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First Man

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Mark Suszko
First Man
on Oct 31, 2018 at 3:55:45 pm
Last Edited By Mark Suszko on Oct 31, 2018 at 3:59:09 pm

I think the key to a good bio pic is: did you feel like you got into the head of the subject of the movie? Did you get a feel for what it was like, to be that person?

I don't know that I did at all with this film.

Then again, maybe the movie was *too* accurate, and not just in the costumes and set design and effects. Armstrong in public was always very reserved, private, closed-off. Part of this you can point to as a default personality of test pilots, being very cool and calm and collected at all times, and you can't turn that on and off. But internalizing your emotional life to such a degree makes it hard for people to relate to oneself. And so while the movie is a visual feast (mostly), I didn't feel like I knew a darned thing more about Armstrong the man than before I sat down in the theater.

Janet, his wife, was a sharp contrast; played with excellence and range by Claire Foy, without ever over-acting, she almost steals the show.

About the camerawork: this movie uses way too much shaky-cam hand-held camera, in places where it makes no storytelling or semiotic sense, and it's distracting enough to take me out of the story in several places, specifically because it was used inappropriately.

Comparing this movie to The Right Stuff: the pilots and astronauts tend to pan The Right Stuff for getting a bunch of small details wrong or over-emphasizing them... but what that movie does well is truly make you feel like you're one of these people, experiencing bits of their life and the emotions involved.

First Man's script, and Gosling's professional, very tightly-controlled performance, may have verisimilitude... but makes it hard to find the human connection.

The big screen experience makes the effects sequences fun. But you could probably wait to watch this on streaming/ PPV.


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Jeff Hinkle
Re: First Man
on Oct 31, 2018 at 4:56:02 pm

I agree with all your points except about waiting for home viewing. Honestly, the movie is so sterile in narrative and emotion that the spectacle is all that's left and that'll be lost at home. Saw it in IMAX and the sound and visuals really have an impact that the rest of the movie couldn't match. Granted, I didn't need to see Ryan Gosling's eyes in 30' tall closeups roughly 84 times, but things like the launch sequences and actual moon landing packed a punch.

Don't think you'll get that at home and then you're just left with a familiar story and a mystery of a main character.

---
It is easier to destroy than to create.
More fun, too.


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Mike Cohen
Re: First Man
on Oct 31, 2018 at 5:28:16 pm

The trailers look interesting, but the actual hours spent in transit and on the moon were probably kind of dry. You can get the transcripts from the missions form NASA and there is a lot of technical jargon that is not really good for the movies.

Did they use any of Kubrick's original moon landing footage or did they do all new shots for this movie?!


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Mark Suszko
Re: First Man
on Oct 31, 2018 at 7:47:29 pm

You know, every space movie shows a bunch of vibration in the cabin during launch. First Man took this aspect to an almost ridiculous level, IMO, in every launch scene.

The script is based on the book, and you can't count on the movie having something if it wasn't in the source material to begin with. You can make a good movie about a non-reacting man, if you make it about the reactions of everybody around him. ("Saint Vincent" is such a film. Bill Murray's character never changes throughout; only the people around him do, like he's a catalyst) But the script in First Man doesn't open things up enough to make that work... we get a little of it with the wife's portrayal, but just as that's going someplace, the story cuts away to another milestone. I'm a total space geek who watched every Apollo mission as a child and every launch since, and have maintained a strong interest in NASA and manned space ( even worked as a NASA contractor of a sort for three years once, thanks COW!). So I kind of felt let down by this film when I left, though I was really wanting it to be successful.

It's not a *bad* movie. It has plenty of action and eye candy. But I can get that with a couple hours of Kerbal Space Program on my computer. It's just that the script has a big hole in it where we're supposed to have an insight into the protagonist's character and emotions. It's practically a resume' on film, instead of a character study. I don't blame Gosling: he made some choices in how to act here, but he's given precious little to work with and no room to ad-lib when the guy is supposed to be taciturn, closed-off, and inexpressive. I think the book and script *wanted* us to know that he WAS a regular guy with passions and sorrows and fears like anybody else... that were held very close and private. Maybe because, after being the most famous man in the world after Jesus, and being so exposed, he *needed* to keep a boundary to his inner life, or go mad. Except for one scene on the moon, I got very little of that peek inside the man. And that's what I paid to see.


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Jeff Hinkle
Re: First Man
on Oct 31, 2018 at 8:28:50 pm

[Mark Suszko] "You know, every space movie shows a bunch of vibration in the cabin during launch. First Man took this aspect to an almost ridiculous level, IMO, in every launch scene."

Oh absolutely it was overused and overdone. Guy couldn't get in and out of his car without the camera shaking.


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Mike Cohen
Re: First Man
on Oct 31, 2018 at 8:36:28 pm

I have not see the movie, maybe will catch it before it goes away. Battlestar Galactica used some clever shaky cam during space battles, as if someone was shooting hand held during the action. In that case it felt appropriate.


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Mark Suszko
Re: First Man
on Oct 31, 2018 at 8:46:38 pm

Exactly: when it's supposed to emulate combat camera footage, or the view from the helmet cam of someone out on EVA, it's appropriate.

When it's a dinner table scene... not so much.


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Mike Cohen
Re: First Man
on Oct 31, 2018 at 9:03:04 pm

I think Attack of the Clones had some similar combat style camera work during the Battle of Geonosis. Snap zooms for example.


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Scott Roberts
Re: First Man
on Oct 31, 2018 at 9:36:58 pm

I liked the movie overall, but didn’t love it. It wasn’t quite as terrifying a space movie as Gravity, and I feel like the underlying theme of lost human connection (mainly with his wife) could have been done a little better. They tried to hammer that home too little too late. I guess I learned some stuff about the space program, though. Mostly how ballsy all these guys were.

Compared to Damien Chazelle’s other two films (Whiplash and La La Land), I’d rank this one third. Maybe it needed some jazz music? SPACE JAZZ! He strayed too far out of his jazz comfort zone.

I do think the editing and visualization of the technical scenes are definitely Oscar worthy, though, in my opinion.

I would also recommend seeing this in theaters, as opposed to at home, just so you can experience seeing Ryan Gosling’s eyelashes be as tall as you are!

Now I’m going to shake my phone really fast as I hit ” Post” to give my comment the full effect.


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Mike Cohen
Re: First Man
on Nov 2, 2018 at 5:36:49 pm

This thread raises the question of "when is shaky camera appropriate?"

The first time I remember seeing intentional shaky cam was in NYPD Blue. They shot with a dolly but moved the camera to make it look more authentic, maybe. Obviously in hand held ENG style shows like COPS shaky cam is part of the show, but adding shake to dramatic scenes with no action is questionable.

Likewise actual news coverage seems to have occasional hand held camera work when a tripod could be used. Recent coverage of Hurricane Michael had some handheld live shots in the wind that were almost unwatchable. Is a 6' tall camera person more stable than a sturdy tripod with a few sandbags in the wind? Maybe, I have never done such a setup! I have noticed since 2017 that a lot of CNN coverage of the President is shaky non-tripod work even when covering a planned press conference or gaggle.

With all of the stabilizer devices now available it seems that if you don't want shaky cam there are ways to avoid it. If you do want shaky cam, you'd better do it for a good reason, not just to look edgy or create a sense of reality in an unreal situation.


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