Apollo 11

I was 17-years old and alone at home (my family was away on vacation) when I heard those famous words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The worldwide excitement that the event sparked is brought to new life, with footage never seen publically before, by documentarian Todd Douglas Miller with “Apollo 11.”

Laura's Review: A

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced to a joint session of congress his goal to send an American to the moon and safely return to Earth before the end of the decade. A little over eight years later, on July 16, 1969, the world held its breath for the launching of “Apollo 11.” Director Todd Douglas Miller (“Dinosaur 13”) contacted the National Archives and Records Administration when he began his latest documentary and that resulted in an unexpected mother lode when they decided to look into the large format NASA material they knew they had. Eureka! 165 reels called the ‘65mm Panavision collection’ were found documenting NASA missions from “Apollo 8” through “Apollo 13,” over a third of which were devoted to “Apollo 11.” Miller has used this pristine, richly colored footage wisely, letting it speak for itself. There is no narration. There are no talking heads. There is just a sterling, 93 minute recreation of one of mankind’s most miraculous technological feats from preparations at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Houston’s mission control to the crowds of people who watched Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Connolly take off and return nine days later to onboard and outside the various components of Apollo 11 itself. Miller’s only additions are some simple black and white diagrams outlining various mission maneuvers and the powerful, sparingly used music (by “Dinosaur 13’s” Matt Morton) which accentuates the documentary’s tensest moments. The first image we see, that of an enormous tractor slowly hauling the quarter acre launch pad and its rocket to its designated position, is amazing, its tank treads towering over the engineers who slowly walk in front of it. This is unlike anything we have ever seen before. But even more familiar images take on a new life here. We’ve all seen the bleachers for NASA launch guests, but here we see the in-his-prime Johnny Carson happily walking through in a plaid suit and LBJ greeting people from the stands. Thousands more line the coast in an Apollo 11 tailgate. A man holds up binoculars for a young girl. Another takes a sip of Busch from a lawn chair. An entire J.C. Penney parking lot is jammed with onlookers. The colors are so vibrant, the images so crisp, were it not for the fifty year-old fashions the images could have been shot yesterday. The scope of the mission is revealed as a tracking shot going by banks of Mission Control engineers just keeps going, and going, and going, hundreds of men situated at computer monitors. Events we’ve been familiar with for decades gain new urgency as a team addresses a leaky valve during the countdown or a red error code flashes as the lunar landing module descends (and we hear how Neil Armstrong’s heart rate increased from 110 to 156 beats a minute). A television in a NASA lobby orients us in historical time, reporting on the Vietnam War and the aftermath of a tragedy in Chappaquiddick. We note the movie star handsomeness of mission control capsule communicator Bruce McCandless. We hear the three astronauts joke about their respective views from Columbia’s windows. We see a spinning tape player in the weightlessness of the capsule as “Mother Country” accompanies the astronauts back to Earth. “Apollo 11” is only playing for one week in IMAX theaters before going wider in regular theaters. Try to see it on the biggest screen you can. (And if you have yet to see Damien Chazelle’s “First Man,” it would make the perfect double feature.) Grade:

Robin's Review: B

“A Place…” begins with images of the majestic landscape of America from its thriving cities to its rich, bountiful farmlands and rugged mountains. Then, it gets right to the meat, so to speak, of a problem as seen through the eyes of three people from different parts of the country that have one thing in common – coping with hunger. Barbie is the young, single mother of two in Philadelphia who struggles, daily, to keep her kids fed. Rosie is a second grader living in Colorado who has problems concentrating at school because of hunger and relies on others to feed her. Mississippi grade-schooler Tremonica’s asthma is aggravated by a diet noticeably lacking in nutrition. These three give a face to the problem of hunger in the US and they are joined by an eclectic array of advocates and advisors to hit home the fact that, daily, millions of Americans go hungry. As expected, “A Place at the Table” is awash with statistics about America’s hunger crisis. These stats, though, are not just number crunching but a window into a world that, once upon a time in the 1930s, helped subsidize farmers to make a living income. Now, 70% of all government farm subsidies go to fewer than 10% of the operating farms in the US. It is near guaranteed that this 10% does NOT consist of small, struggling farms but corporations. Documentarians Jacobson and Silverbush delve into the history of hunger in America when President Richard Nixon first declared the War on Hunger and it was eradicated by the end of the 1970s. That changed with Ronal Reagan who was responsible, with his domestic policy, for not just re-introducing the problem of hunger in the US but for making it the epidemic it has become in this country. The question in my mind as all of the evidence of the problem is laid out, is what can be done? The measures taken thus far – food stamps, soup kitchens, food banks and charitable programs – simply are not enough to eliminate hunger. As one of the interviewees, actor Jeff Bridges, puts it (and I paraphrase): We have to wake the people up and demand that government programs be focused on ending hunger in America forever.