#75: Battle Royale

These exams are bloody hard!

These exams are bloody hard!

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Year: 2000
Genre: Action/Thriller

Since the release of The Hunger Games films Battle Royale has fought its way back into the public consciousness. The latter is a Japanese film released in the year 2000 based on a novel of the same name. These two franchises, The Hunger Games and Battle Royal, have been compared due to the fact that they share the concept of teenagers being forced to kill each other in controlled environments. Where The Hunger Games focuses as much on the revolution outside of the televised battle ground as it does the carnage within, Battle Royale never leaves the fighting ring and isn’t concerned with much more than high school pressures and violence.

If you’re looking for an epic story with heaps of character development maybe you should just stick with The Hunger Games, which is more than a decent franchise, but if you’re partial to lots of graphic on-screen violence and are looking for something a little more thematically challenging then get your hands dirty with Battle Royale.

Set in a near future where high school students are forced to kill each other on an isolated island until one sole survivor remains, Battle Royale is a vicious examination of the severe high school pressures in Japan and our obsession with reality game shows. What would you do to survive? Could you turn on your friends? Or will you sacrifice yourself so that you don’t have to do the unspeakable?

Whilst this film raises a variety of issues it is, none-the-less, 2 hours of high school kids trying to kill each other with a random assortment of weapons. Due to such subject matter it’s clear that Battle Royale’s target audience is rather niche but if your stomach’s churning from a chunky blood lust and you’re yet to see this modern classic then strap an explosive collar around your neck and hope that you can kill all of your classmates before it goes off!


#96: Sin City


“Eyes on the road, man.”

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Year: 2005
Genre: Action

Rodriguez’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel series, Sin City, is hands down the best comic book adaptation to hit the big screen. Why? Because it’s not just faithful to Miller’s work, it literally IS his work. Rodriguez brought Miller on as co-director/producer to help lift Sin City from the page and to the screen without hurting the material. An exact adaptation? That sounds a bit pointless and boring. Well, not everyone reads comics AND I would argue that Rodriguez’s film adds further life to Miller’s world and, *shock horror* I may even prefer it to the comics.

The film boasts quite a large and colourful ensemble cast including Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Benicio Del Toro, and Bruce Willis only to name a few. The variety of talent here clearly understand the genre they’re working with and are able to give their caricatures enough pepper to make them memorable and, for some of them, even iconic.

What’s the point of it all? “Everything and nothing.” It’s an ultra-stylized, hyper-violent, neo-noir about corrupt cops, hookers, the mob and serial killers. Classy trash. A decadent romp. It’s probably every conservative parent’s worst nightmare. Film Noir deals with sordid characters and seedy underbellies and Sin City is noir at its most fantastical and dirtiest. It is a comic book movie however, which means it’s more playful than disturbing.

If you enjoy Rodriguez’s other efforts and/or the works of Quentin Tarantino then this is a must-see. In 2003/2004 Tarantino released Kill Bill which was his most hyper-real film to date, the kind of movie the characters from his previous films would watch. Sin City is a similar project for Rodriguez except where Tarantino paid homage to old-Martial Arts and Western films by shooting old-school, that is on film and without CGI, Rodriguez did the opposite. Rodriguez took the old genres of Film Noir and Exploitation, blended them together and presented them in a fresh, contemporary format. Sin City was shot digitally, mostly against a green-screen in order to achieve its unique moving comic-book look. The harsh black and white scheme with splashes of extreme colour is an effective yet familiar look for a comic book but on the big screen it can be quite wild and experimental.

There are many reasons to watch Sin City. You may be into comics, someone who’s interested in digital filmmaking, or you may just be up for some ballsy entertainment, whatever your prerogative, if you’re not a prude and you’ve not seen this film, watch it!

PS. Elijah Wood plays a psychotic cannibal!

#99: From Russia With Love

Under these sheets is top secret business…

Terence Young
Year: 1963
Genre: Action

I could only fit 1 Bond film in my Top 100, and my favourite is From Russia With Love, the 2nd installment in the series. There’s no need to explain what’s so good about James Bond films, but why choose this one?

It all starts with a time, the 1960’s. Part of what I like so much about the Bond series are the politics and aesthetics of the first 7 films (1962-1971), which were obviously relevant at the time but are more fascinating now, since they’ve dated. From Russia With Love takes place during the Cold War, a more appealing subject to me than the war on terror. There is something more civil and exciting about the plight between the Russians and the rest of the West compared to the dirty terrorism of today. The more enemies have in common with each other, the greater the chances are of infiltrating the other side and working under cover. James bond is all about espionage and From Russia With Love sees him sleeping with the enemy.

It all ends with a man, Sean Connery. The suavest motherfucker in the Bond Series. He is charming, so much so that I’d do ‘anything’ he asks, he has great comic timing, the best one-liners, and he’s so bad-ass that he slaps women without apologising. Wait, what? Yes, James Bond used to slap women and Connery was the main offender. You don’t get that sort of behaviour in the later Bond films, obviously, because it’s wrong. But it was the 60’s, things were different back then. Women were objectified in public and a big characteristic of Connery’s Bond was that he told women what to do and slapped them if they misbehaved. I do not condone this attitude, but I find it amusing to watch – fuck, so does my girlfriend! It’s amusing for the same reasons Mad Men (2007 – ) is. Watching people behave in a way that you never would is fascinating. That’s why we love watching violent movies.

I do love some of the later Bond films, Goldeneye (1995) and Casino Royale (2006), but I prefer the camp spirit of the 60’s films to the realism of the later ones. For me Bond is all about cheeky one-liners, impossible gadgets and a variety of babes. Using that argument alone, Goldfinger (1964) is the obvious choice for best Bond film as it has a bigger helping of girls, guns and gadgets. I prefer From Russia With Love because even though it is camp, its story is quite convincing, resulting in more suspenseful action scenes. The villain who receives the most screen time in this film, Red Grant (Robert Shaw) is perhaps the most interesting and compelling villain of the series. He’s a deadly Russian assassin who trails Bond from the start of the film. When they finally meet, Red poses as a British colleague resulting in a Hitchcock-style scene of suspense that keeps us guessing until all hell breaks loose. The Bond girl in this film, Tatiana Romanova, a Russian spy played by Daniela Bianchi, is integral to the story unlike most of the other Bond girls who just tag along for the ride. She is the coolest and most beautiful Bond girl in the series.

If you haven’t seen a Bond film, I wouldn’t start with this one. Either start from the beginning and watch Dr. No (1992), or if you don’t have the patience, go straight to Goldfinger (1964). If you like James Bond and you haven’t seen From Russia With Love, you’re crazy.

#100: Mad Max

Young Gibbo lookin’ sexy.

George Miller
Year: 1979
Genre: Action

Welcome to 1979. A time where one could look to the future of Australian cinema (and Mel Gibson) with great anticipation. A time before I was born.  Being an Australian myself, I am proud to begin my Top 100 with an Australian film. Ranking at #100…George Miller’s Mad Max.

I’m the kind of movie goer who watches to escape, to experience worlds and situations that are alien to me. In other words I have a hard-on for ‘genre’ films, i.e. sci-fi, horror, action, western, noir. Mad Max has all the ingredients for a rockin’ genre movie, it’s set in a dystopian future, it has cops and biker gangs, it has car chases, it’s violent and ultimately it’s about bloody vengeance! Then again you can help yourself to bucket loads of that shit in the thousands of bad exploitation films and b-movies that are out there, but like most ‘good’ genre movies Mad Max has a great sophistication which dulls the bad taste that a lot of its ‘genre qualities’ may leave. Slick cinematography, stand-out performances and ‘phat’ car chase sequences aside, the best thing about Mad Max is its ability to establish a world (dystopian outback Australia of all places) and display such vivid genre characteristics with a simple plot and a budget of under $400,000. Sure, there are some great action set pieces but they are few which makes them all the more riveting. The baron Australian outback location seemed to have been unaltered for the film and the things that were altered in the production design were as simple as car paint jobs and leather police outfits. The movie works because of its style and atmosphere which boils down to the direction. The melodramatic 60’s-esque score, composed by Brian May (NOT the guy from Queen) and the over-the-top acting style make the bleak atmosphere and world all the more unsettling, like telling a joke to someone on death row. George Miller managed to create a thrilling iconic action out of what could have ended up being a forgettable Ozploitation movie.

Mad Max is probably the first Aussie genre film to hit the mainstream and even to this day the country’s “talent” struggles to release genre product that is both critically and commercially successful. I first saw Mad Max as a teenager in the early 00’s, by that stage the film was over 20 years old (now it’s over 30) and Australian cinema hadn’t seen any commercial and critical successes since the 90’s (Wolf Creek came close in 2005). Watching the film then was like peering into a window of time and witnessing an alternate reality where Australia had style and talent. I guess that is, after all, what films really are “alternate realities frozen in time”, windows through which our minds escape for a short period. In a way Mad Max is Australia’s window.