Top 4 Films of 2016

I don’t get why people say 2016 was a bad year for movies. Yes, I can count the amount of great films that came out this year with my fingers. However, i’d much rather have a handful of greats than a slew of pretty goods. Although there definitely were more 2016 releases that I enjoyed, here are the four that stood out above the rest, proving that 2016 was an unforgettable year for the medium of film.

 

#4- Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them

Director: David Yates

Writer: J.K. Rowling

Genre: Fantasy

I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I credit J.K. Rowling as the person who shaped me into the avid media consumer I am today. Without the story of the boy who lived, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here writing this piece. When a prequel series was announced, written by Rowling herself, I was very hesitant to build hype. Especially with the transition of medium from novel to film, I knew I couldn’t allow myself to get too excited. There were so many opportunities for failure with this movie; I am so happy to say that Rowling didn’t screw it up. Fantastic Beasts was fantastic. It did everything a great prequel should. Despite having some subtle nods, it didn’t rely too much on the original work. It had intriguing, well-written characters that weren’t just cardboard cutouts or carbon copies of Harry and company. It managed to work as a satisfying, self-contained story, while still building the foundation for the rest of a five-part saga. Although this isn’t a full review, I couldn’t go without mentioning how much I loved the movie’s 1920s New York aesthetic. Although there were some jarring plot holes, everything else about the movie was so good that I can’t dwell on them too much. Far superior to the other piece of Harry Potter universe media that was released this year (i’m talking about you Cursed Child), Fantastic Beasts is a real treat for any potterhead.

 

#3- This House Has People in It

Director: Alan Resnick

Writer(s): Alan Resnick, Dina Kelberman, and Robby Rackleff

Genre: Horror

I was very tentative about placing a short film on this list. After all, a TV movie under 15 minutes long can’t possibly convey as much as a 2.5 hour theatrical epic, right? Wrong! This House Has People in It managed to do that and more. Alan Resnick has finally made a name for himself by producing one the most clever, intriguing, and genuinely scary horror stories of all time. If you are unfamiliar with Adult Swim’s infomercial block, it is a late-night home for experimental short films disguised as infomercials. You may have heard of some of its more famous products such as Too Many Cooks and Unedited Footage of a Bear, both of which I would also highly recommend. Despite its 12 minute run time, This House Has People in It is one of the most densely packed movies ever made. It is literally impossible to absorb every detail it has to offer, even with multiple viewings. For a fantastic analysis and in-depth explanation of the short and its expanded material, I would highly recommend checking out NightMind. Even if you don’t end up watching this film, I would still give him a look, he’s one of the best horror analysts on YouTube. This House Has People in It might not grab you upon your first viewing. In fact, you may initially find it funny like I did. With each subsequent viewing, however, you begin to pick up more on what is actually happening. Then you begin to think about it. The genius of the film is that this mental process is part of the movie itself, an essential component of its fear building. Hold onto your bed sheets, because you will not be sleeping after experiencing this horror masterpiece.

 

#2- Kimi no Na Wa (Your Name)

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Writer: Makoto Shinkai

Genre: Anime Drama

Kimi no Na Wa, or Your Name in english, would have definitely taken the number one spot if it weren’t for a last minute sneak up. Your Name is the definition of perfect melancholic storytelling. It fills you with such strong and potent emotion, but it’s very difficult to decipher whether these feelings are of happiness or sadness. The only other movie in recent memory that has made me feel this way has been Wolf Children, one of my all time favorite films and overall pieces of media. Although I can’t say Your Name is one of my favorite movies, I can say it is a must see. You may groan at the premise; yet another body swap movie. However, this is the seminal body swap story. Never has this trope been executed more perfectly and originally. Despite being centered around the oldest trope in the book, there truly is nothing like Your Name out there. It takes beautiful animation, relatable characters, and a phenomenal soundtrack, and puts them in a blender to give you an experience. Although an anime film, its medium is by no means a barrier to entry. I would highly recommend this movie to audiences of all ages and backgrounds, regardless of anime experience. If subtitles aren’t your thing, Funimation is working a dub that seems pretty promising. In whichever format you prefer, go watch Your Name. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll even get a bit turned on.

 

#1- Arrival

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Eric Heisserer, based on short story by Ted Chiang

Genre: Science Fiction

Arrival was a film made for me. As a fan of science fiction, relatable characters, and alien stories; this was a homerun. It was the only movie this year that managed to become one of my all time favorites. I can go on for pages about how much I loved Arrival. However, I don’t want to talk too much about it, as I do plan on doing exactly that in an in-depth analytical review in the near future. Arrival was directed by Denis Villeneuve, who you may recognize from his work on Prisoners and Enemy, two great movies. Arrival is by far Villeneuve’s best film to date, and what elevated him to one of my all time favorite filmmakers. However, we can’t give Villeneuve all of the credit. I recently discovered that Arrival is based on Ted Chiang’s short story Story of Your Life. Although I have not yet gotten a chance to read it, there is no way it will go unread before I write my full review. Further, science fiction is my thing; it’s probably my overall favorite genre of fiction. However, Arrival goes beyond the typical boundaries of what the genre has to offer. Its unprecedented storytelling method, excruciatingly gorgeous cinematography, and unforgettable characters make it one the best films of the decade. Although I can’t say it’s my favorite science fiction movie, it’s definitely my favorite “alien invasion movie.” That’s just it though, I can’t even bring myself to call it an alien invasion film without precautionary quotation marks. Arrival is just so much more than Independence Day or War of the Worlds. It’s the story of a woman, and the events that reshaped the course of her life. In Amy Adams’ best performance, we come to know the character of Louise Banks, befriend her, understand her, and even cry for her. If not an active consumer of complex fiction such as myself, it may take a few viewings to fully appreciate and understand everything this movie has to offer. But those subsequent viewings are well worth the price of admission. Arrival is a movie I just can’t stop thinking about, and that means something to me.

 

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Swamp Con 2016: An Inclusive, Free Weekend for Fans of Popular Media

Alberto Martinez could only think of one thing as he exited the highway into Gainesville. He had only been here once before, to visit a friend. Although the UCF student could only think about what the convention would have in store for him, he did not realize that it would turn out to be what he considered one of the best weekends he had in a long time.

He was one of the roughly 3,000 people who attended 5th annual Swamp Con. The convention was for fans of a variety of popular media.

21-year-old Derek Delago, one of the organizers, said Swamp Con prides itself in being an inclusive, multi-genre convention. He said that whether you’re a fan of anime, science fiction, tabletop gaming, or video games; the convention will have something for you.

Jennifer Andersen-Peters, 20, found something for her at Swamp Con. She said she was extremely excited to meet the YouTube video game reviewer Dookieshed, having been a fan of the convention guest of honor for over three years.

“This was the first famous person I ever met,” said Andersen-Peters. “It was surreal, I never really thought I would meet him.”

However, as the weekend came to a close, she said she realized that this was not the true highlight. It was meeting new people and experiencing Swamp Con with them that she said she will remember the most about her first convention.

Martinez said he had a similar experience. He said that Dookieshed’s appearance was one of the main reasons why he took the trip from Orlando. However, spending time with new friends was what he said he will remember most.

Roughly 1,000 people went to the first Swamp Con in 2012. This year welcomed a record 3,000. According to Delago, one of the contributing factors to this high turnout is not only quality, but price.

Since its inception, Swamp Con has been free.

“We take a lot of pride in being an inclusive con, and the free price reflects that.”

He said that being a non-profit allows the convention coordinators to use properties that are trademarked for events. Examples include a talent show based around the video game Undertale, and a fan show for Japanese computer characters known as Vocaloids.

“For a free con, it was very well put together, I think it can only get better next year,” said Martinez.

Both Andersen-Peters and Martinez said they were unhappy with the structuring of the schedule, and that it could be made more clear where and when events were being held. However, this complaint didn’t stop either of them from saying they planned to come back next year.

“If you have hesitations about going, just go, for the experience,” said Andersen-Peters. She proceeded to recite the Shia LeBouff quote, “just do it.”

Doctor Who: S9 Prologue- Review

Another season of Doctor Who is finally upon us. This time, we were treated to a short prologue episode to tide us over in the week before the season premiere. Prequels and prologues before big show events, or even standard season premieres, has become a staple of the Moffat era of Doctor Who. However, they rarely disappoint, this one being no exception.

In this prologue, the Doctor is visiting the Sisterhood of Karn, whom you may remember from the prologue to The Day of the Doctor back in 2013. He is avoiding meeting someone who he clearly knows from his past. While all hints point to the Master, this may not be the case, due to a contradiction placed later in the scene. He gives the device that we saw in the trailer (his last will and testament) to the leader of the sisterhood, whom he trusts to give it to the right person. In the trailer for the series 9 premiere, Missy/The Master had the device. Therefore, unless she intercepted the delivery of the device, it was meant for her. This means that the person the Doctor is going to meet is most likely not the Master.

The prologue was an interesting precursor to the upcoming season. It provided some context, but left more than enough room for mystery and intrigue. It has only heightened my appetite for new Doctor Who content, something we haven’t received in roughly nine months. Although there wasn’t enough material from this prologue for a full length review, I cant wait to share with you all my opinions on the season premiere within the next week.

Rick and Morty: S2 E4- Review

After the previous episode of Rick and Morty became my favorite of the series thus far, I wasn’t looking forward to this one. I knew that nothing could top the emotional and comedic high of it’s predecessor. However, what I failed to remember is that there isn’t a bad episode of Rick and Morty to date. Every single one is fantastic in its own right. Going in with that perspective, this episode did not disappoint.

While this episode was filled with outstanding humor, it was also terrifying. The concept of an alien race being able to transform themselves, enter a host’s home, and manipulate the host’s memories to make them think that they had been a part of their life for years is extremely unsettling to me. While I was laughing throughout the entire episode, a sense of fear and tension really began to hit me after the credits rolled.

While the topic of the episode was approached hilariously in the show, I came to the realization that this could easily be happening in reality, and I wouldn’t know any better. I don’t have an grandfather who travels the multiverse and knows all about different aliens and their cultures. I just have myself, and my personal beliefs about a massive universe that humans have yet to explore. Believe it or not, I actually had a hard time falling asleep after watching this chilling episode. Whether it be fear of the potential reality of its plot, or the existential crisis regarding the vastness of the universe that it caused, this episode really got to me.

While the twist ending was somewhat predictable, it still came off as clever. However, it ended up leading to more confusion than it did comedy. The only reasonable conclusion I could come to to explain this turn of events is somewhat farfetched, but ill do my best to help you readers understand it. Rick and Morty takes place in a multiverse. In each individual universe, there is a different Rick and Morty, and in some cases, a different Beth, Jerry, and Summer. This episode tips the theory that each individual episode, episode cluster, or even season may take place in a different universe in the Rick and Morty multiverse. However, knowing Dan and Justin, the twist could just be for laughs, and be completely forgotten about in the overarching narrative of the show.

Evidently, while this episode did not surpass its predecessor, that doesn’t matter to me. I connected with episode 3 of this season on a personal level. Therefore, I have unintentionally formed a bias; somewhat harming my critical perspective of the show. However, my reviewer’s eye is not even close to being destroyed in any capacity. I still found this episode to be well written, laugh out loud funny, and even disturbing. If an episode can pull off all three of those seemingly contradictory things with complete ease, it is truly a masterpiece.

Rick and Morty: S2 E3- Review

It is episodes like these that really make you realize how much of a masterpiece Rick and Morty is. When an extremely foreign and over the top concept can conclude with such a down to earth and emotional ending, you know Dan and Justin are doing something right. Not only did this week’s episode surpass the first two in humor, drama, and writing; but it has cemented itself as my current favorite episode of the entire show.

During a casual drive through space, Rick, Morty, and Summer follow a distress signal that takes them to a ship. The crew complains that the people of their planet have been taken over my a hive mind known as Unity. From this premise, you would think the episode would go in the generic route; the heroes helping the band of survivors defeat the consciousness and save their people. However, it completely diverts from that path, leading to one of the most unique and original episodes of a science fiction series to date.

I found this episode to be a clever satire of classic episodic science fiction shows, namely Doctor Who and Star Trek. If this were one of those shows, it would be very easy to predict the entire plot of this episode from the get go. However, this episode makes a sharp divergence, showing how unique Rick and Morty truly is.

The B plot in this episode was also very strong. Although we were treated to character development from Jerry, the true treat was Beth’s development. We really learn about her inner psychology, namely why she keeps Rick around in the first place. This gives the viewers a more three dimensional perspective of her character, without changing her base personality in any way whatsoever.

The strongest element of this episode, however, was the ending. I have never come close to crying in a Rick and Morty episode, until now. Although there have been emotional moments in the show before, none have even come close to this in impact. If you thought Beth had amazing character development in this episode, it doesn’t even hold a candle to the look we get into Rick’s psychology in the last few minutes.

Evidently, this was both the technical best episode of Rick and Morty, as well as my personal favorite. Its episodes like this that prove the genius of Dan and Justin, cementing Rick and Morty as the best adult animated comedy on American television. My only worry is that, despite their high quality, future episodes of this season wont be able to live up to this one.

Rick and Morty: S2 E2- Review

I didn’t think it could get any better than last week’s episode; to my surprise, it did. This week’s episode of Rick and Morty was one of the best yet. The entire episode is a non-stop train ride of clever comedy and bizarre visuals, in both the A and B plots. In other words, it is the most Rick and Morty episode of Rick and Morty yet.

One of the definite high points of this episode was the plethora of throwbacks to season 1 episodes. Almost every scene is saturated with easter eggs. However, none of them feel forced. On the contrary, they feel like a reward for dedicated viewers, those who aren’t just tuning in for the first time.

It would be criminal for me not to talk about one of the best scenes in the show thus far. There is a particular scene that takes place when Rick and Morty are in the arcade. Rick forces Morty to play an arcade game titled Roy. I don’t want to spoil it, but it was one of the most morbidly funny scenes in Adult Swim history.

Perhaps the most entertaining part of this week’s A plot was the telepathic gas cloud known as “fart”. The way he blent into the relationship dynamic between Rick and Morty did not feel forced at all. In fact, it led to a ton of great comedy. The character felt like a hybrid of a David Bowie song and a Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared video. Although it is very unlikely, I would love to see him return to the show sometime in the future.

However, this was the first time in a while that I preferred the B plot to the A. The B plot, while hilarious if interpreted as simply a long bash at Jerry, can be analyzed as much more than that. To me, I saw it as a look into the psyche of Jerry, giving us some major, and frankly needed, character development. Now if Dan and Justin could give us some Beth character development, we’d be all set.

Evidently, this episode is one of the best of the show yet, and definitely the best of season 2 thus far. It is insane to think about how much happened in its 22 minute runtime. It had the content amount of a feature length film, yet it still didn’t feel rushed. I can confidently say that this is one of the episodes that you should show someone if you are trying to get them into the show. If the season continues at an incline with regards to episode quality, we are definitely in for a treat.