Attempting To Send Us To The Moon. A Review Of First Man

First Man Poster

 

Reaching to the stars, traveling through the final frontier, and making contact with the unknown is what the science fiction authors are all about.  To think that the dream was realized years ago is a feat many still to this day question. Tonight, my review is about the adventure to the stars and the men who led the way.  Wrapping up my revies this week, tonight yours truly analyzes the largely advertised, potentially award winning, biography about Neal Armstrong entitled:

 

Movie:  First Man (2018)

 

Director:

Damien Chazelle

Writers:

Josh Singer (screenplay by), James R. Hansen (based on the book by)

Stars:

Ryan GoslingClaire FoyJason Clarke

 

 

LIKES:

 

The Acting:  A big role like this requires big talent and Gosling has stepped up to the new psychologically heavy, portrayal of the man who journeyed to the stars.  His depth portrayal of the role is top notch, a balance of a dramatized role that feels realistic and very reflective of the psyche of space travel.  Claire Foy on the other hand drops into a very regal and strong role, expressing the other side of the coin as the wife of an astronaut. Their chemistry works together, and the focus on each one leads to amazing performances that makes for endearing characters.

 

The Immersive Experience: You want to feel like you are blasting off into space?  You’ve got it!  You want to feel like you are being strained by an overwhelming array of G Force?  You’ve got it.  You want? Okay I think you get it.  First Man’s team did their best to get you strapped into the space exploration experience and did a fine job in my opinion.  One will feel like they are experiencing this first hand, with a screen that rattles, sound effects that dropped you into the heart of the mission, and a number of technical terms to further enroll you in the experience.

 

The Setting:  I’m a sucker for movies successfully taking you back in time. First Man takes us back into the time period of the 60s, bringing the cars, looks, houses, and hairstyles to really bring you into the decade of exploration.  First Man keeps all the themes rolling and adds that extra bit of magic by introducing a gritty filter to help you achieve the effects of watching the events through the new reels of yore.  This may not seem super cool or necessary, but that extra nostalgia helps pull the experience to new heights so nice work there.

 

Unique Approach: First Man decides to go a little more abstract in its presentation than the normal historical documentary.  A realistic portrayal with minimal magic, First Man is always about taking an event and then having you reflect on it.  The result is a psychological trial of experiencing the stress of this field of research, that helps with experiencing the historical prowess of this space travel.  While this approach will not be for everyone, it gets points for making an effort to be unique and artistic while also to the point.

 

The Portrayal of Struggle: I agree with my fellow audience members that First Man did a fantastic job expressing the difficulties of getting this mission off the ground.  From the failures of the testing modules, the setbacks of equipment burning out, and to the very stresses of the rocket itself, all of it is nicely detailed in this movie.  You’ll not be subjected to montages or magical findings, but instead get the bare facts to provide the full on knowledge of the issues this program faced.

 

 

DISLIKES:

 

Other characters:  It’s not that the other characters are bad, it’s the fact that they aren’t utilized as well as I wanted.  Much of Armstrong’s group, with the exception of the wife, are only fragments of the story overall.  I wanted to see more interactions with them, get their input and contributions to the story, instead of the dram filled moping they chose to focus on.  Why they did this I don’t know, but I believe the abstract approach has much to do with this.

 

The Heavy Jargon:  I mentioned earlier how the movie immerses you and sadly it does this a little too well.  The special effects drown out a lot of meaningful conversation in this movie, reducing the lines to mumbling, incoherent rants that aren’t easy to follow. Even for what you can hear, the movie relies very heavily on jargon and technical lingo, which if you don’t subscribe to physics or rocket science may not be the most interesting thing to listen to.

 

Mindset vs Program: The abstract direction taken in this movie works for getting into the head of the characters, and you’ll get plenty of shots of Gosling trapped in his mind, moping in a teary-eyed mess as he relives his experiences.  It’s beautiful artistically, but it’s not the most entertaining as I came to see more of the design to get to the moon.  Like Hidden Figures I wanted character development and integration than psychological reflection that a book is better at hitting. Regardless, this approach didn’t quite work in terms of my expectations or entertainment value

 

Dragging Pace:  The biggest thing for me… is this movie is slow at times.  It has to do with how long it takes for us to get into the meat of the program, only to be then be dogged down by more personal life components than the exciting tests you want to see.  As such, this constant up and down presentation that didn’t quite work for me and had me fighting sleep at times.

 

The VERDICT:

 

            First Man is different from what I expected.  It’s unique presentation is going to be the make or break for modern audiences and whether or not they will enjoy this movie. Those looking for a realistic, well-acted, artistic, immersive approach will enjoy the historical representation of this movie.  However, if you wanted that Hollywood magic, entertainment, and more like a story presentation, than this film is not going to be your cup of tea.  First Man is certainly a piece of work, but it all depends on the type of experience you want.  Worth a trip to the theater?  I think so for the effects and the food for thought, but otherwise hold out until next week when blockbusters return. k

 

My Scores: 

Biography/Drama/History:  7.5-8.0

Movie Overall:  6.5-7.0

Runs to Artistic, Emotional Crime, but Lack On Thrills Of Predecessor

Blade Runner 2049

 

There are plenty of movies in Hollywood, only some of which ever reach legendary status that seals their place in history.  These sacred films were usually ended in a manner that didn’t require a sequel, but leave it to the big studios to not leave things along.  Tonight, Blade Runner 2049 premiers to the public, alongside some high review scores and plenty of praise.  Despite the decades long gap, this movie holds promise to be just as good as the sequel.  Robbie K is here to share some thoughts on the latest flick and help guide your viewing pleasures.

 

LIKES:

 

True Sci-Fi Crime: The trailers don’t lie when they say Blade Runner 2049 is a crime noire film.  It opens with the reference back to the first film and soon uncovers a mystery that will run the course of the movie. As this occurs, the other parties are seeking ways to hinder our “hero” (Ryan Gosling) from uncovering the truth.  Like a glorified episode of half the crime-dramas on television, Blade Runner 2049 is all about capitalizing on a prolonged crime and mixing as much drama into it to help add character development.  All of this is nicely wrapped up in a science-fiction spin, integrating the floating ships, robots, and large computers as the theater it unfolds in.

 

Emotionally Artistic:  The thing that many reviewers seem to appreciate is that the movie brings a lot of emotional punch to the audience.  Our directors managed to interject a lot of feeling into Gosling’s supposedly emotional character.  As his story continues to unfold, you’ll be submerged into the psychological nightmare he is forced to face.  While the traumatic stress is certainly enough to pull some heart strings, it’s the artistic portrayal of determining one’s self that adds fuel to the fire. Self-Identity, a thing many struggle with, is well-addressed in this film, trying to uncover the truth about his self, all while solving the crime.  Throw in a rather deep, albeit weird, romance story and you will round out the emotional plotlines many seek.

 

Acting:  A character is only as good as the actor who portrays it to life and Blade Runner 2049 is a shining example of quality acting.  Gosling as the lead was a good choice, his ability to play a man with an identity crisis is quite believable, primarily in the way he seems to stand on the border of sane and psychopathic.  While not his best role, I enjoyed seeing the anti-hero part played by him again.  Harrison Ford reprises his edge well enough, but I felt they didn’t utilize him as well as they could.

 

Ana De Armas:  I was happy to see more of Ana in this film, seeing her branch down some more emotional pathways, all while driving the character development of Gosling’s character.  Yet, I can’t lie, that she was beautiful in the various outfits she shifted into during the film.  I got the best of both world in this film, and appreciated the costumes that she sported in her awkward scenes.

 

 

 

 

DISLIKES:

 

Not so thrilling:  The first Blade Runner had some suspense to it, the constant thrill of the chase as Ford tried to hunt down the rogue androids.  It kept the pace going, all while integrating the elements I mentioned in the likes section.  Blade Runner 2049 though wasn’t that thrilling to me.  The action was rather bland, the emotion with it almost as flat, and had little suspense outside of how much torture some of the characters could take. I expected a little more spice to the mix, but don’t let the trailers fool you, the thrills were more like spills.

 

Long: If a movie is going to be nearly three hours, it needs to either move, or have an exciting climax.  I found neither of these elements in this movie, but instead a very drawn out movie that seemed to drag.  While the message and artistic license are appreciated, the editors could have really dropped half the footage to get me out of the theater faster.  Perhaps if the ending hadn’t been predictable I would have been more intrigued, but I found myself fighting sleep at times because from these elaborate, and often unnecessary details.

 

Predictable Story and Under Utilized Characters: Blade Runner 2049 might have been a well-built Sci-Fi Crime story, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t predictable.  Most of the “twists” I got in the first hour, leaving me nearly two to go until they revealed it.  In addition, my expectations of where the story was going were also shattered as other characters were underutilized for more sappy looks and near depression.  This especially goes for Ford and Leto, who I felt got the short-end of the stick in this film. Throw in some of the loose ends, more like bait for the next film, and it left me unsatisfied with where the story was going.

 

Loud:  Many films are loud in a theater with blaring music and special effects to make the seats shake.  This movie though, just had obnoxious sound effects that were high-pitched groans, mixed with a soundtrack that while unique was not the most pleasing to me. Brace yourselves for this interesting sound soiree, because you are going to hear it a lot.

 

The VERDICT:

 

Blade Runner 2049 is artistic, a visual display that is packed with emotion, Sci-Fi charm, and a crime noire element.  It has much of the same feel as its predecessor, but I felt it lacked the suspense and thrills that the trailers promised back in the teaser. Sadly the predictable story, underutilized characters and audio assault didn’t justify the nearly three hour run time for me.  Don’t see this one when your energy is low folks, or you just might be fighting sleep.

 

My Scores:

 

Sci-Fi/Thriller:  8.0

Movie Overall: 6.5-7.0

Life, or Did They Mean Death?

Life

 

What is life?  That is a question that so many researchers have tried to answer over the centuries.  And what better way to try and answer that question than with a Hollywood movie production starring Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal.  My last review this weekend is on the movie called Life, a science fiction/horror film hoping to provide the scares of the March season. But will contact with this film give you the chills, or send you running to the ills…with disappointment. Robbie K here with another review. Let’s get started!

 

LIKES:

  • True Science Fiction
  • Evolution of the creature
  • Creepy and horrifying
  • Good characters

 

Summary:  We know most science fiction movies fall short of the genre, focusing more on the fantasy element and special effects (Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.)  Life though hits the genre right on the mark, dropping us amidst an international space station where research about Mars is underway.  As the chaos unfolds, the crew has to use their training, knowledge, and science (and not gigantic guns) to try to outwit the beast before it gets them.

And speaking of the creature, “Calvin” as it is called has an interesting design at the start looking like a fungus.  Yet the spores quickly evolve into a deflated looking star fish, and from there began to evolved into a truly destructive creature.  Calvin’s metamorphosis is perhaps the creepiest aspect of this film, as his search for the crucial ingredients (food, water, and oxygen) drives it to savagery (it will make you look at star fish in a whole new way).

Outside of that though, some other factors that brought the thrills and chills start with the realistic setting.  There rendition of the international space station looks pretty close to our own world’s, minimizing the fantasy component to keep one ground in the horror the team tries to present, establishing a feeling that this could happen.  To go alongside this, the other factor is how alone one feels on the station. Much like the first Alien movie (to which this pays homage to), you feel the isolation of the station as if you are the prey Calvin seeks.  This added edge truly brings the horror aspect full circle

Finally, the characters also help amplify the horror component of this film.  It is nice to see the human cast not be a bunch of idiotic, shallow teens for once, but instead educated scientists fighting for survival (while also not being the single-minded buffoons that often take these roles). The cast was dynamic, each specialized but capable of covering their team members should something happen.  Such development led to characters you actually rooted for, instead of against them as we often see in horror films.  And the actors all played their roles fantastically, from Ryan Reynolds sarcasm, to Jake Gyllenhaal’s scary accuracy in someone with social anxiety.

DISLIKES:

  • Unneeded dramatic opening
  • More evolution of the creature
  • Predictable ending (though nice twist)
  • Savagery of kills

 

Summary:  A minor dislike I know, but Life’s dramatic capturing of the capsule in the first twelve minutes was really unnecessary.  All I gleamed from this opening was technical displays and a little excitement to get the mood going.  There are probably a few other scenes that could have been left out as well, but these were minor compared to the big stink they made with this opening sequence.

Unnecessary scenes aside, the other thing I would have liked was more development into the creatureDon’t get me wrong, the final form was creepy, but after all the changes happening in the beginning (which were a stretch mind you), the team suddenly brought it to a halt.  Yes, they tried to explain it via “science”, but this abrupt halt just broke pace/balance the movie was establishing, which felt a little off for me, right down to the end.

Speaking of ending, Life’s trailers hint at what the conclusion is, and based on my observations I had a good idea where it would go.  I wanted things to be different, but sadly the ending can be predicted within 30 minutes of the show time (assuming again you haven’t watched the trailers).  Albeit there was a nice twist to try and throw you off, Life’s directors didn’t go the full distance to prove my observations wrong.

Yet the biggest beef I have with this movie is the dark, disturbing, savageness the directors instilled. If you’re a fan of watching gore filled deaths, suffering, and depressing looks this movie will send “out of orbit”.  For me though, these moments only take away from a movie if done too much or in the wrong manner.  My biggest strike comes from the graphic death of a lab mouse (which broke my heart as most animal cruelty does).  That’s only the start of Life’s grotesque hunt as Calvin finds disturbing ways to attack the band of researchers in immense detail. Why the directors felt the need to focus on such disturbances…I don’t know, but in this case less would have been more, as the first Alien flick did long ago.

 

The VERDICT:

 

Overall, Life is one of the better science fiction, horror films I’ve seen in years.  It drops the grandiose serial killers and idiotic victims, and upgrades to an adapting monster hunting intelligent people. This realism crafts a more suspenseful tale that kept me engaged, while crafting that horrifying atmosphere I love.  While most of my dislikes are small, the mutilation involved, alongside some scientific imbalances, really didn’t impress me in this movie and the predictable ending didn’t necessary wow me as well.  Is this worth a trip to theater?  If you are looking for a good horror film, then by all means hit the theater for it.  As for weak constitutions, skip this one and save some time.

 

My scores:

Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller: 8.0

Movie Overall:  7.0