Friday, 19 August 2011

battle royale

was out at meeting all day yesterday, but here's another review I had 'stacked up'.

When I do these reviews I often like to take a look at see what the critical reaction was. I don't do that in order to parrot back a similar view, it's more to see if people also enjoyed/disliked it or if my views are different.

But I also like to look up some of the history/background, partly so I sound more knowledgeable, but also so I don't make any boo-boos.

In the case of Battle Royale I already knew it was based on a book, but didn't really know how close an adaptation it was or anything like that. It turns out that it's pretty faithful, especially in terms of the killing and the end, but a couple of the things that have change actually represent things that I always had problems with.

I've seen Battle Royale before and I'm not entirely sure why it was on my rental list, but there you go. One thing I wasn't expecting was how poor a DVD it was. It actually had what are known as hard subs (it's Japanese, if you didn't know) - the subtitles are actually printed on the negative, like they would have been at the cinema or on a VHS tape.

In actual fact, I'm pretty sure it's simply a direct port from a VHS copy to DVD - it certainly doesn't look like a very high quality transfer. Although, interestingly, the film itself doesn't really appear to have aged that much - it still looks fairly contemporary. The effects are also pretty good still - I know it was an early user of digital blood splatter, and it still looks pretty good.

Anyway, the real point is that I discovered that one of the things about the film I always had a problem with - the set-up - was actually something that was changed from the book.

The book is set in a dystopian authoritarian "Greater Asian Empire" and the idea is that the Battle Royale itself, where a class of kids is forced to fight each other to the death, is used to keep the population cowed and fearful. It's done under the excuse of a military testing thing, but that's its real purpose - instilling fear of the authorities in the population.

This makes sense.

In the film we get an set up that civilisation went to rats and the youth of the day were hyper-rebellious, so the government passed this Battle Royale act where the class that's picked is a really bad one, full of trouble makers. It could make sense, except it's full of holes.

If you have something like that and it's meant to be acting as a deterrent, then you have to tell people about it. The point of having a death penalty, it's exponents argue, is that if people know they will be killed for committing a crime, they won't do it.

Trouble is, the kids in the film haven't a clue about it - it has to be explained to them and they've never heard of it.

Also, this isn't surprising, as it doesn't appear to be televised or anything. But then none of their parents or teachers have ever apparently told them about it either. Indeed, when their teacher objects, something nasty happens to him... er, why?

And they have a real hard time showing these kids are a truly bad lot - the bits of them acting like real delinquents are pretty widely spaced and for the most part they seem okay. Although I guess some of that is cultural, my guess is it's because the original kids in the book were just ordinary kids and those bits have been ported across, without adjusting them to make them all arseholes.

Apart from the fundamental set-up flaws, the film itself holds up well, as I say. Something of the acting is a bit OTT, but that's fairly common in Japanese cinema, but the story of the kids on the island works, just I wish they'd stayed with the original version f how and why they got there.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

burke and hare

You know, I have to say I found Burke and Hare more than a little disappointing.

It's difficult to really pin it down to one single thing, but if I was forced to do so it would be that it just wasn't funny enough. Comedy, of course, is a very subjective thing, but generally I like black comedy's, which this is - it could hardly be anything else, given its subject matter of two people murdering to feed the need for cadavers for medical training purposes.

There are of course many changes and omissions to the actual story. For example, some of the more unpalatable murdering of children is totally excised.

Additions include threads being added involving something akin to organised crime and the production of a play. I have to say, many of these, to me, seemed a little un-necessary and rather like the writer scrabbling around to add in more traditional narrative elements or to give elements of redemption to the characters, who were actually thoroughly unpleasant.

They also weren't particularly well developed, with the organised crime bit being rather slap-dash and not making a lot of sense. And I didn't get the whole photographing of corpses idea - why was that useful? And why, wanting to avoid spoilers, did the bit at the end happen, when they do what they do to the photos?

I also have to say that the Bill Bailey role of opening and closing narration felt a little ham-fisted to me. There were a few nice gags in his bits, but they felt very artificial and the into especially was something of an info dump, which is never a good way to start a film.

But as I say, the real failure was the humour. I dunno, it seemed to not want to tread too far was the problem. So it's a black comedy and you expect to be laughing at things that aren't really pleasant, yet it seemed to shy away from really going for it. So there seemed to be a lot of bits where they cut away or skipped ahead when really showing more of it and/or making the murders much more farcical would have given greater laughs.

With this being a John Landis film I was expecting it to be a little more gory too, and for laughs to come from that, but, while there were some gory bits, they weren't really played for laughs much and there weren't as many as I was expecting.

It also didn't really seem to capitalise on some of the key bits. So "Burking" is a name that's been given to how they murdered people - suffocating and smothering them, yet most of the people we see being killed aren't really killed like that. We also don't really see them kill that many people.

It all just felt like a bit of a damp squib, which was a shame.

The DVD also lacked any extras at all - there were only trailers for other films.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it seems as though they're here to stay.

I didn't post yesterday mainly through forgetting, but it was forgetting that was almost entirely due to the fact I've been really busy with work.

I actually came in on Saturday and was here for the best part of 4 hours. It was pretty much unavoidable, but not very much fun.

To be frank, I'm also not really going to have the time to post much this week at all. What I'll probably do is post some of the small reviews I've written but have been 'saving up' for just such an occasion as this.