In the Shadow of the Moon (2007)
James and the Giant Peach (1996)
Letters to God (2010)
What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
One of the best films of 2007, In the Shadow of the Moon comes to Blu-ray this week. David Sington’s moving documentary offers a remarkable look at the history and technology of the Apollo program, but an even more extraordinary glimpse of the men who made it happen. It’s an eloquent testament to the grandeur of creation as well as man’s unique place in it.
Ten of the 11 surviving Apollo astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins of Apollo 11 and Jim Lovell of Apollo 8 and the ill-fated Apollo 13 (played in Ron Howard’s film by Tom Hanks), are interviewed. Archival NASA footage, including some never-before-seen images, is spectacular and frequently transporting, but the film’s soul is made up of the memories and reflections of the astronauts, whom the filmmakers allow to speak for themselves.
Another new Blu-ray release this week, Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc?, is an entertaining and sometimes hilarious homage to the classic screwball comedy tradition of Bringing Up Baby.
Remarkably family-friendly (did you know Barbra Streisand made a G-rated film in the 1970s?), What’s Up, Doc? is as silly and anarchic as the classic Looney Tunes shorts the title evokes, with Babs in the Bugs Bunny role as a screwy dame who drives Ryan O’Neal’s strait-laced professor to distraction, much as Katherine Hepburn did Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby.
The high point is a rollicking San Francisco chase scene that finds a completely new way to pay off those two clichés of chase-scene comedy: the worker on a tall ladder and the plate-glass window being carried across the street. Watch for a sly riposte to the inane tagline of O’Neal’s previous film, Love Story (“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”).
Other new releases include a couple of fairly innocuous films that I can’t recommend. Newly available on Blu-ray and in a two-disc special DVD edition, stop-motion auteur Henry Selick’s James and the Giant Peach has the creepy stop-motion appeal of Selick’s Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline, but a disastrous live-action opening digs an emotional hole that the animation isn’t magical enough to dig out of.
Finally, Letters to God is evangelical-produced inspirational kitsch about a saintly little boy dying of cancer whose practice of mailing letters to God transforms everyone around him. Though based on a true story, Letters never makes you believe. (For starters, the kid is way too old — and well-catechized — to go for communicating with God via the U.S. Post Office like Santa Claus. A much younger kid in an agnostic household, maybe.)
Content advisory: In the Shadow of the Moon: Footage of wartime bombings; an oblique body-function reference; a few images of smoking. What’s Up, Doc? Romantic complications and brief, mildly suggestive content; comic menace and slapstick violence. Both fine family viewing.