Monday, March 26, 2012

Movies: "Battle Royale"

Wow! I couldn't have planed this better if I tried. No sooner do I see, and post about "The Hunger Games" than Google goes and puts up a legal release of the Japanese cult classic "Battle Royale". 

From the Google Play site:

"In a future where society is on the verge of collapse, the government takes drastic action against the problem of rebellious teenagers in this violent sci-fi opus from Japan. In the year 2002, Japan's economy has taken a dramatic turn for the worse, and massive unemployment and inflation have thrown most adults into a state of chaos; the nation's youth culture responds with unprecedented violence, delinquency, and truancy. Desperate to restore order, the Japanese parliament responds by creating the Millennial Reform School Act, in which groups of junior high students are selected at random, sent to an isolated island, and forced to play a rigorous war game, in which all but one of their number are killed. Kitano (Beat Takeshi) is an embittered school instructor who guides the 44 students of the Zentsuji Middle School's Class B through the deadly game known as "Battle Royale," as they struggle to survive against the elements and each other."

Let me make no bones about it, when Kinji Fukasaku put this film together, he said to himself "lets pull no punches", and the audience was shown no mercy on the topic of what teens would do when forced to compete for their own survival at each other's hands. But not only is the film violent, it is also an unyielding study in characters, some heroic, some honorable, some desperate, some depraved, some pure evil, and all of them, uniformly terrified. You're given a array of characters to watch, and with nearly every on-screen death, you're left asking yourself what could you have have done in the same situation... and then,  more importantly, what would you have done.

The comparisons between "Battle Royale" and "The Hunger Games" are inescapable. I, for one, don't consider the latter to be a rip-off (see fourth paragraph of linked article), or plagiarized idea of the former, but rather consider-them artistically different takes on the same abominable, unthinkable, horrific idea. The films appeal to polar opposite perspectives of society, yet somehow manager to both present us with a triumphant, remarkable, and most importantly, honorable, pair of victors in the end.

Though I will add that Battle Royale cut to the heart of the matter much faster, and much more brutally with its Japanese release tag line.

"Could you kill your best friend?"

And for the record, I felt like "Battle Royale" was a sold 9 out of 10, far surpassing "The Hunger Games" on nearly all marks. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Movies: "The Hunger Games"

Well, after seeing “The Hunger Games” yesterday, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about it a little.
First of all, let me go ahead and just warn you, when I say “talk about”, that means that there are going to be spoilers. If you don’t like that, than just stop reading now. Also, I am talking about the big screen here, I have not read the book “the Hunger Games” is based on.  I might yet still read the books, but as it stands, I am looking at the film as a stand-alone entity.

Okay, on to some of my thoughts on the film.

“The Hunger Games” is an extremely well-produced, steadily paced drama with a clear message and a well-defined target audience. I would not call it social or political messages subtle, But I don’t think the film beats you over the head with them either. That being said, I really do have mixed feelings about the film, and honestly, they can all be traced back to one root sentiment.

The Hunger Games is written by an academic/professional writer, for an audience of teenagers. Two demographics that I think arguably have little grasp of the ramifications of mortal combat.”

I don’t want to say that it was a bad film, but for a thirty-three year old with a background that includes security, fire-rescue, military history, corrections and martial arts, there were a number of flawed, or outright false assumptions made at the most basic levels of the tale. We are carried on an emotional action story that really, really does not want us to sit down and scrutinize it too much when we’re done.

First of all, let me just say the premise of the story, even when I first heard it, left me scratching my head. In a nutshell, each of twelve districts must send two children, one boy and one girl, chosen by lottery or volunteer, to the capital city for an annual, last-person-standing gladiatorial event where children as young as twelve and as old as eighteen meet horrible deaths at each other’s hands. I’d really like to know what political playbook these idiots are using. Seriously, I don’t think even Machiavelli or Stalin would be stupid enough threaten a peoples' children and expect  them to be subdued because of it. If any nation in the world were to try something like this, how long do you think it would be before every father and older brother there were up in arms. Then as soon as they started dropping, you can bet the mothers and older sisters would be in the fray not long after. The whole concept of it just doesn’t pass the laugh test or me.

Second, the story was told about teens, and for teens, and as such, they took a very visceral, and ugly story, and “Disneyfied” it. The very concept of the Hunger Games is one of brutality, murder, and self-service. Yet still, our hero somehow manages to emerge with her honor clean, and not once could she be accused of truly “murdering” someone; with all of her kills either committed in the heat of battle, when cornered, or (with the final one) out of pity.  The movie is light on gore, and treats death with the type of poetry that I am used to seeing in 1950s romance films. Honestly, I wasn’t overly thrilled with the approach. Also, and yes this is a small thing, but after everything that Katniss goes through in the film just to get basic provisions and safety, the fact that we don’t see her once go through the pockets of the dead was just annoying.

Third, I really had a problem with the ending. Again in a nutshell; the game master changes the rules mid game, allowing Katniss and her male counterpart, Peeta, a chance to both live. After they have triumphed, the game master goes back on the deal, ordering them to fight to the death.  Rather than kill each other, Katness offers Peeta poison fruit, and elects to commit suicide with him rather than play the game anymore.  Faced with losing the whole point of the Hunger games; a political and PR trophy, the game master buckles, and lets them win together.

I don’t know where to start with this. The idea that after all that, they would elect (or even threaten) suicide was just hard for me to swallow. Conversely, I was ready to throttle the game master for setting himself up for that type of failure. The moment he changed the rules, the broke his own integrity, leaving open the option for more changes. That was the groundwork for Katniss’es final play, a game of political chicken that after 74 years, you’d think the people running the games would know better than to let themselves get into.
In the end, I really felt like it was the antagonist’s stupidity and lapses in judgment that allowed a very sympathetic protagonist to shine, even thought she was given a dreadfully weak hand in this proverbial card game. And that really is my closing thought on the subject of the hunger games film. I didn’t feel like Katniss really triumphed over that much, but rather came out looking good due to the shortsightedness and stupidity of others. She’s a wonderful character, don’t get me wrong, but I would like her a lot more if so many of her “victories” weren’t due to dumb luck.

I know it sounds like I don’t like the film, and that’s not the case. But it’s a film that I really can only superficially enjoy. If I sit down and try to relate to any of the characters in any depth, I’m left asking enough “whys” to really see a lot of weak points in the story.

Still, I can’t detract from the cinematography, the acting or the script. For what it sets out to do, it does well, I just think the underlying foundations (established in the novel) hurt more than help in  a lot of cases.

Overall, I’ll call this one 7 out of 10.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The "right" to birth control?

Thinking about it too much… or maybe I’m not thinking about this enough?

I don’t know.

These are just some thoughts about the latest hot-button political topic in the United States lately.

If anyone wants to talk about contraception or abortion with any meaning, the conversation needs to start with the concept of personal responsibility. That needs to be defined and built upon before you and I can talk about women’s rights, birth control, and at what point human life starts.

Moving on... sort of:

Calling a woman a "slut" is not a criminal act. And frankly, in today’s day and age, it’s only a civil offence if the woman in question can demonstrate to a jury that she suffered damage from the comment.  The sad fact of the matter is that the price of assuring a free exchange of ideas in this country is that we have to tolerate a lot of crap that we don’t want to hear.

Speaking of rights:

You have the right to have as much consensual sex as you want, I really don’t care. But with that right comes responsibility, both to you and society. That is your responsibility.  

Your responsibility to understand what you are getting into to the best of your ability.

Your responsibility to communicate with your partner.

Your responsibility to consider possible ramifications.

Your responsibility to be ready to deal with foreseeable results.

So let me be clear on this, I do not consider it my responsibility to pay for, or even help you pay for medications, contraception or doctor’s visits so that you can have an orgasm with your partner.

I don’t have to help you pay your insurance premiums so you can drive.

I don’t have to help you pay your mortgage so you can own a house.

I don’t have to help you pay for food.

And yes, I know all of those have government assistance available to them, but that’s the government’s money, not mine, right out of my own pocket. I may not like the government helping some people, but that is their legally obtained money, and my say in how they get it is expressed through the voting process.

I do not want to hand my money to someone else and say “here, go buy birth control”, and I don't want the government to make me with no regard or consideration for my personal convictions, morals or ethics.