Neil Armstrong experiences personal and professional upheaval, leading up to his landing on the moon.
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy
Review by Jon Kissel
The Mercury Seven got their epic in The Right Stuff and so did the crew of Apollo 13, and now Neil Armstrong gets his cinematic apotheosis in Damien Chazelle’s First Man, a Kubrickian masterwork from a director who’s said all he has to say about jazz. Finding fertile new ground in the space race, Chazelle instills his historic representations with the flintiness of his Whiplash characters, portraying Armstrong as a difficult man who, in his difficulty, may have been the only person capable of emerging from the trying 1960’s intact. Utilizing you-are-there filmmaking and the best of Ryan Gosling’s oft-internal performances, First Man signifies Chazelle’s emergence as a singular auteur in total control of his art.
To a greater or lesser extent, all of Quentin Tarantino’s movies have been partly about movies, or his life as viewed through the prism of movies. Reservoir Dogs is about acting and performance, and Inglourious Basterds is about film being the literal weapon that topples fascism. His characters talk about movies, and model themselves after other fictional characters. Despite Tarantino’s obsession with cinema, none of his work has featured characters who actively work in the movie business, with the odd exception of Basterds’ Goebbels. Tarantino’s filmography, now supposedly with only one film left to go, would feel incomplete if he didn’t put aside his criminal/assassin/historical surrogates and just make a movie about actors already. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a title befitting a man constantly making references and allusions to days of cinema past, sees Tarantino do exactly that as he indulges in a nostalgic journey into mindless TV serials and B-movies filmed on dingy backlots. Despite functioning as a potentially infantile time travel device into a hazy period Tarantino missed out on, the film’s low-stakes setting allows him to do what he does best without having to worry about outbursts of violence, resulting in perhaps in his most mature and meaningful film.
Steven Soderbergh gave a speech in 2013 about the state of cinema, and what he interpreted as a dire future for the art form. Directors like him who operated in the mid-budget range were being squeezed out in favor of micro-budget horror and macro-budget spectacle, trends that haven’t abated in the last five years. If a studio didn’t envision a narrow, Academy-friendly path forward for a film that wasn’t either of those, it wasn’t going to get made, or if it was, it was going to be dumped and disrespected and kept away from wider audiences. In the time since that speech, Soderbergh has been the visual master behind a best-of-the-decade prestige drama series, experienced the exact mid-budget underperformance that he talked about, and gone experimental to conform to the low end of the budget continuum, namely shooting two movies on an iPhone. The first, Unsane, did marginally well in theaters, but the second, High Flying Bird, skipped theaters altogether and went straight to Netflix, the studio equivalent of HBO at the dawn of the Golden Age of Television such that they throw money at creators and take a big step back. Soderbergh is a director who thinks clearly and publicly about his next moves and how they fit within the framework of his industry, making him the perfect director to bring High Flying Bird into the world because it’s about someone very much like him.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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