The latest from my film review blog, Cineplexus.The past few years have been jam packed with movies showcasing different perspectives on the Middle East, and on war in the Middle East specifically. Babel, Rendition, Grace is Gone…not too many of these movies have been gutbusters. I cannot, nor will I ever, subject myself to Delta Farce, so I can't speak to its comedic value. But British comedy In the Loop manages to offer an original, scathing take on Western government that is both hilarious and timely, even if its references to going to war in the Middle East refer largely to events that have long since passed.
The film focuses on a few mid-level figures in both the English and the American government, and is thus set in London and D.C. The role each government's minor players begin to take on ineach other's worlds builds until it has a major effect on world events. If that sounds pretty serious, that's the beauty of In the Loop. Throughout the film, serious events are unfolding at the hands of especially un-serious people. And the most threatening figures are also the most hilarious – two Scots who can't go more that a few seconds without swearing while screaming are in charge of the English government's public relations.
A constant barrage of accents, sycophants, sarcasm, and cultural-reference jokes keep what could be a dry political "thriller" a fresh, funny, and biting political comedy. Go see it at your local indie house ASAP if you're good with accents (Chicagoans, it's showing at the Landmark Century at least through this weekend). Otherwise, wait for the subtitled DVD so you won't miss a beat.
When I entered the theater last weekend, I knew nothing about Moon except that it starred Sam Rockwell and pretty much no one else. Having seen it, I'm reluctant now to provide any more information than that about the film, so as not to spoil the experience. Instead, I suppose I'll rely on cryptic, tantalizing hints that might entice you to find out what this film's all about. Yeah, that'll work.
Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell the only engineer/operator in a futuristic power plant on the moon that harvests energy and sends it back to Earth on a regular basis for power business Lunar. He's aided and kept company by GERTY, a super-smart talking main frame computer, eerily and masterfully voiced by Kevin Spacey. It's been 3 years alone on the moon for Sam, and it's about time for him to go home... that is, if his brain and body can make it a few weeks longer. This gets to be a trickier and trickier undertaking as the film progresses.
The most exciting thing about Moon is the way it sets up genre-familiar expectations and then thwarts them over and over again. This little trick manages to keep the film scary and suspenseful while the plot moves ever forward. Not bad for a freshman director! Duncan Jones, whom you may recognize as David Bowie's son, has created a unique and interesting movie that sticks with you for days as more of it's secrets unravel themselves in retrospect. It's enough to make me want to start counting the days, Sam Bell-style, until his next film debuts.
Raised, as so many of us were, on a rich movie diet of Disney's classic animated films, I am just now realizing how intensely frightening most of them tended to be at points. Sometimes, as with Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, or The Lion King, the terror comes somewhere in the middle. Then there's that select handful of films where the creepiness shows up right away – think of that eerie opening to Beauty and the Beast, or the sad horror of Finding Nemo and, of course Bambi.
I'm waxing philosophical about these super-dramatic moments less because of my own reaction to Up than that of the little boy who sat behind me in the theater. I'd been warned that the beginning of the film was very sad – boy was it – but the child behind me was definitely scared. About 10 minutes into the film, he whimpered in discomfort, reflecting the heartwrenching nature of what was unfolding onscreen in a way that only an innocent could – palpably feeling the unpleasantness without really understanding it. His mother, a wise filmgoer no doubt, informed him that the film hadn't really started yet. She was pretty much right.
The vast majority of Up is more delightful than heartwrenching (though there's some of that, and some more scary, along the way), but those first few sad,painful minutes were absolutely necessary to set up the motivation for the characters throughout. Such a decision – to maintain the integrity of the story even if it's difficult for much of the audience – not only pays off bigtime in Up, but it also reminds us of what these films can be when they're done with care and class. There may be an extra dimension involved, but Disney and Pixar have restored the dark, complex splendor of those animated classics we loved as children, and appreciate as adults.
Yeah, I know. You already decided. Either Transformers 2 sucks hard-core (the general critical consensus) or it kicks ass no matter what those cocky jerk critics say. So why am I even bothering to write a review of a movie that everyone already seems to have an opinion about, regardless of whether or not they've seen it?
Well, the news is good, if surprising: Transformers 2 is not that bad. While there are a handful of scenes that Michael Bay seems to have exploded all over, particularly during the film's marathon parade of endings, and some seriously annoying, Jar-Jar Binks-y Transformers who won't shut up, it also has genuinely exciting action sequences, really gorgeous visual and audio effects, and some pretty funny moments (as in, moments that are funny on purpose).
The lesson here seems to be all about expectations. Perhaps the first critics to see the film were able to approach it from a neutral perspective; it's possible that some were excited about the much-hyped film. More likely, they expected it to be awful, and were on their guard for anything reprehensible about the film, thus making all the jokes that fall flat, the ultra-short climactic fight, the annoying (but not, in my opinion, racist) robot twins, that much more heinous. Whether because of high hopes dashed or low hopes self-fulfilled, the storm of harsh reviews led me and my cohort in cinematic guilty-pleasure seeking, Mikey, to expect a truly awful movie.
What we got, however, was an okay movie, with some very thrilling highs in action, technology, and humor, and some chuckle-inducing lows in robot dialogue, slow-running to dramatic music, and…humor. And what more, honestly, should be expected of a film that states clearly at its outset that it's presented by Paramount and Hasbro?
For all the critical abuse the film's been taking, moviegoers don't seem to be too concerned about how potentially bad the film might be after all – in its first week, it's broken several records, including highest-grossing Wednesday opening, highest-grossing non-opening Thursday and Friday, and the second highest all-time 7-day gross.
So there you go. "Not that bad." And a box office smash at that. All movies should be so maligned.
Side note: I can't end this review without mentioning how truly floored I am, once again, by the sound design of this Transformers film. The score may be schmaltzy, but the sounds these robots make, especially while transforming, are mesmerizing and beautiful here, as they were in the first film. If you don't care about these things, I willingly accept your scorn. But you're missing out.