Film Review: FIRST MAN (USA 2018) ***

First Man Poster
Trailer

A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

Director:

Damien Chazelle

Writers:

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

FIRST MAN tells the trials and triumphs of astronaut Neil Armstrong as he trains, tests and finally lands on the moon.  The film is written by Oscar winner Josh Singer (SPOTLIGHT) adapted from James. R. Hansen’s book with cinematography by Linus Sandgren whose visuals are the best thing about the movie.  It is best seen in IMAX, as the screen jolts during the segment of the moon landing, as if to remind the audience of the glorious IMAX format.

The film opens with Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) in the cockpit of a rocket as it tries to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere.  It has troubles as it is bouncing off the atmosphere with altitude rising instead of decreeing.  The ship rattles like crazy.  It is a long 15-minute or so sequence with screeching metal and jittery frames, enough to give anyone a headache.  It is clear that director Chazelle wants the audience to realize the absolute torture that the astronauts endure, which he repeats more than once again during his film.  Subtlety is clearly not Chazelle’s strong point.  Chazelle loves to inflict torture on his subjects like in Armstrong as in Miles Teller’s drummer in WHIPLASH and career bound musician Ryan Gosling in LA LA LAND – two of Chazelle’s previous outings.

The film unfolds during the period of 1961 to 1969, ending with the success of the moon landing and of course Armstrong’s famous words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  But the euphoria is again diminished by Chazelle insisting on reminding the audience (though flashback) that Armstrong lost his little girl, Karen through cancer.

FIRST MAN is extremely choppy in its storytelling.  It requires that titles onscreen to tell the audience the year a segment is set and and what point NASA is at in its testing.  There are scenes that are disorienting that the audience is left for a while not knowing where the film is at.  An example is the wife Janet (Claire Foy) distraught at her husband’s survival followed by a scene when all is well.

Chazelle’s film and Singer’s script capture both the intimacy of Armstrong’s family life and camaraderie of his fellow astronauts more effectively.  The confrontation between Janet and Neil where she loses it, forcing her husband to talk to the boys makes one of the film’s best segments as in the astronauts beer drinking segment.  The choice of the musical score and the songs chosen by the astronauts to play in space is also interesting,

FIRST MAN is Chazelle’s biggest project and it looks superb not only for the moon segments but the ones on earth.  No expense has been spared to provide the 60’s atmosphere from the vintage cars, clothing, wardrobe and 60’s dialogue.

FIRST MAN is visually more arresting than most space movies, excepting Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.   But Philip Kaufman’s THE RIGHT STUFF remains the best space movie about astronauts and their families.  A little lengthy at 2 hours and 20 minutes, FIRST MAN is a solid experience demonstrating what Armstrong went through for success but unlike the other two aforementioned films, seeing FIRST MAN once is more than enough.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSoRx87OO6k

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Film Review: SONG TO SONG (USA 2017)

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song_to_songDirector: Terrence Malick
Writer: Terrence Malick
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman

Review by Gilbert Seah

 Terrence Malick’s films have been accessible to some and highly inaccessible to others. The best example is Malick’s TREE OF LIFE that the Toronto Film Critics association awarded Best Film of the year that most of the public hated. Malick’s last film was his indulgent ode to the Universe which he made though the man is neither a scientist of physicist. That was a complete mess.

His latest indulgent film SONG TO SONG begins at a concert of some sort where the crowd is wild and violent. It is an energetic scene that provides some promise of an exciting film that never comes to fruition. As the film unfolds, it is revealed that SONG TO SONG is supposedly a film about life that is led from song to song or from kiss to kiss.

SONG TO SONG is a love story set against the Austin, Texas music scene, with two entangled couples — struggling songwriters Faye (Rooney Mara) and BV (Ryan Gosling), and music mogul Cook (Michael Fassbender) and the waitress whom he ensnares, Rhonda (Natalie Portman) — chase success through a rock ‘n’ roll landscape of seduction and betrayal. The betrayal involves Faye who hides her affair with Cook from BV. BV has a fling with Amanda (Cate Blanchett) while Faye also experiments with same sex with Rhonda. The film intercuts frequently among the couples, without any meaning or direction.
The film contains a lot of voiceover, particularly from Rooney Mara at the beginning of the film.

SONG TO SONG is stunningly shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki with credit also going to Malick. The best spectacular scenes are the ones with the rooftops, the crystal clear waters, the beaches including interior scenes like the gorgeous decorated and furnished apartments.

It is difficult to judge performances when a film has no narrative or direction. But Malick, has assembled, besides the main stars mentioned above, other famous names in his cast like Val Kilmer, Iggy Pop, Tom Sturridge, Holly Hunter and Lykke Li.

The film’s first cut was 8 hours and shortened to two hours with huge snips that included singer Patti Smith totally removed from the film. Even Fassbender thought he would have been totally cut out of the film leaving only his voiceover.

In SONG TO SONG, Malick delves into romantic relationships in an experimental type film where narrative is thrown into the wind. The film is often all over the place. incoherent and senseless.

The critical response to the film has been pretty bad so far with only a few praises. It currently stands, at the point of writing, at just the 50% mark on meteoritic and rotten tomatoes. SONG TO SONG is also one of the lowest rated Malick films.

As in almost every Terrence Malick film, SONG TO SONG is undeniably, a visual treat. But that is all that can be said about the film. It also runs too long at 129 minutes.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8Yo2e8AzgA
 

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