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The Cynical Optimist 5/8/09

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The Fraze here. Wanted to tell you about a couple of terrific movies I’ve seen in recent weeks…

MOON
In space, no one can hear you scream.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all my years of consuming science fiction and fantasy tales, it’s the fact that you just can’t trust technology. From HAL-9000, the sentient computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Mother from Alien, the future is filled with devious artificial intelligence bent on domination.

In Moon, director Duncan Jones’ first feature film, the future’s artificial intelligence arrives in the form of GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), the robotic custodian of a Lunar Industries base on the Moon. GERTY is joined by astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), who has been contracted to extract helium-3 from lunar soil to create new, powerful energy back on Earth.

As Bell inches closer and closer to the end of his three-year contract with Lunar Industries, the effect of isolation takes its toll. The only contact Bell has with the outside world is a satellite feed that only seems to work one way, taking days to get a reply from Earth. Bell begins to hallucinate and grows paranoid of his robotic counterpart. On a routine trip to repair one of the helium-3 harvesters, Bell makes a puzzling discovery that kicks his paranoia into full-blown terror.

Moon is strikingly beautiful in its simplicity. The line between what is a digital environment and constructed set is almost unrecognizable – a perfect blend of practical and special effects that brings the desolation and emptiness of the lunar landscape to life. Few images are as striking as a silent, steady pan of a lone rover ambling across the moon’s cratered and pocked surface.

And few performances in recent history are as striking and thoughtful as Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of Bell. Moon was specifically written as a vehicle for Rockwell, and he drives it with the precision of a battle-hardened fighter pilot under heavy fire. Rockwell’s scenes with GERTY are charming, and Spacey’s voice seems made for GERTY’s mechanical interface. It is cold, detached, comforting, empathetic and yet powerful and omnipotent.

Moon is a return to the hard-edged, stirring science fiction films of the late ’70s and early ’80s. It is a film that is filled with emotional gravitas – a study in what it means to be human and the importance of contact with others. Moon is one of the best films of 2009, and expect to see Rockwell up for an Oscar nomination for his role as Sam Bell.

Stirring, thought-provoking, visually stimulating. Moon is all of these things. It is a masterfully crafted film that shows incredible promise for newcomer Duncan Jones. While Moon doesn’t bring many original concepts to the table, it succeeds in pointing back to landmark films of the genre – 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien – films that exposed us to the stark, infinite emptiness of space and the cold, cruel realities of a life away from Earth.

The Hurt Locker
You’ll Know When You’re In It

A robotic rover treads over rocky terrain. The mechanized scavenger scans the land with several on-board cameras as the intense heat beats down on the rocky terrain. At first glimpse, one might mistake this scene as something out of a science fiction film. The reality of the matter is, the desert landscape isn’t Mars but Iraq, and the roving surveyor is not Wall-E but a bomb-disarming military tool.

This is the opening of Director Kathryn Bigelow’s film, The Hurt Locker. Set in 2004, the film follows a U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit stationed in Iraq. Jeremy Renner (28 Weeks Later) plays Staff Sergeant William James, leader of this suicidal brigade of bomb disarmers. Under his command is Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), each with their own interesting and unique outlooks on the job.

Bigelow succeeds in creating an intense, accurate portrayal of the American Soldier. Every unfamiliar face is a potential enemy and every object could be a deadly bomb in disguise. The film is intense and gripping while allowing for a healthy dose of character development to make us feel part of the experience. As James and his squad defuse car bombs and hidden explosives, we are right there with them – sweating and praying to God that they cut the right wire. If only it were that easy. This isn’t Mission: Impossible – this is the real deal, and things aren’t as simple as choosing the red wire or the green wire.

The Hurt Locker has been a pleasant surprise in an underwhelming summer bloated with hype and unrealized potential. The film is chock full with brilliant performances, with Jeremy Renner stealing the show as the multi-dimensional wild man William James. Don’t be surprised if you see some familiar faces, as The Hurt Locker boasts an impressive roster of cameos including Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, Evangeline Lilly and David Morse.

In the burgeoning subgenre of Iraq War films, The Hurt Locker is a near-perfect example of how to take a dead horse and breathe new life into it. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is Jeremy Renner’s breakout role. I loved him in 28 Weeks Later and this is only further proof that the guy has serious chops. If you have a chance to check out The Hurt Locker in theaters, don’t miss out. It’s one of the best films of this summer and worthy of your time and money.

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Author: Adam Frazier
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