First Man Movie Review


Good but not great.

First Man is a biographical drama about astronaut Neil Armstrong and stars Ryan Gosling in the lead role. The film covers the decade leading up to his most famous accomplishment and the numerous struggles he toiled with along the way.

My largest complaint with First Man is that there are far too many conflicts raised. The film quickly tries to cover Armstrong’s struggles with loss, family, friends, NASA, public scrutiny and the missions leading up to (and inclusive) Apollo 11. Clearly, there’s a lot going on.

The problem is that the film doesn’t know which one to focus on. In my opinion, First Man overcrams many different conflicts to the point where none of them were given enough time for them to be impactful. It reminds of the Simpsons when where Mr. Burns discovers that he has an overabundance of diseases. Each effectively cancels the others out because they all can’t fit through the “door” at the same time to cause him any harm.

the simpsons infographic for first man.pngA visual metaphor for how First Man tries to cover all its conflicts.

The overall effect makes the film less dramatic than what I was expecting it to be. Comparing it to a similar film of nature like Apollo 13First Man feels like a comfortable walk in the park. Unlike First Man, Apollo 13 focused primarily on one single event. In my view, this was a big reason why that film felt way more dramatic. One major conflict (or overarching issue) generally help an audience connect more to the struggles of characters. Instead of introducing several conflicts and hoping one of them will stick.

Maybe this is because director Damian Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash) wasn’t responsible for writing the script. Chazelle wrote and directed Whiplash, a film that I see as one of the most intense and dramatic films of the past decade. And funnily enough that was just a fictional story about a young jazz drummer; not about mankind landing on the moon.

Surprisingly First Man was written by Josh Singer, the man responsible for Oscar-winning dramas like Spotlight and The Post. I’m even more puzzled as to what went wrong when it came to him drafting the screenplay for this film.

I also questioned some of Chazelle’s directing choices. There is a stupendous amount of the same shot setups in this film that get recycled from scenes that similar in nature. Action set pieces would often cut back and forth between extreme close-ups of the characters eyes. Scenes with characters talking would typically involve basic shot-reverse shot close-ups. While the whole film wasn’t like this and there were some other very neat shots, I couldn’t help but feel like he dropped the ball compared to his previous work.

But as I said, not all of First Man is bad. The film works well as a crash course through the history of the 1960’s space race. Most of it might not be as dramatic as it could have been but I still enjoyed getting an overview of what it took for mankind to land upon the moon. Plus one of the events shown in the film did come off as feeling very intense and reading later up on it I still can’t believe it happened in real life.

I also enjoyed the overall look of the film which felt very authentic to the period it was set in. Most of the shots included a grainy film aesthetic and made the film look like it was produced during the 60’s. The same goes for the costumes and set designs that really do put you in the atmosphere of this time.

First Man isn’t a dramatic masterpiece and I fathom to say that I’d be surprised if it was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscar’s (though many critics are raving about the film). It’s still an enjoyable film and I didn’t find myself being bored overall, even if I was ultimately disappointed. Give this one a watch if you’re interested in seeing what it took to get man on the moon, but I wouldn’t be rushing out of the house to go see it.

Breathe Movie Review


From the depths of Mordor comes a surprising directorial debut for master character actor Andy Serkis, with a biographical drama based off the true story of Robin Cavendish, who became paralyzed from the neck down by polio at the young age of 28. Yes, it’s quite the different landscape for the director, who’s also starred as the lead Caesar in this year’s War for the Planet of the Apes, and whilst it isn’t as epic or compelling as his Gollum interpretation; Breathe is another solid addition to the feel-good movie list.

Marketed as a predominantly a love story, the film’s first half sticks to a classic tale of romance that portrays the blossoming of Robin’s relationship with his future wife and the struggles of their predicament when he becomes stricken down. Fans of traditional British country settings in the late 50’s and early 60’s will enjoy the various costume designing and scenery and Andrew Garfield’s coy accent. His American traits still stick out here and there but overall the attention to detail is indeed jolly good fun.

But what elevates the film altogether is the second half. We’ve seen such a tale of love all too many times before and the truth is told, such a traditional formula without its British glitz and glam is a conventional watch. Thankfully at the halfway point, it begins to take a turn for the best, as we watch Robin become a pioneering advocate for the disabled thanks almost entirely to his devoted wife (Claire Foy). She’s truly the one to be grateful for not only for her implications on Cavendish’s life in reality but also for the film’s impact. Both a catalyst for her husband’s recovery and for the Serkis’s directorial debut.

Following the highs of such films as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and The Intouchables, Breathe’s second half portraying the rise of Cavendish’s advocacy is an enjoyable and incredibly emotional affair. Indeed, this reviewer was surprised that a couple tears (yes a couple) were trying to escape out by the end, as Serkis’s efforts had quietly snuck in the middle of the night and just like his taking of the one ring, I too had been taken by the emotional heart of the story. The investment in developing and documenting Cavendish’s relationship with his family and friends had finally come up trumps and in turn, the connection to the film’s message was made.

Whilst the first half isn’t as spectacular as such said films that I’ve mentioned, which if you haven’t seen already are a must in this genre, Breathe is still a worthy story to be told. It’s the feel-good movie for this year hands down, even if it touches quite emotionally in the final act. Serkis has done a fine job at spreading the message of Cavendish’s advocacy in his directing debut, with some truly breathtaking scenery shots and attention to detail, my only hope is that he continues to grow and perhaps take on grander settings. If anyone can make an adaption of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, surely Gollum can. But perhaps that’s just the Lord of the Rings bias in me talking.