"The War Tapes": Deborah Scranton‘s guardsmen-shot documentary, which won the Best Documentary prize at Tribeca, provokes reactions ranging from impressed to frustrated. At the New York Times, A.O. Scott‘s in the first camp, writing that
Whatever your opinion of the war â€” and however it has changed over the years â€” this movie is sure to challenge your thinking and disturb your composure. It provides no reassurance, no euphemism, no closure. Given the subject and the circumstances, how could it?
Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice is startlingly dismissive: "[As] a piece of sociopolitical culture with context and ramifications of its own, it’s a worthless ration of war propagandaâ€”ethnocentric, redneck, and enabling." He crowns the film "the cinematic equivalent to a ribbon magnet," and bemoans the fact that it is gathering awards and attention while what he sees as other, better docs on the subject are being ignored. The Reverse Shot three at indieWIRE are mixed: Michael Joshua Rowin finds the film has s "simple premise yielding revelatory results"; he doesn’t think it’s fair to call it more objective than others simply because it’s shot by the soldiers themselves, but does think it’s "powerful reportage." Chris Wisniewski writes that it’s "not as groundbreaking in practice as it is in principle," Nicolas Rapold is won over by the way the film "courageously spans terrific highs and lows of wartime experience."
And at New York, David Edelstein urges "See ‘The War Tapes.’ Maybe this picture can be worth a thousand lives."
+ "The Cult of the Suicide Bomber": It’s a fun week for film.
This documentary from David Batty and Kevin Toolis, made for Britain’s Channel 4 and written and narrated by Robert Baer, the real-life basis for George Clooney‘s "Syriana" character, gets a small theatrical release here from The Disinformation Company. In the New Yorker, David Denby describes the film as "a pageant of fanaticism, sacrifice, and death," and is most intrigued (and frustrated) by Baer’s interview with the families of bombers:
The families utterly reject the word "suicide." The appropriate word is "martyr," a bomber’s sister firmly tells Baer. Suicide, it seems, implies the possibility of unhappiness or compulsion, an emotional need that has not been met, whereas martyrdom, as the families present it, is always rationally chosen, and a gift to everyone.
At the New York Times, Manohla Dargis finds the film "engrossing if intellectually thin," and bemoans the fact that
Like so many political films of this type made for British television, this documentary contains more information than analysis, not to mention predictably spooky music. Despite its title, this is not a film about the cult of suicide bombings in general; rather, it is about a specific cult that has developed in the Middle East over the last few decades.
[It’s certainly too much ground for a single feature, but it’d be infinitely more interesting to see a study of suicide attacks across history and culture: Dargis writes that these angles are ignored or brushed over.]
Michael Atkinson at the Voice calls the film "rough-hewn," but adds that "Forgive the ’60 Minutes’â€“style cutaways to Baer, and the experience of Muslim life knotted by destructionâ€”not a TV pundits’ opinions of suchâ€”can be eye-opening."
+ "District B13": It’s dumb, it’s fun, and you don’t want to see "The Break-up," do you? â€” of Pierre Morel‘s French futuristic action flick, Jim Ridley at the (New Times) Voice heralds the film as "the most (maybe the only) fun action movie of the summer"; Nathan Lee at the New York Times writes that the film’s extreme sport-hook, parkour, is "a gorgeously choreographed gymnastics of pain that elevates ‘District B13’ over the impossible missions and last stands of the season."