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.

Blindspotting

I first saw the trailer for (and heard about) Blindspotting before Upgrade. That is also when I first saw a Sorry To Bother You trailer. A pretty intense set of movies.

From absurd to realistic, they all have similar themes. Okay. Upgrade really doesn’t. But Sorry To Bother You deals with race, acceptance, and fucked up governments. Maybe in a more extreme manner. Blindspotting is aiming to be more realistic.

And I was very excited to see it starting Daveed Diggs. Like most people, I was introduced to him from Hamilton as Lafayette/Jefferson. Since then he has been in a good amount, which is surprising of Broadway actors. He had a role in Wonder, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Black-Ish, and Ferdinand. But these are all straight up comedies, or who cares roles. This is a movie where Diggs should be acting and maybe making us cry.

Hair
He would make me cry if he ever cut that hair off.

Collin (Daveed Diggs) was in jail for two months for a felony charge. It involved a fight, and some fire. After jail, he has a whole year of probation. You know, staying in the county that houses Oakland, California (where he was already living, and his mother lives, thankfully). He has curfew. He can’t be involved in any criminal activity. He has to live at a halfway house as well. Just normal probationary things.

And with three days left on his probation, almost a “free” man (with a glaring felony tag that will follow him throughout his life), while returning home he gets to see a police shooting. Right in front of his work vehicle, a cop firing four shots on a running black man who dies quite unceremoniously. And he has to get home before curfew, but he saw a guy get straight up murdered by the police. Was it because he was black? Was it because of an actual threat to society? Was it because he looked at a gentrifying white hipster the wrong way and get involved in stuff way over his head that escalated beyond any one person’s comprehension levels? Is Collin speaking from experience?

Collin just wants to survive. Survive in the city that he was born and raised that is changing for the worse. A city where he feels like he is being kicked out, or killed out, so that others can take his place and make it “better”. He wants to hang out with his life long friend, Miles (Rafael Casal), but Miles might be considered a bad influence on him. And well, he is white and can probably get away with more.

Collin fears the future. Collin doesn’t know where his life is going, but he knows where he wants to be. Safe, alive, and free.

Also starring Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones (the original Peggy from Hamilton), Tisha Campbell-Martin, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Ethan Embry.

Friends
Wanna know how I know where he is from?

Blindspotting is an example of a good comedy drama. It has heightened elements of both without feeling jarring. It is funny, like a good comedy, and it is tense and real, like a good drama. One side does not harm the other in the slightest. It just feels realistic and important and realistic and important.

The director, Carlos López Estrada, hasn’t done anything this big before, but what really sells this movie are the leads, Diggs and Casal. It should be noted that these two are actual real life friends, Diggs from Oakland, Casal from Berkley, wrote this script over almost a decade. They wanted to portray the area in a way that was being overlooked. They wanted to highlight the changing identities of that area of California, the problems with police brutality, racism, and of course gentrification, the latter issue which is in no way subtle.

They hit all of these points and they hit them naturally. This film flows so well, it is like a rap song, if I understood rap songs. Part of me is saying that just because rap is heavily influenced in the script and dialogue.

The ending is really what sells this film. The “final” confrontation that was definitely unexpected. There were plenty of good scenes before that as well, especially the phone call, the post party scene, the flashback, and more. But the ending is powerful and one that will be played over and over again once the film gets to that point of internet digestion.

4 out of 4.

Cheap Thrills

I am still atoning for my year and a half of never really doing horror films, but Cheap Thrills is a new one. If you take a quick look at the cast list, you would probably assume it was bad. Most likely you haven’t heard of three of the cast members, and the fourth you will recognize but not for his talent.

I was definitely intrigued by the title and plot line, so I gave this lower budget film a whirl. It is a very simple concept but it can go a lot of places. Kind of like The Purge, I guess.

Blood
Cheap Thrills on a cheap set? Checks out.

The story is mostly about one man, Craig (Pat Healy). He has a wife, a kid, and now he is getting kicked out of his home. Evictions suck. But they both lost their job and are having lots of trouble making cash. Not looking too good for their house. So Craig goes out to get a quick drink. There at the bar he meets Vince (Ethan Embry. The main character from Can’t Hardly Wait with a beard), an old high school friend who dropped out and he hasn’t seen in years.

They drink a bit, both of their lives kind of suck for different reasons, but at least there is alcohol right?

But then they meet two strangers: The ever texting and silent Violet (Sara Paxton) and her talkative husband Colin (David Koechner). They are celebrating her birthday and they have wads of cash!

They are looking to have a little fun, so they invite the two “friends” along for the ride. They also start giving out cash like its nothing. In fact, they pay Vince and Craig for them to do some outlandish behavior.

But happens when it starts to escalate? What then? What would Craig do to help protect his family?

Knife
This Ethan Embry doesn’t believe in destiny so much.

Living up to its name, Cheap Thrills provides cheap thrills to the characters in the movie and to the viewers watching. Just kidding. The thrills in the movie are anything but cheap, with about 250 thousand dollars overall being up for grabs based on the extremity of the stunt.

With only four characters, three of which are vocal, they actually have to act. The three males all have personalities and we learn about our two friends more and more as the story progresses. Some of the moments were actually quite powerful. They both have needs, and if only one person can win, it can get quite serious.

Not much else I can think to say about this movie, but it took a simple concept and made it really work. Nice job, movie.

3 out of 4.