A Battle Worthy of Its Promotion – and Message

Battle of the Sexes (2017)
Dir: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Stars: Emma Stone, Steve Carrell, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Sarah Silverman and Austin Stowell

I would apply the “drama-edy” genre label to Battle of the Sexes.  Much like directors’ Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ previous effort, Little Miss Sunshine, Sexes is a great combination of heartfelt, genuine, behind-the-scenes glimpses at real life characters juxtaposed with moments of overwhelming comedy.  That combination rarely produces a “miss,” and in this case, I think we can call it an “ace.”  Come on – you knew this entry was ripe for puns…

The film concerns the real event of September, 1973, which took place in the Houston Astrodome between women’s #1 Billie Jean King and former men’s #1 Bobby Riggs.  That month, Billie Jean King was 29 years old, and Riggs was 55.  She had trained like hell for the event, Riggs had dabbled with 70s era health and diet supplements and, well, worked on his promotional tactics.  Regardless of how they both prepped, the event was a true exercise in American traditions – public relations, media and standing up for one’s cause.  The film does a great job of toggling between all of these traditions, from Rigg’s Don-King-styled promotion of the event to King’s real-life confusion concerning an affair, not to mention her development of the WTA.

Now, the filmmakers do a fine job of setting the match up.  The movie moves along with expedition as the story develops both King and Riggs.  Each of them had dramatic events going on in their own lives when the idea came to Riggs to sell this epic battle.  I think the film did adequate job of demonstrating that for Riggs, he might have been over-playing some of his own chauvinism – while illustrating that there was certainly a contingent of men in this country at the time who desperately wanted him to win.  These guys had no qualms about their chauvinism, and in some cases, were surely shocked at how big this showdown became in the cultural discussion.

However, I’d like to point out a couple of things that really enriched Battle, things that aren’t necessarily alluded to in the trailer and promotional materials.  First off, Billie Jean was instrumental in creating the WTA.  I never knew that before watching the movie.  As a former tennis player – and one who still follows the game – I was interested in the first half of the film, which showcases how King and her band of women’s tennis players took the sport out of country clubs and made it much more accessible to all Americans.  That’s a significant story in and of itself, which meshes well with the comedic shenanigans of Riggs’ grand idea for an ultimate “him vs. her” contest.

But, the other element I really liked from Sexes was the portrayal of how King had an affair with a Los Angeles hairdresser named Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) – and her husband Larry’s subsequent reaction to the infidelity.  The scene, in which Larry shows up to King’s LA hotel early to meet up with his wife, is a filmmaking-101 scene.  We take it for granted, but the cinematography, sets, costumes, hair – all of the technical elements are just as sharp in this scene as the rest of the film.  What I loved specifically in this scene was the awkward manner that Larry discovers that his wife has cheated on him – and how the filmmakers took the time to let him have his moment.

So many films are in a rush today.  There is a “save the cat” feeling that, “it’s time to do THIS” in a lot of movies – particularly blockbusters.  But, Sexes allowed Larry his moment.  Played by a new, familiar actor named Austin Stowell, Larry discovers Billy Jean’s action in her hotel room’s bathroom.  He tells her he’s going to stay in another room – and then there is a cut to the hallway, where Larry leans against the wall in shadow.  He’s upset, we can tell from his body language.  And it’s with great effort that he picks up his bags and hops on the elevator.  Seems like an easy scene to cut out, right?  I mean, who would miss it?  Well… without it, all of his subsequent actions would seem a little odd.  With this scene appropriately included in Battle, we are immensely impressed with how Larry continues to support the talented Bill Jean – despite how much her cheating on him hurt.

I haven’t even gotten to the fun scenes between Riggs and his wife!  Or how Bobby interacts with the press, or how Virginia Slims – yes, the (gasp!) cigarettes – was the first sponsor of the WTA.  But, you can enjoy all of these elements when you watch the movie.  Hopefully you’ll agree that King was an incredible talent, particularly in the way she carried herself on the court.  There’s a moment – and this won’t ruin anything for you – when the match with Riggs finally begins, and she hits a winner.  Riggs yells across the court, “Atta girl!”  And King never, ever responds to his chatter during the course of the match.  Boy, I’ve always been a fan of those athletes who let their performance speak for itself.  Sure, sports needs personalities like Riggs – but I’ve always appreciated the Kings of the world who quietly go about their business…

NOTE: I put the directors of Battle in that order at the top of this post as they are not only alphabetical, but also in that order on IMDB.  Just in case anyone was wondering!  No chauvinism from this author!!

Final Note… (Potential spoilers, or… unpopular intel?)
I listened to “The Director’s Cut” podcast, which is a phenomenal resource for guys like me who are just junkies for all things related to movies they see.  On this podcast, DGA (Director’s Guild of America) members typically interview the director(s) of the film in question, and sometimes other cast and crew.
What fascinated me about the moderated discussion with directors Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris was their discomfort about stars Steve Carell and Emma Stone’s actual tennis playing ability.  What I was able to gather from the podcast is this – not all of the play was ACTUALLY Stone and Carell.  In fact, some pro tennis players who doubled as King and Riggs had to re-learn how to play 1970s style tennis, with primitive rackets and slower play – probably a lot more serve and volley than they usually play (just guessing).
My question is – why the discomfort?  Why the hush-hush?  Whether or not these two stars were actually playing the game had absolutely no effect on my viewing or perception of the film.  I think this is an unfortunate fallout effect of the audience’s insistence that they know everything they want to know about the film.  To those asking that question – was the play genuine, featuring the stars? –  my question is, why is that important?
It would be a shame if these questions about authenticity – whether it’s tennis play or historical – dominated the discussion related to Sexes.  Isn’t it enough of a celebration – telling this story, focusing on a beloved game for millions, an event that captured the focus of an entire nation?  How does that portrayal – that portion of their portrayal – really matter in the end?  And… how incredible is it, speaking from a special effects standpoint, that it WASN’T those two stars??  Because, it sure looked like them.

IMDB Link to Battle of the Sexes

And here’s the trailer for the film  –

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A Time to Live, and a Time to Die

Blade Runner (1982)
*** Burke Favorite ***
Dir: Ridley Scott
Stars: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, Joanna Cassidy and Edward James Olmos

I love those movie experiences where you feel completely different as you’re watching the movie – and completely different afterwards, too.  Like you can’t get the film, its themes, characters and scenes out of your mind.  I didn’t actually feel that way the first time I saw Blade Runner.  But, as I age, the film becomes more and more significant to me.  Perhaps it’s because of the philosophical, mind-bending question at its center.  Regardless, most films that I love share common elements.  A unique story, an impressive cast, “that scene” and thought provoking themes that stay with me.  Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic, and particularly its 2007 definitive version, have all the pieces.

A scroll at the open of the film explains that a “blade runner” is a member of a special LAPD unit in 2029.  The runners’ task is to hunt down and “retire” replicants, which are artificial human beings made by the Tyrell Corporation.  Replicants are so identically human, they are really difficult to spot.  Only asking them a series of questions designed to reveal their nature will truly ID them –  which makes for great drama, of course.  In the typical “Frankenstein” story set up, it seems that once again humanity has built something it can’t control.  And former blade runner Deckard (Ford) is tasked with his most challenging assignment yet – to retire four replicants who have come home to L.A. after slaughtering a mass of miners on an outlying colony.

I mean, what a set up.  If you were reading this script, you would probably lean in at this point.  The replicants have their own little mission, and that is to find their maker, Dr. Eldon Tyrell, and see what he can do to expand their life expectancy – in case I neglected to mention it, replicants are designed to live only four years.  But anyhow, leaning in is  exactly what I do as Deckard sits in his former superior, Bryant’s office (M. Emmett Walsh, one of my favorite character actors).  Bryant introduces Deckard to Pris (Hannah), who is designed for sexual pleasure.  Then Zhora (Cassidy) who is a combination of sex and violent tendencies.  And then there’s Leon (Brion James, another great character actor).  Leon has already killed here on earth: he was being interviewed for a job, and the interviewer asked that series of questions I mentioned.  They got around to a question about Leon’s mother – to which Leon reacted by shooting the man to death.

Finally, we have Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer in one of his best roles.  Batty is most appropriately named.  He’s the quintessential villain, the kind who’s terrifying whether he’s in this early 80s film, a 1930s horror classic or a modern day thriller.  He is frightening in his behaviors, mannerisms, speech and idiosyncrasies, even when he doesn’t intend to be.  And his bloody dialogue!  “Gosh, ya really got some nice toys here…”  He has white hair and a stylish high collar leather jacket.  He’s incredibly strong as he demonstrates several times over the course of the film.  In short, he makes a great challenge for our hero, Deckard to meet.  But brining it back to what I was originally saying, how Runner really creates a world of its own, pulls you into it and keeps you there for two hours – Batty does not work with all the cinematic elements that surround him.

Ridley Scott successfully designs a Los Angeles that is overwhelmingly crowded.  Distinctive, convincing blimps patrol the skies, and they bombard the crowds below with ads for Coca-Cola, Toshiba and RCA.  It’s fun to watch the film and identify which brands have endured – and which have been “retired.”  But the future thinking isn’t unique to the design, it’s embedded in the costumes.  The music by Vangelis fits the crazy, flying cars, the insane collars, the incessant rain and the oil rigs that blow flames from their tops.  Even the sound design contributes to the amazing mix with curious echoes and synthetic sounds that make us wonder, “is that real or inserted for effect?”  As a result, this “bad guy” replicant, Batty, works in scaring us only because his surroundings are so successfully composed and presented.  None of these items are revealed because it’s time to do so.  Scott’s presentation of the story is at Runner’s center – which is one of the reasons the film works and endures.

However, I’ve alluded to this deep philosophical question that accompanies this sci-fi/action classic.  And that is the very question, what if you were a replicant – and no one told you.  It’s like the old game of asking yourself, if you could talk to a mystic and they would tell you the date of your death… would you ask them?  The question is presented in earnest in an early scene where Deckard visits Dr. Tyrell and the doc has him interview his secretary, Rachael (Young).  At the end of the montage of the investigator asking this beautiful woman questions, the doc asks Rachael to excuse them and when she’s out of the room, Tyrell asks Deckard what he thinks of her.  Deckard tells Tyrell he understands she’s a replicant – but it took many more questions before he realized it.

Further, poor Rachael doesn’t KNOW she’s a replicant.  Tyrell has embedded her synthetic brain with memories, things that happened between her mother and her, distinctive moments from childhood and the like.  Deckard reveals these to Rachael in a different scene, and we see how incredibly difficult the revelation is for her.  In fact… she may not be the only character unaware of their true nature (see note 1).

Blade Runner (1982)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Shown at left, above: Harrison Ford (as Rick Deckard)

I also referred to “that scene,” which is a reference I need to work on.  Nonetheless, Runner has it when Deckard finds Zhora in a sleazy downtown dance joint.  The scene, like many in the film, and aptly reflected in the film’s poster, too, has a look, feel and tone of some noir pic from the 40s.  Anyhow, as Zhora discovers who Deckard is, she escapes, and he pursues through these incredibly busy, crowded downtown streets.  Her death scene really turns the film for me – not only is it incredibly violent, but it also brings home that thought presented earlier… what if the blade runner is wrong?  How many retired replicants weren’t synthetic Tyrell corp machines at all?

In closing, I don’t mean to ramble when I cover films like this that I love, that have heavily influenced my own writing and ideas for films.  But, I hope you take the time to see Blade Runner because of its futuristic look and feel – and how it presents the idea, “what if a machine could learn to love?”  Not to mention how close the film is in some ways to the world we’re living in now!  And yet… it’s not always on – Deckard still uses a phone booth in the film.  Anyhow – if you do check it out, you’ll be all ready for Blade Runner: 2049, in theaters Friday, 10/6/2017… You can expect an entry on this sequel, too.

NOTE 1: for those who haven’t seen the original film, please don’t read…

I have not watched all of BR’s Blu-Ray extras yet, but I understand that many Runner Fans insist that Deckard himself is a replicant.  I will admit that the “definitive” 2007 edition certainly does a good job of presenting this “what if” scenario.  The unicorn dream that Deckard has, accompanied by the Olmos character’s dialogue at the end, “..it’s too bad she won’t live too long… but then again, who does?” which Deckard considers as he sees the origami of the unicorn… this entire sequence is best presented in the final version.

But, my question is, if Deckard IS one – he’s a bad one, right?  As in, he’s an early, outdated model that’s not quite up to the task…?  He’s incredibly out-matched by these four newer models – I hope that’s the thought?  Because… Bryant advises in the beginning that they have been designed “to develop their own emotional levels” to fit in ever better…  Well, to me, Deckard seems very human indeed.  He’s out-matched by these superior, synthetic androids.  He does not dramatically change in a way that presents the idea to me that he is a replicant.

But then again… if you think of that sequence where Rachael saves his life from Leon killing him, and they go back to his apartment… Deckard’s EYES have that incredibly subtle orange glow to them, which Rachael’s had in the Q&A scene, which the owl in the room shared… And at that moment, she asks Deckard, “did ya ever take that test yourself?”  Chills, my friends….

Enjoy the classic trailer below:

Disclaimer: I own none of the pictures or clip included – if the images need to be replaced, please contact admin.

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Vote for This One with More Than the Telecast in Mind

Deadpool (2016)
Dir: Tim Miller
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Ed Skrein, Morena Baccarin, Gina Carano, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand and Karan Soni

I went to see Deadpool in the theater the Monday after it opened last February.  I’m not sure if you remember, but, it was a phenomenon.  It exceeded all expectations for how much money a rated R, comic book – Marvel movie – could make in theaters.  Particularly on Valentine’s weekend!  What a shift in culture when Deadpool becomes the romantic choice for going to the movies with your sweetheart.  Incidentally, this shot below is of an outdoor sign I saw weeks in advance of the film’s debut – for those of you who’ve seen it, you understand why this is so hilarious.

Anyhow, I remember coming into work that Monday and reading all of the coverage and doing our “post-game analysis” for Deadline and then looking at the boss and saying, “I gotta go see this thing tonight.”  Part of the reason it’s such a vivid memory is that I went to see it at one of my favorite theaters, the FOX theater in Westwood.  This place is OLD SCHOOL – capitalization earned.  It’s got a balcony.  Got pictures in the restroom of what Westwood used to look like in the 1920s.  I saw The Departed there opening night.  I saw 300 there.  So, I bought my ticket because I had to see what all the fuss was about – and I felt the fuss deserved the FOX theater.  There are those movies that achieve “cultural icon” status like Jurassic Park and Avatar and – well, we all have our own opinion.  My point is that after a weekend like Deadpool had hit that fever pitch.  And so, there could very well be a bit of nostalgia in this entry for one of last year’s “Top Films,” I admit that.

But for me, like so many moviegoers, the movie delivered!  Deadpool is funny first and action second.  Sure it’s a comic book movie.  Yes, it’s got legitimate action and the costume and all the rest.  But, it’s a parody of all of our complaints of the “Marvel Comic Universe,” or MCU for short – just Google that and see what kind of fanboy fare pops up.  I mean, which of us hasn’t wondered while watching recent superhero films how exactly this character’s powers aren’t the trump card in that battle, or why they would pair this superhero with that love interest, or why the hero always has to take the mask off in the second film.  And specific to Marvel films, why we have to wait til the very end to see that last tidbit  – you get the idea.

To that point, Deadpool is a parody of itself, which is very difficult to attain.  Co-Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick did another delightfully creative, uber-violent comedy called Zombieland – hopefully you caught that one.  Their peculiar sense of humor seems to have found a perfect match in the “merc with a mouth,” Marvel’s Deadpool.  One element used very effectively was the title character’s tendency to break the fourth wall.  I was skeptical the first couple times he did it – but man, it ended up one of the elements that made the whole production work.

And, this comic book based, R-rated Marvel film – can they do that? – found its ideal leading man in Ryan Reynolds.  Like I mentioned, we did a lot of social media analysis on this title, and we found that years ago, as soon as the film was green-lit, Reynolds himself was the first one sharing the news on social.  He couldn’t WAIT to get into the red spandex.  That, my friends, is what we all wish to see in leading men and women these days – a commitment to the project that the audience ultimately feels on screen.  I can think of few other examples in recent memory of a more committed star, whose performance was such a key indicator to whether or not the film would work at all.  For a small exhibit in support of what I’m talking about, check out this picture that was shared in the trades the week after open.  Mr. Reynolds thought it’d be nice to stop by and say hello to the 20th Century Fox Marketing Team (see Note 1) – and buy them chimichanga’s for lunch, which is Deadpool’s favorite snack.

The marketing is another reason the movie worked.  The messaging took the sense of humor of the character, and leveraged it using Reynolds – and why not?  Each trailer and poster and clip from the film was hilarious to the point you couldn’t wait to see the next.  Again, another exhibit of support is seen at the very bottom of this post – the ad for buying Deadpool on Blu-Ray.  Please, be sure to check that out if you haven’t seen it already.  Now, sure, they tried new techniques like the 360 view on Facebook.  But at its center, 20CF had the gumption to follow its leader and extend this anti-hero’s bizarre sense of humor to moviegoers, a move that ultimately paid off.

OK, OK but… what’s it about?  It’s about this ex-special forces guy named Wade who falls in love with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin).  So, definitely boy meets girl – boy falls in love with girl.  But, then he gets diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Ruh roh – sounds like boy’s gonna lose girl.  However, a shady character tells Wade that he can cure his cancer and give him amazing abilities.  Well, this is the rather identifiable part of the Deadpool character – who doesn’t want that?  Even we, in our post-adolescent years, we still fantasize about what we’d like to be able to do – if only [fill-in-the-blank].  Regardless, as the trailer below so adeptly illustrates, the procedure goes radically wrong.  Wade does not – repeat NOT – have Batman or Superman’s looks.  In fact, he’s so angry about his looks that he decides to pursue the villains.  That anger, that pursuit, that quest for vengeance is one that moviegoers can identify with.

And these bad guys are excellent villains.  Gina Carano as Angel Dust and Ed Skrein as Ajax deserve all kinds of credit for contributing to Deadpool’s overall success.  If the villains were pushovers or morons or inexplicably powerful, we’d fold our arms.  But instead, they set up Wade’s next punch line and adequately battle him – and his sidekicks.  Just as good as the villains are X-Men comic characters Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and the monstrous Colossus (Stefan Capicic).  In fact, the presence of only two X-Men to aid Deadpool sets up one of the funniest lines in the film, which I won’t ruin for you.  But, I have to admit that my favorite character in the film is Karan Soni as Dopinder.  Even with the presence of this supporting part in the trailers, I had no expectation for how funny his interaction with this superhero would be.  Watch, and enjoy.

Long story short – too late – writers Reese and Wernick beautifully set up the pieces, Reynolds and his co-stars killed the acting and director Tim Miller shuffled it all together into a beautiful piece of cinema.  And by the way, it earned over $363M in the U.S. last year.  That ranks #6 for 2016.  And that means it beat all the films up for best picture.  Now, should box office success be a definite consideration among Academy voters?  No, I’m not necessarily suggesting that.

What I am suggesting is that Deadpool would really round out the nominees.  It’s one of the most successful rated R films, ever.  It is, in my view, an action-comedy.  And, from another standpoint, it’s a great superhero film.   So my question to the Oscar voters is, why not celebrate this one?  There are ten spots for best picture!  And we’re always lamenting the missing “crowd favorite,” the lack of comedies, the shortage of “smart” films.  Deadpool is all of these.  I don’t care that it’s crass and far short of classy.  It’s FUNNY.   And it made a lot of people wanna go to the movies…  Well, at least Wade & Co find themselves on our “Top Ten” for 2016.

NOTE 1: part of the reason I love that photo of Reynolds in the Marketing conference room is that I used to work for the ad agency of record for 20th Century Fox – and that young lady on the left was head of that department!  Nice to see JR getting some credit…

IMDB – Deadpool

Best, most reflective trailer of what the Viewer is getting into –

And, here’s the ad for grabbing Deadpool on Blu-Ray:


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A Story of Faith 30 Years in the Making

Silence (2016)
Dir: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Issei Ogata and Ciaran Hinds

I’ve read a lot about Silence since I saw it on a Thursday night last month.  The “30 years” reference in the title refers to the length of time that director Martin Scorsese has been contemplating this project before it finally debuted in December.  Anyhow, like a lot of movies I end up blogging about, I was excited to see this Scorsese helmed epic from the moment I saw the first trailer late last November.  And, I think a little context might help you, Dear Reader, on this particular entry.  Just a little bit of background on me, I grew up in Cincinnati, OH and was born to Christian parents.  My Dad rarely, if ever went to church – because he grew up in one.  I was confirmed Presbyterian.  I went to Catholic high schools from kindergarten to senior year of high school.  So, Christianity is a bit second-nature to me.  And, from my diverse Christian upbringing, I have a lot of understanding on the subject – and a lot of interest in understanding other religions, beliefs and philosophies.

I preface this particular entry with that disclosure, because I think Silence is like a lot of other films that explore world religions and crises of faith.  These films tend to be extremely personal and sensitive experiences.  So, if you’d like to skip to the next entry here on ronhamprod.com, I won’t have hurt feelings!  However, I really hope you take the opportunity to see Silence as I personally believe it possesses themes that we can all relate to, regardless of religion, faith, belief, doubt, etc.  As Andrew Garfield’s Father Rodrigues asks so eloquently in the trailer, “Am I just praying to silence?”  I feel like that’s a question which many of us can relate to – and a profound question around which to compose a film.

I can’t help but go back to my upbringing for a moment and divulge that I attended St. Xavier high school, which was a Jesuit run “college preparatory academy.”  I have lived a blessed life – and I hope this entry at least makes some of my teachers, not to mention my parents, grin with pride.  The reason I mention it is that Father Rodrigues mentions the Jesuits and St. Francis Xavier himself in Silence.  Having some of this context, just like having context when you read the Bible for the first time, would really help before seeing the movie.  The Jesuits are kind of the entrepreneurial sect of Christian “men of the cloth.”  So, when Dutch, Portugese and Spanish explorers set out to discover new lands, Xavier and Jesuits like him hopped aboard.  They were just as interested in spreading the word of God as the explorers were in finding new land and exotic wares.

With all of this in mind, it was a crisis how Japan had reacted to Christianity’s spread.  Basically, by the time we meet Garfield as Rodrigues and his fellow priest Garupe (played very well by Adam Driver), the country has executed a harsh backlash against anyone harboring the faithful, much less proclaiming to be Christian.  As the film brutally demonstrates, feudal Japan had rules – and they would be adhered to.

In one way, Silence is the ultimate adventure film, in which we get to be that “fly on the wall” watching Rodrigues and Garupe travel to the land of the rising sun, find a foothold with a group of faithful, elude the local samurai enforcers and do their best to give hope to Christians who have been praying for their arrival.  How do they give hope?  They make little crosses out of the local leaves and grass to give to the villagers.  Rodrigues and Garupe hold mass in the middle of the night in quiet sanctuary, hidden from the government officials.  They hear confessions, particularly the recurring, consistent admissions of Mokichi (played with immense depth by Shin’ya Tsukamoto).  Mokichi actually helped the priests navigate from Macau to Japan, and his involvement in the film is one of the more thought provoking elements of the entire story.

Just as there are two ways to look at Rogue One – from a purely film perspective and then from one of spectacle – the Viewer can perceive Silence as a film about Christians, for Christians.  But, the alternative view is a film about the human condition, which happens to be set in a very desperate time and place within Christian history.  Regardless of how you actually watch the film and digest it, I can tell you it is indeed an experience.  Just like the other films on our “Top Ten” list for 2016, Silence is expertly crafted, from the writing to the performances to the props and costumes – everything down to the heavy accents the local feudal officials speak with.  In fact, it goes to show what a master Mr. Scorsese is because this title is such a departure from his work of late.  Silence is just as expertly crafted, but it is sailing in very different seas than The Departed, Wolf of Wall Street and even Hugo.  So, from a purely film perspective, you simply have to give Silence its due.

As I’ve already qualified, I admittedly see the film through the lens of my own Christian background.  From that perspective, it’s a nearly three hour experience that I hope all Christians take the time to see.  In one scene, as three of the Japanese faithful hang on crosses and await a death by drowning at the hand of the government officials, I felt like I was drowning in guilt.  In another, when Rodrigues and Garupe are cowering in their little hut, hoping they haven’t been discovered, I was terrified.  When Rodrigues separates from Garupe so that he can travel to a nearby island where Mokichi insists the faithful need to see him, I felt elated and excited for the possibilities new believers experience.  In short, the often used descriptor “emotional roller coaster” doesn’t do Silence justice from my personal, Christian perspective.

And in that same vein, the film stuck with me.  The next day, I thought a lot about the conclusion, over and over about “Act Three.”  Then, I would drift to Mokichi’s character and his challenges again.  Later, I would be angry at the persecutors, but then.. I’d think about the outcome and the anger and frustration would leave.

The thought I want to end with is that the Oscar nominations have a tendency to spark debate over which film should be given the ultimate honor for an entire year of work.  Frankly, I think movies are a little more personal than that – see my 2016 “Top Ten” list for an elaboration on that thesis.  People’s favorite all time films are oftentimes completely contrary to what you might expect.  I had to select Silence because it deeply effected me – but, that’s not to say it’ll do the same for you.  And that’s OK.

IMDB – Silence


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A Tale Only Told in West Texas

hohw-posterHell or High Water (2016)
Dir: David Mackenzie
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Gil Birmingham

This crime drama is so up my alley that it’s going to be hard to draft this particular entry without veering off – thanks for bearing with me!

In the tradition of other purely American crime pictures like The Departed, Killer Joe, Heat and No Country for Old Men comes High Water, a film with disciplined pace, engrossing characters and a setting that is absolutely essential to its tightly wound story.  West Texas is the only place this movie could have taken place.  The economic reality of its main characters and the look and feel of the supporting cast all manifest themselves by the authentic, Texan locations.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster play brothers  Toby and  Tanner Howard, respectively.  The brothers are robbing different branches of the same “Texas Midlands” bank, all within driving distance of their plot of land.  In the opening scene, their nondescript, turquoise colored Chevy Camaro – which is covered in dust like almost all the vehicles and props in High Water –  passes behind a couple of dilapidated buildings in a dilapidated town.  And if you look closely, the director, David Mackenzie, hovers on one of these buildings just long enough for us to see the graffiti scrawled on the wall, which reads something to the effect of “I’m good enough to do two tours, but not good enough for the bait shop to be open when I get home.”  This kind of shot, which appropriately seasons the delicious stew that is High Water, is beautifully mixed in to the film throughout.  These shots serve as constant reminders that there are a lot of Americans living in debt, who cannot support their ex-wives and estranged children, who are turning to the local casino for any kind of break rather than their elected officials, the local church or the community free store.

HoHW_BrothersBut, at its core, Hell or High Water is about two different sets of characters on a collision course.  If the Howard brothers represent chaos and crime, then Jeff Bridges as veteran Texas Ranger – capitalization earned and demanded, by the way – Marcus Hamilton and his deputy Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), represent the law & order side.  Again, this is a rich stew, and Hamilton and Parker’s exchanges are one of the essential ingredients of the recipe.  We all know Bridges from his iconic work spanning more than four decades.  But Birmingham as Parker deserves a lot of credit too, for his supporting effort is a fantastic foil to Bridges’ codger.

Early on we learn that Hamilton is nearing his retirement.  And, over the next several weeks before “easing into that rocking chair on his porch,” he apparently intends to get every dig, joke and downright insult hurled at the deputy Parker.  For one quick example, Hamilton is in the huge Dodge Ram with Parker on their way to the next crime scene.  He says something disparaging about Parker’s Commanche background to which Parker says, “You know I’m half Mexican, too, right?”  And without missing a beat, Hamilton replies as only Bridges can saying, “Well, I’m looking to get past all the Indian remarks before moving on to that portion.”

HOHW_Law and Order

I’m not going to divulge much more.  There is a very good reason established for why the Howard boys have actively decided upon their life of crime.  There is a very interesting pattern to what they’re doing, which Hamilton thinks he’s uncovered.  There is a lot of action for such a serious drama, which rivals some of the movies I mentioned earlier.  But, another reason High Water worked for me so well is its supporting characters and their language.  Dale Dickey, an incredible character actor who I recognize for her turn on TV’s Southland among other roles, does a masterful job as the victim in the Howard boys’ first robbery.  Acting students should watch the scene with a careful eye for her dialogue, particular accent and her body language.  Another great bit part was executed by Kevin Rankin, who was awesome not only on Justified but also Breaking Bad.  His one scene as a Texas bank manager is pitch perfect.

IMG_6712And then there’s Margaret Bowman, the waitress of the T-Bone cafe where Hamilton and Parker stop in for lunch while they’re on the Howard boys’ trail.  She asks, “what DON’T you want?”  Like the Coen Brothers, Mackenzie has aptly used the supporting cast and extras to paint an uncannily accurate picture of the world of their film – and Ms. Bowman is one of the best examples.  In fact, last November, I had the fortune of attending The Contenders, which is an annual event sponsored by Deadline at the Director’s Guild of America.  These are a couple of pictures of the cast and crew from the film – and subsequently, Mr. Bridges welcoming Ms. Bowman onto the stage to welcome us all to a Texas barbecue lunch.


In the end, Hell or High Water is one of my very top films of 2016.  I consider it an instant classic.  The acting is masterful.  The art direction, costumes, cinematography and music all contribute to the authentic tone of the film.  And Mackenzie’s taut direction keeps us focused not only on the spirited chase, but also the reason for the chase.  There are a lot of Americans with real, daily economic struggles.  High Water does a helluva job of composing its theme, that some of these challenges are self inflicted, but some of them are part of a bigger, “haves vs have-nots” conspiracy.  And if you have an argument about said conspiracy, I’m sure there are folks very like the Howard boys awaiting your contention the next time you pass through West Texas.

IMDB – Hell or High Water

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What Animal Would You Be?

Lobster posterThe Lobster (2016)
Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos
Stars: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly and Olivia Colman

My top ten films of 2016 would definitely have to include this foreign film, which received quite a bit of attention at Cannes last May.  The Lobster is such a unique, bizarre look at dating and companionship that I really feel is worth a watch: in fact, it’s playing for free on Amazon Prime right now (as of January 2017).  Granted, there are scenes when the film’s black comedy actually veers into disturbing tones and even horror elements, but the overall presentation is just too much to miss.

Imagine a future in which single people are routinely herded into a gorgeous hotel with plush amenities.  We’re given the impression that this is somewhere in Europe, but the location and nationality of the characters that inhabit The Lobster are really of no consequence because the theme of pursuing love is so universal.  Plus, the monotone that most of the characters speak in make it difficult to put any kind of label on them.

Anyhow, at this hotel they are given 45 days to find a suitable mate to spend the rest of their lives with.  If they do find such a person, they are given a couples suite and several different examinations before ultimately landing on a yacht for 15 days to finalize the union.  If the couple finds themselves arguing, fighting and at an impasse after a few days, well, they’re typically given a child, which “seems to help the situation.”  And, if these individuals are unable to find that elusive, suitable mate, well.. they’re turned into an animal of their choice.  This detail makes for interesting visuals as various animals are seen in the background throughout the film, which seem random at first.

Lobster BusIf The Lobster sounds otherworldly and Kafka-esque, I can tell you it is.  From the opening sequence in which a random woman pulls off a country road and executes a donkey with a pistol to our subsequent introduction to David, director Yorgos Lanthimos successfully yanks the viewer into this dystopian world and keeps them there for two hours.  Colin Farrell stars as David.  We meet him as he is petting his brother, who has turned himself into a Border Collie.  David is now preparing himself to join other lonely hearts at the hotel.  He’ll be our guinea pig as we learn about how the hotel functions, its rules and daily activities.  And as we navigate through Act One, we realize that everyone talks in very simple, monotone sentences so as not to offend or stand out too far, other than to appropriately attract another guest.

The stark sets, the dramatic musical score, the persona of the Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman – awesome performance, just like her TV turn on The Night Manager, FYI), the “game” in the woods in which guests shoot each other with tranquilizer guns to earn more days at the hotel, which is beautifully set to slow motion – all of these cinematic elements and more contribute to this hugely engaging tale.  Director Lanthimos has successfully channeled his inner Kubrick and given us a purely unique world with a central character we can root for, even if it isn’t David.



In fact, it’s the nameless “Short Sighted Woman” played by Rachel Weisz that we’re rooting for.  At least I was.  Credit to her for having such a distinct voice that I recognized her voice-over from the very beginning.  She narrates the film until the midpoint, which is when David escapes the Hotel and finds the “Loners” in the woods.  This group is led by a most intense leader, played by Lea Seydoux. Come to think of it, has this actress played any non-intense characters to this point in her career?  Anyhow, it’s fascinating how in retrospect, Lanthimos easily could have switched the order of the Hotel and the Loners.  The Hotel is a metaphor for society’s insistence that people follow Thornton Wilder’s suggestion in Our Town and “go through life two by two.”  The “Loners” are an equal metaphor for the ludicrous behavior that some people exhibit in remaining alone.  Don’t flirt?  Don’t intimately interact.. with anyone?  Aren’t we human?

IMDB – The Lobster


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A Powerful Exploration of the Father-Son Bond

Midnight Special (2016)
Dir: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Sam Shephard and Jaeden Lieberher

Back in the day, I watched The Terminator for the first time with my family without knowing a single thing about the movie.  When the sequel came out several years later, I remember how fun it was to see the original without any kind of context or preview – and how that would’ve been to walk the same way into T2.  I bring it up because I had the same experience with Midnight Special.  I just knew Nichols previous works, like Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud.  Each one of them had been very compelling, thought provoking and expertly acted.  So, I kind of wanted to go into Special without any knowledge of what the director had in store for me this time…

Assuming you missed Midnight Special, I really hope you do the same.  I inserted the preview below for consistency’s sake below, but Special is on our “Top Ten” list for 2016 because it provided one of the best viewing surprises.  I guess the point I’m making is that we have made such a phenomenon of access to behind-the-scenes and trailer releases, subsequent trailer announcements, etc, that I like talking about a film that truly lets its work speak for itself.  [See our recent review on Rogue One for more on the ideas of the “film behind the film.”]

Midnight Special, at its core, is a story about the bond between a father and son.  Like so many other films, I listened to the DGA/Director’s Cut podcast with director Jeff Nichols talking about the project.  It turns out that his infant son suffered a seizure – non life threatening and completely recovered, thankfully.  But, the incident really shook his perception of fatherhood to its core.  And the idea for a film in which a father essentially struggles with potentially losing his son came to Nichols.  What’s a real tribute to this director and his filmmaking team is that I watched the movie from a completely different standpoint – still with an immense effect upon me, the viewer.

Take the opening scene for context.  Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton’s characters are holed up in a stinky, remote motel.  And, there’s this kid who’s on the floor between the beds of the little room.  It looks like he’s made a fort out of the pillows and blankets and, well.. he’s a little weird.  See, he’s wearing swimming goggles and watching the TV along with the two men.  Everyone’s riveted to the news story about two guys who have taken a little boy hostage.  Oh, dear.  It’s going to be that kind of movie?

And that’s the whole point – it is, and it isn’t.  Subsequent to this scene is an entire congregation of what looks to be fanatical Christians, who are unceremoniously rounded up by the FBI.  Their leader is questioned and Adam Driver is introduced as a kind of researcher for the Bureau.  The FBI really wants access to this child.  And on it goes, the old-school type of hunt is on.  My apologies for the vagueness of this commentary, but I’m trying to pique your interest to see this film and let its story unfold organically for you.

I will say that anyone who composes a “Top Ten” list has got to consider all the elements of a film, and all those cinema tools are a reason why Special made our list.  I think I’ve made clear the script is incredibly unique, not only for its plot but also its universal themes and originality in construct.  The cinematography evolves beautifully between night and day, which is a real key part to the story.  The editing spares no emotion and allows this crazy road tale to unfold in all its suspenseful glory.  David Wingo did the score, which is notable because he collaborated with Nichols on Take Shelter and Mud as well.  This partnership among others was also discussed on the DGA podcast, and seems representative of many great filmmakers even up to the likes of Scorsese and Spielberg: you see a lot of similarities and familiar names in their end credits.

In all, I wasn’t that surprised that Special wasn’t included in the Oscar noms.  Perhaps it was released too early, maybe not Academy voters had access to it or the PR for the film couldn’t compete with other PR machines (to whit, La La Land).  But if I was Nichols and his team, I wouldn’t be too concerned.  I honestly feel that he and Denis Villeneuve are two of the most exciting directors these days – and more awards will certainly grace their careers.

IMDB – Midnight Special

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An Old, Frightening Legend Come to Life

thewitch-online-teaser-01-web-largeThe Witch (2016)
Dir: Robert Eggers
Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw and Ralph Ineson

Some official sources have this title spelled with two “V”s as in “The VVitch,” which seems to reflect the film’s poster.  It harkens back to 1600s New England, when a more primitive form of our English language was in use.  In those days, it was completely plausible that the one book found in a country home would be the family Bible.  Can you imagine such a household?  Not only is the Bible the only literature in such a house, but there is no record player, no radio, no phone connecting it to the town for emergencies.  There’s just.. the family.

Director Robert Eggers does a phenomenal job of doing a whole lot with very little in this little, Sundance winning title.  The Witch is my kind of horror movie.  It’s much more The Shining or The Exorcist and much less Friday the 13th or Saw VI.  I’ve always been more attracted to scary films that are founded on real life or true, horrific situations rather than the mad killer running wild or so-called “torture porn” that was so popular in the past decade.  No, The Witch needs no such frivolity in its depiction of evil spirits and wandering souls in the woods.

The-witch-movie-reviewOh, those woods.  Like any remote area, the woods can be a scary place.  Was that something that moved over there?  Is somebody there that can see me, but who eludes my line of sight?  The feeling depicted in so many overcast shots of the woods in this film have us recalling the atrocities of the witch trials and the suffering of the innocents during dark chapters of American history.  What I liked about The Witch was the “what if” of the whole story.  What if once in a while, out there in the country, there really was that witch that plagued the people?  And Eggers and his team does a fine job of convincing you of this plausible question.  Whether it’s images of these deep woods themselves, blood in a bucket or a sick boy suffering from some unknown, sinister illness, all of the potential horrors of 1600s New England are on display to challenge our very modern perspective on family, home life, communication – and healthcare.

the-witch-thewitch_r2_2-10-1_rgb-799a189ad3ed1bf3c9e0c95cc655271819d40763-s900-c85In the opening scenes, the family is outcast from a town and takes to a small farm, which they will manage as a team in survival mode.  At first, the family feels blessed to be there, as if they’re destined to make a life under God in this New World.  But, as is the case in so many horror films, trouble starts to find this poor family.  The only difference with The Witch is that it all seems terribly possible.  Inexplicably, the eldest daughter Thomasin loses her baby brother, Samuel, while playing peek-a-boo with the infant.  I don’t know about your brand of that game, but when I play, my face is only covered for a couple of seconds.  And so it is in The Witch, when poor Thomasin reveals her face, Samuel has disappeared.  Only the woods remain.

Well, William and Katherine, the mom and dad of this little plantation, are none too happy with daughter Thomasin.  They start treating her like an indentured servant as they continue to find fire wood, milk the goats and do other farm related activities.  They blame her with more and more severity for Samuel’s disappearance and other violence that shakes their remote community.  In fact, it’s the business of the farm work and the authentic use of old English that helps The Witch sell its audience that this is a depiction of what really happened.  Apparently, the director went to great lengths to achieve this authenticity.  The crew made the actual farm.  The director studied old Puritan texts and hymnals and scouted the area for where they should shoot.

You’ll see from the trailer the kind of upsetting imagery and particularly sound design, which further complimented the look and feel of this movie.  The music and sound reminded me very much of The Shining, which was an unsettling film to behold particularly because of its jarring sound design and erratic score.  Like Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Eggers’ film works because it takes you to a place that feels like it actually existed, with people that plausibly lived through what we’re watching.  In the end, there is a bit of truth to every legend and fairy tale – and The Witch makes you think twice about the validity of crazy old ladies flying around in the night on broomsticks.

IMDB – The Witch

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A Rogue Chapter in the Star Wars Universe, Indeed

Rogue One PosterRogue One: A Star Wars Story
Dir: Gareth Edwards
Stars: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn and Mads Mikkelsen

OK, you’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, now let’s talk about it.  Much like last December’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this title was on everyone’s radar from the moment the idea of producing new Star Wars chapters was announced back in 2012.  It was that year that the Walt Disney Company purchased Lucasfilm for the sum of $4.06 Billion.  The “Mouse House” advised that they would not only begin production on chapters seven through nine, but also on some new, “one off” chapters to go with the Star Wars universe.  I, for one, was excited to hear this news.  The idea of moving on from the cumbersome prequels and allowing some offshoots to the “official” volumes in the series seemed like an innovative idea to me.

And, the idea behind Rogue One comes from my generation.  As a kid, I grew up playing Star Wars in the back yard with sticks for blasters and swing sets that doubled as the Millennium Falcon.  Think about it – Han is at the top of the slide and Luke is at the bottom, just like in the original Star Wars’ shootout, complete with laser-beam sound effects.  I’m sure many of you can relate to this memory, as many of us played “Star Wars” for hours in our basement, our rooms, outside and maybe even at Halloween.  For your information, I was always Han Solo, my brother was Luke, the older neighbor boy was Chewbacca, and of course, his sister was Leia.

Now that we have that settled, I thought of all those chapters we used to play out in the back yard when Rogue One started to release pictures and videos.  Who hasn’t wondered how the original Death Star came to be completed?  How did the rebels manage to steal away the plans to this ultimate weapon, only to have Princess Leia unceremoniously stuff them inside of R2’s rusty innards?  What was it like to be a member of the rebellion, as Luke asked C3PO in the original film?  And why oh why would the Imperials leave that exhaust shaft in the dreaded Death Star?

RO First PhotoI’m tilting my hand, but you can no doubt tell I was a fan of Rogue One from the start, particularly from viewing the first trailers last spring.  I mean, look at this picture above, which I believe was one of the first official promotional photos circulated.  It’s got great costumes, authentic art design – and a group that looks like a gang I want to see get into trouble with some Imperial contingent.  The thing is, in today’s world of blockbuster films, there is the film itself, and then there is the making of the film, the backstory of how it came to be and all the drama the leads up to opening weekend.  For now, let’s focus on  Rogue One as a film.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Donnie Yen) Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm LFL

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
(Donnie Yen)
Ph: Film Frame
©Lucasfilm LFL

When I sat in the theater last month, elbow to elbow with other excited moviegoers, and watched Rogue One unfold, I felt like I think we all want to feel in the cinema.  Exhilarated, devastated by the emotion of some scenes, thrilled by the action of others and laughing at the consistent, genuinely funny “zingers” dispelled by Alan Tudyk as K2SO.  I felt closest to Chirrut, played by Donnie Yen, because I feel like his portrayal of the blind swordsman who is dedicated to The Force really captured the spiritual thread-line of the original three films.

RO KrennicSo, from a purely film perspective, I feel one has to give Rogue One its due.  I’ll use a phrase I’ve used in so many other entries, this film was “firing on all cylinders.”  The acting was there – and what an ensemble cast it was!  The pacing and construction of the story actually reminded me of a Ludlum or Clancy novel, where there are several different, interesting groups of heroes and villains whose stories you can’t wait to get back to.  Speaking of villains, part of why Rogue worked for me is Ben Mendolsohn’s portrayal of the Death Star’s grand architect, Orson Krennic.  His obsession with proving his weapon and manipulation of Erso’s dad, Galen Erso, was a huge “win.”  And, the fact the film was viably able to include Darth Vader in all his post-adolescent angst and fury was a treat to behold.

Further, the costume, makeup and art design were all worthy of comparison to the original trilogy.  Despite the opinion articles that circulated in the trades following Rogue’s debut concerning heroine Jyn Erso’s development – or lack thereof – I feel like Felicity Jones did a phenomenal job leading this purely war torn action-adventure in playing Jyn Erso.  Director Edwards and his crew deserve a lot of credit for taking us to that Star Wars universe we grew up loving.

But, we did grow up, right?  We’re not kids anymore, we the original fans.  And I really believe there was a conscious decision made early on to make Rogue One a true Star Wars war picture, a throwback to the Dirty Dozen, the gritty tone of the Alien franchise and even The Wild Bunch.  We live in a world that’s chaotic and fearsome – the news is hard to read most days.  So, Star Wars has now given us a film that makes us read the lines of the original film’s crawl, “Rebel spaceships, attacking from a hidden base. have won their first victory against he evil Galactic Empire.”  Why were we assuming that this battle went as smoothly as the attack on the Death Star went?  The story adequately answers some of our, “how did they” questions and answers them in an extremely entertaining action picture.

With all of that said, Disney is winning on another level, entirely.  That level is the aforementioned “everything surrounding the film.”  When the trailer debuted last spring, it set records for how many online views it garnered within the first 48 hours of its posting.  That’s noteworthy.  When more materials were made available, presenting how Edwards and the crew were determined to make the characters and sets as authentic as possible, more views came – and more discussion.  When rumors circulated in the late summer that screenwriting master Tony Gilroy had been brought in to help with re-shoots, online chatter abounded with suspicions that “Rogue One might, well… suck.”  Let’s remember the ancient adage that any publicity is good publicity.

I’ve since listened to a podcast with Gareth Edwards on The Director’s Cut – a DGA Podcast.  For film fanatics like myself, this podcast is really invaluable and a treat to listen to.  It’s sponsored by the Director’s Guild of America, and features a prominent director interviewing the director of the film that has just screened.  One of the first podcasts featured Martin Scorsese (gasp!) interviewing Steven Spielberg (gasp!!) about Bridge of Spies.  Needless to say, I was rather engrossed.  But, my point as it relates to Rogue One is that in listening to director Gareth Edwards’ discussion, it’s clear that he got the job because he is a “Yoda” at visual effects and using unique techniques, particularly in cinematography and lighting, to tell his stories.

That said, I think it’s completely conceivable that some story elements were getting left behind by last summer.  So, Kathleen Kennedy and the rest of the production team brought in another “Yoda” in Gilroy to re-steer the giant vessel towards the original episodes and away from the prequels.  And, I don’t have any problem with this.  Two immensely talented storytellers pulling double duty on one of the best franchises ever?  Sure!  Believe me, though, this kind of “oh, no!” moment only helped the film’s campaign.  Just go on YouTube and search “Rogue One story changes” and you’ll find a massive amount of video clips explaining conspiracy theories that range from very far fetched to not too crazy.

RO AT AT comparisonBut again, credit to the Disney machine for this success.  Whether it’s the Star Wars universe or the Marvel films or Pixar or Walt Disney Animation, they are masters of engaging the audience in today’s digital world.  Just look at this example pictured here from StormtrooperLarry.com, which features a comparison of the AT-AT Imperial assault vehicle in how it was depicted in Rogue One against Empire Strikes Back.  And for background, Stormtrooper Larry isn’t as random as it sounds.  He was a character devised for the Adult Swim/Robot Chicken Star Wars parody episodes.

And why not spend time on such comparisons?  Returning to that image of my generation growing up with Darth Vader Halloween outfits and favorite sticks for blasters in the backyard, we are now able to take these fantasies and share them online with people all over the globe.  Who would’ve thought that back in the 80s?  In the end, Rogue One succeeded not only as a film, but also as an event.

IMDB – Rogue One

Here’s the Teaser that got me all excited when it debuted last April – and it’s nearly at 44M views as of this posting:

And finally, here’s one of the funniest parody clips I saw – and as the beginning says, it took a team THREE WEEKS to compose this:


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Our First Annual – Top Ten Films of 2016

The Top Ten Films of 2016 – An Introduction, and Commentary on #10
An Annual Ronhamprod.com Presentation

Welcome to ronhamprod.com’s first annual list of the best films from the previous year.  This is obviously our own, homemade effort for the purpose of discussion, debate and all the fun chit-chat that accompanies the annual Awards Season.


Here’s the list for your pleasure, in no particular order and followed by the film’s genre:

  1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Action-Fantasy)
  2. The Witch (Horror)
  3. Midnight Special (Drama – Sci-Fi)
  4. Deadpool (Superhero)
  5. Lion (Drama – Foreign)
  6. Hell or High Water (Drama)
  7. The Lobster (Drama – Foreign)
  8. Arrival (Drama – Sci-Fi)
  9. Silence (Drama – Faith)
  10. ____________________ (TBA)

sully posterThe last spot is specifically and intentionally left blank for this reason: it is impossible to see all 728 titles that were released in the U.S. last year, even for film maniacs like us.  It would be impossible to view all 705 films released the year before.  We have missed some substantial titles, which include Doctor Strange, Loving, Fences, Sully, Snowden, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Moonlight, Finding Dory and Passengers.  While we have every intention of seeing these films and more, we can’t, of course, comment on them just yet.

Now, we have seen The Secret Life of Pets, La La Land, The Birth of a Nation, and War Dogs, all of which should be included for some categories at the upcoming Oscars in our opinion.  We’re aware that La La Land is white-hot just now, and we really enjoyed seeing it in theaters.  But, this is our list, and I’m sure we’ve missed films that you think simply MUST be on the list.  Perhaps you’re frustrated at some films that made it to the list.  And, we’re obviously light on comedies, but there was no Bridesmaids comparable this year, right?

With all of that said, I think that’s the point of “Awards Season,” isn’t it?  I love the January & February time of year for the massive amount of discussions surrounding film.  And, I love the cliche that, “it’s enough to be nominated,” because to me, it’s no cliche!  Think about it for 2016, that if you or your team receive an Oscar nomination, you are in the 0.0068 percentile.  You are one of five films (in most categories) out of 728 that your colleagues, peers, mentors and oftentimes movie idols think were one of the best of last year.  I guess if you win you’re in the 0.0014 percentile, but.. shouldn’t it be enough to be nominated?

Deadpool International Theatrical One Sheet Teaser Movie PosterEither way, I like this year’s list because it’s a true mix of genres, budgets, release dates and casts.  We hope there is some more diversity from the Academy this year when it comes to release date because it oftentimes feels a bit loaded when the nominees all share a release during the months of  November & December.  Deadpool was a February release while The Lobster hit theaters here in May.  And, speaking of Deadpool, was I the only one that thought the whole reason to expanding the Best Picture category up to ten films was to include more offbeat, sometimes mainstream fare to the mix?

Also, we feel 2016 is one of those years which would be fun to add a category for “Ensemble Cast,” because I think films like The Witch really couldn’t have been so successful without its distinctive mix of talent, not to mention the fact that these actors were on the whole, not known.  As I’ve discussed in previous posts, it’s foreign films and horror films that have a leg up when it comes to cast because there are no studio stars typically in these movies.  As a result, you don’t know who’s going to check out of the picture or when, which dramatically increases the suspense.

thewitch-online-teaser-01-web-largeAnd, how could we possibly deny the horror genre an entry into the top 10 for 2016?  It was a landmark year horror, with films like The Conjuring 2, Don’t Breathe and even The Purge: Election Year all finding themselves in the top 40 box office earners of the year.  Even Lights Out, which was distributed by Warner Bros and featured a full length telling of a wildly successful short film exceeded expectations.  The genre seems to be evolving into a tones that are more adult than teenager, more thought provoking than cheap thrills.  Perhaps this is an oversimplified view horror films in their current state, but, that’s why we’re an independent blog!

In the end, we hope you enjoy these posts over the next few days covering the nine films above.  And, we’d love to hear from you about which film deserves that tenth spot.  We’re really embracing the idea that in today’s environment, it’s just impossible to see all titles every year.  So, our “Top Ten” list will always be an odd nine titles, with you the Reader helping us to find that elusive tenth.

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