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2004 Roundup
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"Control Room"

Directed by Jehane Noujaim.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  7/19/04

Folks--

Maybe I have just grown sour on all of the media and feature film/documentaries that aim to cast more doubt on all of the haps behind our "war on Iraq", but in "Control Room", a documentary about the Arab cable television station Al Jazeera, there was so little going on that even after an afternoon nap, I almost snoozed through half of this film.

Not that the station, a CNN for the Arab Muslim population in the Middle East, isn't without its own controversy--or, conversely, its merits--but after you have

  • followed the panel hearings on 9/11,

  • gone to see "Fahrenheit 9/11",

  • read articles on Bush, Chaney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice in the last couple of months,

  • lived in DC the last six months and/or

  • picked up a Washington Post Outlook section lately,

you get to feeling a little world-weary on U.S. government spin control, any highlights of Donald Rumsfeld deflecting criticism in the press, scenes of U.S. soldiers "liberating" Iraqi civilians by roughing them up or hordes of foreign policy experts talking about how out of line the United States is for invading a country in a witch hunt for supposed weapons of mass destruction.

I can't really say that any of these things individually is right or wrong, but in "Control Room", we don't get anything significant enough to register in a climate where similar messages are paraded out on television roughly five nights a week.  The documentary, shot and directed by Jehane Noujaim, is periodically very interesting as it details the coverage of the war in Iraq from the perspective of the Al Jazeera station, a station that seems to be trying to give us the war unfiltered...even if they may or may not be funded and programmed by individuals that have ulterior motives.  We also get a number of scenes where the filmmakers give us the perspective of many domestic and foreign journalists that were encamped at the Central Command base where U.S. officials made announcements to the media on a daily basis during the brunt of combat in 2003.  Also, some archived scenes of Iraqis spewing their hatred for the U.S. is sometimes interlaced between segments, to round home the fact that we are not exactly beloved the world over.

Like I said, there's some interesting stuff in here.  But, the storytelling doesn't drive it home as well as it would have been done in the hands of a more capable filmmaker.  Also, I didn't get too jazzed by the way Noujaim tried to paint the military spokespeople as being necessarily bad people for not giving the media everything they wanted in terms of knowing just where the U.S. had troops and armor units at any given time.  As one person explains later, "Other groups use your news as an intelligence report to know where our troops are stationed, and we're not going to do that!"  This seems to be lost on a number of the journalists at Central Command; one gets the sense that even in this environment, getting the scoop on where American tank units are precisely located is all that matters to some of these guys, and this really drives home the point that the media can sometimes be the most lethal enemies of intelligence, but instead I'm supposed to feel sympathy because the media doesn't know EXACTLY where our Bradleys are??

And, once again, the filmmaking team leans on the presence of Rumsfeld news bits to mock just how poor our military force command might be.  Rumsfeld is becoming the Will Ferrell of documentaries; just his presence onscreen is enough to draw laughter from even the most loyal of Rumsfeld's tiny fan base.  Here, the second he appears in "Control Room" for the first time, people in our audience just started laughing, like "Hey look, it's that asshole Rumsfeld!" and interfering with my ability to even hear just what bad quote Noujaim had pulled out of the archives.  Man, that Rumsfeld sure is reliable...no one can ever take that away from him!

All of this, plus a scant 80 minutes of film, make this one not quite worth the price of a daytime ticket.  "Control Room" might have been better had I not already seen the 50-times-superior "Fahrenheit 9/11", but as it is this is required viewing only if you need to round out your experience in watching every film available that has tangential ties to the conflict in the Middle East or want to learn more about news coverage abroad.  Otherwise, skip it!

Rating:  Rental

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09