Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Baby Mama

If you enjoy racist stereotypes, juvenile humor, bizarre characters, and stupidity I cannot recommend this movie strong enough. Let's see, we have:

- the midriff baring, smoking, drinking cursing bleach blond skank with the inked up man-whore who do everything they can to project the redneck vibe...well, except they listen to rap instead of country

- the black man who has multiple "baby mamas" and no real relationships

- the Indian gay couple with the Apu-like accents and emotional outbursts

- the older white woman comparing being single at 37 to living an "alternative lifestyle"

- the stoner hippie ceo

Then of course we get the peeing in the sink, vaginal stretching, can't open the car door type jokes. And the mom's eating poop joke. And the sleeping around jokes. And the stoned jokes.

This movie is utterly devoid of intelligence or meaning. Of course, along the way there are some laughs. The courtroom scene is hilarious, for example. And Steve Martin actually is pretty funny for a change.

There is even some sympathy. Tina Fey does a good job of drawing you into an insipid, predictable lack of story despite her apparent retardation and inability to notice an absolute lack of intelligence in her future baby mama.

This movie is certainly better than the previews but is nothing better than a time filler. Unless you have too much time and money on your hands or a serious movie addiction, wait for video.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Let's see, the story:

Loser accountant gets schmoozed for no apparent reason by highly successful lawyer. They "accidentally" switch phones. Accountant dude suddenly becomes man of the world, heavily involved in the anonymous "sex with strangers" club. Hooks up with girl he developed fantasy crush for based on "random" encounter in subway. Falls for her. Lawyer turns out to be con man who now wants accountant to steal 20 million dollars from next company he is auditing. Kidnaps pseudo-girlfriend as blackmail.

Accountant figures out real name of non-lawyer dude. Transfers money to get girl back. Apparently blown up in building. Bad guy and girl go to Spain to collect money. She has second thoughts. Mad her wannabe suitor killed. They go to bank. Find out accountant made it so he had to cosign for money. Turns out to be alive. Accountant and con-man collect the money. Accountant bargains for whereabouts of his dream know the one, the girl who participated in a plot that should have killed him...they go to "quiet place" to come to an arrangement. As con man about to shoot accountant, dream girl appears from nowhere, shoots con man.

Accountant leaves all stolen money with body. Later meets with girl and movie ends.

I think the greatest deception in Deception (2008) is there is anything here of interest. If I had seen this movie as a rental using the free coupon I got on the soda cup at McDonalds for the Red Box I would feel ripped off. I should have been paid twice my normal hourly fee to watch this drivel. It is a suspense movie without suspense, a drama with no drama, and a movie where the "twist" is so predictable that not one person in the theatre was taken in by it.

The pacing is so slow that you have lost interest in the movie long before it bothers to get into the story. The characters are lame and uninteresting. You never care about any of them. There is just nothing to hold the interest. This was a pathetic attempt at entertainment.

Normally I don't care a whole lot about plot holes unless they are so outlandish as to destroy the illusion of being in a different world. But some of these were so brutal...such as said accountant needing his glasses to see a bed 3' in front of him early in the movie, but after he and lawyer switching identities he apparently got Lasik because in his new identity as the con-man he no longer wears glasses and can see just fine. When a major plot device...his vision problems without glasses...suddenly disappears for no reason, it claws at the bounds not just of credibility but of outright stupidity.

I guess I have not said much good about this movie and I should point out the redeeming features. They are as follows:

Friday, April 25, 2008

88 Minutes

There is a recent trend to blast Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro for their recent roles. Personally, I don't see it. Then again, I have never been a huge fan of The Godfather (1972) or Scarface (1983), for example. I find the first entertaining, the second pointless, and would take Meet the Parents (2000) over either of them...though the sequel was, in fact, a sequel.

Be that as it may, 88 Minutes (2008) has been roundly panned by numerous critics...these would be the same critics calling Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) worth seeing. So I took a chance and went to see it.

Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino) is an egomaniacal psychobabbler who will do just about anything to gain vicarious vengeance for the torture-murder of his sister when he went to defend his thesis. As a result, he falsified evidence to convict Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) of the torture- murder of Joanie Cates (Vickie Huang) and got Forster sent to death row.

Now, with Forster's execution date approaching copycat murders begin happening which cast doubt on the identity of the original murderer. Most troubling of all, some of the evidence at the new murders implicates Gramm.

As he begins trying to unravel the secret of who is making death threats to him various associates come under suspicion. Of course, the experienced movie-goer at this point starts looking for the twist; did Gramm indeed do the murders and frame Forster? Is it one of his students helping Forster? The school Dean? Is it his teaching assistant? His work assistant?

Well, in this case the twist is...there is no twist. Forster did, in fact, murder Cates and the student whom all the clues point to as being the outside help is, indeed, the outside help.

The ride to get there is entertaining. Sure, you have to ignore a few long each minute must be, why he does not simply turn over his information to the police, why the climactic scene she doesn't just shoot him before the 88 minutes are up...but it is all internally consistent.

Along the way there can be some doubt as to who is good, who bad, and why so it is definitely far better than the critics let on. It may not be a classic but it is a very watchable flick.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

I can pretty much take or leave the over hyped, overrated, self-important genre of flicks known as "the Apatow" movies. He pretty much does the same jokes with the same actors,just slightly shifted around; instead of the stoner laying on the couch growing facial hair, he becomes a surf instructor...but the jokes are the same at the root. Same with the rampant sex jokes, the crudity, the "I use profanity and that is the joke" line, and it being theoretically funnier because he is doing it with a young group of actors.

The irony here is nowhere in the entire list of credits do you find the name Apatow yet I remember it being marketed as being "by the people who brought you..." and a list of his films, as well as by the presence of a number of Apatow regulars such as Seth Rogen.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) tells the familiar story of a break-up where one member does not see it coming yet it turns out the other partner has been mistreating them, cheating on them, etc. for over a year. Sarah (Kristen Bell) is having fun with Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) while Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) pines for her.

After the break-up he engages in self-destructive behavior that revolves around trying to forget her by nailing as many girls as he can and whining about how bad his lot is. Unfortunately, this section of the flick is so deep in angst and self-pity that it forgets to be funny and Peter comes across as a complete and total loser.

Eventually he allows himself to be convinced to go to Hawaii as a cathartic attempt. Of course, that is where Sarah and Aldous are cavorting which leads to a lot of encounters.

With the great reasoning that "it is in the script", That '70s Show hottie Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis) takes an interest in him. She comps him into the most expensive suite in the hotel. She goes on dates with him.

This leads Sarah to realize she is not over Peter. Unfortunately, little hilarity ensues.

That is not to say there are not laughs in the movie. There are laughs scattered throughout. It is just that so many are the "embarrassed" laugh instead of the "oh, that was really funny" laugh.

In the expected fashion Peter and Rachel hook up, Sarah gets dumped, and away we go. Along the way we are subjected to the most juvenile trip yet. The number of laughs is not disappointing but the intelligence of them is. If you like profanity as comedy and sex jokes, this flick is for you. If you don't like that but enjoy watching Mila Kunis and/or have seen Kristen Bell in a bikini and think that is a good look for her (rhetorical statement there...she is very easy on the eyes) then even if the weak story, stupid jokes, and repetitiveness of the movie bore you, you can still find entertainment here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom

For years and years people tried to get me to watch The Princess Bride (1987), a schlock fest of good humor, good times, cheesy lines, and plain old fun. A few weeks ago I finally had the convergence of time and opportunity so was able to see it. I liked it a great deal just like everybody else who watches it.

It is kind of a unique blend of family fare, cheesy jokes, outlandish action, and that hint of villainy in the heroes that is just tough to match. However, The Forbidden Kingdom (2008) makes a pretty good stab at it.

It starts out with the stylized fighting of the Monkey King (Jet Li) in a sequence that will bring Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2003) to the minds of most American movie watchers. Li brings a sense of fun to the role that we have seldom seen from him. It is great fun to watch. But once that sequence, mixed in with the title credits, has passed we get to the heart of the movie. The sequence is passed off as being a video-fueled dream of the hero Jason.

It has the mix of modern times and fairy tale kingdom as Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) is a modern day kung-fu obsessed fiend. He has seen the well known classics but also the "underground" and imported stuff. As an aside, it was interesting to see a Hollywood film promoting bootlegged movies of any sort as Jason admits he is purchasing boot-leg videos from Old Hop (Jackie Chan). Having your hero be an aficionado of bootleg movies is a pretty wide stretch for an industry so up in arms over that is a tacit "okay" of the process as long as it is Hong Kong you are ripping off...hypocrites.

Anyhow, Old Hop is a hard-drinking shop owner who feeds the movie-watching habits of Jason. When Jason is on his way home he is stopped by a girl long enough to allow the local bullies to catch up to him. In probably the weakest sequence in the movie, they force Jason to convince Old Hop to open his door. They then proceed to rob him. During the robbery, he breaks loose the staff that his Great-Grandfather started holding "until the person comes to pick it up who will return it to its rightful owner". Of course Jason ends up with the staff and is transported to ancient China.

Here he is rescued from the evil soldiers by Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), a hard drinking guy who may or may not be one of the Eight Immortals. Yan drinks constantly and must have wine at all costs. The role calls to mind his efforts in The Legend of Drunken Master (1994) as he recreates that fighting style and look.

Later they are accosted in an inn after Yan proves to be a beggar who does not pay for his wine. In the ensuing fight they are assisted by Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu), a girl who proves to be seeking revenge on the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou).

This unlikely trio makes their way along with Yan trying to teach Jason kung-fu. In one hilarious sequence it seems they are going to go the Karate Kid (1984) route.

Jason: "All I have been doing is scything for two days. When are you going to teach me kung-fu?"
Yan slides off his horse, takes a big swig of wine and walks up to Jason. The audience, conditioned by the Karate Kid franchise is expecting some "wax on, wax off" blocking wisdom. Instead, Yan swings his cudgel and gives Jason a good whack. As Jason doubles over in pain Yu says, "That is called strike. Tomorrow I teach you block." I swear I am stealing that line for regular use. It was awesome.

Eventually the Silent Monk (Jet Li) steals the staff from Jason. The trio pursues him to a nearby temple where we are treated to Jet Li v. Jackie Chan. Oh, sure, it is "The Silent Monk v. Lu Yan" in the movie...but for fans of Chan and Li it was about watching two accomplished stars face one another. And it was highly entertaining.

They join in a guarded partnership where they fight about how to train Jason, a highly amusing sequence indeed. Of course, by the end of the movie they return the staff to the Monkey King, defeat the Jade Emperor, and Jason returns "home" to his time.

There, in yet another reference to the Karate Kid franchise he defeats the bullies with his new found kung-fu and, in a nod to The Princess Bride he meets Golden Sparrow as "Chinatown Girl" (hey, I did not do the credits...I would have given her a better name than that...) in the "real world" and the allusion is clear: she will become his girlfriend.

Forbidden is a very entertaining movie that calls to mind dozens of scenes that will be familiar to regular movie watchers. It has the feel good modern/ancient vibe of The Princess Bride but is a little bit edgier. The villains are fun to watch, the good guys likable, and there is a latent humor throughout the movie. This one may not become a classic...but it should.

And I won't reveal the twist at the end regarding the Silent Monk...but it is a GREAT touch. So good that I forgave the peeing on people joke.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Street Kings

Keanu Reeves has a curious cult of followers, namely the "Keanu Reeves sucks" cult. No matter what he does, these people are convinced he is terrible. A quick look at his movieography reveals some very, very entertaining roles...and a willingness to mix up what he does, from comedies to action movies to...well, just "out there" roles. But to a lot of people it does not matter what he does, they are going to hate it. As a result, they miss some pretty entertaining cinema.

One example would be Street Kings (2008). I should warn you up front this review is full of spoilers so if you are thinking about seeing it, let me get a few things out of the way you might want to know before you see it and before I enter spoiler mode.

1) it is bloody. lots of blood.
2) it is profane. lots of profanity.
3) it is entertaining.

So if you might see it, there you go. Stop now. Come back after you have seen it.

The flick starts with a Reeves morning routine.As Detective Tom Ludlow, he is a flashy dresser, takes little care of himself....sleeping in whatever he wore the day before, casual about morning ablutions, that sort of thing...but takes extremely good care of his gun. He strolls out to his ride, a very nice ride indeed. He heads out to a meeting with some Korean gangsters...without backup which seems curious. Even more curious, he is extremely aggressive towards them, taunting them, using extremely offensive words and phrases and doing it deliberately. They beat him down and steal his car.

He has a tracer in the car which he uses to track them down. He busts into the house they took the car to, shoots four guys dead and rescues a couple of twins that apparently had been kidnapped for porn making purposes. So several things are established:

1) rules don't apply to Ludlow.
2) "bad guys" are going to be killed as quickly and frequently as possible. Ludlow doesn't make arrests, he collects body counts.
3) his unit, led by Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker), knows what he does, covers his crimes, and...inexplicably...were not there to back him up. He is a lone gunman.
4) he uses the board of inquiry for his own purposes. He instantly perjures himself, stating he heard screams from the house indicating there was a crime in progress to explain why he did not call for backup.
5) He has a reputation for this among the other cops, they know his "suspects" are going to be victims of death by gunfire.

His former partner Detective Terrence Washington (Terry Crews) is among those highly critical of the Ludlow methodology. Once friends, now Ludlow and Washington are near mortal enemies. When Ludlow is told Washington is rolling over on him he follows him in order to break his jaw. When he corners Washington in a market, his timing proves very bad...two hired guns are there to rob the store, Ludlow thinks. Washington doesn't believe robbers are about to enter and tackles Ludlow. When the AK47 wielding guys come in, Ludlow tries to return fire but instead hits Washington. Washington is killed, the bad guys get away.

The coverup expands as Detective Paul "Disco" Diskant (Chris Evans) covers up the forensics stating Ludlow fired a shot into Washington. To protect him, Ludlow is placed at the Complaints desk, taking complaints against officers. Along the way he hears about "the Cookie Jar".

Curiously, Ludlow never notices the alleged robbers never even thought about robbing the place, went straight for Washington, and left Ludlow alone.

Disco and Ludlow track down the guys forensics say did the shooting...only to find out they were killed long before that. Meanwhile, Captain James Biggs (Hugh Laurie) of internal affairs lets Ludlow know he is chasing him. They tell each other, "You need me".

Finally, Disco and Ludlow track down the real killers of Washington. In the shootout only Ludlow survives, though he is wounded. He goes to visit his nurse/girlfriend Grace Garcia (Martha Higareda). There he sees he is on the news for killing cops. He starts to question how it could be known that A) they were dead and B) they were cops if he just left? He starts to realize he has been framed only to be interrupted by members of his unit who arrest him. As they are taking him in a car he realizes they are not headed downtown. At this point the unit guys admit they plan to kill him, rape Washington's widow and Grace, kill them, and frame Ludlow for those acts. At this point the viewer realizes Ludlow's wife was probably murdered by these same guys.

Ludlow makes his escape, kills those 2, rushes to rescue Washington's widow, knocks out a third member of his unit, then makes his way to the house of Captain Wander where it is revealed Wander has built a huge kickback slush fund, the unit was buying and selling drugs, stealing mass amounts of money, then using Ludlow to cover up their activities. But only by killing "bad guys".

Ludlow says, "You were my best friend."
Wander says, "We are family."
Bang! Bang! Ludlow pumps two bullets into him, then calls Biggs who tells him he was first on scene, indicating Ludlow should write a report exonerating himself because, as Biggs says, "I told you we need you."

In the end everyone is a dirty cop and there are no good cops...just various levels of covering up. It is a dark look at the forces of Law & Order in the U.S. today that projects a very anti-authority picture full of anger at the cops, suspicion of their methods, and a question as to if that is how it should be.

After all, the only guys Ludlow kills in the movie are bad guys; child rapists, dirty cops, murderers...then again, as Washington says at one point, even criminals deserve their day in court, but all Ludlow's suspects get body bags. Is a cop acting as judge, jury and executioner a good thing or a bad thing?

It makes no attempt to answer this question of moral ambiguity. It does indicate part of the price...Ludlow lives a lonely, bitter life due to how his wife died (having an affair, her heart burst or clotted or something like that) and because of his illegal actions in pursuit of justice. But it is a question worth asking.

Overall the movie would have been better with less blood. It was very entertaining, had some nice twists and turns if you weren't paying attention, and left you thinking. Another fine effort.

Friday, April 11, 2008


What do Burt Reynolds, Keanu Reeves, Adam Sandler and George Clooney have in common?

They all played the lead in comedies based on football.

What do Burt Reynolds, Adam Sandler and George Clooney have in common?

Keanu Reeves did it better.

The Replacements (2000) had better football and better jokes than either version of The Longest Yard. Looking up at the much-maligned pinnacle of comic football movies did not keep Clooney from taking a run at it in Leatherheads (2008), the epic story of Dodge Connelly (Goerge Clooney) trying to legitimize professional football so he can keep playing.

To do so he hires college star/war hero Carter "Bullet" Rutherford (John Krasinsky) to play for the Duluth Bulldogs. When the Chicago team hires him away the two teams meet in an epic(ally boring) big game where Dodge is prohibited from his normal style of play and the game devolves into a muddy slugfest. In the end Dodge must choose between having fun while winning the game...or keeping his career.

Along the way we are given a bunch of old jokes. This movie is like one giant rip-off of 40s radio routines. You can see the hands of Abbott and Costello, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, George Burns & Gracie is a tour de force of some of the greatest comedians the U.S. has seen. On the dark side...the jokes are all retreads. On the bright side...they are still some pretty funny jokes.

The music is also pretty solid, with a bright, bouncy feel that very much fits the time period. Overall it is an entertaining experience that is an easy way to pass a couple of hours pounding popcorn.

Drillbit Taylor

Stop me if you have heard this one before: Owen Wilson plays fast-talking nice-guy borderline criminal scam artist. His scam gets exposed. He somehow turns the negative into a positive. Shanghai Noon (2002), Wedding Crashers (2005), Cars (2006), I Spy (2002), Starsky and Hutch (2004)...notice a pattern? Well, in an attempt to break out of the pattern, in Drillbit Taylor (2008) Wilson plays the title character...a fast-talking nice guy criminal scam artist. See the difference?

As usual he gets more ways than one...and must redeem himself. And, as usual, others are affected by his affable schemes. In this case it is the same jerks you have seen before, the Seth Rogen stock characters. You know...the High School kids who want to be cool but never quite made it? The ones who want to collect Yu-Gi-Oh cards and be well-liked by the girls...and somehow, in every Rogen flick, attain it.

I think there should be something like the "Seth Rogen Law" which is something along the lines of, "The hotness of the girl gotten is inversely proportional to (nerd factor x loser traits)". For instance, in the real world someone as hot as Katherine Heigl who had a great job would, theoretically, not hook up with a guy whose life revolved around porn and getting stoned, who thought a job was getting high and playing ping pong and who had no redeeming social qualities. Yet in Knocked Up (2007) that couple is a foregone conclusion. In Drillbit Taylor the homeless, AWOL scammer Drillbit Alamo Taylor he is going to end up with mega-hot schoolteacher Barbara (Beth Littleford).

Along the way there is a fresh take (?) on the nerds versus bullies paradigm as Eminem clone Filkins (Alex Frost) and his running buddy are humiliated in a rap battle by Ryan (Troy Gentile) and then beaten in the climactic fist fight by Ryan, stunt-stick figure Wade (Nate Hartley) and super-geek Emmit (David Dorfman).

In between there are a lot of laughs that sometimes make you forget you are watching a re-run of an initially weak story. If you can ignore the fact that the "Apatow Crew" as I sometimes see them referred to just recycles the same plot, slightly shifts the characters, and alters a couple jokes now and again, this is a pretty entertaining movie. If your brain cells are still functioning, however...might not be the best choice.

The Bank Job

I was a Jason Statham fan quite a while ago. I thought The Transporter (2002) was very entertaining. Unsurprisingly the sequel was less good...but he was solid. It was script problems that dragged it down. He was in a lot of movies in between of course, but the next "big" role for him was in the bizarre Crank (2006) in which he was fantastic...the story was a bit stupid but he made it work. Speaking of stupid but making it is it possible to make Crank II (2009) when the protagonist know...dead? Some sort of prequel? Anyhow, he continued to choose curious roles such as the lead in the almost great but actually pathetic In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007) and sometimes to match up his talent with a great script. War (2008) comes to mind as it was wildly entertaining.

In short, I enjoy the characters he plays...he just makes some interesting script choices. But, and for Hollywood bean counters this is important...I STILL GO SEE HIS FLICKS! Even when they look bizarre...I knew going in that In the Name of the King was going to be a train wreck but still went to see it.

Well, The Bank Job (2008) is another in that category. It is part of the ever-lame "true crime" genre. For whatever reason I elected to go see it.

Terry Leather (Jason Statham) is a small-time hood who gets picked by Martine Love (Saffron Burrows) to pick off a bank. She needs the bank hit so she can get some incriminating photos of British royalty. Unfortunately, that same bank has the blackmail photos that keep militant Michael X (Peter de Jersey) safe, it has the ledger books showing all the corrupt Scotland Yard police, it has illicit sex photos of various high-ranking government Leather and his gang are the targets of every scofflaw in London seemingly. His friend Dave Schilling (Daniel Mays) and a couple other minor gang members are killed in the attempts to recover the various bits of incriminating evidence but by the end Terry, Martine, and a couple others make a deal to get new names, keep the money, and turn in all the crooked cops with the inference that they will now all "go straight" and lead good lives. Uh-huh.

This movie is notable for a few things. One would be its place as one of a growing number of recent movies where cigarette smoking is rehabilitated as being something the "cool good guys" do. Another would be the strong acting of Statham. Sadly, one thing it is NOT notable for is being entertaining. It verges on being entertaining and promises great just never delivers.

Monday, April 7, 2008


Stop-Loss (2008) was heavily marketed as a "pro-soldier" look at the war in Iraq. Maybe. Maybe not. It is a movie that, if you go in with an open mind and not just to hate on President Bush or cheer on the soldiers has a lot of thought-provoking things to say.

It follows Brandon King (Ryan Phillipe) and his men, including life-long best friend Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum). We first meet them in Iraq. There we see scenes of them ostensibly self-shot as they goof around in camp, playing guitar, singing, and generally showing their camaraderie. Shortly thereafter they are working a check-point. When Iraqis perform a drive-by they hop into their Humvees and chase them into an alleyway. During the subsequent ambush Al "Preacher' Colson is killed, Rico Rodriguez (Victor Rasuk) is wounded, a couple of nameless soldiers are killed and others wounded. This ambush will be a unifying theme throughout the remainder of the flick.

Shortly after the ambush the unit returns home, their tour over. Brandon and Steve are done, about to be released from the army. Others, such as their friend Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Isaac "Eyeball" Butler (Rob Brown) are still in. As the bus carrying them approaches their hometown Lt. Colonel Boot Miller (Timothy Olyphant) tries to convince Steve to become a sniper and Brandon to stay in. They then are treated to a heroes welcome including a parade through town.

The next few scenes show the boys trying to readjust to civilian life but having trouble. Steve hits his fiance Michelle (Abbie Cornish) and digs a "Ranger grave" foxhole in her front yard during a flashback episode to his Iraq experience. The thought that life in a war zone has after-effects in civilian life will be repeated as the marriage of Tommy falls through and...well, it is a near-continuous theme. It is also a running theme that whenever Steve or Tommy get in trouble it is Brandon they turn to for a fix.

That stops when, on the day he is being released, instead he is informed he is stop-lossed and will be going back to Iraq in a couple of weeks. He refuses and the remainder of the movie revolves around his unit falling apart without him, his struggles to escape a return to Iraq, and the final inevitability of having to go back.

There are a lot of interesting things going on in this movie. One is the parallel drawn between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. Roy King (Ciaran Hinds), Brandon's father, is a proud Vietnam vet. In the triumphant return to Texas he is in the parade crowd wearing a Vietnam Vet shirt and decorations. With his smile and welcoming back of Brandon, because he wore that shirt, it is an implicit drawing of parallels to the "heroic soldier in the face of public disapproval" paradigm of Vietnam and Iraq. Today the reputation of the soldiers who went to Vietnam is undergoing extensive and thorough rehabilitation to where they are no longer the pariahs they once were but instead are "men who did their duty". That parallel is no mistake.

Throughout the movie Roy is quiet, offering a steadying influence on the histrionics of his wife Ida (Linda Edmond) as she seeks to smuggle Brandon into Mexico, convince him to go to Mexico, to do anything but go back to Iraq. At the climax when Brandon "realizes his duty" the quiet smile and hug from Roy validate this as the Vietnam vets having helped another generation see their responsibility to do their duty.

The Iraq War is frequently compared to the Vietnam War. Many people believe we should have been in neither place. Many people believe there were atrocities committed by US soldiers in both places. Many people believe that grew out of populaces where "everyone is armed and you never know who is an enemy", a fear of "the Other" that leads to a "kill them all" attitude. By placing a sympathetic Vietnam Vet in the patriarchal role there is a statement being made and it is not random.

Another step is the disintegration of lives when they get home. Tommy might be a good soldier but he is a lousy civilian. His marriage breaks down so swiftly the wedding gifts are still in his rig, still wrapped. He "fixes" it by shooting the gifts. Later he gets a DUI. He is on the verge of getting kicked out. Steve tracks down Brandon, the guy who always kept Tommy in line but Brandon is doing his own thing, trying to avoid being stop-lossed. Later Tommy pulls one stunt too many and is kicked out of the Army. He ends up committing suicide because he cannot be the only place he wants to the Army. The irony is his death spiral is juxtaposed with Brandon striving to get out; the guy who wants in the Army doesn't want and the guy who wants out is dragged in by the Army.

Steve turns into an angry drunk and loses Michelle...possibly to Brandon, though they carefully leave that nebulous. Can't have soldiers stealing each other's girls, you know...he re-ups, takes the sniper training. He goes back into the military because "outside it doesn't make sense"...a phrasing that resonates with prison lifers such as in The Shawshank Redemption (1994) where the old paroled lifer commits suicide because he can't handle life on the "outside". The Army is home for Steve and the rules of life there have overwhelmed his civilian mentality...he cannot deal without the structure the Army has provided. He would rather face Iraqi bullets than a failed engagement.

In other words, the experience of guerrilla warfare in Iraq destroys civilian potential for these guys. Only Brandon has a positive future...working on the family ranch. But the cost of war is considerably higher. That is illustrated when Brandon and Michelle visit Rico in the hospital.

There is no lead-up, no warning...suddenly you are in the scene, walking into the hospital to see the "lightly wounded" Rico...except lightly wounded is not correct. He has one leg, one arm, a badly burned face, no sight. He is lifting weights with his right arm...because he has nothing else to do with his time.

And during the conversation he tells Brandon how lucky he is because the Iraqi weapons are getting nastier. They got out in time...they are the lucky ones. There is a large segment of the movie showing how men who had their limbs blown off are adapting...using metal replacement hooks to shoot pool, wheelchair basketball, etc. Because those limbs were the price of life for them. And the cost goes on for decades...however long they survive, the missing limbs are reminders of events on specific days, the day they were done fighting in Iraq because they are no longer physically whole any more than Tommy or Steve will ever again be mentally whole.

But even Brandon is not whole. His objections to going back to Iraq make sense...yet ultimately, he needs to go back to Iraq because if he doesn't then his friends will be destroyed. The catalyst is Tommy's suicide but the struggles of Steve also figure into the equation.Without Brandon everything falls Steve explicitly states.

There is a reason Boot wants...scratch that, NEEDS Brandon back. Brandon is a good soldier. He is a good leader. Though he made a mistake in leading his men into the ambush in the opening scenes of the movie, his presence there minimized the casualties and his presence overall was responsible for numerous lives being saved. He is a talented squad leader. Good leaders save casualties.

But Brandon sees things differently. He knows he should not have walked into that ambush. He blames himself for the damage done to his men. He remembers every man who was wounded or killed on missions Brandon led...and blames himself for them. He is at the breaking point. He does not want to lead men in war anymore...but contrasting that is the lives he will save by continuing to do so.

Ultimately it is not duty to his country that pulls him away from AWOL, from crossing the border to Mexico to never again come to the is his duty to his fellow Army members.

There are a lot of things to think about. Is the stop-loss clause legit? Who is the duty of a soldier to? What price is worthwhile, whether "insignificant wounds", loss of body parts, loss of life...or loss of civility? How much responsibility does a guy like Brandon have to "do his duty" and save lives?

And what should we, the civilians, be doing about it?