2018 in Review Plus My 10 Best and Worst Films

I’ve read everything from 2018 has been the best year for cinema in recent years to the worst. Aside from the valid argument that “best” or “worst” are highly subjective when basing it on a qualitative criteria, there is no doubt that it has certainly been a year with a lot of variety. There have been some great films and complete dumpster fires. If I were to evaluate 2018 cinema, I would say that this year’s selections skew much closer to best than worst in recent years. Personally, I feel that it has been an exciting year! This observation is evident through the plethora of dynamic conversations on #FilmTwitter. While I do not feel that there is any singular standout film in 2018, there are ones that I feel help to make this a banner year, a truly memorable time in cinema for blockbusters, auteur, and indie films. The combination of new releases in the theatre, through streaming services at home, or sometimes both concurrently, provides audiences with an unprecedented ability to access a wide assortment of movies and films to satisfy even the most discerning cinematic palate.

While it is certainly up for debate how 2018 performed compared to past years, there is little debate that the horror (and horror adjacent) genre has become increasingly mainstream. But is that what the horror community wants? As a longtime fan of the American horror film, I gotta be honest with you that I am not a huge fan of how popular this genre has become. For the longest time, to be a fan of the horror genre was something niche. It was seen as this weird or macabre subculture to which outcasts, geeks, and goths, for example, belonged. Without writing an entire research paper on the subject (which, now that I think about it, may be a good idea), the horror community felt like a family or perhaps a neighborhood. Now it’s getting to the point that it feels like a city. Horror has always been popular and bankable, but it hasn’t been until the last couple of years that it has exploded among a wide array of movie lovers. With the growing affinity among general audiences, that sense of family is slowly fading.

Perhaps it’s the idea that our attraction to the repulsive, the “pleasurable unpleasure” as Freud would say, does not feel as special as it once did. If there is a positive side to more and more people looking to be entertained by horror, it is the number of horror films and shows released. Standout movies and shows from 2018 are A Quiet PlaceHereditaryHalloweenThe Haunting of Hill HouseAmerican Horror Story: Apocalypse, and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. All highly successful and extremely well made, a few award-nominated and winning even! For 2019, many of us are eagerly awaiting the remake of Pet SemataryIT: Chapter 2Us, and others. I love how there seems to be new horror movies and films coming out all the time. Gives me new movies to watch! But the tradeoff is a lot of “new fans” who think they know the genre in the same way as us lifers; furthermore, flock to, not only the cinema, but to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios to create 2-3hr waits for the world-class haunted mazes/houses, many of which are based on horror films and shows. HHN28 was the most crowded that I’ve ever seen it. Maybe it will be up to us lifelong fans of the horror genre to stick together to discuss what we’ve loved and have demonstrated an appreciation for a long time.

Horror isn’t the only genre or subject that has received a lot of attention in 2018, we also had some incredibly strong “non straight white male” writers, directors, central characters, and actors. From incredible performances delivered by Toni Collette, Viola Davis, Glenn Close, and Olivia Colman to films such as BlindspottingWidows, Boy Erased, and Can You Ever Forgive Me?, just to name a few, we have certainly seen a much-needed increase in representation from those whose stories had more difficulty making it to the silver screen. There are many other fine examples of this shift in cinema, and I hope that this trend continues into 2019 and beyond. With all the outlets for storytellers now, it’s a great time to have the money and resources to bring hidden stories to life for all the world to see.

Okay, enough with some of my 2018 observations, here is my Top 10 Films of 2018 list followed by my most disappointing films list. If I wrote a formal review on my blog, I added the link to the title. Some films are so bad that I don’t even bother reviewing them on here. Haha.

Top 10

Honorable Mention: Annihilation

10. Halloween

9. Tully

8. Widows

7. Green Book

6. A Simple Favor

5. A Quiet Place

4. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

3. A Star Is Born

2. Hereditary

  1. The Favourite* After a lot of thought as I’ve been reviewing 2018, and when I was selecting my picks for the Oscars, I realized that I actually liked The Favourite a little more then ASIB. So, I’ve updated my blog to reflect that. (01/22/19).

Bottom 10

10. Christopher Robin

9. Happy Time Murders

8. 15:17 to Paris

7. Rampage

6. Skyscraper

5. AXL

4. Death Wish

3. Truth or Dare

2. Slender Man

  1. KIN

Check to see if I’ve reviewed a movie from 2018 that you are interested in by typing the title into the search bar at the top of the page. There are 44 reviewed NEW 2018 films on my blog plus more than 250 other films! For horror fans, checkout my All The Horror blog from October that has 31 brief reviews of horror and Halloween movies. Odds are, you’ll find some for which you are looking!

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Mary Poppins Returns” full film review

A spoonful of nostalgia isn’t enough to make the narrative go down. The highly anticipated Mary Poppins Returns hits theatres this week. Unfortunately, this film gets lost in nostalgia, neglecting the need to tell a new story. Instead, we get more than half a movie full of frivolity that lacks any coherent meaning or substance that is more concerned with hitting the same plot beats with similar songs at the same moments in this version as it was with the original. Visually, the movie is flawless and the animation sequences were a welcomed visit from the past. Reminded me of, if the animation from Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Mary Poppins got together, this is what you’d get. When creating a sequel that doubles as a remake, connections to the original are important but should not be at the diegetic forefront. Mary Poppins Returns exists in a gray area that is neither a sequel nor a remake. Had Mary Poppins Returns been a full-on sequel or remake, then perhaps the narrative would have faired better. As it stands, it sits uncomfortably in the middle and suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Perhaps this version is lacking in critical value and complex characters, but it ranks highly in entertainment value. There isn’t anything particularly memorable about it except for the special appearances by Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury, but the movie offers a couple hours of whimsical fun.

In depression-era London, the Banks family faces one of the greatest hardships a family can face–losing their home. Compounding the present state of affairs, the family is also coping with the recent loss of Michael Banks’ wife and mother of their three children. With help from the family’s longtime maid/cook Ellen and Michael’s sister Jane, the family hopes for the best while planning for the worst. With only five days until the house is repossessed, Michael remembers that his father left him shares of that infamous bank from his childhood; but when certificates of shares in the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank turn out to be missing, all hope seems lost until Michael, his children, and Jane get the surprise of a lifetime. Mary Poppins returns! Michael and Jane’s beloved nanny from their childhood returns to look after the family during this crisis. In true Mary Poppins fashion and accompanied by the lamplighter Jack, she whisks Michael’s children into a fun-filled adventure through the streets of London and into a world of imagination.

At the bedrock of the original are these lessons that must be learned. In many ways, Mary Poppins was a teacher to both Jane, Michael, and George. Although the lessons varied by character, they had one common denominator: life’s priorities. And there were no true villains–that is–evil or villainous out of malcontent or cruelty. And the songs had strong meaning, not just fun, creative lyrics to a show-stopping accompaniment. Furthermore, there was strong character development in the central characters. The character arcs of George and the kids were measurable. Even Mr. Dawes Sr. demonstrated measurable change. There are the elements of substance that make the original a timeless classic that transcends the decades and generations to remain a beloved film. Mary Poppins Returns fails to deliver any of these elements to the audience. Instead, chooses to get lost in the nostalgia of the original. Relying on the abstract of nostalgia to carry this remake-sequel.

While Michael’s lesson is clearly to learn to be a child again, his children learn the lesson to be quasi adults by teaching their father and working to solve the family’s financial crisis. Those two idea are in direct contradiction. Mary Poppins is no longer acting like a teacher but she seems more concerned with being an actual nanny moreso than the governess that was the original. If the lesson to be learned was to have the imagination or hope of a child, then that should have been taught, not two different lessons in direct contrast. George Banks may have been had his priorities in the wrong place, but he was not evil, nor was Mr. Dawes Sr. evil–he too had his priorities all askew. In Mary Poppins Returns, Colin Firth’s Mr. Wilkins is downright cruel for no reason other than simplistic greed. Simple motivators are a good place to start but should be developed to be more complex to add to the conflict. Firth’s character is completely uninteresting.

Talk about memorable songs in the original; I imagine you can recite most lyrics by memory, unlike this version with lyrics so convoluted and complex that they are largely forgettable. At the time of listening, the lyrics are poignant and work at the given emotional or plot beat, but then they are mostly forgotten. The songs in this one seem to exist only for the amusement of the audience. And the vaudeville number. Let’s talk about that for a moment. For starters, I love Mary’s wig that she borrowed from Catherine Zeta Jone’s Chicago costume. The music and lyrics in that number were incredibly entertaining–but–these same lyrics are quite risque in places. I was shocked that they were in a movie aimed at kids (despite the PG rating). And comparing the songs from the original to the ones in this version, each and every song in Mary Poppins Returns sounds similar AND comes at precisely the same beat as they did in the original. Each and every song in this one is an answer to the counterpart in the original. With one conspicuous exception, there is no equivalent for the Sister Suffragette. With Jane’s heavy involvement in workers’ rights (much like her mother’s women’s rights), it seems odd that she was not given a song since were were giving everyone else songs equivalent to the original. Yes, I am aware that Sister Suffragette is not in the Broadway musical, but it should have had a place in Mary Poppins Returns.

Structurally, the first two acts are all over the place. Fortunately, the film finishes with a strong third act. Everything seems so forced, rushed. Pacing matched the original. It’s as if the emotional beats and plot points from the original were mapped out and a “new” story was conformed to fit the old diegesis. There are even moments that can be completely removed from the story and not effect the outcome. For example, the entire Meryl Street scene has no impact on the realization of the narrative. Screenwriting 101 teaches us that each and every scene should point the audience toward the end–each scene should culminate in something important. Think of each scene as a paragraph in a larger story and each line of dialogue as a sentence in a larger paragraph. Each paragraph has a beginning, middle, and end; just like a story has a beginning, middle, and end. If a scene does not advance the plot, then it should be reworked or removed. We never revisit the cracked pot or truly embrace the idea of giving oneself a new perspective from which to view life. The song is fun, but that is all I can say about that scene. And there are other scenes in the movie that do little to advance the plot, but this is the most obvious one.

The movie is not without its entertainment value. If you are looking to escape reality for a couple of hours, then you are in the right place. You will be delighted with the whimsy and magic of this story. Perhaps the screenplay is poorly conceived, but everything else (from a technical perspective and performance perspective) works very well. If you enter the film with a heavy heart or some degree of sadness, the movie will help you forget your troubles for a moment and put a smile on your face and maybe even a tear or two in your eyes. Emily Blunt may not be a perfect Mary Poppins but she is practically perfect as the beloved nanny.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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SeaWorld Christmas Celebration 2018 Review

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, no theme park does Christmas better than SeaWorld! From the food to shows to lights, SeaWorld Christmas is a spectacular event. With so much to see and do, you’ll want to experience it multiple nights in order to make sure you create memories that will last for a lifetime. Although I’ve attended Christmas Celebration in the past, it is so magical that I just love experiencing it again and again. Perhaps you are like me in that you attend as many theme park and resort events at possible at Christmas, but if you can only select one for you and your friends/family, then I highly suggest SeaWorld Christmas Celebration!

Before we get into the shows (which are largely unchanged from previous years), I want to talk about the food. Oh, and speaking of food, you’ll want to treat yourself to the sampler lanyard (5 or 10 items) for all the delectable food and drink cabins. My invitation to the media event came with the 5 item sampler, but I can see the advantages of the 10 item option if you plan to attend multiple nights or are there with another person or group. As far as the 5-item lanyard, my friend Dani and I were able to share it and had plenty to eat and drink. Prior to setting out into the park, the SWO public relations team provided many food and drink items for us during the media mixer. My favorite is the s’mores waffle cone! Absolutely delicious. We also had the Christmas dinner and candied popcorn. Out in the park, we had the donut pulled pork sandwich (not included in the sampler), brisket macaroni and cheese, and chicken and waffles! Yes! Chicken and waffles, you heard me. For drinks, we had the Jingle Juice. All the speciality beverages I saw were hot (just FYI). For a cold beverage, there are options but they are not the specialty drinks.

We attended Clyde and Seamore’s Countdown to Christmas, Winter Wonderland on Ice, and Shamu’s Christmas Miracle. Unfortunately, we did not attend O Wondrous Night because of scheduling conflicts. Of course, we also enjoyed the Sea of Trees show on the lagoon that runs throughout the evening. Clyde and Seamore’s show is always hilarious!! You are in for a laugh for sure. Since we were attending during the same showtime as O Wondrous Night, it wasn’t terribly packed but was nicely filled. Largely unchanged, this show is pretty much the same as it was last year, but it is still such a fun show and will have you laughing the whole time. One of my favorite parts of the show is actually the pre-show when the audience all joins together to sing familiar Christmas songs and carols. Although it is a show geared towards the younger members of the audience, there are jokes and references for us adults to chuckle as well. At one point, one of the trainers forgot his line, and there was a comedically self-aware moment. And the Frozen jokes were great. New for this year were some meta jokes about the stores in the mall. So incredibly funny! Poor Blockbuster haha. Do yourself a favor and sit down for a heaping helping of laughter and merriment as Clyde and Seamore Countdown to Christmas!

Winter Wonderland on Ice returns this year! Arrive early for the preshow! Enjoy the beauty of the violin as a fantastically talented violinist plays Christmas music as you wait for the show to begin. Much like the Christmas on Ice show at Busch Gardens, this show features many talented figure skaters in beautifully choreographed skating numbers to your favorite Christmas songs. To be honest, I still prefer the Busch Gardens show, but those skaters are at the park year-round so they can put more time into the show design. That being said, with SeaWorld placing the show on the water’s edge, the exquisite Sea of Trees can be seen behind the ice stage. Since the show is outdoors, SeaWorld is able to integrate some lite pyrotechnics in the show! As a figure skating hobbiest, I have a high degree of appreciation for these shows. I love watching the movements and picking out the ones that I am able to do! Note: I still have a long way to go haha. Bayside Stadium is packed for this show, so make sure to arrive early.

The Christmas Village at Port of Entry is always a treat! With special a’cappella groups, the Christmas village train set, and of course, you can meet Rudolph and Friends! This is the area where you can also enjoy hot chocolate, eggnog, craft beer, and cookies! Located near the Christmas Village is Santa’s Base Camp where you can meet the big man himself. With many places to sit down and relax, this is a great place to slow down and take in the smells and songs that make this “the most wonderful time of the year.” I came across the most adorable plushies, once of which is a promotional item! I saw a Shamu with a Santa hat and a Santa Sloth!! There is also a hedgehog and other cuddly plushy animals that will be hard to resist.

Merry Christmas!

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa and works in creative services in live themed entertainment. He’s also published prolifically on theme parks and produced a peer-reviewed study. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW him!

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“Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald” review

Fantastic Beasts: the crimes of screenwriting. I am still not entirely sure what I watched last night. J.K. Rowling’s plot for the second film in the Fantastic Beasts is all over the place, goes in every direction except intentionally forward. When the Harry Potter spinoff franchise needed an Empire Strikes Back, it gets an Attack of the Clones. Referencing a hyperbolic statement from J.K. that made its way around Twitter, I am totally in belief that she did, in fact, write the screenplay in 25mins. From pacing issues to odd tonal shifts and a lack of focus, the screenplay suffers from a case of sequelitis. The Crimes of Grindelwald appears to rely on technical marvel and spectacle more so than a compelling narrative. The movie is full of new and familiar characters (plus some Harry Potter cameos), fantastical beasts, and explosive sequences of events, but ultimately loses air ad runs flat. Much in the same way that the first movie felt like the preface to a book, this one feels that it too has the goal to simply setup the next chapter. Moreover, the movie feels like too little plot stretched over too much runtime. Which is a shame, because there is clearly an attempt to provide an escapist allegory for primarily racism and, to a lesser extent, sexuality. Subtext of heavy psycho-social and moralistic themes is nothing new to the Rowling-verse, but Grindelwald simply gets lost on its journey to deliver a powerful thought-provoking story paired with high-flying adventure. This sequel is certainly darker than its predecessor, but fails to provide a well-developed plot that will drive the remaining films forward.

In an effort to thwart Grindelwald’s plans of raising pure-blood wizards to rule over all non-magical beings, Albus Dumbledore enlists his former student Newt Scamander, who agrees to help, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided wizarding world (IMDb).

Many movies have A, B, and C stories. The A story is the central plot that focusses on the central and opposition character’s external goal; and the B and C stories are typically the subplots that focus on character development, internal needs, and/or supporting character stories. The problem with this movie is that it randomly switches focus, tone, and direction arbitrarily without any rhyme or reason. Each of the A, B, C, D….in short, there are too many stories (plots) in this movie…plots–individually–are interesting. And stacked in an effective manner, could provide quite a bit of meat in this sandwich. Unfortunately, the focus of the layers and ingredients is on the arrangement or presentation of the sandwich more so than allowing the famished to sink their teeth into the otherwise delicious sandwich. Or think of it as the shifting staircases in Hogwarts; you could ascend and descend the staircases for hours and still not make any real progress toward your destination. Structurally, the movie suffers from a shifty foundation. So convoluted is the plot, that it continually introduces new information and elements just for surprise, shock, or brief entertainment value rather than setting up the story in the first act, throwing the characters into crisis mode in the second act, then providing solid resolution or realization in the third. It’s like one really long first act and a rushed second and third acts. As I warn my screenwriting students about science-fiction or fantasy writing, often times, these screenwriters are so wrapped up in world-building that the plot and characters suffer. Perhaps the characters in Grindelwald are complex enough (but truly debatable) but the plot is far from simple. After two movies, it appears that J.K.’s talent for writing novels is not as evident in screenwriting. Hence why many parts of this movie feel better suited to a novel than movie.

I could go on and on about the plot holes and pacing problems, but I feel I’ve made my evaluation sufficiently enough. So, now I want to switch gears to discussing what IS interesting about the movie. There are elements and attempts at themes (and subtext) that almost worked. Had more attention been paid to the logistics of screenwriting, then these would have been thought-provoking or at least meaningful. Upon my initial watch (and full disclosure, I plan to watch it again b/c I’ve heard it’s better on the second screening), the themes of racism, ethics, and sexuality are clearly present. Instead of a classic approach that features two differing ethnic races, the two races are the magical and no-mag (or muggles), skin color or country of origin do not factor into the equation. Grindelwald seeks to elevate the magical above the no-mag because he feels that the magical race is superior to the no-mag and can prevent the world from plunging into war. Ironically, his views insight mass violence and death. Furthermore, he wants the no-mag to serve the magical because the no-mag are disposable. Clearly, there are parallels between the American Civil War and Wold War II. Moreover, Grindelwald’s determined for the magical to stop hiding from the rest of the world and should come out to show the regular humans that they are the superior race–the super race, if you will.

Speaking of “not hiding,” the film also touches on sexuality in the wizarding world. For the first time, a character’s sexuality is pivotal to the plot and thus affords J.K. and WarnerMedia to comment on that in the story. Not a spoiler since J.K. stated it in a tweet, Dumbledore was in a romantic relationship with Grindelwald when they were much younger. It was always rumored that Dumbledore was gay, but this film puts those rumors to rest by addressing his past. Unlike a film that would simply add this character trait to the plot for the sake of inclusivity, Grindelwald allows for this to be an important part to the plot because Dumbledore and Grindelwald made a pact when they were in love never to fight each other directly. This theme of being free to love whom you will is also witnessed in the relationship between Jacob and Queenie. According to the present laws, Jacob and Queenie are not permitted to marry because a magical individual cannot engage in a romantic relationship with a non-mag. Queenie could wind up in the Ministry of Magic’s prison. In the end, Queenie couldn’t live with the divide between her and Jacob that the Ministry created, so she chooses a new future for herself. Although only directly touched on in one scene, there is also some commentary on ethics. At one point, Dumbledore tells Scamander that he appreciates that Scamander always does what is right, not what will best suit him or support a particular side of a conflict. He is concerned with only engaging in decisions that are ethically sound regardless of the personal benefit.

Even more than its predecessor, Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald works diligently to convince you that these movies belong in the same universe as the original Harry Potter movies. The return to Hogwarts and a few familiar character appearances work to connect this film to the rest of the Wizarding World, but at times feel incredibly forced. You will also learn more about Dumbledore’s long lost, secret brother, the origin of Voldemort’s pet snake, and the lineage of Bellatrix Lestrange. With three more movies to go, there is still time to turn this franchise around for the better, but that will largely hinge on the next movie.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“First Man” full film review

A solidly good film eclipsed by a star that was born last week. While there have been many movies and documentaries about the space race of the mid 20th century, including the amazing Hidden Figures, this is the first film to truly take us behind NASA and into the very home of the American hero astronaut Neil Armstrong. Damien Chazelle’s First Man is not just another film that tells the story of earth to the moon using familiar events, characters, or archival footage, but instead, it takes us behind the headlines to vicariously experience what it was like for Niel and his family on this and other dangerous missions. This is not a film about the US Apollo mission to the moon nor is it about how NASA had to push through major public negative criticism of its money-sucking endeavors; it is about the hero’s journey. And our hero is Neil Armstrong. As I do not want to spend time on that ridiculous flag controversy, I will summarize that element of the film. The flag IS there at the landing site and there are plenty of flags and references to the United Staes in the film–there–moving on. When it comes to a Chazelle film, I expect a strong screenplay to serve as the foundation upon which the visual elements are build. Unfortunately, Chazelle did not write this film and it shows. It suffers from a weak screenplay that has repercussions felt through the movie. Some critics have been writing about the strong emotional tug in the movie, but I did not feel it. I also feel that Gosling was not at the top of his game, compared to past performances. First Man is all around good, and I hope for nominations for it! It’s just not as strong as I had hoped the next Chazelle film would be. Compared to A Star is BornFirst Man is not as strong and I imagine the popularity of this week’s Halloween will also cast a shadow on this riveting story.

Before Neil Armstrong uttered his now famous words when he stepped foot on the moon, he first had get there. But he had to endure a lot more than just training for the Gemini and Apollo missions in order to be the first man on the moon. More than previous films such as The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 also about critical space missions, this one practically places you in the cockpit for a first person journey from earth to the moon. You will be taken back by the sheer number of personal and professional tragedies to befall Armstrong; and furthermore, you’ll feel the vibrations of the rocket, the out of control spinning, and the moments where you are on the cliff facing death. Follow Neil and his family on this turbulent drama that takes the fascination with and mind-blowing nature of the cockpit and turn it into an image and confinement to dread for it feels more like a death trap than the bridge of forging a new frontier.

This is a drama, not an action movie. So if you are searching for a space adventure, then this is not a film for you. But if you want to learn more about the first man on the moon, what he went through personally and professionally and feel what he felt, then this is a film for you. Incredible opening scene! Hitchcock once stated that a writer or director needs to drop the audience into the middle of the action in order to instantly hook them into the story. One of the cardinal rules of screenwriting is to start each scene as close to the end of the scene as possible in order to write leanly and effectively. That is precisely what awaits you at the beginning of First Man. No ramping up to conflict here; you are in the cockpit with Neil Armstrong as he is testing an aircraft when the ship begins to drift closer to space instead of returning to the ground. This opening scene is one of the most incredible ones that I have seen in a long time. Heart pounding. Demonstrating his mastery of visual storytelling, Chazelle crafts an opening scene that thrusts you into a gritty, visceral journey that will leave you breathless. As intense as this scene is, there are man others in the film that will place you at the brink of death and destruction in an effort to puncture a hole into what is possible with the fledgling space program.

On the heels of that incredibly intense scene, Chazelle takes us to a hospital where Neil daughter Karen is undergoing radiation therapy for her tumor. In an attempt to channel Pixar-like storytelling for the opening of a film, we quickly follow the family from the hospital to a funeral for a fellow pilot, at which his daughter is playing, to Neil battling insurance companies and doctors over the phone to an intimate father-daughter moment to lowering Karen’s casket in the ground. As emotional as this opening sequence is, it falls short of where it needed to be in order to truly evoke the strong emotion for which the film was going. Compared to watching A Star is Born the week prior, I was not feeling as strong an emotional connection to these characters to justify how I was supposed to feel after these scenes. Audiences were not given sufficient time to connect with the characters in order to feel the heartache intended to be felt during and after the funeral. It was sad for sure, but not devastating. That being said, it is entirely possible that audience members who have children may have felt the heart-wrenching moment differently because of knowing what it’s like to have a child. It is evident that Chazelle did not write this film because the screenplay is on the weaker side. Now, I am not suggesting the story is weak compared to most films. On the contrary, it is much stronger than many other films; however, compared to what I expect from Chazelle, it is weaker than Whiplash and La La Land.

The screenplay contains three stories. The A story is Neil Armstrong’s personal journey, the B story is Neil’s relationship with his wife Janet (Claire Foy), and the C story is his career at NASA. There is clearly a desperate attempt to link the tragedy of Neil’s daughter to his hell-bent nature to constantly take himself close to death, putting his family and marriage under immense strain. With the tragedy of Karen not sufficiently setup and rushed through, it is hard to connect it to the rest of the movie. The film wants audiences to believe that dangerous missions are Neil’s coping mechanisms to deal with the death of his daughter, but there just isn’t enough evidence in the film support that. I see Chazelle’s desire to link Karen’s death to Neil’s desire to put himself and his family in physiological and emotional harm’s way. In terms of the character development of Neil, the stoic behavior, monosyllabic responses, countless moments of silence, and machismo become repetitive and boring. Although he certainly battles inner demons and real-world obstacles in order to eventually reach the moon, I don’t witness inner character development throughout the screenplay. Neil, at the end of the story, is pretty much the same Neil we meet at the beginning. While we are witness to the strife in his marriage to Janet, that relationship goes no where as well. There is simply no character arc or growth in this film. And that is what hinders this screenplay from being great.

Perhaps the film was built upon a weak screenplay, but there is quite a lot to like about it! Much like Interstellar was showered with nominations and wins in the technical categories, First Man will likely also see nominations for score, sound, editing, cinematography and more. From a technical achievement perspective, this film is incredible to behold. If you have the opportunity to watch the film in IMAX, then that is definitely what you want to do for the full, immersive experience. When you cannot pick out the score, that is often the park of a brilliantly diegetic score that seamlessly integrates into the film. There is a highly emotional component to the score that enhances the screenplay and picks up where the screenplay felt off in order to evoke that emotional response. I absolutely loved the cinematography. Much like the score, the cinematography felt so incredibly natural, so organic. Whether the camera is providing me with a subjective or objective POV, it frames each shot perfectly to communicate the tension and suspense. All around, Chazelle takes all the elements (except the screenplay) of the film and combines them for a solidly good film.

Some quick notes on the performances, I found that Gosling delivered an above average performance. And that’s above average for him, not compared to the litany of other actors. Obviously, compared to other actors, he is at the top of his game. But I feel that he is stronger in La La Land. And the reason for this performance that just didn’t quite hit the mark for me can be traced back to the screenplay. I’ve no doubt that he will be nominated–and he should–but I’ve little confidence that he will win. Claire Foy’s performance of as Janet Armstrong is fantastic! She will most likely also see a nomination for her role as the wife of the first man on the moon. She was incredibly strong, determined, and loyal. She demonstrates a stronger character growth arc than Gosling. The screenplay appears to have developed her character more effectively than his. Compared to the other performances in the film, hers is the most standout.

Definitely see this film. Just because it suffers from a weak screenplay does not mean that it doesn’t have a lot of offer. I greatly appreciate this film for taking us on an intimate journey with the Armstrong family. This is a story that has not been told on screen before and truly shows us the personal and professional links that Neil Armstrong went to in order to stand on the moon and announce to the world “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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