Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Looking for Eric

Lowdown: Eric Cantona provides a guy going out of his mind with inspiration.
Review:
I am not a Manchester United supporter but I like football. During the early nineties, though, I actually was – to one extent or another – a Manchester United supporter, and one of the main reasons for that was a French player called Eric Cantona. He was good but not incredibly good (for example, he never made it to the French national team); but he was flamboyant, he was charismatic, and he was incredibly exciting to watch. Especially when he high kicked a spectator, and especially when he made his comeback from the inevitable detention almost a year later. There is no doubt about it: Cantona was a major drawcard for the world of football. Following his retirement, Cantona has been using his name to promote his aspiring acting career: I first met him on the big screen in Shakespeare in Love.
And now Cantona has drawn me to watch Looking for Eric, a film in which he plays himself. Directed by the British director Ken Loach, Looking for Eric is a film in love with football. Shot in Manchester and focusing on a group of Manchester United supporters, it is a story of how football can inspire people to make the most of their lives even if their circumstances are tough (well, for a start, they do live in Manchester).
Specifically, we follow a guy called Eric (portrayed by Steve Evets). Aside of being a Manchester United supporter nothing seems to be going right in Eric's life. At the point of us joining him he suffers mental illness and drives through traffic the wrong way; we later learn he broke up with his first wife, the daughter he has from this marriage relies on him for help, his second wife left him seven years ago, and he's living with two step sons from his second wife – neither of which are his and both of which don't give a damn about him as they go on their bad ways.
It becomes obvious to Eric that he needs to take control over his life or his life would be over. But how can one take control over a life so miserable? Into the picture steps another Eric, Eric Cantona. The real Eric Cantona plays the real Eric Cantona! He's just an illusion Eric brings up while smoking pot, but through football analogies and stories about Cantona's life – stories like him learning to play the trumpet (which he plays awfully) while forced out of play – Cantona inspires Eric. So much so that when things get even worse with one of the stepsons getting involved in big time crime, Cantona takes on a special form as the goodies beat the baddies.
Overall, Looking for Eric is a very funny drama. Cantona provides the inspiration but never takes himself too seriously, and even though the situation seems dire and you feel for Eric's character the film is made in such a way that you don't feel a burden on your chest but rather feel optimistic.
If there is anything to take from Looking for Eric, apart of the love of football, it's the message on how friendship and being there to help others as well as receiving help from others is the peak of one's life. As Cantona says in first person, he considers the peak of his career not to be a goal but rather a pass. Now, how can anyone not adore this person?
Best scene: Eric and his friends sit together to conduct a self help therapy session borrowed from an off the shelf self-help book. Seeing those men that are used to heavily masculine ways of referring to themselves “stoop” to perform the self-help crap, yet manage to do so quite effectively, is what I call excellent comedy.
Technical assessment: Not a bad Blu-ray at all for a film that was obviously made on a tight budget. The sound in particular is well designed: nothing spectacular, but it knows how to peak at key moments.
Overall: I’ll be kind on the Erics and give this funny feel good film 4 out of 5 stars, while adding that I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to sit and enjoy themselves with the company of a good film.

Monday, 29 March 2010

The Go-Between

Lowdown: A forbidden adult love affair takes place in front of a boy refusing to see it.
Review:
Joseph Losey’s The Go-Between, a film from 1970, is one of those classic films I kept on reading about whenever I read serious analysis of cinema work. As a direct result of this reading I was looking to see the film for myself for many years now, but up until ABC broadcast it recently I was unable to put my hands on a copy. That said, I have to say the ABC version didn’t do this film much good: for a film shot in English countryside and renowned for its cinematography, The Go-Between's print on air at the ABC gave the exact opposite impression. There is just no way a film like that, a true classic, can compete with the modern crap flooding us if this is all the chance it would get.
Set in England of some hundred years ago or so (between the Boer Wars and the World War I), we follow a young teen called Leo as he goes to spend his boarding school’s summer vacation at the estate of a rich school friend. There he encounters riches, class, servants and a lovely sister – Julie Christie – with whom he falls in love the way a young child falls for the charms of a seemingly providing adult. Soon enough the boy finds himself acting as a messenger for Christie’s lovers: on one hand a war veteran noble man, her prescribed engagement; on the other a low class farmer with whom she should not be really keeping in touch if she is to follow the manners of the time (Alan Bates).
As the story develops, Leo falls for Christie more and more as she uses him more and more, demonstrating why adults should not mess about Lolita style: their perceived authority could easily ruin the child. Through short glimpses of Leo’s future, casually provided to us at key points of the film, we see the effects this use of an innocent child has on the subsequent adult.
The nice thing about The Go-Between is the subtlety with which it goes about telling its story. It is never in your face and there is never a scene which would make you call the police because a child is being abused, yet the cumulative effect of it all and - yes, the sheer subtlety of it all - have a dangerously corrosive effect. On the down side, this style implies a kind of slowness we are not used to much anymore with contemporary cinema; conditioned by the likes of Star Wars – The Phantom Menace we expect instant gratification and some faster pacing.
It’s hard for me to tell what message The Go-Between is trying to convey. Should it be taken for a mere story on the fragility of human nature as well as its inherent cruelty, a cruelty that can manifest itself in the most subtle of ways? Or is the abused child meant a symbol for something larger, like the English culture having to release itself from the shackles of a class system but not managing to do so well enough?
Regardless, The Go-Between is a thinker’s film.
Best scene: Leo refuses to deliver Christie’s message to Bates; Christie reacts by switching from the smiling fairy into a power corrupt abuser and blames Leo for everything. Christie’s acting, especially in this scene, is superb.
Overall: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Slow, subtle and the complete opposite of “in your face”; they don’t make them like that anymore. And when box office revenues rule the day, you can see why the blockbuster sequel has pushed The Go-Between and its likes out of the market.

Friday, 26 March 2010

The Sentinel

Lowdown: Another bodyguard has to fight enemies within to save the holy president.
Review:
Back when 2006’s The Sentinel was still playing at the cinemas my father told me this is one film I really have to watch. To quote him, “there are some films, and then there is The Sentinel”. How shall I put it? I didn’t rush to the cinema. However, I did record The Sentinel when it was broadcast a few months ago by Channel 9, and eventually I did sit and watch it, and – just as I suspected – I now have all the justification required for not rushing to see the film.
The Sentinel is yet another one of those films dealing with the American Secret Service and their continuing efforts to keep Mr President out of harm's way. The Sentinel is yet another one of those films where the hero character (Michael Douglas) is an aging Secret Service agent that receives his honors for taking a president’s bullet once upon a time but is generally regarded as an out of touch geezer, and another film in which the geezer is the one thing standing between the President and relative safety. The Sentinel is yet another film where there is a mole inside the Secret Service that is threatening things; in this particular case the trick is that for significant parts of the film we can’t really tell whether Douglas himself is the moll as he’s using his training to avoid and deceive other agents. And the Sentinel is yet another film where the only Secret Service character that truly understands Douglas’ is a former colleague turned rival after Douglas had an affair with his wife (Kiefer Sutherland).
Indeed, the only thing I can point at with The Sentinel where it offers something we haven’t seen before is in Douglas having an affair with Mrs President (Kim Basinger; yes, she’s still alive). Otherwise, The Sentinel is nothing we haven’t seen before dozens of times; so can this twisty affair give this film that stands for nothing an edge over, say, In the Line of Fire (probably the best of the genre) or the more recent Vantage Point? No, no and no.
If a film were to decide to get into this over exploited tar pit, I would personally suggest it tries a new angle. Like, for example, asking why is it that the President needs so many guards around him; you don’t see that taking place in other countries. Or why is it that so many people want to harm the President. Or, for that matter, why is it that we need to regard the President as the holiest of holly in the first place? I doubt Washington (as in ex President Washington) would have approved.
As it is, The Sentinel doesn’t ask any complicated questions. It’s just tries to go for the tried and tested thrill; it manages that, but that’s simply not enough.
Worst thing about the film: The Sentinel is a prime example for a film that uses its music (score) to push the plot along rather than have a score that enhances the experience. There is not that much drama going on in The Sentinel, but the constant use of ominous music makes you feel something ominous is about to happen even if all that takes place is the hero switching the light on.
Overall: I’m going to be harsh and give The Sentinel 2 out of 5 stars. Not because it’s 2 stars bad, but rather because it is a completely redundant affair that wastes my time and the talents of those taking part in making it.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Norby the Mixed-Up Robot by Janet & Isaac Asimov

Lowdown: A barrel like robot has more than meets the eye.
Review:
Following the success of the first science fiction for kids book I recall reading, the Hawkings’ George's Secret Key to the Universe, I thought I’d try more of the genre. And what could be more natural to turn to the supreme commander of science fiction, Asimov? Turns out the maestro wrote some kids books, too; luckily for me, a couple of his science fiction for kids books series involving a character called Norby the robot have been recently republished. I put my hands on the series’ first.
Norby the Mixed-Up Robot is a shortish hundred page long book that, to an adult, feels more like a booklet. Set in a space age future it follows a space academy cadet called Jeff. An orphan to a family with financial trouble, Jeff gets expelled out of the academy due to his mischief. The academy’s admiral still has his faith in Jeff and gives him some money to buy a teaching robot so that one day he could return to the academy. The money is not enough to buy a new model, so on his way home to his poor and derelict neighborhood (Manhattan) Jeff buys an old robot that looks like a barrel: Norby.
Together they have some adventures as they celebrate summer solstice, allowing Jeff to learn there’s more to Norby than meets the eye: things like anti-gravity facilities, to name but one. It appears Norby is mixed up with alien parts that give him these special qualities as well as, well, mix him up. Soon enough, our heroes find themselves in the midst of a plot to overthrow democracy and place a guy called Ing as the emperor of all humanity.
Although never uninteresting, I cannot honestly say that Norby the Mixed-Up Robot is a good book. It’s characters are rather shallowly developed, the plot just moves from here to there to everywhere, and whenever things seem to get stuck Norby just comes up with some new magic from under the barrel. True, the book is still a science fiction book and as such not a bad way of introducing kids to the concept and perhaps to reading for fun in general (although some of the book's elements probably cross the border between science fiction and fantasy). And true, this is a kids’ book, so maybe I’m expecting too much. But still, there are good children books that to things at kids’ level yet are still highly entertaining. Roald Dahl, anyone? Or, for that matter, Stephen Hawking, even if his George series of books is aimed at slightly older kids.
Overall: A bit of disappointing fun at 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Lowdown: Family and friends need to deal with the upcoming marriage of a black/white couple.
Review:
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (GWCtD) may be a film from 1967, but it sure as hell relevant more than forty years later.
Often feeling more like a play than a film, GWCtD excels in its simple and very extreme setup. Essentially, what we have on our hands is a black guy (Sidney Poitier) and a young white woman who fell in love ten days ago and decided they want to get married. We are introduced to them taking a taxi to the woman parents’ San Francisco home; the taxi ride features a white driver who is less than excited with the kissing taking place on the backseat, nor is he excited with carrying Poitier’s suitcases.
Premises established, the film follows the way the idea of this mixed races’ couple is introduced to the woman’s parents. Taking it in turns, these are the amazingly excellent Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (about whom I can say that every performance of his I get to encounter knocks me off my sofa with its sheer quality).
The plot thickens further, but not by much. In addition to the woman’s parents additional stakeholders are challenged to come to terms with the marriage: the parents’ black maid, friends, and a priest that joins the party to provide religion’s token point of view on the matter. Oh, and then we have the case of the surprise dinner guests…
What I find particularly clever about GWCtD is the setup. The black guy is not just a “guy”; he’s Nobel Peace Prize material, the best guy of any race you could ever find - totally faultless. The parents are not your average parents: they live in liberal San Francisco, they’re rich, the father runs a paper advocating liberal agendas, and the pair is famous for their liberal preaching. In short, there should not be an easier case of an interracial marriage than this one, yet all stakeholders have their problems of accepting the marriage. All of this allows GWCtD to tackle those problems from the most extreme starting point. And it goes even further by presenting us with additional interracial encounters, such as when Tracy’s character bumps into a car driven by a black guy. It’s all very elegantly designed to deliver the message.
As cleverly designed as it is, and as fine as the acting is, I am of the opinion that it is the film’s relevancy that makes it so good. For example, I am of the opinion that a lot of the recent antagonism towards Tiger Woods is a direct result of him being married to a white woman, which – despite all the rest of the advances done as far as the acceptance of blacks is concerned – is still pretty much a taboo in American society. How many other films can you name that feature blacks married to whites? Throw in the natural conservatism that comes with the rich dudes dominating the world of gold and you can get some sort of an appreciation for the steep mountain Woods needs to climb.
Yet with all due respect to Woods, my personal affairs take precedence. As someone who is in an interracial marriage himself (albeit one with a significantly lesser pigmentation problem), I have encountered similar racism and bigotry first hand from the closest quarters of my family. It took place before my marriage and it took place around the birth of my son (circumcision/christening, anyone?); it even takes place every time my parents or my parents in law expose their outdated (and totally unfounded) views on matters of race. It makes me sick, and it puts a lot of pressure on me as I need to navigate through life’s more important challenges.
Thus, in a similar way to what Clint Eastwood had achieved before with Changeling, the sense of identification I had after watching Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was so strong I cannot not stop thinking of the film.
Best scene: The numerous contenders to this title are outmatched by Tracy’s touching performance as he gives his speech to his extended family at the film’s ending, concluding the turnaround the film suggests we all take.
Overall: Touching, well made, entertaining and relevant. 5 out of 5 stars material.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Cake

Lowdown: A restless young woman finds her right place.
Review:
For some reason I have been living my life under the impression that 2005’s Cake is a potentially promising comedy, an impression that resulted in me recently recording it off the air and – eventually – watch it. An impression I sorely regret.
Cake is a romantic comedy of the type we’ve seen so many times before. The only twist it offers is in having a female, Heather Graham, take on the role normally reserved to men – that is, the role of the wandering vagabond that is completely unable to attach themselves to a relationship. That twist, however, is far from enough to sustain Cake.
Our lovely Graham (no sarcasm here; she is definitely lovely) is a young girl that likes to wander all over the world and leave her men behind the way one leaves a book when returning it to the library. Then, about a minute into the film, her father – who, we learn, is some sort of a media tycoon – suffers a heart attack and – in a moment of weakness – let’s his daughter act as the editor of his bridal magazine. How witty is that?
As can be expected (haven’t we seen this film plenty of times before?), Graham doesn’t fit well into the world of bridal magazines and the stability one associates with being married. At first she stumbles, but then – with the help of a developing relationship with her father’s second in command – she starts standing by her own rights. Needless to say, given that we’ve seen this film so many times before, her new relationship has its ups and downs. It is, however, completely needless of me to report how things work out at the end.
So, other than lack of originality and total predictability, what else is wrong with Cake? First, there is that hidden devil of a stupid conservative agenda that Hollywood is so in love with – namely that a girl is no good without a man by her side (probably to hold her by a leash). Second, the acting is terribly bad; it looks as if the various actors have had a collection of bad days at the office when Cake was being made, because they’re all so unconvincing. And third, the actor’s dismal performance leads me to point the finger towards less than illustrious direction work.
Worst scene: Graham is making a speech before her magazine’s staff. There is nothing extraordinary about the speech or its delivery, yet Cake pushes these not so subtle cues at us to make it sound like it’s Martin Luther King having a dream here instead. Sorry, if this was supposed to be an exciting build-up scene then it had totally failed. Instead, it acts as nothing but an example for the poor movie making taking place with Cake.
Overall: A totally redundant experience. 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

Lowdown: A human clone goes after his "original" in order to save humanity.
Review:
A good sequel is hard to write, as Philip Pullman's The Subtle Knife had proved. Yet John Scalzi's sci-fi sequel to Old Man's War certainly qualifies as a good sequel, a sequel that certainly puts me in a position to want to read the third installment.
The Ghost Brigades is set in the same world as its former, but it focuses on new characters while reusing some of the supporting cast as Scalzi goes about explaining the world out to those that didn't read the prequel. The main differences are the absence of John Perry, the first book's hero, and the story that is no longer told through a first person's eyes. In making these changes, Scalzi manages to avoid abusing the old while still using it constructively; add to that his sarcastic writing and his lack of taking himself too seriously and you can see why this is a writer I like coming back to.
The story starts from the point in time Old Man's War had finished. We quickly (and very smartly) learn of a conspiracy by three extra terrestrial species to take on humanity together, and we learn they have on their hands a human traitor, a brilliant scientists that knows a military secret or two that could help crash humanity. So the human army fight this threat by creating a clone of the traitor scientist and fitting it with the traitor's recorded consciousness (made available to them through a rather cheap trick). That Frankenstein of a clone (an observation made by Scalzi throughout the book) has a consciousness of his own but also that of his original; trained by the human army's special forces, he goes on fighting missions under the command of Old Man's War Sagan character. As the clone's original consciousness slowly dawns on him, the question becomes which way he would turn: would it be the old or the new personality that calls the shots?
As with Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades borrows a lot from former science fiction books. To his credit, Scalzi mentions those in the book itself (either as a part of the plot or in his closing notes). Yet Scalzi manages to create here a book that is slightly more than the parts he borrowed: it's a major page turner for a start, leaving me constantly wanting to know what happens next; it's got some very exciting battle scenes; and most importantly, it has an agenda of its own. Through the comparison between the traitor and his clone, Scalzi tells us a lot about what it is that makes us human; where it is that we are free to make our choices and where it is that we are only fooling ourselves when we consider ourselves free. His main message is very anti fatalistic one, and I'm totally with him there.
Yet The Ghost Brigades isn't perfect. It's a nice book, but it often feels like a typical American film: If someone finds something early on in the book, you know he's going to be using it later on; and the cuts between one scene to the other, always at the peak of the thrill, feels too unnatural after the hundredth time it's done (still exciting, though).
Overall: An exciting science fiction book that falls a bit short of true classics. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Immortal Beloved

Lowdown: Tracking down Beethoven's secret lover.
Review:
I saw 1994’s Immortal Beloved several times till now, but all these several times were concentrated into the four days I had its laserdisc rented. Back then, 1995-1996, quality contents was hard to find and laserdisc was pretty much the only option. Indeed, quality was so hard to find that when I put my hands on a laser I watched it again and again. The habit probably developed my skills at picking up cinematic queues rather than simply concentrating on the plot; in the case of Immortal Beloved it helped me enjoy the great music that was wrapped in an otherwise undeservedly ordinary film.
Immortal Beloved sets out to sensationalize the story of composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s life; it obviously attempts to achieve what Amadeus has done before. The sensation comes in the shape of the angle Immortal Beloved takes: instead of simply telling us Beethoven’s life story, it presents us with a mystery. We join things as Beethoven (Gary Oldman) dies to learn that he left his entire estate to a mysterious “Immortal Beloved”; that sets off a search by his old time friend Schindler (Jeroen KrabbĂ©) to find the identity of said beloved. Schindler goes from one ex lover to another in an attempt to gather clues and solve the mystery, in the process exposing us to the complicated person that Beethoven was through a series of flashbacks. We learn Beethoven was a rather tormented figure: tormented by his father, a torment to his surroundings, and a torment to himself as the musician grew deaf.
The thing that annoys me the most about Immortal Beloved is that it never seems to have bothered asking itself why it needed to sensationalize Beethoven’s life in the first place. By looking at my own life I realize that telling the straight story of people’s lives without an angle to it could be a rather boring affair, but going to the other extreme creates an incredible story (in the bad sense of the word, as in lacking credibility). Indeed, history does not see eye to eye with the film: While the film presents us with a happy ending, the reality is we don’t know who Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved was. Did we ever need to know?
The makers of Immortal Beloved will have to excuse me, but I am of the opinion Beethoven’s life story could have been told with a straight face. After all, the greatest thing about Beethoven is his musical legacy; surely they could have turned that into the film’s focus instead of copying Amadeus? Indeed, the movie does make an attempt to impress with the music: Beethoven's most famous musical pieces are thrown throughout the film, performed quite well under the supervision of the late George Solti. As it is, the music is the best thing about Immortal Beloved; it's a pity it wasn't allowed to be the main event it should have been.
Otherwise, what we have on our hands is a film made of cliche scenes, filled with dimension-less cliche characters, and driven by a plot that is as lively as roadkill.
Best scene: A young Beethoven runs away from his father for a session of night swimming to the tune of the 9th. Probably the best scored piece of film ever (and I'm not saying this lightly), I cannot avoid being moved by this scene and the evidence it provides for music overpowering an otherwise mundane affair.
Technical assessment: I could only get Immortal Beloved on DVD, and sadly this DVD seems to suffer from a very outdated transfer. It feels as if the laserdisc's original transfer, perhaps even an analog one, was used here. The sound is very ordinary too, although the music is well rendered (I recommend the soundtrack CD; it's stereo compared to the DVD's 5.1 presentation, but it's also uncompressed).
Overall: I have a problem rating Immortal Beloved. As a film it's a 2 out of 5 stars film. But the music, oh the music! On a personal level, it lifts things up to the realm of 3.5 stars effort.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Crank High Voltage

Lowdown: Grand Theft Auto on film.
Review:
If you thought the first Crank film was on the extreme side of things, wait till you see its sequel, Crank High Voltage (CHV).
As with the first film, CHV doesn’t take itself too seriously. It starts with the hero character, portrayed by Jason Statham, falling off a plane in a scene that mixes real life shots with eighties’ computer games like graphics, as if telling you that what you’re about to see is more like a computer game than a film. Next thing we know, Statham – who is still surprisingly alive and in one piece despite the fall – is in a makeshift operation room where he’s watching as his heart is taken out and replaced with a mechanical heart.
The rest of the film is spent through a philosophical discussion involving a Statham trying to figure out what happened to his heart and how to retrieve it. We’re never really told why a replacement heart was put in place, but what we do quickly learn about are the restriction this heart involves: it’s got a very poor battery that doesn’t allow for strenuous action. It doesn’t have much of a longevity either, but what it does allow for is recharging through some ingenious ways (many of which are explored throughout Statham’s journey).
The result? A ridiculously silly, action filled film (of the typical Statham genre) where the most impossible always tends to happen. The trick is in the wildly outrageous premises leading to wildly outrageous scenarios that are all exploited in the most politically incorrect fashion ever thought of by a mainstream Hollywood release. CHV is filled with racism, sexual chauvinism, porn culture references, nudity and many other things that normal films stray out of because they’re taboo: things like making jokes at the disabled or having sex with an old woman (or, for what it’s worth, a repeat public sex scene mirroring the one from the first Crank).
It’s all incredibly silly but it’s all highly entertaining. Whenever the plot seems stuck we get another past friend to come and save Statham, and whenever there’s a peak scene (e.g., a boss fight) we get additional hints thrown at us to tell us this film is just one big joke. The best example is a fight scene that switches into an old Japanese Godzilla like remake.
Best scene: As with the first Crank, there are many candidates for best scene in CHV. The easiest example is when Statham has no choice for recharging his heart’s battery other than mechanical friction, which sends him rubbing against strange people (and, eventually, having full on sex). However, my pick ends up going to a scene where a stripper gets shot in the breast: she’s relatively unharmed as we see the silicon pouring out. That scene is probably the best conveyer for what CHV is all about.
Technical assessment: The high contrast picture on this Blu-ray is somewhat lacking in detail. The sound is quite aggressive, as expected by the genre; it’s good but it’s not articulated enough to stand out.
Overall: An incredibly silly yet highly entertaining 3 out of 5 stars film. I am, however, seriously tempted to credit it with 3.5 stars: films that go out against the politically correct conventions deserve a big bonus.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Moon

Lowdown: A lunar employee encounters issues just before the time to return to earth has come.
Review:
It seems like this year has been a vintage year from science fiction. It’s not only Avatar that I’m talking about (albeit while severely lacking in the science department); we’ve had proper science fiction in the form of District 9, and now I can proudly say that Moon joins the club. In perfect timing, if I may add, given I just finished reading a serious science fiction book taking place [mostly] on the moon (Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress).
Moon takes place on the moon (dah) at a time in which energy and global warming are no longer issues for earth because abundant energy is harvested on the dark side of the moon (through some dubiously explained process) and sent back to earth. Ensuring this process takes place is a sole human employee, stuck on the moon for a three year contract and portrayed by Sam Rockwell. Conveniently enough, the character is called Sam. Sam’s only company are a HAL like computer (voiced by Kevin Spacey) and videos he receives from his wife; he cannot talk to her directly, because the satellite in charge of communications from the dark side is down, so Sam has to settle with video clips.
As we join the foray, Sam’s contract is about to run its three year period and he’s getting anxious to go back home. In typical movie fashion things don’t go as planned, and he has himself an accident while taking care of a faulty harvester. As a rescue crew is sent from earth, Sam wakes up to find he’s no longer alone: he’s got Sam with him. Is he going crazy? And thus I get to the point where anything I add would greatly spoil the film…
As I already said, Moon is a serious science fiction film. Serious, in the sense that it creates an extreme version of our real world with which we can create analogies. Indeed, Moon’s analogies concern ethics at the personal and at the society wide level; given Moon starting off with the “history” of humanity’s treatment of the global warming problem, the analogy is fairly obvious.
That said, I have to recognize there are some weaknesses to the science bit of Moon. For a start, the Moon’s gravity seems to be earth like in power; no doubt this is a budget issue, but it’s actually critical to the film's logic because after three years on the moon a human cannot expect to be able to survive earth’s gravity. There are other potential issues but I’m already being picky: fact is, Moon doesn’t rely on its problematic science to deliver its core story (again, potential spoilers prevent me from a thorough discussion here; you’ll have to take my word for it until you get to watch the film).
So I’ll repeat myself: I consider Moon serious sci-fi because it makes you think, unlike the sci-fi presented in Avatar where you’re spoon fed while your brain is shut (or rather, mesmerized by the beauty of the visuals). Moon borrows heavily from previous great serious sci-fi flicks, such as Blade Runner, Silent Running, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Outland. It borrows, but it does not copy or imitates; the outcome has its own originality.
P.S.
In Australia, Moon's Blu-ray is rated M for, amongst others, "science fiction themes". Now I fully acknowledge Moon is not a kids' film, but since when are science fiction themes reason enough to make a film inadequate for younger audiences? Or rather, should Star Wars be banned for its "science fiction themes"? I would say this goes to show the pathetic processes at hand with the rating systems; trouble is, they want to enforce these over our internet, too.
Best scene: Rockwell’s acting is so good you tend to forget he’s playing both versions on himself on the screen at the same time. It’s the first time I have noticed such a seamless dual performance; it always tends to look artificial to one extent or another, but not in Moon. For example, I only thought of the ingenuity involved with Rockwell playing table tennis with himself while the scene was discussed in the Blu-ray’s supplementals.
Technical assessment: The picture on this Blu-ray is rather too grainy and shy of details, probably testimony for Moon’s meagre budget of 5 million dollars; that’s probably Avatar’s budget for shoelaces. The sound, while not the most detailed ever yet aided with a wonderful score, does a very effective job at conveying the claustrophobic stress Sam is in.
Overall: A mighty achievement that’s actually quite incredible given its budget. I rate it at 4.5 out of 5; highly recommended!