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Review: Jarhead

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To a certain extent, Jarhead‘s rampant similarities to other war movies — from a drill sergeant scene straight out of Full Metal Jacket to depictions of wartime tedium reminiscent of The Thin Red Line — can be forgiven. After all, author Anthony Swofford points out in his original memoir that old war movies, even the nominally anti-war ones, are the stuff of young soldiers’ wet dreams. (The film’s most powerful scene comes when our heroes sit in a theater whooping and cheering on the Americans during the Wagnerian helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now.) Well, mission accomplished, I guess: from scene to scene, Jarhead reminds you of every other war movie ever made. This wouldn’t be a problem if its tone didn’t also veer all over the place.
    In a way, this dissonance was inevitable. Swofford’s compact, blistering narrative of his days as a Marine during the first Gulf War is a tightly written, psychologically brutal, and politically pointed condemnation of the military mind. Jarhead the movie, as Hollywood Oscar season product, can’t just appeal to peaceniks; it has to give the “Ooo-Raa” crowd something to cheer on as well, while also navigating (or, in the film’s case, avoiding altogether) the minefield of contemporary politics. Without the passion of Swofford’s language or persona to anchor things, Jarhead is a series of scenes in search of not only a central character, but an emotional throughline. Those showing up to ogle a shirtless Jake Gyllenhaal as the young Swofford won’t be disappointed, and both Gyllenhaal and Peter Saarsgard do their best to give some shading to their characters. But Jarhead ultimately adds up to a series of loose impressions about war, barely connected and maddeningly spineless. — Bilge Ebiri

Review: Gay Sex in the ’70s
A favorite on this year’s gay film festival circuit, Joseph Lovett’s documentary explores the sweaty era between June 1969 — the Stonewall riots — and June 1981, when the first cases of AIDS were reported in the U.S. Focusing exclusively on New York, the film is a celebration of empowerment through casual, often anonymous, sex.
    As both documentarian and subject, Lovett paints me-decade Manhattan as a sort of sexual Disneyland on the Hudson. Archival photos and film clips go a long way toward setting the scene, but the real draw is the stories his interviewees tell — about lunchtime trysts, dockyard blowjobs and hedonistic weekends on Fire Island. The explicit details the subjects (among them lensman Tom Bianchi and author Larry Kramer) offer include the logistics of “truck fucks,” the prevalance of anal warts, and the entreprenurial spirit that lead a coffee guy to set up a K-Y cart near a cruising spot.
    While overindulgence, drug abuse and the specter of AIDS are definitely addressed (Lovett himself ruminates that missing the chance to attend his first orgy probably saved his life), there is no soul-searching on the subject. It’s a missed opportunity that Lovett doesn’t consider whether there could have been a more effective route to self-actualization than unchecked hedonism. Still, the film is a remarkable time capsule of the pre-AIDS generation. — Dan Avery
DVD Review: Bomb the System
If this film about graffiti were a music video, it would be a raucous El-P-scored lo-fi hip-hop homage to New York grit, spliced with rhapsodic love scenes between Blest (Mark Webber) and Alexandra (Jaclyn DeSantis), restless pans of awe-inspiring street art, and some emotionally bare close-ups of Blest and Kevin (Jade Yorker, who rises above the cliché of the script to thoroughly break your heart at least twice).
   But unfortunately they added this story; you know, the one with the bitter drug-addled Bad Cop partnered with the Good Cop From the Hood, the Son of the Great Murdered Artist, the Irrational Buddy, the Irrational Buddy’s Naïve Younger Brother.
   A huge festival success last year, the new DVD has won a young following — probably because, just like a good music video, it kinda makes you wanna steal spray paint and run around the city. — Marie Bernard
Date DVD: Sex and the City: The Complete Series and Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith
In an epic pop-culture confrontation, two empires with separate philosophies, sexual ethics, strange shoes, and absurd hairstyles do battle for your date DVD pick this weekend. From the East, comes a massive, seemingly indestructible case containing the Prada-priced ($299.95!) Sex and the City: The Complete Series. From the West, comes the final — or, third or whatever — installment in George Lucas’s Happy-Meal-friendly odyssey: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
    At first glance, the two franchises seem galaxies apart, but they’re really not so different. Both casts believe in a unified energy that unites all life (the Force, sex); both are prone to outlandish fashion faux pas (Annakin’s new mullet; Carrie’s increasingly bizarre peacockery); both feature a tall, dark man who finds redemption in the finale (Mr. Big, Darth Vader); both compile a strange litany of peculiar names (Padmé, Prada, Nobu, Naboo, Manohlo, Dooku, Darren Star, Death Star…); and both series are comfortable with product tie-ins. Samantha was always a Jedi Master of dark arts that most people speak of in hushed voices; and Carrie, like a tabloid Yoda, encapsulated her wisdom in pithy, barely intelligible phrases. So instead of picking one or the other, get both in order to compare and contrast.
    As Yoda/Carrie might say, “There is no try. Only Jimmy Choo.” — Logan Hill

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