Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Top Ten Films from 2016

Here's a list of my top ten favorite films from 2016.  While 2016 was not as strong as 2015, especially the summer releases, the year rebounded in the fall with some stellar films.

10.Keanu (Dir. Peter Atencio)

9. Hacksaw Ridge (Dir. Mel Gibson)

8. Cafe Society (Dir. Woody Allen)

7. Free State of Jones (Dir. Gary Ross)

6. The Witch (Dir. Robert Eggers)

5. Sully (Dir. Clint Eastwood)

4. 10 Cloverfield  Lane (Dir. Dan Trachtenberg)

3. The Nice Guys (Dir. Shane Black)

2. Fences (Dir. Denzel Washington)

1. Manchester by the Sea (Dir. Kenneth Lonergan)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Tribute: Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)

The year 2016 continues to take so many beloved cultural figures away from us.  The news of Carrie Fisher's passing earlier this afternoon continued the melancholy trend of this infamous year.

The daughter of Hollywood stars Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie grew up an introverted child who preferred the world of books.  As a teenager she followed her mother's footsteps and pursued acting, making her screen debut in the Warren Beatty film Shampoo.  

After the overwhelming success of Star Wars Fisher became known to the entire world as Princess Leia. When casting for Star Wars the director George Lucas narrowed the field down to trios of actors and eventually decided on Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford as Han Solo, and Fisher as Leia.  In a special effects heavy film, their three performances added humor and humanity.  Fisher did an amazing job of portraying a strong and brave heroine. 

In the next two episodes The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi she continued to add depth to the role.  Fisher consistently lamented giving her likeness away for merchandising purposes, but always kept a sense of humor about it.  And she was never one to dismiss Star Wars as childish entertainment, but always treated fans and the material with respect.

Outside of Star Wars, Fisher made many more memorable appearances in film and television. She hosted a classic episode of Saturday Night Live, and had notable roles in The Blues BrothersThe Burbs, and When Harry Met Sally. In 2015 she returned as Princess Leia in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Fisher also established herself as a talented writer in the 1980s with her excellent autobiographical novel Postcards from the Edge.  She was also a much sought out "script doctor" for several movies including Hook and Sister Act.

It's impossible to imagine the original Star Wars films without her, Fisher contributed a special spark and charm to those movies that will be remembered and loved for decades to come.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rouge One: A Star Wars Story ** (2016)

The first of the spin off films to the Star Wars franchise is a dreary and occasionally entertaining entry into the series.  Set before the events of the 1977 original film, Rogue One follows the group of rebels who stole the plans to the Death Star, the plot point that drove the original film.  For starters, these characters simply aren't that memorable, they are fighters and warriors and most of their dialogue simply advances the plot.  Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, the orphan leader of the band, completely lacks personality and dimension. Action takes precedent over character development much to the film's detriment. The jokey charm of the George Lucas films is almost totally absent.  I understand that the creators are trying to expand the universe and add more depth to Star Wars, but for the most part Rogue One plays as above average fan fiction. It was well publicized that Disney ordered re-shoots and that's never a good sign. The editing gets rather jerky as they hop from planet to planet.  There are a couple memorable moments, but those are references to the previous films.  Darth Vader appears and has one great scene, but the rest is mediocre Star Wars.  

Manchester by the Sea **** (2016)

There's a quiet emotional stream running through Manchester by the Sea that stays with you long after watching the film.  Starring Casey Affleck as Lee, a handy man in a working class town, who withdrew from life for reasons that become apparent as the story unfolds. After Lee's older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) succumbs to heart disease he's named the guardian of Joe's teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges), a popular hockey athlete at the high school. Through flashbacks it's revealed that Joe was the more responsible brother and was well respected by the community, while Lee went into exile.  Michelle Williams co-stars as Lee's damaged ex-wife, but only appears in a few scenes. Quite simply, Manchester by the Sea is a film that must be experienced. Realistic and emotionally complex.  As we get to know the characters we see their dignity and flaws. The acting, especially by Casey Affleck, is about as good as you'll ever see. Relationships evolve and life goes on.The music of Lesley Barber contributes a spiritual component.  Kenneth Lonergan's writing and direction are a series of small moments that add up to something powerful - and meaningful.