First Man (2018)

First Man

Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is the First Man in line of the first day of training at NASA.

It should be noted from the get go that Neil Armstrong did make it to the moon and became the first human to walk on the surface. It is not a spoiler, since we all know that going in, but as a way of saying how wonderful the film First Man really is. There are many areas of tension throughout that we need to remember it will be okay for Armstrong in the end, even if it seems like the odds are impossible, which they probably were close to.

Director Damien Chazelle (fresh off his Oscar win for La La Land) has made a movie that truly is on par with classics like Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff. With a screenplay by Josh Singer (who won an Oscar for Spotlight) that is based on the book by James R. Hansen, First Man starts off where it should: high above ground. We meet Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) as he is in the mist of being an engineer and pilot. After suffering a blow to his family, we see him and his wife Janet (Claire Foy, the recent Emmy winner of The Crown) as he is chosen (along with many others) to be the pilots to help NASA reach the moon before the Russians.

Others in the cast include Kyle Chandler as Deke Slayton, Jason Clarke as Ed White, Pablo Schreiber as Jim Lovell (the role Tom Hanks played in Apollo 13), Lukas Haas as Mike Collins, and Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin. This is just a handful of a supporting cast who bring an unsung backbone to the film’s success.

As the main role, Ryan Gosling gives a rather subdued, yet powerful performance. This, of course, is because Armstrong was known to be a very humbled, quiet man (unlike Buzz Aldrin, which Corey Stoll plays perfectly). It is also a crucial move for Gosling since the performance by Claire Foy as his wife is much more direct and demanding. It is most clear in scenes such as her yelling at Slayton for turning off her radio, and when she is telling her husband not that he should talk to their sons before the mission, but that he will talk to their sons. Like Gosling, Foy gives Oscar caliber work.

However, the one I feel who deserves the most praise is Chazelle. After Whiplash and La La Land, it is clear as day that this guy is one of the best young talents in film today. I read a user review of the film online saying how the movie was too slow, which is ludicrous. Patience is something any movie goer must have to appreciate film as an art, and the pacing of the film here is pitch perfect (it hardly seemed to drag, even at two hours and twenty-one minutes. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren (also a La La Land Oscar winner) gives us not the light we as an audience would need, but the light the characters would have (in other words, he basically seems to use natural light). This is one of many reasons why First Man makes you feel as much as an astronaut as a film has. In Armstrong’s Gemini mission, there is one sequence that has stayed with me more than anything from the film, particularly one sound effect. This and the rest of the sound effects are as spine chilling as those I witnessed when I saw The Exorcist.

Parents, there is no sexual content at all (aside from some kissing). There is some swears (one, maybe two F bombs), and a lot of thematic material (especially with the result of the one main Apollo mission that ended tragically). Still, I would like to believe Middle Schoolers and up would be totally fine with this film.

I conclude with a plea. Recently, First Man had gotten a lot of negative press because the moon landing did not feature Armstrong planting the American Flag on the moon (I still like the fact that Gosling found it humourous that he is Canadian). There are plenty of shots of American flags in the film, and we do see the flag on the moon as well (though not the actual planting of it). It is up to you if you want to miss this film because of one minor thing that they left out. If you still insist on not seeing it, I would say undoubtably that you are missing one extraordinary film experience.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

A Star is Born (2018)

A Star is Born

Jack (Bradley Cooper) shows Ally (Lady Gaga) what she has to offer the world of music.

There are many nods that Bradley Cooper makes in his directorial debut towards the former versions of A Star is Born. I won’t list them, for doing so would be stupid and rob you of the fun of finding out yourself. Even if Cooper did not make these “easter eggs”, his version of A Star is Born stands alone as a triumph, and certainly one of the best directorial debuts of the 21st century.

The original was made in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March in the leads (the only one that was not a musical). The next (and the only other one I have seen as of this writing) was in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason (Garland’s loss at the Oscars that year to Grace Kelly is one still questioned to this day, and once you witness her, it is not hard to see why). Later in 1976, it was Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Now, it is Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Though the times are different, the premise is the same: a down on his luck star who is about to fade out finds a newcomer who he wishes to take under his wing, and they fall in love.

Like Garland and Streisand before her, Gaga clearly has pipes, and anyone with a single brain cell would say the same. She has even acted in minor parts before (she started as an extra on The Sopranos), but this is clearly her star making (how poetic) role as an actor. We know from the past that this is the same woman who has performed in extravagant (to say the least) costumes and settings, but it is (aside from one or two scenes) not visible in her performance as Ally. In short, she has totally made a serious statement for being an Oscar favorite in the next few months.

Speaking of Oscar contenders, there is veteran actor Sam Elliot as Bobby, who is Jack’s (Bradley Cooper) older brother. Not his dad, but older brother. I admit that seemed a little questionable at first, but there is no doubt in the acting that we can firmly believe these are two (half) siblings who have been through the mud and dirt over a dozen times and still can talk to each other. Elliot is nothing short of stellar.

Parents, in no way is this for kids. There is plenty of swears, some sexual content and partial nudity. High School and above.

You may have noticed by now I have not mentioned much about Bradley Cooper, mainly because I am still in awe of what he has done. For his first time as a director, he was not swinging for the fences so much as the parking lot. Clearly it is one of his very best performances, as is the case with the rest of the cast, mainly due to the fact that everything in the film feels completely authentic. Consider the small moments we have with Ally’s dad Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay) or his friend George (Dave Chappelle, yeah, you heard right). We are so involved in the world of Jack and Ally that we don’t think for one second about film making.

One of the key moments of the film is when Jack is telling Ally that, in order to make it, she needs more than talent. What she also needs is a message to tell the world. Cooper has always had talent. Now we are hearing his message.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Blackkklansman

Phillip “Flip” Zimmerman (Adam Driver) is somewhat suckered into Ron Stallworth’s (John David Washington) plan of infiltrating the local branch of the KKK.

It should come as no surprise that the brilliance of BlacKkKlansman is mainly because it is made by Spike Lee. Not only could this movie be made well by another director, but I don’t think any other director would have guts to make it.

Set in the 1970s, the film tells the true story of a new African-American police officer in Colorado (which I never once thought of as being a state with racism) named Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, real life son of Denzel). After some time of working in the records room, he gets his chance at going undercover. He eventually finds himself convincing a KKK member (Ryan Eggold) to give him a chance at becoming a member. It is here where he enlists Flip (Adam Driver) to cover for him in the person to person meetings, while Ron handles the phone conversations. It works so well they even get to convincing the Grand Wizard himself, David Duke (a nearly unrecognizable Topher Grace, and not just because he has a mustache). There is also a side romance between Ron and Patrice (Laura Harrier), a local college student known for being vocal about her race.

If reading this review (or seeing the trailer) has made you feel a little guilty on laughter, don’t worry, because there will be a lot of it. The characters know they are in a situation that is ludicrous, but go thru it anyway. There are many characters that do come across as somewhat stereotypical, mainly that of the married couple Felix and Connie (Jasper Paakkonen and Ashlie Atkinson, respectfully). Still, there are others who do actually seem like they are right in their life choices, even if that is racism.

All the acting is stellar. Washington does show some signs of his (arguably more famous) dad, but still makes it his own performance. I am now becoming more and more convinced that Adam Driver will be able to have a much more standout career as a talented actor and not just the guy who killed Han Solo (I would say spoiler, but you should know this by now). One of the most dramatic moments comes when two characters are making speeches. The first is David Dukes (again, was that really Topher Grace?), and the second is an old African-American survivor telling his story of racism. He is played by Harry Belafonte, who gives a prime example of making a great scene out of little screen time.

Parents, the movie is, of course, rated R (as almost every Spike Lee film is). There is no sexual scenes (just talking) and some violence. The R rating is mainly due to the language (mainly the N word, which is spouted an infinite number of times). I would say High School and above, but I should mention I did see at least one child in my screening who could not have been more than ten years old.

Now to the ending of the film, which is one that will be talked about for a long time. True, it does get political (it should not surprise us how Lee would feel about President Trump, especially when you see the cameo in the first five minutes of the film). Nevertheless, the film does end the way it should, stating that this problem of racism and hatred is still rampant today, and is right in front of our eyes.

Kind of reminds me of that quote from Rodney King.

Overall: Five Stars *****

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers Infinity War

Thanos (Josh Brolin) shakes the Avengers to their core, as well as the audience.

For the past ten years, Marvel has made (for the most part) solid entertaining movies. It has also been that long since The Dark Knight, which has always been the best superhero movie. Few movies have been any kind of a threat (Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther). Now comes the cream of the crop, Avengers: Infinity War. In my mind, The Dark Knight is still number one, but it has been shaken by a solid silver place finisher.

I will be brief, for I would fear of any form of spoilers (there will be none here). If you have seen any of the Marvel films (I know you have), you know there have been six infinity stones in the universe. They are being hunted by Thanos (Josh Brolin), in his quest to bring balance to the cosmos. This is done with the infinity gauntlet, which he can use to wipe out half of all living things, with a snap of his fingers.

That is as far as I will go. Standing in his way are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain America (Chris Evans),….ok, basically everyone in every Marvel movie except for Ant-Man and Hawkeye (that was easier).

Remember Spider-Man 3, when there were too many characters and story lines? Well, Infinity War has only one real story line and one villain. Nevertheless, all the star players are not only here, but needed. Afterall, that is how hard it is to defeat a guy like Thanos. The first ten minutes alone prove my point.

Credit also must be given to directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Each character is given same amount of screen time, but the right amount of it. Kudos to the actors for remembering the old rule: no small parts, only small actors.

Speaking of which, there is even a role for Peter Dinklage. I mean that transition not as a put down joke, but from the heart. There is no doubting the man’s talent.

Parents, I was about to say it is like any Marvel movie, but, to be fair, there are a lot of darker moments. That is all I will say. Middle School and above.

That is all I will say, because this is not a movie to read about. It is one to experience. And what an experience.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

My Left Foot (1989)

My Left Foot

Christy Brown (Daniel Day Lewis), feeling proud of stealing coal.

 

As someone who is a dominate right-handed person, I can’t imagine doing anything with just one foot, but the left foot by itself is unthinkable. Yet that is what Christy Brown had to do for his life. He did not live to see My Left Foot (he died in 1981), his story is still one that resonates today, not just because he had cerebral palsy, but because (like everyone) he had more than his fair share of character flaws.

That is not to say he wasn’t extraordinary. Born into a traditional (and large) Irish family in 1930s Dublin, we see the story of Brown in flashbacks as the grown up Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis) is at an event celebrating his memoir. He shares his book with a newly met Nurse, Mary (Ruth McCabe). At first, it is her eyes we see the life of Christy, but then we find ourselves seeing it thru his eyes.

It is beyond frustrating at first for the adolescent Christy (Hugh O’Conor). He has a caring family and siblings, though his father (Ray McAnally, who passed away after filming concluded) is not the best at showing his love. The one clear rock in Christy’s life is his mother (Brenda Fricker), as shown in the brilliant scene when he communicates with his first word, “Mother”.

As a young man, Christy learns the many things we all do: sports, first love, heart ache, and self discovery. A lot of this is also shown in Dr. Eileen Cole (Fiona Shaw), who takes a huge interest in Christy and his art.

No review of this movie would be complete with out mention of the acting. Perhaps the only bad thing one could say about Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance is that it overshadows that of Hugh O’ Conor’s. Both are extraordinary, making it seem like one performance instead of two. Still, this is the film that brought people’s attention to Day-Lewis (it won him his first of a record three Best Actor Oscars).

The film won another Oscar for Brenda Fricker as Best Supporting Actress, who is stellar. It is clear that, without her, Brown would never have been able to be fueled to do all he accomplished. Still, as is the case in every movie he has been in, Daniel Day-Lewis showed us for the first time (and many times after) why he is one of the greatest film actors we have ever had (and if you don’t believe me, just look at the making of this movie and how in character he was. He was carried around the set when the cameras were off).

Parents, the movie is rated R. There is one bit of nudity (young boys see a nude photo in a book, and talk about sex). The main aspect though is swearing. I would say High School and above (though some mature middle schoolers may be okay at seeing it).

Had Christy not been flawed as a human, I doubt the movie would work as well as it did. To put it bluntly, he is no Helen Keller. I would say he is prickly, but that is understating it. Still, My Left Foot is a true inspiration of what the human spirit can accomplish, and a great study in how moving a performance can be.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

 

 

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Cinema Paradiso

Young Toto (Salvatore Cascio) blooming into his love for film.

Recently, a good friend (and film critic) mentioned how every film goer has blind spots. In other words, certain movies just escape us and we miss them one way or another, unless we seek them out. That being said, I am still furious with my past self for not having seen the masterpiece Cinema Paradiso sooner. I can’t fathom how anyone would call themselves a movie lover and not want to see this film.

Set in present day (the movie came out in 1988, winning the Oscar for Foreign film), we meet Salvatore (Jacques Perrin), who has just been informed that a man he knows, Alfredo, has died. The funeral is tomorrow in his hometown, where he has not been for thirty years. In a series of flashbacks, the movie shows his life up to his decision to leave his home town and pursue his true passion: film.

As a child during World War two, young Salvatore (“Toto”) has one escape in his life of school: the local cinema. He soon befriends Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), the protectionist, thought it is not easy. Toto learns the ins and outs, and then some.

Ok, you can get mad at me if you want, but I don’t want to give anything else away. All I knew about the movie (directed by Giuseppe Tornatore) going in was that it was about movies and was in subtitles. Sure, I felt I would get a lot of references, see some romance, and maybe even laugh a little. What I did not know was how moved I would be. Those who know me best know that it takes something special to make me cry (not just during movies). There was nothing to prepare me for the emotional impact that I was going to have at the end of this film, and what an impact! After spending so much time with Salvatore, seeing him grow up, learning life lessons, I guess the tears were inevitable. (It also does help when you have a majestic sweeping score by the hugely talented Ennio Morricone).

Parents, the version I saw was the PG version (a later, more mature version was released, unseen by me). The PG one had some swearing, thematic material, and sexual material (one movie being shown shows a woman’s bare back, and boys in the audience are clearly masturbating, though nothing is shown). I would say High School and above.

Like Singin’ in the Rain, Cinema Paradiso is one of the very best movies about movies. It shows one of the key elements of magic that movies have always possessed: the element of escapism.

Molto bello.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread

“Whatever you do”, Alma (Vicky Krieps) says to Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis), “do it carefully”.

 

About twenty minutes or so into Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant Phantom Thread, I was remembering what Hitchcock said about the audience needing to be played “like a piano”. Of course, the fact that the musical score is nearly all piano helps, but this movie about a dress-maker is made with such care and precision that there is no better way to describe it.

Taking place in the post war era of 1950s London, we meet Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a renowned dress-maker. He is beyond passionate to his work, showing artistry skills with dresses like Van Gogh did with colors. He runs his business with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) with a very firm but gentle hand, though it is clear he does better with dresses than he does those who wear them.

One day he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), who is smitten by more than just the dresses he makes her. She is a waitress, but is perfect at being a muse for Reynolds (“no one can stand still longer than I can”, she claims). When she moves in with him, it is clear that routine is essential to his daily life (even breakfast becomes a hassle).

I will not go on more with the story for fear of giving it away. I will say that (though this should not shock anyone) this is yet another film that reminds us how precious it is to have an actor like Daniel Day-Lewis. His performances are not many (and has said this would be his last), but what is lacking in quantity is more than made up for in quality. We know how dedicated (which does not seem like a strong enough word) he gets into character. Even though his normal voice is english, his voice here seems so in character that it does not seem like his own. Props also should be given to Krieps, Manville, and the rest of the cast. To hold your own against DDL is something one should be proud of.

Like clothing, Anderson (who also did the cinematography) directs in such a delicate matter you feel bad if one stitch were to come undone. The beauty of the whole film also cannot be overstated. Every frame uses the lighting and shadow so well it is almost like an Edward Hopper painting.

Parents, the movie is a rather minor R rating. There is very minor nudity (seen through dresses), but none of it is sexual. There is swearing (mainly F bombs), but that is it. If your kids were to be interested, I would say mature middle schooler and above.

While I am holding against all hope that this is not the last time I will see him on the big screen, Daniel Day-Lewis does truly give a wonderful swan song. So great is his performance that I did wait till the end credits, just to see if he was also the costume designer.

While it was Mark Bridges who did the costumes, I still feel like DDL helped in some way.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

A Ghost Story (2017)

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story‘s Ghost (Casey Affleck)

Undoubtably, A Ghost Story is not a movie for everyone. If you are the type of person who just likes to watch a movie for entertainment and nothing more, this movie is likely to fly over your head. If you think movies are able to give you a chance to meditate on life, then this movie is pure poetry.

 

Director David Lowery tells a story that is vastly simple: a man (Casey Affleck) dies in a car crash. After being identified by his wife (Rooney Mara), he returns as a ghost, and spends time at the house where his wife is recovering from his loss.

 

That is it. Seriously, that is it to the story. It is far from all that is left in the movie. Even at a run time just under an hour and a half, this film (which has very little dialogue) is far from boring. You would not be blamed from thinking it is, even with scenes such as the woman spending about five minutes (in one shot) stress eating a pie. Oddly, it was this scene (about twenty minutes in) that got me realizing I was watching something unlike I ever have before.

 

Parents, the movie is rated R, mainly for the scene of the crash and swearing (I seriously only remember one F bomb). I would say middle age and up (if you have kids that would enjoy films like this).

 

A Ghost Story goes way beyond narrative, in the shadow of other miraculous films like The Tree of Life (2011), Fantasia (1940), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). A Ghost Story is not one you can understand in one viewing. However, after the first viewing, it haunted me (in a good way), making me like it more and more. When I went to rent it again, I ended up just buying it.

 

It is a film I will have to reflect on more and more as I grow old.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away

Every frame of Spirited Away is a jewel, but this one of Chihiro is the most poetic…

Even though I have seen Hayao Miyazaki’s uncanny masterpiece Spirited Away countless times (there are only two or three other movies I think I have seen more), I only just recently finally saw it on the big screen, as well as in its original language. Still, it lost not one ounce of its magical effect: The experience only added to it.

As the first anime movie I ever saw, I can safely say that Spirited Away is the one anime movie for people who don’t think they like anime movies. Miyazaki has made countless classics, but this has to be his number one film (though My Neighbor Totoro is a close second).

The story of Spirited Away is like that of Alice in Wonderland. A ten year old girl named Chihiro (Daveigh Chase, who was also Lilo in Lilo & Stitch) is on her way to her new home when her parents stumble upon what looks to be an abandoned theme park. They see food that does not seem to be for anyone, so they eat it (well, chow down). Chihiro eventually realizes that the park is a place of unimaginable creatures and spirits. Her quest has her meet unforgettable characters including the tyrannical boss Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette), the boiler man Kamachi (David Odgen Stiers), the blunt yet kind Lin (Susan Egan), and the helpful friend Haku (Jason Marsden).

I will leave it at that, because this a movie that is not to be seen or heard, but experienced. Any artist out there would benefit to pause every frame, and spend five minutes looking at it. Miyazaki (who also wrote the script) gives such pin point detail to each inch of our screens that we are stunned. Even the animators at Disney and Pixar will tell you how much of a master this man is.

Upon watching the movie again, I also realized how much of a hero Chihiro really is. It is not just that she puts herself in harm’s way (the scene where she runs on a pipe is beyond bold for any person), but it is why she does it. Despite her puny appearance (she looks like she weighs no more than 50-60 pounds), she has a heart of purity and soundness, and it is perfectly reflected in the film’s closing line (which is very underrated).

Parents, this is a movie for any child. There are some scares, but nothing too bad. More so, it is one which you can sit down and watch with them (and even enjoy).

 

Recently, I did a poll on Instagram about whether Disney should keep making live action remakes of their films (most were for the idea). I am personally growing tired of it: Some of them did work, but now they are just overshadowing the far better originals. Spirited Away is one movie that, no matter how much money Disney (or any studio) has will ever be done well in live action. Heck, bring in James Cameron, and a live action version would still be terrible. Some movies are meant to stay the way they are.

I could go on and on about my love for Spirited Away, but it is better to experience for yourself if you haven’t already done so. It is impossible not to be moved by this film.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Bride of Frankenstein

The Monster (Boris Karloff) and his mate (Elsa Lanchester)

The first time I saw Bride of Frankenstein, I had not seen the original Frankenstein (1931). Funny enough, I really did not need to see the first film at all, which I found out after revisiting the sequel. That is not to say the first film is a bad one, but that Bride of Frankenstein may have been the first sequel to ever outshine it’s predecessor.

The film starts off with Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester, who also plays the bride, though in the credits she is simply refered to as ? ) telling her friends (as well as the audience) that the monster (Boris Karloff) survived the crash at the end of the first story. His quest for meaning and friendship is thwarted at every turn (though he gets close with a blind man), so his anger is unleashed on all he crosses.

Eventually, he meets Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), a former co-worker of Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive). Henry is recovering from the events of the first film, and wants to finally marry Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson). Pretorius tells the monster that he is able to make him a mate, but needs the help of Frankenstein.

I will leave the plot there, since it is rather simple and one I don’t want to give away (thought it is safe to say you know the bride is made). Even if you never heard of this movie, you know what the bride looks like, with her hair like it was hit by lightning. It is just as famous as the original monster’s make up, if not more so.

Of course, you could argue against certain things in the plot, such as “the lever”. “Don’t touch that lever!” a character yells. Keep in mind, the movie was from 1935. Still, like all great old flicks, Bride of Frankenstein has aged better than wine.

Parents, while this is a classic horror movie, there is nothing that young kids would be too afraid of. There is no swearing or nudity or blood. Basically, I would say age 7 and up.

The 1930s produced many a monster movie, but Bride of Frankenstein is the cream of the crop. Recently, Universal has started to make their own “dark” universe with monster movies (though I have not seen 2017’s The Mummy with Tom Cruise, and judging by what I heard, it ain’t pretty). Their next remake will be of this film (with Javier Bardem in the role of the monster). While I am not entirely on board with the idea, the fact that they don’t even need to remake the original (which has been done before) shows how superfluous the original Frankenstein is when compared to its far superior sequel.

To a world of Gods and Monsters, indeed.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****