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.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

I've always kind of looked at the Disney/Marvel movies as the penultimate representation of inoffensive, mass-appeal action films created by a formula that has most recently been (discovered and) solved. It's literally impossible to get upset at these films, unless you are a die-hard fanboy of the original content, and that in itself may be invalid. If you're that intense into the characters, you know that the canon is screwed up beyond belief and the depiction of these characters on-screen is refreshing as they don't approach the original material with any significant seriousness. Yes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is its own entity, a concept that comic book fans are already comfortable with and fully embrace: instead of reading thirty years of Avengers history, wouldn't it be easier to instead read ten years of Ultimate Avengers instead? And aren't those standalone stories and graphic novels even better, as there are only a handful of issues to digest and enjoy? The answer is yes, for me at least. But the Cinematic Universe gets the best of both worlds, as they cherry-pick from the best, and even throw in easter eggs for the megafan. Generally, I don't peruse the internet and come across threads of comments slamming these films for screwing anything up. I also don't see any threads picking the films apart for what they are: science fiction action films. But maybe I just don't visit those dark recesses of the internet, and we should all be OK with that.

Frequencies

I've always been a bit of a sucker for the "sci-fi romance" film, even if they are pretty light on the sci-fi. It's actually astounding how many there are, until you consider that they are manufactured to appease the stereotypical audience that would maximize box office dollars: romance for your ladies, and a bit of sci-fi for the boyfriends they bring along. They are perhaps overly simplistic by design and equally as forgettable. Although every so often a film hits the mark and makes an impression, such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which featured Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in a romance film with a sci-fi twist. The two lovers live in a world where it's possible to have one's memories erased. So when they hit bad times and break up, they both elect to erase one another from their minds. The perfect anullment, right? It's succussful because it marries the concept with true emotion, and leaves you with a few messages that everyone can relate to, even if you don't believe in the science. 

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