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.