Archive for the Sci-fi Category

Rockwell Makes “Moon” Shine

Posted in Drama, Sci-fi with tags , , , , on March 29, 2010 by ericstraus

When reading the plot summary of “Moon,” one can’t help but think there will be a lot in common with the Stanley Kubrick epic “2001.”  But aside from a few very general similarities, “Moon” shines on its own as a psychological drama, with touches of humor and a brilliant performance by Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Choke), who not only stars, but also co-stars…more on that in a minute.

We learn through future newsreel footage that an enormous supply of energy is being harvested from below the moon’s surface, and then shuttled to Earth in the form of a space pod.  Giant machines mine the moon rocks, gathering the dormant solar energy and then sending them off to Earth where the energy can be extracted.  Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an engineer who is sent to work on the moon for a 3-year contract job, making sure the mining equipment runs smoothly, and fixing problems as they arise.  We join Sam two weeks away from his 3-year term being up.  His scraggly beard, long hair and conversations with plants tell us it’s been a long 3 years.  Sam runs on a treadmill to stay in shape; the only communication he gets is through video messages – apparently the mechanism that allows live video feeds has been broken (or so Sam is made to believe) for some time.  We learn through the video messages that Sam left his wife and very young daughter back home while he headed to the moon, and it’s obvious Sam can’t wait to see them again.

The only companion Sam has is GERTY, the computer that makes everything on the moon base function.  Kevin Spacey provides GERTY’s voice in his calm, relaxing tone; the only clues we are given to GERTY’s “emotions” are happy face images on his display screen – he’s either smiling, frowning, shedding a tear, or has an expression of conflict.  But unlike “Hal” in “2001,” which GERTY will undoubtedly be compared with, GERTY has a pure desire to help his human companion – GERTY is more likely to do the right thing than what he’s programmed to do, which is an interesting take on the computers vs. humanity conflict…based on “2001,” we expect GERTY at some point to attempt to control Sam…but GERTY is not what we expect.

Things get a bit strange when Sam begins hallucinating – he sees an image of a teenage girl in the kitchen; he sees his own image reaching toward him from under his bed covers, and he sees the same girl on the lunar surface as he’s driving a rover of sorts to check out a malfunctioning machine.  This vision causes him to crash his rover, knocking him unconscious.

Sam then awakens in the infirmary of the moon base, under GERTY’s watchful care…and the mystery begins to unfold as to how he got there.  He convinces GERTY to let him leave the base – Sam goes to where he crashed his rover, looks inside, and finds his own body still inside.

The mystery plays out quite enjoyably for the viewing audience, and as I mentioned earlier, Rockwell becomes his own co-star as there are now two Sams trying to uncover the truth about what’s happened to them.  There is some funny dialogue between them, and Rockwell does an incredible job playing both parts, as they each begin to take on different personalities.  Director Duncan Jones does a truly convincing job in conveying the desolation of the moon, and Sam’s isolation.  The story is quite good, and the mystery that unravels is fairly original and engaging.  It’s unfortunate that Rockwell was not nominated for an Oscar, as his performance drives the film and makes it quite an enjoyable experience.

Final Grade for Moon:  B+

Welcome to My Movie Blog!

Posted in Action, Oscar-nominated, Sci-fi with tags , , on March 4, 2010 by ericstraus

Apparently my blogging knows no bounds, as this is now the 4th blog I have (though I’m only a contributor to one of them).  But I love movies, and I see a lot of them, and I need an outlet for my opinions, so here we are.  You can learn more by clicking the “What’s All This Then?” link on the upper right.

For my inaugural post, I will re-post my review of Avatar that first appeared on my general blog a few weeks ago…after all, there might be one person on the planet who hasn’t seen the film and will be enlightened and informed by my insight…or not.  But moving forward, I will try and review each film as I see them, probably 2 or 3 times a week.  Enjoy.

Dances With Avatars

I took advantage of the MLK holiday and went to see the film that everyone’s talking about, Avatar. I had not planned on seeing this in the theater (I rarely see any film in the theater), but having not heard one person I know say anything bad about the movie, I thought I’d give it a go. And it was…pretty good.

The plot is completely unoriginal and derivative. It’s Dances With Wolves meets the Matrix, with a little Lord of the Rings thrown in. For the few who aren’t aware of the story, it’s an extremely familiar tale of how the Earth’s resources have been consumed by the evil human race, so they have to strong-arm peaceful societies into giving up what they need. In this case, the planet Pandora is the humans’ target, as below its surface lies an immense deposit of a rare and powerful element. This element is so rare, you might say it’s almost unobtainable. Its name?  Unobtainium. I am not frickin’ joking.  I would have loved to have been in the writers’ room for that discussion:

“Ok , we need a name for the rare and powerful element in the film.”
“How about hard-to-find-ium?”
“No, what about tough-to-get-ium?”
“No, that won’t work either.  It seems an answer to our problem is almost unobtainable.  Hey, I got it!”

Good gravy.  Anyway, there have been some skirmishes with the indigenous Pandorans known as the Na’vi (Navajo, anyone?), who for some reason don’t like the guns and bulldozers and bullying the humans have brought to their planet.  So the humans come up with a way to infiltrate the Na’vi and try to gain their trust – the Avatar program.  A human climbs into a makeshift tanning bed, and neurally connects with a Na’vi body, created by combining that human’s DNA with Navi DNA.  Then the human can control the Na’vi body while his human body rests comfortably elsewhere.  If you think this sounds a lot like the Matrix, I’d agree, even though in the Matrix the human mind connected to another body via a computer program, and in Avatar the human mind connects to a real body, but still.  In fact, it’s so much like the Matrix that this movie barely even tries to explain the Avatar program.  Back to the writers’ room:

“Ok, we need to explain the Avatar program in the script.”
“Well, it’s pretty much like the Matrix, right?  And everyone saw that, so maybe we don’t need to explain it at all.”
“Right, everyone will know how the Avatar program works because they saw the Matrix.  Good idea, that’ll save us some time!”

I’m probably not far off.  Anyway, the film then becomes Dances With Wolves, in that the protagonist, who initially believed what the humans were doing was right, becomes an Avatar and becomes enamored with the Na’vi, falls in love with one of them, wins the trust of the head warrior Na’vi guy, and eventually leads them to victory.  Substitute Na’vi with Native Americans, and it’s pretty much Kevin Costner vs. the bad white people.  The Na’vi have a very natural, spiritual connection to their planet and all the animals, insert stereotypical Native American trait here, etc.

But what is most talked about, and the only reason to see the film, are the visual effects.  CGI technology just gets better and better, and it is used to its utmost brilliance in this film.  Majestic, colorful landscapes, mountains that float in the sky with waterfalls that cascade into the atmosphere, rainbow-colored dinosaur-like creatures of immense size…Pandora is truly beautiful.  There are good action sequences and explosions, scenes of flying through forests and down sheer rock faces, and at night the planet turns into a giant blacklight poster – flourescent colors everywhere.

The film does not drag on – the 2 1/2 hours are well utilized.  But the characters are pretty cookie-cutter, from the bad-ass military commander who has no compassion or mercy, to the greedy corporate dweeb who puts profit ahead of morality, to Sigourney Weaver as the compassionate scientist.  She probably got a text from James Cameron that went something like:
“Hey Sigourney, how about if you reprise your role as Diane Fossey from “Gorillas in the Mist,” except this time you’ll be researching and caring for aliens?”
Personally I like my Sigourney setting fire to alien eggs and blasting big alien “bitch”es out of space airlocks, but that’s just me.

In the end, despite the criticisms above, I enjoyed the film on its own, mainly for the stunning visuals and the tolerable storyline.  I saw it in 3D, but it didn’t really add much to the film.  So if you’re one of the few who have not seen it yet and you find yourself needing to kill 2 1/2 hours and $10 or so, it’s worth a viewing…or if you have a big screen TV and surround sound at home and can wait a few months for the DVD, that would be fine too.

Final grade for Avatar: B-