Friday, December 30, 2016

My Top 10 Movies of 2016

It's that time of year once again. Time to count down my Top 10 favorite movies of the past year. And honestly, 2016 has been a pretty weak year for movies, so much so that, until just the past couple weeks, I honestly wasn't sure if I was gonna be able to do a full Top 10, but rather a Top 5 with some honorable nods. But I said that it was gonna take December's releases to really wow me to change my mind, and well, enough did just that, to where I feel I can go ahead and move forward with the full list this year. But first, let's take a look at a few honorable mentions for the year, then waste no more time getting right down to the list.

Honorable Mentions
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Ang Lee)
Café Society (Woody Allen)
Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross)
The Conjuring 2 (James Wan)
Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier)


Captain America: Civil War
(Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)

I may be feeling a bit of superhero movie fatigue, but that didn't prevent a handful of this year's entries from making the list, and the latest Captain America is a shining example of how these movies can still bring the goods. Civil War is second only to Guardians of the Galaxy as the best in the MCU to date, bringing with it a well balanced ensemble piece and a rare example of true emotional stakes in the form of its tragically grand finale, made all the more so by its accompanying epic score that'll send chills down your spine.

On top of it all, I'd also say that this movie contains quite possibly Robert Downey Jr.'s best performance in a movie to date, showing that even despite playing the Tony Stark character for as long as he has, that he can still bring a world of emotional range to breathe a whole new life into the role. I wasn't too thrilled with the Russo brothers' first outing in The Winter Soldier, but they proved their worth with Civil War, and leave me feeling more confident in their abilities moving forward into the next Avengers flicks.


(Tim Miller)

And moving straight from one Marvel property to another, Deadpool was a real breath of fresh air in the genre. After it ended, I declared that the movie was absolutely perfect, and that really still stands true even now, it really is as perfect a Deadpool movie as I could imagine. You could tell that this was a passion project, a true love letter to the character, and that passion oozed onto the screen through both Ryan Reynolds' phenomenal performance as the title character, and the great script and inspired non-linear format that really brought this character's world view to life.

Also, great as it may be, it's still not the kind of movie that I ever imagined would even be in consideration for serious awards competition. So the fact that it's received a Best Picture nomination at the Golden Globes I just find to be absolutely awesome. So much so that, despite it not even being my favorite of the year, I'm gonna be rooting for this one to go all the way. 'Cause really, how freaking cool would that be to see Deadpool of all movies take home some Best Picture awards?


Nocturnal Animals
(Tom Ford)

Shifting gears now, Nocturnal Animals was a movie that spoke to me on a personal level as a creator in a way that I'm not entirely sure will speak to everyone. The movie begins with a seemingly odd opening credits sequence featuring a number of obese women dancing in the nude in an art show, which at first glance appears like a really bizarre choice, until the core of the movie really sets in, and its meaning becomes more apparent: this is a movie featuring an author who is putting himself out there, putting his deepest, darkest feelings on display, making himself vulnerable for the whole world to see, and it's going to get real ugly real fast.

And that's really what I loved about the movie. It's essentially two stories, one following our main character played by Amy Adams, and the book that she's reading by said author, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, which we see come to dark and twisted life, and the various parallels with his real life that the events in this book are based on. And really, this movie nails the creative process to a tee. It's not a literal retelling of his life, but you can connect the dots to see how the events from his life inspired what transpires in his story, which makes it all the more tragic once you know the full context. Some of the best stories comes from taking the traumas in our life and being inspired to create art from our dark pasts, and this film is a chilling example of that in action.


Sing Street
(John Carney)

But it's not just trauma that can inspire us to create, but rather, a little thing called love, as Sing Street shows us in beautiful fashion. And this is a sentiment that also just rang so true to me on such a deeper level that I can really relate to, as we see our main character go on a full journey starting from scratch to create his art in the name of love.

This was just an all around lovely movie, and the various relationships we see brewing are just a joy to behold. I loved the philosophical discussions about the true meaning behind the art that our main character had with his brother, and the truly creative ways that they go about forming a band and trying to come up with a unique look and sound. And as I mentioned, the main character's driving force behind it all being the love and passion he has for this girl really shined throughout it all, and was just a really charming and endearing thing to behold.

There's a scene where they're filming a music video that features a girl falling into a river, but to be careful, they didn't want to film her actually jumping in. However, once the camera rolls, much to the band's surprise, the girl jumps right into the water, and when they ask her why she did it, she says that you can't go halfway with your art. You either gotta go in all the way or not at all. And it was at that moment that the movie wholly won me over.


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
(Zack Snyder)

Okay, before anyone jumps down my throat over this entry, let me just clear up that I fully acknowledge all of this movie's faults. Hell, I honestly don't even disagree with the majority of the criticisms that have been lobbied this movie's way ad infinitum. It's a very messy movie. That said, despite all of it, it still stands out to me as one of my personal favorites regardless, and seeing as this is a list of my favorite movies of the year, that's what makes it land where it does on the list.

Because really, I had a blast with this movie. Yeah it's trashy, yeah it's all over the place and convoluted and tries to do way too much all at once. But god damn if this wasn't one of the most fun movies I've seen all year. Feeling much more like a Snyder film than his previous effort in Man of Steel, I love the added touch that really brings his signature elements to light. His kick ass use of music and stylized action direction remain some of the best in the business today, and made for some truly memorable moments throughout this ambitious mess of a film.

And really, that's sort of the key word there that stands out for me, is ambition. I have a fellow film buff friend who described The Dark Knight Rises as a mess of a movie that he could truly appreciate regardless for the sheer ambition that it showed. And while I didn't agree with that sentiment in regards to that movie, that definitely feels like the case for me with this one. It certainly tries to tackle way too much, much more than it can (or even should) realistically handle, but god damn if it didn't try and just go for broke in the process, so much so that it arguably broke the entire movie!

So yeah, call this a guilty pleasure maybe, or call it a garbage flick if you will. But either way, this is my kinda garbage, and damn if Wonder Woman isn't still my hero by the end of the year.


Manchester by the Sea
(Kenneth Lonergan)

Dramatically shifting gears yet again, this was just a sucker punch of a movie (and that was my last Zack Snyder reference for this post!). Nah, but seriously, this movie packed an absolute wallop, 'cause this is a movie that'll catch you off guard and leave you reeling afterward. It tackles the subject of grief in a way that's just gut wrenching, so much so that this is a rare example of a movie where just thinking back on it after the fact has made me feel numb and brought me to the verge of tears.

Definitely a downer of a film, but damn if it isn't outstanding and gripping all the same. The performances from Casey Affleck and the rest of the cast truly feel lived in, and I honestly felt like I could've spent all day with these characters, where I kinda never wanted the movie to end, as they just sorta go about their day to day life while trying their best to deal with the terrible circumstances that life has delivered them.

This is a movie that to me feels like the times when you're lying down trying to go to sleep, but then your mind starts to wander against your will about all of the horrible things that might happen to the ones you love, and how you would go about dealing with that, what this would do to you as a person, and the depressed state this line of thought might put you in. Now take those terrible thoughts and put them on the screen, and you've got this hauntingly terrific film.


Swiss Army Man
(Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert)

I don't know what else I can say about this film that I didn't already cover in my in-depth analysis earlier in the year, but this was just a majestic little movie. An absolute metaphorical work of art, and as I described it before, The Tree of Life for the weird and the awkward.

No, this movie isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but this really struck a chord with me on a personal level for just how genuine, open, and honest it was about being the type of socially awkward introvert that Paul Dano's character is portrayed as here, and the sheer creative ways that all of his various personality quirks are put on display in a visual form. And Daniel Radcliffe's performance here in particular remains one of my favorites of the whole year.

But anyways, like I said, nothing I really say here in a brief write-up can really do this movie its proper justice, so go back and check out my original analysis of the film for a more in-depth discussion on this film's deeper meanings to get a real feel for just why this film placed where it did on this list, and what it really means to me.


(Byron Howard, Rich Moore)

Now as we get to the Top 3, we enter a three way race between the movies that were all vying for that pivotal top slot. And for the longest time, Zootopia held on to that very spot, and for damn good reason. This is a movie that's just brilliant in its execution, and has made me emotional just thinking about the deeper themes regarding race that they actually tackled in a movie such as this. I was just amazed that this movie was actually going there, and the way it showed us the full spectrum was just astounding.

Sadly, I've seen many people complain about how the movie is far too heavy handed in its approach, to the film's detriment. However, I've personally witnessed far too many people merely dumb its message down to simply "racism is bad" to say that that "heavy handed" sentiment holds any real credence, as this film's true themes clearly flew right over the heads of a number of movie goers. It's about so much more than just racism being bad, it actually shows us the roots of racism, how it actually manifests in our lives, whether it be through our various upbringings, or even how it can be manufactured in society, manipulated by our leaders, who use the ensuing racial tension for their own personal monetary and political gain.

This is a movie that's such a reflection on our current society that it just hurts. And it's a movie that so many can learn such a harsh lesson in reality from, if they just opened their minds and really looked at what this movie was trying to show them, and how our modern society has reached the place that it has, where so many are so divided from one another. It's a subject that I'm very passionate about, and have wanted to use this movie as a means to discuss more in depth, but have ultimately refrained due to how similarly passionate others can be, and how many can easily take things the wrong way when discussing the issues brought to light in this movie in an open minded and intelligent platform.

But really, this is a movie that in and of itself already presents most of my arguments for me, and so if a movie such as this isn't getting through to certain people, then really, nothing more that I have to say on the matter probably will either. But still, give this movie a watch, and even if doesn't open your mind the way it opened mine, there's still a hell of a lot of entertainment to be had here all the same, with great characters in a creative world populated by animals that feels not too dissimilar from my own world I've created in my Ninja Kat universe (let it be known that this movie totally stole its small animals city from my hamster village!).

From Velcro: The Ninja Kat, published 2012.


The Neon Demon
(Nicolas Winding Refn)

So close to making #1! But nope, yet another Refn film just misses the mark, and at the last minute, too! But even so, damn was this a beast of a movie. And unlike most on this list, there's very few who I would actually recommend this one to, as this is not a movie that's going to be for everyone. Flat out, this is a movie that's gonna either be right up your alley, or it probably isn't. A movie that'll either leave you salivating at the mouth, or revolting in disgust. And for me, well, I dunno what this says about me as a person, but this is a movie that feels like it was specifically made for me.

On the outset, this can come across as a movie that is all style and no substance. However, considering that the very subject matter itself is about that very thing, I find that aspect to be more that appropriate in this particular instance, and actually compliments the movie on the whole. But this is just an absolute gorgeous film, where every single frame of it looks like a painting that you could take and hang up on your wall. And yet, to be perfectly blunt about it, beneath its beautiful exterior lies one of the most fucked up movies to release this year, and I loved every single second of it.

This is a movie that so easily could've been disposable trash in the hands of a lesser director. Yet Refn's touch for sheer perfectionism elevates this material to a place that takes that trash and transforms it into a true work of art. This is beautiful trash. This is stunning, respectable garbage. And hearing Refn speak on the movie shows us just how deep seated this movie lies within the darkest crevices of his mindset.

I love how he describes this movie as an expression of the sixteen year old girl that resides within him, and what that says about both himself as a creator, and this film as his creation. And it's a sentiment that makes me appreciate this movie on a far deeper level as well, and truly revel in the dark and twisted imagery and sequence of events that transpire all throughout the movie. It's narcissistic and brutal and unrelenting, and if you're not careful, it'll eat you right up and swallow you whole, just like it did with me.


La La Land
(Damien Chazelle)

This movie was sheer magic captured on film, and possibly the purest and most cinematic experience that you'll have all year. This is a movie like Inside Out or Interstellar or Dredd from years past, where I just wanna go back and experience it over and over again, and bring everyone I know to it, so that they, too, can experience the same beauty that I did.

And in a day and age in which we are bombarded by movies that are filmed with an obsession for nostalgia in mind, this is a movie that takes nostalgia and tackles it in a way that actually feels organic and natural, as opposed to the "wink wink, nudge nudge" way that most filmmakers like to shove their nostalgia in our face. It's a movie that's in constant evolution, starting out as a more traditional musical from times long past, only to gradually morph into something more modern and down to earth. And as the movie evolves, we also see the way that music itself has transformed over time, how it once was a living entity all itself, where you could really feel the humanity and the soul of the sound, and how the removal of the human element in favor of something more technical and commercial has turned it into something else entirely, something that doesn't quite touch us and stick with us the way that it used to.

But that's part of what I loved so much about this movie, was the way that it used music, and I don't just mean in the sense that it was a musical. Hell, not too long prior to seeing this movie, I had in mind a blog post that I wanted to write about the use of music in movies, and I'm sorta glad that I waited until after seeing this movie before writing it, because this movie takes almost every single argument that I wanted to make about the effectiveness of music in film and puts it on display in the most cinematic form imaginable. (And I still plan on writing that piece soon enough, too, so keep an eye out for that!)

And what's possibly most striking here is its nostalgic aspect, which is actually used as an active element within the movie itself, as they use music as a means of fondly reminding our characters of times past in their lives through rose colored lenses all throughout. It's just a very clever movie in that regard, on top of being one of the most infectious films I've seen all year. This movie's soundtrack has been stuck on repeat in my head from the moment I stepped out of the theater. And it's not just any particular track, but rather, all of its main songs, as they just blend so seamlessly into one another and really feel like the various pieces to a complete whole.

But beyond its music, this movie is just masterful to look at, and is quite frankly the only film this entire year to rival The Neon Demon in terms of its cinematography. And hell, part of the reason I love this movie so much is because the whole thing honestly feels like something ripped straight from my own head. From the images on screen, to the use of lighting and the way it's edited, the musical composition and dance numbers, the way it uses and re-uses variations of the same songs over and over again, and even the alternate timeline sequence all feel ripped straight off the page from my own musical that I've been toying around with for about the past five years now.

Granted, my actual story is radically different from this movie's, but in terms of execution, it's almost like I'm already seeing my own film fully realized, and it's a hard feeling to describe really. But as I have expressed a number of times counting down this list, it's certainly something that definitely speaks to me on a much deeper and more personal level, and truly inspires me to keep chasing after my own dreams like the fool that I am, so that one day it really will be my vision being realized on the big screen.

It may not be perfect, but this is a movie that feels all around delightful all the same, and I absolutely adore every single thing about it. And hell, listening to the soundtrack after the fact, it becomes even more apparent that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone really aren't all that great of singers. Yet even so, their effort shines through all the same in a way that's just striking in its raw, passionate earnesty.

I've described many of my favorite films as being perfectly imperfect, as many of my favorites over the years are those that have been riddled with flaws throughout, despite all the good that they brought. And in these cases, I think there's something about the flaws that help make the movies have a more honest and genuine feel to them, make them feel more human, and not just a technically perfect machination being churned out. And really, that's precisely the point that this movie brings to light, isn't it? It's not perfect, but really, that only adds to the overall charm of it all and gives it that real human soul that you can just feel. And believe me, this is a movie that you're gonna be feeling for a good long while after the credits roll.

And there you have it, my Top 10 Movies of 2016. Granted, while I saw far more movies than is probably necessary this year (much more than in years past, in fact. It really does feel like we're now becoming oversaturated with more and more releases every year), I still wasn't able to get to everything, most notably those late December releases that haven't gone wide and released in my area yet (I'm looking at you, A Monster Calls). But even so, I'd say this is good enough for now. So anyways, onto the next year, where hopefully we'll be met with even more great movies than the last!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The good that came from 2016

So 2016 has been a pretty rough year for me, and that seems to be the case for most people I've spoken to about the past year as well. But it wasn't all bad, and so rather than venting about all that went wrong in the past year (which I've already covered much of it before anyways), I'd like to instead take a look back at what all went right, at the actual good that came from 2016.

In terms of filmmaker goals, this year saw my movies making their theatrical debut, which is still really cool to even think about. Breathe played at the Tallahassee Premiere Nights event in May, and later on, I was invited back to screen Dream Girl for their August event. So that was a real cool experience, seeing a movie I made actually playing in a real movie theater for a real movie-going audience, and really felt like a step in the right direction for my path as a filmmaker.

And as far as acting goes, I also worked briefly on a small project with fellow filmmaking collaborator and friend M.H. Smith, where I played the lead role in a web-series he was shooting. I don't wanna say too much about it now, as we haven't been able to get too far into it yet, but the footage we have shot so far was some of the most fun experiences I've had on set, and I look forward to seeing how this project may continue to progress moving forward.

That said, as I've mentioned before, I have sorta placed filmmaking a bit on the back burner for the time being, as I've shifted focus to actually finishing my Ninja Kat novel series. But even so, I've continued to toy around with new film ideas here and there, and if something in particular happens to light a spark within me that I feel is worth pursuing, then I won't hesitate to pick the camera back up again.

Speaking on the Ninja Kat though, the third book in the series, Velcro: The Masquerade, was released earlier this month, and it's a huge relief finally getting that one out there. Considering how much focus I placed on filmmaking after The Green Lion, I honestly wasn't sure when I'd ever even get back around to actually finishing that one, so the fact that it's finally done and out there is in and of itself very rewarding for me.

But what's been especially cool is how I've seen more people have taken notice to my work ethic, just pumping out movies and novels year after year, and have finally gotten around to actually checking out the Ninja Kat books for themselves, to see what this whole thing I've been spending the past several years actively working on is all about. And the best part is that, despite any discrepancies with the earlier books (believe me, I'm well aware of them, and have learned a great deal from those earlier missteps), they genuinely appear to be enjoying the hell out of them, referring to them as a breath of fresh air even.

But even before the new book was out, I was already hard at work on the fourth, and currently plan on sticking with it and getting it out there as soon as possible. And I'll just say this about it so far. If the outlines for the first three books each come out to approximately half a handwritten notebook in length, well, the outline for Book 4 is almost on its second notebook so far, and I'm only about halfway done outlining it. So it's looking like this next one might actually end up being kind of a long one for a change, which would be pretty satisfying for me personally, considering my under-writing tendencies.

In more personal news, I finally moved away from Tallahassee. I had a friend looking for a roommate and an old boss looking to hire me down in Tampa, so things just sorta happened to work out well in that regard. And really, I was long overdue for a change in scenery. I had been wanting to leave Tallahassee for a long, long time now, but kept finding myself anchored by various projects and what have you. However, after my last big project sorta fell through and I shifted focus to novel writing, I suddenly found I didn't really have anything tying me down to the city anymore. So really, I was all out of excuses.

So I made the plunge, and so far, I'm really liking the new city. It's a really different experience living here, with so many neighboring towns so close to one another, and just a much bigger city than I'm used to, with lots to explore. And going around town and getting various comic shops and book stores to carry my novels has been a great way to make my way around the city and really acquaint myself with my surroundings. I'm seeing all sorts of new things and meeting new people, and I'm just very excited for what the future may continue to hold for me in this town.

And yeah, that's pretty much where I'm at. Looking ahead into the next year, I plan on continuing to work on my Ninja Kat novels, and have already set up a number of book signings and convention appearances in the coming year, so look out for more on those as we get closer to them. But yeah, 2016 may have been a bit of a rough year, but as you can see, it wasn't all bad. And as I look ahead to 2017, I look forward to more new beginnings, and more goals to conquer. So here's to the new year, which hopefully brings with it more good will than the last!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Velcro: The Masquerade - Now Available!

Here it is! It's been a little while, but book three of The Ninja Kat series is finally here! Velcro's fantastic action packed adventure continues in Velcro: The Masquerade, and you can get your paws on a copy today on in either paperback or e-book form.

I'm honestly really proud with how this one turned out, and I think that taking a bit of a break between books really helped invigorate my passion for the series. And I'm already hard at work on the fourth book, too, so hopefully there won't be nearly so long a gap between books this time! But for now, I put my heart into this latest Ninja Kat story, so I really just hope that comes through, and that all of you great readers sincerely enjoy this latest installment of my cat's dark and wild adventures.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Moana - A Review of Comparisons

Moana is a good movie, even if it is lacking in certain areas that hold it back from being a great one. But I did like it all the same, so I just wanna get that out of the way before I start to get really critical of it, because this is a movie that reminded me of so many other movies while watching it, and also reminded me of how much better and more effective those other movies were as well.

Honestly, this month there's only been a few of movies that I've felt I've had enough to say about that would warrant writing a review for, but those instances have been movies where what I had to say was mostly pretty critical, and so I decided to hold off. But it's interesting how, the last couple movies I had in mind to discuss were Doctor Strange and Fantastic Beasts, both movies that were filled to the brim with moments torn straight out of other mediums that had pulled off those moments in a much more effective manner, and now here I am discussing Moana, the third movie this month that more or less suffers from the exact same dilemma.

(However, one of the big movies that I'm going to be bringing up while discussing this particular movie is Frozen, which is honestly why I decided to move forward with actually writing out this review as such, as it gives me a legitimate excuse to talk about Frozen even more than I already have, hehe.)

But yeah, I dunno if this just means that maybe I've finally reached a point where I've just seen too many damn movies or not, to the point where I can't even watch anything without drawing instant comparisons to other, better movies (though I honestly doubt that's the case, and the most likely scenario is that a lot of modern blockbusters really have just largely become pretty generic and unimaginative), but these elements stood out to me all the same, which I'll be discussing more in depth in a bit.

Anyways, onto the movie itself. Moana is the third musical release since Disney had their return to form with Tangled, and their second feature length animated film released this year at that. And like I opened up with, it's a good movie, overall. But it fails to reach the heights attained by the likes of Tangled, Frozen, and Zootopia, and that really comes down to just how standard and basic a movie this one is in comparison.

First, I want to discuss the music, which is pretty good, for the most part. It's main theme, "How Far I'll Go", is an amazingly powerful song that'll give you chills every time, and it's reprisals throughout are equally so. That said, as soon as it's over, it's also pretty forgettable, as is the entire rest of the music in this thing. I highly doubt that we're going to be hearing people walking around singing these tunes the way we would with the songs from Frozen, or even classic Disney musicals such as The Lion King, Aladdin, or Beauty and the Beast. Hell, they play the main theme three times in the movie (four if you count the ending credits), and I've since gone home and listened to it a handful of times there as well. Yet even so, every time it ends and I go about my day, I try to think back to how it even went, but find I'm only able to remember the emotional energy that the tune stirred up, but not the actual tune itself.

That said, even as powerful as the song may be, it's still nowhere near as powerful as the more emotionally fueled songs from Frozen, in addition to not having the staying power of the songs in that movie, either. Leaving the theater after Frozen, there were multiple songs stuck in mind, from "Let It Go" to "For the First Time in Forever" or "Do You Want to Build a Snowman". And sure, not all of the songs in Frozen were hits, but the ones that mattered landed. Where as in Moana, the one main song lands in the moment, but it doesn't have staying power, and all of the rest of the songs range from decent ("Where You Are"), to questionable ("Shiny", and to a lesser degree, "You're Welcome"). However, while the songs themselves might not be the best, I will give the movie that it actually fully commits to being a musical, which is the one single aspect that I still hold against Frozen, that it abandons the musical genre in its third act. So this movie at least has that much going for it in that regard, but I would still say that both Frozen and Tangled are far better musicals on the whole.

One other big thing this movie does that's comparable to Frozen is its humor. Like Frozen, this movie has a very genre-aware sense of humor about itself. However, unlike Frozen, that sense of humor really doesn't work in this instance. The main reason it worked so effectively in Frozen was because that movie was essentially a deconstruction of the Disney Princess genre, and so a self-aware sense of humor certainly goes hand in hand with that. But here, any and all instances of self-awareness just comes off as out of place, and only served to take me out of the movie and leave me wondering why they were even doing that, when Frozen had already covered that ground. The worst was a joke in which the character Maui mentions something along the lines of how he's going to be sick if Moana suddenly breaks out into song during a dramatic moment.

And speaking of movie comparisons, the movie even includes a scene that feels ripped straight out of Mad Max: Fury Road, even going so far as to include music during this scene that sounds like the score from Mad Max. And it was a fun scene, sure. However, in hindsight, it was ultimately a really pointless scene, as it really only served to show us just how dangerous the ocean can be, which is a fact that had already been driven home on a number of occasions by this point with scenes that were far more intimately woven into the narrative. But whatever, this wasn't that big a deal, and the scene was pretty harmless (though it is a bit of an odd choice to throw in a nod to such a hard R rated movie into something like this), and like I said, fun.

Jokes and music aside though, the real kicker that holds this movie back from greatness is the plot itself. It's really just a very basic, standard "chosen one" story, even going so far as to actually refer to Moana herself as being "the chosen one" on multiple occasions. However, every time this occurred, all I could think about was The Lego Movie, which did such an awesome job poking fun at that particular trope that it's since become just about impossible to pull it off in a movie like this and be expected to really take it too seriously, and that's certainly the case here.

But that's really all this movie mostly amounts to. There's no real deep thematic meaning or messages to elevate the movie. It's really just about walking your path and following your destiny and finding oneself, a basic plot that has been done and done to death time and time again. Which is fine, sure. A movie is allowed to be merely entertaining and nothing more, certainly. But coming off of so many recent Disney movies that do have such deeper meaning behind them, movies such as Frozen and Zootopia, one does go into a movie like this hoping for a little bit more than what it delivers, and so the fact that this movie doesn't see fit to dig any deeper and really challenge us and take us on an intelligent and emotional journey the way those movies did can come across as a bit disappointing as a result.

I don't want to just crap all over this movie, though, because it was really good. And I think its strongest element is probably its animation. This is a stunningly gorgeous movie to look at, and the water effects were simply incredible. And as Moana and Maui traveled through the sea, I often found myself fondly thinking back to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and how Link would traverse the mesmerizingly open sea in that game. But yeah, I would say in terms of visuals, the only animated movie this year to top this movie would probably be Kubo and the Two Strings, which is yet another movie that Moana is very comparable to in terms of how the movies play out, up to and including my reaction to the two, where I found myself very much in search for something to latch onto, to really connect with the films on a deeper level, only to wind up coming up a bit short in the end. But even so, one thing that can't be denied is that the two movies certainly look great!

And the characters we follow were mostly fine. Moana is fun and slightly quirky, a strong, determined young woman whose resolve is constantly challenged, and Maui has a nice little arc where he has to come to grips with what he's become, and what he'll have to do to return to his former glory. And I got a decent kick out of his tattoos, which are actually a character all their own, as is the whole world around them really, including the ocean itself. So that was a pretty cool element to the movie, the fact that they literally resided in this very alive world.

So yeah, like I said, this was good. But really, to wrap up this write-up of comparisons, I find myself comparing this year's two Disney animated releases (Zootopia and Moana) to last year's two Pixar releases (Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur). And if Zootopia is comparable to Inside Out, with its rich intelligent themes and emotional depth that instantly struck a chord with me where I knew that I had just watched something truly special, then I would say that Moana is this year's The Good Dinosaur, a visually gorgeous movie that is definitely good overall and certainly had its fair share of stirring moments throughout, but on the whole feels a bit lacking.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Velcro: The Masquerade - Coming Soon

Velcro returns to her home village of Highland, only to find it completely in ruins. The one responsible, a mysterious foe in an eagle mask, is patiently awaiting her arrival in order to deliver his message in person, and Velcro is lured by this new enemy into a Magical challenge, one in which the outcome will determine the final fate of her home and her friends, and possibly even the world over.

Meanwhile, in the village of Redfield, the Elder Chow is grooming Max to lead their brigade in the impending war against the Devil Corps. But Max won't have to wait long to be put to his first test, as war comes to their home gates in the form of this new threat running rampant known as The Masquerade. And elsewhere, unaware of all these developments, Charlie has sought out the Devil Dog for his own personal means.

Velcro: The Masquerade adds a new unforeseen element to the equation, as the Country of Widows prepares for war. More and more, the past will catch back up with our heroes, and history will be written during their present hardships. And as Velcro faces off against her most powerful adversary yet, she'll be forced to look within and question what it truly takes to bring peace the world over.

Coming this December!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Luke Cage

Luke Cage is the latest entry in the Marvel Netflix series of what's essentially 13 hour long movies, and it's a bit of a mixed bag, but is still overall another hit. So let's dive right in, as I take a look at what stood out to me in terms of what worked, and what didn't quite click.

While I'm really enjoying this little pocket universe of Marvel Netflix shows so far, I do think that, at this point, it's really annoying and distracting that the showrunners still continue to try and tie these shows in with the Marvel movies, especially considering that it's clear as day by now that the movies have no intention of ever acknowledging the shows. It was fine in the first season of Daredevil, because back then we really didn't know any better and there was still at least some hope. But now? Not so much. But like I said, I do like this little Netflix universe that's grown out of these shows, and I'm more than okay with the references across those. I just wish at this point that these shows would just stick to their own devices, and quit referencing the movies moving forward.

Speaking of references, while I thought Rosario Dawson's inclusion in Jessica Jones felt like a bit of a forced cameo, I like that her involvement here feels far more natural, reprising her role as Claire that originated in the Daredevil series. And I like how this season also kinda sets her up to be the link that connects all these franchises together, so I think that much about her character is a pretty cool deal at least. I'm always okay with more Rosario Dawson in any event though, and she continues to shine in this series. She really isn't in enough stuff.

As far as the romantic angle with her and Luke is concerned, yeah, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that just yet (and it leaves me curious if they have plans to revisit Luke and Jessica or not). But thinking on it, in the first season of Daredevil, there were moments where it looked like there could potentially be a blooming romance of sorts between her and Matt. However, the thing that ultimately got in the way was him always coming back home more and more beat up every night, and she couldn't stand seeing him get himself killed over and over again like that. But with Luke, with his powers, that's something that she more or less doesn't have to worry about quite so much, so there's not that getting in the way of things, as he goes out and does his hero thing. And their relationship did seem to grow from a natural enough place that it felt genuine by the end, so I'm willing to see where it goes, even if I'm not too thrilled by the prospect just yet.

But anyways, as far as the show itself goes, the first half was pretty incredible, but then there's a very noticeable dip in the quality of the writing right at the halfway point on. The first half has this very grounded and gritty dramatic feel to it, and Cottonmouth was a fantastically fleshed out villain, humanized in a way that makes him feel legitimately deep and threatening. I just loved how complex they made his character, as they show us in flashbacks how his upbringing very much lead to him growing up to become the villain that he is. And there's such a compelling turmoil about him that comes out little by little the more time we spend with him, as at times we see what little remains of his humanity seeping through, as he'll be awash in a wave of resentment, of regret for what he's become. Yet by the same token, he's so fully ingrained in his ruthless lifestyle, and walks his path with a relentless sense of pride that he can't abandon, his stubbornness in his ways yet another product of his place in this world and way he was raised. And Mahershala Ali expertly balances out and totally captures all of these complexities with an absolutely commanding performance.

But his replacement halfway into the series, Diamondback, is just a complete cornball, and is impossible to take seriously. And where we could really see how Cottonmouth became the way he is and fully understand it, the same can't be said for Diamondback. His motives just don't add up at all, and the more that we learn about him, the less it makes sense. His absolute drive to kill Luke Cage at any cost just comes across as hokey and insincere, and once we learn his own backstory, it especially starts to fall apart and feel unbelievable that this would be the extreme stance this character decided to take. And especially coming off such powerful backstory reveals for Cottonmouth that showed us the real evolution of his character, Diamondback's fell completely flat, and was a total step down from that.

And it may seem weird to complain about a show based on a comic book feeling too comicy, but that's sorta what happened after Diamondback came into play too, all culminating in one of the cheesiest finales I've ever seen with that final fight. Like, what the hell was that supposed to be? How were we supposed to take that seriously at all? But I dunno, I suppose the comic book feel woulda been fine had the show started out that way, but it was such a stark dramatic shift in tone from its more grounded opening act that it stood out, and it didn't quite fit in with what had come before.

In addition to that, the dialogue also became noticeably lazy and repetitive in the second half. For a couple of examples, an exchange between Cage and Claire where she calls him corny happens verbatim two episodes in a row, and within the exact same scene at that, so close to one another that it seriously stood out like, wait, we literally just experienced that moment already. Also, "Sweet Christmas" may be one of his catch phrases, but using it twice in one episode also stood out in a similar manner.

And in addition to Diamondback's, a number of character motives were also pretty weak in the second half. For example, when they went to the doc to get Luke fixed up, they kept mentioning how they didn't trust the doc. This, despite the fact that, as far as the viewer could see, he was being completely cooperative and wasn't shown actually saying or doing anything that would warrant their distrust, no matter how many countless times they told us that. This was a classic example of "show, don't tell" at work during this entire scenario, because none of their reactions felt earned there.

Also, another peculiar recurring element I've noticed with these Netflix shows that's starting to bother me a bit as well, as seen in both Jessica Jones and now here in Luke Cage, is that these shows explicitly feature moments where they go out of their way to mock how the characters looked in the comics. And I dunno, but that just seems like sort of an odd choice to continue to insist on including in these shows, not to mention disrespectful to the source material.

But despite all of these criticisms, I actually did like this show quite a bit. It was entertaining throughout, I enjoyed the action, Luke himself is a corny but likable hero to follow along, and the accompanying soundtrack was outstanding. And I may have only discussed a handful of them here, but I also really loved almost all of the supporting cast, who are all so fully formed and have such fantastic chemistry between one another, and really just bring this whole world to life with some seriously excellent performances. In terms of villains, Cottonmouth, Shades, and Mariah Dillard all continue the trend of incorporating these really great and complex villains in the Marvel Netflix universe, and stand up there right alongside the likes of Wilson Fisk and Kilgrave (Diamondback not so much). It's a bit of a shame that it's such a mixed bag, with the noticeable decline in quality with the second half, but all in all, I thought it was pretty damn good, and look forward to seeing how things will continue to move forward from here.

In terms of how I'd rank the Marvel Netflix series so far:

Jessica Jones
Daredevil S1
Luke Cage
Daredevil S2

Now bring on Iron Fist and The Defenders!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

30 Years of Movies - My Favorites From Each Year

Today marks my 30th birthday. And so, I decided to take a look back at the past 30 years, and choose my favorite movie released from each year. Note, these aren't all necessarily what I think was technically the best movie released in each given year, it's solely what I consider my favorite. So then, without any further ado, let's jump back 30 years to...

An American Tail
(Don Bluth)

Full Metal Jacket
(Stanley Kubrick)

Die Hard
(John McTiernan)

(Tim Burton)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
(Steve Barron)

(Steven Spielberg)

Reservoir Dogs
(Quentin Tarantino)

Jurassic Park
(Steven Spielberg)

The Lion King
(Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff)

Toy Story
(John Lasseter)

Independence Day
(Roland Emmerich)

Good Will Hunting
(Gus Van Sant)

The Big Hit
(Che-Kirk Wong)

The Matrix
(The Wachowski Brothers)

American Psycho
(Mary Harron)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
(Peter Jackson)

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
(George Lucas)

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
(Peter Jackson)

The Chronicles of Riddick
(David Twohy)

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

V for Vendetta
(James McTeigue)

Spider-Man 3
(Sam Raimi)

The Dark Knight
(Christopher Nolan)

(500) Days of Summer
(Marc Webb)

(Christopher Nolan)

Sucker Punch
(Zack Snyder)

(Pete Travis)

(Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)

(Christopher Nolan)

Inside Out
(Pete Docter)

(Byron Howard, Rich Moore)

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Twilight Saga

So after years of putting them off, I've finally seen the Twilight movies for myself. And, I've gotta say, they weren't even remotely as bad as their reputation would have you believe. In general, I felt that a lot of the mass hatred aimed at these movies is largely unwarranted, most notable being the supposedly "bad" performances that are supposed to reside throughout these films. One of the more fair criticisms would be those aimed at the writing, but even then I mostly have an argument in defense for even that aspect (though to be fair, most of my defense does start to fall apart a bit by the time we get to the last movies, so keep that in mind as you read, and we'll tackle more on that later!). But basically, these movies left me with a lot of thoughts and a lot to discuss, so let's not waste anymore time and dive right into The Twilight Saga.

So let's start with the first movie, shall we? And admittedly, things get off to a bit of a rocky start, as the first one is by far the clumsiest movie of the lot, with lots of clunky forced exposition and laughably jarring editing. But then, our main character from whose perspective we witness these movies, Bella, is portrayed early on as being somewhat of a total klutz herself. So in that regard, the fact that this first movie is so clumsy is almost fitting. And as the series progresses in later movies, she even acknowledges this about her, that she's been stumbling through life, and notes how the path she's chosen makes her feel balanced for once. And this, too, is reflected in the general filmmaking, which does feel a lot more streamlined as the series moves forward. But still, despite such filmmaking flaws, I actually felt that these elements gave the movie a certain charm, and made it especially enjoyable in a "so bad, it's good" sort of way.

One editing technique the first movie executes in particular that I've heard some criticisms over is its use of blue filter. However, I actually really liked this. They only use a blue filter over the images when it's supposed to be overcast outside, meaning the vampires are able to go out. And anytime the sun's out, they refrain from using the filter, so it really shows us in a way that stands out on a visual level when we can and can't expect for vampires to be out roaming about. Sadly, though, this element was never used again after the first movie, so it oftentimes just looks like the vampires are able to go out in the sun all the time, which just felt sorta silly, like the entire aspect of them "sparkling" in sunlight was almost a non-factor.

And speaking of which, here's another element that gets loads of hate, and at first, I too thought it sounded sorta stupid and ridiculous, the idea that vampires "sparkle" in sunlight. However, having now actually seen the movies and now seen this element played out with context, I gotta say, I think it's actually a unique and clever take on the vampire mythology. The idea isn't that they "sparkle", but rather, that their bodies are hardened and cold, like stone. And when they step out into the sun, their stone bodies don't so much sparkle so much as they shine in the sunlight. And I actually grew to like this aspect after witnessing it with proper context applied, and it only grows stronger when we're later on introduced to the werewolves, who, in stark contrast to the colder vampires, have bodies that are constantly pumping with heat. It's a simple concept, the cold as ice vampires versus the hot as fire werewolves, and even plays into the ways the various characters are portrayed, but I thought it worked here nicely enough.

But anyways, I feel we're getting ahead of ourselves here a bit, let's bite into the meat of this thing, the story. And here's where most of my issues would typically arise. On the outset, most of our main cast who we follow through these movies are not likable people. They're very frustrating a lot of the time in fact, making terrible decision after terrible decision, and oftentimes just being terrible people in general to one another. We have Bella, who is head over heels for the vampire Edward, despite the fact that he's a creep who stalks her and watches her sleep, and who generally is just very mentally and emotionally abusive to her on many occasions. He's a bad influence on her, and yet she's completely infatuated with the idea of not only being with him, but becoming a vampire like him as well.

And on the outset, especially with the first movie, I can take away a couple of things from this abusive relationship of theirs. I can totally understand how this can be taken as sending a terrible message to younger, more receptive minds. And I thought that too, at first. But then, especially as the series goes on, something I noticed stood out. Though Bella is our main character, and this is her story, the movies themselves don't actually condone her actions. All throughout she is constantly being criticized for her decisions by just about every single character she comes into contact with, being told that her way isn't necessarily the right way, and that she doesn't have to pursue this path of hers.

And really, I've seen other movies that have terrible messages that are highlighted as being the right path, such as Limitless' disgusting pro-drug message, where that movie's hero wins in the end because his drug use made everything work out just fine and dandy in his life. But that's not what happens here. Bella is not a role model, and the movies openly acknowledge this. So, as terrifying as it may seem, if there are receptive minds out there taking Bella's examples to heart, then that's on them, because those individuals aren't paying attention to the full picture at hand here.

But on the other hand, though the movies don't condone the characters' actions in these movies, that doesn't mean that those actions are entirely without merit all the same. Because, let's face it, we all know people like the characters in these movies. And the absolutely stubborn way in which they're portrayed is frighteningly realistic in that regard at that. So yeah, there's some disturbing stuff in these movies, but is that necessarily a bad thing? After all, all things considered, I can totally see the appeal in these movies, and certainly think that there's a place for a story like this that shines a light on these sorts of people in this manner. And besides, considering one of my favorite movies of the year so far is The Neon Demon, which is also one of the most fucked up movies of the year at that, I really can't say anything about anyone who might find enjoyment out of these Twilight flicks.

Twilight contractually obligated shirtless Jacob count: 0

And as we move onto the second movie, New Moon, in which Edward is placed more in the background and we're more properly introduced to Jacob, the third person in this little love triangle, we see a whole new set of disturbing character traits come to the forefront. Initially, I actually started to side with Team Jacob, as he certainly appeared to be a lot more caring and levelheaded, genuinely having Bella's best interest at heart. But while he had the better first impression than Edward, the more we become acquainted with Jacob, the more he shows himself to be carrying his own load of emotional baggage.

One, he's got some serious anger issues, which only grow more out of control as the movies progress. But on top of that, his crush on Bella grows into a full blown obsession over her as she toys with his emotions throughout, keeping him on a tight leash firmly in the friend zone, yet still keeping him around for admittedly selfish emotional reasons. And that combination of anger and obsession issues definitely turn Jacob into quite the monstrous character himself, and I'm not talking about his werewolf state.

New Moon contractually obligated shirtless Jacob count: 5

So yeah, by the end, I honestly wasn't actually rooting for anyone to end up with anyone, and was just enjoying sitting back and watching all the drama unfold without any real partiality one way or the other! But though it was the main draw to this series, the romance stuff was only one aspect of these movies. In the meantime, there's an underlying story that's a bit more in the background at first, but does come more to the forefront as the series goes on, and which I actually found to be pretty interesting, ultimately culminating in the vampires and werewolves teaming up to take out the threat of a growing vampire army in the third movie.

Speaking of, before moving forward, I'd just like to mention how I thought the third movie, Eclipse, was by far the best in the series. It had a great self-aware sense of humor to itself, and really felt like a full culmination of all the various plot threads that had been brewing until now. And not only that, but it's also the one movie where all of the characters are at their most likable, so much so that I quipped that, had the prior two movies not existed, I might actually kinda like some of these characters!

Eclipse contractually obligated shirtless Jacob count: 6

But then we get to Breaking Dawn, and that's where things start to fall apart. For one thing, as with many YA adaptations during this time, this final installment was broken up into two movies, and you can definitely feel the padding here, so much so that, despite none of the first four movies featuring any opening credits at all, the fifth movie opens with a full blown opening credits sequence just to pad out that timing just a little more (though it also closes with a sequence that highlights every single actor who played every single character in the whole series, including those who weren't even in these last two movies, which I'm not sure I've ever seen before, but just thought was kinda interesting).

But basically, these movies are where things get especially batshit crazy, and as I had mentioned earlier, a lot of my defenses for this series sorta start to fall apart, but stay with me here! I would say that Breaking Dawn: Part 1 honestly feels more like the series' epilogue, as if this is the final cost for all of Bella's actions up to this point, this is the price she has to pay for all her decisions. It starts with the wedding of Bella and Edward, which honestly was really beautifully filmed, and moves on to their honeymoon, in which Edward impregnates Bella, and now, carrying some sort of human-vampire hybrid child, she begins to die.

And, though this isn't what literally happens, I would like to theorize for a moment here. What I believe should have happened, was that perhaps, Part 1 of the movie actually did happen all the way through till Bella dies giving birth. Because it's everything that happens after that effectively horrifying scene where things really go off the rails, but what if none of that did happen? What if, perhaps, that was all just a vision Bella had, a dream, of what could have been, had she survived the childbirth? And it makes more sense when looked at that way, because let's face it, everything that happens after that moment is totally a full blown wish fulfillment fantasy, and feels like something straight out of a fever dream, one much like the kind Bella might be experiencing in that moment, visualizing before her eyes, in her final moments before she passes on forever.

And we even see an example of this in work in Breaking Dawn: Part 2, in which we see a full blown climactic action sequence play out, where several main characters lose their lives in the most horrifying fashions, only to discover after the fact that literally none of that had actually happened, but rather, it was a vision played out to our main villain in order to dissuade him from moving forward with his plans. And sure, this scene is quite possibly the most hilarious copout that I've ever seen in my entire life, but what if it actually served a purpose beyond just wussing out on actually adding stakes to the series' finale? After all, what would it hurt to kill off all those characters at this point, the series was about to wrap up anyways. But what if the reason they survived there was because not only did that big action scene not happen, but none of it did? After all, that would go right in line with the whole wish fulfillment theory, that everything ended in the most clean, clear cut, and happiest of ways for everyone, no harm no foul.

But yeah, that's just my theory, and it's really the only way that these last movies really work with the rest of the story up to this point. Because otherwise, it sorta drives a stake right through the heart of my "not condoned" argument, seeing as they all lived happily ever after, no lesson learned. And otherwise, we also have to accept that ridiculous crap that they do with Jacob falling in love with an infant, which sure, just hearing about it sounds bad enough, but actually seeing it? Yeah, just, no, dude. I mean, sure, I get what they were trying to do with that, in theory. But in execution... yeah, I'm not even gonna touch that, moving right along!

Breaking Dawn: Part 1 contractually obligated shirtless Jacob count: 1

So yeah, the movies do sorta start to fall apart by the time we get to Breaking Dawn, which totally feels like nothing more than an overly-convenient wish fulfillment fantasy, if not by the characters themselves as I've theorized, then certainly by the author, and to the story's detriment at that, quite frankly. But then, on the other hand, Breaking Dawn is just so batshit insane that it does leave me with a lot more to think about after the fact, much more so than the first three did, so it does have at least that much going for it, I guess.

And really, that kinda goes hand in hand with one of my biggest defenses for these movies. While no, I'm not going to sit here and call these movies "good", I'll certainly admit that they're definitely a whole lot of fun, and there's a lot to enjoy about them, if you're into the "awesomely bad" variety of movies. I liken them to something like the Resident Evil series of movies, which are also completely out of their mind, but still enjoyable enough throughout to keep you following along and seeing where this thing is going.

And the fact that they're clearly self-aware of what kind of movies they are certainly aids in that. There are some truly melodramatic moments all throughout, but the movies never feel like they're taking things too seriously to where they're ever really all that off-putting. I mean, sure, I suppose you could be put off by the idea that movies such as this are trying to tackle such hot-topics such as depression, suicide, and abortion at times. But then, how seriously can we really take a movie that features a scene where Bella is freezing in a tent out in the snow, and in comes a shirtless Jacob to offer to warm her up, turning to Edward and cheekily explaining, "Let's face it, I am hotter than you." Come on, now!

Breaking Dawn: Part 2 contractually obligated shirtless Jacob count: 1
Final series count: 13

But now that we've gotten all of that out of the way, I want to shift focus onto the last aspect of these movies that received a lot of criticism, that being the supposedly bad acting. And honestly, I don't see it. Sure, the performances in these movies weren't necessarily great, but they were a far cry from being anything even remotely bad. And the closest I would say who comes to it would probably be Robert Pattinson in the first movie, who appeared to be struggling the most with this material, as if he hadn't realized what he had gotten himself into until it was too late. But even he comes to grow comfortably into the skin of his fucked up character as the movies progress, and I'd say that in the case of both he and Taylor Lautner, not only do they not give bad performances in these movies, their performances actually improve with each successive movie.

And as bad as the guys got it for these movies, the one whose reputation was arguably tarnished the most was probably Kristen Stewart, and it's 100% undeserved in my estimation. I had actually recently been catching up on some Kristen Stewart movies, having become quite a fan of hers after seeing her incredible performance in Clouds of Sils Maria last year (the single best performance of the entire year, mind you), and to date, I had yet to see her give a single bad performance in anything I've seen her in. So the thought of her actually doing so intrigued me, and that's actually what triggered my interest in seeking out these movies. And I've gotta say, everybody either lied, or they just don't understand what actually makes a performance "bad".

If there's anything amiss in these movies, it's not the acting, but rather, the writing. And when you take into account how these characters are actually written, then yeah, these are actually pretty damn good performances, that properly portray these characters in a fully realized and believable manner, and quite frankly, does this writing a helluva lot more justice than it probably even deserves. But it's not the actors' fault that they're being asked to portray such characters, so the blame shouldn't fall on them for giving supposedly "bad" performances, when really, it's not the acting that people are souring on, but rather, the material throughout that these actors are being asked to say and do.

And as it concerns Kristen Stewart's character of Bella, she plays the character flawlessly. I've heard so much about how she's just blank faced throughout the movies, how she doesn't emote. And now, having seen the movies, the only thing I gotta ask is, did anyone making these claims actually see the movie? Or are they basing those claims on the context-less screencaps that have become internet memes over the years? Because holy shit does Kristen Stewart emote in these movies, and she does so in a big way at that.

But here's the thing about her performance that I don't think people are understanding. Bella is not a very outgoing character. She's clumsy, she doesn't like to dance, she often stays home instead of going out with her friends. So she's a bit socially awkward, a bit of an introvert, a recluse, but someone who's just bubbling with emotion on the inside that she tries to hide, so as to not make herself vulnerable, except from some of those select few whom she trusts. This is the kind of person Bella is. And Kristen Stewart brings exactly that to the table. What she does in these movies is something I like to call, for lack of a better term, a "reserved emotional performance".

For another example of this, check out the movie Carol that came out last year, and in which Rooney Mara was nominated for an Oscar. In that movie, she plays a very similar character, one who is brimming with emotion, but emotion that she keeps locked away inside herself, only revealing it to those she trusts, and only slowly, a little bit at a time. And to pull this off in cinema is no easy feat, in a medium in which performances are often measured in how open and charismatic an individual can carry themselves, to be asked to do the opposite, to hold back and keep as much of that emotion within you, yet still manage to convey that emotion you're keeping bottled up. This is oftentimes accomplished with certain facial gestures, and most of the acting is done with their eyes, which hide a world of emotion behind them, or the tone in their voice, a certain timidness, an uncomfortable uncertainty that comes from a desire to expressly not express themselves.

Rooney Mara pulled this off so well that it earned her an Oscar nomination, but then, she also had the benefit of pulling it off in a more reputable film as well. However, I'm here to argue that Kristen Stewart largely pulls off this same feat in the Twilight films, and that most of her reputation for being a wooden or stilted actor comes not from her actual performance, but from the fact that her performance had to take place in these high profile yet not-so reputable films. But actually watch the movies, take in the context, what her character is experiencing, what she's feeling, the type of person she is, and you'll see, Kristen Stewart brings this character to life beautifully.

As I mentioned before, if there's anything amiss, it's not with her acting, but rather, the material she's being asked to portray. After all, it's not the only time she's played this sorta character, her role in Adventureland was similarly emotionally reserved. However, she actually played a likable character despite her emotional reservations in that film, in addition to the movie being more generally well received at that, so of course her performance was, too, more well received in that go around. But honestly, she brings that same level of emotional depth to these films, and really proves why she's a powerhouse actor.

And I stand by that. If you've seen Clouds of Sils Maria, then you'll know what I'm talking about. This is an actor who knows what she's doing, and brings the best to the role every time. And in the cases of both Clouds of Sils Maria and one of her more recent films Café Society, she leaves such an impact on the film that, once she leaves the screen, you truly feel the weight of her absence. The general quality of those movie tends to dip whenever she's not on screen, and it's noticeable. That's what she brings, and that's what I mean when I call her a powerhouse. It doesn't even feel like she's acting, she just goes out there and does what she does in a way that feels so genuine and so natural, it doesn't feel like we're watching an actor playing a role, but rather, like we're actually watching a real live person living their life on screen.

And it's not like playing this "emotionally reserved" persona is all she does. Her character in Clouds is very open and outspoken. And in the case of something like Adventureland or American Ultra, she also displays a world of charisma (not to mention her incredible chemistry she has with Jesse Eisenberg, to which I will quite frankly always be down for a good Stewart/Eisenberg flick at this point).

I also attribute people criticizing her for acting "wooden" in Twilight to similar complaints that people had for Hayden Christensen in the Star Wars prequels. Again, as with Twilight, if there was anything amiss with anything regarding Christensen's character in those movies, it was with the writing, the things they wanted him to say and do. But actually pay attention to how his character is written, and you'll see, his "wooden" acting was entirely intentional.

Like Stewart, he's a good, solid actor who knows what he's doing. And in the case of the Star Wars prequels, he was asked to portray a character who was raised to keep his feelings under control and act within the bounds of logic, despite being a character who is ruled by his emotions. And all throughout, you can see it in the way he carries himself, the way he might pause before speaking at times, how he's constantly struggling to keep emotion out of his voice, to present himself in a way that fits within what he's been trained to believe is the image of a true Jedi. And though this may come across as "wooden" at times, that's also done on purpose. And it becomes more apparent as he becomes more open, more freely showing his emotion, particularly near the end when he's fully consumed by the dark side.

His physical performance in those movies is outstanding, just watch those movies and look at the way he carries himself with his physical mannerisms, the way he acts with his eyes, even when he's not speaking. And his line delivery, though awkward and lacking emotion at times, is largely an intentional choice throughout given the context surrounding his character (that, and a lot of the lines he's being asked to recite really are just that awkward). However, most people aren't willing to look that deeply into a performance before judging it prematurely and writing it off one way or the other, and before you know it, another great actor's reputation is unfairly tarnished. And it's sad to think that the same has happened to Kristen Stewart, though gladly she's finding plenty of success in the indie market, despite what the Twilight films might have done to her own reputation.

But in these situations, it honestly does feel like the general masses come to a consensus opinion on something, and rather than actually watching something and forming an opinion all their own, most people are content with just allowing for that consensus opinion to dictate their own feelings on a matter, which is really just kind of a disturbing thought, because I would really hope for people to be more open minded than that. I personally never care one way or the other what the popular opinion on a topic is. That's why I don't pay too much attention to aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes, because I don't allow for a general consensus to decide my own opinion for me. I want to form an opinion for myself, and if that happens to fall in line with the masses, well then great! And if it doesn't, eh, oh well! At least I know I'm being honest with myself, and whether or not any of you agree with anything I have to say here, at least you can take away that you're reading an honest, genuine opinion, and that I'm not just repeating what I'm "supposed" to think and feel, as dictated by the popular opinion.

And as it concerns these movies and these performances, if you honestly did give them a chance and you still didn't like them, then by all means, that's fine. My main gripe here is aimed at those who either haven't given the movies a chance yet still spout the rhetoric, or perhaps they have, but just want to fall in line with the popular opinion, so go about spouting off what they think they're "supposed" to say about these films, as opposed to more honestly expressing how they really felt, for whatever reason. Because really, what good does that do anyone? And obviously what I'm saying here goes well beyond just these particular films, but they just so happen to work as a good example. After all, how can we even begin to have a conversation about a topic if we're not willing to be honest about it in the first place?

So yeah, those are pretty much my thoughts. Are the Twilight movies great? Well, no, but are they really as bad as many make them out to be? Honestly, I don't really think they are. But as bad a reputation as the movies have garnered over the years, the biggest shame is the reputation that has been unfairly attached to the cast, who are all quite frankly great actors. Robert Pattinson hasn't really done anything mainstream outside of Twilight and his one-off in the Harry Potter movies, but if those don't convince you, then try watching something like The Rover or Remember Me, and see if that doesn't sway your opinion of him as an actor.

And as for Stewart, she's honestly so good that she's joined the shortlist of actors who I will literally see any movie she's in now. Hell, just recently, we had back to back weekends where new indie releases came to town that I had never even heard of, a movie called Equals and the aforementioned Café Society, and it was only upon seeing that she was in the cast that they immediately secured a ticket purchase from me. And while I haven't seen everything she's done just yet, thus far I've personally yet to see a bad performance out of her, and that remains true even after surviving the Twilight movies. And I don't say that out of some sort of bias for her because I'm just that big a fan, I'll more than admit when an actor I really like didn't pull a performance off, such as when another favorite of mine, Chloë Moretz, completely failed to impress in Dark Shadows. But Kristen Stewart is in a category with someone like Michael Fassbender, an actor who I really like and always delivers, and who always somehow manages to elevate the quality of the movie they're in with their mere presence. She really is just that good.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

An update on my creative endeavors

So earlier in the year, I was all set to begin filming on my next movie project. I even wrote a blog a few months back essentially discussing how ready I was to tackle this monumental endeavor, as I prepared to film my very first feature length movie. I had a finished script, I had more or less assembled a cast and crew, and things were looking to move forward, despite a few hiccups along the way.

But then a few hiccups became a few more, and then a few more after that still. And suddenly, members of the cast and crew were dropping out, copping attitudes, or generally proving themselves to be unreliable. Then the same with a number of locations we had secured, one of which was always making such a loud noise it made it impossible to film there (an issue that was literally non-existent at this location prior to our trying to film there), and others that had either become overly-complicated to schedule a time with, or that had flat out closed down entirely since the time we had secured it.

So many issues arose that I had never anticipated. And all of them were things that were entirely outside of my control. Friendships were either tarnished or lost along the way, and all in all, I honestly don't believe there has ever been a single point in my life where I was as stressed out as during that brief period of time. (Maybe the military?)

And it showed. It showed in the few pieces of footage that we did manage to film, which I really wasn't entirely satisfied with, and it was entirely my fault. I was just so stressed out and brought to a point of desperation that I was willing to make any accommodations, be it with the cast, crew, or locations, and I definitely wasn't in the right frame of mind, as I was more concerned with just getting it done period, rather than getting it done right. But it wasn't fair to the project, or to the cast and crew who did their parts, and if I had continued forward like this, it likely would have shown all throughout in the finished product.

And even in my life outside of this project, I had become a tired slog at work, and I never felt like I had even a single minute to relax, and found most of my interactions with friends had gradually become a venting session to just complain about the sheer amount of stress and frustration that the project was creating. It honestly felt like there was some sort of divine intervention going on, like the universe was telling me to put this project on hold for now. And I fought back for as long as I could, until, after almost half a year of non-stop stress, I had finally reached my breaking point, my passion for the project had finally died out entirely, and so I decided to shelve the project. And also considering the sheer stupid amount of money and work that I had put into it, you know that things got bad if I still shelved the project anyways. After all, what use was there in continuing to stress out over so much that I had no control over?

The project was such a colossal disaster that it really damaged my interactions with people in general, who had absolutely taken their toll on me by this point, so I pretty much just mostly kept to myself for a good bit of time afterwards, and decided to shift focus onto something I could work on that didn't force me to rely on others. And so I picked back up on my Ninja Kat books. I had taken over a year off of working on them in order to focus more on my film stuff, but in the process, that series was going more and more neglected, and I honestly had no clue when I was ever going to have the time to get back around to working on them again. But I took this as an opportunity to do just that, and I couldn't be more at peace with that decision.

I mentioned how it felt like divine intervention that was telling me to put my film project on hold, and I'm thinking that perhaps that very well might be the case, as if this all was supposed to happen so that I would be put back on track to finishing my Ninja Kat series. It sucks that this is what it took, but you know, I'm not sure there's ever been a point in my life where I've ever been even nearly as productive as I am now. I've been more consistent with my work than ever before, utilizing every single day I have off as an opportunity to go out and get some more writing done. And as a result, I've already finished a full draft of The Masquerade, which is now currently in the hands of test readers. I honestly didn't think I would even be halfway done with that book by this point in the year, but here I am, already beginning work on the fourth book. And I'm on such a roll that I think I wanna just stick with this for the time being, and put my film plans on hold until it's the right time to give that my full focus again.

In terms of personal relationships, I've been very much hurt by a lot of people who I fully trusted throughout the year, so much so that I'm finding it harder and harder to trust a lot of other people now as a result. But it's something that I'm working on, slowly but surely, as the one's who truly do care are making themselves known, the one's who actually have made an effort to reach out to me, and I am very grateful for those individuals. But in the meantime, as I've mostly kept to myself, I've just been chugging away, writing more and more, and at a pace that even I'm a little amazed by.

I have had times in my life where I had taken time away from my day job in order to just try and focus on my creative projects. And when I think back, I honestly did waste a whole lot of that free time, as I don't think I was yet at a point in my life where I really took it seriously enough. But now, since I've become consistent with my work, I've now actually reached a point that's the exact opposite, where now if I ever have a typical lazy day where I don't get something even a little productive done, I actually end up feeling guilty about it, and can't really even enjoy myself.

But I've reached that point now, where my creative work has become my leisure of choice. And I just recently took a week vacation, in which I used it as an opportunity to get even more of my work done. And I'm actually happy that I've finally reached this point, the point where I'm really, truly taking my work seriously, and I think it'll show, my passion reinvigorated will shine in my work. And as I enter the next stage of this creative process, I'm going to need that passion to keep me going. Because, now that The Masquerade is nearing its release date, that means that I've gotta start really promoting it soon. And this is always my least favorite part of the process, and something that has become harder and harder as time has gone on for a number of reasons, but that's another discussion for another day.

And as for what the future holds, well, I definitely intend to get back into film again eventually. And in fact, I'm even still open to helping others out on their own film projects here and there, as I've been doing from time to time. And even this past Friday, August 12th, I was invited back to the second ever Tallahassee Premiere Nights event, where they featured my short film Dream Girl, so that was pretty cool, and I think we might've even had a bigger turnout this time around, too. They certainly played a more diverse variety of films at least, in terms of genre, which was nice, and gave each of them a better chance of standing out from one another.

But yeah, that's pretty much where I'm at. For the time being, I intend to just keep focused on my novel writing, to finish up these Ninja Kat books, and continue to see how things will pan out for the series. I'd love to even pick the comic book back up as well, but we'll see on that. But as for my own personal stuff, I think this little break away from film in a general sense will definitely do me some good, and by the time I've wrapped things up on my book series, I'll be properly refreshed and ready to tackle some more collaborative efforts again once more.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Look Inside Velcro: The Masquerade

Hey Ninja Kat fans! The wait is almost over. Book Three of The Ninja Kat series, Velcro: The Masquerade, is almost here! The official page for The Masquerade is currently live and features a full synopsis, and the first chapter of this latest entry is available now for your reading pleasure. So give it a read by clicking on the image below, and we'll be sure to keep you updated as more news regarding The Masquerade and its upcoming release becomes available.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Swiss Army Man

Swiss Army Man is a bizarre movie, absolutely. But look beyond its rampant dick and fart jokes, and what you'll find is a brilliantly magical film here. Quite frankly, this movie about a man stranded on a desert island who comes across a farting corpse that slowly starts to come to life is a metaphorical work of art, The Tree of Life for the weird and the awkward, and I absolutely loved it.

The movie starts with our lead character Hank, played by Paul Dano, stranded on a small island, completely alone, and attempting to take his life, when the dead corpse of Manny, played by Daniel Radcliffe, suddenly washes ashore. And it's soon after coming across this corpse that Hank discovers his way off the island, in the form of riding Manny like a jet-ski across the ocean, who is propelling their momentum via his non-stop farting. Stay with me here, folks.

After reaching land, they find themselves washed on a beach just outside a forest, which they can see has been recently traversed as a result of all of the trash they find all over the place. So, Hank and Manny have essentially found themselves back to the outskirts of society, yet still very much remain lost and alone, stranded, as if they were still stuck on that island.

And as the movie progresses, Manny slowly starts to actually come to life, and it's up to Hank to essentially re-train him on what it means to be human. And the more the two connect, the more alive Manny becomes. And likewise, as the movie continues to progress, Manny proves time and time again to be a source of life to Hank. They are each others life-support. In this strange world where they don't quite fit in, they give each other a reason to live and keep on going.

On the outset, you can watch this movie and all that I just described above, and take it as merely a really bizarrely silly comedy about a man and his dead zombie-like friend trying to find their way back home. But really, their entire journey completely embodies what it's like to be this type of person, someone who is a little weird, a little quirky, doesn't quite fit in with society's social norms, and might be a little more introverted and shy than most.

Hank starting off completely secluded on that island shows us literally just how alone he feels in this world. But then Manny comes into his life, and that shows us how all it can take is one friend reaching out to you to help bring you from the brink of your darkest moments, in this case, Hank attempting to commit suicide, unable to take the loneliness anymore. Manny, the proverbial "Swiss Army Man", becomes the very tool needed to fix Hank's loneliness and show him the way to a better, more meaningful life.

But Hank's not the only one who's a little weird, as Manny very much shares a lot of his similar personality traits. And it's in their shared weirdness that the two are able to connect, and just as Manny's presence brought Hank back from the brink and gave him a reason to keep on going, Hank stepping into Manny's life literally gives him life. And this aspect is never more evident than when the two, much later in the movie, fall into a river, and Manny, unable to move, is drowning into the depths of the water, until Hank swims down to save his undead friend, and the two embrace in what appears to be a literally life-giving kiss as Hank presses his lips to Manny's and takes in a breath of air. And the moment when he pulls back and realizes what he just did and goes back in for another breath will probably stand as one of my favorite moments in film this year, as it really just epitomizes the sheer beauty on display and the depths that this film is willing to dive to in order to tackle this movie's issues in the metaphorical manner that it's presented to us here, as the two literally save each other in that moment.

Let's back up a little now, and take a look at when Hank was going over the meaning of life to Manny. He essentially trains him on how to be human, and in doing so, covers all of those social norms that one must adhere to in order to try and fit in with society, many of which Manny, in his innocent state, finds himself questioning, leading to some hilariously awkward dialogue. But eventually, their lessons lead to the conquest of love, and when Manny sees the girl who Hank has saved as his background picture on his phone, it's love at first sight for him, and that's when the real magic of this movie starts to present itself.

We see how Manny's crush on this girl further develops, and how this girl's presence in his life gives him even more reason to live and keep going. And upon seeing this for himself, Hank begins to perpetuate this crush as a means to help them get unlost. And for a time, this appears to be working, and it's this one-sided love that ultimately helps bring them back to society, but more on that in a second.

However, it's just fascinating seeing this entire journey play out for Manny, as he experiences not only love, but the crushing heartache at the realization that his love can never truly be realized in the way that he had imagined it. And upon this discovery, he starts to revert back to his dead self, no longer seeing a reason to continue to live and go on in that moment, and it's only in seeing his friend in peril that he remembers that there's more to life than romantic love, and that he finds a whole new purpose to keep on living, coming even more alive than ever before.

I now want to talk about the ending of this movie, after the two finally do find themselves back in society, literally in the backyard of the girl they had been crushing on. And the first thing we realize in this moment is just how close to society they actually were this entire time as they were wandering through the woods, and yet how cut off from it they were all the same. But as the two finally find themselves in contact with other people in the real world, it's only then that we actually see just how cut off from society they really are on a much deeper level.

To be honest, when I initially saw the movie, I actually didn't feel like the ending fit, like it was almost jarring in how tonally disconnected it felt from the rest of the movie, and kinda wished that the movie had either cut short or tried another route. But it wasn't until some further reflection that I realized that this ending not feeling like it fits with the rest of the movie is precisely what makes it the perfect way to end this movie, because it really emphasizes just how much our leads themselves just do not fit within society.

If the two embracing in a kiss under the water is one of the most beautiful moments in cinema this year, then Manny's reaction when he finally meets another person, only to find them reacting exactly as Hank had warned them they would, reacting weirded out and frightened by him, and his completely bottling back up and becoming completely dead again in response, this is possibly among the most tormenting moments of the year, as it just really hits hard in how honest it is, a fear fully realized, the fear of not being accepted for who you are, of people acting weirded out by you even.

And in this sequence, we also see just how bad Hank's social anxiety is as well, as he's suddenly not the open and talkative individual we had come to know and love by this point, but rather, finds himself too shy for words, in a moment that's striking in its execution. But it all comes around at the end as Hank tries to run away with Manny and bring him back to life, seeing in that moment that the two really do need one another in this big scary world where they don't belong in, and it's only after a show of trust, that Hank isn't judging Manny the way that everyone else is, that he does accept him for who he is, quirks and everything, that Manny comes back from the brink, just as Manny had brought Hank back in the beginning.

As the two are being chased through the woods, though, the ones chasing them come across all the various things that Hank had been busy creating during their time in the woods, cobbling together all the trash and limbs and such around them in order to build things such as a fake bus, a theater, a diner and such all throughout the movie during Hank's various life lessons to Manny, which no words I write can even begin to do justice in trying to describe them, and you'll just have to see them to believe. Hank proves himself to be quite the resourceful guy in this regard, which can initially make you wonder how such a person can have such a hard time finding his way out of the woods, but that, of course, isn't the point the movie's trying to get to.

This particular aspect shows us how the more introverted types happen to also oftentimes be creative types, and the production design in this movie is immaculate in depicting this. And as amazing as it is seeing him making all of this stuff, it all pays off big in just how impressed the others are when they comes across it in the end, showing that Hank isn't as worthless to society as he makes himself out to be, and there he does have something worthwhile to contribute.

What I also loved about this movie was its use of music. I have mentioned in the past a number of times how my favorite use of music in movies is when it's incorporated in a way where it becomes an active participant in the film that the characters on screen are actually hearing, just as we are, which immerses us into the movie on a far greater level than a score playing music that just happens to compliment the scene would. Recent examples of this kind of use of music in action are the scores for Inception and Mad Max: Fury Road, as well as the soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy.

But this movie almost outdoes all of those examples, as the score here, as brilliantly first introduced right from the outset, is Hank's humming and singing to himself, humming a few notes which are then repeated over and over, until he adds a few more notes to it, which becomes an added layer to the music he's created, and that just keeps expanding further and further until we have a full on musical accompaniment straight out of the mind of our main character. In this instance, it's not just a matter of hearing the same thing the characters on screen are hearing, this movie literally gets us in our characters head with its score, which I thought was just absolutely brilliant.

Now, it can be easy to look at the movie as being immature for its insistence on going with all of the farting gags and whatnot throughout, even going so far as to use Manny's boner as a compass to guide them out of the woods in the movie. But honestly, I think the decision to do this goes deeper than cheap laughs. I had mentioned before how Hank is essentially teaching Manny how to be human, and I think going with these baser human functions really helps emphasize that aspect, to remind us that, despite all of our flaws or our differences, we all have the same strange bodily functions that we hide from one another in shame, in order to further conform within society. But where most movies would go for this sort of humor just to be immature for immaturity's sake, here, the movie is almost insisting that we take a look back at our more immature sensibilities, to not be ashamed of them, as it's all a part of what helps make us human, which is actually quite a mature statement to make.

And I could just keep gushing more and more about this movie, but I just absolutely loved it. Paul Dano was fantastic, and I think Daniel Radcliffe's performance was simply ingenious, and the two had a phenomenal chemistry that totally carried this movie. In lesser hands, this movie could've completely fallen flat, but the fantastic direction and magnificent performances truly brought this script to life like nothing else, and brought us a movie unlike anything else we've ever seen.

This is probably going to be the movie that I'm most gutted about should it go ignored come awards season (as of this writing, it's got Best Score and Best Actor for Daniel Radcliffe in the bag for me, with nods to Best Direction, Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design, and Best Actor for Paul Dano at the least), 'cause this is a movie that is from start to finish just a magical experience to take part in, taking a deep look at the psyche of the weird and the awkward, and bringing it to the forefront on a literal level. To say that I could relate to this movie is putting it mildly, but I really hope that this one doesn't get so easily disregarded as being merely silly and weird, when there's so much deeper going on with this fantastic film.