Movies – The Hurt Locker

I’m intrigued by the distribution strategy of The Hurt Locker. Despite the absence of big-name stars (the conventional marketing hook), it’s just a flat-out great movie that still should have gotten wide distribution – I suspect it’ll be re-released in late winter if it gets enough Oscar nods, but I’d argue there’s a good audience for it now, outside of the major cities. On the other hand, ‘summer’ movies on lots of screens that don’t completely rock the first two weekends financially are summarily shoved out altogether by the other incoming summer blockbusters; ‘Star Trek’ made a ton of money, but was seemingly gone after three or four weeks. So releasing it to the art-house / independent circuit means ‘The Hurt Locker’ has been around much longer than it would have been in the mall multiplexes. It’s speculation, of course, but I suspect the film’s distributors chose to develop a more modest audience over time, passing on the potential blockbuster money, rather than submit to the do-or-die vagaries of the big summer market. Either way, it’ll do very well on the DVD market. And if it isn’t showered with Oscar nominations, there’s no justice.

You can take two primary paths with war films. It’s either about The War, and its effects on the characters, or, as here, primarily, The Characters, and what they’re bringing into the war. Where the director’s choices lie in the huge range those boundaries define is what makes or breaks the film. This director, the always interesting Kathryn Bigelow, has been given a terrific screenplay that puts meticulously drawn individual characters in the context of a meticulously drawn environment. The actors, of course, have provided admirable and valuable context underneath it all, but there’s a real juggling act of military protocol, technology, foot-soldier gruntwork, the sociology / pathology of overarmed strangers-in-a-strange-land, and the mechanics that go into telling any story well. Bigelow never flinches, never missteps – her work here is as confident, commanding, and, dare I say, auteuristic, as anything Scorsese, Cronenberg, Ridley Scott, or their league has produced recently. That she got so many shots, so much coverage, so much spectacle, on an independent budget, without sacrificing intimacy and storytelling efficiency, is impressive. Needless to say, she’s helped immensely by superb editing (by Chris Innis and Bob Murawski).

“You know what this place needs?” says one soldier to another – “It needs grass.” Like ‘Black Hawk Down’ or ‘Full Metal Jacket’, the climate is a silent character – hot, bright, dry and urban. The film’s first scene presents a crack military bomb-disarming crew of three – they use robot drones to inspect the weapon from afar, and only put the bomb tech at personal risk as a last resort. Either way, a wide perimeter is enforced around the potential blast zone, while the bomb tech either detonates the device from a distance, or dons a huge and unwieldy protective suit and disarms the device up close. This is initially presented as more the exception than the rule – the bomb tech (here, Guy Pearce) looks stiff and restrained, almost robotic himself – like a turtle you’re praying doesn’t end up on its back. There’s constant communication by headset, while the remaining two police the perimeters looking for ‘unfriendlies’ or potential distractions. They’re an experienced and professionally familiar team who could practically finish sentences for each other.

Events transpire that lead to the acquisition of a new bomb tech for the team, Sgt. Will James (Jeremy Renner). And he’s very different – at first, unnervingly so. He’s got no use for the robot drone; when they arrive at a bomb site, he wants to suit up now, walk up to the bomb, see it for himself, and deal with the device hands-on. He moves well in the suit, like Ellen Ripley in her ‘forklift’. The headset chatter just distracts him – at one point he yanks off the headset and tosses it away. “Yesterday wasn’t cool”, the crisply efficient but unhappy Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) tells James. James laconically replies, “Yeah, I know…You’ll get it, though.” He’s obviously very good, and bedrock self-confident in doing things his way.

James is a compelling character, and watching him in circumstances outside of the bomb work is just as uncomfortably fascinating. He befriends a young Iraqi street-hustling entrepreneur, and where their acquaintance takes James’ state-of-mind figures prominently. Despite their professional growing pains, he’s happy to get savagely drunk and rowdy with his fellow soldier teammates. And, we later learn, he has a fierce sense of loyalty and justice, sometimes admirable, sometimes misguided.

Despite the pervasive sense of potential danger, betrayal, and cruelty from the city’s own inhabitants, Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal nonetheless take subtle but powerful steps to delineate the war’s put-upon bystanders from the actual bad guys. It’s a refreshing change from the usual The Brown People Are All Out To Get Us mentality that, inadvertently or deliberately, informs most of these kinds of films.

The Hurt Locker is the best kind of genre film. You could take these elements, these characters, these truths about the human condition in conflicted circumstances, and make an equally good police procedural, or western, or political thriller. Don’t let the fact that it’s a War Movie limit your inclinations to see this wonderful movie. It’s my favorite of the year so far.

Health Care blah blah blah…

Nicholas Kristof in the NYT:

A study reported in The American Journal of Medicine this month found that 62 percent of American bankruptcies are linked to medical bills. These medical bankruptcies had increased nearly 50 percent in just six years. Astonishingly, 78 percent of these people actually had health insurance, but the gaps and inadequacies left them unprotected when they were hit by devastating bills.”

“The existing system doesn’t just break up families, it also costs lives. A 2004 study (five years ago – where do you think we are now?) by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, found that lack of health insurance causes 18,000 unnecessary deaths a year. That’s one person slipping through the cracks and dying every half an hour.
In short, it’s a good bet that our existing dysfunctional health system knocks off far more people than an army of “death panels” could — even if they existed, worked 24/7 and got around in a fleet of black helicopters.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/30/opinion/30kristof.html?_r=1

It’s said that if you repeat lies often enough, people will start to believe them. I’m still hoping the truth works the same way.

Commerce

At least he’s honest enough to call it ticket scalping.

“The days of scalping sounding like drug dealing in a dark alley are gone,” said Randy Phillips, chief executive of AEG Live, whose deal for Michael Jackson’s 50-night engagement in London included a partnership with a ticket reseller. “It’s all aboveboard. It’s very transparent now.”

“David Kronstat, a 43-year-old music fan in New Jersey, said he hasn’t placed a Ticketmaster order in years “because of how convoluted the whole ticket-buying process has come.” Instead he scours Craigslist, trying to avoid brokers by looking for telltale signs of ordinary Joes motivated to sell. “There’s always some guy who bought four tickets and can only use two, or can’t get a baby sitter,” he said. (When told about those lines, one broker said, “That’s all stuff that I write on Craigslist.”)”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/30/arts/music/30sisa.html?hpw

Communication

I love goofy stuff like this… Did you know that George Bernard Shaw designed an alternative English alphabet?

“Shaw saw use of the Latin alphabet for writing English as a great waste of time, energy and paper.”

http://www.omniglot.com/writing/shavian.htm

Check out some others at the bottom of this page: Deseret, a Mormon alternative; Shorthand, of course; and Solresol, an alphabet based on do-re-mi.

Politics

There’s a lot to celebrate about Sen. Ted Kennedy’s career, but let’s keep the big picture, too.

“After reelection, Nixon did promote a health plan in his 1974 State of the Union speech, with a call for universal access to health insurance. He followed up with his Comprehensive Health Insurance Act on February 6, 1974. Nixon said his plan would build on existing employer-sponsored insurance plans and would provide government subsidies to the self-employed and small businesses to ensure universal access to health insurance. Kennedy went through the motions of cooperation, but in the end the AFL-CIO, with a covert nudge from Kennedy, killed the bill because Nixon was vanishing under the Watergate scandal and the Democrats did not want to hand the President and the Republicans one of their signature issues. Now the Republicans scream “socialism” at exactly what Nixon proposed and Kennedy killed off 38 years ago, in 1971.”

http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn08282009.html

Health Care blah blah blah…

See, this is what I’ve been sayin’…

“In the words of NY Congressman Anthony Weiner, “Medicare for all Americans”…”
“Why introduce a whole new layer of bureaucratic complexity into an already fiendishly complex health care system, when the foundation for a government run health care option lies right in front of our faces?”

http://www.counterpunch.org/auerbach08272009.html