TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.15 “Something They Need” (dir by Michael Slovis)


Hi there!  Before I get around to saying what little I have to say about tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, I want to share something with you.

Next week is the season finale and, naturally, it’s an extended episode.  I have two fears.

  1. I fear that next week’s episode will be 70 minutes of Rick and Dwight sitting in a cell and discussing right and wrong.
  2. I also fear that the episode will end with Rick standing on a hill, looking back at all of his followers, and announcing, “And now — we attack!”  This will immediately be followed by the end credits and Talking Dead.  See you once Season 8 starts!

If either of those happen, this will be my response:

I have such mixed feelings about the pace of The Walking Dead.  On the one hand, I appreciate that it’s a show that literally takes place after the end of the world.  Civilization is over and sometimes, that is best represented by stillness.  There’s no need for anyone to hurry because there’s really nowhere to go.  There are no more jobs.  There are no more movies.  There are no more clubs.  There are no more schools.  There’s nothing.  The only thing that matters in the world of The Walking Dead is survival and, often times, it’s necessary to move slowly and with caution to survive.

On the other hand, this season has been so slow!  It feels as if it has taken Rick longer to organize this attack than it took for Lafayette to sail across the ocean and track down Gen. Washington.  Yes, I appreciate why the pace is deliberate but there’s really only so many times that you can watch the same scene play out over and over again.

Tonight was a perfect example.  It featured three storylines, all of which were way too dragged out.  Tonight was basically 30 minutes worth of story stretched out to a full hour.

In Alexandria, Gregory again showed himself incapable of … well, just about anything.  Nobody has any respect for Gregory.  Maggie had to save him from a walker.  Gregory’s either going to get killed by Negan or he’s going to get bitten by a walker.  I think he actually had the potential to be an interesting character (and Xander Berkeley is certainly a good actor) but Gregory is so obviously doomed that it’s hard to really care about him one way or the other.

In Sanctuary, Sasha is somehow not dead.  Instead, she’s in that same little cell that Daryl was in.  Negan was apparently impressed by her suicidal attack.  Why that would impress Negan, I’m not sure.  Anyway, Negan killed a savior who was on the verge of raping Sasha.  That’s a good thing, though you have to wonder if Negan set the whole thing up just so he’d have an excuse to play the hero.  He wants to bring Sasha over to his side.  Again, I’m not sure why.  Mostly, I assume that Sasha’s alive so that she can be used as a hostage if Rick ever actually gets around to launching this attack that he’s been going on about.

(In many ways, Sasha being alive epitomizes this season’s greatest flaw.  She’s not alive because there’s any real logic behind her somehow not being dead.  Instead, she’s alive so she can be used as a plot device later on.  Keeping Sasha alive comes at the price of whatever consistency had previously been established as far as Negan’s character is concerned.)

And finally, Tara told Rick about Oceanside so Rick and his people went down there and took all their guns.  The scenes of Rick bullying the Oceansiders were mixed in with scenes of Negan trying to bring Sasha over to the Saviors.  I got the feeling we were supposed to compare the contrasting leadership styles of Rick, Negan, and Gregory.  Gregory is inneffectual.  Rick will do what needs to be done but only when he doesn’t have any other choice.  Negan just talks too much.

At the end of the episode, Rosita returned from Sanctuary.  Accompanying her was … DWIGHT!  So, Dwight was the man she saw in the shadows.  Rick pointed a gun at him and told him to get on his knees.  Apparently, next week’s episode will feature Rick talking to Dwight in a cell.  I just hope they don’t spend too much time talking.

Anyway, as you can probably tell, this episode was way too slow for me.  But, at least Rick does seem to be inching closer to finally launching that attack.

HURRY UP, RICK!

Maggie and Gregory do …. something.

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TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.14 “The Other Side”


Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead was the type of episode that drives me crazy.  It was an episode where hardly anything happened and what did happen played out very slowly.  In fact, I eventually ended up getting so bored that I started trying to imagine how The Walking Dead could ever come up with an episode slower than “The Other Side.”

After giving it some thought, I decided the only way it could happen would be if Terrence Malick agreed to be a guest director during season 8.  As I sat waiting for something to happen in the episode that I was actually watching, I found myself imagining what the Malick-directed episode would be like.

I envisioned Rick standing alone in a vibrantly green field.  The grass is high and the blowing wind creates gentle waves of nature.  Rick looks up to the incredibly blue sky and sees one extremely white cloud floating over.  Rick looks down at the ground.  An egg hatches.  A bird is born.  Rick stares at the bird.  The bird stares at him.  They both flash back to prehistory.  A sabre tooth tiger eats a caveman who looks suspiciously like Norman Reedus.  Rick blinks.  Rick’s back in the field.  Christian Bale walks by, dressed up like a 1930s Oklahoma dust bowl farmer.  He looks at Rick.  Rick stares back.  Christian Bale walks on.

On the soundtrack, we hear Ben Kinglsey’s voice.  “What is this nature of man that refuses to accept that death begins with life and life ends with death?  Will the grass blow for an eternity?”

Rick looks off in the distance.  Walkers are approaching.

On the soundtrack, we hear Jessica Chastain’s voice: “I will wait you at the other end of the river, where the two waters meet in life and diverge in death.”

“Shane, Glenn, and old Dale Horvath,” Rick mutters, “Always you are at war within me.”

The walkers calmly walk by Rick.  Rick notices that a man in animal skins is with the walkers and yet, the man is not eaten because he has returned to a more innocent and primitive state….

And so on and so forth.

Anyway, as for what actually did happen during tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, I guess this was a pretty good example of why I should be careful what I ask for.  For weeks, I’ve been defending Rosita and saying that people should let her attack the Sanctuary.  Well, tonight, she and Sasha finally made it to the Sanctuary and that attack did not go quite as planned.  First off, Eugene refused to go back to Alexandria with them.  (A better name for the Sanctuary would be Stockholm because Eugene’s got a huge case of Stockholm Syndrome, am I right or am I right?  Thank you, I’ll be here all night.)  Then Sasha announced that Rosita needed to go back to Alexandria and ran into the Sanctuary to create a diversion.  With Sasha undoubtedly getting shot up by Negan’s goons, Rosita ran off but then stopped when she saw someone in the shadows.  I’m assuming it was Daryl.

(By the way, I know we’re all supposed to get mad at Rosita for potentially messing up Rick’s plans but seriously, can you blame her?  Rick only has one plan: Do nothing until that’s no longer an option, sacrifice half of your people on a suicide mission, and make sure Carl survives to lose another eye.)

This all happened in the final ten minutes of the episode and it was pretty good and exciting.  But to get to that point, we had to sit through a seemingly endless slog of scenes that mostly felt like filler.  The Saviors showed up at Alexandria and, once again, we had to watch Simon bully Gregory while everyone else stood around and shook their head in disgust.  Because Negan set his last doctor on fire, he decided to take Alexandria’s doctor.

“OH MY GOD!” the audience was supposed to shout, “Maggie’s pregnant and Alexandria has lost their only doctor!”

(Maggie’s been pregnant for a while now and she’s still not showing.  Trying to figure out how much time has actually passed in The Walking Dead is almost as much fun as trying to figure out how long they were actually on the island on Lost.)

And yes, Negan arbitrarily taking someone else’s doctor because he stupidly killed his own does reinforce the fact that Negan is a jackass and something needs to be done about him.  But seriously, it all played out so slowly.  And it’s not like Gregory was going to refuse to hand over the doctor or anything.  Other than Daryl almost coming out of hiding to attack someone, nothing unexpected or particularly interesting happened during all of that.  It was all just more Savior bully bullshit.

When we weren’t in Alexandria, we spent an eternity watching Rosita raise and lower a rifle.  At one point, I was scared that the whole rest of this season would just be Rosita raising the rifle, looking through the scope, and then lowering it.

Fortunately, this episode ended with some action but it took forever to get there.  There’s only two more episodes left in this season so hopefully, the show will pick up the pace a little.  Because, seriously, if season 7 ends with Rick announcing that it’s finally time to attack as he stares at the Sanctuary in the distance, I’m going to throw a fit.

 

 

TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.10 “My New Best Friends” (dir by Jeffrey F. January)


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Oh my God!

Is it possible that we’ve actually had two good episodes of The Walking Dead in a row!?

Indeed it is.  In fact, I would say that tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead was the high point of the season so far.  I don’t know if the show’s production team has been listening to the complaints that many fans had during the first half of the season but, with both this episode and last week’s, it’s hard not to feel that the show is trying to correct some earlier mistakes.

For instance, there was no Negan in this episode.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Negan can be an intimidating bad guy.  But, like many great villains, Negan is at his most effective when he’s off screen.  The big mistake that the Walking Dead made during the first half of season 7 was going for an all-Negan, all-the-time format.  With each appearance, Negan became just a little bit more cartoonish and, as a result, he became less and less intimidating.

However, though this episode largely dealt with people trying to figure out what to do about the Saviors, Negan was still kept in the shadows.  As a result, Negan’s becoming a threat again.

Tonight’s episode followed two storylines, which is a definite improvement over the plodding pace of the first half of the season.  Both storylines were equally interesting, though I think everyone’s heart was invested in Daryl and Carol.

So, let’s get Rick out of the way.  Last week, I assumed that Rick had come across the Oceanside community but it turns out that I was wrong.  (And that’s not a bad thing because the Oceanside community kinda sucked.)  Instead, this is a community of people who live in a junkyard.  In many ways, they’re just as ritualized and borderline ludicrous as Ezekiel’s Kingdom.  The only question is whether or not the Junkyarders, like Ezekiel, realize how silly their little community is.  Are all of their rituals designed as an escape from grim reality or are they all just crazy?

The Junkyard is run by Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), who seems to have a permanent smirk and who speaks like an evil Queen in an Italian Hercules film.  But, and this is largely due to McIntosh’s performance and her chemistry with Andrew Lincoln, Jadis is still likable.  When she and Rick finally formed their alliance, I was happy because Jadis looks like she’s going to be a valuable ally in the inevitable battle with the Saviors.  Seriously, who doesn’t want to see Jadis kick Negan’s ass?

Of course, before Rick could talk to Jadis, he had to defeat an armor-covered walker that the Junkyard crew appeared to be using as a gladiator.  That was exciting and it’s nice to see that The Walking Dead is trying to think up new things to do with their undead.

But, ultimately, this show was all about Carol and Daryl.  Daryl has been hiding out at the Kingdom.  When Richard told Daryl that he had an idea for how they could convince Ezekiel to go to war with the Saviors, Daryl was all ears until he discovered that Richard’s plan involved leading the Saviors to Carol.  “She’s going to die anyway!”  Richard exclaimed.

Obviously, Richard doesn’t know Carol!

After giving Richard the beat down that he deserved for underestimating Carol, Daryl went to Carol’s cabin and seriously, their time together was everything.  For once, we got a moment of joy in this relentlessly grim series.

I always love the scenes between Carol and Daryl.  I love the way that both Daryl and Carol drop their guard when they’re together.  At its best, The Walking Dead has always centered around the question of how people can keep their humanity, even in the worst of circumstances.  Tonight, Carol and Daryl provided that humanity.

This was a good episode, one that reminded me why I watch this show in the first place.  Let’s hope that the rest of season 7 is just as good!

TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.9 “Rock in the Road” (dir by Greg Nicotero)


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Well, The Walking Dead is back and again, I am going to try to watch and review each episode for the Shattered Lens.  You may remember that I attempted to do this during the first half of season 7.  I reviewed the first five episodes of the new season and then…

Well, how to put this?

I got bored.

Seriously, I tried to make excuses for the glacial pace of season 7.  I kept telling myself that it was actually a brilliant narrative decision.  I defended the controversial first episode and I’ll continue to do so.  I enjoyed the second episode, largely because of the tiger.  But, after that, I started to get bored.  Each episode introduced us to a new community of boring people.  Each episode featured a lot of conversation but little action.  And what little action there was regularly interrupted by Negan popping up and screaming for half an hour.  As much as I like character development and conversation, this is a show about the end of the world.  There’s only so much time that I can spend watching Rick look depressed.

And so, after five episodes, I gave up on the first half of season 7.  It was just too slow and the show was spending so much time on what a badass Negan supposedly was that the zombies had become an afterthought.  Did season 7 really need a special 90 minute episode of Negan acting like a dick?  I still watched the show but mentally, I checked out.  And, judging by how the ratings cratered between the 1st episode (8.7 million viewers) and the 8th episode (5 million viewers), I was not alone in being dissatisfied.

But, in the break between the end of the first half of season 7 and tonight’s return, I’ve had time to recover.  Today, as I debated whether to actually watch the new episode of The Walking Dead, I considered that this show has hit rough spots in the past.  It’s never been a perfect show.  I wasn’t a huge fan of season 1 and, in later seasons,  I thought they spent way too much time at Herschel’s farm.  But, in the past, when The Walking Dead has needed to deliver, that’s exactly what it’s done.  In short, I decided to give The Walking Dead a second chance.

And, having just watched tonight’s episode, I’m glad that I did.  Rock in the Road was a good episode.  In fact, it may have been the best episode since The Well.  There were still flaws, of course.  As any true Walking Dead fan knows, this show has always been uneven.  The Walking Dead is a gloriously imperfect show but, at its best, it’s the type of show that can almost make those flaws seem admirable.  It’s easy to get frustrated with The Walking Dead‘s leisurely pace and rambling narrative.  But, ultimately, that leisurely pace has also led to some of The Walking Dead‘s most resonant moments.

Much like every other episode so far in season 7, Rock in the Road told its story slowly but, at the same time, it at least had a destination in mind.  Rick has finally snapped out of his self-pity and is now trying to build an alliance to fight Negan and the Saviors.  As this episode showed, it won’t necessarily be easy.  But, at least Rick is actually trying to do something!

There are several reasons why Rock in the Road was a noticeable improvement over the first half of the season.  Here’s a few:

  1. Action Rick is more fun than Shellshocked Rick.  As an actor, Andrew Lincoln is far more compelling when he’s standing up for himself than when he’s being grimly morose.  To be honest, I’ve never been sold on Rick as a leader.  When I watched him trying to build up his anti-Negan alliance, I found myself wondering if people were aware that Rick doesn’t exactly have a great track record as far as keeping people alive is concerned.  But, in the end, it didn’t matter.  Action Rick is fun, even if you know all of his plans are doomed to go terribly wrong.
  2. This episode actually had a few moments of humor.  The first half of season 7 was way too grim.  Just because the world is ending, that doesn’t mean people are going to stop being snarky.
  3. Ezekiel!  The first community that Rick and his group visited was the Kingdom so they got to meet King Ezekiel and Shiva.  Ezekiel and the Kingdom were the highlight of the first half of season 7 and it looks like that might be true for the second half as well.  I loved the entire sequence at the Kingdom, everything from Ezekiel’s promise to have an answer by “the morrow” to the wonderful moment when Jesus realized that he had forgotten everyone’s names.
  4. No Negan!  Well, that’s not quite true.  We heard Negan’s voice but, for the first time in a long time, we had an episode where the entire narrative didn’t have to stop just so Negan could launch another one of his insane gym coach monologues.  Like most great villains, Negan works best in small doses.
  5. That final scene!  I’m going to guess from the lack of men and children that those were Oceansiders who were surrounding Rick.  Rick’s smile provided a wonderful final shot for this episode.  When he flashed that smile, I realized that the old Rick was finally back.

I was really happy with Rock in the Road.  In fact, I’m happy enough to actually watch next week as well.  Hopefully, this episode will be the start of season 7’s redemption.

A Few Thoughts on …. The Walking Dead 7.5 “Go Getters” (dir by Darnell Martin)


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So far, season 7 of The Walking Dead has been pretty inconsistent.

Often times, I have felt like a lone voice in the wilderness, vainly defending the season premiere and continuing to hope that, at some point, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s portrayal of Negan is going to become something more than a one-dimensional caricature.

Like a lot of people, I kind of enjoyed the second episode but, in retrospect, that was mostly because of the weirdness of King Ezekiel and the majesty of Shiva.  The episode itself was extremely slow and featured one of those overly sentimental musical montages, the type of thing that never holds up particularly well on repeat viewing.

The Cell … oh, I tried to enjoy The Cell but basically, it was just an hour of Daryl not speaking and Negan doing his Negan thing.

And then there was last week’s episode, which appears to be going down in the history books as the consensus pick for the worst episode of The Walking Dead ever.

So, with all that in mind, I am going to cautiously state that I think that the latest installment, Go Getters, was a definite improvement over the last few episodes.  It was hardly a classic.  It certainly wasn’t The Walking Dead at its absolute best.  But, at the very least, it held my attention for 60 minutes, it seemed to actually move the story forward (as opposed to just being a stagnant portrayal of doom and gloom), and it left me looking forward to seeing what would happen next week.  Coming nearly halfway through an uneven season, Go Getters provided just a little bit of hope for the show’s future, telling us,  “The Walking Dead‘s not dead and growling in Herschel’s barn just yet!”

Of course, it helped that Go Getters was centered on Maggie, the only one of the main characters who has not left me pissed off or disappointed this season.  Following the deaths of Glenn and Abraham, Maggie and Sasha are hiding out at Hilltop Colony.  Gregory wants to kick them out, Jesus wants to protect them.  Eventually, the Saviors show up and we get to know Simon (Steven Ogg, investing the role with such menace that it’s hard not to wonder how different the season would be if he had been cast as Negan), who is one of Negan’s liuetenants.  Simon collects his tribute, humiliates Gregory, and leaves.  Meanwhile, Carl and Enid show up at Hilltop, having run away from Alexandria.  One-eyed Carl has decided to take revenge on Negan and who can blame him?  At this point, he has to know that his red-eyed, sniveling, neutered father isn’t going to do anything…

(Which brings up an interesting issue: we’re supposed to look down on Gregory for being so weak and subservient to the Saviors but really, he didn’t do anything different from what Rick did last week.  We’re supposed to give Rick a pass but not Gregory, which doesn’t seem quite right.  Gregory may be an ass but, as we should all know by now, nice guys don’t survive the apocalypse.)

So far, each episode this season has featured a different community being harassed by Negan.  I’m assuming that these communities are eventually going to come together to take out the Saviors.  If that’s the case, I can understand and even respect the deliberate build-up.  At the same time, this season is moving so slowly (and has been so repetitive) that it’s hard not to get frustrated when you’re watching on a weekly schedule.  One gets the feeling that Season 7 will be better when binge-watched but, for now, I find myself wishing the show would pick up the pace.

But, with all that in mind, I liked Go Getters.  I love the fact that Maggie refuses to surrender.  Despite all of the terrible things that have happened to her and the people that she loved, Maggie has not given up.  She hasn’t turned into a weak shell, like Rick or Daryl.  Nor has she retreated to a world of fantasy, like Carol.  Instead, Maggie lives, Maggie fights, and Maggie endures.  Glenn may be dead but Maggie the Cat is alive.

GO MAGGIE!

Film Review: The Divergent Series: Allegiant (dir by Robert Schwentke)


Oh, Who Gives A Fuck About This Fucking Movie?

Oh, who cares?

I really hate to start my review with such a negative statement but seriously, after watching Allegiant today, I am now convinced that the Divergent movies are perhaps the least interesting film franchise since the Paranormal Activity sequels.  Not only are the films so derivative of The Hunger Games that I’m always surprised that Donald Sutherland isn’t lurking around in the background but they’ve also managed to waste the talents of some of the best actors of my generation.  When you’ve got performers like Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller at your disposal, there’s no excuse not to be interesting.

I watched Allegiant with my BFF Evelyn and I’ll admit right now that we talked throughout the entire movie.  We laughed at the most serious of moments.  When Jeff Daniels showed up, we had a very long discussion about how, when he’s good, Jeff Daniels is really good but when he’s bad, he manages to come across as being the most boring man on the planet.  When Miles Teller betrayed his allies, Evelyn said, “Again!?” and then she had to remind me that Miles Teller always ends up betraying everyone in every Divergent film.

(It makes you wonder why the Tris (played by Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) always bring Miles Teller with them as opposed to just killing him.  I suppose some of it might have to do with the fact that he’s Miles Teller and he’s a badass.  In fact, he probably should be playing Four.  He certainly has more chemistry with Shailene Woodley than Theo James does.  In fact, Theo James always looks like he’d rather be doing anything other than appearing in another goddamn Divergent film.)

And yes, Evelyn and I did get a few dirty looks from some people in the audience but you know what?  I fully understand that it’s rude to talk through a movie but oh my God, we had to do something.  Allegiant is such a boring movie.  The film moves slowly, as if the filmmakers don’t understand that everyone in the audience has seen enough YA adaptations to already know everything that’s going to happen.  If you want to truly understand what film critics mean when they say that a film is “draggy,” try to watch an entire Divergent film without standing up to stretch your legs or get something to drink.  Perhaps the biggest mistake you can make while watching Allegiant is to actually concentrate on what’s slowly playing out on screen.

The Divergent films aren’t terribly complicated and yet, I always find myself struggling to follow them.  They’re so bland and forgettable that I can never remember what happened in the previous film.  As Allegiant started, I was like, “Why is Naomi Watts in charge of Chicago now?  Oh yeah, Kate Winslet did die at the end of the last movie!”  And then I remembered that Evelyn was Four’s mother.

And then my BFF Evelyn (as opposed to the film’s Evelyn) said, “Four is a stupid name,” and I started laughing way too hard.  In fact, we made many jokes about Four’s nickname and then eventually, I remembered that he was called Four because he only has four fears.  But it took me a while to remember and, once I did remember, I couldn’t help but think about how stupid a backstory that was.

Anyway, the plot of the film is that the movie’s Evelyn is now in charge of Chicago but she’s turning out to be just as bad as the system that she’s replacing.  So, Tris, Four, and friends escape from Chicago and explore the barren landscape that surrounds the city.  Eventually, they are found by the Bureau of Genetic Welfare.  The Bureau is headed up by a boring guy named David (Jeff Daniels).  At first, David seems to be a good guy but then it turns out that the Bureau was behind the whole Faction experiment.  And now the Bureau wants to attack Chicago, wipe the slate clean, and start the experiment all over again.

Will Four and Tris go along with David’s plan or will they try to stop him?

At this point, who cares?

The thing that’s annoying about the Divergent films is that the storyline has potential.  At the heart of it all, the battle between the Factions and the Factionless has the potential to be a powerful, if simplistic, metaphor.  But the films are so plodding and take such an obvious approach that most of that potential is wasted.  Add to that, Shailene Woodley is a great actress.  In fact, I think it can be argued that she actually has more range than Jennifer Lawrence.  (Just check out her performance in The Spectacular Now.)  But the franchise has never known what to do with her uniquely off-center style.  Instead, it simply gives her speeches that feel as if they’ve been lifted from every other dystopian YA franchise.  The films insist on trying to make Shailene Woodley predictable and she deserves better on that.

As is typical of big franchise films nowadays, Allegiant is just part one of the Divergent finale and even the “to be continued” ending feels annoying because it’s so obviously lifted from every other franchise finale that’s ever been produced.  As with all the Divergent films, Allegiant never escapes the shadow of The Hunger Games.  The best that can be said about this franchise is that it will be over soon.  Hopefully, Shailene Woodley will be able to move onto a film more worthy of her considerable talents.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Apollo 13 (dir by Ron Howard)


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I just finished watching the TCM premiere of the 1995 Best Picture nominee, Apollo 13.  Of course, it wasn’t the first time I had seen it.  Apollo 13 is one of those films that always seems to be playing somewhere and why not?  It’s a good movie, telling a story that is all the more remarkable and inspiring for being true.  In 1970, the Apollo 13 flight to the moon was interrupted by a sudden explosion, stranding three astronauts in space.  Fighting a desperate battle against, NASA had to figure out how to bring them home.  Apollo 13 tells the story of that accident and that rescue.

There’s a scene that happens about halfway through Apollo 13.  The heavily damaged Apollo 13 spacecraft is orbiting the moon.  Originally the plan was for Apollo 13 to land on the moon but, following that explosion on the craft, those plans have been cancelled.  Inside the spacecraft, three astronauts can only stare down at the lunar surface below them.

As Commander Jim Lovell stares out the craft’s window, we suddenly see him fantasizing about what it would be like if the explosion hadn’t happened and if he actually could fulfill his dream of walking on the moon.  We watch as Lovell (and, while we know the character is Jim Lovell, we are also very much aware that he’s being played by beloved cinematic icon Tom Hanks) leaves his foot print on the lunar surface.  Lovell opens up his visor and, for a few seconds, stands there and takes in the with the vastness of space before him and making the scene all the more poignant is knowing that Tom Hanks, before he became an award-winning actor, wanted to be a astronaut just like Jim Lovell.  Then, suddenly, we snap back to the film’s reality.  Back inside the spacecraft, Lovell takes one final look at the moon and accepts that he will never get to walk upon its surface.  “I’d like to go home,” he announces.

It’s a totally earnest and unabashedly sentimental moment, one that epitomizes the film as a whole.  There is not a hint of cynicism to be found in Apollo 13.  Instead, it’s a big, old-fashioned epic, a story about a crisis and how a bunch of determined, no-nonsense professionals came together to save the day.  “Houston,” Lovell famously says at one point, “we have a problem.”  It’s a celebrated line but Apollo 13 is less about the problem and more about celebrating the men who, through their own ingenuity, solved that problem.

That Apollo 13 is a crowd-pleaser should come as no surprise.  It was directed by Ron Howard and I don’t know that Howard has ever directed a film that wasn’t designed to make audiences break into applause during the end credits.  When Howard fails, the results can be maudlin and heavy-handed.  But when he succeeds, as he does with Apollo 13, he proves that there’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned, inspirational entertainment.

Of course, since Apollo 13 is a Ron Howard film, that means that Clint Howard gets a small role.  In Apollo 13, Clint shows up as a bespectacled flight engineer.  When astronaut Jack Swiggert (Kevin Bacon) mentions having forgotten to pay his taxes before going into space, Clint says, “He shouldn’t joke about that, they’ll get him.”  It’s a great line and Clint does a great job delivering it.

Apollo 13 is usually thought of as being a Tom Hanks film but actually, it’s an ensemble piece.  Every role, from the smallest to the biggest, is perfectly cast.  Not surprisingly, Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Kathleen Quinlan, and Ed Harris all turn in excellent performances.  But, even beyond the marquee names, Apollo 13 is full of memorable performances.  Watching it tonight, I especially noticed an actor named Loren Dean, who played a NASA engineer named John Aaron.  Dean didn’t get many lines but he was totally believable in his role.  You looked at him and you thought, “If I’m ever trapped in space, this is the guy who I want working to bring me home.”

Apollo 13 was nominated for best picture but it lost to Mel Gibson’s film Braveheart.  Personally, out of the nominees, I probably would have picked Sense and Sensibility but Apollo 13 more than deserved the nomination.