Monday, November 07, 2005

Jarhead: Movie Review

Directed by: Sam Mendes
Screenplay by: William Broyles, Jr.
Based on the memoir by Anthony Swofford

I read the book “Jarhead” by Anthony Swofford over the course of a week while serving during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. I sat in a hot-as-hell guard tower reading Swofford’s words and felt right at home. Literally.

The strength of Swofford’s memoir is that it not only tells the soldier’s story, it personifies it. I laughed out loud, marveled at the parallels of marine life to army life, and ultimately the lives of infantryman at war, the anticipation, the boredom, the bureaucracy, the bullshit, and the brotherhood. Bonds are formed that can never be broken and experiences are played out in ways one will never forget.

War is hell. War is…boring. When people ask me about my experiences in war, which isn’t often since I’m still in the army, they often ask with apprehension, as if it has scarred me so deeply that I can’t talk about it. The truth is, there is so much to tell, yet so much is pure drivel.

And that is the experience of “Jarhead” the motion picture. Swofford’s words are brought to life, but never so vividly as he recounts them in his book. We watch him transform from a boot camp brat to a full-fledged sniper in the STA platoon.

The film, as the book, transports the viewer into the world of the military. The “real” military. The yelling, swearing, insults, fighting, camaraderie, the pressure, the stress, and the expectations of the modern fighting man are all tackled here with a fierce truth.

I found myself laughing aloud when everyone else was silent, a few snickers from around the theater from those who have lived this life. I doubt “Jarhead” will improve recruitments, but at the same time it just might. No matter how much a left-minded slant on things would sway a person from joining the military, there is no question as to the professionalism and the drive and the gusto that makes a soldier a soldier. Most people will never know what that is.

Of course, you could argue that against “Black Hawk Down.” The army witnessed a mad rush of bloodthirsty Americans hungry for the Ranger and Delta Force lifestyle after that film was churned out. Even I was susceptible to that one, again after reading the novel. A friend of mine who is currently serving in Iraq came up with the perfect name for the idealistic fire that is born from watching that movie: Black Hawk Down’s Syndrome.

Perfect.

“Jarhead” shows the differences of each marine, their personalities, ambitions, and their drive. Some of them love the job, some of them hate it. Most of them can’t wait to get out. However, earned in blood, sweat, and tears, each soldier (or marine, in this case) is born of something more than they would have ever experienced otherwise.

The film tackles the advanced war-fighting technique that is still used today and how that has almost “oppressed” the modern infantryman. However, with the insurgency in Iraq and the rise of terrorism, there are plenty of foot soldiers applying their trade even as I write these words.

What I like about “Jarhead” is that it doesn’t preach anything above what the average soldier or marine would. The reputation of many infantry soldiers is that they are non-thinking barbarians, chomping at the bit to kill. These are very common misconceptions. The truth is, the infantry soldier carries the same questions, the same doubts, as every American, but it is not up to them to make the choice.

They already made the choice. America decides. The soldier acts. Plain and simple. “Jarhead” tells this perfectly. They are all itching for action, a chance to get in the game after so many practices. And what person wouldn’t want to?

After every doubt, every argument, the men silence one another. None of it matters. “Fuck politics,” says Skarsgaard at one point, playing the marine who wants to stay in but can’t because of a police record he lied about. And he’s right. Politics do not matter to the soldier. The soldier’s job is to fight, to complete the mission. If a soldier sat and questioned things all day long, there wouldn’t even be an America to fight for.

The marines in “Jarhead” suffer from the heartbreak of cheating wives, the deliriousness of boredom, suicidal thoughts, and the lack of information, which, as anyone serving in the military knows, is all too common.

In the end, the biggest push to promote a message from “Jarhead” is that we (meaning America, the military) are still in the desert. Obviously true, but we aren’t in the same desert. It’s wholly different. At one point a marine yells out at an end-of-the-war bonfire “We never have to come back here again!” I laughed out loud on that one. Oh, the irony.

The film is beautifully shot and directed. Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) has a penchant for telling very emotional and deep films. He won’t ever direct an Eddie Murphy family comedy to be sure. His vision is strong here and applies many cinematic devices to bring it to us. Although I don’t think it’s his best work, it does get me excited to see what he’ll do next.

The performances were all top notch and I must admit to being thoroughly impressed with Jake Gyllenhaal as Swofford. After watching Gyllenhaal parade around during election time, rallying for Kerry, I felt he was on the left-wing liberal slant and would use “Jarhead” as his venue for promoting that.

Thankfully, I was wrong, and even though subtle messages are inserted throughout, none of them go beyond what the typical soldier may think. Gyllenhaal’s anger and passion throughout the film is absolutely terrific. Thanks to this film, Gyllenhaal has elevated himself out of the “aw, shucks” or “weird kid” roles he has thus far inhabited. Gyllenhaal easily works in an Oscar mention if not a win here.

Jamie Foxx is perfect as the staff sergeant that leads the STA platoon. He’s fun, he’s funny, he’s unapologetic. Again, not an Oscar caliber performance, but a great role nonetheless.

Peter Sarsgaard is simply awesome in this. He has done so many great films of late and it’s about time he started getting the recognition. “Jarhead” certainly will go down on his resume as a defining role. He deserves every kudo he gets for this.

In the end, “Jarhead” is fun, it’s involving, it’s interesting, it’s a look into the reality of war, instead of the beefed up “Full Metal Jacket” version, which although exists, it’s not as prevalent as the life and times of the marines in “Jarhead.”

The film reminded me of what I have to look forward to again. And although it’s a mess and it entails many things that I’d like to not have to relive it also reminds me that I am a part of something bigger, something more defining, no matter anyone’s beliefs. And I’m okay with that.

MOVIE GRADE: A-

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Just Friends


“Why can’t we just be friends?”

Ah, the age old question; Can men and women be “just friends.” I have had this conversation with countless people over the years, most notably because of my strong feelings on the subject. 90 percent of people disagree with me right out of the gate. I am truly baffled by this.

So, what are my feelings exactly? Well, I’m glad you asked. But first, does anyone need to go to the bathroom? Go now, I’m not waiting. Good? All right.

Men and women cannot be “just friends.” Oh, but you disagree? Oh really? Hmm, so now you’re going to tell me about this one guy/girl that you’ve known since you were in the neo-natal care unit when you were born and all that jazz, right? And of course you’ve never had any attraction at all to this person and they’ve been a great person and you know for a fact that they’ve never thought of you that way, right?

Oh, so you’re all good then? All right, see ya later.

Now, let’s get down to it. You and I both know that this is true. What it all comes down to is terminology. Yep, it’s that simple and that complicated all at once.

The definition of friend from free dictionary.com (because I’m too lazy to type out the definition from my Webster’s, so fuck off)

Friend n.
1. A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.
2. A person whom one knows; an acquaintance.
3. A person with whom one is allied in a struggle or cause; a comrade.
4. One who supports, sympathizes with, or patronizes a group, cause, or movement: friends of the clean air movement.
5. Friend A member of the Society of Friends; a Quaker.
tr.v. friend·ed, friend·ing, friends Archaic

Now, you’re saying, “See, Mr. Shirey, Mr. Smart-ass, look at that, I have plenty of ‘friends’ of the opposite sex that fall into those definition categories. Ha!”

To an extent, yes, you are correct. To an extent. And what is that extent?

Sex.

I didn’t see anywhere in the definition that a “friend” is also someone you can have sexual feelings or relations with. It’s not; I trust them, I like them, I know them, I fuck them. Circle the ones that are correct, c’mon, work with me people.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have carnal knowledge of those I call “friends.”

Yup, sex. S-E-X. Oh, wait, you can separate it and all that, right? You can be “friends” with someone of the opposite sex and not have sex with them. Or want to.

Hmm, well, Mr./Mrs. Know-it-all, how do you know that that person doesn’t want to have sex with you? If you are going to give me the ol’ “I just know” routine you should really consider suicide or a career at McDonalds, because you’re not gonna get paid to be a psychic.

The thing is, while you may not want to have sex or have any sexual feelings toward a “friend” of the opposite sex, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to have sex or have sexual feelings toward you. So, stop being so narcissistic.

Human beings, male and female, whether you believe in God or Apes-that-lose-hair-and-build-rockets, it doesn’t matter. We, as opposite sexes, are engineered to have sex with one another. It is our basic instinct.

Now, before I come to my conclusions, let’s take a deeper look. We’ll do a scenario that just about everyone has lived through.

John and Susie are “friends.” Susie thinks John is funny, nice, and a great listener. She is more than proud to say out loud to her female friends, “Oh, we’re just friends.” Susie is not attracted to John in any sexual way.

John, on the other hand, is deeply attracted to Susie and wonders what type of panties she’s wearing everyday. He thinks she is smart, funny, beautiful, and he would kill to be sexually involved with her.

BOOM. Let’s stop right there for a moment. Is this normal friend behavior? I mean, should these feelings be present in either friend? Doesn’t that automatically make it “more than a friendship?”

On with the scenario:

Now, Susie and John hang out sometimes after school, do homework together, drink orange mocha frappuchinos together, and talk about their feelings and the O.C. and shit. They spend a pretty decent amount as “friends.”

Susie is single right now, but she has a mad-on crush for Joe. Joe is “gorgeous” with “great buns” and “tremendous penis” and all that. John is obviously jealous of Joe and of Susie’s affection for him. Do I have to explain why? If so, stop reading and go fill out your application for McDonalds.

So, Susie starts dating Joe and she’s “so in love” now and spends all her time with him. John is furious. Not only has Susie stopped hanging out with him as much, now she’s in love with another guy.

One day Susie tells Joe that she is going to hang out with her “friend” John as she feels guilty for neglecting him. Joe doesn’t like that. Joe is jealous, as most significant others are. He doesn’t understand why Susie wants to hang out with another guy when she is dating him. Does she like him? What’s the deal?

Susie doesn’t want to hurt Joe, because she’s in love with him and their hotel sex romps, so she blows off John (and not the way he would like). She hangs out with Joe at the Best Western instead and John stays at home, sharpening his knife collection.

Now, you could say that Susie’s female friends may feel neglected as well, seeing as most people in new relationships alienate the majority of their friends when in a new relationship, as it requires nurturing and growth and lots of sex. It’s the nature of the beast.

However, friends understand this. They get it. They aren’t jealous like John is. They are more like “Oh, she’s all about her new guy and dirty condoms left on hotel floors. She’ll come around once she gets bored.” They’ve all been there.

Now, you could take the above-mentioned names and interchange them around in my little scenario and the outcome is the same every time. Go ahead. Give it a go.

Most of us have been through this scenario before. I think the problem is that most people want to pretend that they are so much bigger and better and superhuman. That these kinds of things don’t affect them. It’s called being na├»ve.

And if you’re going to sit there and toss out your little tale about how you once slept with this guy/girl and now you’re “just friends,” well, you’re more retarded than Corky, and he was pretty smart. You’ve already surpassed the friendship. Again, I don’t have carnal knowledge of my friends.

So, the point, Mr. Shirey, the point. Am I saying that men and women can’t or shouldn’t communicate because they might have sex? No. I’m saying that we should look at the terminology we use, the reality of our basic instincts, and the factors involved in them and apply it. All scientific-like. And wear gloves.

There are females on my myspace “friend’s” list. Those of you that are reading this are thinking, “Well, fuck you Mr. Shirey, ‘cause I don’t want nothing to do with your shriveled up little penis.” Fine. Fair enough. I don’t want anything to do with yours either. But I do value the relationships I’ve built with you. You are all great “more than friends” and I truly mean that.

I value the people that I am acquainted with, men and women. I enjoy their company, their thoughts, ideas, humor, all of it. However, I am careful of my terminology because life has taught me that it is important to do so. And because I think too much.

A relationship with someone of the opposite sex while you are involved (i.e. married, engaged, seriously dating) must be tempered, balanced, and cautioned, as you do not want to upset the person you have already made your commitment to. And why?

Jealousy. Suspicion. Mistrust. All factors of the human mind, all ever-present except for you superheroes out there that are above all this and manage a McDonalds.

We must be careful with our relationships with other opposite sexes when deeply involved with someone else. And it makes perfect sense. And you know it.

If you aren’t seriously involved, then what’s your deal? Most likely, you’re looking for something “more than a friend” anyways and your “friendship” with that guy/girl is an in-between until you find that “more than a friend.” Because sooner or later, one or the other of you are going to find someone “more than a friend” or else you’re going to find each other and wake up married. Like me.

So, in my expansive thoughts on the subject I have come to the conclusion that you can “maintain a relationship” with a member of the opposite sex, but it must be balanced. You cannot hang out with that person more than your significant other or give them more attention in any way, because at that point you are shifting the balance. And it works perfect that way.

If you aren’t seriously involved, sure, go ahead, call that chick that you hang out with but have no sexual attraction to. We all know that as soon as you find someone you are attracted to, she’ll be left blowing in the breeze. Either that or on one lonesome and drunken night the goggles placed firmly on, you will consummate the relationship.

You can put all of these principles to the test. All of them. Ask a “friend” of the opposite sex if they’ve ever had sexual thoughts about you. Ask yourself if you’ve ever had sexual thoughts about them. I guarantee one or both of you has. This doesn’t mean that you can’t control yourselves and maintain a platonic relationship, but it still exists and by it’s existence it takes the basic friendship level out of the equation. You have become (always been) something more.

So, what’s the answer Mr. Philosophical Crack Head? Well, it all comes back to terminology. Call your “friends” what you will, define it for yourself, but always remember the deeper realities that exist. I truly believe that this will help people stay out of trouble in these relationships.

And that’s what they are. Being “friends” is building a relationship, based on common experiences, conversation, interests, etc. And it is the same for members of the opposite sex. We are maintaining a relationship.

I don’t place my “male friends” above my “female friends”. I view them on the same level as far as the “friendship factor” goes, however, I am very aware of the realities that exist between a man and a woman that takes the “just friends” out of any relationship between a man and a woman.

So, that being said, I hope all my “female friends” realize that I want to have sex with them all and I hope we can all remain “friends.”

I am waiting by my computer, glock in hand, ammunition belt around my shoulder, three days worth of water and MRE’s, a stack of porn, and a bag of tootsie rolls and I’m waiting for your response. And I have a knife. A big one. And it’s sharp. John sharpened it for me.

UNLEASH!!

EPILOGUE: This post was originally published on myspace. It has since become a staple in my existence. I feel that the content is strong and relevant enough to repost here where hopefully it will open the eyes of many disillusioned souls out there that are living under the belief that their best male/female friend is “just a friend.”

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Death of Myspace

In the time that I have discovered the internet there has been leaps and bounds in its technological advances. E-mail, chatting, online dating, file sharing, etc. The list of advancements seems to grow daily. One of those advancements that I had really come to enjoy was myspace.

Myspace is currently sweeping the nation as the new "get-together" meeting place of friends and family and the like. You can share pictures, write blogs, write comments to other users, send IM's, and pretty much everything else that would entail running your own website.

To me, I have felt that myspace was truly great and truly addicting. It is like "drugs for straight people" as someone once put it to me.

In a previous blog, which I had posted on myspace, I discussed the ramifications of technological advancements on your social life. In short, your passwords. Many people involved in a relationship share their passwords to various accounts, feeling that they have nothing to hide. Such is the case with myself. I have shared everything with my wife, partly out of trust and partly out of ease.

Being in the military, my wife needs my passwords in the event that I'm not around to take care of what needs to be taken care of. She is the passwordmaster in that sense.

Now, I'm not the only person that does this. In fact, there are many people out there that don't trust their significant others and break into these accounts, by way of finding these passwords or from the other, less sneaky person, leaving their accounts up.

Herein lies the problem. In my messages between some people of the opposite sex the context has been misconstrued and has created a drama I never thought I'd have to live through. Comments that would never be brought to light with the exception of the two people communicating are now spied on and scrutinized and made out to be something they're not.

We live in a world where the more and more we communicate, the more and more we lose our identities. I think that technology is great and advancements have made my life easier in many ways. But they have also made my life more difficult.

If off-hand comments or private messages are too be intercepted and shown to whomever can get their eyes on them, then what kind of identity can we ever have? We will always be playacting so as not to get the real message accross or cut short from entertaining something that is harmless but deadly to someone else. We are getting lost in our bold world of achievement and ease.

So, what is the solution to my ramblings? Am I obviously in an emotional state? you bet your ass I am. I am supremely disappointed in how this has affected me. But, I don't have a solution. My solution today has been to delete my myspace account. I don't need the drama.

And it breaks my heart. Not because of myspace itself. I've lived without it before and I shall again. What kills me is that I was basically forced to delete something that I enjoyed all because of jealousy and mistrust.

The full story will rest with me and die with me. It's not that interesting anyway. My message is thus; mind your passwords. Mind your privacy. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, there is most likely always someone watching.