Review: First Man

Americans know the name Neil Armstrong. The world knows what he did on July 20, 1969. It’s a story that has been told over and over but in the film First Man, we get to see who Neil Armstrong was before he set foot on the moon and what drove him to make American history.

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Image by Universal Pictures

First Man begins by taking us back to 1961, when Armstrong bounced around Earth’s atmosphere and successfully made it back home, a feat that the United States took pride in as they were trying desperately to catch up with the Soviet Union and their advances in space travel. The film chronicled Armstrong’s involvement with N.A.S.A.’s space programs from the project Gemini, to Apollo, leading up to Apollo 11, and documented the figures in and out of the programs that played a key role in history being made from Ed White, Dave Scott, Jim Lovell, Deke Slayton, Buzz Aldrin, to Neil’s family, including his wife Janet, his sons, Rick and Mark, and the families of Neil’s friends and co-workers. First Man details every step, every hand, every detail leading up to the most legendary walk in American history.

The detail that director Damien Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer put into adapting James R. Hansen’s acclaimed book, is exquisite, extensive and nothing short of extraordinary. I was riveted by the meticulous craftsmanship that went into the production of this picture and what made it truly special is that the movie was made to be Armstrong’s account of everything that led up to this; this was Armstrong’s story and it was done honestly, it was done with great reverence and though the moon landing was an American milestone, it was done to be an extension of what Armstrong wanted to accomplish.

Damien Chazelle truly is on-his-way to becoming one of the all time great filmmakers if he isn’t already. With First Man, La La Land and Whiplash, he is truly a cinematic storyteller who should be at or near the top of the list in his field; he dove into the crux of the story and unearthed the essence of what made the events that led to the moon landing and what made Armstrong so driven to get to the moon so special and with superb writing from Josh Singer, told an exhilarating and brutal tale that needs to be seen to be believed!

Ryan Gosling is superb, Claire Foy is outstanding, the rest of the cast are great; Jason Clarke, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott, Ciarán Hinds, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Olivia Hamilton, Luke Winters, Lucy Stafford, Connor Blodgett, this is a big ensemble cast but they each contribute to telling a remarkable story.

Knowing Chazelle, I had a feeling that he would be surrounded by his usual crew and they did not disappoint in the slightest. Justin Hurwitz’s music was exceptional, Linus Sandgren’s cinematography was stupendous, Tom Cross’ editing was top-notch, Nathan Crowley’s production design was excellent, the art direction team supervised by Erik Osusky did a fine job, Randi Hokett and Kathy Lucas nailed the set decoration, Mary Zophres’ costumes were top-of-the-line, the sound effects and visual effects were amazing; I could not be more impressed by the skill and expertise that went into the production of First Man!

A thorough and intense amount of work went into the production of First Man and the result is like watching spacecraft achieve perfect launch, liftoff and touchdown. If the mission was to deliver Neil Armstrong’s account and experience leading up to the Moon, in a stunning, heart-stopping manner, then by all means, mission succeeded!

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Review: Beautiful Boy

Addiction is ugly, it’s corrosive, it sinks its teeth into someone and almost never lets go and it can happen to almost anyone at any time. Addiction can be as powerful as the unconditional love a parent has for his or her child; a parent almost always goes the distance to help his or her child when called upon, a parent is there to do what needs to be done for his or her child to be safe. The film Beautiful Boy is a story about addiction clashing with a parent’s unconditional love and the fallout that follows.

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Image by Amazon Studios

Director Felix von Groeningen takes the incredible true story of real-life father and son David and Nic Sheff and shares it on the big screen. David is a freelance writer/reporter going to great lengths to save his troubled son Nic from his inner demons as he dives deeper and deeper into addiction. Nic is gifted with tremendous talent as a writer, like his father, and the two are remarkably close but Nic has a hole in him, which he fills with crystal meth and alcohol and copious drugs and David goes tremendous lengths to save his eldest son from himself and restore the strong bond between the two.

I do believe that von Groeningen and screenwriter Luke Davies definitely brought the pain and tension from the Sheff’s bestselling memoirs and adapted it faithfully to big screen. The portrayals of Beautiful Boy‘s leading men, Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet, are heartbreaking and honest, but ultimately I feel that the film definitely gets this compelling story across but I would have liked to see it done with more finesse and more structure in how it was told.

The film abruptly jumps from period to period throughout and it doesn’t really seem to settle in any particular fashion, which is troubling at times but I believe it is used to illustrate how strong the bond between the Sheffs truly are, from the period of Nic’s childhood to his early adulthood. The way this story is told is messy but it is effective.

Carell and Chalamet deliver two of the most authentic and piercing performances I’ve seen this year. Watching the dynamic between the two, it just cuts you deep; I was riveted by Carell’s interpretation of David Sheff trying to save a son, who does not exhibit signs of wanting to be saved and Chalamet was outstanding as Nic Sheff, either sober and stable, or slipping and sinking into himself.

The rest of the cast are respectable to say the least. There are good spurts of character from Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, Christian Covenry, Oakley Bull, Kaitlyn Dever, Stefanie Scott, Andre Royo, Jack Dylan Grazer, Kue Lawrence and Julian Works.

Ruben Impens’s cinematography is respectable, Nico Leunen’s editing is jumpy, Ethan Tobman’s production design is very good as is the art direction Patrick M. Sullivan Jr., Jennifer Lukehart’s set decoration is well done, Emma Potter’s costume design reaches well for authenticity. This is a technically stable picture.

Beautiful Boy will linger with the story it tells and the performances by two exceptional actors. Not the best film you will see this year but very respectable in telling a story about a father’s unconditional love pitted against the evils of addiction and respectful in it’s attempt to get its message across.

Movies of the Week: Beautiful Boy & First Man

We’ve come to another double feature Friday everyone! This week I will be going a great distance to partake of two features that may be well-celebrated in a few months and I cannot wait any longer to see them both. Our first feature takes a look at the bond between a father and son and how strong and tenuous it can be over time and when substance enters the equation. Based on the highly acclaimed memoirs by father and son David and Nic Sheff, Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet walk in the footsteps of the Sheff family in this chronicle of heartbreak, addiction and reconciliation in Beautiful Boy.

Director: Felix von Groeningen

Written by: Luke Davies and Felix von Groeningen

Starring: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, Christian Covenry, Oakley Bull, Kaitlyn Dever, Stephanie Scott, Julian Works, Kue Lawrence, Jack Dylan Grazer and Timothy Hutton

What am I expecting to see?: When I first caught wind of Beautiful Boy, I was riveted by the incredible chemistry between the two leading men (Chalamet and Carell) and I honestly believe that this could be their best performances. I think this movie will be dramatic and emotional as we explore seeing a father trying to save his son from himself and guiding him towards an emotionally stable path. I believe Beautiful Boy will be something to behold, if it is told with the same raw honesty the Sheff family depicted in their books.

The second feature of our double feature also borrows from the pages of history but that history of more widespread and known moreso than personal, but still from a personal perspective. In school, I believe we all learned about the space race; about how the United States was spurred into beating the Soviet Union by putting a man on the moon. We all know the legendary accomplishment N.A.S.A. and Neil Armstrong achieved in 1969 but despite all that we know now, I don’t think we saw the impossible story of the space race from the eyes of the man himself. Damien Chazelle teams up with Ryan Gosling once again in First Man.

Director: Damien Chazelle

Written by: Josh Singer

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds, Ethan Embry, Shea Whigham, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, Cory Michael Smith and Olivia Hamilton

What am I expecting to see?: There was no way I was going to miss Chazelle’s follow-up to La La Land! After seeing Whiplash and La La Land, no one needs to tell me that Chazelle is definitely one of the best young filmmakers working today and him taking on the story of the moon landing and exploring the perilous dimension of it certainly sounds exciting! I’m curious to see what Gosling can bring to portraying a prolific American figure in Neil Armstrong and I don’t think I’ve seen Claire Foy perform before, so I’m excited to see what she can do. First Man has been a must-see for me for some time and I can’t wait to see what’s in store!

Review: A Star is Born

Going into this, you hear good-to-great things and leading up to it, you reinforce high expectations and from start to finish, you are held in awe and when it’s done, it’s an experience you will never forget!

I first heard about this remake for A Star is Born years ago and I’ve been keeping track of it as best I could leading up to its release. When I first heard about the project, I heard that Clint Eastwood was directing and Warner Bros. was courting Beyoncé to play the lead but as time went on, everything changed and what audiences were given is thus:

Bradley Cooper plays country-superstar Jackson Maine. After a gig, he pops into a drag bar to wet his whistle and catches a young performer named Ally, played by Lady Gaga, dazzle the crowd with her rendition of “La Vie en Rose”. For the rest of the night Jackson and Ally talk about songwriting and a deep connection forms between the two from then on.

Jackson encourages Ally to write her own songs and pulls her onstage for the world to hear what she can do. Eventually Ally becomes a superstar in her own right and her life with Jackson is laid bare; the ups, the downs, the struggles with Jackson’s demons and Ally’s rising fame and ultimately it takes an inevitable toll on their relationship.

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Image by Warner Bros., Live Nation Productions and MGM

A Star is Born is sublime! I was floored with this picture from start to finish and I can honestly say that this movie has earned its reputation as one of 2018’s most excellent pictures.

I’ve held Bradley Cooper in high esteem for many years! He’s starred in some excellent movies and delivered great performances but his immersion into the character of Jackson Maine is undoubtedly the best performance of his career to date. The lengths he went to truly become this character-from learning to play guitar, singing lessons, the Southwestern drawl of his voice-is nothing short of authentic and the fact that THIS was his debut as a director?! Cooper did a damn good job for his first run as a director for this movie was beautifully paced, raw, honest and truly powerful!

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Lady Gaga has always been one for theatrics and this was my first time sampling her talents as an actress and she nailed her performance as well! One could say that she may have been playing off her strengths as an entertainer but she her vulnerability, power, authenticity, she’s incredible to watch! Her and Cooper together probably deliver the best actor-actress tandem in a movie I’ve seen since Viola Davis and Denzel Washington in Fences!

The rest of the cast are exceptional as well! Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliot, Rafi Gavron, Anthony Ramos, Dave Chapelle, Greg Grunberg, Rebecca Field, Michael D. Roberts; one could say that most of them are reduced to the background but I like the fact that they are where they need to be to propel the story to proceed.

And I have to say that this movie is written so beautifully. I like how Cooper, Eric Roth and Will Fetters have taken elements from the prior incarnations of this film and from the original source material written by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson and given it such a modern day feel.

Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is excellent, Jay Cassidy’s editing flows so naturally, Karen Murphy’s production design is marvelous, Matthew Horan and Bradley Rubin’s art decoration is good, Ryan Watson’s set decoration is great and Erin Benach’s costumes are great as well. Also, the soundtrack and music of this picture? It’s very likely to be celebrated for a while, so keep that in mind!

A Star is Born indeed and it shines courtesy of excellent direction, execution and radiant performances from Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga! See this movie A.S.A.P.!

Review: Venom

Marvel Studios, especially their cinematic properties, have dominated the box office in 2018. In fact, several of their films that have been released this year might be taken seriously as Oscar contenders, and they are certainly in discussion for accolades for now, but for all of the good fortune their films have received it was only a matter of time before something came along to really trip them up and that time has come with Venom.

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Image by Sony Pictures Entertainment, Columbia Pictures and Marvel Entertainment

In this film Tom Hardy is Eddie Brock, a disgraced investigative reporter who is down on his luck after crossing the brilliant and ruthless Carlton Drake in an interview. After losing everything important to him, Brock is contacted by an associate of Drake’s at his company to blow the whistle on Drake and his scientific discovery of a lifetime: alien lifeforms called “symbiotes”.

Brock comes into contact with one of the symbiotes and the result is the beginning of the most toxic love story ever told in the Marvel Universe. Eddie and the symbiote, Venom, must learn to coexist and stop Drake from carrying out his twisted ambitions, else the human race will sprint towards a potential extinction.

Suffice to say, after being exposed to Venom, I found myself immune to its-whatever it has that passes for “charm”. Director Ruben Fleischer and the screenwriting team of Jeff Pinker, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel were given an opportunity to flesh out a popular character derived from the realm of one of Marvel’s most amazing characters, give him a life of his own and by all accounts it most certainly tries to do that but this is probably the weakest and cheapest Marvel (affiliated) movie to come out in years.

The writing for this picture is completely stale and awkward with some hints of creativity here and there but it is a chore to follow. Fleischer attempted to truly honor the savagery and complexity of the title character but the material he is working with so substandard and I felt as though in going through such lengths to distance this character from Spider-Man, it felt as though the character was weakened and the experience watching this film was rendered common.

I will admit that I was excited to see what an actor of Tom Hardy’s caliber and dexterity could bring to the role of Eddie Brock and his alien-parasite alter-ego, but not even he could save this toxic picture. The rest of the cast does not fare any better if you ask me.

Michelle Williams is wasted in this film, Riz Ahmed is okay in this picture but okay is practically the highest grade this film allows itself to make, Jenny Slate, Peggy Lu, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Michelle Lee, Woody Harrelson, Melora Walters, this cast is relegated to practical nonexistence and because the plot and pacing of the film is so drudgingly bad!

Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is wasted in this film, Alan Baumgarten and Maryann Brandon’s editing is practical yet predictable, Ludwig Göransson’s score is okay, Oliver Scholl’s production design is mediocre, the art direction and visual effects are okay, Alice Felton’s set decoration is fine and the costumes by Kelli Jones are fine as well. In front of or behind the camera, there is hardly anything special to take away from Venom.

The best way to describe Venom is “been there, done that!” You see it, it’s good for a few surprising spurts but it does not leave a lasting mark upon you. If you miss it, you won’t miss anything.

Movies of the Week: A Star is Born & Venom!

October has finally come, fall is upon us and the time has come for all serious heavyweight features to slowly come out of the woodwork and make their mark! With the new season taking its first steps, we kick off with a highly looked forward to double feature weekend with films that are on different sides of the spectrum but their appeal is undeniable. The first film I will see this weekend is a new take on a classic Hollywood fairy tale that just may be an awards season darling come February. Believe it or not, this is the fourth time this movie has been made; the first was in 1937, the second was in 1954, the third was in 1976 and now in 2018, it’s Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s time to shine in the spotlight and make music together. This weekend, the spotlight shines on A Star is Born!

Director: Bradley Cooper

Written by: Eric Roth, Will Fetters and Bradley Cooper

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliot, Anthony Ramos, Andrew Dice Clay, Bonnie Sommerville, Michael Harney, Jacob Taylor, Steven Ciceron, Rebecca Field, D.J. “Shangela” Pierce, William Belli, Rafi Gavron and Marlon Williams.

What am I expecting to see?: When I heard this movie got the green light for production-albeit with a different director and a different lead actor and actress-I kept an ear out for updates but when I saw the trailer, I immediately thought “yes”! This will be Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, as well as his name credited as a screenwriter, and there is no way I was going to pass that up, because Cooper has made his mark as one of the best actors in the industry already and A Star Is Born will further etch his name as an elite. I’m also looking forward to an excellent performance by Lady Gaga as well.

The second feature on this weekend’s lineup stars another excellent actor in Tom Hardy. This feature is also a movie based on a comic book property but it’s an interesting take on a property as it’s a movie that features a comic book antagonist who is re-labeled as an anti-hero. Hardy will star as one of the most recognizable characters in Spider-Man’s rogues gallery but with an origin story adapted to exclude Spider-Man. This is the tale of Eddie Brock, the start of Marvel Comics’ most toxic love story, this is they are Venom!

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Written by: Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinker, Kelly Marcell and Will Beall

Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Woody Harrelson, Ron Cephas Jones, Jenny Slate, Marcella Bragio, Michelle Lee, Mark Brandt, Melora Walters, Jared Bankens, Reid Scott and Sope Aluko

What am I expecting to see?: I would like to know how Marvel Studios and Sony plan to pull this movie off without Spider-Man and if they can pull it off successfully. They have an excellent actor and a respectable cast to give Venom some clout but I’m antsy about its outcome. The last time the character Venom was on the big screen, it did not go well but Ruben Fleischer appears ready to give this character some justice and he is using this opportunity to showcase some creative originality. If Venom can do enough to make me believe this is a worthy use of its time, I think the future can be bright for Eddie Brock and his symbiote.

Bond 25 is Back On With Cary Fukunaga!

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Image By Dick Thomas Johnson from Tokyo, Japan, via Wikimedia Commons

The search is over and Bond’s newest mission is officially back on! Five months ago, producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli tabbed Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle to direct the 25th James Bond feature, starring Daniel Craig, in what is projected to be his fifth and final outing as Sir Ian Fleming’s legendary super spy. All was going well until Boyle elected to leave the film due to “creative differences” with the producers, leaving MGM, Eon Productions and Universal Pictures to find a suitable replacement. Today, Wilson and Broccoli believe they found the right man to helm Agent 007’s latest mission in Cary Joji Fukunaga.

We are delighted to be working with Cary. His versatility and innovation make him an excellent choice for our next James Bond adventure,” said Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.

I’m not exactly familiar with Fukunaga’s body of work but from what I’ve seen and read this is a tremendous opportunity for Fukunaga and his resume must have truly impressed Wilson and Broccoli to land this gig. At first glance, this seems like a breakthrough opportunity for Fukunaga but everything he’s done at this point of his career has culminated in success and acclaim for him.

After helming what critics universally agreed to be the one good season of HBO’s True Detective, Fukunaga continued making a name for himself as an inventive filmmaker with directing Beasts of No Nation, as well as writing and producing The Alienist. He now heads Netflix’s new Maniac miniseries with Jonah Hill and Emma Stone.

New details about Bond’s new film have also been released, such as Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are slated to helm writing the picture; it’s unknown if John Hodges’ script will be used in any capacity since Hodges and Boyle are frequent collaborators and Boyle is no longer directing the feature. Production is scheduled to begin in March 2019 and the film is scheduled to release worldwide on February 14, 2020.