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2004 Roundup
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"Gunner Palace"

Directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  3/6/05

Folks--

I traveled over to the Angelika Theater in NYC this past weekend to see the new doc on the Conflict in Iraq (or whatever name our government is currently peddling) called "Gunner Palace."  The film, which follows about a dozen of the 400-or-so soldiers that took up base camp in Uday Hussein's pleasure palace in Baghdad, almost lulls you to sleep with its mundane approach to filming the life of a soldier...but, that is what is so great about it, essentially a collection of scenes from about 200 days where not too much happens, soldiers bond, carry out their patrols and hope to make it home to their families.

The flipside of this approach is what happened to my buddies Steve "The Squatter" Baron and "Schmoove" Prenoveau--about 20 minutes into the film, both of them were fading in and out of sleepytime.  Schmoove was looking so rough that he looked like he had been partially eaten by his chair, what with his head being at the seat's midpoint and his legs splayed out to both sides.  Steve was doing his best Art History 220 impersonation, holding one hand under his chin but essentially sleeping while staring straight ahead.  Now, it was in that questionable food coma timeframe (right around 4:30 in the afternoon, also known in the Bell household as "The Dad Nap Hour"), but it was shocking to see both of them basically asleep despite the fact that people were enjoying the film and there were some funny scenes that flew by that the sleeping giants missed.  Their loss, I guess, because "Gunner Palace" does have some great film moments; a couple of the soldiers are natural hams on-camera, which gives the sordid affair of waking up, driving around in lightly-armored humvees and hoping not to get all blow'd up a bit more palatable.  The filmmaking is rugged and the voice-over is a bit too dramatic, but I really got into the approach these guys have to living out their current workload.  I don't have any talent for it, but I liked the rap/poetry interludes from some of the Gunner Palace soldiers, and I liked the occasional guitar riffs.

Pairing this with some of the scenes where U.S. soldiers are out playing policeman for the Iraqi people--who, it is made clear from the start, really really really really don't want us there--"Gunner Palace" almost runs like a get-us-the-hell-outta-Iraq manifesto at times, which certainly must be the purpose of a film like this, whether the directors will admit it or not.  (Is there a more frightening scene than where a soldier talks to the camera while pointing out that his humvee is reinforced with scrap metal found throughout the streets of Iraq, because our government can't afford to send us reliable equipment?)  Some of the testimonials by the soldiers are also very effective; one sergeant later in the film talks about the "hardships" that most Americans face in the course of their day ("Why isn't the pizza here on time?") with the bitter tone of someone that is regularly in harm's way, even in a situation like Iraq that has not garnered much public support from the people.  It was deep, for me at least, to hear someone talk with such conviction about the fact that save for watching movies like "Gunner Palace", most of us don't think about the soldiers over there or what they are going through unless they have someone over there or it's Sunday and they are praying for the soldiers in church.

Much of the 85-minute film is strong.  However, as evidenced by Squatter and Schmoove, "Gunner Palace" is slow at times and can be dry to the point of boring on occasion.  It was funny watching the guys hang out at Gunner Palace, barbecuing or swimming in Uday's big backyard pool...but, I don't know, after the third scene of this, I thought there were other areas the filmmakers could explore; more background on the translators working for the U.S., or even more on the shoddy equipment issue, or the fact that since the soldiers went over there, some soldiers have been sent back for a second tour (which could have been included in the epilogue).

Otherwise, I thought "Gunner Palace" was great.  Not exceptional, but an interesting take on what the day-to-day life of a soldier over in Iraq is like.

Rating:  $9.50 Show

 

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