Movie Project #37: Moon [2009]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

moon-poster

Moon [2009]
Director: Duncan Jones
Writers: Duncan Jones (story), Nathan Parker
Country: UK
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey
Running Time: 97 minutes

According to Moon, at some point in the not-so-distant future, nearly 70% of Earth will be relying on energy derived from the moon. At a mining base on the far side of the moon, there is one man responsible for overseeing the extraction of helium-3 and its subsequent delivery to Earth. This man is Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell).

With just two weeks left on his three-year work contract, Sam is starting to demonstrate signs of fatigue from his elongated period of isolation. The first time he is shown, he is looking all too rough with a Grizzly Adams beard. You can almost smell him through the screen. Aided by the idea of finally being able to see his wife and child, Sam cleans up with the help of his computer companion, GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey).

Moon [2009]

One day, after leaving the base to recover a helium-3 canister, Sam suffers a hallucination and crashes his rover into a harvester, knocking him out in the process. When he awakens, he is inside the base infirmary with no memory of his accident. GERTY isn’t all that helpful in explaining the incident, immediately causing Sam to grow suspicious. His further investigations leave him to believe that he may not be alone on the moon after all — although his frequent hallucinations make it difficult for him to determine just what is real.

To say anything more about Moon‘s plot would be a discredit to the film and to its director, Duncan Jones (yes, the son of David Bowie). There is a major plot twist that pushes the film in a new direction, one that raises questions about humanity, loneliness and the ethics of technology.

Although I am not as well-versed in classic sci-fi as I would like, it’s clear that Moon is influenced by some of the titans of the genre, the most obvious being 2001: A Space Odyssey. The introduction of GERTY immediately brings flashbacks of HAL-9000; in fact, Kevin Spacey’s vocal performance is not far removed from that of Douglas Rain. The HAL connection makes us question GERTY’s motives in the early going, though it does eventually become clear that the two computers are quite a bit different. It’s also hard not to see the 2001 influence through some of Moon‘s beautiful interior shots of the lunar base — Gary Shaw’s cinematography is often stunning.

Moon -- Sam Rockwell

But most impressive is the performance of Sam Rockwell, who is on screen for nearly every minute of the film’s hour-and-a-half running time. Rockwell generally impresses in every one of his roles, but this may be his defining moment. His performance requires quite a bit of range, and it’s all the more impressive that he is able to do so almost entirely on his own here. It’s a shame that he was pretty much forgotten about during the award season.

Moon isn’t a perfect film — its ending may be too “feel good” — but it is an impressive debut from Duncan Jones. Two years later, Jones would go on to make the underrated Source Code. His next project, a film based on the Warcraft video game series, is set to arrive in 2015. Given the near-brilliance of Moon, it’s easy to see why he is continually being rewarded with bigger budgets. And hell, if anyone can finally make a good video game movie, it’s probably Jones.

8/10

Movie Review: The Way, Way Back [2013]

The Way, Way Back [2013]

The Way, Way Back [2013]
Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Writers: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James
Running Time: 103 minutes

At first glance, The Way, Way Back appears to be a relatively formulaic “coming of age” film, and to some extent it is. Yet it manages to take this well-worn genre and turn it into one of the most satisfying movies of the summer.

Liam James stars as Duncan, our socially awkward 14-year-old protagonist who is dragged along on a summer vacation with his family. His recently-divorced mother, Pam (a marvelous Toni Collette), her new douche-y boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and his just-as-awful teenage daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin), all hop in a vintage station wagon and hit the road.

The Way, Way Back [2013]

Their destination is Trent’s oceanside beach house, and the resort town almost instantaneously turns into a “spring break for adults.” Their neighbor next door, Betty (a hilariously inappropriate Allison Janney), always has a drink in her hand, and other nearby friends, Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet), are frequent patrons to their beachside parties. While the adults are drinking and dancing to 80s tunes, Duncan is left feeling more isolated than ever.

Through the film’s early stages, we are continually shown examples of just how much Duncan is struggling to adapt to his developing adolescence. He is shy and struggles to talk to others, including the cute girl next door, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb). He is also desperately seeking some type of father figure, and it’s clear that Trent’s arrogant attitude is not a good fit. In the very first scene, Trent asks Duncan (or “buddy” as he demeaningly calls him) how he would rate himself on a scale of 1-10. Duncan, after much deliberation, frustratingly answers a “6”. Trent immediately rebuts this by stating that Duncan’s lack of motivation makes him more of a “3” in his eyes. Yeah, he’s kind of a dick.

The Way, Way Back [2013]

The movie hits its stride when Duncan meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), the free-spirited manager of the local water park, Water Wizz. Owen (and the other employees, including the more “professional” Maya Rudolph) slowly draws Duncan out of his shell by giving him a job at the park and acting as a type of father figure. Rockwell is terrific in this role, playing a character that is a bit of a “man-child” yet utterly kind to everyone he meets.

Writer/director duo Nat Faxon (of “Ben and Kate”) and Jim Rash (“Community”), both of whom also have hilarious supporting roles as park staff members, have put together a very enjoyable first effort. The Way, Way Back may feel overly familiar at times, but it still manages to be quite the crowd-pleaser. This is a film that will make you laugh, and possibly cry, and there’s no doubt that it will keep you entertained.

8/10

2012 Movie Mini-Reviews: Dredd, Seven Psychopaths, The Paperboy

I was able to indulge in a movie marathon of sorts over the weekend, catching up another few films that I missed out on last year. Here are some quick reviews for all three:

Dredd [2012]
Dredd [dir. Pete Travis]
I always know I have come across a great comic book film when it has made me want to read some of the comics afterward. The only other franchise that has made me want to do so is Batman, namely Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Now I can say the same for Dredd, a gritty action film that surprised the hell out of me.

Dredd feels like a throwback to the old school, ultra-violent 80s action movies, but in a setting not unlike last year’s kinetic Indonesian film, The Raid. Karl Urban stars as the eponymous character, a badass police officer who acts as a judge, jury and executioner. He is partnered up with a rookie, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who is a mutant with psychic abilities. When the two of them are sent to investigate a triple homicide, they are locked into a 200-story slum tower block by the evil drug lord “Ma-Ma” (Lena Headey, completely unrecognizable from her even more sinister role as Cersei in Game of Thrones). Now, rather than capture a suspect and leave, the officers must fight for their lives to escape.

In terms of plot, Dredd is remarkably simple, but there is enough style to draw you in and not let go. This is a dark, brutal film that never really lets its foot off the pedal. Some of the visual effects — such as an overabundance of slow motion techniques — seem to have been created for 3D and therefore fall flat on DVD, but these are just small issues in what is otherwise a very enjoyable action flick. 8/10

Seven Psychopaths [2012]
Seven Psychopaths [dir. Martin McDonagh]
Seven Psychopaths is the second collaboration between director/writer Martin McDonagh and Colin Farrell (the first being 2008’s critically-acclaimed In Bruges), and it doesn’t miss a beat. Farrell stars as Marty Faranan, a struggling screenwriter who gets tangled up in a ridiculous series of events when his best friend (Sam Rockwell) steals the Shih Tzu of an explosively-tempered gangster (Woody Harrelson). Like In Bruges, the writing is extremely clever and loaded with biting dark comedy and Tarantino-esque violence. Occasionally a joke will fall flat, but then another will pop up shortly after that will bring out the major laughs.

The cast here is incredible, with some noteworthy supporting roles from Christopher Walken (in his best performance in years), Tom Waits and Harry Dean Stanton. There’s even an amusing wink at Boardwalk Empire during the film’s opening scene, as it involves cameos from two of my favorite actors from the show: Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg. The real star here, however, is Sam Rockwell, who is an absolute riot for most of the film. His monologue in the desert is hilarious, and it is one of the best scenes I have come across this year. Seven Psychopaths may be too spastic for some, but I had a great time with the film. 8/10

The Paperboy [2012]
The Paperboy [dir. Lee Daniels]
The Paperboy is a hot mess of a film, one that revels in its trashy Southern Gothic atmosphere. The film follows two brothers, Ward (Matthew McConaughey) and Jack Jensen (Zac Efron), who are investigating a death row inmate (John Cusack) that they believe may be innocent. Or rather, Ward is looking to get a story out of this that he can write for the Herald. He doesn’t really care if the man is innocent or not. They become involved with Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a middle-aged woman who has fallen in love with the inmate despite never meeting him.

There are many different subplots at play in The Paperboy, and as such the film never really knows where it wants to go. Occasionally there are random moments of incredibly bizarre actions — there is a certain scene involving jellyfish that everyone seems to talk about — and director Lee Daniels often appears to just throw a bunch of stuff against the wall to see if it sticks. The lack of proper direction is frustrating, but there is still an entertaining film underneath (albeit a rather filthy one). If there’s one thing the film nails, it is its visual appeal. The washed-out color tones are a perfect fit for the sticky Floridian setting. The Paperboy is all over the place, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this gather somewhat of a cult following someday. 6/10

Have you seen any of these? What did you think of them?