Top 10 Films and TV Shows of 2016

For 2016, superheroes continue to reign in film and TV, while other genres like sci-fi, fantasy, horror and related combos offered refreshing alternatives. Many of the best films and TV shows on this list were very profound and pushed the envelope, while others were just plain fun to watch.

Films

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10. 10 Cloverfield Lane: The spiritual sequel to Cloverfield was a tense and suspenseful thriller with a great performance by John Goodman as a doomsday prepper.

xsuicideTIE: 9. Suicide Squad/X-Men: Apocalypse: Despite their flaws both superhero (and supervillain) films were enjoyable romps with unforgettable characters (Harley Quinn, the Joker, Deadshot, Magneto, Quicksilver, and more) and eye popping action-packed moments.

8. Doctor Strange: With the big-screen debut of Marvel Comics’ Sorcerer Supreme the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to remind us why their superhero films are currently the best of the crop compared to Fox’s X-Men Universe films (Deadpool aside, of course) and the DC Extended Universe movies.

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7. Zootopia: The best animated film of the year dazzled us with eye raising animation and a clever script that highlighted important social messages about tolerance and prejudice.

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6. Star Trek: Beyond: The film’s back-to-basics approach with Star Trek’s iconic characters paid proper homage to the TV show while having a genuine adventurous tone.

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5. The Jungle Book: Even though the CG-created animals and environment were flawless and stunning, the film to its merit emphasized story and characters, which left a bigger impression.

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4. Deadpool: As a faithful adaptation of the irrelevant and violent comic book, Deadpool proves that it’s possible to be true to comic book source material and still be an entertaining film.

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3. Arrival: A provocative, well-acted and beautifully shot film about first contact with aliens smartly emphasized the communications hurdles humanity would face. The film’s ending was a true surprise and was just one of Arrival’s highlights.

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2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: The first Star Wars spinoff not only neatly ties in with Episode IV but is a great and exciting film in its own right with more nuanced characters and situations than seen in a typical Star Wars film.

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1. Captain America: Civil War: The Avengers are torn apart from within as Captain America and Iron Man philosophically, then violently disagreed over allowing the government to supervise their team. Featuring strong performances and the best superhero fight scenes ever filmed, the film was an emotional ride for viewers.

TV Shows

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10. Ash Vs Evil Dead: Grossly fun and action-packed as everyone’s favorite deadite fighter Ash Williams and his gang continue delighting horror fans.

redhats invade9. Colony: Unexpectedly well done look at life under alien domination and that “big, beautiful wall” separating American cities is a chilling portent of what lies ahead.12 Monkeys Cole time travels8. 12 Monkeys: Of the many time travel themed TV shows out there, this is the best of them as many episodes explored the convoluted nature of time travel.

dareflashTIE: 7. The Flash/Daredevil: The two best superhero TV shows were on the opposite ends of the tonal spectrum. The Flash is pure Silver Age awesomeness, while Daredevil reflects a more gritty and grounded mood, especially with the introduction of the brutal vigilante, the Punisher. Both shows  featured intense and enjoyable comic book adventures thanks to well written scripts and engaging lead actors, plus supporting characters/actors.

6. The Walking Dead: The megahit series about brutal life after the undead destroy civilization has  hit a creative wall and is past its peak according to many fans. Yet, for the most part The Walking Dead is still delivering more than adequate thrills, gross out moments and entertainment, even if the show went to far in Negan’s introduction and certain character deaths.

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5. Black Mirror: A dark anthology series about the downside of technology offered many disquieting episodes about technology’s impact in our lives today and tomorrow.

El confronts monster Stranger Things4. Stranger Things: A wonderful ode to ’80s sci-fi movies featured terrific child performances, geeky Easter eggs and an intriguing mystery revolving around a missing child and an interdimensional monster.

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3. The Expanse: This well-crafted series about a brewing war among human colonies in our solar system during the next century could wind up being the next great TV space opera.

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2. Westworld: HBO’s potential successor to Game of Thrones went way beyond the original Michael Crichton movie about theme park robots running amok by presenting a thought-provoking series about existentialism and ethics.

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1. Game of Thrones: Even though the fantasy series is drawing to a close, the sprawling epic continues to captivate viewers with its visceral tale of power struggles among kingdoms. One of the highlights was the epic episode  “Battle of the Bastards” that put rival films to shame with its gut wrenching fight scenes.

 

Carrie Fisher Passes Away As She Leaves a Legacy In The Stars

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Unfortunately, 2016 is not done with taking away another beloved celebrity. This time, the passing of Carrie Fisher is hitting genre fans directly being given her genre creds in Star Wars.

princess-leiaFisher was truly a trailblazer in her role as Princess Leia Organa in the very first Star Wars film 39 years ago in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. These days it may be easy to overlook Leia’s (and Fisher’s) influence not just in the world of science fiction but in popular culture. As the spunky and strong-willed princess from the planet Alderaan, Leia defied the stereotype of a hapless damsel in distress. Although she was held prisoner onboard the Death Star for most of the film, from the start she was someone who could stand up to Darth Vader. In future Star Wars films she more than held her own with her male co-stars and proved beyond a doubt that she was a strong woman while being kind and gentle during special moments. Undoubtedly, Leia as portrayed by Fisher paved the way for other legendary women in science fiction like Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, and much more.

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Of course, Fisher showed different facets of Leia (as well as iconic hairdos and outfits) in other Star Wars films, especially a more romantic (The Empire Strikes Back) and even sexier side (Return of the Jedi). We last saw the former princess as a military leader in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Fisher will appear for a final time as Leia in the upcoming Star Wars Episode VIII. What will happen to the character for the unfilmed Episode IX is anyone’s guess but most likely she will be written out of the film. Even though Rogue One: A Star Wars Story showed that it is possible to digitally recreate the character using the actress’ likeness it may be seen as poor taste given her recent passing.

Outside of Star Wars, Carrie Fisher struggled with fame and postcardshad problems with drugs and having a bipolar disorder. But she channeled the pain from those experiences to write several well received fiction and non-fiction books, the most famous one being Postcards From the Edge. She also appeared in many other films like The Blues Brothers, When Harry Met Sally…, and The ‘Burbs. She also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of Postcards From the Edge and contributed to other screenplays like Hook, Last Action Hero and even the Star Wars prequels. Before she died, Fisher was returning from a book tour promoting her latest book, The Princess Diarist, which was a memoir of her time filming the original Star Wars films. As we all know, during her flight home to California, she suffered a cardiac arrest and sadly never recovered. Her passing away hits many home given her relatively young age (60) and her resurgent fame with the renewed interest in Star Wars. Even though Carrie Fisher is no longer with us we can and must still celebrate her contributions to sci-fi and pop culture, which will always be there.

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On the whole, the tragic passing away of too many people this year, whether famous or personal, reminds us to cherish them and their contributions to our lives as we continue on our journeys.

José Soto

Rogue One: The Most Pivotal Star Wars Film To Date

star-wars-rogue-one-characters-names-vehicles The very first Star Wars spinoff film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is scoring big in theaters and with audiences. Despite its faults, the film is a rollicking success not just in terms of box office dollars but for its many merits. This is critically important considering that a lot was riding on this particular Star Wars film that many do not realize, at first.

Of course, with its Star Wars credentials Rogue One was bound to open huge and have its own core fan base. The question before it premiered was would it not just resonate with fans, but establish its own identity without relying (for the most part) on the central tenets of a Star Wars film: the Skywalker clan, Jedi and Sith, lightsaber duels and some overreaching multi-film storyline. Rogue One is largely self-contained with its main characters making their only appearance in a Star Wars film. So no, you won’t see Jyn Erso or K2S0 popping up in future films. That is a huge gamble for the Star Wars juggernaut since this limits its marketing potential, at least with some narrow-sighted marketing heads.

Pushing The Envelope

Furthermore, as those who have seen the film will agree, this isn’t a typical Star Wars film. There isn’t an opening crawl, the film’s tone is distinctly more mature and feels more like a war film with actual consequences and has many characters with shades of grey. Honestly, this was to the film’s benefit because this shift in tone helped set it apart from Star Wars and pushed the envelope for what can be done with Star Wars in general. At the same time, it is clearly a part of the established Star Wars lore and serves as an important link not just to the Prequel and Original Trilogies but to the animated TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels. Doing this last linkage now establishes both TV series as part of official canon.

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Storywise, the events in this film were extremely critical to the Star Wars universe. Think about it, the main story is about Rebel spies trying desperately to steal the plans to the Death Star. If they failed there would not be A New Hope. C-3P0 and R2-D2 would never have fallen into the hands of Luke Skywalker. He would never have destroyed the infernal Death Star and set off events leading to the Galactic Empire’s demise.

For these reasons, Rogue One was a huge test, a proving ground, for the Star Wars film franchise. erso-andor-and-droidBeing that it is the first spinoff that is quasi-independent of the “Saga” trilogies, there was a question if audiences and fans would accept it. If it failed either in ticket sales or not have excellent word of mouth, the fate of future Star Wars spinoffs would be in question. Of course, Lucasfilm would not abandon the spinoffs altogether, but the film studio might have only concentrated their spinoffs on established characters like Han Solo. The fact that the swashbuckling space pirate is the focus of the next Star Wars spinoffs is evidence that Lucasfilm was hedging its bet and planned on playing it safe in case Rogue One faltered.

Thankfully, Rogue One is a hit, partly because it did not play it safe while at the same time it took advantage of the rich Star Wars backstory. It’s the same formula that worked for the Star Trek spinoffs. The first one, Star Trek: The Next Generation, followed the same premise, a starship exploring the unknown except with new characters. Its success allowed for future spinoffs to try different tones, plots and characters, the best example being Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

What Lies Ahead

Now that Rogue One has proven that a Star Wars film doesn’t have to rely on established tenets to tell a riveting story that resonates with fans, what other stories can be told? After the Han Solo prequel, there is rumor that an overdue Obi-Wan Kenobi spinoff will follow and at one time a Boba Fett film nearly went into production before its assigned director Josh Trank blacklisted himself with his dismal Fant4stic debacle.

dash-rendarThose films sound intriguing since they’re about popular and intriguing characters with the potential to carry their own films. However, Lucasfilm should take heed of Rogue One’s success and tell stories with new characters and situations. Or adapt popular ideas from other media. Live-action versions of Knights of the Old Republic or Shadows of the Empire would make terrific films. Perhaps, as C.S. Link suggested in his Rogue One: A Star Wars Story review, a film taking place in between Episode IV and V could be done. This concept of filling in the gaps between films or trilogies can be done with several films and there are many questions about what happened after Return of the Jedi and before The Force Awakens that are worth exploring.

rogue-one-on-the-beachRogue One: A Star Wars Story has opened up many possibilities in future Star Wars films. It passed the hurdle of not relying on classic characters and situations to tell a compelling story. And it liberally and skillfully took elements from other films and TV shows without overdoing it or aping the same story beats and characters. This is why Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the most pivotal Star Wars film for now.

José Soto

Take A Timeless Journey With The Latest Time Travel TV Show

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It seems like time travel TV shows are the rage lately. The latest one, Timeless, airs on NBC and it actually stands out from the pack. When looking at its premise, Timeless seems fairly formulaic in its premise: a trio travel through time to protect history from a villain out to change it. It’s what goes on each week on Legends of Tomorrow and many Doctor Who episodes. Yet, somehow Timeless manages to be refreshingly engaging, inventive and fun to watch.

Lincoln killed by FlynnThe credit for this largely goes to the scripts. The screenwriters took a tired premise and just ran with it. They actually address some of the challenges of time traveling and the preparation needed for it. For instance, before heading out on a mission the time traveling trio have to go to be properly attired and carry the right kind of currency. Then surprisingly, the show actually allows history to be changed and left altered at the episode’s end! In one episode, John Wilkes Booth never assassinated President Lincoln, instead that deed was done by the show’s antagonist Garcia Flynn (Gorin Visnjic) and it’s part of history now. In another episode the Hindenburg landed safely in New Jersey only to be destroyed later on.

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Then there is the fact that two of the time travelers, Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett) and Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer), are disadvantaged in their temporal journeys by who they are. Rufus is African-American and winds up in less enlightened periods where he is liable to be treated as property, while Lucy, being a woman, is also looked down upon in the past despite her depth of knowledge. These characters are also imperfect with their own faults. While being a brilliant scientist and engineer, Rufus doesn’t have practical know-how in surviving, first aid and has to rely on the third member of the group, Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter) a Delta Force soldier. The three don’t quite get along with each other let alone have a shared trust. And that is for good reason. Each of them have their own agenda.

Wyatt more than anything wants to find a way to use time travel to save his wife but is prevented from doing this. Adding to his bitterness is that Lucy’s sister was erased from existence after they came back from a time mission and now Lucy openly is operating to undo this damage. As for Rufus, he doesn’t find any joy in time traveling and would rather be behind a keyboard. But he is forced into the missions to spy on the other two by a mysterious and secretive group with their own agenda, which includes stopping Flynn.

This running conspiracy is a major flaw in Timeless. As imaginative and exciting as Timeless is, team timelessthe conspiracy arc is often trite and gets in the way. But lately it is adding to the show’s mythology and character motives. But the best development about this conspiracy is that it is making us viewers question whether or not Garcia Flynn is truly evil. He is on a quest to change American history in order to erase the existence of the group’s unseen, but nefarious leader, Rittenhouse. Flynn is doing this to avenge the death of his family at Rittenhouse’s hands. Adding to this unease is that Flynn carries a journal written in the future by Lucy and hints that she will ally with him down the road. So we can all hope that this Rittenhouse conspiracy will lead to something worthwhile.

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Now adding to the enjoyment of Timeless is that the show isn’t afraid to do some real time traveling. In each episode the travelers go to distinctly different eras. From 1940s Germany to 1750s North America, the episodes reveal interesting tidbits about those time periods, and thankfully the production values are up to par when it comes to presenting these time periods. But most of all, Timeless is always entertaining and often leaves you hanging during the commercial breaks. It has room to grow, but hopefully as its title hints, Timeless will have time to fully live up to its potential.

José Soto

Exploring The Ending Of Arrival

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WARNING: This article will contain huge spoilers about the alien contact film Arrival. Anyone who hasn’t seen it yet should skip what lies ahead….

What set Arrival apart from other sci-fi films about the First Contact scenario had to do with it’s ending, which upended the meaning of much of the film. Throughout Arrival, there were numerous flashbacks regarding the linguist Louise Banks and her young daughter Hannah. We witness Hannah being born, living her young life and dying from a disease. This was done to set up Louise as a tragic figure, but we learn late into the film that these sequences are actually flashforwards. We were actually seeing what happened to Louise Banks after the aliens (heptapods) left Earth.

So why were we seeing these glimpses into the future?

It all goes back to her attempts to communicate with the heptapods. The only way human and alien were able to communicate was through written language. The aliens’ language, which consists of a series of circular inkblots, was quite complex and to understand it, one had to think non-linear. This is because the heptapods do not perceive time as cause and effect like we do…they can see into the past and future. It’s why they came to Earth in the first place. As they reveal to Louise, they arrived to establish relations with us because the heptapods will need humanity’s help 3,000 years in the future. They had the foresight to see that they would need our help and we needed a jumpstart. Hence, their gift to us in the form of their language.

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With the language, a person will be able to perceive time in a non-linear way. This will have a profound effect on how we carry on our lives if we are able to accurately perceive the future. But is this possible?

In the film, it’s mentioned that in order to understand a language, the wiring of one’s brain, so to speak, has to be radically altered. Imagine if that happened when deciphering a language from a completely non-human species. But for humanity to completely understand the heptapods’ language, our minds would have to evolve. So how was Louise able to perceive time differently?

The answer is that she was altered by the heptapod, Costello, when she was brought into the aliens’ ship. It’s established in Arrival that the aliens inhabit an environment that isn’t Earthlike and do not even breath our air. Whenever human and alien communicated there was a glass barrier separating the two environments. However, when the situation turned dire in the final act as the Chinese military was about to attack the heptapods, Louise was brought into the aliens’ environment without an environmental suit. She couldn’t have survived in the inhospitable environment and the only way she could have existed was if they altered her physiology during the transit to their ship. Minutes after she meets Costello face to face she is able to fully see into the future and understands their written language without the aid of computer programs.

That is the true tragedy in Arrival’s ending. While Louise is able to prevent a war thanks to taking advantage of being able to perceive time differently, now she has the terrible foreknowledge of her doomed daughter. She is fully aware that she will give birth to daughter that will die at a young age. This brings up the question of predestination and fate. During Arrival’s ending, she could have made the choice to not let Hannah be born to spare her the suffering.

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Instead, she gives in to fate and allows herself to love her colleague Ian Donnelly, the mysterious never-seen father of Hannah in the flashforwards. Thus, she sets forth her predestiny and Hannah’s, as well. Why do this? Why not use her ability to find a way to cure Hannah? Perhaps, she was afraid of the Butterfly Effect unraveling the initial contact with the heptapods that could have doomed humanity. It is strongly hinted in the film, that this was why Louise and Ian broke up. This just adds more to the tragic element. Louise knows the pain that awaits her, yet she makes the personal sacrifice for the sake of preserving the future and humanity and in doing so, Louise Banks becomes an even more heroic figure in Arrival.

Lewis T. Grove