Thursday, December 26, 2019

My Top 5 Movies of 2019

So without further ado, now presenting my personal picks for this year's best in movies, or what I'd like to call, the films that to me felt like a true breath of fresh air in the modern landscape of film.


Doctor Sleep
(Mike Flanagan)

A total Frankenstein's Monster of a movie, this is a film that in the hands of a lesser director would've been a complete trainwreck, but it's a testament to just how good Mike Flanagan is that he manages to make this film work all the same, and only further serves to prove just why he's become one of my go-to directors. It's a sequel to the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film The Shining, and totally feels it. Except for when it doesn't, and instead feels like a YA supernatural film, only an exceptionally good one thanks to some creatively stylized choices in the way it handles its more cerebral aspects, and with odd horror elements that are executed in such a way that feel like they shouldn't work, seeing our villains oftentimes on the receiving end of the horror at play, and yet it remains as compelling as ever throughout anyways.

Excellent performances throughout from the likes of Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, and Jacob Tremblay help elevate the material, as does certainly the best use of music I've heard in a Flanagan film yet in the form of its beating heartbeat of a score. And a scene at the bar of the Overlook Hotel may be among the simpler scenes in the entire film, yet in its execution, it also manages to be one of the most gripping pieces of cinema this whole year.


(Todd Phillips)

Perhaps the most unfairly hated on movie of the year by some circles of the internet, this movie truly exceeded all expectations I had of it, and is probably the best movie one could hope for based around the origin story of the Joker. And while he may never come close to matching Heath Ledger's take on the character, Joaquin Phoenix is an absolute force in this film, and gives a performance that's layered and, at times, truly terrifying.

I really just dug how despite being a big franchise comic book film based on an incredibly popular character, this movie is the furthest thing one could think from the typical modern blockbuster, taking an old school lower budget approach that really helps ground the film and gives it a much more refreshing feel, and backed by a script that's honestly a hell of a lot more clever than I think a lot of people are giving it credit for. This is a true standout film in the genre, for sure.


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
(Quentin Tarantino)

At least one review that I've seen referred to this movie as feeling like a warm blanket in the modern landscape of film, and I don't think I could come up with a more apt description of this movie myself. I just loved spending time in this era that Tarantino brought back to life, and really taking our time to breathe in the scenery and this world.

And we follow yet another gathering of some exceptionally compelling characters, with Leonardo DiCaprio giving an emotionally vulnerable performance that honestly may be his best work in a film yet, and Brad Pitt proving to be the MVP of 2019 after giving us stellar performances both here and in Ad Astra. This is a movie filled with great characters and great moments, in a Hollywood retelling of a tragic moment in time that once again changes history in satisfying ways, not unlike how he did with Inglourious Basterds, and which may well be his best work since that movie at that.


Avengers: Endgame
(Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)

Unlike all the other movies on this list, I wouldn't necessarily call this one a breath of fresh air or anything, as it is still just another big and bombastic modern day action blockbuster superhero flick, if an especially good one. But even so, it was still a completely satisfying and emotionally thrilling experience all the same. Basically a three hour long celebration of this 20+ movie series that's been spanning over 10 years by this point, and I can't think of a better way to wrap up such an epic achievement.

The Russo brothers have surely outdone themselves here, once again managing to balance so much story and so many characters, and all so seamlessly, and all while still managing to get out some of the best performances out of their cast. Following Civil War, this is now the second time the Russos have gotten a career best performance out of Robert Downey Jr., and Chris Hemsworth similarly gives a career best performance of his own, bringing a stunning range of emotion and depth to a performance that could've easily been written off as just comic relief in lesser hands.

This is a movie full of moments. And this movie earns its moments, and sends off this massive series of movies on the highest note possible.


Frozen II
(Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)

This movie was everything. Everything.

So there you have it, may Top 5 Movies of 2019. But we're not through just yet, as next, seeing as we've made it to the end of the decade, I'll be counting down my picks for the Top Movies of the Decade. So keep an eye out for that coming soon!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Looking back at the last 10 years...

Most years at the end of the year, I take a look back at the past year and sorta reminisce on my achievments from that year. But seeing as this year comes at the end of the decade, I thought I'd instead like to take a look back and see what all I've accomplished in that time, and sorta see how far along I've come since the start of it. So, without further ado...

2012 - Release of my first short film, and my first novel

I spent the earlier years of the decade still doing a lot of writing, including novel length works and various script ideas, and gradually working towards something that I could actually put out and release to the public. And the years of work finally paid off come 2012, as it saw the release of my first short film, The Red Scarf, as well as my first novel, Velcro: The Ninja Kat.

Click image for link to book.

2013 - Release of my first comic book

Shortly after the release of Velcro: The Ninja Kat, I was approached by one Trevor Tee about the possibility of collaborating on a comic book adaptation of it, and we officially released the first issue in the following year, which ran for almost two years before life got in the way of production.

Sadly, the site we used to upload the comic online has since shut down, so I'll still have to get around to re-uploading it all at some point.

2014 - Release of Velcro: The Green Lion

While the comic book adaptation may have gradually lingered away, my work on the novel series hadn't wavered, as the following year saw the release of the first Ninja Kat sequel, Velcro: The Green Lion.

Click image for link to book.

One of the biggest lessons I've learned as a writer was that you learn more by finishing projects. And after seeing my first novel all the way through to completion, I learned so much more through that experience than I ever did through attending any writing workshops or reading any "how to" writing guides, and I feel that definitely showed in the finished product this time around, which I was a lot more pleased by.

2015 - Release of Dream Girl and Breathe, and on stage acting debut

After focusing so much on the novel side of things for so long, I decided to shift focus back to filmmaking again in 2015, finally getting around to filming a couple of scripts that I had been playing with for a little while by that point.

This year also saw me making my on stage debut as an actor in the play Splintered Judgement.

Prior to this point, I had acted in all of my movies, yet I still hadn't yet actually considered myself to be an actor. After working on this play though, I suppose I technically couldn't make that claim anymore.

2016 - Theatrical debut, and release of Velcro: The Masquerade

Both of my shorts I had filmed the previous year made their theatrical debut the following year at Tallahassee Premiere Nights.

So that was a pretty cool experience, finally being able to show some of my work to an audience on the big screen, and get some live reactions to them.

And the third entry of The Ninja Kat series also released in 2016, and I still maintain that it's the best thing I've ever written to date. At least, it's the piece that I'm the most personally satisfied with how it turned out. Hopefully I'll be able to best it one day, though!

Click image for link to book.

2017 - Release of Velcro: Polluted War

I wasted no time this time around hopping right onto the next entry, and the following year saw the release of the fourth book in the Ninja Kat series, Velcro: Polluted War.

Click image for link to book.

It's been two years since this entry released, and this one ends with a real harsh cliff hanger, so you all have been real patient with me. But I assure you, the fifth entry is indeed coming along!

2018 - Release of Sianostra and Kip

I had once again been working on a number of screenplays in the meantime, and once again felt that itch to bring some of those scripts to life.

Sianostra saw the first time I filmed a script based on someone else's idea, so that was a neat little challenge. And then Kip is my first go at an on screen adaptation, as it's the first film to adapt some of the story elements from my Ninja Kat novels into live action. Kip may in fact be my favorite of my movies to date (it's between it or The Red Scarf at least), and it's certainly the one I think turned out to be the coolest of the bunch so far.

2019 - Other film productions I worked on

While I didn't manage to put out any new personal projects of my own this year, there are a number of other projects I helped collaborate on that came out, including the web series Not So Innocent.

Not So Innocent, directed by Andre Forbes
My role: Actor, Editor

I also spent some time working on a number of projects in New York at the latter end of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. And while some of those projects are still undergoing post-production, others have since been released, and a number of them have been accepted into film competition, and even won at that.

Swiped., directed by Dan Couri
My role: Assistant Director

The Will, directed by Duan Duan
My role: Production Assistant, Boom Operator

Crazy for the Blonde, directed by Mark Clauburg
My role: 2nd Assistant Director, Actor

The Way Out, directed by Lindsay Katt
My role: Production Assistant

Disavow, directed by Alex Hughes
My role: Camera Production Assistant

And those are the projects that have actually seen their debut this year, and there's still more that are ready to make their debut in the coming year as well, so that's pretty exciting.

Other than that though, as to my personal projects, like I said, I'm still working on the fifth Ninja Kat book, and I promised that I was going to have a DVD out this year, but it's looking like this is going to be maybe the first time I won't be able to make my promised deadline. It's been a bit of a rough year honestly, and a lot of my plans have gotten pretty derailed, and I've just been dealing with a lot of personal issues lately, which has in turn seen a lot of my productivity suffer as a result. I'm hoping to be able to address some of these issues sooner rather than later though, and hopefully get things back on track.

In the meantime though, while this last year might not have been my most productive, looking back on the past 10 years, I think I have a lot to be proud of. I've released five short films, four novels, and a comic book, traveled around doing book signings and runnings tables at conventions promoting my work, saw my movies screened in theaters, and collaborated with other artists on films that have been screened and won at various film festivals.

And we're still just getting started.

So hopefully by this time come the next decade, there'll be a lot more for me to look back on and be proud of yet!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Frozen II

God, I can't remember the last time I went into a movie this stupidly excited for it, and it actually met my ridiculous expectations for it. Granted, after being burned so many times by getting my hopes up for a highly anticipated movie, and subsequently being left disappointed by it, I've actually learned to not get so hyped for certain upcoming movies. But with this one I couldn't even help myself, especially as we got closer and closer to its release. After all, my love for the first movie has been well documented here over the years. And yeah, my nerves were definitely high, because this movie had all the potential in the world to go so wrong. But thankfully, this movie couldn't have gone more right. This film was truly an event, for me at least, and the fact that it turned out as genuinely fantastic as it did is nothing short of a miracle.

As I write this review, I've actually now seen the movie five times so far (currently tied with La La Land for the most times I've ever seen a movie in the theater), and it's only gotten better with each new viewing, as I notice more and more little details. And it's such a well paced movie that feels like such a breeze, that even after so many viewings it still never even begins to drag at any point. But I have so much to say about this movie that my thoughts on it almost feel like they're all over the place, and I've found myself kind of struggling to even get it all down as a result, because I don't even really know where to begin, hence this review coming along so late.

So, perhaps let's start with the storytelling then, which sorta fits in with that line of thought. Because it's almost surprising how this is a movie targeted primarily at younger audiences, because the movie utilizes quite a bit of vague and poetic ways of telling its story, which is quite fitting, given its themes of fairy tales and nursery rhymes, and finding the hidden meaning behind such myths, even treating the first movie as such at times. It's not that it's hard to follow along or anything, but it definitely leaves a lot of gaps as it concerns the catalyst behind the film's central conflicts and such, which it trusts its audience to be able to fill in for themselves. It's nothing too distracting, though it does give one something to ponder over, and it actually did take me until about my third viewing before I was able to really piece everything together, which was pretty rewarding, and again, really surprising coming from a Disney animated flick. I really appreciated how this movie respects its audience's intelligence though, and how it didn't find it necessary to hold our hand the whole way through (though there is still plenty of exposition to explain some things along the way).

This is the sort of storytelling you'd maybe more expect out of an arthouse indie flick or something. And, well, in many ways this movie very much felt precisely like that, like I was watching something more arthouse than conventional blockbuster fare. This is seen not only in some of the vaguer aspects of its storytelling, but also visually and musically, like how quite a bit of Elsa's journey is played out using a lot of visual storytelling, taking full advantage of the medium. And unlike the first movie, which felt like it sorta abandoned the musical genre in its last act, this movie totally embraces being a musical through and through. The songs are all so tightly and cohesively interwoven together, this movie almost feels like one long piece of music being played out over the course of its runtime. Elements from one song will appear in another, whether those elements be lyrical or instrumental, and even elements from songs in the first movie sprinkle themselves in, really even tying the two films together quite neatly, which I'll dive more into in a moment.

But just as the storytelling feels fairly unconventional for a Disney animated flick, so too does its use of music. The first Frozen had a number of songs that felt more Broadway in style, and that's definitely the case here as well, even more so. I'll also say that there's definitely more consistency here stylistically from song to song as compared to the first movie, which sometimes had songs that did feel almost out of place. And even when there isn't a musical number actively taking place, they continue to use music as a means of moving the story forward, such as in the form of the siren's call throughout. So I just loved that about this movie, how it's totally a full blown musical all throughout, and embraces music as a means of telling their story, as opposed to just putting the movie on pause for a quick musical number, as can often be the case in these sorts of movies.

As to the songs themselves, I'm not sure I'm ready just yet to say there's anything in this film that quite matches the likes of "Let It Go" or "For the First Time in Forever", but man do they get close. Elsa gets two solo songs this time out, and they are both absolutely killer. I love the progression in these songs, and how Idina uses her voice, such as how she's only belting out in "Into the Unknown" whenever she's actively calling back out to the siren, or how she gradually continues to ramp up her emotion as she dives deeper and deeper into "Show Yourself". And Anna gets a solo all her own this time with "The Next Right Thing", and I'll tell you what, Kristen Bell absolutely sells this song, giving us one hell of a performance, and taking us on an emotional journey right along with her. Seriously, just for the sheer range and amount of emotion they're able to convey with their voices, I'd say both Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell should be in some serious awards consideration for their off the charts outings in this film.

Kristoff may have gotten a bit of a shaft in terms of having a song until now, but they finally give poor Jonathan Groff a full blown musical number in this film with "Lost in the Woods", and it's an absolute riot. It's just so over the top cheesy, and perfectly fits this character. And in terms of the movie's humor, I gotta hand it to Josh Gad, he totally outdoes himself this time around. I thought Olaf was pretty damn funny in the first movie, but holy crap is he hilarious this go around, and a lot of that really does come down to Gad's spot on delivery. And it's sort of crazy how deep they get with this character this time out, too. There's far more to him than just mere comic relief, they've developed the character to where he's undergoing maturity and starting to question the world around him, and it's actually pretty fascinating. Like, who woulda thought that Olaf the snowman would wind up having more depth to his character than 99% of any other character I've seen in about 99% of any other movie this year? But again, Josh Gad totally brings this character to life and makes him work, and his delivery is so damn good, I'd honestly be willing to toss his name in the hat for awards recognition as well.

But now let's talk for a moment about just how emotional an experience this was to sit through. Like, I can't remember the last time a movie so thoroughly wrecked me to my core and made me openly weep this much during it, but on my first viewing, I already had tears welling up in my eyes from the very first note. I mentioned before how this movie ties itself in with the first one, often paralleling with the original without ever feeling like it's just repeating the same story beats, and it does so in ways that are so beautiful, yet so unexpected. Like, some of those elements that I mentioned may have felt out of place in the first movie, yeah, they take some of that stuff and work them into this one in ways that give them a whole new context, and thusly a whole new importance. For instance, without giving too much away, maybe halfway into the film, there's a callback to the opening tribal chanting sounding music from the very beginning of the first movie that always felt a little weird. But once they bring it back here, it's done so in a way that just feels so completely satisfying and so immensely heart warming that it's left me in a puddle of tears every single time.

But while that moment may have brought on tears of satisfaction, "Show Yourself" features a moment that made me audibly gasp on first viewing, the first time a movie's ever triggered such a reaction out of me before. And this whole sequence is just so stunning and so gorgeous, and it left me crying tears of pure joy right along with our characters on the screen. Like, it's almost overwhelming how heavy the emotions hit in this song. And like the earlier callback I mentioned before, this scene also features a number of callbacks as well, including one to "Let It Go" that I especially loved, because the reaction is just so natural and realistic, and it's such a small moment, but it's these little moments like this sprinkled throughout that really make these characters feel so real and so alive. (And seriously though, this movie is a prime example of how to do callbacks to previous movies right.)

But it's not all fun and games, as by the time we get to Anna's song of transformation, those tears of happiness are replaced with ones of grief, and a somber hopefulness. Just, this movie covers the full spectrum of emotion, and it hits damn hard. This was just such an emotional experience of a film to sit through, and even when I wasn't left wiping away tears from my eyes, I often found that this movie was just leaving me smiling the biggest grin throughout, as I was just completely swept away by the visual and musical magic on the screen.

And speaking of visuals, my lord, this is seriously without question the very best that any 3D animated film has ever looked to date. The landscapes and the elements are close to photorealistic at times, and the character animation has never looked smoother. And stylistically this thing is just a work of sheer beauty, with both of our leads transformative moments being key standouts, “Show Yourself” being just a pure vibrant spectacle to marvel at, and “The Next Right Thing” appropriately taking the stark opposite approach, really grounding the film in ways that are, again, not something I'd expect out of a Disney animated film.

I'm not gonna lie, I haven't exactly been thrilled by the general direction the film industry appears to have taken in the past couple years, and this direction has been reflected in the general quality of the movies that have been released, where I honestly feel like most movies these days have become instantly forgettable fare, with very few really connecting with me anymore. There have been some exceptions of course, and this year, there's been precisely three movies I've seen that have actually felt like a breath of fresh air in the modern landscape of film, those being Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Joker, and Doctor Sleep. Frozen II didn't just feel like a breath of fresh air though. This film felt like a breath of life. Like, not since La La Land have I felt so exhilarated by a movie, and felt so alive watching it in the theater. Three years I've been waiting for such an experience again, and just when I was beginning to think it might not even be possible anymore. Truly, this film is the one I've been waiting for all of my life.

This movie far exceeded my expectations, and delivered such a wonderful, beautiful, and touching experience all around. I love revisiting and exploring deeper into this world and its lore, and rejoining these characters and following along as they continue to grow and learn and experience their trials and tribulations. (And I think it's pretty safe to say at this point that Elsa is indeed my spirit animal.) There's just so much love and care pumped into this film, and it all comes through in the biggest way imaginable. This movie shouldn't have been even nearly as good as it is, and yet it is. Like Inside Out before, this is only the second time ever that I would describe a movie as being an absolute miracle of a film, and I'm so glad and so thankful that this movie and this franchise exists, and that I got to experience it.