The New York Ripper

As I delve deeper into the world of horror movies of the 70s and 80s, I often skip across the surface of these famous Italian directors and producers. I was really impressed with Inferno and Pieces, and with that, I probably saw The New York Ripper on a list and managed to get my hands on it. I feel so dirty now. Gore is definitely a major factor in these films, but Ripper takes it a step further. The director, Lucio Fulci, takes New York and allows the city to breathe its dirty eighties breathe all over, not unlike what William Lustig's 1980 film Maniac. I thought it interesting that Maniac takes place, for the majority, in the dark, while Ripper embraces the daytime. They both showcase everyday places that you would find yourself and cranks the horror and gore to untold levels. This lit approach to the film leaves nothing to the imagination; it leaves nothing for you to hide yourself behind. You have no choice but to look away, as each murder escalates in intensity and terror.

While I was fascinated by Maniac from the get-go, I was mostly turned off and bored throughout most of this film. If I had a theory, it would be that most of the film is a bit of a mystery that centers around Jack Hedley's detective slowly attempting to crack the case. Maniac focuses on the killer: his state of mind is up front and center, while our killer here remains a mystery. I see many reviews that say the identity of the killer is obvious, but I must admit I was a bit too involved in my phone, or pacing back and forth searching the cupboards for a quick satisfying snack to bother putting anything together. I can't help but think now that the sleazy feel of this film forced me out of my seat all too often. The most cringe-worthy, violent scenes made me uncomfortable in a way that other movies haven't, which may in fact be praise when that's the director's intention. 

And with that, I can't imagine this particular film staying with me to the extent that others have. But it is definitely bringing me into a new light of a niche of cinema that has remain largely unexplored. In an era where I can't find anything original at the cineplex, I don't have far to go to find films like this. 

Perhaps more interesting than the film itself is the history behind it; banned in the UK for decades, it "recently" came out on DVD (early aughts, that is) and was quickly gobbled up, as the film was able to amass a truly cult following for those who managed to get their hands on a copy. Now we're being treated to original releases of these films, cleaned up a bit and released in high definition by a variety of boutique distributors. 

I gave this a two-star rating on Letterboxd, bumping up a half star after I read more about the release of the film and where it stands in (and introducing me to) the world of giallo film.

Cape Fear

Finally sitting down to take in Cape Fear was a bit of a cathartic experience; we had the VHS kicking around the basement when I was younger, and I had vague memories of the film itself, although truth be told, most of those memories were probably formed by the smartly done Simpson's parody episode. The chilling music is something that would pop into my head on an alarmingly regular basis, but actually watching the film somehow slipped my priority until recently, and I'm quite taken aback with the idea of having seeing this as I was younger: it was quite a bit more disturbing, in both content and style, than I was prepared for.

Assassin's Creed

Tackling Hollywood’s latest video game adaptation was always going to be an interesting exercise. It’s a wonder that any of these become made; even in the face of an abysmal track record, producers will always make an attempt at adaptation when some semblance of a built-in audience is already around. Indeed, I got right into the video game when it first came out, and eagerly played the second (which was even better). I played the hell out of the third title, Brotherhood, and got burnt out on the fourth: Revelations. I believe there have been eight or nine main entries in the series to date.

With that many titles in the series, there’s a lot of story to pull from, and it’s easy to see the variety of ways that you could adapt these scenarios into compelling action and drama on the big screen. The base concept is interesting enough: it’s the story of two groups - the Templars and the Assassins - waging war for centuries in the hunt for pieces of eden, which apparently when combined, would allow for the control of the entire human race. Conveniently enough, the technology assists that allows an individual to relive the memories of their ancestors. In this case, Desmond is a modern-day man who comes from a long line of Assassin’s, which allows us - as gamers - to wreak havoc and see events unfold in a number of timelines.

You can see how the concept is well suited for a series of games: each game could take place in a different time, with one continuing story in the present to string it all together. THis is, of course, exactly what they do, as we start the series in the Third Crusade, then advance through history (and all over the world) with each iteration. It seems straightforward, then, to adapt the exact same premise into a movie franchise. It can’t be that simple though, right? Of course not.

Firewatch

Firewatch puts you in the shoes of Henry, a forty year old man working as a lookout in the US national forest of Shoshone in the year 1989. It’s your job - a Henry - to keep, well, a lookout, for local fires, and act to assist in preventing them. You’re not really a firefighter, but more of a watcher and warden of the park; indeed, on your first day your supervisor, Delilah, spots fireworks coming from a nearby lake, and it’s your duty to stop the park’s visitors from setting them off, which could spark a forest fire. The position isn’t glamourous, and shouldn’t be too exciting, but Henry finds mysterious occurrences in the woods, that require some investigation. You’re in near-constant contact with Delilah through a walkie-talkie; she’s miles off and can see your own tower, and is also responsible for maintaining contact with the other lookouts in different sectors.

Your first day is abnormally packed with activity. Upon investigating the source of the fireworks, you fight with two young women, and on your way back a mysterious figure shines a flashlight on you and promptly disappears into the woods. You discover a locked cave, and soon after, you discover your tower has been broken into and various belongings either trashed or straight up stolen. Not a good way to start your summer job, right?  The next day, you’re set on a task to find the suspect campers and to investigate a broken communication line. You become acquainted with the park and the various trails all while developing a relationship with Delilah who is, in effect, the only other person you can expect to talk to (and not even see) for the duration of your position.

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.

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