First Man Review

If you have been following this blog you know my relationship with director Damien Chazelle has been a bit rocky. I always want to love his movies like everyone else but usually leave thinking they are just ok. There is always something in his portrayal of dreamers leaving me wanting more. Wanting more understanding of what drives them to put up with a mad man in Whiplash or leaving their true love to chase their movie dreams in La La Land. So this year with his film First Man, about Neil Armstrong, I was hopeful it would be the first film of Chazelle’s repertoire to move me into the love camp. Unfortunately the opposite has occurred and it is definitely my least favorite of his movies.

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There are some impressive things about First Man. While relying way too much on close-ups (a trend I hate!), the cinematography and space set pieces were very striking. Also the performances by Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy and Kyle Chandler were all excellent with what they were given to do. Unfortunately, those impressive visuals were shot with a handheld camera style and were very shaky. For someone with a weak stomach it was almost too much. However, if you don’t have those problems they are impressive sequences.

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My problem with the film was the script. Aside from a few glimpses of emotion at the death of his daughter, I never got any sense of feeling or personality from Neil Armstrong. I guess they were trying to portray him as being on the spectrum but that doesn’t mean he needs to have the same flat expression at all times. I didn’t feel like I got to know him as a person- his idiosyncrasies, his passions. I don’t even know why he wanted to go to the moon? In Apollo 13 we have the scene where Tom Hanks puts his thumb over the moon and he talks about his dreams. We needed something like that here.

Film Title: First Man

Because I wasn’t invested in Neil Armstrong’s journey it made the movie kind of boring and flat. They didn’t do a good job of building up the characters at NASA like in Apollo 13 and aside from his wife getting upset a couple of times it was all flat and business-like.

I guess when it comes down to it I like my inspirational stories to be inspirational (go figure right?). Some may balk at a movie like Hidden Figures or October Sky and call them pedestrian but I left those movies inspired and wanting to do great things. Surely a movie about Neil Armstrong should give me such a feeling? Are we so elevated these days that we don’t need heroes but they all have to be whittled down to ordinary people who show up for work every day? Even a minor character in Apollo 13 like Gary Sinise’s astronaut who got bumped from the shuttle had an arc and an emotional journey I could relate to. Here I just didn’t get that.

So good job Neil Armstrong. You’re our hero. This movie however didn’t do you justice

(Also the flag controversy was mostly caused because of a dumb interview Gosling gave but it does show an overall scorning of heroic moments by Chazelle, which did not work for me)

Frown Worthy

Ranked 72 out of 114 of 2018 Films

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Hidden Figures Review

hidden-figures2Today I had the chance to see Hidden Figures, and I could just as easily title this blog- ‘doing what others so often fail to do in a bio-pic’. Rarely have I been to this type of film and the audience cheer loudly throughout. Of all the movies I’ve seen in 2016, Hidden Figures, is one of the most rewatchable and it is one I am eager for friends and family to go and see.

Hidden Figures tells the real life story of 3 African-American women at NASA as they prepared to send John Glenn around the earth. Some may dismiss it as a formula film but that is underselling some of the standout choices it makes. Most importantly it avoids theatrics and instead shows the smaller more systematic racism women like these 3 faced on a daily basis.

Most of these kinds of movies have the evil redneck racist who is gathering the KKK. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for that. There absolutely is but sometimes such violence can make the racism harder to relate to and in a way more easy to shake off. It’s more little things that can impact me more. For example, in one scene Katherine comes into a room and a man expects her to take out the trash. Might we still sometimes expect people of certain races to do such work? We shouldn’t and movies like Hidden Figures help remind us of that.

hidden-figuresThe 3 women, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, are played by Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae respectively. They are all completely lovely as brilliant mathematicians and engineers who find a way to push through the systematic racism that existed everywhere at that time. Most of the people they work with would never consider themselves racists and yet they lazily engage in stereotyping and discrimination all the time.

It can be a very simple thing like using the bathroom, drinking communal coffee or more serious things like being made a supervisor or getting the information needed to do your job. I love movies about work and the way particularly the Octavia Spencer character Dorothy maneuvered her way through the office politics was very impressive and brilliant.

hidden-figures4Kirsten Dunst is great as a supervisor over the white computers. She thinks she is being respectful of Dorothy when she really isn’t. There is a scene between the two of them in a bathroom that is so well done.

I also liked Mahershala Ali as Katherine’s beau, Glen Powell as John Glenn and Jim Parsons as Katherine’s stick in the mud colleague Paul Stafford.

hidden-figures5I remember when I used to dread seeing Kevin Costner’s name in a film and now after McFarland USA and films like that I look forward to him. He’s great here as Katherine’s boss. He just wants the job done and this makes him a bit blind to what Katherine is going through, which leads to another scene the audience cheered at.

I guess if I was going to nitpick the movie, the only real flaw I had was the music. I felt they kept playing the same snappy Pharrell Williams song as a cheap way of saying ‘look how sassy these women are’. I grew a little tired of it.

But that is a very small complaint. This is a movie you can take your kids too. It’s PG after all and afterwards have a conversation about the small and big ways we discriminate against others. Talk about how these women were heroes and made a real difference to our country despite the challenges they faced.

hidden-figures3In some ways Hidden Figures reminded me of last year’s Brooklyn (except this is true story). Both are simple, old-fashioned storytelling, about important parts of our history. They both have great messages and wonderful performances you can’t help but like. This is more family friendly than Brooklyn but please do not dismiss it because it takes the crowd-pleasing approach. It’s honestly one of my favorite movies of 2016 and I hope it gets remembered come Oscars. Regardless, take your family and be inspired by Hidden Figures.

Overall Grade- A