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First Man

Posted on October 11, 2018 at 5:54 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Nudity/ Sex: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril, characters injured and killed, sad death of a child
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 12, 2018

Copyright Universal 2018
On September 12, 1962, nine months after his inauguration, President John F. Kennedy issued a daunting challenge to America, already behind the Soviet Union in the space race. He promised to send a man to the moon before the end of the decade so that the first trip to space would not be “governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace.” He said,

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

The extraordinary story of the space race that followed has been covered by many books and movies. But none have taken us so literally inside the trip to the moon like “First Man.” Ryan Gosling, working with his “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle, plays Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Gosling is one of the few actors who could bring such humanity to the famously reserved Armstrong. Chazelle wisely spends much of the movie focusing on Gosling’s face, and he conveys infinite courage, integrity, and dedication, and more. Armstrong did not talk about the tragic loss of his toddler daughter to cancer. When he is asked about whether it affected him in his interview for the space program, he answers calmly that it would be impossible not to be affected. But we see so much in the way he touches her hair, and in the way he thinks of her in an important moment near the end of the film.

When we think of space travel, we tend to think of spacious flying machines like the Enterprise or the Millennium Falcon, with sleeping chambers and holodecks and chess games. This movie takes us inside the actual space capsule, all built with practical (real-life) effects, not CGI and it’s as though they launched a metal container the size of a car trunk with an atom-bomb-fueled catapult, in a process that shakes it up like a paint can at the hardware store. We can feel the pressure on the screws as they jiggle and threaten to pop. And we hear — wow, the sound design in this film, from Ai-Ling Lee — the hum, the rattle, the breathing. Armstrong is always strong, contained, and capable, but this movie gives us the intimacy and vulnerability around him. One of the film’s most powerful scenes is the fire that killed the Apollo 1 crew. A small puff of smoke through the hatch is more telling than a special effects inferno.

We see the modest simplicity of the Armstrong’s home as well, slightly more comfortable once they are in the space program and living near the other astronauts. Claire Foy is outstanding as Janet Armstrong, a very traditional mid-century suburban wife but in her own way as honest and determined as her husband. She insists that he sit down with their sons before the moon voyage to answer their questions about the dangers he was facing.

There are a number of nice touches that remind us of some of the other work that was going on. The interviews touch on the selection process shown in “The Right Stuff.” Kyle Chandler as astronaut chief Deke Slayton draws an illustration that takes two blackboards, an indicator of the unprecedented calculations shown in “Hidden Figures.” The calm, analytical response to unexpected peril reminds us of “Apollo 13.” It is not so much, as in that film, that failure is not an option. What Armstrong says in this film is, “We fail here so we will not fail there.”

“First Man” puts us inside one of the greatest explorations in human history, respecting the technical achievements and the breathtaking scope of the vision, but always keeping it real and personal. Archival footage of people reminding us that many Americans thought that the money for the space program would be better spent in solving the problems at home remind us that arguments about priorities have been around as long as people have had impossible dreams. And this movie reminds us that sometimes impossible dreams should be a priority, too.

Parents should know that this film includes severe risk and peril with characters injured and killed, a very sad death of a child, disturbing images, some strong language, smoking, and drinking.

Family discussion: What made Neil Armstrong the right man for this mission? What do we learn by the way he responds to danger? Why did he bring something special to leave on the moon?

If you like this, try; “Apollo 13,” “The Dish,” and the excellent series “From the Earth to the Moon”

List: Killer Robots in the Movies

Posted on October 11, 2018 at 8:00 am

Many thanks to William Topaz and inmyarea.com for inviting me to create a list of killer robots in the movies. Of course it has classics like “Terminator” and “Metropolis,” and some off-beat choices like the Fembots in “Austin Powers,” but I’m pretty sure I’m the only one to include “What a Way to Go!” with Paul Newman and Shirley MacLaine.

Actor Paul Newman & actress Shirley MacLaine in a scene from What A Way to Go. (Photo by Mark Kauffman/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

SPOILER ALERT: Troubled by The End of A Star is Born

Posted on October 10, 2018 at 9:34 am

SPOILER ALERT: Anyone who has not seen “A Star is Born” or any of the previous versions and does not want to know the anding should read no further.

Many thanks to USA Today’s Bryan Alexander for writing about the troubling ending to “A Star is Born.” Like the previous versions of the story, it ends with a suicide, and as I explained in my review, while writer/director Bradley Cooper brought some nuance to the conclusion, it still concerns me that suicide should ever be portrayed as noble or a sacrifice for others. As I told him:

“I sat through this whole movie, thinking, ‘I hope they find a better way of dealing with this,’ ” she says. “I don’t want anyone to think (suicide) is ever a choice.”

Minow was pleased about a scene in which Maine’s brother (Sam Elliott) tells a distraught, guilt-ridden Ally that the singer’s death was not her fault.

“That took the responsibility off of her,” says Minow, who thought that still didn’t go far enough. “You want to be sensitive about portraying nobility or catharsis through suicide. Suicide is nothing but sad. Always sad. We can do better in 2018.”

Get Ready for “First Man” With These Moon Shot Movies

Posted on October 5, 2018 at 1:09 pm

Copyright 2018 Amblin Entertainment

“La La Land” director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling have teamed up again for “First Man,” the story of Neil Amstrong and the 1969 Apollo 11 voyage to the moon. Get ready for space travel with these outstanding fact-based films — they are not only true stories; they are some of my very favorites:

Hidden Figures One group of braniacs figured out how to build the rocket, another figured out how to create the fuel necessary to make the almost half a million mile round trip. And a whole other group had to figure out how to hit the target, so that fully fueled rocket ship would not bypass the moon and go hurtling off into the universe. The remarkable story of the math people, including brilliant black women, is told in this warm-hearted and inspiring film.

The Dish Another story of the unsung heroes of the space race is this utterly charming film about the Australian crew who ran the satellite dish that allowed the footage of the moon landing to be shown around the world.

The Right Stuff Tom Wolfe’s ground-breaking book about the earliest days of the space program, including the selection of the first group of astronauts is the source for this film, written and directed by Philip Kaufman and starring Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Quaid, Pamela Reed, and Sam Shepard.

Apollo 13 Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, and Ed Harris star in the gripping story of a flight to the moon that went terribly wrong. “Failure is not an option,” said Flight Director Gene Kranz. Even though we know they came home safely, the film will keep you on the edge of your seat.

In the Shadow of the Moon This British documentary about the history of the Apollo program with archival footage and interviews with people who made it happen.

From the Earth to the Moon This brilliant miniseries from “Apollo 13” star and space geek Tom Hanks looks at the space program from many different angles, including the press, the government contractors, and the wives of the astronauts. The last episode is a poignant parallel story that includes the making of Georges Melies’ classic of the same name.

The Hate U Give

Posted on October 4, 2018 at 5:42 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violent content, drug material and language
Profanity: Some strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Teen kissing, sexual references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Teen drinking, drug and drug dealing references
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril and violence, teenager killed by a police officer
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 5, 2018

Copyright 2018 20th Century Fox
“The Hate U Give” is one of the best and most important films of the year. Angie Thomas’ best-selling novel about a girl named Starr has become a profound and profoundly moving film. It is an of-this-moment, vitally urgent story about race, culture, and America in 2018, but it is also a deeply human, deeply moving exploration of the most universal themes: family, identity, growing up, forgiveness, and finding your voice.

The incandescent young actor/activist Amandla Stenberg (Rue in “The Hunger Games”) plays Starr, the middle child and only daughter in a loving family. She is completely at home in their neighborhood of Garden Heights. But you can get “jumped, high, pregnant, or killed” at the local high school, and so she and her older brother attend a private school called Williamson, where most of the students are white and wealthy. She calls the version of herself they see “Starr version 2.” When the white kids sing along to hip hop or use black slang, she smiles politely but knows that if she does the same thing she will appear too “ghetto.” But she has a nice (white) boyfriend named Chris (K.J. Apa), and some nice white girl friends she can complain to when Chris tried to push her into having sex.

At a party in Garden Heights, she feels more at home, but some of the people there are suspicious of her for possibly “acting white.” She runs into an old friend, Khalil (Algee Smith) and he offers to drive her home. As children, they played Harry Potter together with a third friend, but they have fallen out of touch. Starr can tell from his very expensive, mint-condition shoes that he may be in trouble. Khalil has begun to deal drugs because it is the only way he can support his ailing grandmother.

They are stopped by a white policeman who thinks that Khalil is reaching for a weapon and shoots him. Starr sees it all. Starr is devastated. And she begins to see herself and her world differently. The Williamson students walk out of school to protest in support of Black Lives Matter — or to get out of school. Starr’s friend stops following her on Instagram because Starr connects the killing of her friend to tragic injustices like the murder of Emmett Till.

As we see in the opening scene, Starr has been told since she was a child how to respond to law enforcement. As we will learn later, this is not the first time she has lost someone close to her to violence. As she has to decide whether she will tell the truth about what she saw, putting her Williamson persona at risk and, because of Khalil’s involvement with a powerful neighborhood drug dealer, putting her family and her community at risk as well.

Every performance in the film is a gem, especially Regina Hall (“Support the Girls”) and Russell Hornsby (“Fences”) as Starr’s parents and Stenberg herself, who has extraordinary screen charisma and a remarkable control of detail to show us how Starr begins to integrate the separate versions of herself. The film brings in a remarkably nuanced range of perspectives, especially in two standout scenes: Starr talking to her police officer uncle (Common) about the ways he sees black and white suspects, and Starr talking to her mother about forgiveness. Every element of the story is handled with sensitivity, respect, and a deem humanity, from the specifics of Starr’s relationships to the big themes of how we interact with the world and how we work for change. This is a rare film that does justice to the characters and the themes as it reminds us that we can all do more to bring justice to the world.

Translation: Unarmed character shot by a police officer, peril and violence, protests, guns, vandalism, arson, some teen partying, drug dealing, some strong language

Family discussion: Should Starr speak out? What are the risks and how can she best make a difference? How can you?

If you like this, try: “Boyz n the Hood,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Fruitvale Station,” “Blindspotting,” and the book by Angie Thomas