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 *****

Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind (1977)

Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind

The imagery speaks for itself…

The main thing I remember from my first viewing of Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind as a child was that I could start playing the five notes as I started Concert Band around the age of eleven. Imagine my disappointment when, after finally revisiting the movie years later, I have been playing the notes the wrong way! Oh well…

Two years after Jaws brought Steven Spielberg into the limelight, he unleashed one of the most wonder oozing films of all time. Sci-Fi films can go one of two ways: They can go the way of action and adventure (as was the case with another 1977 classic, Star Wars), or they can show how we feel about the wonders of the universe. CEOT3K falls in the latter category.

The film does not entirely focus on a main character so much as the emotions the characters (and we in real life) feel when we see anything we don’t understand, yet are still yearning to learn more. It is clear that many things are happening and catching the attention of many people. One of them is Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), an electrician who notices something one night that he can’t explain, but will not let go by, even if his wife (Teri Garr) wants nothing to do with it. He also meets Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon), a single mother trying to look out for her son Barry (Cary Guffey).

While all actors give convincing performances (Dillon was nominated for an Oscar, and Guffey is a scene stealer), the movie belongs to the people behind the camera. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (who won the film’s only Oscar), supplies each frame with the imagery and color that give each one a life of its own. As is the case with every movie he has composed, John Williams brings life to the soul and backbone of the picture. Finally, it is Spielberg who keeps us somewhat fearful until, at just the right moment, he changes our fear to awe.

Parents, there is very little here that will be bad for a kid. Some swearing, but nothing horrible. The PG rating is justified.

 

I have a friend of mine, Jimmy, who is not a big fan of “old” movies, since it is sometimes hard to feel nostalgic for movies of the past. My response to him is that while there are many movies of the past that are forgettable but (to a degree) gives the viewer a feeling of nostalgia, there are a select few that are downright timeless. They exceed the time they were made in, and speak to anyone with a pulse, regardless of the year they were born in. There is no doubt in my mind that Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind is a pure and timeless classic.

Note: I do now know how to play the five notes. G A F F (an octave lower) and C.

Overall: Five Stars *****