By Lynn Venhaus

A stylish nostalgic romantic comedy-drama that vividly recalls the high-stakes of America’s Space Race with the Russians, “Fly Me to the Moon” is a rare summer movie that is as charming as it is smart.

Specifically set during NASA’s bold Apollo 11 drive, director Greg Berlanti meticulously recreates the historic mission, while focusing on two very different points of view in a light-hearted way.

It’s a pivotal time in 1969. Marketing maven Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson), who was brought in to fix NASA’s public image, wreaks havoc on launch director Cole Davis’s (Channing Tatum) singular, serious focus – the already difficult task of putting a man on the moon. When the White House deems the mission too important to fail, Jones is directed to stage a fake moon landing as backup.

Those of us alive then know what really happened on July 20, 1969, when an estimated 650 million people tuned in to the three broadcast networks to watch Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon (94% of all Americans watching television!).

It’s presented in thrilling footage here, and to watch CBS’s most-watched Walter Cronkite react again brought a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat. I hope the movie has broader appeal than just us NASA nerds and Baby Boomers who paid attention to every exciting detail when the astronauts were like rock stars, but it really hits our sweet spot.

(My second-grade teacher hauled in a TV so we could watch John Glenn’s Friendship 7 launch into orbit on Feb. 20, 1962). The constants in the 1960s news cycle were the Vietnam War, civil rights protests, and the space race, which inspired people to dream the impossible at a time of great turbulence.

Rose Gilroy’s clever script, with story by Keenan Flynn and Bill Kirstein, smartly builds tension. A subplot that shifts the stakes pokes fun at the fake staging rumor that caught fire like so many conspiracy theories of the 1970s — and there’s even a couple Stanley Kubrick jokes, as he was linked to have filmed the hoax.

Only the twist here is that then-President Nixon is so worried about America’s image in the world if the mission fails that he directs a super-secret Project Artemis as a back-up plan. His shady government operative, Moe Berkus, is played by Woody Harrelson as an unflappable enforcer. Given Tricky Dick’s reputation, this fraud scenario doesn’t seem too far-fetched.

Adding plenty of heat are Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson in an opposites-attract romance that feels like an homage to the 1960s flirty wholesome fun comedies that often starred Doris Day, Natalie Wood, James Garner and Rock Hudson.

Tatum is well-suited to play Cole Davis, a decorated pilot turned dedicated NASA launch director, with a heart-tugging backstory, and Johansson blithely embodies a slick marketing specialist tasked with getting America moonstruck. She’s a throwback to the “Mad Men” advertising heyday depiction, with some baggage of her own as well.

You can either be cynical about the retro cliches or embrace its old-fashioned breeziness. The performers are engaging, and their glibness produces sparks.

The captivating vintage vibe, down to the Tang promotions, sunshiny Florida setting, and pocket-protector engineer outfits, is presented with flair by production designer Shane Valentino, art director Lauren Rosenbloom, and costume designer Mary Zophres. Her kicky selections for Johansson are particularly fetching, and some of her choices for Tatum make him look like Captain Kirk.

They immerse you into a bygone time and place in much the same way as Tom Hanks’ feel-good ‘60s rock band comedy “That Thing You Do!” did in 1996. Composer Daniel Pemberton’s score elevates the atmosphere, and his needle drops of ‘60s hits and moon-themed songs enhance this experience.

The chipper supporting cast includes Ray Romano as Henry Smalls, a NASA stalwart who is closest to Cole, Lisa Garcia as Kelly’s assistant, and Noah Robbins and Donald Elise Watkins as dorky but enterprising engineers.

Jim Rash steals his scenes as a very flamboyant and temperamental director brought in for the deception footage. And Johansson’s real-life husband Colin Jost makes an appearance as one of the senators who needs convincing for funding.

The movie honors the 400,000 NASA workers who helped make going to the moon a reality. Sure, the movie could have been a tad shorter, but it touched upon everything it needed to combine the true story with the comedic fictional account.

This crowd-pleaser takes flight evoking an era where, despite a divided union, we could come together as Americans and celebrate our best and brightest, the dreams we could achieve. I don’t recall a more patriotic moment in my life in the late 20th century, with the 1980 USA hockey team “Miracle on Ice” a close second.

Fueled by magnetic star power, “Fly Me to the Moon” is a delightful summer trifle with a surprising emotional center.

“Fly Me to the Moon” is a 2024 comedy-drama directed by Greg Berlanti and starring Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Ray Romano, Jim Rash, Lisa Garcia, and Woody Harrelson. It is rated PG-13 for some strong language, and smoking, and the run time is 2 hours, 12 minutes. It opened in theatres July 12. Lynn’s Grade: A

By Lynn Venhaus

LIVE STREAMING: NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test Spacecraft (DART)

DART is set to collide with a small asteroid that is the moon of a larger space rock, Dimorphos. NASA launched the DART mission last year to see if this technique could one day be used for planetary defense.

DART is set to crash into Dimorphos at 14,000 miles per hour at 6:14 p.m. Central time on Monday.

NASA Television will broadcast coverage of the end of this mission beginning at 5 p.m. You can watch it here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21X5lGlDOfg

If you want to watch a stream of photos from the spacecraft as it closes in on the asteroid, NASA’s media channel will begin broadcasting those at 4:30 p.m. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nA9UZF-SZoQ

From the New York Times:

The DART mission isn’t like the movie “Armageddon.” Blowing up an asteroid generally would not be a good thing to do. Rather, the mission is a proof-of-principle demonstration that hitting an oncoming asteroid with a projectile can nudge it into a different orbit.

For a dangerous oncoming asteroid, that nudge could be enough to change the trajectory from a direct hit to a near miss.


TV: “tasteMAKERS,” PBS Nine, 8 p.m.

In an hour-long documentary, “Winemaking in Missouri: A Well-Cultivated History,” Emmy-winning producer and host Catherine Neville (cover photo, above) dives deep to uncover the roots of one of the U.S.’s most storied wine regions, which at one time was the second largest wine—producing state in the country.

The documentary traces the nearly 200-year history of Missouri’s rich winemaking past and discusses its present as one of the state’s leading industries.

The series “Taste Makers” explores the local food movement, and the show can also be found on Amazon Prime.

(Besides Monday, it will be on Sept. 27 at 10 p.m., Oct. 1 at 2:30 p.m., and Oct. 2 at 2 p.m. on Nine PBS)

A Chorus Line at Stages St. Louis. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

LIVE THEATRE: “A Chorus Line,” Stages St. Louis, Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.
Stages St. Louis closes out its ground-breaking 36th season with “A Chorus Line,” ending on Oct. 9. The show is not performed on Mondays, but you can see it Tuesday through Sunday (with 2 shows on Wednesday, a matinee at 2 p.m. and an evening show). It’s directed by Stages’ artistic director Gayle Seay, who knows that story well – she’s appeared in Broadway shows and on tour, including several stints in “A Chorus Line.”

Here is my review in the Webster-Kirkwood Times: https://www.timesnewspapers.com/webster-kirkwoodtimes/a-vibrant-theater-masterpiece/article_83dc9972-3a8d-11ed-8b9c-ff2eebcd1693.ht

Tasty: Sugar Fire Smokehouse is celebrating its 10th anniversary

In a space in a strip center in Olivette on Sept. 26, 2012, Charlie Downs and chef Mike Johnson opened Sugarfire Smoke House, and it didn’t take long before the lines formed.

They eventually opened 12 more in Missouri and Illinois, and have three more in Colorado, Iowa and Texas. To see the locations and hours, visit: https://sugarfiresmokehouse.com/locations/

Their RIBBLE ME THIS special today had pulled rib, mac and cheese, fried pickles, and honey badger sauce in a flour tortilla.

Check out their Facebook page and Instagram for their daily specials and what’s happening.

ON THIS DAY: “West Side Story” debuts at the Winter Garden Theatre, 1957

The Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim-Jerome Robbins’ musical “West Side Story” premiered in Broadway. The original, directed and choreographed by Robbins, was Sondheim’s Broadway debut. It ran for 732 performances before going on tour.

Nominated for six Tony Awards, it won two (lost to “The Music Man” for Best Musical).
It ran in London’s West End, has had a number of revivals. The 1961 movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning 10. The 2021 film, nominated for seven Oscars, features Oscar winner Adriana DeBose as Anita.

Spielberg’s film is currently available streaming on HBOMax.

Fun Fact: The 2021 film features several Muny alums, including:  Sean Harrison Jones as Action (Mike in “A Chorus Line” 2016, “Newsies” 2016); Jonalyn Saxer (Peggy Sawyer in 2017’s “42nd Street”); Eloise Krupp (Minnie Faye in 2014’s “Hello, Dolly!”); Halli Toland (), Kyle Coffman (“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”2021, “Newsies”2016, “West Side Story” 2013); Garrett Hawe (“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”2021) and Gaby Diaz (“West Side Story” 2013.

My review of 2021 “West Side Story”:  https://www.poplifestl.com/west-side-story-brims-with-vitality/

Playlist: TV Theme Songs

The popular sitcoms “The Beverly Hillbillies” (1962, featuring Belleville’s own Buddy Ebsen), “Gilligan’s Island” (1964) and “The Brady Bunch” (1969) premiered today. Their theme songs are among the most iconic. Here they are:

The Beverly Hillbillies: https://youtu.be/OvE9zJgm8OY

Gilligan’s Island: (Second season here) https://youtu.be/-fqXcKFg08w

The Brady Bunch: https://youtu.be/d2JooUMsDdA

Paul Newman

Words for Today
From Paul Newman, who died on this date in 2008 at age 83:
“If you don’t have enemies, you don’t have character.”