Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 – The Highlights (EHeroFlareNeos)

Whatever your opinion may be on how 2016 turned out, let’s now take this time to reflect back on the entertainment we received during the year. This year, we were able to watch a lot more movies and play more games, so this list is now longer as a result. As usual, we are limited by what we actually watched and played, as we do everything on our own time and dime, and the list is in no particular order.

Top Movies of 2016



This R-rated Ryan Reynolds passion project came out at exactly the right time and proved that it could stand out in an era of big blockbuster superhero movies. Deadpool is a laugh riot as it mocks modern superhero conventions and regularly breaks the fourth wall with perfect comedic timing. It’s sort of an antithesis to other films in the genre, as the story is more personal and the final fight does not resort to leveling an entire city, but rather stays entirely within a confined space. I highly recommend it to absolutely anyone, though it must be stressed that Deadpool is absolutely not for children.



Zootopia has a production history as fascinating as the unique world that it takes place in. For a PG-rated movie, it manages to tackle the mature subject of racism in a universal way without talking down to the audience and features a cast of flawed and expertly written characters. Various small details such as the realistic way the animals move help to sell the setting and immerse the viewer. Combine this with smart humor and incredible voice acting and you have a movie that shouldn’t be missed.



Where Cloverfield was a mockable attempt at a found footage film, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a masterwork of a psychological thriller. The consistently ambiguous nature of the events does a fantastic job of keeping you guessing about the true nature of everything until the very end. While its connection to the original Cloverfield seems vague at best, the very gripping and multilayered narrative will leave you trying to process what you just saw in the days following your initial viewing.



Comedic duo Key and Peele’s first venture into feature-length film has no shortage of laughs as it follows two average joes in their quest to enter the criminal underworld to steal back a kitten. The humor is mainly found in the many contrasts that occur along the way, all of which make the movie fun to watch more than once. Come for the cute kitten, stay for the laughs.



Laika Studios proves once again that they are the modern masters of stop motion. Kubo and the Two Strings presents an original story set in ancient japan which pushes the envelope as far as it possibly can in terms of what’s possible with the medium. Apart from the top-notch animation and voice acting, the story knows how to immerse the viewer and deliver in terms of narrative and emotional payoff.



I wasn’t sure at first how to feel about Rogue One, but the end result turned out better than I had expected. Rogue One is a true Star Wars prequel, with an engaging story and likeable characters, plus the ending neatly plugs directly into the original Star Wars. As a bonus, watching Rogue One and Star Wars back-to-back only enhances the latter.



Although Yo-kai Watch: The Movie does not have the same pedigree as most of the other movies on this list, I was able to feel a great sense of fun watching it. Its story adapts Yo-kai Watch 2 in a way that is very film friendly, the animation is pretty high quality and the humor is enough that it doesn’t try too hard or overstay its welcome. While perfectly enjoyable in its own right, it also makes for a good family movie and is one of the very few video game movies that actually succeeds at being a good movie.

Top Video Games of 2016

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End


Naughty Dog proves once again that they are masters at storytelling in video games. The story focuses on Nathan Drake, but this time showing him as torn between settling down and having a family or indulging in his lust for adventure, as well as the consequences which follow his decisions, leading to a satisfying conclusion to the franchise. There is also a much better mix of gunfights and platforming than in previous games, aided in part by the introduction of the grappling hook, which helps to pace the game better, and the controls were the smoothest yet. If you didn’t have a reason to get a PS4 before, Uncharted 4 is a pretty good one.

Doom (2016)


Although this was my first proper exposure to the Doom franchise, I felt this latest entry was exactly what the FPS genre needed. The old school maze-like level design and fast-paced gunplay emphasizing environmental awareness felt like a breath of fresh air and I enjoyed every second of it. Doom (2016) demonstrates that sometimes going back to your roots is the best way to stand out from the competition.

Gears of War 4


This latest entry in the Gears of War series retains much of the familiar elements that fans have come to love and expect, but also adds just enough to keep the gameplay interesting. Thanks to placing more of an emphasis on the environmental awareness, players will now have to be aware of a new enemy type, Juvies, possibly erupting out of organic cover spots, as well as keep track of enemies which can quickly jump around the battlefield. There is also the occasional storm that can throw off trajectories and force you to dodge lightning to get to the next objective. The new gameplay challenges, combined with a fairly well-written “passing the torch” story, mark this game as one of the few reasons to actually own an Xbox One.

Killer Instinct: Definitive Edition


Another solid reason to actually own an Xbox One is to play the Definitive Edition of Killer Instinct (2013). The combo-based fighting system forces the player to think about the most effective combo strings (if they’re not playing with an assist function), the fighters all feel different from each other and can suit any playstyle and the music, especially Celldweller and Atlas Plug’s collaborative contributions in Season 3, is fantastic. The ability to also have all characters and other DLC on-disc in one package for a pretty good price also made it pretty enticing. Plus, unlike Street Fighter V, it’s actually a complete game.

Yo-kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits


Although Yo-kai Watch has been compared to Pok√©mon in the west, the concept of monster capture is truly where those similarities end. Yo-kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits has the player traveling around Springdale befriending spirits called Yo-kai responsible for all of life’s problems, both big and small, while also preventing the evil Dame Dedtime from erasing the Yo-kai Watch from history, thus preventing humans and Yo-kai from ever becoming friends. The story is engaging and the gameplay is well-designed, as it encourages the player to strategize and create the right Yo-kai team with the right mixture of special abilities while the active battle system keeps them on their toes. A number of real-world touches to the open world, as well as giving each Yo-kai a unique and distinguishable personality, add to the game’s charm and help make it a worthwhile 3DS experience.

Top Disappointments of 2016



The second installment in DC’s cinematic Extended Universe, following a three-year gap after Man of Steel, does very little to raise the bar from its predecessor. It’s overly dark and plodding narrative feels more like filler leading up to the showdown promised in the title, only to have the actual fight remain one-sided throughout the entire five minutes in which it occurs. On top of that, DC and Warner Bros. lazily inserted teases for their other films, which come off as complete non-sequiturs. It’s amazing how one can go in expecting nothing and still feel disappointed.



The latest installment in the DCEU is better than both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, but that’s not really saying much. What could have easily been a light-hearted antidote to the preceding movie is, in reality, an overstuffed movie that was hastily re-edited in a rather obvious way in an attempt for Warner Bros. to save face. Too much plot and not enough character (except for Harley Quinn and Deadshot) and story logic, as well as a botched interpretation of the Joker, make for one of the bigger disappointments of the year.



Though I knew next to nothing about the Warcraft games, I went in solely to see what director Duncan Jones, son of the late David Bowie, was capable of. Unfortunately, this movie was made exclusively for Warcraft fans by a Warcraft fan. The plot is somewhat easy to follow at first, but gets lost somewhere in its own lore and character names are nearly indistinguishable unless you’re already familiar with the property. It’s difficult to recommend to a general fantasy-loving audience, but if you’re already a Warcraft fan, you’ll no doubt love it.

Ice Age: Collision Course


Not that I really expected too much out of an Ice Age sequel, I had even skipped Continental Drift, but this installment is proof enough that the franchise just needs to die already. The basic premise alone is far-fetched, but then it tries to balance too many characters at once and makes Shrek-esque references to modern trends and technology while making the animals act even more human-like than they ever did before. It should also say something if not even the usually humorous Scrat segments could save this disaster.



Not that I expected high quality from this movie to begin with, but I initially thought it might at least be decent. Unfortunately, the humor willingly appeals to the lowest common denominator and the plot is literally Toy Story with Pets, not to mention there are some darker elements that the trailers made no effort to show, perhaps in favor of repeatedly drilling Bounce by System of a Down into the viewer’s brain. It seems that so far that Illumination still has yet to even match their first success, Despicable Me, in terms of quality.

Street Fighter V


As a fan of the Street Fighter series, I was relieved that Capcom finally made a proper fifth entry after the slew of Street Fighter IV versions that weren’t supposed to exist. Unfortunately, the game was obviously made to appeal more strongly to the tournament crowd, as a complete lack of a proper story mode until a few months later, as well as the absence of a proper Arcade mode, a rather small launch roster and a broken Fight Money system, cement this game as hard to recommend except to the most die-hard fans. Either wait for the inevitable [Prefix] Street Fighter V with all of the DLC on it or just get Mortal Kombat XL or Killer Instinct: Definitive Edition instead.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan


As both a fan of Platinum games and more recently the TMNT franchise, both felt like a natural fit for a satisfying action game. Unfortunately, while the graphics and voice acting are solid, the gameplay left something to be desired, with a rather short campaign and a difficulty which pales in comparison to previous Platinum projects like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. It wasn’t a bad game by any stretch, but it lands on this list purely for a lack of substance.

Dead Rising 4


Since I had played all of the other Dead Rising games and generally liked them, mostly the first two and Off the Record, I readily played the holiday themed fourth instalment when I got it for Christmas. The combo weapons and vehicles are fun to use, and it’s fun to mow down zombies without feeling rushed by a strict timer, but the whole experience reaches its conclusion much faster than the other games and there was a relative lack of difficulty, as leveling up takes less effort than before. Ultimately, it goes on this list because unlike the other games, I felt less motivated to max out Frank’s stats in the post-game due to an unexplainable feeling that something’s missing.

2016 - The Highlights (Tetris_King)

This year turned out to be a bigger year than in the last few years for me for both games and movies, though mostly movies, as there were more that I happened to be interested in seeing. As such, the following list is much longer than in previous years, to the point where I liked so many movies I split the ones I liked the most between live-action and animation. That aside, the way in which the list is presented is as normal, in that it is a collection of my favorites and disappointments of the movies and games I watched/played this year, presented in no particular order and with review links where applicable.

Top Live-Action Movies of 2016



To put it simply, Deadpool is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, and its timing was perfect as it takes jabs at the recent trends in superhero movies, primarily the type of movies seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Note: As a 20th Century Fox movie, Deadpool takes place in Fox’s X-Men universe, which gets a number of shout-outs). What sets this movie apart and makes it seem fresh is that it was a smaller movie, leading it to be a scaled-down, more personal story, plus it stays extremely faithful to the source material in terms of character traits and personalities while also giving it its own identity separate from the comics. The jokes in the movie also manage to stay funny upon multiple viewings, though to prevent it from losing its humor value, it is recommended that one savor the experience like a fine wine.



As a sequel to the 2008 movie Cloverfield, I wasn’t sure what to expect since the trailers made it appear like a movie that had nothing to do with the first. What I did get out of it is a very intense psychological thriller fueled by the superb acting ability of John Goodman, which left me thinking about it for at least a week after initial viewing as I tried to grasp the nuances of the narrative. The ending promises a third Cloverfield movie, though unlike the original, this movie actually made me want to see more.



As a prequel to the original Star Wars movie (retroactively labeled A New Hope), Rogue One achieves what the so-called Prequel Trilogy could not do entirely well and actually tell a meaningful story that ties directly to the events of the Original Trilogy. The new characters introduced in this movie are given just enough of a personality and history for the viewer to become invested in them, and the plot of obtaining the Death Star plans ultimately creates a very nicely-executed transition point to the original Star Wars that makes the two movies prime material for a double feature.



Though I had not watched the Comedy Central series Key and Peele before seeing this movie, I thought the two actors were really funny in Keanu, where they play cousins Clarence and Rel, who end up having to pretend to be gangsters while attempting to recover a kitten that happened to previously belong to a drug lord. If, like me, the adorable kitten Keanu attracted you to watch this movie, you should stay for the laughs.

Top Animated Movies of 2016



When I first heard about this movie, I became intrigued by its premise and wanted to see what Disney could do with it. As it turns out, I found myself becoming very invested in its two main characters, Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps, as well as what I saw as infinite potential for storytelling with its setting and premise. The movie notably deals with racism in its plot, however this movie was better at addressing the subject since it did not base itself on any real-world events and the usage of anthropomorphic animals (with the racism angle being between “predator” and “prey”) helped the message it was sending be more universal without feeling forced. The movie's tie-in material helps to expand on the unique setting of the movie, and is something I really wish to see more of in the future.



As a fan of the Ratchet & Clank series, I was really looking forward to this movie when it was first announced. I found this movie to have delivered a solid Ratchet & Clank story, re-imagining the basic events of the original game with some interesting twists and a good amount of well-executed humor. The only problem I had with this movie was the fact that I ended up watching it in a mostly empty theater upon release, since I found this to be a good introduction to the world of Ratchet & Clank and a great animated movie in general. Hopefully it sees success through the home video market.



In terms of animation, this is Laika’s best effort to date, with many effects that will leave you wondering how they managed to pull it all off in stop motion. In terms of story, it is one that is very well-written and can actually get rather emotional at certain points. A must-see for fans of stop motion and of animation in general.

Top Games of 2016



In relation to the movie mentioned above, this PS4 re-imagining of the original game takes Ratchet and Clank’s origin story in an interesting new direction, both in terms of plot and gameplay. The game takes the basic mechanics introduced in the original game and combines them with all the best parts of more recent games, plus it has added replay value with the introduction of card collecting. Overall, I found this game to be far superior to the original and any prospective fan can use this game as a good jumping-on point.

Skylanders: Imaginators


In this year’s installment of the annual Skylanders game series, the ability to pilot Vehicles in SuperChargers is followed up with the highly-requested ability to create your very own Skylanders, known as Imaginators, achieved via special Creation Crystals. While this sounds really amazing, my only hesitation with actually creating a Skylander in the game is the fact that, while you have to select 1 of 10 Battle Classes before creating an Imaginator, the choice of Battle Class is applied permanently and cannot be undone without somehow resetting the Crystal (thankfully, the internet has found workarounds that don’t require buying a whole other Crystal). That aside, the game is a great improvement over previous entries, with a huge world to explore and a great deal of replay value in the collectible Imaginator Parts and Chests, in addition to the amount of customization options presented in creating Imaginators. The creation option is, at the time of this writing, also available as its own app, Skylanders Creator, allowing you to experiment freely with the customization options available and also purchase 3-D printed figures, trading cards, and T-shirts displaying your custom Imaginator. Hopefully the future of Skylanders shines bright.

Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition


Admittedly, what got me curious about this game was the art direction, as well as the praise that it had gotten. Sometime after its initial release, I heard about a physical edition, released as the Definitive Edition, and so waited until then (partially so I could have an excuse to use my Xbox One). While this was one of a handful of Metroidvania titles that I ended up playing this year, I found the gameplay to be interesting, though I learned the hard way that certain abilities were required in certain sections of the world, and I was well invested in the story until the end. From my understanding, the Definitive Edition includes some additional features to the base game that make it easier to play through, although the original release is also included with the Definitive Edition for those that are curious (plus it comes with a physical CD of the soundtrack).

Yo-kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls


I became a fan of Yo-kai Watch, about spirits that affect people’s lives by inspiriting them, through the anime airing on Disney XD (at the time of this writing), and so became somewhat interested in the game. Though I have not completed the main story at the time of this writing (I have gone through a good majority of it), I was able to get into it since I had previously seen Yo-kai Watch: The Movie, for which this game and its counterpart, Bony Spirits, are the source material. That aside, the game has an interesting combat system, involving a party of 6 Yo-kai split between front and back rows, and the Yo-kai themselves are fairly memorable due to each one having their own personality.

Top Disappointments of 2016



This movie is what you get when you hype up a sequel to Man of Steel and take too long to get it off the ground. The pacing was extremely slow to the point where I was constantly checking my watch every 10 minutes, plus it was difficult to follow along with what was happening since it seemed like the plots of 2 or 3 other movies were crammed into one in an attempt to establish the idea of the DC Extended Universe. Incidentally, the actual fight that was hyped up all this time only lasts for 10 minutes within the last 30 minutes of the movie and with absolutely no payoff, making me feel like I had essentially wasted my time. There are hints of what’s to come in the DC Extended Universe, which I want to all be better than this movie.



While certainly an improvement over Batman v Superman, it’s really not saying that much in the grand scheme of things. This movie felt as though DC and Warner Brothers were trying to copy the successful Guardians of the Galaxy, by developing a more ragtag group of characters to the tune of older music against a theoretically more light-hearted story, and falling short of that endeavor. Whereas Guardians succeeded in developing all five of its main characters enough to where you understood who those characters were, Suicide Squad only really focused on Harley Quinn and Deadshot most of the time, plus the editing of the movie makes its events really hard to follow (not to mention scenes involving the Joker don’t really have much of a payoff). My only hope is that the first 3 installments of the DC Extended Universe so far, including this one, do not set a permanent precedent of the rest of the franchise.



Unlike Ratchet & Clank, I came into this movie as a non-fan hoping the story would be able to stand on its own, and also because it was directed by Duncan Jones (son of the late David Bowie), and I left rather disappointed. While I can agree that it looks accurate to the games (from what I have seen of them), the plot requires you to have prior knowledge of Warcraft lore to able to follow along, plus I found myself getting lost with all the unusual character names (some of which get somewhat obscured by prop Orc teeth) as well as the Orcs generally looking rather similar to each other. In short, if you are looking for a good introduction to Warcraft lore that doesn’t just drop you in the middle of everything, look elsewhere.

Ice Age: Collision Course


If you ever needed evidence that the Ice Age franchise has been running for too long, this movie would be it. I will admit I felt a little confused by a sudden increase in characters because I managed to skip the fourth installment, Continental Drift, however even with that, I could not get into the inherent wackiness of this particular movie, partially because of its odd pacing and the out-of-place references to modern times, as though there wasn’t much thought put into delivering a good story (not to mention the weird focus on jokes involving male nipples). The only reason to watch this movie is for Scrat, and even then, it still had me wishing the plot-important meteor would actually hit the Earth and finally end the Ice Age.



Since animation studio Illumination made the great Despicable Me, the original movie so far being the best the franchise, I wanted to like this movie despite what the trailers had shown (not to mention their overuse of “Bounce” by System of a Down). Rather disappointingly, all of the potentially good moments in the movie were in said trailers, and my enthusiasm for those moments waned due to overuse in advertising, plus the story is essentially a rehash of Toy Story, except with animals in place of children’s toys (Toy Story also did it better). Not seen in the trailers, the movie also gets surprisingly dark at times, which justifies (and possibly stretches) the PG rating. I want success for the studio’s upcoming Despicable Me 3, though I’m also a bit on the fence about watching Sing after having seen Pets.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan


As a recent convert to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles via the IDW Publishing comic, it was really nice to see how well TMNT artist Mateus Santalouco’s art style was able to translate to 3D, and combined with the writing and voice acting felt like seeing the comic come to life. While the gameplay itself was actually pretty interesting, including the ability to switch between the four turtles at will, the main thing that makes this a disappointment is that, compared to the prior Platinum game Transformers: Devastation, this game felt like it was a bit short on the story side and it didn’t feel like it had much replay value outside the main story and the ability to collect comic book covers. For what it is though, the ride is fun while it lasts.

Honorable Mentions

Seasons after Fall


As with Ori and the Blind Forest, this is a game where the main draw for me was the art direction, as well as, in this case, the core gameplay mechanic of being able to control the four Seasons to solve puzzles. Not only did this game deliver on both fronts, it also presented a rather interesting mythos involving the way the Seasons work in-universe. Though it did get a little difficult at times, mainly in finding whatever was required for 100% story completion, I still had a good time playing this game.

Stories: The Path of Destinies



Another game where I was attracted to the art direction, what I got was a hack-and-slash containing elements of a choose-your-own adventure book, where you have to play through the game enough times to figure out the Truths within the narrative and be able to get the best ending. The gameplay does admittedly get a bit repetitive after a while, however it is worth exploring each level as much as you can, plus I got very invested in the story and wanted to see how it would all actually play out. For those like me that prefer physical media, it has been released as a physical game disc for PC by way of a partnership between Indiebox and GameTrust, GameStop’s new game publishing arm.

2016 - The Highlights (lionsroar)

Films watched for the first time and reviewed in 2016

Note: Since Trophy Unlocked has to pay for most of the movies we see in the theaters and for most of the films we watch at home, we don’t have the scope of a newspaper reviewer. We don’t see everything that’s out, so our ratings of films are based on what we decide to spend our money on.

Best Films of the year:

In no particular order:



Okay, so any Beatles film released this year would probably make my list, let's just get that out of the way. There was certainly a lot of hype surrounding the film and the involvement of Ron Howard as the director when it received its brief theatrical release. Not sure what, if anything, Howard really added to the project besides his name appeal. The film concentrates on the U.S. tours, which is somewhat well-trodden ground. A lot of the footage has been seen before, but hell, it’s The Beatles, what more do you need?

In a year with a lot of great animated films, Zootopia is one of the best. Not a sequel, which sets it apart from Finding Dory, the film doesn’t talk down to kids, its intended audience, which allows adults to enjoy it as well. I could have done without the Shakira-based character, which seems a little tacked on. Good, but I’m not sure if it has the timeless quality of the best Disney classics.




It’s not often that the sequel is so much better that the original, but then again, 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t really a sequel in the strictest definition, to Cloverfield (2008). While that film is so poorly acted, 10 Cloverfield Lane is more of an acting tour de force, featuring a cast with John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the former who seems to be in every movie and the latter who doesn’t make enough movies for my money. While I have no desire to follow the surviving protagonists from Cloverfield, I really want to see what happens to Michelle.



It seems like every year for the past five or six, there are more and more comic book-based Superhero films. The Marvel ones especially seem to be somewhat cookie-cutter and the DC ones seem to fall flat. That’s one of the appeals of Deadpool, it seems to break the mold and present its hero in a different way. A sarcastic smart-ass, Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool is one of the most fun and certainly the most adult, super-hero film to hit the silver screen.



Kubo and the Two Strings

Laika has been an amazing animations studio with each film getting better than the one before it, culminating in Kubo and the Two Strings, which, along with Zootopia, ranks as one of the better-animated films of 2016. This may be the most accessible Laika film to date. It contains all the elements that make Laika films unique to come down the pike in a number of years.

Disappointments of the Year:
In no particular order:
Hail, Caesar!

You expect better from the Coen Brothers. This film tries, but sadly fails to capture Hollywood in the 1950s. While there is a breakthrough performance by Aiden Ehrenreich, it is not enough to save the film. The most disappointing of all the missteps is a musical number featuring Channing Tatum that would never have even seen the light of day during the Production Code era. Call it comedy or parody, the filmmakers had to know there are other ways to make fun of musicals other than stooping to a sophomoric homoerotic dance number. A lot of context, but little text to Hail, Caesar!





Having never played a second of the video game, I can honestly say this movie did nothing for me. Fans of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) may love it, but it does not have much appeal to a wider audience. A gamer film strictly for gamers.




I could have chosen this or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice for this post, as both are disappointments from Warner Bros. and DC comics. While making money is the goal for any film studio and both of the DC films have made money, making good films puts them back in the seats the next time. Look at Paramount’s disappointing returns from their TMNT film Out of the Shadows. While this may have been a better film than its prequel, audiences stayed away mostly because the first one wasn’t that good. This is a painful lesson that Warner Bros. needs to learn as well. Audiences won’t keep coming back if the product doesn’t get better.



Anomalisa

Sometimes being different is good, sometimes it is just different. While obviously, a lot of work went into this film, it tried a little too hard to be different rather than great. You can applaud the idea behind it, but the film never quite gets you there. Stop action is one of the hardest genres to work in, but this film never lets you forget that it is stop action. A late entry for 2015, Anomalisa tackles adult situations using a type of animation normally reserved for children’s fare. But while the best Laika films get you past the media, Anomalisa never lets you forget you’re watching stop action to its own detriment.



The Secret Life of Pets

Another example of where the film is not as good as its box office would suggest. This is basically Toy Story with pets, but it goes dark, much darker than the trailers would have led audiences to believe. The film lacks Toy Story's magic and while visually it looks good, looks aren't everything. Pet owners as slave owners and murder as an initiation are not really good story elements for what was billed as family fare.

Stubs - Good Ol' Freda


Good Ol’ Freda (2013) Starring Freda Kelly. Director: Ryan White. Written by Jessica Lawson, Ryan White.Produced by Kathy McCabe Ryan White, Jessica Lawson. Run Time: 86 minutes. United Kingdom/USA Documentary

Loyalty thy name is Freda Kelly. As the personal secretary to Brian Epstein and as the head of the Beatles fan club, Freda knows a lot of dirt about the Fab Four, but she is not one to spill it. Rather, one of the few close associates not to have written a book, Freda gives away no real secrets in this crowd-funded documentary.

The title is taken from the 1963 fan club Christmas recording The Beatles recorded annually. Over the years, these recordings became more elaborate, but on the first one, they were much more casual and low key with the group sitting around a microphone speaking off-the-cuff and singing traditional carols like "Good King Wenceslas" and not so traditional ones like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Ringo." When it was George’s turn to speak, he wanted to thank the Beatles Fan Club and Freda Kelly in particular, to which the other three yell “Good Ol’ Freda!”

A native of Dublin Ireland, Freda moved to Liverpool with her family in the early 1960s. After quitting school at the age of 16, Freda worked as a typist in a corporate typing pool. One lunch, two men took her to the Cavern Club, where she heard The Beatles, then a local band, play for the first time. She became a fan and continued to make the lunchtime trek to the Cavern, where she admits to having seen the group play nearly 200 times.

The Beatles were still in leather jackets and still had
 Pete Best as their drummer when  Freda first saw them play.

Due to the casualness of the environs, Kelly was able to get to know the band on a friendly basis, even spending time in the band’s room at the club along with other fans. On occasion, members of the band might give her a ride home, much to her father’s displeasure. He didn’t like the scruffy looks of the band, then still attired in leather jackets. Kelly got involved early in the group’s fan club, taking over running it when its founder lost interest.

At these lunchtime concerts, she also made the acquaintance of Brian Epstein, the son of the owner of the NEMS department store and a fellow fan of the band. Seeing their potential, Epstein would sign the band to manage and hired Kelly to be his secretary but never quit running the Fan Club.

With the group’s growing popularity, Kelly put some organization to the Club, even using her own home address as the club’s. Letters began to flow in, quickly becoming sacks of mail, which Freda attempted to not only answer but fan’s requests come true. As an example, she once had Ringo sleep on a pillowcase sent in by a fan.

Freda with Ringo.

Not only was she close to the band members, she also became close to their families, becoming like a daughter to Ringo’s mother, Elsie Starkey. So close in fact that when there was a reception at Liverpool City Hall for the band, the Starkeys had her invited as if she was one of their own. Angie McCartney, Paul’s stepmother, also appears in the film, speaking highly of Freda.

Freda also began to write a column in The Beatles Monthly, a fan magazine, a publication that would outlast the group by a couple of years, before it was decided to shut down the fan club in 1972 when Freda left on her own to spend more time with her husband and children.
While some of what she wrote in her Beatles Monthly column was gossip, Freda is very mum about the boys’ personal lives and, as an example, if she ever dated one of them in the early days. This is not a tell-all documentary.

Freda with Paul. There were once false rumors that they had wed.

The focus is squarely on Freda, who since leaving the Beatles’ employ has continued to work as a secretary, never talking openly about her previous position. She only agreed to the documentary after the birth of her grandson, wanting him to know that Grandma once did something extraordinary. There are interviews in her home as well as field trips to some of the famous locations around Liverpool where the Beatles performed or were honored.

As far as time-frame is concerned, like most Beatles documentaries, the emphasis is on the early days. Freda recounts how the members of the band would frequently come into Epstein’s offices at NEMS and how she would get them to sign autographs on the spot or backstage at shows.

When Epstein moved Beatles operations to London, Freda was not able to go, since her father forbade it. They kept her on in Liverpool and she would make frequent trips to London, but her daily contact would end. After Epstein’s death in 1967, she would continue on with the group, even appearing as one of the passengers in their first post-Epstein project, Magical Mystery Tour.

Freda between John and George during the filming of Magical Mystery Tour.

There is very little information discussed regarding the Apple years, but she apparently carried on with the fan club until 1972, when it was dissolved. She would continue to answer mail for the next three years on her own time. Also, there is no mention of the other bands that Epstein managed, even though none were ever as big. There are interviews with members of The Merseybeats, a band that played in the Cavern when the Beatles did and apparently still performs today, but no mention if they were also represented by NEMS or not.

Freda with George near the end of her 11-year employment.

For someone who spent 11 years with The Beatles, she has very little memorabilia, just four boxes that she keeps in the attic, having, she said, given the rest away to Beatles fans. She admits to always having been one herself so she could empathize with other fans' wants and desires. Freda never seemed to forget that she was in a special position. When she discovered one member of her then staff was trying to pass off someone else's hair as Paul's, she fired everyone since she didn't know who she could still trust.

Even as the Beatles were breaking up, Freda was still working for them.

While of the two surviving members only Ringo appears in the documentary, and even then only during the credits sequence, the Beatles are apparently squarely behind it, allowing archival footage as well as several of their own songs to be used; quite a feat for a documentary with a budget of about $60,000.

Freda Kelly, as she was when the documentary was
made; one of the unsung heroes of  Beatlemania.

Good Ol’ Freda shines the light on one of the unsung heroes of Beatlemania. No doubt there were other typists infatuated by the group when it played lunchtime concerts at the Cavern, but things might have been very different if it weren’t for dedicated people like Freda Kelly helping to shape their image. One more ingredient in the formula that made The Beatles the biggest act in the world.

For other Beatles films, see our Beatles Film Review Hub: http://trophyunlocked.blogspot.com/2014/02/review-hub-beatles-on-film.html