I reviewed Terrence Malick’s pretentious and boring new film for Paste Magazine, which you can read here.
I reviewed this new German-language crime thriller from Swiss director Baran bo Odar for Paste Magazine. Read it here.
Emperor begins the way the war in the Pacific ended – with a devastating atomic blast. Director Peter Webber’s new film opens with newsreel footage of the bomb dropping on Japan as WWII drew to a close, a horror wrought by America, which subsequently found itself responsible for the rebuilding of the bombed-out country. In 1945, General MacArthur (played gruffly and full of cocksure swagger by Tommy Lee Jones) joined the occupying forces in Japan to figure out how to rebuild without inciting insurrection and guerilla warfare. One of the many problems America faced was Japan’s devotion to its revered Emperor Hirohito, who was in fact considered to be the living embodiment of God. MacArthur brought in a general named Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox), who could use his deep love for and intimate knowledge of Japan to figure out how to root out war criminals while respecting the emperor’s presumed divinity. Of course, “intimate” here refers to a past lover, Aya Shimada (Eriko Hatsune), whom he met at college in the U.S. She abruptly returned to Japan, leaving him jilted and heartbroken.
If this sounds suspiciously melodramatic, it is – there are repeated scenes of Fellers pausing to remember his past love, as swelling music plays over images of the two running in slow motion through forests of bamboo. This feels out of place with the rest of the film, which vacillates between 1940s film noir tones and hints historical biopic. Matthew Fox traipses through the ruins of Tokyo, getting into drunken fights in bars at night as he simultaneously hunts for Aya and the war criminals he’s tasked with finding, and one can’t help think of films like The Third Man. The problem is that Fox is no Joseph Cotten. He’s a fine actor in certain roles, but his inherent earnestness doesn’t do his conflicted character justice here. Jones, on the other hand, is perfect as the blustering MacArthur. After landing in Tokyo at the film’s beginning, he announces that he and his team are about to show some “good, old-fashioned American swagger” before donning a pair of sunglasses and an enormous pipe for his walk down the runway.
Although the events of <i>Emperor</i> are based on historical fact, Webber avoids making a straightforward historical picture, instead choosing to focus on the inner workings of his characters. That doesn’t mean he ignores the history, however, and the last third of the film is mostly devoted to the mechanics of setting up the meeting between Hirohito and MacArthur. When it finally happens, Jones adopts a more subdued tone, showing that although MacArthur may have been full of bravado, he knew when to sit back and display the respect needed to avoid an international incident. Ultimately, this is the most interesting part of the film, which drags when it gets bogged down in sentiment but shines when detailing the intricate dance that was post-WWII reconstruction and negotiation.
Read my review of this beautifully done post-WWII road movie.
Herzog’s new doc makes some assumptions. Read my review here.
Devastating, beautiful, brilliant – the film, not my review. Read it here, and watch the trailer below.
New Ken Burns doc coming out 11/23, looks fascinating.
Yes, it’s a topic well covered, but Scott Crawford’s new doc about D.C. punk looks pretty damn good. Watch the trailer below.
One more film review for Paste Magazine – this one is quite entertaining.
Spike Lee’s latest, Red Hook Summer, has been touted as his cinematic return to his beloved borough of Brooklyn, part of a series of films that includes Do The Right Thing, Crooklyn, and Clockers. And it is; specifically, the film takes place in the titular Red Hook neighborhood, an area of distinct contradictions – a gentrified waterfront village with a beautiful view of lower Manhattan that also houses some pretty tough projects and a longstanding Latin American food truck gathering (albeit one that has been thoroughly embraced by Brooklyn’s new wave). The story centers on Flik (Jules Brown), a teenager who is reluctantly deposited by his mother in the Red Hook projects to spend a summer with his preacher grandfather, Bishop Enoch (Clarke Peters). What seems like the perfect locale and setup for a vibrant, charming Spike Lee joint is in fact a film in shambles.
Aside from Peters, the acting is horribly stagey and wooden, the editing choppy and messy, the story disjointed and overwrought, and, most egregiously, the film is about 30 to 40 minutes too long. Editing or removing some of the many scenes of Enoch preaching at the local church could have rectified this last error. These vignettes do bring a sense of realism to the story, an attempt to convey what it’s like inside an African American church basement in the middle of a sweaty New York City summer. But these scenes go on and on. Just when the film reaches the point of unbearable tedium, however, a major plot twist arrives – no spoilers here, so no mention of who or what it involves. But it feels like a forced attempt at reviving the film’s steadily flagging energy that would have worked better 30 minutes earlier.
It’s a shame because Red Hook Summer actually starts out promisingly enough. Perhaps it’s the anticipation of a new, smaller-scale film from Lee, who has proven himself at times to be a cinematic master, or perhaps it’s actually the promising opening scenes. Flik arrives in Red Hook with his mother and TK (Jonathan Batiste), who is also the church’s organist. He sports a “fro-hawk,” as his new friend, Chazz (Toni Lysaith, particularly bad in this role), refers to his hairstyle, and seems to view the world entirely through his iPad screen. When he arrives at his grandfather’s apartment, a well-ordered oasis fixated upon Jesus in the midst of a world of gangs and drug dealing, it’s like arriving in a foreign country. This is nothing like his middle-class, suburban Atlanta home, and he cringes at the smell of urine in the elevator and marvels at his grandfather’s Jesus fish. After all, he’s a vegan and rides a skateboard; he has no patience for church basements and Grandpa’s old-fashioned food.
By the film’s end, one has to wonder exactly what Flik’s mother was thinking leaving her son there in the first place. And Lee doesn’t really bother to explain this glaring question, choosing instead to offer up some clichéd takes on gentrification and appear in a cameo as Do The Right Thing’s beloved Mookie. It’s a funny moment, seeing the graying Lee in shorts carrying a pizza box, but it’s not enough. The aforementioned plot twist is shocking and unexpected, and the most interesting moments of the film come in its aftermath, but Lee doesn’t go far enough in explaining its fallout. Red Hook Summer is such a failure because it’s apparent just what this film could have been with a little more restraint and a lot more attention to detail.
This looks bad meaning mad.
Yes, yes, yes.