Archive for Moon

Playing games with the faces

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2011 by dcairns

I was sort-of tolerant, but not particularly generous towards Duncan Jones’ MOON — I felt the plot and science didn’t quite hang together and the film’s slavish devotion to the 2001 design aesthetic promoted cuteness over originality. But then two things happened, neither of which should influence my feelings about Jones’ latest, SOURCE CODE, but who knows, maybe they do.

(1) I saw Jones tearfully accept a BAFTA, and his emotion wasn’t the typical award-winners’ schmaltz or the feedback of a well-stroked ego going into overdrive, but a sincere reaction to, as he put it, the realisation that he’d found what he wanted to do with his life. There are limits to even my curmudgeonliness, and I warmed to him.

(2) Belated discovery that some of the crazy and implausible-sounding science in MOON is actually authentic. I could be difficult, and say the film’s job was to convince me, rather than relying on me recognizing the truth when I see it, but again, there are limits.

Like MOON, with its 2001 and BLADE RUNNER borrowings, SOURCE CODE wears its influences not so much on its sleeve as dangling round its neck, on top of its head, and winking like neon signs everywhere else, but the plot logic hangs together at least a bit better — there are unanswered questions, but they seem like fertile brain-nourishment rather than nagging chasms.

You know the story? That nice boy Jake Gyllenhaal awakens without memory on a train and finds he’s got somebody else’s face and ID, and then the train blows up. It turns out that a secret military program has devised the means to project his consciousness into the short-term memory of a passenger who died in this terrorist attack. The memory is only eight minutes long, so he has that much time to identify the bomber and prevent a subsequent, far more large-scale atrocity. Philip K Dick has finally and fully conquered Hollywood.

(Interesting that the plot turns on a dirty nuke, that media bugbear we were all supposed to be scared of a few years back. The script even contains the line “Do you have any idea how many people would die?” to which the answer, I believe, is “None” — the initial blast might take out a few, but the probability is that evacuation could take place before the radiation did any serious harm to anyone else. Still, Chicago would be uninhabitable for a while, and SOURCE CODE makes Chicago look very attractive, so that would be a shame.)

This gimmick allows the movie to mimic some of the patterns of game-playing — if you die, you just go back in and start again from shortly before you snuffed it. It’s the big factor separating games from real life: the permanent second chance. Interestingly, and necessarily, SOURCE CODE uses the idea to make things worse for the hero, not better — he’s trapped in a purgatorial scenario where he must re-live a traumatic event over and over again. The fact that he’s ex-military adds an undertone of post-traumatic stress disorder to the whole sisyphean situ.

The movie nods to TV show Quantum Leap with an audio guest-spot by that show’s star, Scott Bakula (Yay! Scott Bakula!), and there’s also the spectre of DEJA VU haunting the movie. You may get deja vu for DEJA VU. But while Tony Scott slathered his trademark “look” all over the Denzel Washington vehicle, with the aid of the Bruckheimer millions, he also messed with the plot, infusing it with his trademark stupidity. SOURCE CODE is defiantly smart, and has a heart.

(DEJA VU is still a more enjoyable movie than you might expect. One amusing attribute is that the time travel process depicted is extremely expensive — when you realise that Jerry Bruckheimer is attracted to stories in which vast sums of money are spent at the flick of a switch, you learn something about his reason for being. Each of his movies amounts to flashing his wad, showing off how much money he can afford to flush, basically waving his wallet in the faces of the people who buy tickets and enable him to live in a giant oxygen bubble scented with the fumes of burning banknotes. Each of his movie is a flickbook made from thousand-dollar bills.)

Unlike DEJA VU, this isn’t time travel, or looking through goggles at another time (a kind of reverse clairvoyance), but “time reassignment” — nothing Gyllenhaal does within the “source code” virtual universe sprung from a dead man’s memories is supposed to have any real-world effect — so the people on the train are all doomed. Or are they? Well, Hollywood doesn’t like its heroes powerless, so something will have to be done about that rule. I’m not 100% certain the film’s ending makes complete logical sense, but it doesn’t fall apart in your hands the way MOON’s did for me — instead I found it pleasingly bendy, open to different interpretations and, as Fiona remarked with terrific enthusiasm, genuinely quantum.

Festival Fizzle

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2009 by dcairns


Edinburgh. Photo by Chris B.

Essentially a limp rag, I contemplate the end of this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival largely from outside. I head that Johanna Waegner, a student from my film department at Edinburgh College of Art, has won the Scottish Short Documentary Award supported by Baillie Gifford, for her film PETER IN RADIOLAND, which is excellent news. The last day of the event is also The Best of the Fest, which translates into “what prints do we still have knocking about that we can show again?” But sometimes these films really ARE among the best, so don’t think I’m knocking any.

I’m feeling a bit silly because I slagged off the science in MOON, and it turns out there really IS something called Helium3 which you use for fusion power, and it’s to be found on the moon in great abundance. We could potentially power civilisation for thousands of years, cleanly, if we could harness it. I do slightly blame the filmmakers for inspiring my disbelief with the line “the energy of the sun, harvested from the dark side of the moon,” which does seem rather counter-intuitive. Helium3 is created by the impact of the sun’s rays on the lunar surface, so the dark side isn’t where I’d go look for it. I suspect that the director, who is the artist formerly known as Zowie Bowie, just wanted to have the phrase “dark side of the moon” in his film.

Weather was outstanding, in a weird way, throughout the fest. Intermittent showers were nuked by brilliant sunshine that had me slapping the old factor 30 0nto my pallid Scottish skin. The heat became so intense even festival director Hannah McGill bared her legs, as beautifully slender and white as noodles. Then a fog descended with a thump, making the city look like a glass that had been breathed on.

Shadowplayer and filmmaker Paul Duane passed through town, very briefly, and we touched base over chili at the Filmhouse. Paul told me an excellent ALIEN story which I must remember to pass on to you.

5106_562076749371_284001094_3678668_6856870_nThe back of my neck gets to meet Roger Corman, who signs my copy of How I Made A Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, one of the finest movie-making books ever committed to paper. Unfortunately, in an understandable hurry (he’s 83) he signs it “Pen Emm”. Still, it was extremely gracious of him to do that much, and I’ll now treasure my first edition even more.

Corman’s tribute ended with a screening of the explosive BLOODY MAMA. It had been rumoured that the festival heads hadn’t realised Corman had been here before, with the same film, in 1970, but on this occasion a brochure from the 1970 show was produced, along with two tickets, and presented to the Great Man.


Interviewed Joe Dante the same day, which was an utter pleasure, and will be editing our conversation down this week to produce a consumable literary good out of it. Shadowplayer Chris B was houseguest for the week, and he snapped me and Joe together, smiling blurredly.

Attendance was UP this year.

Went back and saw PONTYPOOL a second time, enjoying Bruce MacDonald’s Q&A, the audience’s extremely vocal enthusiasm, and Fiona’s pleasure at the film, which I’d avoided telling her anything about (except, “It’s not Welsh. It’s Canadian.)

After that, we grabbed a cab with filmmakers Jamie and Talli and Johanna and managed to gain access to the closing party, held in a huge abandoned church. Had time for one drink and some quality mingling before being ushered out onto the street, where a man kept falling over. I’m no expert, but drink may have been involved. It’s generally best if I don’t stay long at these kind of things, since the concept of free drink appeals to two aspects of my Scots makeup, the thrift and the alcoholism. I remember one party in Portobello Funfair which degenerated into a FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS trip-out sequence, ending in myself being adopted by a tribe of fire eaters. At one point I found myself arm-wrestling a man covered in gold paint. It’s quite an experience to arm wrestle someone without actually touching them (we were at opposite ends of a five-foot table), but it made for a vivid memory.

Today the only films really calling to me are CRYING WITH LAUGHTER because I know and like the people involved, and GIALLO, because Argento is Argento, even if he’s not really anymore. But I have quite a bit of life to catch up on so I don’t know if I’ll make it. By the time I post this, today will be yesterday anyway…


Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2009 by dcairns

MOON, directed by first-timer Duncan Jones from Nathan Parker’s screenplay based on Jones’s story, is a sci-fi thriller which is too slow to be thrilling and not slow enough to be 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Which it would very much like to be:


Not only have they stolen designer Tony Masters’ hexagonal corridor from 2001, they’ve stolen the font seen everywhere in the Discovery spacecraft. It’s all over MOON, and it strikes me as a terrible miscalculation. I’m all for the odd little homage, but you should never forcibly remind the audience of a better film that the one they’re watching.

Continuing with the minuses, we have Kevin Spacey quite literally phoning in his performance as the HAL-9000-like computer, GERTY-3000. We have a ludicrous reason to be on the moon in the first place: a fusion plant consisting of sorta combine harvester things that somehow extract “the sun’s energy” from the dark side of the moon and can it up as “Helium-3” to send back to Earth. I imagine everybody on Earth speaking in a squeaky voice.

This slightly impractical solution to global warming comes by way of producer Trudie Styler, the eco-warrier famed for her tendency to fly everywhere by private jet — she must have a carbon footprint the size of Kitten Kong. If you’re capable of believing your lifestyle is doing more harm than good, you’re probably capable of believing in Helium-3.


Derivative design aside, MOON looks handsome on a deceptively low budget, and if you can overlook questions like “Why does a one-man lunar base come equipped with an entire fleet of moon-buggies?” then the plot is fairly compelling and unusual. And if you’re going to do a movie where basically one actor is onscreen the whole time, this film makes a good case for that actor being Sam Rockwell. What a charming fellow.

Now, since the character/s  Sam plays is/are called Sam Bell (to say more would be unfair), you might be forgiven for thinking “Sam (Rockw)ell… Sam (B)ell… I  bet they tailored the part for him.” But I don’t believe this is the case. I think probably the character name called the actor to mind and they had the good sense to grab him. Here’s how I think the character was named in the first place ~

In 2001 Keir Dullea plays the hero, Dave Bowman.

The soul duo Sam & Dave creates a clear word association between the name “Dave” and the name “Sam.”

The London-centric expression “born within the sound of Bow bells” gives us the word “Bow” next to the word “bells.”

This explanation is so ingenious and intricate, I don’t believe the filmmakers consciously devised it. But I think that’s where the name came from nevertheless.