'Locker' brings you into war's addiction

August 16, 2009 

This and that from the culture beat:

Defying the conventional wisdom that small/serious films in Fresno wither in the hot summer months for one or (at the most) two weeks before flitting off to greener pastures, “The Hurt Locker” is holding strong at Regal Manchester.

I raved about this film when it opened July 31 in Fresno, calling it “one of the best war movies I’ve seen.” (I’ve reposted a link to my review of the film on fresnobeehive.com.)

Friends and family who have seen the film, which follows three U.S. Army bomb defusers through a tour of duty in Baghdad, have been stunned. I got into an amazing extended discussion about it the other night. For me, what makes the film so powerful is the way it gets you into the actual head space of combat.

Such hyper-realistic war films as “Saving Private Ryan” broke new ground in depicting the grisly details of battle. But with that film’s noble, historical story line, I still felt separated in the role of observer. In “The Hurt Locker,” I actually felt the euphoria, adrenaline, tedium and downright fear of the characters.

War has been right alongside humanity for every step of our species’ development, and the film is tantalizing in the way that it delves into the primal urges that led author Chris Hedges to declare that “war is a drug.” (Hedges is honored with the film’s introductory quote.)

Is the film a pleasant, relaxing diversion?

No. Of course not. And I realize that many people are looking for that kind of experience at the movies. I don’t begrudge them that. Heck, there are lots of times I feel that way, too.

But there’s a difference between the stylized, glossy violence that permeates so much of our cinema — the type that allows us to get cheap thrills without experiencing true anguish — and the brutal way that “The Hurt Locker” immerses us in what some consider a universal human condition.

I love it when films challenge me — even taunt me — by taking me places that I could never have gone otherwise.

A lot of times people demand to know who’s starring in a movie before agreeing to see it. That’s why movie stars get paid so much.

I certainly don’t hold to that mindset for local theater — there are lots of good unknown actors out there — but I do admit sometimes I’ll take a look at a cast list and get excited when I see a strong combination of local veteran actors.

Those were my thoughts for not one but two new shows that I haven’t yet seen: “Lost in Yonkers,” which opened Thursday at the 2nd Space Theatre; and “Noises Off,” which opens Wednesday at the Dan Pessano Theater at Clovis North High School.

The “Lost in Yonkers” cast includes Peter Allwine, Danielle Jorn, Max Debbas and Patricia Hoffman. “Noises Off” boasts a strong cast as well, including Andrew Cardillo, Hayley Galbraith, Paul Henry, Brent Moser, Jeff White and Randy Stump.

No guarantees, of course. But quality ingredients are important for any recipe.

In other theater news: I can’t even imagine how frantic things must be this month at Children’s Musical Theaterworks, which is staging two shows back-to-back. Having just closed “Evita,” its show for 15-20-year-old performers, the company turns around on Friday and opens “High School Musical 2,” its 11-14-year-old show. I bet there are some sleep deprived production folks staggering around CMT this week at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium.

The columnist can be reached at dmunro@fresno bee.com or (559) 441-6373. Read his blog at fresnobee hive.com/author/donald_ munro.

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