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“The Marine” vs. “Flags of Our Fathers”

“The Marine” vs. “Flags of Our Fathers” (photo)

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That there could be two movies in theaters simultaneously of such similar bases and such divergent content is a testament to cinema’s enduring versatility, and its capacity for both brilliance and stupidity. “Flags of our Fathers” and “The Marine” are so perfect in their symmetry, they seem designed to inform each other.

Both present dueling views of life as a member of the United States Marine Corps. Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of our Fathers,” about the impact of Joe Rosenthal’s photograph “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” on the war effort, contrasts the individual heroism of the men in the corps with the propaganda machine of the armed forces brass. It shows us the real men behind the carefully controlled images presented to the men and women on the home front in 1944. “The Marine,” on the other hand, is all image, of the sort of red-blooded, blue-eyed American machismo that hasn’t existed in action films since Reagan left office. Ironically, the film set in the past feels far more contemporary than the one set in the modern day.

It’s hard to even believe the real men portrayed by Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, and Jesse Bradford belong to the same species as John Cena, let alone the same organization. Cena, a popular professional wrestler is all beefy hands and tree-trunk neck; as WWE-icons-turned-movie-stars go, he fares a little better than Hulk Hogan but pales next to the versatility, wit and natural charisma of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. After receiving a discharge from the Marines for disobeying a direct order in order to single-handedly rescue P.O.W.s from an al-Qaeda stronghold in Iraq, Cena’s John Triton struggles to adapt to a life that doesn’t involve assault weaponry. Though he lives for nothing but the Marine life, he’s married to a Barbie doll made flesh (Kelly Carlson). “You married a Marine, Kate,” he tells her by way of apologizing for his behavior. Fortunately, Triton’s job search is interrupted by a gang of jewel robbers (led by Robert Patrick) who kidnap his wife at a gas station, and — at last! — Cena is thrust into action.

John Triton returns home from war and wants nothing more than to get back on the front lines. The soldiers of “Flags of our Fathers” get a free ticket back to the States for their appearance in Rosenthal’s photo, but find themselves trapped on the blackened beaches of Iwo Jima, if only in their minds. As they travel through the U.S. to encourage war bonds sales, Eastwood returns repeatedly to the hell in the Pacific. Surrounded by imagined images of triumph, they flashback to real moments of terror.

The movies don’t just come from different genres, they come from different worlds. In one explosion shells spread shrapnel and death. In another, they create super-cool explosions that present little danger to our nigh-impervious hero. Every time Triton took a gorgeous, slo-mo swan dive out of the teach of yet another fireball, I kept thinking of Phillippe’s Doc Bradley, a Navy Corpsman who survives a Japanese shell with shrapnel in his legs. Unable to walk, ordered to stay down until a stretcher can arrive, he crawls over to another injured serviceman, medicating him even while he himself continues to bleed.

As Eastwood’s narrator observes, we need heroes. But what kind of heroes do we need; ones imagined by screenwriters and PR men or ones lived by ordinary, selfless men and women? The WWE has one idea, Eastwood has another. Curiously, Eastwood’s studio, DreamWorks (now part of Paramount) sides with the wrestlers; their marketing campaign for “Flags,” replete with war drums and action shots while title cards hype the Battle of Iwo Jima’s Medal of Honor winners, essentially sells the movie as the sort of patriotic spectacle Eastwood spends two hours critiquing and “The Marine” spends 90 minutes being.

“Flags” is unquestionably the better film but “The Marine” may be, perversely, the more watchable. It’s an unabashed throwback to the elegantly dumb action movies of my youth; the knowing homages begin with a prologue straight out of “Rambo” and a storyline not far removed from Schwarzenegger’s symphony of cartoon violence, “Commando” (both share a villain named Bennett, too). It could have been a great guilty pleasure, if only Cena looked like he was having a bit more fun — granted, he’s trying to rescue his wife, but that never stopped Schwarzenegger from cracking lines like “Don’t wake my friend, he’s dead tired,” after snapping a dude’s neck. Even without the requisite jokes, the movie is utterly ridiculous (not to mention highly flammable). Wrestling is known as sports entertainment — not genuine sport, but rather a simulation. “The Marine” may be the first “movies entertainment” — false to its core, but damn fun to watch.

Eastwood doesn’t hit a false note, and he’s made a real movie. “The Marine” is required viewing too, for at least one reason: it makes Eastwood’s point for him.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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