The Hurt Locker

In theaters.

I wouldn’t have thought that a war movie, much less a contemporary war movie, could be apolitical, but The Hurt Locker comes close. Whatever the personal beliefs of director Kathryn Bigelow and journalist-screenwriter Mark Boal, their film is a relatively open text, focused not on the political implications of the U.S. military presence in Iraq but on the day-to-day experiences of a single three-man team of Army explosives technicians, tasked with dismantling improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the streets of Baghdad.

This is not to say, however, that The Hurt Locker is an morally empty experience, just guns and explosions and flash. For all the well-wrought tension and artfully constructed set pieces, the movie is powerful and thoughtful, an unflinching but compassionate look at the lives of three soldiers. Boal (whose journalistic work has been published in Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, and Playboy) spent time embedded in an Army bomb squad stationed in Iraq, and that experience reveals itself in every well-observed scene and every finely drawn character. The movie feels lived-in, populated by real people, not cinematic cannon fodder or propaganda pawns but true human beings, both flawed and heroic. It’s a thrilling, engrossing, almost too intimate film.

Fun with music videos because there’s nothing else to do in June

“Waking Up in Vegas,” Katy Perry; “Lessons Learned,” Matt and Kim; and “Paparazzi,” Lady Gaga.

I admit that saying there’s nothing to do in June is an exaggeration, but options (at least my kind of options) do tend to dry up in New York in the summer, and Sean and I have been out of town too, so voilà! A music video post! Easy filler!

Moon

In theaters.

If you’re going to put a talking computer in space, you’re going to make people think of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s unavoidable, especially if that computer is talking in smoothly uninflected yet conversational voice. Especially if you give it a cutesy human name. So at first Moon seems kind of hackneyed, what with the lone guy and his dependable-but-maybe-kind-of-ominous GERTY on an isolated outpost on the Moon. You think you know how things are going to go, and then they don’t go there, not really, and Moon turns out to be far less hackneyed and far more intriguing than you expect.

The Sims 3

On the PC.

Once again, I’m engrossed in the imaginary lives of imaginary people. I’ve been playing with Sims ever since the first iteration of the game, nearly a decade ago, and it’s kind of embarrassing. I’m not even one of those players who use the games to construct elaborate buildings or design clothing, which would be more justifiable, I think. No, I just get a kick out of telling myself stories about the imaginary people, like a little girl with her dolls. Like I said: kind of embarrassing.

Castle in the Sky

Special showing at the IFC Center. Also on DVD.

Castle in the Sky is one of animation master Hayao Miyazaki’s early films, but in it, you can see glimmers of his later, more polished works. There is the old woman who is more than what she first seems to be and the young woman whose past holds a mystery, even from herself (Spirited Away). There are the environmental themes, explored with gravity and reverence and just a trace of horror (Princess Mononoke). There are the outrageous, elaborate, ravishingly detailed flying machines (Howl’s Moving Castle and, really, just about every other Miyazaki movie—he’s obsessed).

Without question, those later movies are far more ambitious and innovative than the comparatively modest Castle in the Sky, but frankly, Castle is pretty damn ambitious and innovative in its own right. And like all Miyazaki’s films, no matter how sophisticated, it is childlike in the best sense: possessed of a luminous, ageless sense of wonder that makes the fantasy story come alive.

Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward

Special exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum through August 23.

Growing up in Florida, I visited Florida Southern College on numerous occasions—for church events, for music camp, to see the name of my grandmother, valedictorian of the class of 1952, immortalized on a kind of Sidewalk of Honor (I love you, Grandma!)—so I spent a good deal of time wandering around the campus Frank Lloyd Wright designed, the largest collection of his work in the world. This could have been a charming story if I’d appreciated that work, but in fact, I hated it. I considered the long, flat buildings and especially the unnervingly low-ceilinged esplanades to be squat and oppressive, and the sharp angles and red glass of the chapel felt angry and disquieting.

Later, my brother pointed out that the graceful white building that serves as the site for Ophelia’s mad scene in Michael Almereyda’s modern-day Hamlet (intriguing but clumsy, by the way) is the Guggenheim, also designed by Wright, which just confused me. How could the same architect have designed both the menacing slab buildings of the college campus and the pure, soaring spiral of the museum? Frankly, even now that I know more about Wright than I did as a child, I find it difficult to reconcile my wildly mixed feelings about his work.

The Hunger Games

By Suzanne Collins. Published in 2008.

I checked out a copy of Suzanne Collins’s well-reviewed YA novel solely because the premise immediately recalls that of the cult classic Battle Royale. For those who haven’t experienced the Japanese movie, it’s an elaborate, bloody melodrama about a group of adolescent schoolmates forced by a police state to fight to the death as part of a poorly explained effort to suppress dissent. When you watch Battle Royale in the United States, someone always notes that it was banned here (not true: it simply never found a distributor) or that it could never have been made here (OK, that’s probably true), so the existence of an American book aimed directly at teenagers with that exact forbidden plot cracks me up.