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 *****

The Post (2017)

The Post

Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) discussing the possible future of The Post

 

I went into Steven Spielberg’s The Post with one question (well a few, but one that stood above the others): Is it possible for the movie to be watchable without thinking of the politics we are bombarded with 24/7 these days? I guess it depends on where you stand politically. All I am here to do is to say if the film is entertaining or not, and my answer is a resounding yes.

Set as almost a prequel to the king of all newspaper movies All the President’s Men (1976), The Post tells the story of the leaked Pentagon Papers, and how President Nixon (as well as previous ones going back to Truman) lied about the Vietnam War. The pages are delivered to the Washington Post (as well as the New York Times), but the latter publishes it first. Still, more papers are delivered to the desk of Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who is firm on publishing the documents. Of course, it is up to the owner of the paper, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep).

It is clear that when you have a movie with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, the acting will be rock solid. Hanks does have more of the showier role, but that does not steal any thunder from Streep (to be fair, who could do that to the actress?). They and the rest of the cast (including Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, and Alison Brie) have a palpable electricity in the air for the whole run time.

It occurs to me that movies that have to do with news media have to be have more truth than most any other film genre (if not, film critics would tear the film apart). I have never worked at a paper, but there does seem to be a lot of authenticity in the movie (even when Bradlee’s daughter is selling lemonade while everyone is sorting the papers). The film may not have been exactly how it all played out (it is an original script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer), but it would not surprise me if it did play out that way.

Parents, the film is PG-13. There is about five minutes at the start of the film that shows some action in the war (nothing too graphic) and there is also some swearing (none that stood out to me). I would say any middle schooler would be fine seeing this film.

The film is not completely in the league of Spielberg classics like Jaws, E.T., or Schindler’s List. Still, the film is a wonderful thriller for those tired of mindless action CGI effects that want thought and drama at the core. On that standard alone, The Post is a treasure of a film.

 

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

Sully (2016)

sully

Tom Hanks as “Sully” and Aaron Eckhart as his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles.

When basically everyone who has heard of Capt. Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger and how he landed in the Hudson in January of 2009 and calls him a hero, you need a movie star who can fill those shoes with ease. It helps to then have someone like Tom Hanks fill those shoes, being that Hanks is one of the few movie stars no one has a bad thing to say about.

Hanks again is Captain of the Screen as the titular character. He gives another performance where we know it is Tom Hanks, but we also know it is Chelsey Sullenberger. What I liked most about the performance is that it was not one that had to be over the top with long monologues and shouting matches. It is a controlled performance, as Sully has to deal with the aftermath of the landing (not crash, but landing).

Another key part of the movie is Aaron Eckhart as his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles. Eckhart has always been a good actor, and delivers another fine supporting performance here (he is given one of the best film curtain lines in recent memory). We also get the invaluable Laura Linney as Sully’s wife Lorraine.

The best part of the movie is that it does not focus completely on the landing, but the aftermath. We see Sully’s interview with Katie Couric (playing herself), and his time on Letterman. There were times were I was feeling the absolute hidden truth behind being a celebrity, and how it can boggle the mind in an instant.

Parents, if your kids are middle school aged, they can see this film. It is PG-13 for some swearing (including one F bomb), but nothing more than what a middle schooler would hear in a cafeteria. Nothing sexual of any kind.

The movie is directed by Hollywood Legend Clint Eastwood, at the ripe age of 86 (proving once again that I want to be more like him if I make it to that age). Sully is Eastwood’s shortest film (around an hour and a half), but, like any Eastwood film, is far from boring. It is another highlight in his long, legendary career, as it is for Hanks.

Overall: Four Stars ****

Bridge of Spies (2015)

Tom Hanks (right) in Bridge of Spies.

Tom Hanks (right) in Bridge of Spies.

Think of how many times in your life the color Red has been used to signify the bad guy.

In video games, red on your radar means an enemy. It signals an alert. I tend to think a lot of this may have to do with how serious the US took communism in the 1950s.

In Bridge of Spies, we learn the true story of lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), who is asked to be the defense attorney of Soviet Spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Fortunatly, Donovan has shades of Atticus Finch in him: He does it because he knows how important it is to show the law of the United States at work, regardless of the situation the country may be in.

Of course, Abel’s chances are slim to nil, but the film does not just talk about his trial, or even the trade that is to be made for another captured US soldier in the Soviet Union. It is about how, sometimes, just sitting downn and talking can solve problems better than bullets and bloodshed ever could. The film is directed (by Spielberg) with plenty of style and artistry we would come to expect from him, as well as great acting from Hanks and Rylance (and an underappreciated Amy Ryan as Donovan’s wife). My issue with the film is it tends to drag on a bit, and seems really long.

Parents, the film is totally fine for anyone 13 and up (and even mature preteens). There is some swearing (two F bombs are dropped), but that is it. No sexual content of any kind. I say if your kids are studying this period of history in school, it is definetly worth while to take them.

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

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and Edward Burns in Saving Private Ryan.

Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and Edward Burns in Saving Private Ryan.

Time has always been a better critic of films than anything else, especially the academy. While Shakespeare in Love was a good movie, most (including me) would say that it robbed Saving Private Ryan of the Oscar for Best Picture of 1998.

Still, over 15 years later, the latter is remembered much more. What makes Saving Private Ryan such a great film is not just the direction, the camera work, the acting, the action sequences, or the story. What makes it the film it has become is the respect it shows to it’s subject matter.

Most of the readers will know what happens in the film, but I will still not spoil it. I remember it was spoiled for me when I first saw it at the age of 12-13, just as it came out of VHS (ah, the good old days!). The film starts out as a veteran visits a cemetery of those lost on D Day (and the days after). It then flashes back to that eventful day, in one of the most epic action scenes ever filmed. It is brutal, gritty, and flinchingly real.

We have just met Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) and he has been assigned to bring seven of his troops (including a then unknown Vin Diesel) to rescue Private James Ryan, whose three older brothers have died in combat. It is, as Miller says, “Like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles”.

Many of these soldiers will not make it back alive, which makes it all the more heart breaking, because we have gotten a glimpse of what these guys were like back at home. There is a bet going around to see who can guess what Miller did before the war. When he finally reveals the truth, Hanks gives a speech that shows why is one of the world’s greatest actors.

Parents, I mentioned above what age I was when I first saw the film. While it is Rated R, I feel it is a good movie to watch with a teenager (no younger). In an age where kids are playing first person shooters, it may be nice to show them a movie that ordinary men did this (and still do), and it is no picnic. (Note: There is one scene where a soldier talks about a sexual situation, and there is swearing, but the violence is the main reason for the R rating.)

I can’t do a review of the film without mentioning it’s director, Steven Spielberg (who won his second Oscar for this film). One of the best in the biz, he handles this film with as much grit, realism, and respect as any film he has made. The result is an American film treasure that pays as much tribute to those who have served our country (in any war) as any film ever has.

Overall: Five Stars *****