Movie Review: The Hurt Locker by uncdiversions
August 5, 2009, 6:55 pm
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It brought a wry smile to my face in the movie theater, remembering what all the big-shot, educated, urban, liberal critics had said about “The Hurt Locker.” It threw them all for a loop, with very few calling it bad, some calling it “near-perfect,” and most calling it the best movie yet made about the Iraq War.

This is all so ironic, first for the fact that the movie soft-pedals on the war itself, buttering up the heavy-metal mentality of American militarism, so most of these critics were speaking their praises quite out of political character. Secondly, for the fact that as good as the movie is, it’s caused “Slumdog Millionaire” syndrome, with many critics giving it more than its due, slobbering over it a little too incontinently. It’s good, but it really isn’t that good.

Unlike most war movies, which have too much moral grandstanding to do, “The Hurt Locker” is actually about men at war, and all the complex processes, considerations and trials that this entails. The story focuses on one particular bomb-deactivation squad operating in Iraq circa 2004, whose job is to locate improvised explosive devices (“IEDs”) and dispose of them before they can rip apart Iraqi marketplaces and Iraqi democracy.

At the opening of the film the squad’s bomb technician, decked in a full body blast suit like some earthly astronaut of the warrior class, is killed in action, to be replaced by an adrenaline junkie Sergeant named William James. James’s two team members, one a cautious micro-manager counting down the days till his tour is over, the other a kid probably suffering from PTSD and wracked with guilt over his comrade’s death, are put on edge by his cavalier mode of operation. The seemingly fearless James has deactivated hundreds of bombs like a ballsy cowboy, sauntering up to any danger he can find, but it turns out, in the end, that he’s been rendered ill-equipped for civilian life. All he can be is a career soldier, married to the military till death (or worse, peace) pulls them apart.

“Hurt Locker’s” celebrated screenplay was written by Mark Boal, an embedded journalist during the war, and it has a total effect on the film and the audience. With limited visibility in urban Baghdad, these soldiers venture out into dusty streets and tight alleys, never knowing which items of garbage will blow up in their faces or whether militants will shoot them from around a corner. It forces the soldier’s, and more so, the embedded journalist’s, truncated perspective on events, giving the movie its truly riveting suspense. (As in, you are riveted to your seat.) There’s no glory or glamour or overblown dialogue either; just a simple plea to “cover me, please.”

It’s this realistic depiction of the day-to-day lives of troops, after all, that is the movie’s real critical calling card, and the attempt at accurate documentation seems to be a success. Director Kathryn Bigelow wants her audience to understand the psychological stress of warfare, and she does an admirable job reminding us that American soldiers are not mean bigots juiced up and ready for a massacre. They’re just regular people doing a hard job and hopefully saving a few lives, without any consideration for ideology.

But unfortunately Bigelow is a bit injudicious in her depictions of Iraqis. I understand that in a confusing war American soldiers can’t be expected to assume every man, woman and child in Basra or Baghdad to be their best friend, and that most soldiers will understandably be wary of throngs of unrecognizable people speaking what sounds like gibberish. There is a way to make a movie that documents this unfortunate situation without being complicit in it, but Bigelow doesn’t try very hard to distance herself from what could be called good old-fashioned fear of “the Other.”

In the movie’s last scene, where an apparently innocent man worries feverishly about his wife and children as Sergeant James tries, and fails, to remove a locked bomb vest from his torso, Bigelow never asks us to care about the Iraqi man, the stranger, the Other, as long as our brave American boy gets away in time. Even something simple, like an uncharacteristic subtitle for the man’s pleas, would have sufficed. Instead he’s blown to bits without being understood, and we know his memory will pass on easily enough. Bigelow would never allow such a fate to befall an American soldier, and just because she’s made a movie that depicts the tough lives of these soldiers does not mean that she can sacrifice other people in their stead.

– By Diversions Staff Writer Jonathan Pattishall


Mixtape Round-Up: July 23 – August 3 by uncdiversions
August 4, 2009, 6:58 pm
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Since the sever wasn’t working for me on Thursday and I’ll be out of town until next week, I’m going to give you a supped 5 tape version of the mixtape round-up, should be good.

I have been talking about this tape for a while now. I posted up the One Month Left tape a month ago, and now we get the final project that has been hyped now for a while. QuESt is just lyrically blessed. The man-child – he’s only, like, 19 – has that flow that just seeps out. He probably just talks in rhymes. The effortlessness reflects onto the listener as well, making the entire album play like one track. More good news, the album is being re-released tonight (Monday) at 9 pm in a fully mastered version. Purty cool.

What’s Good?: “Forever” Feat. Outasight, “I Need to Go,” “A Little More Time”

Tracklist and Download link for Broken Headphones

Besides the Cincinnatti-based production team The Kickdrums, Beatnick and K-Salaam are my current favorite flavor of production duo. The work they did mixing and mastering Kooley is High was one thing, but when they call on all the rapper friends of theirs, it’s beautiful music. Let’s see who’s on the back of the album, Talib Kweli, Bun B, Lil Wayne, K’naan and so many more. Also, the hookmaster, Colin Munroe <– insert dude crush. But the album is an amazing assemblage and a work of art.

What’s Good?: “Don’t Die” Feat. Bun B, Talib Kweli and Colin Munroe, “I’m Fine” Feat. Young Buck and Colin Munroe, “Chi-Town Takeover” Feat. Mikkey Halsted

Tracklist and Download link for Where the Streets Have No Name

Speaking of the Raleigh crew Kooley High, one of the three emcees, Charlie Smarts a.k.a. Lex, just released a mixtape of his own. Never having been one to pick my favorite between Tab-One, Rapsody or Lex before, I have to say, Charlie is out in the lead at the moment. Coming right off his remix of KiD CuDi’s “Sky Might Fall,” the whole album is amazing. Charlie likes to get into some deeper topics, especially the lady folk, but doesn’t get too hokey or come off as a dick. Another bonus, a bunch of extras with the download like more artwork, lyrics and such.

What’s Good?: “Ms. America,” “Out of This World,” “Fly”

Tracklist and Download link for f’alex

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I do mention some of the same artists over and over again on here, but I promise they are really good. Moving forward, I always give shouts to XV for his cameos on other projects. XV has had projects before, but this one blew them away. Teaming up with DJs Benzi and Enuff, XV expounds on all those great guest spots dismissing any questions they may have surrounded his ability to carry an entire tape himself. He does have some great guests to help him out, but this is all about XV.

What’s Good?: “A.D.D.,” “Start a War” Feat. Colin Munroe, “Life vs. Livin'” Feat. Big Sean

Tracklist and Download link for Everybody’s Nobody

What, Ja Rule relased a free album – to the streets! Actually, I believe Ja had planned his comeback and even less people cared than he thought. The only reason I posted this is because the entire idea that people still cared about Ja Rule was humorous to me.

What’s Good?: Couldn’t tell you.

Tracklist and Download link for The Mirror

See y’all in two weeks.

-Diversions Staff Writer Benn Wineka

A couple more jams by uncdiversions
July 24, 2009, 7:01 pm
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Benji Hughes – Local 506 – July 23

If Benji Hughes ever tells you he’s only going to play “a couple more jams,” I can assure he’s lying. He’s actually going to play many more rocking numbers before he’ll let you go. But I can also assure you that if you can stand the strain, you’re not going to want those jams to stop. Much in the style of the Charlotte singer’s 2008 album A Love Extreme, Hughes played an exhaustive near hour-and-a-half set of pristine rock and pop Thursday night. And like that album much of it sounded the same. But also like that album, it was all so good, that it was hard to care for long. Owing a great deal to a backing band that rocked with all the power of the ’70s stadium greats, Hughes drove his cute, witty songs home as he knocked back a six pack (at least) and stroked his well-grown facial hair. Durham’s Simeon played well in opening duties, playing up their dirty rock ‘n’ roll with a scantily clad sign girl announcing each number. It was a set of muscular riffs and rhythms that relied on instrumental dexterity more than originality. Still, in so far as grungy bar rock goes, there are few better bands around here than Simeon.

Click below for more photos.

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Screen Time for July 24 by uncdiversions
July 24, 2009, 6:04 pm
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Hollywood has exhausted its entertainment resources for a while after the release of the latest Harry Potter, and the Chelsea isn’t bringing in a new movie until July 31, so movie-going in Chapel Hill will be slowing down for a couple of weeks. I’ll be avoiding the multiplex myself, as I have no desire to watch Gerard Butler fake an American accent in “The Ugly Truth,” or 3-D hamsters save the world in “G-Force,” but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a couple of pot-shots.

G-Force” (Wide Release):

-You know a movie is disposable crap when its calling card isn’t the authority of the director or the talent of the writers and actors, but the glitz of the producer. No one knows this movie, which will surely be low-grade entertainment with few if any redeeming qualities that must be force-fed to kids so that they won’t know the difference between good kids movies and total shit (inhale, deep breath), as the work of Hoyt Yeatman, but as the money-mill of Jerry Bruckheimer. Bruckheimer is of course the man who produced the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but he’s also the asshole who brought you Armageddon (along with the directorial counterpart to his unimaginative style, Michael Bay), and Kangaroo Jack. Enough said.

-Even the voices and personas of talented actors like Bill Nighy, Penelope Cruz and Steve Buscemi can’t save a plot that appears to be the long lost bastard child of “Cats & Dogs” and “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.”

The Ugly Truth” (Wide Release):

-Gerard Butler as a male chauvinist playing the devil’s advocate for love? The poor man’s been typecast as a chauvinist across genres, tied together only by how one-dimensional they are: from homoerotic Spartan man-fest action movies to pansy sitcoms.

By Diversions Staff Writer Jonathan Pattishall

Mixtape Round-Up: July 18-22 by uncdiversions
July 23, 2009, 7:08 pm
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Somewhat of an abbreviated weekas last week’s entry was late, but that doesn’t mean a lack of quality releases.

Jet Audio is a producer from up New York way who has a ton of rapper friends that all love to jump on his tracks. Stand Alone Complex is 14 original joints that feature the likes of Che Grand, Danny!, Outasight, 6th Sense, Mickey Factz, The Kid Daytona and Naledge. Alright, well Naledge may have snuck in the mix, but otherwise it’s the new school of NYC in full effect. All you have to do to get your hands on this baby is register online with Analgram Digital.

What’s Good?: “Stand Alone” Feat. Curt@in$, Mickey Factz, Danny! and Outasight, “I’ll Let You Know” Feat. Naledge, “They Will See” Feat. Harlems Cash and Jesse Boykins III

Tracklist and Download link for Stand Alone Complex

One half of the Young Gunnaz crew has been able to step beyond that stigma that had been stuck on him since his beginning days. As of late, Young Chris has shown on his rhymes that he’s beyond that talented 16-year-old he started as and is now a pretty damn good rapper. Chris has got some pretty big cameos on the tape with the likes of his go-to cohorts Freeway, Beanie Sigel, Wale and Rhymefest, as well as Black Thought and Curren$y. Between that and Don Cannon mixing The Network, it’s worth the check.

What’s Good?: “Kickdrums” Feat. Wale and Rhymefest, “Last 2” Feat. Freeway and Beanie Sigel

Tracklist and Download link for The Network

Eighties babies are out. Now, it’s all about the 90s babies. Nero is basically a newbie on the block but teaming up with another young’in creates something beautiful. Illroots presented Alive & Vibrant: Relive the Moment and it’s nice. Nero joins forces with some colleagues and remixes a classic, plenty of new material and pretty much all around an grade A effort from Nero. Some solid guests of the same variety that I mention often and have already named in this very post. Really, get to know Nero.

What’s Good?: “Flava in Ya Ear [NBA Jam Edition]” Feat. Truck North, Chip Tha Ripper, The Kid Daytona and El Prez, “I Get Lyrical,” “T.R.O.Y.”

Tracklist and Download link for Alive & Vibrant: Relive the Moment

If you’re bored with all that, give this a read. It’s an NPR piece comparing rappers with world politics. I heard it the other morning and it was pretty good. Especially comparing The Game to North Korea because he is so erratic.

Movie Review: Food, Inc. by uncdiversions
July 23, 2009, 6:10 pm
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From the one-dimensional editing of its first twenty minutes, “Food, Inc.” could be another well intentioned but poorly played guerilla documentary from Robert Greenwald. So much of this intro is taken up by vague condemnations of agribusinesses, accompanied by obnoxious computer animation meant to convey their shadowy nastiness, that it threatens to waste away in the self-righteous vein of Greenwald’s screeds against Fox News and Wal-Mart.

But surprisingly, and thankfully, Greenwald had nothing to do with this documentary, and that becomes clear as it progressively improves. It’s actually the brainchild of two authors and long-time critics of the food industry, Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, and is directed by Robert Kennen, who is able to take a very rough beginning of disconnected snapshots and turn it into a satisfying and somewhat complete film in the spirit, though not the best, of the muckraking tradition.

What the documentary has to show is necessary viewing for anyone who eats just about anything at all. It exposes, like the books by its creators that act as source material, the horrible costs of our hyper-industrialized food industry, which are all too often hidden behind government subsidies and slick PR campaigns.

The Monsanto Corporation is one nebulous example. It is slowly reviving agricultural serfdom through a genetic monopoly on patented soybean strains, bringing small farmers under its legal tentacles. Kennen interviews some of these all-American farmers whose careers were ruined by one multi-national corporate giant, and their emotional wounds are still raw for the audience to see.

The Bush Administration, admittedly an easy target, is another example. By now no one will be surprised to know that they staffed federal regulatory agencies with former lobbyists for the industries they were meant to regulate. They then turned around and pointed their fingers at liberals when those agencies, the FDA and the USDA, failed to prevent bacterial outbreaks, as if the foregone conclusion of failure somehow proved the futility and inefficiency of regulation. This is enough to get up in arms about without having to see injustice in our own backyard, but Kennen also interviews a union organizer in Tar Heel, N.C., where the largest hog slaughtering plant in the world (owned by Smithfield Foods) is running through thousands of pigs and hundreds of low-paid workers every day. Their unfair labor practices have been under plenty of scrutiny recently, and Kennen, Pollan and Schlosser all insist that this inhuman business model is one link in a food chain that is killing people as fast as it’s killing the planet.

From a beginning that seems to be heading nowhere, Kennen fashions a little bit of cinematic agitprop that conveys this message admirably. At the rolling of the credits, “Food, Inc.” is too technically sloppy to be considered well-made, but still thoughtful enough to be a fair and heartfelt statement about the enormously important issue of unethical food production.

– By Diversions Staff Writer Jonathan Pattishall

Interesting CD releases for July 21 by uncdiversions
July 21, 2009, 7:14 pm
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Not a whole lot doing this week, but I do have two fairly minor releases that might spark your interest.

Dive got a copy of Josephine, the new one from Indiana’s Magnolia Electric Co.,and we’ve actually liked it a lot.

It’s pretty standard stuff, melodically driven folk rock wrapped mostly around break up songs. On paper it kind of sounds like every folk rock record ever made, and it kind of is in reality. But it’s well made, and the melodies are pretty great. Additionally the band plays tonight at Local 506. Show starts at 9 p.m. and costs $10.

On the subject of pretty standard but still satisfying folk rock, Wye Oak also has a new one called The Knot. Wye Oak is a duo from Baltimore that adds big distorted riffs to traditional folk rock

While it can occasionally become innocuous the duo does know its way around a melody, and every once in a while they stumble upon a pretty great lyric as well.

That’s about all I’ve got for this week. Sorry It couldn’t be more exciting.

– By Diversions Editor Jordan Lawrence