Thursday, July 30, 2009

Moon Over Frozen River

Caught Duncan Jones' Moon last week, and today saw Courtney Hunt's Frozen River. Two fine, low budget, low-key films about ordinary hard-working people caught up in strong moral dilemmas and forming unlikely partnerships, both realistic and unsentimental, but steeped in the kind of deeply felt human values that are missing from many bigger and noisier and hollower films.

In Moon, Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a mining technician confronted by a mystery -- a neat variation on a perennial SF theme -- that undermines his sense of identity and grip on reality. Its tropes echo classic 1970s films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running; its twists are expertly handled; Rockwell's portrayal of Sam, by turns assertive and exhausted, is affecting and assured. Frozen River is set firmly in the here and now, on the border between New York State and Canada. Melissa Leo (Detective Sergeant Kay Howard in the TV series Homicide: Life on the Street) plays mother-of-two Ray Eddy, who gets mixed up in cross-border people smuggling after her husband, a gambling addict, takes off with cash saved to buy a new trailer home. The script and direction by Courtney Hunt is tight and precise and merciless; Leo is terrific as a woman trying to hold everything together as her situation grows increasingly desperate and dangerous; Misty Upham is also terrific as her Mohawk partner-in-crime. I really liked both these films. Catch 'em if you can.

Also seen: Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. But even though it was reviewed after its Cannes showing, I'm embargoed from commenting on it until the week of its release. I had to sign a release to that effect at the screening, and a promise is a promise. What happens if I break it is unclear, but, you know, I can't be bothered to find out.


Anonymous Al R said...

I just got back from seeing Moon in Cardiff - enjoyed it tremendously. Aside from the excellence of the story, would it be too much of a stretch to call it the first SF film - certainly the first in decades - that actually works on the level of hard SF? Granted, they fudged some minor issues - no sense of lunar gravity in the moonbase, no appreciable timelag in the call to Earth, sounds in vacuum (necessary, I think, to convey the size and power of the mining machines) - but apart from that, it all seemed to slot together so logically, from the mechanics of the mining operation, the robot (brilliantly clever in the way the arms were entirely separate from the main body), the mass driver...

Sunshine didn't quite hit the mark for me, but I'd definitely put this one up there with the best of the intelligent SF of the early seventies.

July 30, 2009 7:14 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Director Duncan Jones used models rather than CGI, which adds to that vintage chunky feel. And got the charcoal look of the moon's surface pretty much right, too. And while we're praising its many excellent qualities, I should mention Clint Mansell's atmospheric score. There was one tiny bit of bouncy moonwalking (at exactly the right place), but otherwise, yeah, it fudged low gravity - but so did 2001.

July 31, 2009 5:13 pm  
Anonymous Al R said...

...although, for all I know, maybe if you're not encumbered by an Apollo moon suit, walking around in a moonbase in lunar gravity wouldn't look that weird.

Loved the model work, too - real Gerry Anderson stuff, right down to the typography on the machines and the inside of the base.

July 31, 2009 6:50 pm  
Blogger Gary Gibson, science fiction writer said...

I really wanted to see Moon, but then I read a blog by Nancy Kress where she gave it a really rough time and put me off it. It's at Now everyone else is saying nice things about it. Now I can't make up my mind (felt a bit burned by Star Trek, which was horrible). Argh!

August 04, 2009 5:59 pm  

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