Welcome back, o ye of feeble tummy! In case no one noticed, flicksthatmakesmesick has been quietly dormant for an astonishingly long four years. That’s what happens when you create a website that is so specifically about one thing that there is nothing to write about when that one thing goes away. Kind of like what happened with Beanie Babies. Or democracy.
But eventually, everything that goes around comes around (and around and around as you watch $20 worth of popcorn and junior mints swirl away, along with your dignity and self-respect). So here I am again, ready to gently guide you on your digestive film journey, in hopes of lightening your load. Um, actually, the point is to NOT lighten your load, but you get what I mean.
I’m sad to report that after years of blissfully rock-steady camera work, the opening of First Man means the directorial, self-indulgent shaky cam has returned, and the hands that have the tremor this time belong to Damien Chazelle, last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Director. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he shares a name with Damien from The Omen. (He was born of Satan and a jackal!)
A quick recap: A lot of celluloid has been run through the projector since flicks last reviewed a film, and two of the biggies missed were both by our buddy Damien.
Whiplash (2014) had quite a bit of unsteadiness about it as we watched Miles Teller obsessively learn to be the Best Jazz Drummer Ever, as well as an Oscar-winning performance by the State Farm spokesman. It wasn’t the rushing or the dragging of the cinematography that disturbed me— it was watching Miles drum until his fingers started bleeding. This was effective to show how devoted he was to his craft; but by the time he got hit by a truck and crawled out of the wreckage to get to the concert stage, bloody and determined, you wondered if perhaps his obsession might have been put toward something more useful. The quick edits in this film are a Chazelle signature move, and made me want to employ the kind of tough love used by J.K. Simmons the insurance guy (i.e. throwing a chair at him, humiliating him on stage) to get him to stop doing them.
La La Land (2016): Since this review is supposed to be about First Man and not the others, I will only say that I hated La La Land with the intensity of the white-hot flame that powered the Apollo rocket to the moon. I would rather watch a musical than just about anything else, but this one had two leads who couldn’t sing or dance very well and was pretty much a direct rip off of Scorcese’s New York, New York. Watching Ryan Gosling mansplain jazz made this film particularly annoying. One of the happiest moments of my movie-obsessed life was when La La Land thought it won Best Picture but actually did not. (Congrats, Moonlight!)
But enough about Chazelle’s past films – let’s focus on what’s shakin’ today. First Man is the director’s latest study in obsession; in this case, Neil Armstrong and his journey to the moon. I could tell this one was going to be problematic even before the opening credits. The vibration that happens inside a space capsule as it tries to re-enter the atmosphere is credibly demonstrated here by the movement of the camera; it feels as if you are sitting inside a movie theater and banging your head back and forth between the people sitting on either side of you, only you’re doing it really fast and they are screaming in your ears for you to stop. The sound designer will probably win an Academy Award for this, because the decibel level may have exceeded the sound barrier. Eventually, the pilot hits the ejector button and parachutes into the ground, which is a relief because the camera finally stops moving and you can crawl out of the harness and curl up in a fetal position under your seat. That was the first four minutes.
It didn’t get any better after that.
Even the domestic scenes between Armstrong and his wife, Clair Foy, are shot with a trembling gaze and quick cuts to emphasize the constant tension in the marriage. Clair Foy is so far removed from her role as the Queen in The Crown that I didn’t even recognize her at first. Ryan Gosling is stoic and taciturn and all those adjectives that mean his facial expressions barely change —Armstrong was not a man to express strong emotion. But at least he didn’t mansplain rocket science.
Halfway thru the film, there is a training session for the astronauts going to the moon. They are strapped into a simulator and spun around in every direction until they can no longer walk. The next scene is a classroom where they are about to study 600 pages of physics, and every single man is wearing a shirt caked in vomit. I kind of felt like I was, too.
First Man had intensity and history and a fascinating story to tell, but I had my eyes closed for over half the film and can’t say I saw enough of it to form an opinion. Let me know when they make the movie about the faking of the moon landing – I’ll bet there is a lot less vibration in that one.
This one goes right next to the Bourne movies in The Barf Bag Hall of Fame. It’s hard to keep people on the janitorial staff in there.