“First Man” 2018

Director Damian Chazelle of “Whiplash” 2014 and “ La La Land” 2016 has another winner in this year’s “First Man”. Emotionally satisfying, if a bit long, this retrospective of the NASA ‘s space program highlights Neil Armstrong’s path to becoming the first man to walk on the moon’s powdery surface.

The film begins with Ryan Gosling as Armstrong bouncing  off the atmosphere and through monstrous sound and tremendous vibrations fighting the space capsule and returning to Earth. He is an engineer who knows how to get home. Home plays a big part of this film. Claire Foy, of Queen Victoria fame, plays Neil’s wife, Jan. They lose a toddler daughter to brain cancer, and we grieve with them. They are a couple that use words sparingly. They dance; they touch; they stare into each other’s eyes, and they understand and are committed to their individual goals, be it supportive wife or space adventurer. The early nineteen sixties it is!

The screenplay written by Josh Singer is based on James Hansen’s biography of Armstrong. Hanson is a retired history professor and taught at Auburn University in Alabama. Hanson helped produce the film of America’s most famous astronaut. We hear Neil say little. When asked by a Gemini interviewing-committee-member if the recent death of his daughter would affect his performance, he replied that “ it would be unreasonable to think it would not have some effect.” Later, and not very surprisingly, we see him place his daughter’s bracelet on the moon. Why it doesn’t float away is unclear.

The lunar topography is what we have come to expect, but Armstrong’s thoughtful comment about how its vantage point changes your perspective is well-taken. There is a reverence for creation that I like. Competition with the Russians and the politics of NASA spending seem almost secondary to the thirst to know more about our world.

There are some good cinematic shots of wet shadows on the floor in NASA garage facilities, as well as moon shots. The sound editing is relentless in relaying every creak  and groan and brain-shaking vibration. We experience becoming one with the machine. It is not pleasant. When floating quiet does come, we are relieved.

The back and forth rhythm between the familial and the astronautical is well-paced. When Jan is cut off from hearing her husband’s and the station’s chatter, she balks. She demands to be privy in present time. “ Don’t give me that this is protocal” , she seems to be saying. “  Protocol is for making people think you have things under control.” Neil’s hatch opening, his tethered breathing, his boot imprint, and his panoramic reflections are more respectful than euphoric. We remember neighbor’s thumbprint cookies and his small son’s questions, and his wife’s laugh. The film ends with Neil in quarantine and Jan sitting outside the glass partition. She waits for him to initiate. Non-verbally, he does. We feel he has reached his destination.

This is a film championing, as Walter Cronkite called them, “sailors of the sky”.  Somber in sacrifice and majestic in intent, NASA seems to be asking us not to push “ the abort” button on space exploration.








“La La Land”

Ryan Gosling ‘s talent saved this retro-musical for me. His deep chords and soft voice, his easy sway and final lament brought me  near tears. This incredibly sad movie was more wrenching than bittersweet. Why can’t one have one’s dream and one’s love? Canadian, ex-Mouseketeer, Gosling and large-eyed Emma Stone seemed jinxed by time.

With a theme that has decision-making seen as narrowing one’s possibilities, the song ” City of Stars, Are You Shining Just For Me ”  will have everyone feeling lonely, and have everyone  wondering ” what if “. Director Damien Chazelle, whose film “Whiplash” was reviewed here January 4th, 2015, has another winner.

Mia ( Stone) and Sebastian first see each other in a freeway traffic jam. They are chasing all the light in another day of sun. She flips him the finger when he blares his horn, and they bump into each other at parties and in the coffee shop where Mia works as a barista. Their romance begins, and it is enthralling. That feeling of time standing still is captured in dance movements that swirl and soar.

Horn honker and finger thrower are in love. Struggles and support for their careers of actress/playwright and jazz pianist follow. The story arc is predictable, but so heartfelt that we invest again in first loves.

J.K. Simmons makes a cameo appearance as a grouchy piano bar manager who fires Sebastian ( Gosling ) for not sticking to his approved repertoire.When Sebastian spouts, ” That’s LA.~ worship everything, value nothing.” we get a premonition of heartbreak, conflict, and compromise.

Through jealousy and extensive touring, we see our lovers drift. The shadow dancing in swirls of clouds still lift our expectations. This love can make it. Lyrics like ‘ Here’s to the mess we make. Here’s to the ones who dream. Here’s to the hearts that ache, fools who leap”, we root for them. It is impossible for romantics to believe that timing is everything.

Fast forward five years. Mia’s mind-movie captures a longing that moving forward always leaves.

Sebastian’s plaintive, “One more dream that I can’t make come true” will stick with you, and so will Gosling.  Continue reading “La La Land”

“The Big Short”

What makes “The Big  Short” so interesting is that viewers find themselves rooting for the hypocrites, and forgetting the taxpaying middle class footing the bill for unbridled capitalism. See this film and vote for Bernie Sanders. You will want to see more done to stop this fraudulent system of ours, believe me.

The first fifteen minutes of the film is slow. The whacky inserts of bubble- bathing beauties explaining financial terms and bundled mortgages of sub-prime equating with dog shit wrapped in cat shit means the writers knew this, too. How can something so serious about Wall Street morality be seen as comical! The dark humor is couched in “this is how the white boys play” with a token Chinese math whiz and a black, female  insurance hotshot worked in.

Saturday Night Live writer Adam McKay is forty-seven, and he brings both writing and directing skills to this film. Based on the mortgage lending crisis told in Michael Lewis’ best selling book,”The Big Short”,this film of the same title derides the fraudulent practices of our rate regulators,bank lenders and realtors. Serendipity is noted,as well as genius. True to actual events, one financial team caught wind of a deal because of a wrong telephone number. And one financial relationship was instigated through dog walking.

The metaphors and similies are acted out, like when chef Anthony Bourdain explains CDOs (collateral diversified offerings) as old fish thrown in a stew. We are introduced to synthetic CDOs next. We learn of prospectuses that don’t make it through the bank lobby and of investment strategies as effective as trying to win the Indianapolis 500 with a llama.

The characters in this film are so well portrayed that my husband did not even recognize Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert, the Wall Street dropout turned seed farmer. Pitt’s subtly  pulling the price tag off his tie as he wears it is perfect for a guy who has given up wearing the uniform. Christian Bale as Dr. Michael Burry made the most of his intellect,glass eye and shoeless feet and drums. Steve Carell with his demons is hysterical in group therapy. Marisa Tomei, as his understanding wife, is exceptional as her husband’s whispering confidant. ” You always try to be the virtuous one. Saints don’t live on Park Avenue.” Ryan Gosling at the American Securitization Forum in Las Vegas has just the right eye-pop. The convention by the way was referred to as “a piñata of white people who suck golf.”

The film includes cultural references to colonic appointments, “buzzkill”, and busts of Caesar at Caesar’s Palace rendering to Caesar what is said to be Caesar’s. The “hot hand fallacy” is borrowed from basketball to show us another investment banking no-no. There are no heroes in this re-telling, only blind regulators and the wealthy morally bankrupt.

The fraudulent market continues to be “the bedrock” of our Capitalistic System as all the “realists and fools” take sides. There was a bailout for the banks. They were too big to fail. Five trillion in pension money disappeared and six million homes were lost, granted many that never should have been sold. One banker from  Credit  Suisse was  jailed. Bear Sternes, Salomon Brothers etc.. free to continue their greediness. One of my favorite lines in this film about shorting the housing market was Steve Carell’s “He is so transparent in his self-interest that I sort of respect the man.” Bragging and confessing is at the crux of the American economy, and this film shows us why.