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July 31, 2006
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS ~ Written by James Bradley and Ron Powers

“It was an image the public had fallen in love with,
seeming to find in it an affirmation of the national purpose
at its very origins that no politician, no history book had ever matched.
The Photograph had become The Fact.”


James Bradley’s Flags of Our Fathers has much in common with the best of war literature. It also boasts a divergence that makes it unique against the genre, and which could serve to make the film adaptation as unique against the backdrop of war cinema.

Largely personal, the book is Bradley’s dedication to his father, John “Doc” Bradley, who was one of seven men immortalized by a photograph taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal over 60 years ago. A character driven story more than anything driven by the actual events of World War II in the Pacific, it is perfectly suited as a vehicle for actors’ director Clint Eastwood to tackle in his recent string of awards relishing films.

“Flags of Our Fathers” goes to great lengths to fully sculpt the lives of these seven men before making any concerned effort to place them amongst action, let alone action together. The reader learns about each soldier specifically and individually, and this ambivalence about diving into anything event oriented of note is what separates the book from much of its kind. “Flags of Our Fathers” is concerned with people.

It can’t be said that Bradley’s book is the most arresting war novel written by any stretch. Much of the tale is at times too personal for its own good, seemingly serving an audience of one. But there are enough intimate sketches hear and there that help carry the tale along. And unlike Anthony Swofford’s “Jarhead,” or Mark Bowden’s “Black Hawk Down,” “Flags of Our Fathers” doesn’t offer the scent of agenda. Not even once. It is the sort of story that might be told in any genre.

Translated to film, one can only assume the story will have the right touch of personality and humanity – especially with a director like Clint Eastwood who is interested in people more so than stories. Taking on the separate roles of importance, a host of actors, known and others perhaps up-and-coming, will fill out an organic ensemble. Ryan Phillippe will star in the more centralized character of John Bradley, while he will be joined by Paul Walker, Adam Beach and Barry Pepper, among others.

There isn’t a lot of time spent on action in the book, though that fact might change in Paul Haggis’s adaptation. But considering the entire point of the story revolves around the moment that sparked one of the most published photographs in media history, one can’t expect much in the way of diverting attention away from that moment. I’m not certain who is playing Rosenthal in the film, or if the character will be given even the modest characterization he receives in one of the books chapters (though it is a fascinating story in and of itself). Regardless, the film, like the book, will most likely live and breathe as an ensemble more so than it will be seen as the vehicle of this actor or that.

A lot of people are looking to “Flags of Our Fathers” as a potential heavy-hitter with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. However, it takes a special touch to garner Best Picture consideration for a war film. The only considerable entries have been either opus-like (“Apocalypse Now”) or extremely realistic portrayals (“Platoon”), but always films that altered the medium in some way, shape or form. Do we really expect Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers” to do that? Perhaps his spin-off (essentially, that’s what it is), “Red Sun, Black Sand” can draw that sort of attention, at least critically speaking. It is, after all, a much more artistic choice to make. But with “Flags of Our Fathers,” the possibility is all too apparent for the film to be business as usual.

That is all pure conjecture, of course, but on the page, Bradley and Powers’s story is a delicate one and a purposeful one. It is a character study, but not so much an intriguing one as an informative one. Perhaps further strokes of depth will be made through Haggis’s work. We shall see.

July 24, 2006
FAST FOOD NATION ~ Written by Eric Schlosser

“The Golden Arches are now more recognized
than the Christian cross.”


Eric’s Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the American Meal is one of the more penetrating and thorough pieces of journalism of the decade. Much attention has been drawn to the dangers of fast food in the last twenty years, particularly in the realm of cattle raising, slaughtering and consumption. E. Coli has claimed the lives of countless thousands while labor concerns become infuriating upon even the smallest amount of scrutiny. Schlosser’s dense work in this New York Times best seller goes to great lengths to touch on these and many more pertinent issues regarding the safety practices and health concerns emanating from one of the most successful industries in the world.

Much of Schlosser’s work recalls Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and in fact he alludes to Sinclair’s 1906 work of simultaneous socialist propaganda and whistle-blowing (to say the least) efforts many times. Taking the reader on a journey through the country’s heartland, describing the horrors of slaughterhouses and dining destinations with the delicacy of capable prose, Schlosser (whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair amongst other prestigious publications) commands immediacy and imperativeness with a matter-of-fact tone that ought to boil the blood of any reader with a pulse.

In 2003, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock chastised the fast food industry with his documentary feature “Super Size Me,” a gimmick-driven piece that saw Spurlock undertaking a steady diet of McDonald’s meals for thirty days. Spurlock’s weight increased drastically and his health began to deteriorate to a point that his physicians were emphatically encouraging him to stop the experiment. Much of the criticisms, both from detractors of the film and from, of course, corporations being targeted by it, claimed that the notion of eating fast food and only fast food for thirty days was ridiculous and would negatively affect the health of anyone who did such a thing. Many of these criticisms missed the point of Spurlock’s piece, which used the “gimmick’ merely as a means to relay much of the information you’ll actually find in Schlosser’s book. But in “Super Size Me,” Spurlock hardly scratched the surface.

What Schlosser does so well in Fast Food Nation is present a crisis that isn’t merely health related, but social in its concerns as well. Practices in the field of labor, for instance, range from the unethically business-practical (hiring uneducated workers that are expendable, making for a steadily rotating workforce that has no time or means to organize) to the outright illegal (the encouragement by slaughterhouse foremen that injured workers not report their injuries, for fear of slowing production – amongst other appalling travesties you’d have to simply read for yourself). He also, of course, preaches the dietary concerns, touching on a wide array of topics from the history of the French fry to the practice and in some ways art of artificial flavoring.

The book will be adapted this year into a feature film by writer/director Richard Linklater, who has been a busy bee most of his career. He in fact has two features hitting theaters this year, the Phillip K. Dick adaptation “A Scanner Darkly” in addition to “Fast Food Nation.” How he condensed the massive amount of information in this 288 page piece of journalistic whistle-blowing is very difficult to fathom, but some who have seen the film have begun considering it the “Traffic” of fast food films, to paraphrase. That seems to be the right track for a project such as this, and from what has been seen thus far, there seems to be a bit of sarcastic wit punching through the piece here and there. Hopefully that doesn’t go too far as to shadow a very important issue (as was slightly the case with Spurlock’s effort), but regardless, “Fast Food Nation” will be an intriguing piece of filmmaking when it finally comes down the pike.

The film’s vast ensemble includes actors Bobby Cannavale, Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke, Kris Kristofferson and Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno to name a few. The wide array of real characters illustrated in the book provides the basis for numerous points of view to be represented in the film.

It’s interesting to note the rise in journalistic deification in recent years. Last year we saw filmmaker George Clooney’s obsession with Edward R. Murrow come to the screen in the form of “Good Night, and Good Luck.,” while Truman Capote’s journey and process penning In Cold Blood was displayed in full in “Capote.” Next year Paul Thomas Anderson looks to adapt an Upton Sinclair classic, Oil!, with “There Will Be Blood” (which – coincidentally – bears Eric Schlosser’s name as an executive producer). 2005 was a year for social and political concerns to say the least for cinema, and 2006 looks to be making its unique mark as well. I expect “Fast Food Nation” will be an important entry in that regard.

July 17, 2006
THE DA VINCI CODE ~ Written by Dan Brown

“The curator spoke his next words carefully.
The lie he told was one he had rehearsed many times…
each time praying he would never have to use it.”


Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code has stirred one of the most impressive media frenzies in all of literature since its publication in the spring of 2003. Since that time, one can scarcely go more than a week without happening upon a new DVD or television program dedicated to disintegrating or upholding the ideas put forth in its 454 pages.

It was without question that the story would find itself lifted onto the silver screen, and three years later, Columbia Pictures unveiled the film version, helmed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, as the opening film at this year’s Cannes International Film festival, preceding a healthy box office take throughout the summer. The film, however, was met with viciously negative critical response (rightly, in this viewer’s opinion), generally chalking up the failure to a poorly conceived adaptation.

The Da Vinci Code is harmless enough fiction for the reader with an eye for thrills and emperors lacking garments. The material therein, however, is seen as anything but harmless to the many threatened by the ideas Brown presents. A world as God-fearing as ours is, as Christian-dominant as it may be, is not going to sit idly by and be told their savior, Jesus Christ, was so human that he fathered a child whose bloodline exists in tact to this very day.

But this is the idea that lies at the heart of The Da Vinci Code. Drawing upon the works of Michael Baigent and Lynn Picknett, among others, Brown weaves a fascinating and fun mystery yarn that is at once educational and outrageous.

At the center of the story is symbol expert Robert Langdon, also a central character in Brown’s Angels and Demons. Following the gruesome murder of a curator in the halls of Paris’s famed Louvre museum, Langdon is sent on a spiraling journey through time and history, along with police cryptographer Sophie Neveau, as they attempt to make since of the final, eerie clues left behind by the slain curator. Characters as diverse as the violent and devout albino, Silas, historian and appointed guide for the tale, Sir Leigh Teabing, and suspicious criminal investigator Bezu Fache pepper the narrative of this page-turner that has dominated best seller lists since it hit the shelves.

Starring in the film is Tom Hanks, savagely miscast as the cultured Robert Langdon. At his side, Audrey Tautou and Sir Ian McKellen tackle the roles of Neveau and Teabing respectively, while Paul Bettany was given the opportunity to chew scenery as the murderous Silas.

Also filling out the bill is Jean Reno (but of course) as investigator Fache and Alfred Molina as Opus Dei Bishop Aringarosa.

A book as exciting and popular as The Da Vinci Code was made for the money-hungry business of film and the flavor-of-the-week-worshipping town of Hollywood. Ron Howard, coming off of the celebrated “Cinderella Man,” seemed the right choice to bring such safe material to the screen, though he obviously missed in seizing the opportunity in full. Regardless, in the realm of awards and Oscars, it has always been a likely short road for “The Da Vinci Code.”

Typical Howard collaborator Akiva Goldsman took to task the adaptation of the novel, though it is worth noting that Brown rather systematically laid The Da Vinci Code out in an all-too-easily-transitioned manner. Goldsman still found a way to make the material quite boring, though this might be a reaction not-too-often shared by those unfamiliar with the book.

July 10, 2006
V FOR VENDETTA ~ Written by Alan Moore; Illustrated by David Lloyd

“Remember, remember the fifth of November,
the Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.”


Alan Moore, as is generally typical of the revered graphic novel author, had his name removed from the film incarnation of his V For Vendetta, released by Warner Bros. on March 17. In hindsight, it was a wise decision, and when the credits appear, reading merely “Based on the graphic novel illustrated by David Lloyd,” one can breath a brief sigh of relief that the rather shallow attempt at invoking Moore’s ideas does not find itself in the company of his screen credit.

The only Moore adaptation that has afforded the slightest amount of appreciation was the Hughes Brothers’ “From Hell” in 2001. That Johnny Depp vehicle, however, still missed the opportunity to plumb considerable depths found in that bracing and heavy piece of literature. But we can always forgive such things somewhat, as an Alan Moore work is in and of itself too dense for cinematic interpretation.

And so why should I be so hard on James McTiegue and the Wachowski Brothers for their troubling adaptation? What stands out clearly is the raping of the source material’s tone. By no means an actioner on the page, the Wachowskis have turned V For Vendetta into a pseudo-Matrix with typical pseudo-philosophical discussion and intent that plays flat compared to the exuberance Moore’s imaginings offered. What was left on celluloid was, fittingly enough, pseudo-Moore.

As the press notes for the film note, “V For Vendetta first appeared in Warrior, an independent monthly comic magazine published in 1981.” The story very quickly generated a cult following of fans foaming at the mouth for each installment. The story ran 26 issues before Warrior disintegrated, and there was a five year gap before cliffhanging fans were able to satisfy their craving. Moore and Lloyd completed the tale in its entirety in a graphic novel under the DC Comics banner in 1989, finally drawing V and Evey’s drama to a definitive close.

Moore used his portrait of a totalitarian Britain as a means to artistically indict the highly conservative government of Margaret Thatcher in 80s Great Britain. Considerably deeper and more human than the most celebrated of Moore’s works (Watchmen and From Hell certainly among them), V For Vendetta is an investment of the soul and a reading experience like no other.

David Lloyd’s illustrations are both striking yet anonymous in their representation of a host of characters (minutely represented in the film), while the visual framing of the imagery is textbook Moore. The anti-hero, V, is ever daunting both in word and in appearance, while Evey’s innocence is darkly put on display, traveling from naiveté to wayward, cultured spirit.

Starring in the film version of the tale is Natalie Portman, called to task as Evey in a role that would have been better-served by an unknown, despite Portman’s considerable talents, while V is assigned to Hugo Weaving of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Matrix” franchises.

For his part, Weaving tries his hand at controlling the film through an entirely vocal performance, and I’d wager he affords more to the task than any other actor might have. The ever-too-apparent need of the filmmakers to personify V keeps his performance at arm’s reach from the domineering persona roaming the pages of the graphic novel, though it is at the same time that very inclination to place a face on terrorism (thematically) that represents the wisest avoidance of the source material.

The periphery of totalitarianism is speckled with the likes of John Hurt, Stephen Rea, Roger Allam and Tim Pigott-Smith. All are dreadfully diluted both on the (screen)page and in performance.

It seems that no filmmaker of any caliber will ever be able to represent the imagination of Alan Moore on the big screen in a manner befitting his unique consciousness. He reached the pinnacle of graphic literature, the cinema’s long lost cousin, to the point that he transcends the medium with his very participation in it.

Moore’s epic saga Watchmen was recently placed into turnaround by Paramount and now finds itself under the Warner Bros. umbrella like all DC products. One can only hope that, if a Watchmen adaptation must unfold in the annals of filmmaking, that those involved are up to the task. Director Paul Greengrass was a valiant step in the right direction during the Paramount era, but it is left to be seen what Warners does with the material.

About "Page to Screen"

The ultimate aim of “Page to Screen” at In Contention is to familiarize the reader with the year’s adapted screenplay race, and peripherally, the choices made, the directions taken, by adaptations throughout the year – from the page, to the screen. The column is designed to raise awareness of the writing progress by drawing attention to the source materials of a number of the year’s cinematic offerings.

Written by Kristopher Tapley and published weekly, on Tuesdays, “Page to Screen” hopes to offer interpretations of the various materials as they pertain to potential success at the Academy Awards, perspective on category disputes that might be more easily discerned from a reading of the material, as well as other observations that may or may not relate to the adaptations’ Oscar hopes.

For those faimilar with Kristopher's work over the years, “Page to Screen” might seem like a familiar concept. He offered a similar feature at Oscar Central during the 2002 film awards season.



What Was She Thinking? [Notes On a Scandal]

Written by Zöe Heller