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War And Piece (Of Cake) 

History comes alive in two new films

Flags of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood's sober tribute to our fighting forces during World War II, manages the tricky feat of honoring the past while also subtly deflating the attendant mythology that over time attaches itself like a barnacle to a ship side. It's this strength of conviction that allows the film to toss aside some niggling aspects and earn its keep as a memorable war movie.

Working from a script by William Broyles Jr. and Crash Oscar winner Paul Haggis (adapting James Bradley's book), Eastwood focuses on the events surrounding the raising of the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima in 1945. The movie details how this single act, captured in a historic photograph, became a rallying point around which the military was able to energize a nation weary of war. Publicity tours were staged with the active participation of the three surviving men who helped hoist the flag: sensitive Doc Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), outgoing Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and anguished Ira Hayes (Adam Beach).

Eastwood and company view the tour as a necessary evil, a much-needed fundraiser that nevertheless leads the participating soldiers to feel increasingly uncomfortable donning the designation of "heroes" when so many of their friends have already died in combat. Similarly, Eastwood looks at all sides of various issues throughout the picture, and it's this willingness to paint in shades of gray rather than stick with black and white that allows the picture to overcome a frequently choppy narrative structure (the movie skips around, ofttimes clumsily, between the past and the present) and a protracted final section.

Flags of Our Fathers isn't a masterwork like Eastwood's two Oscar winners, Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby – it's easy to admire but more difficult to adore – yet it commands our respect for reclaiming the notion of patriotism from opportunistic politicians who have turned it into a dirty word.

THE FALL SEASON'S PREMIERE love-it-or-leave-it title, Marie Antoinette was booed by French scribes at the Cannes Film Festival before being rescued by American critics, the slight majority of whom have graced it with positive reviews. Yet despite its divisive nature, I've managed to come down in the middle: The movie, writer-director Sofia Coppola's first since her magnificent Lost In Translation, is better than I had expected (at least based on the trailer) but not as good as I had hoped. It's recommended, but with reservations.

In much the manner of A Knight's Tale, Coppola has added a sprinkling of contemporary trappings to her luxuriant period piece. Thus, a shopping spree with the girls is backed by Bow Wow Wow's 1980s hit "I Want Candy," and anachronisms can frequently be found within the dialogue. Coppola's intention was to create a teenager for our times, a girl who just wants to have fun even though her position in the French royal court demands so much more. It's an interesting idea that's only partially successful, largely because Coppola doesn't go far enough with her outré approach. Coppola should have rolled the dice without hesitancy; instead, she too often hedges her bets.

Where Marie Antoinette fares best is its examination of the royal life as a treadmill of constantly winding boredom; the scenes in which Marie, winningly played by Kirsten Dunst, is forced to succumb to the nonsensical rules and rituals of etiquette are poignant because they deny a child, that most impulsive of all creatures, the chance to experience life for herself. Marie does slowly manage to reclaim some semblance of her own existence, but by then, the peasants are starting to grumble, and things quickly come to a head.

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