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Jul 29, 2009

Fletch's Film Review: Moon

Duncan Jones' Moon is no 2001-style film where man must battle a computer gone wild. Nor is it some, um, 2001-style film set to awe us with artistic pictures of space and space-age technology and architecture. Instead, it settles into a nice middle ground as an adult-oriented, psychological drama that just happens to be set on the surface of the moon.

Sam Rockwell stars as Sam Bell, an astronaut serving out the last days of a three-year contract at a lunar mining station. Earth's future inhabitants have discovered a way to harness and transport helium-3, a powerful energy source that enables earth to sustain life and provide energy in a much greener fashion. Bell's job is to maintain the station in the event of minor hiccups with the mining machinery and basically ensure that nothing breaks down. As you can imagine, though, living solo anywhere, much less on the earth's satellite some 240,000 miles away, is a recipe for a mental disaster.

But Jones, working on his first feature and adapting his own original story, zigs the film when you expect it to zag. By doing so, he takes what might have boring (essentially a one-man play) and makes it thoughtful and exciting - to say more would spoil it. All the more impressive is what he accomplished with a shoestring $5 million budget. Having a small cast helped (I can think of only seven actors that are seen or heard from in the entire film), and having the lead as a personal friend no doubt was a boon as well. To cut down on special effects, lunar surface shots were shot using miniatures. And the whole affair is guided by a Clint Mansell (The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream) score. Put it all together and you have a feat of budget filmmaking ("budget" is a relative term in Hollywood, where $5 million gets you maybe craft services and lighting on a typical film) that might be more impressive than Clerks was 15 years ago.

The biggest boon has to be Rockwell. My feelings on him have bounced all around over the years. I first got to know him in the charming 1996 indie Box of Moon Light, which starred Jon Turturro as a lost in middle-age husband and father and Rockwell as "The Kid," an eccentric who lived "off the grid" in a rural forest, stealing electricity to light up his mobile home. He was appealing as hell, and the charisma he showed left no doubt as to where his career was headed.

Over the next five or six years, he continued to be gainfully employed by the independent film scene in a growing capacity, going from supporting/ensemble player to lead until the the studios came calling, with Rockwell landing smaller jobs in The Green Mile and Galaxy Quest, and Charlie's Angels. But it wasn't until George Clooney cast him in 2002's Confessions of a Dangerous Mind that he truly broke, setting him up for future Hollywood stardom, from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to Joshua to Choke. Like many, he still mixes in an occasional indie, but with appearances in this summer's G-Force and next summer's Iron Man 2, he's cemented a place for himself with the big boys.

Over time, I went from pulling for him (especially in Box and Galaxy Quest, which he nearly stole from seasoned veterans such as Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, and Sigourney Weaver) to thinking he might be getting a bit too big for his britches (Matchstick Men, Choke). It didn't look like he was having fun anymore, and it didn't appear as though he was all that invested in the roles, merely doing his "Sam Rockwell" thing. Moon has brought me back to him. All pretense is gone. We see a vast array of emotions and vulnerabilities. And any time an actor can hold the screen by himself for 90 minutes and not grate on you at all? Proof that he and/or his director are doing something right.

If you're looking to see some sh*t blown up, avoid Moon. But if you're looking for the elusive "cool indie movie of the summer" (which I don't know if we've have the past few years), this just might be it. Seek it out.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"It's in the hole!"

P.S. - I can't believe I didn't manage a way to mention what might have been my favorite part of the movie - GERTY the computer. Voiced by Kevin Spacey, GERTY is a HAL-like computer that assists Sam in running the station and acts as the chief source of interaction for him. The best part, though? GERTY has a 6 by 6 square inch screen on the front of him that features a single animated image of a smiley face (like you might seen in any number of text messages or emails you receive in a given day). As Sam's emotion changes, so does the smiley that GERTY displays. Such a small, subtle touch, but it cracked me up.

15 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: Moon"

Ténèbres à la lumière... said...

Bonjour! Fletch,
Oh! I really like it when you feature film(s) with the Moon on the poster(s)...because they look great on my widget.

By the way, I really "hate" the fact that you, are familiar with (MDWS).

While "lurking" I did check out your post vacation "Election"
post...that was very interesting.
Merci, for sharing!
DeeDee ;-D

Ryan McNeil said...

Great piece!

Co-worker of mine asked what movie she should go to last weekend, and given the amount of good stuff I've read about this movie, I recommended it blind.

She loved it - guess I can pick 'em huh?

Think I'm finally gonna get my chance to see it this weekend.

Fletch said...

Bonjour, DeeDee. Glad I could be of serivce to your widget.

What's MDWS?

And thanks for the kinds words about the Election post. It was fun 'acting' it out.

Hatter - you have good taste, so of course you can pick 'em. By the way, isn't it kind of frustrating talking movies with co-workers? I find it depressing usually. By and large, they have awful taste. Of course none had even heard of Moon, as they're too busy being excited about GI Joe or The Proposal or whatever. Ugh.

Nick said...

Is it just me, or does "Glad I could be of serious to your widget" sound really dirty?

Fletch said...

Hey - I said "service," I just spelled it wrong. The dangers of typing while zzleepy strike yet again...

Nick said...

Ack, I typo'd, too. I didn't even catch your typo, actually, Fletch (the brain just needs the first and last letters in place... the other letters can be all jumbled, you know). I meant "service." But that wasn't a jab at your typo :P .

Daniel said...

Yeah I actually liked the little emoticon thing, too, and thank you for mentioning Mansell's score (few people have and I think it's one of the best pieces of the movie).

I'd be happy to watch this again even if its themes didn't blow my hair back the first time through. I has lucky enough to see Jones in a Q & A afterward and my biggest impression leaving it, which I think you nail here, is just how much he did with so little. It does make me pretty excited for his next movie, Mute.

Ryan McNeil said...

@ Fletch... I try to refrain from talking movies with the co-workers that have bad taste (ie "Hey Hatter - yesterday I found THE SCORPION KING on dvd for $5...isn't that awesome?).

I actually have a small handful that come to me for reccomendations...and actually go for them. One woman thanked me for suggesting SYNECDOCHE, NY. Said it was such a weird flick, but she never would have known about it had she not talked to me.

Then there's that receptionist who tried to me about the virtues of TWILIGHT...she's a lost cause...

whitney said...

I saw this one at Sundance and loved it. It's not the best or most thought provoking sci-fi I've ever seen, but there are so few good, thought provoking sci-fi films, that you want to hold onto this one and squeeze it for all its got. Plus, they quoted me in the trailer. :)

Fletch said...

Hatter - luckily, I have a coworker like that, too. She might be pre-dispositioned to 'bad' movies, but she really doesn't see many, and has asked for advice on many occasions. In fact, I've been lending her a couple DVDs at a time for awhile now, getting her caught up with some of my favorites, at least. It's a start. :) Life as a movie snob is grand, ain't it?

Whitney - eek! I never noticed that. Supercongratulations! That's very cool.

Farzan said...

Great review Fletch, I'm dieing to see this film. Everyone I know that has seen it, say its one of the years best. I mostly have enjoyed Sam Rockwell's performances over the years. Hes appeared in a variety of movies ranging in different genres. Its nice to see him delivering another solid performance in Moon.

Reel Whore said...

Spanky write-up. It's sad that $5 million constitutes a shoestring budget nowadays. I really hope Moon sticks around for months to come. That way I can see it again when I grow tired of all the same ol same in theaters.

RIPE Creative said...

Something that wasn't mentioned in your review that I really liked about the movie was the issue of "corporate responsibility"... or lack thereof.

Fletch said...

Farzan - thank you! I have no doubt that with its decent performance that Moon will make its way to you soon enough.

RW - Sad indeed. Hell, $40 million makes for a small budget these days. It wasn't all that long ago that that much on box office made you a sleeper hit...

RIPE - true - I didn't much mention the corporate themes at play in Moon. They are strong, but I think that the events that unfold in the movie are unlikely to happen on the real world, at least for a long while after we're all dead and gone.

Zach Murphy said...

Great review of a great film.

Also, feel free to check out my newly started independent film review blog.