#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!

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#78: Shaun of the Dead

"Don't look but there's a large man and a little girl in our backyard..."

“Don’t look now but did we bring anyone home last night?”

Director: Edgar Wright
Year: 2004
Genre: Comedy

Genre comedies with story lines you can take seriously and characters you could legitimately care about seem to be relics of the 80’s, but Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead has all the ingredients for those who want more than just a laugh from their comedies.

I love screwball comedies, like Steve Martin’s The Jerk and Will Ferrell’s Anchorman, but genre comedies like Back to the Future and Ghostbusters, which are as much about the storytelling as they are about the laughs, are more than just “fun movies”, they’re “great films”. Shaun of the Dead is one such film. Whilst it doesn’t treat its horror elements seriously at all, unlike An American Werewolf in London which manages to be as scary as it is funny, Shaun of the Dead offers an iconic lead character in Shaun and A-grade geek humour to appease any self-respecting genre buff.

For those of you who haven’t seen it Shaun of the Dead is a British comedy concerned with Shaun, a man in his 30’s in a dead end job with no direction. He needs to break free of his best mate’s lazy influences, patch up his relationship with his mother and win back his girlfriend all in one day. His plan to overcome these hurdles is to gather all his loved ones and take charge of the zombie apocalypse!

Shaun of the Dead has somewhat of a niche audience made up of film buffs who love comic books and horror films, but you don’t have to be a creep to enjoy this movie. Shaun of the Dead is a great film for so many reasons. 1) It’s hilarious. 2) Edgar Wright’s inventive directorial flare is undeniably attractive. 3) It has unforgettable characters. 4) Despite being a comedy it’s better than most zombie films out there, in fact I’d rank it as one of the top 5 best zombie films of all time. 5) There’s more than 3 reasons!

If you haven’t seen this film then tonight’s plan is as follows…

1. Head to the local pub with whoever’s keen.

2. Knock back a few pints.

3. Walk home.

4. Settle in for a spot of Shaun of the Dead.

 

#96: Sin City

sincity3

“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!

#84: Avatar

avatar3

Don’t be fooled by her blueish good looks…

Director: James Cameron
Year: 2009
Genre: Sci-Fi

I feel a little embarrassed including Avatar in this list. It can be tough justifying the integrity of top grossing films because generally the more money a film makes, the more it compromises on its more edgy or challenging aspects. Avatar, being the highest grossing film of all time, is not exempt from such treatment. Before its release, all the geeks out there were expecting an explosively unique Sci-Fi story, instead we got a re-telling of Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest (1992) and Pocahontis (1995) with a sci-fi outfit. I guess I’m embarrassed because, like a lot of Avatar haters, I see right through the film’s story and can recognise its many flaws yet I’m as captivated as fuck.

Avatar is the most visually stimulating cinematic experience I’ve ever had. It boasts the most impressive and seamless CGI to date. The world Cameron created, the planet of Pandora, is jaw dropping and luscious, and the 3D is gob-smacking. I’m not usually a fan of 3D, or CGI for that matter, but whatever Cameron did here paved the way for the future – strange that no other films have utilised this technology since? The depth that Cameron’s 3D created was so new that I physically felt sensations in my eyes. It was a whole new way of viewing the moving image.
Unfortunately the only way to take advantage of this experience is in the cinema – 3D TV technology is not yet up to speed. I’ve watched the film in 2D on DVD and it’s still impressive. I was worried that without its stunning 3D the CGI would suffer, but thankfully it still holds up.

The visuals aren’t the only thing worth a damn in this film. If you leave your cynicism in carbon-freeze and open up your heart you may find yourself as captivated as I was. Despite its flaws, the direction and performances were effective enough that I got caught up in the story regardless and found myself getting teary in the emotional and climatic parts. It was a shame though that Avatar wasn’t as much of a sci-fi as it should have been. ***SPOILER ALERT*** The film’s biggest let down is that the whole idea of having an “avatar” isn’t really explored at all. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) uses a Na’vi (they’re the natives of Pandora) avatar, that is, he walks around in a Na’vi body, to infiltrate the world of the Na’vi. Cool, right? Despite his avatar,the Na’vi know that he’s a human from the get go! What a missed opportunity for challenging character developments and unique plot points. Fuck me, and the movie’s CALLED Avatar. That’d be your $237,000,000 budget talking – can’t take any risks with that budget! The film is fuckin’ solid though. A lot of the best stories are old and familiar ones anyway. As long as they’re executed masterfully, the audience is your bitch – and Cameron is quite the maestro.

Don’t be expecting any complex sci-fi concepts and you’ll be in for a visual spectacle and an exhilarating adventure. If you haven’t already seen it you won’t be able to have the same overwhelming experience I had until the film gets a cinematic re-release. Don’t worry, they’ll surely do one in conjunction with the sequel which promises to be all the more orgasmic!

#88: Dancer in the Dark

“Mmm, I love air-vents…”


Director:
Lars Von Trier
Year: 2000
Genre: Drama

I often neglect realistic films, as in dramas with little stylistic blemishes or other-worldly elements. Sometimes events occur that end up with me sitting down to watch such a film, and to my surprise I am quite taken by it. Having said that, most of the Drama films I like tend to incorporate fantastical and/or surreal elements to spice things up. Lars Von Trier is a director who often takes harsh visions of reality and turns them into something grand. Dogville (2003) is his commentary on America in the form of an epic tale set amongst a minimal backdrop of chalk outlines, and in Melancholia (2011) Von Trier presents a family falling apart at a wedding the day before the world’s end. Dancer in the Dark is the first Von Trier film I ever saw and, to this day, my favourite.

Dancer in the Dark sees Iceland’s diva, Bjork, playing a poverty stricken woman, Selma, who is gradually going blind. She works hard at a factory to save enough money to prevent her young son from becoming blind himself. Unfortunately the selfish needs of the local townspeople create grave complications for Selma’s already troubled life. The outlandish element of this film comes from the musical dream sequences Selma slips into to escape the terrors of reality.

Bjork is magnificent as Selma. Her foreign and quirky child-like qualities accentuate Selma’s innocence and help make her the loveable character that she is. Bjork also lends her talents to the film’s wonderful soundtrack, which was incidentally released as her fifth studio album.

Dancer in the Dark is one of the saddest films I have ever seen. I just find it deeply upsetting to watch Selma being treated so horribly by every character she meets. However, Selma’s dream sequences, with their hyper-real explosions of colour and Bjork’s gorgeous songs, are a true delight and help alleviate the density of this drama. Due to the film’s surreal nature, one may question where Selma’s reality fits in with ours, which perhaps suggests that the film isn’t as distressing as I’ve made it out to be. Nevertheless, the wonderful musical sequences, the Dogme style in which the rest of the film is shot, and the cast’s subdued/naturalistic performances are all blended seamlessly together by maniac Lars Von Trier to create a totally gripping and unique film.  If you get the opportunity to watch this gem, you’re in for an emotional challenge and a truly rich experience. Indulge!

#97: Star Trek (2009)

I’M Spock now, bitch!


Director:
J.J. Abrams
Year: 2009
Genre: Sci-Fi

We have arrived in the future. Well, 2009 is technically the past, but if you have embarked on this Top 100 journey, starting with Mad Max in 1979, you have jumped forward 30 years in cinema history. The setting of the film in question is so far into the future (2258) that no one living today will ever know its wonders, or will they? Ladies and gentlemen, ranking at #99, welcome on board J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, a film that I believe sets the benchmark for 21st century blockbusters.

Although I am quite fond of the Star Trek series, I am by no means a “fan”, let alone a Trekkie. I have only seen a handful of TV episodes from the original 1966 series and three of the earlier films, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Generations (1994). Whilst I have liked all of those installments, particularly The Wrath of Khan, I much prefer Abrams’ reboot. Apparently this makes me less of a Star Trek fan because the new Star Trek uses more action and emotion to compensate for a lack of moral challenges and sci-fi philosophy. I’m more of a Star WARS fan anyway, so bring on the melodrama, I’m a sucker for that shit. Abrams’ film makes me happy because both times I saw it I literally cried with joy and that’s what blockbuster adventures should do. Well, maybe not make you cry – not everybody’s a pussy like me – but a great blockbuster film should genuinely fill you with excitement.

Abrams’ film manages to appeal to a new, young and sexy audience while remaining faithful to the original series. Star Trek (2009) is an origin story that explores how the characters from the original series end up in the crew. For many Trekkies perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of this reboot is, due to it being a prequel, the characters must be younger and therefore recast! I was worried myself before the film came out, especially for Kirk’s character. I’m actually quite a fan of William “The Shat” Shatner, he’s a knock out star personality, Star Trek aside, and who the fuck is Chris Pine anyway? Turns out the kid’s got spirit, he is really charismatic as the young Captain and convincing as someone who would one day grow up to be The Shat. Abrams did an outstanding job re-casting the whole crew. Zachary Quinto is mesmerizing as young Spock. His ability to communicate with facial expression alone is spellbinding, and of all the new cast members he is the one who resembles the most physical likeness to his predecessor. Check him out in the still above; uncanny, if not a little more bad-ass in this incarnation. Fans of the original should rejoice in the fact that Leonard Nimoy himself reprises his role as Quinto’s future self – nerdgasm! Big bonuses, Winona Ryder plays Spock’s mother and Scotty is played by a true Trekkie in his own right, Simon Pegg!

Screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are careful not to disturb the canon of the original series and preceding films by introducing a parallel universe which creates two timelines in the series’ canon. This is quite a clever concept; it means that the same characters can appear in new Star Trek movies without shitting on the continuity of the previous shows and films.

What I like most about this film is the chemistry between the characters – reminiscent of the love-hate relationship between Luke, Han and Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy, or even the cast of the Indiana Jones series. There’s nothing like a dynamite combination of tight scripting, stylish direction and stand out performances to create a delicious character dynamic. Chuck in an exciting sci-fi plot, mouth watering action sequences and top of the line special effects, of which Abrams is a master, and you have yourself an orgasm.

It’s easy for a cynic to pick apart this film to a molecular level, but if you’re young at heart like I am then you’re in for a slice of cherry pie…with cream.