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 *****

Detroit (2017)

Detroit

John Boyega stars as Dismukes, a security guard on duty one night in Detroit.

In the countless number of times I have been to a movie theater, Detroit had something that no other movie experience had: As I entered the theater, I passed two security guards (one even may have had a gun). Though I had an idea of what the movie was about, I did not know it may be this emotional for others.

Detroit is definitely an experience, to say the least, and director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) is perfect for the material . She is one of those directors who cares more about getting the point across than making the audience feel comfortable. She is one of the grittier of all film makers.

The film tells the (somewhat) true story of the events of July 25th, 1967, in the city of Detroit. There are no lead roles (though John Boyega gets star billing as a security guard who is forced to help the local police), yet every actor is uncanny. After playing with a toy gun, the police (led by a young actor named Will Poulter as Krauss) track the shooter (who they believe to be an actual sniper) to the Algiers Hotel, and won’t leave till they get answers. There tactics are beyond any words I can use to describe them. Let me just say that calling it heartbreaking and terrible is a horrible understatement.

Parents, I will be blunt: this movie is totally not for kids. There is a lot of swearing and violence, and some (very) brief nudity. Still, it is a movie I feel that everyone should see at least once. High School and above (I would hope some High School teachers would show it).

Earlier, I stated that the movie is based on a (somewhat) true story. Since it is all still a bit of a mystery, the movie cannot tell us the whole truth of that horrible night (much like JFK could not give us a full answer of the events of November 22nd, 1963). Instead, it deals mainly with how we as humans look at racism. Will it ever go away? Honestly, I don’t know. Our feelings on the subject of racism (and prejudice in general) are the same today as they were fifty years ago and beyond.

No wonder the theater had security guards.

Overall: Four Stars ****

Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk

Soldiers await their fate on Dunkirk

I can’t think of many directors with a solid stretch of quality films other than Christopher Nolan (some even to the point of masterpiece). His latest, Dunkirk, is surely one of his best. Forewarning: if you suffer from aquaphobia, I would advice being careful, because Dunkirk has some of the most intense scenes at sea I have seen this side of Jaws.

Set to a rousing score by immaculate composer Hans Zimmer, the movie starts right at the beginning of the end of the battle that happened in Dunkirk, France in 1940. The first thing we notice about the film is that (like in any battle), we do not know when a gun shot will ring out. There is hardly any warning to any firearm of any kind throughout the whole movie. Nearly every one that did occur made me flinch.

As any Nolan movie, the film does not rely on star power so much as acting. Most of the soldiers are new, upcoming actors, but we see some familiar faces as well. We get some veteran thespians such as Oscar winner Mark Rylance as a civilian helping with the rescue, Cillian Murphy as a soldier, Kenneth Branagh as a commander, and one actor as a fighter pilot who I will not reveal because it is quiet a nice surprise.

My only flaw in the movie was that the interceding timelines were a little off-putting. Foolishly, I forgot to remember that, as is the case of many Nolan films, one ounce of lack of attention could lead to confusion.

Parents, this is one of the few war movies that I can think of being rated PG-13. Nolan goes more for artistic than he does complete realism (at least when compared to other movies like Saving Private Ryan). The action is still intense, but there is no real amounts of blood and gore. It is mainly for the intense action sequences and some swearing (I think I remember two F-Bombs). Middle school and above should be fine.

Clearly, Dunkirk is one of the best movies of 2017, and will surely be up for many an Oscar nomination in the spring (hopefully Nolan gets his long overdue nomination for Best Director). While it is not the best of all war movies (nothing in my mind tops Apocalypse Now!), Dunkirk is surely among some of the greats.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2

 

 

Silence (2016)

silence

Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) trying to spread hope, as well as gain it.

Movies can be divided into two categories: ones you can watch over and over again, and the others that are best watched at least once. If I had to pick which categories to put Martin Scorsese’s newest classic, Silence, into, my first gut reaction would be the latter. It is brutal, gritty, and hard to watch much of the time. Yet it is also a movie that has so many moments that are open to interpretation that you would need to see it more than once.

The story seems simple, yet when it is a Marty Scorsese movie, it is always so much more than that. During the 1630s (and when was the last time you saw a movie made during that time?), two missionaries named Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, who had a great 2016 after working with Mel Gibson on Hacksaw Ridge) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) venture out to Japan to find their mentor Ferreira (Liam Neeson). There are obviously great set pieces and beautiful imagery, but the situation that these two are in take any hope out of it. The authorities are cracking down hard on anyone proclaiming themselves to be christian. Even a hint of it in your life would mean your death, unless you were willing to step (“trample”) on the image of Christ.

The title of the movie holds many meanings. For one, it is about how Rodrigues and Garrpe seem to think how Silence is the only thing they have responding to their prayers. On the other  hand, it could also mean that the movie itself has (as far as I could tell) little musical score, if any at all. All we hear are wails of Christians dying, the waves of the sea, the drops of rain (and sometimes blood), panting from exhaustion, and so on.

The acting is extremely effective. It would be hard for you to watch this movie, and think that it is about Kylo Ren (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and “the Amazing” Spider-Man going to save Qui-Gon Jinn/Oskar Schindler/Bryan Mills (Taken)/any of the other roles we associate with Liam Neeson. Instead, you are thinking of how these two young priests are starting to realize, little by little, that they are going in way over their head.

Parents, it should come as no surprise that this movie is definitely not for kids. There is no sexuality (some rear end nudity of the Japanese), or really any swearing. It is mainly due to the violence, which is generally revolved around the torture that the citizens have to endure. High School and above only.

I admit the movie does tend to go on a little bit, but it still does not change my view that Silence is another movie to mention in Scorsese’s immaculate resume (I admit I have not seen all of his movies, but who can argue against titles like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, or Goodfellas?) Silence also proves its title with the effect on the audience. No talking, no cellphones ringing, just the still audience absorbing the screen (there was a time when I had to move my hand to make sure it was getting circulation.)

It may have come out just at the end of 2016, but Silence is still clearly one of the year’s very best films.

 

Overall: Four and a half Stars **** 1/2

Hidden Figures (2016)

hidden-figures

(From left to right) Mary (Janlle Monae), Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) and Dorothy (Octavia Spencer) are enjoying some downtime.

I was asking myself the simple question of “Why?” a lot when I was observing Hidden Figures. That is not meant to be taken as a negative comment. The “Why?” is for why it took so long for this movie to be made. I mean, these women seem to be far ahead of their time, trend setters that are (in my mind) not even that far behind names like Rosa Parks. At the beginning of the film, they experience the “God ordained miracle” of seemingly chasing a police car in 1961.

There are good reasons and bad reasons why the true story of Hidden Figures finally came to the big screen in 2016. One of the best reasons is the casting. The trio of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae as friends who have the brain power to work for NASA are played brilliantly. Henson is the main role as Katherine G. Johnson. She is a mathematics wiz who is brought to work for getting the numbers right on upcoming space launches to keep up with the soviets in the space race. She is under the rather tough but kind eye of her boss, Al Harrison (the always lovable Kevin Costner), as well as many of her cohorts. It is mainly her co-worker Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons, aka “The Big Bang Theory”s Sheldon Cooper) who can’t stand her.

Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy helps with assigning other African-American women to tasks, yet she does not have the title of supervisor, despite her requests from Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst). Monae’s Mary is the one who can blow her lid at a moment’s notice, yet needs to complete some High School level classes to be a full engineer.

We also get Mahershala Ali (who was brilliant in Moonlight) as Col. Jim Johnson, who fancies Katherine (she lives at home with her mother and three daughters: her first husband is mentioned but never reveals how he died).

One thing that I must admit is a negative about the film is that, being released in 2016, we have seen so many movies reminiscent of this before. Of course, we know of the racism in the 1960s (the violence is hardly mentioned since the film is PG), and the movie really does not give us anything completely surprising that we have not already seen in other movies.

Parents, when I went to see this, I had my heart warmed when I saw a lot of young children at the movie (no older than 9 years old or so). It is a good history lesson of a movie, with a few bits of swearing that is not heavy. Basically, if your kids ever learned about this period of history, they would be more than fine seeing this movie.

Undoubtably, there is another positive about this movie coming out in (late) 2016. Everyone knows the past year was hard on a lot of people, and we as a nation (and worldwide, really) have forgotten more than to just love one another. We forgot that there is another thing we most do before that: it is called respect. For those who forgot that, Hidden Figures is for them.

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

United 93 (2006)

On one fateful day, a bunch of ordinary people did something extraordinary.

On one fateful day, a bunch of ordinary people did something extraordinary.

There are certain movies that should be watched, despite how hard it may be to sit through them. Movies like Schindler’s List (1993), Grave of the Fireflies (1988), The Passion of the Christ (2004), and Sophie’s Choice (1982) come to mind. United 93, which I still consider the best film of 2006, is truly one of those films.

We all know the story: On a Tuesday morning, four planes were hijacked and were to be crashed into largely populated landmarks on the east coast of the United States. One of those planes did not reach its destination. Director Paul Greengrass (who got a well deserved Oscar Nomination for the movie) pieces together what is learned from families, phone calls, etc, to put together a film of stunning power.

Another key element of the film is that there is no Hollywood stars. The only person I recognized (though not at the time) was Olivia Thirlby as one of the passengers (she would later be famous as the best friend in 2007’s Juno). It is done in real-time, and seems cast by such well acted unknowns that it is almost like the real people are playing themselves (and I don’t exclude the roles of the victims either).

Parents, I am aware the film is rated R (the subject matter is obviously scary and thematic). There is some swearing (a few F bombs), but I see this as a must see for anyone in middle school or above. We are at that point where some graduating High School are the youngest people who may remember what occured that horrible day (I myself was in 8th grade and was sitting down for English class when I was informed). It is also a film to show what real world heroism is. No super powers. No gimmicks. No space ships. Just everyday people who decided to be more than they were when they sat down. They were as brave and patriotic as any soldier on the battlefield.

They were United.

Overall: Five Stars *****