Film Threat Review: The Hurt Locker

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 (now defunct).


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

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 (now defunct).

SIFF Review: The Girl From Monaco

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 (now defunct).

SIFF Review: Poppy Shakespeare

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 (now defunct).

Interview: Robert Kenner, Director of “Food, Inc.”

by Jessica Baxter

The opening sentiment to “Food, Inc.” asserts that the way we eat has changed more drastically in the last fifty years than in the last 10,000. This has a lot to do with population growth and scientific advancement, but mostly it can be attributed to the invention of fast food. The McDonald brothers, with their “bigger, faster, cheaper” business plan, turned food into a corporation – an evil corporation, at that. Big Food controls every aspect of our eating lives from what we can afford to how much we know about where our food came from. Because of their ties to government, abhorrent labor practices go un-policed. Inspections are insufficient to nonexistent, and the lack of proper scrutiny has led to E.Coli outbreaks and death. Perhaps worst of all, people are unable to speak out for fear of a lawsuit.

Not even Oprah is safe. In 1996, during the Mad Cow Disease outbreak, Oprah stated on her show that it has “stopped [her] cold from eating another hamburger.” She was subsequently sued for libel by a group of Texas cattlemen. She’s since settled the suit but not after spending piles of money on what is essentially a First Amendment case. The average person certainly can’t afford those legal fees. And since we can’t just stop eating, it seems like there’s nothing we can do about it.

But “Food, Inc.” director Robert Kenner is optimistic. If we make some changes to our purchasing and eating habits – buy locally and organically and avoid processed and fast food – we can force the hand of the Big Food by employing a concept that even a capitalist can understand: supply and demand.

I recently chatted with Kenner about the hardships he faced making the film and the impact he thinks it will have on America and the food industry. Continue reading

SIFF Review: Scratch

89 minutes
Film Polski


Forgiveness is hard for some people. It’s especially hard for Joanna, an entomology professor and the daughter of a famous Polish politician from the 50’s. After celebrating her 40th wedding anniversary with her husband, Jan, she finds an unlabeled VHS tape in a pile of gifts. On it is a news program alleging that when they met, Jan was actually a secret agent for the Polish secret service and that their marriage was a sham designed to uncover possible communist ties. There is no indication of who brought the tape or why. But that doesn’t stop Joanna from being immediately suspicious of her husband. Of course he denies it. And even if it were true, it’s clear that he has truly loved her for quite some time. As he aptly puts it, “Who, if not you, knows what sort of man I am?” But she doesn’t listen. She is consumed with mistrust and anger. Her emotions propel her into a deep depression. She becomes extremely cruel, not letting him touch or even talk to her. She locks herself in her office where she eats and sleeps, doing everything in her power to avoid him while she attempts to obtain proof of his guilt.

Joanna completely unravels as a result of this supposed betrayal. Jan is understandably frustrated. He tries absolutely everything in his power to reason with her. But she won’t have it. And it’s awful to watch. You’re never sure when she plans to stop being a bitch and leave him, believe him or forgive him. She takes a leave of absence from her job. She waters plants in the dark. She loses a taste for food and can only eat cereal. She basically goes mental and her poor husband can do nothing but watch it happen. He makes one final attempt at reaching her by calling in their daughter to talk some sense into her. The daughter tells Joanna that her father was the only one who was ever there for her. He couldn’t have been a fraud because he was the better parent. She listens stone-faced and then throws up to get away from the intervention.

The themes of the Polish film “Scratch” are certainly interesting – the notion that one’s entire life could have been a lie, consumption by unsubstantiated suspicion, past indiscretions coming back to haunt you – but Joanna is so awful to Jan from the first second she suspects him that it’s incredibly hard to feel sorry for her, whether or not he is guilty. The film moves very slowly with scene after scene of slamming doors and one-sided conversations. You’re constantly wondering where this story is going and it’s a little boring waiting for it to get there. The ending arrives abruptly with no real resolution.

There’s nothing enjoyable about this film. No jokes. No tender moments. No reason to care about the woman who takes up the majority of the celluloid. We never get a chance to become emotionally invested. If Joanna had been developed as nice at first or if we’d seen more of them as a happy couple maybe we could see this as an otherwise good person stripped of her rationality through grief. But the scene with the daughter implies that she was always this self-absorbed and distant. So why should we care what happens to her? Let her be alone with her cereal and her bugs.

Originally posted on (now defunct).

SIFF Review: talhotlond

83 minutes


In case you may have forgotten, human beings can do really awful things to each other. Most of the time, the people behaving badly are adults who should know better. Sometimes, these people are even parents. And sometimes the victims are children. Just because we know these things can happen, it doesn’t make it any easier to take. And it certainly doesn’t make it easy to watch films like “talhotblond.”

“talhotblond,” which screened at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival, is a documentary about a cyber love triangle between a middle-aged man named Tom (handle: marinesniper) an 18-year-old girl named Jessi (handle: talhotblond) and his 22-year-old factory coworker named Brian (handle: beefcake). Tom insists that it started innocently enough. He was a former Marine. Bored and in a marital rut, Tom began chatting online with Jessi. When she told him he was in a room for teens, he panicked and told her he was 18. The lie quickly snowballed and soon, he’d created an elaborate alter-ego. He was Tommy, a young Marine in boot camp who was about to be shipped off to Iraq. Their chatting turned sexual and their “relationship” escalated to the point where Jessi actually believed Tommy would marry her. The tide turned when Tom’s wife found a pair of Jessi’s underpants that she’d mailed to him. Tom was forced to come clean. Jessi then became involved (also via the internet) with Brian, Tom’s more age-appropriate co-worker. Jealously and anger erupted for both Tom and Jessi. And then one day, Brian was found dead, shot by a sniper rifle in the factory parking lot.

Whilst watching “talhotblond,” I could not help recalling a story I read last year about a little girl who hung herself in her closet because she was devastated by the derogatory messages she was receiving via MySpace from a classmate. These messages suggested, among other things, that everyone hated this little girl and that the world would be better without her. It turned out the person writing these messages was not her classmate after all, but her classmate’s mother.

For some people, it’s easy to convince themselves that damaging behavior won’t actually hurt anyone or that they have good reason to be doing bad things. Tom says that he tried to end the relationship several times but Jessi always re-instigated it. Even after she knew he was a creepy old man. He claims he was helpless to her wiles. He makes excuses about how he got in the situation in the first place. He was bored, lonely and impotent. He was in the shit. He never intended it to go so far. But most of the time, even if it doesn’t end in death, a relationship with a teenage girl will never end well. Because of the nature of the internet, it was so easy for Tom to lie to Jessi. But he never once contemplated the notion that it’s just as easy for other people. The outcome of these lies wouldn’t have been so tragic if they’d just hurt the people telling them. Unfortunately, the people hurt most were the ones who’d only ever been themselves.

The tale of “talhotblond” is extremely devastating its own. But the film’s structure, narrated by an actor playing Brian from beyond the grave, sucks the audience further into the story. There is also a great deal of text montage, showing excerpts from the actual instant message conversations that took place between the 3 key players. The amount of natural foreshadowing in these conversations is staggering. Interviews with a philosophical detective working on the case and a shockingly matter-of-fact Tom keep the viewer riveted to the bitter, bomb-dropping end.

But what echoes in my ears doubles as the moral of the story. The aforementioned detective philosopher says this whole situation, as well as most frivolous and stupid crimes, could have been avoided if people only followed this very basic advice: “Be nice. Don’t lie.”

Originally posted on (now defunct).