Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New on DVD | Apollo 18 (R)

Moonage Nightmare
In space, no one can hear you scream… unless there are cameras everywhere
At 6 years old I was already a certified junior space geek, familiar and fascinated with roaring rockets and cramped space capsules with control panels covered in tantalizing buttons. That was the year Alien first came out, and when I saw ads for the new movie, which featured all the above elements, I quite naturally assumed together a plot that seemed both incredibly cool and, to my nerdy little mind, a little ridiculous. Space monsters vs. astronauts I was on board with, but crammed into a module the size of a couple of phone booths? What do you take me for, a five-year-old? So imagine my surprise when I heard about Apollo 18, with a concept so similar to the one I so astutely misperceived decades ago—alien menace on a broom closet scale.
Apollo 18 only shares one or two traits with Ridley Scott’s definitive sci-fi thriller; all its remaining traits it borrows or steals outright from The Blair Witch Project. In the same choppy, cinema-vérité fashion, it submits for your approval a previously unknown horror story, assembled from raw “found footage” and narrated by its increasingly frazzled subjects, which has only now been wikileaked into the public consciousness by an anonymous source. In this case, it is a decades-old conspiracy the opposite of the faked moon-landing scenario—a government cover-up of an Apollo mission launched in secret months after the US had already won the Space Race by forfeit.
The film faithfully recreates a lunar mission with realistic film stock, authentic costumes and equipment and the familiar cadenced techno-babble of the era’s pioneering space cowboys. Between those exchanges, the Apollo 18’s earnest, All-American crew, pilot John Grey (Ryan Robbins) and lunar explorers Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen) and Ben Anderson (Warren Christie), engage in vague banter about families left behind and the official lies they were required to tell to keep their mission from the world. After touching down on the Moon, Anderson and Walker get to work gathering some rocks and setting up camera equipment for the military. It is through these lenses that evidence emerges of something alien and sinister—and perhaps not entirely unknown—waiting for us on the Moon’s surface.
As in Blair WitchParanormal Activity and many other recent thrillers, the grainy gaze of “real” cameras is essential to this story. Director Gonzalo López-Gallego uses the now-traditional shaky camera work to disorient the audience and long, uninterrupted static shots to funnel and misdirect their attention for maximum “boo” effect. He overuses some effects, though, and Apollo 18 often suffers from “artifact” overload—a barrage of random noises, static and audio interference, overexposures, film breaks and jump cuts, meant to keep the audience on its toes that, in fact, becomes increasingly intrusive and annoying.
In general, supernatural thrillers aren’t my cup of tea, but I’ll admit that Apollo 18 worked pretty well on me—I felt the tension as it mounted and was genuinely spooked when I was supposed to be. This can’t hope to be a game changer in the vein of Blair Witch or Jaws or The Exorcist—since going to the moon isn’t quite as common a human experience as going camping or swimming or taking a shortcut in Georgetown. But with technical adeptness and a pretty interesting concept (if I do say so my six-year-old self), it succeeds despite, or perhaps because of, its claustrophobic scale.

Apollo 18 is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and for rental on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. A version of this review of the theatrical release first appeared on

Friday, July 10, 2009

Movie Review | Brüno

Okay, so I haven't posted in a while. I'm sorry. My life involves a lot of very intense thinking, and it sometimes gets in the way of, you know, doing. It's a thing.

Anyway, Brüno is a movie about penises that I think very few of you will enjoy. Its occasional satirical brilliance is overshadowed by, well, penises. Nonetheless, I managed to write eight hundred words about it without once using the word "penis". Enjoy, and...

forgive my flagging attention

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Movie Friday | Star Trek

It is in the event of films like Star Trek that I remember why I really like being a film critic. Obviously, there're the free, advanced screenings; but mostly it's because I have a venue for being expansive and analytical in an open forum, rather than just spilling the contents of my brain all over whoever is unlucky enough to ask, "What did you think?"

I really liked Star Trek, and though I don't necessarily know you, I think you'll like it to.

thanks for paying attention

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Movie Tuesday | 17 Again (Chesapeake Family)

Permit me a moment to talk about how pretty Leslie Mann is.

She's really, really pretty.

She's in 17 Again, with some other people, one of whom is apparently quite popular with the youngsters. I review the film this week on

(Apologies to Judd Apatow, who's having quite the life--lucky bastard.)

thanks for paying attention while i fumble and fawn

Monday, March 23, 2009

TV Review | Frakking Up Is Hard to Do: Battlestar Galactica's Series Finale

How could a show that was so gritty and challenging descend so quickly into bathos and implausibility? Have them go camping. Check out a few of my many thoughts on the Battlestar Galactica series finale at my new television blog Pan & Scan.

thanks for paying attention

Friday, March 20, 2009

Film Review | Race to Witch Mountain (Chesapeake Family)

My review of Race to Witch Mountain, late but not never. More cultural-criticism fun can be had at my new blog Pan & Scan, which focuses on the shrinking television wasteland. Check it all out.

thanks for paying attention

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

TV Review | Amateur Hour: Late Night with... who, again?

I and my friend Kristen have been working slowly (oh so slowly) on a new blog focusing specifically on television, and even more specifically on all the things we know about television that you don't. It's in its infancy, this media empire of ours, but so far we've set a little of our minds out on display, mine in the form of this critique of Jimmy Fallon's faltering go at Late Night.

More cocksure opinionizing to come.

thanks for splitting your attention