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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Perry, Fox Carry Patterson’s Cross

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Actor/producer/director Tyler Perry is known largely for his widely popular movies focusing on the over the top Madea.  So it goes without saying that when he was announced to take over the role of Alex Cross from veteran actor Morgan Freeman, audiences both of his work and that of author James Patterson were left quite in shock to say the least.  Any time that an actor or actress takes a leap outside of his or her comfort zone, it also pulls said actor/actress’ fans out of their comfort zones.  And that apparently is what happened in the case of his take in the new action flick bearing the character’s name.

Perry’s audiences and critics alike were pulled out of their comfort zone with Alex Cross because all involved became so accustomed to seeing Perry in dramadies, not action flicks.  So much so that they refused to see Perry’s potential in this movie.  Director Rob Cohen even discusses this in the Director’s Commentary of the movie’s new home release on DVD and Blu-ray.  It’s just one of many discussions that he raises which will make for more appreciation for this movie among audiences.  The reality of Alex Cross is that while the story may be somewhat outrageous, it’s no more outrageous than the criminal profilers in CBS’ Criminal Minds going out on “missions” to stop deranged killers, which is exactly what co-star Matthew Fox (ABC’s Lost) plays here.  Fox expertly plays the absolutely deranged sociopathic killer Picasso who is hell bent on taking down Cross for past events.  Much like Perry, his performance is a powerhouse.  He is one of those villains that is totally believable.  He is one of those rare villains that audiences love to hate, and by whom they are disturbed.  That means that Fox did his job and did it well.  So to that extent, Fox and Perry together really are what make the story work.

Keeping in mind why Picasso is after Cross, one can’t help but make at least a slight comparison to fellow actor Denzel Washington’s 1999 crime drama, The Bone Collector.  The difference between the two is that this crime drama is far better and moves much faster.  What Perry has done here for all intents and purposes is harnessed both Washington and fellow action star Will Smith and proven to be even better than both.  Audiences need only allow themselves to suspend their disbelief and they too will realize Perry’s talents as an action star.

It goes without saying that a number of factors were changed in this adaptation of its namesake book by author James Patterson.  But few movies ever adapted from books have ever stayed one hundred percent true to their origins.  Just look at the movies in the Die Hard franchise.  They are prime examples of that.   Audiences need to keep this in mind as well in order to maintain their suspension of disbelief.  Allowing that to happen allows audiences to simply enjoy the fast paced action that starts right off the bat and barely lets up right to the movie’s final confrontation.  And if doing that doesn’t work, then perhaps watching the bonus making of featurette in the brand new DVD and Blu-ray release of the movie will finally convince people to let go of their own expectations.  The feature, “The Psychologist and the Butcher: Adapting & Filming Alex Cross” features interviews with James Patterson himself in which he in no uncertain terms lets audiences know that he accepts the big screen adaptation of Cross.  It’s nice to see an author giving his personal stamp of approval on an adaptation of one of his books.  And hopefully both Patterson’s readers and Perry’s fans will come together after watching this new home release and give the movie the appreciation which it deserves.  It is available now on DVD and Blu-ray in stores and online and is worth at least one watch by any true action movie fan.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.