First Man

When I first heard about First Man, I didn’t realize it was a biopic on Neil Armstrong. I thought it was just a space movie with cool visuals, and would be about the first man on Mars or something like that.

The poster is just really sexy like that.

Despite not knowing the real topic, I knew I was really excited. Damien Chazelle has yet to disappoint, with his first two big breaks being, well, big breaks. Whiplash was breath of fresh abuse, and La La Land is goddamn La La Land, my favorite movie of that year.

So yeah, let’s try a real person story about a space man!

Group
A bunch of men that totally want to break out into dance, but can’t in this movie.

In the 1960’s, Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) became an Astronaut for the NASA program. He was already a test pilot for other companies as an engineer, not a military man, and he needed to get a new start. His daughter, Karen, had died when she was two, of some cancer. That sucks. That sucks a lot. He needed to get away.

Not just from the fact that his daughter died. But other friends as well. When doing science in the sky, and reaching the upper parts of the atmosphere, things can go wrong. They HAVE gone wrong for Armstrong, but he generally keeps a clear head on these sorts of things and lucks his way into not dying.

Is he afraid of dying? Is he ready to die? Is he afraid if he gets too close to people, he will become a wreck should they die in an accident? His wife (Claire Foy) loves him, and is helping raise their family, and is fully aware of the many risks of space travel. But she supports him, even when he is hard to reach. Physically, and emotionally.

And of course, eventually, Armstrong does some pretty impressive historical stuff.

Also starring a whole lot of white people. Most of them playing real white people too, I assume! Played by Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbot, Ethan Embry, Ciarán Hinds, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Shea Whigham, Olivia Hamilton, and Corey Stoll playing the Buzz Aldrin.

Love
I assume this dance is not my tempo.

Chazelle started us out on his film trajectory by giving us people who wanted to achieve stardom at all costs. The next film also involved achieving stardom, but in a city full of stars, people who already made their life successful. And now, in this film, we still have that achievement desire behind the scenes, but instead of reaching a city of stars, it is a whole sky full of stars. An interesting path and one that is keeping Chazelle fresh by clearly trying very different things.

The most interesting aspect of this movie, to me, is that it isn’t really about the moon landing. It is called First Man. Why? Because it is about the First Man on the moon, not the successful events, just the person himself. Neil. Armstrong.

That might sound like a normal biographic movie, but I assure you, this one feels different. We see things from his point of view and mindset, without having to actually go into first person point of view. It is easy to feel the claustrophobic nature of the capsules. Of viewing the edge of space for the first time. To walking on the moon, to losing a child or friend, to having to make life saving decisions despite not knowing the right answer.

It is so damn personal and at the same time it is hard to connect to him. Armstrong comes across a very distant person, dealing with a lot on the inside and less likely to talk about his feelings or actually deal with the reality his job is creating. He is a humble person and a quiet person, not looking for fame, but looking for something else hard to pinpoint.

First Man is a great film, with terrific acting, and is likely to be a lock for several nominations, especially in the sound mixing areas this upcoming Oscars.

3 out of 4.

The Lady In The Van

Now, I am not trying to be sexist here. But let’s think about The Lady In The Van. Is it creepy? Maybe a bit. I imagine a cat lady, even though if you live in a van, you probably don’t want cats in there as well. That’d be poopy.

But if this was titled The Man In The Van, most likely it would be some sort of scary horror film. Lady is intriguing. What is she doing in the van? Man is sketchy. What is he doing in the van? He should stop it immediately regardless!

I guess I should be thankful this is about a lady. Early year horror films are janky, but dramas early in the year might not be.

Overall, this babble is brought to you by: Genders. Men are scary, yo.

Brit
How British in this movie you may be asking? Well…

Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith) is just a really old lady, and she needs help. Sure, she lives in a van, but she is self employed selling pencils and notes on the street. Not a beggar, no sir. People wouldn’t take too kindly to that. This is 1970’s England, and it is perfect! She parks her van in a nice suburb area. Where the people are relatively well off and in that range where they will help her out and let her use the water closet, to make themselves feel like they are doing good in the world. And Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) just moved in.

Alan is a writer of plays and, of course, mildly successful. He has finally moved away from his Mam (Gwen Taylor), who might need to be put in a home herself soon. He is our narrator as well, and he describes that he has two halves. The one who writes, and the one who lives. Sure enough, he befriends this lady in the van, who has lived an apparently long and complicated life. He already writes a lot about old ladies, thanks to inspiration from his Mam, and he has to figure out if he wants to write about Miss Shepherd as well, or just experience her like a normal person would.

Miss Shepherd is also very secretive about parts of her life. She hates it when anyone plays music and will rant wildly if it occurs. She is being blackmailed by a cop (Jim Broadbent) for maybe killing a person. Yeah, that is important.

Guess how long this old lady stays on the street/ in his driveway? Guess! Over a decade, that is the only hint I will give.

We have a lot of neighbors who are in the story, played by Frances de la Tour, Roger Allam, and Deborah Findlay. There were also quite a bit of cameos. People who I thought were way too famous to be in this movie for one line or one small scene and never seen again. They include Dominic Cooper, Sam Spruell, James Corden, and Russell Tovey.

Sneak
And this is the lady sneaking out from behind her van.

It turns out all the people who had small cameos in this movie were there for a reason. And no, it wasn’t because James Corden is a douchebag who only gets 1 line in British films and doesn’t deserve a Late Night talk show program. The director, Nicholas Hytner, also directed The History Boys about 9 years ago. It was his last film and all of these random famous people cameos came from that film. The more you know!

Also, this movie is technically a 2015 film, despite getting released in America so late. So it was up for all the fancy awards and it was nominated for…one golden globe! It was also nominated for some British awards, as expected, given it has Maggie Smith in it, who is basically the British Meryl Streep. They love nominating these ladies.

Speaking of Smith, she was fantastic in this role. I have never seen her so old or decrepit. I was getting worried about Smith herself, given how pale and old she looked. Thankfully I remembered that make up departments in a movie were a thing and she doesn’t actually look like she is one step away from death. But damn do they pull it off in this movie. She is funny and naggy and cantankerous. Everything you’d hope for in a movie old lady, but not in someone you actually know.

The rest of the movie leaves something to be desired. Jennings plays an incredibly closeted British man well, but as a narrator and co-lead he is never really exciting enough. He is basically playing the audience half the time, just watching things happen around him, due to his timidness (or Britishness, really). The split personality thing was confusing for the most part, never really enjoyed how they had that play out. It was made weirder at the ending when they tried to explain it a bit more in the conclusion, too. The many other characters give an occasional smile, but don’t do a lot outside of show up once in awhile to be nosy.

Overall, you can probably watch this for Smith as she gives a wonderful eccentric performance. But this is not something you would want to watch ever again.

2 out of 4.

Rosewater

I don’t often use the democratic process when working on my website, but I like to keep things interesting. Because I only go to 1 pre-screening a week now, I have to sometimes make difficult decisions on what I want to watch now and watch later. I had FOUR choices this weeks of screenings, and since none of them were Foxcatcher, I took to Facebook and Twitter to let the people decide.

And overwhelmingly, the people decided on Rosewater.

Like most people, the only thing I knew about Rosewater is that it was directed by Jon Stewart. And that is it. Current events be damned, sometimes I don’t keep up with all of the happenings all around the world.

Shock
Don’t look too shocked, I am just super America-centric.

Rosewater is the true story of journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael García Bernal), a guy who worked for Newsweek in London. Mazier was born in Tehran, Iran, but he left it to go to Canada to get the college education and has mostly stayed away since then. Now, in London, he has a pregnant wife (Claire Foy) and things are looking good. They are sending him to Iran to cover a new election. It is a big one, because a dude who has been there forever and very religious might actually lose the election. The people are clamoring and demanding change, so they are going to maybe elect a professor who wants to help his country grow.

Very exciting times.

But while there, he ends up hanging out with some activists who are really anti the current Iranian government. Thanks to them, he can see Iran as it really is, with the protests and the underground movements. And when the conservative guy wins again? Iran blows up. Figuratively. Protests, anger, rah rah rah. Now Maziar is there a lot longer than he expected. Oh well. As long as he doesn’t do anything illegal, he should be good.

Well, he gets locked up anyways. Just for filming and showing it on the news. And he gets called a spy. And he has to stay in solitary confinement, with blindfolds, for almost 120 days, while they mentally torture him believing him to be an American spy. Weeee~

Also featuring Kim Bodnia, Dimitri Leonidas, Haluk Bilginer, Shohreh Aghdashloo, and Golshifteh Farahani.

Blindfold
He probably got a lot of sleep with that thing too.

In case you didn’t know, the reason why Jon Stewart felt compelled to tell this story in movie form is because The Daily Show had ties to Maziar. Maziar was interviewed by The Daily Show when he was in Iran for this election in which he was jokingly called a spy along with other terrorist jokes. The Iranian government used that interview as part of their proof that he was in fact a spy, despite the nature of the show. Yeah, Jon probably felt pretty bad. But they go over that in the movie.

In case you didn’t know where the title came from, Rosewater is a scent and the main interrogator for Maziar had that type of cologne or whatever smell on him. However, awkwardly enough, the movie didn’t really explain or say that, from what I can tell. Just a small snippet about it at the beginning and then never really brought it up again. Seems to be an important point.

Rosewater really is just an average movie. I liked the cinematography, but the aspects of it as a complete film are probably Jon Stewart’s faults. It felt like a movie 10 years ago showing the few “social activism” scenes, like trending hashtags and news reports about his situation. They stood out way too much and seemed like a way to escape the film and the horrible conditions Maziar was in. Because of the frequent interruptions and weird way to present his imprisonment, I rarely could connect with him. It just didn’t feel serious enough.

I also couldn’t really figure out the purpose of this is, outside of maybe letting more people know that Iran government is kind of corrupt. It was a shitty situation, but one that also kind of got resolved pretty easily and the whole thing just felt…weird. I heard there was a documentary on the same subject, it is probably a better source of information and maybe even more entertaining.

2 out of 4.

Vampire Academy

I am probably going into Vampire Academy with some biases. I am fucking tired of all these mother fucking vampire movies in my motherfucking queue. All of them, trying to modernize vampires, to make them the stars, to not make them evil, to make them just like us but blood sucking, to make them as normal teenagers or college students. Fucking tired of all of it. It is no longer original.

But this one is based on a book, so it gets a pass? Nah, the first of the six book series was made in 2007, so it was just riding the supernatural romance wave that Twilight had created, like all of the other similar books and stories.

Teehee
“LOL we are totes unique right?”

Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) is a totally weird teenager. We know this, because she says so, and people who say they are weird are usually the weirdest people. (That is a joke). She is a Dhampir, which has small amounts of vampire associated with it. Not a full fledged blood sucker. No, those are the Moroi, and they are the best of the vampire types. They have royal bloodlines, and generally the Dhampirs serve as their protectors. Like her best friend, Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry), a vampire princess.

Both of these types are mortal. There is a third type, the Strigoi, who are undead and evil and immortal. They are much stronger and cause a lot of havoc, and can advance their species through their bites. They hate the Moroi. There you go, the plot in a nutshell.

The movie begins with them having escaped from the Vampire Academy for some reason. They felt unsafe there, and would rather live in the real world with the Strigoi. But then they get captured and brought back. Lame. High school. Cliques. Prom. Ugh!

Unfortunately, when they get back to school, everyone hates her, including one adulterous whore, Mia (Sami Gayle) who is hopefully behind the threats coming after Lissa at school, and not someone more sinister.

Starring Danila Kozlovsky as Dimitri, a powerful Dhampir bodyguard, Gabriel Bryne as Victor Dashkov, a royal, and Sarah Hyland plays his niece. Dominic Sherwood plays the dark and brooding love interest, Cameron Monaghan a friend vampire who never gets the girl, Olga Kurylenko as the headmistress, and Claire Foy as a missing teacher no one cares about.

Vampa Prom
Technically not prom, because they are their own school thing, we all fucking know it is just prom.

Vampire Academy, the movie, was directed by the man who directed Mean Girls. Fun fact! When I first saw Mean Girls, I knew it was an amazing movie, and it has held the test of time. This director does not mean instant success, although I guess there were some similar thematic moments between the two. In terms of how people react to people.

But the entire plot felt rushed. Everything happened so fast, time changed so quickly. The entire point of the movie was “Hey Vampires! They are just like people, being all catty and shit”. But, as I said already, it has been done to death before. The characters don’t feel unique. Our main gal Ruth is a fast talker, but she never really does enough early on to earn that cocky attitude. Who am I kidding, by the end, she really still doesn’t do enough to earn that attitude.

Certain plot lines began in the movie, and then they just kind of felt forgotten about by the end. I guess they are hoping this six book series becomes popular enough to turn into seven movies (because you will have to split the last one in half), and in books stuff like that happens. But is almost unforgiveable in a movie, in my opinion. The ending itself was a sort of cliff hanger, and it made me feel robbed of an actual story line. Clearly, the story line that was hinted at was way cooler than the one this movie actually gave us, where at no point did anything feel serious or threatening.

Let me just say, having the relationship between student and old dude was also super awkward. Why are you doing this movie? Why?

Maybe the movie was actually okay and I am a bitter old man. Or, or, hey hey, listen. Or maybe. Maybe it just sucks.

1 out of 4.

Season of the Witch

When I heard the title, Season of the Witch, a naturally assumed some fantasy based film: knights, witches, magic, what not. I didn’t know it would try to be a “fictional historic movie”. I do love me some Ancient History too, but not that Medieval crap, so that wasn’t a good start.

Cager
The “Main Star” choice was also a bad start.

Nick Cage and Ron Perlman are Crusaders! Rawr! The beginning opens with them kicking ass seemingly all over Europe (thanks to different weather types and, you know, subtitles telling me place names). They are so bad ass, they can even make jokes during their melee-tastic frays! But once they end up having to kill innocent people and women, they leave the order, turning their back on the Crusades and Jesus.

Later, in another part of Europe, they are discovered to be deserters! So they are imprisoned. The local king though is all kinds of dying, thanks to that Plague thing. They think they found the witch that started it all (Claire Foy), so they need someone to take her to a Monastery far away,so they can determine if she is a witch and get rid of the plague. Also joining them? Head knight Ulrich Thomsen, Alter boy Robert Sheehan, Priest dude Stephen Campbell Moore, and criminal who knows the way Stephen Graham.

Yep. So they journey, and try to determine if she started the plague or not, if she is a witch or not, and you know, try not to die themselves. Also, figure out why God would do all this.

witch
Oh what shenanigans is God up to now!?

Personally, I thought the movie really dragged. It was hard enough to accept the ending, but also I am expected to believe that Nick Cage is more bad ass than Ron Perlman? Never! Impossible! I definitely believe that people back then may have blamed witchcraft on something as horrible and deadful as the Plague.

But the movie went pretty much as expected. A twist near the end wasn’t really that much of a twist at all. The sometimes obvious fake scenery that a few scenes have also seemed to bug me. Fights / action sequences were okay. But most involved either dark scenes making them hard to understand, or felt way too long (the last one). It can be an okay film, I guess, if you just want some Medieval action, but found it pretty lacking in enjoyment.

1 out of 4