Sunday, August 6, 2017

Velcro: Polluted War - Coming Soon

Book Four of The Ninja Kat series.

War is imminent. And Velcro has begun her preparations to set out and gather her allies. First she'll travel to the hamsters hideout, then to the village of Redfield, before they collectively make their way across the border to the Country of Rath, where they intend to meet with the Elder Meow in order to request Rath's aid in the impending war with the Devil Corps.

Meanwhile, blinded by his jealousy and pride, Charlie is still in pursuit of Velcro. However, a revelation he discovers along the way will send him down an even darker path than he's already traveled, and present him with the greatest challenge of his entire life.

It has all been leading to this moment. In Velcro: Polluted War, a history of corruption has finally caught back up with our heroes. Unlikely alliances will be formed as it all comes to a head, when Velcro and Rath's Bone Army battle against the Devil Corps in a fight that will determine the fate of the Country of Widows, and quite possibly the whole world over.

Coming soon...

www.VelcroTheNinjaKat.com

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Hangin' With Web Show Interview

So in a rarity for me, I was actually captured speaking on camera. This past May at MegaCon, I was interviewed by Allyson Ingerham of the Hangin' With Web Show, where we discussed a little bit about my Ninja Kat series, as well as my other writing and filmmaking ventures. Check it out!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

GLOW

So generally when someone requests a review from me for something, it's after I've already seen it and have shared my general reaction of it, and they merely want me to expand my thoughts. In this instance, however, this was the first time someone requested me to review something I hadn't actually seen, and honestly wasn't even planning on watching, as I don't exactly feel it necessary to watch every single new show that releases onto Netflix. So after that initial request, I was a bit hesitant to jump in. But then I learned that this series actually consisted of half-hour long episodes for a change, as opposed to the usual hour long. And honestly, that was the biggest selling point for me.

I've mentioned in the past how I'm not a big TV guy. I just think that it's generally too long, too time-consuming, and too much to keep up with. And nowadays, with these mini-series popping up on Netflix that are closer to the 10-13 episode range, that does make them easier to digest. However, almost every time, I come out thinking that they were still unnecessarily too long, and that there was so much that could've easily been cut in order to make the shows even tighter. But honestly, I didn't get too much of that feeling from GLOW, and I think a lot of that does have to do with the tighter half-hour format, which we just rarely see anymore these days in anything that's not a sitcom. So that was a huge breath of fresh air for me, as it made this such an easy sit to get through, and not at all a chore, like so many shows these days usually wind up being.

So it's a nice, quick watch, but is it any good? Well, I have my reservations, but on the whole, yeah, I dug it. Standing for Gorgeous Women Of Wrestling, the series follows the production of building a small wrestling organization centered around a colorful cast of women, and it's a pretty fun and interesting watch. I would say that my biggest initial drawback was that our main character who we follow, played by Alison Brie, starts off as probably the most unlikable character in the whole show, but then it makes sense when she's eventually cast as the main heel of this federation, as she's such a natural in the spot. So while it might start off initially off-putting, it comes together in a nice way that really works, and by the end of it, I found myself starting to come back around to this character, if not entirely able to forgive them, very similar to her co-lead in the show, played by Betty Gilpin.

Another souring element that recurs mostly earlier in the show is that there's a lot of really unnecessary nudity that honestly adds nothing and actually takes away from the show, making it feel gratuitous even, and often happening at random, so it doesn't even feel like it naturally fits in with everything else. A minor point, sure, but again, the way it was handled just felt needlessly off-putting and distracting, so thankfully they did away with this as the show continued to progress.

But as for the good, the cast is great, and everyone really gets their time to shine and let their characters grow. For as large a cast as this is and how relatively brief the show is, you really do get a good grasp on all of these lively characters. My favorite though was probably the director, played by Marc Maron. He starts off as a totally unlikable douchebag, but has one of the more complex and intriguing arcs in the series, as he battles with all of the personal demons that are haunting him in his life, and the way he allows for these elements to dictate his demeanor towards others, as well as how they influence his art as a film director.

Obviously I was able to relate to a lot of this aspect, and seeing this whole low-budget production come together really hit home for me in a lot of regards. But especially later on, after he discovers that an idea of his has already been used, yeah, that's something that I've experienced myself and have even discussed as recently as my Power Rangers review from earlier in the year (though that is not the only time this has happened to me in the past year), and it's definitely one of those things that almost make you question why you're even doing this. So to see that element play out here was sort of surreal for me, for how recently relevant it is to my own experiences.

I also really liked just the way the whole thing grew from the ground up, watching these ladies discover their wrestling personas (and yeah, taking place in the 80s, a lot of this winds up being very generic stereotypes, but it works here) and learn how to actually wrestle, featuring some decent cameos from actual wrestlers who would come in and show them some moves. Yeah, it became a bit cheesy when you could tell they could only afford some of these guys for a limited time, so there were episodes where the main cast were essentially training themselves with no actual supervision, which, what the hell? But that was easy enough to sorta shrug off.

My favorite episode though was probably as our two leads were putting together their match that was to be the main event of the first show, when they met with Carlito and Brodus Clay to teach them a few tricks in the ring. It was just really cool seeing them start to slowly grow as actual wrestlers, and I actually found it pretty motivating witnessing their undying determination to improve.

So yeah, this winded up being pretty good overall. There are some minor missteps here and there, but nothing that's not easy enough to look past. Unlike a lot of these shows, I never got the sense watching this that they were padding it out for time, so it's very well paced and easy to digest. All in all, there's a lot of fun, and while I can't say for sure how accurate a lot of this is to real life (I'm guessing most of it's not), I thought this worked on the whole, and would definitely recommend it. I wouldn't even say you have to be a wrestling fan to enjoy it either, as, similar to some of the characters in the show, I actually think the show's good enough to where it may very well win you over and make a brand new fan out of you yet.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

My Transformers: The Last Knight Review (featuring Shia LaBeouf!)


Shia LaBeouf's actual reactions to watching Transformers: Dark of the Moon
mirror my own reactions to watching Transformers: The Last Knight.

Before I even begin, I just want to remind everyone that I'm not blindly hating on this movie because it's the hip thing to do these days. I actually genuinely liked and defended the previous film, Age of Extinction, a movie that I felt was unfairly hated on, as it both addressed and corrected upon just about every single gripe that people had made about the first three movies, and yet it was somehow lambasted as the worst in the series regardless, which still annoys me even now. Outside of Dark of the Moon though, I've otherwise liked all of these movies to date. But oh boy, this one's a different beast entirely. In fact, all those gripes I had alluded to just now? Yeah, by the end of this, you'll be left wishing the movie was as remarkably tame as those films apparently were in hindsight, now that this movie exists to show us just how bad things could actually get.

So I recently watched the latest Transformers movie, The Last Knight, and I really don't even wanna talk about it. But after watching the movie, I had a bit of a notable meltdown over it on twitter, and was as such requested to please review the movie. And I have this thing where if someone actually requests a review from me, I feel determined to provide one. So here I am, attempting to relive this movie that has left my thoughts a lot more of a scrambled mess than is normal from me.

You see, normally after watching a movie, I can recall moments of it quite vividly, and describe them in great detail when it comes time to review them. But here, I was so disinterested by what I was watching and really not at all invested that most of the movie is honestly a blur to me at this point. I mean, I know that they did the big action thing, and they beat the big bad, and all that stuff. But truth be told, I'd be lying if I said that I could tell you precisely how the big bad was beat, because honestly, I was barely even paying attention by that point and just waiting for the movie to finally end so that I could just go already. Because you see, this movie reached a point relatively early on where I just couldn't even believe what I was watching, so much so that I actually wanted to leave the theater. After all, it wasn't like I was going to miss anything. (Which I didn't.) But see, theaters these days have employed this thing known as the recliner seat, and every single person in the row I was sitting on (of which I was sitting dead center), had their recliner up. So I suppose I felt a bit too self-conscious to stand up and request that each and every single person on my row put their seat down so that I could get up and leave, and as such, I felt a bit trapped in my screening. Consider this yet another reason among the many I've already exasperated as to why I absolutely can not stand the insistency for modern theaters to shift towards this format of theater going.

So anyways, like I said, this movie was a mess, and my thoughts on it are similarly messy, so I'm just going to discuss things as they come to me. And to start off, let's talk about how Optimus Prime was supposed to be the villain, only he was really only the villain for about five minutes of the movie, if that, despite the fact that his heel turn was supposed to be the entire selling point of the movie. The thing is though, when his scene came on, I was so happy, because that meant that the movie was finally almost over, right? Except, it wasn't. Because as soon as he turns good again, the true villains swoop in and steal the maguffin, and it's up to our heroes to chase after them and engage in yet another 30-45 minutes of this god forsaken movie that just wouldn't ever end. Oh my god, I could literally feel my heart sink in that moment when that realization struck me.

But let's talk about the aspect ratio of this thing, which is something that I have yet to see anyone else bring up in any other reviews that I've read and watched, which really just dumbfounds me. But to give you an example of what I'm talking about, you know when you go to see a movie in IMAX, but the whole movie wasn't actually filmed in IMAX, so there are only certain scenes where the image stretches to a true IMAX size, and the rest of the time there's black bars on the top and bottom of the screen? And you know how, when the image stretches, it typically stays that way all throughout the scene, and only resumes to its normal aspect ratio after the scene has ended? Yeah, well here, the movie keeps jumping aspect ratios back and forth all throughout. But, it's not just from scene to scene. No, the movie will do this from cut to cut. That's right, that means that in the middle of an action sequence, we'll be on, say, a cut of someone throwing a punch, which might be wide. Then, when we cut to the next shot of that punch connecting, it'll be the normal aspect ratio, only to go wide again in the following cut. And this is a Michael Bay film, which means there's lots of quick cuts throughout. Meaning that there are black bars just hopping in and out of the frame all throughout the whole movie, and this is just maddening to watch. Hell, it wasn't even just action scenes, even scenes with people standing around talking were edited together in this manner. And afterwards, I wondered if this was just my screening, seeing as how I hadn't seen anyone else bring this up. But then some of the video reviews I watched showed footage from the movie in their reviews, and I could see this rapid fire ADD aspect ratio shenanigans in action in the footage provided! So it wasn't just my screening! The movie was actually filmed and cut together this way! How? How did this happen?

(Oh, and by the way, I didn't see this is IMAX. That's the regular version that's cut this way!)

And as to the writing, good lord. I have seen some stupid, immature idiocy in my day. Hell, that's one of the biggest complaints most people have about all the previous movies in this series, is that they feel like they're written for immature twelve year old, by immature twelve year olds. But my lord, take every single immature moment from all the past films, and just multiply the sheer stupidity by about a million, and you're still not close to how ridiculous this movie gets. Like, there's a whole aspect where the movie canonizes King Arthur and Merlin and all of those characters into this series, and they spend, I shit you not, at least a good half hour or longer just sitting down and explaining how this all ties together in a scene of exposition that just went on and on and on to a mind numbing degree. And the longer it went on, the dumber it all sounded, and the dumber I felt for sitting there watching this garbage. And the thing that made it even worse is that as the characters are explaining all of this dumb stupid shit, they'll just burst into random fits where they try to spout out some lingo that some writer in their thirties probably thought sounded like something some fly, hip teenager would say these days. Only, this dialogue is coming out of the mouths of the likes of Anthony Hopkins, and it's just, for lack of a more appropriate word, bizarre. Relentlessly so. But it's not just him, it's the whole entire cast who talks and acts this way. Just spouting out belligerent nonsense at random, and saying things so immature it would make even the worst line out of any of the prior movies blush. And all the while, I was left asking myself, what in the hell am I even watching?!

Speaking on King Arthur, I guess that technically makes this the second Arthur movie of the year, and by far the worse of the two. But what's even more bizarre than that revelation is the fact that there's actually a scene in this movie that feels like it's edited almost in homage to Guy Ritchie's distinct editing style that was on display in the other film. It's replete with hopping back and forth through time as the scene plays out, with overlying exposition and even text bursting onto the screen to introduce a whole slew of new characters. Thing is though, this is the only scene in the entire series that's edited this way, and it's all to introduce a bunch of character who are immediately killed off in the very next scene anyways, meaning that it exists solely to waste even more of our time than we already have, and nothing more. But it was just weird seeing a scene like that here, and I don't know if it was done on purpose as a nod to the Ritchie film or not, or if that's even possible, given how close the two were to each other's release. But it was a scene that just stood out as a huge question mark to me. See, this editing worked for me in the Guy Ritchie film, but it was also a consistent style that they went with throughout that whole movie. But what worked in that movie totally doesn't in this one, and it's just yet another instance of me asking, what the hell were they thinking?!

Now, I know that a lot of what I've described here may well sound like it can also apply to some of the other movies with just how ridiculous and stupid it can all get. But I'm not sure that words can properly do justice to the sheer depths that this movie devolves to. Like, I'm not even scraping the surface with just how much of an insufferable experience this was to sit through, and just how badly I didn't want to be there. You're just gonna have to trust me when I say that as bad as I may make this movie out to be here, it's actually far worse, and there's so much more that I can discuss that I just really have no desire to even get into here.

Honestly, I've never so badly wanted to walk out of a movie in my life. I reached a point where I just didn't care anymore. Like, at all. A moment where I could feel my life being wasted away on this garbage, where I was literally sitting there feeling like I was just too old for this shit anymore. And it wasn't just me. When the movie was finally wrapping up (we got our cue because Optimus Prime was doing the same voice over that he does at the end of all of these movies), the people in front of me instantly stood up, only to find themselves in the same precarious situation I had found myself in, as they suddenly realized they were trapped by the recliners all around them. But they were clearly ready to leave, and as I was storming out of the theater, I could overhear others walking out discussing how Michael Bay is the worst director out there. And that last part is kind of a shame, because I mean, Michael Bay has proven capable of making a good movie. Hell, he's even made a handful of great ones. But my lord, you'd never know that watching shit like this. This was just some of the most incompetent filmmaking I've ever seen out of anyone.

I would say the one saving grace would be how, after the movie ended, some idiot in our audience tried to applaud this thing, and I was so worried that I was about to have to witness another ovation for one of these films. I mean, after Dark of the Moon, our audience applauded, which to this day astounds me (though to be fair, as much shit as I talked about that movie, after enduring what I did with The Last Knight, I owe that one a huge apology). But thankfully, on this occasion, no one else joined in, so at least there was that.

As I was walking out, there was a scene during the credits which I guess was supposed to tease the next one. But I just could not give a shit less, I was too busy finally leaving the theater to care anymore. Hell, make another one, I don't care. But after this hot mess? Yeah, you bet your ass I'm tapping out on this series. At least so long as Michael Bay remains at the helm, I've officially seen as much as I desire to see out of this franchise. But usually after seeing a movie that's this bad, my reaction is to consider it to be one of, if not the worst movie of the year. After this movie had wrapped though, it was honestly the first time in my life where I had felt that I may very well have actually seen the worst movie I've ever sat through in my entire life. Like, I have seen my fair share of bad movies, but I didn't know they could get this bad, and I'm still in a state of disbelief as to what I had seen. If ever there existed a movie where watching it was apt to give the recipient a thousand yard stare, this is that movie.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Best of Naruto Shippuden - Updated!

So a number of years ago, I released a series of posts listing my picks for the Top 5 various things in the Naruto anime, including the Top 5 Best Openings, Top 5 Best Endings, and Top 5 Best Episodes. But the anime was still ongoing at the time of all of these postings, so I knew that I would eventually have to update all of those lists. And seeing as how the anime has finally concluded, I suppose now's the time for me to actually go back and revise those lists.

However, I'm not sure I really want to actually re-do the lists entirely, as at least in certain instances, it would mostly stay the same, with me just adding an entry or two to it, and that feels just a little pointless. So instead, I'll use this opportunity to highlight my favorites from all of those categories that have released since the time of my original lists being posted, and include a handful of runner ups that I feel are worth a mention as well.

So then, without further ado, let's start off with my pick for the Best New Naruto Shippuden Opening...

Best New Naruto Shippuden Opening

Naruto Shippuden Opening 16 - Silhouette

I just really dig everything about this opening. The song is super catchy, and the imagery showing the various evolutions all of the characters have undergone is really neat to see play out. It starts off by showing a quick collage of footage from prior episodes, which shows us right off the bat the theme of this opening, that being to show us the stages that all lead to this moment. And then we see Obito burst onto the scene, just casually walking into battle as, in the corner, we see the various transformations his characters has experienced through his life, before repeating this with Madara, our two big bads.

I just love this imagery so much, the casual walks with the armies and beasts waiting in the background is almost haunting in its execution, as we see a glimpse of all of the steps that lead to this pivotal moment, almost like a reflection on one's life in the calm before the storm really hits. But then in contrast, while the two villains' evolutions are shown in the corner of the screen in a calmer manner, we see as Naruto evolves right on the field itself, carrying his past right into battle with him, as he rushes in to contend with them in his desperate attempt to finally put an end to their scheme.

Then the action showcase is just really entertaining, and maintains a high level of energy to match the music, as we see Madara squaring off in a lightning fast skirmish with Sasuke, before Naruto and Sasuke come together to take on Obito in his Juubi state, all leading to the moment when Obito sees he really is one against the world. And the tree growing above the army is almost like a dark cloud being cast on the world, as the battle rages on.

Everything about this opening really just came together and clicked in a way that it doesn't always do with other openings, which often feel a bit unfocused. And honestly, if I were to place this among my rankings compared to those that made it in my original list, this would probably place at either the #2 or #3 spot. It's upbeat, energetic, and features the sort of really stunning and awesome imagery that'll stick with you and have you putting it on repeat over and over again. Definitely not one you'll skip just to jump straight to the episode.

Honorable Mention:
Naruto Shippuden Opening 15 - Guren

Best New Naruto Shippuden Ending

Naruto Shippuden Ending 22 - Full

Not only is this my pick for favorite ending since the posting of my previous list, this is my favorite Naruto ending period. This ending just takes an already tragic character in Obito and makes it feel all the more terrible what happened to him, and what really made him the terrible person that he's become. And at the end, after the ghost of Rin walks through him, and you see the screen start to shake a bit, it's like you can feel the sheer weight of all the pain and torment that has been motivating him for so long, as he raises that monster behind him, a signifier of the monster that he's become. Just such a perfectly wrapped package that tells a full story, through both its visuals and its music, of a man whose been taken on such a dark path, and one of the most effective endings in this regard that I've seen.

Honorable Mentions:
Naruto Shippuden Ending 27 - Black Night Town
Naruto Shippuden Ending 29 - Flame
Naruto Shippuden Ending 33 - Kotoba no Iranai Yakusoku

Best New Naruto Shippuden Episode

Naruto Shippuden 478 - The Unison Sign

This is the episode the follows the final epic encounter between Naruto and Sasuke. And this episode is quite possibly the most emotionally stirring episode in the entire series.

Now out of context, this picture doesn't mean too much. But basically, what we see here is the sheer weight that Sasuke has been holding onto for so many years finally being let off his shoulders in a single moment of relief. He's finally come to terms with all of his misdeeds, he's finally accepted who he is, what he's done, and what he's become. But more importantly, he's finally accepted Naruto, and has accepted all that Naruto has striven to achieve, and how far he's gone to save him from the darkness. He's finally let Naruto's light shine into his life, and that's what we see in this image, is the sheer emotional relief of it all, a culmination of everything that had preceded it, all leading to this moment, as the sun rises into the sky on a brand new day, and Sasuke can finally put his past demons behind him and become a new man. A better man.

Now, take all of the emotion of that single panel, and stretch that over the course of an entire episode, and that's what we get with this treat of a finale. We see as Sasuke slips in and out of consciousness, and as his dream-state intertwines with Naruto's, and the two witness each others lives from a more personal perspective than they've ever experienced before. Sasuke not only sees with his own eyes just how far Naruto has come, but he experiences all of the emotional turmoil he's had to endure all the while, and how he's used this turmoil to only further motivate him to get even stronger, so that he can achieve his goals and finally save his friend.

And after all of the fighting, all of the kicking and punching and outlandishly flashy maneuvers that the two have exchanged, it's these moments flashing before Sasuke's eyes that really hit him the hardest. And even with the two lying on their backs, unable to move, Naruto is still motivated to keep fighting, even when Sasuke just wants to quit. And he sees this unyielding determination in Naruto, and finally sees the light inside of him that has been illuminating his path. And so, he concedes. And for the first time in possibly his entire life, Sasuke is finally overcome with a true, genuine sense of peace. And that's what's shown in that image above, and is also what we experience right along with Sasuke all throughout this episode.

This is a prime example of an episode that takes the source material and really expands upon it in a way that truly elevates the material to a whole other level. Most of the time when they do this, it's to expand upon some of the more notable fights, to make them even bigger and more stylish than their manga counterparts. But in this instance, it was the emotion that they expanded upon, and they did so in a big way, so much that the episode was treated as a standout special in the series, complete with an a unique ending and a post-credits stinger, to really drive the point home and end things on as high a note as possible, as the two bond in their first shared moment of true friendship since they were children.

There's very few episodes that I've gone back to rewatch multiple times, but this is one of those rare instances. And every time I have, this one has gotten just as big an emotional response out of me as ever, and has driven me near to tears. You can't fake that level of emotion. But despite the series mostly becoming a mess by this point, they definitely pulled it together when it really counted with this one.

Honorable Mentions:
Naruto Shippuden 246-249 - The Kyuubi Attack
Naruto Shippuden 322 - Madara Uchiha
Naruto Shippuden 375 - Kakashi vs. Obito

So there you are. And now, having finally updated all of these posts in one go, I can't help but feel a sense of relief of my own, like I can finally put this series behind me. Again, if you're interested in seeing my full original lists, you can check them out at the following links:

Top 5 Naruto Openings
Top 5 Naruto Endings
Top 5 Naruto Episodes

But of course, with the Boruto series having just begun, who knows, I may still have to return to these old lists and make another update again yet. But we'll get there when we get there, and for now, I'm satisfied finally saying a fond farewell to a series that I've been following for such a long time.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

These movies actually made my "best of year" lists...

So every year when I get around to forming my list of favorite movies I saw that year, there's always inevitably at least one particularly conspicuous entry that leaves people scratching their heads. In fact, I have a friend who likes to point these entries out to me each year, and I've as such come to find them amongst my favorite and most interesting additions to my lists. And so now, I wanted to share with you the movies that likely stood out the most in this regard over the years that I've been doing these end of year "best of" lists.

Granted, I don't really have too much new to say about most of these movies that I haven't already said before at some point, and in a number of instances, it's been years since I've last revisited them, so they're not exactly the freshest in mind at the moment. However, I do still hold fond memories of my experiences with all of them, and the ones that I have revisited, I still found enjoyment out of them, despite their negative reputation or any inherent flaws with the movies.

So then, let's get to the list, which will be presented in alphabetical order. But first, a few honorable mentions, consisting of movies that had all received an honorable nod from the year that I had originally made mention of them in the first place.

Honorable Mentions


The Expendables
2010, Honorable Mention


Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
2012, Honorable Mention


White House Down
2013, Honorable Mention

And now without any further ado, onto the main list, where I'll also be including the original placement where each movie landed on that year's particular list...


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
2016, #6


The Counselor
2013, #4


Need For Speed
2014, #5


Resident Evil: Retribution
2012, #10


San Andreas
2015, #8


Sucker Punch
2011, #1
AND
Best of Decade So Far, #5


X-Men Origins: Wolverine
2009, #8

So there you have it. And like I already said, I don't really have much else to add, except that I'll be interested to see what other such peculiar movies will manage to hit me in just the right way and find themselves on future lists in the years to come.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Power Rangers

So I went into the new Power Rangers with extremely low expectations. I did not like what I saw in any of the trailers at all, or the direction they appeared to be taking the franchise, and I thought this looked like just another dreary, generic, uninspired reboot. But then the movie came out, and I proceeded to hear a lot of positive buzz around it. And so I checked it out myself, and what d'ya know, I actually really dug the hell out of it, and it's as of now one of my favorites of the year so far.

I was a fan of the show for a time when it first aired. I was really into it during it's initial run with the original cast, but then once the cast changed for the first time, I sorta lost interest, and the show didn't really stick with me in a nostalgic light the way it has for others. But even so, I do recall the series, so I was able to recognize a number of the references in this movie throughout, but also the number of creative liberties that it takes with its source. And honestly, most of the changes this movie makes are among some of the reasons why it struck such a chord with me.

The movie places a huge emphasis on teamwork, and understanding one another in order to work towards a common goal. And all throughout, you'll notice how honestly, the movie spends the majority of its runtime building characters, and really allowing us to get to know them. We start off with Jason, a former high school football star who's sorta lost his way and has started acting out. The movie's pretty subtle in its approach here, as we learn bits and pieces of his past, and then see brief visual cues as to what lead him to his current situation and mindset. And I found this really effective and satisfying, and we see similar builds for all the rest of our colorful cast as they become introduced into the story.

But as the movie progresses and our heroes train to become the new Power Rangers, we learn that the way that they morph in this movie is by placing their priorities on one another, as opposed to themselves. And this aspect is one of the most striking in the film, as our cast honestly spends most of the film unable to actually become the Power Rangers. In fact, one of my favorite scenes in the movie comes when the group all just sorta kick back around a campfire and take a break to really get to know one another.

They started out as a group of strangers who barely knew anything about each other aside from their names, but it's not until they really learn about one another on a deeper level, and grow to appreciate each others company and place their fellow teammates before themselves, that they're finally able to morph and become the Power Rangers. And this is a lesson that not only our young cast must learn, but even their mentor, Zordon, who has lost his own ways in his older age, must also re-learn this lesson in order to both find himself and really bring the team together. Zordon is far more humanized here as compared to his portrayal in the show, and I loved how they made him this grumpy old man who looks down on the younger generation, much like you commonly see all the time in real life, only to gradually see their value and learn to place his faith on them to carry on where he left off.

In this way, though, the film sort of reminds me of last year's big sci-fi hit Arrival, which actually received a Best Picture Academy Award nomination for its efforts. A big message of that movie was learning to communicate with one another and bringing people together so that they may work towards a common goal for the betterment of humanity as a whole. And this movie offers a similar message. It is only by communicating and really learning about one another on a deeper level, and learning to place our comrades before ourselves, that our true power emerges. And only through working together can we achieve our goals to help save humanity. And this movie accomplished this same goal in a big cheesy action blockbuster flick about the freaking Power Rangers of all things, no less.

I enjoyed Arrival, though I didn't fall in love with it like a lot of people did. I thought it was a fine, solid picture, but not really something that necessarily touched me, like it did so many others. But where Arrival didn't quite resonate too strongly with me, this movie honestly did. And maybe that's because it's just this big cheesy action movie that happened to offer up such a powerful message that it worked for me, as opposed to the more serious and "important" approach of Arrival. But this movie really did work for me, and I definitely think there's a real heart and soul to it, and it offers up something that the current generation watching it can really learn a valuable lesson from, which is the farthest thing from being just that dumb, mindless, and misguided action flick that I was expecting going in.

But while the campfire scene may be one of my favorite scenes in the whole movie, the scene that sticks most with me is when the Megazord emerges in the big action climax. Specifically, when they first try to use it, but then it stumbles, and they have to regroup and learn to cooperate with one another in order to properly operate the massive zord. What struck me so much about this is that it's almost precisely a scene ripped straight out of a work in progress script of my own.

This past winter, I've been playing with another film idea, toying with it here and there whenever I've had time to work on it, and it's ultimately a film idea that actually covers a lot of the same themes covered in this movie. And actually, the big climax of the original draft involves almost the same scenario, as it takes the cooperation of the people involved in order to get their bodies to properly move as they should, stumbling at first, before they can finally learn to work together.

Granted, that was the original draft, which was honestly a script where the majority of it consisted of an extended political debate that all lead to this moment and more. However, after becoming especially put off by political talk as of late, I have since decided to go back and remove all aspects of politics from the script, and as it stands now, it's quite possible that the new draft would work as a silent film, all while maintaining the same themes and message. Funny how things work, and how a project can evolve (or morph?) over time, going from an on-going conversative piece to a silent film with absolutely no talking at all. Perhaps there's something telling about that?

But anyways, the fact that I've already changed so much about that original draft makes me feel comfortable talking about it here, and also gives you an idea as to why this film really worked for me on the level that it did. Because it was almost as if this film was working on the same wavelength as my own mindset with its execution, and I just really dig it anytime I see stuff like this, sorta like seeing my own vision already being captured on screen in moments like this, even if it came out of someone else's head.

So yeah, like I said, I really dug this movie. Its emphasis on character over action was refreshing, and the new takes on these classic characters was also quite satisfying. I've mentioned Jason and Zordon, but I also really loved the new takes with all the rest, too, from Billy's more autistic quirks, to Rita's new backstory that really connects her to the Power Rangers on a deeper and more tragic level. And even Alpha 5 is actually kinda cool this time around, showing capable of holding his own during sparring sessions with the Rangers-in-training.

I went in with low expectations, but came out extremely impressed with what I saw. Sure, it's still silly, and you can certainly pick apart the plot and all of its conveniences throughout. But I don't think the film's really about that. It's about the characters, and about the message of working together towards a common goal, and I thought that was really cool, especially to see in a movie like this that's been made for both kids and adults alike, who are coming into this from a nostalgic frame of mind. But it's not overly preachy with its messages, and remains a whole lotta fun throughout, so I definitely think this is an overall worthwhile film that's definitely worth checking out. Fans should love it, but even if you're not a fan, I think there's enough here to really appreciate and enjoy all the same.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Logan

From the first announcement of its title alone, we could tell that we were in for something different from the norm in the comic book genre. Logan is a title that exhumes such confidence, and treats its audience with a level of respect not often seen in this day and age in which such mouthful, hand-holding movie titles as "The Divergent Series: Insurgent" and "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2" exist. Logan. It's simple, tells us everything we need to know about the movie on a tonal level before it even begins, and has faith in the movie going audience to know that this is a movie about the X-Men character Wolverine. So already, this movie had won a level of respect from me before I had even seen it. And as to the actual movie, that respect for the audience prevails all through the movie itself, and it more than earns its audience's respect back in return.

I initially wasn't sure if I even wanted to write a review for this film, as I feel that most everyone already appears to be more or less on the same page about it, so I wasn't sure that I really had anything unique to add to the discussion that hadn't already been covered everywhere else. But while much of what I have to say does mirror what you've likely read elsewhere, after pondering over this movie quite a bit, I think that I've come up with a number of interesting points that I feel are worth mentioning, and that I haven't really seen brought up anywhere else, which I'll be getting to in a little bit. But I've seen the movie twice now, and have taken the time to really allow my thoughts to settle on it. And honestly, the more I think about this movie, the more I grow to love every single thing about it.

All of the major studios producing these comic book films have had their landmark movie for the genre thus far. Sony had it with the first Spider-Man, which was the comic book movie that made people take the genre seriously again, after it had become a joke for about a decade by that point. Then DC and WB had theirs with Nolan's The Dark Knight, the movie that made people not just take comic book movies seriously, but see the potential they had to transcend the genre and be looked upon as genuinely great films in and of themselves, as opposed to merely great "comic book movies".

Then I'd say Marvel Studio's contribution came with The Avengers, which was an accomplishment in the genre that really paved the way for how studios would produce these sorts of films moving forward. And while things in the genre may have mostly become stagnant and complacent since then, Fox has finally come out swinging, with the rated R Deadpool last year opening the door for their big groundbreaking film that's bound to raise the bar once more in the form of Logan, and I wouldn't be surprised in the least if this is the next movie that leaves all the other studios taking note.

This is a movie that's really more of a hard drama than it is a superhero flick, and is almost entirely performance and character-driven. And every single detail, from the raw and gritty way that it's filmed, to the dirty and somewhat post-apocalyptic setting, despite not actually taking place in a post-apocalyptic world, are all reflections on Logan's mindset and world view, after having endured a life of pure hell that has lead to all of this. It's such a perfect package of a character based movie, with every single element really contributing to the whole in such a way that removing even a single aspect would unravel the whole thing.

And even the R rating really adds to the full package. At first it's a bit shocking seeing so much blood and brutality and hearing so many f-bombs being dropped in an X-Men movie like this, but as the movie proceeds, you can see that all of these instances are a necessity, and not the least bit gratuitous. It adds to the character, to the sheer dark place in his life that he's come to, and all of the pain and anger and grief and torment and regret that he's had to live with for such a long, miserable time. And this material would honestly feel neutered if it was being presented without the rated R aspect, which makes it feel more like a real human story, as opposed to a typical comic book fare. And while I don't necessarily think this approach needs to be adopted for all of the X-Men movies moving forward, it was more than appropriate here, so much so that I honestly can't see this film working any other way.

I do think that a lot of this film's success can be attributed to Deadpool being such a runaway hit. After all, if it weren't for that film's success, I have a hard time seeing Fox greenlighting this project and allowing it to be told in this manner. But Fox tried something new with Deadpool, not only in making it a hard R mainstream comic book film, but also in allowing their filmmakers to make the movie they wanted to make with relative freedom, with very little in the way of studio interference. And so that gave way to the creation of this film, which fully benefits from those looser studio constraints.

With Fox apparently allowing their filmmakers free reign to just make a film with their rated R division of flicks, and not be so constrained by typical studio mandates, we're finally seeing actual films being made within the genre, as opposed to the boring, monotonous, conveyor belt cinema that we've become so accustomed to. And if The Dark Knight was the first big step in taking comic book films seriously beyond the genre itself, then this movie feels like the next big evolution beyond that. This is a movie that truly feels genuinely mature and has a real gravitas to it, and is so consistent with its tone and approach throughout that even when the more comic booky stuff does rear its head in, it never feels silly or out of place, like it has in so many other movies. And the movie incorporates it all in such an organic way that compliments the themes of the movie and maintains its weight the whole way through.

This film feels like the ultimate culmination of everything that had preceded it, and so much of that is conveyed to us solely through the performances. Both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are absolutely incredible in this, and both give career best performances that really touch on a deeper level, and are so good that it will be a damn shame should they go overlooked come awards season. And newcomer Dafnee Keen is similarly excellent as well as X-23, showing great range, all while not even speaking through most of the duration of the movie.

One of the things I love so much about the movie is how most of the conflict in the film is internal, and how that's portrayed here. And that actually somewhat mirrors one of my favorite movies in Spider-Man 3, which I have written a full blown defense for in the past. A lot of what made that a favorite of mine has to do with the themes of inner-struggle that were tackled there, and I loved this movie for a lot of the same reasons that resonated so well with me in that one. However, while Spider-Man 3 feels more like the teenage angsty version of this story, Logan definitely feels like the more grown up, mature, and adult version, so it's fitting that its come out so much later, where I myself am at a more adult stage in my own life, and can appreciate it more on that level accordingly.

But one of my arguments in defense of Spider-Man 3 was in terms of how the villains in that movie were incorporated. And for much of the movie, I argued how Spider-Man himself was the main villain, how his internal struggle was the main conflict of the movie, and that Venom was used as a means for Spidey to have an actual one on one encounter in the end on a physical platform. And this movie does something a little similar, with the use of the villain X-24, who is an evil clone of Logan. And while that does sound a bit silly in writing, and is the one aspect I've seen the most complaints about, this film treats this character extremely seriously, and I honestly believe X-24 may well be the most genuinely terrifying villain in a superhero movie since The Joker in The Dark Knight, not just in execution, but also in what the character represents from a more thematic standpoint as well.

Thematically, X-24's inclusion not only fits here, but it completes the movie, and our main character's journey. After all, the real villain in this film was Logan's internal struggle, his fight against his own demons. And by including this character, it really brings that fight to life and makes it a real, tangible entity. In this film, we see how all of the years and years of this relentless life has taken its toll on our leads, only for them to be forced to finally come face to face with all that they've been dealing with and fight back against those demons that have been haunting them for so long. And that is the real villain here, is Logan's emotional state of mind itself. And that's why this is such a striking and powerful film, because it's not just a comic book film about good vs. evil. It's a movie about characters, about facing oneself and finding a way to overcome and become a better person.

Another thing that I noticed in this movie was how it explicitly references events from the very first X-Men film, despite that film technically being retconned out of existence by the time we get to this movie. But then I started thinking about it, and how many other elements from the earlier movies still happened as well, despite Days of Future Past changing history. For instance, Logan still goes by the nickname Wolverine, and in Apocalypse, we see that he still underwent the adamantium operation. And then you consider that the whole purpose to changing history in Days of Future Past was because the mutants were all being wiped out, and yet despite their efforts, by the beginning of this movie, the mutant race has still managed to be wiped out anyways.

So much that was changed had come to pass all the same. And I think that might be yet another telling element to this movie, is that no matter how much it may haunt you, you can never truly run away from your past. Rather, you have to learn from it, learn to live with it, and learn to move on, which is something that Logan struggles with all throughout this film. Logan has endured so much, and has even tried to change things from his past for the better. Yet, despite his efforts, everything still happened anyways, just in another way. And this element only adds to the frustration that Logan must be living with on top of everything else, is the knowledge that all of his hardships in life were an inevitability, and that there was no diverting from this path that he's walked. But even so, no matter how hard it may be, he still has to find a way to move forward and keep fighting.

In this way, despite that the movie totally works on its own as a standalone entry, this movie truly feels like the natural culmination of all of the films that preceded it. And it makes it all the more fitting, too, that the characters we follow in this story happen to be Logan and Xavier, as they are the only two in the series who have retained all knowledge from all of the timelines in this series. It feels like a closing chapter not just on Logan's story, but on this current iteration of the X-Men franchise as a whole. And honestly, before this movie, I would've been pretty annoyed by the prospect of Fox rebooting the X-Men, as has been rumored. But after this film? Yeah, I can't see them ever topping this, and it's always best to go out on top, so I say if the X-Men must continue, then sure, let's do a full franchise reboot, 'cause this is just too good and too fitting a send off to just go ignored.

The Academy Awards increased their possible Best Picture nominee slots to 10 films in response to The Dark Knight getting snubbed. And seeing how Logan is by far the best comic book film that's released since then, it would be a complete waste of that change if this somehow didn't come away with a nomination next year, as this is precisely the sort of movie that change was made to accommodate. This wasn't just a great superhero movie, it's one of the greatest ever made, and was a phenomenal film even beyond the genre itself. From the filmmaking and the production design, to the performances and the writing, everything really came together to produce one of the finest works that the genre has ever seen, a real human story and a truly emotional journey, and it will take a lot to ever top this one.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

From the Artist's Side of the Table - My Convention Experience

So as a way to promote my new book, I've been doing a number of book signing events again this year. And this past weekend, I just finished with my first actual convention for the year, that being Freecon in Tallahassee, my third time participating in the event. But upon returning home from the convention and returning to work, my manager asked me a couple of questions about how things went, and well, I guess I felt like there was an interesting enough discussion here to share my responses to those questions to a wider audience, and gives me an opportunity to address some common misconceptions that people occasionally have in regards to doing these sorts of events, and so I've decided to share my responses with you all here.

So the first in a series of mostly financial related questions that he asked me was...

"What do you do with all of the money that you make at these events?"

And, well, I can go into a number of different areas with this question. When my manager asked me this, I believe he thought that I was just rolling in dough doing these events, a feeling that becomes more prevalent when we get to some of his later questions. But the truth is, almost all of the money I make at these things goes towards paying off the event itself.

When you're doing a convention, there are a number of costs that go into it. First, there's the cost of the table space, which varies in price from convention to convention, depending on how big or small the show is. Then, there's the cost of supplies, so in my case, that means the cost of purchasing the actual books I'll be selling, as well as business cards I'll be handing out, or anything else I may try to incorporate to my table in order to attract attention, such as the table cloth or a banner and displays and other such signage.

Now, if I'm doing an event locally, or just doing a book signing at a smaller book store, then that certainly makes things easier. However, if I have to travel for an event, then that adds in a number of added expenses, including gas, food, and hotel costs. So yeah, taking all of that into account, then that explains where most of the money I make at these events goes towards. Quite frankly, I'm usually lucky to just break even, and on the off chance that I do make a profit, then what do I do with that money? Honestly, it usually just goes towards groceries for that week. So basically, it's not exactly enough to be able to quit my day job and live off of, to say the least.

Now, part of that is a bit of my own fault. After all, I'm going to these big nerd conventions with the intent of trying to sell something brand new to a whole group who are all there in a collected celebration of all of the various nerd fandoms that are already well established. They're not there for new, they're there for what they're already into. But still, I'm stubborn and I'm insistent, and seeing as this crowd typically consists of my general target audience, I'll continue to try and push my new ideas onto them until it finally latches on.

Now, this problem is probably easier for other artists to work around, those who draw and sell prints, as they're able to still sell their services and their art, while also selling something recognizable on top of that, by drawing characters that are already well established, just with their personal artistic touch or style added to it. But my art is of the written variety, so I don't really have that as an option. But even so, if I was there just to make money, then sure, I could probably cobble together some more recognizably fandom related memorabilia to try and sell off, which would certainly help with expenses. Except, for me personally, that's not my goal. I'm not there to make money. I'm there to try and get the word out on my own work and build a fandom for my new property. And, well, that's a fandom that's never gonna build if I'm creating competition at my very own booth.

And to be fair, my approach has slowly been working. After all, at this latest convention, quite a bit of my business came from people who had already purchased and read my previous books, and were there to pick up the new one. This is something that my neighbor artist noticed, was all of the return business at my table. And it became something I was also able to incorporate in my pitch to try and gain even more new readers, to tell them that, hey, most of my business this weekend has come from people coming back to get the new one, 'cause they loved the first ones just that much. And you know what? It actually worked, and I was able to make a number of sales and potential new fans that way, too.

But even taking all of the above into account, all of the preparation and expenses and everything, the biggest thing that has to be taken into consideration in terms of making any money at a convention is the actual con-goers themselves. And the thing about them is, it's impossible to predict what you're going to get. Cons can be very hit or miss, and not just for me, but for any vendor or artist. Sometimes, there might be a high turnout of people, but nobody's really buying anything. Sometimes a con that you made a killing at one year, can be a total bust the next. Or sometimes the opposite can happen. You can never tell for sure what sort of crowd you're going to get, which can have a huge effect on how the con goes for you.

But anyways, I feel I've said enough in regards to that question, so let's move onto the next, which was...

"You're going to share all of that money you make selling your books, right?"

Now, what I think he meant by this (again, assuming that I were rolling in dough doing this) was, am I going to put my money towards something good, such as donating it to a charity, or trying to help and support others within my community in some way or fashion? And most of my response to that, for the time being, pretty much mirrors my response to the first question, on account that I'm really not actually making any money doing this thing just yet.

However, while I might not have the means to financially show my support, I do still very much try to show my support in other ways all the same. For instance, I have a number of friends who are also aspiring writers, and I always try to do anything I can for them to help out in any way. Whether it's reading their work and critiquing or editing it for them, or just answering any questions they may have in regards to either the writing or self-publishing process, pushing them and urging them on, I've always been an open book when it comes to these sorts of things.

When I do these conventions, I almost always have at least a couple people approach me just to ask me how I got where I am, how I actually finished something, and how I got it published, asking so that they can have some idea as to what they need to do in order to work towards their own artistic goals. And I give them as honest a response as I can, and try to break down for them the steps I took all along the way (which would be a whole different topic all itself, so I won't go into detail here).

But I won't just tell them what I do know, I'll also be frank and let them know if they're asking me something I don't have the answers to, because I'd hate to just try and bullshit someone like that. After all, I don't have all the answers, not at all. And I'm still very much trying to figure out what I'm doing even now. The learning never stops. But as far as what I've already learned? Yeah, I'm always willing to share that knowledge with others, to try and help them out, much the same way that others have helped me back when I was just getting started on this whole ordeal myself, and continue to do so even to this day.

So there's that, for those still aspiring. But for those who are on a similar level as I am, where they're actively producing things and putting them out there, trying to market it? Well, anytime I see this, I'll almost always be the first to jump at the opportunity to help promote their stuff for them. After all, at this level, any little bit helps, and I know there's only so much I can do on my own trying to self-promote my own stuff. So I know the struggle, and I also know how valuable it can be to have someone else actually lend a hand and help promote your stuff right there along with you, without even needing to ask.

You'll always see me on social media, for instance, promoting other people's work, anytime I happen to see it. This is a practice that I honestly wish more people would get on board with, that being promoting their friends and their peers, as opposed to already established properties that, quite frankly, don't need your help promoting their latest work (after all, they have whole marketing teams to do all that for them, something that people on my level are very much lacking in).

So really, I always spread the word on other people's work, or try to fill my peers in whenever I hear of an event happening in town that I think they might be interested in. (Though admittedly, I will sour on lending that helping hand to others who I see not return the favor or show their appreciation.) After all, it all goes back to that golden rule, always do unto others what you would have them to do unto you. And this is a rule that I've sadly found very few appear to abide by. But for those few that do, you can't even begin to understand how much your help is truly appreciated, and how much it means to myself and those like me who are trying so hard to break through.

So yeah, that all might not be financial related, as the question originally asked. But until I reach a place where I can lend my support financially as well, and actually do something productive with "all that money that I'm making", and can actually really share it accordingly, I'll still always do whatever is within my ability to help out my peers and my community all the same.

Anyways, onto the next question, which was...

"Does your publisher pay you to do these events?"

And the answer to that is, quite simply, seeing as I am my own publisher, being self-published and all (and not one of those obnoxious self-published authors who refers to their self-publishing service, such as createspace or amazon, etc., as their "publisher"), no. Not unless I actually make a profit at a given event, but even then, see my answers above to see where that money actually goes to. But nah, I think my manager is under the impression that I'm a bigger deal than I actually am (which is an odd impression to be under, considering that, despite what my online presence may tell you, I almost never talk about all this stuff I'm working on in person), and he doesn't realize that every step of the way are all steps that I have to take personally.

I have to reach out and set up all of these events, talk to the appropriate people and make all the payments and arrangements, and maintain communication to ensure that everything is good to go. Sure, I'd love to have a publisher, or at least a personal assistant or someone, who could handle all of this stuff for me. But for now, so long as I remain self-published, that's just not feasible, and so it all lays on my shoulders in order to get it all done.

Which now takes us to his last question, which was...

"Did you do anything fun or see anyone while you were out of town?"

And I think this is one of the bigger misconceptions that people have when I tell them that I'm going to a con, is that they think that I'm going on vacation. But really, that couldn't be any further from the truth.

Quite frankly, it's work. And the days are long. There's a lot of interactions with a lot of people that I have to have. I have to sell myself and my product to just about everyone who comes up to my table. And, let me tell you, I'm already not the best salesman in the world, nor am I exactly a sociable or extroverted individual. So it's even harder for me than it is for most, but it's something I still gotta do all the same.

I've got to strike up conversations with strangers all day long, and by the end of it, I'm exhausted. And the next day starts bright and early, so there's not much time to go out and do any socializing with friends after the day's out either. I actually did meet up with one friend this weekend, but it had to wait till after the con was over entirely, and even then, it was a relatively brief meeting, as I still had a 4 hour drive back home waiting for me that night, as I was scheduled to return to my day job the next day.

So yeah, these things aren't a vacation. There's not a lot of free time, or really even a lot of me time. It's a job, and it's draining. But that's not to say that it isn't also very rewarding, and that there isn't fun to be had at all. After all, you do meet a lot of interesting characters, and see a lot of cool and interesting things, such as all of the artwork all around, and the cosplay that people dress up in. So there's definitely an aspect of fun to it. But it still remains work all the same, which is something that I'm not sure you're really able to properly grasp until you actually get behind the booth and experience it for yourself.

And yeah, that was pretty much the extent of my manager's line of questioning. And while I may not have gotten as into detail with my responses to him as I did here, his questions did stay with me well after the fact, and left me with a lot to say on the matter, which I thought might be interesting for anyone who might be curious as to how these things typically go for people on my side of the table trying to make a name for themselves, or for anyone who might be looking into doing this sorta thing themselves someday. I've learned a lot doing these events over the years, but like I said before, the learning never stops, and I'm sure that there are still many lessons waiting for me as I continue to dive into these experiences moving forward.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

My biggest writing regret, and what I learned from it

So as I've been going out doing book signings and trying to get my name out there after the release of the third Ninja Kat book, I keep having to remind myself that, while just this latest book is new to me, for most people, the entire series is still brand new to them, and they have to start from the beginning before catching up to where I am. However, therein lies a bit of the problem. That being, all these years later, I'm not exactly thrilled with the way my first book turned out.

Granted, despite its flaws, the book has consistently received far more praise than otherwise, mostly due to people loving the story, often referring to it as a breath of fresh air in the fantasy genre. So there's definitely something there. Yet, they always say that they love the story despite all of the flaws with the actual prose. And, well, that's a criticism that I very much find myself agreeing with.

While writing the first novel, I was still learning how to actually write, and it shows. And as such, it was also a novel where I brought most of the earlier chapters to critique groups in order to get it workshopped and receive advice on how to improve upon it. The thing is though, I brought the book to these critique groups at a time when I still hadn't yet learned how to decipher between good and bad advice, and so, I sorta just incorporated a little bit of all of what everyone was telling me. And, well, yeah, that's sorta how I got where I did with a lot of the execution in that book.

Looking back at it now, I can see the flaws in its prose light as day, because looking back at it now, I've learned enough as a writer to know what works, what doesn't, but more importantly, why. And this is all stuff that I hadn't yet learned as a writer at the time. And so, not knowing any better, I churned out the best that I had in me at the time, and took an amalgamation of indecipherably good and bad advice, and put out a book that's a bit of a choppy mess in places, even if the actual story itself is thankfully good enough to still manage to shine through an otherwise less than stellar execution.

So that's become pretty much my biggest regret as a writer, the fact that the first book reads pretty amateurish. And the fact that every new reader that I make has to first get through that book before moving onto the others sorta bothers me a bit, too, as even if I have improved and become more confident in my writing since then, that's their first impression of my writing, and so that's what they're going to be judging me on before deciding whether or not they want to move forward and continue with the rest of the series.

That said, while that particular aspect is a bit of a regret, and the first book is the one that I most can't wait to at some point revisit and re-release a fixed edition of, if I didn't go ahead and just push through and put it out there, then it's very likely that I may well still be stuck on that project to this very day. After all, since finishing that novel and putting it out there and moving on to the next one, I have become far more confident and far more comfortable as a writer, and I feel it really wasn't until the second book where I truly started to find my voice as a writer.

And who knows, I might still yet be trying to find that voice if I were still wading through the mess of that first book, going back over and over again trying to fix it up, and probably just tinkering it to its own detriment all the while. And if I was still stuck on that book, I just know that my confidence as a writer would more or less be shot by this point in my life. So really, I may not exactly be pleased with how that first outing turned out, but if I hadn't just gotten through it and moved on, then I may never have truly evolved as a writer after all this time.

That's not to say that I don't still have room to grow even more, but at least I'm not still stuck in that stagnant place. So I suppose there's a bit of a lesson to be learned with that. I know a lot of writers who are still stuck on their first novels years after the fact, still tinkering with them. And I wonder, even if they're not pleased with those novels, how might they grow as writers themselves if they just said "good enough", put their novels out there, and moved on to their next works with a clearer perspective and a clean slate, able to now look back at all that they learned and apply it with a fresh take, no longer burdened with obsessing over making something "perfect".

But yeah, I dunno, that's just something I've pondered over from time to time, particularly as I look back at my past work and gain new readers who have to start from the beginning. But then I look at how far I've come in the time since then, and I think that perhaps it was worth a bit of a rough start. After all, with the recent release of my third book, I'm closer now to wrapping up this series and moving on to the next project than I was even a year ago, where as, had I continued to just keep tinkering with that first novel and tried to piece together a mess to this day, then this point that I'm at now would still feel so far off.

And that can sorta delve off into other topics, such as my argument that it's easier to edit while you're writing, as opposed to going back and trying to edit after you're done with a full draft, due to the sheer overwhelming mess you'd have to tackle, as opposed to just cleaning up little chunks here and there if you edit as you go along. This has worked wonders for me, and has turned the "editing phase" into more of a fine-tuning as opposed to a full on re-writing, and I know I personally would have never finished a single novel through to edited completion had I not edited as I wrote. After all, what's easier, to let your clutter and trash pile up in your house until you're left with a big whole mess to clean up, where you have to set aside time to explicitly go about cleaning your house up, or to just throw away your trash and put things back in their place when you're done with it, and never have to worry or think about it again?

But I digress, that's just what's worked for me personally, and so I figured that I'd share it for anyone who might find it helpful to them. It was a hard lesson to learn for me, but it's lead to satisfying results for me personally, as I've ended up very pleased with how the second two books have turned out thus far. And like I said, I wouldn't even be this far yet had I not just gotten through that first outing, so while the end results may have been a little rough, I suppose that experience was worth it in the end all the same for helping me get past that point and move onto better things.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Effectiveness of the Music in La La Land

Coming off my discussion on the effectiveness of music in movies in my previous post, I mentioned how the use of music in La La Land could more or less cover almost all of my examples, and so, I'd like to just go down the list from top to bottom and discuss why each of the main pieces of music in this movie are so brilliant in their inclusion, and what it says not only about the use of music in and of itself, but in movies in general.

Now, being a musical, of course the movie is going to be pretty heavy in music. But just being a musical doesn't necessarily guarantee that the music in said movie will actually be effective. So I want to discuss precisely why the music in this movie is so effective, despite it being a musical, and how it all comes together to create such an all around magical movie going experience.

The movie opens with "Another Day of Sun", which more or less sets the mood not only for the movie to come, but also for the tone of the music that we can expect as well. This song is also the quintessential fantasy piece to really set us in the state of mind to prepare us for the journey our leads are about to stumble upon, as it establishes not only the LA setting, but the dreamer's mindset that has brought so many to this city, in their desperate chase for stardom, getting knocked down with reality checks, but having to pick themselves back up and keep at it, never allowing themselves to falter in their dreams.

"Behind these hills I'm reaching for the heights
And chasing all the lights
That shine

And when they let you down
You'll get up off the ground
As the morning rolls around
And it's another day of sun"

Our next piece is "Someone in the Crowd", as Mia's friends try to urge her to go out with them, because who knows, the one you might be looking for to give you your big break might just be out there waiting for you. There's a number of things to note about this song. One, it's the first song actually performed by one of our leads, and it's also the last main song to feature anyone else. This song takes place before the two meet up, while they're still lost in their own worlds, before they come together and begin to tell a story all their own as the two's journeys intertwine, and they really start to leave their prior lives behind and push each other to take the necessary steps that'll help them achieve their dreams.

Musically, this song directly continues in the upbeat jazzy style established by "Another Day of Sun", and it also sets the stage for a number of elements that'll come into play later on, acting as probably the most foreshadowing song in the whole film. Later on, we'll discuss Mia's audition song, and the story she tells there.

But this song completely foreshadows her success, both lyrically, as it is literally someone in the crowd of her one-woman show who calls her up for an audition later on in the film, and the story she tells about her Aunt diving into the river is foreshadowed here visually as well, as Mia first looks in the mirror and questions the direction she's headed and if this is all worth it, but picks herself back up, steps back out into the party, and back into her crazy, fantastic dreams, as the music pauses and we focus on a guy jumping off a roof and into a swimming pool, mirroring the story of her Aunt in that moment, as the onlookers begin dancing in unison all around.

"Is someone in the crowd the only thing you really see?
Watching while the world keeps spinning round

Somewhere there's a place where I find who I'm gonna be
Somewhere that's just waiting to be found"

Up next is "Mia and Sebastian's Theme", which Sebastian performs as he rebels against his boss' wishes and starts playing a small piece of free jazz on the piano. This song is the first of several in this musical that actually doesn't even feature any lyrics at all, yet the musical manages to make this aspect work wonderfully all the same, taking these pieces and oftentimes making them feel like surreal sequences out of something like Fantasia, and utilizing dreamy, upbeat melodies that makes them just as catchy and memorable as their more lyrical counterparts.

And this particular piece is also the main theme song of the movie, one that continues to come into play over and over again, in one of the more clever elements that the movie utilizes. This is the song that Sebastian plays when he and Mia first formally meet one another. And though their initial meeting isn't exactly a pleasant one, in hindsight, the song manages to draw them closer together over and over again, and take an unpleasant moment and turn it into something heartwarming.

I mentioned in my original write-up for the movie in my end of year list how I loved this movie's use of nostalgia as an active element in the movie, particularly when compared to how so many other lesser films poorly incorporate nostalgia into their films. Oftentimes, movies these days will throw in these obnoxious winks and nudges to other films or media, which instantly put the movie on pause to take us out and remind us of something else. Here, though, they use this song as a means to make us nostalgic for moments in the movie itself, not unlike the examples I had mentioned before in my previous post, about how hearing certain songs can take us back in time to a prior moment in our lives. And this movie totally takes that concept and uses it to make us nostalgic for the movie itself, as we're watching it. I just found this so clever, and so awesome, and so refreshing all throughout, and left me wishing that more movies could find more similarly clever ways to utilize their rampant nostalgia in a way that doesn't disengage the audience, as is so often the case these days.

This is followed up by a handful of '80s pop songs, as Mia attends a pool party in which she discovers Sebastian is performing the keytar for an '80s cover band. And the songs they perform are "Take On Me" and, by request, "I Ran", and have thus been added to the list of similar songs such as "Stuck in the Middle With You" from Reservoir Dogs or any of the songs from Guardians of the Galaxy as tracks that every time they come on the radio, I'll be instantly transported to the scene in the movie that they're a part of (and this has already happened on a number of occasions for me while at work, in fact).

As Sebastian walks Mia to her car after the party, the two have their first duet in the form of "A Lovely Night", where the first half features the two singing, and the second half is entirely lyric-less, as the two dance along to the music, showing the two's different styles coming together in one beautiful piece, just as the characters themselves grow to form a connection with one another, a connection that's shown through the music and the visuals of the sequence.

That's one of the things I love about this movie, is how much of the story is very much told through its music, through its visuals. And it's a common complaint that I've already seen quite a bit, how some feel the movie is underwritten, or that the relationship between Mia and Sebastian isn't fleshed out enough. But that's because in this movie, it's not fleshed out in a more traditional manner through dialogue. Music is what brought the two together for the first time as Seb was playing the main them, and it's through music that their relationship really begins to blossom. And this song totally encapsulates the real starting point of their romance, first teasing one another with their words, before really coming together in a beautiful dance number on a stunning, lovely night.

But even in a more general sense in regards to the arguments against this movie's writing, I think it's important to note that a movie's writing includes more than just dialogue. But the way a movie plays out, its interwoven themes throughout and overall structure of story all have to be taken into account as well when discussing a film's writing. And in terms of telling a beautiful story through its music and visuals and how it all comes together in such a clever and wonderful fashion, not merely paying homage to films past, but taking elements and incorporating them in a more organic way to tell a story about nostalgia and dreams, and the drive to succeed, and effectively telling this story through its use of music throughout, then all things considered, the writing in this movie was quite frankly phenomenal, and is more than deserving of its accolades thus far.

"But I'm frankly feeling nothing"
"Is that so?"
"Or it could be less than nothing"
"Good to know
So you agree?"
"That's right"
"What a waste of a lovely night"

"Herman's Habit" is the jazz number that plays as Seb takes Mia out to a jazz club, and really drives home another element that makes this movie stand out as such an impactful film to me. He discusses with her the various elements of the song they're listening to, how the sax player might interject with something he's got in mind, or the trumpet player might hijack the song for a moment and go on a bit of a solo, and how it's all real and raw and alive.

Music is a living, breathing entity. Or, at least, it was, but the more it becomes commercialized, the more that human element becomes lost, and what we're listening to loses the heart and the emotional impact that it could possibly deliver. And this, too, is shown all throughout in the form of Emma Stone's and Ryan Gosling's raw, earnest, and passionate performances as Mia and Sebastian, who aren't exactly the greatest singers nor the greatest dancers, but damn if they don't give it their all and give the movie a very sincere feel to it. And this element of the humanity of music being lost winds up coming into play in a big way later on in the movie, which I'll dive more into as we get to those particular pieces.

After they depart, Sebastian begins whistling to himself, as he ponders over his recent interactions with Mia and sings a little tune by the name of "City of Stars", in its first rendition. At this point, Seb is a guy who has been repeatedly beaten down by life and had every opportunity thrown in his face, which is a recurring theme we see play out all throughout the movie, first introduced in the lyrics of the opening song, and then shown to us as we've followed both Mia and Sebastian up to this point. And so, he sees things going well with Mia, and yet, as he sings this somber song, and keeping his history in mind, he questions if things will finally go right this time, or if it'll just be like every other time. And my god is this song so relatable to me, as I have experienced this very thing over and over again, so much that I find myself asking these same questions anytime something seems to be going right, I'll just be wondering in the back of my head, how long before it starts going wrong again, like it always, always does?

This is such a depressing song because it just hits right home in the worst of ways. But it doesn't just show how badly life has taken its toll on Seb in this moment, it also shows just how much he's continued to get back up and keep at it, how many chances he's continued to take, despite all his efforts up to this point falling flat, despite all his talent or other positive qualities, keeping up with the themes of continuing to push forward and chase after your dreams, no matter how many times you might be let down.

"Who knows
Is this the start of something wonderful
Or one more dream
That I cannot make true"

Mia and Sebastian then go on their first real date and dance through the stars to the tune of "Planetarium", one of the most fantastical sequences in the entire movie, as the two's dream of being with one another looks to be coming true. This is another fully instrumental piece, but my lord is the music here just a delight, and has such a wondrous, romantic, and uplifting feel to it, like the ultimate culmination of all of the pieces that had preceded it, all culminating in their very first embrace, as we reach a real turning point, for their relationship, for the movie, and for the music itself as well.

After experiencing a "Summer Montage", where we see the two's romance really start to bloom, we get the first real sign of the movie taking somewhat of a different direction, with the reprise of "City of Stars", this time featuring both Sebastian as well as Mia. And the singing in this particular version is also captured entirely on set, as we see as the two wind up making each other giggle a handful of times while they're performing. It shows how the movie is not only taking a bit of a more modern approach to the musical at this point, but how it's also becoming a bit more grounded, as the more fantastical elements start to go away a bit for something more of a realistic approach. And by featuring the two singing live on set and getting those real emotions out of them, it also really emphasizes the living, human element to their music that Seb had argued for earlier, and makes the song stand out all the more for it, like we're peeking into a more intimate moment in these two's lives.

But by this point in the movie, now that the two have really found one another and have pushed one another to really take the right steps towards making their dreams a reality, it's that reality that starts to set in here, which is emphasized both by this song's placement, as well as its execution. This is a lovely rendition, but one that in hindsight becomes almost heartbreaking, as we witness this lovely moment of innocence between these two, just before that reality that's about to set in casts a dark cloud over their relationship.

"Who knows
I felt it from the first embrace I shared with you"

"That now our dreams
May finally come true"

And that reality first really sets in with the song "Start a Fire", which Seb performs alongside his new band in front of a packed venue full of screaming fans. Mia is taken aback as the song starts to kick in, and all of the electronics and commercialized elements that it incorporates, and how this feels totally contrary to Seb's values as a musician. There's a real lack of humanity here, a lack of that real raw and living, breathing element that Seb has stressed so much about up until this point. That's not to say that this is a bad song, mind you, but it is a noticeably weaker one, which is precisely the point. And even in the way it's presented in the movie, as merely a performance on the stage to a roaring audience, feels more disconnected compared to all of the prior tracks up to this point.

It's not just the music either, but also the way the film is edited at this point that starts to change up. Up until this point, most of the movie is filmed in very long takes, where moments between our characters are shared on the same screen at the same time, without ever really cutting away. But here, the camera suddenly starts cutting all around, further showing the disconnect between the music and the audience. The fact that this is also pretty much the most forgettable track on the whole soundtrack is also an intentional choice, to really prove Seb's point about the human element in music elevating it to another level, while the more it becomes commercialized, the more diluted and disposable it becomes as a result.

But the more cut up way of filmmaking continues on from this point, and culminates in an extremely uncomfortable dinner conversation between the two filmed in shot/reverse-shot, a typical style of filmmaking in most movies, but an approach that's rarely used in this movie, but stands out whenever it is, to show us just how disconnected the characters in the scene have become from one another, no longer sharing the frame together with one another.

So things begin to fall apart between the two, and Mia reaches her breaking point and goes home, as we hear a sad piano accompaniment "Engagement Party", played by Seb at his sister's engagement ceremony. But, as it turns out, someone in the crowd at Mia's show was very impressed with her performance, and so Seb tracks her down in order to attend her big "Audition".

Emma Stone's big solo Oscar moment, as the lights turn down and all focus is solely on her telling this tale about her Aunt, and the crazy risks she took in order to chase after her dreams, and how this has inspired her own journey. It's a moment that's been foreshadowed all throughout the whole film, and it's all laid out on the line in the most passionate rendition of the whole film, as Mia belts her heart out in this striking, moving piece.

And the story she tells is one that anyone who dreams big can take so much away from. It tells of the heartache you'll have to endure, the insane drive it'll take to succeed, and the mad, unrealistic frame of mind it'll take to reach such unrealistic expectations, all of which has been driven home hard again and again by this point in the film, all coming out in one last emotional plea.

"She told me
A little madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us
And that's why they need us

So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters and poets and plays

And here's to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here's to the hearts that break
Here's to the mess we make"

The movie then jumps ahead five years after our two leads have finally achieved their dreams, but at the cost of their relationship. And when they unexpectedly stumble upon each other, they find themselves lost in a moment of nostalgia, as we relive their experiences in the film's "Epilogue", and go on a journey, hesitantly at first, through rose colored glasses as we look at what could have been, and how things could've ended up so right for them, but how life had its way at tearing them apart and sending them down different paths.

And as we relive their experiences through a new lens, we, too, relive all of the music that we've experienced as well, all brought together so seamlessly, and really showing just how each and every single piece of music in this film is all part of a greater whole, each a connecting piece to a much larger puzzle that had been put together over the course of the film. But that's just really one of the things I loved absolutely most about this musical when compared to so many others. It's not just a movie that just happens to have breaks where they decide to just sing and dance with various pieces of music. With the exception of "Start a Fire", which is explicitly intended to not fit in, each and every single song compliments one other. They each flow together as just smaller pieces to the full package, and it continues in the movie's accompanied score, which also continues to string along this same connecting tune between songs.

But this is all shown so beautifully in this grand sweeping finale, as we return once more to the more fantastical musical elements from earlier in the film, when our characters were more stuck in their heads, holding onto their dreams that looked so far away, before reality could set in. But then, as the song begins to wind down, and reality once more begins to take its course, the music itself becomes almost tragically sad, and we're left with an absolute gut punch of heartbreaking emotion as the song just sorta fizzles to a depressing close.

But it's not entirely all bad, as just before Mia leaves, she chances one last glance back to the tune of "The End", and they share one more smile, one that says so much about their journey and what it meant to them, all while the two remain completely silent, and we come to a grand close to this magical tale about two aspiring artists chasing their dreams, and what they had to lose along the way in order to make those dreams a reality, as the music plays us out on a hopeful note that assures us that all is well in the end, even if we didn't get everything we had wanted along the way.

So all throughout the movie, its use of music showed us examples of how to best utilize music in a way that not only elevates the material, but also helps tell the story and drive the mood of the moment. And it even provided moments of using popular tracks in an organic way within scenes, to where these songs are now forever associated with the movie in a way where merely hearing them on the radio will now transport us back to this movie all over again. But not only that, the movie also provided explicit examples of how music can be incorporated in a way that's disengaging for the audience, so it really did cover the full spectrum of my arguments made in my previous post covering the effectiveness of music in movies in a more general sense, beating me to the punch by providing all of my arguments that I had prepared in the form of an actual film, as opposed to a mere written essay.

And with that, I suppose that brings us more or less to a close on this discussion as well. I've already seen the movie four times, and have grown to love it more and more each time, to where I'm already confident considering it among my Top 3 Movies of the Decade so far. And each time I revisit this emotional journey, I find myself becoming more and more torn up inside by it all in the end. Hell, just revisiting these moments as I've written this post has at times gotten me teary eyed, and there's no doubt that its brilliant use of music has a lot to thank for that.