Directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker.
Release Year: 2004
Review Date: 3/6/05
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
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: $9.50 Show
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$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