Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


Leave a comment

My Review of FIRST MAN

First Man, rated PG-13
** ½

First Man is a film about astronaut Neil Armstrong, leading up to and including his historic trip to the moon. The film was highly anticipated as it was directed by three-time Oscar nominee and winner for La La Land, Damien Chazelle, who also directed the excellent Whiplash, and written by Oscar winner Josh Singer (Spotlight) based on the book by First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen. The film tries to be as historically accurate as possible, with Armstrong’s sons working with the filmmakers.
The film has a solid cast led by two-time Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling (La La Land, Half Nelson) as Neil Armstrong. The film is not just about the Apollo 11 mission, and Armstrong being the first man to walk on the moon. It delves deeply into Armstrong’s strained relationship with his wife Janet, played by Golden Globe winner Claire Foy (The Crown).

***SPOILER ALERT***
After their young daughter Karen dies, Neil becomes distant and throws himself into his work at NASA. A very high percentage of marriages can’t survive the loss of a child, and the Armstrongs were not an exception, as they divorced in 1994 after 38 years of marriage. Armstrong was a hero, one that his family referred to as a reluctant American hero. He died in 2012.
The film follows Armstrong from his early days as a pilot, joining NASA, time on the Gemini program, including the near fatal Gemini 8 mission, and through the historic 1969 Apollo 11 mission with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. The film conveys how dangerous being an astronaut was, as we see or hear about several astronauts dying, including Armstrong’s friend and neighbor Ed White, played by Jason Clarke (Chappaquiddick).
The film shows that not everyone in the country was in support of the space program with its cost and danger, while the country was facing many problems at the time.
***********************

The film is visually stunning thanks to cinematographer Oscar winner Linus Sandgren (La La Land), especially the scenes on the moon, which were controversial because they do not depict Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon.
Themes include patriotism, family, dedication to work at the expense of family, grief following the loss of a child and friends, and danger. Content concerns include some adult language and the death of astronauts.
First Man was in some ways brilliant, notably when it gives the viewer a feeling of what the rocket blast-off was like, as the screen shook and the camera pans over to the bolts (will they hold?). I don’t like even the slightest bit of turbulence when flying, but this film, perhaps better than any other, gives us a feeling of what the experience in the cockpit of a rocket would be like. The acting was excellent, not only by Gosling and Foy, but also by the solid supporting cast. But in other ways, the film was much too slow, including a final drawn out scene between Gosling and Foy as they meet for the first time upon his return from the moon, and a good twenty minutes too long.


Leave a comment

My Movie Reviews ~ ‘The Big Short’ and ‘Joy’

The Big ShortThe Big Short, rated R
****

This superb film is based on Michael Lewis’ (Moneyball) 2010 book and it is directed by Adam McKay, who usually directs comedies starring Will Ferrell (Anchorman, Anchorman 2, Talladega Nights, The Other Guys, etc.). The story is adapted for the screen by McKay and his co-screenwriter Charles Randolph. They could get an Oscar nomination for the script, which includes a good amount of humor in this otherwise serious, stressful and angry film.

The strong cast includes four Oscar winners: Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei and Brad Pitt, and two Oscar nominees Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling.

The film looks at the 2008 financial crisis which had a $5 trillion impact in the U.S. alone, through the lens of four unorthodox moneymen or Wall Street outsiders – or weirdos as they are referred to – who predicted the consequences of the fraudulent mortgage-lending practices of large banks on Wall Street and made millions as a result. It uses three storylines, starting with Christian Bale, who stars as the socially uncomfortable Michael Burry M.D. (who listens to rock and roll music and goes barefoot in his office) who was one of the first to forecast the collapse of the credit bubble due to excessive subprime lending.

Steve Carell plays Mark Baum (based on Steve Eisman), a money manager who rose to fame after successfully betting against subprime mortgages. He wants to teach the banks and government a lesson. Marisa Tomei plays his wife Cynthia. Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) are two young investors who are mentored by Ben Rickert, played by Brad Pitt.

The soundtrack includes rocks songs by (Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Guns N’ Roses). The score is by Nicholas Britell. The characters have hairstyles and clothes that attempt to match the period.

The film aims to show viewers that major banks (aided by the media and government), engaged in fraudulent activity and were bailed out by the U.S. government at the expense of the average citizen – and that it could happen again. You won’t find likeable characters in the film or anyone to cheer for as you will in most films. I can’t attest to the accuracy of the film, or how close it was to Lewis’ book, but the acting was superb and this is an overall excellent film, one of my favorites of the year.

The film earns it’s “R” rating for a significant amount of adult language, including several unfortunate abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names along with lots of f bombs, as well as nudity in a scene in a strip club.

The movie uses a lot of financial terminology that I wasn’t familiar with. To help us understand them, the film uses a few cameos (Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain), to address the audience with explanations of the terms. The article “5 Things You Should Know Before You See The Big Short by Ethan Wolff-Mann may also be helpful in explaining the terms.

JoyJoy, rated PG-13
***

This film, loosely based on the life of Long Island mother Joy Mangano (who is listed as an Executive Producer), stars 25 year-old actress, three time Oscar nominee and winner of Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence as Joy. It is directed by five-time Academy Award nominee David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle), who co-wrote the story with Annie Mumolo. Lawrence joins two-time Oscar winner Robert DeNiro and four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper, who worked with Russell in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. The film begins with a dedication, a claim that it has been inspired “by stories of daring women everywhere”.

When Joy was a child she was very creative, and loved to make things. Her beloved grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) told her that she was going to have a great future. Indeed, as a teenager she created a fluorescent flea collar to keep pets safe. Joy would go on to become the valedictorian at her high school and was headed to college. That’s when life took a turn for the worse for Joy.

Her parents – Rudy (Robert DeNiro) and Terry (Virginia Madsen) – divorce, and Joy doesn’t go to college, instead staying home to care for her mother and do bookkeeping for her dad’s business. Joy gets married to Tony, who wants to be “the next Tom Jones”, played by Edgar Ramirez. They have two children but then divorce. They are better as friends than they were married, and Tom lives in Joy’s basement, while Terry pretty much stays in her room watching soap operas all day.

Joy works for an airline as a counter agent, and can’t quite make ends meet, as we see their phone service being turned off due to lack of payment. On top of that, Rudy is kicked out by his second wife and takes up residence in the basement, sharing the confined space with Tony, who he has despised since before he and Joy married. Joy also has a troubled relationships with half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm, who also appeared in American Hustle). Talk about a depressing dysfunction junction!

After Rudy meets Trudy (Isabella Rosselini) on a dating site for widows and widowers (he is neither), she takes him and the rest of the family on her husband’s sailboat. When red wine is spilled on the wood deck due to the high waves, Joy tries to clean up the spill amid the broken glass, cutting her hands. This gives her an idea, and leads her back to being the creative little girl, eventually creating a self-wringing mop (Miracle Mop).

Tony uses a past relationship to put her in connection with Neil (Bradley Cooper), an executive producer at QVC, a home shopping TV channel, which is Joy’s big break. But financial trouble and family and business relationships get even more difficult from here on. We see Joy’s perseverance, despite Rudy and Trudy telling her to just pack it in and give up on her dreams.  So did going from rags to riches give her joy? No, we won’t spoil it for you!

The film is rated PG-13 for one word uttered by Rudy. It also includes several unfortunate misuses of God’s name.

My wife Tammy really disliked this film, calling it long, plodding and boring. She said it had about enough material for a 30-minute Lifetime movie. She thought good acting and a good real-life story couldn’t ‘clean up’ how poorly this story was portrayed on film. I disagree. The film (as well as Lawrence), has been nominated for Best Film by the Golden Globes in the “Musical or Comedy” category (it is neither). The film isn’t great (as attested to the current Rotten Tomatoes ratings – 58% critics, 61% viewers), but I thought Lawrence’s performance and the incredible true story of Joy Mangano was worth the price of admission. If you see the film, please let us know what you think.