Sugar-free Treats for Movie Lovers (from Forever Young)


I enjoyed writing my first feature in years for Forever Young, Buffalo Spree’s ancillary publication for readers over 50.

For couples, finding a unique Valentine’s Day gift can be an extremely difficult task. One idea? Zero in on one of your partner’s passions. If those include cinema, consider one of the books, soundtracks, or DVDs/Blu-ray discs listed here.


Books for Cinephiles

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (Blue Rider Press)

Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist, a hilarious and touching look at her life as Star Wars icon Princess Leia, was a must-read even before the sudden, shocking passing of its author in December. (Fisher’s death, of course, was followed by the equally tragic loss of her mother, Debbie Reynolds.) It is even more poignant now.

Buy it at all major bookstores and

The Art of Selling Movies by John McElwee (GoodKnight Books)

Anyone with an interest in classic cinema will adore The Art of Selling Movies, a 300-page treat packed with photos and vintage advertisements. Featuring everyone from Valentino and Pickford to Bardot and Hitchcock, this is a wonderfully entertaining and insightful coffee table tome.

Buy it at

Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage by Robert S. Bader (Northwestern University Press)

Bader’s book highlights a fascinating, little-known segment of the Marx Brothers’ career, the twenty-five years the foursome spent on stage. He traces the comic legends’ road from live performance (Groucho made his debut in 1905) to big-screen successes.

Buy it at

Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe by Robert Matzen (GoodKnight Books)

It’s hard to find new ground to cover when discussing the personal life of a legendary figure like Jimmy Stewart, but author Robert Matzen pulls it off in Mission. This thoroughly researched text explores the actor’s wartime exploits, and the effect these experiences had on his later life and career.

Buy it at or


DVD/Blu-ray Delights

His Girl Friday (Criterion)

Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday still holds up, and then some. This comic adaptation of The Front Page starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell is as funny today as it was upon release, and with this high-definition restoration, it has never looked or sounded better.

Buy it at or

Jerry Maguire: 20th Anniversary Edition (Sony)

Tom Cruise gave his best performance in Jerry Maguire, the sports-agent romantic comedy that that gave the world the phrase, “Show me the money!” It remains a surprisingly poignant film, and this Best Buy exclusive Blu-ray limited edition offers a fine reason to revisit.

Buy it at Best Buy or


Must-Own Soundtracks

La La Land (Interscope)

La La Land might have been 2016’s most purely enjoyable film, and the music is a key element of its appeal. Stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone acquit themselves nicely in this witty, moving homage to Hollywood musicals. The songs by Justin Hurwitz are smart and satisfying, especially “City of Stars” and the anthemic “Another Day of Sun.”

Buy it in stores and on

Jackie (Milan Records)
The musical score for this Natalie Portman-starring film about Jackie Kennedy is strange, haunting, and fascinating—just like the film itself. Composer Mica Levi’s work here is astoundingly original.

Buy it on


Looking for a Rental?

Looking for something a bit less expensive? Consider one of the following films now available to rent from iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, or Redbox.

Deepwater Horizon

Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell star in this surprisingly involving action film about the biggest oil spill in US history. It’s a disaster film done right, and Russell, especially, is masterful

Florence Foster Jenkins

Meryl Streep is predictably wonderful as painfully awful opera singing-heiress Florence Foster Jenkins. However, costars Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg are equally strong in this modest, satisfying film.

While Sully is no classic, Clint Eastwood’s biography of hero pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is quite involving and often thrilling. It’s a reminder that there is no actor more capable than Tom Hanks.

You Should Be Watching: Brit Marling’s stunning series ‘The OA’ (for The Buffalo News)


I was thrilled to ponder Netflix’s “The OA” for The Buffalo News’ “You should be watching column. Brit Marling is, quite simply, my favorite current actor, so I was probably destined to love it. Still, I was unprepared for how invested I became in this stunning series.

The best series of 2016 debuted in full on Dec. 16, just one week after it was announced. Since then, Netflix’s “The OA” has enraptured, overwhelmed, and frustrated viewers nationwide. A highly spiritual, quasi-sci fi drama told in eight parts, “The OA” is the brainchild of two stunningly talented individuals. The series is the latest creation from actress Brit Marling and director Zal Batmanglij, following the thematically similar 2012 mindbender “Sound of My Voice” and 2013 thriller “The East.” “The OA” represents their finest achievement to date, and it just might be your next pop culture obsession.

Title: “The OA”

Year it began: 2016 (December)

Where it can be seen: Netflix

Who’s in it: Brit Marling, Jason Isaacs, Emory Cohen, Phyllis Smith, Riz Ahmed, and Alice Krige

Typical episode length: Episodes range between 31 and 71 minutes

Number of episodes to date: 8

Brief plot description: A young woman named Prairie Johnson resurfaces suddenly after being missing for seven years. Blind when she disappeared, Prairie now has the ability to see. She also calls herself “OA,” and has unexplained scars on her back. Slowly, OA begins to tell her story — involving a scientist, an experiment, and similarly missing individuals — to four local high school students and their teacher.

Why it’s worth watching: For fans of the hugely talented Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, the announcement that a new series created by the duo was set for release in one week’s time felt like a holiday gift. It became apparent after watching the first couple episodes of “The OA” that this series — a film in eight chapters, really — was even more emotionally resonant and adventurous than the great “Sound of My Voice.” Much of the joy that comes from watching the series comes from the constant story surprises/mega-spoilers that occur, but it can be said that the tale of Prairie Johnson involves near-death experiences, Russian oligarchs, the FBI, high school pressures, and the horrors of sudden imprisonment. In less than a month, “The OA” has earned the crown of most Reddit fan theory-friendly show since “The X Files,” and it shares “Files”’ innate conflict between faith and skepticism. To that end, it must be said that a leap of faith is required. Viewers who choose to buy-in are rewarded with an emotional, dramatically transcendent experience. A key part of this necessary acceptance involves the show’s “Movements,” a series of interpretive dance moves that are strange, a bit silly, and utterly enchanting. It all culminates in an already controversial ending — one critic believes the climax is “tasteless,” and you’ll see why — that is provocative and thrilling. In fact, the second it ends, you’ll have to fight the urge to binge-watch the entire thing all over again. And I guarantee you’ll be Google searching “The OA Season 2.”

Ten reasons why 2017 will be a great year for cinephiles (from January Buffalo Spree)

Tracey B. Wilson, star of Trew Calling, takes a selfie with friends on the BIFF red carpet. PHOTOS BY SUMMER OLIVER

Tracey B. Wilson, star of Trew Calling, takes a selfie with friends on the BIFF red carpet.

Most of my January “Coming Attractions” column for Buffalo Spree took a look at the year to come. You can check out the usual column online, as well.

January is a rather quiet month for screenings, so it’s a fine time to look at the entire year ahead, and reflect a bit on the previous twelve months. If you love cinema, there’s plenty to be excited about in 2017.

Year eleven for the Buffalo International Film Festival: There was no clearer sign that the Buffalo International Festival was in good hands than its choice of opening film: Tyler Hubby’s documentary Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present. This long-awaited portrait of the experimental filmmaker and University at Buffalo professor was a bold, brilliant pick, and it wasn’t the only festival standout; the partly animated documentary Tower, for example, ranks among 2016’s most acclaimed films. With a great lineup that featured several local productions, some ideal venues (the North Park, Hallwalls, Squeaky Wheel), and visiting filmmakers from around the world, the annual festival was an undeniable success. It was also a fitting tribute to late founder Ed Summer. Speaking to festival programmer John Fink a few days after BIFFX, it was clear the organizers were already thinking of next year: “At our 2017 festival, you’ll find films that might not otherwise screen in WNY front and center on the big screen along with engaging panels and events that celebrate diverse and underrepresented voices, emerging talent, and WNY’s film industry.” BIFF executive director Raymond Guarnieri says the dates for 2017 are set—October 6 to 9—and that the program will be announced in late summer with tickets on sale at in September. (Organizers will once again offer a “Bison Pass” with unlimited screening access. At an advance price of $35, it’s a steal.) If 2016 is any indication, BIFF has officially staked its claim as the local film festival. It’s incredibly exciting to see what transpired this past October, and to ponder what’s to come.

The (expected) release of Marshall: Buffalo was buzzing over the summer with the news that Marshall, director Reginald Hudlin’s film about the early career of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, was shooting throughout the area. Stars Chadwick Boseman (an actor on the verge of mega-stardom as Marvel’s Black Panther), Kate Hudson, and the rest of the cast had lovely things to say about the Queen City. But when will we actually get to see Marshall on the big screen? As of press time, no date was set. However, distribution rights were already snapped up by Open Road Films, the studio of Oscar winner Spotlight, so a 2017 release is likely.

Diverse pleasures from DipsonDipson Theatres cinemas continue to find a nice balance between older-skewing independent films, hot-button documentaries, and ongoing series like Thursday Night Terrors. Marketing and promotions coordinator Jeremy Mills says some of Dipson’s biggest hits in 2016 involved established longtime favorites: Tom Hanks (Sully), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins), Sally Field (Hello, My Name Is Doris), Maggie Smith (The Lady in the Van), and, of course, the Beatles (Ron Howard’s hit documentary Eight Days a Week).

Did the switch to larger, reclining seats at the Amherst Dipson help at the box office? It’s certainly possible, especially when it comes to the Buffalo Film Seminars series. But just as pleasing is the success of one-off screenings like the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ doc One More Time With Feeling. “We partnered with Record Theatre to give that screening even more of a ‘live show’ vibe, and they outdid themselves by providing a ‘merch table’ that included the brand new LP and most of Cave’s discography as well,” Mills says, adding, “offering titles that appeal to both music fans and filmgoers is something we’re happy to keep exploring, and we’ve got more music-centric screenings planned with Record Theatre in the near future.” Mills is also excited to see the Cultivate Cinema Circle and Thursday Night Terrors series continue at the Amherst.

A second installment of Thursday Night Terrors: Organizer Peter Vullo’s horror series was a smash, drawing solid audiences for films like Fright Night and The Thing. Vullo says it exceeded all expectations thanks to the passionate community of horror fans in Buffalo. Therefore, another season will be on its way. “I hope to make the series better with each successive screening,” he says. “I think the success of Thursday Night Terrors shows that there’s a place for every genre of film in Buffalo. It’s just a matter of reaching that audience and playing the films they want to see. There’s room to experiment and expand. It’s a beautiful time to be a film lover in Buffalo.”

A busier-than-ever North Park Theatre: The North Park was hot in 2016; October even saw it host a screening of the first presidential debate. In addition to the theater’s usual selection of current independent films, the popular Family Matinee series and ultra-cool Neon Fever will continue. The latter saw screenings of such sci-fi and neo-noir classics as Blade Runner and Akira. Program director Ray Barker says, “2017 will be another exciting year for the North Park. In addition to bringing highly anticipated, Oscar-nominated films early in the year, we plan on bringing a director to the North Park in summer 2017 who was previously nominated for an Academy Award himself.” That’s a very cool teaser.

Comfy seats at the Regal Cinemas: Visitors to the Walden Galleria Mall cinema in recent months know the changeover to big comfy recliners has already taken place. A May Buffalo News article said all area Regal cinemas were expected to have these seats by October 2016, but, as of press time, there were no new updates. Still, you can probably expect to see the Regal theaters in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Orchard Park, and Williamsville getting real comfy real soon.

More treats from the Roycroft Film Society, the Old Chestnut Film Society, the Buffalo Film SeminarsSqueaky WheelHallwalls, etc.: It might seem as if the number of screenings of new, recent, and classic films in the Buffalo area has exploded in recent months. While there are certainly some new kids on the block, the folks mentioned here have been killing it for years. Keep checking this column in print and online for their latest events and screenings.

Another summer of outdoor cinema: From Bacchus to UB to Canalside and beyond, the number of venues offering outdoor screenings is greater than ever before. Watching films under the stars is now a Buffalo tradition.

New offerings from Cultivate Cinema Circle: The most recent CCC season featured a salute to Robert Altman, and the subjects for potential future series include Michael Mann, Alfred Hitchcock, and Roberto Rossellini. CCC organizers Jordan Smith and Jared Mobarak say they plan to continue screenings at the Dipson Amherst, Burning Books, and North Park. They also invite fans to tweet (@CultivateCinema), email (, or post ( suggestions for future films.

The fate of the Market Arcade may (or may not) be determined: So this is not a prediction, merely a hope. Not long after Main Street’s Market Arcade cinema closed its doors in 2014, there was talk of the AMC chain taking over the space. While AMC is an imperfect choice—the spot has always made most sense as a site for independent and small-scale films, rather than Transformers 7—it was nevertheless an exciting development. Fast-forward two years and … nothing. As of late September, a sign on the building still read “The facility is expected to reopen under new ownership by early 2015.” Meanwhile, a now hilariously dated feature in Buffalo Business First from February 2016 stated that “the theater could, potentially, be reopened by late summer or early fall in time to show such anticipated releases as the Ghostbusters reboot, Star Trek Beyond, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2.” Insert shoulder-shrugging emoji here. Let’s hope 2017 is the year of the Market Arcade’s rebirth as a site for cinema. Better late than never.

Christopher Schobert’s Top 10 Films of 2016 (for The Film Stage)


It’s always exciting to see my personal top 10 list for 2016 posted at The Film Stage. But it’s always difficult to call it “finished.” Here’s how things stand … at the moment.

Ignore any suggestion that 2016 was not a fantastic year for cinema. Moments linger (the campfire dance in American Honey, the final encounter in Certain Women, the Tracy Letts–Logan Lerman debate in Indignation, the first ten minutes of High-Rise, both “Camelot”-soundtracked sequences in Jackie, any scene that featured Ralph Fiennes in A Bigger Splash) and performances resonate (everyone in Moonlight, Emma Stone in La La Land, Kate McKinnon in Ghostbusters).

Choosing ten favorites and five honorable mentions is nasty business; I wish I could have included Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply, a ridiculously underrated film that does not deserve to be remembered as a flop. But it just missed the cut. (Also, I was unable to see Silence in time for end-of-year consideration.) What these fifteen films have in common is the ability to surprise, confound, and delight in equal measure. Let’s see 2017 top that.

Honorable Mentions



10. The Nice Guys (Shane Black)

The Nice Guys

The finest film of summer was Shane Black’s non-blockbuster The Nice Guys, a wildly funny, seriously involving slice of 70s noir. Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, and (soon-to-be-a-megastar) Angourie Rice are perfectly cast, and somehow the plotline seems fresh. It is such a satisfying viewing experience, in fact, that I found myself desperately hoping that it would kick off a franchise. That’s not to be, but that’s OK — we have The Nice Guys to enjoy forever.


9. A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino)

a bigger splash 3

From start to finish, A Bigger Splash is beautifully disorienting. This tangled web of relationships and insecurities is highlighted by Tilda Swinton’s (voice-resting) rock star, and, of course, by Ralph Fiennes. He is a delightfully gyrating force of nature who is somehow not a lock for an Oscar nom. You’ll never hear “Emotional Rescue” again without picturing his moves. Even when offscreen, Fiennes’s aging record producer feels deeply involved. Clearly, Splash cements Luca Guadagnino’s place on the list of the world’s most exciting filmmakers.


8. Sing Street (John Carney)


Like La La Land, the best moments of John Carney’s Sing Street felt charged by an almost relentless sense of positivity. What makes that accomplishment so remarkable is that much of the film is rooted in poverty, heartbreak, and sadness. That sadness, however, is balanced by some gobsmackingly fun music. And in the “Drive Like You Mean It” sequence, Sing Street truly achieves emotional liftoff. The film also takes the crown for must-own soundtrack of 2016.


7. American Honey (Andrea Arnold)

American Honey

Where did American Honey come from? It’s hard not to ask that question while watching Andrea Arnold’s film, an almost indescribably exhilarating teenage road movie. A cast of unknowns (and a never-better Shia LaBeouf) excels at making this crew of magazine-hawking teens seem startlingly real. It’s a long journey — over two and a half hours — but never drags. In fact, Honey seems to fly by, so intoxicating is its mix of fiction and (quasi) reality.


6. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)

Paterson 3

In Paterson, Jim Jarmusch makes the everyday riveting. And much of the credit has to go to Adam Driver, whose bus driver-poet is quite unlike any artist we’ve seen onscreen before. The same can be said of his wife, Laura, played by a luminescent Golshifteh Farahani. It’s the most effortless film of Jarmusch’s career, and certainly the most moving. It also features the most unexpectedly heartbreaking scene of the year, involving Driver, Farahani, a poorly behaved dog named Marvin, and a book of poems.


5. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook)


The Handmaiden is pure cinema — a tender, moving, utterly believable love story. It’s also a tense, unsettling, erotic masterpiece. There’s a palpable exhilaration that comes from watching this latest film from Park Chan-wook. From its four central performances and twisty script to the cinematography of Chung Chung-hoon and feverish, haunting score by Jo Yeong-wook, The Handmaiden is crafted to take your breath away. It’s hard to imagine a 2016 film with a better look, feel, and sound.


4. 20th Century Women (Mike Mills)


Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women is wise, funny, and wholly original. This is the family drama reimagined, in visually intoxicating fashion. The performances stand out, especially Annette Bening and Greta Gerwig. Yet it’s Mills’ script that resonates strongest; there are a few lines from Bening that seem to capture what it truly feels like to be a parent. Interestingly, it seems 20th Century Women is already underrated.


3. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)


Watching Moonlight is a wondrous experience. This coming-of-age drama following a young African-American male through three complex stages of his life never strikes a wrong note, and it always surprises. Barry Jenkins has crafted something extraordinary here, and it will be fascinating to see what he does next. In the meantime, let’s rewatch Moonlight, a film to be treasured and analyzed for years to come.


2. Jackie (Pablo Larrain)


Pablo Larraín’s Jackie upends the traditional historical drama with bold storytelling, note-perfect performances, and a piercingly smart, emotionally probing script. The film belongs to Natalie Portman, but the entire cast stands out, especially John Hurt. With Jackie (and his other late-2016 release, Neruda), Larrain has deconstructed the film biography, and it’s thrilling to watch. It’s difficult to imagine a film about a recent historical figure that feels as emotionally affecting.


1. La La Land (Damien Chazelle)


Damien Chazelle’s Los Angeles-set musical lives up to the the fall festival hype. And my goodness, that’s saying something. Wonderfully unrealistic, even its flaws (and there are a few) are endearing. The songs, the performances from Gosling and Stone (the look on her face when the Messengers’ burst into life in concert might be the most perfect reaction of 2016), and that opening are unforgettable. But these are all topped by its dazzling final sequence, which sees La La Land practically explode with a mixture of joy and melancholy. The result is a film that leaves the viewer in a state of bliss — high on the feeling that comes from great cinema.

2016 IndieWire Critics Poll: Christopher Schobert


My first of — count ’em! — THREE end-of-year lists is now posted at Indiewire. I was honored to again be one of the 200 critics asked to contribute. It’s an impressive group, to be sure. My list has changed a bit since this was filed, but you can’t go wrong with anything I mentioned … Here’s the full Indiewire list, as well.

Best Film

  1. La La Land
  2. Jackie
  3. Moonlight
  4. Paterson
  5. The Handmaiden
  6. 20th Century Women
  7. American Honey
  8. Sing Street
  9. Manchester by the Sea
  10. The Nice Guys

Best Director

  1. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
  2. Pablo Larrain, Jackie
  3. Damien Chazelle, La La Land
  4. Andrea Arnold, American Honey
  5. Park Chan-wook, The Handmaiden

Best Actress

  1. Natalie Portman, Jackie
  2. Emma Stone, La La Land
  3. Isabelle Huppert, Elle
  4. Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
  5. Rebecca Hall, Christine

Best Actor

  1. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
  2. Ryan Gosling, La La Land
  3. Adam Driver, Paterson
  4. Colin Farell, The Lobster
  5. Peter Simonischek, Toni Erdmann

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Tilda Swinton, A Bigger Splash
  2. Kate McKinnon, Ghostbusters
  3. Kristen Stewart, Cafe Society
  4. Lily Gladstone, Certain Women
  5. Viola Davis, Fences

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
  2. Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!
  3. Ralph Fiennes, A Bigger Splash
  4. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
  5. Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Best Documentary

  1. OJ: Made in America
  2. Weiner
  3. 13th
  4. I Am Not Your Negro
  5. Holy Hell
  6. Off the Rails
  7. Gimme Danger
  8. Kate Plays Christine
  9. Audrie & Daisy
  10. Tickled

Best Undistributed Film

  1. Una
  2. Werewolf
  3. Nocturama
  4. Sieranevada
  5. The Rehearsal
  6. Still Life
  7. The Death of Louis XIV
  8. Le concours (The Graduation)
  9. My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea
  10. The Woman Who Left

Best First Feature

  1. The Witch
  2. Swiss Army Man
  3. April and the Extraordinary World
  4. Indignation
  5. Kicks

Best Screenplay

  1. Jackie
  2. Moonlight
  3. The Lobster
  4. Paterson
  5. Indignation

Best Original Score/Soundtrack

  1. The Handmaiden
  2. La La Land
  3. American Honey
  4. The Handmaiden
  5. Sing Street

Best Cinematography

  1. The Handmaiden
  2. Moonlight
  3. La La Land
  4. Arrival
  5. A Bigger Splash

Best Editing

  1. La La Land
  2. Moonlight
  3. Midnight Special
  4. The Lobster
  5. 20th Century Women

Best Overlooked Film

  1. Sleeping Giant
  2. Una
  3. Werewolf
  4. The Student and Mister Henri
  5. Darling

Most Anticipated of 2017

  1. Happy End
  2. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
  3. Star Wars: Episode VIII
  4. The Snowman
  5. Blade Runner 2049


Analysis: Should you take your children to see ‘Rogue One?’


While I did not “review” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” exactly, I did write an analysis of the film for The Buffalo News. I focused on whether the film is suitable for children, a tricky topic, and a very personal one for me.

For parents, “Rogue One” is the great “Should I take my kids?” conundrum of 2016. The first “Star Wars Story” outside of the “episodes” is the most action-heavy, battle-focused “Star Wars” installment yet. It’s also the boldest in terms of outcome. But we’ll get back to that.

“Rogue One” is rated PG-13 for “extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.” As usual, the MPAA rating is not particularly helpful. So many parents are turning to reviews and the opinions of friends and family.

In reviews and pre-release buzz, the film has been described as “darker” than the other “Star Wars” films, but that’s not quite accurate. Remember that “Empire Strikes Back” ended with Han Solo frozen in carbonite, and Luke Skywalker learning that Darth Vader was his father and losing his hand. In “The Phantom Menace,” we see the corpse of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in flames — and let’s not forget Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru burned to a crisp in “A New Hope.”

Even the fairly innocuous “Attack of the Clones” included a beheading. And “Revenge of the Sith” — referred to in my house as “the dark one” — features the most gruesome moments of the series, by far.

The implications of “Rogue One” are certainly dark. But it’s not a graphic film. What it is, above all else, is a grittier “Star Wars” entry. Director Gareth Edwards’ “embedded” shooting style emphasizes on-ground combat, and the result is a more realistic feel. But there is little explicit violence. There is little explicit bloodshed, but there is war-like violence and some disturbing imagery throughout the film.

Without spoiling “Rogue One,” parents need to know that the film is very dark. But for many kids, especially those under 10 or so, the implications of what actually occurs will zip over their heads like an errant X-wing.

The outcome is also hopeful, and even inspiring. In addition, the female heroine of “Rogue One” is a fine role model, and there is a spirit of friendship and collaboration that’s downright wonderful. While there are talky moments in this two-hour-plus film, the visceral surge of the final third is thrilling.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” (Jonathan Olley, Lucasfilm-Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

In addition, another critic friend made a crucial point that I had not considered: “I think the idea of Han Solo’s own son murdering him in ‘The Force Awakens’ is psychologically much worse than anything shown in ‘Rogue One.’ ” Still, something happens that will require discussion and explanation. It may even shock you.

So what’s the appropriate age for “Rogue One”? It sounds like a cop-out, but that answer depends on the child. For better or worse, my 6-year-old son has seen all of the “Star Wars” films (we fast-forwarded through the darkest moments in “Revenge of the Sith”) and the eight “Harry Potter” adaptations (liberal fast-forwarding was involved here, as well).

My wife and I have known for months that he would be aching to see the film at the theater, but it was important for us that I see it first.

As a parent, then, my advice is simple: Do not take your kids until after you’ve seen the film. You know what your children can handle better than anyone, so avoid placing blind trust in critics or even friends. Know what you’re in for. Then, make your decision and feel confident.

In addition, if your child’s only “Star Wars” experience is “The Force Awakens,” it’s best to hold off. Work through some of the others first, then go “Rogue.”

January Coming Attractions: Cinematic gifts from Carpenter and Altman highlight the month in film


I’m a bit late in posting my December Buffalo Spree “Coming Attractions” column, but there’s still a few treats left before year’s end.

December features a little horror, some Robert Altman, a dash of Sinatra, and, of course, The Nutcracker. So by all means see Rogue One, La La Land, and the other year-end biggies, but don’t forget to also make time for these interesting local screenings.

Thursday Night Terrors—The Thing: The first season for the Thursday Night Terrors film series ends with a modern classic, John Carpenter’s The Thing. Interestingly, the film was a box office flop upon release in 1982, but in the years since has developed an enormous (and well-deserved) cult following. The opportunity to see this Kurt Russell-starrer on the big screen should not be passed up, but don’t say I didn’t warn you about the “spider head.” (7:30 p.m. on December 15 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St.;

Cultivate Cinema Circle—Gosford Park: The CCC’s fall season included several treats from the late Robert Altman, the daring, always forward-thinking director of Nashville and M*A*S*H. Previous screenings featured his underrated ensemble piece A Wedding and his Hollywood satire The Player. (There’s an argument to be made that the latter is the finest film ever made about the movie business.) The season ends with Gosford Park on December 1, and that’s a fine choice. The most successful of Altman’s late-period works, Gosford is a whodunit featuring the crème de la crème of British acting talent: Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, Kristen Scott Thomas, Alan Bates, Maggie Smith. It’s a fitting reminder of Altman’s ability to dabble in various genres and style of cinema. (7 p.m. on December 1 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St.;

Buffalo Film Seminars—The Tourist: Well this is an unexpected one: the fall season of the Buffalo Film Seminars ends with the critically derided 2010 box office miss The Tourist, starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Yet this could turn out to be one of the most interesting screenings yet for the series hosted by Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian. After all, The Tourist was an interesting (if failed) callback to the glossy, star-driven international romps of yesteryear. It was also director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s follow-up to Oscar winner The Lives of Others. So there is plenty to chew on. We’ll just have to see what Jackson and Christian have to say. (7 p.m. on December 6 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.;

TCM Big Screen Classics—From Here to EternityFred Zinnemann’s adaptation of James Jones’s novel is an acknowledged classic, but I’ve always found the back story even more interesting. Specifically, there is the story that Frank Sinatra was cast in the film thanks to some strong-arming from his Mafia connections. This, of course, was the basis for the Johnny Fontane character’s appeal to Don Corleone in The Godfather, and the subsequent horse’s-head-in-the-bed. Years later, Sinatra and Godfather author Mario Puzo had a charged face-to-face encounter. That’s one of many unique bits of Corleone trivia … Oh, From Here to Eternity! Yeah, it’s great. (2 and 7 p.m. on December 11 and 14 at the Regal Elmwood Center, 2001 Elmwood Ave., and Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville;

Fredonia Opera House—The Entertainer: While Kenneth Branagh is not known as “the entertainer,” that wouldn’t be a bad nickname for the actor-director known for his stage, film, and television work. In the instance of The Entertainer, John Osborne’s drama about post-war Britain, Branagh is simple the star. The Fredonia Opera House will screen the production in high definition; it was performed at London’s Garrick Theatre by the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company. When you’re finished, perhaps consider watching Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing or Henry V. (Or Thor, for that matter.) The Opera House will also present the Metropolitan Opera’s L’Amour de Loin at 1 p.m. on December 10. (1 p.m. on December 3 at the Fredonia Opera House, 9 Church St., Fredonia;

Roycroft Film Society—Russian Ark: The 2002 Russian film Russian Ark is remembered for one reason: it was shot entirely in one take. Yes, the 99-minute feature shot entirely in the Winter Palace of the Russian State Hermitage Museum does not include one cut. That’s pretty shocking, and it makes watching the film a unique experience. (4 p.m. on December 11 at Parkdale Elementary School, 141 Girard Ave., East Aurora;

Old Chestnut Film Society—The Lady EveThe films of Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb are the focus for the latest installment of the long-running Old Chestnut Film Society series. December’s selection is a goodie, as The Lady Eve is one of Preston Sturgess’s finest comedies. (7:30 p.m. on December 9 in the Community Room of the Phillip Sheridan School, 3200 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore;

The Screening Room: Late last month, Amherst’s Screening Room Cinema Café opened in its new home at the Boulevard Mall. To celebrate, the first full month at the mall features some real gems, including Casablanca (starting December 2) and It’s a Wonderful Life (starting December 16). The month also includes holiday favorite Home Alone (starting December 13). Plus, “Clue Year’s Eve” on December 31 features two screenings of Clue, the Tim Curry-starring board game adaptation. It also screens the night before, December 30. (Check for exact dates and time; all events at the Screening Room, 880 Alberta Dr., Amherst)

Shaw Festival Film Series: I’m sorry to say I was completely unaware that Niagara-on the-Lake’s Shaw Festival presented an annual series of the year’s most acclaimed films. It starts this month with a downright stellar group of films: soaring U.K. music comedy Sing Street (December 3); the somber, Jeff Bridges-starring thriller Hell or High Water (December 10); Viggo Mortensen-led drama Captain Fantastic (December 17); and Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins (December 31). The screenings are held on most Saturdays and some Fridays into February. (3 p.m. at the Shaw Festival Theatre, 10 Queen’s Parade, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada;

Holidays at the Aurora Theatre: The Aurora Theatre in East Aurora is lovely year-round, but the holiday season is especially nice. Its annual holiday film series started in November, and it continues into December with How the Grinch Stole Christmas (December 3), A Christmas Story (December 10), White Christmas (December 11), The Polar Express (December 17), It’s a Wonderful Life (December 18), and Vermont Christmas Vacation (December 31). Note that December 3 is “Grinch Day,” with characters in costume and an exhibit of props from the film. (11 a.m. at the Aurora Theatre, 673 Main St., East Aurora;

It’s a Wonderful Life at the Historic Lockport Palace: The story of George Bailey and his guardian angel, Clarence, was an annual must-watch in my house growing up. Seeing it on the big screen at the Palace sounds like a fine way to re-experience Frank Capra’s beloved classic. (7 p.m. on December 16; 1, 4, and 7 p.m. on December 17; time TBA on December 18, at the Historic Palace Theatre, 2 East Ave., Lockport;

Amherst Youth and Recreation Department Fall Family Flicks: No pre-registration is required for a free screening of the summer smash The Secret Life of Pets on December 10. (1:30 p.m. on December 10 at the Harlem Road Community Center, 4255 Harlem Rd., Amherst;

Love the Coopers at the Town of Collins Public Library: This 2015 film has quite a cast— Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Diane Keaton, Anthony Mackie, Amanda Seyfried, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde—but made little impact at the box office. Its underseen status makes it a good choice for this screening in Collins. (1 p.m. on December 2 at the Town of Collins Public Library, 2341 Main St., Collins;

Fathom Events: In addition to From Here to Eternity (see above), Fathom Events has several other unique screenings planned for December. Unless otherwise indicated, the screenings listed here are scheduled at both the Regal Elmwood Center (2001 Elmwood Ave.) and Regal Transit Center (6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville). First up is a “RiffTrax Holiday Special Double Feature” featuring Santa Conquers the Martians and a “Christmas Shorts-Stravaganza” (December 1). Hayao Miyazaki’s animated classic Spirited Away celebrates its 15 anniversary with screenings on December 4 (English dubbed) and December 5 (subtitled). Recent Toronto International Film Festival premiere The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America documents the Stones’ 2016 tour of Latin American cities (December 12; Regal Transit only). And George Takei’s acclaimed Broadway musical Allegiance screens with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews on December 13. (Times and additional events at

Shea’s Free Family Film Series—The Polar Express: There’s nothing quite like seeing a film in the ornate Shea’s Performing Arts Center. The second installment in the 2017 Free Family Film Series features the Tom Hanks-starring animated effort The Polar Express. Remember, tickets are available one week before screenings at Wegmans, and doors open one hour before show time. (2 p.m. at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St.;

Also screening this month …

The Dipson Amherst Theatre has two opera simulcasts scheduled this month: Swan Lake (directed by Rudolf Nureyev) on December 8 and The Nutcracker (with Iolanta) on December 18. (Swan: 8 p.m. on December 8; Nutcracker: 11 a.m. on December 18; at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.;

December is a fine month for a drive to Toronto, and the TIFF Bell LIghtbox has a very unique installation showing until December 16. The Burghers of Vancouver a collaboration between the great Quebec filmmaker Denys Arcand (The Barbarian Invasions) and artist Adad Hannah. According to TIFF, the “six-channel installation follows individual characters who come together to perform a tableau vivant of Rodin’s famed sculpture Les Bourgeois de Calais.” (Through December 16 at the Tiff Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. W., Toronto;

Last but certainly not least, the Julia Boyer Reinstein LIbrary has a family-friendly holiday film scheduled for December 12. Space is limited, so call 668-4991 or stop by the library to register. (6:30 p.m. on December 12 at the Julia Boyer Reinstein Library, 1030 Losson Rd., Cheektowaga;

Recommended New Books on Filmmaking: A Holiday Gift Guide for the Discerning Cinephile


My latest books piece for The Film Stage has arrived, JUST in time for the holidays.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for film fans, with some of the best films of the year in theaters and lots of elaborate and thoroughly-researched books to read. This rundown has real variety, with new and recent texts covering cinema history, TV greats, and, of course, Star Wars. Note that one of this year’s finest books, The Oliver Stone Experience (Abrams Books), was covered by The Film Stage in September via an interview with author Matt Zoller Seitz. Make sure to check out Experience, and see below for another fine selection from the prolific Seitz.


Star Wars Year by Year: A Visual History, Updated Edition by Daniel Wallace (DK Publishing)

It’s a fantastic idea: a book that offers a timeline not of the Star Wars story, but of the Star Wars phenomenon. This newly updated edition of the 2010 release now includes recent works like The Force Awakens and Star Wars Rebels, ending with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the soon-to-arrive Star Wars-themed lands at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Quite simply, everything is here: the BBC radio adaptations, that odd magazine cover of George Lucas without his beard, Star Tours, Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars, Disney Infinity. It’s an exhaustive, enormously entertaining coffee table book that succeeds in not only charting the progression of the series, but also configuring its place in popular culture.


Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome by Shawn Levy (W.W. Norton & Company)

Levy’s account of 1950s Rome is a stunning parade of legendary names and insightful details. The writing is wonderful (he first describes Fellini as a “cartoonist, journalist, gag writer, script doctor, and shambling man-about-town”) and the imagery unforgettable. Here, for example, is Levy on Marcello Mastroianni’s decision to stay based in Italy rather than the U.S.: “In Rome, he explained, he knew where to go for a coffee, where to get his haircut, where to test-drive the sports cars in which he’d begun to indulge himself once he started commanding substantial salaries. And he had a friendly relationship with a press corps that granted him a remarkable degree of discretion as he indulged in what had become a habit of wandering from the steadfast marriage he bragged about in interviews.” Imagine that! Dolce Vita Confidential is a delight for film fans and anyone who adores yesterday’s pop landscape.


TV (The Book) by Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz (Grand Central Publishing)

Who better to ponder the greatest television shows of all time than Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall? Both critics are responsible for some of the finest writing about the medium in recent history, via New York Magazine/ and, respectively. TV (The Book) is like a long, nicely conversational conversation, one that hits the obvious (The Wire, The Simpsons, Mad Men) and the less-so (Terriers, Futurama). Most effective is the analysis of series that proved to have a lasting impact beyond their initial success, like It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. (Seitz calls it “the most Brechtian sitcom of the ’80s.”) It’s also interesting to hear the authors’ take on some of the current greats of TV, like the FX drama Fargo. (“It had no business working,” Sepinwall writes. “None.”)


The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: Volume Two: The Next 25 Years by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman  (Thomas Dunne Books)

The second volume in the Star Trek oral history series from Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman is just as compelling as the first. Covering the Next Generation series and films, the later small-screen Trek installments (Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise), and the J.J. Abrams’ films, The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years includes virtually every figure of note. What’s most involving, however, is the painstaking analysis of some of the Trek failures. Perhaps the biggest of those failures was the final Next Generation film, Nemesis, and the cast holds director Stuart Baird most responsible. Costar Marina Sirtis sums up the cast’s feelings best: “The director was an idiot.” Of course, there are triumphs as well, and ending with Star Trek rejuvenated and reinvigorated on the big screen makes for a fitting conclusion. If you are even the least bit interested in Gene Roddenberry’s creation, these two books are a must.


Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe by Robert Matzen (GoodKnight Books)

It’s difficult to find new ground to cover when discussing the personal life of a legendary figure like Jimmy Stewart, but author Robert Matzen more than pulls it off in Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe. This seriously researched and hugely illuminating text explores the actor’s wartime exploits, and the effect these experiences had on his later life and career. The level of detail is astounding, from stories of his ladies-man days with pal Henry Fonda to the ways in which It’s a Wonderful Life benefited from his military service. (Wonderful Life, Matzen writes, was his Stewart’s first post-war film, and “called on him to express a range of emotions he had never tapped into before.”) The star was never quite the same: “Stewart rarely spoke about his military service and never about combat … Jim being Jim, the memories remained locked inside.”


The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia by Stephen Whitty (Rowman & LIttlefield Publishers)

If ever there is a cinematic kingpin deserving of an encyclopedia, it is Alfred Hitchcock. Journalist and critic Stephen Whitty brings humor and insight to The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia, and that makes the text a real delight. The reader can open the 500-page book in random spots and invariably find a worthy entry. Whitty’s takes on John Gavin (a “tall, dull, and handsome leading man”), Kim Novak (her “shyness [was] so often mistaken for hauteur”), and so many others are a treat. And his takedown of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho (Whitty calls it “an inexplicable remake”) is hard to disagree with. His Encyclopedia undoubtedly belongs on every cinephile’s shelf.


Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth: Inside the Creation of a Modern Fairy Tale by Mark Cotta Vaz with Nick Nunziata (Harper Design)

It is the tenth anniversary of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, and the more time that passes, the stronger the film seems. This new making-of text is painstakingly piece together, with interviews, the filmmaker’s own drawings and designs, and on-set photography. Most enjoyable is the time spent hearing from del Toro himself, a unique and inimitable figure in modern film. “I know I’m a bit of an alien,” he states in Modern Fairy Tale. “I don’t quite belong in a genre and I don’t quite belong in an industry.” Those comments provide a clue how a story as visually unforgettable and dramatically compelling as Pan’s Labyrinth came to be.


Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur’s Cookbook by Janice Poon (Titan Books)

There has to be something that screams “fun” on this list, doesn’t there? The fiendishly clever Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur’s Cookbook offers a stunning array of recipes written for the beloved, dearly departed NBC series Hannibal. The titles alone are wondrous — “Using Your Brains in the Kitchen,” “Rack of Sacrificial Lamb,” “Hannibal’s Disarming Way with Ham.” These creations from Toronto-based food stylist Janice Poon sound seriously tasty, and the accompanying text and photos are a droll delight. (Poon on “Hong Kong Ribs”: “To shoot the scene, I used baby back ribs because they can be twisted to resemble a human ribcage.”)


Film Noir Compendium: Key Selections from the Film Noir Reader Series by James Ursini and Alain Silver (Applause Books)

Like The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia, the Film Noir Compendium edited  by James Ursini and Alain Silver should be a required read for new film fans. But that’s a rather limiting classification, since it fails to highlight the inherent joy in these articles. The newly updated compilation features legendary critics like Robin Wood as well as critics-turned-filmmakers like Paul Schrader and Claude Chabrol. Standouts include an analysis of Kiss Me Deadly with perfectly chosen stills and a stunning, deep dive into Out of the Past.



Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno (Del Rey)

It’s almost time (at last) for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and we still know very little about the intricacies of the story. That’s a good thing. However, some background never hurts, and that’s why Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno is an essential December read. The focus here is on the relationship between Orson Krennic and scientist Galen Erso, and of course, the reader can easily imagine Ben Mendelsohn and Mads Mikkelsen in their respective roles. There are surprise cameos (I hope you’re seated, Poggle the Lesser fans), but it’s the Krennic-Erso face-off that resonates strongest.


Star Wars: Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston (Disney-Lucasfilm Press)

We have The Clone Wars TV series (and the less-successful film) to thank for many unique additions to the Star Wars canon, and at the top of the list is certainly Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan apprentice. She finally gets to be the central character in E.K. Johnston’s novel Star Wars: Ahsoka. Smartly, the book focuses on Tano’s time after she left the Jedi order — in other words, the time between The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels — and it’s a fine, well-written story involving her experiences on a farming moon. And like Catalyst, there are some crucial cameos that tie the novel in with RebelsA New Hope, and beyond.


Reykjavik Nights: An Inspector Erlendur Novel by Arnaldur Indridason (Picador)

I was unaware of author Arnaldur Indridason and his Inspector Erlendur series before the recent release of the brisk, relentlessly entertaining Reykjavik Nights. Now I can’t wait to read the rest of the Icelandic detective’s adventures. Like Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole, Erlendur is flawed and fascinating, and this prequel about two seemingly unconnected killings is a perfect introduction.

November ‘Coming Attractions’ (from Buffalo Spree)


I’m getting this one up a little late: my November “Coming Attractions” column in Buffalo Spree. It’s a but shorter than usual due to my TIFF feature from the same issue.

November is typically busy in the film world, but there’s more to the month than Oscar bait. Here are some unique options to consider, at locations around WNY.

Real Boy at BPAC: The latest film in the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s Dare to be Diverse Film Series sounds fascinating. The documentary Real Boy is centered on the story of a transgender teenager’s experience with his family and friends, and as a budding musician.

(7 p.m. on November 17 at 1300 Elmwood Ave.;

Buffalo Film Seminars: Four true crowd-pleasers are part of the November Buffalo Film Seminars’ schedule: Peter Sellers stars in Hal Ashby’s Being There (November 1); Brian De Palma brings his unique style to the big-screen version of The Untouchables (November 8); Cher shines in Moonstruck (November 15); and Like Water for Chocolate is a delightful Mexican romance (November 29). Before the latter is Andrei Tarkovsky’s final film, The Sacrifice, on November 22. It’s a complex masterpiece that qualifies as a real must-see.

(7 p.m. at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.;

TCM Big Screen Classics—Breakfast at Tiffany’s: Thanks to Audrey Hepburn (and no thanks to Mickey Rooney), Breakfast at Tiffany’s still charms. Turner Classic Movies brings Holly Golightly to the big screen on November 27 and 30.

(2 and 7 p.m. on November 27 and November 30 at the Regal Elmwood Center, 2001 Elmwood Ave., and Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville;

Roycroft Film Society—Word and Pictures: You might have missed this 2013 romantic drama starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche. The two stars make it a worthwhile film.

(4 p.m. on November 13 at Parkdale Elementary School, 141 Girard Ave., East Aurora;

Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival: Buffalo Dreams is, in a word, killer. For ten days, audiences can enjoy action, animation, comedy, drama, fantasy, horror, thriller, and science fiction features and shorts from around the world. That list includes 105 features, and many screenings feature Q-and-As with the filmmakers and stars. Highlights include Two for One, a post-9/11 drama that was shot in Buffalo and features beloved actor Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Attack of the Killer Shrews, a comedic remake by Niagara Falls filmmaker Ken Cosentino. Troma Entertainment founder Lloyd Kaufman will introduce the film.

(November 4-10 at the Eastern Hills Cinema, 4545 Transit Rd., Williamsville; November 11-13 at the Screening Room, 3131 Sheridan Dr., Amherst;

The Screening Room: In addition to the Buffalo Dreams screenings mentioned above (Nov. 11 to 13), Amherst’s Screening Room screens the still pulse-pounding political thriller The Manchurian Candidate throughout the month. It’s Frank Sinatra’s finest performance, but Angela Lansbury is the actor you’ll truly remember …

(7:30 p.m. on November 4, 5, 9, 11, and 12 at the Screening Room, 3131 Sheridan Dr., Amherst;

Thursday Night Terrors—Phantasm II: Don Coscarelli’s 1988 sequel is a fun, unexpected choice for the great Thursday Night Terrors series. The film’s reputation has certainly grown in recent years.

(7:30 p.m. on November 17 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St.;

Cultivate Cinema Circle—The Player: Robert Altman’s comeback film, The Player might be of the most striking, most acidic drama about Hollywood ever made. Featuring Tim Robbins and a cavalcade of cameos, it’s a wonderful choice for CCC’s Altman-centric season.

(7 p.m. on November 3 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St.;

Nichols High School Movie Night at the North Park: More great selections from the students at Nichols in November: John Huston’s The African Queen on November 7 and Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing on November 14. The latter, especially, is a wonderfully offbeat choice. (Of all Kubrick possibilities, who would’ve predicted The Killing?

(7 p.m. on November 7 and 14 at the North Park Theatre, 1428 Hertel Ave.;

Old Chestnut Film Society—Stella Dallas: Next up in the season’s Barbara Stanwyck series is this 1937 sudser.

(7:30 p.m. on November 18 in the Community Room of the Phillip Sheridan School, 3200 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore;

Fredonia Opera House: Lots of interesting choices at the Fredonia Opera House this month, starting with The Dressmaker, an adaptation of Rosalie Ham’s bestselling novel starring Kate Winslet (7:30 p.m. on Nov. 1). Catch Brazil and Game of Thrones favorite Jonathan Pryce as Shylock in a “Globe on Screen” presentation of The Merchant of Venice on November 5 (1 p.m.). Ron Howard’s hit Beatles documentary Eight Days a Week, a look at the Fab Four’s touring years, screens on November 12 and 15. And the acclaimed yet sadly underseen Queen of Katwe, starring Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo, screens on November 19 and 22 (7:30 p.m.) For the full Opera House rundown, visit

(Fredonia Opera House, 9 Church St., Fredonia;

TIFF16 recap: Good timing, bad escalators, and stunning cinema (November Buffalo Spree)


My annual TIFF recap can be found in the November issue of Buffalo Spree, and the timing isn’t bad, since many of the films mentioned are now playing or opening soon in Buffalo.

When it comes to the film festival experience, timing is everything. The Toronto International Film Festival is no exception. In some years, TIFF’s September time slot is a good thing, since it falls squarely at the start of the fall awards season. However, the festival takes place after the increasingly important fests in Venice and Telluride, and before the prestigious New York Film Festival. That can lead to years like 2014, when a controversial screening policy led to prime slots for a number of high-profile disappointments—The JudgeRosewaterSt. VincentThe Equalizer.

That was then. In 2016 (and last year, for that matter), TIFF was better than ever. The lineup for the eleven-day festival of nearly 300 features included several masterpieces, numerous very good films, and very few all-out disasters. It’s possible—if not likely—that this year’s Oscar winners in the Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress categories all played the festival. (I’m talking about La La Land, Damien Chazelle, Casey Affleck, Natalie Portman, Michael Shannon, and Michelle Williams. And yes, it is ridiculously early to make such predictions.) Some of these premiered elsewhere, but their response at TIFF cemented their status as awards frontrunners.

For all of these films and many, many others, timing is paramount. And whether you are a paying member of the public or an accredited film critic, your overall success rate as a TIFF attendee is seemingly dependent on random chance. Take my first day at TIFF16. Heavy traffic on the QEW meant my longtime festival compatriot Jared Mobarak and I arrived a little after 9 a.m. on the fest’s opening day. That also meant I was too late to see one of my most eagerly awaited selections, Sundance Film Festival hit Manchester by the Sea. I was severely bummed, especially since I was waiting in another line as the 9 a.m. screening attendees exited and I overheard their rapturous talk. Yet three days later came a festival miracle: an added press and industry screening scheduled at 9 p.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s Cinema 5. Unsure about the size of the theater (and nervous about the number of panting press folk likely interested in attending), I arrived more than an hour early and found a short line. I also discovered the theater only had forty-five seats, and by 8:15 the queue was epic. Happily, I got one of those seats and was able to experience director Kenneth Lonergan’s emotionally overwhelming, surprisingly subtle Manchester. (Timing!) The story of a sad sack tasked with serving as his nephew’s guardian after the death of his brother features career-best work from the aforementioned Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams. It’s a legit tear-jerker.

So, yes, good timing for yours truly. This was not the only instance of early arrival guaranteeing me a seat for something special. That was also the case for the press screening of Moonlight, a wondrous coming-of-age drama that follows a young African-American male through three complex stages of his life; the press screening of designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, a stylish Hitchcockian gem starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, and a revelatory Michael Shannon; and for the first public screening of American Honey, an almost indescribably exhilarating teenage road movie from Wuthering Heights director Andrea Arnold.

With a family and day job waiting at home, my TIFF experience is generally short (four days this year), and so my selections are dependent on what the powers that be choose to schedule while I’m in attendance. Therefore, I was unable to catch a few of 2016’s biggest festival hits, including La La Land, the sure-to-be-an-awards-favorite musical from Whiplash director Damien Chazelle that stars the delightful Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. And, of course, a number of biggies that were screening during my four days just couldn’t be wedged into my schedule. (I suppose that’s a mix of  good and bad timing.) But in addition to the films I’ve already mentioned, I was able to see fabulously meandering German comedy Toni Erdmann; Paul Verhoeven’s provocative Elle (starring Isabelle Huppert); the clever and surprisingly witty sci-fi drama Arrival(with Amy Adams); the morally complex Una, featuring Rooney Mara’s best performance yet; and the divisive Personal Shopper, a Kristen Stewart-starring ghost story that I found brilliant.

All in all, I watched twenty-six films in total before or during my tenth TIFF. (Nine of these were prefest screeners; seventeen were screenings during my four days in Toronto.) Twelve of these twenty-six were very, very good. Six were so-so. (Surprisingly, Nate Parker’s Sundance winner The Birth of a Nation falls here; it’s adequate at best, and that’s without even considering the horrific rape allegations rising from Parker’s past.) Six were unexceptional. (One of these was Terrence Malick’s years-in-the-making Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey, a gorgeous bore from a filmmaker whose recent decline is worrisome.) Two were really, really bad. Those numbers are quite strong.

But how’s this for bad timing? One of the stories of the festival (seriously) was the broken escalators at the Scotiabank Theatre Toronto, and, while the bitching was a bit much, it was easy to see why folks were so annoyed. This is one epic set of stairs, and it’s almost comical to ponder the up escalator (and later the down) breaking during the eleven days the world industry descends upon this theater. Couldn’t this have happened, say, twelve days later? Oh well.

At its best, TIFF and any film festival serves as a launching pad for future success, a showcase for bold new art, and a place for cinephiles, critics, and celebs to congregate and share the magic of cinema. All of that happened at the North American premiere of Jackie on September 11. I was able to get a ticket from the press office for that first screening—yep, good timing—and had high expectations. The director, after all, is Pablo Larraín, the prolific Spanish filmmaker responsible for NoThe Club, and another TIFF16 entry, Pablo Neruda biopic Neruda. And starring is Natalie Portman, a spot-on choice looks-wise. Even with my prefilm excitement, my expectations were exceeded. The story of the week following the JFK assassination from the perspective of Jackie Kennedy, Jackie was TIFF16’s finest film. It upends the traditional historical drama with bold storytelling, note-perfect performances, and a smart, probing script.

With films like this one highlighting the lineup, it was odd to read this quote about the 2016 festival, from industry bible Variety: “‘Most of the films were terrible,’ one distribution executive griped. ‘I can’t wait to get home.’” Ha. For me, TIFF16 was a series of masterpieces and a reminder that despite rumors to the contrary, film is not dead. It’s alive and well for eleven days in September and beyond. With JackieMoonlightManchester by the SeaNocturnal Animals, and many other greats set to open in Buffalo shortly, your timing is very, very good.