The Morning After: Feb. 11, 2019

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

First Man

A crisp, technically proficient telling of the American moon landing that ignited a generation’s imagination and propelled U.S. scientific advancements for the following decades. First Man is Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to La La Land, the multiple Oscar-winning musical that now famously lost to Moonlight in Best Picture.

La La Land star Ryan Gosling takes the role of American icon Neil Armstrong who plays the role as a stoic father whose history of loss leads to his emotional detachment, a brave interpretation that won’t come across nearly as sympathetic as some audiences would want, but which feels fitting for the situation. As his put-upon wife, Claire Foy gets little material to work with, but makes the most of it. She has a pair of potent scenes, but otherwise melts into the background giving the film the ability to focus not entirely on Armstrong’s home life, but on the mission itself.

Chazelle’s appreciation for this part of history is evidenced in the intense level of detail he puts into every shot, a mesmerizing portrait of the space race and all its faults. While we’ve seen similar narratives about the space program, most notably the superb The Right Stuff, First Man carves out its niche in history as another impressive, detailed, and engaging look at the backrooms of NASA and its costly, but ultimately important work.

At Eternity’s Gate

Julian Schnabel’s exploration of the later life of legendary painter Vincent Van Gogh is an artistic expression of the narrative, but one that feels overly professorial. At Eternity’s Gate stars Willem Dafoe in a role that fits him like a glove, but which doesn’t quite give him the material he deserves.

With his first three films, Schnabel displayed a painterly eye himself, crafting gorgeous stories about artists facing challenging situations. After his pinnacle of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Schnabel has taken his time choosing and creating stories. While the photography of this film is fresh and oftentimes beautiful, the alternating silence and droning piano music cause the film to feel like it’s moving forward in fits and starts. The narrative, while largely linear, feels disjointed and poorly connected, driving from one moment to the next with an pace that alternates between leisurely and pushy.

Dafoe’s performance deserves a better picture, especially one that allows him to deliver a more meaty and compelling performance. Instead, his work seems like it’s a hostage to forced artistry. Schanbel himself is a noted artist and painter, which explains his fascination with various artists, as the subjects of four of his five feature films over the last 22 years. He always brings some measure of creativity to his projects even if they aren’t entirely successful as this film is not.

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