The 1979 cult classic Mad Max is one of those films, that despite the filmmakers deciding to dub Mel Gibson’s voice in U.S. theatres, falls into that sacred category of “should never be remade,” but the release of the second Fury Road trailer complete with the 2000 Battle Royale film music equals some kind of awesome. It also makes the argument of not remaking the film a moot point. When a trailer looks and sounds this great, it is almost fait accompli that the film is going to rock socks at the cinema.
Okay, so I decided to ring in the changes of the New Year by having a mini-movie-marathon. It all started with catching the still amazing Jurassic Park on television. That put me in the mood for movies I had not seen in a while. So I popped in Predators and the Blu-ray special edition of Battle Royale (Game ober). On a side note, I was on Battle Royale when the clock struck twelve so I paused it (a pretty painful thing to do, because I love that film) and watched my neighbour’s fireworks for about an hour.
Waking up today I wanted to talk about Predators and why, as a sequel, it disappointed me a little. I also wanted to say how I felt about the film and the fact that nobody says, “Get to the spaceship!”
*just kidding about the spaceship part, although that would have been cool*
According to Wikipedia, Robert Rodriguez wrote the screenplay for Predators way back when he was doing Desperado. The article goes on to say that the studio was not impressed with the possible big budget that the film would require and passed. Fast forward to a time when Rodriguez is now damn near a “brand name” in Tinsel Town and he gets the green light.
Unfortunately, Rob decides not to direct the film (which in my opinion kills the movie right off the bat) and instead opts to produce it and hires Nimród Antal to direct the film.
Now it’s probably just me, but, I cannot for one minute take anyone seriously who has the name, “Nimrod.” Just cannot do it. When I was a teen, a nimrod was slang for an idiot. Phrases like: “Way to go, ya nimrod!” or “Jeeze, what a nimrod!” springs to mind every time I hear this guy’s name. Not an overly auspicious start there Robert.
I mean don’t get me wrong, Antal has proven himself to be a more than capable director. He helmed the very respectable (and damned good) Vacancybut one great little film does not a great director make. Now take into consideration that he’s only directed one other film since Predators and you’ll see that I am not alone in my feelings about Nimrod (and oh boy the urge to pun right there is killing me).
Still, let us take a look at the film over all. Starting with the cast, courtesy of IMDb:
The first three names in the cast list are good solid actors who usually bring a lot to a role. Then further down the list you have the one, the only, Laurence Fishburne (in arguably the best role in the film) and good old Danny Trejo (a Rodriguez favourite). Everyone else on the cast list might not be in the same calibre as the first three actors and Mr Fishburne but they are pretty well-known and more than capable at their chosen craft.
On a side note, hasn’t Mahershala Ali bulked up a lot since his The 4400 days. The man has been putting in some serious overtime at his gym.
The shooting locations were in Hawaii, brilliant choice if I might be allowed to give my humble opinion, with the interiors shot in Rodriguez’s Texas studios (for tax reasons) so the film looked great in terms of location. *I do have to mention that some exterior scenes were shot in Texas as well, so apart from generating the rather alien Bush family, the state can produce some great “alien” looking scenery.*
The story is…functional. In a nutshell the plot is, people are air dropped into a jungle. The people, except for one unfortunate whose chute doesn’t open, are all killers who band together to find out where they are, why they are there, and how to get out. One of them (like the old Sesame Street Shtick, “One of these things is not like the other…”) does not apparently fit into to the little group of murderous professionals, Topher Grace is a doctor and, amazingly, no one questions why he is there. Just goes to show, you do not have to be deep to be a professional killer.
Brody’s character seems to be quite a few jumps ahead of his new colleagues and he figures out very quickly that they are on a “game preserve” and they are the “game.” And therein lies the problem with Predators, the applicable part of the prior statement is “very quickly.”
It’s all too “very quickly” in terms of everything. It is just too fast. Admittedly this makes a better sequel to the Schwarzenegger original than Predator 2, but only just. And only because the action takes place in the jungle with a lot of muscular men (and one woman) with loads of ammo and weapons. But the speed at which the film moves is almost dizzying and it definitely doesn’t allow any time at all for character development.
“Character development?” I hear you cry, it’s an action adventure science fiction film! What character development? I will almost accept that as a trade-off, of course the action and adventure and the science fiction should be first in a film like this, but not at the detriment to the characters portrayed. The original Predator had Schwarzenegger and a load of body building pals in it and they just managed to not be cardboard cut-outs in their roles, so why can’t Predators do the same.
It all revolves around the plot and the “feel” of the film. The original was a movie that started out as a straight forward action feature that suddenly and sharply took a left turn into science fiction land. It worked brilliantly and the pacing was spot on.
Predators never starts out as anything but a science fiction film. From the second that the parachute release mechanism on Brody’s chest starts to flash lights and make beeping noises, we know…it is the future; instant “sci fi” and no mistake about it. But hey, that’s not a problem. It’s still salvageable; they can still make that left turn up ahead, the one that will make this movie great instead of merely good.
But they missed the turn off and instead of veering off into a fascinating new direction, we are given a crazy survivor scene with a plot twist of the predators actually being two species instead of one and they don’t get along. So now we have Larry Fishburne knocking it out of the park as the nutty-as-a-fruitcake survivor who talks to folks who aren’t there and is as deadly as the predators and a great plot device to help our “heroes” get out of Dodge alive.
This all leads into a “twist” to the story that was not a twist at all. It also leads into a “touching moment” and an almost Schwarzenegger ending.
There are a few nods and winks to the original, there is a Hispanic female character, a mini-gun and a “boar like” creature (or more) and it’s set in a jungle. Pretty cool, but it just doesn’t have the panache to make it fun.
Now don’t get me wrong, I do like this film. So much so that I own a DVD of it and still drag it out occasionally to watch. But I don’t love it. If I did, I would own a Blu-ray copy of the film and watch it a lot. Each time I put the film on and watch it, I think the same two things; what if Rodriguez had directed it and I really want someone to say, “Get to the spaceship!”
Originally published in 1999 amid a flurry of controversy that would rise to a cacophony when a film one year later was adapted from the novel, Battle Royale still packs one hell of a punch. The story of a group of Junior High School students who are made to kill each other off until only one remains, still shocks and astounds 13 years after its first appearance in bookstores and libraries across the world.
After reading the book and watching the film of The Hunger Games written by Suzanne Collins, I still find it hard to believe that she never heard of either the original story or film (made by the iconic Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku). I am sure that she is telling the truth as there are enough instances of the two stories (although Collins has spread the Hunger Games stories over three separate books) being vastly different. There are, however quite a few circumstances where the two stories share a lot of things; the contestants being chosen by “lottery” or the packs that each contestant picks up before the battle commences are just two such instantances.
Of course both books are set in “the future” Hunger Games in a post apocalyptic America and Battle Royale in a future Japan that has outstripped America as a world power through the appointment of a dictator and an economy that has reduced the USA to third world country status. Japan’s isolationism has allowed them to indulge in practises that would be frowned upon by other countries.
It is part of this isolated countries culture that random Junior High School classes are picked (by computer) and “kidnapped” by authorities. These 14 and 15-year-old children are then transported to a secret location where they will be armed (some better than others) and set out to kill each other off.
The whole exercise is to show just how equal everyone is in this new Japan. No one is exempt. But like every government that is part of a dictatorship, it is corrupt and unfair, despite the propaganda that tells the masses otherwise. We meet the main players in the Battle and are given enough information that we not only bond with some of the kids, but we can see why the other children act the way they do.
Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa are the boy and girl who wind up together because Shuya’s best friend (who dies before the games even start) had a crush on Noriko and she, in turn, has a crush on Shuya; along with most of the girls in their class.
Shuya is an orphan who loves the state banned American Rock and Roll and has learned to play the electric guitar. He is good at sports and is an all round “good egg.” If anything, he is a bit too good. Noriko and Shuya team up with the older transfer student Shogo Kawada (who has actually played and won a previous Battle Royale). Together they form an alliance to stay alive while facing the murderous psychopath Kazuo Kiriyama and his female counterpart Mitsuko Souma and the other children who are fighting to stay alive till the end of the three day game.
The book is much more political in nature than Collins’ Hunger Games (although she does pay a sort of “lip service” to dictatorships in the books) and it is, despite its xenophobic setting, of a larger scale of international intent. In Takami’s verse the survivors of the games want to run away to the third world country that America has become. It brings to mind that perhaps they will meet Katniss Everdeen when they arrive.
When the film was adapted for the screen by Kinji Fukasaku’s son, it has to be one of the best screenplays ever written. Even though the film did not copy the book page by page, the casting of “unknown” child actors and the iconic Beat Takeshi and the feeling that the director was able to infuse the film with made the movie a run-a-way hit. The film is a cult favourite and is set up to get the “Hollywood” remake treatment.
This is a book that, whether you’ve seen the film or not, is one hell of a ride. You suffer with the kids as they have to kill off their friends and find out who they can trust. The two psychos of the book are truly terrifying and will scare you with their cold-blooded will to survive. There was also a Manga of the book release in several volumes, difficult to find in the UK, but well worth the effort. These Manga’s were almost as entertaining as the book and the film.
My final verdict is a full 5 stars out of 5. Once you pick this book up, you will not want to put it down. And although it’s a little too close to Christmas to come up with ideas of “stocking stuffers” you could do a lot worse than getting a copy of this brilliant book shoved in your stocking.
Apart from Battle Royale (released in 2000 and directed by Kinji Fukasaku) Takeshi Kitano aka Beat Takeshi has never been better. Written, directed and edited by Beat hana-bi (translates as fireworks) is another facet of his view on crime and the penalty it exacts from its participants.
Hana-bi is a slow ballad of a film. It has a relentless rhythm from the very first frame. I have titled my review a “Bittersweet Romance” but in terms of the overall film, it really is more of a romantic tragedy. Either way you want to describe the film would fit, but I’ve always felt that romance was the ruling factor of the film.
With Beat Takeshi’s character, Nishi and his wife Myuki (Kayoko Kishimoto) their double tragedy [the death of their 5-year-old daughter and Myuki’s dying from leukaemia] is not enough to defeat the obvious love that they have for one another. Their humour has managed to survive the battering that their life has taken. Late in the film, Nishi sets up a camera on the side of their car to take a timed picture. Just as the camera takes their photo another car drives in between them and it. Their laughter over the incident feels infectious and genuine.
The vast majority of the film is a mixture of flash backs and “present day” which works very well. You do have to pay attention though or you can get a bit lost. But regardless of the “to-ing and fro-ing” of the sequences the rhythm of the film is still relentless.
And relentless describes Nishi’s life perfectly. He has so many plates spinning at once that it’s easy to see why his character rarely says anything; but having said that, it is a trait of Beat Takeshi characters in almost all of his films. His taciturn and stoic face with its tics and mannerisms says more in repose than he could ever say literally.
Nishi’s boss and best friend Horibe (played by Takeshi regular Ren Ohsugi) is shot and paralysed when he does Nishi’s stake-out duty so Nishi can visit his wife in hospital. Noribe then has a difficult time dealing with life in a wheel chair and takes up art as a therapy measure.
When Nishi and two detectives catch the villain who shot Horibe, Nishi is punched repeatedly in the face and thrown off the suspect. Kudoh and Nakamura (played by another Takeshi regular Susumu Terajima) jump on the yakuza to restrain him. The yakuza then shoots both Kudoh and Nakamura. Nakamura is wounded but Kudoh dies on the scene. Nishi takes his service revolver out and shoots the yakuza in the head.
He then goes over to the dead yakuza and empties his revolver into the dead man’s head. This results in Nishi getting fired from the force. Already in debt to a local yakuza gang because of loans he took out for his wife’s hospital bills and their daughter’s death, Nishi decides to rob a bank to set everything right. He takes his dying wife on a holiday, pays for Horibe’s painting supplies and gives Kudoh’s widow a huge sum of money.
Since the pervading mood of the film is its relentless nature, we know that Nishi is going to pay dearly for his generosity and his guilt.
Most of Beat Takeshi’s films feature a lone character that doesn’t conform or sets himself away from other’s. His characters always have a nasty end or at the very least a short violent one. His message seems to be that it is alright to live to your own rules and ideals, but it will cost you in the end.
All of Takeshi’s films feature a lot of shots of the sea. Hana-bi features a lot of scenes by the sea and focuses on the waves beating against the shore or the tide coming in. This again points the film’s theme toward relentlessness and he appears to be drawing a parallel between the never-ending waves and the theme of the film.
The art that Horibe paints and draws in the film were all done by Beat Takeshi himself. Some of the most emotional scenes come from Horibe studying flowers in a shop and “seeing” the pictures that he will draw in his mind. Dogs with sunflowers for heads are just some of the funny, and odd, images he creates.
If ever any one man could be deemed an institution Takeshi Kitano is that man. The running joke in Japan’s entertainment industry is that Beat Takeshi is on television 8 days a week. Takeshi does have several television shows, writes articles for many different publications and writes, directs, and edits his own films. There seems to be no end to this man’s talent pool.
In August of 1994 Kitano was in an accident while riding his moped. The crash almost killed him and left his face partially paralysed. As part of his therapy he took up painting and poetry. By 1995 he was back to work full-time.
Beat Takeshi is an amazing individual who rose from humble beginnings to become an institution and an icon of Japanese culture. In the England people watch Takeshi’s Castle a Japanese game show that Beat shows up for at the end of each program to “fight off” winning contestants to keep them from winning the ultimate prize. Most of the viewers (and apparently the producers and the narrator of the show) have no idea who Takeshi is.
Hana-bi is always mentioned as the last in a trilogy that Takeshi helmed for himself. Violent Cop (1989), Sonatine (1993) and Hana-bi (1997) all feature a character who marches to the “beat” of his own drum and is more than happy to pay the price required to do so.
If I could equate Beat Takeshi’s acting style to anyone from the western world of cinema, I’d say he is the Japanese Spencer Tracy. But that would be in the area of acting alone, I honestly don’t think there is anyone in the industry who equates 100 percent to Takeshi Kitano.
If you can stand to sit through the subtitles, watch this film. The translated title of Fireworks might be easier to find, but whatever title it’s being sold or rented as, it’s worth watching.
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