“In the Loop” Directed by Armando Ianucci, starring James Gandolfini, Tom Hollander, Peter Capaldi and Gina McKee.

By Gaetana Caldwell-Smith

British TV Director Armando Ianucci‘s first full length film “In the Loop” is a fast-paced romp through the inner workings of the US and UK governments, a satirical farce on how these countries ended up invading Iraq. The dialogue is sophisticated, witty, and the repartee zips around like bullets so that you feel subtitles would’ve been useful, if they could keep up.

The film begins with a talk-show interview with the Assistant Prime Minister, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), who misspeaks when asked about a possible war in the Middle East. The result is a manic flurry of activity that has self-important government underlings flying back and forth from London to hurriedly scheduled meetings in the White House and the UN. We never see the prime minister or the US president. The characters embody the same back-biting, dog-eat-dog office politics as careerists face in the corporate world. Still, it appears they have no interest in how what they do affects the population much less the world.

There’s a meeting of the mysterious War Committee - - whose acronym sounds like a breakfast cereal or a software program. Foster thinks he’s invited only to learn that he is just “meat” in the room. James Gandolfini, a towering presence, plays an imposing but pacifistic General Miller, who runs into an old flame, Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy), at an exclusive Washington bash at a private home. Clark’s position is akin to an assistant to the assistant secretary of state. She will be remembered for two priceless scenes: one in which her teeth bleed and another sitting beside the General in a child’s bedroom, hunkered down over a toy Mattel-like calculator to come up with the number of troops who will live or die in the war.

Scots-born, thin, wiry, eagle-faced Peter Capaldi plays Malcolm Tucker the prime minister’s communications director, an antic spin-doctor whose favorite expletive is the F word or a derivative. He is brash and insulting, especially to Judy, his assistant (Gina Mckee), besides appearing to be everywhere at once. Floating around is a report for not going to war, written by Clark’s aide, Liza (Anna Chlumsky), for which Clark takes credit. Malcolm gets hold of it, cuts and pastes it on his laptop, kneeling at a low table in a UN hallway. He passes it off as a pro war authorization. An example of underlings running the White House is illustrated by a scene of a meeting set up for Tucker with the secretary of defense in the White House. He is pushed off to a small table in a alcove where he’s greeted by an assistant to the assistant secretary of defense, a lad who looks barely old enough to shave; his aide is a black guy who brings coffee. Then there’s the State Department’s assistant secretary for policy, Linton Barwick (David Rasche), who brushes Miller off like a piece of lint. He is an unctuous, mealy-mouth with a swept back coif, who, unlike Tucker, rather than swear, says, “S-star-star-t.”

Ianucci’s brilliant, hilarious film warrants a second viewing. There is a lot going on - - intrigues, liaisons, hook-ups among aides, toady groveling (a guy named Chad, who, in the end-credits - - which you must stay for- - has Clark ask him, “Are you hanging, Chad?”). This complex movie is difficult to follow and it appears that no one knows what’s going on, but blunders on as though they do. Which seems to be the whole point. Does anyone really know who orchestrated the run-up to the war or the actual reason for attacking Iraq?
By Gaetana Caldwell-Smith
“Moon,” a film directed by Duncan Jones, written by Jones from an original story, co-written by Nathan Parker, starring Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey.

I wanted to see the film “Moon” when it first came out, here in San Francisco, but within a couple of weeks it was nowhere to be found. In our local daily paper, “The SF Chronicle,” Mick LaSalle, the movie critic, didn’t exactly give it a BAD review, but said it was “boring” with a lot of shots of Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell in his space lab based on the Moon, talking to himself, his plants, or to GERTY, Sam’s robot. I had delayed seeing the film initially because of LaSalle’s review. But people kept telling me how great it was/ So today, after wavering between “Ponyo.” “Moon,” and “Inglourious Basterda,” I saw that “Moon” was playing at The Lumiere, an art house theatre that specializes in the strange and obscure, edgy film. So I ran out of my apartment and made it to the theatre just in time. Mick LaSalle was way off on this one.

“Moon” is a quiet, intelligent, thought-provoking, futuristic science fiction movie that doesn’t rely on over-the-top CGI animation complete with an overpowering John Williams score. And its premise is entirely believable. It is common knowledge that the so-called developed world, especially the US, wants to mine the Moon for its resources, soon, before it runs out of them here on Planet Earth. In the film, a corporation called Lunar Industries is mining an energy source on the Moon to replace the Earth’s rapidly depleting supply. “Moon” ’s conceit is that we need personnel to monitor the computerized operation, so all one has to do is sit in an air-locked outpost and oversee everything remotely. If something goes wrong, you don a space suit and helmet, climb in your monster, six-wheeled, giant Humvee, drive to the site and fix whatever’s wrong. We see long shots of the vehicle bumping along across moon rocks and dust, swerving around craters, as though the camera were hovering in space, with the blue planet Earth in the background.

When the film opens, Rockwell, as Sam Bell, has only two weeks remaining of his three year commitment. He receives live video messages from Lunar Industries, his wife (in anachronistic black and white), but he can no longer send messages as he discovers trying to contact his wife, and Lunar on details of his departure. We find out why later in the film. Sam’s digs boast an entertainment center, GERTY to prepare meals, provide company, even dry his hair. GERTY is represented as Smiley-face emoticons in various stylized expressions, in a small window in the apparatus. On his way to fix a problem, Sam’s truck is bombarded by a hail of rocks, which is most likely a hallucination, since there’s no gravity on the Moon. Startled, Sam crashes into a ditch. The screen goes black. Next, Sam is in the infirmary with GERTY ministering to him. Seems he’s been unconscious for a few days. All GERTY says is that he had an accident. The question of how he got to the infirmary is left dangling. After all, he’s the only human up there. It is answered when we meet Sam’s clone. Yes, clone. Lunar Industries needs men. Men, in industry as in wars, are expendable. Besides, they know things. Best to erase memory, or kill them, replace them with clones. Seems there’s a ready supply of Sam clones at hand.

The film is haunting, with beautiful moonscapes shot in a monochromatic palette by Gary Shaw. Director Jones and Cinematographer Shaw convey the ambiance of what it must be like out there in space. Clint Mansell’s original score, reminiscent of Brian Eno’s work, enhances this feeling.