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Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only an error to be exposed. -- H.L. Menken

The Rating System

Kex Liked It:
It Sucked:
It Really Sucked:
It Sucked as bad as Eyes Wide Shut:

It Sucked badly enough to bring the world to the brink of apocalypse:


How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Last Week: How The Grinch Stole Christmas:

I can get the compliments out of the way quite quickly here: This movie was considerably better than I thought it would be. Understand that this statement is in no way a ringing endorsement of the quality of the film. Rather, it is a pretty good measure of just how low my opinion of standard Hollywood fare has fallen these days. Early in the film, the Grinch is quoted saying, "One man's toxic sludge is another man's potpourri." I personally can't think of a better summation of this movie.

The fundamental question here is, just how do you turn a classic 24 minute Christmas cartoon into a 105 minute feature length film? The answer, at least according to Ron Howard and his film making team is, hire on Jim Carrey to pull his usual annoying antics. One year ago, Carrey starred in one of 1999's major holiday releases, Man On The Moon. Carrey portrayed Andy Kaufman, and his obnoxious alter ego, Tony Clifton. In How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Carrey was really little more than Tony Clifton in green fur.

The other major role in the film was the character Betty-Lou Who, portrayed by Tayler Momsen. She is about cute enough to send half the movie goers out of the theater in glycemic shock, and even looks a bit like the character from the original cartoon. The bad news is that she has to sing a song, and it becomes evident that in a nation of 280 million Americans, there isn't a single cute, 7 year-old blue-eyed, blonde who can carry a tune. I guess that isn't too surprising, since we apparently can't count votes either.

She has a voice that could make you long for the sound of Freddy Kruger dragging his clawed hand across a chalkboard for about an hour, and her song was only about 3 minutes long. Lets at least be thankful for one thing though: At least they didn't give the part to that annoying little girl in the Pepsi commericals, who has appeared in every movie I've seen that requires a little girl in the past year.

Since a full length movie has to be a lot longer than a half hour time slotted cartoon, considerable padding was required to the standard Grinch story. In this film, we are treated to the background of just how the Grinch became such a nasty soul, with a flashback to his tortured childhood. Apparently even in sugar-sweet Whoville, children can be viciously cruel to those who are different. A tot with green skin and hair is cannon fodder to his school mates, thus the Grinch is driven to a life of solitude. I understand that: Its much as I might be if I ever have to see a live action rendition of Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer complete with that annoying little elf, Dennis, and all the inhabitants of the Island of Crappy Toys, or whatever that place was. Somebody should have saved us a lot of pain and nuked that place.

Another of the annoying aspects of this film was the complete destruction of the cartoon's best song, "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch. Carrey is permitted to sing the song himself, and while his singing voice is not terrible, he covers a considerable portion of the song in contrived voices, destroying most of the song's charm and humor. I think Howard and company should have coughed up a little more green and simply bought and used the track from the original, or at least utilized a voice other than Carrey's.

Whether or not the movie team would have been allowed to utilize anything directly from the cartoon is doubtful. Apparently it took something near to on-the-knees pleading with Dr. Seuss' widow to get this project rolling in the first place, and word is that she was less than entirely pleased with the final product. That may be overly complimentary, but I'm guessing that Howard and company won't be knocking on her door anytime soon with plans for a live-action Cat In The Hat.

Just a quick summation of what you will see in this movie:

The Good: Ron Howard and his team are excellent filmmakers, who rarely fail to make a good-looking movie, even if the script is a bit lacking. Parts of the film are genuinely funny as well, and the film has a few good laughs. For whatever its faults, I doubt anyone will be entirely disappointed.

The Bad: Jim Carrey is Jim Carrey, which means that if you like him, you probably will enjoy him in this role, and if you don't, he'll probably annoy the crap out of you; mark Kex in the latter category. The movie is loud, often dark, and younger children may find certain scenes frightening. There are a lot of sudden events and extremely loud noises.

The Ugly: As usual, Clint Howard, Ron's brother has a role in the film. That always qualifies in the ugly category. Much of the movie is cold and a bit depressing, as contrasted to the cartoon. Somehow the entire experience seemed more in line with Tim Burton than Dr. Seuss.

Finally, what has it been now, two weeks since we noted this?: Century Theatres, your concessions are slow, overpriced, and understaffed. Buying anything there is an experience that sucks nearly as bad as sitting through Battlefield Earth. I know my bitching probably won't change that. It hasn't for a year now. But I'm going to continue to mention it, and hopefully other movie goers will take up the crusade. You see, I can buy a freaking bag of popcorn at the store for about a buck and a half, that will make about a dozen of the bags you charge nearly $4 for. A coke that is 90% ice shouldn't cost $3.50. And if I am going to plunk down most of a sawbuck for a few refreshments to pacify 3 movie goers, I shouldn't have to miss half the movie. And while we are at it, could somebody look into getting some carrying trays that will accomodate drink cups larger than the small size?

Last Week Amelie:

Some people just can't handle a glimmer of success. In last week's review, I noted that the movie The Black Knight just might help Paul Reubens along in his comeback effort, simply because he would be able to note that he wasn't in it. Then poor old Peewee gets embroiled in yet another sex scandal. From Southern California comes word that early in the week, police raided Reubens' home and confiscated a quantity of "vintage erotica."

Now, I have to admit upfront here that I really don't have clue one exactly what "vintage erotica" is, or why police have some apparent right to raid one's home to confiscate it. Close as I can figure, Peewee must have come by said "vintage erotica" by a means that was in itself less than legal. Okay, lets be a little more concise: If Peewee swiped the "vintage erotic" from someone else, the police had every right to break into his home, seize the contraband, and beat Peewee's Willy silly in the aftermath.

The curious aspect of this whole story is that Peewee wasn't arrested for anything, or charged with anything for that matter. That leads me to wonder just what this whole thing is about. Well, there are a few other questions that come to mind here to. When the police broke into his house, just where did they find this stuff, anyway? Did they have to fish it out of Chairee's cushions? Did they have to sedate that poofy genie in order to protect themselves from his potential wrath? Was Cowboy Curtis home at the time? Inquiring minds want to know.

But until more answers in this developing story are forthcoming, the weekly review goes on. This week, I backtracked a little bit to see the French film Amelie. This movie is the first, and so far only movie of 2001 that is getting any serious Oscar buzz. There are two telling points in that note. First, the fact that its already the first of December, and no other movie is apparently in Oscar contention so far tells us a lot about what kind of year its been at the cinema. Second, the fact that a French movie, and this one specifically is getting that kind of attention really seals any contention that 2001 has been one of the worst movie years in history.

Amelie provides a pretty good case for the charge that I have been making for years: The entire nation of France should be nuked to cinders as soon as possible. The fundamental point of this film seems to be that common people in France are basically lunatics with pathetic, pointless lives. That is something anyone who knows much about France has known for years. But what this film conclusively demonstrates is that the lives of most of the inmates can actually be improved by the most depraved inmate in the asylum. Its this demonstration that compels me to recommend this film so that it can be viewed by as many people as possible, so that immediate and decisive military action can be taken.

Audrey Tutu plays the title role of a young women who makes it her personal project to improve the lives of the desperately hopeless people around her. There is her widowed father, her lonely co-workers, and a friendly artist who lives downstairs, that spends year after year of his life painting and repainting the same picture. When Amelie finds a small box loaded with the childhood treasures of an unknown man in her apartment, she decides to track him down and return it. The act of returning the box encourages the man to reconcile with his estranged daughter and the grandson he has never met, and sets Amelie off on a path to attempt to help others, and find love for herself along the way.

Her methods are bizzare to say the least. The plot of the film becomes a curious mix of a stolen apartment key, a globetrotting garden gnome, the photographic booth in a train station and bizzare images on video. How these plot elements combine to enhance the lives of the people in Amelie's life can only be answered by seeing the film, and now that I have dashed in the typical obligatory fashion, I'll admit that I recommend this film without real qualification.

Amelie is quarky, frequently funny, and nothing if not original. In a year which Hollywood has offered us little beyond explosions and brainless action sequences to entertain us, this movie is actually entertaining and humorous. It's two hour running time actually seemed shorter, and the storyline carries us along in charming fashion until all the unusual plotpoints become clarified.

So how sad is it that one of the best film's of the year to date comes from a country so pretentious that they built the Arch De Triumph so that Hitler's troops would have something cool to march under on the way into Paris? Its really painful to have to admit that anything that came out of France has bested the prime efforts of Hollywood this year. Yet here we have it: Amelie is the most entertaining and original film of 2001, at least 11 months into the race.

A quick note of praise for newcomer Audrey Tutu as well. Her performance is compelling and charming, and her personality keeps us involved and the plot moving along. Despite the film's "R" rating we don't get to see her naked, but that was perhaps the only disappoint Amelie has to offer. The film is showing primarily in art-house theaters, so again, those in smaller markets will have to make special efforts to see it. But see it you should.

Last Week:The Lathe of Heaven:

Most of the parents in America are taking out second mortgages and stocking up on blood pressure medicine in anticipation of standing in long lines next weekend to take the family out to see the second installation of the Harry Potter series. Meanwhile, Hollywood apparently figured that no one was going to go to the movies this weekend, and released virtually nothing. Henceforth, the weekend prior to the release of Harry Potter is likely to be about as lucrative for film releases as, say, the first weekend in September or the second week of February. If you are a producer, and your movie gets that release slot, you know its toilet city for box office.

With no real choices, or at least no promising ones for a review, it was time once again for a trip to the rental store. Not wanting to hit something that is already a year old in the public consciousness, I opted for something most of you probably otherwise missed...or at least that you weren't widely aware of.

Okay, that isn't entirely true. I actually was looking for a specific film that was released about 10 years ago and is not out of print, and it apparently has been cleared from the shelves of Blockbuster as well. So I opted for something else entirely. I probably should have stuck with a more recent popular release that I didn't previously review.

This week's review is the new version of Ursla LeGuinn's classic sci-fi tale, The Lathe of Heaven. Its almost universally regarded as one of the most treasured genre tales of all time. It's also been filmed once before, by PBS back in the early 80's. That particular version is itself considered a classic, although it hasn't been widely seen. But almost everyone fortunate enough to have viewed it considers it worthy of the penned story.

The newer version, which we consider this week, falls considerably shorter of the splendor of either the original story or the earlier filmed version. This particular adaptation was created by HBO, which explains a lot. For awhile, this new effort actually followed the book with reasonable dedication, then the folks at HBO must have decided that a continued religious adherence to the story would probably produce about a 3 hour film, and we Americans have too short of an attention span for that sort of marathon. Look how tragically Titanic floundered at the box office.

So in order to keep the film at a reasonable 100 minute running length, and permit 20 minutes of trailers for upcoming HBO programming, the producers shredded the story like Enron accountants. There is a sudden sharp right turn away from the developing plotline, simply lopping out some of the story's most unique, important and compelling aspects. That is followed by a contrived ending that doesn't even vaguely resemble the original story's more ambigious and thought provoking finale. I guess the folks at HBO didn't want the great unwashed to have to ponder what actually happened instead of salivating over the advertising for an upcoming showing of Sopranos or the ninth repeat of Enemy at the Gates.

James Caan Stars as the psychiatrist Dr. Hebert, playing the role with all the energy of an iron deficient slug. Lukas Haas was sufficently promising in the role of George Orr that we actually wondered how he might have faired in a production of the story competently handled. The role of Heather is played by Lisa Bonet, in an apparent effort to convince the world that her career isn't entirely washed up after her departure from Cosby. Here is a news flash Lisa: Your career has gone through the washer 9 times enhanced by a box full of industrial strength Tide. This production isn't going to change anything. It probably wouldn't have even if the movie hadn't sucked canal water.

I guess its really evident why I hadn't heard much about this movie. HBO must have tanked it after about 3 showings, then rushed it out to video hoping that sci-fi fans who don't watch much cable TV or don't subscribe to HBO would be suckered into recouping whatever low expenditure went into the production with rental royalties. Okay, wrap cellophane over my head and ram a white stick up my ass: I bought in. With any luck, the Kexkateers and regular readers will be spared a similar fate. If you love this story, and have never seen the original 1981 PBS production, go hunt it down and rent it instead. Its usually also available at Blockbuster.

Now, to follow up on the challenge I issued at the end of my review last week. A lot of you have been asking me how many NRA members sent me messages this week justifying their continued support of the organization. In fact, those inquiries outnumbered the emails from NRA members exactly several dozen to none. That is right folks, the silence has been deafening. Whenever I make some veiled anti-gun or anti-NRA remark, those folks fill my mailbox. But when I called them on specific bullshit, they couldn't even muster a single rational response. Does that surprise me? No. Will they continue to support that utterly vulgar and amoral organization? I'm betting almost certainly...and so on it goes.

Apparently the fear within our society marches on, so many turns to guns, despite the fact that that aren't apt to protect anyone from much of anything. The reality is almost always to the contrary: Guns brought into the home are far more likely to harm the people they are purchased to protect than to protect anyone. But Americans buy more and more. Who knows? Those terrorists may come marching down the street any moment now. That is why we have spent several hundred billion dollars hunting them down. Without ANY measureable success to date to be sure, but that is a pretty good reason to spend a lot more.

Of course, all of us are in far more danger from things like cancer or automobile accidents than we are from terrorists. But I haven't noticed that we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars to make or roads safer, or get drunk drivers off the streets. You know, drunk drivers like, for instance, the current President of the USA (convicted in 1976) or the current Vice-President of the US (two DUI convictions on his record.)

Then again, the current President has two OTHER arrests to his credit. One of them is for disorderly conduct at a football game! The number of football games I have personally attended in my life runs into 3 figures. Quite honestly, I can't for the life of me figure out what you have to do to get convicted of disorderly conduct at a football game short of killing somebody or burning down the stadium. I figure if anyone can clue me in on this its probably one of the Kexkateers, but in my book, whatever the violation involves, it has to rank right up there with getting a blowjob from a 21 year old White House intern. Then again, most of us who voted in 2000 already figured that out, but we got stuck anyway.

Last Week: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World:

I really really admire the men who made a living as commanders and officers aboard the wooden sailing ships of centuries past. Those guys had some stones, and then courage coating them. No doubt about it, they had to be some of the prime collections of raw courage the planet has ever produced, bar none.

Think about it a moment. These guys put themselves aboard creaky, leaky wooden ships, often infested with rats, that were likely as not to end up at the bottom of the ocean a hundred miles out of port. Its not like they could radio for help if they got in trouble. Most of the time, they didn't even carry sufficient life-boats for more than a dozen men.

They sailed off into the unknown with only the wind to propel them, and the stars and sun to guide them. They had crude maps at best if any at all, and a good share of the time they didn't even really know where they were going, or what they would find when they got there. That is, of course, assuming they got there, which was probably less than a 50-50 proposition.

Then there was the matter of their crew: Most of them were either grudgingly paroled prisoners, or the dregs of society. Any one of them was about as likely to cut your throat as obey your orders, and the only hope you had of keeping control was some sort of vague trust that you could accomplish whatever mission you set out on and bring their gamey hides home in one piece. Your fellow officers weren't always prize picks either. Some were able men, but a lot of them were no more than young boys put on the ship by aristocrats wanting to send them on adventures or to build a career.

These weren't cruises most of us would want to book passage on. No, in our soft, modern world, there isn't much equivalent to the trials of the mariners of bygone centuries. But we owe our civilization, for better or worse, to their astonishing courage.

In Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Russell Crowe stars as Captain Jack, commander of the British man-o-war HMS Surprise. This isn't the same Captain Jack as portrayed by Johnny Depp earlier in the year. This one is flesh and bone.

Captain Jack is nicknamed "Lucky Jack" by his ragtag crew. It isn't hard to understand why. This guy can tell some of the lamest jokes this side of open mike night at Crappy Comedy Central, as well as playing really awful cello violin duets with his ship's doctor (Paul Bettany). Somehow the crew doesn't get inspired to toss them both to the sharks. Lucky indeed.

The Surprise's mission is to hunt down a larger, sturdier and better armed French Frigate named the Archeron. Apparently if the French ship succeeds in reaching the Pacific, the French will sieze control all of the oceans and increase their odds of successfully invading jolly old England. I couldn't figure it out either, but the British seemed to think so.

I gathered that once upon a time, some countries actually worried about getting invaded by France. Go figure. Oh sure, Napoleon DID manage to overun most of Central Europe at one time, during a period in which most of the countries were wildly disorganized and didn't have armies to speak of. But let's face it: Even Napolean got his butt kicked by the Russian army, which was armed with a formidable arsenal of snowballs. Even at its military peak, France just sucked.

Anyway, after the Archeon bloodies Surprise's nose in the first encounter, Captain Jack gets his blood up and vows revenge. He chases the French ship half way around the planet, although his orders didn't require him to do so. Eventually he catches her and the climatic rematch ensues.

I had two problems with this movie, inspite of its favorable rating. At At times is became something of a laborious blabfest. I think that was intentional, protraying the intense boredom that was common to sailing missions. My other problem was the title. I think we could have shortened it by half, which would signficantly speed up the lines in the movie theater. Hell, all I want to do is buy a movie ticket, not make a speech at the box office.

In all, however, I recommend this movie. I think it captures the kind of magic movies can do at their best, by transporting us to another time and place, and giving us a taste of what things were like. Beware, to those with an aversion to sea voyages. This one is realistic enough to produce a fair approximation of seasickness.

Last Week: The Five People You Meet in Heaven:

The planned review for this weekend was Closer, but lack of enthusiasm and time constraints conspired for a change of plan. I think its reasonably telling that it was the only major release of the weekend, and it failed to break the top 5 at the box office. So, I'm kind of glad things worked out as they did.

Option 2 was a video rental, but by the time we got the Christmas decorations out of storage, and got the tree set up and dealt with a series of obligatory weekend football games and two waves of company, the weekend review defaulted to option 3.

So, for the first time in K.A.W. history, a review of a made-for-TV movie is actually being presented. Normally, a TV movie wouldn't even be an option, but this particular one really seemed worthy of some consideration. Its based on a runaway best seller book which rated high on my wife's hanky scale, so I figured it might be worth a look.

When a sports writer steps outside of his zone of comfort, the results can vary from awful to surprisingly good. That provided further intrigue to this particular project. Mitch Albom is a pretty good writer, but it was a matter of curiousity to see how well the story played, as well as the quality of the adaptation.

The story is sort of a vague ripoff of Its a Wonderful Life with the twist that the main character is already dead, and in heaven. It seems that once you get to heaven, you meet 5 people that have played some significant role in your life, and through them you come to understand your own life better.

Naturally, this tale is told through a combination of flasbacks and straight time, which is normally about as pleasant as going to the dentist. Fortunately, this particular story uses the technique as a necessary evil, so it was tolerable.

Eddie (Jon Voight) is a maintenance man at an amusement park. He is pretty bitter about his life, because circumstances forced him into the same job his father held, instead of pursuing a career as an engineer. He is good at his job, and beloved by children in the park, but he feels his life has been a total waste.

When he is killed by a ride accident while trying to save a little girl, he begins meeting his 5 people. The first is a former sideshow freak with blue skin. He got that way by injesting poisons that were supposed to cure his shyness as a boy. Unfortunately, he lived a few decades too early to make a fortune by playing home made instruments.

Eddie goes on to meet 4 other characters, each providing him with some sort of insight into his life, and the value of certain attributes like sacrifice, forgiveness, and never draw to an inside straight. No, I guess that wasn't one of them come to think of it, but its still pretty good advice. His other teachers included his old army captain, the lady after whom the amusement park he worked at was named, his wife, and a little girl. Not the one he was killed trying to save, but read the book.

Ultimately Eddie learns the lesson we suspected that he would learn all along...his life really was valuable, and that everyone's life influences everyone elses. In other words, he learned pretty much the same thing Jimmy Stewart learned in Its A Wonderful Life, only he had to die to do it. Sort of seems like Eddie got the short end of the stick on that one, but its a nice story anyway.

The movie had a running time of 3 hours including commericals, a bit long for standard TV fare, but I suspect it may be shown with frequency around the holidays in the future. Not that it is primary a holiday movie, but its just the kind of thing networks like to include in the December schedule. Its worth a look.

Previously: Memoirs of a Geisha:

Sometime, I think it was about 10 hours into this movie, as I sat pondering the possibility of sawing my head off with my car key and dribbling down the aisle just to break up the monotony. Then, a thought occured to me. I truly wish I could tell you what it was, unfortunately, the world will never know.

When you sit through a mind-draining, butt-buzzer of this caliber, ideas vanish faster than the contents of a keg of Coors at a NASCAR tailgater. In the hands of a capable director, this movie might have been...ah hell. It would have still been bad. Steven Spielberg was originally going to direct this movie, then he read the script. Instead he decided to direct Munich, but in order to cut his loses on purchasing the book rights, he still produced it. I guess if you can get a thousand bucks back on a million dollar gamble, you can rightfully avoid calling it a total loss.

Our main character spoke the first line in English in this movie: "A story like mine should never be told." Truer words were never spoken, but damned if they didn't go right ahead and tell us the story anyway. I'd have been better off if I had just believed her and left after that sentence.

I wish I could tell you her name, but she changed it three times in this film. Everytime I just about got it, she'd change it to something even more unpronouncable and less memorable than the previous one. That tends to generate a lot of frustration when you are trying to formulate a movie review as the film goes along.

The story is pretty simple. A young Japanese girl and her sister are sold into slavery, with the possibility of eventually being trained as Geishas. The younger sister (our hero) is accepted into a prestigious Geisha house, while the elder one is kicked on down the road. The younger girl just wants to escape and join her sister, but her efforts always fail and lead to beatings.

Eventually her sister runs off without her, and the younger girl never hears from her again. But she meets a kindly man who buys her a snow cone one day. The whole thing had kind of a creepy, "Hey little girl, want some candy?" resonance. But she falls in love with him, and sets her mind on becoming a Geisha so she will have the opportunity to get close to him someday.

Then she becomes the central plot in some sort of power struggle in the Geisha world, Japan gets its ass kicked in WWII, and her life gets really sucky. She gets disgraced in the eyes of the man she loves, and we are set up for the kind of tragic suicide ending that is normally characteristic of Japanese stories.

Then something really weird happened: A happy ending wandered over from a different theater. I was left feeling the same kind of baffled disorientation Kong must have encountered when he crashed out of the theater and found himself in the middle of Manhatten in a snow storm.

I'm almost as bored writing about this movie as I was sitting through it, so I am going to tell you about something else. Christmas is usually a pretty busy time around the Kex household. During the Christmas weekend we have a bunch of places to go and people to see, so Joy and I decided to have our private gift exchange a couple of days early.

One of the things I bought her, just for fun, was a Furby. We were playing around with it, but it intitally seemed to be in kind of a nasty mood. Figuring that maybe its batteries were a little weak, Joy suggested that changing them might perk him up a bit. After all, being demoed umpteen times at the store might have worn it down a bit.

So, I changed its batteries. That sort of improved things. When Joy talked to it, it would laugh, tell jokes and sing songs. Then I tried:

Kex: Hey Furby?

Furby: Yes?
Kex: Do you like me?

Furby: NO!

Kex: Furby?
Furby: Yes?

Kex: Do you like the kitty?

Furby: Yes! Goody! (laughs)

Kex: Furby?

Furby: Yes?

Kex: I love you

Furby: Oh boy!

Kex: Furby?
Furby: Yes?

Kex: Do you like me?

Furby: NO! (followed by something unintelligible and nasty sounding in Furby language)

Kex: Furby?

Furby: Yes?

Kex: But I like you. Do you like me?

Furby: NO! (blows raspberry)

Kex: Furby?

Furby: Yes?

Kex: How would you like to have a screwdriver rammed up your ......

Furby: (blows raspberry followed by evil laugh)

I think I saw this in a Twilight Zone episode. Stay tuned.

HOw many of you guys collect state quarters? Lots of you, good. West Virginia comes out next. I think it will have a couple of drunk hillbillies chugging jugs of white lightening....something like that anyway.

The second most embarrassing one so far is Connecticut. They have a tree on it. All the people in Connecticut have to be proud of is a tree. What if someone cuts it down? Then there was the state that had the picture of The Old Man on the Mountain. About a week after the quarter came out, it fell down. So when you see those drunk hillbillies on the West Virginia quarter, don't be snickering (too much...a little bit is okay).

Last Week: Letters From Iwo Jima:

There is an old Vulcan saying, "Only Nixon could go to China." Hey! Wait just a darned minute! Is that just about the dumbest line in movie history or what? Really now. Did the creators of the Star Trek series really want us to believe that the history of the planet Vulcan and its inhabitants was so sterile that they could not produce a single, unique incident in their history where an unlikely character committed a singularly uncharacteristic act?

Well, actually, I'm not pulling this particular quote out of my ass just to blast the people who made Star Trek, deserving as they may be. Instead, let's offer a paraphrase, "Only Eastwood could make Letters From Iwo Jima." Really. If any other director in Hollywood makes this movie, every red-necked, tobacco chawing, double wide residing, confederate flag flying good old boy in America would have marched on his SoCal mansion and beat his ass purple with a tire iron.

That is because this film offers a curious bit of revisionist history. As every red-blooded American knows, the Japanese were once sneaky, back stabbing little sub-human devils who sucker punched us back in the 40's, hoping they could knock out our navy long enough to take over every island in the South Pacific before we could stop them. Of course, they failed because they underestimated good old American capability.

Once we picked ourselves up off the deck and kicked their sneaky little asses for them, they saw the error of their ways, started emulating us and became legitimate players on the world stage. Geepers, they even started playing good baseball. Not as well as we do, but pretty good.

Letters From Iwo Jima presents a rather different slant on this well established belief. If we are to believe this story, the Japanese were human beings just like we were. They had hopes, dreams, families they loved, a sense of honor and even mothers that wanted them to do right and come home. HMMMM...just doesn't sound right to me. What got into Clint Eastwood?

Is this the same guy who went to Italy and showed all those pizza chefs how to film a western? Is this the same Clint Eastwood who single handedly cleaned up the city of San Francisco with a little magnum force? Is this the same Clint Eastwood who traveled around America delivering bare-knuckled beatings to every self-proclaimed tough guy with a cute monkey by his side? Is this the same Clint Eastwood who taught a girl to be a boxing champion? Nah...can't be.

This film tells the tale of the battle of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers who found themselves in the hopeless position of having to defend the island. It was considered critical to their war effort, because if Iwo Jima fell, the U.S. would have a prime base from which to stage the ultimate invasion of the Japanese homeland. But by the time the stage was set for the battle, the Japanese forces on the island found themselves isolated, and without hope of naval or air support.

They were facing an overwhelming American invading force. They were low on food, ammunition and all other critical supplies. To a man, they probably knew the task was hopeless, but they had not choice but to fight and die honorably for their homeland. But that inevitable death was no easier for them to face than it would have been for any American soldier in the same position. They too had their families, hopes and desire for a future.

Clint Eastwood brilliantly underscores the ultimate futility of war by offering us a perspective we really haven't had the opportunity to see. We've seen endless, mostly unrealistic portrayals of the Second World War as we charged our way to victory behind John Wayne. The point of view we haven't had the opportunity to see is how the other side viewed the same circumstances, well, with the possible exception of one old Twilight Zone episode.

Caution is issued to parents here. This is a 150 minute movie, subtitled, and some of it is rather plodding. The last third is graphic and disturbing, and youngsters below high school age probably don't need to see this film. The rest of us should. It probably should have won Best Picture at this year's Oscars. Alas, the Academy voters decided to plant their lips on Martin Scorsese's ass. Okay, perhaps that was long overdue. Nonetheless. this probably was the best eligible film of 2006, and worth your attention.

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