Archive for July, 2011

“War’s dirty little secret is that some men love it.”Kathryn Bigelow

I began this blog, in part, to write sentences like this: The Hurt Locker is a spiritual sequel to Point Break.

OK, let’s back up. The former is an unqualified piece of Quality Cinema. It topped Film Comment‘s year-end list and snatched the Best Picture prize from Avatar. It sent critics into synchronized cries of “Visceral!” and “The best Iraq War film ever made!” It’s a respectable film about a group of men who’ve grown addicted to adrenaline — to the physical rush of living a life on the (physical and existential) outskirts.

Point Break,  meanwhile, runs on late-night cable. It features an extra-wooden turn from Keanu Reeves. It requires words like “bromance” to describe. It’s idolized by Nick Frost’s dimwit cop in Hot Fuzz, a man who relishes the chance to introduce coworkers to Bad Boys II. But it too is a movie about men, adrenaline and the unapologetic desire to escape the humdrum and embrace the primeval. Simply replace The Hurt Locker‘s serious-cinema bona fides with the immediate thrills of an action movie.

What binds these films most, of course, is their maker. Director Kathryn Bigelow offers a nonjudgmental look at distilled masculinity, from the detached perspective of a bemused (and amused) outsider.

The rush of battle is often a lethal addiction, for war is a drug.

The Hurt Locker hints at its Point Break debt from the get-go. The movie opens with the above doozy of a quote, culled from a book by journalist Chris HedgesPoint Break could have begun with a similar, sillier sentiment:

“The rush of surfing is often a lethal addiction, for adrenaline is a drug.”

Or the rush of bank-robbing. Or the rush of sky-diving. One can even picture Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), the film’s thrill-junkie philosopher, uttering those words before he hits his final, suicidal wave in Australia. (more…)

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This post originally appeared on Quarantine the Past on August 14, 2008.

From 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days to Talladega Nights, the last few years have given us a number of show-stopping sequences set in the nuclear family’s most familiar setting: the dinner table.

For a visual stylist, a dinner table is one of the most boring cinematic environments imaginable. Barring some table-flipping theatrics, most dinner table scenes consist of people sitting around eating and talking. Like the dinners you probably have with your family, nothing really happens. Maybe a raised voice or a dismissive look, but nothing in the way of high drama. If you seek escapism from the cinema, you’ll probably be disappointed by a film that relies on the dinner table to propel its narrative. It’s just too familiar, too routine.

The dinner table scene, I’d argue, is defined by stasis and longing. In a few of the sequences I discuss below, the dinner table forces two or more conflicting individuals to sit in the same room with one another. And they’re stuck. The formal dinner is a convention, a social obligation that embodies their domestic shackles. They must sit and partake, though they long to be elsewhere, often anywhere else. They sit put, confronting what they wish to avoid, and it’s this forced compliance that creates the tension and humor within the best dinner table scenes.

No film better displays my thesis than 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.


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