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: Interstellar

In all honesty you should skip this review and go see the movie. It’s not to avoid spoilers because I don’t mention any, but to enjoy the experience without any prior information. Words cannot do the movie justice; had I no desire to make a career out of this hobby I’d end my critique right here. So put the computer on Sleep and get yourself a ticket.

* * *

            Let’s talk about Christopher Nolan.

It’s undeniable the Dark Knight trilogy made the once reclusive director a household name, especially after the mind-bending Inception and controversial Man of Steel. But with every ambitious project and Hans Zimmer score we overlook the essential parts that would otherwise alter our opinions of Nolan’s films.

Let’s face it: The Dark Knight was only good because of Heath Ledger and Rises had more plot holes and conveniences than Star Trek: Insurrection. We watch these films, find the parts we like the most, and venerate the whole regardless of any faults.

However, the reason we go back is not for what we like, but for Nolan himself. Where he fails in story and character he makes up in technicality, using practical effects and direction that bring a unique simplicity to each film. Though Inception was confusing for those who lacked common sense, everyone could get behind the crazy moving sets or the vehicular sequences of the Dark Knight trilogy. To put it simply, Christopher Nolan is a hipster Michael Bay that doesn’t hate you and respects film as art.

And that brings us to Interstellar.

In recent years the Sci-fi genre has been in a state flux. Every once in a while there’s something smart and original that becomes overshadowed by dumb garbage. If you disregard Marvel and DC adaptations, there wasn’t a whole lot of unique science fiction released in the last few years. To find true works, one must go far and wide, whether on a computer or on foot. The prospect is grim, but Interstellar has brought new light and the possible future of the genre in film.

Christopher Nolan has made an ode to Kubrick and Roddenberry that is equal parts spectacle and a tale of humanity’s reach beyond Earth and ignorance. It is epic in scope with practical sets, effects, and visuals that set the standard for the film vision of space. The use of sound and score puts you in both the pilot’s seat and the shoes of the astronauts as they witness their home collapse into apocalyptic chaos only to find new worlds that challenge their perception of normality. I can only imagine what it must be like to see this film in IMAX-3D.

At this point I find it unnecessary to talk about the story if you haven’t already decided to see the movie.

Matthew McConaughey is at his best, rivaling his role in True Detective as Cooper, a pilot turned farmer after a global catastrophe forced the world’s population to turn to agriculture for survival. One day NASA recruits him for a mission to save humanity that transcends the boundaries of conventional physics.

And that’s all I’m going to say.

Regardless of minor plot issues, its borderline pulpy nature, and three-hour runtime, Interstellar is a rare achievement. It is a film that must be seen in whatever format affordable. Don’t bother seeing anything else this week.