Welcome to “Another Movie Guy?”! I normally review recent new releases, and then mention similar movies worth checking out. This is a special week – on Friday three of my most anticipated titles released on the same day. So instead of a normal column, this one is heavy on the new releases, and light on the recommendations.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAGpmNb2xfQ
If you have seen the trailers for Bruno, you know exactly what to expect. Sacha Baron Cohen is a fearless comedian, and his over-the-top characters provide interesting insight into American prejudice. As with Borat, there are moments of hilarity, disgust, shock, outrage, fear, and male nudity. Sure, I laughed and appreciated Cohen’s nervy risks, but Bruno does not feel like necessary viewing. Moreover, the plot (if it can be called that) is more threadbare than Borat’s. Without a story on which an audience can latch, it’s difficult to feel sympathy for the gay Austrian TV star. Another difference is in Cohen’s methodology. Borat is awful, yes, but he’s also strangely innocent. He does not always deliberately provoke, and has a wider breadth of attack. As Bruno, Cohen wants people to hate his character, and his provocations are even a little sinister. His inappropriate behavior elicits an appropriate response, particularly with the more high-profile victims. The funniest scenes are the most visually shocking, specifically because of Cohen’s audacity. Other moments, such as Bruno’s hunting trip, disappointingly go for the most obvious joke. While I applaud Cohen’s bold risks, his latest experiment only sometimes works.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIexG8179K8
Unlike most sci-fi directors (I’m looking at you Michael Bay), Duncan Jones does not think you are an idiot. He understands a fun movie does not necessarily appeal to your basest sensibility. He expects you probingly ponder his new movie, Moon, which contains sinister ideas, and rewards careful attention. Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an engineer who is nearly finished his solitary three-year stint on a lunar space station. He receives regular messages from his wife and boss. His only companion is GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), a robot who is like a cross between HAL-9000 and a vending machine crane. After seeing Moon, I debated whether to include a minor spoiler, one that other reviews freely disclose. Ultimately, I decided to keep things spoiler free, as I can discuss the movie’s merit without revealing any secrets. Let’s just say that after so much time alone, Sam experiences an identity crisis.
Rockwell is astonishing. As Sam, he goes through nearly every conceivable emotion, often in the same instant. The production design is plausibly austere – Jones owes a lot to Kubrick and Tarkovsky. Other influences are less obvious. Yes, GERTY bears a similarity to HAL, and with his logical fallacies, he is also reminiscent of Asimov’s robots. The special effects never distract from the story, and are sometimes quietly impressive. Clint Mansell’s haunting score is his best work since Requiem for a Dream. All these elements enrich the movie’s substantial ideas on the soul, memory, human nature, and loss. I’ve heard complaints that Moon’s ending is too hasty, even abrupt. I respectfully disagree – Jones wisely restrains himself, forcing your own conclusions. His movie is brainy fun, something you don’t find too much nowadays.
Unlike most action directors (still looking at you, Michael Bay), Kathryn Bigelow does not think you are an idiot. She knows suspense requires patience, and that the explosion is not as exciting as the moments immediately preceding it. She knows you’re more thrilled when the characters are three dimensional. With her latest effort, The Hurt Locker, Bigelow has you by the throat for two astonishing hours. Set in 2004 Baghdad, she sees the city as a crumbling war zone, where danger is omnipresent. Bigelow focuses on two bomb-diffusers with radically different methods. Sargent Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is skilled and by the book. His superior, Staff Sargent James (Jeremy Renner), thrives on danger, and will take extreme risks to get the job done. The movie opens with a simple statement: “War is a drug.” Much to the chagrin of Sanborn, James demonstrates that fact as they undertake mission after mission.
Bigelow eschews a traditional plot. Using an episodic structure, she follows the last days of the soldiers’ tour. The daily missions become deadly, and Bigelow directs these set pieces with uncanny precision. She gives you a sense of space, and where the soldiers are in relation to their enemy; when a deadly third element is introduced, the suspense becomes almost unbearable. One sequence in particular, in which James and Sanborn meet British special forces, is absolutely perfect, and is the best action scene I’ve seen in years. Like the entire movie, it ends on a note that’s abrupt but appropriate, so that you have few answers and many questions. War becomes like a drug for the audience – I found myself craving action in a way similar to James. Mackie and Renner do superlative work. James does not love the bombs he diffuses, but they provide him with a sense of purpose. He approaches the bombs with an odd combination of respect and curiosity. And when James takes off his protective suit, Sanborn sees the reckless behavior and nonetheless reacts like a professional. I read that in filming The Hurt Locker, Bigelow took an unconventional approach. She and her associates financed the movie themselves, and sold the rights after a premier on the festival circuit. I’m grateful she took such a risk. This is an uncompromising action movie, and you should see it ASAP.
If you’re interested in exploring Bieglow’s other work, I recommend Strange Days, Near Dark, and Point Break. Yes, Keanu Reeves is ridiculous, but you’d be surprised to see that his movie still holds up.
Ok, that’s it for this week’s special “Another Movie Guy?”! Tune in next week when Zooey Deschanel dumps me.