Film Reviews: My Trip to Al Qaeda, Whiz Kids

MoJo watches Lawrence Wright’s one man show, plus a documentary tracking three teens at the Intel Science Talent Search.

Photo: <em>My Trip to Al Qaeda</em>

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Looking for new movies to fill out your Netflix queue this fall? These two films are educational—and fun to watch.

My Trip to Al Qaeda

JIGSAW PRODUCTIONS

86 minutes

Before writing The Looming Tower, his acclaimed history of the roots of September 11, Lawrence Wright wrote the script for the late ’90s terrorism thriller The Siege. The controversial film, starring Denzel Washington, imagined how Americans might react—and overreact—to a terror attack on Manhattan. Before it even opened, a South African Planet Hollywood was bombed in protest; after 9/11, it became the nation’s most-rented movie, “making me,” Wright explains, “the first profiteer in the War on Terror.”

So opens Wright’s adaptation of his one-man show of the same name, which prolific filmmaker Alex Gibney (Casino Jack, Taxi to the Dark Side) has beefed up with extra footage and trips to London, Cairo, and Riyadh to talk with former and current jihadists. What begins as a sober look at Al Qaeda’s origins builds into an impassioned, intensely personal look at how terrorism breeds insanity and nihilism. If he were to get a face-to-face interview with Osama bin Laden, Wright wonders, would journalistic ethics permit him to stab the man who imagines a world “where ideals and aspirations disappear”?

Wright’s anger isn’t limited to Al Qaeda. He’s also upset by the Egyptian autocrats and Saudi clerics who feed Al Qaeda’s ranks, as well as the American politicians whose backsliding on torture and domestic spying seem to be “following a script that has been written by Osama bin Laden.”Dave Gilson

Whiz Kids

SANDBAR PICTURES

82 minutes

This Spellbound-style doc tracks three teens vying for top honors at the Intel Science Talent Search, the nation’s most prestigious science fair. Director Tom Shepard, who profiled Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2006’s Knocking, chronicles both the excitement and the excruciating pressure: In one memorable scene, a likable West Virginia girl, the inventor of a filter that removes carcinogens from water, sobs after a grueling session with the judges. Still, the overall message is positive: Considering how far American students still lag behind their international peers in math and science, a little competition might not be such a bad thing.Jessica Calefati

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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