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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Zombie Lake: How to Not Do A Zombie Movie

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By Craig R.

Movies are usually notable for one of two reasons: They're either exceptionally good, or exceptionally bad. Unfortunately, Zombie Lake falls within the latter category. It is so bad that, for years, its director denied any involvement with it. Also, it appears to have nearly killed the Nazi Zombie subgenre. After this movie was released in 1981, the next film of its kind I can locate is 2009's Dead Snow.

In the setting of a French village ten years after WW II (we know this because we are told so), undead Nazis begin shambling out of a nearby lake and randomly attacking villagers. We are told that the ghouls are the reanimated corpses of German soldiers, who had been ambushed by the Resistance, and then dumped in the lake. This was done out of fear of reprisals against the village, had the bodies been discovered. Unfortunately, the lake in question is known as "The Lake of The Damned", because of human sacrifices and dark masses once performed there. Surely, there were more effective ways to dispose of the bodies. Shallow graves were out of the question, and while bodies of water are generally good places for such a purpose, The Lake of The Damned probably isn't the wisest place to do so. While the village must have had a furnace or incinerator that would've been just as effective, but there wouldn't be much of a movie.

As is the case with most movies of this type, the village authorities, in spite of evidence to the contrary, deny that there is anything responsible for the attacks other than wild animals. Finally, after both the help that is sent for and an entire volleyball team are killed, the villagers rally to destroy the zombies.

This movie has a lot of problems. First among them is the nature and behavior of the zombies. Instead of being the relentless wave of the undead, this movie's version of a zombie apocalypse is the undead lazily emerging from the lake to dine on villagers, and then return, presumably for a nap. I guess French cuisine is filling. These zombies even have manners. At one point, they have to share a victim, but instead of a frenzied jockeying for position, they patiently wait in line for their turn.

Apparently, this is what the French consider to be a horde.

Probably the most annoying of the zombies is the one I call "Zombie Daddy", who is the most featured. In flashbacks we are shown that he had an affair with a village girl and fathered a daughter with her. During one of his excursions into town, he discovers her and immediately takes a break from his rampage to spend quality time with her. Later, he even walks away from the zombies' battle with the villagers to go for a quiet walk with the girl.

Who's your daddy?
Zombies need love too
Speaking of the battle with the villagers, it was reminiscent of Star Wars. The similarity is not that it was an exciting scene, but that the villagers reminded me of Imperial Storm Troopers. The zombies were moving towards them, slowly, bunched together, down an alley, and in spite of that formation and at least 100 shots fired, only a couple hit their targets, hardly having any visible effect.

Zombie battle formation
This brings us to another annoying aspect of the zombies' nature, in that there's no decided way in which they can be killed. While Zombie Daddy kills another with a knife, none of the bullets that manage to hit them appear to have any effect. Eventually, the villagers kill them with fire. The beauty of zombies is that they are a relatively new monster, or at least they were at the time that this movie was produced, and don't have any set folklore. Even so, whichever way a storyteller decides that zombies have to be killed, they need to stick with it. Granted, their reanimation was probably the result of a supernatural source, but if a knife to the chest can kill one, unless it has to be one that's enchanted, shouldn't a bullet?

Secondly, the production values are just horrible. This movie has some of the typical problems such as switching between day and night during a scene. Other minor problems include additional zombies who randomly appear, then are never seen again, and when one is set on fire, the burning figure is obviously a mannequin.

The biggest production fault, however, is special effects, or the lack thereof, where the laziness of the production staff is clearly visible. By the time Zombie Lake was released in 1981, Romero's first two zombie movies, Fulci's Zombi 2, and Shock Waves, another Nazi zombie movie, had all been released. All of those, unlike Zombie Lake, had at least moderately convincing effects. In contrast, The zombie makeup here consists mostly of erratically applied green grease paint and silly putty.

A tube of green greasepaint: $6.98. Silly Putty: $4.54. Half-ass zombie makeup: Priceless. 
At the time the movie takes place, our undead Germans have been submerged in the lake for over ten years, yet they are almost perfectly preserved. From their appearance, the only indication that they were formerly dead is that their skin is mostly green, and I say "mostly green" because the makeup "artists" apparently couldn't be bothered to apply even coats of makeup. Some of the ghouls don't even have makeup on the backs of their hands; most have patches of normal skin tone showing through the paint, and Zombie Daddy doesn't even anything covering the skin on his neck.

After being submerged for ten years, shouldn't there be some decomposition? Even if one suspends disbelief, shouldn't there at least be deterioration of their uniforms, or rust on their helmets? One could accept that the cause of their reanimation may be supernatural, and may have preserved their bodies, but the clothes too? Admittedly, I'm probably over-thinking this, but is it too much to ask that at least one of them have a trouser leg untucked from a boot?

False advertising
Look, I know that makeup and effects needed to transform an actor into a convincing zombie are expensive, but the necessary techniques had by then been around for quite a few years, at least since Night of The Living Dead, which was released in 1968, and was little more than a student film. Also, with a zombie attack, especially one where the victim is gnawed on for several minutes, give us at least a little bit of gore, instead of just a smear of fake blood. Tom Savini (who did the makeup effects for Dawn of The Dead) was pretty busy during the time this film was produced, but he seems like a decent guy, who would've been glad to have given a few pointers.

Zombie Lake conforms with at least one of the informal rules of horror movies, that once a character either gets naked or becomes amorous, they're doomed. Which leads to my final problem with Zombie Lake, what I guess some would call too much of a good thing. There is a lot of gratuitous nudity in this movie. The horror movies that I grew up watching were released in the late '70s and early '80s, and at least some amount of  nudity was pretty much a given. Even then, most of that was simply a brief flash, where one would have to rewind and pause the video cassette, in order to see it, or so I've been told. Where this movie skimps on effects, it overcompensates in nudity. Approximately 1/3 of its run time is naked women. I'm sure that's probably more than could probably be found in many of the late night cable movies with plots about sex therapists solving murders.

Want to guess what happens next?
As an example, there is one scene, where a woman strips down, sunbathes, walks around, and then goes swimming, all while stark naked. I can live without nudity in a movie, and it doesn't bother me, but that scene lasted for about 5 minutes (I timed it), and I actually began to get uncomfortable. There were moments where she walked off screen, and I thought "Okay, she's going to put something on", but that didn't happen. There are at least two other scenes that linger like this, quite a bit too long. Look, I'm sure that I'm not alone in this, but if I wanted to see a lot of nudity, a zombie movie wouldn't be the place. I watch zombie movies because I want to see hordes of the undead relentlessly terrorizing people.

To the movie's credit, though it didn't manage to execute a good idea, it should be acknowledged that it does try to be different from other films in the genre. Having said that, Zombie Lake is a really terrible movie. The level of bad is not even "it's so bad that it's good." I can't recommend it, but if you do watch it, I hope that you find something to enjoy in it. Either way, you've been warned.

Supposedly, there is a version of the movie that has no nudity, where the women are at least partially covered. Unfortunately, I couldn't uncover it (See what I did there?). The poster at the top of this post and the clip below are actually from the sanitized version.

Zombie Lake is available on Netflix Instant, as well as YouTube. On Netflix, it's in French with subtitles, and on YouTube it's dubbed in English.

I give it 1 out of 5 waterlogged Nazis.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Share on Tumblr By Craig R.

Not only do I like foreign genre movies, but I also like classics. As a result, I occasionally contribute to The Speakeasy. I've never mentioned it here because there has never been any overlap of content areas. However, the overlap has finally occurred.

My latest contribution is a post about Dr. Fu Manchu, for a villain blogathon. The overlap doesn't come because the titular supervillain is Chinese, but because one of the films, The Vengeance of Dr, Fu Manchu, was produced by the legendary Shaw Brothers. 

Three Words: Christopher F'ing Lee
I am fond of saying, though this is the first time here, that I'm never finished with a written composition, I just quit. Unfortunately, after I quit, save, and submit it, like the snappy comeback one thinks of hours later, I think of something that I should've added. I use the tenuous connection to our standard content to make the missed point.

In the piece, I relate that Fu Manchu was the embodiment of what was referred to as "The Yellow Peril", which was the anxiety experienced by European countries over Asian countries becoming geopolitical forces. Later I mentioned that although Fu, for any number of reasons, had lost popularity as a cinematic figure, there may be a possibility for a comeback. 

The point I had made for a comeback was that period mysteries/adventures, such as the Sherlock Holmes films have had some success. The point that I would like to add is that China has become a major world power, and a scary one, at that. Whether the nefarious stories are true or not, of cyber attacks waged on other countries, and other such forms of espionage are things that are right up Fu's alley.

Another point: In the post, I made a joke about Nicholas Cage: "Fu Manchu is a great supervillain... played by many great actors, and Nicolas Cage...", which I feel that I need to clarify. Cage, while he has won an Oscar, and has appeared in many successful films, is a ham. 

Being a ham doesn't necessarily make him a bad actor, but he just usually tends to play different variations of the same crazy dude. Good or bad, he makes it work, and he deserves every bit of success that he has received. After all, I have enjoyed many hours of his hammy acting.

Please go read the original post here. Kristina, the proprietor of The Speakeasy, is a good friend of this blog so please drop in. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

An Example of Why Viking Samurai Exists (Hollywood Sucks)

Share on Tumblr By Craig R  
"I've got your good tidings right here!"

One reason that this blog was started was that we both noticed that we were both watching mostly foreign genre movies. We had independently developed this preference because Hollywood is basically out of ideas. Most of the genre garbage that comes out there is, more often than not, simply a variation of a handful of themes, or a remake or sequel. Foreign films tend to be more original or at least have a unique take on a well-worn theme. When Hollywood does try to be original, more often than not, they just try to sex up a well-known story or figure (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer), often with disastrous results.

The most recent example is the forthcoming Winter's Knight, which is supposed to explore the the origins of Santa Claus, making him into a badass action hero. Alternately, the Finnish Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale suggests that his origin was as a supernatural being who punished naughty children, instead of rewarding the good. This is essentially a take of the general practice of scary Christmas legends, like Krampus, being replaced by the more gentle Santa/Saint Nick. On the other hand, Hollywood goes the route of making up a whole new origin for Santa, where he's a Greek Bishop who fought Vikings, or something..

The Old Boss

The New Boss
Cracked has an excellent piece that explains why Winter's Knight will be terrible, and outlines our grievances with Hollywood (Warning: There is salty language).. In the meantime, we recommend a viewing of Rare Exports (available on Netflix Instant).

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

7 Dwarfs: Men in The Woods

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By Craig R.


Until now, my only exposure to German humor has been Sprockets, on Saturday Night Live, which one could argue doesn't count. I have generally stayed away from German humor because of prejudice in thinking that they are a dour, brooding people. I guess that may be a result of watching only German horror, World War II movies, and documentaries on the History/Military Channel. I wasn't sure of what I was getting myself into with this experimentation.

Not appearing in this film.
7 Dwarfs, (in German: 7 Zwerge), is not surprisingly a take on the Grimm Brothers’ story. It is set in an alternate universe (I’m guessing), where there is a bright side, the cozy home for humans, which was created in 6 days, and a dark side, the Sinister Forest, which was created on the 7th. Of course, the Dwarfs live in the Sinister Forest.  A river separates the two, which no one is supposed to cross. We are introduced to the dwarfs when Little Red Riding Hood crosses the bridge, tempted by a flower, and is seen by one of them (Bibi).


This kind of sets events into motion, because Bubi had never seen a woman before, and becomes curious, asking "Are there any more of those creatures with no willie?". The others, led by Brummboss, try to curb his interest, by reminding him that he was abandoned  (tossed out of a hot air balloon) by his mother, who was a bank robber, so that she could make an escape. They decide to take measures to prevent any more women from crossing the river. Since they are unable to blow up the bridge, they use other, much less effective, means.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to the Evil Queen, who, as usual, is vain, and being blonde, all of the jokes her jester tells must be about brunettes (he is later thrown in the dungeon because he is caught telling blonde jokes). When asking her mirror the usual question, (Do I really need to tell you?) finds out that Snow White is still alive (servants were told to "get rid" of her, but thought that meant to take her to an orphanage). After the Queen sends her huntsman to find Snow White, the mirror warns her, and she escapes to the Sinister Forest.


The rest of the story plays out pretty much the same as the story that we are familiar with: Snow White meets the Dwarfs, and improves their lives. 
The Huntsman and the Queen pursue Snow into the forest, eventually capturing her, in order to execute her (for the crime of deliberate & delicious beauty). The Dwarfs go to the rescue. Being a comedy, there are detours on their way to the rescue, but of course the dwarfs eventually succeed. There is at least one twist, though not really surprising, if one is paying attention, but I won't spoil it.

Snow White and the lads

A running joke is that they aren't really dwarfs, they just call themselves that. They don't even have real beards, but fake ones that they wear whenever going out into the forest. They are actually a sort of He-Man Woman Haters' Club, like in the Our Gang series (google it). They are each in the forest to get away from women, who had somehow done them a serious (mostly perceived) wrong. Each had answered an ad placed by Brummboss.  

You thought I was lying about the beards?

This movie is really funny, and dense with jokes. I generally dislike comparisons to other movies, but it's necessary here, because the humor covers a broad range. Like with the Police Squad and Airplane franchises, and Mel Brooks films there are constant gags. Even during serious scenes, there is something happening in the background, sometimes subtle, sometimes not. Also like those films, much of the humor is visual and absurd, and based on the characters not being very bright, or as bright as they think they are.

There is also quite a bit of slapstick humor (their favorite games involve hitting each other with boards), like The Three Stooges.  Most of the Stooge-type humor is dealt in a Moe Howard style. Unfortunately for Bubi, he, like Larry Fine, gets most of the abuse.

Of all of the characters, only Brummboss, and the Queen's Jester appear to have any sense. Well, that might not be totally fair, since Snow White and  Bubi's cluelessness probably has more to do with their naiveté than lack of sense or intelligence. At the beginning of the film, Snow is only 17, and Bubi has only ever known the forest, and what the other dwarfs have told him (If women are nice to you, it's only to trick you).

I have two major pet peeves about comedies, bathroom humor, and direct references to other movies. Thankfully, there is no bathroom humor in this film, though there is some mild sexual innuendo (the Dwarfs' hats pointing straight up when they first meet Snow White, and the "willie" remark"). My other peeve is present here, though there is only one occurrence. At one point, pretty much randomly, Brummboss seeks the counsel of a Gandalf-type character (please don't admit to googling that). Really, that is my only criticism of the movie, it just sticks out, and didn't seem to help move the action. Unless a film is a sequel or a type of spin off, it should be like cheese, and stand alone.

I highly recommend 7 Dwarfs. It is highly amusing, and is quickly paced, 
a great, original take on the classic story, and the cast all appear to be great comedic actors. Having been filmed entirely on a soundstage, it has a classic fairy tale-type feel. Unless I missed something, outside of the slight innuendo, it is probably suitable for all ages.

To summarize how much I enjoyed this film, I rarely laugh during Comedies, but I laughed out loud more than a few times watching it.

7 Dwarfs is in German, with subtitles, and is available on Netflix and Amazon Instant. I give it 6 1/2 of 7 pointy hats. I docked it 1/2 a hat because of a terrible song, their version of Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho. 

Note: The trailer below has no subtitles, but it still gives a great feel for the movie.


                                         7 Zwerge Trailer

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Iron Sky (or How Politics Ruined A Foolproof Concept)

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By Craig R.

This is not an overtly political blog. Genre movies should not have overtly political messages,  and if there is one, it should be subtle enough that the viewer does not notice it until long after it is over. Yes, Matt and I are conservatives, and fair or not, that affects the way we view movies. That being said, the following review is a political screed, and I would promise that it won’t happen again, but I don’t want to make myself into a liar later on. 

Nazis. On. The. Moon. What a perfect, foolproof idea! Nazis are the gift that just keep giving. They were so diabolical that they make the perfect villain. In a world that many want to view as having many shades of grey, they were pure evil. They were also secretive, and they controlled so much of Europe, that new things are constantly being discovered about them, and there are some things that the world may never know. That is the basis of Iron Sky, that towards the end of the war, a group of Nazis escaped to the moon, and built a secret base, with plans to one day return to the Earth and conquer it. That is just a great freaking idea.

Unfortunately, the people behind the film blew it. As I mentioned before, if a genre film, heck, any type if film, has a message, it should be subtle enough that if someone wants to think back over their viewing, they might realize the message on their own, and easily put it out of their mind, if they so choose. If a film has an overt message, it can offend viewers, who relate their displeasure to their friends and family, who in turn may choose not to see the film. The latter route is the one that Iron Sky chose to take.

Their mistake, as far as whatever my opinion is worth, was to blatantly mock Sarah Palin. The first time you see the character based on her, she’s working out on a stair climber, in the Oval Office, dressed similarly to the famous Runner’s World cover:

Anyway, the character is portrayed as Palin often is, as something of a shallow ditz. The basic plot, or what I gathered from as much as I could bear to watch, was that for her reelection, she chose, or her staff directed her to choose (because they’re her puppet masters dontcha’ know) an ethnic male model, to attract certain voter blocs. He is then sent on a mission to the moon, where he stumbles upon the Nazi base, and is captured. That’s about as far as I got.

I quit watching when the Palin character was introduced. Lampooning her in such a blatant way irritated me, to the point that I couldn’t focus on the movie any longer. I wasn’t annoyed by the simple fact they mocked her. Every pubic figure has aspects of their personality that are fair game to be mocked. The problem I had was the fact that they were lazy about it. All they basically did with the character was copy a Saturday Night Live skit, where they made her look dumb. Whether you are a fan of Palin’s, or not, that is just plain lazy, and you should be offended by that. 

The reason that you should be offended is that the writers didn’t think any more of their target audience than to throw a caricature at you. There should be no sacred cows in satire, but for the love of Pete, if you’re going to mock someone, be creative about it. A personal example: I’m a native Southerner, and for my entire life, we’ve been mocked as dumb, inbred rednecks. Anyway, back in the ‘80s (I think) Dennis Miller refers to the South as “Darwin’s Waiting Room”. Was I offended? Heck no, I thought it was hilarious. Why? He actually put thought into his insult, which in an odd way showed respect for both the target, and the audience. 

Wow, I got way off track there. 

I tried to watch Iron Sky about five months ago, to do a review here. I quit watching between fifteen and thirty minutes into it, after the Palin character was introduced. I had totally put it out of my mind, until today. Whatever genius was running Netflix’s Twitter account decided that it would be a good idea to tweet this:

Wow, way to go, on the day that they announced that they were losing the Warner Brothers catalogue. Last year they lost Starz, and they may very well lose Viacom. Those titles just aren’t going away, they are going to competitors, and it is not a wise move to risk alienating probably about half of their subscribers, by directly linking Iron Sky to Palin.

Outside of politics, here’s my review of what I managed to see: It’s a B-Movie, albeit with pretty good production values. The acting is over-the-top, all the characters I saw were caricatures, and the dialogue was pretty terrible, as one should expect from such a film.

Do I recommend it? You’re kidding, right? I’m not even going to bother rating it, especially since I don’t remember enough about it to rate it on one of my quirky scales.

A production of Germany, Finland,  and Australia, Iron Sky is in English and German

Monday, November 19, 2012

Battle Royale 2: Requiem (For What Could've Been)

Share on Tumblr By Craig R

A sign of a great film is that when it's over, you wish that there was more. Sometimes we get our wish, in the form of a sequel. Sometimes it works out (Godfather 2, The Road Warrior) and sometimes it doesn't (Rambo 2 and 3, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Godfather 3). Battle Royale, as uncomfortable as it could be to watch (review and recap here); it was an excellent film, which ended in such a way that a sequel was possible. I was personally looking forward that. Unfortunately, what I got is one of those times that I regretted getting what I'd asked for. I'll go ahead and tell you not to waste your time, so if you want, you can stop reading here. However, since I suffered through it, I might as well tell you why I hated it, just in case anyone wishes to question my judgment, I've been known to be wrong. Warning: There are spoilers. I can't really explain why I hated it without revealing things. Besides, this film didn't have any real surprises. I do reference the first film, so go ahead and watch it, or read my review, before reading any further. I'll wait.

To recap, in the first film, the Japanese government, in an effort to control their out-of-control teen population, instituted the BR Survival Program. This program took a class of middle school students, equally divided into boys and girls, to a remote island, where over a period of 72 hours, they were required to kill each other, until there is one survivor. The first film ended with two survivors, Nanahara Shuya and Nakagawa Noriko (you'll have to watch it to find out how that happened), last seen on the run, having been declared to be murderers.

The sequel begins three years later, during which time Shuya has become the leader of a group of rebels called the "Wild Seven", made up of survivors of previous BRs and family members of those killed in one. For the current BR, a new class of teenagers from a junior high school are selected, that includes many students whose parents or family members died in the Wild Seven's bombings (one is shown where a twin-towered building collapses, similar to the World Trade Center). After their school bus is diverted to an army base, they are herded into a cage, surrounded by armed guards, and met by their "schoolteacher", Takeuchi Riki (oddly enough, played by Takeuchi Riki), who lays out the ground rules of the new BR. Wild Seven is hiding out on a deserted island, and instead of being forced to fight, and kill each other, as in the old Battle Royale, the students are ordered to attack the terrorist group's hideout and kill Shuya, within 72 hours. The students, whether or not they're interested in getting vengeance, are forced to fight, through metal collars, which can be detonated by remote control (these are also used for tracking and eavesdropping), if a student refuses to cooperate. The students are put into pairs, one boy, one girl, and equipped with weapons and gear.

The best part of the orientation

After their orientation, the class is loaded onto boats, to assault the Wild Seven's hideout. While traveling to the island several are killed by machine gun fire and explosions. At this point, they learn that when one half of a pair dies, the other's collar explodes. During the assault, it becomes apparent that the two of the key survivors are Takura Aoi, and Kitano Shiori, the daughter of Kitano, the "teacher" from the first film who was killed by Shuya. She is a "transfer student", not a member of the class, but requested to be included. After a bloody and futile assault, the survivors are taken into the Wild Seven's base. There, explosive collars are removed and they are encouraged to join The Wild Seven, to stop the Battle Royale for good. Shuya sends a video message to the world, in which he declares war on "adults" (whatever that means), and calls for others to join them. In response to the video and pressure from the U.S. government (referred to as "that country"), the Japanese Prime Minister takes command, and orders a full military assault on the island, which leads to the bloody final battle.

Charismatic Terrorist Leader
After the brilliance of the first film, I had high hopes for this one. The concept of The Wild Seven was a good start, the BR program was in place to control the youth of Japan, through fear, and was ripe for some type of attempt to bring it down, fighting the government, in order to prevent any more kids from dying. Instead, the Wild Seven is an al Qaeda-type group, killing innocent men, women, and children (there is a brief shot that confirms that children were victims) in their attacks.

When your premise is that your characters are (rightfully) fighting to bring down a tyrannical government program, they need to be sympathetic, and gain the public's support. If that was the plan, then blowing up a building full of civilians is not a winning PR strategy. Instead, it sets up a situation where the viewer may be inclined to root against the protagonists (or at least I was).

Instead of going the route of fighting tyranny, intentionally, or not, this film basically seems to glorify terrorists. As mentioned above, the Wild 7 is an al Qaeda-type group, and Shuya is supposed to be an OBL-type character. There is even a segment where he tells of training in a country that had been at war "for decades." The footage over which he tells this is pretty clearly Afghanistan. He is also shown fighting alongside other people that he trained with, during which, he was dressed similar to what is seen in footage of the Taliban.

The writer/director has stated that he aimed to make a controversial film. Apparently, he attempted to do this by criticizing the U.S. response to the attacks of 9/11, and the War on Terror, pretty soon after they occurred (the film was released in 2003). In the beginning, during the orientation session, Riki starts calling out names of countries, and writing them on a chalk board, then asks the students what they all have in common. His answer is that in the past 60 years, they had all been bombed by the United States, and then proceeded to give a number of people killed. His reason for citing that? "Life isn't fair." What the hell does that have to do with anything? Much later in the film, after the aforementioned video from Shuya, and the Prime Minister's taking over the assault, there is more discussion of the US. The reason the PM takes over is that Shuya's call for international war on "adults" has brought a demand that action be taken. At that point, there is a heated discussion, actually semi-coherent yelling and screaming about how "that country" bosses around other countries, and coerces them into helping. Also, something is screamed about "that country" using the good will of other countries to gain their help in our conquests after they "rallied around that country". "That country" is often referred to, but it's pretty obvious that it's US. The gist is, you piss off the US, and they start bombing you.

This film is like a lame Pop star who tries to be relevant, by being shocking, but instead, is just lame and pathetic. The original film was very controversial, but what it had going for it was that it did have a truly controversial subject matter, kids having to kill each other. It was a unique and well-executed concept. It was very compelling, fairly fast-paced, and had emotional depth, where the viewer actually began to care for the characters, even the heavy. Unfortunately, even though both were written by the same person, BR II doesn t have any of that. The writer, Kenta Fukasaka, took over as Director, after his father, Kinji, died after filming only one scene. Comparison of the two films will show how much of a difference a Director can make in a film's quality.

I'm aware that this is a film, and that I am supposed to suspend disbelief, but everyone has their limitations, and this one exceeded my capability to do that. The first thing to do that was the fact that the Wild Seven had built an EMP device, which they used to deactivate the students' collars. Okay, I can buy that, but then shortly after that, Shuya made his video, and broadcast it around the world, by taking over the airwaves. This prompted a couple questions: Did the device only affect the collars? Was it designed to only affect those collars? Was it too weak to affect anything outside of the room? If so, what's the point?

Also, the combat scenes, except for the beach assault, just weren't believable. The soldiers who were attacking the island might as well have been Imperial Stormtroopers. Even though they are wearing body armor, they're too easy to kill, and only succeed in hitting their target after firing thousands of rounds. They appear to be using proper tactics, and mostly taking cover, but the Wild Sevens stand out in the open, rarely getting hit, yet taking out multiple soldiers. Look, I accept the concept of the invincible hero, as in the Die Hard and Rambo movies, but those guys are usually professionals, who are trained for the action. The Wild Seven, and the students who join them were either trained in a terrorist camp, mastering the monkey bars, or had just been handed a rifle, a few days before, yet are effective killers. Also, no one reloads, and few run out of ammunition. That leads to the question: Outside of there not being a film, why even bother with an assault? The government knows where The Wild Seven are located, and the only rule of engagement is that the students are to kill Shuya. The logical thing would've been to just bomb the island into gravel. Instead, they send in a bunch of untrained kids to get him, and then end up sending in trained soldiers anyway.

The biggest weakness of this film, and there are many, is the characters. The original film worked well, as more than an exploitive action film, because of the characters, and their interactions. Even though there were 42 students, the film took some time to let the viewer get to know them. Flashbacks were used very effectively to establish relationships between students. This explained how some would join together for protection, refusing to play the game, and sacrifice themselves to save others. The sequel doesn't have any of that.

Most of the characters aren't very memorable. We aren't given time to get to know them, and understand their relationships. As an example, towards the end, one of the male students, before going off to make a last stand against the soldiers, professes his love for one of the female students. The problem with that is my first thought was "who's that dude?" Before that moment, I honestly can't say that I had even noticed him before. For that matter, I don't even recall seeing the girl either.

As a terrorist leader, Shuya leaves a lot to be desired. His character worked in the first film, because he was trying to survive, and to save Noriko. In this film, in spite of having survived the previous BR, training in a terrorist camp, and becoming a ruthless killer, he still possesses the same gentle demeanor. He's also got a metrosexual, emo-type thing happening.

Takuma is as weak of a character  as Shuya. His flashbacks are wasted, they don't establish why he should be an important character, his connection to anyone else in his class, or why we should care for him. It seems like his purpose is simply to have 1) have a male lead, and 2) for Shuya to have a recipient of his exposition.
I had high hopes for Shiori because of her whole motivation for volunteering for BR (taking revenge on Shuya for killing her father). Unfortunately, that was all wasted, her flashbacks show that she had a very cold and distant relationship with her father. The only good thing about then is that the great Kitano Takeshi had a few minutes of screen time. In the end, not only does she not carry out her mission, she does the opposite of what she'd planned.

The only reason to watch, for all of two minutes
Riki was almost the polar opposite of Kitano. While Kitano was a mostly cold, calculating, and ruthless controller of the game, the film showed thay he had some humanity, and created some sympathy for him when he met his fate. Riki is totally unhinged, manic, and unreasonable. Pretty much nothing he does makes any sense, he speaks in non sequiturs, and his response to pretty much everything is to yell nonsensically. There is a brief, but effective, flashback that explains his derangement, but in the end, his actions totally negate its effectiveness. Apparently, Takeuchi Riki makes a living playing unhinged characters, or maybe that's just his personality. Either way, his character was another wasted opportunity.
Dude's totally craycray              
I give this film two exploding collars, and one of those is solely because of Kitano Takeshi's few minutes onscreen. Don't waste your time. Instead, go watch the original. Both are available on Netflix Instant.

It is Not Rated, in Japanese, with subtitles, and the run time is 2 hours 14 minutes.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


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 By Craig R.

As I've mentioned before, Samurai films are, by far, my favorite film genre. Chief among them (no disrespect to Kurosawa, who I adore) is the Zatoichi series (films and TV). They starred Shintaro Katsu, as Zatoichi, a blind masseur, who, like Caine, in Kung Fu, walked from place to place, meeting people, and getting into adventures. Seriously, he was also a master swordsman, who did travel, making his living giving massages, and gambling (dice). He usually ended up getting involved in some type of conflict, protecting the innocent, usually from the Yakuza, and correcting injustices. One of the movies was remade in 1989, as Blind Fury, starring the immortal Rutger Hauer. There was also a version released in 2003, starring the great Takeshi Kitano, in the title role.

This Ichi
Not this one - Big difference

Ichi is a homage/spinoff of that series. The main character is Ichi (not to be confused with Ichi The Killer), a blind musician, who, as an infant, was rescued by Zatoichi, and taken to live with a group of blind women. There, she lives, and was educated (Zatoichi would also visit her there, and train her to fight), until she was expelled after being falsely accused of having an affair, which was forbidden. Note: She is often addressed as "Goze", which was a title given to blind women. After her expulsion, she roams from town to town, searching for her mentor. Along the way, she makes a living by giving musical performances, and gambling (dice, as well).

The film opens with a Ronin (masterless Samurai) Fujihira Toma attempting to rescue Ichi from being attacked by a group of bandits. Instead, since he is incapable of drawing his sword, she rescues him. From there, they travel to a village, where she helps him win money playing dice, to replace some that he'd lost in his attempt to save her. Annoyed at Toma’s winning, and not giving them a chance to win back their money, bandits attach him and Ichi. Once again, Ichi saves him. A group of businessmen come upon the aftermath, and mistaking it as Toma's work, and hire him to be a bodyguard.  

When a government official comes to visit, the village, hoping to gain some protection from him, puts on a show. During the show, the bandits attack, and to end it, Ichi offers herself as a hostage. Her real motive for doing so is that the leader of the bandits, Banki, a former Samurai, supposedly knows of Zatoichi's fate. This sets up the chain of events that lead to the climactic battle.

I really like a lot about this film, but have a few issues. It is beautifully produced and directed. The scenery and costuming are fantastic. The characters are appropriately cast, none of the actors seemed out of place. It also has the themes of courage, honor, and sacrifice, common to most films of this genre.

Haruka Ayase does an excellent job as Ichi. She gives an effective, but subtle performance. Ichi is appropriately sullen, considering the hardships that she had to endure, but made stronger by them. She is very convincing as a blind person (Another note: Katsu and Kitano both played Zatoichi with their eyes mostly closed. Ayase plays Ichi with her eyes open). The developing friendship with Toma is played out very well. She starts out as tolerating him, and treating him with contempt, but later becomes his friend. The two share a couple moments that are quite touching.

Most films of this genre seem to have some type of comic relief. Most of this is provided by, or at the expense of Toma. The reason for him not being able to draw his sword is shown in flashbacks, and is quite tragic, but this inability is often played to comedic effect. Also, one of the other characters frequently changes his name to “Ton-ma”, a slight mispronunciation that means “dim witted”, which amusingly flusters him. Takao Osawa gives a strong performance in this role. Though a skilled fighter, his inability to draw humbles him, and the shame and frustration is evident. He does a great job portraying the arc from being sort of buffoonish to becoming a hero.

The villains are almost cartoonish, yet suitably deranged, frequently laughing maniacally, at inappropriate times. Banki (Shido Nakamura - Letters from Iwo JIma) a former Samurai, who was so disfigured from a battle, that he was expelled from his clan, wears a mask, and kills anyone who sees him without it. He was a good villain, but I always got the feeling that he'd be better suited for a '70's Kung Fu movie. I was occasionally distracted, because his main henchman (played by Takeuchi Riki, who apparently makes a living off of playing totally unhinged characters) looked like Wayne Newton, and several others look like Elvis impersonators.

Wayne Newton, is that you?
The main issue I have with it is that it was dubbed into English. Most of that was done pretty well, with most of the voices being seamless. However, a couple voices do sound like those from the aforementioned Kung Fu movies. I suspect that this may be because the actors are trying to imitate the rhythm of the Japanese language.

The film moves rather slowly, at times, and could've been a good deal shorter. However, it makes up for that by having a sword fight about every 15 minutes, with multiple combatants, and a battle between the villagers and the bandits. If you choose to watch, notice the unique way Ichi holds her sword (shown in the trailer below). I did have a problem with Ichi being a secondary character for about a quarter of the film, unable to do much, after losing a brutal duel. This is done to allow Toma to redeem himself, through heroic actions, that result from her captivity.

Flashbacks are put to great use, to explain Ichi and Toma's backstories, though there was additional exposition. The two could've been combined, in some instances, to help with pacing. Ichi’s flashbacks first show how she was rescued, then trained by Zatoichi. In a matter of minutes, they effectively establish the relationship between the two. They also show her life with the other Goze, her training with Zatoichi, and the reason for her expulsion. Toma’s shows the tragedy that prevents him from drawing his weapon.

While not a masterpiece, it is quite enjoyable, this was actually my second viewing. If you enjoy this, or not, or choose not to not even watch, I recommend the classic Zatoichi films, which may eventually  get their own posts. There are several available, for free, on Hulu.

Ichi’s original language Japanese, but is dubbed in English (I originally saw it with subtitles). It is Rated-R, with a run time of 1 hour, 58 minutes, and is available on Netflix, and Amazon Instant.

I give if 3, out of four cane swords.