I walked into Arrival with a purposely blank slate. I had only seen the trailer for the film once, and I avoided reading reviews of the film as much as possible. As with other films that have stunned and amazed me (i.e. Mad Max: Fury Road), this proved to be the ideal approach given the viewing experience that ensued when I saw Arrival for the very first time.
I watched this film at an upscale AMC theater in Leawood, Kansas (mere blocks away from the AMC national headquarters building). I specifically chose to see Arrival in the Dolby Cinema format. The partnership between AMC and Dolby Cinema has been rolling out around the country, and it provides a truly transcendent cinema experience unlike anything I have ever witnessed. Dolby Cinema combines Dolby Vision projection with Dolby Atmos audio to create a combination of image and sound that rivals any of the best formats offered throughout the country (Marcus’ Ultrascreen and IMAX are the two other formats that come to mind). Arrival is the best type of film to see in this new and exciting Dolby format. A film with breathtaking visuals and a thunderous, pulsing score, this was one of the best viewing experiences in my admittedly young filmgoing life.
A specific scene, wholly aided by the Dolby Cinema format, is when the viewer essentially makes “first contact” along with Amy Adams’ character in the film. I stopped breathing, my mouth was agape, and I was gripping the armrests of my seat. As I leaned forward slightly, I quickly glanced to my right and left. Every single viewer in my row was doing the exact same thing as me. Arrival is one of the very best films of this year, one of the best sci-fi films of the 2000’s, and Dolby Cinema was a fascinating way to make “first contact.”
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Traffic was worse than I anticipated, the lines at the ticket kiosk were long, and it was raining outside. I immediately thought about ditching this Hunt for the Wilderpeople showtime at the theater in favor of two other films I had wanted to see…but something told me “no.” I stayed in line, tapping my foot. I got to the kiosk, raced through various payment screens to get my ticket. I ran to my theater and sat down in the aisle seat of a surprisingly packed showing (how did anyone else know about this movie?!). I was damp from the rain and my own sweat and I was in a somewhat foul mood. However, everything that had led up to this viewing experience melted away once this enchanting film began.
There was nothing special about the way this film was presented. However, I was astonished that what made this film such an engrossing cinema treat for me was the audience. If you know me at all, you know that I generally loathe audiences. The coughing, talking, munching, and glaring of cell phone screens drives me nuts. If I had a choice I would almost always prefer to see films in an empty theater like a lonely, old millionaire who built a giant theater in his mansion just because he could. Alas, I am not a millionaire nor an old man…so I view films with everyone else.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is, at it’s core, a laugh riot. Taika Waititi, who also directed and stars in What We do in the Shadows, knows how to craft hilarity better than most current comedic filmmakers. As such, Wilderpeople is a treasure-trove of gut-busting references to haiku poetry, terrible funeral sermons, and Lord of the Rings (among MANY other pop-culture touch-points). The audience that I was honored to view this film with responded in-kind. They laughed with uproar at all the right times and they sighed with sadness when the film evoked such a response. One man, sitting behind me, sticks out in my memory. His deep, belly laughter at each joke was delightful, and he had the audience right alongside him each time. When I go to see a movie, I truly wish I could call these folks up to watch with me. Thanks Hunt for the Wilderpeople audience from last spring. You were GREAT!
One of my favorite movie experiences from 2016 was when I saw Moana for a second time. I saw it with my entire immediate family which automatically made it a better experience. Besides that though, I appreciated so much more of the movie the second time. The animation was so much more impressive and the songs were more inspirational. But, the most impressive thing about my second viewing was that the crowd, which was mostly children, was super well-behaved. There was basically no talking during the entire movie. Also, at the end of the movie one child said, “That was really good!” Those children were better behaved than some adult moviegoers.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
My second best movie experience came when I saw Rogue One for the second time. We saw it in IMAX and it was amazing. The first great thing we saw was a preview of the upcoming movie Dunkirk. This preview was incredible. It took up the entire IMAX screen and made me feel like I was within the clip it was depicting. The Rogue One experience was no less intense. Every scene was elevated. The battle scenes were so much more intense, But the best part of the entire experience was right at the end. This also happened after The Force Awakens. There was thunderous applause. This is the only franchise that I have ever experienced to always receive applause at the end. This sets Star Wars aside as a universally loved franchise that I am proud to support.
I don’t think my heart has ever raced as fast as that night when I was driving away from the theater. I had just seen the horror/thriller Don’t Breathe and was just recovering from the experience. It began when I decided to go to a late show of the film and found myself as the only one in the theater when the movie began. From the very beginning, I sensed that Don’t Breathe was going to be a “no-holds-barred adrenaline-fueled thrill-ride” and I was not disappointed.
Watching Don’t Breathe alone in the large, dark theater was one of the most thrilling movie experiences in my entire life. It’s been said before, but the title is not a mistake. I actually had to take a deep breath at the end of the film because for much of the film I literally was not breathing. The film was brilliantly constructed, wonderfully acted and it was one hell of a ride. Miles away from the theater, my heart was still trying to calm itself down and even months away from that experience, I can still feel the thrill of that night.
It was election day. I got up, voted, went to the gym and then headed for the Twin Cities to see Moonlight. I walked into the Uptown Theatre in Minneapolis and was immediately impressed by the ornate decorations, the fact I could get a beer and just how beautiful the theater was. But then the film started and none of that mattered anymore as I was completely sucked into the experience. My surroundings completely melted away as the beginning music started and I knew I was about to embark on a uniquely remarkable journey.
Seeing Moonlight on that day was a transcendent experience. Not only was the film incredible, it was one of the most emotional experiences I have ever had at the cinema. As the credits began to roll, my eyes sufficiently full of tears and my heart so full of emotion, the spell finally subsided as I came out of the experience. The theater around me emerged out of the darkness. As I finally looked around as the credits continued, while others were leaving, myself and a man a couple of seats down from me sat, seemingly unable to move. The man, probably in his early 30s, was attempting to recollect himself as he wiped the tears from his eyes. He looked over at me, and I at him, and we nodded at each other in recognition of the experience we had just shared. It was a wonderful, simple human connection.
As I drove home that night, the sun setting behind me and one of the most beautifully pink skies ahead of me, I listened to the score and dwelled on the film and the experience. It was peaceful and it was perfect. And the enormous amount of peace, happiness and raw emotion I felt that day made what was to come that night even more difficult. It was a wonderful moment of tranquility before the inferno of craziness that came with the election that night.