Movie Review: First Man

This is going to sound stupid, but I think the Moon is the most under appreciated celestial body in the Solar System. I like Mars and all, but it is years away, and we have a perfectly decent planetoid less than a week from us. It is too bad NASA did not bother sending more missions and establishing a settlement after a handful of successful landings. What no one realizes, what we often take for granted, is how far we had to go to before getting off the ground. And First Man is about that prelude.

While working as a test pilot Neil, played by Ryan Gosling, signs up to work on NASA’s mission to the Moon. As the years go by, Neil and his crew get closer and closer to reaching their goal.

Gosling is one of those actors that has one mode, but plays it very well. Keanu Reaves, for example, is very reserved and keeps a lot of his energy bottled up for when it is appropriate. Not to harp on the man’s talent, but outside of John Wick and The Matrix, Reaves is not suited for many divergent roles. Gosling, with the exception of Nice Guys, is also reserved and methodical in 90% of his performances, even when he has to be outgoing. If you have ever heard the guy scream, it sounds like he never raises his voice outside of acting.

This made him the perfect choice for the lead. Neil Armstrong was notoriously private, refusing interviews and keeping out of the public spotlight before and after the Moon landing. A lot is not known about the guy, but given his intense reclusion you can glean what Neil was like as a person. Being a character study more than a historical piece, Gosling could not have sold the part better.

Taking note from his performance in Drive, Gosling was almost robotic. He comes off very driven in his goal to reach the Moon, but uses it to cover a ton of emotional baggage. He immerses himself in his work to avoid dwelling on the past. The very beginning of First Man starts with the loss of Neil’s daughter, an event that informs his entire character. He emotionally confines himself, becomes erratic when something triggers the memory, and never expresses his feelings. You can feel and see it on Gosling’s face with no breaks in character.

The other part of First Man is the program leading up to the landing. It does not go terribly in depth, but enough that you understand we started from square one. So much went into just figuring out how to dock in orbit. The struggle for progress further informs Gosling’s character as people are killed in accidents and equipment is destroyed. The more NASA fails, the more Neil is determined to reach the Moon, furthering the dedication to his work and emotional reclusion.

Another great aspect of the program side is the effects. I would say almost all of them are practical with CG enhancement. Given the cinematography, that was the only way to go. The camera is centered around Neil and what he is doing, creating an air of claustrophobia when it comes to perspective. Any out of place effect or fakery would have looked obvious. For the flight sequences, Gosling is shot from inside real cockpits with real exteriors captured from whatever vehicle he is flying. For added realism, the backgrounds are the result of rear screen projection with quality on par with Interstellar. The only bad effect was a shot of Apollo 11 lifting off at the end.

Being a month late I cannot imagine this review will sway you to see First Man. It is very good, but came and went like most historical films. What I think separates it from the norm is not only the subject, but also how it is presented. What Neil Armstrong was like is a mystery to many and here we get a personal view of the man from his humble beginnings to the moment that made him a legend. It is really one of the few historical movies that bucks the formula and I think you should give it a second glance before it is gone from theaters.

 

Movie Review: Terminator Genisys

When I was five or six, Terminator 2 (T2) was the first movie I ever liked. It was a great experience with action, guns, the post-apocalypse, and robots mashed into one. It made me an instant fan of Breacher (name gag) and inspired me to seek out the rest of his filmography. As I grew older I came to appreciate its more overlooked qualities. Like Blade Runner showed how sci-fi could be dark and compelling, T2 was a fine example that a plot about cyborgs from the future can be written with a consistent and competent plot. Not since Godfather Part 2 has there been a sequel held in such high esteem. And like Godfather the third installment was less than serviceable and a fourth did not help either.

The biggest problem with T3 is its complete disregard for T2. Judgment Day could not have happened unless FOX was starved for cash and decided to ret-con the theme of choosing your own destiny into inevitability. So, after all the hard work of our heroes, the world was going to end regardless. On top of that, T3 was just generally bad with no characterization of John Matrix, CGI in place of effects I know can been done practical, and the complete disregard for what made T2 good. T4 was an improvement, but it was not smart enough to learn from its predecessor. Now comes Terminator Genisys (T5), a movie that appears to rewrite the entire series. While it looks interesting, it remains to be seen if it has what it takes to honor T2.

Many will find a lot to complain about. Many will say it is convoluted, leaves a lot of unanswered questions, and does not make a whole lot of sense when considering a few minute details. But do you know what everyone will agree with? Terminator Genisys is at last a worthy follow up to T2.

In post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, Kyle Reese, played by Jai Courtney, is tasked with going back in time to protect the mother of the resistance leader John Connor, played by Jason Clarke. After arriving in 1984, however, Reese finds not only is Sarah Connor, played by Emilia Clarke, in no need of protecting, she is aided by an older T-800 Terminator she nicknamed Pops, played by Dutch, and has anticipated Reese’s arrival for years.

Trying to explain a science that does not technically exist is futile, but in my Project Almanac review, I believe I explained it the best I could with movie logic. Please refer to this link before I begin my breakdown of the plot.

The Terminator series follows the Theory of Divergence where multiple timelines branch off from several points in a linear sequence. Judgment Day happens regardless of whatever changes are made in the past, but each change creates a new line. According to T5, 24 did not happen. Sarah was saved by Kyle, gave birth to John, and trained for the apocalypse.

However, like anyone with a time machine and a brain, Skynet learned if it sent a T-1000 to Sarah Connor’s childhood, it would have a better chance of finishing her off. At the same, a hacked T-800, Ben Richards, was also sent back to rescue Sarah and train her up to peak fighting condition for the attempt on her life in 1984 and beyond. Because the events of 1984 were going to happen regardless, Kyle is sent from an alternate branch where John has experienced the timeline of T1. And that is where the convolution begins.

The biggest problem many will face is the realization T5 is a direct sequel to 1 and does not follow the cannon of the series. It is difficult to comprehend being a franchise of four movies, but when you consider the logic and competence of 1 and 2, it makes total sense Skynet would set in motion ways to prolong its existence with a time machine. To put it bluntly, Terminator Genysis is a bigger ret-con than Silver Age Captain America and Chris Claremont’s X-Men combined. Putting your mind to it and thinking as though the last three movies did not happen will greatly help your understanding of what is going on. Pay attention and use your brain.

It is obvious T5 learned a lot from the last two films, most notably in the effects. The robot on robot fights show actors smashing each other across obvious sets with plenty of debris and destruction. Even better is a car chase where a school bus is flipped end over end. The makeup is also real with Julius Benedict donning facial prosthetics for battle damage. It is unfortunate, however, there were no animatronics in place of the skinless machines and a little too much CGI in places that would have looked better like this. It can be forgiven considering the scale, but nothing beats miniatures. Ever.

Performances were good all around. It was nice to see Courtney putting more effort into a character and Emilia Clarke proved she could be more than Daenerys Targaryen. Jason Clarke pulled his weight and J.K. Simmons brought some welcome comedy to the mix as O’Brien. It is no contest Harry Tasker takes the cake. No offense, but you are stupid to pick anyone else in the cast. Not since Sabotage has the man appeared more at home in a role in recent years and it must be seen for any admirers of Bar Patron (from The Rundown).

For me personally, the major problem with T5 is how big it feels. I know summer movies are supposed to be epic, but the story was so small it felt awkward and unnecessary with large set pieces and a scarcity of calm breaks in between. It also dragged the pacing to a crawl that could have ended 90 to 100 minutes in.

All in all, Terminator Genysis was a fun experience with plenty of action everyone can enjoy. It belongs third when stacked up against 1 in the middle and 2 on top. There is nothing overly wrong with it for anyone to make a fuss. If you do not agree with my findings, it is still better than the last two.