Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

First Man (2018)

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First Man  – Film Review

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds

Director: Damien Chazelle

Synopsis: Telling the true story of astronaut Neil Armstrong and how, through many years of intense training at NASA, he became the first man to walk on the surface of the Moon.

Review: In terms of the greatest historical moments of the 20th century, there is perhaps few that could rival the moment where for the very first time, the world watched as the human race set foot upon the surface of the moon. The man who took that very first step, and uttered the immortal line “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for Mankind,” was Neil Armstrong.  It is this man’s remarkable life and journey that incredibly hasn’t really been explored to such an extent on the big screen before, this is until Damien Chazelle came along.

After working together so successfully on La La Land, Gosling re-teams with Chazelle to play Armstrong, and Gosling once again excels. Right from when we meet him, you get the impression that this guy is focused and determined, something that has run through both of Chazelle’s last two films. He’s much more stoic here, but no less resolute in his mission, except there’s no jazz clubs involved this time. Josh Singer’s script goes into some quite personal detail that people might know about Armstrong including his family life, and the deeply personal tragedy that he goes through in the early stages, whilst also focusing on his NASA training, and all the perils that he faced on his journey to becoming the first man to walk on the moon.

Claire Foy, having donned the crown of Queen Elizabeth II, steps into a very different role as Armstrong’s wife Janet. A role that is quite clichéd for sure, yet it’s one she absolutely shines in alongside Gosling to be there as his figure of support, and at the same time, when it comes to the eve of his lunar mission, to voice her fury at the very real possibility that her husband might never see their kids again. Their relationship is the fierce beating heart of this story, and while the rest of the cast all give solid performances to complete a solid ensemble cast, no one else apart from Foy really has enough time to shine alongside Gosling.

For a director who’s only 33, he has already had a remarkable run of success with his previous two films Whiplash and La La Land, both garnering critical praise and awards aplenty, including the Best Director Oscar for Chazelle for the latter. The ambition for a film like this almost goes without saying, but Chazelle rises to the challenge and delivers another immensely well crafted film. Re-teaming with some of his frequent collaborators in the cinematography (Linus Sandgren), score (Justin Hurwitz) and editing (Tom Cross) departments, the film is crafted to perfection. The space scenes, especially the final lunar landing are so masterfully executed, it feels so real and authentic, and Hurwitz’s score is just superb.

Given the scope of this story, spanning almost over a decade into just over two hours, seems like an impossible task but Singer manages to streamline it as effectively as he can. Yet the pacing does suffer around the second act, especially when there is not a great deal happening down on Earth. However once, we gear up for the all important third act, the spectacle is turned up to ten, and never ceases for the rest of the film. For a director as young as Chazelle, to have an absolutely stellar hat-trick of films already under his belt is a remarkable accomplishment.

A remarkable and fascinating look at the mission to the moon and the man at the centre of it, with superb performances from Foy and Gosling. Another out of this world addition to the stellar filmography of Damien Chazelle.

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Posted in Film Review

Everest (2015)

everest
Image rights belong to Cross Creek Pictures, Walden Media, Working Title Films and Universal Pictures

Everest – Film Review

Cast: Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Debicki, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley.

Director: Baltasar Kormákur

Synopsis: At the top of tallest mountain in the world, a group of climbers face a fight for survival as they run into trouble as a deadly snow storm

Review: Eight thousand, eight hundred and forty eight metres, the height of the tallest mountain in the world, a place where the temperature never rises above freezing, going as low as minus 36 degrees Celsius in the winter and rising to minus 19 degrees in the summer (on average.) The challenges and risks of climbing this beast is one that would probably make many people considering to ascend it running scared. Even the most experienced of mountaineers can encounter problems and make a fatal mistake, and after watching this drama come true story about a 1996 expedition to Everest’s summit, one may rethink any aspirations to take on this perilous quest, in a similar vein to 2013’s Gravity, that may have killed any desires to become an astronaut amongst audience members. The opening captions at the beginning only remind viewers of the sheer dangers that climbers face when taking on this challenge. The human body is simply not built to function at those altitudes.

The film focuses on several expeditions seeking to reach the top of the world, which just so happen to be led by rival companies. One of these led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and another by Scott Fischer. (Jake Gyllenhaal) During a fateful excursion to the summit, problem after problem begins to surface, and these snowball (pun intended) into a desperate fight for survival for our group of mountaineers. As was the case with Gravity, it could have been easier for them to shoot on green screen, however director Baltasar Kormákur puts the viewer right into the heart of the mountain with some majestic shots of the summit and surrounding areas, whilst cleverly using places such as the Ötztal Alps in Italy to double up as Everest. The use of practical shooting locations which also included Nepal gives the film definitive authenticity. The audience feels like they are climbing the mountain with the climbers, and feel the sense of peril that the group find themselves in when the storm closes in.

With quite an extensive cast, including some big Hollywood names, you would expect the acting to be top of the range, and well it is. The likes of Josh Brolin, and Jake Gyllenhaal do deliver some wounded and yet powerful performances, but the centre fold of the film is Jason Clarke’s Rob Hall and he is the star of the show as the leader of the main expedition featured. It is mainly through his perspective that we watch the events unfold as the expedition bids to reach the summit. Yet with many people in the film, there is a risk that the extensive cast get  shall we say, swallowed up by the mountain, and unfortunately this does come to pass. The film tries to flit from one expedition to another with multiple strands of the story, thus making it difficult for the audience to keep track of what is going on all the time.

The cinematography and the score are both tremendous, with the latter adding much to the film’s tension filled scenes. In addition, the nature of the story is extremely impactful. “Because it’s there,” a line that is often said in the film. Yet it serves as a reminder for the viewer that just because something as wondrous as Everest is there, the challenges and risks of climbing it are extensive, and a quest to summit the top of the world is one that should not be taken lightly.

Visually mesmerising, with some great individual performances crammed into the somewhat overcrowded cast, the downer is that many of these performances end up being lost in the vast white slopes of Everest itself.

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