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Thursday, January 21, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - The Hurt Locker

About halfway through The Hurt Locker, Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) stumbles upon a crude bomb workspace with a locker standing between two desks. There is no mention of it by the characters. They don’t open it, hell, I don’t think they even look at it. I can assume there are only bomb parts in that locker, thus making it a candidate for the film’s title. Of course the real hurt locker is present-day Iraq, but I have to wonder if that ominous locker was placed for its own aesthetic metaphor. It may sound pretentious, but it’s these same nuances that make The Hurt Locker the masterpiece it is.

Sgt. William James becomes the new team leader of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit. His teammates deem him reckless in his search for adrenaline—In contrast Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is extremely by-the-book with the way he handles bomb tasks, and Spc. Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) lives every day in fear of death. The disparity between James and Eldridge is the most interesting comparison of today's soldiers. Whereas James will march in to a wired car without any protection, Eldridge is constantly seeking counsel from commanding officers. The film begins with a quote from journalist Chris Hedges, "The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug." This line becomes the crutch of James’ character, and it’s a crutch that scares the hell out of me.

Going back to the EOD’s infiltration of an insurgent bomb facility, James finds himself with a dead body-bomb in which he believes was a child he befriended earlier. Whether it is the child or not becomes a mute point as James continuously searches for more reasons to enter combat. This is a side of reality I’ve always been interested to see explored. So few movies touch on the soldiers who know nothing but war. Sure, First Blood was built on that, but it didn’t retain the believability that The Hurt Locker does. It’s not that James is a bad person. He’s not a warmonger or a ruthless killer by any means. In fact he may have fired the least amount of weapons in the entire movie. He simply only knows how to acknowledge his existence in the battlefield.

Along with the near-maddening mentality the characters ooze off the screen comes a tension unmatched by most films of the last decade. Prepare to chew your arm off as a frustrated James scrambles to defuse a car bomb while more and more on-lookers gather. Any of them could hold the detonator. Any of them could have planted the bomb. But no one knows for sure. It’s maddening that this is the type of combat that goes on today. Such knowledge only increases the nails-on-a-chalkboard suspense that crosses from the screen to your gut.

Oh no worries. Your stomach gets a break from all the punching the movie gives you now and then. (Amusingly, our main characters play a “manly” game of hitting each other in the gut that seems to embody what the movie is doing to its audience.) But when the last minute of the movie spins to Sgt. James’s destiny a far more terrifying realization hit me. He’s necessary. In a world with such insane venues as Iraq, this fictional character is a must. And then, perhaps just as scary, I become at ease with the idea that people like him exist. Should I? Don't know. Maybe I feel safer or maybe I'm just glad its not me out there.

With this fixation on William James, I can’t say The Hurt Locker is specifically about the Iraq War. It’s even possible the title refers to any battlefield a man stands on, but I won’t proclaim the movie is, “just about war.” Such a cliché undermines its value. Rather, The Hurt Locker stands for warriors—Warriors of today and their mentality during battle. They might be scared or they might be fearless. They could feel empowered or they might appear powerless. They might not like each other, but they’ll live with each other. The Hurt Locker doesn’t stand on a side of the political fence it worries about the modern day American soldier. If this film is any indication their job isn’t as easy as looking for a sign that says “bad guy” and squeezing the trigger. Nope, when the smoke clears, The Hurt Locker feels more like a horror picture than a war flick. Perhaps that’s an indicator of its realism. I’d have to go to Iraq to know for sure. Watch this movie and let me know if you're up for the trip.

**** out of ****

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


When Star Wars launched its phenomenon in 1977 it was completely unpredicted. This little fantasy/sci-fi picture defined a decade and has since continued to be one of the top money making franchises of all time. There was no hype. It was an explosion of bewildering success and greatness. So it’s of no surprise that studios and filmmakers have tried to recreate that scenario; but the idea that you can create such leviathans with sheer will is arrogance cooked on stupidity. The latest example is the decade’s ultimate hype-machine: Avatar.

The movie’s story? Let’s put it this way. While watching the movie my significant other leaned in to note how similar it was to Disney’s Pocahontas. My mouth hit the floor with what I can only assume was an astonishing thud—I’m sure I looked like a sorority girl on game night. She nailed it! Mind you this was said to me before either one of us saw THIS. Sure, she could have said Dances With Wolves and she would have been equally correct, but Avatar’s resemblance to the Disney film is so uncanny I had to stop and think: James Cameron had fifteen years to refine this script?

Whatever… Now you know the story of Avatar to an absolute tee. Is the absurd predictability of the story a problem? That depends on the audience. If you’re in to the irrelevant exercise of looking for originality you’ll probably hate Avatar. If you can stomach the fact that this story has been told at least four or five times per decade, post-1950s, then it can certainly be a rewarding experience. Otherwise enjoy the over-exposition of a cliché, trigger-happy badass and his military constantly bullying the savage protagonists and their “enlightened” ways. Are military folk always this thoughtless? Are native savages always right no matter what? Is blue alien sex really that hot? Yikes…

So, to that reward I mentioned. As you might have imagined, the special effects really are fantastic. Though I feel the comparisons to Jurassic Park are exaggerated, Avatar has a claim to creating photo-realistic characters and environments that will do well to aid future special effects features. The most intriguing thing about Avatar is its setting. Pandora, the planet, is truly beautiful and an incredible technical achievement that I can bank on being used again and again. Couple that with Cameron’s penchant for aggressive action sequences and you have a recipe for some exciting visuals.

However, it is a shame that these visuals are wasted on such derivative designs. As cool as the world is, putting two sets of front legs on every known animal on Earth and then painting it blue isn’t exactly what I call creative. But neither is the giant robots conjuring images from The Matrix Revolutions.

Okay, okay, I’m probably being a bit harsh. Avatar isn’t a terrible film at all, really. For its unoriginality it’s actually well told and boasts some impressive performances from most of the major players—Especially Sam Worthington! But the success of Cameron’s film relies on the hype he built for it. There was no explosion and, like the movie, there was nothing unexpected about it raping the box office. But if you strip off the fancy effects and incredible advertising you're left with just another character epic. Cameron use to be a master of great and original filmmaking, now he’s proving gimmicks are enough to make a “good movie.” It frightens me there’s a majority okay with this.

** out ****

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Download to Donate: Haiti

Linkin Park is in battle-mode with their Music For Relief foundation. They've brought some artists together and released a free benefit EP for Haiti. The catch? No catch. The music is free, whether you donate or not. But unless your dick is up your own mouth, you should donate-- Especially if you download the songs.

Excellent cause and organization Linkin Park. Donate what you can, if you can.



1) Not Alone - Linkin Park

2) Mother Maria - Slash feat. Beth Hart

3) Never Let Me Down - Kenna feat. Mike Shinoda and Chad Hugo

4) Heroes - Peter Gabriel

5) Still (Acoustic Session) - Alanis Morissette

6) Resurrection - Lupe Fiasco and Kenna feat. Mike Shinoda

7) We Are One - Hoobastank

8) The Wind Blows - All-American Rejects

9) It Must Be Love - Enrique Iglesias

10) Typical Situation (Live) - Dave Matthew Band