Apollo 11

Apollo 11 (2019)

Directed by Todd Douglas Miller

Like so many kids of my generation I was obsessed with space and space travel, something that has persisted in my love of pure science as well as science fiction literature and film. One of my earliest preschool memories was running around our yard in rural Australia with an empty cereal box as a helmet, telling anyone who would listen I was going to be the first singing astronaut.

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and my local, the State Cinema in Hobart has joined with a few other independent cinemas to run a Moon Festival. This short season of moon-related features opened tonight with the documentary Apollo 11.

As a child of the 60s (I was 10 when Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon) this film bought back many memories, such as having the day off school in the middle of winter, sitting with my friends on our couch, all with our legs raised trying to put our foot on the ground the same time as Neil Armstrong. And long conversations with my beloved father about physics, space travel, what we might find there and the hope the Apollo missions represented for humanity.

So, as soon as the pre-mission countdown began at Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) and the luscious sound design started to work its magic, I knew I was being emotionally manipulated by a very cleverly made documentary – and I welcomed it with open arms! Rather than filling screen with facts and figures, this film explores more the feeling of the time and the profound nature of the mission. Even though I know how the story goes, I felt the tension build in me as the astronauts and their ground crews approached crisis points.

Everything about this film is big – the opening scenes of the Saturn 5 rocket sitting on the launch pad, the crowds who came to Florida to watch the launch, the sound of take-off and the beautiful, insistent score by Matt Morton that doesn’t intrude but blends beautifully with the overall sound design by Eric Milano and the superb film editing by Todd Douglas Miller.

Unsurprisingly, this movie won the editing award and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize (documentary) at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and I have no doubt it will go on to earn further industry accolades. If you have an interest in the moon landing, space exploration, lived through the event or just an interest in modern history, this is a great film. See it on the largest screen you possibly can, (there is an IMAX version) preferably one with a very good sound system.

This superb film has taken archival footage and made it meaningful for new audiences half a century later, no mean feat! I found it stirring and incredibly uplifting but I left the cinema with a profound sense of sadness that my generation never followed through on the promise of truly going to the stars.

The Favourite

The Favourite 2018

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

I went to the State Cinema on Friday night, this time with a girlfriend who is very knowledgeable (and incredibly interesting to chat with) about history, style and particularly costume – the perfect partner for a film like this! It was a hot night in Hobart and after grabbing some drinks at the bar, we made our way into the cool air conditioned cinema and lost ourselves in Baroque England for the next two hours.

One of the first things I noticed was the lighting and the wonderful cinematography by Robbie Ryan. Lanthimos wanted to shoot only with available light and candles, which gives a fabulous softness to the finished movie. They also used 35mm film, rather than go for the crisp, digital look that is the industry standard now. The use of extreme wide-angle perspectives is introduced early but isn’t overdone and similarly with slow motion. For me, this elegantly underlined the surreal nature of the overall work. Shot framing (particularly some of the exteriors) and the use of space in general is breathtakingly beautiful The costumes are equally as fabulous and hats off again to Oscar-winning designer Sandy Powell for another wonderfully inventive film.

This film is many things – at once sumptuous, irreverent, surreal, elegant, outrageous, heartbreaking, laugh-out-loud funny and at times, downright bawdy – and I loved every minute of it! Plus, there’s bunnies!!!  The sound design is rises and falls as needed but never gets in the way of the excellent script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara and the cast deliver it wonderfully. The three female leads Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are engaged in a complex power struggle and all are at the top of their game here. Mark Gatiss, James Smith and Joe Alwyn are great supporting players and Nicholas Hoult is delicious as the bitchy and be-wigged Harley.

But at its heart is a stellar performance by Olivia Colman. I loved her in Broadchurch (2013), The Night Manager (2016) and especially Tyrannosaur (2011). She brings her best to this film, expressing all the complexities and inner turmoil of the ailing Queen Anne on the screen with a power and deftness that deserves ALL the awards.

Overall, I think Lanthimos has made his most accessible work to date. This was my first trip to the cinema for 2019 and I suspect I saw one of the year’s best films – it’s going to be hard to top!

Go see it on the biggest screen possible.