Movie Review ~ First Man


The Facts
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Synopsis: A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Pablo Schreiber, Jason Clarke

Director: Damien Chazelle

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 141 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: There’s nothing I love more than a movie about space.  I like seeing monsters in space, I cheer for Muppets in Space, I love space adventures, and I really enjoy movies about the space program and how we made it into orbit.  So you can imagine that First Man, focused on the life of Neil Armstrong, seemed like a slam dunk winner to me when it was first announced.  Adding to that confidence was Oscar winning director Damien Chazelle (La La Land) and Ryan Gosling (Blade Runner 2049) so my interest was definitely piqued.  Then something really strange happened…I saw the movie.

Little doubt remains that Chazelle is an accomplished filmmaker and that Gosling is one of the best actors working today but their reunion after La La Land is a chilly film that I just could not connect with.  I know many supporters of the film have said that Armstrong himself was a hard nut to crack, legendary in his aloofness, and Gosling was just paying service to the man he was playing but the disconnect goes beyond that.  I found it hard to find anything warm in the movie, not even Claire Foy (The Girl in the Spider’s Web) overselling her much ballyhooed role as Armstrong’s wife.  This is the third Foy film I’ve seen in 2018 where she’s struggled with maintaining an American accent throughout and I’m wondering if anyone is listening to her in post production.

Where the film finds some modicum of success is chronicling the dangerous space program that Armstrong and his compatriots participated in in the race to beat the Russians to the moon.  These men put their faith in new technology and materials that were unproven and were pioneers in our exploration of areas outside our atmosphere.  With people dying in the process you do have to ask yourself if it was worth it and by the time Armstrong lands on the moon there is a sense of accomplishment you feel just as much as they do.  Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer needed to find more of these moments to give their film a little more life.

The Silver Bullet ~ La La Land

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Synopsis: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

Release Date:  December 16, 2016

Thoughts: It’s hard enough to find an original musical idea on Broadway these days, let alone in Hollywood. So director Damien Chazelle’s La La Land has a lot riding on it…good thing it has a lot going for it too. Chazelle (who made a big ‘ole splash with Whiplash in 2014) has cast Ryan Gosling (The Big Short) and Emma Stone (Aloha) as his leads and the two are so effortlessly (and maybe relentlessly) charming that I already feel like I’m buying what they’re singing about.  The song featured in this teaser didn’t exactly set my ears on fire but the brief glimpses of story and setting hint at a nice mix of styles. Arriving in December and targeting those Oscar voters who can’t resist a triple threat, La La Land hopes to hit some pretty high notes to ring in the new year.

Movie Review ~ 10 Cloverfield Lane

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The Facts
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Synopsis: After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter by two men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack.

Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Boosted by a bold teaser trailer that left audiences riddled with questions, 2008’s Cloverfield was a fairly genius example of how the right marketing could create all the buzz that was needed to guarantee a healthy debut at the box office.  I mean, they didn’t even give the title of the film away…which drove audiences to fire up their Dell laptops and do some old fashioned sleuthin’ to find out more about the found footage flick. Was it a disaster movie? Was it a monster movie? No one really knew until the film was released…and was a bit of a dud in my book.  Undone by its hype, the hand-held filmmaking churned my stomach and lackluster plot developments frustrated way more than it frightened.

Fast forward to January of 2016 when Paramount revealed the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane…a mystery film that somehow managed to fly so far under the radar that even the most tapped in film fans were thrown for a loop.  In this day and age of spoiler heavy early reviews, I’d classify that as a not-so-minor miracle…so my first reaction was respect more than anything else.  Then I remembered how I felt going into Cloverfield and instantly started to lower my expectations so the buzz bar wouldn’t be raised too high.

So…before we go on…it’s next to impossible to talk about 10 Cloverfield Lane without going into certain details that may be considered minor spoilers. I’m going to do my best to keep it vague, but for those sensitive souls out there (you know who you are) tread carefully.

Ok?

Ready?

The first question you’ll want an answer to is wondering if this is indeed a sequel to Cloverfield.  Yes…and no.  I’d call it a sequel adjacent, related to events from the previous film but very much with its own story to tell.  This is both a good thing and a bad thing because the script was rewritten to fit into the same universe and it feels like it…especially in the third act when it becomes almost an entirely different film.  I’m getting ahead of myself though…

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Spectacular Now) is running away…from what we’re not sure.  It could be her heard but not seen boyfriend (listen closely and see if you can pick out his Oscar nominated voice) or it could be life in general…we don’t know and it ultimately doesn’t matter.  After being involved in a violent automobile accident, she wakes to find herself chained to a wall in an underground bunker presided over by Howard, a twitchy survivalist (John Goodman, Argo, Flight) that makes sure she knows he’s her savior.  There’s a wicked whiff of Misery at play in these early scenes as Michelle comes to terms with her good Samaritan (or captor?) and the rules he has for life under the ground.

Why are they holed up there you may ask?  Well if you believe Howard there’s been an attack that’s left the world above ground in a desolate state of fallout that will take years to bounce back from. Do you trust Howard, though?  That’s the question Michelle and another shelter mate Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr) are troubled by the more time they spend in confinement and the more discrepancies they find in Howard’s version of events.  And with that, I think we’re at a good place to stop and let you find out for yourself the truth behind it all.

Made for a fifth of the budget of Cloverfield, the $5-million-dollar movie is a handsomely produced bit of entertainment that has its fair share of genuine shocks and out of left field developments. My jaw dropped more than once at what transpires, creating a giddy sense of old school movie-going fun that few films seem interested in tapping into.  If there are a few hokey moments, there’s enough good will generated to forgive some sloppy storytelling and iffy effects (though none as dreadful as the ones you’ll find in London Has Fallen) that don’t mar much of the overall experience.

With only eight actors listed in the credits, the film simply wouldn’t have worked as well without its cast, namely Goodman, creepy-as-all-get-out without doing much more than giving Winstead a once-over with his eyes.  Winstead, nicely plucky as a heroine that isn’t perfectly formed into a cookie-cutter robot is interesting to watch and a viable actress to root for even if we can tell she has some hidden backstory that may make us like her less if the situation was different.

First time director Dan Trachtenberg keeps the film racing along (the first time I checked my watch was 95 minutes in) in a most agreeable way, aided by Bear McCreary’s (Europa Report) pounding score.  The first 15 or so minutes of the film are dialogue-free, leaving McCreary’s music to tell the story and ratchet up the suspense for the remainder of the running time.  The score is almost a character in and of itself.

My best advice for you would be to go into 10 Cloverfield Lane with as little information as possible…you’ve come to the end of this review so you’re already clued in a bit but trust that I’ve saved the twists and turns of the movie for you to enjoy on your own.  A far superior effort than Cloverfield (though, to be fair, they are two totally different pictures), 10 Cloverfield Lane is worth a stroll.

The Silver Bullet ~ Whiplash

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Synopsis: A young musician struggles to make it as a top jazz drummer.

Release Date: October 10, 2014

Thoughts: If early awards buzz is to be believed (and in this PR heavy brave new internet world every trumpeted performance should be taken with a grain of Kosher salt) then Whiplash is going to be a movie audiences will want to add to their Oscar shortlist.  Actually, it’s supporting actor J.K. Simmons (Labor Day) who might want to make sure his tuxedo fits because his performance as a driven music teacher coming down hard on a young drummer (Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now, That Awkward Moment) is earning raves across the board.  With Simmons reprising his role from a 2013 short of the same name, this represents a rare case of a short film being expanded into feature length.  Another film I’m greatly looking forward to this year, Whiplash could be 2014’s little indie that could.

The Silver Bullet ~ Grand Piano

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Synopsis: Moments before his comeback performance, a concert pianist who suffers from stage fright discovers a deadly note written on his music sheet.

Release Date:  March 7, 2014

Thoughts: Taking more than a few choice notes from the likes of Hitchcock and De Palma (Passion), I’m hoping that Grand Piano is better than it looks.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a taut thriller set in a confined space where our lead had to figure out a way to escape death without tipping off the killer but I’m not sure if Elijah Wood has that everyman quality that made Cary Grant and James Stewart so appealing.  The trailer also makes the mistake of giving away the identity of protagonist which could be a risky move if there are no more surprises in store.  Arriving On Demand before a theatrical release, this is one that may go down easier from the comfort of your own couch.