Movie Review – Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen Will Rock You

Movie Review - Bohemian RhapsodyTears — check.  Racing heart — check. Goose pimples — check. Foot stomping good fun — check. A deeper appreciation for a beloved musician and band — double check.

I love Queen’s music; always have, but I’ll be honest: I knew nothing about the band members and their story, and I’m glad I didn’t, because it made this movie so much more enjoyable not knowing. (And I won’t ruin that for you in this review.)

Any discussion of this film must begin with Rami Malek’s outstanding performance as Freddie Mercury. For a role that relied so deeply on voice, it was his expressions — especially his eyes — that told the story. I could go on with platitudes and adjectives, but let’s just say, “He rocked it,” and move on.

The pacing was spot on. There was just enough of each dramatic scene to get the impact without dragging.

The director Bryan Singer (the guy who did the good X-Men movies) showed he can direct a movie to an emotional crescendo just as well — perhaps even better — than he can end with climatic action.

This is a movie with no room for improvement. I see a lot of movies and that’s not something I can often say.

Grade: A+

About The Peetimes: RunPee Vera and I worked together on these Peetimes. I think we came up with four good options, nicely spaced out in the movie. And we worked extra hard to avoid the music montage scenes.

There are extra scenes during, or after, the end credits of Bohemian Rhapsody. (What we mean by Anything Extra.)

What is a Scaramouch? The Meaning Behind Bohemian Rhapsody from Queen

Did Rami Malek Sing In Bohemian Rhapsody?

A Stomping Good Time at the Tournament – Video and Lyrics to We Will Rock You from A Knight’s Tale

Fact or Fiction – First Man and Neil Armstrong

Hi. My name is Neil Armstrong, and that’s all you’re going to know about me.

First Man is a surprising film. It’s surprisingly devoid of excitement, I mean. Instead of a rousing tale of man’s journey to the moon, it focuses narrowly on life through the eyes of the taciturn and insular Neil Armstrong.

He’s a strange choice to be awarded the honor of the first person to set foot on another world. Buzz Aldrin was right behind him, but I guess being the second  man lacks cache. Even in Apollo 13, Jim Lovell and crew joke around, saying, “Armstrong? Really?”

Laying aside the fact that this man is very personal, I’d have thought he would have gone home and met with colleges, children, UN Summits, or otherwise directed his limelight to the service of NASA’s educational promotion. Nope. Not his gig.

This is a man that after an entire bladder-busting 2 & 1/2 hour movie, remains a cipher to the audience. Clearly, the had the Right Stuff to be a test pilot and astronaut, but had the personality of a Stoic.  And, well, the movie reflects this. Who was Armstrong? Did he even care about his wife…or the moon, even? All I can tell is he deeply loved his daughter, who sadly died as a toddler from brain cancer.

First Man spoilers ahead!

If you’ve seen the film, you’re probably wondering about Karen’s baby bracelet. Did he leave it on the moon? Is it still there, a testament to loving and grieving and family? It’s been a topic of some speculation. [pullquote]It’s known Armstrong deviated a bit from his walk plan, and stood over the Little West Crater for a few minutes. [/pullquote]The movie chooses to show him definitively tossing the precious bracelet into the crater. If he did this, I hope he was able to excoriate some of his demons and find a measure of personal peace. Because, well, walking on the FREAKING moon seemed, to him, a casual matter. Compare his still introspection on the Sea of Tranquility, versus Aldrin hopping joyfully along the surface. Sometimes I think singularly amazing moments are wasted on some people.  I don’t dislike Armstrong, but have to still wonder, like Lovell and crew:  WHY HIM?

So. Does First Man hew closely to what we do know of Armstrong’s life and vision? This excellent article from History Vs Hollywood covers the issue in a very readable fashion — no need for me to repeat it here.

[pullquote position=”right”]Suffice to say the director kept the biography as rigorously accurate as possible. We can feel the authenticity and sincerity bursting through the film. [/pullquote]The science was spot on, but the characterizations of the astronauts were a bit one-sided (ie — how Armstrong saw them), making for a possibly unreliable narrator. For example, Aldrin comes across as a somewhat offensive jerk in the film. Was he really? I imagine these things are in the eye of the beholder.

But back to the bracelet commentary — James Hanson, author of Armstrong’s autobiography First Man, reports that after many hours of personally interviewing him, he’s sure Armstrong left something behind.  He never said what, or admitted to it, but it’s known he did report his personal manifest list as missing to NASA. Then, he later donated his manifest to Purdue University, so it wasn’t so missing after all. There’s a lineage for astronauts leaving things behind. According to this article:

“For instance, Charlie Duke, who in 1972 became the tenth person to walk on the moon, left a photo of his family there, according to Singer. Buzz Aldrin brought a pouch that belonged to the Apollo 1 astronauts as a memorial to them.”

Armstrong’s manifest will be sealed until 2020, so we don’t have too long to know if Karen’s bracelet was on the list. [pullquote]His family hopes and believes he did leave that memento behind. We’ll see. It seems like a logical choice to me. But it did make for a nice bookmark to the movie, either way.[/pullquote]

Last thoughts for First Man: It doesn’t feel like a prequel to the (IMO) far superior Apollo 13 at all: keep in mind it’s NOT an adventure film. There are exciting moments for sure, but most of the runtime is silent and clouded with grief. I did enjoy the space scenes, what we got of them. But we also had to endure a lot of sorrow, silence, and unpleasantness between the space action. That might have highlighted the power of the rocket scenes, which were undeniably cool. I wish the movie had more of that powerful imagery.

Should you see First Man in the theater? I saw it in IMAX, which made the rocket scenes rumble, and the quiet scenes more tense. If you’re a real fan of NASA and the space program, it’s a must-see,  just to experience it properly. For everyone else, wait for the DVD.

 

Movie Review – First Man

 

Movie Review - First ManFirst Man is a thoughtfully crafted, well-made film that a lot of reviewers seemed to love. Ryan Gosling definitely dove into the part. The nostalgia of returning to the 1960s was neat, and the scenes in actual space were close to brilliant at times.  It felt like being there, as the Saturn V thundered out of our atmosphere. There was a sense of transcendence, viewing the Earthrise from orbit, and it was a sight that made even the  generally reticent Armstrong crack a big old smile (more on him, later). The space shots looked very real, albeit coupled with a slightly grainy film quality, making it feel more like the 60s.

The space images alone made seeing this in IMAX worth the extra price. I wish there were more scenes in space and on the moon, but you can’t have everything you want in a movie, now can you?

Some thoughts: a lot of the purposefully jiggly hand-held camera work was distracting, especially in the many long, quiet interpersonal scenes. It underscored the “documentary” feel, but I noticed it too much, taking me out of the moment.

I understand the story is supposed to be a deeply personal and intimate story of one man’s journey to overcome his emotional pain, and eventually do something extraordinary.

The “one man” in question is Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) –the first man to walk in the moon. It was an amazing moment for mankind, but make no mistake: this is not an exciting movie. [pullquote position=”right”]It’s a slow burn of a tale, and takes a long time to get anywhere.[/pullquote] We spend relatively little movie-time in space, and barely any on the moon. For a 2 hour and 20 minute film, there’s surprisingly little story to tell.

From the perspective of the film, it seems like the moon landing was incidental to the plot, instead focusing quite narrowly on Armstrong’s inability to move on emotionally from the death of his daughter (and his colleagues in the space program). It seemed to me that 1/3 of the movie was devoted to extreme closeups of Gosling’s face, who did a great job showing almost no emotion behind his cold, blue eyes. I saw these close eye shots of him so many times that I started tracking it in my Peetime notes. It happened so often I eventually gave up. But, as with the hand-held camera jiggling, noticing the trick pulled me out of the story.

So then, with all this attention lavished on Armstrong, why do I feel we never got to know him? It’s a long movie, but Armstrong is still a cipher by the end. I understand he wasn’t a demonstrative or friendly man in real life. That’s got to be hard to base a long movie around. The viewers never get past his eyes and into his head. A few expositional scenes from others were used to describe him, instead of letting us, the viewers, get to empathize with him ourselves.

So, yes, the critics loved this movie. You can see that on Rotten Tomatoes. The audience score, however, seems a lot more evenly divided, with a middling overall grade. Basically, First Man was competently done, but not stirring or thrilling. I don’t know how Apollo 13 was such a fantastic film, and this one (taking place in an overlapping time frame with the same historical figures) fell short.

Here’s my conclusion. This film is, first and foremost, a biographical drama. The space program is merely a framework for telling Armstrong’s private story. In that sense, it’s a success. Nicely done within those parameters.

But if you’re looking for a rousing space epic, this isn’t your film. In my theater, people hopped up all over the place to hit the bathrooms — even during the climax of the moon landing scene. As the credits began, a few people started a halfhearted attempt to clap, but gave up quickly when no one else seemed to care.

The science and history seemed rigorously accurate (although the ‘bracelet’ thing might be a storytelling liberty). It’s just unfortunate  the first man walking on the moon was too distracted by personal demons to enjoy the experience. I mean, it’s THE MOON, MAN! You’re going where no man has gone before! Enjoy it a little.  🙂

Grade: B

One Last Note: There were some good ‘action’ moments here and there —  the flight of the Gemini, the tragedy of the Apollo 1 astronauts trapped by the door, the awe-inspiring Earthrise, the sequence with the Saturn V blasting off, and docking with the LEM. (Dan and I visited a real Saturn V at the Kennedy Space Center, and walking under it was a total highlight. And it was sweet to see the VAB here, which really impressed me in person. It’s bigger than the brain wants to accept.) So, I’d say those were the standout moments. The moon scene was surprisingly underwhelming. I know why they filmed it this way — to focus exclusively on Armstrong’s experience — but I wish it had been an ensemble with the three men instead.

(Learn how closely the movie followed Neil Armstrong’s real life, and enjoy the photos showing the differences between the real historical figures, vs the actors’ faces.)

About The Peetimes: Here are 3 good Peetimes, nicely spaced out. You won’t miss any action, or even much dialog, during any of them. The middle one, at 1 hour and 7 minutes, gives you a whole 5 minutes to run and pee, so try to shoot for that. It’s a long film, so you should definitely use a Peetime to stay comfortable through the lunar landing climax. A lot of people got up and down at bad times during the opening showing. .

There are no extra scenes during, or after, the end credits of First Man. (What we mean by Anything Extra)

First Man Opinion — Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Apollo 11 Trivia Quiz

Where’s the American Flag in First Man?

Much ado has been made about the omission of the moment when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted the American flag on the moon in the movie First Man. So what’s the deal?

Here’s what the director had to say about this decision:

“It surprised me because there are so many things that we weren’t able to focus on not only during the lunar EVA but in the entirety of Apollo 11. Just by the nature of the story we were telling, we just couldn’t go into every detail. So our through-line became, especially at this part of the movie where it’s the final emotional journey for Neil, what were the private, unknown moments of Neil on the moon? The flag was not a private, unknown moment for Neil. It’s a very famous moment and it wasn’t Neil alone. We included the famous descent down the ladder because that’s him alone, literally first feeling what it’s like to be on the moon. But other than that, we only wanted to focus on the unfamous stuff on the moon. So we don’t go into the phone call with Nixon, we don’t go into the scientific experiments, we don’t go into reentry.”

Regardless of how you feel about the exclusion of this scene, there are numerous people who (at least pretend) to care deeply about it. So much so, they told blatant lies that would be clear to anyone who’s even seen the movie trailer. It’s been said the American flag is deliberately never shown — this is false.

Here are three images (below) showing the American flag in a 2 1/2 minute First Man trailer. The movie is 2 hours and 21 minutes long, so they’re on pace to show the flag 169.2 times! (I’m sure it will be much less because, as they say: sample size matters.)

First Man Flag

First Man Flag

First Man Flag

First Man‘s Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle is known for stories of intense personal sacrifice in the struggle to achieve, like La La Land and Whiplash. The title First Man really sums up what this movie is about: an individual struggling against his fears, technology, physical limitations, and most of all, gravity.

Chazelle added:

“In First Man I show the American flag standing on the lunar surface, but the flag being physically planted into the surface is one of several moments of the Apollo 11 lunar EVA that I chose not to focus upon. To address the question of whether this was a political statement, the answer is, “No.” My goal with this movie was to share with audiences the unseen, unknown aspects of America’s mission to the moon. Particularly Neil Armstrong’s personal saga and what he may have been thinking and feeling during those famous few hours.”

Armstrong’s sons, Rick and Mark, wrote in a statement:

“This story is human and it is universal. Of course, it celebrates an America achievement. It also celebrates an achievement for all mankind, (emphasis added) as it says on the plaque Neil and Buzz left on the moon. It is a story about an ordinary man who makes profound sacrifices and suffers through intense loss in order to achieve the impossible,”

Conclusion
There are those who think that everyone who disagrees with their perspective on patriotism has some agenda, or is behind some conspiracy to corrupt, what they feel, is the only true expression of patriotism. But, sometimes these decisions are based on artistic expression, or as is more often the case, didn’t notice that there was anything patriotic there in the first place.

Read Next: Where’s the Flag? Opinion, by polyGeek

Movie Review – First Man

Apollo 11 Trivia Quiz

Movie Review – The Darkest Hour

There’s really no need for anyone to show up for the Oscars, except for the talented artists involved with *Darkest Hour*. This was by far the best movie I’ve seen all year, and I’ve seen a lot of good (and bad) films.

I’m going to stick my neck out and predict that Gary Oldman will take home the Oscar for Best Actor. The first time I saw Oldman on screen was in JFK, where he played Lee Harvey Oswald. I knew then that here was an actor destined for greatness.

The movie itself could possibly take home the Oscar for Best Picture. The writing was expertly done, and the inclusion of Mr. Churchill’s wit and wisdom gave another layer to this film. The production values and cinematography were brilliant.

This is a movie for everyone who cares about the history of world. You may not know a lot about Churchill, but don’t let that stop you. By the time you leave the theater, you’ll have a burning desire to get to know this remarkable man more intimately. Don’t let the opportunity pass to see one of the most spectacular movies of a lifetime.

Movie Grade: A+

Review – Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

This is a slow character tale about how the Wonder Woman comic came to be. While seemingly a superhero origin story, it’s really a drama about how an unconventional threesome bucked the odds of their time to create a gentle — and mostly uncomplicated — love story.

Was Wonder Woman a part of all this? She’s background and foreground simultaneously. It’s honestly not her film. It’s a true-ish tale of a man and two women, who have love amongst all three. Yes, even in our time, this is hard to understand and accept: imagine how it might have been more taboo in decades past, in the golden age of comic books. And now, in our ‘enlightened’ era, the topic still makes people uncomfortable.

Yet it’s not an uncomfortable film. It’s sweet. You root for the characters and want their happiness. It helps that they are super smart people, but they also have an emotional intelligence that doesn’t often accompany intellect alone.

It works as an historical piece, and fills in the gaps of anyone wondering WHERE exactly a superpowered woman took her place among such luminaries as Superman, Batman, The Flash, Captain America, and Aquaman. The film makes it clear that Wonder Woman was an aberration, and difficult for people to accept.

In our modern age, we have Xena, Buffy, River Tam, the Bionic Woman, Black Widow, Sarah Connor, Starbuck (the Kara Thrace version), female Terminators, and a whole lot of modern a$$ kicking women. But it had to start somewhere. Burning Wonder Woman comic books was a thing, in the day.

Movie Grade: B

Movie Review – The Zookeeper’s Wife

Movie Review - The Zookeeper's WifeThe Zookeeper’s Wife isn’t for everyone. Animal lovers may be excited to see this movie, but I’ll warn you now: this is a gut wrenching movie and not for the faint of heart, especially for the above mentioned animal lovers. The sight of caged animals blown apart by bombs, or brutally shot by Nazi soldiers, is a sight you just don’t want to take to bed with you. OK – you’ve been warned.

If you paid any attention in your history class, you should know the basis for this movie, and any movie about WW II isn’t going to have many warm, fuzzy scenes.

Even though her attempt to speak with a Polish accent fell short, Jessica Chastain owned her role. The supporting cast also brought their A game. Even though the pacing was a bit jagged, it didn’t affect the impact of the movie.

I enjoyed The Zookeeper’s Wife and recommend it to anyone who can get past the gut wrenching scenes.

Grade: B+

About The Peetimes: This movie was filled with scenes that carried a huge impact on the rest of the movie. The first Peetime comes in early at 38 minutes, and the next at 1:15. There is an emergency Peetime at 1:36 that gives you only three minutes to break.

There are no extra scenes during, or after, the end credits of The Zookeeper’s Wife. (What we mean by Anything Extra.)

Rated (PG-13) for thematic elements, disturbing images, violence, brief sexuality, nudity and smoking
Genres: Biography, Drama, History, True life story

Buy the movie from Amazon.com on DVD or Blu Ray

Movie Review – The Theory of Everything – More About Stephen Hawking Than Math

Movie Review - The Theory of EverythingI’m a bit of a science geek — okay, I’m a huge science geek — so I’m aware of Stephen Hawking and his theories. However, I knew very little about him, beyond his illness. It was a real treat getting a glimpse into the personal life of the guy. Best of all, I enjoyed seeing the wit and humor of a man who can barely express himself.

It’s important to know that this movie isn’t just about Stephen Hawking. It’s just as much a story about Jane Hawking, his wife.

Eddie Redmayne, as Stephen Hawking, was magnificent. He did a wonderful job of subtly expressing the emotions of a man trapped in an expressionless body. If this isn’t Oscar material, I don’t know what is.

Don’t worry. The movie doesn’t get bogged down in science. It is first and foremost a love story.

Grade: A+

About The Peetimes: I would recommend using the 1st Peetime. #1 Easy to sum up and there’s no character development. #2 A new character is introduced and should only be used in an emergency. It’s only here because there is a long gap between the 1st and 3rd Peetimes. #3 A good, but short Peetime. There’s a dramatic scene shortly after the Peetime ends, so don’t be late.

There are extra scenes during, or after, the end credits of The Theory of Everything. (What we mean by Anything Extra.)

Rated (PG-13) for some thematic elements and suggestive material
Genres: Biography, Drama, Romance, True life story

Buy the movie from Amazon.com on DVD or Blu Ray

Movie Review – Lincoln – An A+ Presidential Biography

Spielberg has given us a three dimensional  insight into the last few months of our most beloved leader. In Lincoln we see him not only as the President during the most difficult time in our nation’s history, but also in an equally demanding role as husband and father.

Make no mistake, this is not a movie about the Civil War per se…but just as important to our country’s future was the passing of the 13th amendment. Lincoln is more of a court room drama than an early version of Saving Private Ryan.

In the opening scene we see 30 seconds of  battle field action, followed by two hours of a different battle fought by lobbyists, politicians, and other nefarious characters.

Along the way, there are brief detours into the private life of Lincoln himself, and his family. Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Fields, and Tommy Lee Jones are definite Oscar contenders, but they were not the only stellar contributors to the movie: James Spader provided much needed comic relief in this intense film.

The bar has been set very high for presidential biographies with this one.

Movie Grade: A+

Best Movies to Watch Over President’s Day Weekend

Movie Review – Vice – Deeply Funny But Tonally Strange

Movie Review – Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter