Ah yes, it’s November, which means we’re due for our psychological science fiction film of the year. Now that the summer is over and the memory of those action movies masquerading as scifi is over (re: any movie with more special effects - especially robots and spaceships - than character) we can get onto the heavier stuff. A couple of Novembers ago, we were treated to Interstellar; now, we’re in the presence of Arrival, a slow moving yet highly anticipated movie about humanity’s first contact with alien life.
The initial trailers had me hooked right away, as it turns out I’m kind of into “first contact” movies. Is that even a thing? Yeah, I love my scifi and this is right up my alley, so we’ll roll with it for the time being. There wasn’t much revealed in those first teases, save for an introduction to our characters, the general structure of the film and perhaps most importantly: the atmosphere of the film. What I didn’t know beforehand is the films director, one Denis Villeneuve; having not disappointed yet, Denis’ filmography is setting him up to be a modern master of cinema, and perhaps being more aware of his duties on the film, my expectations could have been altered. Just a tad though. Not enough to make a difference here; I mean, you can’t go from Prisoners to Enemy and expect me to have the faintest idea where his next movie would go.
As I sit here on my couch and look over to see one of my cats sitting on the stove, I can’t help but be reminded of watching The Serpent and the Rainbow in early September at my friend Cale’s place. Now, the connection between a cat and this movie is entirely outrageous, and dubious at the very least. But it’s there in this question: is this just fantasy, or is this reality? My cat doesn’t typically go on the counter (this one, at least) so it’s always a bit of a surprise to see her up there. She goes up there in secret, and when I see her, our eyes connect and the stare down begins. I never win.
And I’m not sure who wins after watching The Serpent. This is a trippy movie that really plays to your questioning of reality: how much of this stuff is going on? And it plays to your willingness to suspend belief. When I search for the movie on IMDb, it’s classified as fantasy, but I’m not so certain. I want to believe.
In the legends of voodoo the Serpent is a symbol of Earth. The Rainbow is a symbol of Heaven. Between the two, all creatures must live and die. But because he has a soul Man can be trapped in a terrible place Where death is only the beginning.
After a particularly crushing day at the office, I meandered my way home to drown my sorrows in chicken wings, corn on the cob and a movie. Which movie though? Out of a vast collection of digital and physical media, the decision is never easy. A few weeks ago I was indulging in a stint of ‘70s sci-fi cinema, but I wasn’t feeling it. How about ‘80s horror? Nah, I couldn’t go there either. Perhaps a comfortable 90’s blockbuster action film? None of them would be up for the task. No, instead, I turned to a recent pickup and a movie darling from 2001 that’s quite near and dear to me; a movie I haven’t seen in over a decade, yet one that I find myself reminiscing about often. The Others, from 2001, starring Nicole Kidman and directed by Alejandro Amenabar.
It was August 2001, and back to school was mere days away. I had my first year of university under my belt and was both eager and full of anxiety on starting my second year. I had spent the summer working at one of my first summer jobs – thanks to a gracious connection from my uncle – and selling old magazine adverts online. There wasn’t much in terms of expectations for The Others: if for nothing else, it would serve as a closing point to the summer and the mark of a new adventure in living arrangments. My first year of university - even though I lived in town - was spent in student residence with five other guys. My second year presented an interesting choice: either buy one of those big flat-screen televisions or spend another year in residence with a couple of newfound friends. In a discussion with my parents over burgers, I decided to stay in residence, and with that, was the ushering in of what I like to call the Golden Age of Cinema. The Others would kick start the era into existence.
| dir: Michael Scott
When you have the whole family together it can be difficult to find a movie that everyone can agree upon. My mother, willing to put up with recommendations, doesn't want to waste the entire evening with decision making. She had made her choice, and who are we to disagree? She had recorded Far From Home via PVR and as the show began, it was evident that she wasn't going to put a stop to this film even when my sister disagreed.
"What is this? Are you serious?" My sister was a bit dumbfounded that our mother had even found such a title and was fully willing to subject us all to it. She ended up sucked into her tablet while my father had already fallen asleep during the opening credits (in the movie's defense, he does this all the time).
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.
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.
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.
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.