Month: August, 2019

Apollo 11

a11From the opening shot of workers ushering the gigantic Saturn V rocket into place like ants hauling a giant stick-insect, Apollo 11 broadsides you with absolute awe. First, at the enormity of man’s creation, and then at the realisation that the crystal clear images unfolding before you are half a century old.

As part of the fifty year anniversary of Apollo 11’s successful journey to the moon and back (shame on you if you consider that a spoiler), director Todd Douglas Miller has impressively wrangled a large cache of previously unreleased audio recordings and large-format footage (found deep within the bowels of NASA’s archives) into a single spellbinding documentary.

The wizardry involved in cleaning, colour correcting, and smoothing out fifty-year-old footage may seem astonishing enough, although surprisingly very little restoration work was required due to the immaculate archives at Nasa. What is astonishing, though, is the way in which Miller has presented this piece of history; no narration, no talking heads, just the jaw dropping footage of the events as they unfolded.

It’s a marvel of technical filmmaking, exemplified most acutely with the launch scene—an undeniable high-point that cleverly ratchets tension through an orchestration of deft editing, stunning sound design and accompanied by Matt Morton’s spine-tingling score. It’s a mind-blowing experience that makes you sit back and simply gape in awe.

As the film continues to trace astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins (yes, the forgotten third tenor gets some love) across the gulf of space, the film briefly settles back into a more leisurely pace, allowing you to gather your wits before descending into an equally impressive moon landing sequence. Some might find the technical ramblings of control centre a shade monotonous, but it lends the necessary authenticity and vital exposition to a project that eschews narration.

In much the same way Peter Jackson brought the horrors of war into the present, Miller has, with pin-sharp efficacy, elided time and brought one of mankind’s great achievements to the fore. Bend space, time, and your babysitter’s arm to see this.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Blinded by the Light

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There is a sense of earnest confidence found in Gurinder Chadha’s films. She began her feature directing career in fine style with the excellent Bhaji on the Beach before going on to bend the establishment, Beckham style, and in the process booting Keira Knightley into stardom. Blinded by the Light adds another solid chapter to Chadha’s career, whose films encourage you to check your cynicism at the door and be swept away by her bold enthusiasm.

Blinded by the Light is a true story, based on the memoirs of Sarfraz Manzoor, played here as Javed by newcomer Viveik Kalra. Growing up in the eighties backwater of Britain’s Luton town, the soft-natured but free-spirited Javed longs to become a writer but is hobbled by his overbearing parents, racism and the economic confines of Thatcher’s depressed Britain.

It’s a familiar east-meets-west culture clash story but spiced up by Chadha’s delightfully engaging direction. Similar to Bend it Like Beckham, Javed’s story uses the celebrated work from one of the world’s most iconic celebs (in this instance, Bruce Springsteen) to find common ground between two cultures, examining that volatile point where traditions and desires collide … all to the backdrop of the Boss’s lyrical anthology.

As Javed pursues his dream, the film busies itself by turning up the eighties nostalgia to eleven. A slew of eighties iconography; cassette tapes, geometric fluro designs, synth pop and more hair than a Rodney Wayne advert are paraded to hilarious effect. And, although there are some moments that don’t quite work as intended, Chadha manages to make the film’s faults feel more endearingly amateurish rather than an embarrassing misstep.

Its eighties musical sensibility will no doubt remind many of John Carney’s exceptional Sing Street. And while Blinded certainly doesn’t have Sing Street’s polish, it matches it for warmth and charm. As Javed’s school principal says “the Twiglets and Chardonnay will be flowing” which may well be code for laughs and tears, because Blinded provides plenty. It’s life-affirming, heartfelt and a lot of fun.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

The Public

tpBreakfast Clubber, Emilio Estevez, is causing more trouble in the library, this time jumping over the counter and playing a rogue librarian rather than a rogue student.

The Public focusses on an extraordinary day in the life of the Cincinnati Public Library during a particularly harsh winter. With an ever-growing number of homeless, many who shelter there during the day, the library’s resources are stretched to breaking point. When a number of them refuse to spend another freezing night outside, they hunker down for the night, ironically in the social sciences section. As a standoff between the homeless (plus a sympathetic librarian) and the authorities plays out you’d be forgiven for thinking that this story should have “based on true events” in its opening credits. It doesn’t. But this gives Estevez, who writes, directs and stars as the beleaguered librarian, plenty of wriggle-room to explore a plethora of social issues. Unfortunately, this also proves to be one of the film’s many problems.

Not least of its shortcomings are Baldwin and Slater who chime in with very utilitarian roles; Baldwin, a police negotiator and Slater a Trump-esque Mayoral candidate provide the callous face of right-wing politics. Both flesh out the film’s political stance but also bring a swathe of needless subplots that are left unresolved. There is an unsavoury whiff of “white saviour” keeping the capitalist menace at bay and when one homeless man says “They’re looking at us like a bunch of crazy angry n*ggers. It’s up to you to prove them wrong Mr. Goodson (Estevez)” the film makes clear who it thinks the power brokers are.

Furthermore, for a film about social issues, active female representation is disappointingly sparse. I’m fairly certain the homeless also include women, yet the only women here are a love interest (played by Taylor Schilling), a catty TV reporter and a passive library assistant. The noticeable lack of feminine agency might be an innocent oversight but the film feels so much the poorer for it.

Finally, there is inauthenticity to the dialogue which feels obvious, agenda-pushing and entirely at odds with the film’s candid style of cinematography. Despite Estevez using this film to comment on a dizzying array of social issues (class, race, poverty, addiction, politics, the economy, the environment), it barely scratches the surface of most of them. It’s clear that Estevez is well-meaning but ultimately, The Public is a movie that lacks any genuine depth.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.