At the movies
Three days, three slices o’ celluloid.
From the maker of the funniest documentary of recent years, “Startup.com,” comes this startingly good look at Al-Jazeera. Why was I startled? I have no idea – even on paper, the story of a scrappy Arab news network covering the 2003 invasion of Iraq sounds pretty exciting. Maybe seeing this DVD at kiosks in DC’s snootier film houses convinced me it would be dry. But I have to revise my opinion of snooty film houses. This isn’t just a good documentary – it’s exciting.
It starts in March 2003, as Al-Jazeera staff are dumbfoundedly broadcasting Pres. Bush’s address giving Saddam Hussein and his family 48 hours to surrender or expect war. We see the usual central casting Arabs angrily calling “bullshit” at this speech. But then we see smart, British-accented, media-savvy Arabs at the TV station saying the same thing, as well as worrying about how their fellow Arabs will react to this.
That sets the template of the whole movie. In about 1/3 of the footage, we see the pessimist’s history of the Iraq war (including a lot of film and interviews used in “Fahrenheit 9/11”). In the rest we see Al Jazeera reporters joking around, buddying up with American reporters, and really gaining the respect of the main Centcom flack. This flack, by the way, is one of the wonders of the movie – he knows the boilerplate he’s supposed to deliver to reporters, but he’s ready and willing to dish about how American policy has to change eventually. Like me circa 3/03, he seems to be supporting the war because, well, if it DOES work, we can concentrate on other things to win the Arab world over.
There’s also a sad and terrifying sequence about the 4/09/03 toppling of the Saddam statue in central Baghdad – the image that led newscasts and newspapers the next day – that quite nearly proves the whole thing was staged. This isn’t a conspiracy theory any longer. It’s pathetic to remember how everyone bought the story when it came out, but it’s hopeful to see this movie and think such an easy suckering might not happen again.
“The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”
Thank God for three months of pissy, negative reviews. My expectations for this movie were knocked down many pegs, and when I finally got around to seeing it, I was expecting a two star mess. Fortunately, the critics had conspired to be stupid and hand me a delightful four-star fantasy. Of the four Wes Anderson films, I’d say this is second best.
Why is it better than “The Royal Tenenbaums” or “Bottle Rocket”? Anderson has returned to the smaller, craftier storytelling of “Rushmore.” Instead of giving us a a dozen quirky characters to follow, he gives us a protagonist (Steve/Max in Rushmore), a familial sidekick who loves the same woman (Ned/Blume), an oblique love interest (Jane/Rosemary), and a strangely loyal henchman (Klaus/Dirk). The rest of the strange cast, like the strange plot, unfold lazily and naturally around a wonderfully unhinged story.
“Resident Evil: Apocalypse”
What a piece of shit. Some bright guy decided that the success of the “Resident Evil” games and the first “Resident Evil” film (2.75 stars, at least) was not due to the presence of zombies. Nor was it the result of a woman jump-kicking a zombie dog in the face. No – it was the fact that said zombies had been created by a bumbling evil corportation.
I know what you’re thinking – Awhuh? But it’s true. Most of the plot and exposition of this movie concerns the Umbrella Corporation, “the most powerful commercial entity in the world,” and how it’s successfully covering up the scandal of resurrected zombies overrunning a fake city.
Jesus Christ. The last movie ended with a hot woman cocking a 12-gauge in a zombie-ridden city block. That’s a 3-star movie, right there. How these people screwed that up I’ll never know.