Thursday, November 28, 2013

"The War At Home"

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When it comes to movies about the Vietnam War, Charlie and Martin Sheen got the action; Emilio got the aftermath. This was truly Emilio Estevez's most powerful performance since his portrayal of Billy the Kid in the Young Guns movies. The War At Home takes place in small-town Texas in 1972. Emilio plays Jeremy Collier, a young Army soldier who's just returned from two tours of duty. He was decorated in combat and received one of his medals for killing a Vietnamese sniper.

For the most part, it's a very serious, sometimes dark, drama, but it has a hilarious opening scene: Jeremy has come downstairs to eat breakfast and his mom is talking about the family's plans for Thanksgiving. She says she wishes it was a more religious holiday, the way it was with the Pilgrims. Jeremy asks, “What about the Indians?” His mom, Maureen, laughs and says there were no Indians at the first Thanksgiving. Jeremy patiently explains to her that Indians are the reason we have Thanksgiving in the first place. Maureen insists that this must have been after the Indians were Christianized. She reworks history a lot and Jeremy knows it’s useless to argue with her, so he gives up on trying to tell her she’s wrong.

Jeremy didn't have a job or any money saved up before he went to Vietnam, so when he was discharged, he had no choice but to go live at his parents’ house. He doesn’t get along with his family very well anymore because he feels like they don’t understand him. Maureen treats him likes he’s eight years old. His dad, Bob feels that Jeremy needs to get over what happened in the war and get on with his life. His attitude is a bit contradictory, as Bob himself served toward the end of WWII. Jeremy’s little sister Karen turned into a hippie while he was gone. She makes no bones about the fact she thinks he’s a killer, yet she still tries to pretend that she’s concerned about Jeremy’s problems, even attempting to psychoanalyze him.    

Jeremy is using his GI Loan money to take music classes at community college. While in class one day, he sees Melissa, the girlfriend he left behind when he joined the Army. They talk after class and go out to get some coffee. Melissa tells Jeremy how much she missed him and that she saved all his letters. In the same breath, she blurts out that she’s living with another man now. She never officially broke up with Jeremy, so he is understandably hurt.

As if Jeremy didn’t have enough problems already, his parents announce that Bob’s sister, brother-in-law, their son, and their son's wife are coming over for Thanksgiving dinner. Jeremy’s cousin David literally dodged a bullet because his number mysteriously never came up in the draft card lottery. He's a few semesters away from a college degree and already married. David feels very smug about the fact that it was Jeremy who had to go to Vietnam and not him. 

During the beginning of the movie, Maureen expresses some worries about Jeremy.  He’s been screaming in his sleep, and when he finally falls asleep, she thinks he wakes up too late. He’s grouchy and he has no appetite. Bob doesn’t think it’s anything to worry about; he says Jeremy will get over it if they give him time. By the end of Thanksgiving Day, Bob wishes that he’d paid more attention to Maureen’s motherly intuition.   
The War At Home is very suspenseful. Even when normal household stuff is going on, the tension never leaves; Jeremy's become so unpredictable that you never know what is going to happen next. The casting is superb. Kathy Bates is perfect as the well-meaning but sort of confused, overbearing mother. Of course, you cannot go wrong with Martin Sheen as Bob. The father/son moments would not have been as believable if any other actor had played this role. This movie shows that Emilio is not only a versatile actor, but a solid writer and director as well. It’s an enthralling and heartbreaking emotional study of what war can do to an otherwise happy family. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Guest Review: "Never Forget"

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Frank, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, awakens in the woods, dangling from a rope by one leg. He also has some sort of bleeding head injury. Alone in the woods, he manages to sever the fraying rope that is holding him captive, but he was hanging in the air from a tree limb about 15 feet up. Thankfully, it is fall so there is a mattress of dried leaves to keep him from breaking his neck. He starts yelling to see if anyone is around.

Eventually, his wife Natasha's coworker Andy comes along in his office attire. Frank doesn't remember who he is and he needs help. Andy isn't there to help; Andy is angry and Andy has a gun. He starts yelling, "Where is she?" and pushing Frank.

All Frank has been able to discover is that he's holding a bloody knife with the name Tom Martin on it; he found his driver's license in his wallet and knows his name is Frank Hill. He's having flashbacks of shooting and blood back at a cabin. Andy keeps yelling at Frank that he murdered people and that he has done something with Andy's wife Natasha.

Frank and Andy stumble around the woods for hours. Frank's hurt leg is slowing him down. Andy's dress clothing is slowing him down. They finally find a half-dead park ranger. The name plate on his jacket matches the name on the knife Frank is carrying. The man's throat is slit and he is spurting blood. Andy keeps telling Frank, "You did this."

Since no medical help is available, Frank begs Andy to shoot the ranger to help him die. Andy starts looking really uncomfortable. We learn there are no bullets in the gun. Having been terrorized with that gun for hours, Frank snaps and kills Andy. He backs him against a weathered barn and slits his throat. An arterial spatter extravaganza follows and then Frank walks away from the scene. The viewer is left wondering whether Frank or Andy did the killings at the cabin and stabbed the ranger.

Andy wasn't dressed for a vacation in the woods and had a car one would not take camping. Andy had no wedding ring and couldn't find his way through the woods, though he claimed to have been there before; he also had the gun. Andy kept telling Frank, "You did this" when referring to the murders at the cabin and the death of the park ranger.

Frank had a wedding ring and pictures of his wife Natasha in his wallet. His leg was injured. The only weapon he had was Tom Martin's knife, which was probably planted on him. Frank, even with his amnesia, had an easier time finding his way through the woods. He later remembered that Andy had been stalking Natasha at work.

In the end, Andy is a much more likely suspect. He eventually drove Frank to murder him. I think Andy did all the killings at the cabin because he couldn't have Natasha for himself and was jealous because Frank did. He wanted to ruin Frank's life and possibly send him to prison by manipulating Frank's fragile memory until Frank thought he was responsible for the string of murders.