Weekend Viewing Roundup: Empire of the Sun, Unbreakable

Happy Monday all, and to my American friends, Happy President’s Day! Do you get the day off today? Fortunately I do, which is perfect timing as we just got dumped on more snow again this weekend. Yesterday was practically in blizzard condition right before I went to church around 11 am CST, and the snow kept on falling hard and fast until now. Well, I opt not to do a President-related post like I did last year, but if you haven’t already, here’s my top five memorable movie presidents.

Neeson & January Jones in ‘Unknown’

Well, looks like the weekend belongs to Liam Neeson as his Unknown thriller took the top spot with $21.8 mil (per box office mojo). As I pointed out on Friday, even just looking at the posters it seems as if they’re marketing this as Taken 2, and the mojo article confirmed it. I guess I wasn’t paying much attention to the promos, but article said Neeson’s second full-action vehicle was apparently billed as “Taken” meets “The Bourne Identity.” Did any of you get to see it?

Suffice to say, the snow storm pretty much grounded us to stay indoors. Here are my reviews of the two movies I managed to see:

Empire of the Sun (1987)

Even from such a young age, Christian Bale seems destined for acting greatness. This was his second feature film (the first one was the little-known Mio in the Land of Faraway released in the same year starring Christopher Lee), but you could say this is his first major motion picture, an epic war film directed by Steven Spielberg.

13-year-old Bale shone as Jim, a young English boy in Shanghai whose privileged life is turned upside down when Japan invaded the country during World War II. According to IMDb trivia, Bale was picked for the role of Jim out of more than 4,000 who auditioned and I could see why. Though the film boasts strong performances from John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson and Nigel Havers, it’s Bale who carried the film from start to finish. He believably portrayed the physical as well as psychological transformation the boy endured as a result of the war.

The film itself has quite an epic quality to it and looks gorgeous visually. But the center of it all is the story of war through young Jim’s eyes and the toll it took on him and the people around him, both the prisoners and those who hold them captive. One of the most memorable scenes for me was when the aviation-buff young boy sneaked into the Japanese airbase to touch a Japanese Zero fighter plane and as the pilots walked toward him, he stopped and saluted them. It was an emotional scene as for a moment, Jim didn’t see them as the enemy.

This film received six Oscar nominations in 1988, but there should’ve been a seventh one for Bale. I sure hope this year he finally nab the award he’s due more than two decades ago!

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Unbreakable (2000)

This is definitely my favorite and arguably the best of M. Night Shyamalan’s work. I had seen this when it was first released on dvd, but upon second viewing, I enjoy and appreciate it a whole lot more. M. Night came up with an original superhero story with a twist, citing the popularity of the comic book medium with on-screen statistics as the film opens. It’s a tale of two men at the opposite end of the spectrum physically: David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is a football stadium security guard who’s got unbreakable bones, and the other is Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic book dealer with a debilitating brittle bone disease.

When Dunn comes out unscathed from a catastrophic train wreck at the beginning of the movie, it’s revealed early to us the viewers that there is something special about Dunn. Throughout the film we’re discovering more and more about him at the same time the lead character learns about himself. The pace is deliberately slow but not tedious, in fact, so few films — especially of the comic book genre — takes the time for character development such as this one that it’s become a lost art. The film boast a restrained and understated performance from both Willis and Jackson (which made me completely forget they had co-stared together in loud and frenetic Die Hard 3!), but each of their composed meeting and conversation packs a punch. The ending is also a rewarding one that is sort of expected but still makes you go ‘whoa!’

This is one of those movies that I admire more for the high concept than the production itself, especially being a superhero movie fan. Of course that is not to say that the movie doesn’t look good, in fact, it boasts a distinctive cinematography and peculiar camera angles that suit the theme nicely. I’m going to borrow the text from a UK college professor Dan North, who sent me his perceptive analysis in the comment section of my news post last year where I talked about a possible Unbreakable sequel: Several shots are taken upside down, partly to show the viewpoint of characters who are themselves upside down, but also to introduce a theme of perspective – his central characters are men who need to adjust their outlook in order to see the codes of predestination working around them. Mr. North’s astute observation on M. Night’s use of ‘patterns and portents’ in his films is spot-on and it definitely is what makes his films unique.

Despite what the critics and moviegoers think of him now, his earlier work and this one specifically makes me think Shyamalan could still make a comeback. Though I can’t dispute Ted’s reasoning why he’s on the hack directors list, I haven’t given up on him just yet. Perhaps he could seek out a collaboration with a visionary filmmaker who can take his original concept to great heights.

Now, back to that Unbreakable sequel, I’m kind of torn about that one. On the one hand, it’d be interesting to see Dunn’s journey now that he’s embraced the nature of who he really is, but on the other, the sequel could potentially be just another superhero film that’d lessen the merit of the original. I don’t know if this movie has a cult-following or not but it seems that everyone I talked to has a positive thing to say about this movie, which is quite a change since this was a critical bomb at the box office.

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Anyway, what movie(s) did you end up seeing this weekend? Or if you have any thoughts about either one of these oldies, I’d love to hear it!

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29 thoughts on “Weekend Viewing Roundup: Empire of the Sun, Unbreakable

  1. Happy Presidents Day Ruth!!

    Not that it means much to us over here in Blighty. At least we get the Queens Birthday!!

    Nice post as ever. Got me thinking about a flick I really haven’t seen for a long time. Unbreakable. I loved this film. Back from a more innocent time when Mr S (cant be bothered to try and spell his name) was less well known and hadn’t sold out on The Last Air Bender.

    When audiences were unaware of his subtle use of colours and sounds to trigger events in the story.

    Shame really as the last few I have seen of his haven’t quite lived up to this and Sixth Sense. Maybe we are just used to poor imitations of the Mr S Mold.

    Anyhoo. We got”Never Let me Go” so review over at FRC. Also Megamind for the kids. Thats about it. (was quite busy time in the real world)

    C

    1. Hi C, when is the Queen’s B’day over there in the UK?

      Glad to hear you love Unbreakable too, it’s such an original story and I thought it was well-executed and well-acted, too. Yes, the use of color and sounds is really notable, it has such an eerie atmosphere when you watch it but there’s no blood and gore, which I appreciate. It’s become a lost art to create a real suspenseful film these days without being gory.

      I’ve left my comment about NLMG. I still would like to see it one of these days, but I know it’s a hard one to watch.

  2. EMPIRE OF THE SUN is one of the very few war films I respect. I like the psychological aspect of it, and the acting is just great. Bale, off course, in the first place.

    In connection with your TRIVIA CORNER – my biggest dream also is to see Cavill as Alexander the Great (but any other historical ruler role would do) 🙂

    1. I’m w/ you that I’m not into war films, Dezzy, but I appreciate those that focus more about the psychological aspect of it and not just the physical violence. The Thin Red Line is a good one in that respect. Bale is such a revelation, it’s funny though how his face is still pretty much the same, though it’s nice to see how animated he was as a young boy. You just don’t see that wide-eyed wonder look from him nowadays.

      As for Henry, oh he’d be awesome as Alexander… way more fitting than Colin Farrell!

  3. Funk

    WOW, so glad you got to see Empire of the Sun.
    Ya the scene you described was quite moving.
    Another one of my favorite scenes is where Jim/Jamie is on the roof of a building, and this one lone P51 Mustang comes flying by and low, the pilot gives the kid a wave, it’s almost like they are on the same wavelength or something like that.. it was just one of the little scenes of the movie that has stuck with me.
    Can’t believe Bale was not even nominated for an academy award… perhaps he was to young to qualify.

    1. Yeah, that scene was a good one, Funk. As for being too young to qualify, I don’t think that’s the case. I mean, Anna Paquin won an Oscar at 11, Tatum O’Neal was nominated at 10, and I think Abigail Breslin was nominated for Little Miss Sunshine when she was 12. I really think that’s a major oversight as I think his performance was as good if not better than any of those youngsters who were nominated.

  4. Happy to see you liked Empire of the Sun 🙂 One of Spielberg’s most underrated imo and Christian Bale is great. Speaking of him, I saw “Harsh Times” and I highly recommend it since you are a fan of him.

    As for President’s Day, glad you got the day off, this is absolutely atrocious weather. I can’t believe we were in the 50’s a few days ago and then we get the second massive storm of the winter.

    1. Yeah I like it but it didn’t exactly blow me away. I left a comment on your review of Harsh Times, well suffice to say I don’t think I can bear that one.

      I was counting my blessings yesterday that we got the day off. I don’t think I could even get out of my driveway yesterday! I’m so sick of this white stuff.

  5. Ted S.

    I haven’t seen Empire of the Sun in years, still waiting for it to come on Blu-ray. I was glad that Bale’s career sort of stalled when he was in his late teens to early 20s. He could’ve taken roles in teenage rom-coms and made some big cash but he decided to do some small unknown films before becoming a big name that he is today.

    I do hope M. Night make a big comeback soon, he’s a talented director but I think he needs to have another writer look over his script and polish it. My only complaint with Unbreakable was that it should’ve include at least one big action scene since it was about a superhero. That scene where he rescued the kids from the killer was pretty weak in my opinion. Other wise it was a very good movie and oh yeah the music by James Newton Howard (co-composed Batman Begins and The Dark Knight with Hans Zimmer) was pretty great too.

      1. I think if I remember correctly, Bale actually ‘disappeared’ from the film biz on his own accord. He didn’t like the fame part of being an actor I believe, he said everyone treated him differently since he’s been in movies which weirded him out.

        Amen about M. Night but I disagree with you about that big action scene. I actually LIKE the fact that he doesn’t have a flashy action scene where suddenly David Dunn becomes this superhero and the rescue went swiftly without a hatch. I mean, it’d be totally unrealistic. As Rich said, this is an ‘origin’ story of sort where he is just discovering his powers, so he’s still just a regular guy at the time. I thought the part where he conquered his fear of water was quite powerful.

  6. PrairieGirl

    Saw EOTS long time ago on TV, didn’t know at all that Bale was the excellent child star of this great film. And I love when Bruce Willis plays understated as in Unbreakable and it was also his character’s style in RED that I liked so much too.

    1. Yeah, Willis was pretty stoic in RED wasn’t he… he wasn’t his wisecracking self as he was in Die Hard movies. He may not be the best actor out there but he sure is watchable.

  7. Sandra Ann Sanchez

    Your review of Empire of the Sun, as well as all these reader comments praising it, has made me want to check it out! I think I’ll have to, hopefully some time this week.

    Now I’m not a critique, but this weekend I went to see I Am Number Four, and while I knew that the movie wasn’t going to be my cup of tea just from the trailers and clips I saw, I was interested in seeing it because I’m trying to learn about the economics – and the art – of a franchise. I Am Number Four was a novel (before it was a flop), and it’s the first of a proposed six-part series. But the book was only just released in August 2010. I Am Number Four was filming as early as the beginning of June 2010. The whole story was created to be a franchise, and it fell tragically short of hitting its mark (opened domestic at less than $20 million). I’m interested to see how Dreamworks – and the publishing company for that matter – plan to move forward from here, and whether the series will be completed in books, because its future in films looks doubtful.

    1. Hi Sandra, thanks for your comment. Let me know when you’ve seen EOTS, curious to hear what you think.

      I am Number Four isn’t my cup of tea either, but it’s intriguing to hear your reasoning to see this movie. I had no idea it was based on a novel and that they had planned it to be a franchise. It is doubtful they’d continue if the box office number of the first one disappoints. So what do you think of the movie? Is it something you’d want to see a follow-up of?

      1. Sandra Ann Sanchez

        I think the movie itself was just awful. It was plain, formulaic, and offered nothing new. It was Twilight with aliens (even down to a scene of him running through the woods, which has become an iconic bit of Twilight footage these days). But a big reason some people say it performed so poorly even within its target teen audience was because there wasn’t enough romance for girls but there wasn’t enough action for boys either. It seems like they tried too hard to play both sides, and ended up achieving neither. I had low expectations for the film, and I was not surprised with how poorly it was executed.

  8. wow! 4.5/5 is a great score for Unbreakable! Loved your review and thoughts on the film. I, too, continue to have hopes for M. Night. I just wish he’d go back to his original look and feel for his films.

  9. Vince

    I’ve seen EOTS a couple of times but it really didn’t do a whole lot for me for some reason. On the other hand, I really liked John Malkovich’s character and Bale was excellent as the young J.G. Ballard (who is definitely worth making a movie about). I think Spielberg’s overdramatic style may have compromised the film – there was something a bit too calculated about the movie or perhaps it was too grandiose… I’ve always imagined what if someone like John Boorman did it instead…

    As for Unbreakable, this is M’s best film. I also hope he breaks out of the rut. I too would hate to see a sequel.

    1. I hear ya Vince. It’s more of a one-time-viewing kind of movie for me as it didn’t quite blow me away as I had thought. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a darn good film, just short of a masterpiece though.

      Yeah, the more I think about it, it’s probably best to leave Unbreakable well enough alone than risk tainting it… but at the same time, the journey of David Dunn would be pretty intriguing to see.

  10. Mike

    I pretty much agree with your reviews – even for the Neeson flick. Having seen “Taken”, which really didn’t do much for me, his new one won’t be on any list of mine as must-see.

    You watched better flicks than I. “The American” and “Robin Hood” were both let-downs. S-L-O-W anyone?!?! It was interesting that Clooney had 6 lines of dialog in the whole movie. Ala Clint Eastwood back in the day. Trouble is the supporting cast just didn’t pick up the slack.

    OK, there’s actually a Ridley Scott directed film that’s a bore. Robin Hood just never seemed to get interesting. Very odd for that director?

    Well, I went out Sat and Sunday evenings so thankfully movies weren’t my main form of entertainment this weekend.

    1. No, not a must-see, but I reckon it’s worth a rental.

      Yeah, both of those are slow. I haven’t seen The American but my friends who saw it in the theater complained how boring it was. Robin Hood is ok for me, I didn’t dislike it as much as others, but then again I have a soft spot for Crowe and Blanchett, as well as Scott.

      Glad your weekend was fun, Mike, glad you didn’t break your back shovelin’ all that snow, too!

  11. Unbreakable really is awesome and works so well with it’s slow pace. M. Night really should just go back to this old-way of filming cause that it was made him a name after all. Good stuff!

    1. Yes indeed. I was quite surprised to hear this bombed at the box office, but glad that people are embracing it perhaps after watching it again.

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