January 31, 2010

"The Hurt Locker" - Kathryn Bigelow's Dispassionate Lens Captures the Impact of War

Who's 'hurting', and why inside of a 'locker'? Ms. Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" had a title that tantalized, and despite it being a 'war' movie I decided to rent it just so I could find an answer to the aforementioned question.

The movie is quite like a documentary on the US presence in Iraq during 2004 where the US soldiers were fighting a faceless enemy. There is no real story that Bigelow spins ; it is more a Cisneros style stringing together of vignettes that lay the blueprint for an analysis of what an endless war and senseless violence can do to soldiers fighting on foreign soils. The documentary features the Delta Company, a US Army unit stationed in Iraq that detects and defuses I.E.D.’s. It is made up of three very disparate individuals; Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) an overtly sensitive and self deprecatory young man who is admittedly nervous and confused about being in this violence infested place. Then there is Sgt. J. T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) who detests what he does, but is smart enough to keep himself alive so that he can get home. Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), the most interesting of the three, joins Delta after its leader is killed, and is always suspect in the eyes of his other two comrades. The reason being James' recklessness and near enjoyment of the job he does; diffusing and sometimes detonating IEDs which have the capability to blow away lives and buildings in a matter of seconds. James is the one who, in close proximity to the IED, actually clips the wires that connect to the explosive. Yet, neither his body nor his face manifest any fear of or revulsion to what he does. In fact quite the contrary; there is exhilaration and complete absorption writ large on his face when he is at work, almost like that of an artist with his creation.

The movie presents multiple vignettes in which the trio handle missions involving bomb detection, leading to either disposal or diffusion of the bomb, and in some situations deciding on a detonation with casualties. Ms Bigelow presents war through her lens and follows the Delta squad around capturing each member's unique response to situations as they unfold. She also captures the way three interact when they are not on a mission and that is when the hurt shows; each of the three is 'hurting' as a result of the situation and it is this 'hurt' that appears to bind them. Of the three it is James who seems to realize that there is no 'out' of this situation; the 'hurting' will not go away, it is his for a lifetime, and he will not be able to share it with anyone other than with his comrades at war. They are basically confined to this 'locker' of 'hurt' for the rest of their lives because when they are not in it physically, then they carry it within their minds. They can never again lead normal lives as James has figured out, and that perhaps explains his complete immersion in and commitment to the morbid task he is assigned to.

Is Bigelow sending us a message as did many other movie makers who made movies about the US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan? There were numerous ones like Syriana that were made perhaps to bolster the morale of American soldiers fighting on foreign soils, but 'The Hurt Locker" is different as it has no hidden agenda except perhaps to capture in a matter of fact way the impact of war, both in terms of lives lost physically, and those lost mentally and permanently relegated to the confines of "The Hurt Locker".

January 25, 2010

Justices Handing Over Country to Corporations?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - "Corporations can spend freely to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, a landmark decision denounced by President Barack Obama for giving special interests more power."

The recent 5- to - 4 Supreme Court ruling against the Corporate Campaign Spending Limit was food for thought. President Obama called it " a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies...that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans."

In the light of the current developments, we as voters have to be even more discretionary when casting our vote. We have to now sift through heavily funded propaganda before we can see the real platform, if any at all, of candidates standing for office. Radio/ TV advertisements, bill boards, and hoardings will reach new heights as elections approach. There will no doubt be a boom in the advertising business because now, thanks to the new Supreme Court ruling, Corporations and special interest groups will be able to make or break a political candidate due to their money power. The first affected party will be President Obama who can no longer afford to antagonize insurance companies and banks if he seeks a re election in 2012. His populist agenda on Health Care Reform has ruffled many a rich feather; the insurance and pharmaceutical lobby groups are already in a hyena like stance against him, waiting to pour money into an anti Obama campaign. With the recent Supreme Court ruling these corporations and lobby groups can now easily go after him. They can now manipulate public vote through aggressive and relentless advertising, and eventually be able to manipulate the policy making of our country by sending a 'bought candidate' into office.

It doesn't stop with health care; the 'war spending' could also now be dictated by the highest campaign spender; could well be a Halliburton. Our soldiers will continue dying in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other foreign soils because the Halliburtons of this country need war/oil in order to sell their ware; after all, death is but collateral damage in the pursuit of big money. Watch the increased frequency of patriotic advertising across the country; anything to lure young blood to the front lines because 'war' must go on, and corporations such as Halliburton will ensure it does by putting enormous amounts of money into campaigns of candidates who support their cause.

Here is how the Supreme Court Justices rejection read:
"When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information, or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought...this is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves." Justice Kennedy

Given that our Supreme Court Justices have placed innate faith in our ability to be an informed and discerning electorate, we voters better THINK hard, 'for ourselves', and past the voluminous and savvy media propaganda and send the right candidate to represent us.

January 21, 2010

James Cameron's "Avatar" - A Heavily Funded Docudrama From a Tech- Savy Film Maker?

"It’s an emotional story. It’s a love story. They’re not expecting that. The sci-fi/fantasy fans see the trailer and they think, Cool—battles, robots." James Cameron

I watched the much awaited "Avatar" last weekend. James Cameron's blockbuster apparently cost 230 million dollars to make and is Cameron's first film since "The Titanic". Not much of a fan of sci-fi movies or of animation flicks, my expectations from this movie were pretty low. However, the title, "Avatar", intrigued me as did the mammoth spending on the film. What would those many million dollars bring to the screen?

Well, the movie surprised me. It is a loosely spun docudrama that houses a chic lit romance that touts fable like messages. Cameron creates a world that is virgin, that is on the verge of a takeover by an alien species, the humans, who do not hold nature sacred and could exploit both the living and the inanimate to their selfish ends. They arrive on Pandora to mine and siphon out 'Unobtainium' that could fuel them on earth for generations. But, it would cost the Na'vi's, a native tribe on Pandora, their home, even their very existence. Cameron obviously had the Colonization of America and the tragic Native American saga on his mind when working on the script; the hostile takeover of a resource rich environment by a heartless people. So much for the documentary element in the movie, but that by itself could not have sustained the interest levels of the medley audience that the movie has attracted. The fairy tale romance between Jake in his 'avatar' and Neytiri, the Na'vi princess, made many hearts maudlin enough to suspend their disbelief for the entire stretch of the 2 hours 45 minute movie! Yet, there was still a part of the audience whose needs would not have been met if Cameron had not spent that 230 million and created the dream-scape that was Pandora; the 10 feet tall blue skinned avatars, the robots, the flying lizards, the barbie bodied Na'vi, the floating and luminescent flora fauna. The technical wizardry in the movie draws droves of youngsters daily to watch this film! Cameron with his 3D effects, the technical magic, and his masterful storytelling has all viewers glued to their seats; no questions asked!

As George Lucas did with his "Star Wars", Cameron too created a magical world of his own in "Avatar" and called it Pandora, amid which he spun a heart rending tale reminiscent of another from the annuls of human history. In the tale he housed an inter-species romance that tugs at your heartstrings while sending the searing message that we humans can and would destroy any planet, even our own!

I enjoyed the movie, and I would strongly recommend you see it because doubtless, Cameron would have made sure that "Avatar" has something in it for you!

January 05, 2010

"Three Idiots" - A Bollywood Block Buster that Baffles?

I watched this Bollywood movie 'Three Idiots' which apparently is currently as big of a block buster as is 'Avatar' in Hollywood.

These were some thoughts that crossed my mind while exiting the theater:

  • Are Indian parents that heartless/naive to drive their children into depression?
  • Do Indian youngsters never challenge their parents?
  • Why is no action taken against students who cheat on exams or violate basic rules in India?
  • Why was the Professor caricatured?
  • Do Indians in India dislike Indians in the USA? Why is that?
  • Are the Indians I see in the US a poor representation of India and Indian culture?
  • Why does this movie that bashes Indian Americans so popular in the USA?
  • How does a movie goer in India afford a ticket that on an average costs him Rs. 140/- (about $ 4), when the net hourly earning of an Indian is only Rs 60/- (about $ 1.5)?

I thought the male lead, Aamir Khan, is a really good actor, as were his two friends; the rest of the cast was a medley of caricatures who took away from the credibility of the story! The people around me appeared to be thoroughly entertained, in fact some of them had the songs and dialogues memorized! Apparently, the movie carries an important message to parents and teachers in India who stunt creativity and curiosity in young minds by forcing them to memorize instead of problem solving on their own. Whether this message finds it to the masses, past the slap stick humor in which it is so deeply embedded, is to be seen.

Your thoughts...