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Published: Thursday, 9/28/2006

Iraq war soldiers look inward

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
All but one of the members of the 1st squad, 3rd platoon, Lima Company pictured here
were killed Aug. 3, 2005, when their armored vehicle struck an explosive device. Combat
Diary: Marines of the Lima Company is one of the best Iraq war documentaries.
All but one of the members of the 1st squad, 3rd platoon, Lima Company pictured here were killed Aug. 3, 2005, when their armored vehicle struck an explosive device. Combat Diary: Marines of the Lima Company is one of the best Iraq war documentaries.
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Early into Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company (A&E, $24.95), a soldier says, "Until people started getting hurt, it was really exciting, almost fun, seriously like a video game." He says this months after returning from Iraq, frankly and with an ironic smile.

Another soldier, in The Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends (Universal, $14.98), remembers singing songs during basic training about bursting into Iraqi schoolyards and mowing down children. She says at first "I couldn't believe we were saying this stuff." But after a while, she says, she didn't think about it.

What's striking about these admissions, culled from a pair of extraordinary new documentaries about the daily reality of being assigned to Iraq, is not how chilling they are, or that the admissions are made by soldiers conditioned into remorseless killing machines, or that these are men and women who have since renounced the military in the service of a protest picture. Quite the contrary.

The subjects of Combat Diary, the Columbus-based Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, one of the hardest-hit units of the war, never question their purpose. Instead, they give intensely personal accounts of the mounting frustration and heartache they found trying to meet it.

And the subjects of Ground Truth, though they absolutely question their purpose and methods, go even deeper, stripping away the veneer of honorable service until all that's left, as one vet puts it, is "the psychological illness of war."

What both films share are men and women, lulled by promises of relatively easy service, who are unprepared for the full extent of what they've trained for, and in many cases, they feel set adrift once they've returned. What these movies also share is a wealth of video shot by the soldiers themselves.

If the Vietnam war was the first television war, as it's often called, then the war in Iraq is the first memoirist war. There are anti-war pictures, of course. But the finest documentaries made about Iraq, and these are two of them, transcend protest and remind us the most honest way to explain the emotional legacy of a war - raging 360 degrees, 24-7, with no clear fronts or enemies, as so many of the soldiers here point out - is to prod inward, to places that can't be amputated.

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JANE AUSTEN WANTS YOUR SIXTY BUCKS: It's not all combat with A&E, of course (even if it is big brother to the Hitler Channel, aka the History Channel). The new Pride and Prejudice: The 10th Anniversary Limited Collector's Edition (A&E, $59.98) is a reminder that arguably the most beloved piece of programming in the network's history was a six-hour adaptation of, to be crass, Western Civilization's quintessential work of chick lit.

A decade later, it plays like yin to the Keira Knightley Pride's yang: Quick, who was Mr. Darcy in last year's adaptation? Can't do it. But alternately, try naming who played Elizabeth Bennett in this elaborately detailed epic version? You can't do it. But you can name its Darcy - Colin Firth will never live down that role, not when he starred in a miniseries that's now repacked in a green velvet box, accompanied by a coffee-table book on the film's production and the episode of Biography on Austen.

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AND THE WINNER ISN'T: Is it too early to handicap the Academy Awards? Of course not. If I were a betting man I'd say count on Steve Carell to get a supporting-actor nomination for Little Miss Sunshine, and possibly World Trade Center to be a front-runner, and United 93 (Universal, $29.98), one of the year's best pictures, to pick up a handful of technical nominations but prove too intense for squeamish Academy voters. The voters might want to watch the tough-minded featurette on the disc. Many of the families that cooperated with director Paul Greengrass preferred unfussy, unadorned storytelling to an inspirational, honey-baked movie.

That said, the Starbucks-produced Akeelah and the Bee (New Line, $28.98), just released on disc, gives unembarrassed uplift a genuinely smart name. The story of an 11-year-old girl who goes to a spelling bee, it raises fundamental questions about the nature of education, and though it's a little heavy-handed and presses too hard at times, I see screenplay nominations looming for it next spring.

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SWEATER MONKEYS: I've seen you there in the big-box stores, standing before Bring It On: All or Nothing (Universal, $29.98), wondering how it was you never heard of this sequel to Bring It On. Get used to the feeling. All or Nothing, like Bring It On Again, is a direct-to-video sequel, and while Disney pioneered the form with lousy DVD follow-ups to Bambi and Cinderella, these films did extremely well. Bring It On: All or Nothing brought in $12 million during its first days of release (that's about 750,000 copies). A week later Warner announced the creation of Warner Premiere, a division that will produce only direct-to-DVD sequels, prequels, and other "originals" that capitalize on successful theatrical releases.

First up?

The Dukes of Hazzard II, with Rossford native Jonathan Bennett (Lindsay Lohan's crush in Mean Girls) as Bo Duke. It comes out next year. Maybe it'll even be (cough) good. But I find the underlying purpose of these direct-to-video tie-ins vaguely duplicitous. The implicit hope behind them is that you are too busy, and too overwhelmed by the constant flood of video titles, to realize this isn't a real movie.

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WHY DON'T YOU PRINT HAPPY NEWS FOR ONCE: OK, I will. Gretchen Mol finally reveals why she was once the next It Girl in an otherwise uneven Notorious Bettie Page (HBO, $27.98); you'll probably never get a chance to see Jeff Bridges work gymnastic high bars unless you see Stick It (Buena Vista, $29.98); The Lake House (Warner, $28.98) is another pleasant (though insane) reminder Keanu Reeves is a singular presence, never to be replaced; the colorful animated adaptation of Curious George (Buena Vista, $29.98) is that rare movie ideal for children 6 and under; and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (Universal, $29.98) is true video art, a movie so nonsensical and gorgeous looking, for best results I suggest watching with the sound muted.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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