Saturday, April 17, 2010

astronaut stuff

I love me some astronaut stuff. This has been true since I read Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff and it sort of connected to my being a kid and watching rockets go up on TV. So I'm very into the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo flights, but I know more about some flights and astronauts than others. (In fact, the Trivial Pursuit game on Pogo asked the other day who the shortest man was to walk on the moon, and I knew it: Pete Conrad.)

I watched all of From the Earth to the Moon and pretty much any documentary I come across involving the space program. And of course, I have my two favorite astronaut movies, each of which I've watched many times: The Right Stuff and Apollo 13.

I haven't read The Right Stuff in years and no longer have my copy, but I think the movie did a mighty good job of transmitting the essence of the book. It had a beautiful look to it; also, a number of extremely attractive men. I think that's when I first fell for Scott Glenn (and haven't unfallen yet). And there was a lot of very handsome Sam Shepherd, whom I never met, and a brief cameo by his then-wife, O-Lan Jones, who I did meet (both were old friends of V's). And real Chuck Yeagher in the bar. Jeff Goldblum and Dennis Quaid, who have both since lost a certain cuteness. Fred Ward, whom I find terribly sexy. And for just plain great acting: Ed Harris (as John Glenn), Mary Jo Deschanel as his wife (she and the great cinematographer Caleb Deschanel are the parents of Zooey and Emily), Angela Cartwright, Pamela Reed, Harry Shearer.

Apollo 13 is a very different story. It's the baby of the uber-nerds Ron Howard and Tom Hanks. These guys are such nerds that everything looks exactly like the real spacecraft and the real mission control and so on. Even Ed Harris (again!) looks like the real Gene Krantz. It's kind of like a love letter to the space program, so of course I like it. It's very heroic. And of, real Jim Lovell has a cameo on the aircraft carrier at the end. But I love the period details, which is kind of my nerdiness. I get a nerd-on every time they show that plaid beanbag ashtray. Are you old enough to remember those? I found a picture -- let's see if I can get it on here. Nope, either I'm too dumb or the image is too big. But anyway, I loved the clothes in the movie, the details of decor and pop culture (Lovell's daughter is devastated about the breakup of the Beatles). As usual, Opie found parts for his mother, father and brother -- who in fairness were/are all professional actors, but probably wouldn't get parts that good with other directors. His father's always really good, but his mother happens to kill in this one, as Lovell's mother. She has a scene with her (movie) granddaughter which always makes me cry.

I was just thinking about this because I discovered an Apollo 13 documentary I hadn't seen on the NatGeoTV website. They have over 200 full programs you can watch online. I am just in love with the NatGeo and Smithsonian channels (we didn't have Smithsonian until we recently got Verizon Fios), and Barry's liking them a lot, too. But I'm still watching all the true crime shows.

My favorite true crime show is the one that's narrated by the late Paul Winfield, may he rest in peace. It's called "City Confidential." We always make fun of it because every episode starts the same way: Winfield talking about how such-and-such a town or city is such a neighborly, peaceable place; how big-city high-fashion or punk-rock hairstyles would be unusual; where everyone gives everyone else a smile and a handshake. Always that same corny spiel about how it was such an ideal small town or a larger city with small-town values. Everyone goes to church. But you know someone's going to be murdered anyway, because it's "City Confidential." There's also a new show on ID Discovery with a "crime writer" named Aphrodite Jones (sounds like an old Pam Grier movie but she's a white woman) who seems to solve crimes that are already solved. She does shows on cases like O.J.(!) and Phil Spector.

Interestingly enough, all of these "murder shows" I like to watch (some do involve other sorts of crimes like fraud, but we lump them all under that name) are a lot less gory than fictional shows like "CSI." Barry can't handle too much gore, even if it's medical -- or rather, he cam handle some level or horror movie gore (but not too much), and about no real/realistic medical gore.

But I'll probably end up watching all of those NatGeoTV videos on line. The one about the guy who hangs out with bears is excellent. I've already seen a lot of the "Locked Up Abroad"s and they're really good.

Oh, and although I run into very few people who share my day of birth (November 18), I happen to share it with the first American in space: the late Alan Sheperd. Rather have met him than Sam.

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