Howard is a talented actor. His talent gave him the idea (and it was a good one) of building sets inside a KC-135 and filming his weightless scenes in weightlessness. It’s a tribute to his actors that they do so well, under the circumstances. His luck brought him Gary Sinise, who is the only actor in the film capable of playing his part, and it’s a crucial one. Between these two poles Apollo 13 drifts in a void of pseudo-dramatics and phony nostalgia, with the most comical special effects since submarines drag-raced in The Hunt for Red October.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Howard renders unto the Grinch what is the Grinch’s, namely bad cinema and computerized drivel (with a script by the Fisher-Price team of Price & Seaman), and unto Christmas what is Christmas’s, which is to say, he meets Theodore Geisel fairly and squarely halfway, with the result that Jim Carrey’s uncanny resemblance to Lord Olivier in this part (as the Mahdi, say) is recorded for the amusement of many, also Anthony Hopkins’ reading of the verse.
A Beautiful Mind
For the first time, it appears possible that Howard has been misunderstood as a director. A Beautiful Mind is kitsch through and through, and irremediably so (consider John Nash bicycling balmily in the quad as Howard cuts to an overhead view and dissolves to a congruent infinity symbol), but this is a conscious choice, one might think. Kitsch is, after all, the lingua franca of Postmodernism. Political campaigns run on it, architecture is fueled by it, television swears by it, much of the synthetic fabric that is life as we know it is nothing but kitsch.
A conscious choice to accept the terms of an utterly meretricious style (consider any shot in this film at all) in complete self-surrender. It’s not a pose, no-one is kitschier than Howard, though he has many peers. But look what he has gained. Apollo 13 accurately reflects the kitschiness of our NASA (which launches every flight with a slogan and has Laurie Anderson as artist-in-residence) by way of distorting in a mirror the old NASA. Furthermore, by Emerson’s law (see his ode, “Though loath to grieve”), this total effacement lets life itself speak for him, as one astronaut (Gary Sinise) has the presence of mind to save the day, in a void of sorts.
That’s just how A Beautiful Mind works. Paranoid delusions such as these are something of a commonplace, and the chimerical family haunting the fictional Nash as well. And then, when the mad professor is informed in 1994 that his contributions to game theory have influenced the global economy and even “FCC auctions”, the satirical import is lacerating, but the cocoon of kitsch is so distancing (to borrow Brecht’s terminology) that no harm can be done.
As a matter of fact, the cocoon is so vast that perhaps it might be said to include even the truth about John Nash, and a very poetic reality, why not?
Technically, Howard’s approach is akin to the 1950’s “story of” biography, with the usual period dressing. The actual tenor, however, is pointedly up-to-date, as can be seen most painfully in Jennifer Connelly’s performance, which is a satire of the Susan Anspach-Tom Cruise style of openmouthed aggressivity. Under the circumstances, Russell Crowe’s part is very simple, and he profits from this to inject a point of charm into what is a neat little fable told to meet the understanding of those in most need of it, by one who can truly say, like the bicycle thief at the end of De Sica’s film, he is a man among men.