+ "The Road to Guantanamo": It’s almost impossible to look at Michael Winterbottom‘s latest as a film to like or dislike (or in any sense enjoy), but the highly charged hybrid doc in certainly interesting. Our beloved Armond White snarls "This whacked-out piece of anti-American propaganda, pretending Human Rights rhetoric, is a Weapon of Crass misInstruction" and goes onto to grumble that if Winterbottom has "come down to pardoning the Taliban regime just for narrative fodder, then it’s time he folded up his digicam." At the Village Voice, J. Hoberman finds the film "effectively grueling," and writes (with apparent complementary intent) that it is "one of the most oppressive accounts of life in a military detention since Jonas Mekas‘s ‘documentary’ version of ‘The Brig’ or Peter Watkins‘s ‘Punishment Park.’"
At the New York Times, A.O. Scott writes that "Guantanamo," while being "far from a great movie, nonetheless effectively dramatizes a position that has been argued, by principled commentators on the left and the right, for several years now: that the abuse of prisoners, innocent or not, is not only repugnant in its own right." At Salon, Andrew O’Hehir in our favorite review examines both the contents of and the nature of the film, and declares that "’The Road to GuantÃ¡namo’ will drive you crazy, if you aren’t crazy yet. It documents a period of acute insanity, and all possible responses to it will sound paranoid to someone."
David Edelstein at New York, questions (as does every other critic) the veracity of the account given by the Tipton Three, or, at least, the film’s faith in this veracity.
The movie is propaganda, and Winterbottom and Whitecross could have bolstered their credibility by challenging some particulars of the Tipton Three’s storyâ€”a story thatâ€™s probably true but does leave room for suspicion (or eye-rolling). It might, for example, have been prudent for these men to wait longer than ten days after 9/11 to fly to Pakistan for Asifâ€™s arranged marriage and to hold off on a trip to Afghanistan until after the inevitable carpet-bombing.
At the New Yorker, David Denby expresses a similar sentiment: "In some ways, the movie is poorly made, and it is possibly disingenuous. What works in it, however, works terrifyingly well," while at LA Weekly, Ella Taylor muses that the film "falls into a familiar trap of agitprop filmmaking â€” turning the victim into a hero." Regarding the need to question the Three’s tale, Slate‘s Dana Stevens remarks that "A defender might counter that, given that the United States couldn’t come up with a justification for their detention even after the case went before the Supreme Court in 2002, the burden of proof hardly rests on Michael Winterbottom." And at indieWIRE/Reverse Shot, Nick Pinkerton concludes
The film doesn’t fly as art or entertainment–saddled with off-the-cuff DV cinematography that constantly fumbles for photojournalistic iconography and undistinguished characterizations. The film is a very poor example of either–but it’s intended to function as more than a movie, as an "event," a public advocacy campaign (the film’s British premiere was a national broadcast on Channel 4, watched by 1.6 million) for its protagonists/storytellers.
+ "The Great New Wonderful": A.O. Scott sums up Danny Leiner‘s post-9/11 drama as a series of "quiet, tidy vignettes," and, while noting that Leiner "has a good eye for the small absurdities of ordinary life, and in particular for the unacknowledged," is frustrated by the studied obliqueness of its messaging. David Edelstein calls the film "spottily affecting," while an extremely unimpressed Ben Kenigsberg at the Village Voice notes that "Ironically, Leiner’s two monuments to pothead delirium seem vastly more coherent than this hazy attempt to mine the zeitgeist, a film every bit as pointed as its nounless title."
+ "Wassup Rockers": Has Larry Clark finally gone soft? Of his latest, and apparently benign skate punk-adventure, J. Hoberman writes that "bod-caressing camerawork aside, it seems as though Uncle Larry’s underlying fantasy might be a neorealist remake of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ or a goofball ‘West Side Story.’" Andrew O’Hehir, who saw it in an earlier form at its premiere, claims that "even at its two-hour Slamdance festival length, it gradually developed its own rhythms and immersed you in these boys’ half-macho, half-naive worldview," and that "[i]f Clark’s attempts to weave in both tragedy and farcical comedy don’t completely click, this journey to the end of the night has an unexpected sweetness and joy at its gooey center." And at the New York Times, Stephen Holden, while not seeing the film as quite the departure others do, notes that "However you respond to ‘Wassup Rockers,’ it is completely alive, unlike any number of teenage Hollywood movies with their stale formulas and second-hand puerility."