Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Abbott’

To the Moon and Back

First Man

Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Ciaran Hinds, Kyle Chandler, Patrick Fugit, Christopher Abbott, Olivia Hamilton, Pablo Schreiber, Shea Whigham, Lukas Haas, Corey Michael Smith

Thanks to a preview screening organized by United International Pictures at Suncoast Cinecentre, Durban, I was fortunate enough to see director Damien Chazelle’s highly anticipated Neil Armstrong biopic First Man starring an excellent Ryan Gosling and Golden Globe winner Claire Foy as his wife Janet Armstrong.

First Man was based on an intelligently written screenplay by Josh Singer based upon the James R. Hansen book First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong.

In the space race between America and the Soviets in the 1960’s, there was a desperate bid to successfully land a man on the moon, a pledge that iconic President John F. Kennedy made to the American public which in turn put pressure on NASA to not only train astronauts but successfully prepare them physically, psychologically and emotionally for a lunar trip.

What the Oscar winning director of La La Land Damien Chazelle does so beautifully is contrast the massive effort and technical implications of sending men to the moon with a complex family drama about Neil and Janet Armstrong as they desperate recover from the death of their young daughter Karen from a Brain Tumour.

Not only does this tragedy pull on the fabric of their marriage, but its Neil Armstrong’s absolute determination that he is going to be the first man on the moon and be the best astronaut America has ever seen. Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling (La La Land, Half Nelson) gives a nuanced performance as Neil Armstrong, a father continually haunted by the death of his young daughter while the moon taunts him every evening, as if to say when are you actually coming to visit me?

Janet Armstrong superbly played by Claire Foy who deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance grows increasingly frantic at the prospect that while she has to be a mother to two young boys, there is a real danger that her husband might not return from a dangerous mission to the moon because of the infinite dangers involved.

In contrast to the familial tension at home, the actual attempts to get to the moon are impressively captured onscreen with mesmerizing sound effects suitably accompanied by an incredible musical score by Oscar winner Justin Hurwitz (La La Land) which truly makes First Man a remarkable and utterly impressionable film – This is truly great cinema held together by cerebral images and perfect on point portrayals of Neil and Janet Armstrong by  Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, who both brilliantly hold the film together emotionally and psychologically.

Audiences should watch out for a superb cameo by Corey Stoll as the outspoken Buzz Aldrin who feels nothing about remarking about an astronaut’s failure at his own funeral or how he was not a good pilot.

First Man is a complex, intelligently directed portrayals of one of the defining moments of the 20th century – Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the Moon and the build up which preceded this significant event.

Highly recommended viewing, First Man receives a film rating of 9.5 out of 10 and is truly a cinematic achievement that will take audiences literally to the moon and back. Utterly superb.

 

 

Vice and Virtue

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

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Directed by: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

Cast: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Christopher Abbott, Alfred Molina, Stephen Peacocke, Cherry Jones, Josh Charles

From the directing team that brought audiences, I Love You Philip Morris and Focus, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa bring the Afghan war drama Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which is military jargon for WTF!

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot focuses on the experiences of journalist Kim Baker who swops the tedious life of a New York media office for the dangerous life of a war correspondent in Afghanistan, from 2004 onwards based on her own novel, “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan”.

30 Rock TV star and veteran comedian Tina Fey takes the title role and impressively turns in a nuanced, vaguely dramatic performance as Kim Baker ably assisted by a superb ensemble cast including Margot Robbie as a hard drinking cut-throat journalist Tanya van der Poel, Martin Freeman as a snarky Scottish reporter Iain McKelpie and best of all Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton as the no-nonsense American general Hollanek.

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Tina Fey who to date has largely appeared in comic roles alongside Amy Poehler is brilliant as Kim Baker and gives audience a chance to witness her dramatic side. As the emotional and physical strain of remaining in Afghanistan takes its toll, along with media colleagues who double cross her, Baker manages to resist the temptations of falling for her own hunky security detail, the gorgeous Nic, wonderfully played by Stephen Peacocke (Hercules) whilst forming a bond with her Afghani translator and guide, Fahim Ahmadzai brilliantly played by American actor Christopher Abbott last seen in J. C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year.

Character actor Alfred Molina also makes a hilarious turn as a Westernized Afghani government official Ali Massoud Sadiq who becomes besotted with Tina Fey’s hardnosed journalist.

Besides the decadent partying which occurs in the Ka-Bubble, as the foreigners nickname Kabul, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot highlights with dashes of humour, the difficulties invading Western forces face when dealing with a foreign country and culture so alien to their own, in this case Afghanistan.

What could be gleaned from Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, besides the atrocities involved, is that war is almost like a decadent excursion into a completely different world. The scene in the film where Baker discovers the real reason a watering well is constantly being blown up in an Afghani village points to the larger gender inequalities inherent in war especially when the country being invaded is deeply patriarchal. War itself is demonstrated to be a man’s game and what makes the women in the film so fascinating especially Baker and Van der poel is their fleeting exotic beauty in a country in which the women are entirely covered up, a point so brilliantly made in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

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Whilst Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not going to win any awards cinematically, it is nevertheless a humourous and mostly farcical take on the absurdities of war, in the vein of Robert Altman’s classic film M. A. S. H. and Mike Nichol’s 1970 film Catch 22 based upon the Joseph Heller novel. What is notable is the media stance on war, whereby despite the annihilation around them, they refuse to take sides but merely show a mirror up to the brutal horrors of this contemporary man-made conflict in a hostile environment characterized by ample vice and little virtue or trust.

Recommended viewing for those that enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty and David O. Russell’s Three Kings.

An Honourable Man

A Most Violent Year

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Director: J. C. Chandor

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, Alessandro Nivola, Elizabeth Marvel, David Oyelowo, Christopher Abbott, Ben Rosenfeld, Elyes Gabel

Margin Call director J. C. Chandor directs Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) and Golden Globe nominee Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) in the atmospheric thriller A Most Violent Year about the corruption and double dealings in the trucking industry circa New York City 1981.

Chastain and Isaac play a hard core 80’s couple, Abel and Anna Morales who have mysteriously made a substantial sum of money through their transport business Standard Oil which Anna’s father helped set up. Abel is trying desperately to remain an honourable man in his business dealings despite the fact that his trucks seem to be constantly being hijacked on the New York freeways. At first Abel suspects a rival trucking billionaire who has links to the Mafia, Peter Forente beautifully played with a lithe sinister style by Alessandro Nivola (Coco Avant Chanel).

The title of the film refers to the statistics that 1981 was New York’s most violent year in the city’s history, with crime, corruption, hijacking as well as shootings and murders. Despite this, the film itself is not as violent as one would assume, but director J. C. Chandor maintains the pace and at times even leaves visual signifier that the film alludes to violence as opposed to showing actual violence.

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This is especially evident in the scene when the Morales, driving on the way back from a late night dinner hit a deer and Anna, wonderfully played with a hardness by Chastain promptly gets out the car and shoots the animal dead, when her husband hesitates.

Oscar Isaac also reunites with Drive co-star Albert Brooks who plays the couples shady attorney Andrew Walsh. With a running time of 125 minutes, the second half of A Most Violent Year could have picked up the pace, the 1980’s crime thriller is held together tightly by the performances of Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, especially the latter who is superb as the hard edged wife who continually persuades her husband to fight violence with violence. Naturally this eventually occurs when Julian, an immigrant truck driver, played by Elyes Gabel goes missing and also another truck belonging to Standard Oil is stolen.

Audiences that like a sophisticated thriller with a more contextual character study will enjoy A Most Violent Year, but those expecting an action film should give it a miss.

The cast also includes David Oyelowo (The Paper Boy and Jack Reacher) as assistant DA Lawrence who is constantly threatening the Morales livelihood. A Most Violent Year is a fascinating film, layered with each textured shot  paying homage to film noir aimed at viewers that enjoy a more intricate narrative despite its nefarious title.

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