Review – Moony Happy Returns (“First Man”)

I remember sitting with my parents, watching TV, and seeing someone walk on the moon. It was a moment I’ll never forget. And for all you idiotic conspiracy theorists out there, the moon landing wasn’t staged, it wasn’t ‘directed’ by Stanley Kubrick, and it wasn’t faked either. THIS movie sets things right. Period. End of discussion.

Neil Armstrong. Any kid growing knows that name by heart; the first man to walk on the moon, Apollo 11, and the Gemini program. In this movie,  we follow his career through his eyes, starting from his shockingly dangerous test flight in 1962, where he nearly bought the farm. Neil (Ryan Gosling), emotionless, calculating, and carrying the baggage of his recently deceased baby girl, has set his sites on NASA’s Gemini program–a stepping stone to the future Apollo program and the moon.

Trying to be the good housewife and his partner is Janet (Claire Foy), but with all his training and increasing time away from home, their marriage is put to the test. Neil, single-minded and of little words, gets into the Gemini program with his fellow “Gemini 7” brethren and soon he’s settling down in Florida with the other soon-to-be astronauts. He meets his new neighbors and friends, Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll), Jim Lovell (Pablo Schreiber), and Ed White (Jason Clarke).

Training is super-tough and lives are lost, especially the tragic deaths of friends during the testing of Apollo One. But Neil perseveres nonetheless, despite his wife wanting him to open up more. There’s even MORE training, catastrophe’s, and finally Neil gets the news he’s wanted—he’s going to the moon! Together with Buzz and Lovell, the final 30 minutes of the movie is the actual flight to the moon and the landing, not to mention Neil’s famous flubbed line, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Based on the book, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen, screen-writer Josh Singer (The Post, Spotlight) knows a thing or two about adapting true-life stories for the screen. Both his The Post & Spotlight screenplays had bite, wit, a sense of purpose, and won many awards. For some reason, Singer opted to convert this story to a more antiseptic, cold, and mundane by-the-numbers docu-story. Probably because you had Damien Chazelle as director.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Chazelle’s Whiplash was a cinematic masterpiece in writing & directing, and I thought his La La Land really should have won Best Picture that year, BUT what the hell happened here? Using an extraordinary amount (and overuse) of a hand-held camera, you get practically an entire film like the Blair Witch Project; all irritating shaky-cam. Plus, Chazelle seems to fixated on EXTREME close-ups and everyone’s eyes in this picture for some odd reason. What’s up with that? He spends SO much time with the technical side of NASA, that the personal lives of the men & women gets lost, something explored to better lengths in The Right Stuff.

Gosling portrays Armstrong as rigid, non-compromising, and almost void of emotion, while Foy gets to act circles around him, beautifully showing off those huge blue eyes to great effect. If you read about the REAL Neil Armstrong, you’ll find out how off this movie was, but what do you expect from a “based on true events” film. The one thing this movie DOES have going for it is the spectacular attention to detail. All the space suits, modules, capsules, and rockets are dazzling and filming inside the capsules is just about as claustrophobic and scary as if you were inside them.


First Men in the Moon (1964)

In 1964, the first men set foot on the moon… but, what the hell? They discover evidence of a prior moon landing!? And one that dates back to 1899?  How the?? What the?? Who the?? That’s the set-up for a comedy-thriller-fantasy, brought to you by H.G. Wells & the fantastic work of stop-motion animation master, Ray Harryhausen.
Needless to say, the United Nations is flabbergasted at the news and tracks down Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd), a very old man in a nursing home in England who, apparently has an unbelievable story to tell them. Back in 1899, Arnold Bedford and his fiancée, Katherine Callender (Martha Hyer), meet an eccentric inventor named Joseph Cavor (Lionel Jeffries), who has invented “Cavorite”, a strange liquid that, once applied to anything, deflects the force of gravity! And Cavor plans to use his new invention to travel to the Moon!
Cavor has already built a crude-looking spherical spaceship for this purpose, taking Arnold and (accidentally) Kate with him. Once on the Moon, Bedford and Cavor fall down a vertical shaft and discover to their amazement, the Selenites, a population of intelligent insect-like creatures living beneath the surface. Afraid of their hostile intentions about attacking the Earth, Bedford kills a few, despite Cavor’s protests. After escaping from the Selenites, Bedford heads back to the surface, but their ship (with Kate inside) has been dragged away!
After fighting off a giant caterpillar-like monster, Bedford, Kate and Cavor discover the Selenites extraordinary city, powered by a unique sunlight crystal. They find their ship as Cavor has a discussion with the “Grand Lunar” of the Selenites about humanity and their aggression. Bedford manages to sneak onboard the sphere and escape with Kate, but Cavor stays voluntarily on the Moon. Back in the present day, Bedford recounts that they landed safely in the ocean. The U.N. officials are perplexed at this as the TV shows a live feed of the moon mission, who have just found the hidden Selenite city and… and…
Adapted from H.G. Wells novel by Nigel Kneale (the Quatermass franchise) and Jan Read (Jason & the Argonauts), this screenplay hits on all marks. Both silly and fun while maintaining a delicious fantasy adventure that had, at its core, has an exciting sense of foreboding. Director Nathan H. Juran really knew his way around the camera, having done crazy TV shows like The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, and Lost in Space, so this sci-fi film was right up his alley. Okay, so it was pure fiddle-faddle as far as the story was concerned, but the target audience was aimed at kids with its “G” rating and family-friendly writing.
Still, you can’t deny some of the best Harryhausen animation around! His Selenites, that gigantic monster caterpillar-thingy, Cavor’s sphere-ship, and more is just so cool to watch. And then you have the actors who really put their heart & soul into this film, starting with Jeffries who sells this movie like his life depended on it! Yes, it’s all very British, you know, with Judd and Hyer giving great performances as well. Rent this, it’s a great Saturday afternoon at the movies..

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