Friday, October 17, 2008

Empire of the Sun - A Movie Club Column

Greetings from the NWOW sukkah where today's column is originating.... I'm sitting here pecking away at my laptop - This weekend we are going to do the traditional Chinese Food in the sukkah.... which is a perfect opportunity for a movie review column of "Empire of the Sun". This is part 1 of our Bateman to Batman 4-pack featuring Christian Bale movies.

It seems like the only banks doing well nowadays is Elizabeth Banks...the actress is in 2 new movies this month... the new Oliver Stone movie "W" and "Zack and Miri Make a Porno". I think Banks turned in her star making performance a few years back with her brief appearance in "The 40 Year Old Virgin" during that that sizzling hot jacuzzi seduction scene. Oy Vay! Homina Homina Homina! By the way did you know that her last name is actually Mitchell but she changed it to Banks? When she became an actress there already was an Elizabeth Mitchell... the hot blonde who plays Juliet on Lost. Banks also could have also taken her husband's last name of Handelman.... by the way she converted to Judaism prior to her wedding.

Speaking of name changes, I just found out the other day that Dana Bash and John King from CNN got married over the summer. And gosh did they look cute sitting next to each other during CNN's debate coverage Wednesday Night!! A few weeks ago in the Yankee Stadium column, I wrote about my buddy who missed 6 innings at a Yankee game back in the 80s. I think his sister who went to that game with us actually went to school with Ms. Bash who back then was Dana Schwartz. She married her first husband - a guy named Bash and took on his name. Now she is married to John King.. but still goes by the last name of her ex husband. It's kind of odd that John King will speak to her on the air and refer to her by her previous husband's last name! Imagine if she hyphenated her name... then divorced hubby #2 and married Tony Robbins... her name would be Dana Bash-King Robbins! By the way, just like the aforementioned Ms. Banks, John King converted to Judaism prior to the wedding, which is physically more painful for a man than a woman. Mazel tov to the King family and tune in later today on CNN as John King and Larry King will have a Shmini Atzeret trivia contest.

OK... enough silliness.... let's get on with the movie review....... here is the trailer...

World War II has a different meaning to different people - it depends on who you ask I guess. Veterans have first hand accounts of what they went through - so do Holocaust survivors. Steven Spielberg decided to take a different look at things based on what was going on for Westerners living on Japanese soil during WW II. Japan rounded out all of its "enemies" so that they would be in "camps" as Pearl Harbor was being attacked on December 7, 1941 (The week that both my mom and Pumpstradamus's mom were born!) - and those westerners remained there until we dropped the atom bomb on Nagasaki on August 19, 1945. I have really never thought much about what was going on in Japan then.. until I saw this terrific movie!

Christian Bale was only 13 when he took on this role playing Jamie Graham... Spielberg cast him after his wife (at the time) Amy Irving recommended him after they acted together in a miniseries. In this movie, Bale plays a young boy growing up in Shanghai..(at that time part of Japan) . which at the time was inhabited by a lot of Brits; they moved there from England and instead of being British people living in Japanese territory, they turned it into another England... sort of like what the Indians did to Iselin, NJ! As a matter of fact, I was just thinking about this on Columbus Day that in 1492, if Columbus had landed in Iselin and declared the people he saw there as "Indians".... people really wouldn't think much of it now, would they?

The movie starts with a brief back story of words scrolling on the screen... just like Star Wars. Bale is introduced to us just days before the Japanese military started rounding up the westerners in Japan. The Japanese military waited very very patiently to get their official orders just to make sure everybody would be well behaved on Pearl Harbor Day. While attending a costume party at a family friend's mansion, the little guy actually stumbles into a Japanese hideout but manages to safely get away.... as the adults realize that the Japanese are just going to sit there marking time until just the right moment. It's almost Hitchcockian to see the Japanese just patiently sitting there.. with untold horrors awaiting the non Japanese residents.

Ultimately, the horrors turn out to be bad, yet not quite as bad as one would imagine. The movie tells the story of how Bale's character grows up in the labor camp during WWII... in almost a style we saw in "Life is beautiful" this movie attempts to show a somewhat lighter side of what the boy goes through. Based on a true story by JG Ballard, (who appears in a cameo at the party where the young Bale discovers the Japanese hideaway), the movie is typical of a pre-Schindler's List Spielberg movie... (although this film doesn't have a final scene as touching as the finale to Schindlers List... nor does any movie for that matter...) featuring a lost boy separated from his parents and looking for something to cling to. Jamie actually has a picture of a Norman Rockwell family painting which he carries around with him all the time. In this movie, the boy has a fascination with airplanes and plays with them all the time. Ultimately, it will be an American bomb dropping airplane that will rescue Jaime from his camp.... That's kind of like my fascination with blondes.. imagine if I was imprisoned somewhere and rescued by Elizabeth Banks, Elizabeth Mitchell and Dana Bash.

The plane leads to poor Jamies downfall. He and his parents try to evacuate Shang hai but he gets separated form his mom when he reaches down to pick up the toy airplane he dropped. Once separated, he is all alone and tries to give himself up to the invading Japanese army which just kept marching past him. Of course if it was the Nazis, they would have just shot him dead. Ultimately, he runs into 2 American soldiers played by John Malkovich and Joe Pantoilano who seem more interested in selling his non existent dental gold fillings. Even though they have no use for the kid.. he starts to hang with them and ultimately invites them to his mansion where they are ultimately caught and sent to the camp.

As Jamie ages... the make up is remarkable because Bale goes from looking like a little boy to looking like a young version of Christian Bale... he starts to make the best of his situation. He becomes quite the businessman trading materials between different people.... His American friends live in the American bunk house while he stays with a married couple. And while the British do not make the best of the situation, the American bunk resembles something of a MASH episode with a strong camraderie developing between the imprisoned. The Malkovich character almost seems to be living in a country club!

Ultimately, Jamie strives to work his way in with the Americans... partly by plotting a daring "escape" to the other side of the barbed wire fence in order to plant "pheasant traps" which is really an attempt by the Americans to use him to check for landmines so they can plot an escape. When it looks like Jamie might get caught by the Japanese guard, the Americans cruelly start a betting pool wagering on whether he will get away or get caught. Jamie ultimately is able to utilize his friendship with a Japanese teen at a Japanese air hangar on the other side of the barbed wire to bail himself out of a dicey situation; later on watching that teen go through the pre suicide mission traditional ritual is quite touching.

It's an interesting comparison to 2008... back then the Chinese were the good guys and the Japanese were the bad guys. Amazingly the movie was shot in China, the first American movie to be shot there. I guess when your name is Spielberg you carry a lot of clout with the Chinese government! The Japanese invasion of Shanghai is a very touchy topic for the gazillions of extras, especially those who were still alive during WWII. During that shoot they converted the streets to make them look like just as they did back then, shooting some amazing scenes involving the invasion by the Japanese military. Watching the young Jamie separated by his parents as a young boy is heart wrenching... and seeing him as a young teen with a Davey Crockett hairpiece is mesmerizing when you realize that he looks exactly how Bates will look when he evolves into Bateman and Batman.

Before we get to my bladder scale... here is what Siskel and Ebert had to say....

Now even though I think Siskel and Ebert was/is two of the best movie critics.. I really have to disagree. The movie runs an incredibly long 2 hours and 40 minutes and even with my ants in the pants, I was glued to the screen from beginning to end. Speilberg is a legend and this is one of his many masterpieces. The cast is terrific especially young Bale but also Malkvoich and a rather brief appearance by Miranda Richardson as a British woman who lives in the British bunk. That character has a turning point in her life just as we dropped the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima, giving young Jamie what he thinks is an incredible spiritual moment...... On a scale of 1 to 4 bladders meaning how less likely you would be to leave in the middle to go to the bathroom..... Empire of the Sun is a 4 bladder movie!!

PUMPSTRADAMUS PICK OF THE WEEK: Pumpy won again last week improving his record to 5-1. This week we go to Hofstra, the site of the last Presidential Debate at Hofstra. Up until recently Hofstra was the practice home of the NY Jets. This weekend, the Jets are in Oakland to play the Raiders. The Jets are favored by 3. Sayeth The Pump: "Since one of my favorite Spielberg movies is Raiders of the Lost Ark - take the Raiders!"

UNBIASED GIANTS FAN PICKS OF THE WEEK - The incredible run continues.... we went against all 3 NFC East teams last week to go 3-0 for the 3rd straight week running our winning streak to 9 games! I might have to charge for these picks soon. The season record is 12-6.

THE GIANTS 10 1/2 faves over San Fran - I usually don't like such large spreads, but I think the Giants have a little anger after Monday Night.

Cleveland 7 doggies over WASHINGTON - Didn't these people see what happened Monay Night?

ST. LOUIS 7 doggies over Dallas - The spread has dropped 3 1/2 points with the Romo injury situation. Maybe a TD is a tad much to expect Dallas to cover.

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