'FEELS LIKE IT'S HAPPENING IN REAL TIME'

· Updated:

Critics got a chance to see director Todd Douglas Miller's "Apollo 11" — out in theaters now — back at Sundance. Here's what they thought of quality of the unique footage, the documentary's no-narration approach and how it compares to "First Man."

Presentation-Wise, It's An Austere Account Of The Mission That Feels More Engaging Thanks To The New Footage

It was inevitable that some movie about the first moon landing would be released in 2019, the 50th anniversary of Armstrong and Aldrin's stroll on the lunar surface. But Miller's documentary still packs surprises, because in the buildup to that anniversary, a momentous discovery was made at the National Archives: a hoard of never-developed film from the Apollo 11 mission was unearthed, some of it in 70mm.

[The Washington Post]

Mostly, this is a blow-by-blow of the mission, condensing eight days in space to less than 80 minutes of screen time. Restricted to existing footage plus some explanatory graphics, the filmmakers manage to explore all facets of a mission that mostly ran like clockwork — and while you wouldn't be in the theater if you didn't know how it ends, they manage to throw in enough small surprises and inventive touches to keep a familiar story from flagging.

[The Wrap]


It Doesn't Inject Personal Drama Or Condescend To The Audience By Rehashing Things Or Drumming Up Suspense

The movie contains no voice-over and no talking heads, so we don't get much interiority from the astronauts, but Miller does give us a little bit of backstory in the form of brief, wordless montages of pivotal events in each man's life. Armstrong's comes first, and I chuckled a bit at how effectively the editors were able to condense the first 90 minutes of ["First Man"] into a ten-second summary.

[Vulture]

Apollo 11 is a documentary that practically demands a certain amount of homework be done beforehand, and it enters into a contract with the viewer that perhaps more documentaries should require. It says, "You know this history, at least vaguely. We're not going to waste your time on hand-holding or explanations. In exchange, we'll give you the story you know in a way you haven't seen it told before and we'll do it without filler."

[The Hollywood Reporter]


The 'New' Footage Was Very Well-Preserved, To The Point Where Even The More Mundane Stuff Is Awe-Inspiring

The footage, which was largely taken from a newly discovered trove of 65mm film, looks so crisp, so clean, so impossibly high definition that you would think it was filmed last week on the set of a '60s-themed TV show rather than 50 years earlier.

[Nerdist]

It's rare that picture quality can inspire a physical reaction, but the opening moments of "Apollo 11," in which a NASA camera crew roams around the base of the rocket and spies on some of the people who've come to gawk at it from a beach across the water, are vivid enough to melt away the screen that stands between them. The clarity takes your breath away, and it does so in the blink of an eye; your body will react to it before your brain has time to process why, after a lifetime of casual interest, you're suddenly overcome by the sheer enormity of what it meant to leave the Earth and land somewhere else.

[IndieWire]

Shutting down conspiracy theorists probably wasn't high on director Todd Douglas Miller's to-do list when he was making the documentary Apollo 11. So just consider it a bonus that his film about the first manned moon landing is so immersive that it feels like it's happening in real-time on screen — and definitively un-faked.

[The AV Club]


Getting Such A Good Look At Ground Control, Cape Canaveral And The Rocket 

Close-ups of text-only computer monitors and pencil-on-paper calculations reveal the project's reliance on human smarts and dedication. Ordering a pair of socks online today involves more computing muscle than NASA had in 1969.

[The Washington Post]

If the massive NASA hardware is the ultimate motion picture "practical effect," then the life-or-death situations that Armstrong and his fellow travelers faced are the ultimate "dramatic complication." Even knowing in advance that everyone will survive, it's still intense to hear their chatter, and to see the crucial numbers tick down.

[The AV Club]

There's a fantastic design to it, of course; the machines are like a heavy-duty form of magic, and the voyage comes off like clockwork. But what the images channel is the wonder of the unprecedented.

[Variety]

Apollo 11 juxtaposes massive feats of scale — groundbreaking engineering, built with thousands of minds in cooperation — with mid-century modern ketchup packets and outdated bathing caps. That Miller's film allows you, without commentary, to make meaning of these contrasts — the whole of Earth in one shot, a parking lot PB&J snack shack in another — feels like a radical act of trust.

[The Guardian]

The Throwback Score And Music Picks Are Mostly-Welcome Accompaniment, Too

Another source of drama is Matt Morton's music, which throbs and pulses — before turning, unfortunately, a little too honeyed at the end. In the spirit of the era, Morton used only analog synthesizers that were available in 1969. Like the engineers who somehow managed to send a man to the moon in the pre-PC era, Morton's score makes the most of its technical limitations.

[The Washington Post]

Composer Matt Morton and sound designer Eric Milano are particular MVPs in this undertaking, though the sonic palette also gets a fun tweak when Miller and his team feature some of the songs that were on cassette tapes made for the Apollo 11 astronauts. Most notable is "Mother Country," a stirring anthem from former Kingston Trio member John Stewart that plays during the re-entry scenes. (Of course, the song does undergo some judicious editing — removing the lines where the main character dies, for instance.)

[The Wrap]

The tension of the moment makes sense because of the data, the ever-closer destination and Matt Morton's score which, at its best, takes on a Reznor-esque ambient drone. Before it becomes perhaps excessively melodic at the end, Morton's compositions wisely opt to combine with Eric Milano's sound design to build a high pressure, unsettled mood without attempting to manipulate viewer response.

[The Hollywood Reporter]

Just The Fact That We're Getting A Largely New, Up-Close Look At The Mission 50 Years Later Is Fascinating

Anodyne wide shots of distant onlookers and uneventful frames of the rocket poking its head into the Kodachrome sky are every bit as magical as the footage of the launch itself, or the scores of suit-and-tie NASA scientists making things go from inside Mission Control (this is where the new audio comes in handy, as Miller is able to sync the chatter to the action for the first time, and humanize this moment of history by sharing the nerves and camaraderie that went into it behind the scenes).

[IndieWire]

This is footage shot to chronicle and promote the event as it was happening, a mixture of propaganda, fly-on-the-wall documentation of the historical moment and the on-board recordings accumulated for future expeditions[…] It's a film presented completely in-the-present and largely without the weight of dramatic irony you might get from showy editing or a melodramatic score.

[The Hollywood Reporter]

Some of the footage looks familiar, as of course it would in any telling of a story that was so widely documented and so endlessly rewatched. But other scenes almost come as a shock, as Miller unearths shots that seem too vivid, too visceral to have come from the vaults.

[The Wrap]

TL;DR

The result is a stunning project of historical preservation — no narration, no cutaway interviews, no recreations, just original material synced with some music and the occasional diagram.

[The Guardian]


Watch The Trailer

 


<p>Mathew Olson is an Associate Editor at Digg.</p>

Is The Seth Rogen Comedy 'An American Pickle' Any Good? Here's What The Reviews Say
IN A REAL PICKLE HERE

Digg · Updated:

The movie, which streams on HBO Max on August 6, has an enticing premise: a man gets preserved in a jar in the early 20th century and wakes up 100 years later in contemporary Brooklyn. But does the movie itself live up to its zany plot? Here's what the reviews say.


Seth Rogen Plays Two Men, Herschel Greenbaum, A Man Who Wakes Up After 100 Years In A Pickle Vat, And Greenbaum's Great-Grandson, Ben

An Eastern European labourer named Herschel (Seth Rogen) arrives in America, only to be pickled for 100 years in a factory accident. He awakes in 2020, and moves in with his only surviving relative: great-grandson Ben (also Rogen). Things are going swimmingly — until Herschel wrecks Ben's business, leading to a vengeful game of oneupmanship.

[Empire]

While Hershel is low-key confounded by these modern times (what with interracial dating, women's rights, and the high cost of produce), he is most perplexed by his descendant's priorities. Ben doesn't observe Jewish religious traditions and hasn't visited the family graves in years. He has no wife, no children, and no career that Herschel can comprehend. So tensions rise. In no time at all, the pair declare each other enemies. Herschel strikes out on his own with a pickle cart with wares pulled freegan-style from dumpster diving. Meanwhile, Ben stews over how to ruin his eccentric great-grandfather.

[IGN]


The Movie Probes Into Issues Of Jewish Immigration Identity — Though Perhaps Not Deeply Enough

In its best moments, An American Pickle knows how to thread the needle between fish-out-of-water comedy and retaining a thoughtful look at Jewish ancestry in America, but those moments are few and far between […] Every time the movie has a chance to go deeper, whether it's with immigration or legacy or American comfort or Judaism, An American Pickle skims the surface and moves on.

[Collider]

Made in the midst of a resurgence in blatant anti-Semitism across the US, it's a strange choice for "An American Pickle" to reveal that Herschel's greatest backlash comes from...violent Christians? The movie sidesteps the most alarming aspect of Jewish persecution — its resurgence in public over the last four years — and never even gives Herschel a chance to learn about the Holocaust.

[IndieWire]


As A Comedy, It Sometimes Falls Flat In Delivering Laughs

There are some scattered laughs but it's not particularly funny, and "American Pickle" […] is generally all over the place, aiming to be an abstract comedy about family and religion but losing its way trying to also poke fun at modern culture.

[USA Today]

 [T]he film fails to build its laughs into substantial comic momentum, or even construct many substantial scenes. (Tellingly, one of its funniest is a mid-credits bonus.) As it progresses, the material feels more and more like a series of slightly amusing paragraphs, with sentimentality wedged uncomfortably between flights of satirical whimsy.

[The AV Club]

There are laughs along the way with Herschel and Ben's mirror-image intergenerational, culture-clash roommate bromance. But, inevitably, as with so much high-concept comedy, the real laughs, the ones built on detachment, self-aware flippancy and cynicism, come at the beginning, with the establishment of the premise.

[The Guardian]


The Story's Emotional Beats, However, Manage To Shine Through

 Despite the acrimoniousness of their split, you root for their inevitable reconciliation, which closes the movie on a warm note […] "An American Pickle" is neither the most substantial nor the most sophisticated comedy, but its soulful sweetness outweighs its flaws.

[The Hollywood Reporter]

It may not always succeed as a comedy but as a drama, this is the real dill. Part time-travelling family drama, part idiosyncratic immigrant-adventure comedy, "An American Pickle"'s gags underwhelm, but its emotion and originality will surprise you.

[Empire]

[T]he thread of leaning on family to process grief is touching, and Rogen manages to make Herschel and Ben's longing to connect feel real. The movie is frequently funny, sometimes sweet, and never particularly deep, but it does have a uniquely odd relationship to time that gives it a peculiar extra layer. Call it the proprietary brine.

[Wired]


And Rogen's Charisma Helps To Keep The Audience Entertained, Even When The Rest Of The Movie Falters

[I]t's enjoyable enough to watch the actor single-handedly rescue the high concept surrounding him.

[IndieWire]

Rogen is an always likable actor whose reputation was built largely on playing crude, sophomoric stoners. But there's an inherent sweetness in his screen persona that's been there since the very beginning on "Freaks and Geeks," notably in the affecting story arc in which his befuddled character, Ken Miller, struggled with the revelation of his tuba-playing girlfriend Amy's intersex birth origins. It's a variation on Ken — the tender, passionate bear of a guy occasionally stymied by his blind spots — that steers "An American Pickle" through its narrative rough patches.

[The Hollywood Reporter]


TL; DR

Nothing in "American Pickle" can match the silly storybook fantasy of its opening moments, but they do a good job of getting us hooked. 

[IndieWire]


Watch The Trailer Here


Is The Google Pixel 4A Worth It? Here's What The Reviews Say
NOT PHONING IT IN

Digg · Updated:

The Pixel 4A, which will be released on August 20, is incredibly affordable at $349, but can it compete with other smartphones? Here's what the reviews say.


The Best Feature Of The Phone Is The Camera

[W]hen it comes to photos, the Pixel 4A goes toe-to-toe with the iPhone 11 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S20 — and often wins.

[The Verge]

There is no distinguishable difference between the $350 Pixel 4a's and the Pixel 4's camera, a phone that starts at $800. That's incredible, and if you like your photos to look good, it's a major reason why the Pixel 4a should be at the very, very top of your list. 

[Business Insider]


Design-Wise, It's Not The Flashiest Phone

The Pixel has always been a phone that felt a lot nicer than it looked — it's not the most stylish. The Pixel 4a's design is even more basic than ever, though. It comes in Just Black and... that's it. There are no other sizes available, either. Keeping to one size and color was part of Google's strategy to reduce production costs. 

[Engadget]

The word I use most often to describe Pixel hardware is "unassuming." It's basic: no frills, no fanciness, just an easy-to-hold phone without any embellishments. It's a little boring, but at least it isn't tacky.

[The Verge]


But Helpful Software Features Like Live Captioning Might Be Drawing Points For Users

Google's software tends to make up for its basic hardware, and as usual, the company has some helpful tools that make the Pixel experience better than any other Android phone. Most of these have already been announced, like its personal safety and car crash detection feature, Google Docs integration for the Recorder app, as well as adaptive battery management. With the Pixel 4a, though, Google is bringing its Live Caption feature to calls.

[Engadget]

I like Google's bonus software features that it includes on Pixel phones. The voice recorder app is able to transcribe text, for example, and accurately transcribed about 90% of my interview with Google during a Pixel 4a briefing. It just saves me a ton of time that I'd otherwise spend trying to jot everything down. Other unique software features include crash detection, which can automatically call 911 if you get in a car accident.

[CNBC]


The Performance Of The Phone Is Generally Fine, Though It Can Be Slow Sometimes

The Pixel 4a has a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. It's fine and fast enough to keep the phone running smoothly. There are a few hiccups at times, though. I noticed it would stutter while scrolling through long lists, like in Twitter, but that problem generally resolved itself after a few days. Google was aware of this, too, and it may just be that it takes some time for things to store inside the phone's memory.

[CNBC]

Anecdotally, the phone works quickly with most tasks. Unlocking the screen with my fingerprint, launching Assistant and opening apps went off without a hitch. But the Pixel 4A isn't the smoothest phone I handled. After I downloaded Call of Duty and PUBG, I had to restart the phone because both apps stalled while loading.

[CNET]


Some Of The Phone's Drawbacks Are Its Lack Of Wireless Charging And Waterproofness

Google left out one big feature that does matter: water resistance. That would save a phone that was accidentally dunked in a toilet or left out in a storm. So it was disappointing not to have it because durability was another feature that people wanted most in their smartphones.

[The New York Times]

This phone doesn't have some of the premium flourishes, like wireless charging, water resistance, a triple-lens camera, or 5G connectivity. But, it gets the core features so right that those extra flourishes seem irrelevant. 

[Business Insider]


Most Importantly Though, The Phone Is A Great Bargain With Its Cheap Price

The Pixel 4A is about $50 cheaper than its closest competitors and has 128GB of storage, instead of 64GB like years past, so it really is a solid value. And these days, any amount of money that can be saved is crucial.

[CNET]

The Pixel 4A is cheaper than high-end devices largely because it lacks the frills in fancy phones, like wireless charging and a face scanner. But for what you pay, it's a great value. Its camera quality and bright screen are on a par with many of the best smartphones out there.

[The New York Times]


TL; DR

The Pixel 4A is cheap and basic, but most cheap phones don't get the basics right. The Pixel 4A does. And just to remind you: it does so for $349.

[The Verge]


You can pre-order the Pixel 4A at Google Store and BestBuy. And if you're interested in buying a Pixel 4, you can buy one here.


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