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Review: Moon, The September Issue, Funny People and Aliens in the Attic

By October 4, 2009September 9th, 2010No Comments

Moon posterMoon looks like one of the coolest films of the year. Written and directed by David Bowie’s son Zowie (now known as Duncan Jones), starring the effortlessly interesting Sam Rockwell and featuring 2001-crossed-with-Alien production design and a trippy plot that seems to require all your attention, Moon was one of the hits of the Festival and is now back for a full cinema release.

Rockwell plays “Sam”, a solo miner supervising operations on the surface of the Moon. The company he works for is digging up a special mineral used to fuel the Earth’s fusion power stations. He’s at the end of a three year gig and starting to go a bit stir crazy. His only company is a Kevin Spacey-voiced service robot named GERTY – a cross between HAL 9000 and the cute drones from Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running. GERTY makes him tea, patches his wounds and pretty much does everything else around the place except go outside and actually fix machines.

The interstellar satellite uplink towers are damaged so no live communication is possible with anyone – not the bosses on Jupiter or the lovely wife and child on Earth. It’s all pretty fishy but Sam doesn’t start suspecting anything might be up until he blacks out and crashes on the way to a repair job. And when he wakes up, it’s like déjà vu all over again.

But for all its clever twists and turns, undeniably effective atmospherics (and moonscapes that look like they were rescued from that great tv show “Space 1999”), I have to give Moon a fail. Why? Because I simply didn’t buy the original premise and when you’re not on board at the beginning every extra twist just takes you further away from ‘getting it’.

I mean, if you were a massively successful mining company providing 70% of the world’s energy would you a) put the operation entirely in the hands of one lonely engineer and make him work for three years at a stretch, then construct an elaborate, risky and highly technically advanced scheme to keep him there or b) bite the bullet and get an HR department to properly recruit, train and protect your assets. But that wouldn’t make for riveting cinema, would it?

The September Issue posterTalking of workplace cinema, The September Issue is a very fine example of that particular genre. Based around the assembly of the enormous, season defining, September Vogue magazine, you don’t have to understand or appreciate couture to enjoy this film. The central character is Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief and figurehead for the whole Vogue philosophy. She’s canny, tough and surprisingly self-aware, but she isn’t the only interesting character in the film: down-to-earth former model Grace Coddington’s prodigious styling and art directing talents seem increasingly out of step with the pressure for celebrity-driven content and the film plays that conflict out nicely. And as you might expect for a film with aesthetics on its mind it is often ravishing to look at.

Funny People posterJudd Apatow’s Funny People deserves to be considered for a little while after the credits roll – longer than you would normally ponder a Hollywood comedy, say 20 minutes at least. The usual Apatow mix of coarse humour plus pockets of emotion goes a little further in the direction of the latter as Adam Sandler’s isolated stand-up comic turned movie star discovers he is going to die. As a way of re-connecting with the world he befriends a young comedian played by Seth Rogen. There are some nice moments in this film (and everyone involved is obviously trying to achieve something true among the penis and fart jokes) but there’s no justification whatsoever for a Hollywood comedy to be the same length as 2001. Indulgent but not worthless.

Aliens in the Attic posterI try and watch family films with a few kids around me so I can gauge the target market’s reactions along with my own. Aliens in the Attic took a while to connect with the younglings I shared the screening with (based on the number of unscheduled bathroom breaks) but had them pretty much onside by the end. Two families head to a remote house by a lake for 4th of July weekend. The kids discover a quartet of angry knee-high aliens hidden in the roof, an advance guard for an impending invasion and it’s up to our toothsome band of adaptable teens and pre-teens to save the planet. Sporadically amusing, but inoffensive, there’s a nice moment where the kids have to work out how to use a rotary dial telephone. Very cute.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 23 September, 2009.