X-Men: Apocalypse

Missed opportunity. It's really all that comes to mind when I think about this film and how to start this article. Here's the thing: the movie was bad, not terrible, could have been great. Right? I'm not even sure anymore.

Here's another thing: it's REALLY difficult to think about this movie as a standalone venture without considering and comparing it to other films in the series and by other - similar - films being done. That is, the rest of the X-Men series and the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

You could easily attribute X-Men from 2000 as beginning the entire "superhero thing" that is so prevalent today. For that, we must pay some respect. The movie was also good, which is more than what we can say for other films that have followed suit. By focusing on two main characters, we're able to have a coherent story that is easy to follow, and most importantly, relateable. Both Wolverine and Rogue in this film were practical outsiders; one is haunted by terrors of the past, the other: terrified and ostricized because of her powers. As they integrate into Xavier's school of mutants, we're brought in on the same path and introduced to all the characters proper. As the series progressed, more and more characters were introduced and the story followed a direct correlation. More characters = less story.

Maniac (2012)

Perhaps, knowing that they (the filmmakers) couldn't emulate perfectly the chilling, creeping performance of Joe Spinell from the original Maniac, the remake takes the foundation of what made the other film and run with it in their own way. And it works. Elijah Wood brings upon the film his own creepy factor that sets him apart from Spinell; indeed, Spinell's performance is going to be unique for the time and the filmmakers are wise to avoid an attempt at recreating it. The new movie is set in modern day, with all the gloss that a modern movie filmed with modern cameras would bring to the screen. Wood's performance drives home the psychological horror that the titled maniac is going through, something that may not have needed as much attention in the original. We get a clear sense of how unscrewed this guy's head is. In this version, he owns a mannequin shop, giving him a strong focus on caring for them. Just as in the original, the maniac's victims are recreated on the mannequins: the hair he scalps is stapled onto the head and their clothes make the transition to his perverse fantasty world. He carries out relationships with them, although all in secret.

Ballad of Narayama

Another film in a series that I wouldn't have been exposed to if Criterion hadn't kept up their promise of delivering to us important, contemporary films that need a little tender loving. Indeed, I grabbed this film not only because the restoration was incredible, but it seemed like a fitting follow up to Seven Samurai, another essential Japanese film from the 1950's. Ballad is advertised as being in the famous 'Kabuki' style, something I wasn't familiar with and still researching. The end product is a film that holds my interest with not only fascinating characters and themes, but also radiant cinematography. The kabuki style of film-making is pulled from Kabuki-style plays of long ago, an art-form that was dying down as the Japanese culture faced a convalescence after the Second World War. Along with the style, the customs, traditions, and values alongside the unique film-making make for a truly foreign experience to my own "Western viewpoint" that I would imagine would prohibit this film from being entirely accessible to most audiences, although I would encourage everyone to experience it. 

Maniac (1980)

With the arrival of the "recent" Maniac film, starring Elijah Wood, I was inclined to take a peek to see if anything had come before. Lo and behold, without any surprise, yes, the 2012 is a remake of a film with the same name from 1980. Now, keep in mind, that I haven't watched the remake yet, so it would be rather fitting to watch them in actual production order, right? And certainly, I was expecting another cheesy 80's horror film, but what I got instead was the complete opposite. Maybe it's because - being release in 1980 - the film was a product of the 70's, a time of horror I'm not well versed on. Arguably - and you would win - I'm not well versed on horror movies in general.

With the expectation that this would most certainly be bad, my friend and I hunkered down to breeze through the 87 minute film. It starts off as expected but quickly grows into something quite unique and interesting. The grime of the 70's is dripping off every facet of production, and it works incredibly well. As near as I can tell, New York "back in the day" was a cesspool that has been acurately represented in film throughout the decades, but perhaps no better than this right here. Some of the film was shot without permits, and all of it was shot on location in the Big Apple. As I read: that creepy abandoned warehouse wasn't done up for the film, it exists, just like that, and is indeed super creepy. I can't imagine this level of authenticity being reproduced in any kind of remake, but perhaps they wouldn't try to emulate it.

Beneath

Fresh off of Zombeavers, my friends and I were naturally attracted to another terribly-good water creature horror film. Maybe that should be a category in Netflix. We settle on a film titled Beneath, where "six high school seniors...find themselves on rowboat attacked by man-eating fish and must decide who must be sacrificed as they fight their way back to shore." Honestly, how could you go wrong? Quite simply: you load the movie, get thirty seconds in and start to question your very reality. No, the credits couldn't possibly match the plotline. What we got instead was a very different film, where "a crew of coal miners becomes trapped after a disastrous collapse....They slowly descend into madnes and begin to turn on one another." We paused the film to read the brief synposis and yes, this movie would do just fine. I'm interested in any descent into madness.

Underground stuff is going to be just as scary - if not moreso - than underwater. My fear of underwater may be irrational but if the real world has taught me anything, being underground, especially in a mine, is extremely dangerous. Your life is threated my magnitudes of earth at all times, just as water is ready to steal your air should you the safety of whatever vessel you're travelling in. While there's air down there, it can quickly go bad. The lack of sunlight robs you of your day/night cycle.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Never has the hype for a movie been at, than the levels that The Force Awakens has achieved. Which is kind of surprising, considering that I was holding my breath and anticipating disappointment. How could you not anticipate the same thing? Each of the prequels in the trilogy was disappointment, and they also achieved fairly high levels of hype. As we went to theatres in 1999 to check out The Phantom Menace, we all believed we would get a similar movie as any from the original trilogy. An entire population lived in denial as the credits rolled. As such, our expectation for Episode II and III were more properly aligned.

Fast forward ten years since the release of Revenge of the Sith, and a couple of pivotal things have happened.

1. George Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney for $4 billion dollars (and subsequently donated all of it to charity).
2. J.J. Abrams has become the poster child for rebooting franchises, starting with Mission: Impossible III in 2006 and again with Star Trek in 2009.
3. Disney, after acquiring Marvel, has put together the most successful superhero movies ever, creating an unstoppable juggernaut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Possession

The product of another list of off-the-beaten-path movies from a random Redditor, Possession attracted me with an intriguing plot description and the fact that I haven't seen any older movies starring Sam Neill. His creepy red eyes used in some thumbnails, combined with the nifty artwork of a nude woman with tentacles for hair along with the title of the film set up a very specific set of expectations on how the film would play out. 

What did I just watch?

Possession does not play out in any predictable fashion. It was also quite difficult to sit through, but that could be attributed to my Sunday afternoon mood. I did take a break halfway through, which is an uncommon practice for me that I found disappointing. Of course, distractions played a big part in my completing this film, and only until I was able to read up on the film afterward did I find a decent amount of appreciation. I originally gave it two stars (out of five) but could see that increase as I come to better understand what happened.

Batman: Year One

Perhaps my biggest gripe about this animated feature is the complete lack of oomph behind Ben McKenzie's dead narration as Bruce Wayne/Batman. It felt so lifeless, but only repeated a few times throughout the running time. Contrast his performance of Bruce to his Batman voice and it becomes clear: Bruce Wayne is lifeless, as husk of a man, wherein his alter ego is the one full of passion. The film nails this, although it's subtle (and this was my second viewing).

The story adheres well to the original Frank Miller four part comic series from the '80s. This is the Miller Batman that would help revitalize and rejuvenate a Batman for the "modern" era, and this, along with his other works would be the basis of many adaptations for decades (and still counting). Batman: Year One, the animated feature, does not surprise for being so good, as many of these DC features excel beyond any typical Hollywood attempt. The epitome of this is evidenced in the late 1990's: simply watch Batman & Robin (1997), followed up by the animated Batman: SubZero (1998) and you'll have a clear understanding of how the movie business can be so brilliant but also so terrible.

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