Friday, June 11, 2010

They can't all be good ...

Contrary to appearances, I have not been neglecting this blog. I have, in fact, been screening films to write about, but they've all been too sucky or non-shocking to qualify. But then I thought, "Hello, why not write about them anyway?" As Groucho Marx once remarked after a particularly crap joke, "They can't all be good, you've got to expect that." You said it, Groucho!

The lamest of the lot by far was Battlefield Baseball (2003). I'd wanted to see this one for years, having heard it was similar to Shaolin Soccer (only with Japanese zombies instead of Chinese martial artists and baseball instead of soccer). Plus Tak Sakaguchi is in it, and I thought he was great in Versus. Imagine my disappointment, then, when I discovered it was utter dogshit. Seriously, I'm willing to forgive a lot in terms of outrageous, manga-esque excess (see my Asia Shock for ample proof), but this film didn't even deliver on the promise of its own outrageousness.

The premise, wafer-thin as it is, is this: A high school principal fears for his prize baseball team when he realizes they're slated to play another team known for mutilating and murdering their opponents on the field. That's it, that's the whole movie. Apparently, the film's budget did not allow for special effects, as all such mayhem happens off screen, leaving us to view a baseball field strewn with cheap-looking body part props. To keep things going, people come back to life, only do the same schtick all over again. Ugh.

Then I watched Dorm, (2006) supposedly a Thai shocker about a haunted dormitory in a boy's boarding school. Part The Devil's Backbone, part The Sixth Sense, the film isn't bad, in fact it has a gentle charm that infuses what amounts to a supernatural coming-of-age picture wherein a living boy and a ghost boy help each other and those around them. But it sure ain't scary or even remotely shocking.

So I decided to throw on a Hideo Gosha film, Four Days of Blood and Snow (1989), about the notorious "226 Incident" that occurred February 26 (hence 226), 1936, in which a group of young Imperial Japanese Army officers attempted a coup de e'tat. Knowing Gosha's visceral style and reputation for brutally realistic screen violence, as well as his string of just-plain-awesome samurai and yakuza films from the 60s and 70s, I figured it was a slam dunk. Gotta be great, right?

Nope. Sadly, whatever Gosha had in 1969 (when he made both Goyokin and Tenchu), he'd all but lost 20 years later. Outside of a thrilling sequence early on, in which the rebellious young officers run around Tokyo assassinating government officials, the rest of the film is just a tedious bore, suffering as it does from the same problem that plagues most films coming out today: No character development. The half dozen leaders of the coup attempt are flat, flat, flat. We are expected to just hit the ground running with these guys without any background, a bunch of wooden toy soldiers spouting the usual nationalistic banalities. Who cares? Wanna know how to make an ensemble piece set in wartime work? Try Paul Verhoeven's The Soldier of Orange.

So now I'm on to the next film. Never fear, dear reader I'll find something good for you. It is my quest, my raison d'etre (and, usually, something I enjoy -- here's hoping I have better luck with Green Fish).


Alesa Warcan said...

I saw Battlefield baseball... And I have nothing to add to your comments about it. Blah.

Thanks for going through the dreck to find the pearls. You're a brave man!

Patrick Galloway said...

Thanks, Alesa. Your encouragement gives me strength to carry on!