The Hurt Locker, Seen Sunday Afternoon June 28, 2009 at the AMC Loews Lincoln Sq., Aud. #5 (Valencia), 3.5 slithy toads
Moon is a science fiction movie for people who've never seen a science fiction movie (if you are in that category, add half or whole toad) by somebody who's seen either too many or too few. Its best feature is an excellent performance by Sam Rockwell, an actor with a very long and very varied filmography from Ninja Turtles to Galaxy Quest to Frost Nixon. He plays a worker on a lunar industrial basis, where he's alone save for the companionship of a HAL-like robot named Gertie, voiced by Kevin Spacey. His job is to keep an eye on things and occasionally go out, retrieve full containers of mined moon rock, and send them on their way to Earth. His direct contact with Earth is limited to the occasional exchanged video message.
It's hard to discuss the movie without giving away its big secret, and that's kind of the problem. The big secret is kind of obvious to anyone with extensive experience in the genre.
I found Gertie's actions hard to accept. The robot has conflicting orders, and I'm not sure he'd take the side he does in interpreting them.
It is nice to see a real and serious science fiction movie getting some serious attention. And in fairness, other people on the JABberwocky team liked it more than I. I didn't regret seeing it, but as I said at the top, it just felt too much to me like good sf for people who don't know sf, haven't kept up on their Analog subscription.
I was back at at the Lincoln Square the next week for The Hurt Locker, which is getting some excellent reviews and deserves them. It's very good, it's opening in more theatres on July 10, and I would recommend it highly.
It is an "Iraq" movie, but one of the reasons people say it's the best Iraq movie yet is because it's more a straight war movie that doesn't have much to say or much care in the world for the politics of the war in Iraq. In fact, the essential concept of Hurt Locker is not much different from a series called Danger: UXB that ran on Masterpiece Theater some 30 years ago. Filmed in the UK, this series was about a British bombs expert in WWII who, each week, defused a different unexploded bomb. I gave the series a try and then gave up. You can only watch so many times as somebody stares at a bomb trying to figure out how to turn off the trigger.
So put the clock forward 30 years one way, 60 years the other, and we have Hurt Locker. Jeremy Renner plays a US Army bomb expert who comes in midway thru tour of duty for a unit to replace a casualty of war. He's very good at what he does, and he's also very cocky. This doesn't sit entirely well with the other people in the unit.
So if I couldn't take many episodes of Danger UXB, why would I recommend this?
For one, we need to watch for only 2 hours instead of coming back for an hour week after week after week. This gives time for a handful of major set-pieces.
The direction by Kathryn Bigelow is excellent. The major set pieces are taut, masterfully directed, well-composed, well-edited, just good filmmaking in every way. A lot of praise has been given for the ability to follow the scenes, to know where the bomb is in relationship to the actors, and where the actors are in relationship to one another. I won't argue. It's very much the difference between a great storyteller in comic book art (Dan Spiegel, let's say) and the guy who knows how to do flashy superheros but has no idea of how to tell a story.
There isn't a lot of contemporary frisson to watching Danger UXB 35 years after WWII. There's a lot more to watching a movie set in the Iraq war that is still going on.
The performances are all aces. Who the heck is Jeremy Renner? He supposedly got this role in large part on the basis of playing Jeffrey Dahmer several years ago. He inhabits his character absolutely. Everyone does. There are some other known actors like Guy Pearce, David Morse and Ralph Fiennes in smaller roles.
So why don't I go all the way to 4 toads?
It's all about Stop Loss, which was a movie that was much more directly about the Iraq war, which I felt was greviously underrated by critics suffering from Iraq fatigue after earlier over-praising too many "if you want to send a message call Western Union" movies about the war.
In its closing moments, The Hurt Locker takes us to the exact same place with our lead character as Stop Loss did. And I'll give the Locker the same # of Toads as I gave the Loss.
Both movies are worth seeing, Hurt Locker especially if you want some old war movie stuff dressed very nicely in modern Operation Iraqi Freedom garb, and Stop Loss if you want a movie that is solid contemporary instead of just an excellent contemporary veneer.
Is there any significance that two of the best modern war movies have women directors, Kathryn Bigelow here and Kimberly Peirce for Stop Loss.
Oh, and I've linked above to the bing.com search results for "want send message call western union" which are much much better than Google's. Google seems completely unaware that this might have something to do with the famous Samuel Goldwyn saying instead of wiring money to the brillig blogger. I'm not a big Microsoft fan, but in some brief experimental initial forays into the world of Bing, I'm kind of thinking Redmond might be giving Mountain View some good competition.