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'Apollo 10½' review: Richard Linklater creates picturesque and nostalgic view of the late sixties

Courtesy of Netflix


Nobody creates the modern hangout movie better than Richard Linklater. His superfluity and overall sense of place and time has always been a strong trait for the “Dazed and Confused” director. Some of his movies might not have the benefit of an engaging plot, as many complained about “Boyhood” and “Everybody Wants Some!!” but his vivid attention to detail and the depth with the characters he writes all function to whatever slice of nostalgia the filmmaker throws on screen. In his third animated venture following “Walking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly”: “Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood,” an inventive and picturesque time capsule loosely adapted from the director’s own memories growing up in his small Texas community, blends facts with fiction. The movie asks the question: What if there was a top-secret government backed journey to the moon where a pre-pubescent teenager took the first steps on the moon?

Thanks to Netflix’s deep pockets and thirst for creative partnerships, Linklater can make a film akin to “Apollo 10½,” a movie rich enough with appreciation for the late sixties and the space race, you truly feel like you grew up in that era. Narrated by Linklater staple Jack Black and told visually using a mix of 3D and 2D limited animation, which is then superimposed over the live action shots, “Apollo 10½” might not be a crowning achievement in the director’s filmography, but it’s easily one of his most gorgeous and alive.

With Black giving us the play-by-play in real time, “Apollo 10½” moves faster than a Polaris as it enjoys the ambiance and free-flowing spirit of everything the sixties had to offer: classic board games, incredible musical staples The Monkees and, of course, The Beatles (Linklater doesn’t skimp on the soundtrack – infusing the movie with an eclectic dose of mainstays like The Archies 1969 anthem “Sugar Sugar” and closing it out with the 1968 bop “Shape of Things to Come” by Max Frost & the Troopers) triple features at the local cinema, running home after school to catch “Dark Shadows” and staying updated with JFK’s ambitions of putting a man on the moon. Linklater plays it straight and doesn’t treat these recollections as a stain on history (Black, narrating as the older version of the main character seen in the film, reminisces “it was a different time”). No kidding, as we see kids playing in the streets, engaging in roman candle warfare, and school principals walloping misbehaved students with a paddle.

Still, you can feel a certain aurora of imagination throughout the movie as it follows young Stan’s wacky journey. It begins after an impromptu game of kickball where he’s approached by two NASA engineers (Zachary Levi and Glen Powell) who have chosen Stan for a mission to the moon because they built a lunar module too small and need a test drive prior to Apollo 11’s launch. Obviously, this didn’t happen, but it’s a strong motif for Linklater emerging from childhood into young adulthood. It might not be as philosophical compared to “A Scanner Darkly,” a film eons ahead of the tech bubble, but “Apollo 10½” maintains its playful energy as the animation techniques mold and mesh with the tone of the film. It’s truly quite stunning and already an early contender for Oscar consideration next year.

While Linklater brushes over the more serious political and global tensions at the time, the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam war, his film isn’t trying to make a brash statement on those events. He’s basically saying: this is how it was. Take it or leave it. But what’s hip about “Apollo 10½” is the near flawless job it does at creating a sense of timeless relatability: We’ve all dealt with cheap parents, snobby siblings, and afternoon amusement park trips that left us exhausted, but Linklater takes a step back, offering a soothing reflection of a bygone era. It’s a reminder not to take life for granted and always let your imagination run wild.

Grade: A-

APOLLO 10½: A SPACE AGE CHILDHOOD debuts on Netflix Friday, April 1st.


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