Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Ides of March

Since most of Battle Company, second platoon disbanded, we've moved on. Careers have been launched, schools attended and families started. We're not the kids that filled out Army uniforms so long ago. As close as we were then, both geographic distance and the rigors of post-military life have left us isolated. There was a time that you could reach in any direction and grab the shoulder of a brother. These days, the best we can muster is a phone call or an email, with makeshift reunions of a few men happening quick and infrequently.

We went camping and I let him borrow a tent not knowing it had a hole in it. He walked out of the tent the next morning soaked from the knees down. - Dozer

March is for moving forward. But for second platoon, the month is swallowed by memories of a particular man in a particular place on a particular day: March 14, 2007. Brian Chevalier, a lean and baby-faced Georgia boy, was the driver for first squad. He faced the enemy before the rest of his squad every time they mounted up. I never heard him complain about a thankless job like ferrying infantryman into battle.

Thompson and me were on CQ and fucking Chevy came by covered in mud and looking like he just got tag teamed by a bunch of forest animals. He celebrated his 21st birthday at the casino, tried to walk to post and passed out in a ditch. - Dodo

There was no whimper, no cries for mother or last words when Chevy died. The explosion that blew him out of the Stryker made him, for a brief moment, a creature of flight. He didn't suffer. The next few hours were spent fighting out of a kill zone expertly crafted by gunmen lying in wait. In our unit's history, The Ides of March became a bloody smear on the calendar.

On the first anniversary of Chevy's death, many of the guys around Ft. Lewis were able to get together, along with a CBS reporter to cover the story. We sang and drank and traded memories about Chevy. Three years later, it's not so easy. Many of us relied on Facebook to tell the same old stories or share new ones.

I remember that fool planning his redneck wedding. Also remember him telling Hernandez that he wouldn't be his battle buddy to the chow hall in Mosul. After a while he would hide out in his room just to avoid him. - Dodo

I've never worked or went to school on March 14. Last year I spent the day with Dodo and another friend in New York, but last week I found myself alone. I decided to spend the day where another group of young men struggled and died: Antietam. The park system contains two monuments to the 20th Infantry NY Regulars, which were the predecessors of our unit, 5th Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment. The engagement is remembered with a striped battle streamer on the regimental colors. Us, though, we remember Chevy with late night phone calls and laughter through tears.

We have moved on since then, but March carries a weight that loads us down. Spring is just around the corner, but not for our best.

In that kid I saw the best in all of you. No matter how bad it got, he and you all persevered. He would remind me that you all were kids and to lighten up. Leave fucking with the Army of Dude for another day. It was an honor to serve with each and everyone of you. As long as we don't forget him, he will live longer than all of us.
- Richard Kellar, Chevy's squad leader

Monday, November 08, 2010

Bring It In!

Nearly half a decade ago in a stuffy barracks room corner, I created this blog for a very simple reason: to communicate to my family the curious aspects of Army life. Before I committed, I enjoyed writing but never had an impulse to do so. Writing for sheer pleasure was a difficult concept to grasp; the act was often sullenly attached to school assignments I habitually ignored in favor of reading dry military history texts. But after I got started, writing became my only creative outlet, a way to relay thoughts and experiences that I would never dare speak out loud. Emails, letters and occasionally blog postings were sent from the grounds of Fort Lewis and enormous bases carved out of Iraqi soil. My only audience was an assembly of blood – family members and close friends were the only ones following my travels. In an all male infantry unit, writing was the furthest thing from grunt machismo. This blog was a closely guarded secret.

Violent explosions have the power to transform bodies and minds. They also have the ability to transform perspectives. A decimated house in Mosul brought me from snarky spectator to battlefield observer once I saw bricks scattered about the street like violent confetti. I decided at that moment to record as much as I saw through writing and photographs to relay thoughts and images that were nearly impossible to articulate. It was my way of talking out the often painful and difficult situations during my unit’s deployment. Writing was catharsis long before I understood the meaning of the word. As the deployment crawled past the one year mark during the worst period of violence of the entire war, hand written letters seemed like they were being delivered to another galaxy. Writing here became my only connection to a place that didn't feel quite like home anymore.

The Third Stryker Brigade completed its mission when we razed the home of the Islamic State of Iraq in the summer of 2007. My own mission of serving in the Army was accomplished shortly after we returned home. After I got out, I set my sights on an education, which felt like a battle unto itself. My high school grades were impressive in their mediocrity - I failed, among many other classes, freshman and sophomore English. College seemed like a task far outside my abilities, but I quickly found my military experience prepared me with the discipline I didn't have as a teenager. The most difficult part of school was making sure my VA benefits came when they were due.

Along with thousands of veterans going to school, I found myself without a monthly living stipend when the Post-9/11 GI Bill went live last year. Simply navigating a complex benefit package like the GI Bill required research and painful lessons learned, but how to tell a landlord I couldn't make rent wasn't in any FAQ provided by the federal government. I sent my grievances to the only person I knew at the Department of Veterans Affairs - Brandon Friedman - and within hours I was speaking with Keith Wilson, the Director of Education Services for the Department. He was able to answer enough questions to spur a followup post, which went far to explain some confusing and frustrating aspects of the GI Bill.

Apart from my posts written from Iraq, this blog has been mainly introspective and nostalgic in nature; a look back at the good old days. The two posts dealing with the GI Bill were a departure for the norm. It felt great to step outside my own experiences and help other veterans who needed the right information directly from the right source. I spent the next few months burying myself in homework and working part time before Brandon came to me with some news: the Department of Veterans Affairs was expanding its new media reach, and it needed someone to helm a forthcoming blog.

I took Brandon up on his offer after much deliberation. I still had school to finish, but it was rather unsatisfying. I missed the challenges of the Army. I missed having a mission.

Today I announce a new mission: the launch of VA's blog. It's called VAntage Point, and its purpose is simple: to transform the mode of communication between veterans and VA. The main column will be written by staff writers: myself and Lauren Bailey, the Special Assistant to the Chief Technology Officer. Brandon is the editor, and will occasionally chime in when not covering my drafts in red ink. We are set to tackle issues affecting veterans, with emphasis on getting the right information to the right veteran at the right time. The exciting part for everyone involved is the Guest Post column. Anyone can submit a post on a topic concerning veterans, and it will be published as long as it's coherent and competently argued. We're not just looking for fluff pieces either. If you had a bad experience with a VA doctor or couldn't get through on a help line, we want to hear about it. We're looking for a cross section of guest writers - anyone from a student struggling with reintegration to a VA surgeon to a Vietnam veteran and everyone in between. For the first time in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs, ideas and communication will flow two ways.

Of course, my new job carries with it some implications for this blog. Now that I work for the government (again), I relinquish a bit of editorial freedom of what I can say here. That's the downside to increasing the reach of my words. But with it I gain legitimacy and authority to speak about veterans' issues, and I have a hard time thinking of a better way to use my energy. That is not to say I won't have enough time for Army of Dude. Whenever I have a post in mind that doesn't fit at VAntage Point, it will go here. But sadly, I can't focus on my writing here like I once did. Things will change around here, but this blog will remain. VA wanted me to write for them, and with me comes my style and personality unabridged. Both will survive the migration. I encourage my readers interested in veteran issues to bookmark VAntage Point and check back often.

I cannot imagine where I'd be without the people I've met along the way. It'd take all day to mention all the talented writers in the milblog community that have linked to me for years, or to list all the readers who have left countless messages of support both here and through emails. I've made many friends and luckily few enemies through my writing, and I hope that is something that continues both here and my new home. Thank you for reading. I look forward to my new mission, and I know I can count on many of you for support.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Through Darkness We See

As the steady flow of commuters emptied out of the subway, I stood to the side, watching down avenues of approach with my head on a swivel. Jesse’s assault pack dug into my shoulders, heavy not from grenades or textbooks, but from enough clothes for a long weekend. I decided on a whim to take a long bus ride from Washington, DC to New York for Comic-Con. Dodo had gone last year and it seemed a perfect reason to visit him in Brooklyn. It had only been a few months since he came down to Washington, but I had missed him terribly. He remains one of my closest friends from our old platoon, and seeing him released the nostalgic pressure that builds in between visits with guys from the unit.

Peculiar things happen when you catch up with a guy from the platoon. Voices change, conversation becomes hurried and the wall between thoughts and speech, usually reserved for polite society, crumbles to dust. The social experiment of a platoon stuffed together for fifteen continuous months of combat breeds words, phrases and nicknames that are buried when those men finally disperse, only to be resurrected later during brief reunions. If the men of second platoon spoke as they did in the filthy outposts of Baqubah, most would be divorced and none would be employed. Reintegrating into society means you must leave those words, phrases and tones behind, mostly for the reason that civilians would simply not understand them. When old friends get together, those words come tumbling out from the deepest recesses of the mind.

When civilians ask me what I miss most about the Army, I always tell them it’s the people. Many are one of a kind and others are destined to be friends for life. Given a few years separation between the end of a military career and the return to civilian life, it becomes easy to romanticize the way things used to be. Even sheer moments of terror and unimaginable brutality seem tolerable in retrospect because of the men to the left and right. Love is a difficult emotion to conceptualize, and I did not understand it until I saw guys sharing their last swallows of water or offering to carry some of the heavy load for a struggling friend. Once we got home and everyone went their separate ways, or stayed for another tour, that support system fell apart. It was worth the agony of war to experience that kind of commitment.

It came as no surprise to hear that the Chilean miners almost immediately began to have what I call adversity withdrawal. In the two months they were underground, everything in their lives – their wives and girlfriends, their homes, their paychecks- melted away the moment they were trapped. Their only concern was survival, and they began to live moment to moment with an outcome far from certain. Undoubtedly, the bonds they forged deep underground helped them get through what must have been a truly horrifying experience. One sentence from a recent report nearly knocked me out of my seat:

“What we’re seeing is the miners are almost longing to be in that group together.”

For the third time this year, I spent quality time with Dodo, one of my best friends from the platoon. We always talk about work and girlfriends and who is up to what, but the topic always drifts towards the Army and Iraq, as if the conversation is a compass that points to what is really on our minds. I have discovered that several guys from the platoon have thought about joining up again. Going back to a job or the unemployment line or school just isn’t for them. If everyone is a puzzle piece that fits into society in a certain way, our edges come back frayed and worn. Everything doesn’t go back together quite right. But what I want to tell everyone who wants to go back is this: It’s not what we did that you miss, it’s the people you served next to. Just like now, as we’re scattered all over the country, bringing the men of second platoon together for another tour remains an impossible task. If it wasn’t, I doubt I could resist the opportunity. I know what the miners know – those terrible days were the best days because of who was with them in the dark.

Thursday, July 01, 2010


The amount of stuff a soldier brings home from war can be limitless. Books, bootleg DVDs, letters, pictures, memories, post traumatic stress, TBI - without fail, everyone comes home with more than what they left with. The worth of some of those things can be easily determined, but others carry a more intrinsic value. Go on a backpacking trip through Europe and you might collect train tickets or pub coasters for mementos, but grabbing a keepsake from the battlefield earns an entirely different description: war trophy. Look in a thousand houses or rummage through a hundred caches and you might find something worth stuffing into your pocket.

There are strict guidelines that describe what can be taken and what should be left alone. Nothing can ever be taken from a civilian, but enemy equipment (limited to non-firearms) is mostly fair game. I kept my bayonets but had to get rid of a zip gun and an insurgent ammo bearing vest punctured by bullet holes and stained with blood. During my mid tour leave in Europe, I picked up a rock from Omaha Beach and a piece of concrete from a destroyed bunker at Pointe du Hoc, only to throw them into a patch of gravel outside of customs in Kuwait. Tangible pieces of history were lost to conform to the strict no soil policy. Brass shell casings from my first firefight were stuffed into a amnesty bin. Thousands of those ejected casings burned our necks and rolled around the floor of our vehicles, but they had to be discarded like common aluminum cans. I wanted to save a few to show my grandchildren, maybe tell them the story about how they were left behind. They'd roll them around in their hands and stick their pinkie into the top of the casing. I'd tell them, "It was in these moments that made me who I am."

Mostly everyone came back with at least one interesting thing. Al Qaeda flags were rare and treasured while bayonets produced yawns; everyone seemed to have one (I brought two home). Another common souvenir was an ammo vest. They were essential to any enemy cache and easily stuffed into a cargo pocket. I managed a unique find; a camouflage ammo vest with an Iraqi flag printed on the back, stuffed deep in a box in an insurgent safe house.

Somewhere in Baghdad, Dodo found a rare gem: a pistol holder with a golden seal of the Republican Guard affixed below a stamp reading "1984," which was about the midpoint of the Iran-Iraq War. It was attached to an ammo belt more suitable for the Old West than the Middle East. When he showed them to me, I couldn't believe those things were found together in what can only be described as a trailblazing attempt at insurgent chic. He offered them to me and I declined, but he insisted, true to his selfless and giving nature. With his generous donation to the Musée d'Dude, I put together a tiny space for war trophies centered around the concept drawing of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Memorial statue.

The sword is perhaps the most storied item in the platoon's war trophy collection. In a house littered with insurgent accoutrements, I uncovered the weapon hidden underneath a pile of blankets. I was already carrying a heavy folding litter on my back and jammed two AK47s into the carrying case. The sword barely managed to fit. Along the blade were dried streaks of blood, a peculiar fact considering it wasn't very sharp. Across the street, another platoon discovered a torture chamber utilized by insurgents operating in the area. We openly wondered if the sword was used for sadistic purposes.

My squad leader determined it was critical to mission success and took it to headquarters during my post mission shower. I had carried it for several days until we came back to base, and it was mine based on the international rules of Finder's Keepers. The battalion staff was less than impressed with its story and sent it to be blown to bits in a hole alongside dozens of captured weapons. The Snack Master just happened to be walking by the collection and just happened to spot the sword, and in a rare moment of thoughtfulness, grabbed the weapon and brought it back.

Bringing home weapons from war is a tradition as old itself, but that doesn't mean all war trophies are of death's construction. I consider myself lucky for finding not one, but two gems. After clearing an abandoned house, I looked through piles of books and papers on the floor for any important documents. I uncovered a curious portrait of one of the world's most hated dictators:

GQ Saddam now hangs on my bathroom wall. A piece of history saved.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Metal Memorials

“Hey man, just so you know, I’m going to set this thing off.”

I don’t have a metal plate in my head or shrapnel in my legs, but I carry with me something that might as well be lodged deep under my skin. After Vietnam, soldiers and civilians alike would wear bracelets etched with the names of prisoners of war so their memory would live on even if they never came home. Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continued the practice, but with a twist. The same bracelets are adorned with the names of friends killed in action. The date and the place are also included as a testament to where they took their last steps. One of the first things my platoon did after coming home was order memorial bracelets from the few websites that specialize in military memorabilia. You don’t even have to type in the name or the date; their system uses the DOD casualty list. All you have to do is filter by name and a software aided laser will burn the selection onto an aluminum or steel bracelet. What emerges out of this casual and disinterested practice is jewelry teeming with the amount of love and commitment found in ten wedding rings.

Every trip to the airport has the same outcome: additional security checks and a pat down from a TSA agent. I tell them it’s the bracelet that the metal detector shrieks at. “Can you take it off?” is always the question. “I don’t want to take it off” is always the answer. To some screeners my answer is a poke in the eye of their authority, a wrench in the system of their daily routine. Others recognize the bracelet and give me a gentle nod and a quick pat down. I suspect they have encountered other veterans like me and realize the futility of asking to have it removed. In a glass booth at the security gate is where I most often get the question, “Who’s on the bracelet?” Those who realize the significance of it usually want to know the name. I stare down and rub my fingers over the lettering. “Brian Chevalier, but we called him Chevy.”

At times the memorial bracelets seem almost redundant. The names of the fallen are written on steel and skin, but are they not also carved into the hearts of men? Are the faces of the valiant not emblazoned in the memories of those who called them brothers? No amount of ink or steel can be used to represent what those days signify. My bracelet says “14 March 2007,” but it does not describe the blazing heat that day, or the smell of open sewers trampled underfoot or the sight of a Stryker, overturned and smoke-filled as the school adjacent exploded under tremendous fire. It was as if God chose to end the world within one city block. When Chevy was lovingly placed into a body bag under exploding RPGs and machine gun tracers, worlds ended. Others began.

The concept of Memorial Day nearly approaches superfluous ritual to some veterans. It's absurd to ask a combat veteran to take out a single day to remember those fell in battle, as if the other 364 days were not marked by their memories in one way or another. I try to look at pictures of my friends, both alive and dead, at least once a day to remember their smiles or the way they wore their kits. I talk to them online and send emails and texts and on rare occasions, visit them in person. We drink and laugh and recall the old days and tell the same war stories everyone has heard a thousand times but still manage to produce streams of furious laughter. I get the same feeling with them; Memorial Day does not begin or end on a single day. It ebbs and flows in torrents of memory, sometimes to a crippling degree. Most of us have become talented at hiding our service and safeguard the moments when we become awash in memories like March 14. The bracelet is the only physical reminder of the tide we find ourselves in.

Perhaps it's best to let civilians hold onto Memorial Day and hope they use the time to reflect wisely. A time to remember old friends or distant relatives that they did not necessarily serve with but still honor their sacrifice. Not just soldiers are touched by war. Chevy was a father and a son, and his loss not only rippled through the platoon and company but a small town in Georgia. The day serves as a reminder that there are men and women who have only come back as memories. Maybe the reflection on those who did not return is a key to helping civilians bridge the gap with veterans. Occasionally my bracelet spurs conversations with friends and coworkers who did not know I was in the Army or deployed to Iraq. I still don't feel completely comfortable answering their questions but I'm always happy to talk about the name on my wrist. His name was Brian Chevalier, but we called him Chevy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Haiku Review: Green Zone


Green Zone (2010):

Shaky cam shakes man

Bourne is on the hunt for WMD

We too find nothing


(Previous haiku reviews: Redacted, Home of the Brave, Stop Loss and In The Valley of Elah)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Best: Yet To Come?

The Hurt Locker was far from my favorite movie of 2009. Out of the ten nominees for Best Picture, I liked four films more than Kathryn Bigelow's entry. It wasn't even the best movie that dealt with the Iraq War; that distinction goes to In The Loop, a comedy about the spread of misinformation that brilliantly leaves the word "Iraq" out of the entire script. But it was The Hurt Locker that won big on Sunday night, to the surprise of few that have been following the awards circuit. Even though it wasn't a box office smash (it made only six million dollars more than its production budget), critics loved the film, as did most of the public sans veterans. More importantly, its win washed away the fear and apprehension studios had about bankrolling a film centered on modern conflict. Every Iraq or Afghanistan themed movie before the The Hurt Locker has tanked in the theater, and you can't blame studio executives for shying away from a broken model. Sunday's sweep at the Oscars could mean that studios will ease their concerns and jump at a script that promises to be the next Hurt Locker. Veteran disapproval of the film was not overlooked in Hollywood. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the next movie would bring aboard combat veterans as technical advisers (or critics) to see if anything is out of place. Greyhawk has the same line of thinking, and he's willing to tolerate five bad war movies for every great one.

Even if you didn't like the film, The Hurt Locker's impressive victory at the Oscars bodes well for modern war movies. It means the good ones Greyhawk looks forward to have a better chance at finding their way to theaters. Who knows, maybe a veteran felt so strongly about the inaccuracies in The Hurt Locker that he's well on his way to writing the next Platoon. All that is certain is that our stories need to be told. We can only do so much from a series of tubes and the media has never done us any favors. A film we can call our own is something we need, to point to and say, This, this is what it was like. The Hurt Locker isn't that movie, but it made that movie possible.


This is the end of my Hurt Locker posts, which I'm sure is a relief to many of you. I'm off to New York City tomorrow for spring break, so I won't be able to see Green Zone this week. If you were unhappy about the licenses The Hurt Locker took, I would suggest you stay 500 feet from the nearest multiplex, lest you suffer a heart attack by proxy. Have a good week dear readers, I will be back soon.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Circling The Wagons

or: Hurt Locker updates will continue until Iraq movies improve

While The Hurt Locker is still considered to be the heavy favorite to pick up a few Oscars this Sunday, the negative reviews are pouring in from the last people Kathryn Bigelow Mark Boal wanted to hear from: veterans and war savvy journalists. The nearly unanimous criticism of the film from our camp is the baffling level of cowboy machismo imbued in James, the leader of a three man EOD team that leads his subordinates (literally) down a dangerous path in the streets of Baghdad. Coupled with laughable breaches of real life protocol and enormous leaps of artistic license, it's difficult to argue with those who know the intimate details of combat.

As I've touched on before, many civilians use movies as a stand-in connection to a war when they personally don't know a soldier or veteran. The reservations I have about The Hurt Locker center on reality versus perceived reality, be it with people or procedure. I don't want people to think that men like James not only exist but knowingly and actively send men into deadly situations to get an adrenaline fix. It would be irresponsible of Hollywood to cast soldiers and veterans in a negative light while the real life difficulties of reintegration challenge veterans to once again be a part of society instead of apart from it. But can veteran-civilian relations be any more tenuous than they already are? A fellow student veteran recently brought up his deployment to Afghanistan in a class discussion about how people live around the world. As soon as the word Afghanistan came off his lips, the mood of the class palpably shifted. Whispers and murmurs were cut off in mid sentence and everyone in the room looked at him, but only for a moment. As he continued on, they looked at anything but him. Here is a film that has people talking about the wars again, even if it's simply within the context of the movie. It can only help to elevate the subjects of Iraq and Afghanistan out of the lurid, unmentionable void many people subconsciously place them in.

What does this mean for the Oscar voting? I doubt anyone holding an awards ballot really cares what veterans think (how else would you explain the greenlight of Redacted and In The Valley of Elah, Mark Boal's unforgivable celluloid excrement?). This criticism seems to come too little, too late. Producer Nicolas Chartier might be the biggest threat to The Hurt Locker's chances after sending out inappropriate (yet true!) emails to Academy members. That intense lobbying might have turned off would be voters. While I have defended The Locker on this electronic rag, I don't think it deserves to win Best Picture for what amounts to a bunch of contrived action scenes attached to one flawless, beautifully expressive scene. I found A Serious Man, Inglourious Basterds and District 9 to be shades more enjoyable than The Hurt Locker and would gladly substitute Precious: A Stupidly Long Title and The Blind Side with Moon and In The Loop. Still, I wouldn't mind if The Hurt Locker won Best Picture if it means Dances with Wolves in Space loses.

Addendum: Fox News published a couple lines from my Hurt Locker review that gave me a case of deja vu.

From the Wikipedia entry of The Hurt Locker:

At the blog Army of Dude, infantryman and Iraq veteran Alex Horton noted that "the way the team goes about their missions is completely absurd," though he went on to call the film "the best Iraq movie to date."

From the Fox News article:

Alex Horton, for example, wrote on the ARMY of Dude blog that “the way the team goes about their missions is completely absurd,” but he added that it was still “the best Iraq war movie to date.”

Bang up job, Ed Barnes. What would get me an F in an English essay passes as journalism these days. Barnes even paraphrases without attribution the wildly popular and controversial review of The Hurt Locker written by my friend and fellow milblogger Kate (thanks to Richard for pointing that out).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Opening Up The Hurt Locker

If you're not a regular at the Holiday Inn or stopped reading so called news-papers, head on over to USA Today for a piece on veterans opining about The Hurt Locker (including Troy from Bouhammer and yours truly). The word polarizing does not begin to describe the effect the movie has on combat veterans, and I might be the sole dissenter among my former platoon-mates who have showered aspersions on the film via Facebook status updates. I have argued that anyone with combat experience has to sever their intimate knowledge of what it's 'really like' from their mind to have any chance of enjoying contemporary war films. Many cannot undo the inextricable link between their time overseas and what they see portrayed onscreen.

I hate to get zen on anyone, but in these times I turn to the words of Roger Ebert, who has been fond of saying, "A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it." In other words, the movie isn't just about a trio of EOD techs disarming bombs in Baghdad. It is about how the adrenaline rush of combat and all the danger that comes from the next fix. The most important scene in the movie doesn't come from a bomb defusal or a fiery explosion. It comes from James at home, baffled at life moving at an ordinary, pedestrian, boring pace. How it is about it is contrasting the feeling of home and all the inadequacies that come with it, with subtle yet powerful imagery and incredibly sparse dialogue. That is why the film succeeds where others before it have failed. It is by no means a perfect movie and sacrificed technical accuracy for few genuine and many artificial dramatic scenes, but how it is about its own thesis of war is a drug is why the movie is a landmark in the genre of contemporary war films. In the years to come, there will be many more films about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There will be a handful that are the total package, technically accurate but legitimately and realistically dramatic. Those films will be better than The Hurt Locker, but only because it was there to set the bar far above what we have already seen.

My original review can be found here, and my critique of a review from Big Hollywood can be found here.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Rocksteady Restrepo

My ex girlfriend's best friend and former roommate had an odd, expensive and time consuming hobby. She would collect magazines, dozens of them, and clip out pictures she liked. I'm not sure what she did with them, but I couldn't help but see the consequences of it. Copies of Cosmopolitan and Vogue were littered across the living room and stacked onto bookshelves. Back issues of People were stuffed into drawers. I couldn't help but pick up an occasional magazine and flip through the cut and torn pages. A copy of Vanity Fair caught my attention with the words "Into the Valley of Death," a sharp contrast to Katherine Heigl's upturned smirk on the cover. I read the entire piece standing up, my mouth agape and mind racing. It was the most gruesome account of the wars I had ever read, and two years later I can still remember the chill I got from holding that magazine.

It was quite a surprise to learn that a documentary called Restrepo would be released by the journalists who covered the story for Vanity Fair, writer Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington. They wove together combat footage with interviews with the men from second platoon, Battle Company 2/503, with no narration whatsoever. The trailer speaks to the impact of the decision to let the men and the footage do the talking. There seems to be no date for theatrical release quite yet, but the film has won The Grand Jury prize for best documentary at Sundance (a Sundance win usually secures distribution, but like the article says, does not guarantee commercial vitality). National Geographic Channel has secured television rights for this fall, but the possibility of it being edited for language and content would seriously damage the intent and purpose of the film.

For you Hurt Locker haters out there, I'm sorry to report that along with Avatar, it leads the Oscar pack with nine nominations, including best picture, director and actor. Am I the only one who thinks it's a farce that Up is in both best picture and best animated feature categories? And Sam Rockwell deserved both a best actor and best supporting actor nomination for playing himself twice in Moon.