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by Bill Gibron

9 Jul 2009

It’s lasted over six years. It’s become the buzz in the background of our daily lives. It’s the rote response to any “support our troops” suggestion. And even with a recent ‘withdrawal’, there still seems to be no end in sight. Two years ago, Hollywood tackled the Iraq War and came up losers. It wasn’t their intentions that were flawed, it was there approach. They wanted to make our soldiers into villains, transforming their acts of bravery into the raging outbursts of psychopaths - both abroad and at home. The resulting box office failure of such films as Redacted and In the Valley of Elah should not have been a surprise. After all, with the conflict still garnering national discussion, no one wants to think of the lasting, long range consequences yet. That’s why Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is so special. It’s not afraid to show the heroism along with the personal horror.

As members of the Army’s elite EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) unit, Sergeant JT Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge stare death in the face every day. Defusing bombs, landmines, and other booby traps in and around Baghdad brings them face to face with an enemy unseen and bent on their destruction. When Staff Sergeant William James arrives as a replacement for a fallen team member, he immediately sets his partners on edge. With his cavalier manner both in the barracks and out in the field, Sanborn and Eldridge fear for their lives. James is a certified adrenalin addict, a man responsible for defusing over 800 devices and yet always flaunting protocol and procedure in the process. As they move closer and closer to the end of their tour, the trio runs up against the biggest problem of all - how to deal with the horrific memories as a civilian back home.

Kathryn Bigelow has always been one of Hollywood’s greatest untapped directorial resources. After amazing films like Near Dark and Blue Steel, she was sunk in the backsplash of her marriage to/divorce from James Cameron, and the inevitable suspicion that most of her accomplishments clung neatly to his creative coattails. Underperforming efforts like K-19: The Widowmaker seemed to confirm the critic’s doubts. With The Hurt Locker, however, all bets are off. This is Master of Suspense filmmaker crafted by someone who understands the nature of nail-biting thrills. From the opening set-piece which offers an unexpected narrative twist to the moment when our main hero James discovers a series of interconnected bombs beneath his feet, Bigelow infuses her war-torn saga with the kind of white hot dread that so many modern ‘action’ films fail to provide.

Of course, the subject matter lends itself to such intensity. Based on journalist Mark Boal’s first hand experiences in Iraq (he also wrote the script), The Hurt Locker crackles with authenticity. The lingo is there. So are the props and procedures. And oddly enough, so is the attitude. These soldiers take their aggressive machismo into the countryside, forced to deal with situations that are terrifying in their randomness. One moment, you could be taking out a single shell imbedded in the ground. The next, an entire gang of insurgents appears, armed to the teeth and ready to riddle you with bullets. As a director, Bigelow understands how to manipulate the audience. Like Hitchcock, she finds the MacGuffin within the sequence, and then exploits it with a magician’s agility.

This is especially true of a brilliant moment when James, Sanborn and Eldridge come across a group of British operatives in the desert. Before they can get their bearings, they are under sniper attack, and with every precise hit, our heroes come closer and closer to the end. After setting up a massive gun and targeting the terrorist’s far off safe house, the trio waits…and waits…and waits. Because she has established that oft forgotten rule of successful fright filmmaking - anyone can die at any time - we worry about the fate of these men. We’ve come to care about them and their dedication to duty. Then Bigelow revs up the potential danger by throwing in the kind of whip smart direction that made her early reputation in Hollywood.

While the big names listed here seem to get all the pre-release glory, the real stars of The Hurt Locker are mostly unknown: Anthony Mackie (as Sanborn), Brian Geraghty (as Eldridge), and in an Oscar worthy turn, Jeremy Renner as danger junkie James. Bringing the necessary bravado to carry his character across the blurred lines between death wish and duty, we never once question the newcomer’s cowboy manner. Instead, we look at how present he is in the face of almost constant hostility and recognize that he’s one of the few soldiers who is meeting the war head on. He laughs at the tricks the terrorists use to foster the insurgency. He scoffs at the notion of doing things “by the book” or “halfway”. While he pretends to have a heart, he is quite taken with a young Iraqi boy who sells bootleg DVDs. And when Hell literally leaps up around him, he spits Satan in the eye and waits for a response.

Sure, it all sounds like testosterone and threats, explosions used as accents to the whole notion of America’s futility in the Middle East - and for the most part, Bigelow manages said stance quite well. Toward the end, when we see what life is like back home for these raw nerve recruits, how everything relates back to their time in the line of fire, we finally see the deeper, more indelible scars. Men like James, Sanborn, and Eldridge were never meant to be part of a peace time power shift in a steamy foreign location. They didn’t ask to play political arbiter. While never unprepared, they do seem unmotivated, having to manufacture purpose by playing their professional life so close to the edge.

This then is the modern military, a high trained group of able individuals who see the enemy as an all encompassing classification, something that can’t be easily deciphered or quickly negotiated away. In the face of such hatred, the only appropriate response is to literally ‘defuse’ the situation. Firefights are pointless. Both sides are armed and willing to die for their cause. But for the men capable of walking into a potential hurt locker and face the penalty head on, there is more natural nobility than any speech from a fancy flag waving politician. For once, someone got it right. Kathryn Bigelow’s main contribution to the story in Iraq is her desire to make it seem all ring true - and terrifying. The Hurt Locker is said reality check - and it’s excellent. 

by Diepiriye Kuku

8 Jul 2009

Listen to the Jacksons sing “Can You Feel It”: “All the colors of the world should love each other wholeheartedly.” Or, dare you sit and play “Earth Song”. “Heal the World” probably never left the easy listening stations. Consider the type of orchestration behind creating “We Are the World” and daring to show Third World kids as subjects, not objects; they created music with Michael and he with them. It would make a crippled person want to jump up and take action and that’s exactly what lay at the heart of the matter.

Inclusiveness, the Jacksons’ music continually says, will lead us to not only take care of one another, but also to respect the earth. Take a close listen to Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, the whole album including, and especially the interludes. The Jacksons inspire hope. They dared stand with humanity—in front of humanity—asking: “What about us?” Indeed, their music says, what about all of us For the Jackson family, their music was neither about their bling, nor were their messages ever about ‘them and us’—but all of us! Do we dare care enough about us?

by PopMatters Staff

8 Jul 2009

Mayer Hawthorne
A Strange Arrangement
(Stones Throw)
Releasing: 6 October 2009 (US)

SONG LIST
01.  We Made
02.  A Strange Arrangement
03.  Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out
04.  Maybe So, Maybe No
05.  Your Easy Lovin
06.  I Wish It Would Rain
07.  Make Her Mine
08.  One Track Mind
09.  The Ills
10. Shiny & New
11. Let Me Know
12. Green Eyed Love

by G E Light

8 Jul 2009

Sorry but I couldn’t find a video of Little Milton doing his signature tune (don’t worry he takes his well-deserved bow later anyway). So you go to a blues festival for the music and ‘cuz you’re some kind of purist, right? Don’t think you’re totally fessin’ up now, are you? Good I knew you’d agree! Of course, summer blues festivals (they’re seldom anytime else except in the deepest darkest South) provide culinary delights, but also a babble of possibilities from which one needs to choose wisely. I, a native Southerner, doyenne of the Starkville “slow jam” food scene, long time host of “One Bourbon, One Sotch, One Beer” on WMSV’s The Juke Sunday blues programming, and general know-it-all wiseacre, am happy to guide your Northern, Midwestern, Western and/or Foreign asses through the best and wurst (sorry Wisconsin so much to answer for) of Blues Festival Food.

We start with the simplest of non-Einsteinian equations: Blues=Bar-B-CUE or something like Q=ps2 where Q is the end product; p is the pork input and s is the appropriate sauce squared. Really it’s all about the sauce Almost anybody can grill meat, but only a master can slow grill it over hickory in a pine bark pit for a day until the meat sloughs from the bone of its own lazy accord. Re: Bar-B-Que, just don’t ask too many questions about the main product, where it comes from, and how it is prepped pre-pit.

by Zane Austin Grant

8 Jul 2009

More than gore for gore’s sake, the best zombie stories are about a force in society becoming normalized into a mob mentality.  Night of the Living Dead was about an African American man in the 1960’s fighting for empowerment among a white population.  Dawn of the Dead, set in one of the first mega-malls in the country, was about the growth of consumer spaces and how they were affecting culture. Of course, the gore is close to magic in these films. Someone recently informed me that the guts in the first were made with ham, but the depth of these works is in their overarching ideas. 

  Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead follows Rick, a former law enforcement officer, who wakes up in the hospital to find himself in a zombie apocalypse.  As his character emerges, we get the sense that he was a true believer in the old societal order and wants to rebuild the world in an image of security that never really existed. 

The failure of his utopian ideal is amplified through his encounter with the city.  As he reaches Atlanta on horseback in his sheriff’s clothes, we see the city is lost.  The café he passes has been spray painted, windows are broken, and a zombie lays propped up against a wall in a pile of trash like a wino.  Not much has changed, except mob rule has displaced law and spread to the county-side.  It doesn’t take long for Rick to be attacked by the infected citizens and run back to the safety of the rural.  The suburbs he and his group attempt to occupy are similarly overridden by these forces and are lost.  It is not until he arrives at a maximum security prison that he finally says, “It’s perfect, we’re home.”

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