National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks & Passes

BY Steven D. Greydanus

February 4-10, 2007 Issue | Posted 1/30/07 at 11:00 AM

 

Flags of Our Fathers (2006) - Pick


HollywoodLand (2006) - Pass


Riding alone for thousands of Miles (2006) - Pick


Like a Norman Rockwell painting, Joe Rosenthal’s iconic, Pulitzer-winning 1945 photograph of five U.S. Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the American flag on Iwo Jima tells a story, creates a mood, evokes an ethos and elicits a metaphorical or allegorical response — all at the same time. Clint Eastwood’s first Iwo Jima film of 2006, Flags of Our Fathers (new this week on DVD) reveals that, although in many ways the world of the photograph was simpler and more innocent than our own, it was not as credulous or lacking in media savvy as we might suppose.

After the photograph becomes a sensation, the three surviving subjects are brought back to the States for a publicity tour to promote sales of war bonds. To its credit, the film avoids suggesting that this whole enterprise was fundamentally dishonest, though the kitschiness of the PR campaign may invite more cynicism today than it did at the time. Despite tendentious opening and closing voiceovers, Flags of Our Fathers is a thoughtful exploration of the tensions and ironies of the cult of heroism.

Also new on DVD is a far more cynical take on an iconic embodiment of heroism: Hollywoodland, featuring a boldly cast Ben Affleck as Hollywood actor George Reeves, star of the 1950s TV series “The Adventures of Superman.” Affleck is surprisingly good, capturing Reeves’ speech and even looking the part. Yet the film is monotonously iconoclastic, forever rubbing viewers’ noses in either despair and pathos or ribaldry and scandal. Some iconoclasm in a film of this sort is inevitable, but can that really be the whole truth? Did Reeves have absolutely nothing in common with the character he played? What’s the point of making such a hollow film about such a hollow man?

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles is the daunting name of Zhang Yimou’s gentle, charming film about the efforts of an emotionally distant Japanese fisherman named Gou-ichi to build bridges to his alienated adult son Ken-ichi. Although a road movie of sorts, the film takes its title not from Gou-ichi’s journey, but from a Chinese folk “mask opera” that holds special significance for Ken-ichi. In an effort to reconcile with his son, Gou-ichi travels to China to film a renowned mask opera performer.

Unexpected complications arise, and Gou-ichi winds up facing bureaucratic resistance and even getting involved in the opera singer’s own troubled personal life — and his young illegitimate son. Funny, sweet, visually sumptuous, Riding Alone is a heartwarming reminder that it’s better not to.


Content advisory:<b>Flags of Our Fathers: Horrifying graphic battlefield violence and extreme gore; recurring profane and obscene language; some drunkenness. Mature viewing. Hollywoodland: Strong sexual themes, including nonmarital and extramarital sexual encounters (nothing explicit); much profane and obscene language; a number of depictions of a violent death that might be murder or suicide. Mature viewing. Riding Alone: References to drunkenness, violence, and a child’s illegitimate birth; a semi-explicit shot of a young child defecating. Subtitles. Teens and up.