Arrival

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.

The Serpent and the Rainbow

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.

The Others

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.

Jason Bourne

If you could summarize the quality of this movie quickly, it's easy to just say: it didn't need to exist, but it wasn't terrible. Not exactly glowing, is it? It's how we have to roll though: the Bourne Trilogy was just short of a masterpiece. At the moment I can't really think of any reason to say otherwise, although it has been a few years since I've watched them all. They were important to me, at least. They represent this turn from weird late 90's action movie to a more gritty, grounded and guided film that could both thrill our popcorn buckets and satisfy my need for plots that make sense. Having Damon in the lead allows the character a little more depth, as he's a capable actor and is able to balance the action and dialogue without going over the top. Yeah, there was a great team behind it too, with director Doug Liman leading the charge.

Far From Home

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 falling asleep during the opening credits (in the movie's defense, he does this all the time).

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. 

Spoilers within.

The X-Files (season 10)

When I heard the news about The X-Files coming back to television, I had mixed feelings on it. Was this a cash in? Or a legit return to form from the creators? Could it be *any* good or will this just tarnish the shows namesake? Perhaps it was already tarnished enough. After all, who am I to judge? I watched The X-Files when it premiered in 1993 and loved it for many years; it was a staple in my television diet. That is, until the last few seasons. Me going "away" to university and Duchovny quitting the show aligned for what it's worth, and I stopped watching (to be fair, I stopped watching mostly everything during those college years). The show seemed to have run its course, and I wasn't eager to go back to it - at all. I had seen the movies, of course, but they were forgettable. I couldn't tell you where the Mythos storyline ended, nor did I really care. Because I really don't care for that story. The monster-of-the-week were some of my favourite shows; showcasing the paranormal, completely unexplained cases were the most fascinating, interesting and entertaining shows of the run - for me, at least.

We sat down to watch the premiere of season ten, and all my fears were realized: it was heavy on mythos. They tried to explain much of what happened in the previous nine seasons, and they did a good job. They also seemed to explain away a lot of big mystery and decided to move forward full tilt. I was not sold on it.

The Witch: A New-England Folktale

The Witch, or VViwtch - if you will - is a very slow, creepy and suspensful horror film that feels refreshing in the face your typical fare and what Hollywood is willing to throw in our faces. I know, I tend to say that a lot, but I've been trying to catch up on some "smaller" films, but I also *love* getting out to the theatres. I saw a comment online wishing that this movie didn't get a wide release, as it's not built for the mainstream audience, and to that point, I would agree. But I want to see it in theatres. It's when the audience gets all mob on you and decided to heckle the film that the entire film could be ruined. Fortunately, this was not the case when we went to see this. When my friend saw that The Witch was playing, and was sitting at a most-impressive 89% on the Tomatometer, we were sold. We also didn't know anything more about the film than what the title would tell us. 

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 famour '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 filmmaking is pulled from Kabuki-style plays of long ago, an art-form that was dying down as the Japanese culture faced a convalescense after the Second World War. Along with the style, the customs, traditions, and values alongside the unique filmmaking 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. 

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