Filmspotting

"The Flagship Film Podcast"

“The flagship film podcast” featuring in-depth reviews, top 5 lists and interviews.

"First Man" Excerpt

Adam: Josh, we just came from an IMAX screening of Damien Chazelle's "First Man." And because of that, we're just going to cut right to the chase and really get to the question I can't wait to hear you weigh in on. Just a little bit of background first. The movie covers really a seven-to-eight year span in Neil Armstrong's life, from his time as an engineer and test pilot who was selected for NASA's Gemini and Apollo programs and ultimately becomes -- spoiler -- the first man to walk on the moon. When you think about Damien Chazelle's previous films, they're kinda loud movies. From his debut, the jazzy musical romance "Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench," which is filled with singing and dancing, to "Whiplash," where jazz is again the milieu, and Miles Teller plays an aggressive drum student taught by an even more aggressive instructor, to his last film which of course features more singing and dancing and jazz, "La La Land." There is no jazz in "First Man." There's scarcely any music and there's actually scarcely any talking, as Armstrong is a man of few words to begin with who turns more inward after the loss of his young daughter and whose job requires him to do a lot but say almost nothing - even when he's strapped into a rocket tightly next to one or two other people who, like him, are experiencing something few people, and in some cases, no other people in history have ever experienced! I'm curious how you think Chazelle acquits himself here with all that quiet.

 

Josh: Well, I would say maybe it's noisy in different ways. One thing that struck me about all of the spaceflight sequences is how chaotic they were visually -- mostly a lot of shaky cam here, and almost to the point where some of the images take on an abstract feel to them, where things begin to blur together. And obviously this is putting us in the astronauts' point of view, but it's very intense. More so than most of the astronaut films I can think of. Noise is a big part of that. There's a roar that comes with this. The opening sequence, where Armstrong is taking a test flight just outside of the Earth's atmosphere, what's most striking about that -- and this ties to your point -- is how we get that roar, and that rush and the clatter. I mean you feel like this thing's going to fall apart. And then he breaks through and suddenly there's silence once he gets out of the atmosphere. That's a really striking moment and a very exciting sequence and it's mirrored with the very final sequence of the landing on the moon, where there's a lot of chaos until that landing, until the door opens and they step out, and we can talk about the other visual elements that come into play there too, but there's silence, as well, when we finally meet the expanse of the moon's surface. So yeah, that's a technique that I think is used effectively in "First man." He is working with Justin Hurwitz again, the composer who has been involved in all of his films, and I would say you know the distinction that he adds here is ... He is using a theremin some cases, so we get this almost '60s cheesy space motif. It's very gentle. It's just in the background. It's not like, you know, the sci-fi stuff we're thinking of when we hear the word theremin. But it's there! You sense it. I don't know how I feel about that yet. At other moments the score is really heavy when they're approaching the moon and very momentous-feeling. That is part of the audio chaos as well, in a way. I'm still thinking my way through this score mostly because of the way music is so integral in all his other films, but I think you're right to point out that there are distinct moments of silence that I did find very effective, and I think Gosling's performance as part of that works too. I mean, one of the things he can do well is stoicism. I feel like he can withhold a lot while still letting us in enough. And in their vision of Neil Armstrong, that's crucial, and I think he does it well.

 

Adam: I agree he does it well. One thing that did strike me about the score -- and I think this ties in is some other aspects of the film we may end up discussing -- it's never triumphant though. For me it's not. I know you said it gets more momentous, it gets louder, it gets bigger, especially as they're approaching the moon, but it doesn't have that kind of "Apollo 13," or even "The Right Stuff," [thing] where it's about trying to really make you feel something as a viewer, whether it's pride or inspired. I never felt like it was trying to push any of those emotions onto us. And again, I feel like that ultimately reflects the hero at the core of this and the person who Neil Armstrong is, at least according to this portrait. Putting it in that perspective, thinking about it in relation to other Chazelle films, you can see why he might be drawn to someone like Armstrong because, similar to Miles Teller's character in "Whiplash," and to Gosling, again, as Seb in "La La Land," they're all kind of obsessive men who have a quest and who have some integrity. And there is something that they're trying to attain or aspire to that is greater than themselves, that they have to push themselves to get to. But there is at least one key difference, and I think this gets back to this notion of quiet and saying-versus-doing; we always know what Seb wants. We know what he's after in "La La Land." We know what Miles Teller's character is after in "Whiplash." They're open books. They're people who are proclaiming through both their words their actions exactly what they're after, and it's the complete opposite here. We have in Gosling's Armstrong a character who really is only about action and is almost physically unable to actually express himself to the outside world. Now, where it's similar to those films... I do feel like it's as much about movement and about precision and sound, in some ways, as those more musically inclined films, whether it's the camera twirling with these characters in space, the shakiness that we get in a lot of scenes, putting us right there in the capsule or the cockpit with these men, and even the way we are watching those characters under that duress know what their moves are -- know what the steps are. I do feel like there is some connection there especially as we get into some of those sequences like the extended Moon sequence, where there isn't much of this being said at all. But there is a lot of grace in terms of the movement of the characters and of the space capsules themselves.

"A Star is Born" Excerpt

Josh: Bradley Cooper was not shy when it came to choosing material for his directing debut, Adam. "A Star Is Born" has already been made three times – in 1976, 1954, and 1937 – and those iterations have earned a total of 17 Oscar nominations. Over the years, the settings and details have shifted slightly but all previous incarnations follow a narrative similar to what Cooper and his co-writers, Eric Roth and Will Fetters, have devised here. In this, "A Star Is Born," we follow the whirlwind rise of an unknown singer, played by Lady Gaga, who is discovered by a burnt out, alcoholic, incredibly famous roots rocker played by Cooper himself. Now Adam, you haven't been shy about your reservations with Bradley Cooper, the actor. I remember you scoffing at "American Hustle" – the movie for sure– 

Adam: Yes.

Josh: ...but I think also Cooper's performance. You've repeatedly given the backhanded compliment that his Rocket Raccoon from "Guardians Of The Galaxy" is his best performance.

Adam: I mean it. 

Josh: I've winced each time waiting for you to come around on the sparkly eyed volatility that I think makes him an exciting screen presence. So imagine my delight when I came out of our screening for "A Star Is Born," about two weeks ago and to find you smitten. I believe the quote was, "If I were him I'd never shave that beard or cut that hair." 

Adam: Yeah, but that really has nothing to do with his acting abilities. 

Josh: This is what I've been dying to ask you since then! Is it just Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine, prematurely grizzled rock star whom you've fallen for, or have you come around on Cooper the actor? Or could it be that you swoon for him as the director of this big, bold, give-it-all-the-Oscars-now "Star Is Born?" 

Adam: He is grizzled, and he is a tall drink of water with that beard. Based on " A Star Is Born," Josh, I think it's probably accurate to say I appreciate Bradley Cooper, the actor, more than I did previously, and I'm taking a wait-and-see approach on Bradley Cooper, the director, though there's certainly promise there. I'm sure we will get to all of that. A little bit of background, even though you did such a nice job of summarizing it – of my view of him as an actor – is it okay to say that I can recognize someone's talent even if I don't particularly enjoy their work? 

Josh: Oh, absolutely. 

Adam: I've always appreciated particular scenes or moments of Cooper's, but rarely an entire performance. It is true. I think maybe my most Larson-esque opinion is that I think his voice work as Rocket Raccoon in those "Guardians" movies is better than anything, as you said, in "American Hustle," or "Silver Linings Playbook." And I don't even love those "Guardians" movies that much. I do love the attitude and the humor he brings to that raccoon. But he's just one of those actors for me – I think I've said this before on the show – where I often feel like I'm watching the wheels turning. There's a calculation to his choices that comes from an intellectual place but doesn't feel, maybe to me, as instinctual or as natural as I suppose I would like. And maybe that's-. 

Josh: That's a quality observation though there. 

Adam: Yeah. 

Josh: That's not like he's - he's not just your style of actor. That's saying-. 

Adam: That's true. 

Josh: ... that you can see him working on screen. 

Adam: Yes. 

Josh: Which I completely disagree with. I think he's a very instinctual actor. 

Adam: OK. So yeah I don't see him that way at all. But that is maybe why I like Jackson Maine. I like his performance here in this film so much. He's someone who is perpetually in a state of numbness, comfortable or otherwise. And so those wheels just maybe aren't quite spinning as fast as they otherwise would be. The way he carries that numbness physically, that shaggy nonchalance he has, and even vocally the way he lowers his register and he kind of has a flatness to his cadence? I think it's really effective and authentic. That for me Josh is the key word here as we're considering " A Star Is Born." Authentic. Is he believable as this past-his-prime drunk country-rock star? And in addition to that numbness – I don't think I ever use this word in 700 episodes of the show! I definitely don't use it in my daily life. But there is an insouciance to his Jackson Maine. I almost feel like you need that kind of mystical word to describe it because he has that kind of indifference, that general lack of concern for everything that's going on around him, and yet he's someone who still pulls you naturally into his orbit. I think that's a real trick that he pulls off here. Is his singing and his playing believable as this past-his-prime drunk country-rock star? You know that's so important to me. And... Yes, he does! I think about Kris Kristofferson in the 1976 version... I just did finish that really terrible film over the weekend, and he's pretty much miserable all the time even when he's on stage. Jackson Maine certainly seems to take more pleasure in it once he has connected with Ali, the Lady Gaga character. But even before that, he does seem to enjoy being on stage and performing. He still has that talent. He doesn't look down on his abilities, doesn't pity himself in those instances when he's performing the way maybe we do see in some other versions of "A Star Is Born". Another key question, of course, is Ali's sudden stardom believable? Does Gaga deliver the goods as both an actress and performer? And as their love believable? Do we believe their connection and their chemistry on stage and off? I do really like the feeling-each-other-out banter we get between them that all leads up to those moments when she finally does take the stage and the comfort they seem to offer each other even after those moments where she's become a big star. That seems to be genuine. So the answer for me all those questions is yes, and that's why I can recommend the movie. 


 
 

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