In 2003, NASA sent two rovers to Mars. They were supposed to function for 90 days. Amazingly, Spirt, one of the rovers, remained operational for six years. Oppy (short for opportunity) sent back data and explored the planet for nearly 15 years. The documentary Goodnight Oppy explains how all this happened while highlighting the cooperative effort required to execute a complex space mission. Oppy eventually helped establish an important fact: There once had been water on Mars, which meant that the planet could have supported microbiological life. Angela Bassett narrates a movie that, like the people involved in this mission, humanizes the rovers, regarding them as part of an extended technological family. Anthropomorphism was difficult to resist: The rovers were built at 5'2" in height so that they would reflect the eye level of the average human. At the risk of dooming the movie, I’ll say that it would make great viewing for kids. Goodnight Oppy makes it clear that engineering and science (sometimes in conflict here) can open doorways to interesting careers. Secondly, the movie shows what can be achieved when when specialists join forces to work toward a common goal. Director Ryan White seems a bit prone to corniness. But, hey, Goodnight Oppy is inspiring nonetheless.
The Return of Tanya Tucker -- Featuring Brandi Carlile
I'm not a country music buff, but that didn't stop me from enjoying The Return of Tanya Tucker -- Featuring Brandi Carlile, a documentary about a once-hot star who makes a comeback. Tucker's return was engineered by another country star, Brandi Carlile, a lifelong Tucker fan who patiently teases out Tanya's best work for a new album. The movie also functions as an abridged biography of Tucker, charting her life from teenage success to encounters with Hollywood, her relationship with Glenn Campbell, as well as her fade from glory. But it's present-tense spark that energizes the movie. Director Kathlyn Horan captures the byplay between Carlile and Tucker who, without even trying, shatter stereotypes about country music. Carlile's gay and the 64-year-old Tucker sports a pink dye job. Rambunctious and candid, Tucker's live-wire style sometimes clashes with her insecurities about trying to revive her career. The film ends in triumph with Tucker winning a Grammy. Watching the creative process unfold can be boring, but hanging out with Tucker and Carlile makes for its own brand of entertainment.