Pride

Tojo attempts suicide by shooting himself in the gut, but his life is saved by the Allieds, and soon is put on trail along with 27 other top Japanese ministers in front of the newly convened International Military Tribunal for the Far East around the time the Nazi war crimes tribunal in Nuremberg were undertaken.

A vengeful American prosecutor wants to destroy Tojo’s reputation in his homeland, successfully censoring the Japanese press reports about the trials to the point where he own children must flee to another part of the country and take their mother’s maiden name to hide from the shame the name Tojo has within the public, after Tojo’s grandson is mercilessly taunted by his teacher for being related to a man who is “worse than a thief”. The defense argues the war criminals are being unfairly tried by a form of “victor’s justice” group for acts which had not been criminal at the time they were committed, and could not be held responsible for what they had done as government officials. The 28 Japanese officials are, after a long trial, all found guilty and sentenced to die by hanging.

This is the structure in which Pride (Puraido, unmei no toki) investigates the real life story to a mostly satisfying resolution.

On a technical level, Pride is mostly masterful. The cinematography and musical score are profound, finding that necessary but usually neglected composure of power and grace. The acting amongst the lead actors is top notch. Masahiko Tsugawa, best known to American foreign film fans as the male lead in Juzo Itami’s A Taxing Woman films, stars as Tojo, bringing to the character a quiet honor to a man who acted out of responsibility and conviction, even if it wasn’t the best within the eyes of the world. Scott Wilson, who can ironically be seen on American screens this summer as General Marshall in Pearl Harbor, brings a strong presence to his role as Joseph B. Keenan, the lead prosecutor on the tribunal who is under orders from Douglas MacArthur to secure convictions. The great character actor Ronny Cox adopts an Australian accent to play Sir William Webb, the head Justice of the tribunal who tries often in vain to keep a balanced opinion within himself and the court he must lead, and Cox shows once again why he is one of America’s best vastly underused actors.

My main complaint about the film is within its editing. There are several subplots, most notably looks into the personal life of Tribunal Judge Radhabinod Pal, India’s representative to the multinational court, which could have been excised without losing anything relevant to the story. There are also several strange jumps back and forth through time (the tribunals took place in 1947 and 1948) into these unneeded subplots. Along with a restructuring to tell the story in a linear timeframe, removing several of these sequences would trim a good twenty minutes out of the two and a half hour film. making a good film into a haunting cinematic tour de force.

Made on a 1.5B yen budget (approx. $11M US, or three times the average budget for a Japanese film), Pride‘s 1998 release in Japan saw the film become a sensation, becoming one of the biggest homegrown hits of the decade with over 2.4B yen worth of ticket sales and causing a firestorm of controversy concerning liberties writer/director Shunya Ito and co-writer Hiro Matsuda took with historical accuracy. At one theatre where Pride played outside Tokyo, a screen was slashed by a group of protestors angered at the positive portrayal of Tojo in the film.

After fifty-something years, General Tojo’s place in history is still being argued, with as many people respectful of what Tojo wanted for his homeland as those who canonize him as a monster. For history buffs and those who enjoy good dramas, Pride is a film they will want to keep an eye out for when distributor Cargo Films rolls the film out through exclusive regional releases during the fall, starting with three playdates in Los Angeles, Pasadena and Riverside August 24th.

Rating: B
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Planet of the Apes

Mark Walhberg was enjoyable to watch throughout the film like he has been in all of his recent films. He is quickly becoming one of the best young mainstream actors. Other characters such as Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth and Michael Clarke Duncan made notably good apes, though none even compared to the energy from Charlton Heston’s brief role. The human characters were rather disappointing; Kris Kristofferson was wasted to a small and somewhat unnecessary part. Estella Warren played the usual role of a supermodel turned actress, to stand around and look good. The rest of the humans had very little personality if any, and for the most part they were just walking zombies. This could be explained by being prisoners of the apes, but I still would have like to see some personality in them, even when their ‘hero’ came they didn’t even talk.

I had a problem with the ape’s having the ability to defy all laws of gravity and physics. Some of them could amazingly fly back and forth from wall to wall, and leap some 25-30 feet in the air similar to the abilities of Chow Yun Fat in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” But even with these slightly improbable feats I was able to put aside these superpowers and forgive Burton due to the interest it helped caused.

Up to the last twenty-five minutes or so it was an enjoyable movie then it began its big twist ending. Now generally I like big twists at the end when they are done properly such as in “Seven,” “Fight Club” or even “The Score,” but this twist was just there for the sake of confusing everyone. The last few minutes just went crazy, almost to the point of absurdity. While after much discussion after the film with my friends I believe I figured out the ending, I found it to be unnecessary for the most part. The ending was intriguing as Burton was surely attempting it to be, but it is nearly unexplainable and will definitely be over the heads of 99.9% of the audience. The ending itself begs for a sequel to explain itself, which is likely something executives at Fox demanded so they could have another franchise. This is the sort of movie you might have to see multiple times to truly comprehend whether the ending was a mess or brilliant on a much higher intelligence level than the rest of the film. Either way it merits discussion, more so than any other action movie released this year.

Rating: B+
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Wet Hot American Summer

That’s not to say that these last few months have been a total wash. “Memento” was finishing its run during the early days of the summer season. “Shrek” was amusing. “Legally Blonde” and “The Others” saved the big studios from total fucking embarassment and the indie scene has given us a plethora of solid entertainment with “Sexy Beast,” “With A Friend Like Harry,” “Made,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and on and on. If it wasn’t for independent cinema I would have had to have cracked open a book or two to entertain myself. And I may have started reading that little golden book sitting on my coffee table this weekend except my second most anticipated movie of the summer finally opened on two, count ’em two, screens in Los Angeles. That’s right. It was time for “Wet Hot American Summer.”

You know how sometimes it seems that a certain movie was made specifically for your For instance, I have a bizarre obsession with the 1950’s and Reese Witherspoon so I was pretty certain that “Pleasantville” would enter my canon before I even entered the fucking theater. Well, “Wet Hot American Summer” seemed like another one of those movies for me. Thanks to a pair non-attentive parents and a stolen VCR I must have watched “Meatballs” around three dozen times in my formative years. Bill Murray was a surrogate uncle for me, Rudy and Spaz my big brothers. I enjoyed the movie tremendously when I was a child and I like it now, but I’m woman enough to realize that it’s pretty stupid. Once I got to high school, every waking hour not spent playing Mortal Kombat II was used exclusively to view and review episode upon episode of MTV’s sketch comedy show “The State”. When I heard that David Wain and Michael Showalter of aforementioned TV show had just made a parody of the whole “Meatballs” genre starring several State alumns and two of my all-time favorite comedy actors, Janeane Garofalo and David Hyde Pierce, well, I had to run out and find a homeless no one cared about to fuck to death.

After all of this rabid anticipation, I was finally able to see the film unfurl at the AMC Santa Monica 7 this afternoon and I have to say…it made me feel old.

The movie starts out pretty well. It seems like a smarter, up-to-date version of Meatballs. It’s the last day of summer camp and everybody–campers, counselors, associate professors living next door to the camp–just wants to score before the fall begins. But when Janeane Garofalo’s Beth goes into town to research books on astrophysics (don’t ask), WHAS reveals itself to be a full on throw-every-piece-of-shit-you-can-find-to-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks madcap affair akin to Airplane! There are at least five climaxes, each one lifted from and poking fun at another film from the summer camp-genre and such giggle inducing lines like “Fuck my cock.” But many of the gags overstay their welcome, others are just too weird to be funny and I quickly realized that what I was watching was a bunch of leftover State sketches. And then I also quickly realized that a type of humor I found endlessly hilarious back in high-school had passed me by and became merely chuckle-inducing. Fuck. There is nothing worse than being in your mid-20’s and feeling like the world has passed you by.

Not to say that I wouldn’t recommend the movie. I would. I would even say to see it in the theater so you can get that whole communal laughter thing going. There are moments in it that made me laugh just as hard as some of the shit in “American Pie 2.” I would also say you should see WHAS for Marguerite Moreau who is so incredibly hot I nearly forgot about that homeless guy I left bleeding from the ass in a deserted alley the week before. The lovely Marguerite also has the unenviable job of playing the straight man through most of the picture and she pulls it off admirably. Janeane and Niles are funny as are my boyz from The State Ken (I wanna dip my balls in it) Marino, Michael Ian Black (which I changed from Schwarz because I’m ashamed of being Jewish) and Joe Lo Truglio (who never had any cool catch phrases on the show, but that’s okay because he Joe Lo Fucking Truglio!). Molly Shannon is annoying, but what did you expect from someone who came over from a shitty sketch comedy show. A true revelation, though, is Chris Meloni who must of us know from “Oz” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”. I had no idea this guy could be so funny. When he starts humping a refrigerator I not only laughed, but started being pissed off at Hollywood for not using this guy enough. I look forward to seeing his next comedic role. I also look forward to the next un-official “The State” movie from these guys because “Wet Hot American Summer” does have several things going for it…I just hope the next one has several more.

Rating: B
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Brother

To do a minor story recap, Yamamoto (Takeshi) is forced to relocate to America following a mob war in Japan that he lost. He goes to find his kid brother Ken (Kuroudo Maki), who he has been sending money for school to, only to find him dealing drugs on a street corner with Danny (Omar Epps) and his friends. Yamamoto takes over their gang and immediately turns them in to a major underworld in LA, which leads to a conflict with the local Mafia.

The first thing that I’m sure will strike people when they see this film is the violence. To be honest, this is a very violent film, in an uncompromising way that makes it entirely clear that this is not a life one should want to try and emulate. While I’m sure that if this film becomes a hit (which it deserves to), it will immediately be hammered on by Senators Lieberman and Clinton as more evidence of Hollywood attempting to corrupt the youth of America. Frankly, I hope that both of them and their stupid asinine bill go away quickly, but that’s another thing entirely. The bottom line is that for all the violence, this isn’t a film about how great it is to shoot and kill people. It is a film about the friendships we make and how those will sustain us through everything. I hope that this is what is pushed when people discuss the film, but I know that it won’t be and that saddens me.

As for the technical merits of the film, they are outstanding. Kitano infuses the film with a completely objective eye, viewing everything for it is and nothing more. Even in the most violent scenes he never uses the camera to convince you of who is “evil” and who is “good”. He leaves that judgment up to the viewer, without forcing emotions on to the audience as most Hollywood directors do. The editing of the film, while keeping the pace moving, never uses the insanely fast cuts favored by most people when shooting action films. All of this serves to draw in the viewer by allowing him or her to just let the images soak in and affect them in whatever way they wish them to.

The acting of the film is all-around solid, with probably the best performance I’ve ever seen out of Omar Epps. To be honest, he was the person I was most worried about going in to the film, but he definitely surprised me with the depth of his performance. The way he and Takeshi played off each other allowed me to easily believe in the connection that the two of them had to have to make the story have its proper style and gravity. I hope to see more of all of these actors in other films, as they all gave great performances.

Overall, this was just an amazing film. It releases for the general public in July, and I cannot stress enough they you should seek this film out as soon as you can to see. In a year of fairly weak films, this is unquestionably a bright spot and one of the best films I have ever seen.

Rating: A+
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Ghost World

To be honest, I didn’t understand a whole lot. Maybe it was just me. Maybe it was because I only got 4 hours of sleep the night before. Maybe it was the fact that the movie was about nothing. Yeah, I said it; nothing.

The entire movie we’re following around a girl who feels she doesn’t fit into the world. We follow her around, her adventures, her misadventures, whatever. She has a best friend and the two become distant after they graduate high school. She tries to help an older man find a date. She hates her dad’s girlfriend. Nothing real important; just life in general.

Now, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy the movie. It was entertaining, sure. It was funny, yeah. Did it make any senser Was there any moral to the storyr Were the producers smoking crack when they thought this comic book would make a good movier

Would I see this movie againr Hell no. Would I recommend it to someone elser Sure, if they like movies about nothing. I can’t even think of something even remotely close to compare it to. It’s like watching one of those stupid reality shows where the plot goes nowhere and nothing ever makes any sense. Hey, shoot me.

Rating: D
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Jurassic Park 3

“JP3” answers that question. Actually, “JP3” scares it into you. This film is scary. I shit you not, its frigging out and out SCARY. New director Joe Johnston has decided not to make this enjoyable, pop corn, kiddie summer fun, and thank Christ for small favors. Instead, he opts to pull out all the stops and jams the film with unrelenting action. ACTION. DINOSAURS. ATTACKS. This movie is not pussified. The camera does not cut away when a dino attacks, and we are left with only seeing water turning red. “JP3” does what “JP2” should have done. MAKE YOU AFRAID OF THE GODDAMN 8 TON DINOSAUR. I cannot stress it enough. I’m so pumped right now. The film is an utter rush. Its dark and gritty. It doesn’t stop. The effects are top notch…perhaps better than the previous 2 films for one reason… more dinosaurs. The new bad ass, Spinosaurus stands out… and when I say new bad ass, I mean it. Wait till you see this fucker… and his fight with a T Rex.

The stars of the film, I must say, go to the Ptredons… flying dinos. They kick ass. Nasty bastards. Best action sequences in the film belong to the birds… who were greatly ignored in the first two.

Of course, the raptors are back… and, well, they’re evolved. They’re smarter… bigger… more menacing. Very cool stuff is done with them. I’m sure by now, everyone has seen the previews and know what the premise is, so I wont waste time with plot details. What I will say is that once the group is OVER (Notice I didn’t say ON) the island, the action never stops. The group travels through JP, hoping to survive, all the while being stalked by the Spinosaurus (God, he is a BAD ASS).

The actors are top notch. Sam Neill is in top form as Dr. Grant, Bill Macy is terrific as always, playing a character your not sure to like… even Tea Leoni joins the fun and manages to out act her computer counterparts. I especially liked seeing Laura Dern return as Ellie Sattler… it kind of brought back alot of the first film… making “JP3” seem more like home. The thing I liked most though, was the tone. The first film, we got awe. Sure, we got intense suspense, but it mostly achieved by snagging our amazement. In “JP2,” we got mindless, summer movie shit. The tone of “JP3” is dark. The dinosaurs take on the role a dinosaur should… a nasty bastard. Big, nasty bastards. They’re unforgiving this time out.

Sure, “JP3” is a summer flick. But its a SMART summer flick. This is not mindless entertainment. I promise you, your eyes will be glued to the screen. Not because of what you see, but because of what your afraid to miss.

Rating: A
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