First Man (2018)

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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.

6/10

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The Little Prince (2016)

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Thank goodness for Netflix, because otherwise I doubt I and many other people would have seen this glorious and gorgeous animation. Mixing computer animated scenes with the true art of stop-motion sequences, this French-Canadian movie is colourful, stirring and magical.

Single Mother (Rachel McAdams) is a busy worker and wants her daughter to follow suit by attending the prestigious Werth Academy. However The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) befriends the much talked about nutty man next door leading her down a more adventurous fun path. The Aviator (Jeff Bridges) has stories to tell and interests the girl with a tale about a Little Prince (Riley Osborne) who he met in the Sahara Desert.

In a way, the 3D graphics of the animated world featuring the girl and her older neighbour reminded me of the look ‘The Incredibles’ provided. The shape of people and their faces harking to that sort of visual. The way this grey and busy landscape is seen is brilliant, just the times we zoom out to see ant sized cars all leaving on the dot for work shows how professional and disengaged to a more fun life these adults are.

The special moments are in the papery looking but also wooden style design of the stop-motion characters. I’ve always said that the whole process of stop-motion animation is something admirable and rewarding and I stick by it ever more so due to this beautiful exploration of the medium. There’s a great charm in seeing The Little Prince stories come into the fold during this film and it gives the story an extra fancy touch.

Having never read the source material myself, I couldn’t comment on what the treatment of the novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupery is like. They me quite faithful or changed a lot but I enjoyed the story presented here a lot. His tale is moulded nicely and Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti create a lovely screenplay that fits for all ages, centred around the idea of growing up and forgetting childhood. At times, this theme gets dealt an emotional hand and I felt a little tingly at the ideas being put across.

Only one portion of this movie kind of felt off and that’s annoyingly the third act as the Little Girl decides to take action and flies off in the hope of seeing the much talked about prince. It could be viewed as an act that loses people because it gets off track from the better grounded narrative scenes that come before, which is exactly how I see it. I guess you could say that at the time the girl falls, what comes after can be interpreted how you like which makes more sense but still doesn’t stop the last act being slightly iffy.

The music gives you chills, with a wonderful score from Hans Zimmer accompanying the on screen action with suitable bounce and heart. Camille provides lush vocals during the film, in a way that echoes of the enchanting yet haunting sounds from ‘Coraline’. Another positive is the light comedy that hits well, the sad notes of loss and looking to the stars for laughter provides a lovely notion and the pairing of the girl and aviator are fun to watch.

All I can really say is, it’s a massive shame this won’t be up for an Academy Best Animated Feature award due to it not being theatrically released. If it was it’d certainly give Disney and Pixar a severe run for their money because it’s stunning, emotional and special.

8.5/10