Tag Archive for sequel

Blu-Ray Review: Battle Royale: The Complete Collection

battleroyalethecompletecollection Blu Ray Review: Battle Royale: The Complete Collection

A sharp blood-stained school uniform finishes off this manga-sized Battle Royale Blu-ray collection.

Battle Royale is riding the wave of good fortune surrounding The Hunger Games to its first proper home video release in America. Kept at bay for many years due to its original proximity to the Columbine High School shootings, this modern masterpiece about a group of junior high students forced to fight to the death has gained a tremendous worldwide reputation. The original novel from Koushun Takami spawned an award winning film adaptation, a controversial sequel, a popular manga series, and a strong reputation for shock value and sci-fi innovation.

The Blu-ray set, subtitled The Complete Collection, feels like a no-brainer purchase for fans of the series. I didn’t give it a second thought when I shelled out the extra fifteen bucks on Amazon to get four discs of goodies. But does the largest release constitute the best value? It turns out that The Complete Collection is a decidedly mixed bag beyond the single best transfer of Battle Royale released in America.

Disc Two: Battle Royale (2000, theatrical release)

Director Kinji Fukasaku turned a lot of heads when he decided that his 60th feature film would be an adaptation of uber violent dystopian/teen romance/coming of age/social satire novel Battle Royale. What could a 70 year old man bring to a story about young teenagers fighting to the death with their friends and classmates? Anyone who doubted Fukasaku’s relation to the project was shut down as soon as the film began screenings.

Battle Royale is one of the most heart breaking and fully realized visions of an alternate future to grace the world of cinema. After WWII, Japan and China formed an alliance that reset the balance of power in the world. Now, at the dawn of the millennium, young society is in chaos. Children refuse to go to school and actively fight against authority.

The government’s response is the Battle Royale Act. This increasingly popular program sees a randomly selected classroom of 9th graders dropped off on an abandoned island with weapons and explosive devices strapped to their necks. If more than one of them is alive after 72 hours, they all die. Only one victor can emerge to reach the honor of adulthood.

battleroyaleposter Blu Ray Review: Battle Royale: The Complete Collection

42 young students are forced to choose between life and death in a twisted government game.

As grim as the premise sounds, Battle Royale is as sensitive as it is bloody. Kinji Fukasaku did an incredible job getting 42 teenage(ish) actors to develop motivations and react in realistic manners. The result is a film that elicits laughs as often as shock value. The story only works because Fukasaku made sure we care about the children.

In a wise decision, Fukasaku had screenwriters Koushun Takami and Kenta Fukasaku (his son) play up the importance of the most shocking stories. The first couple to commit suicide have a beautiful and meditative moment on the edge of a cliff before jumping to their doom. A young track athlete gets to confront the boy who ruined her reputation in a satisfying moment of justified revenge. Most important of all, the two most cold-blooded killers in the game–a silent transfer student and a charming bad girl–get to show off just how dangerous the motivation of a life or death battle can be. While Takami’s original novel contains these moments, they are given equal weight with the other students’ experiences in the story. Fukasaku was not afraid to play favorites in order to make the best film he could.

The emotional core of the film is the love story of Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa. The two TV veterans–Tatsuya Fujiwara and Aki Maeda–make the relationship feel real. These are two young people who were afraid to approach each other romantically in school. Drawn together by a shocking twist early in the game, Shuya and Noriko team up with their terrible weapons (a pot lid and a pair of binoculars, respectively) to find a way out of the games together. They never lose faith in each other because they know that neither one of them would survive on their own. It’s a beautifully realized arc that is edited within an inch of its life to never overwhelm the all consuming presence of the game.

Battle Royale has never looked this beautiful in America. I was practically crying at some of the visuals on the island. Though the tension played a role, the juxtaposition of the beautiful cinematography and the unimaginable violence shocked me into responding. By the end, I was numb and exhausted. The film is overwhelming in the best way possible, forcing you to experience every moment without a chance at escape.

Rating: 9/10

Page 2: Battle Royale II: Requiem

Page 3: Special Features

Book Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

In the acknowledgments page of her YA novel Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins thanks her father for his efforts to find a way to teach children about the reality of war and peace. It is clear in the third book of The Hunger Games trilogy that Collins has found a way to continue her father’s work. The novel is dark, ambiguous, and shocking because war will never form together into a tidy little package.

unavail image Book Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The Mockingjay is unleashed against the Capital

Katniss Everdeen has been transported to the underground and completely independent District 13. There, under the leadership of President Coin, the progeny of the sacrificed district live a highly regimented life. Everything is done on a strict schedule and deviation is grounds for swift and severe punishment. President Coin has been planning the rebellion against the Capital for years. All it took was the right symbol, Katniss, to come along and set the plan in motion. The rebellion will be the deciding factor in the fate of Panem, as everyone on both sides of the conflict is willing to sacrifice their lives for their cause.

Mockingjay is the darkest book of the trilogy. Gone is the safety net of only twenty-four participants in a battle to the death. Anyone and everyone can be blown to ash as an act of war. Katniss is no longer in a stable enough place to be considered a reliable narrator. Her fellow former victors are harvested by the Capital or the rebellion as key strategists in the war.

The elaborate death traps and mutations still exist. Collins does not celebrate them with great detail as she did in the first two books. Katniss is numb to the manipulation of the Capital in the same way that she can only feel the pain of the ever increasing death toll in her nightmares. The pods that explode to unleash unimaginable pain and destruction are more horrifying than ever before. Katniss is just incapable of responding to them unless customized for her own experience.

Much like the Mockingjay in The Hunger Games and self-sacrifice in Catching Fire, Mockingjay has a recurring but not overwhelming image that defines the tone of the novel. It is the smell of one of President Snow’s genetically altered roses. Katniss encounters a fresh bud in her Victory Village home and is haunted by Snow’s promise to destroy her for the rest of the book. It is not a steady presence of doom; it is a shock to the system as that rose smell is the one thing that forces Katniss to deal with the reality of her situation.

After the disappointment of Catching Fire, which was almost a self-indulgent exercise in exploring Katniss’ psyche, it’s quite remarkable to see that Collins was capable of exploring PTSD in a believable way. Not only do you believe that Katniss is suffering from the psychological ramifications of two trips to the Hunger Games, you believe that Katniss is still a teenage girl who is not very good at picking up on social cues.

The difference between the successful novels in the trilogy and the failure is the believability of the narrator. Katniss did not act like Katniss until the last few pages of Catching Fire, which made the whole novel feel like an exercise in needless manipulation. From the first page of Mockingjay, Katniss is back. Without her, The Hunger Games trilogy would just be an exercise in literary destruction. With her, they’re powerful, accessible, and thoughtful novels about government responsibility, fighting for what’s right, and the psychological and social ramifications of war. Conflict is inevitable. How you choose to respond to it is your choice.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Play It: Burrito Bison Revenge

On this edition of Play It, we look at a sequel to a cannon launch game that sets itself apart with style and execution.

Burrito Bison Revenge is a new Adult Swim game from Juicy Beast Studio. It is a sequel to Burrito Bison, a cannon launch game where an evil band of gummi bears kidnapped a luchador and forced him to wrestle against their strongest candy opponents. Burrito Bison used the ropes in the ring to launch himself to freedom, bouncing on the terrified gummi bears and acquiring power-ups until he smashed through the walls to freedom.

burritobisonrevenge Play It: Burrito Bison Revenge

Burrito Bison returns for more gummi action

The sequel picks up right where the last game ended. Burrito Bison realizes that his wallet fell out during his epic escape from Candy Land and now he must return to claim his money. The gummi bears have regrouped, acquiring amazing new technology, such as Nyan Cats, propeller hats, and open top police cruisers. You launch Burrito Bison again and again, earning money to purchase upgrades to speed, bounciness, and overall toughness. Along the way, you take down as many villainous pastel candies as you can.

The controls are the same as almost every other cannon launch game: one button. Here, it’s the left mouse button. You click to launch Burrito Bison in the ring and to activate his powers. When you add on rockets, you click while he’s descending to activate. When you catch a bouncing gummi or propeller hat gummi, you click at the right time to send Burrito Bison skyward.

For a cannon launch game, Burrito Bison Revenge has a lot of replay power. The further you go, the more madcap it gets. Police gummis with red and green hats start swarming the stage trying to thwart your escape. Gummis filled with cash float lower and lower. And if you build up enough momentum, you might rise above the clouds, where you plummet to the earth as a bomb of cotton candy, destroying everything that comes close to touching you. All of these actions can trigger achievements that have to be unlocked in a certain order. Just because there’s an achievement for breaking through a wall doesn’t mean you earn it the first time if it’s not one of the active achievements.

What Burrito Bison Revenge has going for it is a lot of style. It’s cute and funny. The sound design is just right, making the destruction of the gummis sound innocent and cartoonish. It’s a sweet game built on a random stage engine that requires more strategy than random clicks on the screen to do well.

Burrito Bison Revenge is a fun time killer. You can play it for one launch, a handful of launches, or hours of launches. Once you recover you wallet, you unlock Survival mode, which is an endless nighttime stage of gummi destruction. The more you play Survival mode, the faster you can go in the Start! mode. The faster you go in Start! mode, the more achievements you unlock. The more achievements you unlock, the more money you earn for upgrades. It’s easy to see how you can be sucked into a cycle of playing.

For clean, stylish, and family friendly gameplay, Burrito Bison Revenge is worth playing.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Film Review: The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011)

Tom Six has a problem. The writer/director behind The Human Centipede series has set himself up for a career as a horror provocateur. He promises that each successive film will make the previous film look like a toy or children’s program. The problem is, to deliver that level of depravity, the level of structure and story in the film has to drop dramatically just to get in all the gore.

The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) is technically very well made. The black and white cinematography (only briefly punctuated with spots of color in the last few minutes) is clear and haunting. The use of light and sound to tell the story of a uncommunicative protagonist–the mentally unstable sexually depraved replacement for the first film’s world-renowned surgeon–is strong. Even the special effects are as gruesome and realistic as I’ve seen in a horror film in quite some time.

Therein lies the problem. For all the technical wizardry and clever editing, the film exists only as a vehicle of shock. The story–mentally unstable sexually depraved man kidnaps twelve people, locks them in a warehouse, and attaches them together with a staple gun and duct tape because he gets off on The Human Centipede (First Sequence)–has no nuance. There are impressive visuals to try and mask this fact, but this film is defined by a logline and gore, not a plot.

Film Review: Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)

This just happens to be the one Hellraiser entry that has been elusive to me. I’ve, regrettably, seen the entire series except for the third film. While Hellraiser was a tight and suspenseful thriller about the divide between the living and the dead–pleasure and pain–the sequels became progressively more absurd. Rules from the first film were thrust aside to create more cenobites (pleasure-driven demons), more gore, and more ways to reconfigure the Lemarchand puzzle box.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is no exception. This is a film that wants to be no less than three separate horror films and doesn’t accomplish a single one well. A young reporter is haunted by nightmares of what happened to her late father in the Vietnam War. A club mogul buys a statue that begins to come to life in the presence of blood and pleasure. Pinhead, the head cenobite, plots to take over the world to create hell on earth. These are the main thrusts. There are others.

If you’ve ever seen any of the A Nightmare on Elm Street films, you know why the reporter is involved at all. She is connecting to something beyond the grave when she sleeps, so she is the link needed to keep hell and earth separate. The club mogul runs a club filled with horror and bondage art, so his connection to the series makes the most sense. Pinhead’s plotting, however, is completely out of character and becomes the thrust of the rest of the series. He is not supposed to be plotting a takeover of earth; he’s supposed to be teaching the willing his art of painful pleasure and pleasurable pain.

Instant Watch: High School K-Horror

On this edition of Instant Watch, we take a look at a unique horror series from South Korea. The Whispering Corridors series, also known as the High School Girl’s Ghost Story series, is a unique horror concept. If you’ve ever heard the original concept behind the Halloween series in America, you’ll know that it’s hard to get it to come across. Essentially, Whispering Corridors films are thematic sequels. Each film tells a stand-alone horror story told in an all girls high school with a ghost. How the ghost is used, what kinds of students are focused on, and the source of the horror is as widely varied as you can imagine.

The first three parts of the series are available to stream right now on Netflix Instant.

Whispering Corridors (1998)

whisperingcorridors Instant Watch: High School K Horror

On the eve of the new school year, senior class teacher Mrs. Park dies under mysterious circumstances on the school grounds. She is found by friends Ji-oh and Jae-yu hanging from the school walkway. Replacement teacher Mr. Oh threatens, taunts, and beats the students to get them to cooperate with his policy of not discussing Mrs. Park’s death. When students and teachers begin to experience strange phenomena in the school, it becomes clear that ignoring the circumstances of the death will not stop history from repeating itself.

Whispering Corridors is a bold horror film for many reasons. For starters, the high school students actually talk, walk, move, behave, and look like actual high school students. The casting and screenplay are equally great. Writer/director Ki-hyeong Park and co-writer Jung-Ok In do not rely on making the students wise beyond their years. They don’t sexualize the girls and they don’t have them act like mini-adults. These are young people about to be thrown into the real world and they’re still finding their way. It takes guts to actually write realistic teenagers without toning down the content of the film.

That’s the second great part about Whispering Corridors. This is brutal. The violence when the ghost attacks is genuinely disturbing. This isn’t a glossy Hollywood slasher; it’s not even a campy and gritty dark comedy/horror like you regularly see come out of Japan and China. This is borderline gialli without the exaggerated color washes to make the nightmarish violence seem safe. There are scenes in this film that will stick with me for a long time because of the execution and realistic style.

The most disturbing aspect isn’t anything related to the ghosts; it’s the dichotomy between new and old teaching methods on display in the film. Until March of this year, teachers in South Korea were permitted to physically strike students as punishment. Whispering Corridors hinges upon a critique of discipline in South Korean schools. The new teacher that the students respect instantly is kind, caring, and compassionate, while the older teachers that strike their students are cruel, miserable, and self-absorbed. It’s an interesting subtext that slowly builds to a dual supernatural and realistic climax. The realistic climax is far more haunting than the ghost, though the ghost exists as a foil to the cause of the realistic climax.

Whispering Corridors is a great introduction to the eponymous K-Horror style that influenced horror films all over the world in the late 90s/early 2000s. Though Japan may have produced the film with the iconic long-haired ghost girl (Ringu), South Korea is the country that set the standard in social commentary as fuel for graphic ghost stories.

Rating: 7/10

Memento Mori (1999)

mementomori1 Instant Watch: High School K Horror

High school girl Min-Ah finds a diary on school grounds. She begins to read it everywhere she goes. It describes the friendship turned love affair between two of her fellow students, Hyu-Shin and Shi-Eun. While everyone else in the class acts far younger than they should, Min-Ah gets pulled into a shockingly mature and disturbing relationship. She becomes obsessed with learning everything she can about the young lovers. Even the shocking suicide of one of the girls is not enough to stop her new obsession.

Memento Mori, a spiritual successor to Whispering Corridors, strikes a very different tone. This film is all about suspense, expectations, and the blurring between reality and imagination. Min-Ah doesn’t just read her classmates’ shared diary; she lives it. There is no way of knowing what the truth actually is because Hyu-Shin and Shi-Eun’s romance is played out like a perfect movie romance in Min-Ah’s mind. The girls act very differently when they’re in person. Only Min-Ah can’t tell the difference.

This film is less a horror story than an almost-Gothic romance. Hyu-Shin and Shi-Eun are the most compelling characters in the film and for good reason. As over the top as their story becomes, they are at least developed beyond stereotypes. The same cannot be said for the rest of the characters in the film. From the teacher all the students have a crush on to the class clown, every other character in the film acts in the most cliched manner possible. Even Min-Ah becomes a caricature of a young woman possessed by her imagination. Despite a solid performance by Gyu-ri Kim, we never grow to actually care about Min-Ah’s story. Her life becomes dedicated to to Hyu-Shin and Shi-En’s story. They absorb her character. The audience is just never given anything to attach us to the actual protagonist from the beginning.

The film mostly takes on a surreal and cerebral horror style. There are flashes of strange and horrifying things the disappear as soon as they arrive. The dream-like sequences are especially compelling. Memento Mori finds its greatest strength in this absurd building of suspense. It’s similar to the style of the Japanese horror film Spiral, where bland characters are pushed out of their mundane routines by shocking glimpses of otherworldly horror they cannot fight or begin to understand. The difference here is that this film would have worked better as a paranormal romance. There is no reason that a ghost story needs to be a horror film. This film was shoe-horned into the horror form just to be called a sequel to Whispering Corridors.

Despite its shortcomings, Memento Mori makes such a strong statement with the blurred reality of Hyu-Shin and Shi-Eun’s relationship that its worth watching. You care about those characters’ pasts even after only one is left standing. The great mystery becomes not the behavior or Min-Ah but the truth behind the doomed high school romance.

Rating: 7/10

Wishing Stairs (2003)

wishingstairs Instant Watch: High School K Horror

At an all girls art boarding school, the ballet students are receiving the opportunity of a lifetime. One girl from the school will get to compete for a scholarship to an exclusive Russian ballet academy. Best friends Kim So-Hie and Yun Jin-Seong have both decided to audition. Kim is the favorite to win and all the other girls, even her best friend, are willing to do anything to beat her. Yun remembers a story about a magical set of stairs on the school’s campus. If a twenty-ninth step appears, the spirit of a fox will grant your wish. Can she get the boost she needs to win?

Wishing Stairs is a cautionary wish film in the vein of a Wishmaster or Monkey’s Paw. Two girls decide to climb the stairs during the film and both manage to uncover the mysterious twenty-ninth step. One girl wishes for success; the other girl wishes for companionship. The two become locked in a deadly battle of wishes that drag them further and further into dark territory.

This Whispering Corridors sequel once again brings the series into new territory. There’s a darker comic appeal to this film, creating massive sight-gags out of body image, eating disorders, and serious injuries. It also thoroughly plays into the iconic image of the stringy-haired pale ghost starting halfway through. Spirits appear and disappear in the blink of an eye. They hide behind the characters and bend all natural laws to freeze frame forward in one segmented step. It’s a conceit used to strong and novel effect here.

The story of Wishing Stairs is confusing. Unlike the original Whispering Corridors film, these high school girls are acting wise beyond their years. At least the main protagonists are. The nature of their relationship is up for debate. Sometimes, they act like young girls playing dress up; other times, they act like feuding lovers in a long term relationship. The film’s inability to articulate the relationship between the two girls is a huge distraction. It’s made worse by the presence of a third girl, unpopular art student Eom Hye-ju. She becomes obsessed with the popular ballerinas, entangling herself in every facet of their lives. Is she also in love with them or is she just looking for a friend?

What works for Wishing Stairs is a bizarre conceit of nightmares. The characters wake up so often from dreams that you don’t know what is real and what is fake. Is the school actually haunted or are the three main characters just waking from a dream? Can an extra step appear on the wishing stairs or is it just a fantasy? While this further blurs the relationship between the characters, it does wonders to rise this film above the standard tropes of wishes gone wrong films. If the step doesn’t exist, does anything that happens in this film actually happen? Are we just trapped in a never-ending string of nightmares or a twisted alternate reality where murder and mayhem go unnoticed by everyone, even the victims?

Wishing Stairs is a compelling and confusing horror film that works all the better for not being straight forward. Though the character relationships are a bit too muddy to understand, the movement of the story, effects, and performances make it a must see.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011)

This is it. The definitive end of a long-running film series. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 ties together all of the characters, stories, and looming threat of an actual attack by Voldemort’s army started all the way back in 2001 with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I think it delivers in a big way.

It’s almost unfair to review this film by itself. It feels–much like Kill Bill Vol. 2–like someone decided one long film wouldn’t work at the box office. So, we get two films, each over two hours long, that conclude the series. The big Part 2 in the title lets you know that it’s a continuation of the story and it does not lie. The film picks up immediately at the end of the last film, even reusing the shots of Voldemort acquiring the Elder Wand and Harry finishing Dobby’s grave.

From there, it’s straight into new plot developments. The action leads Harry, Hermione, and Ron to the vaults of Gringotts and through the back door of Hogwarts. They still have three Horcruxes to destroy before Voldemort is able to die. Part 2, wisely, opts not to spend too much time on the myriad of bad guys introduced in the conclusion of the story, giving the audience just enough information about them to know who they are, what they’re doing, and why Harry has to fear them. Instead, the focus is on action, plot, and emotional closure.

Coming Soon: Before the Mask: The Return of Leslie Vernon

Special thanks to the Monster Lady herself, Mia, for bringing this topic to my attention over at Regretsy today.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned the film Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon before, right? Last week was the latest edition of “watch it watch it watch it watch it watch it.” Considering the entire film is a send-up of and valid entry in the slasher genre, it should be no surprise that writer/director Scott Glosserman would want to make a sequel to the film. What does he have to lose?

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a faux-documentary horror film about Leslie Vernon’s attempts to be the next superstar serial killer. In this world, all those slasher films actually happened. By the end of the film, Vernon has entered the fray in a bloody massacre. It’s a slasher film so that’s not a spoiler. What he specifies, however, is that the number one thing a killer needs to be able to do is fake his own death. Clearly, if a sequel goes off, Vernon was successful.

There is now a Facebook financing campaign to get Before the Mask: The Return of Leslie Vernon off the ground. Just check out the promotional video.

How to Save a Franchise: X-Men: First Class (2011)

I sat here for two hours trying to write a review of this film and I just couldn’t do it. I know I enjoyed myself in the theater. I also know I saw a lot of flaws. Then I realized what my problem was.

To me, X-Men: First Class doesn’t really function as a stand alone film. It’s an attempt to bring some of the sparkle back to the X-Men film franchise after the third feature left audiences confused and underwhelmed.

So what does X-Men: First Class do to fix these problems?

Film Review: Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Hey, what happened last week? I got really sick around Tuesday afternoon. It must have been from that convention where they corralled us like cattle into that tiny vendor room. So sorry. I was sleeping more than I was awake.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a very different film from the original. It still follows the story of Po, an oversized panda recently named the dragon warrior, as he tries to defend his land from the darker side of Kung Fu. All of the major characters have returned, including the Furious Five, Master Shifu, and Po’s goose father Mr. Ping. The animation is in the same style and the background characters are the same bunnies and pigs that filled the screen in the first.

So what’s the difference? Kung Fu Panda 2 is an action movie. It is all about the fights and the battle between good (Po and his compatriots) and evil. The evil comes in the form of a twisted peacock named Lord Shen. Shen was banished from his kingdom by his parents (the king and queen) for ensuring a soothsayer’s prophecy about his demise could never come true. He developed a weapon that harnessed the beautiful power of fireworks to destroy Kung Fu. Now that he has assembled an army of wolves to do his bidding, he is determined to take over all of China and the rest of the world.

Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

I’ll start with full disclosure here: I did not like the original Pirates of the Caribbean. I didn’t like the second or third film, either. I felt like there were major pacing problems and the film would suffer when Johnny Depp’s compelling Captain Jack Sparrow wasn’t present in the action. A lot of the humor fell flat for me and the action sequences–though impressive–felt superfluous to whatever greater narrative arc the films were trying to tell. In a word, I found them boring.

Then why did I see the new film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides? Because my brother wanted to go and I like Rob Marshall films.

Did I enjoy the new Pirates film? Yes I did.

Film Review: Scream 4 (2011)

Here’s the thing with a long running horror series. If you really like the series, you’re going to see the new entry if you have access to it. If, for any reason and at any time, you were turned off by the series, you’re not going to watch it voluntarily and probably won’t like it if you get suckered into it. Such is the case with Scream 4, one of the more entertaining slasher films to come out since, well, Scream.

Scream has always been a tongue-in-cheek look at the horror genre. Aside from the shocking opening sequence with Drew Barrymore in the original, the film was more about skewering slashers than staying true to horror expectations. Slasher films have consistently used campy and cheesy humor since the 80s and it’s a hit-or-miss proposition. Scream lambasted that trend, dissecting the finest details of morality, motivation, and misogyny while still delivering all the expected beats of the sub-genre.

Scream 4 is the first Scream since the original to advance this concept in a meaningful way.