Robert May

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The War Tapes Review


Excellent
We have an embarrassment of information when it comes to the Iraq War. Unlike previous conflicts, in which information took too long to get back from abroad, or was too heavily censored to retain much of its impact, Iraq offers us all the dirty reality in whatever format we'd prefer. There's emails from relatives and friends serving there, documentaries like Gunner Palace and Off to War which skimp not at a bit on the mucky details, rough-and-ready memoirs (John Crawford's The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell being just one of the excellent more recent examples), and even blogs written by grunts just back from getting IED'd. In short, there's no excuse if one doesn't have at least a smattering of an idea of what it's really like "over there" -- unless one just really don't want to know. This is not to say that Deborah Scranton's fantastic new documentary The War Tapes is in any way unnecessary, in fact, it highlights just how good Scranton and her collaborators are at what they've done; given how much competition there is out there.Scranton's idea about how to put together this film about the tour of duty (March 2004 to February 2005) of a company in the New Hampshire National Guard is rather brilliant in its simplicity: Give some digital cameras to the troops and see what they come up with. Of course, luck had a hand, given a different unit (out of Charlie Company's 180 soldiers, 10 agreed to go along with the project) Scranton could have ended up with nothing but shots of soldiers in embarrassing positions. Fortunately, the men who came forward had stories to tell, and the ability to tell them. Her volunteers mounted their cameras on their helmets and carried them in battle -- which mostly consisted of guarding convoys of supply trucks ferrying overpriced food to Halliburton-run mess halls; "a war for cheese," they call it. Their footage, and running commentary, makes for a raw and enthralling 97 minutes of a conflict perhaps no uglier than others, but certainly no prettier.The War Tapes focuses mostly on three of the volunteers: Stephen Pink, a tightly wound but acerbically funny 24-year-old carpenter; Mike Moriarty, a chubby 34 year-old family man with a deep pit of rage welling inside; and Zach Brazzi, a 24-year-old college kid and Lebanese immigrant whose leftist political views don't keep him from deeply loving combat. None seem particularly excited about the war, comfortable with what they're doing there, or confident in the results ("It will be a better country in 20 years because we were there... I hope," is a typical comment), but there's a resigned comedy to their situation, just something to get through. Their reluctance to be seen as a mouthpiece for any particular point of view is palpable and refreshing, perhaps more so because they know their words are being preserved for posterity. Whatever their views are, the men seem to know that no matter how much footage they capture of interminable convoy security details broken up by the occasional IED or ambush -- plenty of those -- there's little use trying to explain it to a civilian. The film's opening words, taken from Pink in the middle of a vicious Fallujah firefight -- "November 29th, I want to kill... This will have a lasting impact on me for the rest of my life." -- is about as close as these men will get to letting the rest of us in.That doesn't mean that the soldiers of The War Tapes don't have nothing to say, because from the evidence recorded here, these guys (a personable trio, to say the least) have a hard time shutting up. Moriarty is especially voluble on the subject of Halliburton, whom he has nothing but contempt for (despite being a diehard Bush man, like most of the Guardsmen), seeing them as nothing short of war profiteers, selling the military a pile of unnecessary goods and lining the Vice President's pocket while doing it. Bazzi and Pink are each full of the cynicism of soldiers, ridiculing the idiocy and waste of the conflict erupting around them, yet powerless to do much about it. Their confusion is so heart-rendingly captured that when the bullets begin to fly (viewers are often in the uncomfortably thrilling position of being in the front seat of a Humvee as it tears down an Iraqi highway towards a column of smoke marking a recently annihilated vehicle), you cringe all the more for the men trying to evade them. And when the unexpected happens, such as a nighttime accident in which their vehicle accidentally kills an Iraqi civilian woman, the tragedy is stomach-churningly real.The War Tapes may not have a position on the war that it wants to push, but that's beside the point. These men have a point of view, plenty of them in fact, they just may not make sense to mere civilians. And that's as it should be.How do you start this mower?

The Station Agent Review


Good
Meet Finbar McBride. Besides having a cool name, Finbar's (Peter Dinklage) most noticeable attribute is that he is a dwarf who stands about 4-foot-5. And he's bitter about this. As a result, he is a laconic fellow who keeps to himself and has no friends. But he does have a passion for trains. One day Fin's work colleague dies and leaves him a train depot in New Jersey as an inheritance. Fin - who apparently has nothing else to do in his life - packs up his suitcase, walks many miles (on the train tracks) into New Jersey, and sets up his new home inside the run-down depot.

Right from the beginning we are brought into the leisurely pace of Fin's ascetic life. He doesn't eat or drink much, he spends his days studying old trains or reading about them, and he walks almost everywhere because he can't drive and he doesn't like crowded buses or trains. And it's pretty obvious why; every time he gets around people they stare at him and make comments.

Continue reading: The Station Agent Review

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