Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sunshine (2007)

If you’ve been reading me for any length of time, you’ll have heard me rant about the dearth of decent science fiction film. There are lots of different kinds of science fiction novels; even television is doing okay. But how many movies are about people in extreme situations, rather than natural disasters or big aliens or nifty lasers? I still maintain that 28 Days Later is one of the best science fiction films of recent years, and luckily for me Danny Boyle is back with Sunshine.

It’s more “classically” science fiction, in the sense that I’m not going to get any arguments this time about whether it’s scifi or zombies. The plot is, in fact, almost absurdly simple: seven astronauts and scientists are traveling towards the sun with a payload that (the film remains cleverly vague about the details, which is always better than trying to blind us with lots of jargon) will reignite the dying star and temporarily relieve the permanent winter of the Earth. As always when you put humans in a small space with no chance of rescue, stuff happens. Bad stuff. There’s a failed mission from seven years ago! There’s a fire! There’s human error! And there’s a strange turn towards horror in the last act, which in my opinion was fairly unnecessary.

But that’s not really what you’re watching. What you’re watching is basically a feature-length exploration of Man’s timeless urge to look directly into the sun, despite certain destruction. Eyes abound here, from Cillian Murphy’s icy blues, to the psychologist’s shades surrounded by skin fried from his obsessive observation, to the round heat-shields of the ship itself, designed to stare constantly because blinking or looking away will spell death for the crew.

Of course there’s madness, and there’s a race against time. And it’s all artfully done, with a clear directorial hand. It’s not perfect, but it is impressive. Best of all, it’s thoughtful and entertaining without being obtuse, and the Transformers and War of the Worlds-style summer blockbuster has a viable alternative. Read more!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sicko (2007)

My biggest problem with Michael Moore Is that I agree with him. In principle. It is one thing to denounce the propaganda of the other side; a much more disagreeable task to have to decry the means being used to further the ends you support.

But perhaps this is where we should be especially vigilant, lest our efforts be put to use against us—are you listening, Mr. Moore?

I thought not.

Sicko is everything the anti-universal healthcare side could wish for. Over the years, Moore has only gotten more anecdotal and polemical with his films until we are faced with two hours of stories told by crying Americans and shiny, bouncy ex-pats taking advantage of their country of choice. It's not that I think he lied, necessary. You don't have to. But he doesn't tell the whole truth, either, or give sources or statistics. The issue of healthcare can stand the harsh light of reality. This is a murky, manipulative film that only provides ammunition against the very position it takes. And Moore's self-congratulatory "man of the people" shtick is wearing thin; cutting to your own reaction shot when an interviewee mentions "educated, confident" Americans, or running a boatload of 9/11 workers to Cuba to give that country some free publicity, is not clever.

This country needs health care reform, and making a film about it is commendable. But we already know it's an issue; what it needs now is a debate. With facts, comparisons, and valid (i.e. systematic and not anecdotal) evidence. How can you sit and listen to a man tell us that true democracy requires an informed populace and then refuse to offer anything approaching a balanced look at the issue? If you don't want us to be stupid, treat us like we're rational people and inform us. Because you're not convincing anyone smart enough to see the holes in your argument, and the people already on your side don't want to be seen next to you.

Read more!