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Tuesday, November 20, 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.
Bromance
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

Ichi

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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.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Chawz, in Which Pigs Get Some Sweet, Sweet Revenge

Share on Tumblr By Craig R.

Jaws, and a select few other monster movies, was very effective because for much of the film, the shark was never seen, leaving much to the imagination. The Andy Griffith Show was great because it was about a competent Sheriff surrounded by small town eccentrics. Chawz, a South Korean (I'm not sure if there's any other kind of Korean film) film that effectively borrows more than a few elements from both of those classics, as well as others (Roger Corman productions, Predator).

Not Appearing in this film

This film is about a rural Korean village, Sam-Re-Me, that dubs itself "The village without crime", that has a series of animal attacks. It so happens that at the same time the town is promoting itself to bring in tourists to harvest their "organic" crops. As in Jaws, town leaders want the attacks covered up. I'm going to continue under the assumption that anyone reading this has seen Jaws, so "as in Jaws" should be implied whenever an element of the plot is mentioned (in case you've never seen Jaws, go here). At about this time, Officer Kim Kang-Soo is transferred to town, from Seoul. He wound up there, because as a joke, he wrote "anywhere" on a transfer request. He moves there with his wife, and somewhat eccentric, possibly demented, mother. He is what I'd consider the Andy Griffith character in this film. With the exception of Kim, and Inspector Shin (who never removes his sunglasses), the rest of the police force, including the Captain are Barney Fife types.


 Nope, him neither
                                                                
It turns out that the creature in question is is a seemingly indestructible, man-eatingmutant boar. After several attacks, professional hunters are brought in to track it down. Of course they kill a pig that turns out to be the wrong one. The deceased turns out to be the mate of our man eater.

After the boar attacks a celebration at the town hall, an expedition is formed to track it down. The party is led by two big game hunters Chun Il-Man (a retired legend, and the grandfather of one of the victims) and Baek Man-Bae (the estranged, glory-seeking protégé of Chun). It also includes Byun Soo-Ryun, a Biologist, as well as Kim, and Shin. Kim's mother even tags along for a while. Once they get into the mountains, events occur that turn them from being the hunters, to the hunted.

There are several attempts to kill it, which of course fail. There rea couple of long chases, where it chases our protagonists. The climax, and epilogue are reminiscent of other creature features, but different enough to be unique. Stick around until the credits roll, there is an amusing extra scene.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. There is quite a bit of humor in almost every scene, making it a great black comedy. Most of the characters are pretty well fleshed-out, and interesting. The eccentric villagers, even one who randomly appears, seemingly, just for the sake of weirdness, are all thoroughly so.

The effects, even the CGI pigs, are all quite effective. There is a more than sufficient amount of carnage, and most of the attacks, where the boar makes a kill, leave much to the imagination. It is also beautifully shot, and there is excellent character interaction.

This film does seem to have a couple messages, though not heavily played. A suspected origin of the mutant pigs is that they resulted from experiments performed by the Japanese military during World War II. This continues a theme that I've noticed in many Asian films, from countries that were occupied by Japan. They often take subtle jabs at that nation, as causing the problem, as is the case here, or as villains, as in a couple of Bruce Lee's films. Also, Byun suggests that the pigs have come down from the mountains because of deforesting done for farming. One could also interpret the attempts to cover up the attacks as a jab at corruption.

This is a great film, in which couldn't find any major flaws, or annoyances. The dialogue is in Korean, with subtitles. It is Rated-R (language and violence), and run time is 2 hours, 1 minute, and is available on Netflix Instant.

I give it four, out of four, mutant pigs.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mutants? Meh

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This review was really hard to write. I didn't hate this movie, I didn't particularly like it, I'm aggressively ambivalent about it. When that's the case, it's really hard to praise it, yet hard to trash it. I watched all of it, so I figured that I might as well make an attempt to write a review. This is one of those movies that's hard to tell much about without any spoilers, but I shall do my best.


Mutants has promising start. It begins in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, where apparently most of the population has been infected with a virus, that has turned them into zombies (unfortunately, the running kind). Our main characters are Marco and Sonia, a couple who happen to be EMTs, who are attempting to make their way to the safety of a military base. They don't quite make it there, and have to hunker down in an abandoned building, after. Along the way, Marco becomes infected, and the rest of the film involves Sonia trying to cure him, while they are waiting for help to arrive, and some of the usual elements of this genre (an incursion by other survivors, and a zombie siege). 


Mutants attempts to do something different within the genre. Many of these type films are so packed with zombie attacks that they don't have much time to get into interpersonal interactions. This film spends too much of its run time, actually most of the time, doing that. This is an interesting touch, watching Sonia deal with Marco's gruelingly slow transformation into a zombie. However, the downside of that aspect is that about an hour of this film, except for Marco, is zombie-free. Either they had that much because they couldn't afford more zombies, or they didn't have many because of the story, whatever.


Before I get into what I didn't like about this film, I'll address what I actually did like about it. It is very well-made, the characters are well-written, and acted, the cinematography is great, as are the effects, most dealing with Marco. The aspect of dealing with Marco's transformation, and Sonia dealing with it are very effective, but did I mention that it takes up way too much of the movie? It does, and it becomes annoying. The reason that she goes to such lengths is explained late in the film, but I won't spoil that for you, in case you decide to give it a viewing. 


Now, let's review what I didn't like. First, for a zombie apocolypese, it was pretty meager. There were maybe twelve of them in the entire film. Also, our protagonists are able to drive for quite a while on roads, where there is not an abandoned car in site. This is the first time that I've ever watched anything that is zombie-related, where the characters do any amount of travelling, and the roads are not blocked at all. 


Also, there is a disappointing lack of carnage. Did I mention that there aren't many zombies? There aren't any burning buildings, and pretty much any structure they enter is pristine. The building Marco and Sonia end up staying in basically looks like everyone had just gone home for the day, and there are virtually no signs that anything is amiss in the rest of the world. There's also electricity. If the apocolypse has been going for as long as the hints that it has, would there still be electricity?


In this genre, of the first things that people usually do when they find shelter is to harden it, boarding up and blacking out, to try to keep zombies out, and not draw attention to their location. Do Sonia and Marco do this? Noooo, of course not. Not only do enter the structure, and not even appear to make a feeble attempt to secure themselves against intrusion, but they don't even attempt to hide their presence. I found myself getting distracted, looking for ways that I could secure myself, in that situation. When they first arrive inside of the building, there is no power, but after a search, Sonia finds a breaker box. When she turns on the power, there is an outside shot, and the building lights up like a Christmas tree. I doubt that she even bothered to go around to turn out any of the unnecessary lights, it's just that kind of movie. Unfortunately, as is shown later in the film, other survivors don't even attempt to harden their location either. What is it with the French?


Probably the thing that bothered me the most of all is that not only did Marco's transformation take place over a couple days, but Sonia's carelessness during the situation. Not only does she not kill him once she figures out that he's infected, she doesn't even bother to restrain him. Look, I understand the reluctance to kill a loved one when you know that in short order he'll be set on making a meal out of you, I can't say that I'd react any differently, but at least take measures to protect yourself. Good grief, how did she survive so long?

I also understand maintaining the hope that once help arrives, the military will have found a cure, and Marco will be okay. However understanding I may be, once the dude starts vomiting blood, and growling and snapping at me, he's either going to be put down, or at least restrained. Our female protagonist never attempts to restrain Marco, this, he's able to terrorize her throughout the film, until his change is complete. After he tries to gnaw on her, he tells her that he's sorry, and she forgives him. This reminds me of the parable of the scorpion and the frog.


Another issue with this film is the zombies. First, they run. It's sad that these days, I'm surprised when a zombie movie has ones that don't run. Outside of trying to make things more exciting, or the MTV influence, another possible reason for running zombies occurred to me while I was watching this film. When zombies run, it's more difficult to focus on their features, because of some blurring & shakiness of the picture. This possibly enables the filmmakers to use less detailed makeup for the ones that aren't featured. Using the right type of lighting and shadows also helps this. That being said, Marco's makeup is very effective.

Secondly, there just aren't enough of them in this film. There are maybe a total of a dozen here. If you you're going to portray a zombie apocalypse, try to make it convincing. While this film has good production values, it appears to be low-budget, which would explain the measly number ghouls. In films like Rammbock: Berlin Undead, it is possible to be convincing with a small amount of zombies, if the setting is in close quarters. Unfortunately, this film's setting is too wide open for that to be done.

Finally, the zombies stray far from the canon that most films of this type stick to. In most works in this genre, the transformation occurs quickly, in minutes or hours, if not instantaneously, so that the uninfected often don't have time to prepare or react. If a transformation occurs over several days, how did the apocalypse happen? You know there's no cure for the condition, you know if someone's infected, and will turn, make preparations, if that's not done, maybe zombies deserve to rule the Earth. Also, zombies only attacks are usually grabbing and biting. Here, our ghouls hit, even straddle a victim, and pummel them MMA-style. The final violation is the way they are killed. It's pretty standard with this type of undead that the only way to kill them is to destroy the brain. A couple of them in this film are killed by damage to their throats, and bleeding out. That's just unacceptable. A few are burned, but that's acceptable, since theoretically, the fire damages their brains.

In spite of my criticisms, this is a decent film. It's shot well, has decent effects, the acting is fine, and it had an interesting concept. Unfortuantely, I had too many problems with it, and it was too slow, for an extended amount of time, for me to fully recommend it. Did I mention that there weren't enough zombies?
It is in French, with subtitles. Its run time is 1 hour, 29 minutes, and it is rated R. It is available on Netflix Instant. 

I give it 2 1/2 out of four purple zombies.


 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Battle Royale

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By Craig R.


Some things are so horrific that it's hard to look away: Car accidents, train wrecks, Pauly Shore movies. Such is the case with Battle Royale. That isn't because it's a bad film. On the contrary, it's an excellent film. The problem isn't that it has a lot of graphic violence. The problem is that it involves children, specifically teenagers.

Originally released in 2000, Battle Royale was not released in the US until 2011. This is because it couldn't find a distributor, due to fears of legal actions resulting from the content. In the meantime, The Hunger Games books and movie were released. The similarities are so striking that fans have accused Suzanne Collins of stealing the idea for the story.

Set in a collapsing Japan (10% unemployment, teens going on strike by refusing to go to school), the government establishes The BR Program, where an entire Junior High class is randomly selected to participate in a fight to the death. As in The Hunger Games, this is supposedly to keep the population under control through instilling fear.


Not this kind
In the film, a class of forty students is gassed while on a bus trip, and wake up in a briefing room on a deserted island. They are greeted by heavily-armed soldiers, and their former teacher Kitano (played by the great Takeshi Kitano), who quit after being stabbed by one of them. At this point, he explains their situation: their class has been randomly selected to participate in that year's Battle Royale as a result of the BR Act, which was passed after 800,000 students walked out of school. They have three days to kill each other, until only one of them remains. If that does not happen, the explosive collars they are wearing will detonate. They will also happen to participants who resist the rules, or enter "death zones", which will be announced every twelve hours.  It is never mentioned, but the only prize for surviving is just that.

Kitano

At this point, during their orientation, Kitano mercilessly kills a couple students who cause trouble during the orientation, to make his points. The students are then sent out one-by-one.  Each of them is given a bag of food and water, map of the island, compass, and randomly issued a weapon. The weapons are anything as lethal as a gun or knife, or seemingly useless as a pot lid or paper fan.

                                                                                
Within hours, twelve of them die, some by suicide. Two "exchange students" had been added to the group, one of whom is quite vicious. Presumably, I don't recall it being discussed much; the two were probably added in the event that many of the students are reluctant to kill. As The Hunger Games did later, all of the day's deaths are announced during each evening's announcements.

As the story unfolds, some of the students form alliances, and seek out others, in order to protect them, and express unrequited love.Unfortunately, this leads to multiple deaths, at one time. The stress also causes them to reveal their true character, with one even using the situation to settle old scores.

If there's an intended message to this film, I didn't see it, though I've read that it was to condemn television violence. That may be so, but I don't recall any mention that the events were televised. I got the sense that while the portrayal of the violence, while graphic, and unflinching, wasn't done for the sake of glorifying it. I expected that, because films of this type from Japan often seem to do otherwise.

If there was a message, in my opinion, it was that stress will reveal someone's true character, and can strengthen love and friendship, but that may just be me looking for something good. If there is a redeeming value, it is, as mentioned earlier, that alliances are formed, where the members do not turn on each other, and that the actions of some are motivated by love.

Although this is a well-made film, I hesitate to recommend it. I'll let you make up your minds about deciding to watch it. I almost didn't write this review, because the violence was a little unsettling, but felt that I should at least warn anyone who is considering viewing this.



I give this film three out of five pot lids, because of my reservations. It was made in Japan, and is available in Netflix Instant. The language is Japanese, with subtitles, and is Not Rated. Run time is 1 hour, 54 minutes.

Update 9/20/13: It is available on Netflix Instant and Amazon Instant. However, I found the whole thing on YouTube.


Note: I would normally post the trailer here, but I felt that it was a little too graphic. If you are interested in this film, I recommend that you watch it first.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

'Dead Snow' ain't a Oscar pic but it is fun.

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      Question: What is worse than Zombies and Nazis? Answer: Nazi Zombies!!! Dead Snow is a fun gore fest from Norway that tries not to have any deep meaning or pretty much any thinking whatsoever.  Most Scandinavian movies I've seen are more vignettes; i.e. stories that you might hear from your Grandpa around a fire.  Usually short and heavy on character development.  Well not Dead Snow no way.
     Dead Snow was very much like the old 1980's American horror movies.  But with a lot less plot, which is really hard to believe.  Jason Voorhies could have been freaking Gary Oldman after I saw it.
Where the hell is my hockey mask?!

      But hey, it's a gorefest and they don't try to make any pretenses that they're anything else.  Flying limbs, split open heads, brains falling out of heads, and more disembowelments than you have ever seen in any movie. That's including medical documentaries.  Nazis apparently love intestines.
      But overall it was funny and scary.  But extremely gory.  I give Dead Snow 2 3/4 Zombie heads out of 5.




VikingSamurai © 2012

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

We Are The Night

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By Craig R.

In recent years, significant damage has been done to the vampire genre. Vampires that sparkle in the daylight, instead of burning to a crisp, and don’t have fangs? Marrying mortals? Even Francis Ford Coppolla couldn’t resist, making Dracula long for a lost love. Vampires are blood-thirsty killers. They can be cool, and sexy, but in the end, they are killers. In general, many contemporary vampire movies ignore the traditional canon of the genre (weaknesses, appearance, etc.).

Not in this film

 We Are The Night is a German vampire film that sticks mostly to the canon. It is about a trio of female vampires: Louise, Charlotte, and Nora. Located in Berlin (I have a hard time using “living”, when referring to vampires), throw huge rave-like parties, (recklessly) drive expensive cars, seducing, and wantonly feeding on mortals, and live in a luxury hotel. One night Lena, a young criminal, attends one of their parties. In short order, Louise turns her.
Lena has a hard time adjusting to being one of the undead, which leads Louise to take measures to help her accept the reality sooner. Unfortunately this leaves behind a trail of bodies, which attracts the attention of the police, chiefly, Tom, an officer that had met Lena when she was still a mortal. This leads to him tracking her down, and them striking up a friendship, somewhat romantic, which further affects Lena’s ability to adjust to her new life, and eventually leads to bad things happening, for our ladies of the night.

Tom and Lena’s relationship is not obtrusive to the story, but flows quite freely into it. This film, unlike many that I have seen, addresses the longing for their mortal life, and those that they’ve left behind, as well as the reluctance to accept the new existence. For me, the most effective scene was one where one of the ladies visits her dying daughter, who was a child when she was turned, in a nursing home. There is also an interesting conversation of the group’s type of feminism, and creating new vampires.

The effects are done quite well, there is quite a bit of blood, though fangs are rarely seen. Lena’s transformation from a mortal to a vampire was done very well, unlike any that I can recall. The action sequences are done quite well, daylight car chases, with special cars, shootouts with the police, and of course vampire fights. Thankfully, even though the vampires perform superhuman feats (walking on walls, and ceilings, for example), there’s none of that Matrixy, Wire-Fu-type garbage. As far as possibly objectionable content, the only nudity is, unfortunately a (thankfully) a very brief glimpse of some dudes’ junk, and there is a moment when Louise kisses Lena.

My only real problem with the film is that rather than using subtitles, it is dubbed into English. While this is perfectly appropriate for Kung Fu, and Godzilla movies, that are watched purely for fun, it is not for a “serious” film. In the “fun” movies, the dialogue merely connects the action sequences, so the quality isn’t as important. Actually, bad dubbing (out of sync, inappropriate voice) makes those types of movies more entertaining.  However, when that happens with a more serious film, it can be distracting, and takes away from the seriousness. Unfortunately that is the case with We Are The Night. Lena’s voice actually sounds like one that one would hear in a Kung Fu movie.

I highly recommend this film. It is one of the most interesting vampire movies that I've seen in a while. It is Not Rated, dubbed into English, and has a runtime of 1 hour, 40 minutes. It is available on Netflix Streaming.

I give We Are The Night three out of four Hot German Vampires.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Be the Solution or Get the hell out of the Way! The Review of "Phase 7"

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 By Matt Dawson
 
     In life you are either the problem, the solution, or just in the damn way.  A microcosm of this is the apocalyptic movie Phase 7.  This Argentinean sci-fi takes place during the midst of an undetermined outbreak of a killer virus.  The protagonists is the hapless  30 something husband, Coco (David Hendler).  Coco and his wife Pipi, yes it’s pronounced pee pee so feel free to giggle, are clueless about the danger is around them by the time their own apartment complex is quarantined off.  As the situation starts to become more dire and supplies in the apartment complex become more valuable factions start to form within the complex.  An Elderly man on the first floor named Zanutto (Federico Luppi), who looks like a cross between Ricardo Montalbahn and Bob Barker,  seems to be coughing often and some of the neighbors want to take Zanutto and move him to another  apartment.
"The Price, etsa wrong, Beeetch!"

Coco ignores them and still insists on living his life like nothing has changed.  Coco’s neighbor, Horacio, is the real life embodiment of National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers.  He has full body tox suits, years worth of food, and arsenal that would make Ted Nugent jealous, and the number one asset: Common Sense.  Horacio gives Coco a suit, food, even a pistol. Coco doesn’t want them and promises that if you call the police they will handle any situation.  Horacio tells the other neighbors to stay away from the fourth floor or it would be considered an act of war.  Coco ignores Horacio and tries to go reason with the other neighbors.  Well that is when the shit hits the fan.  Bob Barker’s Argentinean Doppleganger, Zanutto, flings open the door to the neighbors and proceeds to blow their heads literally off.  Yeah it’s kind of gruesome.  Coco figures out that this situation is not normal and needs to pull his shit together or Zanutto is going to blow is ass off.  Horacio and Coco rig the building with traps, which Coco triggers all himself because he’s a dumbass.  Zanutto has now officially flipped his shit and has killed almost everyone in the apartment complex.  Coco had better find his balls quick because Zanutto doesn’t flinch and Horacio may not be there to help him.
       Overall I thought Phase 7 was a tad boring.  Although there were funny spots in it, such as when Coco shaved his beard and looks exactly like the lead singer of Moterhead.
Lemmy is not a pussy. 

     The acting was real at times but at other times as in the scenes with Pipi, sorry giggling again, it just seemed to fake that this woman has no idea what’s going on until the very end of the movie.  In the end I was relieved it was over just because I grew tired of Coco’s whining.  I mean grow a pair, dude!  I give this movie 2 out of 5 Shouting Pipi’s. (Oh that never gets old.)
     Country: Argentina; Language: Spanish; Runtime: 95 minutes

VikingSamurai © 2012

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rammbock: Berlin Undead

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By Craig R.


I really hate MTV. Yeah, I hate it for the obvious reasons: The fact that the “M’ doesn’t really mean anything anymore, the inane reality shows, and its contribution to the coarsening of American culture. Mostly, though there’s no direct connection, I hate MTV for the creation of running zombies. I think this is a result of the style of MTV has influenced some film genre’s in that they have to become flashier and more up-tempo, quick cuts, shaky cams, and running, freaking zombies. Lumbering zombies are perfectly effective, and had been the standard until the Dawn of The Dead remake, but that’s just not good enough for the little freaks that grew up on MTV. Not even German cinema can escape MTV’s insidious influence.
MTV is a Zombie Food Desert

Rammbock: Berlin Undead features those abominations. Outside of that, it’s a pretty good film. It starts with Michael arriving in Berlin, to return apartment keys to his long-distance girlfriend, Gabi, who had just broken up with him (Crack that whip!). When he arrives at her apartment, she’s not there; just in time for all Hell to break loose. He gets holed up in the apartment with Harper, a maintenance man, who was doing some work in the apartment when Michael arrived. The rest of the movie deals with them trying to survive, and eventually attempt to escape to safety. There are also eight other survivors in the building, of course some make it, and some don’t.


 This is a low-budget, yet well-made film. Entire film takes place inside of the apartment complex. Our heroes, Michael and Harper are kind of hapless, not really knowing what to do, which is actually kind of refreshing for a zombie film. There are quite a few comedic moments between them, particularly involving a bear costume. There is more of a focus on meaningful character interactions than in most films of this type.  Some things also don’t happen the way that are expected. It also ends on an emotional note, which is also highly unusual.

In spite of them being runners, the zombies were effective. The makeup and performances were as convincing as those in higher-budget films. There are also enough of them to make it believable that there is a zombie apocalypse afoot. Also, there is very little gore, but enough to be effective.

This isn’t the best zombie film that I’ve ever seen, but it’s quite good. It has great performances, good effects, and it also has a slightly different take on the weaknesses of the runners. It is available on Netflix Instant.

I give it three out of five running zombies.
Language: German; Runtime: 59 minutes
VikingSamurai © 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

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     Happy elves, big fat jolly Santa, flying reindeer, family get togethers; these are all Christmas movie traditions you will not see in the Finnish movie Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.  Think of Rare Exports as the Redneck Scandinavian version of Christmas movies if Redneck Scandinavian movies consisted of a demon Santa Claus, hundreds of wraith-like geriatric elves and slaughter, slaughter, and more slaughter.
     The film begins with a group of scientists making a big freaking dig on the top of a cone like mountain deep in the Northern woods of Finland.  Two boys from a village of Reindeer herders go to investigate.  One of the boys, Pietari, played by Onni Tommila, isn’t convinced that these are miners or mere scientists.  He believes that these men are digging in the World’s largest burial mound, the burial mound of Santa Claus.  Pietari tries to tell his friend that Santa is not nice at all but a demon of lore that kidnaps children and tortures them for not being good.  He goes on to describe how many centuries ago the villagers there trapped Santa in ice and buried him under the mountain.   Yeah, this ain’t Miracle on 42nd Street.  Pietari tries to warn his father Rauno, played by Jorma Tommila.  Rauno is a distraught widower and has no time for Pietari’s foolishness.     Pietari takes matters into his own hands and suits up in full hockey gear including a heavily patted bottom.
     Strange noises are heard atop the mountain one night and Rauno and the other herders awake to find all of their herd slaughtered.  They are pissed and decide to go confront the scientists but when they get to the top of the mountain they find a bottomless giant empty hole and zero scientists.  Pietari is really worried at this point and really tries to warn his Dad. No Dice.  The next day is where it gets real.  Rauno and Pietari find that something has sprung their wolf fall trap.  They search the spike lined opening to find a white bearded skinny naked old man.  They bring the body to Rauno’s slaughterhouse to find out who the identity of this man.  Two other Reindeer herders come over to see what happened.  They know that the Wolf trap is illegal and of course their only option is to chop up the old man so no one finds out.  Yeah, I solve most of my problems in slaughterhouses too. What the hell?!  Before they can chop up the guy, he comes to life.  He never speaks but he has a keen interest in little Pietari.  Convinced that this is Santa Claus they trap him and try to ransom him to the scientists.  When the scientist appears he tells them that this isn’t Santa Claus but one of his many hundred elves.   You’ll have to watch to find out who Santa is.
     This movie really keeps you on the edge of your seat.  Obviously not your typical Christmas movie, but it’s not your typical horror movie either.  It leaves a lot up to the imagination.  The special effects were good and believable.  I particularly enjoyed Jorma Tommila’s performance and the interactions he has with Onni.  You could really feel the pain that Rauno felt having to spend another Christmas without his wife and having to care for his son.  
       Craig and I thought that this should be required Christmas viewing.  I swear your kids will not try to see Santa after they watch this movie.
     I heartily give this 4 out of 5 slaughtered reindeer!
     Rare Exports can be watched instantly on Netflix.



Sunday, June 10, 2012

13 Assassins

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     I blame John Belushi (those from Gen-Whatever-Comes-After-X may need to look him up). His Samurai Warrior character on Saturday Night Live (back when it used to be funny) made me curious about Samurai movies, which grew into a love of most things Samurai. So, it’s fitting that my first post will be about a Samurai movie.



The movie in question is 13 Assassins, a 2010 film, directed by Takashi Miike. It’s set during a time of peace in 1800s Feudal Japan. A cruel young Lord Naritsuga rapes and kills at will (the only troubling scenes in the film demonstrate this), since he’s the son of a former Shogun, and the brother of the current one. At the beginning of the film, he is poised to make political moves that will make him even more powerful. Seeing the danger of this, Sir Doi, a senior government official hires Shinzaemon to assassinate Naritsuga. Shinzaemon then recruits 11 more of the most trustworthy and strongest Samurai that, whom Sir Doi knows his nephew Shinroukuro. The 12 plan to ambush Naritsugu on his long journey home from Edo. Along the way, they get lost while travelling through the mountains and a hermit guides them to their destination, and becomes the thirteenth member of their group. They then take the village over and convert it into a labyrinthine mousetrap with many camouflaged fortifications, and wait for Naritsuga. That is where the climatic battle happens.

This is a film of contrasts, there is good and evil, with no in-between. The heroes, Shinzaemon and his men are men of honor, willing to do what is right, knowing that they might not survive. This is a theme that like Western’s, runs through most Samurai movies. In a way, this movie is like Seven Samurai, and The Magnificent Seven. The villain, Naritsuga, has absolutely no redeeming value, he is amoral and cruel, making his foes that much more effective. The only thing missing from that character is a Snidley Whiplash (look it up) mustache, for him to twirl. The only possible gray character is Hanbei, Naritsuga’s right-hand man. He expresses doubts about his lord, but in the end he is a Samurai, and bound to serve his master. The end for these three characters is quite effective.

I had been wary about this movie, because of Miike’s reputation for making disturbing films. I had tried to watch his film Ichi The Killer, but had to quit about 10 minutes into it. The dude blowing cigarette smoke out of the slits cut in his cheeks was too much for me. So, I was understandably concerned that this would be a gratuitously gory film. In spite of the high body count (over 200 people die in the final act), it has very little blood. There were a couple somewhat disturbing scenes: Naritsuga’s off-screen rape and murder of a subject’s wife, him murdering a child (shooting him with an arrow), and when Shinzaemon is shown a woman whose limbs had been amputated by him. I watched this movie a few months ago, so I’ve had time to digest it. In every aspect, it is a very well-made, and I found it very enjoyable. All of the characters are well-developed and for a more recent reference, the final battle is reminiscent of the one in 300.
     I give 13 Assassins 4 out of 5 Top Knots.
You can watch it instantly on Netflix.
-Viking Samurai © 2012