In the Shadow of the Moon:
America's quest to put a man on the moon, while both fascinating and inspiring, has been well-covered on film, perhaps most notably in "From the Earth to the Moon" and "Apollo 13". Add to that a space program that by the early 2000s ranked near "Abscam" in terms of public interest, and it's easy to see why the documentary In The Shadow Of The Moon might be a tough sell. Yet this simple, stylish look at the Apollo space program is a quietly powerful rumination on the nature of patriotism, heroism, and humanity.
In In The Shadow Of The Moon, director David Sington utilises a narrator-less structure which intercuts stunning stock footage with insightful commentary from the surviving astronauts who walked on the moon. There are no experts, no voiceovers, and no recreations; it's a style that works quite well, recalling the work of Errol Morris. While the space shots and behind-the-scenes footage of NASA operations are fascinating, the astronauts--including Buzz Aldrin, Dave Scott and Alan Bean--are a revelation. Variously witty, heartfelt, modest and humbled when discussing their journeys into space, it's easy to understand why these men were heroes to a generation. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the documentary is the way in which the viewer is reminded of how genuinely stunning the Apollo mission was--not only for the United States, but for the whole world. One need not be reminded that 1969 was a tumultuous year for Earth, and that Neil Armstrong's famous one small step for man literally united the planet, giving true credence to the latter half of his famous statement. The Shadow Of The Moon expertly recreates that moon-landing moment, without a shred of excess patriotism, pretence or sentiment.
The Motorcycle Diaries:
In 1952, a young medical student and a biochemist from Argentina set off on a road trip across South America. As the two young men straddled their beaten up motorcycle, they talked in awed tones of the incredible sights they were about to experience. The record of their trip may have disappeared into the ether, had one of the riders departing on that fateful day not been the future insurrectionary figurehead of the Cuban revolution, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal). The young Che's travelling companion was his best friend, Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna), and their simple goal was to enjoy themselves and possibly meet some girls along the way.
As Ernesto and Alberto’s trip unfolds at the behest of their spluttering motorcycle, the boys begin to discover more about themselves than they ever imagined possible. Ernesto clings tightly to his ideals throughout, and delights in the opportunity to put them into practice. His refusal to spend the $20 given to him by his girlfriend, Chichina Ferreyra (Mia Maestro), constantly angers his travelling companion, as the two succumb to pangs of hunger. Ernesto's charitable nature comes to the fore when he reveals that he gave the money to a pair of out-of-work illegal immigrants.
The trip winds down as the friends offer their medical expertise to a leper colony in Peru, with the duo's youthful folly acquiescing to adulthood and the dawning realization of where they should head in life. Based on the books "The Motorcycle Diaries" (by Guevara) and "Travelling with Che Guevara" (by Granado), director Walter Salles ("Central Station") pulls some highly accomplished performances from his two leads. The South American landscape is breathtakingly captured on camera, with Salles vividly reproducing a continent beleaguered by poverty and disease, but containing a population in possession of an unshakeable sense of optimism--as beautifully personified by Guevara and Granado.
Touching The Void:
In Touching the Void, director Kevin McDonald ("One Day in September") tells Joe Simpson's compelling story by combining talking-head interviews with Simpson and Yates, and stunningly photographed narrative footage, in which Simpson and Yates' ordeal is actually re-enacted on the Peruvian Siula Grande. McDonald's footage is both engrossing and eye-popping; it could easily stand alone as its own one-of-a-kind adventure film. The interviews, however, add depth to the film and make Touching The Void a unique, thrilling, and emotional piece of cinema.
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