All-time Top 10: First Man

“That’s one small step for man…one giant leap for mankind”

First Man (2018) tells the story of Neil Armstrong and his journey to becoming the first man to step foot on the moon. Directed by Damien Chazelle, the film stars Ryan Gosling as Armstrong and Claire Foy as his wife Janet. The movie balances the chaos and danger of the space program with the quiet tension of the Armstrongs’ home life.

I’ve found that I love this movie more and more each time I watch it. Gosling and Foy are phenomenal in their performances and really anchor the entire movie. Ryan Gosling has been around for a long time, but the more of his movies I watch, the more he becomes one of my favorite actors. He can say so much with only his facial expressions – Neil is not a talker, but you always know what he’s thinking or feeling because of Gosling. And Claire Foy is phenomenal as Queen Elizabeth in The Crown and does an incredible job here of making you understand the pressure the wife of an astronaut experienced. She’s trying to raise two sons and maintain a sense of normalcy in their lives with the ever-looming threat that her husband may go out on a mission and never come home again. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the fact that Gosling and Foy were not even nominated for Oscars for their performances.

I love the way the flight sequences were shot in this movie. Damien Chazelle places the camera so that the audience gets a first-person view, almost like virtual reality goggles or a video game. The behind-the-scenes features show that the special effects team used a massive LED screen to show the earth and moon in real-time so the actors could react to the actual visuals and it all looks amazing. And I can’t talk enough about the entire moon landing sequence. You know they’re going to make the landing, but there is still so much tension in the descent that you almost forget they were successful.

The journey to the moon contains my two favorite shots in the entire movie. The first is on the way to the moon – it’s an extreme wide shot and you just see the command module as this tiny dot flying straight across the screen. It gives the journey a magnitude and perspective on just how far they had to go. After Neil and Buzz land on the moon and have suited up to go outside, they open the lander door to see the moon for the first time. As the camera tracks out the door and enters space, the sound is sucked out along with the atmosphere – and it’s incredible. And – I missed this the first time I saw the movie – the transition to IMAX aspect ratio in that shot blows my mind at how genius it is.

I can’t talk about how much I love this movie without mentioning the amazing score. Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz are quickly becoming one of my favorite director-composer duos. I’m obsessed with the music for La La Land and the Whiplash soundtrack is great as well. The music in First Man is exciting, energetic and emotional. I especially love the intense descending motif and the love theme. I’ll keep going back to the moon landing sequence, but the music for the launch and for the descent to the lunar surface gives me chills every single time.

Neil Armstrong was not your typical hero. He was humble, thoughtful, and focused on completing the task he was assigned to do. For one of the most iconic moments in human history, it’s wild that this movie hasn’t been made already. It’s an important story to tell that reminds people just how crazy, brave, and innovative the astronauts and engineers at NASA had to be to get us to the moon. This movie is also even more fascinating when you watch the recent Apollo 11 documentary and see just how accurate the filmmakers were with these historical moments. First Man is a fascinating look at one of history’s greatest heroes – showing us who he was as a person and humanizing the man who took humanity’s greatest leap.

September Movie Preview

September is usually a quiet month for movies, sitting in between the bombast of the summer blockbuster season and the release of awards contenders in the winter. But from horror to drama to animated family fun, there’s something for everyone. Check out the list below for some of the biggest and most interesting films to see this month.

It Chapter Two (Sept. 6)
Rating: R
Starring: Bill Skarsgard, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa

Set 27 years after the events of 2017’s It, Chapter Two follows the Loser’s Club as they return to Derry to face the fears of their past. Bill Skarsgard returns as Pennywise the clown along with the young cast, including Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things), Jack Dylan Grazer (Shazam) and Sophia Lillis (Sharp Objects). James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader and Isaiah Mustafa portray the adult versions of the Loser’s Club.

My take: The first It received overwhelmingly positive reviews and is currently the highest-grossing horror film of all time. As someone who does not like horror movies, the first movie was surprisingly entertaining. I’m not familiar with the original story, so I’m interested to see how it all ends.

See this if you liked: It, Pet Sematary, Carrie, The Shining

The Goldfinch (Sept. 13)
Rating: R
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright, Nicole Kidman

Theo Decker suffered a terrible tragedy when he was 13, changing the course of his life forever. This coming-of-age story takes Theo through grief, guilt, love and redemption. Along his journey through the world of art crime, a small painting of a goldfinch is Theo’s only source of hope. Ansel Elgort stars as Theo and leads an all-star cast including Sarah Paulson, Jeffrey Wright and Nicole Kidman.

My take: This is a stellar cast and looks like an interesting premise. The trailer looks beautiful as well. Wouldn’t be surprised if this is a contender come awards season.

See this if you liked: Brooklyn, The Fault in Our Stars, Gone Girl

Hustlers (Sept. 13)
Rating: R
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, Cardi B

A group of strippers, led by Jennifer Lopez, take matters into their own hands as the sex industry declines during the late 2000s financial crisis. They end up hustling dozens of wealthy men before it all goes wrong.  

My take: What a cast! The fact that this is based on a true story makes it all the more compelling. I’m hopeful the cast can balance out a truly bizarre story.

See this if you liked: Bad Moms, Bridesmaids

Downton Abbey (Sept. 20)
Rating: PG
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Elizabeth McGovern, Imelda Staunton, Maggie Smith

A continuation of the British television phenomenon, Downton Abbey follows the Crawley family and their household as they prepare for a royal visit by King George V and Queen Mary. Most of the original cast from the original award-winning series returns, including multiple Emmy and Golden Globe winner Maggie Smith.

My take: I absolutely loved the original series, so this is one of my most anticipated movies of this year. I’ll be interested to see how they introduce the massive cast for a movie-going audience who may not all be familiar with the premise. Maggie Smith is the GOAT.

See this if you liked: Downton Abbey (the series), Shakespeare in Love, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Favourite

Ad Astra (Sept. 20)
Rating: PG-13
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland

Brad Pitt stars as astronaut Roy McBride, who travels into deep space in search of his father and solve a mystery that threatens the survival of mankind.

My take: I’m a sucker for space movies, and this one looks visually stunning. This is definitely going to be an Oscar contender, and as one of the last holdovers from the pre-Disney Fox era, all eyes will be on the critical reception as well as the box office.

See this if you liked: First Man, Apollo 13, Gravity, Interstellar

Abominable (Sept. 27)
Rating: PG
Starring: Chloe Bennet, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Paulson, Michelle Wong

Three young friends encounter a young Yeti in Shanghai and embark on an adventure to reunite him with his family before he is captured by a wealthy collector and zoologist.

My take: This is the only family-friendly release this month, so I’m sure that will help its numbers. DreamWorks is hit-or-miss for me, but I hope it’s more How to Train Your Dragon than it is Shark Tale.

See this if you liked: How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Trolls

Here goes nothing?

I love stories. I’ve always loved watching movies, television, and reading. Stories allow you to experience the world – past, present, future, and fictional. Whether it’s an 11-year-old boy discovering he’s a wizard for the first time or watching Neil Armstrong take his first step on the moon, stories let us live through the eyes of others and empathize with someone different than us.

I don’t remember the first movie I ever saw. I’m sure it was a Disney movie – I was lucky enough to grow up during the height of the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s. To this day, Aladdin and The Lion King are two of my favorite movies of all time. Then, between the ages of 7 and 12, I found three life-changing series that cemented my love of movies forever.

The first was Star Wars. My dad was a kid when A New Hope was first released in 1977, so when the re-releases came out for the 20th anniversary in 1997, we sat down and watched the original trilogy. I was immediately hooked. I still have the original VHS box set that I’m sure doesn’t even play anymore. Then The Phantom Menace came out two years later and blew my nine-year-old mind. Sure, it hasn’t aged well since then, but for a kid it was everything. Luke, Han, Leia, R2, 3PO, Chewie, and Darth Vader have been with me for almost my entire life. I still remember not long after seeing the original trilogy for the first time having nightmares that Darth Vader was going to come into my bedroom (slow-motion style like Luke’s vision in Empire) and kill me. Thankfully, he didn’t. But Star Wars opened up my love of movies and of fantastic worlds in a galaxy far, far away.

The next series found me in book form first. If you were a kid growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s and you hadn’t read Harry Potter, you either thought you were “too cool” or your parents thought it would send you down the path of Satan. I. Was. Obsessed. with Harry Potter. I devoured the books as fast as I could and counted down the days and hours as I waited for each new book to be released. Then in 2000, Warner Bros. announced they were turning Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone into a movie. Boy, was I excited. I still remember going to the theater on opening night with my parents and being in awe. Quidditch was really happening right in front of me! Harry Potter was lightning in a bottle. Especially for kids my age, to grow up with these books and movies, and especially to grow up with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint – I don’t know if anything like that will ever happen again.

The final series that solidified my love of movies was The Lord of the Rings. I had no relationship with the series before the first movie came out. In fact, Fellowship of the Ring was released just one month after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and I was already all-in with Harry, so I didn’t even pay attention to Fellowship. Granted, I was 11, so you can’t blame me that much. But once it came out on video, I saw Fellowship at a friend’s birthday party. It was one of those parties where everyone was talking and playing over the movie, but I was able to pay enough attention to realize that this was something I could be into. I watched it again on my own later, and that was it. Lord of the Rings was neck-and-neck with Harry Potter for me during my middle school years. I read the books, saw Two Towers and Return of the King on opening night, and bought all three extended editions (the only way to watch them now). The best part about the extended editions was the hours upon hours of behind the scenes footage and documentaries they included. These opened my eyes to the world of actual filmmaking. I watched these features just as much as (if not more than) the actual movies. From the art design to the Weta armor, from the miniature sets to the music and sound, I wanted to know everything. From then on, movies took on a whole new meaning.

As a quick aside, these three series also developed my obsession with movie scores and soundtracks. I was a band kid, so I was around music a lot, but between John Williams and Howard Shore, movie soundtracks became one of my greatest obsessions. I listened to them throughout high school and college while I did homework or wrote papers. To this day, I still use them when I need to focus at work.

Eventually, I ventured out past the sci-fi and fantasy genre, although it’s still one of my favorite movie genres. Now, I’ll go see anything that piques my interest (although I have to be coerced into watching a horror movie). I’m still catching up on some of the classics and making sure I see as many Oscar contenders each year as I can. The Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off in 2008 and after The Avengers came out in 2012, I sold my soul to Kevin Feige. Are they perfect? Absolutely not, but I’ll defend even the worst of the lot (*cough* Incredible Hulk *cough* The Dark World *cough*).

So who knows what this will turn out being? I’ll probably talk about some of my all-time favorite movies, talk about what new movies I’m looking forward to the most and reviewing some of them, and share my thoughts on the movie industry – as well as I can all the way from Alabama. I may even throw in some TV when I want to.

Will anyone read this? Maybe? But I’m excited about movies and I’m excited to give this a shot.