First Man (2018)


There’s no doubt that the moon landings of 1969 were a monumental achievement, but is Damien Chazelle’s latest feature as monumental an experience?

‘First Man’ follows Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) as he takes up a job for the Gemini programs, as NASA and America hope to reach the stars and send a man to the moon. As the Soviets claim their own space race victories, Armstrong becomes determined to succeed even if that means losing time with his family and wife Janet (Claire Foy).

Chazelle’s directorial career is extraordinarily good, this is only his fourth movie and in less than ten years. Each one has been critically acclaimed and adored by audiences so there’d be no surprise if the 33 year old would feel pressure to follow suit with this Armstrong biopic. The film may not be his most stylistic one but as you’d expect the use of music; scored by Justin Hurwitz, is exceptional. Chazelle truly knows how to utilise sound, whether Hurwitz’s score is twinkling like the stars or cutting out completely to really create dramatic tension, it’s a bold demonstration of sound mixing that adds to the formidable power of space.

Another positive about the film is that it isn’t afraid to highlight the costs and questions these Gemini and Apollo missions cause. People waving placards or queries about the price of human life to achieve this daring quest become little drop points amongst the course of Neil Armstrong’s pursuits. This is a blessed relief because the actual focus on the astronaut is less than engaging, a large percentage of ‘First Man’ feels like a paint by numbers drag which does little to excite.

This is a biographical look not at the exploration of space or the moon landing itself but more about the man, Armstrong himself. It never really rockets to anything special and dare I use the B word; it often feels a little bit boring. It is as if the film cannot really connect to Neil, even if the camera feels forever by his side. There are some absolutely amazing shots in this film but the story drags the whole thing back down to Earth.

Gosling is a charismatic actor and he manages to ensure his portrayal of the first man on the moon is reflective and he shows off this quiet, laser-focused attitude but a lot of the time it makes the film less than interesting to follow because he’s so drained of emotion. Claire Foy is the stand-out as the woman behind the man, she displays a great balance of love and sadness to the man who wants to step on the lunar surface.

‘First Man’ has a lot of impressive visual standouts, so when we’re being thrust into the capsules or training pods with the astronauts the film is exquisite, it’s let down however by the grounded home-life and disengaged approach to Neil Armstrong.



La La Land (2017)


Well, not for a long while have I been eagerly anticipating a movie like the release of this musical drama. Add on top the record-breaking Golden Globes haul then you have a very excited chap. For the most part this film delivers, it’s stylish, fun, heartfelt but I don’t agree with all the souped up hype it’s received.

After a minor amount of road-rage where aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) cross paths, they end up bumping into each other again and again which leads to a romance through the year. As they try following their dreams in LA it becomes a harder challenge to keep the love alive.

I have to say that I absolutely adored the first half or so of this film. It harks back to that classic glitz and glamour of Hollywood old with a neat dose of a modern touch thanks to the musical and confident direction from Damien Chazelle. Just from the sweeping opening on a Los Angeles highway to the delicate changes in lighting, the songs and story begin with a bang.

It helps that we get brilliant performances and a clear chemistry between the two main characters but also the style adds a neat note to the song-sheet that is this feature. There’s times that it looks and sounds like a studio set production and you’d expect Fred Astaire to come tap dancing in. The writing by Chazelle, is for the most part a well handled story that lends a two-sided coin to the LA lifestyle but with an obvious landing on dreams to follow and achieve.

As I sat in my seat I found myself hooked and smiling along to a wonderful series of scenes but then annoyingly, there came a specific moment where I even felt myself disengaging and from then on, the writing becomes very generic and almost cliched. It drifts into a romantic plot you’d expect to find in every other manically churned out rom-com. This frustrated me because I was expecting it to keep going with the gleeful whizz of CinemaScope delight but instead…it wains.

It is almost saved as we get a short burst of style near the end showing a quick run of events. So yes I agree it’s a fantastically well made and enchanting film, it deserved 3 perhaps 4 of the Globes it picked up out of 7. This is obviously, as I realised as they were winning, a case of the voters loving films that celebrate America or the US saving the day -(note Argo winning Best Picture)

Song wise, ‘Another of Day of Sun’ is jolly, sun-drenched and a perfect, literally perfect way to start a film of this genre. ‘City of Stars’ is sung well and has a melancholy yet magical sound but I don’t see how that gets the attention when Stone’s ‘Audition’ song is better performed and has better lyrics. Though it’s naff for jazz and a typical Top 40’s track, John Legend’s performance of ‘Start a Fire’ works well in showcasing the path Seb is taking away from his dream.

I’m not a total grouch because I did enjoy the majority of the film, I just don’t feel it should have broke GG records and I hope the Oscars gives some variety because ‘La La Land’ does swerve into a nearly boring not great second half.


My Favourite Film of the Year….so far.


So far, and yep I know it’s early days, this film is my favourite movie to hit screens and hit screens it does, it smashes across them with drum beats and blistering battles of ego in such a cool and musically slick way. I can already see this film being in my top ten of 2015 by the time 2016 rolls on around. That’s testament of how good I feel all factors of ‘Whiplash’ are.


Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons are hitting every high note planted on their song sheet (scripts) and pit off against each other with a suitable and perfect ending, the jazz ride there is fierce and brutal, a contained thriller set around drumming never looks the part on paper but trust me if you still haven’t seen it, it’s worth the entry fee.

To see what else I said about Damien Chazelle’s energetic original and Oscar winning film, click on WHIPLASH.

Whiplash (2015)


This film is more than just a “good job” and if you’re on the movie’s time you’ll love the wonderful frenetic energy drummed up from start to finish. It’s shot and more precisely edited spectacularly to fit the core theme of the story and it’s major acting talents are majorly talented actors.

Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is 19 and into playing drums big time. He gets invited to play jazz drum for Shaffer Conservatory and teacher Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) but soon his musical talent is tested to the absolute limit as Fletcher pushes Neiman to breaking point and beyond in the quest to find a new star.

Damien Chazelle excels here, in only his second feature film. The simplicity and stress of the story are more than enough to leave room for blossoming ballsy acting and racked up tension. The shots of the band have a fluidity that gets broken up nicely from time to time with widening frames or quick cuts to fit in motion with the progression of the song being played. An in car camera makes for a more real shocking cinematic decision that pays off in immersing you into an impacting moment and in general the feel and look of the film grips you at the collar from the beginning and never really lets go.

As expected, with a film centered on music and the world of jazz, a lot of this review must square on the music involved and wow oh wow, does it do a grand job. Justin Hurwitz masters a score that goes from smooth to unbreakable in brutality. The title of the film comes from a song called ‘Whiplash’ where brass and piano make beautiful backing for it and through it the focus of drum beats is subtle but effective. Then ‘Caravan’ showcases more expertise of drumming that smashes in a good way…a perfect way…at least when not rushed or dragged. Double swing time of ‘Caravan’ rockets the the tempo of drumming to the stratosphere and Neiman pours his heart and soul onto the drum kit and you can feel that passion of music power through the speakers. Normally the sound of drums could infuriate without suitable accompaniment but here drum solos however loud are damn exciting and pump you up as you watch adding to the empowering mood this film leaves you with. The sticks blaze over the drum skins with furious intent and not one musical section of this movie is out of place or lacking.

The intensity of the story by Chazelle is more than worthy of it’s Academy Award Adapted Screenplay nomination. It’s crammed with pulsating tension and the level of intensity in both narrative and character traits is unyielding. The desire to be the best is understandable and the tutor/student relationship is harsh and believable. The drive Fletcher tries to instill into Neiman is constant and through one ups and reversals the story comes to a natural conclusion of how Fletcher really is and it’s a brilliant ending with no need for cheesy wrap ups.

J.K. Simmons is a ferocious figure throughout and his Golden Globe win and now Oscar nod are fully deserved. He brings a bullying degree of musical terror to proceedings but isn’t the panto villain he could have been as there’s softening touches to his character and his sharp superb remarks dotted throughout the script are genuinely funny or ouch that’s harsh reaction grabbing. Miles Teller is presented as alone, gifted and somewhat self righteous to his path but the practice route is pushed through Teller’s graft of sweat and non-stop attitude of getting to the top. I know not everyone can be nominated for an award but honestly Teller is amazing. Melissa Benoist who has a small amount of screen time as potential love interest Nicole is the perfect pretty distraction to give more humanity and real world problems to the self-entrapping life of Neiman.

Most people will surely leave the cinema upon watching ‘Whiplash’ with a real burst in their step and a thumping in their mental psyche as it’s such a raw look at music and the compelling back and forth between Neiman and Fletcher. Pacy, tense, funny and just out and out fantastic.