Friday, April 22, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Astronauts

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them.

I'm a little late posting this week, but it is Thursday, and thus, time for Thursday Movie Picks...

... IN SPACE!!!!!!!

I have always been fascinated by astronauts, and wanted to be one for quite a long time in my youth. I remember begging my parents to let me go to space camp but it never happened. Ah, what could have been!

But at any rate, my love affair with outer space took a serious hit upon seeing one of my picks for this week. I decided that it was far too dangerous a profession for me, and another one of my picks this week confirmed that not only was it dangerous, but that it mostly involved work on the ground on Earth. WTF?! Here are my picks, going from Earth to outer space.

Contact (Robert Zemeckis, 1997) I'm maybe cheating a little with this one because Jodie Foster's character isn't technically an astronaut, but she does go into space. Maybe. It depends on your interpretation of what actually happens in the film's last act journey. But what I love most about Contact - besides Jodie Foster, of course - is how it focuses on the daily drudgery of work related to outer space. It's comparable to archeology: Most of it is slow and procedural, but once in a blue moon something truly exciting and magical happens. Consider this the "thinking person's outer space movie," and a damn good one.

Apollo 13 (Ron Howard, 1995) This film looks at both what happens on the ground at Mission Control and what happens in space during an actual mission. Of course, this is one of those "based on a true story" movies, so most people going in already know what's going to happen (NASA has a bad case of Murphy's Law on the Apollo 13 mission to the moon, but through genius, outside-the-box thinking, manages to get their boys home), but that doesn't make any of Ron Howard's film any less suspenseful, surprising, or heartbreaking. The cast and filmmaking are rock-solid, and the special effects remain convincing to this day. The whole story did a number on me as an 11 year-old, though: After seeing it, I abandoned all desires to ever go into outer space. I'm still a huge astronomy nut, though.

Gravity (Alfonso CuarĂ³n, 2013) ...that said, I don't think I've ever seen a single image in all cinema that has inspired such fear deep in the pit of my gut as the one that ends Gravity's bravura opening seventeen-minute continuous shot - showing Sandra Bullock's Dr. Ryan Stone tumbling away into the black vastness of space. That Alfonso CuarĂ³n's masterpiece somehow only gets more intense and thrilling from there seems impossible, but it is gloriously true. I was so impressed with this when I first saw it in IMAX 3D that I went back not a week later to see it in regular 2D just to see if it held up, and boy did it EVER. This is the most thrilling film of the '00s, an explosion of pure cinema that restored my faith in the art's ability to inspire awe, and Exhibit A for why you should see movies on the biggest screen possible, not on your freaking phone.


  1. I love Contact and thought it is an under-rated film that really makes you think. Glad to see Apollo 13 here because I thought that would be everywhere so I didn't pick that one for that reason...should have:) Gravity...ughhhh, the special effects are amazing but I can't understand how this is a great film because I found parts of it quite silly. I was not impressed at all.

  2. Love Gravity even though I didn't see it on that big a screen (not my phone, though). Fantastic film. Still need to see the other two. Great post.

  3. Tremendous picks! Contact is so little discussed it seems nowadays which is a shame since it is unique in its mixture of fact and speculation.

    I like Gravity but not as much as you do. It has beautiful imagery but my attention drifted at times, probably because I missed it in the theatres and it really seems like the type of film that would have benefited from that.

    Speaking of which that is what added so much to seeing Apollo 13 the first time. As you mentioned it would seem knowing the outcome would diminish the impact of the film. But sitting there watching in the darkened theatre as they faced one peril after another I found myself with white knuckles as the tension mounted, that's great filmmaking for you. It's a film I rewatch often and find it engages me every time, not just the time in the capsule either but Mission Control and the Lovell's home. Great work by all.

    Actually my first thoughts for this week were Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff, another film I love, I was sure they’d be everywhere and was really surprised to see each only turn up once, at least they were mentioned. But I went in search of more obscure titles and came up with these three:

    Capricorn One (1977)-While awaiting the launch of the first manned flight to Mars the command center realizes too late to abort that a malfunction in the support system will kill the astronauts during the journey. Needing a success to continue the program the astronauts are whisked away to a false lunar surface in the desert and the entire mission faked. When the spaceship burns up on reentry and the hoax is at risk of being exposed it becomes a cat and mouse game as the astronauts fight for survival.

    Silent Running (1971)-All botanical life on Earth has ceased to exist, ecologist/astronaut Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) oversees a greenhouse on an orbiting space station to preserve various flora and fauna for future generations. Assisted by three robots and a small human crew who see no value in maintaining the forest, Lowell rebels when orders arrive to destroy the greenhouse in favor of carrying cargo, a decision that puts him at odds with everyone but his mechanical companions. Lowell and his robots are forced to do anything necessary to keep their invaluable greenery alive. A quiet and meditative take for the most part on the shortsightedness of the human race.

    The Reluctant Astronaut (1967)-Agoraphobic Roy (Don Knotts) runs the kid spaceship ride at the fairground but his father hopes for better and applies to NASA for him. Surprisingly he’s accepted…as a janitor. After many crazy complications Roy ends up in space as the title pilot! If it sounds preposterous, it is but then it’s a Don Knotts comedy after all.

  4. I also chose Gravity. I never did see Contact and it's been years since I've seen Apollo 13. I don't remember much of it.

  5. Great picks!! I almost went for Apollo 13 - great movie but I agree, watching that would put anyone from venturing into space.