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Laying It on Thick: Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers

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Laying It on Thick: Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers

The stink of Crash hovers over Flags of Our Fathers. A dramatization of James Bradley and Ron Powers’s bestseller about the truth behind the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, the film is confirmation of Paul Haggis’s predilection for exploitation and easy sentimentality. Million Dollar Baby, a good film, suffered from Haggis’s unmistakable lower-class condescension (fans of the film stumble when trying to rationalize the Fitzgerald Family Traveling Circus), and Flags of Our Fathers, adapted for the screen by Haggis and William Broyles Jr., uses a very real, largely unknown controversy as a jumping off point for a trite homily on how wars are sold to the American public. (Some will look for parallels to current events, except that would be giving the film the benefit of the doubt.) If Clint Eastwood’s personality barely shines through it’s because Haggis’s cartoon politics strongarm the director’s vision.

Flags of Our Fathers scans like a book report, but its actual shape derives from television vernacular. Haggis, whose roots are in the small screen (his résumé includes The Love Boat, The Facts of Life and Diff’rent Strokes), writes character for short-attention spans, and the film’s editing and sound design suggest an episode of ABC’s gripping but borderline-witless cock-teaser Lost. The film shuffles—or, rather, whooshes—back and forth in time like a bad flashback. This might seem appropriate given that the elder John “Doc” Bradley suffers from them, except there’s no elegance to the way the story backs itself into an overwrought corner of literalism. It is typical of the film that a car might blow its engine before we’re suddenly transported to bullet-sprayed Iwo Jima. These neat changeovers, like the film’s concluding sermon, seem to have been concocted for the approval of an English teacher who prides tidiness above poetry, exuding none of the disorienting frenzy of The Aviator’s red-carpet freak-out or Born on the Fourth of July’s welcome-home parade.

After “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” grips the people of the United States, the surviving soldiers from the photograph are flown back home for a publicity blitzkrieg during which they shill themselves for war bonds. Photographers follow them and so do horny, personality-free women, whose only ambition is to marry war heroes. Two of the men, young John Bradley (Ryan Phillippe) and Rene Gagnon (Swimfan’s Jesse Bradford), embrace the soul-crushing spectacle, which includes mounting an American flag on a papier-mâché Mount Suribachi and being served white dessert in the shape of their famous tableau, ladled with a huge serving of blood-red strawberry sauce. (Talk about laying it on thick!) The film’s focus on the fabrication of heroes and the selling of a war would be welcome if it didn’t sacrifice character nuance by striking the same note over and over again. The film is such that we understand the redundancy of the war-bond campaign, but it never makes credible why the death of Iggy (Jamie Bell), an overzealous man-boy who polishes everyone’s knives before battle, would haunt John’s dreams for years to come.

Ira Hayes (Adam Beach), the only minority in the group, resists this crock even before he knows there’s going to be shit to step in. When word comes in that he and his buddies are going to be shipped back to the States, he chooses to stay at war. Rene, though, reels him in by revealing to his superiors that Ira was one of the men in the picture. It would appear that Ira, the most interesting character in the film, stays at Iwo Jima, where all men are equal on the field of battle, because his Native American status precludes him from the American Dream (which, here, means drinking in bars where he’s not welcomed), but the man’s disconnect is never richly elaborated, only cheaply sentimentalized. If the filmmakers really cared to understand his crisis (that Iwo Jima might be the Paradiso that is everyone else’s Inferno), then equanimity would have guided him up Iwo Jima’s dreary shores. What registers, though, is something dopier: this idea (probably Haggis’s) of minorities not just having built-in bullshit detectors, but crystal balls as well.

The difference between Flags of Our Fathers and Million Dollar Baby could be the difference between creamed corn and a jigger of scotch, and how Ira’s crisis is taken at face value—which is to say flubbed—by Eastwood and his screenwriters is the best way to assess the film’s failure. There is heart to the way Ira clings for dear life to the mother of one of his dead comrades, and there’s great depth to the way John lies to another mother, telling her that it was her son in the picture that roused the nation’s hope (lies, after all, can be reassuring), but there is only flipness in the way Ira, years after his return to America, is condescended to by a family of autograph hounds. Possibly members of the Fitzgerald clan, these ghouls jump out of their car, run up to the man as he toils away in a field, and take a picture with him before dropping change in his hand and scurrying away like rats. The film is not a standup routine, but if it were this would be the best place for a rimshot.

The film’s present-day scenes exhibit Eastwood’s customary grace, but are corny and insuf- ficiently dramatized, stirring bad memories of The Bridges of Madison County. Steven Spielberg, a producer on this film, ostensibly brings cred to the project; instead, he facilitates comparisons between Flags of Our Fathers and his own Saving Private Ryan, another dubious WWII film that found critical approval because of its historical subject matter. At least Saving Private Ryan’s masochistic vision was consistent. The visually parched Iwo Jima scenes from Flags of Our Fathers, uneven and littered with sketchy CGI, offer only insult in the way they pathologically disguise the Japanese enemy from the camera. Eastwood is keeping The Others underground until Letters from Iwo Jima reaches screens a few short months from now, but the suspense he garners from cannons rising out of mountaintops and firing of their own accord is best described as evasive, which accurately describes the lazy philosophizing of this patchy war film.

Ed Gonzalez is co-founder of Slant Magazine and contributing film editor for PLANETº Magazine. His work has also appeared in City Pages, The Village Voice, and Gay City News. This is his first article for The House Next Door.

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Let Your Sanity Go on Vacation with a Trip to the Moons of Madness

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

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Moons of Madness
Photo: Rock Pocket Games

The announcement trailer for Moons of Madness opens with an empty shot of the Invictus, a research installation that’s been established on Mars. The camera lingers over well-lit but equally abandoned corridors, drifting over a picture of a family left millions of kilometers behind on Earth before finally settling on the first-person perspective of Shane Newehart, an engineer working for the Orochi Group. Fans of a different Funcom series, The Secret World, will instantly know that something’s wrong. And sure enough, in what may be the understatement of the year, Newehart is soon talking about how he “seems to have a situation here”—you know, what with all the antiquated Gothic hallways, glitching cameras, and tentacled creatures that start appearing before him.

As with Dead Space, it’s not long before the station is running on emergency power, with eerie whispers echoing through the station and bloody, cryptic symbols being scrawled on the walls. Did we mention tentacles? Though the gameplay hasn’t officially been revealed, this brief teaser suggests that players will have to find ways both to survive the physical pressures of this lifeless planet and all sorts of sanity-challenging supernatural occurrences, with at least a soupçon of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmicism thrown in for good measure.

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

Rock Pocket Games will release Moons of Madness later this year.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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