“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!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry

Thrillz (theme parks): Thrillz.co

“Blade Runner 2049” film review

Just as mesmerizing as the original! Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is nothing short of a future classic that demonstrably possesses the soul of the original and pairs it with a new plot brought to life by a fantastic cast. Every minute is filled with beautiful cinematography that is perfect in every way and a haunting score that penetrates down to the bone. At its core, Blade Runner 2049 wrestles with this one central question: what does it mean to be human? A question that can spawn hours of debates or an exquisite nearly three-hour motion picture. Considering that Ridley Scott has not delivered the same quality for which he provided precise and poignant direction, it was a solid decision to attach Villeneuve as the director. This sequel 35 years in the making may not have had the classic Ridley Scott at the helm, but Villeneuve channels his inner Scott to provide audiences with the same profound cinematic experience today as Scott did when Blade Runner first released. From the color palette to the lighting to the sound design, this motion picture is one that typifies the power of the art of motion pictures and one that will surely be regarded as iconic as the years more along, very much in the same way that the original has been regarded over time.

Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is tracking down the remaining legacy Replicant models created by the infamous Tyrell Corporation, and his latest mission takes him to an obscure farm in the middle of dessert California. After retiring the replicant at the farm, K uncovers what will become a metaphor for Pandora’s Box, as it opens a mystery that law enforcement and the Wallace Corp. seek to solve. The secret contained within the box is one that could potentially plunge all “humanity” into complete chaos, not there there isn’t enough of that already for those left on earth. K’s journey takes him from the gritty, grimy streets of Greater Los Angeles to the dust bowl that was once Fabulous Las Vegas. There, he meets former Blade Runner Deckard  (Harrison Ford) who has been hiding from law enforcement and the Wallace Corporation for three decades. Together, they must work to locate the miracle that no one ever could have thought would happen–or could happen.

Despite not pulling the numbers that Blade Runner 2049 was forecasted to bring in over its October opening weekend, the film did what fans wanted–it kept the very essence of the original movie alive and well. For all the artificial intelligence in the film, there is nothing artificial about this long-awaited and highly anticipated sequel to the Ridley Scott classic. The reason for not pulling the numbers that it was predicted to do can likely be attributed to the tone of the film and the stylistic filmmaking approach that borders on neo-noir meets the avant-garde. Although not completely necessary, it is incredibly helpful to have seen the first film. And seeing the first film gives an appreciation for the sequel that cannot be experiences without having knowledge of the first. The slow-pace and dark atmosphere may be some of the reasons why more people did not wish out to see it as the weekend moved along. Looking at the two films side by side, this film is a direct extension of the original so the authenticity of this universe and story is genuine and almost visceral. For those who prefer more dialog or higher concept plots, the film may not strike the same level of enthusiasm because of the heavy visuals and dark themes in addition to the profound questions. This combination is not one that will attract the general populous in doves; however, this film IS what it needed to be. Sometimes a long-awaited sequel has to be made to remain true to its soul because that is what the fans want to see, and it’s the true fans who continue to visit the cinema year after year. Blade Runner 2049 may not win over new fans, but it keeps the diehard ones happy.

At the heart of Villeneuve’s cinematic masterpiece are existential questions that drive the plot forward. A plot driven by such questions told through a sedated pace is one that is not as easy to digest as one that is more superficial and more rapidly paced. Still, these questions are profound and cause one to think hard about what it means to be human. What sets this film apart from other science-fiction rapid fire blockbusters is the commitment to visual storytelling and the art of creating a motion picture. Blade Runner 2049 mirrors its predecessor and remains true to the experience of the first. Cinephiles will especially appreciate this film for it harkens back to a time when German expressionism was at the foundation of the set design and lighting. There are many exaggerated and elongated shapes that exist in a world of harsh shadows and dimly lit alleys throughout the film. Although the look of the future world in the original was one that audiences may not have believed would come true or could come true is seen differently by today’s audience that can easily see just how accurate the world of the Blade Runner movies actually is–the mediation of society today seems to be not that far off from this not-so-distant future.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins captures a wold through the lens that seems to go on forever in a world of greys and beiges. The only color to be found is in the prolific advertising on the sides of buildings. Deakins further extends the artistic approach to the cinematography by paying homage to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining in a shot that was actually added to one of the more recent recuts of Scott’s Blade Runner. That score, though. The sound design and score are an audible extension of the visual landscape. Composers Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer have created one of the most haunting scores to ever be heard in the cinema. The combination of ghostly groans and blood curdling howls echo the very look and feel of the landscape. I’ve rarely encountered such an immersive sound design and score in a film. Just as the world on screen is an uneasy place to live and one that contains faint images of the grandeur of a world that once was, the score accompanying this motion picture places you in the midst of this post-apocaltyic world that most natural-born humans have left.

Definitely a film that I want to watch for a second time in order to appreciate this film, boasting with artistic achievement, even more than I already do. Although most of the themes and subtext are centered in and around “what it means to be human,” there is a real message regarding the importance of bees. An important visual statement in the film because the populations of bees, the most prolific pollinators, are dwindling. Not for the casual movie-goer, this film is for those who want to experience a sequel in the vein of the original that shows the artistic side of the creation of motion pictures.

“La La Land” movie review

lalalandSimply dazzling! A beautifully produced motion picture musical that is sure to delight audiences around the world. Ryan Gosling (Sebastian) and Emma Stone (Mia) shine brightly in this self-reflexive modern romantic film set on the backdrop of a classically composed movie musical echoing the song and dance numbers that Busby Berkeley brought to the silver screen through Hollywood studio system powerhouse Warner Bros. Summit Entertainment’s La La Land will have you laughing one moment and crying the next in this roller coaster of emotions. Every aspiring professional who has the dream of a substantive career as an artist in the visual and performing arts–or just an artist in general–needs to watch this film. If you have ever been discouraged on your career path, or lack thereof, this film will aid in reigniting the flame that fuels your dreams of writing, acting, playing, or whatever your passion happens to be. Whereas many films similar to this one would have shot it as a period OR modern piece, this film is nothing short of a masterpiece that harnesses the nostalgic appeal of the classic musical with the power of modern cinematic storytelling.

Stories of struggling to reach your dreams are nothing new, but there is so much more to the story of Mia (Stone) and Sebastian’s (Gosling) respective goals of successful careers in the city of angels. Following a chance meeting at a night club in LA where Sebastian was playing a set list of traditional Christmas carols, Mia and Sebastian continue to bump into each other at parties and in the work place. The focus of this musical is on the everyday life of two struggling artists trying to make it in a city notorious for shattering dreams and breaking hearts. Mia and Sebastian must learn what is more important: chasing dreams of being in the spotlight or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a beautiful love unmatched by any other.

Best part about Damien Chazelle’s La La Land? The old-school movie musical feel from the moment the film opens. From set pieces to matte paintings to the manner in which the cameras capture the story as the drama unfolds, this is both a modern story of romance and conflict and classic Hollywood musical. While some may find the cinematography, lighting, and editing to be nothing remarkable, the fact of the matter is that it required great skill and hundreds of hours of effort to capture the essence of an old Hollywood musical. To recreate a nearly extinct film genre, is an outstanding achievement in cinematic storytelling and deserves all the 9s and 10s this film is receiving from critics and fans alike. La La Land takes pages right out of the books of Busby Berkeley (Footlight Parade) and Gene Kelly (Singin’ in the Rain). Such a gorgeous combination of a classically structured and choreographed musical within a modern Hollywood. And the film could have easily rested its laurels on the technical and artistic achievements alone, but the film also possesses an incredibly beautiful love story between two aspiring artists.

In a modern studio system who appears all too often to be more concerned with franchise building, merchandising, theme park integration, and rebooting, this film is fresh, real, gritty, and endearing. In a climate so predisposed to the Star WarsesHarry PottersJurassic Parks, and Avengerses, this film brings with is a breath of fresh air that is nearly unmatched by any other film this year. While many are concerned with the lack of original stories coming out of Hollywood, may this film be a testament that masterpieces can still make their way into cinemas nationwide and not simply the art house theatre of the US’ largest metro areas. Although film is a visual medium and should not rely upon the score or songs to carry the bulk of the film (i.e. Frozen), this film is very much about the music. However, unlike films that integrate music in order to cover up poorly structured and developed writing, La La Land embraces the music as much a part of the story as the writing itself. In many ways, the film plays out like music and flows like a musical score. The way the cameras moves, the editor cut, and the blocking of the characters is very much like a musical staff, like the way music is composed and performed. But at the same time, the movie is not simply about the music but about the relationship between Mia and Sebastian; and furthermore, about their aspirations for the spotlight. Solid writing and a solid score.

The casting of La La Land could not have been more brilliant! Both Stone and Gosling successfully bring about that 1940s feel in a modern story. That could be due to the successes of both in 1940s era films prior. Stone in Magic in the Moonlight and Gosling in The Notebook. While both can successfully carry a period piece on their own respectively, together they are a powerhouse couple like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Their performances in this film were so incredibly natural, so real, and believable. At the same time, the actors are also very much contemporary–just like the film: classic yet contemporary. Even though the audience is well aware that Stone and Gosling are anything but struggling artists, they play their respective parts so convincingly that you’d swear that we were actually watching a pair of struggling artists who do desperately want a substantive piece of that Hollywood pie. A great screenplay possesses protagonists that the audience will love or love to hate, and the characters in La La Land connect so incredibly well with classic and contemporary audiences.

Inspirational. This film will help to inspire those who have a talent for storytelling, music, or writing to continue to work hard and remain dedicated to one’s craft because that is the only way that a career can pay off. The moment you stop trying is the moment that the dream dies along with settling for less. Not that day-jobs aren’t important. Certainly the importance of a day job is shown in the film, but it’s imperative that the day job never cause an artist to sell out or give up on the dream. Day jobs should fund imaginative dreams not eclipse them. There is much to love about this film; so much so that you will likely find yourself with a desire to watch it again. This IS definitely my pick for Best Picture as we head into award season with the holidays coming to a close.

“The Big Short” movie review

BigShortThe scariest non-horror movie ever! Paramount Pictures’ The Big Short, based on the best selling novel by Michael Lewis, is the star-studded film that meticulously recreates the course of events that led to the worst financial crisis to hit the United States, and by extension the world, since the Great Depression. It isn’t often that when I leave a movie that I instantly feel like I need to watch it again, but this is definitely one of them! Furthermore, this is a fantastic film to show any business or financial class on the graduate level. Brilliantly casted and directed, this film will have your utmost attention the entire time. In fact, when it’s over, you will most likely want it to go on. Screenwriters Adam McKay (also the director) and Charles Randolph create a movie with such realism and candor that you will be able to truly understand the foundational problems that aided in creating the mortgage-backed security crisis which led to the housing meltdown and the loss of millions of jobs. The scariest part is, at the end of the movie, you will read that starting in 2015 that big banks are once again engaging in similar behaviors under a new name. The utter greed, absurdity, and naivety on display in this movie will leave you astounded.

The Bg Short is a biographical documentary-like drama that goes behind the headlines and years before the height of the financial crisis (now referred to as the Great Recession) and reveals the actions of big banks and front-line mortgage officers alike that contributed and eventually causes the housing meltdown. After one major hedge fund investor discovers that the big banks are buying up and selling bad mortgages, he takes actions that create a ripple effect amongst a small group of hedge fund financial investors that begin to sound the alarm that big banks refused to listen and believe. Against the odds, this small group of investors attempt to warn the big banks that the US financial system, and by extension the world, is in grave danger. This film follows several key players in this movement and sheds light on what was really happening behind closed doors.

If you want to gain a better understanding of what caused the housing meltdown and financial crisis, then plan to see this movie. Or, if you are just looking for a fantastic movie with suspense, mystery, and action, then plant see this movie. It is of no surprise as to how this movie has received Oscar nominations. The phenomenal cast brought these recent historical figures to life in only a way that a cinematic story can do. Full of intellectual action, this movie successfully delivers a powerful message with a brilliant story. Many times, the best stories are true ones, and it doesn’t really get any truer or more visceral than this one. Not often can a movie capture a historic series of events with such accuracy whilst delivering a cinematic experience. More than a documentary, this film possesses a brilliant approach to the visual storytelling of a real modern-day crisis that isn’t that far removed from today.

The combination of mostly an objective perspective with a healthy helping of subjective points-of-view makes this a unique experience. Watching this movie, I couldn’t help but imagine that t almost plays out as something fabricated, made up for a gripping and dynamic plot; but the fact of the matter is that this really happened. Moreover, if the big banks continue in their ways and not learn from their mistakes, it could happen again. Although this is definitely a visually driven story, there are times that there is commentary or further information in the form of text or actors breaking the fourth wall. Ordinarily, I don’t typically like moves where the characters speak directly to the camera or audience, but the manner run which the asides were written into this movie worked extremely well.

I will keep this review short because I definitely want to encourage people who want to gain a better understanding of the financial crisis to see this movie and experience it for themselves. You will definitely not be disappointed.