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« Showbiz History: Mary Tyler Moore Debut, Charlie Chaplin Exile, Brangelina Split | Main | TIFF: Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma" Triumph »
Tuesday
Sep182018

If Beale Street Could Talk & First Man

by Nathaniel R

Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy are a dream together in "First Man"

Festival season is a relentless sprint. NYFF screenings are already underway and Middleburg is right after that so herewith a few quick notes on two TIFF movies whose directors are coming off of their most successful film yet two years ago and an Oscar year where they competed against each other quite famously though both left with Oscars (Barry Jenkins for writing Moonlight and Damien Chazelle for directing La La Land). I personally loved both of those movies but I think Barry Jenkins won the first round and Damien Chazelle takes the second . I realize they're not actually competing with each other. They're friends. Prizes for everyone! Yay for talent. We just like talking awards. It's a sickness. Okay, quick takes here we go...

First Man  (Opens October 12th)
Damien Chazelle had a tall order in following up his hugely successful La La Land. If this new film, the true story about man's first trip to the moon isn't as unique as that melancholy musical, it's just as sensationally realized. Though we know the outcome of the moon journey Chazelle and his team somehow keep each sequence nail-biting. Technical merits aside (and there are plenty of them!), what rockets First Man past more earthbound biopics is Ryan Gosling's internal combustion as the very reserved Neil Armstrong, who has to be cajoled into speaking and keeps his emotions locked down. Just as strong is the authentic marriage chemistry between stars Gosling and Claire Foy as his wife. They paint portraits of two very different personalities, grieving and parenting in their own ways under the same roof. (The film begins with the death of their only daughter, and though the dead children as motivation in outerspace pictures is an exhausting trope at this point, First Man has an excuse as the Armstrong story is true.) Chazelle still has that 'talented supporting cast without much to do' problem (why does he remain so blind to the power of great ensembles to deepen and elevate movies?) Gosling and Foy are superstars with the heavy lifting. Their final scene together is astonishingly quiet confident stuff, movie magic minimalism to chase a maximalist dream.  A-/B+

Oscar Chances: Across the board but especially Picture, Supporting Actress, and craft categories

Kiki Layne and Stephan James as the young lovers of "If Beale Street Could Talk"

If Beale Street Could Talk (Opens November 30th)
I wanted to love this picture so much as a huge Moonlight fan. My friends were rapturous about it -- Nick though it easily the best film of the festival. But I felt outside of it. Remember that complaint people *who were wrong* made about Carol (2015) "it's all happening behind glass"  - well, that! My chief problem I suppose was Tish (Kiki Layne) didn't exhibit any range and we're always with her. She flips between besotted love and intense worrying as primary modes and that's about it. Furthermore the ferquent narration felt like a refusal to really grapple with turning a book into a screen experience... or maybe it was the inexpressive quality of the narration? All that said, I'm eager to try it a second time.One thing is certain: it's a stunner to look at and listen to with James Laxton (cinematographer), Nicholas Britell (composer) and Barry Jenkins (director) proving once again that they're a triple-match made in heaven. Regina King and Colman Domingo are the cast MVPs as Tish's resourceful loyal parents. Though the film is largely spent with Tish and her fiance Fonny (Stephan James), the standout sequence is one of only two scenes without either of them. Regina King, one of the nation's finest actresses, makes the most of the mother's desperate solo trip to Puerto Rico to find the woman who has accused Fonny of raping her. B 

Oscar Chances: Across the board but especially Supporting Actress, Cinematography, and Score

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Reader Comments (21)

"(The film begins with the death of their only daughter, and though the dead children as motivation in outerspace pictures is an exhausting trope at this point, First Man has an excuse as the Armstrong story is true.)"

Just because it's true doesnt make it any less banal. I can't find a reason to get excited for First Man. Why is this story being told?

Beale Street though looks exquisite. One of my most anticipated of the season.

September 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMya

Thanks, Nathaniel! I didn't read the Beale part cause I want to know as less about the movie as possible.

September 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

"Remember that complaint people *who were wrong* made about Carol (2015)"

So...are you saying you're wrong about Beale Street as well?? :P

I'm curious and excited for it. Those movies are a tough cookie to crack at first. I was one of those people with Carol actually, even if I still liked it! It wasn't until repeated viewings (it's such a rewatchable movie huh?) and some time that I finally *LOVED* it.

September 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAlexD

Mya I totally agree there have been so many documentaries about the subject a film feels rather redundant and why would I want or need to know about their pvt lives and why does Hollywood have a thing for Foy,she's so bland hopefully the film will prove me wrong.

September 18, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I was one of those people who felt that way about Carol (I admit), I guess I should try rewatching it sometime. But I am so happy for Regina King, she truly is one of America's most gifted actresses. I have watched so much of her tv work dating back to 227 (Seven Seconds is very worthwhile and deserved a renewal). Bless Barry Jenkins for giving her a good modern film role.

September 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

You're so right about Chazelle and supporting characters. He cast Rosemarie DeWitt in La La Land and gave her *nothing* to do!

September 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

I am glad they both delivered. What are the chances for a Kiki Layne nomination? And a Ryan Gosling nomination?

September 18, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterguest

I hope Regina King get her first Oscar nomination, been her fan since Jerry Maguire.

September 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJack for Streep

Mya,

That doesn't make any sense. Chazelle and co. cant just skip over that part of Armstrong, which is basically what you're asking. Be smarter.

September 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTr

the dead children as motivation in outer space pictures is an exhausting trope at this point

Aside from Gravity and the extended version of Aliens can you point to any other examples?

September 18, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

@Tr

Yes the screenwriter Josh Singer can omit (or add) whatever he chooses. It's a movie regardless if it's a biopic. It can't be 100% accurate, that's impossible for a two hour running time. So my point is if it's a played out trope then either remove it or find a more interesting way to explore that topic. It being true to the story doesn't give the movie a free pass from still being unoriginal.

"Be smarter" Lol take your condescension elsewhere.

September 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMya

His child's death was a defining part of his life, so by "be smarter" I mean check your history. It can't be glossed over.

I'll condescend as much as I like to those who are willfully ignorant. LOL

September 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTr

@Mya: You do realize you're critiquing a film you haven't even seen, which is condescending in a whole different way. It's actually handled really well in the film, portraying it visually, showing it as an event that nobody talks about and leaving it vague as for whether it's actually what's driving him, but it's still something that informs this character and this relationship. It may not be something new, but it works beautifully in this film.

I personally liked Beale Street more than First Man, but I get where you're coming from Nat. I felt First Man was a smidge too long for the story it was telling, even though I think the main setpieces were gorgeous and breathtaking (and yes, Emmy winner Claire Foy is the best thing about it). I just found the narrative of Beale Street more engrossing and while Chazelle doesn't quite know what to do with his ensembles, Jenkins brings out wonders in actors who have one-scene parts, particularly Aunjanue Ellis, Brian Tyree Henry and Dave Franco (I've never been so captivated by a kippah, something that informs a character without anyone on the screen having to make any sort of deal out of it). But yes, Regina King is MVP (and her scene with Emily Rios is heartbreaking).

September 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

Listen I'm not repeating exactly what I said since it appears it didn't get through to either one of you (or is this the same person?). I'll make two points:

One it doesn't matter if it's "the defining part of his life" if the script doesn't find a interesting way to use it then it still can be critiqued for being unoriginal. It being factual doesn't change that. If someone thinks the film does find an interesting use of that backstory then that's a different matter from what I'm arguing.

Second, we all offer opinions on movies without seeing them first. It's the basis of Yes, No, Maybe So for trailers. My criticism was based on Nat's words, hence why I put the quotes above in my initial comments so my comments weren't based out of willful ignorance.

I'm not going to continue to go back and forth with anyone else on this. Good night.

September 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMya

/3rtful -- aliens, gravity, cloverfield paradox, and arrival, were the ones that came immediately to mind but if you exapand to dead wives/husbands you get more. The point is it's a common motivational shorthand for characters in sci-fi or space movies for some reason: the dead loved ones.

September 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I loved Beale Street , it was my favorite of the festival. Regina and Colman were both standouts.

Kiki Layne was ok , I don’t think she will get a nomination.

Brian Tyree Henry also had a standout scene.

I did not see First Man.

September 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNikki

Arrival immediately came to mind, re: “dead loved ones” sci-fi trope (see also: basically any Chris Nolan movie this side of Batman—Inception, Interstellar, etc.).

Gravity is perhaps the most egregious example as that absolutely was an unnecessary device that didn’t add to the gripping nature of the spectacle at all. Why even bother? Just to give Sandra Bullock an Oscar clip?

September 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Space isolates everyone from earth bound familiarity. Human mythology says Heaven is above us. But humans in space experience no evidence of it. So dead loved ones connect to the lack of Heaven and the isolation of space. @Nathaniel R

September 19, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Damn /3rtful, concise but not c*nty, and quite insightful. Go good /3rtful! Turn that new leaf baby. Hope to see you more.

September 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDeshawn

/3rtful: Not ALL human myths do that. That's just the Abrahamic religions. Again: The Underworld in Greek Mythology is essentially equivalent to both Heaven AND Hell and entirely beneath. But under that assumption, I'd guess the idea of space colonies is an inherently agnostic or atheistic concept?

September 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I just want to get into a long conversation about how "Carol" is undervalued. I HAVE THOUGHTS.

September 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

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