First Man

November 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke
Directed by: Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”)
Written by: Josh Singer (“Spotlight”)

To reach the pinnacle of outer space realism on the big screen these days, a lot rests on the film’s technical capabilities. From the stunning cinematography in 2013’s “Gravity,” the jaw-dropping special effects of 2014’s “Interstellar” or the impressive production design in 2015’s “The Martian,” moviegoers want to be transported from their theater seats to the farthest corners of the galaxy as effortlessly as possible.

Luckily, “First Man,” the biopic on NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), who became the first man to ever step foot on the surface of the moon in 1969, is a commendable technical achievement. In the film, the anxiousness felt in the interiors of the aircraft or spaceflight simulator is pushed to the brink of chaos with handheld camerawork. It creates a dizzying sense of dread in the most intense and confined scenes.

Leading up to the successful Apollo 11 launch, “First Man” follows Armstrong as he prepares for whatever space mission he is assigned to next. Not only is it a journey of determination and strength, it’s also an exploration by Oscar-winning screenwriter Josh Singer (“Spotlight”) of the immeasurable losses that Armstrong experienced. This includes the passing of his two-year-old daughter in 1962 and the deaths of fellow space travelers (the three-man crew of Apollo 1 were killed in a fire during a spacecraft test in 1967).

Directed by Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”), the first project of his young career that he didn’t actually write himself, the Oscar-winning filmmaker is at the top of his game as he takes viewers deep into the inner-workings of the space program, which at the time was beaten at every turn by the Soviets. Along with the radiant photography by Oscar-winning cinematographer Linus Sandgren (“La La Land”) and the vintage visual style of Oscar-nominated production designer Nathan Crowley (“Dunkirk”), it is Chazelle’s work behind the camera that will make the narrative resonate with audiences.

Like recent space films “Gravity” and “Moon,” “First Man” relies on intimate and uncomplicated storytelling. On occasion, Singer’s story feels as if it is taking place inside a silo and only breaks from those confines when we get an idea of how people outside of NASA are observing the historic events (Apollo 13 was more effective in this respect). Gosling, maybe in an attempt to balance actress Claire Foy as outspoken first wife Janet, portrays Armstrong with understated confidence. The dynamic works for the most part, although Gosling isn’t given much external range.

Still, like the best cinematic space odysseys that have come before, “First Man” brings with it a message of humanism and mortality that puts life into perspective. What better backdrop to experience an existential awakening than soaring across the cosmos?

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

July 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman
Directed by: Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield,” “Let Me In”)
Written by: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) and Mark Bombeck (“The Wolverine”)

The summer blockbuster season can feel like a chore sometimes. Mega-budget special effects extravaganzas heavy on action but light on compelling characters and meaningful story dominate theaters. I’m not complaining, mind you, because my love of movies in the summertime has been with me since childhood, along with all the ancillary merchandise like licensed fast food cups and original motion picture soundtracks. When the weather outside is hot, the movies inside often feel like manufactured products rather than works of art. We’ve come to be entertained rather than engaged, and it’s a position we’ve all agreed upon. Occasionally, though, the stars will align and one of those popcorn franchise films will feature wall-to-wall special effects as well as a resonant, edge-of-your-seat storyline with a depth of character that leaves you utterly amazed. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is one of those movies.

Set a decade after the events in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” humanity is hanging on by a thread after being wiped out by the simian flu seen spreading the globe as the first prequel wrapped up. Huddled up in a compound in San Francisco, a small group of humans led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) are desperate to get power restored to their small section of the city. The mission is dangerous, however, because repairing the hydroelectric dam requires them to venture deep into territory held by hyper intelligent chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his tribe of apes, most of whom have long-standing grudges against humanity.

While the 2011 film – a prequel to the Charlton Heston-starring 1968 sci-fi classic “Planet of the Apes”- suffered from the occasional subpar special effect and a climactic battle that required all humans involved to suddenly become stupid and forget how firearms worked, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is tightly-plotted and a miracle of modern special effects from start to finish. Moviegoers old enough to remember the days of miniatures and men in costumes bemoan the glut of computer-generated effects in current films, but what they’re really complaining about is bad CGI. “Dawn” is a master class in how to do special effects right, from the contemplative opening close-up of Caesar’s how-is-this-not-a-real-chimp? face to the chaotic clashes between man and ape featuring automatic rifles and armored tanks. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” isn’t just a great summer sci-fi movie, it’s a great movie, period.

Zero Dark Thirty

January 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton
Written by: Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker”)
Directed by: Katheryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”)

In a year where all the buzz seems to be about “Lincoln,” a film chronicling one of the most important events in U.S., and frankly, human history, another film depicting the events of recent history finally makes its way to theaters nationwide. Oscar-winning director of “The Hurt Locker,” Katheryn Bigelow steps behind the camera for “Zero Dark Thirty,” a compelling look into the events leading up to and the actual mission to kill Osama Bin Laden.

The film is driven quite impressively by Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain (“The Help”), as she brings a stoic intensity to the role. In a part that requires a strong female presence, Chastain is most impressive when she must go toe-to-toe with her male counterparts and assert her dominance. Behind Chastain, there is a cavalcade of well-acted supporting performances from great veteran actors. Though most of these supporting cast members don’t get more than a few scenes, the best of the performances belong to Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler and Mark Strong.

From a technical standpoint, “Zero Dark Thirty” has very few flaws. There are so many ways in which the construction of the film excels, but none is more front and center than the pacing. Simply stated, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a clinic in pacing. The film is compartmentalized into chapters, a smart decision when telling a story that takes place over a long period of time. The constant flow and a fantastic editing job keeps scenes from running long and the film from becoming boring at any point. One of things “Zero Dark Thirty” is particularly good at is delivering the narrative and information in a meat-and-potatoes kind of way during the terrorist pursuit. Many names, locations and faces are given throughout the movie and to the films credit, never is there a moment of confusion about what is being talked about.

While the actual mission and raid that killed Bin Laden is an integral part of the film, “Zero Dark Thirty” is mostly about a woman’s endless pursuit to find him. With that being the case, a large majority of the film is spent on the research and tactics it took to lead this team to Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Though the scene of the raid is impressive in its own right, it is the moments that build up to it that are truly stellar. The behind-the-scene meetings and the intelligence missions are just a few of the truly captivating moments of the film. know the outcome of. Bigelow is also able to find tension in events that the audience might already know the outcome of. She constructs scenes that allow not only factual information based on real events to be told, but to bring personalities and build complex characters around them. Her absence from the list of Best Director Oscar nominees is a snub in every sense of the word.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is marred with controversy about the depiction of torture and its meaning in the film. For whatever it’s worth, I never got the feeling of a political agenda one way or another while watching the film. In fact, I thought that the events in the film were largely depoliticized. Thanks to expert pacing and narrative structure, “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t feel anywhere close to its two and a half-hour run time. Outstandingly acted, thoroughly cohesive and profoundly intriguing, “Zero Dark Thirty” stands firmly as the best film of 2012.