2016 Year-End Movie Review: Jason Zingale


2016 will likely go down as one of the most depressing years in recent history, but that has more to do with a certain reality TV host being elected President of the United States, not to mention some particularly hard-hitting celebrity deaths, than the movies we watched along the way. In fact, despite the usual collection of flops, disappointments and general mediocrity, there were a number of great films throughout the year spanning a wide range of genres, which is evident in my own Top 10. Though I stand behind every choice on this list, it should in no way be considered definitive due to some elements out of my control (for instance, Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” not being screened in time) and an extraordinarily busy holiday season.

Best Films of 2016


For as old-fashioned as “Hell or High Water” feels at times, it’s a movie that deals with some incredibly timely themes, especially in a post-election America still reeling from the last economic depression. Following his little-seen 2013 gem “Starred Up,” director David Mackenzie delivers yet another engaging family-centric story (based on a script by “Sicario” writer Taylor Sheridan) that excels in its simplicity. It’s gorgeously shot, displaying both the beauty and sadness of its picturesque landscape, and features a trio of excellent performances from Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges. Nobody does unhinged quite like Foster, and this is easily Pine’s best work in years, but the movie ultimately belongs to Bridges as the devilishly funny, veteran Texas Ranger who would rather go down in a hail of bullets than be forced into retirement. Though the film follows a pretty standard cops-and-robbers formula, it does so with such razor-sharp proficiency and well-drawn characters that it succeeds not only as a terrific genre flick but a modern American classic in the same vein as “No Country for Old Men.”



An incredibly moving, intimate and authentic story about a broken man who’s forced to confront his demons, “Manchester by the Sea” is the most devastating, heart-wrenching drama of the year. Casey Affleck is phenomenal in the lead role, delivering a subtle but powerful performance that showcases an actor at the top of his game, while Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and relative newcomer Lucas Hedges all deliver outstanding work in supporting roles. Though the movie is sprinkled with quite a bit of humor (much more than you’d expect for the subject matter), “Manchester by the Sea” is primarily a portrait of grief and how it affects everyone differently. There’s no guidebook or one-size-fits-all remedy to mending a broken heart, and writer/director Kenneth Lonergan conveys that point beautifully amid the wintry, gloomy backdrop of his New England setting. “Manchester by the Sea” is heavy stuff, but for a film that deals mainly in misery, it never feels exploitative, and that goes a long way in earning your attention and respect.


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2016 Holiday Gift Guide: Wine

Most of us have at least one wine lover on our holiday shopping list. With that in mind, I tasted through a ton of different wines to find some I could recommend in different price ranges. I also tried out some wine-related gift ideas and have a suggestion there too. Each of these wines is delicious and offers more value than the price would indicate. Of course, these also make great choices for your holiday table.


Purple Heart 2014 Red Blend ($20)

This wine is predominately Merlot (80%) with smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon (15%), Petite Sirah (4%) and Petit Verdot (1%) blended in. It’s created in cooperation with the Purple Heart foundation, and each year, a donation is made to them. Dark fruits, violets and bakers spices light up the nose. The palate is bold and substantial with tons of black fruit flavors tinged by intermingling bits of red fruit. Wisps of roasted espresso, mocha and clove are all evident on the substantial finish. This is a delicious wine that helps a good cause.

Alcance 2014 Merlot ($22)

In addition to Merlot (90%), some Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) was blended in. All of the fruit is from the Maule region of Chile, an area where Bordeaux varieties thrive. Cherry, red plum and spices are present on the nose. The palate is stuffed with chewy red fruit flavors, a hint of sage and black pepper spice. These elements all continue on the finish. Supple tannins and firm acid provide structure to this mouthwatering Merlot.

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2016 Holiday Gift Guide: Games

The holiday season is the video game industry’s busiest time of year, with publishers saving many of their marquee titles to release on the public like an avalanche of digital goodness. It can actually be quite overwhelming with so many different options to choose from, so we’ve done our best to put together a collection of what we feel are some of the year’s finest games.

Click the links within the write-ups to purchase each product online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

Gears of War 4


Set 25 years after Marcus Fenix defeated the Locust Horde once and for all, “Gears of War 4” finds Marcus’ son JD leading a group of ex-COG soldiers against a mysterious new threat. Though the game is pretty much business as usual for fans of the series, “Gears of War 4” does introduce a few changes that improve and shake up the overall gameplay. In addition to several new weapons (including our personal favorite, the Buzzkill, which shoots circular saws that can ricochet off walls), the emergence of extreme weather phenomena called Windflares affect combat with strong winds, flying debris and more. Story mode is also a lot more difficult thanks to A.I. enemies that pile on the pressure instead of sitting back and waiting for you to attack. Of course, while the single-player (or co-op) campaign serves as a nice refresher course for those who haven’t played “Gears of War” in awhile, online multiplayer is still the game’s bread and butter. All of the usual modes are here, along with newcomers like Dodgeball and Arms Race to ensure you don’t get bored. Though “Gears of War 4” isn’t as groundbreaking as the original, it’s an enjoyable franchise reboot that keeps everything that was great about the previous installments and builds on it.

Batman: The Telltale Series


Telltale Games has been on a real streak lately with high-profile titles like “The Walking Dead,” “The Wolf Among Us” and “Game of Thrones,” but the company’s latest episodic game features perhaps their biggest IP yet. Though it’s not as instantly captivating as some of the aforementioned titles, “Batman: The Telltale Series” delivers the tried and tested combo of choice-based dialogue, puzzle solving and quicktime action scenes that we’ve come to expect. The game doesn’t explore the World’s Greatest Detective angle quite as much as it should, but that’s largely because you spend more time playing as Bruce Wayne, digging into his family’s secret history after it’s revealed that his father may not have been the saint he appeared to be. With that said, the Batman sequences are a lot more fun, whether you’re devising a plan of attack, stringing together clues at a crime scene or battling one of his many iconic villains. As with most Telltale games, the storytelling is stronger than the gameplay, but fans of their click-and-point adventures (and Batman in general) will find plenty to enjoy.

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2016 Holiday Gift Guide: Guy Stuff

Guys are pretty easy to shop for. Most of the time, you can just get stuff that you’d buy for yourself. Of course, you sometimes have to cast a wider net, because tastes obviously vary, but at least you can pick up some stuff for yourself while you’re browsing.

Click the links within the write-ups to purchase each product online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

Philips Sonicare FlexCare Platinum Connected


We’ve tested some Philips Sonicare products in the past, but the FlexCare Platinum Connected does something the others don’t by using Bluetooth technology to deliver the most complete cleaning experience yet. The FlexCare Platinum Connected takes the guesswork out of your oral care routine by using smart sensors that send your brushing data to the free Sonicare app in real-time, providing you personalized coaching and feedback. The Location Sensor highlights any spots you missed during cleaning, while the Pressure Sensor will alert you if you’re brushing too hard. You can also track trouble areas (like plaque buildup, gum recession and potential cavities) in your personalized 3D mouth map, reminding you to give them extra attention each time you brush, as well as set goals and share data with your dentist professional. The FlexCare Platinum Connected has three different brushing modes (Clean, White and Deep Clean) and three different intensity settings, and the included charger even comes with a UV brush head sanitizer. It may seem a bit over the top for everyday consumers, but for those who struggle with daily oral care or just want to learn more about their brushing habits, this makes the perfect gift.

E-Z UP Vantage Shelter


Whether your loved one is an outdoor enthusiast, a business professional looking to showcase their brand, or just a diehard sports fan who wants the best tailgating experience, E-Z UP makes some great recreational pop-up shelters that are stylish, sturdy and easy to assemble. Available in a number of different designs (from the lightweight Vista to the best-in-class Eclipse), we sampled the super-durable Vantage model and came away very impressed. Featuring 100 square feet of shade and cross truss reinforcement inside the shelter to help withstand tough conditions, the Vantage stood strong in cold Midwest weather… and that was before we even secured it to the ground using the optional metal spikes. The E-Z UP Vantage comes in eight different colors and includes a sturdy roller bag that makes it incredibly easy to store and transport, which is a good thing, because this sucker is pretty heavy. Additionally, E-Z UP offers an array of accessories to make your shelter even better, including Event Lights that illuminate the interior, Half Walls for extra shade and weight bags for additional support.

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2016 Holiday Gift Guide: For the Home

Gifts like these might not be the most romantic if you’re buying for your wife or girlfriend, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find cool stuff that will put a smile on their face. Products for the home can be just as desirable if you focus on items with great design or that make someone’s life a lot easier, and if you stick to those simple guidelines, you’ll make whoever is on the receiving end very happy.

Click the links within the write-ups to purchase each product online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

Logitech Harmony Elite Remote


If your entertainment center is anything like ours, it’s overflowing with set-top boxes, streaming devices, gaming consoles and audio receivers… and with them, a small army of remote controls. So why aren’t there more options available for universal remotes like the Logitech Harmony Elite? Probably because nobody could make one as good as this. The latest addition to the Harmony family is the most powerful and intuitive remote yet, featuring a full-color touchscreen and the ability to manage up to 15 entertainment and smart home devices. It’s compatible with more than 270,000 products and can connect to Alexa for voice control, while the included Harmony Hub allows you to control devices in closed cabinets, even when you’re not home thanks to the free iOS/Android app. The best feature, however, is the option to create one-touch Activities like “Watch Apple TV,” “Play Xbox One” or “Dinner Party” that will automatically power on all the correct devices and switch them to the right settings. It takes a little patience to set up, but once it’s ready to go, you’ll be amazed how you went so long without having a Harmony remote in your life.

eero Home Wi-Fi System

Wi-Fi can be a fickle mistress; just when you need it most (e.g. it’s Sunday night and you’ve just settled down to watch “Game of Thrones” in your man cave downstairs), there’s either no signal or the connection is poor. Enter the eero Home Wi-Fi System, a set of small access points that are placed throughout the house (with each device typically covering 1,000 square feet) and automatically connect to create a single wireless mesh network, eliminating the need for a wireless router and range extenders. The sleek, minimalist design blends in with virtually any décor, and it’s incredibly easy to set up, although it works better in homes with a more open floorplan where the eeros can see one another. The accompanying iOS and Android app allows you to set up family profiles to help manage schedules for internet usage or pause internet access altogether, and you can even test internet speeds and provide temporary guest access right from your phone. Though the eero still has some growing pains to endure before it becomes a must-have gadget in every household (especially at its $500 price point), for early adopters desperate for a Wi-Fi solution, you’d be hard-pressed finding a better option.


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