First Man (2018)

Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke

Screenplay: Josh Singer

141 mins. Rated PG-13 for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language.

 

Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) is working pretty hard to make up for the disappointing and embarrassing situation at the Oscars in 2017. This year, he returns with the wildly ambitious biographical drama First Man.

First Man chronicles the life of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine, Blade Runner 2049) in the eight years leading up to the Apollo 11 mission, where Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. During that time, Armstrong experienced great loss in his personal and professional life, and the relationship with his wife Janet (Claire Foy, Unsane, TV’s The Crown). It also encompasses many of the trials, training, and missions that were required to get to the moon.

Chazelle really excels with his character development. His strengths are characters that have trouble connecting to other people. He tends to have characters who are driven by a specific goal and cannot see how that goal is affecting those around them. The relationship between Neil and Janet is so strongly built and examined in the film so that we as viewers can watch them strain and test their marriage with Armstrong’s excessive drive to complete his mission. Neil is running from the pain of loss in his life and as he gets closer and closer to achieving his goal, he finds that the losses continue to pile.

The film is magnificently shot. This is one of the most beautifully filmed pieces of cinema I’ve seen this year. The visuals are aged and elegant and they capture the feeling of the time. The gorgeous visuals are matched and juxtaposed with actual audio and video from the time. He uses this to convey a new sense of the time. So many films about the space program push for an America Pride angle with their imagery. Chazelle instead chose to show how pain and difficulty comes with this mission, and how many Americans viewed it at the time. The question of whether or not this Space Race was worth it becomes a central argument in First Man, and it fits very well with the story that Chazelle is telling.

The controversy about the flag plays in here quite heavily. It’s not really spoilery to say that we will see Armstrong on the moon at some point in the film, and when he does, I feel like many expected to see an American flag firmly planted on the moon’s surface, and while the flag is visible, it is not directly focused on. Some have complained about this (people who hadn’t seen the film yet and wanted something to be mad about), but again, Chazelle’s focus seems to be on the impact for Mankind and also on Armstrong’s personal journey.

First Man is the first Universal Pictures film to use IMAX cameras, and they are only used for the lunar sequences, but those sequences just left me…breathless. I felt like I was actually on the moon with Armstrong. If you get the chance, see First Man in IMAX. It is worth it.

The other area where Chazelle has an edge is his endings. All of his movies that I’ve seen have had such awe-inspiring endings, and First Man, while quiet and subtle, has an excellent ending that shows what was most important to Chazelle: character.

I have so many things to say about First Man as I unravel more of what I saw, but this was quite an experience. The pacing was one area that seemed to be a struggle for me. Even though I loved the slow-burn, I felt as though the movie could have trimmed maybe 10-15 minutes, but overall, this is a tremendous achievement for Chazelle, who is just killing it right now. See this one in theaters.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, click here.

For my review of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, click here.

[Early Review] The Front Runner (2018)

Director: Jason Reitman

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons, Alfred Molina, Molly Ephraim, Kaitlyn Dever

Screenplay: Matt Bai, Jay Carson, Jason Reitman

113 mins. Rated R for language including some sexual references.

 

If you’re planning on making a political drama, ensure that it helps to shine a light on our current political system. The Front Runner does just that.

After a failed 1984 attempt at making the ballot, Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables, The Greatest Showman) is making waves in 1988 as the front runner to the presidency. Everything seems to be falling perfectly in place for Hart, until reporters from The Miami Herald unveil an affair between Hart and a young woman who isn’t his wife. Now, Hart needs to save his political future without destroying his marriage to wife Lee (Vera Farmiga, The Departed, The Commuter). His campaign manager Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons, Whiplash, Father Figures) truly believes that Hart is the savior our government needs, but he finds that he faces a mountain of problems in righting the ship for Hart, who struggles with the notion that his free time and life outside of the office is nobody’s business but his own.

There are several award-worthy performances in The Front Runner, most notably Jackman’s. It becomes difficult at times to even think of Jackman in the role. His work as Hart is so strong and well-built as he plays the flawed potential-President. His exchanges with Farmiga are incredible, and she is wonderful as Lee Hart, a wife who understands the toll of being married to one of the most talked about men in America. Her only ask? That he not embarrass her. She gets more than she bargained for. Lastly, J.K. Simmons is a revelation as Dixon, a man who knows the state of the game and is aware of it changing right in front of him.

The Front Runner has some gorgeous visuals and it convinced me that I was in 1988 experiencing all of this for the first time. Director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Tully) has such an incredible color palette on the screen for his audience, and it makes all the drama unfolding onscreen really POP.

The biggest flaws with the narrative is the bloated nature and some of the extra fat on the story. I didn’t need the subplot with Donna Rice and Irene Kelly (Molly Ephraim, Parked, TV’s Last Man Standing). It’s important information for its own story, but I didn’t feel like it mattered to Gary’s journey. There’s also a lot of time spent with Lee and daughter Andrea (Kaitlyn Dever, Detroit, TV’s Justified) at the house holed up hiding from reporters. Again, it doesn’t do much to Gary’s journey. Interesting though it may be, I was following Jackman’s character. Trim some of the excess from the film and it will streamline the pacing so much more.

The Front Runner is quite fascinating in the current political climate. If Hart had run today, would he have won? If he hadn’t been caught, how would the world be different? It raises a lot of questions, and director Reitman puts all the pieces in play and lets them dance around. Exactly what the statement he’s trying to make is somewhat muddled, but performances and visual flair can say quite a lot. The Front Runner will likely be snubbed for a lot of potential Oscar wins as the season goes on, but it’s worth your time when it opens on Election Day. Just make sure to vote first.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen

Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy

121 mins. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity.

 

I’d been looking forward to Battle of the Sexes ever since I heard that Emma Stone (The Help, The Croods) would be playing Billie Jean King and Steve Carell (Foxcatcher, Despicable Me 3) would be playing Bobby Riggs. The two performers worked so well together for their limited time in Crazy Stupid Love. In fact, Emma Stone also appeared in Birdman with Andrea Riseborough  and Superbad with Martha MacIsaac. She’s built quite the incredibly portfolio, but is Battle of the Sexes up to snuff?

Battle of the Sexes is more about Billie Jean King than her opponent. It covers her strained relationship with husband Larry (Austin Stowell, Whiplash, Colossal), her secret relationship with lover Marilyn (Riseborough) and her fight against Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman, Independence Day, The Equalizer) over women’s rights in professional tennis. But when she finds herself head-to-head with the showboating Riggs, a man who is about to lose his wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas, Chasing Mavericks) due to his lies and gambling addiction, she finds herself fighting for more than just bragging rights in this film from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks).

Battle of the Sexes is a classic character study and a great showcase for numerous incredible performances, led by Stone and Carell. Emma Stone disappears into her role, proving that she is one of the best actresses working in the business today. Her role as King isn’t imitation or caricature but rather a true interpretation by one artist of another. Steve Carell too is tough to spot in the charismatic Riggs, a feat for the performer who could’ve turned to other comedic performances to channel. Instead, his humor is met with a nuanced characterization of a man who understands what he is doing wrong yet cannot stop himself. It’s like he is watching a car accident, unable to turn away.

The screenplay comes from Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, Everest) and, for the most part, it is quite strong. I found the film dragging a bit in the second act, which could’ve been fixed easily in the editing bay or with a tightening of the script.

The director duo husband and wife that is Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have delivered a film that feels like a documentary. The style and tone is something that could’ve come straight out of 1973. An event like this could very easily have turned satirical or lampoonish, and the filmmakers ride the line very well.

Battle of the Sexes is Emma Stone’s movie, and that’s a really good thing. In fact, this could be the best she’s ever been. That doesn’t excuse her costar Carell from an amazing turn as the showboating aging tennis star, but it just proves the acting caliber of the stars. If you get the chance, check out Battle of the Sexes while it’s still in theaters. This is one to watch come awards season.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[#2017oscardeathrace] La La Land (2016)

lalaland2016b

Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend

Screenplay: Damien Chazelle

128 mins. Rated PG-13 for some language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Ryan Gosling) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Stone) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song) “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song) “City of Stars” [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [Pending]

IMDb Top 250: #41 (as of 2/5/2017)

 

Now we get to the biggie. La La Land matched the record at this year’s Oscar nomination celebration with 14 nominations. Now, it technically could only win 13 because of its double nomination for Original Song, but all the same, it looks to be a possible sweep of many awards on the upcoming awards night.

La La Land (2016) Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling, Drive, The Nice Guys) is a jazz musician looking to start his own club when he meets Mia (Emma Stone, The Help, Aloha), an aspiring actress currently shuffling coffee on a set while searching out her big break. The two are initially at odds, but their friendship soon blooms into romance as they discover a passion for the art within each other, but they soon find that the path of the artist is a narrow one and there isn’t always space for two to walk it together in the newest film from writer/director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench).

La La Land is a film that takes everything learned from Whiplash and uses it to push the boundaries of filmmaking, and Chazelle is an amazing artist who has crafted a modern musical masterpiece. The film also displays a common theme in Chazelle’s work, a dour but realistic representation of the costs to being an artist. It is a prevalent theme in Whiplash and only further pushes in La La Land.

Gosling and Stone have terrific chemistry, having worked previously together in Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad. These two are destined to be one of the great romantic duos of our age. Their performances together are brilliant. Gosling also gives great work with John Legend (Soul Men, Loverboy) who appears in the film as colleague Keith. Gosling learned piano for the film while Legend learned guitar.

The difference here from, let’s say, Fences, is that La La Land is focused on the relationship but has the style to elevate the film to another level, whereas Fences only focuses on the relationship. Chazelle’s direction is almost another character, aided by top-notch cinematography, set design, and film editing.

Chazelle also takes the risky route with his finale, presenting a unique and interesting twist on this love story that may not win everyone over, but I love how it presents an ending that felt authentic but also hit on everything my inner romantic wanted from this film. The ending has its roots in the musical community and is nothing we haven’t seen before, but it just works so damn well here.

Lastly, I need to touch on the music, particularly “Audition (The Fools Who Dream” and “City of Stars,” both songs very worthy of their nominations. While I loved the opening number, it doesn’t have the emotional hit that these two songs have. I personally have my vote down for “Audition” but I wouldn’t mind a win for either.

lalaland2016c

La La Land is going to take the awards this year, but I’m not certain about Best Picture just yet. Even so, it is a powerhouse film destined to be a classic for years to come. Even if you don’t love musicals, give it a try.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So have you seen La La Land? What did you think? What was your favorite number? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

 

For my review of Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, click here.

Whiplash (2014)

whiplash2014a

Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser

Screenplay: Damien Chazelle

107 mins. Rated R for strong language including some sexual references.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (J.K. Simmons)
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay

 

Whiplash was a strange entry to the list of Best Picture nominees at this year’s Oscars. It kind of just came out of nowhere. Everyone was talking about this movie that came out at the beginning of the year and just sort of slipped by everyone. All of the sudden, though, people were talking about J.K. Simmons (TV’s The Legend of Korra, Spider-Man) and his riveting performance as a musical maestro with a sharp edge.

whiplash2014c

Whiplash tells the story of Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now, The Divergent Series: Insurgent), a fantastic drummer who dreams of entering stardom at any cost. He will do absolutely anything to become one of the greats. This brings him to the attention of Fletcher (Simmons), a bandleader at the prestigious music school Andrew attends. Fletcher has the hottest ensemble on campus and everyone wants to join, but there are costs to working with the best, as Andrew soon discovers. As relationships with his girlfriend and father (played by Paul Reiser, Aliens, Life After Beth) crumble around him, can Andrew hold it all together?

Whiplash is, to put it best, a jarring piece of art. It is difficult to watch and, in equal measures, glorious and destructive. The performances by Teller and Simmons are intense and building and emotionally draining.

The screenplay, by writer-director Damien Chazelle, is an engrossing pile of paper, with themes of stardom and loneliness worked in.

whiplash2014b

Whiplash feels like a rock concert that you want to see but don’t necessarily want to be a part of. The stellar work from just about everyone involved is top notch. My only complaint is that it does lull for a bit in the middle, but other than that, this is a movie you need to see. Now. Seriously. Go rent it now.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] Let’s Begin…

Hey everyone, so here’s the deal, every year, I try to make my way into seeing every film nominated for an Academy Awards (no short films, it’s just not possible). This year, there were forty-five films nominated, and here they are:

Best Picture:

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Selma
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

 

Best Director:

  • Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Richard Linklater, Boyhood
  • Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
  • Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

 

Best Actor:

  • Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
  • Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
  • Michael Keaton, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

 

Best Actress:

  • Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
  • Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
  • Julianne Moore, Still Alice
  • Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
  • Reese Witherspoon, Wild

 

Best Supporting Actor:

  • Robert Duvall, The Judge
  • Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
  • Edward Norton, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
  • J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

 

Best Supporting Actress:

  • Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
  • Laura Dern, Wild
  • Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
  • Emma Stone, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

 

Best Original Screenplay:

 

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  • American Sniper
  • The Imitation Game
  • Inherent Vice
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

 

Best Animated Feature:

  • Big Hero 6
  • The Boxtrolls
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Song of the Sea
  • The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

 

Best Foreign Language Film:

  • Ida
  • Leviathan
  • Tangerines
  • Timbuktu
  • Wild Tales

 

Best Documentary:

  • Citizenfour
  • Finding Vivian Maier
  • Last Days in Vietnam
  • The Salt of the Earth
  • Virunga

 

Best Original Score:

 

Best Original Song:

  • “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie
  • “Glory” from Selma
  • “Grateful” from Beyond the Lights
  • “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
  • “Lost Stars” from Begin Again

 

Best Sound Editing:

 

Best Sound Mixing:

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
  • Interstellar
  • Unbroken
  • Whiplash

 

Best Production Design:

 

Best Cinematography:

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

 

Best Costume Design:

 

Best Film Editing:

 

Best Visual Effects:

 

So, how many can you see? You’re on!

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑