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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:


Last Week: Dungeons And Dragons:

Back in the 30's, the most popular ventriloquist in show business was Edgar Bergen and his famed pulp enhanced creation (politically correct term for dummy), Charlie McCarthy. Bergen became tremendously popular mostly because the only medium for mass entertainment in those days was radio, and no one ever actually saw Bergen perform. His act was usually humorous, and everything else was left to the imagination.

Then a terrible thing happened. Hitler started rolling all over Europe, the U.S. and Japan became embroilled in a controversy over economic superiority along the Pacific rim, and the U.S. entered WWII. A lot of young entertainers joined the war effort, while the elder Bergen remained behind and tried to help fill the entertainment void by taking his act to the silver screen. That was a huge mistake, because it enabled everyone to see that while Bergen was able to create a humorous radio act, he was probably the suckiest ventriloquist in the entire history of the universe. The man's lips moved when he was talking, they moved when Charlie was talking, hell, they even moved when other actors were talking. He was absolutely awful.

I told you that story mostly to drive home a point: What can be entertaining and magic in the realms of the human mind can absolutely stink in a visual realm: And that about sums up the film version of Dungeons and Dragons. College kids have been playing this game with great enthusiasm for a quarter of a century now. Kex will admit he has played it and enjoyed it. Despite the concerns of moralists and other right-wingers who think its a brand of demonic mind control, I personally always found the game to be stimulating to the imagination and creative bent.

But when you put a D&D style of adventure on the screen, it just doesn't seem to work, or at least this one didn't. The big problem here was the simple fact that the script was apparently lifted directly out of George Lucas' reject bin for a Star Wars episode, and modified only very slightly for the fantasy adaptation. In essence, only the names were changed, and the sets turned medieval. I can't help but think that in executive board rooms at Lucas Works and TSR, some heavy discussions are going on with high powered attorneys.

The principal bad guy in Dungeons And Dragons is Jeremy Irons, leading to the rather troubling question, just how badly does this man need a paycheck these days and why? Irons is a fine actor who has about as much business appearing in this film as Sylvestor Stallone would in a "Shakespeare in the Park" production of Hamlet. Irons actually appears to be enjoying himself camping it up and chewing up every set piece within reach. But sooner or later, one figures he is actually going to see this production, which I expect will be followed by his agent receiving a well deserved ass kicking. His character is named Prophylactic, or something like that. I was having some trouble paying attention to the proceedings with all the loud noises, so I spent a lot of time cowering under my seat with my ears covered, to filter out both the overdone THX effects and the unbelievably crappy dialog.

Thora Birch plays the part of the Empress, and I just double and triple checked my spelling there to avoid an embarrassing but not entirely inappropriate typo. Birch can't act a lick, leading me to believe that she is either closely related to someone on the production staff, or, well, lets not go there. After all, she appears to be all of 14. The footnote here is that this is yet another case where we quickly figure out why the kingdom in the story is in such deep shit. Generally speaking, your average 14 year-old girl has about as much business running a country as just about anybody whose last name happens to be Bush....uh, okay...shit happens.

The primary protagonist is Didley, or something like that. He is played by Justin Whaylan, who tries to be a combination of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. He comes off as annoying and inept, and just about has us pulling for the bad guys by the end. After all, he is another of those dreaded anti-hero types we here at K.A.W. abhor. Look, the guy saves the day and all, but he is still a two-bit thief who has made his way in the world ripping off other people. I don't like cheering for guys like that.

Didley's side-kick/comic relief guy is Snail (I actually got that one right) who is played by Marlon Wayans. Wayans gets his ass kicked in this movie, which is just about enough to get it a rating and a ringing endorsement around here. It was, at the very least, enough to permit me to leave the theater feeling like I hadn't completely blown an hour and a half of my life.

The main bad guy side-kick, who is the most active bad guy in the movie is named Damn-it-all, or something like that. He is portrayed by Bruce Payne, the actor we last saw spending most of his time playing Imhotep in The Mummy. Damn-it-all is D&D's low rent answer to Darth Vader, right down to fancy body armor but sans the mask. I was a little surprised that the producers were able to overcome what must have been an overwhelming urge to hire James Earl Jones for the voice over...probably he read the script. Payne would have looked a lot more menacing if he had lost the blue lipstick.

Kristen Wilson is along to play the elven character Norda, who looks like she raided the prop room from the last Star Trek film for her costume. She easily could step right onto the set of Voyager in the same garb and portray a passable Vulcan. She actually pulled off a rare credible performance in this film, unfortunately she had very little to do.

One of the film's more interesting casting moves came in placing Lee Arenberg in the charater of the dwarf, Elwood. Every fantasy story seems to have to have a dwarf character named Elwood. I think its a law. What was notable was that he was about the same height as all the other characters, and I was always under the impression that dwarves were little guys.

The female lead was Zoe McClennan, who played the aristocratic Marina. She was one of those stereotyped rich-bitch types who gets caught up in a basic shit-storm, but somehow manages to overcome her own limitations and never gets her makeup messed up. She even manages to change clothes at one point, although I was left mystified as to where she got the other costume, since she didn't bring anything else along on the quest.

There were two other noteworthy cast members here: First was Tom Baker as the head elf Hallworth. Fan's of 70's episodes of Dr. Who will recall Baker as probably the most popular timelord in the series' history. But its quite possible that even Baker's most ardent fans won't recognize him. The man has not aged well. The other notable castmember is Richard O'Brian as Xibus, the leader of the Antius City thieves. Most of us have never seen his shiny dome on the silver screen before, but I'm guessing that a lot of K.A.W. readers are familiar with his most famous previous film: He was the creator of the one and only Rocky Horror Picture Show.

There isn't much of a plot to summarize here, because the film didn't have much of a plot. It was mostly action, lame dialog and bad acting in a painful-to-view package. The dragons were pretty cool, but a film entitled Dungeons And Dragons should have lots of both, and this film suffered a dearth of dragons. Yeah, I enjoyed seeing a Wayans brother get the crap kicked out of him, but if he'd been eaten by a dragon, I guarantee this film would have gotten a huge smiley.

ADDENDUM: Okay, enough emails already. I know Thora Birch is 18, and I know she was in American Beauty, which is irrelevant. For the record, I didn't like that movie either. I've only gotten one email on another film related topic so far, but I should have seen this one coming: Regular readers of this page will remember that barbs were exchanged between this page and Keenan Ivory Wayans over the film Scary Movie last summer. I didn't like that movie, and I wasn't much of a Wayans brothers fan even before that movie. If anyone is reading anything more into the remarks, I might suggest you lighten up a bit.

Last Week: Bored With The Rings:

The last thing I would want is to allow my readers even the slightest hint of ambiguity as to how completely I despised this movie. So lets not mince any words here. Osama Bin Laden has a better chance of being elected the next President of the United States than the Kexkateers have of reading a review of either of the two upcoming sequels to this movie on this page. I hated this movie. It sucked. It was garbage. I detested every despicable frame of it.

None of us ever know how long we have left on this planet, but I have become sure of one thing. My soul will rest in eternal peace if I can stick around long enough to see someone cram all 8000 reels that will ultimately define this obnoxious trilogy right up director/producer Peter Jackson's pretentious ass. How I would love to see that. This man created Lord of the Rings with such an overpowering air of self importance that the man must really believe he farts DeMillian epics.

Not only was the movie utterly consumed with self importance, but it was dark and foreboding to new heights in cinematic annals. By comparison, this film makes most of Tim Burton's work look like Frank Capra. Hey, haven't any of these clever little characters ever hit upon the idea of a torch? On the other hand, maybe its just as well they hadn't, or Middle Earth would depopulate. Almost everyone that lived there was either homely, or butt ugly.

Maybe I am coming down a little hard on Jackson for some of the film's pretense. The story itself is chalk full of it. Every wide place in the road has some high sounding name which makes you think its a Middle Earth national monument or something. "Look Dildo Bigguns! Its the horse dung pile of Rama Lama Yabba Dabba Doo!" And the characters have tongue twister names too. The worst part is that you are absolutely indundated with not only the vast array of character and place names actually in the story, but there is an endless list of them you never see as well. So pretty soon, this entire venture is a marathon through a bowl of alphabet soup.

Of course, that is all secondary to the problem that the story makes no damned sense whatsoever anyway. Well, that's not entirely true. I was able to see a sort of political analogy within the confusing mess. I think the whole thing is sort of an allegory for American politics, i.e, Republicans vs. Democrats.

You see, the numerous evil, bad guys in the story symbolize Republicans, because I said so. They control just about everything in Middle Earth, except one lousy ring of power, which they used to have but lost. They want it back, mostly because they don't have it, and they want to have everything, just like our Republicans.

Meanwhile, everyone else on Middle Earth are the Democrats. They are a coilition of elves, humans, hobbits, dwarves and wizards. They don't have squat except for one ring, which they want desperately to protect, mostly because they have it and they don't want the Republicans to get it back. Makes sense, huh?

Now where this all gets really confusing is that the Republicans, er, evil guys control the land which contains the mountain, Mt. Doom, where the ring of power was forged in the first place. It sort of seems to me that if they really wanted to, they could go out and forge about 80 million more rings of power and sell them for a nickel a piece at 7-11. BUT NOOOOOOOO! They want the ring the good guys have.

Another thing that doesn't make any sense in this story is that Dildo Bigguns has possession of the ring for a long time, and the bad guys never seem to know he has it. But as soon as he decides to go off on an adventure and pass the ring on to his nephew, Fritos Bigguns, suddenly every evil doer on Middle Earth knows exactly where it is. How the hell did that happen? Was CNN reporting at Dildo's birthday party or something? As I said, most of this movie just doesn't make any damned sense.

I guess maybe it does if you are one of those tragically socially isolated college students that while away all their free time playing Dungeons and Dragons, mostly because they are about a century away from actually getting a date on a Saturday night. I guess its time to admit that I had pretty low expectations for this movie, because I hated the books too. Well, that's overstating the case. I made it about 30 pages into the first one before I got disqusted and winged it out the window. That was the end of my personal Rings reading odyssey.

One other thing about this movie really bothered me. It was so graphically violent, nearly constantly, that I nearly shivered from the thought that anyone was actually entertained by it. And when you are pounded by that kind of crap for 3 hours, its hard not to get desensitized to the gang wars you have to dodge on the way out of the parking lot at Century Theaters. So as far as Lord of the Rings, Part 1 is concerned, I came, I saw, I survived (barely) and I was utterly disgusted. If anyone can give me a reason why I should have found anything appealing in this dung heap, email me, and remember, messages scrawled on your screen in crayon don't show up in my email box.

Last Week: Treasure Planet:

One can almost imagine the meetings that were occuring in Disney Studios; the air of panic probably could have been cut with a knife. First, there was the realization that nothing had been thrown together for release in the 2002 Holiday season, and something had to be slopped out in a hurry. Then there was a mother of an argument about just what kind of film it should be. To sides quickly rose to the top.

First, there was the faction that wanted to adapt yet another children's literary classic with an exciting plot and cute cuddly animals that sang and danced as a nice diversion. After all, you don't screw with a formula that works. Then there was the second faction that figured such projects were a little to mundane for more sophisticated modern audiences. No, they wanted to do something with a popular contemporary flair.

It was this group that proposed something of Star Wars essense, probably with cute cuddly aliens that sang and danced. Of course the problem with either arrangement was the time factor. It was pretty clear that this mess of an animated movie was tossed together pretty quickly. So the two sides fought on bitterly for days, wasting even more precious time, until somebody came up with a really retarded idea; hey gang, let's do both!

Every bad idea in the history of human artistic endeavor has resulted from an ass-rammed compromise between utterly unrelated intentions. Keeping with a long tradition, Disney gave us Treasure Planet, an adaptation of Robert Lewis Stevenson's classic novel, Treasure Island set in the future utilizing outer space adventure. It didn't fit well into either the futuristic or pre-Victorian mold.

The wooden, cheap tacky buildings and colonial era costumes stood in stark contrast to the idea of a space faring civilization. And the galleon appearing space ships didn't look capable of crossing the Mississippi River, let alone light years. All said, if you clap a giraffe in feathers, its not an ostrich. Its just a giraffe in a bad boa.

Its really hard to figure out just what the people at Disney were really trying to accomplish here. If you want to make a space adventure movie, even animated, you need cool space ships and lots of lazer fire to keep the audience enthralled. If you want to make a period piece about pirates, Stephenson's story has captured and held the attention of children for a couple of centuries now. So it probably could have stood on its own without the painful alterations the Disney people made.

I guess that the lesson here is that a good animated movie can be sunk by bad animation, and this movie doesn't escape that criticism. But more damning is the fact a bad story is going to torpedo an animated movie regardless of how it looks. So this movie never had an ice cubes chance in hell. If we phrase this in very contemporary stylings, Adam Sandler is gross and annoying, live OR animated (Attention Hollywood: I hope you catch the subtle hint).

So, we have a bady story, shabby animation, and an ill-conceived approach. What else could have made this movie worse? Why don't we next note that the usual catchy Disney music was utterly absent. The soundtrack of this film could have been recorded at a struggling coffee shop during bad amateur open stage night. Fortunately, there wasn't a whole lot of music anyway.

Instead of cute, cuddly animals that are the hallmark of Disney movies of this nature, they opted instead for aliens this time out. That was another mistake. All of the non-humans were kind of icky looking, and didn't inspire much of anything other than revulsion. For a great number of the characters that was admittedly intended. Unfortunately, even the supporting good guys didn't have the necessary appealing glow.

Then we have the coup de grace: An utterly morally ambigious ending. Our principle bad guy turns out to be not so bad afterall, even though we still have the feeling he probably would have cut the heros throat for a little extra cash. Maybe Disney is surrendering to some sort of 70's concept of anti-heros. But hoaky as it may be, children's stories still benefit from clearer representations of bad vs. good. I don't think the average 6 year old benefits walking out of the story confused about who was who when mentally listing the heros and villans.

Treasure Planet is a mess of an animated movie. If Disney can't do better than this in the future, they might want to consider abandoning the genre in favor of one of their numerous competitors these days. True, usually the other guys turn out inferior offerings compared to Disney's better efforts consistantly, but it appears that Disney has decided to get down in the mud with the other guys.

Last Week: The Last Samurai:

Imagine Dances With Wolves meets Shogun. That is the general flavor of The Last Samurai. Sort of. Perhaps it might be a little more accurate, and a lot more fun in a grainy way to say that The Last Samurai is yang to Dances with Wolves ying. At least its the kind of thing you can expect to read here.

Cpt. Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is definitely a lot smarter than John Dunbar (Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves). After he establishes himself as a Civil War hero, he doesn't opt for some abandoned shit-hole fort in North Dakota. He heads off for Japan. Let's put that one on the balance...hmmm, North Dakota or Japan. North Dakota, or Japan. Yeah, have to think about 99.9% of the population of the world would take Algren's side on that one.

But, we do have to temper this with a bit of honesty. Its not like Algren stepped up to the plate and made a straight forward decision like Dunbar. He had to spend about a decade getting drunk, pimping for Smith and Wesson or some similar gun company and participate in a few slaughters of defensless Native American tribes before heading off to find a new life.

Even then, it was sort of a matter of good fortune. Somehow or another, some bigwigs in the Japanese government became acquainted with his military exploits and decided to invite him to their homeland to help modernize their army. Apparently Japan's young emperor was interested in modernizing the entire country, but a few conservatives were battling his efforts. Just like those conservatives. They'd rather pee in a little building outback than actually have to deal with progress.

The head honcho of the Japanese conservative movement is Katsumato (Ken Wantanabe), who leads a small band of samurai. He and his herd of followers don't particulary like the emperor's efforts toward modernization, so they band together to form a samurai army and begin a reign of terror attempting to disrupt all modernization efforts.

It is Algren's duty to train the Japanese army with firearms and precision military discipline so that the samurai can be defeated once and for all. But the conscripts to the new army aren't exactly quick studies. They are pressed into action long before they are ready, and the less well armed and badly outnumbered samurai kick their asses purple. Algren is captured in the process.

At first, Algren is basically treated like a miserable barbarian, but he eventually comes to appreciate the samurai way of life. He even starts get the hots for Katsumato's sister, Taku. But any potential for a relationship suffers from one rather oppressive obstacle. In the battle in which Algren was captured, he drilled Taku's husband a new asshole, so to speak. Alas, all Taku's husband was able to excrete out of the new orifice was the sum total of his blood.

Fortunately, Taku is a forgiving sort, and she resists whatever temptation she must have felt to return the favor some dark night while he slept. Meanwhile, Algren and Katsumato also become friends, and Algren learns the discipline and fighting skills of the samurai.

This sets us up for the ultimate climax, in which the samurai face off against the retrained modern Japanese army, which has now had several months to train. To make the odds even worse, the new army now has cannon and gattling guns at their disposal as well. All the samurai have going for them are guts and guile.

So will it be enough? Of course it will! The samurai, with only swords and bows and arrows kick ass yet again, even though the marvelously progressive Japanese have canon that can apparently adjust their range while the samurai are charging into their fire. So the old ways win out and Japan moves into the 20th century armed with bronze age weapons. Yes, it really makes you respect what they accomplished at Pearl Harbor. Or, I could be full of crap about the ending. See the movie and you can find out for yourself.

Last Week: Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera:

This film carries the ungainly title of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera for two reasons. First, it distinguishes it from any of about a dozen other renditions of Gaston Leroux's novel that have been brought to the silver screen. Leave it to the French to invent a first name of a guy that sounds like a stomach ailment. Really, Gaston?

The first version was a silent classic that starred Lon Chaney. Then there have been numerous other versions, already and presumably yet to be filmed. In the latter category, we might offer, for example, the soon to be put in production Kex's Phantom of the Opera.

This version isn't the blatant get-somebody-sued ripoff some of the Kexkateers are probably envisioning, designed purely to line Kex's wallet. No, its a much different version. For one thing, hot little Christine kicks that whiny, pansy-ass Raoul to the curb and has hot monkey sex with the Phantom until the two of them melt into smelly, unbathed French ooze and seep into the sewer system.

The second reason that this movie is called Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera is that it is, of course, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, rather than just another horror/thriller classic. But there is also Andrew Lloyd Webber's ego involved, which just about kept this adaptation of the Broadway hit from ever finding its way to the silver screen, after a decade of effort. But that is a long story.

I guess I will have to admit upfront that the music in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera is a lot better than the music in Kex's Phantom of the Opera. That is a painful admission, but I'll be big enough to concede it.

Sure, Music of the Night for example, is a hauntingly beautiful aria, and Love Me is among to most beautiful love arias ever written. But I'm hoping a few tunes from my production will catch on as well.

I really think there is a lot of hope for Your Knockers Make Me Drool and The Smell of Your Unbathed French Body Could Send Elephants Running. But I'm figuring that my real showstopper is going to be A Swift Kick to Raoul's Jewels Will Help Him Hit The Highnotes.

Depending on your point of view, the almost slavish allegiance Of ALWPTO to the Broadway version is either its strongest or weakest point. Some critics are blasting the movie for the loss of the play's romantic and mystic elements. But then, some critics are clueless and mostly worthless sacks of goo.

The movie truly has some magnificent, even spectacular moments. True, some of the chemistry was lost, and the film does deal away some of the Phantom's mystical qualities, which made him both intriguing and threatening in the play.

Nonetheless, there is enough here to hold most viewers spellbound throughout the production. Eighteen year old Emmy Rosum is absolutely spectacular as Christine. Minnie Driver makes the most of her role as the overblown Diva, Carlotta.

I was a little less bowled over by the performances of both Gerard Butler as the Phantom and Patrick Wilson as Raoul, but both were at least adequate, occasionally terrific. The bottom line here is that if you enjoyed the Broadway version of this story, you'll probably like the movie as well. If you didn't like it, there isn't much point in seeing this film, and you'll probably be better off waiting until Kex's Phantom of the Opera hits the theaters.

Last Week: The New World:

"This isn't what I expected."--John Rolfe (Christian Slater). That is the most descriptive line of dialog offered in the course of a 150 minute festival of inane blabbering and "look how pretty the scenery is!" shots. The New World certainly wasn't at all what I expected.

I'm not sure exactly what I did expect from this film...possibly a retelling of the arrival of Captain James Smith (Colin Farrell) and the Jamestown settlers that was insightful and, at the very least, interesting. The astonishing aspect of this film is how completely it fails on both counts.

The settlers arrive in the new world, and immediately begin tranforming a useless piece of swamp land into a squalid, mudpit of a colony that is, if anything, even worse than the swamp. The natives hang out on the fringes, watching the progress of the colonists with a mixture of amusement and concern.

On the one hand, they view the entire matter with concern, fearing that the white settlers might arrive in sufficent numbers to ultimately drive them away with superior weapons and technology. On the other hand, the attempts of the settlers to make a go of the colony appears so pathetic that they see little probability that they will survive a single winter anyway. So mostly the natives just sit back and keep a cautious eye on the settlers.

But as the situation in the colony grows more desperate, someone decides that the best hope for survival is to befriend the natives, and attempt to trade with them. Thus James Smith is dispatched on the diplomatic mission. After wandering through the wilderness for apparently weeks, incapable of finding the natives, Smith is captured by them, and taken to their settlement.

Once there, he is harrassed, beaten and drugged. Then he is tied to a couple of stakes in the forest, and lo and behold, a giant monkey comes crashing through the woods and carries him off. No, wait. That is a different movie. Although, this one might have been a whole lot better, and not particularly less historically accurate, if that had happened.

Smith undergoes a variety of harrassments, then, just as he is about to be relieved of his noggin, young Pocahantas (Q'Orianka Kilcher, who, like the real Pocahantas is 15), pleas that his life be spared. Since she is the daughter of the tribe's chief, Smith is spared the intended neckline haircut.

AT this point I might note the disappointment I felt that this characterization of Pocahantas lacked the melon sized breasts presented in the Disney animated version. Once again, that might have made the film somewhat more interesting, but then again, so would a plot of any sort.

Romance blossoms between the native princess and the settler captain. In reality, no one knows for sure whether Smith and Pocahantas really were lovers, or just close friends.The people who made this film didn't want to confuse the issue with ambiguity. Naturally the natives weren't at all happy with Pokie's behavior, and she began to loose favor within the tribe.

As for Smith, he is dispatched back to Jamestown, where, in his lengthy absence, matters have significantly deteriorated, which barely seems possible. At this point, an already snail's paced plot deteriorates into an agonizing blabfest, as Smith and Pokie spend a lot of time wandering around aimlessly, blathering to no one but their respective gods about how pathetic their lives are. Meanwhile, I was reduced to slumping in my theater seat, blathering to whatever gods there may be how bad this movie sucked.

Eventually, Smith is dispatched on a new assignment, to find a passage to India, and he asks a friend to wait two months, then tell Pokie he is dead. She then marries John Rolfe. Curiously, the movie doesn't pick up any. Pokie continues to offer silent prayers of suffering, while Rolfe whines about her detachment. All the while, we are being treated to and endless series of Virginia travelogue shots, without which this film would have been 30 minutes long.

At long last, Pokie and Rolfe are commanded to England, to receive a royal audience. Its about the only audience they had left at this juncture of the movie, since most of the real audience had long since walked out. Pokie and her native companions are astonished by England, and the wonders of the royal court.

Then we are subjected to a reunion scene, in which Pokie and Smith meet again. At long last, Pokie comes to the realization that Smith is sort of a self consumed prick, and realizes that Rolfe has provided her with real rewards in life. Alas, shes perishes from illness on the return trip to Virginia. If the people who made this film had found a way to drag it on 10 minutes longer, the remaining members of the audience probably would have joined her.

Previously: Flags of our Fathers:

Now I know...the rest of the story: Even though I watched it in the wrong order. About all I can say is that this movie contains enough violence, misery and suffering to make Ann Coulter's Adam's Apple bob with excitement. Clint Eastwood spends two hours lecturing us about the harsh realities of war, the illusion of heroes, and why there really aren't any. Curiously, he wasn't talking about that kind of thing 20 years ago when he was getting fabulously wealthy being one.

Along the way, he has other lessons to present. War is hell. Fame is a double edged sword. Gee, who knew? You know what I learned from this film? That a hundred and twenty minutes of your life can be an awful thing to waste, no matter how long a film can make it seem. Thanks Clint. At least I waited for this to come out in video rental instead of driving all the way to the theater...3 whole blocks.

Admittedly, I've seen a lot worse movies than this...recently. But here is the deal: For all intents and purposes, Clint Eastwood shanghaied the movie going public's money twice last year by making them sit through effectively the same movie twice. The real crime of the whole thing is that he released the better of the two movies last, by which time most people didn't want to see the second one. Not exactly a brilliant strategy there, Clint.

The worst aspect of this whole fiasco is that I had more trouble telling the characters apart in this movie than I did in Letters From Iwo Jima, and all those guys were Japanese. It's a little hard to tell a compelling story when its kinda hard to follow, and a bit unbelievable to boot. EAstwood can do better. Eastwood HAS done better. Maybe he just needs some new material. He only had one story to tell last year. Maybe he is just getting senile, and forgot that he already told it.

This is the story of the battle of Iwo Jima from the American perspective. Sort see, what it is mostly about is the guys who raised that flag on the island that became a famous photograph which became a famous monument in Washington D.C. Except...the whole thing was kind of a fraud. You see, the flag did get raised by another group of guys. But some politican wanted it, so another group of guys put up a second flag, and that was the event that got photographed.

The guys who raised the second flag became national heros, and the 3 of them that were still alive were brought home and paraded all over the country to raise money for the war effort. The U.S. was getting a little cash strapped, and somebody figured out that that photo had touched a spot in the hearts of the great unwashed, and was just what was needed to get them off their wallets.

But the guys who were getting paraded around started feeling a little guilty about the whole thing. For some reason, they weren't able to figure out that 95% of everything is good marketing. In other words, what they were doing was every bit as important as dropping them out of a plane and giving them the opportunity to single handedly shoot Hirohito in the face and capture Tokyo. All Eastwood's cynacism aside, somebody should have just sat these dudes down and beat them with the common sense stick for awhile.

Now, I'm not the least bit upset that a healthy tide of anti-war sentiment is finally sweeping our nation, and I don't even particularly blame Eastwood for cashing in. Hell, Kex was not only the grand marshall in the parade, I was about 5 years out in front of it. BUT...there always has to be one of those...we aren't talking about the war on vague philosophical constructs and fanatical action here. This is a movie about fighting Hitler and Japan 65 years ago. Hitler was a monster, and the Japanese sucker punched us. They asked for a good ass whipping and we obliged them..with the help of a few of our friends of course.

So, the bottom line is that if you really want to make an effective anti-war movie, it might be best to take aim at a target that is deserving. If you have a problem with the senseless waste of American lives in an unjust war, call out Dubya. FDR did what he had to do, and so did everyone who served that calling.

I'm going to admit there that there were some very moving moments in this film. The first two minutes or so are haunting, and the last 15 minutes are emotionally powerful. Where this film fails is in its overall message, and I'm not all that sure the full story is being told. So the final score, for those who haven't seen either movie...A big Ann Coulter erection up for Letters From Iwo Jima, and an Annie limpy for Flags of Our Fathers.

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