Posts Tagged ‘moon’

Yeah, I know — I thought I was done with all these “found footage” horror flicks, too, but something about the trailers for first-time director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego’s Apollo 18 piqued my curiosity back when they began making the rounds last spring (this movie has been bounced around by the Weinstein Company an awful lot on the release schedule — first it was slated for last April, then it was moved waaaaaayyyy back to January of 2012, and then about a month ago it was announced it was being moved forward for a Labor Day weekend dump-off — suffice to say it’s not a film they’ve ever apparently felt all that confident in and just didn’t seem to know quite what the hell to do with, but it’s been in the can for some time now just waiting for an unobtrusive time to be quietly let out to die a quick death), and now here it is.

I suppose, really, there was nowhere else the whole “hand-held horror” subgenre could go except to the moon at this point, given that everything else has already been done a few times over, but even so it’s sort of an ingenious enough little set-up, and that, combined with my bizarre fascination with every single lunar conspiracy from the mundane (did we really go or not?) to the truly exotic (Alternative 3 — and by the way, Apollo 18 owes more than just a bit to original the British Alternative 3 TV hoax (or was it?) program), had me in line (a short one, I admit) to see this on opening day.

The premise here is pretty simple — there was actually a secret 18th Apollo mission to the moon that was never revealed to the public, it was, as usual, manned by three astronauts (played by Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, and Ryan Robbins, who all do the square-jawed, all-American-guy thing pretty well, it must be said) that was so hush-hush that not even their families were told where they were going, and the NASA brass didn’t bother to inform them of why they were going until they got there. One guy seems to know a bit more than the others, but even he turns out to be in the dark about most of the mission specifics, and it isn’t until they discover an apparently-abandoned Soviet landing probe on the outskirts of a giant crater that they start to have a hello of a strong suspicion that there’s a very dark reason their superiors have kept the truth from them — and that they’re probably not expected to come back from this mission alive.

And that’s one of the film’s real weak points — it’s pretty obvious from the word go that all three of these poor sons of bitches are dead meat. The other big flaw is that the ending sequence is sort of flat and doesn’t really generate as much tension as earlier segments in the film. But apart from that —

For a modestly-budgeted ($5 million) film with no recognizable stars, no “name” talent behind the camera (apart from veteran editor Patrick Lussier, who took a turn in the director’s chair for the well-done My Bloody Valentine 3D and does a great job here) and little to no studio support behind it, Apollo 18 actually has a lot going for it up until the final 10 or 15 minutes. For one thing, the tension is thick enough to cut with a knife in many critical scenes (I saw this flick with my brother, who isn’t a horror fan by any stretch of the imagination, and he literally jumped out of his seat on a few occasions); the script is logically consistent and provides plausible explanations for why the mission was secret, why these guys recorded everything, why it’s edited together in quasi-cinematic fashion, and how the footage came to be made public (through the auspices of a fictitious moon conspiracy site called lunartruth.com); the lunar sets look strikingly convincing (for those who have suggested on various forums and the like that it looks “fake” I suggest they take a look at the actual lunar footage and tell me which looks more like it was shot on a studio soundstage); and the acting is well beyond what we’ve got any right to expect in a film of this type, easily several notches above the performances in Cloverfield , The Blair Witch Project, or either (until October, that is)  of the Paranormal Activity films. So for a release that the Weinsteins are trying to sneak out through the back door, there’s actually plenty here that they don’t have to hang their heads about at all.

But yeah. The rather lackluster conclusion that fails to even deliver on the lower-than-low expectations you have given that you already know there’s literally only one way the whole thing is going to be wrapped up. And that’s a  real bummer because, as I said, up until then this is a movie that has a lot more going for it than we probably have any right to expect. Oh well. If they’d bothered to splurge for a new ending sequence that delivered on some of the movie’s promise in those long months it was sitting on the shelf, they’d probably have an unassuming little winner on their hands here — as it is, what they’ve got is something of a wasted opportunity, all things considered. On future low-key winter Saturday late afternoons/early evenings when you notice this thing is on basic cable somewhere, Apollo 18 won’t be the worst way to spend 90 minutes of your life. For now, though, it’s probably not worth dropping $5-10 bucks on to see at the theater.

"Moon" Movie Poster

"Moon" Movie Poster

First, the good news : at some unspecified future date, the world’s energy problems are finally solved. Now, the bad news : in order to get the mysterious substance known as “helium 3” to power earth’s now-abundant fusion plants, we need to mine it from moon rocks, leading to long, lonely stretches of isolation for the astronaut-miners who plunder the far side of our satellite for precious minerals. I imagine the gig must pay well, but three-year stints alone on the moon with only a clunky faceless service robot for company? No thanks.

Such is the position Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell of “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” among other fine performances) finds himself in at the beginning of “Moon,” a brilliant metaphysical science fiction film that marks the debut feature from British writer-director Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son). Absolute isolation with only his trusty metal buddy Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey) to talk to. Things take a turn for the well and truly unexpected, though, when Sam wakes up from crashing his rover-type vehicle in his tiny base’s infirmary only to be confronted by a slightly younger and less-haggard looking version of —himself.

From the beginning, “Moon” confounds expectation. My first thought was that we were headed for another evil computer story, a la the HAL subplot from “2001” (mostly down to Spacey’s initial creepiness of Spacey’s delivery—but hey, he’s a robot, shouldn’t he sound—well—robotic?), but in truth what we’ve got here is an intense exploration of isolation, the meaning of memory, and an exploration of what it means to truly be human that can probably only be compared in terms of theme and style to Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” (we won’t even go near Steven Soderbergh’s horrendous 2002 remake of that classic because I could drone on for ages about what an absolute bastardization of everything good and decent in this universe that waste of celluloid represents).  It’s only a skin-deep comparison, though, as “Moon” really does stake out a thematic territory all its own and, like the heavy-duty lunar equipment central to its premise ( done entirely with models, by the way, as is the base itself—no CGI here, thank the heavens—all of which give the proceedings a vaguely “Space:1999” feel that is, I’m sorry to use the term, way cool) mines it for all it’s worth.

“Moon” is a tricky flick to review because you literally can’t talk about anything after the crash without giving away major plot points, so, in the interest of actually hoping to get anyone who might be reading this to see it, I’ll refrain. I will, however, offer a caveat or two—

If you don’t like Sam Rockwell, you won’t like this film. He’s essentially the only character, even though there’s more than one of him. He gives an incredibly diverse and affecting performance that should be worthy of Oscar consideration, and to say he carries the film would be a massive understatement. He IS the film, and in the hands of a lesser actor we’d be in serious disaster territory here. It’s one of the finest performances of recent years, but if you’re not a fan of Rockwell’s you NEED to skip this movie.

Along those same lines, if metaphysical studies of the human condition aren’t your thing, “Moon” won’t be, either. It’s a deeply introspective work and a provocative meditation on just what it is that constitutes the very notion of humanity itself. If you’re in the mood for mindless summer fun, again, give this a pass.

But if you want to be challenged about what the concept of existence itself can actually be defined as, then “Moon” is a movie you owe it to yourself to see. It’s intensely atmospheric, true, but there is genuine substance underneath it all, much more than we’ve, sadly, become accustomed to of late. “Moon” is a film that makes you think, and then think again. It poses key questions about our nature as people and doesn’t dispense easy answers. It’s provocative without being preachy, and invites philosophical queries of genuine depth without being self-indulgent or resorting to navel-gazing. It’s a very-near-perfectly-constructed character piece that presents complex material in a naturally-flowing and entirely unforced manner.

And I can’t leave any discussion, one-sided as it may be, about the film without saying “three cheers for nepotism!” Jones proves himself to be a truly able director in his own right, but what are the odds of something this singularly character-driven, and without a truly “bankable” star in the lead role, getting made if he’s the son of a janitor instead of a music legend? I’m betting zero. So here’s to those who were impressed enough by the director’s pedigree to green-light his project. And here’s to Jones for not wasting his opportunity by giving us another self-involved, unbearably pretentious “arthouse” flick and instead making a film that isn’t afraid to take its audience on a journey inside without providing a trail of breadcrumbs to lead them back out. “Moon” isn’t afraid to ask probing questions, but it leaves the answers up to you to determine. As such, it’s a true rarity in modern filmmaking—a movie that will mean something different to each individual viewer.