I got a friend, Matt. He’s an ethusiastic guy and he’s bigger than me. Bigger than you too. Don’t even argue with me. He’s big, and he loves his war movies, and he loves bagels so we watched Letters From Iwo Jima and ate bagels.
Bagels From Iwo Jima.
The bagels were pretty good. I love a nice, soft plain bagel but I want a little bit of firmness too. Y’know, I want my teeth to sink in, like I’m biting a cushion. Or a pillow.
Look, it had cream cheese, okay?
As for the movie, I was ready to dislike it from the start. Before it came out. Clint Eastwood’s the King of Sap. Bizarre, because he’s pushing 90 and he still looks like he could break a schoolbus over your head. You couldn’t tell that by watching Million Dollar Baby though. Wah wah wah wah. Actually, wait!
Okay, you can tell, because he’s, like, this former boxing champion or something and he still looks fitter than I do. Granted, mosquitos are fitter than I am but he also speaks like he has gravel and frogs in his throat, all at the same time, and he also ate too many M&Ms without drinking milk. He’s also learning Gaelic, if memory serves, and a hardass former boxer walking around reading a tiny Irish book just screams badass, no one can deny it, but he’s the badass who’d rather cry at The Notebook and drink Chamomile as he listens to Nana talk about bunnies because Million Dollar Baby ends up to be such a heart-rending, manipulative tearjerker. Weak. You can blame one guy for declawing the man.
The guy who wrote Crash and his phony baloney ovaries. I don’t know how Paul Haggis graduated from TV after-school specials to write and direct big budget TV after-school specials – and polish Casino Royale’s dialogue without fucking it up miraculously – but I guess, in the immortal sacrosanct words of auteur Kevin Smith, “in Hollywood, you fail upwards.”
So fuck you, Paul Haggis. Way to placate audiences with your simplistic bullshit.
I respect what Letters From Iwo Jima tries to do – reveal the Japanese side of the war – but nothing new is really revealed. If you watch movies you’ve seen all this before. Betrayal most foul, because critics decried the G.I. counterpart, Flags of Our Fathers, as the cliched claptrap and hailed this one as the better of the pair. Well, jeez, if this is the better half the other Oscar fodder must be even duller. Overhyped. So dull! What was this nominated for again? Most Gray Ever Put On Film? Seriously. This movie is color-filtered to hell. Ever wondered what a movie would look like if it was nothing but the dullest of grays? Look no further.
It’s in Japanese so that’s cool, you got an air of authenticity thing going. And sure enough, there are voice-overs of letters. Lots of letters. They don’t really reveal much about the soldiers, just that they have relatives in Japan somewhere and they miss them. Because war tears families and friends apart. How novel!
Oh, let’s see if this sounds familiar: A nice guy is this elite soldier and he’s ordered to shoot an annoying dog by his evil superior. But the soldier’s a nice guy, so he fires his pistol into the air to fool the superior. He doesn’t shoot the dog! Phew! He tells the family that owns the dog to keep it quiet and he returns to his waiting superior, who gives him a look of approval. Hurray! No, wait, he dog’s a retard so it barks and gets shot anyway lol.
What a fucking cheap, easy way to elicit emotion. Might as well give the dog and everyone cancer while you’re at it. And set it during Christmas Eve. Make everyone drug addicts too. And have Darren Aranofsky direct.
The one interesting bit was a fish-out-of-water flashback to Ken Watanabe’s time spent studying in America or something. Ken Watanabe can act with his eyes closed so no big deal here. We just see him with some American royalty or whatever. He’s asked if he would fight America if Japan went to war with it and he says “My duty is to my country.” And the white guy’s like”Well, gee, what about your feelings?” So Ken’s all “Aren’t they one and the same?” I dunno. I guess that’s interesting. It would have been better if he dressed and spoke like he did in Batman Begins. “Gossam muss bee destryoyyyed!”
Aside – before we popped Letters From Iwo Jima in we weren’t quite ready to be depressed, so we watched Batman Begins again. Man. Afterwards we should’ve just watched that again.
Anywho, for sadists like me who like their war movies raw and brutal there’s not a whole lot of gore or action. Yeah, sick, maybe, but c’mon, nobody remembers Saving Private Ryan for Adam Goldberg’s sterling performance. Besides, it’s a WAR movie. And it’s the most sterile war movie I’ve seen. There’s so much talk of the American war machine and we only get a glimpse of a CG-enchanced Navy fleet and a shot of one guy getting surprised-torched by a flamethrower. Pretty tame for war. If I was at the Iwo Jima depicted in this film I’d find a nice cozy spot in one of the tunnels and I’d wait it all out. No big deal.
That’s not to say there aren’t obligatory moments of finger-waving “War is hell.” Some of the Japanese, because they love honor and shit, take grenades to their chests to avoid the shame of dying at the gunfire of American dogs. Even this scene manages to be tame, somehow, as smoke obscures most of the violence, because grenades emit so much smoke. If grenades make that much smoke you’d just have a bunch of frazzled, teary-eyed troops, not limbless carcasses.
Even at the climax, when Watanabe-san leads his men in one last suicidal charge, a bomb blast is so muted and censored that I couldn’t buy that Ken was actually mortally wounded by it. The camera pans down his body, inspecting the damage, I expected his body to end at the waist, like that one guy in Black Hawk Down – OH MAN, REMEMBER THAT? SHIT. – but nope, everything looks okay. Just some blood and dirt. He survives long enough to be dragged across the island to a nice spot for his ritual suicide, which he won’t actually do himself. He’ll order some other schlub to cut off his head. Sheesh, it’s probably the guy’s one kill and it’s gotta be his own commander.
It’s all very long and it’s supposed to be very emotional and it almost succeeds if it wasn’t such a drag. Saigo, the main character, is decent enough and some empathy’s there – he’s just a kid, really. Though he’s got a wife, runs a bakery and is expecting a kid, he looks so youthful and innocent and honest and, man, it sure is a shame, all this war.
Someone put in Platoon and get me more cream cheese please.