Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Reel Review: HIGHER GROUND




Prior to her role as a police-psychologist in THE DEPARTED, Vera Farmiga was a relative unknown. It was only after the Oscar hoopla when everyone started asking, who’s that girl, and discovering that she had a decent body of work over the past eight years. In her directorial debut, HIGHER GROUND, Vera takes her talent to a new level, and is clearly not afraid to tackle a most serious and often controversial subject; faith and religion.

Growing up in the Bible belt, young Corinne seeks to learn outside of the near-forced religion, and becomes increasingly frustrated by banned books at the library. Growing into young adulthood, she narrowly escapes a bus accident with her husband and child, and thus begins a strong faith-based life. Now an adult with several children, Corinne (Vera) and her husband Ethan (Joshua Leonard) find their marriage and world on the rocks when Corinne loses faith after her best friend falls seriously ill.

HIGHER GROUND tells the tale of a tightly wound spiritual community who gets thrown a curveball when one of their own begins to question her faith. It is also Corinne’s story as she struggles with her world. Her faith comes and goes throughout her life, and when she begins to look outside of the dogmatic routines her family and friends are in, she discovers the things that she and her children have been missing out on; simple things like art and literature. Her transition and journey are very compelling and interesting to watch.

But make no mistake; this is not an anti-religion film as much as it is a personal journey story; centering on the choices that we make. It preaches without really preaching.

Vera’s direction includes a lot of brilliant allegory, along with a very good sense of fleshing out the supporting characters that Corinne is surrounded by. This community does everything by the (good) book; constantly preaching, quoting verses, and singing songs. They are a community that will either save your soul or drive you nuts. Vera knows exactly how to treat these characters; letting them create the world Corinne struggles with.

Vera manages to be just as talented in front of the camera just as she is behind it. Her struggles often go without any spoken dialogue, and her strong facial expressions give away her internal struggles. She also manages to get great performances out of the child-actors; pulled off only the way a mom can.

What is really unique about HIGHER GROUND is that it raises a great deal of questions, but doesn’t bother to answer them. While that may frustrate some viewers, the flip side to that is Vera is not a director who pretends to have all the answers. That is a rarity these days.

BOTTOM LINE: See it

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Reel Education: GHOSTBUSTERS Back on the Big Screen




Columbia has announced that GHOSTBUSTERS will be returning to the big-screen next month. For three Thursdays beginning October 13th, the original film will be shown in 500 theatres across the country.

On the surface, this seems like a great thing; introducing the film to a new generation while possibly drumming up interest in the long-stalled GHOSTBUSTERS 3. The long-time fans will likely come out in hordes, and Ray Parker Jr. will be back on the map.

However, the press releases do not mention exactly how the film will be presented; Digital? Film? Should that matter? You bet your Stay-Pufts it does.

Columbia has three options in distributing the film:

1. Original 35mm Print: Believe it or not, most theatres in the U.S. are still projecting their films in the old, yet tried-and-true 35mm film format. If this be case, then this chic may be toast. Film is great, but it is not durable. Assuming Columbia will not order new prints to be pressed (approx. $2500 per print), they would be shipping original prints out to the theatres. These prints, which will now be 27 years old, would likely be marred by scratches, dirt, and other defects. Even if the prints get cleaned, it is likely that they would suffer from faded colors; making for a very unremarkable picture. And this blogger cringes at how it would sound.

2. Digital 1K Projection: If you have attended a “live” event at your local movie theatre, that show was likely projected on a 1K digital projector (1K meaning 1280 pixels of resolution). These projectors are capable of running standard DVD’s and other digital video formats. This would be better looking and sounding than a thrashed 27 year-old piece of film, but a 1K picture projected on a big screen would make for a very grainy picture.

3. Digital 2K or 4K Projection: The absolute top of the pyramid in all movie projection. 2K displays at 2048 pixels of resolution, and the newer 4K at 4096. These bad-boys display with outstanding picture and sound, and can also project (glorious) Blu-Ray without losing any quality. This new piece of tech has allowed theatres to re-run decades-old films in all of their visual glory.

So why should all this crap matter? If a proud Dad is taking his kids to the theatre to introduce them to Slimer and Venkman for the first time, he should not have that experience ruined by a shitty picture and even shittier sound. Every movie-goer should be seeking a perfect presentation every time out. If you’re excited to see GHOSTBUSTERS, or any other re-issue in the theatre again, that’s great. Just find out what you are seeing before shelling out the green.

And make sure it’s not being shown in (goddamn) 3D.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Reel Review: MONEYBALL



MONEYBALL will without a doubt go down in history as one of the most unique sports films ever made. It spends very little time on the playing field, and does most of its business behind-the-scenes; following not the players but the General Managers, owners and scouts as they wheel and deal players like used cars as they try to build a winning team. Despite the heavy baseball jargon, it is still remarkably entertaining and engaging. It is reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s WALL STREET; no matter how unfamiliar the viewer may be to the thick baseball lingo, they will still know when drama is upon them.

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is the General Manager of the Oakland A’s; a cash-strapped team who just had three of their best players leave for greener pastures. Becoming frustrated with the traditional methods of acquiring new players, Beane recruits Peter (Jonah Hill), a number-crunching genius who analyzes and picks players according to obscure statistics. Beane’s new strategy brings players to his team that no one wants (an island of misfit toys), and draws the ire of the A’s fans and strict defiance from his Manager Art Howe (Phillip Seymour-Hoffman).

MONEYBALL spends a lot of time deconstructing the game. The bulk of the film is spent in the meeting rooms and offices, exposing the mindsets and strategies that go towards building professional ballclubs. It may seem boring on the surface (a sports movie that spends all of its time in an office?), but good drama is to be found here. Also keeping things running is Billy Beane’s personal story. Beane, who was once a bright prospect as a player out of high school, is driven to succeed as a General Manager to make up for his failures in his past. It works, and his backstory is smartly weaved into the main narrative by way of smart flashbacks that parallel his current predicaments. It makes for a great story of redemption.

Director Bennett Miller gets outstanding performances from all involved. Pitt slides comfortably into the role as if he was the man himself. Hill, who has made a career out of making stupid movies, also excels and proves that he has more to offer than comedic crap. Seymour-Hoffman’s role is a small one, but he still manages to steal nearly every scene he’s in. There are a couple of confrontations between Seymour-Hoffman and Pitt that are acting gems.

Somewhat-based on a true story, MONEYBALL is smartly edited with archival TV footage that gives it a docu-drama feel. It keeps up its uniqueness by not having a Big Game or Final Showdown that typical Hollywood sports films tend to cling to. What makes it really work is that a fondness or even basic understanding of the game is needed to enjoy this.

BOTTOM LINE: See it

Thursday, September 22, 2011

STAR WARS: Why I won't give into hate

This is the most personal blog ever on Reel Speak. For the first time, the curtain is being drawn back. This one is from the heart.



This just might do nobody any good…

George Lucas has taken it on the bearded chin for many years now. People hate him for making alterations and edits on his original trilogy of films. They despise him for decisions he made in the prequel trilogy. They curse his name for taking advantage of creative license, and most recently, Blu-Ray technology.

I, this blogger, has never given in to the hate. I have been called a Lucas-apologist, a fanboy; someone who enables him to get away with whatever he wants.

Whatever. But for the sake of getting the Bantha off my chest, let this blog explain why I took that path. Let this blog educate about me. After all, education is a mission of Reel Speak.



See that kid in the above picture? That’s me. The Kid. That’s The Kid who still lives in this grumpy and withdrawn 38 year old man. The Kid lives on because of STAR WARS.

The Kid was introduced to STAR WARS in 1977 by way of a preview on TV. It was viewed on Mom and Dad’s puny piece-of-shit black-and-white TV with an antenna the size of a hula-hoop. You had to smack it 20 times to get a decent picture.

Despite the low-definition visuals and sound, I was hooked, and I was fascinated by Darth Vader. Vader was my hero. I may have been his first fan. I remember sitting in the theatre at the end of the film when Vader was defeated and went tumbling off into space. Everyone in the theatre cheered.
I pouted.

From that day on, my childhood was nothing but STAR WARS. My imagination had been ignited. A blanket over my shoulders was Vader’s cape. Dad’s flashlight was a lightsaber. My grandparent’s basement-staircase was the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. The action figures, the vehicles, the read-along record albums and Halloween costumes came in droves. My younger brother and cousins shared in the fun of that new universe. Playing STAR WARS together was always an epic event; five kids with a thousand toys and a backyard that was the size of a galaxy. Mom’s flowerbox was Tatooine. The 1.5 acres of woods behind the house was Endor.

And this was during an era that preceded home video. You saw the films once, and after that you just had your imagination.

The Kid did not go away with the growing into adulthood. STAR WARS rooted my love for storytelling, my passion for film, and fondness for the visual arts. Those loves inspired a long and fruitful career in television and video production. Because of STAR WARS, The Kid lives on today.

STAR WARS has been, and still is in my blood. It brought me to where I am now. So pardon the fuck out of me if I don’t give in to hate.

Read again those above memories. How could anything ruin those?

Has my unconditional love clouded my sworn-by objective judgment? Probably, yes. Maybe in the same way a father stands by a son no matter what. But I can still defend everything Lucas has done in the last 15 years with sound logic. I defend what I love. I believe in what I love.

So, concerning the alterations and edits made over the years… As addressed here on Reel Speak not long ago, I believe the creator of the property has the right to do with it as they want. Filmmaking is an art, and every artist wants their work to be presented in the best way they see fit. Great architects tweak their designs, painters touch up their canvasses; filmmaking is no different.

So you don’t like the origin of Boba Fett or Anakin, or you hate the midichlorians. I believe only the creator can fully understand their material the best. Like it or not, the fans do not know the STAR WARS universe better than Lucas. After all, only DaVinci knows the real secret behind Mona Lisa’s smile.

Concerning Blu-Ray: Many have called Lucas a money-loving whore for putting out his vision of his own work on Blu-Ray. Show me a filmmaker who got into the business because they wanted to go broke. And as far as Blu-Ray goes, I have always believed that any lover of film should seek out, if not demand, that their favorite films (or any other film) be presented in the best possible quality. Try spending some time in the downtown Philadelphia movie theatres, where the films are consistently shown out-of-focus, with dirty and scratched prints that always START LATE. No lover of the movies should have to deal with that. Blu-Ray presents the films in the greatest possible way ever created by man. STAR WARS was made for it. If you haven’t seen it, you are missing out.

I find it interesting that the only people who are currently hating on the Blu-Ray release are the ones who have yet to view it. They react upon principle only. Meesa thinks there’s some fear in there; fear to view the new, stunning versions which just may help them to let go of their hate, and revisit the fun. Maybe fear really does lead to the dark side.

The Kid can only wonder…

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Reel Review: STAR WARS: THE COMPLETE SAGA in Blu-ray



It’s rare, if ever, that Reel Speak reviews a home-video release. But in the case of the long-awaited and somewhat controversial STAR WARS COMPLETE SAGA in (glorious) Blu-ray, an exception can certainly be made. We all knew that the transfer would likely be gorgeous (it’s beyond that), but what about everything else?

The absolute first thing that must be talked about is the picture quality; It is absolutely mind-fucking stunning. the stars, explosions and laser blasts are more brilliant than ever. The brilliant white of Hoth and the stunning exterior shots are just eye-popping. In more intimate scenes, the level of fine detail creates a new experience in the STAR WARS universe; from Threepio’s scratches to Vader’s little LED lights, to every last rock and pebble on the desert floor. And who knew Carrie Fisher had such cute freckles? Set interiors, such as the cockpit of the Falcon can now be seen in their exquisite design and construction.

This blogger has always believed that the way a movie sounds is almost more important than how a movie looks; no one can stomach lousy audio no matter how great the visuals are. STAR WARS in Blu does not disappoint here; in fact, it is astounding. The films have always been known for its unique sound effects and music, and here it is crystal clear and mixed perfectly in glorious 6.1 surround. Lucasfilm has always understood that great sound is less about volume and more about presence; and the mix here is the best this blogger has ever heard in a home release. You are certainly surrounded by the movie.

The extras are well worth the price, with new interviews, commentary, and a collection of spoofs made over the long years. The real gem of it all is the long-awaited release of deleted scenes from the original trilogy; most especially the cut scenes from A NEW HOPE and EMPIRE. Without getting into the details, the scenes are awesome to see. However, they are not restored; they are in their roughest and rawest form with no scoring or editing. It would have been nice to see them cleaned up and restored, but hey; a lot of people prefer to see STAR WARS completely unaltered, so there ya go. There is also a fantastic fly-through tour of the Lucasfilm archives, which shows off everything from frozen Han to Jabba’s eyes to the Ark’s Nazi-crate. Outside of the film-specific bonus discs, the others present some real gems in the forms of original making-of docs, and the much heralded animated short-film in which Boba Fett made his debut to the world. It is worth noting that the bonus discs are NOT a repeat or rehash of the bonus materials found on the standard DVD release; it is all new stuff.

The alterations this time around are subtle in some places, and not-so-subtle in others. CGI Yoda in EPISODE I is a great improvement; the new facial expressions work very well and offer some insight into the character. The blinking Ewoks are kinda creepy and take some getting used to, and the new approach to Jabba’s palace door is pretty neat. Vader’s new “no” actually comes across better in Blu with good sound than it does when viewed on tiny YouTube clips, but it is still unnecessary and a result of overthinking. It doesn’t completely ruin the scene, as all the important elements are still there. Seriously, there are no changes here worth getting into a hate-filled rage over. And this blogger is pretty sure the Greedo/Han scene has been altered again…

BOTTOM LINE: If you are still clinging to the VHS or the standard DVD release, a truly incredible experience is being missed. The awesome picture and sound offers a new and fresh look at the films, and even long-time haters of the prequels may find a new experience. The sound and picture are so incredible it’s impossible to peel yourself away from it, and it really is like seeing them for the first time. For years, this blogger always held A NEW HOPE as his favorite; but after viewing EMPIRE in Blu, that has changed; the experience is incredibly engrossing.

There is a magic of rediscovery at work here, and the thrill is back.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO....The Reel Facts (and Opinions)



Friends of Reel Speak have been inquiring about the upcoming film THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, due December 21st of this year. There is some understandable confusion, as many audiences were treated to a TATTOO rendition in the theatres less than two years ago, and some of them may have seen the books floating around. Reel Speak seeks to sort out the mess, and offer some opinion (since that’s why all you blokes come here anyway).

FACTS: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was at first an award-winning crime novel by Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson, and the first part of his “Milennium Series”. It was first published in 2005, a year after his death. The second book, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE was released in 2006, and the third, THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST in 2007. The books were a critical and financial success.

With the books becoming a big hit, a movie adaptation was inevitable. Enter Yellow Bird, a Swedish film production company, who produced film versions that began to see limited release in Scandinavia in 2009. Originally, only TATTOO was to be a theatrical release, with the next two parts presented on television in a mini-series format. However, TATTOO was such a big hit, the filmmakers scrapped the TV idea and slapped the last two parts together into feature-length films, which were also released in late 2009. The films saw limited runs in the United States (sub-titled), and are available on DVD and (glorious) blu-ray.

With the moderate success of the films (the second and third parts suffer from being pieced together out of a TV format), it was inevitable that America would want a piece of the pie. Enter David Fincher, the man responsible for SE7EN, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, and Oscar-darling THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Fincher’s versions will star Daniel Craig (the current James Bond), and Rooney Mara (THE SOCIAL NETWORK), and will begin to hit theaters in December of this year. The following two films will be released in 2012 and 2013. Rooney Mara will not be the only NETWORK alum to re-join Fincher; Trent Reznor, who won an Oscar for his work in NETWORK, will be scoring the trilogy.

OPINION: This blogger is unfamiliar with the books, and never had the opportunity to view the films. But a quick glance at the passionate reviews across the interwebs reveals some dark atmospheres and themes. Fincher has had quite a knack in creating atmosphere, and has always been able to get some great and unexpected performances out of his actors. He seems well suited for the task, and it is refreshing to know that he will be handling the entire trilogy. With a story that has already gripped a lot of readers and viewers, this feels like something to look forward to.

What say you?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Director JJ Abrams has finally committed to directing the sequel to his 2009 STAR TREK reboot/prequel. The script is expected to be completed this month, with shooting commencing in this winter. Pre-production is already underway. A release date of December 2012 or summer 2013 is expected.

OPINION: It’s about damn time. It’s always been assumed that Abrams would return, but he’s been coy about it and never verbally committed. If the 2012/13 date holds up, that would make it a full three years since the first film; not a good way to build momentum for a franchise, even if TREK has a built-in fanbase. This blogger would have gladly accepted Abrams ditching SUPER 8 this year for a jump-start on TREK 2, but the notion of this sequel arriving in December with THE HOBBIT on its heels is pretty exciting.

FACT: Tony Scott’s 1986 classic TOP GUN is being converted to (goddamn) 3D for a theatrical release in 2012, pending Scott’s approval.

OPINION: Just when we thought the GD 3D thing was about to roll over and die an un-merciful death, this happens. Lately, audiences have been opting for the 2D versions of films, and even Lucasfilm has reeled back its plans for releasing the entire trilogy with the added third dimension. Outside of that, TOP GUN seems like it would be well-fitted for the format in the aerial dogfight scenes, but just like any other film, would fall flat in any other scene that has people in a room (intimacy kills all 3D). Good 3D is all about depth, and only about half of TOP GUN would work. At least Scott has veto power.

FACT: The summer movie season (running from the first week of May to Labor Day) of 2011 has been projected to total $4.38 billion, an increase of 1% from last year. Audience numbers sits at 543 million, the lowest since 1997.

OPINION: So if attendance was down, where did the increase come from? Blame (goddamn) 3D. In 2010, seven films were released in the cursed format, in 2011 there were 18. The increase in overall revenue points toward the jacked-up GD 3D ticket prices, but the lower attendance numbers point towards people not showing up, so who the hell knows. This blogger has a simple solution: Make better movies and crucify the third dimension.

What say you?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Reel Review: WARRIOR



WARRIOR just might be one of the most perfectly-titled films in history; you need to be as strong as one to make it out of the ring (or theatre) in one piece. Less about fighting and more about love, family, forgiveness and redemption, WARRIOR will beat you to a blubbering pulp.

Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) was an abusive booze-hound who ruined the lives of his two sons, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), and Tommy (Tom Hardy). Tommy, a former Marine, comes back to his father after years of estrangement, looking for his help in training for a return to Mixed Martial Arts fighting. Meanwhile, Brendan is facing foreclosure and bankruptcy, and also returns to fighting to save his family. A family reunion of sorts then occurs as both brothers wind up competing in a big bucks MMA tournament which eventually has the two brothers, separated by years of estrangement, fighting each other in the final match.

WARRIOR avoids the tired clich├ęs and themes that most fighting films tend to cling to by focusing on its characters, and it’s the characters circumstances that drives everything. It is brother vs. brother, and father vs. son throughout, with each having their justified reasons for seeking redemption.

Where most sports films tend to make the opponent some sort of villain (coughrockycough), director Gavin O’Connor makes the simple, yet ingenious decision to make both fighters someone we want to root for. Our emotions have no idea which way to go by the time the big fight comes around. We want to root for Brendan to save his family, we want to root for Tommy because he wants to help the widow of his dead army buddy, and we want to root for Paddy to be relieved of his pain. The script is incredibly smart and real-world, with no glittery one-liners or overlong, rousing speeches.

The acting trio of Edgerton, Hardy and Nolte really sells the film, with the old man stealing the show This is Nolte’s best work since the 1980’s; the looks of pain on his face as his sons turn their back on him over and over again just goes right through you. Hardy and Edgerton are perfectly cast and are excellent. Smaller roles by Kevin Dunn and Jennifer Morrison are also executed perfectly. O’Conner gets tremendous performances out of everybody.

The fight scenes, just like the rest of the film, goes for heavy authenticity while never losing any sense-of-place. The final match is an exclamation point that goes for an emotional kidney punch and proves that WARRIOR is a true force to be reckoned with; remarkable, unique, and deserving of some serious golden praise. Feel free to cheer and weep upon viewing.

BOTTOM LINE: See it

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Rise and Fall of Kevin Smith




FACT: Kevin Smith, the robust director who has provided the world with oft-quotable films in the form of CLERKS and MALLRATS, announced at this years’ Sundance Film Festival that he would be retiring from filmmaking. The announcement came after the screening of his most recent effort, a horror film called RED STATE, while adding that he may do one more feature before riding off into the sunset.

All this comes on the heels of an apparent path of self-destruction that Smith has been on in the past few years. Many reports after the release of his abysmal COP OUT pointed towards heavy marijuana smoking by Smith, who reportedly had little interaction with the actors on set during filming, and left much of the crew on their own. Smith fired back against the allegations; not denying the drug use, but justifying it, saying that he was more productive while smoking up.

OPINION: Right off the bat, Smith must be on drugs if he thinks COP OUT was worthy of the toilet paper this blogger wipes with. But digressing…

Kevin Smith can easily be compared to Quentin Tarantino; A talented director who could not escape the success of his first film throughout his entire career. CLERKS established Smith as a director who can (or could) appeal to the inner-geek and blue-collar-joe in all of us. His films were on-the-ground, enjoyable, and felt like they could have been filmed in our own backyards starring our best friends, our girlfriends, and ourselves.





Smith may have fallen victim to his own talent for hitting us all below the cockles. His “New Jersey Films” hit such a strong chord with so many people, that he found it difficult, if not impossible, to break out of it. Films outside of the universe he created, such as JERSEY GIRL, ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO, and shitty COP OUT were met with mixed to dismal reviews, and left his followers itching for the good ol’ days.

Smith chose not to suck up the criticism of his latest films like a man, and instead elected to lash out at the media, and the world, for not getting it; Tweet after Tweet he went after his detractors, justifying his mediocre films and his drug use. Instead of using the criticism to correct his faults as a filmmaker, he chose to get high and refuse to accept that he wasn’t perfect.

The one thing that is the most troubling about Smith’s retirement from filmmaking is that the departure is not being done to pursue any sort of rehab or help, but to instead smoke MORE, and prove to the world that he has been doing no wrong. What an asshole. Smith ought to offer gratitude to the likes of Charlie Sheen and Lindsey Lohan; if it were not for their very public meltdowns, it would be his face plastered all over the tabloids.

It would be a sad thing to think that Smith was one of those stars that did not fade after burning brightly, but instead imploded by way of choice. It is this blogger’s hope that the big guy will one day unwrap his sphincter from around his head, and unleash the talented filmmaker that we all hope is still living in there somewhere.



What say you?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: John Moore, whose last film was 2008’s critically drubbed MAX PAYNE, has been signed on to direct Bruce Willis in DIE HARD 5.

OPINION: Moore has a decent eye for action sequences (his plane-crash in FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX was pretty spectacular), but really hasn’t made a film that has been met positively. With Willis reaching his 57th birthday, there isn’t much to get excited about here. Let it go, Bruce.

FACT: A month ago, Disney pulled the plug on its LONE RANGER film, citing budgetary disagreements between director Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer. Enter Johnny Depp (cast to play Tonto), who went to Disney and pretty much laid down an ultimatum; No Gore, No Johnny. An agreement was reached on a budget and the film is back on.

OPINION: As usual, it’s Tonto to the rescue. This blogger has to tip his hat to Depp, whose loyalty to Gore (who directed Depp in the first three PIRATES films and RANGO) just may have saved this project. If only we can get Bruce Willis to do the same…

FACT: Producer David Katzenberg and author Seth Grahame-Smith (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES), newly signed on with Warner Bros., are looking to put together a followup to Tim Burton’s 1988 horror-comedy BEETLEJUICE. The plan is not to film a remake, but to “reboot it by advancing the storyline of the original” (whatever the hell that means).

OPINION: The only hope a BEETLEJUICE 2 has is if Burton and Michael Keaton get back on board. Burton looks to be a lock to return, as he has already collaborated with Grahame-Smith on ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER and on his own DARK SHADOWS film due next year. One has to hope that Burton would keep any sort of “reboot” in check, and now allow any knuckleheads to ruin the fun universe that he created. Keaton’s age would not be a factor, as he would obviously be under a lot of makeup again. It’s doubtful that Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis would return, as they would just be too damn old to be playing dead people; and we all know that ghosts don’t age. Right?

What say you?

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Reel Review: APOLLO 18



APOLLO 18 is a thinly veiled BLAIR WITCH project in disguise; with the only difference being the setting: the Moon. It is presented through the “lost footage” technique; working more as a part of the story rather than a gimmick. For good measure, archival footage of the space race is thrown in, just to keep things real.

History tells us that Apollo 17 was the final manned mission to the moon. However, a year after the supposed final flight, NASA and the Department of Defense sends a covert mission. After landing, the astronauts begin experiencing strange happenings, including loss of contact with Earth, damaged equipment, a conspiracy, and something deadly hiding in the rocks.

APOLLO 18, despite the heavy realism courtesy of the lost footage, closely follows the blueprint for nearly every horror movie ever made: Arrival. Discovery. What-the-hell-happened-here. Shitstorm. Recovery. Shitstorm. Tragedy. The film lacks any real depth, but makes up for it in atmosphere and well-timed scares.

Atmosphere and tension is where APOLLO 18 soars. Director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego does an excellent job of utilizing the lights and shadows of the Moon, along with capturing the claustrophobia of the living and working conditions in space.

The “lost footage” technique feels like it would get old, and it takes some getting used to, but after a good half-hour it becomes clear that the story would never have worked as a straight-up movie. The various cameras the astronauts have working for them offer great opportunities for tension, and Lopez-Gallego uses them perfectly. Perhaps the neatest trick Lopez-Gallego does is to just hang on a static shot of the exterior the moon lander; the audience is drawn in and strains for something to move. Sometimes nothing does. Sometimes. Lopez-Gallego also manages to make a shot of the full moon, a view that we’ve all seen a billion times, seem creepy.

Lopez-Gallego gets decent performances out of the whole three actors that he works with here. Each brings a lot to their parts, and it’s always convincing.

The finale is a little incredulous, but goes a long way in explaining why we never went back to the Moon. APOLLO 18, despite the realism, comes off as a neat little horror/sci-fi flick that is well made and enjoyable. The story is light, but everything surrounding it makes it worthwhile.

BOTTOM LINE: See it