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
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.
Synopsis: Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. The discovery leads him on a quest to find a former blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto
Review: Though it’s enmeshed in pop culture now, it’s worth noting that when Blade Runner was originally released in 1982 it wasn’t anywhere near the hit it probably should have been. Way ahead of its time (as most Ridley Scott directed movies were in those days) and arguably overtooled for less than discerning audiences, the movie was a wonder of visuals but lacked a certain depth. Scott would later make some cuts and remove a tiresome voiceover narration from star Harrison Ford (Working Girl) and that started guiding Blade Runner to a new audience while reenergizing its original fan base. Honestly, the movie has had so many different versions released that I have trouble remembering which is which…but the Blade Runner you can view in 2017 is much different (and better) than the one first seen over thirty years ago.
In this age of nostalgic and reworked reboots, when I first heard that Scott was coming back to the Blade Runner universe I was curious to see what the outcome would be. Having already dipped back into his canon with a prequel to Alien (Prometheusand, later, Alien: Covenant) would he be able to find that same new way in without totally destroying the memories of his original creation? Turns out, Scott did the wisest thing possible and stepped out of the director’s chair but kept his producer cap on for oversight. Handing over the reins to red-hot director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, Arrival) was a stroke of genius because Villeneuve has delivered not only an exceedingly worthy sequel to Blade Runner but one of the most exciting visual spectacles of the year.
At the end of the screening I attended for Blade Runner 2049, we were read a laundry list of items the studio and director would rather we not mention in our review. I’ve no problem keeping those secrets as to go into the film with any hint of spoilers would be doing a disservice to yourself. What I can tell you is that the film picks up 30 years after the events from Blade Runner when the original replicants from the first film have been all but obliterated, replaced with newer models that are programmed to obey at all costs. There are a few early replicants still roaming the overcrowded wasteland cities of the future, though, and a new blade runner (Ryan Gosling, The Big Short) is tasked with rounding them up and retiring them for good.
During one mission, Gosling’s character makes a discovery that sets into motion a series of events that is equal parts mystery and sci-fi action suspense. His superior (Robin Wright, Wonder Woman) wants him to get to the bottom of things and eliminate any threat before anyone else does. That puts him in opposition with the new manufacturer (Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club) of state of the art replicants who dispatches his cold as ice henchwoman (Sylvia Hoeks) to get to Gosling’s target before he does. His journey eventually bridges the gap between the past and the future when he meets up with a familiar face harboring secrets of his own.
That’s all! I can’t say more or the studio will send a blade runner to retire me!
Villenueve has shown time and time again that he’s a master of both style and substance and Blade Runner 2049 is likely the pinnacle example of that. With jaw-dropping visuals incorporating seamless effects with Roger Deakins (Skyfall) gorgeous cinematography, the film is overwhelming in all the best possible ways. At 163 minutes, it could have had some major dips in momentum but miraculously the film keeps rocketing ahead, gathering speed and tension as it goes. There so many memorable sequences that it’s hard to pick just one that rises above the others, but be on the look-out for Gosling’s fight sequence set in a showroom amongst holograms of throwback Vegas entertainment. The finale showdown is also a white knuckle mini-masterpiece.
While the A-list stars are pitch perfect, it’s the lesser-known supporting players that stuck with me long after the movie was over. Hoeks, in particular is a most exciting find. The Dutch beauty actually has more screen time than Leto and she’s scary good because you never know quite what her angle is. Carla Juri and Mackenzie Davis (The Martian) also contribute strong work as important contacts Gosling makes along the way.
Answering some of the questions that Blade Runner left open may or may not happen here and this sequel may or may not close up shop with even more questions left for you to ponder…I won’t spoil some of the biggest surprises screenwriter Hampton Fancher and Michael Green (Logan) have waiting for you.
See this movie on the biggest screen you possibly can find, preferably with the best sound system too. Villeneuve has provided a full-bodied entertainment package for you and it deserves to be seen and appreciated for the knockout it is.
Synopsis: A new blade runner unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. The discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard, a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.
Release Date: October 6, 2017
Thoughts: When Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was first released in 1982 it was a little too ahead of its time. Though Alien, Scott’s previous effort, successfully transcended its era there was something too cool to the touch in this adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story. Over time Blade Runner has become a respected classic, endlessly released in new edits that attempt to make the somewhat obtuse movie a bit more focused. Instead of tinkering again with the source movie, Scott (busy with his second Alien prequel) wisely handed over the reins to skilled auteur Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival) and boy am I glad he did. As much as I love Scott’s work (I’m still ornery that he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for The Martian), Villeneuve is rising in the ranks of ‘can’t miss’ directors. Set thirty years after the original film, it introduces a new blade runner (Ryan Gosling…ever heard of him?) who tracks down Harrison Ford’s character for…well, we don’t know quite what for yet. All I know is that this is what a true teaser should be like and the hype growing around this one seems to be quite real and potent.What a cast too, joining Gosling (The Big Short) and Ford (Star Wars:The Force Awakens) are Robin Wright (Wonder Woman), Mackenzie Davis (That Awkward Moment), Lennie James (Lockout), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), and Jared Leto (Suicide Squad)
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.
Synopsis: A private eye investigates the apparent suicide of a fading porn star in 1970s Los Angeles and uncovers a conspiracy.
Release Date: May 20, 2016
Thoughts: Nearly twenty years since they appeared together in the Los Angeles set noir classic, L.A. Confidential, Russell Crowe and Kim Basinger (who nabbed an Oscar for her work) are back on screen for another mystery set in the famed city. Looking like a wise-ass mix of L.A. Confidential and (gulp) 2014’s Inherent Vice, The Nice Guys might be the shot of adrenaline Crowe needs after a string of badly reviewed performances/movies (his singing in Les Miserables, Winter’s Tale, Noah, and my worst film of 2015, The Water Diviner). Teamed with the always interesting Ryan Gosling (The Big Short), Crowe looks pretty perfect for the gruff tough guy tasked with finding Basinger’s daughter whose disappearance might be related to a murder private-eye Gosling is investigating. From Shane Black (Iron Man 3), I’m pulling for this early summer release to be dark fun in the California sun.
Review: Want to do something nice for your stockbroker this holiday weekend? Ask them to accompany you to a screening of The Big Short, pay their way in, and then when it’s over ask them to explain the film to you. Yes, this true story of the bursting of the housing market bubble is a dense watch and would benefit from studying a textbook beforehand…but at the same times it’s a riotously funny and routinely ribald comedy more entertaining than it has any right to be.
Though I’m not normally a fan of director Adam McKay (Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues), he’s turned in his most timely and mature work to date, juggling multiple storylines and characters over several years without ever losing the thread of what a tremendous disaster this downfall was to the economy. Adapted by McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph from the book by Michael Lewis, The Big Short is big on market-savvy terms, facts, and figures but short on overall time to explain everything along the way.
Following four distinct sets of characters of various stature that overlap throughout the years, it’s a movie you have to buckle up and into from the beginning. I was worried early on that I was going to wind up emerging as a true dumb dumb, never truly grasping the enormity of the situation or how things got as bad as it did. Thankfully, McKay’s script had the foresight to predict this and employs a clever means to explain things in terms that the average Joe (me!) can understand. I won’t spoil some of this surprisingly adept tactics for you, but I will say that it involves celebrities playing themselves breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to us.
McKay was lucky to gather the high-caliber cast he did. It’s mostly a boys club here with the likes of Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Ryan Gosling (The Place Beyond the Pines), Christian Bale (Out of the Furnace), and Brad Pitt (World War Z) taking on roles of those involved to varying degrees of seeing a problem on the horizon and then deliberately setting up the market to fail so they can profit. Moral quandaries are few with only Carell standing up for the littler guy, gaining a conscience that stands him apart from his cut-throat colleagues.
In the supporting department, Marisa Tomei (Love the Coopers) is appreciated as always as Carell’s wife and even the usually campy Melissa Leo (Olympus Has Fallen) channels her natural tendency to overplay things into a dandy of a cameo as a Wall Street player conducting a meeting from behind some Mr. Magoo-ish optometrist shades. Strong turns from Rafe Spall (Prometheus), Hamish Linklater (Magic in the Moonlight), and Finn Wittrock (Unbroken) round out a uniformly strong ensemble.
Though it deals with events that led to the ruin of many (mostly middle to lower class households), the film is surprisingly engaging and entertaining. It feels like the movie that The Wolf of Wall Street thought it was behind all of the showboating performances and excessive running time. The Big Short is still too long at 130 minutes but unlike Wolf, it gives the audience someone (anyone) to relate to.
The market is slowly building itself up again but if the final moments of the film are any indication, this is a problem that isn’t totally vanquished…making the movie ultimately a cautionary tale of unfettered greed and unregulated ambition.
Synopsis: When four outsiders saw what the big banks, media and government refused to, the global collapse of the economy, they had an idea: The Big Short. Their bold investment leads them into the dark underbelly of modern banking where they must question everyone and everything.
Release Date: December 11, 2015
Thoughts: It’s an interesting move that Paramount Pictures decided to release this heavy hitter smack dab in the midst of a busy holiday movie season. That means they think they have a winner on their hands in this true-life tale, a bit of counterprogramming to the more obvious Oscar bait flicks that are being readied for the end of the year. If I’m being honest (and I always am), I’m a bit exhausted with these corporate level endeavors about the failure of big business. Like the wearying The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short isn’t lacking in star-power thanks to producer and star Brad Pitt (World War Z) looping in the likes of Ryan Gosling (The Place Beyond the Pines), Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), and Christian Bale (Out of the Furnace). Still, I desperately hope it has a snap, purpose, and isn’t just another showcase for big stars saying big things about big problems.
Synopsis: A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective.
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne, Mahershala Ali, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Ben Mendelsohn
Review: The ads for The Place Beyond the Pines would have you believe that Gosling is the star of the show and I’d say that’s about 1/3 right. In actuality, Gosling is just one part of a film that is essentially a three act saga that winds up feeling a little Scorcese/Coppola-lite. It’s not that director Cianfrance’s second narrative feature doesn’t have its good moments, because when you factor in some hard hitting corruption mixed with cops and robbers mayhem it certainly does. No, what keeps the movie from being fully satisfying is its hesitation to move toward completion in the face of a slightly saggy running time.
Reteaming with his Blue Valentine star (and I’ll say again that Gosling was unjustly overlooked for an Oscar nomination for his work in that tough love movie), Cianfrance decides to go big or go home as he follows the lives of two different men across fifteen years – both are men trying to do good from different angles so the movie really emerges from the Venn Diagram this creates.
Opening with Gosling as a tattooed cyclist faced with finding a way to support a child he didn’t know he had, the film gets off to a rough start with a soundtrack that drowns out our actors and asks us to strain to hear what Gosling and co-star Mendes are softly murmuring about. Director Robert Altman made overlapping dialogue his calling card and I’m hoping that Cianfrance isn’t taking it a step further with a film where you may need the benefit of closed captioning to figure out what people are saying. It really doesn’t matter all that much because the basic thrust of this slice of life is the standard “man turns to crime to support family” set-up.
Don’t get me wrong, Gosling plays this troubled guy like a pro and the further he ventures away from the right side of the law (with the help of a slightly askew but nevertheless fascinating performance from Mendelsohn) the more we fear for his future. That future collides with rookie cop Cooper (fresh from his Oscar nominated work in Silver Linings Playbook and before May’s The Hangover Part III) and that’s when the film takes its first of many turns. Cooper’s cop is a do-gooder, unfazed by the temptation of corruption and naïve to the danger this poses to his career and family. With a new son of his own and a wife (Byrne, Bridesmaids) who just may wear the pants in the family, Cooper doesn’t let himself get pushed around by his comrades headed up by Liotta who hasn’t yet met a scumbag he can’t play like a harp.
It’s from Cooper’s story that the film takes another jump and I think I’ll leave where that leads to your discovery. I will say that it’s in this third act where the movie will either seal the deal or leave you cold – the more I ponder the film the more unhappy I grow with it because of this section that feels too on-the-nose, too pre-destined to really be believable. One interesting thing about the final section is that it features Cohen (TV’s Smash) and DeHaan (Lawless, Chronicle), both of whom may remind you of A-Listers Channing Tatum and Leonardo DiCaprio, respectively.
Cianfrance and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt keep the movie going at breakneck speed but when it drags during its 141 minute run time the film struggles to right itself with a conclusion that satiates. I’m not a person that needs all the questions answered by a film and actually prefer that not everything is explained but The Place Beyond the Pines feels like it never knew the answers to begin with. Instead of creating characters and situations that feel new, Cianfrance and co-screenwriters Ben Coccio and Darius Marder look back at any number of crime archetypes found in film.
A trip to The Place Beyond the Pines may not be essential or necessary but the movie’s not a total wash so I don’t want to outright discourage a viewing of it should the interest be there on your part. Despite the dialogue problems I mentioned above, the film has an unobtrusive score from Mike Patton that works with the sparse world Cianfrance has created. Aside from a make-up design that ages all the women but seems to make the men younger, performances are sound and the movie does have several scenes with a decent amount of payoff.
Synopsis: A motorcycle stunt rider considers committing a crime in order to provide for his wife and child, an act that puts him on a collision course with a cop-turned-politician.
Release Date: March 29, 2013
Thoughts: Reteaming with his Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance, star Ryan Gosling throws himself into yet another troubled character seeking some sort of redemption from the people he loves. Gosling was majorly snubbed by Oscar voters for his work in Blue Valentine and continues to be a star that rightfully earns his solid reputation with each film he makes. I’m also looking forward to seeing what Bradley Cooper does with his role coming off of the strong showing he made in Silver Linings Playbook. Clocking in at 2 hours and 20 minutes, The Place Beyond the Pines will hopefully be as entertaining and interesting as its stars.