Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

It should come as no surprise that, much like the previous two years, 2015 hit some significant roadblocks for me when it comes to moviewatching. Those roadblocks were hardly bad, in many respects (such as much of the second half of 2015 being devoted to wedding planning and married life), but they resulted in, arguably, the fewest amount of new movies seen in theatres by me in close to two decades. That’s a pretty stunning departure for me. I had to catch up with quite a few movies on home media, including some movies I wanted to make a point of seeing in theatres (such as “Jupiter Ascending” and “Trainwreck”), and that was not really fun for me, although it is very much in keeping with the dramatic changes that have happened over the past few years. What helped soften that blow, however, was the significant rise in filmmaker screening requests I received, which allowed me to continue watching new films even if they were not in the theatre. Yes, some of the requests were held over from 2014, but once I got caught up and got things moving regularly, it was easier to keep up with everything on that front, and fulfill responsibilities to those who asked for my feedback personally, which made for some of the most satisfying moviewatching experiences I had this year. You’re going to see a lot of these films mentioned in this blog, and not just because a lot of big movies have escaped my attention at this point.

Going into the year, 2015 looked like it was going to be one of the biggest years in box office history, and it certainly has lived up to that hype. Of course, the film that broke the bank (before “The Force Awakens” shattered it) this summer was a bit of a surprise (“Jurassic World”), but it’s indicative of the sense of nostalgia and poignancy that people really seemed ready for this year after the disappointment of 2014. “Jurassic World”, “Furious 7” (which sent off dearly departed co-star Paul Walker in the most emotional of ways) and “Mad Max: Fury Road” were the biggest examples of audiences finding new life in old franchises, while Marvel had to settle for a bronze medal (at least, probably the bronze by the time “Force Awakens” finishes it’s run) despite a triple in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and a single that drove home a run in the unlikely hit, “Ant-Man”. While I follow the box-office (mostly), though, I’m not a slave to whatever is selling, but what is resonating on a deeper level. That’s where the increase of independent and what I call “DIY” cinema has really proven invaluable to my movieviewing year.

In 2006, I got my first email from a filmmaker asking me to watch their film, and write about it. It was a surprise, only matched by the film itself (which was not very good) when I saw it. In 2007 and 2008, I got a few more requests, until in 2009, the floodgates opened, and such requests have become a constant stream of moviewatching for me, with some of those films even ending up on my year-end lists. The past few years, more and more of those films have populated my lists as life has made theatrical moviewatching tricky, and this year, they were essential to keep new reviews popping up on Sonic Cinema. (40 of the 94 films I’ve seen from this calendar year came from here.) This year, the vast majority of these requests have been to watch short films, and they have lead the way this year over feature films in terms of quality, although some feature-length films have made their way to the plateau. 2016 will be a very interesting year to watch, in more ways than one, to see if this trend continues.

As was the case in 2013 and 2014, I will be eschewing the traditional Best/Favorites lists (partly because of how behind I’ve been in watching movies), and instead, focusing on the movies that had the biggest impact on me over the year. Later on, when the Oscars happen, I will present the typical 10 Best/Favorites list, as I will have seen more films from the year by then. Among the films I haven’t seen are “The Revenant”, “Trumbo”, “Carol”, “The Danish Girl”, “The Hateful Eight”, “Creed”, “Spotlight”, “Room”, “Joy”, “Anomalisa”, “Sisters”, “The Big Short”, “The Good Dinosaur”, “Spectre”, “The Peanuts Movie”, “Youth”, “The Stanford Prison Experiment”, “Sicario”, “Spy”, “Me Earl and the Dying Girl”, “Minions”, “Amy”, “Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation”, “Mr. Holmes” and “Brooklyn”. This year, don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of a lot of these- I hadn’t either until someone asked me to check them out for myself, and for a review. I’m glad I did.

Movies That Made the Biggest Impact on Me in 2015
=“Halina” (Directed by Ralph Suarez)- Artificial Intelligence has been a major selling point for me as a moviegoer this year, as at one point, the three best films I saw this year dealt with it in different, exciting ways. (The other two were “Ex Machina” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”) Always atop that list, however, was Suarez’s short film, “Halina”, where the caretaker of an old man’s mansion home hires a young woman to spend a few hours a day with Halina, an AI replica of the old man’s late wife from her younger years. There are rules for the woman in dealing with Halina, who is aware of her namesake’s death, and whom looks forward to the old man’s visit on their “anniversary,” although even that is hard for the man to deal with, at this point. Whereas “Ex Machina” looked at AI from a scientific standpoint, and “Age of Ultron” used it as a springboard for action, “Halina” uses AI as an emotional dilemma, and the bond formed by Halina and Mischa, the young woman, is potent and powerful. Few films tugged at the heartstrings with more ease as this one did.

=“Return to the Garden” (Directed by Jake Hutchinson and D. Erik Park)- Movies that have very definite religious slants on the stories they are telling can be problematic- if it pushes a religious angle too far, it can alienate a less-devout viewer, but it can alienate the faithful if it feels like the religious material is just window dressing. Finding a comfortable medium between interjecting faith and telling the story is not easy, and it takes talent to do it well. In their 14-minute short film, Hutchinson and Park do just that, by framing the struggles of a married couple after tragedy with the story of Adam and Eve in a way that finds new meaning in the Biblical story while also letting the characters come to the places they reach emotionally in their story naturally. I think I will always gravitate more towards the riskier films about faith and religion, but filmmakers like Hutchinson and Park make me feel hopeful that I won’t always have to rely on the “Last Temptation of Christs” or “Noahs” or “Dogmas” for some of the most meaningful cinematic explorations on faith I experience in my life.

=“Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens” (Directed by JJ Abrams)- Three years after Lucasfilm was purchased by Disney, and ten years after George Lucas finished out his polarizing prequel trilogy, that seemed to put an end to the film cycle of the franchise, JJ Abrams has brought energy and excitement back to the “Star Wars” saga with the beginning of a sequel trilogy, set 32 years after the end of “Return of the Jedi.” The disappearance of Luke Skywalker is the driving force propelling all of the characters in Abrams and Lawrence Kasden’s screenplay, which is everyone from First Order Sith Kylo Ren to pilot Poe Dameron to former stormtrooper Finn and scavenger Rey to Luke’s sister, Leia, and Han Solo, who comes across Finn and Rey after they escape the First Order, and gets caught up in the middle of a larger conflict that hits home for him. Han is older, but very much the same old Han, although a bit wiser of the world now, and Harrison Ford gets the most out of the best material he’s had in years in this thrilling adventure that has me anticipating what the future holds for this galaxy far, far away.

=“Straight Outta Compton” (Directed by F. Gary Gray)- It’d be pretty easy to put Spike Lee’s provocative satire, “Chi-Raq”, here as well, since it has more audacity than Gray’s musical biopic does, but there’s something about this dramatization of the rise, and fall, of N.W.A. in the late ’80s and early ’90s that feels even more urgent and important. It follows the usual blueprint just about any biopic does in the screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, but it’s the street-level intensity Gray (“Friday,” “Set It Off,” “The Italian Job”) brings to the film as a director, and longtime friend of subject, and producer, Ice Cube that grounds the film in reality even when the exploits of Cube (played deftly by his son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) seem unbelievable. N.W.A. represented not just a major flashpoint in music, having inspired countless others with their sound and truth, but also in modern race relations. They shined a light on the sort of inequities and injustices we hear about on a regular basis thanks to “Black Lives Matter,” and watching the main three members, all of whom had since become estranged, look on at the chaos of the LA Riots after the Rodney King verdict, we get a sense that Dre and Cube are just as haunted by what they see on TV now in Ferguson and Baltimore now as they were seeing LA in chaos back in 1992. Revisionist “historians” will tell you that bands like N.W.A., with their incendiary track, “Fuck Tha Police,” bare some of the responsibility for what happened then, but these are the same people who are inclined to say “All Lives Matter” without a hesitation or thought as to what “Black Lives Matter” really means. “Chi-Raq” is an important wake-up call, to be sure, but “Straight Outta Compton” shows the dangers of not learning the right lessons from the past, and finds that the message N.W.A. espoused then is just as vital and needed now.

=“Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” (Directed by Alex Gibney)- There’s something unsettling about Gibney’s brutal documentary about L. Ron Hubbard’s controversial “religion” that makes it rewatchable in a way only the best documentaries are. Listening to former members discuss their histories with the church, we get a fascinating cross-section of perspectives and reasons for why they joined, and ultimately, why they left. It’s true, as some have pointed out, that the film is a bit too skewed towards the celebrity culture of Scientology rather than everyday people who have had their lives turned upside down and destroyed by the “church,” but it’s important for Gibney and his subjects (including Paul Haggis, whose leaving Scientology in 2009 was major news) to chronicle what John Travolta and Tom Cruise have available to them in order to lift the veil of bias that really illuminates the suffering we hear about from Mike Rinder and Marty Rathburn, who were major players in the “church,” but also saw first hand the pain average members go through. Of course, the “church” claims all of this is fabrication, but as we’ve seen with the Bill Cosby scandal, the more people who tell similar stories, the less likely it is to be false. The tragedy of Cosby is that he was a once-beloved figure. Scientology has been shady from day one, and we need people like Lawrence Wright (whose book the film was adapted from) and Alex Gibney to help expose it for what it really is.

=“Akibet (Aftermath)” (Directed by Tofiq Rzayev)- The discovery of fresh cinematic voices is one of the reasons why the past decade of accepting filmmaking screener requests has been among the most rewarding things that has ever happened for Sonic Cinema. Usually, you have to wait a year or two for another film from a particular director, but this year, I got three separate requests from the same filmmaker, and what was especially pleasing about this in the case of Azerbaijanian filmmaker Tofiq Rzayev is how each short film was a very different story, and a very different experience. The most recent one he sent me, “The Cleaner”, is probably my favorite of the three (and trust me, “The Girl in the Woods” is an original take on a genre tale), but I think that one that continues the stick with me emotionally was the first one, in which a brother and sister are undergoing grief after the death of their parents. Grief is something I’ve had to process a lot over the years, and I’ve had some profound moments of truth in the midst of it, sometimes going back and forth between the sorts of reactions the brother and sister experience in this movie. It’s the shortest film Rzayev sent my way this year, and the simplest, but it’s also the most powerful.

=“Sea Change” (Directed by Nickolas Duarte)- After four straight films of distinct tones and narratives, Duarte and his writing partner, Drew Grubich (who wrote the last three), have become one of the most exciting filmmaking talents I’ve had the pleasure of discovering through screening films for Sonic Cinema. Two years ago, their 3-minute short film, “Joke,” landed quite definitively on my list of more meaningful films of that year. This year, they gave me two films to watch, and while “Fish Hook” is an entertaining thriller about confronting the past, it is their “Sea Change” that just about destroyed me this past July. This is a film about two sisters, alone in the world, and one (Halie) who has a rare skin disease that comes with a great deal of pain. The other sister (Tara) has given up her life, and is now taking her to a doctor who claims he can help them. Unfortunately, a lot of people are not as selfless as Tara is, and when their hopes are thwarted, all they are left with is each other. As abstract and surreal as “Joke” was, “Sea Change” is emotional and powerful, and the performances by Leanna Tallmeister and Kj Davidson-Turner are two of the finest of the year, bringing Duarte and Grubich’s unique tale of sisterly love to heartbreaking life.

=“Inside Out” (Directed by Pete Doctor)- The last time Pixar handed the reins of a project over to writer-director Doctor, the result was one of their most original and emotional films ever (“Up”). Six years later, the results are very much the same when Doctor enters the mind of Riley, whose parents have just moved for her father’s job, and the stress of the new takes a toll on her. The emotional arc of the story isn’t set entirely in Riley’s life, however, but very much in her mind, where her emotions (Joy, Anger, Sadness, Disgust and Fear) are thrown into turmoil, and the emotion that’s taken the lead in her life (Joy, played by the infectiously giddy Amy Poehler) finds herself being pushed aside by Sadness (Phyllis Smith), not because Sadness wants to, but because it’s how Riley finds herself feeling away from the only life she’s ever known. The inner workings of the mind as imagined by Doctor and the gang at Pixar is one of the most original concepts in any movie (like, ever) and ingenious in it’s simplicity, while yet, still pointing to the complexity of the human mind. The story they tell is both emotionally devastating, as it provides a way to discuss emotions and the part both positive and negative ones play in our lives, and wildly entertaining in a way only Pixar has been able to crack. It’s a journey like no other.

=“The Wolfpack” (Directed by Crystal Moselle)- When Crystal Moselle’s documentary debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in the spring of this year, my mom recorded a story about the subjects of her film that played on “20/20” or one of those shows, and it was immediately intriguing to me. I didn’t get to the film itself until after Christmas, but what struck me most was how much care Moselle takes to show the father of the Angulo family, who has kept his wife and seven children locked up in an apartment on the Lower East Side of New York all their lives, less as a villain, and simply, as a father trying to shield his family from an outside world he worries could corrupt them. He would bring the outside world to them, however, in the form of movies, which the kids were immediately transfixed by, so much so that they would recreate them to pass the time, which we see in some of the most enduring images of film love anyone has ever put on camera. The movies turn out to be a Pandora’s Box, however, and eventually, one of the Angulo boys goes out into the world on his own, and the whole family’s life transforms. Even in the medium of documentary, it’s hard to imagine a more profound look at the act of growing up, of transitioning into an individual whose identity exists outside of just family, ever having been shown on film. As important to “The Wolfpack” as that, however, is the notion that in a very real way, the movies are capable of changing lives in the most surprising of ways, and that comes through effortlessly as we see the Angulo family break out of their life, and truly start living.

Of course, the movies on the above list were not the only notable ones I watched this year, simply the ones that dug deep, and had the biggest impact on me. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a great independent horror film from a filmmaker who had already impressed me with character dramas (David Spaltro’s “…Into the Dark”); a “stranded sailor” sci-fi drama where the sailor in question is on Mars (Ridley Scott’s “The Martian”, which has Matt Damon at the top of his game, and the director at his finest with Drew Goddard’s script guiding him); a return to the harsh, action-filled outlands of Australia in George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road”; an alien invasion movie that is more about a couple that is distant from one another (Brian Ackley’s “Alienated”, with a great supporting performance by the late Taylor Negron); and a love story across parallel universes (Mikel J. Wisler’s beautiful short “Parallel”). In addition to “Parallel” and the films listed above, more shorts crossed my eyes that had a strong impact on my moviewatching year, including the comedy “Total Performance”, one of many films sent my way by actor Timothy J. Cox, which looked at the skill of acting in the context of everyday life; the black-and-white romance of Cindy Maples’s “Random” and it’s sensual tones; the office comedy of Audrey Noone’s “A Warming Trend”, which found a subtle and delightful way to look at an uncomfortable subject; “World Spins Madly On”, which is a delightful tone poem of romantic fate; and Chris Esper’s “Please Punish Me”, wherein a put-upon working man goes to a dominatrix, and finds an unexpected connection. Another short livened my 2015, but it was one I already knew about before going into it, and that’s Ralph Bakshi’s surreal animated work, “Last Days of Coney Island”, which continued the maverick animator’s bold career of adult-friendly animation. And if “…Into the Dark” was on the extreme low-end of cinematic horror from a budget perspective, Guillermo Del Toro’s haunting thriller, “Crimson Peak” was it’s polar opposite, although both provided plenty of creepy character drama for viewers. Moving away from dramatic genre films for a bit, the Bellas continued to sing into my heart with “Pitch Perfect 2”, “The Night Before” put me in an unexpectedly festive mood with it’s story of three friends at a crossroads, and “Love and Mercy” told the story of The Beach Boys’s Brian Wilson in a deft and emotional way by focusing on two times in his life, and getting great work out of John Cusack and Paul Dano. Going back to genre for a bit, the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to thrill me unabated despite two polarizing entries this year, but if you go back, you’ll see just how bold a narrative Joss Whedon tells in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, and how comfortable the problem-filled production of “Ant-Man” feels in Peyton Reed’s hands, while “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 2” brought that series to a painfully honest conclusion you don’t expect from many YA adaptations. Finally, a couple of favorite filmmakers, whose films have filled my movie years with joy over the past few years, didn’t quite reach the same heights their previous films did, but I simply had to acknowledge “Famous James”, the latest study in stunted male emotions from Edgar Muniz, and “A Life Not to Follow”, a crime thriller that goes in different directions than director Christopher Di Nunzio has taken me before.

Movie Music to Be Moved By in 2015

This is a bit of a tricky subject to write about this year, because while there is plenty of film music that entered my collection in 2015, there’s definitely a lack of diversity compared to other years which has to do with the drop-off in my theatrical viewing habits this year. That doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of great soundtracks that went into my ears and memory banks, however; it just means a lot of them came from the same type of movie, more often than not. But that is perfectly fine, though, because those films (usually blockbusters) had plenty to offer this year from a musical standpoint…especially if your name was Michael Giacchino. The Oscar winner for “Up” and favorite composer of Brad Bird and JJ Abrams had a stunning four scores released within the first six months alone (three for films released in May and June), and while his score for Bird’s “Tomorrowland” wasn’t quite strong enough to make the collection, his other three (“Jupiter Ascending”, which was a thrilling space symphony for an otherwise disappointing film, “Inside Out” and “Jurassic World”) were some of his finest work to date, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get his second Oscar for his latest Pixar film. He didn’t score JJ Abrams’s latest film, however, as those honors went to the one and only John Williams, who, 38 years after writing his first iconic notes for the franchise, continues to deliver a fresh and musically thrilling canvas for fans of the galaxy far, far away with his score for “Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens”. Unfortunately, health issues kept Williams from working with his frequent collaborator, Steven Spielberg, on the director’s Cold War drama, “Bridge of Spies”, but fear not, as the acclaimed Thomas Newman showed an uncanny ability to fill in nicely for the legendary composer, delivering a score that matched the tension and emotions in Spielberg’s film effortlessly. While the “Star Wars” universe returned to screens this year, the Marvel Cinematic Universe continued to thrive and thrill audiences, and while Christophe Beck certainly created an enjoyable score for the origins of “Ant-Man”, Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman went big and bold for their soundtrack to “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, and it was one of the most adventurous superhero scores in recent memory. Having said all that, the biggest musical impact the blockbusters felt came from Tom Holkenborg, whom film music enthusiasts probably know better as Junkie XL, who spent a year and a half crafting the balls-out visceral soundscape for “Mad Max: Fury Road” with George Miller, and the result is an album that forces you to take caution while you’re driving, because if you aren’t careful, you could find yourself getting pulled over. (Thankfully, I have not had that happen to me yet.)

On the other end of the spectrum, filmmakers continue to find ways to deliver song soundtrack compilations that aren’t simply crass commercial albums to sell the movie, but rather, are an integral part of the film’s experience, as well, and as much as it pains me, the MVP for that this year goes to the controversial adaptation of E.L. James’s erotic best-seller, “Fifty Shades of Grey”. Whether it’s new remixes of Beyonce or covers of classic songs or a new hit like Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” or “Earned It” from The Weeknd. or even a cue from Danny Elfman’s best score in years, this Valentine’s Day blockbuster may be limp more often than not on screen, but the music it’s set to is one of the best compilations of song and score to come down the pipeline in quite a while. The blend of songs and score found in “Grey,” however, was very nearly matched later in the year by the source songs and Harry Gregson-Williams’s score that helped tell the tale of survival in Ridley Scott’s “The Martian”. Going down the hip-hop lane for a bit, “Straight Outta Compton” was powered by the force and energy of N.W.A.’s music from the late ’80s and early ’90s, but showed that the legacy of the group continues when Dr. Dre released his first new album in over a decade, “Compton,” in conjunction with the film’s release, while Spike Lee put together two of his most interesting films this year with “Chi-Raq” and his Kickstarter-funded “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus”, and in the grand tradition of “Do the Right Thing” and “Jungle Fever,” the director scored his films with fascinating blends of score and songs, many of the latter of which came from up-and-coming artists. And no, I haven’t forgotten about the poppy, a Capella awesomeness of “Pitch Perfect 2”, but maybe Anna Kendrick fans forgot (or didn’t realize) she had another musical pleasure out in 2015 in the musical adaptation of “The Last Five Years”, which shows the disillusionment of a relationship from both sides, with heartbreaking performances by Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan. And of course, I would be quite remiss if I didn’t acknowledge what is, quite possibly, the song of the year from any movie, “See You Again” from the end of “Furious 7”. Performed by Wiz Khalifa and featuring Charlie Puth, it was a powerful statement from the filmmakers to the memory of their late friend and colleague, Paul Walker, as they sent his character off in the sunset for one last ride with Vin Diesel’s Dom. If that sight alone didn’t bring tears to your eyes, the music backing it finished the job.

There were some films that did have an effect in their adventurousness when it came to music, however, and they included “Ex Machina”, which had a ponderous and quietly thrilling score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow in the tradition Trent Reznor has followed in his scores; “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”, which had an ominous score by Will Bates that harkened back to the cheesy sci-fi films of the ’50s; and “Crimson Peak”, whose score by Fernando Velázquez set the romantic, Gothic tone for Guillermo Del Toro’s epic tragedy. The score I most regret not having heard yet is Ennio Morricone’s for Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”, but I may have to wait until 2016 to hear what the great composer came up with. Thankfully, I did manage to take in the final score by the late James Horner, who died in a tragic plane crash over the summer, but not before he finished scores for “Southpaw” (which I still haven’t seen) and “The 33”, which showed off the distinctive voice and creativity the composer was beloved for, whether it was his music for “Braveheart” or “Willow” or his Oscar-winning smash soundtrack for “Titanic.” He will be missed, but I’m grateful I got to hear his musical voice one last time this year.

Favorite Performances of 2015

Unlike years past, I will be largely eschewing writing about the Oscars and trying to predict the nominees, simply because I haven’t paid attention, and a good many movies are still unseen by me. That said, I do have quite a few performances that I loved watching, and they come from a wide variety of films. The list is as follows (in no particular order): Matt Damon (“The Martian”); Leanna Tallmeister and Kj Davidson-Turner (both from “Sea Change”); Charlize Theron (“Mad Max: Fury Road”); Harrison Ford and Daisy Ridley (“Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens”); Amy Poehler (“Inside Out”); Jason Mitchell (“Straight Outta Compton”); Teyonah Parris (“Chi-Raq”); Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Donald Sutherland (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 2”); Anna Kendrick (“The Last Five Years” and “Pitch Perfect 2”); Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon (“The Night Before”); John Cusack, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti (“Love and Mercy”); Dakota Johnson (“50 Shades of Grey”– don’t scoff, she may have had ridiculous material, but she gave a fearless performance); Lynn Justinger (“…In the Dark”); Taylor Negron (“Alienated”); Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”); Amy Schumer, Bill Hader and Lebron James (“Trainwreck”), and Abraham Attah (“Beasts of No Nation”).

The Worst Films of 2015

The good thing of only seeing 32 films in theatres is that you are less likely to see the worst films that come out in a year (which meant the poorly-reviewed “Mortdecai” was avoided…so far). Once you start catching up with some of those films on Netflix and other streaming services, however, is when you start to see the drecks of moviemaking. I haven’t seen a lot of movies that qualify as “worst,” and a few of the ones other critics would have included weren’t quite as bad for me, but there were a few that simply fell flat for me, and three of them were comedies. (The fourth one was Oren Peli’s long-in-development “found footage” film, “Area 51”, which had been in the making since “Paranormal Activity,” and it shows.) The worst was, handily, Adam Sandler’s hair-brained, and offensively idiotic, western spoof for Netflix, “The Ridiculous 6”, while another Happy Madison effort (“Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2”) held the spot for most of the year, even though it had one of my favorite scenes of the year wherein Blart gets his ass kicked by a peacock. The third comedy that hit my “worst of” list had a little bit of everything from worst of those Happy Madison films, but was much more disappointing, because the pairing of Will Farrell and Kevin Hart should have produced a funnier effort than “Get Hard”. At least it had more than just one or two laughs, but it was hardly enough to salvage the worst impulses of what comedy had to offer this year.

What to See in 2016

The past year was a record-breaking one at the box-office, not just for individual movies, but overall. What does this coming year bring? Hopefully, an assortment of riches not unlike this past year’s films. For me, the ones to see are as follows:

1. “Silence” (December)- Yes, there is a non-franchise film at the top of my must-see list. When you understand that it is the third film of Martin Scorsese’s unofficial “faith” trilogy, following “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “Kundun,” with the director adapting a story of Jesuit priests who come to Japan looking for their mentor, but instead find only persecution, and “Last Temptation” and “Kundun” are films that mean a great deal to me, you will know where I’m coming from.
2. “Captain America: Civil War” (5/6)- The risk with this project is that it’ll simply be an “Avengers” film, but producer Kevin Feige insists it will be a continuation of the Cap’s story, and a close to a most distinct trilogy. Hopefully, the Russo Brothers, who delivered big time with “The Winter Soldier” are up to the challenge once again.
3. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (12/16)- The first “Star Wars” feature to not follow the exploits of the Skywalker family sounds like a challenge for fans of a galaxy far, far away, but after the mindblowing success of “The Force Awakens,” Gareth Edwards’s tale of the rebel spies who are stealing the plans for the Death Star before “A New Hope” suddenly feels like a sure-thing, Skywalker connection or not.
4. “The BFG” (7/1)- I was a bit later to Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” than I would have preferred, but I definitely had reasons why. His adaptation of the Roald Dahl fairy tale, which enchanted with it’s first trailer, and boasts a screenplay by “E.T.’s” Melissa Matheson (who passed away this year), will not be in the same situation when it lands in July. This is a movie that, I hope, sees a wonderful return to the family-friendly fantasy Spielberg built his name on, and is another about-face for the great director in his career.
5. “Deadpool” (2/12)- No, the Merc with the Mouth is not back in the hands of Marvel, but with Ryan Reynolds in absolute love with the role, and the R-rated deliciousness of what we’ve seen from the film so far, I defy you not to be excited about this.
6. “Suicide Squad” (8/5)- You aren’t seeing things- David Ayers’s villain team-up coming book movie is more highly anticipated for me than Zack Snyder’s “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and I’ll use three names to illustrate why- Margot Robbie (as Harley Quinn), Jared Leto (as The Joker) and Will Smith (as Deadshot). This is just a much more intriguing proposition than the long-awaited hero match-up is.
7. “Doctor Strange” (11/4)- The latest piece of Marvel’s MCU puzzle comes to life in November, when Benedict Cumberbatch brings the Sorcerer Supreme to life, and opens up the magical side of Marvel’s universe like never before.
8. “Gods of Egypt” (2/26)- Yes, I’ve seen the same white-washed cast, and ridiculous trailers, as everyone else has for this film, but the director behind it (the Egyptian-born Alex Proyas) is responsible for some of my favorite films (“The Crow,” “Dark City”) of all-time, and thus, will continue to get my support even if the film fails.
9. “Independence Day: Resurgence” (6/24)- Oh yeah, it’s a sequel no one really needs, but what we’ve seen so far of the Roland Emmerich follow-up to his 1996 smash looks most promising for more silly summer fun.
10. “X-Men: Apocalypse” (5/27)- Bryan Singer brings the story of the “First Class” cast to a close with the introduction of one of their most formidable foes (played by Oscar Issac). The trailer doesn’t have the buzz of “Days of Future Past” just yet, but hopefully, Singer’s fourth time in the director’s chair with this franchise will display the confidence he’s had with this series since 2003’s “X2.”

Viva La Resistance!

Brian Skutle
www.sonic-cinema.com

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