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)

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Twilight Saga

So after years of putting them off, I've finally seen the Twilight movies for myself. And, I've gotta say, they weren't even remotely as bad as their reputation would have you believe. In general, I felt that a lot of the mass hatred aimed at these movies is largely unwarranted, most notable being the supposedly "bad" performances that are supposed to reside throughout these films. One of the more fair criticisms would be those aimed at the writing, but even then I mostly have an argument in defense for even that aspect (though to be fair, most of my defense does start to fall apart a bit by the time we get to the last movies, so keep that in mind as you read, and we'll tackle more on that later!). But basically, these movies left me with a lot of thoughts and a lot to discuss, so let's not waste anymore time and dive right into The Twilight Saga.

So let's start with the first movie, shall we? And admittedly, things get off to a bit of a rocky start, as the first one is by far the clumsiest movie of the lot, with lots of clunky forced exposition and laughably jarring editing. But then, our main character from whose perspective we witness these movies, Bella, is portrayed early on as being somewhat of a total klutz herself. So in that regard, the fact that this first movie is so clumsy is almost fitting. And as the series progresses in later movies, she even acknowledges this about her, that she's been stumbling through life, and notes how the path she's chosen makes her feel balanced for once. And this, too, is reflected in the general filmmaking, which does feel a lot more streamlined as the series moves forward. But still, despite such filmmaking flaws, I actually felt that these elements gave the movie a certain charm, and made it especially enjoyable in a "so bad, it's good" sort of way.

One editing technique the first movie executes in particular that I've heard some criticisms over is its use of blue filter. However, I actually really liked this. They only use a blue filter over the images when it's supposed to be overcast outside, meaning the vampires are able to go out. And anytime the sun's out, they refrain from using the filter, so it really shows us in a way that stands out on a visual level when we can and can't expect for vampires to be out roaming about. Sadly, though, this element was never used again after the first movie, so it oftentimes just looks like the vampires are able to go out in the sun all the time, which just felt sorta silly, like the entire aspect of them "sparkling" in sunlight was almost a non-factor.

And speaking of which, here's another element that gets loads of hate, and at first, I too thought it sounded sorta stupid and ridiculous, the idea that vampires "sparkle" in sunlight. However, having now actually seen the movies and now seen this element played out with context, I gotta say, I think it's actually a unique and clever take on the vampire mythology. The idea isn't that they "sparkle", but rather, that their bodies are hardened and cold, like stone. And when they step out into the sun, their stone bodies don't so much sparkle so much as they shine in the sunlight. And I actually grew to like this aspect after witnessing it with proper context applied, and it only grows stronger when we're later on introduced to the werewolves, who, in stark contrast to the colder vampires, have bodies that are constantly pumping with heat. It's a simple concept, the cold as ice vampires versus the hot as fire werewolves, and even plays into the ways the various characters are portrayed, but I thought it worked here nicely enough.

But anyways, I feel we're getting ahead of ourselves here a bit, let's bite into the meat of this thing, the story. And here's where most of my issues would typically arise. On the outset, most of our main cast who we follow through these movies are not likable people. They're very frustrating a lot of the time in fact, making terrible decision after terrible decision, and oftentimes just being terrible people in general to one another. We have Bella, who is head over heels for the vampire Edward, despite the fact that he's a creep who stalks her and watches her sleep, and who generally is just very mentally and emotionally abusive to her on many occasions. He's a bad influence on her, and yet she's completely infatuated with the idea of not only being with him, but becoming a vampire like him as well.

And on the outset, especially with the first movie, I can take away a couple of things from this abusive relationship of theirs. I can totally understand how this can be taken as sending a terrible message to younger, more receptive minds. And I thought that too, at first. But then, especially as the series goes on, something I noticed stood out. Though Bella is our main character, and this is her story, the movies themselves don't actually condone her actions. All throughout she is constantly being criticized for her decisions by just about every single character she comes into contact with, being told that her way isn't necessarily the right way, and that she doesn't have to pursue this path of hers.

And really, I've seen other movies that have terrible messages that are highlighted as being the right path, such as Limitless' disgusting pro-drug message, where that movie's hero wins in the end because his drug use made everything work out just fine and dandy in his life. But that's not what happens here. Bella is not a role model, and the movies openly acknowledge this. So, as terrifying as it may seem, if there are receptive minds out there taking Bella's examples to heart, then that's on them, because those individuals aren't paying attention to the full picture at hand here.

But on the other hand, though the movies don't condone the characters' actions in these movies, that doesn't mean that those actions are entirely without merit all the same. Because, let's face it, we all know people like the characters in these movies. And the absolutely stubborn way in which they're portrayed is frighteningly realistic in that regard at that. So yeah, there's some disturbing stuff in these movies, but is that necessarily a bad thing? After all, all things considered, I can totally see the appeal in these movies, and certainly think that there's a place for a story like this that shines a light on these sorts of people in this manner. And besides, considering one of my favorite movies of the year so far is The Neon Demon, which is also one of the most fucked up movies of the year at that, I really can't say anything about anyone who might find enjoyment out of these Twilight flicks.

Twilight contractually obligated shirtless Jacob count: 0

And as we move onto the second movie, New Moon, in which Edward is placed more in the background and we're more properly introduced to Jacob, the third person in this little love triangle, we see a whole new set of disturbing character traits come to the forefront. Initially, I actually started to side with Team Jacob, as he certainly appeared to be a lot more caring and levelheaded, genuinely having Bella's best interest at heart. But while he had the better first impression than Edward, the more we become acquainted with Jacob, the more he shows himself to be carrying his own load of emotional baggage.

One, he's got some serious anger issues, which only grow more out of control as the movies progress. But on top of that, his crush on Bella grows into a full blown obsession over her as she toys with his emotions throughout, keeping him on a tight leash firmly in the friend zone, yet still keeping him around for admittedly selfish emotional reasons. And that combination of anger and obsession issues definitely turn Jacob into quite the monstrous character himself, and I'm not talking about his werewolf state.

New Moon contractually obligated shirtless Jacob count: 5

So yeah, by the end, I honestly wasn't actually rooting for anyone to end up with anyone, and was just enjoying sitting back and watching all the drama unfold without any real partiality one way or the other! But though it was the main draw to this series, the romance stuff was only one aspect of these movies. In the meantime, there's an underlying story that's a bit more in the background at first, but does come more to the forefront as the series goes on, and which I actually found to be pretty interesting, ultimately culminating in the vampires and werewolves teaming up to take out the threat of a growing vampire army in the third movie.

Speaking of, before moving forward, I'd just like to mention how I thought the third movie, Eclipse, was by far the best in the series. It had a great self-aware sense of humor to itself, and really felt like a full culmination of all the various plot threads that had been brewing until now. And not only that, but it's also the one movie where all of the characters are at their most likable, so much so that I quipped that, had the prior two movies not existed, I might actually kinda like some of these characters!

Eclipse contractually obligated shirtless Jacob count: 6

But then we get to Breaking Dawn, and that's where things start to fall apart. For one thing, as with many YA adaptations during this time, this final installment was broken up into two movies, and you can definitely feel the padding here, so much so that, despite none of the first four movies featuring any opening credits at all, the fifth movie opens with a full blown opening credits sequence just to pad out that timing just a little more (though it also closes with a sequence that highlights every single actor who played every single character in the whole series, including those who weren't even in these last two movies, which I'm not sure I've ever seen before, but just thought was kinda interesting).

But basically, these movies are where things get especially batshit crazy, and as I had mentioned earlier, a lot of my defenses for this series sorta start to fall apart, but stay with me here! I would say that Breaking Dawn: Part 1 honestly feels more like the series' epilogue, as if this is the final cost for all of Bella's actions up to this point, this is the price she has to pay for all her decisions. It starts with the wedding of Bella and Edward, which honestly was really beautifully filmed, and moves on to their honeymoon, in which Edward impregnates Bella, and now, carrying some sort of human-vampire hybrid child, she begins to die.

And, though this isn't what literally happens, I would like to theorize for a moment here. What I believe should have happened, was that perhaps, Part 1 of the movie actually did happen all the way through till Bella dies giving birth. Because it's everything that happens after that effectively horrifying scene where things really go off the rails, but what if none of that did happen? What if, perhaps, that was all just a vision Bella had, a dream, of what could have been, had she survived the childbirth? And it makes more sense when looked at that way, because let's face it, everything that happens after that moment is totally a full blown wish fulfillment fantasy, and feels like something straight out of a fever dream, one much like the kind Bella might be experiencing in that moment, visualizing before her eyes, in her final moments before she passes on forever.

And we even see an example of this in work in Breaking Dawn: Part 2, in which we see a full blown climactic action sequence play out, where several main characters lose their lives in the most horrifying fashions, only to discover after the fact that literally none of that had actually happened, but rather, it was a vision played out to our main villain in order to dissuade him from moving forward with his plans. And sure, this scene is quite possibly the most hilarious copout that I've ever seen in my entire life, but what if it actually served a purpose beyond just wussing out on actually adding stakes to the series' finale? After all, what would it hurt to kill off all those characters at this point, the series was about to wrap up anyways. But what if the reason they survived there was because not only did that big action scene not happen, but none of it did? After all, that would go right in line with the whole wish fulfillment theory, that everything ended in the most clean, clear cut, and happiest of ways for everyone, no harm no foul.

But yeah, that's just my theory, and it's really the only way that these last movies really work with the rest of the story up to this point. Because otherwise, it sorta drives a stake right through the heart of my "not condoned" argument, seeing as they all lived happily ever after, no lesson learned. And otherwise, we also have to accept that ridiculous crap that they do with Jacob falling in love with an infant, which sure, just hearing about it sounds bad enough, but actually seeing it? Yeah, just, no, dude. I mean, sure, I get what they were trying to do with that, in theory. But in execution... yeah, I'm not even gonna touch that, moving right along!

Breaking Dawn: Part 1 contractually obligated shirtless Jacob count: 1

So yeah, the movies do sorta start to fall apart by the time we get to Breaking Dawn, which totally feels like nothing more than an overly-convenient wish fulfillment fantasy, if not by the characters themselves as I've theorized, then certainly by the author, and to the story's detriment at that, quite frankly. But then, on the other hand, Breaking Dawn is just so batshit insane that it does leave me with a lot more to think about after the fact, much more so than the first three did, so it does have at least that much going for it, I guess.

And really, that kinda goes hand in hand with one of my biggest defenses for these movies. While no, I'm not going to sit here and call these movies "good", I'll certainly admit that they're definitely a whole lot of fun, and there's a lot to enjoy about them, if you're into the "awesomely bad" variety of movies. I liken them to something like the Resident Evil series of movies, which are also completely out of their mind, but still enjoyable enough throughout to keep you following along and seeing where this thing is going.

And the fact that they're clearly self-aware of what kind of movies they are certainly aids in that. There are some truly melodramatic moments all throughout, but the movies never feel like they're taking things too seriously to where they're ever really all that off-putting. I mean, sure, I suppose you could be put off by the idea that movies such as this are trying to tackle such hot-topics such as depression, suicide, and abortion at times. But then, how seriously can we really take a movie that features a scene where Bella is freezing in a tent out in the snow, and in comes a shirtless Jacob to offer to warm her up, turning to Edward and cheekily explaining, "Let's face it, I am hotter than you." Come on, now!

Breaking Dawn: Part 2 contractually obligated shirtless Jacob count: 1
Final series count: 13

But now that we've gotten all of that out of the way, I want to shift focus onto the last aspect of these movies that received a lot of criticism, that being the supposedly bad acting. And honestly, I don't see it. Sure, the performances in these movies weren't necessarily great, but they were a far cry from being anything even remotely bad. And the closest I would say who comes to it would probably be Robert Pattinson in the first movie, who appeared to be struggling the most with this material, as if he hadn't realized what he had gotten himself into until it was too late. But even he comes to grow comfortably into the skin of his fucked up character as the movies progress, and I'd say that in the case of both he and Taylor Lautner, not only do they not give bad performances in these movies, their performances actually improve with each successive movie.

And as bad as the guys got it for these movies, the one whose reputation was arguably tarnished the most was probably Kristen Stewart, and it's 100% undeserved in my estimation. I had actually recently been catching up on some Kristen Stewart movies, having become quite a fan of hers after seeing her incredible performance in Clouds of Sils Maria last year (the single best performance of the entire year, mind you), and to date, I had yet to see her give a single bad performance in anything I've seen her in. So the thought of her actually doing so intrigued me, and that's actually what triggered my interest in seeking out these movies. And I've gotta say, everybody either lied, or they just don't understand what actually makes a performance "bad".

If there's anything amiss in these movies, it's not the acting, but rather, the writing. And when you take into account how these characters are actually written, then yeah, these are actually pretty damn good performances, that properly portray these characters in a fully realized and believable manner, and quite frankly, does this writing a helluva lot more justice than it probably even deserves. But it's not the actors' fault that they're being asked to portray such characters, so the blame shouldn't fall on them for giving supposedly "bad" performances, when really, it's not the acting that people are souring on, but rather, the material throughout that these actors are being asked to say and do.

And as it concerns Kristen Stewart's character of Bella, she plays the character flawlessly. I've heard so much about how she's just blank faced throughout the movies, how she doesn't emote. And now, having seen the movies, the only thing I gotta ask is, did anyone making these claims actually see the movie? Or are they basing those claims on the context-less screencaps that have become internet memes over the years? Because holy shit does Kristen Stewart emote in these movies, and she does so in a big way at that.

But here's the thing about her performance that I don't think people are understanding. Bella is not a very outgoing character. She's clumsy, she doesn't like to dance, she often stays home instead of going out with her friends. So she's a bit socially awkward, a bit of an introvert, a recluse, but someone who's just bubbling with emotion on the inside that she tries to hide, so as to not make herself vulnerable, except from some of those select few whom she trusts. This is the kind of person Bella is. And Kristen Stewart brings exactly that to the table. What she does in these movies is something I like to call, for lack of a better term, a "reserved emotional performance".

For another example of this, check out the movie Carol that came out last year, and in which Rooney Mara was nominated for an Oscar. In that movie, she plays a very similar character, one who is brimming with emotion, but emotion that she keeps locked away inside herself, only revealing it to those she trusts, and only slowly, a little bit at a time. And to pull this off in cinema is no easy feat, in a medium in which performances are often measured in how open and charismatic an individual can carry themselves, to be asked to do the opposite, to hold back and keep as much of that emotion within you, yet still manage to convey that emotion you're keeping bottled up. This is oftentimes accomplished with certain facial gestures, and most of the acting is done with their eyes, which hide a world of emotion behind them, or the tone in their voice, a certain timidness, an uncomfortable uncertainty that comes from a desire to expressly not express themselves.

Rooney Mara pulled this off so well that it earned her an Oscar nomination, but then, she also had the benefit of pulling it off in a more reputable film as well. However, I'm here to argue that Kristen Stewart largely pulls off this same feat in the Twilight films, and that most of her reputation for being a wooden or stilted actor comes not from her actual performance, but from the fact that her performance had to take place in these high profile yet not-so reputable films. But actually watch the movies, take in the context, what her character is experiencing, what she's feeling, the type of person she is, and you'll see, Kristen Stewart brings this character to life beautifully.

As I mentioned before, if there's anything amiss, it's not with her acting, but rather, the material she's being asked to portray. After all, it's not the only time she's played this sorta character, her role in Adventureland was similarly emotionally reserved. However, she actually played a likable character despite her emotional reservations in that film, in addition to the movie being more generally well received at that, so of course her performance was, too, more well received in that go around. But honestly, she brings that same level of emotional depth to these films, and really proves why she's a powerhouse actor.

And I stand by that. If you've seen Clouds of Sils Maria, then you'll know what I'm talking about. This is an actor who knows what she's doing, and brings the best to the role every time. And in the cases of both Clouds of Sils Maria and one of her more recent films Café Society, she leaves such an impact on the film that, once she leaves the screen, you truly feel the weight of her absence. The general quality of those movie tends to dip whenever she's not on screen, and it's noticeable. That's what she brings, and that's what I mean when I call her a powerhouse. It doesn't even feel like she's acting, she just goes out there and does what she does in a way that feels so genuine and so natural, it doesn't feel like we're watching an actor playing a role, but rather, like we're actually watching a real live person living their life on screen.

And it's not like playing this "emotionally reserved" persona is all she does. Her character in Clouds is very open and outspoken. And in the case of something like Adventureland or American Ultra, she also displays a world of charisma (not to mention her incredible chemistry she has with Jesse Eisenberg, to which I will quite frankly always be down for a good Stewart/Eisenberg flick at this point).

I also attribute people criticizing her for acting "wooden" in Twilight to similar complaints that people had for Hayden Christensen in the Star Wars prequels. Again, as with Twilight, if there was anything amiss with anything regarding Christensen's character in those movies, it was with the writing, the things they wanted him to say and do. But actually pay attention to how his character is written, and you'll see, his "wooden" acting was entirely intentional.

Like Stewart, he's a good, solid actor who knows what he's doing. And in the case of the Star Wars prequels, he was asked to portray a character who was raised to keep his feelings under control and act within the bounds of logic, despite being a character who is ruled by his emotions. And all throughout, you can see it in the way he carries himself, the way he might pause before speaking at times, how he's constantly struggling to keep emotion out of his voice, to present himself in a way that fits within what he's been trained to believe is the image of a true Jedi. And though this may come across as "wooden" at times, that's also done on purpose. And it becomes more apparent as he becomes more open, more freely showing his emotion, particularly near the end when he's fully consumed by the dark side.

His physical performance in those movies is outstanding, just watch those movies and look at the way he carries himself with his physical mannerisms, the way he acts with his eyes, even when he's not speaking. And his line delivery, though awkward and lacking emotion at times, is largely an intentional choice throughout given the context surrounding his character (that, and a lot of the lines he's being asked to recite really are just that awkward). However, most people aren't willing to look that deeply into a performance before judging it prematurely and writing it off one way or the other, and before you know it, another great actor's reputation is unfairly tarnished. And it's sad to think that the same has happened to Kristen Stewart, though gladly she's finding plenty of success in the indie market, despite what the Twilight films might have done to her own reputation.

But in these situations, it honestly does feel like the general masses come to a consensus opinion on something, and rather than actually watching something and forming an opinion all their own, most people are content with just allowing for that consensus opinion to dictate their own feelings on a matter, which is really just kind of a disturbing thought, because I would really hope for people to be more open minded than that. I personally never care one way or the other what the popular opinion on a topic is. That's why I don't pay too much attention to aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes, because I don't allow for a general consensus to decide my own opinion for me. I want to form an opinion for myself, and if that happens to fall in line with the masses, well then great! And if it doesn't, eh, oh well! At least I know I'm being honest with myself, and whether or not any of you agree with anything I have to say here, at least you can take away that you're reading an honest, genuine opinion, and that I'm not just repeating what I'm "supposed" to think and feel, as dictated by the popular opinion.

And as it concerns these movies and these performances, if you honestly did give them a chance and you still didn't like them, then by all means, that's fine. My main gripe here is aimed at those who either haven't given the movies a chance yet still spout the rhetoric, or perhaps they have, but just want to fall in line with the popular opinion, so go about spouting off what they think they're "supposed" to say about these films, as opposed to more honestly expressing how they really felt, for whatever reason. Because really, what good does that do anyone? And obviously what I'm saying here goes well beyond just these particular films, but they just so happen to work as a good example. After all, how can we even begin to have a conversation about a topic if we're not willing to be honest about it in the first place?

So yeah, those are pretty much my thoughts. Are the Twilight movies great? Well, no, but are they really as bad as many make them out to be? Honestly, I don't really think they are. But as bad a reputation as the movies have garnered over the years, the biggest shame is the reputation that has been unfairly attached to the cast, who are all quite frankly great actors. Robert Pattinson hasn't really done anything mainstream outside of Twilight and his one-off in the Harry Potter movies, but if those don't convince you, then try watching something like The Rover or Remember Me, and see if that doesn't sway your opinion of him as an actor.

And as for Stewart, she's honestly so good that she's joined the shortlist of actors who I will literally see any movie she's in now. Hell, just recently, we had back to back weekends where new indie releases came to town that I had never even heard of, a movie called Equals and the aforementioned Café Society, and it was only upon seeing that she was in the cast that they immediately secured a ticket purchase from me. And while I haven't seen everything she's done just yet, thus far I've personally yet to see a bad performance out of her, and that remains true even after surviving the Twilight movies. And I don't say that out of some sort of bias for her because I'm just that big a fan, I'll more than admit when an actor I really like didn't pull a performance off, such as when another favorite of mine, Chloë Moretz, completely failed to impress in Dark Shadows. But Kristen Stewart is in a category with someone like Michael Fassbender, an actor who I really like and always delivers, and who always somehow manages to elevate the quality of the movie they're in with their mere presence. She really is just that good.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

An update on my creative endeavors

So earlier in the year, I was all set to begin filming on my next movie project. I even wrote a blog a few months back essentially discussing how ready I was to tackle this monumental endeavor, as I prepared to film my very first feature length movie. I had a finished script, I had more or less assembled a cast and crew, and things were looking to move forward, despite a few hiccups along the way.

But then a few hiccups became a few more, and then a few more after that still. And suddenly, members of the cast and crew were dropping out, copping attitudes, or generally proving themselves to be unreliable. Then the same with a number of locations we had secured, one of which was always making such a loud noise it made it impossible to film there (an issue that was literally non-existent at this location prior to our trying to film there), and others that had either become overly-complicated to schedule a time with, or that had flat out closed down entirely since the time we had secured it.

So many issues arose that I had never anticipated. And all of them were things that were entirely outside of my control. Friendships were either tarnished or lost along the way, and all in all, I honestly don't believe there has ever been a single point in my life where I was as stressed out as during that brief period of time. (Maybe the military?)

And it showed. It showed in the few pieces of footage that we did manage to film, which I really wasn't entirely satisfied with, and it was entirely my fault. I was just so stressed out and brought to a point of desperation that I was willing to make any accommodations, be it with the cast, crew, or locations, and I definitely wasn't in the right frame of mind, as I was more concerned with just getting it done period, rather than getting it done right. But it wasn't fair to the project, or to the cast and crew who did their parts, and if I had continued forward like this, it likely would have shown all throughout in the finished product.

And even in my life outside of this project, I had become a tired slog at work, and I never felt like I had even a single minute to relax, and found most of my interactions with friends had gradually become a venting session to just complain about the sheer amount of stress and frustration that the project was creating. It honestly felt like there was some sort of divine intervention going on, like the universe was telling me to put this project on hold for now. And I fought back for as long as I could, until, after almost half a year of non-stop stress, I had finally reached my breaking point, my passion for the project had finally died out entirely, and so I decided to shelve the project. And also considering the sheer stupid amount of money and work that I had put into it, you know that things got bad if I still shelved the project anyways. After all, what use was there in continuing to stress out over so much that I had no control over?

The project was such a colossal disaster that it really damaged my interactions with people in general, who had absolutely taken their toll on me by this point, so I pretty much just mostly kept to myself for a good bit of time afterwards, and decided to shift focus onto something I could work on that didn't force me to rely on others. And so I picked back up on my Ninja Kat books. I had taken over a year off of working on them in order to focus more on my film stuff, but in the process, that series was going more and more neglected, and I honestly had no clue when I was ever going to have the time to get back around to working on them again. But I took this as an opportunity to do just that, and I couldn't be more at peace with that decision.

I mentioned how it felt like divine intervention that was telling me to put my film project on hold, and I'm thinking that perhaps that very well might be the case, as if this all was supposed to happen so that I would be put back on track to finishing my Ninja Kat series. It sucks that this is what it took, but you know, I'm not sure there's ever been a point in my life where I've ever been even nearly as productive as I am now. I've been more consistent with my work than ever before, utilizing every single day I have off as an opportunity to go out and get some more writing done. And as a result, I've already finished a full draft of The Masquerade, which is now currently in the hands of test readers. I honestly didn't think I would even be halfway done with that book by this point in the year, but here I am, already beginning work on the fourth book. And I'm on such a roll that I think I wanna just stick with this for the time being, and put my film plans on hold until it's the right time to give that my full focus again.

In terms of personal relationships, I've been very much hurt by a lot of people who I fully trusted throughout the year, so much so that I'm finding it harder and harder to trust a lot of other people now as a result. But it's something that I'm working on, slowly but surely, as the one's who truly do care are making themselves known, the one's who actually have made an effort to reach out to me, and I am very grateful for those individuals. But in the meantime, as I've mostly kept to myself, I've just been chugging away, writing more and more, and at a pace that even I'm a little amazed by.

I have had times in my life where I had taken time away from my day job in order to just try and focus on my creative projects. And when I think back, I honestly did waste a whole lot of that free time, as I don't think I was yet at a point in my life where I really took it seriously enough. But now, since I've become consistent with my work, I've now actually reached a point that's the exact opposite, where now if I ever have a typical lazy day where I don't get something even a little productive done, I actually end up feeling guilty about it, and can't really even enjoy myself.

But I've reached that point now, where my creative work has become my leisure of choice. And I just recently took a week vacation, in which I used it as an opportunity to get even more of my work done. And I'm actually happy that I've finally reached this point, the point where I'm really, truly taking my work seriously, and I think it'll show, my passion reinvigorated will shine in my work. And as I enter the next stage of this creative process, I'm going to need that passion to keep me going. Because, now that The Masquerade is nearing its release date, that means that I've gotta start really promoting it soon. And this is always my least favorite part of the process, and something that has become harder and harder as time has gone on for a number of reasons, but that's another discussion for another day.

And as for what the future holds, well, I definitely intend to get back into film again eventually. And in fact, I'm even still open to helping others out on their own film projects here and there, as I've been doing from time to time. And even this past Friday, August 12th, I was invited back to the second ever Tallahassee Premiere Nights event, where they featured my short film Dream Girl, so that was pretty cool, and I think we might've even had a bigger turnout this time around, too. They certainly played a more diverse variety of films at least, in terms of genre, which was nice, and gave each of them a better chance of standing out from one another.

But yeah, that's pretty much where I'm at. For the time being, I intend to just keep focused on my novel writing, to finish up these Ninja Kat books, and continue to see how things will pan out for the series. I'd love to even pick the comic book back up as well, but we'll see on that. But as for my own personal stuff, I think this little break away from film in a general sense will definitely do me some good, and by the time I've wrapped things up on my book series, I'll be properly refreshed and ready to tackle some more collaborative efforts again once more.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Velcro: The Masquerade - Coming Soon

Hey Ninja Kat fans! The wait is almost over. Book Three of The Ninja Kat series, Velcro: The Masquerade, is almost here! The official page for The Masquerade is currently live and features a full synopsis, and the first chapter of this latest entry is available now for your reading pleasure. So give it a read by clicking on the image below, and we'll be sure to keep you updated as more news regarding The Masquerade and its upcoming release becomes available.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Swiss Army Man

Swiss Army Man is a bizarre movie, absolutely. But look beyond its rampant dick and fart jokes, and what you'll find is a brilliantly magical film here. Quite frankly, this movie about a man stranded on a desert island who comes across a farting corpse that slowly starts to come to life is a metaphorical work of art, The Tree of Life for the weird and the awkward, and I absolutely loved it.

The movie starts with our lead character Hank, played by Paul Dano, stranded on a small island, completely alone, and attempting to take his life, when the dead corpse of Manny, played by Daniel Radcliffe, suddenly washes ashore. And it's soon after coming across this corpse that Hank discovers his way off the island, in the form of riding Manny like a jet-ski across the ocean, who is propelling their momentum via his non-stop farting. Stay with me here, folks.

After reaching land, they find themselves washed on a beach just outside a forest, which they can see has been recently traversed as a result of all of the trash they find all over the place. So, Hank and Manny have essentially found themselves back to the outskirts of society, yet still very much remain lost and alone, stranded, as if they were still stuck on that island.

And as the movie progresses, Manny slowly starts to actually come to life, and it's up to Hank to essentially re-train him on what it means to be human. And the more the two connect, the more alive Manny becomes. And likewise, as the movie continues to progress, Manny proves time and time again to be a source of life to Hank. They are each others life-support. In this strange world where they don't quite fit in, they give each other a reason to live and keep on going.

On the outset, you can watch this movie and all that I just described above, and take it as merely a really bizarrely silly comedy about a man and his dead zombie-like friend trying to find their way back home. But really, their entire journey completely embodies what it's like to be this type of person, someone who is a little weird, a little quirky, doesn't quite fit in with society's social norms, and might be a little more introverted and shy than most.

Hank starting off completely secluded on that island shows us literally just how alone he feels in this world. But then Manny comes into his life, and that shows us how all it can take is one friend reaching out to you to help bring you from the brink of your darkest moments, in this case, Hank attempting to commit suicide, unable to take the loneliness anymore. Manny, the proverbial "Swiss Army Man", becomes the very tool needed to fix Hank's loneliness and show him the way to a better, more meaningful life.

But Hank's not the only one who's a little weird, as Manny very much shares a lot of his similar personality traits. And it's in their shared weirdness that the two are able to connect, and just as Manny's presence brought Hank back from the brink and gave him a reason to keep on going, Hank stepping into Manny's life literally gives him life. And this aspect is never more evident than when the two, much later in the movie, fall into a river, and Manny, unable to move, is drowning into the depths of the water, until Hank swims down to save his undead friend, and the two embrace in what appears to be a literally life-giving kiss as Hank presses his lips to Manny's and takes in a breath of air. And the moment when he pulls back and realizes what he just did and goes back in for another breath will probably stand as one of my favorite moments in film this year, as it really just epitomizes the sheer beauty on display and the depths that this film is willing to dive to in order to tackle this movie's issues in the metaphorical manner that it's presented to us here, as the two literally save each other in that moment.

Let's back up a little now, and take a look at when Hank was going over the meaning of life to Manny. He essentially trains him on how to be human, and in doing so, covers all of those social norms that one must adhere to in order to try and fit in with society, many of which Manny, in his innocent state, finds himself questioning, leading to some hilariously awkward dialogue. But eventually, their lessons lead to the conquest of love, and when Manny sees the girl who Hank has saved as his background picture on his phone, it's love at first sight for him, and that's when the real magic of this movie starts to present itself.

We see how Manny's crush on this girl further develops, and how this girl's presence in his life gives him even more reason to live and keep going. And upon seeing this for himself, Hank begins to perpetuate this crush as a means to help them get unlost. And for a time, this appears to be working, and it's this one-sided love that ultimately helps bring them back to society, but more on that in a second.

However, it's just fascinating seeing this entire journey play out for Manny, as he experiences not only love, but the crushing heartache at the realization that his love can never truly be realized in the way that he had imagined it. And upon this discovery, he starts to revert back to his dead self, no longer seeing a reason to continue to live and go on in that moment, and it's only in seeing his friend in peril that he remembers that there's more to life than romantic love, and that he finds a whole new purpose to keep on living, coming even more alive than ever before.

I now want to talk about the ending of this movie, after the two finally do find themselves back in society, literally in the backyard of the girl they had been crushing on. And the first thing we realize in this moment is just how close to society they actually were this entire time as they were wandering through the woods, and yet how cut off from it they were all the same. But as the two finally find themselves in contact with other people in the real world, it's only then that we actually see just how cut off from society they really are on a much deeper level.

To be honest, when I initially saw the movie, I actually didn't feel like the ending fit, like it was almost jarring in how tonally disconnected it felt from the rest of the movie, and kinda wished that the movie had either cut short or tried another route. But it wasn't until some further reflection that I realized that this ending not feeling like it fits with the rest of the movie is precisely what makes it the perfect way to end this movie, because it really emphasizes just how much our leads themselves just do not fit within society.

If the two embracing in a kiss under the water is one of the most beautiful moments in cinema this year, then Manny's reaction when he finally meets another person, only to find them reacting exactly as Hank had warned them they would, reacting weirded out and frightened by him, and his completely bottling back up and becoming completely dead again in response, this is possibly among the most tormenting moments of the year, as it just really hits hard in how honest it is, a fear fully realized, the fear of not being accepted for who you are, of people acting weirded out by you even.

And in this sequence, we also see just how bad Hank's social anxiety is as well, as he's suddenly not the open and talkative individual we had come to know and love by this point, but rather, finds himself too shy for words, in a moment that's striking in its execution. But it all comes around at the end as Hank tries to run away with Manny and bring him back to life, seeing in that moment that the two really do need one another in this big scary world where they don't belong in, and it's only after a show of trust, that Hank isn't judging Manny the way that everyone else is, that he does accept him for who he is, quirks and everything, that Manny comes back from the brink, just as Manny had brought Hank back in the beginning.

As the two are being chased through the woods, though, the ones chasing them come across all the various things that Hank had been busy creating during their time in the woods, cobbling together all the trash and limbs and such around them in order to build things such as a fake bus, a theater, a diner and such all throughout the movie during Hank's various life lessons to Manny, which no words I write can even begin to do justice in trying to describe them, and you'll just have to see them to believe. Hank proves himself to be quite the resourceful guy in this regard, which can initially make you wonder how such a person can have such a hard time finding his way out of the woods, but that, of course, isn't the point the movie's trying to get to.

This particular aspect shows us how the more introverted types happen to also oftentimes be creative types, and the production design in this movie is immaculate in depicting this. And as amazing as it is seeing him making all of this stuff, it all pays off big in just how impressed the others are when they comes across it in the end, showing that Hank isn't as worthless to society as he makes himself out to be, and there he does have something worthwhile to contribute.

What I also loved about this movie was its use of music. I have mentioned in the past a number of times how my favorite use of music in movies is when it's incorporated in a way where it becomes an active participant in the film that the characters on screen are actually hearing, just as we are, which immerses us into the movie on a far greater level than a score playing music that just happens to compliment the scene would. Recent examples of this kind of use of music in action are the scores for Inception and Mad Max: Fury Road, as well as the soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy.

But this movie almost outdoes all of those examples, as the score here, as brilliantly first introduced right from the outset, is Hank's humming and singing to himself, humming a few notes which are then repeated over and over, until he adds a few more notes to it, which becomes an added layer to the music he's created, and that just keeps expanding further and further until we have a full on musical accompaniment straight out of the mind of our main character. In this instance, it's not just a matter of hearing the same thing the characters on screen are hearing, this movie literally gets us in our characters head with its score, which I thought was just absolutely brilliant.

Now, it can be easy to look at the movie as being immature for its insistence on going with all of the farting gags and whatnot throughout, even going so far as to use Manny's boner as a compass to guide them out of the woods in the movie. But honestly, I think the decision to do this goes deeper than cheap laughs. I had mentioned before how Hank is essentially teaching Manny how to be human, and I think going with these baser human functions really helps emphasize that aspect, to remind us that, despite all of our flaws or our differences, we all have the same strange bodily functions that we hide from one another in shame, in order to further conform within society. But where most movies would go for this sort of humor just to be immature for immaturity's sake, here, the movie is almost insisting that we take a look back at our more immature sensibilities, to not be ashamed of them, as it's all a part of what helps make us human, which is actually quite a mature statement to make.

And I could just keep gushing more and more about this movie, but I just absolutely loved it. Paul Dano was fantastic, and I think Daniel Radcliffe's performance was simply ingenious, and the two had a phenomenal chemistry that totally carried this movie. In lesser hands, this movie could've completely fallen flat, but the fantastic direction and magnificent performances truly brought this script to life like nothing else, and brought us a movie unlike anything else we've ever seen.

This is probably going to be the movie that I'm most gutted about should it go ignored come awards season (as of this writing, it's got Best Score and Best Actor for Daniel Radcliffe in the bag for me, with nods to Best Direction, Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design, and Best Actor for Paul Dano at the least), 'cause this is a movie that is from start to finish just a magical experience to take part in, taking a deep look at the psyche of the weird and the awkward, and bringing it to the forefront on a literal level. To say that I could relate to this movie is putting it mildly, but I really hope that this one doesn't get so easily disregarded as being merely silly and weird, when there's so much deeper going on with this fantastic film.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Double Feature: Independence Day

So this past Thursday, I attended the double feature event showing both the original Independence Day, and the new sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence. And yeah, to say that this screening was a disaster is really undercutting the experience. Hell, it's a story all its own, so before I even get into what I thought about the movies, I'm just going to have to recount the events that transpired at the theater. However, if you wanna skip right into my thoughts on the movies, then you can jump ahead to those reviews here.

Still with me? Alright. So, I was super hyped for this event, just stupidly excited. Independence Day is one of my all time favorite movies. I had seen it three times in the theater when it originally came out 20 years ago, and this was a rare instance where I was more than willing to make the trip out to the theater to check it out, despite already owning it on DVD. And so I get to the theater, and it would appear that only one single person in the entire town shared my enthusiasm (though a third person did eventually join us as well, about 30 minutes into the movie).

Whatever, it is what it is, and at least there wasn't any rude attendees talking or playing on their phones. And yeah, the first movie played flawlessly, and still holds up incredibly well to this day, but more on that later! So after the movie ended and the credits wrapped up, I guess we expected for them to either give us an intermission and perhaps show some previews or something before the next movie, but no, they literally left the lights out and the screen blank, as an ever increasingly awkward silence filled the void.

One of the people there asked the other if they knew when the next movie was supposed to start, before leaving to find out. Meanwhile, I looked up online and saw that there was an intended 30 minute break between films. Okay, that seemed a bit unnecessarily long, but whatever. Anyways, 32 minutes go by without anything changing, and it becomes apparent at this point that they had merely forgotten about us in this theater. So that guy who had left before leaves again, aaaaaand... he never came back. I was a little confused by that at first, but it made sense later! So now it's about 37 minutes of dark and silence, and I finally get up to tell them that the second movie hasn't started yet. Okay they're on it, and it's starting up as I return to my seat.

So it starts playing right from the beginning, no trailers or anything leading into it, which I thought was cool. But then one of the workers comes in and walks up to my seat, where she hands me 3D glasses. Because, apparently this second movie was playing in 3D. Huh. That was never mentioned on the ticket or any of the promotion. So I begrudgingly accepted my glasses, while meanwhile, the only other guy left in the theater at this point decided to leave, and it suddenly dawned on me that this was the reason why we never saw the first guy come back again. Probably a wise decision on both of their ends. And I actually considered leaving myself, and looked up the times for the next 2D showing. But seeing as it was 2 and a half hours away, I decided to suck it up and just watch the damn thing in 3D. How bad could it get, right?

And so there I was, alone in the theater, entirely to myself, watching the second Independence Day. In 3D. And I'm still kicking myself for not just getting up and asking if they could just play it in 2D, seeing as I was literally the only one there at that point. But whatever, anyways, the movie goes on, and we get near the end, when suddenly, as the movie's right in the middle of the last big action scene, the lights come up in the theater and the sound turns off on the movie. God dammit. So now I have to get up and tell someone to fix this, and as I return to my seat, I had the bizarre experience of having them come in the theater to ask me what scene the movie was on. And I had to awkwardly answer, "Uh... they were, um, being chased in a bus."

So they start skipping around to try and find where we were at, first playing scenes from way in the beginning, then skipping ahead to well past where we were, until they got about 10 minutes prior to where we had left off, and I told them, "good enough." And it was at that point, too, that I realized, well shit, they're playing the rest of the movie in 2D. Well, at least that was something, but now I was especially kicking myself for not just inquiring about that earlier.

So yeah, given all those technical errors, the movie ended up running so late that people were already filing into the theater for the next showing as the credits were rolling on this thing. However, after the movie, they did give me a free pass due to the sheer amount of technical problems on the theater's end, so that was at least cool of them, but good lord was that a disastrous experience! Though, in hindsight, it's almost fitting that the first movie played so flawlessly while the second movie was an absolute trainwreck, because in terms of quality, those experiences honestly mirror the movies themselves to an almost ominous degree.

But now that I got the theater experience out of the way, let's dive into the movies themselves! First, the original Independence Day. It had been a while since I had last seen it, so I was honestly expecting it to be showing its age. After all, we've become so oversaturated with so many big bombastic blockbusters of this ilk since then that surely this movie would just feel like more of the same by today's standards. But, honestly, this movie still holds up, and still stands out among the pack. This movie set a standard, and does so many things so well that a lot of modern day action fare get so wrong.

I also sorta expected for the movie to show its age and feel totally like a movie stuck in time. But that also proved to not really be the case, as it really stood the test of time effortlessly. And sure, now that I'm older I can definitely see how several elements of the actual story may be a little silly. However, the movie is so well executed that these silly moments are easy to overlook. The movie just takes its time really building up and establishing so much, from the world, to the scenario, to the characters.

You really get the feeling that this is a real, lived-in world, with real characters who you come to know and truly care for, and who are so charming and charismatic, and have such phenomenal chemistry with one another that you could just spend all day with these people. It's such a large ensemble, yet no one gets lost in the shuffle, it's so well balanced between all of the various stories that gradually become intertwined into one another.

And the action scenes and effects still look outstanding to this day! The initial attacks are just stunningly intense, and simply breath taking to see. And there's just a true sense of clarity that you just don't get often enough with a lot of modern blockbusters, the movie goes out of its way to make sure the viewer always knows explicitly what is happening on screen, why this is happening, and how this effects everybody. There's such an epic buildup to the initial attack that you really feel the impact of it yourself! And the movie spends so much time letting that sink in afterwards, all while naturally moving the story forward at a deliberate pace.

I was also sorta taken aback by just how much they accomplished in this movie. I mean, on top of the big bombastic destruction, this movie also fits in scenes that feel straight out of a sci-fi horror movie, aerial dogfights, and some action adventure space travel for our troubles as well. And I know a lot of movies where they try to jump around and do a lot, and it just comes across as messy and muddled. But here, everything transitions from one thing to the next so smoothly, and it all just meshes together so seamlessly, that it all just comes together and compliments the greater whole, and makes the movie have this big, grand, epic sense of scope to it, all while never really getting too big for its own good.

Seeing this movie again on the big screen was just a treat, so much so that I don't regret the theater experience at all, despite all of the issues that would arise with the second movie. And, speaking of which, let's delve right into that movie now, which proceeds to do the exact opposite of every single thing that made the first movie good, leading to the absolute worst case scenario of results.

Warning, from this point forward, there will be some pretty heavy spoilers sprinkled in here and there, so watch out for that.

Where the first movie has so much buildup, so many charming and likable characters, and so much clearly realized and awesome action, this movie had, well, none of that. Buildup? Hell, this movie's never even heard the word, as the pacing is so rushed it's just a damn miracle that there's even a movie left to talk about by the end of it. It's as if they were so concerned about taking 20 years to get around to the sequel that they were afraid of wasting any more time, so they went out of their way to make the movie as fast paced as possible, never mind if that means there's no breathing room to get a feel for the characters or any of the scenarios they find themselves in. This movie is the cinematic equivalent of watching someone cramming the night before a test, or procrastinating until the very last minute prior to a deadline. "We had 20 years to prepare," the tagline on the poster says. Yet it feels like they spent closer to 20 minutes putting the damn thing together, so sloppily rushed is it.

Hell, there was a scene that started with an alien attack on the moon, and then suddenly, that scene appears to be continuing already on Earth with the big attack you see from the trailers, where the aliens are controlling gravity. Nevermind when or how they got from the moon to Earth so suddenly, I sure as hell couldn't tell you. It's as if the movie skipped a scene or something, and I kept feeling this way all throughout the movie, like it just kept skipping forward with no rhyme or reason, forgetting to include natural transitions, let alone any time to actually catch your damn breath and let a moment resonate.

And speaking on those action scenes, my god were they just an absolute visual mess to take in. I honestly couldn't fucking tell you what the hell was even happening on screen half the damn time, so incomprehensible were the images. And yes, the shoddy 3D certainly didn't help matters, and it made me wonder if this would perhaps be more clear in 2D. But I've heard and read other reviews that are reporting the same thing, enough to where I feel confident sticking by that particular criticism. The first movie went out of its way to make all of the action so crisp and so clear, carefully setting things into place as coherently as possible, yet this movie appears to be doing the opposite, trying its damndest to just confuse the hell out of you, and leave you wondering, what the hell did I even just see?

Characters? There are none. Sure, a handful of characters return from the first movie, only to be entirely wasted this time around. Will Smith was right to turn this movie down, and it's kind of a shame that more of these actors didn't follow suit. I mean, is there a single person out there who, after watching the first movie, thought, "You know what this movie could've used more of? That quirky doctor from Area 51." Because that guy's back, and boy do they give him a whole lot more screentime this time out!

Meanwhile, Jeff Goldblum's father played by Judd Hirsch also returns, but literally does nothing of any importance or value here, leaving me wondering, why even bring him back at all? In the first movie, the one sideplot that initially arguably felt out of place was the plot following Randy Quaid's redneck character and his family, but that all ends up paying off in a major way in the end. Here, though? Judd Hirsch just finds a group of kids after the big attack and randomly tags along with them until they randomly come across his son in the dessert so they could take part in the last big action scene. Not actually provide a pivotal role to it or effect it in any way, mind you. They're there merely to just be present for it. Aaaaaand, that's it.

But hell, at least he got to do something, I guess, if that's what you wanna call it. Others, such as Robert Loggia who played the General in the original, literally step on screen for their brief, pointless cameo, and are never to be seen again. And others still, such as Vivica A. Fox, show up solely to die almost immediately, and in the least impactful manner imaginable.

I mean, when the President's wife dies in the first movie, you feel the emotion of the moment. It hits you, 'cause you've spent so much time with these characters and all they're going through. You get a feel for their relationship, and as such, you can relate to the sheer loss when he loses her. Here though, I don't think Vivica A. Fox even has five minutes total of screentime, let alone shares a single scene with her son, so when she dies, it's like, who cares? Why was she even in the movie if that was literally all she was there to contribute? It's been 20 years since the first movie, so I don't even know this character anymore, and the movie never gave us a chance to catch back up with her before removing her from the rest of the movie as quickly as possible.

As for the new cast, not a single one of these characters is fleshed out, nor does any of them bring an ounce of charisma to the table with them. And outside of Maika Monroe, Liam Hemsworth, and Jessie Husher, just about all of them get lost in the shuffle. Like, there's this random warlord guy, who just kills aliens, and that's his character. Then there's the bumbling fool who just bumbles around and is a fool, and that's his character. And then the President in this movie, who is barely a character, suddenly dies, off screen, and we witness them swear in the new President, who is just some guy who was just sorta there, and it's only in that moment that you realize, oh, I guess he's supposed to be kinda important?

And then Charlotte Gainsbourg is there, who I spent most of the movie anytime she was on screen trying to think of who she was, as I definitely recognized her but couldn't quite place her, until, about halfway into the movie, I was like, "AH! That's Charlotte Gainsbourg!" And despite barely sharing any real screentime with Jeff Goldblum early on, she's apparently supposed to be his love interest come the end of the movie? What? I mean, I guess they kinda hinted at something that had gone on between them a little, but that still felt way out of left field. And besides, what the hell happened to his ex-wife from the first movie? If that was explained away in a throwaway line of dialogue, I sure as hell missed it!

Hell, Will Smith's friend who died in the first air battle was a more fleshed out character than even our main cast, let alone the supporting players. But yeah, that's about what you get here. A lot of cardboard cutouts that look pretty. And let me tell you, when one of the very few positive things I had to say about the movie afterwards is, "Well, at least Maika Monroe looked nice," that doesn't fare too well for your shitty film. And hell, most of these characters' storylines feel straight out of one of the endless stream of YA adaptations, which would be fine, if this was yet another YA adaptation. But it's not. It's Independence Day. And if it wanted to use a source in which to reference writing out character arcs, the first movie was still there for them to watch and take note. Nevermind that to this day you can still quote lines from the characters in the first movie, you won't be quoting anything anyone says in this one, 'cause there's not a memorable line to be had in the whole movie.

I would say perhaps the one exception would be Bill Pullman, who is so damn charismatic that he has probably the only scene in the movie that kinda works, which also just so happens to be a depressing reminder of just how much of a fantasy world these movies reside in. He's hyping up a group of people by discussing how much the world has come together to work alongside one another since the last attack 20 years ago. This message, mind you, in a movie coming out during a time when the world is quite possibly at its most divided since the freaking '40s. So yeah, to say that the scene wasn't relatable in the least is putting it mildly, but again, Pullman brings something to the performance that still manages to somewhat pull it off regardless, and it's kind of a shame that they had to hamper down the rest of his character with all of these psychotic breakdowns throughout, because Pullman's one of the very few shining aspects in this mess of a movie.

I mentioned how the first movie was stupid in hindsight, but worked regardless because it was all so awesomely well executed. This obviously isn't the case here, as the execution is so poor, there's just no forgiving the god damn stupid fucking shit that happens in any of this movie. I mean, I'm all for trying to present this new world that's advanced well beyond our own thanks to utilizing the alien technology, but the movie spends no time actually building this world for the audience, really giving us a proper introduction to it. So as a result, it just feels like this movie flat out doesn't even exist within the same universe as the first.

And that feeling only grows as the movie progresses, and we learn of a second alien society who has come to Earth with the intention of aiding them in the fight against these more hostile aliens, and the ending even teases a third movie that would apparently take us entirely out into space in order to wage a full blown war against the main bad guys. And all I could think at that point was, please don't. I mean, if you wanted to start a brand new movie franchise in order to explore all of this stuff with, then sure, by all means go for it. But taking the Independence Day movies down this route just feels unnecessary and forced. If this were an original property, sure, I could buy this whole second group of aliens and building an army for war. But all of that feels almost too fantastical and unbelievable, coming off the much more grounded first entry, even given everything that happens in that one.

And I haven't even gotten into some of the stupider shit, such as that aforementioned bus chase scene, where they're literally being chased by a giant alien in a desert, and it looks as fucking stupid as it sounds. Or the fact that Maika Monroe was somehow able to disable said alien's shield by merely shooting at it alot. Like, what? How the fuck? In the first movie, they literally nuke the bastards, and it still couldn't penetrate through their shields. But now, they only have to just keep shooting at it enough times? Really movie? And people wanna complain about a computer virus taking their shields down as being stupid. At least that had some sense of internal consistency behind it!

This of course isn't even going into any of this movie's complete disregard for the laws of physics. But that's the thing, this movie kept thinking that bigger was better. It had bigger aliens, bigger ships, bigger destruction. And yet, no matter how much artificially bigger this movie got, the movie still never felt as genuinely big or as epic as the first. And that's because the movie forgot to at any point give us a reason to care about any of this bigger and badder shit going down. By the end of the first movie, we can feel the weight of all that we had just watched, and all the movie had accomplished. But by the end of this thing, with all of its pacing issues, lack of characters, and lack of clarity, the only thing we're left feeling is an overwhelming sense of, "... that's it?"

Now, there is a part of me that almost feels like the terrible theater experience may have perhaps played a hand in my negative feelings towards the movie. However, a counter example already exists, and a rather recent one at that, in the form of my screening for The Conjuring 2. That was an absolute horrible theater experience, with one of the worst crowds I have ever sat through. To my left were a bunch of girls who kept checking their phones every five minutes, and were at times even taking pictures with the flash on during the movie, and I could hear them whispering and giggling about it. And to my right were a group of people talking and providing commentary on the movie, and screaming in an over-the-top manner at inappropriate times in order to garner a reaction from the audience, making the experience about them, and not about the actual movie that we had all paid to see.

And that was just on my row. All throughout the whole theater this sorta thing was going on, ongoing conversations, people checking their phones. It was miserable. So bad that I actually considered walking out and trying again at another date. But I stuck it out, and you know what? Despite all of the distractions, despite the terrible theater experience, I actually quite loved the movie itself, which wasn't hindered at all by my terrible audience. In fact, it's one of my favorites of the whole year so far. So I had nothing but very positive thoughts in regards to the movie itself, even though my theater experience that accompanied it was something out of a nightmare.

So taking that into consideration, and also seeing many of my own thoughts being mirrored by so many elsewhere, I think it's safe to say that the movie really was as bad as I'm making it out to be. Though, that said, it does also serve as a stark reminder to me as to why I absolutely refuse to intentionally watch movies in 3D. Because all throughout, I found the 3D effects to be very distracting, and I'm almost certain that it muddied up the images even more than they already were, meaning that I'm pretty sure I had a harder time deciphering what the hell was going on than even most. Though, again, this isn't the only movie I've seen in 3D, and in fact, all of the others I have seen, I ended up liking them, despite not being a fan of the 3D itself. And besides, even once the movie changed over to 2D for me, I still very much found the action to be just as uninteresting as the rest of the movie, so there was really no change in that regard for me anyways.

Still, there is a part of me that's a little curious to give this movie another chance without the hindrances that I had experienced, because I really do hate to feel like I'm unfairly criticizing the movie. But I'm really not sure when I'll get around to that, probably not until it hits video at least, but we'll see. Because even though much of this movie does feel like a blur, all things considered, I still very much feel this was just a very depressingly terrible movie all the same.

What's especially sad is that Roland Emmerich has proven himself to still be capable of producing fun movies. White House Down came out only a couple years ago, and I loved that movie! That movie was so much fun, with awesome action and great characters. But here, it's like, what happened? And all of this movie's glaring flaws were made all the more so seeing it back to back with the first one, which also make every single one of those flaws absolutely inexcusable, seeing as it's the same people making this new movie. I mean, how did they not use that first one as a blueprint, see what worked that made that movie so good, and apply that here? How did this travesty of a movie even happen? It's really unexplainable, but the end result is just absolutely unacceptable coming from the same folks.

They had 20 years to get it right, yet they couldn't have gotten it more wrong if they were actively trying. And in the end, this movie winded up being an absolute disaster of a film that absolutely must be stopped before they produce any more of this bullshit. I mean, even as I'm writing this a couple of days after my screening, I'm still shocked at just how bad this movie was. I didn't expect it to be as good as the first, but there's really just no excuse for how low this movie stoops to.

Independence Day: Resurgence isn't just a bad movie. It's shockingly bad. It's depressingly terrible. So much so that, even though I rarely review movies anymore, and even more rarely write up full blown negative reviews at that, I just had to take the time to share my thoughts and explain in full detail just how god awful this movie was. And part of that is because I love the first movie so much. But hopefully this one's existence won't tarnish the legacy of the original too much, as can sometimes happen when a great movie is followed up by something so terrible, but the two honestly have so little in common that it shouldn't be too hard to ignore its existence. But yeah, this is unquestionably the worst movie I've seen this year so far, and it is going to take a lot to top it as such.