Emperor An Underrated WWII Drama

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Movies based on the events of World War II make up what could be argued to be the single largest genre in the history of movie making.  They have been churned out since the days of the war, many of them filled with some truth and an equal mixture of fiction.  While there is some fiction added to the stories, there is also enough fact to justify them being made.  The world needs to remember what happened during that horrific conflict.  And Lionsgate’s new WWII based drama, Emperor is one more welcome addition to that long line despite its overlying romance story line.  If viewers can allow themselves to get past that and the story’s slow start, they will find that it is a surprisingly interesting work.

Emperor is a surprisingly interesting film first and foremost for the fact that it isn’t just another of the standard flash-bang-boom movies that have become all too commonplace in the current era of moviemaking.  Rather, it takes place in the days following Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces in WWII.  Some might ask why this is so important.  It’s important because being that it isn’t one of those films. It is forced to rely on story rather than on sex and violence.  It really forces viewers to stop and pay attention to everything going on throughout the story.  It’s just a nice change of pace for those that are truly interested in the history of World War II.

The fact that Emperor isn’t just another flash-bang-boom action based WWII movie is probably a big reason that it perhaps didn’t achieve the success in theaters of other WWII centered movies.  So be it.  Those that have a true appreciation for history will overlook that and look toward another of the movie’s positives.  That secondary positive is the movie’s casting.  Despite the inclusion of mega-star Tommy Lee Jones as General Douglas MacArthur, Jones is not the star.  Rather, he turns out to play more of a supporting role as General Douglas McArthur.  This is made even more interesting in watching the movie with bonus commentary.  Audiences will learn from director Peter Webber that apparently Jones didn’t immediately jump at the chance to play McArthur.  Rather, it took months of phone calls to get him to sign on to the films.  This is made even more believable in the bonus “Making of” featurette when Jones himself jokingly notes that he knew he looked nothing like McArthur.  So he beat the critics to the punch on that.  All of this aside, he still turned out to be the perfect fit for the role, especially considering his resume.

Jones was convincing as General McArthur, even being a supporting role.  Just as convincing was the movie’s real star, Matthew Fox.  Fox fills the role of General Bonner Fellers.  Getting back to the bonus commentary for a moment, audiences will laugh as Webber compares Fox to a Gary Cooper style actor in his role as Fellers.  Fellers is sent on a mission to find out if Japan’s Emperor did in fact order the attack on Pearl Harbor after Japan’s official surrender to the Allies.  His story starts rather slowly thanks to the time shifts that set up the movie’s underlying romantic subplot.  But thankfully, it does manage to catch itself somewhere along the line and speed up.  The underlying romantic drama plays a certain role in Fellers search for the truth of what happened on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.  But again thankfully, writers Vera Blasi, David Klass, and Shiro Okamato on whose book His Majesty’s Salvation this story is based, don’t allow that aspect of the story to overpower the primary story.  Because of that balance, Fox actually becomes quite believable in his role.

Fox’s acting and the ability of the story’s writers to balance its serious war based drama with its underlying romantic subplot are both positive aspects of this story.  The story’s historical accuracy is just as important as anything in this story.  It has already been noted that throughout the history of WWII based movies, many of them have been very liberal with fictitious elements just as much as with factual elements.  This story includes a certain fictitious element in the inclusion of Fellers’ romance with Aya Shimada.  It’s even noted in the movie’s bonus “Making of” featurette that it’s not known if the pair actually had a romance.  That kept in mind, it makes it even better that their romantic drama didn’t overpower the primary story of this movie.  The potentially fictitious element noted, Emperor also boasts quite an amount of factual elements.  The most important of those elements is the note of America’s oil embargo on Japan.  Many people may not know this, but it was in fact an oil embargo on Japan that led to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  It made the war in the Pacific a completely different war than the one fought in Europe.  In direct correlation, the flashback segments help to make the story even more believable.  That’s because of Aya’s mention that not every Japanese citizen was in favor of Japan attacking the United States.  Because of the way history has been taught, this is something else that is not largely known.  The story presented in Emperor contains much more that history buffs will appreciate.  And they will find those elements for themselves when they rent this movie or buy it for themselves.   The movie is available now in stores and online.  More information on this and other releases from Lionsgate is available online at http://www.lionsgate.com and http://www.facebook.com/lionsgate.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Hope Springs A Funny, Heartfelt Rom-Com For Every Married Couple

Courtesy:  MGM/Escape Artists/Mandate Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: MGM/Escape Artists/Mandate Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Hope Springs is one of Meryl Streep’s most heartfelt, moving performances of her entire career.  Despite what many might want to believe, it isn’t just another chick flick.  It’s a movie that every married couple should see no matter how long they have been married.  Co-star Tommy Lee Jones has been typecast once again as another gruff personality in a power of authority.  Typically, he stars as a police officer or another similar authority figure in his movies.  This time, he stars as a high powered businessman.  Ironically enough, while he has been typecast yet again, his character Arnold is a fitting counterpoint to Streep’s Kay.  The couple has gotten far too comfortable in its marriage, and has completely grown apart.  It’s a simple story.  Yet it’s such a realistic story, unlike so many rom-coms that Hollywood has churned out over the years.

Many audiences seem to have had a belief that Hope Springs was aimed largely at older audiences.  But the reality of the story is that it mirrors life for younger married couples just as much as for those with years of experience.  The story is less about Kay and Arnold’s sex life or lack thereof than it is about simply how the pair has forgotten who the other is.  As a result Kay and Arnold are more strangers to each other than a married couple.  Again, this is something that is just as easy for younger couples to have happen as for those who have been marred for decades.  Maybe that is why the audiences and critics that panned it did so.  Perhaps, just perhaps, those that panned it didn’t like seeing the reality of their own lives playing out on screen.  This sort of denial and rejection is exemplified through Arnold’s own refusal and denial to talk to Doctor Feld (played here by Steve Carell in what is one of his most impressive roles yet, too).  No one likes to have to admit when things aren’t the way they are in life.  This is especially the case when it comes to relationships and marriages.  If viewers can get past their own pride—as Arnold was forced to do—they will see just how much value this story has, even if watched just once and that it is okay to admit that no one’s marriage is perfect.  It’s something that couples have to work at throughout their lives.  As John Lennon and his band mates in The Beatles sang, “All you need is love.”

The central story of Hope Springs is one to which any married couple can relate.  For all of its deep, heartfelt moments, audiences can’t possibly ignore the story’s funnier moments.  The way in which Doctor Feld candidly talks about Kay and Arnold’s sexual relationship and the couple’s reaction to his candid discussion.  This is just one more factor that makes Hope Springs so enjoyable for any married couple.  The very thought of discussing what goes on behind closed doors or in the deepest recesses of a person’s mind is still considered very taboo by most Americans.  Keeping this in mind in seeing the reaction of both Kay and Arnold will leave any viewer laughing.  It’s obvious how uncomfortable both Kay and Arnold felt in discussing their sex life…or in their case, the lack thereof.  For all of the comic elements of these moments, the deeper more emotional root of the couple’s lack of intimacy reminds audiences how serious this can be on a marriage.  It’s just one more aspect of the near two hour movie that makes it surprisingly enjoyable.

The acting and the writing of Hope Springs are both important to the movie’s success.  There is one more factor that should be given note here in the story’s success.  That factor is the work of the movie’s makeup department.  In so many of the movies in which Streep has starred, she has managed to look different from her previous role.  This movie is one more of those cases.  This movie’s makeup department is to be highly commended for making Meryl look so believable as an older woman.  From the makeup to the hair, there was something about her look that was completely different from her previous roles.  It was done so expertly that one can’t help but wonder, is this perhaps what she would look like off-screen without her makeup?  In other words, the hair and makeup looked natural.  And to look natural is a success.  It makes Kay that much more believable as a character.  And along with the acting of both Streep and Jones, and the story’s writing, Hope Springs turns out as a whole, to be a movie that any married couple should see at least once in their marriage.  It is available now in stores and online.

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Lincoln A Solid Biopic From Start To Finish

Courtesy:  Dreamworks Studios/20th Century Fox

Courtesy: Dreamworks Studios/20th Century Fox

Much has been written of Abraham Lincoln.  Books upon books upon books have been published that center on the man and the myths surrounding his life.  Just as much has been crafted for televised documentaries.  And even more has been penned about the era in which our nation’s sixteenth President led his country.  Now courtesy of author Doris Kearns Goodwin, director Steven Spielberg and screen writer Tony Kushner, audiences have been presented with what is one of the most gripping portrayals of President Lincoln and his time in office in the simply titled, Lincoln.

Lincoln was largely met with applause from critics and audiences alike.  Though there were those that had their qualms with the near three hour long semi-biopic.  Many of the arguments against the story were centered on the fact that the movie in fact focuses on Lincoln and the battles in the halls of the nation’s government.  In the story’s defense, audiences should remind themselves that this movie is not about the war on the battlefield.  It is about the battles in Congress over the abolition of slavery and bringing a final end to the Civil War.  It is a beautifully shot and well acted story.  However, those who have mentioned its sometimes long winded nature can be agreed upon.  Sometimes, it does get rather wordy.  And the story’s slower pacing might turn off some viewers considering that the movie comes in at nearly three hours long.  But those that are true history buffs and/or civil war buffs will easily be able to overlook these issues and enjoy it for its positives, which outweigh the negatives.

For the negatives that weigh down Lincoln, its positives outweigh those negatives.  The first of the positives in Lincoln is that it doesn’t get lost in itself throughout the course of its run time.  The story is meant to focus on President Lincoln and what was the most pivotal moment in his time in office; his waning days in office before his assassination.  The new four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack home release of the movie includes the bonus feature, “The Journey to Lincoln” on both formats.  This feature is a welcome addition as Spielberg, author Doris Kearns Goodwin—whose book was the inspiration behind this movie—and screen writer Tony Kushner all point out in this feature that the aim was meant to be on what went on in Congress during the final days of the Civil War, rather than on the frontlines.  Having this hammered home so gently by all three individuals makes the story more watchable in comparison to the likes of Public Enemies which was also based on a historical non-fiction.  That movie was a mere shadow of the far better book.  It really was a movie that never should have happened.   This movie at least attempts to stay closer to the book on which it is based.  It presents less the mythical Lincoln and more the actual man, and what he faced in what would be his final days in office.

The story and its primary associated bonus feature make up just one of the positives to the new home release of Lincoln.  The acting on the part of the star-studded cast is another positive to Lincoln.  Even though there are some portions of the movie that are more drawn out than they perhaps should have been, veterans Daniel Day Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Tommy Lee Jones (Men In Black 1-3), and Sally Field (Mrs. Doubtfire, Smoky and the Bandit), all contribute expertly, making their parts fully believable.  Making their performances even more believable are costumes that are spot on.  While the movie may not have taken the Oscar for this category, there is no denying how impressive the end result of that work was.  Speaking of which, audiences that pick up the new four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of Lincoln get another bonus in the addition of a feature titled, “Crafting The Past” in the set’s bonus Blu-ray disc.  This feature examines not just the costumes, but also the production work and other more fine details of the movie.

The costumes and production of Lincoln are just as important as any other part of the movie that makes it successful.  There is at least one more factor to the movie that makes this the impressive work that it is.  That factor is the movie’s cinematography.  The shooting style us especially powerful in the movie’s closing scenes as the President surveys the result of a battle.  And the movie’s final scene (which will not be revealed here for the sake of those who have yet to see the movie), is a prime example of expert cinematography.  The transition into that scene and the final pullout are such powerful statements in themselves, and will leave any true history and civil war buff feeling completely satisfied after having made it through the rest of the movie’s emotional journey.  After having made that journey and having viewed the extensive bonus features included in the new four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, those same individuals will agree that Lincoln is in fact one of the best biopics crafted in recent history, albeit only a semi-biopic.  It is available now in stores and online.

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Sony’s MIB Franchise Returns To Form In Its Latest Release

 

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony Pictures’ Men in Black franchise has finally returned to form with the release of the third movie in its franchise.  Whereas the franchise’s second movie dropped flat with audiences, this second sequel has brought the movie’s fun and action back.  Given, the whole time travel/alternate timeline bit has been done far too many times in both movies and television.  And there are far too many sequels, prequels, and remakes out there today.  But this is one of those rare sequels that can be forgiven.  It has brought the MIB franchise back to where it should be.

MIB 3’s bonus “Making of” featurette does a good job of explaining what exactly it is that made this movie at least somewhat successful.  Director Barry Sonnenfeld explains that the movie isn’t so much about the time travel, but about the secrets of the relationship between Agents “Jay” and “Kay.”  Having an understanding of this helps to be more accepting of the time travel/alternate timeline bit that is otherwise far too overdone in the science fiction genre.  Audiences will find the relationship especially heartwarming in the story’s final moments in understanding this, too.  It’s those final moments that really bring the entire trilogy full circle and hopefully will mark the end of this movie property.

The story of the relationship between “Jay” and “Kay” makes up for the otherwise dull and done to death time travel plot.  It’s only part of what makes this movie bearable.  This movie gets everything right that the second movie in the trilogy got wrong.  Whereas the second of the MIB movies was simply not believable and focused far too much on melodrama, MIB 3 brings back all the aliens, gadgets, and action that made the first of the MIB franchise so fun.  Also, since it does everything that MIB did, it is also much easier to suspend disbelief.  That is the center of everything.  The gadgets, aliens, special effects and action were fun.  But it’s that believable storyline between “Jay” and “Kay” that makes MIB 3 what it is.  Instead of a standard romance subplot, this story evolves the partnership/relationship between “Jay” and “Kay” and this makes them as characters more believable.  By the story’s end, audiences who allow themselves to believe the relationship between “Jay” and “Kay” will see that while it may not be the most memorable of movies, it is still one that’s fun and funny for everyone.

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