Reach, Moonwalker!

Astronauts are just ordinary people with an infinite perspective

These reviews are part of our continuing coverage of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival:

The Wonder of It All. For those of us who are self-proclaimed space-program junkies, the gold standard has long been the Apollo program, which ran from 1961 to 1975 and included six missions that put a dozen men on the moon between 1969 and 1972. And the gold standard for space documentaries remains journalist Al Reinert's 1989 For All Mankind, which unearthed 79 minutes of largely unseen NASA footage and combined it with astronaut voiceovers and the ethereal music of Brian Eno to create an unparalleled visual and aural experience. (The current In the Shadow of the Moon takes a similar approach.) Jeffrey Roth's The Wonder of It All is a worthy addition to the canon, although it focuses less on the Apollo missions themselves and more on the men who participated in them. Roth managed to snag extensive sessions with seven of the surviving "moonwalkers" — Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean (a standout), Eugene Cernan, Charlie Duke, Edgar Mitchell, Harrison Schmitt, and John Young — and got them to talk not only about what it was like to walk on the moon but also about their childhood dreams and their experiences as test pilots, the proving ground for early astronauts. (Not surprisingly, the first man to set foot on the lunar surface, the reclusive Neil Armstrong, declined to be interviewed.) The movie touches glancingly on the tragedy of Apollo 1, which killed Roger Chaffee, Gus Grissom, and Ed White in a launch-pad fire, and on the aborted Apollo 13 mission, well chronicled in Ron Howard's fiction film, but the emphasis is on these ordinary yet extraordinary men and their commentary, recorded in segments with such titles as "Becoming a Hero," "Fear," "Making History," and "Spirituality." As Duke, who left a photograph of himself and his family behind on the moon, memorably puts it, "It's all over — now what are you going to do with the rest of your life?" (Sunday, October 21, 4 p.m., Miniaci Theatre for the Performing Arts. 84 minutes.) Michael Mills

Body/Antibody will make you think about dichotomies in life, lose faith in love, and then make you re-think it all again. When obsessive-compulsive agoraphobe Kip Polyard (Robert Gomes) meets his new neighbor Celine (Leslie Kendall), his biological urges push him beyond his mental block, though his defenses don't drop completely or immediately when he lets this lithe, luminescent foreigner into his rent-controlled New York apartment. From the moment Celine arrives, she presents both a threat and a cure for Kip's condition, which provides tender, terrifying, and comedic moments. Body/Antibody works through clever dialogue, developing the theme of barriers, invasion, and defenses as they apply to both mental and physical realms. An exquisite cast includes Frank Deal, who delivers an unforgettably menacing performance as Celine's sociopathic boyfriend, Andy. The movie relies on more delicious twists than a Tastee-Freez cone, and the expressive Gomes physically reacts to these in such a way that you believe this control-freak really can't help himself as he faces the challenges of loving someone he's just getting to know. There are few sets (it's easy to see it as a stage production), but the movie doesn't cut important corners and makes few mistakes. Some might say the lighting is too bright and that the film should settle on either natural or dramatic lighting. But the biggest error was using Debbie (who now calls herself Deborah) Gibson as the therapist in an otherwise perfectly cast film; her hokey performance makes her adolescent singing career look profound by comparison — fortunately she makes only two short appearances. (Tuesday, October 23, 5:45 p.m., Cinema Paradiso. 98 minutes.) Marya Summers

On the Doll takes its name from the doll police use to victims of child abuse identify where a perp has touched them. When the phrase appears in the movie, the grown victim, recalling his own long-ago deposition, reports that the doll was worn smooth at the crotch, from the touch of what must have been thousands of little fingers. It's the kind of bald and ugly detail On The Doll delights in sharing: maggots crawling under a dead bird's skin, cock 'n' balls torture, girls talking about forced sexual encounters endured "when we didn't even have hair down there." Never mind that writer/director Thomas Mignone could have done the vernacular thing and said, "I was 11" or "we didn't even have pubes" — no, he wants to make his characters as vulnerable and wretched as he can. It's probably a personal problem, but it's ours now, too: Watching On The Doll's three semi-related story lines unfold, we're forced again and again to endure the very worst of human nature, without ever once getting a look at its best side, or even its funny side, which could have helped a lot. This means that, at best, On The Doll is dishonest and feels that way. Of the film's vast, sprawling assortment of people who've been fucked up by sex (and most of whom now have sex for money), only Shanna Collins and Clayne Crawford's portrayal of a parasitic couple driving across L.A. connects at all. Crawford plays Collins' fiancé, bandmate, and abusive pimp; as they drive to the houses of one John after another, Collins' obvious need to be loved by this person seems terribly, genuinely human. The rest of the movie, from the teen stripper inexplicably kept prisoner by a peep-show proprietor to the high school students getting date-raped by a health teacher (after asking him to hook them up with a job in the porn industry... seriously), is just a bad dream. (Saturday, October 20, 9 p.m., Cinema Paradiso. 102 minutes.) Brandon K. Thorp

 
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