The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.
Apollo 13 [1995, dir. Ron Howard]
Ah yes, “Houston, we have a problem.” Ron Howard’s spin on the near-disastrous real-life Apollo 13 mission certainly has its place in pop culture history. It also serves as an intriguing history lesson, especially for someone (i.e. me) who somehow had not seen this over the last nineteen years.
Apollo 13 tells the story of what should have been America’s third Moon landing mission, one that ultimately put the crew’s lives in danger due to a mechanical defect. Even though I had known at the very least that the crew would survive, the film remains a mostly suspenseful ride. The three men aboard the spacecraft, Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) and Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), frantically work together with Mission Control back in Houston (led by a flight director played by Ed Harris) in order to make it home alive. Naturally, there’s quite a bit of tension, and the moments where everyone is able to come up with possible solutions feel like genuine triumphs. By all accounts, the film is also technically accurate, and this really enhances its overall presentation.
The cast here is terrific, though I wish characters other than Hanks’s Lovell would have been fleshed out more. I felt bad for Bacon’s Swigert, as he gets little to no development after being selected as a last-minute replacement for an astronaut with possible impending measles (played by Gary Sinise). Paxton’s character is also lacking in depth, which is surprising since these three men are essentially considered equals on the same team, yet only Hanks is given proper attention. Still, regardless of these character flaws, Apollo 13 does remain an engaging account of a mission that could have been an awful tragedy. 7/10
Philadelphia [1993, dir. Jonathan Demme]
Philadelphia has its place in history for being one of the first Hollywood films to tackle HIV/AIDS and homophobia, and for that, it certainly deserves some praise. It helps to have two powerhouse performances from two of the best actors in the business as well.
Tom Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, an AIDS-stricken lawyer who is fired solely because of his condition. He enlists the help of Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), the only willing attorney in Philadelphia to file this wrongful dismission suit. Miller is homophobic, and the film makes sure to remind us this over and over again. Some scenes meant to establish this are laughable (such as one where Miller is hit on at a pharmacy by a football-carrying man), but Washington is so good that he transcends the sometimes cringe-worthy dialogue. Hanks won an Oscar for his performance, and perhaps deservedly so — this is among his best work.
Philadelphia has its heart in the right place — the fact that it helped deconstruct so many myths about AIDS is fantastic — but it fails in other accounts. For a film in which its main character is a gay man in a loving relationship with another (played by Antonio Banderas), I can’t recall seeing two men kiss at all during its run time. Perhaps the world wasn’t ready for this at the time, but it seems like a glaring oversight. Philadelphia is still a captivating watch, as well as a solid courtroom drama, but its issues are more noticeable today. 7/10