Movie Review: First Man

Simple Review: Lunar Rhapsody

This may be a weekend for the history books: two excellent films in one weekend! I know, I am shocked as well. I have been looking forward to First Man since I first watched the trailer, and I even splurged on the IMAX showing of the film. I know, I know IMAX is a little pricey but you have got to live a little. I am glad I did, as the moon landing scenes were worth the extra cash. Before I rocket ahead of myself, let me launch into this review of a film that I found to be out of this world. In space, no one can hear you complain about my puns! ( Alien reference, I am unstoppable)

Before I start this review allow me to share a little about myself. I grew up on the east coast of Florida and as such, we were witness to many a Space Shuttle launch standing in our front yard. As a child, I developed a love for the space program and a fascination with those daring astronauts that risked it all to explore outside of the atmosphere. As a movie fan, I get excited about any movie chronicling the space race and sheer courage it took those early astronauts to climb into those rockets. Movies like The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 are a guaranteed watch for me. ( I even watched Apollo 18 and I am less of a man because of it.) Since First Man is a biopic chronicling the life of Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, my watching this film was never in doubt. Fortunately, this is an amazing movie that does justice to Armstrong and what he went through to get to that point in his life. There is only one major criticism that keeps this from being perfect. First, we will drink deep from our bottles Tang and enjoy the positives of First Man. ( I am having too much fun with this one)

Be warned, my fellow cinephiles, First Man is not a ra-ra space race movie. Yes, there are amazing moments of aviation and space action, but this film is about Neil Armstrong and it tells his story. Armstrong was never a gregarious man, nor did he wear the label of a hero to gain celebrity. Director Damien Chazelle and writer Josh Singer, give us an intimate look into Armstrong’s life and how this quiet man dealt with personal tragedy as well as the death of his colleagues in the space program. I cannot say enough about the performances of the two main leads, Ryan Gosling, as Armstrong, and Claire Foy, as his wife Janet. With Armstrong, Gosling gives us a man that struggles with showing his emotion, to the point he tells one character that he isn’t standing in his yard alone because he wants to talk. While this lack of expressing emotion is a major asset in his work, it causes difficulties with his friends and family, most notably Janet. Foy gives an amazing performance as Janet who has to try to maintain a “normal” family life while knowing every day could be her husbands last. Janet understands Neil’s difficulties with emotions and is able to know when to give him space, and when to confront him. She is an incredibly strong woman, and her struggles add so much weight to the danger that her husband has to face day in and day out. Despite Neil’s issues with emotions, there is a very romantic and loving side to his relationship with Janet, and the final shot of the film is beautiful in its simplicity and silence.

While this is Neil’s story, do not fret, there are some insane moments of space travel that are done to perfection. Chazelle puts you into the middle of the action by almost strapping you into the capsule with Armstrong. These moments are incredibly realistic, to the point of causing nausea, and I mean that in a good way. These capsules are noisy and shake and rattle so much that instrument panels are barely visible. This is so important to the story because not only does it leave you in awe of what these men went through to conquer space, but it shows how valuable Neil’s ability to control his emotions are to his duty as an astronaut. Yes, as a NASA geek, it was a blast to feel like I was actually strapped into that seat during the launch, so give me a break if I get a little too excited. Let’s talk about the moon landing, oh my gawd oh my gawd oh my gawd!! The whole sequence from launch to landing is handled with the awe and triumph that the actual moon landing was. From the incredible special effects to the swelling score as they land on the moon, it delivers on the epic scale. The way the camera moves out of the lunar lander onto the surface of the moon and everything goes silent, is worth the price of admission by itself. Even with all of the awe and wonder of the moon landing scene, the most powerfully emotional moment is a quiet one as Neil spends a few minutes alone on the moon doing something that I will not give away, but it pulls the ole heartstrings. I am not sure if it actually happened, and no one can confirm nor deny that it did, but I am going to choose to believe it did as it is absolutely beautiful.

I could go on for pages and pages about the amazing things Chazelle has put up on the screen, but I know I need to hit on the ONE thing I did not like about this film. The overuse of the shaky cam is such a distraction in the film. I understand its use during the space scenes, as it adds to the violence of the takeoffs and landings, but during conversations on Earth is a bit much. I will be curious to watch the making of part of the Blu-Ray to see is Chazelle explains why he used so much shaky cam. There has to be a reason that is beyond my knowledge, but it really made watching the quiet scenes a challenge.

To end this trip to the moon, I highly recommend watching First Man. Damien Chazelle does an incredible job balancing the powerful and quiet moments of Armstrong’s life, with the danger and kinetic action of space travel. There are great performances throughout the film, and I am still in awe of the special effects used during the moon landing. I hope my NASA fanboy-ing didn’t bias this review too much. Oh, and all the controversy around the flag on the moon is ignorant. This is a patriotic film, and if you need American flags it has a ton of them throughout the movie, so unwad your panties and go enjoy a great movie about one of the greatest achievements in history. While you’re at it, like, comment and follow this brilliant blog so we can keep ignorance at bay.

As always, thanks for your time!

The Movie Psycho

 

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