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 *****

La La Land (2016)

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As Sebastian and Mia, Gosling and Stone simply glow…

A little less than a week ago, I finally got to buying four classic films starring the legendary Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. Those two cinema icons are some of the few I can watch and have all the worries of my life wash away. That feeling came to me a lot while watching the visually glorious La La Land. It manages to balance being loyal to both the old school and the current.

After his highly entertaining movie Whiplash in 2014, director Damien Chazelle is proving he is more than a one trick pony. In a year of many downers across the globe, here is one of the years clear front-runners for best picture, and it is jubilant and energetic and toe tapping fun. The opening number (“Another Day in the Sun”)  is like one we never have seen, and may never again: it takes place in a traffic jam. How many other musicals can say they have a dance number in a traffic jam? That alone is stunning.

Emma Stone has never been better. She stars as Mia, a young wanna be movie star who has been trying and failing at auditions for years, scrapping around working at the coffee shop right next to where they filmed a scene with Bogie and Bergman in Casablanca. Eventually, she meets Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian. He is a die-hard devotee of Jazz, who plays at locals but never gets to have his music heard. Their personalities collide in another number with dancing that had shades of Astaire and Rodgers.

Learning dance numbers can never be easy, and we can see how much rehearsal was put into learning the numbers. One easy way to see this is that each number is, for the most part, shot by Chazelle in long takes. In other words, the actors had little to no room for error.

There are other minor roles, including Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons who proves there really are no small parts. There is also singer John Legend as one of Sebastian’s old friends, proving he has some actual talent beyond the singing world.

Of course, the music is stellar all around. Composer Justin Hurwitz has made a soundtrack (which I bought very shortly after seeing the film) with tunes that leeches happily on your brain and heart for the next couple months, if not the rest of your days.

Parents, it makes me happier than I thought possible to say that this movie is not that bad for young people. The rating is PG-13 rating is for swearing, and that is it (there is one F bomb, and someone gives the finger to another character, but that is it). All the language is no worse than that of a typical middle school lunchroom (minus the dancing). No violence or sexuality of any kind (minus kissing). If your kids are in middle school, they are ok with this film.

Is this really what it is like to work in Hollywood? I can only assume yes. There has to be struggle and strife to get a good start. La La Land makes that clear. It also makes clear that making a musical must be fun. You will get that sense through the whole time you are sitting in the theater…tapping your feet.

It has seldom felt so good to be a fool who dreams.

Overall: Five Stars *****