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Flick Clique: May 13-19

Battle Royale (2000). The success of The Hunger Games has renewed interest in this controversial Japanese film with a storyline that closely parallels the adventures of Katniss and Peeta. Actually, lots of people must be interested in this – after months of sitting on top of my Netflix queue with the dreaded “Very Long Wait,” I finally decided to check with our local library (which stocks lots of foreign films) to see if they had a copy to check out. Turns out they had four copies in the stacks. Although they were all checked out at the time, I placed a hold and one of them became available within a day or two. Battle Royale takes place in a sensation-starved near-future Japan in which a class of 42 teens are randomly selected to engage in a three-day, nationally televised “battle royale” in which they are placed on a deserted island to kill each other until one survivor is crowned. The kids have a few rules to adhere to (danger zones and potentially lethal electronic collars keep them tracked and on their toes), but are generally set free to fend for themselves with backpacks containing a map and a few supplies. The film is somewhat overdone and its second half pales next to the exciting beginning, but I dug seeing how it played out among the students. Some die accidentally, some commit suicide, most are murdered by the few students who already had killer tendencies. A Japanese friend of ours recently saw Hunger Games and found it to be a convenient Battle Royale rip-off. The two films are different, but their similarities are too striking to ignore. Good performances here by Tatsuya Fujiwara (Death Note) and actor-Japanese TV host Takeshi Kitano (playing the kids’ coach/evil show orchestrator).
The Lawless (1950). Effective MacDonald Carey/Gail Russel b-melodrama of racial strife in a small California town. This was another underrated vintage Paramount production that’s getting the DVD reissue treatment from Olive Films. My complete review of the disc was just published at DVD Talk here – check it out, please and thank you!
The Lost World (1960). Last Christmas, I got Christopher a four-pack DVD set of 20th Century Fox special effects blockbusters as a gift. We watched two of them over this past week, both Irwin Allen widescreen extravaganzas from the early ’60s. His version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic humans-meet-dinosaurs opus The Lost World is the more definite turkey of the two. Granted, the story had a lot of potential in being updated to the campy, colorful ’60s. Allen, however, decided to stick it on the island the entire time (no dino rampaging through present-day London, darn it) with a host of annoying, shallowly drawn characters. Most disappointing of all are the dinosaurs themselves – kimodo dragons, iguanas and baby alligators outfitted with tiny prosthetics. Boring! The stop-motion dinosaurs from the silent version were much more terrifying, and that was thirty-plus years prior to this. Most of the cast (Claude Rains, Michael Rennie, Fernando Lamas) are annoying, although special mention must be made for the character of Jennifer Holmes as played by Jill St. John, a dipsy heiress who is poised as the combo Ginger Grant/Lovey Howell among these castaways. St. John always seemed like a pretty intelligent actress and she looks stunning here, but her character was beyond ridiculous. Happily, her career has recovered from this demeaning start.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961). Flick #2 in our Irwin Allen extravaganza is this submarine opus which was later adapted into a TV series lasting a few seasons. Like The Lost World, this one also sports a ridiculous and campy story (about Earth facing extinction by burning to death, with Walter Pidgeon and his crew racing to save humanity aboard his futuristic sub, the Seaview). Unlike The Lost World, however, it’s watchable and kind of fun at times, playing a bit like a melodramatic version of Disneyland’s old-school Submarine Voyage attraction (I only wish there were scenes where they encounter mermaids and a sea serpent). There’s still a lot of unanswered burning questions, like how does Barbara Eden function as the only woman on a ship full of horny men without getting assaulted on a daily basis? And why did Robert Sterling’s captain escape death with his hand dipped into the pool containing the ravenous shark that just devoured Joan Fontaine (spoiler, sorry!)? I think you just have to turn off your brain and enjoy escapist crap like this.

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