Friday, August 21, 2009

Week of August 21 to August 27 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

As kids we used to play a game: What's the worst job in the world? I always thought guard inside the Holland Tunnel rated top. But I now have a new candidate. Member of an Iraq-based military EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team. These guys have to disarm bombs, which is bad enough in itself, but imagine doing it in 100+ degree heat, in a hostile environment where snipers and booby traps lurk around every corner.

Welcome to THE HURT LOCKER. That's urban slang for a place where bad things happen, and it's the title of the tense, intense new film from indie filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow that's already generating Oscar buzz. It's the final 38 days of an EOD squad's tour of duty. Each day brings a new confrontation with the precariousness of mortality, and each man deals with it in his own way. Meanwhile, thanks to the verisimilitude produced by Ms. Bigelow's use of multiple hand-held cameras in a real Middle Eastern location, we are drawn into their world and out to the edges of our seats.

The team leader, Staff Sgt. William James, is the man who has to don a 140 lb. blast suit and go mano-a-mano with the bomb itself. His support team has to cover him, watching out for snipers or for the concealed bomb maker about to activate the device with a cell phone. The movie is not really about the Iraq war, but about these men, what goes on in their heads and why they might be doing this. EOD specialists are volunteers. Every branch of the military has them, because they have an essential role to play in contemporary mine-field, improvised-explosive-device, warfare.

I kept asking myself why would someone choose to do this? My first reaction on leaving the movie was to think it would discourage anyone from joining such a unit. But then I did a bit of Internet trolling, and learned quite the opposite. If you're the kind of person who is unlikely to join such a unit, the movie will reenforce your reluctance. But if you're the kind who finds the thrill and challenge appealing, it's a recruiting tool. It's all in the epigraph that opens the movie: “War is a drug.”

Maybe so, but I'll get my fix via a movie. And The Hurt Locker mainlines it. A must-see.

The legendary bank robbers John Dillinger, Pretty-Boy Floyd and Baby-Face Nelson were another breed of thrill-seekers, pumped up by the action of looting banks and outwitting the law. PUBLIC ENEMIES is their story, dramatized by director Michael Mann (Heat, Miami Vice, Last of the Mohicans). The focus is on Johnny Depp as Dillinger and Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis, the FBI man who hunted him down. It was the thirties, when movies and bank robberies were the public's favorite forms of entertainment. J. Edgar Hoover would be launching the F.B.I. and his own career as America's favorite crime-buster. But, like the public back then, we can't help rooting for Dillinger. He's better-looking, he's bolder, he's got beautiful molls. He just went to one-too-many movies.

If all this excitement is too much for you, two comedies continue their runs. THE HANGOVER is the summer's biggest comedy hit, grossing over $400 million to date. Never has the term “grossing” been more apt. And for those of you who like your laughs with a limey flavor, the Brit political satire IN THE LOOP, is just the thing.

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[from Key West, the newspaper -]

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