First Man (2018)

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Directed by Damien Chazelle
Country: USA

First Man”, Damien Chazelle’s biographical drama film about the first man on the moon, is a must-see for its irrefutable dramatic quality and insightful account of the events before and after the launch of the spaceflight Apollo 11. Chazelle, whose short career holds “Whiplash” and “La La Land” as major achievements, worked from an effective screenplay by Josh Singer (“Spotlight”, “The Post”) and guides a fabulous pair of natural actors: Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy. The former is Neil Armstrong, the modest astronaut who would become a world-wide celebrity and national hero in 1969, and the latter is Janet Shearon, Armstrong’s wife, who plays a crucial role in the emotional side of the story. Steven Spielberg joined the film’s crew as an executive producer.

The film starts off with a thrilling landing on the Mojave Desert in 1961, when Armstrong’s X-15 rocket is pulled out of the atmosphere due to a ‘distraction’. At this time, the pilot lives in distress due to his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, who undergoes treatment for brain tumor. Despite being extremely cold in behavior, Armstrong sheds a river of tears when his beloved daughter dies. As a way to fight the grief, he applies to the Project Gemini, an advanced spatial program that aims to beat the Soviets in the race to the moon. He is accepted and moves with his family to Houston, Texas, where he befriends other astronauts and respective families.

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It’s nothing less than brave that, although seeing other colleagues dying in accidents provoked by multiple failures, the resilient Armstrong has never hesitated when it comes to accomplishing such an important expedition. After a few technical setbacks, which he handles with both responsibility and dexterity, Armstrong finally lands his spacecraft and walks on the lunar surface. An exciting section of the movie indeed.

Nicely paced, the film focus on the sacrifices made for the sake of the human progress, including the ones related to Armstrong’s family. In one of the best scenes of the film, Janet forces her husband to have a serious conversation with their sons. He must explain to them that he is going away on a dangerous trip and might not come back. If Gosling’s performance is formidably low-key, then Foy’s is pure perfection, bringing the emotional stimulus to keep us wired.

The magnificent score by Justin Hurwitz enhances the floating sensations of a different gravitational acceleration and combines in perfection with Lindus Sandgren’s detailed cinematography. Chazelle smartly avoided any type of artifice in the imagery as well as sentimentality in the drama. Hence, expect lucid space images and not fabricated spectacles, as well as emotions that feel humanely grounded and powerfully mature. “First Man” means a first-rate experience.

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La La Land (2016)

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Directed by Damien Chazelle
Country: USA

Everyone who loves movies knows the value of Damien Chazelle, the writer/director of “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” and the three-Oscar-winning “Whiplash”. His passion for music is no secret, thus, it is not a surprise that his third feature film, “La La Land”, falls into a musical/comedy/romance that overflows with warmth and grace.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, teaming up for the third time (“Crazy Stupid Love” and “Gangster Squad”) in their careers, make an interesting couple that struggles in LA to follow their dreams. Gosling is Sebastian, a jazz pianist whose intention is to open his own club; Stone is Mia, a part-time barista and actress-wannabe who deserves more luck than she has in the castings.

A set of unexpected encounters will bring their lives together, and they’ll keep running after the right opportunity that could bring them success in their careers. With love and understanding spanning the four seasons of the year, Sebastian and Mia seem to be destined for each other.
However, life takes many turns, and disappointment makes part of it.
The film’s last section is an agreeable surprise that smartly reawakened the curiosity that had gradually lost.  

Lightly funny and imbued of a vital swinging jazz (the orchestration comes from Chazelle’s former classmate and regular collaborator, Justin Hurwitz), “La La Land” is a charming and entertaining romance that auspiciously borrows the looks and mood of Jacques Demy’s movies. It is not Chazelle’s best film because it doesn’t have the vibrancy of “Whiplash”. Notwithstanding, the film is nicely staged, musically exciting, and technically stainless.