Eye Eye Captain; First Man

Tongue in Cheek: Sure Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but I may be the first to discover there are at least two different movie watching personality types that coincide with five astrological signs. Sagitarius, Virgo, Scorpio and Aquarius folks are intense movie watchers…we don’t talk, and stare at the screen GLADLY for the full movie. Whereas Leo’s are restless types, needing to look at their company, for reassurance perhaps, or in my Dad’s case even inquire, “what did they say?” or my friend last night who needed to comment on an average of once every five minutes. One small primal scream for man, one giant yelp for man kind.

But back to the movie…Damien Chazelle is credited (by me) for one of my favorite seven modern films of all time (Whiplash– see my next blog post for the full list) and one of my most frustrating (LaLaLand). This time with First Man, I’m in the middle, or a little to the right. I didn’t LOVE it, but it certainly satisfied.

Chazelle focuses much of his camera work on close ups, way way close, with a lot of eye concentration on Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy (who definitely should get a best supporting actress nod). For Ryan/Neil, eye work makes sense since through his helmet, that’s the the only facial target. But even out of his suit and with his wife, played as I just mentioned expertly by Claire Foy, the eyes have it as it were.

The story (screenplay by Josh Singer is good, but perhaps a tad too long). I do fully appreciate the fact they (the book’s author and subsequently Singer) wanted to show the full sacrifice and missteps along the way, as well as increase the suspense. I mean after all the accidents, who the hell would think a tin can could actually make it to the moon? That’s faith or bravado or a hell a lot of both. I also loved the inner workings of the Armstrong marriage and the honest approach of Neil, who struggled with his daughter’s death and his need to be a workaholic. In his defense, this was the oppressed 50’s and 60’s when men didn’t cry or were shamed into being stoic and thus, manly.

Other supporting actors had minimal coverage, but I will say Jason Clarke (Chappaquiddick) and Corey Stoll (I know him from Girls) were solid and stood out as Neil’s co-astronauts.

Chazelle’s directorial work seems to lean toward Terrence Malick and that’s ok for me (and probably my fellow Sagitarians). We hear the odd noises of the rocket, we ‘feel’ the jittery, dizzying shakes, and the frantic pushing of buttons. Chazelle bucks the trend of having everything be neat and pretty and instead, also uses silence, space and different types and lengths of scenes to make a meaningful collage.

Great Cake, Too Much Frosting: “La La Land”

La La Land, directed by Damien Chazelle, was a fine film, but I can’t help but feel nostalgia for the power of his ‘Whiplash’ or even the rapture of a similar love story musical ‘Moulin Rouge’.

So, let me complain first. The first two musical scenes needed to be combined or shortened. Dancers in a California traffic jam is unique, girls singing in their bedrooms, not so much, but again, shorten them up and I wouldn’t have been thinking, “Ok when does the tremendously praised movie start”.

My only other complaint are the Disneyesque scenes where I thought I was re-watching Fantasia. Not that there’s anything wrong with children’s films, but it added schmaltz which limited my emotional response.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were amazing and they made me want to take tap dancing lessons. And I appreciated and concur on the ‘moral to the story’ which I’ll relate in a few months again to protect my dear readers. Justin Hurwitz’s music is fitting to the film, sweet, in an overly confectionery way. I didn’t leave saying, I have to have the soundtrack as I did in a musical like ‘Rent’.

The last 30 minutes of the film were wonderful, realistic and emotionally effective. Won’t say more to protect you from spoilers. I just wish Mr. Chazelle had started from a more serious angle from the get go.

Campaign Bumper Sticker 2016

Miles Teller

Saw two accomplished films this weekend, one a doc Citizenfour (Laura Poitras) and one of fiction, Whiplash (Damien Chazelle).

Citizenfour is basically cinematic voyeurism; watching a man’s last few days of freedom. While I disagree with Leonard Maltin’s hyperbolic review “has Hitchockian suspense”, I will admit it held my interest despite ‘knowing the ending’ so to speak, that Snowden remains an exile in Russia. And here’s where I want to step on the thin ice and say, hooray for Snowden, a man of principles…yet the skeptic in me thinks, can our government be THAT corrupt? Can a man simply exposing Obama’s transparency as an opaque farce, really be stripped of his passport and free citizenship? Yikes.

But I say Snowden for President as a man of true integrity. But believe me, the whispering dissenter chirps, “Can a world power exist without infringing on privacy to protect its citizens?”.

Which leads me to my presidential analogy that Miles Teller, at least in this role, (and at the risk of tying Maltin for hyperbole), is the most sincere and dedicated person on Earth. And while I’m at my electoral picks, let me propose J.K. Simmons as Secretary of State because he’d tell any bullying totalitarianism to bend over and kiss their inhumane arses goodbye. And for good measure, let’s throw in Paul Reiser as Press Secretary with his realistic chagrined father portrayal. Whiplash is a fantastic film worthy of viewing and award nominations. While I won’t discuss plot points in my pledge to tell no spoiler, I will say if the movie’s end had been a hair shorter, it’d be absolute perfection.

P.S. I’ll be posting this on every blog, but soon my website name will change to something shorter and easier to type after the new year…still pondering domain names…stay tuned.