Saturday, February 15, 2014

When Sequels Suck: Battle Royale II - Requiem

A continuation (of sorts) of this post.

So, I finally got around to watching the sequel to Battle Royale. Expectations were not high, considering the general 'meh-ness' of follow-ups. Unfortunately, this film did not shake that notion. This review is not kind.

Not rated in the US, but it received the 'R' equivalent in other countries.

The story takes place 'three years later' and is no less dramatic. Writers follow the original equation and use just as many participants which, at the high number of 42, can be difficult to keep straight. That was something the first film pulled off remarkably well, but not so much in this case. An added element involves the students being forcefully paired with one another via their linked collars. They both explode if one partner dies or travels more than 50 meters away from the other. This, along with the continued use of danger zones, acts as a semi-plot hole considering that the goal of this game is not to murder one another but to track down and kill Shuya Nanahara—you know, the protagonist from the first film?—who is now the leader of terrorist organization "The Wild Seven." This elite group comprises previous BR champions...except for Noriko, who only shows up toward the end of the film. Fans will perhaps appreciate the nod to Shogo's brand of cigarette, but do not expect to get attached to any members. Interactions between characters are mild even where the new recruits are concerned.

Plot-wise, it's contrived. The 'adults' want Shuya dead, but they still desire Battle Royale to continue on in that children are killed off one by one. You would think they might prioritize. Even more bizarrely, the entire film has Christmas overtones with Westernized carols being played at sporadic intervals. Things carry on only to become more and more confusing to a point where viewers might not know who has been killed, who is bombing whom, or why they should care. There is also the unnecessary subplot of Kitano-sensei's daughter signing up for the BR program so that she can face both Shuya and the strained relationship with her now-dead father; just one more item on a long list of Why?

This new direction makes things seem less like a 'battle' and more along the lines of warfare. Entertained sponsors are integrated to provide funds for military combat gear (sound familiar, Hunger Games aficionados?) while the film itself is separated into 'missions' like "Getting Ammunition," "The Assault," etcetera. Students also have the added benefit of telecommunications via handheld transceivers together with government 'gifts' of ammo in keeping with the whole Xmas spiel.

Deaths are, if you can believe it, more gimmicky than ever before. Most are just unconvincingly acted. Blood squibs are painfully obvious at times, distracting the audience from the seriousness of character injuries and causalities. The participants die so quickly that any sense of suspense is eliminated. That was an aspect with which the original film did really well, so it was a major disappointment when even that didn't pan out. Worse still, some characters seem to magically resurrect in the second-half. Wasn't bespectacled Osamu Kasi killed during the original assault, just after Shiori Kitano's freak-out? No? I could have sworn he was shot... o_0 At any rate, he dies a second time by blowing himself up martyr-style. (There are lots of troped-up explosions in Requiem.)

When the few remaining participants have their collars taken out with an EMB, real troops are sent in to take them out. Events start to stagnant at this point. Shuya comes out with a lengthy speech on child wars and tries to tie in international conflict by mentioning war refugees in the Middle East. He feels the need to justify his actions despite the fact that the audience is already completely cool with removing from power any arseholes who think it is entertaining to have children fight to the death—acts of terrorism included.

The new sensei doesn't offer up any redeeming qualities, either.

In the end, the film is overly long (2.5 hours!), has a confusing plot that is definitely not aided by random flashbacks again copied from the first film, and possesses a poorly written script. There were only two good things Requiem had going for it: First is the reconciliation of terrorism in the face of directed atrocities. I harped on Shuya's perceived need to defend his actions in the previous paragraph, but his conflict is actually one of the few highlights. Seeing that inner struggle and remembrance of excruciating experience feels true. Second, there is the idea of confronting adulthood and the inevitability of growing up. In such a society as displayed in the film, children are terrified of turning into monsters once they reach a certain age. They cannot comprehend why their elders would force them to take part in such barbaric rituals—the Wild Seven proclaim war on 'all adults', after all—so it only makes sense that they yearn to stay forever young in order to avoid such a fate. Even their barracks resembles a child's fort or jungle-gym. Apart from these two concepts, however, this sequel is not worth the time.

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Film Recommendation: Northanger Abbey

In EN 461, we are looking at the 19th century British novel with a focus on Gothic texts. Whenever I read a classic I try to find a version or two in the film-verse. This could be seen as odd, considering that I am of the firm opinion that the book is almost always better than the movie. However, I will share a little secret with the world: seeing a story acted out makes it easier to understand. Shocker, I know. Reading and watching are two very different things, though. Shakespeare's works were meant to be performed and, while Jane Austen is not known for her plays—nor, I find, are most romantic authors from that era (with the possible exceptions of Coleridge and Byron)—any thick text can be better understood when put together in an audio-visual format. This isn't me proudly advocating those two types of learning, especially since I myself am more within the school of reading/writing. Even so, it can be difficult to grasp the full extent of a novel in one read-through...which is all a student usually has time for during busy college days.

So, for Northanger Abbey, I chose to go for the 2008 made-for-TV movie. Departures from the original text were usually only slight and, in one or two cases, they actually benefited the plot. Character portrayals were surprisingly accurate just as the overall romantic-Gothic feel was appropriately accentuated without being overbearing.

Felicity Jones as head-in-the-clouds Catherine Morland.

One aspect that threw me off was The Mysteries of Udolpho. Austen has Catherine read this Ann Radcliffe novel throughout her own story; doing so helped make a case for the value of novels that were, at the time, viewed as second-class material. The screenwriter and director had Catherine's over-active imagination come to life so that viewers could get a glimpse into her headspace. This first occurs when Catherine is on her way to Bath with the Allens. The vision of two highwaymen pulling a heist on the carriage and making away with our non-heroine had me extremely confused and a little annoyed that perhaps the story was not being taken all that seriously. Later, though, I came to appreciate these little interruptions for what they actually supplied: insight. Without the use of narration or VO, the viewer is left pretty clueless as to how Catherine is feeling at any given time. When she meets Isabella and the latter lends her Udolpho, the characters Catherine envisions are played by real-life counterparts in her own life. This added layer aids the viewer's belief of Catherine's imaginative disposition that in turn makes her final row with Henry Tilney all the more convincing.

There were some things I did not like, however. This version sees Isabella bedded by Captain Tilney, which seems extreme. One of the points in the novel was that a lady's reputation could be tarnished by mere gossip concerning her 'purity'. Besides, Isabella herself is manipulative and scheming, so it hardly seems likely that she would sleep with the man before securing her future via marital bondage. Another departure involves the protagonists. Henry comes off as less sarcastic and Catherine much less naive than their written counterparts. This I chalk up to the writers desiring likable leads...but that was a change they really could have done without. Faults give depth, and Masterpiece Classics usually need all of the three-dimensionality they can muster.

Constantly reading, just like an English major. >_>
Also, check out that set dressing!

Yes, the book is better; that should really go without saying. As far as film adaptations go, though, this one could have been a lot worse. When you're confined to a runtime of 120 minutes, some executive decisions need to be made. The creators here tended to make the right choices.

P.S.- JJ Feild fits the role of a 19th century gent quite well, I think you'll agree.
"Now I must give one smirk, then we may be rational again."

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