This Summer in Cinema: Choice Reviews

As expected, Hollywood and independent film makers alike stuffed the summer season with a host of great flics. Hereís a sampling that covers a range of different genres and styles. Be sure to catch the end of the summer movie season!

Moon

By David Yontz, Voice Staff

Within the genre of science fiction and fantasy, movies often seem to fall into one of two categories: movies that call us to think, or movies that demand we stop thinking altogether, lest we be completely overwhelmed by the sheer stupidity of whatís happening on the screen (see ìTremors” ìI”, ìII”, ìIII” and ìIV”)., Fortunately, Duncan Jonesí ë95 directorial debut ìMoon” falls into the former category, and the result is an impressive first effort that lures the viewer into a suspenseful, original story that mixes an interesting sci-fi premise with profound philosophical musings.

Set in the future, the film takes place on a base located on the far side of the moon, where astronaut Sam Bell is preparing to finish a three-year contract with his Earth-based company, Lunar Industries. His mission is to gather Helium-3 compounds, and send them back to Earth to be used as a source of energy. During his lunar sojourn, Bellís only means of communication wit the inhabitants of Earth is by sending and receiving pre-recorded messages, and otherwise interacts solely with his onboard computer companion, GERTY. Jones thus sets the stage for a film that explores themes of isolation, self-identity and human dignity.

The result is a work that succeeds intellectually as well as visually. Indeed, despite working with a relatively meager budget of $5 million, Jones manages to craft a stunning recreation of the lunar surface, successfully capturing the dark, barren atmosphere of Bellís temporary home.

Though the visual strengths of the movie are not to be downplayed, they are indeed secondary to the filmís brilliant writing and acting. Because the vast majority of the movie focuses on one character, Sam Rockwell (who plays Sam Bell) is faced with a daunting task as an actor. However, with the aid of Jonesí directing and his own superb acting ability, Rockwell breathes life and ample emotion into a character that manages to capture the audienceís attention throughout the filmís hour and a half duration.

Though ìMoon” is of particular interest to Wooster students, due to Jones being a Wooster alumnus, it is a film I would urge any fan of science fiction or philosophy to see. The ideas explored in this film are in many ways as complex as outer space itself, yet strikingly universal to all humankind. Jones has thus established himself as a promising new face in the cinematic world, and I anticipate his work to come.

Check out next weekís issue for an exclusive Wooster Voice interview with Duncan Jones.

Inglourious Basterds

By Nina Takacs, Voice Staff

ìKill Bill” enthusiasts, rejoice! Quentin Tarantinoís latest film ìInglourious Basterds” will satisfy any movie goerís blood lust and then some. However, his love of graphic violence is only one of the many elements that make Quentin Tarantino an incredible filmmaker, and ìInglourious Basterds” his best film.

A cinema-phile and admitted film geek whose early years were spent self-educating in the themes of spaghetti westerns, film noir and 1970s exploitation flicks, Tarantino came to create movies that stole from the best, and worst, that Hollywood produced. Tarantino elegantly laced his movies with the detritus of pop culture, creating visceral, clever pastiches (ìPulp Fiction”, ìReservoir Dogs”) and, occasionally, delivering some palpable human emotion (ìJackie Brown”). ìInglourious Basterds” is both unique and familiar.

It maintains the episodic, fractured texture of previous Tarantino classics while turning the war epic film genre on its side. Set in France during World War II, the film tells the story of a squad of American Jews whose mission is simply this: ìKilliní Nazis”.

What makes this movie so much fun is the delicate mix of satirical, referential and admittedly self indulgent humor that makes watching Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) carve a swastika into a Naziís head a macabre knee-slapper.

What makes it even better is that despite the filmís humor, the stakes could not be higher. The filmís brilliant opening sequence, which introduces arguably the most menacing villain in film history (an astonishing performance by Christoph Waltz), has enough subtext and tension to give Harold Pinter goosebumps.

Who knew that drinking a glass of milk could be so terrifying? The film showcases an impeccable ensemble cast, including a hilarious cameo by Mike Myers and a surprising voice over by Samuel L. Jackson.

All in all, ìInglourious Basterds” is great fun. Itís a thrilling ride with spectacular visuals, superb acting and just the right amount of blood and guts; a combination thatís bound to make it a Tarantino classic, that might just be his masterpiece.

District 9

By Nathan Comstock, Voice Staff

The scene is all too familiar: an alien ship appears in the sky over a major metropolis. The media goes crazy as the human race waits with bated breath. Who are these creatures, and more importantly, what do they want with us?

Neil Blomkampís directoral debut takes this well-trod artistic ground and maneuvers it in an unexpected direction. In ìDistrict 9,” the alien ship doesnít open until the government flies up there and cuts into it. Inside they find malnourished, overcrowded ìprawns” ó insectoid creatures with no leadership and no apparent plan. And instead of New York or Washington D.C., the aliens come to Johannesburg, South Africa.

The majority of the movie is shot in documentary style, and picks up 20 years after the arrival of the aliens. They have been living in a Johannesburg slum (the titular District 9) and a multinational corporation has been contracted to move them to a new settlement. A camera crew follows the leader of this operation, a hapless and not especially intelligent middle-management type named Vickus Van de Merwe.

About halfway through the movie, the film seems to forget about the documentary style and starts being shot more like a traditional action movie, but the transition is seamless enough that itís not particularly disruptive. And the film doesnít lose its gritty, realistic feel ó despite the presence of Computer-generated aliens, Mechs and weapons that look like they came out of ìUnreal Tournament.”

The Prawns are the real stars of the film. Computer animation has come along way since the days of ìBabylon 5″ and ìTron,” but I have never seen a computer-generated character express the range of emotion that alien leader Christopher Johnson and his son communicate during the filmís climax.

The antiracist message seems a bit trite, but the film so artfully makes us first despise and then sympathize with the Prawns that it is nonetheless effective. Despite being upstaged by his digital costars, Sharlo Copleyís performance as the goofy-turned-heroic Vickus deserves some credit here.

The one major problem I had was that in a movie about racism set in South Africa, the only actual black Africans were portrayed as greedy arms-dealers who indulge in ritual cannibalism. Though the point was to show how horrible humans in general can be, (and there were plenty of horrible white people as well) it still felt like somewhat of a mixed message.

All in all, though, the film is excellent. It manages to be simultaneously an engaging sci-fi action flick and a possibly Oscar-worthy art film. The cinematography is beautiful, and aside from a slightly slow first half-hour, the pacing is excellent. I strongly recommend catching this film while itís still in theaters.

Away We Go

By Gillian Daniels, Voice Staff

If you have a hankering for a pregnancy comedy during a boring, homesick weekend this autumn, pass over ìJuno” and ìKnocked Up” at Blockbuster. ìAway We Go” came into theaters this summer with far less fanfare than the big studio comedies. At the end of September, it will be available on DVD.

Donít get me wrong; I enjoy Judd Apatowís 2007 comedy ìKnocked Up.” It humorously maneuvers Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl through courtship and into parenthood. Heigl is just a smart, beautiful person, however, with a man-child lunkhead for her boyfriend. Only one partner in the relationship is expected to mature and grow.

The idea of a pregnancy at the center of a relationship movie has again resurfaced in ìAway We Go,” where Burt Farlander (John Krasinski of ìThe Office”) and Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph) are both seen struggling toward maturity. The actors share both a cynical sense of humor and nervous optimism.

He may act a bit childish and her role may require some hen-pecked nagging, but they are human characters actively trying to make their relationship, and the road trip they take, work. The two are more or less sure they want a child, theyíre just not sure how to make a home for one.

When Burtís eccentric, yuppie parents head off on an unannounced trip for several years, the pair begin looking for a home where they can raise a kid with something resembling a family nearby. Krasinski and Rudolphís journey, relationship dynamic and the filmís eventual outcome feel organic and warm.

ìKnocked Up” attempted to chronicle an entire pregnancy; here, we see a few, difficult but funny weeks in the uprooted lives of Burt and bulging Verona.

Writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida wisely opted out of a wailing birth scene, thank god. The characters have to deal with strange encounters with people like a crazed, new age, hippie mom with a comical disdain of strollers (Maggie Gyllenhaal). ìI donít want to push my children away from me!”

ìAway We Go” finds humor in awkward human quirks and sex, but feels strangely less exploitive toward the characters than Judd Apatowís film. The conclusion lacks the punch line fullness of a big studio movie, but Rudolph and Krasinskiís decision is honest and sweet. The central concept of the film ó the literal search for not only a house, but a home ó is a far more specific and adult question than ìKnocked Up” managed to ask.

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