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
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
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
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
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
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!
Comments? Drop me a line at
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
"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
"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