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?

Spotlight

November 20, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams
Directed by: Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”)
Written by: Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”) and Josh Singer (“The Fifth Estate”)

It might not have all the complexity of journalists tracking down a serial killer, like in the 2007 crime thriller “Zodiac,” or the melodrama needed to spur scribes into breaking open a story on the suspicious death of a congressman’s mistress, like in the 2009 political thriller “State of Play,” but the relevancy of a newspaper reporter’s job is made evident in the sincere, insightful, fair and extremely well-paced “Spotlight.”

In a news industry where Buzzfeed headlines and Kardashian selfies are constantly trending for the mainstream masses, it’s refreshing (and equally discouraging) to know a majority of wordsmiths just a decade ago cared more about reporting the truth than creating click-bait content. Not only is “Spotlight” great cinema, it also has the power to remind audiences that a hard-hitting exposé should always be a crucial element of the ever-changing media landscape. Without professionals doing this kind of work (and not just recording grainy cell phone footage), how can anyone be held accountable?

Directed and co-written by Oscar nominee Tom McCarthy, whose track record has been so impressive (“The Station Agent,” “The Visitor” and “Win Win”) since breaking out in 2003 that we might one day forgive him for whatever the hell last year’s Adam Sandler vehicle “The Cobbler” was supposed to be. Spotlight brings the filmmaker back to true form. Set in the early ’00s, the drama tells the story of the Boston Globe‘s investigative “Spotlight Team” of reporters who uncovered a global sex abuse scandal and cover-up rooted deep inside the Catholic Church that ultimately spawned criminal accusations against 250 Roman Catholic priests. For their work, the team was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

That journalistic determination leading them to the source of the crimes is the main focus of “Spotlight.” While the stories of the individual victims and perpetrators is paramount in breathing life into the story, it’s the Globe’s writers’ efforts to deliver these remarkable revelations that serve as the lungs of this compelling narrative. Oscar-nominated actors Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) and Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”) lead this impressive ensemble cast, including Rachel McAdams (“Southpaw”) and Liev Schreiber (“Pawn Sacrifice”) as the Globe‘s new earnest editor who wants the paper to concentrate more on local coverage. What they find at the core is a corrupt system where the crimes of Catholic priests had been swept under the rug for years.

Where McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer (“The Fifth Estate”) shined most with the screenplay is in the fact they did not sensationalize the subject at hand, respected everyone involved and stayed fiercely objective (even the Vatican’s official radio station called the film “honest”). In doing so, “Spotlight” is also able to point out the faults of its hero reporters and show that despite the immense accountability they inherit when they choose to take on an assignment like this, they are still flawed human beings that make mistakes. Nevertheless, this isn’t a film about the people, per se, as much as it is about the procedure. “Spotlight” takes the research, analysis, interviews, red tape, dead ends and backroom politics of investigative journalism and turns it into an art form.