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A Separation

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****½

You know, my problem is that I can’t speak like them. I’m hot tempered.

A Separation is just a film. But the issues it addresses are myriad and mighty. Set in Iran, it provides marriage, child raising, gender roles, legal, religious and integrity issues. I brought to this film a little bit of knowledge of how the Iranian divorce system and justice system operated. That said, everyone I know watches this film as a foreigner, and unless you are Iranian, you will too.

What gets people to watch this is that the issues and characters are universal, without being archetypes. Still, as an Iranian film made in Arabic*, I think the director presents Nader, the father, as the sympathetic one initially. Yet, as an American, his Muslim wife who seeks to leave the country with her daughter so that she may have a brighter future probably appeals to a majority of people here. So whose side are we on? I find that an interesting difference from Hollywood movies made in English and aimed at me, or people of my skin color who are just looking for explosions or cheesy romance. The only explosions in this came from the tense scenes involving another Hojjat, the husband of the woman who comes to take care of…it does not matter. He is electric and 100% human, despite being the most dangerous character.

So the characters in this are fascinating, but it would be dishonest to imply that I enjoyed this movie. Its protagonists, if any can be considered protagonists besides the 11 year old daughter, are all so flawed. Thus the director gives us information, but not all of the information, and then lets us take sides before dropping his bombs. The end of the film is just like the beginning—it is just a film.

*According to a source I trust the film is apparently in Farsi, not Arabic.

Captain America: The First Avenger

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***½

Arrogance is not a uniquely American trait, but you do it better than most.

I had no plan to see this movie, despite having heard good things. I now see that this movie meets the standards of even comic book fans. Either the writers or director Joe Johnston deserve credit for putting things in that fooled me, like the first cosmic cube being a fake. But that is just the icing on the cake, the cake is how the story overcomes all of the challenges to Captain America’s origin.

The first major problem to telling Captain America’s story is the adulation that soldiers show him, even though he was handed almost immortality in a dangerous profession. The movie does not avoid this, but confronts it head on ingeniously. Marvel also pulled out all the stops in the casting of the film. Chris Evans is great as Steve Rogers/Captain America, even if casting the Human Torch in another Marvel movie seemed stupid. Hayley Atwell is an unknown actress to me, but her Agent Peggy–not Sharon–Carter was very good, if a bit super hot for the Army. Bucky was also a nobody–Sebastian Stan–but he’s not even a kid! That was another good choice, because bringing kids into lethal fights does not seem as appropriate as it once did. One take Tommy does what he does, as does Hugo. He brings it with every facial costume, be it elven, Fawkesian, or skeletal. Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark encapsulates Leonardo Dicaprio’s  Howard Hughes. Stanley Tucci’s Dr. Erskine plays an integral part, as the orphaned Rogers’s surrogate father and the one who lets him live his dream of serving his country. His role is small, but crucial. As good as Tucci’s Dr. Erskine is, Toby Jones’s Dr. Zola is even better. He plays genius and ambition mixed with fear remarkably well. Even the Howling Commandos include Derek Luke and Neal McDonough.

While this is not as good as Spider-man 2, X2, or Iron Man, it is on par with Thor and above Chris Evans’s Fantastic Four movies. This makes me even more excited for The Avengers.

Machete, but not that Machete

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**

A man is not warmed by ashes, but fire.

This is not Robert Rodriguez’s Machete. I told my buddy Paul about how attractive Lindsay Lohan was in it and that it was on Netflix streaming. It turns out that I was half wrong, Netflix did not have that Machete, but it did have one from 1958.

There are basically seven characters in the movie. Only one had consistently good lines and a sensible attitude—Juano Hernandez’s Bernardo. Bernardo plays the assistant to Don Luis Montoya a sugar cane plantation owner. Don Luis has just married a pretty, young American woman named Jean–Mari Blanchard–who seems to decide to cheat on her new husband with the first attractve man she meets. That man is his adopted son Carlos, who is affianced to Rita, who is the house maid. That is it, except for Don Luis’ evil cousin and minor partner Miguel—played by the wonderful Lee Van Cleef. Miguel drinks too much. Jean is horny. There’s a machete fight where Don Luis gets stabbed by his cousin for trying to break it up. In the end, there is too much cane rum and too little machete-ing. And way too little Lindsay Lohan.

The Help

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****½

They don’t like you ’cause they think you white trash.

This is not an original idea, but I certainly subscribe to it—this is a movie about women helping other women. While Emma Stone might have received first billing, just look at the award winners: Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Emma Stone’s Skeeter Phelan plays a necessary role, but this is not some female Avatar. As Viola Davis’s Abilene Clark says, self-analysis and speaking the truth freed her.

I really liked the lack of strong male characters. Stuart–Chris Lowell–came the closet, but who cares? How many movies have I seen and loved that lacked true female characters, from the Star Warses and Lords of the Ringses? This movie also serves as a reminder that the US has a dark past that we like to forget. That you can be an otherwise likable and decent person, like Allison Janney as Skeeter’s mother, but also make terrible mistakes. In that context, should Skeeter stop loving her mother, or put another way, should we let our disgust and guilt prevent us from loving our country? I believe that the answer provided by this movie, with which I agree, is that we need to be courageous, even when it comes to our own sins. Racism and sexism are not dead in this country, but they do not look like they did fifty years ago. All we can hope is that in fifty years we find ourselves on the side of the Skeeters, Abilines and Minnies.