Control Room

dir. Jehane Noujaim

Thurs June 10, 4:45 pm, Pacific Place.
While in Botswana in 1993, I, along with everyone else in that big but empty country, watched American troops land in Somalia on CNN. CNN was the first global news network. It could be watched in my parents' Gaborone home, and all major international airports. Today, CNN's dominance is a thing of the past, and not because of the rise of its rival, Fox News. Global news sources are no longer centralized in the U.S. For example, the present war in Iraq has been covered by competing global networks, some of which are based in the Arab world.

Like the recent documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Control Room offers us a look from the inside of the other side. In Televised, we saw an attempted pro-American coup d'état in Venezuela from the besieged's (the anti- American president Hugo Chavez) perspective; in Control Room, we see the coverage of the formative stages of the Iraq war from Al Jazeera's perspective. Al Jazeera has 40 million viewers in the Arab world, and it shows this part of the world things that American networks don't show their part of the world. What Control Room reveals is that censorship is a normal part of the news we receive from our major networks.

However, Al Jazeera also censors its stories, and also provides very restricted versions of world events. The documentary demonstrates this fact on several occasions. The editors and reporters at Al Jazeera want specific types of interviews and images. Ultimately, what one (the American viewer) should do is watch both news sources, which is precisely what happens to the U.S. military press officer Lt. Josh Rushing. He is placed into the Al Jazeera control room as a representative of the American perspective. But as the documentary progresses it becomes clear to him that somewhere in the middle of America's news stories and Al Jazeera's counter-news-stories is the truth. This proximity to the truth makes Lt. Josh Rushing more sensitive not only to what is going on in the American world but also the Arab one. Try your best not to miss Control Room. CHARLES MUDEDE

A Problem with Fear

dir. Gary Burns

Thurs June 10, 5 pm, Pacific Place; Sat June 12, 9:15 pm, Broadway Performance Hall.
In A Problem with Fear, news reporters comment on the "fear storm" that is gripping the city. What is a fear storm, exactly? It's when people's irrational fears start coming true. Elevators plummet, revolving doors capture people and then spit them out into traffic, escalators suck people into that metal grate at the end. At the center of this fear storm is a man named Laurie, a man with all of the above-mentioned fears and more. His sister works for Global Safety Inc., a company that has figured out a way to predict bad events and warn the wearer with an alarm and a call to the police. You would think this technology would help Laurie overcome his fears, but it doesn't. When his alarm goes off, he just sees someone else fall into one of his own fear traps. The movie opens with the Global Safety people trying to figure out if their system is causing the fear storm, and there's a chance that Laurie himself may be causing it. At least, that's what he starts to believe, which necessitates his attempts to overcome all of his fears... including the fear of commitment that his girlfriend keeps reminding him of.

Director Gary Burns has a wonderful way with actors, particularly the secondary characters. For example, Laurie's girlfriend Dot should have been completely annoying, what with her wacky costumes and braces-induced speech impediment, but she is actually very funny. Same goes for most everybody else (and the sister has the added bonus of being really sexy). Unfortunately, after a fun setup, the movie flounders in the story department. When the movie focuses on Laurie's anxiety confronting the escalator and the overcoming of his fears, the whole thing starts to drag. A Problem with Fear, however, is the kind of quirky, imperfect film that you can only really see at festivals, so in that respect I can recommend it. ANDY SPLETZER

Last Life in the Universe

dir. Pen-Ek Ratanaruang

Fri June 11, 7:15 pm, Pacific Place; Sat June 12, 4:15 pm, Pacific Place.
Loud artistic protestations to the contrary, most critics secretly kind of like writing about the sort of movie that can be described in a sentence or two, particularly when under a deadline. How, then, to successfully boil down Last Life in the Universe, the damnedest film in many a moon? Here goes nothing: Through a series of tragicomic events, a suicidal neat-freak Japanese librarian (SIFF mainstay Tadanobu Asano, also seen in this year's Bright Future and Zatoichi) becomes involved with a slovenly Thai party girl. Their story becomes, by seemingly random turns, a wistful romance, Yakuza revenge saga (complete with uproarious Takashi Miike cameo), Farrelly Brothers-esque toilet ode, sensitive character study, ghost story, gritty noir, and splatter flick. I may have missed a few.

Something this scattershot shouldn't work, but writer/director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (6ixtynin9) makes the various genre-shifts seem beautifully organic and somehow never arbitrary. (It helps that he's aided by cinematography god Christopher Doyle, who manages to make both frat-house squalor and anal-retentive sterility look equally gorgeous.) Combine this thematic irreverence with a disregard for the conventions of narrative cinema (subtitles come increasingly randomly, opening titles flash 20 minutes in, etc.), and the sense of seeing something wholly new persists.

The director's gleeful, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach may very well end up frustrating as many viewers as it enraptures. All I can really say is this: Coming at the tail end of a seriously overstuffed festival, this trip-hoppy tone poem left me feeling like I'd never seen a movie before. Long may Pen-Ek's brand of chaos reign. ANDREW WRIGHT