Review: First Man

One small step.

First Man follows astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) as prepares for his life changing mission of being the first man to walk on the moon. We see his work life with several colleagues/friends and his home life with wife Janet.(Claire Foy) The film follows him between 1961-1969.

I had really low expectations. Despite adoring director Damien Chazelle's Whiplash and La La Land, it wasn't until everyone started raving about Claire Foy that I even considered seeing this. 

In terms of story, it really surprised me. First Man is a very interesting film that takes space travel and what NASA did very, very seriously. They don't sugar coat a thing. They show the dangers of space travel, one could argue that this film as a whole is more about how you deal with death than anything else. It also manages to put you on the edge of your seat even though you know the outcome. I always appreciate when a film based on a true story can do that. But there is one thing that's working against this movie...

It's director Damien Chazelle.

The way he shot this film is atrocious. And it's 100% on him, cinematographer Linus Sandgren hasn't abused this technique before. The majority of this film is shot up close. He was like Tom Hooper shooting Les Miserables on steroids. Had it not been for a few sequences beautifully blended with music, I never would've guessed Chazelle was behind this. It was awful. I don't even buy the excuse of the director wanting you to feel like you're there. No one gets this close to people on a day to day basis. I was sitting in the last row of the theater and I wished I could've stood back further. The best shots of the film are when they do take a step back, but that happens a total of three or four times.

And it's a shame Chazelle chose this method of shooting, because his cast are giving excellent performances. Foy is as good as everyone is saying, though I expected her character to have a bit more to do. Gosling as always is very good. Jason Clarke is another who gives a very strong performance, and they deserved a director who didn't turn his camera into a stage five clinger.

I'll be shocked if this film doesn't take home the sound Oscars. It's incredible, sound mixing and editing isn't something I always notice right away but this one I didn't instantly.

A couple asides - Why does NASA have the shittiest bathrooms ever? And is it just me or is the Armstrong's youngest child treated as an afterthought? Especially when Neil is on the moon thinking about his past? 

Recommended: Yes 

Grade: C+ (this would've been higher minus the directing)

Memorable Quote: "You're going to do that. Not me. I'm done." - Janet (Claire Foy)

Thursday Movie Picks: Technology

This week's Halloween theme at Wandering Through the Shelves is technology. If this were a TV week, I'd be talking about Black Mirror. But alas, we're here for films. This was kind of tough so I stretched it a bit. Here's three films that are somewhat scary and somewhat about technology

1) Red State

What's the tech? The internet of course. Three young men get an offer for sex online and instead of the orgy they thought they were heading to, they end up drugged in the middle of nowhere being held captive by religious fundamentalists who want to kill them. Kevin Smith goes way outside of his comfort zone at the time to direct this and I think he did a good job. 

2) Deathgasm

What's the tech? Electric guitar and various instruments and speakers. This band of bored New Zealand kids play a dark piece of music and summon an evil spirit back to their world. It's very campy and slightly gory. Someone even gets beat to death with a dildo. 

3) Videodrome

What's the tech? TV/VCRs. While Deathgasm goes the fun weird route, Videodrome just sticks with flat out weird. This was on my Blind Spot list last year and calling it "out there" doesn't do it justice. It's very sleazy but the atmosphere it sets is perfect. 

Review: Bad Times at the El Royale

He's all kinds of bad.

The El Royale is a hotel along the California/Nevada boarder. Tonight, several strangers meet for the first time. A vacuum salesman (Jon Hamm) a lounge singer (Cynthia Erivo) a priest (Jeff Bridges) and a woman who signs the ledger with a polite "fuck you." (Dakota Johnson) Everyone there has a secret that's not going to stay hidden for much longer.

Anything written/directed by Drew Goddard is an easy sell for me. I loved his script for The Martian and what he's done with the Daredevil TV series. Not to mention The Cabin in the Woods, which he directed is one of my all time favorite horror films. He takes on a lot with El Royale

This film would've been much better suited as an eight episode or so mini series. There is so much stuffed into this movie that you feel every minute of its 2 hour and 21 minute run time. You get quick back stories of each character, but it's not enough, and yet too much at the same time. By the time we flashed back to the final too, I was almost impatient, even though you absolutely 
needed to see both of them. Had this been an episodic series, each character could've gotten the history they deserve and it wouldn't fee like too much because you would only be getting an hour at a time. The two strangers that have the most potential back story wise are killed off pretty quickly after they're introduced. 

Cynthia Erivo is the star of this film. Darlene is absolutely stunning and she also felt the most fleshed out since her reason for being at the hotel was pretty straight forward. While the rest of the film likely won't make an appearance, I hope her name does come Oscar season. All of the other actors do a good job as well. All those reviewers that called Hemsworth "Dangerously sexy" were spot on.

Even though it has its issues, I still enjoyed the hell out of watching it. It's shot beautifully and has a catchy sound track. 

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B+

Memorable Quote: "If you find him, let me speak with him first." - Miles (Lewis Pullman)

2018 Blind Spot Series: The Birds

What I knew going in: Quite a bit about the story, and all the behind the scenes drama between Hitchcock and Hedren.

After an encounter in a pet shop, socialite Melanie (Tippi Hedren) follows Mitch (Rod Taylor) to the quiet town he retreats to every weekend. Upon her arrivle, the birds in the town start to behave erratically and things drastically escalate.

Hitch apparently terrorizing Hedren during this film is pretty well known, and now I believe it even more because no director that has your best interests in mind directs you into this performance. 

This movie is glorious in how bad it is. I'm sure in theory this film isn't as incompetently directed as it seems, there are some nice shots here and there, but the fact that it's about killer birds in a time when special effects were so limited pretty much gives it zero leeway. I mean, they did this...

Did this movie actually scare people back then? It couldn't possibly have, right? Nothing about this film looked natural. Not the birds, not the back drops, definitely not the performances. The only actor that I thought showed some emotional range was Veronica Cartwright, who played young Cathy. She genuinely looked terrified throughout, even with the clunky editing. 

I found this entire film unintentionally hilarious and that alone makes me so glad I watched it. It's just so spectacularly bad on every level. It's like it was the inspiration for all campy 80's horror movies. 

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B-

Memorable Quote: "She pushed me inside!" - Cathy (Veronica Cartwright)

Thursday Movie Picks: The Dark/Night

They mostly come at night. Mostly. This week over at Wandering Through The Shelves we're focusing on movies where the night time and/or dark plays a key role. There's so much to choose from this week, here's what I came up with.

1) Maniac

Elijah Wood plays a mannequin owner who moonlights as a serial killer. I know this is a remake of an 80's film, but this one was so gory and out there that I couldn't help but love it. 

2) I Saw The Devil

When a serial killer murders his fiance one night, a man decides to take justice into his own hands. Only instead of murdering the killer himself, he tracks him and continuously beats him down, lets him live, then waits for him to try to kill again so he can rinse and repeat. It's a commentary on who's becoming a monster. It's hard to watch but fascinating.  

3) 30 Days of Night

When a town in Alaska enters their yearly month with no sunlight, a group of vampires take the opportunity to wreak havoc on them. I read the graphic novel as well and I enjoyed this film. It's beautifully shot and you can never go wrong with Ben Foster. 

Review: A Star Is Born

We're far from the shallow now.

Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a popular musician going from gig to gig with a bottle of whiskey in hand. After a show, desperate for a drink, he wanders into a drag bar and sees Ally (Lady Gaga) perform a beautiful rendition of La Vie En Rose. Smitten with her voice, he pushes her to sing her own songs, to get up on stage with him, and eventually turns her into a super star. 

We all knew Bradley Cooper was a solid actor. Turns out he's a solid singer and director too. At this point I'm not sure there's anything he can't do. Jackson is a very showy role for him and it really feels like he's really stepping out of his comfort zone. Lady Gaga is also great here. She was the biggest question mark for me. Obviously I knew she'd be dynamite the minute she started singing and she was, but the acting I wasn't sold on. She struggles here and there with the more dramatic bits, but this is her 3rd acting role. It's to be expected. 

I think this film is fine. There are parts that work well. When Ally and Jack sing "The Shallow" together for the first time, and every time Ally is behind a piano singing her songs after that, those moments are beautiful. The rest is typical melodrama with some Sam Elliott platitudes but it's never once bad or boring. But there's one thing that really bothered me that stopped me from going - for lack of a better word - gaga over this. 

Ally and Jackson's relationship has a power imbalance that made me uncomfortable. He's not abusive and Ally is not completely without agency, but it's always Jackson pushing her to do something. Yes, he gets her on stage for the first time and makes her realize her dream. That's fine, but it's the little things that follow. Like passing out drunk after a show, then waking her up for sex on his time. Like smearing cake over her face that is then played as something cute. To proposing after a fight - then getting married all in the span of about two hours. The most egregious parts happen in the last 20 minutes or so of the film, and those I won't spoil. I felt like Jackson didn't give her any choices. He makes every one for her. I know the film is supposed to be a meditation on fame, and how as Ally's star grows she gets less and less control, but I didn't think that was supposed to happen with the relationship they're choosing to sell this movie on as well. It just rubbed me the wrong way. 

I might be alone in that complaint, but this film is good and the soundtrack is extremely catchy.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B-

Memorable Quote: "There should be a whole billboard of your fucking nose" - Jackson (Bradley Cooper)

DVD Review: The Seagull

It's not about the money or the praise.

Konstantin (Billy Howle) is an aspiring writer who cannot please his actress mother, Irina. (Annette Bening) They're visiting his uncle, Sorin (Brian Dennehy) in his country side home in early 20th century Russia. Konstantin attempts to impress Nina (Saoirse Ronan) but she finds herself infatuated with Irina's boyfriend, Boris. (Corey Stall) Meanwhile Masha (Elisabeth Moss) pines for Konstantin while ignoring Mikhail (Michael Zegan) who is obviously in love with her.

This film commits the same crime as Valkyrie in which it has characters living in Europe but speaking with American accents. That's such an awful choice. If you're not going to have your actors speak with the actual accent, at least let them use one from the same continent. Billy Howle's English accent is already bleeding through his performance anyways. 

Unfortunately it's all downhill from there. Despite a talented bunch of actors the film is directed very poorly. If you thought Tom Hooper used too many close up shots in Les Miserables, wait until you see what director Michael Mayer does here. He gets so close to Corey Stoll's face at one point I actually leaned back. Ronan, Bening, and Moss are all very good, but unfortunately they lack chemistry with the men they're playing opposite against. Our lead, Howle is also very clearly more of a stage actor and even though this is based on a play it doesn't translate well to screen.

While there's some solid performances, a nice score and beautiful costumes and sets, everything else is so amateurishly thrown together it brings it all down. I've never read Anton Chekov's play this is based on. I'm not sure how it compares. 

Recommended: No

Grade: C-

Memorable Quote: "I still love him." - Nina (Saoirse Ronan)

Thursday Movie Picks: Home Invasions

It's October so that means it's officially Halloween month over at Wandering Through The Shelves. As you can probably tell, I love Halloween. But Wanderer's first theme is one that I'm actually not crazy about: home invasions. They just make me a bit too uncomfortable for my viewing pleasure. Luckily, there have been a few over the past few years that I've really enjoyed. 

1) Hush

This straight to Netflix horror film changes the home invasion mold slightly by having our protagonist be deaf, and by having our intruder take off his mask and quite literally be like "Oops you saw me, now I have to kill you." It's very twisted and well played. 

2) Don't Breathe

A few misfits make the biggest mistake of their lives when they break into a blind man's house. This film gets serious props for introducing a twist late in the game that shouldn't have worked but just made everything even more fucked up. 

3) Them (Ils)

In all fairness, I haven't seen this movie in years. Them was loosely remade as The Strangers in the U.S but the thing that made this the most disturbing is when they revealed who the killers and their motives really were. I'd like to watch this again. 

DVD Review: Disobedience

A walk down bad memory lane.

Ronit (Rachel Weisz) is a photographer in New York who returns to her Orthodox Jewish community in England for her father's funeral. She was shunned years before after being caught in a tryst with her friend, Esti. (Rachel McAdams) Esti seems to have been forgiven and is now married to their childhood friend, Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) who is also going to be the successor to Ronit's father at their temple, but Ronit being back brings up a lot of old memories.

My theater had this for a bit, but I skipped it. The reviews were lukewarm, and I wasn't sure if it was a theater watch for me. It would've been, I enjoyed this quite a bit.

At first I was slightly confused on where this community was supposed to be. I know England has a lot of different accents but this one I hadn't heard before. At first listen, it sounded like a bunch of Americans trying to do an English accent, but even Weisz spoke that way. I don't know how well it's done not being familiar with it, but that took a bit of getting used to. 

Weisz, McAdams, and Nivola are wonderful in these roles. McAdams was the standout because this is so different from what she normally does. She plays someone who is kind of shell shocked and going through the motions very well. Nivola is an actor who I'd seen in bit parts before but never with enough material as he got here. I liked that the film tackled how being born into these ultra religious communities can really affect people if their minds wander outside of it. All three characters represent different parts. Ronit who got out, Esti who dreams of it, and Dovid who has accepted it. Of course, it's easier for him as a man.

I wish at times we would've gotten a bit more information at times. I feel the film barely scratched the surface with some of the character's back stories but overall this was an enjoyable watch.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B

Memorable Quote: "Give me my freedom." - Esti (Rachel McAdams)