Thursday, October 14, 2010

Up in the Crazy Locker

          There are no opening credits, not even a title.[1]

          You just sit there watching a relatively routine situation unfold in the streets of some Iraqi town: a handful of soldiers playing with high tech toys, playing soldier, like you may have when you were a kid.

          But this is supposed to be real.

          Distracted – was that Guy Pearce?  Yes (had to wait until the end credits to find out though).  Something’s goanna happen.  This movie didn’t get Best Picture for nothin’.

          Needless to say, watching last year’s Oscar winner, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, by the time you’ve gotten through the movie red-zone (those first 10 minutes that tell you if you’re going to hate a movie), you’re on the edge of your seat.  And good luck getting comfortable.

          So if you’re wondering about the title, this blog is about three movies I liked from last year’s Oscars.

The Hurt Locker


      So you’re getting ready for whatever and it opens with a quote.  Bullshit, you imagine.  (Of course, when I say “you,” I mean me.)

          The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.
-      Chris Hedges[2]

It all fades save for the last five words, and you (I) can just guess where all this is going.

And was anyone else like, “Who the hell is Chris Hedges?”  Just say “yes,” so I don’t feel so ignorant.  I’m not up on my liberal political bloggers.  (He’s a liberal political blogger; got some awards, probably for being a liberal political blogger.)

And if you’re not already queued in, you won’t know this whole movie is another attempt to shove the liberal anti-war bs down your throat.  Just like “Full Metal Jacket,” “Platoon,” “Apocalypse Now,” and – do I dare stoop to mention – “The Green Zone,” to name a few.  Perhaps Spielberg is the only one to show something good can come from standing up to the bad guys in his immortal “Saving Private Ryan.”

If you haven’t caught on now, I’m no liberal.  I’m no pacifist either.  But this blog is about movies, not politics so you may use strong words asking why I’m talking about this.

I loved this movie despite its bullshit message, that’s why.  And that’s a pretty big achievement.  That’s why I’d give it my vote for the Best Pic 2010 anyday.

HL is Kathryn Bigelow’s big moment: her success story after big shot actor movies like K-19: The Widowmaker, which I did go see just because Harrison Ford was in it – making her the first woman director ever to win that Oscar.[3]  And I agree wholeheartedly (unless there was a bs award from the Democrats) with Norman Gelman when his says she “deserves every award she won for The Hurt Locker.”[4]

The cinematography is excellent; the story, strong on a tight plot; the acting, superb (the lead, Renner, gets nominated for Best Actor in a magnetic performance)[5]; the directing, well, we all know about the directing.  With the exception of the opening quote, which story-wise was well placed, don’t get me wrong, the movie illustrates the “show, don’t tell” key film principle better than I’ve seen in a long while.  Masterful work Kathryn.

The film is written by freelance writer Mark Boal, who was attached to an American bomb squad in Iraq as a journalist in 2004.[ibid]  Despite his on scene experience, vets highly criticized the film’s (lack of) realism.

Iraq and Afghanistan combat vet and author, Brandon Friedman called the sequences “nonsensical,” still labeling the film as the “high-tension, well-made, action movie” it is.[ibid]

Army of Dude blogger Alex Horton, infantry Iraq vet writes, “the way the team goes about their mission is completely absurd,” and in the next breath, “the best Iraq movie to date.”[ibid]

A reviewer from The Air Force Times said:

[The lead character's] swagger would put a whole team at risk. Our team leaders don't have that kind of invincibility complex, and if they do, they aren't allowed to operate. A team leader's first priority is getting his team home in one piece.[ibid]

So in other words, great job Bigelow; bad boy Boal.

HL makes it seem like a nut like Sergeant Bill James is everything the military wants you to be; whereas in real life, a son-of-a-gun like that would be walking home in a heartbeat.  That’s what pisses me off.

But certainly, the best film of the year.

Up in the Air

          A movie that made my day and maybe my whole week.  (You can quote me on that.)

That’s how good Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air is.

The film stars George Clooney as a “career transition counselor” who spends most of his life flying from place to place firing people.  Clooney’s characteristic calm-cool rockets his performance as a man with no human ties, whose lifetime ambition is to earn 10 million air-miles – the perfect guy to fire you’re employees without wrinkling the Clooney eyebrow.

On the way he bumps into a very green hot-shot executive (Anna Kendrick) and a “mysterious fortysomething” Alex (Vera Farmiga), who seems to be living the feminist ideal, with whom Bingham develops a very “casual sexual relationship.”[6]

Within the almost magical twists and turns of the film, Bingham is led to question all he doesn’t stand for.

“The movie is about the examination of a philosophy,” says the talented Juno and Thank You For Smoking filmmaker, Reitman, “What if you decided to live hub to hub, with nothing, nobody?”[ibid]  This film shows you just that.

Both Kendrick and Farmiga were nominated for best supporting actress, the film receiving a total of six Oscar nom’s and zero awards.  Shame.  Clooney is excellent, himself nominated for top man[ibid], though his performance isn’t as indescribable as his 2006 Best Supporting winner, Syriana.[7]

Bit parts by fellows such as The Hangover’s Zach Galifianakis (whose 20 seconds make you laugh your slacks off) greatly add to the film.  Jason Bateman, the new movie everywhere man, lands well here.[8]

Roger the-buffman-of-movie-buff’s Ebert gives the film four stars.

"This isn't a comedy,” he says, “If it were, it would be hard to laugh in these last days of 2009. Nor is it a tragedy. It's an observant look at how a man does a job.”[ibid]

In short, Reitman, called the modern Frank Capra, paints a masterwork with a message that really matters to the down-and-out people of today.  I just hope Roger won’t kill me for enjoying it.

Crazy Heart

          My least favorite of the three but by far my favorite performance: Jeff Bridges stars in the “finally” role that lands him the little gold statue.

          Crazy Heart is the story of a near-washed up country legend trying to cope with the ailments of his profession: a new wave of music, a loved one left behind, and the various vices celebrities are prone to.

          The story harkens back to Robert Duvall’s 1984 Oscar role in Tender Mercies, a better film and a lower-key actor; nonetheless powerful though.  Duvall produces and bit parts in Crazy Heart.[9]

          Heart is carried by Bridges magnanimous performance, a recap and shine of his 1998 Big Lebowski “Dude” that won him a cult following (me being among them), a role he seems to continue to play frequently (The Men Who Stare At Goats, 2009).[10]

          "Bridges is exceptional here,” says Brian Orndof, “it's the movie itself that's less urgent and awkwardly defined, throttling his impressively discombobulated performance, leaving one to wonder why there's even a plot to Heart in the first place."[11]

          “[It’s] the generosity of Bridge’s performance [that] puts us in a forgiving mood,” says the Toronto Star’s Linda Barnard.[ibid]

          Along the way, Bridge’s Bad Blake runs into Maggie Gyllenhaal,[12] sister of also famous Jake, who is nominated for a Best Supporting Actress.  Viewers will remember her as the worst part of The Dark Knight (sorry Maggie, when you died in that movie I was emotionally confused); but she does very well in CH.

          Also popping up is Colin Farrell, surprisingly well cast as the plastic hot, new country singer-prick everybody’s crazy about, who “learned all he knows” from Bad Blake.  He covers his Dublin accent with a western one quite well, but otherwise, the talented actor doesn’t really have to act.

          Crazy Heart’s music is exceptional, although I enjoyed the initial classic hit Blake is too drunk to sing in Act One much more than the resolving final number.

          All in all, it is well worth the watch.

          My Oscar theory is that at the end of the year filmmakers shove their award-bound movies in theaters just to show that their opinion of judges’ memories is not quite high.  It tends to work I think, save for Hurt Locker’s welcome upset over Bigelow’s ex, James Cameron, and his Titanic sinking Avatar.

          So nothing on my radar for the 83rd Academy Awards, save for maybe The Social Network that is hitting the top of opinion charts all around[13]; that and Ben Afflect’s The Town, also starring Hurt Locker’s incredible Jeremy Renner – both of which I haven’t seen yet.  [Insert strong words.]

          So, while I go crazy waiting for someone to send me a platinum free-movie-anytime theater pass, right now the Oscars are up in the air.

          (My address is available upon request.)


  1. So many movies, so little time...

  2. Ha. Depends on the person I suppose. A critic's job is in part to save people time by pointing out what he thinks is good/bad.

    And then, when the choice comes around, you won't be blindly reaching into a barrell of half-rotten apples.

    So, you're all welcome.

    (Support your local film critic. Ha, ha, ha!)