FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead
SCI-FI MOVIES have become increasingly indistinguishable from standard action movies, with their big bangs, superheroes and battles with hostile aliens or murderous machines. Moon, out July 3, comes from that tradition where space provides a wilderness setting for the exploration of the condition of man. Instead of special-effect whizz-bangs, it offers a quietly impressive and thought provoking story that, in its look and theme, pays homage to classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris.
Sam (great performance by Sam Rockwell) is coming to the end of a three-year contract mining Helium 3 – Earth’s new energy source – from a base on the dark side of the Moon with only a computer called GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) for company. He is desperately looking forward to returning home to see his wife and family, but with only days to go before his relief arrives, his reality starts unravelling. A mature debut feature from Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie), this is one of those films that really benefits from you knowing as little as possible about it before you see it. What I can say is that the story teases you with possibilities and plot turns as Sam is forced to confront himself in an increasingly eerie, existentialist way.
Moving closer to home, Waterlife, which tells the "epic" story of the Great Lakes, is a new documentary I’m planning on seeing (opens July 7). The 109-minute film is a poetic portrait of the Lakes, from the northern end of Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean, and the lives of some of the 35 million people that depend on the Lakes for their survival. The film, which won the Special Jury Prize for Canadian features at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto, profiles an Anishinabe medicine woman who walked 17,000 kilometres around the Lakes to sympathize with them. She also visits a village to investigate why most of the new babies born there are girls. Director Kevin McMahon spices the visuals with footage shot from the point of view of a bird, a fish and a water molecule. The soundtrack features an impressive line-up of artists, including Sam Roberts, Daniel Lanois, Phillip Glass, Brian Eno and a new song by The Tragically Hip. Gord Downie, leader of The Hip and a Lake Ontario Waterkeeper (www.waterkeeper.ca), also narrates.
The Hurt Locker, the first film from Point Break director Kathryn Bigelow in six years, is the latest in a line of war films set in Iraq. It catches the tensions and strains among the members of a bomb disposal unit as they search and disarm roadside explosives in Baghdad. Staff Sgt. James (Jeremy Renner) takes over as unit chief when his predecessor is blown up on the job. However, he quickly begins to lose the confidence of his team through his cavalier and reckless behaviour. Bigelow has been praised for her ability to convey the tension of a situation while scriptwriter Mark Boal draws on his own experiences of working as an embedded journalist within an army bomb disposal squad to imbue the film with a sense of realism. The film, out on July 10, is not an overtly political piece; it offers instead a portrait of what makes these men tick under extremely stressful and dangerous conditions.
The second Brazilian Film Festival takes place this month (July 8-12) at the Vancouver International Film Centre. The mini film fest brings together six animated shorts and eight feature-length films (four documentaries and four dramas) from Brazil. The festival is actually part of a touring fest that does a circuit of London, Miami, New York, Istanbul, Vancouver, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, Buenos Aires and Canudos (Bahia). It opens with Maurício Farias’ school-set, Rio de Janeiro-based drama Veronica. (More info at www.vifc.org)