The Cult of the Suicide Bomber
Disinformation Co., $19.95
Every new and depressing headline about truck bombs and suicide vests in Iraq makes me think back to this timely documentary released in June (it never reached Seattle theaters). Appropriately, it came out at the same time as the Syriana DVD, in which George Clooney's character was based partly on ex-CIA agent Robert Baer and his memoir, See No Evil. Baer actually has a cameo in that movie, and he narrates Suicide Bomber from the same rather jaundiced former insider perspective. In See No Evil, he pointedly blamed his agency bosses for failing to confront Iran adequately, for failing to see how Islamic terrorism—and, by extension, Al Qaeda—grew out of specific conditions on the ground that he, 007-style, would've addressed more aggressively.
To wit, Baer was in Lebanon in 1983, when one of the very first truck bombs killed 241 Marines, leading to our swift exit from that country, a civil war that continued until 2000, Hezbollah, and its recent war with Israel. Behind it all, though Baer offers supposition more than proof, he sees Iran's hand: Of the Ayatollah Khomeini, he declares, "He turned martyrdom into a state religion" during the Iran-Iraq war. As the technique expanded, however, he sees other causes: "The martyrs are all graduates of the University of the Occupation."
In person, visiting Seattle this June to talk about his first novel, the Syriana-ish thriller Blow the House Down, Baer expanded on his pessimistic analysis of the Middle East. Arab psychology is one issue: "If you can reduce it to anything, it's humiliation," he says, which applies to living under corrupt governments or foreign occupation. "You look at Gaza, and the only thing you can think of—as when you see the wall, the border checks, and the razor wire—is a concentration camp. And this is the image Muslims get."
Then there's another theme from Syriana: "Our addiction to oil has resulted in our keeping surrogate governments, but we're not really in control of them—the Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain, and the rest. These guys, it's a kleptocracy. We end up supporting these people because they're our crack dealers." Ordinary impoverished Arab citizens, Baer emphasizes, hardly need to be Muslim terrorists to feel disgusted by such rotten regimes. "Their resentments build up, and they tend to focus on us, and this is why we get 9/11."
He continues: New York Times columnist "Tom Friedman is right for about the first time in the last 20 years: We've got to raise the price of gasoline. We've got to tax people if they've got a 6,000-foot house and they're heating it with oil. What is Iraq about at the end of the day? It's not about democracy, it's about oil. If we spend a trillion dollars over the next 10 years in Iraq, I think that should be paid at the pump."
So maybe you should ride your bike to rent Suicide Bomber (or Syriana or the equally topical Paradise Now) at the local video store. BRIAN MILLER
Any film with a mugging qualifies as noir these days, but back in 1944 noir meant black shadows, moral grayness, and white-hot femme fatales. In other words: Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, which crammed in enough talent to choke John Holmes' fluffer. Likable everyman Fred MacMurray is perfectly stunt-cast as the sleazy insurance salesman, and the story, in which fatale Barbara Stanwyck lures MacMurray into helping rub out her husband, has been copied (both implicitly and explicitly) over and over in thrillers for the last 60 years. Alas, a pair of film-buff commentary tracks won't appeal to most fans, and the second disc—featuring only a 1973 TV remake—is little more than a joke. A much better retelling can be found in the William Hurt/Kathleen Turner sleazefest Body Heat. JORDAN HARPER
Kicking & Screaming
Writer-director Noah Baumbach's sharp 1995 debut plays like an addendum to the laconic, sophisticated movies of whatever-happened-to Whit Stillman. A group of guys shuffle about as college grads who want to keep living the campus dream forever (i.e., Old School at the art house). It's about how these guys "define themselves now and hope that's how it always is," Baumbach says in a newly recorded conversation. If the bonuses are scant—a nutty short film that feels like an axed pilot, a few deleted scenes, some old and new chitchats with cast and crew—it's because the movie sort of is. Criterion really ought to get on Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale, but this is a pleasant time-killer—like college, come to think of it. ROBERT WILONSKY
Somebodys out to kill the president in The Sentinel, a poor summer substitute for Kiefer Sutherland fans before the new season of 24. Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner are quite enjoyable in the reissued Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile. Duck Season is a Mexican charmer about kids left to their own devices. Albert Brooks should never have even started his mockumentary misfire Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. Antonio Banderas teaches kids to dance in Take the Lead, while Helen Mirren tries to rule the British empire in Elizabeth I. HBOs Baghdad ER documents heroic docs saving our troops liveslike M*A*S*H without the laughs. From TV, look for season two of Desperate Housewives and, sob, the third and final run of Arrested Development. Child widows are made into prostitutes in Deepa Mehtas affecting colonial-era Water. The Labor Day remake isnt being screened for critics, but the original 1973 horror flick The Wicker Man is new on disc. Despite the big Starbucks marketing push, Akeelah and the Bee couldnt spell blockbuster, but its maybe more suited to home video. Must avoid: Phat Girlz, the Poseidon remake, and Lindsay Lohan in Just My Luck. (From what we read, that girl has exhausted herself from overwork or something.)