First Man Movie Review

Perhaps the largest overarching theme of Damien Chazelle’s First Man is control. Mission control of the world famous Apollo 11 flight, yes. There’s also a mission in which Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) tragically cannot control with the death of his young daughter to a brain tumor. In Gosling’s face as he lands for the first time ever on the outer reaches of our solar system, we sense his myopic focus on this historic assignment. It is coupled with a sense of loss of what he experienced a few years prior with a task he couldn’t achieve in saving her life.

That, more than anything else, is where the power of this picture lies. Yet these moments are not particularly frequent. We all know how First Man is going to end with Armstrong’s first footprint on a never before stepped upon surface. There is little dramatic tension there, though the booming musical score helps a little bit. Chazelle’s film takes the moon landing and shows it through the eyes of the man who did it. That means we see the extraordinarily small spaces he trains and rides in. And in the years prior to success, we see a string of losses from his daughter to several coworkers who perish along the way.

This is not the space saga I expected from Chazelle. It’s entirely different in tone from his previous efforts Whiplash and La La Land. Armstrong was a famously low key figure and First Man takes cues from his personality. The saga begins eight years prior to his claim to fame. Armstrong is a test pilot with a devoted but strong in her convictions wife Janet (Claire Foy) and two children. With two-year-old Karen, Neil treats her illness as a mathematical equation to be solved, like his daily work. He can’t solve this problem.

His piloting career coincides with his nation’s fervent desire to beat the Russians to the moon after being beat out by them in earlier missions. As we know, he’s eventually given captain status with Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) and Mike Collins (Lukas Haas) alongside him. Before that occurs, we see Neil’s friendship with another famed astronaut Ed White (Jason Clarke) and others. All of these innovators reside in Houston and develop a close community where the wives are constantly living in fear of whether their husbands will come home.

First Man often focuses on that sense of dread and the fact that, in the 1960s, NASA was a program often running blind. Ever hopeful, but with rickety rockets and a cross your fingers and hope for the best attitude. It takes a toll on Neil’s marriage. Foy is excellent as Janet and she’s given a scene or two to shine.

Gosling’s work is, like his subject, tougher to nail down. It’s not a showy role. However, in the moments where he must convey Armstrong’s laser concentration, Gosling flourishes. I admired Chazelle’s tactic of making this tale that goes outside our galaxy a small and personal one. First Man is ultimately an experience that easier to appreciate than be grandly entertained by. Neil Armstrong worked in his own way and so does this for the most part.

*** (out of four)

First Man Box Office Prediction

With awards buzz lifting its potential box office prospects, Damien Chazelle’s First Man debuts next weekend. Ryan Gosling headlines as Neil Armstrong in the story of the journey that led him to walk on the moon. Costars include Claire Foy (in a role garnering Oscar chatter), Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, and Lukas Haas.

Since premiering at the Venice Film Festival, First Man has received positive word of mouth with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 88%. Like Chazelle’s last two pictures (Whiplash and La La Land), a Best Picture nomination is expected. Older audiences should turn out (and Gosling fans), but it could be a film that plays well for weeks as opposed to a huge opening.

October has been kind to space flicks, most notably Gravity and The Martian. They both launched to over $50 million out of the gate. First Man is not expected to achieve those numbers. Competition is serious with the second weekends of Venom and A Star Is Born in particular.

I’ll say this manages a low to likely mid 20s start with solid grosses continuing beyond.

First Man opening weekend prediction: $23.5 million

For my Goosebumps 2, Haunted Halloween prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/03/goosebumps-2-haunted-halloween/

For my Bad Times at the El Royale prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/03/bad-times-at-the-el-royale-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: First Man

The Venice Film Festival has kicked off today with Toronto coming next week. That means you can expect two dozen or more Oscar Watch posts coming your way on the blog over the next few days!

The opening film from Venice is a big one – Damien Chazelle’s First Man. The story of Neil Armstrong’s (Ryan Gosling) journey to the moon has screened for critics and the early verdict is quite strong.

It should come as no surprise that Man is considered a potential serious awards contender. Director Chazelle has seen both of his previous works – 2014’s Whiplash and 2016’s La La Land – land Best Picture nominations. The latter infamously lost to Moonlight. Additionally, both pictures resulted in Oscar wins for their performers (J.T. Walsh for Supporting Actor in Whiplash and Emma Stone in lead Actress for La La).

So where does this stand based on early buzz emanating from Italy? It would appear First Man is highly likely to be director’s third effort in a row to be recognized in Best Picture. Chazelle also stands a great chance at a directing nod (he won for La La and was the youngest filmmaker in history to do so).

As for the actors, critical notices have heaped praise on Claire Foy as Armstrong’s wife Jan. Her inclusion in Supporting Actress is probable. Of the many recognizable male supporting players, it appears Jason Clarke is receiving the most attention. It’s possible that Universal’s Oscar campaign’s focus could primarily center on Gosling and Foy, but I wouldn’t count Clarke out.

Which brings us to Gosling. Critics have been very kind in praising his understated work. I don’t think it’s yet a guarantee that Gosling lands his third Best Actor nod (after Half Nelson and La La Land), but he’s absolutely in the mix.

In addition to Best Adapted Screenplay, First Man should definitely find itself under consideration for numerous tech races including Cinematography, Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Production Design, and Original Score.

Bottom line: First Man is the first fall festival picture to be screened… and it’s established itself as a major player.

First Man opens domestically on October 12. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

It Comes at Night Movie Review

It Comes at Night is a bleak, brisk, sometimes effective horror thriller that’s well-acted and filmed. The decision to not overly explain the events causing the characters to be holed up in a house together seems wise. However, when the credits roll, you might find yourself asking it that’s all there is.

Trey Edward Shults writes and directs this tale of a world gone to hell. A nasty and unexplained outbreak has seemingly wiped out a hefty portion of the world’s population. If you become symptomatic, you need to be put down. That’s how we’re introduced to Paul (Joel Edgerton), wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and 17 year-old boy Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) as they do what they have to with Sarah’s ill father.

The family lives in their boarded up home with one entrance/exit. Days are spent rationing food and water. Their sad existence is interrupted one evening by intruder Will (Christopher Abbott), who assumes the house is vacant. He’s seeking shelter for his family – wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their toddler son. The family ends up moving in and for a brief time everything seems ok.

Deserved kudos go out to Shults for crafting a screenplay that doesn’t burden itself with explaining the plague that’s put everyone in that house. This story is more about how the characters function in that claustrophobic existence. Travis is a teenager with attractive young woman Kim all of a sudden present. Paul is always cognizant that you can’t trust anyone beyond family.

Night is a slow burn of distrust and eerie atmosphere that eventually reaches a conclusion you both dread and suspect. Shults is clearly a talented filmmaker, but I can’t deny the feeling that the picture ends up feeling a bit slight and too simplistic. It’s not without its cliches (there’s a family dog that you just know will factor in). There’s a dream sequence over reliance. No fault belongs with the actors who are all solid. Edgerton again proves he can nail an intense performance.

Genre fans will probably find enough to admire here, but Night comes in effective spurts and not a totally cohesive whole.

**1/2 (out of four)

It Comes at Night Box Office Prediction

A24 Studios will try and scare up some business next weekend with the release of psychological horror thriller It Comes at Night. From director Trey Edward Shults, it stars Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, and Christopher Abbott. Originally scheduled to open in August, it was pushed up after receiving some critical acclaim on the film festival circuit (it’s at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes right now).

Horror flicks are notoriously tough to predict and it’s a genre where reviews don’t matter much. We have seen lauded titles such as You’re Next fail to break through with mainstream audiences and that could hold true here. On the other hand, Get Out from just this year is one of the best reviewed genre titles in recent memory and it made a killing. That said, Get Out seemed to have a lot more buzz going for it.

There’s also the matter of The Mummy opening against it and it could compete for some of the same crowd. I’ll predict It Comes at Night opens just under double digits as it hopes to build upon solid word of mouth or achieve cult status afterwards.

It Comes at Night opening weekend prediction: $9.5 million

For my The Mummy prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/06/01/the-mummy-box-office-prediction/

For my Megan Leavey prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/06/05/megan-leavey-box-office-prediction/