Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Babymetal at The Forum - Live Review

Prior to this past weekend, the furthest I ever traveled specifically to see a show was in 2007 when I traveled from Florida to Detroit to attend Wrestlemania 23. Needless to say, traveling from Florida to LA to see Babymetal live at The Forum far surpasses that. But it wasn't just me, but fans from all over the country, and even the world, traveled far and wide to attend this monumental event. Hell, sitting next to me to my right during the show was someone who traveled all the way from Guatemala, and to my left was someone from China. And it was a fitting occasion to see so many people from so many places all gathered together, as this show was a celebration of the band's new album, Metal Galaxy, which is in many ways itself a celebration of the many different cultures that span the globe.

And man was this trip worth it.

Seeing as this was their first big arena show to be put on in the States, there was no way I was gonna miss out on the opportunity to see them again. And since this was one of their bigger stage productions, I knew that I wanted a spot somewhere in the stands, where I could just really take in the whole grand production. Because after all, this band is theater, and I was there to take in the full theatrical experience. And boy did it deliver in that regard.

In a recent interview with Consequence of Sound, Moametal described their latest album by saying that they were on a spaceship, traveling to different metal stars, and asking their fans to please join them.

And in another recent interview in Rolling Stone Japan, Su-metal actually mentioned how she sees Babymetal less like a traditional band, but more like a musical. And this was something that really struck me to see her say, as that's precisely how I would describe my personal experience of following along with this band as well, as less like keeping up with a band, but more like following an ongoing musical as its story continues to play out.

In fact, that's one of the things I really dig about the new album, Metal Galaxy, is that it's one of those types of albums that appears to have a storyline playing through it, and almost feels more like the soundtrack to an existing musical than it does a straight up collection of new music. And that's how this show felt seeing it live, was like watching a full blown musical production on stage, just as Su had mentioned, and that stage being the spaceship that Moa had referenced, in which we, the fans, all joined along in this space opera on their latest adventure in the ongoing Metal Resistance.

Their stage setup included a moving platform, their spaceship, which would move the girls from one side of the arena to the other, and even elevate up in the air at times. And from my view, off to the side, I was able to experience the show from a very unique perspective, as I could see the girls on stage performing either from the front, from the side, or from behind, depending on where stage was positioned at any given point. But in addition to this, their lighting setup on this show was out of this world, and they also incorporated a lot more with their backing visuals, which they had already been experimenting with more and more over the course of the tour, but which really came into play in a huge way on this show.


My view at The Forum.

I mentioned how the new album definitely feels as if it has a story playing through the course of it, but in many ways, it also feels like an album in which the band's lore has been really ingrained into it, much more so than in their previous albums. This is never more evident than in tracks such as In The Name Of, which just totally feels like one of the band's lore videos transformed into a song all its own. And that's how this show's use of backing visuals similarly feels, almost as if they are in replacement of the many lore videos that we'd normally see at bigger shows such as this, so that rather than showing us lore packages between songs (though those did still appear a handful of times), it's as if the songs themselves have become those very lore packages, really bringing them to life and bringing the band's ongoing storyline to the forefront. Sort of how I mentioned in my live review of the Orlando and Atlanta shows how the use of the Distortion music video almost made it feel like the girls were actually a part of it, they similarly use backing visuals on a number of other tracks, including Starlight and the debuting Da Da Dance, to help tell each song's story and transport us across the Metal Galaxy from song to song.

But to start from the beginning, the show opened with a message, one asking the audience, "Don't think. Feel." And I'll tell you, this show was absolutely overflowing with feeling. Like, from the very beginning, when Future Metal kicked in, it was like watching the opening to a live action anime, as we saw their spaceship flying in, and we saw Su and Moa being brought to life. And before this show, I gotta say, I never really thought much of this track. I mean, it works as a nice break as an interlude during their live shows, and it's a nice mood setter as an opening track on their album. But the way this song was utilized here to introduce us to these girls and really set the stage for what we were in for on this evening was immediately effective, and it was the first of several times over the course of the show where I felt tears welling up in my eyes.

Seriously, Future Metal is probably the furthest from a song that I ever expected to actually ever draw tears from me, but it was also far from the last. And what's sort of funny is that it typically wasn't even the band's more emotional songs that stirred me to crying. Like, Shanti Shanti Shanti and Pa Pa Ya are both pretty much party songs, yet I'll be damned if I wasn't standing there with tears rolling down my cheeks during the both of them. And for every song that didn't make me cry, I was still left smiling so damn hard that my face was literally in pain, yet all that did was make me smile even harder.

But as soon as Future Metal ended, we started things off in high gear as Su and Moa took to the stage alongside Momoko with the introduction of a brand new track being performed for the very first time, that being Da Da Dance. And lemme tell you, as soon as the opening notes for this song hit, I was screaming. This is such a high octane song, and a hell of a way to kick off the show. And it also featured one of my favorite moments, as during Moa's rap in the song, Su stepped aside for her to take center stage, in an instance that really emphasized the band's statement that Babymetal is now Su-metal and Moametal.

Up next was Megitsune, and it was at this point where I realized the thing that stuck out the most to me from my vantage point watching the girls dance was she sheer crazy amount of footwork that goes into their routines. But while my eyes followed the girls on stage for most of the evening, I did make sure to glance up at the big screen during the moment where Moa usually makes some sort of funny face at Su, and she didn't disappoint on this evening.

Elevator Girl and Shanti Shanti Shanti came next, and were loads of fun, and these were then followed by Kagerou finally making its big show debut. And it did so in a big way, as the stage that the Kami Band were performing on was set aflame, and we could feel the heat from the fire all the way up in the stands. The American Kamis indeed got to perform on this show, and though I would've loved to have seen a more traditional Kami lineup, I was honestly very pleased to see these guys get this gig, as they totally earned this show over the course of this tour, and they got to perform their solos leading into the song once more. And with rumors that Kagerou may be the band's next single off the new album, I can't help but wonder if we didn't just witness that song's music video being performed on this evening.

Starlight started up next, as many in the audience, including myself, held up our phone lights, making for an appropriately awesome sight. But now, I've mentioned several times before how this is a song that's never really worked for me live, but something about this performance on this night really hit me hard. I dunno if it was the accompanying visuals, which made it seems like the girls were traveling all through the galaxy, or if it was Su really pushing the power in her voice to another level, but I tell you, I could feel this performance in my gut. This hit me damn hard, and for the first time, I could really feel the emotion that I've always felt should've been there for me whenever I hear this song.

Then it was time for Gimme Chocolate, and there was a point during this song where I glanced up at the big screen just in time to see a closeup on Riho's face. And I could tell a number of people around me were similarly noticing her for the first time (I'm aware now that she actually tagged in during Kagerou, but I wasn't exactly looking out for her, so didn't immediately identify her). But man, once that realization set in, that both Momoko and Riho got to perform at The Forum, that seriously hit me big, and I couldn't hold in my tears for long. Hell, even thinking back on the show now, just the fact that those two both got to work this show might honestly be the thing that hits me most, and just how happy it makes me to see their hard work during this tour really pay off, and that neither of them had to sit out on the big day, which I was honestly worried might wind up being the case, seeing as how up to this point, only one of them have been performing in a given show at a time.

Pa Pa Ya was next, and despite bringing my towel along with me, I actually decided to hold off on participating this time out. I mentioned before how this song felt like a blur from getting so into it twirling my towel around and such, so this time, I really wanted to actually watch the song. And in many ways, it did feel like I was in fact truly seeing it for the first time, despite this being my third show to see them play it at. And as I mentioned before, yes, this song was indeed among those to draw me to tears. It's just such a fun and bombastic song, and yet Su's vocals remain as powerful as ever, and something about all of that just really gets to me.

After Distortion, we hit probably the only traditionally emotional song on the set to draw tears from me, that being Karate (it was a very emotional night for me, guys!), and then it was of course great to once again see Headbanger, as that song is always a killer. In fact, for the most part, the set list consisted of the songs that had been performed over the course of the rest of the tour leading up to this show, and in many ways, this show felt like the ultimate culmination that it had all been leading up to, as if each stop were a mini-adventure along the way to the big final battle. Though where their headline shows left out a lot of the call and response moments from a number of songs, they brought them back here, which obviously helped give this show in general a much bigger feel, and that was never more evident than when we came to our first finale of the evening, Road of Resistance.

When I first arrived at The Forum earlier in the day, I actually got there in time to be able to hear them doing their sound check inside. And the song they were checking at the time was Road of Resistance. And yeah, they sound checked the whole thing, including the super long, extended sing along portion, so I knew going into it that this one was gonna go long on this night. And I'll be damned if I didn't sing along like an idiot. Nobody else in my immediate area was singing along, so my voice must've certainly sounded ridiculous to everyone else around me without anyone else to help drown it out and blend it in with the crowd. But there was a moment happening, and I wasn't about to miss out on it just because no one else around me wanted to sing, especially once the music cut out and they left it to the fans to sing the song back up to the girls.

They then saw everyone off with their "we are" moment, but seeing as they hadn't yet performed The One, I suddenly got real excited, as it dawned on me that, oh crap, they're actually going to do an encore, aren't they? See, this band used to do encores all the time, but it's been a number of years now since they last did one. But sure enough, they acted as if the show was over, then left the crowd waiting, cheering, and begging for more. Sadly, some in the audience actually thought the show was over, and I noticed some people walking up the aisle to leave. And when I turned around, I saw that the row behind me had almost completely left as well, which I just couldn't believe. Because that really sucks, 'cause the show was far from over, and once we came back, we were treated to just about the biggest damn one-two punch combo you can imagine.

Shine made its first appearance with its new three person choreography, and lord did this song leave me simply breathless. Like, I'm seriously at a loss for words as to what else I can say about it other than that. And then they followed that up with the song I had been most anticipating this entire tour, that being Arkadia, i.e., the single most overwhelmingly emotional song I have ever heard in my damn life. And yeah, I similarly could barely breathe during this performance as well. Just, holy crap, you wanna talk "Don't think. Feel"? Yeah, this is what they mean by that. Because there's no room to even think, you're so swept over by emotion, it's seriously like they're reaching straight into your heart and touching your soul. And it was so worth the wait to finally see this song performed live.

They then left us off for real this time with Su telling the crowd that we were the best, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that this was indeed the best damn show I've ever attended in my life, and one of the best shows I've seen the band put on yet at that. It was well worth the travel, and well worth every damn cent. They took us on a roller coaster of an emotional ride, and delivered an absolute spectacle unlike anything I've ever seen in person. And just to show that I'm not being biased in my assessment, after the show, I even ran into someone who had attended both of the band's big shows from earlier in the year at Yokohama Arena and Legend M, and even he said that this show managed to surpass both of those for him.

So yeah, that was The Forum, and it was a hell of an experience, and a hell of a fun trip. I still arrived early in the day so I could mingle with fellow fans before the show, and I ran into quite a number of people who I had met at Atlanta, some friends who I had met during my time in New York, and others as well who I had been conversing with online for some time now, but was now meeting in person for the first time. And still yet, I met quite a number of new faces as well, and I even found it interesting how some people there even recognized me from these blogs and my other online activities. But it was great seeing everyone again, and really coming together as The One and getting to experience such a fantastic, phenomenal show, as Babymetal truly took us on a journey through the Metal Galaxy.

And I already can't wait to do it again.

So until the next one, see you!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Babymetal - Legend C in Orlando and Atlanta


Legend C night 1 - Hard Rock Cafe in Orlando, 9/4/19

So it was my birthday this past week, and I celebrated it by attending my first Babymetal show, taking place on September 4th and emanating from my home state of Florida, just a few hours down the road. Certainly all the perfect storm for a perfect occasion, though an actual storm in the form of Hurricane Dorian tried its best to ruin things. And while it brought on plenty of stress and anxiety as it concerned the fate of this opening show on their biggest US tour yet, thankfully the hurricane wound up moving away, and the show was able to go on. And man, what a show it was!

In what would become dubbed as Legend C by twitter upon learning that this was in fact my birthday show, I couldn't have asked for a better gift from the Metal Galaxy. I had seats for this particular evening, front and center upper balcony, and so I decided to show up a little after 6pm to take advantage of the park's free parking after that time. There was a pretty big line already formed by the time I got there, yet even so, once I stepped foot in the Hard Rock Cafe, I could see there were still plenty of good spots left in the pit, and the line for the merch stand was relatively short and quick to get through as well. I picked up the Metal Odyssey shirt, as well as a towel in preparation for the evening to come.


My view in Orlando.

The seating arrangement was admittedly a bit weird for me. My friend who was supposed to join me flaked out at the last minute, so the seat beside me was empty. But then, the next four seats on the other side of me were also empty, so it almost felt as if I essentially had a row all to myself. And I noticed this a bit throughout the venue. I guess the storm had caused some people to cancel their plans to attend, but it wasn't entirely empty or anything. And certainly by the time Babymetal took to the stage, it had filled up quite a bit.

Before Babymetal went on though, we got their supporting act for this tour, Avatar. And I gotta say, they honestly impressed the hell out of me. I wasn't too familiar with them going in, I had only sampled a couple of their songs online beforehand. And I guess I must've sampled the wrong songs, because I really wasn't too thrilled with what I had heard at the time. But on this night, man, they totally kicked ass on that stage. Feeling almost like a heavy metal Panic! at the Disco, the band has a very eccentric and theatrical flair to themselves that certainly feels appropriate on a stage shared with Babymetal. They played a number of songs that have since been stuck in my head, and I was left quite impressed, and looking forward to seeing them again in the next couple of days.

But then it was finally time for the main attraction, as Babymetal took to the stage with Megitsune. And man did they tear the house down right off the bat. Like, just seeing them stepping out on stage gave me chills, and seeing their performance live just felt so surreal to actually be witnessing before my eyes. They followed this up with the live debut of the Elevator Girl English version and Shanti Shanti Shanti, which were loads of fun as is usual, but then I proceeded to have my mind just completely and utterly blown away by what was to come next.

So the Kami Band (who on this tour, it would appear is actually Galactic Empire, which honestly feels pretty fitting on multiple levels to me) started playing up the next song. But before it really kicked in, a spotlight shined down on one of the guitarists, and he started playing a solo. And it actually took me a second for it to register what was happening, because I honestly couldn't believe it, but the Kami solos were indeed finally back! This alone was exciting enough, but after those solos ended, the song kicked in proper, as we saw a return of last year's Su-solo, Kagerou. Only, after Su took to the stage, she was then joined by Moa and Riho on either side. And as the three of them performed the song together, my jaw just fell to the floor, and it remained there the entire time.


The precise moment I absolutely lost my mind. Clip taken from Atlanta show.

Like, Kagerou isn't even one of my favorite songs of theirs, and may in fact be my least favorite of their new batch they introduced to us last year. But man, I'd be lying if I told you that this new reworked three person version wasn't the highlight of the whole night for me. I seriously couldn't believe what I was seeing, from the Kami solos to the new choreography, this performance absolutely blew me away, and it definitely felt like a special moment being there in person on its debut night seeing it all go down live. And after this performance, it would go on to become the song I was most looking forward to seeing again in Atlanta at that.

Starlight came on next (which if I'm being honest, even in person the live version of this song still doesn't really do much for me), which was then followed by Future Metal, which mostly acts as a nice little interlude to give the girls a break, as the song is played while a neat little video is shown to us, as opposed to being performed live. We then came back with Gimme Chocolate, and this is when our crowd finally really came alive. And yeah, seeing this song live is definitely a blast. But man, the real party for me came next, when Pa Pa Ya hit, and I grabbed my newly purchased towel in hand and twirled that sucker through the air like I was showing Dorian how it's done.

It's sorta funny, I recorded the whole show on my phone, just sorta holding my phone up beside me but not actually watching through it, just sorta letting it record while I watched the show with my own eyes. And for the most part, the footage I shot is relatively stable. But as soon as we get to Pa Pa Ya, you can tell whenever I'm swinging my towel around, because suddenly the footage is full blown shakey cam. Normally this would annoy me, but the context honestly adds a little charm to it for me when I go back and revisit it. But man, I tell you what, Pa Pa Ya was like a whirlwind to witness live. Like, that song was almost a blur, after getting so into it to that degree. In fact, I was perhaps maybe a bit too into it at first, as I'm pretty sure I was whipping the people behind me with my towel for a brief minute, before I realized that I should perhaps fold it in half before I swing it around. But man, I can't stress enough how much of an absolute blast that song is to take part in live.

Distortion was next, and they've introduced a new element that's actually pretty cool. On a number of songs, they've been utilizing a large LED screen behind them to provide backing graphics and such, such as the elevator effect during Elevator Girl, or the trippy patterns during Shanti Shanti Shanti. But now, for Distortion, they're playing the music video behind the girls during their performance, and I gotta say, it actually works a lot better than you would expect it to.

Like, it just looks really cool seeing them up there doing their choreography while this live action anime video plays behind them, with cities being destroyed and the Chosen Seven being summoned and showing off their powers. It almost makes them feel as if they're a part of that video now, like so many had wished they were to begin with. But it really looked cool, and made for an awesome effect to see live.

And these cool effects continued with Karate, where they showed the girls lighting on fire behind them as they performed their dance. We've seen this effect for this song on shows long past, but it's cool to see it return now, and like Distortion, made for an awesome visual to see in person.

I mentioned how this show was landing on my birthday, and the band apparently caught wind of this, as up next, we were treated to a much unexpected performance of Headbanger. At least, it was unexpected prior to the beginning of the show. After twitter had dubbed the show Legend C, I had joked back if that was a sign that we were gonna get Headbanger on this night. But just as they were setting up the stage for Babymetal after Avatar finished their set, we noticed that the Headbanger mic stand was in fact lying on the ground in the back. And yeah, you better believe that I got ridiculously excited by that. It was no joke, Babymetal really did remember my birthday! And Legend C could truly commence in appropriate fashion. And man, I tell you, this song is just absolutely sick to see performed live, and such a treat at that!

Next up, we got this cool little lore video, which I guess was supposed to be showing us the forming of the Metal Galaxy. But it lead directly into The One, starting first with the unfinished version performed by Su. And oh boy did this one hit me pretty hard. This is a song that's gotten me emotional on a handful of occasions, though I feel like most of the time when I listen to it, I can sorta tend to tune it out. But man, something about being there live and seeing it performed in person really just hit me especially hard, and I was on the verge of tears throughout this entire performance. What's funny is that, like Kagerou, The One is another song that I also wouldn't necessarily rank highly amongst my favorites of theirs. Yet I would honestly probably place it directly under Kagerou in terms of show highlights for me personally on this night. Yes, even higher than Headbanger. That's how hard this performance hit me.

On a funny note though, this performance also stood out to me because, when the three of them were all out there and standing on their separate platforms, that's when I honestly first noticed just how short they all actually are, haha!

The show closed out with an energetic performance of Road of Resistance, then the crowd was left chanting for one more song as they cleared the stage. And yeah, that was my first live Babymetal experience, and it completely exceeded my expectations. We got a number of surprises in the form of the updated Kagerou and Headbanger, the full set list was just absolutely killer from top to bottom, and really, just being there and seeing it all go down live was just so surreal. And by the end of it, my face was literally in pain from how hard I had been smiling for the past hour.

That said, once the show ended, I couldn't help but sorta feel almost immediately lonely. Like I said, my friend who was supposed to go with me had flaked out, and there really wasn't the brewing comradery among the fans at this show that I had heard so much about. I mean, I met a handful of cool people there, and I had a brief conversation with a couple of people behind me immediately after the show. But for the most part, everyone just sorta filed out and went their separate ways almost immediately. So not really having anyone there to really share this wonderful and exciting experience with did sorta strike me just a little on that drive back home afterwards. Perhaps it was a little bit of that "post-show depression" effecting me that I've heard so much about?

Anyways though, as I mentioned before, I filmed the whole show on my phone, and my vantage point made it so you could really see the whole stage quite clearly. Yet even so, I couldn't help but think the whole time how much I wish I was down in that pit and much closer to them than I was. And so that brings us to night two of Legend C, which would be emanating this time from the Coca-Cola Roxy in Atlanta on September 6th, where my tickets this time around would be placing me somewhere in the pit area.


Legend C night 2 - Coca-Cola Roxy in Atlanta, 9/6/19

I arrived early in the day, and found myself placed 2nd in line in the Fast Lane, which would be entering the venue immediately following the VIP ticket holders. And where I mentioned that I was a little let down by the lack of real comradery amongst the fans at the Orlando show, that couldn't be further from the case in Atlanta, as everyone more or less was more than willing to really come together and mingle and just get more and more hyped throughout the course of the day leading up to the show. And I met a number of people who I had communicated with online since discovering the band, be it through reddit or social media, so that was pretty cool, too.


The line waiting to get in the venue.

Also during the wait, Avatar's tour bus was parked right out front, and the band was just casually walking around for quite a bit. So that was kinda cool, and while no one really bothered them, they certainly appeared to be pretty chill dudes from what I could gather.

But after waiting outside pretty much all day, they finally opened the doors, and we filed into the venue. And I was seriously shocked with how good a spot I wound up landing. I was expecting to get maybe four rows back or something, but I was literally in the second row, directly center stage, with a clear and perfect view of where Su would be directly standing later on in the evening. Like, you'd think I paid premium prices for such a spot, it was pretty insane, and I couldn't believe how lucky I had gotten.


My view in Atlanta.

While I had recorded the whole show for Orlando, I decided I didn't want to do that for this show. It's cool to have the footage to revisit, and especially to listen to such an awesome set on the long drives making it to and from these shows. But this time out, I didn't want any such distractions, so I decided not to record this time, aside from a couple of clips. I really wanted to fully immerse myself in the show, and really live in the moment this time around.

So Avatar came on first again, and they performed mostly the same set as Orlando, though I noticed they left out at least one song. And there was a point in their set in Orlando where they did a wardrobe change, which never happened in Atlanta, so it would appear they'll be modifying their set some as the tour goes along. But they were great to see live once again, especially up so close, and the crowd appeared to be pretty into them.

Though I was a bit surprised at how much room I had to move around where I was standing during this set, after all I had heard about how much of a crush there can be so close to the barrier. It wasn't long after Babymetal took to the stage on this evening when I discovered first hand about that crush though. Holy crap, the crowd just rushed towards the front, and everyone was pushing their way ahead all at once as soon as those three girls stepped out. It was so crazy, people were literally climbing over each other, and over the course of the set, I realized that I had somehow been pushed back a couple rows, never really noticing it was even happening until it had already happened (though I still never got pushed too far back!)

But seeing the girls so close was just unreal, like I seriously couldn't believe they were really right there, so close before my eyes. Moa in particular has developed just a striking presence to herself, which really just commanded my attention as they filed out onto the stage for Megitsune. Not to mention, being this close this time, I could really see all of the details that I missed sitting in the stands in Orlando, such as Moa making a silly face at Su during Megitstune, or all the other funny faces she makes during Shanti Shanti Shanti, or how the black strands on the back of the bassist's mask would blow in the air behind him, which looked really awesome, or Su's wild smiles during her dance in the rap portion of Pa Pa Ya.

And being in that pit was like nothing I've ever experienced. I mean, I have been in my fair share of mosh pits in my time, but the energy in this crowd was just on a whole different level. The sheer intensity was just nonstop. The crowd was totally into it, jumping around and pumping their kitsunes in the air, singing and screaming along with the songs. And I was right there with them the whole time. I mentioned how Pa Pa Ya in Orlando was like a blur after I had gotten so into it, and honestly, that sorta describes this whole show from the pit. You just get so completely sucked into it, you barely have a moment to even properly register what all's happening.

But one thing that did totally register came during Elevator Girl, when during the single file dance sequence, Moa made direct eye contact with me, and her eyes remained locked there until the sequence had ended. I mean, dude, I'm still pretty much speechless just thinking about that moment even now.

When I initially purchased my tickets, I purposefully chose to get seats for one show, and a pit ticket for the other, just to ensure that I would get a different experience from them. And man was it ever. The energy in this crowd was just off the charts, and being down in that pit, it felt like we were truly just as much a part of the show as the band on the stage. And I'll tell you this, my ass got completely wore out by the time we hit Pa Pa Ya this time around.

For real, this show was like a workout, and showed me just how out of shape I actually am. But not only that, it also showed me just how much those girls on stage are putting into these shows night in and night out, and yet people still want to complain about their shows being so short because they're only an hour. I tell you what though, that was the most intense damn hour I've ever experienced, and those girls give us more show in one hour than most bands will give you in twice that allotted time. And besides, I'd like to see those same people making these complaints go up there and try to pull off what those girls do for even half that time, because by around that point, I was honestly spent!

Before going to this show though, there was a part of me that found it curious why people would want to attend a Babymetal concert just to wind up in one of the circle pits or something where you can't even really see the show, despite how much of it is so visual-based with all of the dancing and the lighting and video effects and such. But after experiencing this show first hand, yeah, I get it now why you'd want to do that. It's because being there live isn't the same as watching one of their shows in the comfort of your own home.

When I watch a show on my computer, I can really digest the music and the choreography and take everything in as it comes. But being there live, you really do just get so immersed in the midst of everything that the dance moves and such don't even fully register in the same way. It's suddenly not so much about watching the show, but rather, being a part of the show, and singing along and pulling your own weight, following Su's commands to jump and scream and clap and pump your fists in the air.

They say that Babymetal doesn't come out to perform, they come out to battle. And that's what each show of theirs is, is a new battle being waged in their ongoing Metal Resistance. And being in that crowd, that definitely feels like an apt description, because it's definitely a battle taking place in that pit, but one where we're all fighting towards the common goal. And before you know it, an hour's already passed, yet it feels like barely any time has passed, despite being drenched in sweat and ready to collapse from the show we've been actively participating along with.

Just like watching their shows is unlike watching any other band I've ever seen, being there live is very much the same. There's just something intensely euphoric about it, if that even makes any sense. Something that just transcends you to another plane. It's... honestly hard to even explain really, you almost have to just go to one of their shows and see for yourself, it's just such a heavy hitting and all around surreal experience.

But yeah, to rein my gushing in a bit, like I said, the show was kind of a workout, and so songs such as Future Metal act not only as a nice break for the girls, but for the audience as well at that point, just to give us a chance to catch our breath a little. But still, there's nothing quite like being in that crowd as we're all bowing down to Su-metal during Headbanger, or relentlessly twirling our towels through the air during Pa Pa Ya, or pumping our fists in the air in unison as we sing along to Road of Resistance.

The one song I didn't really participate too much in on this show though was The One. But that's because I just had to take the moment to sorta step back and just really take this performance in, and be swept away by the emotion of it. I mentioned the details you get to see being so up close, and there were a lot of them during this song. For instance, there was a brief moment where as Su's eyes were scanning the crowd, she happened to glimpse down at me as I was just looking up at her in awe. Su just looked simply majestic up there on her own, but then once the song really kicked in and she was joined by Moa and Riho, standing on her platform, she was making a lot of her classic Su faces as she turned to the crowd to sing along. And after it ended and the three girls headed to the back with the lights out, it was funny seeing Moa just straight up fling her cape off her shoulders just as she was stepping backstage.

So yeah, despite playing the exact same set as the previous show in Orlando, my experience with this show in Atlanta couldn't have been more different. The crowd showed an intensity that was honestly missing in Orlando, and as I've said, being in that pit is almost like entering a whole other world. And really being a part of the show on this level truly brings on a whole new perspective once we reach the finish line, as Su screams "We are!" and we all scream back, "Babymetal!" 'Cause in that moment, that statement brings on a whole new meaning, like we've really earned our place in The One.

All in all, I'd say that Legend C was an overall glowing success. These shows far exceeded everything I had ever expected of them, and gave me an experience unlike anything I honestly could've predicted. Really, no amount of footage will truly prepare you for what it's like to actually be there seeing them in person. And after the Atlanta show, I definitely had plenty of people to share the excitement of such a phenomenal experience with, which was a great feeling.

And now I can't wait to do it all over again next month, when I'll be traveling to Los Angeles to see Babymetal in their first US arena headline show at The Forum, which I'm sure will offer just as much a unique experience as these two shows were from each other. But for now, this was truly the perfect birthday celebration. And what's even more fitting is that as I share this post, today is literally the one year anniversary of when I first discovered the band at that, which in a way makes this a whole different kind of birthday celebration as well I suppose, as I reflect on such a wonderful experience. So with that in mind, here's to all the future experiences that are yet to come. And as we approach our future milestones, may we all remember to protect our neck. See you!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

A Ninja Kat Update

It's that time of year again when I usually have something to announce. This year however, while there are some projects in the works, there's no set date for anything just yet. But for the time being, I would still like to give a bit of an update on what's being worked on, and what to expect.

First up, the Ninja Kat short film that released last year, Kip, will be getting a DVD release later this year! And it'll also come bundled with a number of other short films, including a remastered edition of The Red Scarf, which I had alluded to being in the works on social media. The DVD set is still being worked on at the moment, but keep an eye out for it in 2019. It may just come sooner than you think.

And as for the next year, the fifth Ninja Kat novel, Velcro: The Egg Hunters, is still in the works, but it will be ready and released in 2020!

Anyways, that's all I can say on the matter for now. But be sure to stay tuned for further updates as these projects get closer to completion.

www.VelcroTheNinjaKat.com

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Babymetal - Dark Night Carnival

I briefly discussed this show in my rundown of 2018 for the band, but said then that I wanted to hold off on divulging too much of my thoughts until I had gotten a chance to see the show proper, as opposed to solely through poor quality fan recorded footage. And now that I've finally done just that, it's time to dive in deep and discuss one of the most unfairly controversial shows the band has put on to date.

The show opens up with a brief video discussing The Chosen Seven storyline from Episode VII of Metal Resistance, and I have to point out some things that especially stood out to me about this video. There are a lot of fans speculating that the new songs that were introduced during this "dark side" storyline in 2018 won't be included on the new upcoming album, Metal Galaxy. However, in this opening video, there's two lines spoken that suggest quite the opposite.

"Sometimes however, the moment light and darkness intersect, it reveals an unknown dimension called the Metal Galaxy."

and

"The weaving of light and darkness, the Metal Galaxy, creates the space in which The Chosen Seven can reveal itself."

I mean, I feel as if those lines pretty much speak for themselves, and certainly suggest that the new songs from the band's brief "dark side" period will surely find their way onto the new album. Though I suppose we'll still have to wait and see for sure on that, but this is yet another piece of evidence in favor of the argument that they'll indeed be included, which is what I've been arguing for a while now.

But anyways, onto the show, as that opening video wraps, we instantly jump into In The Name Of, as we see seven girls standing on the stage with their big staffs in hand, concealed in body length veils and wearing crowns of giant black feathers atop their heads. I'm not as big a fan of this look as I am of the big fox mask look from earlier in the year, but it still looks pretty damn sick and menacing, and still sets the stage for the spectacle that's to come. (And on an unrelated note, I seriously hope this song doesn't get shelved now that this "dark side" period for the band has concluded. As overtly theatrical as this song is, I just have to see it live and in person for myself at some point!)

We then see their new outfits for this show during Distortion, as they've changed over from their warrior attire from earlier in the year into something more akin to military uniforms (but Babymetalized, of course!). And like the crowns of feathers from In The Name Of, they're all wearing their hair pulled back, and with ceremonial feathers in their hair for the evening. A very unique look for a very unique night, in which we see a number of different formations, from four dancers at a time, to five, and upwards of seven, depending on the song.

The night mostly saw a return to the traditional triangle formation for their choreography, just with backup dancers in the background oftentimes. And this first seemed to be truly showcased during Distortion, where Moa is back in her normal spot, a backup dancer is in Yui's old spot, and Su is centered as usual, with two backup dancers in the distance on one side, and two on the other. This mostly works, and leads to a lot of interesting routines throughout the evening. and certainly gives the show a unique form of spectacle compared to shows past. But despite having a dancing partner at her side, Moa was still singing both hers and Yui's parts for the most part, and in the case of Gimme Chocolate, the dancer to her side stood still during the "atatatatas" as Moa performed those sequences on her own.

Next up in the show was Elevator Girl, and if there's any song that truly benefits from this multiple dancer format, it's this one. Featuring five dancers this time out, this performance is truly damn impressive. In fact, I had been toying with the idea of working up a new list of 10 more of my favorite performances following my previous Top 10 Favorite Performances list, but after seeing footage from this performance leak out last year, I had to hold off and see what I thought of this first before moving forward with such a thing. And yeah, it's just about as awesome as I had expected. In their current tour, this song is perhaps the most hurt from returning fully to their three person formation, as the fewer dancers on stage really takes away from the choreography, so it's possible this performance on this night may stand as this song's crowning achievement, topped off with Su and Moa staring straight into each others eyes just at the end, which really closes it out on the warmest note possible.

Up next, we see Su performing the only solo of the evening, Akatsuki. Their other shows in Japan featured Moa performing GJ solo, but this night swapped in a different song for the special occasion, which we'll get to momentarily. But for this performance, it was cool seeing the Muscle Metal fight sequence go down on the big stage, with spotlights also shining down on Ohmura and Isao during their subsequent dueling guitars section. And it was also pretty delightful to see Ohmura in the back singing along with Su during the song as well.

Then we get to the new song being performed on this evening, Starlight. Its first performance was in a five person formation, and I've gotta admit, I'm thus far underwhelmed with this song live. Fan cams were never able to really capture this song, and I think I can see why. It kind of feels like there's either too much going on up there, or perhaps not enough. I'm having a hard time deciding which it is just yet, but nothing about the choreography for this song really stands out. I've since seen footage of the new three person version of the song, which is certainly a much cleaner improvement, but I still can't help but feel it's still missing something to really latch hold to, which is a shame, because the song itself is still really damn stellar.

I dunno, but I think of one of the new songs that's been leaked from their more recent shows, which currently has the working title "Arkadia". And I think of the choreography from that song, how you can feel the girls just reaching straight into your heart as they're on that stage reaching out to you. And the emotion of their actions and their words just transcends off the stage and into the audience. And I can't help but feel like that's what should be going on with this song, that it should be hitting me a lot harder than it is. Yet every time I've seen it live, I've honestly felt nothing.

Meanwhile, I've since grown a fonder appreciation for its music video (which I'll perhaps discuss more in-depth in the future), and after watching the videos for both Distortion and Starlight back to back, seeing the stories that were being told in those videos being played out and translating them within the context of both the band's stage show as well as the real life events that were happening with the band at the time, I couldn't help but get choked up about halfway into the Starlight video. And that's the same emotion that I wish I could feel while watching it live, as most of their songs don't appear to have such an issue. But this is a rare example of a weaker choreography that just really doesn't do this song justice I'm afraid. But who knows, maybe it'll eventually grow on me?

Anyways, I feel like I've vented enough about that, so moving on to brighter things, next up is this show's real shining moment, Meta Taro. We start off with a Star Wars style video showing three ships heading into battle, representing Babymetal and the two bands who acted as support for them on this show, Galactic Empire and Sabaton. The song then starts, and we have a four person formation, only with Su and Moa standing side by side in the front, and a backup dancer flanking them on either side. Su sings Yui's part during this song, and it really does just feel like the spotlight is shining down on the two of them as they stand up there like a team, while the backup dancers provide their support in the back.

And then about halfway into the song, the girls are then joined on stage by members from the two support bands, in one of the most unique moments in this band's history. I'd like to think that after years of referencing Star Wars in their lore, Darth Vader's appearance on this show would officially make Star Wars canon within the Metal Resistance (and Dark Night Carnival is now the best Star Wars story to come out since the Disney purchase by far at that!). Moa was certainly excited by his appearance, hopping up to him and hugging him during their dance.

And as for Joakim of Sabaton, he seemed to be really enjoying the experience, though I personally would've liked to have heard him sing for a just a little bit longer before he pointed his mic out to the crowd. For a brief moment, we had a pretty neat little sound there for this song with his voice added to it, but I couldn't help but feel like he was probably nervous being in such a position. This whole section was just so much damn fun though, and I really felt those sweeping emotions here that I had mentioned before.

Megitsune and Karate came next, each with seven person formations, and yeah, it can be pretty damn awesome seeing their classic choreographies being performed by so many people on stage at once. And then came Road of Resistance, where Su and Moa once more took center stage side by side, with the other five hanging in the background as they waved their battle flags.

There's a moment during this performance where Moa appears to look out to the fans with this big smile on her face and silently count down to the first chorus, and then later on, we see highlights showing all of the Kami Band with just the biggest grins on their faces as well. But the biggest smile of all belonged to Su, who just at the end of the song looked right into the camera with the most accomplished look on her face. The emotions then hit especially hard as she shouted "we are!", as these Japan shows were the first time they had said this in almost a year, and you could just feel how much this meant not only to the girls on stage, but to the whole audience during this moment of triumph.

The show then closed out with The One, which saw Su performing yet another beautiful rendition of the unfinished version solo in a foggy backdrop, before the music kicked in and she was joined on the stage by Moa and the other five dancers to finish the night out.

So yeah, I really dug this show. It's controversial because a lot of people didn't like the multiple dancers aspect, and they didn't feel as if Moa stood out from the pack enough. But after finally watching the show proper for myself, I stand by what I said back then, that being that I really dig their approach for this show. They've done so many different other spectacles on so many other shows, and adding in a number of dancers for a special occasion is just another on that list of spectacles, which made for a real cool event to see for a special occasion. It didn't always work out well (Starlight), but when it does work, it really works (Elevator Girl, Karate).

And besides, throughout the night, they often took active measures to ensure that Moa indeed stood out, such as her moments in Gimme Chocolate and how she would stand side by side with Su during Meta Taro, Road of Resistance, and The One. By the end, you could definitely feel that this was a show where both Su and Moa truly came together as a team after conquering the past year despite some unfortunate hardships, and as far as I could see, by no means did Moa's role feel diminished by the support of The Chosen Seven throughout.

And all in all, I've said this before, but I just really appreciate any band that's willing to try new things and experiment so as to keep from growing stale, and that's totally what a show like this represents. So I quite enjoyed it, and I quite enjoyed finally getting a chance to write another one of these show reviews. And with plenty of new big shows happening in the present year, I can't wait to watch them all and share my thoughts on them as well. Heck, I'm going to even be at one of those big shows, when Babymetal performs at The Forum in LA this October, so I absolutely can not wait for that! But until next time, see you!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Not So Innocent

So here's a new web series that I spent the past couple years helping out on, Not So Innocent, which is written, directed, and produced by a fellow filmmaking friend of mine, Andre Forbes (who I've previously collaborated with on Sianostra and Kip). I play the character Robert who appears in a few episodes (and I somehow also landed top billing in the opening credits, despite totally not being the lead in this series!), and I also helped out on set and with some of the editing here and there. Kind of hard to believe that this project has been about two whole years in the making, but here it finally is. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Bleach - live action anime done right?

If you read my Top 4 Movies of 2018 list, then you saw how I alluded to the following movie at the very end there. I debated whether or not to include this film in some capacity, as it really did impress me, and I really did want to discuss it. However, it didn't feel quite right fitting it in on that list, and what I had to discuss was probably too much to cover in that post anyhow. So, I'll be discussing it now instead, as we'll take a look at the recent live action anime adaptation to hit Netflix, Bleach.

I actually first noticed this was on Netflix back in November, while I was waiting overnight in the Charlotte airport for my connecting flight to New York. I hadn't even heard that Bleach was getting a live action movie, so it instantly caught my interest. However, as most live action adaptations of animated properties tend to not turn out so well (more on that later), I didn't exactly prioritize it, as I was honestly expecting the worst from it. And I wouldn't finally wind up getting around to it until the tail end of the year, over a month after first discovering it.

And while I was all ready to completely write this thing off, well, once I finally gave it a shot, I have to say, it wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but overall? I really enjoyed it. Based on the manga and anime of the same name, this movie essentially covers the events of the first big introductory arc in the series, the Substitute Soul Reaper arc, just before they go into the Soul Society. Back when I first watched the anime years ago, I actually wondered how they would tackle this arc if they were to do a movie adaptation. Because see, the real good stuff doesn't really get going until the following arc, and this first arc really only exists as a means to introduce us to our lead characters and the very basics on how this world works.

So I always wondered if they would try and condense this section down and get to the Soul Society arc as quickly as possible, seeing as that's when the plot really kicks in. However, that's not the case here, and they honestly do spend the entire movie just focused solely on that opening act arc. And I've gotta say, I can totally appreciate their willingness to take their time with this material and not rush through things, despite there being no guarantee that they'll even get a chance to move on to the better stuff that's to come.

So that was really cool to see. As I said, I often find myself doing that while watching anime, or even while reading books and comics and such, is that I'll be adapting them into movie form in my head, deciding what should be cut for the more limited time constraints of film, and how the story should be presented to where it remains true to the source, but still playing like a naturally flowing narrative that wasn't just a complete butcher job of the original material.

Usually in my mind, a single arc in an anime like this would translate to a single film. But for more longer series like Bleach, you also have to decide which arcs are most pertinent to make the cut, as they've gone on for several, several years, yet you typically wouldn't expect a film series to last for nearly so long. And for me, I always questioned if this opening arc would make that cut, but I think they made the right decision in keeping it fully intact, and really just focusing on our core characters and really getting to know them before expanding into a much larger cast.

And what I can especially appreciate is just how faithful an adaptation this is to the source material as well. We've seen countless adaptations of anime or animated properties that feel like they were made by people who had never even seen an episode of the original series. Whether we're talking about something like The Last Airbender, which while accurate to certain degrees in plot, is completely unfaithful in terms of capturing the tone and the characters from the show. Or Dragonball Evolution, in which literally the only thing it has in common with the series it's based off of is that they got the character names right. And when the live action Ghost in the Shell movie came out a couple of years ago, I actually debated at the time putting together a dissection breaking down all the reasons why that version didn't work, and how it gets the material so wrong, feeling like a dumbed down version of the story, whereas the original anime film of the same name still holds up to this day as a masterful work of sheer brilliance.

And I could keep going, as like I said, there's countless other similar examples like this. But here, for this live action adaptation of Bleach, they managed to not only accurately depict the plot from the anime, but they also accurately captured the tone and the characters at that, really staying true to this series' spirit. And this was just a really pleasant surprise, as I was not expecting this thing to be even remotely faithful, given what I mostly have to use as a basis of comparison.

Another example of a film that got a live action adaptation right would have to be the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from 1990. Despite there being the far sillier cartoon around at the time, that movie honestly took most of its inspiration from the original source, which was a much darker black and white comic book. Stylistically, the Ninja Turtles comic does have a bit of a manga feel to it in certain regards, and the accompanying movie definitely stayed true to a lot of those aspects, and sure enough, wound up being not only one of the most faithful, but one of the best overall comic book adaptations that we've gotten even to this day.

And I bring that up, as there were definitely certain aspects of this film that reminded me of that original Ninja Turtles movie while I was watching. For instance, that movie absolutely nailed the look of the characters (to this day, no other live action Ninja Turtles movie comes even close to looking as good as the original from 1990 did), and the Bleach film gets pretty close as well with the actors they got to portray these characters, and the hair and makeup is definitely on point. They even got the look down right in terms of its costume design, though the costumes do admittedly look a bit cheap, and it does feel a bit like seeing people running around in cosplay at times.

But not only that, this movie's main villain, Byakuya Kuchiki, totally had a vibe to him that kept reminding me of the Shredder as well, just in his mannerisms and the real stern yet sinister way he carried himself, which was a comparison I can't say I would've necessarily made with this character in the anime, but I totally dug these shades to the classic Turtles villain with his portrayal here.

The version on Netflix was sadly dubbed, with no options that I saw for a subtitled version. But what I found interesting about this dub was that they actually got a number of voice talent from the English version of the anime to reprise their roles here, which was both really weird, but also kinda cool, and helped it to retain its anime feel a bit. And I also found a number of editing choices to be really interesting as well. You can tell this isn't an American production, and in fact, in many regards, the way this film is edited feels more like something you would've seen decades ago, back when films didn't use to cut to different shots nearly as often as they do nowadays.

It's not even that there's a lot of stylistic long takes, like you'll often see in artsy indie movies these days, it's just that they'll just kind of hang onto certain shots, and in moments where you would feel they should naturally cut to a different angle, they instead just stay on the same shot and let the scene carry on. The first time I watched this, I found this decision kind of curious. But on a rewatch, I gotta say, I really dug this decision, and it helps the movie stand out a bit and feel a little more unique compared to everything else that comes out these days, and even adds to its overall Japanese quirk.

But I also really dug how many shots were totally cut precisely how they would look if you were watching this show in the anime, or even reading it in the manga. For instance, there's a running gag where one of Ichigo's classmates keeps falsely lamenting over Ichigo's death, only for Ichigo to appear behind him and call him out. Every time we see this, they use the exact same angles, and that consistent framing only makes this recurring element even funnier every time it pops up. It's a style of recurring humor seen all the time in anime, and one that I've written into anime-inspired scripts of mine that I've yet to film, so it's really neat to see it actually play out for real, and not only that, but to see that it actually works as well as it does in live action at that!

That all said, the movie wasn't without some shortcomings. I already mentioned the cheapish looking costume design, but you could tell they were working with a really low budget on this film, and that was also evident with the CG work at times, which also has a fairly cheap look to it (though this is far from the worst CG I've seen in a movie, I'll note!). And the movie could've also perhaps done with a little more style to it, something to really make it feel a little more like an actual anime come to life.

I'm thinking kind of how something like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World truly feels like a comic book brought to life in live action. Or how Zack Snyder will incorporate his signature style into his films like 300 or Watchmen that help make them really pop, and really feel like the characters from the comics are truly stepping right off the page and into the real world. Or even how something like Speed Racer just goes all the way and is just straight up a live action cartoon personified. Because this movie does have a bit of a cheap sci-fi movie sorta feel to it, but with a little more flair, whether that be through even more of an emphasis on its editing, or perhaps its music or camera movements, or its use of color or what, that cheapness could've easily been masked.

But while this might not be the most stylistic film, for what it was, I was still impressed with how good it turned out all the same. And really, I'd love for them to make more of these. And if other similar anime series are to be adapted into live action, this movie is a real good template for them to build off of in terms of how to do things right. Because while not everything that's animated needs to be remade in live action, whenever such a transition is done right, man, it can truly be just a thing of beauty, like watching magic on the screen.

It's just a shame that it's so often that this transition into live action just doesn't turn out right at all though. I already mentioned a few examples, but you could also add in literally every single live action Disney remake to come out in the past decade, all of which have been absolutely terrible, and clearly made by people with absolutely zero understanding of what actually made the original animated films so good, and each of which feel like nothing more than soulless cash-grabs that completely fail to capture the heart and magic of the originals in every single regard. These films have been nothing but frustrating and dispiriting experiences, one after the other, year after year, and have left me wishing that these studios would just leave these animated properties alone and stop even trying to adapt animation into live action in the first place if this is really the best they can offer.

But then this movie comes out, and it gave me back a little bit of faith again, showing that a live action transition can turn out well in this day and age, and gives me hope that future adaptations of animated properties can at the very least turn out similarly as well.

For the longest time, I have dreamed of being the one to direct the inevitable live action adaptations of the Naruto series into feature films. And while I've come to accept that this particular dream of mine may very well never come to be, I can at least see that it would be possible now for the series to work in live action in someone else's hands, after seeing how well Bleach was able to make the transition thus far. Besides which, I already have my own anime-inspired fantasy series to fall back on for future live action installments, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

I also feel like the concept of a live action anime is perhaps partially responsible for my recent love of Babymetal (which, if you haven't checked them out yet, here's a good place to start). Unlike any other band that I've gotten into before, this is a band that's just as much visual as it is musical, and their overall presentation feels like a live action performative anime in the form of musical theater. The band members all have their own characters, and even dress like characters out of an anime. There's a vague yet ever present ongoing storyline that carries over from show to show, and they have elaborate set designs that incorporate elements from their lore, with individual stories playing out on each different show, which feels as if they're being told through a series of anime openings come to life on the stage in the form of their individual song performances.

They even have individual story arcs, which are presented as separate episodes in the Babymetal saga. It's so funny, but I've actually found myself wanting to gather some people together to just binge watch their bigger shows in order, same how you might try to introduce someone to a new TV show by starting with the first season and bingeing from there. But the way I've gotten into that band definitely feels more reminiscent to how I've gotten into other series in more visual media than it does to other bands. And its their live action anime presentation that I feel has especially connected with me, and which really reinvigorated my interests in Eastern media in general, and leaves me further interested in seeing more actual anime try their hand at coming to life in live action as well.

I've just always been fascinated by the idea of bringing anime to life in this manner. Sorta like how people always love to see their favorite manga series adapted into anime in the first place, or even novels adapted into film, there's something about that added step of bringing it into the world of live action that has the potential of making a great story feel all the more real, and all the more special for it. So it's always really motivating when I see it work out so well. And that's how I was left feeling upon watching this new Bleach movie on Netflix.

I went into this new live action Bleach movie with very low expectations, but it turned out better than I would've ever dreamed. It has some weird aspects to it, such as its odd editing choices, the dub with the cast from the anime, and its overall cheap feel, but none of this stuff really bothered me much on a rewatch, and a number of these elements actually add to the film's overall charm. So I'd say if you're a fan of the series, it's definitely worth checking out. And if you're interested in actually seeing animation being adapted into live action done right in the modern age, well, this film might just be right up your alley as well. It's sure given me hope for the future of this practice at least.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

My Top 4 Movies of 2018

2018 may have been a weak year for great films, but it was an alright one for alright movies. And honestly, while there were very few movies I saw this year that I would consider truly great, there were also about as many films that I would consider seriously bad as well, and for the most part, everything's just been, well, fine. Not bad, not great, but just perfectly okay and enjoyable in the moment, if instantly forgettable upon leaving the theater. So yeah, it hasn't been an awful year for film, even if it has been perhaps a weaker one than I would like.

But there were at least four standout movies that account for the ones I would truly consider to be great films, which I'll get to in a moment. But first, let's take a look at a handful of honorable mentions, which consist of the movies that were a few pegs below those on the main list, and thus not quite worth actually ranking and discussing, but still among the better movies that I saw from this past year that I'd at least like to point out, and which are well worth checking out.

Honorable Mentions
Adrift (Baltasar Kormákur)
American Animals (Bart Layton)
Overlord (Julius Avery)
Skyscraper (Rawson Marshall Thurber)
Tag (Jeff Tomsic)
Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley)

And that's about it. And sure, while I understand that there's enough movies listed here to where I could technically do a Top 10 list, as I said, I honestly don't feel like these movies quite warrant being ranked and discussed here, and there's certainly not anything beyond those listed here that I feel is worth pointing out as honorable mentions themselves. But these were still decent enough flicks that I genuinely enjoyed, and which happened to stand out the most to me from what I saw in the past year. But now, moving on to the main list then, let's start with...

#4

Aquaman
(James Wan)

Admittedly the one I'm most hesitant to include, seeing as how it's so soon since I've seen it, so who knows how this one will age on me compared to the others. But I'll say this, I was thoroughly impressed by this movie, so much so that I decided to include it here, despite being fully prepared to make this a Top 3 list prior to seeing this film. I'm not sure I'd say it's my favorite DCEU movie necessarily, though purely in terms of its quality, it is certainly the most technically solid and consistent of the lot. All of the other movies have something about them that makes them feel like a bit of a mess, if still enjoyably so in most instances. But this was the only one where I never did feel that way at any time.

But even beyond that, boy, this movie is just a grand sweeping epic of a film, and is supremely satisfying in its execution. I was genuinely blown away by how well this all came together. James Wan is a hell of a visual filmmaker, and this film is one of his most visually stunning and imaginative yet, with just this really grand sense of scale to it all. The world building is seriously off the charts, and it often feels like we're watching an underwater Lord of the Rings installment. And it's also loads of fun, as Jason Momoa is oozing with charisma, and all of the side characters just feel so dynamic.

Typically speaking, while I'm still watching them as they come out, I do feel like the superhero stuff is getting to be a bit much, and the market is totally oversaturated with them. But like another entry later on, this one felt like a breath of fresh air by feeling more like a fantasy epic than a traditional superhero flick, and this approach totally paid off big time.

#3

Creed II
(Steven Caple Jr.)

Despite loving the first movie, I admittedly had reservations going into this one, seeing as how Ryan Coogler wouldn't be returning to direct. But Steven Caple Jr. more than steps up to the plate, and produces a film that's quite possibly just as good as the first one, if perhaps in a completely different way than the first.

While I'd say that the first one was more of a filmmaker's movie, with an emphasis on its cinematography and other technical aspects, this one is definitely more of an actor's and a writer's film. From top to bottom, the performances in this movie are simply outstanding. Sylvester Stallone gives yet another Oscar worthy performance as Rocky, and Dolph Lundgren gives a career best showing, as does Michael B. Jordan in an especially intricate and emotionally fueled turn, both of which I'd also consider Oscar worthy at that.

But even beyond the acting, just the writing of these characters, man I tell you, this is hands down the deepest character work I've seen in any film all year. Despite being a sequel to the far sillier Rocky IV, this movie takes these characters incredibly seriously, and fleshes them out into fully realized human beings, to the point where you're given ample reason to care about everyone. They could have so easily made the Dragos these cartoon villains, but they instead chose to make them as complex and sympathetic as our heroes, to where by the end of the movie, when we see Creed taking on the son of Ivan Drago, I was honestly left torn on who to root for. That's how good the writing in this movie is.

Creed II gave me chills, brought me damn near to tears on many occasions, and left me with the biggest grin on my face throughout. This one is definitely a winner!

#2

Deadpool 2
(David Leitch)

Like Creed II, I similarly had reservations going into this, again for the same reason, as the director of the first film, Tim Miller, wouldn't be returning to reprise his directing duties. However, also like Creed II, I was thoroughly impressed by what we got here all the same, which felt right on par with the first film, which I also thought was absolutely fantastic.

As I mentioned with Aquaman, these Deadpool movies just feel like such a breath of fresh air in the genre, and are just so much damn fun. And this entry ups the ante from the first film in a lot of regards, with funnier jokes, better action sequences, and it introduces us to a number of great new characters, including Domino, who is hands down the best new character introduced in any film this year, with a breakout performance by Zazie Beetz, who is now firmly on my radar to keep an eye on.

2018 was also a standout year for rated R comedies in general, particularly in the first half of the year. I singled out Tag in my honorable mentions, but I'd also like to give a quick shout out to Blockers and Game Night, both of which were also really damn good and unique rated R comedies to come out this year, which are both well worth checking out as well. But good as those movies were, Deadpool 2 managed to handedly top it out in the genre for me as the best rated R comedy of the year.

And not only that, but in a year that saw a lot of big Marvel releases, Deadpool 2 was also by far and away the best of that lot as well. And to give the quick rundown of my thoughts on this year's Marvel movies, Venom was just really stupid, and honestly pretty bad, but in that awesomely bad "so bad, it's good" sort of way, which I actually think a younger version of me would've appreciated a lot more. Black Panther was a pretty middle of the road MCU outing, and Avengers: Infinity War was decent, if not exactly great. Ant-Man and The Wasp was a lot of fun, and definitely the best of this year's MCU releases, but still not as good as the impressively lively and creative Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was itself still nowhere near Deadpool 2's league, good as it may have been.

If the Disney merger does go through and the Fox properties revert back to Marvel, I fear that these Deadpool movies are going to be the biggest casualty, as I just absolutely love them, and would love to see this franchise continue on in its unabashed R rated format. This was the first truly great film that I saw this year, and one of the few to stay right near the top through the majority of it. However, one film eventually came along that would take that top spot away...

#1

Bohemian Rhapsody
(Bryan Singer)

Man what a movie! This film was simply breathtaking, and had such a larger than life feel to it. I've heard some complaints that it's actually more a work of fiction, and doesn't accurately follow the band's real life story, so I can understand how one might find that bothersome if they were a particularly big follower of Queen. But as someone who was more of a casual fan who really just enjoys their music, even if I never actively followed them or got too deeply into the band, this movie seriously blew me away.

This movie felt simply epic. And unlike a lot of musical biopics (or really, biopics in general), it didn't feel like it was just hitting the greatest hits of this band's story, and leaving the stuff in between on the table. And sure, this might come from the fact that this movie is very well a complete work of fiction. But in any case, it works, and this fantastic element helps give the story of this band a bit of a mythical feel in hindsight, which honestly feels pretty appropriate given the band in question, as well as the song in which they fittingly chose to name this movie after. "Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?" Indeed!

But I loved seeing how a number of their bigger songs came to be, how different bandmates came up with different classics. And I loved following all of the various character relationships throughout, and going on this complete roller coaster ride that all felt so organic and so real. And I especially loved how the last 20 minutes are essentially the band's full Live Aid set. This movie had the balls to actually do that, as opposed to maybe highlighting a song or two, and then ending on a more cliched and expected note for a movie such as this. But no, they went all the way and turned this movie into a full blown must see event, and especially on the big screen, it felt like you were really there watching one of their concerts live. And in the end, I was left immensely satisfied by what was an all around fascinating story that they told us here.

Needless to say, the music in this was great (but would someone please explain to me what's up with the Golden Globes nominating both this and A Star Is Born in their drama category, when they literally have a category specifically for musicals??). And Rami Malek is Freddie Mercury in this film, as he gives hands down the absolute best performance of the whole year, in what is certainly the biggest and best film that I've seen this year.

So there you have it then, my Top 4 Movies of 2018. Another year down, and now it's onto the next. But first, well, I mentioned before that these were the best of the best, and the only ones that I felt were most worth discussing. However, there was one other film from this past year that I'd actually like to discuss too, one that I caught at the very tail end of the year. And while I toyed with the idea of including it here, I'm honestly not certain it would feel quite right placing it on this list. But even so, it still impressed me quite a bit all the same, and I'd still like to take the time to single it out and talk a bit about what impressed me so much about it. So join me next time, as we'll discuss a movie that takes a live action anime adaptation and gets maybe the closest I've seen yet to doing it right.