WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 10

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my tenth WWW:

1) Battle Royale:
This Japanese film was number one on Quentin Tarantino's list of the top twenty films to come out since he started directing, which is what made me check it out. I can see why he loved it. A controversial law is passed in which a class of unruly school children, selected at random from a lottery, are sent to an island to battle to the death. They are fitted with exploding collars that will go off if they don't comply, and there can be no more than one survivor. A Lord of the Flies scenario quickly ensues after a few kids are killed and the others realize the adults are not playing. It's amazing how quickly human beings will regress when survival instincts kick in, how former friends change when put in a harsh environment. Some form alliances. Some play dirty. A few remain honorable. A few rebel. It's Survivor but 1,000 times more intense because lives are at stake, and because these are high school children. The real heart and poignancy of the film comes from its flashbacks. From time to time, we see what it was like for these kids before. They weren't all bad, and none so bad as to deserve this. The contrast between their joy at a basketball game and anguish as they're killing one another is extremely powerful. 42 kids are brought to that island, and the film gives us captions to keep track as that number gets smaller and smaller....

2) Universal Soldier:
Jean-Claude Wan Damme and Dolph Lundgren star in one of those major science fiction action flicks that my friends always raved about, but I'd somehow missed. When Lundgren loses it in Vietnam and begins killing innocents, making a souvenir necklace of ears, Van Damme challenges his superior. The result is two dead bodies which the government puts on ice, and eventually incorporate into a platoon of machine-like soldiers who don't feel pain, heal quickly, and follow all orders. I always thought they were actually cyborgs from some of the headgear I saw them wearing, but they actually have no machine parts save for a subcutaneous tracking device. It's all drugs and genetic engineering. It's a good concept that tries to capitalize on the feel of the more popular T2, and has that early ‘90s flavor without as much depth. There's an annoying Lois Lane type reporter who stumbles on the top secret program and helps Van Damme begin to remember who he really is. In the end, Lundgren gives one of the worst performances of his career and makes Van Damme's acting seem much better. Both actors have done much better, but the action sequences and fights are pretty good. It's not unwatchable, but I'm not sure about the three sequels it apparently spawned. I guess I'll find out soon enough...

3) My Dinner with Andre:
This was a unique, profound, and difficult film to get through. My attention span is apparently not capable of handling a film with no action within which 90% of the time it's two friends sitting in a restaurant having a conversation, and it took me a few sittings to get through. But it had a lot of important stuff to say, so I'm glad I watched it. Wallace Shawn(whom I was familiar with from The Princess Bride and voice acting) meets an old friend, Andre Gregory(whom I was not familiar with prior to this film). Wallace is a down-to-Earth everyman, not unlike myself. He worries that he focuses too much on money, and he's a struggling actor and playwright resigned to make the best of his life the way it is, enjoying simple pleasures with his girlfriend like an electric blanket. Andre is a deeper soul, who has traveled the world and taken on many social experiments in a search for meaning in his life. At times he seems pretentious and insane, from hallucinating strange creatures to agreeing to be buried alive on a trip out to Montauk. He dominates the bulk of the conversation, with Shawn just nodding and throwing in an “And then what happened?” every couple of minutes. They get a few odd glances from the waiter, some of which Shawn shares. Andre meanwhile, as he begins to talk about how people are all acting, all drifting through life in a dream state, doing actions like eating out of habit, gets in a few jabs at the way Wallace and most of us live life. “I didn't realize they'd be so small,” remarks Wallace when the food finally arrives, proceeding to stuff his face. Andre hits on some real truths, that most of us are never truly alive because we fear the knowledge of death that comes with it. He shares an anecdote about how, when he was feeling his lowest, most people told him how good he looked(as Wallace had done when they first met at the restaurant). Only one woman told him he looked terrible, because she had been through some similar pain recently due to family troubles and could empathize. When Andre's mother was dying, clearly, visibly on her deathbed, an arm specialist came in and told them how wonderful she looked, because he only looked at the arm, not the whole picture. I often feel like I'm in the dream state he describes myself, like I'm drifting through motions and routines. I probably do more thinking than doing. It was definitely a well-written screenplay from the two leads, and a bold experiment to film a real time dinner conversation and let the audience eavesdrop. It's not going to be easy for everyone to get through, so at the very least check out the Bunny version(with a great Easter egg at the end if you look for and click the small bunny silhouettes).

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



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