Tag Archives: Greg Berlanti

Science, Fiction

Fly Me to the Moon

by George Wolf

Apologies to the Seinfeld/Maher committee, but the biggest problem in comedy isn’t woke madness, it’s people not even realizing when their leg is being pulled.

Remember “Birds Aren’t Real?” It gained real believers. Q Anon? There’s good reason to think it started as gag, just to see just what type of wacked-out conspiracies some folks would buy into.

Then there’s 2002’s Opération lune, a MOCKumentary about the conspiracy theory that the Apollo XI moon landing footage was faked by Stanley Kubrick. The mocking even included much laughing and fessing up at the end of the film, but to this day conspiracy fans cite it as proof of the NASA/Kubrick hoax.

Fly Me to the Moon adds more historical fiction to that Opération lune idea, wraps it an impressive throwback sheen, and then leans on the playful chemistry between Scarlett Johansson and Woody Harrelson for some winning rom-com moments.

Trouble is, they aren’t playing romantic partners.

Scarlett is Kelly Jones, a born saleswoman who’s hired by NASA to get the public back behind the Apollo program. Channing Tatum is launch director Cole Davis (loosely based on Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton), a committed leader who has little use for Kelly’s marketing ploys, even if he can’t deny her beauty and charm.

Kelly’s campaign works so well that President Nixon decides the moon landing is now “too big to fail,” and sends Moe Berkus (Woody) in to charge Kelly with filming a fake landing that can be used for backup.

And Kelly better agree to the ruse no matter what Cole thinks, or else some embarrassing facts about her past might come to light.

Director Greg Berlanti (Love, Simon) weaves some snappy production design into a zesty 60s aesthetic. There is style aplenty, which always props up a debut screenplay from Keenan Flynn, Rose Gilroy and Bill Kirstein that throws a drive-by bone to the science vs. religion debate while it delivers more amusement than outright comedy.

Nice supporting turns from Ray Romano and Jim Rash add to the list of likable elements, but as Kelly and Cole finally get romantic, you can’t be blamed for wanting a little more Woody. No doubt, Tatum has proven to be a solid comedic talent, but here he’s tasked instead with delivering Cole’s tortured backstory as well as his conflicted torch for Kelly, and neither is convincing.

Johansson carries the film by crafting Kelly as a delightful blend of con artist and seductive vamp. Harrelson is a natural as the winking rogue with a talent for intimidation. It’s no surprise, then, that the entire film steps more lively when those two are trying to outfox one another.

Enjoy their mischief, even if none of this really happened, a fact which makes the two-hour-plus running time seen a little more bloated. Still, Fly Me to the Moon has just enough stylish star power to make it a satisfying flight about something that never really happened.

And remember, birds are real.

Secret Love

Love, Simon

by George Wolf

Some of the most tired young adult cliches – narration, idealized characters, the dreaded climactic essay reading – show up in Love, Simon. 

So why is it such a winner?

Heart, smarts, and humor for starters. But it’s also the rare movie that earns points just for being here in the YA crowd, and for rightly assuming there’s no reason it shouldn’t be.

Simon (Nick Robinson) is an upper middle class high schooler in Georgia, with some awesome friends (Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.), awesome parents (Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel) and a big gay secret.

But then another kid at school comes out anonymously online, which leads Simon to adopt a fake name and reach out by email. So while much of the student body is guessing who the “secret gay kid” might be, two online pen pals bond over the uncertainties of being themselves.

Director Greg Berlanti (Life as We Know It) keeps the film moving, wrapping it with a clean, welcoming shine that would be just too peachy-keen if not for the smartly self-aware script from veteran TV writers Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker.

Adapting Becky Albertalli’s novel, the duo delivers some solid laughs (don’t mess with the drama teacher!), but more importantly, a knowing vibe that refuses to wallow in self-absorbed teen angst. Current events have reminded us that many teens are more than ready to meet harsh challenges with strength and wisdom, and Love, Simon gives them some refreshing credit.

It can’t go unnoticed that the film treats homophobic taunting as more mischievous than dangerous, but even that misstep feels ironically right. Everything about Love, Simon, from the casting to the set design, is effortlessly likable and comfortable, feeding the notion that this is nothing more or less than another teen romance.

It becomes a sweet, entertaining one, and it just might make some audience members feel a little less alone.

That makes Simon pretty easy to love.