Tag Archives: Steven Spielberg

Flags of Our Fathers (2006, Clint Eastwood)

When my friend saw Flags of Our Fathers and I asked him about it, he described it–I’m paraphrasing–as an unexciting four. Seeing it, I can fully understand. It’s a great film, but its greatness is somewhat inevitable and uninteresting. Clint’s way too good of a filmmaker at this point to turn in something less, especially given the content. However, the content, specifically Clint’s fluctuating interest in it, is what makes Flags so unexceptional, so unexciting. Flags is based on a guy’s book investigating his father and the other flag-raisers at Iwo Jima. While the film does establish itself with a present-day frame, it isn’t specified its this author investigating. Away from Iwo Jima, Clint’s most interested in Adam Beach’s character, an alcoholic American Indian who’s touring as a hero but can’t get served in bars. Beach’s character is the most like an Eastwood character in Flags. At one moment, after the book-writing frame became clear and Flags felt a lot like The Bridges of Madison County, only without Clint’s full commitment to the frame, Beach seemed a lot like Clint in that film.

Even though Beach has Clint and the film’s interest for the war bonds campaign (after the photo got popular, the surviving subjects toured to sell war bonds), Ryan Phillippe gets the most emphasis on Iwo Jima. Watching Phillippe act and do it well, I felt validated–back in 1998, I said he was going to be good (after watching Playing by Heart) and it only took him seven years. The Iwo Jima sections of the film are short and involve a lot of CG and watching Clint handle it is interesting. He uses the CG like a rear projection, making Flags of Our Fathers‘s battle scenes look a lot like a modern 1940s war film. He pulls it off well, because it’s interesting to look at, while not being visually stunning. Still, I think there was a whole story of the characters on Iwo Jima, just because the castings so good–Barry Pepper, Neal McDonough and Robert Patrick are all great in small roles (Pepper especially), but the greatest surprise of Flags, performance-wise, has to be Paul Walker. Sure, he’s only got ten lines and he’s in the film for two and a half minutes, but he’s really good.

The third main character, played by Jesse Bradford, somehow gets more time than Phillippe, but has the least to do. The film only hints at the relationship between the three men, but never explores it, probably through some kind of misguided sense of historical accuracy. I’m kidding (to some degree), but it’s obvious there’s something holding Clint back here and it’s probably the source material and its presentation. Clint’s made an excellent film, but there’s something missing, some awareness of itself and the different ways it moves, since it does have three concurrently running narratives. It might even be three films, or at least two since Bridges managed to beautifully incorporate its two narratives.

It’s a powerful film and a complete experience, but it’s like ordering dinner at a great restaurant, a restaurant you know is going to be excellent. The food’s great, but it doesn’t surprise you.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis, based on the book by James Bradley with Ron Powers; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox; music by Eastwood; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Ryan Phillippe (John Bradley), Jesse Bradford (Rene Gagnon), Adam Beach (Ira Hayes), John Benjamin Hickey (Keyes Beech), John Slattery (Bud Gurber), Barry Pepper (Mike Strank), Jamie Bell (Ralph Ignatowski), Paul Walker (Hank Hansen) and Robert Patrick (Col. Chandler Johnson).


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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)

Maybe it was the viewing atmosphere… I also was obsessing about something I’d read from either Spielberg or Lucas claiming credit for “MTV-style” editing with Raiders. Once the film was edited, the two went through and snipped a few frames at each edit point to hurry the film along. As I watched Raiders tonight, it all did feel very hurried.

The film is excellent–exciting, well-written, beautifully directed–but nothing sat, nothing resonated. I expected a transcendent experience (similar to the one Star Wars produces), but found myself very aware of the film. Not obsessively–I wasn’t watching the clock to see how long each sequence went and I didn’t time how long Indiana Jones and the audience were deceived about Marion’s death, but I did notice all the work being done in the film. Primarily, John Williams’ score. From the first sequence–when Indy’s running in South America to the plane–Williams’ score does more work than anything else in the film. It’s not bad–it’s a great score–but I just couldn’t separate my observation from the experience. The film just didn’t force me to do it.

Similarly, lots of little moments in the script do a lot of work in the shortest time possible–the rapid-fire humanization of Indiana Jones, his comedic accidents, the establishing of Indy and Sallah’s kids–it’s all fast and it’s all precise, and maybe it’s too fast and too precise for this presentation. The Raiders of the Lost Ark DVD is the cleanest DVD presentation I have ever seen. It doesn’t look like a movie, it looks like a Pixar digitalization. There are no DVD artifacts, which is fine, but there is no film grain either, which is bad. Raiders plays like one of those shows recorded on video back in the 1980s and 1990s, when everything just looked a little off. And Raiders shouldn’t look off.

I haven’t seen the film in eight or nine years and then it was in optimal settings–without looking for the Spielberg/Lucas editing innovation–on LaserDisc. I’ll have to watch Raiders again in similar conditions, but it was a rather unsentimental experience, which I wasn’t expecting from a film I’ve probably seen twenty times.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman; director of photography, Douglas Slocombe; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Frank Marshall; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), Paul Freeman (Dr. Rene Belloq), Ronald Lacey (Major Arnold Toht), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), Denholm Elliott (Dr. Marcus Brody), Alfred Molina (Satipo), Wolf Kahler (Colonel Dietrich), Anthony Higgins (Gobler), Vic Tablian (Barranca), Don Fellows (Col. Musgrove) and William Hootkins (Major Eaton).