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[Synopsis: Life for a happy couple is turned upside down after their young son dies in an accident. Based on a play by David Lindsay-Abaire, directed by John Cameron Mitchell and starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest.]

 

Becca: Does it ever go away?

Nat: No, I don’t think it does. Not for me, it hasn’t – has gone on for eleven years. But it changes though.

Becca: How?

Nat: I don’t know… the weight of it, I guess. At some point, it becomes bearable. It turns into something that you can crawl out from under and… carry around like a brick in your pocket. And you… you even forget it, for a while. But then you reach in for whatever reason and – there it is. Oh right, that. Which could be aweful – not all the time. It’s kinda… [deep breath] … not that you’d like it exactly, but it’s what you’ve got instead of your son. So, you carry it around. And it doesn’t go away. Which is…

Becca: Which is what?

Nat: Fine, actually.

 

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If “The Truman Show”, ” Man on the Moon” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” were the only movies Jim Carrey had ever made, we’d barely remember his name, but when we did, we’d think of him as an Actor. That’s right. The capital “A” kind. But of course, those aren’t the only movies he ever made and they’re not what turned him into an eye-rolling, guffawing household name. It was, however, the caliber of those films and the possibility of a similar performance, which brought me to the theater for “The Number 23″.

The plot is basic enough. An ordinary guy with an ordinary life gets sucked into the psychosis of a novelist whose numerological obsession has overtaken his life. As Walter (Carrey) gets deeper into the book, he begins to envision himself and those around him as the characters within it. It’s in these heavy-handed and highly-stylized scenes from the novel that everything goes glaringly wrong with the film. Or deliciously right.

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As the ending credits rolled on Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers,” my son G.T. leaned in close, and whispered, “Well? How many?” It is the question he always asks, and I love that he still cares enough about my opinion, to ask it.

You see, I am a bleeding-heart pacifist, cohabitating with a miniature warmonger. There are nicer ways to express this, but none of them demonstrates the political and ideological divide that separates my 14-year-old son and me. For a while, I figured it was one of those phases he’d grow out of. I even gave in to his choice of Summer Youth Programs, and sent him to Camp Pendleton for 10 days, in hopes that a taste of Boot Camp might change his mind. It didn’t. More than ever and more than anything, he wants to be a soldier.

The whole thing might well have become unmanageable, except for the Saturday Afternoon Truce, instated more than a year ago, and resulting in the shared experience of according to my Netflix account history 62 war-related films. What history teachers left out or glossed over during my educational years, this teenaged historian is all too delighted to teach me. So much so that I have to hide the remote, so he can’t pause every few minutes with trivia. “Do you see that plane there? We only used those in the Pacific Theater.” “Wow, OK. Can you hit PLAY again?”

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As the ending credits rolled on Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers,” my son G.T. leaned in close, and whispered, “Well? How many?” It is the question he always asks, and I love that he still cares enough about my opinion, to ask it.

You see, I am a bleeding-heart pacifist, cohabitating with a miniature warmonger. There are nicer ways to express this, but none of them demonstrates the political and ideological divide that separates my 14-year-old son and I. For a while, I figured it was one of those phases he’d grow out of. I even gave in to his choice of Summer Youth Programs, and sent him to Camp Pendleton for 10 days, in hopes that a taste of Boot Camp might change his mind. It didn’t. More than ever and more than anything, he wants to be a soldier.

The whole thing might well have become unmanageable, except for the Saturday Afternoon Truce, instated more than a year ago, and resulting in the shared experience of according to my Netflix account history 62 war-related films. What history teachers left out or glossed over during my educational years, this teenaged historian is all too delighted to teach me. So much so that I have to hide the remote, so he can’t pause every few minutes with trivia. “Do you see that plane there? We only used those in the Pacific Theater.” “Wow, OK. Can you hit PLAY again?”

It has been interesting to see how, over time, the wide-scale social messages of war films have shifted. Pre-Vietnam Era films like “Sink the Bismark” and “Tora, Tora, Tora” are stark in their depiction of good and evil, of heroes and villains. Then came the ’70s and ’80s, with films like “Apocalypse Now” and “Platoon,” mucking up all that moral certainty. The ’90s brought us “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan,” each focused specifically on a group of heroic characters, succeeding in extraordinary circumstances. And there, of course, lies the heart of what has always driven war movies — the making of heroes.

The most compelling element of “Flags of Our Fathers” is how it unpacks the concept of The Hero, examining how they are made, what weight the title carries and what becomes of them as time moves along. For the heroes made in that flash of a bulb on the peak of Mt. Suribachi, time is no great friend. Three of them died on Iwo Jima. Three more survived, returned home to much fanfare, were heralded by the propaganda machine as the face of the war, and then quietly, finally moved off down their different paths, with shared scars and unshakable memories.

In Eastwood’s film of James Bradley’s book, Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach and Jesse Bradford bring the stories of John Bradley, Ira Hayes and Rene Gagnon to life, making these honest heroes more than frozen statues in a famous photo. It is an exquisite and painful portrait.

For G.T., this heroism is the very thing he strives towards, to fight alongside his friends for a just cause, to be celebrated as a defender of the brave and the free. But for me, there are always nagging questions. Which causes are just, whose sons and daughters will be sacrificed? And what damage is done to the souls and psyche of those who fight?

Back in the theater, as a still shot of Mt. Suribachi rolled alongside the credits of the film, I whispered to G.T., “Four stars, maybe even four and a half.” He seemed momentarily satisfied, but I knew we would argue later over whether it was a pro or anti-war film, whether it belonged in his column or mine, and I was tempted to give it that other half-star, specifically because I already knew, neither one of us was going to win that argument.

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There’s no easy way to say this, so please forgive me for being blunt. It has, however, become glaringly apparent that the Wachowski Brothers do not like you. Oh they might let you buy them dinner at some swanky restaurant, and will most probably smile and nod as you praise them endlessly for “The Matrix”, but when you excuse yourself to pay the check, just know that they’re rolling their eyes and making lame jokes at your expense. Please, don’t take it personally, because it’s not just you. In fact, judging from their adaptation of Alan Moore’s “V For Vendetta”, Andy and Larry Wachowski don’t think too highly of any of us.

I tell you this, not out of spite or some unfulfilled desire for an ugly scene, but because I want you to go armed into that swanky restaurant, fully prepared to call them on their dismissal of the audience as sappy, unsophisticated, and more comfortable with grandiose explosions and spurting blood than with difficult questions, complex characters and ambiguity. To that end, I shall outline for you their three most egregious sins. (I’d say “four sins”, except that sheer clumsiness is probably more of an unfortunate fault than an outright sin.) Read the rest of this entry »