Sunday Afternoon Movie Club

At the time of writing, with the UK currently at various stages of Lockdown 2 new National Restrictions, fire-breakers or Tier systems due to the second wave of Covid (which was perfectly obvious to everyone was going to happen, everyone except the Government it seems), I thought I’d share with you some film and TV suggestions, stuff which I’ve watched since the new restrictions came in to place, in the hope that it might give you some ideas as to things to occupy yourselves too. Or, on occasions, what to avoid. And for those of you with kids to occupy, I’ll try to keep these as family-friendly as I can; I’ll let you know if any I feature are ones to keep young eyes and ears away from.

Some of these will be new, but most of them will be older films I’ve not watched for a long time and am revisiting, others part of my ongoing quest to plug the gaps in my own popular culture knowledge.

This quest was prompted about a year ago by two things which seemed to happen a lot: firstly, many people that I follow on Twitter routinely getting very excited whenever Midnight Run airs (I’d never seen it, have now. It was okay. Probably the victim of so many people waxing lyrical about it over the years that it simply couldn’t live up to expectations), and secondly the look on people’s faces when they learn that I’ve not seen certain movies – and one in particular – which they consider to be essential viewing, a look of disbelief which deepens when they realise that I worked in a video store for a couple of years in the early 1990s when the films being referenced were widely available.

More of those another time. Yesterday evening I stocked up on munchies, dimmed the lights and watched a movie I hadn’t seen since it got released on video way back when: 1995’s Apollo 13.

I don’t think the story of Apollo 13 is anywhere near as well known on this side of the pond as it is on the other, so here’s what Wiki has to say about it (no spoilers):

Apollo 13 is a 1995 American space docudrama film directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris and Gary Sinise. [It] dramatizes the aborted 1970 Apollo 13 lunar mission and is an adaptation of the 1994 book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, by astronaut Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger. The film depicts astronauts Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise aboard Apollo 13 for America’s fifth crewed mission to the Moon, which was intended to be the third to land. En route, an on-board explosion deprives their spacecraft of much of its oxygen supply and electrical power, which forces NASA’s flight controllers to abort the Moon landing and turns the mission into a struggle to get the three men home safely.

Ok, so for a start, that’s a pretty impressive cast: Hanks plays Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell, and just having Hanks on board means we know we’re in safe hands, even if the crew might not be.

As an aside, it’s amazing just how many real-life men throughout US history Hanks has played (and no, I don’t mean Forrest Gump), and who presumably he must at least vaguely resemble: lawyer James B. Donovan in Bridge of Spies; Ben Bradlee, the executive editor of The Washington Post in The Post (which I think airs on Channel 4 this week and is…well, a bit dry to be honest); the eponymous US Congressman in Charlie Wilson’s War; the eponymous merchant mariner in Captain Phillips; the eponymous commercial airline pilot Chesley Sullenberger in Sully; Walt Disney in Saving Mr Banks; US TV icon Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, not to mention FBI agent Carl Hanratty in Catch Me If You Can (although this is actually a character based on real-life FBI agent Joseph Shea), and Eastern European Mehran Karimi Nasseri in The Terminal.

Popular board game Guess Who? must be really tricky in America:

Player 1: “Does he look like Tom Hanks?”

Player 2: “Yes”

Player 1: does not flick any of the faces down.

But I digress; alongside Hanks are the much missed Bill Paxton as Apollo 13 Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise, Gary Sinese as Apollo 13 prime Command Module Pilot Ken Mattingly, who gets bumped from the flight at the 11th hour in favour of mobile phone salesman Kevin Bacon as Apollo 13 backup Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert; and back in charge at Mission Control we have Ed Harris as White Team Flight Director Gene Kranz.

The movie has the potential to get bogged down in mathematical equations, of men in brown suits stroking their chins whilst looking at monitors as they ruminate on how to get the crew home safe and sound, but if you’ve ever seen any of director Howard’s other docudramas (and if you haven’t I’d strongly recommend you check out Rush, the story of the battle between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, and Watergate classic Frost/Nixon, where British chat show host David Frost attempts to lure US President Richard Nixon into a confession during a series of TV interviews) plays an absolute blinder: for example, he anticipated difficulty in portraying weightlessness in a realistic manner, but after discussing this with some chap called Steven Spielberg, those sections of the film which demand zero gravity – and there are a lot of them – were shot on board a KC-135 airplane, or as it’s also known, “the vomit comet”, which can be flown in such a way as to create about 23 seconds of weightlessness, a method NASA has always used to train its astronauts for space flight.

Here’s the trailer:

Plus, there’s some great tunes on the soundtrack:

I loved revisiting this movie; it’s message of hope, bravery and that science will undoubtedly win out in the end offered some unexpected optimism in the current pandemic climate: 9/10.

Apollo 13 is currently available to stream on Netflix.

More soon.

Turn(ing Over a New Leaf)

Watching Joe Biden’s victory speech in the wee small hours of this morning, my ears perked up when I heard him quoting some lines from the third chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Not because I recognised them from any religious views which I don’t hold, but because the same lines appear in this song, written by Pete Seeger, first recorded in 1959, but made famous by jangly-guitar trailblazers The Byrds a few years later in 1965, albeit with a much shortened title.

It’s been in my head ever since, but I figure there’s worse songs to have stuck in there at the moment, so I thought I’d share it with you. Besides, it makes a change to be optimistic for once:

More soon.

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Reissue time at Dubious Taste Towers, and 2020 sees the 30th anniversary of the Lemonheads Lovey album.

It’s the album immediately before their breakthrough effort It’s A Shame About Ray, which is one of my favourite albums ever.

Lovey, not so much. It’s a mixed bag that doesn’t have the cohesive identity that …Ray does, but it does signify the progression the band were making from the thrashy hardcore meanderings of their first album, Lick, through to the more alt-country beauty of …Ray.

As such, it’s a lot more hit and miss than the record that followed it, but it does contain a couple of absolute diamonds: a beautiful, very faithful, cover of Gram Parsons’ Brass Buttons, and today’s choice, which very much points the direction the band were heading:

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

And so the counting is over. I think.

The result has been called and accepted. By most people.

Joe Biden will be the 46th President of America.

And when I say “by most people”, you know who I mean: the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC who at the time of writing has refused to concede defeat and has announced that “it isn’t over yet”.

At least, that’s what we think he’s said, it’s pretty hard to tell. Twitter is his favourite method of dog-whistling to the racists, so let’s take a look at his Twitter feed:

Unbelievably, as Trump started tweeting his anger, along with his base-less accusations that the postal vote was rigged, Twitter finally grew a spine and started marking his Tweets which contained falsehoods.

So, let’s head to US news channel MSNBC to see what he’s got to say there instead:

Wow. Not just Twitter that has grown a spine: suddenly, finally, as CNN did the same thing, the mass media were doing the same.

Which leads me to my favourite Tweet from the past few days:

It’s a narrative that Trump has building for a while, that the postal vote was rigged, when in fact all that had really happened was that Biden had, mainly due to the pandemic, encouraged his supporters to stay home on polling day and post their votes in advance, whilst Trump continued to maintain his position that Covid is nothing to worry about and people should get out and vote on the day. Amazing though, I thought, how many of his supporters who turned up at polling stations, chanting “Stop the count!” were wearing facemasks all of a sudden.

All that said, it’s terribly bad form not to have conceded defeat by now. And the thing is, Trump knows it is. And how do we know this? Well there’s a saying on Twitter: for every Tweet he sends, there is a previous Tweet contradicting it. And on this occasion, it’s this one:

Everyone knows that Trump is a narcissist, who thrives on attention and viewing figures; there is now a movement on Twitter to #UnfollowTrump – that is, that everyone who followed him, y’know, just to keep an eye on him, should now unfollow him, and imagine his face turn a shade of slightly whiter-orange as he sees his follower figures crumble at the same time as his presidency.

Anyway, whilst Trump continues to play the victim card, tonight’s song seemed appropriate:

More soon