Battle Royale

2000 | dir: Kinji Fukasaku | 113 m

Battle Royale is perhaps the best film about teenagers killing each other for sport ever made. Granted, that's a pretty small pool of movies. Or at least, I hope it is. Normally, I would do a Google search for this kind of thing, but with my browser history the way it is, searching for "movies about children killing each other" might just be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back and earns me an impromptu visit from the FBI in the middle of the night. Originally released in 2000, it would take another twelve years for Battle Royale to be released in North America, likely owing more to discussions over film rights than the more romantic notion of the film being banned because it was so provocative and powerful. Battle Royale is both provocative and powerful, but it definitely did not unite world governments to spend any amount of time and effort to actively ban its distribution en masse. This decision is much to their own detriment, however, as Battle Royale is also a truly subversive film, calling into question the shifting nature of the relationship societies have with their young people, what it means to be both a child and an adult in a modern world, and exactly what is the nature and power of the social bonds between human beings. It also calls into question the amount of blood contained in the human body, because if the characters in this movie are any indication, we are essentially walking balloons filled to the breaking point with blood ready to be popped.

Man of Steel

2013| dir: Zack Snyder | 143 m

Sometimes, things in life have a way of working out, but not without a little dedication and investment. Nearly a decade ago, I began tracking every movie I watched, and although I was reluctant to give the films a proper rating, I did so anyway. Just before DC released Man of Steel, I created an account on IMDb (then shortly afterward on Letterboxd) and started tracking these films, giving them a basic rating – which is, and maybe always has been, a gut-reaction number I assign the film twenty-four hours after seeing it – and went on my merry way. Seeing my watch history of Man of Steel makes me curious if it was one of the first films that spurred me to record the films I watch and realize my long-thought-of goal to analyze any particular movie to see if it gets better, or worse, with time. This was a project that I had played around with before, but I was able to fully realize it with the tracking capabilities of Letterboxd. Indeed, I can click on Man of Steel and see that it’s been logged (i.e., watched) three times since June of 2013:

June 25, 2013: 3.5 / 5 

December 1, 2013: 2.5 / 5 

June 11, 2014: 3 / 5 

Within twelve months, I experienced a ride on a slow-moving roller coaster of mediocrity in terms of my feelings for Man of Steel, but I ended my run at a lower tier than my first viewing. What went wrong? 

The Wizard

 

1989 | dir: Todd Holland | 100 m

Being eight years old upon initial release in 1989, The Wizard would meld together a love of video games and movies to prove itself as a tent pole film of my youth. While you could dismiss the film as a generic, maybe slightly messy, road-trip family drama whose purpose was to exist as an advertising vehicle for both Nintendo’s games and hardware and Universal Studio’s theme park, it was certainly lost on us as children, and more importantly, it didn’t matter. We’re talking about an age where video games were often regarded as a waste of time for children and any degree of validation in the form of popular culture was going to be embraced and met with a high level of excitement. What an amazing experience it would have been to see your favourite games showing up on the big screen, being played by actors you recognize, only to have the climax of the film reveal what would become the biggest game of the era (Super Mario Bros. 3). Yet, I don’t recall seeing this in theatres in ‘89 but I can safely say I watched this with friends many times in the years following. 

When the Shout Select title was announced, I was quick to place my preorder online, and not shortly after release it appeared at my doorstep than I realized it may be close to twenty years (or more) since I last watched this film. It may have fell into that category of dangerous nostalgia: where you loved a film as a child so much that revisiting the film as an adult would reveal all the terrible components of the film while leaving you with the heavy weight of shame as you question your youthful ignorance and interests. As I've matured I have fully embraced a lifetime of ever-changing and evolving interests and tastes and freed myself of the shackles of shame which has opened the doors to guilt-free indulgence (at least, with movies). With that, I prepared my viewing nest: drawing the curtains to a close, getting the popcorn popped and loading a soda with ice to make it as cold as possible. I was ready for a wave of childhood nostalgia to crash over me. 

Outbreak

1995 | dir: Wolfgang Petersen | 127 m

In light of the ongoing global pandemic, the likes of which the (post)modern world has never seen, I, like many other viewers, have also begun to watch movies and TV shows with similar subject matter. There are a couple of titles that tend to top most lists of pandemic-relevant films, and since I'd just happened to watch Contagion a short while before all of this craziness started in earnest, I found myself stuck with sitting down to watch Outbreak, a staple of schlocky '90s blockbusters. Despite living through those turbulent times and thriving on a steady diet of cinema from that decade, I had somehow never actually watched this sucker before. It did, of course, garner a certain reputation, and I had often seen compared with Contagion, and not favourably.

Unfortunately, that reputation and those comparisons turned out to be true. Outbreak is bloated and unrefined in all of the ways that Contagion is focused and polished. If Contagion is the valedictorian turned brain surgeon of the family, then Outbreak is the sibling still sleeping on their parents' couch waiting for his career as a YouTube star / extreme sports athlete to take off. I was kind of bummed, because I'm generally a fan of Wolfgang Petersen's films and name. You can't go wrong with top-tier Petersen, like Das Boot, Troy, Air Force One, or... The Neverending Story? OK, you definitely can't go wrong there. I even have a particular soft spot for Enemy Mine, which while arguably not top-tier, is still some pretty great '80s fare. I felt like Outbreak kind of got a little out of hand, though. I just imagine the writers sitting in the writer's room having written themselves into a narrative corner, then suddenly looking up at each other at the exact same moment in a state of sheer revelatory ecstasy, and shouting "Helicopter chase!" in feverish unison. 

The Invisible Man

2020 | dir: Leigh Whannell | 124 m

Tension is the name of the game here, and The Invisible Man knows how to play – maybe a little too well. From the opening, overwhelming darkness of crashing waves breaking onto perilous rocks throughout the entire movie, no rest is afforded to the viewer, and while the film does indulge in a few jump scares – which I always find to be a bit unfair themselves – I'm willing to forgive and move on as we follow Cecilia’s tormented journey of escape from an abusive husband to her attempt to overcome paranoia and the dreaded feeling that somebody is leering over your shoulder or watching you from across an empty room. Her stakes are driven even higher as we understand her plight: the entire opening scene has her methodically following a plan to leave her husband. We see the fear of reprisal in her face and movements; being barely ten minutes into the film you realize this is more tension than most horror movies can muster in their entire run time and I think to myself: it can only be downhill from here, right? 

Resolution

2012 | dir: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead | 93 m

If I accomplish one thing before I die, I'd be happy just having spread the good word about the work of filmmakers Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, like a UFO cult member spreading the good news of the end of days. I had never heard of Resolution until recently, but what I did hear was, well, not a lot. I went into this film knowing hardly anything about it, and I have to say, I was absolutely blown away. Even though I was watching Resolution some eight years after the fact, I felt like I was back on the cutting edge of visionary filmmaking instead of caught up in the digestive tract of the the bloated mutant that is the Hollywood blockbuster; I was once again surfing the wave instead of treading water in a constantly rising tide.

As many before me have pointed out, there are some obvious similarities between Resolution and the more prolific Cabin in the Woods which came out the year before. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, both films deal with supernatural entities who can seemingly only be appeased by ritualistic, recurring human narratives. Unlike Cabin in the Woods, however, Resolution leaves much more to the imagination, most likely because of the $20,000 micro-budget, which ends up working to its benefit. The scale of Resolution is much more intimate, staying tightly focused on the trials and tribulations of two friends. Michael (Peter Cilella) is making a last-ditch effort try and help his long-time friend Chris (Vinny Curran) overcome his hardcore drug addiction with a forceful, week-long detox program that involves handcuffing him to an exposed pipe in the dilapidated cabin in which he happens to be squatting until he gets clean.

Birds of Prey

2020 | dir: Cathy Yan | 109 m

From the very beginning, Birds of Prey was going to face an uphill battle. Being a semi-spinoff of the panned Suicide Squad was not going to do this film any favours, but bringing the focus entirely on that film’s brightest spot was certainly the right move and a promising decision. Harley Quinn explodes onto screen with a flurry of colours, boisterous music and incredible energy, all of which made the film a joy to watch. However, there was something that just didn’t connect with me, and I reckon to reason that it’s the core storytelling technique put to use here, although I can’t discount the sad, nearly empty IMAX screening experience as setting a certain tone and expectation.  

The movie bounces back and forth numerous times and honestly, just wore me out. Utilizing Black Mask’s night club as the hub, the story will progress, then quickly roll back in time often enough that I felt the trope had run its course. To credit, the technique certainly lends a hand to the anarchy on-screen and probably improved the flow of the plot, which is a relatively straightforward and never a bad thing, especially when you put Margot Robbie’s incredible performance at the forefront. With that, I couldn’t really find anything else to really lay against this movie negatively, except perhaps that I was exhausted by the end of it. 

Doctor Sleep

2019 | dir: Mike Flanagan | 152 m

The anticipation for Doctor Sleep was quite real, as both my regular theatre-going friend and I were eager to buy our ticket and watch this followup to The Shining, but there was an issue: Jojo Rabbit came out around the same time, and there was a certain fear that Jojo – being a “smaller” film – would disappear from local cineplexes fairly early. Indeed, there have been times when these movies only see a week in town before heading off. Doctor Sleep was going to be a big movie, and would stick around for a while, right? The decision was made, and we bought our tickets for a Tuesday evening showing of Jojo Rabbit. The first hint that something was amiss should have been the comically absent lobby poster for the film; in its stead, was a black and white 8x10 tacked unceremoniously in the poster’s large glass case. We interpreted that sign as a clue that we were correct, but we couldnt’ be more wrong: Doctor Sleep quickly disappeared from the theatre, while Jojo remained there for weeks upon weeks (and yes, that tiny make-shift poster followed it to the different screens at that theatre). With quiet indignity, we set forth with resolve to watch Doctor Sleep as soon as it hit home video. 

Last week I ventured out and bought the UHD release; a relatively bold move considering the price and unwatched nature of the film, but I figured if it was truly bad, I could quickly sell it for an eighth of the price and maybe pawn the digital code off online. In reality, I knew that would not be the case. We planned it carefully: being a slightly longer movie, we would bring dinner (that is, pizza) back to my place, and get an early start on the film – it measures in at two and a half hours, so yes, that means no director’s cut upon first viewing. I had watched The Shining a few weeks ago (it has a recently released beautiful 4k UHD on the market) and my friend did the same. This was not the first time that I had seen the film, and unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able recollect that particular memory, so I’ll play it safe and say I watched it with my film-obsessed roommates back in the early aughts that I unceremoniously refer to as “the university days” where we probably spent more time watching movies than studying, and my biggest regret is not skipping an entire night’s sleep to watch The Godfather trilogy.  I did rewatch The Shining a couple of times over the years, but felt as though I really delved into it with vigor just a couple of weeks back. Immediately I signed the digital copy of Stephen King’s book out from the local library so I could better prepare for Doctor Sleep, which takes on the unenviable task of trying to please both readers of the books, and fans of Kubrick’s 1980 film. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, as I only meandered my way through a fifth of the book before movie night was upon me, and Doctor Sleep was finally happening.

Terminator: Dark Fate

2019 | dir: Tim Miller | 128 m

Terminator: Dark Fate is another in a long line of belated Terminator sequels that I will have to try to actively forget. In this case, it shouldn't be too hard. Terminator: Dark Fate was an utterly forgettable film, but at least it wasn't aggressively bad like the previous entry in the series, Terminator: Genyisys. (I still die a little inside whenever I read that title). Why are studios still subjecting us to these sequels? And perhaps more importantly, why are audiences still subjecting themselves? The obvious answer is that because the original Terminator is an iconic sci-fi film and Terminator 2: Judgement Day is widely regarded as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) action movies of all time, they set the bar so high and piqued our interest so much, that we're willing to risk laying down our hard-earned cash for utter garbage just for the slim chance to chase that high again.

And like most junkies, Terminator fans still haven't learned our lesson. For some insane reason, despite all obvious evidence to the contrary, I had incredibly high hopes going into Dark Fate. Alas, any hope I had was wiped out quicker and more thoroughly than humanity in a thermo-nuclear war launched by a rogue AI. We've had a mixed mag when its come to decades-later sequels. For every Blade Runner 2049 there seems to be a A Good Day to Die Hard. But with Dark Fate, they got the band back together. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton reprising their roles as an unstoppable killing machine and Sarah Connor, a waitress turned commando, respectively. James Cameron back to... produce. Well, that's something, I guess. It was a direct sequel to Terminator 2, ignoring or retconning (as all the cool kids are saying these days) all of the other Terminator films that came before it save the first two, if not out of existence, then at least out of the canon. Then, right out of the gate, Dark Fate tries to pull an Alien 3 opening, failing to do so, and setting the stage for disappointment right there. Don't promise me the long-awaited return of Edward Furlong as John Conner, for that kind of nonsense. Alien 3's decision to kill off main characters from the previous film rather unceremoniously still doesn't sit right with me, but I can appreciate what David Fincher was trying to achieve in the context of the story, and it made sense. Dark Fate's similarly dark opening just felt cheap by comparison. I've felt cleaner after leaving a Russian brothel than I felt after watching that opening.

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