Apollo 10½, and six more movies

Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood (2022)

This is non-stop nostalgia for the 1960s, specifically the time around the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and back. It's a cartoon, based on writer-director Richard Linklater's memories of his childhood and familyhis family — his dad worked for NASA, but in a boring office job.



Feb. 24, 2023

My dad didn't work for NASA, but he worked at NASA, as a Boeing subcontractor on the Saturn 5 rocket. Linklater and I were kids at about the same time, with the same family focus on the moonshot, so virtually everything in the film is a spin on my memories, too, and I loved it.

There's a moment where the narrator (Jack Black) rattles off the names of 25 TV shows he watched in the 1960s, and 24 of them are shows that I watched in the '60s (I was somehow immune to McHale's Navy). Even Time Tunnel is on the list, and nobody remembers Time Tunnel.

There's a very brief shot of a movie theater called the Cinema 1 & 2, which looks almost exactly like the Lynn Twin in Lynnwood, and probably like a hundred other theaters. It's a little late for me to realize, they probably used the same template for building two-screen theaters everywhere, same as every McDonald's looked the same and still does.

There are also lots of laughs, amidst a bunch of childhood vignettes and inter-sibling rivalries and Dad being a cheapskate and Mom talking common sense. The main story — abandoned for half an hour at a time so the film could squeeze in more of the '60s — is that the main character, a prepubescent boy, has whimsical daydreams of going to the moon.

Everything here is aimed at boomers, and everything connects. I'm not sure the film would hold the attention of anyone under the age of 55, unless some whippersnapper has an intense interest in history or anthropology. For an old fogey like me, though, it's a hilarious trip through time.

Linklater uses the same rotoscoping animation technique that he pioneered with A Scanner Darkly, where the movie is filmed with actors but then drawn over. Same as with that movie, it's a bit of a distraction, a flourish that seems unnecessary, but also same as A Scanner Darkly, everything else is so spot on you simply forget to be annoyed by the cartoonery.

And it is a darn near perfect film. This is what Hollywood does so well, though Linklater, of course, did it all in Austin. 

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Alien from the Deep (1989)

A couple of Greenpeace activists sneak around on a tropical island trying to find proof that corporate bad guys are dumping radioactive waste into a live volcano. What they find is that the heat and radioactivity of the volcano have attracted space aliens, but the moviemakers don't care about this, so why should you?

Cheap Italian exploitation, dubbed in English, with snakes.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman! (1975) 

In Kal-El's lost era, between TV Superman George Reeves and movie Superman Christopher Reeve, there was a Broadway musical, and this is a performance of that play, filmed for television.

It looks so cheap — shot on video, very flat and overlit — it's hard to believe that this aired on ABC in prime time. If you can get past how bad it looks, it's an occasionally funny comedy, reminiscent of TV's silly Batman, but not nearly as dark and gritty.

And it's a musical, but with very tepid songs. Lois Lane's introductory number is OK, but all the other songs are less than that, and a few are so bad I fast-forwarded.

A nobody plays Superman, and looks kinda wrong for the role, but he's OK. The rest of the cast includes Lesley Ann Warren as Lois Lane, no Jimmy Olson at all, Allen Ludden as Perry White, and Kenneth Mars, Al Molinaro, Loretta Swit, and David Wayne as bad guys. Only Mr Mars is amusing, as you might guess, but everyone tries, except Ludden, he's leaden. And it's narrated by the familiar voice of Gary Owens. 

Verdict: NO. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Malcolm X (1972)

No, this isn't Spike Lee's biopic, it's the real thing — a documentary with Mr X speaking his mind in footage from speeches, and answering reporters' often quite clueless questions. 

It's fascinating getting to know the man. His life was a journey indeed — from pimp and petty thief to prison, to one of the grand rabble-rousing radicals of our time. And it's still our time. 

James Earl Jones narrates, but mostly it's Malcolm who does the talking, and for a radical, he seems remarkably reasonable. He didn't have the patience to live yet another life as a man subjugated by this racist society, so he stood up to it.

The film shows some of his growth as a person, from the "hate whitey" theoretic of his first years as a leader to his journey to Mecca, his shock at meeting decent white people there, his eventual break with Islamic leader Elijah Muhammad, and finally, his murder.

Made by Arnold Perl (Cotton Comes to Harlem, Fiddler on the Roof), based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Mom and Dad Save the World (1991)

Emperor Tod of the planet Spengo (Jon Lovitz) plans war on Earth, but falls in love with an Earth woman (Teri Garr) instead, so he kidnaps Garr and her husband (Jeffrey Jones).

Spango is described as a planet of idiots, which seems accurate. The level of comedy here is that Jones's character is named Dick, so people on Spango call him Earth-Dick — and that's a good enough level of comedy for me.

It's a celebration of cheesy sci-fi silliness, with talking dogs and mad scientist Wallace Shawn and kindly space numbskull Eric Idle.

Written by Chris Matheson (all three Bill & Teds) and Ed Solomon (Men in Black), with music by Jerry Goldsmith (Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Next Generation). Directed by Greg Beeman, who has, to my knowledge, never made a good movie except this one, but he did a lot of somewhat better-than-average television (Heroes, Smallville, The Wonder Years).

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Strike (1925)

"The strength of the working class is organization. Without organization of the masses, the proletarian is nothing. Organized it is everything. Being organized means unity of action, unity of practical activity."

Written and directed by Sergei Eisenstein, Strike is a stirring propaganda piece, but it's not so much about Soviet values as about valuing people who work for a living.

A worker at a shoe factory is falsely accused of stealing, and deeply ashamed, he kills himself. This tragedy motivates the factory's workers to petition management, hoping to improve working conditions. Management being management, their request is turned down, which leads to an uprising.

The story starts slow, but builds as it goes, and by the halfway mark it's riveting and it never lets go. 

The visuals are as revolutionary as the plot. At the climax, a crowd of strikers being attacked is juxtaposed against the slaughter of a cow. All through the film, animals are slaughtered or simply treated as animals, immediately counterbalanced by similar mistreatment of workers and strikers.

It sounds didactic, strident — and it is, but it's also compelling. This is cinema with a message urgently needed a century later, and probably still needed a century from now if anyone's still around to watch old movies:

If you treat people like crap, and use violence to keep them down, eventually the people you've beaten down will fight back. In 2023, I'm ready. Any time now.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Top Secret (1984)

From Zucker Zucker & Abrahams, the same team that made Airplane! and Kentucky Fried Movie, this is only slightly less frantic and funny, but it's still very, very funny. 

Superstar American pop singer Nick Rivers (baby-faced Val Kilmer, in his first role) takes his surf-shooting rock'n'roll on a tour of East Germany (which was commieland, back then), and falls into international intrigue and romance and general silliness.

The movie has everything but a plot, because plots are overrated and unnecessary. There's something funny every twenty seconds, laughs at least once a minute, and it's all very stupid, and also it's an unofficial sequel to The Blue Lagoon. Kilmer sings, he dances, completely owns every scene he's in, and he's so cute I'm left questioning my heterosexuality.

In the midst of rewatching of all the Marx Brothers films, this would fit in nicely — it's that level of absurd. Peter Cushing in reverse and Omar Sharif as a sub-compact car co-star. 

"I know a little German. He's sitting over there."

Verdict: YES, YES, YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Coming attractions:

Cisco Pike (1971)
Demonwarp (1988)
Dust Devil (1992)
I Was a Shoplifter (1950)
The Terminal Man (1974)
Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, try • AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlix • or your local library.

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.
— — —
Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff.

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  1. Hey wait a minute...*I* remember Time Tunnel! (Frankly I think Irwin Allen's shows went "downhill" after Lost in Space, but I was just a kid, so what do I know.

    I'm going to have to find that flick, because I was 11 during the summer of Apollo 11, so we're all close to the same age.

    1. You'll love the movie.

      TIME TUNNEL was *awesome* science fiction when I was a kid. And then twenty years or so ago, when streaming on the internet started, I re-watched a couple of episodes, and of course they were *so* cheesy. As an adult with discriminating taste, I now travel in time only with DOCTOR WHO.

  2. McHale's Navy was family fare at our house. Dad and Mom and my sister and I rarely missed an episode. It might have been the only show that the four of us enjoyed equally, and was family popcorn time.

    Watching an episode now, it seems pretty tame fare, but in 1962, the subversive nature of the show was mildly revolutionary.



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