Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
At the movies: Bond’s back; Eastwood’s ‘passionate’ war film; Mirren triumphs

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 7, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

• Clint Eastwood has done it again. His Flags of Our Fathers is a passionate account of the horrors of war. He focuses on three servicemen who are among the six who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima. They were photographed by the great AP photographer Joe Rosenthal. The photograph became an icon of World War II; the three servicemen who survived were asked to appear across the country in an effort to increase the sale of War Bonds that were crucially needed to finance the end of the war.

Flags of Our Fathers goes back and forth between brutal war scenes and the story of John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), the Navy medic; Ira Hayes (Adam Beach), an American Indian; and Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford). Hayes and Gagnon are Marines. As the three cross the United States to sell War Bonds, Gagnon is most at ease, although as a “runner” he has been in the least amount of danger. It is Hayes who has a very tough time with the prevalent racism of the period and his own struggle, remembering his friends who have died. He believes the Marines who died are the heroes, not the three who survived and are receiving tremendous adulation. Parade floats and ice cream sundaes are made to resemble the six men raising the flag. Strawberries poured over the molded ice cream remind the men of the blood shed on that small desolate island in the Pacific.

The movie loses some of its momentum toward the end as we hear and see what happened to them, even unto death.

The dramatic battle scenes were filmed in Iceland, where a dark-colored sand is similar to the sand of Iwo Jima. Computer technology enables us to see hundreds of ships across the waters surrounding Iwo Jima.

Eastwood, now at age 76, has made many a violent film. But now, with all its excruciating violence, he seems to be speaking of the horrors of war, rather than glorifying it.

Flags of Our Fathers is a moving film in the tradition of Saving Private Ryan, directed by Steven Spielberg, who served as a producer for Flags of Our Fathers.

Adam Beach as the Native American Marine has the most emotive part. He gives it his all. But it is the sometimes anonymous Marines in battle that give this film its power. Their story, told through three ordinary men, reminds us of the pain and suffering experienced by veterans of all wars. The film can’t help but remind us of those service personnel, some of whom we know, suffering right now in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of civilians suffering in wars and conflicts across this world.

Flags of Our Fathers is rated R - restricted (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The film has graphic violence and carnage. It has rough language. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting has rated the film A-III – for adults.

• One of President John Kennedy’s favorite novels was Ian Fleming’s 1953 book Casino Royale, which introduced James Bond to the world. The new James Bond – 007 – played by Daniel Craig, shows how the whole popular series began by taking us back in black and white to the two initial “kills” that lead to his double-0 status.

The film reverts to the traditional color as we rotate from Madagascar to Miami to Montenegro with a quick stop in London with “M” (Judi Dench). The plot centers on an international financier of world terrorism, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), who loses $150 million on stock markets. He invites big rollers to Montenegro for the poker game of all poker games. Bond is fronted $10 million by the British government. The messenger from London to keep her eyes on him is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green).

After the traditional opening chase scene in Madagascar, which involves jumping from tremendously high cranes at a skyscraper building site, we eventually get to the poker game, which is on the long side, albeit rather interesting. There is a vicious poisoning of one of the key characters. Eventually there is a horrible torture scene in a palace on the Grand Canal in Venice.

What is different from other Bond movies is that there is a rather tender love story between the young James Bond and Vesper Lynd. There are a number of twists and turns where we finally are able to sort out what has happened. The ending is a set up for another Bond film. The way they are going, this movie franchise may last for at least a hundred years.

Obviously, we have tons of movie violence and a sadistic torture scene. Be warned. Our main character is trained to be a killer. All that being said, Daniel Craig is excellent as the new Bond. He is a fine actor who creates a character who has all the characteristics of the previous Bonds, but does exhibit some humanity and the ability to love. The great Judi Dench inhabits her tough government official character of “M” with power and class. Admittedly, Bond doesn’t take her too seriously. The bad guy, played by the Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, doesn’t go over the top – well, maybe except for the torture scene. Eva Green is perfect as a woman who is more than a disposable Bond girl. The scenery, as usual, is beautiful. Director Martin Campbell does a fine job, especially in the early chase scene.

Casino Royale is one of the best of the Bond films.

The MPAA rates Casino Royale PG-13 – parents strong cautioned. There are intense scenes of violent action, a scene of torture and sexual content and nudity. The Office for Film and Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rates the film A-III – for adults.

• Helen Mirren has returned dramatically to both television and film. She recently acted with wounded humanity and intensity as Jane Tennison in the seventh and final episodes of Prime Suspect on PBS. From her struggle to walk into a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous to her intensity in solving her last case, you can’t help but to identify with the aging Tennison.

Her return to film is a triumph as well. She plays Queen Elizabeth II with a regal will that steels a woman who loves dogs and the beautiful Scottish Highlands at her summer residence of Balmoral Castle.

It is the summer of 1997, at the time of the death of Princess Diana. The conflict of the movie is over whether Diana should have a state funeral as the Queen returns to Buckhingham Palace. This is the view of Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), the newly-elected Labour Prime Minister. The isolated Queen argues that Diana is no longer part of the Royal Family and her own family wants a private funeral. She also believes she best serves her country by staying out of the limelight and caring for the children of Diana, who are in Scotland with her.

For Americans, this may sound like much ado about nothing. And yet it becomes a gripping story that is intercut with television broadcasts of the time. Mirren as the Queen at times seems aloof from reality. And yet at other times she appears sympathetic. There is a powerful scene where she visits a nearby hotel where a stag has been butchered. A day or so before she saw the same stag on her vast wilderness. Was it a sign from Diana? And now she sees the naked stag hanging from the ceiling, the trophy of an American hunter.

As we know, she eventually returns to London, where she views what seems like acres of flowers and reads some of the harsh statements of her failure to understand Diana and her people.

James Cromwell is cold and judgmental, with a tender moment or two, as the queen’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. Charles, as portrayed by Alex Jennings, is afraid to confront his mother, as he knows she must return to London and be present at the State funeral of his former wife. Michael Sheen is perfect as Tony Blair. As he jockeys with the Queen he also defends her against his anti-monarchist wife Cherie (Helen McCrory). Cherie’s absurd curtsies when she meets the queen are one of several moments of humor in a serious film.

Stephen Frears directs The Queen with an eye to telling a familiar story in a new and engaging way. The scenes in Scotland are incredibly beautiful. The Queen is one of the most well acted and engaging films of the year. It is well worth seeing.

The Queen is rated PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned – by the MPAA. The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting rates it A-II – adults and adolescents. There is brief strong language.

• Tony Scott directs the new Denzel Washington film Deja Vu. Washington is an agent with the Federal Alchohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agency who investigates a terrible ferry bombing in New Orleans that has killed 543 men, women and children.

You can’t help but think this will be a traditional detective film. Then all of a sudden it reverts to a time machine travel set-up that enables the detective to go back and try to stop the horrific bombing before it happens. At that point the film lost me. The script appears to move into science fiction as it keeps its very realistic mode. From then on, nothing seemed possible to me.

Denzel Washington is excellent as he plays his Jimmy Stewart-like “everyman” character. It is worth seeing if you can get by the goofy time machine stuff.

Deja Vu is rated PG-1 3 by the MPAA. There is violence. The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Deja Vu A-III – adults.

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer and archivist for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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