Thursday, October 18, 2018

First Man (2018)

Beautiful vistas, good acting, fascinating subject matter, but a slow and nauseating movie-watching experience!

Landing on the moon was perhaps the biggest human achievement of 20th century. You would hardly find somebody who doesn't know who the first man on the moon was, and what statement he made when he took that small step for a man, but a giant leap for mankind.

First Man follows Neil Armstrong's journey throughout the 1960's and shows his rise from a test pilot to the most celebrated astronaut of all time. The journey was filled with personal losses, sacrifices, trials and tribulations.

Ryan Gosling brings in his usually focused, yet cold and detached persona to the movie. I watched some interviews with the real Neil Armstrong that were filmed after the moon landing. I found his personality to be modest and somewhat cheerful, which is not the same as Gosling's personification. But I'm sure Gosling and Damien Chazelle (the director) have done their background research diligently, and what they depicted in the movie is perhaps accurate to that point in Armstrong's life.

Cinematography of the First Man is simply breathtaking! It takes you to that claustrophobic cockpit with Armstrong and co on their flight to the moon. This faithful depiction also makes you feel every bump and shake, and this 'virtual reality' made me somewhat nauseous! That said, the cinematography is surely a contender comes the award season this year.

In addition to the eerie and melancholic characterization of Armstrong and his wife, and the nauseating flight scenes, the pace of the movie was slow with no payoff. Ending the movie with a dark feeling and no payoff is quite disappointing considering that the story ends with ultimate climax in human history (i.e., landing on the moon)!

Fans of cinematography will appreciate the film, but the other aspects of the movie were underwhelming and below my expectations. But for the beautiful shots, I'd give it a 6.5/10.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Star is Born (2018)

Hollywood has been telling this fairy tale since 1937 with the first rendition of A Star is Born (or 1932's What Price Hollywood). It is an archetypical showbiz story that has resonated for many decades, and will certainly stay relevant in the decades to come.

The title tells us that the movie is about the birth of a star, but it fails to disclose that one star falls while the other rises. Bradley Cooper plays the role of Jackson Maine, a burnt out, alcoholic, pill popping, rockstar with an ever-growing case of tinnitus. After a gig, while he's trying to sink his sorrows in the bottle, he hears Ally's (Lady Gaga) performance of La Vie en Rose. Ally's raw talent is a jolt of electricity that resuscitates Jackson's passion for music. He holds Ally's hands and takes her with him on tour, asks her to perform and write music. Jackson's resurgence doesn't last for long though, as he fall deeper down the spiral of drinking and taking drugs.

Bradley Cooper, the lead actor, director, screen writer, producer, songwriter, and editor, shines and gives a career best performance. He is magnificent as the burnt out rockstar (with a surprisingly good musical performance for an actor). The movie's script makes you care about these characters, believe in the organic growth of their relationship, and sympathize with their struggles. The cinematography makes you feel you're on stage with these stars. The pacing is also excellent as the 136 minute runtime of the movie flies by.

As for the other cast members, Lady Gaga is phenomenal as the insecure ingenue who grows more confident and comfortable in her own skin. Sam Elliot, although somewhat underused in the movie, adds the final magic touch that elevates to movie to another level.

This was one of the best movies of 2018, and undoubtedly will receive numerous nominations come the award season. If it isn't already obvious, A Star is Born was a 10/10 for me.

P.S. A Star is Born is inevitably going to be compared with La La Land (2016), the other Hollywood fairy tale musical. They both depict the rise of a star in the entertainment industry, and also show the difficulties of surviving in such environments. But that is where the similarities end. The characters, struggles, story beats, and even the musical genres are significantly different from one another.