Do Trailers Ruin Movies?

Over the last few months, I have been actively avoiding any movie trailers or clips for the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi, in an attempt to avoid spoilers. I won’t be seeing it until Christmas Eve, per family tradition, so I try to avoid as much info as possible until I finally get to view it on the big screen. That all blew out the window when I went to see Thor: Ragnarok and it was too inconvenient for me to leave the theater when a Star Wars trailer began, so I just sucked it up and allowed myself to be dazzled.

Though the trailer hinted at some things, made some allusions, and showed what are sure to be key moments, it didn’t reveal anything groundbreaking or show anything too spoilerific. It created intrigue without making anything too obvious, and made me all the more excited to see the film later this month. That is what a trailer should do; it should generate interest and lure audiences without blowing all the important info or all the humor in a 2 minute teaser. You shouldn’t be able to guess the entire plot of a film from a trailer, unless it’s a series you are already familiar with or you’ve read the book an upcoming movie is based on.

On the other hand, I recently saw the first trailer for the upcoming Downsizing, starring Matt Damon, and was instantly compelled to see it. The trailer presented a unique and interesting plot, showed some humor, and offered images and clips that made me wonder how characters got into a certain situation or what would happen next. And then the second trailer came along tacked onto Murder on the Orient Express, and it totally gives away what I perceived to be a pretty major plot point, which was not presented in the initial trailer. It dampened my enthusiasm a bit, as it allowed more pieces of the plot to fall into place, and chased away some of the allure. I’ll still see it when it comes out, but I was bummed to have something spoiled in the trailer that I wish I could have seen for the first time during the film itself. The same thing happened with the second Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer. Watching it, I felt like I could predict the entire movie, and I ended up being pretty close, though, thankfully, it was still a great film and I was not disappointed. Films can often fall into the trap of having too many trailers, as well, and I hold the belief that a film only needs 2 trailers max, and 1 will typically suffice. If I’m not drawn in by the first trailer, I probably won’t be swayed by another.

Trailers can be deceptive, as well – they can show a snapshot that is nothing like the completed picture, and effectively “trick” viewers, for the better or the worse. Trailers for Zack Snyder’s films are some of the best out there – I can still imagine just about every frame of the brilliant Watchmen trailer in my head, almost a decade later – but his films tend to have a polarizing reaction. Regardless, the trailers make you want to see his movies. 2012’s Brave offered a trailer that made the movie seem like it would follow a certain narrative, but it went off in a direction that my best friend and I totally didn’t see coming, and it was a pleasant surprise.

Trailers also make me not want to see movies, sometimes. I’m a big fan of the original Jumanji, and was skeptical of the remake/sequel, but when I saw the first trailer, I was tentatively hooked. There were some decent jokes and it looked like, if not a direct successor, a spiritual successor to the original. Since the first time I saw the trailer, I have  now seen it 5 or 6 times, and the second trailer 3 times. I’m kind of burned out on it, at this point, and I can probably quote the entire thing. “I’m an overweight middle-aged man!” “We’re in other people’s bodies!” “I’m missing the top two feet of my body!” Again, if the reviews are okay, I’ll probably still make the effort to see it, but I’m now worried that the funniest moments are all in the trailer, as is often the case. I’ve got The Greatest Showman, TLJ, and a few others to see before it, and it I must suffer through the trailer again, I might shelve my Jumanji plans until it’s available for streaming. Oversaturation can, unintentionally, kill the interest in a movie instead of building it up. I felt the same about last year’s lackluster Warcraft film. I saw the trailer every time I saw an IMAX film for months, and all it did was make me not want to see the movie. I actually did leave a theater after the Warcraft trailer began for what must have been the 10th time, and that remains the only time I have ever left a theater during the previews. I LOVE previews, but I hated that trailer, though Transformers: The Last Knight sure gave it a run for its money this past year. If I so much as see an Autobot onscreen, it is an insta-groan.

So that creates a question; do trailers ruin movies? After all, the big wigs behind a film’s production have no idea how many times you are going to be forced to see a trailer. They just want to put butts in seats. But they do have control over how much info goes into a trailer, and it’s a fine line; give too much away and risk scaring people off, or don’t offer up enough and fail to hook viewers. Avoid trailers, and you might fall behind on what movies are coming out, unless you monitor them religiously (as I do). I may love previews, and eagerly anticipate trailers for films and film series that I’m a fan of, but nothing ruins a movie for me like a trailer rife with spoilers.

 

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

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Five Memorable Film-Going Experiences

Sometimes, it’s not the film itself that makes a film-going experience memorable… sometimes, it’s the circumstances surrounding it. And I’ve had a handful of these experiences during my years as a film “buff”…

1.) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 2 (2011)
I made it to the front page of the paper for this one, so it’s probably going to be on the most memorable list for a while. My group of friends and I had to line up for this one four hours ahead of time, since this was before the launch of the assigned seating era. One friend dressed as Bellatrix, my best friend made Potter Puppet Pals masks for us to wear, I wore my “Particularly Good Finder” homemade shirt (Hufflepuffs represent!) and we re-enacted the “Mysterious Ticking Noise” while waiting behind the stantions. Needless to say, we were the most spirited and entertaining group in line, which is why a reporter took our picture to platdter on the front page the following day. This film was the end of an era for Potterheads everywhere, and even though I had to be at work at 7AM the morning after, I wouldn’t have changed a moment of that night.

2.) Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters (2013)
I did not like this film (though I loved the books) but had a rip-snorting good time watching this movie because my best friend and I were completely alone in the theater, so we were free to be as obnoxious as we wanted and we took total advantage of it. We loudly called out the inaccuracies, speculated on the plot changes, and made jokes throughout the entire thing, so even though the film wasn’t  quite up to snuff, it was a great and memorable film-going experience for the sheer enjoy-ability of it all.

3.) The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
TDKR was the final movie I saw as a midnight premiere, before my local theater started doing showings earlier on the night before a film’s release. The Dark Knight actually sparked my love for film, and I was eager to see a conclusion to the Bale/Nolan trilogy. The theater was mobbed, because this was also in the days before assigned seating so you couldn’t roll up to the show five minutes ahead of time and get a primo spot, plus this was the first and only time I ever had to park in the upper parking lot of the theater. Anticipation was thick in the air as folks lined up and waited outside the individual theaters, and I remember getting into my seat in between my mom and my best friend and tapping my foot on the floor, waiting for the film to start. This experience was most memorable because it gave a definitive ending to the film series that sparked my love and appreciation for film. Aaaand I sobbed like an infant at the end.

4.) Iron Man (2008)
Way back before the MCU was as huge as it is now, I had absolutely 0% interest in seeing Iron Man. My dad and I eventually struck a deal; he would go and see The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian with me, if I would go to see Iron Man with him. And the arrangement worked out quite well for both of us! My dad actually enjoyed Prince Caspian, with it’s chatty badgers, triumphant music, and rightful heirs ascending the throne, and I fell in love with superheroes and garnered an appreciation for the then-fledgling MCU, which continues to this day. I remember sitting in that theater, watching RDJ sell the role of Tony Stark like he was born to play it, and being absolutely blown away. There hasn’t been a Narnia movie since 2010, but 10 years later, my dad and I still see almost every Marvel movie together, and I have a 2008 bargain to thank for that.

5.) Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
I wish I could say this experience was memorable for a good reason, but actually, this post is ending on a sour note. After studying film in college and expanding my cinematic horizons, my mom and I made the trek across town to see Birdman after we heard a bit of Oscar buzz about it. In total, when the film began, there were five people in the theater… by the end, there were three. And I’m pretty certain only two of us were awake. I totally get why folks didn’t like this film, and I love “average joe” films just as much as the next film-goer, but it’s still a huge bummer when more “artsy” films don’t get recognized by general audiences. In Birdman, the cinematography was gorgeous (I mean, that tracking shot in the beginning is a stunner) and the acting was phenomenal, yet still, two folks walked out midway through. And the film won Best Picture.

Five “Anytime” Films

Everyone has at least one “anytime” movie – a movie that, while scrolling through the channels on a rainy Saturday, you can tune into no matter how many times you have seen it, and still enjoy it. And here are a handful of my favorite “anytime” movies!

1.) Jumanji (1995)
Whenever this film comes into conversation, my first comment is always, “I f*cking LOVE Jumanji.” Unless there are children around, of course. Then I just say, “I LOVE Jumanji.” And it’s true – the film about a jungle-themed board-game come to life to terrorize a small New England town is one of my all-time faves, and also one of my most personally-treasured Robin Williams performances. Sure, the effects are super dated by today’s standards which causes a bit of a kink in the immersion factor, but I adore the story and the characters/performances so much that I watch it any time it’s on TV. The trailer for the sequel/remake coming out next month actually made me laugh, so I might end up seeing it, but I don’t think it will ever triumph over the original. And though I’ve seen it several times, I never put together that Jonathan Hyde plays both Van Pelt (the hunter) and the dad until very recently.

2.) The Princess Diaries (2001)
I saw this movie in theaters when it first came out and instantly fell in love with it. Though I love nearly all of her performances, I think Mia Thermopolis will always be my favorite Anne Hathaway role, as she was just so convincing and relatable as the awkward girl turned unexpected princess. I think I’ve seen this movie well over a dozen times and I still enjoy it 100% each viewing. The Hathaway/Andrews chemistry is unreal and my favorite scene is toward the end, when grandmother and granddaughter enter the ballroom together. I also have this film to thank for introducing me to Meg Cabot, one of my all-time favorite authors!

3.) Remember the Titans (2000)
I first saw this film in school (junior high, I think, though I can’t for the life of me remember what class) and it resonated with me in a way I didn’t expect. I even went out and bought the DVD not long after and used to watch it on a portable DVD player during every long car drive. The true story of a recently desegregated football team during the 70’s features an important message and I haven’t gotten tired of it after multiple viewings. Plus, the music is stellar, and the acting is great!

4.) The Mummy (1999)
I know this isn’t widely regarded as a “great” film, but boy is it entertaining! The effects are dated and it doesn’t do anything groundbreaking plot-wise, but it’s a fun romp in the sand with decent humor and action, and I absolutely love Brendan Fraser. The scene where he screams back at Imhotep makes me laugh every single time I see it. Besides, it might not be a masterpiece, but at least it isn’t trying to be; and it’s still better than the 2017 remake/reboot. And the super-fast scarabs still scare me! I also bonded with my study abroad friends from college over this film after we spotted John Hannah (who plays Jonathan) at a cafe near our university one morning.

5.) Spirited Away (2001)
The first time I saw this film, I was so spellbound I watched it two times in one day. Miyazaki is a master storyteller and Studio Ghibli’s animation is always enchanting, but I think Spirited Away is the one Ghibli film that has the highest “re-watchability” factor. I can jump into the film at any moment – whether it be after Chihiro’s parents have been turned into pigs, or when she’s helping a contaminated river spirit – and watch it through to the end, and still enjoy it just as much. Chihiro’s journey in the spirit world is a timeless one, and the magic of the film does not get old upon multiple watches.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

 

Film Review: Home Again (2017)

Dir. Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Nat Wolff, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, Candice Bergen
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr37m
Spoiler level: Light

This past Tuesday, for the first time in ages, I went into a film without looking at the RT score. I saw the trailer a couple of times, chuckled a bit, and decided that I wanted to see it based on that, and it turned out to be a wise move; the RT score is currently at 35%, but I still loved the film!

Home_Again_poster
By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54570184

Home Again follows newly-separated and newly-40-year-old mother of two Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), the daughter of a renowned filmmaker, who, while attempting to rebuild her life, ends up offering her guest house to 3 aspiring 20-something filmmakers. Naturally, as the boys lives become entangled with her own, Alice learns how to let go, move on from the past, and embrace the future.

The story is straightforward and solid, but many plot points are predictable; Alice striking up a romance with Harry (Pico Alexander), her ex-husband Austin (Michael Sheen) re-entering the picture and stirring up a whole bunch of tension, the boys negotiating with producers and directors on their dream project, etc, but don’t let the familiar premise fool you; the narrative does contain a few (mostly pleasant) surprises. While there’s shades of tales told many times before, there are a couple of fresh twists to keep the viewers guessing or hoping for a particular outcome. There’s a smooth balance of humor and drama, though perhaps less romance than a traditional rom-com, as the film takes the time to explore a variety of real-life issues, such as ambition versus reality, turning a new page, and taking risks.

The exploration of numerous ideas is both a boon and a bane, as there are times where the film feels as though it is stretched too thin and tries to do too much, so certain plot-lines don’t get as much resolution or attention as they deserve. Issues get resolved in a “last minute” fashion, almost like an afterthought. For example, there’s a plot device about Alice’s deceased father being a filmmaker that is intriguing, and is a stepping stone for Alice connecting to her three unlikely house guests, but sort of gets discarded in the latter half of the film. The music and montages seem to aim for an old Hollywood type feel, but at the same time, the tone doesn’t remain consistent. When the boys get into an argument, it gets resolved in a disproportionately swift manner compared to the set-up. As such, the pacing suffers a bit, as resolutions don’t live up to the set-ups, but regardless of this, the film doesn’t drag – I found myself engaged throughout.

The cast also delivers; Witherspoon carries the film with a charming performance that reflects both strength and vulnerability as a woman dealing with a new start at 40 years old. The 20-something trio (Nat Wolff, Jon Rudnitsky, Pico Alexander) all shine in a unique way, particularly Rudnitsky as George. Michael Sheen and Candice Bergen are also great in their roles, despite having less screen time, and both of the children (Lola Flanery and Eden Grace Redfield) were delightful in their supporting roles, and looked like they could be the actual children of Witherspoon and Sheen.

Honestly, the film is not awards fodder, but it provided me with a fair amount of laughs, and even if it treads familiar ground, it conveys a message that doesn’t get old despite multiple re-tellings. If you need an enjoyable way to pass a rainy afternoon or have a couple of hours free in the evening with nothing else to do, and you enjoy a decent rom-com for a bit of light-hearted fun, this film is a treat. Or, you know, if all the showings of It are sold out, this is a nice, if not comparable, alternative.

Overall rating: 7/10

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

Film Review: Dunkirk (2017)

Dir: Chris Nolan
Starring: Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Fionn Whitehead, James D’Arcy, Harry Styles, etc.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr 47min
Spoiler Level: Light

A lot of the early buzz about the latest WWII drama Dunkirk has called it Christopher Nolan’s best film to date. Considering he’s the man who brought us both critically-acclaimed Inception (2010) and widely-lauded The Dark Knight (2008), that’s a statement that isn’t to be taken lightly. Now that I’ve seen it, I have one thing to say about the monumental praise this film’s gotten thus far; it is 100% deserved, and Dunkirk may well be Nolan’s best so far.

Dunkirk_Film_poster.jpgBased on true events, Dunkirk presents three different timelines (land, sea, and air) within a non-linear narrative that chronicles the journeys of various characters – from struggling soldiers to stalwart civilians – during the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940.

Story-wise, I didn’t find the three different timelines too difficult to follow – it was compelling to see land, air, and sea diverge from and intersect with one another. The timelines are a bit disjointed, and it might take a bit to get used to the switching between perspectives (at one point it’s day, then night, then day again, though less than 24 hours have passed) but the narrative is consistently captivating, and as the timelines merge, it’s intriguing to see how certain characters meet and interact with one another.

The entire cast is strong; newcomer Fionn Whitehead delivers a mesmerizing performance as an Army private desperately trying to survive a relentless wave of peril, Tom Hardy, a Royal Airforce Pilot, evokes powerful emotion even while most of his face is concealed, and Mark Rylance is solid as a civilian mariner heading to Dunkirk to try and save some of the stranded soldiers. No one really stood head or shoulders above the rest, but in that same vein, I don’t think there was a weak link among the cast. Performances all around were impressive, especially considering the sparse dialogue, as great acting speaks much louder when there are no words at all. The narrative is carried by everyone, and even though about 90% of the character’s names don’t get spoken onscreen, it’s easy to get invested.

And for those of you wondering, Harry Styles is fine in it – definitely holds his own against the talented veterans. From what I’ve seen browsing around the internet, I imagine a significant chunk of this film’s box office will come from 1D fangirls, because anytime I’ve looked up anything about this film I have to slog through pages upon pages of Harry Styles swooning before getting anything of use, and there were as many middle-aged history professor type men in the theater last night as there were middle-school and high-school 1D fangirls. That’s not a criticism, though; it was actually awesome to see the IMAX theater in my local cinema close to full for a film that isn’t from Marvel. But I find the voracious media attention Styles has received simply for being in a popular boy band prior to this film is unfortunate because Dunkirk is an ensemble effort, and the other actors all deserve just as much, if not more, attention and praise for their performance.

Visually, the film is absolutely stunning – that’s an odd thing to say about a war film, I suppose, but the cinematography (per usual for Nolan) is gorgeous and the film is beautifully shot and edited. Dunkirk is also Nolan’s tightest film to date, as it offers nothing in excess; it’s clean and concise, presenting a well-balanced narrative and a clear picture without delving too deep or dragging too long. Sure, the film doesn’t show too much in the way of blood or gore, but it also didn’t need crimson spills in the sea or severed limbs splayed around craters to convey the horror and cost of conflict, nor does the lack of blood and guts glorify the idea of war in any way. The unseen enemy threat closing in, the stark faces of fear, a foot sticking out from a sandy grave, and the dead bodies floating in with the tide, are all images that stand out long after the credits have rolled.

The music (by Hans Zimmer) and the sound weave together to enhance the intense, knuckle-biting atmosphere. The scream of sirens, the whine of engines, the creak of sinking ships, the wails of dying men, the boom of torpedoes and crash of bombs and the ticking of precious time running out – and at times, silence – all serve to make the events of the film more visceral, more engrossing. The sound of bullets made me jump out of my seat on more than one occasion and honestly, I was so stressed out and tense throughout this film that I forgot to eat my Reeses Pieces. (I’m eating them now, don’t worry).

If it is possible for you to see this film in IMAX, you MUST do so – it’s worth splurging for the price of the ticket. The sound is incredible (VERY loud, but not deafening) and the sweeping shots of the beach and the sea and the dogfights in the air are best seen on a massive screen. My only quibble with the IMAX experience was the dialogue, as it was difficult to discern at times. It didn’t detract too much, since the gist of the narrative is easy to follow, but there were times that I genuinely had no idea what the characters were saying and wish I could have picked it up better. This might be different for the standard version, as it usually is.

I don’t know if this is Nolan’s best, but it is certainly a contender for the spot, and well worth seeing for fans of Nolan and war cinema alike. A sprawling film with a strangely intimate feel, Dunkirk shares bleakness and hope in equal measure, and though countless war films have been made, especially about WWII, there are still so many stories to be told, and Nolan’s put a unique stamp on this one. There’s not much bravado, virtually no soap-boxing, no victory-touting, no medals doled out, and the film doesn’t offer a lot of chit-chat about the horrors and toll of war; it simply shows it, along with the dedication and perseverance of the soldiers who yearn for home, and the civilians striving to get them there. It’s not as gory as Saving Private Ryan or as in-depth as Band of Brothers, but it certainly deserves a place among the memorable high-tier war films.

Overall Rating: 9/10

Top 10 Books and Films 2016 Edition!

After 113 books, 28,731 pages, and 30 trips to the movie theater for 26 films this past year, it is difficult to narrow down my favorites. But, after some careful consideration and introspection, I have pared the lists to my top 10 favorites in each category, and here they are! For the full list of books and films I consumed over the course of 2016, click HERE.

1.) Girl of Fire and Thorns SeriesRae Carson
I’ll admit, I initially figured that I’d be able to predict what happens in this series pretty easily, and ended up staying up til 2AM one night to finish the last book in this series because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Elisa was a different sort of heroine; I found her voice and experiences to be refreshing and enjoyed seeing her grow and change over the course of the novels. This series features a unique fantasy world, intriguing characters/relationships, a fair amount of action and surprises, and it presents interesting thoughts on faith/service/religion. All in all, I found it to be a solid trilogy.

2.) RookSharon Cameron
The thing that stood out to me the most from this book was the unconventional setting/plot, largely for how unique/intriguing they were, but also due to how the story unfolded so naturally and smoothly without the use of excessive exposition and massive amounts of backstory in order to make sense of things. It provided a new type of “dystopian” future, so to speak. Plus, the characters were outstanding; Rene might be my favorite male lead of the year, and I appreciate finding a love triangle in YA that isn’t really  a triangle in the typical sense, and avoids falling on overused tropes.

3.) Front LinesMichael Grant
The idea of this novel – presenting an alternate reality where girls/women were drafted into WWII the same as boys/men – drew me in right from the beginning, and the cast of characters kept me engaged. I enjoyed all of the perspectives of the various characters, though Rainy’s might have been my favorite. Definitely a standout for a unique concept and compelling, interwoven stories. The sequel is coming out soon (this month, I believe,) and I look forward to seeing how the story continues to unfold.

4.) This Dark EndeavorKenneth Oppel
I mentioned this in a previous post, but I was a HUGE fan of Oppel’s Silverwing series when I was younger, and read through it several times, so when I stumbled across this title in the Nook shop, I decided to give it a go. And now, I have been charmed once more by his sort of spinoff to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which explores Victor’s teenage years and delves deeper into his personal history and mindset. I haven’t bought the sequel yet, but I look forward to reading it as well.

5.) RuinedAmy Tintera
I have read a lot of fantasy, but this one stood out to me because although it uses familiar concepts that are somewhat “traditional” or common in the genre, this book does them well, and also adds in a lot of nuances and differences that make it stand out from the norm. It throws you into the action straight away, not relying on lots of exposition and narration to explain, and the characters reveal their personalities and motivations in a very organic way. I liked both Em and Cas’s perspectives, and look forward to seeing their adventures unfold in the following installments.

6.) Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue EnvelopeMaureen Johnson
As someone who spent a small portion of my late teens traveling throughout England, these two books really resonated with me. It was a realistic story that hit on a lot of touching and emotional notes, and I enjoyed following the lead character, Ginny, on her journey of self-discovery across Europe, inspired by a challenge delivered from her deceased aunt. The characters – mainly Ginny, but also the supporting cast – are so well-written to the point where they feel like real characters, and I think this is one of a handful of books/series I read this year where I enjoyed the sequel just a tad bit more than the first, as I loved seeing the characters grow and change across the two stories, or, in some cases, not change much at all.

7.) Life As We Knew ItSusan Beth Pfeffer
This is one of those books that caught me by surprise. The premise intrigued me – it’s told in a journal style, and follows the life and perspective of a girl named Miranda after the moon is struck by an asteroid and knocked closer to Earth, resulting in dramatic changes to the entire world. At first, it sounded absurd to me… but I found the writing enchanting and engaging and the characters felt very real, especially the protagonist. It’s certainly a bleak story, at times, but never really loses charm or sense of hope, even as the situations of the character(s) shift along with the condition of the world.

8.) The Scorpio RacesMaggie Stiefvater
While I was never a “Horse Girl” (I knew several, however) this book captivated me from start to finish. The novel follows a unique concept (about what is essentially a life-or-death annual horse race) and features an interesting cast… both human and equine. It’s a well-paced story and it’s easy to feel invested in the lives and actions of the characters, to the point where I didn’t even know who I wanted to win the race in the end.

9.) Confessions of Georgia Nicolson SeriesLouise Rennison
This series was absolutely hilarious, with one of the most unique narrators/voices I’ve encountered in a long while. It took me about a book and a half to really get into this series, but they’re quick reads, and extremely entertaining. I think I plowed through the entire series in about a week. Georgia is a character/narrator who is easy to hate or get frustrated with at times, but it’s also pretty easy to relate to her and laugh at the antics of her and her friends. I mean, there’s viking hats, a cat the size of a Labrador, and consistent references to nunga-nungas… it’s definitely a wild ride.

10.) RemembranceMeg Cabot
I read the entirety of Cabot’s Mediator series last year because I was late to the Meg Cabot party, so I had much less time to wait for her final installment than those who read the books at their original publication. Of all of Meg Cabot’s series/books, I might like this series the most, and I think this book was a solid conclusion to the story of Suze and Jesse and their friends/family. It’s definitely more mature than the other installments plot-wise, but not distressingly so… the characters feel as though they’ve grown and changed naturally from teens to adults (or, in Jesse’s case, ghost to human) and the story reflects that. Despite a few differences, they’re the same voices and characters and retain the same charm and quirks from the previous novels. I am so glad Cabot decided to add this story to the series.

Films

1.) Kubo and the Two Strings
This film better be nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars; it might be the best animated film I’ve seen in the last couple of years. I loved Laika’s previous work on ParaNorman, but felt that Kubo took their style and film-making to new heights. The character designs were stellar, the voice cast was great, the stop-motion and puppetry was superb, and it told an engaging, unique story, laced with touching themes about love and family with elements of Japanese mythology/folklore. I almost enjoyed watching behind-the-scenes videos as much as the film itself, and definitely recommend that anyone who is interested in these movies to take a look at how much work and effort goes into these projects, because it is truly mind-blowing.

2.) Hello, My Name is Doris
My tiny Pennsylvania town occasionally gets limited release films at one of our two local theaters, so luckily, my mom and I were able to see this movie early in the year. Sally Field was brilliant in her role as quirky office-worker Doris, who fantasizes about a relationship with a younger coworker and attempts to completely alter her lifestyle in order to win him over. It’s a small, intimate film, and I found myself really feeling for and sympathizing with Doris, even though I found some of her actions frustrating; a testament to a well-written and well-acted protagonist. The supporting cast is excellent, as well.

3.) Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
HEAR ME OUT, OKAY? I in no way believe this to be a great film. But for all it’s flaws, it’s still visually stunning, the action was fantastic, Batfleck was BRILLIANT, and it was an overall intense experience, especially in IMAX. I also personally like Cavill/Snyder’s interpretation of Superman, which I know is a contentious point for some… though for a movie that is technically about him, he should have had more screen-time. The introduction of Wonder Woman was handled well and her scenes stole the show, along with Bruce Wayne/Batman. The plot was definitely bloated; it felt like they were cramming a 4 hour movie into 2.5 hours. However, I also don’t think it was as awful as several critics claimed it was. The Ultimate Edition of the film is significantly better, but I don’t think the theatrical edition should be crucified. I had a good time, and I’ll be watching it again.

4.) Doctor Strange
…That said, I think both Marvel offerings from this year were superior superhero films. I enjoyed Doctor Strange far more than I thought I would, since I was mostly unfamiliar with the material beforehand. This film manages to stay true to the MCU, adhering to familiar tropes, humor, and plot, but there are some significant differences, especially in the climax of the film, which I thought was a very unique and dynamic change. Also, the visual effects were unlike anything I’ve seen from Marvel thus far. The cast was wonderful, and it was nice to see a non-hero female lead (Rachel McAdams) who isn’t completely dependent on the hero saving her life, and I’m also predicting a Best Supporting Actor nod for the brilliant performance of the Cloak of Levitation. I easily consider this one of my favorite installments in the MCU thus far, and I look forward to seeing the snark of Steven Strange in future films. If he meets the Avengers, as it seems he will, his interactions with Iron Man should be very, very interesting.

5.) Captain America: Civil War
I won’t drone on about what I loved in this film, but for the record, I certainly could. For a movie that easily could have been an absolute mess, with so many characters/personalities and an intricate plot, the execution was stellar. It’s a standard Marvel film, but it also breaks new ground because it is adding more and more without losing the qualities that fans come to expect of these movies, which are growing bigger and bigger by the year. Even though it’s meant to be a primarily Captain America film, I think the highlights for me were the introduction of Black Panther, Ant-Man meeting the crew, Falcon and Bucky’s hostile bromance, and the amazing airport fight sequence. Now that “phase 3” of the MCU has begun, the upcoming films have a strong legacy to continue and to live up to.

6.) The Lady in the Van
Maggie Smith is one of those actresses who, in my eyes, can do (almost) no wrong. This movie is worth seeing just for her, to be honest, but it fires on all cylinders. The film, based on the true story of Mary Shepherd, a woman who spent a considerable amount of time “living” in a van on the property of writer Alan Bennet, is charming and touching, with excellent characters and writing. Bennet’s narration, provided by actor Alex Jennings, is the heart of the film. It’s hilarious one second and deeply emotional the next, but with seamless transitions and a natural flow. One of the last scenes in the film is so strange and unexpected that I burst out laughing at the absurdity, and yet, it still seemed to fit.

7.) The Jungle Book
The animated version is not one of my favorites (though I love the music) but I thoroughly enjoyed the live-action version. The visuals were astounding, and I thought it built well on the original Disney-fied story; staying somewhat true to the animated version while still making changes. I loved hearing snippets of “The Bear Necessities” and Christopher Walken’s version of “I Wanna Be Like You,” and thought the voices were done extremely well. In particular, Ben Kingsley absolutely killed it as Bagheera and Bill Murray was a wonderful Baloo. Newcomer Neel Sethi was also the perfect Mowgli – I can’t imagine having to act against so much green/blue screen and CGI as the only “real” character in the film, and still manage to give a convincing performance.

8.) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
I’m a Harry Potter fan through and through, having read all the original books and seen all the movies, but I must admit… I may have liked Fantastic Beasts more than I liked the Potter films. I fell off the Hogwarts Express before The Cursed Child, so I’m unfamiliar with some of the new material and books and such, but this film has made me excited for new installments in this side of the franchise. I liked seeing a new side of the Wizarding World, with fresh, interesting characters, a well thought-out story and a captivating new setting, and I can’t wait to see how it expands in the future.

9.) Manchester by the Sea
*cries forever* This movie is wrenching. Heart-wrenching, soul-wrenching, gut-wrenching. Brilliant cast, astounding cinematography, and beautiful writing. Definitely not a movie you want to see if you need a cheerful boost, or if you’re looking for something action-packed and fast-paced. It’s a movie that feels very, very real, and the emotions seem so raw. Throughout the entire thing I just wanted someone to give Casey Affleck a hug. Some might consider it a bit slow at times, but it certainly deserves the acclaim and recognition it’s been getting as the award season starts to pick up traction, and I hope to see it get some statues in the future.

10.) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Since I loved TFA enough to see it three times in theaters, I went into this film with high expectations, and even though I had some idea of what was going to happen (given the start and some of the content from A New Hope) I still anticipated some surprises from the first of these “standalone,” anthology films. Rogue One is easily the darkest and grittiest film in the franchise, but also features some of the best action/space fight scenes the films have offered thus far and a litany of unique settings and characters. It really puts the “war” in Star Wars, so to speak, and with no Jedi in the film (technically) it shows a new side of the rebellion that we’ve not really seen before. My main gripe is that the characters could have all been fleshed out more, including the two “leads,” but I only say that because I found them so intriguing and I loved what I did see of them, so it made me wish they had more depth than what we were given in the constraints of a 2+ hour film. The performances were all great, however – and I suppose the lack of “knowing” them contributes to their unsung hero quality. However, as far as characterization goes, a brilliant scene near the end of this film will reinforce the idea that one should be very, very afraid of Darth Vader. Absolutely badass. And, not to spoil anything, the film connects to A New Hope in a very poignant way – it was great to see how the two stories eventually collide to kick off the much beloved and lauded original trilogy. From now on, when things get tough, I will remember… I am one with the force, and the force is with me.

BONUS:
Top Shows of 2016:
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Westworld (HBO)
American Horror Story: Roanoke (FX)

*Minor Spoilers Ahead*
I’m not much of a TV watcher these days, but Game of Thrones is a consistent favorite of mine, and this past season was no exception. It’s been a long wait for the next book, but the show is so brilliant it makes the wait easier. Standout episodes were The Door (I CRIED LIKE AN INFANT), Battle of the Bastards, and The Winds of Winter, all of which received well-deserved Emmy nods. I still think Season 4 is the best thus far, but with the hype-meter climbing ever-higher with each season, the show continues to deliver episodes that pluck at your heartstrings while simultaneously making you feel like you’ve been stabbed in the gut. The cast is stellar, as always, with particularly amazing performances this year from Kristian Nairn (still crying, btw), Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Maisie Williams, Lena Headey, Liam Cunningham, Natalie Dormer… the list goes on, and on. The Winds of Winter might be the best 69 minutes of television I’ve seen, so far. I look forward to the new season (even though it’s shorter AND delayed) and I can’t wait to go to the Game of Thrones Concert Experience in March!

It’s new sister show, Westworld, is also fantastic and had probably one of the best seasons I’ve ever seen for a freshman show. I started watching because the trailer snagged my attention and I needed something to make the wait for new Thrones easier, and I’m glad I gave it a go, because I was hooked from episode 1. When Dolores smacks the fly at the end of the first episode, I audibly gasped and said “Holy shit.” The entire season kept me guessing, but none of the twists and turns (and there are plenty) felt gimmicky or forced; proof of how well the show is written and all the intricate planning that must have gone into it. The cast was stellar, too – each character was distinct and there were way too many standout performances to list. I am sad that we have to wait for 2018 for the next season, but if that means they’re putting in their best efforts to deliver a new season that will live up to the first, then that’s fine by me.

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I enjoyed the latest season of American Horror Story. That said, I started watching in season 4 (loved it) and thought season 5 was lukewarm, so I can’t compare the latest installment, Roanoke, to the first three. In truth I think Roanoke really killed it during the ‘documentary’ style portion of the season, which lasted for the first 5-6 episodes, but the latter half of the season was a bit too gory. In fact, blood, violence, torture, and gore seemed to take the place of actual plot at some points, which made it drag a little. But still, I  found the premise exciting and unique, the acting was great, and it made me look forward to next season to see what AHS has planned for the future.

Cinema and Sound

I’ve said it in previous posts, but I’ll reiterate here; I love movies. And, to take it even further, I love movie soundtracks.

A couple of years ago, while watching The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies on opening night, I saw a teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. When the iconic Star Wars music started to play as the Millennium Falcon burst into the air, I promptly teared up. Then, last December, I saw The Force Awakens for the first time. I’ve never seen a Star Wars film in theaters before, and as soon as the familiar theme started to blast through the speakers over the opening credit scroll, I was in an emotional upheaval. It was such an awesome moment, to hear that iconic music blare as a new space adventure was prepared to begin.

Some soundtracks are just so evocative; so definitive of the work itself that it plays through your head whenever you call certain scenes or characters to mind. There are themes and soundtracks that everyone knows, even if they haven’t seen the movie it’s from. Jaws, anyone? I knew the “da-dum…..da-dum….da-dummm….DA-DUM DA-DUM DA-DUM” way before I ever mustered the courage to actually sit down and watch it.

In the Star Wars vein, everyone knows/recognizes the Imperial March. I recently saw Rogue One, and (MINOR SPOILER) when Vader appeared onscreen, his famed theme providing an ominous introduction, it set the scene and re-emphasized exactly the kind of character Vader is, even so many years after his initial appearance. Vader is the embodiment of that theme and vice versa. It’s a testament John Williams’s strength and prowess as a composer.

For me, the same goes for the theme from The Lord of the Rings; mainly the Shire theme. The tin-whistle and violin create a feeling of nostalgia and sense of “home,” and whenever it comes up, it’s easy to see and recognize how important that idea is to so many of the characters, especially Frodo and Sam. Sections of that legendary score translated seamlessly into The Hobbit series, which played on those familiar themes while simultaneously providing new ones, such as the “Misty Mountains” song and the instrumental motif that accompanies it. For all the flaws in the Hobbit films (while I personally enjoyed the films, I recognize the issues) the music was exceptional thanks to the genius of Howard Shore.

The theme from the Indiana Jones franchise is another example of a film’s music becoming essential to a character, much like the “Imperial March” and the “Jaws Theme.” I can’t think of Indy’s daring adventures, whether it be fleeing an immense boulder or taking a leap of faith for the Holy Grail, without also conjuring up that heroic theme. The music from Jurassic Park has a similar effect, but with a particular scene instead of a character. When Alan and Ellie first see the dinosaurs at the park and the music starts to play… it’s legendary. A brilliant movie moment that will go down as one of the best and most memorable, thanks to yet another marvelous theme from John Williams.

Disney films and their associated scores and composers (especially Menken, but also Hans Zimmer in the case of The Lion King) are also consistently fantastic, especially during the Disney Renaissance period. If I had to pick my favorites (as far as music is concerned), I’d probably have to say The Lion King – especially the track “Under the Stars” and the beautiful theme that plays when Simba officially becomes the King of Pride Rock. I also think the music to The Hunchback of Notre Dame is severely underrated, especially the music from the prologue, which has a haunting, almost dirge-like quality. But I don’t know if any Disney score can top the one from Beauty and the Beast. From the chilling piano in the prologue to the tune as old as time and the Beast’s magical transformation, the music definitely helps make the film pack an emotional wallop. When the familiar strains of the score started to play over-top the trailer for next year’s live-action remake, I legitimately teared up. It hit me right in the feels in the best way possible, as music should.

Whether it’s Daft Punk’s stellar and groundbreaking contribution to the Tron: Legacy soundtrack (“The Grid,” man… I am all about that movie and the music) or the gentle theme of Forrest Gump playing as a feather spirals into the air, movies are enhanced by their score on an emotional and visceral level that moving pictures and scenes typically cannot accomplish alone. For some, it might be the whimsical, fantastical themes from the Harry Potter franchise, or the swashbuckling theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, the music from some films can resonate in a person’s mind long after the film has ended. Sure, there are some notable and famed film scenes that occur in complete silence, but often, it’s the music that makes the movie, in a fusion of cinema and sound.

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