Apollo 18 Movie Review — Unrealistic Realism

Lloyd Owen as Commander Nate Walker in Apollo 18. Photo credit: Dimension Films

There is a note towards the end of the credits for “Apollo 18” that watches were provided by the Swatch Group.

Which, of course, is just wrong. Everyone knows the official watch of the moon landings was the Omega Speedmaster.

And given the level of attention to detail in “Apollo 18,” it’s a little surprising they would use Swatch. Maybe they were just for the Earthbound scenes or something; I can’t rule it out.

“Apollo 18” is the most realistic unrealistic space movie I’ve seen; or possibly the most unrealistic realistic space movie, I’m not sure. I was impressed with the level of detail, but distracted to the point of it taking away from the movie by the whole “found footage” approach.

Basically, there are two types of people who will watch this movie.

There are those who will actually believe it is, or could be, real. For those people, the incredible level of detail makes it easier to buy the lie. However, those people are idiots, and we shall speak no more of them.

The other type of viewer is the people who will watch it understanding that it’s fiction. And for those, the approach is a mixed bag.

For people like me, the level of detail is entertaining. The moviemakers were advised by Gerry Griffin, who would have been the flight controller for the actual Apollo 18, had it flown, and in a lot of ways, they get it right. During descent, there’s a line — “You’re go on the 1201” — that’s just a little present for the space nerds in the audience.

However, for the space nerds in the audience, the “found footage” approach asks you to buy into some things that are just too hard to swallow. Set the movie in a fictional universe in which this happened, and, OK, fine. Ask me to believe that someone no one noticed the launch of a Saturn V in 1974, and you’ve just taken me out of the movie — my mind is being filled with all the reasons why that’s unbelievable. (They were keeping this mission so secret that the crewmembers couldn’t even tell their families they were flying, and yet NASA went ahead and contracted out for mission patches? Really?) And that’s just the obvious stuff. The movie protects itself a little in that you can’t really criticize the “found footage” approach without major spoilers.

All of which is a shame. Because it’s an entertaining movie, and very well made — the best cinematic version of Apollo on screen since “Apollo 13.” It takes some unrealistic flights of fancy, but even those are done in a cool “what if” sort of way — if they had just settled for taking a “what if” sort of approach.

“The Help,” You Say?

The Help photo

Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in “The Help” Photo credit: Disney

Ironically, the longer I lived in Indianola, Mississippi, the more recent the boycott seemed.

I started working there in 1996. The boycott happened in 1986. When I started, it was so long ago that it was when I was just starting middle school, and now I was out of college. Which, at that age, was forever.

By the time I left Indianola, I’d been there six years. A pretty decent chunk of the time between the boycott and when I started. And it seemed like it wasn’t as far in the past as it had been. And, of course, living in Indianola made it seem like maybe the boycott wasn’t as far in the past as I’d thought, either.

The boycott was probably the last major battle of the civil rights movement for Indianola. Robert Merritt, a very qualified, very capable and very popular principal had been passed over for the city school district’s superintendent position by the white school board. Initial protests were ineffective, and eventually a boycott of downtown businesses was mounted, which eventually resulted in changes to the school board that in turn resulted in Merritt beginning a productive tenure as superintendent.

There were still more “firsts” to be marked — it wasn’t until I was there that the majority-black city and county saw their first black mayor and black sheriff, for example, but those changes were relatively straightforward, without the need for boycotts or legal action. Merritt’s appointment wasn’t the end, but it was the turning point. It was before my time, but I definitely lived among its effects.

“The Help” is set in a period that was also before my time, three times further back than the boycott had been when I got to Indianola.

It was an odd experience watching the movie. I knew the locales, even if I was distracted by newspaper-name changes. And while the people were fictional, I knew them — not the exact individuals that inspired the Kathryn Stockett’s book, but certainly their peers. The White Citizens Council was, after all, founded in Indianola, and I dealt with people who had formerly been among its ranks.

Formerly because it no longer existed, and formerly because it was not the sort of thing you would have claimed by the time I was there.

And that was what made watching “The Help” such an interesting experience — it was at once hard and all too easy to believe. The Mississippi I knew was far removed in some ways from that time, enough that it was hard to imagine it being that recent, that immediate. But, at the same time, not far enough not to see how the past and the present were connected.

“The Help” may be based in reality, but it’s still fiction. It’s a slice of what life was like in Jackson, but it’s a carefully cut slice.

The truth, of course, is better and worse and stranger and more distant and more immediate than any movie could convey.

The Lady And The Panda

Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived with her cruel stepmother and her wicked stepsisters, who made her live like a servant in her own home.

The End.

Not much of a story, is it?

Take away the fairy godmother and the prince and the glass slippers, and Cinderella’s just not that compelling if it never makes it past the beginning.

One of the lost blog posts from earlier this year was a comparison of the philosophies of Lady Gaga and Kung Fu Panda. Which one more closely reflects who you are and who you want to be?

Earlier this year, I went to a Sugarland concert, and one of the opening acts, Little Big Town, did a cover of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. Other than finding it more agreeable than the original, which, to be fair, I had limited experience with, I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought until a few days later, when I was watching Kung Fu Panda 2, which is awesome.

And the thought occurred to me that a phenomenal amount of how you take life is rooted in whether you believe Lady Gaga or Po.

I’m all for the idea that all men are created equal, so, to that extent, I’ll agree with Lady Gaga. Where she loses me, though, is the idea that “I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way.”

And, you know, she seems to be doing well enough for herself. If she was raised believing she was a superstar and stayed on that track, then it seems to have paid off for her, and good for her.

But we’re not all raised superstars. We’re not all born that way. And, sometimes in life, we find ourselves at points of wishing we could be someone else.

And we reach those points, if all we have is the way we were born, if all we have is who we are and who we’ve been, we don’t have much.

As the soothsayer in Kung Fu Panda 2 tells Po, “Your story may not have such a happy beginning but that doesn’t make you who you are — it is the rest of your story, who you choose to be.”

Our stories are important. But every day that goes by becomes only the prologue of the story yet to be told.

Po reaches inner peace when he finally realizes. By the end, he tells his foe, “You’ve got to let go of that stuff from the past, because it just doesn’t matter . The only thing that matters is what you choose to be now.”

It’s a story that’s told constantly through the Bible. “But I’m just a ….” No, you’re not.

Someone I knew used to have on her blog a tagline about aspiring to be who you were born to be.

I have no desire to be who I was born to be. I don’t want to stop at the beginning. I want to be better.

When you reach the point where you wish you could be someone else, do it. Be someone better. Be yourself, better than you’ve ever been.

“Nothing’s unstoppable except for me when I’m stopping you from telling me something’s unstoppable!” — Po

A League Of Our Own

OK, one of the things I’ve been needing to catch up on for a while — the Fantasy Film League.

I wrote about it a while back; it’s the movie-buff equivalent of a Fantasy Football League, in which players pick actors and a director for their film cast, and then their fantasy film makes money based on the box office receipts of actual movies starring those actors.

I created a sub-league for readers of my blog, but never found out who was involved.

As of this writing, in first place in the sub-league is Heather’s movie, “Well-Behaved Straw Cage,” which is also number 22 of 170 films in the entire contest.

I’m in second with “All The Queen’s Men.”

Rounding out the league table are “Boom Goes Your Theater,” “Why Not Us,” and “Sepulchre,” but I don’t know who’s films those are. Will the responsible auteur’s please step forward?

The Turnabout Intruder

It was bad enough with Star Wars.

The boys saw a scene from the Original Trilogy on a television, watched for a moment, turned to me, and asked, “Why are those clonetroopers shooting good guys?”


But then, yesterday, the seven-year-old and I are talking about aliens, in reference to the movie Megamind, which has one character, Megamind, who is very clearly and alien, and another, Metro Man, who looks like a normal person, despite both being from other planets. So I’m explaining the diversity of aliens in science fiction.

And then there are the aliens that look almost like humans, like Mr. Spock.

“Who is Spock?”

Knowing that he’s seen the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie, I try to explain which one Spock is.

“Is he the one who was always kissing the girl?”

Um, yes. Yes, he was.

The next generation thinks that stormtroopers are good guys, and that the guy on Star Trek who’s always kissing a girl is Mr. Spock.

Angels and ministers of grace defend us…

Fear My Fantasy Film, Folks!

It’s that time of year, again!

I wrote last year about the Fantasy Film League, in which you cast your own movie, and it makes money over the course of the year based on the box office performance of your actors and director’s real-world movies.

My movie for last year, “Bible Song,” ended the season around number 30, out of more than 200 movies competing.

The new season is about to start, and I’ve already entered my movie, “All The Queen’s Men.”

I’d love to have you play along.

First, go to the Fantasy Film League homepage and sign in to create your movie.

You’ll be given $70 million to cast your film with, and a price sheet of actors and directors.

Pick a combination six actors and a director whose films you think will make the most money in real life next year.

Then, join my “Movies In My Pocket” private league by using the code 0cd6e69b. That way you can compare results easily with this group, in addition to the entire league.

Let me know which movie you create, and good luck!

Kinda Review: “The Adjustment Bureau”

OK, so, first, I enjoyed watching The Adjustment Bureau.

The reviews I’ve seen have been mixed, though many of those have talked about finding the movie disappointing in comparison with its inspiration, the Philip K. Dick short story The Adjustment Team. I’ve not read the short story, so I can’t comment on how the two compare. I can only comment on it as an evening’s entertainment at the cinema.

And as an evening’s entertainment at the cinema, I found it agreeable. Matt Damon can be hit or miss for me, and was in fine form in this movie. Emily Blunt was not necessarily who I would have cast in her role, but the fact that I probably would have ended up with a more obvious choice for off-beat romantic interest like Zooey Deschanel or Maggie Gyllenhaal only means I’m less creative. And, oh, does I like me some Terrance Stamp.

So, the basic trailer plot set-up, for those that don’t know — Matt Damon’s a politician who, through a fluke, encounters the Adjustment Bureau, the behind-the-curtain team that makes sure that world events unfold properly according to the some all-encompassing plan. When things deviate from the plan, it’s their job to make “adjustments” so things go back on track. In the midst of all of this, Damon’s character meets a woman he finds irresistible, but whom the plan says he can’t be with. He has to figure out whether he can overcome destiny, in the form of the plan and Bureau, to be with her, and whether he even should.

On the superficial level, for me, it was an entertaining paranoid thriller, putting Damon on Bourne-lite turf of trying to outrun and outthink a powerful organization of foes. A good couple of hours of Friday night entertainment.

On the slightly deeper level — the movie says little about, but raises some interesting questions regarding, the issue of free will and predestination.

At one point Damon’s character is told he has no free will, he is only given the appearance of free will. People go through their lives, making their decisions, but in a world in which their circumstances are carefully manipulated to produce in the desired decisions or results.

From a theological perspective, it’s an interesting hybrid view of the two conflicting schools, and one that really only fully works in the world of the movie. But as the movie progresses, the “plan” and its enforcement are further fleshed out in ways that provide more grist for thought.

Without giving too much away, it ties into a theological notion I’ve “developed” of the Tapestry, interconnected and shifting threads being woven in real time to produce a beautiful result. I left the movie with some questions about the implications of the Tapestry that I may be mulling for a while.

But now I’m rambling.

It’s a pretty decent movie. Go see it.

Not Really A Review At All: “No Strings Attached”


Portman and Kutcher in "No Strings Attached"

I’m jaded.

We went and watched “No Strings Attached.” (We’re not proud. We had the opportunity to watch a movie without the boys, and the options that were playing in the time slot we had were limited, and this was definitely a movie to watch without the boys.)

The girl and the guy meet. And meet again. And meet again. And at some number meeting, end up in bed.

She has no desire to be in a “relationship.” She does have physical urges. He agrees to address the latter while avoiding the former.

<<Spoiler warning for those who have never watched a movie before>>

Against her plans, she falls for him. She decides that with him she does want a relationship. They end up together.

The End.


Except that it’s “The End” because this is a movie, and movies run for some amount of time and stop.

Real life is a little more messy.

Falling in love and starting a relationship is not, in real life, The End.

In real life, that’s just The Beginning.

And this is why I say I’m jaded. At The End of “No Strings Attached” I couldn’t imagine any scenario in which The End is followed by “And they all lived happily ever after.”

I give them six months. A year, tops.

And it made me wonder if it even matters any more.

It used to be that the happy ending of a romantic movie was that you could imagine them growing old together.

I couldn’t imagine these characters growing old together.

Has it become enough just to end up together for a while? Is just being together at the end of the movie what passes for a romantic happy ending today? In the words of Kenny Rogers, “Who needs tomorrow; we’ve got tonight.”

Or am I just jaded?

Kinda-Review: Green Hornet (In Which I Become An Old Fuddy-Duddy)

I wanted to go see Tron again.

Heather was going out for a girls’ night with some friends, so the boys and I were having a guys’ night — dinner and a movie. There aren’t many kids’ movies out right now; and they’d pretty much seen them, except for Yogi Bear, and I do have some standards.

I’d seen Tron thrice before, and the boys had seen it twice. They’d seen Green Hornet once before, and I’d not seen it at all, and Finn really pushed for Green Hornet (because he wanted me to see it) over Tron.

I normally would have balked at the PG-13 rating — the recommended age is older than both boys put together — but their granny had already taken them, and all involved swore it wasn’t that bad. So I’m not going to be exposing them to anything they haven’t already seen. Well, OK, then, Green Hornet it is.

I should have stuck with Tron.

The thing that I’ve been wondering since then is whether it was really that reprehensible, or whether it was just my perspective was different watching it with the boys. What would I have thought if I was watching it by myself?

And it was reprehensible. The “heroes” treated each other badly. They treated women badly. Their language was awful. They fought police and put them in mortal danger on a lark. (And these are the good guys.) They were cavalier about destruction of property and endangering bystanders. Arguably, they had no redeeming traits at all. Sure, there’s a “redemptive” level of “helping others,” but it’s really far more about their own self-indulgence; their “help” is self-centered, dangerous and largely unproductive. Even their climactic battle, presented as being important, is ultimately pretty whimsical.

And I’ll admit a further bias that, while I’ve never been a huge Green Hornet fan, I felt like the movie was disrespectful to the original source, which is something that’s a big turn-off for me in movies. If you want to remake  a property, remake it in the spirit of the original. If you want to make something in a different spirit, then use some creativity and do it with your own invention instead of someone else’s.

So I can’t swear that I wouldn’t have enjoyed Green Hornet if I had seen it by myself, but I would imagine probably not. (Adding to this theory — I’ve never seen, nor had any desire to see, any other Seth Rogen movie.)

But it’s another piece of evidence for the state in the growing case that being around the boys is making me an old fuddy-duddy. Exhibit #193 — Last week, I was at the comic book store, picking up my weekly comics. (A good exhibit for the defense, let the record show.) Caden wanted a book, and I grabbed a Star Wars comic off the shelf because it featured on the cover a large number of Clone Troopers, which Caden loves. (I’m not sure whether the prosecution or plaintiff arguments are supported better by the fact that part of me finds it wrong that their post-prequel upbringing makes them think stormtroopers are good guys and not care about Han Solo.)

Flipping through it, I saw that it showed Anakin, sans a good chunk of his arms and legs, dangling from the ceiling, having his cybernetic systems replaced. Later in the book, and somewhat subtly, a minor character’s head is visible mid-frame, having been removed from its proper place via lightsaber. Is this appropriate for a five-year-old? How am I supposed to know? Is it any worse than the last Star Wars movie, which he’s seen?

And I found myself thinking a weird thought, that I never thought I would think.

And let me point out, I think it should be optional, I think you should be able to publish whatever sort of comic book you want, but I think there should be a way of knowing what comic books are appropriate for what audiences.

But, dadgumit, I miss when books were approved by the Comics Code Authority.

Things I’m Going to Do When The Book Is Done

The plan now is that Heather and I will ship the manuscript of our book to the publisher on Friday, either finished or very close to it. And when that happens, we get our lives back. And that will be nice.

Things I’m going to do when the book is done:

• Read. For pleasure. For long periods of time at a sitting. Without feeling guilty. One time, months ago, Heather and I went together to a coffee shop and each read our own books. That was fun.

• Watch movies. That picture at the top of this post? Those are Blu-Rays I’ve bought and haven’t even opened yet. We’re going to watch some.  The nice thing will be that, compared to the last few weeks, we could put the boys to bed and watch an entire movie before I left and it still be an early evening, relatively speaking.

• Play a video game. I blogged back in August about the fact that I’d bought Dragon Quest IX. I still haven’t opened it either. I don’t play a whole lot of video or computer games. It’s kind of waste of time. But that’s exactly why I want to do it. I like the idea of having time to waste.

• Lose weight. I’m going to start exercising more. I promise. I mean it. Of course, just not being sedentary working on the book and engaging in bad eating habits will help, but I wrote about that this morning.

• Walk. Which kinda ties in to the exercise thing, but I miss walking for pleasure. I miss hiking for pleasure. I look forward to that.

• Sleep. I’m getting to old for the hours we’ve been keeping lately.

• Do something fun with Heather and the boys. Maybe multiple somethings. We’ve worked really hard not to neglect them, working in a bowling outing here or a trip to Toys R Us there. But we’ll have to do something that’s not constrained to the hour or so we can spare.

• Go on a date with Heather. You know, the whole babysitter, dinner, theater sort of thing. I can say this with some certainty because I know Valentine’s is coming up, and I know plans are being made.

• Clean the house. Gotta be done at this point, as much of a shame as it would be to do away with the impressive archeological record of the time I’ve worked on the book that’s been developing in my home.

• Get more serious about my devotional and prayer time. Heck, as long as this list is turning into belated New Year’s resolutions, I might as well put that on there.

• Work on some writing or creative projects with no deadlines. Things that serve solely to make me happy. I don’t want to completely lose the momentum I’ve developed, but I’ll be very glad to take the pressure off me.

Wouldn’t that be nice? I’ll have to keep that in my head the next couple of days, huh?