Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Movie Review: Moon (2009)

Moon (2009)

Director - Duncan Jones
Runtime: 97 min; R

Sam Rockwell – Sam Bell
Kevin Spacey – GERTY (Voice)

The low-budget film Moon can actually be summarized in a few sentences, and yet it has a little more going for it than just a simple topographical view. I’m going to keep this review short mainly because I know that much of what I would want to say would revolve around a pretty major spoiler, and I’m content with just a quick discussion of the overall premise.

It is a time when those on earth have discovered a way to harvest energy from the moon, and Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) has been living in the space station on the moon for almost 3 years. He is starting to lose it, in a sense, and his lack of reliable communication with those on earth, including his family, is really starting to drive him mad. His only real contact is with the computer GERTY voice by Kevin Spacey in a monotone way reminiscent of other sci-fi films we all know.

The isolation that Sam experiences and the strange circumstances that befall him are at the heart of the film, and it is a very intriguing premise which I was completely willing to let draw me in…

Unfortunately there is something lacking in this film that keep it as a very good idea and a well executed low budget film, but not quite fleshed out enough to make it something special. Sam Rockwell is really wonderful here, carrying the film and showing a complete devotion to his character. I am fairly certain that this film will be seen as astounding by some and boring by some, but for me it is an above average film that is worth a look, but not something I’m ready or eager to push upon you.

*** out of 5

A Movie Review: Antichrist (2009)

Antichrist (2009)

Director - Lars von Trier
Runtime - 104 min; Unrated

Willem Dafoe – He
Charlotte Gainsbourg – She

It is very likely that many movie-goers will seem to recall the name Lars von Trier as someone they are vaguely familiar with, someone who they are sure they know a little about, but cannot really say exactly what it is they know, when in fact, it is more likely that they don’t know anything about the 53 year old director from Denmark. I make that blanket statement based on my own knowledge, as I simply could not recall much other than he was ‘the guy who did Breaking the Waves (1996)” and that I think I enjoyed it when I saw it, many years ago. Well, he has given us a new film that is challenging, beautiful, horrific, and inspiring, though I’m not sure in which order those belong.

Antichrist is a little unlike anything I can think of for comparison, so I’m going to simply do my best to convey what the film meant to me and how it affected me, leaving it up to you to decide if you want to put yourself through the same emotional swings.

I saw this film by myself and am thankful I did, for I’m not sure how one is supposed to interact with another person for the rest of the evening upon leaving the theater. Perhaps your pre-panned cappuccino break will be put on hold.

On the one hand the film begins with an absolutely beautiful 10 minutes mixing slow motion, cinematography of a winter wonderland, and a breath-taking Aria by Handel (Lascia Ch'io Panga). The scene is juxtaposed with the most beautiful (love making) and the most horrible (death of an infant) with no words, only music and light and shadows, and my eyes were fixed to the screen in a way I am not accustomed. On the other hand, the final 30 minutes of the film contain some of the most horrific scenes of violence between man and woman I have ever watched, and let me be very clear that for me to actually turn my head away or close my eyes while watching a film is extremely rare, and I did it on more than one occasion.

It is in this disposition that I find it so difficult to conclude that this film is a wonderful piece of art, and I am excited to have seen it, and though I feel it is too easy to simply say “he went too far with the scenes of sex and violence” it is also too easy to say that it is all acceptable for the art…I’m not sure what to say of certain scenes, exactly, only that once I removed myself from the theater and gave some thought to them, I am comfortable finding a reason for all of them, and the reasons they were placed where they were left important feelings with me that were central to the film.

Though I am not certain what the title has to do with the film exactly, the very idea that the film takes place primarily in the woods at a cabin known to the couple as Eden, and subsequently depicts the fall of man and woman, sort of brings it to light.

The film is broken up into chapters which seem to mirror the stages of grief a human goes through on the way to recovery, although I’m not so sure that is what is happening in the film. Willem Dafoe as He and Charlotte Gainsbourg and She are man and wife who lose a child, and the rest of the film is them dealing with this, mainly through He’s use of his role as a psychologist and She’s role as the grieving mother. The film is deeper than that, and as you get into it more you will find a lot of imagery and symbolism that ties things together and, at the same time, rips things apart.

The film is quite shocking in the use of explicit sexual deviance and torture, though as many critics point out this is not torture-porn, it is more a way to hammer home the underlying themes of the movie. I am going to be quite blunt here and say that this film is simply not to be seen by anyone who is not already fascinated by cinema in general, or interested in off-beat films with limitless boundaries. Also, a strong stomach and an open mind are requirements. I would also like to add a strange notion, that you could go see this film and watch it only up until the scenes of violence begin, for the film itself is beautiful and should be considered a work of art, but those ending scenes are not for many people.

I am still thinking about the film more than a week later, and it took me this long to formulate my thoughts and put them to paper. Much like Synecdoche, New York (2008), a film I rather enjoyed but did not entirely understand nor completely want to recommend (though I did) I am giving this film a specific niche nod and feel that, if you think you are the type of person who would enjoy this type of event, it is a must see.

**** ½ out of 5

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Movie Review: The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009)

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

Director - Grant Heslov

Runtime - 93 min; R

Lyn Cassady - George Clooney
Bob Wilton - Ewan McGregor
Bill Django - Jeff Bridges
Larry Hooper - Kevin Spacey

So it turns out that the actual men who stare at goats is a secret US military group created to harness the power of positive thinking, mind control, and attempting to run through walls. I’m not sure what I thought it was going to be, but I guess that’s as close as whatever I could have come up with…and then there’s the invisibility factor, but we won’t go into that too much.

The driving force of this film is George Clooney, portraying Lyn Cassady, an aging former member of the disbanded secret group who is on some sort of secret mission in the Middle East. Journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is along for the ride as he searches for a great story while his wife back home is sleeping with his editor. These two actors give great charisma and have great chemistry, and the result is a lot of laughs early on that keep you very much engrossed in this story. When we meet the founder of the group Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) it just seems to get better. Played simply as a parody of his role as “the Dude” in The Big Lebowski, Bridges brings life to a character who you simply cannot be sure is based on a real person, but apparently, according to the opening credits, he is. With the introduction of group member Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) we have our core players and we are ready to get into the meat of the movie.

Unfortunately, that is where the best 30 minutes of the movie ends and the remaining 60 minutes begins. How a film can start off on such a high note and carry such momentum into the middle stages and then seemingly just fail on so many levels is almost beyond me, but I guess it is easy to sum up how it happened here: A movie that is a supposed to be a comedy and that should be looking for quick laughs starts out as such, and then, inexplicably, attempts to be a serious movie with serious themes and serious scenes. How the director and writers came up with this method is beyond this reviewer, and I can only assume someone felt the early tone could not carry itself throughout.

Regardless, it was a major flaw and it hurts the flow of the film so badly that I wondered it could recover.

It could not, sadly, recover the early brilliance and I left the theatre disappointed.

There are some very bright moments in the film, mostly all dealing with Clooney and Bridges portraying some really well written characters, but the fable cannot sustain itself. The story of these men in the desert and the back-story of a group of people using their minds in unconventional ways to develop new warfare techniques is intriguing, and perhaps some of you will enjoy the entire film, but I’m recommending you save your money for more anticipated films of the November and December.

** and ½ out of 5