Posts Tagged ‘2016’

Rouge One (2016): A Star Wars Story

Posted: February 27, 2017 in Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

With the Empire in development of a great weapon, a band of rebels wondered if there was a chance of survival against the increasing impossible threat. When the Rebel Alliance discovered Jyn Erso in captivity, they get her released in an effort to see if they could uncover the secrets of the weapon partially created by her father. She reluctantly agreed to help the Rebellion, if only to get her freedom and get away from the conflict. As they continued to pursue the Death Star plans, Jyn’s desire to see the mission through and avenge her father drove her to lead a group into the fray.

The Start of a New Hope: While this may have been a story to provide context for the start of A New Hope, it stood on its own as part of the struggle against the Empire and in the battle of the light and dark sides. Jyn Erso did not choose to be part of the Rebellion, but she served as the catalyst for how the Rebels found their opportunity to battle back the darkness that was spreading throughout the galaxy. If the films had been produced in the order of the actual story, it would have fit directly into the storyline.

The Increasing Strength of Heroines: While it has been an increasing trend in films over the past decade, sci-fi has taken a lead in creating roles for women to serve in position of strength and complexity. For Felicity Jones, her performance was one of great leadership and power. It reminded me of Daisy Ridley’s Rey, as a woman seeking a sense of purpose and empowering those around her to act for the greater good.

Knowing but Still Surprising: While the end result of the film was already known, the story was still full of surprises and excitement. Most of the characters were new to those who have only seen the films and the locations were as imaginative and expansive as the main trilogies. Considering that A New Hope gave away the fact that the mission was both a success and a tragedy for the lost lives, the action on Scarif remained a gripping moment in the epic struggle.

Final Verdict: This standalone feature may be part of the epic Star Wars story but also an achievement in branching out. The magic of Star Wars is something everyone can appreciate and the Rebels came out fighting.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5


As a young child, Kubo was under the protection of his mother from evil spirits. She gave her life to save him and he was left to fend for himself. He ran for his life but found himself stranded in a frozen tundra. Meeting up with a monkey and a beetle warrior, he began his search for ancient relics. While searching for the relics, they were attacked by enormous creatures and magical beasts. The magical relics make up an armor, which serves as the only protection against the havoc created by the evil gods.

Epic Love: While Kubo proved to be a great hero himself, it was the love and support of his parents that supported his ability to do so. As a young child, his parents guarded him against the evil gods, with his father giving his life while his mother was left drained of her strength. Kubo’s ability to support his mother in the cave helped him build the strength to go on the great journey. Monkey and Beetle had a deep connection with Kubo, which supported his ability to press on and challenge the gods.

Dealing with Loss: Not since Disney’s Up has an animated film tackled loss the way this one did. Rather than a couple going through life together but parting before reaching the end, a young boy has to grow up in a world where he loses both parents at a young age. His father fell out of the picture before they even got to truly know each other, while his mother struggled to protect her son from evil. While they seemingly left him too early, their spirits lived on and supported his rise as a hero.

Amazing Animation: While digital technology certainly helped to fill in the environments, animatronics and stop-motion animation brought the story to life. It takes dedication to create a film with stop-motion in an age where computer technology can animate at a quicker speed. It gave the film a grittiness that exemplified the raw emotion of its characters and the imagination of the production team.

Final Verdict: Kubo and the Two Strings was an animated feature that was missed by a number of movie-goers even though it was fantastic. The creative and imaginative story was different than most and deserves another look if you missed it the first time around.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

Troy Maxson was a sanitation worker who was seeking opportunity to move up in the world. While living a simple life, he had a specific vision for his relationship with his wife, Rose, and his son, Cory. He had dreamed bigger, but was kept down due to the slow progress of desegregation in professional athletics. His love for Rose was something that sustained him, but he struggled with alcoholism and desiring for something a little more. His wandering eye left him stranded with an affair that threatened to tear apart his family.

Conflict of Interest: Troy’s character was a complicated one. While he had once dreamed of being a ballplayer, he was held back because of his age. Though his son had natural abilities and had a recruiter interested in pursuing his potential, Troy felt a loss of control and wanted nothing to do with his son getting his hopes dashed. He felt like keeping his son within his purview while he pressed on to get a promotion within his career.

Rough Around the Edges: Troy’s personality was not an easy one to fully accept. He was at constant odds with his son, preventing him from seeking his dream of playing professional ball. He took forever to complete the fence in the backyard because he could barely tear himself away from chatting up his best friend or going out for a drink. He even had the devotion of his wife in the face of infidelity and a child not her own. She accepted his flaws and tried to help their son understand them.

Intensity as Art: If anything, the takeaway from this film could simply be that Viola Davis and Denzel Washington are phenomenal actors. Viola mixes a sense of love, devotion, strength, and compassion. When Troy pushes Rose to the limit, Viola’s presence helped to encapsulate the enduring power of women. For Denzel, he was able to be a compelling villain to his son and completely human in error.

Final Verdict: This play-on-screen was deeply moving and authentically human. The acting was astonishing and the simple story was actually anything but. It may be a bit dry for some, but there was complexity in the challenges of family dynamics.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

NASA was in a race with the Soviets to put a man in space, and three black women, known as human computers, are tapped to help push the space program forward. Getting called to determine the mathematics of launch and landing, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson were just three of the women involved in the efforts. Not only did they contribute to the development of the math and technology, but they also helped push the boundaries of how NASA approached diversity of identity and diversity of thought.

Looking Beyond Color: One of the significant challenges represented in this film was the way colleagues at NASA were blinded by the physical differences regardless of the intelligence being presented to them. Katherine was called upon to serve in a mathematics role, but had to compete with the bigoted nature of her colleagues and the restrictive policies that undermined her ability to be recognized for her work. Dorothy Vaughan felt held back by the potential of technology taking away her job, but she adapted and forced others to recognize her value.

Persistence: One of the most entertaining moments in the film was one with the most levity while also holding real significance. Katherine struggled with the fact that her building lacked a colored bathroom, forcing her to run across the campus in order to relieve herself. Between the music and visual, it was lighthearted and funny, but it also represented a lack of respect for employees working toward the same goals. Eventually, Al Harrison broke down that barrier when he realized that it was preventing Katherine from being able to keep up with her colleagues, even though she was pushing herself harder than the rest.

Real-Life Heroes: One of the best elements of the film was actually as the credits began. With many true stories, the narratives of the represented heroes were described for the viewers. The women continued their careers beyond this film and were even awarded commendations for their efforts. Specifically, President Obama recognized Katherine in 2015 and the research center where she worked was retitled with her name.

Final Verdict: While stories of adversity are typically much more dramatic and heavy, Hidden Figures shows its emotion while also engaging in a bit of levity. The actress trio were fantastic and helped to bring life to some previous unknown heroes.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

Lion (2016): A Life Lost and Found

Posted: February 26, 2017 in Drama

Saroo was a child who was brave and had the heart of a hero. Living in a small village India, he wanted nothing more than to stay with his brother and support his family. Going off to work in the fields, he got separated and ended up lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of miles away. An orphanage picked him up and sent him to a family in Australia for adoption. While he grew up and had opportunities unheard of for people from his village, his success was only paralleled by the growing anxiety over a family left behind. He came to desire seeking out his mother and the brother he believed was still searching for him.

The Lost Child: Saroo’s strength was what helped him survive in the streets of Calcutta, but it had to be a truly scary experience to be thousands of miles away but have no sense of where he was. The resilience and survival skills of the young boy were truly exhilarating. He had to determine who he could trust and with whom he needed to be guarded. While taken in by the orphanage, his adoption could have potentially saved his life and given him a chance to build a future.

Living Far from Home: Being adopted by the Australian couple was something truly beneficial for building a future. He grew up with resources and opportunities that would not have been available had he remained in Calcutta. While he made it to being an adult before the curiosity truly hit him, he was struck by feeling like his past was missing and eating away inside of him. The exhaustive search had him feel separated from his adoptive family and from his girlfriend. Finally finding home through Google Earth, he had a chance to reconnect with his lost family.

Defining Family: While his birth family would always be his true, original family, his Australian parents became his second family. They loved him from the day they met him and treated him like their own natural son. Even when he got the chance to reconnect with his birth mother, he felt compelled to have both mothers meet. He also struggled with his desire to reconnect with his brother but felt a sense of care for his adoptive brother, even with his emotional challenges.

Final Verdict: While the storytelling was a bit imbalanced at times, Dev Patel’s performance was strong and the story was deeply moving. The surprise at the end with Saroo’s name adds to the joy experienced in the fateful reunion.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Posted: February 26, 2017 in Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Three years into their five year mission, Kirk is questioning his position as captain of the Enterprise. Seeing an opportunity to prevent feeling lost in the depths of space, he pursues a chance to seek out a vice admiral position at the space station, Yorktown. While in port at Yorktown, an escape pod is intercepted with a distressed passenger. Kirk takes up a mission to help her save her people by traveling through an uncharted nebula. Their mission is cut short when danger appears on the other side of the nebula and threatens the lives of the entire Enterprise crew.

Finding Purpose through Challenge: One of the main themes of the film pitted Kirk and Spock in a battle of purpose. While Kirk was proud to serve his crew and would risk his life for them, he felt he was always in his father’s shadow. He doubted his purpose and motivation to serve his crew to the best of his ability. Similarly, personal challenge seemed to cause Spock to become more distant and personal tragedy had him questioning whether he should stay with the crew or return to New Vulcan to support his people.

Reboot Successful: While Star Wars has experienced significant success expanding the universe over the past few years, Star Trek was believed to still be more niche. With strong actors like Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Zoe Saldana, the stories and themes feel more relatable and entertaining than the other recent attempts to bring back the series. It feels like there is a future for the Starship crew.

Tribute & Dedications: One of the saddest pieces of news prior to the release of this film was the loss of Leonard Nemoy. He had been a cultural icon in the sci-fi community and was truly loved by many, many people. In addition to Nemoy, Anton Yelchin passed suddenly, just as he was rising in the spotlight.

Final Verdict: Star Trek Beyond has all the elements that have aided in the growing support for the new series. The blend of current trends and classic elements makes for an entertaining experience.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

Naomi Bishop is well-known as a shark of a senior investment banker, but doubts have arisen after her most recent challenge with a major investment. When presented with a cybersecurity company to represent and launch, she has an opportunity to truly shine in response to her boss’s recent announcement of retirement. The most significant challenge she faces is her gender and the associated perception of her business and networking style. She uses her staff to run triage and help manage her client to success, but she also begins to realize that there might be corruption woven into her efforts. Between a client who appears to be getting reckless and doubt forming about the people closest to her, Naomi begins to get more desperate about her avoiding another failed launch.

Women in a Man’s Profession: Regardless of the success women have achieved in business and banking, there were still many double standards portrayed in this film. Naomi was a shark and extremely detail-oriented. To some of her co-workers and her clients, the sense was that she was standoffish or acting extra frosty. In comparison, Erin Manning used a bit of her sex appeal to soften the atmosphere around her male partners and clients. Naomi actually pushed that sense out of her as well. This was not something she did comfortably, as it became more apparent that she hit a breaking point with their client.

The scene where she met with other rising professional women felt like such a powerful moment. She admitted that money drove her focus on her career. It is not a statement that some women feel comfortable making, but she owned it clearly and completely.

Double-Crossing: While Naomi seemed to be staying on-point with her goal of launching her client’s IPO, all of the people around her seemed to be letting their personal agendas get in the way of her game plan. Erin appeared to be a team player until she saw a moment to strike for her own advancement. Michael enjoyed having a relationship with Naomi, but he was gradually looking for a way to use her for insider information. Even Samantha reconnected with her to try to pry into her company’s activities while investigating Michael.

Final Verdict: Films about successful women tend to shy away from some of the shark-like behavior that was highlighted in this story. Anna Gunn was stellar in her frosty but powerful portrayal of a woman who knew what she wanted but was getting stabbed in the back.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5