DIRECTED BY: Kinji Fukasaku
STARRING: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Tarô Yamamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Chiaki Kuriyama
OPINION STARS: 2 out of 5
THIS FILM IS: Gory, Goofy, Bizarre
DESCRIPTION: With the nation on the verge of collapse, the Japanese government introduces the Battle Royale Act: a brutal new punishment in which randomly chosen students are taken to a deserted island and forced to fight to the death.
NOTE: Based on the novel by Koushun Takami. This, ladies and gents, is a movie that desperately wants to be more important than it actually is. A sobering examination of friendship and violence? Not really. The characters are underdeveloped – their relationships even more so – and the violence is alternately numbing and goofy. A satire? Maybe, but I’ll be darned if I know what the target is. The film’s frequent attempts to make me take it seriously were undercut by the fact that the director himself doesn’t even seem to take it seriously. Take away the stylish production values and bombastic classical score, and what you’ve got is a pretentious, exploitive high school slasher with a B-grade story and a C-grade script. It’s like The Hunger Games with a lower IQ and a higher bloodlust. (And yes, I know Battle Royale came first; I also know that The Hunger Games does this stuff way better.)
“You just have to fight for yourself; no one’s going to save you. That’s just life, right?”
DIRECTED BY: James McTeigue
STARRING: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Tim Pigott-Smith
OPINION STARS: 4 out of 5
THIS FILM IS: Thoughtful, Intense, Dark
DESCRIPTION: A masked vigilante (Weaving) calling himself “V” takes up arms against the Big Brother government of futuristic Britain. After rescuing a young girl (Portman) from the clutches of the secret police, V finds in her a close friend and an unlikely ally in his efforts to rouse the citizens from apathy.
NOTE: One of the slickest, most intellectually-provocative dystopian fantasies I’ve ever encountered. Style is here is spades, but so is substance – and though I cannot get behind all of the film’s political/philosophical messages, I can appreciate its rousing reminder of the power of ideas, the perils of big government, and the difference one determined individual can make in a society marked by apathy and intellectual sloth. The script is refreshingly literate, the set pieces are gorgeously gritty, and the lead performances are phenomenal. Hugo Weaving – who has got to be one of the most underrated actors in the history of Hollywood – steals scene after scene as the titular freedom fighter; and this, despite the fact that we never actually see his face. The man should’ve won an Oscar.
IFFY FOR AGE 16
“Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.”
DIRECTED BY: Sylvain White
STARRING: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Jason Patric
OPINION STARS: 3.5 out of 5
THIS FILM IS: Funny, Fast-paced, Exciting
DESCRIPTION: After finding out that their handler (Patric) has betrayed them, a group of elite operatives make it their next mission to bring him down… preferably with a bullet.
NOTE: It isn’t RED, but as far as action comedies go, The Losers is pretty darn entertaining. It’s a B-movie that has lots of fun not trying to be anything else, and it’s helped along by a stellar cast, a smart and frequently goofy script, and plenty of well-staged, bullet-riddled chaos. It’s not something I’d go out of my way to see again, but it was a heckuva ride the first time around.
IFFY FOR AGE 15
“It’s like giving a handgun to a six-year-old, Wade – you don’t know how it’s gonna end, but you’re pretty sure it’s gonna make the papers.”
DIRECTED BY: Guillermo del Toro
STARRING: Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman
OPINION STARS: 2 out of 5
THIS FILM IS: Blasé, Underwhelming, Slow
DESCRIPTION: When gargantuan alien creatures – known as Kaiju – rise from the seas to threaten life on Earth, mankind responds the Jaeger Program: massive robots controlled by two pilots whose minds are linked in a neural bridge.
NOTE: The eighth wonder of the world is that this film was directed by the same guy who made Pan’s Labyrinth. No joke. Pacific Rim has it all: a story so solid you can count its ribs; a script so smart your ears will shrivel up and fall off your head; a cast so skilled as to be outacted by CGI monsters and robo-boxing; heroes so fearsomely intelligent they forget their Jaeger has a freaking sword (until the last possible moment, of course). Henceforth, this colossal Kaiju turd shall be known as “The Movie That Set Out to Kick Some Butt and Kicked the Bucket Instead.”
“Haven’t you heard? It’s the end of the world. Where would you rather die? Here, or in a Jaeger?”
DIRECTED BY: Marc Forster
STARRING: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Matthew Fox, Eric Weston, David Morse, James Badge Dale
OPINION STARS: 5 out of 5
THIS FILM IS: Suspenseful, Clever, Epic
DESCRIPTION: U.N. employee Gerry Lane (Pitt) races against time as he travels the globe trying to stop the spread of a deadly pandemic. As the undead hordes rise, governments are toppled, armies are crushed, and world stands on the brink of total social collapse.
NOTE: I’ll be honest: Forster’s adaption is almost nothing like Brooks’ novel. And you know what? I’m totally okay with that… because what we have here is the smartest, biggest zombie movie of the past decade. Despite all the budget trouble, last minute reshooting, and mixed critical reception, World War Z gets my vote as the best thing 2013 has thrown at us yet. It’s tight, it’s fast, it’s fun, it’s clever, but most of all, it’s human. The undead may be rampaging the world over, but Marc Forster never lets them overrun the characters or the story. Brad Pitt gives an inspired and instantly likable performance as the ordinary-yet-extraordinary hero; the writing is consistently intelligent; and the action set pieces are so thoughtfully and thrillingly choreographed I had to pick my jaw up off the floor on more than one occasion. All of this builds to a slick and nail-bitingly tense climax that made me want to stand up and clap (which, in fact, I did – along with the rest of the audience at my screening). I may not be able to catch this gem again in theaters, but you can be sure I’ll be among the first to pick it up on Blu-Ray the minute it’s released. (Also, don’t let the PG-13 rating scare you, as it initially scared me; this film is no wimp.)
FOR AGES 15+
“Every human being we save is one less we have to fight.”