Film Threat Review: The Hurt Locker

2009
Rated R
130 minutes
Summit Entertainment

***

I was really excited for “The Hurt Locker” because I’m a huge fan of one of director Kathryn Bigelow’s early films. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s about an FBI agent who learns to surf so that he can infiltrate a gang of moondoggies who also happen to be bank robbers. Do you know the film I mean? It stars the guy from “The Matrix” and the guy from “Dirty Dancing” and it’s amazingly awesome.

I wanted so badly for “The Hurt Locker” to have the same energy as “Point Break.” But it just…didn’t have it. Well, it was on a certain level. Like “Point Break,” it’s about an out-of-control adrenaline junkie and features some pretty outlandish dialog. Yet the script just isn’t as serious as the subject matter. Plus, it’s about a war that is still going on, which is kind of a sore subject.

“War is a drug,” so says the opening statement. What follows is a film about a bomb squad in Baghdad called Bravo Company who only has 38 days left in its yearlong tour. Consequently, they aren’t pleased when their leader (Guy Pierce) dies during a routine mission and is replaced by a loose cannon named William James (Jeremy Renner). The dude has two first names so he’s obviously not into “rules.”

On his first day, he marches headlong into a bomb-ridden area without using the scout robot first. It ends with him in a standoff with a shady cab driver. “He’s reckless,” observes his astute colleague. On his second day, he takes off his protective gear because he’s hot, declaring “If I’m gonna die, I might as well be comfortable.” “He’s a wild man,” observes his colleague astutely. Are you beginning to get the impression that Sgt. Bill Jim is a bit on the rash side? You would be correct. At some point someone actually states, “I’m too old for this shit.” Needless to say, it’s a little on-the-nose.

Granted, absurd dialog can be pretty entertaining. But here’s the trouble with “The Hurt Locker”: the violence doesn’t match the lines. Horrible things happen to old men and kids. Because the movie takes place in present-day Iraq, you can’t help but think about the reality of the violence. Again, a realistic war story can also be great cinema. But the language doesn’t marry well with the violence. It makes for a pretty schizophrenic film-going experience.

I don’t know if we’re supposed to like Sgt. Jim, but he’s certainly no everyman. He keeps mementos from each of the bombs he’s dismantled in a box full of “things that almost killed [him].” It also contains his wedding ring. He has a son at home, but he doesn’t seem to care too much about the boy growing up without a father. For fun, he gets drunk and punches people. He does show some affection for a local boy who calls himself Beckham. But it’s not enough to endear him to me or to help make sense of why the hell we are over there in the first place. Sgt. Jim thinks that war is easy and that real life is the hard part. That is pretty fucked up.

In short, “The Hurt Locker” is a modern war movie that doesn’t exactly glorify war, but doesn’t vilify it either. The film’s thesis is that some people are meant for war. I find that notion unsettling. What can I say? I like my war movies strictly anti. I also really like the musical “Hair!”

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

Advertisements

Beyond-Clintonian Proportions

Recently, in an article entitled “My Kinky Relationship with Barack”, David Schmader beautifully summed up his feelings about President Obama’s failure to take some very simple steps toward finally making the gay community an equal part of American society. I still think he was the best available candidate for the job of cleaning of the mess left by the Bush administration. But I no longer think he was just downplaying his support of gay rights. It’s really seems like he doesn’t see it as the civil rights issue that it clearly is.

Schmader writes:

Of course, putting your trust in anyone involves banking on his or her motives, and with Obama, I’d consistently taken him at his word and filled in the blanks with stupid romantic hope.

I was slapped back to my senses this month, when the DOMA brief came out—the second punch to the face. The first had been easy to explain away. But with that brief, Obama was officially becoming the Chris Brown to my Rihanna. I tried to understand, but there’s only so much explaining away and narrative spinning you can do before you start looking like a deluded lovelorn masochist.

And yet, what am I supposed to do? He knows I’m not going anywhere. It’s not like I’m going to become a Republican or something. Like any abused boyfriend, I find myself equivocating. He’s not all bad. He’s doing nice things for the environment, the economy, abortion rights, and “America’s image in the world,” right? And really, he only shoves me when he needs to.

I’m starting to understand why my friend who is a lesbian, and also one of the “lucky” couples who’s marriage is still legal in spite of prop 8, wrote in a vote for Ralph Nader in 2008. I know he’s busy fixing the economy but how hard is it to pick up a pen and sign a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”? How hard is it to just stop letting bigots tell people who they can and cannot love? And what the hell was up with that support of DOMA? I didn’t expect gay marriage to become legal on November 4th. But I did expect Barack Obama to prioritize. And as far as I’m concerned, getting people to stop smoking cloves is not nearly as fucking important as giving a large portion of your voters equal rights. Smoking, unlike homosexuality, is a choice. And being gay is only dangerous because political leaders support bullshit like DOMA, thus giving credence to hate.

Fine. I’ll Say It.

Blah blah blah “Thriller” blah blah blah important contributions to pop music. Fine. That shit is true. I loved that record and I tried to do that dance in my living room when I was a kid just like the rest of the world.

What is also true is that Michael Jackson molested children. I don’t care that he was never convicted. Everyone knows money can buy a guilty man a bill of innocence and he certainly spent a lot of his money doing just that.

Michael Jackson was completely batshit looney and who knows how many years of therapy his kids are going to have to go through to avoid becoming drug addicts, sex offenders or worse. I realize that he had a tough childhood. But so did a lot of people. They got help. Or were forced to get help. Or went to jail. Or killed themselves. But Michael was instead allowed to isolate himself further and further until he had absolutely no sense of reality left. And he didn’t just hurt himself. He hurt other people. And he got away with it because he wrote some really good songs. This would not have happened if he had been just some dude who worked at Target. Is everyone gonna be super sad when O.J. dies too? What about Charles Manson? He’s a musician…

What I’m trying to say is that when our idols let us down, it’s OK to be angry. We shouldn’t let fandom blind us from acknowledging a person’s character flaws. It’s OK to feel disgust toward someone you once loved if they deserve it. And he does. Maybe those closest to him share the responsibility for not getting him help before it was too late. But ultimately, he made those choices. It’s too bad he died before he could make different ones. But he was still a fucking child molester.

Hotter With a Beard: Chuck Klosterman Edition

This edition is in honor of my friend, Elyse, who met the illustrious Chuck when she was the maid of honor to his groomsman at a friend’s wedding. I recently gifted her a copy of “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs” (mmmm…Cocoa Puffs…) and his picture on the back cover features this cute but also sort of geeky clean-shaven face.

Apparently, he now looks like this:

Proof-positive of the magic of facial hair. The evidence is undeniable. The shorter bangs help too.

SIFF Review: Adam

2009 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL FEATURE!
Rated PG-13
95 minutes
Olympus Pictures

**

I first became aware of Aspergers, a high functioning form of autism, when a contestant on America’s Next Top Model announced she was suffering from it. It was pretty fascinating watching a lanky, pale, and extremely awkward girl attempt to navigate the ridiculous “challenges” that Tyra threw at her and to try and fit in with the other girls. She blamed her Aspergers for nearly every failure, explaining that it hindered her from understanding normal social interaction. Of course, the conditions of ANTM are hardly “normal.”

I longed to see what it was like for an Aspergers sufferer in a more realistic setting. That why I was really excited to see “Adam,” a film about a young man with Aspergers who falls in love with his neighbor. I don’t know what I was thinking.

I find nearly every film about mentally challenged characters excruciating to watch. I’m embarrassed for the actors in their Oscar Bait roles. I’m embarrassed for everyone in the theatre laughing and awing at the “retards say the darndest things” moments. And I’m embarrassed for myself for choosing to spend 90 or so minutes with these people. None of these movies ever come close to accurately depicting what it’s like to live with mental challenges.

While it’s not quite “The Other Sister,” “Adam” is no exception. People with Aspergers can’t comprehend sarcasm, jokes, or behavioral nuances. Adam takes everything literally, which of course results in numerous instances of wacky misunderstanding, dramatic outbursts, and people learning shit about each other and themselves.

When Beth moves into Adam’s New York apartment building, she is immediately drawn to him because he’s cute, like an Aspercrombie and Fitch model. Having just been dumped, Beth is vulnerable and desperate and, mistaking his condition for eccentricity, makes her interest known. He is likewise quite lonely, having just lost his father. They embark on an unlikely courtship involving makeshift planetariums and midnight raccoon watching in Central Park.

Challenges arise when Adam loses his job as an Electronics Engineer and Beth’s father (Peter Gallagher and his delightful eyebrows) is criminally charged with corporate nepotism. Beth must teach Adam how to interview for a new job and come to terms with her father’s potential guilt. She must also deal with her father’s (perfectly natural) disapproval of her relationship with Adam.

The drama is balanced with comic relief from the aforementioned misunderstandings, as well as Adam’s interaction with his obligatory friend of normal intelligence, a sassy construction worker. The parallels were already quite apparent, but I knew I completely hated this movie when writer/director Max Mayer directly references the most insulting of the half-retard movies. Beth offers Adam some chocolate and he refuses, saying, “I’m not Forrest Gump.” This groaner is delivered in such a smug manner that I wouldn’t be surprised if they had based the entire script around that line. If you trade stars for shrimp, “Adam” is actually pretty close to Gump. And that’s why the Hallmark crowd will eat it up. But as for me, I’m not buying it.

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

SIFF Review: The Girl From Monaco

2009 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL FEATURE!
Rated R
95 minutes
Soudaine Compagnie

**

“The Girl From Monaco” is party buddy-comedy, part romantic tragedy. If it had been more of the former than the latter, perhaps I would have liked it. But I am so tired or stories about men who are powerless against the wiles of a Succubus.

What’s a succubus, you might ask? Well, it’s somewhat synonymous with a Femme Fatale – a woman who uses her sexuality to manipulate men into doing whatever she wants, usually to their detriment. However, a Succubus is different because she doesn’t seem dangerous at first. She’s usually fun and flirty and might even seem a little simple. But she knows what she’s doing. She finds a target and puts her claws into them, not letting go until they’ve convinced themselves they’re in love with her. Audrey (Louise Bourgoin), the titular girl, is one of those ladies. A townie from Monaco, she meets a Parisian lawyer named Bertrand (Fabrice Luchini) who is there working on a case. Inevitably, he allows her to worm her way into his life and wreak havoc.

Audrey is a local weather girl who got her start, naturally, on a reality TV show. In addition to musical weather reporting (it’s true, Succubi love to sing), she also reports short human-interest stories. She decides to do one on Bertrand so that she can get closer to him. It’s clear from the start that Audrey has sugar-baby ambitions. She’s not very smart but she knows how to make a man do what she wants. In Bertrand, she sees the opportunity to have a life of leisure in Paris.

Since Bertrand is working on a high-profile case, he is assigned a bodyguard named Cristophe (Roschdy Zem). Christophe is a serious and straight-laced guy with a direct manner of speaking. Physically, he’s a cross between Lou Ferrigno and President Obama. He also happens to be Audrey’s ex. (Not that it’s a coincidence. Apparently, she’s slept with everyone on the island. Like, literally.) Contrasted with the irrational, shortsighted Bertram, Christophe’s way of handing things is pretty amusing. That’s the buddy-comedy aspect that could have worked. But this movie isn’t called “The Lawyer and the Bodyguard.” It’s the fucking “Girl From Monaco.” So instead of hilarious differences of opinion and high-speed chases, it’s scene after scene of Bertram being suckered by a Succubus.

Bertrand is supposed to be an awesome lawyer – a miracle worker. But he’s bumbling and a terrible judge of character. He has issues with two other women before encountering Audrey, both of them failures in some capacity or another. Clearly Audrey isn’t an exception to his normally discerning love life. He’s actually kind of a schmuck too. It makes it hard to feel sorry for him.

For a while, it makes things a little more fun to imagine Christophe as Barack Obama, securing perimeters and dispensing advice. But mostly, it’s annoying watching Bertrand fall for Audrey’s shit over and over again. And then Christophe proves that he’s learned nothing from his own past with Audrey. Oh, Mr. President! How could you?! If some men are really like this, I don’t want to know about it.

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

SIFF Review: Poppy Shakespeare

2009 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL FEATURE!
Un-rated
90 minutes
Cowboy Films

***

Welcome to the Nut House. Our guide, known simply as N, is a career outpatient nutter, living off British government-provided “Mad Money” and a happy hour cocktail of anti-psychotic medications. A bit of a loner, she’s clearly comfortable with the life she’s carved out. It’s not until she meets a new, reluctant patient named Poppy Shakespeare that she starts to question her routine and the policies at Dorothy Fish Day Hospital.

N begins by telling us, “It weren’t my fault, what happened to Poppy,” so straight away we know something bad is going to happen to the vivacious woman who is brought to the Dorothy Fish against her will. Poppy claims she took a test as part of a job interview and the next thing she knew, she was in the loony bin. She certainly seems sane enough. But then again, we’re seeing this entire tale through the eyes of a potentially unreliable narrator. After all, N is a mental patient, even if she is working the system.

Poppy and N strike up an unlikely friendship after N is assigned to show Poppy the ropes. In the process of helping Poppy prove her sanity, they uncover a tragic Catch 22. In order to hire a mental health lawyer to prove she’s not crazy, Poppy must receive Mad Money. In order to receive Mad Money, she must prove she is crazy. N must teach Poppy a skill that she’s perfected for years – how to act loony. Even without N’s forewarning, we know this can’t end well.

It may be called “Poppy Shakespeare,” but this is really N’s story. She doesn’t talk much about her past, but that’s probably because there isn’t much to tell. She goes to meetings, grabs her drugs, and goes on her merry way. She doesn’t have to work. She doesn’t have much of a social life. It’s the same thing every day. Once a year, in order to stay in the program, she must really pour on the crazy for a panel assessment. She’s a professional. But when Poppy’s attempts to prove her sanity start to take a real toll on her mental state, everything changes for N. Our protagonist starts to realize just how crazy she’s not. Tragically, N’s tutelage is a bit too effective for Poppy’s own good.

“Poppy” takes a cue from early Mike Leigh films, depicting the dark side of London with muted tones and apocalyptic speeches. The colors are especially engaging when they contrast with occasional brightness, such as N’s pallid, makeup-free face against her signature red coat. Poppy starts out so vibrant, strong and sweet that you become as smitten with her as N. It’s heartbreaking when things don’t go according to plan.

The supporting cast of crazies does dip into the realm of cliché. They seem to be trying too hard and their paranoid rants are fairly tedious. I couldn’t help but gloss over during the scenes they dominated. Then again, maybe that’s the point. After so many years dealing with those people, perhaps N has begun to tune them out as well. It’s difficult to know what the real story is when you’re seeing things through the eyes of a mental patient.

On the whole, the film is emotional, weird, and occasionally beautiful. It’s painful watching these two women attempt to navigate a system that seems more interested in statistics than in the people it was designed to help. It’s not a groundbreaking film by any means and it doesn’t quite hit all its marks, but you’d have to be mental not to find something to like about “Poppy Shakespeare.”

 

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).