First Man: Everything I have ever heard about Neil Armstrong was that he was a very private and somewhat reclusive man. He happened to be a world icon as the first human being to ever set foot on the moon. But he was a reluctant hero and felt that it was pure happenstance that he became this iconic figure, as Apollo 11 just happened to be the flight where all the other precursor projects were completed. After the Apollo program he left NASA and became a professor, but still kept some interests with the NASA activities.
Along comes First Man, which is based on Armstrong’s authorized biography, first published in 2005. Armstrong died in 2012. The movie starts with some backstory and a test flight of the X-15 aircraft which broke speed records and left the earth’s atmosphere. Armstrong, played by Canadian Ryan Gosling effectively, was a test pilot before being an astronaut and showed time and again his ability to stay focused and calm when things around him were going awry. This is an important quality in any pilot. Whatever the situation, he can provide an outward appearance of calm and professionalism. The film goes on to show that it may not necessarily be the best quality for a husband. We see him and his Wife, Janet, played very well by The Crown’s Claire Foy, doing an admirable American accent. As an aside it is interesting in recent film history that US icons get played by non-Americans. Here the All-American husband and wife are played by a Canadian and a Brit. Abraham Lincoln played by Irishman Daniel Day Lewis. Just funny. Then again Queen Elizabeth I seems to only be played by Aussies (Cate Blanchett and upcoming Margot Robbie in Mary Queen of Scots). But I digress.
In short this movie is visually stunning, and is well worth seeing. I saw in IMAX and was glad that I did with big sound, and big screen. It was NOT in 3-D – thank heavens!! There is a great deal of POV where you feel like you are Armstrong yourself, strapped into a machine that incinerated your friends not many months before, or ejecting from a lunar test flying machine that almost gets you killed. I give nothing away in saying he survives each high risk and high stress activity. The beauty about the film is that tension and real stress involved is created when you know what the ending is. It is the HOW he survived and what he did, that was more important than just the fact that he did. Armstrong himself shows this implacability after the lunar flying machine almost kills him and his reaction was “but it didn’t”. Some might even take the rest of the day off of go and hug your wife, but not him.
This too was a far more emotional film than I was expecting, and writing about this aspect of it brings those feelings back to the surface. I won’t divulge this but to say that there are things about him that I did not know. These impacted greatly a man famous for keeping his emotions in check, as they would anyone, anywhere. This emotional thread is carried throughout the film and anchors it well. I felt that both Gosling and Foy were excellent along with a quality supporting cast. Gosling has that quiet stillness, and he can come across as cold. If Casey Affleck can win an Oscar in Misery by the Water, as a man who says very little but you can tell feels deeply, then Gosling can at the very least get a nomination for this. I expect it. I also expect Foy, who is having a busy year with her upcoming take on Lisbeth Salander (Girl in the Spider’s Web) as a supporting role Oscar nominee. She has a couple scenes as they interact about the dangers he is taking on (and make no mistake that this was a dangerous enterprise), and how he needed to bring these forward to his children, and he explain what he was doing and what might occur. I think Armstrong just blocked those things out and kept to the task at hand. He also did it all with excellence despite some earlier thoughts that he was not as strong a pilot than he was an engineer. I also note that not disclosed in the film is that he and his wife divorced in 1994. I can see why.
I wholeheartedly recommend this, and it is one of the better films of the year.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This is the original 2009 European version of the film with Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander as mentioned above. Rapace was the good doctor in Prometheus and she is really effective here. The three European films are on Netflix now. In 2011, Hollywood got a hold of this and re-made it with Daniel Craig. That was a decent film, but this version to me is better. If you know the storyline, this is the same. The plot is a news reporter (disgraced and successfully sued for libel and slander) asked to solve a family mystery of a girl’s death from 40 years before. The character of Salander is the most interesting in the film. She is odd, quirky goth with tattoos and piercings everywhere. She is brilliant with the computer and has had a difficult life. Bits and pieces of this are shared, but she also has a tremendous sense of justice and retribution. She hits back hard, and she follows through. Rapace shows all the same elements that Rooney Mara played in the re-make (I had seen the Mara version before in the theatre and not this one). As much as I like Mara there, I like this better. This is a good thriller with enough edge and adult content. Well worth checking out and seeing the film genesis for these characters who have two more films after that.