Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How to Lose Me on a WWII Movie in One Easy Step

My dad trained me well.  Thanks to his moviegoing guidance, I still have a sweet spot when it comes to films dealing with anything related to World War II.  As a kid, he took me to all of them.  As a result, I still gravitate toward them whenever they pop up on Turner Classic Movies.

So, naturally, I heard my dad's voice again when I saw the ads for the new movie "Emperor."  The trailer prominently featured Tommy Lee Jones as General Douglas MacArthur.  I remember my father affectionately referring to him as his "very first boss."

I'm a buyer.  Of a movie ticket, that is.


"Emperor" is not the worst film I have ever seen, by any stretch.  But, overall, a WWII movie buff like me was truly disappointed.  And, although I haven't heard his voice on this one just yet, I think my dad didn't like it either.  I assume there are opening weekends in Heaven, too.

It actually hurts me to chide this movie.  After all, it has a brain in its head.  The filmmakers actually embrace an American war not set in Iraq.  And you are required to think.  There were no other films on the marquee at this multiplex which made such a stipulation.

But, almost amazingly, "Emperor" does not work.  I went to the movie theater and a fight broke out between two cable networks.  Because "Emperor" lands somewhat uneasily in two divergent formats.  At times, it's a documentary that might be seen on the History Channel.  And at other times, it's a drippy romantic yarn that would likely be the monthly showcase on Lifetime for Women.  It's ultimately two short films and neither one of them are very interesting.  

It's 1945 and the Japanese have just surrendered, dirty bastards that they are.  Under the leadership of MacArthur, General Bonner Fellers is entrusted to find if there is enough evidence to try all the Japanese military heads for war crimes.  Suddenly, it's Judgment at Nuremberg with wiener schnitzel being replaced by chop suey.  At the base of Fellers' investigation is the role of Emperor Hirohito.  How involved was he in decisions such as Pearl Harbor?  And there are consequences to be considered.  The American people wanted him strung up on a tree.  Meanwhile, the Japanese folks that survived still revere Hirohito as a god and may get militant all over again if he is found guilty.  

Meanwhile, Fellers is all atwitter because he is trying to also find out if his former Japanese girlfriend made it through the atomic blast. Of course, this means we are "treated" to a whole bunch of sappy flashbacks regarding their previous romance.  Tripping through weeds and staring up at tall trees.  I was half expecting these interludes to be interrupted by a commercial for a feminine hygiene product.  

So, as a result, "Emperor" spins in conflicting directions and never really settles on what kind of movie it should be.  Director Peter Webber tries to steer it on a fine line, but ultimately fails.  The end result is grossly uninteresting, which is a shame because there are the customary epilogues at the end telling us what happened to all the real people depicted.  Yes, it is a 100% true story.  But then again so is my life and nobody's making a film about that.

Indeed, my dad would be truly annoyed that MacArthur really does not play a huge role in "Emperor."  Jones pops in from time to time, puffs out his chest, and chews on his corncob pipe just like we've seen in every American History textbook from the eleventh grade.  

The lion share of screen time falls to Matthew Fox as General Fellers.  Fox is from the TV series "Lost" and he still looks a little that way in "Emperor."  This is certainly no critique of his acting ability.  He's just saddled with a script that can't figure out exactly what is at its core.  If you want to make a war movie, do it.  If you want to remake "Sayonara" with Marlon Brando, be my guest.  Just don't try them at the same time.

Dad, I'm waiting to hear your review.

Dinner last night:  Ham sandwich.

Tomorrow.....Live from New York!

No comments: