Based on James Bradley’s bestselling book of the same name Flags of Our Fathers is Saving Private Ryan meets Stand By Me. Buried in the collective national conscious the Associated Press photo of six American soldiers raising a flag of victory over Iwo Jima is the basis of the film. Bradley’s father Doc Bradley (played by Ryan Phillippe in the film) who was one of the flag-raising soldiers never fully shared the details of the experience with his son but Flags meditates on some of those unanswered questions. The Iwo Jima conflict fortified by crags of Japanese snipers lays siege to thousands of messy casualties and the tattered flag--immediately seized by U.S. government officials to rallying and recruit soldiers--emerges as a symbol for American pride while the five Marines and one corpsman who raised it are basically forgotten. Heavy dramatics are saved for Adam Beach (Windtalkers) as Ira Hayes the Native American Marine who degenerates into madness. He represents the bittersweet languor of lost ambition and broken spirits. Director Clint Eastwood is actually the film’s best actor even though he isn’t in the movie. We can see his simmering restraint in the Flags’ acting ensemble as he guides his actors into finely tuned performances. From Beach to Phillippe to Paul Walker (2 Fast 2 Furious) Eastwood gets the most out of his young cast by playing them down. Similar to real-life soldiers allegiance to the team is the actors’ goal creating authenticity. Intense stress requires the actors to have genuine instincts. But by intentionally constructing a more lived-in feel there is consequently no flashy or Oscar-worthy stand-outs. To his credit Walker who usually goes for the brain-dead million dollar paychecks tries something different here while in his pivotal role Beach plays the juicy role as best as he can. Still Beach’s breakdown scene is quite honestly one-dimensional and doesn’t have the same dramatic impact as say Born on the Fourth of July’s Tom Cruise. Of Flags’ likely award recognitions the acting seems to have the least chance of reaching the winner’s circle. Vintage Eastwood is a lion in winter directing as though there’s no tomorrow. With Flags he interweaves numerous themes to create a war movie which despite its cliché-filled genre is constantly real in tone. The film is historically credible from the American perspective only but Eastwood has also directed a companion piece Letters from Iwo Jima about the Japanese side which hits theaters next year. Complex themes of celebrity worship also give the film a post-modern jaded Iraq War-era vision. Then there are the visuals. Eastwood incorporates breathtaking CGI shots of the fleet of warships reminiscent of Troy on top of an old-style photographic framing black and white and green all washed-out. It’s like looking at a scrapbook of old photos on a high-definition CD-ROM. Naturalistic scenes--sprawling in their panoramic framing with cactuses and hills of black sand--remind us we’re watching one of America’s cinematic icons at work. Flags could be Eastwood’s third Best Director Oscar--and will likely net him $100 million-plus at the box office.
Nate Johnson (Cedric the Entertainer) an insurance agent thinks it would be a great idea to take his estranged wife and three children to his family reunion in Missouri by car from California. Nate's motives are sincere enough: He is separated from his wife Dorothy (Vanessa Williams) who has custody of teenagers Nikki (Solange Knowles) DJ (Bow Wow) and Destiny (Gabby Soleil) and hopes the road trip will help them bond as a family and with any luck re-ignite that loving feeling with the mother of his children. But everything that can go wrong does even before the trip begins. Nate brings his SUV into the shop to have an 8-track tape player installed in order to listen to his old Motown classics but what he gets is something straight out of MTV's Pimp My Ride although not even West Coast Customs would do something this gaudy. Off they go in their Burberry-outfitted low-rider Lincoln Navigator complete with four TVs and 26-inch Spinners. Vehicle with up-to-the-minute gadgetry notwithstanding the Johnsons encounter every clichéd road trip disaster including running out of gas and needing a pay phone. It's hard to figure out what's more trite--the journey to Missouri or what happens when they actually get there.
Cedric the Entertainer's trademark observational comedy which made him stand out as a cast member of The Steve Harvey Show simply isn't enough to carry an entire film. Cedric is truly the only funny thing Johnson Family Vacation has going for it and he has a few gags that are simply hilarious including a scene in which he bans CDs from artists who have been shot like Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. from being played in the car. Imagine his dismay when his wife points out that also includes Marvin Gaye "who was shot by his daddy--twice." But the comedian's arsenal of jokes--no matter how witty--do not a story make. Speaking of wasted talent the casting of stunning Williams as Nate's wife Dorothy is quite baffling. While Cedric the Entertainer could be married to someone this hot poor Nate probably couldn't. Nonetheless the quick-witted Williams holds her own next to one of the Original Kings of Comedy. Seventeen-year-old Bow Wow has worked hard to prove that he's not just a flash in the pan--and it's worked for the most part. He proved with Like Mike that he can act but the role of DJ here gets buried in this lousy film.
Christopher Erskin who makes his directorial debut here delivers a mess of a movie despite having squeezed out everything he could from his stars. Visually the sets resemble skits on a TV variety show rather than professional feature film sets the worst being the sequences where the family is in the SUV--almost half the entire film. To wit: you see them driving with the same scenery in the background--it's like in the The Flintstones when Fred would drive past the same palm tree next to the same rock house again and again. You can't help but picture the actors sitting in the Lincoln Navigator prop car in front of a large blue screen windows rolled down with a wind machine pointed at them. Matching the abysmal visuals are writers Todd R and Earl Richey Jones' ill-paced script. The film drags as the Johnson family encounters unoriginal setbacks and the end is not even a payoff; it's punishment. See the film doesn't end when family finally reaches Missouri: Moviegoers must the sit through the actual reunion and the Johnson family's Brady Bunch-style musical performance costumes and all. The only moment of brief relief is Steve Harvey's guest appearance as Nate's brother. But wait! It doesn't even end then--we have to follow the family back home to California.
As the 300 guests at the Salon des Ambassadeurs dined on a Mediterranean fish plate with assorted mushrooms, Piper-Heidsieck champagne and a Palme d'Or strawberry delight, the 54th Cannes International Film Festival handed out its top honors Sunday.
Jodie Foster, who bowed out earlier this year as jury president, fulfilled her obligation as the closing ceremony's host. The awards were characterized as oddly conventional, with the 10-member jury sticking to more established filmmakers rather than the fresher talent from the 23 films in competition. In contrast, last year's jury came under fire for giving the top prize - the Palme d'Or - to Lars von Trier's controversial and divisive Dancer in the Dark.
The Italian film A Son's Room, about a family that is torn apart by the death of a child, took home the Palme d'Or, representing the first time that an Italian movie had taken the top honor since 1978. Its director and star, Nanni Moretti, raised both fists in the air in victory.
"I have often been told that this film represents a turning point in my career because it is a more adult, mature character. Maybe I'm not interested in caricatures any more," Moretti said in a news conference earlier this week, as reported by Reuters. Moretti has been nominated for the Palme d'Or four times and previously won the award for best director in 1994 for his comedy Dear Diary.
The other big winner of the evening was Austrian director Michael Haneke's film The Piano Teacher, a controversial tale about voyeurism and masochism. French actress Isabelle Huppert won the award for best actress for portraying a cold and sexually repressed woman who is titillated by one of her students, played by Benoit Magimel, who also won for best actor. The film won the Grand Prix award-runner up to the Palme d'Or.
"There are films that frighten you. You think they will take everything away from you, but they give you everything," Huppert said when she accepted her award. "I thank Bach, Schubert and Mozart."
It was not a stellar night for the Americans. The only big win for the United States was the shared award for best director by David Lynch and Joel Coen.
Lynch, whose 1990 film Wild at Heart won the Palme d'Or, picked up the director's award for his moody, noirish drama, Mulholland Drive, originally penned as a TV pilot a few years ago. Starring a cast of unknowns, the story centers on a woman who loses her memory after an accident on the famed winding road in Los Angeles, and finds help in the most unusual places. The concept was a tad too bizarre for television.
"At a certain point you realize you're in with the wrong people," Lynch told the The New Yorker. "Their thinking process is very foreign to me. They like a fast pace and a linear story, but you want your creations to come out of you and be distinctive. I feel it's possibly true that there are aliens on earth, and they work in television."
Coen is a Cannes darling who has won two previous director awards, one for the 1996 Fargo and the other for the 1991 Barton Fink, which also won the Palme d'Or. He scooped up his third director's award for his moody, noirish drama, The Man Who Wasn't There. Starring Oscar winners Frances McDormand and Billy Bob Thornton, this tale, shot in black and white, revolves around a hairdresser whose life is fairly mundane until he discovers his wife is having an affair, and he decides to blackmail the lover. Things appropriately go haywire, as they tend to do in a Coen film.
"Curiously, almost everyone in the movie wears a wig, or a hairpiece," Coen said. "So Thornton, who plays the principal character, is wearing one, James Gandolfini wears one, Tony Shalhoub wears one, Jon Polito wears one ... So the overall effect is that it really transforms the appearance of the actors. You almost don't recognise them."
The opening night extravaganza, Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, enjoyed major popular and critical success. As did the Dreamworks' animated film, Shrek, now destined to become an animated classic. Neither film was seriously in contention for the top honors.
If the Americans received little in the way of accolades, the Asian contingent at the festival fell flat on its face. Even though there were seven features alone in the Official Selection, only a technical award was bestowed on the Taiwanese sound engineer, Tu Duu-chih, for his work on the two Taiwanese entries, Millennium Mambo and What Time is it There?.
In fact, some festival attendees felt the best films were either made 22 years ago, the director's cut of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalyspe Now, or still in production, based on the 25-minute product reel for the upcoming Lord of the Rings.
Jury president Liv Ullmann hinted at some tough times during the selection process during her introductory speech at the ceremony, as reported by Variety. Noting that unanimity did not always prevail, her fellow jurors "fill[ed] me with anger." But she added, "we in the jury are still friends." It was reported that jury discussion sessions, which occurred daily, would last several hours, as each juror was required to elaborate on their interpretations of the films in competition.
Melanie Griffith won a lifetime achievement award, which took on a bittersweet quality when a few days before her father had died. In a tearful acceptance speech, she said, "It's hard not to see you out there the proud face of my father. Somehow, I know you're here, Dad, and I know your smile is big and, you old cowboy, I know you're up there saying, 'Why are you wearing that dress?'"
In the parallel Cannes awards, the French film Amour d'Enfance (Childhood Love) won the best film award for the Un Certain Regard sidebar and the Iranian film Zire Noure Mah (Under the Moonlight) won the Critics' Week Grand Prix. Sandrine Veysset's Martha … Martha won the Directors' Fortnight.
Cannes still remains a favorite of Jennifer Jason Leigh, at Cannes to promote her film, The Anniversary Party, in which she co-wrote, co-directed and costarred with Alan Cumming.
"It's the only time I think as actors today you get a sense of what it would have been like to have been a movie star back in the '30s and '40s, when the premieres were really big, and you walk up that red carpet or that blue carpet, and it's just incredible," she told The Associated Press.