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.

The Big Short Lands a Top Ten Spot

Steve Carell

The Big Short is worth seeing foremost due to Steve Carell’s evolution as a serious actor which is an absolute thrill to observe. Christian Bale’s chameleon expertise commands the entire screen with Popeye arms and a penchant for hard rock. Ryan Gosling’s solid as a smarmy dude, his only misstep ever being the ridiculously violent Only God Forgives. And Brad Pitt? He’s become the new Redford, like Wonder bread: sturdy, but maybe a bit bland.

So I’ve revealed the chink in the armor, The Big Short is not perfect. The jittery camera work’s bothersome and celebrities offering the common man’s explanation’s overly cute. The voice over narration is additionally bothersome. That being said, the sickening truth of the big banks plus the mega acting ensemble make the movie still enthralling.

So out goes The Gift from my top ten and in goes The Big Short.