My mom’s copy of the San Francisco Chronicle from July 21, 1969 which I now have, showing the event of the day before.

I haven’t been working much on posts the last week because I’ve got some work to get done on my summer job before I start my new job and because of ComicCon.  Yes, now that I live in San Diego I can finally make it to the annual event that’s geared right towards me.  I don’t have pictures yet (ADDITION – a picture is now down below), but, thanks to Matthew Pearson at the IMDb, I managed to get an invite to the IMDboat on Thursday and got a chance to meet Kevin Smith and get him to sign my Clerks poster (which he was thrilled to learn I bought at his comic shop during mine and V’s honeymoon).  I also got a chance to meet Col Needham and, hilariously, discovered that I have seen over 6000 more films than he has.  I guess what that says is I have more spare time than someone who both founded and has been the CEO of one of the world’s greatest websites.

But I wanted to say something about today since I do have that copy of the San Francisco Chronicle up above.  Also, I wrote a review of First Man when I saw it (in IMAX) which didn’t end up with a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars (idiots) so it hasn’t run yet.  Rather than wait until the 2018 Adapted Screenplay post, if I even continue all of this that long, I decided today was the appropriate day to post it, especially since HBO, with some great planning, starts airing it tonight.  It was my #2 film of 2018 and won seven Nighthawk Awards including Best Director and my review explains why.

Yes, Academy, why bother to nominate a brilliant portrayal of one of humanity’s greatest achievements when instead you can make yourself feel good about pretending to solve racism.

First Man

There is a ridiculous kids show that Thomas watched when he was young called Higglytown Heroes.  In that show, every occupation is treated as a hero (e.g. the furnace repairman is listed as The Furnace Repairman Hero).  I used to mock the show for the idea that everyone is a hero.  There is a supposed Ralph Waldo Emerson quote which I think is probably apocryphal as it’s not listed in Bartlett’s and no one seems to have a source for it that says “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man but he is brave five minutes longer.”  I have always liked that idea and by that definition, I always said that a firefighter is the only job that automatically qualifies for being a hero, just by the nature of the job.  I must admit, that when I used to make that claim, I never really thought of “astronaut” as a job.

Unlike a lot of kids, I never wanted to be an astronaut.  I don’t like to fly but there’s more to it than that.  I also don’t like boats, but I can tolerate them, but I would never set foot on a submarine and I don’t even like being in underwater tunnels.  If something goes wrong on a submarine, chances are you will die.  You have a slight chance you could make it to the surface, depending on the situation.  But an astronaut?  Hell, if something goes wrong in space, unless you are lucky enough to fix it (Apollo 13 made a whole film out of that idea), you will die.  There’s nowhere to go – just the big emptiness outside of no oxygen.  To strap yourself in, on top of a rocket to be blasted out to where there is no air takes some foolhardiness (especially if you’re already had friends die trying it) and a considerable measure of courage.

Was Neil Armstrong a man of unbridled courage?  Or was he just a man on a mission that was determined to succeed, no matter the odds of success or even the odds of just coming out alive?  The film First Man doesn’t necessarily answer that question because such a question doesn’t really have an answer.  What it does is give us a portrait of Armstrong, of that man who did something beyond all belief, who went somewhere beyond the bounds of human experience and was watched and admired by all the world for what he did.

The film doesn’t linger on that.  It ends, in fact, not long after Armstrong has returned to Earth with him still in quarantine, holding his hand up against the glass, looking at his wife (already a sign that you’ve just watched a Damien Chazelle film as his previous two films also end with the two main characters staring at each other without saying a word).  It doesn’t address Neil Armstrong the legend, the man who walked on the moon, the man watched by more eyes than any other human being in history.  It looks at Armstrong the man.

The film begins with Armstrong already a test pilot on a fateful trip where he takes an X-15 up above the bounds of the horizon and when he tries to come back down bounces off the atmosphere.  His cool demeanor under pressure will be a hallmark of the man and will be a reason why he is eventually chosen to be the commander of Apollo 11 and the first man to walk on the moon.  But he is also a man carrying deep pain.  The suspicion among his co-workers is that this happened because he’s distracted by his two year old daughter with a tumor on her brain stem.  After she dies and Armstrong is being questioned about his fitness for the Gemini program he is asked about her and like all of his answers that he gives to the men in charge, it is calm and collected and the right answer.

First Man is a great movie for a lot of reasons.  First of all, it is impeccably made.  Damien Chazelle has brought over his group from La La Land, bringing his fantastic editor, cinematographer and composer.  Not only that, but he brings along his star as well and Ryan Gosling once again shows us that his handsome face masks an inner pain and you never quite know what he’s thinking behind those eyes.  The scenes of the lunar module headed towards the surface, running low on fuel are intense and fantastically edited with a brilliant score and you’re on the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen while a part of your brain is screaming at you, “They land on the moon, idiot!” but it’s so well done you’re wondering anyway.  Second of all, it establishes Armstrong as a real person, someone who has endured great pain and continues to persevere, a person who will keep his calm during the problems with Gemini 8 (it developed a horrible spin).  We see not only Armstrong but his wife Jan (played brilliantly by Claire Foy) who has to remind Armstrong at times that he needs to be human, especially in the scene where she makes it clear that he has to explain to their boys that he might not come back from the moon.

It’s 2018 and it’s been almost 50 years since the moon landing.  In that time, we’ve had numerous fictional films about the moon and we’ve had The Right Stuff, about the birth of the Mercury program and Apollo 13, about the problems with that mission and Hidden Figures about what was going on at NASA and even The Dish which showed what the Australians were doing to make certain that the world got the broadcast (while the other three have reviews, The Dish doesn’t but with yet another enjoyable performance from Sam Neill and a surprising yet effective dramatic performance from Patrick Warburton it’s a nice little movie that shouldn’t be overlooked).  Yet we never had a film about the actual moon landing until now.  Perhaps that’s for the best, because this is a film that has a better sense of focus than either of those films, is a better made film and has a better measure of the man that it’s showing us on film.  That might be the writing, it might be Chazelle’s brilliant direction or it could just be Gosling’s magnificent performance.  Any way it works, it makes for a fantastic film that is also wildly entertaining.