REVIEW: First Man

Year: 2018
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Corey Stoll, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler

Written by Rhys Bowen-Jones

You’d think the moon landing would have a bigger filmography. By my count, there are 25 films about the general Apollo program, two of which are Men In Black 3 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Given such an astonishing feat, it was about time it received a proper cinematic treatment, and Damien Chazelle (of Whiplash and La La Land fame) is on hand to deliver just that.

And my word, does he deliver.

I’m not sure how much I need to say about the film. First Man is about the moon landing. It’s about NASA, rocket scientists, Neil Armstrong’s family, and Neil Armstrong himself as they attempt to finally get one over on the Russians in the infamous space race of the 1960s. First Man does do a splendid job of filling in many of the gaps in my knowledge of the story, and it does so on the shoulders of two tremendous leading performances from Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy.

First Man is a step out of Chazelle’s comfort zone. Having given us back to back show-stoppers in music-centric and impressively stylish efforts, he reigns back the sweep pans and on-the-beat camera cuts in favour of something far more paranoid. This becomes immediately apparent in its stunning opening scene with the introduction to how the film uses its shaky camera. Shaky camera has its criticisms when used poorly (badly choreographed fight scenes, I’m looking at you), but Chazelle uses it so perfectly here. It manages to absolutely convince you that Ryan Gosling has literally been sent to space in a tin can. Armstrong endures multiple trips to at least the Earth’s atmosphere, and the way they’re shot from almost entirely within or attached to the space craft made me feel, as cliché as it sounds, like I was right in there with him and that this might completely fail at any second.

Chazelle wants to express a combination of total wonder of what’s possible with a sense of complete isolation as the key players of the film rocket towards a seemingly impending doom. Shots of Armstrong sitting alone at the dinner table surrounded by darkness, or shots of Claire Foy’s Janet Shearon (Armstrong’s wife) standing alone in a doorway, again surrounded by darkness, imply so much of their relationship; their personal dilemmas, their frustrations with one another, their annoyance at their reluctant thrust into fame, all the while dealing with 2 blissfully unaware young children whose only preoccupation is whether they can play outside.

The necessary confrontation between Janet and Neil is shot with the same quiet intensity as a space trip, with Neil facing a reality he didn’t want to; having to tell his young children he might not come home. This is sure to be one of the many highlights Gosling and Foy send off for their almost guaranteed award nominations. Some may think Gosling is just being Gosling, the quiet, stoic leading role who doesn’t say all that much and stays focused on the job, but when your mission is the most dangerous mission in human history that may be your end, you could forgive his stoicism. Foy leaves a particularly strong impression as the wife left at home with the kids, as she stands up to the NASA scientists who, in one instance, cut the connection to her radio linked to Mission Control. As an aside, Claire Foy now has back to back stunning performances after Unsane earlier in the year, and I can’t wait to see her portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

What I feel is important to address is that First Man isn’t the space adventure some may expect. It spends the majority of the film firmly on Earth, getting to know its key characters and showing us the blood, sweat, and tears that went into getting onto the moon. Having said that, when it does go to space, it goes. The fuck. To space.

The space scenes are spectacular. From its first flight to the Apollo 11 mission we all came to see, it begins being shot with surprising restraint. I kept wishing for the camera to just pull back slightly and give us a wide shot, I found out the long way that the restraint is worth it for what’s to come. The moon landing sequence is a stunner. It’s a knock your socks off, awe-inspiring, blow your face clean off its hinges sequence. Much of the film has a very old-school, grainy look to it to give it a 1960s authenticity, but the switch to IMAX for this sequence is put to fabulous use. The gargantuan size of the actual moment of a human being setting foot on the moon is given the wonder treatment with one of the film’s rare flashy moments in which the camera swoops down the shuttle’s steps and just stops dead in its tracks, almost in shock, to appreciate the horizon. The vastness of the moon laid out in front of our very eyes. It’s jaw-dropping. The time Chazelle and co. spent building up to this very moment is all completely worth it. This was a moment felt by the entire cinema, as the music cuts out completely, it was just us, Neil Armstrong, and the moon. You could’ve heard a pin drop. Dozens of pairs of eyes locked on the screen, transfixed by something so spectacular that I can’t say I’ve experienced a moment like it in film in a long time. Of all this film’s impressive elements, this sequence is the crowning achievement and it deserves all the praise it receives.

There is so much more that could be praised. Justin Hurwitz’s score has an almost ethereal feel at times, balletic at others, and completely epic when it needs to be. The music rarely swells to the overwhelming levels of, say, Hans Zimmer’s glorious work on Interstellar. Like the rest of the film, it holds itself back until it needs to, and when it hits the moment it needs to, it completely overwhelms you with its sheer power and beauty.

On a similar note, the sound design is sure to be one of its many award recipients come February. During the major space sequences, the aforementioned Gosling-in-a-tin-can stuff, the clanging and the clattering and the spinning and the exploding and the ringing all bring you to near breaking point. When you feel the sound has reached its highest point, it somehow finds another level, and then another, and then another to bring me to gasping-for-breath levels of anxious.

First Man is stunning. It’s an astounding achievement for a young director on the winning streak of his life; it has two award-worthy leading performances; it’s gorgeous to look at; it’s amazing to listen to; and it’s an utterly overwhelming experience. See it on the biggest, loudest screen you can. Chazelle, you’ve done it again.

 

Rhys’ Verdict:

5

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Claire Foy Is Lisbeth Salander In A Brand New ‘The Girl In The Spider’s Web’

“Lisbeth Salander, the cult figure and title character of the acclaimed Millennium book series created by Stieg Larsson, will return to the screen in The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story, a first-time adaptation of the recent global bestseller. Golden Globe winner Claire Foy, the star of “The Crown,” will play the outcast vigilante defender under the direction of Fede Alvarez, the director of 2016’s breakout thriller Don’t Breathe; the screenplay adaptation is by Steven Knight and Fede Alvarez & Jay Basu.”

Directed by: Fede Alvarez

Cast: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Lakeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant, Claes Bang, Christopher Convery, Synnøve Macody Lund, Vicky Krieps

Release Date: November 9th, 2018

New Trailer For Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man’ Lands As The Film Premieres At Venice Film Festival

“On the heels of their six-time Academy Award®-winning smash, ‘La La Land’, Oscar®-winning director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling reteam for Universal Pictures’ ‘First Man’, the riveting story of NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong and the years 1961-1969.  A visceral, first-person account, based on the book by James R. Hansen, the movie will explore the sacrifices and the cost—on Armstrong and on the nation—of one of the most dangerous missions in history.”

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Patrick Fugit, Ciaran Hinds, Ethan Embry, Shea Whigham, Corey Stoll, Pablo Schreiber

Release Date: October 12th, 2018

Ryan Gosling Embarks On An Impossible Journey In The First Trailer For ‘First Man’

“On the heels of their six-time Academy Award®-winning smash, ‘La La Land’, Oscar®-winning director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling reteam for Universal Pictures’ ‘First Man’, the riveting story of NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong and the years 1961-1969.  A visceral, first-person account, based on the book by James R. Hansen, the movie will explore the sacrifices and the cost—on Armstrong and on the nation—of one of the most dangerous missions in history.”

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Patrick Fugit, Ciaran Hinds, Ethan Embry, Shea Whigham, Corey Stoll, Pablo Schreiber

Release Date: October 12th, 2018

Claire Foy Is Lisbeth Salander In First Trailer For ‘The Girl In The Spider’s Web’

“Lisbeth Salander, the cult figure and title character of the acclaimed Millennium book series created by Stieg Larsson, will return to the screen in The Girl in the Spider’s Web, a first-time adaptation of the recent global bestseller. Golden Globe winner , the star of ‘The Crown’, will play the outcast vigilante defender under the direction of , the director of 2016’s breakout thriller ‘Don’t Breathe’; the screenplay adaptation is by Steven Knight and Fede Alvarez & Jay Basu.”

Directed by: Fede Alvarez

Cast: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Lakeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant, Claes Bang, Christopher Convery, Synnøve Macody Lund, Vicky Krieps

Release Date: November 9th, 2018

Unsane

Year: 2018
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, James Greer, Sarah Stiles, Mark Kudisch

Written by Jo Craig

“Is she or isn’t she?” asks the tagline of Steven Soderbergh’s first horror-thriller, addressing the timeless conundrum of diagnosing one’s own sanity when no more shit could possibly hit the fan. Soderbergh’s affair with retirement was put on hiatus for the production of 2017’s ‘Logan Lucky’ and this uprising — from the directorial afterlife — has facilitated the release of his answer to the B movie genre.

Premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February, ‘Unsane’ highlights Claire Foy in her first departure after Netflix’s ‘The Crown’, where her noteworthy display of poise and gumption forms paranoid working girl Sawyer Valentini. Still suffering with psychological trauma after falling victim to stalking, Valentini seeks counselling from a local institution (filmed in the abandoned Summit Park hospital of Pomona, New York) where she becomes involuntarily admitted and harassed once again by her stalker; or so we’re lead to believe.

Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer’s joint original screenplay with Soderbergh follows Valentini’s unreliable mental stability over a seven day period. This timeline somewhat reflects the ten days it took Soderbergh to shoot his iPhone 7 Plus creation that excels at enhancing themes of intrusion and exploitation. Camera angles are innovative from the outset — shooting from lighting fixtures, underneath desks and bar tops — that allow audiences to experience spying from the antagonists point of view.

The stalker in question is Joshua Leonard’s David Strine — continuing his hair-raising demeanour from TV’s ‘Scorpion’ — who succeeds at making skin crawl as the guy nobody wants to have outside their bedroom window. With no disrespect to Leonard, Strine carries an unhinged expression you wouldn’t hesitate to jab under the circumstances. The central figures play well together in a game of cat and mouse and build a convincing familiarity with each other that validates their exhausting history.

Foy’s Sawyer Valentini — mythical as her name might sound — is an advocate for headstrong women and sheds light on unspoken mental health issues. Her character refuses to play the victim card and Foy frequently ignites the rebel spark and mirrors the insurgence we would all act upon in helpless situations. This hair-pulling daymare has undoubtedly given Foy the platform needed to showcase her talents outside playing royalty, swapping a well-spoken dialect for a few growling f-bombs.

‘Unsane’ initially becomes mislead when one of Soderbergh’s Hollywood pals makes a juggernaut cameo, injecting an odd dose of satire you would only expect from the Coen Brothers. Furthermore, where time was taken to evolve the complexity between hunter and prey, the denouement sadly settles for a clichéd final chase that ultimately weakened its antecedent originality.

If anything else interrupts this lucid dream, it’s the writers — whose highest credit is the 2006 bubble-wrapped rom-com ‘Just My Luck’ — and their inability to honour one train of thought. By no means is the story nonsense or disengaging — as it reimagines the clawing stress-dream we’ve all had — but rather adds too many rational explanations that contradicts the allure of mystery. Trippy double-exposure and bleak cinematography — from Soderbergh’s pseudo name Peter Andrews — aids the first-person experience by displaying the visual effects of pill-popping. However, it is forgotten that audiences are paying to be mind-fucked and will accept and even welcome some corridors to be left in the dark.

For what was initially approached as a student film — going as far as letting Foy apply her own makeup — production company Fingerprint Releasing made an underwhelming $6 million at the box office on its opening weekend, finding it relatively easy to rake back the impressively low budget of $1.2 million. Largely applauded in Claire Foy’s favour for her composure outside Buckingham Palace, ‘Unsane’ exercises Soderbergh’s capabilities of working as a one-man show (director, editor, writer, DoP and camera operator) and offers a compelling cerebral maze to work through, despite leaving neon exit signs towards the end.

 Jo’s Rating: 7 out of 10

Steven Soderbergh’s iPhone Shot ‘Unsane’ Gets First Trailer

“A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution where she is confronted by her greatest fear — but is it real or is it a product of her delusion?”

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Cast:  Claire Foy, Juno Temple, Jay Pharaoh, Joshua Leonard, Aimee Mullins

Release Date: March 23rd, 2018

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