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Friday, Sept. 10, 2010

'Zero: An Investigation of 9/11'/'Micmacs'

Hostile nightmares and fanciful daydreams on screen


Nine years on from the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, doubts persist as to the true nature of what took place on that fateful day in September. While there's no shortage of conspiracy theories on just about anything these days — Colorado gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes sees even a municipal bike-sharing scheme as a communist plot that will "threaten our personal freedoms" — there's also no question that a close look at 9/11 reveals some strange inconsistencies with the official version of events.

Zero: An Investigation of 9/11 Rating: (3 out of 5)
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MOVIES
Twin terror: The World Trade Center billows smoke on Sept. 11, 2001. AP PHOTO

Director: Franco Farcassi and Francesco Trento
Running time: 104 minutes
Language: English, Italian (subtitled in Japanese)
Opens Sept. 11, 2010
[See Japan Times movie listing]

"Zero: An Investigation of 9/11" is an Italian documentary that interviews any number of sober, noncrackpot experts who painstakingly detail the questions they feel are unanswered. The film seeks mostly to raise doubts — primarily about how the Twin Towers could have collapsed, and what exactly hit the Pentagon — rather than resolve them, though there is a finger pointed at the United States' own military and intelligence community.

Reasonable voices include Michael Springman, the former chief of the Visa Section at the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, who describes how visas to the U.S. were provided (with no questions asked) to many al-Qaida fighters in the late 1980s and '90s; and the North Tower janitor, William Rodriguez, a hero who rescued many from the building, who insists that he and others heard and witnessed explosions in the basement prior to the aircraft striking the building.

More far-fetched claims, but equally disturbing, include the idea that there's a virtual Osama Bin Laden out there in the computer of some CIA or NSA basement, to be popped out like a jack-in-the-box whenever a distraction or reason for war is needed. The film's credibility takes a hit, though, by also featuring "authorities" such as former Gen. Stubblebine, the "Men Who Stare at Goats" commander who tried to walk through walls.

The film's big weakness, one its makers share with many conspiracy theorists, lies in what it takes for granted. Alleged hijacker-pilot Mohamed Atta, the filmmakers point out, took drugs and drank; therefore, they conclude, it's unlikely he could have been a Muslim fundamentalist suicide bomber. This operates on the assumption that people are consistent and without contradictions; if this was true, we'd have no priests molesting children either. Similarly, the idea that a building designed to resist an airplane strike would of course do so is taken for granted, despite the fact that systems can always fail, through shoddy construction or design. (I wonder if the same people assuming perfection in the Twin Towers' design would be as trusting of BP's oil rigs.)

The central flaw with all the 9/11 conspiracy theories is the following: Let's say you're the Mossad or a military- industrial cabal led by Dick Cheney, and you plan to create a pretext to lead the U.S. into war. The question is why you would create an extremely elaborate plan requiring many, many operatives to take out several locations with both airplanes and explosives, and then create the ruse of hitting the Pentagon with an airplane, while somehow making the actual plane disappear with all passengers on board, when instead you could set off a small suitcase nuke or dirty bomb, requiring but one or two operatives, and have far, far less chance that something would go wrong or someone would blab. As author Oswald Mosley best put it, "Anyone who knows how difficult it is to keep a secret among three men — particularly if they are married — knows how absurd is the idea of a worldwide secret conspiracy."sk

Information on tickets and screenings is available at zero.9-11.jp

lighter jab at the military- industrial complex comes from "Micmacs," the latest from French stylist Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Amelie," "Delicatessen"). If director Christopher Nolan managed in his movie "Inception" to take all the creative potential of rendering dream worlds and come up with nothing better than your standard Hollywood shoot-'em-up, then Jeunet does the exact opposite with "Micmacs," setting his story in the Paris of here and now and yet rendering it with a hyper-reality that makes it seem like a fairy tale — something Terry Gilliam also tried with London in "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus."sk

Gilliam is a good reference point for Jeunet: Both enjoy a bit of zany humor crossed with the surreal, both have a similar fondness for a circus troupe-meets-junkyard aesthetic, and both have a soft spot for the little guy, damaged individuals eking out an existence on the fringe of society.

The story of "Micmacs" follows a harmless video-store clerk named Bazil (Dany Boon) who gets accidentally shot in a drive-by. The doctors save him, but the bullet remains lodged in his brain, and he could keel over at any time, much like Johnny Depp in "Dead Man."

Micmacs Rating: (2.5 out of 5)
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MOVIES
"Micmacs" © 2009 EPITHETE FILMS — TAPIOCA FILMS — WARNER BROS. PICTURES — FRANCE 2 CINEMA — FRANCE 3 CINEMA

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Running time: 105 minutes
Language: French (subtitled in Japanese)
Opens Sept. 18, 2010
[See Japan Times movie listing]

After hospitalization, Bazil realizes he's lost his job and his flat, and winds up living on the street. (And for critics who accuse Jeunet of being merely a fantasist, I would point to this sequence.) He finds himself adopted by a strange commune of misfits — including a math savant, a human cannonball and a contortionist — who live in a fantastically steam-punk bunker built within a trash-dump heap.

When Bazil gets the idea to go after the evil arms corporation that made the bullet lodged in his brain — and that has caused misery to so many others as well — his friends help him out in a series of perfectly timed capers. Imagine "Ocean's 11" directed by Charlie Chaplin in the full throes of a Technicolor acid trip and you'll be close.sk

"Micmacs" is absolutely brilliantly composed, with every single shot set up for maximum impact; Kubrick would approve. Jeunet is never one to merely shoot a scene statically or — god forbid — with a shaky hand-held; not when he can instead use a crane swoop to follow a bullet's fateful flight, or an ultra-low-angle approach that makes a skidding motorcycle threaten to come right out of the screen, with no 3-D glasses necessary, thank you. sk

Jeunet takes a special delight in rendering complex contraptions that perform like clockwork, something he shares with Henry Selick ("Coraline") and Nick Park ("Wallace & Gromit"), and it comes as no surprise to learn that Jeunet's career began in animation. "Micmacs" may be nothing more than a stunning human-inhabited cartoon, but few filmmakers today are this visually bold.


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