Flags of Our Fathers

Posted on October 18, 2006 at 12:22 pm

Clint Eastwood’s first of two films about the WWII battle at Iwo Jima is sincere, competent, and respectful. He powerfully conveys the madness and brutality of battle and the conflicting feelings of thosw who fight — dedication, loyalty, patriotism, fear, courage, compassion, callousness, sacrifice, self-preservation. If these issues are not as well-presented as in other films, especially co-producer Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” they are still important, meaningful, and moving.
The story shifts back and forth in time between the experiences of the men credited with raising the flag in the iconic photo, who were used to inspire support and raise money for the war effort. We see explosions overhead. Sometimes they are gunfire; sometimes they are fireworks. The three men are sometimes not sure themselves what they are doing or why they are doing it. But their orders are to raise that flag again and again, even if it’s at halftime on a football field. Suddenly, the New York Yankees are applauding for them. A replica of the men raising the flag in white chocolate has bright red strawberry sauce poured over it, creating an image that is anything but delicious.
The men were John “Doc” Bradley, a Naval Corpsman (Ryan Phillippe) and two Marines, Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes, Jr., a Pima Indian (Adam Beach). They happened to be the ones who raised the flag the second time (when the cameras were rolling). Americans at home, sick of the war loved the triumphant picture, and loved saluting real heroes. But the men did not feel like heroes. They felt guilty staying in luxury hotels and being the center of attention. The picture was not true. One of the Marines was mis-identified, which made them feel even more hypocritical and guilty, especially Hayes, who begins to crumble with survivor guilt as he remembers those who died and what he did to stay alive. But they knew that without their help, the government would not be able to raise the money it needed to support the war effort. Meanwhile, back at tiny 5-mile-long, 2.5 mile wide Iwo Jima, the battle continued for more than a month, with 6891 Americans killed.
“When the legend becomes the truth, print the legend,” says The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. “We like nice and simple, good and evil, heroes and villains,” says this film’s narrator.
War stories always reflect the times of their telling as much as they reflect the times they depict. Compare two films not just about the same battle but with the same script, the jingoistic WWII-era “Henry V” with Laurence Olivier and the peacetime version with Kenneth Branaugh. World War II was the first major conflict to be depicted on film as it was going on. The movies of the early 1940’s were as much propoganda as drama. After the war ended, there were more complex, even cynical stories, some written by men who were there, not just about heroism but about issues that spoke to the struggles of the post-war years (The Caine Mutiny, Stalag 17, Crossfire). A movie about the Korean War (M*A*S*H) reflected the concerns about the then-current Viet Nam war.
This film, or, perhaps we should say, this first half (Eastwood is working on a second film telling the story from the Japanese point of view) raises very contemporary issues about illusion and reality, about what we expect in and from heroes, about how wars are always about politicians sending young men (and now women) to be killed. Yet it fails to meet its own standards, killing off all of the characters who are pure of heart and leaving only the complicated and flawed ones alive. It keeps us curiously remote from its characters, the images more powerful than the story in an unintentionally ironic case of form over content.

Parents should know that this movie has extremely intense, brutal, and graphic battle violence, including torture. Many characters are killed and there are very graphic and disturbing injuries. A character apparently commits suicide. Characters use strong language, drink (one abuses alcohol) and smoke. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of the racism of the era and of some characters who are not bigoted.

Families who see this movie will want to learn more about the battle for Iwo Jima and the men in the famous photo. They should talk about who in the movie were the real heroes and why. Will we be making films about the War in Iraq 60 years from now? What will they say?
Families who enjoy this movie will also appreciate the many superb films about WWII and other famous soldiers and battles, including Saving Private Ryan (very intense violence), The Longest Day, To Hell and Back (with Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of the war, playing himself), and A Bridge Too Far. Movies that raise some of the issues posed by this film include The Americanization of Emily, The Caine Mutiny, The Right Stuff, and Gardens of Stone. John Wayne starred in Sands of Iwo Jima, with Hayes, Bradley, and Gagnon appearing as themselves, and Tony Curtis played Ira Hayes in The Outsider.

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Action/Adventure Drama Epic/Historical War

Marie Antoinette

Posted on October 15, 2006 at 12:31 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity and innuendo.
Profanity: Some crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, snuff
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, offscreen violence, offscreen deaths, including a child
Diversity Issues: Class issues a theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000M06KJ8

With this third film, we can begin to see the themes emerging in the work of writer/director Sofia Coppola. Again, she has given us the story of a sensitive, vulnerable young woman trying to find a place and some meaning in an incomprehensible environment. In her last film, Lost in Translation, Scarlett Johansson was a dislocated young American wife and former philosophy major drifting in Tokyo. In the first, The Virgin Suicides, Kirsten Dunst was one of five young sisters lost in the scary world outside their home. In this one, Coppola returns to Dunst as the title character, the Austrian princess married to a French prince at age 14 and executed by guillotine along with her husband and children.


On her first morning in France, she is informed that she will be dressed and attended to every morning by the titled ladies in waiting. As she stands, naked and shivering while they sort out whose rank entitles her to bring her clothes, she laughs nervously, but acquiesces. She has been raised to do as she is told. Everyone stands around and watches as she eats her dinner. There is a constant crowd around her like that cell phone commercial with the enormous network.

As Marie Antoinette is urged, with increasingly less diplomacy, to make sure her shy husband consummates the marriage, she tries to do her best for Austria, for her mother, for everyone. She finds some diversion in what today would be called retail therapy. But she finds her greatest happiness in the smallish Petit Trianon, pretending to be an ordinary mother.


Coppola’s characteristically impeccable sense of detail ensures that every bow on every shoe, every dot of frosting on every bon-bon, every shot of Dunst’s creamy dimples, just right. She courts controversy with glimpses of modernity and a contemporary soundtrack, but it works well — a sort of John Hughes movie, The Breakfast Club Part 2: A Semester at Versailles.


But that’s not a bad take on this story of two teenagers whose response to the death of the king was “We are too young to reign.”

Parents should know that the film has some mature material, including non-sexual nudity, discussions of impotence and (non-explicit) portrayal of an affair. A child dies (off-camera). The executions are not depicted, but it is clear what is going to happen.


Families who see this movie should talk about what Marie Antoinette wanted and why. Given the extensive traditions of the court, what could she and Louis have done to prevent the revolution? Did this film make you sympathetic to them? How?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the book and Amadeus, as well as a more light-hearted mix of historical epic and modern music, A Knight’s Tale.

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Biography Drama Epic/Historical Movies

Flicka

Posted on October 15, 2006 at 12:29 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild language.
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, characters injured, horse attacked by mountain lion, graphic bruise, question of humane killing, tense emotional confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000LV63MW

“No one’s riding that loco thing!”


Well, of course as soon as we hear that line we know someone’s going to have to ride it. And in this very fine family film, the rider will be Katy (Alison Lohman), just home from boarding school to her family’s ranch “on the top of the world in the never-summer mountains of Wyoming.” That loco thing is a beautiful wild black mustang Katy has named Flicka (Swedish for pretty girl). To her father, Flicka is a bother, a danger, and a potential source of revenue. To Katy, Flicka is a part of her, something to love and care for, something to ride until she feels they are one animal, flying.


Katy’s father Rob (Tim McGraw) raises quarterhorses. Her mother Nell (Maria Bello) is the kind of woman who can read a fax while she’s whipping up wild gooseberry pancakes with creme fraiche, and who always has some warm, wise, and encouraging thing to say, like, “It’s easy to be a rancher with good luck” and “Anger is just fear on the way out.”


Rob does not like mustangs. He thinks of them as four-legged parasites who could damage the value of his herd if they begin to cross-breed. He orders Katy to stay away and not to try to ride Flicka. Rob is worried about whether he can keep the ranch going. He is so worried that he has not noticed what we figured out the moment we saw that Katy’s brother Howard (Ryan Kwanten) wears a baseball cap, not a cowboy hat — that he does not plan to stick around.


Rob sells Flicka to a rodeo. Katy’s only chance of getting her back is to win $8000 riding her in a wild horse race. And let’s not forget the mountain lion, sneaking off with Howard’s girlfriend to the swimming hole, some close calls for both human and equine characters, enough “that’s crazy!” “that’s insane!” comments to have a successful drinking game, and a lot of shots of blue skies and mountains.


Country star McGraw brings the same tenderness to the role that he does to his songs, and he and Bello have a nice, easy chemistry. The story has a nice, old-fashioned feel, sweetly sincere, and kids will respond to the way that Rob and Katy have to learn to appreciate how much they share and how much they have.

Parents should know that the movie has some scenes of peril and illness. Characters are injured and the issue of humane killing is raised. There are tense emotional confrontations. Married characters make a mild reference to sex and there is some teenage kissing.


Families who see this movie should talk about how parents respond when their children do — and do not — want the same careers they did. Kate’s parents both loved her — why did they feel differently about what was the right thing to do? Why was Flicka so important to Kate? What do you think about the comments Rob makes about kids in the mall?

Families who see this movie will also enjoy the original, My Friend Flicka, and some of the classic family movies about horses, especially The Black Stallion and National Velvet two of the best movies ever made on any subject and for any age group. They might like to read William Saroyan’s “The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse” and Marguerite Henry’s “Misty of Chincoteague.”

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Action/Adventure Drama Family Issues Movies

The Grudge 2

Posted on October 13, 2006 at 12:35 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing images/terror/violence, and some sensuality.
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Many scary images and startling flashes. Some instances of violence such as pouring hot grease on a character’s head and snapping a character’s neck. Multiple deaths, including drowning and falling from the top of a building
Diversity Issues: Strong female characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000LRZHQY

There are two types of people who awake with an uneasy feeling on Friday the 13th: the superstitious, and those who just can’t stomach the release of another horror sequel, remake, or (in this case), sequel to a remake. But for fans of The Grudge, the day will be a lucky one.


“The Grudge 2,” director Takashi Shimizu’s sequel to his 2004 film The Grudge (itself a remake of his original Japanese version Ju-On) picks up where the last film left off, with The Grudge star Karen Davis (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in the hospital and her sister (Amber Tamblyn) newly in Tokyo. Karen’s sister, Aubrey, steps into her sister’s world of horror and quickly becomes the protagonist in a topsy-turvy continuation of the first film. The horrific child with huge eyes and the pale waif with a curtain of black hair continue to torment the innocent by appearing unpleasantly under desks and in reflections. In addition to disturbing Aubrey, the ghastly pair extend their reach to other unfortunate victims, affecting multiple families.


The film is notable for its ability to tie the families’ stories together and provide an intriguing and complex narrative to complement the gratuitously scary imagery. While not groundbreaking, fans of The Grudge will likely be satisfied with new developments in the story. The film is designed to scare, but while some imagery is truly nightmarish, it is not as morally unsettling or blatantly violent as, say, Kill Bill or other films of the hack-and-dismember nature (Shimizu’s brand of scariness seems more innocent). There are definitely, however, haunting images and unexpected moments designed to keep the audience from getting too comfortable.


Some viewers might find this sequel to be a little cheesier and more Americanized than its predecessor, with more depiction of high-school drama and less tendency to take itself seriously. Perhaps under the assumption that most viewers will expect what in the last film was unexpected, Shimizu seems to enjoy the freedom of simply entertaining without pressure to create something wholly unexpected. Seemingly unconcerned with disturbing audiences and more concerned with satisfying those haunted-house junkies who like a good scare, some viewers might find themselves laughing with the absurdity of how far they can jump out of their seats.


Parents should know that this film has haunting and unexpected flashes of very scary (although not usually violent) images. There are moments of disturbing violence, such as a woman pouring sizzling hot oil from a frying pan on a man’s head and then hitting him with the pan. There is also some school bullying that results in some scary moments, and there are images one character drowning and another falling onto the pavement from the top of a skyscraper.


In the film, the sisters’ relationship is depicted as strained. Families who see this film should talk about the factors that lead to the two sisters not being “on speaking terms,” and why Aubrey got angry with her sister. They might also discuss Aubrey’s regret that she didn’t reconcile with Karen, as well as Aubrey’s relationship with her mother. One girl is bullied at school with disheartening consequences; families should also discuss bullying and ways to handle mocking and peer pressure. Two children in one family are adjusting to their father’s girlfriend moving into the home — parents might discuss with their children why the young son acts quiet and moody, and how the older sister is supportive and caring for her younger brother.


Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy The Grudge and might like to see its original Japanese version, Ju-On. Some other films of the same genre include The Ring and The Ring Two, directed by Gore Verbinski (who also directed the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films and is currently filming the third, Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End.

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Drama Horror Movies Mystery Thriller

Man of the Year

Posted on October 11, 2006 at 12:41 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language including some crude sexual references, drug related material, and brief violence.
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Character injected with drugs, references to drug abuse, drinking, smoking, references to health impact of smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Scenes of peril, character injured
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000LC5B7O

So, what if Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert decided to run for President? First of all, didn’t we already see that movie, when it was called Head of State and starred Chris Rock? (Okay, he didn’t play a comedian, but he is a comedian and behaved like one.) The idea of a campaign by an outsider who can tell the truth has had appeal in movies (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) and in real life (from the joke campaign of Pat Paulson to the not-joke campaigns of Ross Perot and Alan Keyes). But this latest version dilutes the sharpness of Robin Williams and the political comedians who inspired his character and then veers off into an uninteresting thriller sidetrack that is not the least bit thrilling.


Comedians and politicians have been locked together symbiotically since the first person assumed power over others, immediately followed by someone who made a joke about it. Politicians have to speak in a kind of code, even when they are being “outspoken” and promise straight talk. Comedians can tell the truth, even the outrageous truth, even the wildly exaggerated truth, because it’s all in fun.

Kings had jesters. Today’s politicos have late-night television and stand-up comics. They also have increasingly partisan and screechy news media and increasingly popular comedy news shows, which, surveys show, are the preferred news source for a large segment of the population, especially young people. Why not? You get two for the price of one, headlines and jokes. Real newsmakers appear for interviews on fake news shows and real news shows get increasingly more clownish. The line between news and faux news is dissolving.


All of this could have made a great movie. But this isn’t it. Williams looks puffy, toned down, and distracted, except in his interactions with Christopher Walken as his manager, with whom he has a wonderful chemistry. When they are together, we get a glimpse of what this movie could have been. But the movie veers off into an uninvolving and unoriginal distraction about a corrupt corporation and vote fraud.

Any movie about politics has a huge obstacle to overcome in having to pull its punches by making the humor generic and innoffensive. Because of the lead-time between filming and release (not to mention DVD), there is no chance for anything topical. Even so, many of the would-be wisecracks are overcooked and overworked. I think I recall a few of them from the Ford administration. Which makes sense because as irreverent and subversive as it wants to be, it is just bland.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong and crude language and sexual references. Characters drink and smoke; one continues to smoke even after nearly losing his life from tobacco-related disease. A character is injected with illegal drugs. Characters are in peril and one is badly injured.


Families who see this movie should talk about what made Tom an appealing candidate. Would you have voted for him? Why? What is the most important thing you look for in a candidate? What can the media do better in covering politics?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Head of State and classic movies about politics like State of the Union, The Candidate, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Great McGinty, The Seduction of Joe Tynan, and Primary Colors (the last two with mature material).

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Comedy Drama Movies Romance Thriller
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