Weapons of Mass Distraction

Pardon me while I change identities.

Is there an actress working today who looks sexier in pant suits and ladies business attire than Naomi Watts?  I mean seriously…oh, wait…I’m getting distracted.  What lucky bastard is Watts married to again in real life?

As outed CIA Agent Valerie Plame, Naomi Watts is perfectly cast in Doug Liman’s treatment on recent history, the ponderously titled Fair Game.  Oh, Valerie, didn’t you know when you wrote your book that there was a god-awful Cindy Crawford movie by that name already?  But I digress.  Based on the books by Valerie and her diplomat husband, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn, reveling in the opportunity to display his righteous indignation), the film depicts the botched build-up to the Iraq War from the point of view of a married couple caught in the crossfire.  Wisely placing the event everyone remembers (Plame’s outing) in the center of the film, the scenarios leading up to this are compellingly brought to light, and the dramatic arc of the fall-out, particularly how it affects the Wilson marriage, makes for a riveting two hours.  Continue reading

A Review of Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker”

Kathryn Bigelow creates imagery in THE HURT LOCKER that invokes the iconography of science fiction films as a way to diffuse viewers conflicted emotions over the harsh realities of war.

Kathryn Bigelow creates imagery in THE HURT LOCKER that invokes the iconography of science fiction films as a way to diffuse viewers' conflicted feelings over the harsh realities of war.

 Bigelow Detonates All the Right Marks
9/10
Author: David H. Schleicher

Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is the “wild man” team leader who has defused more than eight hundred bombs and has built his reputation on being an adrenaline junkie in order to mask his inability to cope with the emotional connections he feebly tries to make at home and on the job.  Sergeant JT Sandborn (Anthony Mackie) approaches his work with a by-the-book stoicism that can’t comprehend the recklessness of James.  Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is highly trained but still feels overwhelmed by his morbid thoughts on war and his role in it.  These are the members of the EOD Army bomb squad stationed in Baghdad in 2004, and The Hurt Locker is their story.

After failing to do so with the depressingly somber and obvious In The Valley of Elah, screenwriter Mark Boal wisely places politics and moralizing aside this time to give us an intimate look into one squad with a highly specialized job to do.  Hollywood has always loved to play with the grunt’s-eye-view-of-war-as-hell theme, but The Hurt Locker spins that volatile cocktail on its head and blows it up all over the screen by focusing on an elite team and proposes the notion that maybe war is a drug…for some.

Director Kathryn Bigelow hits all the right detonators with her fascinating presentation of modern warfare in the Middle East.  Bigelow hasn’t really made anything memorable since her 1987 breakthrough, the cult vampire/western Near Dark, but she has always managed to make interesting failures —  just take a look at her attempt to do a literary adaptation with the superficially obtuse The Weight of Water.  Often living under the shadow of ex-husband James Cameron or having to share the title of “that female action director” with Mimi Leder — until Mimi murdered her film career with the abominable Pay it Forward — Bigelow, determined to finally leave her mark, displays an astounding technical prowess with The Hurt Locker that can only come from the wisdom of experience.   Close-ups, slow-mo’s, quick cuts and inventive plays with the camera’s point-of-view are used sparingly and with pin-point precision to heighten tension.  Here she shows the “good ol’ boys” she once emulated but has now trounced that style can be used for dramatic effect but need not be excessive.  Her sense of space allows us to be right there with the bomb squad as they are faced with unimaginable danger.  We always know where each character is positioned in relation to the bomb, and we always find in turn our stomachs have hit the floor.  Her technique is brilliant and delivers a picture that is so taut it might be the most intense experience this side of Clouzot’s Wages of Fear.  Now knowing all the moves, however, I wonder how the film will hold up on return viewing.

The Hurt Locker  is not for those seeking generic thrills or anyone currently on medication for emotional problems.  It gets deep down into the gritty nature of bomb defusing by offering us lessons on suicide bombers, IED’s and body-bombs that will make your gut churn.  There are also some fantastically rendered sniper scenarios that are used not just for a visceral jolt, but also as a way to explore character development.  Soldiers are not only put in precarious situations during combat but also in their day-to-day life dealing with their own conflicted emotions on top of a moody Iraqi populace that includes people treating them as tourists and looking to make a quick buck, people looking at the carnage as a spectator sport, people suffering as innocent bystanders, and people who wish to kill the soldiers and any one else in any way possible.

While there are a few details one could quibble with — for instance, the title is never explained — The Hurt Locker is impossible to dismiss and sometimes hard to digest.  It paints a picture of war that shows there are no politics when it comes to the daily experiences of soldiers in the field.  Their everyday heroism is painted in varying shades of moral ambiguity, while their internal struggles are shown to receive no emotional closure.  As in real life, the story arcs of the fictional characters seen here are left open-ended, and the possibility of redeployment looms not just as an act of cruel fate but as a conscious and determined choice.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database.

A Review of Oliver Stone’s “W.”

CAPTION:  Both Stone and Bush entered Yale in the same year.

Waiting for the final ball to drop…, 18 October 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

With his “in the moment” biopic W. the normally volatile Oliver Stone wisely saves his judgments for history when hindsight will be 20/20. Achingly subdued and slightly satirical, Stone plays it straight and to the bone. Here he presents us with the early years of our current lame duck president, showing Dubya rushing a frat-house at Yale, meeting Laura at a barbecue, living in the shadow of his father and brother, his troubles holding down a job, his failed bid to become baseball commissioner, and his defining moment when he gives up drinking and becomes born-again. All of which leads us to his first term and the Iraq War quagmire, where Dubya honest-to-goodness truly believes “God” wanted him to become president and that Iraq did have those rascally WMD.

In the lead role, Josh Brolin is an endearingly bumble-headed Dubya, and Stone presents him as a simple-minded man with good intentions who has been crippled by his “daddy issues” and has surrounded himself with the most cynical, self-serving, and corrupt administration in modern American history. The supporting cast is a hoot, with highlights including Thandie Newton eliciting big laughs just with her facial expressions as a wicked and moronically faithful Condi Rice, Elizabeth Banks giving a winning portrayal of Laura Bush, and Richard Dreyfuss playing Cheney as the most insipid megalomaniac American politics has ever seen.

Stone accomplishes three major coups here that should surprise those who expected a one-sided liberal smear job. First, he humanizes George W. Bush. The director does this with savvy editing showing the back-story of why Dubya does the things he does (i.e. why he uses nicknames for everyone or why running three miles every day is so important to him), and then juxtaposing that with the inane decisions he has made as president. By utilizing actual transcripts from press conferences, news coverage, and meetings, Stone and scribe Stanley Weiser allow Bush and his administration to speak for themselves, and it’s both comically cathartic and occasionally frightening to see it dramatized so well. Second, he redeems the presidency of George “Poppy” Bush (a somewhat miscast but still effective James Cromwell) by showing what a restrained and thoughtful Commander in Chief he was compared to his naive and too-eager-to-please son. Thirdly, he redeems the legacy of Colin Powell (a surprisingly good Jeffrey Wright), who is shown here as the only person in the administration with any hindsight or foresight, and the only sane voice who questioned the motives for entering Iraq, though he eventually caved in and played along. His “f-you” to Cheney towards the film’s final act is priceless.

As the actual presidency still has a few months to go at the time of the film’s release, Stone’s biopic was never written a true ending, leaving us with a symbolic image of Dubya looking up to the sky in center field waiting to catch a ball that will never drop. It may be another twenty years before we can pass any accurate judgment on Dubya’s legacy, and likewise, Stone’s film will have to wait. It’s going to be a long time before anyone catches all those balls George W. Bush’s administration threw up in the air.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1175491/usercomments-46

State of the Union Drinking Game 2008

President George W. (Dubya) Bush will be delivering his State of the Union Address this Monday Night, January 28th, 2008 at 9pm EST. 

Unlike last year, there is some cause for celebration as this will be the last address Dubya will deliver as President.  Still, he has plenty of time to muck things up, so with equal parts fear and joy, the only way to get through this is to drink up!

Those who got drunk with me last year will notice a return of many of last year’s favorite rules, but stay focused, there’s much CHANGE from last year, and remember, folks, we all love the buzzword of CHANGE!

Here are the rules for The State of the Union Drinking Game, version 2008, Last Year of the Dubya: Continue reading