Playing in Theaters:
Apollo 11 ♦♦♦♦♦
You may think you know all about Apollo 11 and you probably won’t come out of the theater after seeing this movie learning more about what you already know. Rather, you will come away having experienced one of the most amazing visual extravaganzas of any documentary you are likely to ever see. The Director/Editor, Todd Douglas Miller has taken hundreds of heretofore unseen, uncataloged and pristine video from numerous views of the mission and put them together with over 11,000 hours of video to provide 90 minutes of extraordinary film documenting the 9 day mission.
Miller does this without narration to let the audience soak in the actual experience of Engineers, Flight Operations, spectators and of course the astronauts. There is some audio of Walter Cronkite but he isn’t providing historical analysis which is typical in most documentaries. Miller uses some film of JFK and a nightly newscast to provide a brief insight into the political environment of the time. Most effectively, he uses a split screen methodology to show what is happening from various points of view. Miller also provides some crude 1960s type computer animation which simplifies some of the more technical’s aspects of the mission and adds so much to the understanding of what is going on outside the camera’s lens. The heart rate monitor recordings of the astronauts was a fascinating touch as well. I can’t complete this review without mentioning the impressive score by Matt Morton using only synthesizers from the period.
First Man gave us the psychological impact on the astronauts (primarily Armstrong) on the pressure of the mission but Apollo 11 extends that to all members of the team. If you get a chance to see this movie on an IMAX screen, it will be well worth it for you. For everyone else, see this movie.
STYX ♦♦♦ 1/2
STYX is a small independent movie that will be hard to find unless your city has multiple screens dedicated to foreign and independent films. If you are lucky enough to find it, this thriller is worth seeing. Suzanne Wolffe plays Rieke, a German doctor who takes her 30 ft. sailboat on a solo trip to Ascension Island (somewhere between Africa and South America) to follow Darwin. Unfortunately for her, she runs into African refugees along the way creating a moral dilemma that she is forced to deal with.
Rieke is a very independent woman and clearly a competent sailor. At first the viewer is lulled into the daily routine of a woman alone at sea. A major storm hits and when she wakes up (after again, doing everything perfectly to save her boat and herself) she finds herself a few hundred feet away from a disabled fishing boat with at least 100 refugees calling and signaling for help. Obviously she can’t save them as her boat is too small and she contacts the Coast Guard to report the crisis. They say they will come. Meanwhile a young boy near death manages to swim to her boat where she (with great difficulty) gets him on board and treats him.
Rieke is torn between her desire to help the refugees and obeying the directives of the Coast Guard to get away from the trawler because her presence endangers both them and her. Of course, help never comes – either from the Coast Guard or other ships in the area and the plight of the refugees and the West’s response to the crisis is played out in this allegorical film. Wolffe is mesmerizing as she dominates every frame of the 95 minutes, 80% of which is non-speaking. For me, the movie is a cross between the documentary Human Flow and Robert Redford’s All is Lost. It is far from upbeat but will have you on the edge of your seat for the entire hour and one-half while wondering what you would do in the same situation.
Mary Poppins Returns (available to rent/buy) ♦♦♦
This was a good, not great movie. Emily Blunt was “perfectly” fine as were the other cast members and certainly Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack the Gas Lighter can do no wrong in my mind. Meryl Streep was a little over the top as Mary’s cousin and was wasted in a below average musical number but Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer as grown up Jane and Michael Banks were wonderful. The highlight of the entire movie was Dick Van Dyke’s musical number on the desk. Just an amazing actor and a wonderful call-back to the original. I also loved the costumes and particularly the colors for both the clothes and the backgrounds they were up against.
I did think Blunt’s Mary was closer to the figure in the books – a mysterious and somewhat scary version of the world’s most famous nanny. I love everything this actress does and she doesn’t disappoint here. She plays the character with charm yet manages the “distance” that the character needs to really be true to the role. More importantly, she didn’t try to clone Julie Andrews. She created her own character. A sneaky little smile in the right places rounds out the character perfectly.
One can’t write about Mary Poppins Returns without comparing it to Disney’s original with Julie Andrews. The music in the sequel, for me, was the weakest part of the film. With the exception of “The Place where Lost Things go”, the songs just don’t hold up against the original. Who can ever forget Feed the Birds? I’m not a big animation fan but the bathtub scene was well done and overall, the sequences paid homage to its predecessor. In summation, Mary Poppins Returns is perfectly enjoyable but won’t become the iconic film that the original is.
Triple Frontier (Netflix)♦♦ 1/2
I’ll be honest, I am not a fan of military action movies but I figured I’d give Triple Frontier a shot because I like the cast and also thought my husband would enjoy it (it is virtually impossible to find a movie we can watch together given our differing tastes!). I made it through to the end – he (lover of action movies) did not. It is definitely a shoot- em -up, testosterone filled (there was only one woman amongst the cast) flick that is probably a good choice to be in the Netflix stable which has something for everyone.
The basic plot revolves around a group of former special ops buddies getting together to raid a South American drug kingpin’s stash of money which is hidden inside a disco. Relatively early in the film, they get their hands on the money and then the real action begins as they attempt to get the huge stash out of the country. Every step of the way, they encounter new obstacles and life and death situations which they clearly weren’t prepared for. There are moral dilemmas and relationships that develop over the course of the film but it is primarily a military action film.
The cast was all solid. Ben Affleck does better in this type of role than Batman; Oscar Isaacs never ceases to amaze me as to the range of his acting skills – he can play anyone; Garrett Hedlund and Charlie Hunnam are always good. Unfortunately for all of these individuals, the writing lets their characters down. We never get to really know these guys. I am sure there is an audience for this type of film although I would have pegged the supporters to be pretty well aligned with the young male Rotten Tomato audience reviewers and they only gave it a 60. Still, its free for the millions of Netflix subscribers so why not check it out if you like that sort of thing.