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'First Man'—Review

3 Stars—2018

We have all heard the saying "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" before right? If you haven't, let me bring you up to speed. The saying implies that something may have many mediocre features, but when you take a step back and look at it as a whole, it's beautiful. However, with First Man, I would use the saying "the whole is less than the sum of its parts." I could list off every single aspect of the movie from acting, directing, cinematography, writing, production design, costumes, sound design, visual effects, editing, and literally everything you can think of and I will tell you that they did an amazing job, but when I step back and look at the movie as a whole, I would say that I am pretty content with never watching it again.

Now, that sounds worse than it actually is, but this movie didn't give me any reason to go back and rewatch it or even tell my friends at work about it the next day. Sometimes movies come out around this time of year that will please the "elites" of the critic world and will entertain me for the one viewing. But in my eyes, a movie can be the best technical movie ever made, but if it doesn't leave me with a strong emotional impact, then it doesn't get a high rating in my book.

However, let's start with a silver lining. Ryan Gosling is always great to watch on screen because he does a great job by conveying emotion and creating drama without speaking much dialogue. He isn't an actor that does the over the top shouting like Tom Cruise or even a Nicholas Cage (although that man is totally nuts), he is a much more reserved actor which fits this portrayal of Neil Armstrong very well.

Claire Foy is also great here because I totally forgot that she plays Queen Elizabeth in The Crown. Her American accent is so good that I thought she was just an unknown actor that they found in a giant casting call. Along with all the other actors in the film, this film has the acting down pat.

As for the actual space exploration stuff, the cinematography and directing combine for a very claustrophobic feeling movie. A majority of the shots are done on a handheld camera with the characters or subjects extremely close and big in the frame. This technique makes the scenes of malfunctioning spaceship parts extremely intense. You don't just see the spaceship from afar spin out of control with a perfectly framed shot, you have quick cuts to varying levels of noise and silence and shaky cam shots of various control gauges and reactions of the characters in the space module. Those scenes really are intense.

Those are the reasons why I am glad I saw it. Plus, I am a sucker for movies where people talk about space over the radio with jargon like, "Now docking the lunar module. You copy Houston?" However, two main reasons why I personally wasn't able to get completely invested were that they didn't go for the triumphant approach, and they made Neil Armstrong a very unlikable character.

As for the triumphant approach, they didn't have an epic John Williams score and an uplifting ending as you would expect from a Hollywood movie about the first man to land on the moon. They went for a more realistic character story rather than a movie simply about the Apollo mission that took humankind to the moon and back. I know some people prefer the more realistic approach, but I am a sucker for that Hollywood cheesiness that was lacking here.

As for Neil Armstrong as a character, you understand that he is hurting due to the death of his daughter, but he is portrayed as the father that is more obsessed with his work than his children and wife. You can see this when saying goodbye to his kids before one of his missions. Instead of speaking to them like children, he speaks to them as if they are members of the press asking him questions about the next NASA experiment. Now, I don't know much about Neil Armstrong the person at all so I can't say whether or not this was accurate, but either way, it's tough for me to get into a movie where you don't like the main character. Accurate or not, it is still challenging. 

So while those two aspects prevented me from ranking the film higher and put a damper on my enjoyment of the movie, I am still glad I saw it. From a technical standpoint, this film is very good, it just didn't give me that emotional impact I was craving.

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'First Man'—Review
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