Monday, April 03, 2017

7 Days in May | Battle Royale and The Last Man on Earth

Battle Royale (2000)

As a fan of the Hunger Games books, I got irritated when the movies came out and snotty people were all, "I liked it better when it was called Battle Royale." Yes, yes, you're very hip. But it did put the movie on my radar, so I'm grateful for that. It's a good film.

I still don't think it's smart to compare Battle Royale and Hunger Games though. The similarities are striking, but superficial. They're both about dystopian futures where kids are forced to battle to the death for public entertainment, but each is trying to do something different. For Battle Royale, it's a brutal and memorable analogy for middle and high school. Instead of being so embarrassed that you could just die... well, you could just die.

But that's as deep as it goes. I like the characters in Battle Royale just fine, but they're all simple archetypes; characters we've seen a billion times in a billion different teen movies. Only this time they're trying to murder each other. I dig Battle Royale, but I was way more invested in Katniss and her choices.

The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Probably my favorite adaptation of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, though I should give The Omega Man another try. I still have problems with The Last Man on Earth, though. Vincent Price is great, as usual, but the other actors aren't convincing and the ending - while a fascinating idea - doesn't pay anything off. The movie seems to be a survival tale, but decides at the last minute that it's really a social commentary of some kind. Except that I'm not clear on what comment it's trying to make; certainly nothing that was set up earlier in the story. It's a pretty cool twist; I just wish it was a more powerful one.

Airplane! (1980)

We talked about Police Squad on a recent episode of Dragonfly Ripple and that got me wanting to share Airplane! with David. Finally pulled the trigger on that and it was a big hit. A lot of the jokes are dated cultural references, but for the most part it's timeless, goofy humor that still holds up.

Caddyshack (1980)

Airplane! got me thinking about other '80s comedies that David hasn't seen yet. And since he's a big fan of the original Ghostbusters, I figured some classic Bill Murray (directed by Harold Ramis, no less) was the way to go. And it was joyous. Caddyshack easily has my favorite roles for Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Ted Knight, and possibly for Rodney Dangerfield, too (though I need to give Back to School another look). That gopher puppet is adorable and the Kenny Loggins theme is second only to "Holiday Road." There are a couple of weird, pointless sidebar scenes to endure, but for the most part it's just one memorable gag after another.

Zorro (1957-61)

Still loving this show. This week some new villains were introduced with a multi-episode plot about stolen treasure that's being used to finance the Eagle's takeover of California. And while Zorro competently overcomes every individual threat, there's the growing sense that he's getting in over his head when it comes to the Eagle's larger organization. The stakes are raising nicely as we head towards the season finale.

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992-93)

In the last couple of episodes with the younger of the two Young Indianas, the Jones family visits India and China. I quite liked the China episode in which the gang makes an excursion far into the countryside without Indy's dad and Indy comes down with typhoid. Even knowing that he has to make it, I was still impressed with the performances, especially by Ruth de Sosa as Indy's mom. She was convincingly terrified that her son was about to die. And though I grew impatient with her hesitation to try Chinese medicine, I understood every decision she made.

The India episode wasn't as touching, but it did make me realize how effective the educational component of the show is. I mentioned last week that I thought the Jones' discussion of philosophy was over-simplified. The show did the same thing in this episode while talking about world religions. But seeing it repeat that tactic made me realize that it's intentional. Like with the geographical and historical elements, the show gives just enough information to tease my curiosity. I've had to pause every single episode at some point to hop on my phone and research one of the characters. In this case, it was Jiddu Krishnamurthi and the fascinating Theosophy organization that made him famous.

Underground (2016-present)

Nearing the end of the first season and the show's getting rather heart-breaking. Some of my favorite characters aren't going to make it.

And others are making some hard decisions that I'm not on board with. I don't know what it says about me that I'd rather see a woman kill a man than have sex with him to buy his silence (especially when her husband is someone else I like), but I would. I don't like that kind of secret in a marriage that I've grown to admire, so I'm hoping that gets resolved quickly and doesn't sit and fester in order to propel more drama. It was something similar that killed my interest in Downton Abbey.

Totally willing to keep going for now, though. I'm still very invested in the surviving runaways and there's some folks who need some comeuppance that I really want to see.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

I'm a slow reader, so I won't always have books to talk about each week, but as luck would have it, I finished three of them last week.

The Wind in the Willows is beautifully pastoral.  Its opening chapters read like a series of short stories about the same, recurring characters. Since I was mostly familiar with Disney's very loose adaptation, I was surprised and pleased to find so much of the book's focus on Mole and Rat. They're pleasant characters who live in a pleasant place and Grahame's wonderful descriptions make me want to live there, too.

I love his prose and especially the observations he makes about human (or animal, I guess) nature. I was completely hooked as soon as I read Mole's thoughts about vacations: "...he somehow could only feel how jolly it was to be the only idle dog among all these busy citizens. After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working." Grahame gets me.

There are stories about hospitality and homesickness and curiosity and traveling and worship and they're all lovely. As they progress, Badger and Toad enter the tales and the stories start to become more connected, so there's a strong narrative pushing through by the end. That's the part that Disney latched onto, and it is entertaining, but it's not the best part to me. The earlier, quieter chapters are the ones that are going to stick with me for a long, long time.

Grandville: Mon Amour by Bryan Talbot

An excellent sequel to Talbot's Grandville. Like it's predecessor, it successfully combines mystery and political intrigue with some horror and lots of talking animals. I really enjoyed reading this so soon after finishing The Wind in the Willows, just because of how radically different they are using so many of the same building blocks.

Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan Omnibus by Various Creators

I knew that Dark Horse had an ongoing Tarzan series in the '90s, but I'd never read it and incorrectly assumed that it was like most ongoing comics series: more or less telling a continuing story of the adventures of a primary character. This omnibus collects the entire run, but it reads like an anthology of individual mini-series. Every few issues brings not only a change in creative teams, but in overall tone and genre. There's no house style connecting them.

Which can be a strength and it mostly works for the collection. I enjoyed some stories more than others, of course. My favorites were the ones with Tarzan in New York encountering a variety of historical figures and literary monsters. And I especially enjoyed the art of Thomas Yeates in the closing story, even if I wasn't as crazy about that story in which Tarzan travels to the future to fight creatures from Edgar Rice Burrough's The Moon Maid.

Jam of the Week: "You Don't Know" by Scarlett & Black

I recently head this playing in a Taco Bell and it brought back all kinds of memories. It was used in the 1987 Jon Cryer movie Hiding Out and was my second favorite song on that soundtrack (after the kd lang/Roy Orbison team-up on "Crying"). I don't know if you can even call Scarlett & Black a one-hit wonder, because this song wasn't much of a hit, but it holds up for me and I love how Robin Hild belts out the title lyrics towards the end.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I've been thinking about I Am Legend quite a lot since my birthday last week.

I know I'm the hardly the person to speak with any sort of authority about getting older but When I'm working with high school kids as part of my job I've been caught off guard at how something as relatively small as a ten year age gap feels like a world of difference.

There are times when their language, use of technology and what they consider of value or importance feels completely alien with how I was at their age.

It got me wondering if that might have been what inspired Mattheson's original book, using these strange creatures brought in to replace humanity as a metaphor for the generation gap, especially around the time of the hippies who would have presented severe culture shock at the time.

Anonymous said...

I too find the ending of The Last Man on Earth to be ... less than memorable (honestly I remember everything but the ending). The ending of The Omega Man is, in my opinion, equally disappointing (just in a different way). It's been so long since I last saw an airing of The Omega Man that I cannot state with clarity what the seeming message may be.

I otherwise enjoy chance viewings of The Last Man on Earth.

Michael May said...

That's a great read, Erik. I need to read Matheson's book with that in mind.

Emma, I've never actually made it all the way through The Omega Man, but that was more to do with me than the movie. I'm curious now how it does handle the ending, so I need to check that out.


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