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.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Breathe debuts at Tallahassee Premiere Nights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 20, 2016

Double Feature: Batman v Superman and Civil War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 19, 2016

My mindset heading into film production

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Paranormal Activity - A Full Series Overview

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

Warning: spoilers ahead!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Productivity in 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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