Monday, January 16, 2017

The Breakdown of 'Live by Night', 'Clinical', and 'Patriots Day'

The Breakdown has three movie reviews this week including two Oscar hopefuls in Ben Affleck's latest directorial effort, Live by Night, and Peter Berg thriller based on the Boston Marathon Bombing, Patriots Day. After that, we look at the Golden Globes and analyze what this means for potential Oscar winners. We also discuss the recent passing of author/screenwriter/director William Peter Blatty. As always, if you enjoy the show then please let other movie lovers know about the show.

Remember you can now subscribe either to The Movie Breakdown feed (a subscription link is at the top right hand of this site) or on iTunes.

Breakdown Outline: (things seemed properly synced this week so going to try this again):

Live By Night 1:27
Clinical 24:35
Patriots Day 39:25
Analyzing Golden Globes 55:55
Remembering William Peter Blatty 1:15:34
Rating Rundown 1:25:02

Ratings Rundown:

Live by Night **½ (CS)
Clinical * (CS) & *½ (SM)
Patriots Day ***½ (CS)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Remembering William Peter Blatty and How He Shaped Supernatural Horror

William Peter Blatty started his career as a writer of comedies including some novels and as well screenplays for movies like the Pink Panther sequel A Shot in the Dark and the Zero Mostel vehicle The Great Bank Robbery, but his legacy was the 1971 bestselling novel The Exorcist that two years later was adapted into the iconic horror movie (which he also wrote the screenplay). After The Exorcist, his cinematic contributions were sequels to his hit but he also wrote several novels that mostly were in the horror genre (more specifically, about spiritually both light and dark).

It makes me curious about if Blatty started in comedy because he thought that was an easy entrance but always wanted to explore Catholicism, the dark side of religion, and horror or if the massive success of The Exorcist dictated what he wrote afterwards. Or maybe it was neither, he just followed his muse that happened to darken after that fateful moment where he read an article about a demonic possession that he claims influenced his huge bestseller (number one on the New York Times bestseller list for 17 weeks and sold over 13 million copies).

The Exorcist is not only considered one of the greatest horror movies of all time but also one that makes many all-time great movies lists for any genre. It is one of the few real horror movies to be nominated for best picture, but it is also one of the most influential pieces of horror fiction ever. It probably wasn't the first story about a Catholic priest who struggled with his faith but then through dark circumstances is forced to embrace his beliefs again, but any time you see that type of character, it is impossible to not think about Father Damien Karras. It definitely wasn't the first about demons and the devil, as the very popular and successful Rosemary's Baby has already been a bestselling novel and hit movie, but along with that movie, it created the tropes and recurring story aspects of the supernatural horror genre. The Exorcist also has many iconic scenes like the head that fully spins around or the sinister voice coming from a young girls that have either been parodied or "borrowed" from countless movies. It is a movie embedded deep into our culture.

Blatty crafted the novel and adapted it into film at exactly the perfect time. The 1970s was obsessed with the occult and fearful of things like Satanism and demonic possessions. There are several cases over that decade about homes that were haunted and people being terrorized by ghosts or demons. There were also those who made a living fighting those poltergeists or nasty demons. The Exorcist explored something that people were fascinated about but also terrified because many felt it was real. Horror has its greatest strength when it makes us believe and connect with us on an emotional level.

Just looking at the type of modern horror movies that are big hits proves the enduring influence of The Exorcist. The majority of mainstream horror in the past decade has been supernatural hauntings or possessions of children. After all this time, people are still fascinated with the darkness of the other realm and how it will affect our world.

The Exorcist was about a 12 year old girl being possessed and how that shook her mother and changed how a priest saw his faith. Since that movie, an innocent child being taken over by something evil has become a horror staple. And if it isn't possession, then there is still a young child threatened by an evil spirit or being influenced by the evil. Just to name a few movies, there is Poltergeist, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Insidious, Sinister, Paranormal Activity series, The Conjuring, The Others, The Sixth Sense, The Babadook, and The Ring, One of the scariest things for a parent is that inability to protect your child, and it was something that The Exorcist tapped into and then many writers continued to exploit after.

Blatty never claimed The Exorcist to be based on a true story account, but he did stick to the idea it was heavily influence by a real life exorcism that he had read about. Of course, this added a new level of fright for the readers and viewers as there was this insinuation that all this could happen. This was not some complete work of fiction but grounded in truth.  Even though Rosemary's Baby came before it, it never claimed to be dipped into truth. The Exorcist's success led most writers and filmmakers to add another whole layer of terror by claiming their story was based on facts.

Now, it seems like 90% of supernatural horror is "based on true events." I'm not sure if anyone even believes that anymore or at least. I hope most realize things like The Conjuring are based on proven hoaxes and frauds A horror movie claiming we are about to witness something real has become pretty standard but  still has an unnerving element, as it threatens that it can happen to us. It really can't, but for two hours we suspend that part of our brain and allow possessions to take us over.

Blatty has passed away but he has a legacy. A legacy that will last with the horror genre always having his fingerprints all over it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Minor Set Back

By the time 2017 trots out the door and 2018 tags in, I hope that this blog will have at least 365 posts, and that will be enough for me to feel like I have reached my goal of posting something on here every single day of this year. Because if anyone who was pumped for my New Year's Resolution and came on here expecting something every day, they'd have been bummed from Wednesday until today. I was even hitting a pretty good clip those first few days of 2017 with often posting more than one thing in a single day. I actually had a decent amount of stuff planned for the remainder of that week with an article I got halfway done consisting of the 30 movies I was most anticipating, plans for reviews on The Good Place, Underworld: Blood Wars, La La Land, Coin Heist and Growing Up Coy.

Then I just smacked hard against an emotional wall where things like my son's upcoming birthday party and going out in the public seems like unbearable propositions. I felt burnt out and overwhelmed, and I used most of my reserves to spend time with my family and get pay copy done. But most things just seemed like Everest and I suddenly noticed my climbing gear was made by Fisher Price, so I crashed. When I feel defeated those voices of negativity that harp on my inadequacies are at their loudest and strongest.

I podcasted Sunday night and preparing for that seemed to be a nice kick start back on the productivity train. Unfortunately, my Monday turned out to be a whirlwind and I got the recording for this week's podcast late, so I couldn't get to it until late in the day. Then as it happens once and awhile, the upload decided to be pest and it wasn't able to get embedded until this morning (it literally wasn't able to upload until this morning).

So, the podcast is finally up. I now have to decide if I am going to post my very late and still unfinished anticipated list and still try to get the reviews done. At this point, I think it is best to give it an effort, because then my goal of reviewing as much as I can this year can be off to a rocking start (even if it is delayed). If I fail, it should be more an issue of too much other things to write rather than that nasty wall propping up again.

My goal is to remain honest this year. If I am willing to open up about my emotional state on here then hopefully it will give me the confidence to write even when I'm lost in the muck. On top of that, maybe I'll be more willing to write quick and to the point pieces just for the sake of keeping stuff going rather than listening to the "it isn't good enough" voice that tends to put me into several weeks hiding.

More to come, Promise.

The Breakdown of 'La La Land', 'Underworld: Blood Wars', 'Coin Heist', 'Growing Up Coy' and Most Anticipated of 2017.

The Breakdown offers up reviews of the first two Netflix originals of the year in teen drama, Coin Heist and the documentary, Growing up Coy. Plus we go all the way back to 2016, as review heavy early Best Picture favourite, La La Land. Is all the the hype for Damien Chazelle's musical justified? Plus Scott and I look ahead with our lists of the most anticipated movies of 2017. As always if you love the show then please spread the word to other movie fans.

Remember you can now subscribe either to The Movie Breakdown feed (a subscription link is at the top right hand of this site) or on iTunes.

Rating Rundown:

Coin Heist ** (CS & SM)
La La Land **** (CS)
Growing Up Coy *** (CS & SM)
Underworld: Blood Wars ** (CS)

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The Breakdown Needs More Woody Allen According to Stats

I was glancing over at the different stats packages that show the amount of listeners for each specific The Breakdown episodes, so that I could get an idea of what is popular and what type of content that I should plan to provide in future shows.  I came across a few interesting things. For all time downloaded/listened episodes, The Spoiler Room of The Force Awakens is far and above the most listened to show, so Scott and I definitely dropped the ball not doing something similar with Rogue One this year. After that it is most of our year end shows (Best of and Worst of shows) that own a strong all-time second place, then the original The Force Awakens review show and some of the other big hit movies like Zootopia, Deadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy, and most Marvel movies owning high spots. Besides the year end list shows, the most popular non-review shows are the Oscar predictions and our spotlight of rising stars shows.

What is kind of interesting is that all those shows rank really high for the most recently listened/downloaded shows too. As for other most listened to shows for the week, the recently recorded shows rank the highest, which isn't that surprising (besides the new year end shows, Bridesmaids, Moana, and Arrival shows being the highest for this week).

I was initially really surprised to see The Boy podcast another highly listened to show this week, because it wasn't a very good movie and surprised anyone would remember it. Then closer inspection shows we also paid tribute to David Bowie that episode and that probably has more to do with its staying power. Less surprising but shows the value in Scott and I revisiting classic movies is that the Die Hard, Nightmare on Elm Street and Blade Runner shows also ranked high this week (and I assume most weeks).

The most baffling show that has wooed a huge amount of ears this week is the podcast where we review Blue Jasmine, You're Next, Dear Zachary, and Moon. Most of them are good movies, but the podcast was recorded back in the fall of 2013 and not really the older show I'd have predicted would attract hundreds of listeners this specific week. It isn't like Blue Jasmine is one of the most remembered of Woody Allen's movies (though it was a Best Picture nominee). There is some fans of You're Next, but I would have assumed interest in it would have been around when Blair Witch (also directed by Adam Wingard) was released. Moon is a definite cult classic, but we've reviewed other similarly beloved movies that aren't as popular this first week of January.

At first, I started thinking I was missing some big piece of news that drew people to a move directed by Woody Allen or Duncan Jones. I'm thinking it is something less significant than that. It probably is just a case that this is the podcast that has four movies that would appeal to the type of movie fans that like to listen to movie review podcasts. The casual fans will listen to the show when there is a big movie they want to find out about (reason why Batman v. Superman podcast was huge when it came out but insignificant now), but the more hardcore fan is more interested in the cult hits or getting insight on older movies from directors or actors they respect.

I always find it fascinating what shows turn out to be hits or have surprising staying power. I have learned that it is really hard to predict what will attract a big audience. It has reminded me that I just need to just keep trying to make high quality shows and the type of podcast that I would want to listen to each week.

WWE Monday Night Raw Review: WWE Has a Star Making Problem

While watching WWE Monday Night Raw's first episode of the year, it became clear that despite still considering myself a wrestling fan that there is a reason I only watch an episode a few times a year and when I do, I make heavy use of the fast forward button on my trusty PVR. It was a decent show, but it couldn't escape the feel of staleness or that its wheels are spinning in thick mud.

The set has had some alterations, there are new wrestlers, and the matches are much longer but the format and feel of the show is still stuck in how Raw was presented during the late 90s. Mick Foley is always a treat to see, and the team of Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho is immensely entertaining together, but the 20 minute opening talkfest between them had no reason other than it is what they've done for the last (almost) 20 years to set up the matches for the show. In this case it set matches up  that we've seen in some combinations for months upon months, so as good as Kevin Owens is against Seth Rollins it is hard to get too excited when it feel like match number 98 in a thousand match series.

Chris Jericho challenging Roman Reigns for the United States title had a bit more drama with the stip that the title could change even by disqualification or count out, and there was some fun sequences to play up on that like Jericho trying to trick the ref into thinking Roman hit him with the belt. But Jericho tomfoolery can only take you so far when you know the rocket is strapped to Roman and WWE is obsessed with him being the future of the company, so there was no way he was losing tonight.

The other problem is that almost nobody on the show really feels like superstars. This is why when wrestlers from the hottest period in the industry's history (but also one that is 20 years ago) return to ovations that drown any of the current stars that they always feel like they're in their very own league. Goldberg was one of the biggest stars in the last 90s but the fact he is without a doubt the hottest current act on the show, proves WWE has struggled at the star making formula.

I am not really sure how hot the Goldberg comet will remain anyway if he doesn't really start doing anything other than coming out for an interview segment and occasionally spearing a heel. The current story is Goldberg wants one more run as World champion and needs to win the Rumble for that shot, I am pretty sure my 20 month old daughter who has never watched wrestling has even figured out that the Rumble is just a set-up for a Goldberg and Brock Lesnar rematch. This makes all his appearances just feel like placeholder until we get to the Rumble and can start the real build towards the big WrestleMania match. Goldberg needs to eventually actually do something or be involved in an intriguing story for his appearances to mean something. I am sure at some point in March will finally get Goldberg and Lesnar scuffling on Raw again.

Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho are a hot act, and I like them as top heels, but it seems pretty likely they will be split for a WrestleMania match and Owens' title run will be done at the Rumble. Seth Rollins is really talented but as is the new WWE way, their booking of him over this year has taken him from a guy who returned as a super-hot babyface to now being really cooled off. Roman Reigns is the guys shoved down the throats, seems set for his latest coronation at the Rumble, but the fans are still not buying as a top star. The guy does work hard and had the best match of the night, but I see another championship flop in his future.

Speaking of cooling off, Bayley and Sami Zayn both debuted as way hotter acts then they are now after appearing on TV each week due to how they're been mishandled. New Day was set to be the next Edge and Christian, but not only have they started to become irritating, they're now stuck in pointless time filler stuff like rejecting Titus O'Neill from becoming a new member. O'Neill may have charisma but you never want to see him in the ring and being paired with him is like being strapped to an anchor.

I still am a really big fan of Bayley and Zayn, and both are extremely talented. Zayn put on a one man show last night where he flew himself all over the arena making Braun Strowman appear to be an unbeatable monster in their last man standing match. Sadly, I get the feeling Zayn is now getting relegated to the midcard now and we can look forward to an endless series of matches between him and Bo Dallas. It is pretty clear Zayn was the guy fans wanted to see in major matches but WWE is stuck in the 1980s with the idea they need a massive monster heel to challenge their top babyface. Even though Zayn made Strowman look good last night, Strowman really isn't ready for the main event and in 2016 fans care more about wrestling quality than appearance. Strowman seems destined to be the next Great Khali rather than Andre the Giant.

This show seems to give credence to rumours of Reigns vs. Strowman being a WrestleMania title match, which means we are set for the two to stumble around to a dead silent stadium crowd. They have time to change their mind, but they've been on the Reigns train for over two years now and spent the last year building up Strowman to quiet crowds. They've been dodging the memo this long and are too stubborn to try something else. I get their thinking here that Strowman is hated so Reigns will finally get cheered, but they are ignoring fans ability to leave to buy nachos.

Speaking of dead silence, WWE's cruiserweight division has been a flop at this point with crowds just not caring. Part of the problem is they have selected cruiserweights that do the same stuff that the heavyweights do and the other part is just not enough time has been given for fans to know their personalities. This is why the heel Adrian Neville is their top babyface in the eyes of the fans. I do appreciate they haven't given up on the division and I want it to work. I do like that they keep the guys away from the heavyweights, and they try to convey that this is an entirely separate division in the company (different ring ropes, mandatory handshake before match). They just need to allow the personalities to shine and get some compelling storylines. There are apparently some hot international stars that are yet to debut, and so hopefully they can add a spark to the division.

The WWE's women division is the opposite of the cruiserweights with every wrestler having a distinct personality and the division has gained a lot of legitimacy and soared past the days of bra and panties matches. Bayley and Charlotte is a big title match that fans want to see, and often the women's matches are the highlights of the show. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks is easily the best series of matches I've seen last year and despite wrestling several times, I never got tired of them. Though tonight the division got dragged down by WWE's shoddy booking where they are currently obsessed with "protecting" people by having distraction finishes in almost every match. The Bayley and Nia Jax match was a great littler fighter needing to overcome the monster story, but Sasha Banks coming out to distract Jax just made it yet another tired WWE match. Distraction finishes are fine if they aren't used several times on the same show and become something we expect to see every week. On tonight's show, five matches used the distraction finish. In the case of the women's match, it also did not really help Bayley as a top challenger if she can't win on her own.

The over-use of distraction finishes is one of the many issues that have caused wins to not matter, and without wins meaning something, the matches don't have much purpose or reason for fans to care. The other big issue is the WWE obsession with trading wins where a wrestlers wins one week and then takes the loss the next week. It is why Zayn or Cesaro aren't superstars when they should be, they never escape fifty fifty booking.

Speaking of Cesaro, he had a really good match with Karl Anderson and was given a lot of time. I am glad he is one half of the World Tag Team champions, and hope this may mean they are finally going to try to elevate him this year. WWE needs fresh guys on top and Cesaro gets cheers despite being misused for years and now that he is a champ again. It is the time to start working on making him a star again.

Next week has Shawn Michaels and Undertake appearing, and which again shows WWE's problem, Current stars aren't draws so they have to keep on trotting out past ones. It probably will work and I'll give WWE another shot next week. It may be too much to hope that either guy actually has something to do and will have an actual interesting storyline. Though there is talks of Undertaker vs. John Cena at WrestleMania, so we may get some hints there next week. Michaels likely will be stuck in "hilarious" skits.

Seth Rollins beat Kevin Owens by DQ when Owens hit Rollins with the ring bell
Karl Anderson defeated Cesaro with a top tope leaping neckbreaker
Braun Strowman beat Sami Zayn in a last man standing match when Zayn couldn't answer the count of ten
Xavier Woods pinned Titus O'Neil with a sunset flip
Drew Gulak pinned Cedric Alexander with a roll-up
Roman Reigns defended the United States title by pinning Chris Jericho with a spear
TJ Perkins beat The Brian Kendrick by submission with a knee bar
Rusev and Jinder Mahal defeated Big Cass when Rusev pinned him after a thrust kick
Bayley pinned Nia Jax after a top tope Bayley to Belly

Monday, January 02, 2017

The Breakdown of the Best of 2016

I actually revealed my Top 20 Movies of 2016 on Saturday, so it may be easy for you to figure out my top ten on The Breakdown of the Best of 2016. But you don't know Scott's pick and we also had some fun discussion on each of our big picks. 2016 may not have been a great year overall for movies (or politics or celebrities or happy news), there were still some really great movies. Many of these great movies didn't do great at the box office, so this week we let you know of some of the amazing underseen movies that really deserve to be seen. Every movie on the list gets the big Breakdown Stamp of Approval and so you have a nice list of movies that you need to catch up on this month.

As always, we really appreciate you listening to the show every week. As a way to thank us for all the entertainment we hopefully provided you, please let other movie lovers know about the show so we can grow our audience and keep doing this every week.

Remember you can now subscribe either to The Movie Breakdown feed (a subscription link is at the top right hand of this site) or on iTunes.

Christopher's Best of 2016:

10. The Jungle Book
9.  13th
8.  Deadpool
7.  The Witch
6.  Sing Street
5.  The Nice Guys
4.  Zootopia
3.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
2.  Kubo and the Two String
1.  Arrival

Scott's Best of 2016:

10. 7 Anos
9.   Eye in the Sky
8.   The Little Prince
7.   Arrival
6.   The Nice Guys
5.   Moana
4.   13th
3.   King Jack 
2.   Zootopia
1.   Victoria

The Breakdown of the Worst of the Year Plus Remembering Carrie Fisher

I know, I know, I said I wasn't going to dwell in the negatives of 2016 this time. This year just had so many stinkers that Scott and I felt it needed to be addressed. So, the return of the Breakdown is marked with both of us delivering our Top Ten Worst Movies of 2016. This is a year where I actually had to leave some movies out that I despised just because there were so many that left me with my head held down and my soul crushed to smithereens.

This was a year that really showed there is a major quality issue at the big budget movie level and the studios need to address their current franchise and sequel strategy. You can't continue a series if you don't have a good story and many of the movies on the list have that problem. Scott and I also analyze each movie to see where these pictures failed and hopefully, provide some lessons to avoid it being repeated for the future. The show definitely left me hoping for a much better 2017.

Speaking of bummers in 2016, Carrie Fisher passed away at the end of the year. She was an iconic figure who was a major celebrity for both Scott and my own childhood. We pay tribute to this amazing woman as well.

As always if you love the show then please pass the word on to other movie fans so that the podcast can grow and get even bigger in 2017. We always appreciate you taking the time to listen to the show.

Remember you can now subscribe either to The Movie Breakdown feed (a subscription link is at the top right hand of this site) or on iTunes.

Scott's Top Ten Worst of the Year:

10. Independence Day: Resurgence
9. Mojave
8. Rebirth
6. Estranged
5. The Boy
4. Punk's Dead: SLC Punk 2
3. The Veil
2. The Do-Over
1. Zoolander 2

Christopher's Top Ten Worst of the Year:

10. The Huntsman: Winter's War
9. Warcraft
8. The 5th Wave
7. Free State of Jones
6. Dirty Grandpa
5. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
4. Zoolander 2
3. The Do-Over
2. Ben-Hur
1. Independence Day: Resurgence

Sunday, January 01, 2017

About that Breakdown Hiatus

After a three week absence of The Breakdown, it has been voted that a hiatus on top of that would be foolishness. So The Breakdown returns right in time for the new year, and it has been finished recording to ensure you get your movie talk goodness this week. Actually, it is a big double episode week as tomorrow we will have The Worst of the Year show and the Best of the Year show. It was a lot fun and it provides some nice insight into what 2016 was like for movies.

My Ten Writing Goals for 2017

I already declared my New Year's resolution for 2017, which is having at least one article up on the blog every day this year. My hope is to have it usually posted in the morning but the needs to write pay copy and look after adventurous daughter may mean it will often to be an evening post. It will likely take many forms such as a review, a long form think pieces on major news, an attempt at something funny, cute picture of my kids and dog, or a link to work that is published elsewhere (there will be a lot more of that this year). My hope is that this is the one stop shop for anything I write online and though there likely will be a major focus on movies, I still want to have pieces on parenting, news, politics, and some occasional fiction.

I have some big goals for my writing career in 2017. Now that the year has officially kicked off, I thought I'd reveal the ten things that I hope to accomplish as 2017 unfolds.

1. Spend more time with family and friends. Yes, I am aware nothing in that statement has anything to do with actual writing. But being successful at this will mean everything for having a rewarding writing career in 2017. My family is my lifeblood, and though I think I am a pretty decent father. I know I could have spent way more time with my family in 2016 and definitely been more proactive in planning events for us to do. As for friends, my wife bestows the curmudgeon label on me for a reason and I hope to get it permanently annexed from her vocabulary this year. But the reason that I have it as a writing goal is because getting the energy and giving the love to my family will pile on more happiness in my life and give me the motivation to continue hunting down the muse for daily word creation. Also the more adventures with family and friends leads to more inspiration for future stories and articles.

2. Connect with more writers. Once again, not actual writing but vital to my writing success. I already have arranged a meeting to talk to a multiple times published novelist, contacted a writer's group in my city about attending their meetings, and been enrolled (thanks to my lovely and patient wife) in a creative writing course. I hope to build relationships and be able to learn from other writers but also become a support for them as well. Community is a crucial ingredient for happiness and fulfillment, and it is very important to be able to spend time with those that share some similar passions and loves. I also want to be far more active on social media in interacting with various writers from novelist, movie writers, journalists, screenwriters, and various other writers. I have much to learn but even more, just need to grow my circle of friends and colleagues in order to help improve and grow my own writing. This is the year that I humble myself and realize I still have so much more to be learn about writing.

3. Complete a manuscript. I have three novels that currently rest on my laptop that are incomplete. Before 2018, I want to have all three completed and have been shopped around to publishers (and possibly before that agents). This month I will be picking one of the three, going through what I have written, and then deciding the direction to take to complete it and make it something I would want to read. The biggest challenge is that in all three manuscripts, I  have probably two or three potential novels in each one, so I need to cut out what isn't necessary for these specific novels completion, focus on the main story, finish these novels and then start crafting these new stories. The positive is that I not only have the potential for three completed novels this year but the start for several more. Or I end up realizing a few of these ideas aren't salvageable, but I will only know that from digging it in and getting them done.

4. Review every wide release movie. This is will be one of the hardest goal to accomplish this year and if it happens, won't come to fruition until much later into the year. It is also one that is in some ways out of my direct control in it being able to happen. At this point, I am reviewing at least one theatrical movie a week and during some really busy weeks two or three, but then there are a few stretches where the only new release is something on Netflix. In order to make sure I can review everything that comes through my local theatre, I need to substantially grow my movie review reading audience by several tens of thousands so that I can either monetize this site or use it as leverage to get a regular gig as a critic for a Collective Publishing-like site that is fine with reviews posted a little later than most critics. Or of course, getting credentials that allow me into press screenings so I can write reviews before the movie is released. The thing that I can control is write reviews for every 2017 movie that I see along with my regular podcast reviews.

5. Write a weekly column. I miss my pop culture column for Collective Publishing and my "Dad's Eye View" for Pregnancy & Newborn. I am currently actively looking to fill that void with a few different publications, because there is something exhilarating about having a weekly deadline where I need to come up with a fresh idea to explore on a specific topic. I would love for it to be movies or parenting again, but at this point, I just want my own paid column again.

6. Try out new forms of media. My other outlet for the last few years has been the weekly Breakdown podcast. It has been a great creative avenue to flex my other skills plus has given me a place to work on writing outlines, scripts, and planning out show ideas. We live in an age that there is more to writing than just an article or book. To continue expanding, I want to break into doing weekly videos and if my audience increases, I'd also like trying out some public speaking. The latter is probably a year or more away from being viable, but videos just need a video camera, which I have. At this point, I just need to sort out what type of videos that I want to make, because I am not sure if I need a third format to do movie reviews.

7. Write more fiction. Obviously, there are the must-be-completed novels that I will be working on during the first half of the year. I also have several short stories that I want to shop around to different outlets and enter into contests like the yearly one at the Toronto Star. I also want to start trying to write a short story a month that I can either add to an anthology or sell to different periodicals and magazines. I've also been playing with the idea of writhing a serialized story that I would post on a set day every week (I'm thinking Wednesday) that would continue for several months. The plan would be I'd offer up this free fictional series as a different way of building an audience and see if I can build up a fanbase for my other fiction writing. The biggest issue at this point is finding a story that I am willing to offer up for free and more importantly, would work properly in serialized form. Right now, I just want to get the blog back as a place where there is something new to read every day and once that is established, I'll get this serialized story started (ideally, it begins before January comes to an end, but I don't even have a story picked yet let alone written).

8. Journalism. I miss doing interviews with major figures or doing some investigative journalism. I did a little bit of it back in 2012 when I started for Collective Publishing, and it was a different kind of writing that offered a type of challenge than most other forms. It also forces me out of my comfort zone and allows for stories that have a significant importance for society and community. I would also really like to cover a major event this year like a film festival or sporting event. I'm currently pitching some ideas to newspapers that I've had relationships with in the past, and yes, print may not be what it was but it is still the best place for writing respectable news articles.

9. Diversify writing on blog. Movie reviews, thoughts on major movie news, and the adventures of parenting will likely be the dominate content on this site, but I really want to start returning to writing on a variety of topics and forms again. There is the plan for a weekly serialized fiction story that I mentioned, but I would also like to return to my random humour pieces that I did in the past like my Terrific Thursday Top Ten, Letter to Katie Holmes, Advice for Customer Service, interview with my teddy bear, Mary Christmas, and various others. I also just want to be a lot better at throwing up my gut reaction to major news pieces or just writing quick thoughts on pop culture that I consume. Movies are the only entertainment I plan to do weekly in-depth reviews, but I hope to still do some quick weekly thoughts on TV, sports, and books when there is something worth analyzing or discussing. It will also give me an idea if there is a larger readership for covering things like TV and if that is the direction I should move towards.

10. Take chances. I just need to keep on writing every day. Some days it will be heaping garbage and some days I hope I can connect with a few readers. I can't conjure up the magic if I just spend most days thinking about it. I want to write more and more things that scare me and force me to be honest. This challenge should help me stand out and force me to be a better writer.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Top 20 Movies of 2016

As 2016 finally comes to an end, the general consensus seems to be this was a pretty lousy year with things like one of the nastiest election campaigns ever, numerous terrorist attacks, and several iconic celebrities passing away. Unfortunately, it wasn't a very good year at the movies either. This has not only been the worst year since I started getting paid to writing movie reviews in 2012 and started watching over a hundred movies in a given year, but there were long stretches where I started to really believe we were seeing the implosion of the big studio movies.

The independent movie scene remained strong and will likely always be the creative refuge for filmmakers who want to tell stories about things other than superheroes or major intellectual properties. There were still some cases of wide releases that were intelligent movies or at least were smaller in scale and more character driven. There is a lot to be scared about with the movie industry especially with their franchise and sequel obsessions but there was still a lot to praise and a reason to cling to the hope that quality matters and creativity can thrive.

I typically have done a Top Ten Worse of the Year and then a Top Ten Best of Year. I feel there has been enough articles and lists to pound out how disappointing 2016 has turned out. If you need to chug your negativity juice then it is frothy and fresh in many spots. I've decided to just spotlight the positives, because this year needs it. I have gone with a Top 20 of the Year list plus another 10 honourable mentions. That gives you thirty movies that have my top endorsement and show 2016 was packed with some high quality.

I should note that living in Brantford means that I miss out on a lot of smaller indy darlings that got released during the second half of the year or the majority of the big Best Picture hopefuls, because they don't get screened around here until January (full reviews for the movies  that do make it here when they come). This does mean that my list is missing many movies that made other critics best of the year due to not having watched them yet, such as Silence, Moonlight, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Paterson, Love Witch, The Handmaiden, and several others. I also just didn't have the time to review The Wailing, The Treasure, The Boy and the Beast, The Meddler, Where to Invade Next, and The Wave. Hopefully, I can review at least a few of those in 2017. Though my hope is 2017 ends up being a pretty busy year for movies where I'm churning out at least one reviews of a new release a week and have plenty to champion.

But 2016 isn't done yet, and there was lots to praise despite its reputation. Here are my favourites from the 129 movies that I saw that were released in 2016.

20. 10 Cloverfield Lane: A monster movie that shows that monsters can come in many forms. It is the creature feature you'd hope from a picture attached to the original Cloverfield, but it is also a slow, simmering, disturbing thriller that toys with you and challenges you on who you can trust and what is the truth. John Goodman is fantastic as the man who captured our heroine for her own good, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead creates a lead character that is right up there with Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor as average women that must become kick-ass warriors. I initially has no use for a Cloverfield franchise, but this was great enough to make me highly anticipate the next anthology instalment.

19. The Confirmation: Though not marketed as such, it feels like a modern retelling of the 1948 classic, The Bicycle Thief (Bicycle Thieves). Clive Owen's divorced, alcoholic, down-on-his-luck Walt gets his son for a weekend but ends up having to spend it travelling around town for his stolen carpenter tools that he needs for a much needed job on Monday. It is a slice of story that at times is funny and other times heartbreaking but always packed with true emotions and interesting, believable characters. It speaks into the modern concerns and worries of our society but tells a tale about family and life's struggles that are timeless.

18. Snowden: The Oliver Stone that directed classics like Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, and JFK has returned with this slickly paced, stylishly directed political thriller based on the real life events of Edward Snowden making top secret NSA files accessible to the public. Snowden is a controversial figure and the movie makes sure to avoid deifying him (though it is clear Stone is on his side) and allows him to be a complicated figure with flaws and conflicting views. Joseph Gordon-Levitt proves yet again he is one of the most underappreciated top actors in the business and conveys a true living character that connects with the audience.

17. The Shallows: 2016 did turn out to be the year that the big studios delivered some great horror features that had relatable characters, complex themes and some well-earned chills. But the movie that I had the most fun had Blake Lively vs. a giant shark, which felt like a throwback to campy grindhouse pictures of the seventies but also packed some big scares. Lively proves her immense skill with a great performance where she mostly just has a killer fish and a seagull to play off. Jaume Collett-Serra earned his place as a genre director to keep an eye on.

16. Edge of Seventeen: Hailee Steinfeld is an actress that I have been championing ever since I saw her in True Grit, and it is her charisma and great screen presence that makes this picture such a wonderful treat. She has fantastic chemistry with Woody Harrelson where they share some of the funniest scenes in any movie this year. It has a great mix of humour, drama, and heart that earn it a spot along the best John Hughes movies. Kelly Fremon Craig shines in her directorial debut, and show the coming of age tale is still very much alive.

15. Barry:  A story about Barack Obama's college years as he tries to find his racial identity, come to terms with his family relationships, and figure out his own future. It is the rare biopic that doesn't have several smash you over the head scenes that outright tell you the subject's genius can be seen from the start but rather trusts the presence and performance of Devon Terrell to signal the future greatness of the 44th president. Like all good biopics, it is less about that point in time in Obama's life and more about bigger issues such as race relations, the need to belong, and different ways of overcoming guilt.

14. Moana: Disney has done a lot in the last few years to push for diversity and provide heroes that can represent groups often ignored. Not only do we get the first Polynesian Princess, but a movie that embraces the culture with vibrant colours and immensely catchy music. The picture is full of life and one of the most beautiful animated movies ever, but also just a really great adventure. It is also no small deal that Moana is a strong and independent woman who earns her tribes respect right from the beginning and gender is never an issue in the story. It is also Dwayne Johnson's best performance ever and you can feel his passion for this story.

13. The Lobster: An oddball, quirky comedy set in a near dystopian future where single adults need to find a partner in forty-five days or be turned into an animal of their choosing. The premise is both brilliant and absurd, and the humour comes from the odd behaviour of the characters and the almost monotone delivery of dry dialogue. This movie is destined to turn off a lot of people, but this world is so fully realized and so silly that there is an indisputable charm about this picture. It also has a well delivered deeper message about the dangers of absolutes and strict institutions even when their cause is just. Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz are wonderful together and their lack of chemistry helps elevate the message and themes of the picture.

12. Allied:  Not sure when the term "old-fashioned" became a criticism, because this is a movie that has a plot, style, and feel from decades ago. This is Robert Zemeckis homage to the sweeping war romance picture, especially the iconic Casablanca. It is part spy thriller and part grand love story, and both work thanks to great pacing, gorgeous set pieces, fun twists, and great chemistry between Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. It borrows and follows the classic romance war movies of the past, but it has been so long that something like this has been tried at the big stage that it feels fresh and it is always absorbing. This is Zemeckis' strongest and most assured movie since returning to live action and was sadly underseen, so catch it when you have the chance.

11. Hunt for the Wilderpeople: A New Zealand adventure dramedy does something most American comedy releases failed this year: keep me laughing all the way through. The story of orphaned Ricky escaping into the woods with his cantankerous adopted father, Hec (played by Sam Neill in a great performance) to escape child services, who want the boy after the adopted mother unexpectedly passes away may have a predictable resolution and is smothered in sweetness but also ends up being one of the most original and irreverent movies of the year. The script is crammed with wit, and Julian Dennison and Neill has a fantastic energy with each other. The movie is rugged but also full of heart, and it is impossible not to fall in love with the characters.

10. The Jungle Book:  This movie proves that the complaints of extensive CGI or a movie being a remake/reboot isn't the real problem, because when both are done well it is magical. The standard for special effects have soared to the heavens with the cutting edge CGI that creates full breathing and realistic animals and a living jungle from a sound stage. Director Jon Favreau plays to nostalgia for several scenes but still transforms the story into something new, exciting, and original. I am a big fan of the animated The Jungle Book, but this newest tale fixes several of the thematic issues including now demonstrating a tribe or family can consist of different species and it just takes love to justify inclusion. Even if you don't dig for messages or themes, this is a fantastic jungle adventure that I see several kids wanting to replay in their back yards and is elevated by a great performance by a young Neel Sethi.

9. 13th: A must-see and powerful documentary by Ava DuVernay that looks at how the 13th Amendment allows for the prison system to continue the injustice and control of Blacks after the abolition of slavery. It has such a detailed history and its arguments are so in-depth that it is a valuable documentary for those on any side of the political spectrum. After seeing it, I think almost anyone would have to admit to their being some truth, or the very least that it is a masterfully created and compelling piece of cinema.

8. Deadpool: Hands down the very best comic book movie of the year but even on its smaller budget, one of the very best big studio actioners. It follows the beats of the typical origin story but elevates it with its irreverent humour, in-your-face bloody action, and an unforgettable performance by Ryan Reynolds. It is a cliché but this was the role he was destined for and erases all memories of Green Lantern (though he makes fun of that in the movie). Deadpool is the reason there is suddenly a slew of R-Rated movies coming out in the next year, but its success has nothing to do with it rating but everything to do with it having a vibrant energy and daring to be different then all the cookie-cutter big budget superhero movies. Even though it is raunchy and violent, it also have a lot of heart and an uplifting spirit, and I'd argue it is a better Valentine movie than what most studios try to put out.

7. The Witch: People looking for a jump-scarefest will be disappointed, as this horror is much deeper and about so much more than making one spill their popcorn. It is a slow-building but tension filled story about a Puritan family that left their community because they felt it was disgracing God, but once they go out living in the wilderness bad things start to happen like losing the newborn son. It is yet another horror that explores the importance of family but also explores the dangers of putting your values and religion over love and having unwavering views even when it can cause harm to those close to you. Anya Taylor Joy is a super-talented actor on the rise (this year she starred in both Barry and Morgan and stars in the upcoming Split), but her role here as the daughter accused of witchcraft proves her skills have already arrived as a top star. The movie is set in the 17th Century and the language, aesthetic, and style makes it feel like it was a story written from that time and then passed down the generations. This is proof that horror can be high-art but also still damn frightening.

6. Sing Street: The story of a teenager who forms a band so that he can convince a girl he likes to star in their music video. I wish I was that smart as a teenager. It is directed by John Carney who has given us other music driven movies in Once and Begin Again, but I like this one best as it has more complex characters and is elevated by the mid-1980s Dublin setting. It embodies the doubts and worries of the financially struggling working class while exploring the power of music and being a fantastic coming of age tale. It isn't afraid to dig into dramatic themes like the danger of dogmatism, mental illness, need to belong, and acceptance, but coated it all with a sense humour and bounce in its step. This movie reminded me quite a bit of another coming of age story set in the 1980s and is about a band being formed, We're the Best - a movie that made my best of 2014 list, and both are on Netflix so you have a double bill for tonight.

5. The Nice Guys: There is this constant complaint that there is nothing new in the cinemas or people tiring of superhero adventures, yet this Shane Black directed noir-crime thriller soaked in seventies nostalgia was a box office flop despite being everything audiences claim they're starving to see. It has a distinctive style, well-earned plot twists, action sequences that have purpose, it is hilarious, it is emotional, and it is distinctly its very own things even if also a homage to past movies. Ryan Gosling proves he has amazing comic skills and Russell Crowe is a fantastic straight-man for him. Angourie Rice instantly proves she is a future star with her great stand-out performance as Gosling's daughter. Even though this is a crazy, violent, action adventure, it is packed with genuine heart and a great story about the bond of family. If you say you love movies or claim to be pining for something different that is geared towards adults, this is a must watch. Destined to be a cult classic.

 4. Zootopia: The best animated movies are the one where you go the first time for the story and a second time to catch all the stunning visuals and details in the backgrounds. Zootopia feels like a living place where every character has full lives and things are constantly happening around the main characters; the attention to detail in this feature is phenomenal and as a visual feast it is a classic. It also has two of the most intriguing and fun lead characters in Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, and they go on a buddy adventure that rivals the very best of the genre when it comes to twists, action, and humour. It also tackles the ideas of diversity, acceptance, and equality in an intelligent and creative way that gets across valuable messages that really need to be heard based on the state of politics but avoids being preachy or hamfisted. It is one of the most thoughtful and creative movies of any genre and is proof that Disney (along with Pixar who they own) is back as king of the animated features and show once again that cartoons sure aren't just for kids and often tell stories better than live-action pictures.

3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story:  I've been a Star Wars fan for the majority of my life and there may be even a chance I came out with a Kenner Early Bird Certificate Package in hand. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that this made my list, and if you remember, The Force Awakens nailed number one last year. I will fully admit my strong love for this world does cause me to look past some of its bigger flaws and I allow myself to be swept away back to my childhood as I'm engrossed for over two hours. This is what Rogue One and Force Awakens excelled at, live up to my childhood nostalgia, make me feel like a kid again, and take me to a familiar world while offering up exciting new stories. This is the prequel that I always wanted, and it is incredible how well this turns out as a companion piece to the original Star Wars movie as these events build right the literal start of that movie. It has a slew of winks and Easter Eggs for the hardcore Star Wars fan with lots of fun and unexpected cameos, but it is also one of the easiest to get into if you have never seen one of the movies before.  It is also the darkest and edgiest Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back, and it takes some very bold directions for a picture considered for families. Felicity Jones is great in the lead role and does the legacy of strong Star Wars females proud, which of course started with the late great Carrie Fisher (you will be missed).

2. Kubo and the Two String: Laika Studios isn't anywhere as well known or financially successful as Pixar, and on opening night I am usually watching their movies in a half full theatre (that never happens for Disney or Pixar), but from a quality standpoint it may be even more consistent than Pixar (which is the only studio that I highly anticipate their upcoming movie without even knowing a plot). Kubo is Laika's best animated feature yet with its unique but gorgeous animation, the amazing amount of creativity put into the story, action sequences that are more thrilling than anything attempted by the big budget summer tentpoles, and a real sense it was embracing elements of Japanese culture and mythology. Even though it has some big action sequences and is an adventure story, it is also a very gentle and kind picture that believes in second chances and open mindedness. It is a movie about the power of storytelling and how the tales must be passed down the generations. Speaking of generations, it is a story that values family in all its forms and was one of the most spiritual experiences I had watching the big screen this year. This is another great but underseen feature, and if you complained loudly about the state of movies, then you need to check this one out.

Honourable Mention: Amanda Knox, Captain America: Civil War, The Conjuring 2, Eye in the Sky, Doctor Strange, Green Room, Hacksaw Ridge, Hush, The Invitation, Maggie's Plan

1. Arrival:  It is sci-fi and it is an "alien invasion" movie, but not the type we've been conditioned to see. There are no cities being decimated, there isn't a single big battle scene, and the climax has nothing to do with a big explosion, but the movie is tense, thrilling, and deftly paced the entire time. There are high stakes, but the issues and conflicts are more about major government's insecurities and fears that can cause global disaster. Amy Adams is fantastic in conveying a strong women who also is deeply hurt by her past, and the audience can connect with her instantly. The movie is about the need for understanding and challenges government's tendency to see the outsider as an enemy. In many ways it is a subversive film that counters many of the main ideas of modern times, but it is also intimate and heartfelt. It is a movie that demands close attention to catch all the details and stay connected to the plot, and the type of movie that almost needs a second viewing to properly appreciate it (though I saw it only once and it owns my spot as favourite of the year). There is a big twist ending but one that comes about it honestly and is hinted at throughout the movie. The Arrival is a visual spectacle and firmly plants Denis Villeneuve as one of the best directors, and gives good reason to be excited about the upcoming Blade Runner 2049. It feels like a big event picture but has the smarts of the very best prestige movies, and would be a best of the year contender even during a very strong year.