Monday, March 03, 2003

The Movie I Watched Last Night LIX
Fast Company's under a denial-of-service attack, so it's a challenge to work on our Web. I'm usually not this prolific with Media Diet, I promise. I've been trying to be productive at work otherwise, but here I am again.

For what it's worth, I've decided that it's not fair game for me to review movies I stumble across on the TV and watch with less than full attention -- "Ford Fairlane" and the 1977 "Island of Dr. Moreau" recently -- so I'm going to stick with movies I rent or watch on DVD. Maybe movies on channels like HBO, but definitely not commercially interrupted movies.

Battle Royale
Amazing. The concept alone behind this movie is intriguing, but its final execution is quite impressive. Because of an economic collapse and population explosion in the Japan of the future, a law is passed that allows the government to send one class of ninth graders to a deserted island for three days. The students are given weapons, food, and water; are instructed to kill each other; and the survivor at the end gets to return to the mainland. While one would think the plot would establish an unnecessarily gory, Friday the 13th-like slasher film, director Kinji Fukasaku did a brilliant job downplaying the violence, of which there is plenty, and making sure that the characters -- more than 40 at the movie's beginning -- are relatively distinguishable from the next. Takeshi Kitano sings as the subtly unstable former teacher overseeing the whole operation, and concept aside, there are some interesting developments and twists along the way -- including the boys who hack into the military's computer system and the Battle Royale alumnus who plays a role in the most satisfying plot surprise near the end of the movie. If you're a fan of Japanese or Hong Kong action and exploitation films, this is one to see for sure.

This is an independently produced mockumentary about a start-up company called Zectek. It's been billed as the Spinal Tap of the dotcom era and hailed by Business 2.0 as more realistic than While it's no Spinal Tap -- and while I've yet to see (I just moved it up in my Netflix queue) -- it's an extremely funny, caustic, and biting satire of the Net Economy hype and hyperbole. Combining reality TV-styled footage with one-on-one candid interviews and voice-over news account narrative commenting on Netscape, Yahoo, and, the movie slowly reveals the true leadership and character traits of the founders of Zectek, as well as those they hire later. What struck me hardest in this movie is that Zectek was a business founded on nothing: no ideas, no goals, and no business plan. The founders -- all of whom, outside of the technologist, perhaps, were full of hot air -- did everything necessary to run a startup business, from acquiring office space and hiring a receptionist to making T-shirts and raising millions of dollars in venture capital. In the end, the company never did anything, much less make a product or service. It reminded me of the band I was in in junior high. We opened a bank account, designed a logo, and bought sheet music for "Axel F" and "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight," but beyond one half-serious practice in the Methodist church's youth group room, we never did anything. We even researched our band name against existing trademarks, changing our name from Nitecap to Knightcap to avoid future litigation involving a hotel chain. A silly -- and slightly sad -- callback to the heyday of the Net Economy, when you didn't even need a business plan sketched on your cocktail napkin. All you needed was a napkin.

How did this movie ever get made? Based on the Robert Sheckley s-f novel "Immortality Inc.," the film stars Emilio Estevez, of all people, as the protagonist -- and Mick Jagger as the bounty hunter antagonist. The story is pretty basic. Emilio's heroic character is a race-car driver who perishes in a fiery wreck -- and who is sucked into the future to serve as the body for a transplanted mind. The bulk of the movie is a series of Running Man-like chase scenes in which Emilio outpaces Mick; reconnects with his fiancee, played by Rene Russo, who's become a hard-edged business woman since his death; and tries to track down the wealthy business man who took out the bounty in the first place. That person turns out to be Anthony Hopkins' character, Russo's character's mentor and employer -- and outside of a visually stimulating final sequence in which we're drawn into Hopkins' character's preserved mind, the movie is devoid of value or interest. But the movie might be worth watching for the last scenes. And if you dig Sheckley, the movie might satisfy the completist in you.

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