie evolves, we also see the way that music itself has transformed over time, how it once was a living entity all itself, where you could really feel the humanity and the soul of the sound, and how the removal of the human element in favor of something more technical and commercial has turned it into something else entirely, something that doesn't quite touch us and stick with us the way that it used to.

But that's part of what I loved so much about this movie, was the way that it used music, and I don't just mean in the sense that it was a musical. Hell, not too long prior to seeing this movie, I had in mind a blog post that I wanted to write about the use of music in movies, and I'm sorta glad that I waited until after seeing this movie before writing it, because this movie takes almost every single argument that I wanted to make about the effectiveness of music in film and puts it on display in the most cinematic form imaginable. (And I still plan on writing that piece soon enough, too, so keep an eye out for that!)

And what's possibly most striking here is its nostalgic aspect, which is actually used as an active element within the movie itself, as they use music as a means of fondly reminding our characters of times past in their lives through rose colored lenses all throughout. It's just a very clever movie in that regard, on top of being one of the most infectious films I've seen all year. This movie's soundtrack has been stuck on repeat in my head from the moment I stepped out of the theater. And it's not just any particular track, but rather, all of its main songs, as they just blend so seamlessly into one another and really feel like the various pieces to a complete whole.

But beyond its music, this movie is just masterful to look at, and is quite frankly the only film this entire year to rival The Neon Demon in terms of its cinematography. And hell, part of the reason I love this movie so much is because the whole thing honestly feels like something ripped straight from my own head. From the images on screen, to the use of lighting and the way it's edited, the musical composition and dance numbers, the way it uses and re-uses variations of the same songs over and over again, and even the alternate timeline sequence all feel ripped straight off the page from my own musical that I've been toying around with for about the past five years now.

Granted, my actual story is radically different from this movie's, but in terms of execution, it's almost like I'm already seeing my own film fully realized, and it's a hard feeling to describe really. But as I have expressed a number of times counting down this list, it's certainly something that definitely speaks to me on a much deeper and more personal level, and truly inspires me to keep chasing after my own dreams like the fool that I am, so that one day it really will be my vision being realized on the big screen.

It may not be perfect, but this is a movie that feels all around delightful all the same, and I absolutely adore every single thing about it. And hell, listening to the soundtrack after the fact, it becomes even more apparent that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone really aren't all that great of singers. Yet even so, their effort shines through all the same in a way that's just striking in its raw, passionate earnesty.

I've described many of my favorite films as being perfectly imperfect, as many of my favorites over the years are those that have been riddled with flaws throughout, despite all the good that they brought. And in these cases, I think there's something about the flaws that help make the movies have a more honest and genuine feel to them, make them feel more human, and not just a technically perfect machination being churned out. And really, that's precisely the point that this movie brings to light, isn't it? It's not perfect, but really, that only adds to the overall charm of it all and gives it that real human soul that you can just feel. And believe me, this is a movie that you're gonna be feeling for a good long while after the credits roll.

And there you have it, my Top 10 Movies of 2016. Granted, while I saw far more movies than is probably necessary this year (much more than in years past, in fact. It really does feel like we're now becoming oversaturated with more and more releases every year), I still wasn't able to get to everything, most notably those late December releases that haven't gone wide and released in my area yet (I'm looking at you, A Monster Calls). But even so, I'd say this is good enough for now. So anyways, onto the next year, where hopefully we'll be met with even more great movies than the last!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The good that came from 2016

So 2016 has been a pretty rough year for me, and that seems to be the case for most people I've spoken to about the past year as well. But it wasn't all bad, and so rather than venting about all that went wrong in the past year (which I've already covered much of it before anyways), I'd like to instead take a look back at what all went right, at the actual good that came from 2016.

In terms of filmmaker goals, this year saw my movies making their theatrical debut, which is still really cool to even think about. Breathe played at the Tallahassee Premiere Nights event in May, and later on, I was invited back to screen Dream Girl for their August event. So that was a real cool experience, seeing a movie I made actually playing in a real movie theater for a real movie-going audience, and really felt like a step in the right direction for my path as a filmmaker.

And as far as acting goes, I also worked briefly on a small project with fellow filmmaking collaborator and friend M.H. Smith, where I played the lead role in a web-series he was shooting. I don't wanna say too much about it now, as we haven't been able to get too far into it yet, but the footage we have shot so far was some of the most fun experiences I've had on set, and I look forward to seeing how this project may continue to progress moving forward.

That said, as I've mentioned before, I have sorta placed filmmaking a bit on the back burner for the time being, as I've shifted focus to actually finishing my Ninja Kat novel series. But even so, I've continued to toy around with new film ideas here and there, and if something in particular happens to light a spark within me that I feel is worth pursuing, then I won't hesitate to pick the camera back up again.

Speaking on the Ninja Kat though, the third book in the series, Velcro: The Masquerade, was released earlier this month, and it's a huge relief finally getting that one out there. Considering how much focus I placed on filmmaking after The Green Lion, I honestly wasn't sure when I'd ever even get back around to actually finishing that one, so the fact that it's finally done and out there is in and of itself very rewarding for me.

But what's been especially cool is how I've seen more people have taken notice to my work ethic, just pumping out movies and novels year after year, and have finally gotten around to actually checking out the Ninja Kat books for themselves, to see what this whole thing I've been spending the past several years actively working on is all about. And the best part is that, despite any discrepancies with the earlier books (believe me, I'm well aware of them, and have learned a great deal from those earlier missteps), they genuinely appear to be enjoying the hell out of them, referring to them as a breath of fresh air even.

But even before the new book was out, I was already hard at work on the fourth, and currently plan on sticking with it and getting it out there as soon as possible. And I'll just say this about it so far. If the outlines for the first three books each come out to approximately half a handwritten notebook in length, well, the outline for Book 4 is almost on its second notebook so far, and I'm only about halfway done outlining it. So it's looking like this next one might actually end up being kind of a long one for a change, which would be pretty satisfying for me personally, considering my under-writing tendencies.

In more personal news, I finally moved away from Tallahassee. I had a friend looking for a roommate and an old boss looking to hire me down in Tampa, so things just sorta happened to work out well in that regard. And really, I was long overdue for a change in scenery. I had been wanting to leave Tallahassee for a long, long time now, but kept finding myself anchored by various projects and what have you. However, after my last big project sorta fell through and I shifted focus to novel writing, I suddenly found I didn't really have anything tying me down to the city anymore. So really, I was all out of excuses.

So I made the plunge, and so far, I'm really liking the new city. It's a really different experience living here, with so many neighboring towns so close to one another, and just a much bigger city than I'm used to, with lots to explore. And going around town and getting various comic shops and book stores to carry my novels has been a great way to make my way around the city and really acquaint myself with my surroundings. I'm seeing all sorts of new things and meeting new people, and I'm just very excited for what the future may continue to hold for me in this town.

And yeah, that's pretty much where I'm at. Looking ahead into the next year, I plan on continuing to work on my Ninja Kat novels, and have already set up a number of book signings and convention appearances in the coming year, so look out for more on those as we get closer to them. But yeah, 2016 may have been a bit of a rough year, but as you can see, it wasn't all bad. And as I look ahead to 2017, I look forward to more new beginnings, and more goals to conquer. So here's to the new year, which hopefully brings with it more good will than the last!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Velcro: The Masquerade - Now Available!

Here it is! It's been a little while, but book three of The Ninja Kat series is finally here! Velcro's fantastic action packed adventure continues in Velcro: The Masquerade, and you can get your paws on a copy today on in either paperback or e-book form.

I'm honestly really proud with how this one turned out, and I think that taking a bit of a break between books really helped invigorate my passion for the series. And I'm already hard at work on the fourth book, too, so hopefully there won't be nearly so long a gap between books this time! But for now, I put my heart into this latest Ninja Kat story, so I really just hope that comes through, and that all of you great readers sincerely enjoy this latest installment of my cat's dark and wild adventures.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Moana - A Review of Comparisons

Moana is a good movie, even if it is lacking in certain areas that hold it back from being a great one. But I did like it all the same, so I just wanna get that out of the way before I start to get really critical of it, because this is a movie that reminded me of so many other movies while watching it, and also reminded me of how much better and more effective those other movies were as well.

Honestly, this month there's only been a few of movies that I've felt I've had enough to say about that would warrant writing a review for, but those instances have been movies where what I had to say was mostly pretty critical, and so I decided to hold off. But it's interesting how, the last couple movies I had in mind to discuss were Doctor Strange and Fantastic Beasts, both movies that were filled to the brim with moments torn straight out of other mediums that had pulled off those moments in a much more effective manner, and now here I am discussing Moana, the third movie this month that more or less suffers from the exact same dilemma.

(However, one of the big movies that I'm going to be bringing up while discussing this particular movie is Frozen, which is honestly why I decided to move forward with actually writing out this review as such, as it gives me a legitimate excuse to talk about Frozen even more than I already have, hehe.)

But yeah, I dunno if this just means that maybe I've finally reached a point where I've just seen too many damn movies or not, to the point where I can't even watch anything without drawing instant comparisons to other, better movies (though I honestly doubt that's the case, and the most likely scenario is that a lot of modern blockbusters really have just largely become pretty generic and unimaginative), but these elements stood out to me all the same, which I'll be discussing more in depth in a bit.

Anyways, onto the movie itself. Moana is the third musical release since Disney had their return to form with Tangled, and their second feature length animated film released this year at that. And like I opened up with, it's a good movie, overall. But it fails to reach the heights attained by the likes of Tangled, Frozen, and Zootopia, and that really comes down to just how standard and basic a movie this one is in comparison.

First, I want to discuss the music, which is pretty good, for the most part. It's main theme, "How Far I'll Go", is an amazingly powerful song that'll give you chills every time, and it's reprisals throughout are equally so. That said, as soon as it's over, it's also pretty forgettable, as is the entire rest of the music in this thing. I highly doubt that we're going to be hearing people walking around singing these tunes the way we would with the songs from Frozen, or even classic Disney musicals such as The Lion King, Aladdin, or Beauty and the Beast. Hell, they play the main theme three times in the movie (four if you count the ending credits), and I've since gone home and listened to it a handful of times there as well. Yet even so, every time it ends and I go about my day, I try to think back to how it even went, but find I'm only able to remember the emotional energy that the tune stirred up, but not the actual tune itself.

That said, even as powerful as the song may be, it's still nowhere near as powerful as the more emotionally fueled songs from Frozen, in addition to not having the staying power of the songs in that movie, either. Leaving the theater after Frozen, there were multiple songs stuck in mind, from "Let It Go" to "For the First Time in Forever" or "Do You Want to Build a Snowman". And sure, not all of the songs in Frozen were hits, but the ones that mattered landed. Where as in Moana, the one main song lands in the moment, but it doesn't have staying power, and all of the rest of the songs range from decent ("Where You Are"), to questionable ("Shiny", and to a lesser degree, "You're Welcome"). However, while the songs themselves might not be the best, I will give the movie that it actually fully commits to being a musical, which is the one single aspect that I still hold against Frozen, that it abandons the musical genre in its third act. So this movie at least has that much going for it in that regard, but I would still say that both Frozen and Tangled are far better musicals on the whole.

One other big thing this movie does that's comparable to Frozen is its humor. Like Frozen, this movie has a very genre-aware sense of humor about itself. However, unlike Frozen, that sense of humor really doesn't work in this instance. The main reason it worked so effectively in Frozen was because that movie was essentially a deconstruction of the Disney Princess genre, and so a self-aware sense of humor certainly goes hand in hand with that. But here, any and all instances of self-awareness just comes off as out of place, and only served to take me out of the movie and leave me wondering why they were even doing that, when Frozen had already covered that ground. The worst was a joke in which the character Maui mentions something along the lines of how he's going to be sick if Moana suddenly breaks out into song during a dramatic moment.

And speaking of movie comparisons, the movie even includes a scene that feels ripped straight out of Mad Max: Fury Road, even going so far as to include music during this scene that sounds like the score from Mad Max. And it was a fun scene, sure. However, in hindsight, it was ultimately a really pointless scene, as it really only served to show us just how dangerous the ocean can be, which is a fact that had already been driven home on a number of occasions by this point with scenes that were far more intimately woven into the narrative. But whatever, this wasn't that big a deal, and the scene was pretty harmless (though it is a bit of an odd choice to throw in a nod to such a hard R rated movie into something like this), and like I said, fun.

Jokes and music aside though, the real kicker that holds this movie back from greatness is the plot itself. It's really just a very basic, standard "chosen one" story, even going so far as to actually refer to Moana herself as being "the chosen one" on multiple occasions. However, every time this occurred, all I could think about was The Lego Movie, which did such an awesome job poking fun at that particular trope that it's since become just about impossible to pull it off in a movie like this and be expected to really take it too seriously, and that's certainly the case here.

But that's really all this movie mostly amounts to. There's no real deep thematic meaning or messages to elevate the movie. It's really just about walking your path and following your destiny and finding oneself, a basic plot that has been done and done to death time and time again. Which is fine, sure. A movie is allowed to be merely entertaining and nothing more, certainly. But coming off of so many recent Disney movies that do have such deeper meaning behind them, movies such as Frozen and Zootopia, one does go into a movie like this hoping for a little bit more than what it delivers, and so the fact that this movie doesn't see fit to dig any deeper and really challenge us and take us on an intelligent and emotional journey the way those movies did can come across as a bit disappointing as a result.

I don't want to just crap all over this movie, though, because it was really good. And I think its strongest element is probably its animation. This is a stunningly gorgeous movie to look at, and the water effects were simply incredible. And as Moana and Maui traveled through the sea, I often found myself fondly thinking back to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and how Link would traverse the mesmerizingly open sea in that game. But yeah, I would say in terms of visuals, the only animated movie this year to top this movie would probably be Kubo and the Two Strings, which is yet another movie that Moana is very comparable to in terms of how the movies play out, up to and including my reaction to the two, where I found myself very much in search for something to latch onto, to really connect with the films on a deeper level, only to wind up coming up a bit short in the end. But even so, one thing that can't be denied is that the two movies certainly look great!

And the characters we follow were mostly fine. Moana is fun and slightly quirky, a strong, determined young woman whose resolve is constantly challenged, and Maui has a nice little arc where he has to come to grips with what he's become, and what he'll have to do to return to his former glory. And I got a decent kick out of his tattoos, which are actually a character all their own, as is the whole world around them really, including the ocean itself. So that was a pretty cool element to the movie, the fact that they literally resided in this very alive world.

So yeah, like I said, this was good. But really, to wrap up this write-up of comparisons, I find myself comparing this year's two Disney animated releases (Zootopia and Moana) to last year's two Pixar releases (Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur). And if Zootopia is comparable to Inside Out, with its rich intelligent themes and emotional depth that instantly struck a chord with me where I knew that I had just watched something truly special, then I would say that Moana is this year's The Good Dinosaur, a visually gorgeous movie that is definitely good overall and certainly had its fair share of stirring moments throughout, but on the whole feels a bit lacking.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Velcro: The Masquerade - Coming Soon

Velcro returns to her home village of Highland, only to find it completely in ruins. The one responsible, a mysterious foe in an eagle mask, is patiently awaiting her arrival in order to deliver his message in person, and Velcro is lured by this new enemy into a Magical challenge, one in which the outcome will determine the final fate of her home and her friends, and possibly even the world over.

Meanwhile, in the village of Redfield, the Elder Chow is grooming Max to lead their brigade in the impending war against the Devil Corps. But Max won't have to wait long to be put to his first test, as war comes to their home gates in the form of this new threat running rampant known as The Masquerade. And elsewhere, unaware of all these developments, Charlie has sought out the Devil Dog for his own personal means.

Velcro: The Masquerade adds a new unforeseen element to the equation, as the Country of Widows prepares for war. More and more, the past will catch back up with our heroes, and history will be written during their present hardships. And as Velcro faces off against her most powerful adversary yet, she'll be forced to look within and question what it truly takes to bring peace the world over.

Coming this December!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Luke Cage

Luke Cage is the latest entry in the Marvel Netflix series of what's essentially 13 hour long movies, and it's a bit of a mixed bag, but is still overall another hit. So let's dive right in, as I take a look at what stood out to me in terms of what worked, and what didn't quite click.

While I'm really enjoying this little pocket universe of Marvel Netflix shows so far, I do think that, at this point, it's really annoying and distracting that the showrunners still continue to try and tie these shows in with the Marvel movies, especially considering that it's clear as day by now that the movies have no intention of ever acknowledging the shows. It was fine in the first season of Daredevil, because back then we really didn't know any better and there was still at least some hope. But now? Not so much. But like I said, I do like this little Netflix universe that's grown out of these shows, and I'm more than okay with the references across those. I just wish at this point that these shows would just stick to their own devices, and quit referencing the movies moving forward.

Speaking of references, while I thought Rosario Dawson's inclusion in Jessica Jones felt like a bit of a forced cameo, I like that her involvement here feels far more natural, reprising her role as Claire that originated in the Daredevil series. And I like how this season also kinda sets her up to be the link that connects all these franchises together, so I think that much about her character is a pretty cool deal at least. I'm always okay with more Rosario Dawson in any event though, and she continues to shine in this series. She really isn't in enough stuff.

As far as the romantic angle with her and Luke is concerned, yeah, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that just yet (and it leaves me curious if they have plans to revisit Luke and Jessica or not). But thinking on it, in the first season of Daredevil, there were moments where it looked like there could potentially be a blooming romance of sorts between her and Matt. However, the thing that ultimately got in the way was him always coming back home more and more beat up every night, and she couldn't stand seeing him get himself killed over and over again like that. But with Luke, with his powers, that's something that she more or less doesn't have to worry about quite so much, so there's not that getting in the way of things, as he goes out and does his hero thing. And their relationship did seem to grow from a natural enough place that it felt genuine by the end, so I'm willing to see where it goes, even if I'm not too thrilled by the prospect just yet.

But anyways, as far as the show itself goes, the first half was pretty incredible, but then there's a very noticeable dip in the quality of the writing right at the halfway point on. The first half has this very grounded and gritty dramatic feel to it, and Cottonmouth was a fantastically fleshed out villain, humanized in a way that makes him feel legitimately deep and threatening. I just loved how complex they made his character, as they show us in flashbacks how his upbringing very much lead to him growing up to become the villain that he is. And there's such a compelling turmoil about him that comes out little by little the more time we spend with him, as at times we see what little remains of his humanity seeping through, as he'll be awash in a wave of resentment, of regret for what he's become. Yet by the same token, he's so fully ingrained in his ruthless lifestyle, and walks his path with a relentless sense of pride that he can't abandon, his stubbornness in his ways yet another product of his place in this world and way he was raised. And Mahershala Ali expertly balances out and totally captures all of these complexities with an absolutely commanding performance.

But his replacement halfway into the series, Diamondback, is just a complete cornball, and is impossible to take seriously. And where we could really see how Cottonmouth became the way he is and fully understand it, the same can't be said for Diamondback. His motives just don't add up at all, and the more that we learn about him, the less it makes sense. His absolute drive to kill Luke Cage at any cost just comes across as hokey and insincere, and once we learn his own backstory, it especially starts to fall apart and feel unbelievable that this would be the extreme stance this character decided to take. And especially coming off such powerful backstory reveals for Cottonmouth that showed us the real evolution of his character, Diamondback's fell completely flat, and was a total step down from that.

And it may seem weird to complain about a show based on a comic book feeling too comicy, but that's sorta what happened after Diamondback came into play too, all culminating in one of the cheesiest finales I've ever seen with that final fight. Like, what the hell was that supposed to be? How were we supposed to take that seriously at all? But I dunno, I suppose the comic book feel woulda been fine had the show started out that way, but it was such a stark dramatic shift in tone from its more grounded opening act that it stood out, and it didn't quite fit in with what had come before.

In addition to that, the dialogue also became noticeably lazy and repetitive in the second half. For a couple of examples, an exchange between Cage and Claire where she calls him corny happens verbatim two episodes in a row, and within the exact same scene at that, so close to one another that it seriously stood out like, wait, we literally just experienced that moment already. Also, "Sweet Christmas" may be one of his catch phrases, but using it twice in one episode also stood out in a similar manner.

And in addition to Diamondback's, a number of character motives were also pretty weak in the second half. For example, when they went to the doc to get Luke fixed up, they kept mentioning how they didn't trust the doc. This, despite the fact that, as far as the viewer could see, he was being completely cooperative and wasn't shown actually saying or doing anything that would warrant their distrust, no matter how many countless times they told us that. This was a classic example of "show, don't tell" at work during this entire scenario, because none of their reactions felt earned there.

Also, another peculiar recurring element I've noticed with these Netflix shows that's starting to bother me a bit as well, as seen in both Jessica Jones and now here in Luke Cage, is that these shows explicitly feature moments where they go out of their way to mock how the characters looked in the comics. And I dunno, but that just seems like sort of an odd choice to continue to insist on including in these shows, not to mention disrespectful to the source material.

But despite all of these criticisms, I actually did like this show quite a bit. It was entertaining throughout, I enjoyed the action, Luke himself is a corny but likable hero to follow along, and the accompanying soundtrack was outstanding. And I may have only discussed a handful of them here, but I also really loved almost all of the supporting cast, who are all so fully formed and have such fantastic chemistry between one another, and really just bring this whole world to life with some seriously excellent performances. In terms of villains, Cottonmouth, Shades, and Mariah Dillard all continue the trend of incorporating these really great and complex villains in the Marvel Netflix universe, and stand up there right alongside the likes of Wilson Fisk and Kilgrave (Diamondback not so much). It's a bit of a shame that it's such a mixed bag, with the noticeable decline in quality with the second half, but all in all, I thought it was pretty damn good, and look forward to seeing how things will continue to move forward from here.

In terms of how I'd rank the Marvel Netflix series so far:

Jessica Jones
Daredevil S1
Luke Cage
Daredevil S2

Now bring on Iron Fist and The Defenders!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

30 Years of Movies - My Favorites From Each Year

Today marks my 30th birthday. And so, I decided to take a look back at the past 30 years, and choose my favorite movie released from each year. Note, these aren't all necessarily what I think was technically the best movie released in each given year, it's solely what I consider my favorite. So then, without any further ado, let's jump back 30 years to...

An American Tail
(Don Bluth)

Full Metal Jacket
(Stanley Kubrick)

Die Hard
(John McTiernan)

(Tim Burton)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
(Steve Barron)

(Steven Spielberg)

Reservoir Dogs
(Quentin Tarantino)

Jurassic Park
(Steven Spielberg)

The Lion King
(Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff)

Toy Story
(John Lasseter)

Independence Day
(Roland Emmerich)

Good Will Hunting
(Gus Van Sant)

The Big Hit
(Che-Kirk Wong)

The Matrix
(The Wachowski Brothers)

American Psycho
(Mary Harron)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
(Peter Jackson)

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
(George Lucas)

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
(Peter Jackson)

The Chronicles of Riddick
(David Twohy)

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
(George Lucas)

V for Vendetta
(James McTeigue)

Spider-Man 3
(Sam Raimi)

The Dark Knight
(Christopher Nolan)

(500) Days of Summer
(Marc Webb)

(Christopher Nolan)

Sucker Punch
(Zack Snyder)

(Pete Travis)

(Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)

(Christopher Nolan)

Inside Out
(Pete Docter)

(Byron Howard, Rich Moore)