October has been a quiet time at the movies. Venom is clearly the biggest release, then there are generally overrated B+ movies. In fairness, I heard good things about A Star Is Born, although it’s not my type of film. Other pictures are out soon, but they’re probably not going to help audience’s sequelitis. That leaves First Man and El Royale, two solid pictures that have underachieved at the box office.
The fast and the bad
I saw a video online where a reviewer was asked between First Man and El Royale. He kept confusing Bad Times with Fast times at Ridgemont High. You can’t blame him; it has the same ring to it. Anyway, all things considered, his advice was to pick First Man. Cast-wise, both of them have their share of stars and are about as long. However, Damien Chazelle (First Man) has directed two awesome films, Whiplash and La La Land. This is his first Hollywood blockbuster, and his second outing with Ryan Gosling. As I said, it disappointed at the box office and was unable to unseat Venom to open at number one. Pundits attribute this to its target audience, which are generally males aged between 18 and 35.
Though not making a splash with moviegoers, First Man has the goods. The story of Neil Armstrong from 1961-69, it is a heavy movie that unpacks a lot. We learn about the death of Neil’s daughter and how this deeply affected him. We see the overbearing program that winnows the finest of men. We are confronted with the cavalcade of tragedies from every Gemini mission, the precursor to Apollo. The Armstrong family dynamics and how they deal with Neil’s hazardous job is front and centre. The movie is more of a drama than an action-packed space odyssey, highlighting character development over set pieces. In this regard, it is more Arrival (2016) than Gravity (2013).
The true story pumps life to this film and it’s a very aesthetically pleasing one at that. Though lacking in blitzes and bangs, First Man does offer some breathtaking visuals. In particular, these include the moon pictures, the astronauts and their training, press conferences, and sweeping panorama shots. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Chazelle gets nominated again for some Oscars for this output.
On a different ground
I remember my friend saying that he feels like he’s in another country when in Melbourne. While I don’t share the sentiment, how would it be like to be on the Moon? Jack Kennedy boldly proposed that they should put a man on the moon before the decade is out. The Soviets, Neil’s boss said, have beaten them on every corner, except in reaching the moon. When Neil’s son asked his mother on what’s wrong, she told him that ‘Your dad is going to the moon.’
A bungled lift-off
First Man’s fault is in putting too much on the buildup. The Moon journey takes up half an hour of its 140 minutes. Thus, patrons would be forgiven for getting bored, especially since the players could never stop talking about the foregone conclusion of America’s eventual conquest of the moon. When the moment of truth finally arrives, you feel like you’ve taken a trip to the moon yourself: it’s ‘too little, too late’. That’s why this space odyssey faltered: too little galaxy time amid an unbridled drama. While it rated highly on Rotten Tomatoes, this movie is not for everyone. The same friend spurned this film for precisely the same reasons: it has won critics over, but it won’t attract all curious bees to the honey pot. Definitely not atop my Most Watchable list this year.