Jun 2, 2019
Welcome back for another week of reviews. We only have two more weeks of reviews before our next two week break. This week we’ll have two currently playing films, one of which you must absolutely see, and two Netflix Original films, with one serving as double duty for Andrew Campbell’s Fantastic Friday selection. We also have the return of Garrett Wright from the Two Views Movies podcast, back from a small mini-tour of other podcasts, with a review for a documentary about the Apollo 11 mission.
Which is what makes today’s throwback film a perfect choice. Last year, one of the most highly anticipated movies was Damien Chazelle’s “First Man”, his follow up to “La La Land” in 2017. And while it never seemed to take off (see what I did there?) at the box office, it had a special place in the hearts of critics and viewers alike. The film follows both the Gemini and Apollo space programs, leading up the amazing Apollo 11 mission, along with the quiet life of Neil Armstrong.
“First Man” currently sits at an 87% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 84 Must See rating on Metacritic. It is currently available for rent or purchase from major digital outlets, and works best on a great screen and sound system.
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Here we go!
Today’s movie is “First Man” (2018), the Universal Pictures film directed by Damien Chazelle and written by Josh Singer. The film follows the life of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), covering the years 1961 to 1969, as he enters the Gemini and Apollo program in order to place a man on the moon. The film marks the reunion of Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling since the smash hit “La La Land” in 2016.
Back in 2014, if you had told me that Damien Chazelle would be making an Oscar-winning musical about entertainers in Los Angeles, I would have wondered who you were talking about. And even as “La La Land” was heading into theaters, and the massive love started buzzing about it, I would do a quick search and think, you mean the writer of “10 Cloverfield Lane”? And when “First Man” was announced as his next film, a historical dramatization of the moon landing through the lens of Neil Armstrong, I wouldn’t have believed you. And I’m not sure who you are, telling me all these things, but I should probably start listening to you, because “First Man” is spectacular.
Josh Singer’s script is extremely well crafted, telling a story over a very specific timeline, but delving more into the personal life of Neil Armstrong. It opens strong with an immediate humanization of Armstrong, then unfolds the events all driving towards the walk on the moon. It obviously can’t tell the entire story, even over two hours and twenty minutes, but it does hit many of the meaningful events, especially those events which affected Armstrong the most. Ryan Gosling is incredible as Neil Armstrong, not just nailing the look, but also the mannerisms of a notoriously private person. The entire cast is amazing, each providing support for Armstrong’s journey. Chazelle keeps mostly great pacing, with just a few dips over the extensive running time, but that’s more than made up by great composition, amazing first-person scenes and editing effects, and effective transitions. It’s so well done, and with all the right elements.
In fact, my favorite transition was the look at the reasoned arguments against the space program, especially given its high cost. Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon” plays as multiple interviews and headlines begin to question the Apollo program. It was a bold inclusion, especially given the racial politics of the time. Oh, let me also say I find the whole fake controversy over the lack of a flag-planting scene on the moon to be ridiculous. I don’t think it would have added anything to Neil’s story, nor does it take away from the amazing efforts of so many people to make that accomplishment possible.
“First Man” (2018) is simply astonishing, an incredible look at Neil Armstrong’s journey to the moon. Josh Singer and Damien Chazelle, along with an incredible cast and excellent effects, recreate the journey, with nearly perfect pacing for such a long movie. Fans of space history, or fans of just about anyone involved with this film, should definitely check it out while it’s in theaters.