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.


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.


(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.


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.


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.


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!

Monday, February 15, 2021

For Your Consideration: Babymetal - Legend Metal Galaxy

So at the end of last year, after I had posted my Top 10 Movies of 2020 list, I started paying attention to other people's lists as they started going up. And one thing that I kept noticing was that a number of people were including Hamilton in their lists. And I found this a bit odd, seeing how Hamilton is quite literally not actually a movie, but in fact a recording of a stage production performance, which is an entirely different medium completely. Now, I understand that a lot of films didn't get released last year, so I suppose I can see why some might be making an exception in order to include it in their lists for last year, and hey, if I had chosen to include it, then it would have easily topped out my own list as well.

But now I see that Hamilton's acceptance as a movie has moved beyond just being included in end of year "best of" lists, and is now actually being taken in consideration for film awards, even being nominated in a number of categories already for this year's Golden Globes. And yeah, this is certainly an odd turn of events, but it's one that's got me thinking, if Hamilton can be accepted as a movie, then, why not a Babymetal concert? And so, with that all said, I now present my case for why I think Babymetal's production of Legend Metal Galaxy, which was performed and recorded in January 2020 and formally released in September 2020, should similarly be taken under consideration as one of the best films of 2020.

Now, you might argue that one is a concert, and the other a play. But to that I say, the two honestly have a lot more in common than you might think, which I'll be tackling on a point by point basis. But first, let's start out with the plot. And yes, despite being a concert, Babymetal's shows oftentimes include storyline elements which carry over from show to show, and this one was no different. While Hamilton may follow the story of the title character's life and his involvement in the Revolutionary War and the subsequent development of the American government, Legend Metal Galaxy sets us off on an adventure as we follow Babymetal on their journey traveling the Metal Galaxy in order to acquire both the light force and the dark force and ultimately become The One.

The two shows are even split up into two distinct halves, with the first half of Hamilton focusing on the Revolutionary War aspect, and the second half with his governmental duties, while Babymetal's show is in fact split into two different nights, where the first night saw them exploring the light side of the Metal Galaxy, and night two the dark side. So already we can see the similarities from a narrative perspective between these two wildly different shows.

But even beyond the story, the two shows also present an expanded and revolving cast of characters. In Hamilton, we meet a great many number of historical figures that he encounters along the way. But one of the things I love about Babymetal is that, over the years, the cast of characters in their own storyline has continued to expand, and they're on full display in Legend Metal Galaxy. In addition to our stars Su-metal and Moametal, they've brought along on this latest journey their three rotating backup dancers, the Avengers, their live backing bands the Kami Band and their newly introduced counterparts, the Gods of the West, a surprise return of the Babybones, and guest pre-recorded appearances by F. Hero and the "Winterland Metal Warrior" Joakim Brodén.

But speaking of the pre-recorded aspect of those last two, one other element to the Hamilton release that I've seen some people argue should qualify it as a movie is the fact that it also includes rehearsal footage edited in to help give it a more cinematic feel and offer angles that they wouldn't otherwise be able to capture while filming in front of a live audience. Well, Legend Metal Galaxy also includes this element, and not just with the performances from Joakim and F. Hero. The backing visuals quite often feature pre-recorded elements as well, such as when we see Su-metal commanding the audience with her eyes and her fingers during Distortion, and that's not to mention Future Metal, which is an entirely pre-recorded opening to the whole show.

And then there's of course the obvious comparison, that being that they're both musicals. Su-metal herself has mentioned how she views Babymetal as an ongoing musical, and watching their shows which often feel more like stage productions certainly gives off the feel more in line with watching a musical as opposed to a typical concert. And while the story in Legend Metal Galaxy plays out almost entirely through song from start to finish, Hamilton is in fact quite similar in that regard, as it's one of those musicals which is start to finish non-stop music, as opposed to one that sees them playing the story straight until the action stops for a quick musical number. So Hamilton itself has quite a bit of a concert feel in how it plays out as well, similar to how Babymetal's show has a musical feel to itself.

(And if I can add an aside, let me just say that, as a writer myself, watching Hamilton was almost overwhelming from a writer's perspective, as my mind was simply blown away that they managed to pull off a near three hour long non-stop lyrical musical that covers such complex topic matter in a manner that flows so smoothly while managing to be so easy to follow along!)

And as I mentioned with Babymetal's shows often feeling like stage productions, this much is quite evident in their unique stage set-ups, which often feature moving pieces that come into play in different ways throughout the show. On this occasion, they were going with a bit of a combination of their space ship design from earlier in 2019, as well as their giant triangular design they had used during their bigger Japan shows in the fall of 2019, resulting in a massive triangular ship stage that would at times move into the audience area and back again, and featured platforms that would also elevate into the air to different effect given the song. But we also saw similar with Hamilton, which also had quite a number of moving pieces in their own stage design, including a circular floor that would spin around with the actors on it to genius, almost cinematic effect at times.

For Your Consideration:
Best Production Design

So you see, Babymetal's Legend Metal Galaxy has quite a bit in common with Hamilton from a production standpoint. But then, how does Legend Metal Galaxy compare from a place of quality? Well, for me at least, while I said that if we were to count Hamilton as a movie, it would've easily topped out my list, if we were to then also include Legend Metal Galaxy as a movie, then it would easily take the top spot over even Hamilton at that.

The show is simply outstanding, one of the best shows that Babymetal has ever put on, and features not only a number of debuts for some of their newer songs, but also a number of the best performances we've seen yet for even some of their older classics. But to start off looking at Day 1, the light side, we saw three new songs being performed for the first time ever, and I'd say that these debuts were easily among the night's highlights, with Oh! Majinai being the biggest standout of the bunch. It's just such a wild and fantastically boisterous performance, and the choreography is so infectiously fun that it's impossible not to smile while watching it.

Pictured above: Basically the same thing!

But then we see a little later on with Brand New Day as they add a real atmospheric aesthetic to things, and put on a performance unlike any other we've ever seen out of them before, cast in silhouette while the massive screen being them plays to the mood of the song with images of the sun and rain.

The Kami Band was also given free reign to play around a little bit with their sound, as we saw with the classic Gimme Chocolate, which was performed in a unique manner compared to how it's usually played, and which helped freshen it up and make it feel just as new as the songs we were hearing for the first time. And to add to that freshened up feeling, they even brought back the original Japanese version of The One, as opposed to the English version with the Unfinished opening, as we had become accustomed to seeing for the past number of years now. And I gotta say, seeing this back-to-basics version of the song being performed again for the first time in such a long time almost felt like seeing an old friend for the first time in forever, and definitely left a warm feeling in my heart.

Top off the night with an epic performance of Road of Resistance, in which the Gods of the West joined the Kami Band on stage, and all three Avengers stood behind Babymetal on stage, as Su-metal stood in the front looking like the true leader of a fully coherent team that had come together to win this fight and win this night and fully acquire the forces of light, and yeah, the first half of this show ended things off in a wholly satisfying manner.

Key figures through American history;
And key figures through time and space,
for lightyears to come.

And yet, the best was still to come.

Day 2 saw our girls now traversing the dark side of the Metal Galaxy, and featured some of the most appropriately dark and atmospheric performances of that batch of songs that we've seen yet. It was the Gods of the West performing the instrumentals on this night, and they were clearly given the go-ahead to let loose and do their thing just as the Kami Band was the night prior, which helped make for some of the best performances we've seen yet if purely from an instrumental standpoint, with key highlights in this regard being seen in Syncopation, Headbanger, and Karate. And while only one new song was debuted on this night as opposed to the previous day's three, it was a hell of a debut, as they tore the house down with BxMxC, in what was only the start of one of the greatest stretches of back-to-back songs we've seen in any of their sets, as they moved on to Syncopation next, and then followed up with the best performance of the whole two night event with Headbanger.

For Your Consideration:
Best Cinematography

Their performance of Headbanger on this evening was just something else entirely, and isn't just the best performance of the show, but also ranks among the best ever that the band's put on, and one that certainly belongs in the same conversation as Ijime, Dame, Zettai from Sonisphere and Road of Resistance from Legend 2015. Like, it's one of those performances where every time it comes on, you just sort of brace yourself for what you're about to experience, and I'm just left shaking my head at what they accomplish here, getting the whole massive audience involved in their bowing to Su-metal as they build and build and build the atmosphere. And you can hear the motivated enthusiasm of the audience's roaring response as the song continues and they chant along, and by the end of it, I can't help but let out a satisfied breath of air. Like, I don't smoke, but even I need a damn cigarette after watching that performance!

Follow this up with the first and to date only time they've ever performed the Trilogy of Lights (Starlight, Shine, and Arkadia) together and in album order, all leading to what's come to be quite possibly my favorite Babymetal song yet with Arkadia, in its own best performance to date yet. They managed to pull off here what they didn't quite capture entirely with their performance of this song at The Forum, and put on an epic spectacle that brings me to tears literally every single time.

I don't usually rate movies,
but I'd say this show is an easy five stars!

But we're not finished yet, as now that Babymetal has achieved their goal of acquiring both the light force and the dark force, they all come back out one last time along with all the Avengers and both of their Kami Bands in order to truly become The One, in a surprise performance of Ijime, Dame, Zettai, being performed for the first time in over two years. And by the end of it, you can see the gleeful look of satisfaction on Su-metal's face, after having successfully pulled off one of their best and most ambitious shows to date, and one that I've gone back and revisited many many times already in order to relive this emotional journey through the vast Metal Galaxy and all it has to offer.

So, from a quality standpoint, does it compare? I mean, do I really need to say any more? So then, with that all said, I'd like to think that I've made a compelling enough argument for why I feel that Babymetal - Legend Metal Galaxy should be taken into consideration for 2020's movie awards season. At least, so long as we're counting Hamilton, despite being from a different medium, I think Legend Metal Galaxy absolutely deserves to be taken at least as seriously, and I'll readily defend that position.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

My Top 10 Movies of 2020 or (The 10 Movies I Saw in 2020, Ranked!)

So, yeah, strange year. I actually wasn't even intending to put together a Top 10 list this year, even before the world got flipped on its head. But then yesterday I actually watched the 10th movie from 2020 that I saw out of the whole year, and figured, heck, why not just rank every movie I saw? Typically I would've seen a lot more films by this point, but with theaters shut down, and just about every big movie being pushed to the next year, that sorta put a damper on things.

Now, a lot of movies did wind up going to streaming, but I currently only have Disney+ at the moment, so the only movies included on this list from streaming services come from that. Otherwise, everything else was seen in a theater, either before they shut down, or after they finally opened back up. And since this list will be including all of the movies I've seen, that also means that it includes some movies that I wasn't too favorable on (basically, my Top 5 Movies of 2020, and my Bottom 5 Movies of 2020!). But I'll try not to be too mean to them all the same, and say some kind words along with my criticisms. So with that said, let's get on with it!


The New Mutants
(Josh Boone)

I had been looking forward to this movie for years. Sadly though, it really wasn't worth the wait. Not at all the horror movie it was marketed as (and it doesn't even pretend to be, as that's clearly not this movie's objective at all), this is sadly a pretty bland, vanilla film that doesn't really offer much of anything. I wouldn't say it was an awful movie, as it was perfectly watchable. But this is an instance where those rumored reshoots probably should've went ahead and happened, and turned this into the X-Men horror film that it was promoted as. Because as it is, it's an instantly forgettable experience that leaves me curious as to why they even bothered with it.


(Pete Docter)

This was one of my most anticipated films out of the whole year, so I was saddened to come away disappointed by it. Pete Docter's follow up to his brilliant Inside Out, his past track record proves that he's a man who can take high concepts and make them work beautifully, but that same magic didn't quite come together for me with his latest efforts here. I honestly found myself scratching my head at a number of odd directorial decisions, and it was around the time that the movie essentially became a body-swap film that it had completely lost me. Where I was swept away by the magic and genius in something like Inside Out, Soul instead left me feeling mostly annoyed by its typical tropes throughout. But unlike The New Mutants, this film did at least try to be about something, hence its higher placement.


Wonder Woman 1984
(Patty Jenkins)

Along with Soul, this was also among my most anticipated of the year. And sadly, also along with Soul, this film wound up disappointing quite a bit. I loved the first movie, even if the last third of that film becomes a bit of a train wreck. But where in that film it's just the last third that's that way, this movie is honestly a total mess from start to finish. It's overly long, and yet even so, it still somehow feels like there are entire scenes that are missing that should've developed both plot and character. And it's a movie where the more you think about it, the less things make any sense at all, and only leave you questioning a number of the directorial and narrative decisions that went into this thing. I will say though that it does have its moments here and there, and the stuff with Diana and Steve is mostly great. So it's not a complete miss. But on the whole, this film is sadly a steep decline in quality from the iconic first outing.


(William Eubank)

I more appreciate this movie for what it was trying to do, even though I feel that it failed in its execution along the way. It's a frustrating sit, as it's filmed in such a manner where it's just about impossible to even tell what's happening most of the time. But I do like the ideas here, it takes some interesting turns, and it does do some things well. And plus, we get to see Kristen Stewart running around in her underwear for a time, so I'll give it a bump in score for that as well (this isn't that serious a list, leave me alone!).


(Christopher Nolan)

Similar to Underwater, I more appreciate this movie than I actually like it. I will say this though, in an era where so many movies just treat their audiences like idiots and hold their hand along the way, I sorta love how this movie just goes all out with its super high concept from the get-go and just runs with it, and trusts the audience to be able to keep up. And I'll admit, for a majority of the run time, I was confused as hell watching this movie. But by the time the credits roll, it does all come together, so anybody who actually leaves the theater still confused by the film really shouldn't have much of an excuse. Just pay attention and try to keep up.

That said, this is still a lesser Nolan flick sadly, and not one I'm likely to revisit all too often. And it's not helped by the fact that another film from a few years back, Predestination, more or less already covered this concept, and it did so in a way that was immensely more satisfying, where as this movie achieves its similar successes in ways that left me just going, "Oh, okay then..." But these "aha" moments throughout that gradually reveal what's going on constantly kept reminding me of that other film, so really, my biggest takeaway from Tenet was that everyone should just go out and watch Predestination instead, as that movie flew criminally under the radar and deserves to be seen.


Weathering With You
(Makoto Shinkai)

Okay, now that we're in the Top 5, we're finally getting to the movies from this year that I actually liked! And yet, I find myself not really having a whole lot to say about this particular film. It's beautifully animated, and tells a charming enough story. It's not quite on the level of Shinkai's previous work, Your Name, but you can still tell it's made by the same creative team all the same, and their creativity and imagination absolutely come through here as well. It's worth checking out, and if you haven't seen it yet, I'd definitely highly recommend checking out the aforementioned Your Name as well.


(Dan Scanlon)

At the beginning of the year, I would've never guessed that by the end of it, of this year's two Pixar releases, I would come away holding Onward in higher regard than Soul. And yet here we are. But this was quite the surprise of a movie. I didn't have too high of hopes from its trailers, but it just has a ton of heart, and is really endearing throughout. This feels like a film that'll go down as a classic entry in the Pixar canon.


Monster Hunter
(Paul W. S. Anderson)

And speaking of surprises, I literally went into this movie expecting it to suck, or to at best be one of those "so bad, it's good" kind of movies. But man, I tell you, this movie was freaking awesome! Paul W. S. Anderson's last Resident Evil left me weary, as it was a rare stinker in an otherwise awesomely fun franchise of films. But thankfully, his latest movie here is more in line with the better entries, and honestly even reminded me at times of one of his earlier films, the first Mortal Kombat, which was also a really bad ass movie back in the day. I'm not familiar with the video game it's based off of, so I can't say how accurate it is to the source (which, if it's anything like Resident Evil, it's barely related), but on its own, this movie was a blast, and acted as a total palate cleanser after being previously disappointed by both Soul and Wonder Woman 1984 in back to back fashion.


Sonic the Hedgehog
(Jeff Fowler)

What a year for video game movies, huh? But yeah, while it may take liberties with the franchise (and I personally feel that Robotnik was horribly miscast), I all in all quite enjoyed this film, and it's one that's actually stayed with me the whole year. Even despite being as huge a Sonic nerd as I am, I still went in pretty skeptical. But it's clear that there's a genuine passion and respect for the series and the characters here, and the filmmakers definitely wanted to put something out that fans of the series would similarly love (as if that wasn't made obvious enough by them pushing it back to fix Sonic's design after fan backlash). And thankfully, this paid off for them in a big way, and it paid off for us fans in the form of a surprisingly good, heartfelt film.


The Hunt
(Craig Zobel)

This film felt liberating. The last movie I saw in the theater before they all shut down, this was a hell of a way to go out, as it perfectly encapsulates the insane state of modern politics. A brilliant film that I'm honestly surprised even got made, let alone released, but I'm glad that it did. I especially wanna give a hats off to Betty Gilpin here, who gives one of my favorite performances I've seen in a film, one that would definitely be Oscar worthy in my eyes even in a year that hadn't seen half of its releases pushed back. And it ends on a note that definitely rang true, and mirrored my own thoughts in that moment...

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

What would a Velcro the Ninja Kat movie look like?

So the Velcro the Ninja Kat books have been out for some time now, yet in all that time, I've never really given my own thoughts on them. Not that I intend to review my own books or anything like that, but I would like to just give a little insight here or there, and perhaps provide just a little peek behind the curtain, so to speak. And to start off, I'd like to discuss the first book in the series, Velcro: The Ninja Kat, and specifically one reaction in particular towards that book that was perhaps the most prevalent when it originally released.

When the book first came out, there were actually quite a number of people who read it who came away with the reaction that they'd love to see it made as a movie. Now, I have to admit that I was a little confused by this reaction at the time, as I personally felt that the story played out more in a manner suited to something like an ongoing anime series, as opposed to the confines of a two hour long film. But then recently, it actually clicked with me how the first book actually could work as a stand alone feature.

See, most of the first book takes place within a single location, that being the military brig known as The Web, which also acts as the base of operations for the villainous Spider. The Ninja Kat breaks into the prison along with her hamster allies in order to free their friends who had been imprisoned after their home village had been attacked by the Devil Corps, and the majority of the book sees them making their way through the Spider's lair and all of his various traps he's set for our heroes along the way.

Now, in certain regards, this set up might sound somewhat similar to a couple of films that had released some years back (the same year as when Velcro: The Ninja Kat released, now that I think of it. I guess everyone had their own different take on a similar idea at the same time), those movies being Dredd and The Raid. Both of these films saw their heroes storming into a building where they find themselves trapped inside and having to fight their way back out in some manner. Only, unlike both of those films, my story deals with anthropomorphic animals. And, well, as we've seen with the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films from the 90s, it is in fact possible to convincingly pull off anthropomorphic animals in an action film, even in live action.

The writing would of course have to be tweaked in certain regards from the novel in order to make the transition into this new medium seamless, but there's honestly not too much that would need to be changed, and the end result could definitely work. And in fact, I already tried to do this very thing on a much smaller scale in the short film, Kip, which does in many ways visually resemble the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and which was precisely the look I was trying to go for. Now, imagine taking that more gritty look of that initial Ninja Turtles movie, and placing it in a setting not too dissimilar from something such as Dredd or The Raid (and perhaps toning down the action to more of a PG-13, as opposed to a hard R), and you've more or less got what I envision a live action feature length adaptation of the first Ninja Kat book to look like in a movie. So basically, the Ninja Turtles meet The Raid.

Personally, I would definitely want it to be done as practical as possible, meaning actors in full costumes performing on screen, and to avoid having to rely on CGI as much as possible. I'm not exactly looking to use last year's adaptation of the theatrical production CATS as any sort of inspiration, for instance. And I have to emphasize that the look from the original 90s Ninja Turtles movies would be a most ideal approach, as it's sort of crazy just how much those movies still hold up visually today, especially compared to the newer movies from the 2010s, in which all of the turtles are done in CGI. I think this just comes down to the fact that what you're seeing on the screen is actually physically there, and it looks and feels organic, it looks more real, because in a sense, it is real, whereas the CGI characters don't quite have the same effect.

Pictured above: NOT what we're going for!

But anyways, this is definitely a goal of mine to achieve one day, though I still need the resources to actually pull off such a project. I believe it could definitely be done on a low budget, but not quite the micro budget the likes of which I'm more used to on my own films. The Kip short still cost several hundred dollars, and most of that money went into the costumes. So having to expand that to a full cast of characters in a full feature production, yeah, that would definitely add up to more than I can personally afford out of my own pocket right now, though it does still feel like something that's realistically achievable someday.

Of course, I still feel like the Ninja Kat is ripe for the likes of comics and animation (and in fact, a brief comic book run does currently exist), but it's nice to think that a feature length live action adaptation could be realistically achieved. And hey, who knows? Should we make this initial project and it actually succeeds, then there's plenty of more material to work off of for the sequels, such as Velcro: The Green Lion, where we can further expand the story and this world, similarly to how The Raid 2 opened up its own world quite drastically as compared to the single locale of the first film. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here, and perhaps stop it there, as we look ahead to what may yet come. And as for now, feel free to check out the short film Kip to get a bit of a better idea of what a live action Ninja Kat film might look like:

Now available:
Velcro: The Ninja Kat
Velcro: The Green Lion
Velcro the Ninja Kat presents: Kip

Sunday, November 8, 2020

On the state of online discourse as it relates to film

It's been a while since I've really posted something here. In a sense, I sort of feel like my Best of the Decade in Film post was more or less a retirement from me blogging about movies. But a part of the reason I fell out of talking about movies, was because I had become discouraged with the state of online discourse. And this is in a much broader sense as well, which should become quite apparent as the post goes along, but for the purposes of this essay, I'll just discuss my thoughts on the state of online discourse specifically as it relates to film.

To go back some years, around the time when social media was still in its infancy, I recall how sites like myspace and livejournal existed mostly just to congregate with friends you knew in real life online, and as facebook opened up beyond being exclusive to college students, and eventually twitter came around, soon the pool of friends and feeds also expanded to people you had met online. And in those earlier days, I remember how these sites mostly existed just as a means to share humor and post about our hobbies or our day to day activities. And I also remember how politics was still generally regarded as a taboo subject, and people would actually get called out for getting political, no matter which affiliation their arguments may be swaying.

Cut to today, and you'll find much the exact opposite to be the case. It's almost entirely politics, and divisive politics at that. And if you choose not to participate, well then now you're the one who's shunned. And again, I've found that political affiliation doesn't matter in this regard either. I know both right leaners and lefties who choose to stay out of the discourse, people who used to get quite a bit of traction once upon a time, but who now, as a result of choosing to stay out of politics, get completely ignored by just about everyone.

Now, how this relates to film, is that even in the confines of discussing film, the same has become the case. Nowadays, I've found that films are largely no longer discussed based on the content therewithin, but rather, based on our political interpretations of them. In fact, I'd argue that the state of film criticism in the past couple of years has been some of the most dishonest discussion on film that I've ever seen transpire, where oftentimes people would straight up lie about a film in order to gain political ground.

There's a number of films I'd like to discuss in this regard to make my case, the first being Bohemian Rhapsody. Now, I understand if people didn't want to support this film because they took issue with its director. However, rather than just dismissing the film and moving on, they chose to instead torch it, and to do so by lying about it. Almost all of the criticisms I've seen about the film are just factually false, and are claims that anyone who's actually seen the movie could attest to. The big ones that still stand out to me are how people claim that the movie completely disregards Freddie Mercury's heritage and sexual orientation, which I'm sorry, but not only is that not the case, but these factors are indeed major aspects of this film, and to say otherwise is just completely dishonest.

As bad as Bohemian Rhapsody got it though, it was nothing compared to what we'd see with the reaction towards Joker. People had already determined that they knew what the film was about months prior to release, and were already deriding it for being "problematic". But then, sure enough, the movie comes out, and it's quite literally not the "racist, incel rallying cry" that so many had proclaimed it to be. And in fact, it's actually a fascinating film with a lot that's actually worth dissecting and having an actual discussion about, but I found this to be an impossible task due to all of the political activists online who had completely hijacked all conversation on the movie with their BS agendas that, in fact, had nothing to do with the film in question. Hell, I'd even argue that had this film released in a different political climate, say even just five years ago, almost everyone who so unfairly attacked it would be singing a radically different tune about it. But here we are.

And there's other examples, such as how some corners of the internet had a complete 180 on La La Land after it had swept at that year's Golden Globes, and thus they now viewed this movie as being "overrated", and some even took it a step further and attached unfair labels to it as well, such as being supposedly racist. And then I could write an entire post on just how dishonest the criticism for Frozen II has been, almost as if everyone in the "Frozen is overrated" camp wasn't even willing to give this film a fair shake, but even so, they felt the need to straight up lie about it and make things up in order to justify their disdain for the franchise and its popularity. And speaking on films or franchises we deem "overrated", I mean, if a film isn't for you, why isn't that enough? Why feel the need to constantly rag on it? Hell, there's plenty of hugely popular franchises that I'm not that big a fan of, and that I personally consider to be "overrated", such as Stranger Things or It. But you know what I don't do? I don't raise a big stink about these films when a new entry comes out. They're not for me, and I'm not here to rain on anyone's parade who does like these things. So I just ignore them, and go about my day.

But that's the thing, is that I've noticed the internet becoming more and more of a place to just take a massive dump on everything. Discourse has become a competition on who can have the hottest take, or who can make the snarkiest remark. And I get it. I used to partake in this. Especially when I was younger, it can be kinda fun going on a rant about a really bad movie. And at one point, I even used to put together "Worst of the Year" lists at the end of the year to go along with my "Best of the Year" counterparts. But even back then, I always felt a little weird putting together those lists, and I only kept doing so for so long because, for some reason, they consistently generated the most conversation. And I've even recently discovered a similar case in real life, where at work one day, we were talking about movies, and I had gone on a brief rant about Jurassic World, which had come up in the conversation. And my coworkers were so entertained by it that they asked me what else I didn't like, but I just shook my head in response, and said no, I don't actually really like talking about the things that I don't like, and that I'd much prefer to speak on what I do like. And I'd like to think that I've come to carry this same mentality in recent times online as well.

That's not to say that I feel all film criticism should go away. Not at all. It certainly still has its place. And that's even in regards to the films I just discussed. For instance, one of the more fair reviews I saw for Frozen II actually did come from someone who wasn't so high on it, but at least he was honest in his overall assessments and didn't resort to making stuff up in order to plead his case. And that's the thing, I just wish that we could be more honest about it all, and also perhaps not place so much emphasis on what we don't like, and maybe focus a little more on what we do. Because there's just so much negativity out there, and after a while, it just gets old, and it becomes exhausting. Like, I follow accounts who still only ever criticize things, and at some point, I just shake my head and wonder, do you even like anything? And if so, why do you never talk about that instead? Because honestly, some of my favorite reactions to films in recent years come from people just being so passionately moved by a film, even if it's one that didn't necessarily have so strong an effect on myself. For instance, I recall a video where a man was driven to tears recalling the "Martha" twist from Batman v Superman. And while I do quite enjoy that movie, I have to admit that even I found that twist to be a bit silly in its execution. Yet even so, seeing just how strongly it affected this person really warmed my own heart.

Or one of my favorite reactions I've seen for a film came from a poster on a film forum I used to frequent, in regards to Kubo and the Two Strings. He shared his immediate reaction to the film, in which he turned to his friend in the theater with tears still streaming down his face, and he audibly expressed, "holy shit, dude," at the sheer euphoria he had just experienced on screen. Now, I personally wasn't as thrilled by this movie, but even so, that reaction thrills me to this day, and it's one that especially comes to mind whenever I revisit Frozen II, as I feel my own reaction to this film mirrors his reaction to that one (the poster in question of course wasn't so thrilled with Frozen II himself, however).

Hell, one of my friends who mostly stays out of the politics and discourse uses her social media solely as a means to express her passion for Doctor Who and One Piece and such. And these aren't even franchises that I follow at all, so I have no opinion on them one way or another, and often have no idea what she's even talking about when she goes on about them. But just seeing somebody actually being positive for a change, and just really moved by their passions is enough for me to consider it some of my favorite content on the internet these days all the same, and it often leaves me reflecting on franchises I do personally hold dear in a similar regard, such as Babymetal or Naruto or Frozen.

Sadly though, this sort of content I've found to become fewer and farther between in recent years. Because everyone's a critic, and as I've already discussed, much of online criticism isn't even honest anymore, so everyone's a dishonest critic at that. But the internet has become so inundated with negativity, I actually considered putting together a show of some sort, like a podcast where we would bring on guests and just talk about our favorite movies, just dive deep into what about them really affects us so. I was inspired for this idea after hearing a number of people expressing their personal all time favorite movies, and hearing a number of really interesting responses, such as an online journalist I follow claiming his favorite film to be Doctor Strange, or a gaffer from a short film I worked on in New York saying his all time favorite movie was Blade Runner 2049. And hell, seeing how my own all time favorite, Frozen, is one I'd consider to be an interesting pick as well, and one that I can definitely dive deep on, I'd similarly like to just talk about some of these movies with some people and really get their thoughts on them, even in cases where it's a film that I wasn't personally a big fan of (Doctor Strange).

Of course, I never did get around to doing that, and I'm not positive that I ever will. Though I do have a friend who's doing something similar recently, where he's got a vlog series where he just sits in front of a camera and talks about movies that he likes. The show's even called "Movies I Like", so maybe check it out for yourself if you want some good positive content in your lives in these dreary times.

Though as I've said, this sort of content is becoming harder and harder to find, and actual film discussion feels as if it's become near impossible without becoming some sort of heated debate. And this just grows tiring after a while, and often reminds me of online political discourse, where in the end, nobody really "wins", and everyone just comes away feeling more bitter towards the other side. However, you'll oftentimes not find quite such heated reactions when discussing these topics in person, but then, that's sort of the sad thing about the state of film discussion, because I don't recall debating the merits of a film ever feeling similar to having to defend a political position. But in this day and age, it very often feels that way, and it's certainly not helped when the reasons you're defending a film are in order to thwart unfair political associations being attached to the movie, so that you can get past that nonsense and actually discuss the film itself. But nowadays, with how overly politicized everything has become, as with politics itself, the over-politicization of film I've found has honestly just made even attempting to discuss certain films just uncomfortable from the outset, which really just sucks.

I just really wish we could all stop talking about politics all the time. I miss the days when not every single thing was politicized. I miss the days when not every single person felt it necessary to share their political takes on every single issue. I miss being able to follow a filmmaker, or a musician, or an author, or another artist on social media and just getting content related to their art, not their politics. I miss following friends and family online, and just seeing them post about their daily lives and hobbies, and not just their politics all of the damn time. I miss when we all sorta understood that this platform was just about the least ideal place to share and express our political views, as we oftentimes do so from behind the safety of our screen where we can allow our emotions to run out of control, much like experiencing road rage while driving behind the wheel, and that such topics are best left to in person where we can more calmly and rationally come to an understanding on the matter.

But that's where we are now. And all of the above is a nice concise way of explaining why I don't enjoy talking about films as often these days, and why I've in a sense "retired" from blogging. I am kind of depressed with the state of film itself, which is another topic entirely, but more than that, I'm depressed by the state of film criticism and discussion, and how dishonest and overly agenda driven it's all become, where half the time we're not even discussing the film in question itself, but rather, how it relates to the state of modern politics, relevancy be damned. Which, as if it hasn't become apparent by this point, I am absolutely sick to my soul of.

Thinking on heated online discussions though, while the one person I managed to find who would actually discuss Frozen II with me online got pretty out of hand and quite heated and ugly, it does make me recall another time in which I was discussing the first movie with a friend who took a lot of issues with it some years back. I was just hanging out at his house while we were going over ideas for one of our shorts we were about to film, and we started talking about movies, until the topic got to Frozen somehow. And while I let this friend vent about some other movies that I liked that he wasn't as big on, I found myself actively speaking up in defense of Frozen, but doing so in a manner that really came from the heart. And my friend could clearly see just how passionately I spoke on it, and he actually chuckled and asked, "you're not gonna let up, are you?" Our conversation wound up ending on a positive note after that, with him saying that perhaps he'll give the movie another chance, and that maybe he had missed a few things when he watched it. However, had our conversation taken place online, I can almost guarantee that the end result wouldn't have been nearly so nice and satisfying for either party.

So yeah, I guess I've kind of been holding on to these thoughts for some time now. But this is largely why I'm not so active in a lot of arenas online anymore, such as blogging and social media, because quite frankly, a lot of it is just discouraging at this point. But in the meantime, as you've perhaps been able to see, I've still been keeping busy producing my own art, and finding other ways to bide my time. But will I be back online full time? Maybe, but most likely not in the active capacity that I have in times past. But who knows for sure, we'll just have to see how things pan out, and hopefully someday things can take a turn back towards the positive.