Monday, January 16, 2023

My #1 Movie of the Year, Every Single Year

While I haven't actively been reviewing movies anymore for a few years now, one thing I still like to do all the same is, at the end of each year, I still enjoy ranking my favorites from the past year. And seeing as how I've been consistently ranking my favorite films every year since 2009, I thought it might be fun to look back and see what I chose at the time to be my #1 favorite movie from each year (as well as the decades as a whole). So, without further ado, here are my #1 Movies of the Year from every single year that I've been consistently ranking movies:

2009

Avatar
(James Cameron)

2000 - 2009
Best of the Decade


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

2010

Inception
(Christopher Nolan)

2011

Sucker Punch
(Zack Snyder)

2012

Dredd
(Pete Travis)

2013

Iron Man 3
(Shane Black)

2014

Interstellar
(Christopher Nolan)

2015

Inside Out
(Pete Docter)

2016

La La Land
(Damien Chazelle)

2017

Logan
(James Mangold)

2018

Bohemian Rhapsody
(Bryan Singer)

2019

Frozen II
(Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)

2010 - 2019
Best of the Decade


Frozen
(Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)

2020

The Hunt
(Craig Zobel)

2021

Raya and the Last Dragon
(Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada)

2022

Sonic the Hedgehog 2
(Jeff Fowler)

And there it is. And while I do still stand by most of these, there are a few which I would totally swap out for another movie at this point. However, while I was considering sharing those picks that I'd change, I instead decided that I'd just like to let these initial picks stand on their own. After all, the Academy doesn't get to go back and say what movies they would have picked for Best Picture if they changed their minds years later, so who am I to go back and retroactively change what's essentially my own picks for Best Picture each year at the time.

But anyways, those are my original picks for #1 Movie of the Year each year. What movies were your favorites from each year at the time?

Saturday, December 31, 2022

My Top 4 Movies of 2022

It's that time once again. Let's take a look at what wound up being my favorite movies I watched from 2022. But first...

Honorable Mention from 2021

Belle
(Mamoru Hosoda)

Technically a 2021 release, though it didn't come out theatrically here until January this past year, I mention it now because it's without a doubt the absolute best new movie I've seen this whole year (the best new movie I've seen in over three years in fact), and it's not even close. If it counted as a 2022 film, it'd easily top this list. And had I seen it before posting my list last year, it would've easily topped that one, too.

A modern day retelling of Beauty and the Beast for the social media age, this was just such a gem of a movie. I was so impressed with the film upon initial viewing at the theater that afterwards, I immediately left for the ticket counter, purchased another ticket, and watched it a second time in a row right then and there, which is the first time I had ever done that for any movie before.

A beautiful movie with breathtaking music and a story that'll hit you in all the feels, I can't recommend this one enough. I watched both the dubbed and subtitled versions, and while you really can't go wrong either way, I'd personally suggest going with the dub on this one.

Now then, onto the entries for this year's list...

#4

Top Gun: Maverick
(Joseph Kosinski)

Just an all around solid and impressive outing, this movie serves to remind us what going to the movies is supposed to be all about: pure escapist fun! Also perhaps the most technically impressive movie of the year as well, given everything that went in to the making of this film, and capturing everything that they did in a practical manner. Here's hoping this movie's massive success triggers a return to form of sorts for the medium moving forward.

#3

Scream
(Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett)

The first Scream not directed by Wes Craven, this fifth entry all the same serves as a perfect tribute to the franchise, while paying respect and staying true to Wes Craven's vision for this series up to this point. I honestly thought this was the best since the original film, and was highly impressed with its clever takes throughout. It's almost a shame that they're still planning to make more of these though, as I felt this movie also acted as a perfect sendoff for the series as a whole at that.

#2

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
(Joel Crawford)

I just really dug this movie. I thought the first Puss in Boots was okay, but that it didn't quite meet the potential it had to be a truly great film. Well, eleven years later, we have a sequel that absolutely reaches that potential and then some, and I'd honestly say that this is just straight up the movie we should've gotten all those years back in the first place. And heck, while we're at it, I'd also say that this movie also accomplishes what Pixar's Soul tried and, in my opinion, failed to accomplish from a thematic standpoint as well, and is very much the film that movie should've been, too. There's just so much heart and charm here, and a surprising amount of character and thematic depth, all brought to life with some truly stunning animation to be found throughout.

#1

Sonic the Hedgehog 2
(Jeff Fowler)

The Sonic movies are officially my personal Avengers films at this point. I thought the first movie was a pleasant surprise, and I found this follow-up to be similarly delightful. And enjoying this one in a crowded theater packed with enthusiastic Sonic fans especially made for a really cool experience. I'd perhaps argue that the first movie is a better and more overall solid film, but even so, this sequel is still a blast all the same, and does an outstanding job bringing the video games and these characters to life in a big way.

If there's a common theme amongst my picks this year, I'd say that a pure genuine love and respect for the source material and its existing fanbase is what you could perhaps take the most away from what helped elevate these films for me this year. And that sentiment certainly holds true in a big way with Sonic the Hedgehog 2, in which you can just tell how much the filmmakers truly love this series and are very much fans of it themselves, and in turn made a movie that fans around the world would similarly love and appreciate.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Velcro the Ninja Kat: The Complete Edition - Now Available!

In the Country of Widows, the military organization known as the Devil Corps has waged a secret war against its own people. One cat has become aware of this evil scheme, and has set out to put an end to this brewing conflict before it's too late.

Featuring all five action packed books, this is her full magical journey, the tale of Velcro the Ninja Kat. Now available!

www.VelcroTheNinjaKat.com

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Celebrating 10 Years of Velcro the Ninja Kat!

Today marks the 10 year anniversary of the release of the first book in the Velcro the Ninja Kat series!

It's been a long and arduous journey up to this point, and in that time we have since seen the release of five Ninja Kat novels, a brief Ninja Kat comic book run, and even a live action Ninja Kat short film, with much much more still to come. But today, we celebrate 10 years of progress, and begin a year long celebration that will continue to push the Ninja Kat legacy forward!

Velcro the Ninja Kat is the story of one cat's desire to save the world from a brewing evil. And as we join her on this action packed adventure in this magical world, we get to meet a wide assortment of characters and explore their various dynamics. As much as it's a story about wanting to save the world, it could be argued that it's also just as much about coming to terms with personal strife, finding peace within oneself, as within the world itself, and learning to connect with one another again.

The majority of the characters are based on actual animals, oftentimes pets of my own that I had while growing up, capturing their personalities and bringing them to life on the page, taking the various antics that the real life animals would find themselves in and expanding on those stories in a grand and fantastic way in these books.


The real life Stan, and his comic book counterpart.

Though today marks 10 years since we've officially shared this story with the world, really, this journey has been going for far longer, all the way back to my childhood. In fact, you have to go all the way back to my elementary school days to find the origins of when I first came up with the idea of the Ninja Kat.

Back then, I used to play with my friends, where we would sometimes act out the different adventures that the Ninja Kat and other assortment of characters would go on. And as I said, most of the characters were based on our pets, including my childhood cat and title character herself, Velcro.

A majority of the cast of characters was made up of my other pets that my family would get over the years, including our other cats and dogs and hamsters and rabbits and such. But even pets of long distance family members would make it into the stories, such as my family up in New York, who practically had a zoo in their house from the wide assortment of animals they had living there. And even more still, I didn't reserve it to strictly just family, but the pets of many of my friends also found their way into my novels, many of whom I'm certain still aren't even aware of it yet!

But one friend in particular is certain of his animals' inclusion, that being an old neighborhood friend, Kevin Law, who I would most frequently run off with as a child and act out our animal's fantastical adventures. In fact, a number of his pets wound up securing key roles in the story, including many of the hamsters from the original book, as well as Kip, who managed to score an entire short film about himself at that. And I know Kevin is well aware of his pets finding their way into these stories, as he's expressed his excitement and gratitude to me in regards to these callbacks.

Even beyond just the characters though, much of the world explored in these books have their origins based on real life locations. For instance, for anyone not native to Tallahassee, FL, Lake Ella is a real lake in this city, and is indeed the very lake that the one from the books drew its inspiration from. The Twin Trees are based on an area in my Mom's neighborhood where we used to play as kids, and the village of Highland itself is based on my Mom's neighborhood as well, with many of her animals residing there. And likewise, the village of Redfield is in turn based on my Dad's neighborhood, and as such, many of the characters who live in that village are in fact the same animals who lived at my Dad's house growing up.

What I also find really cool though is how even many of the original characters not actually based on any real life animals were actually characters I made up way back in my school years as well. Characters such as Vini, Buzzbee, the Devil Dog, and Bullet came about way back when I was in elementary school (I even drew pictures of them back then as well, though I have no idea where those pictures are anymore, assuming they even still exist), and then Tails Mask first came to mind sometime around middle school, with The Great Mosquito being a character who I first conjured up in high school. And ideas such as the Universal Pole saw their origins back when Kevin and I would play pretend way back as kids. And yet all of these elements, many years later, would pass the test of time and find their way into the main story once it was time to be told.

But the older I got, the more I wanted to truly pursue taking these stories of pretend and making them a reality for all to enjoy. And thus, after I graduated high school, I began looking into options to do precisely that. We actually tried the comic book route before going into novels, as I had met a few artists at work at the time who expressed interest in the project, but nothing really quite worked out back then.


Though it would eventually come together!

And so, I decided instead to just write the story out as a series of books. Which of course meant that I had to actually learn how to write a novel length work.

Though Velcro: The Ninja Kat is my first published novel, it is not the first novel that I wrote. I actually got my start with novel writing through National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, and I learned a great deal from completing that challenge two years in a row. I then took all that I learned and began work on the Ninja Kat novel itself, though I chose to take my time with this one, as opposed to rushing it onto the page in a month. And after years of outlining, and writing, and workshopping my novel, finally, I was ready to share those childhood stories of my animals with the world.

And yeah, you can certainly tell that the first Ninja Kat book is still a learning process from me. But one thing that I've learned over the years as a writer is that you learn a lot with every project completed, and I feel that certainly shows in the sequels, which I am much more proud of how they turned out (and my dedicated reviewers tend to agree with the consistent improvement of quality!).

Even so, I finally had my first novel out, Velcro: The Ninja Kat. But as it turns out, getting my work out was the easy part. Now the hard part was getting people to actually read it! And so, I started marketing my book, to varying degrees of success. I've never really found too much success online, but in person, I've been able to do a bit better for the most part. I've done book signings at local bookstores, and have even gotten quite a number of stores to stock my books on their shelves.


The Ninja Kat series on display at Books at Park Place in St. Petersburg, FL.

In addition, I also set up booths at local conventions, and I would even branch out and travel around to conventions elsewhere, trying to spread my book out as far and wide as possible. I've toured throughout most of Florida, and have spread out as far west as New Orleans, LA, and as far north as Charlotte, NC.


Pictured at MegaCon 2017 in Orlando, FL.

And throughout all of this, I would wind up meeting a number of artists who I would go on to collaborate with on future Ninja Kat projects. The cover artist for the first Ninja Kat novel, Sharon Kemmerer, is a friend who I actually met back when I was originally bringing my Ninja Kat excerpts to local writing workshop events, and it was at these events where I also met Rachel Rice and Natalia Locatelli, who helped me out quite a bit early one with a lot of the technical stuff.


Sharon is also quite the fan of Vini, as seen in this fan art of hers!

Shortly after I published the first Ninja Kat novel, one of my artist friends who I had mentioned before that I used to work with had reached out to me. That artist was Trevor Tee, who saw that I had published the book, and who was now eager to get started working on the comic. He had a pretty decent run, putting out 9 chapters in about a two year span, as well as doing the cover art for The Green Lion and The Masquerade. But eventually a change in career forced Trevor to have to step away from the gig, but I'd love to pursue another run with a comic book adaptation at some point in the future.


Trevor Tee with his copy of Velcro: The Masquerade.

One of the first conventions I ran a booth at was Alt-Con 2013 in Tallahassee, FL, and it was at this show where I met one of my biggest fans and supporters, Nikki Hall, who would go on to help me out at future shows.


Nikki Hall helping me run the table at Hamacon 2014 in Huntsville, AL.

While I was touring around to various cities selling the books at conventions, I also met many other artists who I would keep contact with, and later on down the line collaborate with. Artists such as Christine Schongar, who I met at Florida Supercon in Miami, FL back in 2013, and who did the cover art for Polluted War and The Egg Hunters, and the poster art for Kip.


Art by Christine Schongar.

And Travis Earls, who I met the following year at the 2014 Florida Supercon in Miami, FL, and who did the cover art for the upcoming Complete Edition, a reworking of a fan art piece he had originally given to me when we initially met.


Travis Earls with his fan art of Velcro the Ninja Kat, and his rework for The Complete Edition.

And I've most recently collaborated with a fellow local artist, Daniel Hooker, who I first met at a Free Comic Book Day book signing at Secret Headquarters in Tallahassee, FL in 2013, where he was promoting his new book HIT!, and whose contributions will be revealed soon enough!


Art by Daniel Hooker. Details coming soon...

And speaking of collaborations, a huge shout out to everyone who came together and worked on the Ninja Kat short film, Kip, including Kayla Badia, Andre Forbes, Jason Simmons, M.H. Smith, Outlawed Beats, and the guys at Crinsy Productions and Orora Arts. It might not be the most popular project I’ve completed, but it’s certainly one of my favorites. I think it came out incredibly cool as hell, and I’m really proud of what we accomplished.

Though we would eventually do the live action Ninja Kat short, that outing was actually not the first time we attempted to bring the Ninja Kat off the page and into the real world. In fact, we've actually been doing it since before the first book was even published!

My stepmother, Valita, and stepbrother, Jason, helped me put the costume together, with Caroline Barr providing the voice in the trailer. And since that initial teaser trailer, there have been at least four people who have donned the Ninja Kat costume at events, including Jory Burks, Phil Blaiklock, Thomas Curry, and even yours truly!


Jory Burks as the Ninja Kat.


Phil Blaiklock as the Ninja Kat.


Thomas Curry as the Ninja Kat.

Yes, I'm aware that the Ninja Kat is a female, and yet has primarily been acted out by men up to this point. Though in one of the coolest moments on my journey touring the book around at conventions, one enthusiastic female fan did come to the show cosplaying as the title character, which I suppose should count for something!

One of the most rewarding experiences along the way has been gradually growing a fanbase, and seeing some of the same people come back out to later events in order to pick up their copy of the latest releases, or sometimes to just share their enthusiasm with me in the form of fan art. I've highlighted a few pieces of fan art so far, but it's always such a cool feeling when someone is so passionate about what you're doing that they feel inspired to create a piece of art to help celebrate it with you, and right now, I'd like to share a sampling of some of the art I've received from fans over the years.


Lyrics to a Ninja Kat drinking song about the hamsters written by Rebecca Gilbert.


A balloon artist made this caricature of Vini.


It's Ninja Kat time! Made by Esclair Studios.


A fan from work, with his crossover suggestion.

So as you can see, it's been a bit of a journey up to this point! But, it wasn't always fun and games.

A little over 11 years ago, my childhood cat and best friend in the whole world, Velcro, sadly passed away. She died on August 6th of 2011. And it's because of this that I had chosen that day to always try and promote something new Ninja Kat related, so that we can take a day of loss and sadness, and instead turn it into a way of celebrating the life of my cat once more. So that's been the reason why most years I try to have some bit of news to share on this day, though it doesn't always work out that the bit of news is Ninja Kat related. But even when it's not, it's at least something to share my creative efforts with the world, to show that I'm still working, still trudging away, and trying to get my own contribution out and into the world.

A year after she passed was the first time I shared anything in regards to Velcro the Ninja Kat in a more official manner, with the release of that initial trailer. And it was later that month, 10 years ago today, in which that childhood dream became a reality, and Velcro's own legacy had been cemented with the release of Velcro: The Ninja Kat.

And that's what today is all about! But we're not relegating the celebrations to just a mere day. We'll be celebrating 10 years all year long, and it starts with the release of Velcro the Ninja Kat: The Complete Edition, a compilation of all five books, featuring updated text. It's taken longer than I would've liked to get this new edition released, but it's coming sooner rather than later, and will be followed up with even more surprise releases to come throughout the year.

And as to where Velcro the Ninja Kat will go from here? Well, without saying too much, let's just say that while the Ninja Kat's tale may be told, a legacy lives on, and there are still yet more stories to be told, in more ways to come.

I'd like to now take this opportunity to thank everyone who has joined me along the way throughout these 10 years and more. In addition to everyone I've already mentioned, I need to give a huge shout out to my Uncle Bob and Aunt Laurie, whose contributions to my novels truly cannot be measured. Thank you Mom, thank you Dad, and thank you to my family and friends who have been there for me and helped me out over the years. Thank you to everyone who's read my books, and to everyone who has continued to join us along this journey over the years.

And here's to more stories still to come. Because as far as I'm concerned, we're still only just getting started!

www.VelcroTheNinjaKat.com

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Saturday, December 25, 2021

My Top 5 Movies of 2021

My movie viewing habits have changed in recent times. In years past, I tried to see as many movies as I possibly could in a given year. Nowadays though, I've become a lot pickier in what I choose to watch. I'm not going to see something just because it's a major tentpole movie that everyone else is seeing, or because it's some awards contender that everyone's buzzing about. No, I've reached the point where I just want to watch what genuinely interests me. And as such, I've actually watched a lot fewer movies in recent years.

And yes, I'm aware that that does mean that I've very likely missed some key releases in a given year. But, you know, I'm okay with that. I don't have nearly as much free time these days to watch nearly as many movies as I once did, and even then, I've also grown quite burned by the sheer number of underwhelming releases in more recent years as well, which contributes to why I've been less willing to make the time to see more stuff. So with that out of the way, of the movies that genuinely caught my eye and intrigued me enough to give them a chance, here is what I consider to be my favorites from the past year.

#5

Last Night In Soho
(Edgar Wright)

Edgar Wright's first foray into horror is largely a success. We follow a girl as she's able to slip into the mind of someone from the past and essentially experience life through their eyes in her sleep. I love how this movie really takes its time, and isn't afraid to let us get sucked into this world and the glamour of this fantastical situation before it even begins to introduce the true horror lying underneath. But once that happens, this movie gets seriously intense, and there are scenes where I was left with my eyes bulging and my breath caught in my chest at the sheer intensity on display. This movie offers a phenomenal concept with effective execution that has stayed with me long after I've awakened from its trance.

#4

Spencer
(Pablo Larraín)

This Princess Diana biopic starring Kristen Stewart was more than I honestly expected. I really only saw the film because of Kristen Stewart, and she turns out yet another outstanding performance, and a charismatic and transformative one that possibly stands among her best in a film yet. And as we followed along in a single weekend in the life of Princess Diana, we're taken on a psychological journey that often leaves us feeling just as trapped as our lead does in her own life. Certainly not what I was expecting going in, but I love what this film turned out to be, and it's one that left me feeling inspired by its craftsmanship.

#3

The Green Knight
(David Lowery)

I'll be honest, I really wasn't a big fan of this film immediately. But even so, I found this movie refusing to leave my head afterwards, and it left me pondering its deeper themes and meanings. Almost as if the film presented a puzzle to the viewer, but one that it didn't expect you to completely put all together by the time the credits roll. The pieces are all there though, you just had to toy with it a little, and figure it out on your own. And the more I thought about this film, and started connecting those pieces in my head, the more I grew to love it, and what it was trying to say.

And I especially appreciate how it's not just we the viewer who are left pondering over the greater messages at hand, but the main lead himself, played by Dev Patel, is often asking himself these same questions, almost as if we're in the same boat as he. But in the end, I loved this movie's message, and feel it's an important one, especially in these more dire times we live in. At its core, it's about honor, and living true to your word. And it's about the dark path that leads should you decide instead to live your life in fear and shame. And I think there's something profound in these themes and how they're explored all throughout this film.

#2

Zack Snyder's Justice League
(Zack Snyder)

As someone who was campaigning for the Snyder Cut since before #ReleaseTheSnyderCut was even a movement yet, words cannot truly express just how thrilled I am that this film actually got released. And sure enough, the difference between this film and the theatrical version from 2017 are night and day. In fact, it's almost incredible just how severely different the two cuts of the movie are, despite telling more or less the exact same story. And it's baffling to ever think that anyone thought it was a good idea to release the Joss Whedon cut of the film in theaters at all, especially given that they had this magnificent monster of a movie available for them to put out there instead.

Simply put, Zack Snyder's Justice League is god damn cinema. A grand sweeping epic of a motion picture, and essentially DC's equivalent to a Lord of the Rings film. Why anyone would ever want to shelve this beautiful picture is anyone's guess, especially when the version they originally threw out there is just forgettable, throw-away nonsense in comparison. This version has a certain gravitas that's totally absent in the other cut, and as such, this story and these characters truly feel larger than life on the screen. Granted, I wish I could say the big screen, but sadly, this one wasn't released theatrically, though I would love to see this film on a huge IMAX screen one day, as it was clearly intended.

And at four hours in length, this film is an absolute breeze, and doesn't feel a second longer than three hours, so I would definitely include it along the likes of Interstellar and Blue is the Warmest Color as one of the champions of pacing in longer films.

I love that this film finally got released. And I love even more that it not only met the hype, it far exceeded it. It's an all around outstanding film, and certainly one of the very best that the genre has ever seen.

#1

Raya and the Last Dragon
(Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada)

I not only feel this is the best of the year, I'd also easily consider it the most underrated movie of the year at that, because this movie that was otherwise met with a collective "meh" from everyone else just completely and absolutely floored me.

I actually started writing a full review for this movie shortly after it released, but I was never quite able to get all of my thoughts on it written down, as just my notes for the review alone was becoming even longer than some of the bigger reviews from the past. But I just have so many feelings about this movie, which I'll only be able to briefly cover in this short write up, but feelings which really started after I was driving home after my first viewing, and I found myself struggling to hold back tears just thinking about it. I've since seen the movie two more times in the theater, and in those subsequent viewings, I totally failed at being able to hold back those tears while I watched.

I was just so touched by its message of bringing society together. Of being able to find it within yourself to open up and trust one another again. And even at the admitted naivety of such a concept, as shown throughout the movie. But even so, without that human connection, and without that trust, all that lies ahead is dark times for everyone. And I think it was a telling choice to cast Kelly Marie Tran in the title role, who not only did an outstanding job bringing Raya to life with her voice work, but who can also seemingly relate to such a journey as Raya is traveling, having endured a campaign of harassment after her portrayal in some of the newer Star Wars films. So someone like her would absolutely have every reason to cut people off and keep her head down. Yet here she is putting out a message to do the opposite, and to find it within you to be able to reach out and connect with people again, all without even remotely diminishing just how hard that may be for some.

But even beyond its messaging, I loved this vibrant world that was presented to us, and I loved the unique take on the dragons in general as well. In stark contrast to something like How to Train Your Dragon, in which the dragons there are basically flying cat lizards, here, dragons are closer to something like a fluffy water dog, which I thought was an interesting change from what we usually see, and also added to the naive appeal of our last dragon in question, Sisu.

All in all, I thought this was a beautiful movie that told a beautiful story, and put out a message that I feel the world absolutely needs to hear right now. But while I might personally struggle with the idea that that message will actually connect with the people of the present generation, I also keep in mind that these Disney animated films are primarily targeted at kids, who may well latch onto such a positive message and keep that with them as they grow up into this messed up world that we've all found ourselves in. Maybe. It's a nice thought at least, and one that maybe gives me a little bit of hope for the world of tomorrow.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Alignment Podcast Interview

Check out my recent appearance on the Alignment Podcast, hosted by Thomas Curry and Suzette Sanchez-Martinez. We discuss some of my films and other filmmaking experiences, as well as our thoughts on our favorite directors and favorite films. Enjoy!