Posts Tagged Iraq War

DVD review: Lioness

Lioness brought tears to my eyes and also warmed my heart. It focuses on five Army women serving in Iraq. Coming from all different backgrounds, these women have one commonality: military service and Iraq. The lioness tag. This means that they are the first women in U.S. military history to be sent into direct ground combat. As the documentary unfolds, it shows that these women’s services are absolutely integral to the success of the U.S. military. A plethora of Iraq War documentaries are out there. What makes this any different? Most of those tell men’s stories or from men’s viewpoints.

Lioness is the story you have yet to hear. The women are remarkable and winning. They provide a revealing perspective on the Iraq War. There’s redneck Shannon, the most affected by her tour of duty. She’s on meds and shooting turtles in the swamps of Arkansas. In a telling moment she remarks, “I really wish I had kinda lost my mind or something . . . I lost a part of me.” The film nicely introduces each woman and then tells the often uncomfortable, upsetting and maddening story of their military service. This is the untold story of Iraq.

Lioness is a phenomenal tour-de-force from directors Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers. It is a vital, potent film that illuminates another aspect of the war through women’s voices. Ones that are not often heard.

Grade: B+

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film review: In the Loop

The U.S. Government staff is filled with a Master race of highly gifted toddlers.

Hysterical, witty, brash British comedy the imagines the days behind closed doors at Downing Street and in other offices of the British and U.S. government leading up to the Iraq War. Basically the U.S. President and the British Prime Minister are gung ho [as history shows] to go to war but not everyone working for them is in agreement or in such a hurry to send the troops into harm’s way. In the Loop is about politicians who appear to be self-composed and put together and full of the perfect sound bites and then they collapse under pressure or are completely different away from the public and media. In the Loop is fast-paced and provides an insight into British politics as well as a bit of a viewpoint into what the Brits think of Americans [we are Rock Stars! in their eyes apparently].

Directed by Armando Iannucci and written by Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell. An impressive cast includes: Peter Capaldi [Skins, Torchwood], Tom Hollander [The Soloist, Valkyrie], James Gandolfini [The Sopranos, The Mexican], Gina McKee [Atonement], Steve Coogan [Hamlet 2, Tropic Thunder], Anna Chulmsky [all grown up star of My Girl, Blood Car]. You will laugh so much that you might miss some of the lines and will have to see it again or put it in your netflix queue!



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film review: The Hurt Locker

The opening scene of The Hurt Locker is a creepy version of Wall-E. A robot whisks out through dusty silence scanning back and force looking for something. Iraqis hang out of windows looking on. Children stand along the streets. Snipers hide on rooftops. Suddenly it finds what it is looking for and the men of Bravo Company know that there’s some sort of bomb out there that that needs to be disarmed and fast. It’s time to suit up and get out there.

The Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal [EOD] squad has 38 days left of their tour to search for roadside bombs on the streets of Baghdad. Staff Sergeant William James [Jeremy Renner– Dahmer, The Assassination of Jesse James] has recently taken over leadership of the team. He’s a renegade with a blatant and happy disregard for military protocol and basic safety measures. Sergeant J.T. Sanborn [Anthony Mackie– Half Nelson, We are Marshall] plays by the rules while Specialist Owen Eldridge [Brian Geraghty– We are Marshall, Jarhead] is the newbie on this counter force team. It’s a high pressure job that allows for no mistakes and requires extreme calmness. Improvised Explosive Devices [IEDs] account for more than half of American hostile deaths. The Hurt Locker is a gritty, frenetic film packed to the brim with terror-filled moments.

Told he should put on a heavy Kevlar suit to disarm one bomb, Sgt. James [Renner] says: “If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die comfortable.’’ He proceeds to disarm the bomb without the protective gear to the amazement of his crew who think he’s a cowboy. Is he fearless or gutsy, rowdy or reckless? Or is this all he knows and how he is most comfortable? The blood pours off in puddles after a particularly tense mission when he showers in full uniform. At home [where he is clearly dissatisfied], James keeps a box of remnants from disarmed bombs under his bed (his own Hurt Locker) while a bomb itself is obviously a Hurt Locker and the war could be a Hurt Locker. There’s no politics involved. It is all about this company and its job: to locate and disable bombs. Renner is a revelation in this break out role. His eyes are the windows into the risks and rewards of his job. The Hurt Locker is written by Mark Boal [In the Valley of Elah] who spent months embedded with troops in Iraq.

There is so much death and destruction, blood and devastation, that you cannot help but think about the reasons behind the violence. The Hurt Locker takes place in 2004 during the Gulf War but the emotions that one feels while watching the film transcend the setting and the war. Director Kathryn Bigelow [Point Break, Strange Days] has made her career directing male-centric, action films. The Hurt Locker succeeds with Bigelow adding elements of grace, empathy and serenity to the demeanor of each character. Within the chaos and danger of The Hurt Locker lies bravery and reasoning. The Hurt Locker is without a doubt one of the most potent films you will see this year.


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film review: Stop Loss

ryanPhillippeOne of the guys in Stop Loss, just back from Iraq and out drinking with some friends says what many Americans are probably thinking: “All we need to do is drop a bomb instead of this urban combat bullshit.” Stop Loss tries very hard to show all the emotional distress this war has caused for those fighting and those at home.

The film opens in Iraq with an attack on a check point, a chase, and guns, bombs and blood… The frenzied cameras, gritty cinematography provide the adrenaline and also serve to provide the background story for the main characters in Stop Loss. The boys are soon home for a leave. Back in Texas where a parade welcomes them home.

Brandon [introspective and handsome, without being a pretty boy Ryan Phillippe] receives a purple heart. He’s happy because he’s out. He’s been the squad sergeant and everyone looks to him to lead the group and keep everyone on target and together. He served his duty and did his job. He went to Iraq after 9/11 for all the right reasons and now he’s disillusioned by the carnage he’s witnessed in the Middle East. After being told of his stop loss order, Brandon soon goes AWOL with the foolish plan to visit a U.S. Senator who told him to “drop by Washington if you ever need anything.” The themes of this film can only work in a state like Texas where so many are invoved in the military. In Massachusetts, for instance, there are no parades. Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) drinks a lot and cries quite a bit but desperately wants to stay in the military, despite his conflicted thoughts. And Steve (Channing Tatum) is the Hoo-rah, all or nothing, lifer. Although he has a quick flip out when he gets back where he fights with his girlfriend Michelle (Abbie Cornish) and digs a foxhole and spends the night in it fully armed and in his underwear. The three boys are the id, ego and superego for the war in Iraq. Tommy is the id, Steve is the ego and Brandon is the superego. Each guy’s story could really be a separate film.

It’s complicated and innerving to return from a war where when you left you knew, beyond a doubt, why you were fighting and for what and for whom. On return to have that sense of purpose flipped on its side must be devastating. There is little explanation for our involvement in Iraq at this point. The fighting is not being done to protect Americans but to keep a region stable that we made unstable. It’s really a tragedy that some many troops are dying for this.

By addressing Stop Loss, writer/director Kimberly Peirce [Boys Don’t Cry] who has a brother serving in Iraq, draws attention to a little known war time occurrence. As there is no draft in the United States (as long as John McCain does not win the election), by executive order, soldiers can be Stop Loss. This means that they can be sent back for additional tours of duty. More than they had originally planned on. In Stop Loss, Peirce tends toward being too ambitious in showing every possible angle imaginable (including an upbeat blind amputee at a Veteran’s hospital—one of the squad Brandon led). This diffuses the issues and concerns instead of making them powerful moments in the film.

Unfortunately the film attempts to tackles too many war-related themes and it causes confusion and disparity and makes the film wander. Trip to the military hospital and then the scene where someone who has been dishonorably discharged and commits suicide gets a full military funeral. I don’t think so. The bold imagery provides an emotional connection but it just does not fit. I know why, as a filmmaker, Peirce chose certain scenes. She wanted to tell the story of the war from all possible angles and in doing so needed these powerful images of coffins and pomp and military bravado. Surely Peirce means well and I wanted to cry and really love this film.

Stop Loss delves into the psyches of those involved in war and also provides mediation on the war’s effects both physically and mentally on those directly and indirectly involved. Unfortunately the film lacks levity and depth to make it truly memorable and relevant. I wanted to be able to tell everyone to run out and see it in the theater but I can’t. It’s well worth putting in your Netflix queue and that’s unfortunate because Peirce is a heartfelt talented filmmaker and there certainly are stories to tell about Iraq that focus on humanity.


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film review: Body of War

During the Gulf War, I wrote letters to four guys serving over there. After 9/11, like many Blue-staters, I put an American flag decal-type thing (my friend and I printed them and laminated them at work) on my car and drove around with it for perhaps six months. For some reason, I didn’t think about writing letters until recently. After reading Elizabeth Berg’s tearjerker about WWII, Dream When You’re Feeling Blue, I found one via the website Adopt a US Soldier. Now I have been writing to PFC Michael Spaeth, stationed somewhere in Iraq. He thanked me profusely and told me how much he appreciated it. I (ever the journo) questioned this.

His reply: What I mean by it means a lot and I owe you, is that some of the people we fight to defend don’t appreciate what we do. We fight for them to be free to protest and picket us. But then there are those who support us and for that I feel we owe a debt of gratitude. I know that to someone such as yourself, it may not be a big deal to write and send packages to soldiers, but to us it’s not a big deal to be here fighting for our country. I don’t feel that anyone owes me anything for what I do. So when somebody takes the time to write letters and so on, it means a lot. I don’t expect those kinds of things and that makes it all the more worth while.

When I re-read Michael’s message I still do not understand what he means when he says fighting for our country. Does he really think that being in Iraq is protecting us? I did not reply to that part of his e-mail and in letters I say that I hope he is safe. I don’t often know what to even say. He’s only 22 years old. But he has two small children. Though I’m a decade older than him, our life experience may be equal though incomparable.

This brings me to the film Body of War. Collateral damage, conflicted participants, conscientious objectors? Check. Check. Check. As seen through the eyes of one 25-year-old disabled veteran, Tomas Young, the war is not over once the soldiers come home. There are numerous challenges ahead. He’s dealing with a wife, self-catheterizations and trying to make a place for himself now that he’s paralyzed from the chest area down. This is definitely an aspect of the war that most Americans have remained shielded from. Sure we hear that 4,000 American troops have died but do we see the veterans who come back with PTSD or missing limbs? And what of our great superpower democratic United States? The Congressional vote on the war resolution in 2002 is interspersed through the film. The greatest voice of opposition, West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, has a touching moment in his office with Tomas.

It should spark debate in everyone. I’m against the war and I’m against staying in Iraq any longer. My sort-of boyfriend Brian also opposed the initial invasion but supports the slow withdrawal. I’m sure everyone has a different opinion about that colossal mess. Body of War is produced by Phil Donahue, so you know going in that it’s going to be very left-leaning. I also saw the film in VERY liberal Cambridge, Mass. The audience clapped when the film ended (this was Friday afternoon). I know many are war weary and have been staying away from Iraq-themed films in general, but this film feels a bit different. It’s very personal and evocative. Eddie Vedder’s original songs are stirring, heart-wrenching and honest. While at times Body of War can be overzealous or preachy and a bit obvious in its anti-war message, it provides us with another viewpoint: from a front row seat. The heartfelt story of Tomas is extremely moving, thoughtful and memorable and worth the trip to the theater.

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