Moon (2009)

June 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

Not to be confused with New Moon (or The Twilight Saga: New Moon), somewhat irritatingly released in the same year, Moon is a low budget but remarkably well made science-fiction film directed and co-written by Duncan Jones.

The premise is quite simple: one lonely, slightly disturbed man (Sam Rockwell, in a great performance) is the sole employee stationed on the moon, key to supplying the earth with most of its power, even as he begins to hallucinate and finally runs into someone else who may or may not be there. There’s no way to explain more without ruining the film, but it’s safe to say solid direction, interesting ideas, a great score and central performance keep it from playing out like an overly long Twilight Zone episode, so that a simple story justifies the  97 minutes. Between the strange, magnetic images director Jones conjures for the hallucination scenes and the music by Clint Mansell, there are some captivating moments — and that’s only the beginning of this intelligent film.

The style does borrow from films like Outland (1981) and 2001 (1968), but if the end result is something original, who cares? Moon is worth the trip, and even manages to look impressive despite a budget of five million dollars.

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Death Rides a Horse (1967) and Shalako (1968)

June 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

So intense-looking he played intimidating characters even as an elderly actor, Lee Van Cleef is among my favourite actors in the Western genre. He has small parts in impressive Westerns like High Noon (1952) with Gary Cooper, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, and The Tin Star (1957) with Henry Fonda and Anthony Perkins. Finally, he had much larger roles in most of the Sergio Leone trilogy with Clint Eastwood, appearing in For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good the Bad and the Ugly (1966). As far as I’m aware Death Rides a Horse is among the few Westerns with him as the hero, so I was a little dismayed when it began with a long, unclear shot of rain and horses and opening credits that looked as though a college student had done them. But the film finds its way, and while a little slow it’s an extremely satisfying Western, if a little typical of the spaghetti Western revenge story. With a score by Ennio Morricone, this one deserves a better quality release on DVD.

Shalako stars Sean Connery, having turned down Bond for the first time, and apparently interested to do a Western as a fan of the genre. The film is interesting for the cast — Brigitte Bardot, Stephen Boyd as a villain, and Connery is reunited with his costar Honor Blackman from Goldfinger (1964), certainly one of the better Bond films ever made. Unfortunately, Shalako doesn’t ever really feel like it gets off the ground. The plot concerns an aristocratic hunting party that couldn’t care less they’re on an Apache reservation. When they’re brought clear proof the Apache are upset but prove too pompous and stupid to simply ride off the reservation before daybreak, the viewer begins to wonder why Shalako (Connery) helps them at all, except for the vaguely implied suggestion you’re supposed to help your own ethnic group, no matter what. Most of the dialogue involves characters grumbling at each other, and most of the action involves characters shooting wildly at each other across long distances. Sadly, Shalako is a passable Western and not the film it should have been considering the cast.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

June 18, 2009 § Leave a comment

Spencer Tracy received an Oscar nomination for this short, eighty minute, fairly slow and quiet film where he plays John J. Macreedy, arriving by train to a small town where the train hasn’t stopped in four years — a small town with something to hide. “What do you want?” is among the first things said to him at the station.

It’s the sort of town that would have maybe been a frontier town once, but the frontier has been conquered and now there’s a lot of sitting around to do.  Without much happening, the arrival of a stranger causes a stir.  It’s almost as though there are casual chases in the film, with characters sauntering around, sizing each other up.  Despite taking place a few months after the close of the Second World War, the film has elements of a Western. The sheriff and doctor seem like they have the potential to be decent men, but they share the same secret as the rest of the town, and having been “consumed by apathy,” they’re reduced to meek conformity unless Macreedy can prod them into action. The town is run by Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) and his muscle comes in the form of two men, played by Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine. Between very few action sequences, the pressure begins to build again, with the Tracy character given lines like “You’re not only wrong, you’re wrong at the top of your voice.” In fact, there’s quite a bit of good dialogue here, as well as impressive direction and a striking, if slightly overdone score.

I wouldn’t want to give away the end of the film, or too much more about it, except to say it’s a pleasure to watch such a carefully made film that takes its time saying what it wants to say, including subtle statements about the evils of conformity versus the dangers involved with active indivduality. Tracy is remarkable at playing a character that seems the personification of calm and intelligence.

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