Archives for December 2016

Looking Back at 2016

As the sun sets on what can only be described as an “interesting” year, time for some reflections, thoughts, and hope for what is to come in 2017 both cinematically and for the world as a whole.

A bunch of wouldas-couldas-shouldas. Normally I am eager to run to my latest multiplex or art house theater to see the latest and greatest. Well, 2016 seemed to provide a mixed bag for me. While I still averaged about one trip to the movie theater a month, overall, until pretty late in the calendar, not many films I felt were “must sees.” This and the fact that my work-life balance in 2016 got totally out of joint meant that I had a bit of a scaling back of my viewing and coverage of many films. Among some missed opportunities this year included:

Sure this is a short list which will over the years grow as I look back and attempt to play catch up, but for now, these are films I really wish that I had seen while the getting was good.

And yet there were more than a handful of pleasant surprises… some were covered here and some have yet to be covered. Chief among this lot is the Irish indie Sing Street, which screams of nostalgia for that wonderful musical decade (the 1980’s) in a refreshing and entertaining way. More on this in an upcoming post.

Increased access and availability to decades worth of world cinema. One of the more pleasurable experiences I have had in mixing old and new when it comes to my luv of cinema is that the possibilities of “discoveries” becomes nearly limitless. And now, thanks to specialist streaming services like the TCM-Criterion collaboration Filmstruck, the world of cinema is a few clicks of a remote or keystroke away. My first film viewed using this service was the 1943 French horror film La Main du diable. Based on my reaction after plucking this title out of the catalog, I am sure that over the course of this next year (paid subscription through 2017), I will definitely get my money’s worth.

The year in which I saw The Passion of Joan of Arc. I discussed this film around the time I saw it at the 2016 TCM Film Festival, but it is worth mentioning again. Simply stated, seeing this film on the big screen with live musical accompaniment was a truly transformative experience for me. I cannot say enough about this film.

… also the year I saw I, Daniel Blake. Speaking of transformative cinematic experiences, Ken Loach’s latest reduced me to a puddle of tears. It is definitely a film that I found myself recommending over and over again to folks.

Not all ‘boyhoods’ are created equally. I know that everyone is praising Moonlight right now, but believe it, it is well deserved.  I said it at the time and it holds up even more now that I have had months to meditate on it – Moonlight, a poetic story of a young man coming up in a world that may not totally understand him, is everything that I think films like Boyhood could only aspire to be. And I say that as someone who liked Boyhood.

Looking ahead to 2017 …

This probably is worthy of its own post in the coming days since it requires a level of research on my part, but as I always do, I go into the new year with my eyes and ears open. Maybe because of the world events which surround us all, I am really (really) looking forward to going to the movies as a form of escape. What does that mean about the frequency of and selection of the films I see? Only time will tell. But starting in mid-January, I look forward to covering the Sundance Film Festival – again from afar (scheduling will not allow me to travel out to Park City this year). I have taken a look at the films scheduled, but now plan on really going deep, as in recent years, I have used the films screened at Sundance as a barometer of gauging what most to look forward to in the next twelve months.

But let me not get ahead of myself. Even before my ‘remote coverage’ begins, I am starting the new year off right by seeing Fences tomorrow.

So that is me done – see you next year!


Star Wars’ Rogue One – A Standout Standalone in the Galactic Series

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was just about any and everything you could hope for in a story where you (kinda?) know what the overall outcome is. Or at the very least, it is a story which will answer some of those lingering questions a Star Wars movie fan might have had, but were not addressed elsewhere.

Like most films I have gone to the theater to see as of late, I went into Rogue One actually knowing very little about it in terms of plot. Of course, I can’t take full credit for this, since it was widely reported that there were several reshoots done to “correct” some of the issues the studio (Disney) had with the movie even as information was being shared with the public. In most cases, knowing this bit of information would not leave me feeling that good about the movie’s prospects, but I was confident that Disney would spare no expense to prevent a stinker of this magnitude from being dumped into cinemas across the world. With the general popularity and acclaim which came from their first outing as outright owners of the Star Wars property (last year’s The Force Awakens), it seemed a certainty that they would not let the side down.

The only other detail I carried into the theater with me was that Rogue One sits as a bridge between Revenge of the Sith (Episode 3) and A New Hope (Episode 4). That aspect was intriguing to me because I am sure there are about a million stories they could tell that could serve the larger narrative justice – it was more a question of which one they would choose. Overall, it is a welcome addition and can provide any newbies to the franchise a reasonable excuse to gingerly pass by the largely disappointing prequels and start with this movie instead. Sure you miss some of the finer details of the Darth Vader origin story, but from this point in the story, you can figure it out and what you don’t figure out you can have filled in for you by your squad.

What Rogue One aims to do (and accomplishes in my opinion) is to set itself apart in so much as being a Star Wars story that is both familiar and new to us. In terms of setup, Rogue One is more or less a standalone episode. It is therefore essential that the filmmakers take some time to establish these new characters and contextualize them for the audience based on our prior knowledge of the Star Wars universe (or galaxy). Top to bottom, I felt connected to the cast of characters we were introduced to. Further congrats to the creatives at Disney for committing to populating the story with such a diverse array of individuals.

Of course, the challenge is to plot this out (not rushing it) but also move the story along at a pace which continues to engage the audience. My suggestion for those fans who tend to go into their sci-fi space adventures expecting wall-to-wall action packed sequences is to be patient. All of the setup we are given in the beginning culminates with a closing 45 plus minutes that has some really riveting and intense set pieces that are reminiscent of many a wartime-action epic motion picture you may have previously seen on the big screen.

We are also treated to a few “Easter Eggs” that uniquely ties the episodes together. Check your local internets to see if you found some of these gems in your viewing 🙂

Also worth noting that Rogue One is also one of, if not THE  darkest chapter in the Star Wars movie franchise to date (rivaling The Empire Strikes Back [Episode V] for that title IMO). Mind you, it totally makes sense considering where in the larger story we are, but still, be prepared. Be very prepared. Stripping away all the sci-fi and special effects, you are left with a narrative that carries a great deal of pathos and emotional weight. By the end of the proceedings, you may feel that the film’s conclusion was inevitable, but the construction and actions in the film are more than enough to capture your attention and keep you engaged up until that point.

There is probably a whole bunch else that I am leaving out of reaction to Rogue One, but I think you can tell I liked it.

What did you think? Sharing is caring – so hit the Comments section with your thoughts.