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: Detroit

Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s newest picture, or should I dub it a docudrama, is a hard-hitting take on the events that transpired in the Motor City in 1967. Detroit follows the individuals and actions that lead to the horrible shootout that took place at the Algiers Motel, where the police shot and killed three African-American boys suspected of firing shots at National Guardsman and the aftermath of their actions.

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Image by Annapurna Pictures

Detroit is a culmination of three subplots carried by a security guard named Melvin Dismukes, a Detroit police officer named Krauss and an aspiring Motown lead singer named Larry and his friend Fred. Each of them are eventually drawn to the Algiers where bedlam, fear and senseless violence take place after the police arrive and take drastic and dangerous steps to determine who fired the suspected gun.

Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have worked together to deliver two of the hardest hitting dramas echoing current cultural and societal issues. Detroit is no exception to the standard as it definitely packs an impact upon viewing it, but unlike The Hurt Locker and unlike Zero Dark Thirty, I found Detroit a mess.

I couldn’t get past the constant shaky Steadicam work. The cinematography of Barry Ackroyd was very unsteady to watch; I get that Bigelow wanted to go for authenticity and I respect for that but the camerawork was so over the top, I couldn’t find a way to settle.

I also found flaws in how this was written. Mark Boal is talented but I can’t help but think that he may have overdone it; especially after the film concluded and Bigelow wrote in a statement stating that a lot of the information about the events of this movie was incomplete. I understand how filmmakers can take certain liberties to enhance the appeal of a film, especially if they are based on true events but it just raises the questions how much of this film was influenced by the modern day news stories about black men killed by police for little to no reason at all.

Also I found that the script left some things unresolved by some of their characters like Dismukes, Krauss, Greene and whoever else was involved in this ordeal and managed to survive; this movie, felt incomplete primarily because of how it was written.

Bigelow made her intentions clear in Detroit and I can definitely see why she was drawn to make this movie; the problems relating to race and police violence are just as relevant and important today as they were back then and the system has not made a difference. The problem is that this film has problems and those problems dragged this film down; the writing muddles the impact and the camerawork hinders the editing of William Goldenberg and Harry Yoon, which felt very sloppy transitioning between Dismukes, Krauss, Larry and the guests at the hotel for a while.

What I can’t say is that the cast and the acting were not a problem. John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Anthony Mackie, Nathan Davis Jr., Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever and Jason Mitchell all do a fine job with their roles.

James Newton Howard’s music was fine, Jeremy Hindle’s production design was bold, the set decoration by Dennis Colvin and Kathy Lucas was sharp, the art direction by Greg Barry and Jim Wallis was good, the make-up and sound effects was top notch and the costume design by Francine Jamison-Tanchuck was very precise.

There were times where I tried to force myself to pay attention to this movie and that has never happened to me before with a Kathryn Bigelow movie. Detroit is an impactful film, it is, and it is worth seeing because it has relevance but it also has problems that are difficult to ignore and ultimately, it is disappointing.