January provided an indicator of the loss that would be experienced this year. David Bowie, who I saw at Cal Expo for his “Sound+Vision” tour (Rykodisc released a box set and it's excellent!) and had enjoyed watching him as Jareth in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, had passed away. Following just a few short days later was the brilliantly talented English actor Alan Rickman, who embodied so many memorable roles throughout his career but who will always be Colonel Brandon (Sense and Sensibility, 1995) to me. Abe Vigoda, the sarcastic Detective Fish from the 1970s comedy series, Barney Miller, was gone. And, the first of many musical talents that left us started with Glenn Frey, who I saw perform with The Eagles at Wembley Stadium one warm English evening.
The loss continued into February, as I was devastated to hear that the contemporary philosopher and prolific writer, Umberto Eco, would be ruminating no more. North Korea launched a long-range rocket into space, violating treaties and resulting in a collective world pause. In the theaters, Ryan Reynolds donned the red suit and proved that R-rated superhero films, at least the one titled Deadpool,could make bank at the box office. And on the small screen, Saturday Night Live was still going strong with its 800th episode in which Melissa McCarthy and Kanye West were special guests.
She was the First Lady through the 1980s and in March, former actress Nancy Reagan, who founded the campaign “Just Say No” and was the second longest-lived First Lady, passed away. The “Fifth Beatle,” Sir George Martin, made an impressive mark in the music industry, spanning six decades before his passing, and Patty Duke, who I probably remember most vividly as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker (1982), passed as well. The month also marked the demise of the much-loved Agent Carter and probably would have still been going strong, if the series had been on Netflix with its Marvel siblings. And after 15 seasons, the inquisitive duo Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage of Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters hung up their safety goggles. The myths they blew apart, sometimes literally, are indelibly etched in many of our collective memories.
“You’re killing me….April!” Apparently, he turned down the opportunity to direct Dr. No (1962), but I think that Guy Hamilton’s direction on Goldfinger (1964) was a benchmark for all James Bond films to follow. He directed three more Bond films in the early 1970s during Roger Moore’s era. His loss was felt greatly. Interesting to note, for various reasons, Hamilton also turned down Superman: The Movie (1978) and Batman (1989). And, Prince Rogers Nelson, or The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, was a surreal loss. I grew up with his music that seemed to run the gamut – always rock – but seasoned with several other musical styles. Flamboyant and highly sexual, he was mesmerizing. I think Purple Rain is still my favorite Prince album.
Host to Free Comic Book Day, May witnessed the premiere of the highest-grossing film of 2016 via Captain America: Civil War. With an ensemble cast that read like a who’s who, audiences were introduced to the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and a teen-aged Spider-Man (Tom Holland). The film explored internal turmoil amongst the superheroes as they came to terms with Sokovia Accords. The highly anticipated and much talked about television series, Preacher, premiered on AMC and re-imaged, but maintained the spirit of, its source material, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillion’s comic book series, published by Vertigo. And in the world of comics proper, DC Comics launched DC Rebirth with the goal to rejuvenate DC’s universe of superheroes.
June witnessed us, a “global” us, come together when boxer and activist Muhammad Ali died in the opening days of the month. A descendant of slaves and growing up with racial segregation, Ali was directed towards boxing which led him to a career as a professional boxer. Outspoken about the Vietnam War (He resisted the draft.) and an advocate for civil rights, he met Malcolm X and became a member of the Nation of Islam. By the time I learned about Ali, he had retired from boxing and had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome. His passing reminded me if the 2001 Michael Mann film, Ali, starring Will Smith (superb performance, by the way). In the wake of shared grief, our cousins across the pond voted for a referendum to leave the European Union in June, and, suddenly, “Brexit” was a household word. Confusion and feelings of “how could this happen” were on the minds of EU community and around the world.
Also in June, the curse of 27 struck hard and in a most tragic way: Anton Yelchin died in a freak accident at his home in Studio City. He was a courageous actor for stepping up and filling the mantle of Kyle Reese in Terminator Salvation (2009, McG) and Pavel Chekov in rebooted Star Trek franchise beginning in 2009. Twenty years on, Independent Day: Resurgence surged onto the silver screens across the nation. Many of the actors from the original film were back; however, outrage was voiced that Mae Whitman, who played the President’s daughter, was not. And quality shows Penny Dreadful (Showtime) and Person of Interest (CBS) sadly ended their runs.
A NASA spacecraft began orbiting Jupiter in July, and spirits were uplifted as Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Floating Piers,” a huge outdoor art installation at Lake Iseo, Italy, was intriguing and inspiring. Albrecht Durer’s Mary with Infant Jesus was found at a Sarrebourg flea market thought to be lost since World War II! I’m always fascinated by such finds. Star Trek Beyond (Justin Lin) was a solid entry into the franchise, but was bittersweet to see Yelchin so soon after his death. The all-female cast of Ghostbusters (Paul Feig) garnered a lot of controversial chatter and although it brought in a profit, it was considered disappointing. A free mobile app premiered – you might have heard of it? Pokémon Go from Niantic. Nintendo had players getting off their couches and walking to their neighborhood parks, as experienced through a location-based augmented reality. It did attract concerns, especially when players were causing accidents or trespassing into backyards or buildings in an effort to catch ‘em all. In between catching the rattatas and pidgeys, Stranger Things (Netflix) proved that retro-1980s was totally in and wickedly cool, especially Barb (Shannon Purser)!
Beep, beep, whistle….the once bright eye wavered and then went back. In the early days of the original trilogy, Kenny Baker spent long hours inside the body of R2-D2, and the little robot who communicated with beeps and whistles, stole into our hears. I think that Star Wars was one of the very first films whose visual effects were so radically beyond anything else being seen at the time, so its impact was huge on my imagination and interest in science-fiction. Also passing was Gene Wilder. He had so many memorable roles over the years, but I think I’ll always come back to the 1974 classic, Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks), although Silver Streak (1976, Arthur Hiller) is a close second.
In September, two Vincent Van Gogh paintings stolen in 2002 were recovered, while another Marvel vehicle premiered on Netflix, Luke Cage, who was introduced on Jessica Jones. Over on Fox, Son of Zorn premiered. The show about a warrior based on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, showed cleverness for blending animation and live action together into a witty show. In sports, golfer legend Arnold Palmer passed away.
Director of the war trilogy, A Generation, Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds, Andrzej Wajda died. Not a well-known person here in the States, but I was introduced to his films through a Criterion box set. His films are tense-ridden and deeply moving - well worth the watch. Starring in The Crow (1994, Alex Proyas) and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012, Marc Webb), actor Michael Massee had the regrettable misfortune of accidentally shooting Brandon Lee. I cannot fathom the weight of that event he carried with him the rest of his life. Also leaving us way too soon was artist Steve Dillon. Although I have read criticism about his characters looking alike, I have to retort with, “Have you read Preacher?!” Dillon also worked on another favorite of mine, Judge Dredd.
A blast from the past came in the form of Westworld, a ten-episode series that aired on HBO. I’m still waiting for someone to reboot, remake, or serialize the 1973 Richard Fleischer film, Soylent Green! Bob Dylan was honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the 75 years young DC Comics’ Wonder Woman was named a UN Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. And midway during the month, the 600th episode of The Simpsons (Fox) aired – I feel so old!
After months of political posturing, voters cast their ballots, and Donald Trump became the President-elect and will become our 45th President on January 20, 2017. "I’m Your Man" singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen passed away, as did former Attorney General Janet Reno who had been nominated by President Clinton in 1993. She also had the distinction of being the first women to serve in that position. Robert Vaughn passed away, best known for his role as Napoleon Solo in television series, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I’ll always remember him as Lee in The Magnificent Seven (1960, John Sturges) and hard-ass Walter Chalmers in Bullitt (1968, Peter Yates). American television mom Carol Brady played by Florence Henderson left us on Thanksgiving Day, and one day later, so did Fidel Castro, former President of Cuba. And Barney Miller alum Ron Glass passed, who embodied the spiritualist Shepherd Derrial Book in the all-too-short series, Firefly, and the film, Serenity (2005, Joss Whedon).
The silver lining to the month was Doctor Strange. With the distinction of being the tenth-highest-grossing film of the year, Benedict Cumberbatch showed audiences that he could easily move from Sherlock to superhero and look fantastic in a red, high-collared cape. And, the retro trend continued with the NES Classic Edition with 30 games built into the console. In Nintendo fashion, supply woefully fell below demand and yes, I’m still waiting to buy one!
Has it been a year, already? What happened? In researching for this piece, I just discovered today that a petition succeeded in stripping Wonder Woman of her UN honor about two weeks ago...And Death. Death was busy this month: aviator/astronaut John Glenn, musician Greg Lake from Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, television star Alan Thicke, British actors Peter Vaughan (The Remains of the Day, Game of Thrones) and Bernard Fox (The Mummy, Bewitched), actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, and writer Richard Adams, who wrote the classic (and very sad) novel, Watership Down. This week, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds were gone in the short span of a day. George Michael too. These are individuals I grew up watching. They touched my life; they inspired me in some way – they benchmark my growth into adulthood.
I saw a meme today on Facebook of a silhouetted person giving the “6” from 2016 the boot. Looking through the cultural lens, then yes, by all means, let’s move on. But, if we take one lesson from the year’s events, it is to cherish our loved ones and to not put off to another day letting them how much they mean to us.
Before we turn our backs on 2016, please check out the following retrospectives that target specific aspects of the year:
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
What We Learned This Year from Stranger Things
Reconning the '80s