Although it stars Matthew Fox (Jack Shephard of Lost), who does a perfectly fine job as General Bonner Fellers, the man tasked with making a case regarding whether Emperor Hirohito should be hanged as a war criminal. As the lead investigator, he gets to look dashing and has all the scenes with beautiful women (here played by Eriko Hatsune as an old flame who Fellers knew before the war and who he continues to search for amid the ruins of a defeated Japan). But the romance, told in flashback, is a plodding thing compared to Tommy Lee Jones’ interpretation of General Douglas MacArthur, who gets all the good lines and provides most of the drama. Director Peter Webber strives for a Chinatown-like noir as Fellers pursues an investigation into the murky political dealings that led to Pearl Harbor but does not come up with any substantive answers for his boss. History gets to play a very minor role in what is largely an exercise in atmospherics, and as for the final twist, it’s not as though we don’t know what happened in the end.
Some films are just designed for a Friday DVD session with beer, crisps and not too much concentration. Runner, Runner, sees Justin Timberlake as a poor college student who cracks an online poker game. Then he goes bust. Then he meets the man behind the game, Ben Affleck, and thinks he has found the perfect partnership. Life is all beautiful people, swimming pools, bikinis and champagne until things go very badly wrong. The setup of Runner, Runner is quite appealing, but director Brad Furman (who did an excellent job with The Lincoln Lawyer), squanders his opportunities, falling back into a by-the-numbers thriller with Timberlake on the run from a host of nasties. Halfway through, if you need to pop out to get another beer, don’t worry; you’ll get back and find you haven’t missed a thing.
Battle of the Year
Street dance has a significant following in Taiwan and Battle of the Year has plenty of that, though the formidable athleticism on display is largely messed up by various effects, with dance slowed down, speeded up and otherwise edited to within an inch of its life. This is a pity, because the dancing is the only thing worth watching. The story is about a dance competition. Teams from around the world will participate. The US has failed to win for 15 years, but they are now determined to win back the trophy. Endless rehearsals, more inspirational cliches than anyone other than hardened sports and dance movie fans can possibly stomach and some jaw-droppingly unsubtle product placement give Battle of the Year a cynical mood, rather than the celebratory one it clearly aims for. Then you have the bad acting and pain-inducing script. Just know what you are heading into before you buy that ticket.
Directed by Evan Leong (梁伊凡), this sports documentary chronicles the rise and rise of basketball sensation Jeremy Lin (林書豪). Although Lin was born in California and studied at Harvard, his family has roots in Taiwan, and this has inevitably made him a local hero, even among those who do not follow professional basketball. The film traces his story from childhood in Palo Alto through many years of discouragement before his rise to prominence in 2012 with the New York Knicks. It is a rousing story and benefits from Leong’s close association with Lin, having filmed him ever since he was a star college player. Issues of racism in relation of Lin’s long delayed entry into the NBA draft and the Christian faith that sustained him through this difficult period are dealt with at some length, though perhaps with insufficient depth. The film drifts toward sensationalism, but as an intelligent and articulate interviewee, Lin manages to provide a measured and sympathetic account of the man behind the Linsanity phenomenon.