Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Sorry for the delay this week on my blogs, especially the reviews. It seems that these movie reviews are clearly the most popular feature of my blog, and I'm glad about that. I'll still be posting other essays and Canon of Film blogs but, I'm amazed at how popular my reviews have become. My last set of reviews, has quickly become the most viewed single blog entry on the site. I hope that's good thing and a bunch of people aren't showing this an examples of how "not" to write a review..., well, actually I'd be okay with that too. Either way, I'm sure a lot of you are excited for this next batch, so were gonna get right to them this week, so....

Onto the reviews!

RIO (2011) Director: Carlos Saldanha


Many times I watch a movie and think about some of the other films that have clearly influenced the movie. It's not atypical actually, but sometimes you get caught offguard by the film(s) that a movie may reference. I didn't know what exactly to expect out of "Rio," going into it, but I certainly didn't think that I'd see so many "Honeymoon in Vegas," references. I'm not complaining about it. If you're gonna "borrow" from a movie, at least they picked a good one, but still, that's kind of an choice for a film an animated film about a parrot. The parrot is Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) a rare blue macaw who's found himself away from his birthplace in Brazil and has spent the majority of his life, living in Minnesota with her cute bookish owner, Linda (Leslie Mann). She's mostly an introverted type, who runs a local bookstore where Blu loves hanging out and drinking hot chocolate w/marshmallows in his cage. Linda becomes informed by Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) that Blu is a rare bird, possibly one of the last of his kind, and after some convincing, she goes with him to Rio de Janiero, to mate Blu with his female Blue Macaw, Jewel (Anne Hathaway). Jewel, is an aggresive bird who trying to escape, constantly, and can't believe that Blu not only likes being locked in his cage, but can't fly. Before they even begin to fall in love with each other, they are soon kidnapped by some exotic bird smugglers, and both Jewel and Blu, and Linda and Tulio, are on their own little romantic-comedy adventures. (Come to think of it, there's some "Romancing the Stone" in this too.) The smugglers have an angry former bird-celebrity, Nigel (Jemaine Clement) who's quite intelligent and brutal, and is determined to find the Macaws, after they manage to at first escape the gang of smugglers, led by Marcel (Carlos Ponce). Naturally, the two macaws, who are chained together for much of the film, run into more than a few helpful colorful characters, some of the best of these are voiced by George Lopez and Tracy Morgan, what was a little more surprising is how Linda and Tulio's characters also went on their own little adventure to help find the birds, and this includes trying to foil a scheme to smuggle the birds out using Carnaval as a distraction. How am I comparing this to "Honeymoon in Vegas," you may ask. Well, we get two people traveling to a famed tourist locale to mate forever, (Well, okay a person and a parrot) they get separated from their loved ones and are nearly taken away forever by the person who takes them, the way the movie ends involves a more conservative female character having to dress up like a showgirl, or actually in this case, like a Carnaval dancer to hide in plain sight, (Actually the Carnaval outfit is more revealing that the Vegas showgirl outfit), and while they're aren't any Flying Elvis's there is a scene, involving characters at the end of the movie, jumping out of a plane, and flying. Frankly, I couldn't help but notice. The movie earned one of the only two Oscar nomination for Best Song for "Real in Rio," which is played in an amazingly vibrant opening scene of the film. It is a good song, but I felt some of the other songs weren't particularly strong, especially one Nigel, the evil bird, seems to sing, only for exposition purposes, which it doesn't exactly live up to a standard like "Be Prepared," from "The Lion King," or "Gaston" from "Beauty and the Beast". Director Carlos Sandanha, is mostly known for the "Ice Age," films until now. I actually, never liked those films, although I enjoyed "Robots," which he co-directed, but still, he's certainly in the second-tier of animators. "Rio" has some amazing animation sequences, especially the opening, and much of the Carnaval scenes at the end. He's really vibrant with primary colors here, and that's old-fashioned, but it's good here. He stills relies on a few too many immature jokes at times, but overall, there's nothing particularly harmful about "Rio". It's entertaining while it's on, definitely young kids will enjoy it, I don't know if adults will so much. It's a recommendation, but it's a mild one. It's just, interesting, enough.

TAKE SHELTER (2011) Director: Jeff Nichols


I have to take a few deep breaths, thinking about "Take Shelter". It's an intense psychological thriller, that shows just how the unknown can be just as, if not more frightful, than those normal things that scare us in movies, that we do know. Curtis (Michael Shannon) is a little bit quiet, and maybe edgy, but other than that, he seems to be a normal guy. He heads a construction crew while his wife (Jessica Chastain) sews some fabrics and occasionally sells some pillows and clothes at a flea market. Their daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart) is deaf, and they're all still learning sign language. She's just lost her hearing, and they're working towards getting a cochlear implant. Curtis however, starts to have dreams. Dreams that seem a little too real. In one, his dog attacks his arm, and he wakes up the next day, his arm is fine, but it remains in pain the rest of the day. Others seem to predict some other kind of misbegotten moments, some of the time, his daughter is in with him. He also has begun hallucinating, hearing thunder when there isn't even a cloud, and seeing birds flying in a very suspicious pattern. In many of them, he's driving, and always, they involve a monstrous storm. Curtis, we learn, has a mother, Sarah (Kathy Baker), who lives in assisted-living, and has since she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, right around the age Curtis is now. Does Curtis have schizophrenia? He does some research, and it looks like he might, but it's not completely clear. What a strange feeling that must be, to realize that your mind is betraying you, but still not be able to distrust it completely. He makes a few drastic steps, the biggest one being, expanding the storm shelter, which is usually used mainly for tornados. Whether it's in his mind or it's real, he fears, probably correctly, that the worst is coming, and he doesn't want to take chances, or maybe worse, he can't help himself. Boy, with every part he plays, Michael Shannon really is becoming one of our greatest actors. Occasionally, I thought he dipped into, something close to the Billy Bob Thornton "Sling Blade," character with this film, looking back, I think I'm comparing character that just have some similarities. Shannon, has an ability to, give us a look and we realize that even he's trying to figure out exactly which direction the wheels in his head are turning. Chastain gives another amazing performance that year. Man, she had a helluva year. This is Jeff Nichols's second feature-length film after the independent film "Shotgun Stories," a couple years back. I didn't care much for that film, but he clearly had a strangely paceful tone, and he knows how to heighten, even the most basic scenes. "Take Shelter," tremendously better than his first film, and I can't for his next one. I have one critique though, I don't get the endiing. I won't go further than that, but I thought it was arbitrary or indecisive, or, I don't know. I didn't get it, maybe someone can explain it to me, but that's such a minor quibble.... The very last scene, I didn't understand it, even with that, "Take Shelter," is really just a great film.

CONTAGION (2011) Director: Steven Soderbergh


"Contagion," is one of those movie with so many multiple storylines going on, that in order to save time in explaining who everyone is, it helps to just cast any many famous actors as possible, even the ones who drop dead almost immediately. I couldn't help but compare "Contagion," with Soderbergh's "Traffic," which also used a similar storytelling structure. In that film, he separated the three main sections by using a different color tint to distinguish them. The blue-tinted scenes were one place, the yellow another, and no tint, another story together, just so the audience can follow each different storyline as it happens. "Traffic," was about the many levels of drug trafficing however, and in "Contagion," he doesn't ue any tricks, because everything happens so quickly,  and it happens to everyone, indiscriminately and to everyone at the same time. It begins in Hong Kong where Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is coming home to Minneapolis, unbeknowst to her, she's contacted a disease, that's an entirely new strain of flu. She dies, suddenly a couple days later. Her son Clark (Griffin Kane) dies soonafter, leaving her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) suddenly losing his family, and quarantined to determine whether he has and/or is capable of spreading the virus. Reports begin coming in from China about similar disease outbreaks, and the U.S. Center for Disease Controls, led by Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) is on the case. First, they have to figure out the source, and the strain, and then, if possible, create a vaccine. In the best possible scenario, it takes months, in the meantime, something called a r-count, which is a number that determines how many people on average does a diseased person infect with the disease, continues to rise. It only takes, for panic to strike. Looting, more dead bodies. Sport stadium turn into makeshift hospitals all over the country. One person sent to Hong Kong to study where the disease might have originated, Leonora (Marion Cotillard) is kidnapped by local Chinese, from an area that's so overly infected, that they worry that A. The U.S. has the cure (Not true) and B. They're not gonna to be the first ones to get it, unless they resort to drastic measures (Not entirely unreasonable). Another person sent to follow and contain the disease, Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) catches the disease herself, and has to be quarantine, before she even dies from. Meanwhile, rumors of a cure spread rapidly, lead by a conspiracy theorists blogger, Alan Krumweide (Jude Law) who caught onto the contagion before anybody else did, and begins reporting claims of forsythia, being a cure for the disease, that the government is hiding because they can't make money from it. "Contagion," is a matter-of-fact, telling of the kind of worst case scenario that can happen if something like SARS or Bird Flu, were to spread at a faster rate, and more out of control. We care about the characters, because we're familiar with the actors, but the movie is more-or-less a by-the-book telling of what can happen if such a Spanish flu-like contagion were to occur, and that's frightening enough. A good comparison film might be "The China Syndrome". That matter-of-factness also prevents us from really getting involved, but that's okay. Soderbergh's one of our best filmmakers, proving that once again here, although he's constantly threatening to retire and focus on other artistic endeavors. I hope that's some kind of bluff, people as talented as him should really be making more and more movies. "Contagion", is his first real, disaster film, and it's a strong one. Anyone else, I might give it more stars, but it's another solid film from Soderbergh.

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011) Director: Sean Durkin


I don't quite know where exactly to begin here other than to say this: "Martha Marcy May Marlene" scared the hell out of me. It's not a horror, I wouldn't even call it a thriller, but no matter how I looked at this film, I kept finding myself with goosebumps up my arms. The title character Martha, (Yes, that name is one person), is a teenage runaway who joins up with a hippie-like cult in upstate New York. The leader of the cult, Patrick (John Hawkes, hitting a lot of right notes)  is introduced to Martha, and says that she looks like a Marcy May. From there on in, she's called Marcy, by him, and everyone in the cult, which is predominantly young women. (Marlene, we learn, is the name everybody uses when somebody calls the camp) We get these scenes in flashbacks, or if you wish, they might be from Martha's memory, either way, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has escaped from the cult through the woods, and finds her way back to her older sister's, Lucy's (Sarah Paulson) house. In case you're wondering, yes, Elizabeth, is the younger sister of the Olsen Twins, and that will be the absolute last time any intelligent critic will ever compare her with her sisters again. This is her first major role, and while Martha's back in... well, for-lack-of-a-better-term, the real world, she's been so brainwashed, that she might as well have been on Mars. Her behavior is erratic and unpredictable as she at once, tries to re-learn the rules of society in this house her brother-in-law, Ted (Hugh Dancy) built (He's a successful architect) while recalling and trying to un-learn,... well, she has to un-learn a lot of what she thinks of as normal. I swear, I'm trying to explain the kind of life she had as a member of Patrick's cult, but..., frankly I don't want to type the words. Besides that, we learn about her behavior as we go. How teachings have stuck in her head, that she still hasn't let go. How she starts realizing how unusual some of the behavior there, (And warning, this includes disturbing scenes of rape, and just an abnormal reactions to nudity and other abnormal behaviors, including violence) aren't the normal ways of the outside world, and how she can only overreact when she starts to realize this. Some of you may ask why she never tells Lucy about where she's been, and my question would be, how would you tell? First of all, you've been trained not to, and frankly, it's such a different world that, I don't even know how to explain it. I'm having a hard enough time explaining it in this review. How do you think Ted and Lucy could deal with such an unpredictable, transisting force. God, and how Martha can get over it... she might not get over it. The only comparable character I might begin to compare Martha to is Chloe Sevigny's Nicollete Grant character on "Big Love", and frankly, we get her character years after she escapes and goes through the kind of psychological trauma that Martha is going through, and hopefully she can recover from. Elizabeth Olsen is just-... well, I hate using this phrase, but here it goes, this is a star-making role for her. If she can do this part, than she can do anything. Speaking of people who can do anything, this is second film I'm reviewing this week with John Hawkes in it (I didn't mention it, but he had a small role in "Contagion"), but think back on his part, and realize all the ways he gone wrong with that role, and you realized how special an actor he is that he doesn't.

OUTRAGE (2011) Director: Takeshi Kitano


"Outrage," is a Japanese film where a lot of gangsters get killed.

I thought seriously about ending this review with just that sentence. That seems to be all there is to "Outrage," the latest film by the great director Takeshi Kitano. He's reknown for some amazing films, including the one I've seen, "Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsmen," which is a great samurai movie, I gave it 5 stars. He made his career originally though on gangster films, including ones about the Yakuza, that included loads of violence. He hasn't worked with such violence in recent years, but he more than made up for it with "Outrage". The movie involves two rival Yakuza gangs, and they're in a bloodwar, and they're constantly killing each other, and if you watched the movie and found any additional plot to the movie, than good for you, but I'll be damned if I could find it. We get a brief introduction to many of the gangsters in the beginning, but not much of one, and soon the killing and maiming and torturing begin. There's some creative ones, admittedly, like one involving a rope, a pole, and speeding car that will suddenly lose it's entire passenger-side door. There's one involving some amateur dental work, that's makes me think going to see the Marathon Man for a root canal, might be enjoyable than I first imagined. Some aren't that creative. There's one where a bunch of gangsters get killed in the steam room of a spa, that's been done to death. Oh, there's also a few wives, girlfriends and hookers that get killed as well. Not for any good reason, although one of them being dead helps get a deal done with an American businessman, I think. The only man who seems to be surviving any of this is Otomo (Takeshi Kitano, who acts in all his films under the name Beat Takeshi). I couldn't tell you whose side he's on, hell, I couldn't even tell you the sides, but it doesn't matter since they're all double-crossing each other anyway, and not enough of them survived to form a side. It says under trivia on Outrage's page that Takeshi Kitano formed the film specifically for commercial appeal, not only going back to his most popular genre, but going so far as to imagine the death scenes first, and then begin writing the story around them. I am not at all surprised. I guess as a statement to those who wanted him to be more violent, "Outrage" is a pretty good answer (Would've been a better one had their not been an sequel to the film, already in development, but still.), but as a movie, it's an incredibly skillful collection of a bunch of people getting killed, and unfortunately, that alone, does not a movie make.

LOVE CRIME (2011) Director: Alain Corneau


It's starting to seem like everytime I watch a French movie nowadays, Kristen Scott Thomas is in it. She used to mostly work in English, with noted parts in films like "Gosford Park," but starting with her work in a great film "I've Loved You So Long," she's been working in France a lot lately. She's clearly fluent, and a great actress in both languages, and in "Love Crime," she's particularly vicious. She plays a business executive, Christine, who's eyeing a job at the company's New York branch. She works closely with one of her employees, Isabel (Ludivine Sagnier) who's clearly got a crush on her, but Christine is currently dating, Phillippe (Patrick Mille), although, Phillippe seems to be there to both make Isabel jealous that Christine is with him, and for Isabel to eventually sleep with him, almost because Christine planned it out that way. Christine takes credit for Isabel's work, Christine is not only unapologetic, she can't figure why Isabel would be upset by it. (btw, I have no idea what the company they work for actually does. Maybe, they said it at some point, and I just forgot, but I don't think it matters much either way, and the dialoge by the other employees which seems to be nothing but praise and congratulations, almost seems intentionally comical, especially when they speak in English) Christine moves people like they were chess pieces, completely under her whim, even when they seem to be acting on their own free will. There is a crime half-way through this film, it's a murder, and Isabel is brought in as a leading suspect, and at one point she even confesses to the crime. I'm not gonna reveal who is murdered, or by who, or what happens afterwards, but this is one of those movies where things aren't exactly as they first seem, and the best part of the movie, especially in that critical second-half, is finding out, what exactly we may have missed before. The film was directly quite skillfully by Alain Corneau, who directed a great, and one of my favorite French films, "Tous Les Matins du Monde", which translated means "All the Mornings of the World," and that film also includes one of Gerard Depardieu's greatest performance. This film is about as difference as that one can be. "Love Crime," is quite a good erotic thriller, that rewards those who pay attention to it, mostly because you'll still be caught offguard by it.

TUCKER & DALE vs. EVIL (2011) Director: Eli Craig


There's something quite loveable about Tucker & Dale, in a Laurel & Hardy kinda way. They're not real intelligent; they try hard, but whatever they try to do, they seem to make it worse. They finally buy their vacation home, yeah, it's a fixer-upper but that's part of the fun, you get to build your own little place in the middle of the woods. If weren't for all these stupid dead teenagers, they would've really had a nice little weekend getaway going. "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil," takes some of those slasher movie cliches, and wonders, what if everything was just a big misunderstanding. Kinda like "Three's Company," which a few extra corpses. Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are hetero-life partners (Thank you Jay and Silent Bob, for that one), aren't that smart, but they good-hearted, especially Dale, but they look a little too much like they're from "Deliverance". So when shy, sweet Dale tries to ask a girl out, she and the rest of her college friends, speed out of the gas station as quickly as possible. (How these morons ended up in college by the way, should really be the subject of a horror film, but anyway.) At the cabin, which Tucker and Dale find decorated with newspaper clippings and gasoline tanks, they go out fishing by the lake. When one of the kids sees, the lake, they all immediately decide to go skinny-dipping. One of the girls,  slips off a rock while undressing and hits her head as she falls in the water, and Tucker & Dale rescue her. They mention to the kids that they've got their friend, but they all start running away like they were afraid of something. They nurse the poor clumsy thing, Ally (Katrina Bowden, she plays Suri on "30 Rock")  back to health and get her some breakfast when she wakes up in the morning. After she realizes what happened, they begin playing board games while they wait for her friends to come and see if she's okay. Her friends, meanwhile, led by Chad (Jesse Moss), who I'm guessing is not a Blue Collar Comedy Tour kinda guy, is convinced that Tucker & Dale are sadistic murderers and it's up to him, and the rest of the gang to save Ally from them. Sometimes they run from Tucker because he's carrying a chainsaw. They try to take Ally back while she and Dale are out digging a six-foot depth hole, for the outhouse, but they keep flying by and missing. After one has a particularly bad conflict  with a woodchipper, Tucker & Dale start wondering if they're on a suicide pact. Ally would help, but she cannot seem to stop herself from being knocked unconscious. (She should really get herself checked out. She must be a date-raper's wet dream) I can't quite recommend the film. The laughs were a little too sporatic for me to say, it's a must see, but I wouldn't mind seeking out a seeing a sequel to this. Tucker and Dale are quite likeable, and I can imagine more than a few other situations they can get themselves into, and I think some of them might be a little funnier than this one. I appreciated the tone, and I certainly got a kick out of the idea of the film. Maybe this subgenre of the slasher-spoof has been done a little too much. (And most slasher films usually do a good enough job of unintentially spoofing themselves to begin with) Ah, you know what, I'll recommend it. Deleting 2 1/2, I'm changing it, to 3 stars. I think it could've been better, but Tucker & Dale are just so pleasant and nice to be around, they won me over. Must really suck having to deal with all these idiotic college kids all the time. I feel sorry for them.

JANIE JONES (2011) Director: David M. Rosenthal

3 1/2 STARS

Janie Jones (Abigail Breslin) and her mother, Mary Ann (Elisabeth Shue) are driving urgently down the road in the opening of "Janie Jones". They stop off as a gas station. The mother is a trainwreck. She changes her clothes, in broad daylight, outside of the gas pump. "Well, when else can I do it? I haven't seen him in years, I want to look good." She sends her daughter in to buy the gas. Going through her mother's purse, Janie finds a crackpipe, which she then throws away in a trash can on her way in to pay the gas. This is one of the opening scenes of "Janie Jones," a movie that might have a plot that at it's surface, appears, and it is cliche. It's a cliched story that's filled with cliches, and yet... we don't mind it in "Janie Jones". There's a reason why cliches become cliches, because they tend to occur in real life. The place they're going to urgently is a rock concert of an aging musician named Ethan Brand (Alessandro Nivola), not to see the concert, but for Mary Ann to introduce Ethan to Janie, his daughter. Mary Ann walks in, and Ethan barely remembers her. It goes without saying that he doesn't believe her at first, but she suddenly leaves Janie at the concert, and despite some convincing, Ethan begins taking her along on what's going to become one disastrous tour. He's gonna find out that his girlfriend, Iris (Brittany Snow) is cheating on him, his band is gonna break up, he's gonna lose gigs and a record contract, he's going to be arrested..., and did I mention that he's suddenly got a teenage daughter that until a week or so ago, he didn't know existed, that he has to take care of, and maybe get to know. Is it cliche that she can sing and play guitar too? She has a rockstar father and a former groupie for a mother, might not be that weird actually, and in fact, she seems to be pretty good. "Janie Jones," has a tale as old as time, but when you have good writing and directing from David Rosenthal, who based this film loosely on his own experiences of getting to his child later in life, and some exceptional acting. Alessandro Nivola is constantly one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, this is a rare lead role for him, and this is complicated character with a lot of pent-up demons that explode at the wrong times, and he nails it. As for Breslin,- is it just me, or are there better child actors now than ever before? Chloe Moretz, the Fannings, Dakota and Elle, Saorise Ronan... I don't think about their age, these are great actors and Abigail Breslin gives another great performance. It's a quieter performance too. This is a character who may be young, but has had to grow up, quickly. She's quick-witted, but not mouthy. She's quiet, but she can take charge of the most complex situations when they arise, and fain those regular kid emotions when the situation calls for her to be an adult. Maybe they're just writing better parts for kids, but if there's no Abigail Breslin, I'm not sure this movie gets made. This is the classic example of a film, where it's not what it's about, 'cause we've seen this story a million times before, with these elements before, but  "Janie Jones" is worth watching, anyway.

THE GREEN (2011) Director: Steve Williford


I was surprised to find out that "The Green," originated as a film script, because it's got a lot of amazing elements that I thought would make this story really amazing to see on stage. Yup, this is a weird statement to say about a film, but I kinda wish I saw this as a play, but it's still quite good anyway. The movie takes place in a Connecticut suburb of New York City where Michael (Jason Butler Harner) and Daniel (Cheyenne Jackson) have moved to get away from the big city. Michael works as a high school teacher, who works hard to help some of the students that can use it, including a very troubled one name Jason (Christopher Bert) who's smart, but gets picked on at school, and has some unpredictable parents. Daniel works as a caterer for some of the local elites in town. Things seem to be good for Michael and Daniel, until Jason claims that Michael has inapporpiately touched him, and then, their lives turn upside-down. Is Michael a child molester? Well, even the other students have notice that Michael seems to be unusually close to Jason, that's one of the things they made fun of him about. Michael's temporarily suspended, and eventually has to seek out a high-powered lawyer, Karen (Julia Ormond) to help him out. Daniel suddenly keeps losing his business too, and as a storm starts approaching, a figurative and literal one, Daniel begins to wonder about Michael himself, especially after he comes clean, about a prior arrest, that Michael had kept secret from Daniel. This is the first feature-film for director Steven Williford, whose only other credit are from directing daytime soap operas. I never would've guessed by "The Green," this is a very impressive debut, but the real star of the film is the writing by Paul Marcarelli. You might not recognize his name, but you've seen him a thousand times, he's the "Can you hear me now?" guy, from the Verizon commercials. First thing, is that he's very good at writing some complex characters, but secondly, he's very good, at inserting believable kinds of doubt into every scene, right up until a very shocking ending, but even in some of the more mundane scenes, like a few scenes where Daniel's sister, Trish (Ileana Douglas) is talking with Daniel, while he's taking her for chemotherapy, the dialogue they come up with, and how they struggle with their own doubts about Michael's innocence, is very well done. "The Green," didn't get a theatrical release, and that's a shame, but it toured the Gay & Lesbian film festival circuits for much of last year, it deserves to be more widely seen. I've very interested in Marcarelli's next script, and if he ever thinks about it, as good a movie as "The Green," is, it would make a really good play.

SAVING PRIVATE PEREZ (2011) Director: Beto Gomez

1 1/2 STARS

There's a decent idea for a movie somewhere in "Saving Private Perez," but, it was just so damn boring, I just couldn't even care. It's just strange with so much natural conflict, to just be, so empty of anything to grab a hold to. "Saving Private Perez", is a comedy, maybe, about a Mexican druglord, Julian Perez (Miguel Rodarte) who has to suddenly take all of his army and resources to fly to the Middle East, and save his younger brother, who's a U.S. soldier in the Iraq War who's gone missing, and his mother is pretty insistant on him being brought back alive. This is a decent idea for a film. Classic idea. It's even good for a comedy, lots of comedic possibilities here. There's the clash of cultures, there's confusion in war, there's the hero's own doubts about putting his life in danger, there's the drug kingpin's army, suddenly getting into real battle, there's the obvious "Saving Private Ryan," references.... We get none of this, in "Saving Private Perez". We barely get a movie in "Saving Private Perez". There's lot of action scenes, that run a few different gambits of genres, as though switching from a shoot 'em up to a kung fu film, is funny in of itself, we get lots of things blowing up. At the end, we get a lot of random scenes that seem to part of a whole heist-like, planned out scheme that are all supposed to come together, possibly to explain how they got Private Perez out of Iraq, but they really are just a bunch of scenes, that are edited together, and nothing more. (Hmm "How We Got Private Perez Out of Iraq", that would've been a better title for this film.) It so weird sometimes, how you just look at a screen, at wait for something interesting to happen, and then nothing does. That's kinda the experience that happened to me watching "Saving Private Perez," which was apparently such a big domestic hit in Mexico, that it got a U.S. theatrical release. You know, this was just a missed opportunity, and that made me mad. So many different kinds of good films, including a comedy, could've been made from this idea, and we didn't get any of them.

PAUL GOODMAN CHANGED MY LIFE (2011) Director: Jonathan Lee

3 1/2 STARS

I must confess that I honestly didn't know who Paul Goodman was exactly before going into this film, and that is the whole point of the movie, and that's sad. Paul Goodman, basically invented or predicted the '60s, with the book "Growing Up Absurd," which was a critical look at the culture of the '50s, and how it was leading to what-we-now recognized as an alienated youth culture. He was an anarchist, socialist, poet, playwright, essayist, author, city-planner, psychiatrist, and about twenty other things, and many of his ideas are not only still being debated, some of them now seem like prophecies of inevitability. He was the first one to realize that New York City was going to have a problem with too many cars. There's some funny sequences where he's arguing with William F. Buckley on his old TV appearances. He basically created the New Left, the anti-Communism section of it, anyway. Paul Goodman seems to have had a hand in a little bit of everything. Looking at the education system in America today, seems to reveal a world that has long-forgotten and ignored him. He said that colleges were too specialized and pointed towards people having specific careers, and not enough people were trying to get a general education of everything. Now they start doing things like that in elementary schools. He taught at numerous universities, constantly getting fired for his actions, oftentimes from making one too many sexual passes at..., well everyone. He had three kids with his wife (Well, he never married her, but...) and had many male lovers over the years. I learned a lot from watching "Paul Goodman Changed My Life," not the least of which is how much his ideals had not only seeped into the American consciousness, but had long seeped into me. I feel ashamed that I didn't know exactly who he was before watching this film. I wish he could've changed my life in fact. Unfortunately, their isn't anybody quite like him around now that I could similarly look up to. If anybody stumbles across a copy of "Growing Up Absurd," I'd like to borrow it some time.

THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (1993) Director: James Ivory

4 1/2 STARS

I've been working my way through some of the Merchant-Ivory films over the last couple years, their more famous ones if possible (Ishmael Merchant and James Ivory, the producer and director respectively of many of those films of the Upper Crust of British society, based on literature.) Some of these films are better than others, although most are good. The best of these is "Howard's End", but "The Remains of the Day," is right up there as well. It earned 8 Oscar nominations back in '93, and it remains a fascinating tale, not of the upper crust, strangely enough this time, but of the servants of them. Most importantly, the Butler, James Stevens, (Oscar-nominee Anthony Hopkins) who's heavily devoted to perfecting his work as servant. He's most unemotional and proper. Even when during a major gathering, his father, William, (Peter Vaughan) dies, during the event, he continues with his work as best he can, which includes getting a basin of salts and water ready for a guest who complains about his shoes hurting his feet. He currently works for an American, Jack Lewis (Christopher Reeve, yeah, that one) but in flashback we see him working for Lord Darlington (James Fox), who's name now gets strange notices when brought up. He was a German-sympathizer who convicted then-Prime Minister Chamberlain to try to make a peace treaty with Germany, and now the mere mention of the name is so toxic, even James won't admit right away that he worked for him. But work he did, and he was an honorable man, who was unfortunately gullable due to prior sympathies. I said German-sympathizer, I don't know if he was a Nazi-sympathizer, but he certainly cared for Germany even to make deals with them. The movie details the relationship between james and the head housekeeper Miss Kenton (Oscar-nominated Emma Thompson). They don't have a romantic relationship per se. James certainly does his utmost to keep it professional, maybe to his much regret. He's an expert to bottling up any emotions he might have. When people ask about his own thoughts on working with Darlington, his political perspective, his eye-view of history, he evades such questions, insisting he has no such thoughts other than to serve. I believe he tries. Only through the slightest hints of emotion can we ever see from him, much to the dismay of Miss Kenton. Butlers make such intriguing lead characters because how they are witnesses and yet, they never reveal what they think of what they observe. They're mysterious, and they must be, it's their job. In James's case, it's his life. "The Remains of the Day," holds up rather well. It's one of those films about those things we think, and never say. Can't even say that we regret not saying them. These Merchant-Ivory films usually have a great story, all of them have great acting, and from what I've heard, stay pretty true to the books that inspire them. They're not for everyday, admittedly, but the best of them really show us all the best of things of what cinema can do. "The Remains of the Day," is one of the better ones.

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