Apollo 13 ★★½

Slight upgrade... The first time I saw this was the week it came out on video, when it was shown to my entire sixth grade class as a "reward" for something I've long since forgotten, with the added annoyance of our social studies teacher constantly stopping it to explain the historical context and dramatic foreshadowing (the "ring" omen etc.) and such, which may be the definitive way to experience a Ron Howard movie in the proper spirit: with a bonus sledgehammer pounding away at you. I came away extremely tired and bored by it all, despite having considerable interest in NASA (which I still do) and despite actually kind of looking forward to it. (Even as a kid, Event Movies already kind of gave me a migraine.) Because of its mostly accurate technical rundown of the titular near-disaster, it has its merit for space buffs, though I very much prefer the dry but readable book on which it's based, Jim Lovell's Lost Moon. It's pretty much impossible to view the adaptation as anything other than generic, despite competent direction and reasonably good performances by everyone in the cast. It shoots for excitement but mostly tells you things are intense, with heavy use of media clips to sell the urgency, rather than finding any inventive way to make you feel it. And once it's over, despite its lofty statements about longing for the U.S. to return to the Moon, you don't really feel affected by any of it. I'm in the middle of Mary Roach's book Packing for Mars; any single page of that book has more wit and insight and personality than this bloated Hollywood production in its entirety... but even at that, I can see how watching it would offer a kind of comfort in its stoic directness, so I can't say it's bad, but I do really wish Howard got better cultural signifiers or learned how to use them more discreetly -- the shoehorned argument about the Beatles' breakup is a verbal prediction of the bizarrely large and well-lit copy of Green Eggs & Ham in A Beautiful Mind.

This was the favorite to win the Best Picture Oscar in 1995 and it's a much better movie than the execrable Braveheart, but at the same time I completely understand why the latter won -- Braveheart is so heinously dumb and bad and messy you can imagine somebody having some sort of passion for it, whereas Apollo 13 is an empty, workmanlike piece of terminally adequate product with no sense of real risk-taking, pleasure or audacity apart from the strange sensation of listening to several Hank Williams songs slowed down to a deathly dirge on the floating cassette player in the cabin. This dichotomy extends to the directors themselves: Howard is unmistakably a more skilled and technically proficient filmmaker than Mel Gibson; and he seems like a nice person and I don't mean to drill him, but does anyone really believe he cares about any of the subject matter of his movies? Even at his best, his work always plays like a check-cashing TV assignment. Gibson obviously cares, and is obviously nuts, and his complete willingness to fall flat on his face is kind of a relief compared to what Howard does even though his movies are phenomenally shitty. And by the way, it seems to have become a meme on Twitter to mock people who are always complaining that movies are too long so let me say it even louder: THESE MOVIES ARE BOTH TOO DAMN LONG. Thanks.