Friday, March 28, 2008



A few years ago when I was editor-in-chief of High Times' Grow America, we published a controversial photo of a U.S. soldier stationed in Iraq posing next to a small marijuana plant growing somewhere in the "Green Zone." The soldier, Carlos "Singe" Arellano, is a stoner and was proud to see himself and the plant on the cover of a High Times magazine.

Singe never complained about being in Baghdad. When his tour ended, he came home and, probably before he kissed his relatives, sparked up a joint. Little did he know he would be drug tested shortly thereafter. Singe failed the test and was ordered back to Iraq. He had been "stop-lossed."

I never heard the term until I saw Kimberly Peirce's movie Stop-Loss earlier this month at the SXSW Film Festival. The movie, which opens today, is about three U.S. soldiers who come home after a devastating tour in Iraq. They're all suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but each deals with their problems in a different way. Brandon (Ryan Phillippe) is a sergeant who's haunted by an ambush that killed and maimed several of his men - including ambush survivors Steve (Channing Tatum) and Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who predictably act out in several drunken, violent scenes in their Texas small town.

Then Brandon finds out he's being stop-lossed. Despite his loyalty to the Army, Brandon fights back, hoping to overturn this arbitrary decision. In the movie, it's described as a "backdoor draft." Quietly, the military finds any number of reasons to reenlist soldiers, as they did with Singe, because they simply need bodies to hold down the fort in Iraq.

Brandon takes off on a road trip to Washington, where he hopes a Congressman will come to his aid. But now he's branded a deserter and no one will touch him. It's a classic Catch-22 scenario.

He's joined on the drive by Michele (Abbie Cornish), who's engaged to Steve and lives with Brandon's parents. (The Australian Cornish starred with Heath Ledger in the junkie love story, Candy.) You keep expecting them to get romantic, but this never happens. (In real life, they reportedly did get involved, causing his breakup with Reese Witherspoon.) Finally, after considering crossing into Canada or Mexico, Brandon heads back to Texas, defeated.

The dramatic finale with Brandon and Steve coming to blows and wrestling homoerotically is an unnecessary exclamation point on this explosive story.

After the screening, Peirce took questions from the approving audience. I asked if she's heard of soldiers being stop-lossed after failing drug tests. The director drew a blank. Unlike Brandon, Singe willfully returned to Iraq. He's one patriotic stoner.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Drillbit Taylor

Now we know why Owen Wilson tried to commit suicide. OK, that’s a cheap shot, but the last film he made before slicing his wrist is pure formula – Revenge of the Nerds, Bully style. Except they don’t kill the bullies in Drillbit Taylor, they just kick the crap out of them.

With Judd Apatow co-producing and Seth Rogen co-writing, the jokes come fast and furious, but still can’t help the formulaic plot. Wilson’s Drillbit is a homeless vet hired by high-school frosh (Danny McBride, Josh Peck and David Dorfman) to be their bodyguard. His stint as a substitute teacher is straight out of School of Rock, just less hilarious. Rather than spending so much time with him coaching the kids, the film could have focused more on Drillbit’s budding relationship with Lisa (Leslie Mann of Knocked Up and Apatow’s wife) - the goldielocked duo generate sparks - and subdued the traditional revenge message. But that would have been a different and, more likely, better movie.

For Wilson, it’s time for him to leave the Drillbit Taylors of the world behind. His next role as journalist/dog lover John Grogan in Marley and Me (with Jennifer Aniston and a Golden Retriever) looks promising.

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