Apollo 18 (2011)
★ / ★★★★
According to the urban legend, Apollo 17 was not NASA’s final lunar landing. In 2011, a website, LunaTruth.com, claimed that it obtained videos of an Apollo 18 mission. In the film, the Department of Defense sent Lt. Col. John Grey (Ryan Robbins), Cdr. Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen), and Capt. Benjamin Anderson (Warren Christie) to install cameras and listening devices on the moon. But there was a catch. Their mission was to be accomplished in complete secrecy. Even the cosmonauts couldn’t tell their families about it. Written by Brian Miller and directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego, “Apollo 18” originated with an interesting idea but lift-off to the climax lacked excitement. As Anderson and Walker landed on the moon and collected rock samples, they began to experience strange occurrences. When outside, they felt as though something was watching their every move. Once or twice, they believed they saw something from the corner of their eyes. They weren’t safe inside the ship either. When they slept, objects moved from their original positions. As the movie tried to build tension, I began to notice its tricks quickly becoming redundant. For example, when the filmmakers dared us to look for something odd in a particular frozen frame, sometimes conveniently highlighting a certain section for us, the camera would suddenly shake relentlessly. Cue in the loud music and dissonant electronic screeching. The problem with this technique was, when executed, I was almost always still in the middle of looking for something I was supposed to see. It didn’t help that the frames were dark and grainy. Everything looked like dirt and rocks. Shaking the camera did not induce horror. It induced headaches. Furthermore, with so many signs of danger, I didn’t understand why the astronauts didn’t consider aborting their mission early on. The two asked Grey to contact the Department of Defense to inform them of a possible extraterrestrial entity, but never did we hear the option of canceling the mission. Perhaps the American thing to do was to go outside more often and investigate dark craters. Aren’t astronauts supposed to be smart? However, there were some scenes that stood out. When one of the astronauts was injured, the other suspected that a creature managed to crawl inside the wound. It had to be taken out without anesthesia or sterilized tools. There was a real sense of terror for two reasons: The creature was either a product of paranoia and there was a real possibility of infection or, if it was indeed a genuine alien entity, its biology and capability were unknown. Even then, given that it was successfully taken out, what would happen next? Some creatures, even terrestrial ones, don’t die when cut up into pieces. Many more scenes in which the horror was front and center could have drastically elevated “Apollo 18.” While moon dust and rocks looked very believable, I wasn’t convinced that there was enough creativity to keep the project in orbit.
Sex Positive (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
Prior to this film, I didn’t know who Richard Berkowitz was. I decided to watch the documentary because I’m always interested in learning more about diseases and their impact in society. In “Sex Positive,” directed by Daryl Wein, the focus was on Berkowitz’ contribution in promoting safe sex in order to protect everyone, especially the members of the gay community, from transmitting different factors that could promote AIDS. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the credit he deserved. What I enjoyed about this movie was it was essentially about activists of the LGBT community disagreeing about elements of a certain issue–the mechanisms regarding how one can get the infection, prevention, and the relationship between promiscuity and the epidemic. Most of the documentaries I’ve seen about AIDS and homosexuality were from heterosexuals’ perspective so it was a nice to observe and listen to the issue from a different angle. The documentary felt personal and sometimes too revealing because we got to learn about Berkowitz’ sexual history. There were some outtakes in which he was reluctant to talk about his history with S&M because he wanted to focus on the issue of activism and promoting health. Those outtakes were important for me to see because it showed me that Berkowitz was more than hustler. He deeply cared about his community and he was willing to go great lengths in promoting safe sex, sex positivism, which was the middle-ground between two camps: anti-sex (celibacy) and pro-sex (sex without using protection at all). He also highlighted the roles of our choices and our personal responsibilities in terms of sex, that our lives are in our hands and we should always be aware of the consequences. However, I thought the documentary was a little too short and too quick with the facts. Specifically, I wanted to know more about progress (if any) of promoting safe sex in the late 80’s. I felt as though the movie only covered the early 80’s up and the early 90’s. I also wanted to know more about the papers Berkowitz published about sex and the LGBT community while he was in college although the movie did spotlight the fascinating pamphlet “How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach.” Toward the end, Berkowitz providing insight by revealing certain statistics was simply icing on the cake. “Sex Positive” is a solid documentary with a very interesting subject and I highly recommend it. I just think it needed an extra thirty to forty minutes to develop some ideas so it wouldn’t have felt as rushed.
The Crazies (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
A remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 original of the same name, “The Crazies” was about a man (Timothy Olyphant) and his wife’s (Radha Mitchell) struggle for survival when a strange chemical started affecting their friends and neighbors. At first, the infected would have a fever but after two days, they would exhibit strange behaviors which ranged from catatonia to full-on violence like killing their families or random strangers. I was surprised with how good this movie was because most of the reviews I read expressed disappointment. I really liked that this film, directed by Breck Eisner, knew how to build suspense and had a pay-off every ten to fifteen minutes so I was engaged with what would happen next. I loved the way it used tight spaces to its advantage, such as the horrifyingly terrific scenes in the morgue and the car wash. When at its best, it reminded me of the relentless scenes in “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later.” Unfortunately, the film had its drawbacks thirty minutes into it when the military started taking over the small town. Prior to that, I thought the movie was fantastic because it felt personal. The main characters had no idea what was going on and slowly but surely, the safe life they were so used to living was broken by very strange and creepy happenings which started during a baseball game. With the military in the picture, it became cold and impersonal. Having said that, since this was a remake, I knew that it still had to remain loyal to its original source. However, I felt as though the movie could have minimized the military scenes, which they did during the last twenty or so minutes. But maybe this version minimized the politics as much as they could. I’m not sure because I haven’t seen the original. The movie was at its best when the lead characters who were easy to root for were placed in paranoid situations in which they either had to hide from an infected or think that a friend had the virus and it was only a matter of time until they wouldn’t be on the same side anymore. “The Crazies” was fun to watch because when it’s serious, it gets pretty scary, but it had unintentionally funny lines. It reminded me of a hybrid among the zombie pictures mentioned earlier, “The Happening” and the highly underrated “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” back in 2003. It could have used a little more brain and character development but those elements were the furthest things in my mind when the characters were being attacked from left and right in the most gruesome ways possible.
★★★ / ★★★★
Having seen and being impressed with the remake called “Quarantine,” I just had to see the original. I think both are very effective even though they pretty much had the same scenes. In “[REC],” astutely directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, it had less exposition but the audiences quickly cared about the reporter (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman. The reporter had a certain spunk and enthusiasm and what the cameraman saw, we saw so there was an automatic connection there. Everything starts off pretty light as the reporter interviewed the firemen about their every day happenings. Things quickly went for a darker turn when the firefighters got a call from an old apartment complex. At first, they thought it was just an old woman that fell and needed help. But when she started attacking and biting people, everyone pretty much knew that something more sinister was going on. People started dying in gruesome ways in the hands of zombie-like infected people and they get quarantined by city officials without an ounce of explanation. What I love about this film was its natural ability to build tension after each scene. There were moments when I thought that if I was stuck in the building with them, the exact same thing could happen so I was definitely more than engaged. “The Blair Witch Project” was undoubtedly this picture’s biggest inspiration but it managed to tilt just enough to have an identity of its own. The best part of the movie for me was the last fifteen to twenty minutes when they finally made it inside the apartment on the top floor. Such scenes revealed to us that it had more to it than “28 Days Later”-like zombies. The disease had a history and I wanted to know more about it. (Maybe a sequel?) But, of course, the scares did not end there. I felt like I was in that dark room with them as they tried to use the night vision option on the camera. I tried not to blink because I was expecting those “shock”/”jumpy” moments. But even then I was surprised and things popped out of nowhere. If one is a horror film fan, this is a must-see. However, this is definitely not for those who dislike shaky cameras in order to add some type of realism to its craft.