'Moon' takes a stark, sci-fi journey

If you are a serious sci-fi fan, meaning a devotee of those edgy precursors of the current CGI saturated films, then "Moon" is a must see. It's spare, even stark, with only three actors, one being a mellow, if occasionally ominous computer named Gerty (Kevin Spacey), closely resembling HAL 9000 from "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Moon is set in an unspecified future when corporations are mining the moon's soil for Helium 3, which produces a limitless, clean energy. Lunar Industries has an automated mining operation requiring only one engineer, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), who monitors the machinery and make adjustments and repairs. Sam is married, one child, Eve, and a lovely wife, Tess (Dominque McElligott). He hasn't seen his family for three years and has only been able to communicate with them via tape (no live transmission due to a broken satellite). His contract with LI is ending within three weeks; he will soon be returning to Earth. Or so he believes.

While on a routine reconnaissance in the lunar rover, Sam has an accident and only remembers waking up in the infirmary at the station. It's at this point that the audience has to suspend its disbelief and accept a premise that may seem a bit of a stretch. For the hard-core sci-fi folks, this will not be a problem. For others, well, consider that the film has thus far been interesting if not compelling: an exploration of loneliness, of life led for weeks and months in isolation, interacting only with Gerty, the subtext being the realization that space is so vast that those who would travel across its unimaginable distances, or take up residence on distant moons or planets, must be prepared for a wrenching separation from all that is known and familiar, beginning with Earth.

To discuss what occurs in act two and three of "Moon" would mean revealing far too much of the film's essential surprise. For some, the cul-de-sac that the narrative wanders into is workable; for others it will be unsatisfying and ultimately seem unfinished.


There is a profound sadness that shrouds "Bruno" from its graphic beginning to its venal, pathetic conclusion, a sadness created by the glaring contrast between good filmmaking and this train wreck of a movie.

The spectrum of films made over the last 75 years is, of course, wide. Some have eloquently captured, with beauty and grace, the human condition, telling an honest and revealing story ("Citizen Kane," "The Best Years of Our Lives," "Rear Window," "Midnight Cowboy," "The Shawshank Redemption"); others have been wonderfully comedic, lighthearted, even farcical ("The Graduate," "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Annie Hall," "The Birdcage," "Moonstruck'); and, yes, there are those films that mirror our darkest instincts and fears ("Schindler's List," "Taxi Driver," "On the Waterfront," "Chinatown," "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "Psycho"). And not to forget the countless documentaries that enlighten and educate, while expanding our horizons ("March of the Penguins," "Man on Wire," "The Fog of War," "Mad Hot Ballroom," "Sicko")

True, more than a few films have attained a studied mediocrity, aimed no higher than the easy cliché or the superficial tale. But in the main, most films offer a world into which audiences can lose themselves, willingly, and feel if not enlightened or profoundly moved, then entertained. A darkened theater becomes a sanctuary, a place apart, where the outside world falls away. For all of its flaws, its inanity and gratuitousness, film is a delightful and transcendent medium. Or it can be.

And then there are the likes of Sacha Baron Cohen and his latest porn-lite feature, "Bruno."

Call it a mockumentary. Call it a minstrel show in which Cohen, aka Bruno, instead of wearing black face wears bright yellow lederhosen, exaggerating those stereotypical, tired, trite gay characteristics that have evolved over decades. Or call it a movie that is predicated on the assumption that the abiding homophobia, which still cripples our society, can be disguised as humor.

Cohen has long, mistaken outrageousness and blatancy for comedy. As a filmmaker, he is a bottom-feeder who exploits and manipulates those who unwittingly (or so we're led to believe) appear in his crude, unoriginal "Candid Camera" setups as he does the moviegoer. In one scene, the camera closely pans an audience of wrestling fans, somewhere in the South, perhaps Texas, while Cohen whips them into a homophobic frenzy, chanting how good it is to be straight, while resurrecting his fixation with the anus. He then abruptly reverses and proceeds to soul-kiss his sidekick, who is in the wrestling cage with him, slowly working his way down his chest as the camera, in a series of tight shots, records the shock and horror and building rage of the fans. There is a rip-tide of anti-gay, ready-to-lynch anger surging through the mob all of which is profoundly unsettling. What other minority group would Cohen so casually objectify and denigrate with such focused gusto?

True, he tries to be equally insulting to a cross-section of people: blacks, show business parents, ministers, each crass, belittling vignette serving only to demonstrate the vacuity of the writing.

In a moment of generosity, some critics have referred to Cohen's work as guerilla comedy. There is nothing clever or funny or guerilla about "Bruno." Everyone who sees this movie, if truth be told, should feel like showering — they've been slimed by this lowest-common-denominator moviemaker who is lazy and crude and uninterested in doing more than selling pop-porn off the back of his snake-oil wagon and calling it entertainment. And with an R rating (how this is not an NC-17 movie begs a hundred questions).

Of course, Cohen is laughing all the way to the bank.

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